Thursday, 13 November 2014

The continuing Detective Jo Naylor saga - The Rooming House

Detective Josephine (Jo) Naylor is a figment of my imagination. You would've met her first in The Shattered Figurine (available in SHORTS Vol.1) The next episode was Near Death (soon to be published in SHORTS Vol.2) The third installment - The Edge of Danger - is posted on this blog July, 02, 2014 (you can view it from the archives) Following is episode 4.
The Rooming House 

Detective Jo Naylor surveys the decrepit two-story structure she faces, her left hand lightly caressing her throat where a garrote had tightened around her neck several days ago. Her esophagus still hurts when she swallows. Jonathan Dunsmore had tried to take her life. She now stands outside his last known address. Her right hand reaches around behind her back, under her jacket, and undoes the security strap on her waist holster. Her Glock is free to draw. She is not sure she wants to know what is inside the gloomy rooming house.  Trying to digest the info her partner, Adam Thorne, had given her earlier connecting her father and the man that had attempted to kill her, she becomes hypnotized by a loose shutter on the second floor that hangs from one screw. For a few moments she is lost in concentration.

Thorne covers her back when he sees she is deep in thought. They had both agreed it was unlikely Dunsmore would be in his room, but he is taking no chances and studies his surroundings. A brisk November breeze sallies south on Blueberry Street, bringing a chill. The sun is not yet over the buildings, so they are poised in the long shadows. He closes the top button on his sport coat as he turns to inspect the used car lot across the road on the corner of Main, less than half a block away. The owner, a rotund, back-slapping man, is showing a young man a red car. From the body lines Adam can see, he thinks it’s something Japanese.

Thorne’s attention shifts to one of the two houses across the road when two kids bustle through the front door, school bags slung on their backs, lunch bags swinging as they rush off the front porch. Both boys – one several years older – are laughing and chatting non-stop as they hasten toward Main. They pay no attention to the two people on the opposite sidewalk. Other than the dull grey cop car they came in, Thorne and Naylor don’t look like police officers.

Turning to face the boarding house, Thorne gazes at the homes to his left that continue to the top of the dead-end street. A postman is walking away from him six or seven houses away on the same side of the street. He can see several more children on either side of the street heading toward Main, probably to catch a school bus. The houses are all old but well kept, lots of shrubs with bare branches. The odd car is parked here and there, but there’s no traffic. The only blight on the street is the rooming house he and his partner are about to enter.

He gazes at Jo, waiting for her to come out of her reverie. He can’t imagine what she must be feeling. He recalls the day they arrested her father, the day she found out he had killed the three young girls whose deaths they were investigating. It had taken her many months to get over it all – the newspapers, the trial, her father’s final incarceration in the prison where he had been warden for over 25 years. And now the father of one of the victims had tried to kill her.  He shakes his head in disbelief and decides he’ll give her another ten minutes and then they’d go in.

Naylor is reliving the terrible memories; they flash through her mind like fireworks – the young girls, the broken figurine she’d found, the day she’d walked into her father’s house for the last time, his attempted suicide, the day they took him to prison, the intense publicity that followed and the healing that was taking forever. Returning to work had been difficult; but in the end work became her saviour, taking her mind off the dreadful past. Until now. Now she is the daughter someone wants to kill. The realization makes her weak, makes her shoulders sag. A gentle hand on her back pulls her back to reality.

“What do you think, Jo? You don’t have to do this, you know. It wouldn’t be a big deal if we pass this on to Burger and Fries!”

Naylor looks back at her partner with a grin. Burger and Fries are Ted Burgess and Cornelius Friesen, two other detectives on the force. Each man tips the scales at close to 200 and it’s not all muscle. Both men share a fondness for burgers and jokingly call each other Wimpy 1 and Wimpy 2. The rest of the force calls them Burger and Fries. The mention of the two oversized cops offers Jo relief from her dire memories and causes her to laugh. The two share a hearty chuckle until Thorne says, “Let’s get on it, Jo. We’ll go have a look and see if we can put a stop to this menace.”

Naylor nods at her partner, thankful for his understanding. 

“You’re right; and thanks, Adam.”

He gives her a nod, offering his serious smile.

“Hey, we’re partners!”

Thorne takes the lead even though he is the junior officer. The concrete pads forming the walkway to the front porch are cracked and uneven, so Thorne treads carefully as he approaches the front porch. The steps are the only thing that’s new, and the wood is still white while the rest of the narrow porch is weathered. There is a doorbell on the left, screwed into the doorframe. The center of the push button is missing, but the tiny yellow light inside is still intact, guarding the entrance. On the left are a black 1 and 5 affixed to the siding, level with the doorbell, designating the civic number. A piece of white plastic the size of a postcard encased in a thin aluminum frame is affixed under the numbers. Thorne has to bend down to read it.

Rooms to Let


Joseph Spangler



The name is printed in indelible black marker. Black smudges around it attest to the recent change in manager. Thorne pushes on the worn button, points at the plaque and says, “That’s a good omen, another Joe. Let’s see how co-operative he’s going to be.”

“Maybe we should go by the book on this one and get a warrant.”

Thorne looks at Naylor, eyebrows raised.

“That never stopped you before, and besides I think any judge would agree that this is hot pursuit. We know he committed a crime; he could be here.”

They are interrupted by the door opening. The heated air that greets the detectives reeks of old furniture and marijuana. A short, stocky man peers out at them with scrunched eyes. Long greyish wisps of hair haphazardly cover a pale dome. White stubble covers his lower face, which has more wrinkles than a Shar Pei. His dark-blue housecoat is well worn and tightly belted around the waist. Neck, calves and feet are bare. His temperament is foul.

“Whadda ya want? There’s no rooms available.”

He eyes the two strangers, noting their well-tailored attire, and says to Thorne, “This ain’t no rent-by-the-hour pad, Jack.”

Thorne ignores the man for a moment, turns to grin at Naylor, who is on his left and slightly behind him.

“This is going to be easy.”

Naylor is staring the man down and adds, “And enjoyable.”

Thorne reaches into his right inside pocket and retrieves his ID and badge. Flipping it open directly under the man’s nose, he says, “You Spangler?”

The manager quickly recognizes the brass gleam of a policeman’s badge even without his glasses.

“Aw, shit!”

He tries to close the door, but Thorne steps in and pushes the man gently back. Again Thorne turns and speaks to Naylor. “Do you smell marijuana, Detective Naylor?”

She is watching the nervous twitch in the man’s left eyes when she replies. “I believe I do, Detective Thorne. I bet if we looked around, we might find out why.”

Spangler backs toward an open door to his right, reaches into the room and pulls the door shut.

“You guys need a warrant for that. I ain’t stupid, you know.”

Josephine Naylor might have been slight, but she was cast in steel. The glare from her eyes could freeze the hardest of criminals. She steps closer to the manager, taller than him by a good six inches, and says, “If you’re in possession of marijuana, Mr. Spangler, I could take you to jail. I could arrest you right now. There’s an itch in my skull that suggests you might’ve been in trouble with the law before. Maybe we should dig around a bit. What do you think?”

Spangler is sufficiently cowed to drop his boldness. He is on probation until the end of the year, two months away, for his third DUI conviction. He drops his gaze but remains mute. Thorne plays the good cop and explains they really just want to know about Dunsmore. How long has he been here? When did Spangler last see him? What’s he like? Any trouble with him? Jo is taking notes as the men speak. Spangler, relieved that he is not their target, can’t stop talking.

“…I haven’t seen the jerk in two days. He owes three weeks rent, and he promised me he would have it by tomorrow. Seeing as you’re here looking for him, I ain’t likely to see that now, am I?”

Naylor answers him: “I wouldn’t count on it, Mr. Spangler. The man is wanted for attempted murder, and I suggest that if you do see him, you lock your doors and call us ASAP.”

This shakes Spangler up. He wrings his hands in a nervous manner and remains quiet. Thorne says, “How about you let us take a look in his room?”

“I don’t know about that. I think I should call the owner first.”

Naylor looks Spangler in the eye as she says, “Sure, why don’t you do that, and we’ll check your room while we’re waiting.”

Spangler sticks his chin out defiantly and says, “Hang on a minute and I’ll get you the key.”

“Good idea.”

Spangler opens the door to his room, enters and shuts the door firmly behind him. While he is retrieving the key, the detectives look around. There is a stairway directly in front of them on the left side of the hallway, which extends back into the kitchen. A living room can be seen through an open archway on the right. The moldings around the doors and windows are dark stained wood marred with nicks and scratches.
An old couch with yellowed fabric sits against the far wall under a narrow window. A matching chair sits beside it. In the middle of the room is an ornate French provincial coffee table that looks as out of place as a meat tray at a vegan convention. Several magazines lay on top, alongside a glass ashtray full of butts. Dust covers almost everything. The floors are hardwood and dull, in need of polish.

Spangler opens his door and extends an arm, holding a shiny brass key attached to a silver ring with a white paper fob, like the one used at a car repair shop when they tag your keys. It has a large 2 marked on it.

“Here, fill yur boots.”

Naylor takes the key and says, “What about the other tenants?”

“No one here but me. Both old John in # 1 and Reggie in #3 work at the meat packing plant in the Industrial Park and they leave here at 6 a.m. If Dunsmore ain’t comin’ back, when can I get rid of his junk?”

“Don’t touch anything, Mr. Spangler; don’t even go in the room until we say you can. Depending on what we find, the room might be off limits for a while. We’ll let you know.”

Spangler grimaces and shakes his head.

“Well, keep the key then. I have another.”

He shuts his door again, muttering something about lowlifes.

The detectives draw their weapons even though Spangler confirmed Dunsmore was gone. Naylor leads the way up the stairs. Off the landing at the top, there are four doors, two facing them, one on the right and one on the left. The left door is open and the detectives can see a toilet with the seat up. A light blue towel lay on the floor by a white vanity. The door facing them, to the right, has a crude 2 scrawled on it in black marker. Thorne steps around his partner and says sotto voce, “Let me go first, Jo.”

“Being chivalrous are we?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

Thorne takes the key and, before he slides it into the keyhole in the knob, he places his ear to the door to listen. Naylor is holding her weapon with both hands, pointed at the door. Thorne knocks on the door with a knuckle and waits for a moment. When there is no response, he turns the key until there is an audible click, then turns the knob. Shoving the door open quickly, he steps into the room with his weapon at eye level. The door swings into the wall with a slight bang.

The scene before them is shocking. Naylor drops her hands to her side and gasps.

The wall facing them is covered with blown-up photos of her. The image in each one is the same, taken from the front page of the local paper when her father was on trial a year ago. Naylor had been leaving the courthouse when the photographer caught her image with a zoom lens. The look on her face is one of sorrow. The headline that day had read, “Randolph Naylor Convicted of Murder!” The same headline hovers above each print in bold black letters. The shocking part of what Thorne and Naylor see is the large hunting knife stuck in the wall, in the center photo, in the middle of Detective Josephine Naylor’s face.

Next week you will get to meet Paul Hollis of St. Louis, Missouri and he will be sharing an excerpt from his popular Hollow Man series.


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