Up the claustrophobic staircase, I opened the door to the recluse’s apartment. There he was, sitting at his desk, slouched in his leather chair. His light chestnut hair was streaked with silver. Hazel eyes hid under two thick eyebrows. “You’re late” He grumbled, polishing the handle of his walking stick. His accent was distinct, a proper English accent, he would call it.
“Good morning to you too, old man” I placed the coffee and his newspaper on the desk.“Why’s the window open?”
“It gets far too stuffy in here” I briefly glanced around the apartment. It was more of an office than a home. The room centered around a Cherrywood desk. There were no pictures of loved ones, if he had any. No heirlooms to remind his of his homeland, London, so to speak. Just an overflow of books that spilled from the bookshelf onto the coffee table and the floor. In front of the pea green sofa was a coffee table with a typewriter sitting among scattered notes and files. I moved to close the window behind him. “Merlin is outside” He pointed out before he took a sip from the steaming cup of coffee. A grimace of displeasure fell upon his face “This tastes dreadful”
“You gotta be kidding me?” I climbed out the window onto the fire escape. The black cat stood precariously on the fire escape railing, tail swishing without care. I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. “Y’know, one day, that cat of yours is going to fall and get flattened” I nodded to the streets where horns were blaring. Crouching back in the window, I dropped the cat into Mr. Cooper’s lap. He was engrossed in the newspaper.
At the time, I had been working for Mr.Cooper for about a year. He was an odd egg, but boy, was he sharp. He had a sort of humble, unexpected kind of brilliance. From the paint chipped fire escape, I could catch a glimpse of the parachute jump and a thin blue line of the ocean. “I passed by Carmine’s this morning” I mentioned as I lit a cigarette and took in the cold sea air. “Looked like the cops were pouring out his whole stock down the drain. Cleaned him out real good.”
“What a shame” His voice was dull. The feline meowed in displeasure.
An automobile sputtered to a stop in front of the brick building. A man wearing a derby hat, pulling at his bow tie, got out of the vehicle. He said something to his driver, handing him a few dollars for his trouble. From his coat pocket, he took out a crumpled piece of paper, read it, looked up at the building, then read the paper again. It wouldn’t look it, but he was at the right place.
On the frosted glass windows were bold, black letter. ‘Private Detective Henry Cooper’.
“Looks like you have a visitor.”
“Do I?” He sounded mildly interested.
I took a puff of my cigarette before leaning closer to the window “He looks like a high hat.”
He folded“Well, high hat or not, a case is a case” The doorbell buzzed. I climbed back into the room. From the bottom of the steps, I could hear Mrs. Warren hollering that we had company. Now all of Brooklyn knew we had company. I let him into the office. His name was Michael Winnchester. He was the owner of the Primdove Theatre. He had a perfectly manicured mustache and wide blue eyes. He wore a plaid suit and shiny black shoes. The button on his vest looked like it was about to pop. We shook hands, taking note of the two gold rings on his fingers.
He sat down opposite Mr.Cooper. “I must say, you both are not what I expected. Why, you two look like father and son” Mr.Winnchester marveled, most definitely surprised at the two of us. I had just turned twenty one that August. And although I did not know the boss’s exact age, he was surely old enough to be my father.
Before I had a chance to respond, Mr.Cooper answered. “Oscar assists me on cases” And everything else in his life. “He recently graduated from Medical school. Top of his class” Well, not top of my class. I studied medicine to become a medic during the war. The war ended just before I became old enough to enlist. With lack of purpose, I had the unfortunate circumstance of moving across the hall from the notoriously brilliant recluse, Mr. Cooper, who was in need of assistance. Someone to fly under his wing, so to speak.
“A colleague of mine spoke very well of you, Mr.Cooper. He recommended your services” Pulling out a monogrammed handkerchief from his pocket, Mr.Winnchester dabbed his glistening forehead. “I beg your pardon for my state; I’ve been out of sorts since the… incident” He confessed, his voice sounded drained.
“My associate and I will assist you in any way that we can” Mr.Cooper responded as I sat next to Mr.Winnchester.
“Evelyn Bird was my lead actress. A wonderful talent, the next Clara Bow for sure. From what I’ve been told, the actors were rehearsing a scene involving a gun, a prop gun. It went all wrong, and she was shot on stage” He rubbed his temple with a trembling hand. “I was away on business; I don’t know how something like this could have happened. Never in the twenty years of the Primdove Theatre has anything of the sort…”
“The police deemed her death an accident. Something about a mechanical fault.” Mr. Cooper interrupted, leaning back into his plush leather chair.
The Theatre owner’s mouth gaped open. I too was surprised. “How do you know that?”
“Because I can see how the police would come to such a conclusion. And also…” His wrinkled hand slid the newspaper towards us. The date printed was November 13, 1924. The morning’s headline was “Death at the Primdove Theatre” with a photo of a dame with big doe eyes smiling pretty. God damn it.
A piece of what I was working during November. No judging, life is a rough draft! And we must learn and improve ourselves from our first drafts.
Write With Heart,