Gumshoe Felix Driscoll
takes on the case of...

The Wrong Twin

A 6-Chapter Hard Boiler!

by Darryl Crawford
About the author

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Episode 4: Mean Woman


INSIDE THE GROUNDS NO DRAGONS breathed fire and no guns spoke.  I dove for the blackest shadows at the foot of the fence, and waited.

My breath came in gasps.

My temples thundered in tandem with my heart.

My pistol was in hand but I had no memory of drawing it.

The ocean could still be heard, though not as much as when outside the walls.  A long period of time passed with me sensing no one’s presence but my own.  The gate had probably been operated mechanically from somewhere inside the house.  No sign of guards patrolling, no evidence of watch dogs.  I felt confident enough to replace the automatic in its holster and scout around.

The bungalows were not brick like the mansion or the fence surrounding the place.  They were built out of pine, like vacation cabins.  But they had solid oak doors with big shiny locks.  Though several lights blazed in the windows of the house only one of the cabins had a light on.  I had a sense of deja vu.

I gravitated toward the window.  With no shrubbery to hide in I clung to the shadows.  An air-conditioning unit kicked on out of the blue and really startled me.  I heaved an anxious sigh of relief and lowered my pistol.  I almost saw the humor in it.  Almost.  Sweat beaded on my face.  I wasn’t really surprised to find the window made of frosted glass with inlaid chicken wire just for good measure.

What kind of place was it anyway?  I thought I could hazard a pretty fair guess.  All alone in the foothills next to the sea almost anything could happen behind those forbidding walls.  Criminals might find shelter there, if the rackets financed it.  Or innocents held against their will, I thought.

I crept around the side of the bungalow.  A door opened, spilling light.  A large woman in white shoes and trousers and a nurse’s smock appeared, rattling a big ring of keys.  In her other mitt she gripped a six battery flashlight like a club.  I heard her humming to herself above the air-conditioner’s low whine.  A faint, but steady sobbing came through the open door behind her.

Absorbed in watching her lock up I didn’t hear anyone behind me until a gun barrel nudged my right kidney.  A nasty voice uttered hotly: “I think we got us a Peeping Thomas here, Mavis.”

The nurse turned, smiling, ugly.  She shined the beam of her flashlight in my face.  “Who’s that, Herbie?”

“Dunno.”  Herbie gestured with his gun, “Why don’t you open the cottage back up and throw some more light on our subject.”

“Our new arrival is still shaken from her treatment.”

Herbie said something obscene and both laughed cruel barks of laughter.  “Open the door,” he growled.  “And, you, keep those hands over your head!”   I was urged forward at gunpoint.  Mavis said something and her keys made noise.  Light from inside showed her features.  She had a mustache and hair on the backs of her arms.  A mean woman, and probably a strong one, too.

“Is he carrying a gun?” she asked Herbie.

“Dunno,” he spat.  “Turn around, you, let’s have a look.  Well, well, he’s wearing a shoulder holster.”  Herbie’s hand reached inside my jacket to disarm me.

“What’s your name?” Mavis asked.

I tried to sound indignant: “Now see here!  What is all this?  My car died up the road.  I’m . . .”

“She asked your name, friend,” Herbie started to act tough.

I remained silent.

Out of nowhere Mavis’s big flashlight crashed against the side of my neck.  The blow made me unsteady on my feet and I went down, though not out.  A roaring sound filled my ears.  The sobbing had stopped.  I heard the voices of Herbie and Mavis talking.  For a minute I couldn’t understand the words they spoke.

“. . . doctor will want to see him right away.”

“Absolutely,” this was Mavis. “Is he a cop?  Does he have any identification on him?”

Vaguely I was aware of Herbie relieving me of my wallet.  Why not?  He already had my pistol.  Herbie said: “License says he’s one Felix Driscoll.  He’s a private detective.  Office in L.A.”

“Dr. Desola isn’t going to like that.”

There was silence, especially in the other room.  “You want to sedate him first?”

“Let’s wait and see what the good doctor says.”

A shoe kicked me in the stomach, “On your feet, friend.”

I needed no more prompting.  I was slower getting up than I cared to admit to myself.

“Walk!” ordered Herbie.

I obeyed.

A footpath wound around to the big brick house.  Mavis was in the lead with her flashlight, Herbie last, covering me with at least one gun.  My empty shoulder holster chafed.  A nerve in my neck kept clenching and unclenching.  I was wobbly on my feet.  When we reached the house Mavis pressed a buzzer at a back door.  A few minutes later a light came on inside.  A massive head with a craggy face appeared.  Words were exchanged and the three of us entered the house.

We passed through a large kitchen, down several corridors and up some flights of stairs before arriving at a room with the door standing ajar.  The man with the misshapen head spoke from the hallway into the room.  “Doctor?  Dr. Desola?  Mavis and Herbie have some . . . uh, more news for you.”

“Well, I hope it’s good news for a change,” barked an agitated voice.  “Send them in.”

Our guide bowed us in and shut the door softly behind us.  The room was a plush study, all deer heads and book cases full of unread books.  Behind a giant mahogany desk crouched a big shot who was obviously Dr. Desola.  An expanse of woolly hair showed through the open neck of his sports shirt, a pinkie ring and a flat gold watch gleamed, a big cigar jutted from his mouth.  The mussed wavy hair on his head, not yet gray at the temples, made him look like he’d just stepped off the tennis court.  A big hand brought a small whiskey up his mouth.  He poured himself another.

A leather couch was against one wall.  An older woman dressed in frumpish orange sat in one of the two armchairs arranged in front of the desk.  She smoked a cigarette in a long holder and sipped at a glass of white wine.  No one introduced me and she said nothing while I was there.

Herbie held up my billfold to show them.

Desola extended an elegant hand for it.  “Let me see that.”  The agitated voice belonged to him.  “What’s going on here?”

“We have another visitor, fed us some line about car problems,” explained Herbie.  “But he’s a snooper.”

A quick inspection of my wallet revealed my license.  Desola fed himself another drink.  “Private investigator,” he mused with no small concern to the frump.  To me: “What brings you here?  Lost Pines isn’t easy to find.”

I kept quiet.

“Answer the man, ” Herbie said.  My kidney took another prod from the barrel of the gun.

“Who sent you here?”  Cigar smoke dribbled from Desola’s lips.

“You better start talking, friend.”  Prod.

“Who are you working for?”

“I’m looking for a missing girl.  I’m working with the police and they know I’m checking out this lead.”

“I don’t think so, friend, you were only following the cars . . .”

Desola interrupted him sharply: “Herbie, don’t name any names in front of him, for God’s sake, he’s a private detective.”

He eyed the frump nervously and she coughed in agreement.  She was old enough to be his grandmother.

Herbie adopted a menacing tone: “The cops know nothing about his coming here.  That’s pure bluff.”

“We can’t afford to take a chance,” Desola said to the old woman.  She looked me up and down like a laboratory experiment.  “An accident needs to be arranged for him.”

“I agree fully,” said Herbie, “We can make it look like a tragic accident?”

“How much time do we have to get rid of him?” asked Mavis.

“The sooner the better, certainly before morning,” said Desola.  He took a loving suck on his Havana, smiled at the old frump.

She smiled back and blew a plume of smoke.

I tensed. 

Mavis stepped over to me.  I knew she intended to slug me with her flashlight again.  Knowing what was coming made it easy to avoid.  Cursing, Mavis lunged a second time.  Futile.  Dr. Desola glanced behind me for the briefest of moments.  I realized what was happening too late to stop it.  Herbie slammed the gun barrel underneath my right ear.  Everything got unreal and faraway.  I slumped to my knees in slow motion.  After staring down at the pattern of the carpet and contemplating it for what seemed like a long time, I pitched forward face-first.

Then out...


Back to Episode 3 :Two Holes
On to Episode 5 :Girl


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The Wrong Twin is copyright by Darryl Crawford. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)