In the beginning police assumed Richard Sloan's murder was a mugging. A blackjack high roller, he'd been found dead as a busted twenty-one in an alley three blocks from several known gambling hangouts. He was ID'd at the scene by Cliff Moore, one of Johns' people who had just come over to homicide from the anti-gambling squad.
Detective Johns had some doubts about the mugging theory. Sloan had been shot. His shoes had been stolen. Surely anyone with enough money to own a gun didn't need to steal shoes.
"Look deeper," Detective Johns instructed his team, even before the body was in the coroner's wagon. While the team canvassed the neighborhood, Johns drove cross-town to break the news to Sloan's wife.
Her name was Helen. Johns caught her just as she was heading out her door carrying a small duffel and a tennis racquet. At first perturbed, probably running late, Helen expressed shock and sorrow when he gave her the news, but not much of either. She did muster a few tears, but maybe only because she'd miss her tennis court booking.
"He was a gambler," she said. "He'd work all day at his office and gamble all night at those downtown clubs. It's a seedy neighborhood, so I'm not surprised.
"We've been estranged for a long time," she offered, "although we hadn't discussed divorce. He was really married to a deck of cards, not me."
"When was the last time you saw your husband?" the detective asked.
"Yesterday morning," she replied. "He called in the afternoon to say he'd be busy that night, so Ronnie and I spent the evening here at home."
"Ronnie?" queried Johns.
"My fitness instructor and absolute best friend, if you know what I mean," she smiled. "I don't mind telling you; you would have found out anyway. I'm supposed to be playing tennis with him right now."
Johns had met all kinds of wives, seen all kinds of marriages, witnessed all manner of grief and guilt, glee and innocence. To him Helen was just another part of the investigation inventory. Not that Johns was jaded or bored by his work. He loved the work and, while not considered a stellar investigator among his peers, he did take pride in ensuring every possible detail of a case made it into the file, even those that went cold case.
When questioned by Detective Johns, Ronnie Mason collaborated Helen Sloan's alibi. He confirmed the pair were an item. He also mentioned that marriage had been discussed.
The neighborhood canvass proved productive. The gun and the victim's wallet were found in a dumpster at the end of the alley. The gun had been registered to the victim but he had no permit to carry it. "Yes," his wife told Johns, "he sometimes carried it anyway." The wallet had no cash but still contained the victim's ID. Neither the gun nor the wallet yielded fingerprints.
The team found the missing shoes adorning the feet of a locally infamous wino named Frank Carter, who was already conveniently secure in the precinct drunk tank.
Even before he sobered, Carter was vehemently denying doing anything more than stealing the shoes. "He was stiff when I found him. He didn't need them, and my sainted mother always told me that if the shoes fit, wear ‘em," Carter shouted through the bars. Later, when he was more sober, he did admit that perhaps his memory was a little fuzzy. Detective Johns didn't bother to have him charged for stealing the shoes.
Rather, as soon as he read the coroner's report, Johns had his team execute search warrants at Richard Sloan's offices and home. The coroner had affirmed that Sloan had been killed elsewhere and his body dumped in the alley.
Johns accompanied the search team to Sloan's office, where he interviewed Sloan's business partner, Carl Jackman.
"Richard Sloan had become a gambler first and businessman second," said Jackman. "Lately he hadn't been much of a businessman at all, as a look at our books would show. Last week I got tired of it and made an offer to buy him out. He didn't take it seriously."
"Did he owe money to anyone you knew of?" asked Johns.
"Did he owe money to anyone you knew of?" asked Johns.
"No one I knew, but probably," was the reply. "However, killing him wouldn't get it paid back."
"Did the business have partnership insurance?"
"Yes, thank goodness," said Jackman. "The insurance compensates me, and a special rider provides for buying out his widow."
"Where were you last night?" asked Johns.
"My wife and I had dinner with friends, then went to a movie. We got home around eleven, and that was it."
Forensic accountants needed three days to sort Sloan's personal and business finances. They found nothing suspicious. Sloan was definitely cash-poor from gambling losses and had been using his credit cards to keep going.
The search team had found his credit card folder on his bedroom dresser, eliminating any possibility of tracing the killer through use of the cards after his death.
Detective Johns summed up the case at a team meeting, concluding, "Our two prime suspects, the wife and the business partner, have alibis. Frank Carter seems to have no connection except he stole Sloan's shoes. We've been looking at the gambling angle, but he doesn't seem to owe any of the local loan sharks."
"Even if he did, he'd only have his arm or leg broken at worst. Probably his leg, so he could sign a check," Cliff Moore noted.
"We need a witness or a confession," said another detective.
"Or a murder scene," said Johns. "Forensics scoured the house and the office, and the fact is that the killing could have occurred at either place. Or perhaps neither.
"But I believe the solution is staring us in the face. All we need to do is shuffle the facts into the right order."
Johns went home for the day. He had dinner with his wife and a quiet evening in front of the television. He wanted to watch the Yankees beat up on the Indians, but his wife had the remote in a death grip, meaning he had to suffer sitcoms – okay because the Sloan case was on his mind. Shuffle the facts and lay them out again; do it once more; do it a third time. Seinfeld came on and Johns nearly didn't notice that Seinfeld, the show, segued straight into Seinfeld, the AMEX pitchman. But he noticed, and that was good.
Johns called his gambling veteran, spoke briefly, then arranged for Sloan's wife and the personal trainer to be picked up and brought into the station.
Johns took on Ronnie Mason, the personal trainer first. He had Mason recount events of the fateful evening, offered one small piece of logical evidence, and had the truth ten minutes later.
Sloan had been home that evening. He argued with his wife and she shot him. She then called Mason, who disposed of the body. The wallet and gun were wiped, then tossed into the dumpster to make the motive look like robbery.
When confronted with Mason's statement, Helen also confessed.
The next day, Detective Johns recapped the case for his team. Probably most of them thought him a bit of a plodder. Nor were his closure stats the greatest in the department, but he'd really come through on this one.
"The clue was the credit cards," he summed it for everyone. "Nobody leaves home without them." He chose not to mention that Seinfeld had dealt him the hole card.