Charlie pointed to the right. “There’s the house, or should I say mansion – must be at least twenty rooms. When Ms Lydia Langtry said we couldn’t miss it with the twin gables, she was right. Now to find out about her dog knapping.”
Jimmy steered their Toyota Prius up the hill on the paved driveway leading to the mansion. The green grass showed nary a weed. He pulled up next to a BMW and shut off his car’s engine. His eyes followed the contours of the mansion up three stories.
Located in the countryside about fifteen miles west of the Chief’s home / office in Woodstock, Illinois, the mansion was one of several in the area. The Langtry’s owed their wealth to manufacturing and investing. According to Lydia, their leisure pursuits included dogs and horses.
“You don’t mind the rush, Jimmy, do you? Lydia’s voice quivered when she told me about her kidnapped Airedale, Ruffy. We can wait to see how this job affects tomorrow night out with Ann and Nellie. If the case proves complicated, we may have reschedule our date.”
“Right you are, Dad. Business comes before pleasure, but the girls do get kind o’ irked with last minute… changes.”
Charlie frowned. “I know, but…” He shrugged his shoulders.
The two six-foot tall Native American private detectives got out of their car, stretched, and strode up to the front door. Charlie pressed the bell. It reverberated announcing them.
Moments later a florid woman with streaks of grey running through blond hair and wearing a housedress and white apron opened the door. “Whom do you wish to see?”
Jimmy said, “Ms. Lydia Langtry is expecting us.” He pointed to Charlie and himself. “We’re the private detectives she hired about…” He paused to recollect the dog’s name. “Ruffy.”
She swung the heavily varnished, oak door open and said, “Come right inside. Ms. Lydia’s been pacing back and forth, waiting. Follow me, gentlemen.”
They followed her along a wide hallway with oil paintings hung one after another. At the end of the hallway, the house-person stopped at a tall mahogany door and knocked. She called out, “The two private investigators are here, Ms Lydia.”
The sound of hasty footsteps reverberated. The door swung open. A petite, brunette lady motioned them inside. “Come in. That will be all, Mercedes.”
The Chiefs marched inside the expansive room.
Lydia pushed the door shut. “You must find my Ruffy,” she cried out. She drew a breath composing herself. “Please sit down won’t you. Coffee? Are you two brothers?”
Charlie smiled. “No, Jimmy’s my son. Except for a few streaks of gray in my black hair and a few wrinkles on my face I guess we could be mistaken for brothers, especially when we’re both in chinos.”
A black leather sofa faced away from the windows and towards the book shelves. While she poured coffee into their cups, Lydia talked. “The ransom what’s-it… note warned not to call the police, but I knew I needed help. I tried thinking what I could do, but I came up with zero answers. Then I remembered. I heard how you helped Beverley Boles, so I phoned you.
“Here’s the note. It’s printed in box letters, so it’s no clue in tracking the kidnapper.” She handed the paper to Charlie first. Then she sat on a cushioned chair facing the two private investigators.
Charlie read it once – then again. “So the kidnapper wants twenty-five thousand dollars delivered under a cement post tomorrow night at eleven.”
“Now the payment is tonight,” Lydia answered, “A day has passed since I got the ransom demand.”
He handed the note over to Jimmy who looked at it and said, “Dad, did you see how…”
Charlie put his index finger to his lips, then shook his head.
Jimmy gave his father a harsh look, wondering why the rebuff. Could Charlie be on to something that he didn’t want to share? Jimmy drew a breath, promising himself that he’d be the one who solves this case.
Charlie continued, “Is the housekeeper the only one who works here for you in your home?”
“Well, as you saw, there’s Mercedes, my housekeeper / cook. There are two others. Jack Key is the chauffer and stable hand. He once worked at Arlington Park Racetrack. Our gardener is Terry McGruff. He’s the burly fellow that you probably saw putting the tractor in the barn. As usual, he’s been fighting the never ending battle with weeds.
“And that’s the entire staff.”
Pushing forward in his chair, Jimmy asked, “When did you first miss Ruffy?”
Lydia sat on the edge of her chair with her lips pursed. “To tell the truth, I didn’t realize he was missing until I got that wretched ransom note. Then I had the help scour the house and grounds looking for Ruffy, to no avail. So where do we go from here?” She stood up with her hands on her hips.
Charlie smiled. “First will you ask your housekeeper and gardener and chauffer to come in here, please?
“Ah, yes, one of them might have seen something that’ll help us catch the culprit.”
Before Charlie had finished his monologue, Lydia contacted Mercedes on the phone and told her, “Roundup Teddy and Jack and get them into the library immediately. You come too. Chop-chop.”
Ten minutes later, Jack Key the chauffer, Teddy McGruff the gardener, and Mercedes O’Rourke the housekeeper stood in front of the bookshelves in the library.
A friendly smile on his face, Charlie stood up. “I had you three called in to find out if you might’ve seen or heard something that will help locate Ms. Lydia’s Ruffy.
“But first I’d like to know a little about each of you. Please sit down at the table and grab a piece of paper and a pen. In a few words tell me what you do on your job and where. When you’ve finished, we’ll move on to a few more questions.”
The three workers scrambled into chairs and pulled themselves up to the brown, wooden table for the writing ordeal.
Charlie leaned back on the sofa with his hands wrapped behind his head. Jimmy on the other hand sat on the edge of the sofa, watching Jack, Teddy, and Mercedes scribble away. Lydia sat in her chair, tapping her foot on the floor.
First to finish, Teddy handed his slip of paper with his resume to Charlie. After a minute studying the information, Charlie said, “For the time being, you can go about your gardening job.”
Jimmy added, “Weed on McGruff.”
Charlie shot one thumb up and showed a small smile.
Next, Mercedes gave Charlie her resume. He read it over and passed it on to Jimmy who scanned it before putting it aside. He nodded to Lydia.
“Oh, I guess it’s OK for you go about your housework. We’ll call you when we need you.”
Charlie nodded acquiesce.
Moments later, Jack stood and handed his resume to Charlie. Charlie glanced at it and passed it on to Jimmy.
He looked it over; then he picked up the ransom demand. He cleared his throat. “There are three misspelled words in the ransom. The ransom demand says: ‘I don’t want to kleen you out or hurt your dog. I want twenty five thousan dollers in unmarked bills for the safe return of your dog. Put the money in a paper bag and leave it under the cement post where C and 2001 cross tomorrow night at eleven. Or else you never see Ruffy again.’
There are three misspelled words in the ransom “ kleen for clean, thousan for thousand, and dollers for dollars.” Jimmy paused. “I see in your job description, Jack, that you k-l-e-e-n the car and the stable. The same misspelling as in the ransom. You wrote this ransom, didn’t you, Jack?”
Confronted with the evidence, Jack slumped down in his chair, making him look even smaller. “You got me dead to rights. I needed the dough to pay off gambling debts. Ruffy is OK. I wouldn’t really harm him. He’s in the shack over by the highway.” He pointed. “What else can I say? Words jail me.”
Charlie agreed. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”
Ed Pahnke’s first short story appeared in “Et Al” in 1971. Since then he’s had numerous short stories, jokes, and articles published in periodicals. He wrote and edited a bimonthly newsletter for twelve years.
He had Northern Knights, a mystery novel, and a chapbook of “jest for pun” jokes published. In 2011, Calderwood Books published The Chiefs Investigate, a book of fifteen mystery stories featuring a father and son team of Native American private investigators.
Another book of Chief mysteries and a chapbook of “jest for pun” stories are forthcoming.