25

Heading back into the beach house through the back door, we hear a lady screaming her head off.

Judith.

“Severance pay? Are you insane, Michael?”

“She worked for Dad for six months …”

“Christine gets nothing,” says David. “Zip. Nada.”

“She humiliated my sister in open court …”

Ceepak clears his throat. Loudly.

We’re cops. We don’t get to eavesdrop without announcing our presence.

“Excuse us,” he says when we step into the room where the Rosen family stands arguing around their late father’s empty hospital bed.

Judith beams us her singing nun smile again, squeezes her chubby pink thighs together to squelch her rage.

“We have arranged alternate housing for Ms. Lemonopolous,” Ceepak announces.

“Thank you,” gushes Michael. “I was a little worried. Does she need money? Because I could lend her …”

“Oh no, Michael,” says Judith, sweeter than corn syrup. “You don’t need to do that. It’s a kind and generous offer, but Dad paid Miss Christine a very substantial salary. I’m sure she’ll be fine without the family’s continued assistance.” Judith, who really shouldn’t wear miniskirts, locks her focus on Ceepak. “Do you officers need something else? We have so many preparations to attend to. Our rabbi, Dr. Bronstein, is on his way over to help us make the necessary arrangements.”

“Yes, ma’am,” says Ceepak. “Where is Dr. Rosen’s body?”

“Excuse me?”

“Which funeral home will you be using?”

“Grossman amp; Mehringer. Why?”

“The county medical examiner, at our request, is going to perform a post mortem toxicology screening.”

“What?” this from Michael. “An autopsy?”

Guess he produces cop shows out in Hollywood.

“You’re joking right?”

“No, sir. We want to eliminate even the slightest possibility that your father was poisoned.”

“Poisoned?” says Judith, her smile slipping dangerously close to a sneer. “Dad was ninety-four years old. He passed away in his sleep. Please, officers, allow him to die with a modicum of dignity.”

“Besides,” says David, “doesn’t this ‘county medical examiner’ have more important duties to attend to? It’s Saturday. They’ll get time and a half. That’s why Dad’s property taxes are so high.”

Michael stays mum.

“What if we don’t approve of this autopsy?” says Judith. “Surely, as his family, we have a say in this matter.”

“Actually,” says Ceepak, “in the state of New Jersey the medical examiner autopsy, unlike a hospital autopsy, does not require permission from the next of kin. It is done under statutory authority. Also, it will not delay your funeral arrangements as …”

There is a knock at the front door.

“That’s probably Rabbi Bronstein,” says David. “I’ll let him in.”

David practically runs to the front door. Judith blinks and smiles some more.

“Hello, Rabbi,” David says out in the entryway. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“Of course, David. How are you holding up?”

“Okay. I mean we expected this, but … still …”

David leads Dr. Bronstein into the dining room.

“He was your father,” says the rabbi, a gentle-looking man in a dark suit and yarmulke. “Your grief is understandable. But grief is an ancient and universal power that helps us humans mend our broken hearts. Hello, Judith. Michael. My condolences on your loss.”

“Thank you, Rabbi,” says Judith, brushing at her blonde hair. “I wonder if you could help us with an unfortunate situation …”

She gestures toward Ceepak and me.

We’re her unfortunate situation.

“Hello, Rabbi Bronstein,” says Ceepak.

“John. Always good to see you.”

“These police officers want to do an autopsy,” says Judith, jutting out her plus-size hip and resting a hand on it.

“Is this true, John?”

“Yes, sir. We’d like to eliminate any doubt as to the cause of Dr. Rosen’s death. However, to do so, we will need access to his corpse.”

“Of course. Have you alerted the morticians at Grossman amp; Mehringer? They may have already begun their embalming procedures.”

“Rabbi?” Judith sounds, well, mortified.

The Rabbi shrugs. “What Detective Ceepak and the police are asking is reasonable, Judith. And I, of course, harbor no religious objection to the procedure. Go, John. Do this thing.”

“Thank you, Rabbi.”

“Shalom. Might I call you later?”

“Of course. Do you still have my cell number?”

“Yes.” Bronstein taps his suit coat pocket. “It’s in my phone. From February.”

“I look forward to talking to you.” Ceepak turns to face the Rosen family. “Again our condolences on your loss. And rest assured, the medical examiner will treat your father’s remains with the utmost respect and dignity.”

I take that as our cue to hurry out the front door.

So we do.

When we’re in my Jeep, I ask Ceepak, “So where to?”

“My mother’s. I want to ask her for the full details of her conversation with Dr. Rosen.”

I crank the ignition and we take off. I have one of those swirling gumball-machine lights in my glove compartment that I could slap on the hood of my Jeep (it plugs into the cigarette lighter) but I figure running over to see Ceepak’s mom isn’t really a lights-and-sirens type event.

“So,” I say, “what happened back in February?”

“Some local skinheads spray-painted swastikas on the front doors of B’nai Jeshurun.”

“And you cracked the case?”

“Roger that. One of the boys left his full handprint on a can of black spray paint he had tossed into the bushes not far from the temple doors. I ran it through the system. Made a match.”

“How come I never heard about this?”

“We opened and closed the case in under twelve hours. I believe you had the night off.”

“But I never saw the swastikas.”

“The two boys-who, by the way, confessed immediately, when I noted the incriminating black paint caked under their fingernails-agreed to scrub the doors clean before I escorted them over to the Ocean County Juvenile Detention Center.”

Of course they did. Ceepak can be very convincing.

While I drive, Ceepak works his phone. He keeps all his conversations on speakerphone so I can stay up to speed.

The morticians at Grossman amp; Mehringer are instructed not to touch Dr. Rosen’s body and to expect Dr. Kurth’s imminent arrival. The Funeral Home agrees to cooperate and “help in any way possible.” They’ve worked with Dr. Kurth before.

The next call goes to Dr. Kurth. She’ll make her examination, take her fluid samples, and get the body back to the funeral home “before sundown.”

She promises us results ASAP.

“Not that we’re going to find anything except what he ate for breakfast.”

Ceepak thanks Dr. Kurth.

Five minutes later, we pull up to the Oceanaire condo complex’s guard shack.

“Hey, Detective Ceepak,” says the young guy with the clipboard on guard duty. “Here to see your mom?”

“Roger that. And, Bruce?”

“Sir?”

“Be extra vigilant. As anticipated, my father has returned to Sea Haven.”

“Don’t worry, sir.” He taps a sheet of paper taped to the top of his small desk. “We have the protocol and procedures right here. We are ready to rock and roll.”

“Excellent. Keep up the good work.”

“You got it, man.”

The gate rises.

“That’s Bruce Southworth,” says Ceepak as we cruise into the condo complex. “He has the potential to be a fine law-enforcement officer some day.”

“Good to know.”

Ceepak’s phone chirrups. It’s his standard ringtone, not one of the ones I programmed in for him.

He jabs the speakerphone button.

“Hello?”

“John?”

“Rabbi Bronstein.”

“Yes. Might I speak freely?”

“Certainly, sir. I’m here with my partner, detective Boyle.”

Wow, that’s right. This, for the time being, anyway, is a murder investigation. That means I’m a detective again.

“The young man who was with you at the house?”

“That’s right.”

“Then he should hear what I am about to say, too.”

“What’s wrong, rabbi?”

“I didn’t want to mention this in front of his children but, late last night, just after midnight, Arnold Rosen called me.”

“And?”

“He told me he was ‘surrounded by assassins.’ This autopsy you’re doing? I feel it could prove a wise and prudent move.”

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