The Columbia Cop Caper…Part VI: December 2021

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 the hotel entertains a few hundred New York City cops. Bronco has discovered that the room of wealthy socialite Louise Corning has been broken into, and has notified the New York State Police. Now, while questioning guests about the night of the incident, he thinks he might have stumbled upon a lead …
I was questioning Sergeant Frank Cruckhorn of the 53rd precinct of the New York City Police Department and his wife, Millie about their whereabouts during the burglary of Louise Corning’s room at the Columbia Hotel and the theft of some of her expensive jewelry.
“Are there any other family members here with you?” I asked them after the introductions were out of the way.
“Just…” Mrs. Cruckhorn started to answer, but stopped when her husband squeezed her arm.
“Just my brother and his wife,” Cruckhorn interjected. “He’s a Sergeant in the two-seven. I don’t see where he is right now, but we came up together.”
“Anything you can add to that?” I asked Mrs. Cruckhorn, looking her squarely in the eyes. She quickly turned away.
“Not that I can think of,” she said nervously.
A little too nervously, I thought. Together with what I had observed and overheard just before interrogating the couple, their actions during the questioning was very suspicious. I had one more couple to talk to, which proved insignificant, and then I made my way to the front desk.
I told the young man working at the front counter that I needed some information. He seemed to know who I was, and was quick to cooperate, so in a matter of minutes I was staring at the evidence that the Cruckhorns did not check in alone, but in the company of their son, Jeremy. Why lie about that, I wondered? There was only one explanation I could think of.
They must suspect that Jeremy was involved in the break-in. And now, it appeared, he had not been accounted for. As I mulled over the thought in my head, I suddenly had a flashback to an awkward moment I had shared with young Edwin Corning the day before, after completing a round of golf.
I had returned our clubs to the caddy shack, and when I emerged from the shack, Edwin was talking with a young man about his own age. When Edwin spotted me coming out of the shack, he stopped his conversation more abruptly than I would have considered normal.
When I asked him about his “new friend,” Edwin had gotten very defensive, claiming the two did not know each other and had barely spoken. Appearances had suggested to me that was not the case.
Now I was even more certain that the two boys had known each other, and had been up to something Edwin was trying to keep secret, at least from me. Could they have been plotting to steal his mother’s jewels? I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, but that certainly seemed a lot more likely to me than Tom Mangan’s theory that the burglary might have been the work of the gang that had been terrorizing local hotels all summer.
I figured it was best to discuss my findings, as well as my theory, with Mangan before doing anything else. I had worked with him enough times in the past to know that he always preferred to be kept in the loop during an investigation.
He wasn’t hard to find, and it took just a few minutes to fill him in on my findings, and my suspicions. Surprisingly, he did not immediately dismiss the idea.
“I think you might be on to something,” he said, adding that Edwin Corning had yet to be located. “Now we have two boys to find,” he acknowledged, referring to Edwin and Jeremy Cruckhorn.
“You know the hotel grounds and the surrounding area as well as or better than anyone,” Mangan said to me. “Do you have any ideas where two kids might go to hide?”
“Well, obviously, there are only a limited number of viable places on the hotel property,” I said, realizing I was stating the obvious. “But if they have left the grounds, they could be anywhere. Are we sure that neither of them have access to a car?”
“We can easily verify that. I’ll look into it,” Mangan said. “Meanwhile, since you seem to have a reasonably good relationship with Mrs. Corning, would you feel comfortable asking her about her son’s whereabouts?” Mangan asked.
I hesitated, and he added. “I certainly wouldn’t say anything to her about your suspicions… at least not yet.”
I agreed to pay Mrs. Corning a visit and to ask her about Edwin, hoping to find out a little about his state of mind, his friends, any places at the hotel he liked to hang out. I figured I could find out if he knew Jeremy Cruckhorn without coming right out and asking it of her. At least I hoped so. Either way, I wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.
Turns out, I needn’t have been concerned. As I approached the stairs leading up to Mrs. Corwin’s rooms, I heard a voice whispering my name from a darkened corner behind the stairwell.
“Mr. Kelly!” the whisper repeated. “Over here…it’s Edwin.”
I walked over, and was only mildly surprised to find Edwin Corning crouching down in the corner, mostly obscured by an overstuffed chair.
“Mr. Kelly, I need to talk to you,” he whispered nervously. “I think I am in big trouble. Really big trouble.”

Fallsburg Constable Bronco Kelly has a knack for getting himself involved in intricate mysteries, but also a knack for solving them. Read more about his latest adventure at the Columbia Hotel in the next edition of The Hurleyville Sentinel. The Columbia Cop Caper is a work of fiction, and although some of the characters in this story are real, no representation is made as to the accuracy of their characterizations.