Monday, November 28, 2011

NaNoPost 015

Vicky waited, and eventually kicked me under the table.

“Come on!” she said. “What have you found?”

I passed the notebook back to her, open at the page I’d been staring at.

“Clarkson-Clothier?” she said, looking up at me.

“Hmm. It’s an odd name, and that’s twice I’ve seen it in the last few days. Like I say, I don’t do coincidences.”

“Well they do happen,” said Vicky with a smile. “that’s why they have a word for it.”

Everybody’s a comedian…

“So think.” she said. “Where have you been recently? What have you done? Looked through the phone book? Address book? Seen it in the paper?”

I racked my brains, but it was like trying to grab a bar of soap with wet hands.

“It’ll come to me.” I said.

Vicky finished leafing through the book for a second time.

“Definitely no Lindhoffer in there. What about the other chap. His partner in the art firm. Do you think he’s changed his name too?”

“Almost certainly,” I said. “Le Milanais is probably Henry Jones or somesuch. We’ll do some digging when we get back to the office. That sort of thing should be a matter of public record. Maybe his family are in here somewhere.”

I tapped the book that Vicky had placed on the table.

“Talking of this notebook. Two safe deposit boxes and three hours on a train?”

She shrugged.

“It’s basically evidence, circumstantial evidence admittedly, but evidence nonetheless, of every job I pulled. Sure, I could have made it all up, but it would have been pretty damning if it had appeared in court. I made sure it wasn’t going to be found easily. Like I say, no offence, but I will be moving it.”

“What’s done is done.” I said. “You’ve served your time.”

“Well,” she said. “Most of it. What I was charged with and what’s in here doesn’t quite tally.”

I looked at her, frowning.

“Whaddya mean, doesn’t tally?”

“Well the prosecutors took into account every job they knew about. The ones with my card at the scene. But they only knew about the ones that were reported. There’s a handful that for whatever reason, the victims never spoke up about. I can only speculate as to why. Maybe the things I took shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Who knows? But let’s just say I’d prefer to keep that book away from prying eyes.”

I nodded. I‘d had a few cases in the past where I’d been asked to retrieve something, and then it turned out that the client who wanted it back wasn’t as entitled to it as they’d have me believe.

There’s a lot of crooked people out there, folks. They don’t all have a heart of gold like me.

Still. Crooks keep me in business.

I looked around to make sure there was no-one in the carriage within earshot.

“So what did happen to all the things you took? I remember looking at the original case notes, and one of the biggest problems the cops had was that you never seemed to fence any of the things that you stole. Still got them stashed away in a safe deposit box somewhere?”

She looked at me for the longest time, then stared out the window. I could almost hear the wheels in her mind turning.

Suddenly she looked back.

“I was wrong! I know two interesting things about Poughkeepsie. It’s where Sterling Morrison from the Velvet Undergound comes from.”

She put the notebook back in her bag, and the rest of the trip passed in silence.

o o o o o

Back at Grand Central we returned to the bank, where presumably Vicky returned the key for the Poughkeepsie safe deposit box back into this safe deposit box. She didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask.

Back on the subway, I looked at my watch. It was just after 2pm and my stomach was beginning to think that my throat had been cut. My survival instinct kicked in, and before 3.00 we were in a booth at the Cup ‘O’ Joe.

Lucy came over with a pad.

“Hi Chuck, what’ll it be?” she said, snapping her gum.

“Hamburger and fries please, Luce. Vicky?”

“Do you have a green salad?” she asked.

Lucy stopped chewing.

“Green salad? Like the stuff in a hamburger?”

“Umm, yes.”

“So you want the hamburger too?” She pronounced it ‘hamboiger’.

“No, no. Just a green salad, please.”

“Hang on…” Lucy walked over to the hatch.

“Lee! Can you make a green salad?” she hollered.

Lee’s head appeared through the hatch.

“What? Nobody comes in here for sal…”

He spotted us.

“Hi guys. Sure. Salad - no problem.”

Lucy came back over.

“You want a drink with that?” she asked.

We got two coffees.

“Say Luce, where’s Nancy? She off today?”

“Naww. She just stepped out while it was quiet. Had somethin’ to post I think. She’ll be back soon.”

She brought the coffees over, and ten minutes later, Lee came out and served us himself. I looked at Vicky’s plate. I’ve seen what passes for salad in the Cup ‘O’ Joe, and I got the distinct impression that Lee had run to the Fruit and Veg store up the street and bought everything fresh, five minutes ago. Maybe Vicky had an admirer.

He lowered his voice.

“So how’s the case going? Have we had a breakthrough yet?”

We? What’s with the we?

“Well,” I said, though a mouthful of hamburger. “The stiff was an artist called Lindhoffer, although he called himself Tony Le Stephanois for some reason. Worked with a guy called Le Milanais.”

Lee suddenly looked excited.

“Le Stephanois and Le Milanais?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, wiping mustard off my chin. “Why? Heard of them?”

“And you say they were artists.”

“That’s right.” chipped in Vicky. “They had a company called ‘Art Must Be Free.’ ”

“You sure that wasn’t just a front?” said Lee. “You sure they weren’t jewel thieves?”

I stopped with the hamburger halfway to my mouth.


Lee slid onto the seat - next to Vicky rather than me, I noticed - and lowered his voice to a whisper, despite the fact that Lucy was the only other person in the place.


“Who?” I said.

“Not who.” said Lee. “What. ‘Le Rififi Chez Les Hommes’. It’s a 1950’s film about a jewel heist. The whole robbery takes place in real time over about 30 minutes, in complete silence. It’s an absolute classic of the genre. And two of the main characters are Tony Le Stephanois and Cesar Le Milanais.”

I looked at Vicky, baffled, while Lee just looked excited.

“It’s gotta mean something, right?” he said, his enthusiasm rising by the second. “They must have been big time jewel thieves and the whole art thing was just a cover, and all the time they were laughing at the establishment. They probably got access to all sorts of places as artists, then cased the joint, then came back at night, drilled a hole though the ceiling in an homage to Jules Dassin and…”

He was interrupted by Vicky’s phone ringing. She answered, and after about thirty seconds, she hung up.

“Brenda wants to know how the case is going and what she can do to help. We have to meet her for dinner tonight, 7.30 at Pizzarella’s, corner of Fitch and Wilshaw.”

“Great,” said Lee, “that’ll give me time to get cleaned up. I’ll see you there at twenty past.”

With that he disappeared back into the kitchen.

I wondered idly to myself, as I ate. When, exactly, did I get so many partners? And just what sort of theories we were going to get when we put Lee and Brenda in a room together.

o o o o o

We got back to the office at about 4.30. Vicky fed Ella while I tried to think where I’d seen the name ‘Clarkson-Clothier’ recently. It eluded me like a tenant who was three months behind on the rent.

While I let that tick away in the back of my head, I went online and found the State Of New York court records. There was a mountain of stuff in there, but fortunately M. Le Stephanois and M. Le Milanais weren’t the first people I’d had dealings with who’d changed their name, so I had an idea of where to look. I set up a search and left it running.

I paced up and down the office.

“Sit down, big guy,” said Vicky in her best Lauren Bacall, “you’ll wear a hole in the carpet.”

I sat down, and Ella took advantage of the suddenly available lap. Within moments, she was asleep.

While I was incapacitated, Vicky sat on the couch and read through her notebook again. She looked like she was a million miles away. I guess after you’ve been an international jewel thief, selling books is a bit mundane.

After about 15 minutes, the machine beeped to say the search had finished. I rolled the chair over to the desk without waking the cat and looked to see what had come up.

Sure enough, there was a record of Carlton Lindhoffer changing his name to Tony Le Stephanois and on the same day, one Raymond Steenrod became Cesar Le Milanais.

It was nearly fifteen years ago.

o o o o o

At 7.15 we walked up Fitch towards Pizzarella’s. I could see Lee waiting outside already. Oh well. I guess four brains are better than one. He waved as we got closer, and held the door open for Vicky as we arrived.

“Hi guys!” he said. “I don’t know what your friend looks like, so I don’t know if she’s here yet.”

We couldn’t see Brenda, so went up to the bar to get a drink while we waited. Lee had pulled out all the stops: clean shirt, hair combed to within an inch of its life and smelling of something vaguely musky.

Vicky and I hadn’t changed, but then again, we hadn’t been standing over a griddle all day.

Dead on 7.30, the door opened and Brenda came bounding through. She gave Vicky a peck on the cheek, and said ‘Hi’ to me.

“Brenda this is Lee,” I said, “Lee this is Brenda. Brenda, can I get you a drink?”

“No thanks,” she said. “Let’s eat. I want to know what’s going on. Sounds like I’m way behind.”

A waiter showed us to our table, and, with Vicky and Lee chipping in, I started to get Brenda up to speed, while we picked over a bowl a bowl of olives.

“So let’s take this from the top. Ten years ago, Vicky’s reign of terror is ended by the handsome ‘tec.” I pointed at her with an olive. “And you go to jail.”

Vicky musta had a cold - it would explain the snorting noise.

I carried on.

“But before that, back around the time you started, Lindhoffer and Steenrod change their names to these French guys…”

“Which they got from the film ‘Rififi’.” said Lee, butting in.

“Right, which they got from this film about jewel thieves. You serve your time and get released. Eighteen months ago you get an anonymous note. Then nothing for a year or so.”

“Then a few months back I got another one.” said Vicky. “And then that last one about a week ago.”

“Then the gallery gets turned over.” I said. “At first it looks like it was a prank, and your card was left, but then,”

“Then the anonymous phone call to the Police!” said Brenda. I guess she was feeling left out.


“Then you got arrested, and while you were languishing in jail, Chuck came to see me and we discussed theories as to the motive behind the fiendish crime!” squeaked Brenda, who was fidgeting so much I thought she’d fall off her chair.

At that point the waiter arrived with our pizzas, and it all went quiet for a while.

I took advantage of Brenda having a mouthful of quattro formaggi to wrap it up.

“Then someone rings the bookshop and drops Vicky in it there. We think it’s Lindhoffer. Then we set Vicky and Lee up on a date. Sure enough, Lindhoffer tries to spoil the party, but in doing so, gets a knife in the ribs, courtesy of person or persons unknown, but probably the guy I saw at the phone booth just before Lindhoffer.”

I put down my slice of pizza.

“So our problems are. One. We don’t think that Vicky hit either Lindhoffer or Steenrod’s places in the past, so we don’t know what their beef is. Two. We have no idea who the knifeman is or how he fits into the picture. And three, I can’t remember where I’ve seen the name ‘Clarkson-Clothier’ before, but I’m sure it’s tied up with this somehow.”

Everybody thought hard while they finished their pizza.

“Hey, there’s another thing!” said Brenda suddenly. “We forgot about the brooch! That’s gone too. I know the Musuem are going crazy about that. They’re doing everything they can to keep it quiet, but it’s bound to get out sooner or later.”

I stared at Brenda.

“What?” she said. “Have I got cheese in my teeth?”

“No,” I said. “But now I know where I’ve seen that name before…”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

NaNoPost 014

Pat took a long, hard look at Vicky, and then turned his gaze on me.

“To be sure, Chuck, I never remember you mentioning a sister before. You’ve got a young brother if I recall. George, wasn’t it?”

I nodded.

“But a sister. And such a pretty young thing as this…”

He stood up.

“Pat O’Halloran. How do you do, miss?”

Vicky shook his hand.

“Hello, Pat. I’m, er…”

“Sorry, where are my manners?” I said. “This is Susie.”

“Hello, Susie.” said Pat. “So Chuck,” he said, turning back to me. “how’s that case you’re on. If I remember rightly, you’re chaperoning a Miss Victoria Wilde.”

He looked pointedly at Vicky.

“Oh, slow going, Pat, slow going. I’ve got a friend keeping an eye on her for an hour. Say, do you think Susie could wait here while I just duck in the station for a few minutes?”

“I’ll make sure she stays… safe.” said Pat with a smile, and indicated the benches. Vicky sat in the corner and buried herself behind a magazine. I took the pass that Pat pushed over, and hurried through as he buzzed me in.

I went straight down to the archive room, fired up a machine and started looking for the details of the dead guy from last night. The investigation had barely started, so there was ony the bare bones in the case file, but it was better than nothing. I took a copy, pocketed the datastick and was out less then five minutes after I sat down.

I was almost back to the front desk when an office door opened and Russo came out. He looked at me.

“Able.” he said. “Aren’t you missing something? Or somebody?”

My heart sank.

He shook his head in exasperation.

“I don’t have the time. I didn’t see anything, and I don’t want to know. Now get!”

I got.

Pat buzzed me back through the barrier, and I handed back the pass. As I did, the station door opened, and with a swish of fringe, Detective Cash walked in.

“Well, well. If it ain’t the Private dick. Say, Mr Able, ain’t you s’pposed to be keepin’ an eye on that young lady? ‘Cos if you ain’t, I’ve got a nice comfy cell where she kin cool her heels awhile.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Miss Wilde?”

“Coming, Mr Able.”

Vicky put down the magazine and walked over from where she’d been sitting in the corner.

“Morning, Detective.” she said to Cash with a smile, and sashayed out the door.

Several uniforms turned to watch her go. As sashays go, it was one worth seeing.

“Guess I’d better go and keep a close eye on her.” I said with a grin, and followed her out.

o o o o o

We got back to the office, and I plugged the datastick into my machine.

“Right. Let’s see what we’ve got.”

Vicky leaned over my shoulder to see the screen as I pulled the file up.

“Ok. What have you done to annoy a mister…”

I read it twice.

“Monsieur Le Stephanois?”


“Tony Le Stephanois.”

I trawled down the file.

“Age 41. Five eight, hundred and sixty five pounds. Short, dark hair, no distinguishing marks. Wallet contained a driving licence, small amount of cash, couple a credit cards and some business cards.”

I craned round to look at Vicky, who was still reading the screen.

“You hacked off any artists when you were breaking and entering?”

“Artist? Doesn’t ring a bell.” she said.

“Well that’s what his card says, look.” I pointed at the screen.

Apparently the business card read : ‘ M. Tony Le Stephanois, Creative Director, “Art Must Be Free” ’

“You do any jobs in France?” I asked.

She straightened up.

“Well, all the stuff with Gilbert, obviously. But we didn’t take anything. Every one of those jobs was a training exercise on getting in and getting out. The first job where I actually stole something was Hamburg.”

“Well, let’s see what ‘Art Must Be Free’ is all about.”

A few moments later, I pulled up their website. “Art Must Be Free” appeared to have ideas above its station. While M. Le Stephanois may have been the Creative Director, he also appeared to be 50% of the company, along with a M. Le Milanais. And as far as we could tell, that was that. Looking at the list of their past ‘works’, it also seemed that their idea of art differed from mine. They didn’t do paintings of fruit, put it that way.

“I read about that the other day.” I said to Vicky, pointing at their most recent ‘installation’. “They made the numbers 1 to 100 out of acrylic and stuck them around the city, then somehow convinced a bunch of people to try and find them.”

I turned round to look at Vicky.

“Is it me? Am I missing something?”

She patted me on the shoulder.

“I think you’re probably just getting old.” she laughed.

I muttered something rude and went back to reading the screen. The office of ‘Art Must Be Free’ was, unsurprisingly, over in the warehouse district, a couple of blocks from the phone booth. I wanted to pay them a visit and have a word with this Le Milanais guy, but I’d need to wait until the police had been. Turning up before the cops would look more suspicious than we needed right now.

Suddenly a thought struck me. Somebody had stuck a knife in Le Stephanois, and assuming it wasn’t random, then chances are the murderer knew him. It was almost certainly the person I’d seen at the phone box last night. Could it be this Le Milanais guy? It seemed a bit too obvious. But it often seemed that when someone had reached the point where they’re prepared to stick a knife in a body, or pull a trigger, then you weren’t thinking too straight. And business partners falling out with each other? That was as old as the hills.

“So neither of these names ring a bell?” I said.

“I’m afraid not.” said Vicky.

“So you remember every household you turned over?” I said, twisting round in the chair.

She straightened up and looked out the window.

“I think so. I could…” She hesitated for a moment. “I could check.”


“I kept a journal. Places, dates, times, details. It’s… hidden. The Police never found it.”

“Well it might give us a hint.” I said. “Where to?”

She was quiet for a moment, then obviously came to a decison.

“Grand Central Station.”

o o o o o

It took about forty minutes to get to Grand Central. But when we got there, Vicky headed for the street. I said nothing, but followed along. After a couple of minutes walk we went into a bank.

“Won’t be a minute.” she said, and went to speak to one of the tellers.

“Safe deposit box?” I asked.

She nodded. A moment later a member of bank staff came up to her and she disappeared though a door with him. I took a seat and looked around. The bank was old school. Polished wood floors, brass and wood on the counters, a uniformed guard on the door. Not like some of these modern day places that look more like a supermarket.

I was admiring the legs of a rather attractive customer when Vicky reappeared and came over.

“Got it?” I asked.

“Not yet.” she replied.

I frowned, followed her out of the bank, and back to Grand Central. We walked down the steps to the main floor, sidestepping the tourists and rubberneckers who are drawn to it like fat people to sports clothing.

“It was simpler when there were left luggage facilities in the Terminal.” she said as we walked. “But when they took them out, I had to get a safe deposit box.”

“So now where to?” I asked.

“Ticket office.”

We got in a queue, and after a couple of minutes, were at the window.

“Two round trips to Poughkeepsie, please.” said Vicky to the ticket seller.

“That’ll be $58.00 please.” she drawled.

Vicky looked at me and smiled, and I rolled my eyes as I reached for my wallet. I pushed three twenties across, and the lady gave me the tickets and a couple of bucks change.

As I put my wallet away, Vicky checked the boards.

“Platform 105, ten minutes.” she said. “Let’s go.”

o o o o o

I picked up a paper as we made our way downstairs and found our train. It wasn’t too crowded, and we managed to get a table to ourselves.

“Poughkeepsie?” I said.

“Poughkeepsie.” she replied. Clearly I wasn’t going to get much out of her just yet.

A few minutes later the train jolted as it pulled out, and I spread the paper on the table. I flicked through, and on the bottom of page 14 I found what I was looking for.

New York artist murdered.

The body of Tony Le Stephanois, an artist with the group ‘Art Must Be Free’ was found last night in a city phonebooth. He had been stabbed through the heart. M. Le Stephanois, originally Carlton Lindhoffer, recently staged the event ‘The City Counts’. As yet, police have no motive for his murder.

Four lines. That’s all you get to show for a life. Harsh though it was, I was more interested in the name. I tapped the paper.

“So. Le Stephanois might not ring any bells, but how about Lindhoffer? Got any of their precious heirlooms stashed away anywhere?”

Vicky read the article and shrugged.

“Sorry. Lindhoffer doesn’t mean anything to me either.”

I carried on reading the paper while Vicky stared at the passing scenery.

o o o o o

About ninety minutes later, I woke with a jump. Vicky was shaking my arm.

“Wakey, wakey. We’re here!”

I roused myself and looked out the window; we were just pulling into the station. I folded the paper up, stuffed it in my coat pocket and we stepped off the train as the doors opened.

Outside the station was a cab rank.

“Taxi, sir?”

I turned to Vicky. “Do we need a cab?”

“It is quicker.” she said. “First National Bank, please.” and climbed in.

I could tell my wallet was not going to have a good day.

Ten minutes later, the cabbie dropped us off outside another bank. Smaller then the one back in NYC, but no less grand. I tipped the guy a couple of bucks and made a mental note to start making a note of all the costs I was incurring. Someone was going to foot the bill, and I was darn sure it wasn’t going to be me.

The inside of the bank was what you might call faded glamour. It looked 1920’s. The wood might have been worn, but boy had it been polished! It reminded me of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

Vicky spoke to a teller, who slipped off his seat and came out front.

“Another safe deposit box?” I asked.

“Back in a second.” And she was gone.

The First National Bank of Poughkeepsie might have nice decor, but their customers don’t have such nice legs, I’ll tell you that for nothing. As I sat there, I wondered whether Vicky’s journal - assuming she was going to get it, and we weren’t about to take another train to Vancouver - was going to turn up a job at a Lindhoffer mansion.

Somehow I doubted it.

A few minutes later, and Vicky was back. She checked her watch.

“Next train back to the city isn’t for 45 minutes. Feel like walking?” she said.

It was a bright, cold day, and hey! It would be cheaper than taking a cab!

“Fine.” I said.

o o o o o

“Come here often?” I asked, as we walked.

“Now and again.” she said. “I have some things here, and I move them around periodically. Now you’ve seen where they’re kept, I’ll have to move them again.”

“Things? Expensive things? Expensive things that belong to other people?”

“No.” she said. “Nothing like that.”

“But you do keep them somewhere?”

She walked on for a few moments in silence.

“The only interesting thing I know about Poughkeepsie,” she said, “is that the world’s worst film director, Ed Wood, was born here.”

Clearly I wasn’t going to get any more out of her on the subject of loot.

It wasn’t until we were back on the train and heading for the city, that she reached into her bag and pulled out a small black book, held shut by an elastic closure. She slid the band off and leafed through.

“Thirty seven jobs.” she said. “Would have been thirty eight if I hadn’t bumped into you that night. All the details are there. But I’m pretty sure there isn’t a Lindhoffer in there.”

She pushed the book over.

“Nobody else has ever seen that book.” she said. “You’re honoured.”

I opened the book and started reading. Each entry, in copperplate handwriting, ran to several pages, and contained a post-robbery summary of each job. The date and time. Whose house it was. Details of security systems. What she’d taken. What she thought of the place and the people, and any number of other small details.

I flipped through, concentrating on the names. Suddenly I stopped on number twenty six.

Vicky saw me frown.

“What is it? It’s not Lindhoffer, is it?” she said.

It wasn’t.

However I was looking at another name I’d seen recently.

But for the life of me, I couldn’t think where.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NaNoPost 013

Like any good citizen would, I checked to see that no-one was watching and then fled the scene. The nearest subway was five blocks, and as I got close, I could see a drug store that was still open. I went in, staying as far away from the counter as I could and looked around. Bingo! There was a payphone on the back wall. I kept my hat pulled low and my back to the assistant and got to the phone. I probably looked as suspicious as all hell, but as long as I wasn’t identifiable, I didn’t care.

I dialled 9-1-1. The dispatcher picked up straight away.


“Hello ma’am. Can you get the police and an ambulance to the phone box on the junction of Hamilton and Riverside? A man’s been stabbed. I’m fairly certain he’s already dead.”

“Ok, sir, I just need you to…”

I hung up. Time to be elsewhere.

I hopped on the subway. It was pretty quiet and I took a seat and kept my head down. I hadn’t done anything wrong as far as the dead guy was concerned, but I had blown the bail conditions, so the sooner Vicky was back in my ‘custody’, the better. A few stations later, I hopped off and changed lines, heading for Lee’s place. As the train pulled in, I could see there was a bunch of guys who’d been drinking, and were being pretty rowdy. I got in the end of their carriage, figuring that while they were kicking up a racket, nobody would notice the quiet guy in the end seat.

Ten minutes later and I was knocking on the door of Lee’s apartment. His buddy Steve, that Lee shared the place with, opened the door. I guess he’d just beaten me there, as he was still taking off his coat.

“Hi! I’m looking for Lee?” I said.

“Sure, come in. Lee!” he shouted. “You’ve got a visitor.”

Lee appeared in the hallway.

“Hey Chuck!” said Lee, “Come on in.”

The guys’ apartment was about the same size as Vicky’s place, but it was obvious that it was a bachelor pad. The hallway was lined with empty beer bottles in neat rows, and was decorated with movie posters. From what I could see of the kitchen, they appeared to be trying to break some kind of world record for the most pizza boxes in one room. I guess when you cook all day for a living, you don’t much feel like doing it when you get home.

I followed Lee into the living room. None of the furniture matched, and most of it was pretty shabby apart from the big TV with a games machine underneath it. Piles of films were stacked up next to the screen and there were magazines everywhere. Some Coltrane was playing on the stereo. Russo, I thought to myself, would be right at home in here.

Vicky was sat in one of the two armchairs and Lee waved me at the overstuffed blue sofa as he hunkered down and sat cross legged in front of the TV.

“So did you find the guy?” said Vicky, sitting forward.

“First things first.” I said. “Tell me what happened here?”

Vicky shrugged.

“We got back here at, what?” she looked at Lee. “Just before 9.00? I called you pretty much straight away. Then we sat and waited. The phone went at...”

“9.26.” said Lee. “Guy said ‘Is that Lee?’, so I said yes. Then he said to me, did I know that my date had spent most of the last decade in prison, as she was a thief, and if I had any sense, I’d kick her out of the house now. Then he hung up.”

“We phoned you, and then rang the operator to try and find out what number the call had come from,” said Vicky, “but he told us that the caller had blocked the number.”

She looked at me.

“And that’s pretty much it for this end. Other than that I’ve just been filling Lee in on what’s been going on. So what happened with you? Did you find the guy?”

I leaned over and pushed the living room door closed.

“I found him.”

“Great!” said Vicky. “So now maybe we can start getting some answers. What did he have to say?”

“He didn’t say much, on account of having heart trouble.”

“Heart trouble?” said Lee “What kind of heart trouble?”

“The ‘knife buried in it’ kind.”

Lee’s mouth fell open and Vicky gasped.

“Was he dead?” she said.

“Either dead or really good at holding his breath.” I said.

“So now what do we do?”

I’d been thinking the same thing on the subway.

“I think it’s fairly safe to assume that this was the guy who made the calls to the museum and the bookstore. Now. Either he was on his own, and he just got unlucky. Maybe got tangled up with a mugger or something. Or else someone didn’t want him talking. The fact that the phone that I was watching had the cord cut, so he couldn’t use it, and had to go somewhere else, makes me think that someone else is definitely caught up in all this.”

“But who?” said Lee.

“That’s the $64,000 question.”

“So we’re back at square one.” said Vicky. “Even worse. At least while he was making calls, we had some sort of lead. Now we’ve got nothing.”

“Well I wouldn’t say we got nothing.”I said, getting up out of the sofa. “We got a stiff. And contrary to what Long John Silver would have you believe, dead men tell plenty of tales.”

o o o o o

Pretty soon we were back in the office. Vicky tickled Ella’s ears until I opened a can of tuna. Then Vicky got dumped like yesterday’s paper.

I fixed us a drink.

“Ok,” I said, after I’d taken a sip. “The next question is, where do we sleep tonight?”

Vicky frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Bail. You’re in my custody. We’ve already broken the conditions once, and I hope we got away with it. But I think Cash will want to catch us out, and me sending you home alone ain’t going to cut it. So either you crash at my place or I crash at yours.”

“Do you have a spare room?” she asked.

“I got a comfy sofa.”

“Well I’ve got a spare room, so that’s settled.” she said. “Do you need to pick anything up?”

“Nah, I’m good.” I said. I crashed at the office often enough that I had spare clothes and a toothbrush here. I threw a few things into a holdall and was good to go in two minutes.

Dames could learn plenty from me.

On the walk to the subway I realised I hadn’t eaten in hours, so we grabbed a slice of pizza and a soda. Do I know how to show a girl a good time or what?

o o o o o

We reached the third floor of Vicky’s apartment block and she fished in her bag for keys. I held out my hand.

“Better let me go first.” I said. “This has just got way more serious than somebody telling tales on you.”

She handed the keys over.

Motioning her to stand way back down the corridor, I hefted my revolver and put the key in the door. It unlocked quietly, and I crouched down to push the door open. The only light in the room came through the window from the street. I looked into the living room. It all seemed quiet.

There was a breakfast bar that separated the kitchen area from the living room, and three doors off the main room. One to the bathroom, one to Vicky’s room, and one, I guessed, to the spare room.

“Anything?” whispered Vicky in my ear.


I stifled the words in my throat.

“When the hell did you sneak up?” I whispered furiously. “I told you to stay back there.”

“Noisy cat burglars get caught,” she grinned, “Stay there.” She pushed past me, silent as a ghost.

I didn’t know the apartment, and chances are I’d crash into something, so against my better judgement, I stayed put.

She reached behind the door and picked something up. In the gloom I couldn’t see what it was, but with whatever it was in one hand, she glided over to the kitchen, keeping low.

She edged round the counter, and then a second later, stood and gave me a thumbs up. Next she made for the bathroom door. Standing to one side, she eased the door open. A couple of seconds later she disappeared inside, then reappeared moments later.

She repeated the same thing with her room, then stood outside the spare room. A shaft of light fell across her from the living room window, and I realised she had an ice pick in her hand. I remembered the rock climbing magazine I’d been reading earlier in the day and made a mental note not to make her mad.

She eased the door open.

Seconds later she strode out of the spare room and flicked the living room light on.

“All clear.” she said. “Hope I’m not going to have to do that every time I come home.”

“Pays to be careful.” I said. “You not got an alarm on this place?”

“I keep meaning to do something about it,” she said “but I never seem to have the time.”

“Well you should make time.” I replied. “There’s burglars about.”

Vicky cleared some of her junk out of the spare room and piled it up in the corner of the living room. Meanwhile I got a chair and wedged it under the handle of the front door. There wasn’t much to be done about the windows, but we were three floors up, so I guessed that would have to do.

“So what’s the plan for tomorrow then?” said Vicky, falling back onto the sofa.

I leaned on the kitchen counter.

“Well first thing, I want to get down to the Precinct and try and find out who the John Doe is. We get a name, and maybe we can get somewhere. Trouble is, I can’t waltz in there with you, but I can’t go in there without you either.”

“Because of the bail thing?”

“Because of the bail thing.”

“So what do we do?”

“I’m thinking…”

I was still thinking about it when my head hit the pillow.

o o o o o

Next morning we were up early. I got washed and dressed and as I came into the living room, Vicky waved a mug at me.


“Sounds good.”


I wandered over and looked at the bowl of stuff that she was eating.

“I don’t know what that is, but it sure ain’t breakfast.” I said. “Breakfast comes on a greasy plate and consists entirely of things that have been fried.”

“Well I’m clean out of breakfast then.” she laughed.

“Don’t worry,” I said, drinking my coffee. “I’ll eat on the way.”

o o o o o

I picked up a breakfast burrito from a cafe that we passed on the way to the subway. Vicky wrinkled her nose.

“How do you eat that stuff?” she said.

“This?” I said, holding it up and waving it in her face, making her recoil in mock horror. “Bacon, eggs, fried potato, onions. All the major food groups in one handy tortilla. Ideal for the busy detective about town.”

I wiped my fingers on a napkin and threw it and the empty wrapper in the trash as we reached the subway.

“So, thought of a plan yet?” Vicky asked.

“I’m playing this one on the hoof.” I said. “We’ll just have to see how things pan out.”

Half an hour later, we pushed through the doors of the 18th, and I heaved a sigh of relief.

Pat was on the desk.


“Chuck. Good to see you, young man.”

Pat’s gaze landed on Vicky, who’d come in behind me. While he might come across as a genial old sort, counting the days until his retirement, there was still a razor sharp cop brain behind those eyes.

“Pat.” I said, turning to Vicky.

“I’d like you to meet my sister…”