Anyone bearing a startling resemblance to another; a perfect duplicate.

- american underworld dictionary - 1950


My daughter came home one day with this wild tale a friend of hers told her about how, back in the middle ages, men would drink liquor out of cups that had some metal in them that would make them paralyzed if they drank too much. She went on to tell me how these people would be pronounced dead and then be buried, only to wake up buried alive. The story got more outrageous. So many of these folks were buried alive that, when buried, a hole would be dug in the ground leading to the casket. A string would be tied to the dead person's finger and the sting would lead to a bell on a stick above ground. That way, if the dead person "woke up," he could ring the bell.

I promised her it was all a lie. She didn't believe me, of course, since I'm the dumbest sonofabitch on earth right now. (When she was just one year younger, I was the smartest fellow on the planet. I tell you that just in case this happens to you. You can rest assured it happens to us all. Folks tell me that she'll be in her mid-20's before I have a grain of sense in my head again. I may not last that long. I hope you do.)

I promised her I would find proof of my argument on the internet. Well, I promptly forgot all about it (adding further credence to her theory about me being a dumbass). However, just now, in trying to find the origin of the term "dead ringer," there it is!

It turns out that one of the things in this internet hoax that was going around was the allegation that the term dead ringer comes from this very phenomenon. I think the internet hoax article was called "Life in the 1500s" or something like that.

So, where did this phrase come from? The accepted theory is that it has to do with the term ringer itself. This comes from the phrase "ring the changes," which means to ring all the bells in a bell-tower in varying sequences. Thus, it means to repeat something in a variety of ways. As slang, "ring the changes" came to mean substituting a bad or false thing for a good thing.

In the late 1800s, ringer came to be a term used for a horse with a great racing record being substituted for an unknown horse in a race, thus allowing those in the know to clean up on the betting. The dead in dead ringer is just another word for "positively" or "absolutely." So, since the ringer had to look like the thing it was meant to replace, "dead ringer" now is known as anyone or anything that is basically indistinguishable from someone or something else.

"You wanna clean yourself up before we talk?"

"Sure, Detective, no problem," said Finch. He dug around in his Kentucky Fried Chicken bag with his left hand until he found the moist towelette. He sucked the red sauce off of the fingers of his right hand, then wiped them clean with the alcohol-soaked paper.

"There's gotta be some rule about eating hot wings in the lab. Last time someone caught you, it was an Eagle Scout. Cost the county quite a penny for his therapy." Detective Stanford pulled a little notepad and a stubby golf pencil out of his pocket. "Whatta ya have for me, besides nightmares?"

"I have one Sue Graham, female, thirty-nine, and rather attractive." Finch partially peeled back the sheet covering the nude Mrs. Graham. "I would hazard a guess that this was a homicide."

Damn, she is cute. "That's my call, bub. Gimme the technicals." Stanford's pencil hovered over the pad.

"She's in remarkable shape for thirty-nine, I'd have sworn she was in her early twenties. Works out often, you can tell by the calf and buttock definition." He teased the sheet to expose a leg and part of her hip.

"Hmmm," said the detective, pencil flying across the paper as he tried to avoid looking at her well-defined, naked gluteus maximus.

Finch had no such qualms. He practically drooled onto his lab coat. "She may have died from the blow to the back of her head." He rolled the stiff body to the side. The back of her blonde head was a matted, bloody mess. "Round object, inch to two inches in diameter. Probably metal, there were no wood fragments."

Stanford looked up at Finch. "Why did you say 'may have died'?"

Finch grinned. "You always pick up on the oddest things. I said that because she may have died from the gunshot wound." He pulled the sheet completely off of the body and let it flutter to the floor. "Look over here, her breasts are too large to see it from your angle."

Goodness, they're enormous! "Implants?" asked the detective, trying his best to appear disinterested in her naked glory.

"Nope, real." Finch's grin turned into a smirk. "Sometimes I love my job."

"A credit to the department." Stanford looked at the little hole under the left breast. "Looks like a thirty-eight. Don't see a lot of clotting there, did you clean it up?"

"Nah, didn't bleed much at all. May have been done after she died. Same with the knife wound."

The pencil paused. "Knife wound?"

"Yup, look back here." Finch rolled the body completely over and pointed at the jagged gash. "Look, no blood. Oh, and you're right; it was a thirty-eight caliber bullet, ball round with a copper jacket."

Detective Stanford raised his eyebrow as he contemplated the information. "Clubbed, shot and stabbed. Someone didn't like this lady."

Finch's eyes were glued to her buttocks. "Jeez, yeah, but with her body, I'd let her do anything she wanted."

"Maybe that's the case here, except she went too far this time."

Finch perked up. "Did I mention she was filthy rich?"

"Her money, or her husband's?"

"Hers, but now he gets it all. She was a real ball-breaker, and a total recluse. Heard nothing but bad mojo whenever her name came up." Finch reluctantly picked up the sheet and placed it over the body.

"Thanks." Stanford's pencil started dancing again. "Who found the body?"

"Old Captain Jack Gilroy, retired before you joined the force. Bit of a gambler, forced to retire by the D.A. after they made a deal with his bookie. Nice guy, though," said Finch. His eyes kept straying to the bumps halfway down the sheets.

"Touch any part of her and I'll write you up for necrophilia," said the detective, jabbing his pencil towards Finch to emphasize every syllable. "Be professional, for God's sake. She's pretty, but she's dead. Show some respect."

Finch blushed, and stood up straight. It took quite a lot to irk the detective, and he knew he had crossed the line. "Sorry."

"No problem, Finch," said Stanford, and he smiled to show he had no hard feelings. "Who identified the body?"

"Her husband. Older gent, in his forties. Never would've paired these two, especially since she had the cash." Finch picked up a metal clipboard and thumbed through a stack of forms. "No fingerprints for her on file, but I took a set for the insurance boys. Oh, Captain Jack also identified her when he stopped by."

Detective Stanford looked up. "He stopped by personally?"

Finch nodded.

"Ever do that before?"

Finch stroked his goatee. "No, now that you mention it. Haven't seen him around since he retired; we used to target shoot every once in a while."

# # #

I'd bet this cost a pretty penny. Detective Stanford steered his Ford F250 pickup towards the entrance of the Graham estate. He could see one of the turrets to the displaced Scottish castle behind the line of massive oak trees.

He drove slowly, noting the large English garden, the Japanese zen rock garden, and the two small cottages partially hidden by trees. When he pulled up to the front doors of the castle proper, a young man in a sharp Armani suit approached the truck.

"Detective Stanford, we've been expecting you. Please pull forward to your left, and I'll escort you to Mr. Graham."

Harvard, lawyer, graduated within three years. "Sure thing, thank you."

After he parked the truck, Stanford followed the lawyer through the main doors into the castle proper. He was awed and impressed, especially with the dismantling of the entire structure, stone by stone, and re-assembling it on another continent. He grinned to himself. This was probably the impression the Graham's wanted their guests to have when they visited.

Mr. Graham waited in the library, along with two women. When Stanford entered, Graham had handed a check to the older, gypsy-looking lady. Her wrinkly face was further distorted by a big smile and a look of greed. She practically skipped past the detective. His quick eye caught at least seven digits on the check.

"Come in, Detective. My name is Loyd, Loyd Graham." He held out a large, soft hand. "I need to finish up some arrangements, if you don't mind."

Stanford shook his hand. "Certainly, I can wait." Hasn't worked a day in his life.

"Ten dozen white roses, arranged around the casket," Loyd said to the woman. "It was her favorite flower. Can you have them delivered before the funeral?"

"Um, yes, I think so. Sir." She kept her eyes on the detective, who smiled at her. He pulled his notebook and grubby pencil out and started writing, which made the woman even more nervous.

"Yes, well, here's the check, Alyssa. Let me know if you need anything else." In her haste to grab the check, she dropped it. Stanford caught the exact amount this time -- $750,000 -- and she grabbed it from the polished granite floor..

"Excuse me," he said. She startled, and dropped the check again. He made no move to retrieve it, so she picked it up.

"Yes? Sir?"

"Are you the florist? How long have you been at it, Miss... ?"

"Alyssa Maynard. Just graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, degree in Botany. Set up a store six months ago." She was trembling.

"Yes, thank you. Would you have any Dianthus Caryophyllus in bloom?"

"What?"

Stanford nodded and smiled, his pencil whispering as it filled the little notebook page. "Any carnations, my dear. My favorite flower."

She looked like she was about to faint. "No, none at all."

"Ah, thank you anyway." He turned to Mr. Graham, who looked rattled by the exchange. "May I have a few minutes to talk with you, if you're done?"

He nodded, and Alyssa practically ran from the room. The Armani-clad man closed the door as he left.

Loyd gestured to a couple of overstuffed leather chairs and they sat, facing each other.

"May I offer you a drink? I know you're on duty, so perhaps a mint julip, or even a lemonade?"

"Lemonade would be fine, thank you."

Loyd pulled a lanyard out of his shirt and pressed a button on the attached remote. Seconds later, a butler entered the room.

"One lemonade for our guest, and one double bourbon for me."

The butler bowed slightly, his face stony, then turned and left.

Detective Stanford looked at Loyd Graham closely. Mid-forties, balding, dentures – Finch was right. Why would a rich beautiful woman want this man? "First off, my condolences for your loss."

Mr. Graham surprised the detective by laughing out loud. "My dear detective, my wife was a raving bitch. She slept with everything resembling a male – no, I caught her with two women once. She slept with everything, let's leave it at that. She was rude, stuck-up and stubborn. If she wasn't rich, she'd be a prostitute."

Stanford's pencil glided across the paper, taking everything down. "You inherit everything, don't you? Normally, that makes you a suspect."

Loyd waved his hand at the officer. "Yes, normally. But, as luck would have it, I was with Captain Jack Gilroy and Gilbert Dunphy at The Gentleman's Club." He caught Stanford's look. "Yes, a strip club. We were seen by over fifty people."

Mrs. Graham didn't pick a winner with this gent. "I see. You don't seem too upset."

"Not only was she a bitch, but she spent almost every dime on this stupid place. We were almost broke!"

Loyd was interrupted by the butler, who quietly placed the drinks on coasters and retreated.

"She had an insurance policy, though. Ten million, with a double-indemnity clause for unnatural death." He took a swig of his bourbon, and set it down on the table next to the coaster. "Am I glad she's dead? Yup! First time she ever did anything for someone else."

Stanford noted the little table holding the drinks was an antique, probably worth more than his annual salary. "I see. So much for to love and to cherish. I will need to verify your alibi."

Loyd stood up, indicating the meeting was over. "Jack lives next door. Tell the old buzzard hi for me."

# # #

Next door was literally two miles away. The Captain lived in an old, restored Victorian.

Captain Jack met Stanford in the driveway. He was in his sixties, but still shook hands with a firm grip. He limped, and used a black cane with a dragon's head at the top.

"Loyd said you'd be by. Come on up and set a while." The Captain had a folksy way about him, like an Andy Griffith who would beat Opie with a belt when he was drunk.

"No, I just need to ask you a few questions. I have a meeting with the florist after this."

Captain Gilroy looked surprised for a moment, and then plastered a car-salesman smile on his face. "Sure, sure. I miss being in the game."

"Can you verify the details of your whereabouts when Mrs. Graham died?"

"I was down at the club, watching the gals shake their thing. So was Loyd, and Gilbert was there until ten. He left with Margot, so he's covered too. I believe Bobby told you Sue died at nine last night?"

The Detective raised an eyebrow. "Bobby?"

"Bobby Finch, the coroner. Nice kid, used to go to the shooting range with him when I was on the force."

"Oh, Finch, yes. He didn't have the time of death determined when I talked to him." Stanford waited for the question he knew was coming.

"When did you talk to him?"

The Detective lied. "Late last night."

Captain Jack visibly relaxed. "I saw him this morning, you should check in with him. I found Sue's body in the road, by the front gate. She'd been dead a while, skin was cold, so I called it in on my cell. She smelled like a brewery."

Detective Stanford pulled his notebook out and scribbled in it. "What time was this?"

"Oh, 'round about eleven. I called about five minutes after I found her, so check the 911 call log."

Stanford nodded. "I will, thanks. What is your relationship with her?"

Gilroy's head swiveled around, and his eyes locked on to the detective's. "Was."

"I'm sorry?"

Gilroy frowned. "You said is. She's dead, so you meant was."

"Of course, that's what I meant." Sharp as a tack, he still has the knack.

"We were neighbors, nothing more. I was more friendly with Loyd than her. I couldn't stand her, she was a..."

"A bitch, yes, so I've heard. Thank you for your time, Captain."

They shook hands, and Stanford knew Gilroy was watching him closely as he drove off.

# # #

"Yeah, I was with The Captain and Tennille."

Stanford craned his neck around the new Porsche hood. "Who?"

Gilbert Dunphy stood up, wiping his oily hands on an even oilier rag. "You know, Muskrat Love, and Love Will Keep Us Together. The Captain and Tennille, old singing duo."

The Detective's pencil was hard at work, leaving a graphite trail of data in its wake. "Sorry, I'm a jazz guy. I translate it that you were with Captain Jack and Loyd at the club?"

"Yeah, I was. Got lucky with Margot Stanton, we left for my place around ten-fifteen in my car" He patted the silver Porsche's fender. "Margot used to do Sue Graham's hair, until she dyed her grey roots green instead of blonde. Now, she dances at the club." He scratched his face, leaving a black smear across his cheek. "She makes a lot more money now, but her old clientele was scandalized. They'd have run her out of town on a rail if she wasn't with me. I'm the only mechanic in town."

"Can I talk to her?"

Gilbert switched from jovial gent to an angry man in a scant second. "No, you can't. She hates cops." He had a two-foot iron breaker bar in his hand, and Stanford finally realized it was there..

The Detective stood up straight. He had a couple of inches and twenty pounds on the mechanic, not to mention the standard-issue .38 revolver at his hip. "That's for her to decide, son."

Gilbert bridled at being called 'son', but he didn't push his luck. He snorted and buried his head under the hood of the Porche.

No good talking to her, she'd be afraid to say a word. If this guy isn't a wifebeater, than I'm a Chihuahua.

# # #

Detective Stanford stopped at a convenience store for lunch. He'd have sworn the hot dogs were made from Chihuahua meat. A coat of nacho cheese and chili sauce killed the doggy taste. He balanced the hot dog while he fished out a quarter, and then dialed Finch on the pay phone.

"Finch here, coroner's office."

"That's backwards, Finch."

"Ah, Detective, I've been waiting for you to call. I have some more news."

Stanford gave up, and tossed the food into the trash next to the phone. He pulled out the book and pencil. "Okay, go."

"She was poisoned, ethylene glycol, probably in her bourbon. She was murdered, and whoever hit her on the noggin did her a favor. The poison was the killer, not the blunt traumas."

"Yeah, fine, can you tell me when she died?"

Stanford almost heard the disappointment as Finch asked, "Did any of this surprise you?"

"No."

"Fine, fine. She died between nine and ten. The insurance guys stopped by and picked up copies of the prints."

He would need a new pencil, this one was almost gone. "Can you have the insurance guys and some county sheriff deputies meet me at Sue's funeral on Thursday?"

"Sure thing, sounds like you know something."

Stanford grinned. "Yeah, I do. Feel free to stop by with them."

# # #

Detective Stanford arrived at the funeral in his dress uniform. The event was being held on the estate, and he told the deputies, Finch, and the insurance investigators to wait in the back.

Every seat had an occupant. Apparently Sue was popular in death. The closed coffin was surrounded by white roses. Loyd came stumbling towards the pavilion, apparently drunk at ten in the morning.

Stanford talked to the preacher for a moment, and then took his microphone. "Can y'all hear me?"

The crowd murmured back.

"You can all go home now. There's no funeral for Sue Graham today."

The crowd became silent. Stanford heard the tinkle of breaking crystal glass. Hope that remote can reach the butler from out here, or Loyd is going thirsty.

"Sue Graham isn't dead, Alyssa Maynard is."

The crowd resumed murmuring in a louder drone.

He pointed at the florist, and two deputies rushed over to her side. "That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the real Sue Graham. I suspected her when she said she went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI, in Troy, New York, doesn't have a botany program. When she had no idea what a Dianthus Caryophyllus, or a common carnation, was, I knew something was terribly wrong."

He pointed at Loyd, and two more deputies ran to the drunkard's side. "Old Loyd here has been spending the insurance quickly. He's been paying off people who actually knew what Sue looked like. Since she was a recluse, not many would know her. He poisoned Alyssa's drink with ethylene glycol, or common car anti-freeze, in order to set up Gilbert Dunphy." Two more cops ran over to the stunned mechanic.

Stanford cleared his throat. "Unfortunately, Alyssa got away, and was stumbling down the road. Gilbert and his girlfriend, Margot, came across Alyssa on the road. He hit her with an iron bar he kept in his Porsche, which put her down. I believe Margot stabbed her because she was still breathing."

The Detective inhaled, while the crowd held its collective breath. "Finally, Captain Jack Gilroy came upon the scene, and shot Alyssa with his standard-issue revolver, which he never turned in when he retired.

The Captain found three deputies surrounding him, and he let them take his revolver from his holster. "Why, Stanford, why? This is conjecture and bullshit."

Stanford shook his finger at Jack. "You visited Finch, when you normally stayed away, ashamed of your gambling. You switched the fingerprint charts, because you knew the insurance men would get a copy, and blow the whole deal. Twenty million dollars, Jack. The Grahams were in debt, and they were going to lose their castle. This scheme would keep them in their dream home."

Gilbert pointed at Loyd. "You fucker, you were going to set me up!"

"Shut up, you stupid hick!" commanded the Captain.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Detective Stanford with a flourish. "I give you Sue Graham. Her next castle will be a concrete one, in the state prison."

The florist burst into tears. "I hate you all, I knew you were too damn stupid to follow simple instructions!"

The suspects were led away in handcuffs. Gilbert fought, and he knew what it felt like to get hit in the head after the deputies were done.

Finch came over to Stanford. "Jesus, when you put on a show, you don't kid around."

Detective Stanford grinned at his friend. "Sure, but Vaudeville's dead. I think I'll keep this uniform for a while longer. I have to put out a warrant for Madame Zelda, she knew about the plot. C'mon, we have to find out if Alyssa had any relatives, and get her a decent burial."

Finch gazed over at the coffin. "Yeah. She really looked good in white."

Stanford scowled at his friend, and they left the stage. "Pervert."

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