Murder, She Encountered out December 3rd!
“Grab your hat, Biz. We’re going to the World’s Fair.”
Elizabeth Adams looked up from the photographs she was sorting through to find Ralph Kaminsky, veteran crime reporter for the Daily Trumpet, leaning over her.
He was wearing his suit jacket, which moments ago had been hanging on the back of his chair, and his battered hat was plunked on top of his bristly gray hair.
“The World’s Fair? Why?”
Elizabeth had wanted to go since the Fair opened in April, and she and her friend Irene had planned to make a day of it at the end of the month. The Fair was being billed as The Dawn of a New Day and Elizabeth had read about some of the attractions including the Perisphere where an auditorium the size of Radio City Music Hall housed a mammoth model of the city of tomorrow.
“Looks like there’s been a robbery. Some crook held a gun to the head of one of the concession stand workers and demanded he hand over all the money in the till. If we get out there fast, we can snag an interview with the victim. My source swore on the blessed Virgin that he didn’t tell any other reporters about the story.”
Elizabeth tossed the photographs she was holding back on her desk and reached for her camera.
She was more than happy to get out of the newsroom. Sun glinted through the grime on the windows, and the room was stifling in the July heat. She prayed there would at least be the ghost of a breeze outside.
“Where are you headed?” Fred Culver, one of the Daily Trumpet’s newest reporters, said as he passed Elizabeth and Kaminsky on their way to the elevator.
He was quite young and had a bit of fuzz on his upper lip. Elizabeth was never sure whether it was a nascent mustache or he’d missed that spot shaving.
“We’re headed to the World’s Fair,” Kaminsky said, slapping the younger reporter on the back as he walked by.
“Some people have all the luck,” Culver shot back.
“Seniority,” Kaminsky said with a wink and a nod.
The force of the July heat hit them as soon as they exited the revolving door of the Daily Trumpet building. There was a slight breeze but it was barely strong enough to flutter the ribbon on Elizabeth’s hat. She felt the fabric of her shirtwaist dress clinging to her back as they walked toward the IND subway stop at Forty-second Street and Sixth Avenue.
Elizabeth dropped her nickel into the slot in the turnstile and pushed her way through. She and Kaminsky joined the crowd waiting on the subway platform, many of the men fanning themselves with their hats and the women daintily pressing lace-trimmed handkerchiefs to their damp foreheads.
A gust of foul smelling air came rushing down the tunnel—pushed into the station by the arriving train. Elizabeth was grateful that it wasn’t crowded and she and Kaminsky were able to get seats. She couldn’t imagine being pressed against some stranger in this heat.
They shuffled off the train with the rest of the passengers at the Smith-Ninth Street Station in Brooklyn where once again they stood on the platform waiting for the S Special train that would take them right to the World’s Fair grounds.
Elizabeth was relieved when they were able to get seats near a window that was open an inch or two. Unfortunately the breeze that came through the crack did little more than blow the hairs around her forehead. It certainly did nothing whatsoever to cool her down.
The subway emerged from the darkness to continue its journey above ground. It went over a bridge, which elevated it above another set of tracks below, through the Jamaica Yard until finally it rattled over a pine wooden trestle that took it across swampy marshland. Elizabeth stared out the window, craning her neck when she thought she saw a snowy egret standing amidst the reeds.
And then they were pulling into the World’s Fair station. Elizabeth felt her excitement rise at the thought of finally seeing the fair even if she wouldn’t be visiting any of the pavilions. She’d been reading about it ever since it opened—all the amazing exhibits—from the World of Tomorrow to Billy Rose’s Aquacade. It was all New York had been talking about for months.
The train came to a stop and the doors hissed open. Elizabeth followed Kaminsky to a row of turnstiles leading to the exit.
He turned toward Elizabeth. “You have to put in another nickel,” he said, reaching into his pocket. “Taking the train all the way to the Fair costs a dime. Highway robbery if you ask me.”
Elizabeth dutifully dug out her change purse, chose a nickel from the handful of coins, and inserted it into the turnstile. She looked back over her shoulder as they emerged from the station, which had been built especially to accommodate fairgoers. Independent Subway was spelled out in individual letters across the front and the large clock above it put the time at nearly noon.
They joined the handful of people waiting in line to pay their admission.
“Seventy-five cents,” Kaminsky said, pushing his hat back on his forehead. “They really nickel and dime you to death these days.” He turned to Elizabeth. “But don’t worry—the paper will pay you back.”
Kaminsky gave a bark of laughter and slapped himself on the forehead. “I forgot. You’re one of them rich society dames. What are a couple of dimes and nickel--you’re probably rolling in dough.”
Elizabeth gave him a stern look. “Hardly,” she said, without elaborating. No need to tell Kaminsky that she was saving every penny she could in order to have the first and last month’s rent on a place of her own. Kaminsky would think she was crazy trading the comfort of her family’s Madison Avenue apartment for a cold water flat.
Girls like Elizabeth were expected to live at home until they married but she’d made up her mind that she wanted to be on her own first. She didn’t want to be one of those women who went from her parents straight to the arms of a husband.
The subway terminal was in the amusement zone, a two hundred and eighty acre area and one of seven zones at the fair. They heard the excited shouts of children from the Children’s World exhibit to their right as well as the squeals from the fairgoers braving the parachute drop at the other end of the zone.
“Look at those fools,” Kaminsky said, cocking his head in the direction of the ride, “paying forty cents to have the wits scared out of them.”
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth said, skipping a bit to catch up with Kaminsky’s long strides, “I think it looks like fun.”
Kaminsky stopped in his tracks. “I dare you.”
Elizabeth raised her chin. “Oh? Are you paying?” She put out her hand.
Kaminsky laughed. “Okay, Biz,” he said using the nickname he’d bestowed on Elizabeth, “you’re on. But later. We’ve got a robbery victim to interview first.”
“Excuse me,” Kaminsky grabbed the arm of a young man scurrying past pushing a trash cart. “Do you know where the hot dog stand is?”
The young man pushed his cap back and scratched his forehead. He pointed in the distance. “On the other side of the lake. Past the amphitheater by the Fountain Lake gate.”
“Thanks.” Kaminsky touched the brim of his hat.
They made their way around Fountain Lake, past the amphitheater and past the stucco Mediterranean revival Florida pavilion where palm trees swayed in the slight breeze, until they spotted the blue and yellow Childs concession stand. A young man, in a matching blue and yellow uniform, was busy turning a dozen hot dogs with a fork. He looked up and smiled as Elizabeth and Kaminsky approached.
“How many? Two?” The fellow looked at Kaminsky and raised his eyebrows. “Three?”
Kaminsky shook his head. “You the fellow who was robbed?” He gestured to Elizabeth. “We’re from the Daily Trumpet.”
“Robbed?” The young man scratched his head. “I think someone’s been pulling your leg, mister. All I’ve been doing all day is selling hot dogs. I don’t know where you got that idea from.”
Kaminsky pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the back of his neck. “I got a tip that someone was robbed. Robber held a gun to the guy’s head and took all the money out of the till.”
“I haven’t heard nothing like that,” the vendor said. “And I’ve been here all day. I haven’t even had a chance to take a trip to the john.” He looked up suddenly. “Excuse me, miss,” he said to Elizabeth. “I didn’t mean no offense.”
Kaminsky swore under his breath. He turned to Elizabeth. “That Robert Belcher. He’s gonna pay for this. He set me up.”
“Are you sure we’re at the right concession stand?” Elizabeth said.
“Yeah. He said it was the stand in the amusement zone.” Kaminsky shook his head. “I knew I didn’t like the look on his face when he told me about it. I should have listened to my gut.”
“Looks like our trip has been wasted.”
Kaminsky grunted. Then he smiled. “You can still ride the parachute drop.” He pointed to the attraction in the distance and gave an evil grin.
Elizabeth felt a lump rise in her throat. She wasn’t particularly afraid of heights but the parachute drop was considered the most daring ride at the fair. She should have thought before she’d so rashly agreed to try it out.
“I—I“ Elizabeth stuttered.
Kaminsky made squawking noises like a chicken.
Elizabeth raised her chin and threw her shoulders back. “Alright then, let’s go.”
If she didn’t go through with it, no doubt the story would be all over the newsroom within a half an hour of their return. And it was hard enough proving that a woman could do a man’s job without being labeled a coward.
“Wait.” Kaminsky put a hand on Elizabeth’s arm.
Elizabeth heard a shout and the crowd around them began turning in the direction of the amphitheater. She, too, spun around. Three policemen, two of them dragging a young man between them, were walking toward them.
As they got closer, Elizabeth could see that the fellow really was young—possibly not more than teenager. He had light brown hair and his face was pale with a smattering of freckles across his nose. He was wearing a Yankee baseball cap pushed back on his forehead and a pair of overalls over a short-sleeved T-shirt.
His panic was palpable, and as he passed close by Elizabeth, she could smell his sweat—or was it fear?—and see the wild look in his eyes. He stared directly at her, as if he was beseeching her to do something.
Elizabeth shivered. She had no idea why the police were taking the young man away, but she had the strong sense that the poor fellow was innocent.
“Excuse me,” Kaminsky said to the policeman closest to them. “What’s going on?” He fumbled in his pocket, pulled out his press pass and waved it at him. “Daily Trumpet.”
“Sorry, bud. No time.” The policemen jerked his head over his shoulder. “Talk to my sergeant. He’s over by the Aquacade.”
“Thanks.” Kaminsky tipped his hat then turned to Elizabeth. “Looks like we may get a story out of this after all.” he said. “Come on. Let’s see what his sergeant has to say.”
Elizabeth and Kaminsky elbowed their way through the crowd that was flowing toward them.
“Shake a leg,” Kaminsky said over his shoulder. “We’ve got to hurry.”
Elizabeth clenched her teeth. Her leg was getting tired and she was starting to limp. She’d suffered from polio as a child and while she’d eventually recovered, she’d been left with a weakened left leg that caused her to limp when she became fatigued.
They retraced their path around Fountain Lake to the amphitheater where Billy Rose’s Aquacade was staged. They passed a sign that read Next show 2:00 p.m. and weren’t surprised to find the amphitheater, which seated over ten thousand people, temporarily empty.
The smell of chlorine hung heavy in the air. A group of policeman stood in a cluster next to the enormous swimming pool where Rose’s show was held, their backs to Elizabeth and Kaminsky.
The amphitheater was enormous, with the seats climbing and climbing until they looked, to Elizabeth standing down below, as if they were touching the sky. There was a seventy-five foot high diving platform that gave Elizabeth the chills and elaborate friezes decorating the stone walls. She couldn’t wait to see a performance—the stars—Eleanor Holm and Johnny Weissmuller—were rumored to be splendid.
As they neared the small knot of people, one of the policemen separated from the group and rushed toward Elizabeth and Kaminsky. He put out an arm as he walked.
“I’m sorry. No one is allowed here. Police business.”
Kaminsky pulled his battered Daily Trumpet press card from his pocket again and waved it in front of the policeman’s face.
The policeman scowled and looked behind him as if for confirmation from someone higher up. Finally he sighed.
“Okay, but stay out of the way. Got it?”
“Got it,” Kaminsky said, winking at Elizabeth. “I swear on my sainted brother’s grave we won’t cause any trouble.”
Elizabeth shot a glance at Kaminsky when the policeman had turned around. “I didn’t know you had a brother. You never said.”
“I don’t.” Kaminsky grinned. “But our good friend over there doesn’t need to know that. Besides, I believe in hedging my bets.”
A cloud passed over the sun and the water shimmering in the enormous swimming pool suddenly turned gray and forbidding-looking making Elizabeth shiver.
Kaminsky elbowed his way into the knot of people standing around and Elizabeth followed.
Lying by the side of the pool was the body of a young woman. Her clothes were wet and her hair was soaked and spread out around her as if it had been carefully arranged. The skin on her hands was wrinkled and bleached white.
She was wearing a pastel-colored shirtwaist dress with a straw belt and white open-toed pumps with scuff marks on the heels. Her make-up was well done and applied with a light touch—a bit of rouge on her cheeks and a light peach lipstick.
A sheer lady’s stocking was tied tightly around her neck.
Had she been strangled or had she drowned?
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Peg Cochran also writing as Meg London..