Well Past Midnight
By Bonnie Daly
It was well past midnight when I crawled underneath the covers. I had decidedly never been so comfortable in my entire life when the phone rang...
“Detective Ratcliff? This is Officer Shelby. Sorry to disturb you at this hour, but can you please meet us at 456 West Carriage Street? We’ve got a murder on our hands.”
“I’ll be there in twenty.”
I sighed, groaned, seriously contemplated staying where I was, then threw off the covers and got dressed. As I drove across town, waiting for my car’s heater to wake up, I thought how much easier my life would be if murderers were considerate, well-mannered individuals who could wait till at least ten in the morning to do their dirty work.
My heater kicked in just as I arrived on the scene, but things were heating up in a whole different way outside the residence. The normal collection of police cruisers were besieged with rambunctious reporters, television cameras, and a couple of helicopters hovering overhead. While several people with electrified-looking bed hair stared up at the mansion, clutching their bathrobes against themselves in the brisk night air.
As I made my way through the crowd, I saw a reporter going live. Trying her best to produce a solemn expression - which was heavily betrayed by the gleam in her eyes - she told her audience the shocking news that Rhonda Royale, the famous literary critic who could make or break a career with just one review, was found murdered in her home. She also said sources revealed that Mrs. Royale was found stabbed in the back and slumped over the computer in her study. All of this was news to me. The reporter recognized me, shoved her microphone in my face, and asked for my take on the situation.
“You gotta love it when the press knows more about what’s going on than the detective does,” was what I gave her.
She smiled smugly.
When I got up to the front door I showed my badge to a very eager looking young officer.
“Right this way, Detective Ratcliff, they’re expecting you in the study. I’m Officer O’Malley, by the way, and it sure is a pleasure to meet you. Did you know this is my first murder?”
“Are you making a confession?”
Officer O’Malley’s mouth fell open, then he guffawed like an intoxicated mule. “Oh that was a joke, huh, Detective! Good one!”
He kept smiling with his eyes fixated on me. Like the way a dog does when it’s expecting you to toss it a treat. I patted him on the back and asked him to go fetch me some coffee. He even seemed to find that exciting.
As I entered the room, I saw an older woman with dark hair doing a faceplant onto a desk. She was wearing a colorful kimono, made even more colorful by the blood streaming from the knife wound in her back. My keen investigative skills told me this was Rhonda Royale.
“Detective Ratcliff, this is Vincent Royale, the deceased’s husband. He was the one who found her,” Officer Shelby said, gesturing to Mr. Royale as if he was the grand prize up for grabs on a game show.
Then Shelby leaned in and told me in confidence that they’d been trying to get him out of the room since they arrived, but he refused to leave.
I nodded, then motioned for Mr. Royale to have a seat with me on the sofa. “I’m very sorry about your wife. Can you please tell me the circumstances of how you found her?”
Just then O’Malley showed up with my coffee. I took it from him as he awkwardly stood there staring at us.
“Hey O’ Malley? I think they need you back at the front door.” This snapped him out of his spell. He offered us a broad smile, completely unbefitting of the situation, and left.
“I’d just gotten home from a black-tie gala,” said Mr. Royale. “My wife rarely attends these things anymore. Wannabe writers show up and climb all over her as if she’s some sort of literary jungle gym. It’s ghastly. Anyway, when I came home I went directly into the study to pour myself a scotch, and that’s when I found my poor little cherub the way you see her now, with that horrid flying knives screensaver playing above her head! I immediately called the police and waited by her side until they arrived.”
He glanced forlornly at his dead wife, shook his head, then pulled a handkerchief out of his robe pocket, dabbed at the corner of his eyes, and blew his nose in such a manner that the only thing you could compare it to was an elephant trying to get its point across.
“So you never left the room after you got home?”
“Where else could I be but with my beloved?”
“Did your wife have any enemies?”
“My wife made a living out of making enemies, Detective. Her column was the machete that massacred many a writer’s career.”
“I see. And was it like her to be up so late?” An image of my comfortable but abandoned bed flashed before my eyes.
“Oh yes. My Rhonda was a creature of habit. Every Thursday night she’d wait until exactly midnight to submit her latest review to her editor. Some sort of superstitious ritual she had. Then it would be published in her column on Saturday.”
“And you got home at what time?”
“Just before midnight. It had to have been that incorrigible writer Chad Thorpe who murdered my darling. She was going to trash him in her latest column, and with good reason - the man writes absolute garbage! He must’ve slipped in and killed her before she could hit the submit button and kill his career. You should be out looking for him, Detective! Just follow the odorous stench of rotten writing if you wish to find him.”
“Interesting. Mr. Royale, I’m placing you under arrest for the murder of your wife. Anything you say from this point on can and will be used against you in a court of law. Is that clear?”
Vincent Royale suddenly looked paler than his wife’s corpse.
“Hey O’Malley, wanna cuff him for me? I’ll also need someone to find his bloodstained tux.”
After wrapping up everything down at the station, I went home to my nice comfortable bed where I spent exactly twenty-three minutes until my alarm went off. I think I need a day job. Maybe I’ll try my hand at writing...
Why did Detective Ratcliff think Vincent Royale was guilty?
click here to view answer
Mr. Royale said he’d just come home from a black-tie gala and went directly into the study as soon as he got home. That’s when he saw his wife’s body, called the police, and stayed by her side until the police arrived.
If that was true, why was he wearing a robe instead of his tuxedo?
- H. Ashcroft