Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 14

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

Drawing in a deep breath, Anne looked away from the beckoning light of the diner. It would be cutting it too close to try to track Erik down. He would keep her on the phone trying to convince her not to go to the kidnappers.

With the way her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth and her hands trembled, he might just succeed. But she couldn’t. She’d gotten Jilly into this pickle, and she’d get her out. Shoulders square, Anne marched back to the subway station.

At Grand Central, she caught the last train to East Orange. Her mind spun, refusing to settle on any one subject. Her fingers began to ache, and she loosened her hold on her handbag—slightly.

The train huffed into the station and she stood before it had even ground to a halt. Would there be a car waiting for her? Would they call the station and give her new directions?

A hand gripped her elbow.

She gasped and her head spun to see who had accosted her.

“No. Don’t turn around.” His face was nestled against her ear. His breath hot and foul.

Anne fought to breathe. Her knees seemed to have melted. “Who are you?”

“That don’t matter. What matters is that you’re gonna do what I tell you and no one will get hurt.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 13

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

Anne sucked in a deep breath through pursed lips. The diner seemed normal enough. Though hardly bustling at this time of night, there were a couple of customers bent over slabs of pie and steaming mugs of coffee.

Settling into a booth, Anne smoothed her skirt. She had to be the only person on the planet who worried about how to dress for a meeting with kidnappers. Was her jacket severe enough to give her an air of authority? Were her flats sensible enough for her to make a dash for it if necessary? Was her jaunty beret too frivolous?

A waitress with sleepy eyes and drooping shoulders hovered at her elbow, ready to take her order and be done with her. There was no way she could stomach food at the moment.

“Coffee, please.”

The waitress nodded and shuffled away.

Anne fingered the folded pages in her coat pocket. At the last minute she had dumped the contents of her purse out on the kitchen table and grabbed only the documents, her coin purse, and her key. The last thing she needed was to be trying to keep track of a handbag.

What if they had drugged, Jilly?

What if they had hurt her in some way?

The waitress plunked a mug of coffee in front of her and Anne raised it to her mouth. The scalding liquid seared the roof of her mouth and she sputtered. Spitting it back into the mug, she snatched at napkins from the dispenser and wiped her mouth.

The waitress brought her a glass of cold water and Anne dabbed at the front of her jacket. There went any notion of trying to look like an authority figure. Not that anyone would have made that mistake anyway. Anne sighed and shoved the mug aside. She pulled a dime from her change purse to pay for it. Might as well leave the waitress a nice tip. Someone ought to benefit from this whole awful mess.

“Excuse me?”

Anne glanced up to find the waitress back at her elbow. “Yes?”

“Are you Anne?”

Anne’s vocal chords melted together in a flash of terror. She could do more than nod. Where were they? Was she being watched? Was this seemingly innocent woman a part of their gang?

“You have a telephone call?” The waitress jerked a thumb at a phone booth stationed at the back of the diner.

Anne nodded again. She slid from the booth. If her knees quaked anymore she would land on the floor.

With trembling fingers she raised the receiver to her ear. “Hello.”

“What took you so long?” The same gruff voice barked at her.

Anne straightened her back. “What do you want?”

“Go to Grand Central and hop the next train to East Orange. Don’t miss it or your pal will pay.”

Anne hung up and hurried from the diner. She pulled her change purse from her pocket and rifled through the meager contents. She had enough to get to East Orange, but she and Jilly would have to find another way home. Oh, well. They would burn that bridge when they came to it. If nothing else they could walk.

She took a step and stopped. She should call Erik. He could have men waiting at the East Orange station to follow her wherever they sent her next. They could charge in like the Light Brigade and save Jilly. On the other hand, the Light Brigade had ended in slaughter.

Anne looked back at the lighted diner window to see the waitress standing behind the counter. Her hand moved a rag in lazy circles over the formica, but her gaze was pinned on Anne.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 12

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

Anne leapt to her feet and hurried in search of Erik. She found him sitting behind someone’s desk and listening intently to the receiver. She flapped a hand to get his attention. Scowling, he held a palm up and swiveled the chair around.

“Yes, sir. Yes, I understand.”

Anne’s hands bunched in fists on her hips. Of all the rotten… Fine. She would leave him to do whatever it was the Secret Service did, and she would go get Jilly back. Lips pursed and jaw jutting at a dangerous angle, she stalked from the theater and back to the subway station.

She was home faster than she had hoped and pounded up the stairs, bursting into her wrecked apartment before she talked herself out of it. Even knowing what to expect, the mess made her pause. She swallowed against the dryness in her throat. Would they be so savage to Jilly?

Inhaling grimly, she licked her lips and took off her jacket. She tackled the mess with a vengeance. Poor Jilly would not be confronted by the destruction when she got home. And, Anne would make sure she got home. She would not allow her friend to remain in the hands of the grey-suited man.

The phone rang and she snatched it up.

“I told you to stay put.”

Erik’s commanding tone sent of frisson of rage up her spine, steeling her against fear or unease. “I do not require you permission to return to my own home.” She gently placed the receiver back in the cradle.

It took nearly an hour to set the living room to rights. As best she could. The sofa cushions would have to be mended. But it would do.

In the kitchen the intruders had dumped the refrigerator’s contents onto the floor, heedless of splintering jars of jam, and pickles, a bottle of milk, and half a dozen eggs. At least she could salvage a hunk of cheese and the heel of a salami. She was on her hands and knees scrubbing up the mess when the phone rang.

Hands dripping with the viscous glop she lunged for it.

“Miss Leighton?” The raspy grate of a disguised voice iced through her, chilling her form the inside out.


“You want your friend back, you’ll be at Perry’s Diner at 54th and Greeley at midnight.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Bring the papers, Carol gave you.” A dead little click signaled that the caller had hung up.

Anne’s gaze skittered to the wall clock. 10:30. If only there were some way to get Jilly back without handing over the papers. There must have been a reason Carol didn’t want them going to those guys.

Anne turned back to the mess on the floor. She had it mopped up in a trice. Nervous energy danced through her like static electricity making it possible for her to sit still. It was a wonder her hair wasn’t standing on end as well.

When she had cleared up the kitchen she pulled the papers from her purse and examined them again. No matter what way she turned them she could not make heads or tails of the cryptic little notes.

She fingered the texture of the paper, noticing the brittle stiffness.

Hmmm. What if… She leapt to her feet and scurried to her bedroom. She waded through the chaos that had been created. Her best stationery had been strewn about the room, but there were a few pages that had been left unrumpled. She selected the best and took them back to the kitchen where she compared them to Carol’s pages. They were close in color and they were the same size.

The niggling little idea in the back of her mind grew more solid. Could she achieve the same texture as Carol’s if she treated these pages?

There was only one way to find out for sure. She put the slightly dented kettle on to boil and pulled out her iron and ironing board. When the teapot began to squeal she held one of the sheets over the steam until the entire page was slightly damp. The iron hissed as it came in contact with the damp paper.

She pulled the paper away before it could scorch and fingered it.

It was almost there. Even the color had darkened slightly so that it matched Carol’s.

Surely it was close enough to pass muster. Now she just had to make enough sheets. She scorched the next one and had to rummage for another sheet in her room, but before long she had a stack of four pages to work with. She scrounged a couple of pens from around the flat and tested the nibs on a scratch pad.

In a short time she had a reasonable facsimile of Carol’s original quote from the Wizard of Oz. She held it up the original and examined it. Could she pull it off? Would it be worth it?

She gnawed at her lip for a long moment as she stared from one page to the other. Whoever these guys were, they had killed Carol, and even though Anne couldn’t figure out why, she knew it had to be important. Why else would they be so insistent on getting it back?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 11

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

“I don’t think so.” Anne pulled her arm from Erik’s grasp.

He flushed a shade of scarlet that looked curiously orange in the overhead lighting of the subway station. “Don’t be silly. They can obviously get into your apartment any time they wish. And, unless I miss my guess, you’ve been followed. You weren’t surprised to have been followed earlier, you were just surprised it was me.”

Anne shrugged, feigning indifference. “They’ll stop as soon as they realize I don’t know anything.”

“How are they going to verify that?”

“They’ll….” How far would they go to ensure she didn’t have any information? The more they pressed, the closer they got, the more information she would actually have.

“I’ll tell you. People like this will not be satisfied until they have guaranteed your silence.”

“You think they would kill me?”

He took hold of her arm, halting her determined march, and swinging her to face him. There was no mistaking the sincerity in his eyes. “They killed Carol.”

This time she did not pull away. “They killed her because she began talking to you.”

He winced. “We don’t know that for sure.”

“I am not stupid, Mr. Carter. The Secret Service hardly needs my expertise in investigation. You want to use me as bait.”

“It isn’t really like that.”

She merely raised an eyebrow, daring him to lie to her.

Instead he changed tacks. “Just a few moments ago you seemed determined to bring Carol’s killer to justice.”

He wasn’t going to get to her that easily. “Perhaps I would be more inclined to help your cause if you told me what all this is about.” Anne covered his hand with hers and turned to mount the steps up to the street, drawing him along.

“I don’t know all the details. Carol was supposed to fill me in, but obviously she didn’t get a chance.”

Anne kept her tone light. “Are you telling me that you began what must be a major investigation simply because my friend called and said she had a tip for you.”

“Why do think it is a major investigation?”

“You moved into the apartment below mine. I know the place is cheap for New York, but still it ain’t chicken feed.”

He only nodded. “The you’ll agree that I’m not taking this lightly.”

“Yes, but why? What haven’t you told me?”

He sighed as resignedly as hen-pecked husband. “Carol claimed to have information regarding a counterfeit ring. It just so happens that forgeries have begun cropping up all across Manhattan.”

Anne wrinkled her brow. “Counterfeits. Isn’t that the FBI’s job?”

“Nope, goes back to our roots with the Treasury. And think about it. It is a matter of national security. Too many fakes, and the real stuff loses value. The Nazi’s tried something like it during the war. This time it could be a small time operation, or it could be much larger. The reds, for one, might like to see our economy go caput.”

They walked the rest of the way to the theater in silence. Anne’s whirling thoughts fought one another for attention like a pack of rowdy toddlers. Was the country’s economy in jeopardy? What could Carol have known? How had she become involved?

The theater was dark and the doors were locked when they arrived. Anne cupped her hands over her eyes and peered inside at the darkened lobby. She pounded on the door. Erik shouted. No one answered.

“It was just a rehearsal. Maybe they will hear if we go around to the back.”

Erik nodded and they skirted the building to the alley. The dank scent of decay hung in the air. The sun probably never penetrated here, between these two tall buildings, trapping the smell of garbage and neglect.

The stage door was also locked and Anne’s brow furrowed. Was the practice already over? Had they missed Jilly? She pounded harder on the door this time.

A scuffle and the screech of iron. A flap of metal slid away to reveal a small opening in the door.

“Whaddya want?” An elderly harridan glared out at them as if expecting to find a pack of stage door johnnies on her step.

“Is the rehearsal still going on?”

“Nope, done and over.” The woman started to close the flap.

Anne grabbed at the metal, halting its movement. “Is Jillian Hayes still here? It is most important I find her.”

“Nah, she got a message that her roommate had been hurt real bad in a car accident and she rushed off to the hospital. That’s why the rehearsal ended early.”

Anne could not breathe. She could not see. Jilly.

Erik moved past her smoothly. “How did she learn this?”

“A man come and told her.”

“Did you see him by any chance?”

“Why do you want to know?” Suspicion tainted her tone like poison.

Erik poured on the charm. “This is her roommate. I’m afraid there’s been a mix-up somewhere. This fellow, was he tall?”

“Yep. Tall, medium colored hair. Grey suit.”

“Thank you, madam.”

Anne sagged against the wall and covered her face with her hands. “They’ve kidnapped her.”

Erik flashed his credentials at the woman and ordered her to open up. “You recognize the description?”

Anne rubbed her upper arms. Had the wind picked up it was so cold. “It was the guy who followed me. Jilly wore my coat when we left work. I thought I was being clever, and that it would just throw him off the scent just long enough for me to get away.”

The door swung in and he ushered her inside.

“I’ve got to call this in. Have a seat and wait for me. I want to talk to you about this.”

Anne sat on the stool he indicated. Oh, Lord, please protect Jilly. Help us to find her. She shivered. It didn’t seem any warmer in here.

What would the kidnappers do? Surely they would figure out that they had nabbed the wrong girl soon. She tried to imagine what she would do in their place. Her head snapped up. Of course. They would want to swap.

She had to get home.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 10

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

The train grumbled into the station, all busy impatience, as if annoyed at having to stop yet again. Anne sighed. “Come on.”

Grinning like a boy scout who just earned a merit badge, Erik followed her on board and settled into the seat next to her. She hid a corresponding smile beneath a fierce scowl, and focused on meticulously straightening her gloves. The car moved uptown with the same sense of barely restrained frustration. Anne could empathize. She needed to get to Jilly before anyone else did.

“So what were they looking for?” Erik’s question broke her chain of thought and she folded her hands in her lap.

“What do you mean?”

The train grumbled into the station, all busy impatience, as if annoyed at having to stop yet again. Anne sighed. “Come on.”

Grinning like a boy scout who just earned a merit badge, Erik followed her on board and settled into the seat next to her. She hid a corresponding smile beneath a fierce scowl, and focused on meticulously straightening her gloves. The car moved uptown with the same sense of bar

He raised both eyebrows in a caricature of skepticism. “Come on. Your joint was ransacked, but they didn’t take anything. Not even your brand new, and obviously expensive typewriter. They had to be looking for something.”

Should she trust him? She gazed into the deep wells of his eyes as if she could read his thoughts playing like a ticker tape across his mind. His sudden appearance in her life might have been completely coincidental. Or it might have been staged. If he were one of the bad guys, he would already know what they were after and it wouldn’t hurt anything to tell him. If he, by the grace of God, were a good guy, maybe he could help.

His gaze held hers, hinting at sincerity.

She huffed out a breath that set her bangs flying and opened her purse. “I think this is what they were after.” She outlined what she knew about Carol’s death and how she had discovered the pages in her own handbag.

He glanced at the pages she handed him and then handed them back.

She narrowed her eyes and leaned closer as if smelling a rat.

A deep V appeared between his eyes. “What?”

“That was a pretty short perusal of what may be key evidence in a murder.”

“There isn’t much on any of the pages.”

“You didn’t even look at the backs.”

He rubbed his palms against his thighs. “So?”

“You already read them didn’t you? When you were in my apartment this morning, you played the snoop.”

“After what you’ve told me about interrogating landladies, you are hardly one to be complaining about a little harmless snooping.”

“Oh, no. You will not push this back on me as if I have done something wrong. I can’t believe I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. What were you doing going through my papers?”

He sat back against the stiff seat, planting his hands on his knees. “It’s not what you think.”

“Try me.”

“My name really is Erik Carter.”

“Stop stalling.”

“I’m with the Secret Service.”

Anne’s vision whited out for a second, she dropped the papers. He caught them before they could flutter to the floor. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

“She was murdered, wasn’t she?” Dreadful certainty stripped her voice down to a whisper.

Erik nodded. “We think so.”


“Carol was involved with some bad fellows. I think her boyfriend pulled her into it. She contacted my office two weeks ago. Wanted to make a deal. She agreed to testify in exchange for immunity for her and her beau.”

Anne shook her head. Ridiculous. It was ridiculous. Ludicrous. Laughable. So how come she wasn’t laughing?

She breathed in deep and pulled out her hankie. “Do you have any credentials?”

He rolled his eyes. “You don’t believe me?”

She simply stared at him and he relented.

“Here.” He yanked his wallet from his pocket and held it open for her.

She held it up and looked it, not that she would know what the genuine McCoy looked like but it seemed the thing to do.

“I think you can help me nail these guys. They obviously think you have something they want, or they wouldn’t have tossed your place.”

“If not these documents then what?”

“Did she say anything? Anything at all?”

Anne shook her head.

“You are certain?”

“Do you think I haven’t considered this? I’m certain.”

They subway huffed into their station and Anne jumped up, Erik following closely on her heels.

“Then they just think she did.” He put a hand on her elbow, pulling her to a stop on the stairs. “I’m going to need your cooperation.”

Anne stared at him. Carol had tried to work with the Secret Service and it had gotten her killed.

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