Death of a Flapper

 

Chapter 1

The light in the window

 

“That’s odd. There’s a light on in Miriam’s room.”

In the darkness on a warm July night in Moorestown, New Jersey, Ruth Taylor squinted through the leaves of a low hanging tree branch, and saw the faint square of yellow light in the distance, the window of her daughter’s upstairs bedroom.

“Really, William,” she remarked to her husband beside her. “It’s after midnight. Miriam is usually asleep long before this. I wonder what’s wrong?”

The Taylors were making their way home after a late Mah Jongg game with neighbors. Although William Taylor sometimes grumbled that Mah Jongg was a game that was more fit for opium dens than polite society, the Taylors had found the new game both enjoyable and engrossing, and before they realized, it was almost midnight.  So they had set off for a pleasant walk home along the darkened street, hearing only the soft hum of the crickets and the hollow echoing of their own footsteps. The sudden sight of the light in daughter Miriam’s window, however, reminded them of their trouble at home.

“She’s worried about that Robert Bradwell, I suppose,” said Mrs. Taylor in a soft voice as if she was afraid of being overheard, “Ever since Miriam broke off their engagement two months ago, he’s been making a pest of himself. He comes calling all the time. I really don’t see how she’ll ever get rid of him.”

William Taylor squinted towards the light from beneath the brim of his straw hat. “A lot of damned foolishness if you ask me. That Bradwell boy should give it up as a bad job and find someone else.  Miriam is being too nice to him; give him the bum’s rush, I say. If something isn’t resolved soon, I may have to intervene.”

Ruth looked at him. “Intervene? What do you mean?”

 

But William Taylor didn’t reply.

 

They mounted their front steps. The rambling Victorian mansion loomed as a dark and faintly ominous shadow in front on them, towering into the night sky and showing only a single light from Miriam’s second floor window.  William Taylor took out his key and was annoyed to find the front door was ajar.

“I realize Miriam is upset,” he scolded, “but this carelessness is inexcusable. Why, who knows what could have happened?”

He opened the front door and looked toward the kitchen, thinking Miriam may have come down for some chamomile tea to help her sleep, but the kitchen was dark. He switched on the hall light. A wide central hallway framed in dark woodwork and decorated with gold framed oil landscape paintings passed darkened rooms on each side and a curved stairway on the left.

“William, look,” Ruth whispered hoarsely, “there’s a man’s straw hat on the hall chair.”

“Good God!” William sputtered, “So he was here tonight, and while we were out as well. This has got to stop! Miriam!”

William Taylor started up the polished oak stairway, still calling out his daughter’s name until he came to the door of her room. The door was locked and there was no sound from inside the room. A thin streak of light glowed along the gap beneath the door.

“Miriam! Open the door this minute!” William Taylor pounded on the heavy wooden door, but it didn’t budge. The room on the other side was still silent.

Ruth put her hand to her mouth. “William, this isn’t like Miriam. I think something is wrong! Could Robert be in there with her now?”

William Taylor frowned. The same thought had occurred to him, and he didn’t like it one bit.

“If he is, he’ll rue the day he ever crossed her threshold. I’m going to get out on the porch roof. I can reach the window of Miriam’s room from there. We’ll soon get to the bottom of this!”

The moon had risen, casting shifting dappled shadows from an overhanging tree on the porch roof and throwing a pale, bluish gray light over the yard below. William Taylor lifted the window in his room and climbed out on the porch roof. A few yards away, he could see a square of light cast on the porch roof from Miriam’s room, but couldn’t yet see inside. His shoes crunched and scraped on the shingles as he made his way closer. Finally, he came to Miriam’s open window. The light from inside the room turned the highlights on his face yellow as he slowly peeked around the edge of the window frame.

“Oh, my God!” he gasped.

 

A few minutes later and several miles away, in a house that was comfortable but somewhat more modest than that of the Taylors, a telephone rang distantly in the darkness. The repeated ringing slowly penetrated the sleep of the two figures in the upstairs bedroom.

“Charles, would you get that?” said a sleepy voice. Charles Bradwell grunted, then rolled over, sat up on the edge of the bed, and felt around for his slippers.

“Who could be calling at this time of night? It’s almost one in the morning,” he complained. He fumbled to put on a plaid flannel robe and shuffled downstairs towards the insistent telephone.

“Robert’s probably run out of gas somewhere again. I keep telling him not to wait until it’s running on fumes, but…”

The phone sat on a small table in the entrance hallway, lit only by the gray moonlight filtering through the glass transom over the front door. Bradwell reached the jangling phone and picked it up.

“Hello?…..Yes, this is Charles Bradwell….What? Oh, my God…When? Are they all right? ….Oh, I see. Yes…yes…We’ll be right over.”

He placed the phone back in the stand. His mouth was dry and filled with a metallic taste, and his hand was shaking.

“Charles,” said a voice from upstairs. “Who was that?”

“Martha, get dressed. Something terrible has happened!”

 

 

Chapter 2

A Race on the Chesapeake

 

The biplane was a speck in a cloudless blue sky that seemed to go on forever. In the padded twin cockpits, Max and Allison Hurlock slowly banked the wings of Gypsy, their war-surplus Curtiss Jenny and flew a lazy arc high above the sparkling waters of the Chesapeake Bay. A long white streak far below them marked the progress of the bay steamer Cambridge as it steered between clusters of workboats harvesting crabs and oysters. Ahead, just short of where the blue-green water met the hazy dark green shoreline to the east, a group of sleek and graceful log canoe sailboats heeled over precariously as their large sails filled tightly with wind and strained their tall pine masts.

Max looked up again. In the front cockpit he could see the back of his wife Allison’s leather flying hat, her white silk scarf flapping in the wind. As if by telepathy, she became aware of his gaze, turned around and grinned. Max gestured downward and Allison nodded. They dropped down and circled closer to shore to have a better look at the scene below.

The small waterfront town of Claiborne, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland had seen its population swell by hundreds in just the past few hours. Men in straw hats and women in bright summer dresses with parasols occupied every square foot of available space along the shoreline, in the trees, and all over the long wooden steamship pier, even the part with the railroad tracks that led eastward to Ocean City on the Atlantic coast. Most of the crowd had come down for the day on the steamship from Baltimore. Some carried picnic baskets while others bought fried chicken and crab cakes from the circulating local vendors as they watched a race between some of the fastest and most beautiful sailboats ever built. The crowd was festive and reacted to every change in the racing boats’ positions. Many of the spectators were city dwellers from Baltimore and Annapolis, and stared wide-eyed at the spectacle.

But Allison Hurlock, viewing the scene from the cockpit, was less enthusiastic. She picked up the speaking tube and shouted to be heard above the roar of the engine. “What’s going on down there, Max?”

“Take a good look,” he shouted back. “That’s a genuine log canoe sailboat race.”

“You call that a race?” Allison shifted her goggles up for a better look. “Those things are barely moving. It’s like a race between turtles. Oh, they’re graceful, and I suppose it takes a great deal of skill to keep them upright, but wouldn’t a Chris Craft runabout be much faster?”

Max cut back the engine speed back so they could talk without the speaking tube. “Sure it would, and an airplane would be faster still. But there’s more to it than just speed. There’s skill and strategy. See that boat in the lead? That’s the Island Blossom. I can tell by her sail markings. Did you notice how she’s cutting back and forth in front of the Billy Hall and the Island Lark? That’s a maneuver to keep the others from passing.”

“Well, that hardly seems fair.”

“Allison, I love you, but you’re not on the Western Shore any more. This is a serious sport around here.”

She smiled back at him. “You’re so handsome when you’re defending local traditions.”

“And you’re beautiful when you’re attacking them,” Max replied, laughing. “Let’s get a closer look.”

Allison slid her goggles back down.

“Tally ho!”

They descended to 200 feet and roared over the boats and over Claiborne, wagging the wings to greet the crowd. As they dipped the wing they could see the steam trail from the engine of the Ocean City Flyer on the horizon as it chugged its way toward the railhead at Claiborne.

They made a slow turn to the northeast, passing over miles of wide flat tidal lands of farm fields shimmering in the summer haze and planted with tomatoes that would soon be harvested and taken to the cannery in nearby St Michaels. As they steadily descended, the ground below seemed to rush past faster until they felt the slight bump as Max brought the Jenny down gently in a grassy field, bounced along the uneven ground and rolled to a stop by a barn with a hand painted wooden sign that read “Hurlock’s Flying Service”.

Max cut the engine, jumped out of the airplane and gave his hand to Allison. She was wearing a leather flying jacket over a green print dress.

“Nice flight. Gypsy’s running pretty frisky today.”

“Yes,” Allison agreed. “It’s nice to make a flight without an emergency landing.”

 

A few minutes later, Gypsy was back in the barn and they were strolling down the driveway of a two-story white clapboard house set by a creek amid marshy wetlands. They mounted the steps to the wide front porch and soon were seated at the kitchen table eating leftover stew warmed up from the night before. Allison removed her flying hat revealing a wide white scarf around her head, flapper fashion. She had already removed a similar scarf around her neck.

“So Max, what does the winner of the log canoe race win?” she asked.

“I think it’s $25 with maybe $15 for second place and $5 for third. Then of course the last place finisher gets a cured ham.”

“What? Look, I understand the prizes awarded the winners, but why would they give a ham to the crew that came in last?”

Max chuckled. “An old tradition around here. The idea is that the crew will use it to grease the bottom of their boat so it will do better in the future.”

Allison shook her head. “Well, it appears my education was lacking such essentials. Maybe I should ask Goucher for a refund.”

“Forget the refund. You learned plenty. Say, how is the article coming?”

Allison sighed. “The life of a freelance magazine writer is not an easy one, I’m afraid. I sent off the article on the crossword puzzle craze to Modern Girls Magazine and I’m looking for my next topic. I’m thinking of something about flappers.”

“Flappers? Now you’re cooking with gas. I’d read that article myself.”

The black phone in the living room rang and Allison went to answer it. A few seconds later she returned.

“Max, when you were in the navy did you know someone named Bradwell?”

Max looked up. “Charlie Bradwell? Sure. He was a Lieutenant Commander and Executive Officer of my ship, the USS Carson. We called him Mr. Social Register because he came from one of those upper crust Philadelphia families, although I think he lived across the river in New Jersey. He ran some kind of real estate company that bought and sold commercial properties. Pretty decent guy all in all. What about him?”

“Thelma at the switchboard in town said he called you today. He’ll call back tonight.”

“Charlie Bradwell? I haven’t talked to him since the war. I wonder what he wants? We were cordial, but not best pals or anything. He’s the one who started calling me Sherlock Hurlock after we had that murder on the ship.”

“Maybe he wants to enter the USS Carson in the next log canoe sailboat race. That should liven things up.”

“I guess we’ll find out,” said Max. “It’s funny he’d wait all this time. It must be something unusual. I thought I’d never see him again when I left the Carson. Well, we’ll just have to wait. Do you have any ideas how we can pass the time waiting for Charlie to call back?”

She untied the scarf around her head and let her hair tumble down.

“Maybe.”

 

An hour later, darkness had fallen and they lay in bed half asleep. The long green curtains rustled gently at the open windows, and above the hum of the electric fan, the phone was ringing downstairs. It rang several times before there was any sign of life from the rumpled bed.

“You really ought to get that,” Allison said finally. “It’s probably what’s-his-name from the navy. He probably couldn’t find the signal flags.”

Max reluctantly swung his feet over the edge of the bed and slowly stood up. “It’d be just like Charlie Bradwell to call when I’m busy. Sailors have no sense of timing.”

The phone was still ringing when he finally got to it.

“Max. Is that you? This is Charlie Bradwell…. from the Carson.” The voice on the phone was surprisingly clear.

“Sure Charlie. How are you doing?” Max stifled a yawn.

“Listen, Max. I’m here in Easton, just up the road from you and I need to see you as soon as possible. I’ve got a big problem and I really need your help.”

“You say you’re up in Easton? I thought you lived in New Jersey. What are you doing in Easton?”

“I came down to see you, Max. I’m at the Avon Hotel, along with my son Peter. Max, I have to see you. I rented a car from a local garage and I can come to your house.”

“Sure, Charlie. How about tomorrow?”

“How about tonight?”

Max looked at the clock and saw it was almost 8:30. Whatever Charlie Bradwell wanted must be urgent.

“Tonight? Well, all right, Charlie. Let me give you directions.”

As Max hung up the phone, he heard Allison’s voice behind him.

“It’s not a real estate problem, is it?”

Max turned to see his wife standing in the doorway in a long blue robe. Several strands of brown hair hung down over her face in a way Max had always found erotic, but her expression was serious.

“No, I don’t think it is. It’s something a bit more important. I could tell it from his voice alone. He’ll be here in about an hour.”

“At this time of night? Max this has to be something big. Well, let’s get dressed and I’ll squeeze a pitcher of lemonade.”

Max nodded absently. “Of course. Say, Allison, when they get here, how about sticking around to hear what they have to say? I’d be interested in your opinion.”

Allison nodded as she rinsed out the lemonade pitcher in the kitchen sink. “Sure. I’ll be discrete, though. I wouldn’t want to scare them off.”

Max looked out the window into the darkness. “I wouldn’t worry about that. From the urgency in his voice, I have a feeling that nothing would scare them off.”

 

 

Chapter 3

The icy mitt

 

Almost an hour later, they heard the first faint sounds of tires crunching on the road. As the sounds grew louder, the pale wash of headlights appeared, making drifting shadows among the trees.

Max looked out the window. “I think he’s here, and in record time.”

As Max watched, a model T materialized from the darkness and stopped at the end of the drive.  Two figures emerged and walked towards the house.

“Hello, Max,” said Charlie Bradwell, appearing in the glow from the porch light.  He looked older than Max remembered, and wearier, but he still had thick wiry hair the color of a brick. Max noticed he was carrying a small valise.

Charlie Bradwell stepped into the living room and introduced his son Peter, a somewhat shorter and younger version of himself. Although the night was warm, they were wearing hats and vested suits.

“Thanks for seeing us, Max. I didn’t know where else to turn.”

“Always willing to help an old shipmate, Charlie. Come on into the parlor here and have a seat. Welcome to Hurlock’s Hideaway.”

“The man at the hotel said you were running some sort of flying service.”

“That’s right,” said Max. “After we got married, Allison and I bought a surplus Jenny from the army. They were practically giving them away, and you know how I always liked to tinker with engines. So now we do occasional barnstorming, ferry businessmen around and even haul mail once in a while. Of course I still do engineering work to pay the bills.”

Charles Bradwell nodded absently, but did not comment further. He obviously had other things on his mind.

 

The Bradwells sat on the old mohair sofa in front of the fireplace as Allison appeared from the kitchen with a pitcher of lemonade and some glasses. She had changed in to a blue print dress and the Bradwells momentarily seemed to forget their mission. Max smiled to himself. Allison had that effect on men. It probably had something to do with her resemblance to movie star Mary Miles Minter. Charlie and Peter Bradwell rose awkwardly from their seats and Max told them to sit down again as he introduced them.

“Allison, this is my old navy shipmate Charlie Bradwell and son Peter.”

Allison smiled and discretely slipped into a chair near Max.

For about a minute, the Bradwells sat silently, with Charles fidgeting with the valise and Peter just looking uncomfortable. Outside a chorus of frogs was tuning up for the night and in the distance a duck protested. Finally Charlie cleared his throat and spoke.

“I’m sorry for barging in on you and your wife this time of night, Max, but I’m sure you will understand when I explain. We’ve come about an urgent matter. I came all the way down here from New Jersey because I had to see you in person. This is too important to discuss over the phone.”

Max, seated in the armchair by the side of the fireplace, leaned forward slightly. “Of course, Charlie. Go ahead.”

Charlie Bradwell took a deep breath, as if bracing himself for an ordeal. “You remember me speaking of my son Robert; Peter’s older brother?”

Max nodded. “Yes, of course. When we were on the Carson he was starting at Rutgers if I remember correctly. Is he in some sort of trouble?”

“Robert is dead.”

The only sound was Allison’s faint gasp.

“I’m really sorry to hear that, Charlie,” Max said finally. “What happened?”

Charles Bradwell suddenly looked determined.

“That is what I want you to find out.”

Bradwell opened his valise and took out a stack of newspaper clippings. “The whole story, or at least the newspaper version of it is in these articles, but they give only a hint of what a nightmare the last few days have been.”

“I can look at them later,” said Max. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

Charles Bradwell looked at Peter, and then took another deep breath. “Robert was shot to death a week ago, along with his former fiancée, Miriam Taylor. They were found dead in her locked bedroom, each shot in the head at close range.”

“Did you say she was his former fiancée?”

“That’s right. She broke it off about three months ago with no warning and no apparent reason.”

“She gave him the icy mitt.” Peter, somewhat unnecessarily, provided the vernacular term.

Max sat back in his chair and studied Bradwell.

“And now,” said Max, “everyone is saying Robert killed her then shot himself.”

Bradwell nodded. “So you’ve read about the case.”

Max shook his head. “No, I haven’t. The Easton Star-Democrat barely covers local crime, let alone one that took place in New Jersey.”

“Then how did you know?”

Max waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “It was a logical inference, and it would account for why you came to see me. You don’t believe Robert is to blame and you want his name cleared.”

“Geez, Dad,” said Peter. “No wonder you call him Sherlock Hurlock.”

Max looked at Allison and smiled faintly.

“You’re right, Max. I don’t believe Robert would have done anything like that. I believe they were both killed by someone else.”

“I see. Any idea who?”

“None. They were both popular and didn’t have an enemy in the world. Still, it had to be someone else. It just had to be.”

Max looked uncomfortable. “Charlie, I’m willing to do anything I can to help, but I’m not with the police and I’m not even a private detective. I’m just a guy who helps assemble facts in a logical way. Most of my work is engineering, not criminal investigation. You’re talking about a capital crime; and in another state to boot.”

“Max, I’m not asking you to gather the suspects in the drawing room at midnight and reveal the murderer, I just need you to help us make sense of this whole thing. I’m too close to it and I don’t want a reporter finding out I’m asking questions and use it to write more sensational articles to cheapen Robert’s good name. They’re already referring to Robert and Miriam as ‘socialites’. One headline said ‘Society Suitor kills Rich Girl, Then Self.’ It’s like Robert isn’t even a person anymore.”

“I can’t do anything about what they write, Charlie,” Max reminded him.

“You can if you find out the truth. That’s all I’m asking. Look, Max; you’re a damned good man for finding the pieces and putting them together the right way. You proved that on the Carson. I’ll pay whatever you charge and any expenses, but I’m begging you to come up to Moorestown and look into it. You can stay with us or I’ll put you up in the hotel for as long as you need; Allison, too. Will you do it?”

Max’s face gave no hint of what he might be thinking. “Tell me the rest.”

“Robert had a bright future,” Bradwell began. “He graduated a year ago and was working at my firm, Bradwell Properties. We do a lot of commercial development and property management. Robert was learning the business; just as a way of getting started you understand. Everything changed when he met Miriam Taylor. She was the daughter of William and Ruth Taylor, also of Moorestown. William Taylor is a prominent attorney in Philadelphia.”

Max nodded. “What can you tell me about Miriam Taylor?”

“Miriam was a nice girl, but something of a flapper. Oh, I don’t mean she carried around a flask of bathtub gin or anything like that, but she liked parties and nightclubs, and referred to Charles’s car as a “jalopy”, even though it’s a Packard. I’m not saying she did anything sordid, but the point is, she was a little sophisticated; worldly, perhaps. I mean she was still a nice girl, but, well, maybe her manner dazzled Robert and made his rejection all the harder to take. Most of the other girls Robert knew before Miriam were conventional. Miriam was more of a free spirit.”

“She wore her dresses pretty short, too,” Peter added. “And cut her hair into one of those short bobs. Oh, and she wore silk stockings…rolled below her knees!” Peter made it sound scandalous.

“Yes,” Charlie continued. “She had all the trappings of a flapper, but for the most part she seemed like a level headed girl as far as we could tell. Well, a lot of this flapper business is really youthful rebellion I suppose, like the way we used to leave our knickers unbuckled when I was a youngster. Anyway, Robert was crazy about her. They became engaged and everything seemed fine, but then suddenly..”

“She just up and gave him the heave-ho ,” said Peter. “No warning; no nothing.”

“What was the problem?” Max asked.

“That’s the strange part,” said Charlie. “We never knew. She just decided to break it off one day and that was that. Even Robert was in the dark.”

“So how did he react?”

Charlie shook his head sadly. “He was devastated and confused. Robert went to see her a few more times after that, trying to understand and maybe get her to change her mind. The strange thing is they were still on cordial terms and even went out together sometimes. This went on for about three months.”

“Old man Taylor was sticking his nose into it,” Peter added. “He said if Robert didn’t stop bothering Miriam he would put a stop to it himself.”

Max raised his eyebrows slightly. “What did he mean by that?”

“Who knows?” Charlie answered. “We only heard it second hand. It was probably said in a fit of anger. William Taylor does have a bad temper. He once threw a paperweight through the front window of his office.”

“So tell me about the night of the…incident.” said Max.

“Robert and Miriam went to Atlantic City for the day with two friends. As I said, they were still on cordial terms in spite of the breakup. That night the Taylors went to a neighbor’s house to play Mah Jongg. It’s a new game from China, or some such place.”

“I’ve heard of it,” said Max. “Go on.”

“Robert and the others dropped Miriam off at her house around 10 or so then they took Robert home, but he must have gone back to see her. The Taylors got home a little before midnight and found the front door to the house ajar. They also noticed Robert’s hat on a chair in the hall and the door to Miriam’s room locked, so naturally they were quite alarmed. When no one answered repeated knocks on the locked door, William Taylor climbed out on a roof and looked in her window. He saw Miriam and Robert lying on her bed. Miriam was wearing only her stockings and a light robe, while Robert was dressed, except for his jacket. He was lying partly off the edge of the bed, as if he had slipped off of her. She was shot twice in the head and he was shot three times. There was a .22 pistol lying on the floor near Robert’s hand. The door key was on the floor next to him as well.”

Charlie looked thoughtful. “It’s amazing how quickly you can wake up when you hear bad news. We got a phone call around midnight. The next thing we knew we were standing in the Taylor house looking at Robert’s body. God, but it was horrible. A patrolman had helped William Taylor move Miriam’s body to her parents’ room by this time, so our Robert simply lay there alone. It’s funny what you think of at a time like that. They say your whole life flashes before your eyes when you’re about to die. Well, I saw Robert’s whole life. His mother was crushed. Martha’s been inconsolable ever since. I insisted on her remaining at home to recuperate somewhat.”

“One question,” Max interrupted. “Was there a carpet in the room?”

Charles Bradwell and Peter looked at each other in confusion. “A carpet? Well, let’s see. Uh, no. I think it was just a wooden plank floor. Why?”

Max nodded. “Just a detail I wanted to clear up. Please go on.”

“Anyway, the police were there when we arrived at the Taylors’, as was the coroner, Dr. Carstairs. Otto Pfeiffer, the chief detective investigated and asked us some questions, but you could tell he had made his mind up already. As far as he was concerned, Robert shot Miriam and then killed himself. It was a simple case of a rejected lover’s revenge. The coroner said there would be an inquest, but a day later he called and said the county prosecutor, a fellow named Hillsborough, had decided that no inquest was needed. Hillsborough’s an elected official and I suppose he didn’t want an inquest to turn up any facts that might conflict with Pfeiffer’s tidy conclusion of murder-suicide. So now my son has been officially branded a killer without a trial or even an autopsy. Pfeiffer said the gun was such a small caliber that Robert had to shoot himself several times…in the head!”

Bradwell’s voice was getting hoarse with fatigue and emotion. Allison poured him a glass of lemonade, which he drank gratefully before resuming his story.

“I was outraged that they had closed the case so quickly, so I gave an interview to the Moorestown paper just before we left to come here. I told them the case was insufficiently investigated and I called on County Prosecutor Hillsborough to open a formal inquest, complete with autopsies.  I even threatened to write to President Harding. I was desperate. Max, they’re wrong. I know they are. Robert is not a killer. He would never do anything like this. He really loved that girl, and would never hurt her. Even if he wanted to, how could anyone shoot himself three times in the head? Someone murdered them both. Isn’t it obvious?”

Max chose to ignore this question. “What about the gun they found? What kind of a gun was it?”

“A .22 caliber revolver.”

“A .22? Seems like kind of a puny gun to use for a double murder. Do they have any idea where it came from?”

Charlie looked embarrassed. “They did trace the gun the next day.”

“..and?”

“It was mine,” said Peter.

“Yours?” said Max. In the background, Allison gasped again.

“I got it in a pawnshop two years ago,” said Peter, wringing his hands. “I bought some cheap black powder ammunition and used it for target shooting in the woods for a while, then put it away in the back of a closet. I hadn’t touched it for months.”

“Did you give it to Robert?” Max asked.

“No, of course not. I didn’t know Robert even knew about it. He never mentioned it. I had forgotten I even had the gun, so I didn’t miss it when it was taken.”

In the silence that followed, Max sighed and cleared his throat. “Charlie, when you were XO on the Carson you always insisted on a full and honest report, no matter how bad it was, so here’s what I get so far: We have two people dead. One of them has a strong motive to feel rejection and resentment of the other one. No one else seems to have any reason to wish ill to either one of them, let alone both. We know this occurred in a locked room in a private home, a place no one else is likely to either know about or have access to. We know the murderer used Peter’s gun, and that no one outside the family had access to the closet in which it was kept or even knew it was there. We know the local authorities on the scene investigated, not thoroughly perhaps but they did investigate, and determined it was a murder-suicide. As for Robert shooting himself three times in the head, that does seem unlikely, but with small caliber bullets and old black powder loads, it’s at least possible that the first shots didn’t penetrate the skull. Charlie, I’d love to help in any way I can, but do you really want me to investigate further? It sounds hopeless. I’ll probably wind up agreeing with the local officials.”

Charlie Bradwell took another drink from the lemonade glass Allison had just refilled, then resumed in a quiet voice. This time, however, he addressed Allison.

“Mrs. Hurlock…Allison… Did Max ever tell you about that time on the Carson, when we found that bosun’s mate stabbed to death in the engine room? I know I’ll never forget it. We were three days out to sea in a convoy. The ship was in a panic. Everyone thought there was a German spy aboard and he was going to kill us one by one. The captain called the officers together in the wardroom and told us to question everyone on the ship and conduct background checks for anyone with German ties until we found out who the spy was. Then Ensign Maxwell Hurlock, the most junior officer on the ship spoke up, and told the captain he was going about it all wrong. Max said the key was to find out what a bosun’s mate was doing in the engine room. For some reason the captain listened and told him to follow that angle on his own. Two days later, Max had the killer and it wasn’t a German spy. That’s when we started calling Max Sherlock Hurlock. Max was..”

“I’ve told her the story, Charlie,” Max interrupted. “What does it have to do with Robert’s death?”

“Just this, Max. On the Carson, everyone knew there was a German spy aboard, and everyone knew that extensive questioning and background checks were the way to catch him. It was obvious. You alone looked beyond the obvious and found the truth. Well now everyone knows Robert killed Miriam Taylor then killed himself. I believe you’re still the only one who can find the truth whatever it is. That’s why I came here to appeal to you in person. I owe it to Peter, I owe it to Robert’s mother, I owe it to myself, and most of all, I owe it to Robert. Yes, I still want you to investigate. If you find Robert really was the killer, at least we’ll know the truth came out, painful as it might be. I’m not even worried about that possibility, though. I have faith in Robert.”

Max looked at Charlie and Peter and saw they were leaning forward expectantly. Then he glanced at Allison and saw the sympathy in her eyes.

“All right, Charlie. I’ll need a couple of days to finish up a few things here and make arrangements, and then I’ll come up to Moorestown. Meanwhile, I’ll need for you to make a list of names and addresses of the people involved. Oh, and leave me the clippings so I can bone up on some of the details in the meantime.”

“Thank you, Max. I knew I could count on you.”

“I’d like to fly up if possible,” said Max. “Are there any airfields nearby?”

“I don’t think so, except over towards Philadelphia maybe. But there is a farm nearby. I can arrange for you to land there if you’d like.”

“Perfect. We’ll be there.”

 

Later that night, long after Charlie and Peter Bradwell had gone, Max and Allison lay in bed listening to the frogs croaking outside and the electric hum of the fan inside. In the warm darkness, they lay silently for a long while. Finally Allison spoke.

“Well, Max. You always like a challenge. Looks like you’ve got a corker.”

Max sighed. “That’s putting it mildly. I really hate to let Charlie Bradwell down, but it looks like he’s clinging to a very fragile hope and all I’ll be able to do is step on his fingers.”

“It does look that way at the moment, but he seems to have a strong faith in Robert’s innocence. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Strong faith is all well and good,” said Max, shaking his head in the darkness, “but I prefer strong facts. As far as I can see, though, the facts are all pointing the other way.”

Could Charlie Bradwell be right, or has his grief simply clouded his judgement? And if Robert Bradwell didn’t kill his ex-fiancee. how did the real killer get out of a locked bedroom?

Read the rest of Death of a Flapper