(If you're just joining us, as they say, you can read the novel from the beginning, here.)
And now, it's time to continue with the next installment of
In Search of Tom Purdue.
Both Tango and Reel stood bleary-eyed after their long night once they dragged themselves into the bull-pen of Marple's police precinct. Somebody noticed Tango's trousers looked slightly wrinkled, causing him to wince with embarrassment. No amount of coffee could possibly make up for their lack of sleep, not even the high-test from the break room. The sun had risen cautiously over the horizon, a clear crisp autumn morning despite their just finishing up at the cemetery. Detective Narder managed a couple hour's nap at her desk before others arrived. The scene had been complicated by an army's worth of footprints, especially when those kids ran away after discovering the body. There had been tire tracks in the mud which they had completely obliterated. The kids' screaming was what alerted the neighbors who assumed they were vandals. It was, after all, coming up on Hallowe'en.
Nortonstein, the medical examiner, had shown up looking more ornery than he had been in the middle of a busy afternoon. Despite the melody he was humming, it's best tonight's patient was already dead.
“There's that tune again, the ringtone from her phone,” Tango said, stopping abruptly. Reel still wasn't convinced it was by Puccini.
Nortonstein looked over at them dismissively and harumphed, shaking his head in disbelief. “The barbarians are no longer at the gate...” He continued humming from where he'd been interrupted. “Seriously, it's Butterfly's big aria...”
The other officers began filtering in gradually, looking for all the world like zombies after a dry night on the town. Most of them – Reel included – had had a chance to go home, briefly. Tango, on the other hand, had been on a stake-out at Purdue's place. It was obvious he hadn't slept a wink.
Trying not to groan as he sipped his coffee, Tango felt his face must be even more wrinkled than his clothes. So undeserving for someone of such fashion consciousness – but then there was DiVedremo...
Not that anyone ever deserved having their body dumped anywhere after being murdered, especially having had her hair done that morning. Of course, they could've left her out in the woods for the scavengers. Police knew where she'd been murdered, but how'd the killer move the body? After all, Ms DiVedremo was a “full-bodied woman.”
Narder had left Tango at the scene to oversee the processing of any clues that might lead to the killer's identity and that involved interviewing the kids who'd found the body – and their parents. Overprotective under normal circumstances, these parents weren't thrilled being roisted out of bed no matter how late their kids were out.
The kids had nothing helpful – they'd just found the body (“coolest Hallowe'en ever!”) – but he did discover one bit of news: cars parked on that lot were usually “visiting” people living in near-by apartments.
Narder had gone over to check the lot where she found seven vehicles, one looking familiar but she couldn't place it. The black van way in the back had out-of-state plates and tinted windows. She had Reel run all the plates to try to ID the owners, then canvas the apartments to identify any “visitors.”
Turns out, two of the cars next to each other were rentals, including the tan Honda hatchback she couldn't quite place. Reel said it was too early yet to hear back from the agencies.
“Odd, though, two rental cars from different parts of the region end up side-by-side in a lot near a crime scene.”
The black 1990 Dodge Caravan tucked back in the corner of the lot was registered to a guy named Graham Ripa.
“Yeah, last known address was Bad Axe, Michigan, but moved out months ago.”
Narder, looking well-rested like those busy detectives usually do on certain television shows, greeted everybody from the center of the room, thanking those who'd come in early and especially those who'd worked all night.
“Let's wrap up these preliminary reports so some of you can get started and the rest of you can go home.”
No surprise, Nortonstein's initial if unofficial C.o.D., pending further tests, was “massive blood loss due to having her throat slit, basically.” The body basically confirmed the crime scene T.o.D. estimate as “sometime between 2-and-3pm.”
She also recapped what they found at the body dump, besides the body, how kids discovered it inside the Haine crypt, “part of some Hallowe'en fantasy-game – guess they got more than they bargained for.” Until further test results, we'd assume the new blood found at the office matches the body found in the Haine crypt.
Tango continued. “There's also the rug the victim pointed out earlier, following the first murder in her office, and reported missing as we investigated what appeared to be a second murder in her office. Wrapped around the body when we found it at the cemetery, this indicates she was killed in her office, then moved.”
If this Thomas Purdue guy was their chief and so far only suspect, there was one outstanding question in Tango's mind: “How'd a guy who wears size 9 shoes carry off a 300-pound body?”
“So, obviously, we assume the killer, whatever his motive, was not working alone,” Narder resumed, placing photos on the white board, mostly of several different cars parked in a lot, owned by potential witnesses. She said two of them were rental cars, but the van had out-of-state plates registered to someone with no current address.
“One of these is one I'd seen before but I can't place it. Officer Zerka, you have a pretty good memory...?”
“Yeah,” Zerka said, pointing at the tan Honda, “that one, from yesterday evening.”
“At the original crime scene, the second time? Right!” Narder slapped her forehead. “The grandmother who'd just left the ballet school.”
“And it was a rental, too,” Zerka confirmed. “I remember the bumper sticker.”
“This car was parked at the crime scene – and at the body dump.”
“And,” Tango added, “around the corner from Purdue's.”
Next they began to explore the possibility of this “little old lady” Narder met at the crime scene the second time and how exactly she could possibly have any involvement in something “so un-little-old-ladylike.” Narder explained how the woman approached her after she'd parked her car in and how she just let her drive off.
“No, I mean she looked exactly like some grandmother like she'd said, who'd stopped at the ballet school with her grandson – coming from the opposite direction – but I didn't see her leave the school...”
Zerka agreed with Narder: the woman was probably in her late-60s, maybe early-70s, trying to dress stylishly for an older person. “In fact,” Zerka added, “I remember thinking she kinda resembled my own grandmother.”
But, since so often many old people in their own way look alike, neither officer could provide a suitably definitive description.
“Most of what 'defined' her was her clothes and demeanor, all things she could change the next time we'd encounter her; plus it's also unlikely she's shacking up with someone at the apartment complex. It's quite possible if we find her, we find the evasive Professor Purdue – so we need to quickly identify this woman.”
The question still remained, how could a woman in her late-60s or early-70s help a man of 66 transport the body? Especially this body, probably weighing as much as the two of them combined?
“Unless...” Tango let the probability of an impending suggestion hang in the air and took a sip of coffee before nodding. “Yeah, so – what if this mystery old lady isn't really an old lady? What if, as you said, she could go change her clothes and demeanor – like a disguise? Maybe she's not really old?”
“Or maybe, for that matter, even a 'she'... or maybe like that orangutan in Murders in the Rue Morgue – it's possible...” Narder wasn't above using her gut but she preferred basing things on facts.
Until they had anything more definitive on the woman she reluctantly called 'Accomplice Granny,' even if she's not officially an accomplice, Narder suggested they should stick to the plausible, saving the implausible for emergencies.
“What about this supposed grandson? Could he be the muscle behind the group?”
“Torello, check with the ballet school, yadda yadda...”
Reel's phone started ringing and everybody stopped talking to look over at him. “Could be one of the rental agencies, finally.” The center of attention, he took a deep breath and answered it calmly. “Reel – yeah... uh-huh... okay – good, uh-huh... sure – thanks... Great, you've been very helpful.” He hung up, jotting down some more comments.
“Yes, well...? What is it?” Narder didn't sound very patient. “What's the word?”
Reel looked over at her and smiled. “Granny.”
Tango frowned, burying himself in his coffee cup, and mumbled something about luck.
“The Rent-a-Ride Agency rented the tan Honda hatchback to a Dr Dorothy Minnim, a pianist giving master classes at West Chester. And she's scheduled to return it sometime tomorrow before catching a flight home.”
A smattering of applause greeted Reel as if he'd performed a challenging solo. Tango took a loud slurp, finishing his coffee.
“Another musical academic, how very interesting,” Narder quipped, “even more interesting if there's some connection with our Dr Thomas Purdue, composer.” She turned and carefully wrote the woman's name down on the white board.
“On it,” and Reel, hunkering down, started happily typing away at his computer. Tango imagined a dog sniffing out a bone.
“Which doesn't yet answer the question, how did they move the body from Maple Street over to the Blackwood Cemetery – unseen?”
Tango was about to get up and stretch when the door burst open.
Despite the fact she still wore her rumpled khaki-colored raincoat – even though there was no rain in the forecast till Thursday – IMP Special Agent Sarah Bond looked stunning given it's seven in the morning. Taking off the raincoat, she hung it on the last available hook of the old-fashioned coat-rack just inside the bull-pen's door. The battered pork-pie hat she'd been holding in her hand was carefully placed over the same hook, the last one available. She didn't seem surprised the office was full so early in the day.
Instead of the red dress she'd worn yesterday which had seemed impractical enough, Bond wore an equally stunning pantsuit this morning. The dark purple pants were the equivalent of those skinny jeans now fashionable. The lavender jacket was also a bit too form-fitting for day-to-day police work. Her heels were even a little less unrealistic.
Narder wasn't sure if Bond hadn't been out working the vice squad overnight, maybe just getting back from a late shift, but then it seemed awfully early to be headed to a cocktail party. She made it clear the interruption caused by Bond's unexpected appearance – and not just how dazzling she looked – was not welcome.
On the other hand, while it did prove distracting, at least Tango was now sitting up straight and smiling, looking rejuvenated. Even Reel looked up and missed a few beats while typing away on-line.
Without looking around at everyone nodding their self-conscious welcomes to her – especially Tango – Bond strode over to Narder, her expression serious, her heels clicking on the tile floor in rhythm against Reel's rapid-fire typing.
She was holding a small evidence bag plus a print-out in her hand. “Sorry to interrupt, but you should see this.”
Narder took both the bag and the print-out. “It looks like a button.”
“It is, and it's one I've seen before.”
“Did they find this on the victim's clothing?”
“No, loose – underneath her body.”
It was a little larger than an ordinary button, perhaps from somebody's coat, with a detailed insignia on it, some symbol.
“And you're saying they found this between the victim's body and the rug?”
“I found it there, yes. The killer probably lost it during the attack.”
The symbol, Bond explained, belonged to the Aficionati.
“Aficionati?” It sounded like it would be some secret organization or fraternal order, a crime syndicate or an up-scale downtown club. The name didn't ring any bells with Narder who didn't get out much.
“Care to explain,” she asked Bond, taking a closer look at the print-out. “What is the Aficionati and what's this mean?”
“Technically?” Bond paused and took a deep breath. “It's the musical symbol for a double mordent approached by a lower neighbor.”
“Of course it is,” Narder's tone completely sarcastic, “but what does it mean?”
Basically, Bond went on to explain, it meant there were international implications behind the murders of Alma Viva and Belle DiVedremo, implications going far beyond the possibility of a disgruntled composer killing his publisher. “There are secret societies who will stop at nothing to protect their interests – this symbol belongs to one of the worst.”
It seems they were a group of life-long classical music aficionados who protected the mysteries of its appreciation for the Elect, only allowing in members who passed rigorous testing and fully comprehended its legacy. To preempt Tango's inevitable question, Bond didn't know if Purdue was a member – one reason they called themselves a secret society.
“But, if you'll excuse me, I must leave,” grabbing her coat and hat. “Unfortunately, I cannot tell you where I'm going.”
Narder figured that ruled out the cocktail party; probably meeting with an informant.
Each time Bond had uttered the word “Aficionati,” Narder thought surely there should be accented dark chords in the lower register creating tension that further increased one's expectation of dread, like any horror film, the way young ladies used to feel faint when hearing diminished-7th chords in Weber's horrific “Wolf Glen Scene” from Der Freischütz. Who exactly these Aficionati were and what they had to do with the brutal murders of Alma Viva and Belle DiVedremo would open even more questions, and questions she knew must be answered quickly.
“Nadia,” the detective said, turning to technical assistant Nadia Klüh, “check them out: find anything you can on-line about these Aficionati. I want to know everything you can find about their history and whereabouts. Check with our friends in law enforcement and the FBI to see if there's any chatter about them in the area.”
“Ding-ding-ding-ding!” Reel looked up from his computer, a big grin on his face. (Tango always hated it when he did that.) “I found Granny, our pianist Dr Dorothy Minnim – got her DMA from Faber. That's the same music school where one Dr Thomas Purdue earned his PhD – and they were there at the same time.”
“So they might know each other as friends, not just as professional colleagues, and both could be members of the Aficionati. Plus her car was seen at two out of three crime scenes – interesting.”
Once again, Reel's phone rang. “Reel, here – yeah... uh-huh... okay – good, uh-huh... sure. Great, you've been very helpful.” He continued smiling.
“Okay, spill, dude – your arrogance is not becoming.” Tango stood up and stretched.
“That was the Ride-a-Rental Agency – the other car? This one's rented to musicologist Dr Martin Crotchet, speaking this weekend at Haverford.”
“Wow, imagine that – two musical academics whose cars happen to be found just around the corner from our prime suspect's place.”
“Guess what else I found – Dr Martin Crotchet? He's also a Faber grad.”
Tango looked over Reel's shoulder at the screen. “Get this – not only was Crotchet there when Purdue and Minnim were there. It seems another musical academic we know was there, too – Dr Richard Kerr.”
“It seems like we've found our Aficionati cell, whatever else they're up to. Let's go pay the Purdue Place a visit.”
“Well, it sounded like rats in the walls, that's all I can say,” not that I wanted to admit being scared, “and besides, who's to know there aren't rat mazes behind this old stonework?” It's an old house, originally built after the Civil War, Purdue had mentioned, then rebuilt after a fire in the 1920s. The basement, whatever the rest of the house was, was certainly the original part of the foundation, stone walls and all, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't imagining the sounds I heard last night.
“Oh, that reminds me, I want to ask Amanda to re-uninstall Clara's key, to keep anyone from accessing the program externally. That's why I unplugged the computer last night and disconnected the internet connection.” I felt proud having figured that much out. “I didn't want to uninstall it, with my luck, and maybe damage it.”
“Right, like that would ever happen,” Cameron snickered, “but you remember specifically unplugging the computer and pulling the internet connection, too?” He showed me the cables, everything connected just like they would be normally.
“No, but I did – honestly – really, before going over there to lie down.” It surprised me: even the memory seemed real.
“Do you remember moving that table over there? – wasn't like that last night. That's solid oak – and probably weighs a ton.”
Yet there it was, one end about two feet away from the wall.
“And there's something odd about this section of wall, too, with this rug. No shelves or bookcases, just this large table.” Cameron pulled back the tapestry, a faded oriental carpet, to reveal heavy stonework.
“Almost the whole basement is lined with shelves except for this one area – was the rug hung here to hide something?”
I started pressing different stones, looking for something to trigger a secret doorway which might answer some questions about Purdue's whereabouts.
“No, there – carved into the stone, barely visible.”
Indeed, an old-fashioned lever-shaped handle!
Cameron gave it a hefty pull which proved unnecessary: it slid across effortlessly – like some antique version of sliding-glass patio doors.
“What's behind there – some kind of rat's maze?” What rat could open this?
“Wait here, Terry, let me go see if there are any flashlights upstairs. And don't go anywhere till I get back!”
“Trust me,” I called after him, “I have no intention of going anywhere,” as I peered into the darkness with misgivings and wondered where this went – did Tom have some secret hide-away back here? Or was it possible “they” might be keeping him tied up in there, which would explain the rat-like noises I'd heard.
A momentary flash of bright light distracted me; perhaps Cameron had turned on another light which then burned out and died. Except I became aware of someone standing behind me who couldn't be Cameron.
Because I'd just seen Cameron going up the steps into the kitchen, no one else could have come down the steps. And since Cameron opened the secret panel, no one could've entered from there. Slowly, I turned around and saw a man standing there, smiling at me. I took the smile as a good sign.
Not that his presence wasn't enough to scare the crap out of me, but his appearance was immediately noted as “weird,” but weird in a good way or a threatening one, I wasn't sure. My first thought was, he must be a guy on his way to a Hallowe'en party who'd taken a wrong turn. My second thought was, was he the guy who'd plugged the computer back in overnight and reconnected it to the internet? Thirdly, wouldn't that mean he'd waited all night for me to wake up?
Before he said “Hello,” my fourth thought was, I'd had an awful lot of thoughts in this brief amount of time, none of them terribly comforting as they increased in difficulty to answer rationally. I mean, was the Hallowe'en party last night, had he googled for help, was there some purpose in waiting for me? Then it occurred to me what his costume was – or rather, was like, being unlike anything I'd ever seen till now – like he'd just stepped out of the pages of a music appreciation textbook.
Standing there was a man not much taller than I (therefore, somewhat short) wearing what a German Baroque composer might wear, a long coat reaching almost to his calves, slightly flared from the waist, the sleeves long with deep cuffs, a waistcoat, a white shirt with lace, trousers only to the knees, and silk stockings.
But, except for the linen shirt, everywhere that ought to be elegant fabric – coat, waistcoat, breeches, even an uncharacteristic flat cap – was instead a heavy brown tweed as if he had originated in Edinburgh. Around his neck wound a scarf of seasonal reds, oranges and browns, which, when stretched full length, probably measured ten feet.
Yet, the costume aside, there was also a noticeable discord in distinctly Indian features with his cinnamon complexion and black hair, not at all what I'd expected in a Baroque court composer from Scotland.
Perhaps I wasn't fully awake yet, after all, which could explain many things, dropping off to sleep in a strange place, except why I chose to ask this stranger, “Who the hell are you?” It didn't seem to be the best foot to start a conversation on, but then again one had to begin somewhere.
“I suppose I could ask you the same, if only more delicately worded,” he said, though without any sense of challenge. He also spoke English without any sense of accent, German, Scottish, or Indian.
“Have you been waiting for me here all night, standing in the darkness? Or maybe you were sitting at the computer?” Either way, it made me feel creepier, knowing he'd been watching me sleep.
“No, actually, I'd just arrived a moment ago.” He stepped forward, hand extended. “They call me The Kapellmeister. And you are...?”
“I guess that would make me The Doctor,” I said with a chuckle, shaking his hand which, however, felt fully corporeal, “but if you're looking for Dr Purdue, he's not home at the moment.” Perhaps the less information I offered him, though, the better it would be: he might be the one who'd abducted Tom. It's possible he's here looking for Clara or he's already downloaded the program, though it's unlikely he would be technologically savvy. And, as weird as all this was, he might be reading my mind.
“Yes, I was, now that you mention it – and hoped perhaps Dr Purdue might be able to offer me some assistance since, unfortunately, I need to locate the thing before certain undesirable elements do.”
But rather than process this bit of information – specifically, how he knew Tom – I'm wondering where the hell he came from.
“And what 'thing' is this which you hope he can help you find?” (as if the plot wasn't already convoluted enough). “There're piles of stuff all over the place: maybe I can help you?” But then, looking around at all the junk lying about in the basement, I doubted that was a very wise suggestion.
“Ah, it's not a 'something' I think he has,” the strange visitor said, looking around and picking up a dusty book. “It's more something he might know where it is, who might have it.”
Putting the book back down, he explained what he's looking for is an old manuscript “of sorts” (whatever that qualification meant) but there's a major problem in tracking it after it disappeared in 1791.
“So, the year Mozart died – it has something to do with Mozart's death?”
“The year Mozart died is a coincidence only.”
Here, hoping this might explain one of the great tragedies of classical music, I missed some of what he'd said next.
“...Because it's imperative I find the Belcher Codex!”
“A manuscript by Supply Belcher?”
“Is this something Purdue has told you about?”
“No, can't say he did.” I heard Cameron calling me from the kitchen.
“Quick, someone's coming,” he said, “I must go.”
“It's just a friend of...”
The strange man grabbed my shoulder and then there was this brilliant flash.
Suddenly, I was no longer in Tom's basement.
“I found some flashlights, Terry,” Cameron called out as he hurried down the steps, Martin close behind him. “Doc? You there?”
“Really, a secret room? It was there all along?” Martin sounded quite excited.
Dorothy left the freshly brewed coffee she'd been pouring and followed after them. “Maybe it dates back to the Civil War.”
But when they reached the bottom of the stairs, followed by the cat, there was nobody else in sight. “Hey, Terry!”
Martin checked the rest of the basement – nothing. “Maybe they've abducted him, too?”
“Well, they couldn't have gotten far, if anyone did take him, but who? He probably got impatient and wandered off, exploring...”
Martin, checking his flashlight, suggested they go find him before Kerr gets lost.
“Hold down the fort, cat,” Cameron said as they hurried into the darkness.
Zeno meowed as Cameron slid the door shut.
Pounding on the doors, people shouting “Police! Open up!” were met with silence. Both doors exploded inward, wood splinters flying everywhere as Narder, Tango, Reel and several others fanned out systematically through the house.
There were signs someone had been there recently, freshly poured coffee, still hot, some cold pizza – otherwise, not a soul.
They checked the upstairs and in the basement, discovered no one hiding anywhere. No one, that is, except for the cat.
Four cups of hot coffee in the kitchen – but how did they escape?
= = = = = = =
to be continued... [with the next installment to be posted on Monday, Oct. 1st]
The usual disclaimer: In Search of Tom Purdue is, if you haven't figured it out, a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents in its story are more or less the product of the author's so-called imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody. While many locations may be real (or real-ish), they are not always "realistically used” and are intended solely to be fictional. Any similarity between people and places, living or dead, real or otherwise, is entirely coincidental.
©2018 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train.