It was 7:30 on a Saturday evening as Pierce Hale was escorted to the back of Club Dahlia. Sitting at a table made of mahogany, pouring from a slender green bottle and occasionally leaning back to blow smoke rings, Pierce waited patiently for his dinner date. It was 1945 in Miami’s South Beach. Tropical plants adorned the room that was located opposite the large open archways that led to a rooftop ballroom. A blue-white light from the hotel sign across the street faithfully bounced from the wall, cigarette smoke filled the room, and sirens screamed down the streets below. They screamed, but not nearly as often as Pierce had become accustomed to while working as a detective for the Homicide Division of the Boston Police Department.
Police Chief Davin Laport tried unsuccessfully to get him to stay, and it had only been a few months since Pierce retired from his job in Boston, where he had served for twenty untarnished years. He relished the dark nights in a hard city, and he missed the days of chasing down the bad guys without having to fill out all of the paperwork. Tedious endless paperwork. That was a major difference between his job in Boston and becoming the owner of his own investigative agency in downtown Miami, the paperwork never seemed to end. Yes, there were times when he was able to head out into the streets alongside Johnny Batinni, the mid-twenties investigator who worked for him, but mostly he was stuck in the old brick office he was renting on the second floor of a ramshackle building in downtown Miami.
He hadn’t retired early so that he could fulfill his dream of owning his own investigation agency, even though he often convinced himself that it was the reason. Pierce Hale had retired so that he could be closer to the woman who had just been ushered in by the doorman. She wore a black felt hat, a long black skirt with a red floral print blouse, glossy red lipstick, and black high-heeled peep-toe shoes. Pierce’s jaw dropped. He had known her for five years and his jaw always dropped.
“Elizabeth!” Pierce called out while waving his fedora above his head, “I’m over here!”
Elizabeth Booth was the most beautiful and intelligent woman he had ever met, and she didn’t look like most 53 year-old women of the time. Somehow all of the stress that came along with those years had not aged her as it had most women. There were no wrinkles under her eyes, and her complexion made her look 15 or even 20 years younger. She stood about five foot seven, and weighed a buck fifteen.
Elizabeth strolled over to Pierce, her heels moving in near percussion on the heavy wooden floor as she approached.
“I don’t think I have been here since 1942, and it’s kinda falling to pieces,” exclaimed Elizabeth, as she moved a half empty beer glass to the side.
“Don’t be silly Elizabeth. We had drinks here less than 6 months ago, when I told you I was retiring,” responded Pierce.
“That’s probably true. Still, I don’t understand how it is that in 1945 these places still aren’t being taken care of, ” she said as she leaned over and gave Pierce a kiss on his cheek. “How are you doing, Pierce?”
“Oh, I am doing much better than I was a few minutes ago, now that you showed up,” Pierce said, trying not to appear to excited to see her.
The truth was that Pierce had a lot on his mind today. A troublesome case had been brought to him by Johnny Batinni, who appeared to be overwhelmed with all of the work that had been placed on his desk.
“Actually,” continued Pierce, “I am struggling with a case that my happy-go-lucky assistant feels is too much for him. In the past two weeks there have been two women killed near Winter Beach. Interesting thing is, both of them were on their honeymoons and their husbands don’t appear to be connected at all.”
Elizabeth could tell when Pierce was just creating conversation and when he was actually struggling with a case. The salt-and-pepper mustache he carried always seemed to twitch just a little bit more when he was having issues with work.
“It is reminding me of a case I had in 1940 in Boston, when three teenage boys were all drowned in the exact same spot in Boston Harbor. None of the boys were connected in any way except for their age. Their parents weren’t involved, and nobody could find any clues. Eventually the guy turned himself in for feeling so guilty. Turned out he was ticked off about his childhood and needed to take it out on someone who was actually enjoying their youth.”
Pierce paused for a moment, hoping Elizabeth would provide some encouragement, which she always did.
“So, you think this could be some type of random violence targeted towards newlyweds?” She replied.
“Exactly, only problem is that I have no idea where to start looking for this guy. In both instances, the husbands had left their hotel for a few minutes, and when they came back their wives had been shot in the back of the head with a .22 caliber. Absolutely no evidence left behind. No fingerprints, no identification, no nothing,” Pierce informed her.
“Where exactly did all of this happen, Pierce?” Elizabeth asked, curiously.
It took Pierce a minute to remember the names of the two hotels where the murders had taken place. This was mostly because Pierce had become fixated on the long, windy strand of dark hair which had fallen out of place and was dangling perfectly above Elizabeth’s brilliant, hazel eyes. It took him back to the day they met on a passenger liner out of New York harbor in the late 1930s.
“One was at the Mangrove Inn, and the other was at the Hurricane Hotel,” Pierce answered the question, once he had remembered what the conversation was about. “Why do you ask that?” he continued.
“I know the owners of most of the hotels in Winter Beach,” answered Elizabeth. “As a matter of fact, Lisa Porter is the owner of both of those hotels you just mentioned. Have you talked with her yet?”
Pierce shook his head. He had been unable to get in contact with Mrs. Porter, though not for lack of trying. Every time that he turned the dial on the phone to call her, he would hear nothing but ringing on the other end.
“She appears to be out of town, and I have no way of contacting her,” said Pierce. “How is it that you own two hotels which are the scene of two different homicides, and you make yourself unavailable to the local police.”
“Well, maybe you just aren’t trying hard enough Pierce,” said Elizabeth, with a sly grin on her face. “Stop by my office tomorrow at 1:30 and I’ll have her on the phone for you.”
Pierce was not the kind of person who would trust others to accomplish what they promised, but he always knew that Elizabeth could be counted on. Plus, she had contacts with nearly everyone in south Florida.
With that conversation nearing an end, Pierce and Elizabeth spent the rest of the evening catching up on everything from their favorite films, some politics, and news from the post-war.
The next day, at exactly 1:20, Pierce Hall arrived the local college where Elizabeth Booth was an English professor. As Pierce entered Elizabeth’s office, he noticed how easy it was for him to pass through security and find her office. This was much different than the first time he had visited Elizabeth at her apartment. Security in South Beach during the war was impossible to navigate through, especially where Elizabeth lived. Not only were the streets lined with police officers, but military uniforms were found at most corners near her neighborhood.
As Pierce walked into Elizabeth’s office, he began to say something but noticed that she was on the phone.
“Here he is Lisa, he just walked in. I will hand the phone over to him and I am sure he has a few questions for you,” Elizabeth said into the telephone. She continued, handing the phone to Pierce, “It’s Lisa Porter, the owner of the hotels you were telling me about last night. She has been at her beach house in Carolina, but I was able to track down her telephone number from a colleague of mine.”
“Hello Mrs. Porter, how are you doing?”
“Well, Mr. Hale, I would be doing a lot better had I known that my investments have been the site of two murders. When I heard about the police showing up and ransacking my hotel, I just couldn’t stand to imagine what it will look like when I return!” Cried the voice on the other end of the phone. Pierce could hardly stand listening to the high-pitched, whiny voice that was Mrs. Porter’s.
“I am sorry about all of this commotion Mrs. Porter, but I was wondering if you could provide us with some help. Do you have any idea who this could have been? Someone who has access to the rooms in both of your hotels?”
“The only person who has access to both of my hotels is the cleaning boy,” responded Lisa, “Well, he isn’t really a boy, Skip Daniels is his name. He’s 35 years old and awfully strange. But he does leave those rooms shining.”
After a few more minutes of conversation, Pierce gathered contact information for Skip Daniels and thanked Mrs. Porter for her help. Pierce then thanked Elizabeth and told her that he was heading off to search for the cleaning boy. Pierce and Elizabeth argued for the next few minutes because Elizabeth felt she would be needed on this mission and Pierce never liked to put women, especially Elizabeth, in danger. However, as usual, Elizabeth won the argument and they headed to Skip Daniels’s downtown apartment in Pierce’s 1938 Dodge coupe.
As they arrived at the run down complex, which looked like it had been a part of the bombing in Nazi Germany, Pierce and Elizabeth walked to door number 5, the apartment where Skip Daniels lived.
Pierce knocked hard on the old wooden door for several minutes without an answer.
“Just break it down, Pierce,” said Elizabeth emphatically. And with that, she kicked the door as hard as she could, knocking it off of its hinges.
“I guess that’s the way to go about it,” said Pierce, a little bit surprised at her strength.
As they walked through the apartment, Pierce made sure that his .38 Police Special pistol was easily within reach. He hadn’t noticed, but Elizabeth took a different path through the kitchen as Pierce headed towards the bedroom.
The apartment appeared to be empty until Pierce walked into the cluttered bedroom. Black-and-white pictures of beautiful women lined the cracked walls of the bedroom. Pierce was almost disgusted at the number of posters. Each of them had a note written on them, appearing to be love messages from a deranged man. As Pierce continued his path through the bedroom, he heard someone breathing from the closet. Pierce opened the closet and saw a man, with only his boxer shorts on, huddled in the corner.
“Skip Daniels, I am assuming?” asked Pierce.
“You don’t have anything one me!” Yelled the man. “You don’t know me! You don’t know what I have been through! Those men don’t deserve to have those women in their lives!”
And then, without warning, Skip Daniels jumped towards Pierce Hall and grabbed his gun from the holster. A fight ensued in which the gun was knocked loose. Pierce had always been able to handle himself with criminals in the past, but his body was beginning to age. He took a right hook to his left eye and immediately felt the cracking of his bonesgo here.
It was at that instant that he heard Elizabeth yell, “Get off of him! Get off of him you slime! Get off or I’ll shoot!”
Pierce had never seen Elizabeth hold a weapon, but she appeared to know how to use it. Apparently she had heard the fight ensue and ran in to help Pierce. When she saw the gun laying on the floor, she picked it up and took control of the situation.
As the local police hauled Skip Daniels to the Courthouse to be held for trial, Pierce was able to gather up plenty of information on the man’s history in his apartment. It appeared as if Skip had recently proposed to his longtime girlfriend, only to be rejected. She had apparently been cheating on him with another man and Skip felt that he had lost what was rightfully his.
“I guess he’ll be going away for a long time,” Pierce said, exhausted from the day’s excitement.
“Yeah, and you have me to thank for being alive,” Elizabeth informed him, in a matter-of-fact tone.
“You know, Elizabeth Booth, you would make a pretty good private eye and your resistance is futile!”
And with those words spoken, Pierce escorted Elizabeth to his car and took her home. Little did he know that this would be the first of many cases in which he would rely on Elizabeth Booth to help bring criminals to justice.
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