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The Madame Karitska Files

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Lieutenant Pruden had arranged for a young police officer named Amy to play the part of the animal shelter worker that morning. She had worn her own clothes, simple jeans and a shirt, and was fitted with a ‘wire’ so that other officers could hear her interaction with the man coming to see “his” dog.

“Remember,” Pruden reminded her, after she’d studied the picture of Henry Billings. “When you confirm that the man is the same as the one in the picture, use the words ‘blue shirt.’ If it’s not the same man, tell him that you need to process his paperwork and to come back the next day.”

“No problem, Lieutenant,” assured the officer.

It was a trying wait for Billings to come for the dog. It was a warm day, and they could not run the air conditioner in the van due to some interference problem with the recording equipment.

After about ninety minutes, about five men who might have been right had come and gone, with none of them asking about the big white fluffy dog. A sixth had just entered the building.

“Marty,” they heard Amy pretend to call back to another worker. “Have you seen my blue shirt?”

Suddenly the shelter was swarming with officers.

“Henry Billings, I believe. You look just like your picture,” Pruden said, holding up the now-worn picture next to the face of the human version. Billings was quickly cuffed and taken back to the police precinct.

At the precinct, Lieutenant Pruden called Madame Karitska to tell her the good news. She asked if she might come by to see the man, and he agreed.

Madame Karitska walked over and took the hand of Billings, dropping it after only a moment. “I believe you’ll find that Billings is not his real name. But he was Beth’s real father.”

“He was?” Pruden said, surprised “Then where is Beth?”

There was silence for a moment. Then Madame Karitska said, “She’s dead, isn’t she.”

“Billings” stared at his feet and said nothing.

“Why?” she asked, simply. “It was about the painting, wasn’t it?”

The suspect said, “She didn’t even know what she had.” Pruden had one of his men take the criminal away.

The next day Lieutenant Pruden came by Madame Karitska’s apartment, where Laurie sat sipping a cup of Turkish coffee. Madame Karitska immediately got her other friend his own cup of the potent brew, and they sat quietly for a moment.

“I still don’t understand why,” Laurie said, breaking the silence. “If he was really her father, why did he kill her?”

“It took a while, but eventually he confessed everything,” Pruden said. “Guilt, maybe, over killing his own child.” He sighed.

“It’s still not clear how he found Beth, but she was certainly eager to accept him as her father. He talked her into taking him to her apartment. Once there, he started asking her about money and inheritance from her mother. When she mentioned how little there was, except for the painting, he realized that Beth had no idea that her mother had bought a priceless painting and thought it was junk. It’s a commonly heard tale, but it actually is an uncommon occurence.” Pruden took another sip of his coffee.

“‘Billings’ -- whose real name turned out to be Harold Brady, with a long record of simple thefts -- was involved in the dog theft and re-selling ring. Unfortunately, he also has a drug problem. After he stole the Samoyed, he used the money from the resale on drugs. His bosses were not happy and wanted repayment. He was originally going to try to wheedle the money out of his daughter, but when he saw the painting he realized he had to have it.

“The sad part is, he claims he didn’t mean to kill Beth. He just hit her too hard and she hit her head again as she fell. There was no blood, so he called some of his criminal pals and they took the body away and dumped it somewhere. He won’t say where. Yet.”

Pruden stopped. Laurie had tears running down her face. It didn’t take any psychic ability to see that he was feeling awful for upsetting her.

“Well,” said Madame Karitska. “Even in the face of death, there is often happiness around the corner. I think the visitors due here any moment should help with that.”

“What do you mean?” asked Laurie just as there was a knock on the door.

Madame Karitska opened it to reveal a woman, and a beaming young boy who was holding the leash of a very large, white, fluffy dog.

“Sit, Buster!” said the boy, and the dog obediently sat, with a big doggie grin on his face.

“Madame Karitska, we had to come and thank you so much for helping to find Buster,” said the woman.

“I am happy he is back safe and home, Mrs. Anderson,” she told the young mother, and introduced her other two guests. “Lieutenant Prudent was especially helpful in finding Buster. It was he who got the right people to keep an eye out for Buster’s microchip.”

“Thank you all,” said Mrs. Anderson. “I won’t stay long, but I wanted to bring this,” she said, handing Madame Karitska a fifty dollar bill. “My husband just got a new job at his old salary, so things are looking better for us. We’re already planning on putting up a bigger fence around Buster’s run.”

“That is wonderful news,” said Madame Karitska. “Billy, you and Buster must take care of each other, yes?”

“Yes, ma’am”, the boy replied excitedly, and the trio left happily.

The three in the house sat back down to their coffee.

“So in a way, Brimmer was right about who killed Beth,” reflected Pruden thoughtfully. “And in a way he was very wrong. I wonder what Ellery Queen would have thought?”

“That we may never know, Lieutenant,” said Madame Karitska, with a smile.