return to

An ACB Mystery Story: Aspirations
By Alisa Crouch Ballard
Copyright (c) 2001 by Alisa Crouch Ballard
"Hello, Ms. Lauder," a steady voice said.

"What! Who are you?" Rose Lauder looked up from her desk, surprised.

"I would like a job from you," the man said as he leaned casually
against the wall.

"Excuse me! I am not in the habit of hiring complete strangers who
have the audacity to disturb me in my work." She jumped up. "And
furthermore, I have no need to hire anyone, now or at any time in the
future. I have a secretary and that is all I need. I have no use for
strangers who-"

"Whoa, wait one moment there," He smiled and sat down in the plastic
chair. "First of all, if you've got a secretary, where is she? The
place is empty."

"She's at lunch," Rose said, as though reluctant to give out any

"Very well. Second, my name's Michael Knight. So you see, we're not
strangers, merely acquaintances. Third, I would really like a job from
you. You see, there's always been this deep, dying urge inside of me
to be a detective, and-"

"Oh, come off of it." She sat back down and picked up her pen.

"No, seriously. I do want to be a detective, or at least watch you for
a while."

"You what?"

"Watch you. I'm an aspiring reporter and am going to write the story
to beat all stories. I'm going to write about the true life of a
private detective." He imitated a television announcer: "Yes, ladies
and gentlemen, you are going to receive the real story. You'll get the
scoop on what private eyes really do, how much time they really spend
at the doughnut shop and not on the case. You'll hear if they really
abide by the law as they claim and what really happened to the money
they charged you for 'expenses.'" He emphasized each "really."

"I have no room for nosy reporters in the perilous world of crime."
She pretended to become absorbed in the case file before her.

"Perilous world of crime . . . what a catchy phrase. Wouldn't that
sound good in my story? Hey, come on. Listen, it would only be for a
few weeks. I would go everywhere with you, the scene of the crime and
dark, suspicious alleys, you know, the usual."

"You're being atrocious and I refuse to let you, a so-called reporter
I don't even know, muddle in my affairs. Besides, you've obviously
been reading too many trashy mystery novels. This is real life and you
have no reason to come to me or any other sane human being and ask to
shadow them on their job. You are rude and disgraceful to the name of
the reporter."

"Well . . . you see, I have to follow you. There are many detectives,
yes, but none are as sly, intelligent, or as dashingly beautiful as
you, Ms. Lauder. Besides, I'm just an innocent reporter." He paused.
"Here are my credentials." He tossed some papers on the desk in front
of Rose. "There's my press pass. Here's my driver's license. Michael
Howard Knight, twenty-six years old, six feet tall, the details are
right in front of you."

"Thank you very much, but no." Rose pushed the papers aside.

"Well, Ms. Lauder, you have to allow me to observe your every move
because I hold the power of the press in my hands. Yes, if you refuse
my incredibly simple offer, I will destroy your reputation and
scandalize your life with an article a day until I'm fired for lack of
new material. If you want to know what is in all of this for you, I'll
tell you the one thing you'll never be able to take, you'll get a
wonderful companion. I know that you find yourself to be the most
independent person in the world, but I promise I'm simply charming
once you get to know me." He paused. "Oh, come on. Detecting can't be
that hard, can it?" He smiled again.

"Can't be that hard? What do you think this is, a 'paper or plastic'
kind of job?" she fumed.

"Hey, now wait a minute. I bet even I could solve your case."

"What a despicable thing to say. I'd bet you that you could never in
your wildest dreams unravel the mysteries and dangers involved in this

"Really?" he said slowly.


"Listen, I'll bet you that I can solve the case if you'll just allow
me to get my story."

"Fine," she snapped.

"Very well. What time do you usually arrive at your office in the

"Eight o'clock, be here early."

Rose walked briskly down the corridor of the large office complex that
was home to her quaint little office amidst the large prosperous
companies that seemed to grow and grow until they swelled to a great
size and moved to an enormous skyscraper of their own. Her lips were
taut and her purse swung sharply at her side. She turned the corner
and slowed instantly upon doing so. For lying on the floor in front of
the mahogany door with brass lettering reading "Rose Lauder, Private
Detective", was Michael Knight.

The memories of the previous day had been taunting her all night long.
How strange it seemed to her for a man of her own age to want to
observe her for a newspaper article. Wouldn't it be more helpful for
an article if he would go to a major detective firm like Hodgson's?
Like Hodgson's. Oh God, there was that mess with Hodgson's.

"Why are you lying down, you'll get the floor dirty," she said.
"Moreover, it's seven in the morning. I told you eight."

"You said to be here early."

"I meant five or ten minutes early. What did you do, spend the night?"
she said, annoyed.

"Only a few hours. Reporters have to do a lot of dirty work, you
know." He stood up and dusted himself off while she unlocked the door.

"So do detectives." She stepped inside the anteroom and turned on the

"Oh, you mean our bet." He smiled slyly at her.

"I do. If you will step right this way, I will have you sign a
confidentiality form and I will explain my recent case to you." She
ushered him into her office. "You must know the only reason I'm
telling you this private information is because there isn't one detail
that you and your newspaper don't already know. The press harasses
detectives like me morning 'till night until we get so sick of telling
them a bunch of made-up nonsense that the truth comes out except for
what is completely confidential information that has been told to us
by our clients." She sat down at the desk and turned her computer on.

"Refresh my memory, please. I read enough of the newspaper I work for,
I don't read the others, too."

"Amanda Lynette was murdered on March thirteenth, two days ago. She
was killed with a gun. She was twenty-one years old, fairly tall, had
blond hair and blue eyes. She lived in a small apartment on Britannia
Road. It was a third floor apartment. Her body was found bent over the
piano, she had been playing when she died." "How did the murderer get
to the balcony to get in?" Michael queried.

"There is a balcony located on the outside of every apartment in the
complex. He easily could have climbed from one balcony to another up
the building until reaching Amanda's. He opened the sliding glass door
from the outside and simply walked in."

"What a horrible way to die. It would be so much nicer if murderers
would only kill people in their sleep."

"Yes, well, in the world of crime, nearly everything happens. Anyway,
Amanda was a passionate piano player. She was a virtuoso, a prodigy,
and a maestro. The murderer entered through the glass balcony door,
which was at Amanda's back. At the precise moment the murderer entered
the room and shot her, she was playing the loudest part of the
Beethoven Concerto Number 1 for Piano and Orchestra in C Major. She
was shot three times in the back of the head. The autopsy places the
time of her death around ten o'clock at night. According to her
neighbors, she had been spending every waking moment practicing piano.
She was to enter the final round of the Alderson National Piano
Competition on the twenty-first."

"If she was so good, why on earth did she practice all the time? She
died on the thirteenth; the competition wasn't until the twenty-first.

She had already been practicing frequently because her neighbors said
so." He paused. "See, I am pretty good at this detective stuff."

"Reporters will be reporters as long as they are as nosey and cocky as
you are." Rose sighed. "She was very good, although it probably would
have been healthy for her to go see a movie or read a good novel to
take a break. This competition is a major event and takes place every
five years. The maximum age for entrants is twenty-one, Amanda's age.
She lost by two points last time the competition was held, so you can
see the reason she worked so diligently this year. She was very
competitive and had a hard time accepting second place, according to
her few friends."

"So you're going to tell me that she was killed because someone knew
how hard she had been working for the award and decided they were
desperate enough to kill her."

"That is most likely correct. Someone is very desperate all right."

A brisk knock came from the door and Rose's secretary, Mariana, leaned
in. "Excuse me. Phone for you."

"Thanks." Rose picked up the telephone. "Hello, Rose Lauder."

"This is Ralph Hodgson," a formal, business-like voice said.

"Yes. Listen, Mr. Hodgson, I'm terribly sorry for this entire mess. I
know how bothersome I have been toward you and your associates."

"Ms. Lauder, I am simply calling to inform you that I have no need to
hire you at the time. I am aware that you have solved little crimes
around town, but I need some true proof of your excellence on a larger
case before I hire you. I might get in touch with you later. You do
understand, don't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you. I am sorry for the inconvenience we have caused you."

She hung up the telephone and turned back to Michael.

"Tell me the details. I would like to know the other half of the
conversation I just heard. I am a reporter, you know. I need the
story." He pulled out a notebook and pencil.

"Honestly, you and your story. It was Mr. Hodgson. Oh, it's nothing,
really. A few months ago when he was on vacation, the Head Detective
of his corporation, Timothy Schaefer, called and told me that
Hodgson's would be delighted to hire me to be a part of their
detective company. It took me a while to decide and by the time I
concurred, Ralph Hodgson, the company owner, had returned from his
trip and called and told me I was not to be a part of their
corporation because I had never investigated large crimes. I called
back later, wanting to set up an interview so that I could discuss the
cases I have solved with Mr. Hodgson. He wasn't in at the time and
just now called back to give his final word on the matter, and that
was that."

"I see."

"Let's continue." She cleared her throat and opened a file lying on
her desk. "There are only four other competitors in Amanda's piano
competition. They are: Elizabeth Foreman, Charles Montgomery, Bart
Coulson, and Janet Nixon. They were all very good, but Amanda was
incredible. She was very likely to receive first place and receive the
award of ten thousand dollars and four years completely paid for at

"Gosh. They murdered someone with quite a future."

"They certainly did. The only problem is that there is hardly any
evidence. Amanda's family lives in West Virginia. They see no reason
for her homicide. She has been living here in Chicago for six months
in preparation for the contest."

"And one of the competitors did it?"

"That is the complication. Each has an alibi. Elizabeth Foreman was in
California at the California State Music Festival. She performed a
thirty-minute sonata from memory for an entire assembly of people.
Charles Montgomery was attending his family reunion in Atlanta. There
is much evidence supporting that, too. Bart Coulson spent the last
week in London and returned yesterday morning, after the crime. Janet
Nixon has been staying in Chicago for the past two weeks in a hotel
downtown. She was playing jazz in the all-night hotel bar the night
Amanda was killed. In other words, there are virtually no suspects to
the naked eye. But, when we peer in closely with a magnifying glass
and examine every detail, then and only then will we find our
murderer. Hopefully, that careful examination will take place today.
All of the competitors are now in Chicago and are at the police
station. I will interview them at two o'clock. I suppose you can come,
too. I have already told Sergeant Patton about you. Mind you, don't be
obtrusive. The competitors will first be asked to comply to your

Rose and Michael walked in to the police station at a quarter to two.

They stood professionally together in front of the oak desk.

"Sergeant Patton, please. He's expecting us," she informed the

They waited a brief moment while the Sergeant was notified and then
followed the receptionist through the hallway into a dark, mundane
office. Sergeant Patton sat at his desk, flexing his fingers
nonchalantly. Rose and Michael sat down in front of the desk.

"Show Ms. Foreman in, Mrs. Bailey," Sergeant Patton instructed the
receptionist. "This should go pretty quickly," he told Rose and
Michael. "We've talked to Amanda's neighbors. It was a nearly vacant
apartment building. An elderly woman lived across from her and a man
of about twenty lived beside her. They didn't know her very well.
Neither said they were aware of anyone breaking into Amanda's
apartment or of her murder."

A young, dark-haired woman was ushered into the room. She sat down
beside Rose.

"This will be a brief interview, Ms. Foreman. This is detective Rose
Lauder. Do you approve of the presence of Michael Knight, a reporter?"
Sergeant Patton asked.

"That will be fine," the woman whispered.

"Please state your full name, your place of residence, and the date
you came to Chicago for the competition."

"I am Elizabeth Marie Foreman. I live in Sacramento, California and
came to Chicago on the evening of the fourteenth, yesterday."

"When did you find out about Amanda Lynette's murder?"

"When I arrived at the airport two policemen were waiting to see me
and I found out then." Elizabeth twisted a handkerchief in her lap.
"Do you know of anyone who might be involved in the murder?"


"What piece will you be playing for the competition?" Rose questioned.

"Schumann's 'Kinderscenen,' Scenes from Childhood."

"Any more questions?" Sergeant Patton asked Rose.


"You may go," Sergeant Patton told Elizabeth.

She stood up slowly and exited. Charles Montgomery was shown in next.
He agreed to the presence of Michael and the interview began.

"Your name, city of residence, and date you came to Chicago, please."

"Charles Bryan Montgomery, Atlanta, this morning."

"When did you find out about Amanda Lynette's murder?"

"My aunt who lives here called me yesterday and told me."

"Very well. Do you know of anyone who might have been involved?"

"Not a soul."

"What piece will you be playing in the competition?" Rose cut in.

"Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E, Opus 109."

"Thank you for your time," Sergeant Patton said.

He was shown out. The next competitor was Bart Coulson. He entered and
sat down casually. He, too, agreed to Michael's presence.

"What is your full name, place of residence and date you came to

"I am Bartholomew Alexander Coulson. I'm from Springfield, Illinois.

I came to Chicago yesterday directly from London, England where I have
been a week."

"You went directly from London to Chicago without going home?"
Sergeant Patton asked.

"Yes. My grandmother lives in London. I go to visit her every year
about this time. She has a piano in her entry hall and I practice as
persistently as I do at home."

"What piece are you playing for the competition?" Rose asked.

"Vivaldi's Piano Concerto No. 1 in A."

"When did you find out about the murder of Amanda Lynette?"

"I was informed by a swarm of policemen the instant I got off the
plane yesterday."

"Do you know anyone involved in the murder?"


"You may go now."

He left and the last competitor, Janet Nixon, entered. She had thick
black hair and wore a tight pink dress. She crossed her legs when she
sat down. She agreed to the presence of Michael.

"Please state your full name, place of residence, and date you came to
Chicago," Sergeant Patton said.

"I'm Janet Alexandra Nixon from Tallahassee, Florida, and I came to
Chicago on the first."

"When did you find out about the murder of Amanda Lynette?"

"The morning after, same as the rest of Chicago."

"Do you know anyone involved in the murder."

"I have my suspicions."

Sergeant Patton stared at her for a moment before asking Rose's
question. "What piece are you playing for the competition?"

"Chopin's Piano Sonata in B flat minor."

"Thank you. You may go."

After she left, Sergeant Patton reread his notes of the interviews.
"Nothing out of all that, I gather," he said regretfully.

"I think it's very apparent that none of them did it. They're all too
sincere," Michael concluded.

They turned to Rose. "How long did Amanda's neighbor, the man, live in
his apartment?" she asked.

"Why does it matter? Let's see . . . " the Sergeant read through his
notes. "Five months, I believe."

"Sergeant, you may make your arrest."

"What? Who?"

"It's obvious, really. It was Amanda's male neighbor. You'd better get
the man we just interviewed that claimed to be Bart Coulson, he was in
on the scheme, too."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you see, Vivaldi didn't write piano concertos. He didn't write
anything for the piano. His music was for string instruments. That man
we interviewed claimed to be playing Vivaldi's Piano Concerto No. 1 in
A, which doesn't even exist. Bart Coulson, the real Bart Coulson,
would have known that, the man we interviewed did not."

"I see."

"Yes. Bart Coulson wanted desperately to win the national piano
contest and he knew that Amanda was the only competitor likely to beat
him. So, he must have decided to kill her. He has been living in
Chicago in a disguise for the past five months in the apartment next
to Amanda's. He knew everything, from the way her piano faced relative
to the balcony door, to the precise moment when she would be playing
the loudest part of her contest piece and he could enter the room. The
only thing he needed was an alibi. This is where the other man comes
in. The other man is probably Bart Coulson's brother or cousin or
something because I'm sure they look a lot alike. The other man was to
simply be out of the country during the murder and then come back to
Chicago as Bart Coulson. He was unexpectedly met by some policemen at
the airport and was asked to this interview today, which was not a
part of Bart Coulson's plan. The man didn't know what piece Bart was
playing for the competition, and his poor knowledge of music caused
him to make a mistake." She paused. "That, Michael, is the way we
detectives examine every detail until we find the murderer."

"I never would have been able to realize all of that." Sergeant Patton
smiled at her.

"I took music history in college." "It seems to have been very
beneficial. I'll have the men arrested immediately," Sergeant Patton
replied. Michael smiled at her. "Rose, you were incredible. So
incredible, in fact, that Ralph Hodgson would like to offer you a job
as the Assistant Head Detective of Hodgson's Detective Agency. You
see, Ms. Lauder, I was sent by Mr. Hodgson to check out your
criminology skills. I'm not a reporter, but a private eye."
An ACB Mystery Story: Aspirations
By Alisa Crouch Ballard
Copyright (c) 2001 by Alisa Crouch Ballard
End of Webpage, Program: fixran.tea, 12-MAR-2004 14:24:51