Neptune's Cradle ... A Murder Mystery
Shawmut Lane seemed to meander through an endless mix of balsam fir, salt-marsh and reed fields. A March nor’easter had pummeled the coastline the day before, leaving its calling card everywhere. Muttering under her breath, Kate swerved her Jeep around piles of fallen tree branches that hid behind curves in the sandy road like jagged tumbleweeds. What a lousy place to be after a storm, she thought, frowning. This was not how she imagined she’d be spending her Sunday afternoon. As a hardworking reporter for The Farhaven Herald, she was looking forward to some downtime when her editor called at noon with a tip about a homicide at the Kaplan’s secluded summer house. She was to investigate the incident and file her story in time for the morning edition.
Looking to her left she caught a glimpse of police car strobe lights flashing through the bare trees. She sighed in relief when the secluded shoreline home finally loomed into view. The private lane soon ended at a man-made barrier of rocks and landfill that stood as a line of defense between Kaplan land and the blue-gray expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.
With camera in hand, she left her vehicle parked at the side of the road to take exterior shots of the property. The large shingle-style home was perched on thick, tall stilts and faced the ocean. A dramatic wall of windows and wrap-around deck offered panoramic views in all directions. Well-landscaped grounds were rimmed with a four-foot high fieldstone border that also served as a natural retaining wall. In front of the wall, a hill sloped downward to a wide swath of private beach. Driftwood, seaweed, and other ocean castoffs had been removed from the bare sand and rock pylons that defined the beach for several yards, down to the water’s ebb. Odd, in light of that storm we just had, she mused.
Continuing to take photographs, Kate made her way to the gated entrance at the rear of the home. Behind the gate a fifty-foot cobblestone driveway had been commandeered by three police cars and a forensic unit. The gate was open, but two police officers and yellow crime scene tape blocked her access to the house and grounds. She forced a smile and held up her press card as she shivered in the brisk New England wind.
One of the policemen glanced at her ID and shook his head. “Sorry, Miss Martin, no press allowed right now.”
“Then you might consider setting up a barricade at the entrance to this private lane,” she said, looking at his name tag. “The storm rubble won’t discourage others for long, Officer Quinn.” The television media circus and the curious would soon follow and she wanted to keep them at bay.
“We’re taking care of that right now.” His tone was condescending and brusque. He smiled as the reporter dropped the camera into her shoulder bag.
Kate looked up at the house and waved to the detective standing on the rear deck. He had just finished a conversation with two field CSI’s, who descended the stairway to resume their property search. Detective Lieutenant Jackson Baron recognized her immediately and motioned to the officers to let her through. His eyes followed her as she climbed two flights of steps to the huge deck that towered above the grounds.
“Mornin’, Kate. Hell of a storm yesterday,” he said, smiling.
“Good morning, Lieutenant. What have we got? Must be pretty important for you to be here.”
Jack frowned at her formality. “The Commissioner wants me hands-on with this one. Looks like we might have a double homicide.”
“My boss didn’t mention anything about two killings.” Homicides in Farhaven Beach were rare, and her editor wasn’t one for getting his facts wrong.
“Both…the husband and the wife. We’re trying to keep a lid on this for now,” he replied. “I hope you’ll assist us in that effort in exchange for some down-stream scoops in the case, Kate. Whoever did this wanted it to look like a murder-suicide. According to preliminary forensics, their desires outstripped their skills and they botched a couple of things. We’ll need the final lab results to know for sure. For now, we need to report this as a murder-suicide. This way, we keep our perp thinking he or she is getting away with the murder. Am I clear on this?” he asked sternly.
Visibly annoyed, she said, “Quite clear. Are you going to keep me standing on this freezing deck all afternoon? It looks like your forensic team has finished in there.” Kate motioned to the sliding glass doors that opened to the Kaplans’ living room.
She has her father’s spirit, thought Jack. Cullen Martin was a brilliant trial attorney. Although the detective had crossed swords with him once in court, he had considerable respect for the famous litigator who died of a massive heart attack at his Farhaven home the previous fall. He admired the reporter for leaving a promising journalism career in Boston a few months earlier to care for her mother who’d been unwell since her father’s death.
Like Kate, Baron was a city transplant but from the streets of Chicago. In what many considered to be a bold move, Farhaven’s Police Commissioner searched beyond local talent pools for an experienced specialist to head up the FPD’s new detective division. Impressed with Jack’s background, expertise and success rate, he offered him the job. After eight years of dealing with Chicago’s major crime rate and public corruption, he was ready for a change and accepted the offer.
“Look, about the other night…I couldn't be there because...” Jack started to say before she cut him off.
“It was a mistake,” she said tersely. “Let’s just forget about it.”
“Yeah, right,” he snapped. He caught her arm as she turned to open the glass doors. “The coroner’s initial estimate of TOD is between 8 and 10 last night. The scene’s been cleared but it’s still pretty rough in there.”
“This isn’t my first homicide…Lieutenant.”
He stared at her for a moment, then nodded. “Okay, let’s go in but only for a minute.” Releasing Kate’s arm, he stepped aside to allow her to enter the home. “By the way, no articles about this case in the Herald unless I’ve approved them.”
The Kaplans’ living room was large and welcoming. Expansive picture windows enclosed the room except for one wall that accommodated a massive field-stone fireplace. The open floor plan included an airy kitchen with a waist-high counter separating the two areas.
The reporter jotted down notes as she took in mental images. The living room, decorated with a fresh, summer living feel, had rich green carpeting and white leather furniture. Seashells, beach glass and stones, collected over time, had been arranged with creative elegance in an assortment of glass vases and large displays. With the exception of the overturned glass coffee table, everything else in the room was undisturbed. A photograph album, several poetry books and gardening periodicals had scattered from the table to the floor. Kate suspected the secluded summer house was more the wife’s home than the husband’s. She also sensed that she would have liked Mrs. Kaplan and felt a twinge of sadness for the loss of a woman she’d never met.
“Was anything stolen…any drawers rifled through? I don’t see any laptops or desktops.”
“No,” answered Jack. “Nothing was taken or seemed out of place -- at least from what we’ve determined so far. Their computers are at the main residence in Manhattan where Joseph worked for an investment firm. They both carried personal IPhones."
“Any surveillance or security cameras? ”
“None, but that’s off the record.”
Although forensic technicians had dispatched the bodies to the morgue hours earlier, the singular odor of death choked the air. Kate could never find the words to describe the overpowering smell. She grimaced as the detective explained the crime scene.
The CSI team had marked measurement points of both bodies on the blood-soaked carpeting for the drawings to scale that would follow. The smaller of the two indicated where Marguerite Kaplan had died on the floor near the couch from a gunshot wound to the chest. Blood spatter patterns were the result of death by shooting for both victims. Joseph Kaplan was sitting in front of the fireplace when a bullet ripped through his skull. He’d been shot, once, in the mouth. A Glock 22 handgun registered to the husband was found at his side.
“Who discovered the bodies?” she asked.
“Caretaker…early this morning.”
“After he cleared the beach area of the storm debris?”
Jack looked at her with admiration. “You saw the beach. Yes -- it’s why he was here so early. That’s also off the record. So is he – for now. He’s a local and a loner…name’s Oscar Crane. Dispatch instructed him not to touch anything else when he called 911 at about 7:15 AM. He was told to wait outside the house for the first responders. We want to keep Crane under the radar for as long as we can. He’s an older, quiet guy who spooks easily.”
Kate was familiar with three-dimensional homicide scenes. Criminals often made mistakes that served as red flags to investigators. CSI’s normally conducted a thorough examination in a specific pattern by positioning alpha-numeric stands like grim place-cards before they photographed, tagged and bagged the evidence. Aside from fingerprints, hair, fiber, blood and fluid samples, they checked room temperature, the time accuracy of the clocks, mail, trash bins, and shoe prints...virtually, everything.
Pointing to a couple of family photographs on the fireplace mantel, she asked about surviving children. The photos were taken in plush surroundings. Joseph and Marguerite were smiling with a young man in his late teens or early twenties.
“Joseph Jr. -- Jay is his nickname -- in the photograph is the only child of the victims. He attends Cornell University. It took us a few hours to get in touch with him. He’ll be arriving here tomorrow afternoon.”
“He has his mother’s features,” she said. “No signs of breaking and entering? What about suspects or persons of interest?”
“I can’t tell you that…at least, not now," he replied, and motioned for her to accompany him through the doors to the rear deck.
“I have a lot more questions and a story to file before tomorrow morning. I do have a deadline, Jack.” The reporter was beginning to lose her patience. She followed him through the sliding glass doors, but not before giving the Kaplans’ living room a final look. The ocean air was a welcomed reprieve.
“Some questions I can answer; others I can’t. You know that, Kate,” he said, closing the doors behind her. “For the record, the shooting deaths appear to be a murder-suicide, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions. We recovered a weapon from the home and are conducting a thorough investigation. We still have more work to do here. You can get the specific details on the Kaplans – anything you need -- from the detective division.”
As he guided her down the deck steps she glanced at the garage at the far end of the cobblestone drive. The carriage-style doors were partially open, revealing NY plates on what appeared to be a vintage Mercedes.
“Jack, I can’t work this case with you, directly. You’re aware of that. Nevertheless I can research certain aspects of this homicide, independent of your investigation.”
Baron knew her reputation and was thankful she was a pro who knew where the lines were drawn. He was also relieved that the more formal, ‘Lieutenant,’ had been dropped, signaling they were back on a first-name basis. His expression softened. “Look, why don’t we discuss this over dinner tonight….”
“Breakfast,” she countered, deliberating interrupting him. “Nine o’clock, tomorrow morning at my mother’s house.” She headed for the rear gate, leaving her escort standing at the foot of the wooden stairway.
“I’ll be there!” Jack called out as he watched her walk briskly toward the driveway entrance. I wouldn't miss it, he thought. Smiling, he reached for his mobile phone to answer an incoming call.
Kate turned to wave as she exited the grounds and hurried to her car. Jack’s dinner invitation was tempting but she had a story to write. She also felt strangely protective of the Kaplans. It would be only a matter of hours before news-entertainment media hounds picked up the scent of tragedy they could spin into tabloid drama. And the photographs she’d taken of the property pulled at her thoughts, as if trying to tell her something she had tucked away with the camera in her shoulder bag.
Whenever Farhaven’s departed met with suspicious, unnatural or violent deaths, their remains were dispatched to the Brestil County Morgue, where they were processed, tagged and photographed, and formally identified by next of kin whenever necessary. They were then deposited in 40-degree coolers until an autopsy could be performed by the county’s forensic pathologist.
Joseph Kaplan’s brother and sister-in-law lived in Farhaven. As fingerprints were never taken of the victims before they died, the brother was summoned to the morgue for the gruesome task of identifying the bodies. His wife accompanied him. Detective Sergeant Jim Kelly from Jack's division was on hand to explain the day’s events and ask preliminary questions.
At the conclusion of the ID and interview, the investigator guided the couple to the exit hallway. He waited until the Kaplans walked toward the main door before calling his boss at the crime scene. “Hey Jack…it's Jim. Yeah. They’re just heading out now. Hold on,” he said, and paused to watch the pair as they left the building.
Nathan Kaplan looked remarkably unlike his younger brother. The body preserved in the cooler awaiting autopsy was 5’9” in length, stocky, and prematurely bald. In contrast, the older Kaplan was over six feet tall with a lean frame and thick, graying hair. Karen was only a few inches shorter than her husband, and dressed like a woman in denial of her advancing years. Her bottled-blond hair framed a face hardened by aggressive cosmetic procedures and piercing blue-gray eyes.
The instant her designer boots touched the concrete steps outside the morgue entrance, she reached into her handbag for a cigarette “You go ahead, Nate. I’m going to have a quick smoke and meet you at the car.”
He nodded, knowing that she’d probably smoke two before making her way to the parking lot.
Nate found his car and slid into the driver’s seat. He started the engine and switched on the heater, grateful for the enveloping warmth and solitude. His thoughts traveled back to his Neverland days at Shawmut Lane where he and Joe ran wild as boys. Scattered images and echoes of laughter filled his mind. As more memories caused him to weep, the passenger door jerked open.
Karen got into the car and flipped the window-visor down to check her makeup in the mirror. “Soooo,” she sighed. “Joe finally did it. What a shit thing to do to his son.”
Nate quickly wiped his eyes. “Detective Kelly emphasized that this is still an ongoing investigation.”
“A waste of the taxpayer’s money. It was murder-suicide,” she insisted. You know how unstable Joe’s been; it’s why we stopped seeing them. And his ongoing love affair with ‘Jack Daniels.’ Well…that’s one thing he had in common with his son, Little Joe. “
“I wish you’d stop referring to my nephew like that. And Jay's personal life isn’t your business.”
She grinned sarcastically, distorting her mouth into a painted scar. “Jay…you always defend him. Your nephew. You mean the son you never had.” She turned in the passenger seat to level a stare at her husband. “Aren’t you just dying to see what’s in Joe and Maggie’s wills and trusts? There’s Joe’s money and Maggie’s money…”
“No, I’m not. You can make this horrible tragedy tolerable or unbearable, Karen…it’s your choice.”
“What a hypocrite you are. That detective doesn’t know…”
“Stop! Enough of this, please.” Nate jerked the steering wheel hard as he backed out of the parking space. He paused to look at his wife with red rimmed eyes that revealed a depth of sadness. “I’d like to take a drive out to the old beach at the Point.”
“I want to get home before dark. Someone should be there in case Jay arrives tonight. You know how unpredictable he is. My guess is he didn’t want to be here to identify them,” she said with resentment.
“For Chrissake-- can you blame him? And there’s no need to come with me. I’m best alone right now. I’ll drop you off on the way.”
They rode in stone silence to their home in an upscale neighborhood. After conveying his wife to the driveway Nate headed for Swamscutt Way, a country side road that led from Greater Farhaven to an older, rock-filled beach at the Point.
The few homes dotting the landscape near the water ranged from high-end summer retreats to dilapidated bungalows. The section of road abutting a half-mile of coastline was nicknamed, ‘Tin Can Alley.’ Lot owners had not been allowed to rebuild following the massive devastation to ocean frontage by the ’38 hurricane, The Long Island Express. Instead, every summer, small trailers seemed to sprout up through the sand overnight with make-shift decks and patios. Throughout winter’s relentless cold, local residents still walked the rocks near the water’s edge or sat in their parked cars, gazing off into the distance. Whether searching for answers, redemption or an inner peace, they were drawn to nature’s liquid infusion with an irresistible longing.
It was dusk by the time Nate pulled his car onto the beach’s sandy parking area. The coastline was deserted. He walked toward the water and sat on one of the larger rocks, not caring if the wind’s bitter stings tore into him. He needed to feel something beyond the human condition of anguish and loss.
Staring at the waves, Nate wept as he whispered, “Forgive me.” He didn’t return to his car until he saw the ocean begin to pull the molten copper and gold from the sky. The vivid glow of the sunset was an illusion he couldn’t bear to watch the night take away.
© Copyright 2013 Genna East All Rights Reserved. Said copyright does not extend to the video. The music, “Sleepover,” was composed by Thomas Newman; the photograph image was created by Henrik Larsson of YouTube.
A Special Note of Thanks: This story initially started as a ‘Join Me In the Story’ I began on Hupages over a year ago. These are the contributions to the opening paragraphs of the story.Thank you, fellow hubbers. :-)
"Good morning, Kate. Hell of a storm last night."
"Good morning, Lieutenant. What have we here?"
Lieutenant? Jack glanced over at her after her rather formal address. She must still be angry."Our PR guy isn't here yet, so this is off the record. It's a double homicide."
Wayne Brown: "We are trying to keep a lid on it for now" Baron replied with a slight smile toward Kate. "I hope that you will assist us in that effort in exchanged for some down stream scoops in the case, Kate. Whoever did this wanted it to look like a murder-suicide between the Kaplans. Luckily, their desires outstripped their skills and they botched a couple of things...maybe more once forensics gets through looking around. For now, we need to report this as a 'murder-suicide' until we can get more information. This way we keep our perpetrator thinking that he or she is getting away with the murder.”
Maggie-May: The driveway contained a handful of police cars and the gated entry was open but the yellow police tape prevented entrance. The Kaplan's house stood some fifty feet inside the cobblestoned drive.....