Blood stained Glass
by Richard Helms
Art by Mark Evan Walker
I was supposed to be on vacation.
I was minutes away from hitting the road for a week of rest and relaxation in Myrtle Beach, when my phone rang. I considered ignoring it. In retrospect, I wish I had. Instead, my damnable integrity forced me to answer.
“Boy, this is Temple Mulcahey.”
I’m Boy. It’s short for Amboy, as in Amboy Boatright, Detective First Class with the Morgan Police Department. Temple Mulcahey was my boss.
“Headed out the door for vacation,” I said. “I’m off the clock.”
“Sorry. I have to delay your vacation for a bit. We have a murder.”
I glanced at my bags and fishing gear piled up next to the front door, and felt my heart drop. I hadn’t been on vacation in almost a year. Now I saw it fading away.
“I have reservations at the beach,” I said. “It’s too late to cancel.”
“We’ll deal with that later. This is important. Somebody killed Rainey Kilbride.”
That got my attention. Everyone knows Rainey Kilbride, through his evangelical Alpha Omega Christian Resort and Theme Park. He had his own television network, which ran prayer meetings—and ongoing collections—twenty-four hours a day. Anytime, day or night, you could switch on the Alpha Omega Hour and watch Kilbride and his grotesque wife Stella alternately sell eternal salvation and cheap Chinese-made junk to the hordes of gullible faithful who made up their audience. Rainey and Stella had taken a failing public-access channel and turned it into a multimillion-dollar-a-year business. With their bloated profits they had built a resort and religiously themed amuse-ment park on the outskirts of Bliss County, where I live.
Rainey and Stella Kilbride were rolling in The Almighty’s bounty.
And now, someone had murdered Rainey Kilbride.
“Where?” I asked, noting it came out with a bit of a sigh.
“At the hotel. Kilbride’s penthouse suite.”
“Give me an hour,” I said. “I have to change clothes and try to rearrange my reservations.”
Scotty Baggs, a junior gold shield, was already on the scene when I arrived at Kilbride’s penthouse. I’d been in some swanky spots in my day, but Kilbride’s place set a new standard for opulence. The carpet was plush and deep. The hardwood floors were genuine wood planks—Brazilian cherry imported from South America. The furniture was covered in the finest premium Italian leather. Every wall held original paintings, including a Picasso I didn’t recognize and a Degas I did. Clearly, one could make a killing in the evangelism biz.
Scotty ushered me toward an office the size of my entire apartment a few seconds after I walked through the front door.
“Body’s in here, Boy,” he said. “He was impaled on the Kalzool.”
“The kazoo? Sounds painful.”
“No, Boy, the Kalzool. It’s a piece of art.”
“Come in and see,” Scotty said. I followed him into the office. There, I found Rainey Kilbride half standing, half slumped over, impaled on a huge glass figure that resembled an octopus with its tentacles spread in multiple directions. Blood had run down the front and back of his suit, pooling on the floor. It was pretty gory.
“See,” Scotty said. “It’s a sculpture. Bernard Kalzool is an artist. He works in crystal. Kilbride has several of the pieces in his house. It looks as if someone pushed Kilbride from behind, forcing his chest into this particularly pointy work of art. He bled out in seconds.”
“How do you figure he was pushed?”
“He didn’t commit suicide, Boy. Nobody’s got balls that big, to run right into a crystal spear. The other option is he was pushed. Besides, there’s no suicide note or any other indications he intended to kill himself.”
“Teaching opportunity,” I told him. “Suicides don’t always leave notes. They only leave behind guilt and doubt on the part of their survivors. Had a case a couple of years back, guy shot himself in the head. Didn’t leave any kind of note behind, so his family swore up and down he’d accidentally shot himself while cleaning his pistol. Only problem is, you can’t clean a pistol with a bullet in the chamber. Guy obviously committed suicide, but his family didn’t want to buy it. If a guy wants out badly enough, he’ll find a way to do it, note or not.”
“So you think Kilbride killed himself?”
I surveyed the scene again.
“No,” I said. “I do not. Let’s get out of the way of the CSI guys and let them do their thing. Is Mrs. Kilbride around? We need to talk to her first.”
“She’s in the bedroom. There’s something you should know. I want to fill you in here, so you can blow a gasket now, before you interview the wife. She has a visitor.”
“Not exactly. It seems that . . . he’s here.”
“He who?” I said, and then realized what Scotty meant. “Wait. Not . . . Crapster!”
The look on Scotty’s face told me all I needed to know.
“Oh, hell no,” I said. “First, I have to cancel my vacation. Now, Crapster. This is perfect. Go in and tell him to get lost. I don’t have time to let him walk around in my head with his dirty feet. I don’t want to see his smug, precious face. Preferably, I wish he didn’t exist, but for the moment I’d be content with him existing anywhere but here.”
“That’s going to be a bit of a problem, Boy. It seems Crapster has permission to be here.”
“Permission? From who?”
Scotty pointed at the recently deceased Rainey Kilbride, who was still oozing out slowly onto the floor.
I found Bowie Crapster sitting on a love seat in the bedroom beside an obviously distraught Stella Kilbride. She looked every bit as bizarre in person as she did on the tube. She ran perhaps a millimeter over five feet, and weighed a hundred pounds, half of it hair and makeup. Her peroxide coiffure rose in a monster wave seven or eight inches over her forehead, and cascaded into a tortured flip just short of her shoulders. Her eyes were rimmed with eyeliner, which had been drawn to points on the outer sides of her eyes, and which now ran in twin rivulets down her cheeks. She wore false eyelashes almost an inch long, and enough rouge to paint a barn. She looked as if she applied her makeup with a trowel.
Crapster sandwiched one of her hands between his fleshy paws. He was only an inch or two taller than Stella Kilbride, and tended toward paunchy, which he tried to conceal inside obscenely expensive brilliant white suits. Since our last meeting he had allowed his hair, which had previously been cut in a severe Caesar style with frosted tips, to grow into a minor pompadour, dyed jet black. One thing he hadn’t changed was his chromed Wayfarer sunglasses. He looked like someone had chopped the old bloated Elvis off at the knees. He continued to pat Stella’s hands, but looked up as I walked in the door.
“Detective Boatright!” he called. “I am so happy to see you! Stella, this is the police detective I told you about. If anyone can determine what happened to your poor Rainey, he can.”
“Okay, Crapster,” I said. “Time for you to hit the bricks. This is a police investigation. I don’t need any civilian help.”
“I do understand,” Crapster said.
“I don’t,” Stella interrupted. “Detective Boatright, I can’t comprehend why you wouldn’t want Bowie’s input. Especially since Rainey himself requested it.”
“You might need to explain that,” I said. “Considering your husband is permanently indisposed, how could he possibly have asked for Crapster’s help?”
Bowie stood, pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket, and handed it to me.
“A couple of months ago, I received this by special delivery. You can see the postmark on the envelope. In the enclosed letter, Rainey Kilbride asked if I would make myself available to help the police should he come to some harm.”
“What’s your relationship with the Kilbrides?” I asked.
“We’re merely friends. I’ve known Rainey and Stella for a number of years. I’ve even assisted with a few of their telethons.”
“What use would Rainey Kilbride have for a fake psychic?”
Stella Kilbride gasped and brought herself to her full height, which meant she was about eye level with my chest.
“How dare you!” she said. “Bowie has a gift of prophecy, endowed on him by a power none of us can possibly imagine!”
“He’s a huckster and a charlatan,” I said. “He’s about as genuine as a discount department store Santa’s beard. I’ll grant he’s a shrewd observer of human behavior, but he uses those skills to manipulate and exploit people, and he makes a buttload of money doing it.”
“A bit unfair,” Crapster said. “After all, I have helped you solve more than a few cases over the years.”
“Being there when we collared a criminal doesn’t necessarily constitute help,” I growled.
I was getting carried away with the argument. Deep down, I had to admit there had been several cases which I might not have solved—at least as quickly—without Crapster’s assistance. I knew as deeply that most of my resentment stemmed from my dislike for the little clown. I decided to try for diplomacy.
“In any case,” I said, “it appears the deceased did make what might be interpreted as a final request that you provide input in this case. So, I’ll treat you as a witness. Please wait in the next room while I interview Mrs. Kilbride, will you?”
“With pleasure,” Crapster said crisply, and he stepped into the hallway.
I turned my attention to Stella.
“Could you tell me when you last saw your husband?”
“Last night, around one in the morning, before I went to sleep. Reverend Kilbride and I have not shared a marital bed for several years.”
“Isn’t that a bit personal?”
“Not in a murder investigation. You do believe your husband was murdered, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, and so do you. Why else would a homicide investigator be here?”
I resisted the urge to tell her I wasn’t here on my own volition. “All information is relevant. Why haven’t you slept with your husband?”
“He snores,” she said, curtly.
“Is that all?”
Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes again. She dabbed at her cheeks with a tissue.
“This is so difficult,” she said. “Rainey is . . . was a man of voracious appetites. Please tell me this is confidential.”
“In that case, I don’t know how much I can say. The truth could compromise this extremely important ministry.”
And cut off a chunk of your cash flow, I thought, but kept it to myself. “Withholding evidence in a murder investigation is a crime in itself,” I said. “I would strongly suggest you answer the questions.”
She dabbed at her eyes again and managed to smear her eyeliner into the equivalent of a raccoon mask. A few seconds passed. I got the impression she was waiting me out, hoping that if she didn’t answer for long enough I’d give up and go away. She was, of course, mistaken. Finally, she sighed.
“I’ve known for years that Rainey was unfaithful. You could say serially unfaithful, I suppose.”
“With other women?”
“These days, it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Do you know the names of your husband’s paramours?”
“Why is it important?”
“Because—and I don’t wish to sound harsh here, ma’am—someone skewered your husband on an expensive piece of glassware in his office. Illicit lovers make excellent suspects.”
“As do jilted spouses. Can you account for your whereabouts after you last saw your husband last night?”
“That’s quite enough!” a voice called from the doorway. I turned and saw a tall man with perfectly lacquered hair and gleaming white teeth standing there. He was wearing a pullover sports shirt and gabardine slacks. He was tanned and fit and looked as if he had stepped out of the pages of a menswear catalogue. Bowie Crapster appeared next to him.
“This is Carl Upton,” he said. “He’s the announcer for the Raineys’ television show.”
“Didn’t I tell you to wait in the next room?” I said. Crapster’s face wrinkled in consternation, and he returned to his exile.
“Come in, Mr. Upton,” I said. “I’m Detective Amboy Boatright of the Morgan Police Department. This is a murder investigation. There is no such thing as ‘enough’ when it comes to my questions.”
“Can’t you see poor Stella here is traumatized? She’s lost her husband, for Pete’s sake!”
“Sounds like she lost him a long time ago. Please take a seat in the next room, and I’ll get to you in a few moments, unless you can vouch for Mrs. Kilbride’s whereabouts last night.”
“As it happens, I can.”
I surveyed him again. “Please do,” I said.
“Stella and I had a late dinner last night, at Costa Del Oro in Pooler.”
Pooler was a large city in Parker County, about twenty miles north of Morgan.
“From when to when?” I asked.
“We arrived around nine. We paid the check about eleven. I have my receipt to prove it.”
“If you finished your meal around eleven, you should have been able to get back to the resort around midnight.”
“That’s correct,” Upton said.
“Did you see Mr. Kilbride after you returned?”
Upton coughed softly, and glanced at Stella. She dabbed at her eyes again with the tissue, and picked up the story.
“Rainey was in the living room when we got back. It was about midnight, as you said. Rainey was not alone.”
“Who was with him?”
“His latest conquest,” Upton said. “Beverly Ross.”
I turned to Stella. “Is that correct?”
She nodded, and the tear works began to flow again.
“Where could I find Beverly Ross?” I asked.
“She’s probably downstairs in the studio,” Upton said. “She’s the lead singer in the Alpha Omega choir. She’s also the music director.”
Scotty Baggs appeared in the doorway to the bedroom.
“A minute, Boy?”
“Excuse me,” I said, and joined him in the hallway. “What is it?”
“Medical examiner finished doing the once-over on Kilbride. He says the liver temp indicates he died sometime between midnight and three in the morning.”
“Doesn’t help me much. I know Kilbride was alive around midnight already, and all my suspects so far were here by then. Go down to the studio and find Beverly Ross. She’s the music director with the choir. Bring her upstairs.”
I walked back into the bedroom. Upton sat next to Stella, a comforting arm around her shoulder. She appeared to have settled down a bit.
“You say you returned from Costa Del Oro around midnight, and found Beverly Ross in the suite with Mr. Kilbride. When did you last see him alive?”
Upton took the lead. “It was sometime around half-past twelve. Stella and I had a drink, and I left . . .”
“Wait,” I said, and turned my attention to Stella. “Was it common for you to have a drink with your husband and his lovers?”
“Common? Not really. Over the last several years, I’ve grown accustomed to the idea that Rainey wasn’t particularly bound by his wedding vows. After a while, it seemed more . . . civilized to accept reality and live my own life.”
“So you’ve had lovers on the side also.”
She blushed, but didn’t answer one way or the other. Upton seemed to take offense at the observation.
“Detective, I know you have to do your job, but does it include impugning the character of a fine woman like Stella? Really?”
I leaned against the door. “Mr. Upton, the FBI has determined that almost a third of homicide victims in this country are murdered by their spouses. A huge percentage result from arguments over two things—money and jealousy. Not all philandering husbands tolerate reciprocation by their wives. What’s good for the gander is not always acceptable for the goose, if you catch my drift. Someone shoved Rainey Kilbride into the sculpture in the next room, in what appears to have been a pique of anger. Regardless of Mr. Kilbride’s infidelity, he might be very angry to discover Stella here had been stepping out on him. And, since you went all the way to Pooler to have dinner with her last night, I might also ask you about the nature of your relationship with Stella.”
“I might be able to help with that,” Crapster said from the hallway.
My first inclination was to chuck him out the nearest window. On the other hand, Crapster clearly already had an established relationship with Stella. I decided—against my better judgment—to allow him to help.
“You have information that will clear things up?” I asked.
“I will in a minute,” he said. “With your permission, Mr. Upton.”
“Anything to get this over with,” Upton said.
Crapster crossed the room and stood over Upton, who was still seated next to Stella. Stood over, in this case, meant he was almost eye-to-eye with Upton. He reached out, grabbed Upton by both sides of his head, and gazed deep into the man’s eyes.
“Listen closely,” Crapster said. “I’m going to ask you one question, and I expect you to answer truthfully. If you don’t, I’ll know.”
“Whatever,” Upton said. He tried to sound unintimidated, but I noticed him swallow quickly in what appeared to be a gulp.
“Are you and Stella Kilbride lovers?”
“Of course not,” Upton said, almost immediately.
Crapster let go of Upton’s head and turned to me, a triumphant look on his face.
“He’s lying,” he said. “He and Stella are lovers.”
“Now see here!” Upton exclaimed. “You can’t waltz in here and tell me I’m lying when I’m not!”
“Oh, give it up,” Stella said. “Bowie’s psychic. You can’t fool him, Carl.”
I said, “Step into the hallway, Mr. Upton. Don’t go far. We have more to discuss. I need a word with Mrs. Kilbride first.”
Sullenly, Upton left the room. I allowed Crapster to remain, only because he had handed me a plum clue. I cautioned him to stay out of my way first.
“Tell me about it,” I said to Stella.
For a second, I thought she was going to turn on the waterworks again. She squeezed the tissue in her hands as if it were a hundred-dollar bill in a hurricane. She steadied herself, and looked up at me.
“I’ve known Carl for years. Decades, actually. He was a staff member with the ministry when we started out. In the last year or so, he has been there for me on numerous occasions when Rainey was either too busy or . . . otherwise occupied. He became my confidant, the only person who understood, and the only person I could trust. Do you have any idea what kind of scandal would descend on this ministry if it were publicly divulged that Rainey and I were not monogamous?”
“Sure,” I said. “All the gullible faithful who send you portions of their Social Security checks might decide to skip a payment or two. You might have to sell one of your jets.”
“There’s no reason to be sarcastic, Detective,” she said. “We may live a somewhat ostentatious lifestyle, but that is the point, isn’t it? Have you watched our television shows? Ours is a prosperity ministry. We preach that true faith will be rewarded not only in the next world but in this one as well.”
I looked around the room.
“It seems to have worked for you.”
“We have been blessed. You may doubt our sincerity if you wish, but our followers believe in us.”
“I bet they buy lottery tickets too. Tell me about the affair between you and Carl Upton.”
“Is that necessary?”
“We could do this downtown if you wish. Of course, that would mean parading you and Upton in front of the news cameras in the parking lot. Your choice.”
She sighed, and relaxed into the love seat.
“It began about a year ago. The ministry had chartered a cruise ship for a week-long revival to the Caribbean. Rainey and I had separate suites, naturally.”
“Goes without saying,” I said.
“You are a sour little man, aren’t you?”
“Hang out with criminals for a decade or so and you’ll sour a little yourself. But we aren’t talking about me.”
“No. Rainey had retired to his suite with his latest dalliance, supposedly for an intensive prayer session. You can bet only one of them was on her knees. I wasn’t feeling very comfortable—seasickness, I suppose. Carl tended to me, bringing me medicine from the ship clinic, and providing a cool cloth for my forehead. One thing led to another. We’ve been intimate ever since.”
“You knew about your husband’s infidelity. Did he know about yours?”
“Not until last night. That was why Carl and I went to Pooler for dinner. We needed to discuss how to tell Rainey about our . . . situation. We arrived back here around midnight, and I told Rainey about my relationship with Carl.”
“How did he react?”
“He was livid. He accused me of threatening the integrity of the ministry and ordered me to stop seeing Carl.”
“Which you refused.”
“Of course. Then Rainey fired Carl.”
I turned to Crapster. His eyebrows were raised. It was hard to miss the implication, even if you weren’t a real psychic.
“Did you know about this?” I asked him.
“News to me.”
“Some psychic,” I said. “Stick around, Mrs. Kilbride. I’m sure I’ll have more questions for you later.”
I took Crapster by the arm and led him into the hallway. “I have a few questions for Upton, and I want you in the room. See if you can get any readings off of him.”
“I thought you doubted my psychic abilities,” he sniffed.
“I think the issue of your so-called supernatural powers was settled a long time ago. I am interested, though. How did you know Upton was lying? Your whole abracadabra ‘look into my eyes’ routine wasn’t about intimidating him.”
“Well, he might be capable of being intimidated, but who would be frightened of little ol’ me?”
“You were like a pink Oompa Loompa in an ice-cream suit, grabbing his head and staring into his eyes. He might be intimidated, if he thought you were pulling some sort of telepathic swami bit on him.”
“Usually, that prompts the truth, Detective. When you interrogate a suspect down at the station, you always carry a file the size of a telephone book into the room, don’t you?”
“Okay, so I do. What about it?”
“And most of the pages in that file are blank paper?”
“And you do this because you want your suspect to believe you already know his entire life story. If he has no secrets from you, why should he lie? My clients—mistakenly—believe I can read minds. As you and I both know, I have no such ability. I can, however, read body language, and pulse rates, and dilation of the eyes, and I can easily see a glistening on the skin that indicates increased perspiration.”
“The fight-or-flight response.”
“Exactly. And it tends to be elicited by lying, if the person lying has any conscience whatsoever.”
“That’s what you were doing with Upton.”
“I grabbed his head and peered into his eyes. If he really believed I had the ability to rifle through his entire consciousness and know everything about him, that alone should have prompted him to tell the truth. On the other hand, it also gave me the opportunity to place my pinkie fingers over his carotid arteries, to feel the skin of his cheeks for sweat, and to watch his eyes for pupil dilation.”
“And they all went haywire.”
“As if I had shocked him with a cattle prod.”
“So he was lying.”
“Actually, there was only a fifty-fifty chance he was lying. Physiological arousal can have many different causes, few of them involving mendacity. That’s the reason polygraphs are so unreliable and can’t be introduced as evidence in criminal trials anymore. As I said, if he believed he had no secrets from me, he should tell the truth. His physiological signs told me he was possibly lying. What I didn’t know was why he was aroused. I played a hunch, and took a chance. I accused him of lying.”
“Maybe a little more than that. I weighed the probabilities, and one came out slightly heavier. It was a gamble, where the odds were slightly in my favor.”
“So you do this human lie-detector trick with everyone?”
“Being psychic means having the ability to read people. Not all the messages they send are telepathic. I do have a difficult time reading psychopaths, however.”
He smiled and waggled a finger at me.
I hate it when people waggle their fingers at me.
We found Upton in the study, on the opposite end of the hallway from Rainey’s office. He sat in a leather wing-backed chair, reading a magazine. He looked up as we walked into the room, and stood to face us.
“How is Stella? I hope you haven’t upset her.”
“She’ll survive,” I said. “She told us Rainey Kilbride fired you last night, after she divulged your affair.”
“Shortly afterward, Kilbride was murdered.”
“I see,” he said, and he sat back in the chair. . . .
# # #
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Blood stained Glass by Richard Helms. Copyright © 2016 with permission of the author.
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