The Principal Cause of Death

The Principal Cause of Death by Mark Richard Zubro Read Free Book Online

Book: The Principal Cause of Death by Mark Richard Zubro Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mark Richard Zubro
one-burner warmer that
always had a pot of water ready to be heated up for his favorite beverage.
    With his age-mottled hand he set the teacup down, and picked up half of his tuna sandwich and took an enormous bite. Al was a little over six feet tall, with wisps of white hair greased down and pulled straight back from his forehead. I watched him chew for a moment. With his mouth half full he said softly, “I’m glad Jones is dead. I hated him. He had no right to harass me that way. I’ve given the best years of my life to this school and he wanted to throw me out like last year’s trash. I hated him when he was alive and I still hate him.”
    â€œHe gave you a lot of unnecessary trouble,” I said.
    â€œDamn right.”
    Before he got launched into a full tirade against Jones, I said, “You know I’m a suspect in the murder.”
    He nodded and took another bite.
    â€œI’m trying to find out who was around last night. I know you grade papers in here late some evenings. Maybe you could help me with who you saw, maybe even when they left.”
    â€œIncluding me.”
    I’d avoided saying that. Welman had a temper and a one-track mind, not a good combination. I’d seen a couple of his tantrums with the kids. Years ago they must have been effective in cowing a teenager. Now even the freshmen laughed when he tried it. He’d do an only slightly milder version of a tantrum with the rest of the faculty, but what we really dreaded was his one-track mind. During a departmental meeting, if he got an idea stuck in his head, he never let go. He could hold a wrongheaded notion, a grudge, or simply a whimsical thought for years.
    â€œI want to clear myself and find the killer,” I said. “It’s hard for me to imagine anybody I know being a murderer, but it’s possible somebody from around here did it.”
    Welman took another bite of sandwich, giving himself time to think, or maybe hoping I’d go away. Finally, he
glared at me and said, “I guess I owe you. You saved my butt more than a couple of times.”
    I said, “I don’t see why you need to do this annoyed-curmudgeon act in the first place. Everybody knows you stay late. Eventually you’d be on any list of suspects. I don’t think you killed him, but we all know the problems you were having with him.”
    â€œDon’t push me,” he snapped. “Maybe I have my own reasons for being reluctant to talk. Maybe you’ve saved my ass, but maybe I think you make a good suspect. Maybe I think they might suspect me and why should I try to protect you? They think you did it. What good would it do me to try and help you?”
    â€œYou’d say that if you had something to hide.”
    â€œI’d say that even if I didn’t have anything to hide. I don’t want to be a suspect in a murder. You want to be snotty to me, fine, but then I don’t help.”
    â€œI wasn’t being snotty. I just don’t understand the big problem with talking to me.”
    â€œOh, don’t you? I’ll explain so even your young ears can hear properly. See, I know you tell the other teachers what a fool I am in these meetings. You tell them how stupid you think I am.”
    I’d only told Scott that, not anyone on the faculty. I began a protest, but he raised a hand to forestall me, and he continued. “I know what you people do to cover for me. I know what contempt you all have for me. I know you all just want me to quit and go away. Not going to happen. I’m going to be here a long time. All I have is my teacher’s pension when I retire. That paltry sum is not going to be a lot, so I’m going to be here for years to come. And I didn’t kill him. I was up here grading papers. I didn’t see anybody else. I didn’t move from here until after seven.”
    I tried to reason with him. I told him I’d never told what happened in meetings,

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