At first it seemed like death from natural causes. Marcus Tomby, an investigative reporter, was found slumped over his desk at the Times, victim of a heart attack. And then the security director from the Fordham Arms apartment building came forward.
"Mr. Tomby lived at the Fordham," he told the lieutenant in charge. "He did a lot of dangerous reporting and used to joke about being knocked off some day. When I heard about his death, I reviewed the tape from the security camera in his hallway. Look."
A fuzzy image popped up, showing a red-haired, bearded man leaving the Tomby apartment and pulling closed the door. As he walked towards the camera, he lifted his hand to his face and adjusted his ring. "That's from this morning's tape. Marcus lives alone and that isn't him."
The lieutenant immediately contacted the Times. "Yes, Marcus was on a story," explained the editor. "He suspected Metro Carting of illegally dumping toxic waste. He said he had an inside contact and was preparing a dynamite expose."
Armed with a blurry blow-up from the security camera, the police visited Metro Carting. "Why, that's Al Cuellar," a secretary blurted out. "He started working for us last month." The lieutenant asked if Al had any reporter friends. "He never mentioned any." Did he come in to work today? "No. He never showed up." When the police telephoned Al Cuellar's number, they found it was the same as that of a midtown bar. His address corresponded to a vacant lot.
"Put out an APB," the lieutenant barked. He checked his watch. It had been less than eight hours since the reporter's death. "Get over to Tomby's apartment. Dust the place for prints."
Two hours later, there was more bad news. All the prints, both in the apartment and on the doors, belonged to the deceased. As for the mysterious suspect, Al, he had vanished completely.
The lieutenant mulled over the evidence. "I think I know what happened," he drawled with a smile.
What happened? And what clue pointed the lieutenant to the truth?
(Image created with the Newspaper Clipping Generator)
The whodunit above was provided by American mystery fiction author Hy Conrad.
In addition to his work in mystery and crime puzzles, Hy was also one of the original writers for the groundbreaking TV series Monk.