By Bob Liter
Nick Bancroft sat across from me at the kitchen table and said, “Remember Tom Bradford? His wife’s missing, and police think he killed her. I’m going to Springfield tonight to talk to him. He says she’s hiding, and he has to find her.”
My name is Maggie Atley. I’m a librarian in Central City with two adult sons, an ex-husband who ignored me, and mister private detective Bancroft, who doesn’t ignore me. But he does annoy me at times because he thinks he’s so smart.
“Take me with you,” I said.
“He invited me to dinner, he didn’t invite you.”
“But you’re going to. Invite me to dinner. I’ll be quiet as a mouse.”
“Sure you will.”
I kissed Nick on the forehead and said, “I was forced, when you and Tom talked sports, to listen to his wife, Candy, tell me what a wonderful model she was. What a glamorous life she led before she married Tom. And I suffered from envying her slim frame. It reminded that my modeling days were over.”
“Were you a model?”
“No. Why do police think he killed her?”
Nick stood and said, “Do whatever you do to get ready. I’m leaving in ten minutes.”
Twenty minutes later I was ready. Nick growled we’d be late for his appointment, and said, when I asked him again, “Police think Tom killed her because they found a smear of her blood in the bathtub, because they learned that Tom’s got a mistress. His wife, Candy, has been missing, according to her sister, for three weeks.”
Nick was silent the rest of the way to Springfield. I pretended to sleep. I intended to keep out of it, I really did.
At Eddie’s, a swank restaurant not far from the classy neighborhood where Tom lived, a young thing named Naomi accompanied Tom. Nick, Naomi and Tom ordered steaks plus trimmings. I had a salad.
“My wife’s hiding out to embarrass me,” Tom said. “I asked for a divorce, and she went berserk. Admitted she married me for security, said she’d never give me a divorce. Naomi is a loving woman.”
He looked at the young thing. She smiled demurely.
“Candy didn’t want anything to do with me, once we were married, ” he said.
I managed to stay out of the conversation during the rest of the meal. When the table was cleared Nick said, “I’ll want to go to your house, look around.”
“Sure,” Tom said. “Police have already done that. Maybe you’ll see something they didn’t.”
The two-story house, on the corner of Lexington and California, featured fancy columns on either side of the front door. The yard, what I could see of it, was covered with fall leaves.
Tom and Naomi sat at an oak dining room table sipping bourbon as Nick wandered around doing his investigative thing. I was directed upstairs when I asked the location of the bathroom.
“There’s one off the master bedroom,” Tom said. “I promised police I wouldn’t use the one down here.”
“They put that awful yellow tape across the door,” Naomi said. It was the first time I’d heard her voice except for the introductions at the restaurant.
Nick had already been upstairs and was in the kitchen.
I did use the bathroom, but the real reason I was there was to look around. I noted the plush carpeting, the canopied bed with the pastel bedding and thought of Tom’s wife’s stories about living with her mother in a dirty cabin on Lake Oxford north of Chicago after her father died.
“Mother still owns it, but since she remarried we’ve never gone back,” Candy had said.
I examined her large closet, a sliding door affair. It was close to full. There were no casual clothes there, but then I’d never seen Candy wear anything casual.. I checked the large cabinet in the bathroom. Tom’s shaving gear and stuff was on one side. The other side was empty.
I sat on the edge of the bed. Something wasn’t right. Something I’d seen? Something I hadn’t seen? Nick appeared in the doorway, leaned against it like a long-legged movie cowboy who just caught the villain. He said, “I knew you’d stick your nose in.”
“Can I help it if I had to go to the bathroom?”
“Of course not. Is that why you’re sitting on the bed looking like you can’t remember how.”
I got up, pushed him away from the door, and headed downstairs. I stopped halfway down. I knew. He ran into my behind. I turned and took him in my arms. I kissed him long and gentle.
“What’s going on with you two? Can’t you wait ‘til you get home?” Tom said from below.
I said, “Candy is hiding out at that cabin her mother owns.”
“What cabin? Does her mother own a cabin? Do you know where it is?” Nick asked.
Tom stood and said, “Yeah, she owns a cabin. It’s just outside of Oxford.”
“What makes you think she’s there, Maggie?”
“Just have the police check,” I said.
I worried I’d made a fool of myself all the way home and into the next afternoon. What about the blood in the bathtub? Maybe she cut herself shaving her legs and just smeared it there.
Finally Tom called and said police found her at the cabin, alive and well.
“How did you know?” Tom asked.
“Her cosmetics were missing,” I said.
Later, when Nick got home, he asked me the same thing.
I patted his head after sitting on his lap at the kitchen table and said, “Her face was gone. If Tom had killed her face would still be there.”
“What the devil does that mean?”
It’s just elementary, my dear Watson.”