Miss Hill searched her way through a key ring that had enough keys to unlock the city of Boston. But with relentless perseverance, her fingers kept flipping key after key until she found key 102 which was the key for room 201. I thought that a rather simple yet effective coding system, something I was guessing the original Miss Hill came up with in 1888.
When she opened the door, I felt like I was discovering some unknown realm for the first time, a secret realm known as Mary's Place. Yet immediately a certain sadness came upon me. It was merely a one room living quarters, not a home, rather more like the room of a celibate monk, barren, lifeless, far too spartan for a lady.
A faded pink easy chair with a side table. On the table beside the chair, a green glass ashtray, a small lamp with a pale yellow shade, and a dog-eared copy of Mickey Spillane's One Lonely Night. I never knew my sweet Mary smoked and I had a hard time imagining her reading a pulp detective novel.
Her single bed was made, the white chenille bedspread tucked and squared. The little dining table was bare except for a copy of the Saturday Evening Post, the two yellow vinyl chairs in their proper place.
On the wall, two pictures had been hung. One was one of those aerial photographs taken of a farm; a dairy farm with a herd of cows packed in behind the hip roof barn. The other picture was a photograph of two little girls, sisters I would think, both dressed in fluffy white dresses, holding baskets of daisies in their laps.
The closet held a small collection of simple, plain dresses, but the dresses were outnumbered by her collection of waitress uniforms, cleaned, starched and pressed, ready-to-go. Four pair of shoes, all practical. Not much else, ladies' this and that. There was one box, a low flat white cardboard box, rather sizable, resting on the top shelf. Now that box had a surprise. A wedding dress, folded and cared for, white satin with tiny white beading here and there.
Her chest of drawers contained nothing unusual for a lady. Her collection of personal items and delicates. a little costume jewelry, her cosmetics bag, pencils and paper, her bank book with a balance of $52. Not much else. My Mary had been traveling rather light through life.
"Miss Hill, I don't see anything out of the ordinary. Do you know the names of any of her friends, maybe a name of one of her gentlemen friends?"
"No, Officer. She kept pretty much to her room and then to work. Everyday she'd catch the bus down the street and everyday she'd come in, check her mail, and stay in her room. Every Sunday she'd walk to church and then come back for Sunday dinner. I always cook Sunday dinner for the guests who want to come. Not too many choose to come nowadays, they all tend to cook for themselves in their rooms on their hotplates."
Then it struck me. "Miss Hill, where's the wastebasket?"
We did a thorough check. There was none.
"That's strange," Miss Hill concluded. And it was.
"Miss Hill, did she fill out an application when she moved in?"
"Silly me, of course she did."
She hauled me down to her office apartment on the first floor. There she, searched through her two drawer filing cabinet and came up with a file. "Here it is, Mary Anne McCartney."
Age: 32. Work: Shirley's Diner, waitress. Next of Kin: None. References: whoa! Checker Cab Company, dispatcher.