Death and Taxes


My unwanted superpower kicked in after three or four days every time I dried out. I could smell alcohol at a distance, especially indoors. As I looked into the waiting room, the victim’s receptionist, sniffling and clutching at a tissue, gave off a woody smell with a bite to it, not on her breath, from her skin, probably a Canadian whiskey, bottom shelf, so strong it seemed to envelope the couple sitting across from her.

Lancelot was questioning her, notepad in hand. Not sure who came up with Detective Lance Shea’s nickname, but hey, if the chainmail fits…

He led me back out into the hall and closed the door. “Victim’s William Shaughnessy. Sixty-seven. Widowed. The Secretary’s his niece. She says she heard voices raised during his three-thirty appointment, a guy named Conaton, then two shots. Vic owns a Ruger nine mil. Probably his piece at the scene. Then she heard Conaton take off out the back door.”

In Conaton’s office, CSI and the death investigator were already busy.

Just beyond the doorway lay the gun, a Ruger compact nine-millimeter semi-automatic, oxide-black.

Shaughnessy sat slumped in the chair. On the wall behind him hung framed photos signed by Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady. He had an L-shaped, walnut desk with a fancy wireless intercom at one side and a landline phone with the message light pulsing red.

The crime scene tech angled a spotlight on a tripod towards the desktop to expose the fine layer of high-velocity blood splatter. It gave a pinkish hue to the papers there. I stepped closer. On top was the W2 of Bruce P. Conaton. It was clean. No splatter at all.

The lemon-yellow fabric of William Shaughnessy’s dress shirt gave the fist-sized blood stains on his chest an orangey hue. The two buttons below the well-starched collar were unfastened to reveal tan skin and a tuft of gray hairs that nearly hid a scar like the laces of a football.

The death investigator noticed me studying it. “Cardiac surgery, probably a bypass graft. Definitely a pacemaker.”

“How can you tell?”

“There’s a remote monitor.” She pointed to the gadget I’d mistaken for an intercom.

“No kidding.”

I picked up the phone receiver and tapped *69 with my gloved forefinger.

It took me three more digits to reach a human at the cardiology office and another seven minutes to reach a nurse practitioner who actually knew anything.

“I’ll need Mr. Shaughnessy’s permission before I can share any information, detective.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. He’s been murdered.”

“What? Oh no.”

“I really need to know why you called.”

“Well…it was his remote pacemaker. It triggered an alarm. We lost signal, and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t due to asystole.”

“English, please.”

“Well, these things are usually just a connection problem, but the alarm was for a flatline.”

“And at what time did that alarm happen?”

“It happened at…two thirty-seven this afternoon.”

 “You’re certain of that?”

“Absolutely certain.”


In the waiting room, the two client witnesses held hands as Lancelot took notes. My alcohol-sniffing superpower kicked in again. Canadian Whiskey. Bottom shelf. It wasn’t the receptionist’s smell wafting over them earlier after all. The three had the same smell.

Lancelot stepped out into the hall. “So, the other two witnesses back up the niece. You learn anything?”

“Yeah. Our witnesses are lying.”

“How do you know?”

“Shaughnessy’s remote pacemaker shows he died at two thirty-seven. Conaton’s paperwork was staged at the scene. And our three witnesses shared cocktails last night. I can’t prove it, but they did. Call it intuition.”


Back at the precinct, in separate boxes, the two joint filers flipped on the niece, Shaughnessy’s sole beneficiary, in under an hour.

Typing up the paperwork, it dawned on me that I hadn’t started my own taxes. My tax guy, about Shaughnessy’s age, had just retired. “Say, Lancelot, you do your own taxes?”

“Nah, too worried about audits.”

I thought about it. “Seems like the IRS would have a bunch of people in line for audits before us detectives.”

“I don’t know. They audited Sherlock Holmes.”

I winced, guessing what was coming.

“Too many deductions.”

~ fin ~


A recovering musician, Avram Lavinsky was short listed for the 2022 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize and the 2022 Al Blanchard Award for the best New England crime short story. His work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, the San Antonio Review, Mystery Tribune, Savage Planets, and Deadly Nightshade: Best New England Crime Stories 2022. He has also earned starred reviews from the industry’s toughest critics, his three teenage sons, although not often.