It was the third shift- the graveyard shift. Fewer people worked on this one and at this particular time most of them were on a break in the break room upstairs. To have said it was a slow night would have been an understatement on this Labor Day Monday 1982. Normally at least two people stayed at their stations, during a break, but it was so slow tonight, that it was decided that one was enough. So the young co-op Laura Parsons volunteered to be the one. The room was quiet, almost eerily so. It was the kind of quiet that gives you time to think, that makes your mind wander. This young co-op had not gotten much sleep and yet had a very full day before coming to work. She began to think about how tired she was. She was manning the terminals around the corner from and out of sight of the print pool desk. There the young co-op sat alone, waiting patiently for incoming requests. At this moment there were no pending requests, no requests being filled- nothing.
Suddenly the girl’s thoughts were abruptly jarred. She thought she had heard something- footsteps- but there was no one in sight. Finally, at that moment, the machine came to life and a request began to come across. It would soon type out the number of a tape which a user at the end of the line would be requesting. It was the girls’ job to get that tape and place it in the computer. Once the tape number was requested she quickly went to the tape rack and did her job.
On the way back to her seat after loading the tape, the machine kicked on again, but this time it was not working properly and printing things that made no sense. It was typing sporadically. Something was definitely wrong. The girl was puzzled. All of a sudden, smoke began to rise from the floor.
The girl’s training immediately kicked in and she identified the problem as a short circuit. Having been taught what to do, she went about it with a surprising calm and quickness.
The floor was a 3 ft. raised floor, this being so that there would be room for the cables which ran to the computer systems. It was, in effect, a crawlspace. Some tiles had circular holes cut into them so that one could get to the crawlspace by simply lifting it. Breaking the glass enclosure, she removed a nearby fire extinguisher, then lifted the closest tile to the smoke.
Just as she bent forward and began spraying the foam however, someone or something grabbed her from behind. One hand clamped over her mouth, the other around her neck. She found herself being dragged down into the crawlspace. Her strength was oozing. She tried in vain to escape, but her attacker was immensely strong, and she could not pull away. She scratched, she clawed, she bit but the iron grip around her mouth was at the same time preventing a call for help and cutting off her air. Her muffled cries grew weaker and weaker, until finally, there was no sound at all. A deathly silence prevailed.
The next day, a blue car pulled into the closest available parking space and the driver stepped out. Normally prospective clients came to his office but when the prospective client was the business giant National Computer Corporation, it meant big bucks and it befitted one to make an exception. When he got to the door he opened it and was greeted by a sign on what today at least was an unmanned guard’s desk that read:
ALL VISITORS REPORT TO THE GUARDS’ DESK ON THE SECOND FLOOR
An arrow pointed the way. From all the construction going on in and around the building it was clear things were not yet finished. This apparently was a temporary inconvenience. On the way up the stairwell, a security camera stared him right in the face. When he got to the second floor he approached the guard’s desk.
“Hello. My name is Raymond J. Janovich,”” he introduced himself, accenting the ‘J’ in his last name as a ‘Y’ sound. “” I have an appointment to see the regional manager, Roland Schwartz. He’s expecting me.”
“O.K.” the guard replied coldly, “just wait a minute please while I check it out and get you an escort. No visitors are allowed in the building unless accompanied by an employee.”
The guard got on his walkie- talkie and got the confirmation he was looking for.
“It’ll be a minute or two, but an escort is on the way.’”, he said. “We’ve got to use this system until all the phone lines are operational, and all the key cards work’” he explained.
“That’s fine by me,” came the reply.
The escort arrived shortly and took the visitor to Mr. Schwartz’s office.
“Can I help you?’ his secretary asked.
“Yes, I am Mr. Janovich,”he said being certain to begin his last name with a ‘Y’ sound again. ”I have an appointment.”
She buzzed the office.
“Yes?” a rather lifeless voice replied.
‘’A Mister YAN-O- VICH is here to see you”” she said, phonetically sounding out his last name.
”Send him right in, and Janet?”
”It’s getting late so you can call it a day.” he announced, twenty minutes early.”
She filed what she had been typing, gathered up her things and left.
Mr. Schwartz rose to greet his visitor as he walked in.
“Hello,” “he said, extending his hand. “I’m Roland Schwartz.” He closed the door behind him.
“’Raymond J. Janovich,” he answered back shaking Mr. Schwartz’ outstretched hand. “private investigator.”
Mr. Schwartz frowned when he heard the Yan-o-vich last name. “Just a minute,”he said as glanced at his appointment book, ‘“it says here your last name is Janovich, not Yan-o-vich ,” he said. “I would like to get this straight up front. What should I call you?”
“It’s spelled Janovich, but pronounced Yan-o-vich, “he explained, “but you can call me anything but late for supper.” It was an old joke and as soon as he said it, he knew it was a mistake as he could sense Mr. Schwartz had no sense of humor. “My friends call me R.J,” he quickly and sheepishly added.
“Mr. Janovich,” Mr. Schwartz coldly replied. “”I have heard of your, shall we say, off beat sense of humor, but I was hoping I would not have the opportunity to experience it. In view of what has recently happened I hardly find humor appropriate. As far as the question of how to address you, I am not interested in being your friend, only your client. We chose you for this case because you are reputed to be the best private investigator in the state. I expect our relationship to be strictly business should you decide to accept this case- MR. JANOVICH.”
The final two words were heavily accented to make his point.
Anybody who knew R.J. would tell you that at this point he thought he was dealing with a bag of wind. Ordinarily he would tell him to his face and walk off, but this client represented the National Computer Corporation or as they were more often called, N.C.C., one of the biggest companies in America. There is no telling what they would pay for his services. He would stay.
“I understand,” he said, the words nearly sticking in his throat. .
”Alright then Mr. Janovich, “he began. “How much do you know about what happened here last night?”
“I know only what you told me over the phone earlier, plus what little I read in the morning paper.”
“Last night, “Mr. Schwartz said, “a young girl in our employ was brutally murdered in the computer room. One of the tiles had been removed. Apparently there had been a short circuit as a fire extinguisher was found near the body in the crawlspace beneath the floor. She was badly mutilated, her neck was broken, and…” he paused .
R.J. glanced up from the notepad he had been jotting into. “Well, what else?”
“There were two puncture marks on her neck,” he shot back.
”Mr. Schwartz, are you sure they weren’t knife wounds of some sort?”
“Yes, the preliminary indication is”- he abruptly stopped as the door suddenly opened. It was Ernie, the custodian. He was pulling a large, wheeled garbage bin behind him.
“Oh, Mr. Schwartz,” he apologized. “I’m sorry. I thought you had already left. I was going to clean out the waste paper baskets, but I’ll come back later.”
“Just come back in 15 minutes, Ernie. We’ll be done by then.”
’”Sure thing, Mr. Schwartz.” With that he wheeled out the garbage bin and left.”
“Please excuse the interruption, “Mr. Schwartz said to R.J.
R.J. nodded and he continued.
“Let me be frank, Mr. Janovich. Our company has pumped a great deal of money into this data center, and we expect it to make a lot once this operation is fully underway. Any delay, any setback costs us greatly- and not only us. This data center is going to be the largest of its kind in the country. Everything in here will be state of the art. It is of great importance not only to us, but to the local area as well as it will provide jobs and revenue also. Our management people will move here to run this place. They will buy houses here, buy cars from local dealerships, frequent the area restaurants, etc., etc. We need this center and the area needs us. “
“However, we have had several money costing setbacks, and now this terrible murder. Wild rumors are circulating among some of our more superstitious workers. Everyone is terrified. Five of our female employees and two of our men have already quit in fear. This cannot continue. If there is some maniac out there, he has got to be stopped. That is why we need your help. Will you take our case?”
R.J. Janovich was never one to run away from a challenge, and this case certainly fell into that category. Still, there was one more factor to consider. ’”We haven’t discussed my fee,” R.J. pointed out.
”I have been authorized to pay you $250.00 a day plus expenses,” Mr. Schwartz informed him.
A guy would have to be crazy to turn down that much dough. Still, he didn’t want to appear overanxious and simply jump at the offer. He coolly waited a few seconds, giving the impression he was thinking it over. Then he spoke.
“Mr. Schwartz,” he answered, “you’ve got yourself a deal.”
”Excellent, excellent!” Mr. Schwartz exclaimed. He extended his hand and they shook on it. ”I’ll have the contract drawn up and ready for you to sign tomorrow.”
”Okay, Mr. Schwartz,” R.J. turned to go, but looking over his shoulder said this to Mr. Schwartz: “I’d like a list of every employee working last night. Also, I’d like you to think of anyone who would want or who would benefit by the closing of this data center. We can get to work first thing in the morning.”
”Just a minute, Mr. Janovich, “Mr. Schwartz snapped. “This is a matter of the gravest importance to my company. We aren’t officially your client yet until we sign the contract but we have a verbal agreement for a lot of money. I insist we begin immediately. We cannot afford to waste even a single minute.”
R.J. felt his entire body sag with those words. Still youthful looking at 40, he had been at this job for more than fifteen years. Physically there was no denying this job was taking more out of him than before. He was dog tired, but for the kind of money he would be paid, he wasn’t going to argue with the man.
“Alright,” he said, sizing up Mr. Schwartz. He appeared to be a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was well-spoken, and smacked of what R.J. guessed was an Ivy League education. He probably was R.J.’s age. “But can I take a quick trip to the John first?”” R.J. asked.
Mr. Schwartz disgustedly gave his consent. “Up the stairs, through the break room, to the guard’s desk. You can get the men’s room key there,” he instructed.
“Thank you,” R.J. said and then left.
He followed Mr. Schwartz’ directions and got to the men’s room. He ran into Ernie and his garbage bin on the way out.
“How’re you doing?” R.J. said.
“Hello,” the janitor replied. He cast an eye on R.J., trying to place the face, “I saw you in Schwartz’ office. Are you a detective?”
”R.J. Janovich, private investigator,” he said extending his hand.
”Ernie, Ernie Roscow,” the janitor introduced himself.
“’Nice to meet you, Ernie.”
“You’re here about that murdered girl, huh? “
”Well I know what killed her,” Ernie said.
R.J. was surprised by the word what rather than who.
“It was a vampire, that’s what it was.” said Ernie. As he emptied the used paper towels.
“Really?” R.J. incredulously asked.
“Sure,” Ernie replied confidently. “I hear she had teeth marks on her neck. No wild animals around here to do that. No surprise, let me tell you, if you lived here last few years. Strange things have happened.”
R.J. was not local and did not know what he meant.
Ernie started to wheel his garbage bin out. “It was nice talking to you. I’ve gotta get going now; work to do”’
R.J. wanted to know more about the ‘strange things’ Ernie had mentioned. “So long buddy, he said. “Can we talk again tomorrow?”
Ernie nodded yes then disappeared out the door.
R.J .had to get back too; to Mr. Schwartz. He hustled back past the guard’s desk returning the key as he went by. Hurrying through the break room he quickly made it downstairs to Mr. Schwartz’s office. Maybe Schwartz could clue him in on what Ernie was talking about.
Meanwhile back upstairs, Ernie had just finished his first cubicle. He reached back behind himself and began to grab his bin. Suddenly, from behind, a hand emerged from the pile of used paper towels and crumpled up paper in the bin and wrapped around his face. A second hand gasped for his throat. Ernie tried desperately to get away. His mouth was covered and he couldn’t breathe. The pressure on his neck was growing. He just couldn’t break free. He tried to yell for help but the grip over his mouth was vice-like. The pressure on his neck grew stronger; the grip tighter and tighter.
Downstairs in Mr. Schwartz’s office the phone rang.
”Excuse me,” he said to R.J. He answered the phone. As he listened, his expression changed. He turned white as a ghost. He quickly slammed down the receiver as he finished the call.
”Something terrible has happened! “he cried as he hurriedly headed for the door. “Come with me, please,” he said to R.J.
R.J. followed behind him as he again went upstairs to the place he had just come from.
When they got there security was on the scene. R.J. saw Ernie’s garbage bin. He and Mr. Schwartz were led to the other side of the bin. There was Ernie’s body, lying on his back, dead. His face was mutilated, and his neck appeared broken, but you could see two small marks on his neck with blood trickling down.
Even a pro like R.J. could not help but wince at the hideous sight.
Just then a strange noise made them turn around. It was an overly curious female employee who had crept up behind them and caught a glimpse of the body. It was too much for her and she threw up. Mr. Schwartz led the girl to a nearby bathroom. He had a key and unlocked it. He then instructed security: “You men seal off this area until the police get here. I’ll get someone to clean up this mess.”
R.J. looked at the body. Under his breath, he said: “Speaking of messes, what kind of mess did I get myself into?”
It was 9:00 a.m. R.J. made his way through a building which, except for the presence of several policeman and security guards, was unoccupied. When he got to Mr. Schwartz’ office he knocked on the closed door.
“Come in,” the voice on the other side commanded.
R.J. went in. “Good morning, Mr. Schwartz.”
“Good morning, Mr. Janovich. Thank you for being so prompt. Please sit down. I have that contact for you to sign. Here it is,” he said handing it to him.
R.J. quickly looked it over and did. Mr. Schwartz took it from him. “Very good” he said. Let’s get started.” He had a worried look on his face. “The building has been closed down until the police and security can work out a system of increased surveillance,” he informed R.J. “Until such time, this building will remain closed. But we already had one of the tightest security systems anywhere. We even increased it after the first murder. We can’t afford to have this center closed down for any prolonged length of time. This is terrible, simply terrible!””
He was speaking very rapidly and his tone was getting higher and higher It was apparent that he was very upset and in light of recent events, one could hardly blame him.
“’Easy now, Mr. Schwartz. Calm down, “” R.J. politely advised. “”I’m sure everything possible is being done and I am certain this building will re-open soon,”” he assured him.
Mr. Schwartz seemed to relax somewhat, so R.J. went on.
”Now then, Mr. Schwartz,” R.J said to begin with, “do you have the list I asked for?”
”Yes, I have the names of all the people, who were working the night of the first murder as well as those who were working last night as well.”
Mr. Schwartz lifted the lists from his desk and handed them over.
“Very good,”” R.J. replied, taking the lists. “”You never know who might have seen something that will be helpful to us. “Next thing,” he went on, “I’d like to know if you’ve come up with the names of any people who, for whatever reason, might want to see this datacenter closed down.”
“I have given that a great deal of thought’,”” Mr. Schwartz said, “”and I can only come up with two, though I haven’t a shred of evidence against either one.”
R.J. took out a pen and his notepad. ““That’s O.K., Mr. Schwartz, we’re not accusing anyone; just trying to establish possible motives. “Go ahead,” he instructed.
“Well then,” he said “”there are two men who fall into that category. The first is George Dernwood, the wealthy shipping magnate who owns several warehouses in the local area, among various other things.”
R.J. nodded. Their paths had crossed more than once during some other cases.
”Dernwood was outbid by us when the land on which this building is built was publicly auctioned off”” he continued. “”It was a long and bitter bidding war, but he simply could not match our final bid. Dernwood claimed he wanted this land for another warehouse but the way in which he so aggressively pursued it led many to believe he had more than that in mind. As I’m sure you know, Dernwood is reputed to have ties with the syndicate and to be heavily involved in the smuggling of various items- drugs in particular. Popular belief is that Dernwood wanted to build a warehouse here because, with its’ close proximity to the waterfront and incoming ships, it would be an ideal, place to ‘stash’, as it were, any smuggled goods. If we were forced to close down, our company would no doubt relocate the data center and put this land up for sale, thereby opening the door for him to acquire the property. Of course I am a transferee from New York, where our main office is. I was not here when all this occurred but this is what our management people told me.”
“Hmm…” R.J. murmured, “that makes sense, and though that by no means makes him guilty, I know George Dernwood and he is capable of anything. Who is the second person?’’
“The only other person…” Mr. Schwartz paused, unsure of whether he should even continue, “It’s a longshot.”
”As long as there is even the slightest chance,” R.J. asserted, “we’ve got to consider it.”
”Very well,” Mr. Schwartz began again. “As you know, Mr. Janovich, I’m the regional manager in charge of computer operations here. I only recently got this assignment. Before that, from day 1, a man by the name of Benjamin Nold held my current position. Just a few short weeks before we were to begin operations here however, he was caught attempting to embezzle money from the company. He was arrested and charged but as you know, our system of justice moves slowly and his case has yet to come to trial. He’s out on bail now. I suppose losing a six figure job and facing possible jail time could fill a man with thoughts of revenge against those responsible. But I know Ben Nold. He may be an embezzler, but he is no murderer.”
”Do you have an address on this man?” R.J. asked.
Mr. Schwartz nodded and handed him a slip of paper. ”I’ve written it on here. I knew you’d be asking for it.”
R.J. took it, read the address, and put the paper in his pocket. “I’ll check him out,’’ he said. As he rose to leave, he remembered one more question he wanted to ask. ”Just one more thing, Mr. Schwartz. I didn’t get a chance to mention this last night, but I ran into Ernie in the men’s room just before he was murdered. He seemed to think that the girl was killed by a vampire of all things. What’s more he said that would come as no surprise to anyone who lived here. Do you know what he was talking about?”
”Again, Mr. Janovich , I haven’t been around here very long,” Mr. Schwartz said, “but I think I know what Ernie was referring to. I have been apprised by management of some of the goings on. Are you familiar with the previous occupants of this property?”
“Of course,” R.J. replied. “Anyone on the East Coast knew of the super wealthy Bracken family. This land was owned for years by the Brackens. They were real upper class and one of the most powerful families in New England.”
“They could trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower,” Mr. Schwartz said. “They were Boston based and what the people would call Brahmins; real upper crust elites. This land was part of their summer estate. Are you familiar with the circumstances surrounding their loss of this property?”
“Yes,” R.J. replied, ”I only recently moved here. I wasn’t living in this area at the time, but I remember reading about it in the papers. Some sort of a legal loophole- an illegality concerning the registering of the deed to the property. I don’t know any of the particulars, but it was a real big deal around here and sure caused a lot of commotion.”
So I’ve been told, “Mr. Schwartz said. “ You also know then of the tragic occurrence on the day we began work on this building?”
”Yes. The widow Bracken was accidentally run over by a bulldozer and killed.”
“An accident, of course. I was here on that day along with several other higher ranking management personnel from New York for the groundbreaking. She showed up, ranting and raving about how we were stealing her land and spoiling everything. She was screaming that she wouldn’t let us do it. After a long period of time we finally succeeded in calming her down. We thought she was leaving, but when she saw the first bulldozer, she rushed in front of it, arms waving, ordering it to stop. The driver was in the process of doing so but the lady tripped and fell in front of it just before its’ forward motion stopped. I will never forget the sickening sound of that woman being crushed to death.”
“But Mr. Schwartz,” R.J. exclaimed, “all this is common knowledge. What does it have to do with Ernie’s vampire theory?’’
”I suppose that part of the story is common knowledge, but what Ernie told some of our employees is less well known. Ernie was one of our few locally hired employees. He lived just a stone’s throw from this piece of land. After losing her husband and son in a car accident, the widow Bracken had this house converted from a summer place to a full time residence. Ernie claimed that things were quiet for years but that around the time NCC was attempting to acquire the property, strange things began to happen. I am sorry I don’t know all the specifics, but whatever they were Ernie was convinced that supernatural things were going on and that this place was haunted. That rumor has spread around the data center. Given this I suppose it is not much of a stretch for Ernie to conclude that marks on a dead girls’ neck could be the work of a vampire.”
“I know you are not from here, Mr. Schwartz, but something made Ernie think that. I’d like to find out what.”
“You certainly don’t believe in vampires and the supernatural, do you Mr. Janovich?”
“No. I don’t but I think I should check it out anyway.”
“Whatever you think must be done to stop these murders please do,” Mr. Schwartz said. “This nightmare must end, and this data center must resume operations.”
“Alright, Mr. Schwartz,” R.J. said, heading for the door. ”I’ll get cracking on this case right away.”
“Good luck, Mr. Janovich,” his client wished him.
“Thanks,” R.J. replied “I’m gonna need it!” he said under his breath as he left the office.
It was a long walk to the front desk, and it gave R.J. time to think about how he was going to attack this case. First he’d head back to the office and get his assistant to get some background information. Next--
““Please sign out,”” a monotone voice interrupted his thoughts. It was the guard at the front desk. R.J. had been so deep in thought that he had been absentmindedly walking right by without signing out.
”I’m sorry,” he apologized.
The guard pushed the register forward. R.J. recognized him as the break room guard who was working at another desk when Ernie was murdered. His name was Jim Smith according to his nametag.
”They move you guys around a lot, huh? ‘’ R.J. asked as he signed out.
There was no reply.
“Geesh” R.J. murmured to himself, “this guy has all the personality of a dead fish!” He tried again.
“Like to keep you on your toes, I guess,” he kidded.
The guard managed what appeared to resemble a weak smile. It made him look, as R.J. muttered to himself, like “death warmed over. I think it hurts him to smile!” He finished signing out and left.
A short drive later, he arrived at his office. It was an office on the second floor of the oldest office building in downtown New Brighton, only a short drive across the bridge from the data center in nearby Fairview.
“Good morning Betty,” R.J. greeted his secretary as he entered.
”Good morning, R.J.” she replied.
She shook her head no.
”Is the whiz kid in yet?”
”He just got in now”
R.J. went into his inner office, leaving the reception area. Through years of hard work and long hours that had cost him his marriage, R.J. had made enough money to be able to afford this modest office. He also had a secretary and recently, he was able to hire a young college kid to do the always time consuming background research, among other things.
”Hi, boss,” the young man with the wavy brown hair said with a twinkle in his eye. ”whaddya’ got for me today?”
It was the kind of enthusiasm which had convinced R.J. to take this kid on. R.J. normally worked alone but had taken a liking to this young kid who was working his way through college and had his heart set on a career as an investigative journalist. He saw this job as a stepping stone. R.J. had doubts about that, but the kid needed some money, he did not cost much and was actually proving to be an asset. Not only was he reducing R.J’s workload, but the fact that his sister worked in the police coroner’s office and he was dating the daughter of the chief of homicide to boot, often came in quite handy!
”Enough to keep you busy, Marty,” R.J. answered. They had briefly discussed the case on the phone earlier. “Here’s the list I told you about, complete with names, addresses and phone numbers, Only now there has been another murder so there are two lists. Check this out and see if any names appear on both. If so, check those first. Then check out the other names left on the first list. See if they can tell you anything that might help. Leave the other list for me and I will check on that one later. I’ll get it when I check my messages. But there are a couple of things I’d like you to do first.”
”You’ve got no classes today?” R.J .asked.
“Nope,” he answered.
“Go to the police station. Use some of those connections of yours to try and find whatever you can about the coroner’s report on those two murders.”
”O.K., boss.” he always referred to R.J. that way. R.J. had given up asking him to use R.J. as his form of address. He apparently was not comfortable with that. . “What’s the other thing?”
“Marty, you college kids do lots of reading, right?”
”We sure do.”
”Well, go to the library and dig up as much information as you can on the Bracken family and aaah…Marty?”
”Be on the lookout for any mention of anything having to do with vampires.”
“Wh-aaa-at?” came Marty’s astonished response, “Are you putting me on?”
“I know it sounds pretty far-fetched, Marty, but I really haven’t got time to go into it,” R.J. said. “Just let me know what you come up with, O.K.?”
“O.K., boss, whatever you say.” He said goodbye and he walked out the door. He quickly reopened the door and said: “I hope I didn’t bite off more that I can chew.”
“Leave the sick jokes to me, huh, kid?” R.J. said.
Marty laughed and went on his way.
Having quite a lot to do himself R.J. left soon after. “This case is really shaping up to be a tough one” he said to himself.
R.J. pulled the car into the warehouse parking lot and got out. He parked in the space right next to George Dernwood’s car. Everyone knew him by his unmistakable pink Cadillac. He was the man R.J. wanted to see first, but that was easier said than done. Dernwood was a difficult man to talk to unless he had something to say. Anyway R.J. was going to give it his best shot.
He entered the building and made his way to the offices on the second floor. He walked into the outer office and up to the secretary’s desk.
“Good morning,” he greeted her.
“Good morning, sir.”” she said in between chews on her gum. “May I help you?”
“Yes, I’m here to see Mr. Dernwood,” R.J. said as authoritatively as possible.
”Do you have an appointment?” she asked.
“Yes, I do,” he lied.
“Your name, please?”
“Uh-oh!’’ R.J. thought as he noticed an open appointment book lying on the secretary’s desk. He tried to read it but did not have enough time. “Err….James, Jack James”. Another lie, made up on the spot.
”That’s funny sir, because, well, I‘ve never seen you before. You’re a new client, right?”
“Well, I am sure that there is only one new client scheduled for today, a Mr. O’Brien at 1 o’clock. If you’re a new client and you are not Mr. O’Brien, then you can’t be on the list...hee-hee-hee” she emitted a silly sounding giggle. “I’ll check the appointment book anyway.” She glanced down at it. “”No, no appointments for a Mr. James today at any time. Is it possible you made a mistake?””
I guess I did,’’ R.J. smiled, his wheels turning. He glanced down at her. She was a typical Dernwood girl- late twenties, early thirties; a real blonde bombshell with blue eyes and a body that just wouldn’t quit. About the only thing she seemed to lack was brains. R.J. knew the type, and maybe he could take advantage of that.
“You know,” R.J. said, flattering her,” I could swear I‘ve seen you somewhere before. He stared at her with his baby blue eyes that still had a way with the girls. Though he was now starting to gray at the temples one could still see reminders of a time when Raymond James Janovich had been a good-looking ladies’ man. He would use some of that charm now.
“Really?” she asked with a wide eyed look. ”I don’t think so””
”Yes, I’m sure of it. Where have I seen you? I’ve got it! Weren’t you the winner of the Miss New Brighton Beauty Pageant?”
Corny, R.J. knew, but she fell for it
“Oh my no!” she blushed and giggled. “You must have me mixed up with someone else.”
‘”Well, you’re certainly every bit as beautiful as the girl who won it.”’
“Oh, Mr. James!” There was more nervous giggling and some blushing followed.
R.J. sensed that now was the time to stop messing around. “Do you work here straight from 9 to 5?” he asked.
“Yes except for lunch from 1 2:30 to 1:30.”
R.J.’s wheels began to turn. “Do you leave the reception desk unattended during that time?”
“Oh, no. The new girl from downstairs takes over.”
Even better than R.J. had hoped. He had found out what he wanted to know and he had a plan. But maybe he had asked one too many questions.
”Why do you want to know that?’’ the secretary cluelessly asked.
R.J. had to think of a good answer quick, or even this girl might get suspicious. “What’s your name?’’ he asked.
”Candi with an ‘I.’ “
”Well, Candi, I asked because I thought that we might be able to have lunch together.”
“Oh, Mr. James, tee-hee,” she said getting in a few more chomps on her gum. “I’m sorry, but my boyfriend and me are having lunch together today. He’s picking me up at 12:30.”
R.J. couldn’t have asked for a better response. “Well,” R.J. flirted, “my loss.”” He turned to leave.
“Oh, Mr. James?’’”
R.J. turned around
“Um…in case you ever want to book an appointment ahead of time, here’s my number” she winked and scribbled her number down.
R.J. took the slip of paper she handed to him, winked back and made his way out of the building, stopping only to deposit it in the nearest garbage barrel.
“Sorry sweetheart,” he said to himself out loud, “but I already have everything I need from you.”
He’d be back, but for now it was time to make another stop.
R.J. got into his car and drove off. Soon after, he pulled in front of a rather impressive house and stepped out.
‘‘This is the place,”’ he said to himself after checking the number on the house with the one on the slip of paper he held in his hand. He approached the front door. It was an expensive looking, old fashioned one with a brass knocker. There was also a doorbell, below which was a nameplate bearing the name of the occupant of the house, Benjamin R. Nold. R.J. opted for the doorbell and rang it. The door opened and a thin middle aged man holding a drink appeared.
”Yes?” he asked?
“Mr. Nold, Mr. Benjamin Nold?”
”Yes, I’m Mr. Nold,” he said with a puzzled look on his face. ”Who are you…what do you want?”
“My name is R.J. Janovich. I am a private investigator and I’m working on-“
”Let me guess,” Mr. Nold interrupted. “You’re working for the mighty National Computer Corporation. You’re investigating the recent murders which occurred at the data center. Am I correct?”
“Yes, I… err…”
“And you think I did it?”
”Mr. Nold, I didn’t …I mean-“
““That’s alight, Mr. Janovich,” It comes as no surprise. The police were here earlier for the same reason. Come in.”
R.J. walked in. The house was as magnificent inside as it was outside.
“Sit down, Mr. Janovich,” Mr. Nold instructed. “”Can I fix you a drink?””
R.J. was surprised at how receptive he was being. He said. “”No, thank you I never drink while working”” R.J. noted that even at this early hour Mr. Nold was already drinking.
”Happily,” Mr. Nold told him, “”I am under no such restrictions.”” He went to the bar and freshened his drink, then sat down. “You seem surprised by my willingness to talk to you, Mr. Janovich,”” he continued. ““Actually, I don’t really want to, but I’m in a, shall we say, touchy position right now, as I’m sure my former employers have informed you. Cooperating with this investigation may help shed a more favorable light on me in the eyes of the court. Refusing to help most certainly would not. Therefore, go ahead, ask me what you will.”
”Thank you, Mr. Nold” R.J. said. “What I would like you to tell me is where you were on the nights of the murders. Two nights ago, at 1:15a.m., and last night at 6:00p.m.”
“I don’t mind at all,”Mr. Nold replied. “Monday, two nights ago, I was sleeping over at my son’s house in another part of town. Last night as well I was there, for dinner at 5:00 and I stayed there the better part of the evening. I’ve been spending a lot of time there late lately since my wife…”” he hesitated “”since my wife and I separated.”” He glanced at his nearly empty drink in what was now an unsteady hand. “Excuse me.”” He got up and freshened his drink again.
‘He can sure put ‘em down’, R.J. thought to himself. He was astonished not only by the volume of drink but the fact that it was being done at such an early hour. R.J. glanced around the living room. It contained fine colonial furniture, plush carpeting, and an exquisite chandelier hung from the ceiling.
This room led to the patio, and beyond that R.J. could see the large kidney shaped swimming pool in the back. The expense involved in keeping this place up must have been great. R.J. would not be surprised if Mr. Nold had embezzled from the company. But that was not the crime R.J was here about.
Mr. Nold finished fixing his drink quickly, then turned and caught R.J. in the act of giving his house the once-over. “You like the house?” he asked.
‘’Yes, very impressive”
“Impressive, Mr. Janovich, but being very impressive has its’ drawbacks. The more impressive, of course, the more difficult to keep. Do you have any idea the cost of items such as fine jewelry, minks, expensive clothes, prize winning rose gardens…” his now trembling voice trailed off.
R.J. said nothing, but it was easy to see that recent events had taken their toll on this man.
”Mr. Janovich,” Mr. Nold said, regaining his composure. “Is there anything else, because if there isn’t ….” He didn’t say it but the implication was clear. He had had enough questions for one day.
”Just one more thing,” R.J. said rising from his corner chair.
”What?” came the response.
”I’d like to check out your alibi. Can I have your son’s address?”
“Err…his address…aaa…,” Mr. Nold hedged, acting like he had not expected that request. “Very well,” he said finally. He wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to R.J.
Just as R.J. and Mr. Nold got to the door, the doorbell rang. Mr. Nold answered it and an obviously agitated young man rushed in.
“Dad” he blurted out to Mr. Nold, “”where were you last night? Again-that’s two nights in a row you’ve done this. Were you drinking again? …” the young man stopped abruptly realizing that R.J. was standing there. “Oh,”” he apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company.”
“Mr. Janovich, “Mr. Nold said nervously “please meet my son, Jason Nold. Jason this is R.J. Janovcih. He is a private investigator looking into the murders at my old company.”
“”That’s alright,” R.J .said. “I was just leaving.”” He glanced at Mr. Nold. Caught in a lie, he had turned white as a ghost. Obviously, he had not had time to corroborate a false story with his son. ”Goodbye, Mr. Nold, “R.J. glared at him. “Thank you for being so- open,” he accented the last word for effect.
R.J. left the house and got into his car. Mr. Nold had lied. Why? To cover-up his drinking problem or was it some other reason? Mr. Nold didn’t seem like a murderer, but the words he had told Mr. Schwartz echoed in his mind: even the remotest possibilities must be considered.
A horn beeped loudly from behind him. R.J. had been so lost in thought he didn’t realize the light had turned green. He drove for a couple of more blocks, then took a right and pulled up in front of his house. He glanced at his watch. It read 11:45.
He quickened his pace, hurrying into the house. He made his way to the wardrobe closet and pulled out his only three piece suit. Private eyes don’t normally run around all dressed up and he hadn’t worn it in a long time, but R.J. had something in mind and the suit might just help him pull it off. He put it on and looked in the mirror.
He admired how the suit still fit him after all these years. Now a quick comb of the hair, a little straightening of the tie and he was ready to go. Before leaving he took one final glimpse of himself in the mirror. “We better get going, Mr. O’Brien,” he said aloud to himself, “Mr. Dernwood is expecting us.”
R.J. poked his head into Dernwood’s outer office on the second floor and peeked in. The clock on the wall read 12:40. The girl who had been at the reception desk earlier was on her lunch break. R.J. approached her replacement.
”Yes?” the girl said.
“My name is Mr. O’Brien” R.J. said, “and I have an appointment to see Mr. Dernwood.”
“Just a minute please,” the girl said while checking the register. Finding the name, she began again. ”Yes, here it is,” she paused and frowned. “but your appointment isn’t until one o’clock. You’re early. “
R.J. knew that he had to quickly get by this secretary or run the risk of running into the real Mr. O’Brien. This trickery was necessary because given their past history, Dernwood would never speak to him. There were important pieces to the puzzle which Dernwood could provide. R.J.’s plan had to work and fast.
R.J said in his most authoritative voice, “I always arrive early for important meetings, young lady.”
”Very well, sir.” came the intimidated reply. “I’ll buzz his office.”” She did.
”Yes?” Mr. Dernwood’s voice said above the intercom.
”Mr. O’Brien is here to see you, sir.”
“Already?”” Mr. Dernwood asked, slightly surprised. “Alright then, send him in.”
R.J .made his way to Mr. Dernwood’s office and then knocked on the closed door.
“Come in,” the voice on the other side of the door said.
R.J. opened the door and walked in. Immediately, the smell of one of Mr. Dernwood’s infamous cheap cigars filled his nostrils.
”Janovich!” Mr. Derwood exclaimed, hurriedly removing his cigar. “‘What is this? How dare you pretend to be one of my clients? Get out of this office or I’ll have you thrown out!”
“Relax, Dernwood,” R.J said, calmly closing the door behind him. “I just want to ask you a few questions and this was the only way I could think of to get in.”
”I’ve got nothing to say to you.”
“Such hostility!” RJ. exclaimed in mock disbelief. Changing the subject, he continued. ”it’s been a while, Dernwood. How’s that lovely, fair-haired lady of yours? Has she met your wife yet?””
“Are you threatening me?”
R.J. smiled. “Easy, big boy. Your secret is safe with me. All I want to do is to ask you a couple of questions. Is that too much to ask? After all, if memory serves me correctly, you were with me, being questioned, the night of that big jewelry heist a couple of months back. You remember, the cops were all set to bring you in. If it wasn’t for me, they would have. I was your alibi, George. I saved you a lot of grief. The way I figure it, you owe me one.”
‘’I don’t owe you anything, punk,’’’ Dernwood exploded, but he quickly regained his composure and continued calmly. “O.K. Janovich. I’m a reasonable guy,”” he smiled. “”I know this is about the two murders at N.C.C., the cops were already here earlier. Just to prove to you that I’ve got nothing to hide, I’ll give you 2 minutes of my time. Two minutes, that’s all.”
”O.K.” R.J. said. ““just tell me where you were when the two murders occurred.”
“I’ll tell you exactly what I told the cops. When the first murder occurred I was fast asleep in bed.”
“Yes!” Mr. Dernwood angrily replied. “”My wife, however was away visiting her sister in New Jersey, so I was alone. But last night, I was right here in this office, working. My distribution director was here helping me prepare for this meeting with O’Brien. His name is Charles Martin. Ask him about it, he’ll verify it. He’ll be here shortly. You can ask him yourself. Now I happen to know that the police are certain that both murders were committed by the same person. Since I have a verifiable alibi last night, that excludes me as a suspect, doesn’t it Janovich? I’m so sorry to disappoint you.”
At that moment Mr. Martin walked in and R.J. got confirmation of Mr. Dernwood’s alibi. Still, if Dernwood wasn’t with him and he was asked to cover for his boss, would he refuse? It would probably cost him his job if he didn’t. R.J. took his story with a grain of salt.
”O.K. Janovich,” Mr. Dernwood said after R.J. was done with Mr. Martin. His tone had changed again. ”I hope you’re satisfied. Now get your lousy butt the hell out of my office!”
R.J. had got what he came for. It was clear he would get nothing more from Dernwood. He left the office.
He wanted to start questioning some of the N.C.C. employees next, so he headed back to his office to get one of the list of names Mr. Schwartz had given him. When he got there he hurried inside. Betty was on her lunch break. He wanted to check his messages. He knew where to look on her desk for any that had come in but there were none. Marty wasn’t there either, but he had left a note lying next to the list. R.J. picked it up and read it:
NO NAMES APPEAR ON BOTH LISTS. HAVE TAKEN ONE, WILL START CHECKING IT OUT
AS YOU INSTRUCTED, MARTY
R.J. picked up the remaining list. There were quite a few names on it. This task would take the rest of the day at least, if not some of the night as well. Before leaving, he grabbed his small portable tape recorder, which he always used when he had so many people to question. It beat the old note pad and pen. He quickly went on his way.
RJ. was proven right. A long afternoon and early evening of questioning produced nothing helpful. This case was puzzling to R.J. A private eye usually gets a certain feeling that tells him he is on the right track. After questioning Nold, Dernwood and several N.C.C. employees, he had no such feeling.
It was after 9 o ‘clock now and R.J. was ready to call it a day. Instead of returning to the office as he usually did to tie up loose ends at the end of the day he headed straight for home. He’d file his tapes away in the morning.
He hadn’t been there 10 minutes when the phone rang. RJ. picked it up. It was Marty.
”Hey, boss, where have you been?” he asked. “I’ve been trying to reach you all day.”
” Sorry, kid,”” R.J. replied. “’I’ve been questioning people all day, but I haven’t had much success. How’d you do?”
‘’That’s what I’m calling about. I’ve got some of the information you wanted, and I think you’ll find it interesting.”
“Go ahead then, shoot.”
“Well, from my sources down at the police station, I’ve found out something very strange. You remember asking for me to be on the lookout for anything to do with vampires?”
“Well, get this. The coroner’s report says that the two murdered bodies were mangled, clawed and had puncture marks on their necks. But there were no traces at all of human or animal fingernails, cuticle skin, or saliva. These bodies were not bitten. They were only made to appear that way. The coroner says that someone went to a great deal of effort to make it look like a vampire attack. The puncture marks were probably made by metallic objects, pointed pieces of metal or narrowed spikes of some sort. They were not the result of a bite by a human or animal. These murders were done by a human being, probably a very strong man.”
“Hmm…that is interesting,” R.J. replied.
` ” There’s more, boss. The coroner says that the recent murders are the first two instances of this kind involving humans, but this isn’t the first time he’s come across this thing. According to him, the same M.O. occurred a couple of years back. There was a series of vicious attacks on some of the local livestock in the Hill Road area. The same puncture marks appeared on the necks of the dead animals. I looked it up and according to legend, vampires will attack animals when human blood is not available.
Despite police assurances to the contrary, some of the more superstitious local residents still believe this was the work of vampires. Except for the locals, the cops kind of kept the press away from this story, not wanting to cause a panic. What do you make of all that boss?”
’’I’m not sure,” R.J. replied reflectively. “That’s very odd. It appears someone was trying to scare people away, but who and why? Who would stand to benefit from this?”
“I’m not sure but I’ve got a feeling you are going to find out.”
”Gotta follow the leads, kid.’’ R.J. said. “Good work, Marty. What did you find out about the Brackens?”
“That’s another fascinating story,’’ Marty began again. “I went to the library for some information on them, and I really lucked out there. The librarian was actually the daughter of the Bracken’s former governess, so I even got a little more information than what was in the books.’’
“That’s great, Marty.”
“Anyway here’s what I’ve got. As anybody knows, the Brackens were one of the wealthiest families in the New England area. They were certainly the “it” family of their time. They were constantly in the press, much like the young Kennedys. The father, Jonathan T. Bracken was a distinguished professor. His specialty was ancient American civilizations, Aztec, Inca, etc. He was married to the former Priscilla Ogden, who also came from money. Both families could trace their heritage back to the Mayflower. The star of the family, however, was their only son, Jonathan R. Bracken. He was a real jet setting playboy back in the day. Good-looking, athletic, well educated, he was New England’s most eligible bachelor. He attended medical school at Harvard and had planned to be a doctor, but dropped out his second year and got involved with his father’s multiple expeditions into uncharted territory up the Amazon River. The professor’s interest at first was simply in finding new tribes that had not yet been touched by 20th century civilization. However, he and his son soon became obsessed with a local legend of a valley somewhere deep in the Amazon where the people had beaten the normal rules of aging and frequently lived over 100 and remained in great physical shape to boot. It was said that if anyone could find this valley, called the Valley of the Old Ones, they could learn the secret to long life. Needless to say it was never found.”
“For years the Brackens lived in Boston but their summer estate was on land where the new data center now stands at 200 Hill Road. About 50 years ago, a tragic automobile accident claimed the lives of the father and son. Priscilla Bracken was also a passenger but survived and lived a long live, but she was never really the same again. She withdrew a large amount of money from the bank and converted the Hill Road estate into a full-time residence. She became a virtual recluse, hardly ever leaving the property and keeping out of the public eye.”’
”About 3 years ago, The National Computer Corporation, eyeing this piece of land for a new data center, tried to buy it from the widow Bracken but she refused to sell. N.C.C.’s lawyers, however, uncovered a legal loophole-the deed to the property had never been properly registered. Ownership reverted back to the town, a public auction was held and it was sold to the highest bidder, N.C.C. On the day construction of the data center began, the widow Bracken tried to stop it and well, everybody knows the rest. ”
“Yes,” R.J. replied. But his professional curiosity was now working full speed. “Are there any surviving Brackens? “
”None, boss. I even asked the librarian about that, and she told me that for the last 3 generations the Bracken men had only produced one male heir, who in turn did the same. That string was broken when the young, unmarried, childless Jonathan R. died in the accident.”
“Oh,” R.J. dejectedly responded. Still, though, he wasn’t satisfied. “”Marty, you said the librarian’s mother was the governess for the Bracken family. Is she still alive?”
”I thought you’d ask that,”” Marty said. “Yes, she is. Her name is Mrs. Ingrid Walsh. She is 85 now, but she still has all her marbles, according to her daughter. She even lives alone. I knew you would want to talk with her so I coaxed the librarian into giving me the address. She lives at 61 Oak Lane.”
“Kid, you outdid yourself today.”” R.J. complimented him. “whatever I am paying you, you just earned yourself a raise next paycheck.”
”Thanks, boss.” Marty excitedly blurted out. “I best get going now. Tomorrow I’ll finish checking my list of names. So far that’s been a dead end for me too. Good luck, R.J.” He rarely called him that but had got caught up in the circumstances of his pay increase. “See ‘ya.” With that he hung up.
R.J. sat quietly for a few minutes after hanging up, trying to digest all the information Marty had just given him. A slight grin came across his face as he was starting to get that familiar feeling in his gut. Maybe, just maybe, he was on the right track.
It was a beautiful late summer morning as R.J. rang the doorbell at 61 Oak Grove Lane. An elderly lady answered the door.
”Yes?” she asked.
“Good morning ma’am, “R.J. said politely. ‘”My name is R.J Janovich. I’m a private investigator investigating the recent murders at the data center on Hill Rd. I wonder if I might have a few words with you. ”
”Yes, my daughter told me I might be getting a visit from you, “she replied. ”I’m sorry Mr. Janovich, but I really don’t see how anything I could possibly tell you could be of any help to you whatsoever. It’s been such a long time since I worked for the Brackens.”
“Well, ma’am, I’ve been a private eye for a long time and oftentimes people don’t realize that they know something important. Sometimes what seems to be the most insignificant of details turns out to be a key clue which is vital to solving the case. The Brackens lost their land to N.C.C. You were the Bracken’s governess, Mrs. Walsh, and I sincerely believe that you may be able to help me. Even though the chance may be slight, it is possible that if you refuse, another murder may be committed- a murder which might have been prevented had you cooperated.”
Mrs. Walsh thought for a moment. ”You’re very persuasive,” she smiled at R.J. “Very well,
come in.” She motioned inside.
R.J. walked into the living room.
“Please sit down, Mr. Janovich,” Mrs. Walsh said.
R.J. availed himself of the nearest chair.
“Can I get you anything, coffee or tea, perhaps?”
“No thank you, ma’am.”
‘”Alright then,” she said. She sat down in a chair opposite R.J.
As she did, R.J. couldn’t help but notice the pictures on the table near her. One seemed to be a family portrait of the three Brackens from long ago: mother, father, and son. The second was a picture of J.R. Bracken, the son, by himself. From the looks of it, he was in his late teens or early twenties. He made quite an impressive figure. He was a handsome young man with dark, piercing eyes. He was sharply attired. From the top of his perfectly groomed hair, to the tip of his shiny bright shoes. He seemed to ooze class. He wore a gold wrist watch on one hand and a rather odd ring bearing the family initial, B, on the forefinger of the other.
“I see you’re admiring the pictures of the Brackens,” Mrs. Walsh said as she saw R.J. looking at them. As you know I was the governess for many years. It was my first job out of college. I was wet behind the ears, but Priscilla Bracken hired me anyway. I worked there until J.R. went to medical school. Even afterwards we stayed in touch. They were very impressive people.”
“Yes, so I’ve been told.”
“A terrible tragedy,” Mrs. Walsh shook her head. “Just back with his father from one of their many Amazon expeditions-which he had left medical school for, by the way. It was a decision of which his mother did not approve. Anyway, they took the lady out for her birthday. It was Labor Day weekend 1932. On the way home, while crossing the New Brighton-Fairview Bridge in a driving rainstorm, a car crossed over the center line and forced J.R., who was driving, to swerve to avoid it. He lost control of the car and it went over the guard rail and into the water, bursting into flames as it did. Priscilla Bracken was thrown clear. J.T. and his son J.R. perished. The father’s body was horribly burned but the son’s was never recovered. Divers tried in vain to locate the body. Finally the search was called off. He was presumed dead. It was an awful thing to happen, simply awful. For the young man especially. J.R. had been so full of life. The world was his oyster. He had so much ahead of him. He was such a proud lad. He was brilliant academically and had a very high I.Q. Quite an athlete as well, he excelled in tennis, swimming, wrestling, weightlifting, almost everything. He had so much potential. It was a joy to be his governess. I was very fond of him.”
She paused, realizing she had been doing all of the talking. “Goodness look at me rattling on. I’m very sorry, Mr. Janovich,” she apologized. ”Please begin.”
R.J. was very impressed with this lady. She was 85, but her mind seemed clear as a bell and she was obviously a class act. ”No need to apologize,” he said.
Mrs. Walsh smiled.
R.J. continued. “”Mrs. Walsh, I’m sure you’re familiar with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the loss of the Bracken land to N. C. C. and the death of Priscilla Bracken.”
She nodded. “I think everyone knows about that untimely accident. Poor Priscilla, she lived a long, lonely life without her husband and son. She was 99 when she died. That meant almost 50 years as a widow.”
”Well, that would make revenge a perfect motive for the murders. The only problem is that apparently there are no surviving Brackens left, or so I’ve been told. I’d like you to tell me if you can think of anyone related to the family, or maybe even a very close friend, who might possibly still be alive and want to seek revenge on N.C.C.
Mrs. Walsh thought for a moment before answering. “No…no” she said, “there’s no one left that I know of. You probably know that the last three generations of Brackens saw only one male heir who in turn produced another only child. Both of Priscilla’s parents are dead, of course. She was an only child herself. There were no other relatives that I ever saw. The Brackens were very private. They kept to themselves and in all the time I worked there I never saw or heard about any other relatives. As for friends, they never had many and what few they had are long since gone.”
”I see,” a disappointed R.J. replied. He paused momentarily, then rose to leave. “I won’t keep you then. Thank you for your time ma’am.”” Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his card. “If you do think of anyone- here’s my card. Please call me anytime. Good-bye, Mrs. Walsh.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t much help, Mr. Janovich.”
”That’s’ quite alright.” R.J. responded. “I’ll show myself out.”
R.J. stepped out and paused outside the door. He felt like he had just been hit by a ton of bricks. What he thought might just be something turned out to be a dead end. He had been so sure he was on the right track. He couldn’t make sense of this case. Something just didn’t add up.
Things got no better afterwards as he questioned a few N.C.C. employees he had missed the first time, but that too proved fruitless.
It was after 10 p.m. now and R.J. was beat and dejected. Before going home, he stopped at the lounge in the Boswell Bowling Lanes for a nightcap. On the way in, a man who had been drinking too much was being helped into a cab. R.J. thought he recognized him, but he thought he’d ask the bartender just to be sure. “Excuse me,” he asked the bartender “but that man just being helped into a cab- was that Benjamin Nold?”
”It sure was,” he replied. ”Poor guy. Prime example of what a dame can do to you. His wife was the type that liked all this rich stuff; furs, fancy clothes, the whole bit. But no matter what he bought, she always wanted more. He just couldn’t keep up. He even embezzled dough from his company. He was caught and what did his wife do? She left him! After he did all of that for her! She split! He’s out on bail now and he comes in here every night. Every night he drowns his sorrows and spills his guts until he’s so wasted he has to take a cab home.”
“He’s been in here every night this week?” R.J. asked.
‘’Every night the last three weeks,”” the bartender answered.
That explained why Nold had not been at his son’s house the nights of the murders. It also ruled him out as a suspect.
”Oh boy,” R.J. mumbled under his breath. “This case just gets more and more puzzling.”
”What’ll y have?” the bartender asked.
”Anything,” R.J. replied. “anything with a kick- and make it a double.”
The bartender poured, RJ. downed his drink and then went home.
R.J. hit the sack immediately and went right to sleep. He hadn’t been asleep very long when he was awakened by the telephone ringing. He opened his eyes. By the clock on his dresser, it was 12::10 in the morning. “Whoever you are you better have a good reason for calling me at this hour,” he announced angrily as he picked up the receiver.”
” Hey, boss” said the voice on the other end.
”Marty, is that you?” he asked, still half-asleep. He knew that no one else addressed him in that manner.
“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry to call you at this hour, but this is something that could be important and I thought you ought to know.”
”Alright, go ahead.”
” I was just driving by the data center earlier and I noticed there was no guard on duty in the guard house in the parking lot. On the way back I looked again and there was still no guard there: very strange. I would have stopped and checked it out but I…err….I was in a hurry.”
Just then R.J. thought he heard something that sounded like moaning over the phone. A few seconds later, a voice came across the line. It was a girl’s.
“C’mon Marty,” she murmured “let’s get started.”
R.J. got the picture. “That is strange. You did right to call me. I’ll check it out. Thanks, now just go back to whatever it is you were doing.” He hung up, got dressed and was on his way.
When he got to the data center, he pulled up at the guardhouse and got out. The guard was in there, but he was on the floor, motionless, slumped against the back wall with his hat pushed over his face. It looked like he had slid out of his chair. In this position, he could not be seen from the road. R.J. nudged him. “Hey, buddy,” he said.
There was no reply.
“C’mon, wake up,” R.J. shook him gently to no avail. The guard wasn’t asleep. He was dead. His cap fell off and revealed a torn up a face and what looked like a broken neck. Two small puncture marks were on the neck as well. R.J. noticed something else. There was a funny odor in the air. He looked around and noticed a recently crushed cigar butt outside the open guardhouse door. He wrapped a handkerchief around his hand, picked it up and whiffed. The cheap smell was unmistakable. Only one person he knew of smoked cigars like that.
All of a sudden a pair of headlights flashed on, cutting across the darkness and heading directly toward R.J. He just barely had enough time to leap out of the way, but as he rolled to safety he got a glimpse of the car as it sped over the speed bumps. In the parking lot lights he could clearly see that it was pink. He recognized it.
“Dernwood!” he exclaimed.
R.J. quickly got up, got into his car and was soon in hot pursuit. Behind him he heard what sounded like an explosion back at the data center. He turned around to see a small fire burning in front of the building. The fire department would have to attend to that. He continued the chase.
Fortunately, there was a long straightaway heading from the data center to the highway, so R.J. was able to pick up the speeding car some distance ahead. It cut across Route 40, sped by Allen Rd. to Route 16 and took a right at the drive-in-movie. R.J. followed behind and did the same. When he took the corner, he could see Dernwood’s car just beyond the traffic lights at the shopping plaza. He was apparently heading for the bridge.
Luckily there was no traffic due to the late hour. Past the New Brighton Institution for Savings Bank, the high school, the Captain’s Inn and onto the bridge the chase continued. R.J. was just a few hundred yards behind. He had the pedal to the floor and still wasn’t gaining any ground.
Across the bridge, around the bend and up to the traffic lights went Dernwood followed soon after by R.J. Dernwood took a left at the lights onto Commercial Street and made his way into downtown New Brighton. A left followed by another left put Dernwood down by the railroad tracks; he was going for them like a bat out of hell. R.J could see what he was up to. There was a railroad crossing up ahead and there happened to be a freight train heading that way. If Dernwood could get across the tracks ahead of R.J., the train would cut R.J. off and Dernwood could get away.
R.J. gave his car all it had. He could see Dernwood’s car ahead, already crossing the tracks. R.J. was nearly there too, but the train was close also. At the last instant the red lights started flashing and the guard rails lowered. R.J. had to jam on his brakes and veer off to the left. He had to wait for the train to pass by. After what seemed like an eternity, the caboose went by.
R.J. gunned it expecting that Dernwood would be long gone. No sooner was he across the tracks though, that he heard gunfire and realized that he had been outsmarted. Dernwood had pulled over to the side of the road. He had taken out a gun and was shooting at R.J. R.J. heard a loud noise and felt himself losing control of the car. It was a blowout! Dernwood sped away, as R.J. fought for control of the vehicle. He couldn’t hold it. It went off the side of the road and crashed into an anchor fence from a local business. R.J.’s head banged against the steering wheel.
A few minutes later, R.J. came to. He had a splitting headache and a nasty lump on the side of his head, but a quick inventory on himself and the car revealed no further damage. Calling the police now would be no use. It would just be Dernwood’s word against his. R.J. needed evidence. He realized that by the time he changed the blown out tire Dernwood would have had plenty of time to remove any evidence. Still, he knew where Dernwood lived and it wasn’t that far away. He decided it was worth a look. He hurriedly changed the tire and then proceeded to Dernwood’s house.
When he arrived he couldn’t believe his eyes. In the driveway sat Dernwood’s pink Cadillac; the back seat filled with sticks of dynamite. In the front seat R.J. could see a blood-stained, spiked glove, just the thing that could rip a face apart. The spikes on the glove could also account for the puncture marks. Also on the front seat; a box of Dernwood’s cheap cigars.
R.J. called the police from a nearby pay phone. Once they got there, R.J. explained what had happened and showed them the evidence. They rang Dernwood’s doorbell. He answered.
”It’s’ three o’clock in the morning, what is this?” he asked, tying up his robe. When told, he scoffed at the police and wouldn’t believe the evidence they found in the car until he was actually shown it. ”I don’t know how this stuff got in there,” he protested. “It’s not mine. “ The police placed him under arrest and then he blew his top. ”What the hell is going on? I’ve been here all night. I don’t care what it looks like. It’s a frame- up, I tell you. I ‘m being framed!” The police grabbed him by the arms, one on each side. This only got him more agitated. “Janovich, you’ve got to help me,”’ he screamed, “find out who did this, I am innocent, innocent!”
The protests fell on deaf ears as the police loaded him into the back seat of their squad car. As he stared at this scene, R.J. couldn’t help but think that something was wrong. It all seemed too easy, the evidence lying right there in the car. Dernwood may be a slime, but he was no fool. It didn’t make sense.
”Well, Janovich,” the police officer said before leaving “we will need a deposition from you down at the station. Thank you for your help. We’ve got him dead to rights. It’s all over now.”
“Yeah,” R.J. said “I’ll be right behind you. I guess it is all over.” He said the words, but inside, he wasn’t so sure.
With Dernwood apprehended and Mr. Schwartz tied up all day with the police and with preparations for tomorrow’s reopening of the data center, there was no reason for R.J. to get up early.
He got some well-deserved rest after a long, hard week. Now, however, it was after 7 p.m. and as per his request, R.J. was on his way to see Mr. Schwartz and conclude his business with him.
On the way in, R.J. could not help but think that something was fishy about this case. Why had Dernwood taken the risk of trying to sabotage the data center himself, rather than having a couple of his thugs do it for him? Why had he been so careless as to leave incriminating evidence lying right in his car? R.J. couldn’t figure it out. Still, one couldn’t argue against evidence, and the evidence left little doubt as to who was guilty. Maybe R.J. was asking too many questions. Maybe it was better to just accept the facts for what they were.
When R.J. got to Mr. Schwartz’s office, he was greeted warmly.
“Mr. Janovich,” Mr. Schwartz said grinning from ear to ear and giving his hand a hearty hand shake. He motioned for R.J. to sit in a nearby chair. “Sit down, sit down.”
“Thank you for coming at this hour,” Mr. Schwartz began. “I’ve been terribly busy all day long, what with the preparations for tomorrow’s reopening and the police being here. In fact, they just left here and the news is good, Mr. Janovich. Yes, there was another unfortunate murder, but last night’s explosion was not of sufficient force to cause much damage at all. The police think that it was just a diversionary tactic or else maybe you interrupted Dernwood before he was able to set more charges. In any event, the damage was minimal and will not prevent tomorrow’s reopening. ”Also,” he continued “ in addition to all the other evidence which you helped us get on him, the police went down to the railroad tracks after hearing your story and made a plastic cast of the tire tracks they found there. They found two sets of tracks. One set belonged to your car. The other set matched Dernwood’s Cadillac! We’ve caught him red-handed! Thanks to you Mr. Janovich, this nightmare is finally over. Our company owes you a great deal of gratitude.” He handed R.J. an envelope. ”In that envelope,” Mr. Schwartz said, “is a check for the amount we agreed upon plus a substantial bonus as well.”
R.J. still felt funny about the whole business, but he managed a weak smile. ‘’Thank you,” he said “I don’t know what to say. I appreciate it.”
“Nonsense,” Mr. Schwartz replied. “”it is we who owe you thanks, and we are truly grateful for the fine work you did on this case.”
R.J. felt a little embarrassed. He nodded and managed a thankful smile.
Mr. Schwartz glanced at his watch. “My, it’s getting late,” he said. “Well, Mr. Janovich. I guess that concludes our business. I won’t keep you any longer.” He extended his hand again and shook R.J.’s. Then R.J. left, followed by Mr. Schwartz who closed the office door behind him.
“I must be on my way too. I’ll walk out with you, Mr. Janovich.” On the way out of the office, R.J. had noticed the calendar on the wall had this date circled.
“Excuse me, Mr. Schwartz,” he said, “but why is today’s date circled in red on your calendar?”
”Oh, that’s because it was exactly one year ago today that we first began work on this building. Rather ironic now that you mention it; that we are beginning again tomorrow exactly a year after our first start.”
”I see,” R.J. replied. He and Mr. Schwartz left the office. When they got to the guard’s desk, R.J. informed Mr. Schwartz that he had to go to the bathroom.
“Certainly, by all means,” he said. “but let’s say our goodbyes now.” He shook R.J.’s hand again. “Thank you so much again for all you’ve done.” He left the building.
R.J. asked the guard for the men’s room key. Overhearing his conversation with Mr. Schwartz, the guard had anticipated R.J.’s request. The guard was reading a newspaper and had it opened in front of his face. Without lowering it he told R.J. that the key was on the desk and instructed him to take it from there. “”Anyplace a thirsty guy can get a cup of coffee around here?”” R.J. asked, picking up the key. Again, without moving the newspaper, he merely pointed a ringed forefinger toward the break room. “Thanks.” R.J. said. He recognized the guard, even though he had not seen his face. It was the same guard with the lousy personality that R.J. had met earlier in the week. R.J went to the bathroom, returned the key, got a cup of coffee on his way out and then went on his way.
In his car on the way back home something was bothering him. It wasn’t the fact that he still felt that Dernwood was the wrong guy. This was a different feeling. Whatever it was, he couldn’t put his finger on it. Thinking it might come to him if he decided to clear his mind for a few minutes, he pulled in at the nearest convenience store to get a newspaper. Just then it dawned on him.
“”Newspaper!”” he exclaimed. ‘’That’s it!”” He was onto something, but he wanted to be sure. He quickly opened the glove compartment and frantically sorted through cassette tapes he had made of the N.C.C. employees that he had forgotten to file in his office. He found the one he was looking for and popped it into the small portable tape recorder that was also still in the glove compartment. “Here it is,” R.J. said to himself. It was a tape of an entry level trainee named Charlie Souza who had been on the night of the first murder. He listened intently as he pressed play.
R.J.’s voice was on the tape. ”Now Charlie, are you sure about the time?”
Charlie: “I’m positive. I remember because I was by the freight elevator on the way to the break room and I ran into that guard, what’ his name, the creepy quiet one …we jokingly call him Smilin” Jack…Jim…Jim Smith, that’s him. He had a watch on and I asked him what time it was and he told me. A couple of seconds later I was in the break room and they told me a co-op had been murdered.”
R.J. clicked off the recorder. Jim Smith was on duty the night of the second murder, but he wasn’t supposed to be there the night of the first one. Nobody had been working during both murders, yet this trainee, Charlie, was sure he had seen this guard that first night. This was the confirmation R.J. was looking for. It was starting to make sense now. R.J. turned the car around and headed back. A light rain began falling as R.J. approached the data center. A quick look in the guard house revealed what he No guard. R.J. pulled up outside the front door and quickly entered the building. When he got to the front desk there was no guard, but as he hurried past, a sideways glance revealed a pair of blue trousered legs sticking out from under the table, a small pool of blood beside them. R.J. quickened his pace. He needed to find the central most part of the building. R.J. guessed that would be the loading dock. As he neared the stairwell leading into it, he glanced at the guard’s desk near the break room where Jim Smith was supposed to be. As R.J. suspected, he wasn’t there.
R.J. pulled out his revolver and quickly descended the stairs. When he got to the dock a guard, was hunched over, his back to R.J., setting changes for what seemed like a ton of dynamite. R.J trained his gun on him.
”Hold it right there, Mr. Smith,” R.J. ordered. “Get up nice and slow. Drop the dynamite and put up your hands.”’
‘’Janovich,”” Smith exclaimed, turning around and complying with R.J.’s instructions. ”You again!”
“Sorry I got in your way last night, ‘’ R.J .said sarcastically. “I’m afraid though, I’ll have to do the same again now.”
R.J. frisked him and removed a gun from a shoulder holster under his suit jacket. “You won’t be needing this,” R.J. said as he took it from him.
Smith sneered at him.
“You were pretty clever, I’ll give you that much,” R.J. began again “Becoming a security guard here was a shrewd move. You could move around the building pretty freely, even when you weren’t working. It probably wasn’t too hard to get one of the other guards to let you in on your off nights. You knew all the guards; maybe you used an excuse- I left something in the building, for instance- to get them to let you in. Anyway, somehow you were in here the night of first murder. You weren’t on duty but I found out that you were spotted in the building.”
“’Not bad, Janovich,” Mr. Smith said. “anything else?”
”Yeah,” R.J. went on. “”You probably were behind the cattle murders committed here several years ago. You made them look like the work of a vampire to scare people off. The current murders were also made to look this way for the same reason. As far as last night goes, you knew Dernwood was a prime suspect for the murders, so you stole his car and set him up. This would make the police and everyone else let down their guard and make it easier for you to complete your plan. Finally, and exactly a year after the widow Bracken’s death, you were planning to blow up this data center. With it gone, the killer on the loose, and everyone terrified of this place, it’s a cinch it would remain empty and go on the market again. That is your goal, isn’t it Mr. Smith, or whatever your name is, to avenge the loss of the Brackens land and the death of Mrs. Bracken by driving N.C.C. and any other potential occupant from here-for good. Then you could bid on the land and acquire it again.”
“Conjecture! “ Mr. Smith said. “That will be unprovable in court. But tell me, Janovich, how did you figure me for the data center murders?”
”You see, avenging the Brackens seemed like a perfect motive, only it was a motive without a suspect to carry it out. But that odd ring with the letter ‘B’ on it. You wear it on your forefinger. I noticed it when you pointed me toward the break room earlier, though it didn’t dawn on me right away. It made me think of another person who wore a ring like that. That person was J.R. Bracken. That’s when I started to put it together. The way I figure it, if you’ve got a ring like that, you’ve got to be some long lost relative out for revenge, or maybe even an illegitimate son.”
“Fairly accurate, Janovich” Mr. Smith said “with one big exception. I am not a long lost relative,” his voice was getting louder, “and not ILL-legitimate!” With that he reached one hand to his face, grabbed it and pulled. He had been wearing a mask and off it came, revealing a hideously burned and scarred face. “I am J.R. Bracken!”
R.J. could do nothing but stare at him in horror and disbelief.
““Not a pretty sight is it, Janovich?” he asked. ”You see, I survived the car accident that horrible night, though I’m not quite sure how. I remember losing control of the car and crashing into the water. The next thing I knew, I had washed ashore just west of Fort Firebird. Apparently, I had been tossed about by the stormy current and deposited there, but I have no recollection of it. All I remember is intense pain once I regained my senses. Some time had passed since the time of the accident and when I made my way through the night and back to our house, my mother was there alone. Here I discovered that my father had died in the crash and I got to see just how badly disfigured I was.”
“But aren’t there doctors that could have helped you?” R.J. asked.
“My mother got me into the best hospitals under an assumed name for plastic surgery, but there was little that could be done. There was too much damage. Life as J.R .Bracken, the stunning dashing J.R. Bracken who was the envy of all New England high society was no longer possible. Anything less was unacceptable to me, so with the help of my mother, I lived a life of seclusion on our Hill Rd. estate, away from the pity, pain and humiliation I would otherwise have had to endure, letting everyone believe I was dead. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to live the rest of my natural life shut off from the outside world to ensure my privacy. Everything was going along well until that wretched company that hired you uncovered the illegality in the deed and ruined everything. I was behind the cattle murders in an unsuccessful effort to scare people away. They stole our land from us and killed my mother in the process. They deserve everything I’ve done to them and more.””
“But if you are J R. Bracken, you must be 75 years old. The murdered employees were killed by someone with great strength and physical prowess. How could a senior citizen like you do this?” As he spoke he glanced at Bracken‘s physique. He seemed in great shape. He was actually ripped and pumped. His biceps and forearms were huge; very strange. R. J. was confused.
Bracken chuckled. “I am 75. On our last trip up the Amazon, my father discovered a valley where all the natives lived in good health and to ripe old ages. Their diets consisted of a local plant which only grew there. It had something in it that slowed aging and rejuvenated muscles. We brought several of the plants back to study. You probably know I went to medical school and have some medical knowledge. I had ample time to work on this after the accident. I isolated the plant substance responsible and I- let me put this in laymen’s terms you will understand- enhanced it in the lab I set up in the basement. None of this was ever divulged publicly. This would remain our secret. I was able to create a liquid drink that both I and my mother took once a week. The results are plain to see. I am 75 years old but I have the body of a man half my age.”
“Well, Bracken,” R.J. told him. “I’m afraid you and your young body have committed your last murder. Now keep your hands up and move nice and slow up that stairwell to the front desk. I’m gonna call the police and then you can tell them your story.” He waved his gun toward the stairwell. “Move.”
Bracken glared at R.J. Then, reluctantly, he began to ascend the stairs followed by R.J. with his gun drawn. When they neared the end of the climb, Bracken executed a lightning fast mule kick. It caught R.J. by surprise hitting him square in the chest. He stumbled backward down a few stairs. Bracken ran for it.
R.J. quickly recovered and raced back up the stairs. Bursting through the stairwell door he quickly looked around the floor. Bracken was nowhere in sight. He looked toward the front door. It was a long way off. There was no way Bracken could have made it there before R.J. had exited the stairwell. That meant, however, that he was somewhere among the tiles, ducts, panels and boxes that were still strewn about the floor of the unfinished building.
R.J. walked slowly ahead, his eyes carefully searching, his gun held in front of him. Suddenly he spotted Bracken darting from behind a large spool of wire. He fired.
“Damn,” R.J. said to himself as the bullet deflected harmlessly away.
Bracken had disappeared into an area of panels and large metal doors near the center of the floor. R.J. cautiously approached the area. Just as he got there, he again saw Bracken off to the left.
Before RJ. could shoot at him, he had ducked behind a few rows of neatly stacked, filter filled boxes.
Again R.J. carefully approached the area. When he got there he stopped, having heard something. His eyes darted everywhere. Suddenly, several boxes came tumbling down on top of him. As he fell to the floor beneath him, he could hear Bracken’s footsteps running for the front door. By the time R. J. extricated himself from the boxes, Bracken was just leaving the building.
R.J. made a beeline for the front door, running as fast as he could. When he got outside he could see a car just rounding the corner at the entrance. Hurrying through now pouring rain, he hopped into his car, spun it around and gave chase.
The visibility was poor, but in between passes of his windshield wipers, he could make out Bracken’s car several hundred yards ahead. He seemed to be heading for the bridge again, but this time, R.J. was gaining on him. When Bracken passed the bank, the distance was 200 yards; when they got to the start of the bridge, 100. By the time they passed the slippery when wet sign about a mile later, R.J. was right on his tail. The sign was posted as a warning before the metal part of the bridge that moved on a turnstile to allow ships to pass through.
As they crossed over this part, a car from the gas station on the opposite side just beyond this metal section suddenly pulled out across the road and made a left turn right into their path. R.J. had enough time to slow down. Bracken did not. He tried to veer away from the vehicle, but lost control of his car on the slippery pavement. He crashed right over the side of the bridge. The force of his vehicle bent the guard rail, which acted as a sort of ramp, not unlike a ski jump. The car was propelled several feet through the air, crashing into a docked freighter at the nearby maritime terminal. A tremendous explosion followed damaging the freighter but engulfing Bracken’s car in a ball of flame. It crashed into the river.
R.J. pulled his car over to the side of the road. He got out and looked on helplessly. There was nothing he could do.
The clock on the wall of M. Schwartz’s office read 10:00 am as R.J. rose from his seat and made his way to the door. Mr. Schwartz followed him.
“Again, I must thank you, Mr. Janovich,” he said extending his hand to R.J. “our company is extremely grateful, and we are in your debt. I do hope, however, and please don’t get me wrong, that this is the last final meeting between us.”
“I understand, Mr. Schwartz,” a tired R.J. said. Today he felt much better about accepting thanks.
Mr. Schwartz opened the door for him. “”Goodbye, Mr. Janovich.””
”Goodbye.” R.J. left the office, exited the building, got into his car and headed for the city. He had some business to take care of downtown. After that, R.J. planned to take a long nap.
R.J. made his way toward the bridge. It was a gray morning. The rain from yesterday was still lingering in the form of a steady drizzle. This time, however, he wasn’t chasing anyone and could take it easy.
When R.J. got to the bridge, there was a long line of cars standing immobile, bumper to bumper. The bridge was open to allow a ship to pass by. The traffic had backed up for several hundred yards. R.J. would have to wait for that nap.
”Great,” a disgruntled R.J. said to himself. “Just what I need.” It’d be a while before traffic got moving again so he clicked on the radio.
“Today’s big news story,” the radio voice said, “is the bizarre crash of last night on the New Brighton- Fairview Bridge. It is alleged to have involved J.R. Bracken, previously believed dead for the last fifty years. His car crashed over the guard rail, hitting a docked ship and then exploding into flames. It appears, according to police, that Bracken was the one responsible for the violent murders at the Fairview Data Center, and was killed while on the run. Police have scheduled a briefing this morning and have promised more information.”
R.J. lost track of the news report. He was staring at the river below, the same river which, this time, had claimed J.R. Bracken as its victim. He listened again.
”…last night’s stormy conditions made any search efforts to recover the body impossible. With the weather expected to improve, police divers will begin the search for the body this morning.”
“No way,’’ R.J. said out loud. “You cheated death once. J.R. Bracken, but not this time. “He clicked off the radio. “Not this time.”