Three seconds of rushing wind precede the violent thunderclap of a body impacting asphalt. There is a limit to the velocity with which the human body can strike an unyielding object and still retain any semblance of intactness. Former Mayor Roger Hendricks had exceeded that limit by at least an order of magnitude during his plunge from the thirty-seventh floor rooftop terrace of the Flemington Tower on June the sixteenth of the year preceding. As of today, now nearly seven months on, why he took that plunge remains a mystery—one that, alas, it was now Benedict’s sworn duty to unravel.
Thursday – January 7, 1937
“I confess, sir, that I have no earthly idea. No idea at all,” Senior Detective Malcolm Benedict sat uncomfortably before his boss’s immense maple desk. Chief Prescott swore to all he met that the desk had once been owned by Ulysses Grant himself, though Benedict was unaware of any sources of provenance for the claim.
“Those, Benedict, are not the reassuring words a chief cares to hear from his newest department head. Mayor Hendricks’ untimely demise is a very significant loose end for this department, and I’m quite certain I’ve shared with you numerous times my view on loose ends.”
“You have, Chief. Indeed you have. But in my defense I feel obliged to point out that I’ve only held this position for forty-five minutes.”
“A full ten percent of your first day frittered away with nothing whatever to show for it.” The chief shook his head with mock ruefulness as he rose and stepped to the large window that overlooked the western half of the city. “Needless to say, Hendricks will be your first undertaking.”
“I’m quite sure you’ve already made that clear, Chief.”
“Tell me what you know so far.”
“I know what you know—what we’ve all known for the past seven months.”
“Humor your superior officer, Benedict. Review for me the facts of the case as you understand them.”
“Fair enough, Chief. Not quite seven months ago—June sixteenth, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, at approximately three forty-five in the afternoon—former two-term mayor Roger Allen Hendricks, aged sixty-three, fell from the roof of the Flemington Tower, a currently unoccupied office building on Sixty-third Street. He was, of course, well and truly deceased at the conclusion of his descent. What is less clear, and what kept the case from being judged a common suicide, is that upon postmortem examination of His Honors’ remains, there were discovered on his person a document suggesting that he was en route to an event scheduled for later that day. This leaves very much open the matter of why one of this city’s most well-known and to all appearances confident officials would suddenly and without explanation choose to take his life.”
“There is, naturally, the matter of the pending indictment.”
“Indeed there is, Chief, “Benedict replied. “But His Honor was notoriously pugnacious and much more inclined to fight than to surrender his life.”
“A reasonable conclusion, but one that appears thus far to not be borne out by the clearly observable facts. So, what of the evidence in the case?”
“Maddeningly sparse, Chief. Absolutely maddening. The document found on the mayor’s body, which is still in the evidence locker, speaks of an engagement he was to have attended four hours after the time of his demise. Indeed, the only reason we know he fell from the rooftop, rather than, say, from a window, is that the rooftop was sealed against the elements with a thick coating of tar, and an identical material was found in considerable quantities on the bottom of the mayor’s shoes during the autopsy. The day of his fall was a surpassingly hot one and the roof sealant was quite gummy, as evidenced by the shoe tracks that led from the rooftop doorway to the edge of the roof from which he plummeted, tracks whose shape and dimensions match precisely those of the mayor’s size nine shoes.”
“And the witnesses…”
“As scarce as the forensic evidence itself, Chief. No one aside from the super is known to have been on the building’s roof in the hours preceding the incident, a fact corroborated by the complete absence of footprints in the asphalt save for the victim’s. The building superintendent testified that he had made a brief visit to the rooftop at around seven thirty that morning when it was still relatively cool, and that he had seen no one else there at that time. Access to the roof was, though, unsecured. There was no lock on the rooftop door and certain among the building’s tenants were known to make the ascent from time to time. It is likely that the extraordinary heat of that week deterred others from venturing out onto the roof once the sun had climbed beyond that early hour. No citizens were ever found who witnessed the fall. Nor did any of those on the street hear shouts or other noises preceding the impact of the body. There were, though, several individuals who heard the body’s impact on the pavement. Most described it as sounding like a gunshot or thunderclap.”
“And what of suspects?”
“Naturally there are none, else we wouldn’t be having this conversation seven months after the foul event. It took police some eleven minutes to arrive on the scene following the initial call, which was received perhaps four minutes after the event. The call was made from a police box two blocks north at the corner of Sixty-fifth and Baker, following which Officers Spencer and Brant arrived on the scene and proceeded to interview numerous of those on the street at the time. During that lengthy interval, any miscreant who may have been on the rooftop or in the building could have easily departed the scene. There was, as I said, a thorough examination of the rooftop area following the interviews, with not a trace of evidence discovered save for the mayor’s footprints in the warm asphalt.”
This lengthy interrogatory was Benedict’s first as the newly named head of the Brighton Police Department’s Cold Case Division, an organization that was itself brand new and a bold experiment of Chief Prescott’s own design. There were, at this early juncture, six officers in Benedict’s employ, men whom he was free to utilize in whatever capacity he saw fit in order to resolve the long list of unsolved cases that were more than six months old. Hendricks’ death was naturally highest on the list, he having been retired from the mayor’s office some three months earlier through the expedient of the ballot box, but still very much in the public eye on the day of his untimely demise, due in part to his tenure as mayor and also due to an outstanding legal action connected with an accusation of corruption during the final weeks of his administration.
Chief Prescott retook the seat at his desk, where he sat pensively for a moment before leaning forward in Benedict’s direction.
“Tell me what theory informs your thinking on this unfortunate matter, Benedict.”
“I mean to go after the matter with a totally open mind, sir.”
“Of course you do. But still, you’ve studied the case file. Surely a possible scenario or two has begun to congeal in your mind. After all, it is your deductive powers that earned you this position to begin with. I should very much like to see those powers exercised to their fullest.”
“And I will give it my very best, Chief, both I and my men. Remember, though, that one of my advantages in this matter—though some might regard it as a disadvantage—is that I had no involvement whatever with the initial investigation of the case. I believe that leaves me free to address the entire matter from a fresh and unbiased perspective.”
“But no interesting early theories?”
“None I am prepared to discuss at this time.”
“Benedict, you are infuriating.”
“Chief, you have known me for seventeen years. Have I ever not been?”
“A fair point,” Chief Prescott said. “A fair point indeed.” His last comment had a distinctly perfunctory tone, and so Benedict rose to go.
“Tell me this, Senior Detective Benedict. Was His Honor known in his final days to have been in any way distraught or otherwise inclined toward self-destruction?”
“I am unaware of any such psychological assessment, nor is any included in the case file. Still, it is an interesting angle—one I can easily imagine myself pursuing in the coming days.”
Prescott said nothing further and Benedict departed the office, drawing the door closed behind him.
Saturday – June 13, 1936
Former Mayor Roger Hendricks was a creature of habit. He firmly believed that the more banal aspects of daily life one could routinize, the less mental energy would be required to accomplish them, energy that could then be better spent accomplishing important things. He awoke at the same hour every day, went to bed at the same time each night. He wore the same clothes without fail, down to the socks, underwear, belt, and shoes. In his bedroom closet, ten identical dark gray double-breasted suits, three identical red neckties, three pair of size nine dark brown Roblee Oxfords, and three matching leather belts. He had appeared thus accoutered every one of the two thousand eight hundred and sixty days during which he had served as mayor, and every day since, and it would be this same attire in which his broken body would be found in the center of Sixty-third Street three days hence. He took pride, as well, in the fact that he had maintained his slim physique throughout his administration and had had no need to modify his wardrobe to accommodate any expanding dimensions, despite having approached to within close viewing distance of his sixty-fourth birthday. Hendricks was a slight man, a bit below average in height and quite thin. It was felt by many close associates that his harsh demeanor and abrupt temperament were at least in part compensations of a sort for his lack of physical stature.
The eight years of Hendricks’ mayoral administration had been characterized by significant accomplishment on numerous fronts, most notably improved employment opportunities and a marked reduction in crime. His most notable lack had been in the area of labor relations, and it had taken him two and a half contentious years to hammer out a contract with the fire department. As his second term neared its end, the mayor remained in febrile negotiations with the police union, whose members had been working without a contract for going on two years. In the midst of what seemed an intractable standoff, the city was stunned to learn that, with but eight weeks remaining in the mayor’s second term, and in the midst of a vigorous campaign to earn a third term in office, a labor deal with the police union had suddenly and unexpectedly been reached, a deal that delivered most, though not all, of the union’s demands, and which it was expected by all concerned would be soundly approved in a member vote scheduled to take place two weeks after the announcement.
Two weeks later, as predicted, the contract was ratified overwhelmingly by the police union membership and it appeared that the mayor was well on his way to earning a third term. But then, twelve days later, just twenty-three days before the election, had come the bombshell that had undone, in less than forty-eight hours, the mayor’s reelection hopes. An unnamed senior representative from the competing campaign alleged that money had changed hands between the police union leadership and the mayor’s office, a payoff presumably designed to grease the skids of negotiation and allow Hendricks to claim a labor contract victory on the eve of the election. Mark Twain had trenchantly observed, some years earlier, that a lie makes its way halfway round the world before the truth can even get its pants on. And so it proved in Brighton. For despite Hendricks’ fervent denials, as well as those of the police union leadership, the voting public latched onto the story and handed the incumbent a twelve-point drubbing on election day. And just when the defeated mayor had convinced himself that the tarnishing of his legacy from the ignominy of these allegations was his biggest problem, he discovered in the weeks immediately following that his life could, in fact, get even worse, when the district attorney announced he would be seeking an indictment against the former mayor on charges of corruption and racketeering. It was just two weeks after this announcement that Hendricks’ body was found in the middle of Sixty-third Street.
In the days leading up to the tragedy, indictment threat notwithstanding, Hendricks had been in good spirits, responding to the DA with threats of his own to include libel, slander, and a host of other accusations of malfeasance and misappropriation of city funds in the pursuit of a personal vendetta born of the fraught relationship the DA had had with the mayor’s office in the final year of Hendricks’ administration. It was a Saturday evening, three days before the tragedy, that Hendricks had returned home to find a formal invitation in his mailbox, an invitation to address a banquet the following Tuesday evening in honor of the new incoming fire chief, beneficiary of the latest contract between the city and the union, and which he—the new chief—had been instrumental in bringing to fruition, rewarded for his efforts by elevation to the highest position in the department. Hendricks RSVP’d with a brief telephone call directly to the new chief’s home, and had barely sat down in his living room to enjoy an evening drink when the phone rang again. He rose with annoyance, set his whiskey glass and cigar on an end table, and picked up the receiver.
“Your Honor,” an unidentified but oddly familiar voice said. “My sincere apologies for troubling you at this late hour.”
“Yes, it is late,” Hendricks replied with monotonic annoyance. “Who is this and what can I do for you?”
“Actually, Mister Mayor, it is what I can do for you that is the reason for my call,” the voice said, opting not to identify itself.
The mayor took a deep breath but did not respond.
“We need to meet, Your Honor, and it needs to be soon.”
“And why exactly is that?” Hendricks asked.
“I am aware of your … difficulties with the DA’s office,” the voice continued.
“Congratulations. Everybody in the goddamned city is aware of my difficulties,” Hendricks said derisively. “You only need to own a radio.”
“But, Mister Mayor, not everyone is in a position to make those difficulties go away. I, on the other hand, am.”
“And why on God’s earth should I believe what you say?”
“It’s entirely up to you whether you believe me or not. I am simply extending an offer to you which you are free to accept or decline, as you like.”
Hendricks paused, drew a deep breath. “And if I choose to take you at your word?”
“Then you will do me the service of meeting me in the front lobby of the Flemington Tower this coming Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.”
“The Flemington Tower has been closed for almost a year.”
“All the better for us to enjoy a private conversation.”
“And the front door is chained shut.”
“Mister Mayor, the front door will be open when you arrive. I will meet you in the lobby.” And with that peremptory remark, the line clicked and went dead.
Tuesday, June 16, 1936
Benjamin Hendricks stepped from the taxi and onto Sixty-Third Street where it intersected Bevins Street, two blocks north of the Flemington Tower. He paid the driver and started walking south on Sixty-Third, in no particular hurry. He’d come a bit earlier than the mysterious voice had requested, and, not knowing what to expect from the encounter, or even, for that matter whether one would occur, he was more than a little uncertain as he approached the abandoned building. He was dressed in the same gray business suit he wore every other day, and the mid-afternoon sun drew a bead of sweat across his brow. Finally conceding momentary defeat to the heat, he removed his jacket, slung it over his shoulder, and wiped a shirtsleeve across his forehead as he approached the dozen steps that led from the street level up to the building’s main entrance. As the voice on the phone had indicated, the chains that normally kept the doors securely locked were missing. He gave an uncertain tug at the door and it opened easily. Inside, the air was cool and Hendricks wiped once more at his forehead. He stood just inside the lobby door for a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark lobby.
“Mister Mayor, good of you to come.” The voice echoed from the far end of the empty elevator lobby—the voice from the phone call. “Won’t you join me please.”
Hendricks looked toward the voice, but could see only a shadowy figure at the far end of the lobby. He began walking in the man’s direction.
“Let’s make this quick, my friend. I have a busy afternoon,” Hendricks said.
“No doubt you have, sir. I won’t require much of your time at all.”
Hendricks approached to within a few feet of the man and could now easily make out the distinctive outline of a police uniform. He stepped forward, smiled cordially, and extended his hand.
“Detective Benedict, a pleasure to see you again. No wonder the voice on the phone the other night sounded so familiar.”
“Good to see you as well,” Benedict replied. He motioned toward a door to one side of the lobby.
“Is all of this cloak and dagger business really necessary, Detective,” Hendricks said. “We’re in an abandoned building for Christ’s sake. Who’s going to hear us?”
“You will forgive my over-developed sense of caution, Mister Mayor. Years of training and all that. Please…”
Benedict opened a door that led into a small office and held it courteously as the mayor followed.
“Detective,” the former mayor said, the door swinging shut behind him, “It’s an interesting and fortuitous coincidence that you are the fellow who asked me here this afternoon. You said you had some information that would assist with my legal … difficulties.”
“Indeed I do, Mister Mayor. But first, let’s agree on one unassailable fact concerning this unfortunate matter, shall we? The labor contract between the city and the police union, which you so adroitly took credit for was, shall we say, helped along by a substantial cash payment.”
“So far, I cannot disagree, Detective,” Hendricks said. He folded his jacket neatly and laid it across the back of a chair. “Money is the most effective lubricant yet devised by humankind. Do you have any information that I am not already aware of?”
“I think I might, sir.” Benedict reached into his uniform breast pocket and extracted a single folded sheet of paper, but did not offer it in the mayor’s direction. “I have proof that, in fact, that payment—supplied from taxpayer funds no less—originated from your own office chief of staff, with your full knowledge and approval.” He gestured accusingly with the still folded paper. “And I have little doubt that when the DA’s indictment advances to trial in a few weeks’ time, he will have an easy time proving the truth of the matter.”
“Detective, I cannot imagine what source has misinformed you so grievously. Yes, indeed, money did change hands in order to expedite a resolution to the contract negotiations, but you misunderstand the direction in which that money flowed, I’m afraid. Because I know you to be on excellent terms with your Chief Prescott, it pains me to have to clarify matters for you in this way, but it was your very own chief and mentor who tendered money to my office—PBA member money, if I’m not mistaken—and I have my very own document to prove as much. I’m not sure what it is you hold there in your hand, but I can assure you that the document at home on my desk is authentic and will be regarded as such when and if this matter makes it to the grand jury. I’m going to guess that you are bluffing, Detective, but feel free to disabuse me of that notion by sharing your proof with me if you like.”
“So,” Benedict said, “it is your intent to extricate yourself from this entanglement by throwing Chief Prescott under the proverbial bus.”
“Unlike you, Detective, I am not engaging in any sort of subterfuge. I merely mean to bring into the light of day the facts as they occurred—facts, which, had they been properly reported by the papers and confessed to in a timely manner by the police labor board, would doubtless have helped to ensure my own reelection. As it happened, your chief’s heinous actions and my opponent’s subsequent accusations cost me my office. Seems only fair that he should suffer the same fate, don’t you think?”
Benedict stood in silence for a long moment.
“Detective, I said earlier that it was a pleasant coincidence your showing up here today. Allow me to explain why. On the assumption that the document you hold there will not turn out to be nearly as compelling as the one that I have, I should like to offer you a modest consolation prize for your efforts. If you could see your way clear to contributing your own testimony at the forthcoming trial, I have no doubt the matter would be greatly expedited.”
“You have the temerity to ask me to testify against my own chief?”
“Now now, Detective. You’d only be contributing a bit more veracity—the sworn word of a decorated detective no less—to a matter that is certain to go against Chief Prescott anyway, regardless of whether you choose to help it along or not. However, should you elect to participate in the proceedings, well, his soon-to-be-vacated position as chief of the department will, naturally, require another experienced and highly regarded officer.”
“You’re a bastard,” was all that Benedict could manage in his rapidly growing fury.
“You’re by no means the first to make that assertion, Detective. Actually, though, I’m a politician. But let’s not split hairs, eh?”
Benedict slowly lowered his arm and offered only silence in response.
“It really won’t be a big deal, Detective. There will be a summons from the grand jury, a couple of basic questions concerning the money, and your sworn word that it was Chief Prescott who authorized the transfer of PBA cash.”
“And how do I know,” Benedict said, “that you aren’t the one bluffing, that you, in fact, have no document at all in your possession, and that my testimony at the trial wouldn’t be the single damning piece of evidence?”
“That’s the beauty of our situation, Detective. You don’t know that at all. I might be bluffing, or you might. But here’s the conundrum you face. You see, my entire career—that of every successful politician—has been built on bluffing, whereas yours is, I’m afraid to say, built upon a foundation of rectitude and honesty. Ironic that that should be the case in this moment, don’t you think?”
Benedict exhaled loudly and managed a sardonic smile as he extended his right hand in the mayor’s direction. “You make a compelling case, Your Honor. You are a son of a bitch, but what choice do you leave me?”
“It pleases me to meet a reasonable man, Detective, and I look forward to your support in concluding this unfortunate matter.” He extended his own hand to shake that of Benedict, but before he could manage another breath, Benedict had drawn him in, seized his head with two enormous hands, and snapped the mayor’s neck so effortlessly that there was scarcely a sound in the room. He lowered the mayor’s lifeless body to the office floor and only stood silently for a moment, controlling his breathing as best he could.
Once Benedict had his breathing under control, he lifted Hendricks’ jacket from the chair and manipulated the mayor’s lifeless arms into the sleeves until he had the jacket put back on. He did a quick sweep of the room, then lifted the body, no more than half the size and weight of his own, carrying it effortlessly out of the room and toward the elevator lobby. Though abandoned nearly a year, power was still on in the building for the benefit of maintenance workers, and Benedict had the dead mayor into an elevator and up on the roof in a matter of moments. He had prepared for the scenario that was now unfolding, and exiting the elevator on the thirty-seventh floor, he made his way up the single flight of stairs that led to the rooftop. On the small landing at the top of the stairway there lay a large canvas bag. Benedict laid the mayor’s body down next to the bag.
The idea was simple enough. His Honor, awash in legal troubles and threatened with the destruction of his legacy as mayor, had finally succumbed to depression and tragically flung himself off the rooftop onto the street below. After a thirty-seven-story drop, no forensic examination was going to notice that the broken neck had been caused by anything other than the fall itself. The principal risk was the necessity for carrying out the plan in the middle of a workday afternoon in broad daylight, though in a way that helped to contribute to the plausibility of the whole thing. He had considered also the small risk of injuring someone on the ground below, but Benedict had judged that a remote possibility. The real challenge was going to be the shoes.
The plan required that the inevitable subsequent examination of the rooftop reinforce the initial impression of a suicide. And all that required was indisputable evidence that the mayor had walked out onto the rooftop, stepped to the edge, and thrown himself off. Benedict had chosen this time of day specifically because of the high temperature, the asphalt roof coating, and the resulting consistency of that material, one that easily created and retained footprints. The rest had been simplicity itself. Buy a pair of identical shoes to those the mayor wore every day of his life, size nine Roblee Oxfords. Wear them out onto the roof while carrying the mayor’s lifeless body, make it to the edge, then replace the mayor’s clean shoes with the tar stained pair from his own feet before pitching the body down into the street. There was only one minor flaw to the plan. Benedict’s shoe size was two full sizes larger than the mayor’s, meaning that for the thirty or so steps it would take to go from the rooftop stairway to the ledge he needed to force his size eleven, feet into a much smaller shoe. He had tried this in advance and confirmed that it was doable—by no means comfortable, but doable nonetheless.
Benedict unzipped the canvas bag and extracted a set of nondescript civilian clothes and the duplicate shoes. Changing quickly, he placed his uniform into the bag along with his own shoes. He needed to be quick about this, as it wouldn’t take the police on the ground long at all to respond to a body—seemingly from out of nowhere—landing in the middle of Sixty-Third Street. Once the deed was done, the final component of the plan required Benedict to put on the mayor’s clean shoes and then step carefully backward to the rooftop doorway, utilizing the same tracks he had made while walking out to the ledge. He had practiced all of this earlier that morning while dropping the canvas bag off upstairs and before the heat of the day had softened the asphalt. He could drop the body, do the backward walk, replace the mayor’s shoes with his own from the bag, and make it downstairs and out onto the street in something like three minutes, following which he would be just another pedestrian walking down Sixty-Third in ordinary clothing, carrying an ordinary-looking canvas satchel. In the end, it all took a bit longer—about three and a half minutes—for he had underestimated the care required to walk backward and hit thirty-four exact footprints without slipping or twisting a foot in a way that would be discernible to a forensic examiner. If there was a single false step, or any imbalance that forced him to put down a hand to catch himself, then the entire scheme would be shot straight to hell and he could pay for his carelessness with a lifetime in prison or worse. But in the end it went exactly as planned, and no one at all noticed the tall man with the canvas bag as he stepped from the front door of the Flemington Tower and onto the street as a growing crowd of onlookers gathered around the broken body in the middle of the street.
Friday – January 22, 1937
“And you’re comfortable with your conclusion?”
“Comfort is a relative thing, Chief,” Benedict replied. “I believe it is the best we can do to put this unfortunate sequence of events to rest once and for all based on the evidence available.”
Chief Prescott stood at his office window, gazing thoughtfully out onto the street below. Benedict had just completed reviewing for him the conclusions of the Cold Case Division’s detailed review of the suicide of former Mayor Roger Hendricks.
“There will, of course, be a press conference tomorrow morning downstairs so that I can explain this whole grim business to the press and the good citizens of Brighton. You will, naturally, be at my side.”
“I expected nothing less, Chief.”
“You know, there’s a decent chance he would have been acquitted of the charges.”
“Yes, but it’s at least an even bet that he would not,” Benedict said. “There’s no conclusive evidence to tip the scale one way or the other.”
“No … no there’s not.”
“His suicide would seem to lend credence to the view that he knew perfectly well that he was guilty and that he would likely be found to be so by the court,” Benedict said. “At least this way the trial goes away and citizens are left to decide for themselves what actually took place.”
“This will free up your team to focus on that large backlog of old cases.”
“Yes indeed, Chief. They’ve already begun prioritizing the list. We will do our level best to clear up as much as possible by the end of this calendar year.”
“Thank you for your efforts on this, Detective. The city is in your debt.”
“No thanks required, Chief. All in a day’s work.” Benedict rose to leave, straightening his uniform jacket as he stood.
“Tell me, Detective,” Prescott said, still looking out the office window as Benedict’s hand reached for the office doorknob. “What did your men make of the redaction in the case file?”
“I’m sorry, sir.” Benedict said, lowering his hand.
“It was a large case file. Dead public official and all that. Could have easily been missed. Did anyone say anything to you about it?”
“I’m afraid you’ve got me at a bit of a disadvantage, Chief. To what redaction are you referring?”
“On the twelfth page of the main case write-up, about two thirds of the way down on the page. About a line and a half of the case summary redacted.”
“Oh … oh yes,” Benedict said, still facing the door while Prescott continued looking out the window onto the street. “No, no one on the examination team commented on it. Small extraneous item, I imagine. Immaterial to the resolution of the case.”
“No doubt, Detective. No doubt.”
“Are we okay, Chief?” Benedict said, reaching once more for the door.
“Yes, yes, okay,” Prescott replied. “But take a piece of advice from an old street cop, will you, Detective?”
“Of course, Chief. Something concerning the handling of the case then?”
“No nothing like that. Just a general observation—well, two of them actually.”
“Your council has always been invaluable to me, Chief.”
“It pleases me to hear you say so, Detective. First, and you know this as well as anyone, of course, but it never hurts to remind ourselves from time to time, does it. Loyalty is an immensely important thing in this line of work. We are responsible for protecting our fellow officers, and our fellow officers are immensely grateful and obliged to return the favor when the time comes.”
“Of course, Chief. Every man in the department would say the same.”
“Good to hear, Detective. I’m not a young man any more. I almost feel as though I’ve run out of wisdom to bestow on my colleagues.”
“Not at all, sir. I’ll respectfully disagree with you on that assertion.”
“Well, I’ll thank you for saying so, Detective.”
Prescott sighed loudly, turned from the window, and took his seat at the desk.
“And the other piece of advice, sir?” said Benedict.
“Oh, yes. You know, it’s the damndest thing. You’d never guess it unless someone pointed it out to you. But there’s this thing with shoes…” He paused for a long moment.
“Shoes, sir? Not sure I follow.”
“Yes, I got dragged out by my wife a few months back to help her pick out new shoes for some event or other, and I got to talking with the salesman while she was trying on something or other.”
Benedict wondered if indeed his chief might be beginning to wander mentally.
“Here’s the thing, Detective. Did you know that shoe manufacturers frequently change the sole patterns on otherwise identical makes and sizes of shoes? I tell you, I would never have guessed such a thing in a million years.”
The air in the office suddenly grew palpably thicker as Benedict once more lowered his hand from the doorknob.
“I’m not sure I take your point, Chief.”
“The redaction, Detective. Page twelve. The officer who examined the shoe prints on the rooftop at Flemington in the hour or so after the mayor’s unfortunate demise. I mean, it just made no sense at the time. Some of the prints were remarkably well preserved in the asphalt. And he insisted that the sole prints contained two totally different patterns … one atop the other, in the same print, mind you. I tell you, Detective, in thirty-seven years on this job, it’s the damndest thing I’ve ever heard. So, rather than risk … confusing the subsequent investigation of a case that the city wanted expeditiously resolved, the officer was asked to strike that reference from the file.”
Benedict reached once more for the doorknob, clutched it firmly, and opened the door.
“No doubt he made the right decision, Chief. It would only have obfuscated matters.”
“Anyway, Detective. I don’t mean to keep you. You’ve got a great deal on your plate. But do plan on keeping me apprised of your progress.”
“Yes. Yes, sir. I will.” And with that Benedict exited, letting the door close silently behind him as he walked down the long dark corridor.