The Otterholt House Massacre
© 2009 by Walter D. Reimer
by Stuart McCarthy
“Chief? May I come in?”
“Of course, Lieutenant. Something seems to be bothering you.”
“Thank you, Sir. “I just finished interrogating the Norquist boy.”
“The man he saw with Miss Ramsey was one Robert ‘Bob’ Hart.”
“The name is vaguely familiar, Lieutenant. And he is - ?”
“Member of the General Assembly, Sir, for Northford.”
Stagg blinked, and thought for a moment before saying, “That could be a delicate matter, Lieutenant. Mr. Hart would enjoy Parliamentary immunity from prosecution.”
“I know, Sir. Just following up the lead.”
“Well done. What else do you have?”
“I’m still going over the second round of interviews, Sir. I will hopefully have something for you tomorrow.”
“Good. By the way, congratulations on catching that prowler.”
“I had nothing to do with it, Sir. He got caught by a citizen.”
A tall but stout whitetail buck shouldered past an usher and stormed into the small room that formed part of the Sergeant-at-Arms’ chambers. “What is the meaning of this?” he growled.
Chief Stagg looked up calmly at him. “Just asking the Member from Northford a few questions, Prescott. A police matter. Nothing for you to be concerned about.”
Prescott Stagg, leader of the Civic Union Party, glared at his half-brother. “He’s a member of my Party, blast you! If you were going to question him – and here, of all places – you should have gone through my office.”
“I think not.”
“Prescott, I’m sure you have enough information with which to bully and browbeat your fellow Party members into toeing your line. You certainly don’t need me giving you any more ammunition.” He smiled. “Good day.”
As he opened the door, he paused at a soft whistle-snort. “Tell me,” Prescott said, “shouldn’t you be at the Temple, dowening?”
Stagg whirled, a well-placed hoof slamming the door in the usher’s face. A hard backpawed slap across his older half-brother’s surprised muzzle was followed by a punch to Prescott’s stomach that robbed him of his breath. As the older buck sagged backward against a desk Stagg advanced on him and grabbed him by his lapels with both paws.
“Listen to me, Brother,” Stagg snarled, his face a scant inch from Prescott’s, “I’m trying to do a job here. Five dead women, Prescott. I go where the evidence leads me, and you will NOT interfere. Unless, of course, you want your own activities delved into. By me. In. Person.” He punctuated his words with a harsh snort.
He stepped back and jerked Prescott to his feet. “Now, straighten your collar, Prescott. You mustn’t look bad in front of your . . . compatriots.” With a final angry snort Stagg walked out, leaving the older buck gasping and fuming silently.
Wednesday May 19
“It’s been one week since the first report of the murders,” Paulie told his squad after the morning staff meeting, “and we don’t have a suspect. We have alibis and excuses galore, though. One thing that keeps coming up is that bottle of whiskey. No one will own up to bringing it to the party – “
“I don’t blame ‘em,” Frank DiAngelo said. “Ever taste that slop? You can strip paint with it.”
The others laughed, and Michaels said, “Can you think of anything better to put the dope in?”
The red deer tapped the chalkboard to regain their attention. “Here’s what I think happened:
“The party ends at about ten, and we’ve established that the last guy was out of the house by ten-fifteen. Somerville and Jones get in about midnight. Right?”
“Yeah,” Proctor said. “Trainman was good enough to let ‘em hitch a lift while he was going back to the barn.”
“Sometime around midnight the other Jones girl, Sally, starts getting sick. The pharmacy gets called, and Mr. Davies delivers it personally.” There was a general nodding of heads. “We got corroboration on that from our peeper.”
“Now, the time between midnight and two, when the doc says the girls died, is a bit iffy, but we do know that most of the house lights were out by then. What I think is that the murderer started out on the second floor with the two girls who came in late. The sick girl was his last victim.”
Banner raised a paw. “What makes you think that?”
“Think about it – she didn’t die immediately, but had time to get to the door. So he didn’t hit her hard enough to kill her immediately, like he did the others.” Banner nodded slowly.
“The way I see it, guys, the key is that bottle of doped whiskey. Who brought it, and when? If we can pin that down, we might start on getting a motive.”
“Right now we still thinking that it’s a jealous boyfriend?” Michaels asked.
“Yeah,” Proctor said. “Seems like a couple of ‘em treated the place as a private harem.”
“Say that again.”
“I said that they treated the place like a private harem – “
“No, you said ‘a couple of them.’ I want you and Michaels to go back and talk to the Otterholts. Frank, you and Banner start quizzing the girls again. I want to know who used to visit them the most.”
"Why?" Michaels asked.
Banner caught on first. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Paulie. "Because the lights were out. Whoever done this knew the layout."
Frank scratched his head. “Okay, Paulie. What will you be doing?”
“I’ll be talking to Rivers and Braganza again, going over the evidence.”
NHSP Crime Lab
“Ah, Lieutenant! Glad you came over,” the goat enthused. “We have a few things for you.” He waved Paulie to a stool.
The red deer sat down. “You have more information for me, Doc?”
“Yes indeed. Hank! Hank, go get the cart, please.” The doctor’s assistant, a lean fox, disappeared into the next room as the goat explained, “We’ve determined the type of hammer – mallet, really – that caused the head wounds, and I have a few new items about the knife.”
“Oh yes. Ah, here we are.” Hank wheeled in a cart covered by a sheet. He pulled the sheet away and Paulie felt the blood drain from his face.
The cart held a half-dozen severed heads, all porcine. Braganza glanced at Paulie and said, “Steady, Lieutenant. I assure you, they’re no one you knew.”
He gulped. “Where did you get them?”
“Oh, they’re feral pigs. I bought them at a butcher’s shop because we needed to run an experiment. I just had to know what type of hammer was used, you see.” He turned the cart to show the backs of the heads. “I bought these, and used various types of hammers to inflict the wounds. We then did X-rays.”
“All right. So what was the one used?”
“That’s the interesting bit. It was a surgical mallet.”
The red deer’s eyebrows went up. “Surgical mallet?”
“Yes, similar to this one.” The goat held up a small silver hammer. “Note the edge on the head – very precisely made.”
Paulie took it and hefted it. “Steel, but light.”
“Yes. Which would make it unusable as a murder weapon – “
“Unless he knew where to put the blow, and the autopsy shows that he did,” Paulie said. “Who’d know how?”
“Anyone with a good knowledge of anatomy.”
Braganza glanced at Hank. “Yes.”
“Thanks, Doc. Now, what about the knife?”
“Ah! That intrigued me a little. It was so valuable that it wasn’t thrown away after the tip broke off, but was discarded – “
“It’d been used in a murder, Doc.”
“True, but the perpetrator could have easily erased the evidence on it by simply popping it into the autoclave.” He nodded toward a squat drum-like piece of equipment in a corner. “Any medical student would be familiar with one. Like a pressure cooker for surgical instruments,” he explained.
“So, what did you find?”
“Well, we removed the handle and we found three things. More blood – which we’re analyzing, by the way – a hallmark and a serial number.”
“A serial number?”
“That’s right. We were able to trace it to the inventory for the Polyclinic’s Pathology Department. It had been used in autopsies for removing flesh from the bone.”
“I see. Can you let me know the results of the blood tests?”
“As soon as I get them.”
Paulie had invited Chief Stagg to accompany him to the hospital and arranged an interview with the director of the place as well as the head pathologist.
“This is most irregular, Chief Stagg, most irregular,” Dr. Gillespie muttered after Paulie had finished reporting. “Drugs missing, knives and other instruments being used in murders – irregular, most irregular.”
“Yes, Dr. Gillespie,” Stagg said to the director. “I imagine that murder could be considered irregular. Based on Lt. Pentaleoni’s report, the mallet used was a surgical tool, the knife is part of the Pathology Department’s inventory, and there was nowhere else in New Haven City one could obtain chloral hydrate. It bespeaks a shocking lack of security on the part of the Polyclinic – “
Hiram Jaspers, the head pathologist, snapped, “So you blame us for these murders?”
“No. We have several people that we are investigating,” Stagg replied. “We are merely notifying you and Dr. Gillespie that you need to improve your security at the Polyclinic.”
Jaspers and Gillespie looked at each other; finally Gillespie said, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Chief Stagg. I’ll call a staff meeting at once and tighten things up.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
On the way out Paulie asked, “Do you think they’ll tighten security, Chief?”
“Probably not. No one likes having their shortcomings pointed out by outsiders.”
Thursday May 20
“Hey, Boss?” Paulie looked up from his files to see Detective Proctor seating himself beside his desk. “I think we might got something.”
“I hope it’s good news.”
The rat laughed. “You can be the judge of that, Boss. Here goes: We’ve narrowed down the number of guys we need to be lookin’ at.”
Paulie grinned. “That is good news.”
Proctor flipped open his notebook. “There were ten guys at the party, right? Well, we know about one of ‘em, Farmer – he went to Gnu York. Now we know where another three of ‘em went.”
“Sportin’ place called ‘The Academy,’ up on King’s Avenue, Number 14.”
“Wait a minute. That’s a pretty ritzy neighborhood.”
“Yup. Wouldn’t expect a joy house there, would ya? So that brings us to six.”
“Good work. Right now, let’s get the others together and head back over to the Otterholt’s.”
“I want to take a look at the place again.”
“The cellar?” Mrs. Otterholt asked. “Those poor girls were all upstairs.”
“We know, Ma’am,” Paulie said as he stood aside and let the others into the house. “But there are a couple places we just want to look at. The cellar’s one of them.”
“Well, all right,” the badger femme said irritably. “You won’t be staying for supper?”
“No, thank you, Ma’am.” The lady of the house nodded but continued to mutter to herself as she headed back to the kitchen and the detectives readied their equipment.
“Where to, Paulie?” Frank asked.
“You take Proctor and check the stairs again, look for any more footprints. Me and the others will go downstairs and poke around.”
“Okay. Let’s go,” and while the rat and raccoon headed for the stairs Paulie and the others headed to the rear of the house.
“Okay, the shoeprint was right . . . here,” Paulie said, using the photograph he’d taken as a guide to show the exact spot. “Let’s spread out and look around for any more.” While the others started looking, Paulie noticed a doorway behind the furnace.
“Mr. Otterholt!” he called out, and when the badger had come down the stairs asked, “What’s through there?”
“Oh, that? That hasn’t been used for years. It’s a coal cellar,” Otterholt said. “Haven’t had to use that since I bought the oil furnace.” He looked again and said, “I could have sworn I closed that door.” He started toward it, but paused as Paulie put out a paw.
“Let me go in and look first, sir,” and he took an electric torch from the Murder Box and stepped gingerly into the small room.
He moved carefully, methodically sweeping the floor with the beam of the torch. The room had no lights, and traces of coal dust still lingered years after the conversion of the house from coal to oil heat.
The beam swept over an object, and stopped.
It looked like a crumpled scrap of paper, far too clean to have been there for very long. “Michaels! Bring the Box and the camera!” he called out.
A sketch was made, then photographs were taken before Paulie picked it up with a tweezers and placed it in a bag. Another shoeprint was found, somewhat smudged, and it too was recorded.
“Too small to be a note,” Michaels commented later. He held it up to the light. “All stuck together with something – gum, maybe.”
“We’ll let the lab sort it out,” Paulie said. “Let’s get out of here.”
The theater district in New Haven City (at least, the better part of it) sat on the outskirts of the wealthier portion of the city, the better for the rich and powerful to be entertained. There were other theaters, to be sure, but they catered to a slightly coarser clientele and were situated in other parts of the city.
A traffic light changed and Paulie brought his Strnad to a stop in front of the Bijou, one of the larger and gaudier theaters in the district. The marquee proclaimed an act called Spots and Stripes Forever (“Direct from Gnu York! Second Big Week!”) with New Haven natives and perennial favorites Horn and Hardskull on alternate days.
As he waited for the light to change, he glanced at the entrance to the Bijou in time to see two figures enter the theater. One was a mink with startling silver-gray fur wearing a dark suit and rather out-of-fashion straw boater; the other was a bear whose suit was set off by a trolley motorman’s cap. The light changed from red to green as he watched the two paying for their tickets, and he drove on.
He turned up King’s Avenue and found an unobtrusive sign with the number 14 on it halfway down the block. All of the houses on the street were mansions, largely the same in that they were set back from the street with trees and well-kept lawns and gardens. He parked the car and took a moment to straighten his tie and check his headfur before heading up the walk to the house.
When Proctor had given the place’s address Paulie knew he’d have to do this himself. Most of the bawdy houses in New Haven City were concentrated along Dock Street and other places near the harbor district. Any place on King’s Avenue would have to serve a very different customer.
Customers who might be both wealthy and politically powerful. Meaning trouble.
He rang the doorbell and waited. After a moment the door opened and Paulie was confronted with someone surprising.
Not the fact that the man was a wisent, dressed in a tuxedo that must have required an acre of cloth.
It was the fact that Paulie rarely found a fur capable of looking down at him.
Or had wrists thicker than his neck.
“Who are you?” the wisent said, in a bass voice that seemed to start somewhere around his ankles.
Paulie forced a smile and produced his badge. “Lieutenant Pentaleoni, State Police. I want to talk to whoever’s in charge of this place.”
“Why? We make our payments to the precinct on time.”
The red deer blinked. “I’m not here for that. This is part of a murder investigation.”
That brought a slight widening of the big herbivore’s eyes. “Follow me. Sir.” The bison stepped aside so Paulie could enter, closed the door and took his hat.
The front hall exhibited both wealth and taste, and he caught a glimpse of a minkess dressed in a tight silk sheath gown before the wisent showed him into a room. Someone was playing a stringed instrument very well somewhere in another room. “Wait here,” he said, leaving Paulie alone.
The room had
doorways at either end but no doors, and seemed to be an art gallery
of some sort. A Persian rug decorated the floor and the walls bore
portraits ranging from chalk or pastel sketches to oil paintings.
Several sculptures adorned open spaces along the walls. The subject
of the artworks was the same, a slim raccoon femme with impeccably
groomed fur and a slightly enigmatic smile.
He was looking at a life-sized marble statue of the raccooness when a pleasant contralto voice said, “Do you like it?”
He turned to see the model for all of the art in the room standing in the doorway. She looked a bit older, but was still beautiful and dressed in an ankle-length gown of ivory silk. The enigmatic smile was still there. “I call this place my ‘I Love Me’ room,” she explained, and she offered a paw. “I am the owner of this place, Lieutenant. Bernyce Pratt.”
Paulie shook paws with her, then produced his notebook. “That’s Bernyce with a ‘y,’” she said as he wrote down her name.
“I changed it years ago. It made it a bit more . . . exotic.”
“I . . . see. I’m – “
“Lt. Pentaleoni, of the State Police, so I was told. Tell me, what brings a detective to my house?”
“I’m doing some follow-up on the murders – “
“Oh yes, those dreadful murders. Please accompany me to my office, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.”
“I want him to come with us,” and Paulie jerked a thumb at the bison, who frowned.
The raccooness looked amused. “Very well. Come with us, Bobby. It seems the Lieutenant wants a chaperone.” As the red deer blushed she added, “I saw the wedding band on your paw, and your Chief is not one to hire people who patronize places like this. You’re quite safe.”
She led him through the house’s main hall, where several women dressed in evening gowns sat, some reading and others chatting idly with each other. In one corner a young feline dressed in white tie sat playing a cello.
“James,” the woman said, and the cellist stopped playing. “You look famished, dear. Help yourself to the buffet and take a break. I’m told the poached trout is excellent.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” the feline replied, setting aside his bow.
“James is in the Philharmonic,” she explained in a light tone after the young man had left the room. “The pay for a third cellist isn’t much.”
“Not enough to patronize this place, eh?” Paulie asked.
“No, it isn’t,” she replied with an arch glance, “but he has the soul of a true artist – something the others lack; the season has been most disappointing so far - and for a true artist I make allowances. Here we are,” and she opened a door leading into an office. Like the rest of the house, it was furnished simply but expensively. One wall housed several shelves of books.
She settled behind her desk and asked, “What do you want to know, Lieutenant?”
“This is just a follow-up, as I said. One alibi offered by three of the people we’re investigating states that they left the Otterholt House shortly after ten o’clock. These three young men state that they came here, and did not leave until about seven in the morning.”
“Hmm.” Pratt glanced up at Bobby, then back to Paulie. “What are their names?” When he told her she sat back, a paw lightly stroking her chin. A small ring on her little finger glinted in the soft gaslight as she replied, “Yes, I recall them. But you probably wish documentation. Bobby, the ledger, please.”
The wisent turned and pulled a book from the shelf, then gave it to Paulie. He flipped pages to the date he wanted, and noted the three names.
“I notice you didn’t read the book, Lieutenant. There are quite a few furs who would give their eye teeth for a look at that.”
He smiled and passed the ledger back to Bobby, who replaced it on its shelf. “My only concern is those three young men, Miss – “
“I beg your pardon?”
A polite curl of a smile. “I was born Bernice Wallingford, Lieutenant. I was married in 1910. Poor Reginald died in the War, leaving me to my own devices.”
He didn’t know which surprised him more – her family name (one of the founding families of the Republic), the fact she was a widow, or her occupation. “So you set this place up?”
“A woman has to have a hobby, Lieutenant.” She gave a throaty chuckle. “I like to think that the degree in fine arts I received at Collegiate has aided me in furnishing the house adequately.”
“You went to Collegiate?”
“Class of 1904,” she replied. “I did the Grand Tour in my junior year, and was considered a bit wild.” She held up the paw that had the ring, revealing it to be a small cameo. “This was given to me by the Duke of Aosta,” and Paulie’s ears went up at the mention of the cousin of the King of Italy. “Uno memento coito,” and she smiled. “Now, perhaps you could answer a question of mine.”
“Your last name – Pentaleoni – how does a cervine come by a name like ‘Five Lions?’”
It was his turn to smile. “The story my grandfather told me was that an ancestor helped protect his village when it was menaced by a pack of bravi. The bandits were lions, so the villagers gave the family a surname.”
“A delightful story,” she said. "Things were a great deal simpler back then. Of course, this house really is a microcosm of the Republic as a whole, don't you think? A mixture of the very best, and what some would consider the worst hiding under the best."
“I think we each have an opinion on that,” Paulie said. “There’s a lot of good in this country, you know.”
“Perhaps I’m being overly cynical. It’s an occupational hazard, I’m afraid. Would you be willing to hear an opinion of mine about who murdered these unfortunate girls?”
The buck thought a moment, then reopened his notebook. “Go ahead, Ma’am.”
She smiled. “An open mind. I like that. Anyway, Lieutenant, take this for what it’s worth – I should look for a fur who has a deep resentment toward women. As a general matter, not just toward individuals.” Her expression hardened briefly. "One who considers them whores, and good for little else."
"Oh? You've encountered such people?"
She smiled again. "Lieutenant, I have an experience of mels that spans years, continents, and socio-economic classes. Were I your superior, I'd write a monograph on the subject. I may yet do so."
“I’m sure my superior would look forward to reading it.”
“I’m sure. Was that all, Lieutenant?”
He glanced back over his notes, and closed the notebook. “I think that’s all, Ma’am. You’ve been very helpful.”
“One does try. Bobby, see the gentleman out, please.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He opened the office door and walked with Paulie to the entrance foyer. As he collected his hat another mel walked in, an otter who saw Paulie and flinched.
Paulie smiled. “Good evening, Mr. Hart. I guess things in the Assembly were a bit stressful today, hmm?” Leaving the otter to try and stammer an excuse he walked back out to his car.
He was getting into the sedan when a 1920 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost limousine pulled to a halt. The chauffeur, a short doe wearing a severely cut gray uniform with a matching skirt whose hem was almost indecently high got out and went around the car, opening the passenger door. Two women in party dresses, a cheetah and a tigress, got out arm in arm with a middle-aged beaver dressed in a tuxedo and the trio headed up the walk to the mansion.
Paulie shook his head and started the Strnad, pulling away from the curb and heading back to his house.