Authors: MK Alexander
I surveyed the room for familiar faces as well. Miriam was present and floating about. Amy and Jason were sitting together at the bar. Pagor could be heard, bellowing, but he was out of view for the moment. I saw Durbin as well, in a tux, presumably with his wife, and Chief Arantes, in full dress uniform— cap in hand and gold braids on his uniform. I could hear them all laughing. Gathered around them were officers Allen and Adams, and of all people, Eddie, though he was not in formal attire. On the stage, Randy and the Rumblers were setting up, doing their final checks with Murray at the sound board.
Anika quickly spotted Alyson, apparently her new best friend, and also disappeared politely. I chose to remain by the front door and found a good spot where I could see who was arriving. From where I stood, a wide corridor turned sharply right to the main dance floor, the raised platform surrounded on one side by tables, chairs and casual sofas. Several columns sectioned everything off, and it was three or four steps down to the wraparound bar on the left.
The mirrored walls gave me a pretty good view of everything and everyone. Behind the dance floor was a DJ station and a small stage… oh yeah, and three hanging disco balls. The fourth wall to my back was divided into huge doors that led outside to a covered terrace and the tiki bar in the center. There were steps down to the beach and the sand was cordoned off by a string of hanging lanterns arranged in a large rectangle. I could smell the torches, the sweet perfume of citronella.
I made a point of lingering at the entrance. I was alone with my anxiety, leaning against the dark wall, eyeing people as they entered. I wanted to assess everyone who walked through the door. For me, this was a room full of suspects. I was looking down at the ground mostly, noting men’s shoes in particular. I started making grand announcements in Pagor’s voice, though only in my own mind, silently. Quite a few strangers passed by, unlikely couples some, and others only vaguely familiar. All six of Sand City’s councilman dutifully walked through, various other officials from the fire department and the DPW, and as the arrivals slowed to a trickle, I began to ask, who is conspicuous by their absence? One person I hadn’t seen was Evan James from the
. And not a tourist in sight either.
Joey appeared from inside, gave me a friendly greeting and stood next to me drinking what I guessed to be a bloody mary. His perpetual smile was back. Anything sullen had fled with the last timeline.
“Who’s your date tonight?” I asked.
“I have two dates,” he said and grinned. “My mom…” He pointed towards the dance floor but I couldn’t tell exactly who he meant. “And Emma…” At least her reflection was easily seen: she was by the bar chatting with Alyson and Anika. “This is going to be fun,” Joey added.
“So… I heard somebody found the treasure already.”
Joey almost spit his drink out through his nose. “What?”
“Yeah, I heard you.” He grinned slightly. “But no, it’s still safe and sound.”
“Absolutely, I checked out the tombstone right before I came.” Joey took a sip from his drink and reached into his jacket pocket. He handed me a Treasure Hunt kit, complete with map, journal, compass, and gold foil coins. “You saw this, right?”
“I did. It came out awesome.”
“I thought so too.”
Frank showed up pretty early for him, and with his wife Cathy whom I had never met before. She seemed pleasant enough. He looked unfamiliar though without his baseball cap, and completely incongruous without a flannel shirt, or better put, dressed in a tuxedo.”
“Frank, you look naked tonight.”
“What?” he asked, somewhat surprised.
His hand reflexively reached up for a non-existent brim.
“Oh yeah…” He laughed. “It does feel pretty strange.”
I looked down at Frank’s shoes. Black Converse high-tops. Really? He almost got away with it.
I turned to Joey after they passed. “How well do you know Frank?”
“What’s with the hats?”
“What do you mean?”
“The baseball caps.”
Joey laughed. “Ever been to his house?”
“Um, no can’t say I have.”
“Well, he invited me and my mom over for dinner last month. His wife really, Cathy... she’s super nice…”
“And?” I asked, a little impatient.
“Oh, the hats. Sure… Frank has got the complete collection, every major league team… all lined up on a shelf in the hall.”
“Really?” I thought about this for a second. “Well thanks, Joey… that sort of clears up a lot for me.” I immediately struck him off my list of suspects.
Leaning from the Fairhaven
rushed up the sidewalk looking quite dapper. It seemed impossible. Fynn had mentioned he was gone from this timeline.
“Jack... I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Why is that? Wouldn’t miss it for the world. What’s shaking, Patrick?”
“Not much. How are the Rockies doing?”
“The Rockies? Oh yeah, the whole Colorado thing… Didn’t really pan out…” Leaning’s voice faded. “Seems they didn’t like my story on Bobby Baker.”
“Your story, huh?”
“Hey, somebody had to write it. I hear they’re auctioning off his cane tonight.”
“Really? I think that’s just a wild rumor.”
Leaning gave me a doubtful look.
“Where’s your wife?”
“At home… couldn’t get a babysitter.” He smiled, and gave me a slap on the shoulder, then vanished into the main room. I glanced at his shoes, still Ferragamo and probably size eleven.
I’ll admit to my surprise at seeing Chamblis arriving for various reasons, most of them having to do with an official police investigation, and perhaps public opinion. My surprise evaporated soon enough though, when I saw his attorney Burton Michael Dean in tow. I didn’t suppose he was Chuck’s date and a few moments later, Jo-Anne came along the walkway, tugging on one of her high heels that had apparently malfunctioned. She put her arm around my shoulder for support and gave me a quick kiss. “Hey Patrick, how are you?” She smiled up at me. “Some date, huh?” she said and glanced over at Chamblis and Dean, then rolled her eyes. “Catch you later at the bar…” She gave me a wink too.
Suzy appeared next, swaying up the sidewalk in a sheer metallic gown, sparkling with sequins. It showed off her slim figure in the most flattering manner. She was absolutely beautiful, stunning. It was almost beyond belief.
“Patrick, I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Where else would I be, Suzy?”
“This is true.” She gave me a huge smile and an equally large kiss. “It’s all thanks to you,” she whispered and lingered close to my face.
“The new me.”
“I think it’s all thanks to yourself.”
“What a nice thing to say.” She beamed back proudly.
“Fruit and bicycles, right?”
“Yeah, who knew a DWI could be a positive thing?”
“Who did you come with?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Suzy smiled again and touched my arm.
I actually felt a tinge of jealousy.
“And thanks for the tickets.”
“Oh, I came with Hector. I’m meeting him here. He’s probably inside already.”
“I didn’t know who else to ask.”
“Does he have a tux?”
“Now he does.” She patted my face gently. “Also says he’s a great dancer… so we’ll see what happens. Maybe you can cut in and save me at some point?”
“Absolutely, darling. Just give me a nod.”
Arriving a bit late was Doctor Hackney, ever tall and elegant, escorting his niece Clara Hobbs. It was a little unsettling to see her alive and breathing, much older, and not from a crime scene photo. I greeted her as warmly as I could manage. Roxy jumped to mind though, and I thought it best not to say a word about the would-be missing canine.
When I started to wonder where Melissa was, and I knew her to be quite punctual— she appeared on cue beside me with a polite kiss on the cheek. She looked a little more than perfect tonight. Dressed to the nines and in full battle makeup. “Who is Debra Helling and why was she invited?” Melissa asked sharply.
“A friend of Inspector Fynn’s. He asked her to come.”
“Well, she’d better show up. That’s a comp I could have used.”
“Oh, he’s in there somewhere, mingling.” She glanced around a bit nervously. “Did you buy a raffle ticket yet?”
“No… not yet… what’s the prize?”
“A weekend stay at the Californian… the presidential suite, breakfast included.”
“Well, that’s pretty cool,” I lied outright but I doubt she noticed.
Melissa held out her palm and I put twenty dollars in it. She handed me a raffle ticket.
“How many people tonight, Mel?”
“Over a hundred, I think.”
“Wow,” I said surprised, and pointed to the sign just on the far wall:
Occupancy by more than 95 people is unlawful by order of the Sand City Fire Marshal.
I put my finger to my lips.
Melissa gave me a friendly shove. “You’re such an idiot, Patrick.”
She was probably right. I suddenly remembered that I left my guitar in the trunk of the car and ran off to the valet booth. A college kid directed me to the correct space. The pockets of my tuxedo were empty except for a twenty dollar bill. Now I was officially broke. I grabbed my case and hurried back inside.
“Hey, if it isn’t Gary Sevens,” Randy greeted me with a quick handshake. “You ready?”
“I guess…” I looked at the stage and it was arrayed with a variety of instruments, guitars of course, odd pieces of percussion, a few horns, woodwinds, and even a dulcimer. I gave a nod to Terry behind the drums, Fat Jack and Eddie. “What are you guys playing tonight?”
“We’re going eclectic, usual stuff…and we’re sampling some of the seminal albums of all time,” Randy said and smiled. “You still want to do that Talking Heads tune, right?”
Qu’est-ce que c’est?
” Randy sang a little.
“No, the other one, the one we rehearsed.”
“Just kidding,” Randy said and hit the side of my arm. “Call you up in about an hour, okay?”
I nodded and then heard the forlorn riff of an electric guitar, just two notes crying out. Fat Jack was starting the set. Terry followed with a shimmering roll on the cymbals, all brush work. Jack repeated the two note riff and an electric piano joined in, then Eddie did a slide down on the bass:
Jeff Beck, Blow by Blow, Because We Ended as Lovers.
The Policeman’s Ball had officially begun.
“You’re not drinking tonight, inspector?” I asked Fynn when I caught up to him at the bar.
“Not tonight. I must have my wits about me.” He widened his dark eyes. “And you? What can I get you?”
“Just a beer, I guess.” I motioned to the bartender. “So… congratulations is in order I’d say.”
“Why is that?”
I glanced around the big room. “Your Policeman’s Ball seems to be an unqualified success.”
“Well thank you, Patrick… but surely the night is young, eh?”
“And have you located him yet? Or is he conspicuous by his absence?”
“Mortimer, you mean? Ah yes, I may have caught a glimpse.”
“What?” I was shocked. “Where is he?”
Fynn looked around as well and also checked the mirrored walls. “I don’t see him at present, but just before he was talking to your Melissa.”
“Did you say anything to him?”
“Not as of yet...”
“And, for the moment, we wait.”
The Rumblers had changed pace somewhat. I heard a Beatles tune:
Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite.
Somebody on stage, it could only be Randy, was playing a wild swirling solo on the synthesizer.
“I saw the orange Pontiac in the parking lot tonight. Is Debra Helling here?”
“I don’t believe so. The automobile belongs to your friend Eddie now.”
“Oh. What else is different?”
“I suppose you’ll have to discover that for yourself, eh?” Fynn smiled and excused himself. “I must do a bit of mingling now…”
It was hard to say for sure, but it seemed that Fynn himself made a jingling noise when he stepped from the bar. Between the music and the general chattering all around, I thought it was my imagination playing tricks.
I was chatting with Alyson, Emma and Anika when the inspector came up behind me with a nudge. “There he is, Mortimer, speaking to Chamblis and that other fellow.”
I swiveled my head and craned my neck for a better view. I could easily spot Charles and Jack together, talking in low tones to Burton Dean. Fynn couldn’t mean him of course. He was certainly not six feet tall.
“Where?” I turned to ask Fynn but he had already disappeared. I looked again and checked the mirrored wall, though could see no one else there standing by the column. Randy and the band started a new tune:
Steely Dan, Royal Scam, Kid Charlemagne…
Once the first set ended and the Rumblers put down their instruments, Donald Pagor took the stage. He hobbled there though, and if he was wearing Italian shoes, it was just the one. His other foot was in a cast and he was leaning heavily on his grandfather’s cane. I could only guess the jet ski accident had happened in this timeline too. As usual, for the Voice of Sand City, a microphone was completely unnecessary:
“Good evening ladies and gentleman… and welcome to the first annual Policeman’s Ball— the first, I hope, of many,” Pagor, the Master of Ceremonies bellowed in his over annunciated style then paused for effect and a bit of scattered applause. “Before we get on with tonight’s proceedings, which includes an auction, an important announcement, and of course, the winner of the raffle, there are many people here who deserve our gratitude.” Pagor paused again perfectly. “First and foremost, let’s give a warm welcome to Detective Chief Inspector Tractus Fynn... Thank you, Inspector Fynn… Of course, tonight would not be possible without the help of Chief Leonardo Arantez and Captain Richard Durbin the Third, from our fine constabulary. Their cooperation and support goes to the heart of this memorable evening. And, finally, we cannot forget the tireless efforts of Ms Melissa Miller from the Sand City
, who organized this wonderful benefit which we are all enjoying so immensely.”