A cart attendant with high functioning autism makes the perfect patsy. Or does he?
|Aiden shouted, “No!”
He pressed himself against the wall, his hip jamming into the railing. The landing had precious little room and Sue, the front end manager, pulled her hand from his arm as quickly as if she had touched a hot iron – with the same level of surprise.
“Don't. Ever. Touch me!” Aiden said, wheezing and panting.
“Only wanted to ask what you were doing,” she said.
“My break. I'm going on my break. I worked for two hours and then one half hour and I was supposed to have my break one half hour ago but the bottle machine was overflowing and that took an extra thirty minutes to empty and fix, so now I am taking the break that I am entitled to take. You have no right to touch me!”
Sue placed a hand on her chest, taking a few deep breaths to calm her nerves while he glared at her.
“Fine.” She practically ran down the last set of stairs.
Aiden stormed up to the break room, relieved that one else there. He folded his vest neatly placed it on the nearest table. Then he went down the hall to the restrooms, stopping outside of the manager's office when he heard a gagging noise.
The door was open and she sat, hunched over her desk. Hot tea poured from a travel mug on the floor, filling the room with the smell of sweet tea and something else that puzzled Aiden. Unsure of what to do, he stood in the door until she started vomiting. Then he went back to the break room and used the payphone to call 911.
# # #
“He is not normal. He gets very angry if you touch him, he can't work with others, he has to do everything so meticulously. Ellen must have said something to him or brushed his shoulder, heaven forbid.”
“And you believe he poisoned her tea?”
“I wouldn't put it past him.” Sue shook her head. “Everyone knew Ellen was allergic to citrus. She can't even be near the produce area when she's on the floor. I've known her since high school and now,” Sue paused to dab at her eye with a tissue and sniffed. “I can't believe she's gone.”
The detective gave her a moment. Then he asked, “You were upstairs before Aiden. Can you tell me what you were doing?”
Sue repeated the question as if it surprised her. “I was having a light lunch. Yes, it was an orange if you must know. But I washed my hands very carefully and I wrapped the peels in a grocery bag before throwing them away in the trash under the sink. I even wiped down the table with disinfectant because even the slightest particle of fruit could trigger her allergies.”
“Did you wash your hands in the employee restroom or the break room sink?”
“I don't remember. What difference would it make?”
The detective placed an evidence bag on the table and asked Sue to identify the contents.
“It's a shirt,” she said, as if to a small child.
He opened the bag and asked her to identify the smell. She did as he asked and swallowed once.
“It smells like an orange,” she volunteered. “Is that Aiden's shirt?”
“It's the one he was wearing when you touched his arm,” the detective said. “We actually spoke to him already. He said he didn't smell oranges until after you touched him. Is it possible you actually washed your hands in the customer restrooms after returning to the floor?”
“Well, I guess it could be. But that doesn't prove I did anything because Ellen was poisoned with lemon juice!”
The detective closed his legal pad and glanced at the female officer standing off to one side. She came around the table as he read her her rights. Sue waived her right to silence as the cuffs snapped shut.
“But I didn't kill her!”
“No one did,” the detective calmly responded. “Ellen gave a statement while she recovered in the hospital. She came out of the employee bathroom and saw you coming out of her office. But she didn't think anything of it since you two were such good friends. You know, since high school.
“Aiden might be a weird kid but he used the payphone because he knew it would be quicker than trying to dial out from the store phone. That's pretty quick thinking. The phone records and the time stamp on the store security camera proves he didn't have enough time to put the lemon juice in Ellen's travel mug. Fortunately, he's also so weird that he was the only one to think to check all of the trash barrels in the store. He found this in one of the bottle machines.”
The detective produced a photo of a little green bottle with the lemon on the front. A second photo showed Sue entering the maintenance closet.
Sue cried on her way to the holding cell.
# # #
At exactly two hours, Aiden went to the break room. He passed Ellen, the store manger, on her way to the floor. She smiled and greeted him but he didn't respond. Ellen reached out to stop him, paused, and lowered her arm.
He stopped at the top of the stairs, looked over his shoulder and said, “You're welcome.”