What happens when two people want to be together, but the rest of the world keeps getting in the way? In this Prequel to the popular Max Hurlock Roaring 20s Mysteries, Max and Allison must contend with a war, distance, an epidemic, and some unexpected competition. Years before they became the great detective duo of the Roaring 20s, Max Hurlock met Allison under humble circumstances and had a series of ups and downs every bit as challenging as their later murder investigations.
BEGINNING A SEVEN PART “PREQUEL” TO THE MAX HURLOCK ROARING 20S MYSTERIES
LEARN HOW MAX AND ALLISON MET AND HOW THEY BECAME CRIME INVESTIGATORS
Part 1- The Meeting- 1917
“Drat! It looks like it’s going to rain. That’s all I need.”
Allison Winslow leaned over the steering wheel of her father’s Model T and squinted at the sky ahead. The clouds were getting darker and the car was starting to vibrate slightly.
“Maybe driving all the way to Washington to research my paper wasn’t such a good idea,” she said out loud. “Well, I’ll just have to stick it out. Fifty miles to go. I’d better get some gas before too long as well.”
At Joe’s Garage, a few miles farther up the road, Max Hurlock stood under the 1917 calendar on the wall, wiped his hands on a rag and closed the hood of the Packard.
“All set, Joe. New oil and new plugs. Should I write up a bill?”
Joe snickered. “Very funny, Max. Keeping my car running is one of the few advantages I get from owning this garage.”
“Well, that and the chance to meet exciting new people.”
“Yeah,” said Joe,”like that guy last week that wanted to pay in pennies.”
Max grinned.”Legal tender.”
“Not in Joe’s Garage it isn’t. Anyway, I’m heading home. You can lock up when you leave?”
“Sure. Don’t worry about a thing. Oh, should I let you know if any of those interesting people stop in?”
“Don’t you dare. See ya, Max.”
Joe drove off with a roar and the garage became quiet. Max checked to be sure everything was in order, then went in the office and started looking over his textbooks. Final exams at the University of Maryland were just a few weeks away. Max looked out and saw a drop of rain hit the window.
“I wouldn’t want to have to drive a long way tonight,” he said, shaking his head.
Rain began to splatter on Allison’s windshield in lazy, fat drops. She fumbled for the switch and started the slow-moving wiper. The vibration continued. She looked around but all she saw were trees and farm fields.
“Doesn’t anybody live around here? It didn’t look this empty on the way down. I wonder if I have enough gas to get back?”
A car passed going the other way and splashing water on the window.
“Oh, this just gets better and better. And why is this jalopy vibrating so much? Next time I need research information, I’ll stick to the local library.”
The wheel was now vibrating noticeably in her hands. Home seemed a long way off.
Max pushed his chair back and rubbed his eyes. He looked out at the rain.
“It’s coming down harder. At least the road’s pretty empty. Most people have enough sense to come in out of the rain, I suppose.”
The yellow beam of a headlight swept across the garage as a lone car turned in and pulled up at the pump.
“Tally ho,” Max mumbled.
Max threw on a raincoat and stepped out into the rain. Inside the car was a woman, a very attractive woman, wearing a long green dress and a large feathered hat. Rain drops were pelting the roof and hood, making angry splashes.
“Hi there,” he said. “Want me to wash your windshield?”
The woman looked up and smiled. “Maybe later.”
“Rotate your tires?”
“They already rotate just fine, thank you. What I really need is some gas.”
“Sure thing.” Max pumped the gas into the glass reservoir at the top of the pump and got ready to fill he tank.
“I’ll fill it up,” he said. “It’s a long way back to Baltimore.”
Allison was startled. “How do you know I’m going to Baltimore?”
Max smiled. “Oh, the same way I know you go to Goucher and you’re a junior.”
“Do you know anything practical, such as why a car would vibrate?”
I know several reasons, and none of them are good. In your case, however, I’d say it has something to do with the front tire that’s going flat.”
“Flat? Oh no. That’s just what I need.”
Max smiled again. “I think it’s just about full. Just six gallons. Say, why don’t you pull into the service bay and I’ll fix that tire for you.”
A few minutes later, Max had the Model T up on the lift and was taking the wheel off. Allison sat on a wooden chair watching. She had removed her large hat and shaken out her hair, making her even more attractive.
“Now as soon as I get the tube out of this thing, I’ll pump it up and put it in that water trough over there. The bubbles will show where the leak is.”
She nodded. “Simple, but effective.”
He smiled again. “My name’s Max. Max Hurlock.”
She smiled, but didn’t answer.
“So aren’t you going to tell me your name?” he asked.
“Why Mr. Hurlock, whatever for? You seem to know all about me already.”
“Oh, you mean the Baltimore and Goucher thing?”
“Yes, the Baltimore and Goucher thing. How did you know?”
“Oh, it’s just a little habit I’ve gotten into; looking for clues to read people. It’s just some simple observations.”
“Want to let me in on it, Mr. Hurlock?”
The inner tube dripped on the floor as he lifted it out of the water. “Well, you have a parking sticker on the car that says Goucher and it’s stuck on over two earlier stickers, so that would make you a junior.”
“And what about going to Baltimore?”
Max shrugged. “Well, where else would a Goucher girl live?”
“Admit it; you were impressed, weren’t you?”
She looked at him slyly. “No more than you would be if I told you that you were an engineering major working his way through the University of Maryland.”
He dropped the inner tube. “What? How did you…”
“Sauce for the goose, Mr. Hurlock. I saw your textbooks on the desk as I came in. As for the working part, well you are in a garage repairing a tire at the moment.”
Max nodded. “Touché. Touché indeed. Say, I close this place up in about 15 minutes and it’s a rotten night out. Why don’t I follow you and make sure you get back all right?”
“Thank you, Mr. Hurlock, but my parents tend to frown when strange men follow me home.”
Max nodded. “Of course, but if I just happen to be going the same way…”
“Then you can follow me to the nearest Police station.”
“All right, all right. But what about that name? At least tell me that much.”
“Allison, Allison Winslow.”
“Very good. And where do you live?”
“In a house.”
Max sighed. “All right. That’s a dollar for the repair and another dollar for the gas.”
She handed him the money and got in the Model T.
“Now if you will give me a crank to start the motor, I will be off. Thank you again, Mr. Hurlock.”
“My pleasure, Miss Winslow, but I would really like to see you again.” What did he have to lose now?
“Perhaps we will meet again, Mr. Hurlock, but for now I have to be on my way. It’s a long way back to Roland Park.”
Max smiled as the car pulled off.
“Winslow in Roland Park, eh?”
In the Model T, Allison smiled to herself.
A few days later, after final exams, Max appeared at the door of Professor Osgood Winslow in the Roland Park section of Baltimore. He wore his best (and only) suit and had a bouquet of hand-picked flowers.
“Good afternoon, sir. I’m Max Hurlock and I am here to call upon Allison.”
Professor Winslow stared at him, then called to someone inside the house. “Mother; isn’t Allison seeing that David chap anymore?”
“As far as I know, Osgood,” came the reply, and Max’s heart sank.
A Buick pulled up at the curb and Allison appeared, looking more beautiful than ever. Another door slammed and a young man appeared around the other side of the car. As they walked up to the porch, Allison looked at Max, though she didn’t really seem surprised.
“Why, Mr. Hurlock. What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I just came to follow up and make sure your car was all right.”
“My, but your garage does provide extraordinary service. Are the flowers part of the service as well?”
By this time, the young man was beside Allison and looking at Max with obvious disapproval.
“Yeah, bub,” he snarled. “What about the flowers?”
“These?” said Max, coolly. “Why, in case the car didn’t make it, these are for the funeral.”
Allison burst out laughing. “What wonderful service. The automobile Club must hear of this. David, why don’t you and father go on in the house. I have to speak with Mr. Hurlock on a minor matter.”
“But..” David began.
“No buts, David. Now shoo.”
When they were gone, she turned to Max.
“Well played, Mr. Hurlock.”
“I think under the circumstances you can call me Max.”
“Very well, Max. I really appreciate your coming all this way…”
“Then let’s take a ride somewhere. I really want to see you.”
She looked at him in silence a moment.
“All right. Come back in a half hour. David has to be getting home.”
An hour later they were strolling in Lake Roland Park. They were beside the old stone dam.
“You knew I would track you down, didn’t you?” said Max.
Allison shrugged, “Let’s just say I considered the possibility.”
“So you didn’t mind?”
“If I did, Max, we wouldn’t be here now.”
“So are you and that David palooka serious?” Max asked.
“Serious about what?”
“You know about what. Are you engaged or anything like that?”
“Oh, no. I’ve known David since we were children. He’s almost like a big brother. He’s hinted around about getting married eventually, but…well…”
“No explanation necessary,” said Max. “I just wanted to know about the competition.”
“Very flattering, Max. But won’t you be graduating soon?”
“In a few weeks, as a matter of fact. Then back to St Michaels for a little while.”
“It’s a small waterfront town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. There isn’t much there except a couple of packing houses, so you can see why I came to the Western Shore for an education.”
“Very wise,” Allison replied, “but what are you planning to do with your life?”
“I’m going in the Navy. The training will be great and I’ll get to see he world a bit before I settle into a civilian job. I’ve already been accepted into officer school. How about you?”
“Nothing quite as swashbuckling, I’m afraid. I have over a year to go. Then I hope to be a writer for a newspaper or a magazine.”
Max nodded. “Judging by the way you talk, I’ll bet you’re a good writer. You’re a very clever girl, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
She laughed. “Now why on earth would I ever mind something like that?”
“See? There you go again.”
“I have to say, Max, you picked a most inopportune time to be joining the Navy. I mean, it looks like Kaiser Bill in Germany will be dragging us into the mess in Europe. You could be out chasing submarines in a few months.”
“That’s all right by me,” said Max, looking at the water rumbling over the dam. “People weren’t meant for safe harbors.”
Allison looked at him. “You do seem like the type to take a chance when it seems necessary. Is that why you came to look for me? Were you leaving your safe harbor?”
Max smiled.” I suppose that’s one way of putting it. I’m not a great believer in fate or in mystical forces controlling our destinies, but your appearance at the garage on a rainy night seemed important somehow.”
“Important? Max, I just need gas and a patch on my tire.”
“That’s not what I meant. You see, some girls are all wrapped up in school, fashions or dances, or gossip. They are either quiet or chatter away incessantly. You’re different; you’re smart, witty, and somehow manage to be fun without being frivolous.”
“You certainly managed to infer a lot from half hour repair job,” said Allison.
“I told you I sometimes read people and with you, I liked what I was reading. One thing I was sure of, I wanted to see you again.”
After a pause Allison said “We really should be getting back. I wouldn’t want my parents to think I’ve been kidnapped. They already think I’ve lost my mind.”
Max smiled. “And have you lost your mind?”
She dusted a speck off her skirt and turned toward him.
“Not yet…but it is getting a little shaky. Let’s get back.”
DON’T MISS PART 2– THE WAR-1917-1918