Good morning everyone!
Business as usual on this fine Tuesday. And we have an exciting new mystery with the dual personalities of Alan and Arlo Croste. I know he’s my favorite Occult Detective. As usual with a short story, I’m breaking it into separate parts for your ease of reading. On Thursday I’ll post the second half.
Also, when I post the second half, I will post the complete story on the Short Fiction page. You can get there by clicking the tab above or by following the link here: Short Fiction. Don’t forget to check out Croste’s first mystery: Double Croste.
Thanks for stopping by!
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Croste Your Heart…
There was a God awful noise in my head. A ringing that wouldn’t quit, like someone had parked a squad car in my ears and left the siren running. I knew it was just the phone, but I couldn’t figure out why it was so painful this morning.
“Arlo, get the phone,” I mumbled.
Silence. It would have been peaceful if the phone wasn’t on his side. Good Lord, my head was killing me. I flopped over in bed, my whole left side was numb and heavy. Pins and needles. I fumbled the receiver off the cradle.
“Hello? Croste, here.”
“Hey you two. I’ve been ringing all morning.”
I knew that squeaky voice anywhere. It was Betty Lou, she worked the switch board down at the Police Station. Always good for passing us some info on a case the Boys in Blue couldn’t solve. And a case meant a paycheck.
“It’s just me, Betty Lou. Arlo’s passed out, and he left me with the hangover.”
“Splash some cold water around, Alan. There’s a crime scene that’s right up your alley. A real strange one, from I’m hearing.”
I held the phone against my shoulder and tried to push myself up. “What do you mean?”
“You have to go down and see this one. The Detectives are at a loss. They said it was impossible. Get Arlo on his feet and head over to Park Street and West Avenue.”
“Thanks, Betty Lou. You’re a peach, a real doll.”
I hung up the phone and slapped myself. Get up, Arlo.
Jesus, Alan. What’s the deal? Stop hitting ourself…
Betty Lou just called, Arlo. There’s a case. She says it’s a strange one.
Arlo got himself moving. We dressed and washed our face. I double checked the pockets of our trench coat to be sure we had everything. Flask of holy water, the Book, .38 snub-nose revolver, twelve extra bullets, Arlo’s cigars, Zippo lighter, and the Babylonian Lens. I made for the door.
Coffee, Alan. I need some coffee, and don’t forget the keys.
“We’ll get coffee from Flo’s Diner on the way.”
I grabbed the keys and locked the office behind me. It was a miserable drive to the crime scene. It felt warm, though I knew it was just the booze Arlo filled our guts with. I could feel it seeping from our pores.
The Cops had the area taped off, the yellow streamer of plastic flapped in the mid-morning breeze. The empty lot sat between two buildings, neither taller than a second floor. The lot used to be a hardware store til the fire that forced the tear-down. Thankfully they hadn’t removed the body.
Betty Lou was right. This was a strange one. The body was smashed to bits, like it had fallen from a skyscraper. There was nothing that tall around here. The wall looked like the point of impact, about fifteen feet up. The red brick was splattered with blood and a bit of hair. The biggest question was obvious. How the hell did someone fall into the wall of a building with that much force? Gravity shift? Temporal surge?
Maybe it’s another witch, Alan. I hate witches. Remember that Chinese witch we tracked down? That was some real-
“Excuse me?” It was a Cop. Damn, I must’ve said that out loud.
“A. Croste, Occult Detective. I got a call this morning.”
“Gee whiz, you must be a Private Eye, you smell like Dean Martin. Sergeant Berkowitz from Homicide is waiting. Grey suit over there.” He pointed, as if I couldn’t find the one cheap grey suit. I bet he thought he was clever, damn flat-foot.
We ducked under the tape, giving the crowd a good once over. The culprit may be hanging around, getting off on how stumped the Cops were. I took out the Babylonian Lens and gave a quick look through it. The crowd looked clear.
I could smell clove-oil and sage drifting over from the body, a touch of sulfur and animal fat. The Sergeant walked over when he saw me. I could see the chewing tobacco stains on his lapel from here.
Us, Alan. We’re a team here.
Then maybe you should take over the narrative. I’ve got a crime scene to look over. Unless you plan on helping? You know all the occult stuff, what’s with the smell from the body?
“You must be Mr. Croste? Sergeant Detective Karl Berkowitz, Homicide. Call me Berkowitz. The skinny is you handle this kind of thing. We got nothing on this one. Unless there was a historical-type-rock-thrower that snuck in and out without leaving a trace…”
“Yeah, that’s the thing.” Berkowitz spit into a cup. “So, what, you need like a crystal ball and a goat or something?”
We feigned a smile and short laugh, no sense making a show over uneducated jabs. Besides, our ego could take the hit. We left Berkowitz and found our way to the body. The soles of the shoes had traces of white dust. It felt like chalk between our fingers. We looked through the Babylon Lens at the impact splatter on the wall. Bright green. There was magic residue here, leftover energy from transportation or portal magic. We looked across the lot at the other building. Bright green rings there too.
“Hey, Berkowitz.” We stood and turned to face him. He was laughing with the other Badges, smiles like someone slipped them all a Mickey. “What’s in these two buildings?”
Berkowitz pointed at the clean brick wall. “Pollinski’s Jewelry here, and those are apartments.”
We tucked the Lens back into our coat and walked across the lot towards the Jeweler’s. We could feel the Police watching us. We rounded the front of the building, ducking under the yellow tape. The sign in the window said the place was closed. We checked our watch, 10:36. The sign said the shop opened at nine in the morning.
We rang the buzzer and waited. Nothing. We banged on the glass door. “Mr. Pollinski?” We called out, still nothing.
We stepped away and waved to Berkowitz. “Hey, Berkowitz, I need to get in here.”
Berkowitz strolled over as if he was humoring us, his smile said he was mocking.
“Why do you need to get into the Jewelry Store? The body’s way over there.” Berkowitz was all puffed up, haughty. Story of our life. As if being a Private Eye wasn’t bad enough in the eyes of the Police, being an Occult Detective was worse.
“We don’t care where the body is now. We care about where it came from and how it got there. The biggest issue is who else is dead. Now, we need to get in here.”
“Calm down, we’ll see what we can do. Take a powder and read a palm or something.” Berkowitz chuckled as he left to join the other officers.
Watch the language, Alan. Too much “we” could get dangerous for us. I don’t want to end up back in that institution. It nearly killed us.
I know, Arlo. I’m sorry, I loose my concentration with these guys. Their jokes, their looks, they think we’re frauds.
We took a cigar from our case and struck the Zippo.
Not we. I don’t smoke, Arlo.
Berkowitz came back with another officer. The other fellow used a slim-jim to pop the lock on the door and open it. We walked in and flipped on the lights. The cases were filled with gold and silver on display. Necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings; nice looking stuff with one small problem. The stones were gone.
We left the Police to photograph and catalog the display cases. They had a Crime Scene Investigator come in to dust for prints, but we knew they wouldn’t find any. We headed into the back room and upstairs to Pollinski’s living space.
At the top of the stairs was the body, the head and most of the chest merged with the wall, but it wasn’t Pollinski. We looked through the Babylonian Lens and found the bright green glow on the wall around the body. Clearly the travel spell was either canceled or botched when they tried to leave. The body outside had hit solid wall instead of stepping into the apartment building. And this guy here, well he got the short straw.
We looked through the rest of the rooms. Pollinski had been strangled in his bed.
Betty Lou was right, Alan. Two dead accomplices, victims of the malicious use of a transport spell. A dead Jeweler. And only the stones themselves are missing.
So our thief graduated to murder. He may just be picky about the jewelry, Arlo. He left a lot of gold and silver downstairs.
It doesn’t make sense, Alan. The metals can be melted down, that makes them damn near untraceable. Gems on the other hand, especially diamonds, are usually cataloged by clarity and carat and all that. Why just take the stones?
“Hey, Croste! You alright up there? You’ve been standing there for a while with this blank look on your face. What do you think is going on here?”
“Not sure yet, Berkowitz. But you’re going need a hammer and chisel to get a body out of the wall up here. I need to talk to some people downtown.”
Alan, dammit where’s the chalk? The body outside had chalk dust on the soles of his shoes. Where’s the chalk?
We looked around the hardwood floors. Not a trace of white powder to be found.
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Tune in Thursday for more Croste mystery! Thanks for reading.