Shirley and Katherine entered the exhibition hall and made their way to the large portrait frame. The body of Mr. Masters lay on the ground, having been taken down so Parvath could perform his examination. Parvath currently stood in front of the frame with Hercules and Aimi on either side of him. On Aimi’s other side stood two other women, who must have been the suspects Aimi found.
One wore a solid blue suit with a walkie-talkie and a set of keys hanging from her hip. Her demeanor was one of irritation and anger, and it showed on her face and the grip of her hands on her folded arms. From all of these factors, Shirley deduced that this was the guard, Gema Martinez, that Shirley heard of from both Katherine and Aimi.
This meant that the shorter young woman was Marney Oak. The protégé of Mr. Masters wore bright clothing that was a size too big, with the sleeves rolled up to show her strong arms forged from hard work. She wore a belt that held tools useful for woodwork and wore similar colored sandals. Unlike Gema, her demeanor appeared to Shirley to be more mournful; Marney’s head was lowered, occasionally looking up to make glances towards Mr. Masters. Her eyes held a deep sadness, as if Marney was looking at a deceased relative instead of a teacher. Katherine left Shirley’s side to stand near Marney and provide some comfort.
All eyes turned to Shirley, who cleared her throat to begin.
“Mr. Masters was murdered yesterday in this very room we are standing in, and he was framed in his own creation. Thankfully for this case, we are not grasping at straws to figure out who the possible suspects may be, since all three of you,” Shirley paused a moment to gesture to Katherine, Marney, and Gema, “saw him alive at the end of yesterday. According to Katherine, she left the building while Mr. Masters was still breathing, and based on how she reacted upon seeing me and my friends enter today, I firmly believe she is telling the truth, which would mean that she’s innocent.”
Shirley turned to face Gema and Marney directly. “One of you two murdered your teacher, and I think the one responsible for it is the one with an extra set of keys and a scowl on her face – isn’t that right, Gema Martinez?”
The already quiet room became deafeningly quiet. Marney turned sharply to face Gema, tears prickling in her eyes. “Gema, is it true? You murdered Mr. Masters?”
Gema gave a spiteful laugh. “Of course not. This wannabe detective just likes to sound like she knows everything. Do you have any shred of proof I did it?”
“Of course I do,” Shirley said with a smug smile she tried to hide with a cough into her fist. “We can begin with the body.”
“According to Parvath’s examination, Mr. Masters died from blunt force trauma to the back of the head. Hercules found that one of the mannequins in this room, the plumber, had his monkey wrench facing backward. It seems to me that the culprit grabbed the wrench and bludgeoned Mr. Masters from the back of the head. None of us found any blood, so I believe the wrench being put backward was an error on the culprit’s part.”
“Hercules was able to find some nuts and bolts on the ground in front of the painting, and upon entering here for the first time, I noticed that the picture frame was very crooked. I admittedly did not pay intense attention to the frames the last time I was here, but logically speaking, I can guess that the culprit lowered the frame so they could properly nail up Mr. Masters. It’s possible that they misplaced them and, instead of taking time to search, hastily hung up the portrait again with whatever they had left.”
“Speaking of nails, Hercules and I found separate labels of a box of nails both here at the crime scene and at the gallery’s workshop. And while I’m talking about the workshop, Katherine and I noticed that it was already unlocked when we got there; the only people that have keys to this place are Katherine herself, and you, Miss Martinez. And speaking of keys, you’d have access to the camera systems, which were not functional at all for the past 24-hour period.”
“If you want me to put the nail in the coffin,” Shirley said before making a motion with her hand to Aimi, who left the room quickly. “In the workshop, I discovered a set of wood pieces that looked like they had been destroyed in a rage. Katherine told me that only students of artists are allowed to work here. So, I dare you, Gema Martinez, to explain who else could match the initials of G.M. on those pieces of wood!?”
There was noticeable tension in the room. Parvath and Hercules were smiling proudly at their friend, Katherine was in visible disbelief, and Gema was moving her mouth like a fish, trying to articulate a response.
“Mr. Masters said his last student was always rash and impatient, resulting in many easy mistakes,” Marney spoke up, her voice shaking. “He was talking about you, wasn’t he Gema? You probably took his constructive criticism the wrong way and killed him for it.”
“Took the words right out of my mouth,” Shirley spoke as Aimi returned, much slower this time, with some of her fellow police force. They cuffed Gema, who had a hard-to-read expression as she was led away.
Hercules approached Marney. “Are you going to be alright, Miss Oak?” Marney shook her head, wiping a tear that was forming.
“No, I’d be a liar if I said otherwise. Mr. Masters took me in and helped me many times throughout my life. He was like a father to me. I'm sad that he’s gone, but I am happy that you four were able to avenge him.” She stopped to wipe another tear off her cheek. “Mr. Masters told me that he wanted the passion for creating to ripple outwards from teachers like him to everyone in the world, and I want to keep his dream living onwards by continuing to make art.”
Marney gave a warm smile and a bow. “Thank you all for your help. I would like to give you something as thanks.” She reached into her pocket and procured a red lighter with a lion engraved on it. “I found this in the workshop the other day, but you deserve something to show that you are always brave in the face of problems such as murderers,” she said before handing it over to Shirley and bidding the group goodbye, leaving with Katherine.
“Another case, another lighter, huh?” Hercules asked. Shirley frowned a moment before speaking.
“Another case, another colored lighter with a design on it. I pray this is only a coincidence and nothing more.”
Unfortunately for Shirley, her prayer for a coincidence would not be answered.
Galería de los Muertos – Case Closed