Nightscapes





NO TORRENT LIKE GREED


by

C.J. Henderson and Kevin L. O'Brien




"There is no fire like passion, there is no shark like hatred, there is no snare like folly, there is no torrent like greed."
-- Buddha



I

The large man walked up to the front of the apartment house, then stopped and turned to look out over the neighborhood. He stared for a long moment, relishing the quiet, so different from his own neighborhood in New York City. Indeed, had he not known differently, he would never have thought he was on the main street of some small town. He could tell that Cairnsford was not a big city, even by Denver's standards. But, he thought, what it lacked in size it might make up for in character.

Maybe it'd even be a nice spot to retire to, he mused, assuming it's still like this in another twenty years.

Sighing at the likelihood of such a feat, he switched his bag to his other hand, then turned towards the building behind him. It was a three-story Victorian home that had been converted into apartments. Walking down the street he had noted that all the old Victorian homes on both sides of the block were either converted apartment buildings or boarding houses, though none were as rundown as he might have expected.

This obviously used to be an upscale neighborhood, he told himself, probably still was from the look of it.

With that thought, Lt. Mark Thorner once more moved toward the door before him, allowing himself to imagine that perhaps his current endeavor might be a good idea after all.


II

Mark was a homicide detective with the New York City Police Department. He had been with the force for twenty years and except for two weeks at the end of his rookie year, he had never asked for nor been given a day off that was not part of his normal leave in all his decades. This was not to say he was one of those desperates who is only gladdened during his time on the job. The lieutenant lived for those weekends that could be spent fishing in the Poconos. He enjoyed escorting the occasional lady friend to the Catskills or Coney Island as much as the next man. But he was never one to abuse the system by looking for more than his fair share.

Thus when his captain had called him into his office the week previous and told him to take a month's vacation, his first reaction had simply been numbness, followed by embarrassment. He flirted with the notion of telling his superior to go to Hell, but resisted. He was simply too weary to fight. He had just finished a particularly nasty case, one which had gotten a close friend killed and almost done him in. A grueling affair with more than one facet Mark did not put into his report, it had drained his soul and blackened his heart.

The physician his captain forced him to see strenuously recommended he be given a substantial block of time off. Mark had fought the decision initially, but when he was told that he either took a month off with pay or he would be suspended for a month without it, he threw in the towel. It was a Depression after all, and like most everyone else he could not afford to lose that much money. Besides, he had been tired and empty and thirty days rest did not really sound all that bad.

He spent the first three days puttering around in his apartment aimlessly before he decided on a change of scenery. Finally spurred to action, he cabled his friend Patrick Michael Kennedy in Cairnsford, Colorado. Kennedy, a Secret Service man assigned to the Denver Mint, was an old Marine buddy who had been bugging Mark to come out and see him. Pulling himself together, the lieutenant wired his friend an acceptance, and was relieved to receive an enthusiastic reply.

Mark found the train ride relaxing. Once outside New York, the green rushing by on both sides calmed him, giving his mind's eye something to concentrate on besides the past. While others grew bored, the lieutenant allowed it all to become one vast blur. The land past the Appalachians was flat, and after the Mississippi it was barren as well, but Mark did not mind.

By the time the train was approaching Denver, Mark found he was feeling much more himself. He awoke to his first sight of the Rocky Mountains and they fascinated him. He had thought the Adirondacks were tall, but the Rockies had foothills that were higher, and they were still covered with snow in May. As relaxed as he could be, the lieutenant fired up one of his thick cigars and stared at the mountains until Denver finally appeared over the horizon.

Cairnsford lay to the south which meant switching trains. His second train took him as far as the town of Thunderbird Point. Cairnsford lay west from there, on the other side of a sharp-edged ridge. The only way there was via a rickety contraption purporting to be a small bus, one that smelled bad, bucked like a mustang, and wheezed worse than an asthmatic as it fought its way uphill.

When the so-called bus stopped at the crest of the ridge to cool down, Mark got out to work some feeling back into several numb regions. Ahead of him the road descended into a bowl-shaped valley; Cairnsford lay at the bottom, huddled against the foothills on the opposite side. Though by western standards it was probably a good-sized burg, he thought of it as a small town, but then he thought the same of any space outside of New York City. Immediately behind it rose the mountains in all their purple majesty, especially one broad, rounded, snowcapped mound that dominated the skyline. To the right of the town lay a lake half as big as the town itself, while a canyon opened in the mountains to the left. A stream flowed out of the opening and across the valley through the town before emptying into the lake. He found the view spectacular, but could not decide if it was truly impressive, or only seemed so to a permanent city dweller such as himself. When the bus finally dragged itself into Cairnsford, he knew he could trust his judgment of it.

The town was nothing much to look at. Few of its buildings were over four stories tall, with the majority being three or less. The center of Cairnsford did boast a half-dozen structures averaging around ten stories tall, but they were rectangular blocks made from uninspired stone, hardly impressive to a man who had beheld the world from the art deco majesty of the Empire State Building.

The bus driver had been a talkative fellow, but Mark zoned him out for most of the ride. Once inside the town, however, he became more interested in the driver's narrative. Surrounding downtown were mostly residences, the bus driver explained as they churned their way to the bus's official stop. To the south lay Landers College. To the north, between the town and the lake, sat a number of factories that used to process the raw ore and gold mined out of the mountains until they were forced to close in the early years of the Depression.

"Put a lot of locals out of work."

"Do tell."

"Indeed, young feller," the driver exclaimed. Either missing his passenger's sarcasm, or immune to it, he added, "Heck, none, iff'n it weren't for the gold 'at still trickles outta the walls of the canyon and the bottom of the ol' lake, I'm sayin' it, Cairnsford could up and maybe disappear like nearby Enoch's Farm done."

None of it meant anything to Mark. As far as he was concerned the whole country was suffering; what did it matter if one small town lived or died? But, he supposed, maybe in that way towns were like people: they simply want to survive as best as they can.

The lieutenant had known a lot of men -- good men -- patrolmen and detectives alike, who had been canned within a year of the Crash. He had survived only because of his seniority. His rabbi, and his superior's knowledge that there were certain . . . what could they call them? Occurrences? Situations? Whatever they were, Mark was the only man on the force who could keep the lid on them.

There but for the grace of God, . . . he thought. Well, the grace of sumthin', anyway.

Gathering his belongings, the lieutenant muttered, "Guess even a dump like Cairnsford's got the right to survive."

And then he made his way to the nearest bar to find himself a comfortable place to sit while he inquired as to the directions to his friend's home.


III

After a half hour's rest in the quiet of the establishment Mark had chosen, he felt refreshed enough from the rigors of his bus ride to finally make his way to his friend's apartment. His fellow patrons assured him the residence was close enough to reach by foot, and thus it was but the work of a few minutes before he was standing in front of the apartment house he had crossed half the country to reach.

As instructed in the telegram Kennedy had sent him, Mark stepped into the building's secure foyer and rang the landlady's bell. She buzzed him in and met him in the hallway. He had expected a withered, little ninety-year old woman with blue hair; instead she was a fairly pretty, middle-aged brunette with large, soft brown eyes. He idly entertained nasty thoughts about his friend and his landlady as he introduced himself. She sniffed slightly as if his mind was easily read while handing him a key along with an envelope. She then showed him which apartment was Pat's. As she turned to go she brushed up against him, an act the lieutenant could not classify as accidental or intentional. Mark watched as she sashayed down the stairs, feeling himself grinning as he did so.

I think this mountain air agrees with me, he told himself. Listening to her heels connect with the bare wood of the landing, he stepped into his friend's room, adding, Maybe I should think about moving out here after all.

Once inside Mark took a moment to toss his bag onto the floor and his derby onto a side table before tearing open the envelope. The letter he found inside quickly soured the good mood he had been building.

Mark --

Sorry to do this to you, old buddy, but I've been reassigned to Washington for a couple of weeks. Can't say what it's about -- it's all hush-hush, top secret, yak yak. I can say it involves the President; apparently old Roosevelt is planning something that just won't work without an Irishman nearby.

Anyways, I won't be around to show you the sights like I promised. But make yourself at home; me casa su casa, as the Mexicans say. Help yourself to the well-used bed, to the food in the refrigerator, and, of course, the booze. When I heard you were coming I stocked up; there's enough whiskey to get an army drunk. Not a righteous Irish army, mind you, but enough I'm thinking so's you'll enjoy yourself.

And in case you get lonely, I've got a friend who'll be glad to keep you company. Her name's Delilah, and she's just your type: young, blond, very friendly, and built like a brick police station. Her number's Stacked 7-9845; how's that for kismet?

Take it easy, old buddy, and I'll see you in a couple of weeks.

-- Pat

PS: If a woman called Shinia Norlen calls, tell her I'll take care of her problem when I get back. Don't ask; just some broad whose boyfriend is a little too possessive.


Mark crumpled up the note and angrily threw it down the hallway, cursing up a storm.

This is just fuckin' great, he thought. Numbnutz keeps on my back for years to pay him a visit, and when I finally honor him with my presence he goddamn abandons me. Some friend.

Mark sat heavily on the couch, kicking off his shoes with violent disdain for the furniture on the other side of the room. Then, as he peeled his sweat-slick socks off, he thought; And, now here's a chance for revenge.

Hanging the warmly ripe socks over a worn pillow which looked to be a well-used favorite, he then removed his pants and draped them over the pillow at the other end of the couch. Surveying his handiwork, he imagined Pat throwing himself onto his couch when he returned home and then leaping off it like a cat that had mistakenly bounded onto a working griddle. The idea filled him with laughter, great tear-squeezing fits of it which must have been heard by the landlady and possibly not only the next-door neighbors but those across the street as well.Finally, still chuckling, Mark threw his sweat-stained shirt on the couch as well, then wandered off in search of the military rations his friend's letter had promised.


IV

Mark awoke with a start, taking a large handful of seconds to realize the loud buzzing was someone at the house entrance wanting to be let in. Groggily he fumbled the light on, then looked at the clock.

Who the fuckin' hell comes callin' at one in the goddamned mornin'?

Groaning, the big man sat up, the buzzing counterpointing the pounding inside his skull. He decided against getting dressed, even though he wore only a pair of shorts. Instead, he fished a robe out of his bag and threw it on. As an afterthought, he retrieved his service revolver as well. Stumbling down the dark hall, he groped his way to the apartment door and fumbled with the control panel; the buzzing stopped as soon as he hit the button to unlock the security door. He waited until whomever it was came up to the apartment and knocked. Since the door was not equipped with a peephole, he fingered the trigger on his revolver as he threw back the bolt and opened the door on the unknown.

Standing in the pool of light cast by the hall ceiling lamp above her was a woman. Holding his revolver cocked but out of sight behind his back, the lieutenant gave her a quick once over. She looked to be half his age. She was also gorgeous, tall and slender, decked out in an elegant, somewhat formal dress. A striking cherry red number without sleeves or shoulders or straps, but with a slit on the left side that started just below the hip, it looked to be a size or two smaller than she was, which allowed her to fill it out intoxicatingly.

"Oh," she said, seeming surprised as she stared back at Mark. "Oh my . . ."

As her mouth opened and closed quickly, he continued to check her out. He took note of her elbow-length gloves and the matching handbag she held under one arm. He also noted her skin, smooth and flawless, her billowing hair which fell over her shoulders, across her chest, and down her back, only a few shades darker than the dress -- and more. Before she could finish composing her thought, he also caught the lipstick on her full, luscious lips, bright as a neon sign. But the final thing he zeroed in on in his split-second appraisal were her eyes. They were large, but swollen, green as emeralds and lined with dark mascara, but the flesh around them was stained by thin charcoal trails, and he knew she had been crying.

"I'm sorry," she finally said, her voice a thing of liquid silver bells, "I was looking for Pat Kennedy. This is his place," she announced with a frightened assurance. "Is he here?" She looked past the lieutenant earnestly, as if expecting to see him.

"Ah, no, sorry," responded Mark, trying to keep his normally loud voice toned to a whisper. "He's outta town. Business."

At the sound of his words she looked shocked. Then the tears began once more. Mark had seen his share of crying females over the years, but it had usually been in the line of duty, and they had rarely looked as good to him as the one before him. Hoping to quiet her before the landlady came out of her apartment to investigate, he asked, "Look, you wanna come in? Have a drink maybe; to calm your nerves?"

She pushed past him, sniffling her thanks. The lieutenant could not help noticing that the back of her dress only started a short stretch above her delectable, swaying rump. As he closed the door, slipping his gun in the pocket of his robe, he followed her into the living room. As she sat on the sofa he went to the bar.

"What would ya like?"

"Do you have whiskey?" Her voice still quavered a little.

"Scotch," he said, "bourbon, and Irish."

"Irish, neat."

He poured two and handed one to her as he sat down beside her. Holding it in both hands, she gulped down a big swallow. The woman shuddered, but then seemed to relax. She leaned back and kicked off her high-heel shoes, then crossed one leg, and through the split Mark could see its shapely silhouette almost up to the hip. She rested for a moment or two, then turned; even in the dark he could see the flash of perfect teeth as she smiled at him.

"Thank you; you're very kind."

Mark blushed, though he would never admit to it. "Are you in some kinda trouble?" It was not much, but it was all he could think to ask.

"Yes. Pat was helping me with . . . a private matter. Are you a friend of his?"

"Yeah; we served together in France durin' the war. My name's Mark Thorner."

"Shinia Norlen."

The girl from the note. The lieutenant mentally kicked himself for not guessing sooner. Remembering his friend's instructions, he informed her that Pat had left word he would help her when he got back. When she found out he would be gone for weeks, her tears erupted once more, bordering on the hysterical.

Without thinking, Mark asked, "Jimneys what's wrong? Is it sumthin' I can help with?" He interpreted her look as one of gratitude.

"Is that a serious offer?"

"I wouldn't have asked if it wasn't."

"But you don't know me."

"Hey, any friend of Pat's . . ." He let his words trail off, wondering if he could sound any more like a sap.

"Oh, thank you. You don't know how much this means to me."

When her voice took on an edge that sounded as if she was close to crying once more, he attempted to forestall the waterworks by asking, "Why don't you tell me about it."

The woman took a deep breath, let it out in a long sigh, then told her story.

"A year ago I met a businessman at a party in Denver. We became lovers, there was talk of marriage. Then I discovered he was already married -- three kids, a dog, and a fine house in Capital Hill. I broke it off a month ago, but he won't let me go. He keeps calling me, sending me letters, following me. He's scared off anyone I try to have a relationship with, and he's threatened me. Pat was going to warn him off, after he had a chance to collect something damaging to use against him, but this evening . . . he came after me . . . attacked my new boy friend . . . he threatened to kill me if he ever caught me with another man again. . . ."

She broke down after that, sobbing lightly for a moment, then got hold of herself. Mark found it hard to get a handle on her. In a way he had his friend's say-so that the woman was on the level, but he was tired and out of sorts and could not size her up properly. He knew the denizens of his own dark and festering island, but felt uncertain about the stranger in red.

"I came over to tell Pat we couldn't wait any longer. I'm afraid he'll do something drastic unless I can get him to leave me alone."

Trying to gain some perspective on the woman so that he could begin to practically access the situation, Mark asked; "What's your profession?"

Shinia hesitated; he figured his question caught her off guard. Finally, she told him, "I'm an entertainer. I sing in nightclubs; I do plays, when I can get the parts. I'm planning on moving to New York soon; I want to give Broadway a try."

"I'm from New York," Mark told her. "If you've got any talent you'll do well."

The woman stared at him for a moment, then set her glass down on the end table next to her. Moving up against him, she placed a hand inside his robe on his knee.

"You are a very fine and gracious gentleman," she said, as she slowly moved her hand up his thigh. Her voice had become a husky whisper, deepening into a mild Irish brogue. "I like showing my appreciation to gentlemen."

Man, but she's good!

Mark smiled at Shinia's ability to instantly size up a situation and act accordingly, while subtly making clear the conditions under which she would respond. Mark knew she was playing him, but frankly he did not care. If nothing else, he told himself, he needed something to do until Pat got back, and she was as good as anything else.

"So, where can I find this mook?"

Her hand reaching his crotch, she gave it a squeeze as she replied, "Then, you'll help?"

Before he could answer she leaned closer and gave the lieutenant a long, slow kiss. When she pulled back, she added, "I just wish there was some way I could adequately repay you."

Mark rolled his eyes, grinning at the preposterousness of his situation. Then he set his drink down and folded the woman into his arms as he returned her kiss.

* * *

Mark awoke the next day feeling like a new man. He remained in bed for some moments after opening his eyes, enjoying the luxurious comfort of not having to rush off anywhere. He could sense he was alone, but knew Shinia had not deserted him through the evidence of her dress, still lying where they had discarded it on the floor. He smiled, remembering the adventure they had getting it off her.

Looking around the bedroom, he could tell it was already mid-morning by the amount of sun flooding through the window. He also noticed the absence of his robe, as well as the smell of coffee, sausages, and eggs. Leaping out of bed, he threw on his shorts, then bounded down the hall like a teenager. He found Shinia in the kitchen making pancakes. The sight left him dumbfounded. None of the other women he had slept with had ever made him breakfast; in fact, those that stayed through until the morning expected him to buy them breakfast.

I'm beginning to like these mountain girls more and more.

Shinia looked up as he approached her, her robe open as if to tease him. Her smile gave off a wattage that implied she was genuinely glad to see him, though, and his heart skipped several beats. She had not had a chance to clean herself up. Her hair was a mess and her makeup was smeared, but she did not seemed bothered by those facts, and that was also something new to Mark; all the other women he had known had either slipped away before morning or shut themselves in the bathroom until they had made themselves presentable.

He hugged and kissed her good morning. She joined in briefly then pushed away, explaining that the pancakes were burning. She directed him to "be good and sit at the table," then managed to surprise him by slapping him on his rump as he turned away. Strangely he actually enjoyed the moment of playfulness. He was a big man and had always taken care of himself, but arrival in his forties had found him beginning to grow a tad chunky -- his waist expanding as his hairline receded. Like most men, he enjoyed the thought that a young and gorgeous woman found him physically attractive.

The pair made small talk over breakfast, familiar chatter such as one would find at the table of an old married couple, with the exception that they talked about each other as well as the weather and the news. He found that they held many of the same opinions about life, people, and the world. He also found that Shinia was smart, and well-read though not educated. It was actually a pleasure having an intelligent conversation with a woman, instead of having to listen to inane blabber about clothes, career, or worse, former boyfriends.

Unfortunately, however, no matter how long they tarried over wiping up crumbs, washing dishes, and every other possible distraction, eventually time caught up to them. Shinia had to get some rest for the performance she had to give that night and Mark had a visit to make to her stalker. They showered together, to save time, and then he helped her get back into her dress. Before she left she wrote the businessman's name and office address on the back of one of her cards. Mark walked her down to the front entrance and they gave each other a last quick kiss. He watched her walk out of sight, then stood in the doorway a long time, remembering each footstep.


V

Arthur Pendleton, the name Shinia had written on her card, lived in Denver, but his business was in Cairnsford. Although he maintained an office at his warehouse in the factory district, Shinia was not certain what kind of business he was in, except that it had something to do with import and export. For Mark that was a sure sign he was most likely involved with the mob, something that would help explain his attitude. Most mobsters of his acquaintance took rejection poorly.

The lieutenant was pleasantly surprised Comfy Cairnsford (his name for the town) had a cab company, and he was happy to take one of their taxis to Pendleton's office. The warehouse seemed deserted, but the sign out front claimed the offices were open, so he went in. There was no secretary or receptionist, and the office was on a landing suspended above the floor. Though the warehouse was dark, the frosted window of the office door showed a light was on, and he noted the shadow of someone moving around inside. He climbed the wooden stairs silently and then stood in front of the door, unconsciously feeling for his piece in the shoulder holster. He did not actually expect any trouble, but its presence was reassuring to the officer so far from his familiar beat.

Taking a deep breath, Mark decided on the slam approach and barged directly into the office. Based on past experience he had an idea of what to expect, and Pendleton did not disappoint him. He was a small man with a rodent-like physiology, something he tried to disguise behind a pinstriped suit sporting a blood-red carnation. His hair was coal-black, fairly short, and parted down the middle. His eyes were brown, and his five o'clock shadow was hours early. His hands, however, were well manicured and sported a number of rings.

The man was sitting behind his desk, in the process of lighting a cigar, but his head snapped upward when Mark stormed in. Instantly he squealed; "What the hell? Who're you? What the shit you think you're doing?"

"Don't make any sudden moves," Mark warned in his best cop's growl. Pendleton hesitated a moment, then spread his arms wide, cigar in one hand, gold lighter in the other. "Are you Arthur Pendleton?"

"Yeah; who the hell wants to know?" Mark kicked the door closed with his foot.

"I'm a friend of Shinia Norlen." The lieutenant expected his prey to get angrier at that point, or frightened, or hysterical; anything but what he actually did.

Pendleton grinned from ear to ear. That unnerved Mark. It meant either he was a very cool character or some sort of psychopath. Of course, it might also mean that something was very wrong with the whole setup. Whatever the answer, he did not like the implications.

"Oh, is that what this is all about. I was wondering who she'd send around. You her latest patsy?"

Mark dropped the pitch of his voice and put a growl in it. "Listen, maggot, I'm only gonna say this once -- leave her alone. It's finished. It's over. Comprende? She isn't interested in you anymore. Let her go. Because if you don't, if you bother her again . . . ever again, I'll be back, and I'll tap dance on your head until your blood evaporates and your skull is powder. Do I make myself clear?"

Pendleton stared at the lieutenant with a shocked look on his face for a few moments, then burst out laughing. Surprised, Mark did not know whether to be angry or scared. Pendleton's reaction made no sense. Unless, he told himself reluctantly, he really was a patsy.

"Oh, God, oh pal o' mine, are you dancing to the wrong music." Pendleton gasped his words in between giggles, high squealed noises so much like those of a little girl he made the lieutenant uneasy. Finally, the little man waved his hands, asking, "Do you mind?"

Mark nodded.

Pendleton proceeded to light his cigar. "Sit down, Mister --"

"I'll stand."

He shrugged. "Suit yourself." He then indicated the wet bar behind him. "Drink?" Mark shook his head. Pendleton looked at his cigar. "Smoke, perhaps?"

"Just get on with it."

Pendleton shrugged again. "You insist. So, I take it she told you we were lovers. And I take it she told you she broke it off and I won't let her go. Well, I'm not one of her sugar daddies. Our relationship is strictly business."

"What kind of business?" Pendleton grinned again.

"Suffice to say, our Miss Norlen owes me money. A lot of it. And she's very late in paying it back." Leaning backward in his chair, the smaller man paused a moment to puff on his cigar and to study the man towering over him. "I'll bet this is about what happened last night, isn't it?"

"It is," agreed the lieutenant. "She says you attacked her current boyfriend and threatened to kill her."

He giggled again, spreading his hands in mock innocence. "I swear, I didn't attack anyone. All I did was go to her dressing room at the club and remind her she had twenty-four hours to get me the money she owes. Now, I may have made mention that my backers were getting anxious, and I may have described what they might do if she didn't come through, but I didn't threaten her. That's not my style."

Mark believed him. He had met Pendleton's type many times before, knew how they ticked. Pendleton might have been lying, he knew, but there was no good reason to assume so. He would have had to have been too good an actor, something -- the back of his mind reminded him -- Shinia claimed to be. There was a part of Mark's mind that urged him not to believe Pendleton, but it had been so long since he last heard from it he found he could disregard it. Pendleton seemed too earnest, too genuinely amused to be dismissed.

Mark sat down without thinking, took off his derby and rubbed one hand across his shaved crown. This time when Pendleton offered him a drink he accepted. He sat silent for a minute or so, swallowing his bourbon, looking at nothing. Pendleton simply smoked his cigar until the larger man finally set down his glass and asked, "How much does she owe you?"

"Twenty-five grand." Mentally Mark whistled. That was a lot; indeed, an impossible sum. Mark bluffed, "All right, I'll make a deal with you. If you're tellin' the truth, I'll get yer money for ya. I'll need some time -- maybe a week, maybe a bit more -- but I guarantee you'll get every penny."

Pendleton considered him for a moment, rolling the cigar around in his mouth. He knew what Mark was offering: he would make good on her debt, meaning Pendleton could take it out of the larger man's hide if he failed to pay up, after which he could still go back to her to collect. Of course, Mark was not concerned about actually raising the money; all he wanted to do was buy some time.

"What guarantee can you offer?" Pendleton asked cautiously.

Mark smiled and told him who he was, adding, "I'm sure yer backers have friends in New York who can collect from me if necessary."

Pendleton rubbed his forehead, as if thinking hard. He weighed the risks against the possible rewards, then finally said, "Agreed. You've got one week."

"Deal," Mark answered. "But if I find out you've lied to me I'll track you down and break every bone in yer body."

Pendleton actually smiled at the lieutenant and offered his hand, but Mark stood and replaced his derby atop his head. As he headed for the door, the smaller man shouted out, "One week."

Mark turned and stared at the small rodent of a man, his glare causing Pendleton to shrink back from his desk, trapped against the back of his chair. The lieutenant considered saying something, but instead turned and left the office.

Mark walked a couple of blocks before he stopped and let his breath out. He had buried himself deep in something that was rapidly growing beyond his control and he knew it. His hands shaking, he took a few breaths to calm himself. He had to find out what was going on, and he had little time to do it in. His first thought was to confront Shinia, but he had nothing to use to break her story. He needed information, but the kind he needed only came from two sources. He ruled out the local police for the time being; professional courtesy only went so far, and they would resent his poking his nose into a local matter. That left the newspaper. He might find most of what he needed in their archives.

It's worth a shot, he thought.

Feeling better having put together at least the beginnings of a plan, Mark stopped at a diner for lunch, then called a cab. It took him downtown -- with a short stop at a liquor store -- to the offices of the Cairnsford Cenotaph where the archives, he was told, dwelled in the sub-basement. Rather than waste time searching through their thousands of files, he approached the archivist instead.

When Mark was still a green detective with more enthusiasm than brains, one of the first things his captain taught him was that if you needed information from the newspaper, go to the archivist.

"They know everything that's happened around town for the better part of their lives," he had told him. "Make friends with one, and you'll find they can generally tell you what you need to know, and if they don't know it off the top of their head they can find it for you."

The only drawback the lieutenant had found was that archivists were often lonely men, with whom one had to spend a fair amount of time listening to them spin yarns. Still, it was almost always time well spent.

The Cenotaph archivist was no different. He looked to be a withered, shrunken old man, stooped and gnarled. The man appeared to be napping when Mark came down the stairs, but he looked up unexpectedly as the officer approached his desk. His face was as weathered as the bark of an old oak, but his blue eyes were clear and he used them to transfix the lieutenant in his tracks. The man proved to be friendly, however, and welcomed his visitor with an invitation to have tea. When Mark produced the fifth of brandy he had brought with him, the man grew positively social.

The pair talked for several hours, during which the archivist eagerly answered the bulk of Mark's questions. He confirmed that Pendleton was barely legitimate, a one-time honest businessman who survived the Crash by partnering with the local mob. He could not tell the lieutenant what illegal activities Pendleton was involved in for certain, but he passed on the popular suspicion that he laundered money through his legitimate investment business. He had also fronted for a number of speakeasies during Prohibition, places now believed to have been converted into gambling parlors, and had been arrested a number of times for loan sharking. The arrests had not resulted in convictions and the local police did not consider him violent -- two points in his favor.

Mark learned far more about Shinia. She was a distaff member of the Bothar family, one of the group of families that started arriving after the Civil War. The Second Families, as they were called (to distinguish them from the First Families who had settled the region and founded Cairnsford), had diversified the town's businesses and ended its dependence upon gold. Even so, they had built their own wealth on gold mining; one of them, the Landers family, had started the dredging operations in Lake Garthyme. The Bothars had invested in Gen. William Palmer's Denver and Rio Grande railroad, and were able to establish a railhead just east of the ridge at the future location of Thunderbird Point. They then formed a company to ship the gold the Landers mined first to the railhead, then north to Denver, and finally east to Washington, D.C. and the US Mint, long before the Denver Mint was built.

Because their wealth was greater than that of the First Families, the Second Families soon took over the town. Called Garthyme's Ford at the time, the Landers, the ruling family then, changed its name to Cairnsford. The Bothars were strongly linked to the Landers; they became their lieutenants, did their dirty work and quickly became known for shady practices. In fact, they manage to so thoroughly entangle their tentacles into every business dealing in town that when the Depression broke families like the Landers and the Bothars managed to survive.

The point of it all was that Shinia was herself fairly well off. While she might not have had any personal wealth, she could have drawn on enough family funds to pay off Pendleton ten times over. Which left Mark not knowing what to believe. Pendleton was not Shinia's possessive lover, but neither did it seem likely he had lent her any money, or at least would have any trouble getting repaid. So what was the real story? For that he knew there was only one source --

Shinia herself.


VI

Mark left the remainder of his brandy behind and flagged a cab to take him to Shinia's place. It headed west and in time came to the edge of the Fenster Memorial Cemetery. It then turned north and skirted along its border. He was amazed when his cabby claimed it was the largest cemetery in America and probably the world. It occupied the whole western third of what on a map was labeled as Cairnsford, stretching nearly from the north of town to the south, and extending a good ways up into the foothills. Mark could just about believe him, as mile after mile of the cemetery's huge iron fence ran on their left side.

Eventually the cab came into what looked like a high-class neighborhood. These homes appeared even older than the Victorian's on Pat's street, but they were larger and held the feel of expense. If Shinia's family owned one of these, even if she just lived in it, it still confirmed what he had learned about her financial status. He was somewhat disappointed when the cab pulled up in front of one of the more modest dwellings, but it was still twice as large as the building housing Pat's apartment.

After paying the fare, Mark stood on the front walk by the street for some moments. The day was turning warm and he took a moment to wipe his scalp with a handkerchief. It now seemed obvious that Shinia had been lying to him all along, but why? What did she have to gain by suckering him into her scheme? Of course, to know that he would have to know what she was up to. About time he found out, too.

Yeah, and how you propose to learn that?

The question from the back of his mind gave the large policeman pause. There was no denying that she had made a very different kind of impression on him than any other woman ever had. He wondered, could he bring himself to sweat the truth out of her? But if he could not . . .

Not knowing what else to do, Mark went up to the front door and was about to knock when he saw that it was ajar. Wary, he pulled his revolver while pushing the door open with his foot. In front of him stood a short hallway, then a foyer. There were no doors or side halls. The lieutenant walked in cautiously, listening for any sound. He paused at the opening to the foyer -- looked around. There were openings in the other three walls leading to more rooms as well as a staircase leading up to the next floor. Although he could not hear any noises of any type, he knew that meant nothing. Knowing he had little choice as to a next move, he called out, "Shinia," then listened. Dead silence. Mark broke out in a cold sweat. He told himself the lack of a response meant nothing; she might be gone, or bound and gagged -- sleeping. Despite the advice of his practical side, he felt a growing urge to go tearing through the house, smashing his way from room to room until he found her.

"Get a grip, Mark," he muttered, "yer a cop; act like it."

Taking a pair of healthy deep breaths to steady himself, he walked cautiously up to the room opposite the entry hall. It turned out to be a sitting room, complete with one occupant -- Pendleton, dead on the floor, his blood pooling around him.

"Shinia!" Mark bellowed again, but there was still no response. His gun at the ready, he walked into the room, looking for any sign of an assailant. When he reached the body, he knelt and felt for a pulse. Dead, but warm enough to signal he had not been dead long. Still crouching, the lieutenant looked around one more time, then examined the corpse. It lay face down, a bullet hole in the base of the skull. From the size of it, it looked to be an entrance wound from a small caliber bullet, a .32 or even a .22. He could see scorching on the hair; that suggested Pendleton was shot at point-blank range or near. Death most likely had been instantaneous.

The officer was about to feel the pockets of the suit when he saw a business card in Pendleton's hand. Taking out his handkerchief, he pulled the card loose and examined it. The name on the card was January Ian Mariposa, PhD; it stated he was the librarian in charge of the special book collection of the library at Landers College.

He replaced the card and was leaning forward to feel the nearest coat pocket when a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. Mark jerked around, raising his gun, but was caught in the chest by a blow that picked him up off the floor and threw him across the room. He landed on the fireplace, hitting his head against the mantelpiece. He fought desperately to stay awake, to get to his feet, even to simply focus his eyes on his attacker, but he could not. Despite his struggles, blackness flooded over him.

When he awoke he found himself in the custody of the Cairnsford police. After their doctor pronounced him fit, thanks to his concrete skull, the detective in charge of the investigation began interrogating him. He grilled him for several hours while he had the lieutenant's credentials checked. He did not seem to suspect Mark of the murder, even after Mark admitted that he had visited Pendleton on Shinia's behalf. The detective confided that an autopsy had revealed Pendleton had been killed by a .32 caliber gun and Mark's revolver was a .45. Also, Mark simply did not trigger his suspicions as a murderer. Actually, the detective suspected Shinia, and he wanted to know where she was.

Mark honestly did not know, and said so, but the detective stated quite emphatically that he felt Mark was covering for her. Eventually they were joined by the detective's captain. He confirmed that Mark was indeed a New York cop and informed the out-of-towner he was free to go, but not out of town. The district attorney was considering charging him with obstruction, and even if he did not he was still a material witness. Mark assured both his colleagues he had no plans of leaving. The captain assured him they would return his confiscated revolver when he did.

Since it was after sundown, the police drove him back to Pat's apartment. He half hoped Shinia would be waiting for him, but he did not see her around. He wanted to go out looking for her, but he had no leads as to where she might be. On top of that, his head was still throbbing, and all he could think of was taking a bath and getting some sleep. Pouring himself a large glass of scotch, he drank it down in several large gulps, then poured another to drink while he soaked in the tub.


VII

The next morning Mark was disappointed that Shinia had not come to him in the night. He needed to find her, though, for several good reasons, not the least of which was to clear his name. Since the only lead he had was the name on the card, he got the number for Landers College, called them, and was transferred to the library. He was able to make an appointment to see Mariposa that morning. Before he left he retrieved his backup piece, a .357 magnum hidden in his bag.

Landers College turned out to be a single huge building, with a five-story central hub and half-a-dozen wings each three stories high. The library, such as it was, was located in the rear half of one wing. The special collection was in the basement beneath it, protected by a steel gate and an armed guard; the books themselves were stored in a special temperature-controlled vault.

The guard passed him through and the secretary took his name. She then took him through a cubical-filled room to an office in the back. She knocked on the door, opened it, announced him, then stepped out of his way. Inside the walls were lined with bookcases, except for three small windows set just below the ceiling along the back. The shelves were filled with books, old and new, as well as magazines, file boxes, and exotic bric-a-brac. The artifacts were uncannily similar to the kind of souvenirs Dr. Anton Zarnak kept in his study at 13 China Alley.

The room was dominated by a baroque, hand-carved, richly-polished mahogany desk that was both old and huge. In front of it sat two high-backed, overstuffed leather chairs; behind it a single such chair. Between the desk and that chair stood a tall, distinguished looking gentleman, with a round face, soft features, gray eyes, short-cropped jet-black hair worn slicked back, and wire-rim glasses. He wore a dark charcoal, formal suit, complete with vest and tie, and a very light gray shirt. A gold pocket watch chain was attached to one vest button and stretched to the right vest pocket, where it disappeared inside. A jeweled tie pin secured his tie to his shirt.

"You must be Lt. Thorner," he said, offering his hand. Mark crossed the room and took it. The policeman was larger in body than Mariposa, but the lean librarian was a full head taller than him. His grip was also surprising strong. Mark had the oddest feeling he had met him before, but he could not place the face.

"Please, sit down," the librarian added, his voice a finely cultured tenor with just a hint of a British accent.

"Thanks," Mark said. The chair he chose was immensely comfortable and he found himself sinking deeply into it. Almost as an afterthought he took off his derby and set it on his lap.

From out of nowhere, a small black cat with liquid green-gold eyes jumped on top of the desk. It sauntered toward the right side then sat down, wrapping its tail around its front feet. It stared at Mark arrogantly in typical cat fashion while Mariposa reached out and scratched it behind the ears. As it closed its eyes in pleasure and purred loudly, Mariposa said, "This is my friend and companion, Bastet. Do you have any cats, Lieutenant?"

"Ah, no, and the name's Thorner."

"And my friends call me Jaim," Mariposa replied as he sat, folding his hands on top of the desk. "What may I help you with, Mr. Thorner?"

"I'm conductin' an investigation for a friend. Do you know an Arthur Pendleton?"

Mariposa leaned back, his expression unreadable. "I'm afraid any consultation I do is confidential."

"Then ya do know him."

"My apologies, but I can neither confirm not deny that."

"This is a murder investigation, doc. Ya can't keep anythin' confidential."

"Are you acting in an official capacity?"

"I'm sure the local cops'd like to know you're involved."

Mariposa steepled his fingers. "They already do; they left an hour before you arrived."

Mark scowled as his ace card evaporated. Desperate, he turned to sympathy. "Look, doc, a young woman's involved; Shinia Norlen. The locals think she shot Pendleton."

"I know. What is your involvement?"

"I just wanta find her. She may be in trouble." He sighed. "And your locals think I'm her accomplice."

Mariposa nodded. "Perhaps you should explain from the beginning."

The lieutenant told the librarian the entire story, leaving out only the details of the night he and Shinia spent together. When he finished, Mariposa picked up his phone, asking Mark, "Do you prefer coffee or tea?"

"Coffee; black."

"Do you care to smoke?" Mark nodded.


CONTINUED

© 2006 Edward P. Berglund
"No Torrent Like Greed" : © 2006 C.J. Henderson and Kevin L. O'Brien. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998-2006 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: October 28, 2006