takes on the case of...
A 6-Chapter Hard Boiler!
by Darryl Crawford
About the author
SURPRISED, "You recognize me?"
"Even when your hair isn't up in a bun." I remembered the girl of
many faces in all the photographs. "Where's Dana?"
Lisa shrugged. "I don't know."
"Don't lie to me."
"I really don't."
"Why were you trying to impersonate her?"
"Are you out of your mind? I wasn't."
"Sure. And you weren't running out of the house after Vinnie got
"Vinnie wasn't shot."
"That can't be denied. Who ran out of the house then?"
"That was me."
"Will you kindly tell me what's going on?"
"That was Vinnie's house, but that wasn't Vinnie."
I still thought she was lying. "Don't try to kid me, kid.
Where've you been?"
She rambled. "When I got off work at the restaurant I went home
and changed. A friend dropped me off at Vinnie's place."
That explained why she took the convertible. "What for?"
"To see if I could find Dana."
Maybe that was the truth, maybe not. She went to see Vinnie, not
Dana, I thought, but I asked, "Who else was in that house?"
We heard it at the same time before she could answer, the rattle of a
bad lifter. Something flashed through the spaces between the
trees in the first haze of dawn. The touring car approached the
estate in the decreasing rain.
I opened my door. "Wait here."
"What are you going to do?"
"My job. Which is to find Dana."
"You're dead on your feet. You told me so."
I got out of the car.
"Don't leave me here alone."
"Lock the doors, you'll be fine. Here are the keys. If
anybody comes after you, just drive off."
She opened her mouth to protest but I was already slogging through the
wet undergrowth. The long black car clattered, waiting for the
gate to open. I'd sneaked through before and did so again before
it closed on its track. If someone had invaded my private
hospital estate and evacuated some of my patients, I'd post some
guards. You'd think Desola and company would wise up after a
while. Or maybe he was short on help. Dodging through trees
and shrubs, I trailed the touring car right into the driveway.
The driver apparently noticed me only after parking the car and getting
I leveled my pistol at Dr. Desola himself. I inquired, "Been up
all night working?"
"It appears we both have." He regarded me and the gun
calmly. He endured being frisked for a weapon with great
dignity. "Are you now satisfied that I'm unarmed?" I
continued to hold my gun on him anyway; he had the physique of an
athlete. "I understood you were to have an accident?"
"It never happened, doctor."
A smirk quivered on the edge of Desola's lips. "That I can
see. And now what?"
"I'm looking for Dana Starling. Where is she?"
His smug smile spread wider. "You never said Dana is the missing
girl you're looking for."
"I never got the chance; your orderly knocked me unconscious."
Desola disregarded my words like I'd never spoken them. "She
isn't really missing, you know."
"I hear you talking."
"Please understand any young lady, not just Dana, is entitled to some
privacy. She wants her secrets kept secret. Naturally she
doesn't want her family to know she's living with a man she isn't
married to." He added: "With me"
"She lives here with you?"
"We don't live here, we live at my house. She's staying here now,
just temporarily, undergoing a cure," he explained.
"I know all about the kind of cures you specialize in here."
"It's not what you think." Desola's entreaty fell on deaf
ears. "Look, I'm not a doctor."
"That's the first thing you've said that I've believed all night.
Let's go inside and see the girl."
I motioned at the house with a toss of my head and we walked up to the
front door. He let us in with a key. The big house was
dark, and quiet. I never saw the man with the misshapen head I
had seen during my first visit.
We came to a staircase. "Where's the girl?"
"Sleeping I'd hope." Desola yawned, which made me want to.
"Show me." I kept the gun trained on him.
We went upstairs and into a bedroom. Roused from sleep, a voice
from the bed asked, "Who is it?" The missing Starling girl lifted
her tousled blonde head from a stack of pillows and peered at us with
"It's me, Dana," said Desola.
"Oh hi, Vinnie," said the drowsy girl.
I stared in disbelief at the man I presumed to be the doctor. He
smiled back at me.
"So you're Vinnie, not Dr. Desola?" I said.
"Yeah. I tried to tell you." Smug.
Dana asked about me. "Who's that? Why's he holding a gun?"
"A private cop your mother hired."
"Hired for what?"
"Hired to find you," I said simply. Then to Vinnie: "Who got shot
at your place last night?"
"What's he talking about, Vinnie?" asked Dana.
Vinnie said nothing.
"What's this man talking about, Vinnie?" Dana repeated.
I said, "Tell her who took two slugs in the chest at your house,
Vinnie. I'd be interested to know his name myself."
Despite being sleepy or drugged Dana demanded, "Vinnie, tell me what's
going on?" She eased out of bed, drew on a robe and went over to
stand beside him.
I said, "Answer her."
He hesitated a long time. "It's Bobby."
"Bobby Lomeli? Is he dead?" Dana touched a hand to his
sleeve. "Did you kill him?"
Vinnie said nothing but there was no mistaking the truth etched on his
"Why'd you kill Bobby? You said you wouldn't no matter what
happened, you said he was your friend," wailed Dana.
His composure broke down under the girl's mounting fury, he must have
really cared about her. "It's a long story, baby, and unusual
I said, "Does the story go something like this? You and Bobby
were friends. Bobby was at your place when a girl named Suzanne
called you from The Carousel? She used a payphone from the powder
room and told you I was nosing around. You sent Bobby over in
your place to take care of the situation. You had Suzanne
identify Bobby as you, right?"
"Did that happen, Vinnie?" asked Dana.
"Baby, part of it happened like that, but not all of it," Vinnie said
finally, with spread hands. "I asked Bobby to take your car over
to the club and find out what was going on, then report back to
me. He had no car for some reason so I let him borrow
yours. At the club Bobby sees Tony the Dentist. The two of
them had a deal, involving some narcotics. He tells Tony to meet
him later at my place where they can talk it over in private."
I recalled the two men consulting their watches. "What about
Lisa?" I asked him.
Vinnie paused. "Bad timing, she came in just when Tony gunned
"Don't drag Tony into this and start lying this late in the game.
Tony had nothing to do with it, although it might be convenient to
blame him for killing Bobby. Not only have I talked to Lisa but I
was there when the shooting started. You're a gambler, Vinnie, so
what was it? Did Bobby owe you money? He was high in The
Carousel so maybe there's a narcotics angle? What did you have on
him to make him jump whenever you snapped your fingers? I guess
it doesn't really matter. I guess Lisa can clear up any details
Dana's hysteria built. She rasped at Vinnie, "You always hated
Bobby because I was with him before you. But that's been over for
a long time, Vinnie. You're just too jealous, you know you're the
only one I love."
I asked Vinnie, "Did Lisa pick up Bobby's gun after you killed him last
night? She afraid you were going to kill her too. I think
she took a pot shot at you and sent you running out the back
door. She ran out the front and you chased after her in the old
black car. Is that your car?"
"It's his car," Dana answered for him.
"Vinnie, you couldn't leave a loose end like Lisa lying around.
You brought her back here after you forced the convertible off the road
in that big car. A Cadillac was leaving when I first got
here. It's back now. Was it sent out to bring the
convertible in from the roadside?"
He denied it.
"Did you just now yourself get back from your house? Were you
tidying up the murder scene? You were too pressed for time
earlier, with all the guns going off. Am I right, Vinnie?"
Dana crucified him with her eyes. "He'd better not be right,
Vinnie, for your sake. I'll tell everything I know."
The sound of a gun being cocked made us all turn. She had traded
the frumpish clothes for a frump's nightgown. She glided into the
room silently in bedroom slippers and clutching an ancient
revolver. "You better shut that girl up, Vinnie," the frump
warned him. She aimed the gun at Dana.
Vinnie regained some of his lost composure and, to his credit, stepped
between the revolver and the Starling girl. "Put that gun down,
I was astonished to learn the frump was Dr. Desola.
"I wouldn't be talking in front of this guy," the frump scowled.
I'd been maneuvering around to get Vinnie between me and the gun.
Dr. Desola spotted what I was up to and shifted me into the sights of
her revolver. The heavy old gun trembled, clumsy in her
hand. She spoke forcefully for an old woman: "Drop that gun!"
Instead I said: "Was the lady doctor supposed to keep Lisa doped up and
quieted down until you could figure out a way of disposing of her?"
Vinnie's lips curled in hatred.
"Enough accusations," the frump replied, "I'm not going to tell you
again to drop that gun."
Dana spoke flatly, "I've heard enough. I'm leaving. Right
Dr. Desola waved the gun, screaming, "Nobody's leaving! Stop this
instant!" She pulled the trigger as I darted to one side.
The revolver made my ears ring when it boomed. The frump's bullet
struck Vinnie and mine struck the frump. She toppled dead.
"Dana . . ." stammered Vinnie through a mouthful of blood.
She bent over him, crying, cradling his head in her arms. Over
and over she said, "You know you're the only one I love, Vinnie."
I dialed the phone on the night table. He died before the
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