Monday, June 24, 2013

Devil at Dusk - Installment Number Nine

Film Noir short stories Brooksie van Pelt
Brooksie van Pelt 1950's Private InvestigatorPhoto by Dave Haworth: davesphotoexploration

Hello folks and welcome to Devil at Dusk installment number nine.

I made it back to my cottage, got ready for bed and went to sleep. I slept in till about 10:30am then I got up had breakfast and got ready for the funeral which was today at 2:00pm. I hate funerals but I don’t really know of anybody who actually likes them. At 1:00pm I went over to the big house to get Bet and Will so we could all go over to the cemetery together. We got there and so far there were about a half of dozen people besides us. More people showed up, there ended up being about 22 people there. One of the people there was JT’s half brother Robert Lee Slater and his wife Peggy. Robert Lee and his wife showed up late, they did not talk to anybody and they left right as soon as the funeral ended.

Robert Lee was always an interesting person; he was JT’s older half brother. Robert Lee’s mom (Norma) and dad split up when he was young then Norma met Thomas Richard Slater a couple years later. They ended up getting married and shortly after that Norma got pregnant and they ended up having a boy which they named James Thomas Slater (JT). Robert Lee always felt that his mom and step dad loved JT more than him. Robert was always a pill growing up and things got worse after his mom remarried. His stepfather actually did adopt him and Robert Lee did take on his last name. He started acting up at school, picking on the younger kids and his grades started going from bad to worse. Then he dropped out of high school when he was 15 at that point his mom could not handle him any longer and kicked him out of the house.

Then he just became a vagrant and rode the rails like a hobo, which lasted for a few months until he could not handle that kind of life any longer. He ended up back in Laurel MS again where he started from. He begged his mom to let him come back and live in the house so she did let him come back. He ended up getting a job at the mill but he started picking on and beating up JT. At that time JT was 10 and Robert Lee was 16. Robert Lee was meaner than a junk yard dog and basically the black sheep of the family. JT was a quiet child, kept to him and did well in school. Robert Lee was always very jealous of JT. Robert Lee was JT’s only sibling and was also Bet’s father. Thomas ended up kicking Robert Lee out of the house because he was so disruptive to the house hold. Robert Lee ended up moving into a little apartment all the way on the other side of town as far away as possible from his family. It was surprising to all of us that he was able to manage to keep his job at the mill but he did.

By the time Robert Lee was 19 he met Peggy who was 18, he got her pregnant so they ended up getting married. Then Bet made her entrance into the world, the family loved baby Bet! After they had Bet the family joined back together briefly and they were all at least on speaking terms. What Robert Lee realized was that if he was at least civil to his family that they were at least able to have someone to baby sit for them pretty much anytime they needed. He realized then (out of his own selfishness that it did not do any good to hold a grudge or to at least pretend you don’t have a grudge). He pretty much did not have anything to do with his family but he let them see Bet anytime they wanted which was good because at least Bet got to know who her family was.

Several years ago now JT’s mom and dad passed away, they were hit head on by a drunk driver. Then a few years ago JT’s grandpa died of a heart attack (JT’s grandpa was very wealthy) so JT inherited The Wildwood Estate, all of the property, horses, stables, etc… Robert Lee did not inherit a single dime, for one JT’s grandpa did not like him one single bit (he was the first one to call him the black sheep of the family) he never liked how he was a bully, hot head, mean to JT and bad to his parents. The other thing was that Robert Lee was actually of no blood relation to him so he was in no way legally obligated to leave anything to him in his will. So Robert Lee did not get a single thing and JT inherited it all. This of course further perpetuated the bad blood between them.

After I watched Robert Lee’s behavior at the funeral and knowing his history with the family, I had some interesting thoughts cross my mind. He was from that point on a suspect at least in my mind, he never did like JT and things got worse between them after JT inherited the estate, Robert Lee was very bitter about that. So the next day after the funeral I got into my car and went to Robert Lee’s house. I knocked on the door; Robert Lee let me in to have a seat on the sofa. At first I just made casual conversation then I asked him where he was the day that JT was poisoned. He said he was sick that day with the flu and his wife was at home making chicken noodle soup for him while he was in bed. Then I asked him where he was at when all of the murders had taken place in this small town. He had an alibi for each one and it was my duty to research and follow up on each one over the next few days. Then Robert Lee says to me, I can’t believe you think I am the monster that is responsible for all of this!!!

I told him that over the years there had been a lot of bitterness, anger and bad blood between him and the members of the family. That it was both my job and my duty to make sure no stone had gone unturned and that I had to follow every lead that had been presented before me. This just happened to be one of those leads, I told him it was not personal it was business. I could tell he was not very happy with me at that point but honestly who was Robert Lee ever happy with?  Over the next few days I looked in to all of the alibis of Robert Lee’s and found that he was innocent.

Now I had to come up with some new angles to research to try to find the monster that was out there lurking around in the small town of Laurel MS…

Stay tuned next week for installment number ten of Devil at Dusk!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Devil at Dusk - Installment Number Eight

Movie still from the 1955 movie Wichita
Movie still from the 1955 movie Wichita.

Welcome again folks for joining me for part eight of Devil at Dusk!

Soon Tuesday rolled around and it was time for me to get back to work after taking a few days off. That afternoon I stopped into the Sheriff’s Office to meet Assistant Deputy Schneider. He was real reserved and quiet with a very serious look on his face. Deputy Schneider also looked really young; he only looked like he was about 20 years old. I spoke to the Sheriff in his office about JT and the results from the coroner. Then I asked him some questions about Deputy Schneider, while asking the questions I mentioned how young he looked. The Sheriff told me Deputy Schneider will be 29 in August. I told him that must be why he has that serious like on his face, because when you are young the more serious you look the more serious you are taken, the Sheriff agreed with me. I had gotten pretty good at reading people over the years, you have to in my line of work especially when you are a woman and also because I have the tendency to wear almost that same serious look on my face. The Sheriff assured me that once Deputy Schneider gets to know a person he warms right up. I told him very good we ought to get along quite well then.

Then I told the Sheriff I had better get to my office I had some notes to put into some files and that I had more surveillance on Lenny to get ready for later on that night. I stopped off at the office and put my notes in the appropriate files. While I was there I had been thinking I may need to get some office help pretty soon. It did not seem to be good to be away from the office so many days all of the time out working with no one to take care of answering the phone, fielding calls, filing papers and keeping the office clean and tidy. 

Right now I had to get back to the estate and get together with Bet to finish up the funeral planning, we were almost done. After that I would take a bit of a nap before heading out into the night to do some more work. I made it the big house and Bet let me in the door. Bet had finalized the funeral arraignments with the undertaker; we had the graveside funeral set up for Thursday at 2:00 pm. While I was discussing this with Bet, my mind started wandering to the office and leaving it unattended for so long. Bet asks me out of the blue how things are going at the office, I told her I had some things to ponder right after the funeral. Then she tells me she used to help out JT a couple days a week in the office and that if I needed her that she would love to help me out too. Wow, it was like she read my mind! We always did have a sixth sense about one another and we always did seem to know when the other needed help with something. I told Bet that is exactly what had been on my mind and that I really did need some help. I asked her which days she usually helped out JT in the office, she told me on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Then I asked her what she was doing tomorrow and she said she was available to me. I thanked her profusely and asked her to meet me at the office at 9 am.

 While I was there I also asked Bet if I could use one of JT’s many cars for my surveillance tonight (I did not want Lenny to get used to seeing the same car and to become suspicious) Bet said sure thing. She got the keys to the old Chevy pickup and said how about if you go out looking like a farmer tonight? I told her that is a splendid idea! She also went to fetch a pair of overalls, a straw hat and a work coat, when she came back she said here you go! I told Bet I had to go to the cottage and to get a little shut eye before it was time for me to go back to work. I made it to the cottage and it was just a little before 2pm, which gave me a few hours to sleep before heading out.

I got all cozy in my bed and fell asleep. My alarm went off at 5:00 pm, I got dressed in the farming duds that Bet had picked out, I did my hair in two pig tails and put the straw hat on. I filled up the lunch basket with food and made some tea to put into my thermos. I got my camera, note pad and binoculars. I headed out the door and to the garage. I got into the old pick up, started it up and headed out to Lenny’s office. I got to Lenny’s office again at 5:45 pm; I parked the pickup down the same side street as before and waited for Lenny to leave. At 6 pm on the dot Lenny came out with his hat in his hand again, shut and locked the door behind him. He proceeded to get into his car and drove away. I slowly followed behind making sure not to get to close. I followed him all the way home after he pulled into his driveway, I just kept on driving until I went up the road a ways and then found a place to pull off to make a U turn. Then I drove past his house and kept on driving until I got home. It looked like Lenny was not going out for the night. Because I had a nap I was now wide awake with nothing to do so I went home and changed my clothes then went back into town to the movie theater. I went and saw Wichita which was a Wyatt Earp movie that I had wanted to see, it just came out last week. I got my ticket, went the concession stand to get my small bag of popcorn and a soda. Then I went in and picked out my seat, soon the show started. The movie was only about an hour and 20 minutes long, I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was worth every penny I spent. I did not usually go to movies very often, I am usually far too busy but I was still trying to go a little bit easy on myself and find constructive ways to deal with my grief rather than hitting the bottle.

I went home and got ready for bed, I read for about an hour until I fell asleep. The next day I met Bet at the office at 9 am. Since she was already familiar with everything in the office I did not have much to show her I just went over all of the new findings that I had found since I got there. After that I went over to the Sheriff’s office again to see if there was anything new going on and to let them know I had Bet helping me out over at the office a couple of days a week. After that I went home and cleaned the cottage and did laundry then had a late lunch. After lunch I took a nap so I would be ready for another night of surveillance. I got up at 5 pm and put on one of my nicest dresses with heels, hat, gloves, purse, purls and a nice coat (I had to look different all of the time) I looked like a totally different person than the old’ farmer that was out driving around yesterday. I pulled together all of the necessary things and got into my car then headed over to Lenny’s office.

I got there at the usual time however this time I went down the other side street where there was also a view of his office and I waited until he left. At 6:05 pm he came out of his office with his hat in his hand, shut and locked the door behind him and put his hat on top of his head. He got into to his car and proceeded to drive into town instead of towards his house. He pulled up in front of Ling’s Garden again and had dinner. When dinner was over he got his pool stick out of his car and went back into the other door which was Ling’s Lounge. I was starting to notice that Lenny was a creature of habit. The scenario was the same all over again, the flirtatious waitresses, the dark haired one waited on him again but he also had a blond one fawning all over him too. Hugging and kissing him on the cheek, I could see why this place was packed! Every guy that walked in the joint the cocktail waitresses treated them like they were somebody special; they treated each and every one like royalty. This seemed to create quite the following for them and always seemed to insure that they would always be busy. Mr. Ling must be quite the business man and had a great marketing strategy here!

Soon it was around 1 am and Lenny put his pool stick back in its case and headed to the door. In the mean time I fired up my car and waited for him to pull away. Instead of following him (less times I follow the less I will be noticed) I just took the back roads to his house which took a little longer, to see that he really was indeed home. There was Lenny’s car parked in the driveway. So I went on my merry way back to my cottage.

To be continued….

Well that concludes installment number eight of Devil at Dusk; please join us next week for installment number nine!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Devil at Dusk - Installment Number Seven

1950's Female Private Investigators, Brooksie van Pelt
Brooksie van Pelt 1950's Private Investigator
Photo by Dave Haworth: davesphotoexploration

Thanks everybody for joining me for yet another installment of Devil at Dusk, this week we have part seven for your reading pleasure.

It was Saturday February 21st 1955; I had been out late doing an investigation the night before because of this I had decided to sleep in a little later than usual. However my sleep was disturbed late in the morning with the phone ringing (actually it was time for me to get up anyways) it was a little after 11 am and it was the head day nurse over at the hospital, she was calling to let me know JT had passed away about a half hour ago. I was in shock and reeling from the news, I asked the nurse if I could come right away to the hospital to collect JT’s belongings and to also say goodbye to my dear friend. She said that would be okay. While I was getting ready to go I broke down and cried, I have to admit I felt lost with JT gone forever. 

I got in my car and headed over to the hospital; I checked in with the nurse and then told Mr. Pruitt his services as guard were no longer needed because JT had passed away earlier that morning. I went in to JT’s hospital room and I went to JT’s bedside where I said goodbye to my dear friend. Of course I started crying yet again; before the day was done I will admit I was a complete mess!  I collected all of JT’s belongings. While I was still at the hospital I called Mr. Walker the night guard and told him JT had passed away so his services were no longer needed. Then I called over at the Sheriff’s Office to let Sheriff Holifield know that JT had passed away, he said he would contact the Jones County Coroner to set up an autopsy. I told Sheriff Holifield that I was going to be taking a few days off from work but I would be back at it on Tuesday afternoon. Sheriff Holifield said he would let me know when the autopsy was scheduled for as soon as possible, that way we could make plans for the funeral after that. Also Sheriff Holifield told me to stop into the office when I was back to work on Tuesday so he could introduce me to the Assistant Deputy Sheriff, Terry Jo Schneider. Deputy Snider had been on vacation the past week and would be returning to work on Monday. The Sheriff said they had hired him a year ago; he was a young guy and a hard worker. The Sheriff said he was a family man with a young wife a small child and another on the way. He also added that Terry Jo was a great addition to the team and that he was a very serious young man. I told Sheriff Holifield that I looked forward to meeting Deputy Schneider on Tuesday.

After that I headed back home, right after I got home the phone started ringing. It was Sheriff Holifield letting me know that the autopsy was scheduled for Monday. I decided to take it easy the rest of the afternoon and I listened to the radio and did some reading until it was time for Bet to get done with work. Bet taught horseback riding on Friday’s, Saturday’s and Sunday’s at the stables and in the field behind the big house. I gave Bet enough time to get home and change her clothes then I went over to the big house. I told both Bet and Will the news regarding JT, they both started crying, and it turned out to be a very sad day. We were all very much hoping that JT would take a turn for the better, snap out of it and get well but it just never did happen. I let them know the autopsy would take place on Monday and that we should plan to have a graveside funeral on Thursday if possible. I told Bet I would be taking a few days off and would be going back to work on Tuesday. I asked Bet if she could possibly help me with making arrangements and the funeral planning, she said of course. Sometime after the funeral I would have to make arrangements to go back to Chicago to get my belongings to bring them back to Laurel.

Everything had pretty much been up in the air until either JT got better or passed away. Now that he was gone it looked like I would be moving out this way. I had to send a 30 day notice letter to my apartment manager back in Chicago. Of course I would dearly miss Chicago but all in all the quality of my life will be much better here. I was a big party girl while I was in Chicago; I was into the wild night life. I already had cut way back on my drinking which used to be a nightly occurrence down to one glass of wine within the past week. Back in Chicago I would usually go into work later therefore I would work into the night, and then go out afterwards. Winslow my business partner usually worked the early shift. Since I had been here I had been to bed and up a lot earlier and if I had been up late the night before I made sure to try to get enough sleep also. I felt as though since I got here, I had to be more serious and that people were counting on me. I had to be as sharp as possible which meant getting more sleep and cutting back on drinking. I would also be tapping into my creativity when it was possible (which always keeps me more grounded) by writing, drawing and painting plus walking, hiking and some horseback riding to keep me in balance and to get me outdoors. These things are not always easy while living in the city. One of the things I was very thankful for was that I had spent a lot of time in this town and really had grown to love it plus some of my favorite people in the whole world lived here.

I spent the next couple of days with Bet and Will at the stables, I called it horse therapy and I think it really helped with my grief. I spent my time riding horses, feeding the horses and helped out with cleaning the stables. As was mentioned before, the autopsy was scheduled for Monday morning by that afternoon I got a call from the coroner confirming our suspicions of poisoning. The rest of the day on Monday Bet and I worked on the funeral arrangements.

Well this concludes installment number seven; stay tuned next week for installment number eight!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Devil at Dusk - Installment Number Six

1950's female private eye
Brooksie van Pelt 1950's Private Investigator
Photo by Dave Haworth

Howdy friends! Welcome to part six of Devil at Dusk:

The next day I was up bright and early again. My plan was to go to each location that every one of the murder victims had been found because I did not want to leave any stones unturned in this investigation. I made a lunch, got a thermos of tea then got my note pad and camera.  I made my way to my car; the first place I went to was the farmer’s house. I knocked on his door and his wife answered. I introduced myself and I explained that I was taking over for JT, who had been very ill lately. She called upstairs to her husband the farmer, his name was Walter and her name was Eunice. Walter came down stairs and I went through introductions with him also. I asked him if he minded if I went out to his field and had a look around. He said sure thing, he said he would even show me where he found the body. I let him lead the way and he takes me out to a big open field alongside his house. He says this is it; this is where he found her. I kneeled down, looked real close at the ground and found nothing, then I gazed out upon the open field. I walked a few feet in each direction scanning for something out of the ordinary; I could not see a thing. I was not really expecting to find anything but you just never know what you may find in these circumstances. I turned to Walter the farmer and thanked him for his time. I got into my car and went on my way.

The next stop was the location by the railroad track; I drove out to it, parked my car and had a look around. I walked several feet in both directions and found nothing. As I was walking back to the original spot where the body was found I noticed the sunlight was shining on what appeared to be a small semi shiny object which was just a couple inches from the track and a railroad tie. I bent over to have a closer look, and then I took out my note pad and made a few notes. Next I took out my camera and snapped a picture. With a gloved hand I picked up the object, it was a cufflink. The cufflink was sterling silver with the letters AMB on it (the letters were black onyx inlaid on a mother of pearl background). I do believe these letters are initials and what is even more curious is that the last initial is “B” just like the note regarding a Mr. B and his 3 pm appointment with JT on the very day that JT had fallen ill. I pulled out a plastic evidence bag from my pocket and dropped the cufflink into it.

I went back to my car and I was off to the final destination. The park which was in the middle of town where it had been reported that the last victim had been found. I went and had a look around, I came up with nothing. At least my day had been fruitful (one out of three was not bad) and for that I was thankful. I was heading off to the sheriff’s office to deposit my evidence. I got to the sheriff’s office and said hello to Sheriff Holifield and to Deputy Miller. I told Deputy Miller that I had something to add to the evidence on the murder investigation. I showed him the cufflink, I told him I went to each of the locations where the victims had been placed and had a look around. I told him I did not come up with anything else except that cufflink. It was starting to look as if the killer’s initials really were AMB; at least that was where the evidence was pointing to. Deputy Miller said very good work Brooksie! I thanked him and told him I had to be on my way because I was going to the hospital to see how JT was doing, I told Deputy Miller goodbye. On my way out I told Sheriff Holifield goodbye also.

I was on my way to the hospital now, I pulled in and parked. I stopped off at the nurse’s desk to see if anything was new or different with JT. The nurse said no, not really, this was of course so disappointing. I was hoping that JT would be on the mend right now. I said hello to Mr. Pruitt who was stationed outside JT’s door.  I asked him how things were going and he said that there was nothing new to report. I went into JT’s hospital room and pulled up a chair next to JT’s bedside. I spoke to him, letting him know what I found in regards to the case. I told him how the family was doing and that I was doing okay also. I stayed for about a half hour then I had to be on my way. On my way home I stopped off at the office to drop my notes off in their appropriate file.

Because I had some surveillance to do that night I went home and took the rest of the afternoon off to rest up because I had the feeling I was in for a long night. I went in to lay down, soon I was having a dream that I was being chased by a giant monster and it was very dark out, I was back in Chicago. The monster chased me down an alley; I looked up at it and realized it was a dinosaur and not really a monster. I just happen to have a chicken leg in the pocket of my trench coat (I remember thinking in my dream that was a random thing to have in my pocket) I threw the chicken leg at the dinosaur he snatched it up and devoured it. That gave me just enough time to escape! I started running down the street and as I was running I was yelling…dinosaur!!!  Finally my dream ended with me running to my apartment that I had been living in when I was in Chicago. I made it inside and shut the door, I leaned against it. I was all out of breath from running so hard.

Eventually the time came for my alarm to go off, I turned it off, and I got up and got ready. At this time I remembered my very strange dream and I wondered what the meaning was behind it. Next I collect all of the things I am going to need for the night; I get my note pad, camera, binoculars, a snack and some water. I put on my trench coat and my fedora with my hair pulled up underneath it, so at first glance while I was in the car a person could not readily tell that I was a woman. I got into my car and drove to Mr. Leonard Johnathan  Boggs’s office (he sold life insurance for a living). His wife told me he was normally off at 6:00pm and it was now 5:45pm when I arrived, I parked down the side street where I could see the front door of his office but where I would not be easily spotted. I saw Mr. Boggs step out of his office; he was middle aged with a round reddish pink face (looked like due to hyper tension) and a thick neck. His hair was dark reddish brown and thinning on top, he had his fedora in his hand and he placed it on top of his head. Then he shut and locked the door to his office. He actually kind of looked like a male version of his wife Mrs. Boggs. He was a few inches taller than her and had a round stocky body.

Mr. Boggs gets into his car and drives off; I soon get behind and follow but not to close. He only drives about 5 blocks and parks his car in front of Ling’s Garden. Ling’s Garden is a Chinese restaurant with Ling’s Lounge that is attached to it. Mr. Boggs or Lenny goes inside Ling’s Garden the hostess seats him by the window; he takes his time eating his meal. When done he goes out to his car, I thought he was going to leave but instead he pulls out a slim case that looks like a case that would hold a pool stick. He turns around and goes back this time he enters the lounge. I get out and peak inside the window, the joint is jumping (it is a Friday night). There are a lot of men in there with just a few women. I noticed there were three cocktail waitresses on board that night; the cocktail waitresses were all very friendly with the customers. When Lenny walked in, a cocktail waitress with long dark hair gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. She pointed to the only bar stool that was open at the end of the bar.  It appeared that she was talking to the bar tender, and then she retrieved a drink from the bar tender and set it down in front of Lenny.  It was obvious he was a regular there and that the cocktail waitress even knew what he liked to drink – the drink looked dark amber in color – possibly whisky on the rocks.

Lenny gets his pool stick out and joins in on the next game of pool. In the mean time the dark haired cocktail waitress was off schmoozing with the next man that came through the door. I mused to myself… I bet she made pretty good tips. I watched all of the other cocktail waitresses and they all acted the same; very accommodating and nice with big toothy grins. I could just imagine them saying aw honey, darling and dear to all of their customers that walked in the door. I stayed on and on into the night watching as Lenny drank more than a few whiskeys on the rocks and played pool. He socialized with the guys and flirted with the cocktail waitresses. This was night life in small town America.  Soon it was approaching 1:00 am and Lenny puts his pool stick back in its case in the mean time I get into my car. He tells everybody goodnight and struts out to his car. He ends up at his house; he goes inside, shuts the door and turns off the porch light.

To be continued…

Thank you so much for joining me for installment number six of Devil at Dusk! Stay tuned next week for part seven!