mystery fiction, mystery serial

Chapter Sixteen

Two and a half hours and three bars later, Phil and I were finally calling each other by name, although as far as conversation was concerned, we seemed to be repeating Sally Field’s Oscar speech a lot. Ramona Bistler went home. By herself.

“What a washout,” I grumbled as Phil parked the BMW across the street and down a little, where it wouldn’t be obvious but there was still a good view.

“Tonight has not been a total loss,” he chuckled.

“No. Why are we stopping here?”

“To watch the house.”

“Are we going to stay here all night?”

“I doubt it.” Phil yawned. He had sent his friends on home. He stretched, then let his arm fall across my shoulders.

“So why are we watching?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe she’ll leave again.”

“Maybe.” It wasn’t that late, and I couldn’t complain about where I was. “She didn’t do a darn thing, and the only person she saw that could be connected to anything was Devon.”

“And Aunt Delilah didn’t seem terribly worried about our physical safety.” Phil mused. “However, she did seem very anxious that I take you with me, personally.”

I looked at him. “She wouldn’t.”

“I think she did. She knew how crazy I am about you. I spent enough time telling her.”

“I did my fair share of sighing about it, too. So that’s why she insisted you drive me out to Pasadena. That sneak.”

“I can’t complain.”

He moved in. I went to meet him.

“What’s that?” I yelped, pulling back at the last second.

A lone figure ran across Bistler’s lawn.

“I’ll go find out,” said Phil.

“No!” I held him back. “That place has got to have at least thirty alarms hooked up to the police.”

“We were necking when we saw this suspicious character and decided to see if we could get a better look at him. Aunt Delilah will back us up. Besides, why would I want to break into Ramona Bistler’s house? Or anybody else’s, for that matter? Why don’t you call the cops? I’ll be right back.”

Nervously, I picked up my phone and dialed. It took about three minutes to get through everything. It might have taken less time, but I got tongue-tied when I told the operator my friend was trying to get a better look at the intruder, and she asked for his name. She didn’t notice a thing. I even had to spell it for her.

Phil had yet to show up. I got worried and left the car. A tall, spare figure came around the corner of the house. Lamplight glinted on his light hair. He didn’t look quite right. I figured it was the dark.

“Phil!” I called softly.

The figure ran back where he’d come from. I chased after him. Just as I got to the corner of the house, I was grabbed. I screamed. A hand clamped over my mouth, cutting it short.

“You idiot!” Phil growled. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“He went that-a way!” I pointed.

“Can’t be. He’s breaking into the garage.”

“Tall and light-haired?”

“No. Short and dark, with a moustache.”

“Lansky?”

“The chauffeur. Right. What does he want here?”

“And who was that other guy? To hell with Lansky.”

I started around the corner, but Phil held me back again.

“It’s too dark and overgrown there,” he hissed. “We’ll go around the other way.”

“But what if he comes around this way?”

“Alright. You stay in front.”

I followed Phil to the other edge of the house. Phil made me wait at the corner.

“Sexist,” I grumbled.

A minute later I heard several thuds, shoes scraping across stucco, and a couple ominous oophs. I started back, but was pushed aside by a running figure. I ran after. I hadn’t grown up playing football for nothing. I tackled the man at the end of the driveway.

I made one fatal error. Once I had him down, I had no idea what to do with him. He heaved up. I fought for my grasp and hung on. He rolled over on top of me. I gasped as he sat up on my mid-section. He swore as he saw my legs. He knew I wasn’t very heavy, but I guess didn’t expect to find I was a woman. I pounded on his back. He jumped to his feet, and was blinded by a bright white light.

“Police! Freeze!”

I was so glad when he didn’t make a run for it. I waited until the officers had Lansky in their grasp before stirring. It startled the hell out of one young man about my age.

“You alright, lady?” he asked, as I got up.

“Yeah. Fine. Oh no! My friend!” I ran to the side of the house.

Phil slowly made his way out.

“Are you alright?” I asked, and slid under his arm.

“Oh. I’m okay. Where’s that damn Irishman when I need him?”

“Irishman?”

“You know. Your friend.”

“Mickey. He’s only half Irish. The other half’s Swedish.”

“No kidding. I’m half Swedish. On my mother’s side.”

The young officer came up. “It looks like we got him.”

Another patrol car pulled up, and two more officers fell out and prowled around the grounds.

“There’s a second one,” I said. “I think he went into the house.”

A female voice shrilled out, cursing in all manner of foul language.

“Hey!” an officer called from the back. “There’s a forced window back here. Goes into a bedroom.”

An infuriated Ramona Bistler appeared in a skimpy negligee from her front door.

“I demand to know what is going on here!” she shrieked.

“Lady, someone has been trying to break into your house,” said a big burly officer with a red moustache. “We think there may be another one still in there. You just stay put until we say it’s clear. Alf, get the broad a blanket.”

Bistler shivered. Well, it was cold and she wasn’t wearing that much. The young officer presented her with a grey woolly affair. Bistler snatched it and wrapped it around herself.

“Ramona!” said Phil, in feigned surprise. “Is this your house?”

She cursed again. “Phil, what the hell are you doing here?”

“We had just stopped to neck when we saw someone running across your lawn.”

“Neck? With who?” Bistler stopped when she saw me. “Her? I thought she was driving Delilah Sperling around. When did she start driving you?”

“I just drive him nuts,” I said with a little grin.

Bistler was too nervous to notice. She kept looking at the house. A few minutes later, the officers said it was all clear, but they wanted to have a lab team and detectives look at the forced window.

Bistler sighed with relief. Phil and I followed her inside as if we belonged there. Officers went back and forth between the front door and Bistler’s bedroom. I walked back and peeked in. By that time, the detectives had arrived with the lab truck. One man dusted for fingerprints, while another photographed the outside.

I walked all the way into the room. The bed was a mess, with one set of pillows on it, pushed to the left. On the right hand nightstand was a small brass lamp, pushed to the back of the table. It’s shade had been knocked askew. Under the lamp were two dimes. On the floor, next to the stand, a brass card case lay up-ended in a v-shape. Several white business card were scattered under the case, and three pennies and a nickel lay close by.

I bent down to look at the cards.

“Officer,” I asked. “May I have one of these?”

He came over and looked at the nightstand. “So her lover took off. Go ahead.”

I slid the card out carefully. Even if the officer was more interested in people getting in, I was interested in the man who had gotten out. I read the name on the card, and smiled.

Phil and I called Mrs. Sperling from his iPhone. It was only twelve fifteen, and she was still up. We went by the house and brought her and Eleanor to the police station. She had called Sergeant Michaelson, and he was there waiting for us, yawning and wearing a beat up velour sweat top and jeans with a bagging seat.

“You think this Lansky guy’s important?” Michaelson asked as we walked in.

“I won’t know until you question him, Sergeant,” Mrs Sperling said. “I regret getting you out of bed on mere speculation, but as I explained on the phone earlier this evening, it is a very ticklish situation, and best resolved as soon as possible.”

Phil looked at me, and I shrugged. I had missed that call. Michaelson yawned, and led us down to the questioning rooms. He looked at the detective standing at the door. In a most eloquent shrug, the detective said odds were fifty-fifty that Lansky would talk.

We went in. I don’t know if it was exactly legal. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Sperling wouldn’t have risked messing up the court case. Lansky sat huddled in a chair.

“Okay, Lansky,” said Sergeant Michaelson. “We’ve got you on breaking and entering charges. What have you got to say for yourself?”

No answer.

“Mr. Lansky,” said Mrs. Sperling. “I would recommend your full cooperation. Without it, the charges could be as serious murder one.”

“She’s not fooling, Lansky.” Michaelson added the official voice.

“Murder!” Lansky squeaked. “I haven’t done nothing like that. Honest.”

“What were you breaking into your former boss’s house for?” asked Michaelson.

“To get some stuff. It belonged to me. I needed it.”

“Then why didn’t you just ask her?”

“It’s perfectly understandable why not, Sergeant,” broke in Mrs. Sperling. “Even if Ms. Bistler did not disapprove of her former chauffeur’s drug use, she might have asked for her share of his stash, or even taken some without asking. Unfortunately, being unemployed put Mr. Lansky in a definite bind, as cocaine remains a very expensive habit to maintain. Isn’t that it, Mr. Lansky?”

“How’d you find out?” he snarled. “I said nothing about it to your driver. Or did you already know?”

“I knew nothing about it until just now. It was mere guesswork, Mr. Lansky. Why wouldn’t you have wanted to have Ms. Bistler fetch your possession, something you didn’t want to admit to the police was yours, unless it was contraband? You had also expressed a rather suspicious, though perhaps deserved, paranoia regarding me in that encounter with my chauffeur which you mentioned just now. It was also something you needed desperately enough to risk an electronic security system and the presence of people in the house. Given the symptoms of cocaine use, its addictive nature, and it’s prevalence, it was a fairly safe guess.”

Lansky backed down. “All right. She kicked me out so fast, I couldn’t get everything together. It was in the garage. I figured I’d wait a few days to let it die down, then go after it. I had to get it. These guys are into me for five hundred bucks. They wanted their shit or they wanted their money and fast. What am I s’posed to do? Look, I’ll give you their names. Pitch Corsky and Dick Rider. If they killed somebody, I don’t know nothing about it, honest!”

“Do you know Kyle Hoffman?” asked Michaelson.

“Who the hell’s he?”

“One other question, Mr. Lansky,” Mrs. Sperling asked. “On what kind of terms were you with Ms. Bistler’s late husband?”

“Oh, it’s that murder.” Lansky swore. “I got friends can vouch for me that night.”

“Answer the question, Lansky,” growled Michaelson.

“Mr. Stein? I don’t know. He drove himself most times, in the Ferrari. I hardly ever talked to him.”

“What do you know about rumors that he was counterfeiting?” asked Mrs. Sperling.

“Oh, hell, everybody knew that. I never seen him do it. But lots of people said so.”

“Who were they?”

“People. I don’t know. You go to parties, the maids bring back the noise to the drivers. You know how it goes.”

“I’m afraid I do.” Mrs. Sperling sighed. “I strongly suspect that’s the best we’re going to do, Sergeant. Nebulous rumors at parties are all too common, and impossible to trace. Besides, I already have a source for the rumors. I was hoping to find a connection.” She got up. “I’ve asked all the questions I needed answered.”

“I got no more, either.” Michaelson yawned. We left the room. “Damn it, Mrs. Sperling, that was a big fat zero.”

“On the contrary, it was extremely productive. We can now eliminate Mr. Lansky, and at this stage in the game, that is a major help.”

Officer Willoughby appeared from another questioning room.

“Evening, Sergeant,” he said, grinning. “Just brought a suspect in on the Morris burglary. Grant says he wants to question her. Oh, hello, Mrs. Sperling.”

“Good evening, Officer,” Mrs. Sperling smiled pleasantly.

“Evening, Willoughby,” Michaelson growled.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to my beat,” said Willoughby, and left.

Michaelson yawned again and nodded. He went his way, and we went ours.

“Was the capture of Mr. Lansky the total profit of your evening?” Mrs. Sperling asked Phil and me as we walked through the halls.

“Not quite,” I said. “I hit the jackpot. Get a load out of what I found in Bistler’s bedroom.” I gave her the business card. “It’s engraved. Can you read it?”

“It’s not a good typeset for my kind of reading, but…” She smiled. “This is most interesting. What do you suppose Mr. Hendricks was doing there?”

Phil burst into loud laughter. I shushed him, then told Mrs. Sperling about the bed and nightstand.

She nodded. “An excellent piece of deduction.”

“Not necessarily. The detective took one look at the scene and guessed the same thing.”

“All you need is the practice.”

“Oh, and we also saw Devon and Gillian at one of the places Bistler went.” I sighed. “I lost them, unfortunately, and we didn’t see hide nor hair of them after that.”

“Did either of them talk to Ms. Bistler?”

I shook my head. “Not that I saw.”

“Me, either,” said Phil.

“Still, you’re right. It is interesting that their paths crossed. How was your evening otherwise?”

“Bistler was a bore,” Phil answered. “Granted she did have someone at home waiting for her. But you knew that, didn’t you, Aunt Delilah?”

“What?”

“Your little matchmaking scheme. We know when we’ve been set up.” Phil gave me a little squeeze. “And we’re pretty glad.”

“Well, I’m glad things are working out so nicely for you. But matchmaking? Good heavens, Phillip. I wouldn’t dream of meddling in that way. It can have the most deleterious effects.”

Phil wasn’t listening, nor was I. Our eyes caught, and while it was not the most romantic moment, it was the right one. We kissed.

Mrs. Sperling paused. “Phillip? Donna?”

We ignored her.

“Oh, for heaven’s sakes. Granted we are in a police station, and it is the middle of the night. But when you two are with me, I would appreciate it if you would maintain a modicum of decorum.”

Phil grinned, and brushed my nose with his finger.

“Just a modicum,” he said.

Anne Louise Bannon

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