When I looked in the mirror, I hardly recognized myself.
It had been raining hard all day when I pulled up to William Benson's house. As usual, I had forgotten my umbrella. I opened the car door to run to the front porch and glanced at my watch, I was fifteen minutes late.
William Benson had telephoned me earlier that Thursday evening to discuss hiring me to do some investigation for him. The drive had taken longer than I expected due to the pouring rain. It fell in such a heavy downpour, at times I had to creep along.
After making a mad dash through the rain to the porch, I became so involved in shaking the water off my raincoat, I didn't notice the front door was slightly ajar. My knock pushed it completely open. When I called for Benson, there wasn't a reply. The only sound was the pounding rain hitting the porch roof. Cautiously I stepped inside.
I searched through several rooms before I found him sitting at his desk in his study. At first, I thought he was waiting for me to get closer to the desk before he spoke. It wasn't until I was a few feet away from him that I noticed his pale blue eyes staring vacantly at me. Those empty eyes told me he was dead, but I walked over to him, lifted his wrist, feeling for a pulse. There wasn't one.
William Benson was a wealthy recluse living in Springville. His age was somewhere in the sixties. He'd only been living here about three years. Just as in other small towns, there was speculation as to what he did with his time, and where he made his money. Since he never socialized with the people of Springville, that's all it was, speculation.
After placing his arm back in his lap, and as I turned to survey the rest of the room, the toe of my shoe tapped against something lying on the floor. It was a man's gold wristwatch. As I reached down to pick it up, I thought it looked familiar. Gently I turned it over to see if anything was written on the back. As soon as I read "Love Forever, Reid" I knew whose watch it was. Just a week ago I'd given it as a birthday present to my fiance, Derrick Mason, what was it doing on Benson's study floor?
Slipping the watch into my raincoat pocket, I glanced around one more time before going to my car to call the Sheriff's office. On my way out I passed the hallway mirror, when I looked into the mirror, I hardly recognized myself. I stopped and stared at my pale face.
When I had told my brother, the only lawyer in Springville, that I wanted to become a private investigator, he insisted I buy a cell phone and keep it with me at all times, that way, if I needed help or ran into trouble I have a way to call someone. Personally, I think it's more for his peace of mind than for mine, but tonight I was grateful that I had it to use.
A deep southern drawl came over the line, "Springville's Sheriff's department, Sheriff Adams speaking".
"Sheriff, this is Reid St. Clair. I'm at William Benson's house, out on highway 280. I found him a few minutes ago, he's dead."
There was a few seconds of silence before he replied, "I'll be there in fifteen minutes. You stay put, you heah?"
I started to shiver as I sat watching the bright car lights turn the rain into thousands of raindrop diamonds. Reaching down I turned the car heater on high, trying to drive away the chill in my bones, that didn't come from the weather.
As I waited for the Sheriff, I thought about the first time I met Derrick Mason. In three months it would be a year. We'd met at the Springville May Day dance. Once we started talking it was as if we'd known each other all our lives. It hadn't mattered, until tonight, that we hadn't known every detail of each other's past. Each of our lives had begun the night we met. Or so I'd thought. I told myself there was a logical explanation as to why his watch was in Benson's house. I decided that until I talked with Derrick I wasn't going to turn the watch over to the Sheriff.
Sheriff Adam' patrol car was the first to slide into the driveway. The car tires spit gravel as he slid to a halt inches from my back car bumper. Two other patrol cars skidded in behind the Sheriff, while another swerved onto the manicured lawn. Car doors slammed as patrolmen ran toward the house.
As I rolled down the car window, I heard the Sheriff mutter, "Damn", before he yelled, "you men watch where you're running. Y'all could be destroying evidence. I know this is the first murder investigation you've participated in, so be careful!"
He was a bald, potbellied man who seemed to spend most of his waking hours barking out orders.
"Reid, I know this will be difficult for you, but would you kindly show me where the body's located before these durn fools give me a heart attack."
After leading him to the study, I returned to my car to wait.
Forty-five minutes later, the Sheriff came down the steps toward my car. I watched him plod through the drizzling rain, his shoulders hunched over for protection. As he reached the car, he leaned down to the open window, "You feel up to answering a few questions?"
"Yes", I nodded. "You want to sit in here where it's warm?"
After he slid in, he held his hands toward the heater as though warming them before a fire. "Why were you out here tonight?"
I told him about the phone call I'd received earlier that evening. "How did he die?"
He pulled his tobacco pouch out of his coat pocket. Methodically he filled his pipe while he decided on what and how much to tell me. "It looks as thought his neck is broken. I'll know more when I get the autopsy report back. Is there anything more you can tell me about tonight?"
"No," I replied, feeling more and more sick to my stomach. "If you don't need me anymore, I'd like to go home. I'm not feeling too well." I wasn't lying either.
As I slowly pulled out onto 280, I turned north, the opposite direction from home and headed to Derrick's farm. I had to know the truth.
His car was parked in the driveway, the headlights still blazing. First I rang the doorbell, then when he failed to answer, I turned the doorknob. The door was unlocked.
He was sitting, woodenly, in front of the den fireplace, his hands clasped around a drink. The fire flames cast a glow around the darkened room. The firelight flickered across his coal-black hair. With all the outdoor work he did, his six foot frame was lean and hard.
Without glancing he asked, "You know don't you? How?"
In the short time we had known each other, we had always seemed to be able to sense each others feelings. I walked over and quietly placed the wristwatch on the oversized chair arm, "What happened, Derrick?"
He sat there for a few minutes, his shoulders weighted down by the heavy burden. The only sound came from the crackling fire.
"Five years ago, William Benson embezzled a large sum of money from the company where he and my Dad were employed. The accounting was done in such a way that the blame fell onto my Dad. Eventually he was cleared."
He paused and took a sip of his drink, "Unfortunately, it was too late to help. My Dad couldn't handle the disgrace, nor the knowledge that after fifteen years, his employers actually believed he would do such a thing. I think that hurt him the most."
He sat his drink on the end table, "One day I came home from work to find him slumped over his desk, he'd shot himself. Though my Dad was cleared, there wasn't any proof as to who actually committed the crime. There were two men suspected."
He leaned forward as he continued, "One of the two men was Benson. My Dad left me a letter telling me why he thought Benson the guilty man."
Covering his face with his hands, "Tonight I confronted Benson with Dad's letter. He just laughed!"
Derrick suddenly stood up, "He said there was no way I could prove he was responsible. He sat there puffing on his cigar, a smug satisfied look on his face. It was as though all the rage I felt exploded."
Derrick turned to face me, his arms stretched out towards me, "I charged at him across the desk, knocking him back against the wall. I heard the smack of his head as it hit the wall, then he slumped to the floor."
He let his arms fall to his side,"At first, I thought I'd only knocked him unconscious. When I realized he was dead, I panicked. I don't remember much else. The next thing I knew, I was home."
I pushed the uneasy feeling I had to a forgotten corner of my mind. Kneeling beside the chair, I gently clasped his are, looked sadly into his eyes and asked, "What now?"
Silence pervaded the room as Derrick walked to the phone, "You and I both know what I must do. I've just been sitting here putting it off. Now that you're here, there isn't any reason to prolong the inevitable."
I shook my head from side to side as I mutely watched him punch in numbers, "Yes, I want to confess to a murder.
Tuesday Morning Writings is a project sponsored by Gaelikaa and Judy Harper. The words are copyright of Judy Harper.