IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

Chapter 3: Michelle

Feeling a need to fortify myself for what I dreaded was to come, I walked to the cabinet and poured myself a stiff shot of Irish whiskey, Holmes remaining content with his pipe. I had once tried to wean my friend from his addiction, by gradually reducing the strength of his poison from a seven per cent solution down to one. But the cruel poppy would not relinquish its fiendish grip.

"Well, Holmes," I said, "I am prepared to hear the worst."

Holmes passed over the next document. Sure enough, it was a transcript of Michelle Kwan's interview with the local police.

MICHELLE'S STORY

Chief Alexander Rostropovich: "Ms. Kwan, for the record, you have not been charged with any crime. You are assisting the police in their investigation. Will you confirm now, for the record, that the statement that you are about to give is entirely voluntary, and that you waive your right to be represented by an attorney?"

Ms. Michelle Kwan: "Yeah, right, whatever."

AR: "Tell us about the gun. How did a gun, purchased by you in Los Angeles and registered in your name, end up involved in a homicide in Rhode Island?"

MK: "Look here, Mac. What's your name? Al? Look here, Big Al, I want this to go away. I’m going to write down a figure. You give my people a call. Call Goldberg. Tell him Shelly says take care of Big Al. Just say it like that. Shelly says take care of Big Al. This goes away, you get something in your Christmas stocking, you know what I'm saying?"

AR: "I am going to pretend that I don't, Ms. Kwan. I feel that it is my duty to urge you to consult your attorney before we proceed."

MK: "Screw my attorney. I fired her last week anyway. I'll tell you about the gun."

AR: "I caution you again that this conversation is being taped and that anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

MK: "Hah! Tell me another one. What CSL jury do you think you can find to convict Michelle Kwan? Does the phrase "America's sweetheart" mean anything to you?"

AR: "Just tell me about the gun."

MK: "Well, you know that September 11th thing? All that airport security? Do you know they won't let us take our skates with us on the airplane any more?"

AR: "Yes, I remember reading something about that. So is that a big problem for you?"

MK: "What do you think? You check your stuff, the morons lose it. You ship it, it doesn't get there on time. It’s a real drag.

"So anyway, we're on tour with COI -- Houston, I think -- and me and Sarah are talking, just bitchin' about life in general, you know, and the topic comes up, about the skates. So Sarah says, 'You know what we ought to do? We ought to smuggle a gun on board, just to show them what we think of their so-called security.' It was, like, a joke, you know, but the more we goofed around with the idea, the more it started to sound pretty funny. You know how something can sound funny when you're high. So anyway, you know, we started talking like we were really going to do it, so then she started saying, I bet you wouldn't really, you wouldn't dare, I dare you -- a bunch of crap like that. Naturally I blew the silly twit off. But later on I got to thinking, you know, I wonder if I COULD pull it off. What a humpin' stunt! You know, just to see if I could do it.

"Well, to cut to the chase, I knew I couldn't really smuggle a gun onto an airplane these days -- do you know that they even make you take off your shoes? Some idiot hid a fire cracker in his shoe, so now we've got to put up with dorky security guards who probably have a foot fetish. 'I touched Michelle Kwan's foot -- uhh, uhh, uhh!' But the idea stuck in my mind and after the tour was over I stared thinking about it again."

AR: "You mean after you returned to school at UCLA in the fall?"

MK: "Yeah, right. I got kicked out of UCLA my freshman year."

AR: "You were expelled? On what grounds?"

MK: "Oh, you know, the usual. Party all night, sleep all day, never go to class. Hey, this is UCLA -- gotta do my part to keep up our rep as a know-nothing party school, right? Goldberg hushed it up. But I still drop by campus for the parties."

AR: "So when did you have time to practice your skating and prepare for the Olympics?"

MK: "You know something, Big Al, you're a real comedian. You ought to go on stage. But, hey, I skated. I'd drag my carcass out onto the ice after being up all night, pop a couple of singles, listen to Frank run his mouth. You know.”

AR: “You are referring to Frank Carroll, your coach?”

MK: “Ex-coach. Are you starting to pick up on this?”

AR: “Ms. Kwan, I happen to follow figure skating somewhat myself. A lot of people say that if you had kept your coach and choreographer you might have won the gold medal!”

MK: “Who cares? I got a closet full of medals. U.S. this, World that. You name it, I’ve got four or five. It's all fixed anyway."

AR: “Then you do not feel any particular animosity to Sarah Hughes for taking the prize that many people thought should have been yours?”

MK: “Nah, good for the kid. She stated well. She deserved it. It's not like I fooled around and let Sasha beat me.”

AR: “Well, this is useful background information, but I would like to get back to the gun.”

MK: OK, now this is going to sound really stupid. I don't know what I was thinking of. But anyway, I had it in my head that I was going to find a way to ship a gun through the mail across the country. Just for the challenge of getting away with it, you know? So I went down to buy a gun. Found out I had to get a permit. Fourteen day waiting period, a lot of crap. But I finally got the thing -- I picked a really cool-looking one, it was huge, like a big cowboy gun, you know, like a six shooter."

AR: "A Colt 45."

MK: "Whatever. So now, OK, here's where you're going to laugh. I had decided to send Dick Button a little bonsai tree for the holidays. OK, yeah, I said you'd laugh. A bonsai tree. Hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? Anyway, the man has everything, he likes flowers and stuff, whatever. So I had this little tree in a big pot, and the idea came to me, I could hide the gun it the pot, ship it priority mail, and see if I could pull it off. I lined the pot with foil to trick the x-ray machines. I know, crazy. But that's me, you know? Once I get my mind set on something, it's hard to give it up."

AR: "Like the Olympic gold, Ms. Kwan?"

MK: "Shut up. I told you I didn't care about that. Just shut up, OK?"

AR: "So you shipped the tree via priority mail on, let me see, November 20th. Did you receive confirmation of delivery?"

MK: "Well, it was insured. And I got a call a few days later from Dick thanking me. For the plant, I mean. He didn't know about the gun."

AR: "I have one further question. This is very important, Ms. Kwan. Was the gun loaded when you shipped it?"

MK: "No. I don't know. I don't think so. It was just how it came from the gun shop. Could I have a pop? a soda? a soft drink? a tonic? an R and C? -- whatever you call it out here in the sticks.

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I paused. A feeling of relief swept over me. "She's innocent!" I exclaimed inwardly. Just a silly prank after all. Holmes pursed his lips.

“A different view of the angelic Miss Kwan,” said he.

What did he mean, a different view? Obviously this was a frail and frightened child, trying to talk tough to cope with a terrifying predicament. Anyone could see that.

Holmes gave me a sidelong glance.

“Well, Watson,” he continued at last. “every damsel in distress should have a Laucelot such as you in her train.”

“I implore you, however, to consider the facts in the cold light of reason. Criminal psychology 101: when accused of a great crime, confess to a lesser. Everyone is guilty of something, everyone has something to hide. A determined and ruthless prosecutor will keep on probing until something turns up. The true felon knows to give something up right away, hoping to deflect attention from the real crime.

"Do you think that this cockamamie tale has put the good Chief Constable off the scent?”

I considered my answer carefully. Holmes may know all about the chemical composition of the seventeen kinds of clay to be found in the West Riding, but, if I say it who oughtn’t, he still relies on me to supply the psychological intuition on which a difficult case often hinges.

“The very fact that Miss Kwan’s story is absurd on its face,” I rejoined, “is exactly why I believe every word of it. Surely anyone -- any guilty party -- with half a brain could come up with a more believable lie than this!”

“You may be right, Watson” Holmes conceded. “And the bribery attempt? ‘Shelly says take care of Big Al?’ I suppose that ‘Shelly’ is a conventional diminutive for “Michelle?’

“A childhood nickname, I believe,” I replied.

“And a matter of some significance to this case, I shouldn’t doubt,” laughed Sherlock Holmes. “Nicknames! Just don’t start calling me ‘Sherly. Well, Watson, if Miss Innocence Defined has finished her soda pop, pray continue with the transcript.”

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Chief Rostropovich: "Miss Kwan. I would like to turn your attention now to the night of the shooting. What were you doing at Mr. Button’s home on April 29th at 1:00 in the morning?"

Michelle Kwan: "I went to get the gun back, of course. It finally dawned on me that I could get in trouble about all this. So when we played Boston, I thought I could just sneak out to Woonsocket -- what kind of a name is that, anyway? ‘There was a young girl from Woonsocket‘ -- give me the next line -- ha, ha. Anyway, sneak out to Rhode Island, slip into the house, get the gun out of the flower pot, and I’d be in the clear.”

AR: “And what would Mr. Button be doing in the meantime, while you were breaking into his house?”

MK: “He was at the ice show. He always hangs around afterward to schmooze. All I had to do was beat him home, piece of cake the way I drive.”

AR: “What happened then?”

MK: “I -- I guess I messed up. He was already there. And another car was in the driveway, the house lights were on, music was playing -- sounded like a party going on.”

AR: “Did you make out any voices?”

MK: “No, the music was blasting too loud. That stupid cowboy song Irina skates to. I didn’t know what to do. I snuck around to the back. I was on the back porch, trying to decide what to do. All of a sudden the back door flies open, somebody rushes out -- bam! -- runs right into me, knocks us both off the porch, we’re rolling around on the grass -- it’s Sasha! Then the police headlights come on, right in my face. I guess you know the rest. So, that’s it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it."

AR: “Is it your claim then that you were never in the house?”

MK: “That’s right. I was never in the house.”

AR: “What if I were to tell you that your fingerprints were found all over the Colt?”

MK: “Fingerprints? Oh, well, sure. From before, you know. When I mailed it. Uh, can you tell the difference between old and fresh prints?”

AR: “Sometimes we can. And what if I were to tell you that we also dusted the desktop in Mr. Button’s study?”

MK: “You know something, Big Al? Never play poker, OK? You’re bluffing. You’re bluffing, right?”

AR: “Ms. Kwan, I have in my hand a statement from Ms. Sasha Cohen in which she says that she was standing outside on the porch and that you rushed out of the house and ran into her.”

MK: “That lying little witch! She ran into me! Everybody knows that. Ask anybody. Ask Christine Brennan! I changed my mind. I want to talk to my lawyer.”

AR: “You fired your lawyer, remember?”

MK. “Oh.... Yeah.”

AR: “One last point, Ms. Kwan. Did anyone besides yourself and Ms. Hughes know about the gun?”

MK: “No, just me and Sarah. She couldn’t believe it when I told her that I had actually done it.

“You know something? I miss Brian Boitano on tour. This gun thing would be right up his alley. He was always playing practical jokes on everybody -- you know, trying your skates together, stuff like that. Everybody else thought it was stupid and annoying, but, you know, it just gets so boring on tour. Wait, wait, wait, nothing to do. Skate for four minutes, get on the bus, Gus. B-o-o-o-ring, you know? I guess I thought I ought to pick up Brian’s slack. Me and Rudy Galindo. I might have told Rudy about the gun. Yeah, I think I did. He thought it was a gas.

"Well, that's it Chief. All I know. I don't suppose I can go now?"

AR: "Not just yet, Ms. Kwan."

MK: "You know something, Big Al? You're a real downer. You know what I wish? I wish I was on a plane to LA right now and you had a feather up your butt. That way we'd both be tickled."

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“Holmes!" I exclaimed. “Miss Kwan told Rudy Galindo about the gun! Telling Galindo is telling everyone. He’s the biggest gossip on tour! They all knew about the gun! Anyone could have done it. Surely, Holmes, you can’t suspect Miss Kwan now!’

“The truth will out, Watson, the truth will out,” said he. “And don’t call me Sherly.”

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End of Chapter Three.

Do you believe Michelle’s “cockamamie tale?" Does Michelle’s account cast suspicion on anyone else? Ready to vote? There are still 3 chapters to come.

Hughes

Slutskaya

Kwan

Cohen

Other