Charlie nodded to Penwarren’s room. “Inside. They were having coffee, playing gin rummy. Next thing Vince knows, he’s waking up to my smiling mug. Asshole drugged him so he could sneak out.”
“You can prove it?”
“We found ground up pills in his cup. We left it be.”
“Did you call the cops?”
“Yeah, they’re on the way.”
“And you didn’t call me?”
“You were busy.”
“You know. With the new girlfriend.”
“She’s not—never mind. How do you even know that?”
“You always kiss a woman who’s not your girlfriend?” He showed a picture someone had snapped.
“Shit! Don’t you all have something better to do than spy on me?”
“What spying? You kissed her in front of God and everyone! It’s a secret?”
“No. But it was just a kiss. That’s all. Don’t get previous.”
“So—no. . . .” He made unmistakable gestures with his flashlight.
“Charlie!” The dangerous tone was back.
“Forget I asked. Would you be so up tight if you had?”
Frank had to laugh. “Hell no. If I’d done all I want to, I’d be comatose.”
The police arrived a few minutes later. Frank met them at the front door. Half of them went with Charlie to Penwarren’s room. The others followed Frank to the stairwell.
“Nothing’s been touched since the ambulance left. I locked it off.” Frank opened the door for them.
“Why would you do a thing like that?” Kathy’s father was heading up the investigation.
“Something didn’t look right to me, Jerry. If he tripped on the stairs, it’s unlikely he’d have made it to the bottom. Surely not where he landed. From up top, if he simply fell over, he’d have landed closer to the balcony. He was pretty far out in the stairwell. On his back.”
“Did you get any pictures?”
“No, sir. I’m sorry. At the time, getting him medical attention was more in my mind. The paramedics can tell you more about his positioning. The blood’s still there.”
One slipper lay on the floor, bearing sad testimony to its owner’s arrival and departure. Blood stained the carpet and the entire area smelled like it. Frank gagged slightly. He opened the outer door for a breath of fresh air. He’d smelled blood before and it dredged up some memories best forgotten.
“Sorry. I’ve seen dead bodies that looked better. It was brutal. I don’t like the guy, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
“He must be a real douche for you not to like him,” the forensics technician said as she went over the area.
“He’s a dick, Cher. In the last twenty-four hours, he’s managed to alienate most of my staff. The only ones he hasn’t are the ones who haven’t met him.”
“You think any of them got mad enough to hurt him?” Jerry asked.
Frank shrugged. “He’s an irritating pimple of a man. I don’t think he made anyone that mad. But I wasn’t around him all day. My encounters with him were less than fun, but he was annoying more than anything.”
“So, no shoving him over the railing?” Jerry was only half kidding.
“You know me better than that. If I was gonna kill someone, I’d shoot him.”
“I have to ask, Frank. You’ve got someone to substantiate. . . .”
“The new psychologist, Marka Ventimiglia, fixed me dinner. About the time that Ralph sneaked out of his room, I was kissing her.”
“She’ll verify that?”
“Yeah. Kinda wanted to shoot the phone when it rang.” He laughed weakly.
“Why was Ralph Penwarren being watched?”
“He’s a pain in the ass, Jerry. He had Sue and Kathy so upset, they were yelling at me in the foyer. You know those two never lose their cool. For them to be that upset, it meant something. I didn’t want to call the police as a courtesy to Mabel. I figured if he’d stay in his room and not cause trouble for the night, maybe I could keep a lid on things. I think he was trying to get to his mother’s room to look around.” He told Jerry how desperate Penwarren had been to to through his mother’s things.
“You still don’t know what’s in there that he was after?”
Frank shook his head. “Mabel doesn’t know. She thought maybe his dad’s watch. I don’t know if it’s even there. She couldn’t remember if she’d put it in the vault or not.”
“Well, we can’t follow up on that until the bank opens. We’ll see her in the morning and get permission to search her room.”
Frank nodded, yawning. He glanced at his watch. It was almost midnight.
“You go on to bed, kid. We’ll handle this. Any questions I have can wait until morning.”
“Thanks, Jerry. I’m gonna go check on Mabel and go to sleep.”
“Not gonna spend time with the new shrink?” Jerry winked at him.
“I met the woman last night. We had dinner, we kissed.”
Frank closed his eyes, sighing contentedly. “She’s gorgeous.”
“Dark brown hair? Kinda tall? Knockout figure?”