'The Elevated Rail Incident'

By Phineas Redux

 

Contact: Phineas_Redux@yahoo.com

—OOO—

 

 

Summary:— Fiona ‘Fay' Cartwright & Alice ‘Al' Drever are private detectives in an East Coast American city. The ladies are called in when a woman is found dead on a local urban train.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright © the author. All characters in this story are fictional and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

—O—

Part 4 of the 'Drever & Cartwright' series
1. The Packer Building Incident.
2. The Fowler St. Incident.
3. The Pier 7 Incident.
4. The Elevated Rail Incident.

—O—

The Elevated Rail ran through the centre of Delacote City, encompassing the business section and several of the outlying districts. It was well used by the citizens, its only drawback being the numerous flights of stairs which had to be negotiated in order to reach the raised platforms from street-level. It ran on high steel pillars, straddling their way through many of the busiest streets in the city. A passenger could be transported from the centre to the outskirts in just over thirty minutes; which made it popular with workers, and thereby very busy in the morning and evening rush hours.

The morning of May 17, 1933 was soft and balmy, with a clear blue sky. The terminus of the ‘Green Line', serving the city centre to The Heights in the south, was Simpleworth Street. Here the last passengers exited; the crew moved to the rear driving coach of the ‘G4' set; and, after a ten minute halt, rolled back towards the city. The only duty of the conductor at this point was to go through the four coaches, looking for any lost property. On this occasion he discovered something of a treasure trove.

“Look here, Charlie.” Conductor James Murnahan had been with the Rail Company seventeen years, and this was about as big an event as had ever happened on his watch. “There I was, going through Coach 3 in the normal way, and what do you suppose I found?”

“How can I tell, I wasn't there with ya.” Driver Charlie Levitz had just finished reading the morning edition of the ‘ Delacote City News ', and was busily folding it up. “What? Money? An umbrella? A stuffed buffalo head? Remember, Davie Carson foun—”

“A body.”

“Wha—what?” Charlie ceased trying to push the newspaper into his jacket pocket and stared at his crewmate. “Wha—what kind'a body? You mean—”

“A real live dead body.” James nodded conclusively, as he provided this information. “As dead as you could reasonably expect a person to be. She's lyin' on the left bench seat just inside the door o' Coach 3. She's been stabbed, I think.”

“How—er, how do you know?” Charlie felt his day rapidly descending into anarchy.

“There's, er, blood on her blouse, on the left-hand side.” James shrugged his shoulders. “Don't think she's been dead long,—still warm.”

“This is goin' t'play merry hell with our schedule, James.” Charlie looked uncomprehendingly out the window of his driving-cab at the rails disappearing into the distance. “I won't come an' take a look. I'll take your word. So, you're the conductor—you're in charge of this kind'a thing. What's the next step?”

“I get off, and go to the ticket-office down at street level.” James straightened his shoulders, and rose to the occasion. “I phone the cops, an' the General Office in Andover Street. Then we sit back and wait for the fireworks to start.”

“We'll have to take the train two stops along to Edgeworth Street, to the siding there, at some point.” Charlie was already thinking of the consequences of this shocking affair. “If we stay here the whole line'll be blocked for God knows how long.”

“That'll be for the Directors at the General Office to decide.” James turned to leave the driving-cab on his mission. “All the other doors of the coaches are locked. I'll lock the door here, when I go out. Stay here; don't move; an' don't open the coach-door for anyone, however impatient they may be. The next passengers boarding will be the cops. OK, Charlie?”

“Yeah, carry on.” Charlie pulled the newspaper back out of his pocket. “I ain't goin' anywhere. I got'ta alibi.”

Sheesh!

 

—O—

 

The lengthy open-seated coach was packed with people. Notwithstanding they were all official police officers from various units the long coach still seemed as crowded as if it were full of the more everyday type of passenger. Foremost among them, leading the quest, was the tall figure of Inspector Fletcher of the 5 th Precinct. An hour and a half had passed since the news of the incident first broke.

“No, you can't move her down t'the meat-wagon.” Fletcher shook his head at the young officer standing before him. “I know you wan'na get her away t'the morgue, but our official Doctor's been held up. Some kind'a conference goin' on at District HQ. We just got'ta wait. So go an' park yourself somewhere out'ta the way. I'll give you the wink when you're needed. Hey, Sergeant Keisler!”

Fletcher had quickly ordered a complete search of the coach, and its three sisters. There was no knowing if the murder weapon had been secreted somewhere on the train or not. He also had officers out on the tracks searching both sides of the trackbed, as well as others going over every inch of the station-building; both at rail level and street level. No more passengers were being allowed access to the station meanwhile; and the regular train-units from the city-centre were now stopping two stations back at Edgeworth Street.

“The photographers are finished, sir.” Keisler mopped his shining forehead; he was rather overweight for a 32 year old. “No dice with the Doc, yet?”

“Nah, she's been held up. Here in twenty minutes, so I'm told.” Fletcher glanced up and down the coach. “Why does it always take so many officers to search anywhere? It's gettin' t'be like a boiler-room in here. Anybody found anything?”

“Nada.” Keisler wrinkled his nose. “Just the usual; old cigarette-cards; scores o' crumpled rail-tickets; several handkerchiefs—we're packing them in evidence bags an' sending them back to the Precinct—a pair of men's leather gloves from Coach 1—”

“Oh yeah.”

“Nothing doin', sir.” Keisler raised his left shoulder then gently let it regain its normal half-mast posture. “Clean as a whistle. Look as if they were pretty much new. But they've been bagged an' made ready for sendin' off, too. A baby's toy—y'know, a sort'a small tin rattle; an' a .38 cartridge. That was found in a groove of the wooden floor under a seat in Coach 2; but it was deeply imbedded an' covered in dust. I took a look when Officer Nash informed me. It's been there for months.”

“Hell.”

“Hi'ya, Inspector.”

“Oh God.”

“Hey, is that any way t'greet the love of your life.” Fiona Cartwright, half-partner in ‘ Drever & Cartwright ' the best private detective agency in New Hampshire, strode along the coach and stopped beside the Inspector. “Al'll be along in a minute. She's engaged in givin' the conductor downstairs the 3 rd degree. So, where's the body?”

“I'll be glad to point out the objects of interest to any passing tourist,” Fletcher drew a hand through his thatch of grey hair; he could be sarcastic when he put his mind to it. “But first, maybe you'd like t'tell me why you're here?”

“The big-wigs back at Rail HQ in Andover Street decided it was politic t'engage the best available PI's.” Fiona grinned broadly, perfectly at ease. “So, here we are—with the good wishes of those in the fancy suits from the Director's office. I got'ta letter of confirmation here somewhere.”

“Nark it.” Fletcher sighed heavily. “It was a rhetorical question. Just keep out'ta the way of the official investigation. That means everywhere here, in case you didn't notice. The body's down the far end of the coach, follow me. And kindly keep your fingerprints to yourself.”

She had been around twenty-five to twenty-eight. Blonde hair, blue eyes, average height but well-proportioned. She wore her hair in loose waves to her shoulders, and had been shot in the left side just above the heart. The hole was small with little bleeding, though there was a palm sized stain on her cream-coloured linen blouse. She was wearing a town suit of short jacket and tight-waisted ankle-length skirt of light-grey wool, with low-heeled walking shoes of brown leather. Her finger-nails were painted a pale shade of red to match her lipstick She lay on the long bench on her right side with a slightly surprised expression, as if her demise had been unexpected. Everyone stood and looked down at her.

“How's it cookin', Inspector?” Alice hove into view at the far carriage door and made her way with a smile through the bustling police-officers to the group standing round the corpus delicti. She was an old hand in these situations so asked the obvious question, though not expecting any concrete answer. “Ah, the victim. Any thoughts on who she is? Looks like she's pretty well-off.”

“Narry an idea.” Inspector Fletcher liked to share any information he didn't have. He was democratic that way. “At the moment she might be the daughter of a millionaire, or ‘ Sally Andrews ' the nightclub dancer.”

“Did she have a purse or handbag?” Fiona had scanned the body and its close environment with her sharp eyes. “Looks the kind'a gal who'd have one.”

“Yeah.” Fletcher conceded this point, like a chess-master giving away a pawn to a young excitable opponent just before making his ruthless end-move. “I had it wrapped an' sent to the Precinct. The boys in the lab down there'll have great fun examining it. It's a scientific world these days, ladies; soon there won't be any room for amateurs any more: just machines analysing everything, an' always comin' up with the right answer in less than three hours.”

“That'll be the day, Inspector.” Fiona grunted mirthlessly.

“That'll be the day I collect my pension.” Fletcher tipped back the brim of his fedora and glared at the women. “Say, ain't you couple got better things t'do. This here's a police enquiry. Ya notice all the officers here?”

“Yeah, Fletcher, Fay an' I've been dancin' around for the last ten minutes, tryin' t'keep from getting our feet trodden on. There ain't much room in here.” Alice leaned backwards to let one of these uniforms, newly arrived, past. “Say guy, watch where you're goin'—an' keep those ape arms t'yourself.”

“Sorry ma'am. Inspector, the engine-unit's here to take the coaches back to the siding at Edgeworth Street.” He was in his early twenties, probably newly freed from the Police Academy and raring to make his mark. “The driver says there's a twenty minute opening in the schedule right now. If you miss it he won't be able to enter Edgeworth Street station for another three hours.”

“Oh shit.” Fletcher pulled his hat-brim back over his forehead. “OK, OK. Go tell him to lock on to the train, or whatever he does. Right, listen up boys, we got t'get a move on here. Sergeant Keisler, head to the rear coach an' see the engine couples-up properly. Hey you, yes you ; you can take the dame down to the meat-wagon now, an' get a move on. If the Doc arrives tell her she'll just hav'ta accompany her patient back to the morgue. The rest of ya exit the coach in an orderly manner, an' that goes for you two dame—ladies, too. Let's go.”

A minute later the Inspector and his sergeant had disappeared along the coach, heading towards the rear and the newly arrived second engine. There were still some officers in the coach, but they were engaged in searching the further end away from the actual scene of the crime. The young officer in charge of transporting the body to the waiting ambulance down in the street had loped off in search of the attendants. For a few moments Alice and Fiona were on their own, and they didn't shirk from using every second.

“Look, Fay.” Alice leaned over the sprawled body and gently lifted one edge of the woman's short jacket. “See the inside pocket? There's something in it.”

Fiona moved closer quietly, not making any fast movements; but obscuring the view of the distant officers. Alice took advantage of this and leaned down to slip her fingers in the small pocket and extract something white and slim. In another jiffy she was standing upright again, for all the world as if she hadn't moved an inch. Each woman darted glances out the corners of their eyes, but the busy policemen at the far end had noticed nothing.

“What is it?” Fiona raised an eyebrow at her partner. “Nice work.”

“A card of some kind.” Alice had hidden the object in the palm of her hand in one fluid movement. “We'll need'ta put it back before that rookie youngster comes back. Hey! It's a business card. ‘Olympia Antique Bazaar', 32 Arkwright Promenade, DC, NH. What d'ya make of that?”

“I don't know.” Fiona shook her head, glancing up and down the carriage meanwhile. “Let me take a—oh Hell, the kid's coming back! Put it back in her pocket, pronto.”

The young police-officer was nearly running along the gangway towards them, he was in such a hurry; the two hospital orderlies dragging a long stretcher behind him.

“Say, that was fast work, officer.” Fiona stood foursquare, blocking his forward movement and any view of what Alice was up to behind her. “Are those the men from the ambulance? I suppose you'll be taking the poor woman away now, eh? Oh, I'm sorry, don't let us get in your way. We'll both just slope off. Cheerio. Come along, Al, we'll let the professionals carry on here. Let's go back to our office. After you, Al. Bye, all!”

 

—O—

 

“So Fay, what exactly did the Directors tell us to do?”

“Unlike our pal Fletcher, who told us in no uncertain manner t'keep our noses out of it; they, in their wisdom, told us to stick our noses as far into it as we possibly can; an' t'come up with an answer in double-quick time.” Fiona was resting comfortably in the leather chair behind the desk in their office in the Packer Building. Alice had spread herself loosely on the couch against the wall. “Did you find anything of interest, in your examination of the premises of the first part, containing the party of the second part?”

“Ha!” Alice sniggered lightly, as she shuffled into a more comfortable elongated position, her shoeless feet on the couch. “Well, I figured the party of the second part was dead. But not dead dead. Not as in a cold body left out in the rain all night. No, she walked on that train, already in a state of being pumped full o' lead. Maybe not more than fifteen minutes before she was found.”

“Uumph.” Fiona grunted softly as she thought back on the layout of things in the coach. “Yeah, I'd go along with that. She'd been shot; there wasn't much blood; but there was enough so that there ought'a been more widespread bloodstains, if she'd been on that bench for any length of time.”

“I figure three, not more'n four, stations back.” Alice puckered her brow as she concentrated. “The Palmer Square Junction's just two stops past Edgeworth Street. That's right where the Arkwright Promenade is located.”

“Yeah.” Fiona nodded thoughtfully herself. “It'd make a good starting point for questions. What else's round the Square, that'd maybe interest us?”

It was just past midday on this cloudless May day. The temperature was moderate; the breeze just what was wanted; and the crowds of workers in the streets, searching for their lunch, not too encroaching. Their secretary cum receptionist Sheila had disappeared for an hour herself, leaving the two women in sole charge of the office suite. Fiona was dressed in a dark suit of red wool. A wide red belt, not too tight, showing her figure to advantage. The ankle-length skirt loose and flowing; her shoes flat and comfortable. At the moment her short jacket was unbuttoned, showing the white blouse which covered her chest in loose folds. Alice was dressed in another ankle-length skirt, this time slightly tighter round her form than her companion's. It was of a light green wool to match the cream blouse she sported, with its open neck. She looked, and felt, perfectly comfortable.

“Well, let's see.” Alice mused for a moment, then her detailed knowledge of the geographical layout of the city came into play. “Right, we got the Alexander Building on the corner of 19 th and Raiklin. That's ten stories of mixed offices right there. Let's hope we don't need'ta investigate that. It'd mean hundreds of interviews. A little way along 19 th we got the Arkwright Promenade, just off Palmer Square. You know, it's a line of shops in one building complex. All sorts of specialised retailers, sellin' God knows what-all kind'a garbage. Antiques, an' high-class Art, an' that sort'a thing. Gods, if the address on that card falls through we could be searching for a lead for weeks, Fay. It might all end in tears yet, you realise.”

“Give it up, sister, if ya can't play the game buy a gardening book an' retire to Plymouth.” Fiona snorted contemptuously. “I bet we come up with a clue days before Fletcher an' his horde of boffins at the Precinct are anywhere near seein' daylight.”

“Oh, alright.” Alice slowly struggled to her feet, brushing her skirt down as she stood. “When d'we start?”

“Now's good.” Fiona grinned unconcernedly. “Here's a pen; leave Sheila a note, an' we can hit the street right now. Come on, stop wastin' precious detectin' time.”

“God!”

 

—O—

 

There were more than fifteen separate shop-units in the street line of the Arkwright Promenade. They presented a uniform facade of plate-glass windows to the public passing by, but their interiors were all specially designed around the particular content of the individual shop. The aspiring shopper, always supposing they were wealthy enough to afford the steep prices, could also enter a long passageway or arcade leading into the interior of the two-story building where another set of slightly lower-priced establishments had their retail premises. The two detectives found a line of public telephone boxes just inside this arcade which, as Alice percipiently remarked, could come in very useful, you never knew. Now all she and Fiona needed to do was start prying into the private affairs of possibly each and every one of these damned shops. Two minutes later found them standing by the front door of 32, Arkwright Promenade; one of the shops facing onto the street. Its entrance had a stone step with the initials ‘ABR' in a mosaic of green and yellow marble tesserae; some of which were missing, showing little squares of discoloured concrete underneath. Etched on the glass show-window, however, the shop advertised itself as the ‘ Olympia Antique Bazaar '. It appeared to be just that; an antique shop, specialising in furniture. They both entered the single glass door to the silvery tinkling of a small bell.

Inside, the long cluttered room was full of shadows, achieved by having the window-blinds half shut. There were groups of tables and cupboards in dark woods to the right-hand side, while on the left were sets of chairs which looked as if they had seen the nether portions of generations of sitters. There was a faint aroma of polish, dust, and ancient cedarwood. The ceiling was low and the lights therein numbered three, all set in Art Deco glass fittings strangely out of keeping with the contents of the shop.

“May I help you?”

The person to whom the voice belonged was a lady of some forty summers, though still remarkably attractive. A Japanese woman, with long dark hair piled in a bun on her head; wearing a suit of pale blue wool, the skirt reaching well below her knees with a flowing simplicity which spoke of the very best designer. Her loose jacket sat perfectly on her petite frame while she raised a hand towards her customers, as if meeting old friends. She spoke with hardly a hint of any accent.

“Yes, we're private detectives.” Alice unclipped her handbag and took out her identification card. “We've been retained by the Rapid Transit Company in Andover Street to investigate an, er, incident that took place on one of their trains a few hours ago. It was a murder.”

“Oh, goodness!” The lady took a step back and seemed truly astonished by this turn of events. “But what brings you to my premises? Surely there can be no connection? I have an assistant, but she is not in today. A holiday, you understand.”

“Could you describe the lady, please.” Fiona looked steadily at the woman, trying to gauge her immediate reactions. “It would be helpful, if only to cross her off our enquiries.”

“Oh, yes.” The lady pursed her lips and lowered her gaze for an instant, as if pondering the question put to her. “Well, Miss Trayner is young, a few inches taller than I; has short black shingled hair, and is quite slim. Her face is somewhat long, with a sharp chin and her eyes are brown. She is about twenty-two. Is that helpful, at all?”

“Yeah, thanks.” Alice nodded, realising the description had no point of contact with the dead woman on the train. “We'll be able to scratch her from our notebooks, eh, Fay?”

“Looks like it.” Fiona nodded, then came to the matter which had brought them there. “We found a business card in the victim's pocket. It was from this shop. Perhaps she was a recent customer?”

“She—the lady who's dead, that is—was quite tall.” Alice took up the burden of the discussion. “Blonde hair, blue eyes, long wavy hair. Seemed quite well-to-do. Expensive clothes; Vionnet, y'know. Ring any bells?”

“Vio—blue eyes?” The lady suddenly looked scared, clasping one hand to her waist and glancing from Fiona to Alice in some distress. “It—it almost sounds like—”

“Yes?” Alice spoke softly, not wanting to block the woman's train of thought.

“Ah, er, it may be a customer. A good customer of mine.” The lady sank into one of the nearby chairs and looked up at her interrogators. “Miss Mary Sanders. She comes in to buy little pieces quite frequently. We are friends, I may say. She was last here about six days ago. Are you sure it is her?”

“No, not sure. Just maybe.” Fiona made a gesture with her hands. “We'll need to discover her home address; for some relative or friend to identify her, if possible. Can you give us her address?”

“Yes, I have it memorised.” The Japanese lady looked even more uncomfortable as she stood once more and led them to the far end of the gallery, where a modern desk with a white top sat, resplendently out of place in its surroundings. “Here, let me write it for you. There, 461, Laningham Road, Todmorton, Delacote City. Will that do?”

“That's great, thank you so much.” Alice put a comforting hand on the lady's arm. “Don't worry. Everything'll work itself out in the end.”

“Will the police come to ask me about the affair?” The lady spoke with a trembling voice.

“Yes, probably.” Fiona nodded. “But they'll only want what you gave us, the address. They won't be inquisitive or insensitive. You've been a great help.”

Another minute found them standing out in the street once more; the proprietress of the establishment merely a fading silhouette in the shop's interior as she moved away into its dim shadows.

“This is something. We got a good break there, Fay.”

“Yeah. Pity the lady had to receive such a shock, but she seems a nice person.” Fiona took Alice's arm as they walked away, back towards her Buick. “Suppose we should saunter out t'Todmorton now, before Inspector Fletcher gets there ahead of us, eh?”

“You better believe it.” Alice laughed softly. “It's like one of those children's games of ‘Snakes & Ladders', we keep going up the stairs,—”

“—an' Fletcher keeps slidin' down the snakes, poor old thing.” Fiona sniggered too. “We mustn't laugh, Al, it ain't respectful t'the authorities. Come on, here's my Buick, climb in. Let's see if I can break the record for goin' from the Centre to The Heights; I'm feelin' up for it, an' the traffic's light today.”

“Oh God. Why aren't these cars fitted with some kind'a safety belt contraption?”

“Huh, don't be a scaredy-cat, darling—be a warrior.” Fiona wasn't taking prisoners this morning. “Let's go.”

 

—O—

 

“Laningham Road, next turning. Slow down, for God's sake!”

It was just after one o' clock, and the sun beat down from a cloudless sky. Todmorton, as usual, exuded an air of old money and stand-offishness; but Alice and Fiona were well used to interacting with the local denizens: on those occasions, anyway, when they had been lucky enough to make it past the housekeeper or butler. Fiona slewed her enormous honey-coloured Buick round the street corner with a wail of rubber and slid to a halt outside one of the more impressive of the buildings in view.

“You're so nervous. Have some courage, for goodness sake.” Fiona liked to live in the fast lane, when appropriate, much to her lover's more timid consternation. “So, this the right number?”

“ ‘Course.” Alice never liked her navigation being called into question. “461, this is the pad alright. Looks rather imposing, don't it. Y'know, Fay, this address rings a faint bell. I've heard of it somewhere before. Just can't bring anything to mind at the moment.”

Humph! Just another big house. Must cost a fortune in upkeep.” Fiona was a Republican at heart. “Come on, let's get our butt's up to the front door. If it's a housekeeper, I'll do the talking; if it's a butler, you give him the spiel.”

“God, I know.” Alice sneered gracefully as they walked up the crunching gravel drive. “I can take on any butler ya care t'throw at me—unless, of course, he's English.”

“If he is, we're buggered.”

“Don't I know it!” Alice had encountered two of this rare breed in her working life and on both occasions had been forced to retreat, much like Napoleon's withdrawal from Moscow, in complete disorder—not memories she wanted to repeat anytime soon. “Let's not think negatively, eh Fay. He'll be a squat rotund affable character from Garstone, I feel it in my—blood.”

“Hope so, here goes.”

When the wide heavy teak door swung open, in answer to Fiona's rather uninhibited jangling of the little brass handle that worked the bell, they were met in fact by a nondescript Spanish woman of short stature in the late forties wearing a dull green dress with a white linen cap.

“Can we talk to the lady, or gentleman, of the house?” Fiona smiled warmly, trying valiantly to appear confident, professional, and as if their reason for being there was unassailable. “We're detectives. Perhaps the owner can be of some help in a case we have on hand.”

“Please come in. Follow me.”

The housekeeper led them along a hall and opened a door which brought into view a large bright sitting-room with two high windows. There were several comfortable looking leather armchairs and a long leather couch. The centre of the richly coloured carpet was taken up by a wide circular mahogany table clearly evocative of the Empire style.

“Please wait here. I shall take your message.”

Left alone the women did what they always did in similar circumstances. Fiona glanced out the windows, just to get the lay of the land. Alice walked round the room, taking in all the details as she went. They met beside the central table at the end of their inspection.

“A little garden outside, with a small lawn.” Fiona sniffed condescendingly. “A line of trees, larches I think, screen the road. Only a low stone wall as a barrier. So much for security. This place is a thief's paradise.”

“The table here's something.” Alice was the connoisseur of the two. “Looks French t'me. The chairs against the far wall there; the one's with the round seats in blue silk and straight wooden backs, they're ancient too. Looks like whoever resides here has wads of greenbacks.”

“Hmm, fits in with the party on the train being Mary Sanders.” Fiona raised an eyebrow as she considered the matter. “The place seems t'be wallowing in antiques, after all.”

Before Alice could join in with her view of the set-up the sound of the housekeeper's flat shoes could be heard echoing on the stone floor of the corridor. A moment later the door opened to admit a middle-sized man in his later fifties, dressed in a dark brown silk suit. His features were slightly puffy, though he was not fat in any true sense of the term. His skin was just dark enough to show his Italian ancestry, and his lips were tight shut. But he did not need to introduce himself. He knew the two detectives; and both women knew him.

Hell , if it ain't Guistino Favelli!” Alice sneered openly at the well-known features of the man standing in front of them. “Whose pad are y'infestin' here with your presence, then? Hey, wait a min—”

“Yeah sister, ya got it.” He spoke softly, with an underlying growl and no sign of the warmth of friendship in his tone. “This here's my pad. So, what're you two infestin' my place for? Thought ya still needed a warrant in these parts for this kind'a thing?”

“Don't get all het up, Jimmy. We're here strictly on business.” Fiona smiled tight-lipped at their host. Like most citizens of Delacote City she knew ‘Jimmy the Shark', the most famous gangster in town, by sight. In addition she and Alice had a more personal interaction with him through their detective activities; in at least a couple of which Jimmy had been involved, one way or another. The local papers loved his antics and many run-ins with the police and Federal authorities. “Just a small matter of community spirit, y'know. So, d'ya wan'na help the community, Jimmy?”

“God, always with the funny remarks.” Jimmy clearly wasn't amused. He'd quickly learned, after his past stand-off's with them, what the term ‘ feisty women ' actually meant. “OK, so what d'ya want? I got things t'do; places t'go; people t'find. God, my schedule's all t'hell anyway, t'day. What is it, then?”

The conversation so far had been taking place with he and Alice standing beside the mahogany table. Now Fiona casually walked across from the window to join her partner. Jimmy stood to one side; favouring the pair with a look of mingled distrust, unease, and frowning dislike.

“Do you know a gal by the name of Mary Sanders?”

Alice shot off this broadside straight at the man's face. She had suddenly decided coming straight to the point might be the best tactic in this scenario. The result was far more than either woman could reasonably have expected.

“Mary!” He jerked upright, glancing quickly from one woman to the other. “What's she got t'do with anything? Say, where is she, if ya know so much about her? Where is she? I been lookin' for her all mornin'.”

“She's currently takin' up space in the City Morgue.” Alice stated this unpalatable fact in a cold tone. There were people who ought to be told about these sort of things with decency and tact; Jimmy wasn't one of those. “She was murdered earlier this morning.”

“Mur—murd—!” Jimmy actually swayed on his feet as he assimilated this news. “Whe—where? How d'ya know? Jeez , are ya tellin' me the truth? She kissed me goodbye just after breakfast this morning. She can't be dead.”

“No more breakfast's for Mary.” Fiona shrugged, as the man put out a hand to hold the edge of the table for support. “She's definitely dead. Inspector Fletcher said so; Alice and I saw her with our own eyes just a couple of hours ago, an' she's certainly deceased; an' finally the City Coroner, Kerry Monteith, pretty much holds the same opinion, havin' her mortal remains on a slab in the morgue as she does. Yup, she's undeniably defunct in every sense. So, what d'ya know about the whole sorry affair?”

At this juncture it hardly seemed as if he knew his own name anymore. Jimmy's face had taken on a grey tinge which made him look sick. His mouth opened and shut silently, as if he were rehearsing speeches to himself; and his eyes flitted around the room aimlessly. Glancing about Fiona spied a set of bottles and glasses on a sideboard. In a few seconds she had crossed over; poured out some whisky, and carried it back to press into Jimmy's almost unresponsive hand.

“Here, knock that back. Ya kind'a look as if ya need it.”

After a few uncomprehending seconds Jimmy did just that; automatically putting the empty glass on the table afterwards, with a far-off look still in his eyes. But presently, under the influence of the strong alcohol, the power of speech returned.

Holy Jeez! ” He stared at Fiona, then Alice; opened and shut his mouth several times, as if still having difficulty; then seemed to pull himself together somewhat. “You two tellin' me the truth? Christ, ya wouldn't be connin' me over somethin' like this? Is she really —”

“Yeah, she really is, Jimmy.” Alice nodded her head confidently. “It'll be in the evening papers; but they won't have identified her yet. Though I think we just did. Can you give us a description?”

“Mary? Yes, er, yes.” He passed a hand over his now sweating brow, and seeing a chair nearby thankfully collapsed onto it. Though used to all kinds of thuggery and violence, he wasn't used to them hitting home so personally. “She's tall—she was tall! Blue eyes, kind'a like a pale blue sky—very light. Blonde wavy long hair, not bleached. She was beautiful when she smiled. She loved antiques; that's why the place is full o'them. See?”

He waved a hand around; then let it drop back into his lap. Fiona, who was nearest, could see his eyes beginning to glisten. It looked as if he really had a close connection with the late lady.

“No more antique-buying for her, I'm afraid.” Fiona shrugged her shoulders, then came to the nitty-gritty. “So, where were ya round about 10 a.m. this morning? That, as far as the experts can tell, was the time of, er, the demise. Come on, ya got'ta have some story. The cops'll be here hot on our trail, y'know. An' Inspector Fletcher'll be expectin' something superior in the way of lies from a bigwig like you, Jimmy.”

“Christ, I had nothin' t'do with it.” He looked from Fiona to Alice and back. “She was—she was my wife, in all but name. We were happy together. No fights or rows, y'know. I can't believe it. Who did it? Who? By God, I'll find ‘em; an' when I do I'll castrate the bastards—but that'll only be for a start. I'll—”

Alice took this opportunity to try to bring the investigation back on track. Grabbing Jimmy's elbow she jogged it mercilessly, making him cease his descriptive summary to look at the female detective with some surprise.

“Jimmy, you may be innocent; or you may not be.” Alice pursed her gorgeous pale pink lips in faint derision. “But what Fay an' I need are facts. We wan'na know just what happened. To whom; where; when; an', most importantly of all, why! It's our business, y'see. We've been salaried t'find the culprit, an' also what the hell happened—an' we're goin' t'do just that, Jimmy, fear not. We never fail.”

“An' remember, we're just detectives.” Fiona struck in with her pennyworth. “We can investigate; but we can't interrogate, that's the business of the police—an' you don't need us t'tell ya how good at that game the cops are, now do ya, Jimmy?”

Some idea of the seriousness, and cold hard reality, of the tragic news seemed for the first time to be filtering through to Jimmy's consciousness. He sat back in his chair; glanced at Fiona; then lowered his head silently, to apparently give the carpet a searching inspection. Finally, he looked at both ladies with sad uncertainty.

“You tell me Mary's been killed; but you don't tell me how. How? Knifed? Shot? Str—strangled? How? I got'ta know.”

“Shot.” Alice provided this information in a quiet voice. “.38. Once.”

“OK, listen ladies.” He took a deep breath, and started talking in a low almost controlled tone. “First off, I know I've got a bad reputation in these here parts—I ain't a saint, an' I've never tried to pretend I was. But there are some situations I draw the line at, an' using a roscoe or any other weapon on a dame is one o'them. Now I know there's no evidence for that statement, but all the same it's the God's own truth. I ain't never hurt any woman, an' by God, I never killed Mary—or had her killed. It's the plain truth.”

Fiona came up close to Alice and took the blonde's wrist in a comforting grip, pulling her lover slightly away from the chair where the gangster sat contemplating the floor again.

“So, how d'we work this scenario, Fay?”

“We probably ain't got more than a few minutes till Fletcher shows up.” Fiona scratched the point of her chin, as she stared out a window at the bright sunlight in the narrow garden. “We need'ta get the details of what Jimmy here was up to at the time in question. Hopefully with some kind'a corroborating evidence. Then we can, at least, maybe cross him off our list o'suspects—an' carry on our investigation.”

“I was here all morning.” Jimmy, coming back to life, responded to this last remark. “I made a coupl'a phone calls, but not at 10 a.m. Mary left around 8.00 a.m. She told me she was goin' t'meet some woman friend at a restaurant in Bescardine Street—some dame she knew from way back when. Said she'd return around midday. That's why I said, when ya came in, I was lookin' for someone.”

Uumph! That's a kind'a pale sort'a story, Jimmy.” Alice curled a disbelieving lip, then tried to be kind. “Say, what about your housekeeper? Was she about the place all morning? Y'know, polishing the parquet in the Grand Hall? Bumping in'ta you while she was tryin' t'dust the wainscoting in the drawing-room, or set out the silver cutlery service in the main dining-room? Were you getting' under her feet all mornin'? That'd be good.”

“Jeez, what d'ya think this pad is—a damn castle? My name ain't Hearst, y'know.” Jimmy snorted gloomily. “Nah, I usually stay out'ta the way in my study when I'm working.”

“Your study?” Fiona affected a tone of superciliousness.

“Yeah, my study.” Jimmy, recapturing something of his normal snarling manner, raised his nose high in the air—like a Lord of the Manor who had just been told by an irate guest that the central heating could be doing with servicing. “I got'ta private room upstairs where I work. What? Can't I have a damn study?”

Alice felt impelled, at this juncture, to infiltrate some light humour into the proceedings. She had on many occasions in the past frequently told Fiona that as a young girl her mother had often said to her that you can cry, or you can laugh—and it was always better to laugh if you possibly could, as it did less damage to your make-up!

“Hey, Fay! I thought it was only writers who had studies?” The blonde Harpy grinned widely. “Like Scott Fitzgerald, or Willa Cather, or Hemingway, or—”

“Enough! Jeez, gim'me a break!” Jimmy's lower lip actually began to tremble. “Ya tell me my gal's been shot t'death—an' now you're telling gags? What is it? What can I say that'll make ya both believe I ain't got anything t'do with the whole damn mess?”

Taking pity on the obviously shattered man, Fiona came across to stand by his shoulder and offer a little smile of compassion. After all, kindness was free—and it might make him open up about his actions earlier that morning.

“Just give us a rundown of your timetable from when Mary left, till we arrived on your doorstep.” She nodded across to Alice. “My partner here'll take everything down in shorthand; an' we'll see where we go from there, alright?”

The next five minutes were taken up with plain questions, and some often more sinuously winding answers—after all the man they were talking to was the biggest gangster in New Hampshire.

“To begin with, which restaurant was Mary goin' t'meet her old girlfriend at?” Fiona started the discussion, while her blonde helpmate accommodatingly filled the pages of a new notebook with everything Jimmy said. “If we can find this gal it may shed some light, somewhere.”

“The ‘ Admiral Benbow '. You know, like that place in ‘ Treasure Island '.” Jimmy snorted, gently. “Mary often went there. Said it amused her; and the food was good.”

“Did she tell you the name of this mystery woman?” Fiona went on with the grilling. “We might be able t'find out from the restaurant itself, I s'pose; but a name would be quicker.”

“I think she said something about ‘Susan'.” Jimmy wiped his perspiring brow, then nodded more confidently. “Yeah, Susan, er, Mu—Mill—Mainwaring, that's it.”

“Good,” Fiona smiled more comfortably. Names were always good to have. “Next, what about yourself? What were ya up to all morning in that nest of yours upstairs? This, ya got'ta understand, is goin' t'be the crux of the police questioning. If ya can't come up with somethin' really convincing, Inspector Fletcher's gon'na have no option but t'drag your sorry ass downtown to the lock-up—an' keep ya there for the duration.”

“Hell, what can I say?” Jimmy shrugged despondently. “I had paperwork t'get through. I got a lot o'business concerns, y'know. An' I can't damn well leave any o'them t'run themselves. If ya don't keep a wary eye open your profits can disappear like—like the snows o'yesteryear! So I was busy all mornin'.”

“Very poetic.” Alice sniggered, as she copied this literary reference down. “So what about—Oh God! The cavalry's arrived!”

A thumping continuous knocking could be heard beating on the main door; the large entrance hall acting like an echo chamber. Fiona and Alice exchanged eloquent glances; both easily recognising the personal footprint of Inspector Fletcher, when he was moved to let rip with gusto.

Less than a quarter of an hour later all chickens, as Alice murmured to Fiona while they stood unobtrusively in a far corner of the room, had come home to roost just as they had expected. Inspector Fletcher curled a condescending lip at Jimmy's story; barely controlled his laughter as the sorry tale of the study was unveiled to highly dubious ears; and finally snorted in open derision at the loud and continuous statements of innocence from the party in question. Eventually everyone left the grand house together, though in separate groups. Alice and Fiona to drive back to their office in Fiona's Buick; Jimmy to accompany Inspector Fletcher to the 5 th Precinct station for further questioning. Jimmy got in the last word as they all split up on the sidewalk to go their individual ways.

“Hey ladies, gim'me a break here. I'll pay ya t'find out what happened, an' get me off this charge. Money ain't no problem. Name your own price. I didn't kill Mary; find out who did.”

“We already have a client payin' us, Jimmy.” Fiona shrugged, as Jimmy was somewhat unceremoniously packed safely into the waiting police-car. “But I promise ya we'll keep an open mind. We'll find out who did it, don't worry.”

The official vehicle drove off in a small cloud of dust, leaving the women contemplating life on the sidewalk. Fiona finally stepping round the large automobile to open the Buick's door for her passenger.

“So, where d'we go from here?” Fiona settled herself in the driving-seat and glanced enquiringly at her cohort.

“That's easy.” Alice had her itinerary safely plotted out. “First we hit our office; then I make a strong pot o'coffee; the while you're showing off your culinary skills in the small but perfectly formed kitchen we have there; and then I park my butt on the soft leather couch t'eat your egg an' cress sandwiches. How's that sound?”

“Hah! At your service, ma'am.”

 

—O—

 

Three weeks later and the two detectives were in conference mode, in their comfortably furnished office-suite on the 5 th floor of the Packer Building. In the interim nothing much of any significance had occurred in the case under discussion. Inspector Fletcher, as everyone concerned knew would be the inevitable outcome, was keeping Jimmy Favelli safely locked up, as a material witness. The gals, meanwhile, had given the restaurant—the ‘ Admiral Benbow '—down in Bescardine Street in the City Centre, a truly microscopic going-over. They were of course, being merely detectives and not the bona-fide police, only able to accomplish so much in the way of threatening witnesses or prophesying doom and gloom for those involved if they didn't start singing like canaries. But some minor points had been uncovered, nonetheless. To wit, the mystery lady, Susan Mainwaring, had disappeared without trace—like a ghost. None of the staff confessed to having seen Mary Sanders that morning, and the trail had gone cold in that area. It was looking more and more as if, with no new facts coming to light, the case might well have to be written off; except for Fletcher, of course, who was apparently determined to get this murder to stick to Jimmy come what may—though even for that respected police officer the minor detail of a total lack of viable evidence was proving somewhat of a stumbling-block.

“What we need is a clue.” Lying on the long leather couch in their private office Alice rested with one arm comfortably bent underneath her head. She was busy contemplating the cracks in the ceiling, and theorising at will—something which always raised Fiona's sarcasm levels to bursting point. “That's what we need. Something decisive; certain; really significant. Wha'd'ya think?”

“Madam, your perspicacity truly amazes me.” Fiona, sitting on the leather chair behind the large desk, leaned her chin on her hands and sighed deeply as she gazed over at her paramour. “Ya got'ta come up with something better'n that. What d'we got? We got nothin'—that's what we got. No ‘Susan'; no motive; no suspects. Y'can scratch Jimmy the Shark, nobody but a half-wit'd believe he did it. What does that leave? A blank, that's what.”

“D'you think we better inform the Elevated Rail Company we're gon'na have to close down the case?” Alice considered the harsh reality of Life's disappointments. “Can't keep taking their weekly cheque forever, y'know.”

Hrrm! What is it? Monday? Give it a coupl'a more days, maybe.” Fiona tried to muster as much positive feeling as she could. “Y'never know. Somethin' might break just when ya leas—”

Brriing—Brriing! '

Fiona stretched out her right hand to pick up the telephone receiver and listened intently.

“Yes. Yes. Yes, that's right.” Her tone, as she listened to her caller, ran through all the available levels of exhilaration; starting with mere interest, followed by disbelief, then acute excitement. “Yeah. Look, Miss Mainwaring, you got'ta know that people are lookin' for you; have been for weeks; not least, the cops. Where've ya been hidin' yourself? No, don't tell me; we ain't got time. You know where this office is? The Packer Building, on the corner of 21 st and Rosemartin? Yeah, that's right. Get yourself over here as fast as ya can. Can you drive? OK, take your car, not a taxi. We'll be waitin' down in the main lobby for you. How can I recognise ya? Dark brown wavy hair; red dress; grey handbag. Got it. OK, don't waste any time. Whoever's after you'll maybe still be hot on your heels. Get over here pronto. Bye.”

Alice had hauled herself upright on the couch to listen to this one-sided conversation. Now she crossed the office to stand by her partner's side.

“Jeez! Is that really her? Where'd she pop up from?” She ran a hand through her blonde hair, and whistled softly. “God, this is just the break we need. What was that about someone followin' her?”

“It was Susan Mainwaring, sure enough.” Fiona rose from her chair and grasped Alice's arm. “She says she was lyin' low because some bozos from Chicago had followed her here, when she came to ask her old girlfriend Mary for assistance. Susan's got in bad with some really dirty types, apparently. She thought Mary might be able to give her some advice, or a place to stay while the crooks searched for her. Apparently Mary recommended us to Susan, when they met at the restaurant; an' gave her our telephone number then, too.”

“Huh! Looks like things got out'ta hand pretty quickly.” Alice screwed her mouth up in thought. “So, Susan meets Mary at the restaurant; they get separated when the villains show up; somehow Mary's shot; then staggers onto the uptown train, and Bob's your Uncle! What happens now?”

Fiona turned to her desk, and took a large heavy automatic pistol from one of its drawers, checking quickly to see it was loaded. Then she nodded significantly at her better half.

“Time t'go duck-huntin'.” She directed Alice round the desk with a firm hand on her elbow. “Get your gun; make sure it's loaded, with extra ammo in your pocket; then we head for the lobby as fast as we can. We grab Susan; make sure no dudes are aimin' to hit her; then take her in my Buick straight to Inspector Fletcher. If anyone can keep her alive, he's the one. Come on, hurry up!”

 

—O—

 

Less than five minutes later the two women stood anxiously in the crowded lobby near the main entrance, looking out through the ground-level plate-glass windows to the busy street beyond. The Packer Building being some fifteen floors tall the lobby was always crowded with customers, stenographers, business-men, and assorted members of the public, all hurrying to and fro as if their lives depended on reaching some far-off destination with lightning speed. Out on the sidewalk things weren't much better; Rosemartin Street was one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city, as well as having street-cars running up and down on their rails in the centre of the road. The taxis, rather than yellow, were a bright red and seemed to form almost the majority of the traffic sweeping past in both directions.

“What kind'a car's Susan drivin'?” Alice stepped to the window to glance both ways, before turning back to her companion.

“A Ford Model B, two-door roadster, four-cylinder, light-blue.” Fiona watched the moving crowds out on the street, then came to a decision. “Come on, let's get out amongst the populace. We better be ready an' waitin' whenever she shows up. If anyone's on her tail, seconds may count. An' for God's sake don't shoot any citizens, if it comes t'haulin' out the cannons.”

“God, as if!” Alice curled a lip, then hastened to keep up with her partner as they made for the main entrance.

A moment later the bright May sunshine smote them like a physical blow as they stepped onto the cement sidewalk. To avoid the worst of the fast-moving crowds, and to look less obvious, they stood at the buildings' side, leaning against the exterior of the large windows. The sidewalk was some fifteen feet wide, with a six-inch high kerb by the road edge. There were several vehicles already parked at various points outside the building, though there were still plenty of spaces for approaching taxis or other private cars. As each example of the latter slowed and slid into the kerb anywhere near the women they both stood straight, nervously looking both ways along the crowded sidewalk, and peering closely at the cars, until the passengers emerged and proved not to be their quarry. Some ten minutes passed this way, till Alice finally began to lose patience.

“How long did Susan say she'd take?”

“Didn't say.” Fiona shrugged. “Just said she was on her way, and'd be as quick as she could.”

“Where's she driving in from?” Alice was always a stickler for facts, when available.

“God, she didn't say, an' I didn't ask.” Fiona scowled unhappily. “There wasn't time to go into details on the phone; you heard. She just said she'd be here, an' that's it. She should be arriving anytime now, surely. It's been nearly a quarter of an hour.”

“Light-blue Ford, coming up on the right.” Alice grabbed Fiona's wrist and pointed with her free hand. “Just behind that red truck. Is it? Is—yeah, it's her for sure. Wha'd'we do now?”

“Grab her when she steps out; bring her into the lobby, an' make for the underground car-park where my Buick is; then we head t'the 5 th Precinct station, like a bat flyin' out'ta Hell! Come on, keep an eye out for anythin' dodgy at all.”

The Ford drew to a halt at the kerb some five feet from the waiting women. In an instant both had moved forward to stand on either side of the near door. The driver opened the door and stepped out, revealing herself to be dressed as aforesaid in a red dress, grey handbag over one wrist, and sporting rich dark-brown wavy hair. Fiona made the formal introductions.

“Miss Mainwaring? Yeah? Good. Listen, baby, ya do everything we say, an' ya do it at the double—comprenez? Nah, don't start arguing; we got a schedule t'stick to now. Wha—”

Briaanng! '

Before Fiona could expand on her plans there was a screech of ripped metal as a bullet hit the edge of the Ford's roof, just inches from Susan's head. Fiona grabbed her arm and pulled the woman forward, heading for the entrance to the office building.

Twaaiinng! '

Another bullet hit the outside brownstone door façade, having flown between the two women. By this time the passers-by had realised that a gun-fight was taking place, and screams and shouts filled the air as everyone ran in opposing directions as they tried to get away from the scene. With Alice on one side and Fiona on the other the three women made it into the lobby once more. Fiona directed her charge to the left, and in what seemed like only seconds they had reached the side-door leading to a flight of bare concrete steps and the basement car-park. Another few moments and they had left the growing panic of the bystanders behind and reached the quiet echoing hall filled with parked cars. It took Fiona only a minute to drag her charge to the nearby Buick and more or less fling her into the back seat. In another moment she and Alice were in the front, with the engine roaring into life.

“Al, get your gun, open the window, an' keep an eye out as we hit the street. If ya see anyone shootin' at us; or even anyone likely t'do so, blast ‘em. This's no time for takin' prisoners!”

The bright light outlining the entrance to the street seemed a long way off as they headed up the dark exit ramp; but finally the car slid out of the shadow of the building into the sunshine-swamped street. In an instant there came a series of whining screeches as further bullets hit the body of the heavy vehicle.

Traang! Scheelng! Brraang! '

“I got him!” Alice pin-pointed her target, and let fly with her .38 Colt Special.

Boom! Boom! Boom! '

“Jeez, I think I hit the bastard!” Alice craned her neck as Fiona raced the car into the traffic and straightened the bonnet in line with the road. “Is that—”

Crraangg! Screeng! '

“Jeez, there must be two o'the buggers.” Alice ducked reflexively, then glared angrily to the rear out her window as they sped away into the heavy traffic. “Nah, can't see him now. Look's like we got away; but only just! Everybody alright?”

“I'm fine.” Fiona grunted thankfully, as she looked over at her heartmate. “Hey, ya alright back there, Susan?”

“Jesus, yes.” Their passenger, however, seemed more angry than frightened. “Bloody bastards, they were the same bunch of thugs that ambushed Mary and I when we met at that restaurant last month. I recognised them. They had knives and silenced guns then, though. Mary told me it would be best to separate; she gave me your address as somebody who'd help me, then she was gone. One of the thugs obviously followed her and shot her to stop her talking, in case she knew anything I might have told her about Billy Brannigan, back in Chicago.”

“You know these gun-totin' jerks by name an' sight, then?” Alice turned from gazing back at the traffic to see if they were being followed, to inspect the lady in the back seat. “God, you wouldn't believe the amount o'energy we've expended tryin' t'find you. Are you gon'na sing like a bird for Inspector Fletcher, then? It'd be what Mary'd want, don't you think?”

“God, yeah!” Susan made no bones about her immediate plans, running a hand through her long hair. “I came here to lay it on the line to the authorities about Billy Brannigan, ‘cause the cops back in Chicago are all too bent to trust. Mary getting herself killed has just made me more determined than ever. I got'ta lot to tell the cops, don't worry. Brannigan, an' all his dirty pals'll spend the rest of their lives in the can, you bet; those that don't get the chair, that is.”

Fiona finally slowed to a more respectable speed, as they made their way uptown through the traffic. There was no sign of anyone following them, and both detectives felt able to breath a little easier as a consequence.

“Glad t'hear that, Susan.” Fiona nodded happily. “You're gon'na find Inspector Fletcher is goin' t'be your lifelong pal. He's just gon'na love ya, an' no mistake.”

 

—O—

 

“So, ya think ya did a good job, then?”

“ ‘course we did a great job, Fletcher.” Alice wasn't standing for any criticism of her or her partner's actions. “We find your most wanted witness all by ourselves; we stop you from making a fool o'yourself by charging Jimmy the Shark with somethin' he didn't do; an', with what Susan has t'tell about her late friends in Chicago, I wouldn't be surprised if you aren't able t'break up a big gangster mob there. What more d'you want?”

“Yeah, count your blessings, Fletch.” Fiona was equally clear about their position. “You have a mysterious murder on the Elevated Rail, that's been the favoured topic of criticism of the police by the newspapers for the last month. That's cleared up, now. You got'ta lady who's squealin' like a canary all about the goings-on over in Chicago; that's goin' t'give ya a real chance t'clean things up there, too. An' even if ya can't do as much as you want about affairs in the Windy City, you always have Jimmy the Shark on the loose again, don't you?”

“Yeah! Just how long will it take him t'get his revenge on whoever shot his everlovin' lady-companion—Mary?” Alice nodded her head wisely, exuding all the worldly-wise composure of an experienced woman of the world. “Less than two weeks, I figure,—then the cops in Chicago are goin' t'start pullin' unidentified corpses out'ta Lake Michigan? I'll lay you a clean $20 bill right now, Inspector!”

“Ha-Ha!” Fiona laughed unrestrainedly. She always liked Alice getting one over on Fletcher—it just sort'a made for a perfect day.

“It ain't anything t'joke about.” Inspector Fletcher ran a hand through his short spiky grey hair, and tried to look mean. “This is all a pig's breakfast, as far as facts go. OK, we got Susan Mainwaring; an' she's definitely one of Billy Brannigan's floozies—”

“Better not let her hear ya calling her that, Fletch.” Fiona laughed again, as she shook her head in disagreement.

“An' stop callin' me that!” The Inspector growled in disdain. Female detectives getting the better of him was something he just couldn't stand—though you would have thought he'd had enough experience by now. “Inspector Fletcher, to you, thank you. Anyway, I suppose we'll make something of her information in the long run. So, what're you two hangin' around for? Expectin' a medal each from the Commissioner? Lem'me tell you, your hopes are doomed to disappointment in that area.”

“Nah, we're OK there, Inspector.” Alice laughed with a composure that did more to rile Fletcher than any of the preceding badinage. “We got'ta really big check, with lot's o'noughts on the end, from the Elevated Rail Company. We got'ta another fine check, nicely rounded out in big numbers, from our friend an' client Jimmy the Shark—no, don't squeeze your face up like that, Inspector; properly earned money's simply a well-earned salary, y'know—whoever it comes from. Well, I'm feeling rather tired; it's been a long day. Say, Fiona, how about you drive me back to our condo; an' we lay back; take a long cool drink; an' enjoy the benefits of a well-deserved break? Take me home. I wish to relax with a nice aperitif, an' have some fun.”

“Ya got it, babe.” Fiona took Alice's hand, as they both headed for the office door; then glanced back at the still fuming police-officer. “See ya around, Fletcher. Come on, Al. Ice-cold Campari's, an' then a soak in the outdoor pool? Or Rye Whisky, an' a relaxin' lie-down on silk sheets, if ya get my meaning?”

Fiona ushered her companion into the corridor, shutting the door quietly behind her; leaving the Inspector to shuffle the papers on his desk, and contemplate the two detectives whose excellent work had contributed so much to the closure of one of his most difficult cases.

Jeez , dames!”

 

 

The End

 

—O—

 

To be continued in the next instalment of the ‘ Drever & Cartwright ' series.

 

—OOO—

 

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