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MURDER AT 250 CENTER STREETA "STONE COLD" MYSTERY
By DAVID H. BROWN
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 David H. Brown
All right reserved.
Chapter One"State desk, Shelby."
"Hi. This is Doc Thornton, your stringer from Moundsville."
(I think to myself, of course you're my stringer from Moundsville, Doc. Who else do I have there but you?)
"What's up, Doc?" (I cannot help but pull that corny Bugs Bunny quip with him.)
"Friend of mine works at the hospital's emergency room. She tells me they got an abandoned baby that needs a lot of attention."
"Doc, that's worth about a paragraph. Just give me what you've got, and then keep in touch."
(He had not been one of my more aggressive small town correspondents. Sure, he called in those items that mainly interested small town people, but once in a while he fed me an item that I could use for my weekly column. Still, I figured he was worth the $25 a month retainer I paid the other 30 stringers I supervised.)
The next day, Doc called again.
"I hope you're sitting down," he began. "You ain't gonna believe this. I figure it might be worth a little something extra in my paycheck." (Yeah, sure, Doc. Dream on.)
"You're treading on thin ice here, my friend. Whatcha got?"
"How about a second abandoned baby"
"Get outta here, Doc."
"Well, you ain't heard nothin' yet. Would you believe the second one also was found in the same basement?"
"You've got my attention now, Doc. Keep going."
(Doc probably could hear my typewriter clicking away in the background.)
"The first one, a girl, has red hair. The second, a boy, has dark hair. And ..."
"You're pushing your luck again, Doc."
"Okay, okay. They're both preemies."
"So what? Lots of twins are preemies."
"Yeah, but the woman doctor who works the emergency room says they're from the same mother."
"Doc, I know you're not a doctor but a retired pharmacist with that nickname, but what you're talking about is what we call fraternal twins. So, anything else? By the way, did you say they were found in a basement?"
"Oh, yeah. I guess I better find out more about that angle."
"Yes, I guess you better had. That intrigues me."
Shelby's boss, the state editor, was off that day, so she went to City Editor Jack Clowson. (The story may not sound much, but the basement angle might make for a good story and get me back into good graces with Clowson.)
* * *
When Jake and Sally Cummings moved into their second floor apartment at 250 Center Street, they did not have much furniture, but the one bedroom unit was all they could afford.
After unpacking their few boxes, they took them down to the basement. As they were about to leave, Sally said she thought she heard a noise. "Probably some rats," Jake joked. Sally headed in the direction of the sound. As she came around a corner of a dark area near the furnace, she turned to Jake. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear I hear a baby crying." Jake did not move toward her, but added, "Probably a cat, not a rat." Sally did not appreciate his attempt at humor. "Jake, go back upstairs and get a flashlight. I can't see a thing here."
When he returned and turned it on, the beam focused on what looked like an old wrapped-up rug, but what turned out to be a blanket. Sally gently unwrapped it and almost dropped the whimpering baby. "Jake, get the apartment manager to call for an ambulance. The baby needs to get to the hospital quick.
The ambulance arrived 10 minutes later.
* * *
As slowly as Doc gave his last detail, the faster Shelby typed. (At least Clowson said six paragraphs would be worth an 18-point headline, so that's a start. Damn, that's not enough for a byline. Shit.)
* * *
Dr. James Benson Radford had just resigned as chief physician at Moundsville Memorial Hospital to begin as head of a large facility downstate. The only person to apply for the vacancy was Dr. Beryl Silber. The hospital's board of directors interviewed her, and she was offered the position, which she accepted.
When the baby arrived at the hospital, Dr. Silber knew something did not seem right. The first thing she did was weigh the tot - a bit less than four pounds. The tiny body was covered with rashes, something that did not seem consistent with what she first thought was a very recent birth. She ordered Penicillin, Acromycin V, and Neomycin Ointment for the infection. Because the baby seemed to have trouble breathing, Dr. Silber placed the tot in a special incubator where oxygen could be pumped in.
* * *
Police Chief Ned Delaney was finishing his morning apple Danish at Walt's Bakery when he saw the ambulance whiz by. The lights were flashing, but the siren was not blasting away. Strange, he thought. He flipped several dollar bills onto the counter, and ambled out to his cruiser.
Chief Delay always ambled. He was 5-feet 9-inches tall, but the scale groaned at his nearly 300 pounds. His pot belly overhung his gun belt, something his wife Nancy not too gently reminded him. Despite the fact that she was a nurse at Moundsville Memorial, he rationalized that he needed the energy from his daily stop at Walt's to do his work. But, there wasn't all that much for the chief to do.
After he parked his cruiser at the hospital, he ambled into the emergency room and figuratively ran into Nancy. "What's up hon? I saw the ambulance headed here."
"We got us the cutest baby," she gushed. "But, something's wrong. Dr. Silver had a funny look on her face after she examined her.
"Who found the baby, and where?" Ned asked.
"Some couple in that old apartment building on Center Street," she responded. "Seems a young couple just move there and found the baby behind the furnace."
"Well, maybe I ought to go over there and talk to them," Ned replied. "What's their names?"
"Jack and Sally Cummings," Nancy replied. "And before you get there, brush off the crumbs from your crotch, for God's sake! Gee, apple Danish again, I see."
Ned did as he was told, and ambled back to his cruiser.
* * *
"I'm Chief Delaney," he announced as Sally responded to his knock at the door. "I hear you found a baby in the basement. Mind showing me where it was?"
"Not at all, chief," she answered. "But, we better get the building super too."
Mrs. Celia Parkins answered the knock on her door, and was taken aback at the sight of the chief. "Yes, what can I do for you?" she asked.
"We need to go back down to the basement where that baby was found," he explained. Mrs. Parkins noticed Sally behind the chief's bulky figure and smile, adding, "Sure. Let me get my flashlight 'cause it's kinda dark down there."
The three of them walked down the basement steps and Sally pointed out behind the furnace. Suddenly, Sally stopped short. "Did you hear that?" she blurted out. "Hear what?" both the chief and Mrs. Parkins asked in unison. "Shhh," Sally said. "Listen. I could swear I hear a noise coming from under the staircase."
Chief Delaney took out his own flashlight and shined it to where Sally was pointing. The sound was soft, almost like a kitten. "Oh, my God!" Sally exclaimed. "I see another blanket! Oh, my God! I think it's another baby!"
"Stand back!" the chief ordered and ambled over to the blanket. As a father of three himself, he gently picked up the blanket and brought to where Sally and Mrs. Parkins were standing. "Oh, my God!" Sally shouted. "It's another baby!"
"Here, you hold it," the chief said, handing the blanket to Sally. "I'm going to radio for an ambulance. Don't touch anything else around here."
He huffed and puffed his way up the stairs and hurried to his cruiser. By the time he got in touch with the hospital, he was almost breathless.
The ambulance arrived within minutes with it siren blasting, the red flights flashing. The chief led the ambulance crew into the basement. Mrs. Parkins had gone to her apartment to telephone the owner of the building.
* * *
Dr. Silber was waiting at the emergency entrance, along with Nancy, as the ambulance pulled up. The chief's cruiser was right behind. When Dr. Silber learned where the second baby was found, she turned to Nancy and remarked, "This is too much of a coincidence."
"Exactly where did you find the second one, Ned?" Nancy asked her husband. "In the basement but in another spot," he replied.
Dr. Silber quickly examined the latest arrival, and discovered the same rash. She treated him the same way she did the girl.
"I think we have fraternal twins," she commented to Nancy.
Chief Delaney had been standing behind the two when he suddenly let out a loud belch, then another. "S'cuse me," he apologized. Nancy was about to reprimand Ned when his face turned beet red. His eyes rolled up, he gasped, and his enormous bulk of a body began to slide to the floor. As he collapsed, he grabbed the gurney where Dr. Silver had just been examining the new arrival. Nancy tried to stop his fall, but as the gurney began to topple on top of him, Dr. Silber pulled the baby into her arms just in time. The chief's massive body slammed to the floor with a thud! He almost pulled Nancy underneath him.
"Ned! Ned!" Nancy screamed.
Dr. Silber gripped Nancy with her free hand and ordered her to take the baby while she attended to Ned. Her examination was all too brief. "Nancy," she said, "I'm sorry but Ned's gone. I am sure he already was dead by the time he hit the floor."
Nancy began sobbing hysterically so that Dr. Silber had to reclaim the baby. "Ned, I told you to stop eating so much!" she screamed at the corpse. The emergency room now was full of nurses and orderlies. "Take him to Room 3 so I can do a full autopsy!" Dr. Silber commanded. It took four husky attendants to finally remove the chief's inert body.
"Get a hold of yourself, Nancy," Dr. Silber said sternly. "I need you here because I just realized there is something strange about these two births."
Nancy glared at Dr. Silber through her reddened and now swollen eyes. She would have a breakdown later, but for now she had to do as she was told. She vowed to herself that she never would forgive Dr. Silber for being so cold-hearted.
Dr. Silber had noticed that the umbilical cords of both babies had been cut in such a way that the nerve endings were pinched. That prevented any bleeding. Either that was a piece of luck, or the birth mother had some medical training. Something else bothered her, but she decided that would have to wait.
With the baby placed in a second incubator, Dr. Silber now could turn her attention to Chief Delaney. "I'm sorry I had to be so gruff," she apologized to Nancy. "This is an impossible situation, one you won't find in the medical books. I've been here less than a month, and I really need to rely on you." Nancy seethed inside, but nodded yes.
Dr. Silber's examination of the chief confirmed her quick early assessment about the cause of death. "Nancy, I'll make out the Death Certificate," she began. "I know you need time to make some arrangements, so go ahead. Let me know when you are ready to return."
Chapter Two"State desk, Shelby."
"Hi, this is Doc Thornton, your stringer from Moundsville."
(Where have I heard this before? It's 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon, and I'm ready to go home. My Sunday column is done. Now what?)
"What's up, Doc?"
"I hope you're sitting down."
(Oh, for Christ sake, Doc, don't put me through this again!)
"Yes, I'm sitting down."
"Remember that abandoned baby? Remember there are two of them now?"
"Yes, Doc, I remember. Now what?"
"Well, there's another one at the hospital."
"A third abandoned baby?!!!"
"No, no, I mean there's another story."
"Doc, if you don't hurry up and explain, I'm going to . . . "
"Sorry. While the doctor was checking out the second baby, the police chief dropped dead."
(What the hell is he talking about? I've heard of fathers fainting, but ...)
"What does this have to do with the two abandoned babies?"
"Nothing, except he keeled over in the emergency room, in front of the nurse, who's his wife. I know that's a coincidence, but I thought you could do something with it."
(The babies' story is my top priority, but I'll have to figure out how to do the chief as a second story.)
"Doc, does the local paper have any of this?"
"Not as far as I can tell. It ran a couple of paragraphs on the first baby, but tomorrow they publish early. They don't have a Sunday paper."
"Doc, if there is any way you can keep a lid on this until next Sunday, there's some extra bucks in it for you."
"Well, someone must have see and heard the ambulance, but I don't see anyone from the paper around. Actually, the ambulance makes all kinds of runs right by the paper's office, but no one pays much attention to that any more. I've got some IOU's I can call in at the hospital, but the cops might take some doing. The second shift sergeant was a customer of mine when I was a pharmacist, so maybe I can work something out with him. The cops really don't like the paper anyhow because all the paper prints about them is negative."
"Doc, do what you can and get back to me. Here's my home phone number in case I'm not at the office. And, yes, there'll something extra in your next check."
"I'll be on the paper's shit list, but that won't be the first time."
After hanging up, Shelby raced over to Clowson just as he was clearing off his paper-strewn desk and leaving for the day. "This better be good, Shelby, or I'm outta here. Hmm, not bad, not bad at all. Let's take a chance and wait until Sunday. Lead off with the second baby, and just do a sidebar about the chief. If your stringer can get some photos, all the better."
"I am not sure about that, but I'll check with him."
Chapter ThreeMoundsville was built atop a circle of Chippewa Indian mounds that had been an encampment. Legend has it the tribe never survived the second winter. Apparently, they were not good at farming, or even fishing in the nearby river, or maybe the winter was too much for them. Some moved on, but those who remained died, according to the state archeologist.
Hardy pioneers from Connecticut resurrected the village site. Originally, their home followed the circumference of the mounds. But, some community leaders later decided that this configuration did not lend itself to future development. So, they "squared the circle." One octagon- shaped house is all that has remained.
The current population of around 10,000 comprises the seat of Chippewa County, part of the Western Reserve created after the Revolutionary War.
Moundsville is an incorporated city with a mayor and town council. The police station is on the main floor of City Hall. The county is run by a three-man board of commissioners, with the sheriff's office just behind the County Courthouse. City Hall is on the north side of One-Eyed Henry's Creek, with the County Courthouse on the south side. Court Street crosses over the creek going east-west. Main Street, north and south, also is State Route 15. The creek starts in the eastern hills at Knock 'em Stiff Hollow, and ends in Big Sandy River to the west.
Chippewa County is a farm area best known for its corn and "punkins," as the local people refer to that member of the gourd family which also includes cucumbers, melons, and squash. The Gourd Gala takes place during the third week of October when downtown Moundsville is cordoned off for two blocks in all directions to farmers can display their fall produce. This includes cucumber punch, melon bread, and "punkin" pies with "punkin" ice cream. The big parade precedes the awarding of prizes for the best food that uses some or all gourd product.
Outside of town along State Route 15 is a water tower with "Ashford Cannery" painted on all sides. At one time, only the name of Moundsville was on the tower, but somehow the county commissioners decided to change it. Rumor has it that the cannery supplies some of its products to the commissioners free of charge.
South of town, the cardboard box factory boasts a large sign reading "Paper Products, Inc." It is a subsidiary of the conglomerate Dunton Industries. There also is an Agricultural Extension Service Station, and an always busy farm implement repair business.
Dial telephones were slow coming to the area, and the telephone company still had operators who answered when you picked up the phone. Also, there still were some party lines, which delighted some people who loved to listen in on a neighbor's conversation.
Almost all the businesses closed at noon on Wednesday so they could be open on Sunday. The rationale for that is lost somewhere in county history, but most people believe it was what farmers wanted.
Excerpted from MURDER AT 250 CENTER STREET by DAVID H. BROWN Copyright © 2010 by David H. Brown . Excerpted by permission.
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