A husband of a family of friends is murdered. Crooks and the family are not what they seem
| Middle-sized towns like ours offered a slender social life, and what there was, was respectably boring. Other than a few gala charity events, formal balls at the Country Club and the rare noteworthy sporting event, opportunities for high-end social displays were limited to Rex and Elly's parties. They were something. The few referred to the couple as Mr. and Mrs. Gatsby behind their backs. They owned several high end car dealerships. People flew into town to buy their BMW's and Mercedes.
I had been good friends with the Collitons for years, back when I was married. However, I was bewildered at their last Christmas party, when Elly Colliton directed a certain remark at me. We stood chatting in a threesome when Elly's neighbor begged off to tend to an old acquaintance.
Elly looked at me with some anger in her eyes. She concealed her anger well. I'd seen her demur when I knew she was on fire inside. The room was noisy but she spoke quietly and crisply, "I think Rex is cheating on me."
I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head as though thinking about her remark. But I wasn’t thinking. I was flummoxed, trying to come up with a response.
She looked hard at me and waited on my silence.
I sputtered a bit, then waved my hand in front of her, “Don’t tell me your evidence.”
"I'm going to hire a detective." she said turning away to mix with her other guests,
After gulping down a cocktail to recover from Elly’s remark, I moved about the rooms. The Colliton home was four connected pavilions on different levels with a bar and hors devours table on each. I wended my way toward the pool level and fresh air. On the way, I stopped to converse with guests I enjoyed. I dodged those I did not.
It took me almost an hour to get to the pool side bar. As I ordered my drink, a hand gripped the top of my shoulder. I turned to see Rex Colliton's perpetually smiling face.
He shook my hand, and reached down to pick up my fresh drink, "Can I talk to you for a minute, Sammy?" I agreed and he led me to a relatively unpopulated spot against the pool fence.
Rex was fit and handsome with a stunning shock of blond hair, always combed and only a touch of grey at the temples. He handed me my drink and spoke in a low voice, "I think Elly is fucking around on me."
I looked for a twinkle in his eye. This had to be a Colliton family prank, and I guessed that I was chosen as the victim due to our common interest in a good “put on.”
"I think I know who's banging her," I answered playing along with the game.
Rex looked back at me with genuine shock on his face.
"Yes, a short penis named Rex Colliton."
"Not funny, Sammy. I'm serious." He looked down at the floor and shook his head.
His reaction startled me. This was out of the Colliton's humor spectrum. This not a joke, it was a coincidence. A terrible coincidence for me. My friendship with the Colliton's was not so close that these kind of confidences should be shared with me
I hesitated to mention Rex's wife’s recently declared suspicions. But maybe Elly had planted them with me, guessing that I would share her remarks with Rex. My experience has been that women are the craftier sex.
“Rex,” I began probing, “Is it possible that Elly could have the same suspicions of you?”
“Yeah, sometimes these things come in pairs. A mutual distrust.”
"Your two divorces make you an expert?"
"Sammy, has Elly got a reason?"
“There's no one.”
“And what evidence do you have to suspect her?”
He started to speak but I cut him off, “No, don’t tell me. I’ve got to go, Rex.”
Rex grabbed my sleeve, “You won't listen to my reasons?”
“I didn’t listen to hers.” I sat my drink on a shelf and walked toward the door. My departure was a coward's exit but I needed time to consider a proper response to what had been told me today by the host and hostess.
The next few days, I made an effort to not think about the doubts I’d heard from the Collitons. It was a hard secret to bear alone and I had no one with whom to share the matter. Everyone in town knew Rex and Elly Collition. Surely both of them intended that I keep their suspicions secret?
I knew the kind of stuff people said when poison between a couple went public. I had dealt with my own failed relationships, the most recent only two years ago. Some professional analysis concluded that I suffered from a common male deficiency, the lack of an inability to read between the lines. I barely perceived my former wive's dissatisfaction with what I regarded as connubial bliss. I had no idea that my last wife had selected a more genteel mate before leaving my bed.
Following our divorce is the time you need support. Unfortunately, after a divorce, old friends, especially married couples, often drop you from their social list. Rex and Elly Colliton never did that to me. If anything, they included me more frequently in their activity schedule. I felt an indebtedness to the Collitons, and cherished their friendship.
They stayed friendly with my ex-wives too, although they both left town and moved on to a greater splendors.
I didn't talk to either of the Collitons until a couple of weeks later, after dragging my golf cart off the 18th hole. I headed for the club house seeking restoration. In the early evening, the club house bar was usually populated with groups of three or four speaking the smallest of talk but tonight, people were crowded around tables and their conversations melded into a low roar.
Omar, the bar tender, pushed through the crowd, He was coming my way and raised his finger when our eyes met, as if he meant to communicate with me.
When he got a few feet away, I spoke my drink order loud enough for him to hear, hoping to save him squeezing through the crowd. But he kept coming my way. Omar cupped his hand and whispered in my ear, “Elly Colliton wants to speak to you on the bar telephone.” I nodded and followed him back to the bar. I wondered why Elly didn’t call me on my cell phone, but then maybe she didn't have my cell number.
I picked up the receiver and put it to my ear while covering the other ear with my hand so the crowd noise was not so distracting.
“Sammy. Can you come over to the house. Now?” Her voice hinted at urgency and her words were to straight the point. Missing was the usual warming congeniality.
“Well, yes. I suppose so. It will take me ten minutes.”
“Thank you,” and she hung up without further explanation.
During the seven block drive to her house, my mind raced to come up with a reason for Elly’s call. If the reason was Rex’s infidelity, I fortified myself to refuse involvement. I didn’t know anything and was not going to confront Rex regarding the matter..
It turned out that I would not be asked to confront Rex. I rang the door bell. Elly answered. She asked me to follow her down to the pool level. The sun had set and no lights were turned on in the house. I bumped into a couple of chairs and a table while trying to keep up with Elly in the dark.
Finally we were standing poolside. Street lights and the moon shed some light making things more visible than in the house.
“Elly,” I asked, “Is there a problem you need to talk about?
She didn’t speak, she just pointed at the pool. At first I thought she was inviting me for a swim. I turned my head from side to side.
She pointed again and tilted her head toward the water.
I looked. Floating three feet under the water’s surface in the middle of the pool was a nude male body, face down, arms extended.
“Yes. Shot,” Elly spoke then closed her eyes.
I looked closer at the body and could see a small hole in his back.
“You?” I asked.
“How did you know the hole was from a gunshot? There’s no blood.”
“That pistol,” she pointed at an automatic sitting on a veranda side table against the block wall.
“Did you touch that gun?”
She nodded affirmatively. "Because it looked like mine."
"Are the police on the way?"
"You call them now."
"The call can't come from me. I'm not going to arrive for another five minutes."
"But your here?"
"Not to the cops. They're not going to like you calling me before them. So remember, you called me after you called them. Get it?"
"But I hoped you’d call the police and say you had discovered Rex. I would go back to the lake house, like I’d never been here."
"The cops would find out that you'd been here. Are carrying your cell phone?"
"Yes. But I called you at the club house on a land line and you answered on a land line."
"Your cell phone bounces off towers even when you are not using it. And there's a good chance the neighbors saw you pull up in the drive. The cops will find out that you've been here. Denying it would make you look guilty. Did you kill Rex, Elly?"
"No. But it looks like I did. That’s why I called you. You are the only person that I could talk to about Rex’s affair.”
“We didn’t really talk about it, if you recall.”
“I haven’t mentioned it to anyone but you. Because you’re a lawyer. I’ll need one. And I thought you might know a detective who could help me, discretely. I talked to a few detectives but they were so creepy I couldn’t hire any of them to follow Rex. I don’t want the cops or anyone else knowing about Rex’s extra marital affairs. The kids would be devastated.”
"I can’t be your lawyer in this matter but I might know the right detective.”
“Thank you.” Elly gripped my arm to make her point.
Why were you coming home from the lake now?"
"Someone called me and told me I should see what is going on in the pool here at the house. That's all they said."
"Man or a woman?
"How long did it take you to get home?"
"Half an hour."
"Call 9-1-1 on your cell phone right now. Report your husband as drowned. Let the cops find out that he’s been shot."
I wished that Elly had been crying when I got here. Wifely anguish would have been a nice touch. But Elly had always been poised. I had seen her perform in difficult situations over the years, social and otherwise.
She and Rex had an 18 year-old daughter who had died in a car wreck ten years ago. Elly was the family pillar through the whole thing. Rex and their other children augured in for several months after. They needed professional counseling. Elly was sad but kept herself together so she could hold the others up. She reminded me of a swan gliding across the pond, a bird so serene that you don’t notice its feet are paddling furiously underneath.
The cops arrived a few minutes later. I played the role of the comforting family friend. They questioned Elly out of my earshot. Then they worked me over. They didn’t like me being a lawyer. I knew that would irritate them.
They fished Rex out of the pool and asked me one last question about seeing a woman leaving the house. Apparently Elly had burped that much up. I hoped it was true.
I had nothing for them so walked over to Elly and told her to call me tomorrow.
She whispered, “Sammy, I need help.”
“I leaned over and whispered, “I think you’re doing well with the police here. They seem to be stumbling over each other to come up with reasons why this was a break-in shooter.”
Elly was slender with more than adequate breasts that still perched high on her chest, perhaps medically assisted. A lovely woman. She and Rex were always golden skinned, not from a tanning bed but rather due to recent time spent in a tropical island or golfing down in Arizona. Cops as a rule are horn-dogs.
Someone beat Elly to the call the next morning. It was her son, Jeffery. "Mr. Black, the cops are questioning my mother about the murder."
"Where is she at now?"
"Down here at the courthouse. Her attorney is on his way. The cops found a gun at the scene with her finger prints on it. They think is might be the gun that shot Dad."
"Jeff, do you think your mother did it?"
"No. And that's why she has to talk to you. But not on the telephone, she says."
"Tell her to meet me for lunch at noon at the Country Club. Only her, no one else, not even you."
I slid into my favorite booth, isolated in the corner of the Country Club restaurant. No one could lurk nearby without being obvious. Whatever Elly Colliton had to tell me was probably not for sharing.
She arrived right at noon and sat down across from me.
"How are you holding up, Elly?" Her eyes were red and puffy. The swan was showing signs of wear.
"Thanks for meeting me," she said with a raspy voice.
"Probably your first cop grilling?"
"Yeah. I didn't understand a lot of the details except that I can't leave the city limits."
"Who's your lawyer."
"I like his name."
"He came highly recommended. From Seattle. Our family attorney doesn't do criminal law. Not out in the open anyway." She smiled like there was a story behind her remark.
"Elly. Any idea who might have shot Rex? Or set the frame up for you?"
"Not exactly. But some strange things have been happening lately. Involving the car dealerships. Especially the BMW store. It's our gold mine. And then there’s the other woman."
"Remember when I told you that I suspected Rex of cheating?"
"Yes, I do."
"He has been meeting a woman regularly for the last two months. A friend of mine spotted Rex going into the Downtown Hilton. My friend followed. He went into the bar and had a drink with some woman. Then Rex got up and left the hotel. The woman left a few moments later. That's how I first got word.
A couple of weeks later, I overheard Rex tell someone on the phone to meet him at the Starbucks next to the library. Rex doesn't drink coffee, so I took my cue and zipped on down to watch from across the street. They chatted at a table, then he she got up and left. He followed out the door a few minutes later. I guess that’s the never-leave-together tactic.
"I do see enough of these things to know that nothing you've said cinches that they are involved romantically or sexually."
"I recognized the woman, Sammy. So did my friend who watched her come out of the Hilton room."
"She's the wife of Rex's right hand man, Phil Cameron. Cameron manages the BMW store. He's built it up into what it is. Rex gave him a share of the business last year."
"And that's been good for business?"
"I think so, it'd making big money. But maybe bad for their marriage. There are rumors that the Camerons may split. Rex told me that he didn't want to confront Phil about his personal life. I guess I found out why."
Elly sat quiet for a moment, then spoke, "I feel like something bad is going with the dealerships. Rex had been anxious lately, the kind of nervous he gets when worried about the business. He recently started leaving his cell phone on at night. He never did that before. Something's up."
"Yeah, maybe something bigger than shagging his partner's wife."
We finished lunch and parted with my promise to dig around in the unknown.
My best plan would be to get to Phil Cameron's wife with something that would shake her out of the tree. I had enough cards but needed to think how to play them. I didn't want her to clam up. If I confronted her with what I knew about her intersection with Rex Colliton, she might spill the beans, if she is guilty. If she’s not guilty, she would probably be insulted and call the police.
I got tip from a cop buddy that a subpoena was coming at me to force my testimony at Elly Colliton's the hearing. The police wouldn't like me nosing around other persons involved in the case, especially if they knew the connection between Mrs. Cameron and Rex Colliton.
I intended to do my intimidation of Phil Cameron's wife at the same Starbucks where she had been observed by Elly Colliton. Elly had given me Mrs. Cameron's telephone number.
My call to her was friendly but vague with a promise of some information for her benefit.
We met that afternoon. I extended my hand and spoke my name, “Samuel Black, Mrs. Cameron." She didn’t shake my hand and sat down. Mrs. Cameron told me that she recognized me from the Colliton's soirees and that she knew what I did for a living. Straight away, she asked me what news I had for her. I sensed that Mrs. Cameron didn’t like me and the fact that I was a lawyer.
I laid a file folder in front of me and spoke of her meeting with Rex Collition at the Hilton Hotel in the past, including drinks in the lounge. Then I jumped to her recent meeting with Rex at this very Starbucks. I pretended to have other rendezvous dates to recite if necessary.
"It's not what you think," she said.
"It never is. I am looking for the identity of the person who killed Rex Colliton."
"Have you tried his wife? I thought she was being charged?"
"No, Elly Colliton was framed. By someone who had a motive."
"If you think I was romantically involved with Rex, you're wrong, very wrong. I had one bullshitting salesman in my life. That’s enough"
"And yet you met regularly?"
"I was helping him and he was helping me. We were both being screwed by the same man. Myself more literally than Rex."
"Is your reference to your husband? Phil?"
"Yes. You are deductive."
"You are sarcastic."
"Sorry,” she answered in a softer voice. “Rex was building a list of names. Every couple of weeks, I supplied a few names and addresses of certain people. People Rex was interested in for his list. People who purchased very expensive BMW's from his dealership."
"You supplied names of people who purchased cars from the dealership?. Rex owned the damn place. Didn't he have his own list?"
"You don't understand. These were special kinds of purchasers. Many from out of state."
"Why were these purchasers special?"
"Most of them paid cash or wired money. I ran a credit check on several of them. Usually they were unemployed. Or working a two-bit job. And yet paid ninety thousand dollars to Rex's Mercedes-Benz dealership for a top of the line sports utility vehicle.
"No, I don't think so. I don't know their scam but Rex thought he did. He never told me. These purchasers called my husband at home, day and night. Always on the land line. He kept a file of their names locked in his desk at the house. I figured it was something illegal and told Rex about it at a private moment during one of their parties. He was very interested."
"You tattled on your money-making husband?"
"Our marriage is doomed. Phil and I both know it. I've become a nosey wife. I hoped for some way to preserve my portion of the BMW dealership that my husband shares with Rex Colliton. It's a fortune, even half of it, my half at divorce time. I asked Rex to keep the partnership structured so 'community property' applied. If my husband was breaking the law, he might shuffle me out of my share of the assets."
"You offered to meet with Rex and furnish the names of these 'special' customers when they were added to the file that was locked in your husband's desk. In exchange, Rex would protect your assets until the day of divorcement?"
"Yes. You catch on fast. Did you graduate cum laude from law school?"
"Graduation was in the gym. They didn’t give out cum laude. Nobody spoke Latin."
"Rex carried a laptop to our meetings. He entered the names from my notes when we met, then gave me back my notes. He didn't want to keep them. You probably ought to find that laptop."
We parted on that tense note, but I thought Mrs. Cameron was telling the truth.
I needed to do two things, to hire a detective and get the special file off of Rex Collition’s laptop. The former was easy, I called Tubby McQueen. Tubby didn’t get all hung up on legalities when handling a case. He had pulled some big marshmallows out of the fire for me.
But getting that file was going to be more difficult. The cops probably had it sealed up as evidence.
I got a hold of Rex’s son Jeffery who had called me when his mom was being questioned.
“Jeff, Sammy Black here.”
“Mom says you’re working on nailing my father’s killer. You’ve always been good to us, Mr. Black.”
“Jeff, it’s Sammy or Sam. Mr. Black was for when you were a kid. And I didn’t care back then, but your mom and dad wanted it that way.”
“Yes, Mr. Sam.”
“We’re all working for your mom. And that’s where you come in. I need your father’s laptop. I don’t think it’s his work computer. It’s probably a personal laptop.”
“Sorry. I’m here at Mom’s house but the cops took both laptops.”
“I need to download a file off your dad’s laptop but I don’t want the cops to get into my shorts about it. This is on the QT.”
“Sorry Mr. Black, Sam, but I can’t help you there.”
“Okay. I’ll work another angle, thanks Jeff.”
“Ah, wait. Let me think. Dad had some software that copied every file on all of our home computers and laptops. The stuff was copied to a storage site. I think he set it up to keep tabs on us kids. Let me see if he still uses it. I may be able to download his files on that laptop. Let me look and call you back.”
“Dig hard, for your mom.” I hung up.
While waiting for Jeff’s return call, I tried to come up with reasons that people with no money could be buying automobiles that cost a hundred thousand dollars. I needed the reasons and where the money was coming from.
The phone rang.
“It’s me, Jeff. “I got Dad’s files off the backup web site. But there are hundreds of files off the laptop.”
“Jeff, what I am looking for is a list of purchaser names of expensive cars from your Dad’s dealerships. There would be some recent entries. Probably only names, VIN numbers and purchase prices. Maybe model numbers and addresses too.”
“Hold on.” I could hear Jeff setting the phone down.
I waited for ten minutes. Jeff picked up again, “Sam, you still there?”
“I think I found something under supplemental dealership files, a file called ERRANT SALES. It sounds like an ordinary business file, just like all the rest except that it has a list like you mentioned, just names, sales dates, addresses, VIN numbers and purchase price. And all of the cars were sold for over ninety grand.”
“Jeff, that could be the list.”
“You want me to e-mail it to you?”
“No, Jeff. I want you to print out two copies of that list. Hide one in the most secret place you know and I am coming over to pick up the other copy. Thanks.”
I made tracks out of my office and sped to the Colliton home. Jeff handed me the list and wanted to tell me where he was hiding the other copy.
“No, don’t tell me. Only you should know that place.”
I went to my office and studied the list of names. Some of the names showed up more than once. One name, a woman in Phoenix showed up eight times. Buying different models of hundred thousand dollar SUV’s. Strange.”
I called Tubby McQueen.
“Tubby, can you come to my office, ASAP. “
“You need somebody to rearrange your office furniture? ”
“No. I need you to ply information from some folks.”
“I got skills at that. Expensive skills.”
“Get over here. I’ll pay your inflated fee. If you come up with the right information, you can buy pajamas to wear while you sleep in your car.”
Tubby clicked off his phone without responding.
After Tubby arrived, I told him everything that Mrs. Cameron had explained about the list. We scoured the addresses on the list. Most were out of state but a few were in our county. Tubby made a copy of the local names and addresses. We agreed that he would try a nonchalant approach to reeling information out of the purchasers. Tubby was good at that. Everybody loves a fat man.
I didn’t hear back from Tubby until the following afternoon when he called.
“I got to a half dozen of the buyers. None of them have the newly purchased cars in their driveway. I bullshitted one guy about the new car I had seen in front of his house. He got defensive, denied buying a new car. He took me out to his garage and showed me an old Datsun. The BMW he recently purchased was worth more than his house and garage together. But he's not the kind of guy to sell dope. And neither was the forty year old woman I talked to at another address. Tight lipped but not a drug seller. Where did all the new cars go?”
“I wish I knew. Maybe these are fake names, these people never bought a new car. Why don't you come in and we'll look at another list of names. I'll take half of them and you take the other half. All we can do is keep knocking on doors until we get something."
By the time Tubby got to my office, I had two lists drawn up. Some of the address were 200 miles away across the border in California. I laid them out in front of Tubby. He ran his eyes down the lists then grabbed one paper and held it up close to his face. He emitted a low whistle.
"Tubby. See something?"
"Yes. Could be pennies from heaven."
"You know someone on the list?"
"Not just that. I've got some leverage on him. He's got a felony theft crime hidden away. He was tied into a case I worked last year. He stole some pricey items from another crook who owned a stereo shop downtown. I never snitched the cops on him. It was crooks stealing from worse crooks. Seemed like justice. I know some of what he stole and who he sold it to, a wealthy sap who didn't know the stuff was hot."
"Let's drive up there tomorrow so you can chat with him."
The next day we met at my office. Tubby was wearing a suit with a certain look, the look that comes from sleeping in it. Night and day surveillance was taking a toll on Tubby. He had dark bags under his eyes, his hair was greasy and is shirt was wrinkled like it had been twisted while it was wet.
“Your lookin’ swell,” I greeted him.
“Me?” he answered skeptically.
“You’ve got all the attractiveness of an unflushed toilet.”
"Sammy, that's a careless remark to make about the man who is about to pull you out of a manure pile."
"Let me take that back."
We arrived at our destination, Tubby knocked on the door. Some rumblings came from inside. I saw him slide his fingers around the handle of the .38 resting in his suit coat pocket.
After a couple of more knocks, a solid unshaven red-head pulled open the door. He squinted and blinked like he was coming out of the dark.
"Whaddya need?" he spoke.
"Remember me, Larry? McQueen's my name. I got to know you a bit working store thefts at Don's Stereo’s."
"Yeah, I suppose you’re familiar."
"We need some information from you."
"I'm not good at giving up anything," the red-head said looking off into the distance behind us.
"You are good at installing stolen sound systems and flat screens in rich people's mansions. Say up on the Capitol Avenue," Tubby reminded him.
"Let's go around back," Larry said like he had a change of heart.
We followed him around the side of the house to a patio with no furniture.
"Okay. What's this about?"
I asked, "Where do you park your new BMW i7?"
"Oh that. I sold it."
"A guy in China."
"Don't dick with us, Larry," Tubby McQueen growled while pointing at his temple, "I'm starting to remember the details about those big flat screens. The cops only had half the story. You got off, thanks to my bad memory."
"I'm not lying." I signed a receipt. A Chinese guy bought it."
"Where'd you get the money?" Tubby pressed, pointing to his temple again.
"Ever heard of a straw buyer?"
"Yeah," Tubby answered. Who is the arranger?"
I wasn't getting any of this part of the conversation.
"Nobody can know I told you this, especially the cops," Larry said in a near whisper.
"I'm already hiding some of your crimes from the cops. This will just be another one," Tubby promised encouraging our bird to sing.
Larry gave us details and the name of his contact. He claimed to make only a measly grand off his part in the play.
On the way back to the office, Tubby briefed me on what he knew about the new car scam. It went like this; someone with money found someone who needed money and was desperate, looking for an easy payday. That unprincipled soul became the straw buyer.
At that moment during Tubby's explanation, he pulled into a Lexus dealership sprawled along the highway. Tubby knew the sales manager. He said the guy could give is the big picture on this scam. I was beginning to figure out some of it and why someone would kill Rex Colliton.
The sales manager was reluctant to speak of the scam until Tubby told him we knew of a local dealer who was guilty of setting up these deals.
The dealer took up where Tubby had left off. The straw buyer, under direction from the arranger, contacts the dealership and orders an expensive car. The arranger gives the money to the straw buyer for payment or wires the money to the dealership. The car is then immediately resold to a rich person in China who pays double or triple the car's purchase price in the U.S.
Automobile manufacturers prohibit the sale of cars in the U.S. to individuals who intend to export them for sale in another country, because that hurts the manufacturers’ strategy. The arrangers sell their cars overseas and it disrupts the company's distribution chain.
The Lexus manager said there are stiff financial penalties for dealerships that knowingly sell their cars for that purpose. He said BMW and other automakers will reduce a dealership’s allocation or cancel its franchise contract if it’s caught taking part in such a scheme.
"Is it against the law too? I asked.
"Yes. These sales avoid big taxes and duties but the Feds are slow to investigate and to prosecute. It's usually the sales staff that has to play amateur detective and weed out these straw buyers."
"Wouldn't an owner make sure that these sales weren't happening within his dealership?
"Yeah, if he hoped to stay in business for the long run."
We thanked the Lexus man for his information. The fog was clearing.
Tubby drove us out onto the highway and back to the office.
"Rex Colliton was building a case against some of his own employees who were working with these straw buyers," I thought out loud. "He got killed for it. Somebody snitched Rex off to some kingpin in the operation. Bingo, he's floating lifeless in the pool before he went to the police."
"How did you find out Rex Colliton had the straw man file?"
"From somebody's wife."
Tubby reached into his vest pocket and tossed me his phone. “Call the arranger's telephone number. I programmed it into my phone when Larry gave it up to us. See if the right man answers."
The arranger's name, Felton Cannon, showed up in Tubby's phone book so I pressed to call. It rang several times before a woman answered.
I hung up without saying anything but continued to grip the phone in my hand. The female voice that answered was familiar. My wheels turned slowly, then it came to me. It was Mrs. Cameron’s voice.
"It wasn’t him, it was his wife,” I said.
"How do you know that?"
"Felton Cannon is a fake name. That was Mrs. Cameron, the same woman who wised me up to the fact that Rex Colliton had a list of straw buyers. Her husband, Phil Cameron is a partner in the dealership."
Tubby finished my thought, “So Phil Cameron was making money selling the BMW’s in the first place then making a lot more working the scam exporting them for resale to China."
Then it hit me, "Mrs. Cameron is in danger. Somebody has killed once. If any of these straw buyers got suspicious of Tubby's visits, they would contact Felton Canyon, real name Phil Cameron. He might figure out that his wife who had to be the source for Rex's list. No one else could get into Cameron's desk.
“Tubby, head over to Walnut Drive.” I knew the location of the Cameron residence. I had driven by a couple of times after Elly told me about her husband clandestine meetings with Mrs. Cameron.
Tubby got us there in remarkable time. I jumped out and ran up to the door. No one answered the bell, so Tubby and I let ourselves in. We followed a sound coming from the back of the house. In the bedroom sat Mrs. Cameron on the bed. Phil Cameron lay on the floor. His face was a shade of pale that never recovers its color, except by the paint of a mortician’s brush.
I pulled the gun from Mrs. Cameron’s loose grip. She seemed in shock. Tubby ask her why she had shot him.
She was silent for a moment then spoke with a quiver, “I wanted my share of the assets." I found out this morning, that Phil had drawn out all our savings and cashed in our investments. Someone called him and scared him into running. He said the BMW dealership was lost, going to be confiscated. He was leaving town. He told me to do the same but he knew I wouldn't go with him. While he was packing his bag, I went to the cabinet and got our pistol. He never saw me pull the trigger. He hated surprises." She smiled.
Tubby reached in my pocket for my phone and called the cops before she finished. He stepped over to me and whispered, “Sammy, the local cops are bothered about some of my business ethics. No big things, just a string of cut corners during some investigations that went bad. I don’t wanna be here when they arrive.”
“Beat it,” I said.
Tubby rolled away. Mrs. Cameron and I received the local constabulary in short order.
I had to go down to the station to explain the BMW exporting scam and Phil Cameron’s part in it. I pointed out that Rex Colliton had begun an investigation of his partner’s illegal operation. I turned over the straw buyers list so the cops could confirm my story. They guessed that Phil Cameron or one of his cohorts had killed Rex before he brought the curtain down on them. Elly was home free.
The Colliton dealership was sold. After paying the fines, legal penalties, BMW and Tubby's bill, Elly Colliton still had enough money for a comfortable widowhood. She said she was keeping the house and that the much attended parties would continue. In Rex’s honor.
At one of those subsequent cocktail events in Rex’s honor, I found myself in a private conversation with the widow Colliton. I was a bit tipsy.
Elly saw my predicament and went fishing for my thoughts. “Sammy, you told me that Rex and Phil Cameron’s wife were never romantic. How did you know that?”
“She was supplying Rex with the names of straw buyers. She was trading that information for Rex protecting her assets in the dealership. She didn’t want Rex. In fact I think she found Rex too much like her own husband, whom she despised.
“You must have thought I was crazy that night at the Christmas party when I told you that I suspected Rex of cheating.”
“I was surprised. But less than when Rex told me of his own doubts about your fidelity.”
“What?” She smiled like I was an old man raving.
“Yeah." I shook my head. "Rex didn't get around to naming the identity of your paramour. Too bad.”
“My paramour?” She drew her finger around the rim of her drink. I could sense her firing up that serene swan act.
“But I figured it out later,” I said after emptying my cocktail glass.
“You did not,” she paused, “Because there was no paramour.”
“Oh, I think there was. It’s my theory that your paramour shot Rex. You set it up and tried to confuse the police. You said a woman ran up the stairs when you got to the pool and found Rex floating dead. Who else but you would have known that Rex was swimming laps that time of the day? He usually swam in the morning. He was vulnerable to a gun shot while swimming. You weren't at the lake. Things conveniently worked out too well for the murderer.”
“Okay, Sherlock. Who was my paramour?”
“Phil Cameron. You were the only one who could have told Phil that Rex was making his own secret investigation of the BMW dealership. No one at the dealership was aware of it. Mrs. Cameron hadn’t even figured it out. She just knew that Rex wanted those names. You probably didn’t know what it was all about either, but Phil Cameron did. It was his baby. When you told him about the list, he had to kill Rex before the investigation was unwrapped.”
“Sammy,” her voice got serious, “Why haven’t you gone to the police with your suspicions?”
“Because I can’t prove any of it.”
The swan winked at me and furiously paddled away.