DROWNING IN DECEPTION

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In mid-September of 1943, Detroit private detective Sam Flanagan is contacted by the husband of a woman who drowned in their backyard pool six weeks ago. Along with the Detroit Police Department, the Wayne County Coroner, Fergus Macgregor, is calling it “accidental”. And without any real evidence pointing in a different direction, that’s all they can do. The husband, Victor Girard, just wants to make sure he knows the whole story behind this tragic occurrence. There are troubling thoughts that continue to linger in his mind; for instance, how could she have been so careless? How could Sondra Girard have done the things she did, prior to jumping in that pool for her nightly swim? When Sam delves into the case, he questions the deceased’s state of mind that fateful evening in early August. Was this really accidental, or was the end result intentional on the part of the woman? Over an almost two week span of investigation, Sam stumbles onto something which is so dark and malevolent, that he finds it difficult to believe that it is happening in his own city.


 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The world was going to hell in a handbasket. It wasn’t the same world I grew up in, and none of it made any sense to me. I could look across the street and see what I’d always seen; the light green two-story home of Vasily and Sarah Petrovich, with its shaded front porch and tall gleaming windows. Flower boxes holding blue morning glories and white asters lined those windows, clinging to life as the summer was ending. Even though nothing on the exterior had changed, I knew that within that structure the lives of the Petrovich family would never be the same again.

The couple had purchased the house shortly after their marriage, and shortly after that, they’d begun to build their family, Sarah giving birth to four daughters within seven years. Mrs. Petrovich was forty-one years of age, and her youngest child was fifteen, when she learned she was in the family way yet again. A much-unplanned surprise, Thomas Vasily Petrovich was born in that home across the street twenty-one years ago this very month…the month of September. He’d grown into a handsome young man, and a year and some months after graduating from high school, he’d enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, answering the call for good men to be at the ready to push back against Adolf Hitler’s maniacal obsession of becoming dictator of the world. At the end of March of this year, word had been sent to his parents from Washington D.C. that he’d parachuted into the Netherlands, and that’s the last time the other men in his unit had seen him. Somehow, he and another soldier had gotten separated from them, and the two were now missing in action. Vasily and Sarah had lived the last almost six months not knowing the fate of their son. I could not imagine their anxiety and pain.

These thoughts flooded my mind as Mr. Petrovich climbed into his dark blue 1936 two door Ford Sedan Humpback. He was heading out to work, but before he could put the auto in reverse to roll out of his driveway, his wife came running out of the side door holding up a brown paper bag…his lunch, no doubt. She handed it to him through the open window and leaned down for a perfunctory kiss from him. Sarah Petrovich watched as her husband’s automobile crawled down the street, and then caught sight of me, sitting on the steps of my own front porch, holding onto a cup of coffee. I waved to her with my free hand and she waved back, and then disappeared inside through the door from which she’d emerged.

No, the world wasn’t the same, and I’d find out just how different it was becoming at the end of the case that was about to come knocking on my door, so to speak.

My name is Sam Flanagan, I’m forty years of age, and I live on St. Aubin in the city of Detroit with my eighty-two-year-old paternal grandmother, Ruby Flanagan. I was married for a whole four years, and employed as a cop for the city for the same amount of time. Neither arrangement worked out, so I opened my own office down on Woodward Avenue. The sign on my door says Flanagan Investigations. Working alone suits me just fine. For the most part, I like what I do. I prefer to think of myself as a problem-solver.

For instance, ten days ago I took a little trip down to Ohio to locate, and bring back, the daughter of Mr. Melvin Kittrel…yes, that Mr. Melvin Kittrel, owner of two posh hotels in downtown Detroit and a third in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His only child, a daughter named Leona, was soon to be eighteen and had met a man seven years her senior. After a brief three-week courtship, they’d headed south to find a justice of the peace to perform a quick ceremony of marriage. I was to try to find them before any such ceremony could take place, and to relay her father’s message that if she went ahead with this nonsense, he’d change the terms of her inheritance of twenty thousand dollars from the girl’s grandfather to the age of twenty-five. Now I wasn’t sure if he’d actually carry out his threat, and I was guessing the original plan had been to hand it over to her upon her upcoming birthday.

Well, it just so happened I was successful in tracking them down before this young man, Harry Pearcehouse, could slip the ring on her finger. I had caught them eating breakfast at a roadside diner just inside the city limits of Toledo. I’d panicked a little as I pulled out a chair at their table and sat in it while I signaled to the waitress to bring me a cup of black coffee. Leona was wearing an orchid corsage pinned above her left breast on her soft pink frock, and the young man was wearing a black suit coat that was a tad too large in the shoulders. I had worried that they were enjoying a celebratory post-nuptial meal. But that hadn’t been the case, and I inwardly gave a sigh of relief.

 They were stunned when I sat down, so I quickly introduced myself and to the young couple and told them my reason for being there. I delivered Mr. Kittrel’s message to the young couple, but assured them that he might be persuaded to throw them a proper wedding if she would just return home. That last part was my ingenious idea, and I was hoping it wouldn’t come back to haunt me. It didn’t.

After exclaiming, “Twenty-five?” in an incredulous tone, Harry insisted that Leona travel back to Detroit in my auto and he would follow─just to appease her father, of course. After a long hug and a short kiss between the couple, Leona and I got into my ’38 Chevy and headed north.

Melvin Kittrel was exceedingly happy that I had returned with his daughter while she was still in a “single” state, and he paid me well for it. Problem solved. As for Harry…he’d either made a wrong turn somewhere along the line and gotten lost, or else he had changed his mind altogether about altering his marital status, because Leona hadn’t seen or heard from him since we pulled away from that diner. I imagined that the young woman had been shedding a whole lot of tears since then, but in time she’d be ever so thankful for her narrow escape.

It was Monday, September 13, 1943. I’d been sitting on the front porch with my cup of coffee for the last fifty minutes, where I’d witnessed Vasily Petrovich leave for his job at the Ford Motor Company, and I’d waved to the two boys who lived next door as they passed by on their way to school. Albie and Bobby Randle wore black pants and short-sleeved white shirts, and carried books under their arms. Albie, who was twelve, wore a black tie at the collar of his shirt, while eight-year-old Bobby wore a dark blue and white polka dot bow tie. They were growing up so fast.

The sun warmed my face and the mild breeze that wafted through the neighborhood felt heavenly. It was in the low 70s without a cloud in the sky overhead. I was enjoying these mornings of solitude. Twice a week I drove my grandmother to her place of employment…Augie’s Cuchina. She’d started the job almost two months ago, where she stayed in the kitchen and baked peanut butter cookies, and sometimes washed and cut vegetables for salads and pizza toppings. Gran was having the time of her life earning her own money, which was a whole forty cents an hour, but she was also allowed to bring home a couple of dozen cookies per week. So far it was working out quite nicely. Her hours were eight o’clock in the morning until one thirty in the afternoon, taking a half hour break to eat lunch provided by the owner of the establishment, Augustino Consiglio. Augie was a big fellow of about four-hundred pounds and in his late twenties, who I had met back in January when I was working on a case in Chicago. After the job was finished he’d visited one day, and ever since, he and my grandmother had become, and remained, good friends, something I thought was a bit strange. But as long as Gran was happy, who was I to object? Now me…well, the guy got on my nerves to some extent. To all appearances, he was a big dumb lug. He spoke in a monotone that drove me nuts, but I had to admit that as of a couple of months ago, I’d started to see him in a light that was softer and kinder. He’d saved my life, and for that, I would be forever grateful to him.

I continued to sit on the porch steps another ten minutes or so while I smoked a Lucky Strike cigarette, allowing what remained of my coffee to grow colder and untouched. There was nothing better to do. I’d gotten into the habit of not going into the office on the days my grandmother worked…that is, not until I’d picked her up and delivered her back home to the house on St. Aubin. Looking at my watch, I noted that that wouldn’t be for another four and a half hours. About to stamp my smoke out under my shoe, I thought I heard the ringing of the telephone. I cocked my head to the side and listened more intently. Yep, that was the phone all right. I grabbed my cup and my pack of Lucky Strikes and hurried inside.

“Is this Sam Flanagan, the detective?” a deep male voice inquired after I’d answered the instrument.

“Yes, it is,” I answered.

“I’m sorry to have to bother you at home, Mr. Flanagan, but I was wondering if you would have some time to look into something for me. I called your office this morning, but of course, there was no answer. I hope you don’t mind me telephoning you there.”

“Not at all,” I assured the man. “What’s the nature of the case?”

“Actually, I’d rather explain all of that when we meet. Can you meet me at my club at say twelve this afternoon? We can have lunch together there.”

“That isn’t going to be possible,” I said to him, thinking of my grandmother. “Do you feel you could meet me in my office about three o’clock? I can be there then, Mr…uh….”

“Oh, forgive me. Girard, Victor Girard. Listen, now that’s not going to work for me, but I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you head over to the club at five? We’ll have cocktails and then I’ll buy you a steak dinner. What do you say?”

“I guess I can do that, Mr. Girard. What club is it that you belong to?”

“The Detroit Club on Cass Avenue. Know where it is?” he asked.

I assured him I knew where it was, although I’d never stepped foot into the prestigious location.

“Just tell the doorman that you’re there to see me, and I’ll leave word with him that I’m expecting you. I’ll be up on the third floor in the main dining room.”

I hung up agreeing to meet him at five, and then I scratched my head. Victor Girard…of course I knew the name. He was a Michigan state senator. But there was no way the guy on the phone was that Victor Girard.


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Judith White

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