Mystery Story by Sydney Heckeler

Sydney Heckeler

1920s. New York City.

It felt like almost every lamppost had the same flyer plastered onto it. Missing child, huge reward. When Dick had first walked into town, he’d ignored it. But his “new” apartment’s roof was dripping water and the windows weren’t shutting all the way. His coat was ratty, the hems of his clothing were starting to slip. Although it was only temporary, until he could move to the next city and out of this hole, he couldn’t help feeling stuck. The money he had seen on that paper was enough to get him interested when the parents reached out to him for help. He could care less about the kid.

Now, he was sitting in the parlor of an apartment the complete opposite of his own. He looked around at the decadent interior. Across from him sat fancy couches meant for luxurious guests and elaborate parties, empty. The wallpaper was an amalgamation of patterns and designs. A record player was tucked into the corner of the room, playing soft music. Every now and then, the needle caught, the record skipped. 

Dick checked his thin watch, quickly. Almost nine at night. He’d been sitting in this same spot for nearly two hours now, finally catching a moment alone to observe his surroundings. The apartment was owned by a Mr. Robert Crowell, who had taken a long winded approach giving the facts of the case. Short but stocky, slicked back hair, perfectly fitted brown suit. Sipping on brandy no one else can access, smoking exotic cigars no one else can afford. Suckers think they have a say in their lives, but Dick knew they don’t have a word over these types of men. Rule the underground, rule the city. Got a little money? The world’s yours, especially now.

Crowell came back into the room, interrupting his thoughts. He was holding a picture, worn around the edges, in his hands.

“Here’s what my boy looks like,” he said, moving in front of the couch with his hand outstretched towards Dick. “If those damn Poles were mad at me for runnin’ in their side of town, they shoulda brought it to me. He’s just a little boy. He ain’t done nothing.”

Dick took the paper, looking at the kid’s face. He looked young, just like he’d been described earlier. He tucked it away, into the inner pocket of his coat, before standing up to shake Crowell’s hand. 

“I’ll find him for you.”

The trip back was long. The closer he got to “home”, the less opulent his surroundings became. It was late now, and the oil street lights lining Dick’s side of town were flickering. The smell of sewage, dumped out of second, third, fourth story windows, grew stronger. The shadows of people standing around a small fire were large ahead of him. A gunshot. Some screaming, then silence. The wind howled off the brick buildings, fluttering the clothes lines hanging overhead. 

Another cold night. No point in going home now, Dick thought, his apartment wasn’t going to be warm. Another sleepless night. 

He found the side road, tucked in between two bricked buildings. The low sound of music and voices could be heard as soon as he stepped onto it, following them to the discrete door hidden at the end. He knocked on it, and the door cracked slightly. The voices were louder.


“Rhythm Kings.”

The door shut again, Dick could hear locks being cranked down the door. The door opened just enough for him to squeeze in. 

He looked around him. The ceiling was low, there weren’t any windows. There was a small stage, tucked into the back corner of the small room, but no musicians were performing tonight. Instead, a record was playing. A couple of dingy wooden tables and chairs were in front of it. The bar was on the other side, a long counter with multiple stools lining it. A young looking couple, girl and guy, were seated at a table talking excitedly to one another. The older gentleman next to them kept falling asleep with his glass in his hand. 

Dick went to the first stool, sat down, looked at his neighbors. A couple men, gray shadows of people wishing they were anywhere but there. He called the bartender over, just to not have to watch them anymore. Time moved slowly as he sipped at the drink he was given. Not as strong as they made them in his old town. 

Dick pulled out the small notepad he’d been keeping in the inner pocket of his long jacket, put his hat down on the counter next to him. He looked over his notes. The kid had left home during the day, to a movie theatre down the street from their home. He disappeared right after that. 

Now, there were countless motives, people who could have done this. But, Dick had quickly theorized, it had something to do with Crowell’s business. He was in the business of prohibition bootlegging and that didn’t usually come with many friends. Crowell had quickly grown to be one of the richest and most well known importers in Uptown, but his relations with those in Downtown were shaky at best. Recently, he’d begin moving into territories that weren’t his, taking sales and making more money than he’d ever before. Big Bugsy, the one who was in charge before, didn’t like this. Crowell had shown Dick a letter he’d received from him, vaguely threatening. Now, it was all about getting to Bugsy and saving the kid. Then the money was his.

He was distracted from his thoughts by the door opening behind him, and a woman walking in. She immediately caught Dick’s eye. She was wearing a long dress, emerald green with shiny beads hanging from the bottom. Her hair was styled into glamorous finger waves, blond and perfectly placed. She was fancy, but clearly new money. She had a small bag in her hand that she pulled a lipstick out of to touch up her lips. She raised her eyes, green like her dress, and met his own. She smiled slightly, slyly, and walked over to the stool next to his own. 

“Hey there,” she said, waving a hand to the bartender before resting her chin on her hand. 

“You don’t look like you’re in the right place,” he responded, taking another sip.

“This is my favorite bar. No one knows who I am down here.” 

He paused.

“And who are you?”

She smiled again, a little wider this time to show her teeth.

“You ever heard of the West End Gang? Runnin’ alcohol uptown? My husband is Bob Crowell. I’m Mary Crowell. Don’t tell ‘em I said, this but he’s no good. I come down here so I don’t have to deal with him or any of his loonies. I only say this to you ‘cuz you look trustworthy.”

Dick couldn’t believe it. Just his luck he’d get stuck talking to the wife of one of his clients. Don’t make things complicated, he thought. 

“Hm,” he grunted, lifting the glass again to his lips. “Maybe I shouldn’t be talking to you.”

She laughed in response, “Maybe not.” 

They talked a while longer to one another, mostly her blabbing on about this and that and him giving the occasional head nod. He glanced at his watch, later than expected. Dick pulled out a couple dollars and threw them on the counter, for both his and her drinks. 

“Are you payin’ for me?” Mary asked, turning towards him as he began to leave.

“Yeah. Pretty girls like you deserve your drink paid for.” He put his hat back on his head, bundled his coat closer to himself. 

“Wait, I kinda like you!” She exclaimed, standing up next to him. She grabbed a napkin sitting next to her, pulled out her charcoal eyeliner pencil and scribbled something down. She handed it to him and he stuffed it into his pocket. “Come visit me sometime.”

“Thanks.” He replied, moving towards the door before she could talk anymore. I already know your address, he thought, I’m looking for your kid! 




Dick was back in the fancy apartment, only three days since his last visit. He had received an emergency telegram calling him Uptown. He had walked into Crowell sitting on the ornate couch. The room was a total mess. His hair was no longer slicked back — it was loose, greasy, messy. His clothes were the same, no more fancy suit. 

“My wife!” He exclaimed on seeing Dick walk in the door, immediately standing up and running to him. “She’s gone now too. How long until I’m next?” 

“Calm down, sit down. Let’s talk about this.”

Crowell nodded, sitting back down, gathering his hands into his lap and bowing his head. He explained when, where. He had left town a day before for the night, and he came back to her gone. 

“They took her best dress and pearls too!” He sighed, rubbing his temples. 

“They what?” Dick asked. That doesn’t seem right, he thought. “Can we go to her room?”

Crowell nodded again, silently leading Dick. The closet was a mess, plain clothes thrown everywhere. He sifted through the clothes, looking for the green dress he remembered her wearing before. Gone. Why take some nice dresses? Why would a kidnapper, trying to get money from Crowell, want that?

He leaned further into the scattered piles of clothes, just barely noticing the slip of paper falling out of his pocket onto the ground. He picked it back up, remembering the wife had given it to him days before. He was about to stuff it back into his pocket, just before something in him told him to read it. He unfolded it, pulled it close to his face. The address wasn’t the one he was at, though. It was a house outside of the city, a strange number. He folded it back up and stood back up to look at Crowell.

“I think I can find them.”



Dick knocked on the door, rapidly, urgently. It opened, just slightly and a woman’s eyes peeked out.

“Whatdaya want?”

It was her. 

He grabbed the door and opened it, forcing his way in and Mary stumbled back.

“What are you doing?” He exclaimed. “You aren’t kidnapped. You’re in this house, running away from your husband. What about your son?”

A boy walked into the room and Dick flashbacked to the photo he was given, the one stuffed into his little notebook in his pocket. And it was him.

“What’s happening here?” He asked, looking between the two.

“I can explain!” She responded, “Sit down, please.”

“My husband… he… Well, you know him. He’s put us in a bad situation. I used to like having money, getting to move from our little shack in Downtown to a palace in Uptown. But, people were threatin’ him. Us. He started getting violent, scary. He was using me — He didn’t love me anymore, he loved havin’ me on his arm, dressin’ me up, using me… I had to leave. For my son and I. We coulda died. I had to leave before that happened.”

Dick nodded. He wasn’t a nice person, normally. But something about this was hitting him.

“I need that money,” he responded. “I don’t have enough for my rent, not even to pay for my next meal. I don’t know what to do here.”

She jumped up from her seat, eyes wide looking scared. 

“Don’t go back to him. Please. I took all our savin’s, but he doesn’t know that yet. I have more money than I’ll ever need. I’ll give you enough to get out of here. Please!”

He remained silent. What do I say, he thought. Mary ran to a back room, away from him, and ran back with a wad of cash. She shoved it into his arms. The boy stood in the side of the room, silent. 

“Please. Take it. I’ll give you more.”



Once again, Dick was moving. But, this time, the story wasn’t ending in gray, hopelessness. He was hoping on a train, money stacked into one of his bags. He was on his way to open a storefront, finally. Make his sleuthing a career. And leave the big city.