“Hello….Mosconi’s? This is Lieutenant Wendell White, Homicide Bureau….Yes, that’s right….Yes…tragic. Look…I have a couple of questions for you, if you have a moment?”
Monday morning, and Bud had returned to the Hunt apartment for another day’s investigation. It was also the first time he had been able to view things in the brilliance of day, particularly the painting. On the last visit Sunday afternoon, it had barely registered. Now, after listening to Lydecker’s narrative, after tossing and turning most of the night, reconciling the known facts and the woman – based on those that knew her or claimed to know her well – he could barely wait to return, to give the likeness more attention. And he realized Sid was correct.
Meridias didn’t capture her. He tried…damn he tried – you can tell that, but something’s still missing….
So now it was back to business after drinking half of the thermos of coffee brought by one of the sergeants. At least the onlookers had disappeared, their weekend entertainment at an end, so fewer cops were required to safeguard the crime scene. There was another canvass of the neighborhood, to speak to those that had either been out of town or otherwise unavailable (such as the couple on the first floor); and in the meanwhile, Bud went over the inventory yet again, walking from room to room, analyzing each item with his eyes…feeling that the vivid hazel-green eyes of the portrait were watching him too as he strolled about. He shook off the sensation, then looked back inside the bar and liquor cabinet for a second time. Something had not seemed right…and now he saw the thing that disturbed him, and led about him calling the phone number found in the neatly kept address book..
Mr. Mosconi was more than happy to assist the police in the investigation, and of course had all the time the Homicide detective might require.
“Savannah Hunt had been buying her liquor from you for several years, hadn’t she? Yeah….” He knew the answer – based on the carefully maintained records the victim kept, but required verification. Turning up the label of the bottle he held, he asked, “Did she ever buy a brand of scotch called…Black…Pony?….Yeah, ‘Black Pony’.” He nearly held the receiver away from his ear when Mr. Mosconi burst into laughter, and then apologized for doing so. “Yeah….I see….Kind of what I figured….Well, that’s all I wanted to know. Thanks….Yeah, yeah, if we have any more questions I’ll be in touch….Well, I appreciate you wanting to help. Good-bye.”
Bud was sitting on the edge of her desk, and he turned to see Sergeant Cort Wells standing in the doorway between the living room and the den, the latter being where White currently found himself.
“She’s here….The maid.”
White stood. “Okay…thanks.” Seconds later, a tall woman in a floral dress, a plain hat with a ribbon, and a tiny crucifix about her neck entered the study, her expression of defiance quite apparent. “Come in, Miss Clary.”
“Never mind that ‘Miss Clary’ stuff,” she snapped, snatching off her gloves. “My name’s Bessie, and I’m a domestic and I got nothin’ to be ashamed of!”
All I did was tell her to come in. We’re getting off to a great start. Still polite, he said, “Fine….You can sit down, Bessie.” He did not want her to feel as though she was being interrogated so he sat in the chair, hoping she would realize that this was informal.
But Bessie remained standing, and seeing what was now spread across her mistress’ desk, she rushed to it. “Her letters…” The voice was suddenly soft, filled with concern. “…and her private diary.” Her eyes glared icicles at the intruder. “You’ve been reading them, pawing over them, you filthy…” Bud nearly placed a hand over the objects to stop her, but she shoved it aside and began to pick up the papers and book. “It’s a shame in the face of the dead. That’s what it is. It’s a shame.”
“Sit down, Bessie,” he repeated, still wanting some calm.
“I’ll stand on my own two feet! Don’t you go ordering me around you…!” She placed Bud’s fedora off to the side since the desktop was not the place for it and a gentleman would have known that. “I ain’t afraid of cops!” Now she began to sweep up some crumbs and gum wrappers with her hands. “I was brought up to spit whenever I saw one!”
White shrugged, trying not to smile, as he stood and crossed over to the fireplace, thankful that this mantelpiece had a painting of a vase of magnolias. “Okay…go ahead and spit if that’ll make you feel better.” Did she think he was one of the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts or something? They both likely came from very similar working-class backgrounds, but he was well aware of how some folks felt towards the police. His statement seemed to work for the second he said it, he saw that any further protests on her part ceased.
She sighed, walking to his side, and tossed the trash into the hearth. “So what do you want to know?”
“What we all want to know, Bessie…who killed Savannah Hunt,” and he saw the sadness in her eyes.
“How would I know?” she bemoaned, then her head snapped up. “You don’t think I done it? I know you cops get crazy notions…but if you got any notion concerning me.”
Bud said nothing. Now was the time to listen.
“Ask anyone…anyone who ever come to this house. I would have worked for her. I would have washed, ironed, scrubbed…done everything she wanted of me, whether she paid me for it or not! And it wasn’t only on account of the thousand sweet things she done for me….It was because she was so sweet herself…because she was a real fine lady. But you cops wouldn’t know about that!” she sniffed, wiping her face.
“But you do.” He picked up the bottle of scotch again, then going to the maid, gently touched her with it to get her attention. “That’s all the more reason why you should help me, Bessie….Do you happen to know how this got into her liquor cabinet?”
“I put it there.” The defiance had momentarily vanished, replaced by…White was certain it was disappointment.
“But she never bought cheap stuff like this…not a lady like Miss Hunt.” That was why Mosconi had laughed – he had exclaimed that he would sooner have a heart attack than sell his best customer that sort of garbage.
“No,” Bessie whimpered.
“When did you put it in the cabinet?”
“Before the police came?” Bessie Clary nodded. “Was it there Friday night before you left?”
“Are you sure of that?”
She sighed, nodding. “I cleaned out the cabinet on Friday, like I always do and put the empties in the basement.”
“Then somebody was with her in the apartment Friday night…someone who brought that bottle.”
“Who?” It seemed wrong to White that anyone would dare bring something like ‘Black Pony’ into Savannah’s – Miss Hunt’s – home…unless Miss Hunt invited them there and did not care, but that did not seem to mesh, not with the image he was establishing for her. Now am I being a cop? Or is this what happens when you get too emotional?
“I don’t know…but I didn’t want anyone…I didn’t want anyone getting any wrong ideas about her, God rest her soul.” The boldness now returned. “That’s why I took it out of the bedroom and put it in the cabinet…before the police got here. And that ain’t all I done.”
“Oh?” Bud was hiding his own discomfort of knowing where that liquor had originally been found, as well as recalling that the victim was wearing her negligee when discovered.
“That’s right. I washed out the glasses and cleaned off the bottle too.”
Bud did not have to ask how many glasses. “Do you know what happens to people who destroy evidence?”
“I don’t care,” she admitted, but then panic overtook her, and not regarding her own welfare she begged, “You ain’t gonna tell the newspaper reporters, are ya…let them make up their nasty stories…drag her name through the mud?” When the detective did not immediately respond, her back straightened again. “Go ahead, do it! But it won’t do you any good. I’ll say you lied! I’ll say…”
Bud waved a hand. “Take it easy, Bessie.” Hell, if he had been in the same circumstances…. Fuck – that’s right, White. Evidence tampering. Now you’re approving of evidence tampering, and all because….. “Look…get me some ice and a setup, will you?”
Minutes before she would have spit on him, told him to drop dead and get his own, but there was something about this cop that made Bessie change her mind. “All right,” she agreed, walking ahead of him.
Bud paused long enough to return the ‘Black Pony’ to the cabinet. “A couple of highball glasses,” he said, but just as Bessie was about to leave, she paused on hearing the doorbell, prepared to answer it. Sergeant Zach Grant – who was standing beside it – indicated that he would do the duty, so the maid nodded, pushing at the little side door beside the grandfather clock and vanishing into the kitchen.
“Good morning,” greeted a Southern accent. “Lieutenant White sent for us.”
Us? Bud had only asked…
But in strolled his three chief suspects, all appearing as though they were taking luncheon or going for a casual walk in Central Park. Kim Barrett looked quite comfortable as Chloe Treadwell’s escort, and Sidney Lydecker – sauntering behind them – was his typical, well-dressed, superior self.
“Good morning, Lieutenant,” the victim’s aunt said. Bud supposed this was her version of mourning, for she wore a fashionable black suit and a hat with a veil.
“Hello, White.” That was from Kim.
“This is quite a delegation,” Bud told them, his eyes narrowing. “I only sent for you, Barrett.”
“I know,” Chloe interrupted, take a seat on the white sofa. “Kim’s dropping me off at the hairdresser’s later…so…I thought I might as well come along.”
Sid tried not to laugh. “My excuse is equally feeble, Lieutenant. I just popped in to pay my dubious respects…and inquire as to the state of your health….Insipid, I trust.” The frailty of his final words at dinner had disappeared, the usual arrogance back to full strength.
Bud merely smiled. “I was just going to pour myself a drink. Care to join me?”
Chloe crossed her legs, behaving as if she was in her own apartment instead of the murder scene. “A very nice idea, Lieutenant. Kim…wouldn’t you like one?”
With an “I’ll get it,” Kim began to act as though he was way too much at home.
“Never mind,” Bud nearly growled, but that was when Bessie Clary came back, carrying a tray of glasses and the other necessary accoutrements for drinks. “Bessie…would you bring a couple more glasses?”
“Yes sir.” Amazingly, she no longer felt negative towards him.
“Hello Bessie,” Chloe greeted, surprised. “What are you doing here?”
Bessie completed the setup as she spoke, forcing her dislike of Mrs. Treadwell out of her reply. “I’m paid up for the week, and I’m working…regardless.”
“Would you like one, Lydecker?” White asked. In the meantime, Bud had stepped over to the bar, and now came back with a nearly empty bottle of alcohol in his hands.
Sid shrugged. “I see no reason to exclude myself…if the host provides the scotch.”
Lydecker sneered at the label. “I presume it’ll have to.”
Bud stepped over to Kim: saw the eyes widen…the lower teeth tugging at one lip. “How about you, Barrett? It’s cheap, but potent.”
Barrett smiled and swallowed. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think I care for any. I’m not much of a daytime drinker.”
“Uh-huh.” Why were some suspects so incredibly obvious?
Thankfully, Bessie came back, giving Kim an excuse to stare at her and avoid Bud White’s gaze.
The detective told her, “Thanks a lot, Bessie…and that’ll be all. You can go home now.”
“But I…” But she stopped, smiled slightly at the cop and said, “Yes sir” before departing.
Chloe was busily filling her highball with ice. “I remember when Savannah bought these glasses. She loved them. She loved all her things so.”
Sid did not appear happy, and his words were clipped. “What are you going to do? Sell them?”
“I don’t know. I suppose so….Thank you,” she told Bud, indicating that he could stop pouring the scotch. “If I’m appointed administrator of the estate,” and she sprayed soda into the glass, “I shall probably just call in Skinner.”
White raised an eyebrow. “You mean Max Skinner, the art dealer?”
“Yes, he was a friend of Savannah’s. Let him dispose of everything.” She shuddered. “It’ll be less gruesome that way.”
“Not quite everything, Chloe.” Sid took a drink and then looked around. “Two or three things in here belong to me. This vase, for instance,” and he picked up a small rose-colored piece, “and that…uh…clock of course…oh, and the antique fire screen.”
Bud said nothing, wondering if Sid would attempt to carry the clock and screen out with him as well. Obviously Zach Grant thought the same, for he was stifling a laugh.
“I only lent them to Savannah, you know,” Sid continued.
“Oh really, Sid!” Chloe said, her annoyance obvious.
“Yes, really. This vase is the gem of my collection. I intend to have it back. And the clock…and the screen too.”
“But they aren’t yours,” Kim protested, stepping in front of him. “You gave them to Savannah. I won’t permit it.”
Sid looked over at Bud, who was obviously enjoying the show and his scotch. “Does an alleged fiancé have any voice in the matter? I’ll take the vase with me now, and send someone…to collect the other things this very day.”
In one move, Bud took the vase from the crook of Sid’s arm, replacing it upon the table where it had been. “Nothing is leaving here…except you, Lydecker.”
“Is that your quaint way of indicating dismissal?”
“We’re all going anyway.” White looked at his watch. “I have to be back at headquarters by noon.”
Astounded, Kim rushed over. “Lieutenant…I…I don’t understand. You sent for me, didn’t you?”
Bud took another drink. “Yeah.”
“Well…don’t you want to see me? Don’t you want to ask me some questions?” Chloe took her place beside him, taking his arm as if silently urging him to leave while he could.
“I’ll be seeing you,” and the cop finished his drink.
“Well…” Kim started again.
“I bid you good day,” Sid told all of them and he headed for the front doors.
“Come along Kim,” Chloe encouraged, tugging his arm again.
But Kim was looking desperate. “Are you making any progress on the case, Lieutenant?”
Bud smiled. “We’re doing all right.”
“Come…on…” and this time, Chloe practically dragged Barrett along with her.
Bud waited until the suspects had exited, before he and Grant followed close behind.