Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 6

(If you'd like to read from the beginning you can go Here.)

In the light of day the East Orange station had reverted to mere ordinariness. The menace that had hung in the air last night banished by the bustle of businessmen intent on making money and housewives intent on spending money by shopping in the city.

Anne fingered her small stash of cash. She pulled her change purse out, poured the contents into her palm and wrinkled her nose. A week until payday, and this would have to last. A few quick mental calculations and she bit her lip. She would just delay the purchase of a pair of new pumps. Too bad, she didn’t have an indulgent lawyer of a father like Lacey Carew.

She would also forego the luxury of a cab. Living in New York had gotten her used to walking, how hard could it be to find Carol’s apartment? It took only a moment to obtain directions, and she set out.

A breeze kept the walk pleasant enough and she found Burnett Street easily. Broken brickwork and overgrown shrubbery turned Carol’s building slightly shabby. Sagging curtains at the windows, made Anne think of a woman whose slip was showing. She paused for a moment before the brick building as she was assailed by doubt. Maybe she had made a mountain out of a molehill. She had studied the papers during the entire train ride and could make no more sense of them.

No. She straightened her back. She had already spent the time and the money to get here, the least she could do was follow her instincts. Sucking in a deep breath she climbed the stairs.

The woman who answered her knock on the super’s door looked as if she had been designed by central casting for roles as a Nazi hausfrau. Even her fine, blond hair was braided and pinned up on top of her hair.

“My name is Anne Leighton. I am—was a friend of Carol Hayes.”

The woman’s stoic stare held no flicker of interest, only mild annoyance at being disturbed.

“She was killed in an accident last night.”

At this the woman’s eyes rose slightly, but she still did not speak.

“I… her family wants me to go through her things and decide what to send home.” It wasn’t so very far from the truth. If the Hayes knew of her availability they would certainly have asked her to do something of the sort.


“But, I… She has passed on and—”

“No one gets in until her back rent is paid up.”

“Carol always paid her bills. It was a matter of pride.”

“Not last month she didn’t.”

Anne bit her tongue. Her mother had taught her to be polite, even if it weren’t called for. “Please, I won’t be long. The family would be grateful if I can give them an idea of how much they might need to send for.”

“You got the money?”

“How much was her rent?”

“Forty-five dollars.”

It wasn’t likely. The woman was probably padding her number by at least five dollars. Anne shook her head. “We’re not in New York.”

“Come back when you have the money.”

“Please, her mother will feel much better if I can just assure her that all Carol’s things are there waiting for her.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Eyes flashing as if her honor had been besmirched, the landlady stepped back into her apartment and slammed the door shut.

Cheeks stinging as if she had been slapped, Anne stared at the door.

“Don’t let old Heil Helga get you down.”

Anne whirled hand to her heart. A lanky brunette stood on the stairs one hand resting on the banister.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to throw you. Say was that on the up and up? What you said about Carol?”

Anne nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“Gee, I’m sorry to hear it. She was a good kid.” Her shoulders slumped.

“You knew her?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s a man’s world out there and we secretaries have to stick together.”

“Did you work for Barlow and Company too?”

“Yeah. Oh, man I’m going to miss Carol.” The girl sat on the steps.

Anne joined her. She sighed as she took the weight off her feet. “Has Carol been acting funny lately?”

The girl’s mouth dropped open. “Did she commit suicide?”

Anne pulled back. “No. She was killed in an accident.” She narrowed her eyes. “Why would you think she killed herself?”

“On account of Tommy.”

“Her brother?”

“No. Tom Deschamps. They were hot and heavy for about three months but then a couple days ago they had a big blow up. Carol was all broken up about it. She wouldn’t tell me what it was all about though.”

Anne stared at the girl. It was all news to her. Carol had never mentioned a boyfriend in any of her letters. Good grief! Had she really known Carol at all? What other secrets had her friend been keeping?”

“She never gave you any hint what caused the break-up?”

“No. She was always pretty private, though Tommy really got her to loosen up. She started going to nightclubs with him and even went into the city to some sort of beatnik poetry recitals. Do you know that scene?”

Anne shook her head. She didn’t know that scene, and from what she had heard, didn’t really want to. What could Carol have been thinking?

“Well she really wasn’t herself lately if you know what I mean, and after her fight with Tommy she clammed up tighter than ever.”

“I had no idea.”

Mistaking her meaning, the girl patted her arm. “Don’t beat yourself up over it. She would have told us about it eventually.”

“No. I… I didn’t even know about this Tom person.”

“Oh.” The girl scrunched her lips to the side in a caricature of thought. “Maybe she knew you wouldn’t approve. In fact, she didn’t even tell me until I met them coming home from a date one night. My Robbie and I went out with them a couple times after that, but Tommy’s pretty wild.”

* * *

Anne disembarked from the train and checked her watch. Just enough time to make it to work. She picked up her pace, weaving through the crowded station until she emerged into the glare and blare of New York.

Who was Tom Deschamps? Had he had anything to do with Carol’s death? Maybe she had been the one to end things between them, and he had run her over in retaliation. She shook her head. It seemed a little melodramatic.

She stopped for just a second to look in the display window of her favorite shop. They had the most delicious evening gown in the window. The strapless turquoise silk had a wasp waist and wide skirt that seemed to float down to the ground. She sighed. A flash of movement caught her eye.

Turning she scanned the crowd. No one seemed to be paying her any attention. With a final wistful glance she left the dress behind and continued on her way.

A breeze picked up as she circled a hot dog vendor’s cart. Again she glanced over her shoulder. In the crowd behind her she spotted a snatch of pale gray. Surely she had seen that same gray suit at least four times? Once near Carol’s apartment. She quickened her pace. The light changed and Anne hugged her handbag closer to her side, darting into the midst of the throng crossing the street.

She swallowed against the metallic taste in her mouth and bit her lip. She was being ridiculous. Carol’s death had affected her more than she wanted to admit.

* * *

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