Can you guess whodunnit?
Stewart obliged her request and led her to the sitting room. "So, have you come to tell me you've arrested my mother's killer?" he asked after they both sat.
"The investigation is ongoing, Mr. Long. I've been assigned as lead detective and I'm actually here to ask a few questions."
"Well, I've already spoken to the police, but, of course, I'll do whatever it takes to help catch…" Stewart paused. His voice quivered as he trailed off. He swiped his trembling hands through his hair. Tears glazed his eyes, but he managed not to cry.
Given his muscular build and if he was not the culprit she sought, Detective Torrez imagined how truly hard he might have been taking his mother's death. Despite his brawn, he'd failed to protect her.
Stewart cleared his throat before speaking again. "How else might I help?"
"What was your mother's normal morning schedule?"
"She didn't go near the bakery on Saturdays and Sundays because she liked trying to spend those days doing things with her family. But during the weekdays, she would usually be at the bakery at around six a.m., helping to fire up the ovens and fryers."
"Even though she had employees to do such tasks?"
"My mother was a hands-on type of person. Especially since she was thinking of franchising the bakery, lately. Only when she fell ill would she stay away from the bakery, but sick days were rare for her." Stewart sucked in a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. "I can't bring myself to go to the place since her death," he admitted, his voice quiet and low.
"Would she be alone?"
"No, not since she'd hired Vincent."
"That would be Vincent Denato?"
Stewart nodded. "He's been at the bakery for almost three years, now. My mother trusted him."
"Had he arrived around the same time as your mother during all those years, or was it a habit he'd only recently begun?"
"He'd been meeting my mother for about the last couple of years."
Detective Torrez hesitated for a moment before continuing. "You say your mother trusted him. But what about the recent burglary and vandalism the bakery had suffered? Do you think your mother's trust could've blinded her when it came to Mr. Denato?"
Stewart gazed down at his shoes. "Truthfully, I don't know."
"Any chance of an affair?"
Stewart swung his gaze back onto Angela. "No," he insisted. "My father passed away many years ago, but I can assure you there was nothing going on between Mr. Denato and my mother."
"I understand. As sole beneficiary of your mother's life insurance and probably the one who stands to gain the most from her Will, you make it your job to see that no one else gets dibs on the money and estate. Right?"
"That's not what I meant!"
"Calm down, Mr. Long. We're almost done."
"Besides," Stewart went on. "My mother had far more trouble with Quinton Good and Karyn Newman than she ever had with me."
"Newman is your mother's ex-business partner, correct?"
"Yes, and Good was an employee who liked to cause trouble so my mother fired him almost as soon as she'd hired him."
Torrez asked Long to spell Good's first name to make sure she wrote the moniker correctly as she scribbled it in her notepad. "Now, I have to ask--where were you between five a.m. and seven a.m. on the morning of your mother's death?"
"I don't suppose anyone could corroborate that?"
Stewart's eyes lit up. "Karyn Newman…!"
"She phoned here that morning. I'd forgotten!" Stewart spoke in one breath. "She'd called around ten to five, looking for mother that morning. I remember the time, now, because I check my clock as soon as I'm awake. And also because I was pissed someone was calling so early."
"But it could've been your mother."
"It never would've been her because she knows...I mean she knew, I didn't wake until around eight a.m. on weekdays."
"Well, after you confirm the other employees who were at the bakery that morning, we're done." Angela read over the names she'd already written in her notepad as Stewart rattled off the names. "Can I ask you a question or two, now, detective?" he asked as she stood. "I'll do my best to answer," she replied.
"Do you know…how she died, yet?" The teary glaze returned to Stewart's eyes.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Long, but the toxicology reports aren't in yet," Angela lied, despite knowing that Brenda Long, pillar of the community, creator and owner of the popular local bakery, Have Your Cake & Eat It Too, had died from eating a cake doughnut sprinkled with cyanide-laced powdered sugar.
Detective Torrez showed herself out. The names of the bakery's employees played on her mind as she steered her car away from the curb where she'd parked. Vincent Denato lived uptown, Carla Peters lived downtown, and Zoë Richardson in midtown. She urged her unmarked sedan uptown.
Twenty minutes later, she sat across from Denato in his living room. "How did you come to find Mrs. Long on the day of her death?"
"I found Mrs. Long soon after I'd entered the bakery." Shaken by the memory, he shut his eyes for a moment before going on. "She was seated, collapsed forward onto her desk. There was a doughnut that had been bitten into on her desk, also, and a cup of coffee that had spilled."
"Were you and Mrs. Long romantically involved?" Angela asked, taking note of Denato's bloodshot eyes. "You're a good looking guy. I can see Brenda Long being attracted to you and vice versa. Until she quit you, recently..."
"No!" he answered, insulted. "She was old enough to be my mom."
"Age doesn't really matter these days."
"Well, it mattered to me. I liked her as a friend and she was a great boss."
"Was it unusual to find the door unlocked as it was on the day of Mrs. Long's death?"
"Not really. Sometimes I found it locked, sometimes I found it unlocked."
"Did you happen to know if your boss was having any trouble with anyone before or after the burglary and vandalism?"
"Only with that idiot Good. Miss Newman visited a couple of mornings a few days after the break-in. Mrs. Long didn't seem too happy to see her, but the real troublemaker was Good from what I could tell."
Since Denato's whereabouts on the morning of the murder were well known and corroborated, Angela was soon done questioning him. She headed downtown. When she arrived at Carla Peters' home, she found Zoë Richardson there, also. Two birds, one stone, the detective thought. The women could have passed for sisters, both of them brunette with heart-shaped faces. She'd noticed how they'd appeared as surprised to see her as she was to find them together. Angela introduced herself, then asked, "Something I'm interrupting, ladies?"
"Sorta," Carla blurted. Her confession earned her a nudge in her side from Zoë's elbow. "Ow! Well, you've been worried about what you know. So, who better to tell than Detective Torrez, here?"
"What's been keeping you up at night, Miss Richardson?" Angela inquired after Zoë remained silent.
"A couple of days before Mrs. Long's death, I overheard her and Miss Newman arguing," Zoë admitted at last. "The bakery was closed, but I just happened to be the last one there out of the staff. Mrs. Long and Miss Newman must've thought I'd left."
"Did you hear enough to tell what the argument was about?" Angela asked.
"Most of what I'd heard was about Miss Newman wanting back into business with Mrs. Long."
"I see. Thank you for bringing yourself to tell me. Isn't there something else you would like to share?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"When did you plan to tell me that Good was your boyfriend? It must've pissed you off that Mrs. Long fired him and accused him of the burglary and vandalism. Plus, you and Miss Peters seem tight. One of you offs your boss and you both swear to keep quiet."
Zoë shot a glance at Carla. Carla lowered her eyes to the floor. Zoë returned her gaze to Angela. "Quinton is my ex-boyfriend! And a stalker! Mrs. Long didn't know until after she'd hired him. It was his latest sick ploy to invade my life and turn it upside down."
"Mrs. Long was great to us," Carla chimed in. "Once she knew the truth about Zoë's ex, she got rid of him."
"Then, surprise, surprise, about a month or so later her bakery gets broken into and messed up," Zoë said. "Mrs. Long knew he'd done it and was determined to somehow get him to pay for what he'd done."
"So she was looking into things herself?" Angela asked.
Zoë nodded. "She would sort of keep me in the loop by letting me know she was still working to make Quinton pay for his crime."
"And how long before her death did she tell you that?"
"Maybe two weeks." Zoë shrugged. "I think she might've even hired a private eye," she added. "Carla and me, detective, we're not capable of…doing something like that to Mrs. Long or anybody. But Quinton…he's more than capable. And he knows some shady characters, too."
"One more question, ladies. Where were the two of you between five a.m. and seven a.m. the morning of Mrs. Long's death?"
"On my way to work," Carla answered first. "I got there at about seven, but cops were all over the place."
"Same here," said Zoë. "It was a few minutes after seven when I arrived. Carla was already there along with the cops."
On her drive away from Carla's home, Detective Torrez took a route that ran past the bakery. A small afternoon crowd lingered outside the closed shop, gazing at the bunch of cards, handwritten messages, candles, and flower bouquets that made up a makeshift memorial. Angela steered her sedan toward her next stops.
Quinton Good was a no-show, however, at both the home and work addresses the detective had on him, and her brief talk with the apartment building's super revealed that Good hadn't been seen for the past two days. Not since Long's death, Torrez thought. Still, she decided to hang around for a bit. An hour later, Good remained an invisible man, no tall, thin guys meeting his description showing up. Angela wondered if it was because the man was guilty of not only the B and V, but also of murder. She reluctantly headed for her final destination for the day.
Soon, Detective Torrez found herself seated on a Queen Anne style sofa in the living room of Karyn Newman's mansion. Newman wore a skirt suit made of material that seemed to have come from Heaven. Everything surrounding the woman shouted wealth. She certainly did not appear to need the small profit she'd once earned as Long's partner. So perhaps the money didn't matter and Newman had other reasons to silence Brenda Long. "Where were you between five a.m. and seven a.m. two mornings ago?"
"I was probably just waking. After I learned of Brenda's death, that day seemed to become a blur."
"Then I suppose you don't recall making any early calls that day, either, since it's all a blur to you, now."
Karyn's eyebrows shot up. "What is it you think you know, detective?"
"That you were probably fully awake and that you probably called Brenda Long's home the morning of her death. A check of your phone records would let me know for sure."
"Forgetting I made a call does not equal murder."
"Do you know Quinton Good?"
"No. Who is he?"
"Is your memory still too fuzzy for you to tell me why you'd phoned Mrs. Long that morning?" Detective Torrez pressed on, ignoring Newman's question.
"I was probably thinking of meeting her, but decided not to, after all."
"So, when did you last see Mrs. Long?"
"I went to the bakery a couple of times before…her untimely death. But after the burglary, I thought it safer to stay away for a while, and only had contact with her via the phone from then on until I thought about meeting her that unfortunate morning.
"Brenda and I really had an amicable split," Karyn went on, as Angela wrote in her notepad. "She and I were looking into reuniting as business partners. Maybe someone had a reason to keep that from happening."
Her interview with Newman soon ended, and Detective Torrez drove back to headquarters. She secured an appointment with Brenda Long's attorney before delving further into Miss Newman's and Mrs. Long's financial records. Her search of Long's bank and credit card statements led her to the private eye Long had hired, who she managed to set up an appointment with, also.
"Brenda was indeed looking into franchising, but she'd decided to do so as a sole proprietor," the lawyer informed Detective Torrez.
"I was going to be coming to you, soon," the private investigator stated. "I'd finally helped Mrs. Long find out who was behind the burglary and vandalism a couple of days before she was killed." He showed the detective a copy of a photocopied check. "Someone made a dumb mistake by leaving a paper trail to the nitwit they'd hired."
Angela stared at the document, already aware of the payoff Good had most likely received not only for the burglary and vandalism but also for getting his hands on the cyanide. And he knows some shady characters, she recalled Richardson's words. With the use of her notes and evidence confirmed by her visits to Long's private investigator and family attorney, Detective Torrez declared, "I know who killed Brenda Long."
Then, go to "The Solution" , please.