Damp Graves by Wentworth M Johnson

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Damp Graves

Book 4 in the Bill Reyner Mystery Adventures

Chapter 1

Jean Williams

No way. As I said, no bloody way. Gran thinks I should continue being a detective. Some hope. I’ve been shot, beaten up, locked up and maligned. Why would anyone with half a brain stand in front of a gun, especially when Gran takes all the credit? The last outing could easily have been my very last case and Gran got a multimillion-dollar castle out of the deal. What did I get? Cuts, scratches and bullet wounds. As I said, no thank you.

I tried to learn how to become a superhero with kung fu and all that crap. What did I get? Bruises, a headache and damn nearly concussion. Last year turned out to be a bad one, especially with 9/11 and all that over in the USA. Terrorists are something I can surely do without. Thank god we didn’t get much snow this winter. Here I am all alone in Gran’s lounge, no girl, no real idea what I’m doing with my life and it’s New Year’s Day. Looks nice outside with just a sprinkling of snow on the ground.

Newf came into the room; a sort of adopted brother. He’s tall, thin and stupid, you could say he’s my sidekick. Though I am not quite as tall as him, my muscles are a great deal more muscular than his and, of course, I’m a whole load smarter.

‘Where’s Mrs H?’ he said in that confounded nondescript accent. Sometimes he sounds like an American left over from a bad movie about Londoners.

‘Where do you think?’ I mean sometimes Newf can be a real idiot. “Where’s Mrs H?”! The clown knows she’s got a big do on at the tea garden this evening. She’s there titivating when she should be here looking after family – her family. ‘You going to her do?’ I asked.

‘Nah. I got a date.’

‘Holy mackerel! You got a date? What kind of broad would date you?’

‘A great one. You shouldn’t be such a stick-in-the-mud, Bill. You know people fink you’s simple-minded.’

‘Oh, piss off, Newf. Leave me to wallow in my own juices.’

Newf shrugged and left. It felt like the party I went to must have been a doozy, except I didn’t go to any party. Another stinking year has arrived with  nowhere  to  go  and  nothing  to  do.  I  think  it’s  the  fast  track  to

9

 

nowhere. Yeah, that’s it. I’ve been living in the fast track and now the train’s stopped, or derailed, maybe.

I guess it was about lunchtime when Newf returned. Since we rescued him from the TOD he’s sort of been like a brother, but sometimes he really annoys me. He came in with a glass of wine in his hand.

‘’appy New Year, Bill.’

I smiled. ‘Thanks, Newf. I’m sorry about earlier.’

‘Sure. I know. You’s feelin’ a bit down. I got a new case for yah.’

‘New case. I don’t do cases any more. I’ve retired.’

Newf laughed and sank down on one of Gran’s easy chairs. ‘Did yah ’ear about Jean H. Williams, female, eighteen?’

‘I told you, I don’t do investigating any more. I’ve retired before I die of lead poisoning.’

‘I fink you’s just a bit down. Anyway ’ave you ’eard about Jean?’

‘No, for Christ’s sake. I’m finished with broads and detective-type crap – they’re both too dangerous.’

‘Okay, I’ll tell you then. Mr Williams of Williams Chocolates is offering a million-dollar reward for information leading to the whereabouts of ’is daughter, Jean.’

‘Big deal. I’ve got enough money to pay the reward myself. Go away, Newf.’

‘Sure you’s got the bread, but you ain’t got no go. You needs the interest. Mrs H said you’ve gotta ’ave an interest. Why don’t we take a look into this missing-girl case?’

‘Because I don’t do detectiving any more. Are you reading me? No Sherlock Holmes crap, like nix, finito.’

‘Yup. According to the paper she’s not the only one to ’ave vanished into fin air.’

‘Oh gees! The TOD’s in business again, is it?’

‘Nah. Don’t sound like it. I fink it’s a new operator on the scene.’

The thing about Newf is you can always expect him to trivialize really serious events, unless it happens to him.

‘What do you mean a new operator?’

‘Gees, Bill. I fink you’s losing whatever brain you ’ad.’

‘Had.’

‘Right, ’ad. Nah, really. I looked it up. There was a dozen or so broads vanished over the last year.’

I didn’t like what he said. I worked on the TOD case, a really weird bunch of murderers, even so we managed to get them all put behind bars. But now it seemed it was happening again. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t admit it,

10

 

Newf had spiked my interest. He handed me a list of sixteen names. In two seconds I counted only five females.

‘There are only five women,’ I said.

‘I got the list from Mrs H’s friend at the paper. There were a lot o’ other names, but most turned up or were accounted for.’

‘So what you want me to do?’

‘The last name, Jean H. Williams, is the one that’s got the big reward. We fort ...’

‘Thought ... and who’s we?’

‘Yeah. We fort you’d like to look into it. You being good at finding lost people.’

‘There are only five women missing. You said a dozen ... and who’s we?’

‘So ’ow many can you ’andle at one time?’

‘Handle, and I’ll ask again – who’s we?’

‘Right, ’andle. Any’ow, we could ’ave a lot o’ fun, eh? We could dig up the dirt and make a buck. What say we don’t tell Mrs H? We could do this ’un on our own, just you an’ me, Bill.’

‘For the last time, who’s we?’

‘Oh, you know, the broad at the paper.’

I looked at the list in greater detail. The thought of solving this mystery without Gran definitely appealed to me. Anything seemed acceptable as long as I didn’t have to take any more of those rotten kung-fu lessons.

‘Great,’ I said. ‘You’re on. Why don’t we do a little work? This time it’s going to be different. I’ll do the brainwork, you do the footwork.’

‘Sure, Bill. Great. What shall I do first?’

‘It’s New Year’s Day. Where did you get a list on New Year’s Day?’

‘Oh, I didn’t. I’ve ’ad it a long time. Since Christmas.’

‘Had, for Christ’s sake.’

‘Yeah. I ain’t showed it to Mrs H.’

‘Is this list in any special order?’

‘Yeah,’ Newf said and slid down beside me. ‘It’s in order of disappearing. So what’ll I do first?’

‘Well, I guess the first thing is to go see this guy, Williams. We need to know all about this Jean: who, what, why and when.’

It’s amazing how he changed. The very thought of working on a mystery brightened him up like a good-quality polish. You could almost see the shine. Sort of reminded me of a dog when you produce a bone, but he didn’t drool, least not straightaway.

11

 

‘Alright, then. I’ll make an appointment to go see this Williams character, how’s that sound?’

Newf was delighted. Of course, it’s only to be expected, the dim son-of-a- … wasn’t in the phone book. How the hell do you call someone who isn’t in the phone book? While I was doing all the work Newf watched like a faithful dog. He said nothing – just watched and munched on potato crisps. He’d found the crumpled packet that somehow had been stuffed in his trouser pocket.

‘Don’t you have something to do?’ I asked.

‘Nah. I fort you was doing somefing.’

‘I am, you nit. I’m looking for Williams’ phone number.’

‘Oh. I fort you was doing somefing real important. ’ere.’ He pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and handed it to me, all grease-stained from his chip-soaked fingers.

‘What’s this?’

‘It’s Williams’ personal phone number.’

I snatched it. ‘You idiot. What the hell did you think I was doing?’

‘Dunno, you didn’t say.’

I shook my head in disgust and sighed out loud. Picking up the house phone I dialled and waited, and waited, and waited. As expected, no one answered.

‘You know, you’re a total waste of space, Newf. The number doesn’t work.’

‘Nah, it wouldn’t.’

‘So why did you give it to me?’

‘You asked for it.’

Arguing with Newf is rather like trying to stand a damp bed sheet on end. ‘Let me put it another way. I want to talk with the man, so that we may start on the case. Now has that filtered down through your hollow head?’

‘’e’s in California all this week. ’e said ’e’d be back Saturday. So we ’ave an appointment to see ’im on Saturday afternoon. So is that alright, Bill?’

You see what I mean – a normal person would have said so in the first place. ‘Yes, for heaven’s sake, yes.’

The year 2002 had started and man! did I ever feel old. I guess I shouldn’t shout at Newf. He does his best. This time of year is rather depressing. Fortunately, we’d had virtually no snow. Even Christmas was almost green. Somehow I was getting older, but not wiser. No detective work, that’s my New Year’s resolution. No detective work. Yet, I’ve got an appointment with the father of a missing person.

12

 

The cold snap made me feel like staying at home, which I did, and much to both Gran and Newf’s annoyance I stayed indoors. My first foray into the new year would be on Saturday. Newf just loved to play chauffeur, so as he’s the only one who knows where we’re going I let him drive.

Since I bought the Rolls, the kid’s really done well with his driving. I don’t enjoy driving it; there’s no challenge. I like something that feels like it moves fast. Now Priscilla was an exciting driver, but that’s another story. I spent a lot of time studying the list of names that Newf had come up with. I tried to think logically, just as Gran would. This time we intended to keep Gran out of it. I would do all the detecting with my sidekick, Newf.

Saturday rolled around and although they kept predicting snow, there wasn’t any. I looked out of my bedroom window on an almost green world. We had a perfect day, with the sun shining and the temperature hovering around the freezing mark. Newf had already got the Rolls out of the garage and parked it near the front door. As I ambled down the stairs he came rushing to greet me.

‘Come on, Bill. We’ve got an appointment.’

‘I know that, but first I want my breakfast. Where’s Gran?’

‘Gone to work.’

‘Work? Work at this time of day?’

‘Yeah. Well, some people don’t get out of bed ’alfway froo the day. You know what time it is?’

I looked at my watch. ‘So it’s half past eleven. Big deal.’

‘We’s gotta be at Williams’ place at twelve thirty. If we don’t ’e won’t see us. So get the rag out, Bill.’

I sighed. Man! if it wasn’t Gran hustling me along it was someone else. ‘Alright, alright. Keep your shirt on.’

I poured some cornflakes into a bowl and added milk. Never added sugar, it ruins the taste. Newf popped into the kitchen with his chauffeur’s hat on.

‘Did anyone ever tell you, you look ridiculous?’ I said, trying to dampen his enthusiasm.

‘Yup, you, and often. ’urry up, Bill, or you’ll look ridiculous for not getting there on time. Time is money and promptness is the mark of a gentleman.’

‘I’ll gentleman you in a minute, bugger off.’ God, people who are so bright and bushy this early in the morning really piss me off.

I guess it was around twelve ten when I walked outside. The engine was running and the door of the car already open. Newf stood like a spare prick at a wedding waiting for me.

‘Good morning, sir,’ he said as if he hadn’t seen me before.

13

 

‘Good bloody morning. Can we get this charade over and done with?’

He waited till I was in and then slammed the door extra hard. He knows that annoys me. Running round, he jumped in and we roared off. I mean, it was supposed to be me who’s the boss. I’m the big guy with all the money and power. He treats me like a lodger. From Victoria Street we drove directly to King Street and then headed up towards the mountain. It’s not really a mountain, it’s the Niagara Escarpment.

‘Where’s this geezer live?’ I asked.

‘East Flamborough.’

‘Gees! I thought he lived a long way away. We could have walked it.’

‘Nah. You never walk more than 10 feet an’ we’s gotta go all the way up the mountain.’

I sat back and relaxed, allowing my lippy chauffeur to do all the work. It’s quite a pleasant ride up the escarpment. Although it’s only about 350 feet, my ears always pop just about at the top. We followed the number eight highway towards Cambridge for about 2 or 3 kilometres and then, at a wooded part of the countryside, we turned into a well-kempt drive with large iron gates. I must have driven along this stretch of road a thousand times but never noticed this place before. At the end of the drive lay a giant luxury house. Looked to be the same vintage as Gran’s old house; the one that burned down a couple of years ago. We stopped just shy of the front door. Newf got out and rang the bell.

‘Take that bloody silly hat off,’ I said. ‘Or they’ll not let you in. Remember, the servants’ entrance only.’

The door opened and an elderly man in a dark suit glared at us. ‘Yes?’

‘We ’ave an appointment to see Mr Williams,’ Newf said.

‘Mr H. Williams or Mr F. Williams, sir?’

Newf shrugged while I interceded. ‘The guy with the missing daughter. We’re detectives.’

‘Oh, I see, sirs. Please use the service entrance at the back of the house and move that car if you would.’

Now there’s one for you. A poxy manservant telling me to use the service entrance and move my car. ‘It’s a Rolls-Royce,’ I growled. He closed the door. ‘I’m beginning not to like this, Newf.’

‘Ah, come on, Bill, don’t be so tetchy. The geezer’s only doing ’is job.’

‘Leave the car where it is. Come on, let’s find this service entrance.’

We walked round the building and at the back of the house lay a sort of yard, with a tarmac surface, like a parking area. Newf was about to bang on the door when it opened. The same suited geezer stood there. ‘Good afternoon, sirs?’

14

 

‘We’re looking for the same person as when we were at the front door,’ I said sarcastically.

‘Truly, sir. Please come this way.’

‘What’s wrong with the front door, afraid we’d walk off with the best silver?’

‘Custom, sir. Please wait here.’

He’d led us into a sort of kitchen, in the centre of which stood a table surrounded by four chairs, all plain wood and not fancy in the least. Painted cupboards stood all around and there was no stove or appliances.

‘What a dump,’ I remarked.

After what seemed like hours, misery-guts returned. ‘Mr H. Williams will see you gentlemen, now.’

‘Big deal,’ I whispered under my breath.

Smart-suit led us across the hall and into another room. A bald, round-faced man sat in a huge high-backed chair. It looked like a scene from Sherlock Holmes. He was smoking a huge, curved pipe that looked as if it should have been next to a cow’s ear.

‘What?’ he said in a commanding voice. Smoke escaped from his mouth as he spoke. A little bit of back light and a clap of thunder and we’d have had the Devil himself.

We had not been offered anything to sit on. Like a pair of turkeys in the butcher’s window, we stood and stared at the grand master of the household.

‘Speak,’ he said, releasing a great cloud of smoke.

‘I had thought a more ... less formal interview would have been appropriate,’ I said.

He glared at me. ‘Either you have information for me or you want something. Let’s not spend the afternoon sparring. Speak or leave.’

I nodded. ‘Alright. I’m Reyner, of Reyner Investigations. You’re offering a reward for your daughter. It would help if I knew what I was looking for. A little cooperation would help us both.’

He smiled and released yet another cloud of evil-smelling air pollution. ‘There is nothing to cooperate with. My daughter is missing. I have offered a reward for her return. Where is the complication?’

‘No complication, sir. I need to know a little about her.’

‘You have five minutes. Don’t waste it.’

‘How old is she?’

‘Eighteen, last November.’

‘I would like a picture of her. Is it possible to get one?’

He nodded at the manservant. ‘Next.’

‘What was she doing and where was she last seen?’

15

 

‘Much against my wishes she was skating, at the Forum, with other er … some youngsters from the university.’

‘What day was that?’

He looked at his watch. ‘Your time is running out. December eighth.’

The manservant turned up again. He handed me a five-by-seven colour photo of a very beautiful young woman. ‘Wow!’ I exclaimed. ‘Did she have a boyfriend?’

Williams growled as though I’d hit a sore point. With a huge cloud of smoke he said, ‘I think your time has expired, Mr Reyner. Goodbye.’

‘What was she wearing when she vanished?’ I insisted.

‘Goodbye, Mr Reyner.’ He stood up and walked out of the room.

‘I will conduct you out,’ Mr Smart-suit said.

What a total waste of time that was. ‘So, what do you think, Newf?’

He slid in behind the wheel and popped his chauffeur’s hat on again. ‘I fink ’e’s ’idin’ somefing.’

‘Jesus! Newf. Do you take unlearning lessons? “I think he has something to hide”!’

‘Yeah, so do I.’

‘Drive on, McDingbat.’

It seemed to me the obvious thing to do would be to interview the people she was with and starting with the staff at the rink. I leaned forward and tapped Newf on the shoulder. ‘Do you know where the Forum is?’

‘Sure.’

‘Let’s go there before the weather caves in.’

The Forum was on the west mountain on the other side of the valley. Newf took the quickest route and we parked in the ample parking area. The place was not only open but doing fairly good business and so we had to walk quite a way to the entrance. The girl selling tickets was about as useful as a mouse-swat.

‘Newf, you question some of the patrons while I try the staff. Okay?’

‘Sure.’

Flashing the photo of Jean Williams I questioned everyone who looked like they worked there. It turned out to be a total waste of time. I wish Gran was helping us – she had a way of getting information out of people. With me, they usually turned up their nose and walked off. In disgusted defeat I walked over to the food court and ordered a hotdog.

‘Have you seen this girl?’ I ask the guy doing all the serving.

‘Sure, here every Saturday with the Mac crowd.’

At last! someone observant. ‘You know her, then?’

‘Nah. See that guy over there, the Asian?’

‘Sure.’

16

 

‘Go ask him.’

‘Thanks.’

Grabbing my hotdog, I wandered over to this Chinese lad sitting with two pretty girls. They all looked too young to be McMaster students.

‘Hi,’ I said, dropping down onto a vacant seat.

‘So?’ said the Asian lad.

‘So, I’m looking for her ...’ I placed the photo on the table.

The young man glanced at it without touching it. ‘What makes you think Jean wants to be found?’

That response brought a smile to my face. ‘I’m a private detective; Mr Williams hired me to find her.’

The Chinese lad laughed. ‘I don’t think so. Williams wouldn’t waste the money. So, who are you and what do you want?’

‘I’m a detective. You must have heard of me. I’m William Reyner.’

The look of non-comprehension truly glistened. ‘You’re after the reward. Why should I bother to tell you anything?’

‘If you knew where she was,’ I said, ‘I’m sure you’d be a million bucks richer. All I want to know is where she went that last night and who she spoke with. I’m not pointing any fingers or making any accusations.’

‘It wasn’t night. We only come here in the afternoon. Her old man wouldn’t let her out after dark.’

‘Was there anyone else, someone she would not normally have talked to?’

The lad smiled an all-knowing smile. ‘I don’t think you’ll find her.’

‘Oh, what do you know that I’d pay good money for?’

‘I don’t want your money. Did it ever occur to you she doesn’t want to be found?’

Visions of her friendly father danced in my mind. ‘It doesn’t matter. You were here with her on December eighth - have you seen her since?’

He shook his head in the negative.

‘Do you know where she is?’

He shook his head again.

‘You really don’t want to help me, do you?’

‘You got that one right.’

I looked at one of the girls. ‘Can you help me?’

The dim broads giggled and ran away. The Chinaman stood up. ‘You’re pathetic,’ he said and walked off into the distance.

I was about to give up and go to the car, when Newf come rushing over. ‘Guess what I learned?’ he said, sliding onto the seat opposite.

‘Go on then, astound me.’

17

 

With a ridiculous grin on his silly face and eyes like saucers he said, ‘Aincha gonna grease the wheels?’

‘Grease the wheels? Talk, you nitwit.’

He leaned forward with his arms on the table. ’ow about a nosh?’

‘What?’

‘Food. It’s lunchtime, ain’t it?’

‘Jesus! Newf, don’t you ever think about anything else?’

‘Come on, Bill. I ain’t got no money.’

‘I haven’t got any money.’

‘You, too? Well use your card.’

‘Oh for ...’ I pulled out my wallet and peeled off a couple of notes. ‘Get me a Coke with hamburger and fries.’

I’m sure if I had a dog it would be smarter than Newf. In fact, if I had a hat it could beat him on an intelligence test. About ten minutes went by and then Newf returned with a tray loaded with great-tasting greasy food. He shared it out and then sat and started stuffing his face.

‘Well?’

‘Well what, Bill?’

‘So what did you learn?’

‘Oh! Well, Jean Williams is sick. She suffers from some form of am … er ... an ... er. Well, she’s got something wrong with her blood.’

‘Anaemia.’

‘Right. Any’ow, she’s got this am-nemia thing. Well, that Saturday she told one guy she ’ad a date that night.’

‘So?’

‘So, my friend, she must ’ave disappeared somewhere between ’ere and Rattlesnake Point.’

I sighed. I mean, talking to Newf is sometimes akin to eating broken glass and just as logical. ‘Go on, then, explain it to me.’

He wiped a glob of ketchup from his chin. ‘The fing is, Bill, we’s gotta find the spot where she vanished, like. An’ it weren’t ’ere.’

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