Langstrom answered the door himself. He was dressed as he usually was, comfortably, in a silk shirt, ironed jeans and sandals. He smiled. “Come in, please. It’s an honor to host you two fine gentlemen.”
Was he being ironic? Blesson wondered. Cautiously, he responded in kind, “It’s an honor to be here.”
“This is the first time either of you have seen my house, I believe.”
“I was here once before,” Blesson interjected, “for your house-warming party when you first moved in. You gave me quite a nice tour.” The mayor said nothing.
The two guests hesitated at the door. The editor, looked hard at the mayor, who muttered, as if a bit reluctant, “I’ll just wait in the car to give you two a chance to talk, shall we say, more intimately.” The editor and the mayor traded another look that Langstrom was not able to read.
The mayor quickly turned around and returned to his official village car parked adjacent to the front door. Before getting behind the wheel, he looked up at the vast two-story house rising directly above him. Looming directly overhead was a long, wide deck with a panoramic view of a garden and flower-bordered pond, backed by fields and woods, with blue mountains soaring on the horizon. The mayor smiled.
“I’m sorry the mayor didn’t want to stay,” Langstrom told the editor, sounding more relieved than sorry. The mayor had once objected to a zoning change that Langstrom wanted, and the businessman was not one quickly to forget a rejection, even though this one, under pressure, had been quickly reversed.
“Would you like a tour of my home?” Langstrom asked his remaining guest.
“I’ve seen it before,” Blesson reminded Langstrom for the second time. “You have the most beautiful home I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it’s the envy of everybody in the county.” Flattery was an arrow in his quiver that he had used with great success in interviews with the high and mighty. “They all let their egos get the best of their judgment,” he coached his young reporters.
Langstrom led the way to a comfortable couch and easy chair in the living room and gestured for Blesson to sit. The editor looked at the glass wall in front of the couch and the sunlit deck on the other side. “You have such a magnificent view from your deck, the best in the county I’m sure. Do you mind if we sit outside?”
“That’s my favorite place, too,” Langstrom said, still the gracious host.
“So tell me how I can help you,” Langstrom said once they were seated. “You said you were doing an investigation but didn’t explain.”
“We have a murder on our hands that is quite a mystery. A young woman, one of my reporters, disappeared a year ago. Now her body has shown up in a hidden alcove of Cavetown Caverns. It was discovered by a spelunker on the first day that the caverns were opened to outsiders.”
“How do you know she was murdered?”
“She was hit on the head by a blunt object, possibly a rock. There was a pile of rocks around her that might’ve fallen from the roof of the cavern.”
“Your description sounds like it was probably an accident.”
“An excellent observation. Except for one thing. The blow on the head, from a rock or whatever, may have knocked her out but it didn’t kill her.”
“The coroner said she was strangled to death.”
“Is he sure? After all, you say that was a year ago. It must be hard to know what caused a death that long after the fact.”
“You’d be surprised. It’s not all that hard. The coroner’s sure.”
“That’s very interesting, but how can I help you? You didn’t come out here just to give me the news.”
“Sir,” Blesson began politely, while wondering for a moment if he was overdoing the deference, “I do have a few questions. When is the last time you saw Rebecca Hope at your house?”
“Why do you say she was here?”
“Are you denying it?”
“Well, I don’t mind telling you. She called me on her cell phone and said she was just getting ready to go inside your house for her interview.”
“Jake, that’s probably correct. I don’t recall the date but sometime around a year ago she came here to interview me. She had called me the day before and said she wanted to write a feature for the Weekly Standard about my house, I guess she called it my estate. I was surprised the newspaper would be interested in my home so long after I built it, but she said it’s the only one like it in the county. She said a lot of people were curious about it. I think she had the bad grace to call it a white elephant, although she didn’t explain why. I guess I was as curious about this brazen kid as she was about me. We set up an appointment and she drove out here.”
“Was she alone?”
“What did you talk about?”
“She asked questions about the house—how much it cost, who designed it, what are the various rooms and facilities. At her request, I gave her a tour.”
“We sat on the deck, about where you and I are now. I offered her a drink.”
“Did you talk only about the house?”
“I don’t recall.”
“She called me a second time. She was insecure about this assignment and seemed to need my support. She said she was in one of your bathrooms but then she whispered, ‘I have the story I came for.’”
“Why wouldn’t she? I answered all her questions about the house.”
“She wasn’t talking about the house. What else did you discuss?”
Langstrom was growing agitated. “She did start blabbing about other things, things that weren’t any of her business. They were my personal business. How I made my money, how I ran my business. I shut that down pretty quickly.” Langstrom hesitated. “That’s about it. He stood up. “Jake, I think you and I are finished.”
“No,” Jake said with unprecedented firmness. “Not quite yet. Sir. Just a few more questions and this case will be all wrapped up.”
“I have to leave in a few minutes, Jake, so we’re about through. What else do you need to know?”
“Not much. Not really anything, Sir. You see, I know it all. I know how the reporter died and why.” He stared hard at Langstrom.
“And can you prove it?”
“Ah, now that’s not a question for you and me. That’s a question for a judge and jury. But I’m fairly confident how they will decide.”
“Stop playing with me, Jake. I’ve been playing with the really big boys all my life. I don’t need to waste time with a bit of dirt like you.”
“Waste time? Perhaps you didn’t know about my photographer Bob Picotone.”
“The guy who takes pictures of weddings and parades?”
“That’s the guy, except he has some other talents. He’s an expert with all kinds of cameras, including movement-activated videos. He also loves caves almost as much as he loves cameras. And he wanted to make sure Cavetown Caverns was protected from vandals. So he set up video cameras at the entrance, on the stairs, beside the elevator and in the main cavern. My reporter was on all those cameras.”
“She was on those cameras the same day she visited you.”
“In fact, she was on those cameras only a few minutes after she left your house.”
“What are you getting at?”
“You were on those videos with her.”
“That proves I wasn’t involved. in her death if she was alive with me.”
“Not quite. The cameras show she was alive at the entrance to the caverns and on the stairs and in the main chamber. Then she disappeared, and you came out of the caverns alone. You do understand, Sir? Alone. By your lonesome. Without the reporter.”
“Maybe she just wanted to stay longer in the cave.”
“Like maybe a year? Sure. Or maybe you hit her over the head with a rock, then strangled her, than piled up stones to hide the body from any casual visitors and make it all look like a rockslide.”
“You’re just guessing.”
“No, Langstrom,” I’m not,” the editor said with a new note of toughness.
Langstrom suddenly showed a different personality. The politeness dissolved and the gut fighter emerged. He was angry. “That bitch just got what she deserved.” He paused, “Jake, I’m sick and tired of being challenged, first by that nitwit reporter and now by you. If it weren’t for my ads, you wouldn’t even be publishing a newspaper. There wouldn’t be any Weekly Standard and there wouldn’t have been any idiot nosy reporter.”
Langstrom stopped to catch his breath and the editor was afraid he would halt his rant. “Mr. Langstrom, you’re the only idiot in this matter,” he provoked the irate businessman.
“That reporter thought she could send me to jail. I am not about to let a little girl like her accuse me of stuff— laundering money and bribery and a couple of other things she dreamed up. She had the gall to accuse me—me. I don’t take that shit from anyone, not her and not you. So she got what she deserved. Sure I killed her. I don’t mind telling you because you’ll never prove it. There’s no DNA, no finger prints, no physical evidence at all. And you and I both know those videos aren’t enough to convict me of anything. You don’t even have enough evidence to prosecute me for illegal parking, let alone murder.”
Again Langstrom paused. His face was so red the editor was afraid the elderly man might have a heart attack.
“So unless you’re planning on arresting me, get the hell out of my house. Now. And if you do arrest me, I’ll sue you for every cent the newspaper ever earned. You and I both know you aren’t smart enough to prove a damn thing.”
Langstrom stood up to usher the editor out the door. They walked together to the car where the mayor was waiting. The mayor got out of the car. At that moment, a second car, a police sedan, pulled up behind the mayor’s car. A man in uniform climbed out, walked up to Langstrom and told him, “I am arresting you for the murder of Rebecca Hope.” In a quick motion, he pulled Langstrom’s arms behind his back and slapped cuffs on him.
“You fools,” Langstrom, yelled, “I’ll have you in jail for abuse of authority. You can’t go around arresting citizens without any proof.”
“The proof is right here,” the mayor said, gesturing at the recorder on the dashboard. “Every syllable of your conversation with Jake is recorded.”
The notorious case guaranteed the commercial success of Cavetown Caverns. Now tourists had not only stalagmites, an ancient skeleton and ghost stories to marvel at but also a real live murder mystery.