Bunco at Bunco – A Deviled Yeggs Mystery

I’m Detective Staff Sergeant Deviled Yeggs.  I work homicide in the big city of Tracy.  My partner is Jim Wednesday.  Poached Yeggs, homicide detective and my nephew, has been working with Jim and I.

It was a day off for Poached.  As usual, he was working his other job as IT for Lily the Pink.

I was sitting at his desk when Jim got the call and placed Poached on speaker.

Jim asked, “I’ve put you on speaker so that our Detective Staff Sergeant can hear this.  Poached, can you say that again?”

Poached groaned, “Why on speaker, Jim?  I said that I have found another body.”

Jim and I said, almost in unison, “The dead body magnet is back at work!”

Poached cried, “Please, guys, it’s been months.  I was taking a break from my IT job, and I thought I would get in my exercise.  Besides, you don’t get to take a five-mile jog through the rich neighborhoods of Tracy every day.  And there she was in the bushes.  Her red shoes sticking out toward the road.”

I asked, “Who, Poached?”

Poached lost it, “The dead woman, Uncle Deviled!  She is nicely dressed, like she went to a party last night.  She does not have a purse.  I have not combed the area in case it was a snatch and grab gone wrong.  No pulse.  Matted hair.  Probably some kind of death by blunt trauma.  I’m near the cul-de-sac on Emerald Lane, just off Platinum Street.  Hurry.”

Jim said, “The usual instructions.  Don’t touch anything.  Secure the site as best you can.  We’ll be there soon.”

After Jim hung up, I quipped. “Married life and a baby on the way has Poached off on his math.  It’s been over a year.”

Jim laughed, but while I talked to Gisele to get our patrolmen on scene, Jim called the crime scene guys and the Medical Examiner.

Captain Hart muttered from his office, “I think I made a mistake making Poached a detective.  Is he a magnet for dead bodies or do dead bodies merely form in his presence?”

Wise Guy, or officially officer Guy Weiss, was the first official police presence on scene.  We started a neighborhood canvas once we got there.  For the rich folk, we thought that plain-clothes detectives might get better results than an officer in blue.

No one had seen anything.  No one knew anything.  No one had any idea who the deceased woman could be.  No one saw the dead body, but no one was missing from any of the houses on that street.  At least that was their story.

When we got back to the office, the fingerprints came up belonging to one of the ladies at the Hoity-Toity Golf Club who pled guilty to cheating at Monopoly and taking money by that cheating.  She had no priors, and the judge gave her a stiff fine.

Odd, she lived on that street, and her husband said all in the household were at home.  In my book, that placed him as the chief suspect.  Since he had met Jim and I, we sent Poached to his house the next day.  The husband quickly invented a story about how his wife had left the day before the murder to visit relatives, but all the cars were in the driveway, the online transportation companies had not been called, and none of the neighbors knew anything.  In the more huddled masses of high-rise apartments downtown, you are used to getting the “I know nothing” through a closed door or a door opened with the chain still on, but this was the multi-million-dollar house neighborhood.

We brought the husband, Nate Cole, to ask him about the death of his wife, Bunny Cole, nicknamed Bunco.  He stuck to his guns, knowing nothing.  I suppose that you catch a theme by this point.  He claimed an alibi.  He left about noon the day of the murder and was in Stout County on business until midnight.  He had assumed that his wife had left on her vacation.  He showed the credit card charge for an airline ticket to Florida.  We confirmed with the airline that she was obviously a no show.  Her flight was scheduled to leave about 10:30pm.  Backing up the time to account for check for a habitual late arriver who paid extra for the fast security check, the time it would take to get to the airport, the time closely matched the time of death or at least in the window.  But for the entire window, Nate Cole was making a business presentation.  The event was filmed and timestamped.  His alibi was solid.  Of course, he could have paid someone to fake a mugging.  A mugging was about all we had.

Poached was right about the cause of death, blunt force trauma.  The Medical Examiner, Quincy Isles, invited us to his office to show us the x-rays.  Quincy said, “She was hit twice.  The first blow stunned her and the second was the fatal blow.  It might not have been at the time, but it is doubtful that if she were discovered immediately that she could have been saved.  I am thinking that she was hit by a bag of several heavy things.  Look at the x-rays.  The breaks in the skull show something that might be a series of small cubes.”

Poached suggested “Dice?”

Dr. Quincy nodded, “Yes and no.  Dice are plastic or some old ones are ivory.  I am thinking something heavier.  Otherwise, the blow would have to be at an extreme velocity.”

Jim suggested, “Why not a stick, like a mace, with squared off spikes?”

Dr. Quincy shook his head.  “No, I have used the computer to try to match the indentations from each blow, although they overlap, and there is no combination of wounds that match.  It is either two maces or as I think, a sap of some kind.  I was working in a rough neighborhood at one time.  I had the habit of keeping my spare change in a leather pouch.  One day a mugger came along.  I pulled out my sack of coins.  He made the mistake of holding out his hand for me to pour the coins into it and then looking at his hand.  I looped my fingers into the pouch’s drawstrings and smacked him on the side of the head.”

Poached asked, “Did you kill him?”

Dr. Quincy laughed, “No, he was knocked out and, when the police arrived, I had bandaged the wound.  I suppose most folks would have run away, but I am a doctor.  But my theory is that if there were heavy small cubes in a durable sack, they would shift between the first and second blow.”

“Nothing like that at the crime scene.  And it messes up the idea of a mugger to some degree.“ I suggested, “Your idea sounds like a weapon of expedience.  You are not going to show a sack of cubes and demand someone’s money.  They would not get the point.  A knife or gun or even a baseball bat would be more obvious weapons.  Scare the victim and then run away with the money.  But if it was a mugging, could Bunny Cole have had the sack and that is what the assailant was after?  Any sign of a struggle?”

Dr. Quincy winked, “Funny you should ask.  Three fingernails were broken.  The crime scene techs found only two of them.  I think they may have enough tissue for a DNA test, but I am not sure.”

I nodded, “Thanks, Doc.  We have some thinking to do, and then when we find the right cast of characters, a lot of questions.”

Dr. Quincy nodded, “Yeah, the evidence so far does not add up.  I wish you luck.”

Back in the office, we stared at each other.  I finally said something.  “You know that business cartoon where all of the project lines converge in one spot and the project task reads ‘and a miracle happens?’  Well, fellows, we might be there.”

The next morning the miracle happened in that Amy G. Dala, president of the Hoity-Toity Golf club walked into my office unannounced.

She looked around my interrogation room that was my office unless the other interrogation rooms were full.  “Wow, Dev, what an office!  You can even have me shackled to the floor if I don’t behave!”

“Very funny, Amy, and to what do I owe the pleasure of your company this morning?”

“You do know that my dot com company is about a block down the street.  We don’t have to be strangers.  I own the place.  I could disappear for a while and not have to give an account of my whereabouts.”

“Again, funny, but you did not answer my question.”

“Detective Staff Sergeant Yeggs, do you ever engage in gossip?  Has gossip ever helped you solve a crime?”

I chuckled, “Gossip, as such, has never helped me solve a crime, but gossip based on fact that can then be corroborated might well solve a crime.”

Amy smiled, “Well said.”  She sat in my interrogation chair and pantomimed the cuffs going around her wrists.  She had obviously watched a few detective shows on television.  “I hope you are free to listen while you have me chained to your desk.  This may take a while.”  I rolled my eyes, but I got out a notebook in case she said something interesting.

She started with a question, a guess really.  “Let me guess. You are stuck on the Bunny Cole case?”

I nodded, “It looks like a mugging, but it does not feel like a mugging.”

She asked another question. “And you do not have anything that she was carrying on her vacation to Florida?”

“Nothing.  No purse.  No cellphone.  No overnight carry-on.  Her husband said it was a two-day trip.  Not much of a vacation.”

Amy smiled, “It wasn’t a vacation at all from what the gossip around the club is saying.  Hopefully, you can get some security footage from the club that can confirm the gossip that I heard, but I detest gossip.  That is, until the gossip might lead to a very good motive for murder.”

I leaned forward.

She smiled, “I thought I might gain your interest.  You know all about the black stain that I am still trying to wash from the Hoity-Toity Club.  We no longer play Monopoly because the boards and dice were rigged and the gambling stakes were way too high.  The media focused on the sexual favors being gambled away, but the money was obscene, and the illegal activity and sophomoric challenges got people hurt, and several sent to jail.  Of course, you got involved when someone was killed.  I want all that cleaned up, but some of the people who had rigged monopoly as a means to pad their income have gotten very angry with me for cutting off that income source.”

I interjected, “Nice background, but you have not said where the games have moved.”

Amy chuckled, “This is fun.  Now I know why Mashie Niblick worked as one of your informants.  Oh, yeah, I know things.  One of the many games moved to the house that you have turned inside out lately.  I have a feeling you did not find the million dollar dice?”

My heart skipped a beat.  “Dice?  Worth seven figures?  How could that be?”

“Oh, the dice are expensive, but not worth a million.  They have just earned her a million thus far, or nearly a million.  She plays bunco at her house with a bunch of her friends from the club, anyone who wants in on the action that was stopped at the club.  Their home may be worth millions, but Nate Cole’s business is failing.  That was why he was in Stout County, to find new investors.  Bunny’s side hustle was the only thing drawing in money.  Rumor has it that she was going to Florida to visit some snowbirds and hustle them.”

I was confused, “All that I know is that bunco used to be a game that women loved to play, just for laughs.  I have no idea how it could be used as a means of bunco – meaning a confidence scam to trick people out of their available cash.  Can we start with the basics?”

Amy leaned in and smiled, “I love your aftershave.  As for bunco, the game, it gets complicated.  Over six rounds, you try to roll ones in round one, twos in round two, and so on.  That complicates the bunco, meaning the hustle.  It is impossible to have one set of loaded dice that always roll a six.”

Then I added, but if the loaded dice that roll six are used in a round other than six, they can keep the head table from reaching twenty-one. …”

“Wait,” Amy said, “I said nothing about the head table and getting to twenty-one.  You sandbagger, you’ve been holding out on me.”

“Glyce tried to explain the game, but she would get excited and leave out steps in the process.  I am starting to catch on with you adding more information.  But back to the loaded dice.”

“Amy said, “Mind you, I have never been there, but I talk to some of the casual gamblers.  The serious gamblers will not talk at all.  I can make two lists, but based on your previous investigations and arrests you may have a list of your own.  What I have heard is that the dice are metal. …”

“Hold it!”  I yelled into the intercom. “Jim and Poached!  In my office.  Captain Hart, are you eavesdropping as usual?”

The Captain said through the speaker on my desk.  “With Ms. Dala in the house, I wouldn’t miss a thing.  She makes my heart go pitter-pat.”

“Captain, you charmer.  And for you, Captain, it’s Amy or Darling.”  Amy smiled.

“Oooo la la.” From both Gisele and Captain Hart.

I asked, “Loaded dice that are metal?”

Amy nodded, “Bunny, or as she calls herself on game nights, BunCo, thought of the dice as a way to make the game worthy of millionaires.  I am sure the dice are not solid gold.  That would make each die nearly a pound.  Rolling three dice would get tiring.  So, I am thinking copper.  That would make the three dice about a pound.”

Poached interrupted, “But wouldn’t women get tired shaking a pound of dice every roll?”

Amy huffed, “Are you saying that women are not capable, young man?  When you drink three beers when you get home from work, do the cans feel heavy?  They are each a little over a pound, that is the sixteen ouncers that you drink.”

Poached tried to huff.  “I am a responsible detective that is always on call.  I do not drink that much and very rarely.”

Amy face softened, “Oh, Sweetie, you are so cute when you’re lying.  Besides, an addicted gambler could toss you around if it meant thousands of dollars.”

“I do not have a drinking problem!”

Captain Hart interjected, “More about these dice and less about the Poached drinking problem and Deviled’s deviant criminal mind.  Yeah, your idea of keeping the head table from reaching twenty-one until they reach round six and they clean house.  Yeah, Detectives, I am listening, but all is forgiven if you put a rich murderer in prison.”

Amy fanned herself dramatically, “Oh, I love a man who can take charge.  Okay, the dice are plated gold, platinum, and silver, but the copper, pewter, bronze dice may be solid.  The pips are inset with gems.  So you might have dice that are gold with rubies, gold with diamonds, gold with emeralds.  She uses lapis lazuli, sapphires, and other stones, but the stones are inset enough so that the dice only has the metal surface hitting the tables.  They roll the dice in pewter beer steins, and … before anyone interrupts … the steins are felt lined to cut down on the noise.  So, the dice keep changing, but there are duplicate sets for the loaded dice.  No one that I have talked to can figure out how they differentiate them, but if you want to manipulate the game with gold dice with diamonds, you might have one two or three loaded dice.  With three, you have to be careful.  Rolling a bunco of fours when playing twos still gets you five points.”

Jim asked, “And Bunny Cole could keep up with every table and how many loaded dice were in play at each?  I met her during the Monopoly investigation, and she wasn’t that smart.”

Amy chuckled, “Before you came in, I hinted, I think, if not, oh well, I hinted that she has two or three partners.  But I have no idea who.  If you interviewed the people that I talked with, they might have guesses, and if the guesses start to point to 2-3 people, you might have something.”

I asked Poached, “Do you have the records from the cellphone company?  We don’t have Bunny’s phone, but I want to know who she talked to that afternoon.  I’m thinking that if she did not call for a driver, she had a confederate taking her to the airport.”

Amy interjected, “But what if someone who had been losing finally saw someone switch dice and without saying anything volunteered to take Bunny?”

I shrugged, “I doubt if she would agree to set up the airport trip with a mark, but if a confederate had a complication and a mark might volunteer to them at the last minute, then we have means, motive, and opportunity.”

Captain Hart yelled, “Detectives, work on the line of questioning.”  Then in a softer voice, “And Ms. Dala, can I speak to you privately.”

I whispered, “Amy, the Captain is a widower these days.  Be careful with your flirting.”

Amy laughed, “That’s why I was flirting.  But if he gets too forceful, will you rescue me?”

Credits

Bunco (noun or verb) is a confidence hustle or trick or the act of doing such a hustle or trick.  The Bunco squad of a police force might be in the Fraud Division.

Bunco, the game, is played with three dice (per table), six rounds as Ms. Dala described.  As long as you are scoring, one point for each die with the number of the round, unless a bunco, and the roller keeps dice, until they have a roll without a score. A bunco (three of a kind) in the round number is 21 points, 5 points if not the round number.  When a team at the head table (four people, two teams of two) reaches 21 the round is over.  The winners move up one table toward the head table, and the head table losers play the losers of the lowest table.  The partners team with different people the next round.  Thus, no one retains the same partner from one round to the next.  The money is usually small and goes to the person with the most buncos and/or the most wins.  And as my wife attests, the play becomes wild and crazy.

Nate Cole, as in Nat King Cole.  Bunny Cole could be shortened to BunCo, but I had a male soldier in my platoon named Bunny Ray, a very good electrician who made it to Sgt. Major before retiring.  And although I was an independent in college, meaning not connected to a Greek fraternity, I was the officer my senior year who escorted the Greek sorority sponsors around so that they could encourage the under classmen.  I know, a tough assignment.  I became friends with a few of those ladies and one was named Honey Bee, engaged to marry a mechanical engineering guy who I knew.  So, having a given name of Bunny is not out of the question.

The M.E. being Quincy Isles is a shoutout to a couple of television shows.  Dr. Quincy in Quincy (or Quincy, M.E.) was played by Jack Klugman.  Dr Maura Isles in Rizzoli and Isles was played by Sasha Alexander.  And Quincy can be a given name as in music and television producer, musician, etc. Quincy Jones.

And even though I have mentioned this before, Amy G. Dala spells amygdala.  And you thought the wife of Deviled Yeggs could get emotional…

A one-inch cube of gold is about ¾ of a pound, so we can excuse Amy G. Dala’s exaggeration.  Copper is slightly less than half the weight of gold, so with three dice of that size, it would be roughly a pound plus the weight of the stein.  But a sixteen-ounce beer is about a pound.

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