Statement No. 007:
Sometimes people just plain vanish. That bucks the cliche, all right. The old Indian rope trick. You ask Anna Burgle, if you can get a thing out of her. Anything at all. But you'll manage it. One way or another. You'll make something out of it, you will. The department can't just leave it alone. Can't let it just sit. You boys never do. Sure.
I wonder how a roomful of alienists gets along with that lady. What's left of her. Headshrinkers—that's what the department's going to throw her up against. Am I right or am I right? First you trump up some charge, lay on any charge, so you can justify the mug shots, the prints. After that, bombs away. Reflex tests and personality tests and Rorschach tests. The IQ tests and free association tests. Lots of luck to all of them, and they can keep it.
Mr. Burgle. There's the real odd man out. He's the one screwed over but good. And then, of course, there's Goldie. A real question mark, that one.
Okay, skip it. I'm ready to dish it out. See if you boys can keep those ears from flapping. In the end there's probably nothing to my yarn. But I couldn't just bring in Mrs. Burgle and walk away, could I? Dump her off like a sack of wet cement? Cut out like that on Mr. Burgle? Go ahead, take it all down, make out of it what you will. Then you can take a good look in the mirror and see where that and two bits get you.
People don't just vanish. That's what Mr. Burgle had to tell me. That's what he told me, and that's what he asked me. In one and the same breath. I straightened him out on that one. I straightened him out on a lot of things.
Mr. Emeric Burgle, mortician's assistant. Married thirty years. Father of one—mark that one completely unexpected. Short, stout, a regular bulldog of a mug. The kind of build like he'd been inflated inside his clothing with a bicycle pump.
Burgle hung onto this black derby. Never left his grip. Not for one moment during the appointment. He stroked it, gestured with it, spun it in his hands and played with it in a thousand ways. Maybe Goldie gave it to him, for all I know. Sure.
Mr. Burgle deposited himself in the client chair, gave me that loneliest bird in the world look. All balled up and small in the straight-back, he was. No friends. No real family left. Desperate, you could call him, in an unspoken kind of way. He took to sighing a lot with his eyes closed.
In this game, you never stop getting a read on clients. Some play it foxy and put on a dodge. Those are the dangerous ones, the ones to keep your eye on, the intriguing ones. The rest are mostly everyday types. They put up the strong front, like the reason they're there doesn't hardly matter. The read on them is cake—they're trying to bluff it out, bluffing themselves as much as anyone.
This Burgle jasper? I've read deeper baseball cards. Strictly a second-stringer. No personal life to speak of. No joy in Mudville for this guy. Nothing to look forward to. The hung head and the rounded shoulders said plenty. His voice dripped with defeat. All the injuries of the past, the ones that wouldn't go away, could never go away, showed through that flat, vacant look slapped onto his pan. And now he was asking for my help, but he really knew better. Burgle couldn't admit it, but he'd given up long ago. I wonder if he'll ever realize that. Maybe he's working up to it in easy stages.
"My daughter is missing." The words escaped in wisps of breath.
"What's your daughter's name, Mr. Burgle?"
"Golda. Everyone knows her as Goldie. That's what we all call her." Burgle sighed with closed eyes.
"Did you go to the police about Goldie?"
"Yes, of course I did."
"They couldn't do anything."
"What did the cops make of it?
"Nothing. They didn't have a thing to tell me. Nothing at all."
"Tell me what they told you."
"They spoke with me, of course. And they spoke with my wife. They said they stopped by Goldie's apartment. They checked up on all the area hospitals and the emergency rooms." Burgle's throat contacted. "They even told me that they followed up at the morgue."
"All sounds pretty routine."
"I suppose so."
"What about her job? Her friends?"
"The police officer, the one who would speak with me, said they made the rounds." He paused, stared at the derby. "My daughter's missing and they made the rounds."
"I get you, Mr. Burgle."
"People don't just vanish. Goldie didn't just vanish."
"Sometimes they do." I let that sink in while I pulled out a cigarette, tapped it on the blotter. "Mr. Burgle, I'm not going to soft-soap you. You deserve the truth—you want the truth, don't you? I don't accept money from people who want to pay for the privilege of being lied to. Truth's an iffy commodity. You at least deserve not being lied to. Get this straight, Mr. Burgle—people vanish every day. The sooner you stomach that one, the better. That's not the Sunday funnies truth or the Burns and Allen truth or even the truth according to City Hall, but that's a fact. That's the world we live in. Sure. Maybe we don't always know how it happens, or why it happens. But it happens that folks just plain vanish, and that's the truth."
"Maybe she did, maybe she didn't. Don't go fooling yourself. We may flat out never know. Get me?"
"People sometimes just vanish. Period."
"But they come back."
"Let's you and me kick it around. Let's see what we come up."
"Uh-huh. When's the last time you saw Goldie?"
"She's been gone five months."
"That's some stretch of time."
"I can tell you it's a long stretch. Five months is a very long time. It is to a father. Do you have any children?"
"And the last time you saw her. Do you remember that?"
"Of course. Lunch at the Berghoff. We had lunch together on her twenty-fifth birthday. Goldie cherishes the Berghoff, so that's where we went. She had a corned beef sandwich and a root beer. No dessert." A smile crept out, slipped quickly across Burgle's lips, and crept away.
"How did she strike you?"
"That was the last time I saw her."
"How did she strike you?"
"Goldie looked beautiful."
"How was her mood, Burgle? Was she happy? Sad? Did she show any signs of being in any kind of trouble?"
"No, not what you think of as trouble."
"Uh-huh. But there was something."
"She told me that she was supposed to come by the next day and see my wife. That's her mother. That's Anna."
"She never went."
"Goldie never went."
"She never showed up."
"Was there trouble between Goldie and her mother?"
"You could say there was."
"What do you say?"
"This isn't the kind of thing you just mention casually." Burgle adjusted his shoulders. "I don't like talking about it. I have never told anyone anything about it."
"We can't put it off, Mr. Burgle. It's going to come back around."
"Yes, I see that."
"Then cut to the chase and get it over with."
Burgle's gaze traveled upward. He held the derby with both hands, standing it on its brim in his lap, rotating it like a baby steering wheel. Spinning slowly to the left, left, left.
"Go ahead, Mr. Burgle. Spill it." I lit the cigarette. Burgle didn't smoke. Wearing his wounded heart on his sleeve was the only vice he needed.
"Goldie and her mother never really...they haven't been close for a long, long time. Not like a mother and daughter. Goldie came along very late. You understand. I've always said that made all the difference. I've always said that."
"An only child?"
"That's right. She is." Burgle paused, his eyes went blank and drifted off. He kept drifting out like that, drifting out and drifting back in again. "Mrs. Burgle, Anna, had this little job at Hart Schaffner Marx. When we were first married? She liked to sew, and she liked visiting with the other ladies at the factory."
"Of course she gave it up for Goldie."
"Of course she did. And they were close at first. Terribly close. They really were inseparable. For a time. Her mother never left her."
"Yes. I suppose I'm obliged to mention the accident." Burgle's jaw flexed, he swallowed. His voice came way down, all sotto voce. "When Goldie was still very small, there was the accident. Goldie narrowly avoided being injured. Seriously injured. But she was very lucky. Instead, it was her poor mother. Her mother is the one who suffered the injury. All the nerves in her right hand—completely crushed."
Burgle studied the back of his hand. His face wrenched up and the fingers contracted and froze, like paralyzed talons. I watched the blue smoke curl off the end of my cigarette, rise slowly into a widening loop, melt into the air.
"It was very bad. They were able to save the hand, but it turned into this useless thing. This ugly, useless thing. It was very, very bad."
"Mrs. Burgle always blamed Goldie for the accident."
"Does she say Goldie did it on purpose?"
"I think Mrs. Burgle thinks so. She doesn't say so, but that is what she thinks."
"Was it really the kid's fault?"
"No, it was not. Of course not. But that's what her mother believes. Mrs. Burgle never discusses it with me."
"Uh-huh. As far as your wife's concerned, she sacrificed her job and her hand on account of Goldie."
"Yes. By her accounting of things."
"And she's been sacrificing ever since."
"It's so difficult. To explain about people. I see that a lot at the home." Burgle raised the derby and cleared his throat again. His eyes shut. "What I'm trying to say is that she doesn't hate the girl. Do you understand?" The eyes opened. "That's not it at all. Mrs. Burgle just never could show any affection for her. Do you see? They've never been like a mother and daughter are supposed to be. She was never really loving or warm with Goldie. Isn't that what a mother's for?"
"That's what a mother's for."
Burgle gawked at me, a young boy coming through Burgle's washed out expression. Mostly around the eyes. A hurt look. The lost look of a lost, little boy. What the hell do you say to that?
"What you said before. It sounds like Goldie has her own place."
"Yes. She took up her own apartment. Not all that far from the house."
"How long ago?"
"Oh, she ran away from home many times. I don't know how regular that is. I never ran away from home. She got her own place two years ago. That's when she was twenty-three. I brought the keys with me."
"You've got the keys?"
"Yes. I'm honoring the contract. When I first notified the police—" Burgle's eyes narrowed. His mouth formed a silent wince. His eyes avoided mine. "It's my way of pretending." He smiled meekly. "There are only two months left in the lease. I've paid up through the end. Her mother knows nothing about it. We never discuss anything concerning Goldie."
"Who knows, Mr. Burgle? It could prove helpful."
"Could it? Really?"
"Sure. Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know at this point, but let's say we keep it on the table. What about her friends?"
"She never said a word about her personal life."
"Goldie never spoke about it. We used to talk about other subjects."
"Okay, no dice on the social front. What about work?"
"Hart Schaffner Marx. The same factory where her mother had been employed."
"It's easier for a girl that way. When she has an in. That was the best we could do for her."
"Maybe she had some friends at the factory."
"I don't know about that. Are friends important?"
"Don't you have any friends, Mr. Burgle?"
He drifted out and in again. "No, I guess I don't. Not outside of the home." A confused wrinkle fell across Burgle's wide forehead.
"You were young once, weren't you Burgle? Didn't you ever tell things to your buddies that you never mentioned to your parents?"
"I see. Of course. I expect she never told her mother anything at all."
"Uh-huh. Friends unknown. Okay. I have to bring up one other matter. I'm afraid I'm not making it easy for you."
"All right. I understand you. Go ahead."
"Has it crossed your mind, Mr. Burgle, that maybe Goldie doesn't want to be found?"
Burgle shut his eyes and sighed. "Yes, I have thought of that. I've had to think of that." Burgle drew a deep breath through his nose. "I've tried not to think about that."
"It's a real possibility."
"But you want to go ahead anyway?"
"I have to know she's all right."
"You don't have to tell me about what misfortunes can happen to a young girl. I'm accustomed to such things. Death doesn't scare me. I work with death every day."
"But I have to know, you see? Can you understand that? Five months and no word...without my daughter..." He wagged his head, the voice trailed off, his eyes followed.
"I get you, Mr. Burgle."
"I have to believe her mother wants to know as well."
"Goldie is still her daughter, after all."
"Two possibilities are most likely, Mr. Burgle. You ready for it?" I took his silence to mean he was ready for it. "In the first case, Goldie ducked out on her own. For whatever reason, she dusted. Probably for something we wouldn't savvy if she tried to explain. If that's true, the trail is pretty dried up."
"Yes. I understand." Burgle dropped his eyes to the derby.
"If something untoward happened to Goldie, the second possibility, I expect the city's finest would have come up with something. But they didn't, did they?"
"They said they didn't."
"They came up blank, sure. So we're up against it, Mr. Burgle. You shouldn't pin hopes on such a long shot."
"But you can do something, can't you?"
"It could turn out to be one terrific waste of my time and your bank account."
"It's not a waste of time! It isn't. It's not a waste of time." Burgle's lower lip quivered like a loose bumper.
"All right, Burgle, all right. I'll tell you what. Let's take it a step at a time. Give me seventy-two hours. I'll see what I can turn up."
"That's three days." Burgle covered his eyes.
"Let's see if I can scrape up a lead or two, if there are any. Seventy-two hours should do it. If I come up empty, we'll call it quits. I'm not going to string you along, Mr. Burgle."
"Is that enough time?"
"Most likely. My hunch is we can wrap it up a lot faster than that. If there's anything to find, we should stumble across it pretty quick."
"Mr. Burgle, you ever place a classified ad?"
"No, I didn't. Should I?"
"That's all right. I'll take care of it."
"I never thought of that."
"Did you bring a photograph?"
"Yes, I did. I have it here."
Burgle reached into his inside jacket pocket, tenderly. He brought out a small envelope. He held it up for me on the palm of his hand. He forced a smile. I took the packet and slid out the print.
"Yes. That's Goldie. Just last year."
She stood in front of some jalopy. Leaned her hips into the hood, arms folded. She sported a heavy, knit sweater and long, plain skirt. She wore mittens. Her dark hair hung long and straight. Dark eyes shone big and bright. Her oval face ended in a square jaw and chin, hard and strong. A big-time laugh lit up her face. Looked like a good enough laugh. Maybe she got it from her mother. She sure as hell didn't get it from her father.
While I contemplated the photo, Burgle remained fixed in his seat, a worn man, a tired man. A man frozen in time. Like a forgotten knickknack, one you're so used to that you don't even notice.
"You have a beautiful daughter, Mr. Burgle."
"I thank you." His gaze floated away, he began rocking in place. His gaze snapped back. "Can you return that, please? When you're done with her?"
I said, "I'll take good care of Goldie."
Burgle's eyelids shut tight for a moment. I saw light glistening in the corners.
I placed a few calls after Burgle slunk out of the office. Maybe I played the sap, sure, but what did that make Burgle? I figured I must of have been his last hope—I didn't care much for the idea. In any case, I made some calls.
I placed a personal ad in The Trib, The American and The Daily News. That blanketed the burg and then some. There were plenty more papers to choose from, that's if any real leads developed farther out. The ad was strictly boilerplate stuff. Goldie, are you okay? Dad misses you. Reply to box etc., etc. You guys know the routine. Just enough detail so any Goldie out there would know if she was the right Goldie. Just enough and yet keep it short. Just enough without making any reference to her mother.
I dropped by the Eighteenth District the following day. You boys know Sergeant Tom Polhouse? A pretty good egg. He played it short and sweet with me, but damn thorough. I asked to see the report on Burgle. He asked for a cigarette. Once I appeased his tobacco habit, the sarge ran me through the prelims, a list overdrawn on the negative.
Name: Burgle, Golda U.
Single white female, 25, five-two, brown hair, brown eyes.
Physical peculiarities: None.
Friends, none. Male acquaintances, none.
Employer: Hart Schaffner Marx. Cleared.
Bank account: First National. Cleared.
Physician, none. Subject presumed in good health.
Polhouse gave me the goods, all right, long on detail, zip where substance was concerned. Not that I expected any different. The Eighteenth District had thrown up its hands, called it quits, and moved on. They should've added a line to that report. Leads, ideas, hunches: fresh out.
Next I looked up Charles Crank at the Hart Schaffner Marx factory, crew one manager for "the finest bunch of gals you'd ever want to put you in stitches." Another washout.
Goldie signed on at Hart Schaffner Marx going back better than two years. Crank summed up Goldie as the nicest, quietest girl. Imagine that.
"She was a good little worker. Good enough, I always said. Not the best, mind you, but serious. You know what I mean? She took it serious, and that's something the company appreciates. And that's no bunk."
"Uh-huh. Was she steady? Did she miss a lot of days?"
"Very steady. You could always see Miss B. at counter fourteen."
"When did counter fourteen go vacant?"
"Gosh, it's been months. The whole thing was so unsettling. I could check with accounting. You know, look up the payroll dates."
"That won't be necessary."
"It's no trouble. It's all so mystifying."
"No, thanks. Did she make many friends here? Maybe she was seeing somebody at the factory."
"Beats me," he grinned.
"I see. Did she leave behind any personal items?"
"We don't go for that."
"I could give you a tour, if you like."
I skipped the tour, and I skipped out on Mr. Crank. My checklist was running awful short, awful fast. I headed over to Berteau and Damen. The yellow brick four-flat made for a peaceful building on a peaceful block. A few ash trees peacefully sprinkled along the peaceful parkway. Tall wire fences helped maintain the peace. Mildred Landau, the ancient, feisty concierge, met me in the lobby.
"She was a soft, little thing," Landau said. "It's a shame. Never gave us no problems. Never did see or hear that much of her. None of that carousing like some tenants I've seen. Now you take Mr. Bleeker—"
"You can keep Mr. Bleeker."
"You can say that again. What a ruckus! But Goldie? Now there was a nice, quiet girl. I don't think she even had no radio. It's just a shame. Go on up with you, if you like. Go ahead. I don't know what you'll find that the coppers didn't find."
"Thanks, Miss Landau." I started up the stairs.
"If it's all the same to you," she called after me, "that's Mrs. Landau. He left years ago, but it's still Mrs. It's a shame!"
The tag on the door read "2-B." I worked the key I borrowed from Mr. Burgle and entered Goldie's apartment. It felt still as a museum, the little Goldie Burgle Memorial Museum. The place had been kept real tidy. A light layer of dust had settled across every surface. Otherwise just as neat and preserved as a hospital chapel, or a mortuary, maybe. And just as sterile.
The under-sized living room nailed that antiseptic mood, something cool and impersonal. In the center of the room, a plain, wooden coffee table surrounded by a two-seat sofa and two drab sitting chairs. Nothing on the seats, the tabletop clear. A planter stood by the front door. Nothing on that, either.
While we're at it, just for the record, a sizeable console radio stood in the far corner. Looked newer than anything else in the room. Our Mrs. Landau had been misinformed. Ain't that a shame?
The dining room preserved that purely impersonal quality. A wooden table, four wooden straight-backs, a buffet, a built-in china cabinet. The glass doors on the cabinet revealed a simple collection of dinner plates, salad plates, cups and saucers. The numbers didn't jive. I counted enough pieces to cobble together a service for five. A worn tablecloth and two placemats filled half of the first cabinet drawer. I found the bottom drawer as barren as Mr. Burgle's hopes.
An empty, inexpensive platter lay on top of the buffet. I popped open the two large doors. As bare bones as everything else in the joint. I fingered an abridged dictionary, a Hemingway novel, a windmill music box. Nothing more.
Call the walk-in kitchen understated. Spare approaching bleak. I found a jumbled collection of glasses, mugs, silverware and utensils in the various cupboards and drawers. Very few of the pieces matched. Three pots, two pans, no baking sheets. One colander. A handful of cooking spices and condiments, if your hand's on the small side. Nothing in the refrigerator—still plugged in, and empty as a balloon.
The bathroom sat just off the kitchen, a pipsqueak affair by any standard. I'm no expert on female toiletries, but the stash I hit upon struck me as minimal. Almost to the point of ridiculous. Toothbrush, toothpowder, lipstick, cold cream, soap—that was all of it and all of it showed use. Maybe she carried more stuff in her purse. Maybe. One white bath towel hung on the back of the door. A dingy hand towel hung on the bar above the toilet. Everything bone dry, including two more bath towels stowed below the sink. A single tissue lay in a wrinkled ball at the bottom of the wastebasket.
A six-foot hall brought you from the john to the bedroom. The plainest of rooms. A double bed and nightstand. Lamp and alarm clock and photo on the nightstand. A horizontal style dresser made of dark, cheap wood. A petite jewelry case on top of that, set with inlaid floral design. One wooden chair with a gray cardigan thrown neatly over its back. The bed was made. The white linens didn't appear new, but not terribly worn. Likewise the brown, wool blanket.
Two sets of earrings parked in the jewelry box. The first pair diamond shaped, made of black glass. Half-inch silver hoops made up the other set. I found a plain, silver-plated necklace, a chipped cameo pin, and a deep red heart pendant. The box also contained a short and thick key, rounded, the kind used to wind a clock or music box.
Not a whole lot of stock in the dresser drawers. I combed through the usual suspects: bras, panties, stockings, nightgowns and so on. Not enough to get through one week. Nothing buried in the clothing.
You could count the blouses, dresses and skirts hanging in the closet on both hands and have fingers left over. Simple stuff. Nothing flashy. For my money, I'd say her style approached dull. On the floor of the closet I ran across two pairs of flats and one pair of black pumps. I'm no Coco Chanel, but I couldn't picture those high heels going with any of the dresses.
I caught sight of myself in the full-length mirror nailed to the outside of the closet door. Rust had developed in spots along the mirror's edge. Then I caught the reflection of the photograph on the nightstand. The positioning of its slim, gold-plated frame faced away from the bed. A fairly recent shot of Goldie and Mr. Burgle. They sat snugly on a couch. The furniture and background didn't match anything in Goldie's digs. Not a hint of a smile between the two of them.
I took out the shot of Goldie that Mr. Burgle gave me. The same girl, all right, the one on the nightstand a couple years younger, the hair shorter, the mouth more serious. Mr. Burgle appeared a whole lot younger. Age has a way of coming on like a race. And it never loses.
I retraced my steps in the bedroom. I wanted to find personal effects—long-term, immediate, it didn't matter. I wanted to come across anything that might, in some way, any way, express that a living, breathing thing actually occupied the joint. So far I hadn't come across any kind of investment that makes it your home. Most women are plenty big on that, or so Clare Booth Luce tells me. Sure.
I double-checked under the bed, the shelf in the closet, behind the dresser. No clues, no hints. The boudoir was a bust. I left the bedroom and started again. I gave the whole apartment the once-over, and then I tried again. I gave her digs the once-over three times.
I've turned up some real goose eggs in my day, but Goldie's apartment took the cake. The biggest find at Goldie's was that I found nothing. And I don't mean "nothing" as in "nothing suspicious." I mean not one thing. Searching her rooms felt like searching a blank canvas for a spot of paint.
Just the single photo in the bedroom. That was it. No artwork, no collectibles, nothing decorative. No plants, no flowers. No bankbook, documents, files or letters. No mail, no bills. No extra purses or handbags or luggage. No raincoat, no umbrella, no winter coat. No booze. No medicine. Not even a lousy bottle of aspirin. The joint was cleaned out but good. No bodies, no skeletons. You don't need the DA to show you how all that fails to add up.
I took my time coming down the stairs, chewing on everything I didn't see. Who the hell was Goldie Burgle? Her father sure didn't know her. And you could forget about the mother, at least according to Mr. Burgle. Either Goldie Burgle lived a double life or no life at all. Go figure which.
I caught up with Mrs. Landau on my way out. I asked if the building kept anything in storage for Miss Burgle.
"No, we aren't storing nothing for Goldie, mister."
"Do you know if the police removed anything from her apartment?"
"No, I don't remember seeing them take nothing."
"How about Mr. Burgle? Did he take anything of Goldie's?"
"That I couldn't say, mister. He came and went a few times in the beginning, but I never paid him no mind."
I thanked Mrs. Landau for her help, got back in the coupe, drove towards the office. I kept spinning on that empty apartment. Searching someone's rooms is like breaking into a private world. Go in with all the brilliant guesses you want, because that's all it is—guesswork. You never know what you'll run across. Except for one thing, maybe. You can almost always count on something throwing you a curve.
Sometimes you run into Cracker Jack and get a cheap little prize for your trouble. Sometimes it turns out to be a possessed jack-in-the-box with all hell about to spring loose. In Goldie's case, the curve ball came in its negative form. Goldie's rooms were an empty shell stripped clean of life. No box of wicked spirits there. No Cracker Jack, no prize.
I rang up Mr. Burgle on a long shot. I wanted to know what he took out of Goldie's place. I wanted to know, but I expected to get nowhere fast. Burgle told me he took care of the trash and removed all the food items. That was it according to Mr. Burgle—nothing more, nothing less.
"We don't want any vermin," Burgle said.
I pressed him as far as any personal items go and he played dumb. He was anxious to learn if I'd come up with anything. I put it to him bluntly. All I could see ahead of us, I said, was a dead end. I had one final lead to follow up, I added, and I'd get back to him the next day. I didn't mention that the one thing more was Anna Burgle.
The Burgle house occupied a small lot on Sawyer Avenue, a strictly residential section about a block north of Addison. Small sidewalks, small trees, small houses. The few cottages blessed with garages accessed them off the alley. I arrived in the morning around ten, handed a cool greeting by the lady of the house. Despite the frosty attitude, Anna Burgle invited me in. She led me to the living room and offered me coffee. I declined. She sat down on the couch. I took a spot opposite on a broken in easy chair. We ran through the intros, including what I was up to regarding her daughter. I purposely left out the part about her husband hiring me, but how else could she figure it?
Mrs. Burgle said, "Go ahead." She spoke hard and jerked a nod of the head. "Take a good look at me."
I did just that and took in two people at once. Anna Burgle had one of those strong, tapered, oval faces, a real Modigliani. Her dark, almond eyes opened bright and wide. Her thin, long nose led to a narrow-lipped, short mouth, creased at the corners by lines drawn down to the chin. I could've held up my hand and divided her face into two ages: above the hand, a good looker of forty or forty-five with a severe gaze; below the hand, the face of an elderly existence, mean and bitter.
"You're avoiding my hand," she said. She sounded defiant and proud, as icy as January winds off Lake Michigan. I expected a thaw no time soon.
The bent and gnarled hand rested in her lap, more like a frozen claw, the fingers narrow and curled. Her other hand appeared unusually youthful, well manicured and polished.
"That must be tough for you, Mrs. Burgle."
"We all have our dues to pay in this life."
"Some more than others."
"I know what you're thinking."
"Then you're one up on me, sister. Sometimes I don't know what I'm thinking, myself."
"I don't go in for witticisms."
"Uh-huh. I can see that. It's not my intention to come here and be witty, but sometimes my line of work calls for it."
Her eyes narrowed, her lips pursed and "hmm" came from the back of her throat. Anna Burgle tottered on the fence—had the interview just begun, or already ended? Seemed even money to me.
"I'll speak with you after all," she said. Then abruptly, "I've been expecting you."
"I knew you would come."
"I find it hard to believe anyone said anything."
"My husband's a fool." Anna Burgle spat it out as sour as they come. "No, my husband hasn't said anything. He knows better than that. He has provided well for me. Beyond that he's a small, stupid creature."
"I enjoy a good waltz as much as the next guy, Mrs. Burgle, but I'm not here to dance or chit-chat. Do you want to tell me about your daughter or not?"
Mrs. Burgle snorted and a twisted smile rose up one side of her face. Her good hand rubbed her chin. "Tell me, are you a religious man?" I couldn't stop my lips from snaking into a wry smile. Anna Burgle pushed the question. "Do you consider yourself a man of faith?"
"That's just a lot of hocus-pocus to me, Mrs. Burgle."
"Yes, I read that plainly. Very distinct. It's so curious that you were chosen."
She continued rubbing her chin while I took out a cigarette. I began wondering about that accident to her hand—I wondered if, by any chance, she also cracked her noggin. Her eyes widened as I lit up and blew out the match.
"I'll tell you about my daughter."
"Go ahead, sister."
"That's why you came here, isn't it?"
"Uh-huh. I sure didn't come for any floor show."
"Though I can see you aren't the type of man to understand. I wonder why you. Why you were sent."
The old gal sounded off the beam, sure. "I'll play along. Try me, Mrs. Burgle."
"Hmm! Well now, my husband. He considered himself a devoted and loving man."
"You must have gone for him just a little, once upon a time."
"My dear, sweet husband wanted children."
"What did you want?"
"I served as the dutiful wife. I submitted to my husband's wishes. I was an ignorant girl and didn't interpret the signs. There was good reason I didn't become pregnant, but Mr. Burgle insisted and sent me to doctor after doctor. So-called specialists. He refused to accept the opinion of our learned men of medicine, that my body was incapable of bearing children."
"Yet you had Goldie."
"Yes. Years later. When I better understood and it was too late. The pregnancy truly terrified me. At first, I couldn't even tell Mr. Burgle. When at last he found out, do you know what the oaf actually had to say? Shall I tell you?"
"I can't possibly imagine."
"The fool proclaimed it a miracle! A miracle. The reality was more likened to a curse. I knew that and had to live with that for the entire term. Did Mr. Burgle tell you I almost died?"
"No, he didn't mention anything about it."
"No, he wouldn't. The pregnancy put me through a terrible hardship, and the birth a difficult one. I suffered the worst complications and lost an immense quantity of blood. But we both survived. It lived."
"And you blame your husband for this? Or Goldie?"
"Ahhh. This is where you misinterpret me. I am not speaking of Goldie herself. I refer to a spirit. An unnatural thing, an inner evil."
"Evil, sure. Are we talking about Old Nick? The Prince of Darkness himself? Real fire and brimstone stuff?"
"That was the first time the evil attempted to take my life. In my heart I knew what was happening, but I didn't have the courage to admit it consciously. I became drawn to it in the way we become drawn to destruction. The only thing I could do was watch her. Constantly watch her."
"And then came the accident."
"It compressed all the nerves to leave me with this." Mrs. Burgle raised her right arm, slow, dangled the lifeless, stricken hand. "Thereafter I knew. I knew and I understood. I could never leave Goldie out of my sight. My stupid husband and the stupid neighbors. They thought me such the devoted mother. Do you see? That was the only way I could protect myself, to protect anyone. I remained on watch. It became my vigil."
"There were more attempts on my life."
"Goldie tried to kill you?"
"Your small beliefs. Your small, limited mind and limited beliefs. I'll tell you once more. It wasn't Goldie, not Goldie herself. I'm talking about an infinite darkness within the child. A depraved spirit flowered inside of her. It struggled to burst free. It knew I was the first obstacle it needed to overcome, before anything else. It's that wicked force that fought against me, not the child, not her. Can you possibly comprehend that?"
"Uh-huh. Kind of a like a human Pandora's box."
"Dismiss this, if you can. On her last birthday, it tried again. The spirit made another attempt on my life."
"Your husband said Goldie planned to visit you, but she never showed."
"I lied to him! Of course I lied. She came to the door and I let her in and walked ahead of her. When I turned, she flourished a dagger from beneath her cape."
"She actually wore a cape?"
"I was taken aback at first, but I shouldn't have been. Her eyes were the eyes of the dead and she came toward me with the knife as if cast under a spell. She thrust the blade at me, but I was stronger and faster and I caught her and stopped her.
"I realized it, then and there, that only one choice stood before me. That thought maintained me as we struggled over the blade—I knew that only I could end the evil. I forced her to drop the knife and she fell to the floor weeping. My will proved stronger.
"She continued sobbing, wailing, but I did not allow myself to be moved. My spirit prevailed and I swiftly braced one arm behind her neck and grabbed her throat as tightly as I could. I began to squeeze. She struggled against me and tried to speak and her tears fell on the skin of my hand, my dead, unfeeling hand, but I shut my eyes and squeezed harder and harder and wouldn't let go until the evil was gone for good. I didn't stop until the evil was dead."
"You're telling me you murdered your daughter."
"Will you understand that I freed my daughter? Evil has been vanquished. The darkness has left us."
"What other choice did I have? To let the evil flourish within my only daughter? Allow it to grow? No, only one path lay before me, the right path, and I have done what must be done. I had no choice in that, just as I have had to confess to you. The time had come."
Sure. There's always the unexpected, that curve ball. And then there's just the plain off-the-wall unbelievable. Mrs. Burgle—mad as a hatter and leaving Mr. Burgle holding the bag. That was the capper, that nothing she told me revealed the slightest hint about the disappearance of Goldie Burgle.
"Would you like me to show you the body, now?"
"No, that won't be necessary, Mrs. Burgle. We can leave all that to the police."
"As you say. I don't know about such things. I'll get my hat and my coat and you will drive me to the station."
Mrs. Burgle offered one last comment, her final statement, as we got in the car. I held the door for her and she stared hard into my eyes. This is exactly what she told me:
"The darkness is gone for good. Goldie and I are free. Now Goldie can be with me forever."
Mrs. Burgle's almond eyes narrowed and the creases from her mouth curled into a grin. Her gaze drifted, downward, fell to the ground, and the smile faded clean away. She dipped down into the passenger seat calmly, deliberately, almost serenely—yeah, as if under a trance. Anna never spoke another word.
During the ride in I brought up a thing or two, asked Mrs. Burgle a couple questions. No go. I even tried to bait her by mentioning her old man. No response. Anna Burgle had gone completely incommunicado. She kept still as a sphinx, gaping listlessly through the windshield, as if she envisioned the empty future. She sat beside me in the coupe, expressionless, motionless. As though she was a non-person. As though every emotion and trait of character had gone just as dead as the twisted claw in her lap. Anna Burgle was nowhere to be found. Sometimes people just vanish.
* The photograph displayed at the top of this page was taken by Jack Delano as an employee of a federal government agency. For more information on the photograph, see http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/owi2001017527/PP/.