THE COLUMBIA COP CAPER – Part IV
An Original Short Story by Jack Robbin
Fallsburg Constable Bronco Kelly is helping out his old boss, Ben Knapp, owner of the Columbia Farm Hotel, by serving as security for the weekend while a few hundred New York City cops let their hair down. He has just discovered that the room of wealthy socialite Louise Corning—the only other guest at the hotel other than the bevy of cops—has been broken into. We pick up our story there…
While the music and dancing downstairs was breaking up, Louise Corning and I walked upstairs to the rooms she was renting. I was just about to say good night to her when she let out a gasp.
We were just a few steps from her door, and she had her key in her hand when she stopped suddenly and stared at the door. It was wide open, and even though it was dark inside there was enough light from the hallway to see that clothing was strewn across the floor.
“Someone has broken into my room!” she exclaimed.
I extended my arm to the side to block her from going any further, and slowly moved to the doorway. I inched the door open, and stepped inside. The room was empty. I returned to the hallway and advised Mrs. Corning to stay put while I checked the other rooms she had rented., one for her son and one for the two female staff members with whom she travelled. Both rooms appeared to be untouched, their doors locked and intact.
“We shouldn’t touch anything inside your room until we can get the state police here,” I said when I had returned to her side. “Would you mind waiting here until I can find Mr. Knapp and put a call into the Troopers?”
She nodded kind of mechanically, obviously still in shock from what we had discovered. Sensing that she needed someone to be with her and not knowing the whereabouts of her assistants or her son, I moved a cloth-covered wingback chair from the small sitting area in the corner of the hallway over to the doorway so she could sit down, and then went to my room to find Irene. She was awake, reading in bed. Once I explained what had happened, she was up and dressed in a flash and carrying the pitcher of water from our room and a glass, she accompanied me back to where Mrs. Corning was sitting in the hallway.
“Mrs. Corning, this is my wife, Irene. She will stay with you until I can get back here. Again, please do not go inside or let anyone else in there.”
She nodded again, and took a sip of the water from the glass Irene had handed her.
I exchanged a look with Irene, interpreting her expression to be an affirmation to continue, and went back downstairs.
Ben Knapp was in his office, chomping on an unlit cigar.
“We’ve got a problem,” I said. “And not with the cops.”
After I told him what had I had found, Ben agreed to call the State Police, and sent one of the office boys who was tidying up around the front desk to try to find Edwin Corning and the staff members. Ben said he would wait in his office for the arrival of the Troopers, so that I could return upstairs to Mrs. Corning’s room.
It must have been nearly an hour later that two uniformed members of Troop C of the New York State Police arrived at the hotel. Sergeant Tom Mangan, whom I had known for several years and worked with occasionally, was in charge, accompanied by Trooper Bill Elliott.
By this time, Mrs. Corning’s two assistants, Margaret Wallace, who identified herself as the social secretary, and Bridget Murphy, whom Miss Wallace described as a domestic, had arrived. They were questioned briefly by Mangan and Elliott and allowed to join Mrs. Corning, who had retired to one of the rooms adjoining her own. At that point, there was still no sign of Edwin Corning.
After awhile, Mangan walked over toward the small sitting area in the corner of the hallway, placed his notebook and pencil on the circular table in between the two remaining chairs, and sat down. He closed his eyes for a few seconds and then opened them, searching me out. He motioned for me to join him.
“This could be that gang that has been robbing hotels all over the county the past couple of months,” he said to me as I approached. “There are some differences about this, but it seems too coincidental otherwise.”
“You really think so?” I asked.
“Right now I just don’t have any better ideas. Mrs. Corning says there were a couple of very valuable pieces of jewelry taken. I don’t know who else could move that kind of stuff.”
I kept silent, my mind racing. Mangan was a very good investigator, that I knew, But his instinct here didn’t make sense. I was aware of the gang of brutish thieves who had been terrorizing the hotels most of the summer, hitting eight or ten of them, but this didn’t seem to fit their pattern. They would have been more likely to have stormed the dance, flashed their guns, and robbed all the guests right then and there.
And Mrs. Corning had been targeted specifically…someone knew what room she was staying in, including which one of the three rooms she had rented she was keeping the jewels in. No other rooms in the hotel were broken into. How could anyone who knew she was a guest and travelling with expensive jewelry, not know the hotel was packed with cops? Seemed like a very strange time to stage a robbery. My gut just told me something else was afoot here, but I decided to hold off sharing my suspicions with the Sergeant.
“What’s your next move?” I asked him, just as Trooper Elliott joined us.
“I really want to talk to young Mr. Corning.” Mangan said. “Any luck locating him?” he asked Elliott, who shook his head sullenly.
“And I think we should interview every one of the guests to determine if anyone saw anything at all. To do that, I am going to have to do something you are probably not going to like.”
“I figured it was just a matter of time.” I said.
“I’m going to have to call Borden in, so we can make use of a couple of his men.”
Harry Borden was the Sullivan County Sheriff, and as Mangan well knew, we didn’t always see eye to eye.
“I know you guys have butted heads a few times, but he is the Sheriff,” Mangan said. “And besides, he will most likely send Jay and Stratton. He won’t come out himself.”
‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” I said.
Seems as if Fallsburg Constable Bronco Kelly is getting deeper and deeper into this caper at the Columbia Farm Hotel. Find out what happens next in the November edition of The Hurleyville Sentinel.