Lost in the bowels of the earth, Bill and Newf find the unimaginable controlled by the unassailable – and hidden well enough to be almost undiscoverable. How could a house, a graveyard, a cave and a hospital all be so closely related? To save lives the puzzle has to be unravelled, and quickly. A fair maiden is being held firmly in the jaws of hell and Bill’s task is to rescue her, but he is outsmarted at every turn. He tries to match wits with an evil genius, only to discover he is playing right into the monster’s hands. Knowing the answer to his dilemma is not good enough when no one will believe the truth.
We entered the park and there was already one car there. Probably, the warm weather brought him out. “Park up there close to the Point,” I ordered.
We stopped and climbed out. Walking to the Point, I took a reading with the GPS and then dialled up a ‘goto’, to find the distance to Worthington’s place. My theory was obviously wrong. With a distance of three and a half kilometres, tunnels would be impractical.
“It’s not reasonable,” I said aloud.
“Well, we’re too far from Worthington’s place or Dombroski’s.”
“But it’s part of the same escarpment ain’t it?”
“So which way is it.”
“Then let’s take a little trog in that direction.”
With the warm sun and the firm ground it was a pleasant amble. We walked over the rise and along the cliff edge. If there were any caves along the escarpment some form of access must be visible. After we had walked for about half an hour I checked the GPS and amazingly we were only a kilometre from Dombroski’s, but the way became barred by a chasm, probably half a kilometre across.
“Yeah, you’re right, Newf. Let’s go back. We’ll get some of your second story gear and go do Worthington once and for all.”
“A ram would be quicker.”
“Yeah. A two-by-four. Lay it up against the front door and ease the car up to it. A little accelerator and poof, el-busto.”
We reached the car. There’s no way Newf’s going to el-busto with my Rolls. Newf got in behind the wheel and for reasons I can only call providential I walked to the rear. I thought maybe there was a tow bar. If so we could use that to nudge open a door, that and a pole. As I reached the back and examined the bumper with my eyes the engine started. I sighed – alas! there was no tow hitch, nothing, just very expensive bumper chrome.
Suddenly, with dirt flying and a squeal of tires, the Rolls took off like a jackrabbit. I stood agog, unable to believe the events that unfolded. The car rushed up the small incline, the driver’s door opened and just prior to the car smashing into the rock wall at the cliff edge, the driver fell out of the vehicle. Frozen to the spot, I watched as the Rolls devastated the wall without stopping and then disappeared from sight as it plunged to certain doom at the bottom of the escarpment. The crash boomed and echoed in the otherwise silent world. As the noise died away I was left glaring at the gaping hole in the wall. Newf lay where he had fallen.
It is impossible to describe the emotion that flooded through me. My lovely car and that twit, Newf. Pulling myself together, my feet automatically carried me to the prostrate driver as he lay on the cold ground. I’m not really sure whether I wanted to help him or kill him. On reaching him he rolled over onto his back and groaned.
“The ground ain’t ’alf ’ard.”
I didn’t reply, knowing that I would probably pick him up and send him after my car. I walked to the broken wall and peered over the edge. She’d landed on her roof. Even from that distance you could see glass and pieces of car all over the place. It hadn’t burned.
“Could o’ bin worse,” Newf said as he caught up with me and looked down the cliff.
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 multi-million-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 concussed. 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.?’ he says. The clown knows she’s got a big do 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 woman would date you?”
“A great one. You shouldn’t be such a stick-in-the-mud, Bill. You know people fink yous 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 had arrived with nowhere to go and nothing to do. I think it’s the fast track to 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. Yous feelin’ a bit down. I got a new case for yah.”
“New case? I don’t do cases anymore. 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 yous just a bit down. Anyway, ’ave you ’eard about Jean?”
“No, for Christ’s sake. I’m finished with women 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, yous 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 anymore. Are you reading me? No Sherlock Holmes crap, like nix, fineto.”
“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 yous losing whatever brain you ’ad.”
“Right; ’ad. Nah, really. I looked it up. There was a dozen or so women vanish 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, Newf had spiked my interest. He handed me a list of sixteen names. In two seconds, I counted only five females.
“There’s 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 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 woman at the paper.”
I looked at the list in greater detail. The thought of solving this mystery without Gran definitely appealed to me. Anything seems 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 brain work; you do the foot work.”
“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.”
“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 straight away.
“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 phonebook. How the hell do you call someone who isn’t in the phonebook? While I was doing all the work Newf watched like a faithful dog. He said nothing – just watched and munched on potato chips. 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 something 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.
“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 the phone.
“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.
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 keep 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 ten past twelve 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.
“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, then headed up towards the mountain. It’s not really a mountain, it’s the Niagara Escarpment.
“Where’s this geezer live?” I asked.
“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 three hundred and fifty feet, my ears always pop just about at the top. We followed the number eight highway towards Cambridge for about two or three 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. Looks 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.”
“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 backlight 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 co-operation would help us both.”
He smiled and released yet another cloud of evil smelling air pollution. “There is nothing to co-operate 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?”
“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 ’iding somefin’.”
“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?”
“Let’s go there before the weather caves in.”
The Forum is 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, so we had to walk quite a way to the entrance. The girl selling tickets was as useful as a mouse-swat.
“Newf, you question some of the patrons while I try the staff. Okay?”
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 asked 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.”
“Go ask him.”
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 am 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 would 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 have normally 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 eight – 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 woman 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.”
With a ridiculous grin on his silly face and eyes like saucers he said, “Ain’t yah gonna grease the wheels?”
“Grease the wheels? Talk you nitwit.”
He leaned forward with his arms on the table. ’ow about a nosh?”
“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 bills. “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 then Newf returned with a tray loaded with great-tasting greasy food. He shared it out then sat and started stuffing his face.
“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.”
“Right. Anyhow, she’s got this am-nemia thing. Well, that Saturday she told one guy she ’ad a date that night.”
“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 gob of ketchup from his chin. “The fing is, Bill, we’s gotta find the spot where she vanished, like. And it weren’t ’ere.”
For the first week in January the weather seemed to have gone mad: on Wednesday the sun shone and what was left of the snow melted and vanished into dirty puddles. On Monday I had a brilliant idea and it seemed to be the right day to put it into action. Newf’s lead about Rattlesnake Point was, as usual, merely mist and mirrors. Rattlesnake Point is a conservation area or park, which is closed in the wintertime. Jean Williams wouldn’t be stupid enough to visit a closed park on the Burlington escarpment in the middle of winter. Well, I guess it’s more Milton than Burlington.
I glanced at my watch; my chauffeur should be here in a minute. Right on cue, the door opened and Newf walked in. “Ready, boss?”
“Mount Hope, like John C. Munro Airport? What about Rattlesnake Point?”
I shook my head. “The park’s closed and has been for ages. Now, are we ready to go to the airport?”
He pushed his hat to the back of his head and pulled a silly face. “Yous the boss.”
It felt good to have Newf about – he makes me feel superior even though he’s taller than I am. Of course, I’ve looked after his interests ever since his father died. I think if I smoked, it would have to be cigars, big Cuban cigars. I reckon that’d look good. With Newf driving us in the Rolls and me sitting back smoking a very large, handmade cigar, now that’s class.
Avion Air claimed to be the best teachers of pilots and I’d decided to be a flyer. We parked near the west hangar and walked to the office on the side of the structure. A flimsy-looking woman in a one-piece dress looked up and smiled. She was quite pretty but looked like everything was either artificial or man-made. Her fingernails could easily be taken for a paint colour chart. I don’t like piercings and she had several. There’s nothing more off-putting than undressing a pretty girl and finding she’s got nipples like bath plugs, complete with chain.
“Yes, sir?” she said in an annoying babyish voice.
“I’d like to take flying lessons,” I said firmly.
She smiled, picked up the phone and whispered into it. A few moments later another door opened and this little rat-faced man came out. He was not my idea of Flying Officer Kite.
“Hi,” he said. “So who’s for flying?”
He looked me up and down. “Have you ever flown before?”
“Only as a passenger.”
“Right, right. Well, we’ll sign you for classes. Doris, put him in for, theory, navigation, and meteorology. Then we’ll see.”
“See what?” I asked.
“What your aptitude for flying is.”
“So when do I get to fly?”
“In a month or two.”
I was stunned and could see myself buying this place, lock, stock, and barrel and then firing Rat-face. “In a month or two? Well excuse me,” I said, “I’m interested in flying not becoming a paper jockey. If you can’t manage that, then I guess I’m in the wrong place.”
“Well,” he said stroking back the only three hairs on his head. “Actual flying is expensive. We like to do the majority of the work on the ground first.”
“I see. Newf, go get the Rolls-Royce, looks like we’re in the wrong office.”
Rat-face smiled obsequiously. “Would, sir, prefer all in-cockpit training?”
I sighed. “Exactly. I want to fly not fart about in a classroom.”
“No problem, sir. Doris, book him in for air training.”
She looked at me kind of quizzically. “Any preferences, sir?”
Yeah – I prefer my women without the pig ring in the snout. But I didn’t say that. “Sure,” I said. “How about safe, fast, and clean.”
She was not impressed with my answer. “When would you like to begin?”
“Oh! I’m free any time.”
She batted her eyelashes as if I’d made a pass at her. Looking at today’s weather report she snorted and said, “We’ve got one free this afternoon, three o’clock. Is that all right?”
“Sure. My friend can come too?”
“Certainly, sir. Just arrive here about two-thirty.”
Outside, I asked Newf what he thought about me learning to fly. He looked at me and chewed his bottom lip for a moment. “I fink you’re crazy. ’ow’s this going to find Jean Williams?”
“We’ll do an air search.”
He shook his head in disgust. “I would rather find her while she’s still alive and kickin’”
“Newf, if she’s alive, she doesn’t need us and if she’s already dead, there’s nothing we can do. Don’t you want to learn to fly?”
“Nah. I fink flyin’s for the birds. Why don’t we go to Rattlesnake Point and see where she disappeared?”
“So what do you think, there’ll be a sign saying: ‘This is the spot where Miss Williams was last seen’?”
Newf opened the car and slipped in behind the wheel. “I don’t fink you’re taking this seriously, Bill.”
“There’s nothing we can do that the police haven’t already done.” I guess he was right. I didn’t feel any empathy for the protagonists in this drama. The father deserved to lose a daughter and those clown-like friends, man! total waste of space. I just couldn’t seem to get any enthusiasm for a simple missing-person case. I climbed in the car.
“Okay, Newf, we’ll fly over Rattlesnake point. How’s that sound?”
“In a Rolls?”
“No, you twit, when I fly this afternoon.”
“So where to now, boss?”
“Well can you think of anything better?”
“Yeah. We should question all them kids. Someone must know something. You know she was sick.”
“Yeah, she had am … amnem-nia.”
“What kind of a disease is that?”
“You twit. Anemia. It’s hardly a fatal affliction. There’s not much to follow on that trail.”
Newf slipped the Rolls into drive and stepped on it. I figure he was not in a good mood. But it’s not my fault. There’s no real evidence the girl is really missing, and we have absolutely nothing to go on. I couldn’t think of a single avenue of investigation.
“Alright,” I growled. “I’ll put you in charge of this case. What do you think we should do next?”
I think that had an effect – he brightened up immediately. “’ow about squeezing some of them kids. Say that Chinese boy.”
“If you mean the Chinese lad, well what if he’s a judo expert?”
“Yous bin taking judo and wiv your size and strenf you could take on a mountain.”
I sighed. I have learned only that it’s very easy to get your brains bashed out by an expert in the Oriental arts. There was no point arguing with Newf – it was like trying to sop up water with a plastic bag. I don’t like detective work, anyway. When we got home, surprisingly Gran was there. She didn’t look too good.
“Are you alright, Gran?” I asked. “Can I get you something?”
“No, William. I am merely resting. Mr. Spadafora is standing in for me today.”
“We’s bin detecting,” Newf blurted out.
“Detecting, well, well. What have you learned?”
I sat down and let big-mouth spill the beans. I really didn’t want to talk about it. She would know all the answers and eventually beat us to the punch. And knowing Gran, she’d probably make a profit out of it.”
“Yeah. See we’s looking for Jean Williams.”
“Oh, the missing heiress.”
“So how far have you progressed?”
I sighed loudly. “We haven’t.”
Gran smiled; she really didn’t look too good at all. “You’re a good boy, William.”
Now that’s a statement I shall remember, she was right – I am good. “We’re going flying this afternoon, Gran.”
And fly we did. Rat-face seemed to know his stuff. He introduced us to a Cessna 172, a nice little high wing machine with a twin-bladed propeller. It was a lot noisier than I expected, not like the Rolls. We flew over Rattlesnake point just to please Newf. The world sure looks different from up in the sky. There really isn’t much at Rattlesnake Point. I can’t imagine why anyone would go to such a place in the off-season. In reality, it is just another part of the Niagara Escarpment.
Neat little houses nestled in the gullies and on the cliff tops. With the snow and forest, it looked very desolate. The roads were very bendy as they weaved their way round the mountainous area. Rat-face took us up to a reasonable altitude and then let me take the controls. Oh boy! A video game is one thing but an airplane is something else. I almost lost it and Rat-face took it back and smiled. The sweat poured down my face and my hands trembled. I think I’d rather face off with an armed man than try to get this thing close to the ground. On my third attempt I did a little better. By the time we got back to the airport I felt like I’d completed a day’s hard work. My muscles ached and my lungs burned from the fast breathing.
It wasn’t entirely a waste of time. Although I got a chance of flying the machine myself it felt that yours truly would never make a pilot. When we went back to the office to book our second flight, Doris said something interesting.
I just happened to remark, “That was a real nice flight. When can we fly again?”
And she said, “Oh, Mr. Reyner, you can have Jean’s spot.”
“Why, Miss Williams of course. She obviously didn’t turn up for her last four lessons. Probably chickened out and went into hiding.”
“Jean Williams, the millionairess?”
She smiled. “Yes. We only teach the best here you know.”
“When was the last time she was here?”
“I can’t divulge information like that. It’s not proper, sir.”
She giggled infuriatingly. “Girls will be girls.”
I slowly and deliberately peeled off a couple of large bills from my pocketbook. “I would be very grateful to hear,” I said.
I placed the two fifties in front of her. She smiled and scooped them up.
“Jean was here the day before she disappeared. Mr. Everard’s real sweet on her; he always takes her up personally.”
“Which one’s he?”
“Your pilot; the man who took you up today.”
“What old Rat-face?” I hadn’t meant to say that aloud but it just slipped out.
She giggled. “We call him Hitler.”
“Where’s he live?”
With a coy smile she whispered, “At Kinride.”
Now there’s a name to laugh at. Rat-face lives at Kinride. Newf didn’t say anything until we reached the car. He caught my cuff and whispered at me, “She was goin’ to see someone in that direction.”
“Gees! you’re fick sometimes, Bill. Jean Williams was last seen ’eading towards Rattlesnake Point.”
“Where do you fink Kinride is?”
“Gees, Bill. They’s both on the escarpment not a stone’s frow apart.”
I opened the car and slipped in. “You’re telling me that Hitler’s our prime suspect?”
“Right, Bill. ’im and that Chinese boy.”
“It’s a coincidence. The cops would have figured that out already, and he’s a Chinaman not a Chinese boy.”
Newf climbed in and took the wheel. Deep in thought, he started the engine. “I reckon we should check out where this Mr. Everard lives. You know, sort of sight out the possibilities – the lay of the land like.”
“Alright,” I agreed. “It’s a fine and frost-free day for January. Drive us to Kinride.” Most of my geographical experiences have been Hamilton and south, while Kinride is north. Very strangely, Hamilton had no snow on the ground but as soon as we got on the number Six Highway the fields looked snow-covered. I guess it could be the altitude. Mount Nemo and Rattlesnake Point are even higher. Newf chose to drive on Highway Six and then turn off towards the east.
I have to admit I’d never been to Kinride before. It’s a very sweet and lonely village nestling in a rocky valley surrounded by forest. For a place that is so close to civilization it looked like the lost valley in some spooky movie; a Steven King movie maybe.
The village store looked to be open. Newf parked the car and we walked over to make a few enquiries. The door had a small cowbell hanging on a chain. As you go in the thing jingles and alerts the proprietor. I half expected an ancient geezer with a walking stick and maybe an old, sleepy dog, but no. A young and quite pretty girl came from the back room with a broad smile on her face.
“Good evening. Lovely weather.” Her eyes sparkled like little jewels.
“What can I do for you?”
I would love to have told her. “I … er … I. That is, we …”
“We’s lookin’ for Mr. Everard,” Newf jumped in.
She smiled real sweet and noticed I was not looking at her face. “Is there something you would like?” she asked me.
“Yeah. No. Yeah, sure. I’ll have a Coke. Make that two … er, please.”
“Which Everard are you looking for?”
“Oh. Well ...”
Newf elbowed me. “We’re looking for the one that flies.”
“Two Cokes. Morris Everard. You can’t miss the house. Take the south road; the house will be on your right. He’s got a big sign with a plane on it. That’ll be two bucks please.”
I grabbed the pop and thanked her. Tossing one can to Newf, I left the establishment. Man! that was some good-looking female. “Take the south road,” I echoed climbing into the car.
She was right – you couldn’t miss it. We found an expensive, modern, ranch-style house with a huge lawn and pond in the front. The large sign with a painting of the plane I’d been flying looked totally out of place. Beautiful, wild countryside with hills and cliffs adorned by that sign sticking out of the wilderness. The whole scene looked somehow manicured almost as if someone had prearranged the view, like a model.
I stepped out of the car to take a look at the countryside, not to say anything about the house. Rat-face obviously makes good money. “What do you think, Newf?”
He leaned against the car and pushed his peeked cap up on his head. “I don’t fink ’itler did it.”
“But Jean is supposed to have come this way and this was her last trip so to speak.”
“Yeah, but if ’itler wanted to do ’er in. ’e wouldn’t do it on ’is own doorstep, now would ’e?”
“Hmm! interesting point. Take us home, James.”
The events of the day kept me quiet on the trip home. I was deep in thought as the scenery flashed by. Although I hate to admit it, Newf was right – Rat-face wouldn’t knock the girl off in his own backyard. But he could have helped her if she was trying to make a break from her family. I sure as hell wouldn’t like to live with her father. The only other suspect would have to be that Chinese guy with the smart mouth.
We pulled into our drive. “Leave the car out, Newf. No point in wasting garage space.”
I walked into the house and somehow knew there was a problem. “Gran,” I shouted. There was no reply. A sense of urgency swept over me as I ran into the kitchen – no Gran. I ran into the living room – no Gran. Taking the steps two at a time I ran upstairs. “Gran, where are you?” I yelled. Knocking gently on her bedroom door, I waited only seconds for a reply and then opened it.
Gran lay silently on her back neatly on top of the bedcovers. I couldn’t see any breathing. My heart froze and my hands trembled. “Oh gees, Gran.” Dashing over to her I felt her pulse; mostly a waste of time, as I can never find a pulse at the best of times. I listened to her mouth – she was breathing but I couldn’t wake her up. What a panic! like a wild thing I flew down the stairs and grabbed the house phone.
I hadn’t realized how much the old girl meant to me. Fear swept through me, making it hard to breath, I could barely speak intelligently on the phone. After making the emergency call, I flew back up the stairs. Newf was sitting on Gran’s bed; he had a damp cloth on her forehead.
“What the hell are you doing, Newf?”
“She’s sick, Bill. When’s the ambulance coming?”
“Soon, I hope.”
“Yous better go meet them. Don’t wanna waste time, do we, eh?”
Standing by our front door I couldn’t help thinking about what would happen to me if Gran should … well, if she should … well, you know. At length the sound of sirens drifted into my ears. I ran down the drive to make sure they got the right house.
“Upstairs,” I yelled as they turned into the driveway.
By the time they had the gurney out of the ambulance I was already inside trying to hurry them on.
She was still out cold as the paramedics carried her down the stairs and loaded her into the ambulance. I climbed in and rode with her. We arrived at the emergency entrance of McMaster Hospital, but at that point they wouldn’t allow me any farther. She was taken beyond my sight. A nice female doctor assured me Gran would be all right and then she asked an orderly to take me to the waiting room. I knew where it was, anyway; I used to go to the university there and I’ve been in the hospital many times before.
What a rotten day. It seemed like a thousand years before anyone came to see me. It was the same smiling female doctor.
“Mr. Reyner,” she said with a grin from ear to ear.
“Mrs. Hubert will be fine. She’s conscious and giving our staff orders.”
“Oh great. What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s suffering from acute anemia. Our finest hematologist is working on the case. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. After a few tests the cause will be found and then we can correct it.”
I sank down to a seat, exhausted. The fear and adrenaline had completely drained me. As I sank down Newf came wandering down the corridor. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see anyone. He’s a good lad and a good friend.
A big smile spread across his face as he recognized me and came running over. “’ow is the old gel?”
“Gran will be fine. Did you bring the car?”
“Well, I can’t fly, can I?”
“I’ll take that as an affirmative. I’m going to see Gran then we’ll go home.”
Somehow Newf gave me strength. His pathetic lankiness with his silly expressions and the fact that he looks like a lost waif bolsters my ego. I gave him a good bear hug and walked away. Tears were trying to find their way out as the doctor lady took me to see Gran.
She looked pleased to see me and a broad smile spread across her face. “William, dear. You’re a good boy. Take care of North.”
“You’ll be home soon, Gran. We’ll get a nurse if you need one.”
She took my hand and squeezed it. “Yes, dear.”
I didn’t like the way she acted, almost as if she’d given up and didn’t expect to ever go home again. Her manner made me feel terrible. I didn’t know what to say.
A couple of days later and Gran was still in hospital. It seemed an awful long time for a simple case of anemia. Spadafora took it all very well. He visited her twice a day, taking flowers each time. He kind of made me feel inadequate. He not only found time to see Gran, but he also ran the Tea Garden. The weather had commenced being more January-like, with occasional snow and quite cold temperatures and I guess with one thing and another I had just about forgotten Jean Williams.
Newf became somewhat of a dynamo. With the constant use of my Rolls, he drove around being the great detective while I stayed and looked after the housework and visited Gran. It was a Friday; I think the eighteenth when Newf came home with an exceptional grin on his face. The weather had turned cold though we still didn’t have a great deal of snow.
“Supper’s ready,” I announced.
Newf threw himself down on one of the dining chairs. “Don’t smell like Mrs. H.’s. Is it eatable?”
“Starve if you like. Why the big grin?”
“Well, I bin diggin’. I went to see your girlfriend, Jane Overland.”
I looked at Newf and smiled. Man! Jane Overland is one woman I try to avoid. She’s at least a hundred years old and thinks she’s only seventeen. Poor woman’s got a body like a peeled banana – cylindrical. She’s got nothing and tries to flash it all the time.
“Holy mackerel.” I said. “No wonder you’ve got a smile on your face. Did she invite you up to see her etchings?”
“Nah. We went over tha’ list of missin’ people. She says there’s a serial killer on the loose.”
“And what were you watching at the time?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Bill.”
“Never mind. So why the big smile?”
“She gave a good outline on ’ow to investigate. I fink she’s right. There’s several fings similar in all the cases. Are you wiv me?”
“Yes, I’m with you, but you haven’t said anything useful yet.”
“Miss Overland says–”
“That’s Miz; you know Ms. not Miss.”
“Who cares. She says we should build a dossier on all o’ them’s oo’s missin’. She says there ’as to be a common place, person, or fing.”
“Well that really narrows it down. I don’t suppose she gave you a clue as to what we would be looking for or where to look for it.”
“Yeah. We’s looking for someone oo would take bofe male and female. We’s looking for a common reason to take bofe sexes. So the first question is ’oo would want to take males and females and why?”
“Jesus, Newf. Any twit could reason that. What she’s saying is there are no similarities. We’re looking for a needle in a bleeding great haystack. No sodding chance, period.”
“All ’cept two were under twenty-free, and they’s bofe fellers.”
“That’s a clue?”
“Young, bofe sexes, get the point?”
“All right maybe you’ll catch on as we go. I fink we should interview everyone ’oo knew the disappearees. Find anover similarity. Are you still wiv me?”
“I’m not only with you, Newf, I’m way ahead of you.”
Newf turned out to be right, there was no point moping about waiting for Gran to recover. I had to do something to take my mind off her problems. It must have been around the third week of January when Newf and I steamed into the first case on our list. Joann Caspari – neat name but would it lead anywhere? Jane Overland had given Newf some information, one piece of which turned out to be Joann Caspari’s home address.
Apparently, the girl was sixteen and lived with her parents on Dundurn Street in Hamilton. We parked the Rolls at the plaza parking lot and walked across the street to the appropriate address. A 1930’s house butted right up against the sidewalk. It did have a short driveway along the north side, but too small to park our car on. We walked the short drive and knocked on the side door.
After a few moments a small Italian mamma wearing a pinafore and with her hair in curlers opened up. “Yes?”
“Hi. I’m William Reyner–”
“Sorry, I no wanna buy one,” She slammed the door.
I knocked again.
The door flew open. “Wha’ d’ you wan’, eh?”
“I’m a detective,” I said, sticking my foot in the door. “We would like to ask you a few questions.”
“I know nothing. Goodbye.”
I flashed my library card. “This is official ma’am,” I growled.
She glared at me as though I had insulted her. “Hey, Mario,” she yelled over her shoulder.
A burley, muscular young man came to the door. “Yes, mamma?”
“Talk to this person,” she said and disappeared into the house.
“What’s up, Bub?”
“Hi. I’m William Reyner, detective. We’d like to ask you a few questions about Joann.”
He smiled. “Sure. Mamma’s a bit funny. Take no notice of her. Come on in.”
He led us into what I assumed to be the living room. It looked a bit old world. A large hexagonal table sat in the centre of the floor with a thick, heavy green tablecloth covering it. The easy chairs were all draped with blankets and doilies. The walls were covered in family pictures – children and such from several generations.
“Take a seat,” he said, all smiles.
“Sure. What I’d like to know is, well … the last time anyone saw Joann.”
He sort of parked himself against the table, not exactly sitting on it but almost. He stroked his chin thoughtfully then exhaled as though the thinking made his body temperature rise. “It’s a bit of a sore point in this house. You see, Pappa forbade her to see this kid she was knocking around with. Well, the night she vanished she snuck out o’ the house and went to see him. He said she left him around ten in the evening. But no one ever saw her again.”
“What do you think happened to her?” I asked.
“Well, if Roy, that’s the kid she was knocking around with had also vanished, I’d say they ran away together. But he’s at home. The cops say someone saw her in a car around Calcium Pits.”
Newf jumped in. That’s up by Kinride, ain’t it?”
“Yeah. I can’t see there being anything in it though. I mean, what would she be doing in that area? We don’t know anybody up there.”
It seemed to me that it was all too obvious. Everything so far appeared to incriminate the Rattlesnake Point area. The cops would have figured that out, too. Yet even Ms. Overland never mentioned it.
“Was it day or night when she disappeared?” I asked.
A warm smile spread across his face. “Day. It was in the afternoon. She used to go to Westdale High School. The word is she left after lunch, like she had a free period. Well, they do say she walked to Westdale shopping area and someone saw her get in a car. The guy was waiting for her, like he knew her alright.”
“Who was it?”
“No one knows. No one ever came forward and admitted they were there. No one got the number. Why would anyone take any notice of a girl willingly getting into a car in broad daylight?”
“’ow old was Joann?” Newf asked.
“Sixteen, in fact Joany vanished three days before her seventeenth birthday.”
“She didn’t happen to have any interest in flying, did she?” I asked.
“Nah. She was a sporty type. Every game and activity you can imagine, she’d be there, either a member or a fan. Though a few days before she vanished Joann had been injured.”
“Hockey, field hockey that is. Got bashed with a stick. They took her to St. Joe’s emergency.”
“St. Joseph’s Hospital, why not Mac? It’s just down the road.”
“Was she alright?”
“Sure, a quick bandage up and a blood test and she was as good as new.”
“Did she have a boyfriend?”
“Nope, leastways not a serious one, well only Roy. She’s a good girl; I don’t think she walked away. There had to be a good reason. I reckon she was abducted.” He looked into his hands sadly. “I figure she’s dead. I’d like to get my hands on the bastard that took her.”
“What makes you so sure someone took her?” I asked.
He chewed his bottom lip for a moment then said, “Well the police told me not to mention it to anyone. You see, there was a witness who saw it. He even gave some of the licence plate number, but not enough to be useful.”
I tried not to show too much enthusiasm. “Really? So why didn’t they make an arrest?”
“Well, I don’t know. Don’t you?”
“So who was this witness?”
“His name is Worthington. I think it’s Mr. E. Worthington.”
“How come he saw the abduction?”
“He was passing in his car at the time, lives up that way somewhere.”
Somehow it didn’t add up. Gran would have to help me think this one out. On leaving we walked back to the plaza across the street. The coffee shop seemed to offer more than anything else I could think of at the time. We walked over, made our purchase and sat to consume it. Newf looked very thoughtful.
“Penny for your thoughts,” I said.
“I fink ’e’s lying. I fink ’e’s got somefing to ’ide.”
“Cuz he wouldn’t ’ave said nothing abart the car plate.”
“I don’t follow your reasoning, if you have any.”
“’e said she was took by this geezer in a car, right?”
“But ’e also said she disappeared in the Kinride area. Nah, was she at school or was she in the village? Did this geezer pick ’er up at the school or in the village?”
I couldn’t see what he was getting at. You can’t always take notice of Newf; his brain doesn’t follow the normal logical path like mine. Besides, the doughnut started to drip jam and that took most of my concentration. Eventually, I got the jam licked off my hand and fingers.
“Well?” Newf asked.
“What do you fink abart the man’s statement?”
“Oh, that. Nah. He’s stressed. I don’t think you can make much from what he says. We should start asking about the second victim. What’s her name?”
“Janet somefing or uver.”
“Well get the list, twit, and look it up.”
“Janet Flick, Female, twenty-free. Wow, a court stenographer. What do they do?”
“It’s kind of like a secretary. They do a lot of typing. So where’s she live, Newf?”
“Dunno. She vanished on a Sunday afternoon, never to be seen again.”
“Did she go to Kinride?”
Newf shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno.”
“Well, I find this case very boring. I can’t wait till my next flying lesson. Tell you what. You solve this case and you collect the million-dollar reward. I’ve lost interest. Think I’ll go see Gran in the hospital. What are you going to do?”
“I fink I’ll go see Missus Overland again.”
“That’s Miz. Alright. The newspaper where she works is just up the street a bit. You walk there and I’ll take the car to see Gran.”
“’ow’m I gonna get ’ome then?”
“Here, take a taxi.” I handed him a couple of twenties from my wallet.
Gran was far more cheerful than the last time I’d seen her. I told her all the news about the supposed abductions and Newf’s query. Typically, her suggestions were obvious. She suggested I should go ask Mr. Caspari and clarify the situation. Best news of all – she said she was getting out of hospital the following morning.
When I got home Newf had already arrived, and the house stank of fish and chips. I found him in the kitchen sitting at the table eating from a cardboard box.
“So, where’s mine?”
“I didn’t fink you wanted any. Last time you buggered off to a ’otel. ’sides, I ain’t loaded like you.”
I slumped down into one of the chairs. “So what did flashy Ms. Overland have to say for herself?”
Newf stuffed a few more fries in his mouth and tried to smile. “I asked about Janet Flick the stenographer.”
“She vanished from downtown. Doesn’t know anybody in the Kinride area and as far as she knows, never bin to Rattlesnake Point.”
“Okay,” I said with a sigh. “I’m back on the case again. Gran’s coming home tomorrow morning. I got a phone call to make. Then I’ll want something to eat. You’re elected cook, alright?”
He smiled, showing me more mashed potato than I really would like to see. “Yourn’s in the microwave, I was just funning yah.”
“Gran’ll kill you if you don’t concentrate on that English of yours. For crying out loud, speak like a normal person.”
“It’s ’ard to speak proper wiv a gob full o’ nosh.”
“And now would you like to put that into English?”
He strained as though the words were made of lead. “I said it is h-h-ard wiv a marf full of food.”
“I guess that is as close as we’re going to get. Why don’t you call that Caspari geezer and ask him why his statement doesn’t add up?”
“’ow d’yah mean, Bill?”
“How could someone have seen the girl abducted and know the destination was Kinride? Was she snatched by a bus with a destination indicator?”
“Oh! ’ow d’ you fink o’ that, Bill? Yous bin talking to Mrs. H. or somefin’?”
Man, it’s hard to get good help these days. It sure will be nice to have Gran home again, we’ll have decent food and a clean house and someone intelligent to talk to. While I ate my fish and chips, Newf made the call. You should have seen the grin on his face when he came back.
“Well?” I growled as gruffly as I could muster.
“It’s easy,” he said and flopped down on a seat. “The geezer didn’t see her gettin’ in a car, he saw her gettin’ art of it.”
“Getting out. Getting out where?”
“Well, just artside a place called Calcium, there’s a little cemetery. That’s where it were.”
“So why did he say Kinride?”
“Cuz he knew we wouldn’t know where Calcium is. See, it’s just down the road a bit.”
“Alright, so how do we find any of Janet Flick’s friends? Who was she with before she vanished?”
“Missus Overland said she’s got a girlfriend. Brenda Smith. I already called her. She said we can go see ’er tonight at around eight o’clock at ’er place.”
“Great. We’ll be there. Who’s place?”
“Janet Flick’s friend, o’ course.”
That evening, Newf drove us to Stoney Creek where this Brenda Smith lived. We pulled into the parking area of a large apartment building. Newf seemed to know where we were going. We walked over to the foyer and searched the resident’s index. Brenda Smith lived on the fourth floor. Newf pressed the button and announced us. The buzzer sang out and we entered the place.
“How does she know we’re not here to abduct her?” I asked.
“Cuz she recognized your name. She also knows Missus Overland.”
The elevator whisked us up to the fourth level and Newf led us to the appropriate apartment. Miss Smith was not exactly what I’d expected. Small, extremely well groomed, not so much as a hair out of place. Calling her plain is an insult to plain. Poor kid looked more like a bad female impersonator. She looked completely flat-chested and had unusually stubby fingers. I hate stubby fingers. Her voice was enough to make a chalkboard cringe.
“Pleased to see you,” she said in a whining meow. “Please, take a seat.”
We sat. “We’ve come to ask you a few questions about Janet Flick.”
“Would you like a drinkey-poo?”
“Scotch, Vodka, name your poison.”
My choice would have been someone with a less aggravating voice. “Do you have any beer?”
“Sure.” She dashed off and, in a few seconds, came back with a couple of cans of Export. “So, what you want to know?” she asked then giggled.
“I’m trying to find out what happened to Janet Flick. We understand you knew her?”
“Oh sure. Make yourselves at home.”
“How did she disappear?”
She eased herself onto an uncomfortable-looking chair and grinned like a Cheshire cat. “Poof, gone, just like that.”
“How do you mean, poof?”
“One minute she was there and the next she wasn’t, poof, gone, just like that.”
“So where did this poof happen,” I asked.
She burst into peals of almost uncontrolled, annoying laughter. When at length she regained some semblance of self-control she said, “My, you are a little perisher.”
At around 100 kilograms and over six foot whatever that is in centimetres, I hadn’t thought of myself as little – perisher on the other hand, never heard of it. No idea what she could mean. “Well, could you be a little more explicit?”
Her eyes flashed with delight. “She worked at the courthouse you know.”
“Well, it’s common knowledge that she gets priority for lunch. So, every noon, dead on twelve she pops out to the coffee shop behind the courthouse and has lunch. And as prompt as ever she pops back at around one minute to one. Never varies, always the same.”
“Why is it common knowledge?” I asked.
She sighed just to show her contempt for my lack of understanding. “Jenny never failed, never late, never varies. She’s a blood donor, you know.”
“Wha’s that got to do wiv anyfing?” Newf piped up proving he hadn’t fallen to sleep.
“That’s why she gets her lunch first. A sort of donor privilege, you see.”
“Even when there’s a court case going on?”
Again she burst into peals of annoying laughter. “You little perisher. They record the court and Jenny makes transcripts from tape.”
“Okay,” I said. “So, she never varies her routine. She has lunch and leaves you still working in the office.” I swear if that woman laughs again there’ll be another missing person.
When she eventually stopped making that infernal noise she said, “You little perisher. I work at the coffee shop, don’t I?”
“Right, so why don’t you tell us what happened this particular day?”
“I don’t know I didn’t see anything.”
“Like poof,” I commented.
“Exactly. She left on the dot of noon, but never arrived in the coffee shop. Somewhere between the courthouse and coffee shop, poof! Gone, never to be seen again. I reckon it’s alien abduction.”
“Alien abduction? So, what do you mean exactly?”
She lolled back and closed her eyes as if trying to see the long-past event. “Well,” she said slowly. “I would think she must have been abducted, whisked off, like. Could have been by aliens; you know, spacemen from another planet. You read about that sort of thing all the time.”
“But you didn’t see any – aliens that is?” I felt like sticking my fingers in my ears. God, that’s some annoying woman.
“No, you little perisher. I didn’t see any aliens. But that’s how they do it don’t they? I mean, you never actually see anything, it’s just poof, gone, never to be seen again, like beam me up, Scotty.”
“Sure. What’s her boyfriend’s name?”
“She never had one.”
“Did she have her own car?”
“So, how’d she get to work?”
“Bus, same as me.”
Newf finished his beer and placed his can down. “’ow come you and ’er’s such good mates if yous work in different places?”
“Well,” Brenda said jumping at the chance of answering a real question. “You see, we were schoolies together and besides, she lives … that is lived, in the apartment next door to me.”
I figured the interview was a complete waste of time. Brenda Smith must be at least one doughnut shy of a dozen. Apparently, all I needed is to locate an alien spaceship and the case would be closed. Not wishing to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm I kept my theories to myself.
Newf seemed rather quiet as he drove us back to Dundas. “What yah think, Newf? About this case I mean.”
“I don’t fink it were aliens.”
“Well for what it’s worth, neither do I. I can’t see this case going anywhere. It’s boring and totally uninteresting. Either we’ve got to get Gran interested or quit on it altogether. We’re running around in circles getting nowhere.”
“I ain’t quittin’. There’s loads of people to interview yet. We’s just askin’ the wrong people. Buck up, Bill. I got loads of ideas yet.”
I was afraid of that. Somehow, this case just wasn’t interesting. What had we got? A bunch of missing women. A couple of loony, no account witnesses.
“I can’t see us ever solving this one Newf. We just can’t seem to get enough information. Maybe we should look at the next victim. What do you say?”
“I fink we should look into all of ’em. When we get back ’ome I’ll look up the others and plan our next excursion.”
“You been eating a dictionary or something?”
I figured the only hope was Gran. She has that uncanny ability to see information where no one else can. With deft hands, Newf and I cleaned up the house. Newf offered to cook a meal while I went to the hospital to collect Gran. She looked a lot better and I felt much gratitude having her home. You should have seen her face as we walked in through the front door.
“I smell food,” she said.
“Yeah, Newf’s making us a late lunch, or an early dinner.”
“Well, William, it’s good to be home. I won’t be going to work anymore.”
“No, I have retired.”
She glared at me. “William have you been eating parrot seed?”
She sighed. “Come, let’s see what North has for us.”
Newf had set the table in the kitchen; we seldom ate in the dining room. Gran went to her room to do whatever females do when they go to their rooms. I sat and waited for my late lunch. Newf came in beaming all over his face. Heaven knows how he managed the meal. There were hot green peas, boiled potato, something that resembled a steak and even boiled cabbage.
“I just put the garbage out. ’ow’s Mrs. H.?”
“Great. I’m hungry. How come you know how to make real food?”
“I used to feed me dad, didn’t I?”
Gran turned up and gracefully sat opposite me with a face full of smiles. “Well, William, how is your investigation going?”
“Not good. No clues at all.”
“Yes we do,” Newf growled as he placed the food on the table.
“I shook my head in disgust. “Oh yeah, what?”
Newf slithered down onto a chair. “’ow about Mr. er … you know, Mr. Worthington. Yeah, Mr. E. Worthington. I fink we should go see what he knows. Then we could try Miss Simon.”
“Who the hell’s Miss Simon?”
“Sorry, Gran. So who’s Miss Simon?”
“Don’t you ever read the papers? She solved that murder where that geezer frew his mother in the river at Coots.”
I had heard of the case, but, well, it was such a simple one, barely worth mentioning in the papers. “So how could she help?”
“Go on, tell ’im, Mrs. H.”
“Well,” Gran said. “First, I would like to tell you both that I have sold the Tea Garden. Mr. Spadafora is now the sole owner. I’m just not able to get around like I once did. The dizzy spells have persuaded me not to drive. I’m sure young North will be only too happy to accommodate me in that respect.”
“Sure, Mrs. H.”
She sighed. Somehow, I could see the tiredness in her eyes. “You are all right, aren’t you Gran?”
“Yes dear, just getting old. I will be most happy to help solve any mysteries you may come across, though.”
“What about Spadafora?” I asked.
“I’m sure the business will keep him employed. Though I’m sure in his slack times he’ll be here or at least able to help us.”
“So, what about this Simon woman?”
Gran smiled. “The girl is some form of psychic. She solved the Alley Murder simply by visions. She saw what happened. I suppose you could say a witness who was not there.”
“The trouble with that is, she’ll get the reward,” I said.
“Not if she is in your employ, William. Merely pay her for the information and legally the reward becomes yours, providing you do solve the disappearance of Miss Williams.”
I had to think about it. Somehow, they had me doing the very thing I swore not to do. Detective work was supposed to be off my agenda and even if I did do any it surely wouldn’t involve Gran. Rats! now I had condescended to do both. “Alright,” I agreed. “After my next flying lesson, that’s tomorrow. Directly after that, we’ll go see this Miss Simon of yours.”
Newf’s face lit up like a shipping beacon. “Great. Then we’ll find this Worthington geezer, eh?”
Gran leaned across the table and took my hand. “I like this case, William. I think it’s a safe one. I don’t want you facing down any gunman. Please, if it looks dangerous, let us leave the violence to the police.”
“Gran, I promise you. I sure as h … as heck don’t want to get shot again. I’d rather stay away from judo experts, too.”