August 1st, 1969
My relief has been short-lived.
Tallis was waiting for me outside the library this afternoon.
This time he made me get into that same unmarked vehicle and drove me down to the station.
“What’s up, detective?” I asked as we entered the front door.
“I thought I’d give you a tour of the station. Show you a little bit about how we work.”
“I should be getting home. My mother will get worried.”
“Come on, it won’t take long. Besides, maybe I’ll be able to convince you to use that superior mind of yours to help the police one day. Who knows, you may just be a super sleuth in the making.”
“I seriously doubt that.”
“Well,” he said smiling wryly. “If you decide to become a super criminal, it always helps to know how the other side operates.”
“You know, like Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom an evil mastermind intent on ruling the world.”
“My I.Q. may be high for kid, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will increase as I age. I’m not a genius – evil or otherwise.”
“When was the first time you realized you were…different?”
“You don’t wake up one morning and think, ‘I’m different.’ It’s something that happens over a period of time.”
“But, by the time you did the tests, you must have been well-aware that you were…gifted.”
“Of course,” he repeated and ushered me into a large room with a white wall that had been marked with height markings in feet and inches. There was a plain-clothes lady sitting behind a large desk sorting through files.
“Hi Janice,” said Tallis.
“Lionel,” she greeted back.
“I want you to meet a friend of mine, Cornelius Crane.”
“Hello!” she smiled.
I nodded and said, “Ma’am.”
“What can I do for you gentlemen?”
I felt more than a bit concerned when Tallis asked, “Is Kowalski still in holding?”
“The last time I checked he was sawing his way through the bars with his snoring.”
“Anyone else down there?”
“Good, I want to show the cells to little Cornelius here, and I wouldn’t want any unsavory characters giving the little tyke nightmares.”
“You’re all heart, Tallis.” I had noticed a strong hint of sarcasm in that statement.
“I’m giving him a tour of the station. You want to help out a little?”
“Yeah, just explain what you do here.”
“Alright,” she said standing up. “Well, uh, this is the Booking Office. We take the fingerprints here.” She pointed at the marked wall. “And we take the booking photographs over there. And that is where…”
“Mugshots?” I queried.
“Aren’t they called mugshots?”
Tallis smiled. “The kid obviously watches a lot of gangster movies. You want to give him the treatment?”
“The treatment?” she frowned.
“Yeah, take his prints and…mugshot. Just show him how it all works.”
“Alright,” she smiled. “This way John Dillinger.” While she did my prints, Tallis used a piece of chalk to write a string of numbers across a small board. After the prints she handed me a tissue daubed with spirits to clean my fingertips. When I had finished, she propped me against the wall and frowned. “I’ll have to lower the tripod quite a bit. The last time I had to do it was with a circus midget who was passing himself off as a kid on Halloween.”
“Yeah,” said Tallis. “We found a lot more than just candy in his big sack.”
“Silverware, jewelry and a large bunch of handbags and fat wallets,” added Janice.
“How’d you catch him?” I asked.
Tallis stared at me. “Same as most other criminals. They inevitably get too confident and too…greedy.” He shoved the board against my chest. “Hold onto this.”
I read the number, “176-671.” I frowned and asked, “Any specific reason for that particular number?”
“What, don’t you ever read any Scrooge McDuck comic books? Or is that too immature for you now?”
“Ah, of course! The Beagle Boys.”
“Bingo!” he said winking at me. He stepped back, but then suddenly got a better idea. He took the board from me and using his sleeve wiped off the 176-671. After scribbling new information on the board he returned it to me. We all laughed at the words he had written.
“No smiling,” said Janice looking through the viewfinder. There was a flash and she said, “Turn to your left.” There was another flash. “That’s it! All done!”
“Right,” said Tallis. “Off to jail with you.”
Kowalski was sleeping in the last cell. The door was open.
“I believe you know our regular guest Mister Harold Kowalski?”
“The guy that was with you at my school?”
“Yep, he often spends time here in our five star facilities; at his own request, of course. Especially when the weather turns a bit too chilly for a park bench. I think we’ve been a bit too kind to him lately. Can’t seem to get rid of the bugger.” Tallis had a set of handcuffs in his hand. He ran them along the bars producing a loud, irritating, clackety-clack sound. Kowalski grumbled and sat up. Tallis raised his voice. “Come on, sleeping beauty! You won’t sleep tonight if you don’t get up now.”
Kowalski popped a cigarette in his mouth and after some unconvincing searching in his pockets asked, “Got a light?” Tallis obliged before saying, “This is my friend, Cornelius Crane.” Kowalski narrowed his eyes at me through a cloud of smoke before giving me a half-hearted salute. Tallis put his hand around the back of my neck and asked Kowalski, “You wanna teach him that war cry of yours?”
“What?” asked Kowalski taking another puff and frowning at Tallis.
“I’m sure the kid will love to hear that 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines war cry of yours?”
“Oh, fu…maybe some other time. Right now, I got a bunch of Russians doing the Sabre Dance inside my head.”
“Come on? Janice has a sandwich and a big mug of coffee waiting for you upstairs.”
“It’s not coffee I’m needing right now.”
“The only thing in this precinct, besides you, with any alcohol in it, is the spirits we use to clean off the fingerprint ink. And don’t get any bright ideas because that stuff’ll kill ya faster than…”
“I may be down, Tallis, but I ain’t that goddamned low…yet.”
I sniffed my fingers.
“Come on,” repeated Tallis. “Do the kid a favor. It’s not every day that he gets to meet a real war hero.”
“Bloody hell!” he said struggling to stand on his one and only leg. “Ah, shit!”
“Was that it?” I asked.
“What?” queried Tallis.
“The war cry? ‘Bloody hell! Ah, shit!’”
He laughed before reprimanding Kowalski. “Watch your mouth around the kid!”
“Sorry, runt,” apologized Kowalski before saluting more briskly and saying loudly, “Lava Dogs! 1st in, last out! Hoo-hah! Fortuna Fortes Juvat!”
“What’s that mean?” I asked innocently.
Tallis answered, “Fortune favors the brave. You wanna try that war cry too?”
“Do it again?” I asked Kowalski.
He obliged and I immediately saluted and repeated, “‘Lava Dogs! 1st in, last out! Hoo-hah! Fortuna Fortes Juvat!’”
“Hah!” smiled Kowalski. “You’ll make a mighty fine Lava Dog.”
“Thanks Harry,” said Tallis. “Go have that coffee now.”
He saluted again and said, “Sir, yes, sir!”
Tallis waited till Kowalski had disappeared up the stairs before saying, “Step inside.” He closed the cell door behind me but never locked it. Then he handed me the handcuffs and their keys through the bars. “Have some fun with these. I just need to do something quickly. I think I better hide that bottle of spirits. I won’t be two minutes.”
He was gone five. He had obviously gone off to question Kowalski regarding me again. I smiled knowing that there was no way that wino was gonna recall my face with any definite clarity or certainty.
I decided to entertain Tallis, on his tardy return, with my mournful rendition of Green Green Grass of Home.
“‘Then I awake and look around me, at the four grey walls that surround me and I realize, yes, I was only dreaming. For there's a guard and there's a sad old padre - arm in arm we'll walk at daybreak. Again I touch the green, green grass of home.’”
He smiled and pushed open the door. Then his demeanor became more serious. “Come to my office. I want to show you something else.”
“Thanks for the tour, but I really should be going. My mother will be getting worried. As it is, I’m already late for …”
“Don’t worry,” I’ll fix that chop chop.
As we entered his office he picked up a piece of paper lying on his large desk and pointed me to a chair. “I’ll call her and tell her you’ve been delayed.” He was well prepared. He looked at the paper and dialed. Then he gave me a wink while waiting for the call to be answered. “Mrs. Crane?...Detective Inspector Tallis! How are you?...I’m very well, thank you!...No! No, nothing’s wrong. Everything’s just fine!” He gave me another wink. “Not too good under the circumstances, I’m afraid. The doctors have given her medication to help calm her…You have to stop blaming yourself. I already told you that Hannah Marnowijk was a tragedy looking for a place to happen. She unfortunately happened to choose your home to…The funeral?...Yes, of course she’ll be able to attend. We’re not a bunch of heartless…No! No, I’m afraid not. She’s not to have any contact with anyone. I know it might seem harsh, but…No! That’s not the reason I’m calling!...It’s about your son, Cornelius…I already told you that everything’s fine! I saw him on the way home from the library today. The poor kid looked so down…Yes, understandably so. Anyhow, as I was saying, the poor kid looked so down I decided to try and cheer him up a little. So, I brought him back to the station and gave him a tour. Showed him what police work is all about. I even let him play with my handcuffs…Yeah, he loved it; thought it was all just great!” Another wink. “Anyhow, I just wanted to tell you not to worry about him being late. He’s fine and in safe hands. I’ll even drop the little guy off at home later myself…Thank you! It’s a pleasure, Mrs. Crane. We don’t just catch bad guys, you know? Serve and Protect, that’s our motto, Mrs. Crane. Serve and Protect!...Thank you again! Bye now…You too! Goodbye!” He replaced the phone and sat down in the chair opposite. “See?” he said turning his palms up. “All sorted out. You worry too much over small things. You should be worrying more about the larger issues in life.”
He reached into his draw and removed an envelope. It was difficult not to read the large words all typed in caps:
JOAQ DU MAILLE
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY!!!
He unfurled the letter and slid it across the desk, “Does this look familiar to you?”
“Should it?” I asked pretending to read it for the first time.
“You wanna know what I think about that superior I.Q. of yours?”
“I think you cheated on all those tests.”
“Yeah, well that’s a pretty daft deduction seeing as there was no way I could have had the answers beforehand. You can ask…”
“No, you misunderstand. I’m not saying you cheated to make yourself seem more intelligent.”
“What? You think I deliberately answered some of the questions wrong?”
“Why on earth would I do…”
“Because if people were ever to realize your true intelligence – it would frighten them. And knowing just how much to cheat on those tests places your intellect way above that of a twenty-year-old.”
“Is it? You spend a lot of time down at the library. Have you ever read The Midwich Cuckoos?”
“That’s science fiction.”
“Yes, but you’re a very real threat aren’t you?”
“Come on! If people knew the real truth about a kid like you. You’d be like a…a dangerous wasp. A wasp to be crushed. People don’t like different.”
“You said I was welcome to come down to the station and talk whenever I felt the need. I thought the idea was to help me feel better about my situation. Guess what, Sherlock? It ain’t working!”
“Maybe because you haven’t been honest with me…or yourself.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve been doing a little sniffing around.”
“Don’t you mean snooping?”
“Nah, like a bloodhound after an escaped convict – sniffing.” He sniffed the air. “You know, looking for a scent to follow? Clues…incriminating evidence.” He galloped his fingers on top of the letter.
“And I spoke to your father yesterday.”
“My father? Why?”
“Well, I did a little checking and it seems he bought quite a large amount of stuff on March 25th. Hell, less than a week after Du Maille drew three grand out of his bank account. Coincidence? Maybe? Maybe not?
“So your father tells me he’s been saving up the money for the longest time already; some silly story about keeping it under the mattress. Anyhow, it didn’t take me long to have him singing like a canary.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I thought you were bright? It means he spilled the beans. Do you understand that idiom?”
“Yeah! So what he say?”
“That was sheer genius what you done,” after a pause he said, “Well almost, considering that I’m onto your little scheme.”
“What little sche…”
“What was it you buried the money in? Oh, yes, an old British sweet tin.”
“Don’t you mean dug up?”
He looked at me sternly. “We can do this the hard way or the easy way. You tell me the truth right now and I’ll make all your problems go away.”
“How you gonna do that?”
“Why should I do that?”
“Because you don’t have any other choice.”
“Yeah? What’s the hard way?”
“The hard way says, ‘I bet you if I sniff…dig a little deeper might be a better way to phrase it, I’ll eventually get to the bottom of this little…sham of yours.”
“Yeah! I already know you bought the other stuff, you put inside the tin, at Fry’s.”
“That still don’t make me the blackmailer.”
“No,” he said pointing at the letter, “But that does. I’m betting there’s a typewriter in your home that our forensic experts will have no trouble in proving beyond a shadow of doubt that that letter was written on it.”
This guy had me by the short and curlies, and we both knew it. “So why haven’t you just had me arrested and been done with? Are you enjoying watching me squirm?”
So, there it was, a query and a confession.
He sat back with a satisfied grin and formed his fingers into a steeple. “Hey, I’m your friend. Sure it would look good on my career record having caught the mysterious blackmailer, but there’s no pleasure in having to send a small kid off to The Farm.”
I swallowed hard. “The Farm?”
He ignored my query and said, “I don’t want to see a bright young man blemish his name so early on in life. A criminal record stays with you forever.”
“What’s The Farm?”
“Hey, Du Maille’s a scumbag in my eyes. The man’s a perverted monster. He’s gonna get what’s coming to him. In fact, I’m pretty glad you managed to make him squirm a little before we finally caught him. Hell, if it wasn’t for you, he’d still be out there killing and…well…”
“Molesting little kids like me!”
“So, what’s the problem then?”
“No problems, only solutions.” He leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “Let’s see now? Unfortunately, in this case, your high I.Q. would probably work against you. The judge will definitely take that into consideration. Still, the worst that could happen would be some time on The Farm.”
“Are you gonna tell me what the hell…”
“A place about fifty miles north of here where they cater for your kind.”
“I ain’t no…”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be allowed to see your folks every other weekend.”
“Oh, God! My poor mother?”
“Relax! Stop fretting. I know a way to keep everybody happy.” Everybody, meaning you, me and your folks. I’m pretty sure it would break their hearts if they were to find out the truth.”
“If? You’re not going to tell them?”
“Not a word. Not to them. Not to anyone. Not if…” He paused.
“Not if what?”
He pointed to the note. “I have a little business proposition for you.”
“You already know that I’m the only investigating officer in this one-horse town, remember? I’ve had Kowalski check you out a few times now and he still ain’t sure. So that leaves no one else who can finger you. There’s absolutely nobody else in this little shithole of a town capable of finding out the truth.”
“Should you be using such language in front of a kid, and one who grew up in this town and always loved it?”
“Grew? Loved? That’s past tense?”
I corrected my mistake by saying, “Yeah, well, certain undesirable elements have started making my life somewhat miserable.”
“Hey, I hope I’m not on that list? Just remember that I’m your friend? I’m trying to help you out here.”
“By calling Sedgefield a shithole?”
“I apologize. Actually, it’s my wife.”
“Your wife? You should wash her mouth out with soap?”
“Yeah, Karen. She believes I’m capable of more; I should be doing a lot better.”
“Meaning that you should be earning more?”
“Women! They’ll take you for everything they can and spit you out like a piece of used gum.”
“What the hell do you know about women?”
“Can’t live with ‘em. And you can’t damn-well kill ‘em!”
“Stay away from those cheap murder mysteries, okay. You should stick to reading more science fiction.”
“So, your wife Karen thinks Sedgefield is a shithole? Maybe there’ll be a lot less shit here if you and her…”
“Let’s not get nasty here, okay?”
“You started this.”
“My wife’s a big-city gal. She’s just having trouble adjusting to small town life.”
“Well, sorry that we don’t have any Tiffany’s to cheer her up. I guess attending the girls fortnightly bridge club would also be beneath her…”
“Sedgefield has a bridge club?”
“I’m happy to hear you don’t know everything about this one-horse town?”
“I’ll tell her about it. You know, of course, that it’s nothing to do with playing cards.”
“It’s about the latest gossip.”
“Bingo! Who knows, maybe Karen might inadvertently pick up some new leads for me? One can never tell? I’m pretty persistent when it comes to tracking down my man.”
“Or juvenile!” He laughed out loud. “Yep, I should have been a mountie. You know what they say about a mou…”
“‘A mountie always gets his man.’”
“Bingo!” These were proud words for someone who had originally allowed a killer to wander free for 25 years. He suddenly gave a laugh. “Six years ago, when the force assigned me to Sedgefield, I had complained. I asked them how is it that you’re sending one of the great detective minds to some little town in the middle of nowhere. Of course, I was still young…younger then – only twenty four. I hadn’t had time to prove myself yet.
“And now in only a few months I’ve caught a blackmailer and two killers.”
My throat had suddenly gone dry as I asked, “Two?”
“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he said placing his hand on the side of his mouth. “The medication the doctor gave to calm Mrs. Marnowijk’s nerves. I changed it with plain old aspirin.”
“Where you keeping her?”
“Close by. In a detention house. You can’t expect us to hold her downstairs here indefinitely. That would be…inhuman.”
“You’re all heart, Tallis.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s one of my weak points.” Then he stared at the ceiling again and added, “Any day now she’s gonna crack. The dam wall is gonna break and…”
“She’s gonna sing like a canary?”
“Bingo! It’s just a matter of time.”
“Great! Maybe you’ll get a promotion and a transfer at the same time. That’ll make us all happy – including your big-city wife.”
“Let’s get back to the business at hand, shall we? So as I was saying, the only other person who could’ve put the finger on you is Harry Kowalski, and he’s a definite no-show. That leaves just me.”
He tapped the letter again. “Joaq Du Maille’s bank records show that he drew three thousand dollars on the 20th of March.”
I knew from the very first where Tallis was going with all this, but I was still having trouble believing it…accepting it. “Go on?”
“Your father says there was twenty five hundred in the old British sweet tin. I believe him.”
“I do. But I fail to believe that Du Maille would have come up short in paying the blackmailer. There was far too much at risk for him to have...”
I just suddenly blurted. “Okay already! I thought your motto is Serve and Protect, not Threaten and Extort?”
“This way everybody wins! That was very generous of you allowing the bulk of the money to fall into your parent’s hands?”
“Yeah, well, Sallinger’s been promising my father a promotion that will…probably never come. We needed some new things around the house and…seeing Du Maille talking to James Norton on the day that the kid had gone missing…”
“You put two and two together and took a big gamble?”
“I have a little confession to make.”
“Like you, I was never labeled a child prodigy, but I have a little talent myself.”
“I have something of a photographic memory, especially with numbers.”
“If this is supposed to help me feel any better – it ain’t!”
“The force once trained and tested us in remembering license-plate numbers. They lined all the rookies up and had ten cars drive past at high speed. I was the only one who could give them all ten correctly – and in sequence. The next best was Joe McBride, and he could only recall three.”
“Yeah! That’s when they knew I would make good detective material.”
“Yeah, very good,” I said sarcastically. “If you’re so good remembering numbers, then how come you needed to look at our house phone number on the piece of paper before calling my ma?”
“This piece of paper,” he said flicking it across the desk.
I picked it up. It was blank on both sides. “Why did you…”
“I didn’t want you to think I was lying when I said I was calling your mother.”
“That is quite a talent you got.”
“Well, it has its limits. I mean it’s not like I could read the Sedgefield telephone directory and recall everyone’s number off the top of my head.”
“Yeah, like in that movie where the guy goes to Vegas and…”
“No, what did he do in Vegas?”
“He counted cards at the blackjack table. Why don’t you try that instead of taking a poor kids savings.”
“It has its limits. It’s not infallible. If you asked me today for the ten license-plate numbers, I wouldn’t have a clue.” There was a knock on the door. “Come!” It was Janice. “Yeah?”
“Here’s the print,” she said waving it like a fan. “It’s not properly dry yet, so be careful how you handle it. She handed it to me. I managed a weak smile as I gazed at the pitiful-looking face above the board marked, ‘F.B.I.s Most Wanted.’ “Now you can show all your friends you’re a dangerous criminal.”
“Yeah,” I said dryly. “Next time we play cops ‘n’ robbers, there’s no prize for guessing which one I’ll be!”
She laughed and said, “Take care now!” before closing the door behind her.
Tallis pointed at the mugshot. “I want you to keep that as a reminder.”
“Of what? My little tour of the station?”
“That too, but mostly of the fact that you should use that special brain of yours for better things than pursuing a life of crime.”
“Well ain’t that the pot calling the kettle bl…”
“It’ll also be a reminder to you that I’ll be keeping a close eye on you from now on. So you be sure to keep your nose out of trouble. Okay?” I stared at him in fuming silence, so he repeated, “Okay?”
“Yes!” I hissed at him.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Detective Inspector Travis, sir!”
“That’s better,” he smiled. “Don’t let that I.Q. of yours make you too proud to show respect for your elders.” He stood up. “Right! Let’s get you home and get my money.”
At the curb, in front of my house, I handed him the last of the money through the car window. He counted it above his lap.
“This is only $400? You trying to screw me over?”
“That’s the damn lot, okay! That’s all that’s left. I had to buy some other items, remember. It’s everything!”
He narrowed his eyes and stared at me for a long time. I glared back defiantly. Then he smiled and quipped, “I said we were friends, so I’m gonna trust you on this one, okay?”
“It’s the goddamned truth, alright!”
“Relax, I said I believe you.”
“Then sound like it?” I sneered at him. “Do you know what’s another name for detective?”
“That’s for a P.I.”
“I know but it kinda suits you…Dick!”
“Hey? Come on? We’re all winners here. And to show you I mean well, here’s a little keepsake.” He handed me one of the $10 notes. “After all, I am not a greedy man.” He had taunted me by using the exact words that I had written in the blackmail note. “Consider yourself very lucky. You can sleep well tonight knowing your secret’s safe.”
“Yeah, I bet the whole of Sedgefield sleeps better knowing that Detective Inspector Tallis is out there serving and protecting?”
“We do what we gotta do, little Crane. It’s a hard world out there.”
“And remember, anytime you feel the need to talk, you know where my office is?”
“Don’t hold your breath, okay?”
Then he suddenly remembered something. “Say, that was a pretty nasty thing you did to Kowalski; tripping up a cripple like that?”
“Sometimes, we do what we gotta do, Tallis. It’s a hard world out there.”
“What a nice man,” said my mother wiping her hands on her apron at the front door. “I hope you thanked him properly for everything – and the tenner?” We watched the unmarked vehicle disappear down the hill. “Sedgefield need more like him.”
‘Yeah?’ I thought. ‘Well, thank God there’s only one Detective Inspector Tallis.’
The man had managed to stay one move ahead of me all the way through the…game. Yep, that’s exactly what this has been for him. An elaborate game of chess. And although he had a stronger position on the board, I still feel this was more a stalemate than an outright victory for him.
Yes, the day will come when I will checkmate this thieving, underhanded, dick bastard! It might not happen soon, but it will, most certainly, happen.
I vowed, right there and then, that I would one day have my revenge!!!