The Gold Coin
The Gold Coin
John Mariner sat dozing in his lounge chair under the gazebo above his big pond, "tanque" in Texanese. "Life's good," he thought to himself. His cell phone rang.
"Hey, John, long time no see. Saw your name in the paper today."
"Larry! Good to hear your voice. Don't tell me that word of the Longstreet murder has gotten all the way to Houston."
"Sure has. Believe it or not, a decade has passed since we solved those suicides and murders in Houston," Larry Wagner said. "You've gotta give me background on Longstreet. Pretty much all the paper said was that she was rich, alone and killed in the dark of night up there on her ranch in her bedroom. No suspects. It's got my juices flowing. Retirement's driving me crazy. I've been idle since 2012, but for chuckles I've kept my law enforcement certification current and signed on as a part-time private investigator for Crowe and Cassidy."
Larry had been a good friend of mine when I lived in Houston, a senior HPD detective. He'd been mentored by my dad, who'd also been an HPD detective. We'd teamed up to solve a riddle involving four people who had died under mysterious circumstances, two of which were clients, presumed to be suicides that turned out to be murders. When I moved to Blanco County seven years ago, we lost touch.
"So how did you get involved in another murder?" Wagner asked.
"The new sheriff, Bob Hauffler, called me. He'd been the chief deputy for the previous sheriff, Joe Garza, for years. Joe was sheriff when the Lucky Strike killings went down. He retired just last month. Bob called Monday morning a week ago with the smartass greeting, 'Hey John, you gotta be a snakebit lawyer for sure. Lost another client.' I said 'What are you talking about?' and he told me that Betty Longstreet had been murdered. He knew that I'd handled her purchase of the Lucky Strike ranch.
"It'll take a while to do a brain dump on Longstreet, but I can give you the highlights. As the newspaper indicated, the murder's frustrating the police. Too many suspects. Betty Longstreet Johnson grew up the daughter of a mega-wealthy Houston oil baron, Byron Longstreet, the youngest of his three children. The others, two sons, joined the business, BAL Resources. Over the years, Betty accumulated a lot of wealth, as did her father and brothers. The family successfully rode the cycles of the energy industry - one of the few - precisely selling assets at the peak and buying in again at the trough. Their oil and gas holdings multiplied many times over as fractional drilling - "fracking" - became a mainstay in Texas.
"Betty led a volatile life, however. She got married at twenty, had two sons, then divorced, calling her husband an unproductive n'er-do-well. Betty, gorgeous, lithe, and young, drew men like flies. Tall for a female at five ten, she had engaging grey eyes, light brown hair, and a figure men die for. She worked out often. Her social life hit the society pages regularly, and not always in nice terms. She had a number of prominent boyfriends until she settled on Carroll Johnson. Her antics over time cooled her relationships with her father and brothers.
"Johnson's another whole story. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, rich people are different from you and me. Johnson's a wealthy investment banker. He works for an energy-oriented regional investment banking firm, rounding up money for people like Byron Longstreet. He's the model of an investment banker - tall, dark and handsome, as they say. Hollywood good looks and always, at least in Houston, dressed to the hilt. Bright blue eyes. Nothing in common with the likes of us."
"Sounds like quite a pair. Can't see them fitting in up there," Larry said.
"Betty and Carroll appeared be a normal, happy, high-society couple, even th