"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Two plus Two is Five?

"Since when does two plus two equal five, Phil?" That was the response from my supervisor, Det. John Cowe. He tossed the report on my desk, and parked one substantial haunch next to my coffee cup.

"There's one more man to find, John. I'm sure of it," I told him. "Remember, that's how they found Pluto, even when they couldn't see it. Surrounding events made it clear that there was something out there. Same thing here."

"All right, Einstein, then prove it. Show me the fifth man," he replied. He shook his head and walked away, headed for the coffee pot in the break room.

There was a great deal we could prove about the North Star Bank killing. We had four men in custody. All four had given statements. Conflicting statements.

I had achieved a small bit of respect in the department, after just over a year on the Homicide detail. My last murder was closed with-in a week, thanks to a couple of lucky breaks. Even Det. Cowe had managed to offer me a well done, Gallagher' before he took my money. I had made a sucker bet in that case, though. This time Cowe wasn't making any wagers.

As murders go, this one wasn't too complicated. "Bank heist gone wrong" you might call it. The victim had been struck by a bullet that was never aimed at her. Lydia Herleigh was just an innocent customer who was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. The bullet had already struck a marble pillar and a metal chandelier before it returned to eye level and turned a bank robbery into a murder case.

Of course it was a messy crime scene. Too many witnesses who had covered their heads with their hands. Far too many clues collected by the lab guys, most of them worthless. A thousand fingerprints. The best part was we had four guns, all the same, all recently fired at the surveillance cameras. Too bad one of those shots hadn't killed Ms. Herleigh.

I pulled my mug of cold coffee closer and opened the case file so I could read it through for the hundredth time.

I set aside the statements from the four bank robbers for the moment, and began to go over the list of "innocent bystanders" once again. Somewhere on that list was, I believed, our fifth man or woman. I checked them off again, one by one, reading the familiar names under my breath as I went along.

"Angel Spyvee," wasn't a suspect. Head teller, twenty years on staff.

"Reginald Roy' Burton," branch manager. Perfect record, four years since his promotion. Scared senseless by the whole nightmare. Not a suspect.

"Tanya Barden," might be our hidden planet. Recently hired as a teller, there were some blanks in her background. I set her file aside for later.

"Bill Caster," the security guard. His gun had been taken from him before he could use it. He'd been forced to put on his own handcuffs before he was pushed into an empty office.

I had a sip of my aging coffee, rubbed my eyes for a minute, and continued on to the list of bank customers. One of them, I felt certain, had a pretty good chance of being the inside man (or woman) in this case. Each had been interviewed repeatedly.

I worked my way through the five names, looking for anything I might've missed.

Barbie Whitelock was, I felt, least likely of these. She was only seventeen, an honors student, and a good witness who didn't try to make things up to please her interviewers.

I wasn't so sure about Kenny Weld. His last name was perfect: he worked in the auto body shop around the corner. He'd been cashing his paycheck when the robbers burst in. His records showed a net worth of about ten dollars, which wasn't unusual for a single guy living at home.

Thomas Desmond, an unemployed car salesman from East Auburn (about ten miles away), had been about to withdraw some cash from his dwindling savings before the shooting started. He seemed a possible suspect, but I'd yet to make the connection.

Ramona Gaffighan was off my list altogether, so I shuffled her file to the back. She'd been banking at North Star since the days when it was Auburn Savings and Loan. Her walker might make a powerful weapon, but I didn't believe for a minute that she was a killer.

I saved Elizabeth Jung for last. There was something about her. Her age fell somewhere in between Barbie's and Ramona's, which left lots of room. She was single, self-employed, and mysterious.

When I first interviewed her I wondered if she was being evasive or merely uncertain. The only fact I could verify was her address. She had no bank accounts or credit cards, and claimed she worked on a strictly cash basis. I still had one of our investigators working on Jung.

My eyes hurt from reading. My head hurt from thinking. I got up from my cluttered desk and took a walk down the hall to find some hot coffee. Of course I bumped into Det. Cowe on the way.

"Did you find Pluto, yet, Carl Sagan?" he asked.

"I know who isn't Pluto, John," I said. "I'll figure it out one way or another." I raised my mug in salute as I continued to the break room.

Revived with coffee I brewed myself, I returned to my files. Time to look through the bad guys' statements again.

They had played a simple but effective game. Each one said that one of the other men was the ringleader. Not one would admit to firing the fatal shot. Ballistics from the mangled bullet failed to rule out any of the guns we'd recovered.

We could charge them all with accessory to murder. Every one would spend years in prison. I wanted it clean, though. One of the four, or a fifth one yet to be decided, was the actual murderer. With my pride at stake, I couldn't rest until I solved the mystery.

I took a notepad from my drawer and set out the facts for the four felons:

James Baisie, former tow-truck driver, was from a city fifty miles away.
Martin Rinaldi, unemployed computer technician, had an apartment in town.
Rocky Hanlon, part-time bouncer, also had a place here.
Alex Hemp, freelance photographer, lived on the east side in an old farmhouse.

I played with my pen for a while, drawing arrows and circling words, looking for connections. I still had Tanya Barden's paper there, too. Nothing about her tied her to any of them. We had checked and re-checked. I put her sheet back in the file.

I thought about Elizabeth Jung some more, too. I realized that I had focused on her merely because she was "interesting." I knew in my heart she wasn't involved. I was just romanticizing a random tragedy and trying to make it more mysterious than it was.

So I added the facts from Weld and Desmond to my list of the robbers:

Kenny Weld, worked in the auto body shop and lived with his mother in town.
Thomas Desmond, an unemployed car salesman, lived in East Auburn.

I drew some more circles and drank some more coffee. I had circles around "truck," "east," "auto," and "car." I stopped drawing, sat up straight, and yelled for Det. Cowe.

"John, come here a minute, will ya?"

After a minute he made his way to my desk. "Still think two and two makes five, Phil?"

"No I don't, John," I said, pointing to each circle in turn. "Two and two makes six, in this case!" I had found my connection, with two extra men, not one.

From there it only took another round of interviews to wrap things up. One by one we offered the tough-guys deals if each could identify the actual killer. We told each one we had statements from the two accomplices, and that only one more felon would get a break on sentencing.
Finally, we had three of them agreeing that computer geek Rinaldi couldn't hit a barn with a shotgun. His wildly aimed shot had killed Ms. Herleigh. It didn't matter that he never intended to harm anyone. Confronted with too much evidence to ignore, Rinaldi confessed at last. It had been his first and only criminal act. I hoped it would be his last one. He'd have plenty of years to think about it.

copyright 2007 - all rights reserved


  1. As soon as I read the names I thought it would be wild Bill Caster, the notorious Helium outlaw.
    They've not caught him yet then.


  2. oh, he's a slippery one, that Wild Bill. Only an all-out man-hunt with a blood-thirsty posse would have a chance at trackin him down!