Excerpt from Murder in C Major:
"Hey, Lundquist, get your phone."
Fred Lundquist smoothed his thinning blond hair, flicked a crumb from his gray lapel, and covered the distance from the coffee pot to his desk in three long strides.
"Fred, Sam Wade's holding for you. He's come up with a weird one. Do what you can with it--he asked for you." Captain Warren Altschuler, chief of detectives, was a realist.
Lundquist waited for the click and answered again.
"Fred, this is Sam Wade. I'd appreciate it if you'd respond to a complaint for me."
"Probably nothing, but officially I'm asking you to look into a suspected homicide. George Petris died last night in emergency. You know him?"
"The Greek restaurant?"
"No, this one's a professor, but I knew him from the orchestra. He collapsed in the middle of last night's rehearsal. A couple of people took him to emergency and he died almost as soon as they got him there--the hospital says heart. One of the fellows who took him over is convinced he was poisoned with some Japanese fish. Yoichi Nakamura--our manager--very conscientious, but it sounds to me as if he's off the deep end on this one. I have to respond, though. I sat next to Petris, for Christ's sake."
"Yeah, sure, I'll check it out. You want to spell those names for me?"
Sam spelled them.
Keep the public happy for the politicians. Wade didn't think there was anything to it, but he didn't mind tying up your day proving it to a worrywart. Lundquist picked up the phone again and dialed.
"Mr. Nakamura? Detective Lieutenant Lundquist, Oliver Police Department. The prosecutor asked me to investigate your problem. Yes. I'd like to come over to ask you some questions. Your address . . . ? I'll be there."
He didn't hurry. The whole thing sounded like a hand-holding job, not an investigation, and it wasn't the first time he'd had that sort of call recently. At fifty, a Democratic fish in stagnant Republican waters, Fred Lundquist knew he'd never make captain, much less chief. He'd long since lost any illusions about the merit system. His outstanding record in his years of big-city experience had little to do with the realities of starting over in a place like Oliver. Party aside, being anything other than an Oliver native counted against him. If Wade really suspected a homicide, particularly one that a good detective could get credit for cracking, he'd call on a Deckard, not a Lundquist. In the near-campus traffic, he took his time and meditated on the advantages of taking an early retirement.
He could afford it. The divorce had left him remarkably unencumbered. No child support, not even alimony. She had the house . . . he'd probably never be able to swing a house again. If she'd stuck it out, if they'd had kids . . . if. He'd thought moving back to a smaller town would help, but even here she couldn't take being a cop's wife. Or could she? Maybe she just couldn't take Fred Lundquist. He wasn't all that fond of himself some days.
A lot of guys had small businesses set up, more in preparation for retirement than anything else. You could see some of them becoming more and more involved in their moonlighting--and less and less effective on the job. Burned out as he was feeling, he didn't think he could hold his head up if he let that happen. Not that he had anything to worry about. The closest thing to moonlighting he had going was the occasional sourdough he baked for Catherine's Catering. In his present mood, slapping the loaves around appealed to him in a therapeutic sort of way--but a future of nothing but baking? He shuddered.
He turned into the narrow street and swerved to avoid four Muslim girls, heads covered and long skirts swaying gracefully as they walked to class, oblivious to sidewalks and oncoming traffic. Ten years ago, he thought, a group like that would have turned heads. Now they were commonplace. Foreign oil was flooding even this small college town with new students.
Nakamura was waiting for him on the front porch of the rambling house. They passed half a dozen mailboxes by the front door and climbed two flights to an apartment carved out of an attic. At five-eleven, Lundquist could stand erect only in the center of the single room, furnished even more sparsely than his own place. Nakamura slipped out of his shoes so smoothly that Lundquist almost missed it. For a moment he considered following suit, but he repressed the impulse. Nakamura seemed not to notice. From a corner he brought a large cushion covered in rough cotton.
"Please forgive me. I almost never have visitors. If you are uncomfortable, I will be happy to borrow a chair from my neighbors. Will you have some tea with me?"
"Thank you. This is just fine." Lundquist planted both feet on the floor and leaned forward, ignoring the peculiar angle of his knees. "Suppose you tell me what happened."
"It was during the orchestra rehearsal last night," Nakamura said, kneeling on the floor, his back straight. "The first half was just a rehearsal. No problem. George--Mr. Petris--was playing very well. He usually did. I spoke to him during the break at eight-thirty and he was fine then, too. But when we started again, he couldn't play and almost dropped his instrument. A viola player drove him to the hospital and I went along to help. He died only a few moments after we arrived."
"Did a doctor see him?"
"Yes, Dr. Ito was examining him when he died."
Somewhere, a teakettle burbled and whistled.
"Excuse me, please." Nakamura rose and disappeared behind a screen.
"Did he give you an opinion about the cause of death?" Lundquist called.
"Not me." Nakamura came back carrying a round tray with a plain brown teapot and two cups without handles. Kneeling, he set the tray on the floor in front of Lundquist. "He told Daniel Petris it was his heart."
"And you think?"
A long pause. Nakamura kept his eyes on his hands as he poured the tea.
"I don't know what to think," he said.
Lundquist inhaled the tea, wishing it were coffee. Give me strength, he thought. Now I have to drag it out of him.
"Thank you," he said aloud. "Mr. Nakamura. you called the prosecutor's office."
The pause was even longer this time. Nakamura stared into his teacup.
"I was afraid someone had murdered him." His voice was almost inaudible.
Lundquist too spoke softly.
"What made you suspect that, Mr. Nakamura?"
Maybe it was the tea. Maybe it was the difference between "think" and "suspect." For whatever reasons, the young man stopped hesitating.
"Dr. Ito didn't see him in the orchestra. By the time I saw him, I'm sure it was his heart. But I heard a fine oboe player suddenly lose his lip and then saw him lose control over his fingers, and my assistant heard him say the word 'numb.' Then he could no longer speak at all. We had to help him to the car. He never cried or complained of pain. He didn't hold his chest or stomach. In the car, he was scarcely breathing. By the time we arrived at the hospital, he couldn't move at all."
He paused. "I don't know how to explain it. I am not a doctor. I can only tell you that the death of George Petris was nothing like the death of my friend's mother. She died of a heart attack, and I remember it clearly. But everything that happened to George happened to my uncle, who ate a poisonous Japanese fish. It is called fugu in Japanese. I looked it up in my dictionary for you. You call it a puffer fish."
Something vaguely familiar nudged the back of Lundquist's mind. Where had he read about the puffer fish recently?
"What did Dr. Ito say--did you tell him about your uncle?"
"He said it was possible."
"Even if Mr. Petris did die from eating this puffer fish, why would that make you suspect murder?"
"No place in Oliver serves Japanese food. His son says he ate steak last night, and only fresh vegetables. If he died from this poison--or even from one of the others like it--I don't think the poison could have been in his food unless someone put it there."
"Do you know if he had any enemies?"
No answer. Nakamura poured more tea.
"Mr. Nakamura, help me. I can talk to the people you mention, but I might as well go home if they won't tell me what they know. You called us, remember?"
"I don't know anything. But I think that very few people liked George Petris. He was not . . . a courteous man."
"That's all? People don't kill people for their manners. We'd have daily slaughter on the road if they did." He heard his own words. All too close to the truth.
"I don't think anyone would want to kill a man for the things I have seen. But I wonder if a person who is so insensitive in small matters is not also unkind in larger things. I don't know if anyone loved George. I will not be surprised to learn that someone hated him."
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