A Short Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright
An Inspector Alexander Collier Mystery
Inspector Alexander Collier Mysteries will often provide a choice for the reader. If you want to obtain a deeper understanding or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted blue and underlined) found in the text of the story.
The Killing Time
The front door opened and closed and Lila could hear the floor boards creaking under his weight as he made his way along the hallway to the kitchen. She glanced up at the clock on the wall and shook her head.
“Sandy,” she called out, “you sure took your time about it. I tried to keep your breakfast warm but I’ll make no apologies for the result. As for your tea , you’ll just have to wait.”
Putting on her oven mitts, she opened the oven door and pulled out a plate of dried up wrinkled bangers, eggs and toast and placed it on the table. She returned the oven mitts to the drawer and had just placed the kettle on the stove to boil the water when he wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the floor.
“Put me down you silly old thing before you do harm to the both of us!” she chortled.
He held his grip fast and snuggled into her neck showering it with kisses as he turned her around. “Oh how l love you.”
“You had jolly well better,” she giggled, cupping the back of his head with her hand and pulling him closer. “Now put me down. You’re making me dizzy.”
When her feet landed back on the floor and he had released his grasp she turned and looked up at him.
“Now that’s better,” she said with a lascivious look as she rose on the balls of her feet and kissed him full and deep.
“Wow!” He glanced over at the table while still holding her in his arms. “Breakfast can wait. Don’t you think?”
He undid the sash around her waist and let it drop to the floor.
She stepped back and playfully swatted him with the tea towel and said: “Oh it can, can it? Not much of a leap to know where your mind’s going.”
“Nor yours with that kiss,” he replied, taking off his jacket and draping it across the back of his chair.
Stepping closer to her, he reached out to undo the buttons on her top when the high pitched whistle from the kettle on the stove conspired with the telephone ringing in the hall to shatter the moment.
Briefly, they looked at each other in exasperated silence and shrugged before breaking out in laughter. She then turned to make the tea and he trundled off downcast to answer the phone.
He let out a long sigh as he placed the receiver on its cradle. Slowly, he returned to the kitchen but stopped short of entering. Leaning against the door frame to the kitchen, he crossed his arms. “That was Sergeant Snowden. He told me he had called several times. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her back to him, she picked up the tea cosy from the counter and put it on the teapot before turning. “Sandy…” she began, biting her lower lip before she continued. “Today of all days you should know why. You should be marching in today’s ceremonies.”
She placed the teapot on the table and waited for his reply.
He walked into the kitchen and put on his jacket. “Lila, it’s my duty. No one knows that better than you!”
“Duty is it?! You also have a duty to yourself, Sandy. Was it your duty that kept you so late this morning?! Tell me, Sandy, where did you go after dropping off our niece?”
He lowered his eyes and chewed on the inside of his cheek. “I was going to tell you over breakfast. ’Queenie’ I went to see ‘Queenie.’
Her eye brows rose in astonishment.
“What on earth for?”
“After Kristallnacht…I needed to…know…her powers might have told me, Lila, if our son, Richard, was safe.”
Lila sat down and asked softly: “And… you really believe she is able to do that… better than our contacts in London?”
He pulled out his chair and sat down and reached across the table and placed both her hands in his.
“No, not really,” he confessed, “but we’ve heard nothing and I really didn’t think a visit would do any harm.”
She withdrew her hands from his and looked at him long and hard.
“Should I be worried about you?” she asked with a disconcerting look. “It’s not like you to cavort with the likes of her. My god! She’s been in jail. She’s known for swindling gullible people. Where’s your head, Sandy?”
“I’m neither cavorting nor gullible and my head‘s right where it should be.” When he saw she was about to interject he held up his hand to stop her. “First off, she’s never been jailed. She was arrested for fortune telling but that case was thrown out due to lack of evidence.”
“Sandy, you should hear yourself talk. No matter, it’s how the community sees her. It would not be good for your career if anyone found out. Surely, you know how quickly gossip travels in this community.”
“No one will find out. That’s why I went so early in the morning.”
He shifted uneasily in his chair.
“Lila, when have you known me to turn my back on a possible resource to help solve a crime, no matter how strange the resource may be?”
“So it’s a crime now not hearing from our son?” Lila crossed her arms tightly across her chest as she sat straight up in her chair.
He shook his head. “No, I was just trying to make a point. I’m still steadfast with the Home Office. It is the best and most reliable and logical choice to protect our son while he’s in Germany and to ensure Elsa and he return home safely. That has not changed. Nor will it.” He took in a deep breath before continuing. “That telephone call, Lila, from the Sergeant…just changed how I now look at ‘Queenie.”
She nodded. “Go on.”
“A little girl has gone missing…from the Ward Diane works on.”
“Oh, Sandy! How horrible! ”
“Right now, all I know is that she’s missing.”
She cupped his hands in hers.
“But, Sandy, what does this have to do with that Mrs Stoddard?”
“Queenie, Mrs Stoddard, told me of reoccurring nightmares she’s been having up until yesterday. In it, a rhyme was recited by whom she called ‘a sinister man in dark shadows’ to a little girl. According to her, the scene and the rhyme reoccurred until the little girl was killed in a rather horrific way (which I’ll keep to myself) in her final dream last night. ”
“What does this have to do with that phone call? Oh, I’m not sure I want to know.” She covered her ears and looked away. “I hate these times.”
He gently pulled her hands away. “Lila, please, it’s important you hear. I want you to understand why I now look at ‘Queenie’ in a whole different light.”
Lila’s eyes bubbled up in tears as she nodded for him to continue.
He sighed deeply before continuing. “The rhyme Queenie related to me from her nightmares was: ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men- Couldn’t put Humpty together again.’”
“But what does that have to do with that girl’s disappearance?”
“Please, Lila, let me finish. She said she had heard it in the movie The Divorce of Lady X. But, I know that’s not true. When she told me the little girl’s name…Rebecca Grynberg…well…that’s when that phone call I just took from Sergeant Snowden sent a chill up my spine.”
His attention momentarily drifted toward the window over the sink before returning to her.
“There’s something else,” he continued. “And if this doesn’t send another chill up your spine, nothing will. She said she saw and heard all these dreams through the eyes and mind of that dark shadowy figure. She told me that she had felt his uncontrolled and raging sickness. Also, pasted across her dreams was a collage of young girls’ faces. And, she got a sense that these faces were somehow connected and carried some sort of meaning for him but that she had no idea what it was.”
“Sandy, she’s a grifter who’s put together a good enough story with just enough drama to suck you in.”
“Maybe you’re right. But I’ve asked her to come to the station later this morning to see if we can get a drawing of those faces in her dreams.” He reached inside the pocket of his jacket and pulled out Stoddard’s book Psychic Glimpses and pushed it across the table to her with a shrug and an awkward smile. “You might want to give it a read.”
Reluctantly, she slid the book toward her and asked: “Tell me, what did she say about our son?”
“That he’s not in the spirit world.”
The bridge of her nose pinched together as she tried to understand what he had just said.
“A huh! Grfter or not, I think there’s part of you who wants to believe.”
She rolled her eyes back. “Just get on with it.”
“It means, sweetheart, that… according to her…our son is alive.”
Mustering up a feeble smile, she then looked away.
The slamming of a car door told him that Sergeant Snowden had arrived. Standing up, he bent across the table and kissed her on the top of her head. “I’d better go.”
She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand and asked: “You haven’t forgotten, have you?”
“Forgotten? You mean tonight’s supper? No. Of course not.”
She nodded, trying to smile while fanning through Stoddard’s book.
He picked up the dried sausage from his plate and took a bite. “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. Diane and Lanny are engaged.”
“Thank you for the forewarning,” she replied, still wiping away the tears as she followed him down the hall to the front door. “This may turn out to be a post Guy Fawkes dinner, fireworks and all. I do hope you gave Diane our congratulations?”
“I most certainly did,” he reassured her, stuffing the remainder of the sausage into his mouth.
“I was so hoping to see you march today in the Remembrance Day ceremonies.”
“Can’t be helped,” he replied, picking up his umbrella from the stand by the front door.
”We both know that’s not true.”
“I don’t have time to argue with you.” He swallowed the last of the sausage. “About this evening, don’t worry about my sister. I can handle her. Bye, luv.” And he pecked her on the cheek before closing the door behind him.
“Huh…” she replied skeptically to the closed door, “said the praying mantis to her mate.”
For a moment, she randomly flicked to a page or two in Psychic Glimpses and read it before she walked down the hall to the kitchen and threw the book into the garbage.