A Darin Z. Krogh Mystery from HEATER MAGAZINE........
Several smoothed boulders rise up out of the water behind the Upriver Dam. Standing on the boulders are a flock of seagulls and a single cormorant. The birds seem to look with disgust at a woman’s face down body bumping against the rocks as it drifts downstream. Her hair is spread out on the water’s surface. Her jewelry reflects in the morning sun. The gates aren’t spilling this late in the summer, so the dead woman will float behind the concrete dam until someone notices. She will be easy to spot, a gold lamé dinner jacket is tight across her back and rising higher out of the water as the gases of decomposition bloat her corpse.
This human form is an annoyance to the cormorant waiting for fresher prey. The seagulls are waiting too, hoping the cormorant leaves a bit of fish carcass behind. Fortunately, the dead woman will avoid the desecration of being pecked by birds. It has been a long time since any good luck had come her way.
* * *
I entered the door to my front office shortly before the noon hour.
My receptionist, Miss Avis DeHaven, was at her desk deceiving someone on the telephone, "Detective Hart is testifying at a trial and will be out of the office indefinitely.” She had been blessed with a talent for putting off anyone whom I was dodging. Avis called herself my "secretary" for two years now, although most of her time was spent working crossword puzzles.
Avis hung up the phone and looked at me, “A deputy from the sheriff’s office has called twice this morning. He said to look on the front page of the morning newspaper.”
“Yes. There’s only one story with big headlines, a dead woman found floating in the Spokane River. Behind the Dam.”
“Did you get the deputy’s call back number?”
She tore a sheet from her notepad and handed it to me. Then she picked up her crossword puzzle, “Cartilage that’s the main ingredient of turtle soup? Seven letters, starts with a ‘C’?”
"No other calls?"
"None. What's the turtle soup ingredient?" she said, handing me a cup of coffee.
She looked down at the puzzle, “That fits. You studied turtles during your one semester at college?”
“No. It’s something you learn if you go out to dinner once-in-a-while.”
Avis was concentrating on the puzzle and did not perceive my insult.
In my inner office, I dialed the number. The sheriff’s deputy told me to stay right where I was.
At noon, two determined deputies came into my inner office without being announced.
They sat down in the chairs facing my desk. I could feel the radiation of an adversarial attitude. One of them was chewing gum. Both were wearing cowboy boots and bolo ties
“How may I be of service to the Sheriff’s Department?”
“We got a tip, Hart, that maybe you had a part in springing a patient outta the State hospital at Medical Lake. Maybe kidnapping. Somebody fingered you from a photo." The deputy held up my detective license application photo. "They call it kidnapping.”
“Two months ago, on a Friday.”
“Naw, I’d remember that.”
“A Mrs. Daisy Bentley, formerly Daisy Whittington,” illuminated the taller deputy.
“Let me check my files.” I opened the drawer on the right side of the desk, which contained a fifth of Canadian blend, a phone book, and my .38 revolver in a holster. I peered at the three items for a decent interval then advised, “No, nothing in my files with that name.”
“Maybe her phone number’s in your address box there.” The gum smacker took out his chewing gum and pressed it onto the top of the oak index card box on my desk. His spittle ran off onto the desk top.
I pointed at the gum, “That’s the kind of thing that spreads disease, Deputy. Is there a history of rabies in your family?”
He bared his teeth, “Your business license is up for renewal in 73 days, snoop."
“Take a look at the index cards, if it’ll clear my name.”
“Not so easy, gumshoe. Yesterday, Daisy Bentley’s body was found floating in the water behind Upriver Dam. She’s been missing from the mental hospital for two months. You’re a suspect.” He slapped down an early edition of the Chronicle on my desk.
I put on a blank face and declared, “Even the death of strangers is tragic to me.”
The two detectives stood up and hitched their pants like their pockets were full of fishing sinkers.
They walked to the door. The gum chewer turned and said, “Get back to us with some names and details. If your memory doesn’t get better, you’re gonna have to sell encyclopedias to pay the rent.”
The other deputy opened the door, “Your office here smells like a public toilet. Maybe you ought to open a window.”
I sniffed with exaggeration, “Good idea, Deputy. That stink wasn’t here an hour ago.”
The deputy flicked the brim of his Stetson and spit in my potted plant. They exited slamming the door behind them.
I had let the Sheriff’s deputies get under my skin. Everything in my world hinges on my detective license. It’s the key to my remarkable success story. These deputies might bird-dog my trail until they stumbled across proof of my connection with the Daisy Bentley’s kidnapping from the State Hospital. I should have poured them a drink and thrown them a bone regarding this matter. But I didn’t have any bones that I could share. I didn’t know Daisy was dead until they told me.
Daisy Bentley’s sister, Cat Whittington, had come to my office a couple of months before.
When I arrived at work that day, Avis DeHaven spoke in a low voice, “A Miss Catherine Whittington is waiting in your office. She ‘simply must’ see you. I offered her a cup of coffee but she declined. I think she is accustomed to better china.” Avis pantomimed drinking from a teacup with her pinkie finger pointed up. "She mentioned Attorney Hudlow.” Hudlow was a lawyer of flexible ethics who hired me to photograph studies in black and white, mostly cheating spouses, in flagrante delicto if possible.
Avis held up her pocket mirror so I could check the knot in my tie and the bloodshot in my eyes. Good knot, bad eyes. I turned the doorknob and eased into my office.
A woman looking like this town’s idea of a movie star was seated in the rented office chair across from my desk. She wore a hat that looked like a fancy turban. Her shoulders were draped in a fur stole made of several minks stitched together, heads and all. Under that, she wore a silk dress that didn’t quite cover her knees. She had a perfect nose.
I decided not to ask the first question that came to my mind, “What are you doing here in my office?” Instead I queried, “Miss Whittington?”
“Thank you for seeing me,” she spoke crisply as she extended her gloved hand. I shook. It felt like soft butter.
“My name is Catherine Whittington, but my friends call me ‘Cat’,” she answered, turning on a smile that warmed up my gloomy office. Suddenly, the sunshine poured in through the windows. Even the little heads on her strung together mink pelts seemed to be smiling and clapping their tiny lifeless paws.
She looked at one of my business cards. “How does one properly address a private detective, by their first, middle or last name, Mr. Rainsford Francis Hart?”
“My friends call me ‘Rainy.’ Tell me why you’ve come today, Cat?”
“It’s my sister. She’s in a desperate situation.”
“We specialize in desperate situations.” I pulled out a pad, so I could pretend to take notes while studying her cheek mole for signs of authenticity.
“Attorney Hudlow said that you work discreetly.”
“I am a very private investigator. Your sister’s name?”
She lit a cigarette. “Daisy,” said Cat Whittington while exhaling a blue cloud and then pulling her head back to avoid breathing any of her own smoke.
“Not anymore, now it’s Daisy Bentley. That’s the problem. The man she married.”
I knew a few things about Cat Whittington’s family. They were the banking Whittingtons. They hovered just above the top rung of Spokane’s two-rung social ladder. Over the years, the Whittingtons were often featured on the pages of this town’s newspapers. Mostly social events, Junior League balls, gala soirees at the Country Club, and tuxedo dinners to celebrate the return of some dashing expatriate.
Cat’s family owned the biggest house on Rockwood Boulevard. The joint included an elevator and a five-car garage, one of Spokane’s few true mansions. I recalled that Mr. Oliver Whittington had expired a couple of years before.
That was all I knew without help.
Cat filled in the rest. She reported that the Whittington family had suffered even more tragedy. Her mother, Alta Whittington, saddened at her husband’s death, may have mistaken her doctor’s orders regarding a sleeping medication and died of an overdose.
Cat Whittington informed me that Daisy married shortly after their parents’ deaths. Cat reported that Daisy had shown signs of despondency after their mother died.
She recounted her brother-in-law’s successful effort to have Daisy declared mentally defective for what was a mere nervous breakdown. Daisy had been committed to the state mental hospital ten miles west of the city, on the shores of a pond misnamed Medical Lake. Legal requirements demanded that a doctor and two respectable friends join the husband in signing commitment papers. Signatories were found and well paid, according to Catherine.
“Phillip refused to place Daisy in a private sanitarium.” Cat began to sob. “He insisted that Daisy be thrown in with the patients at the state institution. She is not strong and cannot abide a public bedlam.”
Her brother-in-law’s motives were clear to Cat. While Daisy was indisposed with a slight mental disorder, Phillip was “managing” her monthly stipend. Cat figured he was rat-holing Daisy’s inheritance.
Then she revealed how I might assist her in this sad matter. “Mr. Hart, can you sneak my sister out of that mental hospital?”
That specifically answered my unspoken question at the beginning of our meeting-Why had Miss Whittington come to my office? She was seeking assistance of a criminal nature.
“Sneak her to where?”
“I have a home rented in the woods on Coeur D’Alene Lake, a secret place where Daisy can hideout. There’s sunshine and the breeze off the lake. It has a tennis court. We’ll play tennis every day like we did when we were growing up. It will help Daisy heal. I know it will. Attorney Hudlow agrees.”
I should have refused the case. A private detective is required to keep his nose clean in order to retain his license to investigate. However, my present financial condition drove me to compromise. Business was slow. Recently, spouses in Spokane seemed to have quit cheating. I hoped it was a temporary phenomenon. And to further blur my standards, lust raised its ugly head. Catherine Whittington was salt on my tail.
She counted out a stack of one-hundred dollar bills on my desk. I explained that I could not write her a receipt due to the nature of this job. We walked to the door while I assured her that the matter would be resolved.
* * *
Removing Cat's sister from the asylum would require help. I hired a nurse recommended by the crooked lawyer Hudlow. Then I got an "insider,” one of my buddies, Leo Panky, who was familiar with the State Hospital. Leo regularly spent 90-day observation periods in the place in order to repair his "battle fatigue" he acquired while fighting the Nazis.
My plan was to fake a sympathy visit to the state hospital at Medical Lake. The Hospital was overcrowded and short of staff, so we were not challenged as we entered the back door with Leo Pankey in the wheelchair.
Leo played Daisy's terminally ill father who wanted to say goodbye to his child before he cashed in. The story brought a tear to my eye. My part was to push the wheelchair. Hudlow's hired nurse spoke medical lingo to any staff member who confronted us. Most of the hospital employees were too busy chasing patients to give us much attention.
We asked an attendant to direct us. We found Daisy in a post-electroshock-therapy stupor. Daisy didn't know we were coming. While no one was looking, my hired nurse injected Daisy with some brain-numbing shot. We put her in the wheelchair and strolled out on the grassy area behind the hospital. At the parking lot, we put Daisy in the back seat of my car. We drove out of the parking lot. I sped away down Hospital Road to the highway, backing my foot off the gas pedal whenever I thought my speed might draw attention.
I refused to haul Daisy to the final destination in Idaho on account of the high level of jeopardy that comes with transporting kidnap victims across the state border. Cat Whittington met us at a Spokane motel. The nurse would stay with the two sisters at the hideout to assure Daisy's well-being. I'd had no communication with Cat since handing off her sister. I preferred it that way. Before we parted, Cat paid me the biggest cash wad of my career.
How could tennis and fresh lake air fail? I had presumed Daisy's restoration had gone smoothly. The two Sheriff's deputies had blown up that presumption.
I called up to the Whittington Mansion Rockwood Boulevard. I asked for Cat. She answered the telephone in a tense voice.
"How could this happen, Mr. Hart?"
I didn’t have time to comfort the sorrowful sister. "Did you tell the cops that I took your sister out of the hospital?"
"No. I told them that I did it. Never mentioned your name. I told them that I'd kept her in isolation here at the house."
"I need you to come to my office and sign a contract. Leave a $200 check as a retainer for me to look into Daisy's death. Somehow the sheriff has linked me to the kidnapping. Two deputies say I'm a suspect. If I'm your hired detective, that will justify my investigation into this matter.
"Sure, Rainy. Please find out what happened. The police won't give us much information. Even my attorney is getting snubbed. Daisy was shot before she was dumped in the river."
"In the back."
"I'll come now," she said.
"I won't be in the office but I'll have Avis prepare the contract for you to sign."
We hung up. A drowning or suicide had turned into murder.
I called Avis DeHaven and instructed her on the preparation of the contract and emphatically repeated that Cat Whittington must leave a check, not cash. I wanted some quick proof for the cops if they questioned me nosing around the death of Daisy.
I tried to think of people who might know more than me about the death of Daisy Bentley. My best source was usually Detective Mick Kelly, who at this time of day would likely be lunching at Mother's Kitchen, a cop hangout the downtown area.
I slipped into the back door of the restaurant. The place was usually noisy and always choked with a thick haze of cigarette smoke. The jukebox was playing loudly like it always did to cover up conversations meant to remain private.
You could get anything at Mother’s Kitchen: illegal Canadian booze, a sex partner, a poker game for money, or a chicken-fried steak. A lot of cops strained their necks in Mother’s looking the other way.
Mick and I were buddies from the War.
Mick Kelly got hired as a beat cop when we got back home from Nazi Land. In a couple of years, he had jumped up to the rank of detective in the department.
I worked as a railroad dick for a year. The job amounted to throwing bums out of boxcars. After one too many broken bottles waved at my nose, I quit billy-clubbing bums and started my own private investigation agency.
Mick’s wife, Carole, had been my girlfriend after we got back stateside. Carole’s dad was a retired cop and her grandfather had been a cop. She wanted to marry a cop. I wanted to be a cop. We were made for each other. But reality stepped in. I couldn’t get hired with the Spokane Police Department. Mick did and won the woman.
I found him at the counter eating the lunch special.
“Rainy, how are you?”
“Good and bad. I need a favor.”
“Will it get me fired?”
"Can I talk to you in private?"
He rolled his eyes.
We sat down at a nearby table and Mick turned his hands up, bidding me to speak.
“I’ve taken a case for Catherine Whittington.”
“Whittington? Related to the girl they fished out of the river?”
“Her grieving sister.”
“I’d like a look at the coroner’s report on Daisy Bentley?”
"No way, Rainy. You're hot. Your name came up at the shift briefing."
"Mick, you know I will gently cut a corner if required, but I'd never be part of murder."
"I'm still not giving you the autopsy report, but I will tell you one secret about the report that can't go public.
"What's that? I already know she was shot and dumped in the river."
He shook his head, "The dead woman was pregnant."
"Just a little, maybe six weeks along.”
"Thanks.” I ducked out of Mother's.
The next morning, I called Cat. She seemed only slightly shocked at the news of her sister's condition. An hour later, I pulled into the Whittington's vast circular driveway and parked.
The lawn was thicker than any golf course fairway. I stood under the portico and pressed a doorbell. A thick-necked gentleman in a suit pulled the massive door open slightly and issued an officious, “Yes?”
“I’m here to see Miss Catherine. I work for her."
“She may still be sleeping. Wait here.” He started to shut the door.
I stuck my shoe inside to prevent the door’s closure, then pushed back sharply and squeezed into the Whittington entry room.
The butler's eyes narrowed. He spoke, “Do come in.”
“It’s better that I wait here inside,” I explained. “I’m not the kind of guy who should be seen standing on anyone’s front porch in this neighborhood. Tell Miss Whittington that Rainy Hart is here to see her.”
“Don’t move.” He stepped down the hallway. After several minutes, the butler returned.
“Miss Whittington will see you in the family office. She wants to know how you take your coffee?”
“Black.” I followed him down the hallway with marble floors covered with thick Persian rugs. We passed an oak-paneled dining room, a conservatory with large terra cotta pots but no plants, and an elevator with a lion’s head on the brass door.
I ask the butler his name.
“I’ve never met a butler in Spokane, Martin. You’re the first.”
“I’m not surprised.”
We stopped outside a closed door. Martin knocked then turned to me like I was some lint on his jacket and asked what I did for a living. He frowned when I told him.
Martin opened the door then stepped back down the hall.
Cat was seated at a big mahogany desk in the middle of the room. The desk looked too big for her.
A serious male in a pinstripe suit and subtle green tie sat in a chair on her side of the desk. I felt a two-against-one air in the room.
I began to speak, but Cat cut me off and then looked to the adjacent gentleman for help.
“Mr. Hart,” he began, “My name is Fletcher Heaps. I am the Whittington family attorney.” He was young and got taller as I got closer. His attire was stylish and he looked healthy, kind of collegiate, like he might be playing polo this afternoon.
“Mr. Heaps,” I began gently, “I would like to see the last will and testament of Miss Whittington’s father.. It’s part of my investigation.”
“Your investigation?" Heaps said looking down at some papers on the desk.
“Into the death of Catherine’s younger sister Daisy,” I explained.
“Aren’t the police working on the case?” he asked.
Martin showed up with coffee and distributed it to the three of us.
“Yes, the police are on the case. But Cat, rather, Miss Whittington and I thought that a more discreet investigation might be useful. Father Whittington’s last testament might provide some insight into the matter. This is a complicated crime with a scarcity of solid clues.”
“Mr. Hart, on my recommendation, Catherine has decided to terminate your services. Immediately. Please cease any more detecting on her behalf.”
Heaps picked up a paper from the desk and extended it in his hand, indicating that I should take it. I studied the termination paper which had a check attached. The amount of the check was a few dollars short of my total income for last year.
“But there were some efforts made prior to Miss Daisy’s death that involve Catherine and myself," I protested. "We are possibly in some legal jeopardy.” My reference was to the kidnapping of Daisy from the state institution at Medical Lake.
Heaps pinched his closely-shaven chin and cranked up the serious tone of his voice, “Mr. Hart, that activity is better not spoken of ever again by yourself and others. Your role in this matter certainly makes you the most vulnerable of all the parties involved. In a court of law, Catherine’s role could be excused as sisterly love. Your motivation was financial, not nearly as easy for a jury to forgive.”
His point was not wasted on me.
Heaps let me contemplate the situation while he stacked up horizontal wrinkles on his prominent forehead.
Finally he spoke. “I believe our time together this day has come to an end,” and he sat back down in his chair next to Cat.
I tried to get something before going into full retreat, “Perhaps I could have a private moment to speak with Miss Whittington?”
“I am afraid that is impossible, Mr. Hart.”
Martin entered the room and said to me, “Mr. Hart, may I show you to the door?” It wasn’t a question.
I folded the termination paper and put the check in the breast pocket of my suit, then retraced my steps back down the hall feeling that I had been slugged in the stomach.
When we got to the door, Martin swung it wide open and spoke, “Will you be chasing suspects for the rest of the day, Mr. Hart?”
“Every day. All day.” I stepped out onto the porch.
“Your life must be like the Hardy Boys,” the butler said and grinned for the first time in my presence.
After I stepped outside, the huge door was slammed behind me.
As I walked to my car, I wished that I had been able to rip up Heap’s check and toss the scraps in his face. But I needed the money since future detecting in this case would be at my own expense. That’s the wrong way to run a business. And if the cops got solid proof of my part in the kidnapping, I wouldn’t have a business to run. Hell I could end up in jail.
* * *
I got up the next morning certain that the only person with a motive to murder Daisy Bentley was her husband. But things were a little more complicated.
In the afternoon, I found Police Detective Mick Kelly stirring a bootleg drink at Mother’s Kitchen. I began pumping him.
“Phillip Bentley is the only suspect in the murder of Daisy.”
“No, not really,” Kelly corrected me. "Phillip Bentley was found dead this morning in a bungalow he owned down by the river. Shot once right in the heart. Through the back like his wife.He had no reason to kill Daisy and lots of reasons not to."
"How can that be?" I was stunned.
"We went over the Whittington’s Last Will And Testament. Daisy’s husband didn’t have a reason because Mr. Whittington’s estate portioned out the inheritance to his daughters, month by month. And if either of those daughters died, a widowed husband ceased collecting another penny from the Whittington fortune.”
“So Daisy’s husband had her right where he wanted her, married to him and locked away in the Medical Lake asylum. But then you hijacked her from the hospital, so I’ve heard. And then Daisy died. I figure Daisy’s husband was more likely to kill you than Daisy. The estate attorney said that the only way Phillip Bentley could collect any of the fortune after Daisy’s death was if Daisy had birthed him a child.”
Then Kelly looked hard at me, “I’m waiting for you to pay me back with some information this case that I don’t know.”
I made up an excuse to leave. My mind turned to the hideout at Coeur D’Alene Lake. The key to these crimes might turn upon the events lakeside. I had phone calls to make.
Avis DeHaven was studying a crossword when I walked into the outer office.
“No interruptions. I have some important phone calls to make,” I declared passing by her desk.
“Oh, just one question,” Avis looked down, “six letters. Queen’s first name. Ends with a ‘Y’?”
After turning the knob, I uttered “Ellery.” I shut the door, not expecting any sign of gratitude.
I dialed Cat’s telephone number, hoping I could get past the butler, Martin.
Cat answered the phone.
“Did you tell the cops about the hideout on Coeur D’Alene Lake?”
“No. You and Mr. Heaps told me that was a bad idea, taking her across the state line into Idaho.”
“Yeah, it could add years to your prison stay.”
“Rainy, leave this thing alone. Somebody’s killing people. Phillip’s dead now. I might be next. Don’t stir the pot any more. Please?” She added a sob or two.
“The cops have scented my part in getting Daisy out of the asylum. I've got to find the killer. I won’t involve you,” I lied and hung up.
I needed to know more about the time at the Coeur D'Alene Lake house. The nurse might have stayed on at the lake house helping Daisy retrieve her mind. Maybe she would have an idea regarding who fertilized Daisy. The identity of the sire was crucial in Daisy’s murder.
The nurse did not welcome my phone call. She told me that her mother was at death's door and begged to me to leave her out of my investigation. “I'm all she has. That's why I took your job. Her treatment is expensive."
I kept my voice calm. "The cops are onto me. If I get nabbed for the kidnapping, there's no need to mention your part. That would mean prison time for you and bad times for your mother."
"I'm grateful, Mr. Hart."
"I'm going to give you the chance to prove that."
“Yeah. Think about your mother when you answer my questions.”
“Mr. Hart. Is that a threat?”
“Most sincerely. How long did you stay on with Daisy at the lake house?”
“’Til three days before Daisy was found dead in the river. My mother took a turn for the worse. Catherine gave me leave.”
“Okay. This is important; were there any visitors while you were at the lake place?”
“None that I saw. But often when I returned from long hikes with Daisy, I saw cigarette butts in the ashtray, with no lipstick. Catherine always wore lipstick. And I smelled the scent of a man.”
“Where did you get that power?”
“Working in a hospital for twenty years. Men smell different, not all the same, but different than women.”
“How long were you gone on these hikes?”
“Sometimes all day. Daisy would pack a lunch and we would spend the afternoon on a beach down the road.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“Lots of tennis was played. Reading books while sunning in the yard. The outdoors was good for Daisy.”
“If you think of anything else, call my office.”
“Well, there is one more thing, Mr. Hart.”
“After Daisy got better, I sometimes caught her returning to the lake house, early in the morning. She had been gone for some time. Her bedding was cold to the touch. She asked me not to tell Cat.” The nurse paused before confessing, “I felt bad keeping the secret but Daisy seemed to improve her frame of mind after these absences. She carried a flashlight so must have begun walking while it was still dark. Very strange.”
After we hung up, I mulled over the nurse's statements. If she was right, Cat was entertaining a gentleman friend now and then at the lake house during the day. And my suspicious mind guessed that Daisy was up to something other than stargazing at night.
I put an operative on Cat, to follow every where she went. I wanted to know everyone she spoke to outside of the mansion.
I decided to drive out to the Coeur D’Alene lake hideout. But first I needed an audience with the great legal mind of Lawyer Harry Hudlow. He agreed to meet me in the lounge of a downtown hotel.
Harry Hudlow worked a lot of shady real estate deals at night but spent his days practicing law of the low-end variety. I didn’t begrudge his bottom feeding in the legal pool. Hudlow paid me well for my candid photography, mostly cheaters together in dim light. Once in awhile, he put me on to an insurance fraud.
Harry and I had grown up in the same neighborhood but lost track of each other after high school. A couple of years ago, we came face-to-face in the halls of the County Court House. I asked him what he was doing.
“I’m an attorney,” he lowered his voice, “but don’t tell my mom. She thinks I’m still a pimp.” The guy didn’t want to hurt his mother.
Harry Hudlow’s face was worried when we met. “I don’t have a lot of time,” he cautioned and ordered a double whiskey for each of us.
“What did you know about Daisy?” I asked.
“I questioned Catherine on her sister’s mental condition shortly after Daisy's commitment to the State Hospital.”
“And did Cat say she was just down about her parent's deaths?” I asked.
“She did admit that Daisy was mentally broke down due to the recent sorrow of losing both parents.”
“Crazy enough to be committed?”
“Well, there were other things going on to indicate that Daisy was not mentally sound.”
“Hearing voices, mood highs and lows, and she developed a Messalina Complex shortly after her mother died.”
“A Messalina Complex?”
“It comes from the name of the wife of Roman Emperor Claudius. She suffered from nymphomania.”
“In your business, you must take photos of nymphomaniacs every day. Or night,” Hudlow suggested.
"Cat told me that Daisy had a few head bugs but nothing serious,” I countered. “She said that Philip Bentley framed Daisy into a commitment to the asylum.”
“Cat was in on the commitment at first. From what Catherine told me, Daisy needed to be locked up somewhere to keep her from sexually servicing every man north of the Rio Grande.”
I blew up. “Cat never told me anything about that. And neither did you!” I was provoked at my expanding role as a fool in this matter.
“Rainy, let’s be frank. A woman doesn’t share her sister’s nymphomania with just anyone, especially someone who deals with this condition in its most flagrant circumstances. A private detective like yourself sees a Messalina Complex as common as someone chewing their fingernails.”
Hudlow offended me. “So you’re worthy of Cat's confidence while I’m not? Lawyers are nymphomaniacs in my book. They’ll screw anybody. Sometimes over and over.”
“Touché, Mr. Hart. And on that note, let us part with the agreement that you’ll be solving this murder before the police throw us both in the lockup?”
“I’m on the case. How about buying me another double on your way out the door? I have a bad taste in my mouth.”
“My pleasure," Hudlow agreed. After paying the bill, he walked to the door. I shouted his name and raised my glass to him. He looked at me with puzzlement on his face.
“Here’s to dead nymphomaniacs,” I shouted across the bar and poured the booze down my sordid throat.
* * *
I drove east to the Coeur D'Alene lake hideout that Cat and Daisy had used. I talked to a next door neighbor who had seen a man visit the lake place on occasion late at night and then sometimes during the day. It was the same red Buick.
While motoring across the Idaho state line, back to Spokane, my mind focused on Phillip Bentley. Was he visiting his skinny blond wife at night and his wife's sister in the daytime? Were the daytime visits platonic? Romancing sisters? Cat Whittington should be able to tell me.
As I walked into the office, the phone rang.
Avis answered, “Lilac City Detective Agency. May I help you?”
I pointed at the phone and then turned my hands up to indicate who was on the other end.
She put her hand over the receiver and whispered, “My mother.” Then Avis laid the receiver down and turned back to her crossword. She looked and me and whispered, “A magician’s trick, eight letters? Ends in ‘p-e-a-r.’”
How many letters in ‘disappear?’”
“Nine. Too many. I tried it already.”
“Anything else for me?” I asked hoping my shadow on Cat Whittington had called in.
“No. Eight letters only?”
She wrote it down without further comment. Not a word of appreciation.
I called the Whittington Mansion. Martin said that Cat was not at home. I slightly believed him.
While bracing myself with a glass of a whiskey blend from my drawer, I considered what to do next. After a couple of moments of fruitless thought, Avis buzzed me to advise that Carl, my operative, was on the line.
"Hello. Hart here."
"Rainy, your little rich girl is at the cemetery. In her family’s mausoleum. She did this yesterday too, for several hours. I listened through a window. Seems like she's talking to her dead sister. Kinda nutty. Why don't you come out? The north end of Greenwood Cemetery.”
I called Mick Kelly and told him that he might have to make an arrest at the graveyard.
When I got to the cemetery, Carl pointed at the Whittington mausoleum. It was one of several little gothic masonry structures that house the remains of Spokane's wealthy families since the beginning of time.
I could hear Cat speaking as I entered the crypt through the unlocked gate.
She went silent when she saw me.
"Cat. What are you doing here? Talking to the dead?"
She spoke calmly, "I'm here to be with my dear sister."
"Yeah, I want to talk to you about your sister’s departure. I've got a theory."
Cat bent over and kissed the cement slab with her sister's name on it.
"I was afraid you might come up with a theory." She pulled out a pistol and pointing it at me. I respected her aim since my theory also included the fact that two victims had been shot dead center in the heart.
“After Daisy was committed, I came to appreciate Phillip’s endurance,” Cat spoke softer without taking her eyes off me. “Phillip and I began to have discussions of her condition. He told me so much that I didn’t know about my own sister. Poor Phillip endured more than any husband should.”
“Daisy treated him so badly. She gave herself sexually to Phillip Bentley’s best friend. And then his brother. After that, a long line of associates and even strangers upon occasion. How much shame must a husband endure?”
Cat’s voice got angry, “Daisy ran off to Seattle with a sculptor for a week. And followed a guitar player to Reno while I was in Europe.”
“You didn’t mention those things about Daisy when you hired me to pull off the kidnapping.”
“I didn’t know all of it,” she said, “But I knew enough to lie. To make Phillip the villain so you would sympathize and take up my case. Daisy needed mental help, but I couldn't stand to see her in that hospital."
"You played me for a sap."
“Worst of all, Phillip and I fell in love. Very much in love. after you got Daisy out of the hospital. The nurse and I were making progress in healing her mind at the Coeur d’Alene place. Daisy asked for Mother, for Father, even Phillip.”
“So Phillip did visit at the lake house. More than once?” I asked.
"Yes. Phillip and I talked while Daisy and the nurse went out hiking. Phillip told me more about the horrible ways that Daisy treated him.”
“Did Phillip also speak with Daisy at the lake place?”
“Yes. He spoke with her a several times. Their conversations seemed to help Daisy come back to reality.”
“Were you present for all of their conversations at the lake?”
“I thought I was, but I wasn't." Cat’s voice became bitter. “One evening after the nurse had been discharged, I told Daisy that we would go play the slot machines. She loved gambling. We dressed up. We worked on each other’s hair and laughed like we were going to a school dance.”
“You went into town?”
“To play slots at the state line.”
Cat paused and sniffled.
“Daisy and I were still laughing when we pulled into the parking lot. Before we got out of the car, Daisy took my hand and squeezed it tight. I could tell that she was bursting with some happy news. Then she dropped the bomb. Daisy told me that she and Phillip had reconciled. And furthermore that Phillip was taking her to Spain this winter. She wasn’t supposed to tell anyone until they had left for Spain.”
“You must have been dumbfounded?”
“Yes. Daisy’s secret shocked me. I couldn’t move from the driver’s seat. Daisy stood at the passenger’s door waiting for me to get out. She kept going on and on about her and Phillip, in love again. But Phillip and I were in love. Daisy didn’t belong in the picture. She and Phillip were over. Everything was wrong. I wanted to make it right.”
Cat wiggled her trigger finger like she was going to shoot me, but instead spoke again, so softly that she could have only been heard in a tomb. “I couldn’t stand to listen to Daisy go on about her and Phillip any more. I shot her.”
I was surprised to hear confirmation of my theory. “Where’d you get the gun?”
“After the nurse left, Daisy and I were alone at the lake house. I was frightened at night. So I took one of daddy’s pistols from the house. It was in my purse.”
“No one heard the shot?”
Cat nodded. “It was dark in the parking lot. Lots of noise from the bar.”
“What did you do then?”
“I pulled Daisy back into the car and drove out onto the highway to the bridge that crosses the Spokane River. I was frightened. I drove down by the river bank and parked the car. I shook Daisy. And screamed at her. She was dead. I pulled her out of the car and rolled her over the edge of the bank into the water.”
“Phillip played you and Daisy for fools. You were his back up if Daisy failed him.”
“I figured that out late in the game. And he figured out that I had killed Daisy. He wanted money or was going to the police with the story.”
“So you shot him. How did you think you’d get away with it?
"If you had just quit the investigation, like you were supposed to, Rainy. I begged you."
Cat raised the gun to sight down the barrel at my chest when Mick and a uniform officer stepped in with their guns at the ready.
"We heard your confession, Miss Whittington. Drop the gun."
When Mick called for the gun to drop, I grabbed it from Cat's hand rather than letting her think about it.
The uniformed cop led Cat away in cuffs.
Mick Kelly and I looked around the interior of the mausoleum.
“Rainy, you could’ve been a corpse in the Whittington crypt. We would have had to book you for trespassing.”
“Nobody wants a dead private detective in their crypt. The family's name would be besmirched for generations.”
Mick did not thank me for giving him Cat. I did not thank him for saving my life. We didn't even talk about the episode until much later.
* * *
Cat Whittington followed the family tradition. She was declared insane. She hired a New York attorney. Her premium mouthpiece made our local Spokane prosecutor sound like Gabby Hayes.
He argued that poor Cat lost her marbles due to a barrage of family tragedies.
Mick called me up the day after Cat was sentenced to say that she would spend her remaining mortal life locked up in the criminal ward on the shores of Medical Lake.
One morning a year later, Mick and I went fishing. That afternoon, we drove back to Spokane on the highway that bends up around Medical Lake where the staff of the State Hospital cures insanity.
Our conversation turned to Cat Whittington’s day in court. Mick delivered his analysis of the insanity defense in Cat's trial.
“Cat was not insane,” he said. "She might have killed Daisy on an 'impulse,’ but I don’t think it qualified as temporary insanity. However, she did kill two people. In this town, that's a massacre. The jury thought she had to be nuts.”
I’d seen too much coffin kissing and talking to the dead. SI thought she was mentally disturbed. Cat and Daisy had ended up in love with the same man. That’s poison for sisters. Makes them crazy.
Mick drove up the road to the Hospital. He parked the car and led me to the building that housed the criminally insane. He flipped his badge out and called the attendant by his first name. Kelly had put more than one unhinged criminal in this place. Doors were opened for us.
We made our way to the women’s section and observed from an elevated door landing. The female maniacs were eating lunch below.
Cat was seated at a table with two other women who were arguing furiously with each other. Cat was quiet, looking out the window. She wasn’t eating her food. Not much about her resembled that woman who walked into my office wearing a mink stole. No glamorous red lips curved up at the corners. No way of showing stunning cleavage in a hospital gown. The worst change was her hair. Cat’s short hair was frizzed, probably by regular electroshock therapy, a procedure that the hospital staff refers to as the “Coulee Dam Cocktail.” Even her perfect nose was developing a crook. Maybe high voltage electricity bends the human nose.
We didn’t try to speak with Cat. I was glad to get out of the place. That joint made me feel low. I couldn’t shake the guilt. The State Hospital at Medical Lake was where I kicked off the events that killed Daisy.
* * *
Avis DeHaven labeled the case file, “CAT WHITTINGTON’S DICK”, and then she smiled and stuck the folder in the bottom drawer of our office cabinet under the old telephone books. The file contained a few relevant newspaper clippings and my subpoena to testify at Cat's trial.
After using her foot to shut the file drawer, Avis pulled out today’s crossword puzzle that was set aside due to her brief flurry of office work.
I informed her that Mick Kelly was meeting me shortly at Mother’s Kitchen for supper and a parade of after-dinner cocktails.
As I opened the door to exit the office, Avis raised her hand like a traffic cop, “Let me ask you something.” Her tone was serious.
She looked down at her crossword puzzle. “Eight letters. Starts with ‘I.’ Ends with a ‘Y.’ The clue is: ‘Getting carried away’.”
“Insanity,” I said and slammed the door denying Avis the opportunity to express her heartfelt gratitude.