the thrilling detective drama continues: kong takes the case

To read Chapter One, Part 2, click here.

Chapter One, Part 3

“My husband,” she said, her voice quivering with insistence and dread, “is an educated man.”

I still wasn’t buying the ‘Mallory Baines’ bit, but her concern struck me as genuine, if not exactly warm.

“But not streetwise, apparently, to be skipping off for a moonlit rendezvous with Wormsy.”

A tooth worried her lip. “No—I suppose not.”

“And what kind of an educated man would Mr. Baines be? Not a lawyer, hopefully—Wormsy isn’t fond of those.” I grimaced as I said that—something about this dame struck me as skewed, but on the off chance she was on the level, why torment her?

“Not a lawyer,” she answered stiffly. “He’s a scientist. A world-renowned scientist.”

Aren’t they all. “I see.” Though I didn’t—what would a scientist and Wormsy have to talk about? Other than the vig, women, or hooch, of course. “Well, so far as I know, Wormsy’s got no beef with science. Do you know why your husband was supposed to meet Scarpini?”

“No. Herbert is . . . secretive isn’t the proper word. But he keeps his research close to his vest, and I suppose that carried over to our wedded life. Not that we aren’t close,” she hastened to add, pushing herself further toward the chair’s edge. “But I respect his space.” I wondered how well Herbert Baines reciprocated; his wife was the type of woman who’d tempt any man with blood in his veins to disrespect hers. “Is something funny about that?” she inquired, and I flattened my grinning lips.

“No, Mrs. Baines. Now—you’ve no idea why your husband would have been meeting Wormsy Scarpini, but he told you he was going to?”

Her fingers fidgeted with her purse. “Not exactly. I-I listened in on the phone in the bedroom. Herbert was downstairs in his study when Worm—Mr. Scarpini rang. I know that doesn’t sound like respect, Mr. Kong, but I’ve never eavesdropped on my husband before. I only picked up because I heard his voice from upstairs. He sounded—strained. As if something had gone terribly wrong, and the person on the other end of the line was convinced it was Herbert’s fault.”

“And what was said after you picked up the phone?”

“I only caught the last bit. Herbert said, ‘Now listen here, Scarpini, I don’t know who you think you’re’—and then another voice, a—a dull voice, it frightened me!—cut him off.”

“Dull and frightening fit Wormsy to a T. What did he say?”

“Only: ‘Midnight, Doctor. Be there, or this will be the last night you spend with your wife.” She shuddered. “And then—then I heard Herbert dash out the door. He didn’t even close it after him. I ran downstairs but he was already gone.”

“And that’s the last you heard from your husband.”

A sniffle. “Yes.”

“What kind of scientist is he?”

“He’s—” A flush crept up from her neck, enjoying every inch of ivory flesh it conquered. “He’s a primatologist.”

I supposed that would explain her presence in my office—or would it? Did she think I would feel obligated to hunt down her husband out of some sense of duty to my species? I grunted softly, noncommittally. When I failed to register chagrin at her confession, she cleared her throat. “He specialized in the great apes.”

“A lot of people have called Wormsy an ape, though not to his face. All right, Mrs. Baines. Your husband, for reasons unknown, left home two nights ago to meet Scarpini. You’ve no idea where or why. You want me to find him.” She nodded me along. “That’ll run you fifty dollars a day, plus expenses. And a hundred up front.”

She reached into her purse and peeled five twenties onto my desk, then a photograph. “You’ll want this.” We reenacted our first handoff, and I beheld the face of Dr. Herbert Baines. A bushy mustache that went out of fashion with the Kaisers, a shock of pale hair clinging to a scalp ridged with anxiety. His eyes seemed focused on something behind the photographer—something vaguely threatening, though not so much that Baines felt the need to give warning. He might not have been twice her age, but I wouldn’t have bet even one of those twenties on that.

“Where will you start?” Mrs. Baines asked.

“With Wormsy. He’s not hard to find. I’ll ring you when I have news.”

“Thank you.” She gave me a number belonging to one of the more elegant streets in Manhattan, stood, smoothed her skirts, and turned for the door. She paused, tossed her hair over a shoulder, and aimed one smoldering eye at me. “I knew I came to the right . . . man.”

With that she flushed again and ducked out the door.

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