Hostage For A Hood
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by Lionel White
Description: Every minute she had was borrowed, and every second ticked off the time for murder. Joyce was driving along the deserted avenue. Just ahead on a side street, Cribbins checked the second hand of his watch for the last time. He swung the heavy Cadillac around the corner. He had a rendezvous with an armored car and a quar¬ter of a million dollars; he had a tommy gun to make sure it all went off smoothly. Everything was timed, everything was planned down to the most insignificant detail--except for Joyce Sherwood and her eight-year-old Chevy, which crashed deep into the side, of Cribbins' stolen car. That's how they met--the house¬wife and the hoods. And terror took over!
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks,
eBookwise Release Date: April 2010
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [208 KB]
Reading time: 142-199 min.
The accident took place at exactly fourteen minutes after nine on Monday morning at a blind intersection where Elm Road crossed Main Street at an oblique angle. It involved two automobiles, one a seven-year-old black sedan and the other a brand-new two-toned job, stolen at daybreak from in front of a doctor's office over in the residential section of the town. The seven-year-old sedan had all of the best of it.
The accident also involved two men, a woman and a medium-sized French poodle. No one was injured, except possibly in spirit, and there were no witnesses. The woman was at fault.
Both drivers were sober and neither was speeding at the time. Material damage was well under a hundred dollars. There was no other property damage. But for a completely insignificant, everyday run-of-the-mill accident, the repercussions were fantastic.
Detective Lieutenant Martin Parks, normally in charge of homicide, but a policeman who kept in touch with almost every activity of the small but efficient Brookside force, would be and was the first to admit this. The lieutenant was not a man given to superlatives or overstatement.
Joyce Sherwood was the woman involved. She had been driving the black sedan. A split second before the crash, she realized what was about to happen. Simultaneously with the realization, she knew herself to be at fault. But she was given no time for idle reflection, and even as she instinctively jammed down on the brake and opened her mouth in the beginning of a small scream, there was a rending crunch of metal against metal and the accident was an accomplished fact.
The impact wasn't great, but it was sufficient to throw the poodle from the seat of the sedan to the floor, where it crouched in hurt, shocked surprise. Joyce herself was shaken up and bruised when her slender, small body rammed forward against the steering wheel. But even in that initial moment of shock, she instinctively reached for the brown suede leather bag at her side which contained the cashier's check for twenty-six hundred dollars. It was the check--which she had obtained only minutes before from the teller at the County Trust Company--which was responsible for taking her mind off of her driving and was indirectly responsible for the accident.
There were no witnesses because the intersection was deserted at the moment and the sound of the crash was not sufficiently loud to attract attention from a distance.
As is usual in such cases, there was a moment of utter silence after the two cars made contact. And then the poodle recovered his vocal cords, if not his dignity, and set up a howl. This served to unblock Joyce's temporary mental paralysis and she reached for the handle of the door at her side. As she started to twist it she saw the doors of the other car open and the two men step to the ground. They moved toward the front to survey the damage.
They were wearing police uniforms, and Joy experienced an odd sense of relief as her mind went to the certified check made out to cash. It was the last time she was to enjoy that particular sensation for a long, long while ....
The bed was a warm, soft refuge and she hated the thought of getting out of it, of getting up and starting the new day.
Actually, the day, for her, had already started, even though her eyes kept closing and she wanted to snuggle up against the firmness of his lean, slender body and fall back into sleep once more.
He of course had done exactly that. Fallen asleep again almost at once still holding her tight in his arms, still breathing heavily. He always did, and she always envied him for it, but it was an envy without irritation or jealousy. This was a very special morning and she would have liked to make an exception of it and join him in sleep and just ignore the clock on the side table next to the bed.
A very special day. The first anniversary of their marriage. It always struck her as odd, and a sort of lucky coincidence, that they had been married exactly one day before his birth date. It was thinking of this that suddenly brought her eyes open and alert again. Today it wasn't just a case of disentangling herself from his arms and getting up to prepare the quick breakfast they had together each morning before she drove him to the train. Today she herself had something very, very important to do. Something which she had been planning now for weeks and something which wouldn't wait.
She smiled to herself as she thought about it. And then she moved, hating to do so, slipping away from his arms and sliding over and letting her long, beautiful legs slip off the edge of the bed until her feet touched the floor. A moment later, as she leaned beside the bed reaching for the bathrobe, she saw that he had opened one eye and was looking at her. He half reached out a hand to pull her back to him once more, but she quickly laughed and stepped away.
It was always like this in the mornings; he wanted her then more than ever and she was only too glad to give herself. But this wasn't a weekend and there were things to be done. A lot of things.
Five minutes later she had made her hasty toilet and was back in the bedroom of the apartment, tossing on her clothes with a sort of careless efficiency. She reached down and took a corner of the sheet and quickly tore it off the bed, leaving him lying there naked and exposed, a bellow of false rage already on his lips.
"Come on, Bart," she said. "Get up, boy. You've had it." She laughed, running for the door. "Breakfast in exactly twelve minutes," she called over her shoulder. "You've got a train to make, my friend."
He groaned, rolled over and slowly sat up on the edge of the bed. He was smiling sleepily. He was very happy, very contented, even if he did hate the thought of the train which took him away from her.
He hummed to himself, a series of muted notes, off key, as he shaved, thinking of the things he had to do, the work down at the office which was waiting for him. The job was fine and he liked it. He was young and he worked hard and he was getting places. He just wished that he could get there a little bit faster. There were so, so many damned things he wanted; bigger responsibilities, more money. Money to buy things for her. A house of their own which they both dreamed about, out just a bit farther from the city and with a bit of land around it. The new car to replace the seven-year-old sedan which she used to drive him to the station (although he had to admit that the new car was something he wanted more for himself than for her--she was satisfied with the old Chevy.) Furniture, clothes, money for the children which they both wanted and planned on having.
He grimaced, having knicked his chin with the razor, and quickly washed off the remaining shaving cream with cold water. Well, anyway, they would be stepping out on the town tomorrow. It was going to be his birthday present to her; the tickets to the hit show, the dinner in town and the nightclub and dancing after the play. He'd arrange for the tickets as soon as he got into the office. That was one of the nicer parts about working for Markson Advertising. He was in a spot where he could get tickets for the top hits without giving up an arm and a leg.
She had the two soft-boiled eggs, the buttered toast and the steaming pot of coffee ready when he came into the dining alcove off the kitchen, still lacing his tie around his neck and jerking it into position. He didn't take the glass of fresh orange juice she was holding out, but instead reached for her, lifting her off of her feet and pulling her slender body close as he kissed her lips.
She shook herself free, almost spilling the juice.
"What's got into you?" She laughed. "I guess I'll have to cut down on your feed."
She stepped nimbly around the table, seated herself, and started to fill the two coffee cups.
"You'll have to step on it, my boy," she said, "if you expect to make that train."
"I'll make it all right, honey," he said. "This business of working certainly interferes with a man's pleasure, though."
Twenty minutes later she ran down and opened the garage doors.
Flick, the black poodle, barked wildly, scurrying around her feet for a minute or two, and then rushed out and found his usual fire hydrant. By the time she had climbed into the car behind the steering wheel, the dog had returned and leaped into the back seat. Bart joined her a moment later, having taken a minute or so to find his briefcase.
She backed out of the garage into the street, swung the wheel and put the car into forward, clashing the gears as they meshed. There was no time to get out and close the garage doors.
She had a moment's worry, knowing that she wouldn't be returning directly, as she usually did. But she shrugged and dismissed the thought. It wouldn't matter; there was nothing in the garage of value. Everything she had of value was sitting there next to her on the front seat of the old car, waiting to join a few hundred other commuters on their way to Manhattan on the eight thirty-five.
The lieutenant had missed his supper. Actually, except for periodic containers of coffee which had been brought in to him through the day, he'd had nothing at all to eat since his breakfast at eight-thirty that same Monday morning--and it was now well past ten o'clock in the evening. This was, however, merely a contributing factor as far as his annoyance was concerned.
It had been a highly unusual day in more respects than one; otherwise, he would not have been in his tiny office on the second floor of the combined police station and town hall this late. Also he wouldn't have barked at Coogins--Patrolman First Class Clarence Coogins--when the man came in to tell him that the young fellow was still hanging around waiting to talk with him.
The lieutenant looked up, impatience and irritation reflected in his shadowed, tired eyes. He ran a lean, hard hand through his short-cropped iron-gray hair and with the other hand pushed away the telephone into which he had been speaking. He made a conscientious effort to keep the annoyance out of his voice.
"Okay, Coogins. What is it now?"
"It's this Sherwood fellow--he's still here. Insists on seeing you. I tried to tell him ... "
The lieutenant sighed. "All right, all right, send him in. But I should think you guys downstairs could handle these routine jobs. I have enough on my mind ... "
Coogins mumbled something and turned quickly to the door. He'd been on the force for thirty-five years and could well remember when Marty Parks had been assigned to him as a rookie patrolman more than two decades ago. But things had changed--and now he looked on the other man not only with understanding but also with a certain degree of fearful respect.
The lieutenant shuffled through the papers lying on the scarred oak desk in front of him until he found the slip which Coogins had left for him the first time he'd been in about the matter. He adjusted his reading glasses, pulling them down from where they rested on his forehead.
Bartwell Sherwood, 97 Olive Drive. Wife, Joyce Sherwood, missing.
He put the slip of paper back on the desk as the door opened and a painfully slender, rather carelessly dressed man in his late twenties entered the room.
Lieutenant Parks quite unconsciously took in the heavy, horn-rimmed spectacles, the brown, slightly curly hair cut crew fashion, the long, sensitive hands. He catalogued him immediately: Junior executive, undoubtedly a commuter, and a half of one of those young married teams who had been flocking out into the suburbs during the last few years. A young man with a very obviously serious problem on his mind.
Bart Sherwood didn't bother to take the stiff-backed chair which Parks indicated, but stood straight and tense in front of the desk. His spare, rectangular face was pale and he nervously fingered the dead pipe in his hands. The blue eyes under the wide, high forehead were worried and the lieutenant at once realized that whatever the problem was, it was vital, at least to Sherwood himself.
"I am absolutely sure something has happened to her," Sherwood said. "Absolutely sure. You have to do something."
"I've got to do a lot of things," Detective Lieutenant Parks said, his mind still on that other and far more important matter. "Good Lord, I've got ... " and then quickly he stopped, remembering that after all this thing was a police matter, at least for the moment, and that the man standing in front of him was a resident of the town and a taxpayer and without doubt considered his particular difficulty all-important.
"I'm sorry," he said, interrupting himself. "It's been one of those days. Perhaps you better tell me what it's all about. I understand your wife is missing." He looked down again for a second at the scribbled note. "You're Bartwell Sherwood, and you have reported your wife, Joyce Sherwood, missing. Is that right?"
"Exactly," Sherwood said. "I came home and ... "
"Came home from where--and when?"
"I work in New York. Copy writer with the Markson Advertising Agency. Joyce--that is, Mrs. Sherwood--drove me to the station this morning; I get the eight thirty-five. She left me as the train was coming in and I went to work. I called her early this afternoon about theater tickets I was planning to pick up. Tomorrow's my birthday," he added irrelevantly, "and I was trying to get seats to a Broadway show, and ... "
"You called her, and--"
"I called her and there was no answer. That was around two o'clock. And then I called back after half an hour or so. She could have been out shopping. Well, I didn't get her on the second call and so I kept on phoning throughout the rest of the afternoon. I never did get her. I was worried because I knew she was expecting my call--about the tickets, you know. Anyway, instead of taking the usual five o'clock commuter's special, I got a train at four thirty-two. Got me here into Brookside at a few minutes after five-twenty. I grabbed a cab at the station and went directly home. I don't know why, but I was worried."
"Any special reason to be worried?"
"As I told you, I'd been telephoning .... "
Lieutenant Parks waved his hand. "Yes--yes, of course," he said.
Bart Sherwood looked at the police officer and frowned. "I got home and the house was locked. The car was gone. I let myself in. The breakfast dishes were still on the table, and as near as I could tell Joyce had never returned after dropping me at the station this morning."
"Why else, aside from the breakfast dishes, did you think she hadn't returned?"
"Well, actually, the breakfast dishes, being left there all day unwashed, would have been enough. Joy is a neat housekeeper. Anyway, I started looking around and the only clothes of hers which seemed to be missing were the ones she was wearing when she'd driven me to the station. The milk, which is delivered around ten in the morning, was still sitting on the back porch. Another thing--the garage doors were open."
"We're always in a hurry in the morning. To catch the train, you know. So Joy leaves them open, but the minute she gets back--she always goes directly home even if she has shopping to do later--the minute she gets back she closes them, and if she goes out later, for any length of time, she keeps them locked. So I don't think she ever got back from the station."
"Where do you think she went, then?"
Sherwood shifted on his feet and put the dead pipe in his mouth. His expression was half puzzled and half annoyed.
"That's what I'm trying to find out from you people," he said. "I looked around the house and then I started calling up a few friends where she might possibly be. No one had seen her. By seven o'clock I was really worried. I called the local hospitals and the police station, checking to see if there could have been an accident. There was nothing. I made several other calls and then I came down here, around nine o'clock. I reported her missing to the man downstairs on the desk. I can't say he seemed very interested."
"We're always interested when someone turns up missing," Lieutenant Parks said. "Let me ask you a couple of questions. We want to help you all we can, so think carefully about your answers. How long have you been married? Do you have any children? Do you have anyone else living with you? Relatives or anything?"
Bart shook his head.
"There's just the two of us. We've been married exactly one year today."
"Mrs. Sherwood ever leave you before?"
Sherwood shook his head, frowning. "She hasn't left me now. She's missing, I tell you. Something must have happened to her."
Lieutenant Parks nodded.
"You have any arguments recently? Maybe some sort of little tiff this morning, perhaps?"
"Good Lord, no. I tell you there was nothing--nothing at all wrong. Why, we were talking about the celebration tomorrow night and about my getting the tickets to the show. There was no argument at all. We never argue."
"Never? You mean to tell me you've been married a year and you never ... "
"Listen, Officer," Bart said. "Of course we argue sometimes. But never anything serious. Never anything serious at all. Everybody disagrees now and then with everybody else, but I tell you ... "
"What was your last argument about?"
Sherwood looked at the other man and his eyes were dark with anger.
"What does it matter?" he asked. "If you must know, it wasn't really an argument at all. I wanted to get a new car, and Joyce thought we should keep the money and save it toward the down payment on a house. I didn't want her driving that seven-year-old heap, but's she's a lot more sensible than I am and she was right. It wasn't really an argument at all."
"All right, all right, you didn't have any serious argument. We have to find these things out, you know. Does your wife have any family, or very close friends whom she might suddenly decided to visit? Maybe someone without a phone?"
"No family. Her folks are dead and she was an only child. I've called all her friends. But she simply wouldn't ... "
Lieutenant Parks stood up, fighting the temptation to yawn. He wasn't bored or indifferent; he was just very tired.
"There were no signs around the house of a struggle or anything?"
Sherwood's head jerked up and stared at the other man. "Why no. But what do you think ... "
"I don't think anything--yet," the lieutenant said. "Anyway, you've made a formal report downstairs, is that right?"
"That's right. But ... "
"Okay, I'm going to have a man go out and look your place over. We can handle the routine end from here. You've given us the license number and make of the car, a description and so forth?"
"All right, I'll have one of our men run out home with you. He may turn up something. And in the meantime, try not to worry. We'll find her, all right. Probably nothing at all. Maybe she just .... "
Sherwood turned away, a defeated, baffled expression in his eyes.
"I'd go out with you myself," the lieutenant said, "but we're pretty busy here just now. As you may have heard, an armored car was stuck up in town this morning and the thugs got away with close to a quarter of a million dollars. A guard was shot. He died up in County Hospital about an hour ago."
He pushed a button on his desk and a moment later the door opened and Coogins put his head in.
"Get Detective Sims," Parks said.
As they waited for the detective to arrive, the lieutenant took a cigarette from a crumpled pack and then offered the pack to Sherwood, who shook his head.
"By the way, do you know if your wife was carrying any particularly large amount of money with her? Or wearing any valuable jewelry or anything?"
For a moment, Sherwood almost smiled.
"Junk jewelry, if she was wearing anything. I doubt even that. Joyce doesn't care for jewelry. As far as money goes, she probably didn't have more than four or five dollars in her bag. She never carries anything much. When she shops she usually pays with a check. Makes it easier for her to keep track of things."
"And nothing was missing from the house? Nothing of value?"
"Nothing." For a second Sherwood looked thoughtful and then quickly he looked up. "Flick," he said.
"Flick--our poodle. He's gone too. He was with Joyce in the car this morning when she took me to the station. And now he's gone too. I don't know why it didn't occur to me before."
"That's odd," Lieutenant Parks said, rather aimlessly. It occurred to him that maybe this wasn't just a routine case after all. It was true that plenty of young women left their husbands for one reason or another. But they usually didn't bother to do so without packing a few clothes. And they didn't usually take off with a poodle.
The door opened and a heavy-shouldered, middle-aged man wearing a gray fedora slanted over one eye entered the room.
"Want you to meet Mr. Sherwood," Lieutenant Parks said. "Mr. Sherwood's wife is missing."