Your chauffeur opens the door and you climb out of your pristine thirty-eight Cadillac. The single piece roof, proof against Chicago weather, makes it your favorite among the small fleet you own. The concierge holds an umbrella to keep the rain off as you walk casually to the door. You check the time. Perfect. As intended, you've arrived fashionably late.
The Lexington is not as impressive outside as in, but even at a mere ten stories, it has an elegance which reminds you it once housed the infamous Al Capone. The reception is in the Red Parlor, a cozy but opulent spot where you have attended many private receptions.
As you walk up the grand staircase toward the second floor, a young couple passes you. He is tall and fit, likely one of the men who kept their condition after the war. She is charmingly dainty in her fox fur stole and a daring red dress nearly as short as was in fashion at speakeasies two decades ago.
They pass you, but do not pull ahead and a moment later you realize they are also headed to the Red Parlor. The man, no the gentleman, holds the door for the woman, then motions you to go in. You almost forgive him for his cheap Woolworth suit. You recognize the type, just like Jason in the twenties, a slightly older dashing war hero with a younger wealthy woman. That young woman, more girl really, will certainly be disappointed when his charm proves insincere and he has an affair with his secretary.
The memory of Jason taints your smile as you give a gracious thank you, but you will not let tears cloud your eyes. Not in public. You enter the room, head held high. You are the great woman, a recent widow, you wear black in your sorrow, but nothing will bow your head. Everyone looks up as you make a grand entrance.
"Misses Hunt, how good to see you," Police Commissioner Ian O'Toole greets as you come in. You expect to see him at a meeting of the Police Benevolent Society, not Daughters of the American Revolution. He gestures to one of the most comfortable chairs, with a tray of ladyfingers and other
hors d'oeuvres. The sommelier stands nearby with a bottle of Cheval-Blanc. The girl with the fox fur stole sits across from you but doesn't touch the tray of treats.
"Misses Hunt," She says. "I'm Andrea Bonetti-Trousdale. I hope you can help me. I had a bit of trouble a few months back, but I'm old enough now to apply for membership."
"Forgive me dear," you say. "I had no idea this was a private party."
You understand the ploy. A pretty woman with a troubled past but documentation of her ancestry brought a genuine war hero to attest for her, along with the police commissioner and anyone else she thought would help her cause.
The girl, you forget her name, leans close and whispers, "We have something in common."
"My late husband was murdered some months ago. I just left off wearing black."
"And you already found a new man." You know it's a catty comment the moment it passes your lips, but you have lived your whole life in society where each interaction is a chance to score points for determining who is who.
"Mark was kind enough to escort me here." She waves a hand and the sommelier pours a glass which the girl sniffs, then sips lightly. "He's actually a war hero able to attest to my reputation."
You take the glass offered and sample deeply. You did guess the little tart's intent. She's so inept you don't have to worry. You can sound her out, determine how best to use her, and proceed without a care. No need to be at your best, the competition is young. You could probably take her man way despite being twice her age. You glance over to see him engrossed in conversation at the side of the room. Fine figure, and a war hero. He must be a man of the world, ready for a woman, not a girl who clings to her past. Though a widow at such a young age complicates that aspect. Still, you have your own avenues, and it might be best to not get a reputation for poaching young men from other women.
"And the commissioner will attest to your good character as well."
"I hope the refreshments are up to your standard. I borrowed an extremely talented chef from a friend to have them made."
You pause, realizing another ladyfinger is at your lips. You take a dainty bite, then turn back to your glass. "Excellent, just like the wine. Do tell me about what you hope to accomplish in Daughter's of the American Revolution. We have charitable responsibilities. We are not just a social club."
"Mark told me about his many friends who came back maimed and I thought that we might set up a charity which hires them for the work they can still do." She's animated as she lays out a well considered plan to alleviate the misery of war veterans. You have to give the chit her due. She seems earnest and competent. The first is good, but he second make her competition for you. The wine soothes your frazzled nerves as she talks about prices, wages, pensions and how men might raise their families with just a little help. It's all too much, but etiquette requires you to play along.
Finally, working your way through a third, or is it fourth glass, you reach the end of your patience. "It's clear you are eager. What was the problem that forces you to appeal to me for aid?"
"Mark is so much better at this part than I am."
She motions with her hand, not quite a wave and her man, this mysterious mark obediently drops his conversation and walks over. He has a smooth gliding stalk, just the sort of athletic potential you appreciate in a man. "Need something Andrea?"
"Could you tell Misses Hunt about how we met?'
"Not much to tell ma'am. A gangster murdered her husband and the police thought she might be involved." He acts nonchalant, but he has hard eyes which bore through you, tantalizing and titillating at the same time. You take another drink and your glass is empty. someone promptly refills it and you take a soothing sip.
He's waiting for your response. "How did you get drawn in?"
"Early on, they thought I did it." His smile is annoyingly ingratiating, as if he knows you see right through him. He wants the main play and the girl is just his rout to get to you.
"But neither of you were actually guilty," you say. It is just like all the other games you have ever played. He gives away when he wants yo to talk.
"Yeah. I sort of broke the story wide open. You can ask the commissioner about it."
"How delightful. I am certain you forged a lasting friendship in such desperate times."
"Me and Al went through the Pacific together. We have a lasting friendship."
"Mark. Don't tease the woman."
"Sure thing Andrea."
You silently thank him for giving you the name. Andrea doesn't know it, but she has already lost her man to you. You give him a smile, the one which looks innocent enough unless you are the intended recipient.
"So, I hear you knew Jason Hobbes. He fought beside my dad in one."
The color drains from your face. Poor Jason, he deserved better. You take another drink, a long one. "I prefer not to speak of him."
"Sorry about that. Didn't know it was such a painful memory."
You want him to just shut up. What would he know.
"How about we talk about your gardener, Jose Perez."
"The man who murdered my husband for three thousand dollars?" You try to stand, but your legs betray you. Your breath comes short. "What makes you think I want to speak of him."
"No need to get hot. I just thought you wanted to know we might have a lead where he went?"
"Remember how I was about Lucien," Andrea reaches a hand out imploringly to the man. A widow, she understands you. "Mark's a detective. It's how he thinks. He probably thought you wanted to know the entire force is still looking for your husband's killer."
"Make no mistake," Mark says. "We will find the culprit. Then they pay."
"Not the entire force?" That is too much. Even for a man as substantial as your husband. It's been two weeks and nobody has seen a sight of the gardener or the money your husband removed from the bank two days before you found his body.
"Don't need them," Mark says. "We got a tip where he went on Friday night, the evening before the murder. It was his sister's birthday. He failed to show up."
"So he was plotting my husband's murder for some time."
"I don't think so," he says.
"Your husband only had the money from Thursday. Jose couldn't have been planning anything before then," she adds. Then they have one of those pauses you have to fill.
"That makes sense."
"But the murder was too slick," Marks says. "You husband was ambushed and strangled without anyone the wiser. With all the servants around your house, somebody had to know everyone's Saturday schedule to make it work."
"Jose was with us for ten years." You are on safe ground here. It's something everyone knows.
"Except he was missing from the night before."
"He must have been hiding somewhere, waiting for Paul." You add some tears for good measure.
"And that is what gave it all away." Mark no longer looks alluring. He's a predator, homing in on the kill. "You never shed a real tear for your husband of twenty years. Andrea was married for only a short while, but it tore her apart."
"I may nor be as demonstrative-"
"Except about Jason." His accusation makes you gulp. Why did you have to drink so much wine? You need your full wits about you. "See, you're doing it again. He died in twenty-three and you still can't hear his name without giving away what he meant to you."
"Who do you think you are?" You try to be menacing, but somehow it fails.
"The way I see it is, Paul Hunt murdered Jason back then, but got away with it." You gulp as he guesses the truth. "You found out a while back and planned to get justice for him. But you wanted to get away with it. So you went to Joe Accardo. Racked up three grand gambling and went to your husband about it. He quietly took the money from the bank and then paid off Joe. Now I know some guys, so I found out about your debt and how it was paid off Thursday night."
"That means Perez had no motive to murder your husband," Commissioner O'Toole says.
"But you did," Mark says and you have to almost laugh at how perfect your alibi is. Instead, you must retain your pose as bereaved widow.
"I admit I did not want my gambling debt to become scandal, but that does not make me a killer." You hold up your hands. Hands weak with years of idleness. "How could I hold a cord well enough to strangle a person?"
"Now we get to the best part." Mark's eyes practically glow as he speaks directly to you. "You used to sail regattas with Jason. You know all about tying ropes. You used nylon cord to reach the hemp line that killed Mister Hunt to the electric belt sander in the woodworking shop your husband maintained. You waited for your husband all night, having left a dummy in your bed. Your loyal maid saw it when you were so still she thought you died. She said nothing to the police, but confessed to her priest. One of the altar boys overheard and told a friend and word got back to me.
"Now, once you husband walked in, you looped the hemp over his neck and turned the sander on. It tightened the rope, but only left burn marks on the nylon cord. Once he was dead, you untied everything and went back to your room. the timing was tight, but you made it."
"How did I dispose of the rope?"
"Better than you managed with Jose." He smiles again. "Corpse hounds found him this morning. that's why we set this up so fast. To get you before word reached you and you disappeared with your husband's money."
"No, that can't be." your breath comes short. Jose went into Lake Michigan.
"Why not? Andrea asks. "I still think you're innocent, but why couldn't Jose be dead after a falling out with his partners?"
"Partners?" you ask, confused by the rapid accusations and muddled by the wine.
"Wasn't Jose sort of short?" Andrea asks. "How did he get a rope around your husband's neck without him fighting back? He must have had a partner."
"That's it," you bounce with excitement. "Some unknown partner did it."
"No good." Mark says. "The dock where you keep your boat, logged it missing about eleven Thursday. Your husband was busy paying Accardo. You took it out and killed Jose to frame him. see that's where you made your mistake. You killed one too many. Your husband from a sense of justice, you might have got off with a slap on the wrist. But Jose, the handsome Latin gardener, and your lover, you murdered him in cold blood. That'll get you the chair."
"I never," you begin, but the commissioner shakes his head.
"We have enough now. You're under arrest."
Sobbing, unsteady on your feet, they lead you away. If it is not he exit you expected, at least you made a good entrance.