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Writers’ Dash: Second Prize

Published on Friday, February 19, 2010 by

Unnamed Short Story

by Almo Schumann

image007The afternoon August sun created eddies of heat that swirled on the sidewalk. From his second-floor vantage point, leaning through the open window to try to find a hint of a fresh breeze, Nick watched the hairdos wilt and the dark evidence of sweat spread on the dress shirts below.

“Birmingham,” Nick muttered as he turned back into the office and watched the antiquated Remington oscillating fan move heat around the room. “Longer word for Hell.”

Heels clicked on wood. A shadow appeared in the frosted glass of the door. The shadow knocked softly.

Nick looked around for his tie and spotted a crimson heap in the far corner of the room. He went with Plan B and picked up the telephone receiver, then placed his hand over the bottom half and said gruffly, “Come in.”

The door squeaked as it opened and the private detective hoped it covered his involuntary gasp. Nick appreciated a fine female form, and there was plenty to appreciate in his doorway. But he was arrested by her eyes. Big, brown, boundless as a mother’s love.

She pushed tendrils of ink black hair into place.

“Nick Davis?” she asked. Nick nodded and waved his hand toward a partially empty office chair. She looked at the blizzard of newspapers, file folders and empty food containers around the room without a hint of disapproval. She smiled and gently scooped a drift of Age Heralds from the chair and placed them on the floor. She sat and looked at him.

Nick looked back. “I’ll wait,” she said.

Nick remembered the phone in his hand. He didn’t remember his sweating palm. He jerked the receiver to his ear and blurted, “I’ll look into it,” and hung up.

“How can I help you Miss ….,” Nick said, his voice sounding like the dying gasps of a broken radiator.

“Bosworth,” she said. “Emily Bosworth.” She wore a modest but expensive purple dress with a few buttons left undone. Nick’s eye was drawn immediately to the swell under the fabric which promised this was no shrinking violet. “I need your help in getting my father back,” she said.

“Missing?” Nick said.

“No,” Emily said. “He’s here.” And she slid a buff business card across the desk, neatly dodging a half-filled coffee cup and a partially eaten doughnut.

Nick flipped the card. Gardens Rest and Sanitarium. “He’s in the asylum?”

“Yes, without cause,” Emily said. “He’s there under the care of Dr. Redmond Wine. And I want him released.”  She offered her manicured hand and Nick took it, unsure whether to shake it or kiss it, but at the first flirtatious touch his mind melted like a Popsicle on a hot Studebaker hood.

***

Nick stood in the receptionist’s area of Dr. Wine’s suite at Gardens Sanitarium and glanced around at the eclectic mix of mounted deep sea fish and big game trophies mounted on the walls.  Dr. Wine was a difficult man to see, his secretary assured Nick, who fished among the fake ID’s in his wallet until he found the one  that said “Fish and Game.”

The walfish secretary buzzed the intercom, read Nick’s card into the speaker,  and received enthusiastic permission to show Nick in.

“I trust you are here about the safari,” Wine said with a lilt as the secretary left the sterile white office and the door clicked shut. “A more excellent trip has never been planned.”

Nick was treated to several more periphrastic constructions concerning big game hunting before he gently guided Wine in the direction he wanted.

“Tell me a little about this place,” Nick said,.

Wine was a talker. “During the war, it was a place to warehouse smallpox victims,” the doctor said. “Afterward, as the vets came home, we helped cure hundreds, well dozens, of victims of battle fatigue. Now we primarily cater to the well-to-do who need a haven from the pestilences of the mind.”

Nick grinned.  He hadn’t learned much during his two years of college, but there was a psych class that taught him how to spot liars. And reverse epanorthosis was a dead giveaway. The liar believes he comes across as honest by revising his figures from large to small.

Wine was half goatee, half savoir-faire and all charlatan, Nick surmised. He rolled his R’s like a a marble going downhill and he crop-dusted your lapel at every S. The good doctor might have been proficient at his job at one time, but he appeared to have stumbled on a nice scam of working over the rich and living high on hunting trips. Talk about low-hanging fruit, Nick thought — convincing wealthy people they’re crazy.

If it hadn’t been so hot, and hadn’t been the end of the week, and if Nick’s thoughts weren’t filled with a possible Saturday night with a grateful Emily, the investigator might have schmaltzed Wine a little bit. But, in addition to the other factors, the doctor’s smarmy attitude had just pissed Nick off.

Nick came around the desk surprisingly quickly for a big man, grabbed Wine’s tie just below the knot and jerked the suddenly red-faced psychiatrist out of his seat with one arm. Wine flailed for a moment before he wet himself. Nick slapped his face with his free hand and told the doctor to be still.

“Look Red,” Nick said. “Do they call you Red?

Wine whined. “You’re going to make a call,” Nick said, “and I’m going to walk out of here with Arthur Bosley. If you give me any trouble I’m going to have the Birmingham police, the state bureau of investigation and the IRS crawling up both your nostrils. Then it’s bye-bye big game and hello big house. Clear?”

Wine nodded as best he could while being held up by his tie. “And if you have any inkling about filing a complaint, here’s my number,” Nick said, flipping his business card onto the desk.

****

Wine had said Arthur Bosley was sedated but the frail looking old man seemed closer to comatose, Nick thought. The detective poured Bosley into a cab and gave the driver the address and a five-dollar tip to get the man home safely. Nick fired up his Hudson and headed back to the office to close up and have a celebratory drink. He’d call Emily after the joyful family reunion.

The phone was ringing when Nick stepped through the door. It was Wine.

“Look,” the psychiatrist said, “you’re right. We stopped doing real medicine here years ago. But I’m genuinely worried for Arthur.”

“Keep talking,” Nick said, unimpressed.

“Arthur was afraid,” Wine said. “That’s why he came here. And his conspiracy ravings had a real ring of truth to them. The kids stand to inherit a lot of money if Arthur dies.”

Wine lowered his voice to a squirming whisper: “The youngest daughter, Emily, she’s a  sociopath. I’ve treated her. I know.”

Something in the psychiatrist’s voice made Nick sprint back downstairs and hop into the Hudson. In 45 minutes he made it to the Bosley estate on a small series of hillocks overlooking the Cahaba River.

The door to the mansion was unlocked. It opened noiselessly and the hallway was just as still. Nick poked his head into the living room with its huge fireplace. Above the mantel was an equally outsized family portrait of Arthur, his wife, eldest son, the middle daughter, and young Emily.

The sound of something metallic falling broke the silence. Nick headed toward it, finding another unlocked door and a staircase leading down. Arranged in alcoves beside the steps were waxy life-sized likenesses of the family. Mom. The brother. The sister. They were so well done Nick couldn’t resist reaching out and poking one.

“Shit.”

He sprinted down the remaining stairs four at a time, arriving in a cool and quiet basement. Arthur Bosley lay opened up on a metal table. Emily was up to her elbows in blood. And the taxidermist equipment sat gleaming on the tray beside her.

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