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Death Goes Overboard

By David S. Pederson

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Copyright 2017 David S. Pederson

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Death Goes Overboard

Gregor Slavinsky went overboard. Or did he? He was murdered. Or was he? It’s up to Detective Heath Barrington and his partner, police officer Alan Keyes, to find out as they search for clues and a missing twenty-five thousand dollars aboard an old lake steamer and throughout 1947 Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

They are up against gangsters, con artists, and a very seductive Grant Riker, a fellow policeman who could come between Heath and Alan, upsetting their romance.

The three of them race the clock to find the truth amidst lies, secrets, and possible scandal, while riding the waves of a potential love triangle.

Death Goes Overboard

© 2017 By David S. Pederson. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN 13: 978-1-62639-908-2

This Electronic book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185

First Edition: April 2017

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Editor: Jerry L. Wheeler

Production Design: Stacia Seaman

Cover Design By Sheri (graphicartist2020@hotmail.com)

By the Author

Death Comes Darkly

Death Goes Overboard

To my husband, Alan, and to my wonderful family and friends, I thank you all.

And special thanks to my editor, Jerry Wheeler, who keeps my i’s dotted and my t’s crossed.

Chapter One

The MacDonald/Henning case glared up at me from my desk, daring me to file it away for the day. It was only a petty larceny case, but I knew I should do some more research on it in spite of the heat and the fact that my shift was almost over. Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Henning had been bilked out of a fair amount of money, and my job as a Milwaukee police detective was to investigate, though the leads on the perpetrator were few and far between at this point.

A bead of sweat ran down my forehead as I stared at the folder. I picked it up, closed it, and used it to fan myself as I glanced about the detectives’ room. Most of the desks were already empty, their occupants either out on cases or finished in the office. The chief had checked out an hour ago. I rocked back in my old wooden chair, listening to it squeak and groan, and watched the ceiling fan above me revolve far too slowly, keeping pace, it seemed, with the large wall clock opposite where I sat. 3:25 p.m.

With one final fan of the folder, I brought my chair back down and filed the case away for another day. “Sorry, Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Henning, but your case will have to wait. It’s close enough to quitting time, in my opinion.” I straightened up my desk, covered my typewriter, and tore off the calendar page so it would be ready to go for tomorrow. Wednesday, May 28, 1947, went in the trash can next to my chair. I grabbed my fedora and suit coat and went downstairs, where the desk sergeant was typing reports and looking just slightly more miserable than I did.

“Hey, Sol.”

“What can I do for you, Detective?” he responded, without glancing up from his typewriter.

“I’m finished for the day. Feinstein’s on call. I’ll check in for messages later.”

Sol looked up at me then. “Lucky you. I still have two hours of reports to type, and then I’m on the desk until eight and my back is already killing me.”

“Sorry to hear it.”

“You and me both. Move that fan more this way before you go, will ya?” He nodded toward a rusty old electric fan on top of the file cabinets behind his desk.

I walked over and shifted it a little more toward him. “How’s that?”

“Eh, no difference, but thanks anyway. Going to the exhibition game tonight out at Borchert Field?”

“Nah, I’m taking my aunt to tea.”

The sergeant spun around in his chair and looked at me. “Tea? Well, la-di-da, Detective.”

I smiled. “Not my idea of fun, Sol, but it’s our once-a-month date. Keeps her happy.”

“To each their own, I guess.” He spun back around and typed a few more sentences.

“How about you? Going to the game?”

“I don’t get off until eight, and it will be half over by then. I’ll catch some of it on the radio. Tea, huh?”

I shrugged. “She likes it.”

“Dames, gotta keep ’em happy, I guess, though I’m not sure aunts qualify.”

“This one’s pretty special, Sol.”

“She must be. When I get outta here tonight, I’m heading home and popping open a nice cold one. You won’t catch me having tea, especially in this heat.”

“Have a cold one for me, too.”

“I might have two for you. Don’t forget to sign the board.”

“Right.” I picked up the chalk and put my initials in the out box beside my name, Heath Barrington.

“Later, Sol.”

“See ya, Detective.”

My old Buick Century was parked in the back lot, and I was soon headed east on State Street all the way to Marshall, then south to Wells and my Aunt Verbina’s apartment in the Cudahy Tower. I left the car in the shade of a No Parking zone, which is one of the luxuries of being a cop, and went upstairs to escort her down. The two of us were soon headed to the Pfister Hotel six blocks west.

“Don’t put your window down, Heath. I just had my hair done. You can leave the vent window open, but that’s it.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I glanced over at her, sitting up straight and proper in the seat beside me, her gloved hands folded atop her pocketbook in her lap. She wore a smart hat with a red plume that just brushed the roof of my car. To complement that, she had put on a dark brown bolero jacket over a white blouse, both of which accented her beige skirt. Her earrings matched her broach which went nicely with her pearls. Aunt Verbina was nothing if not stylish, and I guess I got that from her.

It was just a few minutes before four when we reached the grand old hotel.

“Use the valet parking, Heath. It’s impossible to find good parking on the street, and I don’t want to walk in this heat.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I hated spending the money when I could park on the street at a penny meter, but I dutifully did as instructed.

I stopped under the awning and gave the keys to the valet, a young kid not much older than my car, I thought. He took them with a rather disdainful look at my old Buick.

“What year is that, mister?”

“1938, Buick Century, series 60.”

“Time for a new one, war’s over.”

“Tell that to my bankbook, kid.”

He handed me a claim ticket, which I slipped into my pants pocket before going around to help Verbina out. She took my arm as we strode up to the lobby door, where a doorman in a cap and coat of navy blue with brass buttons opened it for us, smiling at my aunt.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Partridge, nice to see you again. A warm one today, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, thank you. Nice to see you, too,” she replied, but from the look on her face I was pretty sure she did not recall seeing him before. I gave him a polite nod as I removed my fedora, declining to check it, and followed her into the beautiful lobby, which was noticeably cooler. The maître d’ welcomed us to the dining room with similar formal familiarity and ushered us to a table. My aunt was a regular here, and I looked forward to Wednesday afternoon tea with my Aunt Verbina in spite of what I had told the desk sergeant.

“Tell me, Travis,” she said to the maître d’, reading his name off his engraved gold badge though he had seated her dozens of times in the past, “is that handsome waiter I like so well still here? You know, the one with the English accent.”

“Ah, you mean Seth, Mrs. Partridge. I’m sorry to say Seth has left the Pfister just last week.”

She pouted her too-red lips. “Oh, that is too bad. He always took such good care of me.”

“I’m sure you will like Gilbert, madam. He will be waiting on you today.” Travis handed us petite menus with gold tassels and placed our napkins in our laps, which made me feel rather silly. I put my hat on one of the empty chairs at our table and unbuttoned my suit coat with a happy sigh.

“I will send over some ice water for you tout suite.” He smiled graciously and maneuvered through the tables back to his station at the lobby door.

“Oh, it really is a shame, Heath. No one can keep good help anymore.”

I nodded. “Since the war ended, there’s been no lack of men looking for work, though, so jobs don’t go unfilled long.”

“Oh, that war—so horrible. The war to end all wars, they say. I certainly hope so. Let’s not talk of it today.”

A busboy appeared with water and then disappeared just as quickly after filling our glasses.

“Honestly, did you notice a button missing off that busboy’s right cuff?” Verbina whispered to me. “What is the world coming to if a place like this can’t keep decent help and make sure their employees are groomed and dressed properly? Thank goodness Randy is still here. A good maître d’ is so important.”


“Yes, yes, Travis. That’s what I said, isn’t it? Remind me to have a word with him after tea.” She rummaged in her pocketbook, but she didn’t find what she was looking for, so she set it back upon the table next to her water glass. She picked up her menu and scanned it rather briefly. “Let’s see, I think I’ll have the Earl Grey and some warm scones with jam. Oh my yes, that does sound delightful.” She closed the menu and set it on the white linen tablecloth on the other side of her purse.

“Isn’t that what you always have, Auntie?”

“If you find something you like, why keep trying other things?”

“Not to mention you didn’t bring your reading glasses, so you can’t see the menu.”

“Don’t be cheeky, Heath. You know perfectly well I don’t need glasses. They just make the print on these menus too small. What will you have?”

I grinned at her. “I’ll have the same thing you’re having.”

“Lovely. Oh, and get us some heavy cream. You have to ask for it special now—they used to bring it automatically.”

I gestured for Gilbert and gave him the order, then leaned back in my chair with a sigh, looking at her. “Gilbert seems capable.”

“Oh, they all seem quite capable at first. It’s too soon to tell.”

“Still, he seems nice.”

Verbina shot me a look. “Rather dashing, too, I must say.”

I blushed just a touch. “If you say so. He presents a nice image for the hotel.”

Verbina pulled off her white gloves and laid them on top of her pocketbook. “Speaking of image, Heath, I think it’s high time you seriously start to think about changing yours.”

“My image?”

“Yes, yes. I mean, for goodness sake, you’re over thirty and you’ve never been married or even had a steady girlfriend.”

“Oh please, Auntie, not you, too. I get enough of this from Mom and Pop. Besides, I’m hardly an old man.”

“No, of course not. You know I don’t often agree with your parents, and I understand about you more than they do, more than even you think I do, if you follow me.”

I nodded, but I wasn’t entirely sure.

“All I’m saying, Heath, is that a man in his thirties in your position needs to think about settling down and having children. And here you are, barely begun. You’re going to have big responsibilities now, and you’re starting to get big cases at the station. You won’t have time to go flitting about.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever flitted about, Auntie.”

“Oh, you know what I mean. You’ll need to attend certain functions like the policemen’s ball, for one. Who will you escort? These are things you need to think about, Heath.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, Aunt Bina, please. I’ve never attended the policemen’s ball, and I don’t intend to start now—not that I have anything against policemen’s balls.” I waited for her reaction, but it clearly went over her head.

“There are other things to think about besides that. I know several nice young ladies that would be ideal for you.”

“Oh, my. You’re not going to try and fix me up, are you?”

“Fixing up is exactly what you need, Heath Barrington, though it’s beyond me what needs fixing. You’re young, tall, handsome, witty, and bright, and you’ve certainly got the charm. The women should be throwing themselves at you, and they are, but you barely notice.”

I fiddled with my napkin. “I’ve been busy.”

“No man is that busy, and you don’t have to make excuses. This is me you’re talking to, not your parents.”

“I know that. And aren’t you the one who always told me to be true to myself? To question everything? To not blindly follow the pack? To live my life to the fullest, to be happy with who I am, how I am?”

She rolled her eyes and sighed impatiently. “Of course, darling, of course. But you’re in a position now where you’re getting noticed, and I think it’s important for you to put on a good front, at the very least. Not everyone thinks the way we do, in case you haven’t noticed. I’m not trying to change you, my dear, just your image.”

Gilbert arrived with our tea, scones, assorted jams, and heavy cream, and I was happy for the interruption. He gave me a dazzling smile, not unnoticed by Verbina. As he walked off, I forced my attention away from Gilbert’s behind.

“I worry about you, my dear nephew, I truly do.”

“What’s wrong with being a bachelor?”

“A bachelor in his twenties is fine. A bachelor in his thirties is all right, but a bachelor in his forties…”

“I’m not in my forties yet, Aunt Bina.”

“Today, no, but soon. And if you don’t take certain actions, you’ll quickly be a confirmed bachelor, and people will talk.”

“People already talk. Mother calls it my shyness with the ladies, Father calls it peculiar.”

“She says tomah-toes, he says tomatoes. They’ve both asked me to talk to you.”

“Why? Because I’m a tomato, a fruit?”

“Tomatoes are vegetables, not fruits.”

“They seem like a fruit to me, and like me.” I grinned mischievously at her.

Verbina scowled. “Stop being so cheeky, it’s annoying. Your parents think you should be married, Heath. Frankly, so do I.”

“Why on earth do you think that? You of all people.”

“As you just said, people talk.” She sipped her tea, watching me over the top of the cup.

“I know that, but so what? Let them talk, what does it matter?” I spread raspberry jam on a warm scone, trying not to let any drop on the crisp white tablecloth or on my new tie.

“It matters because people start to wonder. They gossip, and it can affect your future. People ask why you never seem to get out with some pretty young thing.”

“What people?”

She set her lipstick-marked cup down on the saucer impatiently. “Oh for goodness sake, Heath! People people. All I’m saying is it wouldn’t hurt for you to get out more, be seen with some lovely girl on a regular basis. I think you could manage at least an occasional date.”

“Well, thank you for that,” I said, biting off the end of a scone.

“Oh, don’t get defensive. I’m only looking out for your own good. A man who finds himself in your position could go places, do things. You just need a good, strong woman to drive you.”

“You’re a strong woman, Aunt Bina.”

A heavy sigh escaped her red, red lips. “You need a wife, Heath. People expect you to be married. That’s all there is to it.”

“Why? Why do I need a wife? I live my life discreetly. You’re the only one I talk to about these things.”

“Pass me the sugar. Discretion is absolute, but you must keep up appearances.”

I passed her the sugar bowl. “Is that what this is about, keeping up appearances?”

“My dear, that’s what it’s always been about, always will be about. People don’t marry for love or because someone is attractive or interesting or interested in them, at least smart people don’t. Certainly it’s fine to have your indiscretions, your flings, but marriage is a partnership—a sizing up of what each can bring to the table.”

“How romantic,” I said sarcastically.

“Romance is for fairy tales and the movies.”

“Alan loves the movies.”

“Alan Keyes, you’re talking about,” she stated sharply.

“Of course.”

“He’s that police officer that’s helped you with your last couple of cases—the one you’ve been spending so much time with, the one you keep talking about.”

“That would be the one, yes.”

“Oh, honestly, Heath. I’m sure he’s a nice boy, but he’s a police officer. That’s too close for comfort. I thought you said you were discreet.”

“All I said was he loves the movies.”

“And you’ve said before that he’s quite handsome, and witty, and charming.”

“All right, so what? So I like him. Is he what’s brought all this on?”

She nodded. “He sounds like a movie star, too good to be true. He even has a movie star name. Have you ever noticed how people in the movies never have real names like Tom Lombrowski or Susan Klinghauefer?”

“Said the woman named Verbina,” I said with a wry smile.

“That’s enough cheek out of you for one day. In any case, he is most certainly sizing you up.”

“Maybe I’m sizing him up, Auntie. I like his size.”

Verbina glanced about the dining room and lowered her voice. “I won’t have you talking like that, Heath. It’s not decent.”

“You’d like him if you got to know him.”

She shook her head, and the plume waved back and forth again. “I don’t like people as a rule, Heath. They always disappoint. And I don’t want you to be hurt, to be disappointed. You’re a police detective now, and you’re starting to get some big cases. People are noticing you. Why, even my hairdresser mentioned you the other day.”

“Because he knows I’m your nephew, and he likes your big tips.”

“My what?” Her eyes grew wide and her face flushed.

“Tips, Auntie. T-i-p-s.”

“Oh, yes, tips, of course. But it’s not just that, my darling. You’re going places. You could be the next commissioner if you wanted.”

“I don’t want to be the next commissioner. I’m happy where I am.”

“Well, if you want to stay happy where you are, then find a nice girl. At least put up a front. If you want to be with your friend, fine. You know I don’t judge, but do it discreetly.”

“Live a lie? Would that be fair to her? To this girl you want me to find?”

“Always be true to yourself, Heath.”

“But not to others?”

“Honesty isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. The woman you select will be proud to be a detective’s wife, Heath. You’ll make her happy, perhaps have children. You’ll give her a lovely home, security. That’s all a woman wants.”

“Is that all you wanted when you married your husbands?”

“Of course! I always married well and married up.”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Bina, I can’t do that.”

“Honestly, Heath, sometimes I wonder. I’m not saying to give up your friend if this is someone you truly like, but that doesn’t have to stop you from marriage, believe me. I’ve never told you, but my first husband, your uncle Michael, was that way. I knew about it almost immediately, and I truly didn’t care. He gave me everything I ever wanted and he made me very happy.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I must say I wondered about him.”

“Only because you have a sense about men like that. Most people never suspected. He provided me with a beautiful home, clothes, trips, a generous allowance, and I gave him respectability. Michael would have his little dalliances, of course, usually on Friday afternoons when I played bridge.”

“You knew about them?”

“Of course I did, though I pretended not to, darling. It was all a game, you see. But eventually, we both got tired of playing it.”

“He moved to San Francisco, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but we keep in touch. When we divorced, he couldn’t have been happier about it and neither could I. We’re still the best of friends.”

“And then you met David Partridge.”

“That’s right. A handsome devil, emphasis on the latter. I admit I was a bit smitten with him when we were first married, and the fact that he was a partner in a law firm didn’t hurt.”

“Nothing funny about him, I’d say.”

She shook her head rather vehemently, and the red plume in her hat waved wildly about again. “Oh, he likes the ladies all right—too much.”

“It bothered you more that he had lady friends than your first husband having men friends?”

“Yes, because David wasn’t discreet. It became very public and ugly. When I found out, I got out, but only after I got what I needed. He didn’t live up to his part of the bargain, you see. Romance really has nothing to do with it.”

“I find that rather sad, Auntie.”

“You can find it sad, but I’m very happy, and so are they now. Michael’s a respectable divorced man sharing a two-bedroom flat with a nice chap, and David is on his third wife, I believe, or perhaps his fourth. My dear, all I really want for you is to be happy. I know how much your career means to you, but if you continue the way you’re going and get discovered, you’ll end up ruining your life. Is that what you want? What could this Alan Keyes possibly ever offer you that would make up for that?”

I drained my teacup and returned it to the saucer. “I don’t know, Auntie. Maybe nothing. Maybe more than either of us knows. I don’t know where this is going. It’s all too new, but I want to explore it, and I will. I am. We’re both scared about the future, about if we’re doing the right thing, but he seems to really care for me the way I am.”

“You can care for each other, but there’s no reason you can’t be married to a nice young girl, too.”

I gazed at her, sitting there so sternly. “When Alan and I were in Lake Geneva together, we had a discussion along these lines. He talked about maybe wanting a family someday, kids and all.”

“He sounds far more practical than you at the moment.”

“I think he was scared. His second cousin Tony was found hanging from the rafters in some old barn after his father found out about him.”

“Oh dear, how dreadful.”

“Indeed. And besides being scared, I think he’s afraid of dying alone.”

“That, my dear, is inevitable.”

“Maybe so, I don’t know. We talked about you, too, Aunt Bina.”


“Yes, about how you always say to live life to the fullest. Well, this is living life to the fullest for me—exploring, finding my way. If I can do it with Alan, so much the better.”

She sat back, looking somewhat defeated. “I’m finished here, dear. I can see that. You might as well take me home. I’m playing bridge tonight with Mary Fiedler and the girls.” She pulled on her gloves and picked up her pocketbook.

“I’m finished, too.”

“I sincerely hope not, my dear boy. I hope you’re just beginning. Promise me you’ll at least think about what I’ve said.”

“Yes, Aunt Bina, of course. And promise me you’ll think about what I’ve said.”

She looked at me sternly. “I shall have to meet this Mr. Keyes, I think.”

I grinned back at her. “You’ll like him a lot.”

“If he makes you behave like a blooming idiot, there must be something to him. Now let’s go, I can’t be late for bridge.”

I paid the check, collected my hat from the chair seat, and escorted her back into my old Buick once the valet had brought it around.

Chapter Two

By the time I dropped Aunt Verbina back at her apartment and beat it back to my flat on Prospect Ave, it was after six. Dusk was approaching fast, but it was still light out. I found a spot under a streetlight for my trusty old bucket of rust and strode up the walk to my building. I let myself into the lobby, climbed the three flights of stairs, and crossed the hall to my apartment. Once inside, I took off my fedora, hung it on the rack next to the mirror in the hall, picked up the receiver of the telephone on the stand next to the mirror, and dialed the number for the station.

Doris answered. I could always tell it was her by the way she pronounced police, more like “po-lease department.”

“Hey, Doris, it’s Barrington. Any messages?”

“Hold on, let me look. I just got on duty.” I heard her shuffling through papers. “Yes, sir. Chief wants to see you first thing in the morning, eight sharp.”

I furrowed my brow. “What about?”

“Doesn’t say.”

“That’s odd. Feinstein’s on call tonight, not me, and Green’s on for the weekend.”

“I just pass along the messages, Detective.”

“It’s just puzzling, that’s all. Can’t it wait until nine, when I normally get in?”

“You know when the chief says eight sharp, he doesn’t mean nine, Detective.”

“Swell. I’ll be in at eight. Try to keep any calls down tonight so I can get some rest, okay?”

“Sure thing, doll. Like you said, Feinstein’s in the hot seat until the morning anyway.”

Doris wasn’t big on protocol, but I liked her. I hung up the phone and went into the bedroom, flicking on the overhead light, thankful I left all the windows open this morning and the manager had put up the screens already. The place was warm and stuffy. I couldn’t stop wondering about what the chief wanted as I took off my suit coat and pulled down the roller shade on the window. I suppose something could have leaked about Alan and me, despite our discretion. I slipped off my tie, hanging it and my suit coat in the closet. Perhaps Alan had said something to someone he thought he could trust. I soon dismissed that notion, though. I hadn’t known Alan long, but he had more sense than that. At least I thought he did.

I sat on the bed and took my shoes off, lining them up neatly on the closet floor next to the others. I slipped off the leather shoulder holster that held my service revolver and placed it in the nightstand next to my bed before undoing my collar, taking out my cufflinks, and rolling up my sleeves.

I made a quick trip to the bathroom and then flicked on the overhead light in the kitchen. It doesn’t have a window, but it opens into the dining room, which has two large ones facing north. If I leaned out and looked east, I could just see the lake. I opened the icebox and rooted around for something to eat: an apple, some leftover chili, a quart of milk, some butter, a couple bottles of pop, and some eggs. Lean pickings. I decided on a couple of fried eggs and the chili, heating up the chili in one pan and frying the eggs in the other.

From the vent in the wall next to the stove, I heard the unmistakable voice of Mrs. Murphy downstairs in 204. “Herbert! I’ve almost got the dishes done—do you want to see a movie? The Downer has Unconquered starring Gary Cooper at eight fifteen, what about that? The theater has refrigerated air, you know.” She had a set of lungs on her, that’s for sure. Funny, the few times I’ve run into Mr. Murphy in the hall, he didn’t seem hard of hearing.

“Fine, just sit there, then, and listen to the radio and sweat. That’s all you ever want to do. Maybe I’ll call my sister and go with her. She likes Gary Cooper.”

“Who doesn’t like Gary Cooper?” I said to myself. I turned off the stove, dished the eggs onto a plate and the chili into a bowl, and carried them to the table in the dining room, which was really more of an alcove off the living room. When I went back for a bottle of pop I heard Mrs. Murphy once again.

“I’m going to catch the streetcar and meet Evelyn there. I just have time to change my dress. If you’d come with, we could take the car, you know, and I wouldn’t have to rush.” I suspected Mr. Murphy was going to enjoy the peace and quiet of being home alone in spite of the heat.

As for me, my place was too quiet. Even Oscar, Mrs. Ferguson’s cat in 310, wasn’t roaming about yet. She usually let him out in the hall around eight, and he went from door to door looking for love and affection. Sometimes I hated living alone, especially when I started envying a cat. I sat down and started eating, staring at the phone over by the door and wishing I could call Alan and talk to him about all this right now, but he was on patrol until midnight. Instead I turned my attention to the dining room windows and the ever-deepening twilight. I pondered over and over what the chief could want to see me about. I would have a restless night of worrying, tossing and turning. I also wondered what Keyes was doing right now and if he was thinking of me.

Chapter Three

The alarm went off at six the next morning, and I pulled myself unwillingly out of bed. As I suspected, I did not sleep well. A hot shower, a shave, and some breakfast and I felt well enough to make a call to Alan Keyes’s apartment. I used the pencil on the table to dial the phone, holding my second cup of coffee in my other hand. After five rings, I heard a sleepy “hullo?”

“Hey, sleepyhead.”

“Heath, geez, it’s six thirty in the morning. What are you doing up this early?”

“I’ve got business. The chief wants to see me at eight. Sorry to wake you.”

“S’okay. I didn’t get done on patrol until midnight, though, and didn’t get to bed until almost two.”

“Good thing you’re young yet.”

“I won’t be if you don’t let me get some rest.”

“Sorry, I guess I should have waited to call. I just wanted to say good morning. We didn’t get to talk last night.”

I heard Alan yawn. “What’s he want to see you about?”

“Dunno. I’ve been thinking about it all night. Didn’t get much sleep.”

“Probably just an upcoming case. Nothing to worry about, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right, Alan. There’s nothing going on right now that I know of, but I’ll keep you posted. I told him we’re going fishing, so he already approved me being off.”

“I know. Say, you don’t suppose he’s heard anything. About us, I mean.”

I shuddered at the thought, Verbina’s words ringing in my ears. “Funny you bring that up. I was wondering the same thing. I don’t see how, though. We’ve been pretty discreet. Nothing wrong with two buddies hanging out together, going fishing for the weekend.”

“Except you’re a detective and I’m a cop. Detectives usually keep to their own,” Alan replied.

“Usually, but not always. We’ve worked on a couple of cases together, it’s natural we should become friends. I’m sure whatever he wants to see me about is nothing personal.”

Alan let out a deep breath. “Let me know when you find out.”

“I will. Say, you didn’t by chance say anything to anyone about us, did you? One of the guys downtown, maybe?”

“What? Are you kidding? You should know me better than that, especially after all the stories you’ve told me.” The indignation in his voice made me instantly regret asking him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think you would have, but I had to ask.”

“I don’t see why you had to ask that, Heath. I have just as much to lose as you do if someone finds out about us.”

“I’m sorry. I guess I’m just nervous.”

“I understand you’re nervous, but I didn’t say anything to anybody, and I never would. He may want to ask about a case or one of your files. Aren’t you working on some larceny case right now?”

“Petty larceny. Nothing big that couldn’t wait until nine. But you’re right. It’s probably nothing, and soon we’ll be on our way to a three-day weekend up north.”

“We both could use it. It will be nice to get away, Heath, I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks. I work tonight at four, but I’ll be done by midnight, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning. I still can’t believe you managed to arrange for both of us to be off Decoration Day, and it’s on a Friday this year, so three days off.”

“Most folks call it Memorial Day now, not Decoration Day, and it wasn’t easy to get us off. I had to call a few favors in, pull some strings.”

“Well, I’m glad you did. Our last weekend away in Lake Geneva wasn’t exactly relaxing.”

I laughed. “No, not exactly. I got my man, but not the one I wanted.”

“No murders this time. Just the two of us alone, in a cabin by the lake.”

“Sounds good to me, Alan. Don’t forget to bring your fishing pole.”

Alan laughed. “I’ve never fished a day in my life, but I’ll bring my bait along.”

“Perfect. What are you wearing, by the way?”

“Just my boxers at the moment, but I may as well get dressed. I’m up now.”

“Don’t bother on my account.”

He laughed again. “What are you wearing?”

“Just my boxers, too.”


“Yeah, but I’ll also be getting dressed soon.”

“Too bad.”

“Sweet talker. So glad police officers and detectives have private phone lines.”

“Maybe someday they’ll invent picture phones.”

“Now that would be nice!”

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning at nine. It’s a three-hour drive up there, so we’ll get in in time for lunch.”

“Great. I get off at midnight tonight, so if I’m home and in bed by one, I should be able to get seven hours in, if you don’t call me before eight.”

“No worries, sunshine, I won’t. But if you’re not out front at nine, I’ll be beeping my horn.”

“I’ll be there, Detective, you can count on it. Let me know what the chief says, okay?”

“I’ll give you a call after I’ve finished with him.”

“Good, and don’t worry about it anymore. See you later, Heath.”

“Bye, Officer.”

I hung up and swallowed the rest of the now-cold coffee before padding down the hall to my bedroom. I put on my navy blue pinstripe suit with the yellow tie, shoulder harness under the coat, grabbed my hat from the hook, and headed downstairs. On the second-floor landing, I passed the milkman making his rounds and looking sharp in his white shirt and coat, black slacks, and black bow tie. I asked him to leave me a pint of cottage cheese the next morning. He jotted it down, and I continued on my way downstairs.

Mrs. Murphy was in the lobby, standing with her back to me in front of the bank of brass mailboxes in the wall. Her hair was up in a kerchief, which did little to disguise a mound of curlers beneath it, and she was wearing a housedress with colorful vertical stripes. In Mrs. Murphy’s case, the vertical stripes definitely did not make her look thinner.

“Good morning, Mrs. Murphy.”

She turned around, a startled look on her chubby face, and I saw she’d been reading a postcard, probably left on the ledge for someone else. “Oh, Mr. Barrington, you startled me. You shouldn’t sneak up on old ladies like that.”

“My apologies, but you’re hardly an old lady.” I grinned at her.

Her cheeks flushed a soft pink, and she giggled. “Oh, go on, you flatterer!”

“Not at all. I swear you look younger every day. You’re certainly up bright and early, by the way.”

“It’s too hot to sleep in, Mr. Barrington. And Herbert is a furnace himself. I had to get up and sleep on the davenport.”

“It was pretty warm last night.” I took the opportunity to check my own mailbox and was pleased to find a letter from my friend David, a Catholic missionary stationed in Africa, of all places, and a postcard from my aunt and uncle. They were vacationing in Margate, New Jersey, home of Lucy the Elephant, which apparently weighed ninety tons and was sixty-five feet tall and made of wood, according to the description on the back.

“You got a postcard, too?” Mrs. Murphy said, trying her best to see it.

“Yes, a letter and a postcard of Lucy the Elephant in New Jersey. Alan would get a kick out of that.” I placed the letter and the postcard in my inside pocket to show him later.

“Who’s Alan?”

“Hmmm, oh, just someone at the station who likes things like big wooden elephants. By the way, how was The Conqueror?”

“Why, it was wonderful, but how did you know? Oh yes, the vent, of course. I do need to be careful of what I say lest you learn all my secrets!” She giggled again.

“Your secrets are safe with me, Mrs. Murphy. I’m glad you enjoyed the show.”

“Oh yes, very much so. Gary Cooper, you know, and air-conditioning. Refrigerated air—it was heavenly. We missed the newsreel because we had to take the streetcar, but we got to see the shorts and the coming attractions before the movie. Mr. Cooper is so dreamy.” Her eyes sparkled and she tittered, covering her mouth with the postcard, which I could now see was addressed to Alice McBain.

“He’s a fine actor indeed. One of my favorites. I see Miss McBain got a postcard.”

“Hmm? Oh, yes!” She turned the postcard over in her hand, rather embarrassed. “It was lying here on the ledge. The sender didn’t put her apartment number on it, you know. I was just going to take it up and slip it under her door.”

“Very kind of you.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, really. I pass her door anyway when I go up. Poor Alice. Her beau was killed in the war, so tragic. They were engaged, you know.”

“Yes, I recall you mentioning that.”

“Now she just sits home all alone most nights. She still wears her engagement ring.”

“How sad.”

“Yes, it truly is. She works at the bank during the day, then comes home by herself at night. The card is from her cousin Shirley out in Minneapolis, the one that just had twins.”

“I see.”

“Well, not that I read it or anything, but I saw the postmark and the signature.”

“Of course. That makes perfect sense.”

“Well, anyway, I take it you were home alone again last night, too, seeing as how you heard me and the mister through the vent and all.”

“Yes, a quiet evening. Just me and the radio.”

“You spend too many nights with that radio, Mr. B,” she admonished. “A nice, young, handsome man like yourself should be going out and enjoying yourself. You’re always working or sitting home alone, just like Miss McBain.” She fanned herself with the postcard. “Oh my, it’s going to be a warm one again today.”

“Yes, I believe it is.”

“It’s too early in the year for weather like this. Terrible sleeping. Now mark my words, you need to find yourself some pretty young thing and get married, Mr. Barrington. Then when you stay home, you’ll have something better to do than listen to the radio.” Her face flushed pink again. “And don’t forget Miss McBain, such a nice girl and all alone now, you know.”

“Yes, Mrs. Murphy, so you’ve said.” A dozen or more times, I added to myself. “Well, I must be off. I have to get to work.”

“At least tomorrow is Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, as they’re calling it these days. Herbert and I will be going to the cemetery with flowers, decorating the graves of the soldiers. That’s how Decoration Day got its name, you know.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that, but somehow Memorial Day seems a more fitting, more somber name.”

“I suppose so. Everything changes, don’t it? I suppose you have to work the holiday, too?”

“Police work never takes a holiday, you know, but I’m supposed to be off tomorrow and the whole weekend.”

Her chubby cheeks glowed. “Oh, how nice for you! Any plans? Will you be going to the cemetery and the parade later?”

“Not this year, Mrs. Murphy. I’m going fishing up north with a buddy—we’ve rented a cabin on a lake.”

“Oh, that sounds nice. But it’s too bad, really.”

“Why?” I said, though I knew I shouldn’t have.

“I was just thinking, the VFW hall is having a dance Saturday night and it would be nice if you were to ask Miss McBain. She’s mentioned how attractive you are, you know, and I’m sure you’re a good dancer. Herbert and I are planning on going, too. We could double date.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “I’m afraid I’m better with a pole than on a dance floor, and as I said, I’ve already made plans. I really have to get going or I’ll be late, Mrs. Murphy. Give my best to Mr. Murphy.” I stepped around her and headed for the door as Mrs. Murphy tsked behind me. I imagined she was shaking her head at me, still fanning herself with the purloined postcard.

Chapter Four

It was almost eight when I entered the stiflingly hot detectives’ briefing room. The fan overhead did little more than move the air around, which I guess was something. In the corner, a nasty-looking fly strip twirled lazily in the breeze, its victims stuck to it like absurd little ornaments. I paced, watching the clock on the wall, still wondering and worrying what this could all be about.

I stopped briefly at the open window and looked down on Eighth Street, watching people and cars crawling slowly along. Funny thing about summers and heat. They make everything move at a different pace. In the winter, people almost hibernate, and those that do venture out are almost unrecognizable bundled up in coats, hats, scarves, and earmuffs as they scurry quickly about. In the summertime the heat brings everyone outdoors to their porches and their stoops, drinking lemonade and saying howdy to passersby.

Summertime is a friendlier season, but this was still technically spring and it was too damned hot. I turned from the window and sat down in an uncomfortable wooden chair against the wall, picking up a Saturday Evening Post from a stack of old magazines to fan myself with as I fiddled with my tie, a nervous habit.

I jumped when the chief finally walked in, looking more than a little warm and tired himself.

“Morning,” he said to me.

“Good morning, sir.” I rose to my feet and dropped the magazine back onto the table next to the chair.

“Am I late?”

I glanced at the large clock on the wall over the door. Eleven after. “Only a little.”

The chief looked at the clock, then back at me, and shrugged. “Overslept. Too damned hot, and if we leave the windows open in the bedroom, we get eaten alive.”

“You haven’t put your screens in yet?”

He glowered at me. “Don’t you start in on me, too. My wife’s been nagging me to get the storms off and the screens put in for the last two days, but I’ve been busy. I got the first floor done, but not the upstairs.”

“The upstairs windows are always challenging. You have to be careful on those ladders.”

“Don’t I know it, damned things. It’s too early in the year for it to be this hot already.”

“I know. Tune in tomorrow—it will probably snow.”

The chief laughed gruffly. “Exactly, and then she’ll want me to put the storms back on. It was in the forties and fifties just last week. And don’t forget January was just four months ago, with the blizzard that left us with eighteen inches of snow, sixty-mile-an-hour winds, and drifts over ten feet high.”

“Yeah, and now we’re complaining about the heat. Human nature.”

“Come on in, Barrington.” He unlocked the door to his office and I followed him in, closing it behind me. I hung my fedora on the coat rack next to his and dragged a wooden chair across the already badly scuffed linoleum on the opposite side of his desk.

I watched him as he turned on the fan in the corner, opened the windows, and finally sat down at his desk, where he sorted through his papers, made a few notes, and grunted to himself. After several minutes, he lit a cigarette and looked up at me, his eyes bloodshot and his forehead beaded with sweat.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I wanted you down here first thing.”

I shrugged, watching him, hoping my nerves didn’t show. “I’m curious, of course.” My stomach was in knots, as I had worked out the worst-case scenario in my head, involving me losing my job, public humiliation, my parents shunning me.

At last he said, “I’ve got an assignment for you, on a need-to-know basis only. I couldn’t give any details in the message.”

I sighed heavily, quite relieved. Sometimes my imagination is my own worst enemy. “Oh, so that’s it.”

“Why? What did you think I wanted?”

“I wasn’t sure, really. What kind of assignment?”

“It’s probably nothing, Barrington, but we can’t take the chance. Gregor Slavinsky’s on the move again, or he’s going to be, anyway.” He picked up a manila folder and slid it across the desk to me.

I picked it up and leafed through it, feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Gregor Slavinsky was a small-town thug, in and out of prison like it had a revolving door on it. He’d just been released the middle of February on a racketeering charge. He was someone we kept tabs on, hoping he’d lead us to bigger fish.

“What’s he up to this time?”

The chief grimaced. “Wish we knew. Word is he’s into Benny Ballentine for big bucks, somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five grand.”

I whistled, rocking back on the legs of the wooden chair, which creaked accordingly. Benny Ballentine was definitely a bigger fish we’d been trying to hook for years. The two of them had been bootleggers together back in the twenties, though Ballentine had gone on to a more lucrative life of crime while Slavinsky struggled every step of the way and spent more time in prison than out. “Ballentine still playing the part of the legitimate businessman these days?”

“Yes. He owns quite a bit of property and several businesses and nightclubs downtown, many of which we suspect are fronts for gambling and prostitution, but we haven’t been able to nail him. Gregor’s booked passage on a lake excursion boat leaving this afternoon, and our sources tell us Ballentine’s going along.”

“Interesting,” I said, rocking back and forth.


“Why would Ballentine let Slavinsky have 25 Gs? That’s a lot of money, and from what I hear, Slavinsky is not a good risk for a loan.”

“Good question. Our contact tells us it was a high-interest loan Slavinsky had planned to use to open a nightclub downtown, but apparently he’s having problems and has already missed a payment to Ballentine.”

“Ouch. Benny Ballentine doesn’t like missed payments.”

The chief shook his head. “No, he doesn’t. My guess is Ballentine doesn’t want Gregor slipping away into Canada until he gets his money, so he’s tagging along on this trip to keep an eye on him. The boat’s some small four-cabin excursion yacht sailing from Milwaukee down to Chicago and then up to Mackinac Island, over to Beaver Island on Saturday, and stopping in Manitowoc on Sunday, returning to Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon. The only other passengers are some folks from Chicago—a man by the name of Alex Baines Whitaker and, apparently, Whitaker’s aunt, a Mrs. Vivian Woodfork. They booked a cabin together.”

“So Gregor’s got a cabin, Whitaker and his aunt have a cabin, and Ballentine’s got one.”

“Along with his thug, George, yeah. Leaving one cabin empty.”

I brought my chair down to rest on all fours and leaned on the desk. “And you want me to occupy that empty cabin.”

The chief grinned. “You are definitely a smart one, Barrington, just like the reporters say. Shirley booked you under the name Henry Benson. You’re an insurance salesman on holiday.” He slid another folder across at me. “Here’s all the info and your ticket.”

I picked it up. “Leaving this afternoon? So I’ll be gone all weekend?”

“Like I said, the boat returns Sunday afternoon. It’s taking a leisurely route, a tour of the lake, more or less. It leaves here at six tonight, getting to Chicago at seven thirty, leaves there at eight and arrives in Mackinac at eight tomorrow morning.”

“That is a leisurely route. You can drive there from here in eight or nine hours.”

“Apparently, this boat isn’t in it for speed. They serve meals on board and everything, I guess, just like a hotel. All your expenses will be paid, of course. You’ll be home by Sunday night.”

“And what exactly am I supposed to be doing on this trip? Once we get out into the lake, I’ll be out of our jurisdiction. Shouldn’t this be the Feds’ department? Crossing state lines and all?”

“No crime has been committed yet, and Slavinsky has served his time, so he’s free to travel wherever he wants. That being said, Slavinsky borrowed money, and Ballentine wants it back.”

“So, you want me to tag along in case Ballentine decides to get persuasive.”

“Exactly. I’d love to bust Ballentine for murder one, if I can—attempted murder at the very least.”

I nodded. “And if Ballentine bumps off Slavinsky, you have one less headache to worry about. Killing two birds with one stone, as they say.”

“I know that sounds cold, Barrington. I don’t want Slavinsky killed, but if it happens, it happens. I just want you to nail Ballentine if it does happen.” The chief took a long drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke toward another fly strip hanging in the corner opposite the fan.

“Sure, Chief. I understand.”

“Good. I doubt much of anything will happen when you’re out on the water, but keep your eyes and ears open at all times.”

“I’ll do my best. What about on land? It will be difficult to tail them.”

“I doubt Slavinsky will make a run for the border once he finds out Ballentine is aboard, but you never know. Contact the state police in Michigan if you need help. They’ve been briefed on the situation. The Canadian border police have been briefed as well, just in case, and we sent them mug shots of Slavinsky and Ballentine.”

“I understand.”

“The state police will meet the boat in Mackinac just in case Slavinsky makes a run for it.”

“But even if he does, it’s not a crime to go to Canada.”

“No, but if he runs, you can bet Ballentine will follow, or he wouldn’t be on this boat with him. He wants his money back, and he’ll do what it takes. If Slavinsky runs and Ballentine follows, go after them with the Michigan State Police, but keep your distance. As soon as Ballentine pulls something, nail him but good.”

“Okay, Chief. And I should just lay low on board, the average insurance salesman on holiday?”

“Ask around a bit while you cruise. See if you can find out what Gregor has done with all that money so far, or anything we could hold Ballentine on. But yeah, otherwise just sit back and relax with your eyes and ears open. You could get worse assignments, Barrington, though I know you had that fishing trip planned.” He stubbed out his cigarette in a dirty glass ashtray and fanned his face with one of the folders.

“Had being the key word. What about Alvin Green? He’s the senior detective and on call this weekend.”

“You’re right, and we need him here in case something big happens in town. As I said, we really don’t expect much of anything to go down with Gregor and Ballentine, and we can’t have Green out in the middle of the lake if something big occurs here.” The chief wiped the back of his neck with his handkerchief. “Besides, Green’s a family man. He needs time to spend with the family.”

Aunt Verbina flashed through my mind again, and I felt a chill run down my spine. “Right,” I replied, bristling.

“Oh, I almost forgot. Speaking of families, here’s yours for the weekend.” He slid an envelope across the desk toward me. “Wife, a boy and a girl, standard stuff. Insurance agents your age would naturally be married.”

“Naturally.” I took the envelope and opened it to reveal a small photo of a woman and two attractive children, the boy in her arms, the girl in a white dress by her side.

“Put that in your wallet. You can name them whatever you want, but don’t forget. The back story is your wife took the kids to visit her mother in Minnesota, and you decided to take a lake cruise, got it?”

I put the photo back in the envelope and slid it inside one of the files. “Got it. Attractive woman and kids, anyway.”

The chief laughed as he lit up yet another cigarette. “You’re a nice-looking guy, or so my wife tells me. She keeps wanting to fix you up. We can’t have a nice-looking guy married to an old hag, wouldn’t be believable.”

“Thanks. Why didn’t I go with her to visit her mother?”

“Good question. You’re also a bit of a Great Lakes buff, and you’ve always wanted to do a trip like this, but your wife gets seasick, and you’re not all that keen on her mother. There’s some facts and figures on the lake in the folder for you to memorize, too.”

“Couldn’t I just be single? Or divorced? Or a widower? Seems it would be a lot simpler.”

“A guy like you would be married. You’re too young to be a widower, and divorce isn’t believable. Oh yeah, you’ll need this.” He opened his top drawer and took out another envelope, which he slid across to me. Inside was a gold wedding band. I slipped it on my ring finger, and it fit pretty well.

“Don’t lose that. We’ll need it back on Monday morning.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t plan on keeping it.” I took it off and put it securely in my front pocket. “What about my larceny case? The MacDonald/Henning one?”

“That can wait until Monday. It’s not going anywhere.”

“Right. Well, I guess I’d better study these files and do some packing.”

“Don’t forget you’ll be out of communication once you leave land, but the boat is equipped with ship-to-shore radio in case of an emergency. The captain’s a fellow named Clark and the mate is a man by the name of Willy Gruling. They seem to be on the up-and-up, but don’t trust anyone. There’s also a cook on board, some fellow by the name of Gene Gidlund. Been with them a long time. And we have an undercover policeman name of Grant Riker acting as steward.”

I raised my eyebrows. “An undercover policeman and an undercover detective on one little boat?”

“You know we’ve been after Benny Ballentine for years. We can’t afford to let him slip away while our back is turned. It would be a real coup for Milwaukee if we can pull this off and nail him.”

“So what’s Riker’s story? Does he know I’ll be aboard?”

“Not yet, but he’ll be filled in. He’s on the boat now, learning the ropes, so to speak. We felt we needed someone who could get into all the cabins and snoop about a bit, and we need you to be with Ballentine and Gregor in the public areas, chatting, listening, watching.”

“Makes sense, I suppose. A room steward would have the perfect opportunity to snoop without suspicion.”

“Exactly. We chose Riker because he had experience as a steward while he was in school a couple years ago, and we arranged for the current steward to be sick for this voyage.”

It never failed to surprise me how much the police could arrange when necessary, and I didn’t always want to know how. “How long have you known about all this?”

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