Case File 141: Not My Favourite Things
A picture of a frozen pond and broken bull car hood ornament presented in a unexpected package wrapped in brown paper led to a case for a vacationing author/private detective
A lone figure is typing on a laptop on neat table, humming and rewording an old tune.
"A frozen pond picture of the scene of the crime, a bull hood ornament pointing to who will end up doing time. All wrapped in brown paper, tied up with string…. These are not amongst my favourite things."
The figure leaned away from the keyboard for a moment, shaking his head at his own inanity, before reviewing what he had typed out.
Case File 141 – Summation of Events
I am Private Detective Frederick Stein. This is a summary of events regarding Case 141 as best put together from my notes and memory.
The lady came to my cabin while I was on Christmas vacation in a not too small quiet town. My reputation, and perhaps gossip, had preceded me regarding my normal vocation as a private detective and, as such, she wished to engage my services. She introduced herself as Evelyn, the mayor’s wife. I offered her a seat at the cabin’s table, which she took and placed the large bag she carried with her on the table while I took the seat opposite her, pen and paper at the ready.
She proceeded with a story about her daughter Claire’s disappearance just before Christmas last year. It was ruled by the sheriff’s office as a runaway as it appeared that Claire had stolen her boyfriend Jeremy’s red pickup truck. The whole story was made more complicated by the fact that Jeremy was both the sheriff’s son and deputy.
Evelyn said that it was according to Jeremy’s testimony that stated he had asked Claire to run away with him before she married the eldest son of the richest family in town in the new year. He had given the keys to his truck to her so she could get what she needed and he’d catch up with her at the out of the way fishing pond at sunset. However, as it turned out, when he got there at sunset, Claire nor his pickup truck was in sight, just some freshly made tyre tracks.
She finished up her story that, after a couple of days, Claire couldn’t be found and so was classified as missing. Jeremy told his part of the story and was going to be stood down as deputy by his own father, except the mayor vetoed him. Evelyn conveyed her surprise at her husband’s intervention as he was furious about Claire’s dalliance with Jeremy but was level headed enough to not let her daughter’s actions ruin Jeremy.
That was nearly a year ago but no one had heard from Claire, much to Evelyn’s disappointment and sadness. She couldn’t talk to anyone about it, even to her husband Frank, who always looked distant and out of sorts whenever she brought up the subject. The sheriff would brush her off saying the police was handling it, while Jeremy couldn’t even look her in the eyes. At the end, she kept it to herself and had made her peace with her daughter’s disappearance until three days ago when she found a package left for her at the house.
As I finished writing down my notes, Evelyn came to the reason for her visit as she took out of her large bag a package wrapped in brown paper, ostensibly looking like a Christmas present, and placed it on the table, pushing it towards me. She pointed to the affixed card, on which was written “The truth lies beneath. Merry Xmas.” She had not been able to bring herself to open but when she heard about me she knew she wanted to come to me.
I looked to Evelyn as I touched the strings holding the package together. She nodded her assent. I unwrapped the paper revealing a lidded box. I lifted the lid. Inside were two things lying on the red cellophane, a picturesque photo of a frozen pond and a broken chrome bull ornament.
As I turned the box around, Evelyn’s eye widened in surprise and recognition.
Pointing to the photo, she said that it was of the local fishing pond where Jeremy was meant to have met Claire. She stated that it was usually frozen this time of year.
As for the chrome bull ornament, it was newly buffed but broken at the base. Evelyn recognised it as looking the same as the hood ornament that adorns her husband’s car. I quizzed her about it and she recalled that after Christmas last year that her husband had put the car into the mechanic and that a week or two later after that, she had seen a receipt for a replacement ornament. Her husband had said that local kids pulled a prank and stole the original.
She asked me if she could look into it, with the full intention of paying me for my time. I said I’ll look into it. She thanked me and asked for my discretion. I nodded as I went over the notes of our session.
Over the next few days, I looked into the people behind the story. In due course, I met the sheriff, Jeremy and the mayor, who, by virtue of my reputation, came up to me when they saw me in town. It appeared I was the only outsider currently staying in town. They knew of my vocation as a detective, so my asking about any strange recent happenings or cases were not met with overt surprise or suspicion. They did, however, grew quiet and somewhat nervous when I mentioned I heard about a missing local girl. The sheriff and mayor just brushed it off as her running away, although I did notice the sheriff twitch and the mayor quick to change the subject. As per Evelyn’s story, Jeremy couldn’t look me in the eye either. Not wishing to tip my hand at my knowledge of the subject, I didn’t push further.
My investigation led me to finding the pond. Sure enough, it matched the photo. Given its frozen condition, I went to the internet to search for aerial photographs and records about the photo. According to the records and photographs, the pond was stocked well with fish and the water was only shallow to three metres from the shore before it dipped quickly and became deep and murky.
Curiosity piqued, I formulated my suspicions. I looked at the aerial photographs from the last two years, comparing them carefully. Two particular bright days had photos of the lake, that showed a shadow four metres away from the sure. At this I engaged a colleague of mine to examine the photos, while also asking a friend of mine who works in salvage to come as discreetly as she could.
Fortunately, it was snowing and my cabin was outside of the town and was close to the pond, so my friend, Agatha, was able to visit me without notice from the townspeople. She came just as I heard from my colleague about the photos who confirmed the possibility of what I saw. He also forwarded the photos and location to the authorities who decided to send in state police. Agatha was also curious when I relayed the story and my suspicions and, knowing we had a short time before the police descended to the town, we went to the pond in early morning.
After breaking the ice with gear from her truck, Agatha geared herself for the icy water and went under, winch cable trailing behind her. A few minutes passed before the cable stopped moving. Soon Agatha rose up from the water and engaged the winch.
She looked at me as the dented back of a pickup truck rose from the depths. I remember her saying “This isn’t a happy ending.” just as the first of the state police came. Sure enough, there was a skeleton in the driver’s seat, the scrappy remains of material still clinging on.
A case was soon put together. The sheriff and mayor didn’t change their stories until Jeremy revealed that he had bull ornament in the pond shallows only a week before and, out of guilt and suspicion for the past year, had been the one to send the package to Evelyn. Apparently, he knew me by reputation and had hoped that Evelyn would come to me. The sheriff disavowed all knowledge, while the mayor confessed.
What had transpired last year was an unfortunate accident. Claire had been waiting for Jeremy at the pond, truck facing the cold water. The mayor had found out about Claire and Jeremy’s intentions and came down to the pond, angry and inebriated. When he saw the truck, a figure behind the wheel, sitting there, he came up behind the truck quickly. However, in his state, he collided with the pickup truck, damaging his car, having its hood ornament torn off by the truck that shot into the water. The mayor had knocked his head hard and passed out as after seeing the truck went slowly forward and dipping under into the depths.
He eventually came to and proceeded to drive around the pond to allow his car tracks to obscure what had happened. As he drove away, the mayor nearly drove past Jeremy who was headed to the lake. Seeing no other car by the pond, Jeremy stopped him and asked where was Claire. Hiding his panic and confusion, he told him that he came upon his truck out here but as he parked behind his pickup truck, the driver had reversed into his car and then drove off. The mayor stated that since Jeremy was in front of him, then the driver must have been Claire. He kept what really happened to himself, mortified at what he had done after gaining sobriety, but the mayor kept to his story and no one dared contradicting him. At the end, it was only the luck of finding the bull ornament leading to Jeremy’s suspicion that had done him in.
Examination of the truck verified and completed the story. The skeleton was identified by matching the teeth to Claire’s dental records. The truck’s cabin had been locked, assumingly closed to allow the heater to do its work. She had either been unable to unlock the car to get out after the shock to being hit and then the cold water, or she may have been already knocked out as the truck went under. The collision was verified by a particular shape in the dent in the back of the pickup truck matching the shape of the bull ornament. The forensics indicated it got ripped off at the collision but must have dislodged and fell in the shallows of the pond.
The townspeople were horrified at the news. The sheriff felt he was railroaded by the mayor during the initial investigation.
Evelyn was mortified and sorrowful knowing of her daughter’s death.
Jeremy was distraught at his part in all of this. It had been his agreement to run away that led Claire to being there. He realised that his remaining a deputy was due to the mayor’s guilt, so he resigned.
As for the mayor, he’s in state jail, awaiting trial, most likely looking at manslaughter.
The specific names out of this summary due to it being a criminal case now. The names I have used are just fill ins. This has been written down in case I’ll need to testify. See appendix 141 for the specifics.
This has been Case 141. End of file.
Frederick leant back into his chair away from the laptop and rubbed his eyes. He had been typing since earlier in the morning.
He reached over to his glasses as he hit print on the document before saving it. The state hearing for the case begins today and he’d been called to be present to testify. It was now an hour before it starts.
“It’s going to be a long day.” He stated to himself as he closed his laptop.