By Harry Neil
“And all for just one damn diamond!” the widow sobbed as the pallbearers placed the casket onto the belts that would lower it into the grave. “One damn diamond! Why the hell didn’t he just give him the damn thing? It wasn’t that valuable, not worth dying for, not worth leaving me alone for! Why? Why?” Nanette Gordon took her mother Mamie in her arms and held her. Both women were distraught, but the daughter still had some strength. Nanette guided her mother away from the grave as her father’s casket began to lower into it.
I watched as many black-clad figures slowly moved through the cemetery, walking the white gravel paths carved through the green lawns and among the ancient trees that had grown there for hundreds of years. Mockingbirds sang happy songs from those trees. Were they unaware of the anguish below them, or were they angels sent to comfort the bereaved? Perhaps they were just spectators, as was I on this glorious Saturday morning in June.
No, I didn’t know the Gordon family at all, but I was intimately entwined in Alexander Gordon’s death. I am Rod Everhart, Glenhaven police lieutenant and patrol-car junkie, noted for solving crime and tying up all the loose ends. I’m also the policeman who first responded to the call, “Shots fired at Gordon’s Pawn Shop, 2373 Federal Avenue. Two victims down.” In moments I was there. Except for the traditional three-ball pawnbroker’s sign above the door, Gordon’s was just a door on the avenue, one door among many.
On the other side of the avenue was a little park with benches, birdbaths, and a spectacular array of blooming shrubs. It was a hot day, and nobody was about. But pigeons were about in plenty. Apparently they were used to being fed, because when I got out of my squad car they bombarded me. I fended them off with windmill arms and rushed inside.
It was gruesome. Two men were dead or dying, both with several gunshot wounds. Apparently they had exchanged several rounds before each fell from the barrage. A hysterical white-haired wife lay prostrate on her husband’s body, caressing his face and sobbing, keening unintelligible murmurings of love and loss. The second man lay alone and unmourned, a bandanna mask on his face, and a pistol and an open empty valise near his hand. A young woman of about twenty, apparently a daughter, sat stunned on a stool, a telephone in her hand. She hardly acknowledged my entrance. One more person, a red-headed boy of about fifteen, stood helplessly by, not seeming to know what to think or do.
It was a typical pawnshop, with a couple of glass counters filled with trinkets of every sort imaginable. The walls were hung with guitars, concertinas, leather jackets, sombreros, and an amazing variety of things too big to fit in the glass showcases. At any other time I’d have enjoyed just gazing around, inventing tales to go with the objects that had been surrendered here, often with great sadness by owners who loved them.
But not today. I had a double death on my hands, and I needed to follow procedure. First I called for support police, a couple of ambulances, and a coroner. Then I woke the young woman from her stunned daze and asked her name and what had happened.
“I’m Nanette Gordon,” she whimpered, “their daughter,” indicating the elderly couple on the floor. “Mama and I were upstairs–we live above the shop–and we heard gunshots, two kinds of gunshots. We ran down here as quick as we could, and this is what we found. That man was already dead, but Papa still had enough breath to gasp ‘The diamond! The diamond!’ Mama just went crazy, but I held it together long enough to call 911. I don’t know what happened after that; I guess I was in some kind of shock. This boy,” she indicated the teenager, “must have come in after I called.”
Just then two more officers rushed in. I gave Nanette over to them and turned my attention to the boy. “Who are you, and how do you fit in here?”
“I’m Joey Parker. I was sitting in the park reading. I do that a lot, because I have five sisters at home, and it’s too noisy there to read. I saw Mr. Gordon come out and feed the pigeons. He does that every day about this time, and they all flock down to get whatever it is he tosses. It’s a regular cloud of pigeons, and I think there are more of them every day. Anyway, he fed them and then he went back inside and closed the door and eventually all the birds flew off.
“About then this other guy came along, walking down the sidewalk with that black bag. I guess he was wearing that mask, but I didn’t really notice. The pigeons flocked back down, but when he went inside without feeding them they gave up and flew off. I thought maybe he was gonna pawn that bag, but I didn’t pay much attention until a few minutes later when the birds flocked back down. I saw that the shop door was open, but it closed without anybody coming out, and the birds flew away again.
“Then I heard gunshots, a whole bunch of gunshots. I jumped up and ran down here. Don’t really know why; I’m scared to death of guns. But I know the Gordons, and Mr. Gordon is a nice old man, and I was scared he might be in trouble. When I got here I found this–just what you see here. I didn’t touch anything, and you were right behind me, so I didn’t do anything. Nothing I could do, I guess. And now I just wanna go home. I can handle noisy sisters, but I can’t handle this.”
Loud sirens announced the arrival of two ambulances and a medical examiner. I joined my colleagues who were still questioning Nanette.
“He took the diamond!” she exclaimed. “Papa said ‘The diamond, the diamond’ as he died, and it’s not there, so that man took it. But he didn’t get away, so it must still be here somewhere. We need to look for it.”
I inspected the spot in the display case where she pointed. There was no diamond, but there was one of those finger-like things that jewelers use to display rings. “Was it in a ring?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “It was in a little platinum pinky ring, but the stone was so pretty you didn’t notice the ring. It wasn’t a really big stone, Daddy guessed just about a carat and a half, but it was a good stone, jubilee cut, and in a very old ring. Daddy said they don’t do that cut much anymore, and they hardly ever did it to a stone that small, but boy did it shine!”
My eyes wandered from the display to the top of the case. Something was there. “Look, I cried, “Here’s a pawn ticket, and it’s for a diamond ring! He wasn’t here to steal the diamond; he was here to redeem it! But the ticket says Georgia Dodge, and I’m guessing that’s not him. The redemption cost is $700. Damn! Probably worth three times that! Does he have that kind of money on him?”
One of my colleagues had the man’s wallet in his hand. “Nope, not more than $50 here, but I’ve got his driver’s license. He’s Peter Dodge, maybe Georgia’s son. There’s an address here. Maybe we’ll find her there. Meantime, call Abby and have her check out both names.”
And so the investigation was underway. Abby, who was the Police station’s walking encyclopedia, Googled about and quickly found out that Georgia Dodge had died a couple of weeks ago, and that her son Peter lived in his own apartment. By that time we’d been joined by a small army of police, but their thorough search of Peter’s body and the pawn shop did not produce any diamond ring. They searched the sidewalk outside the door just in case Peter had thrown the ring outside to pick up later, but they found nothing. Joey, the teenager, crushed our hopes when he said, “He did open the door, but if he threw it out there then one of those pigeons would have swallowed it. If that happened, there’ll be no hope of ever finding it.”
“Damn,” a colleague cursed. “Way to deflate a man, fella! But wait, maybe Peter swallowed it himself. That’s a common way to smuggle little stuff. If he did that an autopsy will find it. Let’s get him off to the morgue and get that started.”
I agreed. “But there’s another odd thing. Why does he have that empty valise? Surely he’d just put the ring in his pocket. Or was he planning to rip off other stuff? And just how did this come off? Did he pretend to redeem the ring and then pull a gun on Mr. Gordon? And did Gordon pull his own gun then? And why did he open the door, and when? Nothing seems to fit together here.”
It was time to take the investigation to the station. The ambulances took both bodies away. I took statements from Nanette and Joey and sent Joey on his way. Then I helped Nanette get her mother back upstairs and lying down. She came back down just long enough to lock up as we all left to pursue the case downtown.
Later that day I visited Coroner Carver Smith in the mortuary. He already knew to search for a ring, and that was what he did first.
“No ring,” he stated. “It couldn’t have gotten past his stomach in the short time before he was shot, and well, it’s not there. Believe me, I looked hard. Not in the anal cavity either. Now go away and let me get on with what I’m actually supposed to do here.”
Next morning three search teams reported at morning roll call. They’d searched the perp’s apartment, his mother’s house, and the pawn shop for anything that might shed any light on what Peter Dodge was trying to do at Gordon’s Pawn Shop. The team from the shop concentrated on finding the diamond ring, It had obviously disappeared, but it had to be in the shop or with the perp, unless of course, it was in the gullet of some surprised pigeon. It had to be what started this whole disaster, but just what had happened? Maybe more important, what had Peter Dodge meant to do? Why was he carrying a valise, especially an empty one? Had he intended to carry away more than the ring? Why did he open the door but not go out? And whatever he planned to do, how did he expect to get away with it? Or did he? Was this suicide by cop? Was he deranged by his mother’s recent death? Was he just plain deranged?
The search team from the apartment had some small insights. “His landlady said we was kinda dumb, ‘not the brightest bulb on the string’ is how she put it. Maybe he really didn’t think through what he was planning to do. Or maybe he realty did go there just to redeem the ring, and somehow things got out of hand.”
The leader of the team from the pawn shop objected. “If he’d planned to redeem the ring, he’d have brought money. He had the ticket and the ticket said $700 but he had only $50. No, he didn’t plan on redeeming the ring, well, unless he brought something in that valise to pawn to get that money. But then that thing, whatever, would be there in the shop somewhere, probably still sitting on the display case. Gordon wouldn’t have put it away until he’d established a price and made out a ticket, and there wasn’t any ticket, well, except the one for the ring.”
“How about the valise itself?” I asked. “Is there any way it could be valuable? An antique, maybe, or from some big-name designer?”
“Nice try,” the pawn-shop leader admitted, “But it’s a cheap bag from China by way of Wal-Mart. Couldn’t have cost more than $20 brand new, and it’s pretty old.”
The officer of the day gave out the morning’s assignments, including more investigations into the Gordon murder. I cashed in an old marker and asked to be allowed to go back to Dodge’s apartment. I got permission, along with the services of Private Gary Glitch, the latest hire at the station.
Finding the apartment was easy. Going by the book, I knocked on the manager’s door to get permission and a key. Mrs. Dietrich was a fat Bohemian dowager with stained teeth, bloodshot eyes, greasy skin and an attitude. A boy, maybe ten years old, hid behind her dirty skirts.
“How many times you guys gonna bother me with this, huh? There ain’t nothin’ in that apartment your men ain’t already seen. The man’s dead, and it’s good riddance if you ask me. He was a dirty rotten bastard. He didn’t shave or bathe and his rent was always late. And he kept birds, dirty smelly birds, up on the roof. My Franz feeds ‘em for him, for pin money, but now we gotta get rid of ‘em. Who cleans out birds? Can the cops do that?”
I was surprised. I hadn’t heard about birds before. She must not have mentioned that to the first search team. “I’ll find out, but first I need to see the birds. Is this your boy Franz? Can he take me up to the roof?”
Franz’s timidity disappeared like magic. It’s amazing what being needed can do to a shy kid. “Sure! It’s almost feeding time anyway. Just let me get my stuff.” Moments later he was leading me and Private Gary up narrow stairs to the roof.
It was a typical big-city roof, flat tar and gravel with various ugly utility machines scattered about. There was a water tank, a huge air-conditioning system, some clotheslines, and a little housing for the stairs that opened onto the roof. The roof sported views all round, ugly views of other rooftops with utilities and clotheslines. It had one unique feature. Against the stair housing someone had built a bird coop out of plywood and screening. About a dozen pigeons strutted about inside or outside, because the coop wasn’t a lockup. They all perked up noticeably on spotting Franz, their regular lunch ticket.
Franz changed the water in the birds’ drinking fountain and dumped birdseed in their feeding tray. “He’s got some really good birds,” he said, “and somebody ought to pay a lot of money to take them. How do we find that somebody?”
I watched the feeding frenzy Franz’s birdseed had triggered. Birds pushed each other aside to get to the feeding tray, which wasn’t big enough for all to feed at once. One beautiful cock, a bit larger than the rest, was able to hold his ground as the others fought each other. “That big cock seems to be limping a little,” I said. “Is something wrong with his leg?”
“That’s Aquilla,” Franz reached into the cage and pulled the big cock out. “Looks like something’s tied to his leg. Omigod, it’s a diamond ring!”
We stared at each other in shock for just a moment. I recovered first. “Damn! The whole police force has been looking for this thing, all over town, for days. And all the time it’s been up on this roof tied to this pigeon! This bird is evidence in two murders! Gotta get him down to the station right now. How do we do that? How do you carry a pigeon?” Then light dawned. “Oh, in a valise! That’s how he did it! Well, we don’t have a valise now. How can we improvise?”
Franz got a shopping bag and we were on our way. Aquilla was a star at the station, and so was Franz. People crowded around to stare at them both. Private Gary and I watched from the background.
Chief McAllister took over. “So this is how it must have happened. Dodge came into the shop carrying a homing pigeon hidden in a valise. He was wearing a mask, but then everybody was, because of the pandemic, so Gordon wasn’t alarmed. I have no idea what Dodge thought he’d do, but apparently he produced the pawn ticket for his mother’s ring, as though he was gonna redeem it. Gordon produced the ring, but instead of cash Dodge pulled out a gun. He held it on Gordon while he pulled out the bird and snapped the ring to its leg using that quick-attach device he’d already set up. Then he threw the bird out the door and closed it. He knew nobody would notice one pigeon among a crowd of hundreds.
“While Dodge was dealing with the door, Gordon was able to get his own gun and shoot Dodge, probably shooting to stun, not to kill. Dodge returned fire, and they exchanged several rounds, eventually bringing each other down. That’s when the women came running downstairs, and the boy from the street. And that’s when Rod here got there. Meanwhile, that homing pigeon flew back home and joined his colleagues on that rooftop. We know the rest, I think.”
“Except for one big thing,” I interrupted. “What was Dodge thinking? Obviously this didn’t go according to plan, but what kind of plan could he have imagined? I can’t see any way anything would have worked, can you, anybody?”
“Well, there’s suicide by cop,” somebody said, “But then that diamond ring would live with that pigeon forever. That doesn’t make sense, does it?”
“Maybe he didn’t intend to hurt the pawnbroker,” somebody else proposed. “Wearing that mask, maybe he thought he couldn’t be identified. And if he got stopped and searched, there’d be no diamond found on him. He’d have to ditch that valise, though, or maybe just leave it in the shop.”
“Doesn’t work,” I said. “Gordon saw him dispatch the pigeon with the ring, so we’d not expect to find the ring on the perp. And Joey said the perp was on foot, so he didn’t expect to run fast and far. Makes no sense. Makes no sense at all.”
Chief McAllister summed it up. “We may never know. It’s not case closed, not yet, but we might as well get used to the fact that this one will stay a mystery. Meanwhile, the ring was not redeemed, so it belongs to the pawnshop. Alexander Gordon is dead, so the shop probably belongs to his widow. She may not want to keep it, but that’s not our business. The valise goes back to Dodge’s apartment. Everything there gets processed by the probate boys, so that’s not our business either. There’s not much left that is our business now.”
So I worked on other cases for a couple of days, until Saturday morning when I attended the funeral for Alexander Gordon. It was a well-attended funeral; apparently Alexander had lots of good friends in the neighborhood. My heart went out to Mamie. She still seemed completely lost, and I suspected that she’d be that way for a long time. After debating for a while, and as all the people were leaving, I decided I should pay my respects. Mrs. Gordon was most gracious, though probably not really aware of who I was.
I must have been visibly surprised that on her little finger she wore a platinum pinky ring with a modest but brilliant diamond, because Nanette explained, “Papa died for that stone, and Mama will never be parted from it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but it’s her choice.”
I did know. “It’s a good thing,” I said, “A very good thing.” I took my leave and walked away thinking that it was probably the only thing in this whole damn business that actually did make sense. Like I said, I’m noted for solving crimes and tying up all the loose ends, and I don’t like this. This is gonna bother me for a long, long time.
Bio: Harry Neil is a gay California desert rat born in North Carolina’s Cape Fear Basin. His first collection of short fiction was recently published by Donella Press as Screaming and Other Tales. His short stories have been published in Carmina Magazine, in Pink Disco, and in the Revenge collection from Free Spirit.
His book “Screaming and Other Tales” can be purchased at Donella Press, or found in our Bookstore.
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