The Scarlet Web part One, a Sam Barton Mystery


Sam liked the sound that the tubes in his old radio made as they warmed. For a few seconds before the announcers voice came through the speaker the tubes made that reassuring bass hum combined with a high pitched whine. He thought that modern, solid state radios sounded soulless. Even though you could buy a radio today that had perfect high fidelity and distortion levels so low the human ear couldn’t hear them, Sam thought the music sounded lifeless. Those warm tubes were the heart of the radio, and without a heart well, nothing else worked.

It was late in the evening and Sam was finishing up another day of doing almost nothing. He hadn’t had a case to work on in over two weeks. It seemed crime was low in the city these days. Nothing much for a private eye to do. In a world of the internet and cell phones, Sam Barton was a throwback to a 1930’s movie. He called himself a “private eye” instead of a detective, wore a long trench coat and Fedora and carried a powerful pistol in a shoulder holster. And he smoked a pipe. He liked Jazz. An old girlfriend worked at the city’s only Jazz radio station and she was on the air late at night. Her name was Scarlet Lee and she was beautiful. She was thin, five foot eight and had flaming red hair and blue eyes. She and Sam had dated for a while but things hadn’t work out. Remaining friends, they saw each other from time to time and Sam still kept a key to her apartment, just in case he needed a place to stay. Mostly though, they met on the radio. Scarlet talking and Sam listening. He could listen to that sultry voice all night. Which he sometimes did.

Tonight however, a man’s voice came over the airwaves. The announcer said that due to Scarlet’s illness, he would be filling in on the night shift. Strange, Sam thought. He couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t on the radio on her usual nights. Sick or not, she was always there. Sam worried that something serious could be wrong but considering the late hour, and if she was really sick, he decided not to call her. With nothing else to do, Sam prepared for bed. He kept a cot in his office thereby keeping his expenses down. Taking off his shirt in the bathroom, Sam noticed a slight pudginess just above his belt line. Age and too much restaurant food was getting the best of him. According to his rental agreement there was no cooking allowed in his office. Considering that he hadn’t seen the landlord in over three years, maybe getting a hot plate and making his own meals wasn’t a bad idea. With that thought, Sam went to bed and dreamed of bacon and eggs.

The next day Sam was up early taking care of some business. He mailed a few letters, bills to clients mostly, and then thought he would swing past Scarlet’s place to see how she was doing. Leaving his car on the street, Sam walked up to the old house. Scarlet rented an apartment in a old Gothic Revival style house built around 1880. The owner had kept it up very nicely and made several apartments inside. Scarlet’s was on the second floor. At the top of the stairs Sam could see Scarlet’s door and knew immediately something was wrong. The door stood slightly ajar and wood splinters lay on the floor. Sam reached into his coat for his 357 magnum, a new one he’d bought after losing his old one during a recent case. Easing his way to the door, Sam crouched low and pushed the door open with his hand. Nothing. It had definitely been forced open. He moved into the apartment keeping low. Five feet in he could see into the living room and kitchen. Again, nothing. No sign of a struggle or anything out of place. A short hall led to the bathroom and bedroom. Both doors were standing open. Peeking into the bathroom first, he found no one there. The bedroom door was wide open and Sam could almost see the entire room. The blankets from the bed had been thrown onto the floor and Scarlet was gone.

After talking with others in the building Sam found that the lady in the apartment next to Scarlet’s had heard a loud noise last evening but thought nothing of it. No one else had heard a thing. Sam called the police on his seldom used flip phone. Scarlet had encouraged him to get a cell phone which he didn’t like using but because of her, he carried it with him. When the police arrived they searched the apartment, checked for fingerprints and took Sam’s story about what happened which wasn’t much as Sam knew almost nothing. They put crime scene tape across the door and told Sam to leave. Sam was considered a top detective in the city. It bothered him that he could find no evidence. As he drove away he decided he needed to go back. Swinging his fully restored 1941 BMW 327 Coupe around the block he slowed as the last police car left. Pulling up to the curb Sam shifted out of gear and sat for a moment with the engine running. The last time he spoke with Scarlet was a week ago and he could think of nothing she said that was out of place. He noticed that she had seemed a little distant when they talked but thought nothing of it at the time. Now he began to wonder. Was there something going on with her? Something she was reluctant to tell Sam. He supposed she had things in her life that she didn’t talk about, they were friends but not that close after their break up. Shutting off the car, Sam got out and headed toward the apartment. He had to find something he could use to help find Scarlet. What it was, he didn’t know.

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