SCENT OF MURDER


By Richard Ciciarelli



Charles Blake winced and began waving a hand in front of his face.

"What are you wearing?" he asked his grandson.

Charles Blake III smiled. "It's after shave. Like it?"

"I'd like it more if you only used half of the bottle. And you don't even shave."

"But my girlfriend likes it, Gramps."

"Believe me, she'd like it more if you only used a few drops, not a whole handful." Blake paused a moment and then said, "Did I ever tell you about the murder case I worked on that involved a perfume maker?"

"No, Gramps. Tell me." Charles Blake III sat on the sofa next to his grandfather.

Blake the elder pinched his nose, shook his head and began.

* * *

It was 1972, only a month or two after your father was born. I was working a lot of overtime to help pay the hospital bills, so I was really tired when the Captain called me into his office.

"Got a murder I want you to take the lead on," he told me. "Ever hear of a guy named Lanny Block?"

I shook my head.

"I'm not surprised. Neither did I. Turns out he was pretty famous among his peers, though."

"Who are his peers?"

"People in the perfume business. From what I've been told, Block was one of the country's top perfume chemists. He had a very sensitive nose and the ability to combine oils and scents in a way very few people can."

"And he lived here?"

"Yep. Worked for Kalway Kemicals on the outskirts of town. I guess he came up with a couple of top selling perfumes in the past f ew years."

"Was he killed at the company?"

"No. His housekeeper found him dead in his apartment. His head was beaten in with some kind of award he won for his perfumes. A heavy glass thing. No fingerprints on it."

"Naturally," I said. "Any suspects?"

"A few. It seems Block was quite the ladies' man, a love-'em-and-leave-'em type. Had a couple of ex girlfriends who might have had the reputed fury of a woman scorned."

"So chercez la femme, huh?"

"Maybe. Block wasn't very well liked by his co-workers. One of them might have wanted him to take a long, permanent sleep."

"So where do I start?"

"How about the scene of the crime? Here's the address. Our forensics crew is finished, so you can walk in and see if there are any leads there."

* * *

Lanny Block's apartment was in a pricey building in the center of the city. Everything about this place reeked of money. It even had a doorman, something we didn't see much in a small town like ours, especially in those days.

I took an elevator up to the fourth floor and flashed my badge to the officer who was guarding the door to Block's place.

Everything in the apartment was white or black: white carpeting and drapes, white walls, black sofa and recliner, dark stained tables and work desk, black vinyl swivel chair at the desk.

A dull red stain on the carpet indicated where Block had fallen after being struck. I knew the murder weapon had been taken to headquarters by the forensics team, so I was surprised to see a heavy, glass beaker-shaped object sitting at one end of a mantle.

A black base beneath the beaker was engraved HURT 1970. On the opposite end of the mantle was a similar black base engraved USE 1971. No beaker sat on this base. I scribbled a note into my notepad and continued my inspection of the room.

On the work desk were a mess of papers and several books. Some of the papers were lists of flowers: lilac, rose, lavender; some were different kinds of oils, and some were scents like chocolate, vanilla and musk.

Other papers contained drawings with chemical symbols. I didn't know anything about perfumes, but I guessed they were possible formulas.

The books were all chemistry books of one kind or another. Obviously this is where Block worked on creating his scents.

On an end table near the black sofa sat another book — this one a biography of Coco Chanel. If you don't know who she was, she came up with one of the most famous perfumes in the world.

Next to that were two slim books. One was a book of word searches and the other a collection of crossword puzzles. I flipped through the pages and saw all the searches and crosswords were done in ink.

Block's bed was made, telling me he had been killed before he had a chance to go to bed, and his kitchen was pristine. Nothing was in his refrigerator but several glass pitchers filled with water.

I spent an hour or so wandering around Block's apartment looking at the paintings on the walls — all abstracts — the books in his bookcase — all chemistry books or books on flowers or oils — and the plants — all real and well-tended to.

I didn't get anything from all that, so I headed back to the station. The forensics report was waiting for me on my desk. Those guys worked fast.

There were photographs of Block lying on the floor, face down, taken from several angles. There were also close-ups of his head wounds. Block had been struck once above his left eye and several times on the back of the head.

There were also several pictures of a glass beaker — the twin to the one I saw on the mantle in Block's apartment. This one had blood smears on one area along the bottom.

So whoever killed Block probably didn't go to his apartment with murder in mind. There must have been an argument and Block's visitor grabbed the closest object to attack Block with.

I checked the description of the beaker. It was solid glass and weighed almost four pounds. No wonder Block's skull broke and the award didn't.

Maybe Block's visitor hadn't planned on killing him, but the fact that the beaker had been wiped clean of prints showed that whoever did this didn't lose his head afterwards.

In the manila evidence envelope I also found a little black book. In it were several notes like "chocolate and strawberry?" and "raspberry and mint?"

On the last page of the book were two women's names — Ruth Kennedy and Susan Whales — along with addresses and phone numbers.

I copied them into my notebook, planning to look those ladies up as soon as possible.

I called it quits for the day and headed home. As usual, I told your grandmother about the case I was working on.

"Hmmph," she said. "You're doing this the hard way."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if this were my case, the first thing I'd have done was ask the doorman at Block's building if anyone visited there the night of the murder."

I slapped myself on the forehead with the palm of my hand. "Why didn't I think of that?"

* * *

The next morning I was back at Block's apartment building.

"What time was Mr. Block killed?" the doorman asked me after I told him why I was there.

"According to our Medical Examiner, some time between six and eight Tuesday evening."

"Well, that explains it. I take my dinner break at six. I don't come back on duty until seven. During that time there's no one here watching the door."

"Where do you take this break?"

"There's a room at the back of the building. It has a hot plate and small refrigerator and a sink. All the comforts of home."

"So for an hour anyone could have come in here and left again unseen."

The doorman nodded.

So much for that lead. I headed over to Kalway Kemicals to check out Block's place of business. A secretary there pointed me toward an office door with CARL SMATHERS, SUPERVISOR painted on it in gold letters.

"Lanny was our best chemist," Smathers told me. "One of the best in the world, in fact."

"So I understand. He won several awards, didn't he?"

"Yes. He won a Beaker in 1970 for his perfume HURT and another one the next year for USE. The Beaker is awarded by the American Scent Association for the best selling perfume each year."

"Mr. Block was killed with one of those awards — the one he won in 1971."

"Really?" Smathers' eyebrows went up. "Those things are really heavy. I remember when I presented them to him."

"You gave him the awards?"

"Yes. The Association sends them to the company, and management makes the presentation. I did it at parties my wife and I arranged. Emma enjoys planning events like that, and she's very good at it."

"What was Block like as an employee?"

"He was a hard worker and, as I said, very talented. The problem is, he knew how good he was."

"Meaning?"

"After he won the Beaker for USE he dropped some not-so-subtle hints that he wanted a lot more money or he'd take his talents to one of our competitors."

"What did you say to that?"

"Not much. We had him under contract for another two years. The higher-ups told me not to make any offers until six months before the contract expired, so I did what I was told."

"May I see where Block worked?"

"Sure. I don't know if it will do you much good, though. He did most of his real thinking at home. Here in the lab he combined the scents he concocted there."

Smathers led me out of his office and down a hallway to a door marked LAB. There a worker in white was measuring various liquids in test tubes.

"This is Dom Carlson," Smathers said. "He worked alongside Lanny. He can answer any questions you have. I really should get back to my office."

Smathers left and I walked over to Carlson.

"What can you tell me about Lanny Block?" I asked.

"Not much." Carlson kept measuring. "He was pretty secretive about his scents. He did say that MAME was going to win him another Beaker, though."

"MAME?"

"That's what he was going to call his latest perfume."

"Did he name it after that Broadway musical?"

Carlson shrugged. "Who knows? I'll tell you this, though: One day I came to work a little late and found Block looking at my notes. A week or so later he tells Smathers he's got an idea for a great new scent."

"You think he stole your idea?"

"Stole? I'm not sure that's the right word, but I'm sure he got an idea from some of my notes. And he'd have turned it into big bucks, too."

"Did you socialize with Mr. Block?"

"Never. Well, I shouldn't say never. We were at Smathers' parties together, but that's about it."

I took out my notebook. "Then you wouldn't know Ruth Kennedy or Susan Whales?"

Carlson looked up from his work.

"Those names sound familiar. Oh, yeah. Now I remember. They were Lanny's girlfriends. I met them at Smathers' parties. Pretty girls, too. He dumped the Kennedy broad for Whales. He never stayed with one woman very long."

"Is he still seeing Ms. Whales?"

Carlson shrugged again. "Couldn't tell you. It was about a year ago, though, so I doubt it."

Carlson couldn't tell me much more, so I thanked him and left. I figured it was about time I talked to Block's two lady friends.

* * *

"I'm glad the jerk's dead," Ruth Kennedy told me. "He said I was his inspiration, the idea for his greatest perfume. Then, the day after his boss gave him that award, he told me we were through. Jerk!"

Kennedy was a gorgeous blonde with a figure a movie starlet would envy. I couldn't imagine why Block would break up with her.

"Did he give you a reason for the breakup?"

"He just said he didn't need me any more. He got what he wanted. His newest perfume won an award and I wouldn't be able to inspire him like that again."

"That was it?"

"That was it. Do me a favor. When you catch whoever killed him, thank him for me."

I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was finished talking about Block, so I left and went to a bar where Susan Whales worked.

"Yeh, Lanny came in here a year or so ago," she told me. "We got to talking and he asked me out. We dated pretty steady for the next year."

"Then what?"

"Well, he kept telling me my red hair and green eyes were inspiring him. He had an idea for a perfume the whole world would love. I guess he was right because he won some award for it. I even went to the party where the award was presented."

"Let me guess," I said. "The next day he broke up with you."

Ms. Whales' eyes widened. "Yeh. How'd you know? He told me it was fun but I didn't inspire him any more. He gave me a bottle of perfume and said goodbye. It wasn't even the stuff he won the award for."

"How'd you feel about that?"

"How do you think? I threw it at him."

"Do you know if he had a new girlfriend?"

"Not for sure, but knowing him, he probably did."

* * *

Back at headquarters I plopped myself into my chair and started typing up my notes. Remember, those were the days before personal computers. We did everything on typewriters.

I was so tired from all the overtime I'd been putting in my fingers weren't hitting the right keys and I had more typos than usual. The Captain likes all reports to be neat, so with every mistake I had to yank out the paper and start over.

After the fifth sheet of paper found itself wadded up and tossed into the wastebasket, I was about ready to call it quits for the day. Then a thought occurred to me.

I took all the crumpled papers and smoothed them out on my desk. I looked at the typing mistakes I had made. On one sheet I had typed Lammy instead of Lanny. On another, instead of Whales I had typed Wales. The other errors were similar, but they all gave me an idea and I went to the Captain with it.

The next day we sat in an interrogation room with Carl Smathers.

"Mr. Smathers," the Captain said, "you were familiar with Lanny Block's penchant for courting women and then tossing them aside?"

"Sure. Everyone at Kalway was."

"And you knew his two lady friends, Ruth Kennedy and Susan Whales?"

"I met them. I wouldn't say I actually knew them."

"But you knew he was seeing Ruth Kennedy until after his perfume HURT won an award. And he dated Ms. Whales until after he won another award for USE."

"Yes."

"Did you ever ask him where he got the names for those perfumes?"

"No. That wasn't important to me."

"Oh, but it was. Explain it to him, Detective Blake."

"It took some typing errors for me to figure it out," I said, "but I finally remembered seeing word search and crossword puzzle books in Lanny Block's apartment."

"So?"

"So Block enjoyed word games as much as he enjoyed his job and his women. In fact, that's how he came up with the names of his perfumes. He anagrammed the names of the women he was involved with. Ruth became HURT and Sue became USE."

Smathers saw what I was driving at and lost some color in his face.

"Now, Dom Carlson told me Block's latest perfume was going to be called MAME. And you said your wife's name was Emma, didn't you?"

Carlson's head drooped and he stared at the floor.

"You found out that the womanizing Block was having an affair with your wife, didn't you? You got wise when you discovered what he planned to call his new perfume.

"So you went to his apartment to confront him. Things got out of hand and you killed him."

* * *

Charles Blake sat back on the sofa and stretched his arms.

"Smathers broke down after that and confessed. We charged him with manslaughter since his actions weren't premeditated." After a pause he said, "I hope your using a gallon of after shave wasn't premeditated either."

"Gee, Gramps, does it smell that bad?"

"Not bad, Charlie. Just overpowering. Always remember, when it comes to cologne, less is more."

"You know, Gramps, that can almost be anagrammed into 'some or else.'"

"Almost, Charlie. Almost."


Richard Ciciarelli first introduced omdb! readers to Charles Blake III in "A Private Murder" followed by Ghost of a Chance.

Mr. Ciciarelli is a member of Mystery Writers of America and since 1982 has seen over 70 short stories published in some of the country's top magazines and on-line mystery sites.


Copyright 2011 Richard Ciciarelli. 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!


Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.