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         THE EYES HAVE IT

 

                                    By K. R. W. Treanor

 

"Both eyes?" exclaimed Geneva Bradford.

"Both eyes, clean as a whistle, shot out with a small caliber hand gun," said Hal Carmody.  "When Jack and I found him he looked peculiar, but it took a second for the fact to register that both his eyes were gone.  I can't make any sense out of it."

"Maybe there isn't any sense to be found.  Some things are just plain old evil." Geneva poured a cup of coffee for the tall State Police trooper and removed a Burmese kitten from his shoulder.  "You don't have to put up with my pesky kittens just because I'm Anthea's mother, you know."

"No, no, I like them. " Hal removed another kitten which was climbing paw-over-paw up his trousers and handed it to Geneva.  He'd have put up with a lot worse than an infestation of kittens to get on the right side of Mrs. Bradford.

"So she isn't home, then?" Hal asked very casually.

"No.  I'm not sure where she is.  You could always put out an APB on her car if you really want to track her down," Geneva said with a laugh, then took pity on the long-faced young man.  "Look, Hal, Anthea is first and foremost dedicated to getting her degree, and probably a Master's after that.  I think you have to be grateful for the times you can get together and not fret about the rest.  You've got a career too, and you don't want to put that in jeopardy mooning over Anthea."

"I know.  It's just that she can find order in a pile of rubbish, and I was really counting on talking to her today.  My fault for not calling first."  He sipped the coffee and looked disappointed.

"Well, tell me about whatever it is.  I've helped solve a few mysteries in my day, you know," offered Geneva, who had in fact been central to the solution of several mysterious deaths in the little town of Byford.

"I'm not supposed to let out information to the public."

"I'm not the public, and I promise not to tell anyone else.  But suit yourself." Geneva started to get up, but Hal stopped her.

"No, no, please.  I'd like your opinion.  It's just so weird.  And I know it's not what it looks like."

"Alright, after that sort of a teaser, you have to tell.  Come on, give!" Geneva topped up both cups of coffee and looked expectant.

"OK.  We have a shooting that everyone figures is a mob hit or contract killing.  The victim looks like a businessman; nice suit, clean hands.  He was dumped on a dark stretch of Route 495, which is why the State Police were called in..   He was shot through both eyes and that's the odd thing.   One eye I could take as either very good luck or excellent aim.  But both eyes, that was purposeful.  The Boss says it was obvious the shooter wanted to be sure the guy is dead, 'so he gives him two shots to the head and they both just happen to go through the eyes', as he put it."

"But you're not satisfied with that explanation," said Geneva.

"No.  The usual coup-de-grace shot is in the temple or the back of the neck, depending on how the guy falls.  This just doesn't strike me as that sort of thing.  However, it's not up to me to sort it out, and the Captain will have my guts for a slingshot if he finds out I'm wasting time.  I'm supposed to find out who the guy is.  Sooner or later someone will report him missing, but by then a lot of leads may have grown cold."

"OK, so the only thing that stands out about this case so far is that the man was shot: in both eyes.  You need to focus on why, I think."

"How can I focus on 'why' when I don't even know 'who'? "Hal asked.

"Well, let's consider the possible reasons for shooting someone in the eyes."

"I thought maybe it was to injure the face, to prevent recognition, but the damage really isn't that bad.  If we had a grieving widow, she'd be able to identify him well enough."  Hal stared into his coffee as if willing it to disgorge a name or a motive.

"OK, so that's out.  What other reasons could you have for shooting out someone's eyes?" Geneva persisted.

"I don't know.  That's why I wanted to talk to Anthea, she's awfully clever about puzzles."

"And where do you think she got that talent?" asked Geneva  sharply.  "It's just a case of identifying the possibilities.  For instance, among certain societies there's a belief that the last thing people see before death is imprinted on their pupils.  You could be chasing a killer who comes from a superstition-ridden background.  He's afraid the police will see his picture in the dead man's eyes, so he shoots them out."

"Somehow I can't fit a superstitious person together with a crack shot.   The first shot went through the right eye and killed him, according to Doc Stevens.  That took some serious skill, because the victim was alive at the start.  The second shot perhaps anyone could have done, because the victim was no longer a moving target.  But that first one would have needed an expert."

Geneva also consulted the coffee oracle.  After staring into the dark liquid for a long minute she said  "I wonder if that's true?  Suppose the first shot just happened to go through the right eye?  Having done so, it gives the killer the idea to shoot out the other eye, to mislead the police.  Maybe the killer remembered something he read about, oh, say, Croatian assassination customs, where the killer always shoots out the eyes.  So he does it with an eye to putting the police on the wrong track, you should pardon the pun."

Hal considered this for a moment.  "It's pretty far-fetched.  It would do for a Tom Clancy book, but real life isn't often like that.  But that's interesting about the Croatians, I didn't know that."

"Hal, I made it up.  Never mind, back to square one: why would you want to destroy someone's eyes?"

"Hatred?  Maybe he saw something you can't forgive him for, like nude pictures of grandma.  So you shoot out the eyes as punishment," said Hal.  "I can't believe I said that."

"That's what brain-storming is all about, throwing out a whole bunch of ideas, no matter how bizarre.  Let's pick up that thread and see where it leads."  Geneva tapped her teeth with a pencil, then absentmindedly put it in her mouth and bit down on it. 

Hal watched with some alarm as she methodically reduced it to splinters before she spoke again.

"Perhaps it is not the eyes as symbolic of anything.  Perhaps it’s just what it seems: he destroyed the eyes to destroy the eyes.  Now, what could be the motive for that?  What do you use your eyes for, other than seeing?" Brushing flakes of pencil paint and cedar shards from her jersey, Geneva got up and paced the floor of the large farmhouse kitchen.

"Eyes…eyes.  Hang on, there was something in the Sunday papers…wait…."Geneva disappeared into the laundry room and rummaged in the recycling box.  "Aha!"

Coming back to the table, she put a slightly crumpled and coffee-stained newspaper feature section down.  " 'With the Veri-view system, a small camera near the doorway can recognize details of each person's iris, regardless of contact lenses or eye glasses,' " she read  " 'The presence of a pulse is also established, making it impossible for anyone to deceive the Veri-view scanner by using a photograph…the system can monitor up to 250 doors at once, and completely does away with the old PIN or password security systems, which have often proven to be anything but secure.'  There's more, but that's the gist of it."

"How does that help us?" asked Hal

"It shows you one use for eyes that isn't the obvious one.  Eyes as identification, see?  Sorry, I seem to be slipping into bad vision puns all over the place.  But that could be a reason for shooting out eyes, because they're in an eye scanner data bank somewhere."

"But so what?  You read that these systems are so good because they take the pulse into account also, so people can't fox the scanner with a photograph.  They'd have to have the live eyes, and shooting them out can't possibly help the killer, whatever the plot might be."

"I disagree.  Not having the live eyes might be the point of it all."

"Eh?  Drag that one past me again, I'm completely in the dark now.  Damn, it must be contagious," said Hal.

"Well, you said it was only a matter of time before the dead man is reported missing.  Whoever killed him has to know that in a day or three the victim will be identified.  If he wanted to stop that ever happening, he'd have hidden the body permanently.  He didn't, either because he couldn't, or because it didn't matter if the man was identified eventually."

Hal said "I don't see how you make that leap of logic."

"It's probably not logic. Call it a hunch.  He, the killer, is buying time by delaying the identification of the victim.  After a certain time, probably fairly soon, it won't matter.  And it's all tied up with the eyes.  What I'd do, Hal, is ring Veri-view and see if you can get in to see some senior person right now.  Find out what companies use their system.  Ask if there have been any odd things happening at any of their clients' premises recently, glitches in the system of some sort.  I'd concentrate on places that have something worth stealing, like banks and jewelers, but that really is a way-out hunch.  Take a photo of the dead man with you, just in case you need it."

"Mrs. Bradford, I don't know how you get these ideas.  I'd never have thought of any of that, and I'm sure my Captain wouldn't have either.  I'm off duty now, so I guess I can follow your hunches and not get into too much trouble.  I hope."

"What have you got to lose?"

Geneva stood watching the tall young trooper walk down the driveway.  He got into his car, then got out again and deposited a large brown cat on the ground well clear of the car, waved to Geneva and left.

"Toby, hitching rides again" Geneva said to herself.  The patriarch of the Elm Hill Cattery was a source of constant worry over his habits of going for rides, often uninvited.

"Moo-raow" said Toby, sauntering up to the porch and rubbing his jaw on Geneva's boot-tops.

"I don't believe a word of it." She said, catching him up and draping him across her shoulders like a living stole.  "Come on, Toby, we've got work to do."

In her den, she thought about what Hal had said, that real life wasn't like a Tom Clancy book.  Unfortunately it was, all too often.  The WTC disaster showed that whatever imagination could dream up, reality could trump in spades.  She had no doubt that the solution to Hal's case would be as bizarre as anything any writer could have thought up and she was in a position to know.  Under a pseudonym, she wrote blood-curdling thrillers about biological warfare, featuring epidemiologist Tom Janssen.  The mind that invented plots and sub-plots for these books found no problem throwing up theories for Hal Carmody's peculiar homicide.  Which of course didn't mean that anything she had suggested was even remotely like the truth. 

Toby snored away in the wire basket labeled "Place to keep stuff until you decide to throw it out," a gift from Anthea, whose orderly nature was affronted by her mother's disorderly desk.  Geneva considered what she could do to help Hal's investigation. 

Almost with out conscious thought, she clicked her way to the Veri-view website.  As expected, there was a place for potential customers to get information, with links to a page called "Satisfied Clients".  There were a number of companies with names like Acme and Zenith who expressed themselves delighted with Veri-view security systems.  Geneva ignored those.  What she needed was information about companies that used Veri-view who had something of value on their premises.  None of those seemed to be listed, probably because if you had something worth taking, you didn't want prospective thieves to know anything about your security system, even its name.

Reaching for the telephone, she rang Cambridge and got a sleepy-sounding voice at the other end.

"Peter, wake up, it's your mother." She exclaimed. "I need to know how I'd find out about a company's clients."

"I suppose there is no point in telling you I didn't get to bed until nearly 6 this morning and that I'm half-dead," mumbled Peter, the academic one of Geneva's twin sons.

"Absolutely no point at all," said Geneva briskly.  If people only rang Peter when he had gotten eight hours' sleep, he'd get precious few calls.  It was hardly Geneva's fault if her son had chosen to devote his life to one of the more obscure branches of mathematics, which required him to put in endless hours in the dead of night with the big mainframe computer.

"All right, what do you want to know and when do you want to know it?  And am I likely to end up in jail if I get you this information?"

"I don't think so," she said. "You could in fact be helping to prevent a crime."

"Great, that's what I need, a really good excuse for the arresting officer.  OK, shoot." Peter took down the information Geneva had and listened to her theories.  He didn't seem much impressed by them. 

"Anyway, regardless of what you think, I'm convinced the answer to the murder lies in the Veri-view system.  Anything you can dig up might be useful," Geneva said. 

"They may already have identified the dead man," Peter suggested.  "Lots of companies have their employees' fingerprints on record with the FBI or the police these days, in case of kidnapping or hijacking or other horrors of modern life."

"Well, they hadn't as of two hours ago.  Thanks, Peter.  You'll call me as soon as you have anything?"  Geneva asked.  She didn't waste time on effusive thanks; she'd take Peter out for a feed of pancakes as payment one day

Reluctantly, Geneva turned to her own work,  editing the current thriller.  This was always the hardest part of writing.  By the third revision, Geneva usually came to hate her hero and all his works.  It usually took about six months before she could look at the published book without gagging. 

Her reward for virtuous application to duty was to have Peter call back quite soon with the information she wanted.  The Veri-view system, he said, was widely used on the West Coast, but was just beginning to get a foothold in the Boston area.   He had managed to get a list of clients, but that was all.  After hanging up, Geneva looked at her hastily scribbled notes.  There was no way to guess what Sunshine Industries might make or sell or process.  Maxwell Medical Hardware, on the other hand, was pretty self-explanatory.

Geneva sat back and thought for a moment.  Certain assumptions had to be made.  One was that the dead man was local.   It was highly unlikely that someone had brought him in from New York or Montpelier.  Another assumption: he'd probably be reported missing fairly soon.  Even if he didn't have a wife or mother, he had to have an employer, a friend, or a landlord.

If her theory about his murder was correct, some company with a Veri-view system was about to discover they had a problem, probably before the end of the next working day.

Looking over her list, Geneva chose a company at random: Hillview Enterprises.  Ringing the phone number she found in the white pages, she got through to the Human Resources manager.

"It's Ann Ford from the Customer Service division of Veri-view.  I'm just making a follow-up call to see how your system is working, and if you have any comments I should pass on to our technical division." She announced to the man who answered the phone.

"It's pretty good, in fact, it's an excellent system.  I have one suggestion, there should be a way to have an inactive 'proxy', if I could put it that way, someone you can have as a back-up for the system." He said, after introducing himself as George Hardin.

"Would you give me a bit of detail about that, Mr. Hardin?" Geneva asked, striving to keep the slight touch of British accent in her voice that she knew was very effective in convincing people you were legitimate.

"Well, about a week ago we couldn't get into our laboratory because two of our registered eyes were away and the one on site had come down with a bad allergy and had to use some greasy goo in his eyes.   The Veri-view scanner refused to recognise Harry's iris pattern and we had to call in someone from the night shift.  You can imagine how happy she was about that, having just gone to bed.  You might not think it's very important, but when American's third-largest hemorrhoid cream manufacturer can't get into its own lab, people are inconvenienced.  As we say here, 'Your pain in the ass is our business'  "

Mr. Hardin said this so seriously that Geneva had to bite her knuckle to stop the laughter that threatened to explode.  After she regained control, she asked "So why not just have a few more people registered?"

"We'd prefer to keep the number of people with access limited.  You wouldn't believe the lengths to which industrial spies will go to steal trade secrets.  But if we had a couple of "pinch hitters" who could be activated for a limited time by two other registered people, say by means of a pin number and code, then we wouldn't have had the problem we had last week..  Of course, the other solution would be to adjust your gadgets so they aren't bothered by eye ointments."

"Well, Mr. Hardin, that's just the sort of information Veri-view needs to keep on giving you better service.  Thank you very much for your time."  Geneva hung up.  She was now more than ever convinced that the mystery of the dead man's eyes would turn out to involve an iris scanner identification system. 

Say the dead man was a 'registered eye' for a company.  If you had killed him, why would you be bothered to damage his eyes?  Would it be to cover up something?  If so, what?

Geneva put on a Bach CD to provide mental wallpaper while she considered the problem again.  Presumably these iris scanner systems had a memory, so that you could see whose eye pattern had been used to gain access to the safe or door or whatever at any given time.  Destroying the eye would not erase the record of who had been in and out of the secure area.

What about looking at things from the other side?  Geneva kicked herself for another lousy pun and sat down to consider this angle.  What about the problem Mr. Hardin had mentioned, the difficulty they had getting into their laboratory when several of their "registered eyes" were away?  Could the dead man have been killed just because he was the means for someone to gain access to something?  Was his death intended to ensure that some safe or laboratory could not be entered?  Would someone take a life for no better reason than that? 

Geneva snorted to herself.  What a stupid question to ask in a world where pensioners were regularly mugged for ten dollars or less.  If there were a prize worth millions or even thousands, someone would think it enough to kill for.

Finding Hal's cell phone number, she rang and waited impatiently.  The message bank eventually picked up and she said "It's a solid chance that the dead man works for some company which at this moment is unable to open its Veri-view protected safe or other secure room.  I'm pretty sure that the dead man was killed to prevent his gaining access to the place where something valuable used to be..  I'd be looking for a company that has very few "registered eyes", and where one or more of those is away from work for a few days.  I'll bet you a box of canolis that the murderer has stolen something and hopes to get well clear before the theft is discovered."

That was about all she could do for the moment.  She tried to forget all about the mystery by attacking several long-postponed housekeeping tasks. 

Hours later, when Geneva was stretched exhausted on the couch with a well-earned glass of Laphroaig there was a tap at the back door.  Hal entered, bearing a large white box.  "Don't get up, I'll bring these in to you," he called through to the family room.

"I take it you've cracked the case?" asked Geneva, looking at six cream-oozing canolis.

"Thanks to you.  Just before the meeting with the man at Veri-view I checked my message bank.  Your suggestion was the prod I needed for the assistant managing director.  He emailed all the companies who use the Veri-view system, giving them the description of the dead man and asking if they had anyone missing, and if they were able to operate their Veri-view systems at that time.  Two companies rang up within a few minutes of getting the message, and one of them was Monaco Diamond Dealers."

Geneva selected a canoli and nudged the box towards Hal.  "Go on," she mumbled around a mouthful of boiled cream.

"The diamond dealer has only four people registered for their Veri-view scanner.  Any one of them can open the Veri-view protected safe.   Last week their vice-president was admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery, and is out of the picture, you might say.  The senior buyer is in Amsterdam, so only two people were available who could open the safe where all the stock is kept."

Hal stopped long enough to devour half a canoli before going on.

"As soon as the email from Visi-view arrived, the Monaco proprietor rang to say that both their retail sales supervisor and their designer were away from work.  Momsen, the designer, had rung in saying he had dreadful gastric troubles from some spoiled shellfish, and nothing had been heard from the sales supervisor at all.  No one at Monaco was able to open the safe and they had grave concerns.  They've sent an urgent message to their man in Amsterdam to come home.  The description of the dead man sounded like their sales supervisor, Bob Gillet."

"And so you galloped over to the designer's home address and arrested him with a shaving kit full of diamonds, just about to make a run for the Bahamas! " exclaimed Geneva.

"No, I galloped over to his apartment building in time to see his dead body being carried out by the ambulance guys.  The building supervisor went into his apartment to check why a neighbour had reported hearing the sink run for hours non-stop.  The man fractured his skull in his bathroom, apparently he slipped and cracked it on the toilet pedestal.  Those statistics about most accidents happening in the home are just as true for murderers as they are for the rest of us."  Hal said, adding, "You were right about the shaving kit.  He had taken his electric toothbrush apart, hidden three million dollars of first-grade diamonds inside the charging unit, and plastic-bonded it all back together.  If we hadn't been looking for something like that, we'd never have suspected."

"All good diamonds are x-rayed and registered these days, aren't they?" asked Geneva.  "How did he expect to get away with it?"

"That's why it was so important to prevent Gillet from being identified too soon.  Momsen must have planned to go where he could sell the diamonds before they were listed as stolen, probably New York.  It all hinged on no-one being able to get into the safe to discover the stones were missing before he was able to turn them over somewhere.  With the vice-president in hospital and the head buyer in Amsterdam, all Momsen had to do was keep Gillet out of action and he was safe.   Tying him up and hiding him was too chancy, so Momsen killed him.  Also, if Gillet was found murdered, we might assume a criminal accomplice did it, and be misdirected on a wild goose chase."

"So the shooting through the eyes was really nothing to do with the case?"

"No, the reason for the murder was simply to keep Bob Gillet from going to work and opening the safe.  The double eye stuff, that was just a macabre touch, perhaps meant to send us off  looking for voodoo or vendettas or something.  I think your theory about the first shot accidentally going through the eye and giving the killer the idea to shoot the other one was probably correct." 

"Drat, and I had just about come up with another theory that would explain everything," said Geneva, deciding she had burned enough calories to justify eating another canoli. 

"Never mind.  You saw the light in the end," said Hal, barely making it to the safety of the kitchen as the hurled canoli flew after him. 

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