I knocked on the door and a short, dark-haired woman with black horn-rim glasses opened the door. “Miss Hindemith?” I asked, “I’m Jonathan Drake, a private investigator.”
From a back room I heard what was unmistakably Natalie Taylor’s voice say, “That’s him! Wait Greta. I’m not decent.”
Instinctively, I looked past Miss Hindemith and in a very brief glimpse saw what Miss Taylor meant by “not decent”. A skirt and blouse — without a head — darted across a hallway into another room.
Miss Hindemith lowered her voice and learned close. “Mister Drake, Natalie’s very sensitive about her appearance. When she comes out, try not to stare.”
“Alright,” Miss Taylor announced as she came down the hallway. A large lavender hat covered her head and a white veil was pinned to its very broad brim. White gloves covered her hands but they were scrunched up because they were a little too long for the sleeves of the blouse.
I explained my policy of private interviewing and Miss Taylor reluctantly agreed to take a walk.
Greta Hindemith recounted the events of the morning when her roommate had vanished and the story matched Natalie’s. I then had her recount anything she could recall during the previous few days. I really had no idea how many days to review and thought again of how unprepared I really was for this case.
I looked around the apartment after we had talked. “Do you lock the windows at night?”
“Well, not when the weather gets warmer as it has.”
“And the hidden key? Does anyone other than Miss Taylor and yourself know about its location?”
“Well, I don’t know about Natalie, but I assure you that I never told anyone.”
In truth, my client never told me about a key. Many people do keep one under the mat or otherwise close by and all it takes is the pretense of certain knowledge to get them to reveal its existence.
After examining the windows in my client’s bedroom, and finding nothing out of the ordinary, I turned to a scrapbook on her dresser. I looked inside and discovered a beautiful strawberry blonde with a glowing smile, rosy cheeks and lovely green eyes. At the moment I didn’t care if I had guessed her eye color wrong. She was stunning without having that falseness that shows on the faces of some fashionable women.
“She’s lovely.” I said mostly to myself.
“She was.” Greta Hindemith said, walking up behind me. “Ironic, isn’t it? That such a beautiful face should disappear?” I wondered how much jealousy this stenographer might hold toward her glamorous roommate. It may have been a presumptuous thought but I’ve solved many a mystery with similar hunches.
“Tell me about this Mister Ambridge.” I asked.
The woman made a sound that would have been a snort had she put more energy into it. “If you ask me, Natalie is better off without Bradley. He’s polite when you meet him but I think he looks down on ordinary folk.” She pronounced the word ‘ordinary’ with mock nobility. “They went to dinner that night but I was asleep when he brought her home. I suppose one of them would have noticed if she had disappeared by then.”
I thought about that. Would she have looked in the mirror when she was home? Could her date have done something to her somehow and but pretended not to notice? But why would he do such a thing. What could have been his motive?
“And as far as you know, he just dropped her off?” I asked, “He didn’t come in for a while maybe?”
She shook her head and said, “I may have been asleep, but I know Natalie. She never invites a man in.”
I thought about how different Miss Taylor was from the sort of woman I might take for a night on the town.
I thanked Miss Hindemith and left. At the bottom of the stairs, inside the foyer, my client was standing looking out. She seemed lost in thought looking out a tall window beside the front door. I stood next to her for a moment silently.
“It never used to be scary.” She said. “But I guess I’d better get used to dressing like a widow.”
She then turned to face me and I almost startled. The white veil she was presently wearing was not nearly as thick as the black one I had first seen her in. And with the light coming through the window I clearly saw an empty hat on that woman. I thought to comment then thought better. I felt like a mutt caught in traffic, not knowing where to turn and sensing that every direction was the wrong direction.
“You know,” she said, “I read that women in the Near East wear veils all the time. Long one’s, too. Maybe I should go there.”
I gave what I hoped was a reassuring smile. “I wish you wouldn’t.” I said. She tilted her head ever so slightly and I added, “I wouldn’t want to miss out on this fascinating mystery.”
She sighed and said, “It’s not easy staying here all day. I feel I’m losing my head both ways.” I was glad to hear that she had the remnants of a sense of humor.
I looked away and said, “Well, if you really need to get out, Miss Taylor, you’re welcome to stop by my office.”
“Thank you, Mister Drake,” she said after a while, “I may just do that.”
I hoped she would.