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Her Mother’s Daughter  

 

by P. N. Elrod

 

an excerpt from the Vampire Files story

 

 

Chicago, February, 1938

        It’s been my experience that a blushing bride usually waits until after the honeymoon’s over before hiring a gumshoe to check up on her husband’s whereabouts.

         When Dorothy Schubert, neé Huffman, plowed into the office still in her wedding gown I figured she was out to break a record along with anything else in her path.

        She was the angriest woman I’d ever seen—which is saying a lot.

        I’d only stopped by to pick up the mail and hadn’t bothered to turn on the light. She’d charged noisily up the outside stairs, shoving the door open so hard the glass rattled. Blindly she fumbled the switch, and the sudden brightness caught me behind the desk, envelopes in one hand, reaching under my coat for my .38 with the other. Chicago’s a tough town; even a vampire needs an extra edge at times.

        You heard right, but I’ll get back to the Lugosi stuff later.

        I eased off drawing my gun and put down the envelopes. The lady appeared to be unarmed, just remarkably upset.  Her face was red, her brown eyes blazed, and she had very straight teeth, nearly all of them bared.  I kept the desk between us.

       “Is that you?”  She demanded, jabbing a finger at the name painted on the door’s pebbled glass panel. It read The Escott Agency.

       I hesitated replying, wondering what my partner had gotten himself into, and then realized she’d not have asked the question had she ever met Escott.

        “No, but maybe I can help?”

        "I need a detective,” she said, tottering forward to grab the back of one of the wooden chairs in front of the desk. The charge up the stairs must have winded her.

        “You look like you need a drink.”

        “That, too.” She dropped onto the chair, her classy wedding dress making an expensive rustling sound. She was more arresting than pretty, with thick black hair, a hawk’s nose, strong brows, and wide mouth. By turns she was the type who could turn ugly or traffic-stopping beautiful depending on her mood. A sculptor would have made much over her cheek bones, chin, and throat. I noticed the big vein there pulsing in time with her heartbeat, which was audible to my ears. She was calming down, though, the beat gradually slowing.

        Her floor-dragging veil was half off, and she wore no coat over the gown. Last time I checked it was cold enough that even I felt the bite of old man winter. The lady must have departed straight from the church in one spitfire of a hurry. Post-ceremony, I noted, her rings were in place. One was a showy engagement sparkler, the other a more modest band with diamonds imbedded in its gold surface. She had enough on one finger to buy the block, never mind the pricey trinkets hanging from her neck and wrists.

        “You cold?” I asked. Her bare arms showed gooseflesh.

        She considered, then nodded. The heat was down for the night; I took off my overcoat and draped it over her shoulders.

    “You’re nice. So polite,” she said, pulling it close around her body like a blanket.

“Sometimes.”

Escott kept a pint of Four Roses in the bottom left drawer—cheap stuff and strictly for clients in need of a knock-in-the-head bracer.  I pulled it out and started toward the back room to get a glass, but the bride didn’t wait.  She had the cap off, bottle upended, and drained a quarter of it away in two shakes.  It being her wedding day she had good reason to indulge, but still—impressive.

She slammed the bottle on the desk and whooped in a deep breath, her dark eyes watering.  “Wow.”

I’d given up drinking booze some while ago, but knew that Four Roses could peel varnish without much effort.  “How may I help you, Miss—uh—Mrs.…?”

“Mrs. Jerome Kleinhaus Schubert as of an hour ago.  I want you to find my husband.”

“Uh.”

Damn few things are a cause for flummoxing, but this peculiar situation had me nailed to the wall.  Had Mrs. Schubert been a bad-tempered, gun-waving mug with one of the city’s mobs I’d have known exactly what to do.  Instead we traded stares for a long, much too-silent moment, then I remembered to fall back on procedure, and got out one of the agency’s standard contracts, notepaper, and a fountain pen.

“Is that you?”  She again pointed at the name.

“Mr. Escott’s out of town.  I’m his partner, Mr. Fleming.  May I ask who referred you?”

She took a turn at assessing me.  I was taller than average, leaner than some, and looked too young for my actual age of thirty-eight.  Her gaze drifted upward.  I removed my fedora and put it on the desk, and that summoned a glint of humor to her eyes.  “Taxi driver.  I told him I wanted a detective, and he took me straight here.”

I peered between the blinds to the street below.  A yellow cab was double-parked next to my Studebaker coupe.  The driver waved up.  I knew him slightly; he often hung out in front of my nightclub at closing, hoping to snag a late fare.  It was no surprise that he knew about Escott’s agency and that one or the other of us might be found there at odd hours.  The club’s doorman liked to chat when things were slow.  They’d have plenty to gossip about with this development.

“Did you pay him?”

The bride glanced pointedly at her dress, which was unburdened by pockets, and she had no purse.  “Put it on my bill.  I’m good for it.”  She unpinned the trailing veil from her hair and began winding it loosely around one hand, apparently confident that her word alone was enough.

I hadn’t said I’d accept the case, but decided this was one I couldn’t miss.  “No problem.”

Excusing myself, I left to take care of her fare, trusting that she’d not run up an excessive amount in the brief time since her nuptials.  I’m too much the optimist: the meter showed two-fifty.  They must have come from across town.  I gave the driver three bucks and asked if he knew what the hell was going on.

        He was cheerful, shaking his head. “That dame shot out of St. Mike’s like one of them human cannonballs.  Boy, was she mad.  Never seen anything like it.  She spotted me, was yelling for a PI, an’ I thought of you.”

“You were driving past?”

“Nah, waiting for the wedding to end.  There’s always someone needin’ a ride after.  Weddin’s and funerals is always good for business, right?”

On that point I had to agree.  I thanked him and trotted back to my client.  The Escott Agency undertook the carrying out of unpleasant errands for those with enough cash and a need for discretion.  Escott flatly refused divorce work.  Finding a missing groom was a gray area, but odds favored an easy fix.  He’d probably succumbed to cold feet and was hiding out with friends.  Why wait until after the ceremony, though?

I asked Mrs. Schubert some basic questions, scribbling her answers in shorthand.  Soon as I heard her maiden name a light went on.

“Are you related to—”

“Yes, Louie Huffman.  He’s my father.”

My interest in the case went up a few notches, along with a sudden urge to back out before things got more complicated.  I knew Huffman slightly, too.  He hung out at another club—the Nightcrawler—with half the mobsters in the city.  He wasn’t a big time boss like my pal Gordy Weems, but one of the lesser chiefs.

Which still made him someone I didn’t care to cross.  My friendship with Gordy provided a certain amount of insurance against bad guys getting stupid with me, but it wasn’t something I ever tested.  Huffman oversaw debt collection, and he was very good at it.  He had a reputation for being almost as handy with a baseball bat as Capone.  You paid your debt or got shattered kneecaps or disappeared entirely.  It was pretty simple.

That he had a daughter should not have surprised me.  Many of the mugs were family men, they just kept their work well separated from their home life.

I wondered if the groom owed money to his new father-in-law.  “What happened at the wedding?” 

Dorothy Schubert melted a little at the memory.  “It was beautiful.  My favorite flowers—Daddy had them shipped up special from Florida—and the music and everyone was there and it was perfect.  Jerome was so handsome; he looked just like Ralph Bellamy in that tuxedo.”

An instinct within tipped me off that a flood was on the way.  She made another whooping noise, but by then I’d ducked into the back room and returned with a box of tissues.  I had it in front of her just as the dam burst.  She tore out a handful and bawled into them.

“I—thought—he—LOVED—me!”  she howled.

Crying dames are nothing to be afraid of, but for the next few minutes part of me wanted to run like hell, another said to put an arm around her and go “there-there.”  A much more sensible part kept me seated until she’d recovered enough to continue.

“We’d come back down the aisle and went to the church’s social hall for the reception.  I was just floating.”

“No pictures?”

“Did those yesterday.  Maybe I shouldn’t have let him see me in my dress before the ceremony—no, that’s silly—uh-uh-uhhhh…  She soaked another wad of tissues and blew her nose.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.  The reception?”

“We had a line and a big cake and we cut the cake and it was perfect.  Then Jerome wasn’t there.”

“What do you mean?”

“I looked away for just a moment talking to someone, and he was just gone.”

“Men’s room?”

“No—I sent the best man to check.  Then they all started looking for him.  No one saw him leave.  Some thought it was a joke.  Jerome’s a kidder, but he knows when to stop and this didn’t stop.  I stood all alone while the ushers turned the church inside out.  Then I couldn’t take it any more.  How dare he humiliate me like that?”

“Your father have anything to say about it?”

“I didn’t ask.  This is my problem, not his.”

She dabbed at her puffy eyes, which were rather raccoon-like from smeared makeup.  In the pause I heard several sets of shoes clomping up the stairs.  No knock, the door was thrown open yet again with violence.  The glass panel thankfully held.

The man who trundled in was Big Louie Huffman.  The tuxedo did little to mitigate his fundamental toughness.  He was built like a balding fireplug with a solid trunk, thick arms, and seemed to use his raw muscle to suppress the force inside.  His daughter had inherited his pronounced nose and down-turned mouth.  On her they looked good, on him they were intimidating.  He looked ready to take the building apart.

Flanking him in the now much smaller office were two large goons also dressed for the wedding.  Their tailor had failed to get the padding right, so you could almost tell the make and caliber of what they kept in their shoulder holsters.  Each had a hand inside the coat, ready to pull out and blast away. 

I held myself very, very still.  “Uh—Mrs. Schubert…?”

“Don’t call her that,”  Huffman rumbled.

“Oh, Daddy,”  she said, her voice creaking with the threat of more tears.  “How did you—”

“Followed your cab.  Dot, what are you doing here?”

“I’m taking care of my problem myself.”  For this she squared her shoulders and raised her chin.  “Just like you tell me.”

He pushed out his lower lip, eyes going narrow as he thought that one over.  “You’re a grown woman, you know your mind, but we should keep this in the family.”

She lowered her head and made a low sound deep in her throat.  When my girlfriend made that kind of sound I knew to take cover.

Apparently so did Huffman.  Even the goons backed up a step.

“I want,”  she said in a disturbingly level tone,  “an impartial outsider to deal with this.  I know you want to help, but I need to do this my way.”

He thought that one over as well, then focused on me.  Recognition clicked in his expression.  “You’re Jack Fleming—that creep from Gordy’s club.”

It beat being called a number of other, more colorful, descriptives.  There was a lady present, after all.  “Good evening, Mr. Huffman.”

“Dot, we’ll find another man for the job.”

She rose and faced her father.  With him and the others there for comparison I noticed just how tall she was, being eye-level with them.  “I want this guy.  He’s got very nice manners.”

“He’s still a creep, sugar bun.  I’ve heard stories.”

By that point I was hoping she’d listen to her father so as to spare the office from damage, but young Dorothy planted herself, fists on her hips, feet apart, ready for a fight.  My coat slipped from her shoulders.  She looked just as scary as Huffman, yet somehow vulnerable.

I’ve got a sad and fatal weakness for dames in need.  “May I suggest…”

All three men rounded on me.  I could handle them more easily than Dorothy having another crying jag.  “Mr. Huffman, if you would speak with Gordy he’ll tell you I’m stand-up.  Perhaps you’ve also had to deal with the burden that comes from having an undeserved reputation.”

“He talks like a lawyer,”  muttered the older goon on the left.  I took him to be Huffman’s first lieutenant.

“Gordy’ll give you the true blue,”  I said, less formally.  Actually, I’d been trying to mimic my Shakespeare-raised partner.  I must be getting better at it.

Huffman considered that.  “I’m sure he will, young man.  But just so we’re clear, be aware that my reputation is very much deserved.”

“Yes, sir.”  Yet another reason to be polite and not make any fast moves.  I dialed the number for the Nightcrawler club’s office and one of the guys put me right through to Gordy.

That, if nothing else, got Huffman’s attention.  I said hello, told Gordy I had a guest with a few questions, then gave my chair up to Huffman.  The goons watched, ready to shoot if I sneezed wrong.  They didn’t worry me.  Not much.  Cautiously, I picked up my overcoat, re-draped it on the bride, then stood by the windows and made an effort to look harmless.  Bullets won’t kill me, but damn, they cost me blood, hurt like hell, and I liked this suit.

I could hear both sides of the phone conversation.  Huffman identified himself.

“Problem?”  Gordy asked.

“My kid wants to hire Jack Fleming for something.  He said to call you.”

“Your kid picked right.  Hire him for what?”

“Find a missing person.  It’s a family matter.”

“Fleming’s okay.”

“I don’t like him,”  said Huffman.

“Get over it.”

“He’ll keep his yap quiet?”

“Like the grave.”  Gordy was in rare humor.  He knew all about me.

Huffman cradled the receiver, stood, and gave me the benefit of a very effective glower.  With a look like that he didn’t need a baseball bat to make his point with slow-to-pay gamblers.   He spotted the fedora and picked it up, checking the label inside.  “You bought this at Del Morio’s.”

“Yes, sir.”

He glared at the rest of my attire and the coat on his daughter.  “All that, too?”

“Yes, sir.”  What the hell?

He gave a grudging nod.  “All right, Dot.  You can have him, but Becker and Cooley here go along, too.”

She emitted another growling sound.  So did the goons.  No one looked pleased.  She glared at Huffman; the goons glared at me.  Maybe they’d heard stories, too.

“As chaperon,”  said her father.  “For my peace of mind.”

“Whatever makes everyone happy,”  I said.

She shot me a dark glance.  “Okay, but just Cooley.”

I got the impression that this father-daughter team did a lot of bargaining.  Huffman agreed.

“And I’m in charge.  What I say goes,”  she added.

Huffman nodded again.  “Fair enough.  Got that, Cooley?”

Cooley grunted.  He was about the same age as Huffman, made from the same brand of tough.  Becker had half as many years and looked frustrated at not getting picked for the job.  He settled for giving me a threatening stare.  Eager beavers annoy me.

“Now what?”  asked my client.

I fished my car keys out.  “Let’s go to church."

 # # #

“Step on it, we have to hurry,”  Dorothy said as I pulled my coupe away from the curb.  Cooley was a silent presence squashed between us, hard to ignore.

“Why?”

“Because the Pullman I reserved to get us to Niagara Falls leaves at midnight.  I’ll be on it with my husband or know the reason why.”

“Could have mentioned that earlier.  I can’t guarantee we’ll find him in time.”

“If you don’t then I’ll take my mother instead, I’m not wasting a perfectly good reservation.  She likes Niagara.  She went there with Daddy for her honeymoon.  You married?”

“Not yet.”  I had hopes.

I’d proposed a number of times to my girlfriend, but she always turned me down.  My being a vampire had nothing to do with it.  With her singing and soon an acting career to look after, a boyfriend was okay, but not a husband.  Apparently they take more work.

After one proposal too many she let me know the subject was closed, and if I opened it again she would get mad.  Since she knows how to use a blackjack, most kinds of handguns, and even a crossbow I decided there was no percentage in pressing things.

For the time being.

One of these nights she just might be in the right mood to say yes.  When that happened I’d whisk her off to the nearest justice of the peace before she could change her mind.

“Your father gets his clothes at Del Morio’s?”  I asked.

“Uh-huh.  He thinks very highly of Mr. Del Morio.  If you buy there, then you’re in.”

“In what?”

“Daddy’s good books.  Mr. Del Morio doesn’t sell to just anyone.”

He hadn’t sold to me, either, not knowingly.  Not showing up in mirrors makes buying clothes awkward.  Since my change I’d gotten into the habit of sneaking into the store after closing, helping myself, and writing up a sales receipt.  I’d leave it and cash on the manager’s desk with Thank you from Lamont Cranston printed in block letters on the envelope.

I was a blood-drinking creature of the night, not a thief.

# # #

 St. Michael’s church was imposing yet approachable with a picturesque steepled clock tower and white stone trim against red-brown brick walls.  I drove past the front and got a good look at the big statue of St. Mike himself in its alcove above the main door.  Must have been a tough job to get him in place.  If I wasn’t so chicken about heights I’d be tempted to float myself up for a closer look at the art.

The surrounding streets were choked with cars, but Dorothy directed me toward the back where lights showed in some windows on the ground floor; the wedding reception was still going strong.  A few must have left early; I found a space.

As I slipped into it, Huffman and his remaining goon parked at the curb by a door and went inside first.  He said he’d give some excuse to everyone.

“I hope he doesn’t tell them Jerome and I had a fight,”  she said.  “We never fight.  What are you doing?”

I’d gotten out and was checking all the cars within view.  A LaSalle parked a dozen yards away had steam on the windows.  “What does Jerome look like?”

“He’s handsome like Ralph Bellamy and wearing a tuxedo.”

I looked at Cooley.

“Black hair, twenty-five, medium build, dime-size brown birthmark here.”  Cooley touched a finger to his jaw just under his right ear.

I crossed to the car with the steamed-over windows and yanked open the back door.  The couple within screamed in unison, first shock, then outrage.  Given my night vision the dim interior was no obstacle.  The man did not look like Ralph Bellamy and lacked a birthmark—at least under his right ear.  I tipped my hat, told them sorry, and slammed the door shut.  The woman snarled and there were loud clicks as someone belatedly locked things.

Dorothy emerged from the coupe, pulling my overcoat tight around her.

“Wasn’t him,”  I reported.

“But Jerome would never—”

“Just covering the bases, Mrs. Schubert.”

“I’m not used to hearing that.  Call me Dorothy.”

“What d’ya know, that’s my favorite name tonight.”

“And you’re—”

“Jack.”  I started toward the church.  “Inside.”

“But they’re all waiting to see me.  I couldn’t.”

“Sure you can.  You need to change clothes for the honeymoon.”

“If there’s going to be one.”

“We’ve got a few hours.”  I offered my arm and took her in.

Good thing I don’t have a problem about walking into churches or dealing with religious stuff or I’d have to conduct my investigation in the parking lot.  Cooley stalked behind.  Like all good mobsters he had a poker face, but I thought the farce with the interrupted neckers had amused him.

People in fancy clothes were gathered in the hall, and a gaggle of bridesmaids rushed us, flinging questions.  I winced at the noise in the small space and felt Dorothy flinch, her hand tightening on my arm.

“Pick one to help you change, I’ll handle the rest,”  I murmured out the side of my mouth.

When the first wave subsided, she called the maid of honor over for help, and we were soon whisked off to some females-only area in the back.  I was left in the hall outside the changing room with Cooley, half a dozen girls in matching blue satin gowns, stray wedding guests, and a lot of curiosity.  No one knew who I was, but as I began asking questions they took me for a cop, and I was disinclined to correct them.

I got a lot of information about the wedding and the confusion following the groom’s vanishing.  It added up to what I’d already learned from Dorothy.  By then the bride’s mother, a formidable, long-boned woman, sailed past, sparing me a single grim look but making no comment.  When she went in to see her daughter, Cooley visibly relaxed.

“What?”  I asked.

“Tough broad—uh—lady,”  he said.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Wouldn’t want to be in Schubert’s shoes if she gets hold of him.  Nobody makes her kids cry.”

I took the opportunity to get more background from him on the family.  The Huffman’s had produced four daughters, Dorothy being the eldest.  If Big Louie planned to marry the other three off in similar high style he’d be giving his baseball bat a lot of wear to finance things.  Maybe he’d arranged for Schubert to vanish, but it would have been cheaper to do that at the engagement stage.

“What’s Schubert like?”

“Some college guy.  He’s okay.  His people ain’t hurtin’.”

“What’s their game?  Jewelry?”

“Yeah.”

I’d been kidding, thinking about the rocks Dorothy had worn.  “You mean he’s with Schubert Jewelers?”  They were the biggest noise in five states for that kind of thing.

“Yeah, Siggy Schubert’s only kid.”

Good grief.  “Has it occurred to anyone that he might have been kidnapped?”

From what I could read from Cooley’s poker face it had not.

“What’d you see tonight?”  I asked.

“Usual stuff.”

“How about unusual stuff?”

He shook his head.  “I stuck with the boss.  Didn’t see nothin’.  Dot started to get loud all of a sudden, yelling for Schubert, and next thing y’know she’s running out the front.  The boss took off after her, Becker ’n me took off after him, then we followed her cab to your street.”

“Not to the door?”

“Fast cabbie.  He’d turned and was comin’ back empty, so we knew he’d dropped her off.”

“How did you—”

“Car by the curb, light was on upstairs.  Only one on the block.”

Smart guy.  “Anyone got a problem with Jerome?”

“The old man likes him, so’s the ol—Mrs. Huffman.”

“How ’bout the Schuberts?  Any problem with them about Dorothy?”

“Not that I know.”

“How do you feel about it?”

“Makes no diff to me.  Boss’s daughter does what she likes.  Always has.”

“You work for him long?”

“What’re you getting’ at?”

“The boss’s daughter is one sweet pippin.”

“I ain’t blind, but she’s not worth my kneecaps.”

“Who thinks she is?”

He clammed up, lips going thin, gaze directed elsewhere.  Not so long ago, before some bad things happened that ripped away the ability, I’d have hypnotized it out of him.  That door was now shut forever.  Any attempt to open it would probably kill me. 

I could try beating it out of him, but there was a matter of mob etiquette.  By having Gordy vouch for me, I was effectively his representative.  One of Gordy’s boys getting into a donnybrook with one of Huffman’s boys—not good for business.  I had to behave.

That aside, I now knew there was someone here who thought Dorothy was worth risking possibly lethal trouble.  Chances were good they’d be on the Huffman’s side of the church aisle or Cooley would have given me a name.  Better, he and his pal Becker would have quietly taken care of it themselves, and I’d have never even met Dorothy.

I knocked on the changing room door.

“Not yet!”  Someone within yelled.

I’d seen undressed females before.  The view never fails to fascinate.  I opened the door two inches and called through.  “Dorothy?  You decent?”

“Let him in, it’s all right,”  she said.

Her mother did the honors, reluctantly, not giving me much space to squeeze through.  She’d provided Dorothy’s somewhat hatchety face, but the grim look was all hers.  Mama tigers were less protective.  “She’s not ready,”  she stated.

Dorothy was on a chair, using a shoehorn to lever her feet into some obviously new mules.  She had on a graceful blue traveling dress, just the thing for a new bride to wear on her honeymoon trip.  “I am now, Momma.  Let him by.”

“Just a few questions, ma’am,”  I said to Mrs. Huffman.  My hat was already off or I’d have tipped it to her.

“You’re the one,”  she said.  Apparently her husband had had a word with her.

I didn’t have a reply that would preclude getting my face slapped, so I smiled meekly and nodded. 

The place looked like the backstage dressing rooms at my club, but much larger.  A tornado had roared through, leaving behind all manner of clothing, make up, and other feminine debris.  My girlfriend had the same kind of clutter in her bedroom.  God knows how they kept track of it all.

My coat was draped over a table on top of some long, flat boxes.  Not knowing where I’d end up or for how long, I pulled it back on again.  It smelled of Dorothy’s perfume.  Nice stuff.

The maid-of-honor was busy folding the wedding dress into another long box.  She was enough like Dorothy to be a sister.  From the near-smirk on her face, she would be the bratty one of the brood.  She glanced past me, looking puzzled for a blank second.  That’s when I saw a full-length dressing mirror in a corner.  I angled out of range before she got a solid gander and realized I was missing from its reflection of that part of the room.

Finished with the shodding, Dorothy stood, smoothing her skirt down.  Her makeup had been repaired.  Her eyes were still puffy, but clean of black tear trails.  Nose powdered and with a funny little blue hat atop her dark head she seemed ready for anything.  Don’t ask me why, but a woman in a hat always looks able to take on any emergency.  “What is it, Jack?”

            Mrs. Huffman’s face twitched. Her daughter being on a first name basis with the hired help was none-too pleasing to the lady.

I guided Dorothy out of immediate earshot of family, taking care not to trip over a set of matched suitcases.  They were monogrammed, one each for the bride and groom: D.H.S. and J.K.S., respectively.  I’d have to pass that detail on to my girl.  She’d think it was cute.

“Why did you pick Cooley over Becker for chaperon duty?”  I asked.

“Uh-um—I just did.”  Dorothy blinked more than was necessary.

“For a reason.”

She hemmed a little more, her voice going so low that I had to lean close to hear.  “Becker likes me.  But he’d never—I mean if he—well—Daddy would kill him.”

“Becker likes you.  How’d he handle you being engaged and married then?  You must have noticed.”

Her face reddened under the powder.  “Actually, no I didn’t.  I was so caught up planning the wedding and being with Jerome—you think Becker’s done something?”

“I don’t know.  What do you think?”  Distracted or not by her nuptials, she knew more than I did about the household, what was normal and what was not.

“Now that you mention…he was hanging close during the cutting of the cake.  And I don’t remember seeing him afterward—but then I was looking for Jerome.  We need to get him, make him talk!”

“Hold your horses.  If all Becker’s doing is carrying a torch, there’s nothing to that, he’ll get over it.  You make a big fuss and your father—”

 “Would kill him, yes.”

“You understand that’s a literal thing, right?”

“I know my father.  He’s why I wanted to handle this myself.  I was afraid he’d blow his top with Jerome.”

“He’d do the same with Becker—who could be innocent.”

“We still have to make him talk.”

“That can be arranged.  Any other unrequited loves?”

“Umm—don’t think so.”

Someone thumped hard on the door.  Mrs. Huffman opened it a crack, then backed off to allow in another middle-aged woman.  She had on diamonds.  Not many, but the fires sparking from them looked obscenely expensive.  I made a guess that she was the groom’s mother.  She’d also been crying, and wasn’t done with it yet.

“Gerty?”  said Mrs. Huffman, abruptly unbending.  “What’s wrong?”

“We found it on the table with the wedding gifts!”  Gerty waved a scrap of brown paper in one shaking fist.  “Sheila—it’s terrible!”

Mrs. Huffman read it, her face clouding over.  “Louie will kill him for this!”

“For what?”  Dorothy grabbed the paper.  “Oh, my God.  Momma, you can’t let Daddy know.”

“Too late, he already does,”  wailed Gerty.

The maid-of-honor crowded in and had her turn to read and react.  She dropped the scrap, scampered from the room, and about two seconds later screams of fury and dismay from the bridesmaids erupted in the hall.  Another minute and whatever it was would make the Tribune’s bulldog edition.

Gerty was sheet white.  “Sheila, you’ve got to stop Louie from doing anything.  This has to be some kind of mistake.  This isn’t like Jerome, I raised him better than that.”

I picked up the paper and read:  

 

          Dear Dot,

          I can’t be your husband.  Annul the wedding.  I won’t bother you again.

                              Jerome K. Schubert

 

         There were things about the note that bothered me, but what jumped out the strongest was the scent of human blood on the paper.

 

 

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© Copyright 2010 P.N. Elrod