THE CASE OF THE KNIFE


“You - you think so?” She smiled at Lance - a tentative smile that matched the way she was drumming her fingertips together.

“Seems right,” he said.

“Well - good!”

“Good indeed.”

“I suppose you’d better . . . talk to him, then.”

“I suppose I should.”

They stared at each other. Her smile fluttered and faded. And another smile took its place. A different smile. It shone in her eyes and it left her mouth alone. Then she looked away - to the crowd on the ballroom floor.

“Maybe he’s escaping,” she said, suddenly nervous again.

“We’ll get him if he does,” Lance said. “And we’ll get him if he doesn’t.”

“You’re sure of yourself, Mr. Lawson.” She gave him an appraising smile, and pulled a cigarette out of her purse.

“Call me Mr. Lance,” he said. He lit her cigarette.

“Lori’s sure of you, too,” she said.

“Everyone’s sure of something.” The band was playing a song he had heard on the radio a few days before. He’d heard it everywhere this week. In the drugstore. At the diner. In the car. People whistled it in the subway. He didn’t know its name. No one did. When he asked Tiny what the song was called, Tiny shrugged. It’s just that song they’re playing, he said.

Lance was sure of one thing: everyone who mattered to him would be worse off by evening’s end. Including himself.

Lance was sure of something else, and he had been since the door opened at Davenwood Manor tonight. He’d walked Lori up to the door; this was her crowd, her circle, her party. She had a new friend from Cafe Society, and they were all dying to meet the famous detective. He dreaded these engagements; handsome drunks and braying dames just dying to hear about murder. Just full of theories. Just ever so ready to tell him who the police should really arrest in that famous case in the papers. He’d knocked on the door - and Lori had suddenly remembered she forgot something in the car. She turned to call the valet back - she stepped away, turned away, took her arm from Lance’s.

The door opened.

He recognized her immediately. Dana Davenwood. Daughter of old man Davenwood, the financier who’d parlayed a career in bootlegging into a legit operation that spanned five states. Ran his spread from his bedroom, where he’d been confined since 41. He couldn’t move from his bed, let alone his room.

Rumor was his daughter got around enough for the both of them. Rumor was his daughter never dated the same matinee idol twice, on general principle. Rumor was . . . well, that Dana D. was trouble. But only for a certain kind of man. The kind with a pulse.

There was a tall tan blond man in a tux nibbling on her neck. He looked drunkenly at Lance, gave a casual sneer by way of a greeting, and went bent Dana

“Why, it’s the detective,” she said. “Am I under suspicion?”

“Not yet,” he said.

“Am I going to be under suspicion later?”

“If that’s his name,” Lance said, looking at the tall man, “maybe. You tell me.”

“Oh. Him? Cedric, are you still here? Go away. Go chew someone else. Lori! Darling.” They kissed one another on the cheek with no particular sincerity. “Come in come in! Keanan, be a dear and take their wraps?” They stepped into the foyer. Lance heard music, smelled the aroma of polish, firewood, must, supper, and some improbably flower. The latter was Dana’s perfume. “Listen, sweets, I’m glad you brought the world’s greatest here, because we have a problem. I’ve been robbed.”

For a second - if that - Lance saw the warm light of the chandelier run along the glistening ridge of Dana’s decotellage, and he was certain he would chose that moment, right here, now, to throw career away, cast off the shackles of civilization and law. Grab her strong shoulders and pull her to the cold marble floor and have her there. Just a second, if that; it passed. But he knew it; Lori knew it. Dana knew it.

And now here they were, in the dim hallway, discussing the thief. Crime. How everyone’s sure of something.

“And what are you sure of?” she said. “No, wait. Don’t answer that. I’ll be right back.” She turned towards the foyer, where the butler was taking the coat of a solitary man. He had olive skin and an ominous expression. “David!” she said. “So glad!”

She never talked to him again that night.

The suspect was booked into Cosmopolis Central Holding at 12:34, complaining that he’d been beaten before his booking. Tell it to the judge, the clerk said.

“So when do I get to see the judge?” the thief said. Lance happened to be walking by. He’d finished the paperwork. It had taken a while. He kept drifting off when he typed her name.

He put his palm against the thief’s ribs, the spot that just had to ache. “You saw me,” he said. “You’ve seen all the judge you need.”

And he pressed again. Hard.

SOLUTION: Lance suspected the servant, because the incorrectly placed silverware indicated that he'd lied about his credentials.