I am one of those people who doesn't work well in absolute silence. Music is a part of life. Maybe it's a part of my ability to multitask, where I can listen to music while working on a story. Music can enhance the story, impact the pace, the tone, the emotions that are bubbling beneath the surface. On many television shows and movies, you'll hear music in the background mixing with the story. While I'm writing this, a Beethoven symphony is playing in the background. Loaded in the CD changer is Marvin Gaye, Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, which I'll probably get to later on today. I have no doubt that music impacts my stories, which is why I often include various songs or artists to give a sense of the characters. So it may be jazz or classical, Motown, rock and roll or the blues that pops up in my stories. You never can tell.
Last time I included the start of one of my short stories "Goody Twoshoes". Here is the rest of that tale. Hope you enjoy it.
Wanda Wildchilde lived in Whispering Willows, a subdivision just west of the city, named for the enormous trees that guarded each house. Despite the late hour and the wicked weather, lights were shining from her windows as we parked my Wagoneer at the curb. Goody was barely visible, tucked inside her coat and hat. We moved up the walk, ducking beneath wet willow limbs toward the entrance. There was movement behind the picture window, and I could see a roaring fire in the hearth in the brightly lit room. Goody clung to my arm, putting her trust in my prowess as a detective.
The door opened at my knock and Wanda Wildchilde waved us inside. We stood in the hall, dripping puddles on the woolen rug, while Wanda wished us well and welcomed us. I wondered what was going on.
Wanda could have been Goody's twin. Her auburn hair was wound up in a braid that nestled at the back of her head. But her other features, build and mannerisms were exactly the same as Goody's. Wanda was wearing a baby blue lounging robe with white trim and worn leather moccasins. The question of underwear resurfaced in my mind.
"So where did you find the shamus?" Wanda asked Goody in a warm, sultry voice.
Goody moved into the sitting room and removed a cigarette from an ornate wooden box. She lit it, and then blew a plume of uninhaled smoke toward the ceiling. "What's the difference? He's willing to work on the accidents. The truth will come out."
Wanda fixed me with a withering stare. "Will it now? I'd be willing to bet you don't know half of the story."
"What do you mean?"
Wanda moved to a sideboard and poured us each a snifter of brandy. My taste buds weren't accustomed to such riches, but I never turned down free hooch. "I'll bet Goody didn't tell you about the missing will."
"No, she forgot that part."
Goody flicked her cigarette toward the fire and missed. She made no attempt to retrieve it. Was I the only one who saw the carpet beginning to smolder?
"I didn't forget," Goody said. "I just didn't get that far. Case only asked who else would prosper from Felix's untimely departure. Naturally, I thought of you."
Wanda flashed a wicked grin. "Perhaps I should explain everything, Mr. Lace."
"Case. Justin Case. Explain away."
Wanda wandered over to a wicker chair with a thick pillow and wilted into the cushions. "It seems that Felix was more than a little cautious about his fortunes. After his funeral today, his attorneys informed us to meet at his home for a reading of the will. What we saw was not what we expected."
"What Wanda is trying to say in such a wayward manner," Goody interrupted, "is that Felix left us a puzzle to solve."
I had been staring at my snifter, wondering if it was polite to ask for seconds on brandy. "A puzzle?"
"Felix left a videotape for our viewing. Apparently, he felt his life was in danger recently. Felix feared for his own safety." Wanda wiggled to the sideboard and back and refilled my brandy. "So he left us the tape and hid the original will, after having his lawyer deliver the extra copies so he could add a codicil."
The brandy buzzed in my brain and I could only nod at the beaming beauties before me. "So what's the puzzle?"
Neither one spoke. Instead, they came to stand before me, one on either side. The lights in the room and the glow of the fire answered the underwear question about Wanda for me, but Goody remained a mystery.
"Let's go to the study," Wanda suggested.
"An excellent idea."
Turns out the house didn't belong to Wanda. It was Felix Flingeasy's place. Rather than flaunt his wealth and seclude himself from the public, Felix liked to mix with the neighbors and be treated like a regular guy. Apparently he conducted many of his liaisons in the study, which was decorated like a men's club, with leather chairs, a billiard table, entertainment center, shelves lined with books, a bar and another fireplace. This one was cold, but it burst to life at the touch of the button under Goody's thumb, a reaction I could easily relate to.
Wanda wagged her head toward the leather chairs. "Play the tape, Goody."
"It's all cued up. Hit the switch."
We sat around a poker table, facing the television screen. With an auburn haired lovely on either arm, I was beginning to feel like a gigolo. Whatever Flingeasy had to say, I was ready to sit right there and listen, half a dozen times if necessary.
The screen flickered once, and then the image I'd seen in the paper appeared. He was well preserved for his age, with a full head of silver hair and a face as smooth as a baby's butt. Dark green eyes stared intently into the camera as the deep voice spoke.
"If you are watching this tape, then I must be dead. I can't believe either of you would ever harm me, but I've taken a few precautions. Just in case. All you have to do is find the will. You've got seventy-two hours, and then it all goes to charities, particularly the Kennel Club and the Audubon Society. The proper combination can lead to the will. Be kind to each other. Work together and you can have it all."
The screen turned to snow and the women turned to me. Unfortunately all of my finely tuned skills were currently focused on the lack of food in my system. Drinking always makes me hungry. What I wouldn't have given right then for a corn dog and some pork rinds.
"Well, what do you think, Case?" Wanda batted her lashes at me.
"Is there a safe in the house?"
Goody squeezed my arm. "Felix wouldn't stand for a conventional safe. He had to be different, extraordinary. If there's one in the house, it's in this room. But we can't find it.”
“Check everything. There could be a hidden switch or lever that would reveal the safe’s hiding place. Let’s get busy.” I struggled out of my chair and away from the women.
My vision was blurry. I made it across the room to the books and began to run my fingers over the spines. Wanda picked up on my idea and began yanking the volumes from the shelves, looking for a false panel or a safe hidden inside. No such luck. Goody had taken to the floor on her hands and knees, crawling under the table and checking the bottoms of the chairs for secret compartments. We searched the cupboards, behind the bar, inside the stereo speakers, the light fixtures, behind paintings, under the carpet and behind the dartboard. Nothing.
Outside the rain continued, joined by the rumble of thunder and the occasional flash of lightning. It was still a dark and stormy night.
"It's got to be here!" Goody collapsed on the floor and drew her knees up to her chest.
"The old boy's probably having a laugh at our expense," Wanda muttered. "Even dead, Felix is fooling around, having a good time."
I leaned against the billiard table and glanced at the two women. Even after the long night of tireless searching, they both looked as fresh as glamour models. Idly, I lifted the cue ball from the table and rolled it across the felt. It wobbled away from my waiting hand and bumped the burgundy seven ball. A soft thud met my ears.
"Who plays pool?" I asked.
Goody didn't raise her head. "I'm not in the mood, Case."
"One guy playing games with us is enough," Wanda said. "Even if he is six feet under."
I picked up the cue and the seven balls and rolled them together in my hands. There were only two other balls on the table. The solid black eight ball and the white and yellow nine. I peeked at the antique webs on several of the pockets and saw the rest of the collection scattered across the table. Banging the cue ball lightly against the seven gave off a funny sound. I walked around the table to a rack on the wall where polished cue sticks stood at attention and fresh boxes of chalk were stored. There was also a rack with an assortment of other balls, the ones used for the game of snooker. I lifted one of these and tapped the cue ball against it. There was a solid click. I hit it again, just to be sure, and then replaced the snooker ball.
"Felix play a lot of pool?"
Wanda boosted herself up onto the bar, bare legs dangling from the robe in a most unlady-like fashion. My theory on underwear was proven once again. "He loved to play games. Felix thought it brought out the little boy in him."
I returned the balls to the table, and then lifted a cue stick from the rack. Neither woman was watching as I lined up the shot. The seven was in the center of the table, on top of a felt marker. The eight was tight against the rail, where a diamond chip marked the spot for a bank shot. The nine ball hugged the same rail, only inches from the corner pocket. I blinked my blurry eyes a couple of times, then snapped off the shot. Seven-eight-nine combination. The click of billiard balls making contact reached my ears, along with the soft swish of the nine dropping into the webbing. Then a machine started from somewhere beneath the slate as it rolled up like sardine can's lid. The seven, eight and cue ball dropped into a small basket beneath the felt covered slate.
"Oh my god!" Wanda bounded off the table and stood beside me. Goody joined us in a heartbeat.
Under the slate was a storage area about four feet long and two feet wide. There were packets of cash, folders filled with papers on various corporate dealings, and one large manila envelope, marked in thick black pen WILL. The women dove for it while I crashed into a club chair.
"How did you know?" Goody asked when she brought me a fresh snifter of brandy.
"The combination shot was set up on the table. The seven ball wasn't regulation. It's metallic, with some kind of sensor inside. It doesn't make the same noise that two ivory balls do when they strike. The table must be rigged with a system that opens when the right combination is made. There's probably a sensor on the rail, as well as one in the pocket and the eight and nine balls. The other balls are standard ivory. They wouldn't work."
Wanda stood beside Goody and draped an arm around her shoulders. "We should have known. That corny joke was one of Felix's favorites."
Goody smiled. "Why was six afraid of seven?"
Both women answered in unison. "Because seven ate nine."
I groaned and took another sip. I could grow to like brandy. "Tell me something, Goody. What made you look me up? You seemed pretty confident that I'd find the will."
"Felix said you would know." She kicked off her heels and sat in the chair beside me, topping off my glass again.
"I never met your uncle."
Wanda went to the stereo system and fired up a tape of English rock music. A deep male voice begged to be her father figure. Wanda stared at me with a confused look. "Felix wasn't our uncle. He was our father. We were given different names to avoid any embarrassment to his image. How could he maintain his image of a free-wheeling gigolo if the public knew he were raising his children?"
My brain was getting as wooly as my Aunt Tilda's mustache. "Uncle, father, whatever. I never met him."
"But he told us to get you. On the tape. When he mentions taking precautions." Goody leaned against me and helped guide my glass up for another sip.
"He didn't mean me." I shrugged and gulped the last of the booze. My tongue was growing Angora sweaters. "It was a coincidence. Justin Case. Just. In. Case. Happens all the time."
The women exchanged wide smiles. "Dumb luck," Goody said. I thought someone was calling her, but it was a new song starting on the stereo.
"What about Fluffy and Francis?" I asked. "Who killed them?" Suddenly the demise of her pets seemed very important.
Goody patted my cheek. "Damn cat drove me crazy. I'm allergic to animal fur. Felix thought it was hilarious, the heiress to a furrier's fortune, unable to get near the animals. We used it for fencing practice."
"What about Francis?" My eyes could no longer focus on the two beauties. I was floating away on brandy clouds.
"Why, Mr. Case. Don't you know puffer-fish are poisonous? There was just enough left after we fed it to Felix to puree it and slip some into your brandy."
My eyes lost the ability to focus, but my ears were still working. Amid the pounding bass drum and the roar of electric guitars came the same repeated phrase.
"Goody Two Shoes- Goody Two Shoes,
Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do?
Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do?
Must be something inside."