Become a Book Nerd
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
I had been expecting Jenny’s letter the day I received word of her disappearance, although it would not have struck me as odd should it not have arrived as it didn’t. The mail carriers in our dear Nightton then were not nearly as apt as they are now, and so for a note to be delayed for one, two, three days would have been nothing of particular concern — that is, without the added word of her person vanishing.
It was Jenny’s brother, Robert, ‘the doting one’, who showed up at my door that afternoon in pursuit of his dearest baby sister. He said ‘you are Jenny’s best friend; do you know where she is?’ to which I replied by asking how he knew me. He then got quite agitated and insisted that I accompany him to the sheriff’s office, so I gathered the letters she had sent me in the many months of our correspondence and I went there myself. I caught Robert and the rest of Jenny’s clan on their way out when I arrived at the station later that evening. Robert, miffed, did not acknowledge me, and the rest of them did not seem to know who I was. All the better for me — with the apparent exception of Robert, I was to be Jenny’s secret, and I preferred it that way.
Upon entering the station, I was greeted by a stubby man behind a counter in the front. He asked me what my business was, and I told him, and he directed me to the office of a man called Inspector Redd, the sheriff. As for why he did not refer to himself as Sheriff Red was unknown to me, but I did not think to ask him then as he promptly began our acquaintance.
“You’re here about Miss Laurence, I take it?”
“Jenny, yes,” I said.
“I see.” He motioned to the folder tucked beneath my arm, and I gave it to him. He then scanned its contents — being Jenny’s letters– in silence for a moment, then said to me, “Thank you, Miz… Leiman, was it?” It was. “I’ll be seeing you, then.” And he thrust his chiseled jaw at the door.
Inspector Redd’s hawkish eyes sharpened further, as if I had spoken out of place. “You are not a Laurence,” he hissed plainly. “I thank you once again, Miz Leiman.”
Perhaps it was for my artless face, unable to hide the rage of its person, that the man I met in storming to the front stopped me and pardoned his rudeness. He asked, ‘are you involved with Jenny Laurence?’ to which I replied by asking how he knew me. The man — whose breast pin read Sgt. MacIntyre — did not provide me with an answer. Instead, he produced a neatly folded note from his breast pocket, which he handed to me. I, of course, unfolded and read it in turn:
DET. KNUDSEN JONES
269 SANTANNA STREET
I was not familiar with any Santanna Street. I thought to ask Sergeant MacIntyre where I might find it, but he had disappeared himself.
Upon my arrival at the kindly sergeant’s prescribed address that night, it occurred to me that I may well have been pranked by a man of particular humor, if not outright cruelty.
It was a show house. And not one I should have known, either. It was only from the mixed scent of perfume and sweat that I knew the business of the place, unassuming as it was, and perhaps from the burly bouncer, who approached me with some amount of fatherly concern and equal suspicion.
“Kid like you shouldn’t be here,” he said softly.
“I’m looking for a Jones,” I replied.
“Jones? You’re looking for Jones?”
“Yes –” I referred to the note. “– Knudsen Jones.”
A look of perplexion crossed the man’s masculine face, then one of corporal indifference. He motioned to the door.
“Stairs are to the right. Go down the hall. He’s the last door to the left. I’d advise you not to explore. You might see something bad.”
“I’ve seen plenty,” I said, and I brushed past him.
Of course I ignored the bouncer’s advice, and I took my time in finding the stairs.
The ground floor was something of a performance space in which a handful of men — none of whom I recognized — gathered about a heightened platform, upon which three women performed some burlesque. I had never seen one myself and thought to partake in the viewing, and I would have, too, had not been for the building urgency of my coming in the first place, and for the depraved gaze of a man who had noticed me from within the flock. Upon my noticing him, I made for the stairs in a hurry.
The building the show house occupied, I decided upon ascending the stairs, was built to have a business occupy the ground floor, and for there to be several small living spaces on the second. Now, however, the rooms were used for sex, and one for a detective.
It occured to me as I walked briskly past the private rooms of the second floor that it was terribly strange for a detective to do business from a brothel. Even if dear Sergeant MacIntyre had not been humoring me — and it appeared then that he had not — it was undeniably ***** nonetheless. It gave me an impression of madness, both on the part of Sergeant and Detective.
I walked until I arrived at the door in question. Then I stopped. It emanated a horrible stench. With some hesitation, I raised my fist to knock. Before I had the chance, however, a pale arm snaked around my waist and turned the knob for me.
Startled, I stepped back and on the foot of the white arm’s person, and I turned my head in time to see her grimace.
She was much older than I, and more beautiful. A showgirl, to be sure, half-naked and with the dark hair of a pin-up model.
I stepped to the side, and she pushed the door open.
“Knud, you gotta cwient waitin’ fo ya,” the woman called in her Northeastern whine. “Little girl.” She stepped back and said to me, “Don’t be shy, little baby. Door’s closed, hawt’s open.” She then stepped inside and pulled me in.
I should have anticipated a mess based solely on the smell of the place, but nothing could have prepared me for the war zone I had entered. Papers littered the floor like bodies in a field, precarious stacks of books and folders lined the walls to a grain of sand, and a mattress sat center the dark room along with Knudsen Jones.
He looked like a con man, between the cheap suit and distastefully overgrown hair. His skin was warm even in the dark, and he looked to be just older than I.
Curiously of all, however, was his choice of activity. Rather than acknowledge the woman and I with so much as a glance, Knudsen Jones instead fashioned the length of twine in his hand to take on the form of a miniature noose.
We three then lapsed into silence.
Then, he said “If this is runaway case, Hol, I’m gonna kill myself.”
“Oh, don’t be like that. She’s too young to have a deadbeat like the west of us, babe,” the woman replied. “And that’s Miz Holly to ya.”
Ah, I thought. Her name is Holly.
Knudsen Jones looked at me. He waited, anticipation scarcely hidden behind the veil of a young and jaded face. At that moment, he looked like a schoolboy awaiting his marks.
**********, Hol!” he fell back on the mattress. Then, still in his dramatic swoon, he pointed straight at me. “There’s another one!”
“Knudsen Jones!” she scolded. “Pull it together, would you?”
“Seventeen and missing!”
I sucked in a breath. “What are your rates, Detective Jones?”
“Detective?!” Knudsen Jones shook his head as he sat up. “Oh, no no. Don’t get it twisted. I’m no detective. I’m done with all that. I’m in the business of selling knots now, little girl.” He pulled open his suit jacket, revealing a collection of knots pinned to the inside. “Slip, camel, double, sailor…”
As he sat pointing at every which knot, Holly took my shoulder and whispered, “He’s a detective — ” She paused for a moment, as if for dramatic effect. “– when the rent’s due.”
Her breath lingered in the hollow of my ear.
For just a moment, as I looked at Knudsen Jones, manically recounting his knots upon a dirty mattress in a show house, the rancid scent subsided.
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.