‘The Fowler St. Incident’

by

Phineas Redux

Contact: Phineas_Redux@yahoo.com

1. The Packer Building Incident.
2. The Fowler St. Incident.
3. The Pier 7 Incident.
4. The Elevated Rail Incident.

—O—

Summary:—Fiona ‘Fay’ Cartwright & Alice ‘Al’ Drever are private detectives in an American city. They become involved in a particularly complex case which stretches their capabilities to the limit.

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

—O—

When a Lincoln Model KB sedan is hit side-on by a street-car and shunted thirty feet along the road, the only result must be—street-car, bent fender; Lincoln KB, scrap metal. This is what occurred at 6.15pm,May 26, 1932, on the corner of Fowler and 22nd, one balmy early summer eveningin Delacote City, NH. Of course the passengers in the sedan, one woman and the male driver, were also reduced to something less than working order. In fact the doctor, who appeared on the scene within ten minutes, gave them both their marching orders instantly; while the priest from the nearby Roman Catholic church of St. Agnes also gave the appropriate ministrations for those on their last journey, both temporal and heavenly. In truth, it could be said that Rose ‘Dixy’ Patenkin and Alexander Bermingham Traddock III arrived at the Pearly Gates with about as respectable and official a handful of documentation as any Archangel could everhopefully have wished for.

Which only left the why; the how; and the what to do next. As Dixy was a sort of a hell-for-leather flapper, a denizen of the meanest of the local mean streets; and Alex was the grandson of a Senator and descendant of one of the Founding Fathers, the result could have been predicted by any of the betting circles operating around Causeway and Wharf Street. The traffic police-officers reported back nix on the reasons why the two were duo-ing down the highway at that time of day; the detectives reported back nix on how the two were, or indeedhad been, acquainted; the pathologist reported back nix on drugs or poisons on or in his two subjects; and Inspector Jacob Fletcher, of the 5th Precinct, reported back to his Superintendent nix on any follow-ups to the history or purpose of the duo’s demise. This, of course, only resulted in dubious implications in the local ‘Delacote City News’; resulting in one, too literary-minded, reporter quoting Byron’s ‘Vile assignations, and adulterous beds, Elopements, broken vows, and hearts, and heads’. Which in itself only resulted in acrimonious correspondence between the remaining family and the filthy rag—sorry, ‘City News’; the family and the Mayor; the Mayor and the Superintendent; the Superintendent and Inspector Fletcher; and, once arriving home, Inspector Fletcher’s right boot and his cat: what the cat proceeded to take it’s rightful irritation out on goes unrecorded.

—O—

“Yup. Yup. Yup. Yep. Yup. OK.”

“Wassat? Who’sat? Wassup, angel?”

Fiona ‘Fay’ Cartwright disentangled herself from the long cord of the telephone and replaced the receiver on its stand. Then she casually glanced at her long-time lover, the utterly gorgeous Alice ‘Al’ Drever, sitting comfortably on the couch across the office.

“We got us a case, sugar-lumps.”

“Yay! Not damn well before time.” Alice sat up, her expression reflecting all kinds of interest. “I was beginning to go doolally here. How long’s it been since our last case? Three weeks? So, who’s the poor sap then?”

“Y’remember that road crash at Fowler, about ten days ago?”

“Yeah.” Alice frowned in the attempt torecollect details. “Who was it? Oh yes. Alex Traddock, an’ some floozy, got themselves mixed up with a street-car. The street-car won. So, who’s callin’? The parents?”

“The mother; the father cut an’ ran for Detroit four years ago, a free man.”

“Hah!” Alice rose and came across to sit on the edge of the desk, hiking her loose ankle-length skirt as she did so. “Divorce, there’s nothing like it! So, details? Give me all the gory horrors. I can’t stand it, but I want it all.”

“Funny, that’s what you said in bed last night.”

“The case, gal, the case.”

Fiona thought for a second about idly caressing Alice’s tweed-covered right thigh, but then nobly put business before pleasure.

“Mrs Sophonisba Traddock relict, or belated spouse if you wish, of Mr Thomas Calthorn Traddock II, requires us to investigate her late son’s demise; along with all things pertaining to previous lead-ups to the, er, climax.”

“She wants to know what the floozy was doin’ with the late lamented son.” Alice nodded knowingly. “An’ whether the gal had been playin’ around with her poor boy for weeks before, or what? Yeah, I get it.”

“Don’t be so critical. What are you? The moral guardian of Delacote City.” Fiona curled her top lip in a sneer. “Think of the pay we’re gettin’.”

As accountant-in-residence for the firm of ‘Drever & Cartwright’, Private Detective Agency, Alice took this remark at its face-value. When it came to the bucks, and how to count them in order to reach a surplus, Alice was your gal.

“Mmm. Money.” The brunette shook her wavy chestnut hair, pondering the situation. “What a lovely smell it always has. Standard rate, right? Or should we soak old Sophy for everything she owns, up to an’ including her underwear?”

“Al, don’t be crude.”

—O—

The Traddock mansion lay 5 miles north of the city, nestling on its own 80 acre estate just off Ocean Boulevard. The main gate was wide; made of wrought iron; weighed close to 600lbs; and was locked shut. Thelackey in charge stood six feet 3 inches tall, weighed 240lbs; and, judging from his natural expression and apparent temperament, ate iron bolts for breakfast. You didn’t argue with this guy; you stood back and waited for him to do what he wanted.

“Yeah?”

His normal greeting, it could be assumed, had been rather watered down by the imposing appearance of the dark-green Plymouth PB Roadster driven by Alice, with Fiona by her side. ‘Always make a classy entrance’, was Alice’s motto.

“Drever and Cartwright.” Fiona leaned out the right-hand window and gave the giant a frank relaxed smile, just to rile him. She was like that. “Appointment with Mrs Traddock.”

Ignoring the smile; but giving both women a slow suspicious and silent visual examination, the male attendant finally mobilised his gigantic feet and walked across to the near gate-pillar where he punched a button on a control panel. Moments later the gates swung open, allowing Alice to drive smoothly through along the asphalted drive.

“Great lummox.” Fiona gave this evaluation of the gate-keeper, once they were well out of hearing range.

“Don’t be spiteful, dear.” Alice was in a forgiving mood this bright sunny morning. “Think of his poor father and mother.”

“Yeah, that’s just it, Al.” Fiona, on the other hand, let her natural spirit run free. “What were they thinkin’?”

After what seemed a mile and a half, but was probably nearer 400 yards, the drive opened out,through a belt of thick trees, to curve gracefully up to the front of the house. Themansion had three floors; a wing going off to the right; a red-tiled roof; and a four-storied square tower on the left-hand corner. It had been designed and built in 1903, mainly in the Italian Palladian style; with a flat-roofed portico, upheld by Doric columns, protecting the entrance. In the shadows under which the door, ofdark mahogany, remainedfirmly closed against intruders.

“Fort Knox, we could get into easier.” Alice studied the door, and looked at her companion, whose long black hair was blowing becomingly in the light breeze. “Where’s the bell? Ya see the bell anywhere, peachie-pie?”

“What’s this handle over here?” Fiona took a step across to the left of the door, and depressed the wooden lever. “Oh! Hear that? It’s jangling inside, somewhere.”

“Gods! Don’t get over-excited. It’s only a house-bell.” Alice shook her head dismissively. “Wonder who’ll come to greet us? Frankenstein’s monster, or what?”

The door swung open, rather more quickly than either woman expected, to reveal an ordinary house-keeper in her late fifties; correctly attired in black, with short grey hair. She gave the two visitors the standard house-keeper’s questioning look; to which Fiona jumped forward in reply.

“Drever and Cartwright, detectives to the elite. For Mrs Traddock.” Fiona was naturally racy, and wasn’t to be overawed by high-living. “We’re expected.”

There followed a guided tour through the cold deserted chambers of the ground floor. The ceilings were high; the rooms were wide; floored with large slate slabs of a dark grey hue; and, in the main, furnished in what seemed to Fiona a faux Spanish style. The house-keeper opened another mahogany door and ushered them through. When Fiona and Alice entered, the door was immediately closed again; leaving them in a large airy well-lit sitting-room, with chintz-covered couch’s and chairs. Standing before an ornate high marble fire-place was the chatelaine of the mansion, Mrs Traddock herself.

“Good morning, so pleased to meet you both.” If nothing else she was the epitome of good manners. “Will you take chairs here by the window. I am Mrs Traddock, and you are?”

Fiona took charge of the introductions, as they settled themselves. Before the main topic of conversation could begin, however, the housekeeper re-appeared with a trolley conveying tea apparatus. Another five minutes went by as they sorted out the tea-cups and Mrs Traddock poured the tea. Then, with the housekeeper having left them in privacy once more, the real work could begin.

Mrs Traddock was a lady of around fifty years of age. She was of middle height, with no discernible excess of figure. She had short shingled greyish hair; a wide rectangular face with a powerful jaw; and piercing light blue eyes. Added to which she fielded an imposing, and clearly habitual, air of superiority which would have made even the Cabots pause to take stock. Her dress was ankle-length, of silk, and figured over with pale blue flowers on a cream background. Her shoes were pink leather sandals with two inch square heels, and her stockings were of grey silk. Her finger-nails were as immaculate as her make-up. Her teeth were perfectly white, and her lips a pale pink. All in all, she presented the perfect vision of a lady of leisure and means, enjoying both to her fill. Her voice, when she spoke, had just the right hint of Boston.

“I wish you both to find out who murdered my son!”

“Er, is that what the police say, ma’am?” Alice took up the burden of the conversation. “The papers report it was an accident. The result of, er,—”

“The papers have no idea what occurred, madam!” Mrs Traddock sat up straight; spilling her tea into the saucer as her hand trembled in agitation, not to say rage. “My son was not drunk. The medical authorities assert that without a shadow of doubt. Something else caused him to lose control of his vehicle. Perhaps there was another vehicle in pursuit, and he did not see the street-car coming. Or perhaps the—lady—who accompanied him had some hand in the crash. I wish you to find out about—her—also. Who was she? Where did she come from? What was her connection with my son? What did she want? Oh, God! A street-car! To be killed by a common street-car, Miss Drever. Miss Cartwright, it will not do. It simply will not do!”

“You got any ideas, about what might be behind the whole thing, Mrs Traddock?” Fiona stared across at the lady intently. “It’s all very well t’shout about murder, but there ain’t much t’do if it wasn’t, y’know. If it really were just an accident, I mean. What makes you think someone murdered your son? Was he mixed up with any—dubious characters, or what?”

“What do you mean?” Mrs Traddock gave Fiona her patented expression of cold disdain; which had, on occasion, made State Governors quail in misery.

“Well, even the best of sons have their, er, peccadilloes.” Fiona was too experienced, and too hard-skinned, to be worried by a cold eye. “There ain’t no sense in ignoring what may turn out to be important details.”

“Yeah,” Alice nodded, giving their employer a quiet but firm smile. “You got’ta face facts. I mean, if you really wan’na catch whoever you think was responsible for your son’s death.”

Mrs Traddock paused to look closely at both her visitors. It was apparent this was the first time she had entertained private detectives. It was also obvious this was the first occasion on which she had entertained female detectives. She studied them in silence for almost a minute. The only sound coming from a stray bee humming outside the open French window. Then she put her cup down and rose.

“Humph! You may be right.” She walked over to the door, gesturing commandingly to her guests to follow her. “I have no idea what friends or consorts my son was accustomed to mingling with. His was a substantially private nature. I will take you up to his suite. You may examine his rooms and papers, if you wish. I hold you both, of course, to absolute secrecy about personal matters.”

“If it ain’t got anything t’do with the—problem—we won’t remember it, don’t worry Mrs Traddock.” Alice ushered Fiona ahead as they went into the corridor. “We have years of experience at this sort’a thing. Fiona and I can go through a room an’ you wouldn’t think, afterwards, so much as a fly had flown by.”

“Hmm!”

—O—

After the lady had left them alone to go about their business Fiona and Alice settled down to a thorough examination of the suite so lately occupied by the deceased youth.

“This is what I call high livin’.” Fiona looked around the main room appreciatively. “Clock that oil-painting on the wall; that’s by somebody.”

“Huh.” Alice was darting about the room, sharp eyes taking everything in. “It’s an oil-painting. Someone had to paint it. God, its bright. Flashy colours; sort’a plain the way the boats are drawn; an’ a helluva lot of blue everywhere, don’t you think. Who’s the artist?””

“Lem’me see. Here’s the signature. It’s kind’a messy, but I think it says ‘Raoul Dufy’.”

“Never heard of him.”

Fiona left the appraisal of art to tinker with the objects scattered across a small desk in one corner. There was the usual blotting-pad; an inkstand with two pens; a small bronze figurine of the famous antique nude discus-thrower; a couple of books; a telephone on its stand, and a telephone directory. Fiona bent over the blotting-pad.

“Lot’s of squiggles on the pad, Al.” She pressed her fingers on the paper and ran them across from one side to the other. “He seems t’have been the kind’a guy who doodled as he wrote lovin’ ditties to his amour. Can’t make anything out, though.”

“Fold it up an’ take it with us.It could be evidence.” Alice had focussed on a tall cabinet against the far wall. “Look, Fay, maybe his private papers are in here. But they’re all locked.”

Fiona came across to stand by her partner’s side. The cabinet was steel, as were the drawers, each about a foot in height; the whole being about five feet high.

“Ah, the ubiquitous filing-cabinet.Huh, only the one lock at the top corner here, covering all the drawers.” Fiona opened her hand-bag, hanging at her side by its shoulder-strap. “But I have the very thing, right here.”

This may be the perfect moment to look over Fiona’s shoulder, and investigate the contents of your usual female detective’s hand-bag; her equipment-case, as it were. Taking them from the top, and descending into the depths as the black-haired one delved ever deeper after her quarry, first up is a cotton handkerchief, a foot square when unfurled, presently covered in red lipstick marks. Beside this resides an opened paper roll of hard white mints, and a circular flat tin of vaseline for the lips. To one side lies a packet of bobby-pins, essential for a woman with long wavy hair. Alongside this lay a small blunt-ended metal tube coloured gold, looking for all the world like a shotgun cartridge. This was a lipstick, containing Fiona’s favourite shade of red. Below this strata was a fountain pen, a sharpened H2 pencil, and a wooden 6-inch ruler; all held together by a rubber band. Elbowing these for space were her own car-keys, and a small metal-cased pocket compass. There was also present a plastic comb, with fine teeth; a pair of steel nail-clippers; and a small flat-sided glass bottle containing a delicate golden liquid: Chanel No.5. Below these again was a set of what looked like Allen keys, held together by another elastic band; but were in fact skeleton keys for every occasion. By their side was a long flat metal container about an inch and a half wide and five inches long, though only half an inch thick. The reason for this curious item was almost instantly disclosed when, as Fiona finished her rummage and found the set of skeleton keys, the last object hiding in her hand-bag came to light: a Colt 1911 .45 automatic—every woman’s best friend. Scrunched up beside this, and acting as a sort of lining to prevent the gun from scratching the leather of the hand-bag, was last week’s runners card for Meidener Field, Delacote City’srace-course.

“Got ‘em.” Fiona waved the keys in the air, like a fisherwoman showing off a prize trout. “This’ll settle that lock’s hash, Al.”

“Go to it, my beauty.” Alice leaned over her lover’s shoulder, full of eager anticipation. “Let’s hope to God there’s something worthwhile inside, to pay for all our trouble.”

There was a click as Fiona inserted the first key. She twiddled it back and forth, swore softly, took it out and replaced it with a second. This went on for three minutes until, on her seventh attempt, she gave a grunt of satisfaction. The key turned and, with a firm tug, the top file-drawer rolled open. Inside were several brown cardboard folders set on edge, packed tightly together. A quick riffle through them by Alice’s expert fingers showed nothing of interest. Merely a record of what stocks and shares the late son had subscribed to; along with biographies of several well-known business-men of the city, and the various openings for judicial stock-buying these allowed.

The next drawer down had fewer files; these, under inspection, detailing the artistic purchases Alex had made over the last five years. Allied with various documents such as car-purchase, licence, passport, and bills for clothes, suits, shoes, and hats.

“Quite a careful guy.” Alice nodded, with something like respect. “Keeps hold of the paperwork. Y’can’t go wrong doin’ that, Fay. That way the IRS don’t have anything to suddenly bite ya with where it hurts.”

The third drawer contained a greater number of files, mostly legal documents to do with the running of the estate. The fourth had fewer files, but these turned out to be of the most interest.

“Hallo! Look at this, Al.” Fiona opened the file in her hand wider, as Alice leaned nearer. “Now where have we seen these kind’a entries before?”

“Gambling debts.” Alice whistled through her teeth. “Dates on the left; losses to the right; partial payments next right; an’ closed debts on the far right. Arranged in columns, an’ totalled at the bottom of the page.”

“According to the entries on this page his outlays are greater than his original debts; but he still ain’t paid off the whole total, just part of it.” Fiona flicked through the file, checking each of the twenty or so pages. “Yep. Is that what you see, Al? He’s on his knees with debt, it seems t’me.”

“Yeah, his outlays aren’t keeping up with his ongoing debts.” Alice nodded in turn. “Not by a long way. See the dates? The last few weeks, up till the day he died, he still needed around $12,000 to break even, but he was carrying on paying out around—around $4,000 in total. Looks like he had the betting bug big-time.”

“So, ya think one of his creditors was chasin’ him when he crashed?” Fiona put the file down on the top of the cabinet and gazed at her companion.

“Could’a been.” Alice pursed her lips in thought. “But it hardly seems likely. Doesn’t ring true, somehow.”

“Well, something was worrying him.” Fiona shrugged her shoulders. “He must’a come whizzing down Fowler St. like a racing driver. Shot through the crossing, without a care for the oncoming traffic or street-cars on 22nd. And got himself and his lady-friend well an’ truly minced. He must’a had a compelling reason for his hurry.”

“This floozy, what was her name again?”

“Rose Patenkin. Popularly known, apparently, as ‘Dixy’.”

“Humph!” Alice wriggled her nose in a delightful way she had. “So,—Rose? She wasn’t—you know—that way? An’ he was hurrying her to the hospital for the rapidly-approaching event.”

“Al, you got one great imagination.” Fiona regarded the brunette with awe. “But no. Dixy was not in an interesting condition, as my grandmother would have said.”

“Oh, bummer. Another theory out the window.” Alice shrugged, without much apparent concern. “You got any ideas, smoochie?”

“No. I prefer to consider the evidence at leisure, then decide what to do.” The black-haired detective tossed her locks energetically, as she opened the fifth and last drawer. “That way I always stick to the facts, not fantasy.”

Inside this last lower drawer were no files; just several bottles of booze, and glasses to go with them. Fiona bent down to retrieve a bottle of Scotch whisky, nearly knocking heads with her partner as they both rose.

“Keep back, lady.” Fiona affected a sneer. “This here booze is off-limits.”

“Huh.” Alice pouted in return. “It so happens I ain’t thirsty, baby. I can’t even pronounce the name. Here, what does that say?”

“ ‘Caol Ila’, I think.” Fiona studied the small print on the label. “70% proof. Twelve years old. Single malt, from Scotland. It’s the real thing, alright. Young Alex did himself proud, considering it’s illegal.”

Alice returned the bottle to the drawer, which Fiona then closed once more. Turning their attention to the rest of the room the next ten minutes were spent in going over the whole place with a fine tooth-comb. The end result was, however, not encouraging.

“Nothing. Not a damned thing.” Alice shrugged her shoulders in disgust. “All this effort, an’ all this dust an’ dirt; an’ the end result is nix.”

“Well, we got the blotting paper, an’ the file of gambling debts.” Fiona patted her companion’s arm. “We could do a lot with those, maybe. How about the other rooms? How many are there?”

“About four, I think.” Alice headed purposefully towards a door on the left of the room. “Let’s see where this takes us.”

The second room proved to be a private sitting-room. Two long green-leather couches; three ditto armchairs; a low coffee-table; and a sideboard whose top was loaded with glasses and further bottles of alcohol. The walls were covered in a bright yellow and green floral pattern wallpaper, reminiscent of a William Morris design if indeed not actually so. The walls were also covered in numerous small oil and watercolour paintings, of a mainly topographical nature. It took only a couple of minutes for the women to decide there was nothing of interest here. To one side were two further doors. Alice crossed to the first and, grasping the round handle in a firm grip, pushed it open. After poking her head through the opening she swiftly reportedback.

“The bathroom. One bath; one basin; one, er, necessary; one mirror, with shaving and tooth articles on shelf; one blue mat; one small window with dulled glass.”

“Humph. Well, where does this lead, then?”

Fiona led the way to the second door, and pushed it open. It was, of course, the bedroom; a place of much more interest to the ladies, as perhaps harbouring items of a personal and private nature.

Alexander Bermingham Traddock III—scion of the original Berminghams of Maine, that is; not those nouveau riche Berminghams from Pennsylvania—had exotic, not to say downright bizarre tastes. The privacy of his bedroom seemed to have allowed his inmost desires freedom of expression. The bed was king-size; made of teak, and covered in pale orange silk with green edgings. The pillows were also green silk. The carpet reached from wall to wall and was made of a deep-pile wool dyed an overall shade of aquamarine. An ornate sideboard sat against the left-hand wall, with pretty little porcelain figurines scattered across its top; a function it had obviously also carried out for its first owners, in the reign of Louis Quatorze. The window was shielded by chintz curtains, and just a hint of jasmine could still be discerned in the air. On the wall opposite the bed hung an oil-painting by Edward Poynter, as Fiona clarified after peering closely at one corner, featuring several nude Greek athletes; while on a separate table near the door stood a one-foot high bronze antique figurine of the dying gladiator. If nowhere else, Alex had made his personal tastes known here.

“Well, well.” Alice was the first to speak, after gazing around at the whole effect. “Well,—what does this all do for poor Dixy, after all? Sort’a leaves her out in the cold, don’t it?”

“Ya don’t suppose he was backin’ both runners?” Fiona lifted an eyebrow as she faced Alice. “You know—comin’ an’ goin’, so to speak?”

“Burnin’ the candle at both ends, y’mean?” Alice considered this possibility with frowning brow. “It would give a lovely light, no doubt. But I don’t think our Alex was up to it. Altogether too physical for him, I fancy.”

These impressions were only reinforced when the women took a closer look at a low bookcase to one side. It held some beautiful editions, alongside others in heavy leather bindings. Alice bent gracefully to examine them and, after a couple of minutes, rose to give Fiona a dubious look.

“ ‘Lord Russell and the Valet, by X’?” The chestnut-haired beauty gazed into her companion’s brown eyes. “ ‘Persius and Ovid’. ‘Alexander and Hephaestion’. ‘Tommy Andrews’ Adventures in Arcadia, by Hyacinthus’? And several more running along the same track. What d’you say?”

“I say we’ve got old Alex bang to rights.” Fiona nodded vigorously. “Whatever Dixy was doin’ in the car with him, it hadn’t anything t’do with amour, that’s certain.”

“Scootin’ back to base, is probably the wisest course now.” Alice took one last look around, then followed her partner to the door. “Take our loot back to the office, an’ think about the whole thing. I figure it needs a lot of thinkin’ about, what about you, Fay?”

“Yep, I’m with ya there, doll.”

—O—

It only took a matter of ten minutes for them to reach Ocean Boulevard again, heading back to Delacote City, the Packer Building, and their office on the 5th floor thereof. Alice’s Plymouth PB Roadster hummed along with a smooth growl, and the breeze from the open side-windows was deliciously cooling on such a warm day. Fiona was sitting comfortably with her elbow on the right-hand sill, pondering their discoveries.

“So, let’s see.” She frowned in concentration. “Alex had a—lady—with him when he took his last ride. There don’t seem t’be any witness reports of anybody following him in a vehicle at the time of the accident. An’ we’ve just seen the simple, uncomplicated lifestyle he led at home. So what does all this suggest to the trained mind, Al?”

“Blackmail.” Alice nodded at her own perspicacity, as she negotiated a path by a loaded truck with inches to spare. “That’s what it is, sugar dumpling. All those gambling debts; horses probably. We can check that at Meidener Field easily enough. Then his, er, personal tastes in the other field of romance. Well, that’d leave him wide open to any number of low life scum.”

“Let’s see. Who do we have in our ‘Beginner’s Book of New Hampshire Black-mailers’ that’d fit the bill.” Fiona grinned widely, and looked over at her companion. “God, I love the way your hair ripples in the breeze, darling. Let’s stop somewhere, so I can kiss ya.”

“Fay, focus gal.” Alice nevertheless allowed herself a smile. “We got a job to do here, remember? OK, we drop our loot off at the office; then run out to Meidener. We know a coupl’a guys there who might open up for us; hell, we’ve spent enough dough there.”

“Lost it, y’mean.”

“Then we follow up the ‘Dixy’ lead.”

“We ain’t got a ‘Dixy’ lead.” Fiona liked to be specific in these things.“All we know about her is she’s dead, poor gal.”

“But we do know she was a floozy.” Alice pursued her train of thought remorselessly. “An’ where do floozies hang out, eh?”

“ ‘Barty’s Speakeasy’?”

“Damn straight, gal.”

They had reached a comparatively empty stretch of Ocean Boulevard; there was virtually no traffic visible in either direction, and they still had around three miles to go till the city boundary. Then Fiona glanced in the right-hand mirror, on the windshield strut just in front of her.

“We got us a tail, Al.”

“What makes ya think that?” Alice was, on the other hand, pragmatic. “This is a highway, y’know. People have a right t’drive along it.”

“Not this goon, baby.” Fiona was now leaning forward, gazing into the mirror with intense concentration. “He’s keepin’ steady about a hundred feet behind us; an’ he came up rather fast, but he ain’t showin’ any sign of overtaking, now.”

“Hmm. Yeah, I see him.” Alice glanced back quickly. “Looks like an old Chevy.”

“A ’27 or ’28 model, I think.” Fiona gave the dark silhouette in their rear a careful scrutiny. “Dark blue. Probably four-door, hard-top. Big engine. Built like a tank. What does he want with us, d’you suppose?”

“We’re detectives, darling.” Alice assumed a soothing tone, as if talking to a child. “What do all the bad gals an’ guys in Delacote want with us?”

“T’see us emigrate to Portsmouth?”

“Got it in one, babe.”

The dark Chevy held its place, shadowing the women’s vehicle at a steady pace; never trying to come nearer, but never drawing back. When other cars intervened between the two the Chevy kept its distance unconcerned. It made no move to draw up to, or overtake, the Plymouth as Alice drove smoothly along the Boulevard towards Delacote City. Fiona kept careful watch, ready for any false move on the part of their unknown follower; but nothing happened as they took the off-shoot leading to 22nd Street. Here they encountered much heavier traffic, it being nearly midday; and the Chevy soon became lost in the general turmoil of the city streets.

“He still there?”

“Can’t see.” Fiona shuffled round from left to right in her attempt to gaze behind and differentiate between the flood of cars, pick-ups, and trucks now following them. “Maybe, maybe not. Here, Al, take a right on Carrington—the traffic might be lighter there. Let’s see if he takes the bait.”

Alice slowed, and expertly inserted the roadster between a taxi and a high-sided truck with all the aplomb of years of experience. On the wide Avenue they had a freer run, with only a few cars behind, none of which appeared to be their pursuer.

“OK. He seems to have called it a day.” Fiona settled back in her seat. “Wonder what his reason was?”

“Could’a been a gal.” Alice gave her companion a knowing look. “Nothing t’say it wasn’t a lady.”

“Ha!”

Les than ten minutes brought them to the Packer Building, on the 5th floor of which was their office. Alice drove the roadster into the entrance to the lower car-park and suddenly they were engulfed in darkness, relieved only by the few electric lights in the wide dark pillared vault. Alice pulled into an empty bay, and the ladies collected the treasures from their country visit and walked over to the elevator on the far side of the parking-bay. Five minutes later they were safe in their office, Alice locking the corridor door behind them.

“Don’t want anyone to interrupt.”

Fiona only raised her eyebrows as they went through the outer office to their sanctum beyond.

Alice dumped the files they had brought with them on a long leather couch, while Fiona stroked a hand through her hair and sat on the edge of the large desk.

“So, what d’we have, lady?” Fiona liked to dive right in to any investigation, ignoring the time of day, or meal-times. “Shall we open those debt files, an’ get stuck in?”

“Hold hard.” Alice, on the other hand, liked to make herself comfortable. “We got all day. Wan’na coffee?—‘cos I do.”

“Oh, alright. If you’re makin’.” Fiona bowed to necessity. “Have we still got any o’ those crunchy ginger cookies in the tin?”

“Go an’ look.” Alice was busy at a table in the corner of the room, beside a small white porcelain basin with faucets. “I can’t do everything at once. If there’s any of those choc-coated ones left, I bags ‘em. Touch ‘em an’ die.”

Finally they were settled, a little coffee-table pulled up to the couch, plates with cookies and the coffee-pot and cups to hand. The files had been cast aside for the moment, while the two women thought of more immediate things.

“Wonder who our friend in the Chevy was?” Fiona took a sip of her coffee, and looked enquiringly at Alice. “I mean, why’d he want to find out where we lay our weary heads,—if that’s what he was doin’.”

“You’re always complaining not enough people know where our office is, Fay.” Alice grunted her reply somewhat off-handedly as she reached over for another cookie. “An’ anyway, we don’t live here. Our condo, as you well know, is on the far side of town.”

“Well, somebody’s evidently interested in us. That means we should be interested in Alex Traddock.” Fiona raised her nose in the air, in a gesture which always appealed to Alice. “I mean, something’s evidently goin’ on. Somethin’ under the surface we haven’t yet discovered.”

“Yeah, I see your point. “Alice nodded. “Definitely needs lookin’ into.”

“What d’ya think of Mrs Traddock?” Fiona gave her partner an intent look.

“Hmm.” Alice ceased operations on the last chocolate cookie to consider this important question. “Seems a trifle reserved, in my opinion. I mean, her son’s just a few days—deceased—an’ there she is, swanning around in a flowered Schiaparelli creation. You noticed, of course? What? You didn’t?”

Fiona puckered her lips, and tried to appear absorbed in the coffee-pot, but Alice was not taken in.

“Hah. I forgot, you wouldn’t know a Schiaparelli dress from an old jute potato sack.” Alice gave her natural critical nature free reign. “Remember that last time I told you to go out, an’ come back with somethin’ pretty in the way of evening gowns—an’ you returned hours later, with three pairs of jeans an’ two cotton men’s shirts?”

Fiona did indeed recall the awful consequences of that shopping-spree. The sarcasm; the delicate enquiries as to her mental health; the un-censored suggestions as to what she could do with her purchases; the making-up; the romance of mutual apologies and remorse; the beautiful night afterwards. Gods, when could she go out an’ buy more jeans?

“What? What?”

“I was sayin’, we need to follow up all the hot leads first.” Alice scratched her chin musingly. “These files’ll take ages t’go through. Let’s lock ‘em in the safe, an’ go after Dixy instead. If we can find out anything about her, we may discover a deeper connection with Alex Traddock.”

“Yeah, seems reasonable.” Fiona nodded in agreement, sliding her coffee-cup aside. “Right, we’ll take your roadster again. It’s more manoeuvrable than my Buick. I’ll drive, though. Give you a break, doll.”

“Oh, thanks.”

—O—

Fionadrew the roadster up at the side of the cobbled surface outside a run-down warehouse on Causeway, and the ladies clambered out to survey their surroundings.

“Place don’t get any more respectable, Fay.”

“Nah.”

Fiona agreed absent-mindedly. Her attention was on a group of kids skylarking raucously beside a pile of crates and barrels nearby. They were dressed nondescriptly at best, but were also obviously locals of the district. None of them appeared to be much over twelve years of age, if that.

“Hey, kid.” Fiona waved a hand towards a relatively tall girl in a ragged long skirt of grey wool and a blue blouse, wearing atattered man’s flat-cap pulled low over her brow, tussled blonde hair flowing freely from its confines. “Ya got a minute?”

“What d’yer want, lady?” The girl, all of thirteen if a day, surveyed the visitors with a clear eye.

“Ya see this here car?” Fiona gestured towards the gleaming dark-green roadster. “Well, me an’ my pal, here, are goin’ visitin’. When we return we’d both rather like t’see the old crate in the same condition we left her in, savvy?”

“Yeah, I got’cha lady.” The girl grasped the business nature of the transaction immediately. “I say’s what goeson round ‘ere. If any o’ these guys tries anythin’, I’ll knock ‘em off the wharf, I will. Ten dollars.”

“Ha!” Fiona gave a short bark of laughter. “I like your style. Here’s a dollar, an’ there’ll be another when we come back, if everything’s kosher.”

“Arlright, see ya.” The girl grabbed the coin with a lightning movement, then took up her stance beside the car. “You just keep yer distance, Bob Riley, orl’ I’ll kick yer where it don’t ‘alf ‘urt. Don’t worry, ladies, yer car’ll be fine.”

As they entered the lane leading to their destination Alice cast one last glance behind at her pride and joy, now surrounded by an enthusiastic group of children; the silhouette of their salaried guardian standing tall above them all, keeping order with a regimental discipline.

“Come on, Al. Don’t worry, your car’ll survive.” Fiona sniggered lightly. “Would you chance crossing that young Valkyrie?”

Barty’s Speakeasy’, or ‘blind tiger’, was the best of the lesser class of illegal drinking-joints in Delacote City; which still had its fair share of these low-down places. Located near the water-front, on Causeway, it sat back in its narrow lane from the whirling busy wharves, rail-tracks, and warehouses. All that gave notice of its presence was a chalked notice propped up outside the only door offering meals and coffee. What also brought attention were the numerous customers constantly coming and going.

There was no-one,in the shape of a door-keeper, doing sentry duty outside the main-entrance to the saloon when they reached it. It wasn’t that kind of a bar. Booze still being illegal, in this year of 1932, speakeasy’s such as ‘Barty’s’ operated on a semi-tolerated level just outside the eye of the law. They weren’t palatial in any sense of the term. Neither did they sell the greatest wines and spirits available; for these strictlyweren’t available, under United States law. What was served over the counter was that universally accessible liquid known as ‘moonshine’. At its best it would take the varnish off wood in seconds; at its worst it could kill in one swallow. Only the year before, the newspapers had reported the death, in Queens, NY, of the famous jazz cornet player Leon ‘Bix’Beiderbecke; who had perished in the arms of his landlord while screaming hysterically that there were men with long knives hiding under his bed. Assured by his landlord that his fears were groundless, Bix had then collapsed and died in the man’s arms: he had been a notorious drinker of moonshine for several years previously.

The street-door led to a steep flight of wooden stairs, at the bottom of which was a steel door with a sliding-panel. On Fiona’s hearty tap this opened to reveal a pair of frowning eyes. A muffled grunt came from behind this barrier, then the door opened to let the ladies pass through.

“Hi’ya, Benny. What’s doin’?”

“Yo, Benny, still goin’ out with that dame from the Heights?”

“Afternoon, ladies.” The man stood revealed as tall, beefy, and powerful; though at the moment happy. “Jest the usual, Miss Cartwright. An’ what my lady-friend’s doin’ ain’t any o’ yer business, Miss Drever.”

“Sorry, Benny.” Alice went on unruffled. “Is the boss around?”

“Yeah, he’s back o’ the counter in his office. Right glad he’ll be t’see you too, after what happened last month.”

The saloon was rectangular in shape. A room of around thirty feet in width; fifteen feet in height; and ninety feet in length. As the customer entered via the steel door they were met by this panorama extending away from them, the left-hand wall being taken up almost entirely by a long wooden bar, with four busy servitors in white aprons behind it. The rest of the room was filled with tables and chairs, much like an old-time saloon. There were three fans whirling on the ceiling, though the place still smelt of bad beer, and even worse whisky.

“Just remember, Al, if Dilassos offers us a drink; refuse politely.”

“I ain’t stupid, gim’me a break.” Alice frowned exasperatedly. “I got enough brain cells left not t’touch the hooch served here. C’mon, bang on the door an’ wake Dilassos up.”

John K. Dilassos was somebody in the City. At least if you went by the Police Dept’s lists of those most under the eye of the law; or those notables of Delacote who were regularly written up in the newspapers. John was a tall man, clean shaven with slick thin hair brushed back and oiled. His high forehead giving, so he thought, a resemblance to Valentino. He had started out in the legitimate alcohol business, owning three bars across the city. When Prohibition came in he switched to illicit booze, opening around 6 speakeasies. There had been the usual police raids and closures, accompanied by fines. But the hooch business was so profitable, and so many customers seemed willing to risk their health downing the rotgut supplied to them, that finally an uneasy truce had formed between the authorities and the suppliers. Now, after several years, Dilassos was allowed to more or less go about his business unhindered. He had a thin moustache, resembling a line of mascara on his upper lip, and piercing light blue eyes. He liked to grin, in order to show off his perfect white teeth of which he was inordinately proud. Though something of a small-time crook, he was not associated with any gang; a fact which probably contributed to the police giving him a relatively easy time.

A month ago a known gangster had followed some sap into the speakeasy; picked a fight with his mark; drawn a pistol and shot his victim in the arm. Surprisingly, several male customers had jumped on him and restrained him until the Police arrived. There had been some official grumbling that this was too much, and Dilassos might be in big trouble. But Alice and Fiona, appealed to by the bar-owner, had come up with enough evidence to prove the gangster had no other connection with ‘Barty’s’ than just a place to slink into and carry out his attack. So, with many grouses and threats that it had better not happen again, Dilassos had been allowed to carry on his business.

When the door in the corner of the room, just past the edge of the bar, opened to Fiona’s hearty rat-a-tat, Dilassos favoured his visitors with one of his patented grins and an enthusiastic greeting.

“Hello ladies.”

He stepped aside and ushered them into his private domain with a sweeping gesture, closing and re-locking the door behind them. The office was almost square, around twenty feet by twenty, with another door on the far side. It was wainscoted all round to shoulder height, furnished with a large desk on the left-hand side, and a couple of wooden chairs with barred backs. To the right-hand side sat a long brown leather couch. The only other furniture being a couple of chest-high filing cabinets. John waved the women to the couch, and drew one of the chairs over to join them.

“Say, it’s great to see ya.” He smiled enchantingly first at Fiona, then towards Alice. “I got’ta thank ya both again, for that little mishap backaway’s. Could’a been big trouble for me. So, what can I do for you. Wan’na drink, no problem?”

After politely refusing the offer for them both Alice broke the ice.

“Y’recollect that road accident on the junction of Fowler an’ 22nd ten days or so ago? A sedan an’ a street-car.”

“Sure. I read about it in the ‘News’.” John ran his fingers across his right cheek, in a manner he was well-known for. “What was his name—Traddock, Alex Traddock. Yeah, seems t’have got himself well an’ truly written-off the dinner list. So, how can I help ya. Don’t think he was a regular customer here. In fact, I don’t believe he ever came in, at all.”

“It ain’t him we’re interested in.” Fiona took up the burden of their enquiry. “What we want t’ask you about is the floo—lady who got her marching orders along with him—Rose ‘Dixy’ Patenkin.”

“Ha! Dixy. Yeah, she’s well-known around these parts.” John nodded, as he pursed his lips in thought. “She used to case the joint regular like, for clients. I let her run her business quiet-like, y’know. She was never any trouble. Didn’t get drunk, or anything. In fact she brought her own booze, in a paper-bag. Don’t know where she got it, but I think it was kosher. Bright gal.”

“Any idea where she hung out?” Alice leant forward, placing her hand on her lap. “We kind’a want to find out anything we can about the broad, if you follow me.”

“We-ell, lem’me think.” Dilassos suited the word to the action, actually leaning forward and placing a hand under his chin and setting an elbow on his knee just like a famous statuette. “Yeah, I got it. 157, Andicot Street. It’s up by Wharf Street, four blocks north. An old hotel, lets’ out rooms now.”

“When was the last time ya saw Dixy?” Fiona raised an eyebrow. “Was she still coming in an’ taking clients away, or what?”

“Nah.” John shook his head in a positive manner. “She ain’t been here for, oh, it must be nearly six weeks now. Sorry, but that’s about as much as I know of her.”

“Did she mix with other—gals?” Alice tried another tack. “Maybe some other girl who’d maybe know something personal about her?”

“No.” John again shook his head. “Dixy was a loner. None of the regular girls who come in an’ out ever got tight with her. I heard them talkin', off an’ on, about her. Dixy seems t’have operated on her own, an’ didn’t wan’na make friends with the other girls.”

Fiona rose, with Alice at her side; thanked their host for his trouble; and within three more minutes they were back on the salubrious cobbles of the wharfside Causeway. The roadster was in prime condition, all the street-urchins having by this time lost interest and gone about their businesses. Only the tall thin figure of their appointed guardian still stood by the side of the vehicle.

“Here y’are, ladies.” The young girl waved a proprietorial hand at the car. “As good as the day yer left it.”

“Thanks.” Fiona fished in her hand-bag and brought out a shining dollar. “Here’s for your trouble, like we said.”

“And here’s a bonus, ‘cause you deserve it.” Alice placed another dollar in the pale hand, grinning at the awed expression on the girl’s face. “Go an’ buy yourself a woollen scarf, or somethin’.”

“Jeez, thanks’ ladies.” The girl skipped off gleefully, keeping a tight grip on her newly–made wealth. “See ya around. G’bye.”

A moment later she had vanished round a pile of cargo lying at the side of the cobbled promenade which made up the Causewaysea-front. Alice and Fiona, bothsmiling broadly, climbed back into the Plymouth; Fiona let in the clutch, and they swept forward heading for their next destination, Andicot Street.

—O—

The hotel proved indeed to be a run-down shadow of its past self. When first built, around 1880, it had been a reasonable example of an hotel catering to the better class of seaman. Four storey’s tall, built of brownstone six window-bays across, it sporteda wide, overhanging Italianate cornice running along the roof-line. In its prime it probably dominated the district, but was now surrounded by large warehouses and much taller residential buildings, which tended to dwarf it. At first a fine hotel, through various stages of degradation it had arrived at its present incarnation; a scruffy, untidy slightly bedraggled rooming-house for anyone who could afford $2 a night, or $11.50 a week. To the left-hand side was a large entrance-doorway reaching the full height of the first storey, with a flight of seven wide, marble-faced stairs. The door itself was of red teak, with large elaborately curved glass window inlays, clearly a left-over from the Art Nouveau rage of the early years of the century. Inside was a dark, rather dusty reception hall and desk. Behind the desk awaited the salaried cicerone, a balding man of indeterminate age and vaguely red face. He had the ingrained uninterested expression of a professional hotel clerk of long standing.

“Hi’ya, we’re private investigators lookin’ into some affairs associated with a client.”

Fiona thought it best to start off on the right foot, delving in her handbag to retrieve her official card; which she proceeded to wave in front of the man’s eyes. He didn’t seem all that impressed.

“We understand a lady by the name of Dixy Patenkin used t’live here.” Alice cocked an eye at the still indifferent clerk. “Any information would be gladly received.”

“What makes ya think I know anything about this dame?”

The man slowly uncoiled himself as he stood up, having been reclining on a stool. This, unfortunately, only served to reveal his true height as something approaching 5’3”; which took away somewhat from the harsh snappy tone he had tried to inflect into his words.

“Listen, buster,” Fiona always played the hard guy in the old hard/soft routine she and Alice had perfected long ago. Now, clearly, was the time to air it once more. “We got us a choice here. One, we can go away an’ come back with an Inspector from the Building an’ Sanitation Dept. Just how long d’ya suppose your ol’ shack here’ll survive an official inspection? Second, you can give us answers to our questions, an’ go on livin’ happily in the squalor you’ve obviously become used to. Which’ll it be, partner?”

“OK. OK. Whad’ya wan’na know? Jeez, dames!” He said this while glaring angrily at the dusty spotted counter in front of him. On raising his eyes to the two women he rapidly backed away a couple of paces, clearly realising he had made a social faux pas. “OK. No harm done. What about this Dixy da—lady?”

“What we want to know, mister, is—what kind’a girl was she?” Alice frowned steadily into the man’s pale face. “Which was her room? Did she have any interesting visitors? An’ are any of her belongings still here?”

The clerk, defeated, gave up all he knew. Dixy had been a resident for just over a year. She paid monthly, so her room was still untouched awaiting the expiry of her latest term. He’d locked the room, after the local cops had gone through it in a cursory fashion. As far as he knew everything was still there. The cops had told him to keep all her belongings in case a relative turned up. So far the only people to show any interest were Alice and Fiona. Yes, of course they could have the key, an’ look over the room. Third floor, turn left, room 112, take your time.

The room, when the women entered, proved to be pretty much as expected. Quite large, around thirty feet by fifteen. Two high windows, light floral curtains. A bed in one corner, hidden by a pull-across curtain of some dark material. A couch and a couple of armchairs. The floor was covered by acouple of thin carpets, with colourful patterns. To the left-hand side were two doors; one, the bathroom; the other leading to a small kitchen complete with stove, cupboards and sink. There was no dust or dirt. Dixy appeared to have been keenly houseproud, as far as was possible. In a corner stood a chest of drawers and a tall wardrobe.

“Not a bad joint.” Alice scanned the room with professional acuteness. “Dixy seems t’have kept it in good order. So, what are we lookin’ for?”

“Anything. Anything at all.” Fiona made a bee-line for the kitchen. “You take the bed and the wardrobe, an’ whatever. I’ll scout out the kitchen an’ bathroom. Let’s see what we come up with.”

The next twenty minutes wereused to perform a careful examination of the whole contents of the suite of rooms. Alice’s and Fiona’s method was to take their time; study everything in minute detail; and search out all dark corners, leaving nothing to chance and over-looking nothing. By the time they had finished both women had made interesting discoveries.

“Those cops the clerk talked about must’a been real items.” Alice curled her lip in disdain. “They seem t’have carried out their search of this place by openin’ the door, glancing in, then shutting the door an’ goin’ away again.”

“Seems like it.” Fiona nodded, as they both sat on the bed to pool their finds. “I got me a bundle of C-notes that’d choke a croc. Hidden under the sink, behind the loose panelling for the water-pipes. And a snub-nosed Colt .38. It had its residence taped behind the stove. Don’t know where she put it when she was baking apple pies!”

“Yikes.” Alice raised her brows in wonder at the items resting on her lover’s lap. “Well, I found a pretty little notebook, taped to the inside frame of the bed, here. Seems like Scotch tape was her best friend. Anyways, it’s full of entries; looks like several months worth, at least.”

“Oh yeah.” Fiona was all interest. “So, what did she write? Anything we need t’know about?”

“Can’t say.” Alice shrugged, and opened the object in question for Fiona’s inspection. “Written in some kind’a shorthand code. I can’t read it.”

“Humph. Anything else?”

“Yup.” Alice raised her arm to point across at the wardrobe. “There’s enough fashionable dresses, an’ things, there t’stock an upper-class House of Fashion. I’m talking expensive, on the top range. This girl, Dixy, she had taste an’ money.”

“Kind’a strange, that.” Fiona mused on the problem for a few seconds. “Makes ya think she ain’t what she made herself out t’be. If ya get my drift.”

“A lady of leisure, slummin’ it for kicks, y’mean?”

“Sort’a seems that way.” Fiona looked around the room again. “It’s about the only reasonable explanation. It’d explain this roll of money, an’ perhaps how she an’ old Alex knew each other.”

“Maybe they were pals; out in the open, so t’say.” Alice nodded vigorously, as the idea took hold. “Yeah. She was some sort’a dame in Society; the upper-crust, y’know. She came down here to let free some twisted wish for kicks, at the bottom of the ladder. An’ maybe Alex was in on the secret from the beginning?”

The room seemed to have become dimmer as they discussed the situation. Shadows darkened the corners of the room, and a slight chill appeared to hang in the air. From somewhere further off in the building the sound of a banjo could be heard, jangling away; while an all-invasive aroma of boiling cabbage filled their nostrils. From outside, on the nearby wharves and piers, the daily sounds of unloading and transporting of cargoes echoed everywhere. From another room somewhere in the hotel a jazzy radio program belted out its noisy music.

“So, Mrs Traddock engages us to find out the truth, an’ then hush it up.” Fiona pieced the plot together, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle. “An’ someone else, a relative probably, hired another gumshoe t’do the same on behalf of poor Dixy.”

“The guy in the Chevy?” Alice gazed at her companion. “That would explain a lot. Maybe everything.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Fiona continued her train of thought. “So that’d make the road accident just that—not a murder or crime. Apart from the usual little difficulties with hooch they don’t seem t’have been mixed up in anything really criminal.”

“Which means—no crime, no police investigation or charges.” Alice put two and two together with logical certainty. “That’d allow the whole thing t’be shuffled under the carpet, an’ forgotten about.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Al.” Fiona placed the .38 revolver, which she had been holding in her handkerchief, on the couch beside her; along with the bundle of money. “First off, we need’ta contact Inspector Fletcher about what we’ve found here. Evidence, y’know.”

“An’ then we’ll have to find out just who Dixy really is.” Alice nodded in agreement. “There’s a wall-phone at the head of the stairs, along the corridor. You stay here, an’ coddle the evidence. I’ll go an’ work my sweet charm on Inspector Fletcher.”

“Oh God, must ya?” Fiona curled her upper lip gently. “Ain’t that adultery, or somethin’?”

“Easy, sweet pea. Night’s approaching; then we can make up, eh.”

“Yo, baby, bring it on. Need any quarters?”

—O—

“What!”

Inspector Jacob Fletcher was not impressed. First, his own men had missed vital evidence; second, two women had found said evidence; third, was there a crime going on here, and if so he wanted to be the first to know about it.

“Are you both tellin’ me that two-bit street-walker—wasn’t?”

“No, we ain’t, Inspector.” Fiona tried to soothe irate nerves. “We’re just sayin’ there’s a possibility the facts need t’be, er, more delicately sifted.”

“Yeah, Inspector.” Alice gave the officer an intent look. “Somethin’s going on we haven’t hooked up to yet. This Dixy character was definitely more than she seemed. An’ what she was doin’ in Traddock’s car that day need’s lookin’ into.”

“A gun, an’ a wad o’ money that’d pay a month’s wages at a car factory.” Fletcher mused on the situation, as he gazed at the evidence lying on the desk before him. “So, what brought you two bright people onboard?”

They were all sitting in Inspector Fletcher’s office at the 5th Precinct HQ in Delacote City. The time was 2.30pm, and he was struggling to absorb the new information on this case.

“We’re acting for Mrs Traddock, back at her rancho outside town.” Alice smiled dazzlingly at the policeman, but it didn’t help. “Why look so gloomy? We found new evidence, didn’t we? We let you in on the secret, didn’t we? Ya got the chance to pull off a big break here, ain’t you? Somethin’ fishy is definitely goin’ on here. So, what d’ya intend doin’ about it, Inspector?”

“What the Police Dept means to do is conduct an official process, in the usual manner, ladies.” Inspector Fletcher fell back on his dignity. “This is all very well, but it needs considerable further investigation. You can safely leave everything with us now. Thank you both very much.”

“Oh, ya don’t get off that easy, Inspector.” Fiona gave a short laugh, and grinned at her adversary through tight lips. “Alice here, an’ I, are both fully licenced investigators an’ we mean t’investigate. We got our own thoughts about this whole mess.”

“Yeah, we got leads t’follow up.” Alice backed her partner, even if she knew perfectly well those leads were more or less imaginary.

“Ha!” Inspector Fletcher rose from his chair, to conduct the women to the door. “Well, just don’t get under my feet, that’s all. Get under my feet just once, an’ I’ll clap ya both in irons for the duration, see.”

“The duration of what, Inspector?” Alice so dearly loved to have the last word in any discussion.

“Get out!”

—O—

“That was fun.”

“Don’t worry, Fay, deep down in his heart Inspector Fletcher really loves us.”

They had returned to their 5th floor office in the Packer Building, sitting on the corner of 12th and Rosemartin. Their jackets and bags had been thrown on the nearby couch, and they were now sitting in chairs at the large desk. Fiona, in her usual manner, laid her elbows on the top, with chin in cupped hands. Alice sort of slouched in a more relaxed attitude, slumped over her folded arms; her long chestnut hair covering one eye in a very appealing manner. They were pondering the facts, and their next move.

“What’s our next move gon’na be, then?”

“Gim’me a chance.” Fiona blew her breath out through pursed lips. “I need time t’think about it. Ain’t you come up with anything?”

“Nah. It’s a conundrum.”

“What we need t’do is trace Dixy’s real hang-out, an’ who she really is.” Fiona shrugged her shoulders, in the light pale pink cotton shirt she was wearing. “Pity we had’ta hand over that notebook. Could’a come in very handy. We might’a made somethin’ of that.”

“Well, as far as that goes,” Alice turned her head to study her lover through light brown eyes, “the text may have been in code, but her address was in clear print on the inside of the cover. I took a note. Didn’t I say?”

“What?” Fiona sat up, like a door at the dog-track snapping open. “You did what? An’ never said a word.”

“Well, we were under pressure.” Alice was unrepentant. “I just pencilled it in my own notes; then we were going hell for leather down 22nd towards 5th Precinct HQ. Anyways, here it is. Look’ee.”

“P. D. H. 323, Gainsborough Ave, Todmorton, D Cty.” Fiona gazed from the sheet of paper to Alice then back again. “Well, better late than never, I expect. We’re takin’ my Buick. Come on, get that lovely chassis movin’, toots.”

—O—

The afternoon was drawing on as the huge Buick slid along. It was painted a soft honey colour, with white-wall tyres and a radiator polished till it gleamed like a searchlight. The four-door saloon body was tall and roomy, with a boxy weightiness, and the car was the joy of Fiona’s life.

“It sets a precedent, y’see.” She had explained, when once questioned on the subject by her everlovin’ other half. “Whenever we meet representatives of the local scum, this here vehicle says t’them ‘Mine’s bigger than yours!” See?”

Todmorton was the swish district of Delacote City. Where the nobs congregated,tolive in happy proximity to each other. It lay on the western outskirts, on rising ground which gave a general view of the ocean in the distance. Laid out in wide tree-lined avenues, the visitor could be forgiven for imagining they were almost in the country. The vast majority of houses were architect-designed, of huge proportions, filled with servants, and lay in extensive private grounds. Although the Crash of ’29 had certainly set several denizens of the district back, it was also surprising how many, even those tragically reduced to their last $5,000,000, had managed to survive reasonably comfortably.In Todmorton money was still no object.

“They’re all named after big-wigs.”

“What?” Fiona gave her companion a quick glance. “What’re ya talkin’ about?”

“These streets—avenues.” Alice had a local street map spread out on her lap. “Well-known artists; painters; musicians. People with a bit of ‘wow’ about their reputations.”

“Huh.” Fiona was not especially impressed. “So, where’s Gainsborough; an’ yes, I do know who he was.”

“We’re on Delacroix Road.” Alice gave up all the information she had gleaned over the last ten minutes of close study. “We’ll pass Hampton Court Avenue on our right, in about another three hundred yards. Then it’s Chopin Drive, followed by Handel Avenue, then Gainsborough.”

Their destination proved to be set back in its own grounds, protected from the vulgar gaze of the proletariat by a thick band of trees. The drive-entrance was wide; the gates were open; and, as Fiona slide her car expertly between the stone pillars, surmounted by open-winged eagles, both women saw that they had been preceded—Inspector Fletcher’s car sat in regal majesty, or at least as much as a ’28 Model A Ford could muster at short notice.

“Oh, bugger!”

“Now dear, don’t lose your temper.” Fiona laughed quietly, as they stepped out of the Buick. “Just leave the talkin’ t’me. I can dispose of Fletcherwithout turning a hair. Then we’ll have the residents to ourselves, t’wrap round our little fingers.”

“Love your confidence.” Alice’s left nostril quivered slightly as they approached the magnificent entrance-door. “All yours, baby.”

The door opened to reveal a housemaid, with starched white collar and a disdainful expression; a look which quickly switched to politeness when she noticed the gleaming Buick.

“We’d kind’a like words with the lady of the house, if that’s possible.” Fiona gave it her best Southern lady routine.

“Do you have an appointment with Mrs Harmondsworth?” The maid remained dubious.

“Tell her we’re pals of Inspector Fletcher.” Fiona grimaced nonchalantly. “We’ll take over where he leaves off.”

Two further minutes found them both, amazingly, ushered into a wide, long, high, drawing-room furnished in gold, yellow, and cream; in the style of one of the earlier French monarchs. Utilising this astonishing living-space at the moment were a lady of refined comportment and latish years, accompanied by the slightly awkward grey suit containing Delacote’s best police Inspector. Neither seemed happy to see their new guests.

“What’re you doin’ here?” Fletcher let his natural polite self run free. “Figured it’d take at least a week for ya both to find out this joint. Beg your pardon, Mrs Harmondsworth.”

“And who, may I ask, are you?” Mrs H. looked from one to the other of her newest visitors.

“A coupl’a cheap gumshoes.” Inspector Fletcher was having none of it. “Tryin’ t’butt in on an official investigation. Much good may it do ‘em.”

“I hope, at least, you have something more significant to tell me than this gentleman has seen fit to reveal.” The lady turned to the slightly shabby figure now at her side. “Mr Fletcher, I believe you were threatening me with the choice of two evils? Either to ‘come clean’, whatever that vulgar expression means, and tell you what my daughter is or was up to; or to accompany you to the local ‘hoosegow’, where you could arrange comfortable surroundings for us both to have a mutual exchange of information. I fear neither option is of any interest to me. May I remind you that my attorney is Mr Hiram C. Schillings. The best defence attorney on the East Coast. If you institute either of your aforesaid suggestions I can assure you, Inspector, the damages will be astronomical! Just astronomical!”

Faced with this outrageous act of mutiny on the part of a member of the public—Delacote City’s police motto being, ‘We Protect the Public’—Inspector Fletcher grabbed his hat from a nearby ormolu table, which had been observing a policy of muted superciliousness ever since the appallingly common-place object had been set down on its marble-topped surface, and headed for the door.

“I may well have’ta talk with you again, Mrs Harmondsworth. This is a very complex case.” He paused at the door to throw down his ace. “Next time we talk, we talk in my office at the 5th Precinct. You can bring your pet attorney along too, if ya like. Goodbye.”

“What a perfectly dreadful man.” Mrs H. raised her eyes to the richly decorated ceilingfor a moment, as the door closed on her male visitor; thus leaving her free to concentrate on the two females of the species. “Now ladies, if you would like to sit on this couch; I fancy you will find it most comfortable, we can have tea and cakes. Nancy! Teafor three, with the silver service, thank you. So, what may I do for you?”

Fiona gave her hostess the once over. She was around fifty-plus; had thick dark brown hair; greyish eyes; a pale, but not excessively so, complexion; and was dressed in something excitingly swish and expensive from the House of Redfern. Her shoes were two-inch heeled red leather slippers, from France; and her hands were immaculately manicured, with mother-of-pearl nail varnish. She sat opposite her visitors with all the charm and insouciance of a Queen receiving ambassadors from a foreign country; which was pretty much the actual situation, Fiona thought to herself.

“Well, Mrs Harmondsworth, we got us a problem here.” Fiona thought it advisable to come straight to the point. “I don’t know what the worthy Inspector’s been tellin’ ya, but Alice and I have reason t’believe your daughter may have been, er, being a naughty girl—if you catch my meaning.”

“My daughter—I assume you speak of my youngest, Persephone?—has been naughty since she was two years old.” Mrs H. seemed unfazed by this question, indeed it appeared to put her more at ease. “She was sailing a toy sail-boat on the Chalson Park lake; her boat turned over; and she pushed young Tommy Baker into the lake, up to his knees, to recover it. Afterwards there was a certain exchange of courtesies between interested parties, you might say. We encouraged darling Persephone to take up painting thereafter, but without much success, I am afraid. So, what has she done now? Nothing too expensive, I hope.”

“That depends.” Alice looked up from pouring tea out of the antique silver tea-pot just provided by Nancy, who had immediately vanished again as well-trained servants should. “You remember the fatal road accident at the corner of Fowler and 22nd about a fortnight ago? There was a man in the driving seat, and a young woman in the front passenger seat. That young woman, we have reason to believe, was your daughter, Mrs Harmondsworth. Sorry to break it like this, but facts is facts.”

Fiona gave her companion a withering glance; there were delicate and gentle ways of breaking bad news, and Alice’s attempt had come nowhere near either, in Fiona’s opinion. They would, she decided, have words on the subject later. The lady of the house seemed curiously unmoved by the news, however. She merely paused in drinking her tea; looking over the edge of her cup at Alice with an expression of interest; then sipped genteelly, before setting the cup down and taking a small hand-bell from the coffee-table by her side. This she commenced to ring, in a calm restrained manner. Nancy appeared once more, as if by magic, at the door.

“Nancy, will you go up to Persephone’s suite, and ask her to come down, to see some visitors who are especially interested in meeting her, thank you.”

“What!”

“What!”

“Please, take another cup of tea.” Mrs H. showed all the accomplishments of the perfect hostess. “It is Darjeeling, quite the best type in my opinion. Persephone will be so intrigued to hear your, er, story. One must find it so exciting to be considered dead, mustn’t one. After all, what was it Mark Twain said on a similar occasion? Oh yes,—“The news of my death has been greatly exaggerated’. She likes to be called Sophy, by the way. Ah, here she is.”

The woman who entered stood 5 feet 8 inches in her boots, and she was wearing boots. The high calf length type, made of black leather with folded down buff tops, which shouted ‘Polo player’ to the cognoscenti. Herslacks were pale grey and she wore a red shirt, not a blouse; a man’s watch was visible on her left wrist. Her eyes were light green, and her long wavy shoulder-length hair was of a bright copper-red. Her age was somewhere around the mid-twenties. She gazed at the two visitors with a clear straight look, apparently as innocent as a day old chick.

“Hey, what’s up?” She looked first at her mother, then Alice and Fiona. “Heard someone want’s t’see me. Can’t think why. I ain’t done anything for ages; anything illegal, that is.”

“May I ask what your middle name is?” Alice looked at the pretty woman gloomily. “It’s kind’a important.”

“Why, it’s Daphne.” Sophy laughed good-naturedly. “But I never use it. Mother had a Greek thing going when I was born, y’see.”

“The Greek Gods were refined, at least their names were, at that time.” Mrs H. shook her head with a smile. She was obviously quite used to her open-minded daughter. “Nowadays you are as likely to hear a gal called Trish, Amy, Petra, or Joan. In my day girl’s were given refined names, such as Hildegard, Gwendolyn, or Patricia. In my day a lady drove around town in her carriage and pair; now you rocket along in a Pontiac or a Buick, or something just as noisy and smelly.”

“Mother has a love of the past.” Sophy smiled again. “Is that why you keep a Roller and a chauffer in the old stables, mums?”

“It is a Rolls-Royce, dear.” Mrs H. raised an eyebrow towards her guests. “A most refined vehicle. It does not make a noise when it travels, and the springs are excellent.However, I believe these ladies wish to ask you some questions. Apolice Inspector was here a short time ago, snapping at my heels with similar enquiries; but I sent him away post-haste.”

“I bet you did.” Sophy sat on a chair close to her mother, and gazed across at the two women still holding their tea-cups. “So, what d’you want to know. Can’t think what I’ve done that’d necessitate the Law falling on my head.”

Both Fiona and Alice could see their lead dissolving in the breeze in front of their eyes, but they went bravely on.

“Do you know anything about an A4 notebook, with text in shorthand.” Alice wanted to discover the worst. “It had this address written, inprinted letters, on the inside cover. It had the initials P. D. H. at the head of the address.”

“No, means nothing to me.” Sophy looked at both women with a straight gaze. “I don’t know shorthand, either. Where was this notebook found?”

“In a second-rate rooming-house on the Causeway.” Fiona took over the doleful tale. “In a room we all think was rented by the girl who was, er, the victim of the road accident. We thought it was you; but, of course—”

“Oh, I’m live an’ kicking’, still.” Sophy gave a confused look towards her mother, then the investigators. “Talkin’ of the accident, I know it involved Alex Traddock. I went to his funeral. Pretty bad, sayin’ goodbye to someone you’ve played polo with, an’ whatnot.”

“You did know him, then?” Alice quickly bit on this slight bait.

“Yes. We’ve known each other for, oh, four years.” Sophy looked glum at the memories. “Played polo; went out on a few dates; that sort of thing. Attended each other’s birthday parties. Saw each other at various social crushes, an’ so on.”

“When did you last see him?” Fiona had the feeling that something of importance lay hidden just over the horizon of recognition.

“Well, let’s see.” The girl frowned in concentration, then looked up again. “Just over a month ago. We met at Mrs Krauseheim’s party. Quite a crowd. We only had a few words. He seemed preoccupied;something on his mind. Anyway, he was escorting Betty Williams. So I left him to it.”

“Who was she?” Alice leaned forward in concentration.

“Betty Williams?” Sophy shrugged her shoulders. “Can’t tell you much about her. Nothing, in fact. She appeared on the general scene about a year ago, an’ pretty soon got herself entangled with Alex. They’ve been together ever since. Well, yes, ever since. God! Could she have been the gal in the smash-up? I haven’t noticed her around at the usual haunts, over the last fortnight, now you mention it. Right to the end, in fact; it seems.”

“Any idea where she lives—lived?” Fiona cocked an eye at the lady. “It’d be of great importance if you knew anything in that line.”

“2635, Armadale Crescent, The Heights.” Sophy looked apologetic. “She didn’t actually tell me; but one evening she spilled her handbag. You know how easily that can happen. Well, I helped to pick a few things up. One was a letter, and the envelope had that address with her name.”

We-ell.” Alice let out a breath of anticipation, as she glanced at her companion.

Aah.” Fiona was as impressed with this information as her colleague. “Now we may be gettin’ somewhere. That’s what we call a hot lead, Mrs Harmondsworth.”

“Quite like a detective story I read a few weeks ago.” The lady of the house nodded regally. “Now, what was it? Ah, yes. ‘The Glass Key’, by Dashiell Hammett. A most rewarding novel. However, where were we?”

“Mother drools over mystery stories, I’m afraid.” Sophy laughed gently. “Give her a copy of ‘Black Mask’ magazine and you can kiss conversation goodbye.”

“Anyway’s,” Alice rose, giving Fiona a significant glance. “it’s time we went on our way. You’ve both been very kind, and given us some useful information. Thanks for the tea.”

“Yeah, we better head on out.” Fiona nodded to the two women, who had risen themselves to accompany their guests to the door. “With what you’ve told us we might be able to cast some light on just what happened to Traddock, an’ his gal.”

“Do let us know the outcome.” Mrs Harmondsworth smiled brilliantly. “So like a detective story. I am quite intrigued. Goodbye.”

—O—

The Buick slid smoothly along through the early evening traffic. To reach The Heights, that salubrious district beloved of bank managers, newspaper editors, the middle ranks of police officers, and the reasonably well-off merchants of Delacote City, necessitated driving through the centre of the city and on out to the southern perimeter. Here, on a gently sloping ridge running parallel with the shoreline some three miles off, lay their destination.

The district was composed of old-fashioned detached houses, mixed with several streets of tightly packed high-rise brownstone residences. Everything was compact, and built close together. The streets squeezed each other in happy proximity, intersecting at strange angles, numerous cross-overs, and every 150 yards;apparently simply from spite towards the modern car-driver. Traffic was quite heavy, with people coming home from their daily work. The inter-sections made progress, in these conditions, slow; and it became a necessity for Alice to consult her road-map every couple of minutes; otherwise they would have been lost.

“Next turning on the left, Fay.” Alice pointed ahead, through the windscreen. “See the junction?”

“Yeah, I got it.” Fiona slowed for the turn. “Jeez! This traffic’s bad. Never knew so many workers had their pads out this way. OK, here we are. Must be this brownstone beside us. Glad this street’s quiet, anyway. After you.”

The building in question was a three-storey affair, with an eight-step sandstone stair leading to an imposing door sheltered by an overhanging portico. There was a bell to the side of the door. Alice pressed it, vigorously.

“So?It’s gettin’ near my feedin’ time.” Her feeble excuse only bringing a rolling of the eyes from her co-investigator.

“Say, is that Inspector Fletcher’s Ford?” Fiona was idly glancing along the street as they waited. “Looks like it.”

“Nah.” Alice whipped round to stare at the vehicle, just visible behind a rather solid-looking Pontiac. “Couldn’t be. What’d he be doin’ here? It’s just another Model A.”

The door opened about a foot, to reveal a tall heavily-built man in a brown suit. He wore a fedora, along with a bad-tempered expression. He looked both women up and down expressionlessly, then broke into conversation.

“So, ya made it!” He stepped back and gestured with one hand. “Step in, ladies. We got a nice comfortable couch you can park yourselves on.”

Fiona and Alice made no move to enter. Instead, after a glance at each other, they moved back a pace and regarded their host with new interest.

“Say’s who?” Alice stepped into the breach.

For answer the man opened the door wide, and strode out to join his visitors. He looked up and down the quiet street, as much from habit as necessity it appeared. Then he reached into his jacket pocket. The fact that the two women quickly reached into their own pockets at the same time didn’t seem to disturb him. He brought out a gold badge in a folder, and proceeded to flash it in their faces.

“Bureau of Investigation.” He smiled, coldly and without warmth. “Like I said; step inside, ladies. We got a reception all waiting for you. Inspector Fletcher’s here already. We brought him up from the 5th Precinct. He ain’t happy. Come in an’ join the party.”

Walking in revealed a long hall, with a narrow staircase to the right-hand side. On the left were two doors. The man led them to the first, and opened it with a flourish; beckoning the women to enter ahead of him. Inside, as previously announced, they found Inspector Fletcher. He stood, looking every inch the discontented police-officer, beside another two men. These were obviously made from the same mould as the women’s escort. One was even taller; dressed in a dark-grey suit; with enormously broad shoulders, like a football player; clean-shaven, with a solid face and square chin that stated simply ‘get funny with me, an’ I’ll knock your teeth out’. His companion was shorter, but of an even meaner temper; judging by the sour, tight-lipped expression he apparently wore as his natural mode of getting through the day. He wore a blue suit, with a snap-brim hat.

“So, we’re all here at last.” The dark-grey suit spoke with a natural authority, as of a long-time leader of men and women. “You both did well to find us. We had to go looking for Inspector Fletcher, here. He was getting too close, as well; but in his own official way.”

“Say, I can take as—”

Fletcher had hardly begun one of his famous grumbling rants, before being cut off by a higher authority.

“Can it.”

This came from the sour-faced blue suit. Not many words; but delivered with an underlyingauthoritative menace. Fletcher canned it.

“We got us a right mess here, folks.” Dark-grey suit, on his part, commenced to talk uninterruptedly. “We here, of the Bureau of Investigation, like to conduct our little activities with a certain secrecy. We don’t like the light of day, as it were, shining all over our pleasant strolls amongst the criminal classes. J. Edgar don’t like it, either. And when J. Edgar don’t like a thing, he gets real mean.”

“What’s goin’ on?” Alice stared the man in his unreadable eyes. “We’re a coupl’a private investigators, followin’ a few leads for a client. An’ our case seems t’get murkier an’ more strange with everyone we meet. It’s been a long day; I’m gettin’ tired; an’ I want my dinner. What’s goin’ on?”

Dark-grey suit raised an eyebrow; perhaps a mark of astonishment at being spoken to with such calm aplomb, then looked meaningfully at his stolid blue-suited cohort.

“We got us a mess of crossed lines here, ladies.” Blue-suit rose to the occasion, cracking his lips in what might have been meant for a smile, but looked much more like a snarl. “You shouldn’t have taken this case. Too complex, too secret, for you. You been following the trail of two people. A man and a woman. Nobody’ll cry over the man; an’ no-one knows who the gal was. We’d kind’a like to keep things that way.”

“Is this Government business, then?” Fiona stared Blue-suit in the face. She was beginning to get angry. “We got badges an’ warrants too, y’know. There ain’t no law says we can’t go about our lawful business.”

“There is, when it comes into opposition with the Bureau of Investigation.” Blue-suit grabbed the initiative once more. “The man,—you know who we mean; let’s not name names, it kind’a goes against our beliefs—was a sort of amateur, short-term operative. The gal was one of ours. She regularly met a number of our other operatives, down by the Causeway. We had a nice easy information and report exchange going on there. Very sweet.”

“Till they got themselves killed in an accident.” Alice saw light dawning on the whole sorry affair. “A real accident.”

“Yes.” Blue-suit suit acknowledged this fact, at the same time looking at Alice as if she were a cockroach. “Buggered things totally. Broke our line of communications. Left a number of operatives in the dark for a while. Very dangerous. And our operative, the lady, still had some information; which, for various reasons I ain’t going to talk about, we couldn’t quickly recover. Then you two, and Inspector Fletcher, became interested. That was inconvenient.”

“What it boils down to is, we got the whole situation under control.” Dark-grey suit once more gazed fixedly from one woman to the other, then at Inspector Fletcher. His expression was not one of gentle camaraderie. “We got our information back. We got the situation sealed down. Our agents are safe. The operation is in an on-going state again. What I’m saying is, we no longer wish your private investigations to continue, ladies. The same goes for Inspector Fletcher.”

“Say, this is kind’a stamping all over due process and the Law of the Land, ain’t it?” Fletcher had obviously decided to go down fighting. He was chewing a short cigar between clamped teeth. “The whole thing stinks. And it’s stinking in my Precinct. I don’t like that one bit.”

“Your Precinct, yes.” Dark-grey suit butted-in unceremoniously. He was like that. “But J. Edgar’s Precinct is the whole country. What we’re doing here is connected to larger, wider issues. Issues that don’t concern anyone but the Bureau of Investigation. That’s us. The show’s over folks. Go home.”

—O—

Fiona drove the Buick into the driveway of their condo-block and braked to a halt on the wide parking-lot. The two women climbed out and walked towards the building, both deep in thought. Once inside their apartment Fiona threw off her jacket and dropped onto the couch with a sigh. Alice went over to the side-table and broke out the Scotch. There followed the gentle tinkle of ice and the rippling of liquid into a glass. She came to sit beside her companion, glass extended in her hand.

“Here, soak this up. You’ll feel better.”

The two clinked glasses, then fell to the serious business of absorbing the revivifying alcohol. Let’s not ask where they got it. Alice was the first to break the silence.

“Damn strange case.” Alice shook her head, chestnut hair flowing as if in the wind. Fiona visibly perked up at the sight. “Can’t figure out just what was actually happening.”

“Yeah, we seem t’have covered the whole of Delacote City today.” Fiona nodded, taking another swig. “Don’t think I’ve met so many people in the course of one day before.”

“Huh! You ain’t wrong there, baby.” Alice sighed, switching around on the couch to get comfortable. “At least Mrs Traddock tookit quietly, when we reported back to her. Thought she might kick up, about the lack of detail. An’ the fact we had to pretend it was all simply a nasty accident, an’ we couldn’t find out anything about the girl.”

“Yeah, she took it calmly enough.” Fiona mused on the subject for a second. “Probably just wanted rid of the whole thing, I suppose. At least she paid us for our trouble. Felt kind’a embarrassed about accepting that.”

“Never be embarrassed about being paid, lover-chile.” Alice obviously had an entirely different outlook. “Money, as my sainted grandmother used t’say, is money. Hang onto it like a tiger. Works for me.”

Fiona put her glass down on the nearby coffee-table, and reached out an arm to slip round Alice’s shoulders.

“Is that so?” Fiona smiled slowly and gently. “Well, it’s been a day and a half. I don’t know if you could say we actually closed the case. But it is closed, permanently, with the loving approval and authority of young J. Edgar himself. So we can relax, is what I’m sayin’. Alice?”

“Yes, coochie-coo?”

“We got us a decision t’make here.” Fiona slipped closer, to lean comfortably against her loved partner. “An important decision.”

“What’s that, darling?”

“Whether to make dinner; or slip into the shower, then slip into bed. What d’ya think, Al?”

Alice turned her head; looked closely into brown loving eyes; then gently put her lips to Fiona’s in a long, unending kiss which answered all questions.

The End.

—O—

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

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