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The staircase creaked under the weight of the big Detective Sergeant. Fatty let Goon lead the way, making no attempt to force the pace. Three floors up, Fatty cleared his throat and said, “Hang on a minute, chief, I just want to make sure which floor she’s on.”
Goon heaved himself up to the landing and turned to face Fatty. He leaned back against the wall and waited for Fatty to come up to him. Fatty took his notebook out of this pocket and flicked through the pages.
“Where did it go, now. Let me see.”
He flipped through the pages, going back and forth.
“Ah, yes. Here we are. Mrs Miller, Apartment 605. ”
He looked up to see Goon watching him.
“You ok, chief?”
Goon grunted and motioned him up the stairs. Fatty stepped past Goon and as he did so he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.
“Thanks,” said Goon.
Fatty started up the stairs and Goon followed. Wordlessly, they continued the climb. On the fourth floor the carpet that had lain threadbare on the steps completely disappeared. Bare unpolished, deeply scarred wood scraped under the soles of the two policemen mounting their challenge upon the sixth floor. Fatty waited for Goon to join him at the landing of the sixth floor.
“Well, here we are, boss. Mrs Miller is down the corridor, I think.”
Goon took a big blue hanky out of his pocket and mopped his brow and neck. Fatty walked along the doors and stopped at the third door on the right.
“605 it is.”
He waited for Goon to join him and on his nod, he rapped his knuckles on the door. There came the sound of of a door squeaking softly. Down at the end of the corridor, a door opened slightly and a pair of eyes peered at the two policemen.
“Curiosity, chief, is the leading symptom of neighborliness”, said Fatty.
He knocked on the door of 605 again. Shuffling, scraping noises indicated that some life existed inside. The door opened a crack and a wizened old face looked out at them.
“Yes? Who may you be?” Her voice was surprising strong.
“It’s the police, ma’am. Is Mrs Miller home?”, said Fatty.
Down the corridor the door that was ajar closed suddenly.
“Ah yes. I’m Mrs Miller. Come in then. You took your time getting here.”
Fatty waited for Goon to enter before following him in. He shut the door behind him.
“This is Detective Sergeant Goon, ma’am, and I’m Constable Trotteville.”
“So young. What is your name, Constable? I shall call you Jimmy.”
“My name is Freddie, ma’am. But you can call me Jimmy, if you wish.”
“If your name is Freddie, I will call you Freddie, not Jimmy.”
Goon cleared his throat with a deep rumbling, rasping growl.
“Now look here, Mrs Miller”, he started.
“Tea, Mr Goon, I think you’ll like my tea. And some biscuits for Jimmy, yes?”
She bustled out into the kitchen. Goon looked at Fatty, who shrugged.
“Let me help you, ma’am”, he called out as he walked into the kitchen.
Goon looked around the room, noting the faded upholstery, the neatly arranged pieces of china. He walked over to a side table that held a family of dogs. White with little brown patches, the dogs shared the same misshapen ears and bushy tails. On the walls were framed paintings with fields of sage, gardens aglow with flowers or valleys basking under blue skies. Little bits of cheer in a decidedly threadbare room. On a console table stood two photographs in silver frames. One had a handsome young man in a military uniform, with a glint in his eyes, a handlebar moustache adorning his upper lip. The other showed a couple, smiling and in love.
“Tempests, ma’am? That is wonderful! I have always wondered what it would have been like to fly one.”
Fatty entered, wearing a starched white apron and carrying a tray on which was a teapot under a tea-cozy, three cups and saucers and a creamer.
“On the table there, dear”, right there. And you sit here in this chair. Mr Goon can sit here in George’s chair”
Goon sat down gingerly, after a slight hesitation and watched Mrs Miller pour out the tea. Fatty took off his apron and folded it neatly. He sat down with the folded apron on his knee and took the cup and saucer offered to him.
“Thank you, ma’am”, he said, “this smells lovely. Just like tea should. It’s not easy to get good tea, is it, Mr Goon?”
“Uh, no. Ma’am, can we ask you..”, he tailed off as Mrs Miller cut him off.
“All in good time, my good man. Tea isn’t something to be ignored.”
“Mrs Miller, you have a lovely flat. This furniture is really nice. You don’t get this kind of quality anymore. Have you always had this?”, said Fatty, peering at her over his cup.
“Oh yes. George would not buy just any old thing. He had a good eye for furniture. He liked solid well built things. He had a great deal of trouble with salespeople who tried to sell him cheap things. He would rather go without, than buy anything that wouldn’t last. He could tell, you see. George could.”
“So you must have lived here a long time, then.”
“Thirty years, Freddie. Thirty lovely years. George and I moved here when he got the job at the sewing machine factory. He was good with his hands. When he was in the RAF, he liked to work with the aircraft technicians.”
Goon cleared his throat and looked at Fatty.
“Uh, Mrs Miller, you know, we’re policemen and we’re here in response to your call.”
“Yes. I know, Freddie, my boy. If you’ve finished your tea, I’ll tell you why I called.”
Goon put his cup away and said “Please tell us, ma’am.”
“Well, it’s really quite simple. Some one is trying to kill me.”