The Otterholt House Massacre
2009 by Walter D. Reimer
New Haven City
The second hand of the clock made its slow way to 12, and the soft tick-tick-tick of the works was eclipsed by the clatter of the alarm going off.
A slim paw bearing short but well-manicured claws reached out, wrapped itself around the clock, and silenced it.
The paw withdrew, and the owner of the paw rolled over in bed and sat up, rubbing her eyes. She blinked, feline pupils wide at first but narrowing as she glanced at the early-morning, late-spring sunlight peeking around the blinds and curtains and through the half-open window. She yawned then, stretching luxuriously as her tail squirmed underneath her.
She grimaced at the still-sleeping form of her roommate and tossed a pillow at her. “C’mon, Amy,” she said, “time to get up.”
“Mrrf,” Amy said, making a feeble attempt to throw the pillow back. The Labrador shook out her long mop of light brown headfur and started blinking as the feline got to her feet, smoothed out her silk nightgown and picked up the light robe she had discarded across a chair. As she reached the door the canine girl said, “Lisa?”
“Don’t use all the hot water again, okay?”
“Thanks for reminding me,” Lisa said, scooping up her small change purse. The Otterholts, the elderly badgers who owned and ran the house, metered their tenants’ hot water.
It helped to have a sackful of shillings if one wanted a long bath.
“Tell you what,” Lisa said around another yawn, “you get up and I won’t use up all the hot water. C’mon, school may be over but we have to go to work.”
The canine girl had been sitting up. She flopped back with a theatrical groan as Lisa stepped out into the hallway.
The hallway was dimly lit by a window at one end, and the window in the bathroom, obscured by the half-closed door. The walls were paneled in dark wood and a dark red carpet covered the center of the floor. Lisa yawned again and her ears cocked at the muffled sound of an alarm clock coming from the room across the hall from the one she shared with Amy.
Those two could sleep through an earthquake, she thought.
She banged on the closed door. “Lacey! Charlotte! Come on, you two, get up!” she yelled, and started toward the bathroom as the alarm clock continued to ring until the alarm eventually wound down.
Sounds were coming from the room next door to hers, a sign that the two girls inside were starting to get up. Lisa smiled to herself. She was a bit of an early riser by nature, so she usually got first crack at the bathroom.
And the hot water.
Her left foot slipped in something slick, and she put out a paw to steady herself against the paneled wall to avoid falling. She hopped on one foot as she examined the fluid in the dim light. She ran her fingers over the sole of her foot.
It was slick, and sticky as well.
She sniffed at it, and recoiled. She’d smelled this before in surgical theaters, dissection classes and the wards at the nearby Polyclinic.
What was it doing here?
She knocked on the door. “Sally? Sally, are you in there? It’s time to get up.”
No reply, and the alarm clock inside the room started to ring.
Sally’s clock was always a few minutes behind the others.
Lisa tried the doorknob, and it turned easily. The door was unlocked, and she started to open it.
It opened with difficulty, forcing the feline to put her shoulder against it and shove hard. Once it was partway open, she looked inside.
“No . . . “
The word hissed from her open mouth like a whisper.
She backed away from the door, eyes wide, and she kept backing up until her shoulders hit the wall.
Sliding down it, she started to scream.
And the alarm clock continued to ring.
The trolley from the east side of the awakening city rocked as it went around a curve, wheels clicking on the tracks in a rhythm that threatened to lull the furs riding it back to sleep. The overhead wires supplying the trolley system with electricity sparked and crackled in accompaniment to the clicking sound and the gentle rocking of the car.
A tall red deer sat slouched on one of the benches, paws drumming idly on the black metal lunchbox in his lap. True to his species, his antlers were still swathed in velvet and would remain so until the fall. He was proud of their appearance (most bucks are), although the velvet itched at times.
The motorman rang his bell as he set the brakes and the trolley lurched to a halt. “Government Square!” he called out and the red deer stood up and stepped out of the trolley.
The Green was still cloaked in shadows cast by the bulk of the General Assembly and other government buildings, and the neo-Gothic pile of All Saints Cathedral. The buck headed across the grassy plaza to the Interior Ministry building and went around the corner to the headquarters of the State Police.
The desk sergeant looked up from jotting a note on his blotter as the deer walked in. “Morning, Paulie,” the bobcat said.
Paulie (Paolo to his family) Pentaleoni smiled and waved. “Morning, Alf. Anything going on today?”
“Coupla wild parties last night, over by the School. The usual, Collegiate lets out for the summer and a few people got a bit too drunk.” He waved a sheaf of report forms. “Few broken windows, nothing serious.”
“Happens every year,” Paulie said. Collegiate’s student body had the reputation of partying as hard as they could to balance out the staid atmosphere of the school. The last ‘town-gown’ riot had been ten years ago, during the War. With another wave at the sergeant, Paulie walked through a set of double doors with frosted windows set in them. The legend ‘NHSP Criminal Investigation Bureau’ was painted on the glass.
The smell of cigarette smoke and coffee and the sound of typewriters indicated that it was, indeed, business as usual. As he walked in and deposited his lunchbox under his desk a raccoon seated nearby paused in his typing and greeted him. “Morning, Lieutenant.”
“Morning, Sarge. How’s tricks? How’re Mary and the baby?”
The raccoon grinned. “She’s doing fine and the baby’s great. Got a great set of lungs on him, too.” His grin grew a trifle lopsided as he added, “Her mother’s staying with us to look after her until she’s back on her feet.”
Paulie laughed. “Just wait until you have your fifth. It’ll seem like old hat then.” He ignored the sergeant’s groan as he scooped up a file folder and headed for the Bureau’s conference room, pausing on the way to collect a mug of coffee and a cruller from a table by the door. The sergeant followed him in shortly thereafter.
The deer had taken a bite or two from his doughnut and finished half his coffee before the door opened and another deer, this time a whitetail buck dressed in a freshly-pressed suit, walked in. Scattered conversations died and the other furs in the room faced front in their seats.
Chief of Detectives Franklin Stagg took a moment to arrange a small stack of index cards in front of him and accepted a cup of coffee from a patrolman. Some of the detectives had taken to calling the 7:30 briefing conference ‘Morning Prayers,’ a minor joke in this predominantly Catholic nation. Finally Stagg looked up, folding his paws before him on the table. “Good morning, gentlemen. We’ll start with Sergeant Moran. Sergeant?”
“Yessir,” the hawk said, consulting his notes while Stagg picked up his pencil. “Me and my squad picked up two more members of the Sound Street Gang last night for questioning. One rolled over immediately and we have a line now on who’s been shaking down businesses in the area.”
“I see. Keep on them, Sergeant, and please pass on my thanks for a job well done. Lieutenant Pentaleoni?”
Paulie glanced at his folder and sighed. His assignment was a Peeping Tom. “We have several leads, but nothing definite yet. All of the witnesses’ stories don’t quite match up.”
Stagg nodded. “Have you considered having one of the squad pose as bait?” He flicked an ear as a few furs chuckled, and Pentaleoni felt his ears grow hot as he blushed.
“Let’s move on,” the whitetail buck said. “Sergeant Ross?”
A minor success was reported, with the apprehension of several furs and two trucks that were being used to smuggle liquor across the border into the United States. Prohibition was in full force in America and many people had discovered the lucrative business of bootlegging. With some help from the American Prohibition Bureau, arrests had been made and two hundred and fifty cases of Scotch had been confiscated.
“Well done,” Stagg said, and turned to the other lieutenant in the Bureau. “Lieutenant O’Dell?”
“The Squadron Scandal just keeps getting deeper, Chief,” the feline said apologetically. Shortly after the Great War, the General Assembly in its collective wisdom had thought of developing an actual air force to supplement the State Police (in its national defense capacity) and the Maritime Service. Fifteen Fokker D.XIII fighters had been purchased from the Netherlands, but (as usual) the procurement of parts and other supplies for the maintenance of the squadron had fallen into the byzantine maze of the bureaucracy. Cronies of several Ministers were reportedly getting fat skimming off funds and taking bribes, while the planes languished and pilots were grounded. “The Finance Ministry’s sent over an accountant to help, but it’s tough to trace out exactly who knew what and who’s getting what.”
“Hmm. Stop by my office later and we’ll take a look at it.” Stagg was about to say something further, but he looked up as the door opened. “Yes?”
A patrolman stood in the doorway. “Sorry, Chief, but I got a phone call for Lt. Pentaleoni.”
Stagg nodded, and Paulie stood up and left the room.
The red deer picked up the phone and said, “Yeah, what is it?”
He could hear two indistinct voices at first, along with street noises. “Hello?”
Finally he heard a familiar voice bark, "G'wan! Hop it! You got yer fin's worth, now scram."
“Billy? That you?”
“Huh? Yeah, Paulie, it’s me.” Bill Johnson had been a friend of Paulie’s since they had joined the State Police, but due to a few minor indiscretions that involved ladies of the evening, Bill was still walking a beat. “Listen, Paulie, you gotta get down to the Otterholt House, over on Fifth Street and Avenue C. There's bodies everywhere."
“Accident?” His friend sounded shaken.
A hoarse chuckle. "Unless they all bashed their skulls in an’ cut their throats theyselves, nah. You gotta see it, Paulie."
“Let me get a few details so I can tell the Chief, Billy . . . okay, three bodies, huh? Damn.” He hung up, and looked at his notes.
There hadn’t been a murder in New Haven City in two years.
Now there were three.
He walked quickly back to the conference room in time to stand aside as the rest of the detectives came through the door. When they had all passed, he approached Stagg’s table. “Chief?”
Stagg looked up from his notes. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“I just got a report of a murder at Fifth and C. Boarding house, the victims are all student nurses – “
A shadow passed over Stagg’s face, and Pentaleoni recalled that the buck had three daughters. “Get a squad together – pull some off cases if you have to – and get down there immediately. Keep me informed, Paul.”
A Strnad sedan painted NHSP blue and sporting wide running boards, a siren and flashing red lights pulled to a stop in front of the house. A small crowd had gathered, and they separated and regrouped around the detectives as they got out of the car.
Paulie had selected a sergeant (the raccoon he had earlier chaffed about his first child, named Frank DiAngelo) and three junior-grade detectives (Michaels, Banner, and Proctor) that he knew could be spared from other cases. All were properly trained (by Chief Stagg himself) and knew what had to be done.
Professionalism had been the byword of the CIB ever since Stagg had been promoted to Chief in 1920. It was now the best-run part of the entire State Police organization, a fact not lost on (in fact, much-resented by) some of the district commanders in the country. While the junior officers unloaded cameras and supplies, Paulie looked up at the building.
Three stories high, pre-War brick construction with a slate roof. There was a low wall running along the sidewalk, separating the structure from the road. The intervening space was a well-manicured garden with a pair of tall oak trees. All in all, a pretty typical example of a turn of the century house for a wealthy family.
A sign by the entrance gate read Otterholt Boarding House.
His friend Bill stood by the closed gate, and the bear grinned as he and Paulie shook paws. “Great to see ya, Paul.” He jerked his head backward, indicating the house. “It’s a mess in there.”
“You let anyone in?”
“Nope, and didn’t let no one out either,” the patrolman said, easing his Sam Bruin belt and its attendant revolver over his rather wide belly. We got ambulances coming, soon as we could convince the Polyclinic to let ‘em get off their coffee break early.”
Paulie nodded. “Who do you have behind the house?”
Bill paused and lit a cigarette before replying, “Clancy and Dix.” He started coughing on his second drag.
“Good.” Veteran officers. The red deer turned back to Frank. “We ready?”
“Yup,” the raccoon said.
“Okay, let’s go in and see what we have.”
He paused as the others went inside and looked around. The basement had windows, securely protected by wrought-iron bars, and the grounds were neatly kept with rose bushes around the ground-floor windows.
He could hear women sobbing as he walked in, and he sent a quick entreaty to Saint Michael for patience as he slipped his notebook from his pocket.
The front parlor and adjoining drawing room were filled with young women of several species, all dressed. Half-empty cups of coffee and overflowing ashtrays covered the tables, and most of the women (ten in all) looked as if they had just finished crying their eyes out. An elderly badger couple circulated among them, and he guessed they were the Otterholts.
He gestured for quiet, and when the conversation didn’t die down he stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled piercingly.
Everyone put their attention on him as he said, “I’m Detective Lieutenant Pentaleoni. I and my squad are here to take down your statements and any other information you might have. I ask that you cooperate with them completely, and to tell the truth.”
One of the women, an equine whose headfur was a shoulder-length mass of blonde ringlets, immediately started sobbing again, and the elderly woman hugged her in an effort to comfort her.
“My first question is this – is everyone here? Has anyone left?”
A feline woman raised a paw. “Elaine and Sandy aren’t here.”
“Okay. Your name?”
“Lisa Daniels.” She gulped. “I – I found Sally.” She looked as if she was struggling.
Paulie nodded and put a paw on her shoulder. “Look, I know it hurts,” he said in a sympathetic tone. “These are your friends, right? I need you to be strong for them, okay Lisa?” She nodded, and he asked, “Where are Elaine and Sandy?”
She shook her head. “I – I don’t know.”
“They usually sleep late,” another girl volunteered.
“Apartment Two, on the second floor.”
“Okay. Detective Michaels?” The terrier sidled close and Pentaleoni whispered in his ear. The younger man nodded and headed for the stairs.
The arrival of detectives with questions gave the women something to do, and small groups went off to the kitchen or elsewhere in the house to give their statements. Paulie went upstairs to the first floor, the Otterholts in tow.
“I don’t understand it,” the man, who gave his name as Lucas Otterholt. “We’ve been here twenty years – “
“Twenty-two, Luke,” his wife Sylvia interjected as she made slow going up the steps.
“Twenty-two years, with no trouble, no trouble at all.”
“Was there any sign that someone could have broken in, Mr. Otterholt?”
The badger squinted up at him through his glasses. “Oh my heavens, no. Why, we even leave the front door unlocked for when the girls come home late.”
This caused Sylvia to pause and turn on her husband. “I told you it wasn’t safe anymore, Luke,” and she punctuated her words with a wagging finger. “Times have changed, and you mark my words – if you keep that door unlocked we’ll all be murdered in our beds some night!”
Luke, for his part, merely huffed at his wife and they resumed their ascent to the first floor.
The first girl found that morning, Sally Jones, was still crumpled by the door to her room. The blood had dried and showed streaks and footprints where Lisa had first found the body. Photographs were being taken of the corpse in situ before she could be removed. Paulie crouched down to look at her more closely.
She was a spaniel, with several bruises on her head near her left ear and a clean slash across her throat. Paulie repressed a shudder as he looked down at her.
Whoever had done this hadn’t killed her outright, and she had retained enough strength to reach the door.
The second and third victims, Lacey King and Charlotte Ramsey, were both otters. They had both died in their beds.
I guess Mrs. Otterholt has a point, he thought to himself.
He stepped out into the hallway to meet Sgt. DiAngelo. Frank looked shaken. “Boss, Michaels says we got two more.”
A chill knot tied itself in Paulie’s stomachs. “Two more?” he managed to say.
“Yep.” The raccoon tipped his hat back. “That’s the trouble with places like this – everyone wants to check out at the same time.”
Paulie glared at him and headed up to the second floor. Apartment Two’s door was ajar, with evidence that Michaels had been forced to kick it open.
Elaine Somerville and Sandy Jones (no relation to Sally; Sandy was a swan) were in bed, throats slashed almost deeply enough to decapitate them. There was the same bruising on their heads that he’d seen downstairs.
The fact that they were in the same bed, and unclothed, elicited no comment.
It takes all kinds to make a world, and Paulie reminded himself of that fact as he jotted more notes.
Members of the squad continued to take pictures and collect evidence as he walked to the window of the apartment and looked out. The window looked out on the back garden, and a small alleyway between buildings. The building directly behind the house had few windows, and he recalled it was the Standard Oil of Rhode Island branch in New Haven.
A tree grew in the back garden, tall enough to afford a climber a view into the first floor, but not the second.
No fire escape, either.
He personally checked all of the other rooms for any more bodies before going back to the ground floor. As he headed down, he found his way barred by two stretcher teams on the way up.
“You got two more on the second floor, boys,” he said.
“Jesus,” one said. “Whoever did this was a busy guy, eh?”
“Looks that way,” Paulie said.
As he passed the first-floor landing Detective Michaels said, “You gotta come see this, Boss.”
“Another body?” He felt his gorge rising at the thought of smelling more blood.
“No, but you gotta see,” and the terrier led the red deer down the hallway to the bathroom at the north end.
Paulie poked his head in, and
Detective Lieutenant Paolo 'Paulie' Pentaleoni checks out the bathroom
Art by Kjartan - - (Larger file here - 323 KBytes)
A bloody towel sat in the sink, the white porcelain marred by rust-red streaks.
Someone had smeared words on the bathroom mirror.
Deus Lo Vult.
God Wills It.
Paulie crossed himself almost reflexively and stepped back out of the bathroom. “Get pictures of everything in here, and bag the towel as evidence,” he told Michaels, “and check for fingerprints.”
The last shrouded form had been loaded into an ambulance, and the white-painted vehicle’s siren blared to cut a path through the crowd. A few more patrolmen had been summoned to hold back people who wanted to go in and rubberneck.
The news that there were two more deaths in the house caused another round of crying, and more ambulances had to be called to take a few of the girls to the Polyclinic for counseling. Their names and home addresses had been taken in case any more questions needed to be asked.
A priest had been called for as well.
The affected rooms had been locked and sealed to prevent any thefts and to preserve the crime scenes as much as possible. The rest of the girls had decided to get dressed and go to their jobs at the hospital, just to have something to do that could take their minds off the deaths of so many of their friends.
Paulie had thought it over for a while before allowing them to go, and still wasn’t entirely happy with his decision.
He and the rest of the squad gathered in the parlor to compare notes. All of the evidence had been carefully described, tagged and placed in bags to be taken back to Headquarters for analysis. “Okay,” the red deer finally said, splaying his paws out on the table, “let’s sum up.”
“Five girls, all students at the Polyclinic,” DiAngelo said.
“Whoever iced ‘em used a blunt instrument, something like a hammer or sash-weight, then cut their throats,” Proctor, an alert-looking rat, added. A few other points were brought up, and Paulie jotted them down as well.
“We found out there’d been a party last night, till ten,” Michaels offered. “Bunch of guys from Collegiate Medical School were over, but cleared out by ten-fifteen. House rules, strictly enforced.”
“Good for the Otterholts, then,” Paulie said dryly. “Any bottles left over?”
“Out back, in the trash.”
“Get them rounded up and bagged, too. And we’ll have to ask the Dean out at Collegiate for permission to talk to the guys.”
“That brings up another problem, Boss,” DiAngelo said.
“Only one?” The others chuckled. “What is it?”
“One of the dead girls – Somerville – she’s a foreigner.”
“Yeah. American passport in her dresser.”
“Damn. Okay, I’ll tell the Chief so he can get word to the Foreign Ministry.” He surveyed his paw-written summary of everything found so far, and shook his head.
He stepped out of the house (Mrs. Otterholt locking the door behind him) as a skunk with a press card sticking from his hatband yelled, “Hey, Detective! Can’t you let us in to look around?”
The skunk gave him a cross look. “You let that guy from the Star in earlier.”
That brought Paulie up short. “What?”
“Yeah, it’s in the late morning edition already,” and the mephit held up a copy of the Morning Star, one of New Haven’s less reputable papers, a tabloid with a morbid streak.
NURSING STUDENTS MURDERED, ran a headline printed in three-inch-high letters.
Paul Pentaleoni sighed. That explained Bill’s remark earlier in the morning. The reporter had seen or overheard something (or, more likely, had been tipped off by someone at the phone exchange) and had bribed Bill to gain access to the crime scene before the police.
“Gimme that, will ya?” and the skunk tossed him the paper. “Thanks.”
“He gonna get in trouble?”
“I hope so,” Paulie said as he read the reporter’s name on the byline. Matt Stover.
“Good,” and the skunk spat on the sidewalk before walking away. The crowd, some irritated that there wasn’t anything more to see, started to disperse.
Paulie waved the patrolmen and his squad together and as soon as the last citizen was out of earshot he said, “I need you all to split up into two-man teams and start walking along the streets.”
“How far do we go?” asked Michaels.
The red deer thought. “It’s six blocks to the Polyclinic. Let’s make it two blocks each way to start with.”
One of the patrolmen asked, “What are we looking for?”
“Anything out of the ordinary. Let’s move and get this done. Go out the two blocks, then work your way back here and report.” The group split up and started walking while Paulie opened his notebook to a blank page and started drawing a diagram of the house and its adjoining streets.
The chimes at All Saints finished ringing and the massive bell struck two when the teams returned. One of the patrolmen, a thin wolf, said, “I found this, Lieutenant.” He held a wooden-handled knife gingerly in a piece of cloth pinched by his thumb and forefinger.
Paulie looked at it closely. The blade was long and fairly thick, and the very tip of it was missing. It was also shiny, with not a speck of rust on it. “We’ll take it in and check it for fingerprints. Where did you find it?” he asked as the wolf dropped it into a bag held open by one of the junior detectives.
“Alley down that way,” and he waved down the length of Fifth Street in the direction of the hospital. Paulie showed him the street layout he had drawn in his notebook, and the wolf showed him the exact location.
“Okay. Great job, all of you. Let’s get all our stuff back to Headquarters.”