Step Into My Parlour
A Jack Eddy Mystery
by Dick Stodghill


Akron, Ohio.
1938

......I stepped out of the Lenox Café, a couple of nd -of-the-day beers under my belt, just in time to see some lummox who looked like an escapee from the gorilla cage at the zoo beating the daylights out of a skinny woman slumped against the front of the Dollar Hotel.

......I ran toward them, and grabbed the brute's arm just as he cocked it to deliver another blow to the bloody face of his helpless victim. Tthe White Knight rushing to the aid of a damsel in distress.

......Or at least that was the plan. Instead the helpless victim sprang at me like a leopard on the attack, slashing the side of my face with her claws.

......“Don't hurt my husband, you bastard!” she screeched.

......With me clutching his right arm, the bully used his left fist to deliver a knockout punch to my thrust-out jaw. As I rose unsteadily from my spot on the sidewalk they were walking away with their arms around each other.

......When I arrived at Mrs. Bauer's boardinghouse on Dudley Street I ran into Jack Eddy, a detective working for the local Akron, Ohio branch of the Wellington National Detective Agency, coming out of the parlour. Just my luck. He gave me a wink, then did a double take. “What the hell happened to you, kid?”

......“Nothing. There was a fight down on Market Street.”

......“No kidding. I thought maybe you were in church and the organ fell on you.”

......“I'm in no mood for jokes, Jack. This big bully was beating up on a woman and –”

......“And you just had to stick your nose in, right?. Bram Geary, ace reporter, the man who's written a hundred stories about domestic disputes but hasn't learned yet that the third party always comes out on the short end. Looks like the dame combed your face with a garden rake.”

......“And I suppose you would have just walked off in the other direction.”

......He gave me a light poke on the arm. “No, buddy, you did the right thing. No way for you to be sure it wasn't just a hubby getting a point across to the ball-and-chain.”

......“You think that's what it was?”

......“You don't have to be a genius to figure it. The scratches on your face and the lump on your jaw say it was a two-pronged attack. Better go upstairs and clean yourself up. Me, I've gotta get back to the office tonight, clean up a few odds and ends. I'll see you tomorrow.”

......So I did, but met pudgy Mabel Klosterman on her way down. She screamed, “Oh, Bram, what happened?” and hurled herself at me, wrapping arms the size of small tree trunks around my waist and squeezing me in a vise-like grip. “You poor boy, are you all right?”

......Her more than ample bosom was crushing the breath out of me. I struggled to extricate myself. “I'm okay, Mabel, really, but thanks for your concern.”

......And for probably adding a couple of broken ribs to my injuries.

* * * * *

......Halfway through supper the phone rang out in the hall. It was for me. The nightside man on the city desk told me there had been a murder and to get myself out to the scene pronto.

......The scene turned out to be a weed-filled lot behind an abandoned factory on North Howard Street. Another woman, another streetwalker most likely, another couple of city detectives with bewildered looks on their faces. A "fiend" (that's what the papers were calling him) was on the loose in Akron and the cops didn't have a clue.

......The victim wasn't much to look at, just another worn and weary face that once might have been pretty but by the time she reached thirty was anything but. No one deserved to end up like that, tossed aside like garbage Someone had caved in one side of her skull with a ball bat or some similar weapon and done a few other things to her that didn't bear thinking about -- and that we'd never run in the paper. I dutifully jotted down notes, asked a few questions and left as quickly as I could. It was just as well that I'd only had time for a few mouthfuls of Mrs. Bauer's roast beef hash.

.....But I stopped for a beer at the Lenox.

......They kept piling up, the bodies, and nobody seemed to care. But it bothered me. Who they were? Where had they came from? Even their real names were often a mystery. They had street names, of course, because the pimps, the marks, the other girls had to call them something.

......But didn't anyone else miss them, notice they weren't around anymore? Wasn't there a mother, a sister, an older brother somewhere, just anyone at all who might wonder what had become of them? Apparently not.

......Jack Eddy didn't care. He'd more or less admitted it, when I asked. Why should he? No one had hired Wellington's, after all. And Jack, an assistant manager at the agency by then, had plenty of other cases to keep him busy.

......Did I even care, I wondered sometimes. Sure, I wrote about it whenever a new body turned up, maybe thought about it for a while, but what would my reply have been if someone called me on it? Did I really care? Or only because it was my job, because that's what a reporter does. I was afraid that would have been the honest answer.

......Still, it was hard not to feel something. Once upon a time these women might have been laughing little girls, dreaming of picking out a dress for the senior prom, or walking down the aisle, escorted by her father and dressed in bridal white.

......When had things started to go wrong for them? Was there no one they might have turned to? Or when life turned sour had they just crept off by themselves so that no one would know?

......It made me think of that Irene Dunn song they were playing, that one about smoke getting in your eyes, about laughing friends deriding tears you couldn't hide, tears shed over a lost love? Creeping away from friends like that, if they could even be called friends, might have seemed like the best course. Or from a parent or a sibling who might utter those cruelest of all words, “I told you so.”

......Just guesses, that's all they were. The guesses of a twenty-four year old kid reporter with too much time on his hands, just thoughts to fill your mind before more pressing ones came along. Like, what's for dinner that night? Should I call Sue Baney and see if she wanted to take in a late show that evening? Or should I go straight home?

......I walked back to where I had left my Hupmobile, drove north on Main Street and was lucky enough to find a parking place in front of the Howe Hotel next to the Metropolitan. The cute blonde elevator operator who worked the night shift smiled fetchingly and without asking took me up to the fifth floor. She thought I was one of the Wellington ops and I never told her otherwise.

......I said hello to Cal Andres and a couple of other men lounging around the detectives' room and made my way towards Jack's private office. I tapped on the door and stuck my head in. He was alone.

......He looked up and grinned when he saw it was me. "Step into my parlour, kid."

......“They found another one last night, Jack. That makes five in two months.”

......“Yeah, I heard on the radio. How was this one dressed?”

......“She wasn't. None of them have been. Why do you ask?”

......“I'm looking for a woman, name of Beth Partridge. She left her house three nights ago and hasn't been seen since. About nineteen, a hundred pounds, brown hair, wearing a yellow dress.”

......“This wasn't her. She was a lot older. Probably thirty and a good twenty pounds heavier. So who's looking for your girl?”

......“Her mother. They had a knock down, drag out over her latest boyfriend. The kid stormed out in a huff.”

......“One of those girls that keeps picking out losers, huh?”

......“Yeah. This time it was the mother's boyfriend.”

......“Ouch. The police weren't any help?”

......Jack leaned back in his chair, laughing. “Hell,” he said, running a hand over his thinning sandy hair, “You know better'n that.”

......“Never hurts to ask them.”

......“She asked. They'd get right on it, a cop told her, then was already slipping the file into a desk drawer when she looked back from the doorway to ask a question.”

......“I was thinking about those women, Jack. You'd think somebody would miss them. At least one of them, anyway.”

......He shrugged. "Most of 'em are probably from out of town and long gone from anywhere where anybody cares. And anybody that does care probably doesn't know they're here or what's been going on in Akron.” He fingered a sheet of paper with names on it, shaking his head and grinning wryly. “I sent out a Teletype asking about missing women to the other agency branches and got back about a hundred names. Nothing to work with, just names and descriptions.”

......So, despite what he's said, Jack Eddy had been thinking about them. That made me feel a little better. Or was he just thinking about a headline to make himself look good, if he crascked the case? It wouldn't have been the first time. He never passed up a chance to grab a little favorable publicity and improve his chances of getting ahead in the agency.

......That was always uppermost in his mind, climbing the Wellington ladder until he reached the top. Some would have said he was self-centered, always looking out for himself, and they would have been right. What they might have failed to see though, was the good he accomplished in the process. A go-getter with his own agenda in mind can accomplish a lot more than a hand-wringer who sits back and says, “Something should be done.”

......The next day was one of those that makes a reporter wonder if covering school board meetings wouldn't be more exciting than the police beat. I had to settle for a hit-and-run that had taken out two pedestrians on West Exchange Street.

......“Is this it?” asked Ben Goldsmith, our crusty city editor when I filed my hit-and-run. “No follow-up on those murders?”

......“There is no follow up, Ben. The cops are even more befuddled than usual. Plato Largis isn't on the case but he said the detectives who are might just as well stay home in bed for all the luck they're having.”

......“So this is all you've got for me?”

......“Look, Ben –” I started, but gave it up and went back to my desk. He knew I didn't manufacture the news, just reported it. That didn't stop him from trying to make me feel like I was dogging it.

......For a few minutes I sat thinking about my last date with Sue Baney. Even that had been dull. She had wanted to see a mushy movie playing at the Colonial but as it droned on reel after endless reel, it had taken all my energy to stop from screaming out “When does the action begin?” Sue enjoyed it, though.

......My afternoon rounds proved as boring and non-productive as those of the morning. It looked like my byline wouldn't be showing up on Page One of the Times-Press that day. But Adolph Hitler's name certainly did. Idly I wondered if anyone over there in Europe would ever do something to stop the man.

......I decided to pay another visit to Jack Eddy's office. But as I approached the Metropolitan Jack and burly Cliff Austin came barreling out.

......“Want to come along, buddy?” Jack called over his shoulder. “We've got a lead on my missing girl.”

......I hurried along behind as they trotted down Main Street like a pair of cross-country runners warming up for the championship meet. One look at Cliff and pedestrians scurried out of their path. Not knowing where we were going or even caring, I hopped aboard Cliff's battered and battle scarred 1937 Terraplane sedan.

......Only a little over a year old and already it looked like a refugee from the Spanish Civil War. The floor of the back seat, where I had to sit, of course, was littered with stained coffee containers and greasy sandwich wrappers.

......“Don't you ever clean out this heap?”

......He turned to give me a puzzled look even though traffic was heavy and we were going fifty in a thirty mile zone. “What for?”

......“Uh, never mind.” I was hoping that a quick answer might make him turn back watching where he was driving before we all ended up in the back of an ambulance.

......When it once again seemed like we had an even chance of surviving the ride I leaned forward, this time tapping Jack Eddy on the shoulder. “Where are we going?”

......“Thirteenth Street in Kenmore. Cliff found the place where the girl's boyfriend works. Mac McKelvey picked up the kid and shagged him to a house out there.”

......“What's her name again?”

......“Beth Partridge.”

......“Right.You think she's holed up there?”

......“Time will tell.”

......What time told us was that Beth Partridge wasn't there but that the boyfriend and two of his pals were. They were a scruffy looking trio, self-styled tough guys in need of a bath and some clothes that hadn't been worn for a month.

......Jack received nothing but stony silence when he asked where Beth was. It looked like Beth did not want to be found and the boyfriend didn't intend to give away her hiding place. “Look,” said Jack, “why not make it easy on yourself and cough up her whereabouts.”

......I suppose I should have been prepared for what came next. The boyfriend decided to play rough, probably to impress his friends. His stiff-arm to the chest drove Jack Eddy back a step but before the kid could cock his arm for a second blow Jack leveled him with a right to the jaw. The other two ran forward to help their buddy. Cliff Austin caught them halfway, grabbed a neck in each of his massive paws and banged their heads together. They slumped quietly to the floor.

......“Nice move,” I said. “So now with all of them laid out in a row how do you guys propose to learn anything?”

......Jack Eddy was already kneeling down slapping the boyfriend back and forth across the face. “Shut up and find me a glass of water,” he ordered. When I did, Jack threw it in the kid's face. He soon was coming around enough for Jack to say, “Now where's the girl?”

......The tough guy was gone and so was his eagerness for a fight. What remained was a scared and woozy 19-year-old. “Upstairs. Hiding under some dirty clothes in the corner of a closet. She saw you coming and beat it.”

......Jack Eddy brought her down a couple of minutes later. The three former hardcases huddled together on a sagging couch and watched us leave. As a parting shot, Cliff Austin waved his hand and said, “Hope to see you guys again sometime.”

......Obviously they didn't share that hope.

......Beth Partridge, now more like a quarrelsome little sparrow, sat in back with me. Being up to her ankles in old coffee cups and sandwich wrappers didn't improve her disposition. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and decided it was hiding under those dirty clothes that kept her from smelling like a rose. I pondered her and her mother's taste in men.

......But once again Wellington's National Detective Agency had closed another big case. This one wouldn't make the front page, either.

.* * * * *

......The chilly winter dragged on, November turning into December, by without any new developments in the murders. For that matter there wasn't much at all happening in the world of crime, at least in Akron, and that made it hard for me to convince Ben Goldsmith that I was diligently toiling away on the police beat. I heard “Is this all you've got for me?” three or four times a week. I wasn't exactly hoping for another murder but a good bank robbery or a police raid on a gambling den or even a drug operation would have been nice.

......There was a little excitement at the boardinghouse when Mabel Klosterman flashed an engagement ring at the supper table one evening. Her boyfriend, burly and dim-witted Joe Kurtz, had slipped it on her finger the previous night, or so she said. The vision of Joe and pudgy Mabel as man and wife was a little more than my mind could handle. Joe was a private detective operating on his own and from what I had seen of him he couldn't find ice at the Arctic Circle. That meant he was perpetually suffering from the shorts. Mabel, sweaty and giggling as she broke the news, had a job that paid just enough to cover her room and board and buy a new dress now and then.

......The thought of the two of them in bed together wasn't one I cared to linger over. They'd need a strong frame and a firm mattress, that much I knew. What really concerned me was the possibility that Joe might move in with Mabel at the boardinghouse. It would be hard to dislike the guy considering his almost childlike ignorance, but having to see him at the supper table and in the parlour every evening would be hell for all of us. I tried to convince myself that Mrs. Bauer wouldn't allow it, but there was no way to be sure of that.

......Then I had a bright idea. I waited until Mrs. Bauer was alone putting the finishing touches on a delicious-smelling Irish stew and said as casually as possible , “Uh, Mrs. Bauer, if I got married could my wife move into my room with me?”

......“And just who would you be marrying?”

......“I'm not sure, but if I did could -”

......“Get out of my kitchen, Bram Geary. Can't you see I'm busy? And the next time you want to know something at least have the courage to come right out and ask without hinting around with some cock and bull story any ten-year-old could see through.”

......So much for my bright idea, but Sue Baney found Mabel's engagement interesting when I remembered to tell her about it. I thought she'd be amused but instead she seemed almost excited. “I'm glad for her. I guess it's every girl's dream. At least most of them.”

......“I never thought of it that way.”

......“No, I don't suppose you did.”

......“What I mean is -”

......“I know exactly what you mean. You men are all alike, aren't you? There're things you want but marriage isn't included in the package.”

......I wouldn't admit it to her but I did think about it. The whole package. The trouble was I just couldn't go along with the old adage that two could live as cheaply as one. Live where on my salary, at the boardinghouse?

* * * * *

......Jack Eddy sat rubbing his chin and when he grew tired of that he tugged on an ear as if making sure it was still there. “So who would know these women? I mean know their routine?”

......“Other prosties working the same area. Pimps keeping tabs on their girls or looking for fresh meat to add to their stable. Cops that cruise their territory. Guys who made a habit of hiring them. Just about anyone who set his mind to it, Jack.”

......“The victims worked along Furnace Street or sometimes on Howard. Nothing there but some boarded-up store fronts and a few flop houses. If somebody parked and just watched they'd be noticed. Had to be somebody they were accustomed to seeing.”

......“It's a salt and pepper neighborhood, Jack, and so are the women that work it, but every victim was white. Why do you suppose that was?”

......“How would I know? Personal taste, maybe. Or a bigot who either hates white women or thinks they should know better.”

......“It's funny that nobody saw a single one of them get into a car. As many women as work that area it seems strange to me.”

......“Look, they can't keep close tabs on each other every minute. Everyone else might have been busy themselves. But maybe they didn't get into a car. Did you ever think of that, buddy?”

......“I don't get you. There's no hotel or any place like that within walking distance. Well, there is the Matthews a few blocks down but that's for coloureds. And it's a pretty swank operation, not the kind of place where streetwalkers take their customers. Some well known people stay there when they're in Akron, Louis Armstrong, people like that.”

......“Yeah, yeah, I know. But what's that got to do with anything?”

......“You said yourself they might not get in a car, that's what. Look, Jack, even if there was somewhere to go, that leads back to the fact that no one saw the victims with anyone.”

......“I've been doing some thinking along that line, buddy.”

......“Do you have a client?”

......“Nah. But that doesn't mean my brain turns to cabbage.”

......“So this thinking, what did you come up with?”

......“Suppose they just stepped inside a door.”

......“You said yourself that there's nothing much down there except boarded up storefronts and a few missions -- now wait a minute, Jack, you're not suggesting that the Reverend Bill --”

......“Don't be stupid, kid. The Reverend's probably the straightest shooter in town, but his mission isn't the only one along there.”

......“I don't understand what you're getting at, Jack. I mean ministers also operate those other missions.”

......“And you never heard of a man of the cloth going bad? Or someone who works for one of them, a cook or a handyman or something?”

......“Sure, things like that happen. But to commit five murders, I can't see it happening.”

......“Hey, I'm just thinking out loud. That's one thing about you, buddy, there's all kinds of stuff going on out there that your neat and orderly little mind can't see happening. Come on, let's take a ride down there. We'll go in your car.”

......“My car? We always take your Auburn when we go anywhere.”

......“I don't like it to be seen in a neighborhood like that. Doesn't do my reputation or the agency's any good.”

......“What about my reputation, Jack? How do you think Sue Baney would react if she heard I was parked in a place where you have to fight off the streetwalkers?”

......“I wouldn't worry about it.”

......So we drove down Howard and along Furnace Street in my Hupmobile. It was a '34, a few years old but in peak condition. Olive green with black fenders, a real beauty.

......We had only gone a couple of blocks Jack said, “Turn around and park on the north side of the street so we can watch what's going on.”

......“Gee, Jack, we already know what's going on. Guy cruises along, the women flock around and he picks one out and off they go.”

......“Why do you always state the obvious? I meant we just want to get the lay of the land.” He laughed, giving me a light poke on the arm. “No pun intended, buddy.”

......I ignored that. So we sat there watching the activity, such as it was. Business was slow, the night was cold, the women in short, tight skirts and dresses must have been freezing. A couple of pimps drove slowly by in gaudy Cadillacs with whitewall tires. A number of erelicts, a few of them relatively young but the majority elderly, wandered by on their way to one of the missions. Most went to the Furnace Street Mission, the one operated by the Reverend Bill Denton, a leading figure in aiding the down-and-outers in Akron, but a few entered one of the other two.

......“Pathetic, isn't it, Jack? Each of them must have a story, some reason for hitting rock bottom. It must be horrible to end up that way.”

......“Sheesh, don't be such a bleeding heart, kid. It isn't necessarily the end, buddy. Some are only down on their luck at the moment and just need a helping hand to get them back on their feet. Some got hooked on the bottle and may stay that way, of course. Then there's that new program those guys, Wilson and Smith, got started here in town may save some of them... what they call it?”

......“Alcoholics Anonymous.”

......“Yeah, that's it. I hear it's really catching on. Could be it'll do more good than the missions if it lasts for a while.”

......“I did an article on it last fall. The idea is you just try to get through one day at a time without taking a drink. They go to meetings just about every night and listen to other men tell their stories, maybe tell their own.” I shrugged.

......“That may be the best part of it, buddy. They got each other and nobody preaches at them.”

......“That's the reason some of the guys don't like going to one of the missions. They say they have to listen to a sermon before they get a meal and a bed. Of course on a night like this you'd do about anything to get out of the cold. A man could freeze to death if he doesn't.”

......We sat there half an hour before Jack had enough. At one point a well-dressed middle-aged man said a few words to one of the women in passing, but they seemed to shy away from him. When he went into one of the missions I said, “He doesn't look the type, does he?”

......“He isn't. It's a safe bet he's a preacher and runs the place. Let's go home, buddy.”

* * * * *

......A few days later, I heard that Plato Largis had taken over the investigation of the serial killings. I was surprised, but pleased. He should have been assigned the job right from the beginning. Now, I figured, some progress might be made. While we sat talking at his desk in the detectives' room at Central Police Station he said he had reviewed every report on the case. "I've got a few ideas, kid. A couple of patrolmen are out right now picking up a guy I want to talk to.”

......“You think he's a likely suspect?”

......“He's a sex maniac, one I sent up when I was new on the job. That was back before your time so you wouldn't remember. He got out about six months ago and I've had my eye on him since then.”

......I didn't say so, but I wondered why Plato hadn't mentioned him to the detectives who'd been working the case before him. He might have, of course, and they didn't follow up on it.

......I considered telling him about Jack Eddy's theory but quickly decided not to. Plato and Jack were both tops at what they did, but in a sense they were rivals. So passing along Jack's idea would be a sure way to keep him from ever trusting me in the future.

......I would liked to have seen Plato interrogate the suspect but that wasn't likely, so I did the next best thing and hung around to see what he looked like when they brought him in. I didn't have long to wait. He was a small man neatly dressed in a white shirt and slacks, not at all what I had expected, not at all what I was expecting. He wasn't resisting but he was obviously unhappy about being there.

......I almost felt sorry for the guy, myself. After all, as far as I knew, the only reason Plato brought him in was his past record. He'd been picked up at his job at a hardware store. Even assuming he was innocent -- although so far no one had -- he'd probably lose his job. It didn't seem right, somehow. If a man served his time was it fair to pick him up every time someone committed a similar crime? It was a tough question and I wasn't sure of the answer.

......When I returned to the precinct house thata afternoon, the scuttlebutt was that the suspect had an airtight alibi for at least the latest murder. I ran into Largis on his way back from lunch and asked if the man had been released.

......“Released? We can hold him for a couple of days without charging him, you know that. That'll give us time to maybe soften him up a little.”

......As I walked back to the paper I was hoping I'd never get on a list that let the police pick me up and hold me for a few days just to "soften me up a little." Jack Eddy was no angel either -- and he certainly wasn't above grabbing people off the street. But when he did it he was sure he had the right person. That was more than could be said for the police. With them it often more like a fishing expedition.

* * * * *

......When I got home later that afternoon, I was beat. I had just kicked off my shoes and stretched out on the bed when young Artie, the 13-year-old son of Bus and Ivy Bauer, knocked on the door. After he came in I sat on the edge of the bed and Artie slouched down on the straightback chair, the only one in the room. He was jumpy as a cat trapped inside a dog kennel.

......“So what's on your mind, Artie?”

......“Bram, you know all about girls, don't you?”

......I hesitated a moment, fearful of what might come next. “Not much, Artie. Nobody knows all about girls.”

......But my fears that the next question might concern anatomy proved groundless. In fact, as the conversation continued I realized he probably knew as much as I did maybe more. I recalled a couple of years earlier when Artie had been caught peering through a keyhole as his older sister undressed. Kitty wasn't as upset by it as she might have been but his mother was outraged. For days Artie's life at home was a living hell, but I had a sneaking suspicion he thought it was worth it.

......It turned out that all Artie wanted was a little help deciding on a suitable Christmas gift for a certainly special girl at school. They'd evidently been passing notes back and forth in class. Innocent, harmless stuff like that, to hear Artie tell it, provided the teacher didn't catch on. Except that his first idea for a gift was totally unsuitable. “Artie,” I said, “men don't, uh, give women articles of, uh, intimate apparel.”

.......So I put my shoes back on and walked with Artie to the bustling East Akron business district on Market Street. and as we walked, I had to chuckle. Had I actually said “articles of intimate apparel?” We wandered through Hower's department store but neither of us came up with a brilliant idea for a gift. Then as we passed a display of board games one occurred to me. “Artie, does this girl - by the way, does she have a name?”

.......“Gretel.”

.......“Gretel? H'mm, you don't run across that one every day. Anyway, does Gretel have a Monopoly game?”

.......“No. We talked about playin' it once but her old man ain't got a job so they can't afford to get one.”

.......“Think she might like that for Christmas?”

.......His face lit up like one of the store's gaudy displays. “Yeah, hey that's a swell idea, Bram.”

.......“They're expensive. Think you've got enough dough?”

.......“Yeah, sure.”

.......He didn't. I dug deep in my pocket and came up with the six bits he needed so he'd have enough to pay the bill. Artie walked back home with the game tucked under his arm and a big smile on his face, a happy ending for everyone except me, who was now left a little short on cash.

.......Still, the Monopoly game sure beat the pair of lacy green underpants with sparkling red Christmas trees Billy had originally planned on. I had no idea how Gretel would have felt about them but there wasn't much doubt about her mother's reaction. I couldn't help wonder what Sue Baney would think if she found those under her Christmas tree.

* * * * *

.......That evening Mrs. Bauer outdid herself, serving up Boston baked beans with chunks of ham that would melt in your mouth, followed up by thick slices of apple pie for dessert.. I was ready for a relaxing evening listening to radio shows in the parlour when Jack took me aside. “Grab your coat and hat, buddy, we're going to have some fun.”

.......“What's on your mind, Jack?”

.......“We're going to see the Reverend Hiram Honeyball.”

.......“Honey-what?”

.......“You heard me. He runs one of those missions down on Furnace Street. Remember the well-dressed guy we saw going into one of them? That's him. Cal Andres and I have been doing some checking. Some of the women working the street say he's creepy, always sidling up to them acting like he's interested in steering them back on the right course. Those broads have some pretty sharp instincts about men and this guy spooks them so I thought we'd check him out. But Cal's tied up on another job so I figured I'd let you go along with me.”

.......“Hold on a minute, Jack. I've had a hard day and . . . what are you laughing at? You think I've got it easy, do you?”

.......“Just pick up your hat. Time to see the good Reverend Honeyball.”

.......“What a name. Do you suppose it's real?”

.......“Of course it's real. You don't think anyone would deliberately choose to be called Hiram Honeyball, do you?”

.......“And you think he's the killer?”

.......“I didn't say that, did I, buddy? Let's see what happens when we talk to him and then you can draw your own conclusions.”

.......“I'm not so keen on this, Jack. I think you're way off base. Besides, I was thinking of seeing Sue tonight.”

.......“You're a reporter, ain't you? If it turns out to be something, would you rather read about it in the Beacon Journal?”

.......I wasn't convinced there would be a story but once again I found myself tagging along after Jack. We drove west on Market in my car between crowded sidewalks. Window shoppers were out in force looking at the brightly-lit Christmas displays although not many of them were carrying packages. Maybe the real shoppers, those with money in the ninth year of the Great Depression, were inside the stores.

.......We parked in front of Honeyball's mission, and got out. We had to decline a couple of offers of "company" as we walked the rest of the way. “I hate this, Jack. This isn't what you'd call a nice neighborhood.”

.......“Kid, would these chippies be here if it was a nice neighborhood?”

.......“I still feel like a fool going along with this.”

.......“It usually pays to trust your feelings.”

.......“That's not funny, Jack.”

.......“Wasn't meant to be. Now just be quiet when we get there and let me do the talking.”

.......“Don't you always?”

.......“Yes, and for good reason.”

.......There were times when Jack Eddy really got under my skin. And times when he caught me off guard with his pretexts. Once we were inside the mission he was suddenly a man with a fat wallet ready to spread a little cash around for a good cause. A cause such as the Honeyball Mission.

......“I've admired the good work you do here for some time now,” were Jack Eddy's first words. But he had reservations and the Reverend Honeyball was eager to put them to rest.

......"Won't you step into my parlour, gentlemen?" he said, ushering us into his small office. A prim, middle-aged woman sat at a desk, studying some papers.

.......After the perfunctory handshakes and greetings, during which we were introduced to Honeyball's wife, Abigail, she smiled demurely and excused herself. When she was gone, Jack continued, “I've been thinking about donating to the cause but . . . well, those women on the street out there, I don't know.”

.......“God's work is never done, but I do believe he's seeing to it. There aren't as many as there used to be.”

.......“Why do you suppose that is?”

.......“I believe I just told you. God is seeing to it.”

.......“He'd need a little earthly help, wouldn't He?”

.......“The righteous are always available to Him, and by that I mean those ready and eager to do the work of the Lord.”

.......“Men like yourself?”

.......“Why yes," he responded, sounding pleased. "Decent, God-fearing men like myself. When I see work that the Lord wants done I never hesitate.”

.......“I've heard it's only the white women that have been leaving.”

.......“Perhaps they are the ones that know better, the ones that have been better taught to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.”

.......“The others haven't?”

.......He shrugged. “Maybe not in the proper way, the way the Lord approves of.”

.......“I see," Jack said. "So maybe they're spared for now but the others must go -- according to God's orders.” I wasn't quite sure exactly where he was going but I thought he was laying it on a bit thick, even for him.

......The Reverend Honeyball must have thought so too -- he started to grow leery. I attempted to sooth Honeyball's mind by interjecting, “We're only speaking hypothetically, of course. The laws of the Lord must always come ahead of those written by man.”

.......“You understand perfectly.”

.......I walked over and xamined a display of baseball memorabilia mounted on the wall the wall in a corner near his desk. A couple of old photographs of young men in old-fashioned team uniforms, a couple of balls with nearly indecipgerable autographs and in a place of honor, a well-worn baseball bat. I lifted it off its hooks. “Nice. A Louisville Slugger. Do you play ball?”

.......""I did in my day.”

.......But Jack Eddy couldn't be dissuaded. This time he used a softer, admiring approach. “But those women. Making them repent, how could it be accomplished?”

.......“Merely talk to them kindly. Offer them a smile and a good word. Then one night ask them to step inside a moment.”

.......“That's ingenious, Reverend. The people of Akron owe you a vote of thanks for carrying out God's work. But after it's been accomplished . . . uh, well, where do they go?”

.......Honeyball smiled broadly, pleased at seeing his work so obviously appreciated. He patted Jack's shoulder as he would an earnest parishioner's. “That's the easiest part. An hour before dawn when the streets are quiet they are removed from the premises to some other place.”

.......I could hardly believe that's all there was to it. Honeyball didn't seem to realize he had done anything wrong. In his eyes he hadn't, of course. That seemed to make it even more reprehensible.

.......No mention had been made of the fact that the bodies of the five women had been found nude. I didn't even want to think about the implications of that.

.......Satisfied, Jack reached for the phone on Honeyball's desk. The preacher got to it first and held it tightly against his chest. His sudden change in attitude caught us off guard. “Why do you want the phone? Who are you going to call?”

.......“Just a friend who -”

.......Honeyball's placid features had twisted into something almost demonic. “You're lying! Now I know who you are. You've been sent here by Satan to destroy the work of the Lord! That's right, isn't it? Admit it, now that I've unmasked you. Go ahead, admit you're the tool of Satan.”

.......Jack Eddy lunged forward but Honeyball was too quick for him. In the blink of an eye he dropped the phone, yanked open a desk drawer, picked up a snub-nosed revolver and aimed it at Jack.

.......I didn't think -- I just raised the bat that was still in my hand. But before I do anything more, Honeyball used his free hand to throw a vicious punch that connected with my nose. I reeled back, knocking over a chair on my way down, and hit the floor with a crash that could have been heard in the next block.

.......Even as I was falling, Jack Eddy catapulted across the desk. He and Honeyball were wrestling for the gun while I twisted around to extricate my legs from those of the chair. I was struggling to get up, blood streaming from my smashed nose, when Abigail Honeyball entered the room just beyond my feet, an eerie high-pitched wordless scream filling the room. The blade of a large meat cleaver in her hand glistened in the glare of an overturned desk lamp.

.......I did the only thing I could -- I aimed a savage kick at her ankle. She howled as it connected, then spun toward me, the cleaver raised high. My next desperate kick caught her hard in the stomach. She fell back, striking her head against the wall and slumping down, out like a light.

.......As I struggled to my feet I became aware of Jack Eddy staring down at me and laughing. If there was anything humorous about the situation I had missed it.

.......Honeyball's gun was in Jack's hand. The preacher was sitting with his back against the wall, a lump the size of a golf ball on his head, glaring at us. But all the fight had drained out of him.

.......I used a handkerchief to wipe some of the blood from my broken nose “Did you see the size of that cleaver she had?”

.......“Yeah, it's lying there on the floor beside her.” Now Jack Eddy was grinning, still amused by all that had happened.

.......“Maybe you wouldn't think this was so funny if your nose was broken, Jack.”

.......“C'mon, buddy, you've gotta learn to take your fun where you find it.”

.......“Well if this is your idea of fun, count me out the next time.”

* * * * *

.......Jack used the mission's phone to call Plato Largis. When he arrived, Honeyball had apparently gathered what wits he had left and was acting chipper again . He was actually eager to repeat his story, proud of his handiwork, certain that others would see it the same way he did and would applaud his actions.

.......Plato didn't even cuff him, just asked him to ride along and repeat his story to a stenographer at Central Police Station, whom he assured Honeyball would be fascinated. Seeing his willingness to put a noose around his own neck would have been pathetic under other circumstances. There would be no noose, of course, and no date with Old Sparky down in Columbus. Honeyball was bound for a one-way ride to the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane at Lima. It was a safe bet that the only congregation he'd be conducting services for would be fellow inmates.

.......Abigail seemed to be out of it. Jack Eddy didn't think she knew anything about the murders and neither did Plato Largis. I wasn't so sure. I remembered that meat cleaver raised in the air.

* * * * *

......My story was the front page lead in the Times-Press the next day. At first Ben Goldsmith wasn't going to let me handle the writing at all because I had been personally involved, but I talked him into letting me refer to myself as “A Times-Press reporter.” That seemed to satisfied him. He even let me leave work an hour early to compensate for the three hours I had put in the previous night, including my brief detour stint to the emergency room.

......When I picked up Sue that evening she was full of sympathy about my nose -- until I told her how it happened.

......“When are you going to learn, Bram Geary? When are you going to quit playing stooge for that man?”

......“Did you see my story in the paper?”

......“Of course I saw it. What's that got to do with anything?”

......“If I hadn't been there I would have missed it.”

......“You wouldn't have found out about it making your rounds on the police beat this morning? Did the Beacon Journal have a reporter there too? Because I noticed they had a story about it.”

.......I didn't have an answer for that. I wanted to say mine was better than the Beacon's because it included more detail, but decided to keep quiet. One bit of detail I had left out was Abigail with her meat cleaver. If Sue had known about that she would have gone completely bananas.

* * * * *

.......The next afternoon we sat in Jack Eddy's office. I still couldn't get the events at the mission out of my head.

.......“It's frightening, Jack. Those poor, unsuspecting women. And he was the worst kind of hypocrite. He killed white women but not the colored because he already looked down on them, thought they weren't worth his attention. Doesn't seem like anyone, especially a preacher, ought to see things that way, does it? I mean don't they preach about all of us being God's children? That doesn't mean white only, does it? How can a mind ever get so twisted as to believe the things Honeyball did?”

.......“Not did believe, friend. Does believe. Hell, that looney tune will believe he's doing God's work until the day he dies.”

.......“Do you think that when his time comes he'll find out otherwise?”

.......Jack smiled.“Look, pal, if you're trying to get me in some kind of religious discussion you've come to the wrong man.”

.......“I was just wondering if --”

.......“Well quit your wondering. I don't know, you don't know, nobody knows. A lot of people think they do, but nobody really knows so get it off your mind.”

........He looked like he was about to continue when the phone rang. He help up a hand, motioning me to be quiet, while he listened. He grunted a few times, made a note or two on a piece of paper in front of him, and then hung up.

.......“Anything exciting?” I asked.

.......“Just routine. Beth Partridge is missing again.”

.......He sighed, then gave me a one-knuckle punch on the arm, the kind that stings like fire. “Look, buddy, no one should have to deal with more than one Honeyball in his lifetime. And we've had ours, so don't you start stewing too much about it. Let's go get a beer.”

.......

Copyright © 2007 by Dick Stodghill


Dick Stodghill has spent much of his life as a newspaper reporter, bureau chief and award-winning columnist.  As a young man he held a variety of other jobs including cab driver and operative for Pinkerton's National Detective Agency.  He has had more than 60 short stories and novellas published as well as six non-fiction books and four short story collections. At the age of 18 he was an infantry rifleman in the invasion of Normandy.  He is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a charter member of Private Eye Writers of America.

He writes "If you want to add that I was the star of 37 Hollywood movies, spent 10 years as a major league baseball player and was Marilyn Monroe's secret lover, that would sound pretty good too."

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