Before we could interview Mrs. White and our other suspects, there was a call for me.
“You the copper looking for Fractal Bob?” It was a smoker’s voice, deep and gravelly.
“Where is he?” I said.
“Meet me at Black Jesus. Thirty minutes, just you and the pencil dick you call Pistol.”
This gave us a little time to question Mrs. White. We decided to go tough on the old broad.
“Give it up, White,” Pistol said as soon as we entered the room where Mrs. White had been knitting furiously to pass the time. “We’re wise to you. Peacock gave you up. You’re Fractal Bob, and if you know who that stiff in the morgue is, you better ‘fess up now.”
Mrs. White set aside her knitting and looked over her horn-rimmed glasses at my partner and me. “Oh, that Miss Peacock, so silly and so impressionable. Have you ever read Fractal Bob? He just loved Miss Peacock and Mr. Green. He was so excited these young people were running for office and so passionate about local politics. Sentimental, idealistic fool, if I do say. And then what should happen but they ruined him.”
“Them who? His enemies in city government?”
Mrs. White chuckled. “No, dear, his enemies are far too stupid to catch up with Fractal Bob. You’ve got a mayor pro tem who didn’t know the First Amendment was part of the Constitution.” She laughed again, and we couldn’t help ourselves—thinking about the slow-talking mustachioed lug who had worked his way into the upper echelons of city government—we laughed, too.
Then Mrs. White grew somber. “Well, I guess he’s not so stupid after all, is he? Wiggling out of felony prosecutions with the help of the district attorney, defeating Mr. Green at the ballot box, staging a coup against the evil Don Johnson for the second spot. Why, I bet Mayor Woodward sleeps every night with one eye open.”
“So if you don’t think the Mustachioed Mayor Pro Tem killed Fractal Bob, then it must have been Don the Don Johnson, the former mayor pro tem,” I said.
Pistol shuddered. “That creepy smirk of his gives me the willies. I’d hate to get a peek in his closet. Bet there’s more in there than a couple of skeletons.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Mrs. White cheerily. “Take it from one who knows. You don’t want to be on Mr. Johnson’s bad side. But it wasn’t Fractal’s enemies that put an end to him, it was his friends.”
It had been a long night and I finally lost my temper. “Come clean, you cheeky spinster. Are you or are you not Fractal Bob, and who is that headless, no-balls stiff laid out in the city morgue?”
Mrs. White sat bolt upright and crossed her arms across her chest. She glared a hole through me, lips compressed, face white with indignation. “For the last time, I am not Fractal Bob! Miss Peacock, Mr. Green, Miss Scarlett, Plum and Mustard-Lighthouse, they all drove Fractal Bob away and I was forced—” She caught herself and quickly regained her composure. “Well, that’s all I’m going to say.”
I remembered something else Miss Peacock said before she rushed out of the interview room to resume her Saturday night bar hopping. “Miss Peacock said she was Fractal Bob’s muse.”
Mrs. White laughed in spite of herself. “That’s Rich—I mean, that’s very unlikely.”
“What about Miss Scarlett?” Pistol said, and Mrs. White looked back at him with an arched eyebrow. “Who told you about Miss Scarlett?”
“Why, Miss Peacock did,” I said. “So this was a secret?”
Mrs. White looked down musingly. “I thought so, but you’ll have to ask Scarlett.”
I was sure Mrs. White knew more, a hell of a lot more, but Pistol and I couldn’t wait. We were late for our rendezvous with the mystery man in the cemetery.
Col. Mustard-Lighthouse was waiting for us just outside the room where we’d been putting the screws to Mrs. White. “Will you be needing the rest of us tonight?” Behind him, Mr. Green, Miss Scarlett and Professor Plum were tiptoeing out the door as our fellow murder police slept snoringly at their desks. “You’re cutting into the most productive part of my day. And we really have nothing to offer you about poor dear departed Fractal Bob.”
“Whats-a-matta, Colonel? You got a severed head you gotta bury before sun-up?” Pistol said.
“My dear man,” Col. Mustard-Lighthouse stammered.
“Beat it,” Pistol said. “But stick around so we can find you tomorrow.”
* * *
A big black dog seemed to be waiting for us at the cemetery gate, and he followed us inside as we threaded our way in the dark toward the secluded grove where Black Jesus and our anonymous caller waited.
“Your friend?” I said, looking at the big dog padding behind us.
“He does seem to be part of this mission, doesn’t he?” Pistol said.
“You don’t think it’s Keith Olson out here waiting to ambush us,” I said.
“Naw, he’d send Mike Roempke or one of his city flunkies to do his dirty work,” Pistol said. “Olson doesn’t need to get his hands dirty any more.”
We waited a few minutes in the dark for our mystery man to show himself. The dog sat at our feet, as vigilant as we were, scanning the gravestones and cedars for any sign of movement. I looked up into Jesus’s face as the wind stirred the leaves on the trees and the mist closed in around us. “They say he weeps and his palms go up or down or something,” I said.
“Bullshit,” Pistol said, lighting a cigarette. “How long do we give this mope?”
Then, not ten feet away, someone lit a match and it glowed in the dark. I put my hand on the gun in my pocket and the dog got up, growling.
“Show yourself,” Pistol said.
“Nothing doing, bright boy,” the man in the shadows said.
I put my hand on Pistol’s arm. “Johnny Stomp,” I said.
It had to be Johnny Stompanato, local gangster, the muscle behind all the schemes and scams of The Powers That Be.
“You got something you want to tell us or is this some sort of shakedown?” I said.
“I got nothing to tell you, lady detective. It’s the other way around,” said Stomp. “I got some anxious muckety-mucks on my hands. I need to know the name of the corpse lying around the morgue.”
“Tell Mr. and Mrs. Muckety Muck we don’t got a name,” Pistol said.
“What’s he look like?” Stomp said. “This corpse.”
“Hard to tell, Mister. He’s missing his mug. His whole head, in fact,” I said.
Stomp was quiet, but we watched him drag on his cigarette, the glow at its tip becoming brighter as he sucked on the other end.
“Go back and check for a tattoo. Red rose with the name of a dame underneath. No tattoo, no Fractal Bob. I’ll call you in an hour or two,” said Stomp.
“We don’t take orders from thugs,” said Pistol, whipping out his handcuffs and starting at Stomp. But Stomp drew a snub-nosed revolver and pointed it at Pistol’s chest. Then the big black dog sprung into the air and knocked Stomp down. The gun went flying.
“Call him off,” Stomp screamed as he wrestled with the dog.
“Not our dog,” Pistol said. And he picked up the gunsel’s snubnose as we walked away.
* * *
The body of Fractal Bob, John D. Boddy, or what have you, lay naked on a gurney in the cold, brightly lit morgue. Pistol and I got an interesting surprise, however.
“He’s got balls,” Pistol said.
“Yeah, nice big ones,” I said.
“Simmer down,” Pistol said. “He’s dead, remember?”
But that wasn’t hard to forget. In addition to his yellow pallor, our strapping corpse was also sporting stitches from a Y incision and what was left of his neck was ragged and raw. Just then the coroner came over and winked at me.
“Wowser. He’s got balls,” I said.
“Indeed he does. Nice big ones,” the coroner said.
“But you said the balls were gone,” Pistol said.
“Did I? Well, I meant that only metaphorically,” the coroner said. He handed me a letter, which he had pulled from Boddy’s neat pile of personal effects. “You missed this.”
It was a Dear John letter signed by a woman named Sarah. It read as brutal and raw as the torn flesh on Boddy’s jagged neck. I passed it to Pistol, who skimmed it. “Ouch,” said Pistol, grabbing his own package.
“Maybe she killed him, this Sarah,” I said.
“Maybe so,” said the coroner. “But the letter is dated three years ago and it was mailed from up East. Plus, I don’t think a broad who can write like this needs a lead pipe or a revolver to make her point, and my guess is that she’d rather leave him alive to suffer rather than put him out of his misery. Whoever killed Mr. Boddy bludgeoned him, stabbed him or shot him in the head or, possibly, choked him or hung him from a rope.”
“Why cut off the head?” Pistol said.
The coroner picked up a small saw for use, no doubt, on the next customer. “Maybe it was the chilling effect of the eyes looking back at the killer—open wide in the terror of his final seconds, blank, accusing. Whoever it was, they couldn’t stand the eyes.”
Pistol was green around the gills, and I took him by the arm to lead him out. “Wait a second,” he said. “Tattoo.”
So I went back to the stiff and checked both arms. No rose tattoo. No tattoo at all.
“Let us know if someone claims Mr. Boddy’s body,” I said over my shoulder to the coroner as an orderly wheeled Boddy back to the morgue’s ice box. “Fat chance,” said the coroner just before he flipped on the saw.
“Now what?” Pistol said as we stood outside the morgue and a light rain began to fall.
“Damn, we need that head.”
“Impossible, Splendor. It could be anywhere.”
* * *
Pistol and I grabbed some bacon and eggs at the Cafe Texan just after sun-up, and I sent him to talk to our prime suspects, Fractal Bob’s friends, and his favorite targets: Dee Everett, former chamber president/floogie and tax fund misappropriator, chamber toady George Miles, Mayor Pro Tem Olson, Councilman Don the Don Johnson and former Mayor Bill Green. Then I sent some cops out to beat the bushes for Boddy’s people as I searched high and low for Poison Pen Sarah of Boston, Mass. I finally found her number in the Boston phone book at the public library. She answered breathlessly on the eighth ring.
“Please explain this most inopportune of interruptions,” she said, still catching her breath. I introduced myself. “Oh, Huntsville, Texas. Really”—though it sounded instead like “rally” in her sham British accent. “You must be calling about my ex-lover Bob. Well, I can assure you I haven’t set eyes on his doleful mien in three years or more. So unless you’ve called to tell me he’s left me a fortune, I must return to my boudoir where I am entertaining. Tah tah.” Click.
Pistol burst in just as I found on the letter and its envelope a couple of little clues I had overlooked. But Pistol couldn’t wait.
“Listen to this bullshit,” he said. “Keith Olson doesn’t know a John D. Boddy; in fact, nobody does. No record of him anywhere. And Olson’s never heard of Fractal Bob. He can only read at a fifth-grade level,” Pistol said, holding up an anonymous tract, “so this hilarious masterpiece of satire was way over his head. Couldn’t find Dee Everett, George Miles or Don Johnson. That’s a slippery lot. But Bill Green is a nice man. He’s just got some very funny ideas about governance.”
“What did our colored playing pieces say?” I said.
“Mr. Green says Miss Scarlett and Mrs. White are Fractal Bob. He found the printing press in Mrs. White’s garage and a typewriter in Miss Scarlett’s closet.”
“Well, ain’t he the little Snoopy McSnooperson?” I said.
“Miss Scarlett claims neither she nor the White broad are Fractal Bob. But this Scarlett dame says there’s no point in even asking anyone if they’re Frackie Bobby. If someone cops to it, they’re lying. The first rule of Fractal Bob is to deny, deny, deny.”
“Hold it right there,” I said. “You’re saying that if I ask someone if he’s Fractal Bob and he says no, he could be lying or he could be telling the truth. But if I ask someone if he’s Fractal Bob and he says yes, he’s definitely lying?”
“You got it,” Pistol said. “That’s the Fractal Bob code.”
“For crying out loud. Are you starting to hate these people?”
Pistol quieted me and picked up the thread of his interrogation summary again. Col. Mustard-Lighthouse says he learned from Green and Peacock about White and Scarlett, but he’s not sure who writes what or if there’s a real Fractal Bob somewhere. If there is, his money is on crazy George Russell. Professor Plum says it’s certainly not George Russell but “a committee”—which never included him, mind you—that writes, publishes and distributes the tracts. He knows who’s at the center of it all, but he can’t say. He’s been sworn to secrecy. “And the Professor opines that if someone killed anyone around here, it could only be with the permission of The Powers That Be.”
“Are you also lying if you say you know who Fractal Bob really is?”
“Absolutely,” Pistol said. “According to Fractal logic.”
“So why did Miss Scarlett accuse Mr. Green of killing her Bobby Baby?”
Pistol pushed his hat back and wiped his forehead hastily with his handkerchief. “She accused him before he could accuse her, but both swear they didn’t do it.”
“Wowser. So what about Mrs. White?” I said.
“She’s so sweet,” Pistol said. “She served cake and coffee and asked me about my kids. Did you find that heartless bitch, Sarah?”
“She was no help, but look at this.” I showed Pistol the letter—it didn’t begin “Dear John” but “Dear Bupkis.” And even screwier, it wasn’t mailed to Mr. Boddy. The envelope was sent to “Occupant” at the address below.
“Holy cow, I know this address,” Pistol said. “I was just there!”
“Whose is it?”
“Mrs. White’s!” Pistol said and then he snatched the letter from me and dashed out the door. I picked up my coat and ran after him. If Pistol was going to crack this case wide open, I damn sure was going to be there.
To Be Continued.