ACCOUNTING FOR CLUES
Accounting for Clues is a murder mystery involving former private investigator and CPA Claude Monday. He is asked to assist police in a case where a serial killer mails accounting statements to police then leaves a copy at the crime scene.
The story unfolds in shifting perspective, from Claude's viewpoint to the killer's, who is trying to cope with his wife's miscarriage and succeeding illness as well as his own failures.
Despite concerns from Claude's wife, Kay, that he might get too involved, Claude works the case. Gradually, he gets so into it he does not notice his wife's call when the couple's eighteen-year-old, Nicole, is hospitalized.
Claude eventually solves the meaning of the statements. Later, Nicole goes out with friends, informing her dad where she’s going. Claude, too wrapped up in his thoughts upon decoding the clues, doesn’t hear her. Before leaving, Nicole hands the mail to Claude, who notices an envelope with no return address or stamp, wondering how it got delivered. Upon opening it, he discovers it’s the killer’s clue and theorizes the guy knows where he lives, even had the nerve to deliver the clue. Claude then solves this clue—and realizes the next victim to be his daughter.
During his frantic search, he finds Nicole's car. Though abandoned, a clue is left in the car’s trunk, this one hinting where the suspect has taken the girl. Claude calls police and, unsure how quickly they’ll arrive at the scene in addition to feeling responsible for Nicole’s predicament, goes there himself.
At the location, he finds the place unoccupied then hears a car drive off and deduces who’s in the vehicle: the killer and Nicole.
Tailing them, Claude jumps into the river, swims to the car and grasps his daughter's hand. But after swimming ashore, he discovers it's the killer he's pulled free.
After a struggle, Claude subdues the man then rescues Nicole and takes her to the hospital. Kay joins them in the Intensive Care Unit, father and daughter with minor injuries. Claude promises this to be his last case and the couple reconciles, again a family.
“How about it?” Jeffrey Wharton said over the phone. “Wanna help?”
Claude Monday strolled to the red recliner, ran thick fingers through his wavy black hair, and sighed. His wife, Kay, and Nicole, their brown-haired, eighteen-year old, were out on errands in northwest Oklahoma City. Should he say yes? He’d retired over a year ago. He switched his phone to speaker and rubbed his temples. “I dunno. Been a while. My mind’s stale.”
Jeffrey chuckled. “You? A stale mind? Never. Even in retirement I know you keep that brain busy. Bet you’re doing a crossword puzzle or something similar.”
Claude looked to the extra bedroom where the half-finished crossword puzzle lay on the couch. “Not right now. Anyway, you said this guy’s mailing statements, not crosswords.”
“Well, we know very little about accounting down here at the precinct. You, with your CPA license and fifteen years of experience, do.”
“Gimme a little time. I’ll let ya know.”
Jeffrey laughed. “Shoulda figured you’d analyze things first. Guess that’s why you switched to private investigating a few years ago. Just let me know.”
The two said their good-byes and hung up.
Claude slid down in the chair and considered the options. Could be stressful, he thought. On the other hand, it would be mentally challenging. The way getting a balance sheet to equal was a challenge. Assuming Jeffrey’s not hyping things up to get me involved, it sounds compelling.
He cautioned himself to size up the choices again, then thought how it was this kind of thinking that tested Kay’s patience, since she was much more spontaneous.
“Wouldn’t you rather know how events will turn out, so you can prepare for them? Rather than not knowing what to expect?” he’d asked her.
“That’s half the fun, the unknown. Gives us excitement.” She’d flicked her auburn hair over her shoulders, put an arm around him, and smiled. “You don’t want to plot out everything, do ya? Like right now?” She kissed him, undid a button on her shirt, then another. “Should this be planned too?”
He chuckled and shortly thereafter they were in bed. But that was years ago, before age and long hours drained him.
Back to this situation. I could be at it a while, with no guarantee of success. Heck, my most exciting investigative work has involved finding missing persons or surveillance and such. He had caught a murderer a few years back, his ever-observant vision spotting an unusual button that was traced to the inside of a rare sport jacket. The one the killer owned.
But that was the only murder case. It wasn’t like I tracked him down and had a gun battle. I just researched evidence and linked it to him. He returned to Jeffrey’s offer.
$ $ $ $
On the southeast side of town that evening a slender, brown haired man checked his crew cut in the bathroom mirror. “Perfect,” he decided after brushing it, although the stiff hair hadn’t moved. Details were important to him. Like looking the part he desired.
A groan from the master bedroom distracted him.
“Aw, you’re fine,” he grumbled. But Elizabeth, his wife of seven years, continued. It’d been a long, downward spiral since her miscarriage. Second one for her, first with him as the expectant father. She’d broken down right at the doctor’s, she’d had no idea it’d happened. That night she went to bed and hadn’t gotten off the mattress since. During these few weeks, the anger of their situation gnawed inside him, grew, and ate at him, until he couldn’t hold it back.
Why couldn’t she have just gone into immediate, psychotic meltdown? he now thought. Then she’d be in a sanitarium and I’d be free to do what I want to do. What I have to do.
She groaned again and called his name.
“I’m coming,” he said. “Whadya need?”
“Pillows are too soft, they hurt my neck.”
“Your neck’s fine,” he said. Then he came to her, saw the still glistening blue eyes—even in her state—and managed a smile before he kissed her, and then fixed her pillows. “There ya go. Now, I gotta go back to work, but I will return soon.”
Stop lying, he told himself. Since she slept most of the time, he never hurried home, even when it had been a long day. He looked at her, about to speak the truth. Those eyes and soft face, with high cheekbones and dimples when she smiled, restrained him. Besides, she had been the one who’d helped him earn his degree, had worked full time while he went to school and worked part time. She’d kept him focused on his classes, even helped pay tuition. His turn to assist her.
She will get better. He frowned. Maybe. He felt the desire in him grow: the need of a new conquest; a triumph. Someone had to suffer like he had. Plus, surprisingly, this was fun. Not the preparation so much as the actual act. He recalled his last one, chuckled so loudly that he pressed a hand over his mouth, looked at his wife, then sighed. She remained still.
He thought about what he was really going to do: Scout the area tonight. Find a good target. Fresh, innocent, and naïve. One who’d never guess. Then plot moves to make sure it was done right.
One last look at Beth. She was a nice catch, with long blonde hair and perfect teeth. Another trophy on the mantle of accomplishments in his mind.
“On to another victory,” he whispered, then, to his wife, spoke out loud. “Bye, Elizabeth. Got more income statement spreadsheets to complete at work.”
She only moaned.
At Oklahoma City University, he surveyed the girls as they walked past, but none seemed like the one he believed would be a challenge.
Why wouldn’t anyone find this exciting? Blood flowed through him in copious quantities. The thrill of conquering them once their eyes lit up in the recognition that they weren’t going to get away, what fun.
He watched girls exit and leave the Alpha Chi Omega house at twenty fifth and Blackwelder, observed the types of books the female students cradled in their arms over their breasts, and tried to find books he deemed intelligent—finance, algebra (though he could never comprehend it), or biology (an easy one). And accounting, his passion. The pleasure of getting a financial statement to balance was almost as exciting as this hunt. When things balanced, it was as close to perfection as you could get.
A girl with a thick green textbook—the one he knew belonged to accounting students—passed. She did not meet his requirements.
Several more girls passed.
The minutes expired. Streetlights lit the way. He checked the time.
Doubt wifie’s worried, since she has her own concerns. But it is late and I have to get up for work tomorrow.
More students passed. He respired. “Tomorrow I’ll come by and—”
A voice halted his own. A female’s. His forehead beaded with sweat while his lips inched up. He watched her, as he checked for other factors.
“Hi,” the girl spoke to another female as they passed.
Sociable. That’s good. He squinted to read the title of the book clasped at her chest, the streetlight offering minimal assistance. Was the first letter an F or R? He noticed the book was white, like the Finance book from last semester. Yet textbooks changed often. This one could have been for finger-painting 101. He laughed to himself then straightened up. He had to be sure she was the right one.
She moved to the house’s entrance.
“How was Finance?” another girl asked as she exited and this girl entered.
“Easy. Presents no threat to my four oh.”
“That’s my girl. Trace Rivers, a genius. I hate you.” The second girl chuckled. “See ya.”
The two parted ways.
He smiled. Trace Rivers. Takes Finance, is smart and attractive. She’s mine. The guy returned home to find his wife asleep. His joy had returned. Another challenge, something for which to live.
$ $ $ $
By nightfall, Claude still had no answer. He went to the spare bedroom, sat on the love seat, set the ceiling fan light to low, and shut his eyes.
Do I wanna go back to work and have more stress? It would give me something to get up for in the morning.
He recalled his last work case, a white-collar crime he did not solve. He frowned. It had left him sleepless, as he constantly tried to figure out how the accounting records had been manipulated, and eventually, had been removed from the case. The stress and pain from this failure made the decision to retire easy. Nonetheless, he thought about it for several days, reassured himself afterward that he’d done the right thing. Such a momentous choice shouldn’t be made on impulse.
His mind shifted to the present. Did he really want to take this case?
More time passed, still he had no decision. He decided to take a short drive, hoping it would relax his mind enough so that he could make a choice. He entered the white Maxima. Kay always drove the new red Firebird, and Nicole was using an old, blue Accord, a recent birthday present.
Maybe I’m just too secretive, too preoccupied with thoughts. Not a great communicator I am. No wonder Kay goes out often. He smiled wryly, chuckled, and took a drive.
Twenty minutes later he returned to find the house still empty. He sat down, his thoughts not reaching a verdict. He stared straight ahead.
Kay returned with Nicole and discussed their shopping experience.
“Nice,” he said.
She put a hand on him. “You all right? Ya look really deep in thought.”
He viewed her. What to say? Imagining her reaction if he mentioned taking this case, he feigned a yawn. “Sorry. Guess I’m tired.”
His decision seemed clearer, though not certain, as he readied himself for bed. He fell asleep alone with these thoughts.
$ $ $ $
Driving home, the guy was all smiles. His decision had been made. He knew where it’d happen, how it would happen. And the clue he’d leave behind.
$ $ $ $
As morning light seeped through bedroom windows, Claude made his decision, looked at his wife, and wondered how she’d react to the news.
Claude picked up his phone the next morning and called the station. “I’ll help.”
“Great.” Jeffrey said. “You’re sure?”
“I am.” He looked to the bedroom where Kay was still asleep.
“Good. C’mon down as soon as you can.”
Claude checked the clock above the family room fireplace. “Gimme about forty five minutes.”
“See ya then. And thanks.”
They hung up together. Claude grabbed a bagel.
“Who was that?” a voice stopped him in mid-chew.
His face flushed, but he returned to his bagel, and finished it off. “Jeffrey. From Police.”
“What’d he want?”
He asked himself why his heart rate increased. She’d recommended he try private investigating, actually said that it’d fit his inquisitive nature. He chewed on his lip. “Just a little help.”
He explained the case. She nodded though he noticed her eyes narrow .
“Well, you know your accounting. And if it’s just advice, that’s okay.” She nodded. “I just remember the times when you’d think too much about a case and would space out. You were present physically, but your mind just seemed elsewhere.”
He smiled. “I’ve learned from that. Besides, you can warn me if I do that again.” He went to her and gave her a good-bye kiss. “Be back soon.”
His mind heated up as he drove. Would what she said be prophetic?
“No,” he answered aloud, then exhaled. “I think.” He recalled how he found patterns where others did not, like noticing cloud shapes and predicting (accurately) a tornado. Yet his quest for such patterns sometimes resulted in distorted thinking. Like the murder case he’d solved. After the guy went to jail, Claude still feared any outside sound after dark was the guy, out to kill his family.
But you’ve matured. You know better what to ignore and when to take heed.
“How’s retirement?” an officer asked upon Claude’s arrival at the downtown station.
The former investigator’s insides contracted at the memory of his failed last case. He forced a grin. “I’m fine. Where’s Jeffrey?”
“In his office.” He patted Claude. “Don’t make yourself so sparse around here.”
“I won’t.” Claude grinned, as he mentally compiled the few facts Jeffrey had told him, and reached some early conclusions: A serial killer. Withdrawn. Loner, angry with life, blamed his failures on others.
“Hey, there, buddy.” Jeffrey stood and cupped a hand on the ex-investigator’s shoulder as he reported simple facts: Two victims, males, early twenties. “Though I thought serial killers preferred female victims.”
“Well, there was Herb Baumeister,” Claude said, in reference to the guy who’d killed teens and young men in the north central states. “And of course, Dahmer.” He shifted his attention to the present. “What evidence did ya find?”
“Found prints but none matched any databases.”
“Time of death?”
“Both early morning, both victims with throats slit from their left shoulder to their right, with the killer attacking from behind.”
“See? You’re still in good shape for detective work.”
Claude smiled. “Thanks. Witnesses?”
“Killed in the same general area?”
“Nope. One on the southwest side, the other on the northeast section.”
“Anything else? Sounds like ya didn’t need me.”
“Just in one aspect, you’re a former bean counter.”
Claude placed his arms across his chest. “Accountant.”
“Right. Here’s why we need ya.” He showed Claude copies of two green ledger sheets with numbers, one with a bunch of digits in several columns, along with a listing of accounts.
“When we received the first one that was mailed to us, we didn’t get the significance, someone tossed it in the recycle bin. Then, at the crime scene, we found a copy, and when we retrieved the mailed version and studied them, we discovered they were one and the same. When the second one came in the mail, we knew something bad would happen or had happened, just didn’t know who or where.”
Claude observed the typewritten pages. “Balance sheet,” he said of the first. “The Daily Oklahoman, or so it says. Doubt it’s legit. Not very detailed.”
“That’s what we figured. But why The Oklahoman?”
“I dunno. Maybe the killer works for the paper or was fired and it’s his way of mocking them. Though I doubt he’d be stupid enough to give away his work place. Assuming he worked there at all.”
He observed the page.
This title does not have Book Reviews.
Please check back for updates.
Company Information Order Options Booksellers Careers Charity Programs
Copyright © 2003 - 2020 Silver Leaf Books, LLC. All rights reserved.