Bud blinked, then blinked a second time, and shook his head.
In place of the off-the-shoulder black gown in her portrait, she was all in white, hiding the golden brown tresses he knew so well, concealing the curves he imagined holding against his own body. But there was something…something…
The lack of a smile.
The stunned expression marring her beauty.
The mixture of alarm and irritation….
“You’re alive,” Bud whispered, slowly rising. Reality sunk in. The white was her rain hat and matching coat. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a small weekend bag and a train case by the front door. He looked at her again, knowing now that she did not expect to find a stranger sleeping in her apartment…the reason behind the fireplace poker in her clutch, ready if necessary.
The woman took several steps back, her eyes never leaving him. “Look…I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t get out at once…”
“But…you’re alive,” White heard croak from his throat.
“I’m going to call the police.”
“You are Savannah Hunt…aren’t you?” He sounded near desperate, needing to know, wanting to make certain he was no longer entirely drunk or that the growing insanity had not taken its’ toll. His eyes were tender as he softly asked once more, “Aren’t you?”
“I’m going to call the police,” the woman repeated, moving towards the nearest phone and keeping the weapon at the ready.
Hearing the repeat of the word ‘police’ snapped him into action, reminding him of his duty. “Well, I am the police.” Keeping one hand in view, he used the other to retrieve his wallet, flipping it open so she could better see the badge and his identification card. “Wendell…Wendell White. Detective-Lieutenant Wendell White.”
“Detective-Lieutenant?” Only now did she loosen her grip on the poker. “I don’t…What’s this about?”
“Don’t you know?” He saw her silent puzzlement. “Don’t you know what’s happened?”
She sounded sincere, but… “Haven’t you seen the papers?” White was quickly returning to police mode as Savannah slowly shook her head. “Where have you been?”
“Up…Up in the country. I…I don’t get a newspaper; I never have, not there,” she said, puzzled. “Why?”
“Haven’t you got a radio?” Hard to believe such a sophisticated woman had been completely out of touch with the world, especially her world.
“It was broken….Lieutenant…what is this…?”
Bud glanced around, saw what he needed and in a few quick steps snatched up a copy of the Sunday paper, the one with the announcement of the horrific murder. There was no other way to do this, and sighing, he handed the main section to her, making sure the front page story was visible. He watched as she scanned the paper…went pale…stumbled slightly, and slid, limp, onto the arm of the sofa. Momentarily he believed her about to faint or be sick, but instead she was somehow very still, the newspaper clutched in her fingers. From anyone else – male or female – he might have expected hysteria, but even as she slowly grasped the idea of her own death, Savannah could only remain silent.
“Somebody was murdered in this room,” Bud bluntly stated, watching as Miss Hunt stared emptily ahead, still dazed. “Do you have any idea who it was?”
“No,” she barely whispered.
“Who had a key to your apartment?”
“No…Nobody,” sounding as though her voice would crack at any moment.
“Are you sure?”
She nodded, her eyes void of all but shock. She gave the paper another look, needing to accept all that had occurred in the last minutes, her body rocking very slightly as she steadied herself. “When…When did it happen?”
He imagined what she was thinking: That could have been me.
“What are you going to do now?” Savannah’s voice was almost rediscovering strength.
“Find out who was murdered…and then find the murderer….Look…uh…you’d better take off those wet clothes.” He realized he had gone from the tough, no-nonsense role of an investigator to that of a person concerned with someone’s well-being. “You might catch cold.”
“Yeah,” came her simple reply, and finally putting aside the paper, she stood and tried to smile, despite appearing as if she would cry at the slightest provocation.
And for the first time since discovering Savannah Hunt was alive, the tension left Bud White’s spine and he returned that smile. His reaction seemed to relax her, and unbuttoning her raincoat, she slowly moved towards the master bedroom.
Less than fifteen minutes later, Bud heard the bedroom door open and Savannah emerged, giving him his first view of her unencumbered by any outerwear. Her hair hung loose around her shoulders; the simple white skirt and checkered blouse with a matching belt around her waist flattered the shapely figure. Better than a dream he considered, automatically standing when she entered, his mind sober and firmly focused upon the case. He also noted that she carried a dress on a hanger and a magazine, her expression again of surprise.
“I found this in my closet!” she excitedly told him. “It’s Diane Redfern’s. It wasn’t here when I left.” She showed him a page in the periodical. “She’s one of our models and just about my size too.”
Bud looked at the one-dimensional image of a cherubic faced young brunette leaning back against a wicker stand, her casual sleeveless dress showing off an attractive figure. “Beautiful, wasn’t she?”
“Do you suppose…?” Savannah speculated, but White was already ahead of her.
“Sit down please,” he gently ordered, taking the dress and magazine, then indicating Savannah should sit on a cushioned bench in the study. “This is Monday night,” he began, standing behind the desk and pulling on his suit jacket as the interview began in earnest. “You left on Friday. Rather a long weekend isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Her eyes suggested that the days were spent in a good deal of contemplation, but Bud only glimpsed at her as he tried to keep his emotions distinct.
“What train did you take on Friday?” He straightened his tie. Yes, he was back to business, back to being Detective-Lieutenant Wendell White, the lead homicide investigator on the case, and not a man falling in real love for possibly the first time in his life.
His familiar notebook was put upon the desktop as he began making notes. “Saw nobody you know on the train?”
“Then what?” He decided he would not look at her, not now, not with her moving from the definition of victim to…well, he was uncertain if she was still a victim or simply another on his list of likely perpetrators.
“Well…then I got off the train at Norwalk.”
“Saw nobody you knew at the station either?”
“Go on.” He hated being gruff, but he required answers.
“Then I went to the garage where I keep my car. It’s a private garage.” She gave a sardonic smile, already guessing what response he would be expecting of her after all her other answers. “Nobody saw me there either. Then I drove to my house.”
“You were there three days. What did you do?”
“Work in my garden.”
“You didn’t go out in all that time?”
“No. I had everything I needed in the cottage.”
“Nobody came to see you?”
“Nobody….I went there to be alone.”
Bud did a quick glance then returned his focus to the notebook. He was certain Savannah found it disconcerting that during his questioning, he had not once looked at her with more directness. But he figured she also considered that a few moments before, he believed her dead! Even a strong homicide detective who had seen ‘everything’ might be bothered by conversing with a ‘ghost.’
“The police were there on Saturday. There was no one in the house.”
She thought, then wistfully replied, “Oh yes…Saturday…I took a long walk. I walked for hours in the woods.”
“Mm-hmm.” He did not desire to be skeptical, but he forced himself to remember this was the real Savannah Hunt, not the one he had fantasized about the last couple of days. Crossing to the den fireplace, never once looking at the portrait, he gazed into the hearth. “You were going to marry Kim Barrett this week…Thursday, if I’m not mistaken.”
There was a long pause, but eventually Savannah hesitantly nodded and softly replied, “Yes.”
“Yet you were away just before your wedding…for a long weekend to be alone.” Bud briefly looked her way as he fastened the buttons on his jacket, saw the stress return to her eyes as she likely recalled the affair of the cigarette case and discovering her fiancé with her own aunt.
“I was tired….Had been for days. I’d been working hard with…” but was startled when White stormed back behind the desk.
“You know Kim Barrett has a key to this apartment! Why didn’t you tell me?!”
The former victim bristled as she jumped up, nearly knocking over the stool in the process. “I know nothing of the sort! He hasn’t!” She was now across from him, glaring at him over the desk.
“How else did the girl get into the apartment?!” he demanded, but before Savannah could respond he continued. “You knew she was in love with Barrett…That he’d given her your cigarette case. You know all that, don’t you?”
Miss Hunt smiled knowingly and calmly. “Of course I know it. And I knew she was in love with him too. She told me so herself.”
“When did she tell you?”
“At lunch last Friday. I invited her so we could talk things out. I also know she meant nothing to Kim….Trust me…I understand him much better than you do, Lieutenant.”
I can’t believe a smart girl like you is fooled by…what did Lydecker call him: a scalawag? I call it a fucking male gold-digger. Wouldn’t be the first time! “She was found in your dressing gown and slippers,” Bud announced, watching as Savannah’s lovely face went from satisfaction in her own retort to total shock. “That’s hardly the regulation costume for an impersonal chat…between a man and woman who mean nothing to each other.” No answer, but reading her latest disappointment in her fiancé was enough. “Did you know or did you suspect he was going to bring her here Friday night?”
“How could I? I don’t know that he brought her here, and frankly, neither do you. You merely assume it.”
“What other assumption is possible?” He was annoyed with her defense of Barrett, especially since he disliked the man, but he also knew he needed to push aside his personal feelings yet again. “Do you love Barrett so much you’d risk your own safety to protect him?”
“My own…My own safety? Do you suspect me?” she nearly gasped.
Bud bowed his head and started closing his notebook. “I suspect nobody and everybody. I’m merely trying to get at the truth. That’s my job.”
“I see you have been trying to get at the truth.” Savannah placed a hand over the paperwork strewn across her desk, her fingers finally touching the leather cover of her diary. “You’ve read things I never meant anyone else to look at.” She was not livid at this interference into her life, but simply disturbed that this man – this cop – this stranger knew things about her that perhaps she was not prepared to reveal or would forever keep to herself.
White briefly glanced aside, hoping his face was not burning from embarrassment. He had nothing to apologize for, and yet…”Strictly routine,” he explained, fixing his blue eyes upon her face. “I’m sorry. Really.” Then he stopped, realizing there was nothing more he could possibly say, therefore he was relieved when she nodded to indicate her understanding, holding the diary protectively to her bosom, but seemingly reconciled to his words. “Look…I’d better get going. This has changed…well…with the investigation changing…” It was difficult thinking further than that. “We’re going to have to rethink the entire investigation you understand.”
He walked into the living room, carrying the magazine and dress with him. “Oh…I must ask you not to leave the house or use the phone.”
“But…” and Savannah followed, “But I’ve got to let my friends know I’m alive!”
“Sorry Miss Hunt, but I must insist you do as I say.”
Her back straightened. “Am I under arrest?”
“No…” White pulled on his trench coat. “But if anything should happen to you this time, I wouldn’t like it.”
She considered that – it took a moment, but she finally did upon saying, “All right…I promise.”
They walked to the front door, Bud removing his coat and hat from the rack. “There’s one more thing. You may as well know what I know…some of it at any rate. It’ll save time and a lot of unnecessary fencing.” He saw the inquisitiveness on her features, knew she was steadying herself for another barrage of questioning. “I know that you went away to make up your mind…” and he slowly drew on his coat, realizing it was time to go, but lingering, finding one last excuse to linger. “Whether you’d marry Kim Barrett or…or not….”
Savannah’s eyes lowered, a blush creeping through her cheeks.
“What did you decide? I want the truth.”
He held his breath, aware that the question was not so much a part of the investigation as it was needing to know, for his own sake.
“I decided not to marry him,” came her soft response.
The second the words left her lips, Bud forced himself not to smile too broadly, but it was there – tiny but present as he pushed aside his inward happiness. He also knew that since Savannah’s ‘resurrection,’ not once had the portrait captured his obsessive attention as before. He doubted it would again. “I’ll see you in the morning then. Good night, Miss Hunt.”
“Good night, Lieutenant,” and she closed and locked the door behind him.
She could have sworn White smiled when she announced her intentions regarding Kim, but no, she must have been mistaken. After all, why would he care? However, there were more important matters at present.
Savannah took several steps backwards, then turned and rushed for the telephone in the den. The second her hand was on top of the receiver, she hesitated, a spark of guilt penetrating her mind. After all, she had promised White. White, who seemed a dichotomy of emotions; who looked so vulnerable when he begged her identity, and yet so intense during his questioning, and sincerely sorry for reading her private papers. All of this made her pause, her fingers massaging the phone as she considered her next step.
“Really? Does White know?” Cort was sitting upright in the chair, astonishment on his face as he spoke into a phone. “Uh-huh. Well, okay. Good-bye.” The second he heard the lieutenant entering the basement, he stood, anxious and ready to break the news. “Say Bud…that was the medical examiner’s report. It wasn’t Savannah Hunt. It was this Diane Redfern dame that was bumped off upstairs.”
Bud put down the dress and magazine. “Kinda balls things up, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Cort said, staring and wondering why his superior had those peculiar objects. “Say…you’re not taking it too hard.”
White was about to answer when a series of loud clicks sounded. “Wait a minute.” The men grabbed two of the monitoring head pieces. Someone in the upstairs apartment was using the line and after five rings a male was heard to say:
“Don’t say anything on the phone,” Kim hastily interrupted. “Meet me right away. I’ll wait for you in my car in front of Bullitt’s.”
Cort’s eyes widened. “Good Lord! Was that…?”
“Yeah,” was Bud’s cynical reply. And here he thought she was different. “Dames are always pulling a switch on you. Stand by…”