“I didn’t do it!”
The three people looking into the room weren’t likely to believe him.
Ensign Chong Hwan had been the first to respond, when a long, blood-curdling scream had emanated from the stateroom. A Farewell Party for recently promoted Lieutenant Tobias Long had been going on in the adjoining room. Everyone in the party room – save Hwan – had frozen in place.
Hwan rushed forward immediately, grabbed the door handle, found it locked, and entered the key code. By the time the door slid open, Long and his girlfriend, Penny Stuart, were at the door as well.
Jeremy Maimes, a Contract Engineer working aboard the C.S.S. Ronald Reagan, was kneeling on the floor, holding up the bloody body of Ensign Geraldine Silverthorne with his right arm under her waist. He held a bloody dagger in his left hand, raised above the girl.
Several seconds went by before Maimes cried out, “I didn’t do it!” By his friend’s faces, he could tell they didn’t believe him. He started to weep loudly and pitiably.
“All right, Ensign Parker, you’re free to go.” Parker, white faced from shock, nearly ran out of the room. Commander Summers rose from the seat he had been sitting in for the interviews.
Summers had been the Ronald Reagan’s Criminal Investigations Officer (CIO) for the past three and a half years. Before that, he was the Provost Marshall for Eddingham, the massive space station that held both the Sector B Command and the Officers Training School facilities.
On board a star-class vessel housing over six thousand soldiers and civilians, there were bound to be problems. This was, however, only the third murder committed aboard the Reagan since Summers’ arrival. One of the previous ones was during a bar fight, the other a ‘crime of passion; a man finding his wife in bed with another man. Both had involved civilians. Not this time. And military involvement meant trouble.
Summers walked through the party room and opened the door to the bedroom where he had sequestered the three witnesses. Wisely, the Lieutenant (wasn’t he an Ensign last time I saw him? Summers wondered.) had taken control of the situation, taking the knife from Ens. Maimes, removing him from the room, then shutting and securing the door until Summers had arrived, two SP’s in tow.
“Please, if you will all join me in the main room?” All three filed out, taking seats at the room’s bar. It was a large, inclusive room; besides the bar, there was a kitchenette, dining area and a sitting/entertainment area.
“You were the first to respond to the scream?” Summers asked Hwan. He had already interviewed them; now he was just putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
“And you the opened it and found Ensign Maimes holding the body of Ensign Silverthorne, holding a dagger in the air?”
“Did you recognize the dagger?”
Hesitation. “I think it was one from the medieval exhibition in the library.”
Summers nodded. “Yes. We’ve confirmed the case was broken in to.”
“LT. Long – congratulations by the way – you can confirm what Ens. Hwan has said?”
“Yes, Commander. He was the first to react. He ran over, tried the door, then punched in the code and it opened.”
Summers nodded and turned to Stuart. “Ensign Stuart; you arranged the party?”
“Who does this suite belong to?”
“It’s a reserved suite sir, usually occupied by the aides of special visitors to the Reagan.”
The CIO nodded.
“Sir, if I may ask, has her husband been notified?” Stuart questioned.
“Yes, Ensign. The Chaplain should be with him now. Do you know what job Mr. Silverthorne has on board?”
Stuart shook her head, but Long answered.
“He’s in charge of Special Acquisitions, sir.”
“Ah, yes. He’s the one who buys all the alcohol for these soldiers to get in trouble with,” Summers quipped.
“Well sir, he’s also the one who gets the entertainers to come put on shows for us, keeps the library up to date with new releases, makes sure the gym has serviceable equipment…”
“Yes, yes, Lieutenant. I am aware all the Acquisitions Officer does. It was only a little joke. Sort of.
“Mr. Hwan,” Summers had turned back to the Ensign, “You said Ens. Maimes was holding Ens. Silverthorne’s body up: Can you tell me how he was doing so?”
Looking a bit puzzled by the question, Hwan responded, “Well, he had his arm around her waist.”
Summers walked over and turned sideways to Hwan. “Can you demonstrate for me, please?”
“Well,” now looking decidedly nervous, Hwan rose, made several halting attempts, then finally put his arm around the CIO’s back, then lowered it to his waist.
“Thank you, Ensign,” said Summers as he stepped away.
“Ms. Stuart, was Ensign Maimes at the party?”
Stuart hesitated, looking nervously at her friends. Summers said nothing.
“Well… no Sir,” she softly replied. “He was on… er, was supposed to be on duty in the Communications Center.”
“Ah!” the CIO said. “I thought something like that would be the case!”
“Look here, Commander,” LT Long began, “There’s no way Maimes was the murderer… he just isn’t the type!”
“Yet, he is not at the party with his friends,” Summers responded, “Ostensibly because he’s on duty – yet he turns up, in the victim’s quarters, holding both the dead victim, and the bloody murder weapon!”
“Yes, but Commander,” Stuart added her views, “Maimes is just a sweet ol’ Teddy Bear!”
CIO Summers looked up at her. “I’m sorry; a what?”
The door opened at that moment, and Mr. Silverthorne, flanked by the Pastor and an SP, entered the room. Mr. Silverthorne had obviously been crying.
“Ah! Mr. Silverthorne, at last!” Summers, smiling, announced loudly.
Silverthorne looked up, confused at the CIO’s jolliness.
“SP Monroe, will you please place Mr. Silverthorne under arrest? The charge is murder.”
Everyone inhaled sharply.
“Me?” Silverthorne asked. “Are you crazy?” My wife, whom I loved dearly, is dead!”
“Smashing into the display case was a good idea,” Summers told him, “If you had used your key – well, it would have been too obvious, no?”
“You’re insane!” the husband spat.
“Tell me: Did you discover your wife’s dalliance with Ensign Maimes, or Ensign Hwan?”
Silverthorne’s head snapped toward Ens. Hwan, his face a mask of anger.
“Ah. The Teddy Bear, then.”
“Wait!” Hwan shouted, “I had no ‘dalliance’ with Ensign Silverthorne!”
Summers waved a dismissive hand toward him. “Not only were you thinking of your lover when the murder occurred – note, by all accounts you immediately went to her door, while others had to sort out what it wad they had heard and where it had come from, but you also knew the security code by heart!”
All eyes suddenly fell on Hwan. Silverthorne’s were slitted and full of hatred; Stuart’s were wide with surprise.
The SP, finally recovering from his own surprise, began fitting the handcuffs on Mr. Silverthorne.
“Had you been a little more patient,” Summers continued, addressing Silverthorne again, “you would have caught your wife and the lover you knew about together!
“Poor Ensign Maimes – our ‘Teddy Bear’” he bowed to Stuart, “ – sneaks away from duty, probably with the help of a work-mate, to meet his lover for their tryst. But what? He hears his lady scream, and runs to the rescue! Only to find already dead. He picks her up. A non-lover might have lifted her head at the most, but not the intimate placing of an arm low on her body! Surely, he wanted to hold her one last time. To weep over her. But, no. His friends burst in, find him holding her, the murder weapon in his hand! He probably does not even realize he has pulled it from her body!”
He turned to LT. Long and added, “Your friend ‘is not the type’. As the young lady says, he is a ‘Teddy Bear’. That is why he mistook their dalliances as act of love; for surely, he was in love.
“Not so, Ensign Hwan, who is crude enough to extract her personal door code from her! No, he is in it for the sex; as Mrs. Silverthorne obvious wanted it to be.
“It is possible – even probable, Mr. Silverthorne, that she was still in love with you.”
Silverthorne finally looked at the CIO, then turned away and spat.
“Things did not go as well as planned, did they, Silverthorne?” Silverthorne refused to look at the CIO; he went back to glaring daggers at Ens. Hwan. “No, I’d say it did not. First, your wife wrests free of your hand covering her mouth, just as you apply the fatal blow: Thus her scream.
“You know they will be coming, so you go to escape! But lo – someone enters through the front! She has left it unlocked for her lover!”
He glared at Silverthorne. “Which closet will I find blood droppings, Mr. Silverthorne? Yours, or your wife’s? Or did you slip into the powder room?” He shrugged. “No matter; I will find it.
“And never fear; the clothes you changed out of in the place you secreted clean ones? They will be found. You will not have hidden it well; you are not bright enough.
“You are stuck in your hiding place,” he continued his reenactment, “You realize it is your wife’s lover out there, but you can do nothing – for the adjoining door is opening! It was opened so quickly, you must have thought it had been unlocked, too! After all, how could you have known your wife had not one, but two lovers… and perhaps more?
“And finally, after Lieutenant Long secures the room, you make your escape – out of the front door.”
Silverthorne finally broke and started wailing like a baby.
“Take him to the brig,” Summers told the SP, “the High Security cell.” SP Monroe saluted, then took Silverthorne away. “Chaplain?” Summers added, “I think your services would be most needed by Ensign Maimes; you will find him awaiting you in my office.”
The Chaplain gave a little bow, then departed.
Commander Summers shook his head sadly. “One would think we had advanced enough to keep it in our pants,” he lamented. “I guess it is one instinct that just cannot be eradicated from the human psyche!”
He turned to the others. “Hopefully, this will be a lesson to you, Ensign Hwan. Perhaps you two will have learned something as well.” He saluted them and walked out of the room.
They stood watching the door for some time, amazed at what they had just witnessed.
Finally, Stuart jumped out of her seat. She went over to Long and gave him a big kiss. “Want to escort me home, big guy?”
The Lieutenant smiled and rose.
Hwan got up as well and extended a hand. “Congrats again on the promotion, Tobias,” he told the Lieutenant, “and good luck on your new assignment.”
Long took Hwan’s hand and shook it. Then he released his girlfriend and grabbed Hwan in a hug. “You dog, you!” he whispered in Hwan’s ear. He released his friend and put an arm back around Stuart. “I’ll message you!”
“You better!” Hwan shouted as the twosome exited the suite.
Hwan looked around. The place was a mess, but he and Stuart had agreed to come back the following day to clean. He looked back at the adjoining room door, now covered with a plastic barrier, with ‘KEEP OUT – CRIME SCENE’ written in large letters at the center. He shook his head sadly and turned away.
He started for the exit. “Poor Maimes,” he commented as he left the party room.