A Private Eye and the Moral Dilemma


Tags: Historical, .

Desc: Mystery Story: A young woman is found dead in her bed. Our intrepid investigator seeks to find out who did it. Solving the mystery, though, isn't as hard as dealing with the moral dilemmas the case presents.

Lydia Hernandez woke to the phone ringing; she rolled over and glanced at the clock on the radio on the table next to the bed as she picked up the receiver. 11:10 PM.

"Lydia, this is Reed, I'm sorry to disturb you this late."

Even half asleep Lydia knew how to reply to that. "Not as sorry as I am."

"Denny's in the hospital; they think it's a stroke."

Sleep faded away and she had a bitter taste in her mouth. "Sorry, Reed, I was stupid."

There was a muffled sound on the other end, mostly exasperation. "Yeah, they don't want to tell me jack, but I know a few of the ER nurses. They slipped me the word. They say it's touch and go."

"I'll get some clothes on and be there in a few minutes, which hospital?"

"Good Sam." He hesitated and then said, "Bring your notebook. I'll see you there in a few." She could hear the dial tone.

She stared at the phone, nonplussed. Her notebook? Her case notebook? Lydia went in the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face and ran a brush through her hair, used some toothpaste and dressed quickly; just jeans and a blouse, it was a warm night.

Rico was in the hall. "What's the matter, Lydia?"

"Tell the others I'll be back later; I don't know when. Denny is sick; he's in the hospital. They aren't sure if he will live."

Rico nodded, still not comfortable after a lifetime of hating police being friends with them, no matter how nice Reed or Denny were. "Be careful, Lydia."

"If I'm not back in the morning, see that the others get up on time and make sure Elizabeth and Nita have breakfast." Rico nodded, and Lydia went out to the van and drove quickly through the dark and empty streets.

Reed was standing morosely in the hospital lobby when she came in. "I have to do something to keep my mind off this." He said bluntly. "Let's get something to eat."

Lydia found herself snacking on a piece of chocolate cream pie and sipping from a cup of hot tea.

Reed was looking into some lost distance, but his voice was steady. "I went out a call last week; the parents came home late one night and went right to bed. When they got up the next morning they found their fifteen-year-old daughter stone cold dead in her bed. The girl had died sometime early the previous evening. The mother has gone a little batty, having slept in the house with her dead daughter overnight. The father is bitter that he didn't at least look in on her. A good girl, he told me. You could depend on her, he said; they never thought to check on her, it was late and both he and his wife were tired.

"The gross autopsy was inconclusive, but the pathologist said he suspected a drug overdose. Toxicology came back yesterday. The amount of heroin in her blood would have killed a horse, much less a person. Plus, there is evidence of some sort of sleeping pills, maybe Seconal. They have to do some more tests, but the pathologist believes the sedative was a normal usage dose." He looked at her. "Time of death was a little after seven in the evening. No teenager ever born would willingly take a sleeping pill to get to sleep that early."

Lydia had been writing everything down and looked up at Reed. He nodded and then continued. "The pathologist says that the heroin overdose was sufficient to have killed a person in one to two minutes; certainly after a few seconds the person could not have moved. The pathologist is sure that it was injected even if he couldn't find a needle mark. There was nothing in the victim's stomach.

"There was no syringe at the scene. The parents swear they wouldn't have removed it -- I don't know. He's a corporate tax lawyer; she's some sort of minor city bureaucrat. They were at a fundraiser dinner for the Mayor; a hundred people saw them there. They have cast iron alibis.

"The doctor is almost certain that after the injection someone washed the area of the injection to remove any traces, probably after she was dead. There was no sign of recent intercourse; she wasn't raped, there were no sign of sexual trauma. She wasn't a virgin, but that doesn't mean much these days."

He sighed and looked at the clock. "I hate this job, sometimes." He took a deep breath and Lydia could see him fighting to focus on what he was talking about. "Anyway, we are treating it as a homicide. I've talked to her teachers and some of her friends at school. They all say that while she was a little ditzy now and then and a bit of a hypochondriac, mostly she was an outstanding student, quiet and shy. She has never had any problems at school. She has no close friends; no one has seen or heard of her using drugs. No boyfriend that anyone knows about."

"Any signs of a break in?" Lydia asked.

Reed blinked and then grinned slightly. "I keep thinking you should be a cop. If it were up to me, I'd try to hire you away from Denny."

He shook his head. "There were no signs of forced entry; no sign that there was anyone there but the daughter alone. No fingerprints besides the three of them; forensics turned the house inside out. None of the neighbors saw or heard anything unusual and we've talked to all of them. No burglaries in the area for at least six months, no reports of vandalism or trespass. It's a quiet cul-de-sac. The semi-pros avoid places like that as there is only one way in or out. A real pro knows what he's after and doesn't care. But nothing's been reported missing. The parents report nothing stolen, either."

He steepled his fingers in the gesture that Lydia had long since realized meant that Reed was getting to the point he wanted to make. "The father asked me if I could recommend a private detective to look into who killed their daughter."

"Why would he do that if you're on the case?" Lydia asked, curious.

"Facts of life, Lydia. I know the type of parent; I've seen their kind a dozen times. Their only child, the center of their world, of their entire universe, is dead and gone. This is the biggest calamity of their lives. They are still dazed and in shock. But now the father is coming out of the initial shock and he's angry. Very angry. He wants something done yesterday about what happened to his daughter.

"Except this week I have another homicide and two robberies; one of the robbery victims is a major campaign supporter of the Governor and is buddies with the Mayor. So, guess what I'm working on? Garley is now the detective of record for the girl. And he's on vacation this week, so I'm working on it for him."

He laid his hands flat on the table. Lydia could see his knuckles whiten as he pressed down hard. "I told the father that while we were still looking, the looking wasn't going to be very hard. In a week or so, I'll send some patrolmen out to re-interview everyone on my list and see if someone remembered anything useful. Not too likely, but it happens. After that, the case will go on the shelf. If something turns up or if a similar crime occurs, then it might come back off the shelf. That's even less likely. I've seen this before -- unless someone confesses, we'll never know. I sent them to Denny; he saw them this afternoon."

He lifted his eyes to meet Lydia's. "Denny wants to make the agency work. You've done really good work so far; more than either of us could ever have hoped. He was, I'm sure, looking forward to working with you on this. But..." He sighed heavily, and looked away from her, talking softly.

"We were watching a Suns game. I thought at first Denny was making a joke; then I thought he was choking on a pretzel. I should have called for an ambulance sooner."

Lydia reached out and touched his hand. "I understand. Denny will understand, too. Lord knows, you two have a stable of practical jokes that leave me wondering half the time. You want me to work on this?"

Reed laughed bitterly. "I'm still one of Phoenix's finest. I can't say one way or another. I'd take it as a personal favor, though."

"Hey, I hired on, remember? That means I work for you guys."

He shook his head, "You're a partner, Lydia. A full partner. I'm supposed to be a silent partner."

A nurse, short and a little plump, came into the cafeteria, looking around. Reed's eyes seemed to pick her up almost the instant she entered the room. The woman brightened up noticeably when she saw Reed and headed his way.

"Reed," the woman in hospital greens said quietly, "Denny's awake. You could see him for a second, if you want."

"Sure." Reed stood and Lydia followed along. She was surprised when Reed took her arm and almost dragged her into the ICU room where Denny was.

"Christ, Denny. It's a little early for Christmas," Reed said.

Lydia shook her head, appalled. How could he say such a thing? Even if Denny had more wires and lights than any respectable Christmas tree would have?

"Leave the presents under the bed since they won't let me have a tree," Denny's voice was a slurred whisper. His left eye rested on Lydia, sparkling. His other eye didn't move. "Shouldn't you be home in bed?"

"Seemed like a good night for a drive," she replied. Only half his face smiled back; Lydia fought back tears.

A different nurse came in and told them, "You'll have to leave. The patient has to rest."

Denny tried to shake his head, but couldn't. "Reed talk to you?" Lydia nodded. "I wanted you to do it, anyway." His face was a horrible rictus and Lydia realized he was trying to laugh. "What do I know about teenaged girls?"

They were ushered out and Reed sank down onto a plastic seat in the hallway. "I'm on this. You take the other case." He handed her a business card with a personal address and phone number written on the back. "You keep me posted and I'll keep you posted. Go home and get some sleep."

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Story tagged with:
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