Despite heavy traffic, the police car maneuvered the short drive from the Lydecker dwelling to the home of the next interviewee on White’s list, for Chloe Treadwell also had a Park Avenue penthouse. And as with Sid’s sumptuous surroundings, some of which possessed all the intimacy of a major museum, it was difficult to determine whether these places were meant to be lived in or showcased in a layout of some fashionable magazine.
The Treadwell home was definitely beautiful and well-designed, if not a tad detached….
Exactly like Chloe Treadwell herself. Of medium height, slender, her dark hair pulled back to reveal a lovely face of indeterminate age, one could not help being struck by her attractiveness. Unlike what would have been believed on hearing the term ‘aunt’, she was instead the youngish relation to the murder victim.
A pretty little maid let the men inside, and moments later, Chloe appeared from another room, Bud observing that she cautiously glanced back over her shoulder, giving the closed door behind her one final gaze.
“Oh, good morning, Lieutenant,” she greeted. “Paula told me you were waiting.”
“Good morning, Mrs. Treadwell.” Good looking woman and her black dress was perfection, revealing every curve. He had seen her at a distance down at the morgue, had heard the approving comments of his fellow cops. Mrs. Treadwell. Aunt by marriage possibly? Widow of some rich older man? Or aunt by blood? He would need to probe that background a bit more.
Chloe’s greeting to her other guest was polite but vague. “Sid.”
“Good morning, Chloe.” Whatever Chloe’s opinion of him, he did not seem to care, putting his hat on the arm of the faux Louis XV chair before he sat down. “You’re looking well.”
“I’ve just taken over the Savannah Hunt case,” Bud interrupted, wanting to get down to business. It did not take a detective to see that Chloe and Sid despised one another.
“Have you? Wonderful. I had been informed that you might. Please Lieutenant…” and she indicated a more comfortable armchair, “won’t you sit down?”
“Thanks.” He was gentleman enough to wait until Chloe had settled on the sofa before he sat himself, pulling out his notebook as he did. “I have all the reports…but there are a few more questions I would like to ask.”
“Certainly – I’ll do anything to help,” she told him, crossing her legs.
“You were fond of your niece, Mrs. Treadwell?”
“Why I adored her.” The voice was honeyed and full of compassion. “I was the one who encouraged her to come here from Lexington – in Kentucky — to pursue a career. She is…She was my only niece and my closest living relation.” She opened a sterling silver box which was on the coffee table. “Cigarette?”
“No, thanks. You collapsed when you identified the body.” He watched her face drain of color, even beneath the elegantly applied cosmetics. “I can understand that. A shotgun loaded with buckshot…close range….It’s not very nice to look at.”
Chloe slowly shook her head, her eyes lethargic, her mind returning to the lifeless form on that slab and what was once her niece. “It…It was…It was horrible,” she finally managed.
“Her maid Bessie. I suppose she was devoted to Miss Hunt?”
“Bessie Clary?” She seemed glad to temporarily awaken from that nightmare. They had gone to the coroner’s office together, their only commonality being Savannah. “Oh, she worshipped her. Savannah had had her for years….I’ll never forget her scream when she saw Savannah lying there….We knew it had been bad enough for her to have been the one to discover the body, but for her to have to see it again…to assist me in the identification…What I hate…What I hate, Lieutenant White, is that what we saw in that morgue will be our final and most vivid image of her.”
Bud lowered his head, not responding. This was not the first time he had heard such things, and he was sorry, quite sorry, as he always was, but what more could he say or do that might even mute their grief. The best he could do was attempt to bring the Killer to justice, if possible.
“I am so thankful her father and mother aren’t alive to hear this,” Chloe was explaining. “I have no idea how I would begin to break it to them. She was their only child.”
“I understand…Now…if you don’t mind…”
“Oh I’m sorry. Of course, Lieutenant, of course. What more did you need to know?”
“Did you approve of Miss Hunt’s coming marriage to Mr. Barrett?”
That did it! The cool sophistication, the sympathy real or pretended — for her niece’s death was replaced by a momentary expression of confusion, then a nervous titter. “Why? Shouldn’t I approve?”
“I don’t know,” Bud replied. “What is your relationship with Mr. Barrett?”
“What do you mean?”
Somewhat defensive – not yet angry, Bud considered. “What I mean is…he’s a frequent guest in your home, regardless of whether your niece was in town or not. Is he an acquaintance?” Chloe opened her mouth, but Bud continued before she could speak. “Friend? Are you in love with him?”
For the first time since all of this started, Sid sat up straight, nearly salivating. “This is beginning to assume fabulous aspects!”
“Oh, shut up, Sid!” Chloe exploded, the ladylike pretenses gone, but almost immediately, she was all sweetness again. “What are you driving at, Lieutenant White?”
“Only the truth, Mrs. Treadwell,” came the matter of fact response. “Are you in love with Kim Carpenter Barrett?”
She might have been flustered, but she was attempting a recovery. “Why…no…I’m…I’m very fond of Mr. Barrett, of course. Everybody is.”
Sid snorted. “I’m not! I’ll be hanged if I am!”
“Oh don’t be so annoying, Sidney!” Chloe again snapped, but then she smiled back at White.
Turning a page in his notebook, Bud calmly inquired, “Did you give Mr. Barrett money?”
“What do you mean?” To maintain her composure, she reached for a cigarette and quickly lit it.
Bud raised his blue eyes, long enough to see that Mrs. Treadwell’s hands were trembling, and then he looked at the page again. “A couple of checks went through your account, endorsed by him. One on Thursday, May 15th was for $100.00; one on May 21st for $200.00.”
“Oh…that,” Chloe laughed. “I…I asked him to do some shopping for me, that’s all. Kim’s a very obliging fellow.”
“All right….For some time, also, you’ve been withdrawing various amounts in cash. Sometimes fifteen hundred; sometimes seventeen hundred at a clip.”
Sid pursed his lips and whistled.
“Yes, I needed that money,” she explained, very nonchalant, ignoring Sid as she took a long draw from the cigarette.
“The day you took out $1500.00, Mr. Barrett deposited $1350.00. When you withdrew $1700.00, he deposited $1550.00.”
“Maybe they were shooting crap,” Sid quipped, not even holding back his amusement. Chloe could not have been more obvious.
And Chloe was disgustingly snubbing out her smoke in the ashtray. “Oh, must I be insulted like this, Lieutenant?” She had now stood and walked a few feet away from both men, turning her back. “I agreed to answer your questions, to assist you in any way possible so as to give justice to my niece. But why you feel that one or two checks…”
“One or two my…” Sid started to say, unable to control himself, but White raised a hand, indicating that the clash was at a temporary end.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Treadwell, but I have to find out about these things.”
“Of course, but you are making it all seem so…Well, it is quite explainable.” She finally returned to her place on the sofa. “Kim needed some money, and I lent it to him. That’s all. He was going to be my future nephew by marriage, and after all, it is my money. I suppose I can do as I please with it, correct, without the police having such horrible suspicions?”
“Sure. Of course.”
Chloe smiled victoriously, delighted to have the interrogation over, when the Detective Lieutenant’s steady voice suddenly inquired, “Now on Friday night, Mrs. Treadwell, the night of your niece’s homicide, you stayed home alone all evening?”
“Yes.” Only after a few seconds of hesitation.
Before Bud could ask another question, it was for Sid to sit forward and gleefully speak up. “Why didn’t you go to the concert with Kim?”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Because he didn’t ask me, if it’s any of your business.”
And that was when that closed bedroom door – the one Chloe Treadwell had seemingly given a silent and fond farewell – opened, and out emerged a nattily dressed young man: tall, brown-blonde hair, vivid blue eyes. Handsome; almost too handsome and well aware of it. Bud knew who it was without being told – he was wondering how long it would take before the grieving fiancé appeared. However, not too many would expect him to stroll out of a bedroom in the home of the dead woman’s aunt!
Sid grinned. “We were just talking about you, Barrett. What a coincidence to find you here.”
Mrs. Treadwell extended a single graceful hand as she made her introductions. “This is Lieutenant Wendell White with the Homicide Bureau, Kim. I told you that his name was mentioned to me yesterday when I was at the morgue. He has been assigned to Savannah’s…He’s been assigned to the case.”
“Oh of course. How do you do, Lieutenant?”
Poised, well-mannered, well-educated, his dialect – Bud detected – indicating a large amount of time in the Southern United States…and the good breeding oozed from his well-built body. The cop suddenly conjured an image of Mr. Kim Carpenter Barrett sitting on the verandah of some antebellum plantation house, a score by Max Steiner swelling in the distance and beneath the soft, high-pitched Negro laughter coming from the cabins and cotton fields. Those long, lost summer days, scented with magnolia and mint juleps….
That’s enough, Bud White! Geez, I think you saw ‘Gone with the Wind’ too damn much! Ashley Wilkes was telling that sentimental shit to Scarlett: high pitched Negro laughter, the good old days before they lost the War, magnolia and fucking mint juleps, blah, blah, blah…. Quickly wiping a slight smile from his face, he returned to business and said, “I didn’t know you were here, Mr. Barrett.”
Kim did not seem fazed, and he stepped behind the sofa so that he was situated between Chloe and White. He barely gave Sid any notice. “As a matter of fact, I was just lying down here. My hotel room was so hot…and then all the people and reporters and the telephone. It’s never stopped ringing. My friends, Savannah’s friends…the newspapers and the radio….It’s all so incredibly disturbing. Someone even told me that Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper were attempting to get in touch.”
Sid tried not to groan. He had no doubt that Hopper and Winchell had done so. Sid had briefly spoken to his and Savannah’s friend, Orson Welles, only last evening when the genius called to express his sincerest sympathies (dear Orson, trapped on the revolting West Coast and promoting that newborn baby of his christened Citizen Kane), but was it so necessary to bandy about names of people that Kim only knew because of Savannah?
“You know how it is, Lieutenant when the media sharks are circling,” Kim continued. “I’ve hardly slept a wink since it happened.”
White could see how frazzled Barrett appeared, despite attempting to be relaxed.
Sid, however, was beaming. “Is that a sign of guilt or innocence, White?”
Chloe bristled, but Kim – easing a hand to her shoulder – paid Sid no mind, concentrating instead on the detective. “I’m at your disposal, Lieutenant. I’m as eager to find the murderer as you are.” He put out his hands, palms up, imploring. “But what possible motive could I have for killing Savannah? Miss Hunt and I were going to be married this week, you know.”
“No…he doesn’t know,” Sid countered, “and neither do I…or you…or anyone else alive!”
Now this was news to Bud. “What do you mean by that, Lydecker?” I knew if I sat back and gave them enough rope, they’d hang themselves.
Sid was unrelenting, not that he could have been stopped. “Savannah had not made up her mind to marry him. She told me so herself last Friday when she called up to cancel our dinner engagement. As a matter of fact, she claimed she was going to the country to think it over.” He sighed. “I am only sorry she obviously changed her mind about going. You see, White, she was extremely kind, that was something we all adored in her, but regrettably that was a flaw as well. I’ll advise you of one thing, Lieutenant….” He glared at Kim, nose in the air. “I was always sure she would never have thrown her life away…on a male beauty in distress.”
Kim remained unruffled – none of Lydecker’s blows had landed, and if they had, he would not reveal it. “I suppose you’ve heard losers whine before…” and he wagged a thumb towards the older man. “…especially in your profession, eh? Would you like a bite of lunch, Lieutenant? It’s getting about that time.”
Sid smirked. “You’d almost think he was in his own home.”
Attempting to hide her irritation, Chloe tried to be apologetic. “Kim knows how distracted I am, and as always, he’s being a perfect gentleman. Would you, Lieutenant? It’s no bother I assure you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Treadwell,” and White stood up, “but I’ve got to be going.”
This was not the response Kim had expected! “But…But…Lieutenant…I…Well…I rather thought you’d want to ask me some questions.” He sounded almost desperate.
“Oh yes, I did,” and Bud consulted his notebook. “What did they play at the concert Friday night?”
Barely missing a beat, Kim answered, “Oh…Brahms’ First and Beethoven’s Ninth.”
“Uh-huh. Have you got a key to Miss Hunt’s house up in the country?”
Kim shook his head. “No…not with me, no, but I think there’s one up in her apartment.”
“Okay, I’ll have a look. Thanks.”
“Perhaps I could help you?”
Very obliging too…considering you’re walking into the crime scene where your fiancée was murdered. You want to help; Lydecker wants to help. Everybody is being too damn helpful…except when they need to be. But in the end, Bud shrugged and said “All right. Come along,” causing Kim to look like the proverbial kid in the candy store.
Nodding slightly to his hostess, Bud told her, “I’ll be seeing you, Mrs. Treadwell.”
“Of course. Anytime Lieutenant, and please keep me abreast of everything happening.”
Sidney Lydecker walked towards the front door, his cane twirling an elaborate pattern in the air, therefore only Bud White caught the tiny motion of Kim Barrett brushing Chloe Treadwell’s right hand…and her mouthing ‘Careful darling.’
Yep, the grieving fiancé and the mourning aunt. It didn’t get any better than this.