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 5: Girl


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 going?”

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 weapon.   

Nothing.

“Do you have my wallet?”

“Yeah.”

“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 other car.”

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 her comeuppance.

She dared not shout at me, so she shouted at Herbie: “What happened, you idiot?”

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


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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.)