A prominent frown sat on Calley’s face as she pulled up to the palatial white Dutch Colonial house with the fresh-off-the-lot SUV sitting in the driveway. The perfect and peaceful picturesque suburban image of the white picket fence, expansive green yard and cute little flower garden was ruined by the sight of the rope in the attic window. To the average passerby, it was nothing out of the ordinary; to the private investigator, it indicated that some poor sap lost his life and exactly how that happened was now a matter for the police.
Calley got out of her car and headed up the cobblestone pathway toward the house. She ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and went to find the unlucky fellow who drew the short straw and was on recorder duty, tracking the comings and goings of all the personnel to and from the scene of the crime.
“I need your name, ma’am,” the newly minted officer, who looked as though he would blow away in the wind, said, attempting to sound authoritative.
“Private Investigator Calley Baron,” Calley replied.
The officer scribbled down her name and the time that she had arrived on his log sheet.
“Have you seen Officer Martinez?” Calley asked him afterward.
“Which one?” the officer replied.
“Either. Or both, preferably.”
“They’re upstairs with the victim,” the officer said, developing a slightly greenish hue in his cheeks.
“Thanks for the info,” Calley said to the officer before she stepped inside of the house. “Oh, and get some ginger ale; it helps with the nausea. I hate to say it, but it does get easier the more you are exposed to this kind of crime scene, as ghoulish as it sounds.”
“Yeah, thanks,” the officer cast his eyes down to the ground.
The house was swarming with officers, detectives and forensics technicians searching for clues in every nook and cranny of the interior. Calley weaved her way through the maze of people and finally made it up the three floors to join the Officers Martinez in the attic.
“Hello Martinezes,” Calley said as she walked into the attic. “Lovely morning, isn’t?”
The father and son team of police officers, Matthew Martinez Sr. and Matthew Martinez Jr., acknowledged the private investigator with a smile and a nod respectively as she joined them in the attic.
“Hey there, Cal,” Matthew Martinez Sr, affectionately known as the Old Man, replied. “Outside, it’s quite nice. In here, not so much.”
Calley leaned to the side to peer around Matthew’s shoulder at the body hanging from the rope. It was attached to one of the beams in the ceiling that she had seen from the attic window outside of the house.
“Indeed,” Calley said in agreement. “So what’s this guy’s story? There seem to be an awful lot of people here trying to do an extra thorough job, so I take it that this guy is someone important.”
The Old Man tapped his nose, like she had just gotten the correct answer in charades.
“This is Detective Robert Corben,” he said. “He was one of the bigwigs at the department.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” I said. “If that’s the case, then I take it you two knew Corben?”
Matthew and the Old Man both nodded.
“On the phone, you said that this was initially believed to be a suicide when it was called in,” Calley said. “So, from your personal knowledge of our friend here, is it likely that he’s swinging from this rope because he wanted to commit suicide?”
“It is my personal belief,” the Old Man began to say. “That Corben would not-did not-kill himself. He was the Chief’s right hand man; in fact, Corben was practically slated to become the next Chief of police. He had a very successful career, a beautiful home, a loving wife, and pretty much anything else that anyone could want. Reason for suicide? I don’t think so.”
Calley reflected on the Old Man’s thoughts for a few moments before she turned her attention to Matthew.
“What do you think?” she asked him.
“I’ve met Detective Corben only a few times and usually in passing,” Matthew replied. “But he seemed like he had everything going for him and was very content to have it that way. I mean, cops do have a way of pretending everything is all right, even when it’s not, until the very last moment when someone snaps. It’s just a part of having such a stressful job. That being said, Corben didn’t give me the impression of being one to just commit suicide out of the blue like that.”
“If that’s the case,” Calley mumbled as she approached the body. “Then how did you end up like this?”
Corben was still in his robe and pajama pants. He was hanging from the braided rope that had been fastened around one of the wooden beams in the ceiling. Corben’s neck was swollen and was a kaleidoscope of purples, blues and black as the bruising spread across his broken neck. There was a small leather footstool on its side a few feet away from where Corben was positioned.
“At first glance, everything looks consistent with suicide,” Matthew said, his aquamarine eyes following Calley as she observed the crime scene.
“That does appear to be the case,” Calley replied, turning to face the Old Man. “Is this your investigation?”
“The Chief put me in charge,” the Old Man confirmed with a nod. “He told me to put together a team and I want you on my team even though you’re technically not a cop.”
“Aww, I’m touched.”
“I love you, Cal, you know that. And that’s exactly why I need your help. Despite what the crime scene looks like, every instinct is telling me that this is a murder and not a suicide. I know that you, Cal, and my son, here, are the only ones that won’t need a whole powerpoint presentation in order to be convinced, which will save us precious time in this investigation.”
“You’re right, Old Man. If you think this is murder and not a suicide, I believe you,” Calley said. “With that in mind, let’s get this show on the road. You said that Corben had a wife?”
“Yes, ma’am. Her name is Elsa Corben,” the Old Man replied. “She’s a young ex-model. She and Corben have been married for maybe about five or so years now.”
Calley rolled her chocolate colored eyes.
“An ex-model? This should be fun. You know how much I love those types of people,”she mumbled. “Come on, Junior. Let’s go talk to her.”
Matthew and Calley departed from the crime scene and headed to the police department to meet with Elsa Corben, the wife of the victim. She had been put into an interrogation room to sit while she waited to be questioned about her husband’s death. Calley folded her arms across her chest as she observed her through the one way glass window. I’m pretty sure if you looked up the term “trophy wife” in the dictionary, you’d find Elsa’s picture right alongside it. Elsa was a naturally gorgeous blond with beautiful, and presumably expensive, attire to match. And, Calley was certain was her protocol for any outing, Elsa had herself dolled up with her finest makeup.
“She looks like a Barbie Doll,” Calley finally broke the silence between Matthew and her after a moment or two.
Calley heard Matthew chuckle at her remark and she grinned. Point for me.
“I don’t know if it’s just me, but she doesn’t look that upset that her husband’s currently hanging out in her attic,” Calley said. “Her mascara is in perfect condition. No sign of any tears whatsoever.”
“Hmm, good point,” Matthew replied, studying the woman’s face with more scrutiny. “Well, let’s go in and talk to her and see what her side of the story is.”
Calley followed Matthew into the interrogation room and they took a seat at the table across from Elsa.
“Good morning, Detectives,” Elsa said.
Her demeanor was pleasant and she folded her perfectly manicured hands together and rested them on the table in front of her.
“He’s the Detective,” Calley pointed toward Matthew. “I’m a private investigator.”
“Oh, my apologies,” Elsa said. “In any case, I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“I’m Sergeant Martinez and this is Private Investigator Calley Baron,” Matthew said, formally introducing themselves. “We’d like to ask you a couple of questions about your husband, Mrs. Corben.”
“Of course. Ask me anything.”
Matthew flipped open the notebook that he had been taking notes in for the investigation.
“Please tell us what happened,” he said.
“Our housekeeper, Salina Hayes, found Robert.” Elsa replied. “The poor girl. I cannot imagine what horrible shock that must have been for her.”
“What time did she find the body?”
“I believe it was just after six this morning. Salina is usually at the house around six in order to get breakfast started for Robert before he goes to work. He is always up at seven in the morning, on the dot. Salina is a dear and a very good housekeeper; she always has Robert’s coffee ready for him when he comes down the stairs after his morning shower.”
“Okay, so if Salina was typically downstairs making Robert’s breakfast and coffee each morning,” Calley said. “What made her change her routine and go upstairs to find your husband in the attic?”
“Like I said,” Elsa trained her ice gray eyes on Calley. “Robert was a creature of habit. Awake at seven in the morning, Sunday through Saturday, without an alarm. Even when he’s sick. When Robert did not come downstairs at his usual time, Salina said she became worried about him and went to find him.”
“Your housekeeper went in search of your husband,” Matthew said. “Then what happened?”
“I was asleep when I heard a scream, a terrible, horrible scream, like one from a horror movie,” Elsa visibly shuddered. “I went in search of Salina and found her in the attic, with...Robert. Salina fainted dead away after finding him, so I called 911 for both the police and the paramedics. My poor dears…”
Elsa’s voice was cool and collected through all of Matthew’s questions. Calley listened to the exchange with a prominent frown. She leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest.
Matthew was poised to ask another question when Calley interjected.
“Mrs. Corben,” she said. “You really don’t seem very upset or shocked over your husband’s death.”
Elsa turned her attention to Calley. She blinked a few times before answering.
“Of course I am devastated, Ms. Baron. I don’t know how you could even say something like that!” Elsa replied. “I...I have been in tears practically all morning.”
“Really?” Calley raised an eyebrow. “Because your makeup says otherwise.”
“I have a rule that I am to look presentable at all times, even under, let’s say, less than desirable circumstances,” Elsa punctuated her statements with a tap of her perfectly polished blood red nail against the metal table. “I used to be a model, so appearance is very important to me.”
“When did you quit modeling?” Matthew asked.
“I stopped when I met Robert, about six years ago,” Elsa said. “But I’m planning on returning to modeling in the near future.”
“In other words, you stopped to become a trophy wife,” Calley said as more of a statement rather than a question.
“I was not Robert’s trophy. I was his wife and he loved me.” Elsa’s eyes narrowed, her black mascara darkening her eyes. “Are we finished, Detective? I have some matters that I need to attend to now that Robert is gone.”
“Of course, Mrs. Corben,” Matthew said with a sigh. “Thank you for meeting with us. Our condolences on your loss.”
Throwing her designer purse over her shoulder, Elsa stormed from the interrogation room.
“I don’t like her,” Calley said.
“Really? I never would have guessed,” Matthew replied, closing his notebook and sticking his pen in the spirals for safekeeping.
“Look at you, cracking a joke,” Calley said as she patted him on the cheek. “I don’t know what it is, but there is just something about her that bugs me.”
“Or maybe it’s just her that bugs you.”
“Could be. Those preppy, perfect cheerleader types just have this special way of getting under my skin. She’s just too perfect to be genuine,” she said. “There’s more to the story than what she’s telling us.”
“I have no doubt that there is,” Matthew rose from his chair. “But for now, we need to focus on other leads.”
Calley and Matthew met up with the Old Man, who had already interviewed the housekeeper, Salina Hayes. He relayed the information he got from the housekeeper who, after being looked over at the hospital, had been discharged and was now at home, resting comfortably with a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea. Salina reiterated what Elsa had said and verified her account of her actions. She arrived at six to start breakfast and coffee. When Robert didn’t come downstairs a little after seven, Salina grew concerned. Salina stated her employer would sometimes work upstairs in the attic when he wanted “complete silence and no interruptions unless necessary.” She found his body, screamed and then passed out as Elsa came running up the stairs to see what the ruckus was. That was all Salina remembered before waking up in the emergency room.
With no significant leads from Elsa and Salina, the three investigators returned to the police department to poke around Corben’s office and see what case files he had been working on. The Old Man went through Corben’s desk while Matthew and Calley each took a filing cabinet. Nothing really standing out in here, Calley mused as she closed the second drawer. The first drawer contained several cases that were nondescript and uninteresting; so did the second. The third drawer, however, snagged Calley’s attention. It had a label across the top with the word “GHOST” written on it in big black letters. This seems promising.
“Does the word ‘ghost’ mean anything to either of you?” Calley called out to both Martinezes over her shoulder.
She glanced behind her to see Matthew and the Old Man exchanging a look.
“Sounds familiar,” the Old Man replied.
“I remember a thief being nicknamed the ‘ghost thief’ by the media a few years back,” Matthew said. “I don’t think there’s been any news on the Ghost Thief for a few years, though. At least, nothing that I’ve heard.”
“Inactive or not, Corben was obsessed with this Ghost Thief,” Calley said as she shifted aside and fully opened the drawer for the Martinezes to see Corben’s extensive files.
“Yikes,” the Old Man replied as he looked over the endless row of files in the cabinet drawer. “I take it that that’s the one case that Corben could never solve.”
“Maybe he committed suicide because he could never solve it?” Matthew replied as he closed the drawer he had just finished sifting through. “No, that really doesn’t seem likely. A serial burglar is bad, but I can’t imagine it eating someone like Corben alive to the point where he would take his own life. Maybe if he was investigating something like the Zodiac killings, you know, with national attention and mountains of stress and pressure to find the person responsible, but not a burglar.”
“Yeah, I’m inclined to agree with you on that, Junior,” Calley said. “If Corben had been with the police department for some time, the Ghost Thief likely wasn’t his first case that had gone unsolved. It sucks, but it’s the truth and it’s a part of the job. If Corben couldn’t handle that, then he picked the wrong line of work, that’s for sure. That being said, I still want to delve into this Ghost Thief case a little bit more. If Corben thought it was this important to have an entire frickin’ library on this guy, then that’s good enough for me.”
Calley pulled some case files out of the drawer and began to read through them, curling up on the plush carpeted floor against the wall. Report from Captain Robert Corben, RE: The Ghost Thief, Calley read. The Ghost Thief, as he has come to be called, is a serial burglar that has left the Police Department, for lack of a better term, baffled. The origin of the criminal’s name is due to the fact that, as the media has put it, leaves no traces at the scene of the crime. As much as I wish this was merely an exaggeration on the news’ part, the case reports I have collected over the years confirms this fact. The Ghost Thief also has opted to change his targets with each theft, aiding in keeping the police department in the dark. He has stolen jewels, rare artifacts and paintings; while all of these are rare and expensive, sometimes priceless, items, there is seemingly no connection between the items or a pattern to indicate what the Ghost Thief will target next. As of this report, the Ghost Thief has not been apprehended.
“This guy has a pretty impressive track record,” Calley said.
She looked up from her report to see the Old Man regarding her with a small smirk and a raised eyebrow. Calley chuckled.
“You know, an impressive track record for a criminal,” she said in an effort to reassure the senior detective.
“Does Corben mention any suspects or persons of interest?” the Old Man asked.
“Let’s see...” Calley said, skimming through the file again. “I just read a memorandum from Corben to the Chief and it was more of a summary of the details of the case; it didn’t mention any suspects. In this next file, however, Corben’s got the name ‘Lukas Watson’ highlighted and circled a bunch of times. I take it his name is significant. Let me see if his name appears anywhere else in Corben’s library.”
Calley shifted onto her knees to return to the drawer. She pulled out a couple more files to see if Lukas Watson’s name appeared in any more of the notes. Matthew read over her shoulder.
“Okay, so Corben had a thing for this Watson guy,” Calley said, aware of Matthew’s presence above her. “Now the question is: who is he?”
Matthew squatted down and sifted through the drawer to search for more information on the identity of Lukas Watson.
“Lukas Watson was a security guard at one of the high end jewelry stores that had been targeted by the Ghost Thief,” he read aloud.
“Which store?” the Old Man asked.
“Looks like...Gartner’s Jewels over on Ridge Road.”
“That’s got to be significant. I’m almost positive that Gartner’s was the one place that was targeted only once, but twice.”
“I would assume that he was fired,” Matthew turned his attention toward his father. “If the store you’re supposed to be guarding was struck twice, I’m assuming that’s an immediate dismissal.”
“I would think so,” Calley said in agreement. “Wait, the memorandum I just read from Corben said that there was no pattern or connection to the Ghost Thief’s targets; if Gartner’s Jewels was hit twice, that would certainly seem like a connection to me.”
“It seems like you’re on to something, Calley,” the Old Man said. “But there is only one way to find out; we need to pursue this case too.”
“I know just the person who can help us with that,” Calley said.
She pulled out her cell phone and called her younger brother, Drew.
“Hey, Cal,” Drew answered his phone.
“Got a job for you,” Calley said to him.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I need you to go and check out a place called Gartner’s Jewels, see what you can dig up on a fellow named Lukas Watson.”
“Lukas Watson?” Drew repeated. “I’m on it.”
After she ended my phone call with Drew, Calley placed another call. Delaney Lawless, Calley’s best friend, also happened to be one of her best sources. A reporter and writer for the local newspaper, she was a magician at uncovering information. Calley explained the situation to Delaney who accepted the request for assistance with a tone of interest and fascination.
“Delaney’s on the case,” Calley said after ending the phone call with her best friend. “We’ll have some information about Lukas Watson in no time.”
A few hours later, Calley, Matthew and the Old Men headed to Calley’s apartment to meet with Drew and Delaney over some pizza.
“Lukas Watson was employed as a security guard at Gartner’s, starting about three years before the first burglary,” Drew said as he grabbed a slice of pizza for Delaney, placing it on her plate. “He seemed to be well liked by his coworkers and boss and all that. They were very surprised when he became a suspect in the burglaries.”
“I take it he was fired?” Calley said.
“Nothing after the first burglary. He got the boot shortly after the second strike,” Drew replied.
“What’s he been up to since then?”
“I did a little digging,” Delaney began to say. “And he’s had it rough since he was fired. Watson’s been bouncing from job to job since then, unable to find steady employment, and his girlfriend broke up with him shortly after the ordeal. His life’s pretty much in shambles.”
“Corben ruined this guy’s life,” Calley said with a frown.
“I was at the scene of one of the burglaries at Gartner’s,” she said. “I came to get a story about the burglary and I remember seeing Corben. He had it in for Watson; I mean, like, really had it in for the guy. Corben was entirely convinced that Watson was the culprit and I got the sense that absolutely nothing was going to change his mind. I also discovered that Corben periodically checked in on Watson, though I don’t need to be a seasoned reporter to know that ‘checking in’ really meant he was keeping tabs on one of his prime suspects in the case.”
“And when he couldn’t pin the crimes on Watson,” Calley began to say.
“Corben made sure that Watson’s life would be miserable,” Matthew finished her sentence.
“Well, kids,” the Old Man said, wiping his hands on a napkin. “I think it’s about time that we pay Mr. Watson a visit.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
Lukas Watson lived in a small house in a neighborhood that was nearly the polar opposite of the house and neighborhood that Corben resided in. It was dark, decrepit, and very rundown. Matthew and Calley introduced themselves to Watson and it quickly became apparent to the two investigators that Watson loathed Corben every bit as much as Corben loathed him, perhaps even more so.
“When you find out who killed him,” Watson said. “Let me know so I can thank him.”
Calley and Matthew followed Watson inside into his kitchen.
“Obviously, you hated Corben,” Matthew stated as Watson opened up his refrigerator and pulled out a beer.
“To put it mildly,” Watson cracked open the can and took a swig of his beer. “Wait, you’re not trying to pin this on me, are you? No way am I doing this again. I did not do this. I hated Corben, but I didn’t kill him. I know better than to kill someone, especially a cop. That’s pretty much a death sentence.”
“And killing Corben wouldn’t be worth it?” Calley asked.
Watson shook his head.
“If I wanted to go to jail, I would have confessed to the burglaries just to get Corben off my back,” he grumbled. “Maybe I should have; I’d be in no worse condition than I am now.”
“I’m sorry for all that’s happened to you,” Matthew said as a preface to his next question. “But I have to ask: are you the Ghost Thief?”
“No,” Watson slammed his beer down on the counter behind him. “And even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you two.”
“Any ideas on who might be the Ghost Thief?” Calley asked.
“You’re asking me?” Watson asked, cocking his head to the side.
His honey colored eyebrows furrowed and his latte colored eyes regarded Calley with intrigue and a hint of suspicion. Calley offered him a shrug in response.
“Well, you worked at a place that got hit twice, didn’t you? You must have some theory,” she replied.
“Y-yes, I do,” Watson said, looking down at the scuffed linoleum floor beneath his worn sneakers. “I just got so used to being the one that was targeted as the Ghost Thief that I’m not used to anyone asking me my thoughts on the crimes.”
“Now’s your chance, Lukas. Tell us whatever you think, even if you think something seems irrelevant or not important.”
“I think it was someone who was familiar with the store, an inside job, I guess you could call it,” Watson said. “The burglary was too perfect, too precise to be just a random act.”
“Do you think that someone had cased out the store beforehand?”
“I’m sure of it,” he smacked his fist against his palm. “The store was remodeled after the first burglary and yet the Ghost Thief knew exactly how everything was laid out and how all the jewels were organized. He or she must have had prior knowledge.”
“You said you thought it might have been an inside job; who do you think it might have been?” Matthew asked. “An employee maybe?”
“An employee besides me?” Watson replied with a snort, which Matthew ignored. “I think the burglary contained too many theatrics to just be an employee at Gartner’s. Besides, the Ghost Thief hit other places other than just jewelry stores, right? That seems like too much work for someone who worked at Gartner’s. I mean, it’s possible, but very unlikely.”
Matthew and Calley left Watson’s place. They walked out to Matthew’s police cruiser and sat inside, discussing the case.
“Watson makes a lot of sense with what he said about the intricacies and theatrics of the crimes,” Calley said as she slid into the passenger seat. “But I wouldn’t rule him out as the killer. He’s still a very viable suspect with a good motive.”
Matthew nodded in agreement.
“You think maybe Corben figured out who the real Ghost Thief was and he or she killed him to silence him?” He asked.
“It’s certainly possible,” Calley replied. “Let’s go look into it.”
While en route to Gartner’s to continue their investigation into Lukas Watson, Matthew and Calley received a call from the Old Man with news regarding a possible lead. Matthew drove them back to the police station while Calley called Drew and Delaney to assign them the task of looking into past customers of Gartner’s and the other targeted businesses.
They joined up with the Old Man outside of Interrogation Room 1. Calley groaned when she found Elsa Corben seated inside, looking as picturesque and lovely as ever.
“What’s she in a huff about?” she asked the Old Man.
“She claims that she just remembered some more information that might be useful to the investigation,” the Old Man said.
“You talk to her. I’m not going in there again.”
“Well, let’s just say we don’t exactly get along.”
The Old Man chuckled before he headed inside the room. Matthew shook his head, the faintest of smiles upon his lips. Calley smirked to herself in return. The two investigators then turned their attentions to the conversation taking place inside the interrogation room.
“Thank you for coming down to the station, Mrs. Corben,” the Old Man began. “You said you had some more information for us?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m sorry I did not think of this before, but, after I finished meeting with the funeral home, I remembered that Robert had a bit of a...confrontation last night.”
“Yes, with Lukas Watson.”
“Watson?” Calley repeated to Matthew. “Either Watson conveniently forgot to mention that fact to us or Elsa’s full of it.”
“What’s even more interesting is the fact that Elsa is now trying to say that this is a murder instead of a suicide,” Matthew said. “If Elsa knows something, wouldn’t it have been better to just keep her mouth shut and not tip us off that there was foul play?”
“That’s a really good point. Presenting that information to us practically on a silver platter seems kind of counterproductive if she has guilty knowledge or is guilty by association. I wonder what she’s up to?”
“Could you elaborate, Mrs. Corben?” the Old Man motioned for the widow to continue.
“Mr. Watson was a suspect in one of Robert’s cases, but Robert could never convict Mr. Watson, and Mr. Watson was very vengeful about that fact.”
“Vengeful? How do you mean?”
“Mr. Watson was so frightfully enraged that my husband kept targeting him as the culprit that he and Robert sometimes got into it with each other,” Elsa said with a sigh. “They had one of their rows the night that Robert was killed. I had gone to bed early with a headache, but I still heard the two of them. I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it became physical and Mr. Watson killed Robert...”
Elsa looked as though she were about to cry but, alas, no tears fell. Calley pursed her lips as she watched the widow, Matthew catching her amused expression out of the corner of his eyes.
“Maybe she’s just incapable of crying?” Matthew offered with a shrug.
“I could go boost some onions from the cafeteria,” Calley said with a grin. “I can plant them in her purse and we can see what happens.”
“I have a better idea. While my dad finishes up in there, let’s get ahead of the game and go visit Mr. Watson again and see what he has to say about Elsa’s story.”
Matthew and Calley left the police department while the Old Man finished up with Elsa, heading over to Lukas Watson’s house again. He allowed them inside, his good nature instantly destroyed and replaced with a scowl when they relayed Elsa’s accusation to him.
“She said what?” Watson stopped in the midst of closing his front door. “That lying, no good-”
“You sound like you know her,” Calley said before Watson could let out the string of expletives hanging on his lips.
“What?” Watson huffed in his anger. “Yeah, I know her. She used to come into Gartner’s for jewelry. She and a bunch of the other models did.”
“Elsa was a prior customer?” Calley turned to Matthew. “I need to make a phone call.”
She stepped out of the room to call Drew and Delaney.
“Hey Drew,” Calley said to her brother. “I need you and Delaney to cross check your customer lists for the name ‘Elsa Corben’.”
Drew relayed the message to Delaney.
“Nope. No Elsa Corben on any of the lists,” Drew replied. “There is an Elsa Ramsden on the list, though.”
“Ramsden? Tell Delaney to drop what she’s doing and look up Elsa Ramsden.”
Drew, again, relayed the message. After a few minutes of intermittent silence and shuffling, Drew put the phone on speaker so Delaney could join into the conversation.
“Elsa Ramsden and Elsa Corben are one in the same,” Delaney said. “I have an article from the newspaper here that documents Elsa and Robert’s wedding. It says: Shown below are rising star of the police department, Captain Robert Corben, the groom, and his bride-to-be, model Elsa Ramsden. The article then talks about both of them for a bit.”
“You’re amazing, D,” Calley said. “Can you get me a copy of that article?”
“Already on it,” Delaney replied. “I just sent it to your inbox.”
“You’re the best.”
Calley ended her phone call and returned to the kitchen to rejoin Matthew. She nudged his side and he took the action as a sign to excuse them from Watson’s house. Once they were outside, Calley relayed the information Delaney and Drew had gathered to Matthew.
“So Elsa is connected to each place that was burglarized by the Ghost Thief?” Matthew asked in disbelief.
“Yep. Elsa Ramsden can be traced back to each place,” Calley said with a nod. “I think it’s worth another conversation with the grieving widow.”
“While I definitely agree with you on needing to speak to Elsa again,” Matthew said. “We still need confirmation on the fact that Corben’s death was, in fact, a murder and not a suicide.”
“Boo, you’re no fun,” Calley said.
Calley gave Matthew a pout, causing him to try to hide his chuckle, though he failed to do so. He covered up his laugh with a cough.
Arriving at the police department the following day, Calley found Matthew in his office, working on some reports for the Corben case.
“Hey, Junior,” she said as she strolled into the office.
Calley placed the brown paper bag she had been carrying on Matthew’s desk. His eyes darted over from his computer to the bag and then to Calley’s face. The hard focus his eyes held softened upon the sight of the latter.
“I brought breakfast,” Calley said, motioning toward the bag.
Matthew turned from his computer and gave her a smile as he reached for the bag, a genuine smile. Calley found herself grinning back. She sat down in one of the chairs in front of Matthew’s desk, doing her best to ignore the fluttering in her chest.
“You know, you should really smile more often,” Calley said. “It...suits you.”
Matthew paused in the midst of unwrapping the pretzel bagel he’d chosen from the bag of goodies Calley brought. He offered her yet another smile.
“Well, you certainly make it easy, Calley,” Matthew said, his voice soft and genuine.
Okay. Ignore the urge to lock the office door and kiss the shit out of him. Got it. Calley shook her head. Where the hell had that thought come from? Old Man’s son, definitely off limits...right?
“Where’s your dad?” she asked instead.
Matthew eyed her for another moment before finishing unwrapping his bagel.
“He stopped by the Medical Examiner’s office this morning to get the autopsy report on Corben,” he said.
“I’m here, my darlings!” the Old Man burst into the room with a dramatic bow.
Calley giggled and Matthew shook his head at his father’s antics.
“So, what’s the verdict?” Calley asked as the Old Man took a seat in the chair next to her. “Murder or suicide?”
“Murder,” the Old Man said. “The preliminary toxicology report showed that Corben had a mixture of alcohol and a shitload of sleeping pills in his system, enough to stop a rhino. Based on the fact that they had already been digested, Corben would have been knocked out. That is corroborated by the fact that there are no indications of a struggle on his neck; even if he planned to hang himself, it’s human nature to try to save ourselves from situations like that and Corben would have thrashed about as the oxygen was cut off from his body.”
“Unless he was already unconscious, of course.”
“Exactly. Corben was drugged and then set up to look like he committed suicide. Now we just need to figure out who that person is.”
“I think we have an idea,” Calley said. “I just don’t know why this person did it.”
“Remember, Cal, we don’t need motive to secure a conviction,” the Old Man said.
“True, but, as the old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat.”
“And satisfaction brought him back.”
“Or made kittens. Depends on your perspective.”
Matthew coughed and sputtered on his bagel at Calley’s remark, causing her to break into a fit of giggles.
The Old Man contacted Elsa and asked her to come back down to the police department under the guise of having a new lead in her husband’s death investigation.
“Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?” the Old Man asked as he escorted the widow into one of the interrogation rooms.
“A cup of tea would be lovely,” she replied.
The Old Man departed from the room to fetch Elsa her tea. He gave Matthew and Calley a wink upon his return and they followed him into the interrogation room.
“Here you are, Ms. Ramsden,” the Old Man said, handing her the tea. “That’s your maiden name, correct? I couldn’t help notice that you signed in as a visitor to the department using your maiden name.”
“Yes, it is,” Elsa said as she accepted the mug from him with a frown. “I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken. It is my maiden name, but I am certain that I signed ‘Elsa Corben’ on the visitor’s log.”
The Old Man tapped his chin.
“Huh, that’s funny. I would have sworn I saw the name ‘Ramsden’ somewhere just recently,” he said.
“I think I can help with that,” Matthew opened the file folder he brought into the room with him and handed a slip of paper to his father. “I believe this is where you saw the name.”
“Ah, that’s right,” the Old Man continued with his ruse. “Yes, we came across the name when we were looking into the names of some individuals that have been customers at some certain locations; you have been to these stores, correct?”
The Old Man showed Elsa a list of places that had been burglarized by the Ghost Thief. Elsa barely glanced at the list before pushing it back toward the Old Man.
“Yes, I have,” she said. “What do the places I shop have anything to do with my dear husband’s death?”
“Have you heard of a criminal called the Ghost Thief?” Calley asked Elsa.
“Yes, I’ve heard of the Ghost Thief,” Elsa replied. “And, again, I ask you, what does this have to do with my husband’s death?”
“And did you know that all of those places on that list are places that the Ghost Thief targeted?”
Elsa’s grip on the tea cup tightened, her knuckles turning white.
“For the last time, what does this have to do with Robert’s death?” her question was asked through burgundy lips that barely parted to speak.
“Everything. It has everything to do with Captain Corben’s death,” Calley replied. “Because the Ghost Thief killed him.”
Elsa looked at me with a quizzical smirk.
“How do you figure that, Ms. Baron?” she asked. “Robert’s death was a suicide, was it not?”
“Mrs. Corben, you were the one who came to us yesterday, telling us that Robert quarreled with Mr. Watson over a case they were both involved in and pointed the finger at an innocent man,” Matthew said. “We were still investigating on whether Captain Corben’s death was a murder or a suicide; without reviewing the evidence under closer scrutiny, the crime scene would definitely give the appearance that it was a suicide and not a murder, yet you immediately assumed, without any prompting, that it was, in fact a murder. Now you’re claiming it was a suicide again. Can you explain why you keep flip flopping between murder and suicide?”
“Because I don’t know what happened to my husband and it’s a huge weight on my heart!” Elsa said.
“Do you really not know?” Calley asked. “You seemed awfully confident about what happened to Captain Corben just a few moments ago.”
Elsa trained her eyes on Calley.
“I know you don’t like me, dear,” she said. “Is it because you’re jealous of me?”
Jealous?! What the fuck could I possibly be jealous of?
“Jealous?” Calley repeated, censoring her words in mixed company. “Please, enlighten me as to what I’m jealous of.”
“Well, of my looks, of course,” Elsa ran a hand over her blonde locks. “And my success, my gorgeous husband, my wealth. You know, Ms. Baron, if you got rid of those hideous blue highlights, covered up those awful tattoos and actually tried a little make up, you’d be quite pretty. I’m sure the young officer, here, would quite appreciate having a proper lady by his side.”
Calley’s eyes shot over to Matthew, whose cheeks now matched the color of Elsa’s lips.
“For your information, Calley is perfect the way she is, tattoos, highlights and all,” Matthew said with confidence. “In fact, it’s those very things that makes her far more beautiful than you.”
He thinks I’m beautiful? Calley watched Matthew to see if he would face her again so she could gauge his expression, but he kept his back to her with his attention locked on Elsa. I guess I’ll ask him about it later. Getting Elsa to confess to murder is more important right now.
“Well, there’s no accounting for taste, is there?” Elsa said with a sigh.
“Back on topic,” Calley replied.
“Oh, right, your insane ‘Ghost Thief’ theory. Please, Ms. Baron, enlighten me.”
That almost sounded like a challenge, Calley considered. We’re definitely on the right track.
“The case of the Ghost Thief was the one case that your husband could not solve and it was driving him crazy. He poured his heart and soul into that case and no matter what he did, he could not pin the crime on Lukas Watson, even though he believed with every fiber in his being that he was the guilty party,” Calley said. “He couldn’t make it stick because Lukas Watson was not the right guy; he wasn’t the Ghost Thief. Robert finally came to realize that and that’s where your problem stems from.”
“Though it seems you are incapable of answering this question, I will ask it again: what does the Ghost Thief have to do with my husband’s death?” Elsa asked, folding her arms across her chest and leaning back in her chair.
“Well, when Robert, your husband, gave up his pursuit of Lukas Watson, he finally began to see the case clearly. We were able to uncover what he did because we did not see Lukas Watson as the one and only culprit, which led us to discern the true identity of the Ghost Thief.”
“And who might that be?”
Elsa laughed. There was a twinkle of amusement in her icy eyes.
“Me? The Ghost Thief? How preposterous!”
“Is it really?” Matthew said. “You’ve admitted your name, an alternate identity if you will, to us and you’ve confirmed that you’ve frequented every place that the Ghost Thief targeted. That’s quite an uncanny coincidence.”
“Let’s say for the sake of your argument that I am,” Elsa replied. “How does this affect the investigation into my husband’s death?”
“So you’re admitting that you’re the Ghost Thief?” the Old Man asked.
“As I said, for the sake of your little theory, sure, let’s say that I am.”
“Robert uncovered the connection between you and the Ghost Thief,” Calley said. “And he confronted you about it. Of course, being ousted as the Ghost Thief would completely ruin your modeling career and not to mention the fact that you would be sent to prison. You had only one option: kill Robert.”
“That makes sense,” Elsa replied. “But how could I have done it? Robert is so much bigger and stronger than I am. There is no way that I could have hanged him like that. He surely would have put up a fight in self-defense.”
“Touché,” Calley held her hands up in mock surrender. “But, hate to break it to you, honey, we already thought about that. The toxicology report from Robert’s autopsy can easily prove that Robert had been drugged into unconsciousness, making it easy to kill him. No consciousness, no struggle.”
“And, as for bringing him into the attic,” Matthew said, elaborating on Calley’s argument. “Your housekeeper, Ms. Hayes, mentioned that Robert would often work up in the attic. All you had to do was wait until Robert was up there, drug him and then you could kill him at your leisure.”
“We have the proof that you drugged him,” the Old Man said. “Forensics found your fingerprints on the vessel that was used to deliver the poison to Robert.”
“Well, of course my fingerprints would be on the glass. I was the one who brought the cup of bourbon up to Robert in the attic,” Elsa replied, her tone indicating that this information should have been common knowledge.”
“Huh, that’s really interesting that you say that, Mrs. Corben,” the Old Man looked at Matthew and Calley. “I know I’m old and my memory’s not what it used to be, but I’m pretty damn sure I didn’t say anything about how the drugs got into Robert’s system.”
“No, you didn’t,” Matthew said in agreement with his father.
“Nope,” Calley shook her head. “You clearly said ‘vessel that was used to deliver the poison to Robert’ and not ‘cup of bourbon’ like Mrs. Corben mentioned.”
“Oh…” Elsa’s perfect plastic visage was cracking. “I just assumed that that’s how the drugs got into his system.”
“The truth is already out, honey. It might have seemed like a minor slip up, but, in reality, that comment told us plenty,” Calley said. “A jury is going to convict you regardless of if you confess. Might as well get it off your chest so you feel better on the inside.”
“All right,” Elsa sighed. “I’ll admit that I’m the Ghost Thief.”
“And that you killed your husband,” the Old Man said, prompting the grieving widow to continue speaking.
Elsa shook her head.
“No. I am not going to confess to something that I did not do,” she stated. “You need to go after Lukas Watson-”
“Leave poor Lukas out of this,” Calley said, cutting Elsa off. “He’s suffered enough because of you. Robert ruined his life because he did not realize that the ghost he was chasing all these years was really you, his wife! Tell me, why did you marry Robert in the first place?”
“Because he loved me-” Elsa began to say.
Calley held her hand up to stop the model’s response.
“You said it again: he loves me. Not ‘we love each other’ or even ‘I love him,’ just ‘he loves me.’ You married him to keep tabs on the investigation, didn’t you? While it’s a pretty ingenious move on your part, I’ll admit, it also paints you out to be a cold-hearted bitch only interested in her own self-preservation.”
“Yes, I began to pursue Robert originally under the guise of genuinely being interested in him in order to keep up with the investigation into the Ghost Thief for, as you put it Ms. Baron, my own self-preservation. However, the more time we spent together, I realized that I did, in fact, come to love him.”
Calley slid into the chair at the table across from Elsa. She reached across and grabbed a hold of the widow’s left hand. Calley tightened her grip on Elsa’s hand when the model attempted to pull her hand back.
“Gee, I don’t happen to see any wedding ring to symbolize the love you claim you have for this man,” she said.
Elsa yanked her hand away.
“With Robert’s death, I no longer have a reason to wear my wedding ring,” she replied.
“That’s funny you say that,” Calley said. “You say that you just stopped wearing your wedding ring on account of Captain Corben’s death. That leads me to believe that you had been wearing your ring faithfull up until this point. But you know what? I don’t see any marks or indentations on your ring finger to show that you have been wearing your ring. You never gave one shit about Robert; he was found, dead, and do you know what he still had on his person at that time? His wedding band. Captain Corben genuinely loved you and you didn’t give a single fuck about him.”
She placed her hands on the table and ran a finger over her left ring finger which, as Calley indicated, was devoid of any traces to show that a wedding band had ever sat there.
“You hit the nail right on the head, Ms. Baron,” Elsa said. “Congratulations.”
Calley glanced at Matthew, who had moved to stand behind Elsa. He shrugged.
“I did marry Robert to keep up with the investigation,” Elsa said. “I met him after my second burglary. I saw that he was in charge and immediately set my sights on being with him. He was more than happy to oblige. I mean, who could say no to a beautiful model like me?”
Matthew had picked that unfortunate moment to slide into the seat at the table next to Calley. She dug her nails into his arm under the table in an effort to keep herself from reaching across the table and smacking Elsa. With his free hand, Matthew jotted something down in his notebook, which he slipped over to Calley for her to see. He had written “ow” on the page. Calley averted her gaze from Elsa as she did her best to hide her giggle over Matthew’s reaction, tucking her chin into her chest.
“I continued my burglaries and realized I needed someone, a ghost if you will, for Robert to chase to keep the suspicion away from me. I targeted the Gartner’s jewelry store and that’s when I came across Lukas. Poor guy. He was quite nice to me when I came into the store to check things out. But someone had to be the fall guy and he happened to be it.
“I do have to admit that, after a while, the whole burglary thing became so boring. There was no more thrill, no more danger or risk of getting caught. Despite the Ghost Thief dropping off the radar for a time, Robert kept searching. You were right when you said that Robert would never give up on that case. He didn’t. In fact, he did figure out it was me.”
“And Captain Corben confronted you about it,” the Old Man said.
“When did that happen?”
“Yes,” Elsa replied. “Robert confronted me about it just a few nights ago. He asked me point blank if I was the Ghost Thief. I told him that I wasn’t, obviously, and that he needed to take a break from the investigation. Robert didn’t seem convinced, but he agreed to drop the conversation for the night. I sent him up to the attic, telling him to put away his case notes for the night, and came back upstairs with a drink for him.”
“A drink you had drugged,” Matthew said.
“Yes. I said I felt bad for him because he had to be under so much stress from the department in order to solve the case, causing him to point the finger at me. I gave him a glass of bourbon and gave him a kiss on the cheek, telling him to take his time, but to make sure that every piece of information from the case was cleaned up before coming downstairs. The fool drank it and knocked himself out. All I had to do was set up the attic to look like he committed suicide and then play the role of the grieving widow.”
“Word to the wise,” Calley said. “Don’t go into acting. I saw through the whole ‘grieving widow’ thing immediately. You’re too cold-hearted and, quite frankly, bitchy, to pull off the devoted wife role.”
“So what now?” Elsa asked.
“Well, we need a signed confession,” the Old Man began to say.
A written version of Elsa’s confession was quickly composed and Elsa signed it. She was then cuffed and taken into holding to await her arraignment.
“Oh, one last question,” Calley called out to Elsa before she was escorted from the room.
She did not reply, but she did cast her eyes on Calley, an expectant look on her face.
“Was it worth it?” Calley asked. “You did all this in order to keep your secret from getting out. In the end, you killed Captain Corben and still ended up revealing the secret of your true identity. Was it all really worth it?”
Elsa let out a small chuckle.
“Remember how I said burglary had lost its thrill?” she said. “Well, I think I found my new addiction.”
“Oh fuck,” Calley muttered to herself.
She turned to face Matthew and the Old Man with a frown.
“Did she just say what I think she said?” the Old Man’s expression mirrored hers.
“Yep. She’s a future serial killer if she doesn’t get convicted.”
“Well, I guess we’ll just have to make sure she’s convicted, then.”
“Probably should go finish up the paperwork then, before Elsa’s arraignment,” Calley said, looking at the Old Man.
He glanced between Matthew and Calley, a small smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.
“Sure, paperwork. I get the hint, I’ll leave.”
“Dad!” Matthew replied, exasperated.
“Remember, time’s a-wastin’ and I want grandchildren one day,” the Old Man said, patting his son on the shoulder before walking away.
Matthew flushed, causing Calley to chuckle. She motioned for him to lead the way back to his office, which he did. Once inside, Calley closed the door behind her.
“Hey,” she began to say. “I wanted to talk to you about what you said earlier in the interrogation room with Elsa.”
“Oh,” Matthew averted his gaze, his bottom lip discreetly pulled into his mouth.
Calley ran her fingers along the back of one of the chairs in front of Matthew’s desk. She locked her attention on the framed awards and degrees hanging on the wall behind the desk.
“You know, for the most part, I don’t give a shit about what people think of me. I do what I think is right, regardless of what the popular opinion is,” Calley paused. “But, what you said, about all of the things that make me, ‘perfect,’ as you put it, my sleeve of tattoos on my arms, my not-so-standard choice of hair highlights, and all that making me…”
Her voice trailed off.
“Beautiful,” Matthew finished her statement.
Calley turned her attention to Matthew to find him gazing at her, pale blue eyes soft but bright. Okay, now might be a good time to do what I thought about before, when this all started. Before she could change her mind, Calley placed one hand on his cheek and placed a peck on the other side.
“Thanks,” she said afterward. “Coming from you, that really means a lot.”
“I meant it,” Matthew said, covering the hand on his cheek with his own. “Every bit of it.”
No further words were exchanged, though volumes were said as they kept eye contact with one another and unconsciously leaned in to one another. A knock at Matthew’s office door caused the two of them to jump apart.
“Back to work, I guess,” Matthew said with a slight laugh.
“Of course,” Calley stepped toward the door in preparation to depart from the office. “We can’t keep chasing Ghosts forever.”
She threw a wink at him over her shoulder, leaving Matthew standing in his office with a grin on his face. But if only we could…