Death Comes Silently

A drawing of the "Beyond the Grave" book.

Illustration: InkShark

fiction by Glynis Scrivens

Detective Karen Olsen stepped through the rubble of overturned furniture and books, making her way to the oak desk, where Professor Anders Johansen sat slumped, a revolver in his right hand.

“He’s finally found out what happens after death,” she commented wryly. “I read his latest book, Beyond the Grave. It seemed to ask more questions than it answered.”

Sergeant Hansen wasn’t sure whether to smile. He carefully withdrew the gun and inspected it. “Why would he use a silencer when he lives here by himself?” he observed, putting it into an evidence bag and handing it to a scene of crime officer. “The nearest neighbors are miles away.”

“He certainly wasn’t by himself last night, by the look of this room,” said Olsen. “What were they looking for, I wonder?”

Hansen shrugged. “His next manuscript perhaps?”

“That book was a best seller. He must’ve been wealthy,” she said. “Let’s see what his housekeeper Sarah Jensen has to say. Isn’t she the one who found the body?”

“Surely you don’t suspect murder? He’s obviously shot himself.”

“I’m keeping an open mind, and suggest you do the same,” Olsen said, as the body was removed on a stretcher. “Just because he was interested in death doesn’t mean he’d want to take his own life. Someone might’ve arranged this to look like suicide.”

She stopped speaking as the housekeeper was led into the room.

Sarah regarded the detectives with watery eyes. “Why would he do this? It doesn’t make sense,” she sobbed. “He was on the point of exposing a well-known medium.”

Olsen leant forward. “Go on.”

“He was watching one of those programs on TV yesterday afternoon, where psychics compete against one another. He pointed to one and said he was a fraud. That he could prove it.”

“Do you remember which one?”

“I certainly do. It was his nephew, Kris Mathieson,” she said. “He phoned him after the show. They had a furious argument.”
“Did you happen to overhear anything?” Hansen asked.

“Something about changing his will,” she said. “The professor told him he was going to leave everything to me, since his only living relative was a fraud.”

Olsen looked around at the wood-paneled room, and the breathtaking ocean views through the library window. Someone was going to inherit a fortune. It certainly gave both Mathieson and Jensen a solid motive.

“Did he say how he could prove Mathieson was a fraud?” she asked. “Did he have any evidence?”

“There was something on the show yesterday. He got very excited and tried to explain it to me,” she shrugged. “It was all above my head.”

Olsen could barely contain her excitement. “Just try to remember anything he said. Whether you understand it or not.”

“It was the jewelry. Each psychic had to hold a gold bracelet and describe the owner.” Sarah paused. “The professor kept saying the bracelet was Maggie’s and he could prove it. But who is Maggie? And what would it prove?”

The name Maggie rang a bell. Olsen remembered a reference to her in Beyond the Grave.

There was a copy lying on the professor’s desk. She picked it up and immediately noticed bookmarks.

Fingers trembling with anticipation, she flicked through to the pages marked. On page 298 she found what she was looking for. It was a full-page photo of a young woman, Maggie Sanderson. A twisted rose gold bracelet adorned her wrist. This must be the one the psychic had been asked to talk about.

Some handwriting caught her eye. In the margin the professor had jotted down a phone number.

Olsen dialed the number, while Hansen looked on, a puzzled expression on his face.

No response. When it went to voicemail, she left a message.

“Have you heard of Scott Barnes?” she asked Hansen.

He shook his head.

But Sarah gasped. “Scott Barnes is the compere of that psychic show the professor was watching.”

Finally, a connection. If Professor Johansen had shown this photo to Barnes, his nephew could be proven to be a fraud.

So what possible motive would he have to commit suicide?

She waited with interest for the arrival of the psychic. How could he explain this?

It was half an hour later when Kris Mathieson was escorted into the library. He was a tall angular man. “What on earth’s happened in here?” he said, looking around at the upheaval, his face distraught. “And why did Uncle Anders shoot himself?”

“Perhaps you’d like to tell us why you were arguing with the deceased yesterday?” Olsen had no intention of revealing what she already knew.

“A difference of opinion,” he said. “One professional to another. He disapproved of my methods, but I managed to persuade him that I’m legit.”

“How did you do that?” she asked. “I understand he’d watched you on TV during the afternoon.”

Mathieson blinked at the reference to TV. His eye fell on the copy of his uncle’s book sitting on the desk.

Finally he said, “I offered to come over and explain. He said it wouldn’t be necessary.”

“And where were you between seven and nine o’clock last night?” Her tone had hardened.

“I was watching the news on TV, and catching up with emails,” he said.

Hansen noted this down. “Can anyone verify that?”

“No. How was I to know I’d need an alibi?” He turned to the housekeeper. “Where were you? Sucking up to him again, trying to get him to change his will?”

“Where is the will?” Olsen said, looking from one to the other.

“It’s supposed to be in the top drawer of the desk.” The woman wiped her eyes, and glared accusingly at Mathieson. “Why don’t you use your psychic powers to find it? Isn’t finding things one of your tricks on TV?”

Mathieson frowned. “Don’t belittle my profession,” he said. “Have you told them that you’re living here now? Housekeeper? I don’t think you’ve been limiting yourself to cooking and cleaning.”

Olsen turned to Sarah. “You didn’t mention that you lived here?”

She folded her hands and then unfolded them. “Nobody asked me.”

“Has it occurred to either of you that he didn’t actually change his will last night?” Olsen said. “He would’ve needed to organize it with his lawyer, line up witnesses and so on.”

“Well, why would he say he had?” Mathieson said.

“Think about it,” Olsen said. “He set a trap and you walked right into it. All he had to do was mention the will.”

She turned to the housekeeper. “And you fell for it too, didn’t you?”

“We’re not getting anywhere with the will,” Hansen commented. “We might need to try a new line of enquiry.”

“On the contrary, our murderer has already given themselves away.” Olsen looked from one suspect to the other. “Are you going to own up?”

Neither spoke.

She turned to the housekeeper. “You came in here early this morning looking for his will. That’s when you found him, isn’t it? But you didn’t see him straight away. You were too busy ransacking his things.”

Sarah Jensen sobbed. “He was dead. I thought he’d killed himself,” she said. “He told me last night he’d changed his will.” She looked accusingly at Mathieson. “I wanted to find it before he had a chance to destroy it.”

“That doesn’t implicate me,” Mathieson said. “You could easily have been the one to kill him last night and then pretend to discover his body this morning.”

“On the contrary. You implicated yourself the moment you walked into the library. You couldn’t conceal your surprise at seeing the mess. It was tidy when you left, wasn’t it?” Olsen said. “Did you know he bookmarked the photo of Maggie Sanderson? And he wrote down the contact details for the TV producer too.” She paused. “He deliberately left the evidence that you’re a fraud somewhere he knew it’d be found. I think he realized you might try to kill him.”

The color drained from Mathieson’s face. He didn’t respond.

“And you’re the only one who’d need to use a silencer,” she continued. “You didn’t want Sarah Jensen to hear the shot and discover you here.”

As she applied the handcuffs, she added, “You didn’t see this coming, did you? Then again, you wouldn’t. You’re a fraud and your uncle has been able to prove it, even from beyond the grave.”

Glynis Scrivens writes short stories and has been published in Australia, UK, Ireland, South Africa, U.S., India, and Scandinavia. Her book Edit is a Four-Letter Word includes what she has learned in the process (see www.glynisscrivens.com/wp).

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 6, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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