Facing insolvency and imminent eviction, private detective Albert Samson finally catches a break. Elizabeth Staedtler hires him to find her missing friend, Priscilla. But is Priscilla really missing or has she simply run away from her husband?
Conducting an investigation in an unfamiliar city of Southern Indiana, Samson lands a stint in lockup, two murderers on his tail, and threats of a violent end that make the dispossessed detective consider hanging up his gumshoes for good.
Another humorous installment in the beloved Albert Samson mysteries, this crime novel follows the smart-mouthed midwestern detective into bizarre territory.
Missing Woman is the 5th book in the Albert Samson Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Since 1971, Lewin has lived in England, currently in Bath, where his city center flat overlooks the nearby hills. It also overlooks the front doors of the Lunghi family detective agency, a newer series of novels and stories set in the historic city. Visit him online at www.MichaelZLewin.com for more information.
Read an Excerpt
An Albert Samson Mystery
By Michael Z. Lewin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Michael Z. Lewin
All rights reserved.
She was lovely. Gorgeous. A work of art. The pure realization in the human medium of what any private detective would want to have climb the steps to his office, sit down in his client's chair, fidget with its purse.
She didn't speak at first, looking around from bare wall to desk to cardboard box. I could have watched her forever, the many profiles of client, the many moods of client. I could hardly believe she was there, this incarnation of clienthood. When she was facing the other way, I bit myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
Or because I was hungry. I'm not quite sure which.
Then, then, the vision spoke. And the voice, too, was mellifluous, melodic, with tones that carried me to other, better worlds and times.
It was the words she said that I didn't like so much.
"At first I wasn't sure this place was inhabited. Christ, I'm not so sure even now."
"Just a little spring cleaning."
"Why not? It's still spring."
"I suppose so," she said. "Just about."
"I haven't had a chance before," I said. "You know, what with one case and another." Packing cases, mostly.
"Looks more like you're moving."
"Just clearing it for a lick of paint."
"Oh," she said, without question, but without conviction.
I dusted off my best father-detective smile and put it on my face. I folded my hands on my desk and leaned forward. But before I could relate to her in a strong but gentle way, as it says in How to Be a Private Eye, she asked, "You really make a living at this?"
An all too pertinent impertinent question. If I let her go on much longer, I was going to get depressed.
"Not when people come in to jaw instead of asking interesting things like am I free to take on the jobs and what is my per diem."
"Your per diem? What's your per diem?"
That was better. "Eighty-five dollars a day."
"Oh. Your daily charge. I see. So you really are in business here?"
"I am," I said, with my head busy preparing my heart for disappointment.
"And you're the guy on the sign outside?"
"Albert Samson, at your service." Heart's last gesture: I sat up straight in my chair.
"I haven't come for any detective stuff," she said. But the notion caught her fancy. "Do ordinary sorts of people ever?"
"Less and less," I said.
"Business not so good, huh?"
There must have been something revealing in my voice. But I have my pride. "Business is fine," I said. "I'm just specializing more in multinationals. What can I do for you?"
"I'm collecting," she said.
"I'm afraid all my old clothes go to a charity of my choice already."
"Oh, I don't want clothes. I want money."
I just stared.
"We're starting a play school, for the neighborhood kids. We figure if downtown is going to be a better place to live, it's gotta start with a little effort from the people who still live here. It's going to be kind of like a Head Start thing before the kids go to school, you know? We've already got temporary premises, in a building on this block just around the corner. They're going to tear it down, but we can have it through the summer...." Her voice trailed off.
I watched her register that mine was one of the buildings that was coming down too.
I said, "I'm a great one for making gestures. I'm going to paint the place before I leave next Monday." This was Thursday, June 12.
"You got someplace else to go?"
My head, through my mouth, said "Sure," but my heart, through my eyes, said "No."
Being a work of art, she could read the heart.
"Thinking of giving it up, huh?"
"I am exploring various options," I confessed. Like the application for food stamps in my desk drawer, underneath my five-dollar bill.
"Not a real good time to come around, huh?"
"Well —" I began.
"It's just I'm hitting everybody. My area, see, and it's a real good cause. It helps the kids and helps us mothers too."
She didn't look old enough to be a mother to me, but I am a little old-fashioned that way.
"Jeez, anything you could afford would help. Honest," she said. She looked around again. "Anything at all."
I opened the desk drawer and gave her the five.
It was just a matter of starting the diet a day early.
"Oh great!" she said. Looking extremely pleased.
"For art," I said, inside. If I'd said it outside, she'd have asked, "Art who?" and it would have kind of spoiled it.
Instead she said, "I can give you a receipt and you can try to deduct it from your income tax."
"That won't be necessary," I said.
I'd fought the eviction, and delayed it quite a while. But the whole business was doing funny things to me.
The worst was making me ask me what I was doing with my life.
It wasn't a question I could answer. And that made me restless, because I don't like unanswered questions hanging around. They pollute the mental atmosphere.
And being restless meant I couldn't settle down to work at anything.
That left me more time to ask myself questions.
What are you doing being forty-two and not knowing one month to the next whether you're going to have the money to pay the bills?
If you're not making money at it, why aren't you at least enjoying it?
If you're not enjoying it, why aren't you doing something else?
What else could you do?
Can you even do this?
The play-school lady left me at about four-thirty and by five I was ready to leave me too.
It's not that I had no work to do. There was a report due Friday. I'd been trying to get around to it all day.
I had just put it off a little while, in favor of packing. And in favor of washing some socks. And in favor of watering my ivies.
And because I was afraid that when I finished it there would never be any more work, ever again.
An irrational fear, I told myself.
But even I don't always listen to me.
At five I decided to go out for a meal. A big steak. Start the diet in style. That way when, later, I dropped in unexpectedly again to spend the evening with my woman and her daughter and my woman asked "Have you fed yourself decently?" I could say "Sure," with head, heart and anything else required.
I might have given away my last five bucks, but I still had a credit card. My romanticism has a practical side.
And something would turn up.
The bill from the credit-card company, if nothing else.CHAPTER 2
I got up at nine to unlock the office door, as if ready for a day of business. Over a light breakfast I applied myself to the report I had to do.
Nothing difficult. I'd been hired for a fixed fee, to check into the background of the girl friend of a businessman's twenty-one-year-old son. The kid was in college and the father, a wheeler-dealer who hadn't finished high school, was eager that his oldest son not be put off his studies.
The businessman's name was Albert Connah. "She looks like a hooker to me," he had said. "Not that I'm going to knock hookers, but they tend to want to get their dough the easy way, you know? How many hookers keep good records and pay taxes like the rest of us?"
Like the rest of who?
"So," he said, "look around. Find where she comes from, what she sees in a dope like my kid except his old man's money."
"And on the quiet, right?"
On the quiet. Check.
"If she turns out to be straight — and how do I know, 'cause most of the chicks these days look like hookers to me — then I don't want my kid to know I've been poking around."
Kid not to know. Check.
"Money's a terrible thing, Samson. Makes you suspicious where before maybe you were easygoing. This whole thing makes me feel bad. I mean, what would I have done if my old man had messed in my business? Beat him up, that's what. I ought to be satisfied that my kid even likes girls, the state of the world. But I'm not. There you are. Why, I've even come to you to do this work because I don't want my regular detectives to know I'm so petty. What do you think of that? Eh?"
I didn't think a lot about it one way or the other. The job helped me with my own petty feelings about not having any money in my pocket.
And I hadn't turned up anything that damning. The girl was a secretary in an office at Connah's son's college and she hadn't advertised her background in the ten months she'd worked there. I'd tracked her back to Toledo, where she'd grown up. I'd found a shoplifting conviction and a brother with a pot arrest. Before dropping out into secretarial work, she had done two semesters at Ohio State, but only the most rabid Hoosier would hold that against her. She was living in Indianapolis with an auntie. She was taking catering classes at night.
I figured Papa Connah was going to be disappointed. But not at my work. I'd been thorough and earned the fee.
Which, considering I didn't have it yet, was another problem.
After breakfast I read the newspaper thoroughly.
After the newspaper I put on more coffee.
I got out paper and a carbon.
I cleaned the keys of my typewriter.
I looked out the window.
I dusted the sill.
I found my notebook.
I poured the coffee.
And then, lo and behold, I heard someone come into the office.
It was a new day and such was my refreshed confidence that I didn't even think I was hearing things. Pregnant with optimism, I gathered my notebook and a pen and walked from living quarters to business quarters.
I found a plumpish woman of about thirty in a beige headscarf and a dowdy lightweight gray coat.
At least she hadn't come in by mistake.
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so," she said. She sat down, of her own volition, in my client's chair. She took her headscarf off and shook out the short dark hair. She looked as if she were staying. My optimism was birthed.
I took the traditional place behind the desk and opened my notebook. I tried to look as if I were searching for a page that was empty. I wrote down the date.
"I'm in a somewhat strange situation," she said measuredly. "I saw your sign last night and I've come in on an impulse."
"I'm happy to hear about it," I said. The happiness was genuine. I was pleased to have someone to talk to. "And I've just made some coffee. Would you like some?"
"Oh? All right. Yes," she said. She thought for a moment. "With cream and two sugars."
Cream, milk. It's only a matter of degree.
When I returned, she said, "My name is Elizabeth Staedtler. I'm in Indianapolis to see about a job. I came in yesterday afternoon and my first appointment is at eleven."
I looked at my watch: just after ten.
"I will probably be here until tomorrow," she said.
I asked, "Where have you come in from?"
"And what do you do, or hope to do?"
"I'm an academic," she said. "I'm considering a post at I.U.P.U.I."
The joint Indiana University and Purdue University campus in Indianapolis.
"So you are, perhaps, Doctor Staedtler?"
"A Ph.D.," she said, with a faint smile. "Yes. But my problem isn't about that."
"What is it about?"
"I have a friend," Dr. Staedtler said, "who lives in Indiana. In Nashville, in Brown County."
"I know it," I said.
"We were at college together, the University of Bridgeport, and we've kept in touch."
"How long is that?"
She thought for a moment. "I graduated in 1975. But she left early. She had a rough year or two and then got married in 1974. We wrote letters once or twice a year since then, and when I found out I was coming to Indianapolis I thought it would be a good chance for us to get together. The trip came up so quickly that it was too risky to write with the mail the way it is, but I phoned after I got settled."
"And what did she say?"
"Well, that's the problem. Her husband answered the phone. I asked for Cilla. He said, 'She's been gone for two months,' and hung up on me. I called back again, just to say who I was and ask where she had gone, but he wouldn't talk to me or help or anything."
"I don't know what to do. I gather it's not very far, but I'm just not going to have time to go myself."
"It's about an hour's drive to the south."
"There. Two hours, plus not having an idea who to ask what. I just can't do it. I've got to go back East as soon as I'm finished here, but I would hate to leave knowing nothing more than 'She's been gone for two months.' The only thing I could think of was to get somebody to find out what happened for me. If she's left her husband, fine, but maybe someone knows where she is or how to find her. And if I do take this job, and she's around — well, I'd like to have that information. She might even want to come up and share a place with me." Dr. Staedtler sat back. "There it is."
"I have a report to finish this morning," I said, "but I can go down to Nashville in the afternoon."
"But it is inevitably going to be pretty expensive for what I am likely to be able to find out."
"You cost what, something like a hundred and twenty-five a day?"
"Eighty-five plus necessary expenses," I said.
"Well, that's worth it to me."
"All right, then," I said, trying to contain a sudden bubbling cheerfulness. "Half a day with some traveling is likely to run about fifty dollars, so twenty-five in advance is fair."
She opened her purse, but seemed to hesitate. "Mr. Samson?"
"If it takes more than half a day, would you be available to continue on the job?"
"I ought to be able to learn whether she's left her husband and whether she's still around Nashville easily enough," I said.
"But if she's not?"
"Actually finding her would depend entirely on what's happened."
"All I'm saying," she said, "is that if it takes more than half a day, I'm willing to pay for it." She took out a fifty-dollar bill and pushed it toward me across the desk.
I took it but scolded her gently: "That can be an expensive thing to say to someone in a profession which is thought of as badly as mine is."
She seemed surprised. "Oh? You mean you might take advantage of me? You are licensed and bonded and all those things, aren't you?"
"And how long have you been in this business?"
"Since the mid-sixties," I said. And it suddenly sounded like a terrible period of time to work at something and still have to scratch for a living.
"What more can I do?" she asked then, bringing me back.
"Nothing. It was just a facetious comment because private detectives don't exactly have the reputation as professionals that, say, doctors do."
"Doctors can keep their reputations as far as I'm concerned," she said sourly.
We seemed to understand that we were talking about medical doctors and not her kind of doctor.
"May I ask what field you're in?"
"What? Oh. Sociology."
"I see. Interesting."
"Yes," she said.
"Right, then, I'll need a few details."
"Like your friend's name."
"Oh dear. I'm sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry about."
"Priscilla Pynne." She spelled it, and pronounced it "pin."
The husband's name was Frank and she gave me the home telephone number and address. "I also have a picture," she said. And she fished it out of her bag. "It's about three years old."
The picture was a lakeside snapshot of an exceptionally pretty girl in a bikini, which might also have been pretty except there wasn't enough of it to tell.
"I'm sorry it's a bit informal for identification," Dr. Staedtler said, "but I happened to have it with me and thought it might help."
"I'm sure anyone who's seen her wandering around like that will be able to identify her." She was a hazel-eyed sandy blonde, mostly thin, with long flowing hair. The only thing which kept it from being a completely attractive picture was the look of mild discomfort on Priscilla Pynne's face. It was out of sync with what was otherwise, apparently, a relaxed circumstance. I commented on this to Dr. Staedtler.
"She didn't like pictures being taken of her."
"Well, she's extremely good-looking," Dr. Staedtler said, "and she felt her looks kept people from appreciating her other attributes."
"I had the same problem when I was her age," I said. It was meant as a joke; she took it seriously. I let it pass. "I don't know where your eleven-o'clock appointment is," I said, "but if it's at I.U.P.U.I. you haven't got a lot of time."
"Only two more things."
"One is a receipt." I wrote it out and gave it to her. "And the other is arrangements for telling you what I've found out. Shall I call you?"
Excerpted from Missing Woman by Michael Z. Lewin. Copyright © 1981 Michael Z. Lewin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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