by Andy Betz
No one likes a cold case. They are the crust on old bread. Dead ends that have a certain appeal, just enough to make you want to flex your ego and accept the challenge, but not enough to warrant the time and energy required to solve one. The ones that do get solved get solved because someone decides to make a death-bed confession, someone else discovered the crime and is blackmailing the culprit or just plain dumb luck. I was stupid enough to take the case of Gretchen. I would require immense quantities of dumb luck to further what I already knew. I had been nearly fifteen weeks since I first viewed the video of Gretchen. Hers was a cold case of the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had just made detective, and this case never made that promotion seemed justified. If I had the chance to decline the case, maybe taken on another murder instead, I would have. Gretchen needed to be solved, and I was not the man to do it.
I didn’t always think this way. Neither did my wife of 13 years. She thought I was infatuated with the case. Maybe she was right. I poured over every statement and became obsessed. I told myself what I did was my job, but even I did not believe my own words. This case held my attention in ways my wife only did years ago. I know she was right, but I could not let go. When I first saw the video of Gretchen, I devoted even more of my time and energy to learning all I could about this woman. I say woman when I should clarify. Gretchen was barely 18 when she made the video, and it was last known recording of her alive (maybe the only one?). I wonder how she would have turned out otherwise. Would she have married? Would she have had children? I will never know. No one will ever know.
All that remains of Gretchen is the video and my memory of what could have been. When I retire, all hopes for Gretchen will die with her. If I am ever going to solve this case, I have to hurry. I am not getting any younger. If I am to trust the facts, here they are. The timestamp of this VHS tape is March 19, 2017. Gretchen is in a suite at the Holiday Inn on the bypass, in room 312. The front desk clerk remembers her. Who couldn’t? Gretchen was beautiful. She noticed no cars on that side of the parking lot (furthest from the nightclub), and she was a light sleeper. The desk clerk said no and Gretchen signed in using only her first name and perfect penmanship. She paid in advance for two nights, asked not to be disturbed, and left to check-in. That was the last anyone saw Gretchen alive.
Two days later, the maid used the pass key to find Gretchen dead in the bed. The coroner’s inquest determined the cause of death was asphyxiation to the throat, most likely during a violent round of sex. The police swept the room for fingerprints and DNA and cross-referenced each against all 50 state data banks for convicted felons. No match. The initial officer on the scene interviewed everyone at the hotel, but no one ever saw Gretchen either enter or leave the room. And while no one found any clothing, computers, cell phones, or papers, one VHS tape was left with a small typed note (no printer was ever found) that read:
Here lies Gretchen
Victim of desire
Casualty of wanderlust
No car was ever found. No cameras were working on the West side of the hotel (coincidence?). No one knew or saw anything. So the video remained in a sealed evidence bag for two months. Gretchen remained in a sealed bag for two weeks, unclaimed, until the state of Nevada taxpayers decided to bury her in an unmarked grave. Case closed. Then I received a promotion and opened my mouth to accept the case. My wife gave me an ultimatum on the same day. As much as I love Melissa and find her sexy in ways that all men dream their wife would learn, I find my decisions based on what might have been with Gretchen instead of what should be with Melissa.
I speak of duty and devotion to my work but rarely do I apply a similar reverence to my marriage. Some couples grow together. Some couples grow apart. Melissa cannot grow for both of us. She has tried. She wears revealing clothing. She lost that stubborn 15 pounds she always spoke of. She even took a few business classes and began interviewing with a few accounting firms to avoid the loneliness I leave her in. My wife has all of the signs of a woman who has every good excuse to cheat on her husband, and I have no reason to permit this transgression to occur. But, I have no longer had a reason to stop her. All I have is a marriage (in name only) and a cold case.
Gretchen deserved better than what she received. No one should die alone without friends or family to grieve. So that is where I started my investigation. No one this beautiful just disappears with a trace. People miss women with great bodies and beautiful faces. I posted Gretchen’s pictures (frames from the video) and a reward for $1000 for information leading to the identification of Gretchen. In all respect for Gretchen, I use her name casually because I cannot confirm even this small colloquialism of information.
By August, my hopes of quickly resolving the death of Gretchen drew near. No leads, and no hope. So I went to plan B; the VHS tape. In all due respect to the reader, the VHS of Gretchen is not for the common man. In it, she sits on top of the bathroom vanity (external to the shower and toilet) and placed her back against the mirror. With adjacent mirrors (left and right), she begins to perform for the camera. What the viewer sees is a nearly infinite number of images (scientists call this a visual regression) of Gretchen playing with herself. She uses a single finger with dark red nail polish and matching red lipstick to make love to the camera.
It takes nearly fifteen minutes to conclude. There is absolutely no sound on the tape, and the viewer can only believe that Gretchen wanted to put on a show for her audience. After she catches her breath and her hips stop shaking, Gretchen takes a toy and introduces the viewer as to what will come next. Her lips are moving, so she expects there to be an audio component for posterity. In the course of another fifteen minutes, I watched Gretchen repeatedly pleasure herself and the viewer until she climaxed in orgasmic delight saved only by the VHS film and my memory of the hundreds of mirrored images. Gretchen, whoever she was, should have (or was) been a porn actress; at the least a fuck wort having. Was she a fuck worth killing? I did not have to wait forever to answer that question.
By October 1st, with coffee in hand, the Desk Sergeant tells me a visitor is looking for me. I asked for details, and all he could say was her name was Gretchen. While I have a current caseload that could tip over and kill a person from the file folder paper cuts (if not from the file folder weight alone), I said I would be right down. I am a bit too skeptical for unreasonable expectations, so I took my time hoping this was not another in a series wild goose chases where the visitor learns a small portion of an obscure case and thinks the reward is theirs.
Twenty-two such times, almost one a week, I have quietly dispatched every single gold digger with a short stack of politeness and growing internal anger reserved for real evil-doers who waste the taxpayers (and mine) time. Today was not a day for short-stacked politeness. I nearly gasped when I saw her standing there in her business suit and heels. She was Gretchen from the hotel. She was Gretchen from the video. Then she spoke.
“Are you Detective Nick Foster? My name is Gretchen Adler.”
I could not speak. Here we stood in the front lobby of the 8th Precinct of the Clark County Police Department looking at a dead woman who I have witnessed in all her sexual glory. She stood as dumbfounded as I when I did not receive her outstretch hand to shake it as most introductions frequently begin. I cleared my throat and replied with the affirmative.
“Detective Foster,” her voice was Heavenly, her body sinful, “I called yesterday about the circumstances of a woman who best could be described as my twin. Is there a more private place where we could speak?”
Regaining my composure, I swung my arm to conference room #2 and directed a clerk to bring us two coffees. Miss Adler followed my offer and walked, no wait–that is not the correct term for what she did. Miss Adler glided into conference room #2 without that vertical rise all of the rest of us pedestrians do on planet Earth, that girls from finishing schools do not. Miss Adler was of the latter.
When we entered, I still could not take my eyes off of her. She was beautiful in ways beauty rarely manifests itself. The word from my reaction (as the clerk reminded me later that hour) was gobsmacked. It was beginning to make Miss Adler uncomfortable. I had to change tactics and put her at ease.
“Miss Adler, may I call you Gretchen? Would you like to sit down?”
I waved my hand toward a somewhat padded chair in better condition than the one I was moving toward. No sooner did Gretchen adjust her skirt sitting to reveal just the top welts of her stockings and garters than the clerk entered with the coffee. He almost spilled both before I took over the waiter duties and gave him a look to depart quickly. I gave Gretchen hers and apologized for none of the accouterments usually available with the beverage. Not that it mattered. She accepted the cup and watched me intensely watch her.
“Detective Foster” was all I heard from her.
Her clothing was immaculate, and her perfume was just enough to notice when I was just close enough to. Gretchen saw me looking her over and gave me the look. She decided to employ her left hand to trace (from top to bottom) her décolletage, drawing her silk blouse ever so slightly apart. This deliberate act exposed the delicate lace of her brassiere for me to view. When I did, she smiled. I rarely fall for such a brazen act of seduction. But, today was to be a day of firsts.
She began again.
“Detective Foster, I believe we have a vested interest in what you call my case and what I would refer to as my life. I believe you may have a series of questions for me before I begin with a series of questions for you”.
This is how my afternoon began and ended on that day. Miss Adler disclosed it was indeed her that performed the sex act on the tape. I noticed her eyebrow arch as she described the details perfectly. She saw a similar arch from me. Whenever she received what she wanted, I received a smile from her; sometimes the smile from a coquette, sometimes from a courtesan interviewing a client, always showing an increasing interest in me.
“How do I know who you really are?” I had to ask.
With that question came her answer. Gretchen Adler extended her perfectly manicured index finger on her right hand and placed it in her mouth. Upon removing it, she lowered her finger to her skirt. Her left hand tugged at her skirt, permitting access to an area that usually is lingerie covered. Gretchen, never breaking eye contact with me inserted her index finger, twirled it, and then removed it.
Using the napkin for the coffee, she wiped the contents from her finger, gave me the napkin, and then readjusted her skirt. Somewhere in between, I heard the smallest coo from her lips. Soon after, I heard her exhale as I have heard no woman exhale previously.
“If you require them, my fingerprints are on the coffee cup. Between those and the DNA…”
a small smile from her when she uttered those three letters
“You will know more about me than I will know about you. That is Detective Foster; unless you believe there is more of me you would enjoy knowing?”
Now I was the one adjusting in my seat. Nothing went unnoticed by Gretchen.
By 5 pm, I learned Miss Adler accepted a position to isolate herself in the room, video her own performance, wipe all fingerprint and DNA evidence, and exit before the next morning. Her payment was half upfront (via a dropbox) and half by the end of the week. The former was $1500. The latter was MIA. When the news broke, Gretchen went into hiding. It was only now that she began searching for me to help her.
When I asked her why me? Why now? Miss Adler was checking her makeup and adjusting the garter on her right thigh. She took her time. Unfortunately, Melissa took this time to call. I heard her small talk about working late again, and I should fend for myself tonight. She was going through the motions until she finished with a dry “I love you” hoping to receive the same reply. I gave it to her, as arid as I received it and then hung up. Maybe I turned my attention back to Gretchen a bit too soon.
“Detective Foster, I am staying at a small hotel called the Excelsior, room 223. Ever hear of it?” I nodded yes as she began to rise. “Come by at 9 pm, and we can finish all we have to say to each other. I have some details about the dead woman.”
I wasn’t so much of a request as it was an order. She knew I had no excuse to refuse. She extended her hand, thanked me for the coffee she never tasted, and walked away, swaying her hips beckoning all to watch her departure. The clerk returned and regained consciousness when she passed through the last door. “Nick, if you ain’t tapping that, you ain’t living.” I had four hours to decide if Miss Adler was really worth it.
I went home, showered, changed, and took a cab to Melissa’s employer (now 8:30pm) and watched from the back seat her working with a team of accountants through their second-story window. She was laughing at a few coworkers and looking at one, her boss. The cabbie reminded me that to stay, I would have to give him a $100 upfront. I did without thinking and gave my wife one more look.
I shouldn’t be disappointed when the two of them moved to his office, and the rest of the team continued their laughing. I told the cabbie to go the Excalibur. Part of me wanted the final information from Gretchen to finalize the case. Tonight, that was a very small part. I ignored the driver for the remainder of the trip, he had seen the likes of me before. He would see another soon enough, this was Clark County, Nevada. Some dreams are made here, most are broken.
I arrived at the Excalibur just before 9pm. The concierge greeted me as I made my way to the elevators. The stairs made more sense for a detective. However, I was Nick Foster tonight. I would be Detective Foster only if need be. I made my way up to the second floor and followed the hall toward her room.
With each step, I could only imagine what a night with her would be. Her looks, her demeanor, her perfume, even her attitude was wrong and yet so right. Melissa was on the loose tonight, and so was I. I knew where this would end, and I knew it most likely would end poorly. I was in too deep to walk away. I found myself in front of room 223 and wondered for the last time.
The angel on my left shoulder was silent. The devil on my right had two thumbs up. I gently knocked on the door. The door gently opened. Not too far, but far enough for me to see a disaster unfolding. I reached for my pistol and entered. The light was on, and Gretchen was home. Lying on the bed, wearing the sheerest black negligee and heels, her color scheme contrasted visibly with the blood trickle from her neck to the bedsheets. A quick scan of the room for an intruder who long since left, I checked her for a pulse. Nothing.
I didn’t expect one from a woman stabbed in the throat with a complimentary hotel pen. From the looks of it, Miss Adler did not struggle, was not robbed (her purse and money were visible), and did not suffer. Whoever killed Gretchen knew what to do and how to find her. It took the remainder of the night to clear the hotel scene and write the report. My Captain spent the morning grilling everyone at the 8th Precinct about this “Gretchen,” who she was, and who did she speak to.
Then he tested my endurance by keeping me awake another 12 hours with Internal Affairs about her DNA sample and what I was doing in her hotel room. I breached all department protocols by not checking in with my superior about the late-night meeting. IA (Internal Affairs) knew about my troubles on the home front and actually had a statement from Melissa when she returned home at 7am wearing the same revealing dress she had on from the day before, being chauffeured by her boss.
The report included the phrases “disheveled” and “bed hair.”By sunrise of October 4th, I had made my case. The lab could not find a single strand of my DNA in the room. Housekeeping at the Excelsior did not indicate hearing any screams. Even the cameras at the hotel recorded nothing unusual during the 5pm to 9pm time frame of that night. So, even while doing everything wrong during my investigation (IA called it a dangerous liaison), I actually did my investigation.
Translation, I accomplished enough in detective mode to overlook what could have occurred in infatuation mode. My reward for finding the woman in the video and letting her go before I secured a statement about the dead woman in the video was a week off without pay and a note on my permanent record. I may retire as an inspector, but I will never hear anyone call me Captain or chief.
As the days passed, my caseload became less esoteric and more mundane. I was solving financial crimes, and with that, I required an ever-increasing amount of Melissa’s assistance. She begrudgingly taught me what I needed to know, and I listened to her sage wisdom. By the end of the year, we had mended many of the fences that kept us apart. She was still Melissa, but I had dropped the bravado that made me the obsessed fool that drove her away in the first place.
By Christmas, we had reconciled and had made plans for a new life together in the New Year. Melissa and I accepted a Christmas Eve party from old friends and decided to go in style. I rented a tux and tails, Melissa took her time dressing the part of the incredibly talented and obviously sexy wife (i.e., arm candy) that I fell in love with all those years ago. We had just purchased a new sports car I had always wanted and walked hand in hand in the winter wind. I, ever the gentleman, opened the car door for her. Upon closing it, I thought what a lucky man I am.
That is until I took my seat in the car.
Because of the unusually cold weather, we drove with the windows up and the heat on minimal.
Within minutes, I began to detect an odor from before. At the light, I moved my nose over to Melissa to take in her perfume.
But not her perfume.
What I detected was Gretchen’s perfume from the day she entered my life.
I didn’t have to ask.
“Nick, the answer to your first question is yes. I am wearing her perfume. It only took a few moments for you to inhale enough to make the connection. Be a good boy and keep your eyes on the road while I speak to you. You may learn something.”
I began accelerating ever so slightly as she spoke.
“The way I see it, you were just wasting your time thinking about that whore. I saw her tape, the one you left out one night. I saw you on multiple nights watch that scene over and over again. You were obsessed with her.”
The speedometer now read 45mph.
“So I began a little detective work on my own. I joined the accounting firm, not for the benefits, but for the education. I began auditing our books to see if your desire for her was just limited to her. You came up clean in that department.”
“Then, I began watching you. That’s when I found you watching me. Not at home, but at work. So I gave you a little something to see. I began dressing provocatively for you, and maybe, a few other men in the office. It was good for the geese”.
Almost to 55mph.
“I even watched you from the parking lot on the day she came to see you. I saw how she flirted with you. I watched how you squirmed in your seat. Those are large windows for what should be a more, shall we say, intimate place of seclusion. Did you keep her sample? I saw you take it.”
I ignored the question and kept the speed rising.
“That was the day I decided to follow her. I wanted to know what she had that I didn’t have. I could not trust the men in my office, to be honest with me. I needed them to respond on cue when you came looking for me. To do that, I had to be somewhat overly flirtatious.”
The car finally reached 60 mph. Fast enough to be fatal.
“I found her at the Excelsior. She went to her room to change. So I did too. I found the maid’s closet, changed, and went to her room. 223 I think.”
Nothing from me.
“Those carts have a passkey. Bit of a security issue. However, well, Nick honey, you know the rest.”
That’s when I decide to speak.
“This car only has one front airbag.”
When I began to swerve, Melissa screamed. Not the STOP I expected. Melissa was cooler than I thought.
“I PLANTED EVIDENCE!”
I recovered just in time before we hit the large oak. It took a while to recover my composure and safely pull off the side of the road. We sat in the car and looked at each other for what seemed like hours. Melissa went first again.
“I left a small amount of your blood, recovered from when you used a razor I used to shave my legs and placed it in a vial with a sample of her DNA in the same vial. Dead people rarely object to such intrusive retrieval methods. You didn’t see when she displayed her willingness to verify her identity. I have that vial that connects the two of you secured with paperwork explaining your infatuation with her. A copy of the VCR tape is also included. Nick, if I want to, you’re going away for murder of that tramp. However, being the good detective you are, I believe you can see the brighter side of our new arrangement.”
It took a long time before I spoke. I should have crashed the car and finished what I started.
Now it was too late. That ship has sailed.
“What is the bright side of this new arrangement?”
“You and I are the most happily married people we know. You continue working, and I will continue being the sexy woman you always wanted, but now will never have. We will keep up illusions of our domestic bliss, keep our indiscretions minimal, and go about our lives. It will all be a farce for the viewing audience. However, it will permit me the ability to explore any level of enjoyment I so desire. Nick, honey, I have you to thank for all of this or I will have you to see behind bars. It is your choice.”
The party gave me the opportunity for Melissa to introduce me to her boss. He didn’t know that I knew, but that was the agreement I agreed to. With his hand encroaching on her rear, he didn’t care. In all fairness, neither did I.
Artist: Ian Hogson
Andy Betz has tutored and taught in excess of 30 years. His novel, short stories, and poems are works still defining his style. He lives in 1974, has been married for 27 years, and collects occupations (the current tally is 100). His works are found everywhere a search engine operates.