Death Is My Comrade
Death Is My Comrade
H er name was Eugenie.
She flew into Washington on a Thursday in June, was almost raped-or said she was almost raped-Friday night, tangled with the cops, the State Department and the Russian Embassy over the week end and was declared persona non grata on Monday. Quite a history for a seventeen-year-old girl fresh out of a finishing school in Montreux, Switzerland. But then, there aren't many seventeen-year-old girls like Eugenie.
I first saw her late on a hot, muggy Friday night. I'd driven across the John Philip Sousa Bridge with Marianne Baker and out of Washington across the Maryland tidewater flats to Lucienne Duhamel's summer cottage near Chesapeake City. Earlier, Marianne and I had bent elbows and made small talk with Washington's dinner-jacket set at Lucienne's Chevy Chase town house. Lucienne Duhamel was Eugenie's mother.
As I stopped the car Marianne chided me: "Don't they make speed limits for private detectives, Chet?" But she was smiling.
"You told me I'd like Eugenie."
"Lecher," Marianne said, and we got out of the car. "She's all of seventeen." Which gave Eugenie ten years on Marianne Baker, who's twenty-seven.
Marianne is small and blonde with a year-round natural tan that makes her hair look like platinum, especially on a moonlit night in June in tidewater Maryland. She has laughing brown eyes and a short upper lip and a full lower one and twin six-month-old sons back in the apartment in Georgetown. The boys' father, Wally Baker, is dead. I am their godfather. They're called, one for Wally and one for me, Wallace and Chester. Since they'd only recently been weaned, this was almost Marianne's first night out since her husband was killed. I'd wanted her to enjoy herself. The laughter had gone out of her eyes when Wally died. I thought it high time some of it came back. She looked happy now.
Eugenie was going to change that.
Arm in arm we went along the walk to the front porch of Lucienne Duhamel's summer cottage. I could hear the tidewater lapping against wooden pilings in back. It was very hot and very still, with a lot of moon but no wind. Light showed in the front windows of the small, cedar-shingled cottage.
"I'll say there aren't any speed limits for private detectives," Marianne told me. "Lucienne and Mr. Laschenko aren't even in sight yet."
Then we both heard their car driving up, and its headlights raked the cedar shingles. I had gotten one foot on the porch when I heard the back door slam.
"That's funny," Marianne said. "Who do you suppose it was?"
"Not Eugenie, I hope, after the build-up."
Marianne made an exasperated sound.
Behind us, Laschenko tromped once on the gas pedal of his car and cut the motor. Getting out, he called in his booming voice: "Eugenie? A surprise, Eugenie!"
The surprise was that since Eugenie hadn't wanted to attend the party at her mother's town house, Lucienne Duhamel had brought the dregs of the party here. The dregs consisted of Semyon Laschenko, Russia's special cultural attaché in whose honor the party had been given; Lucienne herself; Marianne, who would do a piece for View magazine on Lucienne's latest bid to oust Perle Mesta from her role as the hostess with the mostest; and a private eye named Chet Drum who would rather spend his time with Marianne Baker than with anyone else.
"Surprise, Eugenie!" Laschenko called boomingly again.
That was when Eugenie screamed. Not before, not when Marianne and I had first driven up and not even when the back door slammed. When she heard Laschenko's booming voice. She had held her scream for then.
I crossed the porch in two strides and pulled open the screen door. I heard Laschenko's and Lucienne's running footsteps on the crushed-shell path. Marianne said something as she came in right behind me. We saw Eugenie before Laschenko and Lucienn