Good day everyone!
Time for the next exciting leg of the newest Croste mystery. I decided to stretch this one out, I had fun with the three part posting of Hangman’s Stage and thought I’d do it with this tale too.
Which brings me to an important question. What do you, my dear readers, prefer? Are you enjoying the serial style posting for short stories? Or would you rather I post the entire short story in one shot?
If you’re curious about the Croste’s first mystery, you can find it here: Double Croste. Enjoy the next leg of the story as the plot thickens…
As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated. Thanks for stopping by!
* * * * *
Croste Your Heart
We looked around the hardwood floors. Not a trace of white powder to be found. But wait, we knelt down and checked the shoes of the man in the wall. Bingo, the same white chalk that we found on the body outside.
Bingo nothing, Arlo. You and I still have no clue what that means.
We’re just going to have to look harder at the facts. We also need to see what the forensic lab at the Station can tell us about the powder. Maybe an ID on the bodies. That’s got to be Pollinski strangled up there, but the body in the wall and the body outside; maybe they’ll get something from the prints?
We took another pull from the cigar, God did we need more coffee. We left the jewelry store and pushed through the gawkers outside. The press was here. We blocked the flashes, too damn bright for this hangover.
We ducked under the yellow tape and crossed the vacant lot. We had to check the top floor of the apartment building. Alan insisted on a quick jog up the steps, I wanted no part of that so I kept us walking. We looked down the hallway, it was empty. The residents were no doubt outside watching the fiasco. The floors were hardwood and still no trace of footprints from the chalk dust.
We used the Babylon Lens. Sure enough, bright gree rings at the end of the hall. With the Lens tucked away we walked to the end and gave a knock on the doors of the two apartments on either side of the corridor. No answer. Maybe we’d get lucky and find 2G and 2F in the crowd outside.
Back on the street we walked into the crowd.
“Anybody live in 2G or 2F of this building?” We pointed to the apartments.
What luck, a woman who looked about our age turned and came closer.
“Hi, I’m Connie. Connie Beaumont. I live in 2F.” She seemed like a sweetheart so far. Probably a nurse or something.
“Did you notice anything strange last night, or maybe early this morning?”
“No, I’m sorry. I worked the overnight at the St. Luke’s Hospital. I haven’t even gone home yet, this is so exciting.”
Figures… “You happen to know who lives across the hall in 2G?”
“No one does. It’s been vacant for six month now, since Mr. Carrol passed away. God rest his soul.”
“Thank you, Miss Beaumont. Have a nice day.” We tipped our hat and walked on.
“Am I going to be in the paper?” She called after us.
“I’m not a reporter, ma’am.”
That’s when we saw the guy wearing an apron and white cap.
“Hey, pal? You a cook or something? Where can I get some coffee?”
The guy looked us up and down. “You guys cops?”
“Not anymore, Private Detective. About that coffee?”
“Yeah, sure. Bakery on the corner there.” He pointed, two buildings over from the jeweler’s. “We have pastries too.”
We tipped our hat in thanks and walked the short distance to the corner. The smell of fresh bread and sweets was promising. We entered the small corner shop, a large counter with a door to a back room. A few small tables along the windows. The place was empty. Someone was in the back though, we could hear a loud grinder running. Crunching noises with someone singing, sounded Italian.
We slapped the small bell on the counter- ding-ding. Short moments later an elderly man popped out of the back room. His hands were coated in flour and he wiped them clean on a towel in his belt.
“Yes, welcome.” He was all smiles. “You having bread? Cannoli?”
“Coffee, and a couple of those cannoli.”
The old man cheerfully filled a styrofoam cup with that beautiful black gold and tucked two cannoli into a paper bag. We paid, sipping the hot coffee like it was mana from Heaven.
“What are making in the back there? That machine is a bit loud.” We’ve never worked in the baking business, curiosity is curiosity.
“We make cold, for butter and milk.”
“Thanks for the coffee, Sir.”
We cut across the street to avoid the reporters and looky-loo’s. We went unnoticed and slid into our car. The cigar stub went out the window. We had some questions about the missing stones. Follow the money, that’s usually the same direction the suspect went. It was time to talk to that guy we know down on 5th Street.
We drove through downtown, as luck would have it we hit every green light. We parked on the street and fed a few nickels into the meter. As we turned the corner into the alley we missed a step and tripped in the pothole, again. It seems no matter how many times we do a thing, we can’t remember it. And damn it all if we didn’t spill half our coffee down the front of our jacket.
Midway down the alley a small sign hung above the door we sought. The 5th and 6th. A little curio shop named for the streets it hid between. Three quick raps on the rusted steel door and a long push on the buzzer was all it took. After a loud click of the locks we pushed the door open and walked in.
The place was poorly lit, smelled like too much incense, and was full of cluttered tables and shelves. This was the kind of place we had to hold our coat to avoid knocking something over we didn’t want to pay for. The guy sat in the back in an old rocker, puffing deeply on a silver and ivory opium pipe.
“I need to ask you a few questions. You still owe me for the stuff I brought you from that witch last month.”
“Then ask.” He was always short with words. Maybe he just didn’t know too many.
“Diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphire, opals. What would someone want with them?”
“Money.” He laughed as if it was the easiest answer to give. It was, but it felt wrong.
“The stones were stolen without touching the display cases or moving the jewelry. The burglars got in with a transportation spell. Left two bodies, one in the wall, and the other- well the other was slammed against the wall.”
Why don’t you let me handle the guy, Alan.
“Not you, Arlo. I’ll talk with Alan. Keep your thoughts shut.” The guy leaned to his side and spit into a shallow bronze dish. “They used a conductor. Three. Way. Jump. White dragon says- uh- a kaleidoscope.”
“Great,like that makes any sense. You need to lay off the poppies, my friend.”
Let’s head back to the Station, Alan. Maybe Forensics has something we can sneak a look at. We’re not getting anything here.
“You are my sunshine… My only sunshine… You make me happy… When skies are grey…”
And now the guy is singing.
We left the small shop, glad to breath air not so heavy with opiates and sandalwood. We jumped back into our old Buick and hung a louie, heading back to the Police Station. As luck would have it, we hit every red light on the way.
Our entrance into the 12th Precinct was met with stares and mumbles. We could feel the same startling shock ourselves. It had been nearly eight years since we set foot in here, but those were different times. We tipped our hat to Betty Lou as we passed the switchboard heading back towards the Forensic Department. We just hoped Walt Sinclaire had something more to go.
We could hear voices as we approached the door. The conversation set our ears ringing. It was Sinclaire and Berkowitz.
“The man is a joke, Sinclaire. He’s washed up, not even fit to be a Private Dick.”
“C’mon, Berkowitz. Cut him some slack. After what happened to his wife…”
“Jesus, how can that be called a cold case? He’s probably the one who done it.”
“Berkowitz, that’s uncalled for. What happened left him a shattered shell of a man. He was a great Detective once. Sergeant of Homicide, you’ve got his old job. He was the best.”
“How long was he in that Hospital?”
Let me hit him, Alan. That stooge is rubbing me the wrong way.
Cool it, Arlo. We’re just here to see what Sinclaire can give us. Berkowitz is inconsequential.
We cleared our throat as we stepped around the corner into the lab. Berkowitz avoided our gaze and checked his watch. He pretended he had somewhere to be and left without a word. Sinclaire stepped forward and shook our hand.
“I hope you didn’t hear too much of that.” He looked down at his shoes. “What’s the scoop, Ace?”
“I’m working this double homicide and burglary, Walt. You get anything from the scene? Prints? Anything about the chalk dust?”
“Well, one of the bodies was too ruined to get anything for identification. The other guy, they have a crew down there digging him out of the mortar. They’ll take fingerprints as soon as they get a hand free.” Walt moved around a table in the room and took up a clipboard. “Now that powder isn’t chalk at all. It’s interesting. A mixture of powdered sugar, regular old flour, and finely ground human bone. Can you believe that? I can’t figure what substance was on their shoes that kept it from transferring to whatever they stepped on though.”
“That is quiet interesting.” Arlo, take out the book. You need to ask it about this stuff. It doesn’t listen to me.
We took out Rasputin’s Journal and held it out.
“Did you hear the combination of ingredients? What kind of hocus pocus are we looking at here?”
We opened the cover and watched ink bleed across the blank pages. Words came into view, it read: Just like flour keeps bread from sticking to a pan. This formulae keeps objects from sticking to the void for passage.
“Jesus, Alan. The guy said a conductor. Why didn’t we see it?”
“Ease off the sauce, Arlo. You have our head too clouded.”
We were suddenly aware of Walt Sinclaire fidgeting nervously across the table. Damn, Alan, I’m sorry for talking out loud. I wasn’t thinking.
“I was just thinking outloud, Walt.” We looked down at Rasputin’s Journal and snapped it shut. “Had to double check some notes. Thanks for the info, Walt.”
We turned and left. Our step quicker than normal. We don’t know how much of the book he saw, but it was too much by any standard. We were slipping, we needed to keep a better handle on things.
Arlo, I’ve got a hunch. The loud grinder at the bakery. It’s real close to the crime scene.
Yeah, and they have plenty of flour and powder sugar, Alan. Think that old Italian gent is a wizard? Damn, Alan! If he’s a wizard and empowers those crushed jewels with arcane energy…
The “kaleidoscope” will be a lock pick to open a door that shouldn’t open!
* * * * *
Tune in Monday for the exciting conclusion!