more miss blandish—the start of chapter 3, wherein we learn “a detective’s life isn’t fit for a dog”

CHAPTER THREE

1

ACROSS the frosted panel of the door ran the legend:

DAVE FENNER. INVESTIGATIONS.

The lettering was in black and recently painted.

The door led into a small, well-furnished office with a desk, two lounging chairs, a good Oriental carpet and wall shelves full of law books recently acquired and never opened.

David Fenner lounged in the desk chair, his feet on the desk. He was staring blankly up at the ceiling. He had the air of a man with nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it in.

Fenner was a massively built man of thirty-three. He was dark, with an attractively ugly face and a pugnacious jaw of a man who likes to get his own way and generally does.

A door to the left of the desk led into the outer office. A wooden barrier divided this room. One side was reserved for waiting clients; the other side was the general office presided over by, Paula Dolan, an attractive girl with raven black wavy hair, large suggestive blue eyes and a figure that Fenner declared was the only asset of value in the newly established business.

Paula sat before an idle typewriter, thumbing through the pages of a lurid magazine called Love. From time to time, she yawned and her eyes continually strayed to the wall clock. The time was twenty minutes after three.

The buzzer sounded on her desk, making her start. She put down the magazine and walked into the inner office.

“Got any cigarettes, honey?” Fenner asked, hunching his muscles so the chair creaked. “I’m all out.”

“I’ve got three left,” Paula said. “You can have two of them.” She went into her office and returned with two cigarettes which she laid on the table.

“That’s pretty generous of you,” Fenner said, lighting up. “Thanks.” He inhaled deeply while he looked Paula over. “That’s a nice shape you’ve got on your bones this afternoon.”

“Yes, isn’t it?” Paula said bitterly. “It doesn’t seem to get me anywhere.”

“How are you making out?” Fenner said, quick to change the subject. “Got anything to do?”

“As much as you have,” Paula said, hoisting herself up on the desk.

“Then you sure must be working yourself to death,” Fenner said, grinning. “Never mind: something’ll turn up.”

“You’ve been saying just that for the past month,” Paula said. She looked worried. “We can’t go on much longer like this, Dave. The Office Equipment people telephoned. Unless you pay the third installment on the furniture by tomorrow, they want it all back.”

Fenner surveyed the room.

“You don’t say! You wouldn’t think anyone in their right minds would want this junk back, would you?”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear what I said,” Paula said ominously. “They’ll take all the furniture away tomorrow unless you pay the third installment. So what shall I have to sit on?”

Fenner looked startled.

“They’re not taking that away as well, are they?”

“Dave Fenner, will you never be serious for half a minute? If we don’t find two hundred dollars by tomorrow morning, we will have to shut down.”

Fenner sighed.

“Money! How much have we got?”

“Ten dollars and fifteen cents.”

“As much as that?” he waved his hand airily. “Why, we’re rich! There’s a guy across the way who’s got nothing but an overdraft.”

“How does that make us rich?” Paula demanded.

“Well, we don’t owe the bank money.”

“That’s not your fault. You’ve tried hard enough to owe them money, haven’t you?”

“I guess that’s right.” Fenner shook his head mournfully. “I don’t think those birds trust me.”

“Oh, no,” Paula said sarcastically. “They just don’t want to embarrass you.” She patted a stray curl into place. “I’m beginning to think you made a mistake opening this office. You were making good money on the Tribune. I never did think this agency idea of yours would work out.” Fenner looked indignant.

“Well, that’s a fine thing to say. Then why did you quit your job and come to work for me? I warned you it could be tough at the start, but nothing short of a machine gun would stop you joining me.” Paula smiled at him.

“Maybe it was because I love you,” she said softly Fenner groaned.

“For the love of Mike, don’t start that all over again. I’ve enough worries without you adding to them. Why don’t you get smart, honey? A girl with your looks and your shape could hook a millionaire. Why waste your time and talents on a loser like me? I’ll tell you something: I’ll always be broke. It’s a tradition in the family. My grandfather was a bankrupt. My father was a pauper. My uncle was a miser: he went crazy because he couldn’t find any money to mise over.”

“When are we going to get married, Dave?”

“Remind me to consult my ouija board sometime,” Fenner said hurriedly. “Why don’t you go home? You’re getting unhealthy ideas sticking around here with nothing to do. Take the afternoon off. Go shampoo your hair or something.”

Paula lifted her shoulders in resigned helplessness. “Why don’t you talk to Ryskind? He might give you your job back if you asked him nicely. You were the best crime reporter in the game, Dave. He must miss you. Why don’t you talk to him?” Fenner shook his head.

“The trouble there is he wouldn’t talk to me. I called him a double-crossing, stony-hearted, brainless moron just before I quit. I also seem to remember I told him if ever he invited me to his parents’ wedding. I wouldn’t go. Somehow, I don’t think he likes me any more.”

A buzzer sounded in the outer office announcing a visitor. “Who do you imagine that could be?” Fenner asked, frowning.

“Probably the man to disconnect the telephone,” Paula said. “We haven’t paid the bill—remember?”

“What do we want a telephone for?” Fenner asked. “We’re not on speaking terms with anyone in town, are we?”

Paula went into the outer office, closing the door after her. In a couple of minutes, she was back, her face alight with excitement.

“Look who’s here!” she said and laid a card on his blotter.

Fenner read the card, then he sat back, gaping at Paula.

“John Blandish! In person?”

“He wants to see you.”

“You’re sure it’s him, not someone impersonating him?”

“I’m sure.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Shoo him in, baby; shoo him in!”

Paula went to the door and opened it.

“Mr. Fenner is free now, Mr. Blandish. Would you come in?”

She stood aside as John Blandish entered the room, then she went out, leaving the two men together.

Fenner got to his feet. He was surprised Blandish wasn’t a bigger man. Only slightly above middle height, the millionaire seemed puny beside Fenner’s muscular bulk. His eyes gave his face its arresting power and character. They were hard, shrewd and alert eyes of a man who has fought his way to the top with no mercy asked nor given.

Blandish gave Fenner a quick critical look as the two men shook hands.

“I have a proposition for you, Fenner,” Blandish said. “I think you’re the man I’m looking for. I hear you have connections with the underworld. I believe the only way to bring to justice the men who kidnapped my daughter, is to employ someone like you who can freelance among the mobs with no restrictions. What do you think?”

“I think you’re right,” Fenner said, sitting down behind his desk. “Anyway, the theory’s right, but your daughter was kidnapped three months ago. The trail’s pretty cold now.”

“I am aware of that,” Blandish said. He took out a pigskin cigar case and selected a cigar. “I had to give the Federal Agents every chance of finding these men before I started interfering. Well, they haven’t found them. Now I’m going to try. I’ve talked to them and I’ve talked to the Police. It was Captain Brennan who suggested I should contact you. He tells me you have a good reputation as a newspaper man and wide connections among the thugs in this City. He said if I employed you, he would cooperate with you to the best of his ability. I’m prepared to give you the opportunity of finding these men if you are interested. I will pay you three thousand dollars right now and if you find them, you’ll get a further thirty thousand dollars. That’s my proposition. What do you say?”

Fenner sat for a moment slightly stunned, then pulling himself together, he nodded.

“I’ll certainly have a try, Mr. Blandish, but I’m not promising to deliver. The F.B.I. are the best in the world. If they’ve failed to find these hoods, I’ll probably fail too, but I’ll have a try.”

“How do you propose to start?”

“It so happened I covered the kidnapping for the Tribune,” Fenner said. “It was the last job I did before leaving the paper. I’ve got a file covering all the facts. This I want to study. One thing has always struck me as odd. I knew both Riley and Bailey personally. I was continually running into them in dives and clubs when I was checking for information during the course of my work. They were strictly small time. How they ever found the nerve to go through with the kidnapping beats me, and yet, apparently they did. It doesn’t make sense. If you knew the hoodlums the way I know them, you’d feel the same way about these two. Kidnapping is out of character. The most they would ever aspire to is a small bank holdup. Anyway, there it is. They kidnapped your daughter. Then I ask myself how could they have vanished into thin air? How is it none of the ransom money has ever appeared? What are these kidnappers living on if they aren’t spending the ransom? Another thing; Riley had a girl friend: Anna Borg. The Federal Agents spent hours questioning her, but they didn’t get a thing out of her. I know for a fact Riley was crazy about her and yet he just walked out of her life as if she never existed. It doesn’t add up.” He paused, then went on, “I’ll see Brennan right away, Mr. Blandish. I’ll go through the file to make sure I’ve missed nothing there that might give me a lead. In a couple of days I’ll be able to tell you if I think I have a chance or not of finding these men.” He looked searchingly at Mr. Blandish. “You don’t ask me to find your daughter. You think…?”

Blandish’s face hardened.

“She is dead. I have no doubt about that. It would be an impossible thought to think of her still alive and in the hands of such men. No, she’s dead.” He took from his pocket a checkbook and wrote out a check to Fenner for three thousand dollars. “Then I expect to hear from you in two days’ time?”

“That’s right.”

Fenner went with Blandish to the door.

“Money is no object,” Blandish said. “I’m not restricting you. Get among the underworld and let them know there’s money to be had for talking. I’m sure it’s the only way to get the lead we want.”

“You leave it to me,” Fenner said. “I’ll try not to disappoint you.”

When Blandish had gone, Paula came rushing into the room.

“What did he want?” she asked anxiously. “Has he hired you?”

Fenner showed her the check.

“We’re in the money, sweetheart,” he said. “Here, take a look. Three thousand bucks! Saved in the nick of time! You can relax. You’ve still got a chair to park your fanny on.”

2

Captain Charles Brennan, City Police, a fat, red-faced man with blue hard eyes and sandy-colored hair, greying at the temples, reached across his desk to shake hands with Fenner.

“Never thought the day would come when I would be glad to see a detective in my office,” he said. “Sit down. How’s tricks?”

“Could be worse,” Fenner said, sitting down. “I’m not the grumbling kind.”

“I was surprised to hear you had applied for a licence to operate as an investigator,” Brennan said, lighting a cigar. “You should have stuck to newspaper work. A detective’s life isn’t fit for a dog.”

“I don’t aim to live as well as a dog,” Fenner said, cheerfully. “Thanks for the introduction to Blandish.”

Brennan waved his hand airily.

“Between me and you and my aunt’s wooden leg, Blandish has been gradually driving me nuts. With any luck now, he’ll drive you nuts and lay off me.”

Fenner stiffened to attention.

“What do you mean?”

“You wait,” Brennan said with sadistic relish. “Blandish hasn’t got off my neck since his goddamn daughter was snatched. In self-defense I had to suggest he should hire you. Morning, noon and night he was either here in my office or on the telephone. When was I going to find the men who kidnapped his daughter? If I heard that once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Those words, when I’m dead, will be found engraved on my liver!”

“Well, that’s pretty nice,” Fenner said bitterly, “and I was thinking you were doing me a good turn.”

“I’m no boy scout,” Brennan said. “I’ll tell you this much: you have as much chance of finding those punks as you have of winning a beauty prize.”

Fenner let that ride.

“But they must be somewhere.”

“Sure, they’re somewhere. They could be in Mexico, Canada, heaven or hell. Every policeman in the world has been looking for them for three months—not a sign, but I agree with you, they must be somewhere.”

“How about the girl? Do you think she’s dead?”

“Yeah. She must be dead. Why should they keep her alive? She would only be a danger to them. I wouldn’t mind betting they knocked her off when they killed MacGowan, but where they buried her beats me.”

“How about Anna Borg?” Fenner asked. “What became of her?”

“She’s still around. I’ve had one of my boys trailing her for the past two months, but it’s a waste of time. She has a new boy friend now. I guess she got tired of waiting for Riley to show up. She’s doing an act now at the Paradise Club.”

“Who’s the new boy friend?”

“Eddie Schultz.”

Fenner frowned, then he snapped his fingers.

“I know him, one of the Grisson gang; a tall, big, good-looking punk.”

“That’s him. The Grisson gang have taken over the Paradise Club: a down-at-the-heel joint run by an Italian:

Toni Rocco. They bought him out, put money in the joint and it’s quite a club now.”

Fenner looked interested.

“Where did the money come from? The Grisson gang weren’t in the dough, were they?”

“I checked all that,” Brennan said, looking wise. “Abe Schulberg is financing the club. He’s done a deal with Ma Grisson. She runs the club and gives him a fifty percent cut.”

Fenner lost interest. He lit a cigarette, sliding down in his chair.

“So the trail’s cold?”

“It never was hot. It’s a bitch of a case. The time and money we’ve wasted on it gives me nightmares. We’re no closer to a solution than when we first started.”

Fenner pulled a face. The vision of laying his hands on thirty thousand dollars now began to look remote. He got to his feet. Then a thought struck him.

“What did this Borg girl do for a living when she was going around with Riley?” he asked.

“She did a strip act at the Cosmos Club, strictly for peanuts, but her main meal ticket was Riley.”

“The Cosmos Club?” Fenner suddenly looked thoughtful. He glanced at his watch. “Well, I’m wasting your time, Captain. If I turn up anything, I’ll let you know.”

“You won’t,” Brennan said, grinning. “There’s nothing to turn up.”

In a thoughtful mood, Fenner drove back to his office. He found Paula waiting for him although it was after six o’clock.

“You still here?” he said as he entered the office. “Haven’t you a home to go to?”

“I’m scared to leave in case another millionaire walks in,” Paula said, her blue eyes wide. “Oh, Dave! I’ve been planning how we’ll spend all that beautiful money when we get it”

“The operative word in that pipe dream of a sentence of yours is when.” Fenner walked into his office. Paula trailed after him. “Since you are still working, baby, make yourself useful. Check the dirty file and see if we have anything on Pete Cosmos.”

During the years Fenner had been a newspaperman, he had systematically collected every scrap of information concerning the activities of the big and little gangsters in town. He had collected an enormous library of facts that often came in handy when he was trying to persuade some hood to give him information.

In five minutes, Paula came into the office with a pile of newspaper clippings.

“I don’t know what you’re looking for, Dave,” she said, “but here’s everything we have on Cosmos.”

“Thanks, sweetheart, now you trot off home. I’ve got work to do. How would you like to have dinner with me tonight to celebrate our riches?”

Paula’s face lit up with delighted surprise.

“I’d love it! I’ll wear my new dress! Let’s go to the Champagne Room! I’ve never been there. I hear it’s a knockout.”

“The only knockout about that joint is the check,” Fenner said. “Maybe we might go there when we have got our hooks into the thirty thousand, but not before.”

“Then how about the Astor? For the money, they say it’s the best in town.”

“Don’t be simple, baby. They didn’t say for how much money, did they?” Fenner put his arm around her coaxingly. “I’ll tell you where we’ll go, the Cosmos Club. We’ll combine business with pleasure.”

Paula made a grimace as if she had bitten into a lemon.

“The Cosmos Club? That joint’s not even a dive and the food’s poisonous.”

“Run along, baby, I’ve work to do. I’ll pick you up at eight-thirty at your place,” and turning her, Fenner gave her a slap on her behind, launching her fast to the door.

He sat down at his desk and began to read through the mass of clippings Paula had given him. After some thirty minutes, he made a telephone call, then he put the clippings back into the filing cabinet, turned off the lights in the office, locked up and went down to his car. He drove to his two room apartment where he took a shower and changed into a dark suit. He checked his .38 police special and put it in his shoulder holster.

He found Paula anxiously waiting for him. One of the important facts of life that Paula had learned the hard way was not to keep any man waiting. She was looking cute in a black dress, relieved by a red carnation. The cut of the dress accentuated her figure so that Fenner took a second look.

“What kills me,” Paula said as she got into the car with a generous show of nylon-clad legs, “is I always have to buy my own corsage. The day you think of buying me one, I’ll faint.”

“Put your smelling salts away, baby,” Fenner said, grinning. “I would never think of it. You haven’t a worry in the world.” He edged the car into the traffic. “I’ve got something on Pete. Boy! Won’t his fat face turn red when I start talking to him.”

Paula looked at him.

“I hope we’ll eat sometime,” she said. “I foresee you and that fat Italian sitting glaring at each other and grinding your teeth while I starve to death.”

“We’ll eat first, baby,” Fenner said and patted her knee.

She firmly removed his hand.

“That knee is reserved for my future husband,” she said. “You can have an option on it if you want it, but it’ll have to be in writing.”

Fenner laughed. He liked going out with Paula. They always seemed to have fun together.

The Cosmos Club was full when they arrived, but the maitre d’hotel, a seedy, narrow-eyed Italian, found them a table.

Fenner looked around and decided it was a pretty crummy joint. He hadn’t been in the club for six months. He could see it had changed for the worse.

“Charming little morgue,” Paula said, looking around. “I can’t imagine anyone coming here unless they were too mean to go somewhere else.”

Fenner let that one ride. He was studying the menu. He was hungry. A grubby looking waiter hovered at his side.

After a long discussion they decided on the iced melon, and duck cooked with olives to follow.

“At least we can eat the olives,” Paula said. “Even the cook at the Cosmos Club can’t spoil olives.”

Fenner laughed.

“You wait and see. I bet you they’ll be as tender as golf balls.”

But when the meal was served, neither of them could complain. It wasn’t good, but at least they could eat it.

Between courses, they danced. Paula attempted to get romantic, but Fenner deliberately trod on her toes. The dancing wasn’t a success.

While she was choosing dessert, Fenner pushed back his chair and stood up.

“Business now, baby,” he said. “I’m going to talk to Pete. You go ahead and stuff yourself. I won’t be long.”

Paula smiled at him, her eyes furious.

“Go ahead, Dave darling, don’t worry about me. I have lots and lots to talk to myself about. I’ll expect you when I don’t see you.”

“If we weren’t in a public place,” Fenner said, stung, “I would put you over my knee and slap you humpbacked.”

“A charming thought,” Paula said, waving him away. “Run along and talk to your friend. I hope he spits in your right eye.”

Grinning, Fenner made his way to Pete’s office. He didn’t bother to knock. He walked right in and kicked the door shut behind him.

Pete was adding up figures in a ledger. He looked up, startled. When he saw who it was, he scowled.

“Who told you to bust in here?” he demanded. “What do you want?”

“Hello, fatty,” Fenner said coming over and sitting on the desk. “Long time no see.”

“What do you want?” Pete asked again, glaring at Fenner.

“Have you seen Harry Levane recently?”

Pete stiffened.

“No, and I don’t want to. Why?”

“I’ve just been talking to him. Pete, you are in bad trouble.” Fenner shook his head sadly. “Harry was telling me about the girl you took to Miami last summer. She was a minor. Pete! I’m surprised at you! You stand to get a two-year stretch for that little indiscretion.”

Pete looked as if someone had driven a needle into his behind.

“It’s a lie!” he shouted, his face white. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Fenner smiled pityingly at him.

“Don’t be a chump, Pete. Harry saw you with her. He hasn’t forgotten you got him three years for the Clifford jewel steal. He’s aching to put you away.”

Pete’s face broke out in a sweat.

“I’ll kill the punk! He can’t prove it!”

“He can. He knows who the girl is and he’s talked to her. She’s ready to sign a complaint.”

Pete slumped back in his chair.

“Where is she?” he said, his voice husky. “I’ll talk to her. I’ll fix it. Where is she?”

“I know where she is. I know where Harry is. It’ll cost you, Pete, but what’s money,” Fenner said. “But I’m not telling you if we can’t do a deal. I want information. I’ll trade what you want for what I want.”

Pete glared at him.

“What do you want?”

“Nothing to it, Pete; just a little information. Do you remember Anna Borg?”

Pete looked surprised.

“Yes—what about her?’

“She worked here?”

“That’s right.”

“Did she ever hint that she knew where Riley was hiding out?”

“She didn’t know. I’ll swear to that.”

“She did mention Riley?”

“I’ll say! She was swearing and cursing about him all the time.”

“How did she meet Schultz?”

Pete hesitated.

“This is a trade? You tell me where I contact that little bitch and Harry?”

“It’s a trade.”

“Schultz came here a few days after the snatch,” Pete said. “He wanted to know how he could contact Anna. He said Ma Grisson wanted to talk to the girl. When I told him the Feds were watching Anna, he told me to call her and get her down here in this office. I wasn’t here when they met, but a couple of days later, Anna quit working for me. She said she had been offered a better job. When the Grissons took over the Paradise Club, she started working there. Eddie and she are living together.”

“Why was Ma Grisson interested in the girl?” Fenner asked.

Pete shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know.”

Fenner got to his feet. He bent over the desk and scribbled two addresses on a scratch pad.

“There you are,” he said. “I’d contact those two fast. Harry is aching to see you in jail. It’ll cost you plenty to keep his mouth shut.”

As Pete reached for the telephone, Fenner made his way back to the restaurant.

He found Paula talking animatedly to a slim, handsome gigolo who was leaning over her, looking with interest down the front of her dress.

Fenner gave him a heavy nudge.

“Okay, buster, set sail and fade away.”

The gigolo looked quickly at Fenner’s massive shoulders and his pugnacious jaw and he hurriedly backed away.

“Don’t let this ape worry you,” Paula said. “Brush him off. One good smack in the jaw will fix him.”

But the gigolo was already in retreat halfway across the room.

“Hi, baby, I’m surprised at the company you keep,” Fenner said, smiling at her.

Paula leaned back in her chair and smiled at him.

“Did your Italian friend spit in your eye?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t want to. Come on, baby. I want to go to bed.”

She looked interested.

“Alone?”

“Yeah, alone,” Fenner said, piloting her out of the restaurant. “I want all my strength for tomorrow. I’m calling on Anna Borg and from what I hear, she’s more than a handful.”

Paula got into the car and straightened her skirt.

“Isn’t she a stripper?”

“Yeah,” Fenner said and grinned. “Don’t look so prim; just because she is, I don’t have to be one of that fan dancer’s fans.”

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