Thursday, March 30, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 9

The first page was in the sports section. Elaine was surprised to see that Leandrou was a basketball star. The photo showed him leaping up in the air to make a long shot from center court, and the caption read: Spyro “Spyder” Leandrou hits a game-winning basket at the buzzer to beat the Schenley Spartans 86-84 in one of the PHS Highlander’s most exciting victories.
She could see where he got his nickname—he was tall and skinny, with legs like a spider. She supposed he thought spelling it with a Y instead of an I was super-cool, like a street gang nickname that mimicked the spelling of his real name.
Elaine turned to the other page for him given in the index. It was his senior portrait. In the black and white headshot, he looked even greasier than in the passport photo, wearing a sweater over a white shirt and tie, gazing at the camera with a cocky grin.
Beneath the picture was a list of his extracurricular activities, along with a quote that he had evidently supplied:

Basketball 1-4
“A true friend is one who watches your back instead of sticking a knife in it.”

A muted grunt escaped from Elaine’s throat as she read the quote. If what Kathy told her was true, about her father and Spyro being such close friends in high school, the irony of it was sickening.  Her father would never have “ratted” anyone out to the police, let alone done such a thing to a close friend.  Spyro Leandrou must be one cold, selfish bastard, she thought.
It also didn’t make Elaine feel much better about her mother knowing that Kathy had married such a man, who Kathy knew had been one of Patrick’s close friends.
She flipped the dank-smelling book to the inside front and back covers, scanning the signatures, thinking that Spyro would have probably signed it for Patrick when the two of them had graduated.
But there was no entry from Spyro.
Bracing herself for another painful memory, Elaine reached into the cardboard box and pulled out something else from the very bottom—a manila envelope she had scarcely glanced at in fifteen years. It had her name typed on the front, in care of The Bromley Academy for Girls, where she had started living only a few days after her father’s apparent suicide. The return address said: ALLEGHENY COUNTY CORONER’S OFFICE.
Elaine swallowed hard, remembering the second dreadful time she’d been called out of class by the Bromley Academy director, only a few days after the first time, when she’d learned her father had hung himself.
“This came for you in the mail,” Ms. Prentice had said, her face almost as pale as it had been before.
Elaine had taken it in her hand, glanced at the lettering in the upper left corner, and simply put it in her purse.
There was a knock on the open bedroom door.
It was Luna.
Rising from her squatting position in the closet, Elaine stepped back out into the bedroom, still clutching the envelope in her hand.
“I just got off the phone with...” Luna glanced down at the envelope, then back at Elaine’s face. “You okay?”
“I feel so sick,” was all Elaine could say. She slowly sank down on the edge of the bed.
Luna sat down beside her.
“I have to find him,” Elaine said in a voice so strained it was barely audible.
“The man who killed my father. The one who actually did it.”
Luna glanced down at the envelope in Elaine’s hand, but didn’t ask what it contained.
“You said he was found in his jail cell...hanged?”
Elaine swallowed. “Yes.”
“How? With what?”
“I don’t know.” Elaine turned the envelope over, so Luna could see the return address. “It’s probably in here.”
Luna took the envelope, saw the county coroner’s return address, and then flipped it to the reverse side. She looked up at Elaine, surprised that the flap was still sealed. “You never opened it?”
Elaine gave a slight shake of her head. She had never found the courage to look inside the package. At the time she received it, she was afraid that it would contain grisly photographs showing how her father’s body had been found hanging in the jail cell, or the details of the autopsy, which she had later learned was required by law in the case of a suicide. As the years passed and she knew more about these matters, she understood it was probably just a copy of the death certificate and maybe a summary of the autopsy results, but she had still never opened it, not wanting to stir up all that angst again.
Luna hesitated, looking back down at the envelope. “You want me to take look at it?”
“Yes, please.” Elaine swallowed again, a shiver jumping up her back.
Luna took the envelope, rose from the bed and stood a few feet away from Elaine, her back to the window, and carefully opened it. Elaine was relieved—even from where she was sitting, she could see there weren’t any grisly photographs inside, only a few sheets of paper with typing all over them. Of course she now knew the coroner’s office would not send a family member anything like that.
“It’s just a copy of the death certificate,” Luna said. “And a copy of the coroner’s report, but only a summary. It says that the cause of death was...” She glanced up at Elaine. “You really want to hear this?”
Elaine prepared herself. “Yes I do.”
“He was found hung with a plastic trash bag around his neck.”
Elaine winced. “Horrible.” Her voice was scarcely a whisper.
“Yes it was. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly common suicide method used by people who are incarcerated. Lots of facilities have trash cans in the cells and naturally there are plastic liners for them.”
The thought of her father hanging himself that way, or being hanged that way by someone else, made her stomach turn.
“Do you think it could have been murder?” she asked in earnest. With all of Luna’s FBI experience, surely Luna would have a gut feeling about this.
“Well, of course it could have been, just about any suicide could be murder. But it’s hard to pull off a suicide-disguised murder without leaving some telltale evidence behind, which in this case would probably be signs of a struggle.”
Elaine realized that she wanted to believe what her mother had told her, because for all these years she had harbored the wound that her father had willingly abandoned her and left her all alone in the world. If her dad had been murdered, it wasn’t his fault.
“He didn’t leave a suicide note,” Elaine said.
“That really doesn’t mean anything,” Luna said. “Only about a third of the people who commit suicide leave a note.” She paused. “Was your father in his own cell, or did he have a cellmate?”
“I honestly don’t know. I only went to visit him one time.” Elaine fought tears.
“Was he a light or heavy sleeper?”
“He slept like the—”  Elaine realized what she was about to say and checked herself.  “He could sleep through a thunderstorm, and did.  Ryan is the same way.”
“Well, from what you told me, your dad was a big, strong man—he certainly wouldn’t have just let somebody choke him, even if he was sound asleep when they attacked him. He would have put up a helluva fight. If he’d been knocked out, somehow, there would be signs of that, too—a bruise on the head or back of the neck, strangulation marks, drugs found in the toxicology report.” Luna shuffled the papers. “His toxicology was clean, but there are no other details. Like I said, this is just a summary of the autopsy report.”
Elaine suddenly rose from her chair. “I’m going to Pittsburgh to investigate this!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Luna said, and gently pushed her back down on the bed. “You can’t just fly to Pittsburgh and raise hell at the jail. You have no evidence. Plus you have no authority, you’re not a cop.”
“I can get access to the case files.”
“Case files?” Luna shook her head. “There are no case files, baby-doll. There was never a ‘case’ of any kind. According to this summary, the body was found by a guard. The coroner did an autopsy and determined it was a suicide, just like it appeared to be. That was it. There were no signs of foul play and therefore no criminal investigation.”
“Well there damn well should have been!” Elaine snapped, feeling distraught. “I can’t believe I was so naive to just believe whatever I was told!”
“You were only sixteen, for god’s sake. Just a kid.” Luna paused. “Even if you had the authority now, there’s another reason you can’t go to Pittsburgh and look into this.”
“Because you’re too damn close to it, that’s why.” Luna motioned to her. “Take a look at yourself—you can’t even bear to see the death certificate. Which is the reason cops can’t investigate murders of their family members, and doctors can’t operate on their own children.”
Elaine wiped a tear from her eye. She knew Luna was right. She wasn’t thinking remotely rationally about this. Of course there were no case files, she should have known that.
“Look,” Luna said, “if anybody goes to Pittsburgh to investigate this, it will be me. But you’re jumping too far ahead right now. We should stay focused on Spyro Leandrou. If it turns out that he really did put out a contract to have your father killed, then we will find the bastard who actually did it. I promise you that.”
The determined look in her friend’s eye made Elaine feel better.
Luna looked back down at the papers in her hand. “What you can do right now is send an email to the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office and request a copy of the full autopsy report. As an adult child of the deceased, you have the right to access it—they’ll send you the forms and you can sign them and fax them back and they should be able to send it to you electronically.”
Luna pointed at her. “But don’t you dare open any attachments they send—forward everything to me.”
Elaine nodded.
“Promise? It could include photos, even video. Trust me—it will not be pretty.”
“Yes, I promise.” Elaine paused to gaze appreciatively at her best friend—what good karma did she possess to be so blessed to have Luna Faye in her life?
“What about Spyro Leandrou?” Elaine asked. “Do you think we have enough evidence to open an official investigation?”
“Probably not, based solely on what your mom got out of his safe. What I was about to tell you when I came in here, though, is that I just got off the phone with Frank, my old boss at the FBI.”
“He found out Spyro Leandrou has been a person of interest at the Bureau for a long time. And the folks at the IRS have an eye on him, too.”
“Nothing concrete, just possible money laundering and whatever criminal activity might be behind that. Leandrou has had two tax audits, in fact.”
“Both times he came up clean.”

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