takes on the case of...
A 6-Chapter Hard Boiler!
by Darryl Crawford
About the author
NUMB, I FELT A
CLOCKWORK POUNDING as my brain sloshed around my skull. I don’t
know how long I had been out. A hard rain fell. With great
effort I managed to sit up. After a minute I became aware of the
frosted wire-reinforced windows. So they’d moved me down to one
of the bungalows. A door with a deadbolt lock faced me from the
opposite wall. The door opened and Mavis and Herbie shuffled in
in dripping raincoats.
My best chance lay in playing up my helplessness and hope they’d give
me an opening. Even so, both of them had already clobbered me
once apiece. To hope to take them in my condition was wishful
thinking. Mavis and Herbie both had sucker-punched me when each
of them had taken me down and, pardon any excuses, but two can play
that game. If they just left me an opening.
“Rise and shine, snooper,” Mavis said.
“We going somewhere?” I asked as feebly as my acting skills
allowed. It didn’t require much acting. “Where are we
They ignored me.
“Do I get a raincoat, too?” I asked, leaning to one side.
“Cut the comedy and shut up. Help him up, will you, Mavis.”
I exaggerated the weakness I felt, staring blankly and being
unresponsive. Mavis dragged me to my feet. I leaned against
her for support and walked like a man without a bone in his body.
She was not happy. I put up with her rough handling to
demonstrate how docile I was.
A distrustful Herbie threatened to shoot me if I tried anything
funny. I saw he had my gun.
“Quit waving that thing around,” Mavis said to him. “Our little
detective is punch drunk.”
The observation pleased me. But would they buy my act enough to
relax their guard?
“When do I get my gun back?” I asked, like a child.
“I’d advise you to quit babbling, friend.”
“You can’t shoot him, Herbie. It will spoil the accident.”
I giggled, slurred incoherence, stumbled.
Herbie cursed and said, “Want to handcuff him?”
“Nah, he’s a lamb,” Mavis said.
We went outside, the flashlight beam practically useless in the dark
and the heavy falling rain. In the large drive in front of the
mansion six or seven cars were parked, among them the dark Cadillac,
but no touring cars. I did see mine and the convertible, and
wondered who’d moved them.
I was relieved when I saw we’d be taking two different cars, mine as
well as a white sedan. That meant splitting the execution
squad. One is twice as easy to handle as two. Mavis got
into the sedan and started it. Herbie shoved me into the
passenger seat of my car. There I lolled, a discarded
puppet. Herbie went around and got in on the driver’s side.
I lolled some more. We waited at the gate and Herbie followed
Mavis out when it rumbled open. Along the canyon road we drove
and onto the coast highway.
How steady would I be when the life-and-death moment came? I
wished my head would clear. If I attacked with Herbie behind the
wheel I risked wrecking the car, but if I waited much longer
Mavis would rejoin us and end my advantage. How to
capitalize on the situation? I had no plan.
As I slouched around my hand felt the gun pushed halfway into the crack
of the seat cushion, the gun Dana had dropped after the shooting.
I’d tossed it onto the front seat after checking how many rounds
remained in the clip. Fortunately I had reloaded the thing.
Whoever had driven my car from where I’d parked it and back to Lost
Pines apparently hadn’t noticed it there in the dark.
My heart pounded harder than the pounding in my head. If Herbie
knew that I had a gun he would not have hesitated to blow my head
off. My right hand curled around the butt of the pistol. Herbie
brought my car to a stop behind the sedan. When he turned to
order me out I pressed the chrome snout against the side of his neck.
“Very slowly, put my gun on the dashboard.”
Herbie began to curse. I shushed him with an emphatic jab of the
gun. “On the dash. Now!”
He obeyed. “Hands on your head. That’s a good boy.”
When I had my gun back, I aimed it at him. I stuffed Vinnie’s
chrome piece into a jacket pocket then patted Herbie down for another
“Do you have my wallet?”
“Get it and put it on the dash. Use your fingers only, left hand.”
I retrieved my wallet and scooted over all the way to the right, still
holding the gun on Herbie. “Hands on your head again,” I
said. With one hand I examined my billfold, thumbing through the
contents. Everything seemed intact, including the check.
“Now get out! Friend.” I couldn’t resist.
Herbie muttered like a Neanderthal.
“You heard what I said. And don’t try to get cute and signal the
He opened the door and stepped into the rain still muttering, but not
too loudly. Mavis waited ahead in the other car, parked
overlooking a steep bluff. I guess the plan had been to drive my
car into the Pacific with me in it. A few days in the ocean can
erase a lot of telltale evidence.
Mavis got out of the sedan to see why Herbie was standing in the
rain. She yelled and gestured as he stood unmoving, unaware I sat
in the driver’s seat holding a gun on them. When she realized it
her face went through a series of almost comic changes, a bully getting
She dared not shout at me, so she shouted at Herbie: “What happened,
They began to scream at each other and, just for fun, I fired a shot
into the ocean to get their attention.
“Just stand there and listen to me,” I said. “Mavis, toss me that
big ring of keys.”
She made an untrue statement concerning my background, but eventually
complied, pitching the keys close to my feet. I knelt to pick
them up, never taking my eyes off her or Herbie.
“Now start walking, you two,” I motioned with the gun. “No, the
other way. Away from the hospital.”
Herbie started to complain. “In this weather?”
“Be thankful I left you your raincoats.”
Mavis smacked his arm. “Be thankful he didn’t kill you.”
They moved away, arguing. I wanted to question Herbie about the
‘naming names’ remark made in Dr. Desola’s office, but feared losing
the upper hand.
When they were far enough away for me to relax I put the car in gear
and pulled alongside the sedan. I got out to remove the keys to
the other car. I hurled them into the rain and the waves crashing
on the rocks below. Locking all four doors of the sedan as one
last precaution, I clambered into my car, soaked to the skin.
That would give me enough time to get back to the sanitarium first.
On the road to Lost Pines I felt good about the
developments so far. I’d won the battle by firing only a single
shot. A lunacy, I admitted to myself, but at least I hadn’t been
forced to kill anybody. That sort of thing tends to get licenses
revoked, although that was the least of my worries. For the time
being I was free and at my own ends again, eager to determine if Dana
was inside the Desola estate.
I parked well off the road and battled the elements till I reached the
wall. My jacket felt comfortably heavy with a gun in each pocket
in case I needed them. I hoped not. In my hand I carried
the pencil flash.
There was no squeezing through the bars of the gate and no climbing the
high wall. It’s only in the movies where a convenient oak spreads
its mighty limbs close by. I played the beam of the flash along
the bottom of the wall looking for a break, doubting I’d find
one. A guarded community like Lost Pines is, in effect, a
prison. Not all mental patients are dangerous, but the dangerous
ones needed to be as closely supervised as violent criminals.
That made me think of Vinnie Patucci, deceased. But I had to move
quickly or Mavis and Herbie would get to a phone and queer the whole
deal. A waterlogged couple stranded in the rain at night invited
sympathy. At any time somebody might stop to help them.
Our car broke down a mile from here . . .
A cascade of flowing water ran in a stream at my feet from under the
wall. The driving rain had washed out a particularly sandy area
beneath the foundation. People shouldn’t build on sand
dunes. I’d found my way in. A dirty crawl awaited me, one
that would finish the job the weather had begun on my suit. I
wriggled through the mud without a second thought.
Once I got to my feet, a muddy soggy mess, I made for Dana’s
cabin. By the time I reached it the rain pouring down had almost
washed me clean. Unlit windows and locked doors. Well, I
had already anticipated that. The rather ineffective pencil flash
proved to be a lifesaver in the dark with the keys. Methodically
I tried every one in the lock until one fit. Then I ducked
inside, grateful to be out of the rain.
I crossed to the bedroom door and opened it. When I did a girl
with long blonde hair in the bed awoke, startled. She struggled
against her restraints when she saw me. She looked like the same
girl I’d seen running from the house after the shooting. Blood
still smeared the bosom of her blouse. Lethargic eyes became
terrified above a wide strip of tape across her mouth.
“Relax, I’m going to take you out of here.” I set my flash on top
of a bureau where it provided a weak light at best. Water dripped
from me and left puddles around my shoes. Awkward in drenched
clothing, I began to undo the restraining belts.
With her hands free she carefully peeled off the tape covering her
mouth. “How did you find me?” She sounded like she needed a
drink of water.
“By following Vinnie Patucci I wound up here.”
The planes of her face were chiaroscuro in the semi-darkness, sad and
fearful. I finished freeing her ankles and she swung stiffly out
of the bed. “Let’s get out of here,” she croaked.
Did I want to try to get someone in the house to open the gate or crawl
under the wall again? Finding that break in the darkness again
might be too time-consuming, or impossible. But entering the
house would definitely cause a confrontation and I was feeling too
fatigued to want to risk it.
I noticed my teeth chattering. We headed in the direction of the
wall and our luck held, our withdrawal uneventful. Five minutes
later I found the place where I’d crawled in.
“Ladies first,” I indicated the hole with the weak beam of light.
She scrambled through the mire without a murmur of protest. Then
I took my turn. On the other side of the wall the adrenaline
stopped rushing through me and I immediately felt heavy on my feet,
doddering like an old man. We trudged to my car. We got in.
“I’m just about out of gas. Me that is, not my car.”
We looked at each other in the front seat. Her long wet hair
plastered her face, concern showed in her gaze. No glamour model
poses then, just a kid waitress in too deep.
I said, “What do you think you’re doing,... Lisa?”
Back to Episode
4 :Mean Woman
On to Episode 6 :Tears
The Wrong Twin is copyright by Darryl Crawford. It may not be
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