Authors: Edward D. Hoch
“We will meet again, Professor,” Simon told him. “Until later, thank you.”
I followed him out and across the campus to where we’d parked the rented car. “What was that name you scared him with, Simon? And why didn’t you ask him some meaty questions while you had him on the run? Why didn’t you ask him what he was doing running his fingers through Cathy Clark’s hair?”
“There was no need of that last question, my friend. I already know the answer.”
“Great!” He might know but I surely didn’t. “So now what?”
“Now you take me to the house of Mrs. Baine.”
“The old lady? Nothing doing! Besides, that Gerta dame would never let us in alone anyway.”
“There are two ways of getting by her.”
“Yeah, but you’ve never seen her. Besides, you won’t get a thing out of the old lady. I tried.”
We’d just reached the car when we saw the flashing red of a police vehicle heading toward us. “Now what?” I muttered. The squad car pulled up ten feet away and Sergeant Quinn climbed out. His face was grim and there was no humor in his eyes.
“One of my cars said you were up here,” he said. “You’d better come along with me.”
His eyes were on me, not Simon, and I asked him what it was all about.
“You were with Betty Baine this afternoon?”
“For a short time, yes,” I admitted.
“Well,” he said, “she’s disappeared. And you’re the last person seen with her.”
“Disappeared? That’s crazy!”.
“Sure it is,” Quinn agreed. “But she’s Foster Baine’s wife, and if she doesn’t turn up right quick you’ve really had it, man …”
Baine City, twilight, July Fourth. Monday madness, quiet groups standing in the street corner, the word spreading from one to the other. Mrs. Baine missing. Mrs. Baine kidnapped.
Mrs. Baine raped and murdered?
In a ditch somewhere?
A city alive, a city with a small town mentality, alive now with the scent of sensation. Betty Baine, the social leader, the woman in the cream convertible. Gone now, in trouble. No longer to be envied but only prayed for.
Past the funeral home where I could see Jean Clark Mahon standing by the curtained window, past the hotel, to the familiar police station with Quinn.
“Where do the boys go in the evening?” I asked.
“The boys with the fireworks. I haven’t heard one in hours.”
“All out, I guess,” Quinn answered absently. “Against the law, you know.”
From the window of his office I could still see Baine Brass, where the second shift would be working now. I wondered if the word had reached them yet, at their machines. Probably.
“… found her car, the white convert, in a ditch on the way back to the cottage. When did you leave her?”
“She dropped me at the hotel maybe two hours ago.”
“Where were you with her?”
“For a drive.”
“In the country? You were seen on the East Road.”
“You went there for a little loving? Foster Baine thinks you knew his wife before.”
“I knew her. When I was in college. Is there a law against that?”
“There’s a law against kidnapping.”
“Go to hell.”
Quinn had been silent through much of the questioning, interjecting only an occasional comment. Now he came forward and pulled up a chair facing me. “Man, you’re in bad trouble, don’t you realize that?”
“Ask Simon Ark. I was with him all the time.”
“You lie and he swears to it. Where did you and Mrs. Baine go this afternoon?”
“Get Foster Baine in here and I’ll tell him. I can’t tell anyone else.”
Quinn slapped his knee. “By God, we’ll do just that.”
He went off somewhere and I looked around the bleak office for some sign of Simon. But he was gone, perhaps to one of the other offices. The cop who’d been questioning me offered a cigarette. “Get up and stretch your legs,” he said, sounding friendly enough.
Outside the grimy station window the night was gathering its forces. What had they called it during the Middle Ages—the Blind Man’s Holiday? The period of day just before the candles were lit? And even as I watched, the lights of Baine City were going on, in silent response to some far-off electrical impulse. Their yellow glow fell on people, standing, talking, waiting. It was a big night in Baine City. Their queen had disappeared.
“Queens have died young and f
air,” I quoted, half to myself.
“What?” the detective asked.
“Thomas Nash. A quotation.”
“You think she’s dead?”
The detective looked up quickly. “Who?”
“Mrs. Baine? No—her kind lives forever. They’ll find her, unless you did something to her yourself.”
I grunted and turned back to the window. A car full of curious teenagers went by and I was reminded of Zenny.
Of course! The half-veiled threat to get Mrs. Baine. He’d said something like that, just the night before. There was no reason, only madness, but perhaps people like Zenny didn’t need a reason.
Quinn came back into the room, with Simon Ark behind him. “You two sure got your stories down pat,” he grumbled. “Maybe too pat.”
I ignored him. “Simon, remember when Zenny forced us off the road last night? Didn’t he say something about Mrs. Baine?”
Quinn looked surprised. “Zenny?”
“Zenny,” Simon Ark repeated slowly. “Do you know where he can be found, Sergeant Quinn?”
Quinn scratched his head. “Cathy Clark’s old friend, huh? I figured this would all tie in together.”
“Where can we find him?”
“Should I believe you guys?”
Simon sighed. “You must believe somebody, someday, Sergeant.”
“OK,” he decided, “let’s go—but no tricks. Joe, bring up a squad car in front and clear some of those people away. We don’t want an audience …”
Screaming through the night, screaming silently so our siren would not give us away. Quinn and Simon and another and I. Through the black bright dark of Baine City.
“The funeral’s tomorrow, tomorrow at nine.”
“Better to be hers than mine.”
Around a corner, bright headlights picking out the sights and sounds of a sleeping city. Cathy Clark’s neighborhood. Where the Cathys prowled, through black alleys, searching searching. Zenny, here Zenny, come quickly and quietly. Simon tense at my side, Quinn intent on the twin beamed targets.
“Not a sign.”
Then—“There, it’s his girl, Bun!” Quinn barked an order and the car rolled to a stop. “Bun, where’s Zenny?”
“Don’t know.” A summer night’s dream in tight red shorts, very short. Ready to take on the toughest of the boys.
“You’d better tell us, Bun. He’s in big trouble.”
And Simon gazed up at the antique buildings around us. Brick apartment houses topped with a Bronx-like forest of TV antennas. Babes in the woods.
People, crowds gathering even here. People all the damned people in the world staring at me here and there and everywhere and.
“He snatched Mrs. Baine, didn’t he, Bun?”
She shifted her bare legs, showing off the round smooth buttock cloth of her shorts. “Don’t know a thing.”
“Take her,” Quinn said. And into the car with us, in the rear seat between Simon and me, with her hot bare legs pressing against my pants. And on further, slowly now, deeper into the night that was like some long dark cave.
A jazz joint, shouting its praise to the world. Brassily announcing that life was eager and gay. The corner drugstore because there always was one. The neoned bar with the red sign flickering for lack of money. Tired, like its people.
“That’s his car,” I spotted. “Parked there.”
She went for my eyes, twisting and scratching like a wildcat. Simon was on her, pulling her away, muffling the scream of warning already forming in her throat.
“This is it,” Quinn said. “Hold her down.”
“Take the riot gun, Sergeant.”
“Hell, man, that’s Baine’s wife. No guns.”
Up the stairs, Quinn, Simon, me, with the other detective hanging fast to Bun. “Which apartment, Bun?”
“You figure it, copper!”
Quinn figured it. “Let her go,”
“Let her go.”
She broke free, looking up and down like a trapped tiger as her mind tried to comprehend, the snarl of the trap. To warn him or not? To run with him or without. Quinn had guessed right—she headed up.
“Zenny, they’re here—
run for it!
And like a crazy fool he threw open the door to see what the yelling was about. He had a six-inch switch-blade and Quinn had nothing, but the detective took him with one quick blow to the neck. He toppled like a hundred-year-old tree.
“You killed him,” she sobbed.
“No such luck.”
Inside was a dull and dusty mess of confusion. The unmade bed and dirty dishes told their own story, but there was no sign of Betty Baine. “Struck out,” Quinn murmured.
“Third base,” I said, pointing to a scattered handbag open in one corner of the room. Simon was already going through the connecting door to the next apartment.
And there she was, tied to a wooden kitchen chair with her skirt pulled up to her hips and her stockings shredded with runs. Quinn undid the gag and tried to sound sorry. “Are you all right, Mrs. Baine?”
She made a sour face and worked her jaw to loosen it. “I guess so,” she answered, “but it’s been one heck of a holiday …”
Quinn’s office at ten-thirty that night was crowded to overflowing. The mayor himself was there, expressing the city’s concern and sorrow to Foster Baine. Quinn was there, and a handcuffed Zenny, and a sobbing Bun, along with Simon Ark and myself, and the center of all the attention, Betty Baine.
“Get this guy out of here,” Quinn ordered, indicating Zenny. “I’ll take care of him later.”
Foster Baine had his arm around Betty’s shoulder, comforting her, and Simon Ark was standing quietly in one corner, as if trying to pass unnoticed. As soon as Zenny and the girl Bun had been led away, Quinn went over to Mr. and Mrs. Baine.
“Did he … say anything at all when he forced your car off the road, Mrs. Baine? Anything as to why he might have done it?”
“I don’t know,” she answered thoughtfully. “I got the awful impression he was doing it to get back at Foster somehow. He said something about Foster trying to frame him for the Cathy Clark murder.”
Quinn sighed deeply. “It all leads back to that, doesn’t it?”
And that was when Simon Ark stepped from his corner. “If you would allow me the interruption, I could name for you the killer of that girl.”
“Then you really do know?” Quinn asked, half doubting still.
“I believe so.”
“Then name ahead.”
But—“No!” It was the firm voice of Foster Baine, speaking up over the hush of expectant breath. Quinn turned questioningly toward Baine, but he didn’t have to ask him the reason for the outburst. Baine was all too willing to continue. “This … this whole thing is closing about me like a web. First some young punk kidnaps my wife and now this mental wizard here is going to try to implicate me in a girl’s murder.”
But Simon held up a peaceful palm. “Not at all, my friend. I intend only to implicate the guilty.”
“You’re implicating Professor Wilber, aren’t you? That’s as bad as me. It’s almost the same thing.”
I thought I saw the dark shadow of Foster Baine’s mother pass across his face as he spoke, and Simon must have had the same feeling. He said, “It is the country house you really fear, is it not, Mr. Baine? And its occupant?”
If the words surprised him he didn’t show it. “That does not even enter into the discussion,” he answered coldly.
“Ah, but it does, my friend,” Simon insisted. “At times the ways of the gods are indeed strange. Take me there this night, let me spend a few lonely hours with your mother, and perhaps I can help this too.”
“No one can help this too. Not the priest nor the policeman.”
“We shall see.”
“No one,” Baine repeated.
Quinn interrupted with a puzzled voice. “Your mother’s still alive, Mr. Baine? I thought …”
And then Betty spoke. “Heavens, Foster—it had to come out someday. Let this man see her. Perhaps he can help.”
“Perhaps, perhaps! You’re sounding like him now! And what were you doing driving with this other one this afternoon.” His finger jabbed accusingly at me.
“If you must know, I took him out there to see her.”
It was the last blow to an already crumbling Foster Baine. “You took him out …?”
Foster. It’s time
He wiped his forehead with a damp handkerchief. “Why? Why is it time? She’ll be dead and gone in a few years. So little time …”
Quinn had wisely stepped aside now. It was between Baine and his wife, with Simon Ark waiting for his moment. Finally he decided it had come. “I make you this promise, Mr. Baine. Let me see her tonight, let me speak to the priest, Father Fox, and by morning your problems will be solved.”
And the man of brass seemed slowly to shrink within his shell. “What else is left now?” he murmured. “Very well, we will go tonight. She doesn’t sleep.”
Quinn made a move to follow, but Simon restrained him. “Tomorrow will be your day, Sergeant. Tonight is mine …”
It was close to midnight before I once again topped the ridge and saw brief burning lights that told me somebody still stirred in the great old house. Simon and I were in the car alone, with Foster and Betty Baine bringing up the rear in their own car. Quinn had stayed behind, grumbling but convinced that he would not be needed.
Now, as I saw the house once more, I said to Simon, “It’s late.”
“It’s always late, my friend. Always a little too late.”
“Why do you think Zenny did it? Kidnapped Betty Baine like that?”
Simon thought about it a moment and then replied. “Perhaps it is one of the paradoxes of modern times, my friend. Each man strives for the fleeting thing called fame, yet most men secretly detest the famous. Thus the youth named Zenny rebelled against imagined wrongs by striking out at the city’s most famous man. And perhaps in this manner he hoped for some slight fame himself. John Wilkes Booth is never remembered as an actor—only as the man who shot Lincoln—and even his brother Edwin seems sometimes in danger of being only the brother of the man who shot Lincoln. Of course such is not always the case. Herostratus destroyed the Temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the world, solely to achieve everlasting fame. Yet today his name is but a forgotten footnote to history.”