by Stan Smith
Greg Jackson shook his head in amazement. In his nineteen years with the North Kingstown police, the inspector had never seen a murder committed with a harpoon. Until now.
The sight of Gordon Fitzgerald, vice president of the North Kingstown Yacht Club, pinned to the wall of the Whaler’s Room with a short harpoon had not been pretty. Jackson and the others gathered around the club conference table in the room were glad to have the body removed.
“Mr. Fitzgerald was found at six-thirty this morning by the custodian and the cook, who arrived here at the same time,” said Jackson. “They called you, Mr. Hinton, and you called us and the members of the executive board.”
“That’s right, inspector,” said Ed Hinton, the club president. “Why, we had a board meeting with Gordon at this very table last evening.”
“What time was that?” asked Jackson.
“I started the meeting at seven-thirty. We adjourned two hours later. Gordon was here, as were his brother Scotty, our treasurer; Della McAfee, our secretary; Doug Hemenway, our legal consultant; and Doris Kenney, our member at large.”
“Who was the last to leave?”
“We all left about the same time,” replied Kenney. “Ed Hinton and I helped Gordon and Scotty Fitzgerald into their cars. They both have badly arthritic knees, and need help with stairs and getting into cars.”
“How old was your brother, Mr. Fitzgerald?” Jackson asked.
“Gordon was seventy-two,” replied Scotty Fitzgerald, a short, sunburnt man with a quavery voice. “I’m three years younger.”
“Did you drive straight home?”
“Yes. I live alone, but can manage all right.”
“How about you, Mr. Hinton? Mr. Hemenway? Ms. McAfee? Ms. Kenney?”
They all said they had driven to their homes and stayed there.
Florence Hemenway, a tall woman of thirty, raised her hand gingerly.
“I wasn’t at the meeting, inspector,” she said. “I’m the weeknight hostess at the Crow’s Nest restaurant near here. I was on duty there until ten-thirty, and got home about eleven. Doug was already home.”
“You are Mr. Hemenway’s wife, correct?” asked Jackson.
“Correct. I’m also the niece of Uncle Gordon and Uncle Scotty Fitzgerald, so of course I had to come today. Didn’t I, dear?” she said, turning to her husband.
“You did insist, dear,” the diminutive attorney replied peevishly.
Jackson paused to look again at the harpoon gun mounted on the jutting mantel of the large stone hearth. No fingerprints had been found on the gun.
“That’s a most unusual gun,” he remarked. “Only a few feet long.”
“It’s a family heirloom,” said Scotty Fitzgerald. “Designed by Captain Jack Fitzgerald of the whaler Ishmael. Been on loan to the club for many years, complete with ropeless harpoon.”
“Didn’t you regard that as a risk?” Jackson asked Hinton.
“It can be fired only by turning a special sequence of switches and knobs on top of the gun,” Hinton replied testily, “and the sequence has been a Fitzgerald family secret. I thought it was safe enough.”
Scotty Fitzgerald nodded sadly.
“I see.” Jackson rubbed his chin in thought. “Who runs this place during the day, Mr. Hinton?”
“I do. I’m the club manager as well.”
“The place was locked when the cook and custodian arrived this morning. Who has a key?”
“Besides myself, just John the custodian, the Fitzgerald brothers, and Della. John usually arrives first in the morning.”
Jackson paused again to review some of the facts he had already learned. The medical examiner had given ten to ten-fifteen as the estimated time of death. The wooden chair in front of the hearth had some dried mud on the seat. The victim had been killed just by the door to the club office, where an open file cabinet drawer showed some misplaced financial files.
“Thank you all,” he said abruptly. “You may go. I’ll be in touch.”
Especially, he added to himself, with the prime suspect.