Don’t sweat the small stuff
Inspired by drabble #15. Dog poop sparks killing spree.
“Please, do tell. I’m fascinated.”
Michael Stoltz wanted to say that it was just one of those days. In truth, it had been one of those days for the past week, ever since Detective Inspector Riley arrived with a search warrant wearing that grin on his face. The one telling Stoltz that his balls were firmly in a vice and Riley wouldn’t let go until somebody started singing like a canary. Of course, Stoltz recognised Riley the moment he came barging into his office. There hadn’t been a single newspaper the past few months that didn’t have Scotland Yard’s pride-and-joy plastered all over it. Journalists were calling him ‘Robbin-under-the-Hood’ because of how he was cracking down on the financial institutions in London. The appointed judge and jury of the people who came armed with a pocketful of pens and pencils. Stoltz neglected to tell his wife, Brenda, about the investigation into his own business affairs. Now, she knew something was not quite right. Stoltz hadn’t left the house all morning and was avoiding the telephone at all costs. Brenda had her instructions to tell whoever called that she hadn’t seen her husband since he’d left for work that morning.
“It’s nothing,” Stoltz told his wife.
“Then why are you shredding paper as if there is no tomorrow?” Brenda asked.
Stoltz was kneeling down and holding onto the edge of his desk. He called the home office his vault. It’s where he kept the original copies for some of the less than kosher deals signed at Stolz & Sons’ private investment bank, his other office located in a nondescript building two blocks from the Bank of England. Stoltz & Sons didn’t hold any cash, employ any cashiers, or have any engraved sign outside that suggested they even existed. Not your regular bank then? he recalled Riley’s assistant asking him on a previous visit. Only bricks and mortar, Stoltz had said. The real business was handled at the country club over a whisky and an afternoon of clay pigeon shooting. Deals completed with firm handshakes between wrinkled old men. Not the kind of thing he wanted to divulge to Riley’s lackey.
Stoltz wiped the stinging sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. Shredding the documents was thirsty work, especially for a man of his age. It would all have to go, he muttered to himself.
“Yes,” Stoltz said, without looking up.
“Nothing is happening. Nothing to worry your little head over. Why don’t you take the dogs into the garden for a while?” Stoltz said, as he tried to squeeze a wedge of documents into the shredding machine. Thirty years they’d been married. Brenda was twelve years younger, the once-upon-a-long-time-ago Ms. Bournemouth. His third marriage, her second. They had no children, just the bloody flea infested mutts that Brenda rescued from Battersea Dogs Home the year before last: a long-haired German Shepherd that moulted everywhere and a Rottweiler that had a neck as solid and firm as a tree trunk. It was six months ago that one of them, and he wasn’t sure which one, had defecated on the carpet directly outside the vault. Stoltz had felt the wet, lukewarm poo squelch between his toes as he’d stepped directly into it. Brenda said he overreacted. Overreacted, the fucking dog left the calling card on purpose. He was thinking about that now when he heard the telephone ringing in the hallway and the dogs start yap yapping. Brenda picked up and repeated Riley’s name out loud for Stoltz’s benefit, telling Riley that she hadn’t heard from her husband, and yes, if he called she’d call the Inspector. Stoltz stood up, cleared his swivel-chair from some files and sat down just as the doorbell rang. Stoltz had to think, the last time they’d had visitors was a decade ago when Brenda’s mother had died. A distant cousin that dragged her husband along to pay tribute to a woman he had never met. Stoltz remembered taking him into the vault and showing off his collection of shotguns: a Beretta with a 32 inch barrel and the Zoli sport. Stoltz even took out the Enfield pistol that once belonged to his own father: a lieutenant of the First Infantry Division during the second world war.
Stoltz gazed at his farther’s urn on top of the fireplace and heard that deep, throaty accent of Inspector Riley’s.
Stoltz looked over in a lazy fashion. “Detective Inspector Riley, how unexpected.”
“Exactly,” Riley said, raising his eyebrows and producing one of those grins of his. “I was passing and thought, what the hell I’ll take a chance, and voila, here you are.”
“Yes, it appears to be so, Inspector.”
Riley looked around the room, taking his time, stringing it out. “Twelve gauge double barrel?” he said, staring at the gun mounted to the wall above Stoltz’s desk.
“You know your shotguns, Inspector.”
Riley shrugged. “Let’s call it an occupational hazard.”
“Perhaps you should consider a new career?”
“Hmm, you mean to do something a little less dangerous? I can see the appeal,” Riley said. “You don’t keep it locked away?”
“It’s a replica.”
“Right. Well I’m guessing a criminal would think twice about staring into the eyes of a double barrel shotgun, fake or not?”
“Yes, I guess they might,” Stoltz said.
Riley rubbed at his jaw and glanced towards the hallway at the sound a dog whining. “You know, Mr. Stoltz,” he said, “I just this very moment called you on the telephone and spoke to your wife. She told me that she hadn’t seen you since you’d left for your office this morning.”
Stoltz kept his voice low saying, “I didn’t want any distractions.”
“Sometimes I need to work without distractions.”
Riley smiled and nodded in agreement. “I can see that you’ve been busy,” he said, picking up a handful of shredded paper from the wastepaper basket.
Stoltz watched, then thought of something. Riley appeared to be by himself. “Do you have a search warrant?” Stoltz asked.
“A search warrant, Mr Stoltz?” Riley said, shaking his head. “I told you, I was just passing and thought I would pay you a quick visit.”
“Yes, you said.”
“Actually,” Riley said, “I wanted to ask you some questions. Questions that nobody can seem to answer. I was hoping that you could clarify some details for me.”
“You mean, fill in the blanks?”
“Only if you have something to hide, have you?”
“Something to hide?”
“Inspector, I’m seventy-four years old, seventy-five come this August. I bet that sounds like a lifetime to you? To me, it’s a blink of an eye. And yes, I’ve done things in my life that I’m not particularly proud of. I cannot say I’ve always played by the rules but I’ve never intentionally taken the trouble to commit fraud.”
Stoltz thought for a moment. Brenda was outside telling one of the dogs to quieten down. He wanted to tell her to take it the hell out of there, its constant yapping was playing with his mind and making him say things he hadn’t intended to. Of course he knew Riley was prying, and now the conversation started to get a little awkward. Stoltz spread his fingers through his thinning hair and leant backwards forcing the swivel chair to lean at an angle. He sat there with both hands linked behind his head, elbows pointing out at angles. He said, “Am I under arrest Inspector?”
“No, Mr. Stoltz.”
“And you don’t have a warrant to search my house?”
“Uh-huh,” Riley said, shaking his head. “But…”
“Then I suggest that if you have any questions you submit them to my lawyer.”
Stoltz smiled and watched Riley wipe some sweat from the nape of his neck with a white handkerchief. Quite possibly feeling every bit of the hot stuffy air inside the vault. Stoltz thinking he ought to open the window and let in some fresh air but figuring it would only make Riley feel comfortable. No, better that Riley sweated a little.
Riley placed his palm against the doorframe, loosened his tie a little with his other hand and pulled open his collar. He said, “What’s it like being wealthy? I mean ,what did you make last year, three, four million?”
Stoltz said, “Are you working this angle out all by yourself?”
“Smart, playing it dumb. You remind me of a boy I once knew.”
“This kid have a name?”
“Call him Spencer if it helps you picture him,” Stoltz said. “He was a tall boy for his age, about five-nine with this curly hair and this lisp that kept getting him into trouble with the school bullies. At the age of fifteen, at the time when he was five-nine in his bare feet, he took up boxing. You have a picture of Spencer?”
“Spencer the human punch bag.”
“But Spencer didn’t stay a punch bag for long. When he left school he wanted to teach the bullies that gave him those beatings a lesson or two, except…”
“Except they’d all moved on.”
“I’m guessing you’ve heard this story before?” Stoltz said. “Spencer had to find other scalps to claim.”
Riley said, “You thinking this Spencer is looking to get even?”
“You tell me, you think he is?”
“You thinking that I know him intimately?” Riley said.
Stoltz waited a moment. The Inspector thinking he was smart. Maybe that’s why he had all those pens in his pocket, to remind others that there was more to him than his weight problem. Stoltz couldn’t figure out why a smart person went about clogging up their arteries on purpose, building up all that cholesterol and risk getting diabetes or worse, dying of a heart attack. Stoltz had known a lot of smart-dumb people in his time, now he could add Riley to that list. Stoltz said, “You got problems sleeping at night?”
Riley tucked his handkerchief into his back pocket. “As good as it gets, and better than some.”
“Good,” Stoltz said, “That’s good.”
A few minutes later Stoltz was still muttering to himself as he watched Riley reverse off the gravel driveway in his Volvo estate.
“What was good?” Brenda asked.
Stoltz shrugged. Like most things in life his past started to creep up on him, as he always knew it would. The inventive money making schemes had gone on for far longer than he had thought possible. “Good?” he said.
“Yes, Inspector Riley. Isn’t he the one they are calling Robin Hood?”
“Robin-under-the-Hood, Brenda. But don’t you go believing all you read in those tabloids.”
“Then you said that’s good,” Brenda said. “What’s good?”
“Did you hear that?” Stoltz said, glancing at his father’s old Enfield pistol and thinking about what Riley had said just before he’d left – A certain crime is punishable if attempted but not punishable if committed. The Inspector’s riddle was not lost on him.
By Vincent Holland
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