(Genre: Crime-solving mystery/Noir Fiction)
“That was the last time I’ve heard from her.” Joshua Grande told Detective David Frost as he crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.
“So you had an argument with the victim in your orange grove two days before her death and you haven’t seen or heard from her since.” Frost repeated, sounding skeptical.
Grande leaned forward. “That’s correct, sir. Look, I’m a busy man. I have much better things to do than commit murder. I have to get back to my shoot.” He said impatiently, stood, and headed for the door.
“Just don’t go far. We might need you later.” Frost said as Grande slammed the door. Frost sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.
A moment later, his partner, Gerardo Valez, entered the room. “So what do you think? Is he guilty?” Frost looked up. Valez had been watching the interrogation behind the one-way glass.
“Well, he’s got an alibi, if that’s what you mean.” He threw his jacket over his shoulder and strode to the door. “We need more evidence. Are you coming?”
They returned to the crime scene as the sun set, the exact location the garbage man discovered Rosie Shaply’s mangled and decomposed corpse, a mile from Joshua Grande’s magnificent mansion. Valez produced two flashlights from his shoulder bag and handed one to Frost. “You know what we’re searching for, right?” Frost asked. Valez nodded.
It didn’t take long for the men to find what they were looking for. “Frost,” Valez called, “over here.” Even beneath the dim beams of the flash lights, the faint reddish-brown color of dried blood was unmistakable against the weathered surface of the asphalt. “It looks like she was dragged.”
The trail of blood led them back to Grande’s mansion and with the beams from their flashlights, Frost and Valez followed the blood trail through the back garden to Grande’s orange grove. “Well, the trail stops here.” Frost said, shining his flashlight at the orange tree. “Is it me or does this tree looks strange?”
Valez took a few steps back and studied the tree. “The tree,” he said, trying to think of a fitting description, “it looks misshapen.”
Frost took a few steps back. “You’re right. It’s like the right side of the tree has been getting more nutrition than the left.” But that’s not possible, is it? Frost wondered and suddenly remembered something his doctor said at his last physical, “Blood can tell you a lot about a person such as whether this person is lacking certain vitamins or whether he or she should be careful with diet.”
“Of course,” Frost gasped. “The victim’s blood must be stunting the tree’s growth.” He explained his theory to Valez. “She was killed here. I am sure of it.”
“Okay,” Valez replied slowly, “How do we prove who did it?”
“Those, my friend, are some excellent questions. I guess we will talk to more people.”
The next morning, Frost and Valez sat before a moldy looking metal desk. Across from them, Aaron Freewell, Rosie Shaply’s manager, leaned back in his cracked leather chair. Freewell pointed to the bowl of gumballs on his desk. “Gumball?” He asked before tossing several into his mouth.
“No, thank you.” Frost politely declined. Valez just shook his head, looking disgusted. Frost thought it was quite odd. Freewell seemed like the smoking cigar kind of guy.
“Such a shame we lost Rosie. She was a talented actress and a great client.”
Frost cleared his throat. “As her manager, you must know Ms. Shaply quite well.”
“Oh, quite well if you know what I mean.” Freewell chuckled.
“Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt Ms. Shaply?”
Freewell leaned forward. “Rosie isn’t just an innocent girl, if that’s what you’re asking, detectives. She’s the kind that likes to play with people.” He leaned back. “If you ask me, she deserved what she got even if it costed me a client. So thank the person that did it for me.”
Valez shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Do you know if Rosie had come into contact with anyone suspicious within the last month?”
“My assistant will have that for you on the way out. Anything else, gentlemen?”
“No, thanks for your time.” Frost stood up. “We’ll be in touch.”
Back at the station, they began analyzing the phone records they had gotten from Freewell’s assistant. Frost positioned the receiver between his ear and shoulder and began dialing the first number. No answer. He went on to the next and the next until one answered. “Hello?”
Frost slammed the receiver at once and glanced at the list. That was Josh Grande’s voice. They had been in communication the day of Rosie Shaply’s death. That is it. He bolted from his chair and headed for the precinct exit. “Where are we going?” Valez hollered.
“To get Grande.”
They turned on the siren and sped to the studio where Grande was filming his latest film. They showed the security their badges and were let in. From there, they rushed onto the set where Grande’s arm was wrapped around a woman’s waist while his other arm was guiding the spatula, teaching her to flip a pancake.
He spotted Frost and Valez and instantly froze. “What are you doing here?” He muttered.
The director bellowed. “Who are these people? Get them off my set NOW.”
Frost held up his badge. “Joshua Grande, you’re under arrest for the murder of Rosie Shaply. You have the right to remain silent and anything you say will and can be used in court.”
Valez quickly clasped the handcuffs around Grande’s wrists and led him out to the back of the cruiser. Grande shouted hysterically on the way out. “You’ve made a mistake. I didn’t kill anybody.” Everyone stared, from the director to the janitor.
“I have never felt more humiliating in my entire life.” Grande shouted in the interrogation room and slammed the table.
“It wouldn’t be humiliating if you just told us the truth.” Frost said plainly.
“What truth? What the hell are you talking about?”
“She called you that night. I’ve checked her phone record from the day of her death. My partner is checking yours right now.”
He opened and closed his mouth and then he sighed, deflated. “Fine. She was at my house that night and we may have taken a walk through the grove and we may have had an argument but I didn’t kill her.”
“What did you argue about?” Frost asked quickly.
“What?” The question caught him off guard. “The usual. She wanted to leave me for this other guy. That’s what she does, you know. We’re like her playthings, when she’s bored, she tosses us away.”
“How did you react?”
“How did you think?” He spat and glared at Frost. “I loved her, still do. I tried to make her see, reasoned with her. It was no use. For someone like her, she can be stubborn as hell.”
There was a light tap on the other end of one-way glass. “Excuse me.” Frost got up. Valez was waiting outside. “What is it?”
“I don’t know why we didn’t see this before or why no one saw this. You sent Dex over to search the property again.” He handed an evidence bag to Frost. Frost stared at the evidence with confusion and disgust. “It’s a gumball.”
Fifteen minutes later, they were outside of Aaron Freewell’s door. Frost pounded on the door. “Aaron Freewell, you’re under arrest for the murder of Rosie Shaply.” No answer. “Mr. Freewell, open this door now or we’ll kick this door down.” He gave Valez a count to three before kicking down the door. On the other side was Freewell, his head was dangling sideways. He had hung himself. Beside him was a neatly-written note simply detailing about confronting Rosie Shaply that night in the grove, accidentally bashing her head against the tree, and how he would like to be with her now.
Originally written and published: February 28, 2015
Edited: February 27, 2017
Republished: March 15, 2017
Image Credit: Google