Prepare to enter a world of both shadow and substance

Take a journey of body, mind and spirit where you'll encounter things you won't find anywhere else.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dear Pluto

Astronomy humor:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

R.I.P. Jami Jameson

R.I.P. Jami Jamison. He was the lead singer with Survivor on such songs as "High On You," "Burning Heart," "This Is Love" and "The Moment Of Truth," From "The Karate Kid" movie. He was only 63. I saw him in concert recently and he was still an awesome singer. In fact, I used to do "High On You" in a band because it was such a great song. That's too young to die.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Dumbing Down Of Society

I did a search today on G**gle, (you know who I mean), and this is what I got:

They are intentionally proposing a misspelled word!  What are they trying to pull here?  I think it's in line with the general dumbing down of society.  You can't control them if they have good communications skills and know how to think for themselves.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Turko de Mayo

Once again, I will be celebrating Turko de Mayo.  Last night, I got my turkey out to start thawing:

What is "Turko de Mayo," you ask?  Well, it's a relatively new holiday that dates back to 5 or 6 years ago when I first celebrated it.  In fact, I created the holiday myself!  A little back story on how it began:  Each year, my favorite meal is Thanksgiving dinner.  The combination of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and all the usual things that go with a traditional Thanksgiving meal just seem to work really well together.  The only problem is - most people only cook a meal like that once a year.  If it's your favorite, you only get to eat it once a year, in late November.  I liked it so much, I created Turko de Mayo so that I could have that same meal twice a year.  Now, each May, I whip out a meal just like on Thanksgiving and enjoy it with whomever I happen to invite over.  All the leftovers never go to waste, either, because I'll make turkey soup out of what's left and it will all get eaten.  And the beauty of Turko de Mayo is that you can celebrate it on any day in May you want to - whatever suits your schedule the best!

So, Happy Turko de Mayo day!

Here's what I served with that succulent turkey:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Eighth Annual Ten Commandments Post

So, here it is Easter once again.  This year's post will travel back in time to the annual broadcast on the ABC network of The Ten Commandments for 1980.  Easter fell on April 6th that year and I can remember that when I watched it that year, I took some pictures of the television screen.  I would take multiple exposures on one frame and I have featured here some of those shots from that broadcast.  That was 34 years ago and I had been watching it back into the 1970's, thanks to ABC.  I hope they keep this tradition alive and always show this inspiring movie on the life of Moses at Easter.  I've probably seen it now right at 40 times, including the 10-year rerelease the movie had in 1966 at theaters around the country.

So, I hope you got your Easter eggs, your Easter candy and had your Easter meal prepared for showtime and enjoyed the movie again this year!  I know I sure will!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"D Is For Doxy" Chapter 6

For your reading pleasure, here is chapter 6 of "D Is For Doxy."


    I got in touch with Miss Stalmaster from the nearest telephone booth and she agreed to meet me at Maxwell’s office.  It had been closed for the day because of his death, but she assured me she had a key and wouldn’t mind opening it up.  I found the place pretty easily and was there waiting when she arrived.  I had only been there a few minutes, though.  I recognized her right away, not from any description I had of her, but because she truly looked like a secretary.  She was around 26 or 27, and fairly average in every respect – height, weight and build.  Plus she wore her hair up in an ungodly-looking bun.  She also wore glasses.  A fairly mousy sort of woman; the kind that probably doesn’t go out much because she’s not asked to.  As she walked up to me, she said, “Mr. Randall?”
    I replied, “Yes.”
    She acknowledged me with a nod of her head then pulled a key out of her purse.  She used it efficiently to unlock the door and we both went in, with her going in first.  The first thing she did once inside was to turn on some overhead lights.  These illuminated the office quite well and we could both see where the body had lain.  She skirted the residue of a large bloodstain and walked to a desk.  I followed in her footsteps.
    “Now, is there anything you particularly wanted to see?”
    “No, not really.  I just wanted to look around.”
    “Okay.  The desk isn’t locked and the filing drawers are over there.”  She pointed to them at the side of the desk.  “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.”
    I sat down behind the desk and began opening drawers.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but if I found something noteworthy, I’d be sure to know.  While I looked, I asked questions to the secretary.
    “How long did you work for Maxwell?”
    “About two years.  But only on Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s.”
    “I take it, you really knew his operation well, huh?”
    “Yes, I’d say so.”
    Not a real talkative person, I was finding out.  I felt around under the bottom surfaces of the desk, because you can’t be too careful sometimes.  I didn’t feel anything hidden.
    “Were you happy in your work here?”
    I turned to the filing drawers.
    “Had anything happened around here lately that was out of the ordinary?  And not necessarily work related.”
    “I was trying to think of that this morning when the police asked me.  I couldn’t think of anything then and I still haven’t remembered anything.  Nothing went on here, just business.
    Of that, I had no doubts.  I tried to get her to loosen up about her boss.
    “What about Mr. Maxwell.  What was he like to work for?”
    “A very pleasant, honest man.  It’s hard to find as good an atmosphere to work in like this one is.... was.”
    “I see.  And how did you get the job?”
    “Through an agency.”
    “Which one?”  I had a feeling I knew what the answer was going to be.
    “Westbury Placements.”
    “Oh?”  I sat up unexpectedly and she looked at me with a sudden, startled expression.
    “What is it?  Have you found something?”
    “No, only that name rings a bell.”
    “It does, how?”
    “I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but there have been three murders in the last week, and every one of them were similar to this one.  Did you know that?”
    “I think I read something about it in the newspapers.”
    “Well, one of the other men that died had a secretary from Westbury Placements, also.”
    “What was her name?”
    “A Susan Prescott.”
    “Yes, I know her.  I still go there two days a week for temporary placings.  You know, a job that only lasts a few hours or so.  I’ve run into her occasionally.”
    “That’s very interesting.  Now, about last night.  What was it like?”
    “Well, he wanted me to work over, for as I’ve told you, I don’t come in on Tuesdays or Thursdays.  But, he had some things he needed for me to get ready and he was busy doing something, too.  So, he got me working on a project he needed first thing in the morning, and when I finished it, he was done with me and sent me home.”
    “What time was that?”
    “It was between eight and nine o’clock.”
    “Can you be any more precise?”
    “Let me think.  Oh, yes.  I remember it now.  When I was walking out of the building, I saw a girl I worked with and glanced down at my watch.  I remember it said eight-forty exactly.”
    “And Maxwell, did he give you any indication as to how much longer he was going to be?”
    “He hoped to be finished by at least ten.”
    “Do you think he would have been done by then?”
    “I have no reason to doubt it.  He was good at estimating his time.”
    “Did he mention any further plans?  For after his work?”
    “No, I assumed he’d go home to his wife at that time.”
    “There’s nothing else you think that might be relevant?”
    “One thing, but I don’t know if it’s relevant to what you’re working on.”
    “What is it?”
    She walked over to the corner of the room and stood by a big potted plant.  Since there were no windows in the place, it undoubtedly had to be fake.
    “He always kept some cash around the office, for ‘expenses,’ he said.  As long as I’ve known him, he always
had some on hand.  But, he didn’t know that I knew where he kept it.  One day, I came in early and saw him
replacing this plant.  Later on, when he was out of the office, I checked under it.  And I found about four
thousand dollars.”
    “Whew, that’s quite a lot to keep around.  Is there any there now?”
    “We’re about to find out.”
    She grasped the plant around the middle of the stalk and lifted it, pot and all, over to the side about two feet.  Underneath it was a large brown envelope.  She picked it up and looked inside of it.  It was unsealed.
    “Well?”  I asked.
    “I don’t understand it.  It’s empty.”
    “That’s odd.  And you say he always kept some there?”
    “And how do you know that for sure?”
    “I.... uh.... well, I checked on it from time to time.”
    “For what reason?”
    “No reason, really.  I was just curious.”
    “Oh, I see.”
    “I never took any of it, if that’s what you’re implying.”
    “I wasn’t thinking that at all.  I was simply wondering where it had gone.”
    “Yes, I wonder that myself.”
    She put the plant back and we left the office.  I hadn’t found anything, but it had been a longshot chance anyway.  When she locked the door, she said:
    “I guess I’ll have to give this key back to Mrs. Maxwell.  Technically, I have no use for it anymore.”
    “No, I suppose not.”
    I could have volunteered to take it back to her, but I didn’t know if I needed to see her again.  No use making any unnecessary trips if I didn’t have to.  However, I did need to make one necessary trip.
    I wanted to find out if Martine’s secretary had worked for Westbury Placements, too.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I Got Energetic Today

I wanted to use some of the blackberries out of my freezer so I'd have room to put in more later on in the year when they're ready again.  Therefore, I decided to make a blackberry cobbler this morning.  I tried a different recipe than the regular one I use because I was in the mood for something a little different.  Fortunately, I bought some vanilla ice cream yesterday and that always tops off fresh, hot cobbler just out of the oven.  And yes, it turned out good - it was delicious.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"D Is For Doxy" Chapter 5

Without further ado, here is chapter 5 of my unpublished book, "D Is For Doxy."  Well, maybe a little ado is in order.  It is number 3 in order of 8 total novels I've written with my hard-boiled detective Steve Randall.  I grew up reading Mickey Spillane, Richard S. Prather and others of that ilk, so it was only natural that my first novel would be of the hardboiled detective fiction genre.  All 8 of the books in this series are, as of yet, unpublished, so if that gives any of you publishers out there any ideas.... go to it!  Now, here is chapter 5.  Enjoy it, but please remember the first four chapters are previous posts here on my blog, so you might want to get those first if you haven't already done so.


     Stuck as I was on the Lawrence case, I didn’t want to work on my other case right now.  I wanted to think.  Had anybody said anything meaningful?  On reflection, I didn’t think so.  But, somewhere there had to be an answer.  Somehow, I was certain of it.
     When the answer came, it was from the source I had least expected.
     I was sitting behind my desk on Tuesday morning, when my ‘phone rang.  Without thinking about it too much, I picked it up and put it to my ear.  My mind was still somewhere lost in the case.
     “Yes?”  I said.
     “Randall?”  This is Lieutenant McGee.  We met the other day.”
    “Yes, I remember.  Do you have some more questions for me?”
    “Well, yes and no.”
    “What do you mean, ‘yes and no’?”
    “We’ve got some new information to add.”
    “You’ve got a suspect?”
    “No, we’ve got a new murder.”
    “And you think it ties up with Lawrence?”
    “That’s not all we think.  But, you better come on in.  I’ll tell you then.”
    “Okay.  Where are you located?”
    “103rd precinct.  Corner of 25th and Lexington.”
    “I’ll be right in.”
    The voice on the other paused.  “This is an official request.”
    “I’ll be right there, I said.”
    “All right.”

    Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in Lieutenant McGee’s office along with another cop.  The Lieutenant was telling me what he had alluded to over the telephone.
    “This morning, we got a call from a securities commission building over on Wall Street.  They called to report a body.”
    “And you think it’s connected to George Lawrence’s murder?”
    “We didn’t think so at first, but when we got to comparing notes, we noticed some similarities.  But, that’s not all.  Did you hear about a guy we found murdered last Thursday?  A Leslie Martine, big jewelry store owner on Fifth Avenue.”
    “No, what about it?  Is it tied in, too?”
    “He was found shot to death by a .38 caliber gun in his office.  The same as Lawrence and also the same as the man we found today.  Arthur Maxwell.  All shot to death in their offices.”
    “It certainly looks like more than a coincidence.”
    “It does to us, too.”
    “But, why did you call me in here?  I told you everything I knew.”
    The Lieutenant looked briefly at the other cop then back to me.
    “Our info tells us you’ve been hired by Mrs. Lawrence.”
    “Well, what if I have?  It’s not a crime to try and work for a living yet, is it?”
    “No, and we’re not saying it is.  We have no problem with it, in this case.”
    “So what is it you’re not saying?” I asked suspiciously.
    “In fact, we encourage you to look into it.”
    “That’s a switch.”
    “We’ve long known that P.I.’s like you, but not necessarily you, mind you, have ways of getting to the heart of the matter that are, shall we say, not strictly legitimate.  You can operate at a certain level not permitted to
someone, say, at my level of bureaucracy.  Do you get my meaning?”
    “If I find out anything you don’t, you want me to come to you with it?”
    “I had intended on that already.  Sometimes we don’t get along; P.I.’s like me, but not necessarily me, and the cops.  But, when it comes down to it, whenever someone is guilty, the wheels of justice work swiftly.  So, if I can be of some assistance, I hope you’ll remember it someday and cut me some slack.”
    “Good.  Then we understand each other.  Now, I’m not asking you to knowingly commit a felony to get a break in this case.  Whatever methods you may use just keep them to yourself.  I don’t wanna know about them.”
    “If we’re going to work together, at least, unofficially, I’ll need some information on the first and this newest crime.  And I’d also like to see what you’ve got on Lawrence’s death so far.”
    “Fair enough.  We’ve got some sheets prepared.  Studer, the file.”
    The other cop in the room handed me a manila folder he had been hiding somewhere.  I took it from his hand and it was fairly stuffed.  Lifting the cover, I riffled the pages and saw that it held a lot of information.  It even had crime scene photographs.  Probably from all three crimes.  I must remember this day.  To come into possession of this many facts and be handed them by a cop, no less.  I decided to get out of there fast before good fortunes chose to smile on someone else.  The Lieutenant spoke to me as I stood.
    “You’ll call me personally if you get anything?”
    “Yes.  I want this killer brought in as much as you.”
    “To be shot in cold blood, in your own office.  That’s not a very good way to die.”
    Before I turned and left, I said:
    “Last I checked, there’s not a lot of good ways.”
    I clutched the files tightly and left.
    I drove back to my office and was seated behind my desk before I took a better look at the files.  It had the names and addresses of everyone connected to all three murders and even their official statements to the police.  It also had the statement of the janitor in Lawrence’s building – the only person I hadn’t spoken to in my efforts.  I looked his words over, but didn’t think I needed to hunt him up personally from what I read.  He had basically just come upon the body and called the police.  I did notice that the police hadn’t checked up on Susan Prescott’s story yet.  I’d have to clue them in on her.  I still don’t think they’d get anything more, though.
    Now, back to the first murder.  The chauffeur stated that his boss, the deceased Leslie Martine, had just left his club, when he asked to be taken back to his place of business.  The chauffeur, evidently named Pontford, first or last name unknown, took him there and watched him enter the building alone.  After an interminable amount of time, the chauffeur got worried and wondered what was taking him so long.  So, he entered into the darkened building only to find Martine shot to death.  He immediately notified the police.  Previously in the evening, Martine had been playing cards with four other men.  Martine had evidently won a great sum of money, but it was found on his body, so robbery had not been a motive for his death.  All four men had pretty tight alibis, too.  So, it washed them out of the picture.  The dead man was fifty-four years old, married and had two grown children, not at home.  Motive – as of yet, unknown.  What about the newest murder?  I pulled the papers relevant to it and started scanning them for pertinent facts.  The deceased man’s name was Arthur Maxwell, fifty-two, married and no children.  That was something.  All three of the dead men had been married and in their fifties.  I read on.  One of the persons questioned, a worker in the same building as Max, had come in to work early, the same as he always did, to open his office.  When going by Maxwell’s office, just down the hall before his own, he noticed the door slightly ajar.  He states it was never like this before, so he got curious and looked in.  He saw Maxwell, lying on the floor face down, surrounded by a massive pool of dried blood.  He didn’t get any closer to see if he was actually dead, but pulled the door back to with his handkerchief and alertly called the police.  When they got there, the guy was pretty shaken up.  Evidently, he had a pretty weak constitution and was not used to the sight of so much blood.  The wife, when asked why she hadn’t wondered where her husband had been all night, was rather noncommittal.  Said something about business keeping him away a lot.  Hmm.  I wonder if she suspected him of anything like Mrs. Lawrence had intimated to me.  There’s a point I’d have to look into.  The man had no partners or associates, so the list of names connected with him was a lot shorter.  The man from down the hall, Maxwell’s wife, and his secretary.  Lawrence had had a secretary.  I wonder if Martine did, too?  I went back to the folder for the first case’s notes.  Yes, there it was.
Another interesting point.  I wonder if it was significant?  Reading further into all the cases, nothing else
jumped to my attention.  I did, however, make a list of all people I wanted to see myself.  It included both wives, Mrs. Martine and Mrs. Maxwell, Martine’s chauffeur, his four poker buddies, and the secretaries.  I looked at my watch.  It said two-twenty-three.  I had forgotten to eat lunch.  Well, I could rectify that and look up some of the people on the list before it got too late.
    I got a quick sandwich at a nearby diner and decided to see Mrs. Maxwell first.  She had a quiet home on Park Avenue, most likely due to her late husband’s business acumen.  I wonder what she’d do now that he was dead?
    I found a place to park near her address and the sign said no parking from 11 to 2.  But, since it was after 3, I didn’t worry about it.  I located the front entrance by navigating through a wrought iron gate and pushed the button.  From somewhere inside, a deep-noted gong sounded.  The doorbell was working well.
    The huge door was opened by a woman of about fifty years of age.  She was dressed in black, so I couldn’t tell if she was a maid or Mrs. Maxwell.  I took a guess.
    “Mrs. Maxwell?” I asked.
    “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to ask a little of your time.”
    “Are you buying or selling?”
    “Neither.  I simply wanted to ask you a few questions.”
    “Then, who are you?  Are you a policeman?”
    “I’m a private investigator, ma’am.  My name’s Steve Randall.”
    “I’ve already told the police everything I know.  I don’t have to talk to you, though.”
    “I know that, ma’am, but have the police told you that your husband’s death might be linked to two other recent murders?”
    “Yes, they have.”
    “Then maybe you can understand why I’m here.  Both of those other men had wives, too, and I’ve come on behalf of one of them.”
    “My Arthur’s death related to those other men?  How, exactly?”
    “Well, the police aren’t really sure quite yet, but they’re exhausting every possibility along those lines.”
    “What does that mean, ‘exhausting every possibility?’  Evidently, you think they’re connected, or you wouldn’t be here.  Right?”
    “I’m not sure.... if I could just ask you a few questions, I might know a little more.”
    “Well, I don’t guess it really matters one way or the other.  You might as well come in.”
    I followed her through a large foyer and off to the left into a richly furnished sitting room.  Here was old money at it’s finest.  The walls were panelled in a dark and freshly polished wood; the ceiling was twice the normal height as usual homes had and it had ornamental sculptures molded in it along it’s outside edges near the walls.  There was a massive stone fireplace, above which hung a portrait of an old guy with a long beard, surrounded by a highlighted ornate gold frame.  There was a gleaming, probably bronze, statue of a nude, skinny woman, probably an ancient Greek portrayal of womanly beauty and charm; over in the corner, and near the fireplace, sat a solid-looking table with gold on all it’s edges.  There were chairs and couches all over the room and Mrs. Maxwell directed us to one near the fireplace.  Logs were crackling cozily inside it and the room did have a certain kind of welcoming feel to it.  We sat down and she turned to face me.
    “What I really wanted to know about was something perhaps you didn’t think to tell the police.”
    “No, I told them everything.”  She looked at me like she was affronted that I should suggest such a thing.
    “Really?  Didn’t you wonder why your husband never came home last night?”
    “I don’t think that’s any concern of yours.”
    “That’s just it.  What he was doing may be of vital concern to the case.”
    “But, don’t you understand,” her voice dropped to below a whisper, “I don’t know why he didn’t come home last night.”
    I paused a moment.  Finally, I said, “I see.  Do you have any suspicions?”
    “No, none.  Nothing.  We were very happy together.  He’d never done anything like you’re suggesting.”
    “You’re sure of it?”
    “I ought to know my own husband, shouldn’t I?”
    “I guess so.  Did he leave any clue or tell you where he was going?  Anything.  Anything at all.  Even if you
don’t think it’s important.”
    “Well, he never came home from work last night, but he did call me.  It was about six o’clock, well after he normally arrived here.  I had no reason to get alarmed over his not showing up, yet.  When he called me, he said he had to go over some paperwork and he had his secretary there to type out some things that he needed the next day.  He told me he shouldn’t be too late, most likely not past eleven, so I didn’t think much about it.  I didn’t wait up on him, but I did wake up around midnight and look at the clock.  He still hadn’t arrived home yet, and I just thought that maybe it was taking him longer than he had expected.  It wasn’t until the next morning, when the police arrived, that I knew what had happened to him.”
    “Did he always have a secretary around?”
    “Yes.  Since he was the only one there, a secretary’s help was invaluable to him.  He used her to get some of the more time-consuming things done so he could concentrate on the real business at hand.”
    “Do you know where he got the secretary from?  Was it an advertisement in the newspaper, word of mouth, or did he go through an agency?”
    “I don’t really know.  But, those records are likely to be at his office.”
    “How could I get to see those records?”
    I could take you there, but I wouldn’t be of any help locating them.  Perhaps you’d better get in touch with his secretary.”
    I remembered her name from the police files.
    “Is her name Lynn Stalmaster?”
    “Yes, that’s it.”
    “Okay.  I’ll get in touch with her.  Do I need a key to get in, or has she got one?”
    “I’m pretty sure Arthur gave her one.  In case she had to come in on a Saturday.”
    “Is there anything else you can think of?”
    “No, I’ve really tried hard, but there’s nothing.  Nothing at all.”
    “Okay, thanks for answering my questions at a time I know must be painful for you.”
    “Thank you.”
    “I’ll show myself out.”
    She nodded and I stood and left her alone.  Nothing else I could say would mean anything, so I just left her there to grieve in silence.
    If I hurried, I could get in touch with the secretary and still get in the office this afternoon to nose around a little.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"D Is For Doxy" Chapter 4

And for those of you who have been waiting on the edge of their seats for chapter 4 of "D Is For Doxy," here it is:


     I put in the rest of the weekend thinking about both cases.  I didn’t draw any conclusions, though.  Mrs. Baker’s case was the kind that would work itself out over a matter of time.  I just had to be in the right place at the right time.  Mrs. Lawrence’s, on the other hand, called for a little discretion and tact.  Both of which I needed to use in great amounts to avoid getting tangled up in the case the police would try to make.  I have nothing against them, but sometimes our methods of work clashed.  They had to go by the book; I had no such book I needed to follow.  But, I did have to live with myself, so ultimately, I tried to work as cleanly as possible.
     I had called Mrs. Lawrence on Sunday to get a few questions answered.  Such as:  What kind of work had her husband done, did he have any employees, and where had he spent his free time?  Knowing that he had ran a consulting firm didn’t mean that much, I don’t think.  At least, not to me.  I’d have to check into it, though, to see what it actually entailed.  The employee’s names she gave me and a few clubs where he had hung out at, however, interested me a lot.
     Monday, when Lawrence’s business would have normally opened up, I used getting in touch with his employees.  There were only three others besides himself.  Mrs. Lawrence must have called them and told them not to show up at work, for when I got in touch with them, they were all at home.  I arranged a meeting with all three of them at a restaurant nearby where they had worked.  At noon, I walked through the door of the place and looked for them.  They had decided on an upscale Italian joint, the kind where someone greeted you at the door.  When the maitre d’ buttonholed me, I spotted three likely looking men seated at one table together and walked past the greeter without a word.  I had work to do.  I strode right up to the table and spoke.
    “My name’s Randall.  Are you the three guys I came to meet?”
     They nodded their heads in agreement, so I pulled out a chair from the next table and sat down.
     “Can I get your names all straight first?”
     The one to my immediate left started the introductions.
     “I’m Walter Able.”
     “David McPhearson.”
     “Harlan West.”
     I gave them my name once again to make it unanimous.
     “And I’m Steve Randall.”
     I carefully shook hands with each of them.  Each displayed varying degrees of the hearty handshake; firm and strong.  Did this conceal something else on their part?  Only time and talk would tell.
    “The reason I’ve asked you here,” I began, “is because Lawrence’s wife hired me to trace his killer.  I don’t think she’d mind my telling you that.  I’ve brought all of you here because I want to find out what he was like at work and what it was like working for him.  I don’t think of you three as serious suspects because, on the face of it, you’d have everything to lose and nothing to gain.  I can tell you that nothing appeared to be missing at the office.  You can relax on that.”
    I watched them, and they breathed an inaudible sigh of relief.  They could still turn out to be guilty, one or more of them.  But, if they were, I’d find out about it.  I tried to keep it easy going for them, though, to start out with.
    “Are you the only three employees he had?”
    Harlan West answered first.  He must have been the senior employee of the three.  He was the oldest looking of them.
    “Yes, it was a small firm, but we handled a lot of accounts.”
     “Just what is a consulting firm?”
    “I’d like to answer that,” broke in Walter Able.  “People and companies come to us and have us look up things for them.  Business strategies and avenues for growth and revenue.  We are quite respected in our little niche.  Mr. Lawrence always made sure our clients were well satisfied with our work.”
    “Oh, I see.  So, were you in close contact with him a lot?”
    “Not really.  We each had our own office we worked out of, and our own particular clients to take care of.”
    “Sort of like a big law firm.”
    “Yes, similar.”
    “Was Mr. Lawrence an easy guy to work for?”
    McPhearson answered this one.
    “Oh, yes.  Extremely easy.  He never expected us to work over or on the weekends.  And he paid us more than the going rate for our kinds of positions.  I know he did me and I’m sure my fellows will say the same.”
    “How much did you make?  I trust it’s not a secret, is it?”
    “No, everything was above board.”
    “He was very open about everything,” added Abel, “but to answer your question, each of us made upwards of sixty thousand dollars a year.”
    “Upwards?” I asked.
    “Including the annual Christmas bonus.”
    “Oh, of course.  I assume you all liked him and your work?”
    “Quite well.”
    “You’d tell me if you didn’t?”
    “We came here,” pronounced Harlan West, “because, like you, we wish George Lawrence’s killer to be brought to justice.  We did not come here to be badgered or accused.”
    “You’ll have to excuse me if I seem over bearing, it’s just that, as of yet, I don’t think I have a good angle to work from.  And I’d like to try to find one as quickly as possible, because, unlike you, while I’d like to see his killer brought to light, I don’t make sixty thousand dollars a year, and this case is a well-paying one.  For me, anyway.  Now, I’ll still put all my efforts in to it, but it’s nice once and awhile to be able to afford to pay my bills for another month in the process.  So, if you’ll excuse my persistent badgering, maybe we can find something that would help me further along to a solution.”
    “I can quite see what you mean, but, for the life of me, I can’t think of anything that would even remotely resemble a clue.  What about you, Walter.... David?”
    “Nothing I can think of,” said David McPhearson.
    “Nor I,” added Walter Able.
    “So, you see,” intoned West once again, “however much we’d like to help you, no single incident comes to mind that seems relevant to his death.  We just enjoyed a quiet, uneventful workplace with a man that really knew his job.  He was always pleasant to work with and I personally never had any problems with him.  I’m sure the same could be said of Walter and David here, too.”
    I looked at them and they nodded their heads in unison.
    “Well, there must be something we’re overlooking.  I’m almost certain of it.  How about frequent visitors to the building?  Did anyone turn up a lot lately?”
    “Not that I can recollect.  I’d have to ask Susan.”
    “Susan?  Who’s she?”
    “I almost forgot her.  She’s a secretary that comes in on Thursdays and Fridays and does some typing and filing for us.  You know, just general things to keep us freed up.”
    “And how can I get in touch with her?”
    “We hired her from a secretarial placing organization.  Temporary help, that kind of thing.”
    “What’s the name of the place?”
    “Westbury Placements.  Their office is near here.  You can find them in the telephone book.”
    “Good, I’ll look their number up.  This Susan, what’s her last name?”
    Walter answered me pretty quickly.  I wondered if this Susan just happened to be a good looker?
    “Susan Prescott is her name.  When we first called, they sent her over and she worked out fine.  We just made sure we got her to come back in permanently.”
    “How did you do that?”
    “Good secretarial help is hard to find.  So, we just paid her extremely well and she always made herself available.”
    We had ordered lunch just after I arrived, and now as we were finishing it, I felt I had found out about all I could.  I would have to look this Susan Prescott up after lunch.
    “Well, I want to thank you for your assistance today.  One more thing.  What will you do for work?”
    “We’ve all had offers before to move to different firms.  Now, we’ll just have to take those offers.”
    “Isn’t that a little sudden?” I asked.
    “As you said, we’ve got bills to pay also.  We must be practical about things.”
    “You’re right, I suppose.  I hope you get what you want.”
    “And I hope, sincerely,” said Harlan speaking for the three of them, “that you find out who killed George Lawrence.  He was a truly good man.”
    “Are you sure about that?”  I threw the remark out casually to see if anyone would bite on it.
    “What do you mean?  Of course we’re sure.”
    “No hint of anything in the least bit scandalous?”
    “If you’re referring to his business ethics,” and Walter was practically shouting, “his were above reproach.  He never dealt off the bottom of the deck.”
    “Maybe in his business.  But, what about his pleasure?”
    “As far as I know, he was a quiet kind of guy.  Sure, he went to his club once in a while, but most of the time he spent his private hours at home with his wife.”  And as he said this, David looked for agreement from the other two.  They nodded right along with him.
    “Now, his wife mentioned to me that he felt the business going to be robbed.  He spent several nights, she said, coming down and watching the place himself.  Did you know anything about it?”
    “Robbed?  No, he never mentioned anything about it to me.  What about you, David?  You were his closest friend.”
    “No, he never said anything to me.  And I think he would have if it was something like that worrying him.  But, no, he never said a thing.  Did he say anything to you, Walter?”
    “Not to me he didn’t.  This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
    “Do you think it was like him to not say anything to you guys?”
    “I’d have to say no,” replied Harlan.  “If he was troubled about something as big as that, he wouldn’t have kept it to himself.”
    “What do you make of it, then?  That’s what his wife tells me.”
    “I don’t know.  I’m sure she wouldn’t lie about it.  Why would George not say anything?”
    “Perhaps to cover something else up?”
    “I wouldn’t see what.... you surely couldn’t mean what I think you mean, do you?”
    “And what do I think?”
    “If you’re insinuating he had some woman on the side, it goes against every principle he stood for.”
    “What if I can produce one?”
    “I find it highly unlikely that you could, because I don’t think one exists.  But, if you find one, I’ll eat my hat.”
    “I’d have to agree with Harlan.”
    “What about you, David?”
    “I don’t see him having one.  But, if you can prove us wrong without a shadow of a doubt, I guess it’s possible then.”
    “If all three of you feel this way, it may not be so.  It’s just that his wife asked me to look into it without saying so many words.  I suspect her feelings might be best.  She lived with the man.  She ought to know him best.”
    “You’ve got a point there.”
    “I just have to keep looking, though.  At least I have somewhere more to look.  This Susan Prescott.”
    “Well, it wasn’t her, that’s for sure,” commanded Walter.
    “And how can you be so sure of it?” I asked.
    “Well, I, uh....”
    “Walter, you old dog,” quipped David, “I always suspected it.”
    I looked between the three.
    “You and Susan?”
    “Well, why not?  I’m not so old as to not be able to turn a head here or there.  And financially, I’m doing pretty well.  Maybe, just maybe, she was attracted to my money, but you’ll never hear me complain about it.”
    “No, I suppose not.  But, I still need to talk with her.  Fellows, I guess I need to go.”
    I paid my ticket and got out of there.  The meal had been good, but the atmosphere had been kind of stuffy for me.  I liked it out here on the streets much better.
    I got in my car and took off.  Next stop – the Westbury Placements office.

    I did have to make one stop before I got there.  I needed the address so I could find out how to get there.  I was fairly close to start with, so I stopped at a phonebooth to get it and in no time, I was walking in the door.
    The outside of the building had been all modern square and glass in amongst the old houses that remained along the area.  The inside was no different.  Once in, a tunnel effect drew me directly to the front desk where a receptionist waited, seemingly for me alone.
    Another thing which made her into a veritable beacon, was her flaming red hair. One only had to assume that the fire department would arrive shortly, it was that brilliant.  It sat marvelously coiffed upon her well-shaped head.  Her face was symmetrical and quite pleasant to look at.  Her nose was small and rounded and her lips were overexaggerated to good effect.  She was slim, but built like Quaker furniture – made to withstand any use or misuse. I reached the edge of her desk and she removed some large, black-framed glasses and devoted her attention to me.
    “Yes, may I help you?” she asked me impatiently.
    “I’d like to speak with whoever’s in charge.”
    “That would be Miss Springer.”
    “Okay, that’s who I need to see.”
    “You’ll have to wait a moment.  Right now she has someone in her office.”  And she pointed her eyes at a row of chairs to my left.  I got the idea and went and sat down to wait.
    It wasn’t more than three or four minutes, when two people emerged from a glass door just behind the Redhead.  One was an older woman, presumably Miss Springer, and the other, a man in his late forties.  They shook hands, said something I couldn’t hear and then he turned and left.  While the woman was still standing there, Red turned and told her about me.
    “Miss Springer, this gentleman would like to speak to you.”
    She looked at me but didn’t speak to me.  Instead, she turned back around to face the door she had just come out of and spoke, as if to it.
    “Send him in, Betty.”
    I stood up and followed the woman into her office.
    Once inside, Miss Springer closed the door behind me and went around behind a massive dark wooden desk and sat down.  Behind it, she looked like she would put up with no nonsense.  I got right to the point.
    “I’d like to talk to one of your girls, Susan Prescott.”
    “You wish to hire her?”
    “No.  She worked for a George Lawrence....”
    “You say that as if....”
    “As if what?” I asked.
    “As if he were dead.”
    “Perhaps you haven’t heard, then.  Mr. Lawrence, who employed Miss Prescott, was murdered this past weekend.”
    “My goodness.  Such dreadful news.”
    “That’s why I wanted to talk to Susan.”
    “Surely, you don’t think she had anything to do with it?”
    “No, I just wanted to ask her a few questions.”
    “Why you?”
    “I’ve been hired to look into his death.  My name’s Steve Randall.  I’m a private investigator.”
    “Who are you working for?  His business?”
    I didn’t want to reveal my client’s name to her.  “In a manner of speaking.”
    “I see.”
    Perhaps she did, I don’t know.  But, as she sat there thinking about something for an interval, I didn’t say
anything.  She evidently came to some conclusion.
    “And you think Susan might be able to help you in some way?”
    “I don’t know that for sure, but it might.”
    “Okay, you can speak with her right away.”
    “You have her address?”
    “She’s right here in the building.”
    “Oh.”  I hadn’t expected that.
    Miss Springer reached down and punched an intercom button.  She leaned forward and spoke into it.
    “Betty, have Susan come into my office right away.”
    The intercom crackled back at her.
    “Yes, Miss Springer.”
    There were no other seats in the room, so I remained standing.  Miss Springer sat back in her chair and watched the door; willing it to open, I guess.  Before very long, it did, and a young woman came in.  She was relatively short, say five three, but proportioned just right for her size.  I could see why Walter Able had been attracted to her.  Any man in his right mind would have been.  She had a pleasant face, nice taste in clothing, and medium-length blonde hair.  That kind didn’t usually go around murdering people, but sometimes, they can fool you.
    “Susan, this gentleman, Mr. Randall, would like to ask you a few questions.  Try to answer them as best as you can.”
    She looked from Miss Springer to me with a worried expression on her face.  I tried immediately to put her at ease.
    “What’s this about?” she asked me.
    “Do you know George Lawrence?”
    “He was found dead in his office on Saturday.”
    “That’s terrible.  But, I don’t know anything about it.  I certainly didn’t do it.”
    “I never said you did.  I’m just looking into it and talking to everyone that had contact with him.  I’ve already spoken with the three men he had employed.”
    She began to act less frightened, but she didn’t volunteer anything.
    “Now, I want you to think back.  Does any incident come to mind recently, that stands out as being noteworthy?  And I mean while you were working at his office.”
    She thought about it momentarily, then answered.
    “I was only there on Thursday’s and Friday’s.”
    “Yes, I know.”
    “Oh, okay.  No.  Nothing comes to mind.  It was a pleasure to work there because it was a smooth-running office.  They kept their clients happy and the clients kept coming back.  I’ve worked there for about a year.”  She caught herself.  “Did work there.”
    “Yes, well.... uh.... nothing out the ordinary happened there?”
    “No, not that I can ever remember.”
    “Well, if you do happen to remember something, be sure to let me know.”
    I took out my notebook, scribbled my name and number and ripped out the page.  Neither one of them reached for it, so I sat it down on the desktop between the two.
    “I will, Mr. Randall.”
    I picked my hat up off the desk, placed if firmly on my head and walked out of Miss Springer’s office.  Red wasn’t around, so I made my way out of the building.
    This case, for some reason, didn’t make sense.  Not that murder usually did.  There was, I felt, still something missing, something I needed to find yet to point me in the right direction.  On the face of it, an ordinary homicide.  Could that be all there was to it?  I’d have to keep searching until I knew one way or the other.  And I would do it at least until Mrs. Lawrence’s five hundred dollars was gone.
    Right now, I’d just run out of trails to follow.

Friday, January 24, 2014

"D Is For Doxy" Chapter 3

Here is another example of my writing that I've been sharing here - I've been uploading one chapter at a time.  I need to do so more regularly so that my followers can finish the entire book.  Here then is Chapter 3 of "D Is For Doxy," featuring my hard-boiled private eye Steve Randall:


     Saturday, I hadn’t planned on finding out much, and I was right – to a point.  Although I was sitting in my car near Baker’s office again at lunchtime, I saw something, but it didn’t involve him.  While I was looking for him to come out, a couple police cars drove up and parked across the street.  The officers exited their cars and all went inside a building that looked closed for the weekend.  I could tell they weren’t paying a social visit.
     My attention was now drawn to them, nevertheless, I kept glancing back to Baker’s building.  After the cops had been inside for about ten minutes, a coroner’s car and an ambulance drove up.  The coroner went inside and the two men from the ambulance unloaded a stretcher and followed him in.  Something was happening right under my nose.
    Not being the only one, who by now was getting interested in the proceedings going on inside, I got out of my car and wandered over to join with the small crowd that had gathered.  At least now, I wouldn’t stand out if Mr. Baker came out and spotted me.  A small buzz hovered among those gathered, and it was then that one of the cops came out to keep the crowd under control.  They weren’t unruly or anything, just curious.  I, on the other hand, had a professional curiosity.  I tried to listen to what was being said.
    Some of the people nearer the cop began asking him questions.  At first, he tried to ignore them.  After a while, the cop, being only human, starting looking around and letting slip some answers.
     “What happened in there?”  One elderly lady inquired.
     “The janitor reported somebody dead inside.”
     The cop was a younger, blonde-haired fellow, who, perhaps hadn’t been a policeman for very long.  He looked stiff in his sharply-pressed uniform.
     “Who was it they found in there?”  This came from a young woman standing at his left.
     “They think it was the owner of the building.”
     “When was the body found?”
    “The janitor got here about ten this morning and was cleaning the offices when he came upon one with the deceased.”
    “Ooh, that’s awful.”
    “It must have been a terrible shock.”
     “I can’t really say, ma’am,” was the young cop’s reply.
     “How long had he been there dead?”
     “We don’t know, but the coroner says at least overnight.”
    Bells went off in my head.  I had been here last night watching for Baker.  What if it had happened then?  Maybe I’d better ask to see the officer in charge.
     I managed to get the cop to one side and told him my story.
    “Look, officer, did the guy really get killed last night?”
     “I couldn’t say for sure.”
    “Hey, I’m not one of those thrill seekers over there.  I’m a private investigator.”
     “Oh, yeah?”
    “Yeah.  What you don’t know is that I was here, last night, staking out that building over there,” and I pointed across the street.  He turned and looked at me full face for a few seconds and then decided to escort me in.
    “Come with me.”  I did.
    We went in to one of the back rooms and found the other cops, the coroner and the ambulance attendants.  One of the policemen was taking photographs of the body while every one else looked on.  I was taken directly to the officer in charge.  He was standing to one side.
     “Lieutenant, this guy may have something for us.”
    He looked me up and down slowly and said, “Is that right?”
     “Well,” I answered, “I don’t know for sure, but I was staked out front watching the place across the street
from about five until just after ten-thirty last night.”
    His demeanor brightened immediately.
    “I see.  And did you see anyone come into this building?”
    “I’ve been trying to think.  See, I was mostly keeping an eye open for my man to come out across the street.”
    “What for?”
    “His wife hired me to.”
    And in that one word, I knew what he was thinking.
    “I was trying to remember.  The streets were pretty busy last night, it being Friday, and there was a lot of traffic.  I’m pretty sure it all went on by without stopping here.”
     “So, you don’t really remember anything?”
     “Well, let me think.”
     He turned toward the coroner and started barking out a few instructions.
     “Can you give me an approximation as to the time of death?”
    “Well, roughly speaking, yes.  I can only say somewhere between seven and eleven last night.  But, most likely in that time frame.”
     The Lieutenant turned to me and asked, “You were there then, weren’t you?”
     He turned back to his men.  “Okay.  How did he get here?  Did he have any keys on him?”
    “Yes, right here.”
    One of the officers reached in a plastic bag and pulled out a set of keys.  He held them out in front of him.
     “Good, now go out and see if they fit any of the cars out there.  If they do, come back in let me know.”
    I thought I’d save them the trouble of checking mine, so I spoke up.
     “Mine’s the ’54 Buick sedan, by the mailbox.”
     “That’s all right,” said the Lieutenant, “check ‘em all.”
     The man finished taking pictures, so the ambulance attendants went to work.  By the time they had the body
strapped onto the stretcher, the guy who had went outside to check the keys came back in.
     “Found it, Lieutenant.”
     “Where was it?”
     “Parked a few spaces back of his Buick.”  He motioned in my direction.
     “Okay, get some pictures of it and check it inside and out for prints or anything else.  We may get lucky and the killer rode up with him.  But, I doubt it.  Right now it looks like he probably came in while somebody was robbing the place.”
     The guy with the camera equipment stepped out through us and left the room.  As soon as he was gone, we all heard a woman’s voice from outside, and it was getting nearer.
     “Young man, move aside.  I have a perfect right to be here.”
     Suddenly, she burst inside the office with the young cop looking perplexed.
    “I tried to keep her out, but....”  The Lieutenant cut him off.
    “What are you doing here, ma’am?  We’re conducting an investigation here.”
    “I know, and it’s my husband’s building.”
     And it was then that she saw the corpse, which had by now been covered up with a sheet.
    “Is that.... is that....?”
    She walked over to the stretcher and one of the attendants lifted the edge of the sheet to reveal the head.  The woman took one look at it and immediately broke into sobs.
    “Oh, George, George.  Why did this have to happen to you?”
     By this time, she was fully in the light and I realized who she was.  I had been asked, a few years back, to give a talk at some lady’s society meeting in the library.  She had been on the committee that had asked me to speak about my line of work and, as I remembered it, she had been fairly fascinated by it.  If she saw me, she’d probably recognize me from it.
     She was crying uncontrollably on the shoulder of the ambulance worker.  The Lieutenant let her cry for a bit and then spoke gently to her.
     “Miss.... Ma’am?  Am I to understand that this is your husband?”
     “What’s your name, Ma’am?”
     “Lawry, Eydie Lawry.”
     “When was the last time you saw your husband?”
     “Last night about.... well, it was after the ‘Life of Riley’, a television program we both watch.”
     “And what time would that be?”
     “It went off at.... nine.”
     “And for what reason did he give for leaving?”
     “He said he wanted to check on something here at the store.”
     “Did he often do this?”
     “Lately, yes.  He had gotten the notice that someone might be breaking in sometime or another, so occasionally, he watched the place.”
     “What do you mean, ‘watched the place?’”
     “He’d come down here for hours at a time some nights and wait here with the lights down.  Hoping to catch the thief.”
     “I see.  Did you ever come with him?”
     “No.  He said it might not be safe for me, so I never came along.”
     “Well, it looks like he might have been right about the break-in.  He must have come in on them in the act and gotten killed for it.”
     Mrs. Lawry took his statement too hard and started to cry again.  This time, she used the Lieutenant’s shoulder.  He tapped her on the arm and asked her something else.
     “Ma’am, I know this is pretty rough on you, but until we get anything further, could I have one of my men drive you home?  You’ll probably feel better there.”
     She lifted her head up in my direction.
     “Maybe you’re right.  Why, Mr. Randall, what are you doing here?  Have they called you in on the case?”
     The Lieutenant looked at me, wondering what my connection with the woman was.
     “Not exactly, Mrs. Lawry, I was working nearby on something else last night, when....” I paused, “Say, was
his car a white over blue Caddy?”
     The Lieutenant looked from me to the officer who had found the car the keys had belonged to.
     “What about it, Jensen.  Was it?”
     “Yes, sir.  A pretty new one, too.”
     Mrs. Lawry spoke up.
     “That’s our car, officer.  George just got it last November.”
     “What about the car, Randall, did you see it pull up last night?”
     “I remember it now.  It was after nine, about a quarter of an hour after I heard the 9:02 pull in at the terminal.  I was getting fidgety from having sat in my car for so long and I happened to glance up in my rearview mirror.  I noticed a car pull up without it’s headlights on.  A man, about his description,” I motioned to the deceased, “got out and entered this building.”
     “Was anyone with him?”
     “That I can answer easily.  I didn’t see anyone in his car, at least, if they were, they were below the dash.  But, nobody got out with him and I didn’t see anyone waiting for him outside the building.  As far as I can remember, he went in alone.”
     “Parker, go back and find the back exit of this place.  See if it’s been jimmied.”
     “Right, Lieutenant.”
     “Randall, you said you were out there how long?”
     “Until just after ten-thirty.”
     “Did you hear any gunshots?  That’s how he was killed.”
     “No, but I had my windows up against the chill.  I might not have heard shots through my windows and a closed up building.”
     “True.  Did you notice anything else?”
     “No, the man I was watching came out at ten-thirty, and I left.”
     “That’s too bad.  If you’d been here a little longer, you might have had a chance to see the killer come out.
As it was.... I guess that’s all.”
     “If you don’t mind, Lieutenant, maybe I could get Mr. Randall to drive me home.”
     I had the same stunned look as the Lieutenant.
     “Me, ma’am?”  I asked.
     “Yes.  If you don’t mind?”
     “Well, I guess you’re finished with both of us, aren’t you, Lieutenant?”
     “For now, but we may have to talk to both of you again, so be available.”
     “All right.”  I turned to Mrs. Lawry.  “My car’s out front.”
     I took her arm and led her outside to the onlooking crowd.  They quieted down as we walked by and I put her in the passenger side of my car.  I closed the door, walked around and got in myself.  I had to ask her where she lived because I didn’t know.  If I had known at one time, I didn’t remember.
     “Where to, Mrs. Lawry?”
     “Keep going straight.  I’ll show you.”
     We rode in silence for a few blocks and then she turned to me and started speaking.  I was expecting it.
     “You’re probably wondering why I asked you to do this.”
     “I remembered you right away when I saw you, and I thought I could, perhaps, hire you to find my husband’s killer.”
     “The police are doing everything they can and I’m sure they have the means and the manpower to get it done faster than I could.  And save you a lot of money, besides.”
     “I don’t care.  I think you could do things in a different way and get faster results.  I must know who killed George.”
     I mulled over the proposition in my head as we rode along in silence.
     “I suppose I could look into it a little.  Nose around here and there.  But, if I turned up anything, I’d have to give it to the police.”
     “Fair enough.  Then, you’ll work for me?”
     “I’ll look into it.  I can’t promise you anything, though.”
     “Somehow, I don’t know about that.  I think you could get results.”
     I didn’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not, so I said nothing.  After a few turns, we came to her house.  It took up half the block.  She told me to pull up in front and stop, so I did.
     “Now, if you need anything from me, don’t hesitate to ask.  Do you need anything, Mr. Randall?”
     “I normally receive seventy-five bucks a day.”
     “Oh, well, I’ll drop a check in the mail right away.  I’ll make it for five hundred.  Will that be enough to start out with?”
     “More than enough.”
     “Good.  You’ll probably get it on Tuesday.  Is there anything else?”
     “Did your husband go out often to check on his building?”
     She gave me a curious look.  “What are you implying?”
     “I’m not implying anything.  I just wondered.”
     She took a few seconds before she answered.  When she did, I could tell she was unsure of herself.
     “Well, lately, he’d started going over there on and off more frequently.  It was just recently that I started wondering about it.”
     “But, you didn’t know for sure?”
     “No, not for sure,” came her whispered reply.
     “I see.  So, that’s why you want me to look into it?”
     “You can be a little more discreet than the police.”
     “Yes.  But, again, if I find out anything conclusive, I’ll still have to take it to them.”
     “Yes, I understand that.  You will come to me first, won’t you?  Since I’m paying you?”
     “Yes, I’ll do that for you.”
     “I don’t know how to thank you.”
     “Don’t worry, you don’t have to.  It’s part of the service.”
     I remember saying the same thing just the other day.  She opened the door and started to say something, but
evidently changed her mind.  For, she shut the door and walked off into her house.  I waited until she had closed
the door, then moved off into the traffic.
     It was pretty odd for me to have gotten two cases in two days that were so different, and yet, so much alike.

Nikki's Favorite Daughter - A Short Story

In case some of you follow my blog and like to read my uploads, here's a short story first for you.  It's entitled "Nikki's Favorite Daughter."  It essentially came to me in a dream, and in that dream, I envisioned it to be filled with a lot of dialogue.  So, if it seems a little "talky," blame my subconcious/sleeping mind, not me!  Here it is, so enjoy it!  If you read it and loved it or hated it, please don't hesitate to comment and let me know.  I appreciate hearing from the people who read my blog.  It gives me a reason to continue doing it.

Nikki’s Favorite Daughter

     “Your Nikki’s favorite daughter, aren’t you?”
     The television news reporter from Channel 10 moved his microphone nearer her lips in anticipation of a response.
     “I guess I am.  How did you find me?”
     “We have our sources, Mrs. Halley.”
     “I’d like to know who they are.”  She laughed.
     “So would a thousand other people.  Then, you don’t mind a few questions?”
     She studied her watch for a few seconds.  Staring at it wouldn’t make it any later and she wasn’t due back in town for another two hours, not until school let out.  Being interviewed by Les Warren was as good a way as any to kill some time.  She pointed to the chairs on her porch.
     “If we’re going to do this, let’s at least be comfortable.”
     “Thanks a lot.  It’s very nice of you to agree to this.”
     Les motioned to his two-man crew and they began setting up pieces of electronic equipment just off the front edge of the early-afternoon-sunlit porch.  When they were ready, the one shouldering a large video camera nodded his head.  The interview could begin.
     “Just why is channel 10 so interested in me, now?  Wouldn’t my mother be the better story?”
     “She might, but no one can get to her.  They’ve got her sealed up tighter than a kettle drum in the New York Philharmonic.  And besides, you’ll make a great human interest piece.  Something we’ve found our viewers really respond to.”
     “I’ve seen your show.  Maybe I should go take off half my clothes.  Give them more to respond to, Les.”
     “It’s not sweeps.  You’ll do fine just the way you are.  The natural look.”
     “You’re sure?”
     “Relax.  Tell me about your relationship with Nikki.”
     She couldn’t help smiling, despite the circumstances.  “She was my mother, you know.”  Les frowned.  “Okay, my relationship with Nikki.”  She stared out over the cameraman’s head and her eyes got a faraway, wistful look in them.  For a full sixty seconds, she was silent.  The reporter wondered if she was going to back out of the interview.  Finally, she cleared her throat and started to speak.  Because her voice was so low, the soundman punched up the recording level a few decibels.
     “I was the last of three girls, we didn’t have any brothers.  I was six years younger than my oldest sister, Nancy and four years behind Abbe.  We were always close, in those early years, even despite the age difference.  They never treated me like the baby of the family, not like mother did.  Oh, she meant well, I suppose, but how do you think Nan and Abbe felt about it?  Although Nikki gave me most of her attention, they managed to take it in stride.  I never once knew them to get mad at anything mother did.  And she was always doing things just a little bit different than everybody else.  ‘The Nikki Torres Way,’ she called it.  Like it was patented or something.”
     “I remember once when she came to get me out of school, I must have been in the fourth or fifth grade at the time.  When my teacher asked what she was doing there, long before class was over, my mother looked at her and said, ‘I always try to take a personal interest in the teaching of my child.  Don’t you know what today is?’  It was just an ordinary school day, for all my teacher knew, so she said no.  My mother, being the forceful presence that she is, planted both feet firmly on the floor and said in her best ‘I’m surprised you don’t know what day it is’ voice, ‘Why, today is the day that the swallows fly back from Capistrano.’  I guess you could have knocked Miss Wilson over with a feather.  She was too astonished to have an answer for her.  There was often no answer for the situations mother created.  I didn’t want to leave my classmates, and I couldn’t disappoint mother.  Dear, sweet, well-intentioning Nikki.  She took me, and only me, for a drive to the seashore, where we sat for hours in her convertible foreign sports car watching the waves crash endlessly onto the beautiful, empty beaches.  No other living thing was around except for a few hungry seagulls.”
     “Did she do this often?”
     “What?  Wait for the swallows?”
     “To my knowledge, she never did it again.  But she was always doing things like that, you understand.”
     “What about your sisters, did she do things like that with them?”
     “No, never.”  The roar of a jet drifted over them and she waited until it subsided.  She repeated, “Never.”
     “Was it because she didn’t like them as well?”
     “Oh, no.  She adored them.  All three of us got swell presents at Christmas and for our birthdays.  She never skimped on those.”
     “But.... there was something....?”
     She nodded.  “It wasn’t a thing you could put your finger on and say, ‘There, there it is.’”
     “Then, what do you think it was?”
     “Do you have any children?”
     “Two.  A boy and a girl.”
     “Is your boy the oldest?”
     “No, my daughter is.”
     “Right there.  You see?”
     “See what?”
     “You said, ‘a boy and a girl.’  Not, ‘a girl and a boy.’  Why was that?”
     “It’s just natural, I suppose.”
     “You should have said, ‘a girl and a boy.’  She’s the oldest.”
     “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
     “I know, it’s just what I was saying, though.  There was nothing.... concrete about it.  I just felt inside that there was something different in her manner toward me.”
     “Did your sisters notice it?”
     “They never let on if they did.  But, I know they must have.”
     “Didn’t anyone say anything about it?”
     “That was the funny part.  Just when it seemed like she thought of me as an only child, why, then she’d surprise everyone and bring Nan a pony, or Abbe an expensive doll house, imported from England.”
     “Where did she get the money?  I know she didn’t work.”
     “Her first husband died and left her financially secure.”
     “Was he your father?”
     “No, he wasn’t mine, nor my sisters.  She never talked about him, so we didn’t know much about him.  What little I have learned about him, I found out from digging through old records.”
     “Why did you want to know?”
     “Curiosity, I suppose.  I wanted to know more about Nikki so maybe I could understand why....”
     The soundman stepped up onto the edge of the wooden porch.  “Could you pause for a second, Les?  I need to put in another tape.”
     Les looked at the woman seated beside him, watching her eyes.  No matter what he might wish, it was up to her to make the final decision.
     “No, go ahead,” she whispered.  “I don’t mind.  A short break might be good.”
     A new tape was inserted and a hand signal given to start the interview again.  Les tried to put her back at ease once more.  If he was lucky, he might get enough footage to run two different spots - one for the six-o’clock news and another at ten.  He mentioned her father, if only for the happy memories it might stir up.
     “Angelo Torres, the man that gave you and your sisters a first step into the world.  What was he like?”
     “He was a good man.  What I can remember of him.”
     “When did you last see him?”
     “Just last week.”
     Les looked up from his notes.  “Oh.... I was under the impression that....”
     “Well, at one time, yes.  But, since this.... thing, I very much wanted to talk to him.  He was glad to see me, for whatever the reason.”
     “When did he leave you?”
     “Nikki kicked him out around 1972.”
     “Was the story true about there being another woman involved?”
     “For years, that was what mother told us.  It must have been her own kind of personal therapy, I guess, but there was no truth to it.  None whatsoever.”
     “Do you know the real reason why they split up?  Or have you surmised it?”
     “Yes, I do know.  I just don’t feel comfortable saying it.”
     “Too painful?”
     “No, it’s not that.  You might think I was imagining things.”
     “You know Nikki best.”
     “Yes, and that’s why I’m almost certain of my feelings.  They’re all I have to go on, but I.... know I’m
right, so I’ll just come out and say it.  Mother didn’t want anything to come between us.”
     Les sat there, hardly believing the words she was saying, what she was implying.
     “You mean, between her and you?” he said.
     “That’s exactly what I mean.  I think as time wore on, she started changing.  Her and Angelo never got on famously, as the saying goes, so there was no love lost between them.  My sisters and I missed him for a while, but she conditioned him right out of our thoughts.  Quick.  Too quick.  We believed all the things she said about him, why shouldn’t we?  She was our mother.  And I kept believing them up until I was in high school.  Then I began to read between the lines of what she had said.  What she said didn’t make sense to me anymore.  Unfortunately, I never took the thought any farther.  I wish now that I had.”
     “How was your father when you saw him last week?”
     “He told me he was sorry it all happened, as was I, and I assured him I knew it wasn’t his fault.  It meant a lot for him to know that I felt that way.”
     “Did your sisters ever try to track him down?”
     “If they did, I never knew about it.”
     “Would they have told you if they had?”
     “I think so.  As I said, we were always close.”
     “Always?  Even after they graduated and moved away?”
     “They may have been in two other states, but there was a kind of bond between us.... scientists would probably call it a mental link or E.S.P.”
     “What do you think it was?”
     “Just the fact that we lived so close together all those years.  You grow to know someone after that long.”
     “Did Nikki realize you three were that close?”
     “We didn’t, at the time, so how could she?  She was just your average mother.”
     “Hardly average.”
     “We thought she was great.  When that’s all you’ve ever known, you tend to think everyone’s mother is like that.”
     “Were your friend’s mothers like that?”
     “Friendships were a thing that she never encouraged.  We always had to come home right after school.  We
weren’t allowed to play at friend’s houses or to sleep over.”
     “Did Nikki demand that?”
     “Yes, in a way.  Only, she made it seem like nothing out of the ordinary.  Why, when we got home, she was just as likely to involve all of us in making a batch of cookies or to take us to the zoo.  She was always one for family togetherness.”
     “Yet, through it all, she still favored you?”
     “What can I say?  She did, but she must have had a reason for doing so.”
     “Do you ever wish you could ask her what it was?”
     “No, after all these years, I wouldn’t want to know.”
     “Aren’t you in the least bit curious?”
     “My curiousity became jaded at a very young age.  When my sisters became old enough to finally move out on their own, I sensed relief in them.  Maybe more than that.  It was nothing tangible and I’m sure mother wasn’t aware of it.”
     “How did she take it when they left?”
     “She turned to me.  I was still there and she liked me even more because of it.  Now, however, she was unimpeded in her efforts to shower me with every bit of her love and affection.”
     “Did it seem strange at the time?”
     “What is normal and what is not?  As I said, if that’s all you’ve ever known, you don’t know any different.  Her manner didn’t change overnight.  If anything, it just grew more intense.  It was just her and I alone in that big, rambling house.”
     “The one in West Hollywood.”
     “Yes, that’s the one.  She always told us that a famous movie star had owned it.  I asked a realtor once and found out that it had been owned by a minor starlet from the silent era of the twenties.  I’ve since forgotten her name.”
     “Why did you go to New York when you turned twenty-one?”
     “Who knows?  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we lived in Hollywood, the motion picture capital of the world.  At the time, I suppose, I saw myself as a great actress, the next Katherine Hepburn.  I wanted to learn all about it, but just not here.  Do you understand?”
     Les nodded his head without speaking.
     She continued.  “New York was where real actresses lived and worked, learned and starved, and coped and triumphed.  It sounded romantic to a girl of twenty-one.”
     “I can imagine.”
     “Maybe you can.  Anyway, I went there and supported myself, not in the custom I’d been used to, but it wasn’t a bad experience, in all.  I remember back on those two years quite fondly.  When I came back to California, mother insisted that I stay with her until I got settled.  I had gotten over the notion of being the next big thing and had become a very good secretary after my time in New York.  I liked the work and had no trouble in securing a position almost immediately.  It was with a firm that was involved, peripherally, with the motion picture industry.”
     “Howe Associates.  I believe a couple of their clients are the heads of some of the minor studios.”
     “Precisely.  The job provided me with more than enough to live on, so I found my own apartment and really started to live my life.  It felt like the first time I had ever done so.”
     “How did Nikki feel about it?  About being left alone, abandoned by her last daughter?”
     “She wasn’t like that, she was very supportive.  She always was when it had something to do with me.  Nan and Abbe could have ideas about things, but whenever I had a notion, it was always full speed ahead.”
     “Can you give me an example?”
     “There was the time I wanted to go into business for myself.”
     “After Howe Associates?”
     “No, when I was eight years old.”
     “What kind of business could a child of eight desire?”
     “I chose the age-old favorite, a lemonade stand.  For customers, I had our neighbors in the immediate
area.  They all knew me, knew that I was very precocious at that age.  Still, I made a go of it.”   
     “How long did it last?”
     “Why, the complete summer vacation.”
     “Did you make much money?”
     “I probably lost twice as much as I made.  Mother furnished all the lemonade supplies.”
     “Did your sisters help you?”
     “No, it was my project alone.  Mother made sure to stress that point.”
     “Did they mind being left out of it?”
     “Well, they were at the age when they were just beginning to find out about boys.  That kept them occupied and out of the way of mother’s need for my special attention.”
     “How did Nikki take it when you got married?”
     “I don’t think she expected anything to change.  It always does, though.”
     “Yes, marriage is a big step.”
     “It was for me.  I found myself in a whole different world.  One I never even dreamed existed.  I still had my job as a secretary and Jack worked in an advertising firm.  We were very much in love right then, still are, as a matter of fact, and life looked rosy.  At the beginning, mother seemed to support us.  I had everything I’d ever wanted and my mother’s approval, too.  She came to our house on numerous occasions and each time I never suspected that anything was wrong.  Then, my sisters began dropping by.  My mother was putting things into their heads, things that weren’t true, and they were checking up on me.  Each time they came, I sensed that strange things were going on in their minds, but nothing was ever said.  They’d stay for a couple of days, find out how things really were, and then go back to their own lives.  After this went on for a while, they began to realize what was at the root of the problem.  They believed I was happy and knew it was just mother’s queer way of doing things.  It had a side effect.  My sisters began to drift away from her after that.  Once the damage was done, it was too late to repair it.  Mother tried, but nothing worked.  After that, she turned all her efforts back on me.  She tried to convince me that my married life wasn’t the best goal I could attain.  She had me almost believing it, if it hadn’t been for Jack.  He straightened things out on that one quick.”
     “Was that the period when Nikki and you didn’t speak?”
     “You make it sound like required reading in History 101.  It only lasted for six months.”
     “What finally ended it?”
     “Mother apologized.”
     “Was this before or after your first child?”
     “Right before.  At the time, I felt, somehow, she must have found out about my pregnancy.  But, she couldn’t have.  Only Jack, myself and my doctor knew it.”
     “She picked up where she’d left off?”
     “Not exactly.  It was like she was a changed person.  Nothing was too good for a daughter of hers in the condition I was in.”
     “Hadn’t both of your sisters, by that time, had children?  Did Nikki act in the same manner toward them?”
     “I can’t say, because I wasn’t there with them.  I did get the impression later on that they felt mother could have done more.”
     “Like what?”
     “Well, been there for them more.”
     “She hadn’t been, at the time?”
     “She was and she wasn’t.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “She was there in body, but not in spirit.  If that makes any sense.”
     “I think I can understand what you’re saying.”
     “Exactly.  It’s such an ephemeral kind of thing.”
     “And it never changed?”
     “Not to my knowledge.”
     Les looked at his watch, knowing that at any time the interview would have to come to a close.  He still hadn’t asked the question he had on his mind, the one his viewers would most want answered.  He tried leading into it.
     “What made Nikki ‘go over the edge,’ so to speak?  If I may put it that way.  Was it one particular incident or was it a cumulative effect?”
     “You know, I’ve often wondered that myself.”
     “Don’t you have any idea at all?”
     “No, not really.  And now, I guess we’ll never know.”
     “Not unless they come through with a pardon in time.  Do you think that will happen?”
     “No, I don’t.  And I don’t know if they should.  What’s done is done.  You can never go back.”
     “But, she’s your mother.”
     “The mother I knew disappeared a long time ago.  I want to remember her the way she used to be, back
when we were all together.”
     “Do you plan on attending her execution?”
     “No, I couldn’t handle it.  It would only remind me of too many things.  Sad and lonely things.  Things I will never know again.”
     “Like the bond between you and your sisters?”
     “Yes.  When Nikki killed them, a part of me died with them.  No one could ever know what that was like.”
     “I guess not.”
     She stood up.  “I hope you’ve gotten enough for the story you wanted.”
     “Oh, yes, Mrs. Halley.  It was great of you to allow me to get this much.  It should play pretty well tonight when it’s aired.”
     “Well, that’s good.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go get my children from school.”
     “You’ve got kids in school of your own, now?”
     “Yes.  Three darling girls.”

The End.