Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 26

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

Anne jerked her arm free and lowered her voice. “Hear him out.”

“Believe me, I will wring it out of him if need be. He’ll have my full attention.”

Jaw set, she stepped back, put her hands on her hips, and raised her voice “I’m afraid you gentlemen have made a mistake.”

The three agents halted at the door. They looked to Erik for confirmation.

He took a step closer to Anne. “This is baloney and you know it,” he muttered.

She lowered her voice as well. “Just take him in the kitchen. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I promise.”

“Agent Carter?”

Erik sighed. “Let him go.”

“This isn’t the guy?”

“I’m going to have a little chat with these two and get this sorted out. You fellas take up position in the hall and street. Make sure no one comes in or out, without my say so.”

Nodding, the agents released their captive with obvious reluctance and filed out the door.

Erik stood in the center of the room, arms crossed and spine rigid. “Spill it.”

Now that she had won her point, Anne regretted her tactics. Erik wasn’t the bad guy. He was just trying to do his job. “Tom didn’t have anything to do with Carol’s death.”

“Tom is it?”

Anne held up her hands. “Let’s sit down.” Her gaze sought Tom’s. “He’ll tell us everything he knows.”

He nodded and flopped into the nearest chair. “I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. Just catch Armstrong.”

At last, Erik unbent enough to take a seat. “Who’s Armstrong?”

Tom rubbed at the stubble on his cheeks. “Rick Armstrong. He approached me about six months ago. I was strapped for cash and he offered me a way out, without getting my legs broken, or worse.”

All but holding her breath, Anne settled into a seat.

“I’m an engraver see. A good one. He wanted plates made for ten and twenty dollar bills. I wasn’t going to go along with it at first, but then he persuaded me that it was my only option. And he said he’d cut me in on the deal. He made it sound foolproof.” His hands moved to scour through his hair.

“Then what happened?”

“I met Carol. She was the most beautiful woman in the world. And smart. And loyal. And…” His voice seemed to catch. “We were going to get married. I didn’t want her tangled up with a creep like Armstrong, so I started trying to get out. The twenty-dollar plates were done, and I told Armstrong that I’d take a flat fee and be out of his hair for good. He wasn’t having none of it though. That’s when I realized that this wasn’t strictly small time. He wanted more plates. Lots more.”

“How many?”

“At least a dozen sets.”

Erik let out a low whistle.

“I don’t know how Carol found out what I was caught up in, but she did. That’s when Armstrong told me about another gang that was trying to horn in on our operation. I didn’t want her caught in the middle, so I sent Carol home to Ohio, and told her I’d clear out and come for her as soon as I could.” He heaved a breath as if coming to the end of a steep climb.

“Armstrong told me this morning that Anne here was part of Joe Gansky’s gang and that he’d found out she’d pushed Carol in front of a car. He said it was why he tried to bring her in last night. When he told me about Carol, I…”

Anne leaned toward Tom and rubbed his arm.

“I waited until he went out and then I came over here to kill her.”

Erik eyes flickered over her as if he thought she were crazy, but he didn’t comment on the fact that she was trying to comfort the man who’d set out that day to kill her. “So what’s Armstrong’s angle?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t give me that.”

“I told you I thought this was strictly small time, but he’s got way more funding than he should.”

“How many sets of plates did you make?”

“I got eight sets of twenties done.”

Anne shook her head. “So how do we get him?”

Both men looked at her.

“Not just for the counterfeiting, but Carol’s murder,” she continued.

Tom licked his lips, and a spark flared in his eyes. “I’ve got an idea, at least if you’ll help Anne. It’d mean making you bait.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 25

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

One eye still on Handsome in case he turned rabid again, Anne turned to the icebox. She extracted two Coke bottles and slid them onto the table.

Handsome continued to stare into the middle distance, his head wobbling in steady denial. More confident now, she rummaged for the bottle opener. There was more to all this than they had realized. There must be. Things weren’t adding up. Or rather, it was like trying to add three and five and coming up with the answer purple.

She popped the cap off the Coke and handed it to Handsome. He blinked slowly and then set down the gun to accept the bottle. He turned the bottle up and took a swig. Anne slid the gun toward her and then scooped it into her lap. He made no move to stop her. He seemed coated in a layer of cement that made his movement stiff and heavy, dulled his features and turned him a little grey.

She opened her own Coke and gulped some down. The fizz worked to loosen her vocal chords. She spoke in the soothing, but slightly authoritative tone of a school nurse. “Let me tell you what I know.”

His eyes rose from inspection of the formica table and focused on her face. “Do you know what’s going on? What happened to Carol?”

Anne poured out the tale of her lunch with Carol and all that had happened since. As she spoke, she could see the gears of his mind creaking back to life. Muscles bunched and tightened in his shoulders and he leaned toward her across the table.

“You’re sure she never left East Orange?’

Anne shook her head.

He whipped his hat off and ran his fingers through his hair, setting it on end. “I should have known something was wrong when she didn’t telegraph that she’d arrived safe. I just thought she was being cautious.”

Anne captured his gaze. “Now, you need to tell me what you know. Everything. Let’s start with your name.”

“You’ll help me nail him to the wall?”

“We’ll get him.”

Red-rimmed his eyes as he nodded. “My name is Tom Deschamps. It started about six months ago. This guy, Rick Armstrong, approached me about doing a little job for him.”

“Hands up!” Bellowed commands filled the kitchen as the swinging door exploded inward. “Get down.”

The clock sprang from it moorings and shattered on impact with floor.

Anne ducked, flinging her hands over her head.

Tom’s chair was overturned with him still in it and two men swarmed over him. Strong hands pulled Anne to her feet. The gun in her lap clattered to the floor. One of the men snatched it up and thrust it in a pocket. A dark suit bustled her into the living room.

“You okay?”

Trembling, Anne looked up into Erik’s eyes. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Secure.” Someone called from the kitchen.

A deep V puckered beneath his eyebrows. “Saving your tail.”

“You’re too late for that.”

“What do you mean by that? Don’t try to tell me you were having a chat with a neighbor. You’re not even supposed to be up here.”

Anne put her hands on her hips. “Who are those guys?”

“Agents. We’re taking you into protective custody.”

Three men hustled Tom from the kitchen. His hands were cuffed behind him, and from the swelling around his eye, he was going to have one doozy of a shiner.

Anne shook her head. “What if I say he has nothing to do with this?”

Scowling furiously, Erik took her arm, forcing her to look at him. “Does he or not?”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 24

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

“What?” Anne twisted in his grip, trying to look into his eyes.

Handsome was having none of it. He shoved her into a chair, keeping the gun trained on her.

Anne held out her hands. “I didn’t kill Carol. She was one of my best friends.”

“Save it, Sister. Rick told me all about the kind of games you play.”

Was this some sort of nightmare Alice in Wonderland? Anne shook her head. How could she get to the bottom of this? More importantly how could she get him to stop waving that revolver around like it were no more dangerous than a fountain pen. She breathed a silent prayer. “I don’t know what—”

“Just give me the papers that you took from her. The real papers this time.”

“No.” Anne stiffened as the word burst from her. She couldn’t inhale. Couldn’t think. She had to find a way to show him he was mistaken.

His eyes widened and he stepped toward her again.

“Carol gave them to me because she was scared. She knew something awful was going to happen and she wanted me to figure it out.”

He shook his head wildly. “No. You’re lying.”

Anne tried to relax into the chair, but she couldn’t quite manage the semblance of unconcern. “It was your friend with the Van Dyke beard. Is that Rick? He must have suspected she was on to him, and was going to blow the gaff.”

Handsome raised his hands to cover his ears. His face screwed up into an ugly, red mask. At least the gun was no longer pointing at her.

The words continued to tumble from Anne, she had to reach him somehow. “What would I have to gain by getting those papers? Much less murdering for them.” Surely he would recognize the ring of truth? Or perhaps he didn’t want to know the truth. From the tormented expression on his face, perhaps the truth would hurt worse than believing a convenient lie.

“You’re part of Joe Gansky’s gang. They’ve been trying to horn in on our operation.” The conviction had fled his voice. Tears trickled down the sides of his cheeks. He looked deflated. Worn out. Defeated.

Anne shook her head. She reached a tentative hand toward him. “I think we both know that’s not true. Why would anyone have gone after Carol, she wasn’t supposed to know anything was she?”

He slumped into the seat opposite her. His hands still held the gun, but he gazed at it as if it had somehow attached itself to him when he wasn’t looking.

“You were Carol’s boyfriend?”

“Yeah. I just found out about her today. I—” His voice cracked. “Rick just told me she was murdered today. She was supposed to be at her parent’s in Ohio. How…” Bewilderment edged the words in a stark monotone.

Anne licked her lips and stood. He scarcely glanced up.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 23

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

Anne patrolled the room like a sentry. 10 paces, 6 paces, 10 paces, six paces. Turn and march. Arggh! She ought to be doing something.

She had already been upstairs once. What would one quick trip hurt? Even if the gang were watching the building from outside, they wouldn’t see her slip up the stairs. There had been no sign of any sinister presence in the street in any event. She had spent enough time peeking through the curtains to know that much.

Head close to the front door, she eased it open an inch. She pressed her face closer, catching the whiff of floor wax and motley cooking smells. Nothing stirred in the hall. She opened the door another few inches and stuck her head out.

The tinny sound of radio jazz slipped under the door of Mrs. Gardiner’s apartment to shimmy down the hall. Otherwise there was only the dry, empty silence of a shell when the hatchlings have departed.

She was creeping herself out. Smiling at her silliness, Anne opened the door resolutely and plunged up the stairs. Her fingers trembled with pent up energy as she piled crisp white paper atop her lovely typewriter case and topped the whole with the precious outline.

Arms filled, she backed through her apartment door and hurried back to the stairs. Her heart pumped like she was in an Easter egg relay race. Giddy energy piled up inside her until she nearly giggled. Yes, she definitely needed something to occupy her mind.

Breathless and racing she barreled around onto the landing and onto the next flight of stairs before realizing someone was coming up.

“Sorry!” Self-consciously she took a step back.

The man raised his head and their gazes met.

It was Handsome.

Anne hurled the typewriter at him. He cast up an arm to block the heavy missile. A thud. A grunt. White paper took wing like a flock of pigeons, fluttering and flapping. Anne whirled and dashed back the way she had come. Stupid. Stupid. She should have stayed put.

Her feet clattered on the stairs, but a heavier tread was starting up behind her. She flung herself into her apartment and through the kitchen. For the second time that day she swarmed toward a fire escape.

She pried at the window lock with sweat-slicked fingers. She had meant to lock trouble out but had only managed to lock herself in with it. A half-formed prayer caught in her throat. The catch grated open a quarter of an inch. A bit more.

A heavy hand grabbed her upper arm. She lashed out with her foot but he seemed ready for her, and sidestepped the attack.

“Hold it, sister.” An ugly blunt nosed revolver was gripped in his other hand.

Anne stilled. Her eyes found Handsome’s face, only he didn’t seem nearly so good-looking this morning. His eyes were bloodshot and stubble leant harsh definition to the planes and angles of his face. Gauntness hung about him as if he had lost twenty pounds overnight.

“Okay. Okay.” She winced as his grip tightened on her arm.

Tears brimmed in his red-rimmed eyes. “Why’d you kill Carol?”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 22

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

“No. I’ll be fine. I can stay here with Jilly.”

Erik looked her up and down, her calisthenics with the window earlier clearly had him peg her as a nervous Nellie, but she had her pride. “I’ve got a pal. He’s a cop. he’ll come over and keep you girls safe while I’m gone.”

Relief burbled through Anne though she hated to admit it even to herself. She busied herself with cleaning up the mess from the lemons. “Whatever makes you comfortable.”

He did not move for a moment, but Anne could not bring herself to meet his gaze.

“It’ll be okay.”

Tears pricked her eyes, and she dashed at them. All she managed to do was get lemon juice in her eyes. With a little cry she rushed to the sink. Who was she trying to kid? She was no intrepid sleuth, no girl Friday, no Lacey Carew. She just wanted the nightmare to be over. She wanted Carol to call and say it had all been a horrible mistake.

Erik placed a tentative arm around her shoulders. How easy it would be to lose herself in the security of strong arms and broad shoulders. When she didn’t pull away he turned her toward him and cradled her head in the hollow of his throat.

His finger curled into the hair at the nape of her neck. “Once I get these papers to the office, they’ll have to take this case seriously. I’ll have more resources and we’ll nail these guys.”

Anne pulled back just a step. “Sorry about that, I got some lemon juice in my eye.”

Their gazes locked for a long minute. His Adam’s apple bobbed. He lowered his mouth toward hers. Anne’s eyes began to drift closed. Then like a dog reaching the end of its chain he stopped short.

He cleared his throat. With an awkward jerky motion he plucked a bit of non-existent fuzz from her cheek. “I better go call Tom.”

He spun on his heel leaving Anne to bang her forehead with the heel of her palm. Good grief she was turning into a goofball. What had gotten into her? Somehow she had slipped out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie and into a Technicolor romantic farce.

She woke Jilly, and by the time she had taken the time to wash her face and brush her hair, Erik’s buddy had arrived. Introductions were completed with a minimum of fuss, and Erik was out the door with the precious evidence.

Tom settled in front of the radio, with his feet up on the coffee table. Unsettled and edgy, Anne retreated to the kitchen to brew more coffee. Jilly cornered her as she spooned grounds into the percolator.

“Anne, I’ve got to get to rehearsal.”

Anne blinked and spilled some of the coffee. “You’ve got to be kidding. Have you forgotten that you were kidnapped last night?”

“I haven’t forgotten. It’s all extremely vivid, thank you very much. I haven’t stopped shaking since last night, and my ankle is killing me, but this role is my shot at the big time. I’m not going to throw it away.”

“It’s not safe. They know where you work.”

“It would be safe if we took Tom with us.”

Anne sighed. She had no desire to go all the way down to the theater. “I’ll tell you what. You take Tom with you and I’ll stay here.”


“They don’t have any reason to think that I’d be here, so I should be safe enough.”

Jilly seemed to consider. “You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” And becoming surer by the minute. Some time alone might be just the chance she needed to wrap her head around all that had happened. “Go work your magic on Tom.”

It took even less time for beautiful Jilly to wrap the cop around her finger than Anne had expected. The coffee hadn’t come to a boil before they were out the door with scarcely a toodle loo.

Anne checked the locks on every door and window in the apartment then settled in the spot Tom had vacated. The radio continued to babble and she got up to turn it off. She resumed her seat. The wall clock ticked on and on in monotonous drudgery. When had it become so loud.

She tried to marshal her thoughts. There were things that just didn’t add up. Why for instance would they try so hard to get those papers back unless there were more to them than just the type of paper? Surely they could have moved operations. Murder and kidnapping had only drawn more attention to them.

Her thoughts twisted in on themselves spinning and swirling away like overcooked spaghetti. She stood and paced the room. Back and forth, back and forth. As monotonous as the ticking clock.

What she needed was something to distract her. Something else on which she could focus. And she knew just the thing. She had to get cracking on The Mystery in the Mango Grove. Just like Jilly, this was her big break. Or at least it could be. The only problem was that her typewriter was upstairs in her apartment.

Must Reads

  • All the Tea in China-Jane Orcutt www.revellbooks.com
  • In the Shadow of the Sun King-Golden Keyes Parsons www.goldenkeyesparsons.com
  • Wings of a Dream-Anne Mateer