A piece of Micro-Mystery fiction starring Kevin Vidocq
|Kevin Vidocq and the Stranglehold
My friend Kevin Vidocq lived, or rather lives, in one of those small, nameless towns in the midst of the Eastern States. It was, in fact, this situation that allowed him to follow his hobby with such perspective. Often far removed from both the location and participants of a crime, he would delight in weaving together from the facts as they were known to the public, as well as himself, the solution to the ‘puzzle’. Oftentimes he would complete his ‘story’ by filling in, through induction and imagination, those details that had not been provided.
Such a crime had indeed come to his attention only weeks ago, and as te solution has not yet, at least publicly, come to light I felt that perhaps putting my little discussion with Kevin to paper could perhaps do more good than harm. I suppose I could also argue that it is my humble attempt to follow in the literary traditions of men such as Drs. Watson and Parker, and even Mr. Manders of a more infamous disposition. But, this is mostly my way of explaining my own somewhat tedious method of writing.
As for the case in question, I hardly need to say too much about itb but need give only the merest of reflections. Towards the end of the last year, between the latter days of November and the early days of December newspapers throughout the state had taken a great interest in the death of Mr. John Lynnstead. A short summary of the events can be given simply as: the man was found, strangled, in his own bedroom with strange and unidentified bruising around his neck. What made the puzzle perplexing was that the house’s burglar alarm was never tripped nor was it deactivated at any time in the night while his wife sat in the living room only yards away.
I myself had spent several days in a... less than successful attempt at divining a solution through my own methods. Were it not for assurances that Mrs. Lynnstead lacked the necessary strength to inflict the injuries that were found upon the dead man’s neck I would have fallen in with the masses who accused her of the murder. However with the absence of the obvious solution, no new ones occurred to me; at least not until I received a text message from my friend Kevin insisting that I meet up at his apartment for food. With Kevin’s somewhat reclusive nature well known to me I could only assume he wanted to discuss something with me as well.
It was in this way that I arrived around dinner time to find Kevin sitting in his favorite spot, an overstuffed high backed chair of strange green color. My friend seemed to be asleep in his seat and so I decided to amuse myself just a bit by slamming his door just hard enough to startle him awake. Dark brown eyes blinked as he yawned; “You’re early.” He declared, stretching himself out, catlike.
“It’s six o’clock.” I countered, watching him shrug his shoulders and wander about the small rooms of his apartment.
“You’ve been reading the papers?” Kevin inquired, rummaging through the ‘fridge. “There’s an ink smudge on your thumb and forefinger.” He added before I had a chance to question him. “And since you do most of your writing through e-mail...”
“An easy deduction.” I challenged him. “Why don’t you guess what story?”
“There’d be no guessing for that, if you wanted to challenge me you’d have asked me to deduce what paper you’d been reading.” He asserted with an impish grin. Before I could issue him just that challenge he pushed forward though. “So then, I’m guessing you’re at least aware of the Lynnstead murder?”
“Murder!?” I cried out, surprising myself at the reaction.
“Oh come on, even you have to realize there’s no other solution but murder to it.” The lanky logician declared, tossing a box of pizza onto the table. After a few moments of thought I realized though that he was right. No other explanation could be pushed forward.; and trust me I had tried, if only to have a counter towards the confidence my friend displayed.
Another few moments passed before Kevingrinned at me across the table. “Wanna know how it went down?” He asked at last, startling me out of my reverie.
“You know?” I asked, somewhat incredulous. “Did the papers pulish some answers?”
“Oh ye of a little faith.” He declared while sitting back in his seat. “Eat your pizza and I shall tell you a tale.”
Well, my curiosity was piqued so I sat down and took my first slice.
Kevin, on the other hand, produced from beneath his chair what looked like a shoebox; inside were a series of newspaper clippings. Looking them over like a writer consulting his notes he nodded to himself.
“Right then,” he declared, clearing his throat. “the first part comes from the weekly standard. Namely, a picture.” Kevin asserted, slipping a color photo across the table. In it was a man of middle age, his hair iron grey as he smiled, a few wrinkles along his eyes. He was, I suppose, relatively handsome.
“That is John Lynnstead.” He told me simply. “Chiropractor. Recently embroiled in a rather bitter land dispute with his neighbor regarding a strip of apparently rather high quality topsoil between their homes and a very sporting fence.” As Kevin spoke, he grew more comfortable with his role as the storyteller. “Now, normally this wouldn’t mean very much at all, just some harsh words spoken on either side of that fence but, these are tough times one supposes. Men get desperate, especially if they’re looking into a good sale on their house. Then... well, as the saying goes ‘the one thing they aren’t making more of is land’. Either way, between economics and a generation gap with Mr. Lynstead being in his early fifties there was no love lost between him and his neighbor.”
As Kevin finished his statement he withdrew from the shoebox a second picture, this one holding a young man possessed of longish dark hair tied back into a ponytail, his chin graced with a small growth of stubble and eyes framed by a pair of glasses. All in all I was given the odd impression of a ‘hippy’ by his appearance.
“Enter into our story Frank Cargill, fast living twenty-something neighbor of Mr. Lynnstead. Now, in addition to the economy and the generation gap there was one other point of contention between the two men. It seems Mr. Cargill was by profession a veterinarian, and worse still had a habit of bringing his work home with him.” Kevin paused a moment before adding, somewhat whimsically. “I can only imagine the noise and the smell but I suppose John didn’t need to imagine either. Either way, John had lodged more than a few complaints against his neighbor be they noise violations or others.”
I nodded, eating my pizza quietly as he searched through the box a third time before finally producing his next requirement. Another photograph of an older woman, her wavy chestnut hair greying slowly into an odd off-white beehive hairstyle. She appeared quite friendly and grandmotherly by all appearances from the picture.
“Jill Lynnstead, the third and final player in our little tragedy. As you know, the immediate suspect when you find a dead spouse is the surviving spouse. Between that and certain muck-racking journalists-” here, Kevin seemed to be less than reproachful in his use of the term, “we have quite an additional bit of information on.”
He settled back into his seat and steepled his fingers, recalling the information needed. “Now, Jill had started her life with aspirations of stardom. I suppose a lot of people do. Still, she never seemed to move beyond a few bit-parts here and there. Honest living but hardly the amount of money or exposure you’d expect from even a C-list celebrity. Eventually, she was forced to retire from the go-go life of a would-be starlet due to hearing damage. The how and why seem lost to time, but I suppose that’s a story for a different puzzle regardless. Now, despite her failed attempt at stardom this was a woman who was used to living in a certain way... and that certain way was ‘high society’. Once again however, the market has come into play and Oh! dear me. Look at who is the sole beneficiary of a life insurance policy measured in six digits? Mrs. Jill Lynnstead. That is the strength on which she is suspected.”
“It seems a bit more solid than a few feed of dirt and grass.” I commented between bites.
“It does, doesn’t it?” Kevin agreed wistfully. “But, we have the dramatis personae, so why don’t we move onto the setting of the tragedy?” He suggested, pulling out another photograph to lay before me. This one showed two houses that could most easily be described as ‘large, brick McMansions’ the only separating feature being a grill towards the back of one. My eyes were drawn to a spot of singed grass between the two, quite near a window on the closest house. Before I could think any more of this picture though, my friend was speaking once again.
“Very nice, eh?” He asked sardonically. “Both new-ish, top dollar expense. A few extra details were brought out in the investigations that have raised several questions though. The primary one being that the Lynnstead home’s burglar alarm, a top of the line system, was at no time during the night tripped or even de-activated. Logs from the company confirm this. Apparently when questioned about this oddity Mrs. Lynnstead’s only defense was to state she and John hadn’t been sleeping in the same room of late and to make reference to a ‘creepy shadow’ in the night. Yet again though, the newspapers jump back to the logs. But, a determined few wanted to know why husband and wife weren’t sharing the same bed.”
“Well, there could be any number of reasons for that.” I mused.
“True enough.” Kevin agreed. “But that mystery wasn’t allowed to remain a mystery long. In an interview Mrs. Lynnstead told reporters that the reason behind the arrangement was simple. The window of the master bedroom was jammed, unmoving a few inches upwards. She felt it was too cold, Mr. Lynnstead didn’t agree and felt no need to try and fix the window yet. In fact,” the detective declared, leaning forward just a bit in his seat. “she had become so frustrated as to ask Mr. Cargill if he wouldn’t mind helping with it.”
The last statement was allowed to hang in the air for several seconds as Kevin rested his eyes on mine, apparently waiting for some reaction or another.
“And?” I finally asked, shifting in my seat, acutely aware of his attempt at being dramatic.
“And,” The lanky logician sighed, slumping back into his seat. “with that I had all the pieces I needed to put the puzzle together.”
“I’m still in the dark.” I shrugged.
Kevin sighed once more before settling into his seat, closing his eyes as if he were watching the scene unfold as he described it. “Imagine now, that it’s late at night and you’ve just watched the light go out in Lynnstead’s room. You’ve been stewing over the fued, perhaps more than is justified. Certainly more than is justified but that land would increase the value of your home and you’re looking to sell. Then you realize it. You’ve got all the tools at your disposal right there to be rid of him. An open window... and a snake.”
My friend must have known the question was coming as he raised his hand before I even spoke it. “A snake, a spider, anything venomous would do.” He conceded. “But a snake is easiest and I’m certain if records at Cargill’s clinic were to be checked they would find he was caring for one the days leading up to the murder.”
My incredulity abated, for the moment at least, he continued.
“You’ve brought it home, or maybe you drive back to the clinic to get it. Could be either. And so, during the night you creep across the yards and that confounded ‘no man’s land’ between them. Carefully, oh so carefully, you creep past the living room. A street light nearly gives you away by your shadow, but Jill simply continues watching T.V. or reading or whatever. Your heartbeat must be incredible by this point. How could you explain creeping around in the middle of the night with a snake?
Finally, though, you arrive at the window. It’s stuck open and open just enough to allow your, literally, cold-blooded accomplice to slip through.
The night is cold, and he immediately searches for something warm to heat up with. The source of heat it chooses is John Lynnwood’s sleeping body, as you knew it would eventually. The man wakes up, panicked. He struggles to pry the snake away but it wraps more tightly around his neck in response. It doesn’t take long, the deed is done and the man is dead. With Jill’s hearing and a television in the night no one hears him go. Strangled and with strange inhuman marks left on his neck.”
It seemed he might have been content to leave the story there had I not cleared my throat. “And what about the snake? He couldn’t just leave it in the room.”
“You saw the picture of the houses. Is it that hard to connect? When Mr. Lynnstead was reduced to a corpse his body temperature would drop. The snake would get cold again and look for heat. Mr. Cargill needs only to drag his grill to the neighbors yard and light it up. He’s confident now, even if problems arise... he’s looking for an animal that escaped from his home. If the snake is found in the Lynnstead house then it’s a terrible tragedy. Accidental death, and he has a few good sound bites promising never to bring his work home with him again.”
Silence reigned between the two of us for several minutes afterward as I struggled to find an alternative explanation to his fantastic tale. In the end, far-fetched as it was, I could only accept it. Kevin would, himself, eventually phone in his theory as a tip. Either the police had felt, as I did, that it was too fantastic to really follow through with and he was filed away with the cranks or there was no truly concrete evidence to be found.
As for my taking the time to write this story, I wish I could say it was for the interest of reading as Dr. Watson would have. Rather, my explanation comes more closely to that of Charlie Chaplin ‘I got into it for the money and the art grew out of it. I’m sorry if it disappoints anyone, but it’s the truth.’
Still, perhaps this isn’t the end of my recollections of my friend’s adventures?