Nightmare in the Moonlight Part 2 - Empty House and Strange Shopkeeper
CoC 1-6e Dreamlands Jazz Age
* * *
When she reached the dim landing at the top of the stairs, Miss Fairfield felt a heaviness in the air, almost a buzz of anticipation or menace. Perhaps both. It felt like someone was in the house.
The landing had four doors leading off of it. All of them were open and she could see the one to her right led to a bathroom, the one ahead and to the right seemed to lead to a darkened bedroom, to the left and ahead was some kind of den or study, and to her immediate left was a small room filled with crates and boxes. She also noticed the light switch on the wall. She turned the light on and looked around.
* * *
Agent Sanderson looked around the foyer and noticed a small doorway in the back that he guessed led to a closet. He decided to look in the kitchen.
* * *
Bricker, still in the kitchen, opened a door opposite the door to the dining room. Steps led down to a landing and what he recognized as the outer door hidden by the tall bushes. They continued downwards beyond that to his right. He turned on the stairway light and he went down. The basement was very dark but another light switch on the wall near the bottom of the steps lit the entire basement.
He found a few crates and boxes as well as a washing machine and lines strung obviously to hang clothing to dry. He poked around but found nothing out of the ordinary.
* * *
Agent Sanderson found Johnson looking through the cupboards in the kitchen.
A teapot was in the sink, filled with water, probably preparatory to washing it at some later time. When Agent Sanderson looked in the trash, he found a used teabag and a small glass vial with a cork in it at the top. He picked up the small decorative vial that couldn’t have been large enough to hold more than an ounce or two. It only had a film within, as if a liquid had been within it before. When he popped the cork, it smelled rotten but he didn’t recognize it as any kind of drug he’d ever dealt with before. He pocketed the vial.
“What was in that?” Johnson asked him.
“I don’t know,” Agent Sanderson replied.
Johnson rolled his eyes.
“Something I don’t know,” Agent Sanderson said.
Johnson continued looking through the cabinets and cupboards but nothing stood out as unusual. They also found ice still in the icebox so the house could not have been empty for very long.
Johnson walked into the dining room.
There was a good-sized dining room table, chairs, and a small china cabinet with some nice plates and silverware. Nothing seemed out of place or of interest there.
* * *
In the foyer, Miss Edington opened the drawer of the small stand the telephone stood upon. An address book was in the drawer and she flipped through it briefly before putting it back.
* * *
Miss Fairfield stood on the landing upstairs and looked around nervously. She stepped into the bedroom and had the distinct feeling someone else was in the room. She turned on the light switch.
A double bed stood against the north wall of the house, to her right. It was flanked by nightstands. A dresser and small table and chair were also in the room. An alarm clock was on the far nightstand but it was not ticking. A cup and saucer were next to the alarm clock and a closet door was in the wall to her right.
She was certain someone was there.
She went to the other bedroom. It was larger than the bedroom towards the back of the house and set up as a study with a desk, comfortable chairs, rack of pipes and cigar box, sideboard with several types of liquor. Bookshelves held books and gewgaws. On the table by one of the comfortable chairs was a folded piece of paper though. She picked it up and read it.
My Dearest Howard,
I hope this package finds you well. I know you’ve been having trouble sleeping and dreaming
and I’ve been trying to help you in that regard, in whatever small way I can. To that end, I found
the most interesting cordial in a shop in Chinatown. The gentleman there told me it would not
only aid in falling to sleep but also give one the most vivid and interesting dreams. Perhaps this
is a way to return to the dreamlands you always talk about. I don’t think it could hurt, though
this might simply be some opium derivative (the man seemed very anxious that I was not a
police officer, it seems).
I know the stuff smells horrible, but he assured me it was quite safe. He said you should put
all of the bottle of ‘medicine’ (as he so quaintly called it) into a cup of warm milk or tea or even
a stiff drink just before going to bed. He warned that the mixture could be quite potent so sleep
directly afterwards was recommended.
I hope this helps you find what you’re looking for. I’ll see you soon and you can tell me if it
helped at all.
* * *
Johnson moved to the living room where there was a small bookshelf and comfortable but serviceable furniture. A few books were on the shelf. Ashes were in the fireplace and he moved to them and found them cold. They were not terribly old. Agent Sanderson entered the room, crossing towards the foyer.
“Hey,” Johnson said to the man. “Can you tell anything from this?”
“What is it?” Agent Sanderson asked.
The man looked at the ashes but was unsure how long they’d been there. He guessed they were not very old.
“I can’t tell,” he said.
He stood up and walked up the stairs. Johnson followed him into the foyer where they found Miss Edington and Virgil Thomas. Agent Sanderson passed them and headed up the stairs. He found Miss Fairfield in one of the bedrooms upstairs reading something on a piece of paper. She looked up as the man reached the top of the stairs, Johnson right behind him.
Agent Sanderson stopped and felt the strange heaviness in the air of anticipation or menace. It reminded him of how he felt right before going over the top during the War. Once, he had the feeling right before several German soldiers had made a rush on their trench, nearly costing him his life. He drew the pistol from his shoulder holster and looked around suspiciously before crossing to Miss Fairfield.
“What’re you looking at?” he asked.
“There’s this note,” Miss Fairfield said, holding out the piece of paper.
He took it and read it. Miss Fairfield turned her attention to the books on the bookshelf
* * *
The front door opened and Miss Edington jumped, startled, as McCree came into the house with a rifle cover on his back.
“Now, what you gonna do with that?” Miss Edington asked as he closed the door behind him.
“Could be … we’re looking for a werewolf, are we not?” McCree said. “Or some wolfman.”
“We don’t know … nobody has told us nothing!” Virgil Thomas said.
“A werewolf?” Miss Edington said. “A crazy man and he’s a werewolf? That’s what you get from that paper?”
“A werewolf and some cone-man with a tentacle for a head!” McCree said.
“This was a dream,” Miss Edington said patiently.
“What did you read on that piece of paper!?!” Virgil Thomas asked.
Miss Edington told him what she had read as McCree opened up the rifle case and took out his GreenerF35 Far-Killer double-barrel shotgun. The barrels were huge, the weapon being an eight-gauge. He cracked open the beast and loaded two massive shells into it.
“That ain’t no werewolf, sir,” Virgil Thomas said to the man.
“He howled and went on all fours to chase a man,” McCree said.
“But I’ve never heard … I’ve read a lot of books,” Miss Edington said. “And I’ve never heard of a werewolf with a tentacle face.”
“No, that was the other man,” McCree said.
“Did he describe the one that came after him?” Virgil Thomas asked.
“No,” Miss Edington admitted.
She thought about that.
“Are you trying to kill a werewolf or an elephant?” she asked.
“A man with a tentacle head?” McCree said. “I didn’t want to take any chances.”
“You could have gotten a smaller gun. Or something.”
It was largest gauge shotgun she’d ever seen. She wanted one.
* * *
Johnson, thinking he’d seen a gun in Miss Fairfield’s hand and guessing that was why Agent Sanderson had drawn his own pistol, had looked away when he expected gunplay. When he looked back, the gun was gone from the woman’s hands but he was still very nervous. He turned on the light in the room to the right and looking around. It was a tidy little bathroom with toilet, bathtub, and sink. Tile covered the floor and went up the wall about four feet.
He looked through the medicine cabinet and the small cabinet under the sink. He didn’t see anything unusual or out of place in the room.
* * *
Agent Sanderson, having read the note, guessed the vial he’d found was one and the same.
* * *
Bricker finally came up from the basement and headed through the kitchen, dining room, and living room to find Miss Edington, Virgil Thomas, and McCree talking as McCree loaded the largest shotgun he’d ever seen in his life. It closed with a loud clack. McCree sighted along it and then tucked it under his arm as he put several more shells into his jacket pocket. Miss Edington lightly berated the man for the size of the weapon.
McCree headed up the steps followed by Bricker while Miss Edington headed into the living room, followed by Virgil Thomas. She turned on the light and went to the small bookshelf. She walked over to examine the books. They were typical though the choices were varied: histories, fiction, chemistry, photography, physics, drugs and pharmaceuticals, and a few books about dreams. She picked up one of the dream books and looked through it, trying to find out what the dreams Phillips had might have meant.
I wonder if he found what he wanted to find out of these, she thought.
She found the train might represent a need for change. The fact that it wasn’t going anywhere might indicate a frustration with his life, and that his life wasn’t going anywhere. The swamp might indicate dissatisfaction or sexual frustration. She found nothing about feral men on all fours or tentacle-faced men.
* * *
At the top of the steps Bricker felt like something was about to happen. He was unsure if whatever was in the house was a menace but felt, for sure, that someone or something was in the place. It was not a comfortable feeling.
They saw Miss Fairfield and Agent Sanderson in the larger bedroom and spotted Johnson in the bathroom. Lights were lit everywhere and only the small room to the left was dark. McCree walked into the room, turned on the light, and noticed the steps going up, probably to the attic. There were a few extra dining room chairs, some rugs, and a few crates of odds and ends. The steps proved to go up to the attic lit only by the monitor windows above. It was completely empty.
Bricker went into the room with the women. Johnson joined them.
Miss Fairfield found the books she was looking at were about dreaming and other topics such as history, fiction, chemistry, photography, and physics.
“Anything new in here?” he asked.
“Well, I found this note,” Miss Fairfield said.
She handed over the piece of paper and he read it.
“I went and looked down in the basement and didn’t find anything,” Bricker said.
Agent Sanderson looked around the room for any cups but didn’t see any. He left the room and went to the other bedroom, having the strange feeling someone was in the room as he entered. He immediately noticed a teacup on the nightstand next to the bed and the clock that had obviously run down. He guessed it had been over 24 hours since Phillips had last been there. He examined the cup and found it had tea stains in it. He went to the closet and found it filled with typical clothing, a few hats, and other items that didn’t seem of any importance.
He could not get over the feeling that someone else was in the room. He leaned down, gun in hand, and looked under the bed but there was nothing there. There didn’t seem to be anywhere else anyone could be in the room. Then he noticed an indentation on the side of the bed nearest the alarm clock. A closer examination proved that it was in the shape of a man lying on his side. He put his hand down on it and it felt warm, as if someone had just risen from the bed a moment before.
Miss Fairfield and the other two men exited the study as Agent Sanderson came out of the bedroom. McCree came out of the storage room about the same time.
“Somebody just left from the bedroom,” Agent Sanderson said. “The mattress is still warm. There’s an indentation. Somebody’s in the house.”
“How would they have gotten past us?” McCree asked. “How would we have not seen them?”
“They’re hiding,” Agent Sanderson said.
They all looked at each other and realized the bathroom was the only room no one had come out of. Miss Fairfield went back to the den, followed by Agent Sanderson, and opened the closet door but nothing was within except for a box filled with magazines. Johnson suggested searching the bathroom again but no one was there. The only place to hide was the cabinet and Johnson looked. Nothing was there.
Miss Fairfield went to the bedroom and turned off the light, looking in from the doorway.
Miss Edington came up the steps. She got a strange feeling like something was going to happen or like someone was watching her.
“What’s going on?” she asked nervously.
“What the …?” Virgil Thomas said.
“There’s a bit of weirdness going on,” Agent Sanderson said.
Miss Fairfield turned on the light in the bedroom.
I don’t feel right, Miss Edington thought.
“Something ain’t right here, Miss Suzanna,” Virgil Thomas said.
“Yeah, I don’t feel right,” Miss Edington said.
“What does the note say?” McCree asked.
“So, we want to make sure that this … whatever we’re looking for … does not get out of here,” Agent Sanderson said. “I’m assuming it’s a person.”
“Anybody found anything interesting?” Virgil Thomas asked.
They showed him the note and he quickly read it and handed it to Miss Edington.
“There was a note,” Johnson told him. “Links up pretty well with the story, right? He had something to help him dream, have vivid dreams. What he was describing was a vivid dream that he couldn’t wake up from.”
“‘Perhaps this is a way to return to the dreamlands you’ve always talked about,’” Miss Edington read. “Does anyone know what that is? Would opium do that?”
“Whatever this stuff is, wherever it is─” Johnson said.
“It ain’t opium,” Agent Sanderson interrupted.
“What is it?” Miss Edington asked.
“How do you know?” Johnson asked the man.
“It ain’t opium,” Agent Sanderson simply repeated.
“‘Medicine as he so quaintly called it,’” Miss Edington read aloud. “This man is suspicious.”
“Well, Agent Sanderson, what do you think?” Virgil Thomas asked. “What … how do you know it ain’t opium?”
The other man didn’t reply.
“I hate to be presumptuous, but maybe we could all say what we’ve found in this house and it would help everyone,” Virgil Thomas said. “Or maybe we could go home.”
“It feels like someone’s been fighting up here or something,” Miss Edington said. “I just feel tense.”
“Uh-huh,” Virgil Thomas said.
“I, as well, also want to know why you don’t think it’s opium,” Johnson said. “I’ll let out personally, I found a key under the back mat. Just like he said.”
He indicated Virgil Thomas.
“I still have the key,” Johnson went on. “So, Sanderson …”
“All I found is a whole lotta nothing,” McCree said. “Attic’s empty. Room’s empty.”
“How about the basement?” Virgil Thomas asked.
Bricker said he’d found nothing in the basement.
“Also, to have a better way to address you, what’s your name, sir?” McCree asked Virgil Thomas.
“I’m Virgil Thomas,” the man replied. “You can call me Virgil.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance.”
“Depending on where you’re from, I suppose you’d call me ‘boy.’”
“I call every man boy,” Agent Sanderson growled.
“If it’s everybody, I have no difficulty,” Virgil Thomas said.
“Now now, Virgil,” Miss Edington said.
“If it’s just me, I might,” Virgil Thomas went on.
“Now now, Virgil,” Miss Edington said. “Let’s not make …”
“Yes, Miss Suzanna,” he replied. “I apologize. I did not mean to get my rile up. But something don’t feel right up here.”
“Well, maybe I can check the address book for Francis,” Miss Fairfield said.
“For who?” Virgil Thomas said.
Miss Edington went into the study, followed by Virgil Thomas. She looked in the sideboard and found several bottles of liquor. She also looked at the books briefly.
Agent Sanderson thought about the warm spot on the bed.
“What is it, Mr. Sanderson?” Miss Edington asked.
“Something just don’t seem right,” Agent Sanderson said. “I got … I got a weird feeling. No way we could’ve missed this fella.”
“What fella you talking about?” Virgil Thomas said.
“There’s nobody in here,” Miss Edington said.
“Whoever’s in this note they’re talking about,” Agent Sanderson said.
“Well, he ain’t here obviously,” Virgil Thomas said. “Ain’t nobody home.”
“Sanderson!” Johnson said.
“I didn’t see nobody,” Miss Edington said.
“You said somebody just got up from that bed in the other room,” Johnson said.
“Yeah,” Agent Sanderson said.
“I’m going to go look in there,” Johnson said.
“There’s nobody in there,” Miss Edington said.
“You go ahead and do that,” Agent Sanderson said to the man.
Virgil Thomas just shook his head.
McCree walked into the bedroom and looked around. Johnson and Miss Edington followed as well. Johnson and McCree eventually found the strange warm spot and indentation on the bed. It was still warm, which was a little disturbing.
“New type of bed?” McCree said. “It stays warm.”
Agent Sanderson had noticed the two men when they had felt it. It didn’t make any sense that the spot was still warm.
“Something’s laying there right now,” Agent Sanderson said.
“What?” Miss Edington said.
“Then why can I not touch it?” McCree asked.
McCree felt around the spot. He could feel nothing except the warmth on the mattress. They were all soon examining the warm spot, save Miss Fairfield, who had gone back downstairs. The spot remained warm. Miss Edington sat on it but only felt the warmth. When she noticed the indent in the pillow, that bothered her and she got up. She picked up the pillow turned it around. When she put it back down, nothing apparently happened. Nothing was there.
* * *
Miss Fairfield looked through the address book in the telephone table. She found only one Francis: Francis Harris had an address listed as 121 South Main Street, Apartment B, Providence, R.I. She went back upstairs and found the others still around the bed.
“I found a Francis in his address book,” Miss Fairfield said. “Francis Harris.”
“And who’s that?” Miss Edington asked.
“The guy who wrote this note.”
The address was downtown and not very far away.
“Are we all going there or do some of us want to stay behind in case something else happens?” Johnson asked.
“I mean, we have a key and we could always come back here,” Miss Fairfield said.
McCree examined the teacup, noting a rotten smell within it.
“Are you wanting to go explore, Griffin?” Agent Sanderson asked.
“Away!” the other man quipped.
They decided they would all go. McCree put his shotgun back in the case before they turned out the lights and left the house by the front door, Johnson locking it behind them. McCree and Agent Sanderson headed for McCree’s Cadillac.
“Sorry Joel, there’s no room in our vehicle for you,” Agent Sanderson said to the other man. “You’re going to just have to walk.”
“You can ride with us,” Virgil Thomas said. “If it’s all right with Miss Suzanna.”
“I don’t mind,” Miss Edington said.
“I’ve got to take my bike,” Miss Fairfield said.
Virgil Thomas sighed and suggested they tie it on the back, which he did.
Everyone else got into Miss Edington’s Packard and both motorcars headed downtown, quickly finding number 121 on the west side of the street just south of Crawford Street. The address was for a door that opened to steps that went up to two apartments on the second floor above the shops below. When they knocked, the door was answered by an average-looking man in his late 20s or early 30s. He had an unappealing haircut and wore glasses. His hair and eyes were brown and he stood a little over six feet tall. He seemed surprised to see a crowd of people outside his door.
“Uh …” he said. “Can I … can I help you?”
“We’re looking for … what’s his name?” McCree said.
“Howard Phillips,” Fairfield said.
“Howard Phillips,” McCree went on.
“Uh … I know … Howard …” Harris said. “But he doesn’t … live here.”
“Well …” Miss Edington said.
“Interesting,” McCree said.
“… but he wasn’t at home either,” Miss Edington went on.
“Are you friends of his?” Harris asked.
“Um …” Miss Edington said.
“I have a good friend named Dr. Conner,” Johnson piped up. “Says a patient of his started writing notes saying he was Howard Phillips living at 66 College Street. We came to check on Howard. Didn’t find him at home, though.”
“Oh,” Harris said. “He … I … oh … Howard lives at 66 College Street. It’s down by the college, right? Right next to the library?”
“Yes sir, it is.”
“Yes, he lives there. But … uh …”
“Is there any reason he wouldn’t be at home at this hour?”
“I … I don’t … I don’t know. I guess he could be out. Maybe he’s supping at a restaurant somewhere. I don’t know.”
Agent Sanderson nudged Miss Fairfield and motioned for the note they’d found in Phillips’ house.
“Sir, I’m going to need you to tell me what you bought, in this note,” he said as she gave him the note. “Where’d you get it from?”
Harris looked at the note, obviously recognizing it immediately.
“Oh!” he said. “That’s the … I … I … there was a draught. Yes, I wrote this note. How did you come by this note? Who are you people?”
“Where’d you get … that?” Agent Sanderson said.
“Is Howard in some kind of trouble?”
“Where’d you get the drug?”
“Well, I don’t believe it’s a drug!”
“Where did you purchase it?”
“Wait wait wait, what’s going on? How did you get this? Who are you people?”
“Sir, I’m going to need you to shut the hell up!”
Harris backed away from the intimidating man.
“This got very extreme very fast,” McCree said.
“Now, we don’t need to be doing all this!” Miss Edington said.
Agent Sanderson took out his Bureau of Investigation badge and held it up for Harris to see.
“Sir,” he said. “My name is Agent Sanderson. I’m going to need me to tell me right now where you got those drugs at. I don’t care how you got ‘em. You’re not in trouble. Just tell me where you got ‘em!”
“I-I-I …” Harris stammered.
He seemed very rattled by a federal agent being at his door.
“Well, Howard has been having some trouble sleeping and … well not so much sleeping as dreaming, I suppose,” he said. “And um … um … he used to have the most wonderful dreams. They stopped about a month ago.”
Miss Fairfield realized the man was not telling everything about the dreams.
“I was strolling in Chinatown Wednesday, before Thanksgiving,” Harris went on. “I … I ate in one of the restaurants down there. They have such wonderful restaurants in Chinatown.”
“Right!” Johnson said.
He believed the man was just a poor, working-class fellow who was now being harassed by the law.
“I stumbled across a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop; it was called ‘Curios,’” Harris went on. “It’s on the corner of Washington and Empire Streets. I found the place fascinating and I talked to the … there was a … they had Oriental and strange things in it and I chatted with the owner, a Mr. Li, and he … I-I-I told him of Howard’s difficulty’s with sleeping and dreaming and he had been very kind and gave me a draught of something he said would help the man dream. He said ‘Perhaps even as he had dreamt before.’ And I figured it was just some kind of harmless drug or maybe an herbal … some kind of an Oriental herbal remedy. So, I dropped it off at Howard’s on Thursday after Thanksgiving dinner. He wasn’t home. I suspect he probably went out to eat that day. I should have invited him over to my family’s Thanksgiving but … anyway, so I just dropped it on his front stoop with this note. It was a little vial … it was … I was assuming if it was a drug it was something fairly harmless. That Mr. Li said that it was … it was …”
“That’s all and good well sir,” Agent Sanderson said, taking the note from the man. “Thank you for your time.”
While he had been talking, some of them had looked past Harris at his small apartment, obviously overlooking main street. In one corner was a table with a partially built model of a schooner. They also noticed a shelf with several other model ships upon it.
Miss Fairfield had been scribbling in her notebook while he spoke and tore out a page, surreptitiously handing Agent Sanderson a note that said Harris had not told them everything about the dreams.
“Where did you say this Li was?” McCree asked.
“It’s in Chinatown,” Harris said. “It’s that block down on … it’s the corner of Washington and Empire Streets.”
“Some place called Curios,” Miss Edington said.
They knew Washington ran roughly east west and Empire Street lay towards Federal Hill. All of them were familiar with the area. Though called Chinatown, it was merely a block long and filled with Chinese restaurants, laundries, stores, and boarding houses. There was talk in the city of expanding Empire Street, which would probably drive all of the Chinese out of the area with “renovations.”
“Is there anything else you want to tell us about Mr. Phillips before we go?” Agent Sanderson asked.
“Well, I know that he … we used to work at the same accounting company until about three years ago when his parents died,” Harris said. “They left enough of an inheritance that he could live without working … probably for the rest of his life. Comfortably if not extravagantly. They got in a car accident if I remember correctly. So, he quit the company, but we’ve stayed friends ever since then. That’s when, I believe it was in ’24 when he took up residence in College Street. Um … I saw him Monday. We had lunch. I was planning on talking to him tomorrow. I was hoping we could have lunch again. I might be the best friend he has right now. He’s certainly my best friend.
“But I didn’t think it was illegal. Actually, Mr. Li did seem nervous and was insistent on knowing whether or not I was a policeman. But if it was an opiate, I didn’t mean any harm.”
“You’re not in any trouble,” Agent Sanderson said.
“Well, thank you,” Harris said. “Thank you, sir.”
“Is that all you have to help us with?”
“That’s all I can think of. Is Howard okay?”
“We haven’t found him.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s missing? Well, how long has he been missing?”
“Well,” Johnson said. “If Dr. Conner’s patient’s notes are to be believed, he can’t escape from a dream and he seems like he’s in a very uncomfortable place.”
“What?” Harris said.
“Damn Bohemian!” Agent Sanderson said.
“Oh,” Harris said.
He looked back and forth between Agent Sanderson and Johnson.
“Thank you for your time, sir,” McCree said.
“Has he told you about these weird dreams he’s been having?” Miss Edington said.
The man seemed hesitant to speak and got very nervous under the pretty girl’s gaze. His face went red.
“Are you all right?” Miss Edington asked.
“Uh … uh …” Harris said.
He glanced nervously at Miss Edington.
“Do you want to tell us about the dreams?” Agent Sanderson said.
“About … uh … what?” Harris said. “What do you mean?”
“You know about these dreams, don’t you?” Miss Edington said.
“There’s … uh …” Harris said. “Well, it’s silly! It’s just silly! It would have nothing to do with this Mr. Li or this drug that you’re talking about.”
“Are you absolutely sure?” Miss Edington asked.
“Well, it’s … yes!” he said.
He went beet red under the pretty young woman’s gaze.
“It very well may help us,” McCree said.
“Well, Howard often told me about these dreams … about visiting a spectacular place that he called the Dreamlands,” Harris said. “They weren’t so much recurring dreams as one would take up where the other left off. It was almost as if he actually went somewhere in his dreams. That can’t have anything to do with this, this situation. I mean it was … it’s a … it’s a … I mean, it sounds like it was a wonderful dream. But, of course a few months … a month or two ago, he just wasn’t able to go there anymore, he said. He was somewhat morose about this whole situation. So, I’ve been trying to help him to dream and that’s why - that’s why I purchased this draught from this Mr. Li over in Chinatown. Because he said it would help to dream and I thought, maybe it would help him to dream about the things he had dreamed before.”
“Did anything significant happen to him two months ago?” Agent Sanderson asked.
“No,” Harris said after thinking about it a moment. “Not to my knowledge. Howard … Howard is just Howard. What I’m saying is, he doesn’t work. He just reads and he writes and he studies. His writing is mostly either fantastical or historical. He’s not a bad writer. But he doesn’t … that’s all I can say about him. That’s all I know.”
“When was the last time you talked to him?” Miss Edington asked.
“Monday,” the man said. “We had lunch on Monday. And he seemed in good spirits. He was looking forward to fixing himself a nice meal on Thanksgiving. I assume. He wasn’t home so I guess he decided to go out to eat that evening. Because it was evening when I dropped by and dropped of the … it was in a little box and I left that note that you just showed me.”
He gestured at Agent Sanderson.
“It seems that we have exhausted all of our questions,” Agent Sanderson said.
“If there’s anything … if he’s missing and there’s anything I can do to help, please, please, let me know,” Harris said. “Agent …”
“Sanderson,” Agent Sanderson said.
“Agent Sanderson! Please. Was he kidnapped? Was he taken across state lines? I understand that’s when the Bureau of Investigation’s involved, isn’t it?”
“This is a very private matter.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t want to cause any problems.”
Agent Sanderson took his mangled left hand out of his pocket and held it where the man could see. Harris went white.
“If there’s anything I could do to help, please let me know,” he said.
“All right, thank you for your time,” Agent Sanderson said.
“Well …” McCree said.
“You’re welcome,” Harris said.
“No,” Agent Sanderson said, giving McCree a shove.
They all headed down the stairs.
“Just let me know if I can help in any way!” Harris called after them.
“Of course,” Agent Sanderson said. “We’ll keep in touch.”
“Thank you!” Harris called.
“It seems that our next destination is Chinatown,” Agent Sanderson said when they reached the street.
They drove the motorcars west. Chinatown was quite small, only covering about a block on Empire Street between Washington and Westminster Streets, but being a community of Chinese grocery stores, restaurants, boarding houses, and laundries tucked into the area. The street was very busy, even in the cold evening, filled with various shops in the ground floors and apartments in the two or more often three floors above.
As they turned onto Empire Street from Washington Street, they spotted the “Curios” sign on the end of a row of shops on the corner. As they headed south on Empire Street, there were no parking places at all. Many of the parking spots were actually being used by pushcart vendors selling various wares.
In McCree’s auto, Agent Sanderson told the man to drop him off.
“What?” McCree said. “Passing Curios?”
He had not noticed the small place, having instead been looking at the Chinese restaurant across the street. He slowed about halfway down the block and the other man slipped out of the passenger side and crossed to the sidewalk.
Just about everyone noticed a very nice Cadillac parked on the west side of the street about halfway down the block, apparently brand new. It seemed out of place. Only Bricker, sitting in the back seat of Miss Edington’s Packard, didn’t really notice.
McCree drove down to Westminster Street where there were parking spaces and parked his Cadillac. Virgil Thomas parked the Packard behind him.
* * *
Agent Sanderson entered the tiny Curios shop, bells ringing as he entered. It was filled with all manner of Oriental and foreign items, from shrunken heads to monkey’s paws. Plates from the Far East competed with tiny idols of Buddha or stuffed monkeys. An array of exotic incense was available at the glass counter on one side of the store, and oriental carpets and rugs were both on the floor and hanging from the walls. Shelves were filled almost to overflowing with quaint but strange-looking Oriental items, some of which have a purpose that was completely unknown. A door stood behind the counter.
The fragile-looking little Chinese man behind the counter wore a simple navy-colored clothing and hat. He had a long, ragged beard and mustache, his hair very gray, and Agent Sanderson guessed he was at least in his 60s.
“Oh yes, how can I help you?” Mr. Li said, his voice heavily accented.
“How you doing sir?” Agent Sanderson said.
“I do well today. The sun has smiled and the moon is happy. How might I help you? Are you looking for, perhaps, incense. We also have strange and wonderful items from the Orient! Please please, browse. Please, look around. You may find things that you never knew you needed … until now.”
“I’ve heard from a friend of mine that, uh, you’re selling some … uh … a potion? I don’t know what to call that. A potion.”
“Sort of sleep potion.”
“I do not know. You look … who is your friend?”
“Uh, my friend is probably the only one that’s come in here for that particular item.”
Mr. Li looked at the man quizzically.
* * *
The others bustled up the cold but busy Empire Street. Street vendors hawked their wares and the smells of the street were strange and enticing. There were numerous Chinese restaurants and laundries crammed on the block and the people all seemed very busy. Miss Fairfield took several photographs, though she was not sure if they would turn out in the dim light.
About halfway up the block, they noticed several very short Chinamen, none of them being more than four and a half feet tall, in front of a brownstone that appeared to be a boarding house or apartment building. Two of them stood in front of the door of the place. Just after they passed, there was a flurry of activity behind them. They looked back and saw a little girl, possibly eight years old and wearing fine clothing and a fur jacket, come out of the building with two more of the small Chinamen flanking her. She walked like she owned the place and they bustled her into the Cadillac where a little old woman sat. Another small Chinaman sat at the wheel.
Several of those from Providence recognized Lily Mitchell, the heiress of the Mitchell fortune who had been kidnapped in the Spring of 1926 by the notorious Quincy Washington Gang. They realized the old woman was probably her great aunt, Mrs. Sophie Upton, who had taken Lily in when her parents had died in a terrible fire in their mansion in 1925. Only Joel Johnson didn’t recognize the little girl, though it was probably because he didn’t pay much attention to the society page. Miss Edington, not a resident of Providence, didn’t recognize her either.
“What a cute little girl,” she said to herself.
I hate kids, Bricker thought, looking away.
Johnson, McCree, and Miss Edington all noticed the other Chinese people on the street glowered at Lily Mitchell, Sophie Upton, and the little Chinamen. Their gazes were filled with vile hatred towards all of them as the Cadillac started up and pulled away, heading south.
* * *
“Who is your friend?” Mr. Li asked again. “I do not recall this.”
“Is your name …uh … Mr. Li?” Agent Sanderson asked.
“I am Mr. Li! I am your humble servant! Humble shopkeeper. Mr. Li. Yes.”
The bells rang over the door of the shop and the six others entered as Mr. Li bowed to Agent Sanderson.
“Well gang, this is Mr. Li,” Agent Sanderson said to the others.
“I do not sell any drugs,” Mr. Li said. “It is a bad thing.”
“Who said drugs?” Agent Sanderson said.
“Well, that’s good to know,” McCree said.
“Ah, I apologize,” Mr. Li said. “My English is not as good as it could be.”
Agent Sanderson just looked at the man.
“Perhaps I misunderstood,” Mr. Li went on. “All that I have, you have. All that I see … what you see, I have. Yes.”
“You all want to take a look around?” Agent Sanderson said.
“So many customers!” Mr. Li said. “So many customers.”
He focused immediately on the very-well dressed Miss Edington.
“If there is anything I can help you with, your most humble shopkeeper is here to help you,” he said to her.
“Uh, Mr. Li,” McCree said.
“Ah yes,” Mr. Li said. “How can I help man with prodigious mustache?”
“I noticed that a lot of your people didn’t like this Lily Mitchell that I saw leaving y’all’s area?”
“Lily Mitchell. Ah! Little girl.”
“Ah yes. Yes. Yes.”
“What is the stig-a-matism that y’all have with the girl?”
“Ah, I will not say anything against the Tcho-Tcho. It is dangerous to say against the Tcho-Tcho.”
He whispered the last sentence, looking to his right, in the direction of the brownstone building.
“Now, what is a Tcho-Tcho?” Miss Edington asked.
“Ah,” Mr. Li said. “It is a group of Chinese. Dangerous. You had best not ask. Some of us, humble servants, we are willing to say certain things to certain people. But do not ask. Dangerous. They are very dangerous.”
“I don’t know about none of this,” Miss Edington said.
“How are they dangerous?” McCree asked.
“You do not wish to know,” Mr. Li said.
“Well, what we’re here for is that …” Miss Edington said. “So, somebody came by here not long ago, asking about helping someone to sleep.”
“Oh,” Mr. Li said.
“A good friend of his wanted something,” she went on.
“You are here with the policeman,” Mr. Li said, nodding towards Agent Sanderson.
Agent Sanderson’s eyes opened wide. How did the Chinaman know?
“It’s a very interesting thing that you apparently have,” Miss Edington said.
“I am your humble servant,” Mr. Li said. “I do not break the law.”
He glanced at Agent Sanderson again.
“I’m going to take a step outside and take a smoke,” Agent Sanderson grunted.
He left the shop.
“Well, if it isn’t breaking the law, what is it?” Miss Edington said.
“Nothing that can help you,” he said. “Why do you ask?”
“Well …” she said.
“I’m looking for a way to reach a dream realm,” McCree said.
“I think you in the wrong place,” Mr. Li said. “I know nothing of … dream realm? Is your husband all right?”
“What makes you think he’s my husband?” Miss Edington asked.
“I simply think that you have looked in the wrong place. But if anything else here is of your liking, perhaps you might purchase. They say the monkey’s paw can grant wishes. But it is just a myth.”
“So, you have stuff that can grant wishes but nothing that help you get to some dreamland?”
“No drugs that can help you get to dreamland. No.”
“I was hoping to look for some. Oh well.”
“Good luck. I’m sorry that I was not able to help you, beautiful lady.”
“Oh stop it!”
Miss Edington looked around and Miss Fairfield looked for books but didn’t see anything. Most of the items on the shelves looked like mass produced Chinese trinkets and junk. A few things seemed strange and out of place but none of them were certain if they were actually esoteric or simply things from the Orient they had never seen before.
* * *