The following day, Andy Warwick and I walked together through a steady drizzle to the conference center two block from the Walton Hotel. As we walked, the subject of the killing came up again, just as I’d planned.
“That Miss Holden, she’s been in the hotel a few times before. One wild lady, let me tell you!”
“Different guys every trip. Last time, I think she had one of the guys from Killz in her room.”
I had to think about that one for a moment. “Killz? Isn’t that a band, they dress up in black leather and wild makeup?”
Andy nodded. “Yeah, that’s them. Bunch of middle-aged guys, trying to act like they’re still twenty years old.” I winced at the comment, and Andy noticed. “Hey, I don’t mean that the wrong way, Doc. I know you’re older than you look, and I saw you working out in the gym this morning. I figure you must work out a lot, ’cause you sure don’t look old enough to have written the medical manual for the Korean War field hospitals.”
“Thank you, Andy. I try to keep in shape, it’s true.”
“Did you know that Mrs. Jameson, the lady using the treadmill, was watching you the whole time you were using the weight machine?”
I smiled and chuckled at that. “Can’t say as I did. Is she nice-looking?”
“Not bad for a woman with three kids — wait a minute! I thought you were married!”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, I don’t know if you heard. There’s a rumor among the staff that some super-hero is on the murder case. Mr. Ayers is the only one that knows for sure, I guess, and he’s keeping quiet.” Andy lightly touched my elbow and guided me around the corner of a building. The conference was on the next block.
“I hadn’t heard. Interesting, though. They usually only get involved if the local police are having trouble.”
“Well, I don’t care if it’s the local beat cop or Superman, I hope they figure it out soon. If old Mrs. Walton finds out, it’s gonna be hell to pay for all the staff.”
“Mrs. Walton? That’s odd; I thought the Walton family sold the hotel to the Karltz/Reston hotel chain some years ago.”
“She did. When her husband died, she sold the place, but on the condition that she could live in the penthouse until she died. Her son Julian and she have been living there for twenty-five years now.”
“But they don’t run the hotel, do they?”
“No, but she can still make it rough on any of us. She’s demanding as all get out, and doesn’t think twice about tying up the whole staff with a request for a new bed for one of her dogs, or art supplies for Julian.”
As we turned to walk into the conference, I smiled and shook my head. “Sounds like you’re working in a regular Peyton Place, my friend.”
After the day’s proceedings at the conference, Andy and I returned to the Walton. Inside the hotel, I immediately knew something was wrong. There were two men standing near the main desk; something about them just screamed police officer at me, even though they were dressed in casual slacks and shirts. The clerk was speaking nervously on the in-house phone, and he did not seem happy. Andy caught on right away, as well.
“Hey, ah, Doc, maybe I better get you right up to your room. Looks like something big is going on. I can check for your messages after I get you safely to your room.”
That would give me about ten minutes to try to check on things. Not enough time, not unless I could stretch it out. “They have an answering service now, right? I can just check for any messages after I get to my room. Maybe you can find out what’s going on, though. After all, you can go places I cannot.” As we approached the elevator, I leaned toward him. “I can find my way up on my own. Come up to my room in half an hour and fill me in.”
“Will do, Dr. McNider.” Andy veered off toward a door marked Employees Only. Not surprisingly, one of the gentlemen I’d noticed by the front desk strode quickly over there. I could hear bits and pieces of their conversation as I waited for the elevator, enough to realize that the police had been called back to investigate another death. I stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for my floor, and waited for the doors to open again.
When they did, I glanced up and down the hall to make sure I was alone, then ran to my room. Once inside, I pulled my costume out of its compartment in my suitcase and quickly changed into it. I stepped out onto the balcony and measured out a length of line as I looked down at the terrace of the grand ballroom on the tenth floor. I looped the rope on a flagpole two rooms over and let myself swing downward. Ten feet above the terrace, I let go and dropped down next to an open door and walked in. I strode through the ballroom, ignoring the looks and cries of hotel employees who were setting up for a banquet, and went out to the elevators. As I walked toward them, I saw a uniformed police officer.
“Excuse me, officer. Are either Sergeant Cominsky or Sergeant Matchuk here?”
I’ll give him credit — he didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, sir. Sergeant Cominsky told us you might come. They are on the eighth floor, room 823.”
I took the elevator. When the doors opened, there were several officers in the hallway. I saw Sergeant Matchuk near a door. She spotted me as well, and waved me over. “Hope you have a strong stomach, Mid-Nite. Artie is in the bathroom, realizing he shouldn’t respond to a murder call on a full stomach.” She backed up a step when I turned to look her full in the face. “Um, sorry, I just–”
“You have a different way of dealing with situations than your partner. Where he feels nauseous, you combat it with humor.” She nodded, then looked down at the floor. I put a finger under her chin and raised her head to look her in the eyes. “There isn’t anything wrong with that. We all have to cope in our own ways. But as an officer, you need to be conscious of the others around you.”
“Thank you. Most of the other officers just think I’m weird, or that I don’t care.”
“Not surprising. Now, what is it that’s bringing out the worst in everybody?”
“Name is Carla Jameson, age forty-five, marketing representative for Avalon Books, married, five children, lives just outside of St. Louis. In town for Avalon’s annual sales meeting. Last seen this morning, approximately 8:30.”
“Cause of death?”
“We’ll need the coroner’s report, but you can probably take a guess.” Carol swung the door open.
What was left of Carla Jameson lay on and around the bed. Both arms and legs had been torn from her body, violently. From the look frozen on her face, she had felt every tearing muscle and tendon, every break of bone and separation of joint.
I walked around the bed as best I could without stepping in pooled blood. I examined the feet and ankles, the hands and wrists. Then I looked under the bed. Blood had seeped under the bed, showing me what I expected.
“It was some sort of machine or framework,” I declared, turning toward Sergeant Matchuk. “There are cuts on her wrists from some type of cuff, with fresh blood. Similar markings on her ankles. And if you look here–” I lifted the sheet where it draped over one side of the bed, nearly to the floor. “–you can see where something was lying on the floor when she was bleeding.” I slipped one glove off and felt the top of Ms. Jameson’s head. “She was knocked out, blow to the head. You’ll probably find that there was cold water splashed on the bed before she bled. Whoever did this wanted her awake for it.”
“A rack. Four posts, each with a rope and pulley, rigged so that they could all be pulled together. Probably an electric winch motor, because it would take a lot of strength to pull hard enough to do this.”
“But why?” asked Art Cominsky, finally rejoining his partner.
“Answer that, Sergeant, and you’ll be able to figure out who.”
The following morning, I was just leaving the hotel’s restaurant when I heard a commotion in the lobby.
“Mother, that’s enough!” cried a high, nasal voice. “Mr. Ayers is doing his job. Why don’t you just stay out of it?”
“Are you defying me, Julian? The Walton has a reputation to uphold, and I’ll not have this silly twit of a manager scaring off guests because he cannot keep matters quiet!” I rounded a corner and spotted the two arguing. She was a heavy woman, obviously unable to get around on her own, in a motorized wheelchair. The blotchy look of her face to my unusual vision indicated she wore heavy makeup, apparently in an effort to appear younger than her very advanced years. The younger man with her looked to be in his fifties, dressed in an ill-fitting suit of light gray. Wisps of dishwater-gray hair fluttered on his scalp.
“How can you keep it quiet when the police are here two days in a row? You don’t own the hotel, Mother, and you don’t run it.”
“Please, Mrs. Walton, we are doing our best to maintain the hotel’s reputation for discretion, but outbursts like this in the lobby do not help the situation.” Mr. Ayers stepped out from behind the counter and gestured toward a door. “Perhaps you would prefer to continue this conversation in my office?”
“Why should I bother?” she screeched, just as Andy Warwick stepped out of the elevator and came toward me. “You are running the Walton into the ground, and you have ignored all of my advice and directions for years now!” Julian Walton laid a hand on the controls of his mother’s wheelchair and started to guide it toward the elevator, only to have his hand batted away. “Leave me be, Julian!”
“Mother, open your eyes and stop being blind to the facts! We are guests here — permanent guests, but guests nonetheless. Now, let’s go back up to the penthouse!” He reached for the controls again and took her to the elevator.
“Well, that was interesting,” I said as Andy joined me. “Happen often?”
“More than I’d like. Just yesterday, Julian was screaming at her to stop tearing him in all directions when she wanted to go to the symphony and asked him why he hasn’t finished any paintings lately.”
“You mentioned he’s an artist, didn’t you?”
“That’s what he says, anyway. But I’ve heard him complain that he can’t really break into the art world while he’s taking care of his mother here. She tries to support him, but he claims she just cuts him down and, what did he say last week, bleeds his soul dry.”
Something about what Andy said made my blood run cold. “Andy, I need to get up to my room, but I’d prefer to avoid the Waltons. Is there a service elevator or anything like that?”
“Sure, Doctor. It’s this way.” Andy led me down a side hall and back around the reception desk. The elevator was wider than the regular one to accommodate moving furniture and equipment to the upper floors. It was also much quieter than the regular elevator.
“Is this a new addition to the hotel?” I asked.
“Kind of. There was a freight elevator here before, but I guess it was in really rough shape when the Waltons sold the place. This was put in, and new access corridors were created between some of the rooms.” As the doors opened, I found myself in an empty hallway. “The door at the end here opens into your hallway, just around the corner from your room.”
“Ahh, I understand now. I think I can find my way from here.” I started down the hall, then turned back. “Where are you off to, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“The usual routine. Waiting in the lobby for the front desk to call me.”
“OK. Just in case I need your services again. Thank you for your help, Andy.”