Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 9

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

Swallowing against the tightness in her throat, Anne picked her way through the mess. She could not resist the lure of her desecrated typewriter. Reverently she righted it and returned it to its place. Bending over it she caressed the keys and examined the carriage. It did not seem to have sustained any serious damage. She rubbed at a scuff mark. Would it come out, or it would it be a permanent reminder of this awful violation?

“What happened here?”

With a squeak, Anne whirled to face the door. For lack of a better weapon she brandished her handbag, determined to do what damage she could.

Erik Carter raised his hands as if she were holding him up.

“Oh, it’s you.” She dropped her handbag and plopped onto the couch, burying her face in her hands.

He settled on the couch beside her. Close, but not touching her. “Did they take anything?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. But who could say for certain.” She waved a hand at the room.

“Have you called the police?”

“If nothing is missing there isn’t much point.”

“It is still vandalism.”

“Do you really think they will do anything about it?”

“Well, you have a better chance than if you don’t call them. Leave them out and there is zero chance of catching whoever did this.”

“There is no chance that they will waste their precious time with this anyway.” What had her back against the wall? Just a week ago she would have encouraged someone to do the exact same thing, but then again a week ago her confidence in the police had not yet been shaken. She tried to explain her vehemence. “My friend was killed by a car two days ago. The police refuse to even consider that it was anything more than an accident, but I saw the body and their explanation just doesn’t cover it all. If they won’t even look at a potential murder—”

“Why are you so certain your friend was murdered?”

Anne wanted to bite her tongue off. “I’m sorry but I have to go.”

“You’re not still going out?”

“Why not?”

It was his turn to wave a hand at the chaos that had swallowed the room.

“It will still be here when I get back.” She rose and smoothed her skirt. “Why did you come up here? Did you need something?”

“Oh.” He blinked and held out the hammer he had borrowed earlier.

“Thanks.” She smiled her sweetest ‘little woman’ smile. Her fingers brushed his as she accepted the hammer. “It is important that I go or I really would stay home.”

“What was your friend’s name?”

She looked at him blankly.

“The one who died?”


“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Anne was not quite sure she knew how to respond to that.

He saw himself out, and Anne minced her way into Jilly’s bedroom. The destruction extended even here in her sanctum sanctorum.

The world had gone mad, neither she nor Jilly owned anything worth the effort of theft, and it looked as if the intruders had realized that pitiful fact. Anne held her handbag closer. Either she had fallen asleep and woken in a B grade spy movie, or Carol had been hiding something. Something dangerous.

Carol had passed those papers to her for a reason. She had to figure it all out or the danger would continue to spread like a stain. She grabbed the first clothes that came to hand. A pretty blue dress which Jilly filled out perfectly.

In a moment she was on the street again, marching toward the subway. No way she was going to walk another eighteen blocks today. Her feet were already worn to stubs. She shut out the thought of all the work they would have to do to get the apartment cleaned up. She would cross that bridge when she came to it.

Once more she sensed a presence following her. Was she simply becoming paranoid? She darted into the station heedless of her sore feet. In a matter of seconds she had shoved through the turnstile and plunged into the ladies’ restroom.

She held the door open an inch and peered through the crack. She didn’t have much of a view of the stairs, but she could see most of the platform. At this time of day the traffic was fairly moderate. Maybe she would recognize whoever was following her. Or maybe the pursuer would believe she had disappeared and give up. She had reverted to wishful thinking, never a good sign.

A tall figure crossed her line of sight. She stiffened and flung the door open. He certainly had a knack for turning up at odd moments. She had been too trusting. Of course, he had had the plenty of time to ransack the apartment. But why? Whatever the reason, this was all just too much of a coincidence.

She stalked up behind the man. “Are you following me?”

Erik spun on his heel. “Apparently not very well.”

“What do you want?”

“I just wanted to make sure you are safe. After what happened—”

“Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted to come with me?”

He turned sheepish. “I didn’t think you would let me.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 8

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

Jilly traded coats and hats with Anne after only a few moments persuasion and the promise of the full story later on at home. Anne crossed her fingers. With any luck the guy would follow Jilly. Surely by the time she left the theater after her audition he would realize that he had the wrong girl.

Anne left the store in a clump of other girls. She forced herself not to look around for the man in the gray suit but pasted on her brightest smile and forged ahead, arms linked with her chums.

One by one the other girls broke away from the pack until Anne found herself on her own. She could resist the urge no longer. Trying to be discreet she paused in front of a shop window. She stared at the window for a moment and then glanced behind her.

She turned back to the window. No one seemed to be paying any undue attention to her. She licked her lips. One more look wouldn’t hurt. Would it? Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman had made this sort of thing look so much easier in Notrious.

She satisfied herself with turning around slowly and surveying the scene. What was she supposed to be looking for anyway? Something out of place? She was in New York City for pete’s sake. Nothing was out of place.

A new thought pushed through her anxiety. What if the man wasn’t simply following her, but meant her harm. Jilly.

Cold terror swept up her spine.

She was only a block from her apartment. She would grab something for Jilly to change into so that they might get away easier.

Bounding into the hall breathlessly, Anne rummaged for her keys. She must take the time to clean out her handbag someday. Her feet hit the first floor landing and she slammed into a wall.

Not a literal wall. She looked up into fathomless blue eyes.

“Whoa!” Erik Carter snatched her arms to keep her from bouncing back down the stairs.

Anne clapped a hand on her snappy green beret and stared like a mime in shock.

“Are you okay?” He released her and she found herself wishing for his support again.

“I’m just fine. Thank you. Are you all right?”

“I think so. You pack a wallop though.” He rubbed his arm where she had barreled into him.

“I’m sorry Mr. Carter. I must pay more attention to where I’m going.”

“Call me Erik. I just wish it were me you were in such a rush to see.”

Anne did too. She bit her lip.

She would give anything if her only concern was the desire for a date on Friday night. But she had to make sure Jilly was okay. She could never live with herself if something happened to her friend and she did nothing.

“I’m sorry I don’t usually do this on such short acquaintance, but would you care to go to dinner with me tonight?”

Anne sucked air between her teeth. This was just too painful. “I cannot. I would like to. Really. I am busy tonight though.”

He nodded. “Okay.” But the look in his eye told her he thought she had rejected him outright.

She put a hand on his arm. “I really do have to run right out again this evening, but I do hope you will ask me again sometime.”

He nodded and the warmth returned to his gaze. “I will.”

Relieved, she smiled back. “Please excuse me then, I am awfully late.”

She hurled herself up the last flight of stairs to her apartment and thrust her key in the lock. The door swung in on darkness. The scent of cigar smoke stopped her as effectively as Erik had. Her hand groped for the light switch.

Light burst into the room. She couldn’t take it all in.

The apartment had been ripped apart. Every book had been pulled from the shelf. They lay in a forlorn heap on the floor. The couch had been slashed open and spilled it’s stuffing indecently. Pictures had been taken down and flung at random. Even her precious typewriter lay on its side on the floor, the ribbon hanging from it dispiritedly. She slumped against the doorframe, hand to her mouth.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 7

(If you'd like to read from the beginning you can go Here.)
Anne ducked her head and tucked her arms in close to her sides as she scurried through crowd. For once being on the short side was working in her favor. At the last instant she slipped down the subway station stairs. She stopped when her eyes hit street level and watched the foot traffic.

Sure enough a pair of light gray suit pants and dark wingtips marched by. She squinted up at the man, trying to make out his features, but with the awkward angle all she could see was the edge of a chin, the tip of a nose and a fedora that shadowed it all.

The man turned his head side to side as he passed, as if he were scanning the crowd in search of someone. He never glanced down.

Pursing her lips Anne ascended into the light once more. She had let her imagination get carried away. It was just like the time she and Carol had been convinced there was a thief living down the street. It turned out he had been a very nice man who was opening an antiques shop, and had had some deliveries made to his home. The only difference was that this time Carol was dead.

Maybe the sense of loss had kicked her imagination into overdrive. Shaking her head at herself, Anne headed for work. Now she was going to be late.

The alley behind Ms. Marguerite’s was like most of the alleys in New York. Filthy and foul smelling. She pushed the door open, gritting her teeth against the ear numbing screech.

A hand reached out and grabbed her arm. Anne swallowed stifling a screech of her own. “Jillian, you scared me out of my wits!” she hissed.

“You’re late. Hurry. I’ve got your gown laid out, but they will start any moment.”

Jillian hustled her down the hallway and into the common dressing room shared by all the girls. Anne needed no further encouragement. She stripped and tossed her clothes to Jilly who deftly caught them and placed them on hangers.

Anne shimmied into the evening gown that she would parade around in for the afternoon. Layers of emerald silk chiffon floated around her ankles, while the rest of the gown hugged the body more closely.

She ran a brush through her hair and turned to Jilly for inspection. “Am I presentable?”

“You better powder your nose.”

Anne picked up the powder puff and brushed it across her nose.

Together she and Jilly darted for the queue of girls at the far end of the room. They were waved to their place, with conspiratorial grins and flapping hands. Anne had barely time to paste on a smile before it was her turn to sashay through the pair of stiff green and gold damask curtains that opened onto the stage.

Several well-dressed women sat around the room on white velvet couches. Most had a champagne flute in their hands. Sales women stood discreetly near each customer ready to write down colors and orders.

Ms. Marguerite herself narrated the movement of the mannequins as they glided in procession across the stage each one taking her turn at the front of the stage, turning and posing to show the clothes they wore to best advantage.

Anne took her turn at the front. As Ms. Marguerite described the fabric and cut of the gown in exquisite detail, she realized she had not traded her work-a-day pumps for the elegant stiletto sandals made to match the gown. Swallowing, she strove to keep her breathing even and her smile plastered in place.

“I don’t know. You would think they would have more imagination than to put the redhead always in a green dress. And what are those shoes?” The catty snipe from one of the customers could be heard throughout the elegant salon.

Anne ground her heel into the plush white carpet, but kept her smile in place as she twirled away into the back line. The instant she was off stage the plastic smile was discarded and she rubbed her temples. Could anything else go wrong today?

She had no time to mope. she wriggled from the evening gown and into a gorgeous sundress with the wide bell like skirt of Dior’s New Look. She double-checked herself in one of the full-length mirrors. Shoes. She could not forget the dainty little ballerina flats.

Once more she joined the other girls in line and traipsed out onto the stage. This time at least she had a prop in the form of a pair of sunglasses, which she would put on and take off at least six times during her slow peregrinations across the stage.

She was in front and had just removed the sunglasses when a tall gray-suited man wearing a fedora entered the salon. His masculine presence was immediately noticeable among the bastion of femininity. Her heart pummeled against her rib cage, trying to make a break for it.

Even her smile faltered until she remembered to shore it up. Ms. Marguerite’s voice faded and Anne faltered. She could not take her eyes off the man, nor it seemed could he take his eyes off her.

Ms. Marguerite’s voice rose as she repeated some bit of the script. Anne blinked and slapped the sunglasses into place. She whirled and found her place. Though she felt exposed, surely the stage was the safest place she could be right now. He could hardly get to her with so many witnesses in the room.

At last it was her turn to slip behind the curtain. She hovered there, out of sight of the showroom, and watched the man. He eyes the other mannequins as they moved across the stage, but he seemed to show none of the same intensity with which he had watched her.

Was it the same man?

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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