THE NEXT DAY, just after lunch as we reconvened in Charlotte’s apartment, there is a knock at the door, and when Charlotte opens it a tall man steps through.
“Augustus Hartunian, at your service, though friends all call me Augie,” he says. “Strange mix of names, I know, but my father was Armenian and my mother Greek. My name is a piece of both. How can I help?”
“I’m Charlotte Smart. And this is my brother, Greg, and the victim’s granddaughter, Meredith. We need your assistance in what we now know is a dreadful matter, detective.”
“Hartunian,” I insert, “I know a Hartunian out in Los Angeles. He’s a detective, too. A friend of mine was on the fringes of a case he helped solve.”
“Yeah, he’s my uncle, my dad’s older brother, Carl. My role model and a very successful detective, a guy with surprising heart for victims and suspects. Likes the big city crime stuff; I like the country crime better. But wait, did you say there was a victim?”
Country crime, odd way to put it, I think, but I remain silent as Meredith says, “Well, officer, I don’t like any crime, and especially when it involves my grandmother. She was murdered, and we need to find out why and by whom.”
“Murdered? You have a murder here?”
“We do, Detective Hartunian,” Charlotte says, that intense gleam in her eye flashing as she produces the note and other bits of what we all think of as incontrovertible evidence.
Before handing it over, she takes five minutes to give Hartunian the background on Claire, her life–though not every detail–and her sudden death.
“Whooey,” the detective says. “We haven’t had a murder around these parts in years. Now, I suppose we ought to find out if she really was murdered, and if so, who might have resented her and for what reasons. I mean, after all, an elderly person can hardly be thought of as a serious threat.”
Hartunian shows no outward signs of being a policeman, no badge on his lapel, no trench coat–though that may be my generalization–and no obvious bulges in his jacket pockets. He is tall and dark, with bushy eyebrows and light grey eyes; his hair is trimmed short, without a part, and still brown, but with a bare touch of white in the sideburns.
Charlotte says, “Not to contradict you, detective, but threat is an internal experience, and we never know who might be sensing it.”
“Right, right, ma’am,” he replies, seeming not to want to be at odds with any of us.
“She had two things that might have triggered anger,” Meredith says, “the fact that she was a lesbian, and her belief system, which was atheist.”
Hartunian looks thoughtful, and says, “Wouldn’t think those things would drive a person to murder.” He sees our very serious faces, and adds, “Of course, you never know.”
“Along with that,” I say, “she had a history of confronting folks; granted it was when she was living in California, and granted it was several years ago. So, at one time, she seemed to have enemies.”
“Enemies,” Hartunian says, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
To me, he seems too diffident to be a cop, backing off of any sort of disagreement, hardly an incisive thinker. But now he says something that alters my perception.
“I’ll take that bag of medications to our lab. We’re kind of a hick operation here, but we do have one excellent forensics person to test for prints and the contents of each container. Could be that some bottles got switched, or maybe some pills substituted for others. In the meantime, this note is a genuine threat, and I don’t want anyone else getting hurt. So, to stay out of trouble is the order of the day, and that means no private investigations. No sleuthing around.”
“Oh, we’re not foolish enough to try to catch the bad guy by ourselves,” Charlotte says.
I’m not sure he catches the subtle sarcasm in her voice, but I know when my sister is putting someone on. The three of accompany the detective to the parking lot.
As he leaves the complex, Detective Hartunian says, as if tossing off something trivial, “Murder is an act of desperation, when every other remedy seems pointless.” And with that he nods to us and is gone.
He may have thought his comment was cryptic and mysterious, but Charlotte’s head turns to the side as softly she says, “Yes, and we must now focus in on who could be so desperate.”
If you’re enjoying CHARLOTTE and would like to blog about book two in the series, ACCIDENT, please contact my publisher who will hook you up with a free copy!