The Tarot Card Mystery part Four


I started writing this story back in 2016. I wrote three parts and then life was interrupted by my wife’s illness. The story is a mystery involving my favorite detective, Sam Barton. Here are links to episodes one, two, and three. I’m now in the frame of mind to continue with the story. It’s been sitting, patiently waiting to be told. So here’s part four!

“She says you tried to rob her, Sam!” the police captain yelled. He had been doing this for about half an hour. Sam was driving around in his car trying to figure out what to do about this case when a squad car pulled him over. The police had went to Madame DuPree’s shop after Sam’s call and found the old woman tied up on the floor where he had left her. Taking her to the station, she claimed that Sam had come to the shop and tried to rob her. She said that she had never seen him before.

Pounding his hand on the Captain’s desk, Sam shouted back, “You can’t be serious! You know me Captain! You know who I am. You know I’d never do something like that. She hired me to find her niece. When I found more than she’d wanted, she had her gorilla knock me out and lock me in a storeroom. Look! She gave me this card.” Reaching into his pocket, Sam retrieved the Tarot card Madame DuPree gave him. Christi had tossed it into the back seat of his car after he rescued her and for reasons he couldn’t understand, he grabbed it and put it back into his pocket before the cops stopped him. “Why do you think I’d have something like this, Captain? Where do you think I’d get a Tarot card, if not from her?” Sam flipped the card over to show the Captain the face side, which had been the Death card except now it wasn’t. “What the hell…?” Sam said. “This, this isn’t the right card.”

“That doesn’t prove anything,” the captain said. “You’re not that stupid Sam, and neither am I. Having a playing card in your hand doesn’t mean squat! Now I know you didn’t try to rob her but your explanation isn’t all that convincing. So why don’t we…Sam? Sam!

“Sam looked up from the card and said, “This isn’t the right card. She gave me the Death card, but this isn’t it.” The card Sam was holding was the Hermit card. It showed an old man standing alone on a mountain top holding a lantern in his out stretched hand. “There’s something wrong here Captain…”

“You bet yer ass there is,” the Captain interrupted.

“She only gave me one card, Captain. It was the Death card. This isn’t it. How, how could that happen?

Sam’s vision started to blur. He dropped the Hermit card on the desk and rubbed his eyes. He started feeling nauseous and dizzy. Looking at the Capatin and back at the Hermit card he saw the figure of the Hermit turn it’s head toward him. Sam thought he must be going crazy as the figure began to grow larger in his vision. The Hermit lifted his lantern to illuminate Sam’s face and said, “You’re alone. You’re all alone, with no one to help you! Death will come to you in it’s time but for now, You’re all alone.” Sam fell forward out of his chair, and remembered nothing more.

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The Case Of The Missing Pipe part Three

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Parts One and Two are available in earlier posts. If you haven’t read this yet, check them out!

The Case Of The Missing Pipe, part Three

“My husband knew he was going to die,” recalled Mary Gialone. “He knew.”

Mary and Sam Barton were sitting in Sam’s friend Scarlet’s living room. For reasons as varied as the clients Sam worked for, he sometimes needed a place to stay. Scarlet had given him a key. “He called me to his study one night, it was only two or three nights before he died. He was sitting at his desk and he had this pipe in his hands. It was very ornately carved and made out of some white material.”

“Probably Meerschaum,” Sam interrupted.

“Meerschaum, yes that’s it. A very beautiful pipe. He was looking at it very intently when I came into the room. I asked him what he wanted, but he didn’t say anything. He just kept turning the pipe in his hands, staring at it. I asked him what was wrong. He looked up at me then, like he just realized I was there. He said, ‘Dear, this pipe is the key. The key to everything.’ I asked him what he was talking about but instead of answering me, he stood up and walked back to the display case where he kept the pipe. Putting it away, he said again, ‘The pipe is the key. But it’s locked.’ That’s all he said.”

“I didn’t think much about it until sometime after he died. I was so distraught with grief that it wasn’t until about a month ago that I remembered that strange night. And I wondered if this pipe could have anything to do with his death. So I went to his study to look at it and, well, it was gone.”

“Someone stole it?” Sam asked.

“It didn’t appear so. The break in happened about a week later. The pipe was just missing from its case. The case sat on a shelf behind my husband’s desk. When I saw that it was missing, I didn’t think much more about it. Then about a week later someone broke in and stole all my husband’s smoking pipes. I decided then that I needed help. Now I’m sure that pipe has something to do with my husband’s death. I don’t know what, but something.”

“Did you search for the Meerschaum pipe? Was anything else missing?

“I did. I looked through the desk and cabinets of the office but found nothing. And nothing else was missing. Why would someone steal only his pipes? There’s alot of questions here that need answers.”

“I’d like to get a look in there,” Sam said. Just then he heard a noise from the kitchen. Moving his hand nearer his revolver, he waited. Scarlet peered around the corner.

“Well Sam’s here,” she said, in her low, sultry voice. “And you brought a date. How nice.” Scarlet was a radio announcer for an all night jazz station in the city and a good friend of Sams.

“Hello Scarlet,” Sam said. “I hope you don’t mind we’re here. We needed a place to stay that no one knows about. This is Mary, by the way. She’s a client.”

Scarlet gave him a concerned look. “Are you in trouble again?” she asked.

“Nothing I can’t handle, and I promise, there’ll be no trouble for you.” She glared. “I know, I’ve said that before. But I mean it. Really. Scarlet? Stop looking at me like that. I mean it. You’ll be fine. Promise.”

“Okay, Sam. I’m going to bed. Nice to meet you Mary.”

“And you,” Mary said. “Thank you for letting us stay. I’m afraid this is all my fault.”

“No Mary, it’s not. It’s Sam’s fault. It always is. Night.”

“Hey!” Sam called after her as she disappeared down the hall. “That’s not fair.”

“Life never is, Sam.” She called back.

Sam sat for a moment, thinking. “What happened after they took me away?” Sam asked.

“That’s what’s strange about this. Nothing happened. I must have sat there for a couple of hours. I had no idea that you would come back for me. Finally one of the guys with a mask on came to the room. He walked toward me and I stood up fast. I guess he wasn’t expecting it. And then I kicked him in the, well, in the groin. He let out a yell and doubled over. That’s when I ran. I ran down the hall to the door. I didn’t know if it was locked, I didn’t know where it went…” Mary began to tear up. “I, I just knew I had to get out of there. I was so scared. I knew if they caught me then, I’d, I, I knew something bad would happen.” Sam handed Mary a tissue from the box on the coffee table. “And that’s when I ran into you,” she said.

Sam was getting a feeling. He knew something wasn’t right but it just wasn’t coming to him. “Are you telling me everything Mary? Don’t get me wrong but I’ve got a good sense about these things. When these thugs showed up at my office and knocked me out, I remember one of them saying something to you about being told not to say anything. Seems to me you had contact with them before you came to see me. Now, I’m not sure what’s going on here but I get the feeling you’re not telling me everything. And since I’m reluctantly up to my neck in this I think it’s time for you to level with me. If I think you’re using me for something, I’ll turn you back over to them myself.”

Mary started to cry. Putting her hands to her face, she sobbed into them. “I can’t.” she said. “I just can’t do this. I can’t lie. I, I just wasn’t raised like that.” Taking more tissue, she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. After composing herself for a moment she said, “I have been lying to you. They wanted me to get you to find the pipe, to use you to find it for them. Just as my husband said it was the key to, to something, they believe the pipe somehow holds some information they want. I don’t know what it is. They wouldn’t tell me.” Mary sniffed and wiped her eyes again. After the break in, they came to my house. They wanted the pipe. They threatened me, tried to scare me but I told them I didn’t know what happened to it. I was told not to talk. Not to go to anyone for help. But I was scared, and that’s why I came to you. I thought you could help me. I’m sorry.”

“After they took us from your office and then let you go, they threatened me again. They said I had to get you to help me. Make it real, they said. Make him believe it. They had people watching the street and saw you come back. They told me to run out the door like I escaped. I guess they chased us to scare you. I’m so sorry.”

Sam sat back on the sofa. It had been a long night and he was tired. Rubbing his face with his hands, he looked at Mary. Was she telling him the truth now? He couldn’t be sure. Could he walk away without them coming after him? He wasn’t sure of that either.

“Alright Mary. I’ll play along.” He stood up. “We’ll get some sleep here today and tonight we’ll go to your house and look for the pipe. I assume that a woman in your position has access to money and your going to need it. I charge by the hour.” She looked up at him. “I’m not happy about any of this. I should take you back to them and let them do what they want. Except I probably wouldn’t get out alive myself. I’ve lost my interest in helping you so let me make this clear. I’ll help you to the point where I can get out of this alive and then you’re on your own.” Gesturing toward the sofa Sam said, “You can sleep there. I’ll take the chair.”

As Sam settled into the recliner he went over everything in his mind. Things were still not adding up but he didn’t have enough information to put it all together. His last thought before drifting off was that he would find that pipe and put an end to this. And then Mary would be out of his life for good.

The blond was good looking alright. And she smelled even better. The closer she came to him the more aroused Sam got. Sliding her hands around his waist she pulled him close. Her face snuggled in and she kissed him on his ear. He snuggled back. And then she kicked him. And kicked him again. Sam opened his eyes to find Mary tapping his knee with her hand. “It’s late afternoon, Sam. Better wake up” Sam sat up in the chair. Rubbing his face he thought, why are my dreams always better than my life?

After leaving a note for Scarlet they went to Sam’s office and freshend up in the bathroom there. Sam changed clothes and told Mary what he had planned. “If these guys think you’re lying to get me to help you, they shouldn’t bother us if we go to your house. I’m going to find that pipe and put an end to this.” Sam loaded up his own pipe and struck a match. Puffing deeply, he enjoyed the Latakia taste filling his mouth. He didn’t ask Mary if she wanted to join him in a smoke. They drove to Mary’s house at dusk. Her husband had been a gangster who amased quite a forture in ill gotten money and the house showed it. A large iron gate and fence protected the property. As they drove up the winding driveway lined with exotic trees and shrubs, the house came in to view. A gothic style mansion with large windows and several round peaks presented a formidable fascade.

Sam wasn’t sure what to expect and was careful to be aware of his surroundings. At this time of day there were too many shadows for his liking. Shutting off the car and stepping out, he looked up at the house. It was big enough to get lost in. He had always wondered at the extravigence of the rich, why they thought they needed such oppulance. Mary looked nervous. “Everything alright?” Sam asked. She looked at him and nodded. Stepping up to the front door, Mary used her key. As she stepped inside, Sam took one last look around the yard and followed her through the door. Many times in his career he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Wondered if his next move would be his last. This, was one of those times.

To be continued….

The Case Of The Missing Pipe part One

Last year I wrote a monthly article for an on line pipe smokers magazine called appropriately, Pipes Magazine.com. The articles I wrote were about pipes, tobacco and smoking. Then I pitched an idea for a series about a pipe smoking private eye. He would be an old fashioned detective in the modern world. They liked it and it turned into a five part story. I had fun with this, and I hope you will as well.

The Case Of The Missing Pipe, part One

Sam Barton was disgusted. Sitting at the desk in his small rented office on the second floor of a run down two story building in the ‘not so nice’ part of downtown, he could smell cigarette smoke wafting up the hallway. He hated cigarettes. Using his custom pipe tool, he stirred the Latakia tobacco in his pipe, repacked it and lit it with a stick match. The wonderful aroma filled the room, effectively killing the cigarette smell. The smoker was a woman. He could tell by her foot steps. Light but with purpose, she probably wore high heel pumps. The kind that make a women’s calves look good. Her steps were far enough apart to indicate someone tall. Another plus. As she approached, he made up his mind that whatever she wanted, he would turn her down. He couldn’t stand cigarettes.

Sam knew she was coming to see him because his was the only occupied office on the second floor. He reached out and switched off the desk lamp, the only light in the room. She stopped in front of his door, her shadow casting against the frosted glass window from the light in the hall. She dropped her cigarette on the floor and Sam watched through the space under the door as she stepped on it, grinding it out with her shoe. Classy, he thought, with a note of sarcasm. With three quick knocks on the door, she waited. Sam watched her shadow. She looked at her watch, looked behind her, down at her shoes and back at her watch. Nervous, he thought. Maybe in a hurry. Standing as quietly as he could, he slipped into his overcoat, put on his hat and opened the door, making to leave.

“Oh!” she said, surprised. “Someone is here.” She was tall and slim, dark haired. Wearing a dark coat to protect against the rain, which never seemed to stop in this city, he could tell little else about her. “I, um, I’m looking for Sam Barton.”

Tipping his hat Sam said, “Sorry ma’am, I’m closed for the night. If you come back tomorrow, during business hours, we could speak then.”

“Forgive me,” she said quietly. “I wasn’t able to get here any sooner.” Looking up at him with doe eyes she continued. “But I really need to speak with you. It’s a matter of some importance.”

Feeling a headache coming on he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sure it is ma’am but as I said, I’m closed. Maybe tomorrow.” Closing his office door he tried to move around her but she stepped up close to him. Reaching out with her hand she pretended to straighten his lapel.

Leaving her hand resting on his chest she said, “Please. I don’t often beg, but this is very important to me.”

Sam’s imagination got the best of him with the begging comment, and he turned to unlock the door. “Alright,” he said. “I guess I can spare a few minutes.” And just to make sure she didn’t think she was getting the upper hand on him he pointed to the cigarette butt on the floor and said, “Would you mind picking that up please.”

Back at his desk, the woman sat in a chair in front of it. She delicately dropped the cigarette butt into Sam’s ashtray. Picking up the ashtray, Sam emptied it in the trash. She smiled at that and asked, “Do you mind if I smoke?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

“But I can smell pipe tobacco. You must smoke a pipe,” she said, all her nervousness gone now.

“I do,” said Sam. “But I have a strong dislike of cigarettes. Sorry,” he said, without conveying the sentiment.

“I see,” she said. “Well, if you have a spare pipe, I’ll smoke with you.” The barest of smiles crossed Sam’s lips as he reached into his desk and took out a cheap pipe he had never smoked. Filling it with his Latakia blend and filling his own as well he handed her the spare and lit them both up. They smoked in silence for a few moments. She was a pretty woman, with the look of a 1930’s starlet. And she knew how to smoke a pipe. “I understand how precious your time must be, so I won’t keep you,”. I’ve had a break in at my house. Some things that are very important to me are missing and I’d like you to investigate.”

“Why not just call the police,” Sam asked.

“Well, I uh, I’d like this to stay out of the papers. You see my late husband was known to have some dealings that were not always, how should I say this? Not always on the up and up. Now that he’s gone and I’m on my own, I’d like to live a quiet life. The less media attention the better. My husband was Sylvester Gialone.” She held out her hand and said, “My name is Mary, by the way. Mary Gialone.” Sam new the name well enough. Sylvester Gialone was a gangster of the highest order. Very well connected in all the top crime families. He had been killed execution style about a year ago. Sam shook her hand and then drew on his pipe as he considered the situation. His first impulse at seeing her outside his door was to brush her off. He should have stuck with that plan. Messing around with crime families was not a good idea and he decided to tell her that and rush her out of his office.

Drawing on his his pipe again he said, “Look ma’am, I really can’t see…” As he said this, the door of his office burst open, shattering the window. Mary screamed and ducked the flying glass as Sam reached for his forty five in his shoulder holster. Three large men who Sam didn’t even hear coming down the hallway came through the door. They wore masks. One grabbed Mary by the arms and pulled her into a corner of the office as the other two went for Sam. One grabbed Sam’s pistol and bending it backward, pulled it cleanly out of his hand. The other punched Sam so hard in the forehead that he saw stars. Just before he passed out he heard one of them say, “You were told not to go to anyone!”

The first thing Sam noticed when he came around was that Mary was still with him. They were in a room with blank walls and nothing but a sofa, for furniture. “Something you forgot to mention?” he said, as he rubbed his head. The pain was intense and he began to think about his line of work. He wondered how many more hits to the head he could take.

“Uh, yes, well I’m sorry about this. I didn’t intend for anyone to get hurt.” Mary’s eyes were cast to the floor, and she wiped them with a tissue from her pocket. Sam had noticed the camera in the corner of the room and decided to make sure that whoever was watching knew that he wasn’t involved with this woman.

“Look ma’am, I don’t know what this is all about, but I don’t want any part of it. You didn’t tell me anything and I don’t want to know. I’d like to make it to tomorrow, if it’s all the same to you.”

“You’re right Mister Barton,” Mary sniffed. “You’re not involved, and I’ll do my best to make sure they know that.”

Resisting the urge to ask who ‘they’ were, Sam waited to see what would happen next. He didn’t have to wait long. Without any noise of someone approaching, the door opened and two of the large gentlemen from earlier, stepped inside. They were still wearing masks. Quickly moving toward Sam on the couch, they grabbed his arms, lifted him up and stuffed a black sack over his head. “Look guys,” Sam said. “I think you’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t know anything about whatever this is.” Neither of the big men said a word as they pulled him from the room. They walked on either side of him for a short distance and stopped momentarily to open a door. The door led to the outside. Sam smelled rain, and car exhaust. He heard a train whistle and the sounds of train wheels on tracks going very slowly. Traffic on a street not far away was fairly busy for late in the evening. The cars he heard were going faster than normal city traffic.

A car suddenly came close and stopped. A door opened and Sam was escorted into the seat. Doors slammed and the car began to move. Two turns to the left and then a quick one to the right and the car picked up speed. They were on the interstate. They drove for about ten minutes without anyone speaking when Sam felt the car move to the right and slow down. They came to a stop, turned right and drove for about two minutes. The car slowed again and came to a stop. The door opened and Sam was moved out to the sidewalk. The two men walked maybe fifty feet with him and then both of them gave him a hard shove forward. Tripping over something on the ground he fell to his knees and toppled over on his right side. The two men ran back to the car. Doors slammed and the car took off with squealing tires.

Sam lay for a minute without moving. He heard normal city noises like a car horn and a dog barking. Sitting up he pulled the bag from his head. He was in an alley, as he suspected. The rain had stopped but the pavement was still wet and water was seeping through his pants. Getting up Sam brushed himself off the best he could and ventured up the alley to the street. Not recognizing where he was, he walked few more blocks until he arrived at University Boulevard. Hailing a cab, he rode back to his office. After sweeping up the broken window glass, Sam sat back and lit his pipe. Puffing up some good clouds of smoke, he wondered just what the hell happened. He knew he should just forget about it. That idea could help him live a little longer. But could he do that? Could he forget what happened and move on. That was a good question.

To be continued…
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