Authors: Sharon Love Cook
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Newspaper Reporter - Massachusetts
“What I always did was clean Dr. Klinger’s office first because she sometimes got in early. After that I did Mr. Farley, the lawyer. Their offices have a connecting door, but during the day they keep it closed.” She glanced at me. “I only mention it because that’s the office set-up, not because I thought there was any funny business going on.”
“They were friends, see? After work a couple times a week they’d open the door. Mr. Farley would go into her office and they’d have a drink together.”
I glanced at her. “How do you know this?”
“Mr. Farley told me. It was their ritual. I found out when I went to her office one afternoon. I had the bug and couldn’t clean that morning. Her pretty wooden cart was out. It’s where she kept the glasses and liquor bottles. In my day they were called hostess carts.
“Dr. Klinger had already gone home. Mr. Farley was finishing his drink. He said they liked to have a little something at the end of the day, and would I return his mug to his office after washing up.” She winked. “I guess he didn’t want me getting the wrong idea, seeing him drinking alone.”
“What mug was he talking about?”
“The mugs they drank out of. Hers has Wellesley on it, his has Harvard. After washing the mugs I polished the cart, swept up the pretzels and nuts and emptied the ice bucket. After vacuuming and dusting Dr. Klinger’s office, I took Mr. Farley’s mug and put it on a shelf in his office.”
“Do you clean his office?”
She nodded. “He used to have one of those cleaning teams, but tell you the truth, they did a lousy job. They never moved the furniture to vacuum and—”
“So,” I interrupted, “they always drank in her office?”
“Probably because she’s got a nice view of the harbor from those French doors. That’s also where her patients leave when their sessions are over. I guess they don’t want folks seeing them leaving a head doctor’s office. You know how people talk in this town.”
I nodded, making a note to ask Cal about the French doors. “Those two must have been pretty friendly. Did you tell the police about their cocktail hour?”
“I can’t remember what I said, I was so shook up. Anyways, it wasn’t a secret. It was two friends enjoying each other’s company. Folks might think he was sweet on her. His wife Martha is kind of mannish, you know?”
“What do you think, Doris? Were they just friends?”
“Oh, I think so. I’ve got a nose for hanky panky, and Dr. Klinger’s not the type to have an affair.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t get me wrong. She was a good-looking gal and not the type that goes for women, if you know what I mean. As for Mr. Farley, well, he can leave his slippers under my bed anytime.” She laughed and then glanced around in case her remark was overheard by Harold. “You see, Dr. Klinger was polite but proper. With her it was always, ‘Good morning, Mrs. Zack,’ no matter how many times I’d say ‘Call me Doris.’ You know me, Rose. Just ask your dad. He’ll tell you how friendly—”
“Excuse me, Doris, getting back to cocktails, do you have any idea how much they drank?”
“Not a lot. A bottle would last a long time. They drank the good stuff, too, Johnny something.”
“That’s it. A pretty red and gold label.”
I glanced at my watch. It was time to hasten things along. “The police will be looking into Dr. Klinger’s patients as possible suspects. Did you ever see them?”
“Not unless I got there late. Most days I was finished by eight-thirty.”
“On the day you discovered Dr. Klinger’s body, you didn’t see anyone in the area who may have had an appointment with her?”
She eyed me over the rim of her cup. “Chief asked me that.”
“What did you tell him?”
“He asked if I’d seen anyone in the building who might have business with Dr. Klinger. I told him I come to clean, not to poke my nose in people’s affairs.”
The manner in which Doris clamped her mouth shut following that statement aroused my curiosity. “I take it you didn’t see anyone suspicious?” I said.
“I wouldn’t use that word, suspicious.”
I set my notepad down and looked at her. “What word would you use?”
She leaned toward me. “I trust you, Rose. When the chief asked about seeing someone in the building, I wasn’t lying. I hadn’t. It was later, outside the building that I saw someone.”
“Someone connected to Dr. Klinger?”
“Can you tell me about it?”
She paused for an instant. “Sure. You see, I was freezing my butt off because the chief wouldn’t let me back inside to get my things. That got my dander up. Here I was the one who’d called them, and he’s treating me like a vagrant. He’s firing questions one after another like a pop gun. Made me nervous. Not only that, I was worried about my pocketbook inside. How was I gonna get home with no money?
“That’s when I saw the girl, one of Dr. Klinger’s early patients. She was riding her bike into the parking lot but when she saw the police car she turned around and went out, real slow.”
“You didn’t mention it to the chief?”
“It’s none of his business! Besides, if I told him he’d go over to the shelter and hound her like a criminal. I feel sorry for the poor kid.”
“She lives at the shelter?”
“Used to. I don’t think she does anymore. Ah, that’s a sad place, people all jammed in together, cardboard boxes for their things. No place for a pretty young girl.”
“You know her?”
“Sure, but like I said, I haven’t seen her lately. My church group visits the shelter once a month. We put on bingo games and do cooking groups. One morning in February I saw her outside the Harbour Building, on the steps. She said she had an appointment with Dr. Klinger. It was cold out. I told her to come inside and wait.”
“She said she was a patient of Dr. Klinger’s?”
“Uh huh. When Dr. Klinger found out I’d let her in early, she asked me not to do that. She asked me nicely, but she meant business. That’s just the way she was. She went by the book, God rest her soul.”
“Doris, the police will eventually question this girl along with other patients. Can you tell me her name?”
Doris laughed. “I was going to, soon’s you give me a chance. Her name’s Brandi Slocum. She’s been working at Stella’s place. The poor kid comes from a terrible family. Her father, Roger Slocum, used to work at the wharf with my Harold years back. They called him Fishrack on account of when he got drunk he’d sleep it off on the fish racks. He eventually went out on disability.” She tapped her head. “That’s where he’s disabled.”
“I’ve met Brandi,” I said. “She’s moved in with Stella.”
“Stella will keep an eye on her. God knows she could use it. Her family’s a tough lot. The mother ended up at Met State, and the brother’s in jail for drugs. Good luck to her is what I say.”
I wondered aloud how Dr. Klinger’s death would affect the young woman.
“Let’s hope she stays on the straight and narrow,” Doris said. “I shouldn’t be telling tales out of school, but there was talk a while back. You know how folks like to talk in this town, nothing else to do with their time. Anyway, they said she was working as a, you know, a prostitute up in Saugus. She wasn’t much more than eighteen at the time. What’s she now, early twenties?”
I nodded, amazed at Doris’s insider information. The
has nothing on her. “Where did you hear that?”
“Harold heard them talking down at the wharf. What’s worse, they claim that Fishrack, her father, took hush money from the guy running the business.”
I remembered not long ago reading about a call girl ring operating out of a house in Saugus. The neighbors, seeing people arriving at all hours, thought the occupants were holding houseware parties. Not only that, the women drove cars with baby seats and bumper stickers that read, “See You in Church.” It was a clever ruse while it lasted.
“Do you know the name of the man behind it?” I asked. Local police claimed they didn’t know his identity.
“Some big shot. The cops looked the other way. They say Fishrack one day paid him a call. The guy took out a wad of bills, all hundreds.”
“I gather the Slocums aren’t the all-American family,” I said.
“Nope. It’s hard to believe a pretty girl like that comes from folks like them. I sure hope Dr. Klinger, God rest her soul, was a help to her. If anyone needs a little help, it’s Brandi Slocum.”
The kitchen clock read eleven when I put away my notes. Doris walked me to the front door. “Tell your dad I’ll be over Thursday. I’m making up for those I missed. The agency pays me for one hour at each apartment, but I’m no clock watcher. I don’t leave until the place is spotless.”
Doris had her work cut out for her at Dad’s. In fact, I hoped her booster shot hadn’t expired. “Is your phone turned on?” I asked.
She grinned. “I never turned it off. The
New York Post
called. Can you imagine? Maybe one of these days I’ll be on that crime show. In the meantime, I don’t want to miss a thing.”
En route to the office, I drove by Kevin’s house and spotted his Mustang convertible in the driveway. I pulled up behind it. When I rapped on his front door, his neighbors’ curtains moved. Two widowed sisters and their brother share the duplex. The trio appear happy as clams living together, the years of working and raising children behind them. A family reunited, they’ve come full circle.
Kevin, who comes from a big family, scoffs at this notion. I sentimentalize sibling relationships, he claims. According to Kevin, Walter and his sisters live together because it’s cheaper than living alone.
I rapped harder, peering through the gauzy curtains covering the window above his door. Inside, a shadowy form lurched toward me. When the door opened, Kevin, in a tee shirt and pajama bottoms, squinted at me, his hand raised to the morning sun.
“Rosie! You didn’t say you were coming over.”
I stepped inside, shutting the door behind me. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” I nodded toward the darkened bedroom.
“Do you think I’d answer the door if I were entertaining?”
“You dirty dog,” I said, jabbing my elbow into his ribs. “Do you think I wouldn’t know?” Doris Zack’s words rang in my ears.
I have a nose for hanky panky.
We stood facing each other in the narrow hallway. Kevin grabbed my wrists, pressing me against the wall and whispering in my ear, “Vixen, see what you’ve done?You’ve given me ideas.”
I looked up at him. At six feet, three inches he looms over my five feet, nine inches. And though his hair stuck out in all directions and he clearly needed a shave, Kevin looked cute to me. He’s the type that people call boyish. No doubt he’ll look boyish when he’s seventy-five. Unfortunately, as the youngest of eight children, he’s been known to act like a kid. Although I’m four years older, I sometimes feel like Auntie Rose. “I’d love to stay, but I’ve got to get to the office. There’s a murderer on the loose, in case you haven’t heard.”
“I heard, and Rose McNichols, star journalist, is tracking him down, eh?”
“If he or she doesn’t find me first.”
He leaned back, as if slapped. “Mother of God, Rose, don’t joke like that.”
“Sissy.” I slipped from his embrace and headed for the kitchen. “Got any juice?”
Kevin followed and opened the refrigerator, peering in. “I’ve got some Dr. Pepper.” He jiggled the bottle. “Still fizzy. You want some?”
“You’re the only person over seventeen who drinks Dr. Pepper in the morning,” I said, sitting at his kitchen table. The surface was covered in crumbs, much like my dad’s.
Kevin sat next to me, setting the bottle on the table. “I’m sorry I don’t have coffee. I only drink that with Irish whiskey.”
“Never mind, I don’t need anything. I stopped to ask if you want to go out with Betty Ann and Tiny next week. I haven’t seen them in ages.”
Kevin wrinkled his nose. “I Iove Betty Ann. Tiny’s a sorehead.”
“It’s a casual night, an early dinner at The Sacred Cod.”
“I played there last night. Hey, I called you. Why didn’t you come over?” He reached for my hand. I explained about working late.
“You should have come anyway. I got everyone step dancing. I stayed ‘til closing.” He stretched out his long legs. “My feet hurt. I wore the wrong boots.” He looked at me beseechingly. “Rosie, do you mind?”
I sighed. “Just for a minute. I’ve got to get back to the office.”
He swung his stockinged feet onto my lap. “You give the best foot massage north of the Mystic River.”
I kneaded his toes. Kevin, like many kids growing up in South Boston in the late sixties, took step dancing classes. He’s also a musician, a graduate of Berklee College of Music. Calling himself the Mad Irish Fiddler, he entertains all over greater Boston. His gigs take him everywhere including, of all places, nursing homes. Consequently, it was at Green Pastures Retirement Home where I first saw him.
I was visiting my mother, a patient there following a stroke. One afternoon as I was leaving, I heard “Danny Boy” coming from the activities room. It was so beautiful, I stopped and peeked in the window. Kevin, playing a violin, stood before an audience of old people, many in wheelchairs. His voice pierced my heart.
When the song ended, the white-haired crowd pulled out hankies and wiped their eyes. The elderly ladies smiled tenderly at Kevin, as if they wanted to adopt him. My feelings, on the other hand, were not at all maternal.
“How is Betty Ann?” he asked, interrupting my reverie.
“Not so good,” I said. “Tiny’s thirteen-year-old son from his first marriage is living with them because his mother, Tiny’s first wife, is in rehab. She hurt her back at work and then became addicted to prescription pain pills.’” I paused to flex my fingers. “It’s tough on Betty Ann. She and Tiny have only been married two years. In the meantime, they’re trying to be role models for the boy.”
Kevin, who had chugged the bottle of Dr. Pepper, now slammed it on the table. “Rose, don’t use language like that in my house.”
“Language like what?”
“Like role model. Only geeks talk like that.”
“Is that so? Beth, our intern, says I’m a role model.”
“If anyone called me that I’d tell them to bugger off.’”