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The Neanderthal Factor: A Murder Mystery

The Neanderthal Factor: A Murder Mystery

by Laurie Allison

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When Samuel Wyndham, the director of the prestigious Wyndham Institute of Art and Culture, was found with his head nearly severed by a Minoan ax, the obvious suspect was his protégé and future son-in-law Nicholas d'Abernon. But as Nick's trial proceeds, it becomes clear that everyone who works for Wyndham has strong motives for murder. As witnesses


When Samuel Wyndham, the director of the prestigious Wyndham Institute of Art and Culture, was found with his head nearly severed by a Minoan ax, the obvious suspect was his protégé and future son-in-law Nicholas d'Abernon. But as Nick's trial proceeds, it becomes clear that everyone who works for Wyndham has strong motives for murder. As witnesses take the stand, the international dimensions and politi cal implications of the murder are exposed. Accusations of theft , forgery, blackmail, and drug trafficking lend support to Samuel Wyndhams's pet theory that the Neanderthal nature, buried deep in the past of human beings, is a key factor in his grisly murder.

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A Murder Mystery

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Laurie Allison
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4759-4484-6

Chapter One

Wednesday, September 2, 2006, 6:30 p.m.

With a detective's nose for trouble, Joseph Padrone knew that something was wrong. He kicked open the door to Nick's office and was blinded by a bombardment of bright lights blinking on and off at high speed. Between each blast of light, Padrone heard a click and blinked in response. He whirled around toward the source of the lights and saw one pair of images after another flash in rapid succession on the wall.

"Slide projectors," Padrone muttered. "They've gone wild!" He felt for the light switch.

The office was bathed in light. The antiquated carousels continued to turn. Then Padrone saw the figure.

Samuel Wyndham was slumped over Nick's desk. Blood poured from a deep gash that had nearly severed his neck. The red stream oozed across the desk, running over its edge and down onto the floor. Wyndham's head was turned away from the slide projector, toward the office door. His glasses hung sideways from his left ear, swaying slightly. Wyndham's face was like a mask—his eyes staring, his mouth set in a grimace.

Padrone detected no signs of a struggle.

The clicking continued. Padrone saw that Wyndham's left hand still gripped the remote control that set the images in motion. Even in death he was running the show, Padrone thought to himself as he switched off the projectors. Padrone put on the pair of rubber gloves he always carried in his pocket to make sure any fingerprints would not be damaged.

To Padrone's astonishment, Wyndham was not alone. His protégé, Nicholas d'Abernon, stood directly behind him. His back was to the open door of the darkroom behind the desk. The red safelight was still on. Nick seemed unsure of where he was or of what he was doing. Padrone saw that he was holding a bronze, double- headed ax. It was dripping with blood.

Padrone drew his revolver and pointed it directly at Nick. "Don't move, d'Abernon! Stay right where you are!"

Nick froze.

Padrone flicked on his walkie-talkie and sent out a call for security.

Chapter Two

Monday, November 15, 2006, 10:45 a.m. Criminal Court, New York, New York

"Nicholas d'Abernon, you have been charged with the premeditated murder of Samuel Wyndham on the evening of September 2. How do you plead?"

"Not guilty, Your Honor."

Chapter Three

Wednesday, November 17, 10:00 a.m.

The indictment of murder in the first degree still rang in Nick's ears. At the arraignment he had been dimly aware of the crowd in the courtroom, the commotion outside, and the barrage of reporters' questions and flashbulbs as spectators pushed through the heavy wooden doors. Now, with the trial in session, the sound of the gavel brought Nick back to reality. He knew he was on trial for his life. The wheels of justice had been set in motion.

Nick felt as if he were a spectator observing his own fate. He was becoming ever more deeply enmeshed in events beyond his control. First the indictment for murder, then the selection of a jury—eight men and four women—and now the trial. It had all happened so fast. Images flashed through Nick's mind: He stood over Samuel Wyndham with a bronze Minoan ax in his hand. Blood was everywhere. Padrone kicked in the door. He was arrested.

Nick knew that the case had become a political football. How else could it have gotten on the court docket so quickly? Someone had managed to push up the case on the court calendar. But who? he wondered. And why?

Samuel Wyndham's lurid murder had been described in the press as the act of a vicious killer, and Nick was being held without bail. His lawyer, Chris Rogers, had urged him to plead temporary insanity, but Nick refused. And he had finally persuaded Rogers that he was rational—if not innocent.

Nick worried about his professional future and his future with Ruth, his fiancée and Samuel Wyndham's only daughter. All was a kaleidoscopic jumble that Nick was unable to arrange into a coherent picture. And he had lost track of time. How long, he wondered, had it been since he first saw Samuel's grotesque figure slumped over the desk? The image of Samuel's nearly severed neck and the ax dripping with blood haunted his dreams.

One thing was clear to Nick: the odds were not in his favor. The district attorney's opening statement to the jury was a vigorous condemnation. Nick thought it was amazing how well the district attorney could manipulate language for effect, the effect of establishing his guilt.

"And I will show that Nicholas d'Abernon had motive and opportunity for savagely murdering the man who had entrusted him with the future of one of the most famous research institutions in the world. That Nicholas d'Abernon, by his brutal act, has deprived civilization of one of its greatest benefactors."

Forty-six-year-old Sinclair Crawford III, the Manhattan district attorney, seemed to Nick to tip the proverbial scales of justice. Crawford was a golden boy of New York politics, slated in the eyes of many for higher office. His father, a former president of the New York Bar Association, was rumored to be short-listed to fill a recent vacancy on the Supreme Court. He was the senior partner of Crawford, Collins, and Dunbar, one of the city's oldest white-shoe law firms. Everyone knew that his son, Sinclair Crawford III, considered his present job a steppingstone to a seat in the United States Senate. Some journalists had referred to him as future presidential material. Nick realized that the sensationalism of this trial, enhanced by Wyndham's fame, was a showcase for Crawford's political ambitions.

"And furthermore, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I will produce witnesses who will testify that Nicholas d'Abernon was driven by ambition when he deprived Samuel Wyndham of his life. Ambition and fear, ladies and gentlemen. In the course of this trial, you will hear that he argued with Samuel Wyndham and that Samuel Wyndham threatened to ruin his career. It is common knowledge that Samuel Wyndham had appointed the defendant to succeed him as director of the Wyndham Institute of Art and Culture, an appointment of enormous prestige and power. And potential wealth. Not an appointment to be taken lightly. Nicholas d'Abernon did not take it lightly. I will show, beyond the shadow of a doubt, just how seriously he took Samuel Wyndham's threat, even to the point of committing murder. The murder of a world-renowned scientist—a man who discovered one of the most significant missing links of human evolution: Homo jekyllensis.

"In brutally murdering Samuel Wyndham, Nicholas d'Abernon deprived civilization of one of its brightest lights. His murder is a great loss to his family, our great city, and the international community."

He certainly is good, Nick thought. By comparison with his own lawyer, plain old Chris Rogers from Brooklyn, Sinclair Crawford III was a sure winner, a natural prosecutor, who relished his job and could sway a jury with the power of his rhetoric. He was one of the old guard by birth, silver spoon and all. You needed money for lawyers like Crawford, and Nick had refused to accept a cent from Ruth.

Nick glanced at Rogers as he shuffled a stack of papers. He was acutely aware of the social gap separating his lawyer from the prosecuting attorney. Sure, Chris Rogers would do his best. He was earnest and thorough, although plodding seemed a better term to Nick at the moment. No brilliance or flair. No natural self- confidence. No silver spoon. Nick could see it in their clothes, in their posture, and their gestures said it all. The jury sensed it too, particularly the foreman, a stocky, middle-aged man whose attention wandered whenever Rogers rose to speak.

Crawford was self-confident. Rogers was hesitant. Rogers wore thick horn-rimmed glasses, which were too big for his narrow face and small nose. He squinted as if he needed a stronger prescription. He tried to look like a lawyer, but he didn't have it in him. His dark- blue suit was not cut with the same smooth perfection as Crawford's charcoal-gray Armani suit. Crawford's pale-blue shirt, elegant but subdued blue-and-gray Hermes tie, and black wingtip shoes made Roger's short-sleeved white shirt and narrow black tie stand out all the more. Rogers reminded Nick of an accountant. His socks slipped when he crossed his legs, revealing pale skin between the top of his socks and his trouser cuffs.

Crawford's socks never slipped. He probably keeps them up with little suspenders, Nick thought. His French cuffs were fastened with tasteful, gold cufflinks. To make matters worse, this was Rogers's first murder trial. He had not been out of law school more than a few years. And he had not attended Yale, as Crawford had, but earned his degree at night after a full day of working as a high-school math teacher. Nick knew that Rogers would do his best, but when even your own lawyer is not convinced of your innocence, how can you expect him to persuade the jury? And Ruth? How long would she continue to believe in him?

Nick turned around toward the spectators and caught Ruth's eye. She sat on the aisle at the back of the courtroom. He wished he could take her in his arms and explain again why he refused to let her pay for his defense. It was a matter of pride. Their eyes met. Ruth smiled encouragingly. Nick realized that for her this was a double blow. First her father's gruesome death and then her fiancé's arrest for his murder. And Nick knew that Joe Padrone, who had always been protective of Ruth, would do his best to turn her against him.

"And finally," concluded Sinclair Crawford III, "the prosecution will demonstrate that Nicholas d'Abernon was motivated not only by fear and ambition but also by opportunism. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he was engaged to marry Ruth Wyndham, Samuel Wyndham's daughter and sole heir, thereby planning to cement his hold on the Institute." Crawford paused. "And on Samuel Wyndham's considerable fortune ..."

Nick started to protest, but his lawyer restrained him. "Take it easy," Rogers cautioned. "It's all part of the performance."

Nick controlled his anger with difficulty. He did not trust himself to turn around and glance at Ruth a second time.

When Chris Rogers rose to make his opening statement for the defense, Nick's heart sank. Rogers kept looking at his notes and pausing in the middle of sentences. He was losing the jury. When Crawford spoke, all twelve jurors paid attention. When Rogers addressed the jury, Nick counted four yawns in the front row. Even the judge's attention seemed to wander. He was in his early sixties and known to be hard on violent crime and impatient with inexperienced lawyers.

Nick had reservations about Rogers's strategy. His decision not to put Nick on the stand suggested that he had no confidence in his client. Nick thought surely his attitude would be evident to the jury.

"And the defense will show that the prosecution does not have an open-and-shut case. In fact, there is a great deal of doubt about what actually happened the night of Samuel Wyndham's death. My client was indeed present at the scene of the crime. It took place in his office. But a man is expected to be in his office during working hours."

Terrific, thought Nick. What about the ax, you idiot? Was he expected to be handling an ax dripping with blood not two feet from the murdered man? Maybe he would be a bad witness. Maybe Rogers was right. Nick was relieved when Rogers sat down.

There was a rustle in the courtroom as the prosecution prepared to call its first witness.

* * *

The phone rang in the district attorney's office. One of Crawford's assistants answered.

"How's it looking?" asked the familiar voice of a deputy mayor.

"Take it easy. The trial is just beginning. We got it moved up on the calendar and persuaded the judge to deny bail. One thing at a time."

"We need a quick conviction." The voice was urgent. "No slip- ups. A lot is riding on this and security is a problem."

"I know. And I don't suppose the political implications are of any concern to his honor, the mayor." The sarcasm was unmistakable.

"I've been instructed to tell you to make sure that Crawford gets the message. His career is riding on this case."

"I can't tell Crawford anything at the moment. He's about to call his first witness.

Chapter Four

Wednesday, November 17, 2:00 p.m.

The first witness for the prosecution was a forensic scientist, James Williams, a tall man in his fifties with graying hair. He wore a rumpled brown suit, a creased white shirt, and a brown- and-white striped tie. He looked as if he had been up all night. His testimony, a macabre prologue to the unfolding of the trial, was delivered in a monotone. But even his monotonous tone did nothing to diminish his vivid description of Samuel Wyndham's violent death.

Wyndham, Williams testified, was struck on the left side of his neck with unusual force. The double-headed bronze ax in Nick's hands was, in fact, the murder weapon. The blood on it matched Samuel Wyndham's and the fingerprints were Nick's. Wyndham had been dead a very short time, a matter of minutes, when Padrone found him. The prosecutor made a point of the blow being on the left side, and the forensic scientist confirmed that if Wyndham had been struck from behind, the murderer would have to have been left-handed.

"Objection!" Rogers jumped up. "No evidence has been offered to suggest that Wyndham was hit from behind."

"D'Abernon is left-handed. And he was behind Wyndham when Joseph Padrone entered the office," Crawford retorted quickly.

There was an uproar in the courtroom.

"Your Honor, I must object again," Rogers insisted. "My client has not yet been found guilty."

"Sustained," agreed the judge.

Nick froze at the implied allegation. He was left-handed. Not only that, he was a regular squash player and his left arm was strong.

On cross-examination Rogers had only one question: "Could the blow have been struck by a right-handed person from the front?"

"It's possible," replied Williams without much conviction.

Chapter Five

Thursday, November 18, 10:00 a.m.

"The prosecution calls Joseph Padrone," Crawford announced in his clear, crisp, confident voice as the forensic scientist stepped down.

Joe Padrone strode up to the witness box and was sworn in. His square shoulders and beefy frame created an impression of solidity. Nick knew that Padrone would impress the jury and his testimony would not be helpful to his case. Padrone was fiercely loyal to Samuel Wyndham, and Padrone was a man who never shifted loyalties. He felt protective toward Ruth as well.

Nick could have heard a pin drop in the courtroom as Padrone described the murder scene. Padrone had a lot of experience with death during his years in the NYPD as a narcotics detective. He knew that drugs led men to commit incredibly violent crimes. But despite his years as a cop, Padrone never reconciled himself to violence and murder. Such acts were a denial of everything civilized, everything Padrone believed in. He had joined the NYPD because he believed in just those principles of law and order that were perverted by every act of violence. Padrone was also experienced in loyalty. He had been involved in a drug bust with his partner, Ray Scasi, and the drugs had disappeared from police custody. They were never recovered. The press had a field day with the story. Someone had to go or it would look like the blue wall of silence again. Although there was no evidence to convict him, Padrone was pressured to take early retirement under a cloud of suspicion. Padrone was not guilty, but he knew who was. His partner was responsible. But Ray was dead, killed by an accomplice who left no trace and had never been identified.

Padrone had grown up with Ray on the streets of Brooklyn. He had been in love with Ray's girl. When she married Ray, Padrone made up his mind to remain a bachelor. And he did. Both Ray and his wife considered Padrone their closest friend and confidant. They asked him to be godfather to their son. Padrone would never blow the whistle on Ray and destroy his memory. It wouldn't change anything. And if he did, his widow and son would never live it down. Even worse, they would resent Padrone forever. To be sure, Padrone recognized that Ray was weak, that he had a gambling problem and needed money. But Padrone believed that Ray was a good person at heart and deep down never really thought of him as a criminal.

Padrone's loyalty to his partner cost him dearly. He came from a long line of New York City cops. When he was eleven years old, his father was killed in the line of duty. From that moment on he was determined to follow in his father's footsteps. To supplement her widow's pension, Padrone's mother found work as Samuel Wyndham's housekeeper and helped to raise Ruth after her mother's death. Gradually Wyndham took a personal interest in Padrone. He began to think of him as the son he never had. Padrone was intelligent, and when he graduated from high school, Wyndham offered to send him to college. But Padrone wanted to be a cop like his father. When Padrone retired from the department, Samuel Wyndham hired him to organize the Institute's security force. Wyndham had complete faith in Padrone and did not believe for a moment that he had been involved in any crime, let alone one involving drugs. Padrone was glad that his mother had died before the scandal.


Excerpted from THE NEANDERTHAL FACTOR by LAURIE ALLISON Copyright © 2012 by Laurie Allison. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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