After a brief rest, I donned a walking dress and a comfortable pair of boots and set out for the town jail, where I used the Commodore’s name to see his nephew. When I arrived, Jason was sitting on a cot in a small cell. A single bare bulb provided what little light there was.
“What do you want from me?” the young man asked after I introduced myself. He was in his late twenties, lean and without obvious muscle definition, smooth-shaven, and handsome in a boyish way. His hair was slicked back and held in place with some kind of pomade. I supposed that the combination of his looks and his uncle’s stature persuaded rich old ladies to entrust him with their money. Why Farley Patterson or Colt Schneider would do so was a mystery.
“Did you defraud Mr. Patterson and others?”
He looked at me. “That’s awfully direct, Miss, ah, Jameson is it? And it’s such a tricky issue. Fraud. You see, the legal standards are somewhat vague. My fiduciary responsibility goes only so far, and then…well, I’m not certain you’d understand it.”
I rolled my eyes. “I might suggest that your charms wear thin quite rapidly when you assume the opposite sex consists of stupid people. I would be delighted to hear a preview of your defense at your upcoming civil trial, but I am in something of a hurry, so I merely ask again: did you defraud your clients?”
“Oh, fine. Yes, I moved some money that was technically not mine. But I borrowed it. I was going to return it if I had had enough time.”
“Mmm. The jury will no doubt enjoy that defense. And Mr. Patterson was the one who first discovered your ‘borrowing’?”
“That’s right. He confronted me in my office one day last week, waving some pieces of paper with numbers on them, claiming he had proof I had stolen from him. I pleaded with him to give me a little time to replace the money – with interest. He said he’d think about it, but he must have gone directly to the other investors. After Patterson died, one of them must have called the police.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. Did you kill Mr. Patterson?”
“No! I keep telling people that, and no one will believe me.”
“You must admit, you had a good motive for murder.”
“Why would I kill him?”
“To keep him from going to the police about the fraud?”
Jason Billings shook his head. “Just the opposite, really. If I killed him, even if he hadn’t told the other investors what I’d done, the police would have looked for a motive and eventually latched on to his relationship with my firm. They would have hired someone to audit the books, at which point I’d have been found out anyway. I had every incentive to keep him alive.”
“Perhaps. On the other hand, if you asked him to give you time and he refused, you may have decided to take your chances and kill him anyway, hoping that the police would find another suspect before auditing you and your firm, because waiting meant you would be ruined. Another possibility is that you killed him in a fit of anger after you discovered he had alerted the police to your crimes. Your uncle tells me the body showed evidence of significant rage on the part of the killer.”
He ran a hand through his hair, flattening it on his head still more. “I’ll tell you once more: I. Didn’t. Kill. Him.” Jason emphasized each word by banging his palm on the cot.
The surprising thing was: I believed him. Unlike my question about the fraud, which he tried to deflect with lawyerly language and his lady-killer charm, he was adamant that he did not kill Patterson. His body language and his direct response gave him some credibility with me. He was a disgusting toad of a man, but not a murderer. Tom Billings would be happy to know I concurred with his assessment of his nephew.
However, that left me with the problem of trying to find the real killer. My next stop was to see Colt Schneider, the investor, to hear what he had to say about the fraud. Again, a word from the Commodore was all it took to get him to agree to see me.