SWAN DIVE – CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VI

It was the morning after the night ride of Babbitt and O’Malley and Jack Reddy was late coming into the office. The surveillance had been arranged after he had left the day before and he knew nothing about it. As he entered the building he ran into Babbitt, who was going to the Whitney offices to report on the failure and in hope that some new lead might have cropped up. Pulling Jack to the side of the hall, he told him of their expedition. Jack listened with interest and surprise. It struck him as amazing and rather horrible. Until he heard about the strange phone call, he had not believed Candy’s story that Winship was in love with Carol Whitehall, but in the face of such clear evidence, he had nothing to say.

They were both so engrossed in their conversation that neither noticed a woman holding a child by the hand and walking uncertainly in their direction. It wasn’t until the story was over and they were walking toward the elevator that Jack became aware of her, looking this way and that, jostled by the men and evidently scared and bewildered. Judging her to be too timid to ask her way and unfamiliar with the surroundings or needing to consult the office directory on the wall, Jack stopped and asked her where she wanted to go.

She was startled and spoke in Irish brogue as rich as butter.

“It’s to the Whitney office I’m headed, but where is it I don’t know and I’m afraid to be asking the way with everyone running by me like rabbits.”

“I’m going there myself,” he said, “I’ll take you.”

She bubbled out a relieved thanks and followed them into the elevator. As the car shot up Jack looked her over, wondering what she could want with the Chief. She was evidently a working woman, neatly dressed in a dark coat and her hair was pulled back smooth and tight in a ponytail. Her face was round, rosy and honest. One of her hands clasped the child’s, his little fingers crumpled inside her rough, red ones. She addressed him as Danny and whenever passengers crowded in and out, she pulled him closer to her with a curious, soft tenderness that seemed instinctive.

He was a pale, thin little boy, eight or nine, with large eyes that he lifted to the faces around him with a solemn, searching look. Jack smiled down at him but didn’t get any response and it struck him that woman and boy were in a state of suppressed anxiety. Every time the elevator shuddered to a stop she’d jump, and once he heard her whisper to the boy “not to be scared.”

Inside the office, Babbitt went down the hall to the old man’s den and Jack tried to find out what she wanted. Her nervousness was obvious. Shifting from foot to foot, keeping a tight grip on the boy and fingering at the buttons of her coat, she refused to say. All he could get out of her was that she had something important to say and she wouldn’t say it to anyone but Edward Whitney.

By this time Jack’s curiosity was aroused. He asked her if she was a witness in a case, and with a troubled look she said, “maybe,” and then, backing away, she reiterated with stubborn determination, “But I won’t speak to no one but Mr. Whitney himself.”

Jack went to the private office where the old man and George were talking with Babbitt and told them. George was sent to see if he could learn more than Jack but he was soon back again.

“I can’t get a thing out of her. She insists on seeing you, Dad, and she says she won’t leave until she does.”

“Bring her in,” growled the Chief, and as George disappeared, he turned to Babbitt and said, “Wait here for a moment. I want to ask you a few more things about that woman last night.”

Babbitt moved over to the window and Jack took a chair by the table.

“She’s probably being sued by her landlord and wants you to take the case.”

“Maybe,” said the old man quietly. “I’m curious to see.”

Just then the woman came in, the child beside her, and George following. She looked at the Chief with a steady, inquiring gaze, and he rose, as urbanely welcoming as if she were a star client.

“You want to see me, Madam?”

“I do,” she answered, “if you’re Edward Whitney. For it’s to no one else I’ll be going with what I’m bringing.”

He assured her that she had found the right man and waved her to a chair. She sat down, setting the boy on her lap, the Chief opposite, leaning a little forward in his chair, all attention.

“Well, what is it?” he said.

“It’s about the Harland suicide,” she answered, “and it’s my husband, Dan Meagher, who sent me here. ‘Go to Mr. Whitney and tell him,’ he said to me, ‘and don’t say a word to anyone, not even your mother.’”

George, who had been standing by the table with that sardonic smile he affects, suddenly became grave and dropped into a chair. The Chief nodded pleasantly.

“The Harland suicide, Mrs. Meagher. That’s very good. We’d like any information you can give us about it.”

The woman drew in a breath so deep it was almost a gasp. With her eyes on the old man, she bent forward. Her words, with their rich rolling r’s, were impressive.

“I’m an honest woman, sir, but what I’ll be telling you is the truth from Danny here, who’s never lied since the day he was born.”

The little boy looked up and spoke, his voice clear and piping, after the fuller tones of his mother.

“I’m not lying.”

“Let me get this straight, Mrs. Meagher,” said the Chief. “I’m a little confused. Is it you or the boy here that knows something?”

“It’s him,” she said, putting her hand on the child’s shoulder, “he saw something. It’s this way, sir. I’m one of the cleaners in the Massasoit Building. The three top floors are mine and I clean the offices from five until eight. Lately, I’ve been taking Danny with me, him being, as maybe you can see, delicate since he had the measles, and he’s not allowed to go to school yet or play in the street.”

“I empty the trash baskets,” piped up the little boy.

“Don’t speak, Danny, until your evidence is wanted,” she said. “On the evening of the suicide, I was going about my chores on the seventeenth floor in the Macaulay-Blake offices, they being, as you may know, at the back of the building. I was through with the outer room by quarter past six, so I turned off the lights and went into the inner room, closing the door, as I had the window open and didn’t want the cold air on the boy.”

“You left him in the office that looks over the buildings to the front of the Swan Building?”

“By the window,” spoke up the little boy. “I was sitting there looking out.”

“That’s right,” said she. “The office was dark and as I shut the door I saw him, by the window sill, looking at some magazines they had there.” She took the little boy’s hand and, fondling it in hers, said, “Now, Danny, tell them what you saw, same as you told Dad and me this morning.” She turned to the Chief. “It’s no lie he’ll be telling you, I’ll swear it on the Bible.”

The little boy raised his big eyes to the old man’s and spoke, clearly and slowly.

“I was looking across at the Swan Building, at the windows. On the floor right level with me, they was all dark, except the hall one. That was lit and I could see into the hall, and there was no one in it. Suddenly a door opened, the one nearest the window, and a head came out and looked quick up and down and then across to our building. Then the head went back in and I was thinking how he couldn’t see me because it was all dark where I was, and then the door opened again, slow, and something awful came out.”

He stopped and turned to his mother, clinging to her and scared. She put her arm around him and coaxed softly.

“Don’t be afraid, sweetie. Go on, now, and tell it like you told me and Dad at breakfast.”

The old man was motionless, his face a stone mask. George was leaning forward, his elbows on the table, his eyes on the boy in a fixed stare.

“What did you see, Danny?” said the Chief, his voice sounding deep. “Don’t be afraid.”

The boy spoke again, pressing back against his mother.

“It was like an animal creeping along, crouched down …”

“Show the gentlemen,” said Mrs. Meagher, and without any more urging the boy slid down to the floor on his hands and knees and began crawling about, bent as low as he could. It was a queer sight. The little boy creeping stealthily along the carpet, and the four men, all but the old man up on their feet, leaning forward to watch him.

“This way,” he said, looking up sideways. “Just like that. Awful quick from the door to the window.” He rose and went back to his mother, cowering against her. “I thought it was some kind of bear, and I was terrible scared. I was so scared I couldn’t yell or run or nothing. I stood looking and I saw it was a man, and …” He stopped, terrified memory halting his words.

She had to coax him again, her arm around him, her face close to his.

“Go on, Danny, you want the gentlemen to think you’re the brave boy that you are. Go on, now, lamb.” Over his head she looked at the Chief and said, “It’s a sight might have froze the heart of anyone, let alone a little kid.”

The boy went on, almost in a whisper.

“He had another man on his back, not moving, like he was dead, with his arms hanging down. I could see the hands dragging along the floor like they was rope. And when he got to the window, quick, I never seen nothing so quick, the one that was creeping slid the other onto the sill. He done it this way.” He crouched down on his knees with his hands raised over his head and made a forward, shoving motion. “Pushing him out. Just for a second I could see the dead guy on the window sill with his head down, and then the man gave a big shove and he went out the window.”

There was a moment of dead silence in which they could hear the tick of the clock on the mantel. Jack had an impression of Babbitt, his face full of horror, and George, bent across the table, biting on his lip. Only the old man held his pose of bland stolidity.

“And what did the man, the one that was on his knees, do then, Danny?” he asked gently.

“He got up and went to the door. Whish,” he shot one palm across the other with a swift gesture, “like that, and went in.”

“Which door was that? Which side?”

Dannie waved his right hand.

“This one, the door he came out of. This side!”

“Azalea Woods Estates,” said George.

The old man gave him a quick glance, a razor-sharp reprimand, and turning to Danny he held out his hand.

“Well, Danny, that’s a wonderful story, and it’s great the way you tell it. Let’s shake on it.” The little boy stepped forward and put his small, thin hand in the Chief’s big palm. “You’ve told it to all the boys on the block, haven’t you?”

Dannie shook his head.

“I didn’t tell anyone until this morning when I couldn’t hold it in no more and told Mom and Dad.”

“Why didn’t you tell anyone sooner?”

“I was scared. I didn’t want to. I kept dreaming about it at night and I didn’t know what to do. And this morning when Mom and Dad was talking I just busted out. I, I,” his lips trembled and the tears welled into his eyes.

“It’s true what he says, every word,” said Mrs. Meagher. “He’s been sick ever since, and me crazy not knowing what was eating him. And this morning he breaks into tears and out it comes.”

As she was speaking the old man patted her worn hand, eyeing the child with a deep, quiet kindliness.

“You’re a smart boy, Danny,” he said. “And you want to keep on being a smart boy and not tell anyone. Will you answer a question or two, telling me if you don’t know or don’t remember? I’ll see that you get something pretty nice afterward if you do.”

“Yes,” says Danny, “I’ll do that.”

“Could you see what the man looked like, the man that was alive?”

“No, I wasn’t near enough. They was like, like,” he paused and then said, his eyes showing a troubled bewilderment, “like shadows.”

“He would have seen them in silhouette,” George explained, “black against the lit window.”

“That’s right,” Danny turned eagerly to George. “And it was across the street.”

“Um,” said the Chief, “too far for any detail. Well, this man, the one that was on his hands and knees, was he a fat man?”

The child shook his head.

“No, sir. He, he was just like lots of men.”

“Now look at these three gentlemen,” said the Chief, waving his hand at the others. “Which of them looks most like him? Not their faces, just their bodies.”

Danny looked at them critically and carefully. His eye passed quickly over Babbitt, medium height, broad and stocky, lingered on Jack, six feet two with the longest reach, then settled on George, who tipped the scales at one hundred and sixty pounds.

“Most like him,” he said, pointing a little finger at the junior member of Whitney & Whitney. “Skinny like him.”

“Very well done, Danny,” said the old man, and then turned to George. “Slightly built. He would have no way of judging height.”

George took over the interrogation.

“Could you see what kind of clothes he wore?”

“No, he went too quick.”

“And he looked over at your building?”

“Yes, but he couldn’t see anything. Mom’s floors was all dark.”

“Did you see him come out of the room again?”

“No. I was so scared that I went back to where Mom was.”

“Come to me like a ghost,” said Mrs. Meagher. “And not a word out of him only that he was cold.”

“Well, Mrs. Meagher,” said the Chief, “this is a great service you’ve done, and now it’s our turn to do something for you.”

“Oh, sir,” she answered, “I’m not looking for money. It was my duty and I done it. Now, Danny, it’s time we was getting home.”

“Wait a moment,” said the old man. “You said your husband’s a truck driver. Tell him to come and see me. My home’s the best place, this evening if possible. And tell him, and this applies to both of you,” his bushy brows came down over his eyes and his expression grew somber, “not to mention one word of this. If you keep your mouths shut, your future’s made. If you go running to the media,” he raised a warning finger and shook it fiercely, “God help you.”

Mrs. Meagher looked terrified. She clutched Danny and pulled him against her skirt.

“Not a word, sir,” she faltered. “I swear to God.”

“That’s right.” He suddenly changed, straightened up, and was the genial old gentleman who could put the shyest witness at his ease. “The little chap doesn’t look strong. New York’s no place for him. He ought to run wild in the country for a bit.”

“Ah, don’t be saying it,” she shook her head wistfully. “That’s what the doctor told me. But what can a poor cleaning woman do?”

“Not as much, maybe, as a lawyer can. You leave that to me. I’ll see he goes and you’ll be along. All I ask in return is,” he put his finger on his lips, “just one thing. Silence.”

She tried to say something more but laughing and pooh-poohing her attempts at thanks, Edward Whitney walked her to the door.

“There, there. No more talk. Hustle along now, and don’t forget, I want to see Dan Meagher tonight. Ask the clerk in the waiting room for my home address. Good-bye.” He shook hands with her and patted Danny on the shoulder. “A month on a farm and you won’t know this boy. Good-bye and good luck to you!”

As the door shut his whole expression and manner changed. He turned back to the room, his hands deep in his pockets, his shoulders hunched, his eyes, under the drooping thatch of his hair, looking from one to the other of them.

“Well, gentlemen?” he said.

“Murder!” came from George.

“Murder,” repeated his father. “Something I’ve suspected since the inquest.”

MUMMY COME BACK

mummy2

It’s not what you think! The 1977 classic Player hit single, “Baby Come Back,” inspired the title of this story.

Mummy Come Back is a silly mystery – that’s the only way to describe it. A professor of Egyptology buys a Peruvian mummy and sends his assistant to safely transport the mummy to the Professor’s home on the Maine seacoast. The mummy case arrives in the port, comes ashore for the night, and moves overland the next day to its final destination.
When the Professor pries open the case there is no mummy, only the body of his assistant. A few days later, a Peruvian and his daughter arrive to claim the missing mummy, the Professor agrees to marry a gold-digging widow and his stepdaughter’s former lover returns, testing her engagement to her current lover. Everyone has their own agenda, which are revealed as the tangled connections to the mummy are untangled. Oh, and the police try to find the killer of the poor assistant.

It’s not your average story and I was at a loss to come up with a new title for my updated story. Then one day I was driving with the radio cranked on an oldies station when “Baby Come Back” blasted through the speakers. In a flash, I had my title. Now, whenever I think of this story, I hear the title sung to the tune of “Baby Come Back” (and so you will, too!)

Next, I looked for graphics for the cover. It would be misleading to suggest that the book was about a missing mother when it was a mummy that disappeared. Couldn’t do that. I looked at countless images of mummies and they were mostly too gruesome, too comical, or too Egyptian. None of those worked so I went with an art deco graphic design that was typical of the cover art when the original novel was published. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough to publish the story on Kindle.

A year later, I’m preparing to end my participation on Kindle Unlimited and distribute my work through Smashwords, as well as Kindle, to gain exposure on all eBook sales platforms.  It’s the perfect time to re-issue Mummy Come Back with a new cover. I’ve almost decided what it’s going to be.

Mummy Come Back is free on Kindle Unlimited until December 16th. After that, you’ll be able to find it wherever fine eBooks are sold.

Long Beach

If you want to visit a Cape Cod beach in its most pristine state, this is it.

The beach begins with a short boardwalk diverging into two paths. The left brings you to the ocean; the right leads to the Centerville River. Many visitors go no further, enjoying the peace and quiet of a mostly empty beach, but you must continue walking to fully experience Long Beach.

The ocean side offers a panoramic view of the harbor stretching from Hyannisport to Osterville and spectacular sunsets. The sand is clean fine grain, the water not too rocky, shelly or sea-weedy. The tides don’t affect swimming in the summer-warmed water. Kick off your shoes and walk; it’s best to go on either side of low tide, when the sand is firmer. As you walk, keep an eye out for a conch shell to hang on the shell trees further down the beach.

As you approach the entrance to the Centerville River, the beach changes from sandy to smooth rocks, seaweed, and moon shells that have been trapped on shore by the changing tides. Abandoned nineteenth century groins protect tidal flats where visitors have erected Zen-inspired stone monuments only visible by the low tide. Look closer and you will see some of the stones are not randomly placed. Affirmations of FAMILY, PEACE, JOY have been created and maintained by visitors over the years. Leave your own inspiration and plant your conch shell on one of the shell trees before walking around to the river side of the beach.

On the river side you first notice the silence. You no longer hear the waves of the ocean. You enter an ever-changing salt-water estuary of tidal flats, sand dunes, tidal pools, sea grass, scrub junipers, beach roses, beach plums and sea lavender. Barefoot? Watch out for fiddler crabs digging out their holes before the incoming tide. Listen to the cries of shorebirds protecting their nesting chicks, seagulls feasting on crab, crickets chirping as you walk along the old cartwheel paths through the dunes, or follow the beach. The riverside path turns with the shore so that you may stumble upon kayakers stopping for a swim, a yoga practitioner, or a family. Small children seek out small inlets for netting minnows, fiddler and horseshoe crabs and building sand castles. Sailboats, motorboats, kayakers, and paddle boarders cruise by, and on the opposite bank, the mansions of the mostly seem to be deserted, no matter the time of year.

The whole walk brings you back to the boardwalk, about two miles. If you want to cut it short, you can turn around or cut over the dunes – but you will miss out.

Estate Sales

apples.jpgCape Cod is home and second home to many retired folks. For as long as I can remember, there’s been a routine turnover of retirees – just as frequently as they get here, others depart for greener pastures, so to speak. So estate sales are very big small businesses on Cape Cod, serving families that don’t want or can’t afford their parent’s homes, or the contents. There’s an entire industry around the weekly estate sales organized by an army of mostly older women running small operations selling off estates and getting the house ready for the realtors (another huge business on Cape Cod). Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday hundreds of enthusiastic amateurs and professional pickers scurry from sale to sale searching out valuable finds, either for themselves or for resale on eBay, Amazon or the antique market, but more often than not, the home furnishings end up in another Cape home, either to supplement or upgrade that home. If you pick your sales carefully, by which I mean the pricier neighborhoods, you can find some real bargains, and peek into how the wealthy live. There are many strategies for hitting the sales. Some people only shop on Fridays, others wait until the last hours when price tags are halved. If you really like it but not the price, you can leave a bid and it’s yours if no one else wants it. Sometimes shoppers get carried away. Last year I bought an artist’s portfolio of over 100 watercolors for a hundred dollars. One of them became my profile pix; I don’t know what to do with the rest of them.

Recently (that’s right, I’m on the hunt every week) I bought someone’s well-used collection of old recipes, all stored in a white wood box. I’ve wondered about the family that failed to treasure such a family heirloom. I loved my mother’s Shepard’s pie and wish I had written down her recipe before she forgot how she made it so good. Or maybe it was because she made it that it tasted so good. I don’t know why, but mine is never as good.

I will be posting some of the recipes in my little white box. Many of the recipes date to the 1960s and 1970s, but some are much older. I’ve noticed that the spare the instructions, the older the recipe. Cooks back then knew how to put a dish together without a lot of measuring and direction and so none was provided.

Here’s one that I remember from elementary school – the best dessert ever!

 Apple Crisp

4 cups sliced apples1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. lemon juice

Toss and place in a greased shallow baking pan.

In a small bowl, mix

1/3 cup sifted flour

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup soft butter

Mix until blended, soft and crumbly then top the apples. Bake in a moderate oven (375 degrees) for 30 minutes or until apples are tender.

DAN JAMIESON AND RACHEL MAGUIRE

The first book in the Dan Jamieson and Rachel Maguire Mystery series, Death at Daybreak is the also the first story I re-invented. The original novel was an innovative best seller back in 1906, although I didn’t know that when I began my project. If you read old books, you might guess the original book, but you’ll always find the name of the original mystery at the end of my stories. I always give credit to the original author at the end of my imaginations and encourage you to check it out in its original form.

What attracted me is the feisty main character of the original novel. In nineteenth century novels a strong male character almost always takes charge and solves the problems of the female protagonist. I had found a story in which the lead character is a woman who takes command and takes action – such a rarity! There were challenges in transferring the original characters into the twenty-first century because the central relationships were not realistic in this era, so I imagined a new relationship between the main protagonists. The changes in Rachel are minor, she remains an old maid aunt, but now she’s a successful businesswoman, too. Dan was originally as a police detective, but that occupation wouldn’t support the plot in this century, so he becomes a private detective. The character of Livey was originally a maid; she becomes a personal assistant/best friend to Rachel.

I liked Dan and Rachel so much that I inserted them into another book, A Common Death. In that story Dan becomes the lead character and Rachel morphs a faithful servant into Dan’s somewhat new, midlife lover. Other aspects of the faithful servant become Dan’s young investigator at his detective agency. Their adventures continue in Death Fish and the soon to be released Time of Death.