Columbo: Case of the Drowned Dame (FWE Friday Writing Essential LFCD)

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on July 27, 2012 0 Comments

 She dangles the bra in his face.  “How dare you sleep with that tramp!  I’m going to divorce you and take you for every cent you’ve got!” 

His face flushes red.  “No you won’t!  You’re just drunk!  You always talk trash when you’re drunk!”

“Ha!  Just watch me!” she says.  She drops the bra at his feet and turns to leave.   

He grabs a block of ice out of a cooler containing bottles of beer and wine and smacks her over the head with it.  She falls on the deck like a puppet with its strings cut.  He throws the ice overboard.  It melts within minutes after hitting the water.   

Dolf Skittlebottom–a balding, graying real estate tycoon and a major stockholder of the Miss Girl-Next-Door Pageant–stares down at the young, shapely, bikini-clad redhead sprawled on his yaught’s deck.  Just moments earlier, Dolly Shinglebaum-Skittlebottom, his current trophy wife, discovered her girlfriend’s bra in his sock drawer.  Busted!   

Dolf squats next to her and checks her pulse.  She’s still alive.  He picks her up and carries her to the cabin and plops her on the bed.  He paces, he sweats, he paces some more.  He holds his chin with his left hand and looks at her lying there, face up on the bed.  He sees the pillow; he looks out the porthole and sees the lifeboat.  It all comes together in his mind: the perfect crime–the perfect murder.   

He picks up the pillow and smothers her with it.  Even though she’s unconscious, her animal instincts make her squirm under the weight of the pillow and his flexed triceps.  “Die, you b****!” 

For once she does what he tells her to do.  Her body relaxes, her breathing stops.  More importantly, to him, anyway, her lips are finally sealed shut! 

He scoops her into his arms and carries her to the lifeboat, drops her in.  He climbs in and launches it.  He rows it toward the harbor, which is about a quarter of a mile away.  It’s around noon, but the fog on the ocean is thick and covers his movements.   When the lifeboat is about half way to shore, he capsizes it, then swims back to his yacht.  When he gets aboard, he towels himself dry, trades his wet t-shirt and shorts for a dry set.  He then grabs his cell off the lounge chair and dials 911.

“Hello, I’m calling to report an accident…”   

*                            *                       *

The following day Dolf is in his downtown office building.  His feet are planted on his desk as he leans back in his chair.  He buzzes his secretary.  “Mary, hold all calls and don’t let anyone in my office.”

“Yes, sir,” comes the reply through the intercom. 

Like a good poker hand he holds an eight-by-ten glossy of a gorgeous young brunette close to his vest.  Leering at it he says, “Yes, my dear, I think you’ll make an excellent Miss Girl-Next-Door.”

“Excuse me.  Sorry to interrupt–“

Startled, Dolf shoves the glossy into his desk droor. “Who are you?!” He sees a man in a tattered trench coat, with black curls that carpet his head–and black eyes too close together.  One of those eyes appears to be glass.  “How did you get in here?!”  He buzzes his secretary.  “Mary, I thought I told you–“

“She’s not there, sir.  I think she stepped out to the lady’s room.  My secretary does that every chance she gets.  My wife’s the same way.  You know, just the other day she–“

“Never mind your wife!  Who are you!  Sorry.  Who are you and what can I do for you?  Have a seat.”  Dolf nods his head toward the chair in front of the desk. 

“I prefer to stand.  I’m Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective, and I wanna ask you a few questions…that is…if you don’t mind.”

“Questions about what?  My wife’s accident?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But I thought the police concluded their investigation.”

“Sir, I’ll only take a moment of your time.  There are a few loose ends that need to be tied up.”

“What loose ends?  I already told you people everything I know.  My wife and I had an argument.  She was drunk and decided to leave.  I offered to take her to shore but she insisted on going alone, so in her drunken stupor she took the lifeboat, it capsized and she drowned before I could save her.” 

“Yes, I read the report but there’s something that bothers me–“

“What could possibly be bothering you, Lieutenant?”

“Well…it’s like this, sir.  By the way, do you mind if I smoke?”

“No, Lieutenant, go right ahead.  You were saying?” 

Columbo lights a cigar, waves it around and squints his eyes.  “As I was saying, sir, I took the liberty of searching your yaught and found a pillow with lipstick stains on it.”

A bead of sweat trickles down Dolf’s cheek.  “So?” 

“Would you know anything about it, sir?”

“No, Lieutenant.  I know nothing about that.” 

“I see.  I just think it’s odd that a pillow would have lipstick stains on it, and I’m surprised you don’t know anything about it.” 

“Lieutenant, I’m a very busy man.  Can you please get to the point?!” 

“Sure, sure.  The point is, sir, I asked myself, how did the lipstick get there?  You know we detectives are always asking crazy questions like that.”

“Well that’s easy, Lieutenant.  My wife probably smeared the pillow with her lipstick when she and I were–you know– in the bedroom having–you know–“

Columbo holds up his hands.  “Say no more, sir.  I get the picture.  But here’s what really bothers me.”  He reaches in his trenchcoat and whips out a black notebook, puts his cigar in his mouth, and thumbs through the notebook.  “Ah…here we are. According to my notes, there’s one lipstick stain that’s a perfect print of your wife’s lips.  It’s as if she kissed the pillow.  Now why would she do a thing like that?”

“Well you’re the detective!  You tell me!”

Columbo puts away the notebook, takes his cigar in hand and waves it around.  “Here’s what I figure: If she were smothered with the pillow, she would probably struggle, and there would be smeared lipstick stains, and when she finally laid still, a perfect print of her lips would be made.”

Dolf lets loose some nervous laughter.  “Lieutenant, surely you’ve read too many mystery novels!  My wife was often drunk.  On a previous occasion she probably just passed out and fell face-down on the pillow, making a perfect impression of her lips.” 

Columbo places his cigar hand against his forehead and rubs his forehead with his thumb.  “Hmmmm…I never thought of that, sir.  I suppose that could have happened–“

“Of course it happened!  Surely you don’t suspect that I smothered my wife with a pillow, do you?” 

Columbo holds up his hands and shakes his head.  “Oh no, sir–and, even if I did, it’s circumstantial evidence.  Your wife could have fallen face-down on the pillow just like you said.  Anyway, I wanna thank you for clearing that up for me.  That whole pillow thing has been bothering me since this morning.”

“You’re entirely welcome, Lieutenant.   I’m glad I could help.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work.” 

“Sure thing.  I know you’re a busy man with the beauty pageant and all.  You know, my wife entered a contest–“

“Lieutenant, please!”  

Colombo zips his lips shut with a thumb and a forefinger.  He bows, holds his hand up, turns and heads for the exit.  Suddenly he lifts his cigar hand to his forehead and turns back toward Dolf: “Ahhhh…just one more thing–“

“What is it now, Lieutenant!”   

“This will only take a moment, sir.”

“That’s what you said an hour ago!”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I just want to clarify something.  There were no witnesses who saw your wife drown other than you, correct?”

“Yes!  For the umpteenth time, yes!”

“So even if you murdered your wife, it’s your word against a dead woman’s.”

“Look, Columbo!  If you think I murdered my wife, why don’t you just come out with it!  Frankly, I’m getting tired of this dance you’re doing!”

“Alright, sir.  I think…no…I know that you murdered your wife.” 

“Well even if I did, you can’t prove it!  There’s no witnesses!  It’s my word against a dead woman’s, remember?!”

“As I said, sir.  I know you murdered your wife…and here’s how I know.”  He whips out his notebook and thumbs through it.  “Just bear with me, sir.  Ah…here we are.  The autopsy report says there was no water in her lungs. If she had drowned, there would be water in her lungs.”

Dolf turns white.  “No water in her lungs?”

“That’s right, sir.  No water in her lungs.”  Columbo puts his notebook away.  “That means she died before she hit the water.   Now, you and I both know that a dead woman is incapable of rowing a boat.  Somebody killed her.  In fact, she had a contusion on her head that suggests that somebody struck her, but maybe that wasn’t enough to kill her, so somebody smothered her with the pillow.  That somebody was you!”  Columbo crushes his cigar in the ashtray on Dolf’s desk.  “You told the police there were no other witnesses.  That means you were the only one who could have killed her.  You figured it would be just your word against a dead woman.  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  There are no witnesses to testify against you, but that is the very thing that’s gonna convict you.”

Dolf is now a statue with his mouth agape.

Columbo leans out the office door.  “Sergeant, please take Mr. Skittlebottom into custody.” 

 

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