Monday, March 28, 2011

The Crowded Streets, Part 21

Monday, March 28, 2011

The story so far: Detective Rocky Stone has been hired by Wanda Marcellus, aide of Congressional candidate George Wilson, for the purposes of discovering financial improprieties by the incumbent, Congressman Howard Dixon. While investigating the unusual amounts of telephone poles and booths on the streets of town, Rocky discovers connections between a spiritualist guide named Inglehoff, Candidate Geroge Wilson and his wife Martha, and Clarissa King, the wife of prominent businessman and philanthropist Gilbert King. In the last episode, Rocky, along with Clarissa King, tracks Inglehoff to a small apartment on 30th Street, where Rocky finds the body of a woman lying on the floor:

The police would show up soon. Barricades, ambulances and the whole lot; pretty soon every Nosy Nick in the area would be standing outside wondering what's going on. Every reporter in the city would flock to the area like it's bank night at the Cheapo Lounge, and sure enough, if they caught sight of the wife of a high roller like Gilbert King about the premises, they'd start asking questions, the kind that neither she nor I would want to answer.

Clarissa King was scared to come in. She had been sobbing gently from the stoop from the moment she saw the body, and every once in a while I heard her gasp for air in the background, letting me know she hadn't taken it on the lam. I picked up the phone and called a cab, told them I needed them to pick up a lady at the drive-in across the street, then did the gentlemanly thing and came out to calm her down.

As soon as I had passed through the creaky screen door, she threw her arms around my neck as if I was an old and trusted friend, not some mug trying to eke out a living that she had just met that day.

“Did you know her?” I asked.

She pushed her face into my shoulder and bobbed her head from side to side. “It's just so horrible. Do you think he killed her?”

I did, of course, but there was no sense in giving her anything more to think about. “I'll figure it out,” I replied. “But what I need you to do is to walk across the way to the drive-in. A taxi is going to show up to take you home. The last thing you need to do is be here when the police arrive.”

She pulled her head off my shoulder, brushed some tears away, and nodded. “Thank you,” she said.

“One thing before you go. Inglehoff gave you something this morning. Something to toss into Martha Wilson's purse when she wasn't looking. Do you remember?”

The mists of the hypnosis parted quickly and Clarissa remembered. Maybe she didn't remember all of the day, since I was sure there were parts of the time she had spent that morning with George Inglehoff she wanted desperately to forget, but her meeting with Martha Wilson came into focus. “It was a matchbook. I remember...on the cover it had a penguin wearing a top hat. I can't remember the name of the place, but it was some sort of...”

“...nightclub,” I finished. As far as I knew, only one place in town had a penguin on its sign, a place called The Ice Box out on Gibney Street. Out of the way, dark, and not too loud, with plenty of places to avoid detection. Inglehoff had a private meeting in mind.

I sent Clarissa King on her way. The police screamed in a few minutes later, sirens blaring, a warning to the whole neighborhood that something was up. The full set-up took a few minutes and the uniforms were scattered about like rice at a wedding, directed by a square-shouldered man who looked like he could punch his way through a tank. He was dressed in the odd combination of a tan hat and a dark blue suit and it was more than likely no one was willing to tell him how unfashionable he looked. I stood on the stoop and waited. After shouting at one of the uniforms about how and where and when a barricade should be put up, he stormed through the gate and into the unkempt lawn.

He didn't offer his hand for me to shake. “Stone?” he rumbled, and I nodded at him. “Hardacre. Homicide. We spoke earlier.”

“How could I forget?”

He wasn't in the mood for wise-cracks and scowled purposefully. He slid past me without making any attempt to catch my eye and caught the whiff of death Clarissa and I had experienced a half-hour earlier. I opened the screen door and he had a peek around to see the poor girl on the floor. Hardacre sniffed as if he had seen better. “Shame,” he said, summing it all up.

“No identification. Just a dress with a card in the pocket.” I drew it out and handed it to him. “This one, in fact.”

He scanned one side, saw the name George Inglehoff, then flipped it over and read the rest. The police-issued brain did the calculations and came to the same conclusion I did. Hardacre snapped his fingers twice and two of the more eager uniforms came running. They were sent back to the nearest radio with the information on the card while a man with a white coat filtered in past us to get the final word on the body.
Hardacre's meaty hand gripped my shoulder. “I think we've got some talking to do,” he said.

Who murdered the girl in Inglehoff's apartment and where has he gone? Find out in the next episode of The Adventures of Rocky Stone!

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