We continued through the basement to the steps leading up to the first floor. The steps leading up to the first floor didn’t look too safe and we gingerly picked our way up the stairway. They weren’t. Tom Forsythe almost stumbled when the first stair tread broke away under his weight. A few steps further up one complete tread was missing. We had to step on the stair stringer itself. The stairway came up into the upstairs back room of the dress shop where the dresses were cut and sewn. Six cobweb and dust covered Singer commercial grade sewing machines sat in the center of the room and two large dust covered cutting tables stood in front of the side windows.
“Six commercial sewing machines meant six women sewing dresses. That’s a lot of dressmaking. There must have been a helluva demand for dresses,” I said. Tom Forsythe nodded in agreement.
Each cutting table was five feet long, three feet wide and stood three feet above the floor. A sheet of ivory colored linoleum covered the tops of the wood tables. A pair of fitting slash dressing rooms occupied one corner of the sewing room.
We walked through the tattered curtain that separated the sewing room from the front sales room. Several dress mannequins stood around the room. Three of the mannequins wore dust and cobweb covered dress in the flapper style so prevalent during the twenties, their color indistinguishable by the dust. The other dust covered mannequins were without dresses.
Tom Forsythe, borrowing a steel digging bar from one of the labors and broke the lock on the front door. We stepped outside into the fresh air and now fading sunlight. It took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the sunshine. We each took in several deep breaths of fresh, clean, lung purging air trying to clear them of the dust we inhaled on out travels through the speakeasy, tunnel and out the dress shop. We walked slowly back along North Street to the Primrose Hotel breathing deeply taking in the fresh air. Vanessa gasped as Tom Forsythe and I, looking like a pair of ghosts covered in brick and mortar dust, as well as regular old dust, walked into the Primrose Hotel lobby through the street entrance.
The sound of the sledge hammers striking the brick wall reverberated around the close confines of the tunnel making the noise seem even louder than normal. The demolition guys thought to bring ear and dust protectors for themselves but nobody thought about us already in the tunnel. On top of the noise, the brick and mortar dust turned the cramped space at the end of the tunnel into a dense cloud of fine brick particles and mortar dust choking the air in the immediate area and clogging our noses and throats. Tom Forsythe was right. The false wall was only the thickness of one brick and fell away easily from the sledge hammer blows.
The laborers moved the debris to the side revealing an old, partially rotted, poorly constructed wood door with wood “Z” strapping to strengthen the door but the years took their toll. It was as if the pealing paint and a nail or two that held the door together. A few strokes with their picks and the wood door collapsed into a pile of kindling. Tom Forsythe and I both stepped beyond the door, turned and examined the door side of the partially demolished wall.
“You’re right. This wall was built from the this side,” Tom Forsythe said.
“I think that whoever put the hole in the skeleton’s skull entered the speakeasy through here, brought the victim with him and shot him in the speakeasy or brought the already dead corpse in and dumped the body behind the bar and then escaped back out through the tunnel to the old dress shop,” Tom Forsythe said.
“And hastily threw up this brick wall on his way out,” I said.
“Makes sense,” Tom Forsythe said.
We now knew how the body ended up in speakeasy and that’s all we know. What we didn’t know was when, by whom and why the body was dumped. Tom Forsythe and I continued into the basement of the old dress shop, looked at the dust covered bolts of cloth and spools of thread on the wooden shelves that lined the stone basement walls. It was hard to determine the original color of the dust covered material and thread because they were covered under a blanket of grayish beige in the darkened basement. I wiped my hand across a dust covered bolt of cloth revealing a Granny Apple green fabric which would have looked fabulous with Vanessa’s red hair.
“Ok. Send some men down here with whatever tools needed to tear down a brick wall. Also send some men into the old dress shop basement and look for anything out of the ordinary. They’re not going to be able to get a compressor or a generator down in the elevator so they’re going to have to demolish this wall the old school way, by sledge hammer and hand held drills,” Tom Forsythe said into his radio. He ordered a uniformed cop back up to room 607 to wait for the crew and guide them down.
“Tom, this back wall doesn’t have the same look as the rest of the tunnel. It looks like it’s out of plumb and was hastily thrown up. The courses are crooked and the mortar is squeezed out between the bricks. It looks like it was built by an inexperienced amateur and may have even been built from the other side,” I said.
“You’re right,” Tom Forsythe said after studying the end wall.
“It was probably built well after the tunnel was built,” I said. After a moment’s reflection, asked, come to think of it, how did they stock the speakeasy? They couldn’t have used the elevator for the beer barrels. Maybe a case of whiskey or two at the most on the elevator, but not barrels,” I said.
“You’re right. This tunnel between the speakeasy and the old dress shop must have been how the booze came into the speakeasy. This tunnel was probably built at the same time as the hotel,” Tom Forsythe said. I nodded my agreement.
Four big unshaven musclebound town laborers came to the end of the tunnel grumbling about having been pried away from the Penn State football game on television and being called out to work on a Saturday afternoon. They carried their picks and digging bars on their shoulders like rifles at shoulder arms. The also brought extra lights.
“Here it is boys,” Tom Forsythe said. “It’s probably a false wall, maybe just one brick thick,” Thomas Forsythe said. Tom Forsythe and I backed away giving the men swinging the sledge hammers plenty of clearance.
Tom Forsythe heard a chuckle from the other side of the conversation, then said, “Thanks.”
Once our lights were reconnected we continued. We took the forty-five degree right turn and after an additional hundred feet the tunnel made yet another forty-five degree right turn. We walked further until the radio informed we were at the end of the second cord and that the extra extension cords had not arrived yet. Tom Forsythe and I stood around twiddling our thumbs. Ten minutes later we went through the lights off and on again for each light for a second time as the electricians added the third extension cord. The radio squawked again and told us we were good to go.
We continued on until we faced a brick wall. Tom Forsythe did a slow three-sixty with his halogen lamp in his hand scanning the tunnel. We had not seen any breaks in the walls that would indicate an opening of some sort along the tunnel except the speakeasy and whatever this wall was in front to us.
“I wonder where we are?” Tom Forsythe asked.
“If you don’t know, how should I know,” I said. My claustrophobia raising to the surface. I get twitchy when I’m in a physically tight space.
Tom Forsythe miked his radio. A loud screech emanated from the speaker catching me by surprise. He adjusted the squelch knob. “Yes sir?” Came the voice.
“Do you have a GPS position on us?” Tom Forsythe asked.
“Where the hell are we?” Tom Forsythe asked.
“You’re near the old dress shop,” said the voice.
“What old dress shop?” Tom asked.
“The one on the square at the northwest corner of North and East Streets,” said the voice.
“Find out who owns the building and get us permission to enter it,” Tom Forsythe said. “And be damn quick about it.” We stood around waiting for a response.
Ten minutes later the blast of static announced the imminent arrival of the voice.
“Sir, the town took over the property for unpaid taxes about ten years ago,” the voice said.
“Officer, please roll these drawings back up. Go back to the permits office. Make the clerks look for any additional drawings for this building and bring them back ASAP,” Tom Forsythe told a nearby uniform. The cop rolled up the drawings and hurried from the speakeasy.
The electrician had the high powered halogen lights turned on and pointed through the open entrance illuminating a brick lined tunnel. As far as we could see within the range of the lights, the tunnel had an arched brick ceiling, brick walls and floor. The brick courses were level and the joints were neatly struck. The brickwork looked as if it were built by skilled bricklayers who took pride in their work. The tunnel looked substantial and dry as it showed no signs of water leakage. The end of the tunnel was in the dark beyond the effect of the lights. I looked at the detective and he looked at me. We shrugged our shoulders simultaneously as if to say, ‘what the hell’ and stepped off into the tunnel. Each of us carried a hand held halogen torch tethered to a long heavy duty extension cord. The tunnel reminded me of pictures I had seen in a book once of the Sewers in Paris, France, except without the water and the sewage.
As I walked, I had the sensation of the floor running up a slight grade. About a hundred feet in, the tunnel took a forty-five degree turn to the right. Tom Forsythe’s radio squawked, “Stop.” We need to add another extension cord to each line.” Tom Forsythe’s lights went out then came back on almost instantly then my light went out and then back on.
Black is the absence of light. I once toured a cave where the docent turned off the pathway lights to show what absolute darkness was like. It was as if I were totally blind. I was totally blind. All I saw was black. I didn’t dare move an muscle. Frankly , I was very uncomfortable and I fought the urge to panic. Finally the docent turned on the lights. The sudden light that replaced the black temporarily blinded everyone of us. Our eyes sickly adjusted from the total darkness to the light. It was nice of the folks in the speakeasy to add one extension cord at a time and not leave us totally in the dark.
Tom Forsythe’s radio squawked again, “We’re sending for more extension cords. We’ll let you know when we’re about at the end of our cord. We won’t leave you in the dark.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
Tom Forsythe miked his radio and said, “Go to the town building permits office and bring me the plans for the Primrose Hotel even if you have to wake somebody up or drag somebody in. Also bring a few high powered lights, extra power cords and an electrician to work them. Bring them to room 607 in the hotel.” He told a uniform to cover the elevator entrance in room 607 and bring down the equipment when it arrives.
“Mrs. Curtis…” Tom Forsythe started.
“Ms. Malone,” Vanessa corrected, “Vanessa.” She chose to keep her birth name after we married. What’s in a name. A rose by any other name is still Vanessa.
“…Vanessa, would you please escort Madeline and the other nice folks to the lobby and have them wait until we get there?” Tom Forsythe asked. Vanessa nodded and started herding the tourists and Madeline to the elevator.
Ten minutes after Vanessa and her charges left the speakeasy, the sound of metal on metal screeching became louder announcing the imminent arrival of the first load of equipment with along detailed drawings of the hotel. Tom Forsythe and I walked to a bar and moved some of the dust filled glasses aside with our arms, a mistake. Our arms took on a beige coating from the dust which adhered to the fabric of the sleeves. It looked as if Tom Forsythe’s nice blue suit now needed a dry cleaning. I just brushed the dust from my nylon windbreaker sending a small cloud of dust to the floor.
We unrolled and spread the drawings on the dust covered bar holding the edges down with a few of the glasses and a bottle of booze. I picked up the bottle of booze and looked at the label. Glenfiddich, bottled in Scotland, my brand of choice. I pulled the cork from the bottle and sniffed the opening. The Glenfiddich smelled just like the Scotch I drank too much of last night. Both Tom Forsythe and I examined the drawings page by page looking for the speakeasy and tunnel. We even examined the little detail drawings inserted around the borders of the pages. We didn’t find either the speakeasy or the tunnel on any of the drawings.
I walked around the speakeasy once to take in the surroundings and then made another closer, slower lap around looking for anything out of the ordinary. Tom Forsythe stared at me as I walked the perimeter of the room.
As I walked around I ran my fingertips over the woodwork paying particular attention to the joinery; the places where the wood panels were joined together, looking, or rather feeling, for anything that felt unusual. My finger tips found a vertical joint in the woodwork hidden near a corner that didn’t quite feel right. I looked and saw that the joint wasn’t as tightly fit together as the rest of the fine woodwork. I ran my fingers over the misaligned joint. It didn’t feel like the rest of the joinery in the speakeasy. I gently pressed against the misaligned joint. The wall seemed to move almost imperceptibly at my touch. I put my weight against the wall. It moved. I searched all around the seam for any type of an opening device. Finally I found the latch on the baseboard near the corner almost completely buried in the seventy some years of accumulated dust and cobwebs. I pulled the latch and the wall jerkily opened amidst the screeching protestations of the dry, dust filled hinges.
“Detective,” I called. Tom Forsythe walked over to me closely followed by Vanessa. I pointed through the open wall. It had to be a tunnel. The weak light from the speakeasy illuminated only the first foot or two before it was eaten up by the tunnel’s darkness. A cold draft blew into the speakeasy from the mysterious opening.
“What the hell?” Tom Forsythe said, partially out loud and partially to himself as he stared into the darkness. I joined him in staring into the void.