|Murphy understood the law and knew justice. He also knew that the two were often not the same. To catch the bad guy and win a confession you had to be willing to step outside the box and take chances. That’s what made him a great cop. But that didn’t give him the right to take the law in his own hands. All he had to do was have a boy examined to confirm his true gender and now his mistake was going to cost him. Maybe his job? Maybe a demotion?
But then nothing in this case was turning out like it should. He should have seen this coming. He should have known that you can test the odds and you can test your resolve, but never pit your luck against Murphy’s Law.
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October 12th, 1961 . . .
It was late, already past dusk when Jack Murphy spotted him, but it was Spike who went in after him. Running up the steps he pushed open the door unsure of that lie in wait or whether he needed a gun. Spike didn’t carry one. Nor did he need one. He had only his hands and a bite of a rabid dog on the attack as he entered the dark foyer.
Quickly he surveyed the place for signs of lurking danger. Then making his way to the base of the stairs he grabbed hold of the banister to accelerate his climb up the long flight. Three steps at a time, using speed as an ally as he advanced his attack up the stairs and down the darken hall until he spotted a door left half open.
Cautiously he pushed the door open then eyed the plush velvet curtains knowing that’s how things work on Slade Street. He found the curtains drawn and the room illuminated by only the thinnest veil of filtered light. Still it was enough for him to spot a shadowy figure in white suit and tie sitting in a rocking chair just to the right and behind the bed. In front of the bed stood the immediate threat, the man he had come for. The assailant, the man with his trousers gathered around his ankles who, in his single-mindedness, didn’t even know he was there.
Lying on the bed was his victim. Not struggling or crying or thrashing about to ward off her attacker as you might suppose. Nor did he understand why, but it made little difference. Spike was going to see to it that the low-life got his just due. Pronto!
It had taken but an instant for the door to slide open and for the man to be spotted. It only took a blink of an eye longer for Spike to jump him from behind, lock him in a choke hold and haul him back out the door. No screams of despair, no cries of “thank you.” Just the sound of Salazar gagging and Spike’s cold words, “Should’ah listened, Sally, and kept your nose clean.”
Molly made her way past the patrol car and through the gathering crowd of onlookers toward Jack Murphy. Beside him stood Salazar, his pants still not fully secured draped halfway down his hips. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and in his back pocket a pink envelope garnished with hearts and flowers. Jack was just handing him over to the two waiting patrolmen when Molly came up alongside and wrapped her arm around his waist. He looked down at her and smiled.
He had got his collar, albeit one he hadn’t expected. Still, in the long view of things it had turned out to be a pretty good day after all. Jack had got his man, and Spike had earned the humility that comes with wearing the badge. “Well ol’girl,” Jack beamed, “How about that drink.”
A year before . . .
September 4, 1960
Rose heard the familiar clunk of her heels rushing up the steps. Then like a thug, Molly pushed open the screen door and let it slam with a bang.
“Not a lot of finesse in that girl,” Rose thought. “She’s about as refined as raw sugar.” Then again, what more could she expect of her. She’s just a country girl who still hasn’t grasp the do’s and don’t of life in the big city.
“Mornin’ Rosie,” Molly churned out while vigorously working on her wad of chewing gum. “What’cha cookin’?”
Rose looked up from the pan of frying bacon, gave a cursory look then found herself wishing she hadn’t. “What cheek,” she thought, entirely annoyed by what she saw. “It was always the same with this girl. Nothing ever changes.”
“That skirt is unfitting,” Rose grumbled.
“Hmmm, what’s that Rosie?” Molly popped a bubble and flashed a grin.
“Your skirt! Where’s your common sense? This is a reputable Brooklyn home you’re working for, not some Shaddock Street bar. Why Katherine allows it is beyond me.”
Molly sucked in her gum, put her hands on her hips then looked down to see what the fuss was about. Her work clothes appeared in order. Linen blouse, vest, as did her black wool skirt, albeit hemmed several inches higher than Rose might like to see. The added height of the pumps might have exaggerated the look, but as she saw it, nothing to throw a hissy-fit over.
“Don’t yah like it, Rosie?” Molly asked, unsure whether it was just the gripe of an old woman, or exposing the stocking tops was really showing a bit too much leg. She was of the opinion it looked rather cute. This was Friday after all, and she was anticipating a fun evening, perhaps sooner if she was lucky. An evening shared with friends down at the Niles Street Bar where she had in mind serving up just the right touch of flavors atop a very voluptuous cone.
Her point made Rosie said nothing more, choosing instead to again address the less volatile commodity, her pan of sizzling bacon. A wise woman she counted her words carefully, especially around Molly. A girl so single-minded nothing short of a revelation could divert her laser-like focus on her gum and herself.
“Aaah, there ain’t nothin’ wrong,” Molly finally decided with an attitude unfit for a girl 35 years her younger. “It ain’t the old times no more, Rosie!”
Then as if looking to rattle the old cook further she reconfigured herself into her version of the latest teen heartthrob, snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet to the sugary tune that poured from her lips. “Oh, the shark has, pretty teeth, dear, and it shows them, pearly white . . .”
“Sharks teeth, indeed,” Rose cut in, “you’ll be lucky if Ma’am doesn’t have me serve up a bit of that sass for dinner.”
“Nah, uh-uh, Mrs. K loves me ta’bits,” Molly said as if fact, fait accompli. She came up behind where Rose stood at the stove, wrapped her arms about her waist and gave her a hug. Then she reached down to scoop up a strip of bacon from the towel and began to gingerly nibble around the edges so as not to soil the lush red paint on her lips.
A moment later the screen door again opened and Gerald entered the scene.
“B’sides, she thinks it’s cute. Told me so herself,” Molly followed as she flung herself in the direction of her son. “Mornin’, Pea’ches.”
Rose turned to watch Molly smoother the boy with her affections and again, shook her head in annoyance. “The boy needs a haircut,” Rose spoke her mind. “Something more fitting a seventeen year old, like a crew cut.” She curtly followed, not at all comfortable with that “girlie mop-top” of his.
“Ah, Rosie, it’s fittin’” Molly pleaded her case. “Anyways, see here . . .” she combed her fingers through its length, “it ain’t got no curl, or nothin’.”
Rose looked again at her bacon remembering Katherine didn’t like hers darkened to a crisp. Besides, she’d win no points with Molly. They saw eye-to-eye on very little. Although there was one thing they both could agree. Long hair or not, her son definitely shared her award winning looks.
In fact he had the whole package, from the deep set cheeks and up tilt of the nose, to the same arresting Irish green eyes. They even dressed alike. His trousers and her skirt made of the same black wool. His shirt made of the same crisp white linen. Even their vests matched. Black silk, sleeveless and cropped at the midriff, they were identical down to the floral-stitch piping. The only difference — one had buttons and one was without.
“Buttons is for girls,” or so Molly seemed to think.
“Country girl,” Rose sighed, wondering why she should expect any more of her. She was lost in that thought when a splattering of hot grease stung the back of her hand triggering an unexpected outburst of exasperation. Something Rose could no longer contain. “If you ask me, it looks down right silly! It’s near long as yours.”
“Gosh, who put a burr in Rosie’s saddle this mornin’? He looks fittin’,” Molly scoffed. “‘Sides Mrs. K don’t mind. Not one bit. She done said so herself, y’know.”
“Rubbish! It’s too long for a boy. The way I see it, he might as well be wearing that bohemian skirt of yours for all the difference it would make.”
“Ya think so, Rosie?” Molly asked, while looking as if studying the boy. “Nay, uh-uh, his butts too skinny,” she giggled, and again, began snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet. Only this time with her sights set on her son. “Come on, skinny butt, let’s have us some fun.”
Rose rolled up her eyes, heaved a sigh and again returned to her bacon, now a golden brown. “You know, if I were you I’d be getting that breakfast cart set before Mrs. Kline comes in. Otherwise you might find yourself dancing your way out the door, looking for a new job.”
“That’s all you be thinkin’ bout, Rosie, work! A girl needs to be stretchin’ her wings now an’ a’gin. Ain’t that right, Sugarplum?” Molly sulked, looking for agreement from her son.
“Is that why you’re all dolled up this morning? Fixing to go out and stretch your wings some, Molly?”
“Ah, Rosie! “It ain’t nothin’ special,” Molly feigned a pout then pursed her lips to highlight her richly painted face.
Molly came about to start setting the service cart. “But . . . I s’pose it’d be right with me if Mrs. K were willin’ to gimme some time off, being its Friday in all. I’m thinkin’ bout askin’. What’cha think?”
Rose turned to hand Molly the servings of bacon and eggs to set upon the cart. The hard work and her 68 years had not beaten her down as yet. Her shoulders were still broad and she still could see eye to eye with her. Definitely not the sort Molly would want to see angrily swinging a rolling pin in her direction. Nor was Rose one to let her forget that fact whenever the need arose to stand toe to toe. “What nerve. You haven’t put in a full day of work in a month of Sundays and you want off today too?”
“What’s the bother, Rosie? Mrs. K don’t mind, none at all. I wouldn’t be askin’ if she weren’t fixin’ to give it. ‘Sides, Gerald’s here if she be needin’ the help.”
“Yes, I can see how he’s learned to fill in for you quite well, with all the dusting and cleaning and all. Got him trained like a pretty little maid and he don’t seem to mind, none at all.”
“That’s his job, Rosie. Gets paid same as me, an’ he likes it. Don’t yah, Pea’ches?”
“Yes’m,” Gerald muttered and Molly punctuated with an ‘I told you so grin.'
“See, Rosie! My Pea’ches is old enough to be takin’ care of himself. He don’t need no babyin’ . . . ummmm, lessen of course, Mrs. K be wantin’ to baby him some. Can’t see there be harm in that. Can you?”
Rose threw up her hands. Doing his mother’s work wasn’t the boy’s job. He was paid to run Katherine’s errands, but there was no point in reminding Molly of something she already knew. Besides, what more could she expect of her. At 32, she was only just a child herself. A beautiful girl with a body fit to be memorialized on the fuselage of a B-17, but that was it. She was a shallow as a birdbath with an inordinate taste for men and the fast life, her seventeen year old son lost in the mix.
Resigned to the inevitable Rose turned to finish setting the cart herself. While Molly continued to work on her gum and fuss with her nails as if unaware it was her job, not Rose’s to do. The pot of tea finished off the setting and then a long stem carnation was placed in a bud vase and set on the tray.
A moment later, Katherine Kline stepped through the door and entered our contentious scene.
“Mornin’ Ma’am,” Rose and Molly chimed out in unison.
“Good morning. Is breakfast prepared?”
“Yes ma’am,” Rose quickly replied with a curtsy. Katherine acknowledged the gesture then shifted her focus toward Molly, still working her gum with a vengeance. Her eyes ringed black kohl and violet, her lips a blood red.
To Katherine, she was too young and too consumed by her own personal psychology to have much of herself to give, neither as a mother nor a good employee. Nor caring, something that could easily be seen in her faint smile and distant look. As if wishing she were someplace else. Completely unaware Katherine stood waiting for her to follow Rose’s example.
“A fitting response,” Katherine though, simmering on low heat. “The girl thinks she’s bomb proof, only she’s not. With her finger already poised on the self-destruct button, she’ll soon fall victim to her own intemperance without help from me.”
So she gave up the wait and politely returned an ingratiating smile. Then taking hold of Gerald’s hand she led him back out through the dinning room door. Any more would have only put Molly on notice, perhaps tip her hand and delayed the inevitable.
Scene II: Katherine Kline
The dinning room was a grand room, and in terms of opulence, mirrored the rest of Katherine’s Brooklyn, Glen Park home. Sweeping and stately, it smelt of old wood and wax. With a high ceiling covered with an ornate façade of beveled tin centered by a brilliant chandelier. Velvet curtains framed the windows and original pieces of art hung on the walls.
It was also a brittle place with a certain sterile quality to the stilted furnishing and the formality of the setting. Especially the floor that seemed so brittle one hard step would cause the fine China and the curios to vibrate with a clink and a clatter. Rosewood floors polished with a luster of mirrored glass and kept that way without benefit of rugs so you could see your silhouette as you walked in the room.
The room was quite beautiful as was her home, but hardly warm and inviting, at least from Gerald’s point of view. The room, like Katherine, had a way of making him feel muted and dependent. As if needing to be told what to do and how it should be done, or risk having something or someone come unglued. Obviously he would have preferred to eat in the kitchen alongside Rose and his mom, but he was the houseboy and no matter how tortuous the slog his job was beside Katherine. To run her errands, do her fetching and yes, to sit and share a meal.
A few moments later Molly followed carefully rolling out the breakfast cart then set the place serving for two. Her job done, she stood at her position behind Katherine looking very much the quintessential mother and conscientious employee, dressed in those nose-bleed heels and a skirt that exposed a bit too much leg. Her lips blood-red, her eyes ringed black kohl and violet, squeezed into a vest on the verge of giving way to her preponderate bust.
The poor girl looked as if she hasn’t a clue as Katherine served-up the eggs and bacon for both Gerald and herself and then sat down beside him, close-in and personal, as if to take possession of her own son, not Molly’s. “There now, Gerald. You may begin, but remember to mind your manners.”
Of course none of this was new to Molly. Gerald had his job, she had hers. Granted, Katherine’s conduct might have raised a few brows if seen from the outside, but for those within the household it was just another breakfast. No different than what otherwise passed for normal in the daily affairs of those who worked in this rather elegant Brooklyn home.
There’s Rose navigating her way through the humdrum with her short gray hair tightly permed, her work boots, bifocals and the years of wear etched on her face. Already years beyond retirement nothing comes as easily to her as it once did. Yet even withered and worn by time, in spirit she’s still as robust and vibrant as a rear vintage port.
Beside her stands Molly, with her pin-up girl figure and a face that could have rendered Caesar to his knees. Her smile is as sumptuous as candy, and inevitable filled with all the ingredients your mother always warned you about. She’s as unpredictable as she is irrepressible. A “Mommy Dearest” in very high heels with a Colgate smile and a cabbage patch brain.
Then there’s Katherine, as straight laced and stilted as that dinning room of old wood and wax. She appears resolute and thorough, but beneath that thick upper crust there’s another Katherine. One a bit more distant from the role she plays as lady of the house. Thankfully, only by a degree or two, but it’s enough to open a window of speculation about her person and her character. Let’s have a look.
In her mid 50’s, Katherine’s a widower and considered exorbitantly wealthy by any standards. She also owns the largest of the homes on a very prestigious street on which to live. She could even boast a backyard, a rather large one — quite the novelty in a city like Brooklyn. With a flower garden and richly foliaged trees that provided a privacy to envy.
You would think with that kind of stature she’d be quite the socialite. She’s still attractive, taller than most with a handsome figure. Appearance-wise, she certainly looked as though she would have fit right in the Sunday social circuit. That is, if not for the fact that she was also an intensely private and austere woman who carried herself as though suffering from some lingering despair. Wound up in her own personal psychology she had little to offer in the way of a public face. Now add to the mix the recent death of her husband and you’ve the perfect storm for a recluse. A woman with everything locked away, only her eccentricities left out for show.
It’s quite a cast composing quite a scene. With everyone and everything fixed in place following the form Katherine expected. Excluding Gerald’s occasional shuffling in his seat and Katherine’s curt warning, “Please don’t fidget, young man,” it was also a very quiet affair. At least up to the moment Katherine turned to give Molly her instructions for the day. “Molly, after you’ve set my room, you’ll manage the linens, freshen the flowers and dust everything quite thoroughly.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Molly replied, though halfhearted to a degree. Obviously she had something in mind and it wasn’t work. Katherine could hear it in her voice and see it in the look that had followed her out from the kitchen and betrayed her even more so now.
“Have I mentioned how lovely you look this morning, Molly?” Katherine prompted, wanting to hear more about what was on her mind.
“No, but I do thank’ya ma’am. I be wantin’ t’please, it’s just that . . .”
“It’s just that what, Molly?”
“It’s just that I was wonderin’ since this being Friday an’ all . . .”
“Ah, so you’ve dressed up with the hope of going out?”
“Yes ma’am, I hate to be askin’, but I thought if you was of a mind I might be leavin’ a wee bit early?”
“Of course, it’s no problem whatsoever,” Katherine followed with some restraint. Something she had been careful to show throughout the exchange. “You can have the whole day off if you like. All you had to do was ask.”
“Gerald, would you kindly go up to my room and fetch my purse. You’ll find it atop the bureau.”
“You’ve been working quite hard of late,” she added with a smile, albeit one that was deliberate and guarded, to mask the anger that lay beneath. “I see no reason why a young and attractive girl shouldn’t have ample time to be out and about.”
“Why, thank you ma’am.”
“I always try to reward good work, Molly. You know that,” she offered, again with that same immutable smile. “You just run off, have a good time and I’ll see you promptly at 8 for Monday morning breakfast.”
“Monday mornin’!” Molly swooned as if feeling the rapture. “Why Mrs. K, that’s down right generous!” She radiated a smile that could have melted the armor on a Sherman tank.
“Nonsense, you’re quite deserving, Molly,” Katherine somehow managed to get out without biting her tongue.
Gerald returned with Katherine’s purse and without hesitation she retrieved a fold of bills clipped together as if prearranged. Then leaning in, she pressed the fold into Molly’s palm and with a wink-and-a-nod whispered in her ear. “Just don’t bring your boyfriend back here. You know I do not allow that sort of thing under my roof. Understood?"
“You can be a’countin’ on it, ma’am.” She stuffed the fold of bills down the canyon dividing those twin 36 double D’s, beamed a thousand watt smile and that was that. A moment later she made a dash for the door, leaving in her wake her melancholy son and an employer who was just as happy to see her go as she would have been happy to see her dead!
Katherine made her way to the window and peered out waiting for Molly to make her way through the gate and into the street to hail a cab. A few moments later Rose followed on her way home. She lived in a tenement only a short walk way, and given her age and the nature of her work she would not be returning until late afternoon to prepare the supper.
With the two ladies now gone she turned to Gerald and lifted his sullen face with the tip of her long red nail. “So, Gerald, with your mother now gone for the day I suppose you’ll be doing her work?”
“Of course, you do know the rules of the house,” Katherine followed as if from a script. One she had read to the boy many times before. “They hold for your mother as they do for you or poor Rose. Though it’s hardly her fault she’s too old to stand on her feet all day long. The poor woman has to strap herself into those boots in the morning and doesn’t dare remove them for fear of the swelling, and she’s no use to me with lame hoofed feet.”
“Fine, then after lunch I will expect you to fetch your mother’s apron and duster. Now come along.”
Katherine plucked the carnation from the vase, took up his hand and negotiated the way toward the base of the stairs. They made their way up the long flight and down the long upstairs hallway toward the room where Katherine spent her mornings. Outside the door there was a single straight back chair. She handed him the carnation and asked him to sit and to knock if she were needed. Then taking her keys she unlocked the door and entered, again locking the door behind.
Scene III: The Cab Ride
“Hot dog, if it ain’t my ol’friend, Molly! Fancy us meeting up,” beamed the cabbie flashing his gold capped tooth. He was turned around facing the rear seat watching Molly slip into his cab. The sight of her preponderant bosom and shapely legs was something he wouldn’t have missed for the world. They didn’t call her ‘Good-Time Molly’ for nothing.
“Hey, Romano, seems you be campin’ outside my door,” Molly laughed and Romano grinned in that detached sort of way he always did. Looking like some dreamy eyed Romeo imagining himself playing a little back seat bingo with the girl. Molly rather fancied the look. With a pack of camels rolled up in the sleeve and the duck-tail at the end of his slick back pompadour, he looked like a James Dean wan-a-be dressed in those infamous blue Jeans and undershirt a size to small.
“Well I think camping outside your door might be a better way to make a living with all the gallivanting you be doing. Where you headed, Tommy’s or the Niles St. Bar?”
“Niles Street. Got me a date with Mr. Daniels,” Molly managed to get out with a laugh before Romano stepped on the gas.
“Don’t forget Nick. . .” Romano cut in as he weaved in and out of traffic, “. . . and Charlie and Frank and that Fabian look-a-like fella . . . what’s his name?”
“Milton,” Molly laughed. “He’s chrome-plated, for sure. Works at the Mo’bile station on 23rd, but since he don’t get off till late I reckon its first come first serve.”
“How do you do it, Molly? Most folks have to work for a living, but you . . . you’re out gallivatin’ without a care in the world. You sure got some sugar, girl! Even better, you’ve got’em gobbling it up right out of your pretty little hand. Especially that boss of yours.”
“Naw, it ain’t like that, Romano,” she said while holding her hand up to examine her nails. “She’s a loony.”
“My boss, y’know, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, th-th-th-th-that’s all folks, loony. Crazy like . . . always be wantin’ everthin’ just so-so. Ain’t never happy bout nothin’ an’ she’s got this room she be hidin’ in for hours. Ain’t got a friend in this world, no company ever, or lookin’ to invite none either . . . that kind of crazy.
“Sounds like an eccentric old biddy.”
“Yeah,” Molly craned up her neck and pouted her lips. “Since her ol’hubby done died. Now she’s just an ol’black wid’ah all alone in her web. A rich one too!”
“You don’t say. Well, I kind’a figured with the name Melvin Kline the third still tacked to the front gate. The more of them numbers you got after your name the more it smells like old money to me.”
“Yeseree-bob, an’ she be keepin’ oodles of money in that office of hers too.” Molly added, still working on that gum. “Seen it myself and it ain’t even locked up or nothin’!”
“Is that so,” Romano peered back at her through the rear view mirror showing an active interest in what she had just said. Romano wasn’t one for paying much attention to the traffic laws as he zoomed in and out, but he was plenty attentive when it came to discussing opportunities like that.
“You know, a lady all alone like that should be more careful. Not every fella has got them same scruples as me. Know what I mean?”
“Ah-hu, would be easy as pie too,” Molly churned out a small pink bubble. “I reckon he could plonk her on the head while he’s at it. Wouldn’t bother me none,” she summed up her point with a pop of her gum.
“Down girl!” snapped Romano, but he wasn’t so sure speaking up was the smartest thing to do. You could never tell with Molly. Her mood and her opinions were subject to change more or less like the wind, making her a very hard read. “It ain’t right to be wishing that on nobody. Besides, I’ve picked her up plenty of time and she don’t seem so loony to me. Plenty nice and always got a big tip too.”
“Well, she is, I ain’t lyin’!” Molly replied, her childish pout turning from playful to disgruntled.
Romano would have liked to pry her for more details on the setup. The thought of all that unguarded money just sitting around was an intriguing proposition. On the other hand he was also a smart man and he knew the least said the better. In matters like these, it’s one thing to hear the deal and quite another to show you’ve an interest. So he changed the subject.
“Well maybe she just likes my looks. What’cha think, Molly?” Romano looked back over his shoulder, pointed down toward his crotch and beamed his gold plated smile. “Think she might have a hankering for some of this fine Brooklyn Kielbasa?”
“Hey, be watchin’ where you’re going!” Molly shouted out the alarm.”
“Oh, yeah, well,” Romano turned back around just in time to avoid an imminent collision with a delivery van. “Sorry ‘bout that. So, what yeah think? Think she be wantin’ to sample some of this here fine Polish cuisine?”
“Nah, uh-uh, not that wrinkly ol’prune.”
“Well I guess being all alone can do things to yah. You know, having no one but yourself in that big ol’house can play tricks on the mind. Still she’s gotta be a generous ol’biddy to open the cage door to let the bird fly free.”
“Nope, ain’t like that either,” she followed, now with a compact in hand searching for traces of gum stuck to her lips. “She’s lucky to be havin’ me and she be knowin’ it. I work when I be wantin’, if I be wantin’, an’ the money is mine. My mama done give it to me when she died.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that, Molly,” Romano replied, then redacted himself fearing his expression of sympathy might be misconstrued, “. . . I mean, sorry about your mom, not the money.”
A moment later he pulled his Checkered Cab up to the curb that fronted a dingy brown building. In front, a small neon cocktail glass and a sign that read Niles Street Bar. “Hey, Molly, I get off at 5. Think you might still be around if I stop by?”
Molly handed him 2 dollars plus a quarter tip and stepped out the driver’s side. Romano rolled down the window and leaned out eager as a cat ready to pounce on a saucer of milk.
“D’pends, Romano,” she said with a flirtatious swish of her hips, “. . . if Romano wants ta be naughty or just nice.”
He left his cab in park long enough to watch Molly skip across the sidewalk and enter. She was eager, anyone could see that, and even before the twin oak wood doors swung closed behind, she was swept up off her feet and flung in mid-air by a man with a pool cue still clutched in his hands.
Scene IV: Hillbilly Laureate.
Back at home Gerald sat patiently awaited Katherine’s return. Supposedly he was there to insure she wasn’t disturbed. At least that’s what she had told him. Although with nothing more than the occasional marauding fly to worry about he didn’t see much need of that. If anything it seemed as though she just wanted him out of the way, yet close enough to keep an eye on him. Sort of like a teacher making a kid sit outside a classroom door.
Or so he imagined, because in actual fact, he hadn’t really spent all that much time in school. Although that wasn’t what his mother had told Katherine; “Yes, Ma’am, he’s near 18 an’ one of them high school grad-u-ates!” She lied!
That was last year when Molly came looking for employment. She said it with a ton of conviction too. Endeavoring to conceal the fact he was actually just 16 and hadn’t been past the 8th grade. Not that Katherine or any person of sound judgment could be that gullible. She had in fact a very discerning and knowledgeable eye. A very low tolerance for chicanery too, and had thrown out many for less. She would have done the same to Molly, if there hadn’t been something about the boy.
“Hmm, you’re near eighteen, a graduate and you’ve yet to steal some poor girl’s heart? My, but that does show initiative.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Molly answered for him. “I know he don’t shave none an’ got soft hands, but he don’t be takin’ after no girl’s, ‘cept his mama.”
“An’ he’s oodles sweet an’ smart an’ he’s wantin’ ta please, ain’t that right Sugar Plum?” His mother tried to sound reassuring.
Not that there was anything unusual about any of this. Where he came from boys entered adult life earlier than most. Boys his age already had families of their own and worked long hours on hard physical jobs. Tending to the family farm or doing what work they could for the only business in town, the Rayburn Mine. Where it was said, “the black-soot of the hobgoblin consumes men and spit out their bones” in a ghastly cave just north of town.
Fortunately that wasn’t in the cards for Gerald. That coal-mining town was too small for Molly and just as soon as she could get out of town she made a sprint for the big city, her sixteen year old son in tow. A big up-tick in the social climate for his mother, but the uprooting made little difference for Gerald. Instead of his grandma, he now had Katherine’s hand to hold. Plus he still had to be there for his mom when she decided to come home, usually too inebriated to manage on her own.
It might not sound like much, but it wasn’t paradise back home either. The backwoods town he came from was a very tough place. As his mom liked to remind him: “If them folks had teeth they’d be tougher then them be’ars.” She’d joke, but she was right, and he knew it. It was a scary place, especially for a kid who by popular consensus would’ve looked better in lipstick than Gretel McCracken — the perennial belle of the Harvest Dance.
Though, thankfully, he was graced with some survival skills. He was fast on his feet. Small blessing perhaps, but hey! When you’re wiry as a fence post a guy has to go with whatever he’s got to cover his butt, otherwise the bigger kids will be covering it for you.
“Hey, Twerp, slow the f*** down!” What more incentive did he need? “Else you be gettin’ it good!” Well now, that’ll provide some getup n’ go.
Which it did, you know, quick as a flash he’d dart off across the fields hoping at best to outlast them, or if he was lucky, they found interest in something else. Like scaring the shit out of the hens in old man Hick’s chicken coup just out of range of the buck shot. Although not always. Sometimes the chase lasted until he reached his doorstep where defended by his mom she’d send them scurrying away with a word or two about their “limp dick” relatives.
She was never one to mince her words. Not with the boys, their ingrate fathers nor her own son.
“You don’t take none after your papa,” she seemed quite sure. Although not quite as sure about what gene pool he could have emerged from. “I think you was meant to be a girl, Pea’ches, ‘cause there ain’t no man I ever saw as girlie as you.”
That was his mom. Not the brightest firefly in the jar, but for all her shortcomings he knew where her heart was. Well, in general terms anyway. Leastwise enough to know she was only trying to help as best she knew how. So it wasn’t asking much of him to sit and wait outside that room holding his ground against the occasional marauding fly. Besides, as Molly liked to say, “Its good paying work, an’ plenty better than that nasty ol’mine.”
The room that Katherine liked to lock herself away in supposedly belonged to her daughter, Amelia. That’s what Rosie had told Molly because that’s what Katherine had told Rose, or supposedly so. At least that’s what he thought he heard in the kitchen when he and his mother were on break and Rose was busy scrubbing her pots and pans. Of course Rose was never much for small talk. Especially when bent over a hot sink as she was when Molly began pestering her for the details.
“The room is just like Amelia done left it two years ago, ain’t that right, Rosie?”
“Don’t be askin’ me!” Rose finally came alive, rising up from her sink to wipe away the perspiration from her brow.
“That ways when she comes home from that fancy finishin’ school everythin’ will be just like she done left it. Right, Rosie?”
“Like I said,” Rose turned about in a huff, “don’t be askin’ me! I ain’t got wings and I’m too old to be climbing a ladder to peek in some upstairs window.”
“Jiminy, Rosie!” Molly laughed. “Do yah mean Rosie done lost her feathers too?”
Rose wasn’t laughing. “Yes!” She menaced, waving the frying pan she had been scrubbing in Molly’s direction. “I’m an old bird, but I still got my claws so watch your sass, girl.”
“Golly, Rosie, I was just teasin’.”
“Well . . .” Rose relented, “Katherine has all but said as much, though I haven’t seen it myself with my own eyes. I suppose she’ll tell me for certain when she’s ready.”
“You see, Pea’ches, she’s just be rememberin’ her daughter, that’s all,” she sounded quite sure.
Then again, nobody knew exactly what was true and what wasn’t. Rose was just as slow on the details as Katherine was in passing them on. For all Gerald knew she could have had a dead body stashed away in there. The only thing certain was that no one was allowed in the room and the mystery permeated through everyone and everything in that grand Brooklyn home. Especially Gerald, but then he was just the houseboy and as Molly frequently reminded him, it came with the territory.
“Don’t be snoopin’ none ‘cause her business be her business.”
“I ain’t ma.”
“That’s my Pea’ches. Just don’t be payin’ that room no mind. Lessen you be seein’ ghosts or hobgoblins or somethin’ walkin’ round.” Molly cajoled and Gerald laughed as she walked in a circle like a zombie, stiff-legged and her arms stretched out.
“If it be scarin’ yah, just tell Rosie an’ she’ll giv’um a good whack with her fryin’ pan.”
Consoling words. It was like adding fuel to his already smoldering imagination. Not unlike those notions of dead bodies that occasionally occupied his thoughts. Or those of the hobgoblin his mother had said lay in wait for him back home. While at other times he thought of nothing more than that carnation he had been asked to hold. Katherine had said it had “the bloom of my daughter’s cheeks, the fragrance of her hair and the beauty of her smile.”
What Molly had said! What Katherine had said! The two diverging thoughts were as different as the two women who owned them. One was hedged with trepidation and laced with images of dead bodies that chilled him to the bone. The other was a pleasant, wistful thought, comparing her love with the beauty of a flower. He wondered what it would be like to know love like that.
He was lost in that thought with his eyes closed and head resting back against the wall when Katherine reemerged, relocked the door and picked up the carnation.
“Very well, Gerald. Have I found you sleeping, young man?” She asked, only it was uttered in a voice a bit more distant than usual, as if distracted by her thoughts. An aspect of her that emerged whenever she stepped out of that room, something she didn’t share with others, but reserved for him alone.
“I think I’ve caught you in a little white lie, but you needn’t feel ashamed. My Amelia liked to take a nap after lunch. She liked to curl up on my lap and I’d sing her a lullaby.”
“Would you like that?” she asked, again sounding as if championing his cause, and again with that same detached voice.
“Pardon, ma’am, but I’m ready to work if you be wantin’ me to.”
“That’s quite alright. Now come along and we’ll see what soup Rose has ready for lunch. Afterward you can rest a bit before you begin your mother’s chores.”
Downstairs, the carnation was returned to its vase and Gerald again seated. In the kitchen Katherine found the covered pot of soup still warm sitting on the stove, the bread, jam and tea already waiting on the cart. Katherine finished putting the meal together then poured a little something from her painful past into his afternoon tea before wheeling the cart out.
After the jam had been spread on his bread and his bowl filled with the soup, she withdrew a bib from the drawer of a nearby buffet. Promptly she tucked that bib into the collar of his white linen shirt, while Gerald, accustom to the babying held his chin high.
Keep in mind this wasn’t the same resolute woman who served up the morning meal. This was the wistful, yearning woman decidedly more removed, though equally meticulous as she fastened that child’s bib about his neck — and, albeit not the same, as securely as a hangman would fasten a noose. When snug fit she pulled up a chair and sat down beside him.
Now Katherine didn’t partake in the meal. She never did, but it was important for a growing boy to get a proper meal. Or so she explained as she draped one hand about his waist and with the other, picked up the soup spoon to insure he did. While Gerald, seemingly lost in his revere sat patiently waiting for the trap door to open up beneath his feet.
Well, not really! The poor choice of metaphors aside, there really wasn’t much of a trap door there. At least one that Gerald wouldn’t mind falling through. If he had any reason to fear the floor opening up beneath his feet it would have been that none of this would be here for him tomorrow. Of course he hadn’t always felt that way.
Nope, in fact he didn’t feel comfortable about it at all, at least not at first. Although you have to wonder why since his grandma and mom did the same. You know, treating him like a little boy when he wasn’t, and they knew it, but did it anyway because that’s just what grandmas and moms are supposed to do. Only Katherine wasn’t family and he worried she might be doing it just to poke fun of him, or something.
Over time however that slowly began to change. That is once he began to realize it was just in her nature. It was just the person she was. Now whenever they were together the moment generated an energy all its own. Especially when alone with her, when he felt like straw close-in to the fire ready to explode with a wisp of her breath.
It wasn’t easy keeping those kinds of feelings hidden. Not from the keen eyes of Katherine nor his own mother when she happened to be in the same room. As she often was, standing at her place behind Katherine and always with that same inscrutable smile. A smile that was no more helpful than the tortured opinions she was occasionally known to cough up.
“Don’t be frettin’ none. She just thinks kids is s’posed to be babied,” was the usual refrain. “Just let the eccentric ol’biddy have her peace of mind.”
“’Sides, there ain’t no harm in it. Same as grandma be doin’. You’re just a sweet lil’baby to grandma too,” she’d tease, pinch his cheek and offer up a “coochie-choochie-coo.”
“Ain’t no different, Sugar Plum.” Then she’d step back, wag her finger and offer up in a more solemn tone, “’Sides, its good payin’ work!”
That too was his mother, the hillbilly laureate, his wellspring of wisdom. Nonetheless, with or without her help he eventually began to feel quite differently about it all. Now it felt as warm to him as the mouthfuls of soup she spooned out.
A rather unusual accommodation, some might think. The world is nothing less than long on opinions. As was his mom. Yet even as simplistic and self-servicing as her logic tended to be, Gerald found it hard to disagree. “B’sides, it’s plenty better then that nasty ol’mine.”
Which by chance, happened to be absolutely true. So he was quite willing to follow her script at the dinning room table. Just as he did while he sat out the hours outside that room. Or when she prompted him to “open wide,” or while she led him about by the hand.
It seemed the least he could do for this woman who was so different from his mom. One woman was caring, sensitive to his needs, while the other was an unfinished product and not likely to be anytime soon. Worst of all he saw no hope in his mother’s eyes. At least not with the same promise he saw in Katherine’s.
So after lunch he’d curl up with his eyes shut, his head on her lap. Katherine in turn would hum her melody, while he, alone in his warm, coddled, babified world would try to sort through his feelings. Uncertain about most, but quite certain about how special her attention made him feel.
Oh True, even a backwoods country boy knew this wasn’t the way normal folks conducted themselves. Not here in this fashionable Brooklyn neighborhood. Not in the Virginia foothills. Still, that didn’t diminish his feelings for her. She was a titanic force in his life, one he didn’t mind reckoning with or going the extra half-measure just to please.
Of course neither he nor his mother nor Rose really knew the whole truth about Katherine. That she kept carefully locked away. Buried beneath the great pain she suffered from all the years of torment in trying to conceive a child. The blame and the guilt she bore. The efforts and all she had to endure with the doctors and untried fertility treatments that had left her physically and mentally ravaged by the effects to this day, but barren nonetheless.
Now with her husband gone, she had nothing more to show for it. Except for the scares, that one room upstairs and the countless bottles of fertility serums still unused. That was Katherine’s legacy now: A lifetime of hope that once burned like a fire had grown cold, and Gerald, with a spark in his eyes that in some odd rekindle it.
Scene V: A Lioness in her Prime
Molly lay sprawled out on top the covers. Her nude form flushed a rose pink, blotched with red and covered in sweat from head to toe. “Must be the liquor,” she thought to herself as she fought to sit up. Although from the way she felt she knew that wasn’t the whole truth of it.
The toilet in the next room flushed and Charlie emerged. Naked, the hefty length of him swung like a pendulum matching the sway in his stride. Molly smiled as he approached and then jumped on top of her crushing the air from her lungs. She clutched his face in her palms, kissed him with a passion and again felt him wanting still more of her. It was going to be a long night.
By Saturday night, Charlie had had enough. He sat up on the bed, his jeans on, his chest bare and his last can of beer in his hand. “I’m going to head out and get some more brew kid.”
“A bottle of Jack,” Molly uttered with a gravelly whisper. Her face was buried beneath the elbow she had draped over her eyes.
“Jesus, Molly, you’re a lush if I ever saw one. Don’t you ever get enough?”
Molly leaned up on her elbows in a flash, now looking alert, like a lioness with her ears back sniffing the air for trouble. “What’s the bother, Charlie? Fraid yah ain’t man enough for me?”
“Man enough,” Charlie slapped his thigh a bit put out. “Damn it, you’ve driven this rig the distance already and I need a fill up.”
“A rig, is that what you be callin’ that thing you be haulin’?” Molly continued, as if circling to probe for weaknesses in the injured animal.
“Yeah, I ain’t been hearin’ no complaints.”
“I’ve been kind,” the lioness tightened her circle, sensing a kill. “I should’a just packed it in when I saw you was drivin’ one of them cheap foreign imports.”
“Damn, girl, what you be needin’ is a Mac truck with a trail hitch. To haul your little ass back home to your Papa to see if he can tighten your ass up.”
“You swine!” Our lioness pounced on the limp prey, going for the kill.
“I ain’t got no Papa . . . no mamma either! I don’t be needin’ no tightenin’ up either, lil’boy. What I be needin’ is a real man, someone who be appreciatin’ a good woman.”
Molly wasted little more of her time. In less time than it took to write it down on this page, she had picked herself up, dressed and made a dash for the door. This was a lioness in her prime, her mouth still dripping with fresh blood, the man’s testicles nowhere to be seen.
An instant later the door slammed with such a force Charlie thought the walls were about to collapse in on him. Whether fearing he might be crushed in the collapse of the ceiling, or just now realized he didn’t want the girl to leave, he jumped up and ran to the door. Opening it he yelled out at the figure still within his sight. “Molly, you know I love you girl.” It was a heartfelt plea, yet even he knew it was too late and too bad for Charlie.
She was a pretty girl with a taste for Jack and a taste for his two legged brethren as she rolled back into the Niles Street Bar. She had an insatiable thirst in her heart, no question about that, and when she spotted Milton the lioness again advanced for the attack. A meal she really looked forward to, and said so from the get-go. An hour later she was in yet another man’s bed, her bottle of Jack in her hands, a new lover on the advance.
Scene VI: Queen of the Nile
Molly quietly entered the back gate and then the flat she shared with her son in the basement of Katherine’s home. She threw her things on top of her bed, noticing Gerald’s bed was still as tightly made as she had left it. He had not slept there, but she could have expected as much.
Not that she was uncomfortable with that. It was safer that way and she knew her Gerald would have been well taken care of. He was a young man now. Not completely of age, but too old to still be tied to the strings of her apron. So she quickly showered, dressed in a more modest uniform and headed upstairs to work.
Monday morning, 8 A.M, and Molly was right on time. She was still as refined as raw sugar, but at least she was wearing a knee-length skirt and heels with a more modest rake. She looked quite presentable and ready for work. Well, leastwise the mirror seemed to agree.
“Mornin’ Rosie,” Molly said with a bit less zip in her step. She was obviously still hazy from the night before. The instant transition from Queen of the Nile to common household maid had her in a fog. Not fully in touch with herself or aware of her son standing behind her just a few feet away.
Rosie looked up from her work at the stove. She was standing in exactly the same place she always stood. The black marks on the linoleum outlining the spot. “Morning Molly, I see you’ve taken my advice.”
“Oh, Rosie, y’know I always be listenin’ to yah,” Molly came up from behind to give her a hug. Then with her lips nuzzling her ear, “You’re like my mama, an’ I always be listenin’ to the good heart of my mama.”
“I see,” Rose tried not to show her usual skepticism. “Then I suppose that means you got your fill this weekend?”
“Nah, uh-uh,” Molly rose up and laughed. “I just said to myself maybe I oughta put in some work round here. Straighten up some, y’know. Only I can’t be rememberin’ where I done put my apron. I would’a swore it was b’side my bed.”
“Why don’t you ask your son?”
“Pea’ches? Oh, yeah . . . seen him this mornin’, Rosie?”
“Well, you might ask that fancy thing standing right behind you. I suspect he might know.”
Molly spun round and saw him wearing her apron. “Is that you, Pea’ches?” she laughed though she knew right off she shouldn’t have. Not at his expense anyway. Then again, seeing him wearing her wrap-around apron framed quite the picture. The fancy ruffles and lace draped nearly to his knees.
Other than a hint of a blush, he seemed to be taking it all in stride. As if it was an everyday sort of thing that came with the job. Which it did, only her job not his. Still she saw nothing wrong-headed about it. After all, in her absence he was expected to perform the same duties. Only she’d never seen him wearing it before so she wondered, “why now?”
Whatever the reason it looked as though he’d filled in for her quite nicely. That was reassuring, as was the sight of him smiling back. So instead of asking, she posed, flamboyantly with one hand on her bent hip and the other hand draped out with a sassy limp wrist. “Ugh-la-la, Mademoiselle, Gerald! May I have this dance?”
Even Rose had to laugh, and caught up in the merriment Molly once again began snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet, advancing toward the slue-foot boy. “Oh, the shark has, pretty teeth, dear . . .”
With flair she scooped him up and began to bop. The apron billowed as mother and son whipped about like spindrift over a frenzied winter’s sea. Neither skirt quite in sync as they took flight. Limbs going one way, hair scattered in another, bedlam ruling over order. While at the same time it looked as though both were having the time of their lives.
Rose said nothing. Instead she began setting up the breakfast cart knowing she’d probably end up doing it herself regardless. Finishing not a moment too soon as Katherine made her appearance. The play came to a stop, Rose gave a curtsy and Molly struggled to reinsert the bobby pins that had fallen out of her bun. “Morning ma’am,” the trio followed in unison.
“Morning Rose . . . Molly. Is breakfast ready?”
“Yes ma’am,” Rose followed.
Katherine looked toward Molly. The tangled mess of her hair was only out done by the dark rings of discoloration under her eyes. Something Molly had tried hard to hide beneath the thick coat of make-up. Signs of overindulgence and a lack of sleep that had been obvious even to her.
With a sigh, Molly gave up on the effort to rebind her hair then lowered her head and tried to sound contrite. “Ma’am, my son seems to be in p’session of my apron.”
Katherine turned away so as not to show the contempt she felt for this half-wit girl and undeserving mother. Her reckless abandon, her cavalier attitude toward work and her responsibilities as a mother composed a picture of a girl on self-destruct. “But that is no concern of mine,” she seethed. “All I need to do is provide the rope and the gallows. Then stand by to watch the girl hang herself.”
“It’s not a matter, Molly,” she finally replied in hopes of clearing the air. Then once again she took hold of Gerald’s hand and turned toward the dinning room door. “Well . . . Gerald, Molly, come along. Breakfast grows cold.” Cold, but not nearly as biting as the contempt that lurked beneath her smile. A moment later she was helping Gerald to his seat while Molly followed closely behind with the breakfast cart in tow.
Again, both the meal and all the preparation followed the form Katherine expected. It was also another quiet affair, and when done, she rose to give Molly her morning instructions. Only this time matters took a decidedly different turn.
“Molly, I know how difficult it must be for a young attractive girl such as yourself to have to give so much to your work and your family. Somehow there just doesn’t seem to be one once of fairness in this world. You are deserving of so much more.”
“Take your apron as an example,” she continued while Molly looked puzzled, uncertain as to where this might be leading. “You could have asked your son to give it back, but you didn’t, because you put his interest first, irregardless of what was best for you. That kind of sacrifice is highly commendable and should not go unrewarded. You truly are a wonderful mother and a marvelous employee. You deserve better, so I’m going to help you do better. That is, if you will allow me.”
“Gerald, would you be a dear and go to my bedroom and fetch my purse,” Katherine asked Gerald, but her sights remained locked-in on Molly. “You’ll find it on the chair, where you last set your mother’s cap and her pumps.” Ka-boom!
Now to be fair, Molly hadn’t noticed the pumps were missing. With a closet full it would have been hard to do so, especially in a rush. Nevertheless, if Katherine was looking for the knock out blow this clearly wasn’t it. Not with the thought of that money and the prospects of yet another night on the town looming on the near horizon.
Of course Molly had no way of knowing what was really going on, but even if Gerald had been coaxed into her heels he wasn’t exactly crying out for intervention. As she saw it, “if he don’t be likin’ it he can just say so.” He was certainly capable of that, right?
“Besides,” she liked to tell herself, “he oughta be used’ta it by now. Same as his grandma be doin’. He’s just a sweet li’baby to grandma too.” “Ain’t no harm in it,” she was all too willing to dismiss.
Instead her smile went into near supernova over the prospects for yet another night out with Charley, Jack (hold the ice) and her own pair of shoes. Lovely those pumps were too. Perfect shoes for a day cruise at the Nile. Something that gave her an extra spring in her step once she again had that nice fold of cash clutched in her hands.
Those elegant shoes provided for a quick exit too. She didn’t even stop to change her clothes or say good-bye, good luck, or good-riddance to her son. With a devil-might-care grin on her face she only gave time to Rose, pausing but a moment as she flung herself out the door. “Be Seein’ yah in a few, Rosie. Now don’t yah be keepin’ no lights on, y’hear.”
Like a queen of old and of new, she sailed off into the streets, her desert oasis. Off to enjoy a cruise down at the Nile. Inside the house Katherine stood by the window watching her depart. She was simmering on low heat.
On the table a stainless steel carving knife mirrored the morning light that pierced through the pane casting its wraith-like silhouette across her face. Watching Molly depart, her hatred festered and the wheels of justice spun madly, insanely out of control inside her head. Justice! Not the law that stood in her way.
She turned away from the window and looked at Gerald then at the knife she had used to cut the morning ham. “Yes, the girl is going to get her due, soon enough!” Katherine hissed between clenched teeth. Then as if with a vengeance, she gripped the knife in her fist and stormed out of the room to return it to the kitchen.
Three months later . . .
February 3, 1961
Scene VII: Willie McGee
It was cold out and a light dusting of snow covered the ground that had fallen over the course of the night. Rose sat at the kitchen table drinking a warm cup of tea resting her tired feet. Beside her was the morning paper. Always a bearer of bad news, and more bad news was the last thing she needed at the moment. She could only hope for the better, but when she read the headlines it couldn’t have been worse.
That morning Katherine had greeted her with the first bit of bad news. Molly and Gerald had left. Molly had quit her job. Where they had gone no body knew. They just walked off and vanished into the night. That alone was bad enough, and now this. The large bold print read there had been a ghastly murder committed in her neighborhood. The body of a beautiful young woman had been dumped in the gutter close to Slade Street and not far from her door.
As the story read, the unidentified victim had been stabbed through the heart. The police hadn’t even a tentative ID. It could have been a missing prostitute last seen working the seedy lower west-side of Manhattan, but nobody was certain. The only clues were her make-up and her dress. From her clothes they suspected she was either a tawdry lady out for a night on the town, or perhaps someone who was herself involved in the nefarious underworld of crime.
According to a gentleman who lived close by it had been a very quiet night. He had been looking out his window waiting up for his daughter who hadn’t as yet returned home from a late night date. It had been snowing and there had been very little traffic other than the occasional taxi. One in particular he thought was looking for an address. A Checkered Cab that had passed by slowly, traveling in starts and stops before it finally sped off.
The whole matter had Rose in a spin. She felt such sorrow for the girl and worried about Molly too. Of course Molly was not alone. She had Gerald with her and she found that reassuring. Surely with her son at her side nothing like this could happen to her.
She also worried about Katherine. She wondered how she would do without them. She felt certain Katherine would soon find a replacement. While in the intermediate time she’d have to do whatever she could to help out. That meant only one thing to her. For the next several weeks her poor feet would be screaming at her the whole night long. All the same it was something she would do to help the woman who had been so good to her.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the kitchen door. It was Mr. McGee, Katherine’s gardener, working in the cold of winter just as he did in the heat and the humidity of a Brooklyn summer. He wore a thick fleece coat under his wet weather slick making the man look a few sizes larger than he already was. He also wore a rather large smile and had an even larger rhubarb pie in his hands.
“Fresh made by the Misses,” Willie proudly proclaimed. “For Mrs. Katherine, and the Misses says to be sure to tell Rosie to help herself to a big piece too.” In his mid-40’s he was a powerfully built man sized like a heavyweight with the broad nose of a boxer and hands hard and leathery almost as large as the 9 inch pie.
“Why thank you, I’ll be sure to pass along your wife’s message, Willie.” She felt taken by the kind gesture, gently caressing his hands in hers before relieving him of the pie. “Wait one moment, Willie. I have something for you as well.”
Rose set the pie on the table then returned with an envelope. It was his pay, and it was her job to deliver it. The same way all matters between Katherine and Willie were handled. Actually Katherine never even spoke to him, nor did she venture into the backyard while Willie was there.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like him or speak highly of him as rightly she should. She knew she wouldn’t have the finest garden in all of Brooklyn without the man with the green thumb. It was just the way Katherine divided up her world to insure the one thing she treasured most: Her privacy.
Something she fiercely guarded, even in her dealing with Rose. There too she had constructed this sort of minimalist “no fraternizing with the employees” wall of privacy that everyone took great care not to breach. Engaging their daily work guided by this unwritten law. An unwritten law that not only kept Katherine from venturing out into the yard, but also kept Rose from venturing out of her kitchen and Willie left alone in his garden.
“The Misses and me be thanking you, Miss Rose,” he replied as he maneuvered through the layers of winter wear to tuck the envelope in his back pocket. In the process a stainless steel carving knife slipped from a side pocket and fall to his feet.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, ma’am,” he muttered then stooped down in that overly apologetic, overly anxious way of a man suddenly caught with his zipper down. “Be needin’ it to cut me some slips from the rose bushes this mornin’.”
“Yes, but you need be more careful, Willie. It nearly stuck your foot.”
“Yes ma’am, nearly did,” Willie sheepishly muttered, “and it’s plenty sharp too. Could’ah cut me clean through easy enough.”
Quickly he put the knife back into his pocket along with the envelope without bothering to count it. Though there was never a need. Katherine always paid a generous amount, always more than what was expected and always in cash. More than most black man in his field of work could earn in two jobs.
“Oh, and please tell Mrs. Katherine if she be needin’ anything, any help at all, ‘her Willie’ is here to help. Now you be sure to tell her, hear?”
“Her Willie!” She wasn’t sure if he had meant it quite the way it sounded, but it was a very kind overture coming from a very kind man. He was not just an employee. He was a loyal and trustworthy man who didn’t mind braving the elements to protect the plants from the cold. Just as the man would have gladly sown his own blood if either his garden or Katherine were in need.
“I’ll be sure to tell Mrs. Kline, Willie. By the way, why are you working on a day like this? There couldn’t be anything so important it couldn’t wait.”
“No Ma’am, you’re wrong there. I got some pots to oil up and set out on account of the freeze. I gotta clean the snow off the plastic covering and I got me them slips to cut too. Only don’t go worrying about me none. I’m going to light me up one of those pots and put it in the tool shed to keep me nice and warm.”
“Well, don’t you be working too long in the cold.” Willie nodded then turned to descend the stairs.
It was a slow descent, not handled easily like a man in his prime. His hobbled knees showed the signs of a life of hard work. Out in the garden she had often seen him struggle as if in great pain just to get up from his hands and his knees. Yet she knew this man meant every word he had said, and the fact that this man could yet be so giving could only mean one thing. Maybe everything wasn’t so bad after all. With or without Molly and Gerald, Katherine would manage just fine.
Eight months later . . .
September 1, 1961
Scene I: Detective Murphy
Charlie sat on a bench outside Detective Murphy’s office waiting patiently. He had been instructed to wait, which he did amidst the clatter of typewriters and policemen milling about. Although no one in the busy place seemed to pay him much notice. One fellow in a white shirt and tie had inadvertently tripped over his extended legs. One or two others asked what he was doing there while others just sneered in passing. Otherwise he was left to his own. Just another schmuck sitting in Temple Street Station during the morning shift change, and at the moment, he was feeling a bit out of his comfort zone.
He had already been sitting for an hour and was about to give up the wait when he spotted a guy walking toward the office who looked important and very much in his comfort zone. The kind of guy others walked around, not through as they walked down the hall. Except for one passer-by who couldn’t resist a playful jab to the gut along with the usual glib remark, “Hey Spike, bout time you showed for work”
That’s what he called him, “Spike.” To Charlie, he looked like a Spike too. It wasn’t as though Charlie himself wasn’t a big man. He had a noted mean streak and not many ventured to press him for a hard time. It was the fact that he was in a police station, where everyone strolled by in nicely pressed uniforms or dress-coat and tie, except Jack Murphy. He was unshaven, he wore no coat or tie and his shirt tail hung out behind.
“Now that’s a Spike,” he through to himself, “A man who danced to his own tune, and from his willful look, one quite use to getting his man.”
“Detective Murphy?” Charlie asked as he stood up and placed himself between the detective and the office door he wanted to enter.
“Yeah, least that’s what my psychiatrist keeps telling me.”
“Good Morning, Detective Murphy. I got me a little concern here. Something I thought you might be able to help me with.”
Jack looked him up and down before responding, as if sizing him up. From the look of his navy blue work trousers and his first mates cap he thought he could get away with a snub. “I’m busy, go see the desk clerk.”
Of course, Charlie had been around the block once or twice, and had dealt with his share of policeman. He knew to be respectful, but he put on his pants the same way and wasn’t about to hear it. “It’s important, Detective, real important!”
Jack looked him in the eye. Then as if afraid to show weakness he continued his way partially through, and partially around the bigger man as he said to Charlie, “Yeah, okay. Come in, we’ll talk.”
Stepping into his office, Jack was immediately descended upon by his new assistant, a rookie cop fresh out of the academy. The rookie had only recently been assigned to him until the department could arrange for the transfer of a qualified officer. “Detective Murphy, I got those reports you asked for. I’ve put them on your desk. You also got a call from a Mrs. Gretchen Heller. She asked for you to call her back when you get in.”
“Yeah, okay, Cee-cil,” Jack mocked the name. Damn, how he hated to ever say it. No matter how he cut it, Cecil Benover just wasn’t a respectable cop’s name and he couldn’t wait to get rid of the kid. “Now, why don’t you run along and show me how well you learned to fetch coffee at the academy,” he followed up with a contemptuous sneer as he waved Cecil off. Then taking a seat behind his desk, he motioned toward Charlie. “Come have a seat, mister . . . mister?”
“Claiborne, Charlie Claiborne.”
“Okay, mister Clay-born, what’s on your mind?”
“That’s Clai-borne, and I’ve a missing person to report.”
Jack exhaled a sigh of exasperation, believing himself right about Charlie from the start. “Look dumb ass, you file a missing persons report at the front desk, but only after waiting 30 days, and only if it ain’t your wife, ‘cause I’m too damn busy to be looking for your old lady who’s probably run off with some other guy. Now if you’ll excuse me . . .”
“Ah, I ain’t trying to be rude or nothin’, but that would be a friend who is missing, not my wife, and it’s been 8 months. She disappeared leaving behind everything untouched, handbag and all.”
“Yeah, okay, I’m listening.”
“I’m a Merchant Marine,” Charlie proudly beamed. “I work me 8 months straight then I get me 4 months off. You see, that’s how it is in my line of work.” Charley followed as he removed, then held out his gnarled blue seamen’s cap to show Jack. It was as though that rag cap visibly weathered by salt and sea would somehow legitimize his claim.
“Yeah, well . . .”
“Yeah well, I’ve been crisscrossing between here and Osaka hauling them little Japanese cars for the past 8 months and because she asked me, I let her use my place while I was gone. When I got back I found her missing. Her stuff untouched, exactly how it was before I left. I’m talking everything, Mr. Murphy, her dresses, undies, jewelry, make-up, shoes; the works. Even a locket her mama gave her. Heck, even the liquor was untouched.”
“Yeah, so . . ?”
“So I’ve spent the better part of the last 3 weeks asking around, and no one’s seen hide or hair of her. I think . . . no, I know something’s up.”
“This missing person, she’s a friend who lived with you?”
“Yeah, off and on, you could say that. She lived where she worked, but she chummed up with me mostly. Anywhere else she might be I’ve checked. I asked her employer too.”
“What did her employer say?”
“Nothin’. Just that she quit. Didn’t say were she was going. No word of explanation, stuff like that.”
“Well there’yah have it! She quit! Maybe she went back with mommy and daddy. It happens everyday.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because she once told me the gold locket she wore belonged to her dearly departed mama. And she never knew her papa. That much she told me.”
“Okay, so maybe she went back home to shack up with some old boyfriend, you check on that, big fella?”
“Why not, smart guy?”
“Because she never told me where she was from. I asked her once and I was kind of sorry I bothered to ask.”
“What’d she say?”
“Ah, nothing much. Just somethin’ bout a hobgoblin back home that eats up men and spits out their bones, and . . ,” Charlie shied away unsure if he should go on.
“Yah, and . . ?”
“. . . and them kind of bones ain’t no use to me,” Charley shrugged.
Jack chuckled and sat back in his chair feeling comfortable with the guy. He saw him as an honest, hard working man who played by the rules. He was the kind of guy he could sit down and share a drink with, his girlfriend no doubt the same.
“I guess it ain’t much to go on, but I figured if she wanted me to know more she would’ve said. So I didn’t ask no more. One thing I know for certain though. She wasn’t from Brooklyn.”
“Oh, what makes you say that?”
“Her accent! It was like she just rolled out of the hills and landed here without a step between. That said to me she ain’t been here long, if you catch my meaning, Mr. Murphy.”
“Ah hu! So you’re saying you don’t even know where she’s from, this Miss . . . Miss whatever her name is?”
“No, sorry, I don’t. Like I say, she never said, but her name is Molly and she used to work as a maid for a Mrs. Kline down on Slade Street.”
“Molly? Molly who?”
“Molly I don’t know her last name.”
“Hey fella!” Jack barked a bit put out. “Whatever you’re selling I ain’t buying. I figure a man can go without knowing where a girl from, but sorry! No last name? Either you’re working for the Department of Practical Jokers ready to spring a ‘gotcha’ on me or you’re one dumb ass. Either way I ain’t buying it.”
“Detective, look, she called herself Walker. That is until the scotch ran out and I set a bottle of Jack Daniels down in front of her. From then on it was Daniels,” Charlie threw up his hands and shrugged.
“The point is I wasn’t fixin’ to marry the girl. We was just having a good time. You know, ask a lot of questions and the next thing you know she’s wanting a wedding ring. Know what I mean?”
“Jesus, you come in here looking for a girl and you don’t even know her last name, where she’s from, or exactly how long she’s been missing and you want me to go find her! Look sonny, this isn’t the lost and found and I don’t have a crystal ball. I think you need to go back home and wait it out. If you’ve not heard from her in say . . . ahmm, a year or two, come back in and see me.”
“I ain’t going to do that, Detective!” Charlie replied, leaning in and squaring his shoulders. Maybe she ain’t no Madison Avenue skirt, but where I come from a man called Spike don’t stand around and let no bad thing happen to an innocent girl just because he ain’t got the time. Besides, I heard you were the best, and the way I got it figured, you oughta be takin’ some pride in that!”
Charlie’s speech caught his attention. Why not, Jack was a compassionate guy. Just ask his cat Rosco and he’d be the first to tell you the guy was as considerate and kindhearted as they come. Heck, he still visited his mother twice a week at the rest home. Like a religion, even though she couldn’t even remember his name.
That said, he was also a detective. A man hired by the citizens of the City and Borough of Brooklyn to sift through the facts so law and order would prevail. He wasn’t paid to waste time and taxpayers dollars chasing after every broad who flew the coop. He had to have the cold hard facts no matter his feelings. That’s why the Detective in him paused long and hard, and heaved an exasperated sigh. He had nothing concrete to go on.
However another part of him who wasn’t about to let it go. Spike! The bull dog in him who’s pride was piqued. “Spike” was to Jack Murphy’s “detective” as a prize fighter was to a thug. The polar opposite forces inside the otherwise compassionate man. One was shrewd and calculating, the other believing any weapon, by any means, is fair game when at war. It was the detective in him who played by the rules of law. It was Spike who knew if you only followed the rules and played by the percentages nothing would ever get done.
Spike also knew to win at this game you had to be willing to step outside the box and take chances. That’s what made him a great cop, or so he liked to take pride. That’s also why no one ever got away with slipping one past him. Ol’Spike always got his man. 100%, and with his pride now piqued it was Spike, not the detective who finally spoke out in response. “So you’re alleging fowl play here?”
“Look Mr. Murphy, if she got another job then why leave all her stuff behind? Why ask to use my place then not show up? Why would she hide away from her friends, say nothing or leave a note? No, she ain’t the type to disappear for no reason at all. Go ask around. Ain’t no one going to look you in the eye and tell you any different.”
“Yes, but she quit her job. She was obviously planning on doing something.”
“So? That don’t mean after she got paid something bad didn’t happened.”
Jack scratched his head. He thought on it a moment then exhaled with a gust ruffling the papers strewn about his desk, “Damn, I’m probably going to regret this, but . . . Got a description?”
“Yup, wrote it all down right here for yah,” Charlie was proud to say, handing over the slip of paper.
“Don’t bother over all the miss-pellings, I ain’t no brain surgeon.”
“She depressed, have mental problems or reason to want to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge?” Jack followed as he perused the description.
“Nah, not Molly, ask around. They’ll all tell you the same thing. Molly was fun loving gal and had the world by the tail.”
“How old is she?”
“30 something, don’t know for certain. Pretty little thing though.” Charlie fidgeted and flashed a grin, but only until he picked up on the serious look on Jack’s face. “So what’cha think, detective?”
Jack was rubbing his chin deep in concentration when Cecil returned with the coffee. “Well, I ain’t makin’ no promises, but . . .”
“Your coffee, sir,” Cecil interrupted.
“Enjoy it with your jelly donuts, son.” Jack stood up, grabbed his hat and signaled for Charlie to follow. On his way out the door the detective called back to Cecil. “Call that Heller woman and tell her I’ll call back tomorrow. Then I want you to run off to the city morgue and run a check on all unidentified victims for the past 8 months. I’m looking for a girl, age 30 to 35, 5-6,-5-7 approximately 120 pounds, green eyes, brunette, birth mark high upper right thigh. Got it?”
“Sure thing, boss,” Cecil grinned in a snide way, figuring the time was right to toss back to Jack a bit of his own medicine. “So how far up do you reckon I should be lookin’ for that birth mark, Detective Murphy?”
Cecil ducked out of the way just in time as the pencil Spike throw whistled just past his head. Had it not been for his quick reflexes, the thing would have stuck him right between the eyes.
“Get on it, pecker breath!”
Scene II: Amelia’s Return
Rose had the evening meal done, the dinner cart set and she was waiting for Katherine to come in and retrieve it. That had become her new routine ever since Molly and Gerald sprang for greener pastures 8 months ago. She had tried to get Katherine to hire a replacement. She had even offered the name of a friend in dire need of work. Speaking out even louder once Amelia, her daughter returned from finishing school. Katherine however thought differently, believing they could make do without.
Not the heavy work, like the laundry and the upkeep of the floors. She still contracted out for those services, but making the beds and putting up the freshly laundered linens wasn’t asking a lot of her. Even at her age there was still much she could do. Even so, she couldn’t help but feel some resentment in the way Molly had left. Leaving Katherine high and dry with no warning, no talking it over with her.
As Katherine explained it, “She came home just after 9 and Gerald was already in bed. She said something had come up and would have to leave. So I paid her the salary due then along with Gerald she went downstairs and packed up. I didn’t even hear her leave. Not a word of explanation. Not a ‘thank you’ or ‘good-by,’ or a word about where she was going.”
That was no way to treat Katherine, not after trying so hard to accommodate the girl. Favoring her like she would her own daughter. Gerald as if he were her son. To Rose, her actions were selfish and wrong-headed, and it pained her to a degree. Although, thankfully, all that soon chanced after Amelia’s unexpected return.
It was a blessing Amelia’s return had coincided so well with Molly’s departure. The timing, if not orchestrated couldn’t have been more perfect. Katherine seemed a different person now. She smiled a lot more and was obviously very proud of her daughter. Rose felt the same, even though she actually knew so little about her.
In actual fact Rose never saw much of Amelia. She never stepped foot in the kitchen just as Rose scarcely had reason to step out of it. Rose knew much of that could be expected of course. After all, busying herself with domestic chores was hardly something for a fine young woman to do. Least not after two years of finishing school.
Most of what Rose knew about her came from an occasional brief encounter. Usually just a glimpse from the back and screened by Katherine as mother and daughter scurried about, always in the wrong direction. So close they seemed, almost inseparable. As if Amelia was still tied to her nurturing mother for sustenance.
Rose found it all rather endearing to tell the truth, even though a bit out of the norm. She was nearly a grown woman after all, and would’ve expected something more in line with one woman relating to another. She supposed Katherine had good reason to treat her daughter as she did. She was young, fresh out of finishing school and perhaps because of it, a bit vulnerable too. She might have even done the same had she a daughter of her own. In that sense she felt a bit envious of the bond Katherine shared with her daughter. It was something quite special. Something she felt she wanted to understand better.
Of course she wasn’t about to admit to that. Rose was not a busybody, or so she prided herself. Nevertheless she hadn’t even been introduced to Amelia. Not formally, not otherwise. True, she had never asked for an introduction. She just assumed one would come when Katherine was ready. Unfortunately that day never came and now she couldn’t ask. Not after 8 months had past. It would appear nothing less than foolish.
Still the “not knowing” was always on her mind. She often wished she could look further in the recesses of the house to get an unbiased view of things. An unannounced view, on her own and not under Katherine’s direction as it was now. She saw no harm in that. After all, she wasn’t looking for material to gossip to the neighbors or to do malicious harm. Just to satisfy her interest. The only question was how.
She was a strong woman, but hobbled by age she had her limits. Still, it was a big house and never far from her mind was an incident that had once happened to her. It was many years ago, but it was still as fresh in her mind as the day it happened.
She was working as a maid in a house just as large. At the time she was going through her daily routine, in one room and out another. Busy, concentrating on her work and whatever else fills the imaginings of a working girl going through the humdrum of everyday life.
Everyone in the household had left for the day, leaving her alone to manage enough work for two maids under the watchful eye of three cats and a canary fearing for its life. It all kept her quit busy. To busy to notice, and had the mailman not appeared at the most opportune time, she wouldn’t have even known he was there. The mailman had caught the burglar red-handed coming out the front door. A bag full of the families’ best silver draped over his shoulder. The mailman tackled him, Rose called the police and in the ensuing investigation it was discovered the man had been in the house in plain sight the whole while.
The man had dressed to impersonate the floor maintenance man and knew just the right time to appear. Only you would’ve had to be paying attention, because it wasn’t the day he was supposed to be there. Exactly as the robber had planned it and no one took the slightest notice. He even admitted to have been in the same room with the husband and wife. Close enough to Rose to remove the silver from the buffet drawer while she was polishing the table not 5 feet away.
While this was a bold act of crime, it was not unusual. At least that’s how the investigating officer explained it. In fact, it was a well used tact by criminals. To sneak into a home when people are involved in their active lives and don’t expect it. Without reason to hide behind curtains when the best place to hide is in plain sight. Hiding amongst us is supposedly a common tool of the trade, a trick of the mind that can place criminals close enough to reach out and touch you and you’d never even know they were there.
Her door remained locked from that moment on. It also provided an important lesson in the complexities of human nature. Showing that sometimes the simplest solution is the most obvious, but least expected. A ploy she though might have some use for her as well, without appearing out of place or deliberately nosing about. All she needed to do was to make her presence common place. Not infrequent and announced as it was now.
Obviously she had never done anything like this before, and wearing her boots it wasn’t exactly cloak and dagger. Still, she figured if she kept her distance and they heard her plodding about often enough she might well become as inconspicuous as that criminal was to her. It’d take a ton of patience and a degree of stick-to-itiveness, but she exercised both and soon found out she was right. In no time at all she found herself peering in on some rather personal moments.
At first it was a matter of just watching quietly from a distance for a few precious moments. Just long enough to get a glimpse of her. To satisfy her curiosity you understand. To see her sitting beside Katherine, poised, musingly engaged and graced with her mother’s nature charm.
She was obviously a very beautiful young lady, but there was something else about her too. Something she couldn’t see from a brief and distance look that left her short of understanding and yearning to learn more. Like why Amelia dressed as she did, and why Katherine would allow it? Sometimes she dressed as no more than a child with oodles of petticoats and lace. Other times like . . . well, like Molly. Like a tawdry bar room hussy, with exaggerated heels, brief skirts and make-up that would venerate a 42nd Avenue drag queen.
Most of all she wondered why Katherine seemed so approving? Instead of screaming out at the excesses, she coddled her. As if Amelia were a child who needed to be told what to do and how it should be done. Instructions in life Katherine seemed too happy to give, her daughter only too happy to learn.
Scene III: The Investigation begins
Jack Murphy looked around Charlie’s apartment with some skepticism. While the detective in him - the Sherlock holding the magnifying glass - surveyed the landscape with a fine tooth comb. Spike was another matter however. Spike, the bull-dog in him was busy checking out the finery. One item in particular, a rather stunning low cut red dress.
“Mercy! I’d say the broad knew how to jerk a guy’s chain. Did she bring all these goodies from the Kline residence?”
“Nah, she never brought stuff with her, except what she as wearing. This is just stuff she bought around here, when she stepped out to shop a bit.”
“Yeah? What stores she shop at?”
“Don’t know, I never asked.” Again Jack shook his head, while Spike leaned in close and spat out in a rather caustic tone, “Wouldn’t be trying to make it too easy on me now, would yah big fella?”
After two hours of going over the room and examining the suitcase full of clothes he had only two things to show for it. A set of prints and one short, low cut red dress. A unique dress with a unique designer label he hoped would be of help in his search. He had found nothing else of value. No ID, pictures, addresses or letters - Just the lingering scent of a chic young woman who had every reason to want to live. It wasn’t much to go on, but he wasn’t about to admit that to anyone else, including himself.
Actually Jack didn’t really say much of anything. He just mumbled to himself, scratched the back of his head and then asked Charlie for the names he was to talk to. The list didn’t give him a lot of confidence up front, but he had less to go on in the past and did well enough. He had the nose for it, and his nose led the way to the first name on the list — Katherine Kline.
Slade Street wasn’t that far away, and he knew the area well. He had even worked a homicide on the upper east end of Slade a couple of months back. An area housing predominately white professionals affluent enough to have hired help do their dirty laundry. As was the last case he worked there, an affluent businessman in cahoots with the butler to do his wife in. He saw it as that kind of place, dirt deeds going on behind plush velvet curtains. So when Katherine opened the door to invite him in, he had his well trained eye fixed on any suspicious movement coming from behind the drapery.
Katherine sat behind her late husband’s desk in the study. Jack sat in front, in view of her nicely toned legs slightly spread beneath the desk. Her daughter Amelia was standing behind her chair. “Mrs. Kline!”
“Yes detective, I’m Katherine Kline. This is my daughter Amelia. How may I help you?”
“Yes, um, pleased to meet you, Miss,” Jack mumbled with a nod toward Amelia while retrieving his notepad and pen.
He was not one for social protocol. The niceties always escaped him. However, those legs beneath the desk growing increasingly further apart hadn’t escaped Spike. Something that took up an inordinate amount of his attention as he stooped down to pick up the pen he had just dropped. “Ahum. Now, as I mentioned, Mrs. Kline I’m a detective with NYPD and I need ask you a few questions.”
“May I ask your maiden name, ma’am?”
“Stanton. Katherine Stanton Kline.”
“I thank you, Mrs. Kline! I’m looking for a person reported missing. I believe the girl worked for you. She went by the name Molly.”
“Yes, officer, that’s correct. She worked for me about a year ago, but she’s no longer employed by me. She was a good employee and I hated to see her go.”
“Fine, now if you could provide me with a last name please!”
“That would be SMITH. S-M-I . . .”
“Ma’am, please, I may be a flatfoot but I did go to school.”
“Yes . . . yes, of course. One moment detective,” she followed as she leaned down to retrieve a file from a desk drawer. “I think I have all you need right here in her payroll file.”
Jack looked up at the pretty, but demure looking girl standing behind Katherine now in plain view. She was dressed in a long sleeve white blouse and a blue plaid jumper bearing a crest that read, Amherst Girl’s Preparatory. He caught her looking at him for a short moment before again lowering her eyes. She was 18, 19 perhaps, with her short hair bobbed with bangs in the common fashion of the day.
“Quite pretty and built,” he thought. Maybe her legs were a bit too thin for his liking. He also thought her shoulders and knees conspired against her to a degree. Surely not fashion model material, but with her looks, she was going to make some lucky fellow a great wife.
Katherine sat up holding a vanilla folder in her hand. “I think you’ll find what you need right here, detective.” She smiled as she handed him the folder. “You find her payroll receipts and what information I have.”
“Bingo!” He beamed that ‘shit-that-was-too-easy’ kind of grin as he quickly scanned the file. “Is it alright if I use your phone, ma’am?”
It didn’t take him long to get Cecil on the line. He might have been a rookie, but he had a knack for being where he was supposed to me. “Hey kid, do me a favor and run a check on Molly Smith. SS number . . . Got it? Yah, I’ll hold.”
Jack looked up with the phone tucked under this chin. He had pen and paper on his lap and the sound of hope in his voice as he continued to pursue his line of questioning. “It says here you paid her fifty dollars a week in cash, is that right?”
“Yes detective, that was her weekly pay and I pay all my employees in cash, always have.”
“In Cash?” Jack repeated in disbelief. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. You keep that kind of money in the house?”
“I do, Mr. Murphy. Is that a problem?”
“Well no, but that’s what banks are for, right . . . to cash checks?”
“My employees prefer the convenience, detective.”
“Yes, I can believe that,” Jack shook his head, sighed and thought to himself, “only on Slade Street.”
“Well then, tell me Mrs. Kline, did she live here, in the household with you?”
“Not inside the house, detective. I’ve a converted flat in the basement I provide. It has a separate entrance.”
“Did she leave anything behind?”
“Nothing detective, not one thing.”
“Did she happen to mention where she might be going? Where she might be found?”
“No, detective. She just said she was leaving. I paid her what was due and she packed up and left. She was a good worker and I was concerned, but it’s not my business to pry into the affairs of my employees, Detective Murphy.”
“Huh, is that so.” Jack quickly searched his memory trying to think of one woman he had ever known who wouldn’t have been the least bit curious. It seemed almost opposed to a woman’s nature to ask no questions whatsoever. “Then I suppose you did a background check, checked references, things like that. May I see it?”
“I’m sorry, detective; I didn’t feel a check was necessary. She seemed very nice and I hired her. Is that against the law?”
“No ma’am, suppose not . . .” Jack paused wondering whether a woman this savvy could really be that dumb.
“Or was she just playing the dummy for her own good?” he wondered. “Well then, have you any names? Parents, grandparents, siblings, she might have mentioned?”
“No, detective, she hadn’t mentioned any I’m aware of.”
“Was there anyone she had frequent association with, friends, neighbors . . .”
“Rose my cook comes to mind. As for Mr. McGee the gardener I’m not so sure. Molly had a thing about colored people, but you might want to ask.”
“I’ll need to speak with them.”
“Rose is here, you can speak with her when you like. Mr. McGee is off today. He’ll be here tomorrow after 6 a.m.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. Now, did she leave behind any mail, letters of any sort?”
“No, detective, I don’t recall her having received mail at this address.”
“Nothing? Well now, tell me Mrs. Kline, why do you suppose a guy like me might find that rather odd? Maybe even a bit suspicious, if you get my meaning. Do you know of any reason she’d want to hide things from you?”
“No detective. As you know it’s not at all uncommon for those with transitory status to use general delivery. Although I will admit, she did seem to me rather selective in what she revealed, and why. However, since we women have so few arrows in our quiver, I think it’s only natural she’d want to make the best use of what she had.”
“Meaning for a woman living alone, information is a weapon that can work for or against you. So being selective about what you want people to know, or not know, or think they know can be a prudent tool in that regard.”
“I see. Kind of like what my Ma used to call, ‘little white lies.’”
“Well detective I don’t see any reason why Molly would need to lie to me or anyone else. At least not as you think of it. Let’s just call it a woman’s prerogative, shall we.”
“Women!” he muttered to himself. “Only a woman could liken a lie to an inalienable right.”
It was on that note that he again heard Cecil on the other end of the line, “Got it, boss!”
“Okay boy, I’m listening,” Jack flashed a grim the Cheshire cat would have envied.
“It says here, Molly Smith, address 1290 Lincoln Boulevard, West Chester.”
“Bingo!” His eyes lit up. “Got a line on a phone number?”
“Negative boss. Just the address, but it shouldn’t be too hard to look up.”
“Yeah, well, why don’t you dig it up for me and let me have it!”
“Yeah, sure, I’ve got it for yah, right here! It’s listed in the Yellow pages under Memorial Cemetery, West Chester, date of death, March 3rd, 1959.”
“Ahhh . . . okay wise-guy, I got it!” Jack turned from elated to pissed-off with a turn of his lips. “All you had to do was say it was bogus, shit-head. Now, why don’t you run off and find yourself a nose to match that fat lip I’m going to tag you with, you moron!“ He slams down the phone, “Ma’am, can you please show me her room, or flat or wherever you freaking call it!”
Jack was regretting his bad luck. Spike however was totally pissed-off for being made to look like a fool. While the detective in him searched Molly’s room and found nothing. The room was spotless, thoroughly cleaned by Rose and given a fresh coat of paint by a handyman. “Anything of hers you’ve stored elsewhere in the house?”
“No, she took everything with her. She didn’t have all that much to take.”
“She left by taxi then, I presume?”
“I suppose so, Mr. Murphy, but honestly I can’t recall even bothering to look.”
“Huh!” Jack grunted sounding not at all convinced. It sounded a bit like her faded recollection of this innocuous fact might not be a bit too convenient. This was a girl she supposedly liked and had hired her without checking her background. A good employee, one she hated to lose. Who worked in her house for almost two years, yet knew virtually nothing about. A girl who simply walked out the front door carrying all her worldly possessions in her hand and she didn’t “bother” to look out to see her leave? “Mind if I look around?”
“Well, no, but it might help if I knew what you were looking for.”
Jack crooked a smiled, while the detective glared intently into her eyes for clues to what she might be hiding. Spike did the talking. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe kick the dirt around out back. Maybe check the attic, look behind the draperies, that sort of thing.”
“What is it you hope to find, detective.” She replied as casually as asking when she might be allowed to return to her knitting.
He had just been testing the waters to assess the temperature of her response. Fear is not always the easiest thing to conceal, especially for a woman with no experience with this sort of thing. It was a little like trying to hide an elephant in a broom closet, but he saw no evidence of that. If she had a body buried out back, she played a very cool hand. “Yes, well then, I suppose I should speak with Rose, the cook.”
Katherine brought Jack into the kitchen begging a moment of Rose’s time. He had come from a working class family himself, so he knew to be respectful. He even sat down as she spoke so as not to come off as brash or hard-nosed. Women of Rose’s sort usually weren’t afraid to push back. Not that it did him any good. Rose was not about to be lulled into anything, and her posture and tone of voice said as much.
Rose could imagine any number of difficulties Molly might have gotten into. Why not, she was a problem child. All the same she wanted it clear from the start she was not a busybody. At least that’s what she told our detective when he asked her about Molly. “I have a key for the kitchen back door, come to prepare the meals and leave. I know my place Mister, and it ain’t being a busybody with my nose stuck in all the wrong places. Have I made myself clear, young man?”
Jack had to admire her pluck, and with the track rules set he played by her rules. Careful to keep Spike under wraps, he listened respectfully with the patience of a monk on retreat as she described Molly as a friend, but rather incompetent employee. “A gift horse,” is what Rose had called her job. Something Molly was too young and inexperienced to understand. A girl in need of a good husband to protect her from her own devises.
Rose had coughed up a bit more than her opinions over the course of her monologue. Mostly about Katherine who he seemed just as interested in as Molly. Though oddly, she didn’t say a word about Gerald. It wasn’t that the poor boy wasn’t in her thoughts and she had more than one opportunity to bring his name up. She simply saw no reason to drag his name through the muck. Besides, the detective had to know Gerald worked for Katherine as well. Katherine would have told him, and if he had an interest in Gerald, a man this thorough would surely have asked.
He hadn’t found the day a complete loss. He had learned she wasn’t a disgruntled employee, nor was she the type to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Plus with only fifty dollars in her purse she couldn’t have gotten far. It’s not easy planning the great escape on that kind of money. That is unless she had a stash of cash no one knew about hidden under the pillow, and he certainly saw no evidence of that.
All of it was useful information, although for whatever good it did, it hardly seemed worth the cost of the liquor he bought on the way home. “Oh well,” he thought to himself after taking one long hard swallow. “This was just one of those cases where nothing seemed to want to go my way.”
Scene IV: The Fly on the Wall
Rose opened the back door to let the delivery man in. He set the bundles of freshly laundered linens on the kitchen table then left leaving Rose to the business of sorting. With the evening brisket and dumplings set in the oven, she separated the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom items into three neatly folded stacks. Picking up the stack of towels destine for the upstairs closet she stepped out of the kitchen to put them away.
It was just another of her frequent visits she now took throughout the house. Impromptu visits, chores she had voluntarily taken on so Katherine would grow accustom to her plodding about. She did little to disguise the fact she was there, although out of respect for their privacy she did try to blend in. Which it turned out wasn’t really all that difficult to do — even for an old woman with two lame hoofed feet. She simply made her visits unannounced and remained quietly at a distance so as not to disturb or disrupt.
The tact turned out to work pretty darn well for some odd reason. If not surprisingly so, given how obsessive Katherine had been in the past about her privacy. Whether or not Katherine was truly that inattentive or simply making the accommodation Rose really didn’t know. Whatever the reason, Rose now found herself free to wander about when and where she chose. Giving her greater access, and like a fly on the wall the opportunity to peer into their lives.
She found the downstairs quiet, though she looked through the rooms regardless. Hoping to find them as she frequently did reading or knitting or learning the ways of fashion and “belle maniá¨res.” All part of haut culture she supposed. Something Katherine insisted she practice the intricacies of quite often.
She continued on up the stairs with her stack of towels heading for the hallway closet. When she got there she found it quiet upstairs as well. That is, except for the sound of running water in the bathroom at the end of the hall. The bathroom was some distance away from where she stood, but not so distance that she couldn’t hear Katherine and Amelia inside sharing the bath.
She had just opened the closet’s twin louvered doors and set the towels on the shelf when the bathroom door opened. Hidden behind one wing of the louvered door she turned to peer between the slats and saw Katherine heading toward her room. Obviously she didn’t know Rose was there, hiding in plain sight. So close yet so far from her thoughts. Just like the thief had done to her.
She was wearing Molly’s rubber gloves and apron to protect her black dress. Then again, it didn’t appear as thought she had been scrubbing the tile. Rose could tell that because in her haste Katherine had left the bathroom door open and instead of the smell of disinfectant an overly-rich floral scent spilled out into the hallway. The dizzying scent as thick as a mist saturated everything, and at its source, Amelia, sitting in the tub shaving her legs. Rose watched as she finished one leg and then propped up the next on the rim of the tub.
She felt shamefully like a peeping tom to tell the truth. Standing there watching the girl extend then point her red painted toes out from the opaque white of the bubbling bathwater before commencing to shave. Her eyes fixed on each stroke, taking great care to insure a gentle and smooth glide of the pink razor along the length of her upwardly extended calf before starting anew.
She knew she shouldn’t be looking in on such a private personal moment. There was nothing right or noble in all this peeping-tom business. Nor did she think too highly of herself for doing so and thought to pull away. Something she wanted to do and would have done if not for the fact that this was the first time she’d ever seen her without her mother standing between.
She felt rather encouraged by what she saw as well. Amelia appeared so completely at ease. Much like a child quite used to being watched over, Katherine’s help with her bath still an everyday sort of thing. “Quite a relationship,” Rose thought. “Not many girls her age were as candid with their mothers.”
Moments later Amelia was rubbing the length of her long slender legs with baby oil just as Katherine reappeared from her room. In one hand she carried a red rubber-latex fountain bag. In her the other hand, a length of tubing attached to what must have been a nozzle, of sorts. Certainly nothing she was familiar with, and in terms of shape and size she wouldn’t have thought it suitable for the purpose at all.
The door remained open long enough to catch the barest glimpse of Amelia rise up, turn about and rest her hands on the rim of the tub. Just as Katherine had asked her to do before the door closed behind.
“Well,” she thought to herself, “perhaps it’s something modern. These were the 60’s after all, Sputnik and all that. The ladies these days used new things. Everything was now streamlined, disposable and easy to use.” Not like the crude but efficient method she still used at home.
Scene V: The Search for Clues
The next morning Jack went back to Katherine’s to see Willy McGee the gardener. Protocol would have him alert Katherine of his presence so she could make the introduction. However, he didn’t stand much on protocol. He wasn’t the type. So he got out of his car and sought out the path leading to the back of the house where he hoped to meet Mr. McGee on his own terms.
On his way to the gate he spotted the mailman. He had a stack of letters in his hand and was making his way toward Katherine’s mailbox. Jack gave him a smile in passing, said “good morning” then stopped, back pedaled, and presented his badge.
“I’m with NYPD and if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to have a look at the mail you’re about to deliver to the Kline residence.”
“Well, yes officer. I know I’ve some items here to deliver to that residence, but I haven’t separated it out as yet.” To emphasized his point, he held up the large stack of letters he held in his hand. “There are letters in this stack for other houses on this block as well, officer!”
The postman seemed thoroughly versed in the responsibilities of his job, not to exclude his legal obligations. The need for court orders and such before he could hand over the mail to anyone other than to whom it was intended was something Jack understood as well. Then again, Jack didn’t stand much on protocol and made that quite clear from the start.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to ask you to do anything outside what the law permits. On the other hand, heaven forbid something bad should happen that could have been prevented, if only . . ,” he paused, crooked a smile and looked him in the eye. “Well now, that wouldn’t look too good on the resume, would it? So if you would kindly separate them for me I would be extraordinarily grateful.”
“Yeah, sure, give me a moment,” he reluctantly agreed, although still rather hesitant and constantly looking around to see if anyone was watching. He seemed rather intimidated by the whole process too. His actions where unnecessarily hurried, and Jack spotted a slight tremble of the hands. So it came as no surprise when shortly after he dropped the whole lot onto the ground.
He stooped to help the mailman pick them up, latching on to one he thought would surely be added to the stack destined for Katherine’s address. The letter was addressed to a Miss A. Stanton. It was from Amherst Girl’s Preparatory, and obviously destined for Amelia, her daughter. Apparently she had been registered at the school under her mother’s maiden name. While he found nothing unusual in that, he did notice that the house number was wrong.
A few moments later the postman handed him 8 letters. Bills of one sort or another all addressed to Katherine Kline, but the one addressed to Miss A. Stanton was not in the stack. “Is this all?”
“What about the one addressed to Miss A. Stanton?”
“Look officer, you asked to see all the mail addressed to the Kline residence. I showed it to you,” he sounded rather irate, and to Jack, a bit too uppity for his liking. “If you are now widening your request I’m afraid you’ll have to go through proper channels. I’m certain the Post Master will be happy to accommodate whereas I can not. So if you’ll excuse me . . .” he concluded, then snatched the letters out of Jack’s hands before continuing his work.
Spike would have liked to tag the guy with a fat lip, but Jack had seen enough to know there were no letters addressed to Molly in that stack of mail. That’s all he wanted to know. “Obviously Amelia won’t be getting her letter thanks to that mousy, egomaniacal little bureaucrat,” he chuckled to himself as he again made his way around back of the house and into the garden, the masterwork of Willie’s creation.
The garden was a large expanse with flowers growing like thicket all around the perimeter in a kaleidoscope of colors. Tall maples towered over the yard, the lush foliage providing the much needed shade from the hot summer sun. In the center of the yard there was a lawn with lounge chairs scattered about for people to relax and enjoy the beauty of the finest garden in all of Brooklyn. Off to the right and closest to the kitchen window there was a small tool shed. Built to look like the house, it had a faux antebellum façade, shingled roof and lattice windows painted to look the same.
He found Willie inside the tool shed sharpening the tip of a shovel. “Hello! Mr. McGee, I’m detective Jack Murphy with NYPD and need to ask you some questions.”
“Yes sir,” Willie freed one hand from the shovel to offer to Jack.
Jack took a moment to size the man up. He looked every bit as strong as his powerful grip. The size of a redwood, he looked to be a menacing sort. The kind it would take an anvil to topple, though his eyes and his smile read something else. Not a lot of smarts, but smart enough to know both the mighty redwood and the most delicate of flowers he nurtured held equal value under god’s watchful eye.
“It’s about the girl Molly who used to work for Katherine Kline. I think you knew her as Molly Smith, is that right?”
“No sir, just Molly. Didn’t rightly know her. Just saw her around some, when she was going in and out. You see, she weren’t the type to be talkin’ to no colored folk, if you get my meaning, officer.”
“Yeah, I got’cha. Don’t take no offense. Some folks are just like that.”
“No offense taken, officer,” he replied with a reassuring smile. “We’s all god’s children, an’ ol’Willie learnt long ago to accept the good n’ the bad.”
“So I guess you didn’t socialize none? Like ask her where she was from or anything like that?”
“No, don’t reckon I did.”
“Have you spoken to Mrs. Kline about her leaving?”
“No, the misses business be her own. She don’t speak much to me personally, and don’t come back here much neither. But I heard from Miss Rose and I told her to tell Mrs. Katherine ‘her Willie’ is here to help if she be needin’ any.”
“Her Willie!” Jack had to smile. It was a rare thing to meet anyone, man of color or not as down to earth. Not in this day and age. Not in this city.
Jack turned away and again looked out into the garden. “You’re pretty good at this gardening business. Been at it long?”
“Yes Sir, most of my life. Mr. Kline, her late husband done hire me 10 years back. I come here with plenty of experience though. There weren’t much here back then. I think it looks right nice now. Least I be trying my best.”
Jack spotted a stainless steel kitchen knife sitting on a work bench just inside the door. He picked it up and fiddled with it as he thought to ask him, “You said you saw Molly come and go, right?”
“Oh, I seen her about when she was working here. Some, anyway, but like I said, she didn’t speak none.”
“So you never saw her with anyone else? Anyone ever come to visit, that sort of thing?”
“No sir, just her is all I be rememberin’.”
He put down the knife and turned again toward Willie. “Pretty fancy cutlery for using in a garden, don’t yeah think?”
“Sure is,” Willy sheepishly replied. “I used it to cut some rose slips a while back an’ nicked the blade. See here,” he added as he picked up the knife to show Jack the notch. “Wife says since I ruined it I kin keep it.”
“That don’t sound much like you, Willie,” Jack chuckled, “pissin’ off the ol’ lady like that.”
“Weren’t my fault. I done dropped it when was cuttin’ them slips. I reckon it was kinda brittle on account of the cold.”
“You don’t say,” Jack mumbled as he examined the notch. “Maybe next time you should consider using something a bit more substantial. Like that machete you have there hanging up on the wall.”
“What?” Willie looked up to see where he was pointing.
“Something to consider,” Jack followed. “I once saw a body that had been cut clean through the chest cavity, bone and all, and the machete the bad guy had used hadn’t a single scratch.” Willie stared at him. His eyes were wide and his jaw slackened as if too dumbfounded to utter a word.
“Yup, a fella on the lower eastside was pissed off because his ol’lady kept nagging about ruining her best carving knife.”
Willie recoiled, thought for a long moment, then slowly the corners of his mouth turned up and his eyes grew bright. “Aaaah, Officer Murphy, you’re just pullin’ my leg. I gets it!” Willie beamed, only now coming to the realization of what the jib was all about.
Jack was making fun, but in a pointed way. Again he was just testing the waters. He knew no one could have planted a body in that yard without Willie knowing. That is, unless he hadn’t been telling the truth about he had nicked that blade, and he saw no evidence of that.
“Well then, I’ll leave you to your work. Thanks for your help,” he concluded the interview as he took his hand and said his good-byes. A moment later he was back in his car heading for the Niles Street Bar, and again, cursing his bad luck.
Unfortunately, he didn’t fare well there either. Not from a lack of those eager to cooperate, but from what he was able to glean from the interviews. Frank, Charlie, Milton and Nick were there. To a one they were filled to overflowing with rye whiskey, but not drunk. If they were, they certainly knew how to have a good time without showing it. They all had fond memories of Molly as well, and primed by all the liquor, they were more than happy to share every squalid detail.
Aside from the fact she was the apple of their collective eye and quite free with the wares, no one knew anymore about her. It was also obvious that no one had motive to “do in” the gift that kept on giving. Nor was the personal distance they kept between Molly and themselves all that unusual. These guys didn’t come here looking for the future mother of their children. Likewise Molly wasn’t the type who’d want to become one.
That is except for Charlie who had a decidedly different take on Molly. The poor guy had apparently acquired quite an attachment to the girl. At least that seemed the general consensus. Something that Charlie willing owned up to, and whenever needed, became her stalwart defender. As he had frequent opportunity to do, especially after Milton rattled off a few derogatory remarks about her performance between the sheets. It earned Milton a seat on the floor and skewed the symmetry of his pretty, Fabian-like face a bit to the lopsided.
He left the Nile Street bar without much more under his belt. Not a complete waste of time but close. He did get the name of a cabbie however. A useful tip that led to a man who could be in possession of a lot of useful information. He was a rather easy fellow to fine too. His name was Romano Salazar. A man Jack knew in a previous incarnation as a petty thief. He was one of them want-a-be hipsters who liked to think of himself as the incarnation of the late James Dean - hair, blue Jeans, t-shirt and all. He found him sitting in his cab reading a paper parked on Slade Street awaiting a call from dispatch.
“Hey Sally,” Jack said as he slipped into the back seat of the parked cab. “I need a word with you.”
If Romano’s nose hadn’t been buried in the paper he might have had time to spot him sneaking up. He might have even had time to pull out before he could get in the cab. In truth, he would have rather had a guy with an ax jump in the back then this guy. At least he wasn’t likely to be blindsided. Something he felt coming the moment he heard the name “Sally.”
“That’s Salazar, Murphy!”
“Is that what they called you in Lockup, big guy? Salazar? I heard most nights it was Sally! I hear they still ask about you,” Jack chuckled.
“Meters running, Lieutenant,” he replied as he pushed up the handle, triggering the meter.
“Better turn that thing off pronto, big fella, before I run a check with your parole officer to see how well you’ve been wiping your nose.”
“Then make it quick,” he slapped down on the handle, “’cause times money, Murphy.”
“Yah, right . . .! I’m looking for some information about a frequent pick-up of yours named Molly. She lived just down the block there, at 30401. You know, that big place over there you seem to have your sights on.”
Romano picked up on the snide innuendo and wasn’t too happy with the guy at the moment. “See the checkered curb and the sign right there, Murphy? It says Checkered Cab parking. This here is my stop. I provide service for the whole upper east side of Slade Street and you can find me here 7 days a week. So I ain’t casing no joint and you can talk all you want to my parole officer for all I care. My nose is clean!”
Romano knew better than to be flippant with the guy. He wasn’t the type who took well to a man putting up a front. Once he latched on to you it was like having a Pit Bull gnawing at your leg and that was the last thing he needed. Only this guy Murphy had a way of getting under a guys skin. “Yeah, I picked her up, took her to Niles Street and Tommy’s Bar more times than I can count. And no, I ain’t seen her, and no, I don’t know anything about her except she thought her boss was a loon . . . Anything else, Murphy?”
“Do you know her last name, where she’s from?”
“You’re joking, right?”
“No, dumb ass, I need a last name!”
“Nope! Called her ‘good-time Molly’ and she was just fine with that. For all I know, she might as well have fallen down from outer space. As flighty as she was, I’d say that’s close to the truth.”
“You pick her up the night she left?”
“Well now, I don’t know when she left. I just stopped seeing her around, but I don’t recall ever picking her up at night, always during the day. I suppose she was busy being picked up by someone else down at the Niles Street Bar most nights.”
“Who would have been working that night?”
“Beats me, go ask dispatch.”
“I’m on it, big guy!” Jack exaggerated the “big guy,” finding him a bit too uppity for his liking.
“So I take it the girl liked to socialize a lot?”
“Socialize?” Romano smirked. “Yeah, I guess you could say she was the outgoing type.”
“A lot of takers then I presume?”
“Don’t know, wasn’t looking.”
“You weren’t? Odd. I hear she was quite a looker.”
“Yeah,” Romano chuckled, “’bout as fine as they come, detective.”
“Hmmm, sounds a bit out of your league, Sally boy.”
“Sheesh! Nobody was out of that girl’s league so long as your knuckles didn’t drag on the ground.”
“Huh, then I guess that leaves you out. Bet’cha did some talkin’ though. You know, about the weather, that sort’a thing?”
“Yeah, like what about?”
“Nothing! Just about which way she was heading.”
“Huh! Well she probably preferred men who liked the ride on top, if you be getting my meaning.”
“No detective, don’t reckon I do.”
“Well then, let’s try something even a moron can understand. Did yah ever take her anywhere else?”
From the pause that followed his question he felt a seismic shift in his fortunes. “Hu, big guy, ever take her shoppin’ or to someone’s house . . . anything like that?”
“Well . . . yeah, sure, once or twice I made a trip to the Waverly district on a Saturday. I asked if she wanted me to wait around, but she said she’d be a couple of hours. So I didn’t.”
“What stores did she shop at?”
“Don’t know, Murphy, like I told you, I didn’t wait around.”
“Yeah, okay wise guy. I’ll try not to accidentally bump into Hazelton, your parole officer the next time I need a quota to fill. Got me, bud?” Jack smiled as he opened the rear door, but before he stepped out a final thought occurred to him and he stopped to ask what had come to mind. “You ever pick up her employer, Katherine Kline?”
“Yeah, sure, plenty of times. She ain’t got a limo and uses the cab for everything. Tips pretty well too.”
“How about her daughter?”
“How about the two of them together, a mother-daughter outing, shopping trip, visit to the doctor’s office, that sort of thing?”
“Yeah, right! Listen wise guy, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. Think I should haul your ass in and let you stew in a cell with your old friend from French Lick? Maybe it might help refresh your memory. Think that might help, big fella?”
“No need, Murphy.”
“Because as far as I know she ain’t got no kids. Besides, if there were kids living there don’t you think I would have seen them about? Or Molly would have mentioned that? Sorry, Murphy, if a kid was living there, I think I’d know it!”
“Are you sure?”
“Tell me, detective. Is hard of hearing a problem with all you flatfeet, or just you?”
Scene VI: Amelia’s Willie
The weather in the middle of a Brooklyn September has a way of making you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. The good lord did not intend clothes to be worn in the summer, in the City. That’s how Rose felt as she gulped down a large glass of ice tea. Then thinking of Katherine and Amelia, she picked up some glasses and carried the pitcher out into the family room where she expected to fine them spending their afternoon.
Instead she found the door leading out into the backyard open and Katherine sitting outside on a lounge while Amelia worked beside Mr. McGee. Amelia was standing at the far end of the yard alongside Willie with water hose in one hand and a spade in the other. Dressed in pink Pedal Pushers and sneakers, she looked very into her work.
It seemed Willie’s kind offer of help had struck a cord with Katherine. Now hardly a day went by without Amelia spending an hour or two out in the garden alongside Mr. McGee. Of course she was not alone. Katherine was always there, though she still kept a personal distance between herself and Mr. McGee.
Still it did seem to Rose to be a bit odd. It wasn’t like she’d ever done this sort of thing before. Neither alone nor with Gerald, thanks to the premium she placed on her personal privacy. It was as though they had come to some sort of mutual understanding whereby Amelia could ply her wears out in the real world while Katherine, absent only the opera glasses, could sit back and observe the theater undisturbed from the distance.
Amelia seemed pleased. Not just for having the opportunity to work in the garden, but for the company of Mr. McGee as well. Actually she seemed to be monopolizing much of his time which he didn’t seem to mind at all. In no time at all they had grown quite close. Quite often Rose would see Amelia wrapping an arm about his waist, and in turn, he’d wrap his arm about hers and hold her close to his side.
From all appearances it seemed “Katherine’s Willie” had suddenly become “Amelia’s Willie,” something she was pleased to see. Mr. McGee was a loyal employee, but more importantly, he was a fine person and a man who couldn’t give enough of himself. So the work and the company couldn’t help to benefit Amelia, perhaps she might even grow up some. Maybe learn a little about being in the company of men as well. Certainly couldn’t hurt!
So not wanting to disturb she set the tea down on a nearby table then headed back to the kitchen, leaving Amelia to “her Willie".
Scene VII: Love Letters
It was early Saturday mornings and Romano was yet to get a call. He had already finished his morning coffee and sat reading a letter as he waited for the first calls to roll in from dispatch. The letter was a sweet little ditty in a pink envelop addressed to “Sally,” cab 1604, in care of the Checkered Cab Company. It was sent from Katherine’s Slade Street address and signed Amelia.
Romano sat behind the wheel going over the single page letter for the eighth time. Periodically he’d look up toward Katherine’s home located down the street and then look down again at the letter trying to make sense of it. From all outward appearances it didn’t look like it could have been written by Katherine. The script was in block letters — all caps! Along with the letter there was a dried pink carnation pressed flat between the fold of the page. Like something a kid would do, and with all the hearts and flowers drawn on the back, obviously from a kid with a big infatuation.
Of course he was dead certain there were no kids living there. It was just like he told Murphy, “If there was a kid living there, don’t yeah think I would know?” Besides, he had been casing the place for the past 8 months and knew everything there was to know about the place. In point of fact he was just about to pull off the job when Murphy showed up asking questions about Molly.
With Murphy snooping around there was no way he could touch it now. It was a pity too, because it would have been easy pickings. Just the same the allure was there. The “oodles” of cash Molly had told him she kept stashed away in the office hadn’t vanished, but unless she invited him in to help himself to the money, it wasn’t going to happen now.
He was a bit frustrated and angry at himself for having waited so long. No doubt he had missed a once in a lifetime opportunity. He was mulling over that thought and fidgeting with the letter when he happened to look up and saw Katherine walking out of her home. He watched closely, looking to pick up on a glance or a gesture no matter how slight in his direction.
There was nothing to see of course. That is, other than a woman in her housecoat looking for the morning paper, finding it in the hedge row then swiftly returning to the house. “Damn, this couldn’t be from her, could it?” he mumbled to himself.
“A rich, classy lady like that . . . could she really be that crazy?” he pondered the uncertainty. “Is she really the ‘loon’ Molly said she was?”
By the looks of the letter in his hand it appeared she was all that and more. One thing was dead certain. Whoever wrote it knew the inner layout of the house to a tee. The person not only knew enough to specify which bedroom window he should keep an eye on, but what time of night the window would be opened and the name of the song she wanted him to hear.
Romano shook his head and sneered as if suddenly realizing this was just some sort of elaborate hoax. It had to be. Nobody was that crazy. If not, then it was some sort of scheme to entrap him. Perhaps she had her suspicions and was trying to draw him out. Or perhaps Molly had inadvertently tipped her off and now the police themselves were involved, Jack Murphy the chief architect.
Then again, maybe this was the invitation inside he had been hoping for. Maybe she really had gone bananas. It’s possible. Living all alone in a big house like that can play tricks on the mind. He’d seen that sort of thing happen before. Or perhaps she was just lonely, liked what she saw and came up with this crazy scheme because she didn’t know how else to get his attention. Those were all possibilities, albeit not likely.
Still there is no law broken in perusing a romance. Plus he did have the letter - the invite! Police sting or not, that alone should be enough to cover his ass if the need arose. If it was a ploy to sucker him in, it was a sloppy one. So what the heck! The letter states she’s nineteen. Why not play along, sniff it out and see what the game is.
Who knows, he might just get lucky. Maybe in a few months he might find himself married to the “eccentric ol’biddy,” and end up with all the loot for himself. If not, if she just wants to play a bit of back seat boogie, well, he could live with that. Blackmail could be a lucrative game too.
So he opened up his log book, tore out the last page and began his reply:
Why of course I think the carnation has the blossom of your cheeks, with the fragrance of your hair and the beauty of your smile. Yes, I would like very much to meet you. If your mother would kindly forward her written approval of my visit, I would love nothing more than to be at your beck and call.
Scene VIII: The Little Red Dress
Jack sat behind his desk nursing on his morning coffee and trying to catch up on the work that had been piling up. His desk had become somewhat of a disaster and he knew if he didn’t get the work done pronto, he’d be hearing about it soon. He thought he was making headway. His fingers were doing the typing and the stack was diminishing, somewhat. Well, it might’ve gone faster had he been able to concentrate, but regrettably his mind was still mulling over what Romano had told him. “If there were kids living there, don’t you think I would know?”
For some reason those words kept running through his head. Not that he believed the guy. Romano was as slime ball from the word go. All the same it was a bold statement and to give him the benefit of the doubt he placed a call to Amherst Girl’s Preparatory. That was the school Katherine’s daughter supposedly attended and was told that indeed, Amelia Stanton had been a student there.
Okay, so, Romano had been telling the truth. He wouldn’t have known about her because she had been away at school, and before that, who knows. That eased his mind some, but for what it was worth, it still got him no closer to finding Molly. So after lunch he stepped away from his desk, put on his hat and again headed out to pick up on her trail.
This time it was a small fashion boutique on Waverly Street. He had called around to different shops to see who might carry the “Parisian Fair” brand name women’s apparel. Only one was found; Beverly’s, a small shop offering exclusive off-brands at affordable prices. Or at least that’s what the gentleman who owned the shop had told him.
Tom Martin and his wife Gloria worked the business themselves with the help of one sales girl. Unfortunately the girl didn’t work there any longer and she had been the one who had sold the dress.
“You say your employee sold the dress and she paid in cash?”
“Yes, detective,” Gloria Martin smartly offered in response.
“Then I presume that means neither your husband nor yourself saw the girl who bought it, or did you?”
“No detective, neither my husband nor myself were in the store at the time.”
“Do you know where I can speak with this girl, Carla, the girl who sold it?”
“No, she didn’t say were she was going when she quit, and I haven’t seen her around. However I still have all her personal information if you’re interested.”
As he waited for the lady to retrieve the much needed information Jack held the red dress out between himself and Tom Martin. “What’cha think, Tom. Do you think you can describe the girl who fits in this dress?”
Tom stepped back, put his hand to his chin and crooked his head. “Well, ahm, I’d say she’s not tall. Say 5-7’ish, young, in her 20’s . . . or 30’s if she’s a venturous sort. 36 hips, 24 about the waist, bosomy, maybe a 37, no, 38 - no doubt a woman who could wear it.”
“Hmmm, sounds like a pretty lil’gal,” Jack purred.
“Yah, I’d say that. I don’t think you’d find a girl without a lot of confidence wearing something like that.”
“Tom, where I come from we call that a prick tease, big guy. Tell me, how much does a thing like this cost?”
“It was priced at 129.95, but anywhere else that style and that quality could have set you back 200.00 plus easily.”
“Affordable, huh? I guess I’m in the wrong business. Think you could afford something like this on a maid’s salary, Tom?” Tom Martin didn’t have time to answer before his wife returned with the information Jack sought.
“Well, thank you both for your time.” He turned to leave, but before he did he stopped to re-ask Tom that still unanswered question.
“About this girl you described for me, Tom. The great looking gal who makes 50 bucks a week as a household maid. Does she sound like the kind of girl who would disappear and leave something like this behind?”
“I don’t think any woman would detective.”
“I don’t either.” He said as he exited, again cursing his bad luck. Nothing seemed to be working his way on this case.
Scene IX: Only The Lonely
It was one of those rare September afternoons when the heavy summer air that hung over the city was swept away by a crisp southwest wind, dropping the heat and humidly down to habitable levels and making it a pleasant day to be outside. Rose had just stepped out onto the back porch to dust a throw rug and happened to spot Amelia and Willie making their way through the rose beds pulling out weeds on their hands and knees. They had been at it all afternoon long. The two working side-by-side while Katherine spent the day shopping.
Willie looked as though he was having as good a time as Amelia. He wasn’t by nature a jovial fellow, but she could tell Amelia’s playfulness wore well on the man. In truth, he was teasing her almost as much as she did him, and when she jumped up and sat on his back as a child might when seeking a pony ride, Willie was only to willing to oblige. He began baying like a horse and shuffled along on his hands and knees with Amelia riding her steed.
She knew it had to be killing his knees and thought to ask Amelia to leave the poor man alone. However before she could speak she heard the cab pull up in front. Knowing it would have been Katherine returning from an afternoon of shopping, she walked around front to see if she could help carry in what packages she might have with her.
When she got there she saw Katherine standing outside the cab with the cabbie who had come around to help her out of the car. She was fishing through her purse looking for the money to pay the man while at the same time, engaged in a very lively discussion.
Even after she paid the man the discussion remained quite animated, and at one point he had even put his hand on her shoulder as they spoke. Obviously she knew him, but something as personal as touching seemed highly inappropriate no matter the issue being discussed. All this came to an end however when they saw her approach. As if on cue the cabbie broke off the discussion, got back into his cab and drove off.
“Is everything alright, ma’am?” She asked while reaching to help Katherine with her bags.
“Oh yes, Rose, quite alright, thank you. It seems the young man thinks me beholden to a debt Molly had incurred over a year ago. Of course I assured him that he would never see a penny of that from me.”
Rose wasn’t surprised to hear about what Molly had done. If anything surprised her it was that the cab driver had waited this long to approach Katherine for the money. “It’s a good thing you did, ma’am. If not, who knows where the next demand might come from, or for however much.”
The incident stuck with Rose like excess baggage the remainder of her day, something left for her to unload later in a hot, sudsy tub. A nice long soak had a way of doing that to her, and the thought of that bath was very much on her mind later that night as she was preparing to go home. Actually she would already be halfway out the door if it hadn’t been for that song filtering in from the living room.
She knew the lyrics well enough. The pop tune had been playing seemingly non-stop all afternoon, as if Katherine or Amelia couldn’t get their fill of it. She didn’t know the song or the artist or why Katherine or Amelia need play the 45 record over and over. Normal she didn’t like that bebop-a-lula music so popular with the kids these days. If it wasn’t Rudy Vallee it was vulgar.
However, this song was different. The sound of it was heart-rendering, almost timeless and ageless. The harmony of violins with that souring operatic voice made the simple, repetitive lyrics sound like a call from heaven. Ruby Vallee could have not done better.
So with her coat on, her purse in one hand her keys in the other, she followed the melody. Telling herself it was only to say good night to Katherine before she left. It wasn’t something she normally did and she didn’t even know why she felt compelled to do so now. Maybe that’s why her unexpected appearance went unnoticed. She was standing behind the potted fern at the entrance, although not hiding and clearly in plain view. Just like a fly on the wall.
At first glance it appeared as though there was a man in the house. A man dressed in a white suit, Florsheim’s and tie waltzing with Amelia. When the couple spun around she saw that it was actually Katherine. Dressed in her husband’s white suit perhaps? She had her hair tied up in a tight bun at the back, the front slicked back with the sheen of Pomade in a very manly fashion. With Amelia’s arms looped around her neck they glided across the polished floor as man and woman. Each with a gaze fixed on the other.
The scope of this unusual scene was breathtaking, but it was the way Amelia chose to dress that placed it beyond belief. Her feet rode atop open toe vamps heeled so high she had to balance on the tips of her toes. Her black silk dress was snug fit and adorned with sewn in silvery spangles that refracted the overhead light. Both backless and sleeveless, it had a plunging v-neck that cut a canyon’s divide between her two plump breasts and was hemmed scandalously above the stocking tops. The sleek little black dress was not at all suited for her age, and rather reminiscent of a dress she had once seen Molly wearing.
It was bazaar and not a thing about it seemed rational or sane. At first she felt a bit angry about it. Thinking perhaps Katherine was using her authority to abuse and misguide her daughter. On the other hand she saw nothing in their actions that would indicate as much. Not in the way Amelia dreamily laid her head upon her mother’s bosom. Nor in the way she lifted her head up and kissed her dear mother on the lips. All of it coming from Amelia. Her actions as clear as the souring operatic voice that sang, “. . . maybe tomorrow, a new romance, no more sorrow, but that’s the change, UUU got’a take, if your lonely heart breaks, only the lonely.”
The purity of that voice, the clarity of her actions somehow rose above what she saw. Suddenly she didn’t look like a tawdry, misguided teen looking for a pick up in a Tenth Street bar. She looked serene, a young lady self-directed and in complete control. In truth, Rose couldn’t help but feel a bit envious of them. It was not unlike watching a movie. Where she found herself wishing she too could know the warm embrace of her leading man for just one moment in her life.
Rose wasn’t sure how long she stood there unmoved as the fern she stood beside. The 45 on the turntable had already played to the end, then automatically repeating several more times before she again thought of her own circumstance. She thought it odd she would suddenly feel afraid of being seen prying, and she probably wouldn’t have thought of it now had it not been for what happened next.
While they waltzed, Katherine had freed one hand from about her daughter’s waist so she could loosen her tie, unbutton her men’s white linen shirt and free a breast. A moment later Amelia put her mouth to her mother’s bosom, and much like an infant in need of nourishment began to suckle.
Rose slowly and quietly backed away, through the dark of the dinning room and into the kitchen. Again aware of her aching, swollen feet, she turned out the kitchen light and left for home.
Scene X: Gail Newton
Jack was walking the length of Waverly Street with nothing more than a verbal description of Molly. He was wandering into shops hoping to find someone who might have known her, or seen her about. He had been at it all morning and again, he was cursing his bad luck. This case was slowly getting under his skin, and for good reason.
He had been at it for more than three weeks and still hadn’t a single clue. That’s why he decided to hoof it out store by store. Something he definitely didn’t have the time, or the patience to do. Not with the back log of work piling up on his desk.
Fact is, other than this case he hadn’t worked on much of anything since Charlie first walked into his office. His last big case was over a month ago in which a scorned wife paid to have her two-timing husband done in. It was a complicated case, but it had taken half the resources he had already invested in this one and he found the bad guy in a week. Obviously, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see he was frittering away too much valuable time.
“And for what,” he tried to placate his sunken pride, “A girl who was probably doing just fine and doesn’t want to be found?”
Yes, Jack’s confidence was beginning to waver a bit, but not Spike’s. He wasn’t about to let it go. As he liked to tell himself, “I just need to find the right waters to fish.” An expression he had picked up from his father whenever his father was fishing for the truth about something he did as a young boy. “Then I’ll toss out the line and watch it unfurl with the truth tied to the end.”
It had taken him a long time to figure that one out, but he was never more grateful to his dad when he finally had. This tidbit of wisdom had served him well through the years. Just as he hoped it would now. After all, a life might well hang in the balance. “I’ll give it a couple more days,” he thought as he strolled into a delicatessen, asked his questions then bought himself a hot Pastrami on Rye.
He took a moment to eat the sandwich outside on the walk while he looked down the street. He still had 5 blocks to go and it was already getting late. Across the street and a couple of doors down was a beauty shop and thought to go there next. This would be his last try of the day. Maybe tomorrow he’s wake up smart and drop the thing altogether. The case was beginning to have that smell about it.
Of course his luck hadn’t been any better on Hyde Street earlier in the day. That morning he had taken Charlie down there to see a body in cold storage at the morgue. “The Deep Freeze” they called it, located next to the NYPD vehicle compound in an industrial area adjacent to the expressway. The unidentified body he had come to see was not Molly. She wasn’t even a brunette.
It did save him from having to make a special trip to the Checkered Cab Company however. The cab company was located in a garage next door to the Hyde Street morgue. Dispatch had located the cabbie he was looking for. The guy who was driving Sally’s Cab the night Molly had left. They called him in to speak with Jack, but again, his luck was no better.
Once again Romano had been on the up-and-up, but the guy who worked that late shift couldn’t have been any more the half-wit. His recall was so vague he scarcely remembered the call. His excuse? It was his first day on the job. While Jack thought it more likely that it was simply because the guy was about as scatterbrained as they come.
All the same he decided to call Hazelton, his parole officer, and asked what was up with Salazar. “Just checking in on Sally,” he had told him, and found out he was right about one thing. It seems Romano was a suspect in a string of recent burglaries.
He had other names on his list, but Romano Salazar was on top. In fact Hazelton had told him he was going to pick him up for questioning that very afternoon. So Jack felt lucky to have caught him before he did. “Listen, bud, do me a favor and hold up on this one. I’m following Sally on another case. Give me a few days on this and I’ll owe yah.”
Hazelton agreed, but nobody was doing anyone any favors. They both wanted the low-life locked up, but he didn’t want to stir up the pool, at least not yet. Granted he hadn’t learned a lot from Romano, but what little he did have to say appeared to have been on the level. Then again, he hadn’t found Molly yet either, and if anyone had the potential to “do in” the gift that kept on giving, this guy definitely fit the bill.
Of course that was all conjecture and he really didn’t want to get ahead of himself. Not with so many questions still left unanswered. “Heck, I still don’t even have a last name to put on the poor girl.”
Disappointed? Perhaps a bit, but definitely not defeated. “I know she’s out there somewhere,” he muttered, then with the furrowed brow of a determined man, “. . . I’ll find her.” The only question was, “Did she need his help?” On that thought he picked himself up, dusted himself off and headed toward the salon.
It was a small shop with only one woman having her hair done. The other hairdresser sat in the chair reading a magazine. That would have been Gail Newton, a slightly walleyed, but highly energetic red head working on a big wad of gum with a warm smile and a warmer welcome. “Hi yah Hon, what can I do for you today?”
“I’m here on police business and I’m hoping you might be able to help,” he replied as he flashed his badge. “I’m looking for a girl named Molly, 30 to 35, 5-6, 5-7 approximately 120 pounds, green eyes, brunette, worked as a maid down on Slade Street. She used to come in here to get her hair done,” he lied, hoping to convince her he knew more than he did.
“Molly, hmmm . . . Molly,” she said while scanning the floor beneath her feet as she searched her memory. “Not the kind of name you hear everyday. You’d think I’d remember it.”
From her appearance the woman looked as if she hadn’t a clue. “Just another waste of effort,” he thought as he mulled over in his mind all the wasted time he was putting into this case.
“Well . . . if it don’t ring a bell . . .”
“Hmmm, well, not recently,” Gail finally came alive, “but now that I think about it, there was this one girl who used to come in every once in a while way back when. Her name was Molly. Can’t remember her last name, but I still have last year’s appointment calendar. Wait a moment, let me check the office.”
Jack stood quietly and out of the way waiting for Gail’s return. He took the moment to look around and immediately picked up on the dead silence. He glanced toward the stylist and the woman having her hair done finding them frozen in place, as if mesmerized, watching and listening to every word of the conversation.
When they saw him returning their gaze they quickly turned away, hurriedly picking up where they had left off, acting rather nonchalant, as if they hadn’t taken the slightest notice of him or what was being said. “Women,” he thought. “There is truly something about their nature that would forever perplex mankind.”
He needed no other confirmation than the smells emanating from the place. With one twitch of the nostril he’d find himself overwhelmed by the rich flowery bouquet of talc’s and powders, sprays and shampoos. Then with another twitch of the nostril, the overwhelming odors of pungent chemicals and bleaches that made one wonder why women would want to torture themselves just to look pretty. It was on that thought that Gail again appeared.
“Sorry, it only says ‘Molly,’ but that was enough to jolt my memory,” her smile indicating how proud she was of that fact.
“As I recall her name was Carver. I remember that now because Carver is my sister-in-law’s maiden name, and she is quite a gardening enthusiast.” She beamed her pearly white. “Anyways, this Molly was always talking about the beautiful garden at the place where she worked. You know, that big place over on Slade Street with the big garden? But I haven’t seen the girl in a month of Sundays.”
Bingo!!!! “Molly Carver,” Jack almost tripped on his tongue, but just to make sure he had found the right Molly, he asked, “Not with a Brooklyn accent I hope?”
“Oh my gawd,” Gail sucked in her wind as if just hearing her mother had been hit by a bus. “Nothings happened to the sweet girl, has it?”
“No ma’am, leastwise nothing I’m certain of. I just need to speak with her. Do you know where I can find her?” Gail put her hand over her heart, heaved a huge sigh and then asked him to sit. So they could get personal over a nice long chat about Molly.
Gail Newton turned out to be a goldmine. She knew more about Molly than he could have possibly hoped to find. Then again, he supposed it only made sense. Wasn’t that why girls are willing to pay all that money to endure the suffering in a beauty shop? Of course they want to look pretty, but it’s the hour of chat about their personal lives that make it worth the while.
Thankfully, Molly was no exception, and spill her guts out to Gail she apparently did. Molly told her about growing up in a one-beauty-salon, Virginian town. A shop her mother owned and was the only beautician in town. Even more importantly, Molly had a son who was living with her!
“A son!” Now why hadn’t anyone bothered to tell him that very important fact? Not Katherine Kline, not Rose the cook, not Charlie her lover, not Romano the cabbie, not Willie the gardener, not anyone at the Niles Bar. How could they not know, especially Katherine. The oversight, to put it kindly, had to be intentional. The question was why?
A very important question, the answer to which he suspected would come to play in the final act of this unseemly drama. First however, he had something more important to pursue. He had to find Molly. That is, if she was still alive. Her safety had suddenly become an issue.
As to the motive he hadn’t a clue. Still, folks living on Slade Street just don’t turn up missing for no reason at all, and the thought of that grave in Katherine’s backyard was growing more ominous by the day. Maybe even a grave for two? That said, before he went digging up the backyard he had to follow out the trail first. To a Virginian woman who owned a hair salon by the last name Carver, and that was doable.
He leaned in and gave Gail a kiss on the cheek promising to call her when he found Molly. The next moment he was out the door and off to the station to tract down Molly’s mother.
Scene XI: Willie’s Eager Helper
Summer in Brooklyn. It’s said you’ve got to go through hell before you can get to heaven. Well, Rose was earning her dues. She had a pie in the oven with 15 minutes left to bake and the temperature in the kitchen was soaring. It was so hot she thought it might get done quicker if she were to take it out and set it on top of the stove to finish baking. Her clothes were damp with perspiration and the air was so thick she felt it a struggle just to breathe.
She got up and went to the kitchen window to open it up and welcome what little difference it would make. Looking out in the yard she could see Mr. McGee still hard at work. Just that morning he had shown her a gunnysack full of Crocus, Watsonia and Iris bulbs he was ready to plant for the autumn bloom. She through then as she thought now, “that man is a devoted and tireless slave to his work.”
The heat didn’t seem to be bothering him as much as it did her. He was moving about quite vigorously though apparently it still was a problem for the poor fellow to get down on his knees. She knew because there was a lattice framed window on the side of the shed and she saw him working inside, hunched forward working with something at his feet.
Whatever he was doing she could see he was not working alone. Amelia was there to help. It was hard to tell exactly the work she was doing because the windowsill blocked the view of everything below the top of her head. If planting his bulbs was what he was preparing to do, she knew it was not easy work. It was an all hands and knees job, better suited for someone with the knees to cope.
No doubt that was exactly what Amelia was doing. She was helping to sort out Willie’s sac of bulbs finding those which were most suitable to plant. She seemed quite engaged in her work too. She appeared to be going at it with a passion.
Mr. McGee seemed quite pleased. That faraway look in his eyes was enough to convince her of that. She knew he had to be grateful as well. Emptying that sac was arduous work. Not the sort of thing you simply apply lip-service to. Something Rose understood and could tell Willie did as well. In fact, he already looked as if preparing to serve up a generous outpouring of his gratitude for all her hard work. Although the way Rose saw it, the hard working girl deserved not just his gratitude, but every gushing mouthful of his copious praise as well. “Perhaps a big hug too,” she hoped.
Rose leaned against the kitchen sink counter and smiled. She couldn’t have been more proud of Amelia. The strenuous hard work for such a delicate young thing had to have been quite arduous, especially in this heat. Yet she seemed so giving of herself. Perhaps Katherine had been right after all. Pampering the child only seemed to bring out the best, not the worst in her.
A few minutes later Amelia emerged and Rose looked on with some concern. Her pink Pedal Pushers below her knees were covered with dirt. She also had her head down and her hand over her mouth as though she might have gotten hurt. It occurred to her that there must have been an accident.
“Some sort of blow to the mouth,” she thought. “Those things can happen when you’re working in tight quarters.” Willie was a big man and in all the excitement he might have been a bit too energetic, losing control of an errant limb and inadvertently poked or pushed her a bit too hard. “A girl does have to be careful when working around something like that.”
Rose watched as Katherine draped an arm over her shoulder to coddle her. Fortunately, she had been standing at the entrance of the shed where she had been throughout in case of an emergency such as this. Shortly after, both were again smiling without evidence of injury. Rose sighed with some relief knowing it could have been worse. Especially since it only required a dab or two with a tissue to wipe clean the soil still clinging to her lips.
Soon after Katherine ushered Amelia back inside and upstairs to take a bath while Rose returned to her pie just as the timer sounded. As she began putting on her oven mittens, she could hear Willie out in the yard. Whistling! Apparently he was quite please to have had someone to help relieve his burden. Now he seemed quite ready to tackle the rest of the days work.
Scene XII: The Chief’s Nephew’s Son
Jack arrived back at his office shortly before 5 Pm. He entered finding Captain Turner sitting on the end of Cecil’s desk tossing a baseball with one hand while holding a cup of coffee in the other. As soon as he entered he tossed the ball toward him. That was his way of saying he wanted to talk with him alone. The only thing is, he hadn’t seen the ball coming and it ricocheted off his forehead and back toward Turner knocking the cup of coffee out of his hand and onto his lap.
“Shit!” Scream Spike, totally pissed off. “You should watch that aim, Cap. A bit more to the right and I would’a got yah right in the nuts.”
Bob Turner wasn’t laughing. He was trying desperately to cool himself off. “Back here, Murphy, we gotta talk.” Jack was regretting this case more and more. Every which way nothing was turning out like it should. Under normal circumstances he could have caught the thing with his teeth, no trouble at all. However his mind was fixed on finding Molly’s mother. Not on playing catch with a soft shoe who thinks it’s clever to throw a Mickey Mantle autographed baseball at someone who isn’t looking.
He followed Turned into the back office and closed the door behind. “I got a call from Gretchen Heller. She says you haven’t done a damn thing on her son’s case. What’s going on, Murphy? You know the families connected. He husband is the Chief’s nephew.”
“Putting the squeeze on, huh, Bob?”
“Yeah, you can say that. Look, no matter what you feel personally about it, you have to get on this pronto. At least give the lady a call for goodness sake.”
“Sorry bout that, buddy. I’ve just been busy.”
“So I hear.”
“Damn kid,” Jack mumbled to himself, knowing Cecil had been talking behind his back.
“Look Cap, when am I going to get that replacement you promise? Maybe if I had someone who didn’t spend all day blabbing off and doing some work around here I’d have the time to get to that Heller case.”
“Don’t go blaming the kid. It’s your screw up. Besides, this Slade Street case you’re working on is a dead end anyway. I don’t need the kid to tell me that”
“Look, the Heller kid is a hop-head, plays bongos in the park when he ain’t running off. This is the third time. He belongs in a mental institution, not riding on my back.”
“Maybe you’re right, but he’s also the Chief’s nephew’s son, and if he comes down here he’s not going to be passing out hearts and flowers, or a promotion. Got me? Don’t piss him off. I’m warning you.”
“I know. It’s just that the Heller kid can take care of himself. He makes his own trouble. This girl left behind one hell of a dress!”
“Oh nothing, I’m just saying there’s something here I can’t let go.”
“It’s a looser, Jack. I’m warning you. If your pursue it, you ass will end up in the wringer. I’ll say no more!” Bob Turner turned and left in a huff slamming the door closed behind.
Jack had a knot in his stomach, while the detective in him had his eye on the phone thinking about the calls he had to make to find Molly’s mother. Spike just mumbled, “Screw the Heller kid. That ain’t nothing but a dead end. Nothing to be found there but a kid puking up his guts in some bathroom, his parents too ashamed to do anything but keep it quiet. No glory there. No promotion. No name in the morning papers. No headlines reading: “NYPD Detective a Modern Day Sherlock Holmes.”
So he didn’t heed the warning. Instead he went back to his desk and picked up the phone.
Scene XIII: The Room with a View
Whenever Rose heard that song playing on the radio it reminded her of the night she had wandered into the living room to find Katherine dancing with her daughter. If she lived to be one hundred she would never think of that song in the same light again.
“Not in a bad way,” she thought as she gathered up the linens to carry upstairs. Granted, the lyrics were a bit simplistic and naíve, but the sound of desperation in the singer’s voice put it right up there alongside the best of the old crooner’s. She felt the same about Katherine and Amelia. She thought better of them than she did of herself for all the prying. That part never sat well with her.
In truth, she had to convince herself that it was a trick of the mind, a strange anomaly attributed to the complexities of human nature that allowed her to go unseen. Something beyond her understanding, yet allowed her to hide in plain sight as she peered into their lives. Whether or not that was true she could never be completely certain. There was always some lingering doubt. In fact, she often wondered if it had not been for Katherine’s good graces she would have been discovered long ago.
Not that it really mattered all that much to her. Whether it was by way of Katherine’s tacit approval or anomalous perception, she felt drawn to do so regardless. Her ventures into the recesses of their lives were growing bolder with each passing day, Katherine’s silence lighting the way. Especially upstairs where so much went on behind closed doors, and the room with the locked door that still piqued her curiosity to a bothersome degree.
She carried the stack of folded towels destine for the upstairs bathroom through the dining room on her way up the stairway. In passing the entrance to the pallor she saw Katherine standing alongside the desk where Amelia sat. Amelia was hunched over a sheet of pink stationary and envelope writing a letter. No doubt a letter to an old friend from finishing school, something Rose had seen her doing once before.
She knew because she had seen the finished letter sitting on the dinning room table ready for the post. The handwriting on the envelope was not of the quality she would have expected. It was chunky, not fluid like the handwriting you’d expect of a girl who attended two years of finishing school. It was also decorated with hearts and flowers with a strong smell of perfume. “Very immature for a girl her age,” she remembered thinking. She had even blotted her lipstick on the back. The red imprint of her lips sealing the envelope.
All of it seemed quite inappropriate, especially given it was addressed to a girl. Presumably a girl she knew from school and who lived on Hyde Street. A girl known simply as, “Sally!”
That’s why she remembered it so clearly. Of course she was old. Old fashion to a degree, and really didn’t get around much anymore. Just the same she knew it just wasn’t right to send her friend Sally such a letter. Hearts and flowers maybe, but a perfumed letter sealed with a kiss to another girl? Girls just didn’t do that. Not in her day and age, nor should it be any different now.
She had also been to Hyde Street. It had been some years back of course, to reclaim an impounded auto. She didn’t remember it as a residential area. It was an industrial park located next to the expressway. She supposed all that had changed. The city was growing and changing everyday. Perhaps there was one of those new luxury sky rise apartment buildings down there where the Nuevo rich now lived. With a Family rich enough to afford an exclusive upstate girl’s finishing school like Katherine.
She stood and watched Amelia for a moment. She was concentrating on her letter writing, seemingly filled with excitement, unable to put her words down on the paper fast enough. Katherine stood behind her chair looking over her shoulder. Occasionally Amelia would stop and lift her head in thought. Then Katherine would lean down and whisper something in her ear. Amelia would look up, giggle then quickly return to her writing. As if re-inspired by a clever thought Katherine had just passed on.
“Well,” she thought to herself, “it’s no business of mine.” Besides it was keeping mother and daughter pleasantly occupied. At least that was reassuring to her as she continued on her way up the stairs. In passing she found Katherine’s bedroom door open. She knew the room because she cleaned it daily, just as she had earlier that morning. Still she looked in and spotted her most recent change of lingerie sitting on the rocking chair just to the right and behind the bed.
That rocking chair was Katherine’s favorite spot to sit. Rose would see her most morning sitting there as she passed by the room. With the curtains closed she’d find her reading to her daughter who would be sitting on the floor at her feet.
The rocking chair was to the right and behind the bed, so she couldn’t pick up on all that much detail in the semi-dark. Then again, even in limited light it would have been impossible not to see the glaring image of Amelia. With her hair gathered up in pigtails, she could be seen wearing pink silk pajamas, adorned with pictures of rag dolls and fairies. From top to bottom aligned with a column of big fluffy white buttons shaped like cotton balls with slippers and mittens to match. Again, the suit was hardly fit to be worn by girl her age, if even a child past ten.
Of course Rose only saw it in passing, and Katherine always lowered her voice to a hushed whisper as she did. As if ashamed to let it be known Amelia still enjoyed stories about prince and princess’ in the land of fairytales and make believe. Nevertheless she saw no good reason why Katherine would want or need to treat her daughter as if she were a child. To Rose, Katherine’s behavior seemed inappropriate and slightly off-center.
“Well, no matter,” she shrugged as she made a mental note of picking up the soiled lingerie on her return downstairs. “Besides, what do I know about kids these days? Katherine and Amelia looked to be doing just fine without advice from me.”
On that thought she turned, shut the door behind and continued on her way. At the end of the hall was the bathroom. Just to the left of the bathroom was the door that always remained locked. The chair that once stood outside came to mind, and again the thought of Gerald and the mystery surrounding that room. She gave it a casual glance in passing and to her surprise saw something wholly unexpected - Startling, in fact. The door that had always been locked was not. It was only slightly ajar, but enough to see the light through the opening.
She stopped, felt her heart race and thought of sneaking just a little peek. Why not? It was a simple, innocuous act that would harm no one. She played with that thought long enough to deliver the bundle of towels to the bathroom to unburden her hands. Then on her return she quietly pushed the door open to have her look.
What she saw was as startling as finding the room unlocked. She had been wrong. This was not Amelia’s room. It was an infant’s nursery! Whichever room Amelia slept, it certainly wasn’t this one. Not with the crib, the changing table, rattles, bottles and such.
She felt a bundle of emotions race through her all at once. The revelation had been totally unexpected. She was also a bit shocked that Katherine would want to make a shrine out of an infant’s nursery when her daughter was already a gown young woman. She would have thought all this would have been stored in the attic long ago, or given to the Salvation Army. She knew this was a big house and there were other rooms for Amelia to sleep, but why keep all this intact?
At first glance it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to her. If anything, it only helped to solidify the notion that Katherine was a bit of an eccentric. “Or was it a darker precipice she stood beside?” She wondered. “Could she be a woman still harboring the need to hold on to something she thought she lost, but in fact, hadn’t?” On the face of it, it did appear to her an obsession that had no cause and no reason.
That said, she didn’t think poorly of her. If she was a woman with a strange twist in her character, so be it. She was loyal, trusted, and considered herself a friend. Someone who could accept her faults as well as her friendship. Besides, the room was really quite lovely. If this were indeed a shrine dedicated to an infant Amelia, the children of the king of Siam could not have been given better.
She stepped in wanting to get a feel of it. It was a large room, easily the largest bedroom in the house. It had a high ceiling and a bay-style window with a built-in seat and a view overlooking the back yard. Bright and airy, the walls were covered with canary yellow wallpaper with large patterns of dolls and rocking horses. The floors were hardwood of course, rich in luster, but with a throw rug beside the crib. A rather large crib! One a toddler could get lost in and not found for days. It also looked used. With a dummy nipple, a blanket or two and even a bottle that looked as fresh as the day it had last been used. Even Katherine’s breast pump still hung draped over the side railing.
Against one wall there was a large white Elizabethan potbelly bureau and a large chiseled mirror mounted on a pedestal to adjust the pitch. There was also a changing table where a pile of diapers, pins, rubber panties, ointment and talcum still sat on top. Beside the table, there was a rocking horse. A carousel pony so richly ornate it looked to be torn from the pages of children’s storybook tale.
There were also stuffed bears, bunnies and dolls by the score. A rather large dollhouse as well, with a rubber dolly standing in front, its clothes still scattered about amongst the coloring books and paper-doll cut outs. All looking as if a child had been playing a dress-up game with her dolls that very day.
She spotted a large closet and made her way through the stuffed bears, bunnies and dolls. She wanted to see what Katherine had stored in the closet of an infant’s nursery. She had expected to find prams, carriers, toys and the like, but what she expected was not what she found. Hanging in the closet was a wardrobe of clothes. Children’s clothes, only they were clothes for a much older child. Short little dresses of satin and lace in every color and form all neatly hung alongside all sorts of fanciful wear.
One item in particular she spotted right off. It was a sleek little black dress. The same dress she had seen Amelia wearing while dancing with her mother downstairs. There was no question about it. The same sewn in silvery spangles sparkled in the room light.
“So Katherine uses this room to store the clothes Amelia wore as a young woman as well,” she muttered to herself. “How odd!”
Suddenly it dawned on her that Amelia was still very much a part of this room. “Amelia had not only been in here but she’s been using the clothes.”
She turned and looked around again. Everything looked fresh and new to her now. Nothing neither smelt nor looked as if it had been 18 years in storage. She walked over to the crib and reached in for the baby bottle. The residue of milk was not soured nor crusty or old. The breast pump still had residual traces of moisture, even the pillow and blankets showed the signs of recent use.
Now her curiosity truly got the better of her. No longer thinking about what might happen if she were to be discovered prying around, she delved deeper into the mystery. She walked over to the bureau knowing full well what she should find stored in there, but again, that didn’t prove out to be the case.
Instead of baby clothes, she found one drawer filled with panties and bras. In yet another drawer, petticoats, suspenders and fancy lace stockings of every style, weave, weight and color. In the bottom drawer she found nighties, chemises and shorts. Again, clothes for an older child or young teen, and again, nothing smelt of long storage.
She shuffled through the drawer sorting out shorts, nighties and tops until she spotted a black silk vest that nearly choked off her wind. She pulled it out and held it up to the light to make sure it was as she suspected — Gerald’s vest! The boy vest! The vest without the buttons Katherine had him wear as her errand boy before they left a year ago.
She was spellbound by the discovery. She could think of no reason why Gerald’s vest would be stored in that drawer. It was at that moment she heard footsteps coming up the steps and her heart fell to her stomach. Consumed by panic she tried hard to get hold of her wits to think what she should do. Hurriedly she put the vest back in the drawer, closed it and then headed for the door only to find it was too late. Katherine and Amelia were already half way down the hall heading for the room.
She quickly thought to exit regardless, but before starting her exit she spotted a laundry basket kept behind the door. She hadn’t a clue as to what might be in it, but she thought if she were to walk out with the dirty laundry in hand it would give her reason for having gone in there. So on instinct she quickly grabbed it, but before she could turn and walk out the door Katherine and Amelia entered. Opening the door full way to the laundry basket clutched in her arms, leaving her pressed between the opened door and the wall.
So frightened by what had happened she was frozen in place, scarcely able to breathe. She could see them both quite clearly and as yet, fortunately, they had not spotted her partially hidden behind the door. Both stood to the right of the door, not directly in her line of sight, or she in theirs. Yet like the proverbial fly on the wall she was close enough to hear a heartbeat and they didn’t even know she was there!
She stood and watched as Katherine help her daughter pull her dress over her head then helped provide support as her daughter stepped down off a pair of spiked heels that had added an extra 5 inches to her height. Amelia then unclasped the suspenders from her hosiery and carefully rolled her stockings down each leg. While Katherine unclasped her suspended belt, then gathered up all the clothes to set down on a near by chair. That left Amelia standing barefoot in only her well-stuffed brassiere and a pair of pink panties, awaiting her mothers return.
Katherine returned a moment later to unclasp the brassiere which in large part looked to be in support of a significant volume. However, once it was removed and set atop a nearby chair, Rose saw that the well-stuffed brassiere had been stuffed with nothing more than cotton. Rather large knots of it that had been posing as the predominant bosom the girl did not have. The same was true of her panties. While obviously quite full of her plump bottom, when pulled down and removed, it became apparent that what had been posing as hips was nothing more than a padded belt.
Of course from where Rose stood Amelia was facing away so she hadn’t the advantage of seeing the whole package. Plus Amelia had her arms crossed over her chest to stave off a chill. Yet she still could see from the cup of her hand why the girl need cover up. It was decidedly less than any girl would wish, but a bit more than she could palm in one hand and enough in volume to fill a measuring cup to good measure. Even so, with her boyishly slender hips she looked like a girl not yet grown into womanhood and very uncomfortable with that fact.
A few moments later Katherine returned with a bathrobe for her daughter to put on. Then just as they had entered they turned and walked out the door. Amelia was going to take her bath. Again, they exited to the right of her. Not directly in her line of sight or she in theirs. Although it did provide Rose with an interestingly new vantage point unlike any she’d had thus far. Now as they passed through the door, Amelia was facing toward her. This gave Rose a full frontal view of a pair of perky, teardrop shaped breasts, and below that, a sparsely bushed knoll at the apex of her thighs. Out from which stemmed a turgid, pendulant rise!
Surprised? You bet, but that wasn’t all of it, nor the worse. There was something even more profound that robbed her of her breath to the point of strangulation. It was that one fleeting moment before Amelia had turned her head down. It was a snapshot. One still frame unlike any other she had in her memory of her. Something she suddenly realized she had never seen before. A glimpse of her face close-up!
Her face was painted thick and bold and shades toward the absurd. With high arched brows and cheeks rouged rose-pink, it was Molly’s face, replete with blood red lips, long fluttering lashes and eyes ringed with black kohl and violet. Like mother, like son, he was her split image. Molly reborn!
Like a soldier still dazed from a near miss cannon blast, Rose leaned back, her shoulders lax against the wall. She had seen what her mind had yet to grasp. Only when she heard the bathroom door close did she let go. Slowly sliding down the wall, she crumbled into a mass on the floor. Then as the bath water ran, she pressed her face to her knees and cried.
Scene XIV: Betty Carver
Jack had put in his calls and summarized his list. It had taken him four days and when he got the final call, he grabbed his hat and coat and ran out the door like a shot. He paused for only a moment to shout out to his young apprentice, “Hold all my calls, Cecil, I’ll be back in a day or two. Oh, and I want you to run a check on a Melvin Kline. Deceased, date of death March 3rd, 1959, age 56, last known residence, 30401 Slade Street, Brooklyn. I want to know who he was married to. I also want you to keep you damn ass planted by the phone. Got it?”
Now knowing her full name he had scoured all city, state and federal documents in hopes of pulling together an evidentiary record of Molly’s existence. He hadn’t found much, but her record of birth and tax filings listing Molly as a dependent proved to be all he would need to pinpoint her mother. Brook Bend, Virginia, population 340, located 10 miles north of Calhoun at the foot of Appalachians. His destination, Betty’s Beauty Salon to see a woman he was most anxious to meet, Betty Carver, aka Molly’s mother.
It took him 10 hours to drive it. Then another 6 hours to get close enough to smell it and 3 hours just to travel the few short miles that remained. The department issue 57 Chevy he had signed out was buried beneath a layer of dust and soot and minus a taillight from a run-in with a misplaced tree, but he still got there before lunch the next morning. “Betty Carver, I presume?”
“Yeah, that’ll be me you be speakin’ to. What yah be needin’, trim, shave? You name it, Betty can do yah right nice.”
“No ma’am, I’m Detective Jack Murphy, NYPD,” he said as he presented his badge, “and I need to speak with your daughter, Molly. Where can I speak with her?”
“Ah, don’t s’pose I know. I ain’t heard from the girl since she moved back up north.”
“Why yah askin’, she in some sort’a trouble or somethin’?”
“No ma’am, I just need to ask her a few questions.”
“Then you’ve seen her recently, right?”
“Why yes sir. Err, kinda, anyway. She come through here about 8-9 months ago. Hit it lucky in the Canadian Lottery and was goin’ up to Syracuse to buy herself some lounge she heard was for sale. One with lots of pool table in case I be wantin’ ta come visit.”
“The Lottery, huh? That’s good news,” he sighed, happy enough to hear Molly was still alive 8 months ago. “How much she win?”
“Didn’t say, but she got her mama this here watch. Nice, don’t yah think?”
“Yeah, not bad,” he replied, moving away from the expensive Rolex she held up to his face. “Guess she hit it big. Did she say where the bar was?”
“Nah! Someplace close to downtown though ‘cause she said the bus station be close by if I be wantin’ to come visit. Fact, she said she were goin’ to name it after me.”
“What about her son? You didn’t mention him?”
“Gerald?” She cackled.
“Gerald!” He echoed the name he sorely needed. “Gerald Carver! Yes, is he with his mother?”
“Ah, the boy is doin’ just fine. He ain’t with his mama. The boy’s got himself a job an’ doin’ just fine I hear. Least Molly done told me.”
Jack was a bit disappointed to have not found Molly, but he was relieved to hear she was still alive and apparently doing quite well. Still the question still remained. Where had she gotten the money? If she did win the lottery then case closed, but he would’ve heard about that. It would have been in the news, and he couldn’t recall having heard about anyone from New York hitting the Canadian Lottery in years. So where had the money come from, and where was Gerald? Questions he still had to find the answers to before he’d let this case go.
He wasted little time getting Cecil on the phone. “Cecil, I want you to check with the Canadian authorities and ask if they had any lottery winners with the name Molly Carver. I’ll call you back tonight. Got it?”
“Got it! By the way,” Cecil promptly followed. “Before you hang up on me, I’ve got that information you wanted on the recently deceased Melvin Kline. It says here he was married to a Katherine Moore.”
“No kidding,” Jack muttered into the phone, then cringed as if he had suddenly caught whiff of something rotting beneath the woodpile.
“I’ve something else for you too. It’s a message from Fred Hazelton. Hold on, I’ll get it . . .”
While awaiting Cecil’s return he mulled over what he had just heard: “If Melvin Kline was married to Katherine Moore then who is Katherine Stanton?” Katherine Stanton was not a factitious name. She did exist, that much he knew. The Prep School he had called had verified the fact, as well as the existence of her daughter, Amelia.
He felt a bit ashamed to admit he didn’t know the answer to that question. He was also feeling a tad pissed off for having been duped and wanted to rush back to Brooklyn to find out the truth. At the moment however, he had something more pressing to attend to. He had to find Molly, and if he still didn’t know Katherine’s true identity by then, you can bet 5 cents to a cup of coffee that postman would know. A question he should have asked him long ago.
“You still hanging, boss?” Cecil’s voice came through the phone.
“Yeah, I got’cha.”
“Hazelton says to tell you a positive ID has been made on Romano Salazar and would be issuing an arrest warrant in the morning. Apparently some guy got tagged trying to hawk some stolen jewelry and rolled over on Salazar. It sounds like they’ve got him dead to rights too.”
“Do tell,” Jack chuckled. “I know the rat was up to something.”
“Say Lieutenant, wasn’t that the guy you thought might be involved in that case you’re working on?”
“Just a minor character, Cecil. A mouthpiece, that’s all. I’ve already gotten all I need out of the dirt bag. Give Hazelton a call back and tell him I wish I could be there to take him down myself.”
“Got’cha, boss!” Ceil managed to squeeze in before Jack hung up the phone.
A moment later Jack was off for a quick bite to eat then it was on the road again. To Syracuse finally zeroing in on Molly and, hopefully, putting an end to this confounded mess that was growing uglier by the day.
Scene XV: Silk Stockings
Rose had been a walking basket case through the remainder of the day. Paralyzed by the though that haunted her every wakened moment, and now as she tried to sleep. She was tossing and turning in bed trying to shut out that single, momentary glimpse of Amelia, err, Gerald that refused to let her go.
How she had managed to finish her work day she didn’t even know. She had simply gone through the motions. The question, her statement, caught on the end of her tongue, refusing to come out. No more need be said, Rose was in tatters and it wasn’t going away.
In truth, the longer she mulled it over in her mind the worse it seemed to get. What had been anger now teetered on the verge of hysteria, considerably more than her 68 year old heart was able to cope. How was she supposed to go back to work in the morning pretending she didn’t know what she did? How was she to live through the night with that vision of Gerald with breasts imprinted on the ceiling when she looked up, behind her closed eyes when she tried to sleep?
She looked at the time and then the phone. Should she call Detective Murphy, or should she go and confront Katherine? It was 10:30 and late, clearly too late to call detective Murphy. Although Katherine could still be awake. If not, she would wake her. Besides, maybe there was some explanation, something that could somehow make it all right. So she put on her clothes, wrapped her sore aching feet tightly in her boots and walked out into the cool autumn night.
When she arrived she used her key to enter the side gate knowing the front gate, always locked after dark would already be secure for the night. Only Katherine had that key, and since she had planned on ringing the front entrance bell, she had little choice but to walk across the yard through the garden to reach her destination. She was already midway, somewhere between the Hydrangea and the Hawthorn when a Checkered Cab pulled up and parked at the curb in front. She stopped and watched as the lights were turned off and a man got out and started to make his way toward the house. She had seen him before. It was the driver who had asked Katherine to pay Molly’s debt - The guy who tried to look like James Dean.
She could see him, but it was quite apparent that in the dark shadows and the hedge row he had not as yet spotted her. So she backed off slowly through the shrubbery then worked her way around to the back of the house to use the kitchen door. Before she rounded the corner she stopped to watch as the man walk up the steps, open the door and walk in. All done quite nonchalant, with an undaunted skip to his step. As if he owned that house! As if he owned those inside! As if he belonged there, had been there before, and there was nothing unusual about finding both the front gate and front door unlocked.
She hurried as quickly as her poor arching feet would carry her up the back steps. With her key she let herself in, quietly entering the kitchen where she saw a faint light through the space at the bottom of the dinning room door. Pressing her ear to the door she could hear the muffled sound of music coming from further on in the house. Slowly she pushed open the door and passed through the dark house toward the light and the song emanating from the living room. The very same song she saw Katherine and Amelia, err, Gerald, dancing to several weeks prior.
She advanced slowly and cautious until she spotted Katherine dressed in the same white men’s dress suit. Her hair tied in a tight bun in back and slicked back in front cutting quite the masculine profile. A few steps more and the man from the cab came into view. Dressed in blue jeans and t-shirt he was dancing with his back to her.
She stopped and watched the man waltzing to the melody, gliding so effortlessly with Amelia, err, Gerald, tied to his every step. His arms wrapped around her torso, his hands clasping, squeezing her bottom as if wringing out a sponge. Their bodies pressed into one, he wheeled her around giving Rose her first full glimpse of them pressed breast to chest, pelvis melded to Blue-Jeans.
There was no mistaking that look. With her fiery red lips and her long sultry lashes fluttering with abandon, this was not a girl, err, boy in retreat.
There was nothing unclear about the way she was dressed either. Not when you consider the near vertical rake of her heels. Or the thigh high silk stockings held in place by a pair of garters garnished with red rose appliqué. Both of which looked quite daring and bold, meant to excite the passions. Though surprising Amelia wasn’t wearing the little black dress she had been seen dancing in before. No. Instead, Gerald, err, Amelia apparently decided to brave the slight evening chill and wore nothing but panties alone!
Rose backed away and slipped out the door under cover of that song as the singer’s voice rang out, “Only the Lonely, dum-dum-dum-dumdy-da . . .”
Scene XVI: Betty’s Bar
Jack looked up and had to laugh. The sign simply read, “Betty’s Bar.” She had apparently named it after her mother just as she had promised. What’s more, across the street was the bus depot. This was all too easy.
To put it kindly, the place was a dump. He wasn’t likely to run into any Slade Street residents savoring the atmosphere of this place. Comparatively speaking, this upscale cosmopolitan establishment was differently not kosher. Unless you factored into the equation the drunks in dirty crinkled denim shirts, empty pockets and worn shoes.
He already knew that Molly’s name wasn’t on the list of Lottery winners. Which to our keen-eyed investigator could only mean one of two things: Either she stole the money or Katherine had given it to her. He still didn’t know, but one thing was certain. Wherever she’d gotten the money, if she shelled out any more than a hundred bucks for this joint it was 99 bucks too much. It did have a nice pool table though. Now that was something Spike could appreciate.
He also appreciated the fact that there were five upstairs apartments above the place. One of which belonged to the owner of this 5 star establishment. “Very convenient,” he thought as the bartender pointed the way to Apartment 3. Access conveniently provided via a flight of wooden stairs off the back alley located between the waste bins - Which in the scope of things was a pretty apt description of the place.
Jack wished he could have been a mistaken, but when she answered to the name, Molly Carver, it was clear that this used and battered shell of a girl who was once the Queen of the Niles Street Bar was indeed her. “Yah, what can I be doin’ yah for, hun?”
With dark rings under her eyes, her hair mussed and smelling of hard liquor, she was not a pretty sight. Bare foot and dressed in only her crinkled slip, she opened the door and stood by quietly listening as Jack went through all the facts he knew. In the background, a quasi-inebriated fellow hurriedly pulled on his trousers and slipped out of the room. A few moments later Molly was sitting at the end of the bed, stooped over and cupping her tear drenched face in her hands.
She admitted taking twenty-thousand in cash from Katherine in turn for her signature on the custodial rights and adoption papers. Or as she so eloquently phrased it, “I done sol my soul, Mr. Murphy.”
He shuffled through the documents she had kept bundled amidst the lingerie in the top bureau drawer. All notarized and Stamped with the seal of the State of New York, City and Borough of Brooklyn. Everything looked quite proper and legal. If he was looking for an angle to claim malfeasance or a crime, it would take more than a flatfoot who hated wearing ties and the men who wore them to figure this one out. Although somehow he didn’t think it would be found in the preparation of these documents. It all looked rather well planned, executed with precision down to the legal weight of the paper.
As Molly explained it, she came home one night to find two well dressed gentleman alongside Katherine waiting to talk with her. The whole scheme proposed over a cup of tea as casually as selling a piece of real estate. No money would change hands. At least as far as the State of New York and the City and Borough of Brooklyn were concerned. What went on between Mrs. Kline and herself, however, was another matter. If she was in agreement, then she would be expected to vacate the area immediately. If she were to return, trespass upon the property, she would be arrested.
At some point Katherine had taken her into the kitchen out of view of her two attorneys, all to afford the attorneys plausible deniability, you understand. There she handed over the small case containing the twenty-thousand. Two-hundred, one hundred dollar bills, all tightly bundled in stacks of five-thousand each. It was more money than she had ever seen in her life. An opportunity to change her fortunes forever, and the cost?
As it was so eloquently articulated to her by the attorneys, Gerald would be gaining a home and a loving mother. He would have only the best. Second, Gerald would be 18 in a few short months anyway, and at 18 he would be free to do as he pleased regardless. Third, if Gerald so wished, documents for his emancipation could be filed the very next day. With her record, it would be a very easy case for the judge to determine. Either way she would lose her son.
Of course she knew nothing of Gerald’s current circumstance, but cried sorrowfully for the mistaken choice she made. She hoped the law could somehow forgive her for what she did and wished there was a way she could make amends. Something he planned on giving her the opportunity to do. “Molly, you’re coming back with me. If I’m right about this, you might be able to square this with yourself, the justice system, your god and me.”
Scene XVII: Rookie’s Mistake
It was 6 a.m. and Cecil was standing outside the Donut Delight holding a large box of jelly donuts trying to wave down a cab. Not such an easy thing to do with your hands full during the early morning rush. It was his day to supply the donuts for the morning briefing, and with only 30 minutes to get to the station, he was prepared to jump into most anything short of a rickshaw to get there on time.
That would include a Checkered Cab with a cabbie who had a pack of camels rolled up his sleeve and a pompadour trying his damnedest to look like the late James Dean.
“Temple St. Station. Can you make it in 30 minutes,” Cecil asked as he slid in back and slammed the door closed.
“Sure thing, bud,” the cabbie replied as he was already on the move with the meter clicking, his cab accelerating in and through the traffic. “Traffic is a bitch this time of the morning so hold tight.”
Cecil was holding on for dear life and for good reason. With the sound of squealing brakes he looked out the window and saw a woman angrily waving her fist at the cab for cutting her off. In turn, the cabbie was cursing like a lunatic, and from the way he was driving Cecil thought the guy might have been just that. “Hey, I want’a get to work on time, but in one piece, got it?”
The cabbie laughed and pointed to a lace garter hanging from his rear view mirror. A very pretty lace garter garnished with a red rose appliqué. “My good luck charm. Got it last night.”
“A souvenir or trophy?”
“Souvenir. It’s true love!” The cabbie grinned, flashing his gold plated tooth. “Baby loves daddy, and daddy is just lov’in his baby.”
“Must be something special.”
“One in a million. As pretty as a Prom Queen. Not much on top, but man oh man, what an ass.”
“Better be careful, you don’t want’a piss off her poppa. He might be looking to cut that sweet little relationship off with a meat cleaver. That’ll ruin your day.”
“Nah, no poppa to worry about, and mama supports her baby.”
“That sounds big of her,” Cecil said sarcastically showing obvious disdain.
“Hey, don’t knock it. She ain’t loony. What’s whacked out is that every kid don’t have a mama who will support them no matter what. That’s love man, unconditional love.”
“Well, I guess that would depend upon your point of view.”
“That’s the problem, least that’s the way I see it. Everyone has a point of view when they oughta just be thinking about putting their kids before their on self-interest.”
“Yeah, well, what if she wants to put a ring through her nose? Or wants to tattoo her boyfriends name on her arm? You think the parents should stand back and do nothing?”
“Hey, if she wants to wear a ring in the nose it ain’t hurting anything except maybe a bit of personal pride. She’s old enough. It’s her choice, not her mother’s.”
“True, I guess, but if that’s not how the rest of the world sees it then its wrong.”
“You say I’m right and that makes me wrong? And people think the kids are crazy today.”
“Yeah, I guess it does sound a bit nuts.” Cecil replied feeling a bit self-conscious. The point the cabbie had made was a bit out of his league. It seemed sound, logical, but nothing that fit with how the real world works. It might even be considered dangerous thinking, perhaps even criminal. There was a need for people to adhere to some social standards, right? If we didn’t, who knows what might come next. Today Elvis, tomorrow boys with hair down to their shoulders and girls with pierced tongues. All the same he respected him for having the courage to say it, even if he didn’t know the guy.
“I still think you oughta be lookin’ out for that meat cleaver because that kind of thinking could land you in trouble.”
“Nah, mama and I have an understanding,” laughed the cabbie as he pulled up to the station.
“Hu, well, nice gig if you can get it,” Cecil replied as he quickly looked at his watch then pulled out his wallet to pay the cabbie.
“Thanks,” he said while getting out and handed him the 2.50 plus a quarter tip. Then he leaned in and said, “You know, for a dumb cabbie, you’re really a very smart guy.”
The cabbie looked up and replied, “The names Sally, and for a cop you ain’t all that dumb neither.”
Cecil stepped into the station with 10 minutes to spare. He made a quick dash to the office to check to see if Murphy had as yet returned, entering just in time to catch the call on the third ring.
“Detective Murphy’s office, how may I help you?”
“I would like to speak with Detective Murphy, please.” Rose was on the end of the line trying to keep her composure long enough to get through the call. She hadn’t slept a wink all night. Her nerves were frayed, her eyes were puffed red and she felt as though the bottom had fallen out from under her world.
It was almost more than her 68 year old heart could take and she was cursing herself for not retiring last year like she wanted. Now the decision had been made for her. She wouldn’t be going back to work, nor would she ever step foot in that house again. That is, unless it was with detective Murphy to identify the wrong-doer he was hauling off to jail in cuffs.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry. Detective Murphy is out of the office. May I please take a message?”
“Please. Would you have him return my call as soon as he gets in? This is Rosaline Leberwitz. Tell him I know what happened to Molly and her son. Tell him a heinous crime has been committed at the Kline residence.”
“What’s that ma’am?” He managed to get out before he heard the click of the phone. “Damn,” he cursed to himself. “Jack was right all along. This wasn’t a dead end.”
Not even close to “a waste of department time” as Captain Turned had said. The guy was on to something big and both he and Captain Turner were too blind to see it. His excuse? He was just a rookie. Captain Turner didn’t have one.
Disgusted with himself for being so shortsighted he walked over to Jack’s desk to have a look at the case file. Something he had never taken an interest in before, only now realizing his second big mistake. As he sat in Jack’s chair, opened the file and read:
“The State of New York, district and country of Brooklyn, here by issues a warrant for the arrest of Romano L. Salazar, aka ‘Sally,’ as subject to state criminal code, section . . . thief of private property in excess of . . .”
“SALLY!” Then it dawned on him. “The cab driver."
Scene XVIII: The Show Down
The next afternoon Jack still hadn’t called in. He wasn’t anywhere near a phone. He had Molly in the car and they were just approaching the Brooklyn Bridge on his way to Slade Street. In ten minutes it would all be coming to an end. First however he had to stop and make that overdue call.
He found a pay phone and called Cecil to have him send a squad car to the Kline residence at exactly 7 p.m. sharp. As it was five o’clock now, he wanted sufficient time to package everything up nicely before the patrol car arrived. Cecil responded as though he were on top of it, and then told him about the call he’d received from Rosaline Leberwitz and his chance encounter with Romano Salazar in the cab.
Jack listened quietly and it wasn’t until after Cecil expressed his heart felt apology for his erroneous judgment concerning the merit of this case that Jack let him have it.
“Yeah, okay, piss out your mouth all you want pecker breath, but it ain’t goin’ to change nothin’. Until you learn to stop feeding your face with them jelly donuts and playing kiss ass for your own self-aggrandizement you’ve always be just another dumb-ass flatfoot to me.”
“You’re right Lieutenant. I’m chalking it up as lesson number one. If I want to be a good cop then I’ve gotta learn to stop thinking like one.”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll be watchin’,” Jack summed up his point, but before he could hang up Cecil told him there was another memo sitting on his desk.
“It’s from Hazelton,” Cecil promptly added. “It’s attached to copy of an arrest warrant issued for Romano Salazar. It reads, ‘Sorry you missed all the fun. I know how much you loved the guy. Not to worry, you’ll find him down in lock up sharing in a cozy cell with that big guy from French Lick when you get back. Hazelton.’”
He was sorry to have missed out on that one, but in the scheme of things Sally was small potatoes. This Kline case had all the right ingredients to hit the front page of the morning papers. Considering the titillating aspects of the case the story might even make it to all the national papers, his picture included. Perhaps even televised interviews, and if he was lucky, a big fat promotion after all was said and done.
Of course it was still only a hunch. A pretty good one he suspected and he seldom got it wrong. He was a cop who could smell it out no matter how deep the crap was buried, and if his hunch panned out, the whole stinking mess of a case was about to be dug up and put away with all the other sewage.
He hadn’t told Molly about it however. She was his eye witness. The one who would identify the perpetrator and he didn’t want her testimony tainted. He might not be able to get her out of trouble for taking the money in exchange for her son, but at least he was going to see to it that the real bad guy, Katherine, hung from the gallows first.
He also knew the collar wouldn’t come as a result of all the legal slight-of-hand so skillfully crafted by the attorneys. Like always, the guys with the suits and ties knew how to maneuver around the law. It was like China Town, but instead of silk robes they wore suits and ties. That’s why he hated them. They never got caught. Not Katherine though, not if his hunch was right. Forced detainment, unlawful imprisonment, human trafficking, covering up to impede an investigation were crimes in any jurisdiction. All he had to do was prove it was Gerald under that dress.
He pulled up in front of Katherine’s, exhaled a huge sigh and tried to compose himself. He wanted to be ready for this. It was the moment of truth and he would have to be on top of his game. He looked over at Molly. She was sitting on the passenger’s side still with a tissue in her hand to dry her eyes.
“Now I know you’re not going to like any of this, but it’s important that you keep a firm grip on yourself for your son’s sake. You did wrong by him Molly, and there ain’t much I can do to protect you from the punishment you’re due. But this is your moment to make up for it. You can save your son and redeem yourself. Only that ain’t going to happen if you fall apart on me. Now, are you up for it, kid?” Jack asked, careful to air only his unwavering determination.
He didn’t want to give any false hope or lead her to believe all this was going to come out alright in the end. He didn’t even want her to think he felt sorry for her, because he didn’t. From all he’d seen, all he’d heard, this was an unfit mother. She was a girl completely out of control who didn’t deserve sympathy, only the firm application of the law.
Besides, he had seen it before - the cowed face, the quivering lip of fear; the eyes that sought forgiveness showing repentance. None of it ever persuaded him. Yet she did manage to coax a slight smile from him. Albeit somewhat twisted in a rather snide sort of way. The kind of smile you’d expect from a ruthless hunter like Spike. A guy so full of himself nothing ever got in his way.
Jack told her to wait in the car. While Spike, still unshaven and his crinkled shirt still hanging out, trod up the steps and rang the bell. A moment later he was flashing his badge and stepped through, not around Katherine as she opened the door. She had not met Spike before, but she was about to get a good taste of him now.
He followed Katherine into the Living room. Gerald, err, Amelia was already there, having come quickly to Katherine’s aid. Spike wasted little time in presenting his case. The allegations all based on what he had convinced himself were true.
“Katherine Kline, I need ask you. Is Stanton truly your maiden name?”
“No Sir, it is not. My maiden name is Moore.”
“I’ve already made that determination, ma’am. It would seem the Stanton’s live next door and Amelia Stanton is their daughter, nor yours. That would also be the girl who had attended Amherst Girl’s Preparatory at the time you claim your nonexistent daughter had. Although from all I can ascertain, the two of you have never met, and the use of her name as an alias for your nonexistent daughter was nothing more than a convenient way to thwart my investigation. That’s the bright side and with any luck, the least you shall be held accountable for.”
“Ma’am, Mrs. Klein, it is my firm belief you have broken the law by forcibly detaining Gerald Carver against his will, and wrongfully imprisoned him by forcing him to wear girl’s clothes. You have also engaged in unlawfully trafficking in the purchase of a person for the sum of twenty-thousand dollars. Furthermore, you lied to impede a police investigation and that’s just for a start! In short ma’am, what I am alleging is that this girl, this, this aberration you have holding on to you is in fact Gerald Carver, and I’m intent on proving it!”
Katherine flushed a feverish red, her rage written across her brow. Her look, her posture didn’t give a single clue as to her guilt. She looked pissed off, not worried, but then so did Spike. The pair of combatants where near nose to nose as if in a stare down to see who would blink first.
“No she isn’t, and no you won’t!” Katherine hissed between clenched teeth.
Without so much as a blink or break in her stare, she latched on to Amelia’s shoulder and pulled her between herself and the detective. “I’ve done nothing wrong detective,” she said as she reached round and began unbuttoning her daughter’s blouse.
Spike, Jack and the detective watched as she unbuttoned it full. Then she pulled the blouse down over her shoulders revealing two pear-shaped breasts, quivering like two small molds of Jello. Shaking from fright, her tears fall like rain drops onto her breasts, then into rivulets that cascaded down to the floor.
Spike thought they looked a pretty fine pair while Jack only saw the horror it in. The detective however was looking at something quite different. His attentions were drawn to a light discoloration about the size of a quarter located just under the left clavicle. It was a birth mark, one that had a rather peculiar shape to it too. Sort of shaped like the profile of a horse’s head.
“There’s no need ma’am,” he quickly responded as he broke off his gaze. Then he thrashing angrily with his hands to signal he had seen enough. “Cover those up.”
Katherine pulled the blouse back over her daughter’s shoulders while the frightened quivering girl clenched the ends of her blouse closed to cover up. “Is your name Amelia and are you my daughter?” Katherine asked her daughter.
A moment later, Jack was walking out the front door on his way to get Molly. He knew the boy was lying. He was not a she. Amelia was only the product of Katherine’s evil mind. After a year of brainwashing she had apparently convinced the boy it was true. All the same, it hardly mattered. He was destined for a psychiatric hospital regardless and Katherine to jail. All he need do is ask Molly to identify that birth mark and the jig would be up.
Molly’s tearful entrance affected neither Katherine nor Gerald nor Amelia. Katherine stood stone-faced and Gerald with his head bowed to the floor. Amelia stood clenching her unbuttoned blouse over her breasts, sobbing almost as loudly as Molly.
Molly made no effort to acknowledge her son. Jack had asked her to remain quiet. To do nothing until asked, and only then response to his request no matter what was to happen.
“Molly Carver, is this your son Gerald?” he asked as he pulled Amelia’s collar back over the left clavicle.”
Molly crumpled down into a heap onto a chair. Through her tears and through the hands that covered her face she bellowed, “Yes, yes that’s my Pea’ches.”
“No I’m not!” Gerald screamed out in defiance. Then Amelia tearfully followed between sobs of despair, “My name is Amelia!”
Spike, the bull-dog, was enraged. To think this sick pathetic little thing could lie with such a bold-face. Not just to him, but to his own mother. Even such as she was she deserved more respect than that from the likes of him.
There was no detective in him now. No Murphy to look over his shoulder. He was a man consumed by his pride, determined to keep his unblemished record and his reputation in tact. Then like a man possessed - a man blinded by his rage - he slapped the boy, open handed with the palm of his hand.
Gerald’s face was wrenched to the right cringing from the shock of the blow. Amelia’s tears were sent flying like shrapnel from an exploding grenade. “Are you Gerald?”
“NO!” Gerald replied defiantly, straightening up and staring into his eyes, while Amelia’s tears fell like a rainy autumn day.
Spike was angry, his contempt for the boy who he knew was lying consumed him, “You’re lying! I know you’re lying because Molly, your mother, says so. She just identified your birth mark, proof positive you are indeed her son. So say it boy… DON’T PLAY WITH ME!”
“Are you Gerald?”
“NO!” Gerald stood steadfast while Amelia’s tears rained like spindrift on a stormy winter’s sea.
Spike had now lost what cool he had left in him. No longer feeling sympathy or compassion, he pushed Gerald back until he ran him up against the wall. Holding him tightly with one hand, he reached out and swung with the other, slapping him again hard with the back of his hand.
Gerald’s face spun to the left by the force of the blow while Amelia’s tears scattered like chards from a shattered pane.
“Are you Gerald?”
“NO!” Smack! Gerald screamed, and again Amelia’s tears whipped through the air like a phalanx of arrows.
“Are you Amelia?”
“NO!” Slap! Again Gerald cried out, deaf to all but the anger and the hate in Jack’s voice, while Amelia’s teardrops were driven like windborne sand.
“Are you Gerald?”
“NO!” Smack! Gerald shrieked and Amelia’s tears sprayed like buckshot.
“Are you “Amelia?” “NO!” Slap!”
“Gerald? Amelia? Gerald?” again and again he asks, he slaps and he vents his rage. Amelia’s tears flung left and right, Gerald’s defiant “No’s” and his resolve steadfast, until he could go on no further. Only then did both Gerald and Amelia break down and cry.
“I’m Gerald! I’m Amelia! I am Gerald and I am Amelia!” Gerald screamed and Amelia’s tears fell. Then Gerald-Amelia stooped to pick up the hem of her skirt and pulled down her panties.
Scene XIX: Murphy’s Law
After order returned - after Jack had grabbed Spike by the collar and wheeled him in - the detective began to arrest Katherine. He pulled out his cuffs from his back pocket and began reading the rights granted to her by the Constitution. The constitution that Spike had shown no regard for when he had assaulted Gerald. Now he was the bad guy!
A shame he now felt. The same sense of shame he saw on Molly’s face. Now he felt the same quiver of his lip. Now his eyes sought forgiveness showing repentance for the crime. Now it was he who lamented, for getting involved in this whole stinking mess. Only it was too late for that. The damage had already been done.
He looked at Gerald. His face red, his lip cut, his tears drowning out his eyes. He didn’t feel sorry for him or pity him, but he did envy him just a little. Gerald was free to cry.
Murphy understood the law and he knew justice. Spike had won the confession and caught the bad guy because he knew the two were too often not the same. Nonetheless that didn’t give him the right to take the law in his own hands. All he needed to do was have the boy examined to determine his true gender.
Instead he had forsaken the law and unleashed Spike to extract his justice, and now all Jack’s good work was going to cost him. Maybe jail, maybe his badge. If he was lucky maybe just a demotion, his good record shot to hell. Only nothing in this case was turning out like it should and he probably wouldn’t be so lucky.
Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. This was just one of those cases. All the telltale signs were there from the start. As the line he had cast began to unfurl, he should have seen it was tied to his own foot.
Though sadly, he hadn’t listened. Not to Bill Turner, not to Cecil, not to his own good sense. He had only listened to his Spike - his pride — that part of him which compelled him to continue the pursuit no matter the cost. Now the unfurling line he had cast was going to pull him down beneath the deep blue sea. While above him safely on deck was Katherine, waving her cheerful good-bye. If ever he needed to figure an angle short of turning his back on the crime it would have to come quick.
After Katherine had acknowledged her rights, he was about to slap on the cuffs when Gerald grabbed onto his wrist, his long red nails piercing the soft, pliable underside to anchor his grip. He stared menacingly at the boy, both cheeks still reddened with his hand prints, a trickle of blood falling from his lip. Gerald stared back then moved in and stood between Katherine and Jack.
“I am not Gerald. Gerald is gone. Dead! I buried him an’ my past, and I’m happy I done it. Katherine is my ma. I’m her Amelia! If you say I’m not, then I’m nobody. I’m just nameless and purposeless, a thing that will never again be more than I is right now. I got me an identity now! A purpose! Somethin’ I ain’t ever had before. I’m complete, not broken. That’s what Katherine done for me. She rescued me, and she ain’t forced me to do nothin’. I’m now what I want’ah be and what I done I done to myself!”
“So if you be thinkin’ it’s a crime to kill the boy I never was then arrest me. I committed the crime. Just leave my mama along!”
Spike looked none to happy, though it hardly mattered. Murphy was in charge now. A man with a need to work his way out of the mess without any more harm to himself.
Of course he knew Katherine had no right to turn him into a girl whether he consented to it or not. However, when you take into consideration how the boy felt and all the psychiatrists who’ll no doubt team up in support, what judge was going to hold her to account? Especially in light of what Spike just did. Somehow he figured the merits of the case weren’t going to have quite the same legs that Gerald’s assault charges would have against him. Besides, the facts of the case were not at all as he once believed them to be.
The truth is he had come to arrest Katherine having convinced himself he had uncovered a horrendous crime. Now he was going to leave knowing he had been wrong. Gerald hadn’t been bartered nor had he been forced to do anything. He was simply a prisoner of his own biology from which Katherine helped manage his escape. It was quite clear to him now. This had been Gerald’s journey, not Katherine’s.
Yes, flesh is elastic, malleable and can be configured as you wish. Male to female, church-marm to bimbo and degree matters not. “But the person you are inside can only be determined by you!” Now, thanks to Katherine his biology and his person were one in the same. His identity, one of his own choosing. He was Amelia, and forever, Katherine’s daughter.
He backed away and turned toward Molly to help her up. “Come along, Ms. Carver, I know a bar where a fella and a fine young woman such as yourself and partake in a bit or refreshment. What’cha say, ol’girl?”
“Molly wiped away her tears, stood up straight and braved a smile. “Somethin’ close by I’m a hopin’, Mr. Murphy.”
Together they started to leave, pausing only for a moment to watch mother and daughter embrace before closing the front door behind. All things considered, he thought of it as a pretty fair accounting of justice served. Clearly the transformation of Gerald into a girl had also managed to transform the divided boy into an undivided man. Then he shrugged, turned away and thought to himself, “Yeah, well, perhaps it had for me too!”
Jack had just pulled out and was already halfway down the street when behind him he saw a Checkered Cab pull up in front of Katherine’s home. He stopped, looked out his rear view mirror and saw Romano (Sally) getting out. Romano walked around in front of his cab, leaned back against the hood and began to fidget with a pink envelope he held in his hand. As if to study it one final time before he stuffed it in his back pocket. Then with that lopping gait of a restless James Dean he walked toward the house.
Romano looked pretty confident, like a man who knew his way around. He paused only long enough to slide a hand down his pants to adjust himself. Then after combing back his slicked back pompadour, he walked up the steps and right through that door as if he belonged there — As if he owned the place — As if he owned the people inside!
Spike slammed the steering wheel with his fists. “The low-life, the scum,” he cursed under his breath. “I thought they were going to lock this guy up. Shit, does the guy have nine lives or something? Well, at least this bad guy wouldn’t be slipping through my fingers. Not with an arrest warrant for Grand Thief. I’ll get my collar.”
He backed up to the curb, turned the engine off and with one foot already out the door Spike said to Molly, “Hold tight, Sugar! I’ll be right back.”
"It was late, already past dusk when Murphy spotted hi, but it was Spike who when in after him . . ."
To Be Continued in Book 2: "Red Harvest"
Lyrics: “Mack The Knife,” Bobby Darin, Curb Records, 1959.
“Only The Lonely,” Roy Orbison, Monument Records, 1960.
Acknowledgements: My very special thanks to Sephrena Miller and Robyn Smith for the editorial support and Jessica Mathews, my hope and my inspiration.
©2007 by Josie ©. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, and compilation design) may be printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without expressed written consent of the copyright holder.
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