A Basement Caper: The Mix-Tape Murder Mystery

Two unlikely stereo types must work together to solve a crime. Murder was the case, and MAGNET’s Mitch Myers is watching the detectives. There will be blood on the tracks.

Part I: New School Vs. Old School
It was the fall of 2002, and Ross Melboro was a young detective down at the third precinct. He’d only been with the homicide division for six months and had yet to see any action out in the field. 

Ross had been listening to Elvis Costello on the way to work. He put away his iPod and sat down at his desk. The workday was just starting when the chief walked out of his office and hollered, “Melboro, I want you to get right over to a murder site uptown and give Kowalt a hand!” Jim Kowalt was a veteran homicide detective. In the precinct, he was known as a real hard-nose who liked to work alone. 

Ross jumped up from his desk, “Sure thing, chief, what’s the situation?” 

“You’ll find out when you get there!” barked the commander. “Now move it! It’s 1859 W. Center Street, apartment 3-A. The victim’s name was Manning.”

Detective Jim Kowalt barely looked up when Melboro arrived at the scene of the crime. “It looks premeditated,” said Kowalt through clenched teeth. There, face down in the front room of the spacious apartment was a middle-aged man sprawled out a few feet away from a huge stereo system. He’d been stabbed to death.

“He’s been gone for at least eight hours,” Kowalt continued. “The upstairs neighbor called it in around three this morning, and whoever the murderer is, he’s pretty cute.” 

“Cute? I don’t understand,” said Ross. Kowalt pointed down beside the body, “Whoever stabbed him in the back used an icicle or something like it, eliminating the possibility of finding the melted murder weapon. It’s the oldest trick in the book but still works pretty good. Our best chance is with the DNA.”

“It must have been someone he knew,” Ross suggested. “I mean, the murderer had to get pretty close to stab him like that.”

Kowalt stared blankly at the young detective. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s have a chat with the upstairs neighbor.”

The two walked up a short flight of stairs. Ross stared at the back of Kowalt’s crew-cut as the elder detective knocked on the door. A small, frightened looking man let them in immediately. He gave his story in a faint, labored voice.

“I kept calling downstairs because the music was so loud I couldn’t watch the Hitchcock marathon on my television,” explained Thomas Wolley. “Mr. Manning is directly below me so I hear everything through the floor. He didn’t answer his phone so finally I went down there and knocked. Nobody answered, but his door was open a crack, so I kept yelling, ‘Hello! Hello!’ I thought maybe he couldn’t hear me because of the music, so I peeked in and that’s when I saw him in the front room. It was horrible.”

Since he was part of the investigative team, Ross got in on the questioning: “So, did you know the victim well, Mr. Wolley?” 

“Actually, I’d only spoken with him once,” the neighbor replied. “That was about the loud music, too. He was always blasting music in the middle of the night. But Mr. Manning worked very strange hours and usually left the house very early in the morning, so I hardly saw him face to face.”

“Well, tell me, Mr. Wolley,” reasserted Kowalt. “Did you hear anything else before you went downstairs, perhaps an argument or a struggle of some sort?”

“No, detective,” Wolley replied.  

Unsatisfied, Kowalt prodded further. “I thought you said that you could hear everything through the floor.”

The upstairs neighbor began sweating and seemed nervous. “I didn’t hear anything like that,” he insisted. “The music was awfully loud, that’s all—I couldn’t hear myself think. The whole experience was a nightmare!” 

Abruptly, Detective Kowalt stood up and handed the man his card. “Well, thanks for your time, Mr. Wolley. I’m sure this all was very traumatic for you. If anything else comes to mind, please give us a call.”

As they walked back downstairs Ross turned to Kowalt, “Why’d you cut things off up there? That guy must know more than he was saying.”

The elder detective sneered, “Listen kid, follow my lead. I got everything we needed from our Mr. Wolley. Besides, the chief didn’t send you down here to help me ask questions.” 

Ross was already resenting his new partner. “So, why did he send me down here?” he asked.

“Well, you’re still in your 20s,” Kowalt answered.

“So, what does that have to do with it?” Ross said defensively. 

“Well,” said Kowalt. “The victim was a notorious radio personality. He was an obnoxious shock jock with a big local following.”

The detectives reentered the victim’s front room, and Kowalt sat down on the couch near the victim’s body. 

“But why did I get assigned to this case?” Ross asked again as he tried to avoid looking at the corpse.

The older detective seemed bored, “Well, the victim was holding a CD box in his hand, and the corresponding CD was actually playing in his stereo on repeat.” 

“A jewel case,” Ross said quietly. 

“What? No, nothing like that,” Kowalt snapped. “Nothing seems to be missing from the apartment, and the guy didn’t have any jewelry.” 

“No,” Ross said with more authority, “A jewel case, that’s what people call the plastic CD boxes.” 

“Well, that’s why you’re assigned to the case,” Kowalt said flatly. “I’ve already had the CD and the ‘jewel case’ sent downtown for fingerprints and DNA.” 

Ross was eager to hear more. “So, what CD was it?” he asked. 

“Well, that’s another thing,” Kowalt answered. “Apparently, it was a custom-made collection comprised of different songs.” 

“A mix tape,” said Ross. 

“A tape? No!” Kowalt growled. “I said it was a CD, not a tape.” 

“No, that’s what you call it,” Ross insisted. “A mix tape! That’s just what people call custom-made collections. I guess I’ll need to see if there was a track listing. Was it written by hand?” 

Detective Kowalt squinted at Ross and hissed, “A what listing?”  

Ross snapped at the elder, “A track listing—it’s the song list! I just want to know about the songs titles listed on the CD box. Were they written by hand?” 

“I thought you said it was a jewel case,” said Kowalt. 

Frustrated, Ross surrendered, “OK, yes, the song list that came along with the jewel case. Now please tell me, was the track listing handwritten?” 

Detective Kowalt looked out the window and said, “Well, no. It wasn’t handwritten, and it wasn’t typewritten either. It looked like a CD that you would buy in the store.” 

“Probably computer generated,” Ross muttered. 

“What? The music?” Kowalt asked. 

“No, the graphics,” Ross said condescendingly.

The two sat in stony silence as Alex Manning’s body was taken down to the police ambulance. Ross tried to re-start the conversation, 

“So, was there anything on the CD box besides the song titles and the artists?” he asked delicately.

The older detective smiled and whispered, “Jewel case.”  

Ross Melboro’s neck flushed crimson as he spoke again, “Right, jewel case, OK, I’m sorry. But was there anything else printed on it or not?” 

Detective Kowalt leaned back on the couch, yawned and stretched. Then he put his feet up on the coffee table, “Well, yes. In two places, on the front and on the spine, it says, ‘4 AM.’” 

“So,” asked Ross, “do you think the victim made this CD for early-morning listening?” 

“Well, maybe. But I doubt it was that simple,” said Kowalt. “You see; The victim’s name was Alex Manning. His initials are A.M. This complicates matters greatly, and we have to eliminate several possibilities.” 

“You don’t think the murderer gave the victim this mix tape as some kind of message or threat!” Ross exclaimed. 

“Well, it’s possible,” answered Kowalt. “But there are other considerations.” 

Ross looked shyly at the older detective and said, “Such as?” 

Kowalt’s rough voice took on a sarcastic, singsong quality, “Such as, the victim’s radio show was on the AM band during the a.m. drive time. So, besides Alex Manning’s initials or maybe even a home listening, ‘4 AM’ could also mean ‘For A.M.’ Or maybe ‘For a.m.’ Or ‘4 a.m.’ Get it?” 

“Got it,” said Ross. 

“Good,” said Kowalt. “Because there’s also the chance that the victim made the mix tape for somebody else. And if that’s true, then there’s an entirely different set of clues in the ‘track listing’ as to who the murderer might be. But any way that you look at it, we have suspects.”

“‘Whom,’” said Ross. “It’s not ‘who’ the murderer might be, it’s ‘whom.’” 

Jim Kowalt stared at his young partner. “Anyway, we have to talk to the victim’s son this afternoon—he’d just started living with his old man before this happened. Twenty-two years old and the product of a marriage long lost to divorce. Of course, the son claims he was at his girlfriend’s house last night. And guess what his name is—Alex Manning Jr.—another A.M. The kid had a stormy relationship with his old man, but he’s the only heir in line to inherit whatever there is.”

“So, there’s a motive,” Ross said supportively. 

“Well, maybe, but it gets better,” replied Kowalt. “Manning had a co-host on the radio, this sidekick who always laughed it up when he badgered his guests. Her name is Alesha Martinez—A.M again. Haven’t you ever heard of these people? They’ve been a radio team for nearly 10 years, and interestingly, they had a very public fight about a month ago. It was their only on-air dispute and apparently sounded real and quite bitter. The station got loads of calls begging for them to kiss and make up. And get this, they didn’t speak to each other while working together on the air for almost three weeks.”

“So, what was the argument about?” Ross asked. 

“Well,” said Kowalt, “our victim was sleeping with another woman at the station who worked in advertising or sales or something like that. Manning would call her while they were broadcasting the show. His on-air conversations with her could get pretty suggestive, and they were only together for a few months.” 

“And then?” Ross asked. 

“Then Manning dumped the girl,” said Kowalt. “He broke up with her over the phone on the show and put her down pretty bad. This seemed to set off his co-host—Alesha Martinez flipped out in front everybody, confronting Manning for being a self-centered misogynist who didn’t know how to treat a woman, etc. It was pretty ugly. They finally worked out their differences, and everyone had supposedly moved on.”

Ross felt slightly voyeuristic as he asked,  “Did they have a sexual relationship?” 

Kowalt snorted, “Well, there’s been speculation, but they never acknowledged anything one way or the other. Good for the ratings, I suppose. They were pretty tight, though—that much is for sure.”

Ross tried brainstorming with his partner, “You know, Martinez could have been resentful of either party—that is—she could have been jealous of the girlfriend, but maybe she was jealous of Manning. I mean—maybe she likes girls.” 

Ross then got a strange look on his face and asked, “Hey, the ex-girlfriend at the radio station, what’s her name?” 

Jim Kowalt said, “You won’t believe it.” 

“Try me,” Ross insisted.  

“Angie Madison,” said Kowalt. 

“Damn,” said Ross.

Kowalt let some moments pass before he said, “Well, there’s one more thing.” 

Ross looked warily at the veteran detective, “So, what’s that?” 

Kowalt put on some reading glasses, paged through a small green notebook and said, “Well, Manning had a rival at another radio station. They would harass each other on the air and pull these elaborate pranks. Last month, they ran into each other, twice at public functions. Both times, things got heated, and they had to be separated. Some folks thought it was an act, but supposedly they really hated each other and were calling it a blood feud.” 

“So,” Ross sighed, “what’s the rival’s name?” 

Kowalt closed the notebook, pushed his glasses on top of his head, rubbed the back of his crew-cut and said, “Tom Murphy. Of Murphy In The Morning fame.” 

“Well, at least he’s not another A.M.—that’s something,” Ross joked. 

“Not exactly,” Kowalt muttered. 

“What does that mean?” Ross whined. 

The elder bolted to his feet, “His nickname is Ace. Ace Murphy. Now let’s go get something to eat before we talk to Manning’s son, I’m starved.”

Part II: Family And Friends First
Melboro and Kowalt interviewed Alex Manning Jr. at his girlfriend’s apartment on the West Side, a 10-minute drive from the victim’s home. The son answered the door unshaven with watery eyes and a sluggish manner. Ross thought the guy looked like he might be on drugs. 

Detective Kowalt was on the hunt, “We’re sorry for your loss, Mr. Manning. But you weren’t close with your father, were you?”

Alex Manning Jr. seemed unsettled by this as they sat down at the kitchen table. But he did admit, quite coherently, it was true—he hadn’t gotten along with his father at all. 

“I moved in with him because my mom remarried and moved to the suburbs,” he explained. “I just wanted to be closer to my girlfriend in the city, and my dad said he didn’t care, so I gave it a shot.”  

Kowalt continued to push the younger Manning, “But the two of you argued quite a lot, didn’t you?” 

“Yes, but that’s the way he was with everybody,” the son said sadly.  “My father was always arguing. He loved to pick fights, so eventually I just started staying over here and would only stop by his place to get some fresh clothes.”

The young man became angry as he spoke. “It was impossible to get any sleep over there because he’d be up late at night before going to work and always played his music incredibly loud. The neighbors hated it, too. The only thing that he and I agreed on was that we both liked Frank Zappa.”   

Ross Melboro queried, “Did your father have any enemies or receive any threats?” 

Alex Manning Jr. said, “Haven’t you ever heard my father’s show? Even people who listened in despised him. He was incredibly vindictive and cruel and didn’t respect anyone. If he knew that you didn’t like something, he would just do it more. He was only happy when he was making someone miserable.”

Jim Kowalt squinted at the younger Manning and said, “Well, our examination of the phone records indicate your father spoke to you twice last night before he was killed. You called him at home around seven in the evening, and he called you about an hour later. What was that all about?” 

“To be honest, we’d been fighting all week,” Alex Jr. said. “But I was going to visit my dad last night, and we were making plans for dinner. Then he called me back and told me not to bother, that he was expecting somebody and was too busy to see me.” 

“Was he expecting a woman?” Ross asked. 

Jim Kowalt interrupted before the son could answer and said, “What my partner meant is, do you know who your father was expecting to see last night when he canceled his plans with you?” 

Alex Jr. looked back and forth between the two detectives. He shook his head. “No, I don’t know. He was up to something, though. And the weird thing was that he sounded upbeat. As far as women were concerned, the only ones I ever saw at the house were Alesha and that girl Angie. But they both had been angry at him and were staying away from the apartment as far as I know.” 

Jim Kowalt made a comment about the son’s impending inheritance. Then he jumped up, handed Alex Jr. his card and thanked the young man for his cooperation.

As Alex Jr. escorted the detectives to the door, he tentatively asked, “Don’t you want to know where I was at the time of my father’s murder?” 

Detective Kowalt barely turned his head and said, “Here with your girlfriend, watching TV all night?”  

“You got that right,” said Alex Manning Jr. as he closed the door.

Outside, Jim Kowalt turned to Ross and said, “Well, let’s go down to the radio station and kill two birds with one stone, I’ve scheduled interviews with Angie Madison and Alesha Martinez, and it’s important that we meet with both suspects before the media blows this thing out of proportion. Supposedly, Martinez struggled through the show this morning because Manning was missing and nobody knew where he was. Now the word is out, and the morning-show staff are undoubtedly trying to figure out what to do next.”  

By the time the detectives had arrived, the station had doubled their security. There was a media scrum in front of the building and plenty of action inside. Ross noticed a cluster of mourning guests milling around, including a couple of old porn stars. Jim Kowalt observed that most of the station’s employees seemed quite unsettled by news of the murder.

An intern escorted the detectives into Alesha Martinez’s small office. Martinez was wearing a Snoop Dogg sweatshirt with the radio station’s logo. She had dark eyes, and her hair was straight and tied back in a long ponytail. Her voice was smooth and clear from years of radio work. She explained that she was supposed to pick up Alex Manning from his home that morning and give him a ride to work. They did this occasionally to get a jump on the day when there was a lot to discuss. 

Ross could’t stop noticing how attractive she was.

Alesha Martinez claimed she had called Manning from her car, but he never answered so she drove straight to the radio station without him. She also maintained that Manning was an erratic person and his changing plans didn’t particularly concern her. That is, until he didn’t show up for work. 

“Alex never missed a show in all the years I knew him,” said Martinez. 

“But you do have a key to his apartment, don’t you?” Kowalt said bluntly. 

Alesha’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, I do, and I don’t like the implication. Do you think I need any of this? Don’t you know what is happening here? There are all sorts of conspiracy theories, and that’s all anyone can talk about. Some people think I killed Alex, while others are blaming Angie Madison. It’s insane!”          

She continued ranting, “We’re not even sure about doing our show tomorrow, but what else can we do? Alex and I had a decade of history, and I can’t do my job right now without looking wrong to somebody. The funny thing is, Alex was the most heartless person of us all, and he’s not here to take advantage of this mess. I’ve got to be tough and in control or the sharks are going to eat me alive. Our entire program is in jeopardy—and I did not kill Alex Manning!”

Ross kept his head down taking notes, trying not to stare at Alesha Martinez. 

“Did Alex Manning have any enemies, Ms. Martinez?” asked Kowalt. 

Alesha shook her head wearily. “I hope you’re not asking me to do your work for you,” she said. “Alex and I were on the radio for 10 years. We made appearances and went to parties and hosted events all over the city. You know there’s just a ton of kooks. Alex had affairs and on-air confrontations by the score. We both had stalkers, and that required restraining orders. Alex always invested in dubious financial schemes, and sometimes other people got screwed. Sure, he had enemies—just look at our shows.” 

Kowalt was terse, “Our records show that only two individuals ever threatened Alex Manning’s life and had restraining orders established as a result of those threats. These individuals now reside in other states and have been eliminated as suspects. We believe the person who killed Alex Manning was someone closer. How well do you know Angie Madison?” 

“Not that well,” answered Martinez. “We all went out socially a few times when she was dating Alex. But anyone who listened to our show last year knows about Angie.”   

“So, Ms. Martinez,” stammered Ross. “Were you romantically involved with Mr. Manning?” 

“Detective,” she said, “there was nothing romantic about my relationship with Alex Manning.”

Ross countered boldly, “Yes, but were you having sex with him?” 

“Why is that the question?” Martinez spat back. “There are plenty of other reasons why somebody would kill Alex, I assure you. What’s the difference if we ever had sex? Can’t you guys get past the jealous-lover thing?” 

“Well,” said Jim Kowalt. “Isn’t it true that you’ve been trying to renegotiate your contract with this radio station but that any release from your current arrangement required an exemption from Alex Manning—an exemption that he hadn’t provided despite your repeated requests for him to do so? 

“Yes, that’s true,” she said indifferently.

“Well,” continued Kowalt, “wasn’t this one of the factors that had led to the tension between you and Mr. Manning prior to his murder? The tension that led to you confronting him on the air for his treatment of women in general, his treatment of Angie Madison in particular, and his temperament toward you, his loyal co-host?”  

“Yes, that was one of the factors,” she said less indifferently. 

“Well, where were you last night between 10 o’clock and four in the morning?” asked Jim Kowalt. 

“With a friend,” she said defiantly. 

“Man, she’s fine,” thought Ross. 

Jim Kowalt persisted, “Well, Ms. Martinez, can you please provide us with that person’s name and contact information so that we might confirm your whereabouts at the time of Alex Manning’s murder? 

Alesha Martinez looked alarmed and her voice became shrill, “I’d really rather not.”

Ross leaned forward and tried to be charming, “Please, Miss Martinez, Alesha. I guarantee this information will not be made available to anyone else. All we want to do is eliminate you as a suspect as quickly as possible, and that’s it. I promise. We respect your privacy.” 

Alesha Martinez was unimpressed, “Don’t you understand that I could lose my job? There’s no guarantee, just your damn promise. I’m supposed to trust you? Why don’t you just quit leering at me and back off?” 

Jim Kowalt also leaned forward and softened his voice as best he could, “You have my guarantee as well, Ms. Martinez. We’re just trying to solve this case, and if you’re innocent you should have nothing to worry about.” 

The woman gazed at the ceiling. She blinked back some tears and finally said in a whisper, “OK.” 

“Well,” repeated Jim Kowalt, “who were you with last night between 10 in the evening and four in the morning? 

“Ace Murphy,” said Alesha Martinez. 

“Damn,” said Ross Melboro. 

Part III: What Was There Not To Dislike?
Angie Madison didn’t have an office; she worked out of a cubicle in the sales department. For privacy, the detectives met with her in one of the station’s conference rooms. Madison was a tall blond, originally from Terre Haute, Ind. She gave off a youthful innocence and looked Jim Kowalt straight in the eye. She was clearly intelligent and appeared as if she exercised daily. 

Ross couldn’t get over how attractive she was.

Angie Madison soberly explained to the detectives that she had been working at the radio station as an ad salesperson for about 18 months before ever having dated Alex Manning. “He was the least likely person for me to have gone out with,” she said. 

“In what way?” Ross asked gently. 

Angie Madison looked directly at Ross and explained, “He was like my father, an overwhelming personality. Alex was very aggressive, and his mind was very sharp. He often sought out and exposed other people’s weaknesses.” 

“Well, why did you start having personal dialogues with Mr. Manning while he was on the radio?” Kowalt asked. 

“The first time it happened, it was just him asking me out on a date,” she replied. “I didn’t even realize that we were on the air that day until my girlfriend called me afterward.” Angie Madison blushed. “Discussing personal things on the air happened gradually. He’d call me while I was on the way to a meeting or something. I’ve always had a weird sense of humor and came back at him pretty good when he got smart. Everyone liked it. After that, it became like a game for Alex. He really tried to catch me off-guard. That’s where I drew the line, but Alex was incorrigible.”

“We understand that Mr. Manning broke up with you on the show, and you took it pretty hard,” said Kowalt. 

“That’s not true—I broke up with him!” Angie Madison objected. “Then he called me up on his show the next day and said that he didn’t want to see me anymore. It was just like Paul McCartney claiming he was the first one to quit the Beatles! I was upset because he made it look like he was dumping me, and it wasn’t true. He tried to humiliate me!”  

“And Mr. Manning continued to disparage your reputation on his show after you’d stopped seeing each other,” added Kowalt. 

“That’s correct,” said Angie. “And I’d never been so hurt and angered by a person in my entire adult life.”

“Is that when you called the show and told him to ‘fuck off and die’ on the air?” asked Detective Kowalt.  

“Yes, that’s when I called him and did that,” Madison answered. 

“And you told him that if he ever embarrassed you again, he’d regret it,” Kowalt reminded. 

“Yes, but he never bothered me again after I confronted him,” she said. “He left me alone after I called that day, and that was really the end of it.” 

Kowalt pressed further, “Well, wasn’t your confrontation on the radio the event that led to an argument between Mr. Manning and Alesha Martinez?” 

“Yes, that’s true,” said Madison. “But what does that have to do with anything? Alesha was standing up for herself as a woman, and I respect her for that.” 

Ross jumped in, “Do you know Alesha very well?” 

“Not really,” she replied. “We all went out socially a few times when I was dating Alex, but I never would stay up late and hang out like they did.”

Jim Kowalt remained focused, “Did you continue to communicate with Alex Manning?” 

“Not really,” she answered. “I was very angry with Alex and didn’t want to have anything to do with him,” 

Jim Kowalt frowned and said, “Well, the phone records show that Alex Manning called you at home last night around 6:30 and that the two of you were on the line for about 20 minutes.”

“He called me!” Angie Madison screeched. “I answered my phone. Is that a crime?” 

“Well, what did you discuss on the phone for 20 minutes?” asked Kowalt. 

“Alex wanted to reconcile—he said he wanted me back!” Angie Madison was almost shouting. “I didn’t say yes, but I didn’t hang up on him. He kept asking me to come over to his place. I told him I had to call him back. But I didn’t call him back. I turned off the ringer, took a Xanax and watched the Hitchcock marathon on television until I fell asleep.” 

“Well, tell me, Ms. Madison,” Jim Kowalt said. “Do you have a key to Mr. Manning’s apartment in your possession?” 

Angie Madison started crying, “Yes! I still have my key; I was going to give it back. So I forgot! That doesn’t mean that I would kill anybody.” She looked imploringly at Ross. “You don’t think I killed Alex—do you?” 

Jim Kowalt immediately sprang to his feet and handed Angie Madison his card. He thanked her for her time and hustled Ross straight out of the conference room.

The two detectives drove across town to Ace Murphy’s radio station in silence. Upon arriving, they were whisked directly to a large waiting room outside of Murphy’s office. 

Ace Murphy had tousled hair, a goatee and was wearing a Velvet Underground T-shirt underneath a worn leather jacket. Ace gave the impression that he was very busy and seemed to have a short attention span. He also appeared to be in a good mood due to the attention he was receiving since Alex Manning’s demise had become public knowledge. 

“Let’s make this quick, gentlemen,” Ace said boisterously. “I have several interviews scheduled after this. I guess everyone wants to know what Ace thinks about poor Alex Manning getting whacked.”

Jim Kowalt got straight down to business, “Mr. Murphy, we understand that you and the deceased had a strong dislike for each other.” 

Ace Murphy didn’t even blink, “What was there not to dislike? Alex was an on-air asshole, same as me, but he was a jerkoff off the air, too. My fans loved it when I made Alex look bad, which was easy to do. Gentlemen, it was my professional and personal pleasure to hate Alex Manning.”

“Well,” Kowalt observed, “your feud with Mr. Manning and his murder last night has certainly brought you into the spotlight.” 

“You bet,” Murphy said gleefully. “Tomorrow we’re going to do ‘the worst of Alex Manning’ and help remember all the lowdown things that he ever did to anyone.”

“We also understand that you were with Alesha Martinez at the time of the murder,” offered Ross. 

“That’s coming out now, huh?” Murphy said casually. “We’ve only been sleeping together for a couple months, and I told her that it would be impossible to keep it a secret. The woman’s obsessed with her image, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with a little extra notoriety.” 

Ace Murphy began pacing his office excitedly, “I guess I don’t have to worry about keeping our ‘secret’ if you guys know about it. Maybe I’ll drop that bombshell in my next interview. This keeps getting better and better!”

“We promised Ms. Martinez our discretion on this matter,” Ross said protectively. “So don’t make this part of your media spiel. OK, Ace?”

Ace Murphy’s eyes got wide, “What are you saying, detective? Are you telling me that I can’t talk about my personal life if I feel like it? So what if our affair becomes common knowledge before Alesha is ready to deal with it? Are you going to come and arrest me?” 

“You’re pretty nonchalant about this whole thing, aren’t you, Mr. Murphy?” said Jim Kowalt. 

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Ace responded. “I didn’t murder anyone. Besides, everyone knows what a hateful person Alex Manning was. Do we all have to act sad just because somebody finally got around to killing him?”

“Well, Alesha Martinez claims that you were together at her house at the time of the murder,” said Kowalt. “This would provide both of you with an alibi, for now. Care to confirm her story?” 

“Of course,” answered Murphy. “I was there, and that’s a fact. But I can’t say for certain if the same goes for Alesha.” 

“What do you mean?” asked Ross.

Ace Murphy seemed pleased as he explained, “What I mean is that I was at her house, yes. But I was sleeping from 11:30 at night until three in the morning and can’t say Alesha was there the whole time. I mean, who knows where she was? I was totally asleep, and all I can say is that she was there when I woke up but can’t really vouch for her.”

“Damn,” thought Ross as Kowalt jumped up and handed Murphy his card.

Part IV: Ross Melboro’s Big Chance
The detectives drove back to the precinct. Again there was silence. Ross didn’t know what to say about the strange unfolding of the murder case. He waited for some direction to come from his senior partner. 

Kowalt pulled the unmarked squad car up near the precinct building. He turned to Ross and said firmly, “Well, now comes the hard part, so don’t screw this up. It’s 7:45, which means that you have just about two hours to examine contents of the ‘jewel case’ and the ‘track listing.’ Forensics says that there were no fingerprints or DNA on the disc besides those of Manning.

“So, here’s what I want you to do for me,” continued Kowalt. “Analyze the evidence from a musical perspective. See if there were any messages in the songs or anything else that you can come up with. I need you to develop a couple different theories as to the identity of the murderer. Then I want you to meet me at the scene of the crime tonight at 10:00.”

Jim Kowalt had a confidential tone as he described his plan. “After we’re set up at the victim’s home, I’m going to have the ‘four A.M.s’ all brought there, by themselves, no lawyers. We may need to stall them once they arrive, so be prepared to discuss all the clues from the CD in detail.”

Ross became nervous at the prospect of confronting the suspects again, especially so soon and all together. “Are you sure we’re really ready for this?” he asked. “It feels rushed. Besides, how are you even going to get them all to show up, let alone without counsel?” 

“Don’t you worry about that,” Kowalt said darkly. “Just be ready to do some fast talking. It’ll be a surprise, and there will be some confusion when everyone arrives. But we can’t wait until tomorrow—we have to gather all of the suspects together at the scene of the crime tonight.” 

Ross got out of the car and started walking toward the police station. Kowalt opened the window on the passenger side, leaned over and shouted, “Don’t screw this up, rookie! And remember—10 o’clock sharp!

Ross sat down at his desk with the CD and jewel-case photos from forensics. He was sweating as he checked the clock on the wall and became even more anxious about his 10 o’clock deadline. “This is crazy,” he thought. “What does Kowalt expect me to do in just two hours?” 

It was only then that Ross finally examined the track listing from back of the jewel case. He gasped at what he saw. 

Part V: And Then There Were Some
Ross returned to the scene of the crime just five minutes before 10 o’clock. He’d rushed to get there, and his heart was still pounding as he tapped on the front door of Alex Manning’s apartment.

Jim Kowalt cracked open the door and literally pulled Ross inside. 

“You just made it,” he said in a low voice. “Well, how did you do with your ‘mix tape’? Any decent leads?”  

“Actually, I—.” Ross was cut off in mid-sentence by the senior detective.

“No time for that now,” Kowalt exclaimed tersely. “The ‘four A.M.s’ will be here any minute! Just get yourself ready to confront the suspects. All hell is going to break loose here if you don’t handle things right.”

“But, I—,” Ross floundered.

Kowalt interrupted again, “Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll be backing you up the whole time. Just keep talking until I give you the signal.”

“What signal?” Ross asked. 

Jim Kowalt had already turned his back on Ross and was tinkering with the stereo in the victim’s front room. “Crap,” he muttered. “How do you work the auto-repeat on this damn CD player?” 

Before Ross could offer to help there was a knock. He stood frozen while Jim Kowalt pressed some buttons on the CD player, walked across the room and then opened the door.

All four suspects had been escorted separately to Alex Manning’s apartment but arrived at the exact same time. As Kowalt had predicted, there was a great deal of confusion as the “four A.M.s” were herded into the victim’s front room.

“What is the meaning of this, detective?” Alesha Martinez demanded. “And what in the hell is he doing here?”

“Aren’t you glad to see me?” Ace Murphy said sarcastically. “Hey, why don’t you introduce me to your friend? I’m Ace. Nice to meet you.”

“I know who you are,” Angie Madison said coldly. Then she turned to the younger Manning and said, “Hello Alex, I’m so sorry about what happened to your father.”

“Thanks Angie,” said Alex Manning Jr. looking around the room. “But this is creepy. Detective, what are we here for? Is someone under arrest?”

Jim Kowalt spoke in a loud voice because he already had the stereo playing music at a high volume. “Not yet,” he answered. “But that could change. Everyone please sit down, and we’ll get this over with as soon as possible. I’m going to let my associate Detective Melboro explain.”

Ross stood in front of the “four A.M.s” and with the music blaring began babbling nervously, “Well, I’m sorry to say that one of you in this room is a murderer!” 

Immediately there was an angry howl of denials from the “four A.M.s.”

“Quiet please!” Ross asserted. “Thanks to the evidence found in this apartment, we believe the initials of Alex Manning’s murderer are A.M.”

The music in the apartment grew even louder.  

“And you, Alex Jr.” Ross continued. “You hated your father. Besides that, you’re the only one mentioned in your father’s will.”

“This is bullshit, man,” said Alex Manning Jr.

“If it’s bullshit then how do you explain the Frank Zappa song, ‘My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama,’ found on the mix-tape CD in your father’s stereo? We know that the only thing you and your father agreed on was Zappa.

The music was blasting as Frank Zappa’s voice snarled through the speakers.

“A mix tape?” yelled Alex. “Is it a mix tape, or is it a CD? I don’t understand.” 

“It’s a CD,” hollered Ace Murphy. “That’s just what they call them: mix tapes!”

“Ah-ha! I didn’t say it was a CD,” said Ross.

“Yes you did,” said Ace. 

“That may be,” countered Ross. “But what are we to make of the fact that this ‘mix tape’ also contains the Velvet Underground song, ‘The Murder Mystery,’ Mr. Murphy?”

“‘The murder mystery, Mr. Murphy.’ That’s good,” said Ace. “But what does that have to do with me?”

“Well, isn’t that a Velvet Underground T-shirt you’re wearing?” challenged Ross.

“Yes,” answered Ace. “So?”

Ross paused awkwardly. Then he turned his attention to Angie Madison and said, “Certainly you, Ms. Madison, cannot deny being a Beatles fan. Can you?

“No,” said Angie. “I love the Beatles. Doesn’t everybody?”

“Yes,” said Ross. “But not everybody was jilted and humiliated by Alex Manning. You even threatened him publicly. And isn’t that why the Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ is on the murderous mix tape?”

Angie Madison started to cry.  “I really don’t know,” she wailed. “I’m more of a John Lennon fan than a Beatles fan. Is that a crime?” 

Ross whirled around, pointed with his finger and said, “And you, Alesha Martinez. How do you explain your clashes with Alex Manning and your secret relationship with Ace Murphy? Even Ace can’t vouch for you. Perhaps that’s why the Snoop Dogg tune ‘Murder Was The Case’ is on the mix tape.”

The ‘four A.M.s’ all began protesting loudly and arguing among themselves. Slightly overwhelmed, Ross thought that he had heard a phone ringing. He also felt a wave of panic as he realized that Jim Kowalt had disappeared.

“This whole thing is completely insane,” hollered Alesha Martinez. 

“Is it?” Ross continued desperately. “Is it insane to imagine a conspiracy to kill Alex Manning? Is it insane to imagine a ménage a trois between you, Ace Murphy and Angie Madison—a twisted tryst of revenge sex that somehow turned deadly?”

All suspects jumped to their feet, outraged. They were screaming at Ross and hurling accusations at one another. The mix-tape murder music had gotten even louder, and it was pandemonium. Ross searched for a sign of Jim Kowalt.

Suddenly, the lights went out in Alex Manning’s apartment. It was pitch black in the front room, but the music was still playing. In the darkness, there was a struggle with even more yelling and somebody being slammed to the floor. 

When the lights came back on, Jim Kowalt was in the middle of the room, sitting on top the struggling form of Thomas Wolley. 

“The upstairs neighbor!” Ross exclaimed. “What’s he doing here?”

“Well, it’s simple,” Kowalt said. “Phone records show that old Tom had been constantly calling his downstairs neighbor every night for months. I assume it had something to do with all the noise and the repeated playing of a certain mix tape. Isn’t that so, Mr. Wolley?”

“Yes, yes! That’s it!” blubbered Thomas Wolley. “I couldn’t stand it anymore. He kept playing the same four songs over and over at top volume! It was driving me crazy! I begged him to stop, but he just laughed at me. So I killed him! I’m glad I did it! He was the devil!”

“But how did you know that you could lure Wolley back down here with the loud music?” Ross asked. “All of the phone calls are just circumstantial.”

“Well, it was the ‘mix tape,’” answered Kowalt, “and the clue on the ‘jewel case.’”

“So, what clue was that?” Ross asked impatiently.

“The ‘4 AM’” said Jim Kowalt. “Alex Manning lived in apartment 3A, remember? So, Thomas Wolley lived right above him in 4A.”

Ross pressed further, “But that’s just ‘4 A,’ not ‘4 AM!’ What does the ‘M’ stand for?”

Jim Kowalt squinted at Ross Melboro, surveyed the room once more and answered, “Don’t you know your Hitchcock, kid? ‘M’ is for ‘Murder.’”