Monday, April 4, 2011

The Crowded Streets, Part 22

Monday, April 4, 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. 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. In the last episode, Rocky sends Clarissa to catch a cab before the police arrive, and Sergeant Hardacre of Homicide begins to investigate the crime:

How long it took to tell the story of how I had come to find a body in the apartment at 2380 30th Street, I couldn't say. My audience, Sergeant Hardacre and an officer with a nameplate reading “Barker,” did not interrupt. Barker was there to take notes and he didn't look up at any point, and when I came to talk about the dead dame, Hardacre yawned. Maybe I should have shoved in the parts about Martha Wilson and Clarissa King to keep their interest going, but I figured it was none of their business.

After I had finished, Hardacre glanced over his shoulder at the officer, who was still scribbling away. When Barker's pen stopped moving, he turned back to me, gave me a look you could hang on a meat hook, stepped past me and ripped open the screen door to go into the apartment. Barker flipped his notebook over to a new page and gave chase, and I followed the both of them.

A thin guy with a chin you couldn't find with a microscope loitered about with a camera twice his size. Three medics were gathered around the body. They had taken the time to cover her with a sheet, but as I came in they lifted up and called the photographer over to get a shot. He sighed quietly and stumbled over. One of the white coats pointed at a spot and the photographer bent over and he and the camera disappeared behind the sheet. The shutter snapped and the photographer straightened, a weary look on his face as if he was being kept from another appointment.

Sergeant Hardacre bent over to take a look. He whistled absently.

“You can just see it there,” said one of the white coats, a dumpy little man with round glasses, as he pointed at the poor girl.

I stepped in and Hardacre caught sight of me out of the corner of his eye. “I was through with you,” he growled. “Sorry if I didn't make that clear.” The photographer squeezed off a shot at nothing in particular, and Hardacre glanced over at him, annoyed.

If he was trying to keep me from discovering what the white coats had found, he was a little too late. They were pointing out a mark on her back, midway down, to the left of the bumps of her spine: a small dot that on a living person you might dismiss as a scratch or a blemish, but in reality was the entry point of a needle. Poison. About what I figured, since there was blood to be found anywhere. Explained a lot, but certainly not everything.

“No suicide,” I said as I looked at that mark. “Jabbed in the shower, you suppose?”

The guys in white stared at me in wonder while the photographer, alerted to something moving in the room, took a picture of me.

“Barker, get him out of here,” Sergeant Hardacre said.

Officer Barker took a step and I raised a hand. “Wait. She was wearing that robe when I found her. If someone managed to poison her while she was taking a shower, why would she take the time to put on a robe?”

“Simple,” said a voice behind me. I turned to look and saw a man you take for a cop at first glance: tall but thick, muscular, with hands like catcher's mitts. He wore an old overcoat that covered an old brown suit and a hat that should have been blocked or trashed months ago. Short ginger-colored hair, cop's hair and a thick mustache. He looked like a turn-of-the-century prizefighter. “It's a frame,” he continued. “Nothing matches up. Either she got it in the shower or she was wearing the robe when she got it. It can't be both.” The photographer snapped another picture off. The cop smiled genially.

Sure, that's what I had in mind, but how did he figure it out just by walking in the door? “Maybe she got out of the tub and put her robe on,” I said, just to be contrary. “She's just about to turn the water off when the murderer jabs her. She tries to run to the telephone but the poison does its work before she can get there. Possible?”

He came forward to where the body lay, took off his hat and rubbed at the stubble on the top of his head. “Yeah, possible. Only one problem with it,” he said, and pointed to the towel covering her hair. “Any woman you know would let the water keep running while she's prettying herself up? She's wearing lip rouge, friend. No, there's more here than meets the eye.” He pulled me away from earshot of the others, took my hand with an undeniable grip and shook it. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Stone. Lieutenant Sam MacAnulty out of Homicide. Now, tell me something, son: why would the wife of one of Los Diablos' leading citizens be catching a cab from a hamburger stand?”

What really happened to the woman in Inglehoff's apartment and will Lieutenant MacAnulty be a help or a hindrance to Rocky? Find out in the next episode of The Adventures of Rocky Stone! 

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