I was driving through a neighborhood of dusty bungalows north of Hollywood headed to my next story. I didn’t figure it would be headline material. A couple of paragraphs on page two, headed “Robbery Suspect Dies” was the best I could wish for with this one. But there hadn’t been a big crime story since the Black Dahlia over a year ago and a dame’s gotta work after all, at least until she finds some rich guy to marry.
It was easy to spot the place. A cruiser and a coroner’s wagon crowded the driveway. There was a uniform at the door, a young guy I didn’t recognize. He put up his arm to bar the way and said, “Ma’am, you can’t go in there.”
I turned my full-wattage smile straight into his innocent little puss. “I’m press, dear. Of course I can go in.” He melted and I entered.
Inside, the place smelled like dust and death, and looked like a junk shop. The living room was crowded with little tables and frail chairs. Vases, statues and little doodads were everywhere. In the middle of it all stood a tall blonde man in a cheap suit.
“Hello, Larson,” I said.
“Well, if it isn’t Sadie Rourke, world famous crime reporter,” he replied.
I knew a lot of cops and Larson wasn’t my favorite. He was fast to use his fists and slow using his brain. Of course, he had more fist than brain, so maybe I couldn’t blame the guy.
“I told McMillan no one was allowed in,” he said.
“Ah, it’s not his fault. I gave him the treatment, he didn’t have a chance. Anyway, this ain’t a crime scene, is it?”
“Won’t know till the Doc says. Coulda been murder.”
“Doesn’t anyone ever die natural?”
“Not in my world.”
I prowled around. It was a strange setup. The only piece of livable furniture was a worn easy chair, upholstered in green. It sat by the window but was turned inward toward all the clutter. A thought started nibbling around the edge of my brain like a mouse tasting cheese, but I couldn’t capture it.
“What brought you, anyway?” Larson asked. “Nothin’ here to write about.”
“What brought out a famous pair of crime-fighting detectives like you and Brown?” I countered. “Where’s the man, anyway?”
He pushed his thumb towards a closed door.
I walked into the bedroom. Brown was standing at the foot of the bed, a short wiry guy with a receding hairline. He was the brains of the Larson-Brown team.
“Hidey-ho, Brown,” I said. He looked at me with tired eyes and nodded.
I had covered the robbery when it happened a couple of years ago, so I recognized the stiff right away. Freddie was stretched out in the bed, face up. The blankets were arranged neatly around him and his hands were clasped outside the covers, like he had gone to bed getting ready for the coffin. Maybe he had. The coroner was putting away his equipment.
“Who found him?” I asked.
“The housekeeper. She comes once a week.”
The coroner looked up, “Heart attack, probably. Know for sure after I get him on the table.”
“Okay,” Brown said, jotting in his notebook.
Unlike the living room, the bedroom was almost empty. Besides the bed, the only other furniture was a folding card table holding a lamp with a torn shade.
Brown looked around. “I don’t see any big money here. And I thought for sure he was good for that robbery.”
The robbery was the Baron von Stuzechek heist. The Baron had checked into the Majestic Hotel and put his briefcase in the safe. The next morning the case, and the half a million in cash it contained, was gone. Freddie, bell captain at the hotel, was the major suspect.
“We kept an eye on him, ya know,” Brown said. “Figured if he had the cash, he’d bolt. Half a million would sure burn a hole in your pocket. But he just stayed on, working like normal.”
We all walked out of the bedroom and the coroner called in the stretcher guys.
I started making notes for the story, thinking I would work up the poverty angle. But something about that room wasn’t right. I studied the stuff more closely. I poked a little egg-shaped thing sitting on a table. It looked like someone had decorated an Easter egg with glitter and gold paint. But when I picked it up, I knew otherwise.
Just then the body came out on a stretcher. We all watched as they maneuvered the awkward burden around the furniture. Larson said, “Poor Freddie, what a loser.” He picked up an old vase and balanced it in his hand. “This place is a dump!”
I was happy to disagree with him.
“No, this ain’t no dump. That vase is Tang dynasty, very old, very rare. And that table is Chippendale. It’s antique. If half the things in this room are authentic, you’re looking at a fortune.”
“I don’t believe it,” Larson said. “If Freddy had that half a mil he woulda skipped town and lived like a king somewhere where we couldn’t drag him back.”
“But he couldn’t skip, could he? You guys were watching him. He couldn’t do anything except buy this stuff. And maybe he liked beautiful things.” And right then I imagined Freddy, walking around the room fingering the porcelain, running his hands over the fine old wood, sitting in his green armchair enjoying the beauty of his things. Now they’d gather dust in a police evidence locker. What a waste.
“Ah geez, Brown, do you believe this?”
Brown spoke slowly. “Might as well check it out. Dames sometimes got an eye for the good stuff.”
Yeah, I thought, I’ve got an eye for it, and an itch for it, too. Then I slid the Faberge egg into my pocket and left.
MAB Lee lives in Florida. Suffering from a very short attention span, she has always been a fan of flash fiction, however this story is her first attempt at writing it. Some of her longer stories have been published online at The Cynic, Yellow Mama and Mysterical-E.