dru faust

Dru Faust and the Devil’s Due: part 23

dru-cover

After the party to welcome Archie home, George drove me back to our more modest neighborhood. Unwilling to worry Archie and Alex, I didn’t tell them about the conversation with my father, but George asked what was wrong as we were pulling out onto the street.

“You’ve been awful quiet. That’s not like you.”

“It’s exactly like me.”

“No, you’re usually observing-quiet. Today you’re distracted-quiet. They’re two completely different things.”

I turned to look at him, my elbow propped on the door of the car, and finally told him about what happened at the hospital.

“I’m just nervous. Daddy’s right; Mother’ll have kittens when she finds out. I may never leave the house again. She’ll be even angrier than she was when I got picked up at that gin joint last week.”

“Do you want me to go in with you?”

I rolled my eyes, nudging him in the side. “I don’t need you to be my knight in shining armor.”

“Hey, you needed me when we went out to investigate that barn.”

“I needed a ride,” I pointed out. “I’m not allowed to use the car now, remember?”

George sighed dramatically. “That’s all I am to you, then? You only love me for my car.”

The engine backfired, throwing us both an inch or two in the air. I laughed, unable to stop myself. “If that’s the only reason, it must really be true love!”

“Just make sure Elizabeth doesn’t find out,” he grinned.

We pulled up to the curb. Daddy’s car still wasn’t home. “It looks like I have a few hours yet. Would you like to come in?” I asked, raising my eyebrows pointedly.

George glanced over to his place. The curtain in the kitchen window twitched. “I better not. If I spend any more time over there, Mother’ll expect me to propose.”

“To Elizabeth?” I gasped. “But I thought your father…” I lowered my voice, unwilling to say the words out loud.

George nodded, knuckles white against the steering wheel. “I think it’s official now. He’s started going out on Wednesday nights. I followed him last week, to a place on Broad. At first, I thought it was a Mason lodge, but then I saw one of them pull up, robes and all.”

I put a hand on his shoulder, but knew it couldn’t offer much in the way of comfort.

“He said he doesn’t want me spending as much time at your place anymore. Says it’s indecent.”

“What? What could be indecent about us?” I gaped, even though I thought I knew the answer. Mr. Blake was not the first person to criticize our family.

“He says your mother should be at home, not working, and definitely not chasing criminals.” He swallowed a hard lump, his Adam’s apple bobbing like a cork. “And he doesn’t think it’s right for ‘the help’ to live with you. He doesn’t think it’s right for you to treat Elizabeth and Rose like family.” His voice pitched down to a whisper. The lines of his brow became hard, straight slashes, his shoulders stiff with fury–and, I suspected, pain.

I wished there was something I could say to make things better, but what? “Don’t worry?” “It’s not that bad?”

The silence stretched between us. “I should be getting home,” he repeated.

I nodded, slowly getting out of the car, but I paused on the sidewalk.

George came to stand beside me, hands thrust deep in his pockets. “Don’t tell Liza, would you? She’s already wound up at the thought of us. If she found out about my pops…”

“I won’t tell her. But you know she’s going to find out eventually. You live right next door.”

“I know. But it’s been a hard week and I just want a little more time.”

I could understand that well enough, so I nodded, waving goodbye as the gingham curtain twitched again.

So many careless people, I thought, trudging up the walk to the house. The Klan, the Anarchists, the bootleggers. Wasn’t war enough? Why did everyone have to hate? To kill? I stared at the frosted glass of our front door, but it didn’t hold an answer.

***

Mother’s grey eyes were like the heavy steel bolts on the holding cell at the police station. They bored into me, locking me in place on the sofa.

Neither Rose nor Elizabeth was present. Daddy told them we had a family matter to discuss, leaving them to clean up after dinner and locking the three of us in the back parlor. I couldn’t help but feel trapped, with Daddy smoking in his chair like cigarettes were about to go the way of intoxicating liquor, and Mother pacing the rug.

“Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?” she demanded. She stopped pacing long enough to stare at me, locking me in place with her steely gaze.

Everyone keeps asking me that. Oddly enough, the bullets were a bit of tip-off–and those from a picnic! “Yes. I knew it was dangerous. But someone had to do something!”

“Then let us do our work! It’s what the police are here for!”

“But you said yourself the police couldn’t do anything! There wasn’t enough evidence, and not enough manpower to find it. Now you have evidence!” I gestured to the low table between us where my work of the past several days was laid out: the bottles, the careful notes. The partial label. “I have photographs, too, but they haven’t been developed yet.” There were still two more exposures on the roll of film I hadn’t used up on the day of our excursion.

“And this, don’t get me started on this,” mother continued as if I hadn’t spoken, picking up the check from Mrs. White and brandishing it like a torch. Or a pitchfork.

“It’s for a good cause. And we confirmed the White’s house was where Archie got the liquor.”

“You snuck around someone’s home without permission, Drusilla Carolyn. Illegal searches are–well–illegal!

“It was very clever though,” Daddy said vaguely. He still looked slightly shell-shocked through the thickening cloud of smoke.

Mother shot him a vicious glare, and he looked away quickly, putting the gasper back between his lips.

“Mother, please. At least look into it. See who the property belongs to, at least. These…Thibaults. Do you know anything about them?”

Mother stopped pacing, slowly sinking down into the other armchair. “Thibault?”

From that moment, I knew I had her interest but I tried not to show it.

“Yes. I looked it up yesterday, when I saw you at the precinct. I found the approximate location of the barn on the map by Detective Reiss’s office. That whole area is owned by someone named Thibault.”

Mother pinched the bridge of her nose. “And this is off of River Road?

I fought to keep my voice even, even as my insides quivered with excitement. “Yes.”

She opened one eye and used her free hand to pull my notes toward her. “And there are photographs, you say?”

“Yes. I can go get the camera.” Before she could object, I sprang up and ran to my room where the camera was still waiting in my handbag.

When I came back downstairs, Mother was deeply engrossed in my handwritten notes while Daddy, cigarette finally extinguished in the ashtray at his elbow, studied my chemical analysis.

“I wish you’d left this for me to test,” he said, sighing.

“Did I do it wrong?” I asked, suddenly worried, even though I’d done similar tests hundreds of times.

“No, no. It’s not that. It’s just there isn’t any more from the second bottle. Though, if there was only enough for one test, the one you picked was rather smart. The levels of mercury in both batches are nearly identical. The chances of two unrelated bottles having the same concentration…it’s very small. Very small indeed.”

“You’re father does official testing for the police. It would have been better to allow him to run the tests,” Mother said, dropping the pages back on the table.”

“If I was wrong, I didn’t want to bother you. And I help Daddy with all of his tests. If my work is good enough for other cases, why not now?”

“Because your father is on the city payroll. It’s one thing for you to act as his assistant, but it’s quite another for you to go acting on your own.” She covered her face briefly, then held out a hand. “We can develop the pictures tonight. Maybe those will help clarify things.”

The three of us trooped down to the basement. In the back corner, a makeshift darkroom waited. It was small, so Mother took the camera herself, drawing the curtain behind her while Daddy and I waited.

He lit another cigarette and pulled out a copy of this report on the seized liquor from the shelf along the wall, reading it in silence. I took a seat on the staircase, examining my shoelaces. Shifting on the hard wooden staircase, I toyed with a loose thread at the hem of my dress. I propped my chin in my hand, elbows on my knees. A stray strand of honey-brown hair flopped into my face. Noticing a split end, I went nearly cross-eyed glaring at it, and tried to pick it out from the rest. Once it was gone, I sighed, stretching my legs out in front of me.

Silently, Daddy plucked a book from the shelf at his side and handed it back to me without looking up.

The Principles and Practice of Medicine, by William Osler. At over a thousand pages, it was more than enough to keep me busy, if only I could concentrate on the words.

At last, Mother threw back the curtain. From the line drawn across the tiny space hung fourteen small prints, in the standard two inch by four inch format, and two enlargements.

The enlargements showed the car as it pulled away from the barn, the driver visible through the front window.

We gathered around the print, trying to make out the shadowed face behind the wheel.

“Do you recognize the driver?” Daddy asked.

Mother shook her head, her mouth a grim line. “Dru, what color was the car?”

“Blue.”

She nodded. “I don’t quite recognize the driver. It’s too hard to see his face. But I do recognize the car.”

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