Downtime: A Philip Chandler Mystery

The fog shrouded the dock.  I huddled against the warehouse, my knees drawn to my chest, my head on them as I listened to the water.  I was exhausted.  The cold dug though my threadbare clothes and pinched my ears.  My hands were numb.  Three times I had gone to the edge of the dock.  One step and it would be over.  I couldn’t do it.

I wiped my nose on my sleeve. After the third time I sat by the warehouse and hadn’t moved.

For fifteen years I had been a successful P.I.  At the age of twenty-eight, I had married an heiress, Lily Hardigen.  My father-in-law, Alexander Hardigen, had given me an office in his executive building.  I was making important contacts, working high profile cases.  That should have been my warning.  

A simple case of pilferage led me to money laundering that led me to Lily’s father.  I had a choice.  I knew what it would cost me, but I had to do the only thing I could do.  I took the information to the police. 

At first, Lily pleaded for me to forget what I had uncovered.  I couldn’t, but Alex was her father. It hurt when the divorce papers arrived.  I had to let her go.

Alexander Hardigen was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison.  Soon after  my clients began to fall away.  Before long I was scrambling for work to pay rent on a backstreet office. People turned their backs. Everything disappeared. My license was revoked, my car repossessed, and I was locked out of my apartment.  I lived in the deserted warehouse and ate food left by the dumpsters behind restaurants.  I became one of the forgotten.  I wanted to die but I couldn’t take that final step.

The clanging of a bell in the fog echoed across the water.  A ragged cough tore at my chest.  My throat burned.  I supposed if I couldn’t drown myself, pneumonia would work just as well.

“Hey bud, you alright?”

I stiffened.  The voice was close.  Cautiously I raised my head and squinted to where he stood, a tall man whose features were hidden in the swirling mist.  He wore a dark overcoat and a black fedora.  He leaned against one of the pylons, one hand buried in his coat pocket. 

“Huh?”  I blinked to focus my eyes. 

He straightened and sauntered to where I sat.  He said, “Are-you-all-right?”

That got to me.  I scrambled unsteadily to my feet.  My abrupt movement made him step back.  He kept his hand in his pocket. 

“Do I look like I’m alright?”  The words came out in a wheeze.

“Bud, you don’t look like much of anything,” the stranger said. 

“Go to hell.”  I coughed.  I had a hard time keeping my legs under me.

“Looks like you’ve already been there,” he said.  “You look as if you could use some hot coffee.  C’mon.  I’m buyin’.” 

I didn’t move.  “I don’t know you,” I wheezed.

He smiled.  “Tony.  Now, coffee?”  When I hesitated, he reached out to take me firmly by the arm.  “I’ve got a few bucks.  Let me do a good deed, huh.”

 I tried to free my arm, but couldn’t.  “Sure,” I said, “I go with you and your pals are waiting to have some sport with the bum, right?”

He let me go and stepped away.  “How long have you been like this?” he asked.

“None of your business.”  My legs went and I sat down hard.   

He squatted on his heels and tipped his fedora back.  “And I thought I was cautious.   Okay, why don’t I go get something and bring it back.”

I couldn’t figure him out. I didn’t care.  If he killed me, he would save me the trouble of jumping into the bay.  I struggled to my feet.  He waited until I had my legs under me then led me to the small café at the corner. 

As usual on Saturday night, the place was packed.  The waiter brought us our coffee and hurried away.  I was conscious of the peoples’ stares and whispers.  I began to wish I hadn’t come.

“Tony,” my companion said suddenly.

I refocused.  “Huh?”

“Tony.  My name is Anthony but I’m called Tony.”  His hand was suspended across the table.

“Sorry,” I mumbled and accepted it.  “Philip.”

The warmth of the coffee soothed my throat.  I hadn’t realized how cold I was.  I knew he was waiting for me to say something.  I was curious, mostly about why he had been on the docks so late.  Whatever the reason, I was certain it was none of my business.

A shadow fell across the table.  The owner of the café frowned at me.  “Phil,” he said, “You know I gotta ask ya to leave. You in the café is bad for business.”  He glanced at my companion.  “Nothin’ against you, mind.  I just don’t want no trouble.”

“It’s just a cup of coffee,” I muttered.  “It’s cold outside.”

“I know,” he said, “but Phil…”

I slammed my cup onto the table and started to my feet, but Tony stopped me.  “This man is my guest,” he said.  “He’ll leave when he’s finished.”  His words left no room for argument. 

“I gotta call, Phil,” the owner said.  “Ya know I gotta let the cops know.”  He moved away before I could answer.

I got slowly to my feet.  I felt like a coward.  “There’s no reason for you to leave,” I told Tony.  “Thanks for the coffee.”

“You don’t have to leave either,” he said.  “He has no reason to run you out.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said.  “I know.  But he has the right to refuse service to anyone.  Says so right over the bar.”

By the time I reached the warehouse, I was soaked.  The back room had once been an office.  It was there I slept on an old mattress with a pair of army blankets for warmth.  A chair and tattered card table rescued from a dumpster were my only furniture.  I had a kerosene lamp for light and kept my few clothes in an old seaman’s trunk.  Canned food, coffee, and bottles of water lined the wall.  I heated my food and coffee in an old tin pot.  It wasn’t much, but it was dry if not warm.

I huddled into my blankets, the incident at the café still fresh, when I heard the sound of a car.  I sat up.  Muffled voices were near the outside door.  I had no desire to witness any business that wasn’t my own. 

The door to the warehouse creaked.  I jumped at the unexpected noise.  I knew as long as I stayed in the back room, I was safe.  I strained to hear.  Footsteps echoed through the empty building.  I held my breath.  For several minutes there was complete silence.

“Maybe he ain’t here,” someone said. 

“Quiet!”  I knew that voice too well.  “Philip?”  It was Alexander Hardigen, released from prison after serving only five of the twenty years.  “Philip?  Come out.  We need to talk.”

I kept quiet.  As long as he didn’t find me, I was safe. 

“Maybe he’s out boozin’.”  

I heard what may have been a laugh.  “Don’t be an idiot,” Alex chided.  “He doesn’t drink.”

“Lotsa the bums take it up.”

There was a shuffle of feet then Alex spoke again.  “Shut you’re stupid mouth, Berl.  He can’t drink.  Understand?”

There were times in the past I wished that wasn’t true.  I had discovered that my natural mother had been an alcoholic.  Unlike some babies born with a dependency on alcohol, I had been born deathly allergic to it. 

I had hoped that Alex would stay away from me but old grudges die hard.  Someone had tipped him as to where I was.  Tony.  The way he had appeared, the feeling I had felt in his presence, it all should have told me.   

Someone reached the office door.  I held my breath. 

“Could be in here.” 

The doorknob rattled. The lock was rusted and the door jam rotted by the sea air.  It wouldn’t take much to shove it open.

“It’s locked.  Want I should force it?”

“No.”  It was Alex.  “The door isn’t damaged.  Philip couldn’t get in unless he broke in, like he did the main door.  There’s no sign he has been here.  Someone misinformed you.”

It wasn’t like Alex to give up.  He knew that I could be behind the door.  It didn’t make sense.  I didn’t like it. 

The footsteps receded. The outer door creaked.  A minute later, the car engine came to life and faded.

 I crept out expecting Alex to have instructed his men to drive away while he waited for me.  I strained to hear anything that might alert me to where he was.  I inched the door open.  The cold air bit into my face as I stepped out.  Something swished behind me.  Before I could turn, something hard connected with the back of my skull. 

Sleet was falling when my mind struggled to consciousness.  Pain pulsated behind my right ear  I pushed myself to all fours and threw up.  I put my hand to the back of my head and brought it away sticky with blood.  I was holding a piece of pipe in my other hand and stared stupidly at it until reality dawned.  The world spun out of focus. I closed my eyes until the dizziness stopped.  When I reopened them I saw what I knew would be there.  What was left of Alex Hardigen’s black eyes stared unseeingly up at me. His head was a bloodied mass.  I fell back.  I felt my stomach clench and wished I had jumped into the bay.  I had only a minute to think.  I rubbed my fingerprints from the pipe and dropped it next to Alex’s body. 

Headlights blinded me.  Red and blue lights pulsed through the fog. Two shadows emerged from the glow.  One of them knelt by Alex.  The other squatted on his haunches by me.

“What’ve you done, Phil?”

The patrolmen knew me.  They also knew my history with Alex.  I didn’t say anything.  Pat placed a blanket over Alex’s body then draped one across my shoulders.  Jerry pressed a cup of hot coffee into my hands. They asked me questions my half functioning brain couldn’t respond to.   

The paramedics and crime scene technicians arrived simultaneously.  The paramedics informed the police they could find me at the hospital.  By the time we reached Emergency, time had suspended in my mind.  I fell into the black vortex of infinity not caring if I ever woke again.

When I came to, I recognized the detective standing over my bed.  A man I assumed was his partner stood looking out of the window at the rain.

“Why’d you kill him, Chandler?” 

Detective Aaron Stubbel was a man firmly locked in Alex’s pocket.  Most of the local force had been before Alex went to prison.  I didn’t know Stubbel’s partner.  At the question he turned.

“I didn’t kill anybody,” I grumbled.  

Stubbel laughed nastily. “Sure.  You’re a sterling guy, Chandler.  Who else but you wanted the old man dead?”

I shifted to ease the pain in my neck and shoulders.  “Want me to make you a list?”

“Funny,” Stubbel said.  He pinned my right arm to the bed.  He had the advantage.  I was too groggy to fight back.  “Listen, you killed the old man and you’re goin’ down for it.  Got me?”

My arm was going to sleep.  I tried to pull it loose.  The movement sent pain through my head.  “Who writes your dialogue?”  I finally managed to jerk free.  “You sound like a character from a bad movie.”

“You’re goin’ to think bad movie, wise guy, when the judge hands you life,” Stubbel said. 

I looked to his partner.  The younger man shook his head with a grim smile.

Stubbel glanced over his shoulder.  He seemed to have forgotten he wasn’t alone. 

The other man approached.  “Detective Jack Dyer,” he said. 

He was maybe 30, tall, with a tan that he didn’t get in Washington.  “I came from L.A. with the new captain.”

 “I knew you weren’t familiar,” I said, trying to sit up.  The effort made the room go fuzzy.

“You better lie still,” Dyer advised.  He found the controls to the bed and raised it.  “Doctor says there’s a hairline fracture to the base of your skull.”

“Yeah,” Stubbel broke in.  “We don’t want you dyin’ yet.”  He turned to Dyer.  “Don’t be nice to this creep.  He’d sell you out for a laugh.”

“Really?  I thought that was your job,” I said.  “Losing half of your income has made you a bitter man, Stubbel.  Or are you still on the take?”

He lunged at me.  Dyer caught him and pushed him away.  “You’ll pay for that crack,” Stubbel said, his finger pointed at me.

“You frighten me,” I said, deadpan.

Before he could reply, the door opened.  The man who entered gave me a chill.  “Take a hike, you two,” he ordered.  “I want to talk to Chandler.”

Stubbel shot a nasty glance in my direction before leaving.  I looked at my visitor.  I had been wrong in my original assessment.  “Who are you?”  I asked.

He grinned as he pulled up a chair.  “Anthony Ferrone, Captain, Homicide.”

“A cop.”  I laughed.  “Figures.”

“Fraid so, Buddy,” he said.

“I had a feeling,” I said, “but had you tagged private.”

“You thought I aimed Hardigen in your direction,” he said.

“Yeah,” I admitted.

He shook his head.  “Never met the guy.  I just took over the department.  I came across your file while I was rearranging things.  I thought I’d check into it.  It didn’t play right.

I had a time finding you. This deal tonight smells rank.  I don’t like it when things fit together that easily.  You got any ideas?”

“One or two,” I said.  “Someone wanted the old man out of the way. I make a convenient fall guy because of the history between us.”

Tony nodded.  “You wouldn’t have any ideas?”

I didn’t answer. 

“The doctor says the same pipe that killed Hardigen put the dent in your skull.  I’ll know for certain in the morning when I hear from the lab.  I’m betting your hair and

blood are on it.”  He grinned.  “Good thing you didn’t toss it in the bay.  Had to have been a third person.  You want to tell me what happened?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I live in that warehouse.  I heard them arrive and I heard them leave.  I went to check to make sure.  My mistake.”

“They say anything interesting?” he asked.

“They were looking for me.  I didn’t want to see them, so I kept out of sight.” 

Tony nodded.  “I’ll have Hardigen’s men picked up.  I’d like for you to work with us on this.”

I laughed and wished I hadn’t when the pain shot through my head. 

“You couldn’t have hit yourself like that,” he said,  “and I don’t like this whole setup.”

“What can I do the police can’t?”  

“You can talk to the old man’s daughter.”

“No!” I said sharply.  “I don’t talk to Lily.”

“From what I hear,” he said, “Hardigen’s daughter has high-powered attorneys fielding questions.  You stand a better chance of getting her to say anything useful.  I know you were married to her.”

“Lily hates me.  She never forgave me for turning Alex in.  It will be worse if she thinks I killed him, and she will think that.  I know her.”

“All the more reason for you to convince her you didn’t,” Tony reasoned.  “Listen, Buddy, you were a good P.I.  I’ve checked.  There wasn’t a blemish on your record until Hardigen started the campaign against you. I understand her loyalty to her father, but she should have stuck by you.  By not doing so, she condoned what he was doing, maybe even knew about it.  You have the chance to regain everything if you help find Alex Hardigen’s killer.”  He stood.  “The doctor wants to keep you overnight for observation.  You think about what I’ve said.  Let me know in the morning what you decide.”

After he left, I thought about facing Lily.  The idea terrified me.  But, Tony Ferrone was right.  I had to get past the fears and the hurt or I would never be a man again.  I had to see Lily and convince her I didn’t kill Alex.

I braced myself and rang the doorbell.  I had no idea what I would say to Lily.  I fidgeted with my hat and tried to calm my stomach. 

The door was opened by Arianne, Lily’s maid

“Is Miss Lily in?”  I asked.

Arianne hesitated then stepped to one side.  “I’ll see if she’s receiving,” she said and disappeared down the hall.

I took several deep breaths and wished I looked more presentable.

The sound of heels clicking against the hardwood floor brought me around.  It was Lily.  I felt a clutch in my throat.  She hadn’t changed.  She was a petite woman with glossy black hair and emerald green eyes that flashed as she stood with her arms folded, her expression decidedly unfriendly. 

“What do you want?  Why aren’t you in jail?” she demanded. 

“I didn’t kill Alex, Lily.”

“You’re a liar,” she said.  “Who else had a reason?”

I shook my head.  “I didn’t kill him.  Whoever killed Alex attacked me, too.  It was a setup.”

She didn’t believe me.  “Why are you here?”

“Where’s Ted?”

That rocked her.  Her arms dropped and she took a step backwards.  “Ted?  You can’t seriously think…”

“Why not?” I said.  “He had a motive.” 

She stared at me as if I had lost my mind.  Anyone who knew Ted Denzon would have agreed with her. Not only was Ted Alex’s oldest friend, but he was also second-in-command in the company and general manager of all of Alex’s enterprises for over twenty years.  While Alex was in prison, Ted controlled everything.  He was also in love with Lily, despite the fact she was young enough to be his daughter, a tidbit that I had been aware of while I was married.  It made sense to me that he had to be the murderer and arranged to have me the fall guy. 

“Look,” I said, “let’s sit down.  I’ll explain it to you, then you’ll understand.”

“Here is fine,” she said.

Resigned, I said,  “Ted was in control of Alex’s business, especially while Alex was away, right?”

“Yes,” she agreed.

“That’s a lot of power, Lily. Ted suddenly found himself wielding that power.  He could run the business any way he wanted. Alex was in jail.  Alex would be a very old man in twenty years.  By then, the company would belong to Ted.  Except Alex didn’t spent twenty years in jail.  He was a model prisoner and got out in five.  Ted saw all of his plans falling to ruins.  He thought of me.  It would be natural to assume I would hold a grudge against Alex.”

“Don’t you?” Lily asked.

I shook my head.  “Lily, I’m not stupid.  I know I’d be the first person the police came after if I killed Alex.” 

She thought it over.  “All right.  Keep talking.”

“So, either he talked Alex into going after me or Alex did so on his own,” I said.  “I wasn’t hard to find.  All Ted had to do was bribe the goons into setting it up and putting in an anonymous call to the police.”

“But it didn’t work,” Lily said.  “The police obviously don’t consider you a suspect or you’d be in custody.  Why aren’t you in custody?  You were found with the murder weapon hovering over Daddy.  That’s pretty tangible evidence, even if it was a setup.”

“I was hit by the same pipe.  I couldn’t have done that myself.  My prints weren’t on the murder weapon, but my hair and blood was.”

“How do you know that?” she interrupted.

“The police questioned me,” I said.  I shifted my weight.  The ache in my head was getting worse. I wanted to sit down.  “Captain Ferrone knows I couldn’t have done it.  He told me so.  He knew Alex was out.  He was expecting trouble.  I told him about Ted.  He agrees that it’s possible.  He’s checking it out.”  I hesitated.  “Captain Ferrone thought I could get your cooperation.”

“Maybe,” Lily said.  “We’re talking.  I’m listening.  What you say makes sense.  It could be a ruse, but I know you.”  There was no warmth in her smile.  “You still love me,” she said.  “But you sent Father to prison.  You betrayed his trust in you.”  

It made me angry.  “There was no trust to betray.  He assumed I would cover up anything I discovered about him.  His mistake was not letting me know he had anything to hide.  Because he knew how much I loved you, he thought he could use you to control me.”  I paused.  “Maybe if he had included me…”

“No,” she said, her voice softened.  “Not you.  He knew it.  You were too honest.  So, what do you do now?”

“Tell me where I can find Ted,” I said.

She straightened and stared past my shoulder.  I felt the hair rise on my neck.  I turned to place myself protectively in front of her.  Ted Denzon stood at the door. The revolver in his hand told me he wasn’t going to be reasonable.

“Put the gun down, Ted.”  I kept my voice calm. 

“You should’ve stayed burrowed in your hole like the rat you are,” he said as he took a step toward us. 

I backed away shielding Lily. 

The muscles in his neck were stretched taut.  “You had a good living.  The old man gave you more than you deserved and you paid him back by turning on him.”

“You killed him, Ted.  You betrayed him.  The money was too good, the power too tempting.  It’s over.  Put the gun down.”

“What are you talking about?” he demanded.  “I had no reason to kill…”

“With Alex out of the way, you were in charge,” I said.  “It was all yours, but then he got out…”

He pointed the gun at my chest.  “Your little game won’t work, Chandler.  You killed him to get even.  You came here to kill Lily.”

The gunshot exploded close to my ear.  Instinctively I ducked.  Ted stiffened as the gun dropped from his hand.  The front of his shirt turned crimson.  He sank to the floor.  I whirled around.  Lily was holding my .38.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.  “I could’ve…” 

The first bullet hit me in the chest.  The second went into my right side.  I felt the impact, felt my knees give away.  As I lay in my own blood Lily took my arms and turned me.

“You had the right scenario, Philip,” she explained.  “You just had the wrong person.    All I had to do was get Ted and Daddy out of the way.”  She tugged at my right arm and tried to force my fingers around the gun.  I was too far gone to resist.  “What could I do?”  She asked in a plaintive voice.  “Philip and Ted were arguing.  Ted fired first and Philip shot him.”

I realized she was rehearsing what she would tell the police. 

“Back away, Miss Haridgen.”  Tony commanded from the door.

Lily dropped the gun.  Oh, thank god,” she sobbed.  “They’ve killed each other.  They were arguing.  I was so frightened.”

“Save it for your attorney,” someone said.

“This one’s still breathing, Captain.”  Someone spoke from where Ted lay.

“Get some ambulances up here,” Tony ordered.  He knelt next to me.  “Hang on, Buddy,” he said.  “Help’s on the way.”

There were intervals of sound, smell, and touch; bright lights and shadowed figures. 

He’s coming out again.  Dammit, keep him under.”  There was blackness and cold.  Through it I heard the voices fading in and out.  “I’m sorry, Captain.  He’s heavily sedated…twelve hours on the operating table…complete rest, no stress…have to talk with him sometime…change that bandage.  Call me if it gets worse…temperature is 102.” 

When I woke, I was alone.  The room was dark.  I was cold, naked except for the light blanket covering me from the waist down.  The pain, though present, was muted.  Tubes snaked in and out of my chest and stomach.  My throat was sore, my mouth dry. Monitors by my bed glowed and beeped encouragingly.  I tried to move.  It took too much effort.

A nurse came in. She was pretty, an angel leaning over me as she checked my pulse and the tubes.  She smiled when she noticed me watching her.  She didn’t say anything but spooned a piece of ice into my mouth.  It was a welcomed relief.  I drifted back to sleep.

When I woke again, Tony stood by me.  A doctor held my wrist as he checked his watch.  When I opened my eyes, he glanced at Tony.  “Five minutes,” he said.  “Only five and he isn’t to talk.”  He placed my hand on my chest and left.

Tony waited until he was gone.  “Ted’s going to pull through,” he said.  “He gave us a statement.  Someone called and told him you were after Lily.  He told us Lily was trying to get him to relinquish control of Alex’s company.  Alex and Ted had a signed agreement  limiting what Ted could do.  Alex meant to spend little time behind bars.  It was his idea to talk to you.  He planned to use you to regain his social standing.  It would make him look like the forgiving benefactor.  Funny thing is that he actually thought you would agree.  Seems to me what happened before would have convinced him otherwise.”

I wasn’t too sure about that.

“Lily wanted both of you out of the way.  She wanted the company from her father and no one had any reason to doubt your motive.  I told you I expected trouble when Hardigen was released.  I just never expected it to come from his daughter.  My mistake.  I almost got you killed.  If her maid hadn’t called us when you showed up, we wouldn’t have been there to hear her confess to you.”  He paused.  “I don’t like the dirt I found in my own department.   Hardigen’s hands were in a lot of  pockets.  There’s a sweep that’s going to clear out of lot of rubbish.  We’ll keep close tabs on you for a  while                                       

just to make sure no one gets any ideas.”  He glanced at his watch.  “Five minutes.  The Review Board is reinstating your license.  When this is all over, make use of it.”

I was out of the hospital in a month, but had a long way to go.  The doctor warned me; no stress and a lot of rest. 

Tony picked me up at the hospital.  We had formed a friendship.  I was glad.  I needed a friend.  My major concern was where I was going to live.  In my condition, I didn’t think the warehouse was the best place.  I was still mulling over the problem when we arrived at the dock. 

Tony pulled up to the curb and grinned at me.  The dock had been transformed into a boardwalk with low brick walls, potted shrubs, and park benches. 

When we left the car, he handed me a set of keys.  “To the warehouse,” he said.  He nodded at the old building that sported a new roof, siding, new windows, and a new door. 

There was a deck, potted trees and shrubs, and one end of the building had been converted into a garage.  In it sat a new dark blue Camero convertible. 

Wordlessly I took the keys and unlocked the door.  We stepped into a spacious  apartment.  A spiral staircase led to a balcony, four bedrooms and two bathrooms.  There was a fully equipped kitchen, formal dining area, and a livingroom with a fireplace.  The  old office where I had slept was now a new office with an entrance from the apartment and one leading outside.  There was a cordless phone and a new computer on the desk, plus another desk with its own phone and computer.

“Your office,” Tony said.  “You also have an assistant.  Her name is Darla.  You’ll meet her tomorrow.”

“Where did all this come from?” 

Tony chuckled.  “Alex Hardigen. You were, upon your marriage to Lily, named in his will.  He never had the chance to change it.  You now have a bank account with $1,000,000 in it.”

I stared at him.  His smile broadened.  “The purchase and renovation of the warehouse was Hardigen’s lawyers’ doing,” he said.  “Compensation for all you’ve suffered.  They’ve also paid all of your hospital bills.”

I surveyed the apartment.  I had an office.  I had my license.  I had the capital and                                                     

then some to start over.  I couldn’t believe it and I knew this time I wouldn’t be taking it for granted.  I had learned my lesson.

Before I could reply, someone knocked on the door.  Tony answered it and turned to me with raised eyebrows.  Ellen, the pretty nurse from Intensive Care, stepped into the apartment and took everything in.  She looked to where I stood gaping like an idiot and offered her sweet smile.

“I received a call from the hospital,” she said.  “The doctor suggested that you might need a private nurse for the first week or two.  I have my license.”

I looked at Tony.  He winked. “I think I’ve had enough down time,” I said, smiling.  “It’s time to get back to work.”


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This short story is the first Philip Chandler mystery.