The Cold, Cold Ground
The Cold, Cold Ground
Chills and Thrills
IT WAS early fall, and faintly chilly, outside. In my office, the thermometer was well over seventy, but Miss Townsbury had brought some chill with her.
Make no mistake, form no mental picture because of the 'Miss'. She was between forty and fifty years of age, dressed in some brown and eye-repelling type of ribbed silk. An iceberg, in brown silk. Blue eyes, blue as frozen sea water, and features sharp as icicles, with an icicle's thinness to her spare figure. There was nothing about her to indicate that she had ever melted or would ever melt.
She was telling me about the girl named Flame. Flame was the daughter of her brother's second wife-if you follow me. That is, her brother had married twice. For his second wife, he had married a divorcee. This divorcee had a daughter by her first marriage. This daughter's name was Flame. I hope it's all clear. Flame was missing.
Miss Townsbury had begun to suspect something was amiss when she wrote to Flame (Miss Flame Harlin) at her apartment in town, inviting her to come up and spend a weekend at the Townsbury country place. There had been no answer.
Miss Townsbury had phoned, twice, without success. This morning, she had come to town to do some shopping and had dropped in at the girl's apartment. The accumulation of newspapers and mail at the front door, the accumulation of milk bottles at the rear door, had convinced Miss Townsbury that things were not as they should be. I asked her if she had gone to the police. She shook her head emphatically. "I didn't think it wise to bring them into it, Mr. Jones." She paused. "Not until we are sure that Miss Harlin is-really missing." If she wasn't sure, why had she come to me?
At twenty dollars a day (and expenses), I thought it best not to ask that question.
I asked some other questions.
Miss Harlin was an entertainer, a comedienne.
Did she sing? Did she juggle? Did she crack jokes?
She sang. "Though her voice wasn't anything extraordinary, you understand. That doesn't seem necessary, today, however. She had-whatever it is the public wants, today. Her songs were very well received."
I knew what the public wanted, today and every day, and so did she. She was being genteel. I asked: "She isn't married, of course?"
A thin, cool smile. "No. She was engaged, at one time, to a Mr. Rodney Carlton. There's a possibility ..." She stopped.
I said: "You think there's a possibility they may have eloped?"
"Eloped?" The gaze came up to meet mine, then moved away. "Eloped? No. I suppose that could be a polite phrasing." The gaze direct again. "Miss Harlin, I might remind you, is an entertainer. She has always lived an undisciplined life. Her standards of conduct are theatrical standards. Am I being clear?"
I gave her a reproving glance. I said softly: "You're being completely frank, Miss Townsbury. Have you any reason, other than those, to believe that Miss Harlin might have done what you're suggesting?"
The figure stiffened in my leatherette chair. "None. However, under the circumstances, you can see why I came to a private detective."
"The police," I told her, "are very discreet in matters of this kind. You wouldn't need to fear any unpleasant publicity." Not much, I thought, not much.
The cold eyes surveyed me haughtily. "Are you telling me, in your indirect way, that you don't want this case, Mr. Jones?"
I hastened to correct her on that. I explained about ethics, and the necessity for private operatives to cooperate with the police, and the rest of the blarney that gives my work its high moral tone.
She relaxed again, with a rustle of heavy silk. She answered all the rest of my questions quickly and competently. When she rose to leave, she said: "I do think, if you don't discover anything in a reasonable length of time, we should go to the police."