.Velda's First Case
...... A Velda
by Ron Miller
all began (I know, I know, but there's really no other way to
start this), with a visit from Maxim Slotsky, of all people.
I hadn't seen him in two or three months, since I left Slotsky's
Follies. Not that I didn't like the Follies, which I didn't,
or didn't like Slotsky, which I didn't just on principle, I just
needed to do something a little more useful with my life than
shedding feathers four times a night, not counting weekends,
with matinees, when I shed them six times.
......God knows I needed a change,
and what could possibly have been a greater change for a stripper
than to become a private eye?
...... Although it really didn't
have anything to do with my decision (I'll explain what inspired
that in just a bit) my dad had been a cop -- one of the squarest
and straightest-shooting on the force -- until he got himself
killed. How that happened still isn't very clear -- and made
no clearer by the DA's office, which to my mind went out of its
way to muddy the waters and blacken Dad's name. I won't go into
the whole sordid thing here. Just let it go that Dad's benefits
were withheld from me, leaving me flat broke. Mom'd died in a
freak accident with a donut machine when I was a kid, so I was
not only penniless, I was alone. I had to quit business school
classes and find any job I could. Any job turned out to be at
Saperstein's Talent Agency and Music Publishing Company, where
I was receptionist, file clerk and general girl Friday.
...... I wasn't such a hot typist
-- I mean, I'd only had one semester in school when Dad died
-- but I was tall and had legs that went up at least six inches
further than most other girls. Maxim Slotsky was a client of
Saperstein's. After a few visits, I realized he was coming in
mainly to look at my legs. Finally, he offered me a spot in the
chorus of Slotsky's Famous Follies.
...... While I'm not exactly
voluptuous -- built more along the lines of Suzy Parker than
Jayne Mansfield, thank God -- Max said I had that Something Extra
men go for. Personality, I guess. One thing led to another, and
eventually I graduated to being a headliner. I hated it like
anything, and Dad would've killed me if he'd still been around,
but it beat fifteen dollars a week from Saperstein's. What else
could I have done?
...... It was near the end of
my fifth year at Slotsky's that I noticed the ad for the Hawkshaw
Guaranteed Be A Detective Correspondence Course on the inside
of a matchbook cover. I sent in my money, got a book in the mail
every month, studied like hell, and a year later I've got my
...... I live and work out of
a fifth-floor cold water flat over a Chinese laundry. The card
thumbtacked over my mailbox downstairs reads: the Superior Detective
Agency -- V. Bellinghausen, prop. And that's where Maxim Slotsky,
of all people, showed up. My luck getting him for a first client.
...... I looked at the fat little
butterball standing outside my door for a good fifteen seconds--not
so surprised to see him as surprised he'd made it up five floors.
He was red as a beet and puffing like a steam engine, so I invited
him in before he died there in the hallway.
...... "Jesus, Max, you
want some water? You better sit down or something, you don't
look so hot."
...... "Thanks, Velda. My
God, did you have to find a place so far above the street?"
...... "Do you good, Maxim,
God knows you need the exercise."
...... "Exercise, schmexercise.
Why don't you come on back to the show, Velda? The girls miss
you. The boys miss you. I miss you."
...... "Gee, I'm sure sorry
I'm breaking your heart, Maxim," I said, handing him his
water. "You want a Kleenex?"
...... "I mean, Jesus, Velda,
look at this place."
...... "What's wrong with
it?" I asked, hoping he wouldn't start listing its faults,
but he did. When he finished I said, "Look, Maxim, I'm sure
I appreciate your deep concern for me, but I can't believe you
came all the way up here just to say howya doin' Velda. Forgive
me if I'm misjudging you."
...... "Aww, look, Velda,
there's no need to talk like that. Haven't I always been square
...... "Yeah, sure, sure
you have. I got no complaints about you Maxim.. So what're you
doing here, if you don't mind getting right to the point."
...... He started wringing his
hands, which I knew meant he was going to talk about something
he really wanted to avoid, like turning on the heat in the dressing
rooms before Thanksgiving or giving someone a ten-cent raise.
...... "You remember a girl
named Monica? Started a month, maybe two, before you left?"
...... "Monica? Sure, I
think. Cute blonde, eyes like bottle caps?"
...... He nodded and swallowed.
...... "Well, what about
her? Don't tell me she's your new girlfriend. Jesus, Maxim, she's
right off the farm."
...... "No, Velda. She's
...... "Dead how?"
...... "Murdered, Velda.
Someone killed her. The janitor, McWhorter, found her yesterday
afternoon in the dressing room. Jesus. Someone'd stabbed
her, stabbed her in the heart."
...... "Good God, why would
someone do that?"
...... "That's why I came
to see you, Velda?"
...... "Well, you're a detective
...... "I, well, yeah, but
...... "Look, Velda, this
detective thing, you know what I think about it. A private eye?
You're a great showgirl, Velda, a star. What do you want to be
a detective for? It's crazy. But there you are, you got a license
and everything and, well, we're friends, ain't we, Velda?"
...... "Yeah, sure, we're
...... "Well, you see, Velda,
this thing could ruin me. The new DA, he ran on that morals platform,
clean up the burlesques he promised, run the strip joints out
of town -- he's been trying to close us down for months. This's
all he needs. Murder for God's sake. Can you imagine what he's
gonna do with the headlines: 'Naked Teenage Stripper Murdered
at Slotsky's?' I gotta find out what happened quick, Velda. He's
gonna shut us down any day."
...... "Calm down. You're
going to give yourself an embolism."
...... "You gotta help me.
You know your way around. You know the girls. And, and, well
I can trust you, Velda, You'll keep things quiet."
...... "But what do you
want me to do?"
...... "I don't know...but
you gotta clear me of this, Velda. There's gotta be something."
...... Yeah. What'd he expect
me to do? But it was my first case, such as it was, and it didn't
seem right to turn it down. Besides, I did owe Maxim. No matter
how much I hated to admit it, he was really all right even if
he was a slimeball. And I certainly owed the girls something.
I had a lot of friends in the show and it'd be awful tough on
them if Slotsky's closed. So I told him sure. I'd get my fingerprint
kit and magnifying glass and bloodhound and follow him over to
the theater. What the hell, if nothing else I'd be able to pay
the rent that month.
...... It was strange, being
back in the theater, knowing I was there as an outsider, no longer
part of the show. I'd spent the last five years there, seven
days a week, had been gone only a couple of months and everything
felt new. The girls all waved and said, Hi, Velda, howya doin'?
but something'd been broken and I wasn't so sure but that I regretted
it more than I thought I would.
...... Maxim took me down to
the dressing room, one of two, which had been off limits since
the murder. There was a cop on the door and when he saw us coming
he raised his hand to stop us.
...... "You can't go in,"
he said. "Say! Hi, Velda! I thought you quit this dump."
...... "Hi, Buzz. Yeah,
I quit all right."
...... "Sure gonna miss
you. You were the only thing gave this place any class."
...... "I want Velda to
see the room, officer," said Maxim.
...... "Well, I can't rightly
let you do that."
...... "It's in my rights.
She's investigating the mur -- the girl's death. I gotta right
to have someone do that."
...... "Investigate? What
the hell're you talking about?"
...... "She's a detective,
a private detective. She's gotta right to see the room if I want
...... "Is this some sort
of gag? What's the deal, Velda?"
...... "It's no joke, Buzz,
I got my ticket." I fished my wallet out of my bag and showed
him. "Why don't you let me take a look? What harm could
...... "The body was taken
out yesterday. Nothin' in there but a big bloodstain."
...... "I won't touch a
thing. Promise. No one'll be the wiser...I'll send you that autographed
picture you've always wanted."
...... "Well, all right.
Just don't be too long."
...... He unlatched the door
and I went in, Maxim right on my heels. The room was dark and
I flipped the switch, turning on the couple of tin-shaded bare
bulbs that hung from the ceiling. There wasn't anything in here
I hadn't seen a hundred times. A row of makeup tables--just cheap
vanities with big mirrors, rimmed with a couple dozen light bulbs,
half of which didn't work. Wooden chairs, a couple wardrobes,
clothes racks with costumes hanging from them. Nothing I hadn't
seen. The end table was -- had been -- Monica's. The first thing
I saw was that it had no mirror and most of its bulbs were broken.
All of her makeup and things were gone, too. I guessed the police
had taken it all for evidence. I glanced down at the floor in
front of the table and saw the huge dark red stain, as big as
a rug. Jesus Christ, someone had died right there and spilled
all that blood.
...... "What happened, Max?"
...... McWhorter found her right
there. She was already dead. He took one look and called the
...... "Where's McWhorter
...... "Where he usually
is, I guess, down in the furnace room."
...... "All right, Max,
you go and take some aspirins and try to relax." I tried
to sound as confident as I could, which seemed to be enough to
calm Max down anyway.
...... "You all done in
there?" Buzz asked from the doorway.
...... "Yeah, I guess so."
...... "The show's not been
the same since you left, Velda."
...... "Lots of things haven't
been the same since I left, Buzz."
...... McWhorter had a kind of
nest behind the furnace in the sub-basement. I'd never had much
to do with him, even though he'd been working in the theater
long before Max took it over and Max'd been there for a couple
decades. None of the girls ever had anything to do with him,
for that matter, mainly because he was more than a little creepy.
...... For most of us he was
just this greasy ball of rags that hovered around in the background
making sure the toilets worked and the light bulbs got changed,
neither of which happened very often. I tracked him down by following
the sniffling sound of his perpetually running nose, which led
me to a cozy little den consisting of a table with a hotplate,
a chair, a cot and McWhorter, who was sitting on the cot, snuffling
and hacking. He had some sort of chronic nasal thing.
...... "Mr. McWhorter?"
...... "I'm Velda, Velda
...... "I know who you are.
You the doll what used to be the headliner. Too skinny I always
thought. Don't know what the shows're comin' to, girls got no
meat on 'em anymore."
...... "Well, ah, thanks.
Look, Mr. McWhorter, if I'm not interrupting anything, I'd like
to ask you a few questions."
...... "Like what?"
...... "Well, about the
girl who got killed yesterday."
...... "What about her?"
...... "Max -- Mr. Slotsky
told me you found her. The body?"
...... "Well, I was wondering
if you could tell me about that."
...... "Max asked me to
help him out. I, ah, I got a private investigator's license,
to look into things like this."
...... "A dick? You a dick?
...... I wasn't sure what that
last sound meant. It might have been a snort of derision; it
might have been just some phlegm coming loose from its moorings.
...... "Is it okay if I
ask you about the girl? About finding her?"
...... "Ain't much to tell.
She was layin' there on the floor, dead as mackerel, that's all."
...... "How'd you know she
...... "How about a hole
in the middle of 'er, big enough to stick my hand into, leaking
like a plugged toilet? She were dead all right."
...... "A hole? What kind
of a hole, Mr. McWhorter?"
...... "A hole. Like someone'd
stuck an axe in her, for Christ's sake." He made that awful
har sound a couple more times. Fumbling under his pillow,
he brought out a mason jar, unscrewed the lid and spit what looked
like a piece of lung into it. He glanced up at me as he was screwing
the lid back on and saw what must have been an expression of
disgust on my face. "Waste not want not," he said,
shoving the jar back under the pillow.
...... I didn't know what to
say, so I asked: "Didn't you see anyone else?"
...... "She were there all
...... "No one else around?
No one else in the basement?"
...... "Nope. She'd come
in early, 'bout half hour or so before the others usually show
up. No one there but her."
...... "Well, I'm sure you
didn't kill her, so I suppose there must've been someone
else in the building."
...... "I didn't say no
one else in the whole building, I said no one else in
the basement. Most of the musicians was in by then and the stage
manager and who knows who else. I meant no one else was downstairs,
...... "How do you know
...... "'Cause I was fixin'
the light over the callboard right by the stairs. No one been
up or down the whole time I was there but that girl."
...... "If that's the dead'un's
...... "Well, the murderer
might have been down there all along, before you showed up."
...... "Maybe, but what's
that to me? I only know what I know and can't say nothin' about
...... "You didn't hear
anything? The dressing room's not far from the bottom of the
...... "You mean like screams
...... "No screams or nothin',
nothin' at all."
...... "So how long was
it, after Monica went downstairs that you went down?"
...... "I dunno. Half hour?
Mebbe longer? I talked to the boy what brings in the afternoon
papers 'cause I'd asked him to bring me some donuts and I ate
a donut but I never was more'n ten feet from the door the whole
...... "So it was quite
a while before you went downstairs? Half an hour at least? Maybe
...... "I guess -- how am
I supposed to know? Next time some bimbo decides to get herself
knocked off I'll be sure she lets me know in advance and I'll
check my watch."
...... "What'd you do after
you found the body?"
...... "What do you think
I did? I got the hell out of there and called the manager. He
called the cops and there you are."
Well, it all beat the hell out of me. I went back upstairs
and looked around for someone else to talk to. All I found was
Gernly, the stage manager, an octogenarian who must've been dug
up when they laid the foundation of the building. He's the only
one who would've been anywhere near the stairs and back entrance,
so if anyone'd seen anything out of the way it would've been
...... "Say! Hiya Velda!
Good to see ya, kid!"
...... "Howya been doin'?
How's the psiatica?"
...... "Aw, it's okay, I
guess. Thanks for sending that ointment, that helped a lot."
...... "Glad to hear it.
Say, about yesterday..."
...... "Yeah, wasn't that
somethin'? Awful shame. Sweet little kid she was, you ever know
'er? What a shame..."
...... "Yeah. I'd met her
a couple of times. She started just before I left, so we never
got to do much more than say hello. But she seemed nice."
...... "Look, you were backstage
yesterday afternoon weren't you?"
...... "Yup, just where
I always am."
...... "You see anything
funny? Anyone who shouldn't have been around?"
...... "Nope. You know no
gets in or out of that door without me seein' 'em."
...... "Didn't see or hear
anything at all?"
...... "Well, I did hear
somethin' -- a kind o'crash, I guess. Like someone dropped somethin'
heavy -- it wasn't loud, I dint think nothin' of it. You think
it had somethin' to do with what happened to that poor kid?"
...... I told him that I hadn't
the slightest idea. By this time most of the girls had arrived
for the afternoon matinee so I went back downstairs again and
found the other dressing room, where all the girls had to crowd
themselves now that the other room had been sealed, more or less,
by the cops. Buzz was still there, completely failing in his
effort to look disinterested in the flurry of feathers, sequins,
and bare skin that bustled around him. I gave him a grin and
he blushed like a schoolboy.
...... I was mobbed as soon as
I went into the dressing room (only the headliners rated private
rooms ; I'd talk to them next) It was kind of nice to see all
my old friends again -- well, not that any of them were really
friends. There had never been anyone I'd ever felt close
to or hung around with outside the theater, but it was hard to
work with people for so long without forming some sort of bond,
even if it's that same sort of link that connects survivors of
a hotel fire. But what was funny was how they looked. I mean,
I'd looked no different the past five years. Nothing was any
cheesier, more tawdry, or cheaper than it had ever been. I was
suddenly self-conscious about how I was dressed: a grey business
suit among g-strings and pasties. Looking at the girls I wondered,
did I ever look that tired, hopeless, hard-edged and garish?
...... Everyone was all agog
about the murder. Once they heard what I was doing, they had
more questions for me than I had for them. Everyone had known
the new girl, Monica, and had liked her, even given her short
run with the show. No one knew where she was from exactly--somewhere
in the Midwest, they said--but she seemed to be a genuinely sweet
kid. Not an enemy in the world. Well, one, evidently.
...... "Trish'd know something
about her," said Gloria, who was not only one of the dancers
but did a pretty neat bit with one of the baggy pants. She had
aspirations of being an actress and had a chance of making it.
She was a natural comedienne. "Trish and Monica spent a
lot of time together."
...... Trish -- Trish the Dish
-- was the stripper who'd moved up to take my place. So after
chatting a few minutes longer with my old chums, I went down
the hall to where there were a half dozen doors marked with glittery
cardboard stars. I figured Trish'd be in my old room. I knocked
and was rewarded with a "Yeah?"
...... "Trish? It's me,
...... The door flew open immediately
and I was engulfed in feathers and a couple square yards of bare
skin. "Velda! What the hell're you doing here? Don't tell
me old Maxie's talked you into coming back."
...... "Hell no. I'm just
...... She looked relieved. Trish
was a statuesque woman who gave whole new meaning to the adjective.
Four fingers taller than my six feet, she had more curves than
an anaconda. She made me feel dumpy. Worse, she made me feel
...... "Well, it's great
to see you. Come on in and have a drink."
...... She shut the door behind
me and plopped into an overstuffed chair in the corner. Trish
was already dressed for her first show, only a half hour from
now. She was wearing no more feathers than would cover a young
canary. I took the only other chair, the old kitchen chair that
sat in front of her makeup table. I swung it around, straddled
the seat and leaned my chin on my crossed arms on the chair back.
Trish picked a bottle off the floor beside her and swung it over
to me. It was a pretty expensive-looking brandy and for that
reason, if for no other, I took a good swig. It wasn't half bad.
...... "I suppose you've
heard the big news," she said.
...... "About Monica being
...... "Yeah. Ain't that
...... "Got Maxie all in
...... "Nothin' makes him
more nervous than havin' cops runnin' all around the place."
...... "He's worried this'll
give the DA cause to shut the place down."
...... "Shit. Wouldn't it
just figger? Finally get myself on the marquee and look what
happens. You had all the luck, Velda."
...... "Yeah, I sure did."
...... "And you're a what
now? A private eye?"
...... I nodded and showed her
...... "Don't that just
about beat all. Jesus."
...... "Well, that's why
I'm here today, Trish."
...... "Because of Jesus?"
...... "No, because of the
murder -- Maxie's asked me to look into it, maybe find something
to keep the DA off his back. Trish -- the other girls said you
and Monica got along."
...... "Sure. She was a
sweet little kid. Been in the city, I don't know, maybe a month
or two. I showed her the ropes. She was good, really. She had
a lotta potential, you know? Worked like a demon. Could dance,
even sing a little. Just busted out with personality and, you
know, that's what guys go for. Anyone can go out on a runway
and take their clothes off, but personality -- that's what gives
you style, gives you class. But I don't hafta to
tell you that, Velda. You and me, we got personality.
Monica had personality in spades. And a body to go with it. She
was on stage, the other girls might've been a row of penguins
as far as the audience cared. I could see that Maxie had his
eye on her. She wasn't going to be in the chorus much longer.
I guess she's never going to make it, now, is she?"
...... "Guess not."
...... "What a cryin' shame."
She took another slug of brandy. "What a lousy racket."
...... "Know anything else
about her? Did she have any friends, I mean outside the theater?
...... "I don't think so.
Like I said, she hadn't been in town all that long. She was pretty
focused on her work and didn't have time for much else. Lotsa
wolves sniffing 'round her, course, but I kept an eye on her.
Spent pretty much all her time here so far as I could tell."
...... "She had to be sleeping
somewhere. You know where she lived?"
...... "Somewhere in the
Village. Found herself a room, I know. You talk to Wobbles yet?"
...... "Wobbles" Sploon
ran the ticket booth. He'd been a boxer once, just after World
War I, and had had one concussion too many.
...... "I will, thanks.
Anything else you can think of?"
...... "Nope. I think she'd
run away and dint like talkin' about home very much. I got the
impression she hadn't been real happy."
...... "Well, thanks, Trish."
I gave her one of my cards, which seemed to impress her no end.
"It's been great seeing you. I really wish you all the success
in the world, you deserve it."
...... "Thanks, Velda. You
always were a square shooter."
...... Wobbles gave me an address
on Bumpass Street, which I thought was funny until I discovered
it was spelled "Bumpus." Monica's place was only a
few blocks from the city morgue, so I figured I'd stop off there
first and see what I could learn.
...... There was no problem getting
in, I just told the cop at the desk I wanted to identify a body
and he gave me directions.
...... "Say," he said
as I turned to go, "Ain't you Roald's kid?"
...... "Velda?" he
said, giving me a long, appraising look. "You've grown up
some since I last saw you. What's it been, five, six years?"
...... "Yeah, it's been
...... "Your Dad and all.
That was a shame, I can tell you. Lotta the boys still ain't
happy 'bout that, you know. There was somethin' damn rotten 'bout
that whole deal. I just wanted you t'know ain't all of us turned
'gainst your Dad."
...... "I know. I really
appreciate you saying that. It means a lot."
...... "You ought to stop
by the old precinct more often. You've really grown up."
...... "Beats shrinking,"
There was only a little form to sign down in the morgue. I
waited to be called, sitting in a room covered entirely in beige
linoleum. There was only one chair and a back issue of Field
& Stream, so I browsed through that until someone in
a white coat poked his head through the door at the end of the
room and said, "Velda Bellinghausen?" as though there
was someone else in the room besides me.
...... I followed the attendant
into the next room, this one covered entirely in white tiles,
like a subway restroom, except that it smelled like a hospital.
In the middle of the room was a little cart with a something
on it covered with a dingy white sheet. It was a body. I don't
know what I'd been expecting. I know I hadn't really thought
this through, but now it hit me. I felt a little funny and wasn't
sure if I wanted to go through with it. Like the first time I
stripped. The attendant, however, who hadn't been paying me the
least bit of attention, made the whole argument moot by whipping
off the sheet with the flourish of a magician doing a table trick.
...... Jesus Christ almighty.
...... I swallowed hard.
There wasn't much for it but to get it over with. Somehow this
was made easier by Monica herself, or what remained of her. She
didn't look like anything at all -- anything living, that is.
She could have been a department store mannequin for all I could
tell, as white and stiff and with the same blank, flat eyes staring
at nothing in particular. All except for the hole, of course.
I got as close as I dared and made myself look. She'd been a
beautiful girl. She had been strikingly pretty in the cornfed
girl-next-door Doris Day mold and even death failed to dim her
loveliness. She couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen.
Who could have brought themselves to destroy something like this?
...... The wound itself was just
a slit, about a half-inch wide and maybe four inches long, directly
between her breasts. I wondered what kind of knife could have
done something like that. An awful big one I decided.
...... "What happened to
her?" I asked.
...... "Stabbed's all I
know. Ain't been an autopsy yet. The assistant pathologist oughtta
be coming back from lunch anytime. You c'n ask him, I guess."
...... "Can I look at the
body more closely?"
...... "Knock yourself out
lady. Don't mind looking at her myself, know what I mean?"
...... It was the last thing
I wanted to do, but I gave Monica a good look-see from her head
of curly blonde hair to the soles of her feet. I didn't see much
-- didn't even know what I was looking for, but I didn't feel
as though I could say I'd done a thorough job if I hadn't. Well,
there was one thing I noticed, though I kept it to myself.
...... Fortunately for me, the
assistant pathologist was just that moment returning from lunch.
I caught him as he was still taking off his coat and asked him
about Monica's wound.
...... "Stab wound,"
he said. "Went straight through the heart. Killed her instantly."
...... "Stabbed with what,
do you think?"
...... "The blade or whatever
was triangular. That is, the wound tapers from about ten point
six centimeters to a point nearly twelve point seven centimeters
in the chest cavity. Sharp as hell, razor-sharp, but I can't
think of anything shaped like that, no knife I know of."
...... "Did anyone, ah,
that is, was she..."
...... "Raped? No. There're
no signs of any sexual assault. Someone did assault her,
however, though in what way rather puzzles me. See those bruises
across her thighs and shins? It looks as though someone swung
a two-by-four at her a couple of times, but how, I don't know.
Both lines of bruises are perfect horizontal."
...... I thanked the doctor and
beat it the hell out of there. I'd originally planned to go over
to Monica's place next but instead I went around the corner to
a coffee shop and had a couple cups of hot black java to steady
my nerves, and my stomach. Jesus, the jobs some people have.
Monica's room was a bust, so far as I could tell. There was
no problem with the landlady. I had a really plausible story
all ready which was entirely wasted since she never even asked
why I wanted into one of her tenant's rooms. She let me in and
left, the door still open, without saying a word. The room itself
was about twelve by twelve, a bed in one corner next to the only
window, a dresser, a chair and a couple of tables. There was
a hot plate on the table and above that a couple of homemade
shelves with some cans of soup, beans, condensed milk and spaghetti.
There was no sink or bathroom, those were down at the end of
the hall. It didn't take more than fifteen minutes to toss the
room -- there was hardly anything of the girl there. She'd had
only enough clothes to fill three of the dresser's five drawers
and although I went through everything, it was the usual stuff
you'd find in any teenager's dresser, except maybe less of it.
The only things on the table were some cheap plates and cups
and a set of mismatched utensils. There was a little zippered
bag, but this just contained a toothbrush, toothpaste and an
assortment other grooming items and cosmetics. I supposed she
kept most of her stuff at the theater. There was a plastic bottle
of pills, something called Febatol. It had a label from a local
pharmacy, so I figured it wasn't anything illegal.
...... There was a small closet
in the corner opposite the bed, but this only held a collection
of cheap blouses, skirts, a pair of slacks, a couple of dowdy-looking
dresses and a sweater or two. So far the only impression I'd
gotten was poverty. I'd be willing to bet she'd arrived with
hardly a dime to spare. On a little table beside the bed was
a picture frame -- the kind that unfolds so you can have two
photos in them. One was of a man and woman who looked straight
out of a Ma and Pa Kettle movie, the other was the same old couple,
this time with a girl who I recognized as Monica age twelve or
thirteen and a goofy-looking boy a few years younger. Her brother,
...... That was it. I sat on
the edge of the bed, astonished at the anonymity of Monica's
life. In a week the room would be cleared of her things -- given
away to some charity or taken by the other tenants more likely.
It would be as though she never existed. Rather than depress
myself further, I went home and took a long hot shower. Then
I made myself some dinner, turned on the radio, and pored through
Hawkshaw's until I fell asleep.
In the morning I walked a couple of blocks over to Joe's,
a diner I'd frequented since my time at Slotsky's. Captain Joe
grinned as I came in. Always did. A castoff from the Merchant
Marine, he was a hugely powerful man gone to flab. He was behind
the counter no matter when I'd wander in, which was as likely
to be one o'clock in the morning as noon.
...... "You look like something
a cat coughed up," he said as he placed a mug of black coffee
in front of me. "You really ought to get more sleep."
...... "You think if I do
I'd get to be half as gorgeous as you?"
...... "Worth a shot, I
...... The first cup of Joe's
corrosive brew got me seeing in color again and made a dent in
the splitting headache I'd woken up with. While I sucked on my
second cup and wolfed down a couple of sinkers, I thought about
the murder at Slotsky's. Hawkshaw'd been no help at all. According
to Volume Four, Advanced Deductive Method, the thing made no
sense at all.
...... The girl had only been
in town a month or so, had no enemies. Killed by an assailant
no one saw, with a weapon no one could identify. Was it just
a random murder committed by some lunatic who just happened to
have wandered into the basement dressing rooms? "The Phantom
of Slotsky's Follies?"
...... Sure looked bad for poor
old Max. If the DA could link a murder with his usual anti-burlesque
campaign, it would be the beginning of the end for all of them,
not just Slotsky's.
...... My headache still throbbed.
There were few ills that were immune to Joe's coffee. "Say,
Joe, you got any aspirins?"
...... "Naw, sorry. Took
the last one an hour ago. Say, if you're going next door, will
you pick me up a bottle, too?"
...... He gave me a dollar to
cover both his and mine.
...... I got a couple of bottles
off the shelf and took them to the pharmacist to be rung up.
He was just handing me my change when it dawned on me to ask,
"What's Febatol for?"
...... "Anti-seizure medication.
Usually for controlling epilepsy."
...... "You mean that thing
that makes people fall on the sidewalk and foam at the mouth"
...... He nodded.
...... I thanked him absently
and delivered Joe's aspirin. I couldn't think of anything but
going back to the theater to poke around. It would at least look
as though I were keeping busy.
Max was even more distraught than when I'd last seen him.
...... "What's wrong now?"
...... "People are starting
to quit on me."
...... "Quitting? Who?"
...... "McWhorter for starters.
Just up and walked out on me, just like that."
...... "McWhorter? Hardly
counts as a 'people.'"
...... "It's just a start,
you'll see. Just handed over his keys and said he wasn't coming
back. He's been here nearly thirty years, twenty with me."
...... "Strange, but I guess
after thirty years maybe he just felt like a change of scenery."
...... "I told him that
if he'd give me two weeks' notice to find another man, I'd give
him two months' salary, but he turned me down. Said today was
his last day and that was that."
...... "Turned down two
month's pay? That hardly sounds likely."
...... He buried his face in
his hands again. "It's all a conspiracy, I tell you. Someone's
out to ruin me."
...... I asked him where McWhorter
lived. He told me, wondering why I wanted to know.
...... "I got a couple more
questions for him."
...... "Well, you'd better
catch him soon. I had the distinct impression he was thinking
about taking a long vacation."
...... I just bet he was.
McWhorter had rooms on the sixth floor of a walk-up tenement
next to the elevated. By the time I got up there I was in no
particularly good mood. I was glad to hear stirring behind the
door in response to my knock. I'd neglected to find out first
whether he was even in his place.
...... "Who's there?"
...... "It's me, McWhorter,
...... "Go away."
...... "I've got something
...... "I doubt it."
...... "It's from the DA."
...... "Noorvik? What've
you got to do with Noorvik?"
...... "Look, if you just
want to play twenty questions, I've got better things to do.
So long. I'll give your regards to the DA."
...... I didn't answer.
...... "Hey!" I could
hear him fumbling at the locks and bolts. The door opened a crack,
and he got as far as "H -- " before I kicked as hard
as I could. The edge of the door hit him square between the eyes.
He took two flailing steps backward. I was over him as he hit
the floor. I slammed the door behind me. I kicked him in the
ribs. He said something pretty rude and tried to move, but found
the muzzle of my Dad's nickel-plated .45 discouraging, especially
when he heard the hammer click back.
...... "Why don't you just
sit right back down," I said, waving the gun just to see
his eyes follow it. He sat as requested and, with the back of
his hand, swiped at the blood that dripped from his nose. This
smeared a mix of blood and snot. Disgusting. I squatted on my
haunches a few feet away.
...... "You can't do this,"
...... "Looks pretty much
like I already did."
...... "What d'ya want?
I ain't done nothin'."
...... "Who said you had?
You're not suffering from a guilty conscience, are you? If so,
confession's good for the soul."
...... "I ain't got nothin'
t' confess to."
...... "Planning a trip?"
I asked, gesturing to the open suitcase on the bed behind him,
which was filled with what looked like everything he owned, such
as it was.
...... "What's it t' you?"
...... "I want to know what
you did when you found Monica's body."
...... "I dint do nothin'.
Like I told ya, I called th' cops. That's all." I raised
the gun and he flinched. "All right all right. Jesus, lady,
try t' control yourself."
...... "She was dead when
you found her, wasn't she? But not like you told the cops."
...... He told me to do something
not only rude, but probably physiologically impossible -- if
physiologically is the word I want. I popped him on the head.
...... "Jesus, lady, stop
...... "Look, I'll tell
you what I think you did, and you tell me where I get it wrong?
Doesn't that sound like fun?"
...... " -- you!" I
raised the gun and he said, "Yeah, yeah, it sounds like
a load of laughs. Sure."
...... "You lied to me.
You did hear something, something like a crash, and you went
down to see what it was. Anyone would have. And you found Monica
there, on the floor, stabbed and bleeding."
...... "Well, ain't that
pretty much what I've been saying all along?"
...... "I'm not finished
yet. What you didn't bother to tell anyone is that you found
the makeup table tipped over on her. She'd had a fit, epilepsy.
That's the disease that makes you fall down on sidewalks -- "
...... "I know what it is."
...... "Excellent. She'd
had one of these fits and grabbed the table to steady herself,
but it fell on top of her. The mirror broke and drove a shard
of glass straight into her heart."
...... "That's stupid."
...... "No it's not. It
actually happened to someone a long time ago. It was on the radio.
You set the table back on its feet, pulled the glass dagger out
of her heart, cleaned up the rest of the glass and then
called the police. I don't know when you called the DA, but it
must've been right after that, huh?"
...... " -- you! Hey, no!"
But it was too late, I cracked him over the head so hard my arm
hurt clear to my shoulder.
...... I hoped I hadn't killed
him, but he was blowing little red bubbles from his nose, so
I guessed he was all right.
"I went through his stuff," I told Max, "and
found a whole wad of money. Brand-new bills, all with consecutive
serial numbers, so it probably won't be too hard to find what
bank they came from and who withdrew them. I gave just about
all of them to a friend of mine on the Graphic -- "
...... "'Just about all?'"
...... "Give me a break,
Max. Anyway, you remember Chip Finney?"
...... "Sure, my old publicity
...... "The same. He's with
the Graphic now, and thinks he can really put the screws
to Noorvik with this. I hope so. That hypocritical do-gooder
has irked me since the day he took office."
...... "I gotta say I'm
pretty damned impressed, Velda. I'm sorry I ever said anything
about you being a detective."
...... "Hell, don't let
it worry you."
...... "But how'd you figure
it out? I don't get it."
...... "Elementary, my dear
Maxie. The missing mirror bothered me from the get-go. I mean,
there were no mirrors in her room at all, not even a hand mirror.
There must have been one when Monica got there. There'd've been
hell to pay if she used another girl's mirror.
...... "I know she put her
makeup on before she died. It was still on her face in the morgue,
so she must've used her table.
...... "I have to admit,
though, that the mirror was just something that nagged at me
until I noticed something glinting in her hair. When I looked
closely, I could see they were pieces of broken glass -- little
thin curved pieces. Like from light bulbs. They had to've come
from the broken bulbs on her vanity. I figured whatever'd broken
the bulbs had broken the mirror too -- maybe there'd been a struggle?
Maybe...but there were those strange bruises across her legs.
...... "The medical examiner
couldn't quite figure those out. Neither could I until I talked
to a pharmacist about some pills I saw at Monica's place. Then
I remembered this radio show I'd heard a few months ago. This
woman had some sort of fainting spell and grabbed at a mirror.
It fell over on her and the broken glass cut her throat and killed
...... "I figured something
like that happened to Monica. She had one of her fits and somehow
tipped her makeup table over onto herself. When everything went
crashing down on top of her, the mirror broke and one of the
pieces of glass stabbed her. There was no murderer, it was just
...... "But when McWhorter
found her," Max said, "there was nothing like that.
Sure, the mirror was gone like you say, but so what? There was
no mess, I mean, other than the girl of course."
...... "McWhorter lied.
He found her lying there with the vanity on top of her and a
piece of glass sticking out of her chest. He put the vanity back,
picked up the glass and pulled the shard out of her. I found
the bloody glass under some newspapers in a box out back. He
called the cops, sure, but he called the DA first."
...... "But why? Why would
McWhorter do that? I don't get it."
...... "He was pissed off
because he thought you were going to fire him."
...... "Fire him?
What for? He's been working for me twenty years...Oh...oh, he
must've heard I was going to fire McWhirter, the trombonist...Jesus,
when he finds out it was all a mistake..."
...... "Yeah, can you imagine
Copyright (c) 2002 by Ron Miller.
Ron Miller is a multiple-award-winning author/illustrator who specializes in books about space, astronomy and science. He has worked on motion pictures, designed postage stamps and is also the author of several fantasy novels. Velda is his first attempt at detective fiction, a genre he has always loved, which is probably why he has always been too intimidated to try his hand at it.
Like what you've read? Head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct further comments and inquiries to the fiction
editor, or check out this page.
"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a
man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."
| Table of Contents | Detectives A-L M-Z | Film | Radio | Television | Comics | FAQs |
| Trivia | Authors | Hall of Fame | Mystery Links | Bibliography | Glossary | Search |
| What's New: On The Site | On the Street | Non-Fiction | Fiction | Staff | The P.I. Poll |