15 September 2019

Jan Grape's Found Dead in Texas:
Whatever Has To Be Done, part 2


by Jan Grape
Jan Grape
Yesterday, we brought you a treat, an anthologized story set in Texas. That was Part 1; today we give you Part 2.

Crime family Jan Grape and her husband Elmer have enjoyed a long, varied, and storied career in the mystery business. Besides writing, besides winning awards, besides running a bookstore, besides getting away with murder, Jan knows everybody in the business… everybody.

This tale from Jan’s collection, Found Dead in Texas II, originally appeared in Deadly Allies II (Doubleday 1994). Pour a cup of coffee and enjoy this, the second part.

— Velma

Whatever Has To Be Done
Part 2

by Jan Grape

continued…

Just before 5:00 p.m., Elwanda Watson called and changed our meeting to her home. I stacked the paperwork on my desk, told C.J. I’d see her tomorrow, not that she heard me - she was still wrestling with the computer. Just before the door closed, however, she called out “Sunday brunch at my house, okay?”

Saturday afternoon traffic around the LaGrange Building was thicker than bees around molasses, maddening, but normal. The building is located two and a half blocks from the Galleria. Even in the early fifties, this whole area was still part of a dairy farm. Now, a six-block square area of high dollar shopping malls, department and specialty stores, hotels and high rise office buildings, including developer Gerald Hines’ sixty-five story, Transco Tower, filled the land where Crimson Clover used to grow and cows got fat. From the air, the whole area was filled with concrete, steel and bronzed glass and, looked like a city skyline, but it’s six miles from downtown Houston in suburbia-land. The lack of zoning laws here makes for some unusual building developments.

Elwanda Watson lived in a story and a half house made of white brick and wood and cedar shakes, four miles West of my office. An older neighborhood built in the late fifties before contractors and architects took a notion to make suburban houses all look alike. These were in a wide range of individual styles and colors. A huge Magnolia tree stood sentinel in front and a pink bicycle lay on it’s side in the St. Augustine grass. Four baskets of white and burgundy Impatiens hung from the eaves.

The woman who answered the door was short, overweight, with ponderous breasts and hips almost scraping the doorway. She had short, dark hair streaked heavily with gray and a startled expression which seemed to be a permanent look. She wore a dingy, white sweat suit, no make-up and said she was Elwanda Watson. It would be difficult to believe Liz Loudermilk came from this woman’s womb, if it had not been for the eyes. That unique shade of blue, tingeing to violet. Either Elwanda had lost her beauty long ago, or Liz got her looks from her father.

She led me to a large kitchen/den area, both paneled in knotty pine, and there were children’s play noises coming from the back yard. She indicated I should sit in the chair across from the sofa and brought tall glasses of iced tea before settling on the Early American style sofa.

I glanced around, the room had the look of having been hastily picked up. A large entertainment cabinet stood against one wall. Wires and plugs stuck out and dangled from the front and one side, indicating sound and electronics had once been installed and then removed. A small TV set was alone on a shelf. Newspapers, magazines, books, and games; Monopoly, Scrabble, Uncle Wiggly, Yahtzee, Pa-chiz-si, dominoes and cards, were piled on and in the cabinet. The drape hung loose from the rod on one side and drug on the floor. It was an “I don’t care look,” much like the woman herself. Two failed marriages had taken their toll. “Ms. Gordon, what . . .” she said.

Smiling at her, I said, “Call me Jenny, please.”

“And I’m Elwanda. Well, Jenny, what is it you wish to know? This whole horrible thing is too, too weird. Poor old J.W. dead. And Voda Beth accused of killing him. Unbelievable, I tell you. It just boggles my mind.”

“It’s hard to believe Voda Beth killed J.W.?”

“I’d just never figure her to do something so awful. She seems like such a nice person. Gracious and polite to me and she’s been really kind and generous to my Liz.”

“Really? Liz doesn’t share your feelings.”

“Oh that Liz. She can act like as spoiled brat. The things I could tell you would take half the night. But you don’t have time for that. She mouths off about Voda Beth something terrible sometimes, but deep down, I know she likes her step-mom.”

“That wasn’t the impression I got this morning.”

“Oh, I know,” said Elwanda. “Liz told me how tacky she was this morning and asked me to apologize for the things she said.”

“She doesn’t owe me an apology.”

“Well, she did mislead you. Made it seem like Voda Beth was a wicked person when she’s not.” She rubbed both eyes like a person just waking up. “My daughter is beautiful and brilliant, but she can also act like a two year old when she doesn’t get her way. Sooner or later you have to give in. Of course, she’s always sorry afterward and will make up for it a hundred ways.”

Despite Elwanda’s trying to make Liz sound like nothing more than a rebellious and rambunctious child, I had seen the rage Liz had for Voda Beth. It wasn’t just a temper tantrum. I’d hate to see that rage turned on anyone. Elwanda was maternally blind to her child’s faults. She didn’t want to think otherwise, and I thought it best to get off that subject.

“Voda Beth claimed J.W. was beating her when she killed him. Was he ever abusive to you?”

“Oh, my. No. I was married to the man for ten years and he never raised a hand to me.” She looked directly at me and her wide-eyed look of astonishment was more pronounced. “And I don’t see him abusing Voda Beth, either. He worshiped her. He was always a kind and wonderful husband. And father. Always.”

If that was true, I wondered, then why did she divorce this boy scout? I had to ask. “Why did you. . .”

“Divorce him? He left me. For another woman. Not Voda Beth, it was over long before he met her. There were lots of other women. Some men are born womanizers and J.W. was one. That is, until Voda Beth caught him. I don’t think he ever strayed from her.” Tears welled up in those big violet eyes and, this overweight, throw-away wife’s voice held a wistful note.

“What about his low boiling point?”

It took her a moment to speak, “He could get angry, real easy-like when he was young, but he’d mellowed out. Even so, his anger never, ever, led to violence.”

“Did Voda Beth ever go out on him?”

“I don’t think so. He probably would’ve told me if she had.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“It’s sounds funny I guess, but after he married her, he and I got real friendly-like. I mean, like close friends. He apologized for hurting me in the past. He was so good when my marriage with Don Watson broke up. Offered me money because he knew I was having a hard time with four little kids.”

At their mention, the children’s voices outside reached a crescendo and she walked to the patio door to check. Evidently, it was nothing which needed her presence. Mother-like, however, she stuck her head out and told them to stop whatever they were doing and find something else to do. She came back to the sofa and sat. “I think, it was because he was finally happy. He said once, Voda Beth had taught him the right way to treat a woman and he’d learned his lesson.”

Obviously, Elwanda still had deep feelings for J.W. Loudermilk and she wasn’t going to say anything against him. Unfortunately, what she said was detrimental to my client. If J.W. didn’t have a history of abusing women, it looked like Voda Beth had lied. I stood, “I appreciate your talking to me.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t more help.” We headed to the front door and she said, “Oh, I just thought of something. It’s possible they had some fights over Liz. That was one thing he could get angry enough to come to blows over. Although, I still don’t see it.”

“Why not?”

“Liz would have told me about it.”

After the way the girl had talked about her mother, I was not sure she’d confide in Elwanda, but what do I know about daughters? Especially teen-age ones.

“Liz was very angry with her father the past few years - for breaking up our marriage, for marrying Voda Beth. For what she saw as him neglecting her. She would gripe and complain how he didn’t pay any attention to her, how he was always fawning over Voda Beth. Now that I think on it, she must have been jealous of her father.”

That could explain the rage I saw in the girl. “I guess that’s normal in young girls who want their father all to themselves.”

“She could get all worked about it. Throw fits and scream at him. That’s one reason, he made her move out of the house.”

“He made his own daughter leave?”

“About three months ago. She was working and making good money, but she would stay out all hours and do things to aggravate him - like smoking pot in the house. Anyway, he got fed up and although, Voda Beth tried to stop him, he made Liz get a place of her own. She was really bent all out of shape over that for awhile.”

“I guess it’s hard to be a parent, these days.” I thanked her again and left.

I headed back to my apartment, grateful the traffic had slacked off, it gave me time to wonder about my client. Whatever had happened that night in the Loudermilk’s home was still muddled, but it looked as if my client had lied through her teeth.

I ate a light dinner, grilled chicken and a big salad and spent the rest of the evening reading a P.I. novel.

I went to bed and just before drifting off to sleep, I decided tomorrow I’d call Lieutenant Larry Hays of Houston’s homicide department. Maybe the police and autopsy reports would give me some fresh insights.



I called Larry Hays on his car phone and caught him as he was driving away from headquarters to go have breakfast. “No rest for the wicked, huh?”

“Not on Sunday,” he said. “Meet me at Kay’s in twenty minutes.”

Kay’s was a favorite hang-out of law enforcement personnel. The restaurant’s owner, Bert DeLeon, had a thing about listening to the cop’s war stories. He really got into that stuff. He’d been especially fond of my late husband, and when Tommy introduced me to him, I figured if Bert had not approved, Tommy would not have proposed. Kay’s served family style food and gave better service than the high priced restaurants.

Lieutenant Hays sat at the back booth on the west side and a mug of coffee was waiting for me. “Are you eating?” he asked.

“Just an English muffin and half a grapefruit.”

“Watching your weight again?”

“Always. I weighed 125 this morning.”

“That’s about your normal isn’t it?”

“Yes, but you know how I love chicken-fried steak and Mexican food and the only way I can indulge, is to keep this five feet six inch woman on that 125.”

“Poor baby.”

Larry is six, three and weighs about 185 and never has to watch his weight because he has a great metabolism. It was frustrating and I tried not to think about it. “Just shut up and eat your cholesterol filled eggs and pancakes and bacon.”

“I intend to.”

Larry had been my husband’s partner and friend from the day they were rookies, until politics had caused Tommy to resign and become a private detective. Larry took on a self-appointed task of watching out for me after my husband was killed and sometimes, it was stifling. We’d had several arguments about it, but recently, he had weakened. Mostly because I’d learned from C.J. how to handle myself. He was a damn good cop and I respected his opinions. It was easier when he respected mine.

After we’d eaten, he answered my questions about the Loudermilk case. “The medical examiner has some doubts about your client’s story.”

“What?”

“The angle of the shot for one thing. Mrs. Loudermilk says she was crouched on the bed when she shot him, that doesn’t wash. The M.E. says the shooter was standing. If she were as close to him as she says there would have been powder burns on his body. The M.E. says the shooter had to be standing, at least, twelve to fourteen feet away.”

“Wow. Bulldog’s not going to like that.”

Larry ran a big hand through his sandy hair, “Probably a good thing, I don’t think he can prove she was abused.”

“Why not?”

“I talked to our police psychologist and, although, he didn’t talk to her, he says she doesn’t display the attitude of a battered woman. Immediately after a battering, most woman usually act meek and acquiescent. She came in there full of self-confidence. Almost daring us to believe her.” Larry signaled the waitress to bring him more coffee. “She’s got all the buzz words and phrases down pat. Like how he got boozed up and how he used his open hand on her face and his fists on her breasts and abdomen.”

“Yeah, she gave me those classic statements, too, the ones I’ve read about; like how he’d say he was sorry and how she deserved it.”

His hazel eyes narrowed, “At one point Thursday night, the sex crimes unit took her over to get a medical exam. No evidence of sexual intercourse. They noticed a couple of bruises on her torso, but thought they could have been self-inflicted. She gave us a pretty good story, but she hasn’t given us the truth, yet.”

“Could she be covering for someone. Like maybe the daughter?”

“Possibly, but the captain and the D.A. want to go ahead with the indictment, anyway. The physical evidence and her confession wraps everything up in a nice neat package with a big bow. I just never have liked neat packages.”

“The daughter is seething with rage against the step-mother.”

“Rage isn’t evidence. Lots of daughters hate their step-parents. You don’t have to worry. Bulldog will plead Voda Beth on diminished capacity and get her off or he’ll plea bargain.” He absently stirred the coffee and then realized he hadn’t added the sugar yet. “I do have a funny feeling there’s something else.”

“I guess I’d better talk to Bulldog. He’s not going to be too happy with this.”

“Likely not.” He grabbed the check and stood, “I hate to eat and run,” he said, “but I’ve got to go interrogate witnesses in a drive-by shooting last night.”

“Have fun.”

“Oh, yeah.” He said harshly, his mind already to the task that lay ahead.

I headed for the office and, for once, the traffic wasn’t a problem. Sunday morning is one of the rare good times to drive in this congested Bayou city.

I had talked with C.J. before leaving home and canceled our brunch date, she said she’d go to the office and see what she could turn up on the computer. She wanted to run credit records on all three women, Voda Beth and Liz Loudermilk and Elwanda Watson; and throw in J.W. Loudermilk, too.

She’d made coffee. I poured a cup and sat down next to her desk. She had not found anything unusual on the women’s credit records, and the daughter hadn’t established any credit yet. We discussed my interview with Elwanda and told her what Larry had said. “I’d better call Bulldog. I don’t have one solitary thing to help him. He’ll probably want to fire us.”

“Okay,” she said, “but I’ve got a couple more checks to make while you’re getting us fired.”

I walked back to my desk and called Bulldog Porter’s office. His answering service said he’d call me back within the hour or if he didn’t, for me to call again.

Twenty minutes later, C.J. came in my office and a gleam was in her dark eyes. “I got it.”

“What?” I asked, not remembering what she’d been trying to do. I was still waiting on Bulldog to return my call and was trying to get my reports ready for him and figure out how much I could deduct from the $5,000 he had given me.

“Remember Liz Loudermilk told you about a big insurance policy?” I nodded. “She was right. You’re going to love this.”

“Uh-oh. Don’t tell me you’ve found another motive for Voda Beth.”

“Our client isn’t the only one with a motive. Little Miss Liz could inherit it all. All by herself.”

“Oh, yeah? How?

“If Voda Beth dies first or is disqualified; it all goes to the loving daughter.”

“All…ll rii…ii…ght. And I guess if ole Voda Beth goes to prison for killing her husband, she’ll be disqualified?”

“You got that right, Ms. Gordon, and to help put Liz to the top of the suspect list; you won’t believe this, she put money down yesterday on a brand new, fiery red Miata.

“You have got to be kidding.”

“If I’m lying, I’m dying. But just don’t forget one important thing - step-mommy’s told you and the police a big lie.”

“That’s okay. Old Bulldog will say she made that statement under duress,” I said. “This is just what he needed. It gives him some ammunition for his reasonable doubt.”

“Wonder what the lovely Liz was doing that night?”

I called Lieutenant Hays, knowing he’d need to know what we’d found. Luckily, he was near his car phone and I filled him in on Liz. He wasn’t too happy. The case was closed as far as he was concerned, but after he grumbled, said he’d talk with the daughter tomorrow, to see if she had an alibi for the night in question.

“C.J., I think Liz did it and our client confessed, all under some misguided idea to protect Liz. Bulldog can take this and run with it.”

“When do I get to meet this mouthpiece anyway?”

“Anytime you say. You’ll like him, he’s positively charming.”

“Unh-unh. No way I’m gonna like a shyster who useta work fo’ de mob. Those guys ain’t nobody for this li’l black girl to mess wid’.” As usual, her slipping into southern black, street talk cracked me up. Coming from such a smart and beautiful woman it was funny.

As I laughed, she said, “By the way, while running those credit card histories I did find a few interesting tidbits on old J.W. himself.”

“How can someone who sounds like you be so smart? You can check credit card records?”

“If you know the right buttons to push and Intertect does.” She handed me the print out of J.W. Loudermilk’s Visa and American Express statements for the past year.

I flipped through them. “Holy shit, this is scary. You don’t expect any old Jane Blow to be able to run a credit card account check.”

“Oh hell,” her voice full of pride, “not just any old Jane Blow can do it. It takes a few brains and persistence. I took what I learned from my investigator pals and played around for awhile and was able to come up with a pass word for a security code.”

“My partner - the smartass computer hack.” I was scanning the account statements and something caught my attention. Loudermilk had visited three different doctors in the past month and had charged his visits to his AmEX. “Wonder what this medical stuff is all about?”

“Give that girl a gold star. That’s what I thought was so interesting.”

“I happen to know this Doctor Gaudet is a neurosurgeon. I’m not sure about the other two.”

“Think I should check them out?” she grinned.

“Holy shit. Why didn’t I think of that.”

“Because you hired me to think for you.”

“Someone has to do the important stuff,” I said. “I don’t want to talk to Voda Beth again. It makes me mad when a client lies to me, but I could go talk to Elwanda Watson again. Maybe J.W. confided some medical problem to her. It’s probably not important though.”

“Fine. But do it tomorrow. I make a motion we get out of here. Sunday’s almost over and we need a little R & R.”

“Honey,” I said, using one of her favorite expressions, “you ain’t never lied.”



Monday morning dawned with Houston shrouded in fog. Not unusual this time of year, with cooler air sweeping down across Texas and meeting the warm Gulf air, it was inevitable. It looked like the sun would burn it off around ten, and sure enough, I was right. When I left for Elwanda’s around 10:30, there were only a few pockets of misty stuff, although, the sky was still hazy.

I had not called first for an appointment, sometimes it’s better to catch people when they’re not on guard. Turns out Elwanda was not the only one to be surprised. I found my client, Voda Beth Loudermilk visiting Elwanda. Neither seemed pleased to see me, but I didn’t let that stop me. They were both dressed in gowns and robes, but it looked as if neither had slept. What was going on between these two? I wondered.

They sat on the sofa next to each other and I sat in a platform rocker which angled off to their right. After exchanging a few politenesses, I mentioned homicide was interviewing Liz this morning, setting off quite a reaction.

Voda Beth practically yelled at me. “Liz didn’t have anything to do with anything. I’m the one who shot J.W. The police already have my statement.” She burst out crying and Elwanda moved closer to put her arms around Voda Beth, making soothing sounds as if comforting a baby.

“I resent someone accusing my daughter,” Elwanda said. “Was that your idea, Ms. Gordon?”

“Not exactly. But some new information about Liz did come to my attention. Naturally, I had to tell the lieutenant in charge.”

“What information?” she asked.

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

Voda Beth was crying so hard, she began coughing and Elwanda got up to get a glass of water. As she moved to the kitchen, the telephone rang. The receiver was a few feet from her, but when she shot a quick look at Voda Beth, she turned and said, “Jenny, would you mind getting that?”

I walked into the kitchen as Elwanda hurried back to the sofa. “Watson’s residence,” I said.

“Jenny, is that you? Good. I thought you should know what I found out from Doctor James Gaudet. Seems that Loudermilk had a deep-seated, inoperable brain tumor.”

I turned by back to the two women and kept my voice low. “Neuroblastoma?”

“Some big long name,” she said, “I’m not sure if that was it, but the doctor said it was bad. Real bad. That he’d never seen a malignancy grow so fast. The man was only weeks away from blindness, paralysis and death.”

“Sound like Loudermilk’s luck… wait a minute.”

“Now. Now, you’re thinking. This may have been planned.”

“A mercy killing… maybe.”

“Bingo. Something else you should know. Larry called. Liz has a strong alibi. She and a girlfriend was baby-sitting for her younger brothers and sisters at her mom’s house.”

“Where did Elwanda go?”

“Liz says she doesn’t know, but maybe. . .”

“The Loudermilk’s,” C.J. and I said in unison. I thought for a moment, then said, “Why don’t you call Bulldog Porter. Ask him to come over here immediately. This may get interesting.” I hung up the receiver, walked to the coffee pot, and poured a cup, but it was bitter.

I could see Elwanda and Voda Beth still huddled. It looked as if both had been crying, but there were signs of recovery. I rinsed out the coffee pot. The coffee canister was empty and it took me a few minutes to locate a new can, open it and get the pot dripping. I’d just poured three cups when the front doorbell rang.

Elwanda answered it and led Bulldog back into the den. Both women were definitely not expecting him, and wanted to know what was going on, would someone please tell them?

I handed the coffee around and then stood near the glass patio door and began. “I’m presenting a hypothetical case here, Bulldog. If you ladies will, please listen.” They turned tear-streaked faces to me. Elwanda’s permanent look of astonishment was more pronounced. Voda Beth looked tired. Bone tired.

“I think there was this nice man, who had a nice wife and a nice ex-wife and a not so very nice brain tumor. He knows he doesn’t have much time before he will be totally incapacitated and a short time after that, he will die. He doesn’t want to die like that. The man also had some business losses. There’s the wife and an eighteen year old daughter to think about.” You could have heard an eye blink, they were so quiet.

“I think this very nice man decided to complete suicide. Everything is planned, but that night for some reason, maybe fear, he was unable to do this alone. He asked his wife for help. She refused. He was on somewhat friendly terms with his ex-wife and he calls her. The ex comes over. He convinces the women time is running out. That the job must be done. The discussion continues, he is adamant, he begs and cajoles and one of them is convinced to help. Maybe it was the ex. But the wife says to the ex-wife “no,” if anything goes wrong what will happen to your children? You can’t go to prison. I won’t allow it. But I can’t kill the man I love, either. Finally, one woman does it and the wife calls the police.”

I looked at each woman, was unable to read the truth. “How does that sound to you ladies? Bulldog?”

No one said anything and I saw big tears running, first down Voda Beth’s face and then, Elwanda’s. Silent tears which quietly dripped into their laps, leaving traces on the robes. Their hands were clasped tightly together.

Elwanda said, “That’s pretty much what happened. I’m the one who shot him first. Voda Beth took the gun then, and emptied it into him so if the police tested her hands there would be gun powder traces and her fingerprints would be on the gun.”

“No.” The anguish was clear and strong in Voda Beth voice. “I’m the one who fired the gun. She had nothing to do with it. I killed him and I’ll take the punishment.”

“Bulldog,” I said. “Looks like you’ve got your hands full.”

“Oh no,” he said, “this one is already won. I doubt there will even be a trial. And if there is, plea bargaining is still an option. Thank you for your help, Jenny. You can expect business from me, now and then, when I have the need of an investigator. Send me an invoice for your expenses.”

I walked out of Elwanda Watson’s house and drove to the LaGrange, parked and walked inside. When I reached our office, C.J. asked, “Which one did it? Who fired the gun?”

“I don’t think it really matters. They just did what they thought had to be done.”



Many thanks to Jan and those who made this possible. Let Jan know you enjoyed it. Perhaps she'll bring us another double feature.

1 comment:

Leigh Lundin said...

Jan, I enjoy your stories. They hold up amazingly well.