Stone Cold Dead

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Authors: James W. Ziskin
hunched his shoulders and blinked his eyes rapidly as he raised the cup to his lips. I noticed the sprinkling of dandruff on the shoulders and lapels of his jacket, as well as some flakes trapped in the slicked-down hair of his head.
    “What are you looking at?” he asked, and I shook the distraction from my head.
    “Tell me about Darleen in particular,” I said. I had learned not to let the subject dictate the direction of the interview.
    “I didn’t like her, if that’s what you mean. She was a silly girl who didn’t pay attention in class. She chewed gum incessantly. Used to stick it under her desk. Disgusting habit.”
    “I see. Anything else you remember about her?”
    “She failed fractions.”
    “Why do you refer to her in the past tense?” I asked.
    Vernon had tired of me. He sneered, picked himself up, and trod off out of the lounge. I was writing some notes in my pad, about to leave, when another teacher, a woman, approached me.
    “Excuse me,” she said. “Are you inquiring into Darleen Hicks’s disappearance?”
    Her voice was a crackling falsetto, her dress a baggy flower print. She was about sixty and smelled of rose water.
    “My name is Adelaide Nolan,” she said, taking Vernon’s vacated chair. “Darleen was in my English class last year.”
    “What can you tell me about her?” I asked, stubbing out my cigarette.
    “Well, she’s a spirited girl, but she has a good heart. I remember that she felt sorry for Oedipus.”
    “How’s that?”
    “She felt sorry when Oedipus poked his own eyes out. We were reading Sophocles, and Darleen thought that Oedipus was a little too hard on himself. After all, he didn’t know Laius was his father and Jocasta was his mother.”
    “Still,” I said, “one can understand his horror at the discovery . . .”
    “Of course,” she said, taking a sip from her tea. “But Darleen didn’t quite grasp the concept of Greek tragedy.”
    “Excuse me, Mrs. Nolan, but why are you telling me this?”
    “Because of Joey Figlio.”
    I remembered that Irene Metzger had told me about him. He was Darleen’s boyfriend.
    “Joey Figlio was in the same class,” she continued. “A bad egg, that boy.”
    She sipped some more tea, and I waited for the punch line. After thirty seconds had ticked by, I cleared my throat.
    “Oh, sorry,” she said after my prompting. “A smart aleck. I gave him detention once.”
    “What for?”
    “It was for Oedipus again. He made a tasteless joke in class when Darleen Hicks said she felt sorry for Oedipus. As I told you a moment ago, Darleen asked me why poor Oedipus should blind himself. And I said how would you feel if you killed your father and married your mother?”
    “And then?”
    She pinched her nose and sniffed. “From the back of the room, Joey Figlio started singing ‘ I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad. ’”
    I couldn’t quite suppress the laugh that snorted through my nose. Adelaide Nolan stared daggers at me and pursed her lips in disapproval. I apologized, but continued to struggle to stifle a smile. Joey Figlio had unsuspected wit. Mrs. Nolan quickly changed her opinion of me.
    “I’m sorry,” I choked. “Please continue.”
    She shrugged her shoulders. “That’s it. That’s the story.”
    “Excuse me, but why did you tell me about Joey Figlio, then?”
    “Because you should be questioning him, not her teachers,” she said. “He’s no good, that one. Do you know that he writes obscene poetry? Disgraceful. Poems about Darleen. Go talk to him, and you’ll find out what happened to that poor girl.”

    I stopped by the paper to give Charlie Reese an earful about the Royal Lancer. I had always thought it was too nice a car for me, and now I had the proof. Millicent Riley, the publisher’s secretary, said Charlie was in a meeting with Mr. Short. That was my signal to scram. Artie Short hated me, and I was happy to return the sentiment.
    “Not so fast, Miss Stone,”

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