The Yellow Arrow
by A.G. Serval
The drain on the bathtub had a crack in it so I’d rigged up a system involving a lid from a Chinese take-out container and a rock. I put the lid over the drain and secured it with the rock which was flat and just the right size to keep it from floating away. I drew a bath and soaked in the hot water for twenty or thirty minutes, got out, put the lid and the rock back in the medicine cabinet and got dressed. I was hungry so I walked up to the Hilton, had a plate of fries and a beer, then walked back to my place. Someone had left a message on the machine while I was out. It was Gallemore. He wanted me to come over to his place right away.
When I got there I found him standing at the sidebar in his living room talking to a man in a wheelchair. The bar was a black slab like a piano top with a strip of linen laid across it. Gallemore popped the slab up an inch and took out a tumbler, then held the tumbler out and looked at me.
“Drink?” I shook my head, he muttered “suit yourself,” and poured one for himself.
The man in the wheelchair took an envelope from his coat pocket and held it out to Gallemore. He set down his drink, took the envelope and removed a photograph. He studied it for a few seconds and handed it to me. A woman, maybe in her early 30s, with grey eyes, looking at something to the left of the camera. One of the eyes was hidden behind a wave of blonde hair.
“Daughter of Anson Booth of Ardis Oaks,” the man said. “The picture appeared a few months ago in the Apopka Journal around the time they started breaking ground for Magdalene Gate.”
“Magdalene Gate?” I asked.
“First installment in a military-grade security system to be built around the golf course. Design by Ms. Melinda Booth. Meant to emulate a medieval barbican.”
Gallemore took a sip of his drink and grunted.
“Melinda’s firm took donations from a local racketeer, Bobby Syracuse. Syracuse, you may know, runs The Cypress Club over in East Coral. Ardis Board of Directors got wind of the Cypress connection and stepped in with their trustees. Resources problem solved. So Melinda dropped the Cypress and Syracuse dropped Melinda. That was six months ago. Two days ago she received this is the mail.”
The man took a cloth bundle from a satchel hanging from the armrest of the wheelchair and set it on the table. I flipped back the folds to reveal an arrow of pale yellow wood.
“This supposed to mean something?”
“Earlier today a woman was found in front of Magdalene Gate with an arrow like this one in her eye. Appears to be murder. Hasn’t reached the papers yet.”
Gallemore walked back to the sidebar, clicked on a floor lamp, picked up his drink and sat holding it with a blank look on his face.
“So someone out there thinks Melinda Booth is mixed up with this?”
“I’d like for you to try and find out. My card in the envelope. I will give you whatever expenses you require.” I tipped the envelope upside-down and a white business card slid into my hand. On it in embossed black capitals it said “E. M. Mendohlson”
“Why, if you don’t mind my asking, is this any of your concern?”
The man pushed his wheelchair to the middle of the room and rotated it so that he was facing us. “The elder Booth, not the founder of Ardis but Melinda’s father, was a friend. When he became ill and knew there wasn’t much time, he asked me to ‘keep an eye on his girls.’ So I am keeping an eye on his girls.”
“Girls with an s?”
“Melinda has a younger sister, Laurel.”
With that he spun around and pushed himself to the front entrance. Gallemore and I helped him onto the front porch, then lifted the chair and carried him down the steps where a black SUV sat idling. A uniformed man pressed a button on a remote, a side door opened and the man rolled himself backward onto a metal platform which rose up and receded into the SUV. Then the uniformed man got in, started the engine and drove away.
From Gallemore’s I took a cab to Ardis. A few miles out on the Dixie highway you began to see the Apopka landscape. Sage flats backed with rows of palm trees, ponds turning to marsh around the edges. There were fewer of the bungalows as you went west until it was just hills and a skeleton of moon over the tree line.
We took the Sun Bluff exit to Ardis Lane which ended in a circle drive flush with a broad brick clubhouse. The car let me out under a tan canvas awning stretched between steel poles with lengths of white rope. I was met by two men, one in police uniform, who I didn’t know and another in plain clothes I did.
“Hello Guy,” I said.
Guy Dreben was a tall, lean man with close-cropped white hair, a flat face, and pale blue eyes. He had a way of talking that seemed easy going at first but then it gradually dawned on you that it was the most self-satisfied voice you ever heard in your life. My dislike for him had no hostility in it. It was the sort of dislike that allowed you to forget about someone.
“What’s the hot tip that brought you out here?”
“Got a client,” I said. I took the papers Mendholson left and handed them to Dreben. He looked them over, then raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips and nodded his head.
He said: “I guess you’d like to see the body?”
He led me to a golf cart with the Apopka police logo on it. “Found her in front of the gate,” Dreben said as he drove along a flagstone cart path. The cart bobbed back and forth as it rolled over the jagged stones. After five minutes we got to an area sealed off with yellow and black tape and two flood lamps on tri-pods angled over a white tarp. A brown spot the size of a grapefruit had soaked through the center of the tarp. A few guys stood around sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups, some in police uniform, some in white coats. A man was taking measurements around the tarp, another was snapping photographs. We came to a stop and Dreben locked the brake.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Old guy getting in a quick nine holes just about tripped over her. Nearly died himself when he realized what it was. Hit with an arrow. Right in the eye. No ID on her and no one’s come to claim the body.”
Dreben lifted the edge of the tarp and showed me an arrow like the one I saw at Gallemore’s, this one buried in a mask of dried blood.
“Figure out where it came from?”
“That’s the funny part,” Dreben said: “Finn here” he tilted his head at the man taking measurements “says the arrow must’ve come from up there.” Dreben jerked his thumb at the huge door behind us. “Pattern of entry suggests that.”
I looked up. “I take it that’s the security gate?”
“That’s right detective.”
“Anybody see anything?”
“Only person out here that early, besides the victim of course, was a greenskeeper.”
“What’d the greenskeeper say?”
“That part’s even funnier. Just keeps repeating a single word: Osceola.”
A tangle of branches formed a canopy above us. Angled shapes, emitting sharp cries, darted between them. Dreben saw me looking up.
“Bats. Mexican free-tailed, probably. Loads of em out here this time of year.”
I got back to my place about midnight. An old woman took plastic cups from a dumpster and put them in a white bag hanging from her arm. I had a few dollars in my pocket and held them out to her. She looked up, took them, and went back to collecting.
Once inside I put the rock and lid over the drain and ran some hot water. Then I went into the kitchenette, got cottage cheese and a green apple from out of the fridge while taking bites off a sourdough bagel, took off my clothes and tossed them in the direction of an over-stuffed hamper. Then I got in the tub and was almost immediately asleep. When I woke up water was inching over the rim forming a pool on the floor. I turned the water off, got out, sopped up the puddle with a t-shirt and went into the kitchen where I sat at the table polishing off the rest of the bagel. Then I went to bed.
I woke up with sun coming through the blinds, splashed cold water on my face, brushed my teeth, got dressed, dumped two ladles of coffee into a paper filter, put the filter in the percolator and walked back and played a message that’d been left on the machine. A woman’s voice I didn’t recognize said she had information about the arrow murder. She gave an East Coral address and said I would find her in front of a frosted glass mirror in an hour. I called a car and gave the driver the address from the message. He said “Cypress, you got it,” and drove.
It was almost an hour before I saw the words “Cypress Club” in cursive neon, unlit in the noon sun, over an entrance flanked by potted cypress trees. The door was open and I walked into a room full of slot machines, roulette wheels, blackjack and craps tables. A chandelier hung over the tables, grey in the darkness of the hall. There was no one around.
After a minute or so I noticed a figure standing against a far wall. I couldn’t tell if there was any frosted glass but it was the only person in the place so I walked over. She had the grey eyes and the blonde hair of the picture.
“Aren’t you supposed to be missing?”
“I see Ethan’s already briefed you. But I’m not Melinda, I’m Laurel.”
“Is Ethan E.C. Mendholson?”
“Oh, you are good.”
“Striking resemblance with your sister. In any cae, I think he’d appreciate it if you let him know you’re ok.”
Laurel fidgeted a bit and said: “Would you mind coming with me?”
I trailed behind her and watched her walk. She wore a black skirt, black silk flats, a white blouse, the blonde hair pulled back with a silver clasp leaving a ridge of bangs. We went through a curtain into a cool, brightly lit corridor where I followed her to a door with a panel of tinted plastic where a doorknob should have been. She took something that looked like a credit card from the blouse and held it in front of the panel. The door shifted and she pushed it open and led me into a low-ceilinged room like a ship’s cabin. There were some chairs, a broad table with a stack of magazines on it and a ceiling low enough so that I could reach up and touch it. One wall was a single pane of glass overlooking another room where a fat man sat at a desk with two men in front of him with their backs to us. Soon the men got up, smoothed the tops of their ties with their fingers, walked to a door at the opposite wall and left. Laurel walked over to a door adjacent to the big window, did the same thing to it with the credit card, pushed it open and led us into the room where the fat man sat.
She said: “Mr. Syracuse, this is…I’m sorry I don’t believe I caught your name?”
I told her my name. Syracuse held out a hand without getting up. I walked over and shook it. A boy who couldn’t have been more than ten years old came into the room from the door the two men left through. He wore a white polo shirt, khaki pants, white socks with penny loafers and carried two ceramic mugs on a broad silver tray. Laurel was nowhere in sight.
Raising a palm to the tray Syracuse said: “Hot chocolate?” He sat with his legs splayed to make room for his gut. What little hair he had left was plastered in strands against his pale scalp. A red-streaked nose supported a pair of glasses so big they looked like some kind of scuba gear. I said: “Why not?”
Syracuse nodded and the boy handed me a mug. I was lifting it to my mouth when a cry rang out. I thought for a second it was the boy, then Syracuse craned his neck over his shoulder and said: “Iago!” I looked and saw a white bird perched inside a cage in the corner of the room. The bird stared at Syracuse.
“Iago,” Syracuse said turning back to me, smiling apologetically.
Iago said: “Hutt chukolayte?”
Syracuse said: “How can I be of assistance?”
“I had a few questions to ask you about Magdalene Gate.”
“Magdalene Gate. Such an idea. The plan was to make Ardis the only private country club in the world with military grade security system. It was Melinda’s idea. Why do you ask me about the gate?”
“Know anything about the body they found out there yesterday?”
“I saw it in the paper this morning. Were there witnesses?”
Syracuse took a sip of his hot chocolate, held up the mug and said: “Do you know anything about the history of Apopka?”
“It is said Ardis is built on top of a Seminole burial plot.”
“So you do know something.”
“That’s the word the greenskeeper kept repeating.”
Syracuse narrowed his eyes and talked: “The Booth family has a long history—some would say a criminal history—going all the way back to Osceola’s rebellion. The whole medieval design, the iron fortifications and so on, that was the Melinda’s little joke. Her way of alluding to the security business.”
I finished off my hot chocolate. The boy in white took my mug. Syracuse was talking again but his voice sounded like it was a million miles away. I tried to say something but my mouth wouldn’t work. Then the boy, the tray, the mugs, Iago and his cage, Syracuse and his desk, the room and me with it, were all swallowed up in a whirlpool.
I woke up on the side of Sorrento road with the sun in my face. It must’ve been about noon. Whoever took care of me at the Cypress was kind enough to let me keep my wallet and keys. I started walking holding out a thumb. Not too many people willing to pick up a hitchhiker. I couldn’t of looked too respectable. It was my lucky day because after about ten minutes a white Volkswagen pulled over and a guy in a V-neck tee-shirt and a bandana tied over his head leaned across the passenger seat, rolled down the window and said: “Headin into town?” I told him yes and got in. I guess he was looking for company because he talked the whole time. He told me about how he was a student at a community college, wanted to become some kind of physical trainer, how his step-mother was a receptionist in orthodontist’s office in Orlando, that he’d recently been to the Grand Canyon. When we got to my place I thanked him, gave him my last five dollars and walked up the back steps to my apartment.
Before taking off my shoes and jacket I went into the bathroom, got the rock and takeout lid from the medicine cabinet, set them on the drain and got a bath running. Then I went to the kitchenette, took a hunk of crumpled plastic from the freezer, fished from it two slices of bread and put them in the toaster. I took off my shoes and the rest of my clothes and got in the water. There were big oblong slabs of pain stuck in the back of my head from the junk Syracuse fed me. Behind the pain were a few grubby thoughts. I fell asleep and began to dream. I was somewhere with Mendholson. He’s in his wheelchair wearing a white tuxedo and a black bow tie. He pushes himself to a door at the other end of the room, then looks back and says: “I’m afraid I need your help.” There’s a jump, like frames cut from a film, and now he is standing in front of a marble basin washing his hands. He bumps a bowl of talcum powder, leaving a white cake on the marble, then reaches over and with his index finger and writes “OSCEOLA” in the powder. I smell something burning and I wake up, get out of the tub and go dripping into the kitchenette, use a fork to spear charred slices of bread from the toaster slots and sit not eating them, staring out the window at the woman collecting cups. After about a half hour of that I went to bed.
The next morning I bought the Apopka Journal from a dispenser on the street and walked to a diner overlooking the water. I ordered eggs, hash-browns, bacon, orange juice and fresh coffee and sat and ate and read the newspaper and looked at the water. Then I paid a visit to the Apopka Public Library where I did a little reading in back issues of the Journal about Magdalene Gate, an entry on photo-electric cells in an out of date Encyclopedia of Science and Nature, and some more about a Seminole warrior named Ocseola.
When I got back to my apartment I took a few tools from a kitchen drawer and Velcro-ed them into a canvas zip case, then called a cab out to Ardis. When we got there it was sundown. Yellow light glowed in the clubhouse windows and muted big band music floated up from somewhere inside. I followed the bulbs lining the flagstone path around the side. The clubhouse lights receded and I walked along the path into the trees. After ten or fifteen minutes I could see the top of the Magdalene Gate.
I felt along the gate’s edge and found a raised square about the size of a matchbook. I took a flashlight from the zip case and held it on the square. Then I took out serrated file and dragged it across the square’s top. A silver wire about the width of shoelace rose up in a loop. I put the file back in the case, took out a pair of pliers, slid the pliers under the loop and cut. There was a whirring, like bicycle gears, and then two panels at the top of the gate folded open, exposing a flickering beam like a movie projector. A rectangle of yellow light filled the courtyard and a figure with two thick braids under a headdress of feathers appeared at the far end of the rectangle. The figure knelt midway across the courtyard, took an arrow from a leather satchel, set it in a bow and stretched it taut. I ducked in a crevice on the side of the gate as a yellow light streaked over my head and landed with a thwack in the gate. The figure turned around, walked back to the edge of the rectangle and disappeared into the woods. Then the flickering light went out and the panels on top of the gate whirred shut.
I made a couple of calls from the clubhouse lobby and Dreben and a few of his men arrived twenty minutes later. I explained what I saw. Then I took a cab to Gallemore’s place. It was a cool clear night with a dry breeze and a few points of starlight above the trees. We were in wicker chairs out on his terrace.
“Why would Mendholson…?”
“There was no Mendholson” I interrupted. “Melinda hired me.”
“And Laurel is dead.”
“But…you told me Laurel lured you to the Cypress where Syracuse gave you the knock out drops..”
“Melinda again, pretending to be Laurel. When she came over to your place in the Mendholson get up, she’d already lured Laurel to the gate knowing she would set off the motion sensors. She made sure I had a picture, then had me meet her at the Cypress, banking on my not being able to tell the difference.”
“But why would Syracuse go to the trouble to knock you out?”
“Just the paranoia of a local racketeer, I guess. Maybe he thought I was trying to hustle him. But he’s not guilty of murder.”
“But why would Melinda lure her sister to her death?”
“They’d been at each other’s throats since the old man passed away. The property, the will. Melinda knew if she could get Laurel out the picture she’d get it all. They were still on speaking terms when Melinda proposed the security design to include a weaponized hologram of a Seminole warrior. Laurel just thought it was Melinda’s kooky extravagance. It never occurred to her that it would become the instrument of her death.”
We sat awhile in silence. Then Gallemore got up, walked over to side bar and pressed the catch, popped up the black slab, took out a couple of tumblers, and held them up. “Drink?”
I nodded, he handed me a drink and I took it. Then I called a cab back to my place went inside, took the lid and the rock from the medicine cabinet, set them on the drain and drew a bath.
About the Author:
A.G. Serval is a writer living in the Bronx.