Dominic Roo and the Missing Shipwreck (chapter seven)

(Jump to: Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six)

Chapter Seven


Dom continued his story, watching Fred’s face. “Mr. Cain flew here from Detroit on a Tuesday morning. Very early on a very gloomy morning, when it was unlikely he would be observed.  He took on fuel — to suggest a reason for stopping here, I suppose — and then started his airplane and taxied toward the runway, passing several rows of hangars as he did so.  It so happened that as he moved in this direction, you — in your own airplane — were taxing away from this very hangar, leaving the door open.”

Walt consulted the notes he had made on the back of an envelope while Roo was talking.

“All right, Dom, you make an interesting case, but parts of it seem needlessly intricate.  By your theory, Fred took an airplane out and brought it back, impersonating Mr. Cain.  Why?  Why would Cain not do it all himself, with no need for impersonation?”

Roo shook his head and said, “Well, you see, the reappearance of a deceased pilot or his demolished airplane at any time after they have perished would be unusual.  People might talk, you know, whether of ghosts or insurance fraud, and word might get to the authorities.  Fred’s airplane, on the other hand, could be seen that morning with no risk to the plan.”

“All right, then, why not scrap Cain’s airplane, instead of Fred’s?”

“For several reasons.  First, from an evidentiary point of view, you’re right — Fred assumed it would make no difference.  He did not recognize the surviving distinctiveness of Mr. Cain’s airplane or did not expect it to be detected.  Unluckily for Fred, Judy Cain is probably the only person in the world who would have recognized it.  Second, Mr. Cain’s airplane was in a better state of repair.  According to Fred’s plan, only one of the airplanes could survive.  Why not the better one?”

Walt protested, “But all the effort to strip the paint…”

“That had to be done in any case.  It’s easy to disfigure an expensive and distinctive paint job, such as Mr. Cain’s, and this had to be done whether his airplane was to be scrapped or repainted.  The discovery of Cain’s airplane in any scrap yard would prove the fraud, so it had to be disfigured.”

Walt nodded and grunted assent.

“Third, Fred’s wings really did have corrosion, providing an easy answer to the question of why they were scrapped.  The discovery of a perfectly good component buried in the woods — when said component might just as easily have been sold at a considerable profit — would also raise questions.”

“Fourth, I think Fred felt safer with this solution to his problem.  Once he got his trick past the painter, he thought he was in the clear.  After he replaced the data plate, Cain’s airplane had the right serial number.  Legally, this airplane really became Fred’s old airplane.  So, the painter saw no problem.  A mechanic might have noticed that the serial number of some component didn’t match a number in the logbooks, but that was unlikely, and the records could also be lost or changed if he thought that necessary.” 

Walt shook his head, raised his hand to his chin and thought hard.  “Wait!” he shouted, raising his hand.  “When Fred got back, he had to break up his own airplane, right?” 

Dom nodded, and Walt continued with excitement. “But Cain’s airplane was in his…” Walt’s mouth remained open but his face suddenly fell.  “OK, don’t tell me.  That’s why you asked if there was an open hangar nearby.”

Dom nodded.  “Yes, they needed it to hide Cain’s airplane while they sawed Fred’s apart.  It wouldn’t take long.”

“Why not leave Cain’s airplane in Fred’s hangar?”

Dom pointed toward an electric motor bolted to the back of the hangar.  “Didn’t you notice the winch?  Hardly need that to park a little 172.  That’s how they got a fuselage on a trailer inside a closed hangar.”

Walt nodded, subdued.  “Then they threw a tarp over the trailer and just hauled it away.”

“Well,” Dom corrected, “Fred hauled it away after the cooperative Mr. Cain climbed into the trunk.”

Walt shuddered.  “You have a devious mind, Dom.  I’m glad you’re on our side…  Say, you are on our side, aren’t you?”

Dom smiled and said, “Well, I think we’ve explained the crime, and if Fred had not invited Judy for an airplane ride, he might have gotten away with it.  Now, for a broader view.  Clearly, Fred has done terrible things.  Probably, he was offered money to assist in Cain’s disappearance.  Presumably, he murdered Benjamin Cain and committed fraud.  Very likely, he attempted to shoot my friend and I.  But I would also point out that Fred is an ineffective — I would even say accidental — criminal.  He’s clever but careless. He failed to get rid of evidence.  He failed to distance himself from Judy Cain.  We don’t know if he profited at all and I think his primary motive for this whole sad business was to free Judy Cain from Ben Cain.  For that, at least, we can feel some sympathy.”

“Yes, what about the woman?  Was she in on it?”

“No.  Her shock at recognizing the airplane is conclusive and would be difficult to simulate.  Though she attracted plenty of male attention that morning, only one person even noticed her reaction.  Well, two counting Fred, and he also took it as genuine.  That alone is probably enough to exonerate her.  And despite her suave manner, I believe her to be a curiously simple soul.  She received money as a result of her husband’s death but refused to spend it.  She suspects that something out of the way occurred but knows enough of her husband’s cruelty to let sleeping dogs lie.  She does not volunteer information, but she is truthful when she speaks.”

“No, I take her to be innocent, though in one way she did set this whole disaster in motion.  She has the kind of face that launched a thousand ships.  In this case, it sank one.”

*   *   *

Tuesday Night

“Hello?  Miss Sayers?  It’s Dominic Roo.”

He could hear nothing for a few seconds, then a long breath, and then,  “Yes, Mr. Roo.”

“It’s over.  Fred has confessed to murdering your husband and has made it clear that you were not involved.”

Again, a pause.  “Miss Sayers?”

Her voice came back pinched and higher.  “Yes, I’m sorry.  I heard you.  I don’t know what to say.”

“The police will contact you very soon.  Listen, Miss Sayers.  This will be unpleasant, and they may ask you uncomfortable questions, but I think they realize you are innocent.  You do not need to be afraid.”

“Would you…  Would you come, if they allow it?”

“Yes, of course.  They may want me there in any case, but I will certainly come if you wish.”

“Oh, please do.  I need to know someone believes me.

* — *

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