By Roxanne Dent
Chapter Nine: “In the Jailhouse Now”
When I woke up, my feet ached, and my arm hurt. In fact, my skinned knees, and whole left side, was stiff from the fall I took when I was shot at, and all the walking I did at Coney Island. Having consumed a few too many Gin Rickey’s the night before didn’t help.
I limped by Ivy’s apartment and knocked twice. She was out, probably making last minute arrangements for the funeral. I returned to my own place, relieved. We hadn’t made much progress and I felt guilty.
I would have liked to lounge in bed with a cup of hot cocoa and the third Philo Vance mystery,” The Green Murder Case,” by S.S. Van Dine, but the funeral was at eleven. It was already ten.
While I ran the water for a quick soak, I went to my closet and scanned the contents for a dress that would pass muster at a funeral. I pulled out a black one, with a high collar, slim fit and lots of buttons down the back. The only thing risqué, was the small section of see-through lace above the bust at the bottom of the throat. It would do. I pulled a hat box down and removed a large, black hat with scarlet ribbons, and cherries. I took off the ribbons and cherries and added a black, velvet band. A pair of black pumps and black gloves completed the ensemble.
The phone rang. It was Gil. He had information on Madame Roskovich. Excited, I scribbled it down and thanked him.
I washed and dressed in a hurry, but was unable to button the two top, back buttons. I added a pair of jet earrings. The doorbell rang. Harry was right on time. I appreciated it. Lateness puts me in bad mood. Before I left, I applied lipstick and a light dusting of powder. Ivy would say, I left the house, munitions intact.
When I slid into the soft, leather seat of the La Salle, Roadster I slipped my coat down, exposing the opened buttons at the back.
“Can you do me up? Usually Ivy helps, but she wasn’t in.”
“Be happy to.” His fingers were chilly against my neck. I shivered.
“I thought she’d be with you.”
“She left early.”
I remembered Gil’s phone call.
“I have news. I spoke to my friend at the FBI. He told me Madame Roskovich was being investigated for fraud, and possible murder in Boston, New York and New Jersey. Apparently, a couple of rich clients died unexpectedly after making out wills, leaving their dough to her. When they were exhumed, large amounts of arsenic were found in their bodies.”
“Arsenic again. But Mavis left her money to Ivy,” Harry said.
“True, but Gil confirmed Madame Roskovich had a silent partner. And while I can see the medium biking folks out of their savings I have my doubts about murder. What if her partner committed the murders once she knew the money was left to Madame Roskovich who didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late and that’s why the medium was scared?
“So, your friend’s name is Gil!”
“It is.” I was taken aback by the sudden change in conversation.
“I bet he’s tall with broad shoulders, a square chin and steely blue eyes.”
“I don’t detect passion.”
“The mug must be blind.”
“Men and women can be friends. Stick to the case, Shamus.”
“Yes, boss.” Harry smiled. “Did your G-man get a better description of the partner then we came up with?”
“Sadly no. Very dramatic, was how the maid put it. Lots of makeup. It’s making me crazy. I know it’s Wilda but we still don’t have a clear picture of her.”
The Morris Funeral Home was one of the oldest, most prestigious in the city. Despite leaving in plenty of time we were late due to a cross-town accident involving a drunken driver and two police cars.
When we entered, everyone turned around to stare. Ivy was up front next to an elderly man in spectacles. I pegged him as Chester, the lawyer.
Four matrons sat ramrod straight in the second row, all in their 60s or 70s. They had to be the charity biddies Ivy mentioned. On the other side, was Clara. She wore the grey wool coat she had on earlier and the same grey hat. She clutched a crumpled handkerchief.
Mavis was laid out in a high-quality, Cherrywood coffin with a pink, satin lining.
A heavily built man in his sixties in what looked like his Sunday suit shrieked Butler, and the two young Irish girls next to him formed a line at the casket.
Clara glanced at us and turned away. The matrons paid their respects to Ivy and left. As the servants were about to do the same, the door flew open. The short, red-haired detective with the overdone mustache, barged in with two of his officers.
Ivy went pale. Chester steadied her and whispered a few words. She shook his arm off and glided to the back where we stood, all eyes on her.
As she reached me, Ivy spoke in what she perceived as an upper crust English accent, “Hello Josie. It was terribly sweet you came.” She held out her hand. I realized the trauma of the moment caused her to slip into a roll. I was tempted to kiss her hand. Instead, I squeezed it.
“Don’t give up,” I whispered.
The detective cleared his throat. “Miss Ivy Langford, I am here to …”
“Yes, Inspector Murch I know why you’re here.” She gave him a condescending smile, as if she were a Vanderbilt accosted by the stable-boy.
“In America, we’re called Detectives, Miss.” Murch scowled and cleared his throat. “We’re arresting you for the murder of your godmother, Mavis Bankes.”
One of his men rattled off her rights as Detective Murch whipped out a pair of handcuffs. “Turn around,” he said gruffly.
“Can’t you wait?” Chester protested as he reached us. “We’re in the middle of a funeral.”
Ivy’s fantasy slipped away as reality came crashing down in the form of steel manacles being clicked into place. She collapsed in Detective Murch’s arms. He cursed. One of his men carried her out.
“The end of Act I,” Harry murmured.
“It’s not funny,” I said.
“It is, a little.”
Shortly after the drama the butler and servants left. Clara went up to the coffin and bent her head in prayer before heading to the exit.
I stepped in front of her.
“What do you want? The police just arrested Ivy for Mavis’ murder. Case closed.”
“Why so sure?” I asked as all three of us walked outside.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Not to us.”
“Mavis had a change of heart and was going to cut Ivy out of the will. She must have found out and poisoned her before she could rewrite it.”
“I understand why you would think so, but Ivy is innocent.”
“Good luck proving it. I have to go. I’m working the night shift at the bookstore and I don’t want to be late.”
As she walked away, Chester sighed. “What a disaster this day has been. I’m surprised Mavis hasn’t risen from her casket in outrage.” He mopped his brow.
“Will you act as Ivy’s lawyer?’ Harry asked
“I’m not a trial lawyer. But I promise to find the best criminal attorney money can buy. I refuse to believe Ivy is a murderer.”
“I know you can’t reveal the contents of the will,” I said. “But Ivy already told me you informed her she inherits the bulk of Mrs. Bankes’ fortune. Since you don’t believe she’s guilty, will you help us by answering a couple of questions?”
He looked at his watch. “I have an appointment in half an hour.”
“Was Ivy always in the will as the main legatee?”
“Not while Billy lived.”
“Did Mavis leave anything to Thomasina, Alice’s child?”
“No. I suggested she do so but after they met she wouldn’t hear of it.”
“They met?” I said surprised.
“What did she say about the meeting?” Harry asked.
“Refused to talk about it.”
“What would happen if Ivy died before inheriting or was arrested for her murder?” I said.
“In that case, the money would be divided up between her favorite charities.”
“She left nothing to Clara?” Harry said. “I would think the woman rated at least a stipend.”
Chester was through cooperating. “Look, I’ve been more than patient. The reading of the will is scheduled to take place tomorrow. As it stands, I’m not sure what will happen. Good evening.”
A few drops of rain dribbled down my neck. I shivered, as we watched him walk away. I felt down in the dumps. We were no closer to solving the murders than when we started.
“Buck up,” Harry said. “First thing tomorrow morning, we pay a visit to Mavis’ townhouse, and question the servants. Servants always know things.”
“What’s wrong with tonight?” I was anxious to do something, anything.
“By the time they get back, I doubt that grim butler would let us in. We aren’t the police.”
“Any other ideas.”
“We could have a leisurely meal and go dancing. Women have said dancing with me, is like dancing on air.”
“I meant investigative work,” I said severely.
“All work and no play tends to clog the mind.”
“When the case is over I’ll think about it,” I said.
Roxanne Dent lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and has sold nine novels and dozens of short stories in a variety of genres to anthologies, including Paranormal Fantasy, Regency, Mystery, Horror, Middle Grade and YA. Her fantasy, The Day the Demons Came, recently sold to the anthology, In the Shadow of the Mountain, Elder Gods Publishing. And My Zombie Valentine, sold to Blood Red Shadows, Night to Dawn, and will be out around Valentine’s Day. She has also co-authored short stories and plays with her sister, Karen Dent. Their plays Young at Heart and Monkey Girl Blues, were put on at the Firehouse Theater in Newburyport.