Murder at First Sight


By James P. Hanley



"Love at First Sight — the program where a bachelor spends time with five beautiful women at locations throughout the country, and, eliminating one each episode, chooses one to be his bride. They will wed within four weeks at a beautiful ceremony set up in New York City," the lanky, beaver-toothed host, Ralph Turin, explained to the camera. "The woman selected also wins $75,000. Let's introduce our 2013 bachelor, Ryan McDermott, a successful entrepreneur from the upper east side of Manhattan. "

McDermott, a tall, handsome man, dressed in jeans and a tight-fitting shirt, smiled and said animatedly, "I'm glad to be here. I'm ready to meet my wife" — the words he was instructed to utter.

"Well, let's introduce the five ladies. First is Yolanda Alvarez, a dark-haired beauty from Argentina who is the daughter of a U.N. official." Yolanda grinned and said, "Ola." "The next woman, blonde bombshell Melinda Larson from the suburbs of Los Angeles is an accomplished equestrian." A Marilyn Monroe look-alike, Melinda grinned, displaying even and glistening teeth. "Our third lady is red-haired Becky Simpson, a sous chef in a famous New York City restaurant." Becky's striking features included freckles that dotted her cheeks and forehead. When the fourth women came strolling into the spotlight, the Bachelor's face contorted in displeased surprise. "Our next candidate for the role of Mrs. McDermott is lovely Amber Planting from Atlanta, Georgia. Amber is a short story writer and author of a collection of her best works." The show's director saw the change in McDermott's expression and asked, "What's wrong?" The Bachelor whispered frantically, "I know her," and pointed gingerly toward Amber, "We dated for a few months but she was married then. When her marriage dissolved, she told me she was glad and we could plan our future. I panicked and bolted."

"She's been introduced on our website this morning, and if we remove her now, we'll be the joke of the industry and our sponsors won't be pleased," the show's Director Phil Brennan said. "You can eliminate her in the first round." Brennan knew TV Guide picked the program as the most likely to be cancelled. If the show failed, he would find it difficult to get employment.

They missed hearing the introduction of the final woman: "Rose Kerr, a brown-haired beauty and former Miss Montana, is attending Northeast Oregon University studying Psychology because she likes people." After the introductions, Turin, the emcee, announced: "Our first destination will be the south shores of Long Island. We'll be staying at a luxurious hotel in the Hamptons, New York on the water's edge for four days. Our Bachelor will spend time with all the women then have a one-on-one date with each." As they all lined up, McDermott stood in the center, close to Rose Kerr and Becky Simpson, but when the cameras were off, he stayed with his arm around Rose, while the others looked at him confused.

The day they arrived at Long Island on a sunny afternoon, the cameras started rolling as the bachelor and his temporary harem charged fearlessly into the waves. The women wore bikinis, most of sufficient cloth to avoid the censors but brief enough to demonstrate physical attributes. As they splashed, Amber Planting caught hold of McDermott's arm.

"What are you doing here?" the bachelor hissed, maintaining a smile.

"I've missed you."

"If they find out we know each other — "

"Know," she said, "I would call it more than knowing. The Director told me he was aware; guess you told him. Just go with the flow, Ryan. Who can say what will be the result."

McDermott pulled away from her, and ran toward Rose Kerr, lifting the squealing beauty queen and tossing her into an approaching wave. Later, Ryan was asked to pick a woman for a nighttime date and again moved toward Ms. Kerr, indicating his choice by a chaste kiss. While they went to a restaurant, the others gathered in the hotel lobby and their conversation was recorded as part of the show.

"Did you see how he gravitated toward Rose?" Melinda asked, her striking mouth shaped into a frown.

"Yea," Amber said huffily.

Yolanda answered, "He could just being doing that to make us jealous, but he's still open to picking any one of us."

It was after midnight when the Bachelor and his date returned; the women, all wide awake, clustered around Rose as the cameraman headed toward his room.

"Well," Becky said.

"It was wonderful," Rose shared. "He said he enjoyed spending time with me."

"We think he's already decided on you," Melinda said, her irritation obvious.

Rose blushed; "He did mention that he had feelings for me from the first time he saw me."

The other women groaned collectively. Over the next two days, Ryan spent time with each, some on daytime excursions and others at evening dinner and activities.

On the night of the third day, after all had time with Ryan, Rose was again asked on a date. The director balked at the preference shown so early, but reluctantly agreed.

While the cameras followed the Bachelor, the other women gathered in Yolanda's room to discuss their feelings.

"Picking her first for another date seems to indicate his choice," Amber said, displaying her annoyance.

"I agree," the others chimed in unison. "It's unfair," Becky said. Only Melinda didn't respond.

"You're awfully quiet, Mel," Yolanda noted. "Don't you think so?"

Suddenly her eyes filled. "When we were alone, I asked him to be honest about Rose and he said she was, to use his term, the early favorite, but I was the next favorite, and who knows how things could change."

The women looked around the room as if shielding a common secret.

The next morning all met for a game of volleyball in which Ryan selected Rose as first for his team. When they were finished, Ryan chose Becky for an afternoon date in town while the other women stayed on the beach. Amber caught up to Rose and they were talking animatedly before both dove into the choppy waves. After about twenty minutes, Amber came out of the water, toweled off and looked toward the ocean. When Melinda came walking from the hotel toward the blanket, she asked, "What are you looking for?" Just then, Yolanda approached from further down the beach. All the women were in their bathing suits and had wet hair. "Qué pasa?" Yolanda asked.

"I went into the ocean with Rose, but I lost sight of her. Now I can't see her anywhere. Did either of you see her?"

"No," Yolanda answered, "I walked down the shoreline and dipped in to cool off but it was a good distance away."

"I went back to the hotel to wash off the sand," Melinda said.

"But you still have your bathing suit on," Amber commented.

Melinda smiled mischievously, "When Ryan comes back, I'd prefer he see me in a bathing suit, so I showered at the pool."

"Well, I'm getting worried," Amber said. The three women stared out at the ocean, until finally Melinda said, "I see her," pointing east. "Is she just floating?"

Suddenly, Amber screamed, "Get help," and she ran toward the water and dove in. The other two women watched her swim furiously toward Rose, who still hadn't moved.

"My god, she's drowning; help, help," Yolanda called out. Meanwhile, Melinda pulled her cell from her purse and dialed the show's Director, who came running from the hotel, speaking frantically into his phone.

The group charged toward the ocean's edge as Amber dragged an inert Rose onto the beach, dropped to her knees and breathed into Rose's mouth, but there was no movement in the drowned woman's chest. By the time Ryan and Becky returned, reporters and swarms of police were on the scene.

That night, McDermott and the four women gathered in a room off the lobby. All were stunned, and a few were wiping under their eyes. Their attention turned to Director Brennan. "I know how upset you all are, but I'm sure Rose would want us to continue. The news of a drowning is public information but the link to the show has not been made yet. We can't leave the area for a while, until the autopsy is completed, but the police officer said it looks pretty clear-cut. We're going to shoot additional scenes before we go to Las Vegas. I don't mean to sound callous but when the news does get out that Rose was part of the program, a lot of people will be tuning in to get a look at her and the show."

"Are you sure, you didn't push her under to improve ratings?" Melinda said angrily.

Ignoring the comment, the Director continued, "A Detective Gary Rygh will be around tomorrow to ask questions; just routine stuff."

Detective Rygh with the New York State Police was known in the department as a no-nonsense cop with a keen eye for subtleties but with an abrupt style of questioning. When he arrived, he met with Brennan to understand the background. As they were talking, Ryan McDermott interrupted with a tirade, "I'm not going on a date with that bitch!"

"Are you talking about one of your potential brides?" Rygh said facetiously.

Brennan interjected, "Amber Planting, one of the women competing for our Bachelor, once dated Ryan."

"Isn't that against the rules?" Rygh asked. When both men nodded, the Detective continued, "Wasn't Amber with the deceased when she drowned?"

"Yes," Ryan quickly responded, "and maybe she pushed her under." Backpedaling, he said, "Look, I'm not accusing anyone; I cared for Rose, she was the one at this point, and Amber is a vindictive women. You draw your own conclusions."

The furious Director said, "This was a horrible accident and don't make it into a crime."

Later, Rygh started his interviews with Amber Planting, and listened as she tearfully described how she and Rose went swimming but lost sight of each other in the choppy ocean until she saw her rival floating face down.

"Do you know where the others were when you and Rose went in the water?"

"We were all together having lunch on the beach. Yolanda finished eating first and said she was taking a walk. Melinda walked in the other direction. Rose and I went in the ocean a short time later."

"Why did you sign up for the program when you knew you would be disqualified?"

"So, he told you," she said sarcastically. "He's a bastard, but I still love him and hoped that if he could see me in contrast to these bimbos, he'd come to his senses."

"And if he preferred Rose, you might remove the competition?"

"It was an accident, remember," she said testily.

"The coroner hasn't confirmed," Rygh answered while watching her face pale.

They were shooting a scene for the program that night, so Rygh checked into the hotel a few blocks away and returning the next day, asked to meet with Melinda Larsen.

"I'm afraid she's not feeling well this morning. Maybe later," Brennan said.

Rygh then questioned Yolanda Alvarez. The Latin beauty insisted on meeting at a small table near the beach. Dressed in a brief bathing suit, she moved as if constantly posing.

"Why would a striking woman like you be part of a cheesy program like this? I imagine your parents wouldn't be too keen on you marrying that vacant pretty boy."

His question released a torrent with occasional Spanish words interwoven. "My parents," she nearly screamed, "they want me to go with them to, to Russia! Cold, frio. I won't go."

"And you couldn't stay here since your visa is linked to your father's assignment, so marrying Bozo for a while would be a solution."

"He's not a bad guy. Cute, too."

"Where were you when the body was pulled from the ocean?"

"I was walking along the beach, just getting exercise."

"And trolling for a substitute in case Don Juan picked someone else, like Rose." Before she could respond, he asked, "Did you go in the water?"

"Yes, I did." Yolanda stood up and looking around to ensure no cameras were in the area, glared at Rygh, and said, "As the daughter of a diplomat, I don't have to talk to you."

After the abrupt ending to his interview with Yolanda, Rygh looked for the Director and saw him in loud discussion with McDermott.

"You're a stiff in the shooting."

"I miss Rose."

Ryan's comment further inflamed Brennan. "Your preference early in the show was obvious, and we had to do some creative editing. As you know, the show will be on TV after you choose one of these women. We'll explain Rose's accidental death but if you don't get back into the game, we have to abandon the program, likely lose our time slot and never get back on air. You have a contract and if we have to cancel because of you, we'll sue."

Rygh approached them and they stopped their argument. "I'd like to talk to Melinda Larsen now."

The Director turned to him, and in an apologetic gesture, conveyed her unavailability. "She left to get ready for the next date. The car service drove her to Manhattan."

"I guess she's feeling better," the irritated detective said. "Make sure she's available in the morning."

"You can talk to Becky now."

"Maybe later. She's got an alibi; she was with Mr. Catch-of-the-Day."

Ryan McDermott frowned at the comment.

Rygh arrived early the next day at the hotel. Brennan had the same sheepish look from the day before. "Melinda's not feeling well."

"But she was out last night."

"I know. It came on suddenly. Can you come back later?"

"What choice do I have?" Huffing off, Rygh walked along the beach and called home to his wife, Dee, a former police officer. He explained his frustration setting up an interview with Melinda Larsen. "She's sick two mornings in a row, and is fine later."

After a pause, Dee said, "She's sick in the morning; does that tell you something?"

"Pregnant," he said loudly and the few people on the beach smiled at him, as if he was just notified of pending fatherhood. He walked back and issued an ultimatum to the startled Director, "I want to talk to her right now; I don't care if she's not feeling well."

"Ok; turns out she's feeling better."

Rygh noticed Melinda looked pale and the makeup had done little to erase the sickly expression on her face.

Rygh directed her toward a metal table and chairs, and asked bluntly, "Are you pregnant?" Melinda's pallor disappeared under the blush of embarrassment.

"How did you know?" she asked, tears forming in the corner of her eyes.

Ignoring the question, Rygh asked, "Why would you sign up for this program to get married when you're carrying someone else's child?"

"My parents are religious people and would be very upset if I was unmarried. Abortion is unforgiveable."

"They might cut you off if they knew?" When Melinda didn't answer, he added, "I can give them a call and ask how they would react if their daughter was knocked up."

"All right," she answered, "I would be disowned, lose my allowance and my portion of the will. But I wouldn't kill for it."

Rygh smiled sardonically, "If you got married quickly, Ryan wouldn't figure it out. If he did, you could file for divorce, not lose your allowance and hire nursemaids to take care of the child. You'd probably be in greater favor with the doting grandparents. That's why this show appealed to you since the wedding is in a month."

"Yes, I was glad to hear that was the arrangement. Director Brennan told me that other matchmaking program connected two people who eventually break up before the marriage. Viewers want a happy ending, a wedding. This is the only program that guarantees a wedding. He didn't care if the winners divorce later."

"But Rose could upset all your plans if she was Ryan's pick."

"I don't know why he would want that mousy woman," she said angrily.

"Where did you go after leaving the others?"

"I went for a walk then used the outdoor shower at the pool." When she was out of earshot, Rygh called his wife. "You were right; she's pregnant. So I have three contestants with reasons to kill Rose."

"At least you have two people who are eliminated: the Bachelor and his date weren't there when the drowning occurred," Dee offered.

"I should be getting the coroner's report shortly and if it was an accidental drowning, I can wrap up and head home. The coroner's number is showing up now on my cell."

"What was it?" Rygh asked the medical examiner.

"She did drown but she also had an allergic reaction to shellfish which caused partial closure of her airway. She likely panicked and swallowed water. In her stomach contents there were traces of crab meat. Whatever she ate, it wasn't much."

"Most people know they have a reaction to shellfish. Seems odd she would eat crab and go swimming as well." Rygh thought about a comment that Amber had made about lunch before they split up. After the conversation with the coroner, he walked back toward the hotel and saw three of the women sitting at a wire table, sipping from tall glasses. Melinda, Yolanda and Amber were not pleased to see him.

"I have a question of all of you. Did Rose ever mention an allergy to shellfish?"

Melinda smirked. "Ad nauseam. she went into the hotel restaurant kitchen repeatedly and reminded them not to give her any shellfish."

"Where did you get the lunch from?"

"Becky made it. We told her we were going to get some sun while she was on her date with Ryan," Yolanda said. "She's a chef and offered to make sandwiches for all of us based on what we preferred. Said she could use the hotel kitchen and the sandwiches would be delicious. They were."

Melinda and Amber nodded in agreement.

"Did Rose finish her meal?"

"No, she had about two bites; she was watching her figure, I guess," Amber said, "but she seemed anxious right after. I asked if she was ok, and she said yes, just needed to cool off, so we went into the water."

Rygh called his Captain who joked, "I thought you'd be done by now. Not trying to stretch the time on the beach with beautiful women, are you?"

Brushing aside the jest, Rygh said, "May not be an accident. Something has come up in the autopsy that adds another suspect."

The Captain responded, "Need anything from me?"

"Could you check the background of all four women?"

Becky and Ryan didn't get back from their date until late in the evening but Detective Rygh was waiting in the lobby.

"Can't we talk in the morning?" Becky asked, and smiling at Ryan, said, "We had an exhausting day."

"No, I can't wait. This is a murder investigation."

"Murder?" Ryan said as if horrified.

Rygh asked Becky while McDermott slowly backed away, "Did you make the sandwiches for Rose and the others?"

"Yes, and labeled each based on their request."

"Did Rose say to avoid shellfish when she requested her sandwich ingredients?"

"Yes, of course. Are you suggesting I put crab meat in her food? She would notice."

"Not if in a small amount, overpowered by other ingredients like onions."

"I wasn't the only person with access to those sandwiches. Yolanda picked up the food I'd packed in dry ice and stored in a cooler. Anyone of the girls could have added to the sandwiches."

The following morning, Rygh sought out the Director and told him they couldn't leave. Brennan balked but said they needed more time anyway to reshoot some scenes. By early afternoon, Rygh heard back from the Captain.

"Melinda Larsen, as she said, comes from a very wealthy family who are major contributors to the Catholic Church. We confirmed that Yolanda Alvarez's parents are due for assignment to Russia. Amber Planting lied about her occupation — sort of. She's had some stories published in magazines that pay you in copies, and her self-published collection sold one hundred copies, all to Amber. She's a waitress in a steak house. Lastly, Becky Simpson was a sous-chef. Her boss got wind of the fact she was looking to start her own restaurant, had even located a spot and started construction to revamp the space. She put a lot of money down, her credit cards are maxed out and she could lose everything unless she comes up with more cash."

"Becky Simpson denied adding shellfish to Rose's sandwich but she mentioned crab meat, and she should know there are other types such as shrimp and lobster as well."

"So what's next?"

"Check out the kitchen to see if I can determine where the crab meat came from."

Walking to the hotel, he saw the women huddled around the bachelor. The Chef was busy in the kitchen, grunting impatiently at the pace of food preparation. He was a rotund man in his late forties wearing stiff laundered white cotton pants and shirt with small spots of gravy stains at the sleeves' edges. Rygh approached him and got a stare that conveyed annoyance at the interruption.

"Do you have crab meat in the refrigerator?"

"Yes, there is a can on a shelf. I would never use that crap, only fresh crab when it's on the menu."

"Did you give the can to anyone?"

"I didn't give to anyone, but someone used it. I saw it was opened when I looked in the refrigerator that day."

"What day was that?"

"The day that woman drowned."

"Could you check with the others to see if anyone else on your staff used it?"

After brief, whispered conversations with his staff during which he often turned toward Rygh with an expression of displeasure as if he'd been asked to cook road kill, the Chef returned and said, "No one. It was left on a counter and one of my men put it away."

"I'll need to take that can of crab meat."

"Fine, I would have thrown it out but forgot."

Rygh got on the phone to the Captain and asked that he have a Suffolk County police officer pick up the can of crab meat, now in a plastic bag, and bring it to the local lab for fingerprints. So confident of the outcome he decided on a bluff. Walking outside, he saw that the women were going in different direction. He called to Becky Simpson. At first, she ignored him but when Rygh raised his voice and everyone in the vicinity turned, she stopped.

"What is it, Detective?"

"The can of crab meat is in for analysis. With the results and a court order, I'll be taking everyone's fingerprints. I'm certain yours will be on the can. You missed an important aspect of your scheme: get rid of the evidence."

Becky's face, despite the developing tan, went white. Sensing she was about to faint, Rygh grabbed her arm and led her to a nearby chair. She said in a shaking voice, "I didn't mean for her to die. I put in enough crab to make her sick and have to leave. I didn't know she would go swimming right after. I tried to talk her out of it."

"Did you do it for the money?"

"At first. But I developed feelings for Ryan and figured if we married, he'd help me financially. He said I was his next choice, but I found out he told every girl that."

Handcuffing Becky, Rygh arranged for a county cop take her into custody. Afterwards, he called his wife, Dee. "The case is solved."

"That's great news. I'll make something special. How about crab?"

Rygh's shout: "Noooo," could be heard in the next county.


James P. Hanley has had articles published in professional journals but has concentrated more on fiction in recent years. His stories have been accepted by mystery magazines such as Crimespree, Futures, Detective Mystery Stories, Savage Kick and others, as well as in mainstream/literary periodicals: MacGuffin, South Dakota Review, Concho River Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Center, Fresh Boiled Peanuts, and Westerns: Western Online. His first novel, THE CALLING, will be published in November 2014 by 5 Prince Publishing.

Three of the author's short stories were previously published on the omdb! website — "The Murder of a Fund Manager" in September, 2012, "The Tuna Mystery" in March, 2012 and "End Times" in October, 2011.


Copyright © 2014 James P. Hanley. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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