A mile or thereabouts – that was all that separated Park Avenue and the neighborhood where the late Savannah Hunt had resided, and Bud White knew the area well, although he never had reason to come here in the past, not for business and assuredly not for pleasure. But this was the sort of environs he might have enjoyed living in had he the income…and the social standing.
Not upper class, not working class, but capturing a world in-between, of those that worked but having attained a satisfying level of privilege. There were bankers and doctors; stockbrokers and church figures; attorneys and businessmen of every type, and Old Money seeking out a simpler life than that in the Hamptons. And amongst these were a few of a still rare breed, something called a ‘working woman,’ and not simply one who was a secretary or clerk-typist. She was a female of near executive status, for whom a career had become quite important.
Savannah Hunt had been one.
Bud already knew – from his men’s canvassing of the area – that everyone knew Savannah, had been touched by Savannah; recalled her warm welcomes at Halloween and Christmas when their children arrived on her doorstep. The comments were repetitive to the point of being nauseating. She was sweet. She was kind. She was wonderful. She was a saint and an angel. You could not find a better Christian: unspoiled, full of humanity, grace, faith and love.
If I read one more of these, Bud thought as he flipped through his notes, trying to ignore the heavy tension in the car, thanks to the presence of Lydecker and Barrett, I’ll be ready to genuflect when I go into this dive. Nobody’s that wonderful, not even Miss Savannah…and he groaned.
This peaceful, lovely, tree-lined neighborhood of Greek Revival row houses – most with red facades, but many in creams and whites – dotted now and then with wrought-iron fencing, and still capturing some long-ago time before the Depression and before the Great War, was now a loud, crass circus. The only thing missing was the ringmaster, the lion tamer, the trapeze artists and the dancing bears. And the centerpiece of the entire show was the white townhouse at number 99, where not only uniformed and plain clothes cops stood watch, but dozens and dozens of curious New Yorkers seemed to have camped out in the heat, all in hopes of catching a glimpse of something gruesome or disgusting, or hearing some more vivid description than they were reading in the newspapers. The residents, Bud imagined – at this time of day – were either at church or hiding behind the privacy of their walls, none of them desiring the notoriety, and some possibly now unintended witnesses…only because they had known Savannah.
As the police car managed – after blowing the horn a few times and turning on the siren – to get a spot directly in front of the location, Bud was better able to see what more was happening. He had prayed that since the body was discovered the day before, and the crowd had lingered long enough to see the coroner load the body bag onto the ambulance, the curiosity would have faded. Instead, it now seemed that there were more than before. Some of these idiots had even brought their children, and the adults were pointing up at the windows, likely to indicate that ‘something horrible happened in there.’ They would jostle one way, then the other, their talk an amalgam of indecipherable words, but over it all, Bud could hear the steady boyish shout of:
EXTRA! EXTRA! GIRL VICTIM IN BRUTAL SLAY-ING!
EXTRA! GIRL VICTIM IN BRUTAL SLAY-ING!
READ ALL ABOUT IT!
GIRL VICTIM IN BRUTAL SLAY-ING!
“All right, all right. Break it up! I said break it up!” a uniformed officer was telling one group of teens that was attempting to slip up the front stairs without notice. “I don’t mind running any of you in!”
“That’s it honey, that’s where that Savannah Hunt was murdered,” a middle-aged woman told her husband.
“Ain’t nobody safe. Nobody, not even in a neighborhood like this. We all could be murdered in our beds.”
GIRL VICTIM IN BRUTAL SLAYING!
READ ALL ABOUT IT!
NEW YORK ADVERTISING STAR BRUTALLY MURDERED!
READ ALL ABOUT IT!
“I’ve seen pictures of her with that Sydney Lydecker.” Then a whistle and “Don’t tell me he’s not a lucky son-of-a-gun.”
“I heard she was killed with an axe.”
“I heard she was beheaded. Someone said they brought the head out in a special body bag.”
“Well, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”
“No, no, she was shot…and then…”
“Ice cold drinks! Get your ice cold drinks right here!”
“I said move along! There’s nothing to see! Move along or I’m running you in for loitering! You understand?”
If Bud White thought he was shocked, it was no more than he could say for Sid and Kim, both of whom looked as though they would either laugh or cry at the sight.
EXTRA! EXTRA! GIRL VICTIM IN BRUTAL SLAY-ING!
EXTRA! GIRL VICTIM IN BRUTAL SLAY-ING!
READ ALL ABOUT IT!
“This…This is not what I would have wanted for her,” Sidney whispered, his voice choked.
“Okay…let’s go,” the Lieutenant told them. “Don’t look the press in the eyes and don’t say anything. I mean that. I don’t care what these maggots shout at you, just keep looking straight ahead and get inside. My men will make sure the way is clear….” and he threw open the rear passenger side door and jumped out onto the sidewalk. The second he did, the media began to press towards him, giving Sergeants Thorne and Biebe a chance to take hold of Lydecker and Barrett to guide them through the mass of bodies and into the building.
“Look…it’s Bud White!” shouted one reporter.
“Holy cow – they’ve brought Bud White in on the case!”
“That’s better than J. Edgar himself!”
“Lieutenant, do you have any leads yet?”
“Hey, it’s Kim Barrett, the fiancé. Turn this way for us Kim.”
“Did you do it, Kim?”
“Do you have any suspects, Lieutenant?”
“How did she die?”
“Was she assaulted in any other manner?”
“Over here, Mr. Lydecker, over here. Just flash us a smile for the camera.”
“Can I have your autograph, Mr. Lydecker?”
“We love you Kim Barrett!” squealed a small group of young female admirers.
“What are you going to do without Savannah Hunt, Mr. Lydecker?”
In actuality it was less than thirty seconds – it felt more like hours before the three men were finally inside, and the voices and vulgar questions were behind the closed front door.
Lydecker was visibly shaking as he leaned against the gold leaf wall in the foyer. “They…You called them maggots, Lieutenant. You were right,” he gulped, dabbing a handkerchief to his brow as he watched White begin the climb up the main staircase. “I would love to cane every last one of them with this,” and he shook the walking stick in his other hand. “No respect…No…no…nothing. She’s like a freak…a freak in a carnival…side show,” he almost spat.
Kim wiped the sweat from around his mouth and shook his head. “They aren’t normal.”
“Yeah…they are,” both heard White say, continuing his slow ascent. He was taking his time, being cautious, and had they seen his eyes at the moment, they would have known he was analyzing everything and had been since walking from the sidewalk. He was imagining Friday night: what the Killer saw…what Savannah Hunt saw…. What the Killer saw…. “You two coming?”
The two story townhouse had three residents. There was a young financier and his wife on the entire first floor – neither of whom had been home Friday evening. The second floor belonged to the murder victim, the only thing connecting them being the single, main flight of stairs that wound its’ way up from the entrance hall.
A familiar looking and poorly dressed cop – at least in Sid’s opinion – stood guard at the top of the landing.
“Lieutenant,” he greeted. “Morning.”
“Morning Zach. You remember Mr. Lydecker, right?”
“Right. Morning sir.”
Sid grunted a response.
“And Mr. Barrett.”
“We’ve met, Lieutenant,” Kim told him. “He and Sergeant Wells and your chaplain gave me the news about Savannah.”
Bud nodded. “Where’s Cort?”
“Him and Hando are keeping an eye on the back steps, in case some of these folks try to get in that way. They’ve been trying most of the morning.”
“Okay thanks. We won’t be long,” and taking the key from Sergeant Grant, Bud White slipped it into the lock, and pushed the door open, permitting his eyes to adjust to the partially darkened room. He did not move at first – he looked at everything immediately around him, again hearing the sounds…imagining what the Killer saw…what the Killer thought as he or she waited…waited…listened…listened for approaching footsteps…perhaps a whispered ‘Who is it?’ The shotgun raised, positioned….Only one chance to do this….
“The doorbell rang.”
“What?” came a frightened mutter. It was Kim, who had gone completely white as he gripped the door jamb. He was shaking even worse than Lydecker had been when they went through the crowd.
“The doorbell rang,” Bud repeated, but he was talking to neither of them.
Sid swallowed hard – he was having second thoughts and did not really desire to be here now, but it was too late to change his mind…and there was no way he would allow Kim the satisfaction of watching him squirm.
“As she opened the door, the shot was fired.”
“And how do you deduce that, White?” Sid demanded.
But White was not listening. “She fell backward,” and he carefully eased inside, looking down at the hardwood floor, noticing that someone – likely the maid/housekeeper — had successfully removed the blood (Good thing there’s no carpeting! Blood ain’t easy to get out! Wonder if they checked the walls and ceiling too….They never think about looking there….). “The body was…there,” and he pointed his right index finger at a spot. “Top of the head (What was left of it) pointed West….”
Sid did not appreciate being ignored. “I thought you hadn’t been up here before.” Neither he or Kim had crossed the threshold.
“I saw the police photos….” Even the black and white could not hide the grisliness of that corpse sprawled on the floor: the legs askew, one heeled slipper near the left foot as she fell out of it, the arms as limp as a rag doll, the gown and robe a peculiar filmy layer to the bloody mess…. “You coming in or what?”
Kim nodded, and gingerly stepped into the living room and around where White had indicated the location of the body. “I guess I better try and find that key,” and he wandered away.
“White, tell me,” Sid said, his voice scolding, “why did they have to photograph her in that horrible condition?”
Bud was busy giving the room a once over…for the second time since entering. Yes, there was that grandfather clock, the twin to the one in Lydecker’s apartment. “When a dame gets killed, she doesn’t worry about how she looks.”
Sid’s eyes began to flare. “Will you stop calling her a dame?! Look around. May I?” and on receiving White’s silent permission, Lydecker began to turn on the lights and with two sweeps of his hand, had opened the curtains. “Now look around you, White. Is this the home of a dame?”
Now White paid closer attention, seeing the apartment not as a crime scene, but as a home…an elegant, magnificent home filled with antiques and modern pieces, each furnishing, every accessory brimming with class and beauty and femininity…and warmth. The warmth he had not felt in the penthouses of Lydecker or Chloe Treadwell. It felt as though someone had lived here once, someone full of life and passion, full of all that kindness and sweetness her neighbors had expounded. For a second, he thought he could hear a gentle laugh, a soft voice; caught a whiff of…what was that fragrance? He could not place it, and it wasn’t that usual stench of death that normally was so hard to erase, especially since she had lain in that spot for several hours….
“Look at her,” Sid ordered, and now Bud followed the direction in which the arm pointed so that he was soon staring at an oil painting above the fireplace mantelpiece.
So this was…had been Savannah Hunt.
“Not bad,” was all Bud White replied, coolly, bluntly…unmoved. He barely gave an indication of it or the subject’s existence – it wasn’t good to become too attached, not in his work….
Sid, however, was in a world of his own, the way he had drifted while standing before the mirror in his penthouse. “Meridias was in love with her when he painted it…but he never captured her vibrancy…” He took a sharp intake of breath. “…her warmth…her…beauty….Have you…Have you ever been in love, Lieutenant?” Only now did he realize that instead of being absorbed by the painting – as was he – White had moved away and was opening the console of the stereo system, and then flipping through the record albums on the nearby shelf.
“A doll in Washington Heights once got a fox fur out of me.”
Sid groaned. “Ever know a woman who wasn’t a ‘doll’ or a ‘dame,’ White?”
Bud located one album and slipped it onto the turntable. “Yeah…one, but she kept walking me past furniture windows…to look at the parlor suites.” He hit the ‘on’ switch and seconds later, an orchestral suite filled the room.
Almost immediately, Sid’s handsome face contorted. “Would you mind turning that off?”
“Why? Don’t you like it?” but Bud did as he was asked, just as Kim returned.
“It was one of Savannah’s favorites,” the fiancé informed him. “Not exactly classical, but sweet.”
Bud nodded. “You know a lot about music?”
Kim grinned proudly. “I don’t know a lot about anything…but I know a little about practically everything.”
“Yeah? Then why did you say…they played Brahms’ First and Beethoven’s Ninth at the concert Friday night?” He could almost hear Barrett swallowing the bile in his throat. “They changed the program at the last minute and played nothing but Sibelius.”
Sid gave his triumphant ‘Explain your way of that’ look but Kim now only smiled.
“I suppose I should have told you in the first place. I’d been working on that advertising campaign with Savannah. Well, we’d been working so hard…I…I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I didn’t hear a note at the concert. I fell asleep.”
“Next he’ll produce photographic evidence of his dreams.”
“I know it sounds suspicious,” Kim said, disregarding Sid, “but I’m resigned to that by now. I’m a natural-born suspect just because I’m not the conventional type.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Mr. Barrett. It sounds reasonable.” Bud eyed the skepticism on Sid’s features. “I fall asleep at concerts myself.”
Kim gave Sid a smug, self-satisfied ‘told you so’ smile. “Thank you.”
“You found that key yet?”
“No. I looked for it in the den, but it wasn’t there. It may be…” and motioning, he led the way into the master bedroom, “in here,” and he started looking.
Once more, Bud White analyzed his surroundings: no clutter, no disorganization, but still relaxed, feminine, beautiful. Maybe he ought to take a better look at that woman in the painting.
“Yes, here it is,” Kim announced, holding the key for everyone to see. He was standing beside a nightstand near the bed. “I knew there must be one around somewhere.”
Bud sat on the edge of the bed, removed the notebook, and once again, the scent returned, notes of sandalwood and flowers – some kind of flowers he could not immediately place, and perhaps from the last spray from one of those bottles he glimpsed on the vanity. And momentarily he pushed aside the image of the faceless blob of flesh on the living room floor, imagining instead the figure of a young woman hurrying about her room, looking for a book or magazine to read while relaxing in bed. The satin comforter, the sheets, those pillows…all of the items had felt her touch at some time, known the warmth of her body for numerous nights…Friday night…her last night.
Yeah, maybe he ought to take a better look at that woman in the painting.
“The police are very fussy about their inventories,” White commented, rereading the details of the victim’s bedroom. “That key isn’t on the list of things that were in that drawer yesterday.”
Sid glared. “Then it’s made a recent reappearance.”
“You put it there, didn’t you?”
The previous satisfaction vanished into sheepishness on Kim’s face. “Yes.”
“Why?” Bud inquired.
“It’s just that I didn’t want to give it to you while Sid was present.”
“Oh.” White sounded unconvinced, and out came his little pinball baseball game.
“I have private reasons that don’t concern him.”
Lydecker bristled, both hands tightening around his walking stick. “Everything about Savannah concerns me! You have private reasons, no doubt, to lie about the key.”
“Sid…for your own good,” Kim began to snarl, “I’m warning you to stop implying that I had anything to do with Savannah’s death.”
“Very well. I’ll stop implying – I’ll make a direct statement.”
Kim stepped forward, fists beginning to form. “All right – you asked for it!”
But Bud stepped between them, blocking their exchange before something stupid happened, and as though nothing had occurred, returned to his game.
Sid could not take it any longer. First he was insulted by the so-called fiancé, and now some classless flatfoot was intervening with all the skill of a bulldozer. “Will you stop dawdling with that infernal puzzle?!” he shouted, seething. “It’s getting on my nerves!”
Bud’s smile was slight but apparent. “I know…but it keeps me calm. Okay, let’s go,” and without another word, he led the way out.