The Gold Key

by Mel Waldman


High-heeled and wearing a leather mini under a mink coat splattered with snow, the tall blonde dame slithered into Dunkin’ Donuts at midnight. Even the alkies looked up to see this devastating doll with million-dollar legs smoother than a shot of Johnnie Walker Red.

I was sitting at a small table in the back drinking extra light coffee, but my azure eyes darted across the rectangular room to find her. From a distance, our eyes met.

Suddenly, she covered her face with a Shirley Temple smile. Veiled by her little girl looks of innocence, she whispered in a sensuous Marilyn Monroe voice: “Mr. Hood?”

“Back here in Never, Never Land!”

“Oh,” she said as she sashayed to my public office in the back of the room. When she reached my table, she smiled nervously. “May I...?”

“Please sit down, Miss...”

“Robin. Just call me Robin, Mr. Hood.”

“Robin? How familiar and refreshingly rural. Guy like me could forget he’s stranded right here in desolate Brooklyn on Christmas Eve. Drinking coffee in D.D. and I don’t mean Dungeons and Dragons. D.D.-home away from home. A safe place to bring the kids.”

“Perhaps I could convince you otherwise, Mr. Hood.”

“Do I smell excitement and danger?”

“No. It’s Eternity! Do you like it, Mr. Hood?”

“Yes, Robin. But don’t call me Mr. Hood. A bit too paternal for my taste. The name’s Jack-a 6’1” Hood with baby blues. Can’t see the forest for the trees. But I’m the last heroic shamus in Brooklyn. Sit down. Coffee’s on me. Looks like a long night ahead. We could be snowbound.”

“Is that a promise, jack?”

“Is that genuine mink to keep Jack warm?”

“Real enough to keep you nice and hot, honey. So pretty boy, listen carefully. Your sweet Robin got a letter from J.C. But you know, J.C.’s been dead for years!”

“I know.”

And by now, I knew it was going to be a very long night.

In the next few hours, Robin told her soap opera tale and showed me the letter.

Dearest Robin, my ‘Secret Sharer’:

You killed me 10 years ago. But I’m alive. Resurrected after a dusty decade of darkness. Find me! And give me the key! The gold key! My legacy!

Always your beloved husband,

J.C.

P.S. Meet me at Mystic Seaport!

“But your husband is dead?”

“Yes, Jack. John Cummings died ten years ago in a car accident.”

“You sure it was him?”

“Until I got this letter, John was a bittersweet memory of a faraway yesterday.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

“Find the gold key!”

“What about J.C.?”

“J.C.’s dead. Someone’s playing a sick game and...”

“Tell me about the key.”

“Don’t know anything. Never heard of it until I got the letter. Now, I want it!”

“Okay. I’ll need a picture of John. In the morning, if we’re not snowbound, I’ll drive to Mystic and look around. In the meantime, tell me everything about J.C. Everything!”

At dawn, Robin finished her biographical sketch. I dropped her off at her house in Sheepshead Bay and she gave me an old picture of John.

It was time to say goodbye. The snow had stopped falling. Robin was going out of town for the weekend. She told me to call her Monday morning. And I was off to Mystic Seaport. Bon Voyage!

On the road, I tried to put the pieces together. But nothing made sense. Robin told me she had found my name circled in the Yellow Pages. A torn out ten-year-old Yellow Page in one of John’s drawers. Had John Cummings called me ten years ago? Maybe. But we never met. I would have remembered his happy face in this world of desperate people.

In the photograph Robin gave me, John Cummings wore a majestic smile befitting a wealthy, successful artist/sculptor who painted and sculpted the sea and all its inhabitants and objects, especially its ships and boats. Robin mentioned that J.C. had left behind a priceless collection of model ships — his personal creations in wood, plastic, and metal. He had been a winner! And his joyous face revealed a triumphant life.

I’d recognize J.C. in Mystic Seaport, even though Time had sculpted his face in the past decade. If he were still alive, I’d know him.

Hello, Smiley. See you in Mystic — or in that other place — at a darker time.

I arrived in a blizzard. After parking my car, I rushed helplessly across the white streets, fighting the wild wind which pounded my chest with the fury of a crazed boxer. The killer kept swinging his frenzied fists. But I ducked, slipped through, and checked into a hotel.

From inside the hotel, the Seaport evoked images of white tranquility. Covered in deep snow, it was an innocent child unaware of evil. With the visual acuity of a blind man, I looked out at the vast whiteness. I saw nothing, but imagined the ships and boats buried in the snow.

Tomorrow, I’d visit the famous whale ship Charles W. Morgan and the square-rigged Joseph Conrad. But tonight, I’d cuddle up with a paperback edition of Conrad’s Secret Sharer. And in my dreams, perhaps, I’d see the Great White Whale!

There was no trace of Smiley in Mystic Seaport. I showed his picture around, but no one recognized the ubiquitous smile, not even the owners of the art galleries. No paintings or sculptures by J.C. But I found an oil painting of Ahab driving a harpoon into Moby Dick’s side.

I looked at the eerie enemies for hours. Don’t know why. Trapped in a fixed moment of oceanic darkness, I was hooked to these two creatures linked together in Hell like Siamese twins on fire.

The snow covered all — especially the memory of John Cummings. I felt his presence although he was invisible through deadeyes.

Couldn’t find J.C. But I found Leggatt, the nameless Captain’s “Secret Sharer” in Conrad’s tale of the “dark self.” The nameless Captain of a nameless ship was a good man who protected and hid Leggatt, an escaped killer from the Sephora. Almost physical twins, they were unlikely soul mates.

Into the long night, I wondered why the white soul is drawn to the black soul. Why, J.C.?

Snowbound, I stayed in Mystic Seaport an extra day. Monday morning I called Robin from the hotel. Her voice shook as she told me that her house had been robbed again when she was away. She wasn’t sure if anything of value had been stolen. I told her I’d return ASAP. In the meantime, I suggested she make herself a Scotch and soda.

The snow stopped falling at midnight. I left in the middle of the night even though I was paid through the morning.

On the road, something “clicked” and I found J.C.’s key in the map of my offbeat mind. Sometimes, it happens like that.

“You always keep a lady waiting so long?” she complained, as she moved wickedly into the living room, her naked body revealed under a see-through black negligee.

I followed her into her sensuous sanctuary. She stopped abruptly in front of the fireplace and turned around, her full lips whispering lewd nothings.

“You’re too hot to handle, Robin. Now put some clothes on before I forget what I came here for.”

“Come on, Jack. Let’s forget together.”

I looked coolly at her. And suddenly, she rushed across the room. She bent down and picked up a tall glass on a coffee table. Momentarily, I gazed at Robin’s rump which she thrust backwards at me. Then she turned to me, her eyes glaring at me through the furious silence. I noticed her right hand clutching the glass filled with ice and liquor. Her hand shook uncontrollably.

“Later, babe,” I said authoritatively, “but now, if our familiar stranger didn’t get it, I’m gonna find the gold key to...”

The house had been ransacked and most of the rooms were disarrayed. Robin led me through J.C.”s labyrinth and took me to a barren room which contained a large oil painting of a seaman with a wooden leg.

“It’s Ahab!”

“Yes. J.C. loved the sea and all its real and fictional characters. Conrad and Melville created some of his favorite people.”

Robin sauntered to Ahab, touched his evil eyes, and the room opened up like the red sea, revealing a maritime universe filled with model ships.

I gazed at J.C.’s magnificent collection and noticed a plastic seaman holding a harpoon pointed at a plastic model ship.

“Robin, do you know the name of that ship?”

“No.”

I moved closer to the ship. I lifted up the plastic ship and examined it. Then, I smashed it against the azure wall.

“Look!” Robin cried out. a gold key fell out of the ship — the ship named the Sephora.

We found a crumpled note inside the Sephora: Leggatt. P.O. Box 2026.

“Your husband had a twisted sense of humor.”

“Weird and lasting — even from the grave.”

“Yeah. And J.C., a.k.a. Leggatt, lived right here in Sheepshead Bay at 2026. His home and yours.”

“Home sweet home.”

“J.C. took us for a ride and led us home. We’ve gone full circle.”

“So where do we go from here, Jack?”

“That’s up to you, Robin.”

I stayed at 2026 all day and into the night. Robin took me around the world and back. And when we returned, it was snowing heavily.

Robin asked me to go downstairs and freshen her drink. When I hesitated, she gave me a long, hot kiss and a gold key.

“It’s yours, babe.”

“It’s worthless, sweetheart.”

“Take it! Only a great mind could have found it. It’s yours, along with the hard cash I owe you.”

“Yeah.”

I put my pants and shoes on, put the gold key in my left pocket, and sauntered off.

“You didn’t have to get dressed, Jack. I like my men naked.”

“I’m on my way out, babe. But I’ll bring you that drink before leaving.”

“Thanks.”

As I walked out the door, Robin cried out: “Tomorrow, I’m rehiring you to find J.C. or the crazy who sent me the note.”

“Maybe,” I said dispassionately as I slipped away.

I rushed slowly down the stairs and heard a sound in the distance. Maybe it was the heavy snow falling on the windowsill. At the foot of the stairs, I turned left. I remember walking through a door and...

A brick crushed my skull and I fell to the ground. Soon, the snow covered me. From a distance, I watched myself buried alive. I lay in a white coffin and observed my dying twin.

Hello, Leggatt!

I rose from the dead. Like J.C., I was resurrected. Gradually, I stood up and struggled to remain afloat. My face was wet and I thought it was snow cascading down my face. Then I remembered I was still inside the house. Red snow was dripping from my forehead, but it was fresh blood.

Momentarily, I looked down and noticed the pool of blood surrounding me. Yeah. It had been a red-hot night. And if my watch wasn’t broken, I was still trapped in the lethal hours of darkness.

I headed upstairs and wondered if Robin was in better shape than I. When I entered the bedroom, I discovered a naked lady quietly waiting for my return. Lying on her stomach, she reminded me of a baby. Unfortunately, she was dead. Someone had impaled her. And the killer had left a large knife embedded in her back.

Not even a stiff drink could solve her problems now or soothe her soul. I had found the gold key. But the key to Robin’s soul was lost forever, flung to the far side of the universe.

And the key to her murder? Perhaps, it was hidden in J.C.’s labyrinth or back in Mystic Seaport. Later, I’d figure things out. But now, I had to leave before the cops arrived and charged me with murder. Guilty until proven innocent.

A fugitive, I drifted in the snow. Eventually, I found my car and headed for Kings Highway. I’d go home, clean myself up, and figure out the best solution. Perhaps, a second gold key existed within J.C.’s maze and together, the “twin” keys possessed the Truth, pointing to the murderer. If I convinced myself of this “truth,” I’d break into Robin’s house and search for the key.

Perhaps, J.C. was alive in Mystic Seaport and...

I left in a blizzard. Already, the snow covered Brooklyn. It covered all.

A gold key in my left pocket, I drove through the long, white night. I was heading home, I thought. Or to a darker place.

In my rearview mirror, I saw the looming headlights. Smiling sardonically, I looked through the mirror at my invisible companion and whispered: “We’re heading home!”


Copyright © 2007 by Mel Waldman

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