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Death Checks In

By David S. Pederson

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 David S. Pederson

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Death Checks In

All Detective Heath Barrington and his partner Alan Keyes want is to get away for a weekend of romance, but they find murder instead when a missing tie leads them to the body of the peculiar Victor Blount, and Heath can't resist the urge to investigate. Who killed Blount, and why?

Clues turn up around every corner, but what do they mean? The bloody “W,” the green spool of thread grasped in the dead man’s hand, the newspaper left at the doorstep: they all lead down a strange and winding road of mystery and danger. As Heath and Alan work together to solve the case, they encounter various and eccentric suspects, old friends, and a hostile Chicago Detective, Marty Wilchinski, who doesn’t like Milwaukee police involved in a Chicago crime. Forced to act on their own, out of their jurisdiction, they race against time to find the killer before Wilchinski files the case closed.

Praise for David S. Pederson

Death Comes Darkly

“Agatha Christie…if Miss Marple were a gay police detective in post–WWII Milwaukee.”—PrideSource: Between the Lines

“The mystery is one that isn’t easily solved. It’s a cozy mystery unraveled in the drawing room type of story, but well worked out.”—Bookwinked

Death Goes Overboard

“[A]uthor David S. Pederson has packed a lot in this novel. You don’t normally find a soft-sided, poetry-writing mobster in a noir mystery, for instance, but he’s here…this novel is both predictable and not, making it a nice diversion for a weekend or vacation.”—Washington Blade

“Pederson takes a lot of the tropes of mysteries and utilizes them to the fullest, giving the story a knowable form. However, the unique characters and accurate portrayal of the struggles of gay relationships in 1940s America make this an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.”—Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

Death Checks In

© 2018 By David S. Pederson. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN 13:978-1-63555-330-7

This Electronic Book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185

First Edition: September 2018

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 Jeanine Henning

By the Author

Death Comes Darkly

Death Goes Overboard

Death Checks In


I must start by thanking my husband, Alan Karbel. From reading drafts to being my publicist, and for believing in me, always. Thank you, Pookie, I love you. You’re the key to my lock.

 And always, thanks to my dad, Manford, who we lost in 1992, and my mom, Vondell. No matter what I do, Mom is my cheerleader. In large part, I am who I am because of the two of them.

I must also thank my sisters and their husbands, Debbie and John Kangas, Julie and Frank Liu; and my brother, Brian. Who else but family would put up with my shenanigans?

Unless it’s my dear friends Jacques and Glenn, Steve W. and Mark B., Mike and Margot, Jeannie and Clif, Dave and Kathy, Justin Peters, Liz K. and Mike R., D.C. and Fern, Rick and B.J., Mike P., Randy and Michael, and Jennifer and Steve. They love me in spite of (because of?) my craziness, and I love each of them.

Of course, many thanks must also go to Jerry Wheeler, my editor, who I also consider a friend. He is a talent, and could have probably made these acknowledgments read much better!

Brenda T.S., Deb D., Beth H., Vicki S., Kathi B., Jeff M., and all the B.S. crew, thank you! For believing in me, for being my friend, and for making work more like play all those years.

And finally, thanks to everyone at Bold Strokes Books who have helped me so much. Special thanks to Sandy and Cindy; you two rock!

For Mary Fiedler, my champion and friend.

And for Margot Beckerman and Mike Macione, two of the most non-judgmental, caring, wonderful people I’ve ever known.

Mike and I have been friends for over thirty years, when back in the day he dragged me home down the sidewalk after a night of a few too many cocktails!

Chapter One

June 12th, 1947

Late Thursday night, we were alone in my apartment, just the two of us. From the radio on the table came the sounds of Bing Crosby singing “Embraceable You,” but other than that all was quiet and the lights were low. He looked up at me with those big green eyes and I could tell he wanted more, as I held him in my arms and danced him around the apartment, singing softly in his ear. He was insatiable, but I was done in. It had been a long day and a long night. Still, his eyes, his gaze, that adorable face were hard to resist. Finally, as the song ended, I set him down and gave him another scratch behind the ears as he rubbed up against my legs and weaved in and out between them.

“All right, Oscar, you’ve had a saucer of milk, a dance, a tummy rub, and an ear scratching. You are a sweetie, but I have a fellow with two legs whose ears I’d rather be scratching, and there must be a cat somewhere in all of Milwaukee who would be happy to see you, my friend.”

He looked up at me again, blinked, and let out a soft meow, as if to say, “Maybe so.” He walked with me to the door of my apartment, and I let him back out into the hall to continue his nightly roaming from door to door, looking for love and maybe another saucer of milk or two. After he’d gone, I picked up the phone receiver on the hall table near the door and dialed Kings Lake 5-2835. After a few brrrrrrrrrings, I heard Alan’s deep, masculine voice.


“I just let the cat out.”

“Of the bag?”

I laughed. “That’s a curious expression, isn’t it? I wonder what its origins are. But no, our secret is safe, mister, at least for now.”

“Good to know.”

“You’re good to know.”

“That’s good to know, too.”

“All right, enough.” I laughed.

“So whose cat did you let out?”

“Mrs. Ferguson’s. She lives in 310 and lets him roam the halls every night. He goes from door to door and knows I’m a soft touch for an ear scratch and a tummy rub.”

Alan chuckled. “Lucky cat.”

“Indeed. Are you packed?”

“Packed, ready, and able, Detective. A long weekend in Chicago with you is just what the doctor ordered.”

“I agree. I’ll bring my stethoscope.”

“You’re in a mood, Heath.”

“A good mood. As you may recall, our recent attempts to get away haven’t exactly been successful.”

He laughed harder this time. “To say the least. You have the hotel reservation confirmation letter?”

“I do. A double room, Edmonton Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, checking in Friday, June thirteenth, checking out Monday, June sixteenth. I have the train tickets, too. The morning train gets us into Union Station before eleven. It’s just shy of two miles to the hotel from the station, so we’ll grab a taxi.”

“That’s a bit extravagant, Heath. We could walk it.”

“But we’ll have our bags to lug. I think I can splurge on a taxi this one time.”

“All right, big spender, it’s your nickel. Of course, the way you overpack, your bag probably weighs thirty pounds.”

I smiled. “Well, it’s difficult to ascertain what one will need, you know.”

He laughed again. “Very true, but not so hard for me. My wardrobe is a bit more limited than yours. Regardless, I can’t wait.”

“Well, you’ll just have to wait one more night, Officer. I’ll pick you up at your place at eight a.m. sharp.”

“I’ll be ready at seven.”

“Good. Three days, three nights with nothing to do.”


“You know what I mean, Alan, and by nothing, I mean everything to do with each other. Away from prying eyes, someplace where we don’t know anyone and no one knows us. We’ll just be two fellas out on the town, having a gay old time.”

“I like the sound of that, Heath. It’s not easy living behind a wall, having two faces.”

“You’re hardly the two-faced type, Alan.”

“You know what I mean. My public face for friends, family, fellow officers, and the private face for you and maybe one or two others.”

I sighed. “Yeah, I know only too well what you mean. This weekend will do us both a world of good.”

“You know, I’ve never been to Chicago, Heath.”

“So you mentioned. I still find that hard to believe.”

“Just never had a reason to go, I guess. For me, growing up in Racine, Milwaukee was the big city. My folks never had much money, and vacations consisted of weekends at the beach or day trips to the zoo. We did go to the Wisconsin Dells once, when I was twelve.”

“Chicago’s nothing like the Dells, Alan. I think you’ll like it.”

“I can’t wait. Dinner at the Pump Room?”

“On a police detective’s salary?” I arched my brow.

“I’ll order the melba toast and tea.”

I laughed. “That’s about all I could afford, mister, but we’ll see.”


Then he got very quiet.

“What? You still there?”

“Hmm? Oh yeah, sure. I was just thinking, that’s all.”

“About the Pump Room?”

“No, about the nightclubs. I’ve heard and read about them my whole life—the Boulevard Room, the Empire Room, the Tip Top Tap, and Chez Paree.”

“Swanky. Chez Paree is one of my Aunt Verbina’s favorites.”

“I want to meet her someday.”

“Yes, we need to arrange that. Anyplace else of interest?”

“Well, there’s the Sky Star Ballroom at the Edmonton, right where we’re staying. Did you know Bing Crosby played there last year?”

“That should be an easy one. I’m listening to the Bing Crosby hour right now.”

“Keen, me too.”

“Nice. Well, we can definitely hit a nightclub or two while we’re there, if you want.”

“Sure, I know.”


“But we can’t dance. That’s one of the prices we pay for leading secret lives, isn’t it?”

“I guess so.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Of course it does. I’d love to lead you to the dance floor and waltz you about, maybe even do some swing dancing. That looks like a lot of fun. But we can’t. Not in public, and you and I both know that.”

“So, what’s the point of going clubbing?”

“Because we can drink, listen to the music, and there will always be single ladies looking for partners. If we each choose a partner and dance close together on the floor, it will almost be like we’re dancing with each other.”

I heard him sigh. “It will have to do, I guess. But promise me when we get back to the room we’ll push the furniture aside, put the radio on, and do some private dancing.”

“That, Officer, is a promise. And the room’s a double, but we can push the beds together at night.”

“And apart again in the morning before the maid comes in.”

“It’s the way it has to be, unfortunately.”

“I know, I understand. I really am looking forward to it, but I hope we’re not courting trouble leaving on Friday the thirteenth.”

I laughed lightly. “Always the superstitious one. You know it’s the only weekend we could get off this month. And my buddy Mike, the dick at the Edmonton, got us a great rate because it’s Father’s Day weekend.”

“That’s another thing. What about your dad?”

“What about him?”

“Won’t he want to see you on Sunday?”

“I’ll buy him a tie down in Chicago and swing by the house for dinner with him and Mother Monday night after we get back to Milwaukee, just a day late.”

“Your mother won’t like that.”

I laughed. “You’re right. I phoned her earlier tonight and told her we were going to Chicago this weekend. She tried her best to make me feel guilty about it, and she kept making that clicking sound with her teeth, but I promised I’d be over Monday night for dinner. It’s funny, you’ve never even met my mother and yet you know her so well.”

“Well, you do talk about her.”

“I suppose so. Still, she’s my mom, and he’s my dad.”

“You’re lucky you still have your folks.”

“I know. You’ve been on your own a long time without your parents. It would be nice if you could come Monday night, get to know my parents, but…”

“I know, don’t worry. I’ll have unpacking to do, stuff to get ready for my shift on Monday night. It’s fine. I’m just glad we’re getting away.”

“Me too. Well, I’ll see you bright and early in the morning, then.”

“I’ll be there with bells on. Good night, Heath.”

“Night, Alan.”

Chapter Two

The next morning the skies were overcast, fog and light drizzle hanging in the air, and yet there was Alan, his battered tan suitcase in hand, waiting at the curb in front of his apartment building on the west side of town as I pulled up in my old Buick Century. He beamed at me from beneath the brim of his fedora, his Brownie camera about his neck. I got out and opened the trunk for him.

“Morning, Heath,” he said with a wide grin.

“Good morning. How long have you been standing out here?”

“Only about ten minutes.”

“You could have waited inside, it’s cold and damp out here.”

“I know.”

He threw his bag into the trunk next to mine. I slammed it shut and got back behind the wheel as he climbed in beside me. “I was too excited to wait inside any longer.”

I laughed. “Good, me too. Wish we had better weather, though.”

“Let it rain,” Alan said. “Nothing can ruin my mood today. I noticed you brought your umbrella.”

“Yes, it straps right to the side of my suitcase. And good to be prepared, I’d say.”

“You always are. I like that in you.”

I smiled. “Good. No sense of ominous foreboding this Friday the thirteenth?”

“Not yet. I packed my lucky rock, though, just in case.”

“Your lucky rock? Just when you think you know someone.” I laughed.

“I never told you because I knew you’d make fun.”

“Maybe I’d kid you a bit, but I wouldn’t make fun, not of you, ever.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that.”

“So why is it your lucky rock and how long have you had it?”

He shrugged and looked a little embarrassed. “I’ve had it since I was a kid. My dad gave it to me after a trip he’d been on when I asked him what he brought me. I know he meant it as a joke, but I didn’t see it that way then. Stupid, huh?”

“Not at all. I think it’s sweet.”

He smiled. “Thanks. And ever since he died, I usually carry it with me. It just somehow seems to bring good luck.”

“I see.”

“I know, you’re a non-believer, Mr. Skeptical. But it works, at least for me. I was carrying it the day I met you, you know.”

My heart flip-flopped a bit. “All right, you just made a believer out of me. Let’s get going.” I put the car in gear and headed east toward Wisconsin Avenue and the train station. I parked my car in the lot just beside the depot and we each retrieved our bags from the trunk, I with my monogrammed suitcase and matching train case and Alan with his dad’s old case. I noticed he had added his initials at the end, A.K. A thought occurred to me that new luggage might be a good Christmas gift for him, and I smiled. It had been a long time since I had anyone special to buy Christmas gifts for.

The depot was bustling with people, heading to and from Chicago and points beyond. The train departed at five after nine, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time. I bought a newspaper from the stand near the lunch counter and a pack of chewing gum for later as I waited for Alan, who had decided to get his shoes polished and shined.

He smiled at me as he stepped down from the shoeshine stand and gave the boy a quarter. “Better. Can’t be seen in the big city with scuffed-up shoes.”

I laughed. “Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed. Let’s go, though. We’re short on time. Track two is this way.” Soon the conductor was calling out the familiar “All aboard,” and we climbed up the steps into the train. We found seats together in the third car, choosing window seats facing each other. Our bags and hats tucked in the rack overhead, we settled in for the relatively short journey. Once we rolled out of Milwaukee and the conductor collected our tickets, we felt like we were finally on our way.

As we watched the towns of Sturtevant, Racine, and Kenosha fly by out the rain-splattered glass, I looked admiringly again at Alan, so smart in his navy double-breasted suit, a white handkerchief tucked neatly in his breast pocket. “I hope my tuxedo doesn’t get too wrinkled in my case,” I said. “I probably should have gotten a garment bag for it.”

“Tuxedo? Gee, Heath, you think we’re going to need one?”

I nodded. “Well, sure, if you want to go clubbing. Chicago is the big time compared to Milwaukee. You packed yours, didn’t you?”

He frowned. “I just brought my dark suit and this double-breasted for traveling. I don’t own a tux.”

“A tux in Chicago is de rigueur, I’m afraid. Maybe we can buy you one there.”

“A tux is de what?”

De rigueur.”

His frown became a scowl. “French again. For someone who only studied it in high school, you certainly use it a lot,” Alan said, sounding annoyed.

“It’s a beautiful language, the language of love. And besides, I had a remarkable French teacher.”

“Coulliette something or other. Yes, I know, you’ve mentioned him before.”

“Mss’r J. Coulliette, that’s right. He and the handsome math teacher, Mr. Koos, were both bachelors, and they shared a flat, as I recall the rumor.”

“People do talk, don’t they?”

“Yes, they do. Or should I say oui?”

He rolled his eyes. “Yes works just fine.”

“I remember running into Monsieur Coulliette and Mr. Koos once in the summer. They were walking their dog, a black border collie named Maddie. It seemed so odd to me to see them on the street, like normal people, with a dog and all.”

“They are normal people, Heath.”

“You know what I mean. Seeing teachers outside of school. You just don’t think of them as leading normal lives. And seeing them together just reinforced in my mind the rumor that they were a couple.”

“Did anyone ever find out for sure?”

“I don’t think so, not that I ever heard, anyway. I know Mr. Koos went out with Miss Johnson, the English teacher, once or twice. But I think that was just to avert suspicion.”

“The games we all have to play.”


“So anyway, what the heck does de rigueur mean?”

“It means necessary if you want to be socially acceptable, fashionable.”

“Oh, well, I can’t afford to be socially acceptable or fashionable. Not on my salary,” Alan replied.

“I can help you. A good tuxedo is an investment, Alan, and should be about thirty or thirty-five dollars. A lot of money, I know, but I plan to do lots of clubbing with you over the next thirty years or so, so it’s only about a dollar a year.”

Alan laughed. “I see. I can’t afford not to buy one.”


“Well, we’ll see. I’ll give it some thought and we can have a look in the shops once we get to Chicago. Anything interesting in the newspaper?” he asked, changing the subject.

I opened it up and perused the front page. “An article on Babe Zaharias. It says, ‘Mrs. Zaharias Is First American to Win Women’s British Golf Title.’”

“Wow, good for her. She’s really an amazing woman.”

“She certainly is.”

“How about the horoscopes?”

“You’re kidding.”

“Hey, you believe what you want, I believe what I want. Besides, it’s Friday the thirteenth, you know.”

I sighed. “Okay, let me find them.” I flipped through the paper to the Ladies section and scanned the horoscopes. “Your birthday’s March sixteenth, right?”

“Yes, I’m a Pisces, sign of the fish.”

I laughed. “Then you must love weather like this.”

“Ha, just read, Detective.”

“All right. It says, ‘For you, magic will play a big part in your emotions in the next few days. A colleague, neighbor, or friend will give you the chance to seize some unexpected opportunity. Make the most of it.’”

“Hmmph. Well, all right then,” Alan said, leaning back.


“Well, you’re a friend and a colleague, and you’ve given me an unexpected opportunity in this trip to Chicago, and I definitely intend to make the most of it, so I’d say it’s pretty right on the money.”

“And the magic part?”

“Hmm. Not sure about that yet, but let’s see what the weekend brings.”

I laughed. “Fair enough.”

“What about yours, Heath? You’re an Aquarius, right?”

“So they tell me.”

“The water bearer. It’s why we go so well together—fish and water.”

“I won’t argue with that, Mr. Keyes.”

“So what does it say? Your horoscope, I mean.”

I scanned the paper again. “‘Don’t be fooled by what you read in astrology columns today. Someone makes a good living writing them. A tall dark handsome friend or colleague will try to distract you. Be wary.’”

Alan folded his arms. “Very funny. You’re lucky you’re cute.”

I smiled. “Sorry, just teasing. I just don’t buy into astrology.”

“To each his own.”

“Very true,” I agreed.

I finished reading the newspaper while Alan gazed out the window and fidgeted. Finally, I put the paper aside on the seat next to me and closed my eyes. I think at some point I actually dozed, but Alan was clearly too excited. When at last we pulled into Union Station, he was almost bouncing up and down in his seat. I checked my pocket watch and found we were right on time. Whoever wrote those timetables knew what they were doing. We put our hats on and hauled our bags off and then we walked down the platform into the station. Once inside, we made a brief stop in the men’s room and made our way toward the Great Hall, its vast size and tall, barrel glass vaulted ceiling dwarfing us. Alan stopped, mouth agape, taking it all in.

“Golly, Heath, this place is huge. It makes the station back in Milwaukee look like a whistle stop.”

“It is impressive, I agree. The first time I saw it I was taken aback, too.” We stood for a while gazing about the room at the large number of people hurrying here and there, lugging cases, towing children, or standing in groups, couples, or by themselves. Uniformed porters went this way and that with large piles of luggage and trunks on their carts, and newspaper boys shouted out the latest headlines. The loudspeakers overhead frequently crackled to life, announcing the Capitol Limited to Washington, track three, and the Denver Zephyr, track eight, among other harder-to-understand bulletins about lost children, lost articles, and late departures.

Down the center of the hall, still more people were seated on benches, including a woman holding a crying newborn, and beside her not one, not two, but five other children, all of them talking at once, along with everyone else in the main hall. The great mass of voices made a buzzing sound in my ears.

“Which way?” Alan asked finally, ready to get going.

“There are some underground taxi stands, but let’s go up to the main street. I think the rain has stopped.”

“Lead the way.”

We climbed the many marble stairs up to Canal Street, jostling shoulder to shoulder with the masses. Once outside, the car horns seemed to blare incessantly and the air smelled damp and smoky. The wind blew down on us, and we pulled our hats low as we made our way toward a line of cabs waiting for passengers. We loaded our bags into the first one available and gave the Edmonton as our destination to the driver. Soon we were off, and I sat back, enjoying just watching Alan staring out the window, craning his neck this way and that, and up, up, toward the many skyscrapers.

“Quite a city, isn’t it?” I asked.

Alan turned to me, a big smile on his face. “I’ll say. Even with the fog and drizzle, I can tell it sure isn’t like Milwaukee.”

“No, no it’s not. For better or worse.”

He turned back to the window then, and I gazed out the other side of the cab, watching the buildings and cars go by as the driver weaved in and out of traffic, making his way to the Edmonton on Michigan Avenue. On the sidewalks, people scurried here and there, some carrying umbrellas or packages as they sidestepped puddles, dashed in and out of shops and buildings, and waited at the corners for lights to change, cabs to come, or perhaps their dreams to be fulfilled.

Almost too soon, the taxi came to a stop in front of the hotel, its tires scraping against the curb. A uniformed doorman with a large black umbrella opened the cab door for us. A bellboy helped with our bags, and as I paid the taxi, tipped the doorman, and set aside money for the bellboy, I realized this would be an expensive trip. I was glad I had gone to the bank the day before to get a letter of credit and withdraw some cash. The two of us followed the bellboy.

I’d never been at the Edmonton, and I was impressed by the tall ceilings, marble columns, crystal chandeliers, and rich carpeting. The lobby was two floors high, a large marble staircase to the left leading up to a mezzanine level that wrapped around it on three sides. A coffee shop was behind the staircase under the north mezzanine, and the lobby bar was to the right under the south mezzanine. Cozy chairs, sofas, and tables were scattered here and there. The bellboy led us past the staircase to the front desk, which was opposite the entrance doors, tucked under the east mezzanine.

The bellboy deposited our bags beside the front desk, which had two banks of elevators flanking it. Behind the counter stood a small, bald fellow wearing pince-nez glasses, his forehead shiny but smooth. He looked up at us and smiled.

“May I help you gentlemen?”

“Yes, Heath Barrington of Milwaukee, checking in. This is Mr. Keyes, he’ll be staying with me. I have a letter of credit from my bank and my reservation confirmation.” I handed over the documents to the little man, who examined them and handed them back.

“Everything seems to be in order, Mr. Barrington, and we have your reservation right here. A double room, checking in today, leaving Monday morning, is that correct?”

“Yes, yes, that’s right.”

“Very good, sir. Any valuables for the hotel safe?”

“No, nothing to check, thank you.”

“All right, then, if you’ll just sign our register, Carl here will see you to your room.” He nodded at the bellboy standing off to the side near a column.

I signed the register with my name, home address, and telephone exchange. “Thank you. By the way, is Mike Masterson working today?”

The desk clerk looked surprised. “Our house detective?”

I nodded. “Yes, that’s right. He’s an old friend of mine.”

“I see. I believe Mr. Masterson is working an evening shift today, sir. Would you like to leave him a message?”

“No, that’s all right. He knows I’m here, and a good house dick can always find his man.”

“As you wish, sir.”

“Thanks. Where’s a good place nearby to get a tuxedo, by the way?”

“Blount’s right here in the hotel carries tuxedos. Just past the south elevators and down the hall.”

“Blount’s, eh? Thanks for the tip.”

“There’s also Marshall Field’s department store on State Street. Perhaps our concierge could assist you.”

“We’ll check out Blount’s first, after we unpack. Sound good, Alan?”

He nodded. “Sure, that’s fine. But I really could just wear my dark suit.”

The desk clerk raised his eyebrows and adjusted his pince-nez, but didn’t say anything.

“No, Blount’s it is. A good starting point, anyway.”

“Very good, sir. Should you need dinner reservations, club recommendations, or anything else, our concierge here in the lobby will be most eager to assist.” He rang a bell, and Carl, who was still standing nearby, stepped forward. “Take Mr. Barrington and Mr. Keyes to 804,” he said, handing Carl a brass key with a tag attached.

“Yes, sir.” Carl, who appeared to be only about seventeen or eighteen years old, was dressed in a smart dark green uniform with brass buttons, matching green cap, and crisp white gloves. He put the key in his pocket, picked up our bags rather effortlessly, and with a nod to us, moved off toward the south elevators as we followed behind.

The ride up to the eighth floor was smooth and quick. “No operator?” I asked.

Carl looked up at me. “No, sir, the Edmonton automated last year. The elevators run by themselves. You just push a button and away you go.”

“Another man out of a job.”

“It’s a changing world, mister.”

“Yes, people keep telling me that.”

“It was the strike in ’45 in New York that did ’em in,” Carl continued.

“Sad,” Alan said. “I rather like the human touch.”

“Automated is the way of the future. Someday they’ll have self-driving cars, wait and see,” Carl said.

I shuddered. “Now there’s a frightening thought.”

“Not to me, mister. Self-driving cars, picture phones, space travel, I can’t wait.”

“That’ll be the day,” I said. The elevator came smoothly to a halt, and we followed Carl out, stopping right next door at 804.

“Next to the elevator, huh?” Alan remarked.

I nodded. “Probably why Mike could get us such a great rate.”

“Hey, it’s okay, it’s convenient,” Alan said.

I smiled. “You’re always finding the silver lining in things.”

“Why not?”

“I’m with your friend,” Carl said. Unlocking the door and ushering us in, he flipped on the overhead light.

The room was small but clean. Two twin beds against the right wall, separated by a nightstand with a lamp and a clock. The opposite wall held a dresser, upon which sat another lamp, an ashtray, and a radio. A small desk with a phone on it sat next to that, a metal trash can under it, and a luggage rack stood in the corner upon which the boy piled our bags. Above it was a wall-mounted fan.

Carl opened the curtains. “Not much of a view from this room, fellas.”

I walked over and gazed out at the back side of another building. “It’s all right. We’re not here for the view. What have you heard about the weather this weekend?”

“Supposed to be in the seventies today, foggy and rainy. Cooler tomorrow with more rain.” He turned back to us and gestured toward the front of the room. “The bathroom’s near the door to the hall, and there’s a closet there too. If you need anything pressed, just call the valet. Twenty-four-hour room service, also. Want me to unpack?”

I shook my head. “No thank you, we can manage.”

“Sure thing.” He moved toward the door and stopped, looking at me as I fished a fifty cent piece out of my pocket and handed it to him as he gave me the room key.

“Thanks,” he said. I wondered if that was a sufficient tip in the big city, but he pocketed it easily enough and went out the door, leaving us alone.

“At last,” Keyes said, setting his Brownie down carefully on the desk.

“Yes, indeed.” I wrapped my arms around him.

“Very smooth, Detective, but not so fast. We have to unpack.”

“That can wait,” I replied, nibbling his left ear a bit.

He pulled back, laughing. “That’s what you said in Lake Geneva, and I spent the weekend in wrinkled clothes.”

“But they have a valet here.”

“Nonetheless, I am going to unpack.”

I sighed “All right, you. Better take off that traveling suit, too. It’s looking a mite rumpled from the train.”

He looked down at his suit, which was perfectly fine, and then at himself in the mirror and laughed again. “You, Detective, are a bit sneaky, and you have a one-track mind.”

I smiled. “And you, Officer, are determined to derail me. Very well, let’s unpack.”

Together we opened our suitcases and put things away, setting aside my tux and both our dark suits for the hotel valet. I unstrapped my umbrella and placed it in the corner near the door. I called down to have the suits picked up, and they assured me they would have them pressed and back in about two hours.

In less than five minutes, a boy knocked on the door, and I gave him the suits along with another tip. I hung out the Do Not Disturb sign.

“Do Not Disturb?” Alan asked, looking at me.

“Unless you have something else to put away or unpack.” I walked over to the windows and closed the curtains.

Alan grinned. “Not on your life, Detective. Let’s try and get that train back on track.”

“Woo woo,” I replied. “All aboard.” I took off my suit coat and hung it neatly over the back of the desk chair, Alan looking at me with an odd expression. “What?”

“You have your shoulder harness and service revolver on,” he said.

“Oh, that. Well, force of habit, I guess.”

“But Chicago is way out of your jurisdiction, and we’re on holiday.”

I shrugged and removed it, setting it on the dresser next to the ashtray. “I know. I probably should have left it in Milwaukee, but I didn’t feel comfortable leaving it behind in my apartment. Do you mind?”

“No, it’s fine, Heath, it just surprised me, that’s all.”

I smiled. “I have lots of surprises in store for you, Officer.” I moved closer to him and ran my hands down his front. “Hey, I feel something hard down there.”

Alan laughed. “Oh, I forgot. My lucky rock is still in my pocket.” He reached in and pulled out a small, smooth stone, almost round, and set it on the dresser. Then with a grin, he turned off the light, allowing just the daylight filtering in through the drapes. “Now then, let’s get this train rolling, Detective.”

It had been ages since we had been alone like that, and it was over too soon. We lay together, entwined on one of the beds, listening to each other breathing.

“What time is it? “Alan asked quietly.

I glanced over at the small clock on the nightstand. “About twelve twenty. We should get dressed, I suppose.”

“What for?” he asked, snuggling his head to my chest. “I can hear your heart beat.”

“It does that. But we haven’t had lunch yet, and we need to get you a tux.”

Alan sighed contentedly. “Somehow, I think I’d rather spend the weekend right here in this room, never leaving until Monday morning. We could have our meals sent in.”

“Romantic, but not practical. Why come all the way to Chicago just to stay in?”

He nuzzled me harder. “Because it’s foggy, drizzling, and windy outside, and colder tomorrow. Why not just stay in? We could dance right here to the radio, then sleep, eat, and do it all again. Then I wouldn’t need a tux, either.”

I kissed the top of his head, smelling his hair tonic. “I thought you were the one who was so excited to see the big city.”

He looked up at me. “I’ve seen it, and I’m so comfortable, and that was so nice.”

“Me too, Mr. Keyes, but you haven’t yet begun to see Chicago, and I don’t want you to grow tired of me too quickly, so up with you. Besides, I packed my umbrella.” I gave him a nudge.

He moved ever so slightly and gazed up at me again, his eyes so deep, so beautiful.

“Grow tired of you? Could I grow tired of the air I breathe?”

“You do know how to soothe my insecurities.”

“You have nothing to be insecure about, Heath.”

“We all have our demons.”

“What are yours? I’ll fight them for you.”

I laughed. “Thanks. I was shy and chubby as a kid, awkward, clumsy, bad at athletics, and I had few friends.”

“The ugly duckling, eh?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“But you turned into a handsome swan.”

“Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I still see that ugly duckling. I wouldn’t call myself a swan, maybe just an okay-looking duck.”

“And all this time I thought you were just admiring yourself every time you looked in a mirror, which, to be perfectly honest, is fairly often,” he said, running his fingers through my chest hairs.

I laughed again. “Don’t get me wrong. I generally like what I see, but like I said, inner demons, insecurities, you know. And I hadn’t realized I looked at myself that often.”

“Oh, it’s not that bad. Just something I noticed. Well, anyway, we’ll have to work on that insecurity of yours.”

“Fair enough. And you’ve done wonders already, whether you realize it or not. Come on, let’s get dressed and get you that tux, then we’ll see the town.”

We climbed out of bed and dressed, putting our traveling suits back on. I tucked my service revolver and shoulder harness in the nightstand drawer. “I guess that will be safe there. The maid won’t be in until morning.”

“True. But then you’ll have to take it with you tomorrow.”

“Unless I check it at the front desk and have them put it in the safe.”

“If you’re comfortable wearing it under your coat, it’s fine with me.”

“I’ll leave it here for now.” As I adjusted my tie in the mirror and smoothed down my hair, I glanced over at Alan and smiled. “Just making sure I look okay.”

He laughed lightly. “You always look smashing, Duck, believe that.”

“Duck? Is that my new nickname?”

“Maybe. Though you did pack your umbrella.”

“It’s true. Water and my wool suits don’t mix too well.”

“But water and fish do.”

I grinned. “Very true. Ready?”

“If you’re waiting for me, you’re wasting your time. I’ve never shopped for a tux before.”

“I like doing new things with you, and this is only the beginning.”

“Careful, Detective, I may not look like it, but I can have expensive tastes.”

“Thanks for the warning. Come on.” I grabbed my umbrella from the corner, and Alan put his Brownie back around his neck and his rock back in his pocket.

Chapter Three

A bell jingled as we pushed open Blount’s glass door, and a smartly dressed little man appeared from a doorway at the back of the shop. He wore a double-breasted blue pinstripe suit with a wide red polka dot tie, and a white carnation in his lapel. His fine dark hair was parted down the middle, and he wore an equally dark mustache above his thin lips, nicely waxed to narrow points on either side of his long, narrow nose. His eyes were closely set narrow ovals that reminded me of black olives.

“Bonjour, gentlemen, welcome to Blount’s. Victor Blount at your humble service. How may I assist you today?” His voice was singsongish, his accent clearly French, and he waved his hands about with a flourish as he spoke.

I leaned my umbrella in a corner next to the door. “I’m Mr. Barrington and this is Mr. Keyes. We’re just in from Milwaukee for the weekend and in need of a tuxedo.”

“A pleasure to meet you both. You’ve come to the right place, monsieurs. I can fit you with a fine quality garment, alter it, and have it ready to wear within twenty-four hours, tops. I specialize in the design of handmade-bespoke as well as made-to-measure garments and high quality off-the-rack items for gentlemen.”

“That’s perfect, Mr. Blount. The tuxedo is for Mr. Keyes.”

Blount walked closer to Alan and looked him up and down. “Mais oui, mais oui. Splendid, a forty-two long, easy. But we’d better make sure.” He produced a tape measure from his pocket. “Take off your coat and hat, please.”

Alan handed them to me as Mr. Blount wrapped the tape around Alan’s waist.

“Thirty-three—hmm.” He dropped to one knee and measured the inseam, Alan looking rather uncomfortable. “Thirty-five inches exactly, nice long legs.” He got back to his feet, a rather queer smile on his face. “Arms out now. Thirty-four-inch sleeve, hmm. Now the neck. Just as I thought, sixteen inches.” He walked to a rack off to the side. “This would look smashing on you, as you Americans say. Classic tailoring, Italian from before the war. Très elegant. Look at the turn back,” he said, turning up the collar. “And notice the lapel roll, the cloth. For an off-the-rack tuxedo, this one is exceptional.”

“How much?” Alan asked, looking unimpressed.

“Can one put a price on fashion, Mr. Keyes?”

“I can.”

Mr. Blount looked somewhat indignant. “Forty-five dollars. And that’s an absolute steal, monsieur.”

“Ouch. What do you have for less?” I asked.

The little man sighed, rolled his eyes, and returned the Italian suit to the rack. “I suppose you could make do with this.” He pulled out another tux that looked awfully similar to the first one. “It’s made in New York, wool. Basic but functional, thirty dollars.”

“Let’s try that one,” I said.

“Thirty dollars is still an awful lot, Heath.”

“I can swing it. Where is the fitting room?”

“Through that curtain there, on the left. Put just the pants on first, then come out.”

“Right.” Alan handed me his Brownie, took the tux from Blount, and made his way into the office and fitting room while I waited up front.

“You may put those things on the counter, monsieur, while you wait for your friend.”


“Your friend is a photographer?”

“Just a tourist, Mr. Blount.”

“Ah, the amateur. I do portraits, sittings, professional photography.”

“Oh? Besides your men’s store?”

Oui. One must diversify, yes? In addition to the clothing, I do some portrait sitting in the back room of my store here, by appointment. Very private, discreet.”

“How interesting,” I replied, wondering why portrait sitting needed to be private and discreet. “Well, neither of us need our portraits done at the moment, Mr. Blount. Just a tuxedo.”

Très bien, that is good, too.”

“You’re French.”

Oui, monsieur. I came to the United States eleven years ago. The handwriting was, as they say, on the wall for me, but sadly for others they did not see, they were blind. The Nazis were rising to power, and I knew I could not stay any longer. I sold my tailoring business and came here, ending up in Chicago. I opened this store nine years ago.”

“What about your family?”

“I have no family, monsieur, not anymore. They were fools who stayed behind, as were my friends. I am alone. I have no time for fools. I have my work, and I have done well, no?” He waved his arms about, indicating his shop.

“Yes, apparently so, Mr. Blount. It’s a very lovely store. I would imagine rent in a place like this must be rather high.”

Oui, but it is a good location, and I diversify, as I said, so life is good.” He went behind the counter then to fiddle with something or other and get his chalk and pins. I wandered over to a display of ties, realizing I had to pick one up for my dad for Father’s Day.

The front door bell jingled again, and a lovely young woman entered, dressed in a red pleated dress, white shoes, and a wide-brimmed gray felt hat, beneath which flowed shoulder-length wavy blond hair. She walked briskly to the counter, carrying a garment bag in her left hand, clearly not even noticing me. Blount turned to her and smiled thinly. “Good afternoon, Miss Eye.”

“What’s good about it? This is the third order of shirts this month. Walter will never wear them, and I can’t afford much more of this.”

Blount glanced over at me and nodded. The woman followed his gaze and I tipped my hat.

She looked annoyed. “Excuse me. I thought you were alone.”

“One should never assume, Miss Eye. This gentleman and his friend in the back are shopping for a new tuxedo.”

“I see. I beg your pardon.” Her tone was cold.

I nodded and turned back to the tie rack.

“Now then, mademoiselle, I have Mr. Gillingham’s shirts right here, folded and pressed. Will there be anything else today?”

“Yes. I need my dress steamed and pressed for tomorrow night. How much is that going to cost me?”

“A simple steam and press, mademoiselle, for you, just fifty cents.”

“I’ll pick it up tomorrow afternoon before the show.”

“Very good.”

“Walter told me to tell you you’d better reconsider your pricing, Mr. Blount. And Walter is not someone you want to make angry, if you know what I mean.”

Mr. Blount laughed. “Monsieur Gillingham is a big gorilla. He pounds his chest, he bares his teeth, but he does not scare me. I think instead I scare him, and I scare you.”

“Then you think wrong.”

“We shall see, mademoiselle.”

“Yes, we shall. And so shall you. You’ve taken this too far, Mr. Blount.”

“But, Miss Eye, our business relationship is so cordial.”

“For you, maybe. Walter said to tell you he’s had enough of your fancy shirts and expensive ties.”

“Your fiancé, Miss Eye, is an idiot.”

“Walter is not an idiot. He’s just a little slow.”

“Being engaged to you is proof enough of his idiocy, mademoiselle.”

“How dare you.”

“I don’t dare. I merely state the facts, Miss Eye.” He took the garment bag from her hand and hung it behind the counter.

In a small mirror next to the tie display, I could see Blount smile again, baring his teeth as he took her money and counted it out.

“I’m sure you will find my prices most reasonable, considering, Miss Eye,” I heard Blount say. “Talk it over with your fiancé. Au revoir.

“I will. But as I said before, you don’t want to make Walter angry.” She grabbed the package of shirts off the counter and turned on her heel. I tipped my hat once more as she nodded in my direction. “Try Wieboldt’s on State, much better pricing,” she snapped, then made her way quickly out the door, the bell jingling once more.

When she had gone, Mr. Blount laughed nervously and gave me a weak smile. “That was Mademoiselle Gloria Eye, one of my regular customers. She buys clothes for her fiancé, Walter Gillingham.”

“It sounds like she buys quite a bit.”

“Miss Eye is an actress and a singer. Her band is playing the Sky Star Ballroom again this weekend.”

“I’m sure we’ll see her there, then, Mr. Blount. We plan on going to the Sky Star tomorrow night, which is why we need the tuxedo.”

Très bien. Miss Eye sings for the Storm Clouds, funny name, no?”

“I’ve heard stranger names for bands.”

“I suppose so. She is Gloria Eye, so she bills herself as the Eye of the Storm.”


Oui. She has some talent, and she is quite lovely. And she has good taste, of course. She feels her fiancé Monsieur Gillingham must present a certain image as a member of the band. He plays lead trumpet. Certainly my clothes are only the finest, most stylish.”

“Of course. Are those two from Chicago?”

Oui, yes. A local band, but I understand they are going to tour this fall. Perhaps the start of something big.”

Alan emerged from the back room then, holding the tux pants up with his hand. “They’re a little loose,” he said.

Blount smiled again. “A minor adjustment is all that is needed. Please step over to the mirror.” I watched as Blount pinned and chalked the pants. “The waist and seat will have to be taken in. As for the legs, no cuff, I say. Much more timeless, don’t you agree?”

Alan nodded. “Sure, sounds good. Exactly what I was thinking.”

I smiled, knowing that thought hadn’t even crossed his mind. As Blount worked, I couldn’t help but notice his wristwatch, which looked quite expensive.

“That’s quite a watch you have there, Mr. Blount.”

He glanced at his wrist, smiled, and took a pin out of his mouth so he could reply.

Merci, monsieur. It is a Longines, of course. It keeps perfect time, to the second.”

I nodded. “Of course. I use a pocket watch, myself.”

“So old-fashioned, monsieur. A wristwatch is much more functional and highly accurate.”

“Maybe so, but I like this one. It belonged to my maternal grandfather, Earl.”

“Ah, sentimental, no? I am not a sentimental man.”

“Yes, I rather got that impression.”

“Sentiments do not pay the bills, monsieur, or keep you warm at night.” He looked up at Alan. “All finished with the trousers, monsieur. Now, let’s slip on the coat.”

“Oh, I left it in the dressing room,” Alan exclaimed.

Mr. Blount shook his head and then looked up at me. “Ah, Mr. Barrington, would you be so kind?”

“Sure, happy to oblige,” I said. I went through the curtain and glanced about, as I’ve always been naturally curious. Nosy, some might say. The back room was smaller than I had expected, a basic narrow rectangle but not running the full width of the storefront, which seemed odd. To the far left was his photography equipment, set up in front of a platform covered in a plush black cloth. Red velvet drapes hung behind it, presumably as a backdrop. I wondered what kind of portraits Mr. Blount specialized in.

Immediately to the left of the doorway was a file cabinet and a desk with a telephone, ledgers, pens and pencils atop it, and just past that, a work table with scissors, pins, tape measures, bolts of cloth, and other tools of the trade. Behind the work table stood a large, free-standing wooden rack holding every color spool of thread I could imagine on dowels, and I chuckled as I read the names on the tops of the spools: Green Linen, Green Tint, Apple Green, Turtle, Oriental Blue, Orange Sun, Mango Gold, Orange Poppy, and more. I had to wonder whose job it was to name thread.

Next to the work table was a well-worn old pedal sewing machine. A metal door that must have led to the alley was behind it on the back wall, a small peephole in the center. Next to the rack of thread spools stood a headless dressing form, just a naked torso on a pole. The fitting room was on the right side of the room, behind a louvered door, and to each side of it were racks of clothes with shelves above them piled high with bolts of cloth.

I pulled open the louvered door of the dressing room, startled to find someone staring back at me. I quickly realized it was a full-length mirror mounted to the back wall, and I was staring at myself. The fitting room was surprisingly large, big enough for a client and the tailor, I supposed, and well-lit with an overhead light as well as side-mounted lights, all reflected in the mirror, which was somewhat dizzying. I grabbed the tuxedo jacket, closed the louvered door, and returned to the shop through the curtain.

Blount was running his hands a little too attentively up and down the pants Alan was wearing, smoothing out invisible creases.

“Here,” I said. Alan slipped it on.

Blount’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, it’s almost a perfect fit, Mr. Keyes. You have such broad shoulders.” He squealed delightedly. “The sleeves need to be taken down a bit, but other than that, a nearly perfect fit.” He made some marks with his chalk inside the sleeves, checked the shoulders once more, and stepped back, smiling. “Beautiful, just beautiful. Très bien.” I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the tux or Alan, or both.

“You may go ahead and take it off again and get dressed.”

“Sure, glad to,” Alan said, padding off through the curtain once more as Mr. Blount turned to me.

“How will you be paying for this, Mr. Barrington?”

“A check. I have a letter of credit.”

“Excellent. By the way, your friend will need a formal shirt and tie, too, no?”

I frowned. I had forgotten about that. “Ah, yes, I suppose so. How much?”

He smiled that thin weasel smile again. “Oh monsieur, I have a fine quality formal shirt for just four ninety-eight, and a silk black bow tie for a mere dollar forty-nine.”

“What about a medium quality formal shirt?”

“Oh, monsieur, you joke, no? Surely you want your friend to look his best.”

I sighed. “Of course I do. I assume you have a shirt on hand that will fit him?”

He shrugged his bony shoulders. “We could do a custom-made shirt, but that would take some time, which we do not have, apparently. So we can make do with one off the rack, still good quality, and the fit should be most excellent.”

“All right, add them to the bill.”

Mais oui. Does Mr. Keyes have a stud set?”

I sighed. “Add those too,” I said resignedly as Alan returned from the back and put on his coat, hat and camera, which were still sitting on the counter.

“Are we all ready?”

“Not quite. I forgot you’re going to need a formal shirt and a tie, and a stud set with cuff links.”

“Jeepers, Heath, this is getting expensive.”

“Think of it as an investment, Alan.”

“A very wise thought, monsieur.” Mr. Blount opened a display case and took out a black velvet tray. “I have a wonderful mother-of-pearl set with gold inlay here that would look most excellent with Mr. Keyes’s tuxedo. Or this fourteen karat gold set. Quite striking, no?”

“We’ll take the gold inlay with mother-of-pearl.”

“Heath, no.”

“It’s all right, Alan, this is something you’ll have a long time. Consider it a late birthday present. Wrap it all up, Mr. Blount.”

“With pleasure.” He glanced down at Alan’s feet. “Hmm. Size twelve?”

Alan glanced down at his feet, too. “Yes, that’s right.”

“Goodness, such big feet. But I have a pair of patent leather shoes in back that would look fetching with your new tux.”

“Thanks, Mr. Blount, but these will do for now.”

Mr. Blount tsk’d and rolled his eyes. “At least they are black and freshly shined. What about new socks and underwear?”

“I don’t think anyone will be seeing my socks and underwear.” Alan winked at me and I laughed.

“I think we’ve spent enough, Mr. Blount,” I said firmly.

He shrugged resignedly. “As you wish. Please step over to the counter. That will be $50.30 with the alterations and tax. Half now, half when you pick it up.”

Alan whistled, which I ignored. “How soon?” I asked.

Blount consulted his expensive wristwatch. “Why don’t we say one o’clock tomorrow?”

“Fine. We’re planning on wearing our dark suits tonight and the tuxes tomorrow, so that will work out well.” I wrote out a check for half.

“Perfect, perfect. Here is a claim check, though I certainly won’t forget you two fine gentlemen. Have you plans while you’re in town?”

I shrugged, putting the claim check in my wallet. “Just some sightseeing, dining out, some of the clubs, the usual.”

“Two handsome gentlemen on the town.”

“Yeah, something like that, I guess,” I said.

Blount turned to Alan. “You are lucky to have such a generous friend, monsieur. Perhaps you can do something special for him this weekend.”

Alan looked quizzical. “Such as? I’ve never been to Chicago before.”

“No? Oh, monsieur, you can have a very good time here, a very good time. If you are interested, I have certain connections for an evening’s entertainment. Very beautiful women, very discreet. You both could enjoy yourselves immensely, unlike anything back home in your little town.”

“What kind of entertainment?” I asked, curious.

“Oh, monsieur, the French have a saying, vive la difference.”

“More French,” Alan sighed.

Blount chuckled. “It just means to embrace the differences, monsieur. Try something new, oui? For a small fee, I could set you gentlemen up for the night with an experience you would not forget. Beautiful women, handsome men, all very discreet. Dark, secluded, private rendezvous in dark, secluded rooms. Music, drink, dancing, song. Together or separate. Enticing, yes?”

I glanced sideways at Keyes before answering. “Enticing, but we’ll pass. We can find our own entertainment.”

He shrugged his bony little shoulders again. “If you change your mind, I am always here, ten a.m. to seven p.m. except Sundays and Mondays.”

“We’ll keep that in mind. Oh, and Mr. Blount, wrap up that blue and white striped tie over there on the rack for me, too, a gift for my father.”

Oui, those are the finest quality silk, of course. I will box and wrap it and add it your bill.”

“Fine. We’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”

“It’s been a pleasure, gentlemen. Au revoir.

I nodded. “Ah, yeah, thanks.”

Chapter Four

When we left the shop we were talking about the slightly creepy Mr. Blount, not paying attention to our surroundings, and consequently ran into a small, frail-looking old woman. She wore a dark green dress, soiled gloves, and an old green velvet hat with an equally soiled ostrich feather, the hatpin protruding out precariously. Beneath the hat was thin, wispy hair the color of a stormy sky. Her fleshy neck was adorned with a sad-looking fox fur whose glass eyes stared out vacantly at no one in particular.

She lost her footing momentarily as we collided, and I grasped at her bony elbow to keep her from toppling over. She was clearly startled and frightened as she steadied herself. Once she had regained her composure, she pulled her arm away indignantly and looked up at me reproachfully. Her voice was gravelly, and she made noises like an old chicken clucking. “Bruck, bruck, bruck, watch where you’re going, young man.”

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