In the final, thrilling installment of “Ray Delaney & the Filial Blade“, a startling and dramatic climax unfolds beneath the streets of Boston, as Delaney comes face to face with death and with the murderous tendencies of Candy Sussman. Though today’s mystery may be solved, remember to vote at the end to determine the title of the next Ray Delaney Choose-Your-Own-Adventure!
Chapter X: At the End of the Tunnel
Screams blossomed like rose buds, a bouquet of red was appearing at his feet. As the carriage shunted to a halt, Delaney saw a stark tableau at one end of the carriage. Still, silent, staring at him, Sharp, Tannhauser and LaSalle.
“Ray, are you…”
“Shit…” LaSalle’s voice.
“..okay?” Tannhauser finished.
He lifted a hand to his chest and it came away sticky. A shallow but bloody wound was drip-drip-dripping a steady Morse code onto the floor. As he looked back up, Ms. Sharp was pushing through the Green Line train towards the place where, a moment earlier, Candy Sussman had stood. The carriage doors were open, and amid the noise and thunder of the subway, he could hear Sharp calling out Candy’s name, could feel the echoes resounding against the tunnel walls.
“I’m fine,” Delaney said. He wasn’t fine. His ears stung with static. With each breath, he could feel his shirt growing damper and sticking closer to his chest. He said: “Let’s go.”
* * *
The tunnel was filled with something more than darkness. Sharp and Candy were nowhere to be seen. Tannhauser pulled out a flashlight, turned it on. Alcoves were illuminated to their left. A set of train tracks running parallel to those they were walking across were creaking eerily on their right.
Delaney called back to LaSalle. He tiptoed like a frightened animal across the stony tracks, until Delaney reached with one hand and grabbed his collar. Pushing him up against an alcove, Delaney moved his face so close to LaSalle’s that he could see the sweat begin to form in the man’s pores.
“Charles: I’ve been running around for you, getting brained by your P.I. friend, having my trunk filled with your future father-in-law, and now I’ve ruined a perfectly pleasant powder-blue shirt. Why is your former fiancee running away from her father, from you, from her inheritance?”
“Isn’t – isn’t it obvious?” LaSalle stuttered.
Delaney loosened his grasp. The gash in his chest was draining onto their feet.
LaSalle continued: “She was trying to get away from me. It was…” his face broke into a grimace. “Was all my fault.”
Tannhauser shone the light toward LaSalle, now slumped in the hollow. “Conrad Sussman was a Scrooge, didn’t give Candy one cent from his fortune. But we knew that she was his only child, his only inheritor. We had nothing. So we… we thought we’d help him out a little. Put Scrooge out of his misery.”
Delaney and Tannhauser exchanged glances. “You wanted to bump him off?” Tannhauser said. “Take his money.”
“But Candy got cold feet, right?” said Delaney. LaSalle crumpled his eyebrows, looked almost sinister in the flashlight glare.
“No. No, not Candy. She got too big for her boots and wanted to go it alone. She ran away, knowing that her father would follow her in the end. Wanted to knock him off up here in Boston, then go back to the lap of luxury in North Carolina.”
“Charlie,” Delaney said. “You shouldn’t have followed her.”
* * *
The white circle of the flashlight swept the tunnel. LaSalle had been privy to the plan to kill Conrad Sussman, but had been abandoned by the wilier Candy when their love turned sour. Candy had fled to Boston, been followed in due course by Conrad. That was how she’d wanted it. An out of state killing. The murder weapon? Conrad’s own priceless switchblade.
LaSalle had been nothing but a lovesick fool, thinking that Ms. Sharp would help reunite him with Candy. Sharp tried to make a deal with LaSalle, wanted a cut of the Sussman fortune, but Candy’s action put pat to that scheme.
Beyond the wavering beam of light, there were textures and shapes.
“Candy-andy-andy-dy-y.” Ms. Sharp’s voice, sudden, ringing. It was followed by a gunshot and, at their feet, the flitting movements of rats. LaSalle stopped dead. Delaney and Tannhauser sprinted on, the warmth from the detective’s flashlight growing as cold as the sweat running down his back.
Eventually, the light hit flesh, legs propped against the wall. Panning upward, Tannhauser illuminated Sharp’s leonine features. She was alive, but the blue of her jeans was soaked with a dark black stain. Tannhauser crouched next to her, tore a swathe of cloth from his suit jacket, and attempted to staunch the flow of blood.
“Ray, I need you to go back and -”
But he looked up, and Delaney was gone.
* * *
“Candy-andy-andy,” he called out. She was reclining against the tunnel wall, shaken but undeterred. A bulb, fixed to the wall and encased in a tiny mesh cage, revealed the sweetly upturned lips of Candy Sussman.
“You should stick with knife crime,” Delaney panted. “You’re a pretty crappy shot.”
“It’s dark down here, Ray.” Candy’s voice was smokey. “I’d say I did quite well. How is your lady-friend?”
Delaney ignored her. “Charles has told us everything. You’re done for, sweetie.”
He held a hand out toward her and she raised the barrel of the gun. There was an ornate design running the length of the shaft but Delaney couldn’t make it out.
“No. You are,” she said. In the instant that she applied pressure to the trigger, Delaney feinted right and barreled forward until his arms made contact with her waist. They tumbled, a crunch of gravel against suit pants, the swirl of her skirt too colorful in the lamplight. Delaney managed to wrest the pistol from her hand, then raised it high and struggled backwards into the tunnel.
“It’s over Candy-dy-dy.” The echoes rode over the waves of nausea and the buzzing in his ears. A glance down. He saw engraved on the shaft of the barrel a name. Conrad Lafayette Sussman. “Another of daddy’s toys?” he asked, stepping closer to her.
Like the prickle of feet in a sandbox, stones were moving back towards the subway station. Delaney knew that Tannhauser and his officers were pounding toward them through the tunnel.
“Just my kind of pacifier” Candy smiled sweetly.
The footfall was growing louder, broader. He could still feel the shot ringing in his ears. Feet away from her, he twisted the weapon and grasped it by the barrel, the handle extended toward Candy. She looked momentarily confused. Then he raised the gun again, and brought it around in a swift blow to the side of Candy’s head.
“A trick I learned from a certain Catherine Sharp.”
* * *
Ray Delaney’s coffee smelt like the underside of a bus. As the heat dissipated into the early morning sky, he pulled open his office window. Several stories below, the counterpoint of city wildlife was bubbling just beneath the veneer of civilisation. Cats mewed to a symphony of scratches and overturned trashcans, birds querulously warbled and – in the distance, unheard – Charles LaSalle was prowling the city streets, destitute and lost.
Delaney wasn’t sure whether Candy’s former fiance mourned more greatly the financial or the romantic loss. He suspected the latter. Candy Sussman was awaiting trial, but according to Tannhauser, both LaSalle and Sharp (recuperating at Mass General Hospital) would be charged with abetting a felon.
C-L-S, Delaney thought. Candy – LaSalle – Sharp.
He set his coffee down on the desk and draped his coat on the coat rack, dropped his hat on top of the telephone and creased into his chair. He smiled at the squeak of new cotton on old leather. Charlie, he thought. You’ve got to learn. Love can’t buy you money.