DETROIT ’32: CADILLAC KILL A Jonathan Raines Novel By Tim Younkman
ONE He wasn’t Henry Ford or one of the Dodge brothers, but he was an important enough heavyweight in Detroit to squander plenty of green on extravagant trinkets, the most current, according to the Free Press gossip columnists, was blonde stage actress Mary Ann Bingham. Normally, I wouldn’t have known Willis Ponder from Adam, but he had become as recognizable as Lucky Lindy with his mug in the papers all the time. He turned up most often on the business page leaning on one of his new Hudson models jabbering how the brand was going to outsell Ford and Chevrolet. When he called me I assumed it wasn’t about selling me a new Hudson or to help with a company problem that his own security department could handle. This had to be something on the sly. Ponder’s voice wasn’t as resonant and commanding as one would expect from a top automobile executive, but then again, Henry Ford had a whiney, grating voice. Photographs of Ponder showed a bulky man with white beard and bushy white eyebrows, a prominent lip and nose. He looked like an industrial magnate. “I want to hire you for a job,” he mumbled in a grating monotone. “I got your name from some business acquaintances of mine who know Sid Engel and he recommended you. He said you’re a regular at his club and you are extremely dependable.” “Oh?” I responded smartly. “Yes, and I did some further checking to find you are quite a war hero, ex-Marine, tough as nails, or so I’m told. The word is you were the one who caught up with the killer of that radio rant Buckley back in ‘30.”
I was hired by the radio station to track down the shooter who hit Jerry Buckley, a radio commentator on WMBC. He was shot dead in the lobby of the LaSalle Hotel after one of his broadcasts in which he unearthed the mayor’s connections with the mob and the Ku Klux Klan. I found the guy after a couple of weeks but by the time I reached his place to grab him, he’d been killed too. The cops said it was just another gang hit and let it go at that. “Yeah, too bad he was dead already,” I pointed out. “What is it you need, Mister Ponder?” “I can’t explain what job I have in mind for you over the phone and I can’t meet here at my office at Hudson where we can be seen,” he continued. “Let’s make it at Sid’s club out on U.S. Twelve. Be there by six o’clock.” That was it. He hung up without even waiting to hear if I planned to agree. He seemed quite sure of himself and hadn’t even suggested how much I could expect to be paid. He must have been confident that whatever amount he thought was fair would find me eager to accept. I reached down and opened the bottom drawer of the dilapidated oak desk I had salvaged from one of the downtown banks going belly-up in December, an occurrence that was becoming much too common. While the big shots had tons of money circulating amongst themselves, little of it had filtered down to ground level. I glanced at the calendar, noting it had not even been a month into the new year but it was already dragging on so long it seemed like the year had passed. I retrieved a bottle of smuggled Canadian Club and a small surprisingly clean glass. I guess Mrs. K-- my pet name for Irene Kastor who owned the place along with her husband, Ralph—decided to tidy the office up and actually washed the glass for me. How thoughtful.
I poured a couple of fingers and sipped it, letting the dull burn take hold. I still had a few hours before driving out to the roadhouse, enough time to make a few calls to check out Mister Ponder.
If you knew your way around, it wasn’t so difficult to take a route on practically all new roads, which avoided the potholes and washboards some of the older streets had developed, and missing much of the rush hour traffic at the same time. Getting to Sid’s Sunset Gardens roadhouse was pretty uneventful because there were so many fewer people driving and taking up space on the roads. The depression had its benefits. Sid Engel opened the roadhouse about four days after the state prohibition laws went into effect, long before it became a nationwide curse. All he had to do was pay off the sheriff’s boys, which wasn’t a big problem, and he was wide open. Sid had purchased a huge eight-bedroom farmhouse from a family one step ahead of the foreclosure officer from the bank and spent a few bucks converting it to a night club. He even experimented with adding a second floor sporting club, gambling in a main room and a few midnight dollies in the others, but his heart wasn’t in it, he said. What he meant was he had to pay off the Purple Gang a bit too much in “up front” money to keep his sidelines going. The Purples were Jewish thugs who had murdered their way to the top, running most of the illicit booze in Detroit and even supplying customers such as Scarface Al in Chicago. The Purples wanted a cut of all the action, so Sid decided to drop back into just operating a night club and restaurant with a little gambling room, buying his booze, of course, from the Purples. They actually gave him some money back to rent a big barn on the back forty providing ample room for stockpiling hundreds of cases of “imported” booze at a time while they negotiated prices with the Chicago Outfit. Capone would send his trucks over to pick
up the supply. Sid said that he was pleasantly surprised each month when someone would leave an envelope marked “rent” in his mailbox with a generous wad of bills inside. Sid’s only concession to the vices was a furnished room in the basement where high-stakes poker occasionally took place. There weren’t many cars parked in the lot in front of the place when I got there, but it was a Thursday night and probably not much action was planned for the evening. Paydays and weekends had the place jumping, but otherwise it was a bit subdued. The dance bands only were booked for those particular days anyway. I didn’t see any new Hudson in the lot, either, so I was early, which wasn’t a bad thing to be when you were meeting someone like Willis Ponder. The place inside looked nothing like a farmhouse. The entire lower front half was open with white cloth-covered tables and a dance floor in front of a bandstand tucked into one corner. A long mahogany bar stretching the length of one wall greeted guests as they walked through a pair of floor-to-ceiling frosted-glass doors, a coat and hat stand to the left. Sid had built onto the other side of the entire structure, expanding the rooms and a kitchen, providing several large round tables for groups and some private booths in a far corner away from the crowd. The rear portion housed the kitchen and storerooms. Toilets and washrooms were on the second floor, obtained by a curved staircase near the far end of the bar. There was also a back staircase that led to what one would think was a cellar, but which was the well-furnished room catering to the wealthy gamblers intent on giving Sid much of their money in high-stakes poker games a few times a month. A dumbwaiter lowered drinks to the gamblers and kept the cash separate from the chits. A small lighted globe, dim but silvery, hung over the barroom, while a much larger, grand chandelier, bright and dazzling was suspended above the dining room. Sid could
manipulate the brightness with switches near the bandstand so that later in the evening couples could enjoy themselves in a more romantic setting. He had spent a lot on those particular items, giving the roadhouse a touch of class, making it THE speakeasy for sophisticated patrons. One outside wall featured a stone-inlaid floor-to-ceiling fireplace and hearth which was lighted in the cold-weather months on weekends although it added more ambiance than warmth. “Jonathan, my friend, I’m so glad you stopped by for a visit,” Sid called out as he strode across the empty dance floor. He sported a dark blue tuxedo with a bit of lace running along the line of buttons on his shirt. He was tall and fit but not muscular, with dark brown hair, a touch of gray at each temple, clean shaven and impeccable. He held out a manicured hand and as I shook it he clasped his other hand on my wrist in an exuberant display. While he might appear a dandy, he was a tough guy who had survived in the murky underworld which had claimed the city, successfully negotiating with cutthroats and murderers in such gangs as the Downriver Boys, the East Siders, or the Purples, not to mention the growing menace of the Italian mobsters. He grinned broadly at me as he clutched my elbow, guiding me over to the bar. “What brings you out so early?” he asked as he directed me to the empty line of plush red-cushioned bar stools. “Business, Sid,” I responded, glancing around at the relatively empty tables. There were only three occupied, two by couples and another by three business-types who paid no attention to what was going on around them. “Just business, but I don’t see my client yet.” “Oh,” Sid grinned, “it’s not a woman this time, Jonathan?” “I’m afraid not, Sid. Just business.” He arched his brow and gave me a wink, snapping his fingers for the bartender to serve me. I slid onto a bar stool and ordered a CC and water, grabbing a handful of salted peanuts
from a bowl on the bar. I swiveled around on the chair, eyeing the door and a window to one side of the bar with a partial view of the parking lot. No movement. Maybe I was being stood up over some big business problem that reared up preventing Ponder from getting out of the city. I spun back to face the bar, glancing up at my reflection in the long rectangular mirror behind the row of liquor bottles. I was surprised at how old the guy staring back at me looked. While only thirty-two, I didn’t think of myself much beyond twenty-one and I always expected to see that familiar boyish post-teenage face sneering back at me. Those days were long gone, thanks to the Marines and that goddam war. We fought it, and fought to win, but we sure as hell didn’t understand it. The official line was we were fighting to make the world safe for democracy, but as I stared at myself in the mirror there was still a king in England, dictators in Rome, Moscow, Japan, and some said Germany was headed that way again. So—I shrugged at myself—what was it all about? Our own country was sinking into a morass of poverty and lawlessness, and here I sat hoping to cash in on someone’s ill-fated peccadillo. The war had sparked the imaginations of a gang of Irish kids in Corktown itching for some adventure. So we crossed over into Windsor and volunteered to join up in a special brigade the Brits organized and four of us ended up in the American regiment thrown into the trenches in France.
When the U.S. got into the war, I volunteered for the Marines and with my
combat experience, made sergeant right away. A scrawny kid going in, I emerged a hardened man if somewhat psychologically damaged. I was amazed and often felt guilty that I was never hit by a bullet or even grazed by shrapnel from mortars or grenades. Almost three years overseas and all I suffered was the occasional nightmare, but the taste of fear, the stench of it, comes back.
Now here I was, fourteen years later and looking to have aged twice that, the dark hair dulled by a strand or two of gray. I had shaved off the mustache a couple of years ago so I wouldn’t have to worry as the gray crept in there, too. About the only things I was sure remained the same were the eyes, the same hazel green of that wild teenager, providing a distraction from the haggard look. “May I join you?” The voice was feminine, soft, almost whispery. I focused on the reflection in the mirror, finding a striking, strawberry blonde with bright red lips, elegantly high cheekbones, and slim shoulders wrapped in a dark brown fur stole staring back at me. She had dark eyes, the right intriguingly hidden by a tilted black hat, pinned precariously to that side. Beneath the wrap was a three-quarter length white evening dress with a studded bodice of glittering diamonds—perhaps real—but definitely out of place in a roadhouse, even one as sophisticated as Sid’s. “Aren’t you drifting far afield and elegantly overdressed for a joint like this?” I offered, tipping my glass in salute but keeping my eyes glued to hers. “May I?” she repeated, nodding toward the empty stool next to mine. “Of course, Miss…” I said spreading my right palm out toward the seat beside me. She crossed behind me as I watched in the mirror and swiveled the back of the vacant chair around so she could sit down. “Ponder,” she filled in the blank. “Eunice Dehavilland Ponder.” She fitted nicely onto the stool and in the mirror. We resembled a very unusual, but intensely interesting, couple. If danger was a woman, I was staring at her. “You aren’t the Ponder I was expecting,” I began, not sure where the entire conversation was going to lead, but looking at her, I wanted it to last for a while.
“I’m sure of that, Mister Raines,” she laughed, though it didn’t sound like she was amused. In the other room, someone had begun playing a guitar, very mellow, a band member practicing for the weekend no doubt, his chords drifting into the barroom adding a little more atmosphere to my unexpectedly pleasant situation. He strummed through the first few bars of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” which somehow seemed to be a warning. I noticed in the mirror that Sid had moved back through to the barroom and was whisking past me. “You are such a liar, Jonathan,” he declared in a raspy voice, shooting a sideways glance at the beautiful woman next to me as he breezed on toward the kitchen. I disregarded his admonition. “Am I to assume Mister Ponder will not be joining us?” I asked, offering her a Lucky from my silver case which I carried to impress clients. She accepted, taking a black and silver holder from her purse. I lit her cigarette and watched intently as she drew in a breath, her red lips on the tip of the holder. She laughed and this time it was a bit more sincere, a pleasant, throaty laugh. “You are a sharp one, Mister Raines; I’ll give you that.” “I pride myself on my sharpness,” I countered, looking into her wide brown eyes. “To what do I owe this pleasure, and believe me, it is a pleasure?” “I’ll be very direct, Mister Raines…” “Please, call me Jack,” I interrupted, offering a smile and raised my glass in salute. “I thought it was Jonathan, Mister Raines,” she smiled curiously, puffing again on that cigarette holder. I studied her lips. “My friends call me Jack, although Sid insists on my proper name.”
“Well, Jack,” she paused, “Mr. Ponder wants to hire you to follow me, to identify for him any and all lovers I may engage, and for that, he will pay you a very healthy sum,” she said. “You won’t have to take pictures or anything like that. Just report back to him.” I nodded and took a sip of the Canadian Club. It wasn’t quite enough so I took a second one. She smiled at my confusion and I awaited the inevitable plea to please not take the job, to keep her private life private. She’d insist the old man was paranoid and that she had done nothing wrong, but he wanted to get rid of her and she was being set up. “Is this too uncomfortable for you?” she asked, sliding closer so that her thigh encountered my right knee. She moved slightly, drawing her leg along my knee. I swallowed and took another sip, finishing the glass. “What would you like to drink?” I asked her as I attracted the bartender with my empty glass. “Bourbon, neat,” she said softly. “Of course it is,” I smiled, repeating it for the bartender. Once the drinks were delivered, I tried to turn to face her but her leg prevented it. She made a show of removing her white gloves and letting her left hand drift from the bar onto my thigh. “Am I to assume you do not want me to take the job?” She reached out and carefully brought the Bourbon to her lips. It was hard to believe that the simple task of sipping a drink could be so suggestive, but there it was in front of me, enticing me. She put the glass down. “On the contrary, Mister Raines, I hope you will accept the position and you can accompany me on my various excursions. You can report back on every minute you observe my activities. I believe you will begin your new duties this very night.” She
smiled and squeezed my leg. “I will plan to leave my home at about ten. No need to be hanging around before that because but I won’t wait for you either. Tomorrow I’ll be home most of the day but I could very well be going out to dinner. Now you can stake out my home, if that’s the right phase, or you could give me your card and I will call you when I plan to leave. That is up to you, of course, because I would not assume to tell you how to do your job,although, if you were to wander by the house, I do plan to take my daily swim at about three.” Squeeze. “In January?” I looked at her in the mirror. “Yes, I swim every day. It’s been almost warm enough outside to go swimming, but as it happens, we have an indoor pool, Mister Raines. It is heated and quite exotic. If circumstances were otherwise, you might be invited to come for a dip.” Squeeze. Squeeze. I attempted to ignore her gestures by picking up my refreshed drink and swigging it. The burn helped for a moment. “How long might this job last?” “Oh, three or four weeks, at least,” she answered, her voice dropping into the dangerously-sexy zone. She stared at me in the mirror. Squeeze. “Do you realize how strange this whole proposal seems?” I said. “You are a very attractive woman, Mrs. Ponder, and I would love to watch you as long as I am allowed, but it doesn’t feel right. I think there are some things you are leaving out.” “Really?” she said arching her brow. Her soft-skinned hand patted at her bobbed reddishblonde hair not covered by the hat.
“Yes, and I have a feeling deep down in my gut that says you are dangerous and that I should scram right now.” She threw her head back, releasing a throaty laugh. That was sexy, too, dammit. She didn’t say anything immediately, but then turned her eyes toward me as she sipped slowly from her glass, running her tongue sensuously over her lips. I squirmed on my chair. Squeeze. ‘You’re still here, Mister Raines,” she said. “I wonder what that means.” “Jack,” I whispered, downing the last of my second drink. “Call me Jack.” She finally removed her hand from my leg and reached into her purse on the bar, retrieving some folded bills, sliding them along the bar to me. “This is a retainer, from me. I am sure Mr. Ponder will give you one as well. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It isn’t really a conflict because you are being hired to follow me and just because I know you are doing it, doesn’t make it any less of a job. I just want to make sure that you are the one following me and not some unsavory type.” I picked at the bills. There were three hundreds folded up. “You’re paying me to follow you and he’s going to pay me to follow you and all I have to do is follow you?” “Like I said, you are sharp” she cooed slyly, raising her glass but this time swallowed the entire contents clearly familiar with the process of downing a dose of hard liquor. “What if you are seen doing something that might make him…” “Jealous?” “That, too.”
“I doubt jealousy will be a problem, Jack,” she said. “I believe he is trying to prove a point, and for my part, you could say I’m going to prove mine. You just report what you see. You also can do some digging and your research might uncover some interesting facts to go in your report.” “Like what?” Clearly, my interrogation skills had deteriorated. “Just follow me and your instincts,” she smiled, her eyes catching mine again in the mirror. “Find out all you can about the people you encounter. I hear you are good at that.” “I can do that,” I said picking up the money and placing the bills in my suit coat pocket. “I know you can,” she smiled turning her eyes from the mirror to the real me, her lips parting slightly. “Mr. Ponder will call here momentarily to tell you he was delayed. I’m so glad you will be on the job, Jack. So glad, indeed.” She eased off the stool and brushed past me, her lips almost touching my ear. “By the way,” she purred, “if you come across a whore by the name of Bingham, Mary Ann Bingham, be sure to let me know the particulars. I’ll be ever so grateful. There’ll be a bonus in it for you.” I liked the sound of that, wondering if I might choose the nature of my bonus. I watched her as she moved slowly to the door her body moving sensuously under the fur coat. She turned and looked back at me and then was gone into the gloom of the January evening.
TWO I hadn’t quite finished my third scotch when the bartender ambled down to inform me of a call on the house phone. I walked to the end of the bar, glass in hand, and picked up the receiver. “I’m sorry, Mister Raines. You know who this is and I’m aware I have inconvenienced you but do not fear, you will be compensated for it.” Willis Ponder’s gravelly voice was agitated, almost plaintive. “I can’t get out there tonight as planned but I am going to the game at Olympia and if you hurry I can meet you at the front gate. Is that possible?” I didn’t know if I was up for a hockey game, but if Ponder was paying, and with almost half the population out of work, I guess I could squeeze in some time for a match. I told him I’d leave right away, skipping the part about not being able to have dinner and instead filled up on whiskey and water.
The marquee announced the Detroit Falcons were playing host to the Chicago Blackhawks at eight and I had made it easily despite a cold drizzle icing up the roads, parking across Grand River and dodging traffic on foot to get to the front of the arena. The new Olympia Stadium was quite a show place and I’d already seen a handful of fight cards and a few games of the old Cougars hockey team before they became the Falcons. “Are you Mister Raines?” asked a boy in an oversized pea jacket and knit cap, holding a stack of the Detroit News late editions. We stood on the corner of Grand River and McGraw after I had reached the relative safety of the sidewalk as people brushed past us heading toward the huge brick stadium. I nodded and the lad handed me a ticket. “From the swell inside the lobby.” He bobbed his head toward the front of the building.
I gave him a quarter, taking a newspaper along with the ticket, and walked the half block to the main entrance as the wind picked up, cold drizzle stinging my face. A bank of suspended bulbs encased in glass floated above the crowd, bathing the lobby in bright light. I stopped and scanned the people milling around the entrances, lining up to buy souvenirs, drinking soda, and eating popcorn from plain, butter stained bags. “Here, Raines,” the familiar raspy voice called. I swiveled around to see Ponder standing at one of the doors entering the main concourse. He was decked out in a pricey-looking black top coat over a black tux, white scarf, a gray Hamburg hat, and matching leather gloves. Silver hair inched out from beneath his hat, echoing his white mustache and still-dark eyebrows. In short, he was the epitome of the business mogul, or typical robber baron of the last century. One couldn’t tell if he was cultivating that image to ward off business rivals or if he came by the look naturally. Of course, he lacked the inventive pedigree to be the top guy at any of the major companies, but he was savvy enough to take the second chair in the board room and carve out a little empire for himself. As long as the Hudson backers made money, he could play Little Caesar. I was about to issue my salutations when a striking Harlowesque young woman emerged from behind him, standing with another man I didn’t recognize. She sported a white mink anklelength coat over a black and red loose-fitting dress tied at the waist with a red bow, like a present waiting to be unwrapped. Her platinum blonde hair was worn up with a small black hat pinned to it, no veil. She wore little makeup but had the same red lips as Eunice Ponder. In profile, she revealed a dangling diamond earring that most certainly was the real deal. Ponder smiled. “Mr. Raines, I’d like you to meet Jack Adams, the new general manager and coach of the Falcons.” I’d read about him in the sports pages, taking over the team, an ex-
player from Canada He was a short, wiry man who didn’t appear to be so tough, but one could see the scars on his face up close, little white jagged lines from a myriad of stitches acquired in his playing days. We shook hands. “Now, Mister Adams, if you would escort Miss Bingham to the owner’s box, I’d appreciate it, before you get down to the team,” Ponder said. “I have some business to discuss with Mister Raines.” Adams nodded and moved quickly, escorting Mary Ann Bingham through the doors and out of sight. “Sorry about that, Raines,” Ponder sighed extending a hand, touching my shoulder. “Let’s take a stroll, shall we.” What choice did I have? I moved with him onto the concourse, heading in the opposite direction of his girlfriend. “Now, I have a little work for you, Mister Raines, but on a very confidential basis.” He had to raise his voice to be heard over the eager organist’s rendition of “Hello My Baby.” I nodded but kept silent. We moved weaving through clusters of fans scurrying to their seats. The public address announcer began rattling off the usual pre-game gibberish, filling time until the players took the ice. “I want you to do a little surveillance for me,” he continued. “Like all married women, Eunice has had her share of unhappiness and sometimes marriage is an unpleasant institution. There are sacrifices that some women aren’t willing to make. I suspect there’s something going on with her since she has been acting so secretive lately.” He stopped and we moved back toward the wall away from a line of people waiting at a concession stand. “I think she has a…” “Paramour?” I offered.
He paused. “Yes, that’s what I think. I want to know who the man is and where I can find him. That’s all. No pictures or blackmail is involved here. I just want information. It should take you two or maybe three weeks. Get her pattern down and then it should be pretty easy work. ” I deliberately said nothing as I pulled out my case of Lucky’s and lit one up. As I snapped my lighter shut I looked him in the eye. “I’m not going to finger someone for you to have bumped off. If that’s what you’re after, then I suggest you tap one of the goons on your hockey team to do the dirty work.” He reached out and latched onto my elbow. “I assure you, Mister Raines, I am not in the business of killing people, or having them killed, if that’s what you are suggesting. I might be inclined to pay an individual off to go away, but certainly not what you are suggesting.” I studied his face. He seemed genuine enough, but when it comes to guys in high society, one can’t always judge by first impressions. Still, I had to pay my bills, too. “Starting tomorrow?” I asked, already knowing what the answer was going to be. “Tonight,” he said emphatically. “I’m stuck here.” He jabbed a thumb in the direction of the owner’s box. “I am a part owner of this franchise and I have to socialize with some of the others who kicked in money. We try to be visible at the home games even though the team is stinking the place up most nights.” “That’s not a very ownerly attitude,” I interjected. “I think these guys are a pretty good bunch of kids, except for the two or three goons you picked up. I’ve seen them play a few times.” It wasn’t that I gave a shit about him or his team, but I wanted to see his reaction to a little verbal challenge which I doubt he receives very often.
Surprisingly, he agreed with me. “Well, I guess there’s something to that. Maybe I’m a little too sensitive.” Not the reaction I expected. “How detailed do you want the information?” I was going to say ‘blow-by-blow’ but thought better of it. “I don’t need details,” he insisted. “Just names and places. That’s all. Here…” He handed me a leather ID case. I opened it and there was a badge which looked like a DPD badge but with “Hudson Security” stamped on it. Opposite the badge was a photo ID card with my picture and name in plain view. “Pretty confident, aren’t you?” He shrugged. “One has to be prepared for any contingency, Mister Raines. I can always throw the thing away if you decline my offer.” “Okay,” I nodded. “My fee is…” He interrupted with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars up front,” he said reaching into his breast pocket and pulling out an envelope. “I’ve written down a special private phone line you can use to call me. There’s also a small picture of Eunice and the address. Do not put anything in writing to me. Just call me with the information when you have a name. When you feel the job is done, let me know that, too, and at that point, I’ll forward another two thousand to your office.” I planned to say my fee was thirty five a day and expenses. For three grand, I would be following Eunice until the tulip bulbs popped open in spring, but on Ponder’s timetable, I could be done by Valentine’s Day, not bad for a couple of weeks’ work. “Listen, Raines, I’ve got to get to the owner’s box, but you can use the ticket and enjoy the game if you wish, but afterward, you can get started on the job,” he said. Without another
word, he turned and walked briskly away obscured by the crowd as the announcer was rattling off the names of the Falcon players. I like hockey and the new ice palace they built for this team was a marvel, but I had work to do. One of my tasks was to figure out the angles. I understood Ponder’s motive for wanting to know what his wife was up to, but with Eunice, I smelled expensive perfume and danger. I wanted to know her game and where I figured into it.
Eunice Ponder wasn’t difficult to find, at least. I checked the address Willis gave me and dug out a map that included Grosse Ile, an island enclave downriver quickly filling up with auto industry execs trying to spend money as quickly as they made it. It was one of the anomalies of hard times whereby a few amassed wealth while most hovered at the poverty line. I shared in that wealth on a less grand scale over the Christmas holiday with my brand new pear-beige Buick, a reward from a delighted and grateful auto dealer whose shipments had been disappearing mysteriously. I was hired to find them and it didn’t take long to figure they were being stolen from the plant as soon as they rolled off the assembly line, driven to waiting carrier trucks, and hidden in warehouses around the city. I confronted one crew red-handed and called in the cops. The Buick’s massive eight-cylinder engine didn’t purr but growled menacingly as I wheeled it along the riverfront drive, finally reaching a bridge to cross onto the island, then swung north onto a cozy lane leading to the mansion. It was difficult to see in the dark, but a light at the drive entrance allowed me to get the address on the mail box and turn in. Normally, I would find a spot up the street and wait in the darkness for the target to emerge. Then I’d have to keep the lights off for a while to avoid being detected, but I had no
such worry on this case. I doused the headlights out of habit, easing the car up the drive until I reached a wide spot and rolled the car onto the snow-covered grass. I would turn the car around and drive out of the estate when I saw her make a move to leave, tailing her wherever she went. I would make sure she’d see me in her mirror, letting her know I was earning my pay from her, too. So if this job was so easy, why was I worried? Maybe that was why. You don’t get something for nothing in this world—I heard someone say that—and I guess I was living proof of it. It didn’t feel right. I couldn’t pin it down better than that, but something was wrong. I’d been on some shaky jobs before where I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I tried to calculate motives. On the surface of this one, it was a simple track-and-report job, but there was something brewing beneath it. Icy rain started to slap against the windshield, creating a blurred field of vision. From my vantage point halfway up the drive, I scanned the mansion’s facade and south side windows. Lights burned in one room downstairs and none upstairs. Shadows slithered along the thin drawn curtains of the lighted room, appearing to be that of one person. About ten minutes later, that light was extinguished and the entire house appeared dark, save a pair of entrance lamps on each side of the front door. I saw her move along the side of the house, obviously having emerged from a back door. She stepped quickly to her robin-egg blue Duesenberg J. I revved up my Buick and wheeled it around, turning onto the road and down a hundred feet where I waited for her. Lights flashed as the Duesenberg swung out of the drive onto the road, roaring past me in a blur. I flipped on my lights and pulled onto the road behind her as she drove directly to the bridge and over it, then north toward the city, with me in the wash of the Duesenberg’s exhaust.
I didn’t particularly care where she was going because for three thousand bucks I’d follow her to hell…on second thought, hell was a trench in Belgium and if that’s where she was going, she was going alone. Outside, the wind howled, gyrating around our cars and the raindrops looked like bullets aimed at the headlights. I made sure I was close enough to her car, the taillights still visible and no one had wedged between us. I figured she knew I was the car behind her because I hadn’t wavered from her the entire distance, and judging from the route she was taking, we would be downtown in a few minutes. Even though I didn’t care that much, I wondered what would get her to go out in a storm like this. I’m sure it wasn’t to buy bread and eggs. It had to be something important that she had planned; after all she had told me she was going out at about ten and to be ready. She was leading me someplace and I wondered if it was someplace I’d regret finding. As our cars maneuvered through the light traffic downtown, past theaters and department stores, we hit the city center making our destination clear to me. She pulled up and around to the side of the Book-Cadillac, a magnificent hotel built as an anchor along a planned stretch designed to rival Chicago’s Miracle Mile. That part never panned out due to the depression, but the Book-Cadillac retained its elegance among the finest of landmarks creating a new city skyline. At thirty-three floors, it was the tallest building in Detroit, and for a time, the tallest hotel in the world. Eunice pulled up to the curb and exited her car, glancing my way as my headlights captured her. Despite the rain, she appeared a vision from a fashion magazine, wrapping a threerow Russian sable stole over her long brown leather coat which matched her boots and purse. She clutched the stole with one hand, pulling it up around her ears like a hood, but I couldn’t tell
if it was because of the weather or she was trying to hide her face. She scurried into the hotel’s side entrance and up the stairs to the second-floor lobby entrance with me a few steps behind. The side entrance afforded the benefit of reaching the lobby out of sight of the main desk thanks to a bank of elevators in the middle of a promenade. As I reached the elevators, she stood inside one with the door held open by an elderly operator perched on a stool in front of the control panel. He gave a slight nod in my direction as I stepped inside. Eunice grinned broadly, her light brown eyes boring into mine. The car rose slowly and then kicked into another gear before leveling off, finally bouncing to a stop at the thirty-second floor. Large double-door entrances to penthouse apartments stood in each direction off the elevator. Eunice reached into her purse producing a key, but still said nothing to me. She moved along the carpeted corridor to her left and stopped at the set of double-doors. I heard the elevator grate clang shut behind me followed by a soft whirring motor as the car descended toward the lobby. Eunice glanced at me over her shoulder, tossing her reddish-blonde hair to one side and bent down to unlock the door. She pushed them both open with a grand flourish, raising her arms high as the doors swung inward. I was amazed she’d put on a little show for me if her lover was inside waiting for her. “Isn’t this grand?” she trilled, whirling around like a little girl in a doll factory. I stayed glued to the rug in the middle of the hall, eyeing the other set of double doors but that penthouse was far enough away that voices here would not carry I backed up another step. Clearly there was no place for me to hide in the hall and I wasn’t about to stand guard at the door while she plunked some rich playboy in the vastness of the apartment in front of me. Oddly, though, there was no sign of anyone else in the apartment.
“I’ll wait in the lobby,” I said just loudly enough to grab her attention. She stopped twirling and grabbed one of the doors for balance, giggling as her momentum slowed. “Where are you going, Jack?” she pouted. I pointed to the elevator. “I’ll be downstairs…” “No you won’t,” she insisted, stomping her foot in a perfect imitation of little Shirley Temple. “You get in here right now, mister.” Then her voice lowered to a whisper. “I have a surprise for you.” I didn’t like the sound of it, and I did like the sound of it. She wasn’t Shirley Temple any longer. Almost involuntarily, my feet moved, propelling me through the double doors, which she closed quickly behind me. “Now, you just stand there a moment,” she said, prancing past me into a large living room, exquisitely furnished with gold-colored fabric and deep mahogany trim. The carpet was a contrasting pale chocolate. Eunice whipped off the stole and threw it onto a sofa, followed by her black-and-white beret. She turned her back to me and I heard the snaps of the leather coat click, top to bottom. “Here you go,” she shouted and spun around in front of me. She clutched the lapels of the leather coat and opened it, displaying herself magnificently in a filmy, open-waist nightgown, sheer white with black flowery lace designs in strategic spots “You like?” she asked, shifting her weight back and forth, the gown swaying in counterbeat. A dozen thoughts log jammed in my brain, struggling to order me to escape, that this was a setup and I would end up being the guy I was spying on for Willis Ponder. I would be the jerk named as a co-respondent in the divorce, not to mention being blackballed in this city, yet the
image in front of me was far beyond a temptation. It was a screaming command. How could a man say ‘no’ to a sight like this? “Eunice, this is crazy, isn’t the man of the castle at home?” My eyes darted down a hallway where other rooms lay hidden. To one side in the living room was a spiral staircase that obviously led to other rooms at a mezzanine level. I didn’t like the layout. Someone—anyone— could be hiding in any of those rooms waiting for the right moment. For what? I wondered. She shook her head. “Nope, there’s no one else here. Just you, lover.” “Aren’t you expecting someone to be here?” I pleaded. Bells were going off in my brain as my eyes soaked up the lovely image in front of me. “Let’s not worry our heads about that now,” she cooed. “I can’t, Eunice,” I stammered. “I’m working.” “Yes, you are supposed to be watching me, and that’s exactly what you’re doing,” she laughed throwing her head back. “Wouldn’t you like to do some investigating, mister detective?” She ran her hands over her breasts and down the front of her gown. I was in trouble here. I caught myself moving a step forward again. My arms moved out and grabbed her by the leather lapels of her coat as I roughly pulled her toward me, face-to-face. I felt her breath on my cheek, and she turned, brushing her lips softly, sensuously across mine, her tongue snaking out to caress my lips before she continued on, inching across my other cheek to whisper in my ear. “You want this,” she moaned. “I want this, too.” I dipped my head down and tasted the perfume on her neck. The old Marine inside me was screaming to charge ahead because we weren’t going to live forever. I was running headlong into a strawberry-blond machine gun nest and if I died, I would die smiling.
I continued to nuzzle her neck. “Where’s the guy who owns this lair and why do you have a key?” “My, aren’t you the nosey one,” she whispered into my ear, nibbling at it before tracing back to my lips. “If you must know, he’s on a business trip, I think.” Her lips found mine again and this time she went to work on me. I liked it!. After a few seconds I tried to get an answer. “So, why are you here?” “Jack, you have to concentrate,” she scolded, her tongue tracing a hot streak over my lips. “You are being a bad boy, now, and mama will have to correct you.” I liked the sound of that, and I didn’t like the sound of that. “Oooh,” she moaned, as her hands roamed over my chest to the shoulder holster. “A gun.” She pulled the hammerless Colt automatic from my holster and held it up. “It’s not very heavy.” “It’s a thirty-two, doll, but it will kill just the same,” I said, snapping it from her hand. She looked up at me, her eyes capturing mine. She reached up, flicking my hat back off my head. “Let’s get comfy,” she smiled, tugging at my tie, enticing me forward a few more steps toward the living room. I resisted and pried her hand from my tie, stepping back away from her. I jammed the gun back in my holster. “I don’t know about this,” I protested. “I had better get back downstairs and perhaps you’d like to go back home, too? I believe playtime is over and there is a winter thunderstorm brewing outside, you know.” I bent down and picked up my hat.
She smiled, stepping back, letting the leather coat slither off her shoulders. There was a lamp lit in the living room providing a perfect back light to see through her filmy gown. I swallowed hard, my resolve dissolving. “All the reason to stay in here, nice and cozy, the two of us, Jack.” She made sense. I moved forward again with her. “It’s tempting, believe me, because you are one beautiful dame, but I’ve got to get back downstairs.” I stopped moving. “I’ll be in my car waiting to follow you back home.” “You are going to be awfully lonely down there in your little car, all cold with just that thirty-two to keep you warm. You could be up here in a big, wide wonderful bed, all warm and wet with me.” She shifted again from side to side, her ample breasts visible through their lacy confines, bouncing with each enticing move. She lowered her arms and brought both hands down to her belted waist, sliding the gown open and moving her fingers inside her panties. “But I’m ready for you,” she pouted. “Don’t you want some, Jackie?” Dammit! It was getting to be decision time. “I do very much, Eunice,” I answered, drawing a deep breath. “What happens when your boyfriend shows up? I’m not into sharing.” “Oh, Jack, I told you he’s out of town and won’t be showing up,” she cooed. “I’m afraid I can’t. I am working for Willis, too, you know.” She lifted her hands and parted the white negligee, revealing those perfect breasts, flat stomach and her soft lace covered mound. What I should do, I sighed, was grab her by the shoulders and pull her into the living room, drop down onto the thick, inviting carpet and take her. She wants me to do it and I want to do it. Who gives a shit about Willis Ponder anyway? I could give him back his thousand
dollars. This woman has to be worth that much. Instead, I began walking backwards, opened the double doors and stepped out into the hall. “How stupid is this?” I mumbled. She didn’t pull her gown back together but walked up to the doorway, extending both arms out, clutching each of the doors, creating the letter Y. “Last chance, lover,” she called, her voice husky, sexy, inviting, all of that. “I know,” I smiled sadly. That image burned in my mind as I walked slowly back to the elevators and pushed the button. Somewhere down below a bell rang.
THREE As the elevator glided down the belly of the hotel, I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes, letting the questions flood in. I still could see Eunice Ponder in all her glory, standing in the doorway, wanting me to play. What kind of jackass would turn that offer down? What was the harm in rolling around in the sack with her for a few hours? I certainly was within the rough parameters of the assignment, keeping an eye on her, tabulating her indiscretions. I could leave my own name out of it, as long as I had the name of the guy she really was visiting. After all, she had a key to his apartment which meant she was making a little whoopee with the guy who lived in the penthouse. My job was to get the name of this lucky bastard. “Have a nice evening, sir,” the ancient operator mumbled as he stayed perched on his stool at the elevators controls. He grabbed the handle to the safety grating with his dark, arthritic hands, and then the doors opened quietly. I nodded absently and stepped out, moving to my left toward the main desk in the lobby. Behind the counter, a man looking to be in his forties, with a long drawn face, arching eyebrows, and a pencil-thin black mustache glanced up from a newspaper he was reading. “Any good news in there?” I asked casually pointing to the paper. He offered a trained counter-man smile and shoved the paper aside. “May I help you?” “I think so,” I said. “I want to know the name of the tenant in the first penthouse off the elevator on the thirty-second floor.” “That isn’t public information, and we certainly won’t divulge such details,” he sniffed.
I leaned my left forearm on the counter and pulled a money clip from my right pocket. I was deliberate in taking my time, letting him see the bills as I peeled a sawbuck and covered it with my hand. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Clarence Fenneman,” he answered, a quizzical expression crossing his face. “Well, Clarence, are you positive about your policy? I’m very interested in obtaining this information.” I slid the ten across the counter and lifted my hand. He turned his head to see if anyone was watching and then scooped up the money, placing it in his suit coat pocket. “I believe the party you are seeking is Mr. Nathaniel Sarrow.” I nodded in appreciation and leaned closer on the counter. “What can you tell me about him, Clarence? He pretended to clear his throat. “As I said, sir, we are not at liberty…” I peeled another sawbuck from the clip and slid it across to him. His hand snatched it up like a frog’s tongue spears a fly. Fenneman leaned closer to me in a conspiratorial manner. “He’s real secretive,” he whispered. I detected garlic and some rather cheap whiskey on his breath. “He comes and goes, but is only here for a few days at a time and then is gone for a week or two. I’m told he is some kind of jewelry wholesaler or importer. He carries one of those sample cases the dealers have, but he never has showings here that I know about. He really doesn’t have many guests at all.” “How about women?” I asked, reaching into my pocket for the cigarette case. I lit one and leaned back on the counter.
“Like I said,” Fenneman whispered, shaking his head. “I haven’t seen any regular visitors. I’ve seen him in the restaurant here a few times with other gentlemen at the table, but other than that, I can’t help.” “How does he travel?” “He doesn’t have a car or regular driver, but a couple of times he asked me to call a limo service and a car came to pick him up.” “Which service?” Fenneman went silent, staring at me with a hint of a smile. I took a twenty from the clip and the hand snatched it from my fingers before I could get it to the counter. “We use Michigan Limousine,” he answered slipping the new twenty into his pocket with the others bills. “How long has he lived here?” “That I can give you exactly,” he said whirling around and grabbing a file box. He flipped through it and raised an index card out. “He’s been here since last March.” “Do you know where Mr. Sarrow is today?” “Yes, as a matter of fact I do,” he smiled and went silent again. “Dammit, Clarence, you’re killing me here,” I mumbled and ripped another twenty, the last I would give up from the diminishing wad. Again, his hand went out to take the bill but I was ready for him. I curled my hand to prevent him from taking it “Where is he?” I demanded.
He withdrew his hand a few inches. “He’s in Chicago. He had a train ticket in his hand when he was at the desk before leaving the hotel. He had his case with him along with two large suitcases and a rack of suits. I’m guessing he’ll be gone for most of the next few weeks.” “Does he continue to get mail here when he’s away?” I let him take the twenty this time. “Oh, yes. We have one of the boys take it up to his place. There’s a box on a table just inside his door and they put the mail in there.” “Got any here for him to be delivered?” The desk man sighed. “Yes, and I suppose you want to see it?” “That would be swell,” I smiled back at him. Fenneman walked over to a bank of pigeon holes where messages and mail were placed, retrieving a small stack of envelopes. He flopped them down in front of me. I picked them up and quickly rifled through them. Nothing much of interest, except one, an envelope with a return address logo of the Hotel Cleveland. The clerk’s eyes were darting from one end of the counter to the other, his fingers drumming nervously and his agitated feet seemed to be moving involuntarily. I skillfully edged the hotel envelope from the stack, hiding it under the sleeve of my arm resting on the counter. He paid no attention to it. I handed the envelopes back to him and as he turned to place them back in the pigeon hole, I slipped the purloined letter into my suit pocket. Taking another twenty from the clip, now down to a pitifully- few bills, I held it out to him. “Not for you Clarence,” I said putting it on the counter. “I want you to send up a drink, bourbon neat, to that penthouse along with a single red rose on the tray. Give it to the lady who answers the door.” “A woman?” Fenneman asked in genuine surprise. I nodded.
He stared at me and cleared his throat. “Prohibition’s still is in effect,” he said as if I was hearing it for the first time. I slipped another five across the counter. “Just get the drink up there and keep the rest of the bottle, how’s that?” I turned my back to him and walked away. The lobby was empty except for one man lounging in an armchair reading a newspaper and a woman crossing to the two facing banks of telephones in narrow wooden booths with sliding glass doors “We’ll take care of it,” Fenneman called after me as I retreated toward the phones.
closed the door on the first booth and sat down, dropping a nickel in the slot and waited for the operator. I gave her the number and waited. The phone clicked and Willis Ponder’s gruff baritone voice rumbled through the line. “You wanted to know who she was seeing and I followed her to the Book-Cadillac, Penthouse Number One on the thirty-second floor,” I reported in a monotone. Ponder’s voice was more agitated. “Well, goddamit, who is she seeing?” “A guy by the name of Sarrow leases the place. Nathaniel Sarrow, some kind of jewel salesman from what I gather. Know him?” The answer was immediate. “Never heard of him. You’re sure she’s with him right now?” “Nope,” I answered, giving him a thumbnail report of what Fenneman had confided. I omitted the part of Eunice stripping down for me and inviting me to take Mister Sarrow’s place for the night. “What’s she doing there then?” he asked.
Damn good question, I mused. “I’m not sure exactly, but I think she planned to stay the night.” “Alone?” He sounded disappointed. “Looks like it.” “That’s odd, isn’t it?” he muttered. “Anyway, you’ve done a fine job. Keep me posted.” I had earned my money but was disillusioned with my own Boy Scout attitude toward Eunice.
I could have been snuggled up against that luscious warm body of hers, listening to her
soft voice, feeling her warm breath on my neck, and elsewhere. Instead, I tugged down the brim of my hat and raised my coat collar as I hustled toward my car in the teeth of the relentless winter rainstorm.
FOUR The rain stopped by mid-morning, but the streets remained flooded, creating a mess for everyday life. I had found it extremely difficult to fall asleep with the image of Eunice Ponder flashing in front of me even with my eyes closed. Instead of slumber, I used the time to jot down notes on the case, even though no one wanted a report. Near dawn, I finally had drifted off only to be jolted awake a few hours later by a rapping on the door. I woke up with that gnawing feeling, not of hunger, but of failure. It’s that melancholy thought one gets between sleep and consciousness that sums up a life, balancing accomplishments with shortcomings. It lasted only a few seconds and seemed fitting for a dreary January morning. “Coffee and toast, Mister Jonathan,” called the sing-song voice of Irene Kastor. I stumbled to the door, grateful I had left my pants on, and opened it. I needed the coffee and to look into a friendly face. She stood patiently, a broad smile on her face, her chubby hands clutching the handles of the wooden tray. Irene Kastor, a jovial woman of about sixty, and her husband operated the first-floor toy store as long as I could remember, long before the war. It was a place where all the kids of Corktown would gravitate, especially around Christmas. Above the store, I rented the small apartment and an adjacent office, which had my name stenciled on the frosted glass in the door: Jonathan Raines Inquiries and Recovery The way it worked out, I didn’t need a secretary or receptionist because Mrs. K was more than happy to answer my telephone extension in her shop and greet clients if I was not in the office. On days the shop was closed, a sign would direct a client to an outside stairway which led to my apartment.
She waddled across the kitchenette and placed the tray on the small table. “I know you said you don’t want much for breakfast, Jonathan, but you have to eat more than this,” she scolded as she walked away. “I should bring you back some bacon and eggs to go with it. The morning Free Press is on the tray, too.” She shuffled past the wastebasket with two empty CC bottles peeking over the top and gave a disapproving clucking sound as she paused in the doorway. I reached for the coffee. “I’m making a fresh pot of coffee and will bring it up in a bit,” she said and stopped. “Oh.” She reached into the pocket of her flower-print house dress and produced a piece of paper. “A call came for you. A woman named Bingham wants to meet with you. She said she would be here at about noon.” “What time is it now?” “Nearly eleven,” she answered. “I heard you moving around up here half the night, Jonathan. Did you get enough sleep?” “It’ll do, Mrs. K,” I answered. “When the lady arrives, just send her up to the office.” I sipped the coffee and flipped open the paper. More banks were closing, some of them for good, so those folks will join half the workers in the city already out of work. It made me glad I was working for cash. The rich always seemed to have enough money to finance their sins and foibles, and pay to find out about their neighbors or competitors. I was a luxury they could afford. I finished eating, washed, shaved, and dressed in time to meet Mary Ann Bingham as she walked up the stairs from the toy store to my office door. It was noon on the dot.
I opened the door for her and waved toward a pair of cushioned chairs opposite the old desk. She was stunning with her platinum blonde coif framing her flawless features, her aquiline nose, pale blue eyes, full red inviting lips. She moved slowly to the chair and carefully sat down on the edge as if she planned a quick getaway. She wore a mint green winter jacket over a pale yellow dress, no hat or gloves, and sported a dark leather oversized purse. “What brings you out this cold, damp morning, Miss Bingham?” I opened my silver cigarette case and offered her a Lucky Strike but she declined with a wave of her hand. I noticed she had a perfect manicure with bright red nails and a diamond ring that could cause blindness in sunlight. I lit my cigarette and blew the smoke straight up. “I am very worried quite frankly, Mister Raines,” she began, her voice trembling slightly. I couldn’t tell if it was anger or fear. My money was on anger. “What’s the problem?” “It’s Willis,” she paused. “Willis Ponder,” she added as if I didn’t know him. “He has been acting very peculiar lately and I think it has something to do with you. Last night at the arena, after you two talked and you left, he was very angry. I don’t think it was aimed at me but perhaps you could shed some light on this. He seems to go be getting in these moods quite often and I don’t know what to do about it.” “Perhaps you should ask his wife,” I offered sarcastically, quite proud of my oneupmanship. “I would guess the fact that he has been out with you might give a man pause from time to time to feel guilty about stepping out, if you know what I mean.” She looked around the office as if searching for something to throw at me.
“Let me retract that, Miss Bingham,” I added hastily. “I think Mister Ponder might be feeling a bit of remorse about dating you, is what I’m saying. It happens. I’ve seen it many times.” She frowned at me. “Are you insane?” Her voice had a school marm edge to it. “I’ve often wondered,” I countered. “You fancy yourself a detective, do you?” I stared at her. Where was this going? “You aren’t very good at your job, I must say. Perhaps people hire you to sneak around someone’s bedroom and take pictures, but as a human being, Mister Raines, you are sadly lacking the basic skills.” Now that hurt. I always knew I wasn’t on the A list, but to be told I lacked social skills was going a bit far. “Now, listen to me, lady…” “No, sir, you listen to me,” she said, her voice rising, but not hysterical. “I don’t know what Mister Ponder has hired you to do, but I can guess it is very unsavory and in so doing he has opened himself up to some potential liabilities, shall we say. Whatever he wants you to do, I want you to fail. I will pay.” She bent down and opened the large purse, pulling out a long thick envelope with a rubber band wrapped around it and held it out for me. “Take it.” I reached out and took the white envelope from her but didn’t open it up. “You will find a substantial sum in there, Mister Raines. All you have to do is fail to find what it is you are supposed to find. I’m sure you have experienced failure in the past. If you have to repay Mister Ponder, for services not rendered, I will cover your loss.”
Now I was intrigued. My brain went into high gear as I tried to figure what it was she didn’t want me to pass on to her boyfriend. What could I possibly run across following Eunice Ponder around that would be a problem for Mary Ann Bingham? Now I opened the envelope. It was filled with C notes. “Goddam!” I muttered. There had to be forty or fifty hundred-dollar bills inside. “That’s right, Mister Raines,” she said now with a trace of a smile. “There’s five thousand in there. More if necessary will come your way.” Sometimes you think you know what’s going on around you and suddenly it all turns to crap. My whole game plan with Eunice was in jeopardy. I already backed away from her once without an incentive and now I had a dandy one to keep me away from her. I couldn’t resist questioning Mary Ann Bingham. “I have to know what it is you don’t want me to know. It’s a crazy little game that goes on in my head.” She let a cool smile stay on her lips but didn’t offer a response. “I mean, I would like to know why you don’t want me to go through with my assignment for Mister Ponder,” I tried. “It doesn’t concern you,” she said finally. “But I am curious…” “Yes, and curiosity killed the cat,” she shot back. Was that a threat? I couldn’t tell from her inflection, but the words certainly could be taken that way. Who was going to kill me and I didn’t have a cat? Somehow, I may have misjudged Miss Bingham as a lightweight and certainly she seemed to be a player, one with an avenue to serious cash. “Don’t you think Mrs. Ponder knows about you?”
This time the sternness in her face disappeared as she broke into a genuine laugh. Her voice was deep and throaty. I liked that. “Oh, please, Mister Raines, this is so very entertaining talking to you,” she said and continued to laugh. “What’s so funny?” I had that sinking feeling a man experiences when he realizes his zipper is down. “Oh, Mister Raines, of course Mrs. Ponder knows about me. That’s the whole point. She thinks that Willis is just a sugar daddy for me, that I’m some kind of gold-digger and once I have my hooks in him, well, I’ll be sitting pretty high and she’ll be out of the picture. She might actually have to contemplate a future without Willis Ponder’s money.” “That’s pretty harsh,” I said. “The fact that he is squiring you around town in public, making no attempt at being discreet might give Eunice Ponder pause to worry. She might not lose everything, but maybe it is Willis Ponder she wants to keep from you.” “I know that’s one thing she wants, Mister Raines, but it won’t happen,” she said. “Willis loves me and it won’t be long before we are married.” She held up her left hand and wiggled her fingers. I had seen the rock but presumed she was married already with a taste of Willis Ponder on the side. “Jesus, lady, that is cold,” I said. “I mean, the guy isn’t even divorced and you’ve got a ring…” “Divorced?” she squealed. “He doesn’t need to get divorced.” “Now you’ve lost me I’m afraid,” I shook my head. “How in God’s name can he marry you while Eunice is still in the picture?” She frowned. “She’s not in the picture. She’s married.”
I threw my head back and rolled my eyes. “I know she’s married. That’s what this is all about. I’ve been following her. Willis Ponder wants to know what his wife is up to.” She leaned back in her chair and recrossed her legs. I had to pause and watch because they were damn long, beautiful legs. “Do you have something to drink?” I nodded and opened my desk drawer and took out the bottle and glass, realizing the glass wasn’t very clean. “I’ll get another glass.” ‘No, no, just fill that one up,” she said. “Fill it up to the top.” I paused as I started to tip the bottle but she gestured for me to pour, which I did, emptying it. I pushed the glass gingerly over the desk toward her. “Oh, it’s not for me, Mister Raines. You drink it; you’ll need it.” “Me? Why?” She waited until I at least took a sip from the glass. “Okay, now what’s this about again?” I demanded. “You think Eunice is Willis Ponder’s wife?” I sipped again. “Yes, of course.” “Is that what he said to you?” I had to think about that one, going over the conversations I had with him. I had to agree, I couldn’t recall him ever saying Eunice was his wife or, for that matter, I was to follow his wife. “If she’s not his wife….” The thought struck me like a bomb. “His daughter. Eunice is his daughter…” She laughed loudly. “You are such a rube,” she shot at me. “You are close but she is not his daughter.” “Dammit, lady, let’s not play this game. Who the hell is Eunice Ponder?”
“She’s Willis’s daughter-in-law. Eunice is married to William Eugene Ponder, Willis’s son.” I stared at her, my brain cells expanding and shrinking, wrapping themselves around what I was hearing, readjusting all the facts I thought I knew and sliding them into their new slots. “Okay,” I said slowly. “Then what about Willis’s wife. Who is she?” “There is no wife currently for Willis Ponder,” Mary Ann said. “He has been a widower for nearly five years. Don’t you read the papers? It was big news back then. She died in a car accident.” I took a few more sips as I digested the new information. “Refresh my memory, Miss Bingham. Why do you want me not to follow Eunice?” “Because, he is preoccupied with her activities and he is overly protective of his son,” she declared. “The more information he gets about her whoring around town, the more agitated he will become. He knows that William won’t stop her from her lifestyle, but I’m afraid Willis might become so agitated that he will do something rash. I don’t want him jeopardizing our future. I want him to be relaxed and able to enjoy life.” I finished the glass and could feel the burning in my gut. “If Willis should find out who she is entertaining, then he might do something to that guy?” “I’m sure of it,” she said. “All you have to do is come up with a story for him that he will believe, such as she sees salesmen passing through town or musicians who stay for a day or two. Willis wants you to pin down the guy long enough for him to do something stupid, or maybe have you do it. In reality, it doesn’t matter what she is doing, although we can guess. He doesn’t have to be told. It won’t change the world if his son and Eunice eventually part ways. It probably would be good for both of them. She is just sucking the bank accounts dry anyway, so
if there’s a divorce, she’d agree on a sizeable settlement in lieu of alimony and that would be the end of it.” I picked up the envelope and looked inside it again. It was a lot of money. I held it out to her. “I can’t take your money, Miss Bingham. I’ve already got a client.” I didn’t bother to tell her I really had two clients. “I now understand a bit more, though. I am sensitive to your dilemma.” She smiled and I think it was genuine this time, but said nothing. “I will think about what you’ve told me and I’m going to try to find a way around all this that might satisfy all of us without putting anyone in danger,” I added. She took the envelope and put it back in her purse. “Maybe I misjudged you, Mister Raines,” she said, unfolding those luscious legs as I watched. “I will be in touch again.” She offered her hand and I thought about kissing that diamond but shook her hand instead. It was certain I had misjudged her, too. I also didn’t let on I knew she wasn’t telling me the truth, at least not the whole truth. There had to be another reason she didn’t want me prying into the Ponder family melodrama. I wondered what was so intriguing that bribes and veiled threats were necessary to keep me from exposing it.
FIVE Irene Kastor looked disapprovingly at the dead whiskey soldier on my desk as she set down a fresh pot of coffee. Without a word, she snatched up the empty bottle, turned, and marched out the door. I poured some of the steaming coffee into a cup. What a mess this case had turned into and I had only been on it for less than twenty four hours. I grabbed the phone and dialed. “Free Press,” the voice sounded hurried. “This is Bernadette Robbins.” “Hi beautiful,” I said. “Got a minute for me?” “Jackie Raines, you cad,” she said, though her voice didn’t sound unhappy I was calling. “You stood me up, remember? Why should I talk to you?” “I’m sorry, doll,” I admitted. “You know I had business and couldn’t get there.” She was right, though. I had failed to show up for a dinner she had planned, just a cozy rendezvous with candlelight in an out of the way little restaurant. She always brought it up whenever I called her. It had been two years. “What is it now?” I gave her an idea of what I needed and told her that this time I would really treat her to dinner and drinks out at Sid’s place. “It’s Friday, and there’s a band tonight, so maybe you can teach me how to dance,” I coaxed. “Okay, sweetie,” she said. “Pick me up at the paper at eight.”
With that bit of business done, I turned the events over in my mind again recalling the letter I had snatched from the hotel. I reached into my suit coat pocket and took out the folded envelope. The cover had a little imprint of the hotel on the left upper corner with the name: Hotel Cleveland. I knew the place, actually having stayed there once on a case. It was a grand hotel, one of the early elegant edifices of Clevelandâ€™s downtown, situated on the central square with its landmark war memorial. I used an opener on the envelope and pried out a single sheet with a hand-written note. Dear N, It was great seeing you. I was so glad you could make it for the week. Everything that I anticipated became reality and more. I know we have to keep this quiet but still it is swell just having you in my life. I hope we can find more time to carve out of our schedules to enjoy life a bit. I have to stay here a few more days but will be back in town by the end of the week. Once again, just being with you has changed my life. Iâ€™ll always be yours. Love, B
It seems as though Nathaniel Sarrow was having a bit of fun mixed in with his business, whatever his business might be. I wondered what he was doing in Cleveland in the first place, and then to move on to Chicago with just a brief pit stop at his penthouse. He was becoming more intriguing and I wondered where Eunice Ponder figured in the equation, besides the obvious. It was possible, of course, that Sarrow had girls in Cleveland and Detroit and possibly Chicago. I empathized with his peripatetic co-mingling. In the old days after the war, when I started with Great Lakes American Mutual as an investigator, I, too, managed to pass the evening hours on the road by making new friends. I flipped over the envelope and checked the postmark: Tuesday, January 26, 10 a.m. If I had to guess, Iâ€™d say the liaison occurred on the weekend and that he left on Monday. The
mysterious writer feeling lonely penned the lament and posted it first thing the following morning, unaware that Sarrow was on the road again. I wondered if Eunice had given him a homecoming treat before he headed to Chicago. I’d have to ask her when I caught up with her again. I planned to give her a day off, and pursue my other leads, then get back to her in another twenty-four hours. If I was to pursue this surveillance case, I wanted to make sure Willis gave me some straight answers. I dialed his number and waited. “Yes, what is it?” came the gruff voice. “Mister Ponder, I have a question that needs answering.” “Well good afternoon to you, too, Raines,” he snapped. “Make it quick.” “Why did you lead me to believe I was following your wife rather than your daughter-inlaw?” There was silence. “I mean there’s a bit of different shading to this case, don’t you agree?” I prodded. “You want me to interfere in your son’s life. I don’t know how ethical all this is.” “Ethics?” he growled. “What do you care for ethics? You’re a goddam peeping tom for chrissake; a well-paid peeping tom at that.” Now he was calling me names. I had thought we were friends. “Now, Mister Ponder, I just want to know what’s going on here. Why am I trailing your son’s wife?” “That’s no concern of yours. You just continue to follow her and give me a rundown on her whereabouts and who she is involved with. That’s the job.”
I wished that bottle hadn’t been empty. I felt a craving to offset the anger that was boiling up. “Perhaps I should call your son and ask him what he thinks about my job,” I shot back. There was an obvious chuckling sound coming over the wires, causing the hair on my neck to stand up. He sounded like Graham McNamee: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. Hoohahahahaha.” “Listen to me, Raines. You are not the only schlub on my payroll. I’ve got some pretty unsavory types stuffing pay envelopes into their pockets, just as tough as anything old Henry Ford could put out with that asshole Harry Bennett working for him. We can be quite convincing when it comes to making people see things our way. Don’t go threatening me, Raines. Just keep me informed about Eunice’s activities.” The phone line went dead. Swell! Now I pissed off the guy who was suppose to be giving me a pile of dough and I certainly jeopardized any future lucrative assignments from the Hudson Company. Good going, Raines, you prick. I decided that I would have to think about this for a while. It was after two o’clock and I guess the Canadian Club had the unintended result of making me drowsy. I had leaned back in my chair and conked out for nearly an hour. When I heard the clomping of hooves on my stairway, or at least that was what came to mind in my dreamy netherworld, I snapped upright, a bolt of pain shot through my neck. I had fallen asleep with my head cranked to one side and now it felt as if someone had hit me with a hammer.
The clomping was real however, as they reached the top of the stairs and marched in single file through my office doorway. Scurrying behind them was Mrs. K who was sputtering and snarling at them. “I’m sorry, Jonathan, but these brutes pushed their way through the store and up the stairs before I could call up to you,” she cried. She studied the taller of the two. “I know you, don’t I? Aren’t you Georgie Matrikos from over on Church Street?” “That’s me, Mrs. K,” he said giving her an embarrassed smile. “You used to steal those little plastic toy soldiers from the bin,” she snapped. “My husband Ralph would catch you every single time and let you go.” “Shut up, you old bat,” the shorter of the two snarled and pushed her back out of the doorway and closed the door. “You’ve got the manners of a pig, Grabow,” I shouted at him as I stood up, ignoring the discomfort from the crick in my neck. “You touch that lady again and I’ll break your fingers, one at a time.” He snorted and moved further into the office. I knew both of them, city detectives on the pad to the Purples from time to time. Occasionally they even did their own detective work rather than being muscle for the mob. George Matrikos and Larry Grabow had been on the Detroit force since the war. I knew them both when we were kids, all about the same age. George and I lived a block apart in Corktown, but Grabow lived further east with different hangouts and friends so when he’d come calling with his gang we’d be ready. Georgie and I, along with Bernie’s brother, Liam, were the nucleus of our own Irish clique geared to battle anyone on the playgrounds, whether it was baseball in the summer or hockey in the winter when they iced over the seldom used tennis courts. Other times we just squared off with our fists, Bernie included. Grabow and his buddies
were no match for our little Irish gang. Georgie was half-Irish and the only Greek-surnamed kid in the neighborhood. These two were at odds with me now because I sometimes worked for attorneys who represented patsies set up by the Purples or other lowlifes. We had our share of acquittals which didn’t sit too well with some of the coppers. “To what do I owe this displeasure today, guys?” I asked still standing behind my desk. I had inched my hand to the drawer and gently opened it, so the .32 Colt would be handy. One couldn’t be too careful when confronted by the city’s finest, even if they were supposed to be friends. “We’ve got to talk,” Matrikos huffed, pulling out one of the chairs and easing down across from me. He pretended to brush phantom lint off is hundred-dollar suitcoat. He was trim and well-tailored with wavy dark hair beneath his fedora. He ran his index finger and thumb over a pencil-thin mustache. Georgie had played football in high school and might have gone on to play in college, but dropped out when the war started, going with us into Canada to enlist as volunteers to fight in France. He was mean at times, but he wasn’t evil. To me, he was the kid from the next block over in our Corktown neighborhood. His partner was a different story. Grabow was a college man expelled for deflowering the dean’s daughter and wife, escaping punishment because his father, a big shot with Ford, paid the guy off. With nothing left to do in life, he landed a job as a patrolman, rattling doorknobs along Woodward Avenue. For some unknown reason, he was tabbed to work with Georgie even before the Purples had a hold on the city. He was rather short, but stocky, with a wrestler’s red neck. He wore a knee-length trenchcoat and a gray checkered hat.
“You’ve got a problem, bucko,” Georgie began, drawing his hand absently down the crease of his trouser leg. “Seems as if some lady friend of yours up and got herself dead.” The wheels in my head went into high gear. “Who’s dead?” Georgie laboriously reached into his pocket and pulled out a notebook. He flipped the cover and a few pages before stopping on a page, tapping it with his other hand. “This is it. Got her name as Eunice Ponder. She’s the wife of some auto exec. Lives downriver, out on Grosse Ile. She got dead on the thirty-second floor of the Book-Cadillac sometime after midnight.” I fumbled for the arms of my chair and fell down into it. Both men seemed to like my reaction. “She really is a friend of yours I take it?” Larry interjected with a menacing voice even deeper than George’s. He grabbed a chair and slid it alongside Matrikos. I didn’t move or say anything. “C’mon, Raines,” Larry whined in a mocking plea. “You must remember her. She was quite a swell looking broad. The bullet holes didn’t mess her up too much. Still a great looker with nice tits and a great ass, if I do say so myself, although she shaved too much and I don’t like a girl that has a shaved beaver…” “Oh shut the fuck up,” I yelled at him. “What are you telling me? You think I had something to do with killing her?” Larry shrugged as George shook his head slowly, apparently realizing where this was headed. “We’re just doing our job, Raines,” Grabow snapped. “Maybe if you did yours a little better, we wouldn’t be here…” That was about all I was going to take. I leaped up and around the desk before he could move and flew at him, taking him out with a full flying body drop, knocking the chair over
backwards with him in it. I landed on his chest with an elbow on his throat. I raised my arm up and brought it down hard on his lips, feeling the teeth snap from their roots as blood gushed upward covering my arm. I raised it again to come down on his nose but as I brought it forward another force pulled it back and then another arm was round my neck dragging upright. “Christ, Jack, knock it off,” George screamed at me as he dragged me halfway across the room. He pulled me back around my desk and slammed me down in my chair, but stayed in front of me. “I ought to arrest you for assaulting a peace officer.” “Who, that shithead?” I yelled back, pointing at a moaning Grabow still writhing on the floor, his hands covering his bloody mouth. “Damn it,” Matrikos sighed as he slumped back onto the edge of my desk. “We came by because you fit into the chain of evidence, so to speak. We had to get your take on what happened last night. We know you were up in that penthouse with her. You may have been the last one to see her alive…” “Besides the real killer, you mean,” I butted in. “I would think so,” Matrikos said. “Now you know Larry, he’s got a big mouth.” And a bloody, toothless one now, I thought. “He hasn’t liked you much since we were kids,” Matrikos continued. “Hell, I didn’t always get along with you, but after all we fought in the same war and became men, I rather enjoyed our time in the neighborhood. You’re one tough sonofabitch, but I know you didn’t shoot no dame. Something’s going on here and I can’t figure it out. Were you seeing her or working for her, or both?” I leaned back in my chair. “Where’s she now?”
“They took her to the county morgue. We found her, or I should say a maid found her body still in bed at about noon. Her car was outside the hotel and had been there all night. We reached the night desk man who said you were there, and had been up in the room. You gave him money to send up a drink after you left. Unless you took off and came back unseen later, you’re off the hook. We figured she was shot between midnight and four in the morning. “Does her family know?” I asked. He pushed himself away from my desk and walked around to where his partner was struggling to get up. He helped him to sit in the chair and gave him his handkerchief to cover his mouth. “We sent a uniform squad over to break the news and we plan…” he paused and looked at his partner. “I plan to talk to them later today. I just have to figure this thing out, you know. I thought maybe you could be of some help.” “Why don’t you ask your gangster friends?” I offered. He turned from Larry to face me. “Lookit, goddamit, that’s got nothing to do with this.” I turned in my chair. “How the hell do you know, Georgie? Eunice Ponder was very well connected and rich and beautiful. You mix that in a town like this with the Purples running fucking amuck and anyone who gets dead could be one of their targets. Now we’ve got the Sicilians doing the same thing. They don’t need much of a push to kill. Hell, you know that. I’d bet half of your homicides can be traced right back to those pricks. You guys have covered up their crimes for years and you know it. Don’t shit in my hat and call it sugar.” George turned and looked at Larry and then back at me. “You gonna help or not?” “I’ll help, but not for your sake,” I answered. “I’ve still got a job to do and I’ll chip in this work for free. I’ll give you what I can.”
“Okay, Jackie. Don’t worry about Larry, we’ll square that.” “He broke my fucking nose,” Grabow cried, his eyes already turning purple as he looked up at Matrikos who offered little compassion. “Listen,” I continued, “I’ll come down to the headquarters in a while to give a statement on the record but I want to go over to the hotel and take a look around the room, if that’s okay?” He nodded. “I’ll call the desk and let them know you’re coming.” He reached down and pulled Grabow up in the air before setting him down on his own feet. He guided his groaning partner out the door, but Grabow shot back a look at me and mumbled something into the bloody handkerchief still covering his mouth. I don’t think it was how much he liked doing business with me.
SIX As promised, there was no guard at the door, only strips of tape crisscrossed in front of the unlocked door. Remnants of the waning afternoon light seeped around the edges of the curtains creating misshapen shadowy figures in the long, narrow living room. A blond-brick fireplace at the far end stared back at me open-mouthed, while clusters of oil paintings on the walls appeared valuable even in the dim light. I wasn’t an art critic but they weren’t the massproduced copies supplied to hotels. The foyer had looked the same as I remembered it, minus Eunice’s enticing body. It was a spacious penthouse, with a stairway to another level that wound around like a corkscrew sitting at the far edge of the living room. The thick carpet muffled my footfalls as I made my way through, feeling along the wall for a light switch and finding one at the edge near a hallway. When I flipped it on, the entire room came alive with reds, golds, and greens, looking like a Christmas window display at Hudson’s Department Store. Gaudy is what some would say. Expensive, I say. The beige carpet stretched down a long hall leading to a kitchen, a dining room, and then a recreation space complete with pool table, console radio, and record player in the far corner alongside a wide white-brick fireplace. To one side was another stairway, a more formal one with a banister and rail, it rose to a landing and then turned upward at a right angle. George said she was shot in a bedroom but I didn’t see one on the lower level, so it had to be upstairs. I crossed the room and walked slowly up the carpeted risers, stopping when I heard a rustling above me, a thud, and more rustling. Opening my coat, I snatched the Colt from my shoulder holster. There was more movement and faint bumps like someone running on carpet.
Bolting up the stairs two at a time, I found another corridor with rooms lining one wall the length of the apartment. A shadowy figure at the far end had almost made it to the other stairway. I retreated down the stairs, racing through the hallway to the dining room, pausing for a second. The figure, dressed in black from hat to boots, passed a few yards in front of me after jumping down from the winding staircase. I jammed the gun back in its holster and started forward, timing my move to the last second before leaving my feet. I stretched out in a dive that would have been a belly smasher in a swimming pool but was much worse without water to cushion the fall. My hand latched on to the heel of a boot as I landed hard on my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. The black clad intruder crashed to the floor, striking an arm and shoulder on the open door, eliciting an earpiercing shriek like a cat when it’s run over by a car. An armful of papers spewed above us as the intruder let go of them in a rough landing. We laid there for a few seconds, each of us trying to catch some air. I felt a foot kick at me, but I held on tight, pulling myself up on top of the squirming figure. “Stop it,” a woman’s voice screamed at me. “Let me go!” As I continued to suck in air, I detected the woman’s perfume. It was nice. “Let go, you bastard,” the voice shouted again. She kicked violently, trying to twist her leg loose from my grasp. My eyes focused on her, noting how her thick wavy blonde hair contrasted with her getup. I got up on my knees, still holding her leg and then jumped up releasing her. She tried to scramble backward on her flailing arms and feet like a cornered crawdad on a sandy beach but I already moved to block the doorway. I reached down and grabbed her by her sweater and pulled her to her feet. Twisting her around, I pushed her into the wall, pinning her with a
forearm. She screamed in pain and fired a knee out, aiming for my groin but I moved sideways. Still, it hurt when she buried the knee into my hip causing me to backpedal and loosen my grip on her. She slumped slightly appearing in too much pain to duck under my arm and go for the door. I reached up, slapped the black cap from her head, and pushed the hair from her face, revealing a pair of angry brown eyes glaring at me. They showed little fear as I stared back. “Who are you?” I barked, pushing my weight against her chest with my forearm. She continued to glower at me, her jaw clenched and lips clamped tight. She struggled to breathe but my arm cut off her oxygen. Finally, I eased up and she gulped in some air. “Come on, sister,” I coaxed. “What’s your name?” “Let me go you pig,” she spat, trying to pull loose from my grip. “If I had a gun I’d shoot you.” I ignored her outburst and moved slightly so the light would hit her face. It was amazing. I was looking into the face of Eunice Ponder! Everything stopped for a second before reality flooded back. “You’re not Eunice, so who are you?” Her hand clawed at my arm as she struggled to breathe. Believing I was successfully blocking any retreat from the penthouse, I let go. She staggered a moment but then stood up. She was tall and willowy, her silky blonde hair tumbling down on her shoulders framing her face, a strikingly beautiful one, nearly identical to Eunice Ponder. “I’m Christine Dehavilland,” she said in a halting voice, her hand massaging her sore neck and shoulder. “Eunice is my sister.” Was your sister, I corrected her, but thankfully didn’t say it. She was agitated enough.
“Why are you here?” “I could say the same for you, mister,” she snapped, glaring again at me. If her eyes fired bullets, I’d have been Swiss cheese. “My name is Jonathan Raines,” I said in my best fatherly voice, but holding on to her, she didn’t feel very daughterly. “My friends call me Jack. I’m a private investigator looking into the death of your sister. I didn’t expect anyone to be here so when I saw you, I thought perhaps someone was making off with evidence, which I think is what happened.” I looked down at the papers scattered on the floor. “Now, it’s your turn.” I kept my left arm up against the wall so she would have to get around me to bolt through the open door. She didn’t move. “I know she wrote things down,” Christine said in a low voice, her eyes looking past my arm to the hallway. I couldn’t tell if she was searching for a way out or afraid someone might be listening. “She had a notebook, a small red one like a diary, and she was always jotting things down,” her voice trailed off. A smile came to her lips. “She was so annoying and I told her so because she would be talking to you and a thought would strike her and right away she’d whip out that stupid notebook and…” Her smile faded and her lips began to tremble. Her dark eyes filled with tears. “I’m going to miss her so,” she added, overtaken by sobs. She nearly crumpled to the floor but I caught her and pulled her close. I put my arms around her, surprised at how soft she felt as she melded into my chest. After a few seconds I gently touched her shoulders, moving her back to look into those brown eyes. “Tell me about her diary, Christine. What was in it?”
She wiped her eyes with her sleeves and looked up at me. “She’d put in things about her life, I guess. She’d write about people she met and things she planned to do. I never read her notebook entries, but sometimes she’d tell me about them.” “Anything in them that might make someone want to harm her?” She sucked in her breath. “What do you mean? You think someone killed her for the diary?” I shrugged. “She’s dead and the diary is missing,” I said. “Those are facts. I don’t know if they link up or not but I intend to find out. Did she always carry her notebook with her?” Christine nodded. “I think she had it in her purse most of the time.” “You didn’t find a purse?” “No, there was nothing but I found some handwritten papers in the nightstand. I don’t know if they are hers or what they are. I just grabbed them. Then I saw the dark stains in that bed,” she said and her eyes blinked again as tears returned. “Did you get a good look around before I came?” She shook her head slowly. “I had just gotten into the room, which is pretty bare. I went through the drawer in the night stand and found those papers. I don’t know what they are, but I hoped to get a clue about why my sister was here in this place. I was about to turn on a lamp to read it when I heard you come in.” I stepped back completely free of her. “I’m going to take a look around and then go down to police headquarters. It is possible they have the diary and her other belongings. You can help me search the place or you can go.” “I’ll stay,” she said trying to wipe the tears away with the backs of her hands. I handed her a handkerchief from my pocket and headed for the twisted staircase.
“Pick up those pages and bring them along,” I said as I moved away. The second level was a long row of rooms, mainly bedrooms, some with baths. There was a large main bathroom on the opposite side along with two rows of closets covered by folding louvered doors. Everything was painted white with black trim, making me thing I had walked into a Cagney-Harlow movie. I led the way slowly, pausing to look into each room although the only light was filtered through thin floor-length curtains “This is it,” she said as she crowded behind me, half steering me into the large room. I stood in the doorway a moment and reached out my left hand for a switch. It was an odd one, not the kind you turn, but a lever. I flipped it and the room erupted in a bright glare from a threebulb overhead fixture. I should have expected the sight but it still bothered me. The bedspread had been stripped off and thrown into a pile across the room, probably by the ambulance attendants who were called or by Detroit’s finest detectives. The bed sheet had been white but now had a large circle of blood from the center of the bed to the left edge. There was no blood anywhere else in the room, not the floor or the walls. The head of the bed was against the outside wall with room to walk on both sides and night stands with lamps flanked the high-arched wood-frame bedstead. I walked around the opposite side and checked the nightstand drawer. It was empty. On top was a small black ceramic lamp and a glass ashtray with one butt jammed down in it. I picked it up and pulled it apart to see the label: Camel. I checked the unsoiled sheet on that side and the fluffed up pillow which oddly didn’t seem disturbed. I checked under the bed frame. It wasn’t dusty so the room was cleaned regularly from the looks of it, probably by the hotel staff. I wondered why the cops didn’t take the cigarette butt as evidence.
“You took the file from the left side drawer?” I asked her walking back around to that side. “Yes, it was the only thing in there,” she answered staying back by the door. Her voice was shaking and I could hear her sobbing. I opened it and double checked. She was right. On the top of the night stand was an identical black lamp along with another glass ashtray. This one had one butt, a Lucky, only smoked a few puffs before being tapped out. It had pale red lipstick on the end. I moved over and picked up the bedspread, raising it up as high as I could, revealing a large red stain but in an odd shape, long and narrow in the middle of it. As I raised it higher I could see the holes, three perfectly round bullet holes, obviously aimed at the mass. There was no burning on the edges of the holes meaning they weren’t contact shots but fired from a few feet away, possibly from a few steps inside the doorway. I threw the bedspread open onto the bed, letting the blood stained section land on the left side, about the same place it would have been when the shooter opened fire. I walked backwards to the doorway and pulled out my Colt. I heard Christine draw in her breath as she moved away from me. “Don’t worry, I’m not shooting. I just want to see what the killer saw.” I reached out and turned off the light, leaving me blind for a few seconds. The outside light cast just enough glow inside for me to make out the bedspread. I raised the Colt and aimed, pretending to fire three times. But this was with sunlight filtering in. At night it would be a different story, although the hotel always was bathed by floodlights so its striking white texture stood out against the blackened sky. The shooter might have had just enough light to make out a
form in the bed but certainly no way to tell who was underneath the covers. Clearly, at least to me, the killer had no reason to believe it was not Nathaniel Sarrow tucked away for the night. One thing I didn’t like at all was the evidence that Eunice was not alone for a period of time from when I left until the shooter went to work. “I wonder how he did it,” I mumbled, as I turned the light back on. “How who did what? Christine breathed, sounding relieved as I holstered the Colt. “Got into the place,” I declared, walking over to the window. “We are on the top floor now on this level. The ledge is very narrow here, but there is a balcony off the living room downstairs.” “Maybe he came in the same way I did,” she offered, her voice soft and low. I frowned. “Okay, how did you get up here anyway?” “Freight and service elevator,” she answered. “I was going to pay off the operator, but I didn’t have to. There was no one around and I simply walked in and lowered the gate, punching the buttons myself. Nothing to it.” I shook my head. “I’ll be damned. Not much on security here are they?” “Well, it is just a hotel and one would have to figure people with money enough to live up here would have provided their own protection if they felt it was needed,” she said, her voice more confident. “Good point,” I conceded. “Of course, whoever killed your sister may have already been in the penthouse and was hiding when she got here, or he had a key and let himself in.” I paused to let her comprehend the possibilities. “Or,” I added. “Or what, Mister Raines?” “She knew the killer and let him in herself.”
Bobby Ballentine was not your typical room-service waiter. He was older, for one thing, maybe even my age, and nearly bald. He fidgeted with his hands as he sat across from me at a small table in the hotel’s lobby lounge. Another thing that wasn’t typical, he was missing fingers on each hand, an index finger on the right and the two middle fingers on the left. He saw me staring and smiled, holding both mitts up. Christine Dehavilland, sitting close to me, gasped and looked away, embarrassed perhaps at her social faux pas, but it didn’t seem to bother Bobby. “My contribution to the Corps and the AEF,” he said matter-of-factly. “Those Frenchies liked it so much they gave me their Croix de Guerre. I’d have preferred to keep my digits, though, but war is like that, I guess. You in?” “Semper Fi,” I said with an informal salute. “Belleau Wood and mustard gas and all that shit, hoorah.” “They got me before that, so maybe I missed something worse, eh?” he said. “Goddam mortar shell blew in front of me. I was fortunate I had my hands wrapped around my rifle or that shit would have hit me here.” He pointed at his chest. “Hurt like a sonofabitch, though. I got bandaged up and took some time in the hospital but when I got out they made me a company clerk. Can you imagine that? I couldn’t type with these even if I knew how?” I laughed at that because it was typical of the military, ordering a guy without fingers to sit at a desk and type reports. I leaned forward and lowered my voice. “I need your help, Marine.” “Sure, what can I do?”
“You delivered an order to the Sarrow penthouse last night?” “Sure did,” he smiled. “More than one. I was filling in for another guy, a little extra overtime money for me. My regular shift is afternoon and dinner. Anyway, I did get that first order up there, actually about midnight. A drink and a rose, both under a silver cover. Classy, but no note or card or anything like that.” Thoughtful of me. My eyes darted to Christine, possibly a reaction of guilt. “Did you deliver it to the lady?” He nodded. “I knocked and the door was slightly open. I called out and a woman’s voice called for me to come in. I stepped inside and she was standing over in the living room. I was quite surprised, you might say.” ‘How so?” “Well, the lady was standing there with nothin’ on but a robe, wide open. She had a towel wrapped around her head like she was comin’ from the shower and I got the idea she was expectin’ someone other than me. She was some dame, all right, a real knockout.” He grinned widely until his gaze traveled from me to Christine and then it faded. “Sorry, lady.” He swallowed hard and cocked his head to the side, pointing his index finger at her. “You know, you look like that dame…” “Yeah, yeah, she hears it all the time,” I interrupted, drawing his attention back to me. “You said you called out room service before you went inside?” “Sure,” his grin returned. “But guys do that all the time, as a joke, you know. Think they’re clever and get the girlies all hot.” He looked over at Christine again and cleared his throat. “Anyways, she seemed very embarrassed by the whole thing and apologized as she
wrapped the robe back around her and tied it. I put the tray down on a little table there in the foyer and I told her I was sorry, although I wasn’t. What a view!” “Okay, Bobby, then what?” “I backed out the door and closed it.” “You didn’t see anyone else in the apartment?” “I didn’t see or hear anyone.” “How about later?” “What do you mean?” “That was too good a story to keep to yourself, Bobby,” I said. “I’m guessing you told at least two or three of your pals, maybe the desk clerk, all about what you were lucky enough to witness.” Bobby’s eyes stared off a bit and then he focused on me again. “Sure, why not,” he shrugged. “It was a helluva deal.” “What I’m getting at, Bobby, is that you would have kept a close watch to see if the person she was expecting, possibly me, actually showed up. It would have been within a few minutes because she thought you were the one.” He bobbed his head. “As a matter of fact, there was a guy. I’m not sure who he is but he looked to be a pretty important person. Older, you know. A big head of hair, silvery, wavy. He was a tall one, with wide shoulders. Reminded me of one of those asshole generals we had over there; you know, strutting around like they were the only ones who counted.” “You didn’t recognize him?” “No, I don’t think I ever saw him before,” he shrugged. “Then what happened?”
“Oh, I heard him tell Clarence, the operator, to take him to the Sarrow penthouse. He went up to the penthouse, all right, because I checked with Clarence. That guy was old enough to be that lady’s grandpa. He wasn’t the boyfriend, though.” “How do you know that?” “Well, he wasn’t up there only a few minutes. He came back down the elevator and marched right in to the Blue Room Café over there,” he said pointing to a restaurant at the end of the lobby. “He sat at a table for about an hour, spiking his coffee with a flask. I didn’t pay much more attention after that until I got an order to go up there again. One of the guys was sent down in a secret room we have in the basement; contains all kinds of expensive wine and liquor for a price, of course. He came back up with a very expensive bottle of champagne, top of the line shit, and some fish eggs.” “Fish eggs?” Christine gagged. “Caviar,” Ballentine muttered glancing her way and then he paused. ‘Yeah, yeah, Bobby, stay focused here,” I ordered. “So you knocked on the door again, go on.” “Right,” he smiled. “I didn’t know what to expect this time, but I was rudely disappointed. A guy’s voice hollered at me to put the tray down on the table and take the other one away. He was sitting in one of the armchairs facing the window. His back was to me but I could see a reflection in the window. It was kind of dark in there and he was wearing an overcoat and hat. I got a glimpse of his face from a reflection in the window as he lit a cigarette. I might be able to identify him if I saw him again.” “What did his voice sound like?”
Ballentine shrugged. “He didn’t say only a few words. He didn’t have an accent and he spoke slowly, like rich people do when they are talking to peons like me. Then again, they sometimes tip very well just to show off. This one must have had some bucks because there was a C-note on the tray.” “Didn’t he have to sign for the order?” Christine interjected, attracting a leering grin from Ballentine. “Naw that was taken care of on the phone. You can’t have people sign for booze on the official hotel tab because that would be illegal and bring down the feds. All you have to do is put down a deposit or the desk man may know if the caller is good for it. That champagne had to go for a couple of C’s anyway.” “So who was this Santy Claus?” I asked, leaning forward. He wagged his head from side to side. “Haven’t a clue. Never saw him go in or come down. I bet if you asked Clarence, he’ll give you a description and fill you in good, if you slip him a sawbuck. He’ll be on duty in a while. In fact, I’ll go see if I can catch him before his shift starts.” He moved quickly from the table toward an employee locker room behind the office. I sat silently next to Christine, feeling the warmth of her leg resting against mine, wishing I had the time to change gears and focus on her. “What was that all about exactly?” she inquired softly. “I was hoping to figure out who slept with Eunice before she was shot and whether the sleeper was the shooter, too?” Her big brown eyes got bigger. God, she looked great. Focus, focus. I needed answers from the elevator man and I wanted to know what Ponder did when he went up to the apartment to find Eunice in the altogether. I’m sure that’s why he
retreated so quickly and certainly a drink or two or three wouldn’t erase the picture in his mind of his daughter-in-law au natural. It probably gnawed at him that she was cheating on his son but what could he do about it, even with all his dough? Have the boyfriend disappear, or worse, have her killed, perhaps? I shook my head at the thought because the word “perhaps,” in my line of work means you are just guessing and what you really have is crap. “Here he is,” Ballentine beamed as he stepped up to the table, his hand tugging on the elbow of the elderly, frail-looking black man, looking much as I remembered him on my ride up to the penthouse with Eunice. He had almost no hair except a fringe of white on both sides and bushy white eyebrows. His skin was a dark chocolate and the fingers on his hands were gnarled with arthritis. He wore a green uniform with red collar and red stripes on the sides of the pantlegs. He clutched a peaked hat that also was green with a red band. “Hello, sir,” he said, bowing his head slightly. “Terrible thing that happened. I remember seeing you with that lady. Told the police so, too.” His voice was polite but accusing. He cocked his head to one side and squinted. “They talk to you?” “Yes, indeed, Clarence,” I answered. “I am an investigator, not a suspect, if that’s what concerns you.” “Bobby says you wanted to see me?” I pushed a chair out for him to sit, but he remained standing. “Thank you, anyway,” was all he said in a solemn, deep voice. I guessed that as a young man he may have sung bass in the church choir, but then again, I was guessing without a shred of evidence to back it up. “Do you know who Willis Ponder is?” I started. He shook his head slowly, his eyes darting from mine to Christine’s and back.
“He’s an older gentleman, with white hair and a white beard, white mustache. Has a gruff mean-sounding voice. You might have taken him up to the penthouse level late last night?” There was recognition immediately in the old man’s dark eyes and a smile creased his face. “Yessir,” he said. “I did indeed take him up to the penthouse. He seemed agitated, anxious sort of. Couldn’t wait for that elevator door to open when we got up there. He asked me which one was Number One and I stepped off and pointed it out, not far really.” “I know,” I said. “He knocked on the door and called out a name. He just said ‘It’s me,’ and knocked loudly a few more times. I turned to go back into the elevator and I heard a woman’s voice call out for him to go away, so I kept the elevator door open. He tried to get her to open the door and she wouldn’t, so he marched back to me and I took him back down. He grumbled to himself all the way but didn’t say anything to me at all.” “So, he never went inside the apartment?” The old man shook his head. “No one else went up to that penthouse afterward?” I prodded. “No visitors, if that’s what you’re asking. Of course, you were up there earlier,” he pointed out, his voice still etched with disapproval. “Yes, I escorted the lady to the penthouse and then left, as I’m sure you remember, but didn’t you take Bobby up there with an order?” He laughed, displaying several gold teeth among a full set of choppers, one upper and one down. “No. He has to take the service elevator. That’s down off the kitchen; opens at the end of the hall on each floor.”
“Anyone other than staff use that elevator that you know?” He shook his head slowly. “It’s possible, I suppose, but I didn’t see anyone use it. I was busy for a while and I wouldn’t pay that much attention to it anyway.” I pulled a sawbuck from my pocket and held it out. “Thanks, Clarence.” He took the bill and put it in his jacket pocket, flashing a wide smile at the two of us before putting his hat on and retreating to the elevator across the lobby. I had a few answers to some old questions but now had a batch of new questions starting with who was the mystery man in the penthouse? Was it possible Nathaniel Sarrow returned home without anyone seeing him and where was he now? Oh yeah, there was that one old nagging question. Who the hell killed Eunice Ponder?
EIGHT “What are you staring at?” Bernie smiled as she removed her coat, handing it to the girl at the cloak room counter. “Was I staring?” I countered lamely. I was staring, of course, because she was dressed to the nine’s under her everyday charcoal-gray cloth coat. She removed the black and whitetrimmed beret freeing her auburn curls to frame her face. I’d never taken stock of how attractive Bernadette Robbins had become. I’d known her since we were kids in Corktown where she was Bernadette O’Boyle, but now she certainly was all grown up, working on a big city paper, tracking down a story or two on her own carving out a job for herself in a profession usually reserved for men. She had been married to a veteran whose war experiences led to some mental problems and they divorced. She always had an independent attitude even when we were kids and she seemed to do quite well on her own, keeping up with the latest fashions as evidenced by her black and white calf-length dress with a matching scarf, fastened with a gold scarab broach. She was tall and her high heels elevated her so her green eyes beamed directly into mine. She smiled again, her narrow satiny red lips parting slightly. “You dress like this for work nowadays?” I stammered breaking away from her stare. “Oh, you’re impossible, Jackie,” she chirped. “I changed in the women’s lounge after I was done for the day. The ladies were quite curious about you, I must say, but I said you were all mine. You are, right?” I wagged a finger at her. “Now, you can’t get ahead of yourself, Bernie. For tonight, though, you have my full attention. How’s that?” She bobbed her head. “Fair enough.”
A happy, sing-song voice interrupted. “Jonathan, my lad,” Sid called as he strode across the dining room into the barroom. “You are becoming my best customer, not that I’m complaining. I see you have a lovely companion with you tonight?” “Sid Engel, this is Bernadette Robbins, a reporter with the Free Press.” “I am delighted to meet you, Miss Robbins and may I presume you are here for dinner before the entertainment?” He led us to a table a few steps off the dance floor near the bandstand. The entire place was full. “You kept this table open for me?” I asked Sid, my voice revealing genuine surprise. “Of course, Jonathan. You said you’d be in tonight and I believed you. I wouldn’t want one of my best customers sitting on the floor.” “Oh, no,” Bernie said looking at me. “What did I do?” “It’s not you, but that woman over there across the dance floor,” she said nodding in the direction of a table where a couple were sitting close and sipping champagne. “What about her? “Don’t you see?” I squinted trying to detect something evil. “She’s wearing my dress,” Bernie breathed in exasperation. “I buy a new dress, the first in a long time, and what happens? Some flapper decides to move up the fashion ladder.” The woman was wearing pretty much the same outfit, a black and white dress with a scarf. She probably had a matching hat, so Bernie had a point. The woman even had dark hair, although it was cut short and had no curl. “Ignore it, Bernie, and enjoy yourself,” I urged. “Besides, she is nowhere near as stunning as you.”
I turned toward our host. “What’s the special, Sid,” I asked trying to change the subject. “You picked the right night,” he said. “We’ve manzo di braciole and if I may say, it is wonderful.” He lifted his fingers to his lips and blew a kiss to the sky. “I hired a new chef, an Italian chap.” “Ah, that makes sense now,” I said. “I didn’t think you’d be trying to move up to the high society crowd without a bit of a nudge. Italian food’s the way to go if you’re trying to get away from the Purples. Whose booze are you pushing?” “Now, Jonathan, there’s no need to be snippy,” he said, snapping his fingers to a waiter. “Are you drinking the usual?” “What’s the usual?” Bernie piped up, a smile still on her face. “A tall CC with a beer chaser,” I answered. ‘Good, make it two, then,” she declared. The waiter scurried off and Sid leaned closer to the table. “I do have a few new gentlemen customers who have some Mediterranean ancestry, you could say, and having Giovanni in the kitchen is not a bad move. If and when this Prohibition gets wiped out, I’ll have a swell setup for a legitimate restaurant night club. I’m just getting a head start.” I shrugged. “The Purples aren’t dead, you know. They still deal with Capone’s people even if old Scarface isn’t around to approve it personally, but there’s going to be trouble with those younger Chicago Italians who would prefer to deal with their own over here. They’ll take on the Purples when it suits them. Don’t you get caught in the middle, Sid.” His face brightened and he flipped both hands in front of him as if waving me goodbye. “You’ll never guess who we have on stage tonight, direct from Chicago.” “You sprung Al Capone from the pokey?” I offered.
“Funny man,” he chided, waving at me again. “On my stage tonight is Wingy Manone and his Cellar Boys. Can you believe it?” The waiter returned with the tall shots and chasers. I downed the CC and tasted the beer. Wingy Manone! I knew Wingy from years ago when he appeared at one of the basement clubs downtown. He’d knocked around quite a bit. He had only one arm, thus his nickname, losing his right arm in a streetcar accident as a kid, but he sure could play a mean trumpet. I heard he had a steady gig in the Windy City. “Another Italian, Sid,” I pointed out the obvious. His smile vanished and creases furrowed his brow. “I’m careful, Jonathan,” he said softly, taking a deep breath. “Now, how about I bring you the special tonight?” I peered over at Bernie who nodded and I flipped the menu up to him. “I’ll also suggest a fine wine with your dinner, a ninety-nine Nobile di Montepulciano, perhaps. I’ve a wonderful store room, hidden of course, but cool and dry. It would be a wonderful respite for you Jonathan, to wash away that Canadian crude you drink.” He didn’t wait for my rebuttal but scurried away, disappearing into the kitchen. I turned to Bernie. “Now, lovely lady, how did you do on my request?” She sighed. “Always business, with you, Jackie.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a white envelope and handed it across the table. “There wasn’t a lot of substance, I’m afraid,” she said. “I found a piece that had been in a scandal sheet in L.A., Confidential something or other. It had Eunice Dehavilland prancing around with a few of the heartthrobs, of course some years ago. Valentino was one of them. Before that she was mixed up with that famous party at Fatty Arbuckle’s when that young actress died.”
“So she was a party girl…” “Some would say an aspiring actress,” Bernie continued. “Anyway, she was out there when William Ponder accompanied his father to hustle some big-time players to invest in the car company, which they did. They met at a party of some kind and they seemed to click. She accompanied him back East and the rest is history. They married a few months later, over at the Little Flower church.” “That radio priest?” “Yep, and they seemed to be doing okay,” Bernie smiled. “She was involved in some charity work, but she missed the fun of Hollywood. We might be billed as the Paris of the West but it still is no Hollywood, so, she began to be seen with some high rollers about town much to the chagrin of her father-in-law. No one ever heard William say anything bad about his wife. He was a kind of strange guy anyway. Never really fit in with the Fords and Dodges and all. I think he was happiest when he attended art fairs and he loved the new jazz music, investing in some record companies.” “Not a violent person, I take it?” I asked. She shook her head slowly. “Actually, I met him and interviewed him for a story on the Graystone Ballroom. He put up some money to back a couple of jazz bands being formed, and he likes to hang around there. That, too, makes daddy pissed, after all his work in getting sonny boy set up with a big cushy title at Hudson Motors.” “ Eunice took up with guys like Sarrow, the guy who had the apartment where she was killed,” I said. “Was she linked with anyone else?” Bernie nodded and put down her drink, edging closer to me across the round table. “Actually, Jackie, there was nothing linking her to Sarrow. No one seems to know him, but I
have it on some good authority that she was playing footsie with one of the gangsters down in Greektown. They’ve pretty much moved in over there for whatever reason.” “Maybe they’re tired of Italian food and want some souvlaki,” I suggested, As if on cue, the waiter returned with our dinner plates and the wine. We spent a few silent minutes enjoying the entre. I had to agree that Sid had scored big time in hiring the Italian chef. Bernie put down her fork and pointed her index finger at me, picking up on Eunice’s biography. “Anyway, she was mixed up with a guy named Carlo Lamonti…” “The guy who was gunned down by the Purples in Wyandotte at Christmastime?” I asked recalling the gruesome scene ably covered by the Free Press and others. “That’s the one. I actually got to cover that shooting. It wasn’t a pretty picture. It was assumed the Purples did it, but no one’s been arrested. They hijacked the Italian’s shipment from Canada and you can bet there’s going to be a lot more trouble in the next few months.” Could Eunice have been so blind as to not realize the danger…although that might have been what excited her the most? I still pictured her in that lacy see-through gown, standing in the doorway, asking me to stay with her. If I had, maybe I’d be dead now, too, or could I have prevented the shooting by being faster than the assassin? That was a question that will gnaw at me for a long time. “It’s clear Eunice Dehavilland Ponder had a number of lovers,” Bernie said and stopped. She stared at me, looking me straight in the eye. “That wouldn’t include you, now would it, Jackie?” For once in my life I was elated having taken the high road. I shook my head vigorously. “I admit she was a temptress, Bernie, but being the gentleman that I am…”
“Oh, cut the bullshit,” she fired back reverting to that tough Corktown Bernie O’Boyle of yesteryear. “I have contacts, too, my gumshoe friend. I happen to know that you sent her a thank-you drink and a rose after you left her in that penthouse. So I repeat, did you sleep with her or not?” “Not,” I said emphatically, still pleased with myself, but now curious. “So, you talked to the night desk man at the hotel…” “Never hurts to have someone like that as a contact,” she beamed. “It was ironic, though, when I talked to Fenneman, he said after you placed your little thank-you order, or whatever you called it and left, she called down for room service, too. He said someone was already preparing an earlier order and would be up in a few minutes.” That was an oddity. She knew the room service boy was on his way and yet she gave him a little show when he came in. She didn’t think it was me at all. My ego deflated a bit. The waiter returned to make sure we were pleased with our dinner and to make sure he was attentive enough to earn a big tip. The guitar player I heard on Thursday began with a few flamenco flourishes and settled down to provide gentle background music for the dinner crowd. “What’s the deal with William Ponder?” I ventured. She smiled at me. “Business again?” She sighed and reached into her purse for a cigarette case. She took one out and, gentleman that I am, I leaned across with my lighter. “I can’t peg him properly,” she began. “He’s an odd person, as I said, but extremely smart. I think he could be a very big mogul in the film industry but I doubt he’ll ever make it.” “Daddy?” “Yep, he wants sonny boy to be with him at Hudson and someday, perhaps, to take over the company.”
Well, it all fit, I guess. The son was a very unhappy pawn in this scenario with Daddy Bucks carving out an empire on one side and Eunice creating a scandal-waiting-to-blow up on the other. Could it be he just snapped and somehow got wind of Eunice being in that apartment and maybe followed Daddy there? It was possible, except Bernie notes he wasn’t a violent man. It has been my experience people are capable of doing unexpected things. “I see the wheels turning, Jackie,” she said softly, bringing my mind back to the present. “Are you wondering about William Ponder?” I nodded. “He’s a likely suspect from what you’ve turned up.” “It’s just speculation,” she countered. “I don’t think he was in town last night. I’m told he was in Cleveland this week, something to do with contract negotiations with distributors or parts manufacturers. The automotive editor filled me in a bit and it’s something that can be checked out. Apparently, Ponder’s been in Cleveland for at least a week.” Cleveland? Sarrow was in Cleveland at the same time. Now we were getting somewhere. “Tell me, Bernie. Did William Ponder ever go by the nickname of Bill or Billy?” She stared across at me. “Oh, yes, I’ve seen some press accounts from the Hollywood escapade in which Eunice Dehavilland talks about ‘her Billy.’ Why?” “I just might have some proof that Mister Billy and Nathaniel Sarrow are playing for the other team, so to speak.” She blinked and her confident smile faded. “What the hell are you talking about, Jackie?” She finished her drink and stared at me. I told her about the letter I had seen from a friend of Sarrow, which I had mistakenly presumed was from a female dalliance at the Hotel Cleveland. Now it seemed that the mysterious “B” stood for Billy, as in William Ponder.
“So what was Eunice doing with Sarrow?” Bernie whispered loudly, leaning halfway across the table. I shook my head. “Probably nothing. I have a feeling she may have known about her husband’s predisposition and the affair with Sarrow, plus she could have found the penthouse key in her husband’s pocket or whatever. A woman finding a hotel key in her husband’s possession spells divorce, and the richer he is, the richer she is going to be.” Bernie blinked again and a thin smile worked at the corners of her lovely mouth. “She wanted you to follow her there, to link her with Sarrow so you would find out about the affair without her ratting him out.” She cocked her head to the right and looked me in the eyes again. “She didn’t pay you to be her bodyguard, by any chance, did she?” Now it was my turn to blanche. “You are good,” I breathed. “In fact, she did give me some money. It seemed harmless enough at the time, I guess. I thought she was married to Willis Ponder, the guy who was planning to hire me to follow her. She wanted me to follow her, too, so she gave me some money and said it was okay if Willis paid me. Now that I say it out loud, it seems pretty strange at that.” The musicians began assembling at the bandstand, the drummer already seated tapping his foot on the bass pedal. In a few minutes it would be too loud for a normal conversation. I slipped my chair closer to Bernie, and not just to hear her voice, as lovely as it was. “Greed can trump integrity, Jackie,” she said, her voice turning cool. “Now I think you feel guilty about the whole thing, and that’s good. You have to make things right.” She was perceptive and annoyingly honest, and appeared lovelier than ever. “Here’s what I think, Jackie, and you can take it for what it’s worth,” she began. I eyed Sid maneuvering his way from the barroom, headed for the bandstand to make his introductions.
“She wanted you to discover that William and Sarrow were involved, revealing a potential scandal that she knew the old man would pay anything to cover up. Maybe she could get that huge divorce settlement without having to explain the sordid details. Someone with Ponder’s clout could get that easily enough. The old man would have to accept it as real because you verified it for him. Oddly enough, the old man just might free up his son to go to Hollywood after all and stay away from the car business, given the circumstances. Everybody wins.” “Jesus, that’s a lot of trouble to go through just to make a point,” I challenged. “Why not just tell the old man herself and demand help in getting the divorce?” “That’s where you come in, Jackie,” she said, her voice turning more businesslike. “You are the objective observer in all this. Like I said, he would have to accept your findings. It was a pretty good scheme on Eunice’s part, don’t you think?
Her only miscalculation was getting
shot dead in Sarrow’s penthouse.” I smiled at her. “You are beautiful when you talk murder.” She wrinkled her nose at me and reached out to touch my hand. I called that progress. “I don’t think she had met Sarrow only that he and her husband were getting together, probably in that very penthouse….” “The same bed perhaps,” I interjected. “No doubt,” she continued. “So if she got the key from her husband’s hiding place in their home all she had to do was find out if Sarrow was home. If he was there, she might have changed gears and gone with a different plan, but he wasn’t in town, which she learned from the hotel desk man.
She knew her husband wasn’t home yet, probably returning from Cleveland
the next day or so, which meant she had you to herself. All you had to do was to see her get into that penthouse and call Daddy Warbucks.”
“I was a rube, is what you’re saying.” “Yes, a rube, but a ruggedly handsome one. How come she didn’t get you into that bed with her? It would be so out of character for you to decline such an invitation.” I started to reply when Sid’s voice bellowed from the microphone at the bandstand. “Ladies and Gents,” he called out. “I’m your host for the evening, Sid Engel, and we are fortunate tonight at the Country Gardens to have some of the finest musicians in the land gather here on our bandstand. Direct from The Cellar club in Chicago let me introduce Joseph “Wingy” Manone and his Cellar Boys, one of the hottest jazz groups in America. Let’s hear it,” he shouted and clapped his hands to ignite the applause. .
Manone marched up to the stage and I’d bet no one in the audience could tell at first that
his right arm was a prosthetic. He clutched the microphone with his left hand and leaned in. “Hi, folks, thanks for the warm welcome. We’re going to start off with one of our biggest hits, the ‘Tar Paper Stomp.’” The tempo was fast and bouncy. Bernie moved closer, swinging her chair around so we were side-by-side, leaning up to my ear. I felt her warm breath on my skin. “You didn’t get involved with her, did you,” she said. It wasn’t a question, either. She really believed that I had a shred of integrity remaining, leaving me elated at the prospect of her trust. That was out of character for me, but I liked it. I shook my head slowly, deliberately. “I’m proud of you, Jackie. Let’s get some more wine.” I put my hand up and Sid strode over from the side of the bandstand. “Great, just great, aren’t they?” “Yes, Sid, now bring us some more of that expensive stuff?”
We listened to the song, and I had to admit it was one of the best I’d heard in a long time, even from Jean Goldkette’s crew down at the Graystone. We sipped some of the wine Sid dutifully delivered and watched a few couples on the dance floor. As the song ended, Manone moved to the microphone again. “Let’s get everyone out there for this one.” The little jazz band eased into a slow, easy rhythm with “Stardust.” Bernie’s breath was on my ear again as she hugged my arm and pressed close. “Let’s dance,” she whispered. Before I could protest, she had my hand and was pulling me from my seat. She moved against me, swaying slightly. It was more than enough to wipe away any thoughts of Willis and Eunice Ponder and a case that was getting crazier by the hour. A few minutes holding Bernadette Robbins tightly created something nice in a world that otherwise was not so nice. I kept holding her close even when the band stopped momentarily. I heard Wingy at the microphone saying something about going upbeat with “Melancholy Baby.” A clarinet started to swing with the hot rendition of the familiar tune but my feet weren’t about to keep up. It felt great holding Bernie close and I wasn’t letting her go. “Hey,” she whispered in my ear. “You’re not keeping up with the song.” We were barely moving. “I don’t care,” I said and pressed her close again. Other couples on the floor ignored us, swinging to the hot rhythm, passing us by, swirling around us. To me, there was nothing but the two of us. The final chorus ended abruptly and the whole place erupted in appreciation, which prompted Wingy to take the microphone again.
“My good friend, Bix Beiderbecke, whom I miss greatly, recorded one of the best darn dance tunes I’ve ever heard and he played it often right here in Detroit, at the Graystone Ballroom. We’re going to pay tribute to Bix right now with his “Wa Da Da, Everybody’s Doin’ It Now.” With that, the drums went into a double-time frenzy and the crowd roared its approval. “Don’t tell me the great Jackie Raines is too chicken to tear it up on the hardwood?” Bernie chided as I tried to guide her back to the table. “I think it’s a good time for us to sneak out,” I shrugged continuing to move off the dance floor. She laughed at that, a little trill that was quite inviting. “Okay, but someday I’m going to get you out there.” We got our coats at the check room and she paused in the barroom door listening to the music. “That is really great, Jackie. Thanks for bringing me here. I enjoyed it…” Interrupting her, I bent down and kissed her lightly at first and she grabbed my coat lapels in her hands and pulled me to her. We kissed again more urgently. “Let’s go,” she whispered. “The band is hot and so am I.” She surprised me with that kind of talk. I liked it.
“Give me a minute,” Bernie said as she squeezed my arm and moved away toward the ladies’ lounge across from the bar. I ordered a two-finger CC from the bartender while I waited and throwing down a fin. The band was broiling with “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and I was about to down the double shot when I felt someone tug on my elbow. “Excuse me, but could you help me a moment,” a woman’s voice rose over the din of the music and the crowd on the dance floor. I wheeled around to encounter the woman in Bernie’s black and white dress. She was a bit shorter than Bernie but fairly attractive with wide dark eyes and muted red lipstick. “I’m having trouble getting my car to start and I thought someone here could help me.” She smiled hopefully and I glanced around but Bernie hadn’t come out. I turned to the bartender. “Tell my lady friend I’m outside when she comes out of the ladies’ room. Keep the change.” I pushed the five toward him and he smiled appreciatively. Outside, the rain had started up again, a drizzle more than a downpour. It still wasn’t cold enough to snow. “It’s the first one in the row over there,” she said pointing to a dark blue Chevrolet at the front end of a long row of cars. Sid’s place was set back from the road and the ground in between was mostly a gravel parking lot. We moved down the four stairs to the ground when I heard a car coming. A long green sedan had veered off US-12 and hurtled down the gravel drive, hardly slowing at all. I could
hear the engine rev as the driver hit the clutch skidding sideways in front of the club as it stopped. For a moment there was silence, but I knew what was about to happen. I reached out, tightly clutching the womanâ€™s arm to swing her around behind me but I was a second too late as the staccato burst from the Tommy gun in the rear window sprayed jagged line of lead at us. The woman screamed as bullets hit her, ripping her from my grasp as she tumbled to the wet ground. I fell to my left away from her as second burst churned up stone and mud in front of me. A red-hot bullet pierced my pantleg burning a path along my thigh before continuing on into the wooden railing behind me. My hand flew inside my jacket for the Colt when I suddenly remembered I had left it in the glove box of my car. I reached down and grabbed my .32 special from an ankle holster and returned fire, squeezing off shots in quick succession, peppering the car and gunmen inside. The first bullet hit the roof but the next two whistled straight into the rear window, hitting the guy with the machine gun, his blood gushing down the side of the door as he pitched forward, his head protruding from the window. Another bullet went through the rolled-up driverâ€™s window, shattering the glass and he fell forward onto the steering wheel, the horn bleating as weight pinned down the bar. Within seconds, the driverâ€™s door flew open and the a lifeless body fell out, thudding onto the gravel. The surviving gangster slid over and slammed his foot on the accelerator, sticking a pistol out the jagged window and firing wildly in my direction. I rolled once and fired my last two rounds at him, hitting the door frame as he gunned the Chevy down the drive and onto the highway. I jumped up and ran towards my car, keeping my eyes on the speeding Chevy as it barreled back towards town. I reached my Buick, fumbling for my keys in my pocket. I got the
door open and snatched the Colt from the glove box. I didn’t know if I needed it for another possible run at me, but if the bastards came back, I’d be ready. I looked back at the front of Sid’s place. No one had ventured out except for Bernie who paused for a second to see the dead woman glaring up at her and then moved as fast as she her high-heels allowed. She reached me and stopped, scanning me up and down, her eyes freezing at the point on the outside of my right thigh where blood was leaking down, soaking the pantleg. “Jesus, Jackie,” she shrieked and then looked into my eyes. “I’m okay, honey, really,” I said. “It’s not as bad as it looks, but I don’t know about her.” I pointed back toward the side of the steps where the woman had fallen and didn’t seem to have moved at all. “I think she’s dead, Jack,” Bernie said softly. Sid opened the door and rushed onto the porch looking around nervously. The music behind him had stopped but still no one had come out to help. “I called the sheriff and he’s getting his boys out here along with an ambulance,” Sid called to me. Bernie and I moved from the row of cars slowly toward the roadhouse. I turned and walked a few steps backwards, my right arm cocked with the Colt ready for a return engagement, but no one was coming. Sid moved cautiously down the steps, slowly bending down next to the woman. He tugged on her shoulder, but there was no response as he pulled her toward him as if trying to pick her up. The front of the black and white dress was soaked in red. The only part of her that still resembled Bernie was her hat, an identical beret of white on black, tilted smartly to the right. We reached them and stopped.
“She’s dead,” Sid said, his voice cracking as he clutched her tightly in his arms. “She’s dead.” He shuddered as tears streaked down his cheeks. He looked up at me, his eyes blinded by the tears. “How could this have happened?” “One of us was too close to something,” Bernie said softly, both of her hands glued to my arm. The burning pain began to hit me now, traveling from the wound up my leg to my groin and slammed into the pit of my stomach. I bent down and looked at the hole in my pants. I spread it open a bit to see the wound, a gash that stretched above the knee across the outside of the leg. At least the bullet wasn’t in me and the bleeding actually had slowed. I took out my white handkerchief and Bernie stopped down to hold it to my leg. I took my belt from my pants and she wrapped it around the white cloth, tying it into a crude knot. It would hold for a few minutes at least. I turned and looked at the asshole still on the ground, a bullet hole in the right side of his neck that appeared to travel upward. I thought my shot had hit him but I was wrong. He was hit from the other side, meaning the guy inside the car next to him had shot him. As I moved close to him I could see that the bullet had traveled from his neck through his brain and exited at the top left side of his skull. I didn’t recognize him. He looked young, under twenty. “Sid,” I shouted. He still was holding the woman and crying. “Sid, goddamit, get over here,” I snarled at him. “Put the woman down. There’s nothing you can do for her.” Numbly, he let the woman slump back to the ground and he shambled my way, her blood coating his shirt and jacket.
“Recognize this chump?” I asked, pushing the dead driver over onto his back, a snarling grin still etched onto his face. Sid shook his head slowly and stopped. His eyes seemed to focus. “Yes, I do, Jonathan.” “Well?” “He’s one of Capone’s men from Chicago,” Sid muttered. “He’d drive one of the trucks that would pick up the booze out in the barn from the Purples. They’d come over with a convoy of five or six trucks and load up the cases and off they’d go. This time, though, they were hanging around town before going back to Chicago. I saw them over in Dearborn.” “Know his name?” “Not specifically, but three of them are brothers with the last name of Corelli. There’s Frederico, Gino and Tony. I only know that because I got a call from Frank Nitti in Chicago, Capone’s underboss, who told me they’d be here along with a few others to pick up some supplies. This is one of them, for sure, but I never knew which was which. They were supposed to take the shipment back to Chicago tomorrow.” “Well, now there are two fewer assholes because I know I got another one at least,” I told him. “I put down the shooter for sure. I don’t know if I hit anyone else in the car. At least one of them was able to drive the car after he pushed this one out from behind the wheel.” “Well, you must have gotten this one, too, Jonathan, because he certainly is shot dead,” he said, nodding at the dead driver. “That would have been quite a trick, Sid, because I would have had to curve my bullet around the back of his head to travel up through his right ear into his brain,” I said, pointing at the wound. “I don’t know if I hit him at all, but his partner did the work for me, for whatever reason.” I didn’t feel like rolling him over to see if he had any of my bullets in him. There’d be
time enough for that when they dragged his ass onto a stainless steel slab in the county morgue. “They must want you badly,” Sid said, his voice now almost normal but filled with concern. “You’d better wait inside and we can put some fresh dressing on that wound until you can get to a doctor.” I nodded but I wasn’t sure it was over. “How did they know Bernie and I were here?” I asked, turning to him. “I mean, they had to have been waiting up there on the road and when we walked out, they came in blasting. It wasn’t just lucky timing on their part. They had to have a tip.” Sid stared at me and his face went pale. “Good Lord,” he breathed. “You don’t suspect I had something to do…” “Of course not, Sid,” I snapped, the anger spilling out, “but someone inside, probably a customer saw us and made a call. You have to find out if anyone was using one of your phones.” “I don’t know. I was all over the place, but Frankie, the bartender might have seen something.” I didn’t know Frankie the Bartender and could only hope that he wasn’t the one who was doing the tipping. “You trust Frankie?” I asked as he helped me move up the stairs and through the front door. He shrugged. “I don’t trust anyone, except myself and you, Jonathan. As far as Frankie goes, he’s been pretty good as a backup. The regular night guy, Ethan, the one you see in here a lot, was sick, or at least he called in sick earlier today. Frankie’s related to my wife, a distant cousin I think, so I give him work when I can. Anyway, he hasn’t given me any cause to worry about him.”
“Let’s hear what he has to say first,” I declared. “I need another couple of fingers of CC anyway.” Sid stood in the middle of his barroom, staring down at his red-coated hands. “I’ve got her blood on me,” he whispered. “Go to your office, Sid, and wash up. It’ll be okay. You did fine and everything will sort itself out, okay?” He nodded slowly and wandered off towards his office. I walked in to the dining area and grabbed the edge of a tablecloth, pulling it toward me and letting the dishes crash on the floor. I took it outside and laid it over the dead woman, covering her face and body. I guided Bernie back inside the bar and she sagged down onto one of the stools.
customers were moving now, trying to get away before the deputies arrived. No one wanted their names in the paper as witnesses in something like this, even if none of them saw anything. The band had packed up, the musicians carrying their instruments out the back to a waiting bus. I signaled Frankie for another double-shot from the bar and downed it as quickly as he set it down. “What’s your full name, Frankie?” I asked trying not to be too demanding. He blinked and threw a white towel over his shoulder. He wore a white shirt, red vest, and black bow tie. He was tall with a shaggy mustache, black hair combed straight back, and his face was scarred possibly from the war. “Frank Sussman,” he responded in a deep, clear voice. “You’re not the usual bartender, at least the one I see in here quite a bit,” I coaxed, fishing for more information. “That’s right,” he said. “I know you, though. You’re that private dick what’s a friend of the boss, so I guess you’re okay.”
“Well, thanks, Frankie. I think your swell, too. I need a little information, though. Did anyone come in here looking to use the phone, say, about the time the band started playing?” “I was pretty busy,” he answered and leaned his elbows on the bar in front of him. “I know a couple of people came in for the phone. I have one on the end of the bar. I’m supposed to charge a nickel, but when it gets busy I don’t always catch them. Let me see.” He lifted one hand and rubbed his neck. The hustles never stopped. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a fin. I slid it onto the bar. “This help?” His hand dropped down on top if the fiver. “Oh yeah,” he said, his eyes brightening. “There was a gent who wandered in here. He wore a brown suit, white shirt, brown vest, light green tie. He had a pug nose, like a boxer, a scar above his lip, and spoke with an accent but I couldn’t tell what kind. It wasn’t Yiddish, I can vouch for that.” He smiled. “Shit,” I muttered and pulled out another ten. “Oh yeah, now I remember. I think it was an Italian accent. I’m sure of it.” I nodded but didn’t move. He looked down as if waiting for another bill to fall out of my pocket. It wasn’t going to happen. “Now, Frankie,” I said, letting my voice crank up a few notches as I clutched the hammerless in my right hand, slapping it on the bar. “I’ve been pretty patient with you and I think it’s time you tell me everything you fucking know or I swear I’ll use this Colt and blow your eyeballs onto the mirror behind you.” My leg throbbed as the anger broiled up. He gulped and his eyes flickered, searching for help that wasn’t going to come. His head dipped. “Okay, okay,” he bleated. “The guy’s name is Gino Corelli, from Chicago.” “Did you hear anything about who he was calling or what he said?”
He shook his head vigorously. “No, he spoke Italian. I don’t know who he talked to but he had a piece of paper he put on the bar. He left it there and I swept it off and put it in the basket.” He bent down and picked up a wire basket. He reached in a hand and swirled it around, grabbing pieces of paper and throwing them on the floor. “Here it is.” He held up a crumpled piece of paper. I unfolded it and laid it on the bar. There was a phone number and a few scribbled words. I don’t know Italian either but the words were decipherable. “Vestito,” I read aloud. “Nero e bianco” I knew bianco, from wine bottles. I turned to Sid who had shuffled back through the barroom, all washed and wearing a clean white shirt. “You know these words?” I turned the paper to face him. He took it. “Ah, vestito means a dress, a woman’s dress.” “And nero means black?” I asked. “I think it does,” he said turning the paper back to me. The phone number meant nothing. I moved down to the end of the bar and picked up the phone, dialing the number. “Palms Cafe,” the female voice answered. “Hi, can you tell me where you are located?” “Yes, sir, we’re right on Michigan Avenue, West Dearborn.” “This is sheriff’s deputy Raines calling and we need to know if you had a call this evening for an Italian speaking gentleman who may have been there with a group of other men who left in a rush after the call.” There was silence for a moment. “Why, yes,” she stammered “Do you know the name of the gentleman?”
“The caller wanted me to page a Mister Corelli.” She sounded very nervous. “Gino Corelli, perhaps?” “Oh, no, the first name was Rico. Rico Corelli. He was a mean looking man. What did he do?” “Thanks, darling,” I said and hung up. I turned to Sid. “One of the Corellis was here and made the call, I’m sure of it. It wasn’t Frederico because that’s who was paged. Those were the guys in the car, most likely, two of them anyway. The third brother was the tipster and he was in here tonight, Sid. I know you and there is no way in hell a Chicago gangster strolls in here and you don’t know it.” Sid tried to smile but it didn’t work. “I know, Jonathan. I did see one of the Corellis in here, but I didn’t connect it with this thing…” “The Corelli who made the call from the bar fingered me by describing my date’s dress. All they had to do was drive up and see the woman in black and white and shoot the two of us. Know of any others who would hang around with the Corellis?” “I didn’t see any others and no one was with Corelli. He sat alone at his table over in the corner. He left about the time the band started up. If there were others in here, I swear I don’t know. There are new ones coming and going all the time from Chicago and New York.” “At least I have names to work with and you can bet I’m going to track these pricks down,” I spat. “Where do these guys stay when they have to lay low?” Sid moved over to a bar stool and sank down onto it. “Could be any number of places, Jonathan. I don’t know for sure.” “Thanks for nothing, Sid.”
TEN “Her name was Norma Holliday.” Sid’s voice trembled as he related what he knew of his late guest. She was an executive secretary for a downtown insurance agency, out with her boss on a little dinner date, off the books and out of sight of the boss’s wife and Mr. Holliday. “I knew both of them and their spouses,” Sid lamented, sitting on a stool at the bar. “His name is Harold Simms. I guess it was his good fortune to have left first, leaving Norma to wait a few minutes before going to her car. The other times I saw them together, they left together, returning later for her car. I was sure there would be trouble if their little tryst was discovered, but nothing like this.” I didn’t comment but it was Norma Holliday’s bad luck to have shopped at Hudson’s, picking out the nearly identical style dress as Bernie Robbins, and her bad luck compounded when she wasn’t able to start her car and asked me for help. Bernie borrowed the first aid kit from the ambulance to wrap my leg, making it easier to walk. Outside the club, a sheriff’s sergeant in charge of the investigation sounded convinced someone had wanted to kill Norma Holliday for her marital indiscretion, and nothing I suggested could throw him off. To the deputy, Mr. Holiday was to be listed as the main suspect. I heard him radio in to have the husband picked up for questioning. “C’mon, sergeant,” I pleaded with him. “There’s no way a disgruntled husband hires a crew of gangsters to gun down his wife with a Thompson chopper in front of witnesses. I’m telling you they were after me.” “We are the professionals here, not you,” the sergeant spat, clasping a gloved hand on his holstered forty-five.
Bernie was angry and a bit frightened, even if she didn’t want to admit it. She had emerged from the club’s front door just as the Chevrolet was speeding out of the drive back onto the highway. That’s when she saw the blood on me and Norma Holliday sprawled on the ground. She had stifled a shriek before moving to me to see how badly I was hurt not realizing, I guess, that it could have been her shot dead instead of Norma Holliday. She moved close to me in the car as we drove back to the city. I wanted to get her home safely hoping the Italians hadn’t figured the woman they shot wasn’t Bernie. I didn’t believe she was the target, but in this city one never knows for sure what goes on in the minds of the mobsters who are convinced they are running the place. Bernie had written some stories about the gangs in Detroit but not so damning as to get herself killed, not yet, but I had to believe once she got over the initial fright, she was going to be more aggressive. The stinging in my leg continued, although the sharp pain was gone. A few inches to the left and that bullet would have shattered by knee and may have taken a main artery with it leaving me there in Sid’s parking lot to bleed out. As it was, I could put up with some discomfort. In the meantime, I had some work to do. She wasn’t happy about being dropped off at her apartment, but not because she wanted to stay with me. “Jackie, I have to do this story. I was there in the middle of it, and I saw the bodies, for chrissake. I can’t let the News or the Times get it before me. What will it look like if it comes out I was there and didn’t say anything? It would give those good old boys a reason to throw me back onto the Women’s Page writing weddings.” “Lookit,” I offered. “You do what you have to do. I’m going to go home, wash up, and change my clothes. This wound isn’t very bad, so I’ll just change the bandage and get back on
the case right away. It all ties together, somehow, Eunice’s killing and the shooting tonight. I’m positive of it, and it is far too dangerous for you to be out front. You can’t put that in your story yet.” “I don’t care about the danger, Jackie,” she pleaded. “I won’t do any speculation but I can put the facts in as we know them. These gangsters have tried to control things long enough and the people are terrorized by them. Don’t we owe it to the people of the city to expose the rackets, to get rid of these monsters?” I wasn’t in a debating mood. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about the people of this fair city, Bernie. What I care about is you and your safety. You have enough already for a swell story, but I have to do a few things on my own before you can run with the rest of it. Okay?” Instead of stopping at her apartment, I kept driving, swinging over onto Jefferson in front of the Free Press. She sighed and kissed me on the cheek. “You better keep me informed, Jackie.” She pressed close again and kissed me hard on the lips this time. I wanted more, but it wasn’t the time, even though more than just my leg was throbbing. I watched as the night security guard opened the door for her and she disappeared into the building. Driving back to my place, I longed for some sleep but I could feel there wasn’t going to be much of that in the next few days. At least a few hours in the sack would be enough for now
The dream was more of a nightmare as I kept seeing Norma Holliday in front of me, my arms reaching out, pulling her as hard as I could to get her behind me, but too late. Over and over the same thing played out, her frightened screams, a crescendo echoing in my brain until I had to wake up or stop breathing. The screams turned into something I couldn’t fathom, a noise that sounded like a scream but wasn’t. Slowly, painfully, the cobwebs began to separate and I
could focus my thoughts on what I was hearing. A bell was ringing and then I could clearly tell it was the telephone in the kitchen. I jumped off the bed and stumbled through the apartment, snaring the receiver from its cradle. “Yeah,” I managed as I put the phone to my ear, feeling along the counter with my other hand for my Luckys. “Anything new, Mister Raines?” Willis Ponder barked He was too loud and I pulled the phone away from my ear. “What the hell time is it?” “Six in the morning,” Ponder sighed. “I’m sorry but I couldn’t sleep.” “So because you can’t sleep there’s no reason I should?” The phone was silent. “I apologize for the hour, Raines, but I am anxious to know what you have discovered.” “Now isn’t a good time, Mister Ponder,” I snapped back. “I have some things to sort out and it has become much more complicated. There was some progress but I can’t get into details just yet.” “I need to know…” “So do I, and this case has proven to be much more dangerous than I imagined.” I told him about the death of Norma Holliday. He was quiet when he heard it. Finally he cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, Raines. Are you sure this all fits together with what happened to Eunice?” “I think it does, sir, and I’m going down to the sheriff’s office this morning to gather more information for you but you have to do something.” “Yes, of course. I want you on the case, Raines, and there will be more money…”
“Shit, is that all you think about?” I found my cigarettes and propped the phone in the crook of my neck and shoulder, popping a Lucky into my lips and grabbing a stick match, snapping it to life with my thumbnail. I took a deep drag and let out the blue smoke slowly. “Sorry, Mister Ponder,” I offered. “I’m just tired, but here’s the deal. I ran across Eunice’s sister, Christine, yesterday and she’s anxious to avenge her sister’s death. I told her to stay out of it but she isn’t going to listen to me. She’s staying at your son’s house and you might talk to her because these people will kill anyone who seems to be in their way. You tell her I’m taking care of things and to stay out of it until we find out what’s going on. ” “What’s it all about, Raines?” “I have a few ideas but I’ll let you know if anything pans out.” I hung up before he could quiz me further. In fact, I couldn’t tell him much until I figured it out myself. I changed the bandage wrapped around my thigh noting there was no more blood and was satisfied it would heal just fine. A soft rapping on my interior hallway door followed by a twisting of the lock interrupted my thoughts. I realized I was out of position, too far away from my gun in the bedroom. I was up on my feet knees bent, ready for whoever was going to charge through the door. Slowly, the door swung open and Mrs. K waddled through the opening with a tray of coffee, toast, and the Free Press. She almost dropped it when she saw me, standing frozen in my briefs, my leg freshly bandaged, fists clenched and ready. “Oh, dear, Jonathan,” she wheezed trying to avert her eyes and move toward the kitchen with the tray. “I thought you were in the shower. I’m so very sorry.” Then she stopped and looked back at my leg. “Lord in heaven,” she shouted. “What happened to you?” “Just an accident, I’m afraid,” I lied. “It looks worse than it is. The swelling around the wound will go down. I just gashed it a bit. Nothing to worry about.”
“Oh pshaaw,” she blurted. “You don’t fib to me, mister. You’ve been involved in solving that young woman’s murder. You are dealing with mean, godless people. Heathens, they are. Do you need any medical help with that injury?” I offered a smile. “I’ll be okay, Mrs. K. Please don’t worry and I really appreciate the coffee, especially this morning. I’m going to be busy all day, so any calls come in for me here, just take messages. I’ll check in with you later.” She glanced back at the wound and shook her head. “Land o’goshen, you young people are something else,” she muttered as she retreated and closed the door. I sat down at the kitchen table with the coffee and took a bite of toast as I opened the paper. Well it didn’t make the front page, but it was on page three, a short piece on the shooting death of a woman and a gangster in the parking lot of the Country Garden restaurant. It said the name of the woman, a mother of three young boys, was withheld by the sheriff pending notification of next of kin and the identity of the gangster wasn’t known, just that he was in a car that opened fire on patrons of the restaurant and fell out as the gunmen made a getaway. The sheriff said it was another gangland incident and that innocent people now were getting caught in the ongoing gang warfare. I was pleased to see I was in the story listed as an armed customer who intervened and returned fire, killing the gangster. I guessed Bernie was seething at this moment because they wouldn’t let her put in everything she knew, which meant someone at the paper was in the sheriff’s pocket. I finished my coffee and had put off the inevitable as long as I could but the dead beckoned.
It wasn’t quite eight o’clock when I pushed open the door to the refrigerated crypt of the Wayne County Morgue on Brush Street. The main room had walls of icy coils and a row of a dozen stainless steel carts with bodies covered in white sheets, except for the feet where tags with a number and notes were tied to lifeless toes. The place reeked of bleach in a vain attempt to mask the musty odor of a dank cellar. Each time I’d walk through those doors I would get a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach with the realization that someday I’d be stretched out on one of these slabs with a note on my big toe. In fact if that asshole with the chopper had been any good at his job, I’d have been commiserating with these dead folks for the past ten hours. “Hi, Mister Raines,” an amused voice called from behind me. I wheeled around, startled at the break in the silence. “Hello, Steve,” I responded. “Don’t tell me. You’re here about the shooting out at Sid’s place, right?” Stephen Armstrong was a young man who was more than willing to help me or anyone else with a double sawbuck who needed information, which supplemented his scholarship at Wayne State where he was taking some pre-med courses, hoping to transfer to Michigan someday. Right now, he was learning as much as he could, and was a pipeline of information for me. He was a short, scrawny kid, only about twenty, with reddish hair, freckles and darkrimmed glasses. “That’s it, Steve. What can you tell me? Autopsies done?” “Yep. It was a rush job for the sheriff. The doc’s been here and gone.” “Where’s the woman?” We walked around the corner and down a corridor with vaults on both sides, stainless steel ice boxes stacked three levels high. He paused after a few steps, turning the handle on a
middle door. As it opened, a steel slab glided out with a body, feet first, covered in a white linen sheet. “This is Norma Holliday,” he said looking at the card pinned to the sheet. He folded back the edge of the sheet to display a very pale woman, no longer screaming, appearing at peace with a gravity smile on her lips. I looked at the date of birth on the card. She wasn’t going to be thirty three in a week. We were almost the same age. Here I was standing upright, moving around despite the hail of bullets and there she was because of them. Life sure as hell wasn’t fair, at least not for her. “The report found her to be in good health, no problems at all really,” Armstrong said looking at the page he had on a clipboard. No problems except for two fucking bullet holes in her chest. “One of the bullets was through and through, leaving a nasty exit wound on her back and the other one hit something before striking her and the coroner was able to extract it, a fortyfive caliber, he said.” “Has her husband been in to identify her?” I asked. He nodded. “We’re sending her body over to Howe-Peterson’s in Dearborn. Funeral’s scheduled for Monday.” He pushed Norma back into the ice box. That sinking feeling came again. “What about the guy?” “Yeah, he’s down here,” Armstrong said, moving about halfway along the bank of drawers. He bent down and opened another locker, pulling the drawer out. He flipped the sheet down from the young man’s face. “Got a name on him?”
“We do now,” he answered. “He came in as a John Doe, but the doctor got a call from the sheriff and we attached a name to this one. Tony Corelli. I guess he’s some kind of hood from Chicago. You shoot him?” I shook my head. “I’m pretty sure I got the guy with the machine gun in the back of the car but this one was shot by one of his buddies. He froze at the wheel or something as I was shooting at the car. He was shot from the right side, but I was shooting from his left and aiming at the window.” “That’s pretty cold to be picked off by your own guy,” he observed. “But that’s not how he died, Jack.” He flipped some pages on his clipboard. “The doc said he had some kind of seizure so he was dead before he was shot in the head.” “You mean he had a heart attack?” “No, the doc said it was something with his brain, a seizure that killed him, maybe blood vessels popped or something like that. The bullet that went into his neck below the right jaw, moved up into his brain and out the top. The gun had to be right up against the skin because it is all burned at the entry wound.” I checked his card. This one was only nineteen. “Did you get another one in with bullet wounds?” He laughed. “Do you want to know if your wartime sharpshooting badge was worth anything? If that’s the case, Jack, you are a winner. We indeed had another gunshot victim. He’s over here on a cart because we didn’t have time to put him in the locker. We walked back to the refrigerated wall and he pulled one of the carts out. “This one is a Corelli, too. Federico Corelli, twenty-one. Shot dead with two thirty-two caliber slugs, one in the chest near the heart and one in the jaw. The doc thought the chest wound ended up killing him, although he
probably would have bled out with the facial wound, too.” He pulled back the sheet. He looked nothing like his brother except for the dark straight hair. It might have been because half his jaw was gone. Now there was one very pissed off Corelli brother out there somewhere along with the other tough guy in the car who didn’t think twice about blasting his own pal and pushing him out of the car in order to get away. “How’d they find this one?” “He was in a car abandoned right in Dearborn, out in front of the Palms Café on Michigan early this morning. Dearborn cops found him, but I don’t think they’ve arrested anyone in the case.” I turned to leave but stopped and turned back. “What about Eunice Ponder. Is she here?” Armstrong nodded. “You are good for business, I give you that.” He walked up to another locker and opened it. “They’re coming from the funeral home pretty soon. They’ve got a helluva lot of planning to do for a funeral that size. The doc did his autopsy right away though. I’ve got the report here, ready to be packaged up and sent to the prosecuting attorney’s office.” I gestured for him to step aside. I lifted the sheet, revealing her gorgeous hair and then her face. She was pale, too, but looked like she was sleeping peacefully. The image of her in the doorway flooded back to me, that sensual smile playing on her lips as she invited me to stay, her body enticing me beneath the sheer gown. That image was pushed aside by another, her face and mine, side-by-side in the mirror at Sid’s. She was talking, mixing in her little laugh. I closed my eyes but the picture remained. This was a rotten business. “The wounds are on just below her ribs on the posterior right side, actually more in the kidney area” Armstrong said. Three bullets.” I didn’t bother to raise the sheet.
“Might I get a glimpse of the report?” I asked pulling the sheet back over Eunice’s pretty face. He opened a desk drawer, flopping a manila file on the desk. “I’m not here, right? You just happened to walk by the desk…” “I get it,” I said as I watched him light up a cigarette and step outside. The report didn’t really have much information that was new. Eunice suffered three gunshot wounds to the back, all in a round cluster. “Death was instantaneous,” the doctor wrote. There was no evidence of sexual assault or sexual activity of any kind. I tossed the file back on the desk. Two of the three bullets went through and were recovered in the mattress by the police. A third bullet was shallow but had severed a number of arteries. It was retrieved also. All three were thirty-eight caliber and are in the police lab for analysis. I slid a twenty under the report. Glancing around one last time, my gaze settled on an empty stainless steel gurney. I wondered if it was waiting for the third Corelli brother, or was it cold and ready for me. At least for the moment, I was the one walking out of the morgue. That made it a good day.
Fear smells like rancid meat when the bullets are flying all around but there’s no time to worry. It’s only in the quiet moments later that it hits you, realizing how close you came to being in that morgue, a naked specimen at the business end of a coroner’s saw. The rage inside me returned picturing the machine gun spitting death from the back of the car, the spineless bastard killing as much for fun as money. He paid the price and so did his brother clutching the steering wheel with dead hands. Obviously the other guy in the car was much more afraid of me than he was of the guys who hired him, willing to blow his buddy’s head off in order to get away from my .32 Special He knew if I reached his car, he’d be dead. Daydreams aside, I knew now what had to be done next. “I don’t want to scare you, Mrs. K,” I began as we stood near the counter in the toy store. “I’d like to talk to you and your husband. Is he around?” “He went up the street to get his cigars, why?” Her voice was tinged with fear despite my feeble attempt to assuage it. “Okay, well, when he gets back you should sit down and talk with him. I’m afraid it isn’t going to be safe here for a few days. There’s been some trouble with these gangs and I don’t want you good people caught up in the middle of it. I hope to keep them away from my office and apartment, but these people are unpredictable. They might try anything, so it would be best just to avoid the whole problem.” She stared at me, her eyes tearing. “I can’t leave my toys,” she breathed. “Who will take care of my toys. They’ll get dusty and…”
“They’ll be fine for a few days, Mrs. K. You used to talk to me about a sister you had, lives in California.” She nodded numbly. “Well, I’m going to give you enough money to buy train tickets for Los Angeles and my bank will telegraph a bank out there so funds can be transferred. You will have enough to stay for a week or even two. Just think of it as a holiday. I’ll make sure the building is okay and there will be extra police patrols swinging around here. It will be okay and I’ll feel better knowing you are safe and having fun to boot.” She shook her head slowly. “I don’t think my husband will want to leave..” “Leave what?” a voice came from the back apartment behind the curtain. I explained it again to Ralph Kastor that he and his wife ought to take that trip. “You know, Jonathan, Irene told me about that wound you suffered. It was from that trouble out on US-12 wasn’t it? “You read about it? “Yes, and I have to say it is a dangerous thing you’re involved in, but you already figured that one out,” he chuckled. “I guess it goes with the territory, eh? Anyway, what you say makes sense, at least for Irene and she should go out and visit her family. I can stay and help if you think it would do any good. I mean, I could keep an eye on your place upstairs and if anything seems out of whack, well, I’ll call the police. I’ve got an old thirty-two of my own in the back. Never thought I’d need it, but these are strange times.” “That’s a swell offer, Mr. K, but it would be best if you went with your wife. I mean it is a scary thing to go across the country alone. You two have been together for so long, I’ll bet you haven’t spent a night apart since you got hitched. Am I right?”
Irene Kastor reached out and touched her husband’s hand. “You’re right, Jonathan,” she said. “We always are together and that’s how it’s going to be.” “We got hitched right after I got home from fighting those Spanish bastards in Cuba, and we’ve been together ever since,” Ralph Kastor smiled at his wife, his right arm wrapped around her shoulder. “ Okay, Jonathan, we’ll take you up on your offer.” He paused and frowned. “This is going to cost a lot of money, though, but we’ve got money put aside...” I waved my hand in protest. “ I’ve got a client who’s paying all my expenses and this certainly goes under that category. In order for me to do my job, you two have to go on a trip. It’s simple. Plan to leave later today. The train will take you to Chicago where you’ll catch one of the express trains for the coast. They can just about fly and you’ll make California in three days. I’ll make all the arrangements today.” Willis Ponder wasn’t pleased with the idea that he’d have to shell out a grand to take care of the Kastors for a few weeks, but that was the price I demanded and if he wanted to complete this case with everyone secure, then he’d meet the price. He said he would have one of his assistants at Hudson jump on it the first of the week. “Today, Mister Ponder. It has to be done today. Money transfer and confirmation, hotel accommodations and train tickets.” “It will be done,” he sighed. “I’ll send a courier around to the store and give them the package with everything they’ll need.”
The train left for Chicago at two and I had waved my goodbyes to the Kastors before driving out onto Grosse Ile to catch up to William Ponder. Christine greeted me at the door. “It’s about time you came to see me,” she smirked.
I studied her full red lips for a moment wishing circumstances were otherwise. “I’m not here for you, precious,” I said stepping past her into the foyer. “I have to talk to your brother-inlaw. Where is he?” “Right here,” a voice called from the living room to my left. Seated in an overstuffed chair, cigar in hand, long legs crossed, displaying confidence, not at all what I expected, although I wasn’t quite sure what I expected. Given the forcefulness of the father, I figured the son might be more of a bumbler. He was taller than his father and leaner, but with very different features. His face was smooth and chiseled, with high cheekbones and a cleft chin. His hair was dark brown and thick, neatly combed straight back. He looked more like a University of Michigan professor than an auto tycoon. He wore a white shirt, open at the neck, and gray slacks. “It’s early but perhaps you would like a drink, Mister Raines?” His speech was cultured with a hint of a Southern accent. “Never too early for me,” I replied. “Scotch would be nice.” A shapely black woman in a black-and-white maid’s uniform appeared in the doorway as if on cue to take the order from her boss and a few moments later returned with the glass for me. She eyed me with a smile, or possibly a smirk, but didn’t look directly at Ponder. I wondered what that meant. “It’s the real thing,” he smiled, pointing at my glass. “It’s Macallan, thirty-year-old single malt.” “Smuggled in by your gangster pals?” I asked and sipped. It was the best Scotch I’d ever tasted. I could have gotten used to it, but business was business and I put the glass on a table.
“One cannot always endorse the character of the other side in a business transaction, Mister Raines,” he said, taking a glass from the maid’s tray. She carried the one remaining glass past me and handed it to Christine who had parked herself in a straight back chair in the corner. “Perhaps this is a bit insensitive, but shouldn’t you be more, oh, I don’t know, upset, knowing that your wife was murdered less than forty eight hours ago?” His face darkened, the lines in his forehead creased. “I am devastated by this,” he snapped. “I have to get through the next few days, to make arrangements, coordinate services and get the funeral organized. I’ll cry later.” I stared at him and then glanced at Christine. She looked down at her glass and said nothing. “Did I make a wrong turn somewhere and end up at the circus?” “That’s not fair,” Christine croaked as she looked up at me. “We both loved Eunice. She was a vibrant, wonderful person.” I nodded. “Isn’t it odd, though, that I have been here over fifteen minutes and no one has asked me if know who killed Eunice? Christine, you haven’t even wondered if I found that diary.” I knew that would draw some kind of reaction, just not the one that happened. William Ponder’s face cracked and the glass in his hand dropped onto the floor with a thud, spilling the expensive Scotch. His brown eyes zeroed in on mine. “What diary? What’s he talking about Chris?” I wheeled around. “Why Chris, my dear, didn’t you tell him about the book?” She swallowed hard and took another drink from her glass. “I didn’t think about it, I guess.”
I laughed. “She has quite a sense of humor, don’t you think, Ponder?”
I moved a few
steps in her direction and she cringed. “You take a risk of getting arrested by breaking into a crime scene at the hotel, rummaging through the blood-stained bedroom to find that diary and tried to run from me when I caught you, and you maintain it now is so unimportant you didn’t think about it again?” “Chris, what’s he talking about?” The maid scurried in with a bucket and rags and began soaking up the spilled liquor, moving the pieces of glass to one side. Again she didn’t look at Ponder but cast a worried—one might say frightened—glance my way. Christine pushed herself off the chair and moved toward Ponder, but I grabbed her arm. “Listen, sister, you’ve got some talking to do. Why didn’t you want him to know about the diary? Is there something in it you don’t think he should see, such as accounts of her affairs?” “Affairs?” Ponder bellowed. “What the hell are you talking about, Raines?” I shook my head in disbelief. “Are you telling me, Ponder, that you didn’t think it strange that your wife had a key to a penthouse apartment at the Book-Cadillac owned by a salesman of exclusive jewelry? It was as if I took out my thirty-two and pistol whipped him. “Penthouse…” he repeated in a whisper. “Yes, all the way to the top of the Cadillac. It belongs to a guy named Sarrow. Nathaniel Sarrow.” “Sarrow?” Ponder breathed, his eyes glazed and damp. “You know him?” I asked raising my voice, wondering if he would take the bait. He shook his head numbly.
“Listen to me, Ponder. You can cut out this acting bit. You’re not very good at it, almost as bad as Christine’s performance.” He stared back at me but I could see the wheels turning as he tried to come up with a new tact. He licked his lips and glanced over at Christine who backed away from me. “How do you know him, Ponder?” I prodded. “What?” His voice was barely audible, but I felt he was trying to buy time to think. “The place where she died is not unknown to you, is it? He’s a friend of yours.” I barked. He tried to slide forward in his chair and stand up but his legs wouldn’t work. He slumped backward. “No.” He swiped at lips with the back of his hand, a liar’s tell. I walked around a little table in front of his chair and sat down in another armchair next to his. I lowered my voice. It was tough paying good-cop-bad-cop by myself. “Now, I know a few things, Ponder. For example, he calls you Billy, doesn’t he?” His head snapped up and his eyes met mine again. “Just admit it, okay. I’m not judging you. I’m just trying to sort out the facts and get to the truth about what happened. You were in Cleveland last week with Nathaniel Sarrow, isn’t that true?” “I was in Cleveland, yes, on business” he said, his voice soft but shaky. “I’m a detective, so don’t try to lie to me,” I snapped. “Now, you have to step up and help me with the facts. I know that you and Sarrow are acquainted, ‘good friends’ is what I’d label it.” His head dropped back down. “Just because I was in Cleveland doesn’t mean I was with someone. That doesn’t mean…”
I reached into my breast pocket and pulled out his letter to Sarrow on the Cleveland Hotel stationery. I held it out for him to see. “Where did you get that?” he screeched, reaching for it, but I pulled it back, returning it to my pocket. “That’s not important. It obviously is a letter from you to Sarrow, painting a vivid picture of what was really going on. You can deny it all you want. Your life is your business unless it leads to murder, which makes it my business. What is important here is the fact that your wife was killed in your boyfriend’s penthouse. It kind of narrows down the number of suspects, don’t you agree?” Now he came alive. “I know what you’re doing, Mister Raines. You’re saying I killed Eunice because she found out about Nate? That’s a lie.” He shot up from his seat, reaching out to grab me, but I slipped sideways from the chair, knocking it over. You don’t attack a Marine who had charged the German trenches at Belleau Wood. I ran both my hands up between his outstretched arms and pushed him back down into his chair. He fell heavily, almost going over backward. The emotions caught up with him at that point and his tears cascaded like Niagara Falls. I couldn’t tell if he was crying for his dead wife or that his secret life had been exposed. I didn’t really care. “William, what is he talking about?” Christine cried from across the room. Ignoring her I stared down at Ponder. “I need some answers,” I barked, startling him. He raised his head to look at me, eyes red and angry. “Where were you on the night your wife died?” “I was home…”
“I said I don’t have time for lies, Ponder.” I leaned close to him. “I was at your house that night, just outside. Your garage doors opened and the only car in there was your wife’s Duse and that boxy Hudson that I figured was your Daddy’s but now I guess it was something he preferred for you to drive. I don’t recall seeing your red Essex roadster in there, the one you always drive. It wasn’t there, Ponder. So, again, where were you?” Tears welled up again. “I…I was home. I did go out for the evening, but I was home before midnight. I swear.” I hated to admit it, but he sounded genuine. He was too sniveling and pathetic to be fabricating his story. He was a melting pool of guilt and fear. “Just for the record, Ponder, where were you for the evening, as you put it?” “Is that important?” he groaned. “I’d say so.” His chin sagged to his chest, eyes staring at the floor. “I was at my club.” “Your club?” “We have a gentleman’s club, you might call it. We have a … place.” I grabbed him by the lapels and pulled him from the seat. “Listen you prick, I’ve had just about enough of this cat and mouse shit. I’m trying to figure out who killed your wife and who was behind another murder last night. If you don’t talk, so help me, I’ll smack the crap out of you.” “Okay, okay,” he whined struggling to get free of my grip. I pushed him back down into the chair. “Answers. I need answers.”
He nodded slowly, wiping his eyes with his left jacket sleeve. “We get together at a place down in the square. It’s unmarked, of course, behind a men’s clothing store. You walk in and ask for a Borsalino Capri. The entrance to the club is behind a mirror.” “Through the looking glass, like Alice in fucking Wonderland,” I observed. He blinked. “It’s just a social club, Mister Raines. Nothing sinister or untoward.” “Untoward? We’re talking murder here and you are discussing social graces?” He blinked but continued. “Anyway, Mister Raines, that’s where I was until just before midnight and then I went home.” “That’s where you became acquainted with Nathaniel Sarrow?” “Yes, a few months ago.” “You have been to his penthouse?” His head dropped again. “A number of occasions, I don’t recall how many. We could not meet here, for obvious reasons.” “You have a key?” His head jerked up as if I had slapped him and then it dropped again. “Yes, I do.” “Let me see it, then.” He rose and walked to a drawer in a decorative plant table near the window. He opened it and reached in. He moved his hand frantically around the drawer. “It’s not here.” He paused and looked at me. “Eunice found it?” “She had a key to the place and one can assume Sarrow didn’t give it to her,” I snapped. “It’s in the police evidence locker now.” “But how did she know…”
I smiled. “She was a smart cookie. She discovered your meanderings somehow, maybe even followed you one night. Then she discovered where you kept the key.” “Was she going there to kill him?” I shook my head. “No, Ponder, nothing like that. I have a pretty good idea what she had in mind. It was quite clever actually, but unfortunately it got her killed. Now, tell me about your pal Nate.” “Nate? He didn’t kill her. He’s not like that.” “Tell me about Nate,” I insisted. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I don’t know that much about him. I know he sells diamonds and other fine gemstones. He’s a wholesaler, but only some of the finest places, mainly in the Midwest. I think he’s in Chicago now. He mentioned that to me last week.” “In Cleveland?” “Yes’ “So what can you tell me about him?” “He’s a gentleman, I’ll say that. He never talked about himself and I guess I never asked him very much about his background. I don’t care, either, because we get along so well.” “So you don’t know where he is from, if he was in the service, is married? “I’m afraid not. He never talked about himself, like I said.” I glanced over my shoulder. Christine sat in a corner chair, her head lowered into her hands, her elbows braced on her knees. I thought she was crying at first, but when she raised her head, her faced had contorted into a wide-mouthed grin.
“You are a fucking bastard,” she shouted at him. “You let on with everyone that you are a he-man, a poor-man’s Rudolf Valentino and here you are, a degenerate…” “That’s enough,” I growled, spinning around to face her. “I’m going to talk to you later, but right now, I’ve got to get some answers.” I turned back to Ponder who had pushed himself back into his chair. “Now tell me about your father,” I said, lowering my voice. “Do you think he is capable of something like this?” He shook his head vigorously. “What if he found out about you and Sarrow? Would that change the equation?” “I…I’m not sure,” he stammered. I laughed. “Sure you are, Bill. You know the old man would go berserk if he found out that his only son was,” I paused, “involved with another man.” “Maybe…” “So he has a motive, wouldn’t you say?” “I guess so.” “But so do you, Ponder. If you knew that Eunice was going to expose your secret, or perhaps even blackmail Nathaniel Sarrow, ruin his business, along with his reputation and yours, there’s plenty of motive to go around.” I didn’t tell him that Eunice hired me to follow her, but now I had a very good picture of why she wanted me to follow her around, knowing I’d be reporting back to her father-in-law. “How many other, what you social elite call liaisons, have you arranged?” He closed his eyes and ran a shaking hand through his thick dark hair. “Some,” he whispered.
“Some? What if your wife knew all about those, too? Maybe all that is in the little diary she kept.” “I don’t see how…” I smiled again. “Maybe you talk in your sleep, or were sloppy about writing letters to your new friends. She could have found one just as easily as I picked up your Cleveland thankyou note.” “I don’t know if that’s what happened,” he whined. “Do you know where Sarrow is in Chicago?” Finally I got a reaction out of Ponder, a nod. “He stays at the Drake,” Ponder said, his voice sounding almost normal. “He has showings there of his samples to some of the better jewelry store people and some private customers. I’m told that one of his best customers is Al Capone himself.” “Your buddy is pals with Scarface Al? What a coincidence,” I said, leaning closer to Ponder. “I’m not a big fan of coincidence, especially when it comes to murder.” It wasn’t out of the question that Ponder’s jeweler friend had ripped off Capone or one of his cronies and it was payback time. The Corelli brothers may have been in town to hit Sarrow but mistakenly shot poor Eunice instead, not realizing their mistake until it was too late and then discovered me snooping around the hotel and decided to take me out. The only thing wrong with that assumption is I was giving the Corellis credit for deductive reasoning. Those guys were the kind that only ate, shit, slept and killed people. Independent thinking was a skill not yet attained, and for the two brothers down in the morgue, a skill they would never achieve.
TWELVE The city can be two-faced, making life tolerable and even enjoyable, or taking it away in some back alley tenement. Originally, Detroit was a fort on the front edge of a vast wilderness of uncharted forests. As industry gained momentum, clogging the expanding city with neighborhoods of ex-farmers and trappers, it took another century before the automobile allowed people new freedom. They moved out of the crowded city to create little communities far enough away from the belching foundries to breathe fresh air and escape the crime-riddled streets yet close enough drive back to work in those stifling factories. Criminals like Gino Corelli could find a hiding place obscure enough to never be found, but I knew it wouldnâ€™t be difficult to smoke him out, after all I killed his brother and he probably believed I killed the other one, too. He had unfinished business with me and would have to come after me with guns blazing. That was the key, the ammunition I would use against him. Someone once said revenge was a plate best served cold and I could figure Gino wasnâ€™t the type of cool character to heed that advice. He would be hell bent for revenge and that would be his last mistake. Once I drew him in to me, the closer I would be to learning who had hired out of town torpedoes. Keeping this guy alive long enough to talk, however, might prove to be a problematic since he was someone elseâ€™s loose end and no one succumbs more swiftly than a failed assassin. While the city had its own rhythm and character, so did the underworld operating in the shadows, with loyalties at a premium as players changed sides faster than the Tilt-A-Whirl at Bob-lo Island. There was one guy, though, who stayed the same pretty much his whole life, with a foot in each world. His name was Salvatore Falcone.
From the time we were four or five in the neighborhood, everyone knew the Falcone family because they were the only Italians on our block and maybe in the whole of Corktown, but we were kids so what did we know. My Dad called them “wops” and I thought that was a good thing so I was more than surprised when I called Sallie a “wop” one day and he balled up his fist, hitting me square in the right eye. I never used that term again and every time someone else said it, I felt the pain in my eye. As we got a little bigger, we’d go up to Sallie’s apartment because he wanted to show us his huge collection of wooden horses and wagons, plus more cowboy and Indian tin figures than we’d ever seen. Hours passed recreating the Wild West we’d read about in dime novels, complete with outlaws and gunslingers never dreaming that our friend Sal would become one of them. Sal never lost his love for the stagecoaches and carriages, though, and ended up after the war opening an auto dealership, at first selling Fords but later moving over to Hudson. Many of the young men from Corktown would travel downriver near Wyandotte to buy a car from him never really interested in knowing that the dealership also was headquarters for his crew. He had been made a captain by Joe Zirilli, one of the bosses, but actually acted as a consigliore, seldom venturing into violence on his own. Whenever I needed to feel the pulse of what was happening in gangland, Sallie would know and sometimes he would tell me, sometimes not. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it’s about time you came back around to talk,” he bellowed in a mock Irish brogue, beaming as I walked through the front door of his little showroom. He had three of the latest models facing the window, but I wasn’t in the mood for a sales pitch. I shook his hand and sat down in a little cubbyhole office that smelled of stale cigars. “I need some information and I need it fast,” I told him. “You might already know that someone
had a hit out on me and missed. They were imports from Chicago, three brothers named Corelli, know them?” His smile faded. He drew up his hand and rubbed it across his balding dome. Sal Falcone at one time had a thick head of wavy black hair, combed back, slicked down with Brylcreem, but it had thinned out to nothing much more than peach fuzz. He had a thick black mustache and a wide, white-toothed smile, but his dark eyes most often were cold and mean except when he was talking about his wife and sons or selling a Hudson. He moved slowly around his desk, eyeing me as if he didn’t know me at all. “Those bastards again?” he growled and plopped down in his brown leather chair. I nodded. “Well, they’ve been in and out of town now a couple of months. Back in November, they took out a couple of guys in a tavern right here in Wyandotte. Just walked in and shot the place to pieces because they weren’t selling the right kind of beer and booze. These bums also took out a few guys in Chicago after Big Al and his brother were pinched on those tax charges. Some witnesses disappeared but not enough, I guess.” “So these guys are pretty bad characters?” He winced. “I’d say if you are on their list, then I wouldn’t want to be you. In fact I don’t like sitting this close to you.” I shook my head slowly. “Well, I have to tell you, Sallie, these Marx Brothers of murder have been whittled down to one. Harpo and Chico are dead which just leaves Groucho.” He seemed more nervous, running his hand over his bald pate again. “What are you talking about?”
“When these goons tried to blast me, I shot one of them and another one died of some sort of brain freeze. There was a third guy in the car but he wasn’t the third brother because he was the finger man. While trying to get me, they gunned down an innocent woman just because she was standing near me.” “It’s a sad story, Jack, but what does this have to do with me?” “Nothing, Sallie, but I’d like to know if you had any idea who these ruffiani are working for.” He laughed at that. “You brush up on your Sicilian?” “Sometimes one can’t forget those nights listening to your Pop talk about those bad apples who slipped over on the boat with him. How old were we, ten, eleven?” “Yeah, Pop was always good for a story or two,” he smiled. “Anyway, getting back to your problem, I can guarantee it wasn’t any of our people involved in hiring these guys. They worked for the Capone Outfit so that probably means they were dealing with some of the Purples here. As you are aware, Chicago guys have had a long standing arrangement with the Purples. In fact, the Purples sent a couple of their favorite shooters to take care of Big Al’s problems on that St. Valentine’s Day thing over there. We’ve been angling to meet with the new regime in Chicago since Al got put in the slammer, but Nitti’s in charge, so they are still doing business Big Al’s way for now.” He paused and lit a cigar, blowing out a cloud of choking smoke toward the ceiling. “The Purples are in trouble, Jack, over that Collingwood thing so it makes sense they’d bring in some outside shooters.” The papers had a field day when the Purple Gang’s top echelon put down a rebellion among some younger hotheads in their own ranks, cornering them in an apartment on
Collingwood killing three of them. A trial was underway against the Purples’ leaders, all charged with murder. In the meantime, they were desperate to maintain their hold on the city. “Happen to have an idea where the last Corelli might be holed up?” I asked. He leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “I know the Purples have safe houses all over the place, but the imported guys sometimes are put up in an apartment above one of the eateries in Greektown, maybe the Athens, but I’m not sure because I don’t concern myself with that kind of detail. Our people have a hangout down there, too, in a place across the street. I thanked him for his help and he walked me outside into the showroom, patting me on the shoulder. “One thing, Jack. You talked about the three Corelli brothers, but remember there are five Marx Brothers.” “That’s just great, Sallie, I almost forgot about Zeppo and Gummo.” He laughed. “I’ll tell you what, Jack. You say you want to catch Gino, right?” I nodded. “So, let’s say you give me a place where he can find you and I’ll put out the word,” Falcone said, hunching his shoulders, arms spread out. “That way, you’ll be ready for him.” I hated the idea, but I had to get my hands on the last Corelli and anyone else wanting a piece of me. “Okay, Sallie. I’ll be at my apartment on Michigan, the one above the toy store. The store’s closed for a while, but whoever wants me can come up the outside steps.” “There’s something else, Jack,” Falcone cautioned. “You know some Chicago boys have been known to blow up places like that toy store. A half-dozen sticks of dynamite would take out the whole building along with the rest of the block, you included.”
“Yeah, it crossed my mind, but I’ve got one thing going for me. Gino blames me for clipping his brothers. He’s not going to send me up in a fireball without being able to look me in the eye. He wants me face to face, to kill me while he looks right at me. That way, he could make quite a name for himself, maybe even move up the food chain.” “Jesus, Jack, I don’t know if that’s much of an advantage for you,” Falcone scoffed. “Normally, I’d agree, but someone like him bent on revenge will make mistakes. All I have to do is take advantage of his rage and turn it against him. I’ll need just a few seconds and he’ll be history.” Falcone cocked his head and smiled. “Remind me never to get mad at you, Jack.”
As I drove back to the toy store, images of the shooting played over in my mind like a bad dream. I see the Chevy hurtling towards Norma Holliday and me in front of Sid’s place. If I’d moved a moment sooner and pulled her out of the way, she’d have been behind me. But I didn’t move and I still can see that car skidding sideways, spraying gravel and dirt seconds before the machine gun opened fire. I recalled all that happened next, Norma being hit, and I’m firing at the car, the driver falling out onto the cold, swampy ground. It was only now I remembered the other gangster’s hands on the steering wheel after he shoved his dead pal out the door. I didn’t see his face, and I know he wasn’t very tall and he wore a hat, but the ring—I remember the ring on his pinky finger as he grabbed the steering wheel, a dark, maybe onyx, stone in the center of a gold setting, and above it was a diamondstudded cufflink. Then the car drove off and he was gone. My mind snapped back to the present.
The nerve-wracking part of defending an attack is the wait. Once preparations are completed, one ends up alone trying to stay alert. It could be seconds or hours, but keeping focused on the mission is essential. With Corelli, surprising him before he could do any damage was primary with the hope of capturing him alive so he could talk. It was a good plan if not totally realistic considering the reputation of the Corelli brothers. I had readied myself for as many contingencies as possible.
When I drove back to the
toy store, I had circled the block but found nothing out of place—no unusual cars parked along the street or in the alley, no characters loitering in the block. There was daylight, although it was overcast and dreary, a few hours before dark. Inside the store, the lights were off except for one night lamp in the front window. I retreated into Ralph Kastor’s workshop where he built and repaired all sorts of toys. Once I had his toolbox, I went to work. It was a sure bet Corelli wouldn’t attack alone, but would have three or four goons with him. There were only two ways to get to me inside my apartment. One was through the outside door at the top of the exterior stairs and the other was the interior stairs leading up from the toy store to my apartment. If I was right, they’d come at me from both directions at once. It was just a matter of when.
THIRTEEN There aren’t many certainties in this world, but one was Gino Corelli wanting to kill me face to face. He might have his boys with him but he was intent on looking me in the eye when he pulled the trigger. It was the nature of the beast but I’d been in the lion’s den before and learned a few things about survival. The trick was to stay calm enough to think things through. It helped knowing how guys like Gino operated. I could predict certain moves, fairly confident he was going to follow the pattern. Setting things up required a little bit of muscle and some assistance from Ralph’s workshop, which surprisingly had more than enough materials, including a whole gallon of black paint. It took a couple of hours with a little carpentry work, slapping a coat of black paint on the stairs, removing hinges from the doors, and arranging furniture. Daylight faded and I was hungry, but I couldn’t let myself be distracted any longer than it took for a shot of Canadian Club to burn into my gut. I had positioned an overstuffed chair in one strategic spot, moving two kitchen chairs alongside, the backs facing the outside door. I turned out the lights and waited. As the minutes passed, I poured a couple more shots, sipping them this time. The Saturday night traffic on Michigan Avenue with blaring horns and revving engines slowly faded away. Then the only sounds were the ticking of a clock in the bedroom and the throbbing of blood in my ears. I ran through my mental checklist again. I had coated the outside stairs with Ralph’s black paint, blocking the base of the stairway with a ladder laid on its side, a sign tacked to it reading “WET PAINT” to discourage any passersby from venturing upstairs. Gino, determined
to lead the attack, would simply push the ladder aside and head up the stairs, wet paint or not. I needed the black paint to cover up the surprise awaiting him when he reached the porch outside my door. I had sawed three-quarters of the way through the mid-section of the floor boards on the porch outside the door, disguised with black paint, and a booby-trap at the bottom awaited whomever plunged through the weakened porch boards. I also had removed the pins from the doors of both entrances, leaving the doors precariously balanced on the hinge brackets. I had spread my loaded arsenal on the kitchen chairs to my left: a Winchester ‘97 shotgun, my favorite Webley forty-five revolver, and my two Colts, the hammerless thirty-two and the snub-nosed special. There was a dim light from the street lamps, allowing me to see anyone in the doorway while I remained in the shadows. I lit a cigarette, checking my watch from the glow of the Ronson-- a few ticks to midnight. I had taken only a few drags when the first noises filtered up the staircase. I crushed out the butt in the ashtray and listened. Footfalls on the stairs were slow and deliberate, crackling as the drying paint stuck to the assassin’s shoes. At the same time, a window shattered downstairs toward the rear of the store, most likely one of Gino’s men reaching through to open the Kastor’s apartment door. He’d have to feel his way in the dark through the store to get to the interior stairway leading to my apartment. Their movements at least were predictable, as if they had asked me how I wanted them to come at me. I thanked the Lord for little children and peabrained gangsters. The first one paused as he reached the top of the outside stairs. I picked up the shotgun with my left hand, resting the barrel on the back of the kitchen chair, aiming it belt high at the door. I reached out with my right hand, grabbing the powerful Webley, swinging it to my right, aiming at the interior entrance, pushing myself back into the cushions of the seat. The man at the
top of the stairs slowly opened the screen door and then began turning the doorknob of the main door, giving it a little push. With a slow creaking sound, the main door came off its hinges, stood upright for a moment and then fell inward with a loud crash as the window shattered, spewing shards of glass three feet in the air The startled intruder backpedaled onto the weakened floor boards and with a frightened shout disappeared into the darkness as the cracking wood gave way beneath his weight. His bellowing heightened as the plummeting gangster landed feet first onto my booby trap, impaling his foot on a half-dozen of Ralphâ€™s scalpel-sharp carving tools arranged blades up. The impact elicited the most painful sounding shrieks then subsided into gargling moans as he passed out. While one of them was out of commission without firing a shot, the others were about to break through. One I could hear on the outer stairs moving slowly, hugging the wall where the stairs were sturdy. As he reached the top, wary of putting any weight on the porch, he maneuvered to gain entry to the open door. At the same time, I heard other footsteps rising on the inside stairway. In the dim light, I saw a hand wrap around the doorframe as the guy outside was about to thrust himself over the top step, bypassing the hole in the porch. His bulky silhouette jumped with both feet across the threshold as a gun in his hand exploded, firing high above me. He paused, slightly bent at the waist, ready to fire again, but I angled the shotgun to the left and pulled the trigger, unleashing a flash of fire and a deafening roar engulfed the room. The full force of the blast hit him, causing his arm to jerk and his gun fired again, the bullet hitting the ceiling when his body flew back into the wall, crumpling down onto the floor near the open doorway. I let go of the shotgun, reaching for the hammerless Colt on the chair with my left hand, still aiming the forty-five at the inside door with the right. Just as I turned my head, the other
door jerked off its hinges landing upright for a second as the startled gunman held the doorknob. Then it creaked loudly and toppled inward onto the floor with another deafening bang. I didn’t wait for anything else, opening fire with both guns, pumping four shots into the figure in the doorway. The impact staggered him into the doorframe and then his shattered body pitched forward landing face down. He attempted to catch his balance as if dying on his face was any better than on his back. I heard more footsteps on the interior stairway but they were retreating, descending into the store. I dropped the pistols and picked up the shotgun, pumping a new shell into the chamber as I moved, stepping over the dead gunman. I raced down the staircase and into the store, figuring the guy was trying to get out the same way he came in. I raced along the little aisle and into the Kastors’ apartment. Their rear door was open and I heard a motor revving up. As I cleared the doorway, reaching the drive, lights blinded me as the getaway car roared forward, hurtling straight at me. I leveled the Winchester and fired, blasting out the windshield and the car immediately veered right missing me, freewheeling another thirty feet before hitting a utility pole at the end of the drive. The car horn bleated loudly as the impact sent what was left of the man’s head into the steering wheel. I ran up to the car and looked inside—he wasn’t Gino Corelli. I tugged on his coat, raising him up enough to stop the blaring horn. When I let go, he toppled over onto his side on the front seat, his days as a gangster completed. I wondered how my first visitor was doing beneath the porch. I sprinted around the front of the building to the side stairway and he remained on the spot where he fell. Conscious again, he was writhing in pain, his right foot impaled on the array of carving blades which had penetrated his right shoe, sliced through his foot, the tips of two blades protruding through the top leather. He heard me coming and his hand instinctively
searched the ground around him for his gun which he couldn’t find in the dim light. In fact, as I walked up to him I stepped on it. “What the fuck did you do?” the man groaned at me, trying to raise his head up to see me in the dark. “A little something I learned from the Huns,” I smiled, slowly taking out a cigarette and lighting it, letting him see me in its glow. “Those bastards would have a sniper up in a church tower in some little village and the stairway up to him would be booby trapped. You’d step through a rotted board and land on an upright bayonet, running the goddam thing right through your boot. I saw it happen more than once. Pretty clever, eh?” “This hurts so bad,” he groaned. I took the Ronson out and eased close to him lighting it so I could see his face. “You’re Gino?” “Yeah” he moaned. “Gino Corelli, the guy who tried to have me killed and instead an innocent young woman was shot to death?” “What about it?” he growled. I stood up and walked around to where his foot was connected to the knives. “Nasty business, this.” I tapped at his leg with my foot, eliciting a scream. “What the fuck…” he howled. “Shut up you asshole,” I snapped. “I’ve got a question or two for you and you had better talk. The cops will be here any minute so you only have a few seconds before I use this shotgun again.” I made a point of putting another shell in the breach. He groaned in pain. “I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
I stepped back and kicked him hard above the ankle. “Yeaowww,” he bellowed as the shattering pain rushed up his leg. “I’m only going to ask once again and then I’m going to fire this fine shotgun into your good leg, how’s that? For effect, I pumped the shotgun. The metal cranked and echoed in the empty driveway. “Jesus, okay, don’t shoot,” he pleaded. “I’ll tell you what I know.” “I’m listening,” I said, lowering the shot gun so the barrel touched his left leg. He squirmed trying to get the gun barrel off him. “I don’t know his name,” he began. I pushed the weight of the gun down on the leg. “I swear, I swear. I don’t know his name. I know he works sometimes for Al in Chicago. We all do, but he’s some kind of top free lancer. He works for all kinds of people. Gets top dollar usually.” “You don’t know his name?” ‘I swear. He only is known as The Jeweler. He works all over the place but I think he’s from here in Detroit. I never met him, just talked on the phone. But my brothers met him.” “How’d you get paid, then?” “He was supposed to give money to Rico, my oldest brother, one of them you killed.” For a moment it appeared as if Gino had forgotten his situation and glared up at me. There was no doubt if he had a gun, I’d be history. I bent down and picked up his unused gun and put it in my pants pocket. “Keep going,” I spat.
“He was with Rico and Tony in that car, drove it back to the cafe but never came in. I found Rico in the back seat, he was dead. There was blood all over the front seat too where Tony was and you killed him, you bastard…” “Shut up,” I growled. I could hear sirens in the distance. “This is hard for you to believe, Gino, but I didn’t kill your brother Tony, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He was shot in the right temple, according to the coroner. Your friend The Jeweler shot him and shoved him out because he froze at the wheel when the shooting started. So you can blame me for one but you have to blame your pal for the other.” So I fudged on the truth a little. He stared at me, and then his eyes flickered. “Shit,” he muttered trying to move away but each inch fired up sheets of pain to engulf his leg, emitting strangled screams. “Why did The Jeweler want to kill me?” The sirens were louder, maybe two blocks away. “I don’t know,” he moaned. “I really don’t know.” “What about that shooting in the Cadillac Hotel early Friday morning? You boys in on that one, too?” I bumped his leg again with the shotgun. He cried out again, louder this time, but his chest heaved and his breathing became ragged. It wouldn’t be long before he passed out again. He squinted up at me, his face contorted in pain. “The dame that was killed in the hotel?” he offered, his eyes losing focus. “I read about it in the papers, but we didn’t have nothin’ to do with it. I swear.” My finger tickled the trigger of the Winchester. It would feel awfully good to put this piece of slime out of existence, but when the mob learned he was alive, and probably in a position to talk, they would be the ones to make a move on him. Maybe even his pal, The Jeweler, would have to do it himself. Picturing Gino limping into court to testify against the
mob would be quite unique for a place like Detroit, given the hard times and the hold the mobsters had on the city. If Gino could live long enough to talk, I could put my bruised feelings in my back pocket for the time being. I stepped back and put down the shotgun as two police cars skidded to a halt at the entrance of the drive. It was going to be another long, long night.
FOURTEEN A cacophony of neighborhood church bells carried on the winds of the Arctic express sweeping over the city jolted me awake. I had drifted off in my chair where I flopped after spending the Sunday predawn hours at the DPD Central Headquarters in Greektown. The temperature had dropped nearly forty degrees overnight, plunging the city back into a January deepfreeze. My efforts to find Eunice’s killer had been almost as frigid but after confronting Gino Corelli and his boys, I detected some thawing.
Surviving them and four hours of
interrogation by Matrikos and Grabow, his broken-nosed sidekick who glared at me like a rabid raccoon, wore me out but I finally was allowed to get back to my freezing apartment. I rummaged through Ralph’s workshop finding enough materials to make repairs and made sure there was extra coal in the furnace so the heat would slowly get the place back to normal. The church bells chimed every hour, calling the freshly bathed and smiling faithful to gather in prayer for salvation. I was none of those things and my salvation was in doubt but I had my obligations, too, such as mopping up the cloying blood left behind by Gino’s henchmen. It gave me time to think. The key to the whole case centered on The Jeweler, nor was the fact lost on me that the owner of the Book-Cadillac penthouse where Eunice Ponder died was a jeweler. A coincidence is like a slumbering dog blocking a stairway. It is possible to step over it and nothing will happen and then again, it just might rise up and bit you in the balls. I hate coincidences. In my world, you had to anticipate the dog will bite, so it is possible jewelry
salesman Nathaniel Sarrow was not the killer known as The Jeweler. It equally was possible that squatters in Hoovervilles named their hobo jungles after the vacuum cleaner. Even though it was Sunday, I decided to phone a copper friend in Chicago to see if he could do some legwork and he promised to get back to me. Meanwhile, it was after five and the gloomy day was giving way to darkness. The street lamps had come on, spilling shards of light into the apartment, and I settled back down in my familiar overstuffed chair which had doubled as a gun-turret only seventeen hours earlier. I gripped a small glass of CC and water, swirling it around absent-mindedly when the ringing phone cracked my solitude. “Hi Jack,” came a deep but personable voice. “Well, Christian, I was hoping you’d get back to me. I know you’re busy being on that Capone task force and all but I trusted you could check things out for me.” Christian Zander had been a lieutenant in the Marines overseas, although not in my company. When all hell broke loose at Belleau Wood, and everyone got mixed together, we ended up side-by-side in a captured German trench alongside a couple of lost Canadians we had stumbled into just as the Huns were pulling back. We stayed together for a couple of days before our units caught up with us. When we got back to our real lives, we kept in touch by letters once or twice a year after that. Now he was a sergeant working with a team of feds and locals to clean up the rackets starting with Capone. “We’re making some progress, I’d have to say, especially with the Treasury boys shaking things up putting Capone and his cronies into the slammer, at least for now,” Zander answered. “I did poke around some for you and you’ll never guess what I found out about your Mister Sarrow.” I didn’t like surprises.
“On the surface he looks legit, Jack,” Zander continued. “He showed up Wednesday morning and had a couple of showings with some big time merchants in the city. Stays at the Drake whenever he’s in town and uses one of their meeting and sample parlors, but this time he was at the arena where the convention is being staged. According to some of the store owners we talked with, he sells millions of dollars worth of gems a year, some to commercial outlets and some to private individuals. Capone was one of his customers, I’m told.” “He’s still in town, then?” Banes laughed. “I was hoping you’d ask. I can tell by your voice that you were profoundly disappointed in my findings. He did his business here all right but then he hopped a train for Detroit early Friday morning. If your thing went down late Thursday, then the gem salesman isn’t right for it.” “Shit,” I breathed. “So he is just a salesman and it’s a coincidence…” “Hold on, Marine,” Zander barked. “I don’t believe in a coincidence like this any more than you, so I pulled a bunch of our unsolved gang hits. We’ve got dozens and dozens of them. The stack is so tall on my desk, I can’t see over it. I flipped through them and guess what?” “Spill,” I demanded. “While witnesses were reluctant or unable to give us much in the way of descriptions of the shooter, nearly all had one thing in common. They said the guy wore expensive-looking rings, including an onyx pinky ring and diamond cuff links. A top of the line dresser, you might say. I checked with a few of Sarrow’s customers, pissing them off being Sunday and all, but they all agreed, Sarrow wears an onyx pinky ring on his left hand and they remembered the diamond cuff links. So it appears, your Mister Sarrow is responsible for seven or eight hits here. Records from the Drake verify he was in town on all of those dates.”
My mind reeled back to the parking lot at Sid’s, seeing the onyx ring and diamond cufflink just as the car took off. “It’s him, all right,” I shouted. “Sarrow’s the one who got away from the roadhouse shooting aimed at me but who left an innocent young woman dead.” “Yeah, well it gets better,” Zander continued. “You said he was recently in Cleveland? I called a friend in the Cleveland PD and, sure as hell, they had a mob hit last week. Some sap who was trying to take over the numbers down by the docks and refused to cut in the top dogs. They found his body in the Cuyahoga. My guy said an outside shooter was brought in to take care of it so the locals would have alibis, just like ole Scarface did here on that Valentine’s Day slaughter. Did you know this Jeweler was in town when that went down, too?” “Jesus, buddy, I didn’t mean for you to spend your whole day on this,” I offered. “Hey, this is going to help clear a shitload of case files, thanks to your tip, so actually I owe you,” he countered. “One more thing…” “What’s that?” “When your case gets settled and you pin Sarrow down, we’re going to want him back here,” he said. “When he gets in the system, I’m sure they are going to want to try him in court here,” I answered. “Yes, but when that happens, remind your friends in high places that in Michigan this shitbird is going to get life in prison. He’ll be making license plates and smoking Cuban cigars. Here in Illinois, on the other hand, he’ll get strapped down to Old Sparky and sizzle for his crimes like fresh-ground sausage.”
I had to admit I liked his reasoning. “I’ll make sure the mucky-mucks over here take that argument into account.” What went unsaid, of course, was the fact Sarrow hadn’t been caught in all these years, eluding the law from Chicago to Cleveland and who knows where else. His capture would not be easy, nor by the book, I reckoned. The big question was not only who hired Sarrow to take me out, but why. What was so menacing about me that required someone to hire a high-priced killer?
FIFTEEN Eunice Ponder’s funeral was to be a quiet ceremony with just the immediate family attending, but by the time the stories circulated in the papers, privacy was out and a logistics nightmare was on. A couple dozen private guards in uniform blocked all entrances to the grounds of the Little Flower Catholic Church on Twelve Mile, a new church with rabid-tongued radio priest Father Charles Coughlin in residence. I pulled off the road near one of the drives, weaving my way on foot through a throng of rubberneckers. Besides the guards, there were thugs in plain clothes sporting black armbands, some I suspected as off-duty cops and the rest clearly on someone else’s payroll. These weren’t the types of people the funeral home would engage, so I guessed Willis Ponder had something to do with their menacing presence. The parking lot and drive were loaded with gleaming new cars, some of them Lincoln limos leaving the impression that it was Henry Ford’s final sendoff rather than the daughter-in-law of one of his competitors. Most of the mourners had gravitated toward the large monolith in front of the church, a monument doubling as a radio studio in which Coughlin lathered up the religious fervor, railing against the ills of the nation. The church was dedicated to the little French girl who had visions of the Blessed Virgin, and who died a virgin herself at 23. I’d listened to parts of a few broadcasts hearing nothing I wasn’t taught each week at Most Holy Trinity, the ancient Catholic Church in Corktown. The shrine was a curiosity if nothing else and distracted the funeral goers for a few minutes until the procession arrived from the mortuary. “Hi, handsome,” a woman breathed into my ear as I stood inside the narthex watching the mourners begin their slow march into the church. The feel of her breath on my neck made me
wish I was someplace other than a cathedral. Bernie Robbins wrinkled her nose and smiled temptingly at me as I turned toward her. “Hello, doll,” I whispered back. “How’d you get past all those security assholes?” She shrugged and winked. “Must be they like newspaper gals.” She paused and smiled again. “Well, if you must know, I’m doing a piece on the radio priest himself later on and he let me in through the sanctuary. What about you? I wouldn’t have expected those guys to let you walk in heavy.” She patted my left side where the Colt nestled inside the shoulder holster. I reached into my suit coat pocket and produced the Hudson security badge Willis Ponder had given me the night we met at the arena. “This did the trick,” I grinned. “I found it peculiar that most of those thugs walking around out there are Ford men and not working for Ponder.” “Maybe old Henry will be coming to the funeral,” she offered. I studied her as she talked. She had shed much of the makeup and pinned back her sexy free-falling auburn hair under a green felt hat, cocked to the right. It complimented her dark green, plaid, long-sleeve dress with matching neck scarf. Her business-like appearance didn’t hide her natural beauty, but actually accented it. The topper was the same perfume that started my engine the other night. “From what I hear, Henry doesn’t do much socializing, even when business etiquette demands it,” I countered. A stirring outside cut short my observations as the funeral cortege was ready to move up the steps into the church. The men from the funeral home, dressed in black suits and dark overcoats, moved through the open doors, standing aside like an honor guard as the pall bearers inched their way into the church clinging to the brass handles of the large, gold-colored coffin. Even though I had seen her body in the morgue, this somehow was unreal. For some unexplained reason, just
seeing the casket and knowing Eunice Ponder was in it, caused that unwelcome empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. The casket was placed on a wheeled cart and guided through the doors, followed by mourners with William Ponder in the lead. Behind him was his father alongside Mary Ann Bingham, who was quite striking in her black sable coat and black Spanish lace head scarf. Next walked a couple I suspected were Eunice’s parents on either side of a sobbing, shaking Christine Dehavilland. More people filed in, other family members and close friends, and then came the parade of the obligatory corporate execs, some appearing bored or preoccupied. Some I could pick out simply from seeing their pictures in the papers. One of them was more noticeable than others. Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, walked briskly up the steps and seemed genuinely somber and alert. He glanced my way and nodded, though he had no idea who I was, unless he recognized Bernie and thought I was working for the paper, too. With the Ford heir was another familiar if unpleasant mug, Harry Bennett, a thug of the first order, a thin-lipped-no-chin asswipe. I had no doubt he was responsible for the gang of goons outside the church who were guarding Ford’s interests on the premises. It was my unpleasant experience with Bennett and his people when he wanted to hire me to infiltrate some union organizing meetings being planned around town. It was back in the winter of ’30, Christmastime. Three of his goons came up to my office all fresh from the boxing rings, or jail, or both, wanting me to fork over names of the union sympathizers in the plant “so they could be dealt with properly by Harry.” I said I wanted no part of it. They persisted until I chased them off with my Colt, ordering them to go back and “tell Henry Ford to go fuck himself.”
As he continued into the church, Bennett glanced over my way, his eyes locking on mine for a second. I was positive the details of my encounter with his goons crossed his mind, but then his eyes flickered and he continued to shuffle with the others into the church. “I think he likes you,” Bernie whispered, suppressing a laugh. “I’m more curious as to why he felt compelled to be here keeping tabs on junior,” I whispered back. “What does old-man Ford think his boy will do that would require up-close surveillance from Bennett and his Neanderthals?” “Or does he even know what’s going on outside his factory doors?” Bernie offered. “Bennett could be strong-arming Edsel, keeping him on a leash so that he won’t be thinking he can take charge of things, make meaningful changes in the management structure…” “Meaning Bennett himself,” I agreed. “That could be true and if I was Edsel Ford, I’d sleep with my eyes open as long as Bennett runs the company’s security.” The rest of the crowd of company executives and city officials filtered into the church as the organist softly began an abbreviated version of “Ave Maria,” minus any flourishes or leadfooted base pedals. “That’s my cue to exit,” I said, turning to Bernie. “Are you planning on staying?” “I was going to wait until after the burial service to talk to Father Coughlin,” she said. “I’m going to the cemetery now and get a good vantage point,” I said letting my voice climb above a whisper. Her lips spread into a hint of a smile. “I’ll leave too, and catch the priest at the cemetery. I think I know what you’re going to say, Jackie. You’ll bet the killer will be at the cemetery because they always show up in a homicide case.”
“Well, not always,” I grinned, “but enough of a percentage to make it worthwhile to take a look. If he’s not here in the church with us now, he’ll be at the boneyard.” “He?” I paused. “You think the killer’s a woman?” She shook her head slowly. “I didn’t say that but I wouldn’t rule it out if I was the private dick on this case. You’ve got a few dames involved here who aren’t exactly the Little Flower of Lisieux.” “I get the message,” I agreed.
We didn’t wait around for the service but took separate cars to the cemetery scouting out a vantage point with a wide view of the grounds surrounding the burial site. I wheeled my Buick off Ten Mile Road into the entrance of Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery, the new one which hadn’t been open long enough to have many grave stones along its winding gravel paths. It was obvious the place was intended for the nouveau riche, especially capitalists emerging from the auto industry despite the Depression and the misery it created. Dotting the landscape among the scattered maple and oak stands were impressive stone mausoleums designed to appear as scalemodel European churches, complete with arched doorways and stained-glass windows. The Ponder family crypt was just as impressive, with inlaid stone, cedar trim and steel doors utilizing large brass rings for handles. A blue canvass marquee stretched in front where the family could gather before the body of Eunice Ponder would be removed to the dank interior. I was guessing, but it was likely Willis Ponder had removed his parents’ bodies from some other cemetery to the new crypt so Eunice wasn’t the first inside and wouldn’t be alone. I don’t know why I thought that to be a good thing, or why I cared at all.
Bernie had followed me in her older Chevy and pulled in behind me as I rolled around one of the long looping gravel drives a good fifty yards or more from the crypt. She jumped out of her car and climbed in alongside me, leaning over to give me a soft touch of her lips on my cheek. “That’s highly un-reporterly of you, my dear,” I smirked. “Yes, it is, isn’t it?” she grinned back. “There probably won’t be a lot to see, but we should make sure,” I said as I straightened up in the seat. “There won’t be that many people here for the interment service, but you’ll get a chance to talk with the priest afterward before he goes back to his radio station church.” “Very funny,” she shot back. “It happens that there are a lot of people who listen to him every week but have no idea who he is or anything about him. He spews a lot of inflammatory rhetoric but I want to find out if that’s just show business or the real thing. I mean, if he believes half the stuff he’s expounding, he could be dangerous, or insane, or both for that matter.” “That’s just radio theatrics, a clown with a backward collar and a microphone,” I argued. “If he had a gun in his hand, that might be different and if it was pointed at me, it would be bad.” “That’s what they said over in Rome a decade ago, but now there are the Blackshirts everywhere, scaring the shit out of ordinary people on orders from old baldy Mussolini, who is rattling cages across Europe,” Bernie declared, her smile sliding from her lips. “I’ve seen the newsreels, Jackie. Those Fascists could end up here, you know, and this priest sounds like one of them.” She leaned back into the seat and crossed her arms. I lit a Lucky as we sat in silence watching the funeral entourage pull into view ahead of us, snaking around in front of the Ponder tomb. There were maybe a dozen cars in the little procession, mostly family members and friends, but guards moved to the entrance and put up
wooden sawhorse barricades. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem interested in doing the same thing to the other entrance at the rear of the long cemetery, although it was a small unmarked drive on a road flanked by woods. The average Joe probably didn’t even know this new cemetery existed let alone it was for the town’s rich and famous Catholics. Father Coughlin, a wiry man with sloping shoulders and wire-rimmed glasses, had moved from his car to a spot near the doorway of the crypt, but remained under the edge of the canvass canopy. The pall bearers carried the casket, placing it again on its metal wheeled stand in front of the priest who now was flanked by two altar boys, one carrying a gold chalice of holy water with a bejeweled scepter protruding from it. The family members and other mourners walked up filling two rows of chairs set up for the women, while the men stood behind them. Most of them had been at the church but there were a few late arrivals including Sal Falcone, who stood with a handful of other men, presumably other Hudson dealers, off to one side not protected by the canopy. Something caught my eye in my side mirror. From the back of the cemetery, moving quickly through the secondary entrance off Eleven Mile, a black roadster grew larger in the mirror as it approached. “Well, well, look at this,” I muttered, alerting Bernie who snapped her head around to catch a glimpse of the car. The Desoto, soft-top up, wheeled past us and slowed quickly four or five car-lengths ahead. The driver, slim, medium-height, dressed in a dark overcoat and fedora, stepped out, standing momentarily with his door open. He kept his back to us, staring intently at the scene in front of the crypt. He paid no attention at all to us as he slowly closed the door and moved a few steps past the front bumper of his car, perching on the fender, his left foot still touching the
gravel drive for balance. Absently lighting a cigarette, he kept his concentration on the burial service in the distance. “Who is that guy?” Bernie breathed. We couldn’t see his face, but it didn’t matter. “I think I know who it is, but I want to be sure. Reach under the seat and give me the binoculars I have tucked in there.” She handed them to me. “Jackie, he’s right in front of us,” she said. “What are you trying to see?” “His hand, Bernie. His left hand.” I zoomed in on his arm as he transferred his cigarette from right hand to left and puffed away. Finally, he lowered it and dropped the cigarette onto the gravel. That was the moment I needed to make a positive sighting. “I was right,” I said. “Who is he?” “He’s our elusive friend The Jeweler, better known as Nathaniel Sarrow.” “How do you know that?” she fired at me. “Simple. He’s wearing that ring on his pinkie finger. It was the same one I saw on the hand of the guy behind the steering wheel in Sid’s parking lot during the shooting. It was Sarrow.” “We should go call the police right away,” Bernie cried. I shook my head vigorously. “No cops yet. This guy might not be taken alive. If I go up there to him I’ll have to shoot him dead because he won’t go anywhere with me, and he sure as hell won’t answer questions.” “What should we do?”
“We aren’t doing anything, doll,” I fired back. “You are going to go about your business and talk to the priest just as you planned. I’m going to follow Sarrow when he leaves and see where he leads me. I want to know where he is staying because he hadn’t been back at the penthouse, not with the door sealed as a crime scene.” “I don’t like it, Jackie,” she pleaded. “You shouldn’t have to do this alone.” “Yes, I do,” I said. “I’m not going to take any chances, but I want to stay on this guy’s tail. I’ll tip off the cops later. Meanwhile, find out what you can from the family before they get away from here. Ask Christine if she has found out anything that can help us and measure up William Ponder. He’s a strange one anyway and there’s a lot more he’s not saying, so see if you think he’s a good actor or a genuine grieving husband. He and Sarrow were buddies, which you already know, and it strikes me as an extremely strange pairing.” She nodded and leaned over again, brushing her lips lightly against mine. I kissed her in return, but more eagerly. I liked it a lot. “Down boy,” she laughed as she slid from the car seat and out the door. “We’ll have time later, but now we’ve got some work to do.” I hated it when she was right. She was about to get out of the car, but I tugged her back by her arm as I watched Sarrow flip his cigarette down onto the gravel drive. He stood straight, leaning forward as if he was trying to get a better look at the funeral entourage. After a few seconds, he swayed back, snapped his fingers as if he just threw a seven at the craps table and moved quickly back to his car. He jumped in and fired it up, spinning it back around toward us. I did the only thing I could do at that moment, throwing my arms around Bernie and landed an exaggerated kiss on her startled lips. She mumbled something and tried to push me back a bit but I held her tightly until the DeSoto roared past.
“Jackie,” she breathed as I lingered a bit longer before pulling away. “Sorry, Bernie, but I didn’t want Sarrow to see me, and besides, that was something I really wanted to do,” I grinned. “It’s a good thing, then, you weren’t here sitting next to Georgie Matrikos,” she laughed. “He’d have loved it, too, sweetheart,” I shot back, and straightened up, adjusting my tie and hat. I turned the key in the ignition and fired up the Buick. “Now, listen. I’m tailing Sarrow.
He saw someone in the crowd up there that sparked a reaction. Go up there as you
planned, but take note of all the people you see, especially someone who you think is out of place, who doesn’t fit. Trust those instincts of yours, beautiful, and I’ll call you at your office.” She smiled, reaching into her bag for a notebook and pencil. “I forget,” she said with a frown, “do I work for you or for the Free Press?” Without waiting for my retort, she stepped out of the car, walking hurriedly toward the Ponder entourage. I wheeled the Buick around, following the winding gravel road out of the cemetery.
I turned onto Eleven Mile at the rear edge of the cemetery, suspecting Sarrow was headed back into the city and pretty sure he didn’t believe anyone would be tailing him. He had a few minutes’ lead on me but I was sure to catch up to him if he took the likely route through the expanding suburbs along Telegraph Road. Cranking up the straight-eight, I aimed the car south on Telegraph, wondering which of the mourners Sarrow had seen could have ignited the spark under him. He had to have figured whoever shot Eunice actually was after him, but who was bold enough or could wield the clout to take him down?
He had done work for a lot of people, so maybe there was a falling out
along the way, or he worked independently once too often. Like a newsreel in the movie house, I ran through the images of all those in the funeral entourage, judging who was mob connected? There was one I knew for sure, but it didn’t make any sense he would be involved in this murder, but a secret connection through gambling debts or loans from the sharks could have involved most anyone there. It would take a helluva lot of digging to drag the truth to the surface. I was surprised Sarrow still was in town, given his first botched attempt at killing me and the even sorrier second try by his underlings. With one of them in Matrikos’s squeezer, it was only a matter of time before he ratted out Sarrow, which meant Sarrow might try to take him out before I could get any answers. I spotted the DeSoto parked in an alley between two warehouses on the west side of the road. It was halfway down the length of the two buildings but no one was around it. In fact, the buildings appeared lifeless, victims of the depression, but Sarrow was there for a reason. I parked in front of one of the buildings and walked along the side, staying close to the warehouse
wall on my left. Near the far end was a metal stairway leading up to a windowless door. I moved past it and peered around the corner to the rear of the building. An empty parking lot, covered with debris and the remnants of the December snowstorms was evidence no one else was around. It was decision time. I could go back and wait for him to come out and follow him some more or I could go in and grab him. Neither choice was a good one. I could tail him for days and find out very little and risk being spotted. If I went into the building after him, I was at a distinct disadvantage because he knew the layout inside and could ambush me the moment he heard me coming. Reaching inside my pocket, I pulled out the stiletto and clicked it openâ€”option number three. I slipped to the right rear tire of the DeSoto and jabbed the knife into the valve, slitting it open. The air gushed out and the car began to list onto its right haunch. Now all I had to do was wait for him to come out.
Overconfidence is a dangerous mistress. It was a tenet I preached to myself often, but not quite often enough, it appeared. Picking a spot under the metal staircase leading up to the warehouseâ€™s second-floor office, I leaned against the wall clutching the cool handle of the Colt. The wind had picked up reminding me it was now February in Michigan. I let my mind wander a bit as I waited, picturing a series of women. The first was the image of Eunice Ponder in her filmy dressing gown, arms stretched holding open the double doors of the penthouse, coaxing me to come forward. That faded into the blurred vision of Norma Holliday, spinning around me as the
bullets struck her. Then the angry, frightened face of Christine Dehavilland appeared as she tried to get up after I tackled her in the penthouse. Three women, three stories. No answers. I thought about lighting a cigarette, but the smoke could give away my location, so I carefully put the case back in my pocket. Thatâ€™s when the pain hit me, a sharp pain exploding at the base by my neck, spiraling upward through the back of my skull. My eyes were open but I saw nothing but a piercing light as if I had gazed directly into the sun. The world gyrated, swirling around inside my brain as I tried to run, stumbling forward two steps, reaching out to find something to keep me from tumbling down, but another blow caught me between my shoulder blades pitching me face first into the back of the metal steps.
As I crumpled onto the
gravel beneath the stairs, I heard a muffled voice but the words made no sense.
figure leaned over me as my world dimmed and I fought to focus my eyes but the darkness closed in. I felt the cold ground on my face, then nothing.
It could have been a few minutes or a few hours or a few days before my eyes flickered to life again. I had to concentrate on where I was, on what images I could last recall, but the disorientation was intense. I struggled to focus on anything that looked familiar. I was in a large, empty room and then I remembered walking between the two warehouses, so this had to be one of them. I was seated on a wooden chair with my hands tied to it behind my back, and both of my feet were bare, also tied to the chair legs. I couldnâ€™t figure how a man as thin and relatively short as Sarrow could have gotten me all the way up the stairs and wrestled me down into this chair, until I saw the figure standing in the doorway, leaning on the jamb. He was huge, with a bull neck, bald head, and bulging biceps. Even though it was a frigid February day, the man wore only an undershirt on his upper body and sported tattoos on both arms, one with a
heart and arrow through it over a name I couldn’t read and the other had an anchor, meaning he had been in the Navy at one time. He reminded me of a heavyweight contender I had seen in the ring in New York, a guy named Carnera, who beat the hell out of some poor sap, dropping him in the second round. This guy in the doorway looked even meaner. He stared at me and smiled, revealing a tooth. I scanned the rest of the room around me. It was an entirely empty warehouse abandoned for some time judging from the dust on much of the floor. I reasoned it was owned by Falcone because I’m a smart investigator and because it had his name, Falcone Auto Parts Warehouse, painted on the brick wall outside. The building wasn’t in use to store parts any longer, most likely because the economy caused a steep slide in car sales, but the ground floor still could be used to store and move Falcone’s booze and other contraband. What was more interesting, though, was noting that Sarrow felt quite at home in it, making use of the office on this floor which I could see was off to one side at the far end. It meant he was renting it from Falcone or was in business with him. Neither possibility gave me a fuzzy feeling. Behind me was a row of windows, all closed and caked with dirt, casting some light across the room. Instinctively I tried to free myself, tugging against the ropes, first with my arms and then trying to move my feet, all without success. “Ah, you’re back with us,” chuckled a thin voice, with a pronounced German accent. The speaker was behind me and I struggled to turn and see, but I couldn’t get the chair to move. I looked down and saw the chair was in the middle of a long, wide piece of thick, olive drab canvass. I didn’t like the looks of it. The speaker shuffled around and came into view. I recognized him as the man in the cemetery and one of the shooters in Sid’s parking lot. He still sported the onyx pinky ring.
“You’re Nathaniel Sarrow,” I declared. “I’ve been trying to find you.” “And a splendid job you’ve done, Mister Raines,” Sarrow laughed, his accent even more prominent as he spoke. He continued his stroll around to stand in front of me, just off the canvass. “You’ve proven to be quite resourceful, and lucky, if I may make an observation.” I could care less for his chit chat but the spot I was in dictated I buy as much time as possible. I went with the obvious. “You’re German?” He smiled. “Yes, originally. Pomerania, actually. We lived in Memel but after the war our lands were overrun by Lithuanians, of all people, so I left and came here to America. I learned a lot during the war, Mister Raines, as I’m sure you did. I was able to put it to good use, don’t you think?” He reached into the band of his pants and pulled out a Luger automatic pistol. He aimed it in my direction but waved it around as he gestured with his hands when he spoke. His long thin nose crinkled when he laughed, but they were sounds from a harsh, cruel mouth. His upper lip curled back slightly reminding me of a rabid dog. All that was missing was the foam drooling down his chin. “You were in the war?” I offered, hoping to keep him engaged in conversation for as long as I could. “What outfit? I was with the Fifth Marines at Belleau Wood.” The lines in Sarrow’s forehead deepened, but I couldn’t tell if the cause was fear or hatred. He stared at me, his lip curling deeper into his snarl. “Devil Dogs,” he mumbled. “Fucking Devil Dogs.” I smiled at the observation. “That’s what you Krauts called us, all right, and for good reason. It sounds as if you were there.” I said, the tone of my voice belying my inferior position.
“In fact, I was there, Mister Raines.” He paused, shifting the gun from one hand to the other. “I was most certainly there, assigned to the Prussian Tenth Infantry Division, the old Kleist Nollendorf regiment. It’s a shame that after all we survived over there, it has come to this here, in your country.” He shifted the Luger again and this time aimed steadily it at my chest. He was only ten feet in front of me making it unlikely that he could miss if he pulled the trigger. They say that when you believe you are about to die, images of your life flash through the mind. It may be true for some but I never experienced it, not in combat and not now. I figured that was a good sign. All the time I was engaging Herr Sarrow in conversation I moved my hands behind me enough to tug on my trenchcoat, pulling my right pocket through the gap between the back and the seat of the chair. His henchman was better at carrying people than frisking them because all he found on me was the Colt in my shoulder holster. He missed the stiletto and the snub thirtytwo strapped to my right ankle. Sarrow continued aiming the gun at me but turned his head toward the door. “Dummkopf,” he shouted at the large man. He spat orders in German but I understood something about a truck coming here and they had to go soon. The gorilla smiled politely, almost reverently, at Sarrow before running out onto the metal stairs and clattered down to the ground. “He’s not very bright, but he is handy for the heavy lifting,” Sarrow said as he turned toward me, the gun not wavering from my chest. “I have to ask you something, Sarrow,” I said, breaking the silence. “Go ahead, but you haven’t got much time.”
I nodded, maintaining eye contact so he wouldn’t be distracted as I struggled to open the coat pocket. “I have a rough idea what you are about to do, so I need to know, just for peace of mind…” My fingers pried open the pocket, clawing inside, hoping to reach… “…I have to know who hired you to kill me, and why.” My hand reached the stiletto and with two fingers I clamped onto it, carefully moving it toward the opening… Thankfully, Sarrow’s eyes moved up as if inspecting the ceiling. “Oh, as to the why of it, I didn’t have the whole answer myself, Mister Raines. I can only tell you that the party involved wants that red notebook by whatever means necessary. However, it certainly has cleared up an issue for me… …I had it! Inching it up to the top of the pocket, I moved my hip slightly and it fell into my open hand. As he talked, I leaned forward and coughed to cover any sound of the as the stiletto blade flew open… “…I had been sure at first the bullets that killed Eunice Ponder were meant for me,” he continued, “but I was wrong.” “So you’re saying whoever killed Eunice intended to murder her and knew she was in the penthouse alone?” I asked. “That seems to be the case,” he said, turning toward the door. “What the hell is keeping that idiot?” He stared toward the door but the big man was not returning. Thoroughly distracted, he lowered the gun and walked to the open doorway.
It gave me time to angle the knife onto the ropes, sawing as best I could with my hands twisted painfully. The first rope weakened and I snapped the last strands with a tug. I transferred the knife to the other hand and carved into the rope again, cutting through quickly. Another five seconds would allow me to reach down to my right ankle and pull up my pantleg to get at the snub-nose thirty-two encased in an ankle holster which Mister Muscles missed. “Let me go!” a woman’s voice shrieked from the metal stairway outside. I froze. Sarrow whipped his head around toward me and then turned back to the door just as the gorilla was clomping to the top, marking through the entrance. He had a woman slung over his shoulder who continuously pummeled him in the back with her fists to no avail. I could tell by the voice the woman was Bernie Robbins. “Now what?” Sarrow shouted. “I don’t know, boss,” he yelled back as he stomped into the warehouse. “I caught her snooping around outside, back by the loading dock. The truck still isn’t here, but what do you want me to do with her?” He spun her around and she lifted her head up long enough to eye me. “Jackie,” she screamed. “Shut up,” Sarrow growled at her. “It’s okay, Bruno. Just take her into the office and tie her to a chair in there and then bring her back out here to join her pal.” He bobbed his head and shuffle away with her still whacking away at his back, though clearly she was running out of steam. “It’s okay, Bernie,” I called to her wondering why in the hell I said that. It wasn’t okay, of course, but should I have told her we were about to find out what’s on the other side of the Jordan?
Her arrival complicated my move. The sliced ropes clung to my wrists but if I moved at all they’d fall to the floor and Sarrow wouldn’t hesitate to dispatch me and Bernie too. I shifted the knife to my left hand so if I ever got the two seconds I needed, I could move my right hand to the gun at my leg. “You fucking asshole,” came Bernie’s half-frightened, half-furious epithet directed at the creature carrying her back across the warehouse floor. This time she was loaded onto a chair, tied as I was with arms behind her and feet firmly attached to the chair legs. Bruno didn’t break a sweat as shuffled forward with his cargo. “That’s hardly refined talk for a woman such as yourself,” Sarrow ventured. “Go to hell you fucking pig,” she shrieked at him as Bruno plunked the chair down next to me on the canvass. She looked around her and then at me. “Don’t tell me this is what I think it is,” she said dipping her head to indicate the canvass beneath us. I knew she’d been around the newsroom long enough to know they find bodies wrapped in rugs and blankets and curtains, tied up and shot in the head. Her eyes became large and damp. “What are we going to do?” she asked in a much lower voice. It wasn’t as if I had a real plan here. “Just be calm and play it by ear. I’ve got a plan,” I reassured her. “You two are a real nuisance, you know?” Sarrow said suddenly turning his attention back to us. “I’m afraid we are just about out of time.” I glanced at Bernie and then cocked my head toward Sarrow. “C’mon, Sarrow. Before you do whatever it is you’re planning, tell me who’s paying you for all this. You’ve taken on
quite a bit of liability here and I’m sure the compensation isn’t going to be up to your usual fee, given you have all this extra work to do.” He stared at me as if deciding on whether to fill me in on the details. He smiled coldly. “I suppose it won’t do much harm now. Sure, I’ll tell you.” He paused and took a deep breath. He looked over at Bernie and then back to me. “I’m being paid by Henry Ford.”
SEVENTEEN I stared at him. He glared back. “You truly want me to believe Henry Ford hired you to kill me? You’re crazy,” I shouted, drawing a horrified gasp from Bernie. “Now you’ve done it,” she hissed, struggling frantically to free her arms and legs from the restraints. “What the hell are you thinking? He’s going to shoot us dead and wrap us up in this old tent.” I agreed it was not the wisest thing to tell a man pointing a gun at you that he is crazy, even if that clearly was the case. I shifted gears and squinted up at him. “I mean, it is very hard to believe that Henry Ford even knows who I am, let alone wants me dead. What’s the reasoning? Even if it was true, I don’t imagine he was thrilled with the three stooges from Sicily botching things up. I thought he was more…” What was the word? “…sophisticated than that.” Sarrow cocked his head. “Perhaps, but I am working for him just the same.” “You met with Henry Ford himself?” Sarrow sighed. “Of course not. Henry Ford doesn’t go down on the floor of the factory and tell some poor sap how to put a bumper on a Model A, does he? One of his men was sent to arrange the contract, a man by the name of Oscar, er, no, Hoskins, Steven Hoskins. He works for Ford’s right hand man, I was told, so you see, it’s from the top.” Right-hand man, indeed. I’d seen them in the papers often enough, the old guy Henry himself alongside his second in command, his son, Edsel. It made sense, I suppose, that the son might be weaker than the father, eager to show the old guy what he could do, so if a problem
developed, he might be more than zealous in taking care of it. The fact that Edsel was in the funeral cortege with Harry Bennett, the guy in charge of beating factory workers into pulpy submission and paying off bribes, made a pretty compelling case that Sarrow was telling the truth. Why not? He was going to knock us off anyway, so might as well confess to cleanse the soul, or at least to show off how smart he was compared to the two of us trussed up and hopeless. I nodded in Sarrow’s direction, acknowledging his admission of sorts, which was a mixed blessing. I got what I was after, all right, but now the preliminaries were over so Sarrow was ready to finish us off and get on with the rest of his life. We, on the other hand, were on the precipice. “Tell me, Sarrow, what’s your best guess about who wanted Eunice Ponder out of the way? Obviously it wasn’t Henry Ford.” He shrugged. “Well, if we are still playing twenty questions, then I have one for you,” Sarrow said stalking closer, now only a few feet in front of me, his blue eyes glaring down. “I want to know the whereabouts of that red notebook.” “We’re back to that? I told you I don’t know where it is. I want to find it, too, because I’m convinced it holds the answer to this case.” He sidestepped a few feet, ending up in front of Bernie. “Really?” His voice was more menacing, his eyes fixed on her. He raised the gun and leaned the barrel against her forehead. “Is that the truth, Miss?” “I…I don’t know what you mean?” she stammered with genuine fear in her voice. “Yes, you do, my dear,” he barked. “How about it, Mister Raines? Ready to talk?” “I wish I knew where it was so I could give it to you,” I said truthfully.
There were frantic footsteps clanging up the metal stairs drawing Sarrow’s attention away from us. He lifted the Luger and moved toward the door. “Boss,” Bruno wheezed, stopping to catch his breath. “Cops,” he gasped. “There are cops all over the place. They’re going through the warehouse next door but it won’t be long before they come here. We gotta get outta here, Boss.” The color, such as it was, drained from Sarrow’s face. He wheeled around in his tracks, his eyes darting around the warehouse and then back to us, as if debating to run and leave us behind or… “Run down and get the car started,” he shouted. “I’ll be right behind you.” “Boss, the car’s got a flat and there’s no spare tire,” he shouted back at him. “When I went down earlier I saw it and was going to fix it, but then I saw the girl runnin’ around the building. I forgot about it until a few minutes ago. What’ll we do?” He marched menacingly over to Bernie, but his voice seemed eerily calm. “I know what I have to do now,” he said, raising the gun to her head. I watched his hand, zeroing in on his index finger resting on the trigger. In the instant that it twitched in pulling it back to fire, I shot my right palm out, striking the side of Bernie’s chair, toppling her over onto her side as the Luger exploded. Bernie’s startled scream was lost in the blast, as she fell sideways, the bullet missing her and skipping off the cement floor up the bank of windows, shattering one of the filmy planes. Sarrow must have realized that he had made a huge mistake because the gunshot was bound to alert the police next door and they’d be up those stairs in seconds. I couldn’t wait for that because he’d have time to continue firing, even if it was the last thing he ever did. Even as the shards of glass were crashing onto the warehouse floor, I jumped up, the chair still tied to my
legs, and lunged at Sarrow, jamming the stiletto into his ribs. He howled in pain, the reflex causing the gun to fire again blasting out another window. I pulled the knife out of him and swung my arm down in an arc onto his right elbow, the blade piercing his suit coat and sticking into the socket. The Luger clattered onto the floor as he reeled backward, his angry blue eyes glued to mine in disbelief. Footsteps pounded on the steps again as Bruno rushed through the doorway, closing on me as he screamed in German. I reached down, ripping the thirty-two from my leg holster. “That’s it, Bruno,” I shouted at him. “Stop where you are.” I cocked the thirty-two, the action not lost on him. He slowed and stopped, still staring at me, his dark eyes bulging like a pair of fried eggs. “Nein,” he yelled as his arms went up. I signaled for him to get on his knees and he dropped down with a thud. A movement to my right caused me to turn as Sarrow regained his balance and was starting back toward me, his eyes wide, frantic, crazy. “Fucking Devil Dogs,” he shrieked, shuffling forward in pain, bending to pick up the Luger from the floor. He scooped up the pistol, his good arm rising to aim it at me. There was a second of pure silence as both our guns aimed at each other, the outcome clearly certain that both of us would die in this empty warehouse. There’d be a brief story in the local papers and the world would move on. He stopped moving forward and just stood still a few yards in front of me. He had taken a deep breath and was letting it out slowly, the trait of a marksman. I matched his move and both of our trigger fingers put pressure on the triggers, but before our guns fired and the bullets passed each other on their missions of death, the silence was shattered by big caliber explosions from a machine gun, further amplified as they echoed off the walls of the empty warehouse. Sarrow’s eyes widened
in fear as he staggered sideways as the bullets ripped through him. His body jerked, contorting in a death dance as more bullets found him, finally twisting him around before he toppled onto his knees. He looked for all the world as if he was saying his last prayers, his eyes pointing skyward but the god of assassins wasn’t going to save him. Blood gushed from his side and his chest, pumping out like the bilge of a freighter. He turned to look at me one last time before his eyes rolled back into his skull as he bent backward, his knees remaining rooted to the floor. The last breath whistled out of his throat like a deflating bagpipe and his lips moved: “Devil Dogs,” he wheezed. I turned my eyes towards the doorway, watching a cloud of gunsmoke billowing around George Matrikos, the Thompson level at his hip, and the remnants of a thin cigar dangling lifelessly from his lips. “Dammit, Jack, we were on the way,” he said calmly, raising the Tommy gun so the barrel pointed to the ceiling. “You didn’t have to worry.” He puffed one last time on the cigar and crushed it beneath his shoe. “I’m glad you showed up, but how did you know where we were?” I asked as I untied my legs from the chair and moved over to Bernie, picking up her chair and untying her ropes. “You can thank Bernie for it,” he said. “She called me at the office and told me where you were.” I turned to her. “When did you do that?” She laughed nervously, her eyes darting to the contorted corpse a few feet away, fear still evident in her voice. “I was headed back to the office and saw your car parked by the road. I snooped around a bit and didn’t see you but saw that the DeSoto had been disabled. That had to be your handiwork and I spotted your hat under the stairs. I grabbed it and I drove back to a
filling station up the road to make the call. George said he and some of his men would come out because they’ve all been deputized by the sheriff , you know because of Prohibition, so they can go anywhere in the county.” “Good thing, too,” Matrikos interrupted. “We found a ton of booze in the place next door, ready to be shipped out. There’s some downstairs here, too, so it was quite a find.” “Why does that please you so much, Georgie?” I asked. “Won’t your paymasters be upset when they find out you took their stuff off the streets? Not that I give a shit, you understand.” He shook his head. “Not my problem. All this shit belongs to Falcone and I don’t work for Falcone and that’s all I’m sayin’ about it.” This meant, of course, Georgie had been helping out the Purples, if it mattered. I turned back to Bernie, pulling the last of the ropes from her ankles. “Why didn’t you wait for the police?” “Because, silly, I knew you were in trouble and someone had to rescue you right away,” she said. “That’s how you decided to rescue me, by letting Primo Carnera here,” I said, pointing to Bruno, “carry you around on his shoulder?” “Is that his name?” “Never mind,” I said shaking my head. “The point, I guess, is we got the confession from Sarrow. Now we have to figure a way to deal with Henry Ford.” “And find that red notebook,” Bernie breathed. “Henry Ford?” Matrikos groaned. “Oh, shit. I don’t want any part of that.”
I smiled at him. “Too late, Georgie. You just killed his boy, here, but maybe Mister Carnera will want to talk, although he’s not the brightest candle on the Christmas tree.” Matrikos shook his head and walked up behind Bruno who was now being handcuffed by a uniformed officer. “C’mon, asshole,” he said, grabbing Bruno by the shirt and turning him around. “It’s time for your singing lesson.”
EIGHTEEN Dodging one bullet didn’t mean there still wasn’t a target on my back. My luck had held up a couple of times, but it was illogical to assume the odds wouldn’t shift in a place like Detroit. After all, they only had to succeed once. Now I wanted some answers and find out who was pulling the strings. A half-dozen men in business suits sat separately at the counter of the small Greektown diner, all detectives from the Central Headquarters around the corner and all appeared lost in thought. One could hope they were contemplating the cases assigned to them, but it was my experience they were more worried about their wives finding out about their girlfriends, or about a newspaper expose on mobsters paying off coppers to keep them in their pockets. I sat in a booth along the opposite wall with my afternoon paper and a cup of thick black coffee. The News was filled with stories I had ignored because of Eunice Ponder, but it was clear the economic ruin of the nation hadn’t cleared up in the last few days, the fascists and Reds were carving up Europe, and the Japanese were overrunning Asia. It looked like 1914 all over again. “You get Bernie home okay?” interrupted a voice approaching along the row of booths. Georgie Matrikos, tie undone and hanging in two long strands over his vest, his topcoat draped on one arm, sauntered up and slid onto the bench across the table from me. He carefully removed his hat, placing it on the bench beside him, and smoothed down his dark hair with both hands.
“She was faring better than I thought, but I made sure she got some rest before tackling the story,” I told him. Matrikos let a smile creep across his gaunt face, momentarily making him look like the kid who lived one block over from us in Corktown. Bernie and I grew up a few houses apart on Leverette while the Matrikos family resided in a row house behind us on Church Street. That seemed a lifetime ago now and I guess it was. “I want to thank you for showing up when you did at the warehouse,” I said. His smile broadened. “I never pass up a chance to fire that Thompson.” “Make any progress with the bullet-head?” I inquired, sipping again from my cup. Matrikos signaled for the waitress to bring a cup for him. The thin redhead, probably just out of high school, smiled at him but ignored me. “Thanks, doll,” he said as she retreated behind the counter. He produced a silver flask from his pocket and poured in a healthy double shot of whiskey into the cup. “You’re cutting into my cocktail hour, Jack,” he snorted. “So, what did Bruno say, Georgie?” I persisted. “You’ve had enough time to question him, I’m sure.” He hunched his shoulders. “Not a lot, I’m afraid. He’s just a flunky, Jack. He did the heavy lifting, all right, but when it came to brains, well, you pegged it alright. He must have left the line early when God was handing out the smarts.” “Okay, but Sarrow claimed he was working on a contract put out by Henry Ford, or at least his Number Two in the company. Did the jerkoff Bruno say he was with him on any of his meetings with Ford?”
Matrikos wagged his index finger in my face. “Now that’s just one big boast on Sarrow’s part with no evidence to back it up, Jack. The Fords aren’t going to be shooting the town up, or putting out contracts on private dicks like you.” I didn’t appreciate the finger in my face and he was lucky I didn’t reach up and snap it in half. “Goddamit, George, I was shot in the leg and a squad of goons tried to take me out at my apartment. Eunice Ponder is dead. Norma Holliday is dead. Bernie and I were that close to being shot dead this morning. Somebody is after me, somebody with some juice and a lot of it. Who in this town has that kind of clout? The Purples are on the run. The Capone brothers are in jail in Chicago so their reach over here is nearly gone. Who does that leave to run Detroit?” Matrikos stared at me, his mouth open as if to provide some alternative answer, if he had one, but his jaw snapped shut. He took a gulp of his tainted coffee. “How about Falcone and his crew?” It had crossed my mind, but why would Falcone take such big risks on his own, and for what profit? If we knew one thing it was Sal Falcone didn’t do anything unless there was a pot of gold at the end of the gunfire. “So, did Bruno say anything about Ford or not?” I insisted, judging he heard the impatience in my voice and it wouldn’t take much for me to come over the table. I denied the impulse to do just that and grabbed my coffee, casting my stare to his watery eyes to make sure he knew I meant business. Matrikos shrugged apologetically. “He said he did take him to the Ford offices a couple of times, but never went in with him. He added, interestingly enough, that he drove him over there again on Friday night, late, around midnight.” I considered that for a moment. “Friday night?”
“Yeah, that would be right after…” “Right after the shooting at Sid’s,” I filled in the blank. “So, Sarrow told you the truth?” I slowly shook my head. “I still can’t believe it. What’s the motive?” “That red notebook,” he said quickly. I studied his face. His eyes were blinking a mile a minute and he dropped them down to stare at his cup. He swirled the coffee around in it with a spoon, pouring in a little cream from a tin replica of a teapot “The red notebook? So you’re after that book, too, I should have guessed,” I said, lowering my voice to almost a whisper, not wishing to spook him. He offered an apologetic smile once again, raising both hands palms up, but his eyes still gazed down to the table. “It’s got to be worth something, don’t you think? Everyone seems to want it. If I can get a hold of it, maybe I can auction it off and get a good payday for it.” He paused and finally looked up at me. “Oh, don’t give me that self-righteous bullshit look, Jack. You want that book, too, so you can make some money. If you get the answers you want from the book, you can get a bigger payday yourself from old man Ponder. He’s the one who hired you, right?” My eyes narrowed. “How’d you come up with that?” He didn’t have to answer. The HQ grapevine is as good as any telephone switchboard. “Actually, Georgie, Ponder did hire me but he wasn’t the only one. I also was working for Eunice Ponder.” He frowned. “She wanted you to follow him, her father-in-law?”
“Not at all,” I laughed, and explained how I ended up on the Eunice Ponder case. It wasn’t to make George better informed, but to make sure the information got back to whoever had him on the payroll. Besides, I did owe him something for showing up at the warehouse. “So you’re saying you don’t have the notebook?” George asked as he finished his cup. “I don’t have it, Georgie, although you don’t have to believe me,” I answered. “If my boys tossed your place, it wouldn’t be there, is what you’re saying?” he jabbed back. ‘If I didn’t know better, George, I say you’re here, keeping me company while some of your pals are doing just that,” I said. I leaned closer to him across the table. “I hope they are considerate and leave my place nice and tidy. If not, that would be bad, Georgie, very bad.” “Are you threatening me?” “Would I do a thing like that, George?” I answered with a shrug. He slid off the bench and stood next to me. “I’ve got to make a phone call. Stay away from your place for an hour or so.” “Nice and tidy,” I called after him as he marched toward the front door of the diner.
NINETEEN The way I figured it, I had two choices knowing that a contract was put out on me. One was to run, to pack my bags for parts unknown, and the other was as Fred Astaire put it, to “face the music and dance.” The Jeweler said he had an exclusive contract on me, meaning he was the only one who took the job to rub me out. Now there would be a lag in time before word got out that I still was upright and he was put down. My job now was clear—find the one who hired Sarrow to kill me before he could hire the next mercenary. If Sarrow was telling the truth, and there was no reason to assume he hadn’t done so, my next move was to visit Ford Motor Co.’s world headquarters and have a little chat with Steve Hoskins. I pulled up to the curb at 3000 Schaefer in Dearborn, not wishing to turn my Buick into the Ford parking lot. I was in front of the white, U-shaped, three-story headquarters, quite a step up for Henry Ford’s little machine shop where his whole empire was born. While my car was in front, it still meant walking the length of a football field just to get to the main entrance. The weather was turning bad again, with temperatures dropping to single digits. For Ground Hog Day, it was overcast and, according to superstitions, the little rodent comes out to play so the rest of the winter will be mild. He might be right because there wasn’t any snow on the ground despite the frigid air. A handful of visitors walked along the broad concrete ribbon stretching from the road, with paths crisscrossing all the way around to the building’s two wings. I had no idea where Steven Hoskins might be in the building, but I expected it to be a public enough place where he wouldn’t have me bumped off in front of a couple thousand Ford employees. I opened one of the two huge glass doors and walked inside. The lobby had a downtown office building feel to it with a high ceiling and marble floor, bisected by narrow
black rubber mats, creating paths in all directions from a central reception desk. A pleasantlooking woman with fair skin and a long neck peered up from behind the counter. Her voice echoed in the cavernous lobby. “Welcome to Ford World Headquarters, my name is Mildred. May I be of assistance?” Her voice was husky and inviting. Well, it was husky and I may have imagined the inviting part. “I’m here to see Mr. Hoskins.” “Yes, and what department?” She had me there. “Administration, I would imagine.” “Whom should I say is calling?” “My name is Jonathan Raines. I’m a private investigator and I would like to talk to Mister Hoskins about the death of Eunice Ponder.” I gave her a professional smile and handed her my card. She blinked and studied the card for a moment, peering back at me without comment. She picked up a directory the size of a tabloid newspaper, flipping through it and stopping at a page in the middle. She ran a well-manicured index finger down the listings and slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid there is no Hoskins here, sir.” “I can check with personnel, if you like. We have some other offices around the city, you know, for various projects and he might be working out of one of them.” I nodded for her to go ahead. I scanned the lobby which seemed rather quiet for being a world headquarters. There were no more than twenty people milling around, heading to elevators, or sitting in one of the chairs that lined the wall, perhaps waiting for an appointment. There were two other women behind the counter, one waiting on another visitor. Mildred replaced the receiver in its cradle and looked up at me.
“There is no Steven Hoskins on the payroll here or at any other Ford facility, sir. Is there someone else you wish to see instead?” Yes, Mildred. I would like to see you. Perhaps we could go dancing sometime and have a nightcap at my place, once all the repairs are completed of course from the night the place was shot to pieces by a band of killers. Mildred, I’m quite a prize, don’t you think? “No, Mildred, I must have been given some incorrect information,” I answered. She smiled back and I thought that it wasn’t just a courteous smile, the one she gives all sorts of people who wander into Ford World Headquarters each day. As I turned to leave, she rose out of her chair and leaned up to the counter. The dark blue dress with white collar didn’t conceal her figure, which was ample and inviting, or maybe that was my imagination again. “It was a terrible thing, the death of that woman,” she said in her husky whisper. “You don’t think anyone here…” I shook my head. “I just need some questions answered.” She smiled again and sat down. As I walked back towards my car, I tried to imagine why Sarrow would give me the name and a title for a guy he knew didn’t exist. It made little sense for him at that moment to protect someone. After all, he was going to shoot me dead so why make up a story, and if he didn’t make it up, Hoskins must exist. If that was true, then Hoskins was not a legitimate employee of Ford’s Number Two man, Henry Ford’s number one and only son, Edsel. Hoskins had to be a player off the books, but still working for one or both of the Fords. Given that assumption, it should be about time to bypass Mr. Hoskins and shoot the moon. I swiveled around and headed back through the doors to the reception desk. “Mildred!” I called as I approached the counter.
She perked up when she saw me and I believe the smile was genuine. “Back so soon. You must miss me.” “I could alter that, Mildred, perhaps over some better imported wine, but first I must ask a favor,” I said, leaning on the counter. “I would like to see Mister Ford.” Her lips parted and she ran her tongue slowly from left to right and then it disappeared back into her mouth. “You are full of surprises, Mister Raines.” I was flattered that she remembered by name without so much as a prompt from me. “That’s me, Mildred, a surprise a minute.” My eyes wandered down from her face to her chest and back. “Which one do you want?” “Excuse me?” I frowned. “The Fords. Which Mister Ford were you seeking?” “Oh,” I laughed. “I would like to meet with Mister Edsel Ford, please.” He nodded and dialed four digits. She swiveled sideways and spoke softly, finally turning back to me. “I’m afraid he is unavailable, Mister Raines, but I was told if you left a phone number where you could be reached, he would contact you. I explained to his secretary why you were here and she was certain Mr. Edsel would definitely be in touch.” “Mr. Edsel?” She giggled and put her fingers to her lips. “Oh, we say Mr. Ford if we are referring to Henry Ford and Mr. Edsel for his son so there would be no confusion. Everyone at the company knows that.” “How about at the plants?” I asked. “Do all the workers make the same distinction?” She nodded. “I’m sure they do.”
I thanked her and wanted to get her phone number, not necessarily for business purposes, but I wasnâ€™t in the mood yet to be socializing, especially with someone at Ford, not until I sorted out which of the Fords wanted me dead. Besides, I knew where to find Mildred.
Edsel Ford peered out at me from under his wide-brimmed fedora as I drove by. It looked expensive as did his black top coat, but he could afford it. The wind had picked up and as I turned into the parking lot I hadn’t expected to see a black buggy with two well-groomed drays standing near the entrance. Ford sat on one side of the black leather- covered bench holding the reins with one hand and giving me a half-salute with the other as I stepped out of my car. He had called me two hours earlier suggesting I probably would be more comfortable meeting out in the open, offering to meet me at his father’s new historical park off Michigan Avenue in Dearborn. I didn’t know if any place was safe, but I had to confront him figuring he wouldn’t venture into any place of my choosing, like Sid’s, so I agreed to meet him inside oldman Ford’s Greenfield Village. It had been two days since I left my card with Mildred at the reception desk in Ford Headquarters and was about to pay a visit to Mr. Edsel’s home over in Grosse Pointe Shores, the ritzy lakefront place he called Gaukler Point. I took my time walking up to him, giving me an opportunity to scan the area, looking for danger points. There was nothing alarming, which was unsettling in itself. I didn’t like the setup, but I was here. I made a promise to myself that if this was a trap, Edsel Ford would be the first to go down. I instinctively tapped my shoulder holster under my coat. The heft of the Colt was reassuring. “It’s not the best of days I’m afraid, but we have shelter,” he called, pointing to the black canvas roof on the buggy. It had started snowing earlier in the morning and now there was at least two inches of it on the ground. He was a thin faced man and his body probably was wiry but hidden by his coat. He wasn’t wearing gloves, which surprised me. I was as bundled up as
he was, tying my trench coat tight with the collar up and my hat tugged down low, and I wore gloves. I lit a cigarette and leaned back in the leather seat. The horses snorted, their breath puffing out in small white clouds as he tapped their flanks with the reins and the carriage lurched forward. The clomping of the hooves was muffled by the snow on the ground. “You can interrogate me any time you wish, Mister Raines, but first I want to show you around a bit. My father has perseverance and it was that quality that led him to collect as much of his America, his boyhood America at least, and preserve it in one place, this place. The carriage, a mix of mahogany and red velvet, swayed as the two horses trudged forward on the crushed-stone road. “I’ve helped him when I could. He plans to make this the showplace museum of America, a replica of all that is good and all that we remember. His good friend Tom Edison, who didn’t like me very much because when he visited I’d pester him about his latest inventions, is donating much of his artifacts from his laboratory along with the actual building itself. Much of it already is here and in operation. I tell you, Mister Raines, this village of my father’s will be a major attraction when it is completed.” The buggy turned a corner and stopped. “This is something I wanted you to see.” He pointed to a red brick depot perched alongside the Michigan Central railroad tracks. I followed him as he stepped down from the carriage, walking around the little building to the wooden plank passenger and freight platform. “This isn’t a duplicate, Mister Raines,” he said, pointing in the direction of the building. “It’s the real thing. My father purchased it from the Smith Creek town and had it disassembled and moved here. He picked this particular station because of a story Edison told him about being thrown off a train as a boy at Smith Creek Station. He had accidentally caused a fire in a
baggage car where he was working and was fired and given the heave-ho. He said he felt humiliated which didn’t set well with my father, so he decided to do something about it, immortalizing it after a fashion.” I smiled politely. “So what does all this have to do with Eunice Ponder’s murder?” My arm was killing me and my ribs could have used a week’s rest. “You aren’t planning on turning me into an exhibit, I hope.” Ford laughed, his shoulders shaking, but it seemed forced, almost condescending. “I wouldn’t want to do that to you, although if my father saw you in your present condition, he just might want to include you, a sort-of old-fashioned, hard-as-nails detective. If I were you, I wouldn’t stand still here for very long or the workmen might build an exhibit set around you,” he said. He still was smiling at me, but the tone in his voice changed, becoming edgier and I didn’t like it. I tried to match his tone. “Okay, Mister Ford, let’s get down to business.” I could see I interrupted his train of thought and he grimaced as I continued. “I’m not thrilled about the history lesson and certainly don’t like chatting out in the middle of a Michigan snowstorm with a guy who wants to plant me six feet under. So here’s the deal. I want to know why your man hired a professional killer to knock off Eunice Ponder.” I made a show of shoving my hand into my coat pocket so he would assume I was armed, although the gun wasn’t there. I eyed the buildings around us but detected no movement, no tracks in the snow. If there were some of Ford’s people in hiding, they had wings. What took me by surprise, though, was Ford’s reaction to my accusation. His face turned pale and his mouth dropped open. “I…I don’t know what you’re talking about, Raines. I didn’t have anyone kill Eunice Ponder. That’s the most outrageous charge I’ve
ever heard. What proof do you think you have that I’m involved in this awful business?” His body shook and I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold or the fear he was experiencing hearing what I had to say. “It’s a hunch, shall we say? But there is proof that you wanted to kill me and actually tried on two occasions. The bodies in the morgue are piling up and I’m still here, Mister Ford.” “I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” he stammered. “I didn’t hire anyone to have you killed. I wouldn’t know how to go about that even if I wanted to do it.” “A man named Steven Hoskins works for you, Mister Ford. He is the middle man in all this. He was named in a dying declaration, more or less, to have arranged for someone to kill Eunice Ponder, and since he works for you, that puts you in the jackpot.” Ford bowed his head and then slowly shook it. “I don’t know a Hoskins. I have never heard of him.” “He’s not on your regular payroll, Mister Ford. I checked. The killer who named him was positive he worked for you. He said he was hired by Henry Ford’s number two man. That’s you.” I removed my hand from my pocket and lit another cigarette. Ford began to laugh, letting his nervousness fuel the intensity of it. “Oh, Mister Raines, you have jumped to an awful conclusion, I’m afraid.” “You’re the president of Ford Motor Company for chrissake,” I shot back. “He’s the chairman of the board and you’re the president which makes you second in command. Number Two.” He bobbed his head. “Oh, I’m second, all right, but I’m not his number two man, his right hand man, as it were. That would be Harry Bennett.”
“Bennett?” I blanched. “That sonofabitch is a gangster, hooked up with every type of shady business in the city. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run across thugs who went to work for…” I stopped. Dammit! How could I have been so blind? “You think Hoskins works for Bennett?” “Well,” Ford shrugged, “if you heard that the killer was hired by Hoskins, I’m betting Hoskins works for Bennett, and I agree with you, Mister Raines, he is a sonofabitch. I’ve tried to get my father to fire him for years but he refuses. For some unknown reason, he likes Bennett. I suspect he sees some attributes in him that I lack and since I’m his only son, perhaps that’s the reason he clings to Bennett. I dislike the situation intensely, Mister Raines, and I would like mothering better than to help you nail that bastard and get him out of our company. I hope we can do this, though, without a scandal. Something like this could put us out of business.” I agreed. “If you want to help, then I need proof that Hoskins is a stooge for Bennett. I want to find Hoskins and sweat him.” Ford smiled. “I think I can get that for you, at least. You know if we can get rid of Bennett, my father will have to rely more on the rest of us to keep the company growing. If it means dealing with unions, it will be a lot better than trying to terrorize the workers every day to keep the unions out. It will be good all around. There is one thing, though.” “What’s that?” I asked. “Why would Bennett want to have Eunice Ponder out of the way? What could she possibly do to Ford that would make him take such a drastic action and then to go after you?” I flipped my cigarette into the snow and watched it disappear. “That’s the hundred dollar question, Mister Ford. With your help, we’ll find the answer.”
TWENTY ONE It had been over a month since my encounter with Edsel Ford and I wasn’t any closer to finding Steven Hoskins nor had Ford called me with information on Hoskins’ connection to the Ford Motor Co. It was difficult for me to believe The Jeweler would lie in boasting about working for Ford since he planned on killing us anyway, so I had to assume Edsel was shielding someone, if not himself, to block any meaningful outcome of the investigation. That is until the riots. The Fords, living in the cushy confines of luxury, ensconced in their mansions on palatial grounds guarded by hefty gunmen, overseers of a couple hundred thousand workers making just enough to get by, hadn’t counted on the fact there were tens of thousands of former workers all around the city whose families were near starvation. Many already were booted out of their shabby apartments, their sad possessions thrown onto the sidewalks by landlords as sheriff’s men looked on. Entire families were now huddled in makeshift hobo jungles along the riverbanks where there was water and the slim hope of catching fish. At night, in the swampy underbelly of a once proud city, these wretched souls tried to survive one frigid night at a time. Given their pitiful situation, they were easily moved to action, spurred on by political fistpumpers—some communist, some fascist—all eager to assault the unjust status quo to further agendas which had little to do with food and much to do with power. At least that was my take on the descriptions appearing in the bulldog edition of the Free Press about the mass protest march to Ford’s River Rouge plant. Their leaders said the men just wanted jobs and vowed to blockade the plant until their demands were met. They were relatively peaceful, until that pompous little shit Harry Bennett upped the ante. As Ford’s security boss he had organized an army of informers in the plant and a regiment of gangster gunmen outside it, all paid with Ford’s
millions. The fury of the mob turned on Bennett when he tried to plow through them in his car and they overturned it. That’s when his goons opened fire. Four marchers were killed and dozens of others wounded.
The paper said some of Bennett’s men were detained by DPD for
questioning, even though the plant is in Dearborn police jurisdiction. I didn’t think that much about it until I got a phone call from George Matrikos. “Hey, Jackie, you said you were on the lookout for a guy named Hoskins, right?” Matrikos asked in his gravelly voice, a tone of triumph blended in. “That’s right, George.”
I leaned back in my wooden-backed office chair, my feet
propped up on the corner of the desk. I crushed out the butt of a Lucky and lit another. A cacophony of voices in the background forced Matrikos to shout into the phone. “I got the little rat fuck here in central,” he bellowed. “He’s screamin’ like a fuckin’ banshee, if you pardon my Irish. He says we’ll all face the heat from Bennett when he finds out we snatched his guys from the plant shooting. Personally, I’d like to line this little prick up and shoot him myself. Anyway, you want him, I got him, and I’ll see you soon.” He hung up and my office resumed its silence. I didn’t know what lathered Georgie up so much, but I was betting he was no longer a fan of the Fords.
I stirred the thick black Greek coffee and waited. It wasn’t noon yet so the heavy traffic hadn’t flooded the little café, one of a half-dozen in Greektown just around the corner from the central police station. I was nearly done with my second cup when Georgie rushed through the door, more agitated than usual so it was either the adrenalin or he was upset with my choice of meeting spots.
“What the hell?” Matrikos fumed as he plopped down on the bench across from me. “I’ve got him all up there and primed to talk to you, so why aren’t you over there instead of here?” I smiled and finished my coffee, replacing the little cup, which reminded me of one from a little girl’s play tea set. “That underwear of yours must have puckered all the way up your crack, Georgie. I’ve got my reasons for meeting you here.” The café’s owner, a short, bald guy with a gold tooth in front, brought over a shot glass filled with dark something, obviously from his bootleg bar under the counter. He put it down in front of Matrikos and set down another cup of tar that passed for coffee in front of me.
tossed down the shot and chased it with the muddy coffee. “I don’t know what’s worse,” he croaked, his eyes watery, “that rotgut booze he sells or this shitty coffee.” He swallowed another sip, frowning at me. “Now tell me about why we’re here again.” “It’s simple,” I answered. “I don’t want everyone in the world to know I’m talking to that prick. If someone sees me up there, word will get back to the Fords. I’ll bet you’ve got a dozen guys up there who get a little something each month from Harry Bennett.” Georgie nodded. “Yeah, I wasn’t one of them. I never got nothin’ from that asshole. You’d think I’d rate some consideration from Ford’s right hand man after all the years I been on the force, but he don’t like Greeks and he don’t like Catholics is what I hear.” I sat up straight. “That’s what Edsel Ford told me. He said Bennett was his father’s right hand man. I didn’t know if that was entirely true or not although it was clear Edsel hates Bennett.”
Matrikos laughed. “Well, it’s true, Jack. Bennett is the old man’s right hand, all right. He’ll do the old goat’s bidding no matter what it is and sometimes he just does what he wants even if the old geezer doesn’t know about it. Old Henry backs him up, no matter what.” “So you wouldn’t say Ford’s son is his right hand?” I prodded. “He is the company’s president.” “Yeah, yeah,” Georgie waved his hand. “That’s all well and good, as ancient Sister Mary Helen used to say, but he’s just involved in the corporate board room stuff. The real dirty business being done on the floor of the plant or shooting into a crowd of unemployed men, that’s Harry Bennett.” “I want to talk to Hoskins but not in the station even if he wants to clam up,” I pointed out. “I think he’ll come around if he figures his days are numbered working for Bennett.” Georgie grinned at me. “I think we might have a way to flap his gums.” I held up my hand. “No rough stuff, at least not now. I’ve got to get some answers that will hold up. This guy might have to testify someday, so let’s just talk to him without all the extra curricula you’re so eager to provide.” “Don’t worry, Jackie boy, this will work. I’ll call you later today.”
Matrikos didn’t call. I was tempted to go back to the DPD Headquarters and have it out with him, but figured it would do little good and certainly would screw up any “in” I had at the department. Still, it didn’t feel right. I had slept on it, or at least tossed and turned on it, until the phone rang. Squeezing one eye open, the room was barely visible in the dim light from the street lamp, so it was nowhere near dawn. I clicked on the light next to the bed and could see the alarm clock, ticking away
with hands pointing happily to three o’clock. The phone continued ringing
I shuffled into the
kitchen and picked up the receiver. I am always grumpy five hours before my first coffee. “Yeah, this had better be important,” I croaked wishing I had a cigarette. There was silence on the other end. Well, not complete silence. Someone was gasping for breath if it was five strides past the finish line of a mile run, and other noises filled in the background, men shouting and laughing and there was the distinct wailing of a steamer whistle. Why was someone on the docks calling me at this hour? “Who is this?” I demanded. “Mister Raines,” a man shouted into the phone above the din around him. “This is Hoskins. I heard you was lookin’ to talk to me.” That was an understatement. “Yes I am, Hoskins. You’re supposed to be in the city lockup. What did you do, break out?” Hoskins’ voice quivered as he attempted a laugh. “Naw, nothin’ like that. I’m talkin’ legit, now Raines. I was bailed out earlier tonight.” He paused. “But now I’m thinkin’ that it might’ve been a mistake to leave. I think they’re after me. I saw a couple of those mugs waitin’ out in front of the precinct so I ducked out the back way, through Greektown and then down to the docks.” He stopped talking and I heard the click of a lighter as he lit up a cigarette, which made me reach for one of my own. “Where are you?” I asked blowing out a puff of smoke. “One of those all-night greasy spoons near the piers,” he answered. “I want to talk to you but with no cops around. No cops,” he repeated slowly, with emphasis on cops. “If you agree to protect me I’ll talk to you, and then, if I can get a lawyer, but not one of Ford’s men, we can work out a deal. After that, I’ll talk to the cops.”
I didn’t like the choices, but there was something in Hoskins’ voice, an undercurrent of fear, the kind a boxer tries to conceal as his knees buckle from a kidney shot. I believed he wanted to get away from whatever force Bennett had unleashed to silence him. He was a killer and other killers were after him. He had every right to be afraid. “Okay,” I sighed. “Where and when?” “Half hour, under the A Bridge on Jefferson.” There was a click and the phone went silent. It could be the break I was hoping to find, although I was surprised Hoskins wasn’t on the midnight flyer to Chicago and points beyond. Maybe he figured Bennett and his connections had a long reach. Then again, maybe I was walking into an ambush.
Snowy ice pellets stabbed me in the face as I negotiated the stairs outside my apartment. I pulled up my coat collar and tugged my hat down against the wind as the snow sliced into me. I’d almost made it to my car when a pair of headlights slashed across the darkened lot. I whirled around wishing I had transferred the gun from my shoulder holster to a coat pocket but it was too late. The speeding car was sliding to a stop only a few feet from the back bumper of my Buick. I was ready to hit the deck as the window of the car cranked down, but Bernie popped her head out through the opening and laughed. “What’s so goddam funny,” I shouted over the wind. “You are, sailor,” she laughed again. “Get in before the storm carries you away.” She revved the engine as I climbed in, grateful that the car was already warm but unsure as to why I was seeing her at this hour.
“I got some news and wanted to see you anyway, so here I am,” she said in a matter-offact tone she had developed since working at the Free Press. “Where were you headed?” I told her about Hoskins’ call. “Here I thought I had the scoop,” she shook her head giving me a glance and a smile. She was bundled up in a dark wool coat with a thin lining of fur at the collar, a tan hat pulled down over her right ear. She wheeled the car out onto Michigan Avenue. “I was going to tell you I knew Hoskins was bailed out. I also thought, perhaps foolishly, that we might have a nice cozy night together. Hoskins is Georgie’s trouble so let him deal with it.” “What are you doing, Bernie?” I asked feeling more uncomfortable as she continued driving east. “You said you had to meet Hoskins in a half hour, so that’s what we’re going to do,” she said staring into the snowy blizzard ahead of the car. “We?” I repeated. “There’s no ‘we’ involved in this meet. I have to see him alone and it could be dangerous. In fact, I’m sure it is dangerous, Bernie, so there is no way I want you to be nearby if things go bad.” She smiled again. “You think I’m going to hold your hand, Jackie? This guy’s a killer, a gangster tied somehow to the Fords and you don’t think it’s a story in this town?” I shook my head slowly. “So the reason you are going with me is to get a story.” “Why else?” she sighed dramatically. I didn’t have an answer for that. “Okay, Bernie, but I’ll size up the situation. We can’t approach him together. I’ll see if we can go back to that diner where he was hanging out and then you can get in on the conversation, if he agrees.”
She bobbed her head. “Fair enough.” “Park some distance back and keep the car running, just in case.” She didn’t have to ask “in case of what?”
TWENTY TWO Wind-driven snow funneled into the headlight beams, freezing on the windshield where the wipers scraped ragged slits for Bernie Robbins to see as she guided the car along the icy streets. The Ambassador Bridge, the only bridge in Michigan linking the U.S. and Canada, loomed above us as we approached it from the south where a little ice-coated empty parking lot appeared. Lights from a line of trucks on the bridge filtered down through the snow, landing in eerie strips on the frozen Detroit River. As Bernie turned her car into the lot, the headlights captured a lone figure standing against one of the bridge’s concrete support pylons near the street. He was hunched over, his blue pea coat collar pulled high and a seaman’s knit cap pulled over his ears, his hands jammed into the coat pockets. A cigarette dangled from his lips while he continuously stomped his feet in a strange dance to keep the blood flowing. I couldn’t make out his features, but he was tall, appearing bulky with the heavy-duty coat under which he could have been concealing an arsenal. There was no car on the road so Hoskins must have hoofed it from the diner, meaning he would have to have been nearly frozen, but that wasn’t my problem and it would make his reaction time fatally slow if he tried anything hostile. “Keep the engine running, doll,” I said softly as I studied the man in the distance. “I don’t see a gun but he’s got one for sure.” I reached inside my suit coat and retrieved the Colt from my shoulder holster, slipping it into my right trench coat pocket. “Just in case,” I said hastily as I saw the look on Bernie’s face. “Keep your eyes open for anyone approaching. Sound the horn if you spot anyone or anything.”
“Be careful,” she whispered and leaned over to give me a kiss on the cheek but I turned to face her, her lips brushing softly across mine. She lingered for a moment and leaned back. “I mean it, Jackie. Just get the information from him and we’ll go.” “What about your story?” “I’ll have a story, don’t worry. Just seeing this creep is enough. I’m sure whatever he has to say will be enough for the front page. Ford always makes for good copy and adding in his brutal henchmen will be a bonus.” I nodded and opened the door, the blast of air nearly ripping the handle from my grasp. I swung out and stood for a moment, glancing around to see if there was anyone else nearby but everything was quiet except the wind and the commercial traffic on the bridge. I slammed the door and headed across the lot toward the bridge, my shoes slipping and crunching down on the icy snow cover. I tugged down my hat and put both hands in my pockets, my right clutching the Colt. If this was a setup, they picked a piss-poor night to do it. There was nothing worse than rain or snow to screw up a decent ambush. I tried not to walk too fast despite the snow slashing across my face, giving me an incentive to move as swiftly as possible. Once under the bridge, the concrete slabs would cut the wind considerably and make moving almost tolerable. Still, with adrenaline building, I had to control my pace, to make sure no one popped out of some hideaway, guns blazing. I glanced back at Bernie’s car. She had turned off the headlights smartly guessing the glare would make me a better target. I was only about fifty feet from the man when I got a better look at him. There was a dim street lamp near the bridge that cast a yellow circle around him. His face was long, with a
sagging jaw. The rest of him was covered by a navy blue coat and the knit cap. He took a hand out of his pocket and flipped the cigarette away. “Thanks for showing up,” he called still shuffling his feet on the concrete walkway under the bridge. He moved a step or two back into the shadow out of the street lamp’s glow and I continued to trudge forward, the grip on the Colt tightening. If it was going to happen, it would have to be just about now, but nothing did. He kept silent and I kept walking until I reached the sidewalk in front of him. He pulled his other hand out of his pocket, causing me to stop dead almost drawing the Colt. He opened his hand and offered me a cigarette from the pack. I wanted one, all right, but I didn’t want to let my guard down and waved it off. He shrugged and lit another one for himself, his hand shaking as he maneuvered the lighter up to the cigarette. “You wanted to talk, so talk,” I growled. “Okay, Raines. It’s pretty simple, really. The guy I work for wanted you out of the way, period. I hired someone to make it happen and, as you are here and they are not, you clearly are the better man. I, on the other hand, am fucked.” “It happens,” I offered without sympathy. I could see him more clearly. His long face was scarred with pock marks, probably from small pox as a kid, and there was a white slashing scar from his upper lip along the left side of his cheek to his ear. “I’m serious, Raines. I need some kind of protection and I can give quite a bit in return.” “You’re talking to the wrong gent, I’m afraid, because I really could care less about what happens to you. When your goons came after me at Sid’s they killed an innocent woman. I knew they’d try again at my home and I was ready for them. End of story.”
He puffed away on the cigarette, perhaps rethinking his strategy. In a way I hoped it included trying to take me out one last time and the Colt was almost out of my pocket. “I know, Raines, and I’m sure my employer never anticipated your…” “Resourcefulness?” “You could say,” he nodded. “Anyway, now it’s my ass on the line and if you can arrange for me to turn state’s evidence, I’ll come clean.” “Like I said, Hoskins, I’m not the law and I don’t have much pull with the prosecutor, but if I hear it from you, I can give it a try and make some sort of arrangement for you to surrender.” “Fair enough.” “Now, Hoskins, give me names.” He laughed, his voice echoing in the concrete cover. “I’m not sure how much you know already, but I’ll tell you that all of this has come down from Harry Bennett. He has arranged, through me, to take care of you because you were getting too close to some arrangements of his.” I frowned. “What the hell are you talking about?” “I don’t know all the details but, somehow, something you were working on was going to cause enough trouble that if old man Ford knew about it he’d have to take action against Bennett.” Now I wanted the cigarette…and a Scotch. “You’re saying Henry Ford didn’t know about any of this.” “Right.” “How about his son, Edsel?” “Naw, he didn’t know shit, neither. It was Bennett worming his way into the Fords, and with his connections, was able to secure his position until you came along.”
What was it I did to screw Harry Bennett’s brain around enough to kill? I had to get more. “Let me get this. Harry Bennett told you directly to have me killed.” Hoskins cocked his head. “I didn’t say that, Raines. I said he ordered me to see to it that you weren’t able to continue digging up dirt about the Fords. That’s how he said it. I assumed…” What a shit for brains asshole. “It didn’t occur to you to offer me some money to go away?” He blinked. “So the whole murder thing is all on you, right? Bennett comes off clean.” He blinked again and then his eyes widened. He got the picture. “That fucker set me up,” Hoskins snarled. “If any of this comes out, he’ll claim he was merely telling me to dig up dirt on you and pay you off to get you to back down.” “Maybe that’s what he meant,” I offered. He shook his head emphatically, his lips curling up in a snarl. “No, I know Bennett and I am sure that’s what he wanted me to do. Wipe you out.” “I don’t suppose there’s anything in writing, a note or letter of some sort with instructions on what he wanted you to do.” I couldn’t stand it any longer as I faced him. I slid the Colt back down in the pocket and reached inside my suit for my case of Luckys. I clicked open the lighter, shielding it from the wind, and lit the cigarette. Now all I needed was a swig from my flask which I forgot to bring. Hoskins continued to shake his head. “I wished he did, but it was all in person or on the phone. Whenever he needed something done, he’d call and usually ask me to meet him somewhere, not at Ford headquarters.”
I shifted gears. “Okay, then tell me why did Bennett want Eunice Ponder dead?” Hoskins stared blankly. “I’m not sure what you’re getting at…” “Murder, goddamit. The murder of Eunice Ponder. What was the motive for that hit?” He shook his head slowly, a frown creasing his forehead. “I didn’t have anything to do with that, Raines. I don’t think Bennett did either because he’d have had something like that run through me. There’s no reason…” He closed his eyes and threw his head back as if he had just discovered the light bulb. “What is it?” “We did have some unusual contact, possibly with the Ponders, although I didn’t know the full nature of it really. I would go to a little café on Woodward whenever I got a coded telegram. It would read “Bix sends his regards.” Whenever I got that, I’d go to the café and there would be a package to be delivered to Bennett directly, which I did. I was curious so I asked the owner of the café about it and he said a woman would come in and hand him the package along with a twenty dollar bill. She said the package would be picked up by someone asking about ‘Bix.’ There was some sort of bank account set up in town where money would be transferred and ‘Bix’ would have access to it as payment for the information.” “Where does Eunice Ponder fit in?” “I don’t know for sure, but one time I was more than curious, so I slipped open the envelope. It was a sheet with some technical drawings and pages of math I didn’t understand, something to do with a new kind of steering mechanism, I think. It was labeled Hudson Motor Co. The bottom of the drawing sheet also had ‘Willis Ponder eye’s only’ stamped on it.”
Well, what do you know, just a simple case of industrial espionage to go along with gangland murders and all sorts of seamy socializing. Bennett must have learned Willis Ponder hired me, erroneously believing it was to track down the source of the leaked documents. “I don’t see how killing Mrs. Ponder would have been necessary to keep the information flowing,” Hoskins offered. A horn sounded in the distance. Hoskins paid no attention to it, but I knew what it meant. I wheeled around to see a pair of headlights approaching on Jefferson, perhaps two blocks away. It could have meant nothing, but given the circumstances I didn’t want to take chances. I took his arm and guided him back further under the canopy of the bridge. With streetlights as a backdrop, I could make out the car slowing down as it passed Bernie. It went a few more yards and then stopped well short of the bridge, the exhaust billowing up making it appear as if it sat in a cloud. I heard the gears grinding as the transmission was shoved into first and the car started up slowly again, another ten feet or so and then it stopped. A spotlight on the car came alive, throwing a large round beam in our direction. It slowly scanned from left to right until it caught both of us in its glare. “Shit,” Hoskins muttered moving further back under the bridge. “Who is that, cops?” “I don’t know,” I answered. I thought for a moment analyzing the scene. “I don’t think they’re cops.” I was pretty sure I was right. If it was a patrol car, the officers would have flashed the spotlight on Bernie’s car and maybe even checked her out before moving on toward us. Whoever it was definitely was looking for us. “Did you tell anyone you planned this meeting?” I breathed edging further away from the road.
“No, I said nothing to no one.” “How about in the diner. Did anyone overhear your call to me?” “I suppose. There were a number of workers in there. I don’t know how anyone would have known me.” I knew. If Bennett had someone tailing him for security reasons, he could have blended in and gotten close enough to hear what was happening and Bennett certainly wouldn’t have allowed his favorite operative to turncoat. The car revved its engine and the clutch popped, causing the car—I could see it was a Ford—to lurch forward and gain speed, its spotlight still enveloping the two of us. The Ford’s wheels began slipping on the ice and the rear started fishtailing.
It was stopped again directly
under the bridge in front of us as I saw the first flashes. The crackling gunfire was sharp despite the wind and echoed as it carried under the bridge. Bits of concrete from the first two pillars flew off in chunks as the bullets sheered them away. More bright flashes from the gun barrels briefly illuminated the interior of the car in a white glare and I could make out three figures, two in front and one in back, just like the ambush at Sid’s place. The shooter at the back window had a Thompson, the staccato unmistakable, while one in the front passenger side had an automatic pistol. The bullets were edged closer and instinct drove me to the ground, as I pulled out the Colt. I stretched my right arm forward and pulled the trigger; once, twice, three times, four. I kept pulling the trigger until it clicked on empty. I didn’t really take careful aim, just fired in the direction of the car. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Hoskins bolt to his right, running almost parallel to the gunmen’s car which started to move with him. He stopped and dropped to one knee, his arms coming up with his pistol, a revolver, both hands holding it and aiming. He fired four times in rapid succession, hitting the side of the
car, but their fire concentrated in his direction and didn’t miss. Slugs blasted into his chest, driving Hoskins back, still upright at first. He emptied his gun and momentarily froze in that position. Two more volleys from the car hit him again, this time causing his body to jerk upward, off his knee and into the air. He flattened out, landing on his back, arms splayed out. I didn’t have to look up close to know he was dead. I fumbled for the other clip in my pocket as they concentrated on Hoskins and reloaded in time to return another half dozen shots as the car attempted to clear the underpass. One of the shots found its mark, as the car suddenly veered left, engine roaring, slamming into a telephone pole, the radiator blasting hot steam into the frigid air. The impact impaled the driver onto the steering wheel, causing the horn to echo mournfully, and two figures clambered out, moving across the street away from the overhead lights. One of them had a decided limp while the other stopped and looked in my direction, a fatal mistake. I raised the Colt and fired twice, hitting the gunman both times. He spun around and went down face first while his partner limped off into the snowy darkness. I rose and moved quickly to Hoskins who hadn’t moved since he fell. His eyes still looked frightened in death. I heard a car engine growling in the wind as Bernie moved her car onto the road and under the bridge. She got out and looked in my direction as if afraid of what she might see. “I’m okay, Bernie,” I yelled, giving her a wave, adding under my breath, “but our friend here isn’t so lucky.” I walked down to the car and got in. “Those guys over there didn’t fare well either,” I said nodding toward the wrecked Ford with the driver slumped over the steering wheel and his pal sprawled out in the street.
“We’d better find a phone and get George and his boys out here,” she said as she maneuvered the car around body in the road. “Then I’ll phone in the story.” “It’s not going to be much of a story, Bernie,” I pointed out turning to face her. I filled her in on Hoskins’ confession that the Fords didn’t know what was going on and weren’t involved in killing Eunice Ponder. “What are you talking about?” she snapped. “A Ford henchman admitting he killed to short circuit a scandal of industrial espionage and executive debauchery…” I held up my palm. “There’s no proof that Hoskins worked for Bennett except his word, as far as we know. It’ll take more digging to connect the dots. Right now you have a story, all right, but it involves a carload of gangsters in a gun battle with other gangsters. Some got away and some didn’t. That’s how the police will see it.” After a few minutes of silence she turned her head toward me, her green eyes large and animated. “Okay, I’ll have to settle for less of an exclusive, but it still will hit the front page. After all, there are three bodies out here and that’s enough to shake things up, and I had a front row seat.” She looked back to the road as our car passed the wreckage and we turned off Jefferson heading away from the bridge in search of a phone. Her voice was raised and agitated. “Jack, I was frightened for you and felt helpless sitting in the car and watching. At that moment I wished I had a gun because I’d have gone up there with you. Maybe Hoskins would have survived…” I laughed. “First of all, that would have been foolhardy for anyone to jump into the middle of that mess with bullets flying everywhere. I was just lucky as hell to escape.” I reached out and touched her cheek. “Secondly, I am ecstatic that you are here.”
We found an all-night place just a block off Jefferson and she wheeled the car in front. As she cranked down on the parking brake pedal, she sighed and looked at me. “So if this Hoskins guy wasn’t involved in Eunice Ponder’s murder, the question remains, Jack. Who did it?” “Yes, that is a good question,” I agreed, “but just as important, Bernie, is why she was killed.” It was clear to both of us if we answered one of those questions, we’d answer both.
Facts are facts. You have to know them before you can use any sort of deductive reasoning, at least that’s what it says in the detective manual. I sipped my coffee in the little diner on Fort Street while Bernie tucked herself into the wood-frame phone booth at the back of the place. It was a long narrow eatery with a row of tables along one wall, opposite a counter with red fake leather seats that swiveled on metal pedestals. A stern-looking matronly waitress in a yellow and white uniform eyed me curiously from behind the cash register at the end of the counter. The first fact, of course, was Eunice Ponder was dead, shot three times in an upscale penthouse apartment. The second fact was the bell boy delivered a drink and flower, courtesy of me, and she was very much alive at that moment. A third fact is her father –in-law paid a visit to the thirty-second floor and was eyed at the penthouse door by the elevator operator. A short time later, the elevator brought him back to the lobby where he was seen in the coffee shop. Fourth, the body of Eunice Ponder was found by a housekeeper who called the police. Finally, it was a fact that Eunice kept a rather complete set of notes in a red book, and it is probable that something in that book will unravel the mystery of her murder. “So, where’s the red book?” I muttered. “What?” a voice interjected. Bernie had walked back from the phone booth and pulled out a chair at the table. She motioned for the waitress to bring another cup of coffee. I looked across the table. Even at this late hour, she looked fresh, her hazel-green eyes were large and inviting, the kind a guy could drown in. I heard that in a movie, but now I
understood what it meant. “I’m trying to figure out why Eunice Ponder was killed,” I said. “Since it wasn’t part of a professional hit then it had to be personal. Someone who knew her killed her.” The waitress brought the coffee, giving me the same look people have when they’ve stepped on a wad of gum on sidewalk. She retreated to her perch behind the register. “How can you be sure she knew her killer?” Bernie questioned. “Has to be that way,” I continued. “No forced entry of the apartment and the occupant, Sarrow, was out of town and had an alibi, probably killing some poor sap in Chicago at the time. Anyway, no one seems to have an interest in her death, but someone has quite a lot of interest in mine. Hoskins said I was a target because of my investigation, snooping around where some big shots thought I might become a threat. I figure those big shots are the Fords, or at least Harry Bennett. Hoskins said it had something to do with industrial espionage between Ford and Hudson Motors.” “I don’t know where that leaves us, do you?” Bernie asked blowing on her coffee. She wrinkled her nose when she tasted it so I assumed it was as bad as mine. “There aren’t that many players left, just family,” I said. “We have a husband whose infidelity ventured into the realm of homosexuality, and a father-in-law unaware of his son’s situation but believed he was involved in some sort of unsavory relationship that could lead to scandal. Eunice’s sister was interested in finding the notebook, but I can’t imagine what motive she might have for any further involvement. We also have Mary Ann Bingham who wanted me to stop my investigation and had a large chunk of change to buy me off.
“Don’t forget Daddy Warbucks,” Bernie said leaning closer to the table. “Willis Ponder touched the whole thing off by calling you. Maybe he was hoping you’d find out more than just who Eunice was bedding down.” “Like what?” “How about that red notebook, for starters and if there’s something in there about him? You have to wonder what sins he has committed and if Eunice found out.” I nodded. “We still have to include the possibility that Bennett was involved, because he certainly was mixed up with the selling of secrets from Hudson to Ford, and then we have Papa Ford and Number One Son. It makes for a pretty interesting mix, don’t you think?” She sipped more coffee. “I’m thinking we have to find that notebook.” My thoughts exactly, but she said it so much sexier.
Someday there may be better communication between divisions inside the Detroit Police Department, but traditionally there has been a distinct lack of information flowing from one office to another, a definite advantage for someone like me. For example, there always has been a disconnect between any of the divisions and the vehicle impound lot. It was just a fact of life. “Where are we going, Jackie, because I need some sleep,” Bernie griped as she wheeled the car away from the diner. “And who did you call before we left that awful pit that passed for a café?” “Just a hunch, beautiful,” I smiled. “I’ve been trying to figure out, if Eunice’s book was so important, why hasn’t anyone been able to find it?” “That’s easy, Jack,” she breathed. “She has it hidden somewhere.”
“Why? If she was making notes on things as she went along each day, why would she hide it and then have to retrieve it every time she wanted to make an entry?” Bernie was silent and simply shrugged her shoulders, keeping her eyes glued to the road ahead. The snow had stopped but the wind was still whipping it into drifts. “I wondered that for a long time,” I continued. “It seemed everyone was trying to find it, so if it was hidden on purpose, it had to be somewhere deeply out of sight where no one would accidentally come across it and might not be able to find it in a search, but that just doesn’t maek sense.” She frowned as she glanced over at me. “What if she wasn’t hiding it at all, but just had it where no one has looked yet.” “That’s the only angle left, doll, so that’s why we are headed downtown. There’s a garage near the DPD Headquarters.”
The overhead lights in the garage were dim. I had pulled my five-cell flashlight from the trunk and we traipsed up the ramp from the ground floor entrance. Since it was a police evidence garage, we weren’t allowed to drive a private car inside, and as civilians we weren’t supposed to be here at all, either. It might have been pretty dicey getting in except the night watchman was Myron Chesterfield, an ex-Marine I knew from the Legion Hall. The crisp double-sawbuck I slipped him didn’t hurt, either. “Isn’t there anyone in this town you don’t know?” Bernie whispered as Myron ran his finger down a manifest on his clipboard listing all of the vehicles in the impound, searching for Eunice Ponder’s Duesenberg J. “I get around,” I said leaning in close to her.
“Yep, here it is,” Myron said, grinning up at me from his stool in the guard office just inside the garage. “It’s up on the second floor, toward the back. We had it parked lengthwise so no other car would be near enough to it. God forbid we’d put a scratch into that robin-egg blue paint job. The city’d be thrown into the poorhouse trying to pay off the lawsuit.” I waved my thanks to him over my shoulder as we started up the ramp toward the second floor. He waved back still grinning and jammed the money into his pocket. “You think that notebook is in Eunice’s car?” Bernie asked as we reached to top of the ramp on the second floor. “Bernie, it’s the only place no one seems to have looked,” I said as I flipped the switch on the flashlight casting a beam down the length of the loft. It wasn’t completely dark but the few overhead lights still working provided just a few pools scattered in a half dozen spots. “Wouldn’t the cops have searched it?” she asked, lowering her voice to cut down the echo. “They might have, but then, if the book was in the car, they would have had that in the evidence room with the other stuff. I also noted there was no key chain, car or house keys, in the evidence room either. That meant, the keys probably were still with the car when it was towed up here and placed on hold until the case was solved. However, there was probably only a cursory look through the car with nothing significant found to be taken into evidence.” “So she just left the book in the car by accident…” Bernie offered. “Or, she hadn’t really planned to stay the entire night and was going to drive back home, but wanted to jot down her observations before she drove off, so she had to have left the book in the car.” Bernie grinned at me. “You’re pretty clever, I have to say.”
“Yeah, right. It only took me a couple of months to figure this out.” “Assuming the book is in the car,” she added. It was, and it didn’t take long to find it. I opened the passenger side door of the expensive roadster and sure enough, placed neatly under the passenger side of the front seat was a bound red notebook, nearly full. I handed the flashlight to Bernie. “Hold this up a minute.” With the flashlight beam illuminating the book, I opened it and flipped through the pages, stopping intermittently when a name popped up that caught my attention. Quite a few of them, actually, but even without reading the full text, I knew what she was reporting. It wasn’t pretty, but without realizing it, Eunice Ponder was reaching out from her grave in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and not only naming the most obvious candidate among potential killers, but motive as well. She also had provided the bait for the trap to snare the guilty and all we had to do was lure the suspects in and snap the gate shut behind them.
TWENTY FOUR Detroiters could jump and jive with some of the hottest jazz bands in the country, swinging from ‘til dawn in a dozen legal ballrooms and dance halls, not to mention the speakeasy joints and roadhouses like Sid’s Country Gardens. The city’s major hot spot, though, was the Graystone Ballroom. Perched on the corner of Woodward and Canfield, the five-story building with vast second-floor dance hall was the gem. After making the phone calls, by four o’clock all of the figures in the case arrived at the Graystone, passing the scrutiny of two very large, stern looking Detroit policemen. The suave Edsel Ford walked in ahead of his father’s hired gun, blustery Harry Bennett. Two men with beat-up faces and cauliflower ears shuffling on either side of Bennett were stopped by the officers who frisked them, removing two pistols and lead-tipped saps, forcing them to have seats on a bench near the entrance. “Invitation only,” I whispered to Bennett as he passed me crunching his face into a glowering sneer. An older–looking Willis Ponder with Mary Ann Bingham clattering anxiously behind him arrived along with Christine Dehavilland and William Ponder. Bobby Ballentine sauntered through the doors and waved at me, following the others. Bernie walked in, sidling up to me as we watched the others parade past. Matrikos stationed men at all the entrances and marched up the stairs with the others. The ballroom’s owner and architect of one of the best bands in the nation, Jean Goldkette, dressed in an expensive light gray suit as if he was leading the Detroit Symphony, personally led the invitees up to a private gathering area on the balcony overlooking the bandstand. Below, a saxophonist and guitar player from Cab Calloway’s big band were
rehearsing a few riffs and waved to Goldkette when they spotted him. He saluted back and headed for the stairs. I glanced at Edsel Ford who stared disapprovingly at Bennett. I leaned over to the young auto executive and smiled. “Bennett doesn’t look so tough without any of his goons around, does he?” “I wish I could fire that lout,” Ford breathed. “He’s such a loathsome creature, a purely evil person if I ever saw one. I cannot understand what value my father believes Bennett possesses.” “I couldn’t have said that better myself,” I responded. Bennett grunted, strutting to one of the overstuffed armchairs and plopped down. Some of the others sat on two long leather sofas while the rest leaned against the arch columns or made use of the folding chairs along the wall. “Well, it’s quite a gathering,” I announced as I stepped up in the midst of them. “I have a serious purpose for inviting all of you because, as you know, the tragic death of Eunice Ponder continues to go unsolved…until today.” There was a collective gasp as everyone looked around the room at the others. “I’m sure some of you would have been reluctant to come here except for the insistence of Detective Matrikos, here.” I waved a thumb towards George who stood in the middle of the walkway that led to the stairs “Get on with it,” Bennett barked, producing a cigar from his coat pocket, biting the tip off, spitting it onto the floor. “Yes, this is terribly inconvenient,” William Ponder sniffed, smoothing his hair with his right hand.
“All of you have had either an extensive or passing contact with Eunice Ponder. Many of you, sadly, had a reason to be relieved she is dead. While I’m sure no one wants to admit it, that is a fact.” I glanced at Bernie who sat on a chair at the end of the row of sofas. She offered a smile but said nothing. “Let’s get to the details, shall we?” I walked up to Willis Ponder who remained standing, leaning on one of the posts. “I’ll start at the beginning, I guess. I was contacted by you, Mister Ponder, to follow Eunice. However, you referred to her as Mrs. Ponder, so I assumed she was your wife. My mistake, only later learning, thanks to Mary Ann Bingham, here,” I said pointing to her on the sofa, “that Eunice was married to William.
In any event, I actually met her at
Sid’s where she tracked me down and wanted to hire me, too. She wanted me to follow her, not minding if I reported back to her father-in–law.” I moved away from Willis and stood in front of his son, seated at the end of one of the sofas. “I followed her to the Book-Cadillac, thirty-second floor penthouse of a gem dealer identified as Nathaniel Sarrow. He wasn’t home, but Eunice wanted me to come inside with her, which I refused. Perhaps I should have accepted her invitation.” William Ponder blinked as he looked at me and crossed his legs in an exaggerated gesture of nonchalance. “I didn’t know why she wanted me to see her at this man’s apartment, but later I guessed she wanted me to investigate him, to learn about him and his connection with her husband. It was a way for her to prove to Willis Ponder that his son was carrying on an affair that eventually would become known publicly causing a scandal.”
I looked at both father and son. Willis glared at me but didn’t say a word, while his son looked down at his hands and kept perfectly still. Christine Dehavilland, seated next to him, shifted nervously, tucking more of her dress demurely under her legs. “I believe there was a motive to silence her, for both of the Ponders,” I said turning to Willis. “I think, sir, you suspected your son for some time, but didn’t want to believe it.” “Believe what you want, sonny,” he grumped. “He’s my son and I’d live with whatever he had become. I wasn’t pleased, mind you.” “I figured as much and for what it’s worth, I never really believed you would have done anything like that. Your son, however, is a different story. He certainly would have wanted to keep her quiet. But,” I said wheeling around to look at William Ponder, “you didn’t kill your wife, did you?” When he lifted his head, his eyes were red and tears were trickling down each cheek. “I couldn’t have…” “Now, as for you, Bennett,” I snapped, turning to walk up to him. He stared up at me from behind his chair, a smile inching its way from the corners of his mouth. “You are a despicable, vile piece of shit passing for a human being, a true waste of skin, in my opinion. You would have no qualms in killing another man or woman, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that you have done just that. People in your employ certainly have.” “Why you…” Bennett growled, struggling to get out of the chair, his face beet red, and a hand drawn into a fist. “If you get up you ugly bastard, I’ll drop you right where you stand,” I threatened, pointing a finger at him. “Sit down and listen.” Bennett hesitated, looking around the room, then lowered himself slowly back into the chair. “For the record, I don’t think that you had
Eunice killed. In fact, you were upset at the news, right? It created a situation you couldn’t control.” “As for you, Mister Ford,” I said looked over at Edsel who stood against another pillar but who stood upright at the sound of his name. “I am sure the news upset you and your wife, who is related to the Hudsons. Learning that the wife of a Hudson executive was murdered must be quite distressing indeed.” “It was, Mister Raines,” Ford agreed. “We all were saddened by the entire situation.” “Did you also know that there was a good deal of corporate espionage involved between Hudson Motors and your company?” Ford’s face drained of blood. “What?” There was a moment of silence and he looked down angrily at Bennett seated a few feet ahead of him. “I know this man could be involved in anything, of course, so I suppose I should not be surprised.” “Oh, yes, there was some serious theft of secrets from Hudson to Ford and not only were you kept in the dark, I doubt you would have tolerated that illegal activity, nor would your father, for that matter.” “What the hell are you talking about, Mister Raines?” Willis Ponder barked behind me. “Who was involved in this business? I have a right to know and you should have told me…” I turned around. “I’m telling you now and I had no obligation to tell you anything. You hired me to follow Eunice and I did. That was my business deal with you. I’ve worked on her murder for my sake because I wanted to find the person who did it.” “Well so do I, Mister Raines,” he shouted back, “so as far as I’m concerned I’m still retaining your services. You tell me who killed my daughter-in-law.”
I spread my hands out. “Of course, one of the main players in all this isn’t here. Mister Sarrow is dead, too. He was not only a gem dealer as he portrayed himself, but was a hired killer, and an experienced one, working for some of the biggest criminal organizations in the country including Capone in Chicago. I’m sure you recall St. Valentine’s Day back in ’29. That’s who we were dealing with.” There was another gasp and a collective muttering. “So, Mister Ponder,” I said looking again at William. “It seems that your friend was someone you didn’t really know. You probably are lucky to be alive. I doubt you would have been comfortable with him if you realized he was a vicious, violent gangster and if you had discovered the facts about him, your life would have been in real danger.” The tears streaked down his cheeks. He buried his face in his hands. “Ironically, the hit man in whose apartment Eunice was killed was not involved in her death. We know that for a fact because he was in Chicago killing someone else at the time. One more fact for you to think about is many of you here seemed quite interested in the notebook Eunice kept. No one seemed to know where it was, nor did I for a while. But we have it now.” With that, I held out my hand and Bernie rose from the sofa, pulling the book from her purse and handing it to me. It was a hard-covered red book about the size of a dime novel. I held it up for all to see. “This is what all of the fuss was about, all the anxiety and hatred,” I said, pausing for effect and then raised my voice like a fire-and-brimstone preacher. Holding the book above my head, I continued. “This is what led someone here to commit murder.” Their faces were animated as they all looked around accusingly at each other.
I went on. “In this little book are the details of what she discovered. What all of you forgot was that Eunice wasn’t some lazy, rich society dame who didn’t care much about anything except shopping and gossiping at the club. She enjoyed the trappings of her wealth all right, but she was involved in the Ponder Foundation which was linked with several other foundations in town including the Fords’.
It was during one of her visits to the Hudson corporate headquarters
that she came across her sister, who worked in the development office, putting some new plans for the steering gear system in an envelope and tucking it into her oversized purse. The coversheet was left behind and when Christine left the room, Eunice saw that it was marked for Willis Ponder’s eyes only, as were many new formulas and plans developed over the years.” “Well, I’ll be damned,” Willis Ponder breathed in disgust. “I have witnesses who say Bennett was getting these plans on a regular basis…” “You don’t have that witness anymore,” Bennett laughed nervously. I moved quickly. Two steps forward and I was in his face. “You fucking prick. You had your own man killed because he was going to talk about this. You had him killed so you wouldn’t go to jail and if you had known at the time that she was writing all this down, you would have had her killed, too. You were just too slow. You can bet that once we find the shooters from last night at the Ambassador Bridge, you will go down for it.” “I’m real afraid, Raines,” he growled, glaring at me. “As for Eunice’s murder,” I said, straightening up and turning, “there’s really only one person who knew that Eunice had figured out the game.” I took a step up to Christine Dehavilland. “You knew that your sister had discovered what you were doing because she confronted you about it, didn’t she?”
“What are you saying, Mister Raines? That I killed her?” Her face had contorted into a grimace as spat her words. “How could you accuse me of such an evil thing?” She was beautiful, in a cool, detached way. While she looked like her sister, she didn’t have the same sizzling attraction. “It’s simple, Christine. You had to have this book because in it she detailed what you were doing and once it was out, not only would you be fired, you probably would have been charged with stealing company documents. You would have been disgraced in your own family back home.” I handed the book back to Bernie. “Christine,” Willis Ponder exploded. “What would make you do such a thing ?” He took a step toward her but I intercepted him, putting my hands on his shoulders until he stopped. She bowed her head and balled up her fists. “Because, you and your son are two of the biggest hypocrites in the world, acting like you’re all caring but you immerse yourselves in your vices, ignoring everyone around you. I’ve been the best engineer in the company and all these things I sent over were my ideas that one of you would get credit for developing while I would get nothing because I’m a woman. I was just taking things I designed and sold them to someone who would appreciate them. If I couldn’t get the credit, at least I would get some real money, some sort of reward for my work. Mister Ford’s people appreciate my work and if they can incorporate some of my ideas in Ford cars, then that’s what I wanted.” The music below had stopped and a nervous silence enveloped them until it was shattered by Bennett’s laughter. He snorted and coughed. “You stupid twit,” he shouted. “Stupid dumb broad. You think your work was so great but all it showed was that our boys were already way ahead of Hudson. Yessir. Mister Ford himself got a big laugh…” He stopped, his smile disappearing.
“My father knew what you were doing?” Edsel Ford snapped, moving a few steps toward Bennett. “Of course he did. It really wasn’t stealing from Hudson because we didn’t need to use any of their so-called developments. It was just a good gauge to see how well we were doing with our development work. Oh, there a couple of miner things Hudson had done that were interesting and I guess we did use them, but overall they weren’t of much value.” “You’re lying,” Edsel Ford shouted, glaring at Bennett. “You are trying to cover up the fact that your little espionage caper was found out and it led to someone’s death. You are trying to pin this on my father and I can tell you right now that he would have thrown you out of the company himself. No, you wouldn’t have risked telling him where you were getting your information.” The grin disappeared from Bennett’s face and beads of perspiration popped up in the creases of his forehead. Ford continued barking. “You are an ignorant fool. You could very well have tarnished our good name for real this time. It’s bad enough you have your hired goons shoot at unarmed men who are desperate and looking for work, but engaging in spying that results in murdering a woman. Christine is right in that regard about company executives, not just at Hudson. We are not what we purport ourselves to be. I’m going to talk to father about this and it could mean the end for you, Bennett. I hope I don’t have to hire Mister Raines here to be my bodyguard to keep you from killing me, too.” “Why you snotty nosed coward…” I moved in between them and shoved Bennett back into his chair. “Shut your trap. We’ve got other business here.”
He continued to scowl at me but said nothing more. “The most important thing here is to determine who killed Eunice and it is very clear to me who did it.” “How can you be positive about any of this, Raines?” Willis Ponder snapped. “Some of you probably don’t know this man,” I said motioning for Bobby Ballentine to step forward. He had been standing at the end of the sofa next to Bernie and he walked up to stand beside me. “Mister Bobby Ballentine is the chief bell hop at the Book Cadillac and he reported seeing a man inside the penthouse apartment the night Eunice Ponder was killed.” I turned to him. “Tell me, Bobby. Do you see that man in this gathering today?” He nodded nervously. “It’s okay, Bobby. Nothing will happen to you. Just tell us if you see him.” “Yes, sir, he’s here,” Ballentine said softly. “That’s him.” He pointed to William Ponder. “I saw his face in the reflection of the glass in the living room. I’m positive it was him.” William Ponder blinked furiously and opened his mouth but said nothing. He looked over at his father and then back at me. “I’m afraid Mister William Ponder also has some other problems in connection with this case,” I said. “Detective Matrikos has something to show us.” He stepped up from the edge of the staircase and pulled a paper bag from his pocket. He turned it upside down and let the contents fall into his hand. It was a black and silver revolver with an ivory grip. “This, my friends, is a Smith and Wesson, thirty-eight caliber military special, used by some officers in the army during and after the war, am I correct, Mister Ponder?” he intoned,
holding it out in the palm of his hand for examination. “You have a collection of them in your home, in fact. While several are missing, this one was in its case. It has been fired recently and the serial number is the same as the one registered in your name, so I have to assume this is your gun. Ballistic tests show that one of the bullets that led to your wife’s death came from this gun. Coupled with the fact that you were in the apartment at the approximate time your wife was slain, it isn’t much of a leap to conclude you killed Eunice Ponder.” Matrikos put the gun back in the bag, sticking it into his coat pocket. “We know you were there,” I said looking into William Ponder’s haggard face, “because not only do we have Bobby Ballentine’s identification of you, I checked with the Michigan Limousine Service and one of their cars dropped you off at the hotel after midnight. They said they picked you up at your father’s home and brought you downtown.” He looked up at me and started to stand up, but I put a hand on his shoulder to keep him down. “You’re right, Mister Raines. I was there, but I didn’t kill Eunice. In fact, when I got there, the door was ajar and when I looked around the place, I found her in bed, the covers wrapped around her and she had been shot. She already was dead.” I leaned down to look him in the eye. “Then why in the hell didn’t you call the police?” “I couldn’t. I didn’t want them to come in and arrest…” “Arrest who?” “My father,” he blurted and then put his hands over his face. He took a few seconds and lowered them. “As I ran back into the living room, I stepped on something. I looked down and I saw the gun. I knew my father had come over right after you called because I was at his house when he got the call. He told me to stay put and he’d take care of things and drove off. I stayed for a while but then called for a car, deciding I was going to talk to Eunice myself so maybe we
could work things out. I know it is hard to understand but I did love her, even though I…I had other involvements. I got there and used a house phone to order room service, having a bottle of champagne and caviar sent up to the room. I then used the service elevator, as I often did in order to be discreet, and went up to the apartment. However, when I got there, as I said, the door already was open and I went in and found her. “I’m afraid, Mister Raines, that when I saw the gun, I felt my father had stopped at my place and got the gun before going over to see her. I guess that’s what I thought. I don’t know. I tried to stay calm remembering that I had ordered room service and someone would be coming. I put a tip down on the tray and sat down to wait for him. When he knocked on the door I tried to say as little as possible, trying to act calmly. I sat with my back to the door but when I lit the cigarette, that’s when the bellhop saw me. Afterward, I waited until the elevator wasn’t in use and went down the same way I came up. That’s all I know, I swear.” His tears started again. “I’m sorry…” “Don’t be sorry for me, son,” Willis Ponder grumbled. “I didn’t do anything. I never even saw her.” His eyes shot up and he looked at me. “I wanted to talk to her but she refused to let me in and I didn’t press the matter. I believed you when you said the guy wasn’t there and that she was alone. Clearly, she wasn’t alone.” I waved my hand at him to cut short his rant. “What we appear to have is the fact someone is fabricating a story. On the one hand we have Willis who claims he didn’t go into the penthouse and normally we’d just have his word for it but I know for a fact he is telling the truth. The elevator operator can vouch for his story. He talked to Eunice through the door but was not allowed inside.” “There you see…” Willis Ponder beamed and took his position again against the pillar.
“We have William Ponder saying he was inside the penthouse but she was already dead when he got there and he retrieved the murder weapon thinking his father had taken it and used it to kill her.” “I didn’t do it, I swear I didn’t…” the younger Ponder blubbered. “I agree,” I nodded. “Even though it was his gun and he admits it was in his possession in the penthouse at the time of the murder, and it is the murder weapon, I still agree with William. He didn’t do it.”
Cab Calloway had joined some of his band members at the rehearsal, and stepped up in front of the bandstand. “Let’s get it goin’, boys.” I watched as he began waving his signature metal baton, cranking up the tempo to almost breakneck speed. One of the men was pumping his arm double time as he strummed the banjo and another jumped to the microphone. “Some of these days, you’re gonna miss me, honey,” he cried. “C’mon, Raines, let’s get this over with,” Bennett bleated, but I continued to lean on the rail watching Calloway twisting and turning with the rhythm, a smile plastered across his face and a lock of dark hair hanging down into his eyes. He finally waved his hands to cut the tune short. “That one’s super,” he shouted. “Now how about some of that ‘St. Louis Blues.’” The men nodded in unison and, on cue, started up the slow lament. I turned from the rail and faced the gathering, the music seemingly apropos. “Here’s the situation, then,” I began. “Since neither Willis nor William Ponder committed the crime, it had to be someone with access to the gun. Assuming Bennett or one of his goons didn’t break into the Ponder home and steal the gun, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility.” I glanced at him for a moment. “We are left with one conclusion, well, two actually. One being Eunice took the gun herself and it was there when the murderer confronted her. That seems unlikely.” The vision of her standing so invitingly in the doorway flashed through my mind. I could see she wasn’t hiding a gun. “That leaves the fact of someone else in the Ponder home took the gun from the case and the only one here who fits that description is
you…” I turned sharply with a finger pointing. “…Christine.” I moved closer to face her where she sat in the middle of the sofa next to Bernie. “Me? I couldn’t have…” she sputtered. “Sure you could because you visited there often and most recently the day of the crime and the gun missing from the case wouldn’t have been detected for some time unless there was a reason William Ponder would go and open it. You knew enough to use the service elevator because your sister confided the details about her husband to you. She knew all about his rendezvous with Sarrow in the hotel. She informed you that she planned on exposing the infidelity. I think she even detailed the plan about hiring me and going to the hotel on the night she died.” “I never…you can’t prove any of this,” she said. “Well, it turns out I can,” I said motioning to George. “Ever hear of fingerprints, Christine? I’m sure you have because I’m sure you wiped the fingerprints from the gun yourself not knowing, of course, that William would find the gun. You must have assumed he would show up after his father made such an effort to get to the hotel following my call. No matter what, you knew the police would find the gun and that would be the end of William Ponder and get you off the hook.” “None of you can believe any of this drivel,” she spat, standing up from the sofa and moving up to me. “You cannot prove it.” “Well, I’m sure you agree fingerprints don’t lie. Show them, George.” Matrikos moved into the center of the balcony and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a handful of thirty-eight caliber bullets.
“These were in a pouch in the case where the unloaded
gun was mounted. We found six rounds but we found three had William Ponder’s fingerprints on them and three of them had an unknown person’s fingerprint on them.” He held out the bullets for all to see. “I’m going to make a wager,” I said. “I’ll bet Willis Ponder’s fee that the three unknown prints will be those of Christine Dehavilland. It’s clear that this corroborates William Ponder’s story that he took the gun when he thought it was his father who used it. When he returned it to the case, he removed the bullets and casings from the gun by upending the cylinder. He threw the spent shells into the wastebasket and put the three unfired bullets in the pouch, adding in three more bullets from a box of them in a cabinet below the display case. The three bullets that had been in the gun will most certainly have Christine Dehavilland’s prints on them. “He didn’t clean the gun, either,” Matrikos added. “It was certain it had been fired and put away without cleaning. In any event, we know the bullets that killed the victim were fired from this gun.” “I ask William Ponder if that is a correct representation of what occurred,” I said, turning to him. He nodded slowly but kept his head down. “So we have evidence that points to Christine Dehavilland as the person who shot and killed Eunice Ponder,” I declared, again pointing an accusing finger at her. She stood up to face me. “Why would I do such a thing?” “I suspect it was because of the notebook Eunice kept with all of her observations and plans, much like a diary, but more detailed,” I responded. “In that book, which has fired everyone’s interest because of her penchant for writing things down, were notes that she took regarding the corporate espionage she had uncovered. Before he was killed, by persons
unknown…” I said softly, turning to look at Bennett, “a man named Hoskins, working for Bennett here managed to sneak a peek at some of the material passed on through him from a spy inside Hudson Motors. It was a plan for improved steering mechanisms and Ford introduced the same design six months later.” “I admit I passed the information on to Ford,” Christine cried backing away from me. “Yes, and you are a very clever girl, aren’t you?” “No one saw me in that penthouse and you can’t put me there, it’s as simple as that,” she snapped still backing away. “Perhaps not, but I think we have two witnesses who actually encountered you.” “How is that possible?” Willis Ponder interrupted gruffly. “Well, it’s easy. I can hear it now when Christine talks. If I close my eyes, I couldn’t tell her voice from her sister’s. Right, Christine?” “Oh, how ridiculous,” she snipped again. “It’s true,” William Ponder said. “Just now, that sounded exactly like Eunice. I think you are right, Mister Raines. My father talked to her through the door and it was Christine and not Eunice. She must have already shot…” He stopped and stared at her. “You had already shot my wife, your sister?” “Don’t be stupid…” she shouted at him. “Yes, Mister Raines, but what about the bell hop here who said he had seen her. You said he delivered a tray to the room and saw her.” “Yes, that’s true.” I motioned for Bobby Ballentine to step up. “Bobby, I want you to take a good look at Christine. Imagine her hair wrapped up in a towel. You were distracted by her robe being open, too, and you saw her at a distance in dim light. Now, what do you think?”
He eyed Christine and smiled, bobbing his head. “Sure, Mister Raines, I could see that she could pull this off. If she wanted me to think it was the other dame. Yeah, it certainly could have been her.” “So, Christine, I’d say the game is over, wouldn’t you? You had wanted to get your hands on that book and you saw the opportunity, and you already had taken the gun some time earlier and loaded it, just waiting for the right time. I thought you overheard me calling Willis Ponder at his home and you had time to get to the hotel because Willis had to wait for his driver, but I was wrong. You already were at the hotel when I called Willis. You were the woman in the lobby and overheard me talking to the desk man. You got quite an earful and then I ordered room service. You were hiding, I guess, in the phone booth next to the one I used to call Willis, so you knew what I told him, too, and you had to move quickly, not willing to risk the chance Eunice would spill everything to her father-in-law.
Eunice let you in and you argued. I’ll bet
you demanded she give you her notebook and she refused, stomping off to go to go to sleep, climbing into that bed upstairs, and wrapping herself in a blanket. You followed her, pulled the gun out and fired three times, killing her. You wiped the gun clean and dropped it in the living room near the base of the sofa. You stripped down, grabbed a robe and towel and when Bobby arrived, he got a look at you believing he was seeing Eunice. After he left, you waited and sure enough, Willis Ponder showed up but you simply talked to him through the door and he left. “That was when you got dressed and looked for the book but couldn’t find it. You might have thought she left it at home so you got out of there, using the service elevator. Instead of going to your own home, you went back to Eunice’s house to look for the book and noted that William was gone. The next day after the police left the apartment, you returned to go through it again looking for that notebook but that’s when I showed up.”
“So what happened to the notebook,” Willis Ponder barked. Bernie reached in to her purse and handed it back to me. “It was in her car the whole time. The details of Christine’s involvement in selling the information to Ford are in here along with a few other tidbits of interest to some of you, I’m sure. She had enough intelligence in this book to guarantee a great divorce settlement and stop her sister from ruining Hudson Motors, thus assuring continued alimony for decades to come.” I handed the book to George. “You might as well take her in, detective. I’m sure you’ll want to get started on the paper work.” He glanced at me and rolled his eyes as he reached into his pocket for his handcuffs. “Okay, young lady, I guess you’re going to have to come with…” Christine had backed up to the sofa and reached down for her purse. She jammed her hand inside and pulled out a small-barreled thirty-two. “I’m not going anywhere with you. In fact,” she shouted, wheeling around and grabbing Bernie by the arm, twisting her up off the sofa and dragging her in front to shield her from George and me, “I’m taking miss newspaper snoop with me.” She turned the gun upward, pointing at Bernie’s head. “Anyone tries to interfere, she’ll be as dead as my sister.” She turned and began dragging Bernie backwards with her along the line of sofas. “Now Mister Policeman,” she barked at George, “you lead the way down the stairs and tell your men to get away from the doors and to let us out of here. We want to take a car out front, any car, and no one is to follow.” “I don’t think I’ll do that, young lady,” George shouted back. “George,” I called to him. “Go along with it, for Bernie’s sake. We don’t want anything to happen to her.”
He nodded. “I don’t like it, Jack. Not one bit, but okay, I’ll go along for now.” “You, too, Mister Raines,” she called. “You’ve got a gun and I want you out front too rather than behind me.” I moved behind George as he headed for the staircase, glancing around to see Christine now pushing Bernie in front of her only a few steps after me. My instincts screamed to reach out and grab Bernie, to pull her down and away from Christine’s gun, but if she fired, she would probably hit George before I could draw mine and drop her. “Get a car for the lady,” George shouted to the officers standing in the doorway as we made our way down the staircase. “Tell all of the men to stand down and keep their guns holstered. We have a situation here we want to end peacefully.” Our little procession reached the lobby and out onto the sidewalk on Woodward. A row of cars sat along the curb, some were limos with drivers in them. “We’ll take that one,” Christine ordered, pointing at a black Lincoln.” She jammed her hand with the gun into the folds of Bernie’s coat, hiding it from the crowd which had gathered when the police cars careened up the street. “That’s Edsel Ford’s car,” I pointed out. “Are you sure you want to do that?” “We’ll take it and the driver,” she spat, giving Bernie a shove forward. “All of you just step back and let us leave.” George and I halted, stepping aside as they passed, moving toward the Lincoln. “Hey, Bernie,” a voice called from a group of men standing on the sidewalk beyond a police barricade a half block away. I recognized a few of them as reporters, at least one from the Free Press. “What’s going on?”
She stopped, forcing Christine to pause with her. “Ford people are meeting with Hudson Motors execs,” she called out. “There was some kind of threat made by union agitators, and the police were called. Might be a story, stick around.” With that, Christine jabbed Bernie in the ribs with the purse and they moved quickly, getting into the limo. The driver, holding the door for them looked over quizzically at George who gave him a nod of reassurance. “Don’t follow, I’m warning you,” she shouted at George and slammed the car door shut. “She must know we’ll follow,” George said. “No, Georgie,” I countered. “You don’t want to spook her now with police cars all in a row behind her. I’ll tag her and you go back in and get statements from all those people, especially Bennett, before they scatter. You’re going to need all of the evidence you can get when this thing shakes out.” “Once again, I don’t like it, Jack, but I’ll trust your judgment. Just be careful…” I patted him on the shoulder and ran toward my Buick halfway up the block.
TWENTY SIX As odd as it sounds, you have to drive south to get to Canada. Technically it’s southeast, but as soon as I spotted the Lincoln limo rolling south along Woodward Avenue from the Graystone, it wasn’t hard to figure Christine Dehavilland wanted to get into Ontario and out of American police jurisdiction. Christine was smart enough to realize if she could get out of the country before Michigan lawmen could catch up to her, she’d probably be free and clear. What she might not have considered was the fact she was kidnapping someone and when she continues to do that on Canadian soil, she’s committing a major crime in Canada, subject to deportation. While there might not have been an extradition treaty between the two countries, the Canadians certainly could send her back if she consented. Another approach, I considered, was to spirit her out of Canada the way the bootleggers smuggled the good Canadian whiskey, at night by boat. My mind was racing along with the Buick’s eight cylinders as I tried to anticipate Christine’s moves. She had been smart enough to conceal one of the guns she stole from her brother-in-law’s house in her purse when she went to our show-and-tell, so she must have perceived danger. The guilty often wrestle with paranoia, I read somewhere. As the snowfall intensified, Ford’s driver was making a beeline for the center of town, and I guessed Christine wasn’t going to let him stop for traffic signals knowing the police weren’t going to stop them. The word had gone out on squad car radios to let the limo through. Still, getting out of the U.S. wasn’t going to be a snap. All it would take is one zealous border guard and Christine might open fire. I didn’t want to think of that. The limo sped up as it luckily breezed through the first few intersections with the green light. I kept my distance but could see that the next light had already gone red. The brake lights
flashed on the limo and then off as it sped through the intersection causing one of the crossing cars to brake and skid sideways. I slowed down and eked my way through amid a cacophony of blaring horns. There were no cops in sight as the limo continued south with me tagging a half block behind. The driver had to have seen me in the mirror but hopefully Christine didn’t catch on. Strong west winds seemed to get meaner as we moved, driving the fresh falling snow ahead of us. The wipers helped but visibility was beginning to deteriorate. While the heater scored some warmth onto my feet, the windshield fogged up and I had to use the back of my gloved hand to clear it. Christine had two options if she was to get across the border: one was the Ambassador Bridge, which this time of day would be clogged with traffic and the second was the new Windsor Tunnel which ducked under the Detroit River just northeast of the bridge. If the limo was headed for the bridge, it would have to turn on Bagley and race down through Corktown to reach the bridge approach, and that would take longer. The tunnel was quicker and less congested and was just off Woodward. If I was driving the limo, I’d convince Christine to take the tunnel figuring the police weren’t going to interfere, and I’d hope to get out of the whole ordeal alive along with Bernie Robbins. The limo skidded on the slick roadway almost turning sideways as it reached the intersection with Jefferson Street. Having traveled this far into town, he had to be heading to the tunnel and he confirmed it when he slowed, sledding around the corner onto Jefferson, only a couple of blocks from the tunnel entrance. The limo slowed and turned onto the ramp stopping at the toll booth. I let a black Dodge slip in ahead of me so I’d be inconspicuous when Christine looked out to see if the police were following.
A uniformed agent stepped out of the toll booth and took the coins from the driver, bending over to peer into the back of the car. He waved it on. I waited impatiently as the man in the Dodge ahead of me fumbled with his money for the toll, finally sticking his hand out the window and handing it to the guard. I was next and jammed a dollar bill in his hand and drove off ignoring his pleas to stop for change. As my car entered the tunnel, the dim light outside was replaced by bright lights on both sides of the tube as it descended under the river. The clumsy driver ahead of me continued his slow pace and I edged over to see if I could spot the limo, which was a few hundred yards ahead now. I thought about passing him but in the narrow tunnel, with cars approaching from the other direction, I didn’t want to risk being spotted. I bided my time and then something strange happened up ahead. We were nearly halfway through the tunnel some seventy-six feet below the river when the limo pulled over as far as it could and stopped. The driver of the Dodge ahead of me began to slow even more and stopped, too. This wasn’t good. If I kept going, I’d end up passing the limo, but if I stopped I’d be part of a line forming up and who knows what was going to happen then. I stuck my head out the window and could see the limo clearly. The back window showed a silhouetted figure briefly. Horns in the row of cars stacking up behind me began to blare, echoing menacingly inside the concrete tube. I opened my door and stepped out. I had taken only a few steps when the passenger door of the limousine flew open, but for a moment there was no movement. Suddenly, Bernie tumbled into view as she fell from the car onto the pavement, landing on her right knee, bracing herself with both palms. She raised her head, her face streaked with tears. Instinctively, I tore the Colt from my shoulder holster and moved quickly up alongside the Dodge, keeping the gun aimed at the open door just in case Christine emerged.
“Move around behind the car,” I shouted to Bernie as I sprinted forward. She struggled to her feet, stumbling around the fender of the car as I reached her. “Go, go, go,” Christine’s voice screamed from inside the car as the door slammed shut and the Lincoln engine roared amplified inside the tube. The limo lurched forward and quickly moved away. We stood in the cloud of exhaust for a moment before turning back toward my car. Bernie almost fell as she put weight on her right knee but I grabbed her arm to hold her up. I pulled her close to me. “I’m getting you to a doctor,” I said as I picked her up, cradling me in my arms. She fit nicely and wrapped her arms around my neck. “We have to catch up to Christine, Jackie,” she cried. “We can’t let her get away.” “Don’t worry, doll,” I said as I got her back to my car. “She’s going to get caught.” I helped Bernie settle into the passenger seat, taking my handkerchief, and holding it on her bleeding knee. She took it from me and tied it around the wound. “We’ll get you to a doctor I know over on Monroe in Greektown ,” I said, wheeling the Buick around in the tunnel, heading back to the American side. I edged over as two city police cars approached and passed. I looked over at her and reached out my arm, pulling her toward me. “I’m sorry I didn’t anticipate Christine would pull a stunt like that. I figured she would hear the evidence against her and give up.” “It’s okay, Jackie. She was very clever, all right, but…” “What?” “She could have killed me any time but didn’t,”
Bernie said, a frown creasing her
forehead. “I…I feel sorry for her, you know, but I don’t know why. I mean, she killed her sister so I shouldn’t care how she feels.”
“It’s over for her, I’ll see to that. Since she didn’t hurt you, I doubt she’ll do anything to the driver. Once he gets back I’ll go after her.” I squeezed her tighter and gave her a soft quick kiss on the cheek. “She sure has left a mess behind with her family,” Bernie sighed. “William Ponder will have to live with his guilt as unwitting a participant as he was, his father, too.” I nodded in agreement. “Willis thought all he had to do was snap his fingers and he’d take care of things. Well, that went by the wayside.” She nodded. “Edsel will have to deal with his own father, too, along with that creepy Bennett.” “Yeah, Bennett’s a real asshole, I agree,” I said, “and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of him unless Edsel can convince his father to get rid of that S.O.B.” We were waved through the Customs checkpoint and I turned onto Jefferson. “About the only one who wasn’t devious in all this was Mary Ann Bingham,” I offered, knowing immediately I shouldn’t have said it. “How on earth can you say that, Jackie?” she whined. “That platinum blonde fake is just out to get that old goat’s money…” “He knows that,” I countered. “He just wants to have a beautiful woman on his arm and she did have his best interest at heart when she tried to get me off the case. She knew it would be a big burden for him and I suspect she was leery of the younger Ponder’s lifestyle.” “You think she knew about him?” Bernie asked. “Now that I think back on it, I have a feeling she knew the whole thing could blow up and her boyfriend or benefactor or…” ‘Sugar daddy,” Bernie interjected.
“Or that, might have health problems. She was looking out for Willis in all this.” “Well, good for her,” Bernie smiled. “And, good for me. I’m glad we survived all this. I just don’t know how you do it, Jack.” “Survive? I do it all the time.” “Uh, huh,” she murmured, burying her face against my shoulder. I liked that. After a few moments of silence she lifted her head. “Jackie, forget the doctor. I’ll be okay but just let’s go home…your home. I think I’d feel much safer with you tonight.” I laughed. “Are you sure?” “I know all about your reputation, Jackie Raines, but I think we’ve got a lot more in common than we did only a few months ago. I’m sure I’ll be safe with you.” “Yes,” I nodded. “But will I be safe with you.” She hit my shoulder again and then kissed me. I liked that even more.
TWENTY SEVEN Edsel Ford’s driver escaped with quite a tale to tell his grandchildren, although he now realized he was never really in danger, unless it would have been from some trigger-happy coppers on either side of the Detroit River. He had related his tale to George Matrikos who filled me in as I drove back into the tunnel, using my car rather than a squad car because his trip wasn’t exactly sanctioned by the Detroit Police Department. “He said he dropped her off at the train station by the river in downtown Windsor,” Matrikos said as I turned my headlights on, even though the tunnel was well-lighted. “He said she told him she was sorry, can you believe that? He said once Bernie was pushed from the car she asked him to lie for her and everything would be okay, for him to tell the Canadian border guard that he was driving her into the country on business and that everything was okay. We alerted them, of course, about what was going on but they said unless they witnessed a criminal act or if the driver complained that he was coerced into driving her into the country, they wouldn’t intervene, although they will keep an eye on her, whatever that means.” “So he told them what she wanted him to say?” “Yep, and since he cooperated with her, she told him to drive to the train station and she got out,” Matrikos continued. “He said he opened the door for her, she walked away, the gun in her purse. He quickly jumped back in the limo and drove straight back to Detroit.” “Did she say anything about what she was planning?” He shook his head. “Didn’t say a word about it. We did find out that she’s got some cash, though, before attending that little soiree of yours she took a fistful from her brother-in-
law’s safe which he carelessly left unlocked. He hasn’t given us a figure yet.” George lit a cigarette. “She might have hopped a train and disappear into Alberta or the Yukon Territory. Even the Mounties would have a tough time finding her.” I shook my head. “She didn’t strike me as the backwoods type. She might lay low for a while but I think she’ll still hang around. She’s not without resources.” Windsor was a growing community, at least it was before the Depression, an extension in many ways of Detroit, although the residents would wink and argue the opposite, that Detroit was really West Windsor. Windsor actually was three cities, Windsor proper along with Walkerville—ah, the distillery—and Ford City, so named because of a huge Ford plant. The train station, a low-slung, Victorian-looking light blue structure, was spread out along the riverfront. I wheeled the Buick around to park in front of the station on Sandwich Street, dodging a night-crawling trolley. I hadn’t wanted to tackle this job in the dark because most everyone had gone home for the night, businesses closed and the weather turned ugly again. The wind had picked up off the river, driving the snow into drifts. We trudged forward, tucking our heads down as we faced the wind, stomping the snow from our shoes at the station entrance. A few people sat in the long worn wooden benches. A train had departed a few minutes before we got there, and another was arriving, judging from the whistle in the distance. I eyed the skinny, bearded man in the ticket booth. The other windows were closed and his was the only one open. Matrikos raised the leather badge case and smiled. “We’re looking for a dame who was in here earlier tonight.” The ticket agent adjusted his dark-rimmed glasses and nodded. “We’ve had lots of passengers in here officer. I’ve only been on duty for a few hours.”
I pulled out a picture of Christine provided by William Ponder. It was taken during the Ponders’ wedding eight years earlier so Christine was a teenager, but it was a close enough likeness of how she looked today. “Seen this lady?” He reached out through the cage and snatched it from my hands, drawing it up close to his eyes. Great, a near-sighted eye witness. This case just got better and better. “She probably was in here a couple of hours ago.” The ticket agent smiled broadly revealing tobacco stains on his two uppers. “Yeah, she was in here all right.” He tapped a wrinkled index finger on the picture. “Quite a pistol, I’ll say.” Brother, you don’t know the half of it. “So, did she buy a ticket?” He pursed his lips and shook his head slowly. “Naw, she only wanted change.” “Change for what?” Matrikos asked his voice displaying his irritation. “Phone,” he answered, pointing to the open row of pay phones on the wall. “Gave me a dollar, American, and wanted some dimes.” I glanced at the phones and then back to the ticket cage. “Did you hear who she called?” His eyes became large, dark as black olives. “I do not eavesdrop on customers,” he said. “That’s not what I meant,” I offered. “I just wondered if you couldn’t help but overhear, seeing as your window is so close to the phones.” “Well, it was after a departure and it had cleared out pretty good,” he said. “In fact, she had to wait until everyone moved away from my window to get her change. So,” he paused, “yeah, I guess I heard a little.” I could tell Matrikos was just about ready to reach through the bars and grab the little guy, jamming his face against the metal cage, just as he might have done across the river in his
own jurisdiction, but this wasn’t Detroit and I doubt the constables would take an assault on their citizen very lightly. I reached out and touched his arm. “I wonder if you can recall anything that might help us find out where she went,” I intervened, giving my best Canadian impersonation. “It’s important, eh, and any help you could provide would be glorious.” He blinked. “I did hear a bit. She called someone local, I can tell you that. I think, well, I know, it was over in Ford City. Actually, she called the plant office at least that was the number. She had to call for information and she repeated the number, that’s why I know what it was. She asked to talk to a MacGregor. That’s a big name in these parts, you know, eh. The guy’s first name is Duncan. His family’s got a lot of clout at city hall and in the province. He’s in charge of something over there but I don’t know what.” Duncan MacGregor? Of course, he’s big in Ford over here. “I know the lad, a fine gentleman,” I intoned still in my half-baked Canadian. The agent kept talking. “She didn’t speak to him but gave someone an order, saying she wanted him to meet her at the café up the street in an hour. She said that if there were any questions to call Detroit. That’s what she said. After she hung up, she marched out and up the street.” “Jesus,” Matrikos breathed. “For not eavesdropping, you sure do get an earful.” The ticket agent shrugged. “What’s the name of the place where they were to meet?” “That’s Ev’s Café, a gal by the name of Evelyn Porter owns it. It’s open all night although they can’t serve their drinks after midnight.” “Now what? We squeeze this Evelyn dame?” Matrikos asked.
“No, George, but we can talk to her, and we’re going to have to get some clout of our own over here. You walk up to the café, and don’t use any strong arm stuff. We don’t need trouble.” “Sure, and I’ll be as gentle as the baby Jesus,” he said with his bogus Corktown brogue. “What are you up to?” I pointed at the telegraph office at the end of the waiting room. “I’m going to get some reinforcements.”
“She didn’t have a lot to say,” Matrikos grinned hoisting a half-empty mug of beer in the air. “She did see a woman in here and that after a while this MacGregor guy showed up. They talked for a few minutes and left together.” “How many of those have you had?” I wondered. “I’m off duty, my friend, and I had only the one, well, two if you count this one,” he answered. “Who did you call, anyway?” “Someone who might be of great help, since it seems we’re dealing with Harry Bennett again,” I said, raising my hand to catch Ev Porter’s attention. “I’ll have one of those,” I declared pointing to Matrikos’ beer mug. “We’re going to have to wait here for a while.” “Who’s coming, did you say?” George prodded. “Edsel Ford,” I smiled as Ev brought me a full, frothy mug of beer.
I had met Duncan MacGregor when he was lost, and I was lost. His Canadian regiment and my Marine outfit were about a half-mile apart when we charged the German trenches, running smack into another billowing cloud of mustard gas. While we were saved by our gas masks, we lost our way and ended up with a dozen other souls in a bomb crater just as a Kraut shell burst overhead. When the wind blew the cloud away we discovered there were only a few of us left alive. After the war I looked him up, remembering he told me he was from Windsor. His family had some kind of industrial ties to Henry Ford and Duncan ended up as a big shot with the Canadian version of the car company. I didn’t let on to Matrikos I knew all about MacGregor, but it was necessary to deal Edsel in. What we needed was leverage when it came to the delicate matter of why Duncan felt obligated to help Christine. This late at night, Duncan might only be coaxed into cooperating if it came direct from the president of Ford. It was nearly eleven when MacGregor and two pug-nosed ex-prize fighters in tow walked through the café door. Edsel Ford had arrived in his limo a half hour earlier, accompanied by a driver—not the same unfortunate soul from the afternoon—who doubled as a bodyguard. Ford assured me he had sufficiently intimidated MacGregor by phone, enough to guarantee his timely arrival.
MacGregor, dressed in a black top coat, white scarf and black bowler, stopped when he spotted me, motioning for his men to sit at a table in the corner. He nodded toward Edsel Ford and turned to me. “I’m a bit taken aback to see you here, Jonathan. What’s going on?” I smiled and shook his hand. “Just working a case, Mac. It involves the lady you met in here earlier tonight.” Ford waved his arm at the table covered by red-and-white checkered linen. MacGregor sat down opposite me. “What about Miss Dehavilland?” he asked. Ford leaned forward. “You said you weren’t aware of what Christine Dehavilland had been doing, that she was working at Hudson and smuggling documents over to Bennett.” MacGregor hunched his broad shoulders and ran a hand through his close-cropped curly red hair. He was clean-shaven except for a thin red mustache along his lip line. He was a year or two older than me but he maintained much of the look of that young Canadian soldier. “I said I wouldn’t know anything about that,” he answered, his voice deep and confident. “Are you saying you didn’t call Harry Bennett tonight to find out what to do about Christine Dehavilland?” Ford barked, leaning even closer across the table. MacGregor blinked and swallowed hard. “Call Bennett tonight?” he repeated. “Are you deaf?” Edsel shouted causing Ev Porter to jump from her stool behind the cash register. The two men in the corner started to get up but Matrikos and Ford’s driver each took a step in their direction. Matrikos motioned for them to sit back down and they complied. “I’m talking to you MacGregor,” Edsel shouted louder, slapping his hand on the table. “You are an officer in the Ford Motor Company and in charge of security here in Canada. I want to know what you have been doing, protecting this woman, this fugitive.”
“I…I don’t know what you mean,” he stammered. “I did talk to Harry earlier because she said she worked for him and I had to verify it.” “What did he say?” Edsel demanded. “He said that she was an important person and that the old man, those were his words, wanted me to make sure that whatever she needed she received. He wanted me to help get her settled and then to get back to him.” “And?” “And, I did. I got her fixed up in one of our places and I called Harry back to let him know everything was okay.” MacGregor frowned. “What has she done?” “How about murder, you fancy fuck,” Matrikos growled at him. “You highfalutin pricks think you can cover up anything, even murder, so it won’t screw up your profits.” He looked at Ford whose face was turning beet red. “Sorry, Mister Ford, I wasn’t referring to you, but that no-good Bennett, well, that’s a different story.” Ford stared at him for a moment and nodded. “Now, Mister MacGregor, suppose you tell us exactly what you did to help Miss Dehavilland.” “She said she had some problems with the wrong kind of people over in Detroit and that she wanted to get away from them,” he said, his voice not so confident. “She said she was working for Bennett and that some of the people he’s involved with were bothering her, so he wanted her to come here and we’d take care of her.” “So you called Bennett to confirm this story?” Edsel asked his voice and his bloodpressure returning to normal. “Yes, and I told you what he said. I complied, got her settled, went home, and then you called.”
“You did call him back to say where she was?” I interjected. “Yes. I gave him the address. I suppose you want to know that, too?” Ford nodded. “Okay it’s a house, a bungalow over on Drouillard, across from the cemetery in Ford City. It’s one of the houses we have for visiting engineers and such who are here for a few weeks or months. It was one that was not in use at the moment, a comfortable place, not fancy, but well stocked.” He pulled a small notebook and pencil from his coat pocket and jotted down the address, ripping off the sheet and handing it to Ford. “Does she have a vehicle?” Matrikos asked, leaning down over the table. “No, we don’t supply that, except we do drive them to and from the plant when necessary but this wouldn’t apply in her case.” Edsel looked at me and up at Matrikos. “What do you fellows think? What will Bennett do?” “He wanted to know where she was, exactly where,” I said, more to myself than to him. “Why would he want to know that?” Ford asked. “What difference did it make other than to know she was still in Windsor and wasn’t leaving?” I looked up at Matrikos and back to Ford. “I don’t think he’s sending flowers to the house, do you? I’m afraid Mac has been tricked into setting the woman up for a hit. Normally, I suppose, it wouldn’t matter all that much. After all she is a murderer, too.” Ford ran a shaking hand through his thinning hair. He obviously was upset and was glaring at MacGregor. “She’s important because she can testify against Bennett, and…” “And Daddy Warbucks, too,” Marikos smiled. “Miss Dehavilland could put quite a dent in Ford, if you don’t mind my saying.”
“Dammit,” Ford grumbled, pounding his fist on the table and causing poor Ev Porter to jump off her stool again. That was my cue to calm the waters. “Yes, she’s a valuable witness if she can be convinced to return to the U.S. and I’d bet she’d get a pretty good deal from the prosecutor,” I said. “She won’t walk on a murder, but she will get a reduced charge, manslaughter, probably. She’ll have to do some time but Bennett could be put away for the rest of his life.” “What can be done?” Ford asked turning to face me. “How can we get her back?” Now it was my turn to frown. “You sure you want her back, because her testimony will be as much against Henry Ford as it is Harry Bennett?” He shook his head. “Of course I don’t like it.” His voice was low and he turned so his back was to MacGregor. “However, this is the perfect time to get rid of Bennett, don’t you see? He’s got my father snowed, but if Bennett has jeopardized the company, he’ll have to be cut loose and stand the charges on his own. The sin my father committed was giving Bennett full rein over the operation and security when in fact he has been creating his own little kingdom.” “Okay,” I whispered, moving close. “We can’t go up to the place like a goddam clown car with all of us getting out and charging up the steps. I’ll have to do this my way. The only one I’m going to need with me is MacGregor. He works for you and not Bennett, right?” “Yes, that’s true. Bennett operates in Detroit but over here, MacGregor is running the show.” “Then, he’ll help me and we’ll get Christine Dehavilland back to Detroit by tomorrow,” I promised. “There’ll be a hefty bonus in this for you,” he said, but I reached out and grabbed his arm.
“I’ve already got a client,” I said. “Ponder?” he asked. “No, I finished that job. I’m working this case for me.” “Still,” he countered, “there’s a reward, shall we say, a bounty, if you prefer. Get her back to Detroit and I’ll take care of it. I’m sure it will lead to Bennett leaving the company.” He stood and leaned down on the table, facing MacGregor. “I want you to work with Mister Raines here and let’s get this situation resolved.” Ford agreed to take Matrikos back to Detroit with him despite the detective’s objections. “Bernie’s at my place,” I said to him before he followed Ford out to the limo. “I need you to watch the building for me until I can get back. Make sure she remains safe.” He agreed. MacGregor and I watched as the café cleared out and Ev Porter brought over two more cups of coffee. It was going to be a long cold night.
I doused the headlights as I turned into the graveyard past a little sign with script writing: Our Lady of the Lake Cemetery An old church building stood nearby on a corner but it looked abandoned. I followed the lane to the left with just enough moonlight to keep me from plowing into grave markers. The sky had begun to clear but it grew colder and the wind continued to whine, but without the slashing intensity it displayed earlier in the day. “This is a nice car,” MacGregor said admiringly, running a hand along the dashboard. “I don’t get to ride in anything but Fords these days. They’re fine cars, but this one has some power.” I didn’t respond as I wheeled the car along the path nearest the western edge of the graveyard, parallel to Drouillard Street. “That’s the house over there,” he said, pointing out a white clapboard bungalow with a wide front porch, supported by stone foundation columns. There was a dormer over the porch with two windows. No lights shown in the lower floor but they were on in the front dormer room, although the shades were drawn. I stopped the Buick at an angle so we both could observe the house through the windshield. The block of Drouillard Street opposite the cemetery was mainly residential although there was a little grocery store next to the house where Christine Dehavilland was hiding. The house had a small drive alongside it, but no cars were parked there. Two doors north was another store on the corner of Drouillard and Seminole and beyond one could see the lights of the huge Ford plant.
“You really believe something’s going to happen?” MacGregor asked, rolling his window down a few inches. The cold air slithered into the car, sinking to the floor first and working its way up. There was movement in the upper story room. A shadow moved across the shades and back again. It looked like Christine was pacing nervously, unsure of what she was going to do next, or where she would run if discovered. “Look at this,” MacGregor said pointing to a slow-moving Ford as it drifted up the street from the south, coming towards us. It slowed even more as it rolled in between our concealed car and the house. I couldn’t see the face of the man behind the wheel. The car stopped for only a moment, idled forward, then picked up speed. It turned west onto Seminole when it reached the intersection and was out of sight. “What the hell was that all about?” MacGregor asked, his voice hushed as if someone might overhear us. We watched the house another ten minutes before there were more shadows along the shades and then the lights were turned on in a room on the first floor. After thirty seconds or so it went off again and then the upper story went dark. There was an eerie emptiness about the street and the row of houses. I turned to MacGregor. “It seems to me that the guy in the car was casing the joint,” I said. “I wonder where he was heading.” “Why don’t we find out?” MacGregor suggested. I looked at the house again. What could it hurt, taking a little drive around the block? I dropped the car into first and punched it. I used the headlights this time and we zipped around the circular drive, turning out onto Seminole, heading west. We roared past the intersection but
the road ahead was empty. Of course, the guy had a long head start and wouldn’t be visible even if he had stayed on the same street. Still, nothing was moving. “Is this city always this dead?” I asked. “Weeknights, sure,” he said. “Come payday, though, there’s a lot more action and the weekends are usually busy. Don’t forget, booze is legal here so we get lots of business from across the river.” “You must be busy riding herd on all those workers, over ten thousand of them, I hear,” I said. “Closer to fourteen thousand, but who’s counting,” he shot back. “I know what you’re getting at, Jonathan. You want to know if I employ the same tactics as Bennett and the answer is no and yes.” I shot a glance his way. “I do have some men working on the lines, only a few, to keep me informed on how production is going and that’s all,” he said. “I don’t get involved in finding out details about these guys’ private lives. I could care less as long as the work gets done and they stay out of jail.” “And the union movement?” I told him about the time Bennett tried to hire me to infiltrate the group of men trying to organize the auto workers. “You know Henry Ford’s position on that one, Jonathan,” he said. “We will fight to keep them out, but I’m not going to send thugs out to beat people up. I suppose someday there might be enough of a push made to get the unions recognized and if that happens, we’ll deal with it.”
We had traveled a dozen blocks but there was no sign of that Ford. I turned the car around and headed back toward the cemetery. We had almost made it to the corner when I saw a car tucked along a little path behind the corner store. “Isn’t that the car?” I said pointing to it. “One thing I do know about and that’s Ford cars and I’m sure it was the one we saw cruising in front of the house,” he said. I pulled the car up behind it and we got out. I took out my Colt and aimed it at the back of the Ford. There was a little light from a street lamp on the corner but most of the car was in darkness. “Shit,” MacGregor mumbled and pulled a gun from his coat pocket. I inched up the driver’s side of the Ford and MacGregor moved on the passenger side. When I got to the driver’s door handle I stepped away and pointed the gun at the window. The front seat was empty. I moved to the front of the car and looked down the row of houses. In the dark I couldn’t see much but I could tell it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to jump a few hedges to get to the back of Christine’s hideaway. “Goddamit,” I shouted, startled at the echo as it bounced around the silent buildings and houses. I spun around and raced back to my car and jumped in and MacGregor followed suit. I spun the wheels as I backed the Buick onto Seminole and raced it around the corner, skidding to a halt in front of the house. We jumped out and ran up the steps to the front porch. I pounded on the screen door that was closed over a solid wood door. We heard nothing but then there was a crashing sound from the back of the house. We split up, each of us leaping from opposite sides of the porch, racing
around to the back. We converged on the back yard but it was so dark we couldn’t see much. Two metal trash barrels were rolling on the ground near a hedge separating the yard from the neighbor’s. A back porch light came on at the house next door and I saw someone move a curtain. There were more noises as whoever was running away tumbled over another set of garbage cans. “You go after him,” I shouted at MacGregor, waving the Colt in the direction of the fleeing man. “I’m going in to check on Christine.” He went into action, crashing through the hedges to the north as I turned and ran up the back stairs of the house to a small, square rear porch. The door was open which wasn’t a good sign. I fumbled around finally locating a light switch on the wall and flipped it on. A three bulb overhead light came alive flooding the combination dining room-kitchen. “Christine,” I called out. “It’s Jonathan Raines. Where are you?” There was no response. I looked around quickly and didn’t see anything unusual. Something shiny near the sink caught my eye but I was in too much of a hurry to dwell on it. I took a step or two, feeling a crunching under my heel, probably some food or rock salt from the steps. I called out again, but she didn’t answer. I moved from the dining room through an arched opening into the living room, my footsteps muffled by a thick carpet. I spotted a staircase to the left and moved quickly to it, switching on another light, illuminating the stairway and upper landing. I called out one final time, but there was just silence in return until it was invaded by the clomping of shoes on the front porch stairs.
I flipped off the light and backed up against the
wall, raising the Colt, ready to fire through the door as a fist began pounding on the outside screen door. “Jonathan,” MacGregor yelled. “Let me in.”
“Jesus, Mac,” I grumbled as I unlocked both doors. He was doubled over, his hands on his knees, gasping for breath. “He got away,” he said. “I saw him for a second in the light from the street as he jumped into his car and drove off. I didn’t get much of a look at his face. He was medium or slightly shorter in height and was a wiry kind of guy I guess you’d say, wearin’ a fedora and gloves. Oh, and he had a limp. Maybe he hurt himself jumping over those hedges and fences. Anyway, I got over the fence just as he backed out.” “Let’s go,” I said turning toward the stairway. I turned the light back on and moved quickly up the stairs. The staircase twisted once on the way up, leading to three rooms and a bathroom on the second floor. There were two bedrooms to my right and a bath straight ahead. To the left was the front bedroom where we saw the lights. It was dark now and the door was closed. I leveled the Colt even with the door and moved forward to it. Reaching out, I carefully turned the knob, giving the door a quick shove, swinging it wide open. The dim outside light, mostly blocked by the shades, didn’t reveal much. I switched the gun to my left hand and patted the wall for a light switch. Finding it, I flicked it on and the overhead lamp came alive. I half expected what I saw but it still was a shock. “Oh, sweet Jesus,” MacGregor whistled as he looked over my shoulder. Christine Dehavilland lay sprawled out on the bed, arms flung out from her sides. She was still wearing the dress she had on at the Graystone earlier—which seemed like a week ago instead of hours. One leg dangled over the side of the bed and the other was stretched out on top of the bedspread. The bed remained neatly made.
I walked up beside her. God, she still was beautiful, but she stared back at me with her once-sexy brown eyes, now hauntingly vacant, absent of life, unblinking.
Her blonde hair
fanned out above her as if she was posing for a photographer. I didn’t see any blood. I bent closer and saw the telltale marks on her neck, purple hand prints on each side, her breath and life viciously choked out of her. “We’d better get out of here,” MacGregor whispered through clenched teeth. “I’d be all for that, except you went crashing along the back yards a few minutes ago and I know someone saw you. My car has been sitting out front since we rolled up which also was bound to be noticed. There’s no point in leaving anyway. We aren’t going to catch this guy tonight and the police have to be called.” “Yeah, I guess,” he muttered. “Oh, I suppose you’re worried about what this will look like in the papers?” “It had crossed my mind,” he said. “Get used to it because this is going to be big,” I declared. He sighed. “I’ll make the call. The chief of police used to work for me.” He most likely still was in your pocket, I thought, but I kept my opinion to myself.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had more than an hour or two of sleep, but the leather sofa in Duncan MacGregor’s office was comfortable and I drifted off in the darkness with no trouble. Five hours later I was jolted awake by the jarring ring of a telephone on a desk across the room. I swung my legs off the sofa and stretched. It wasn’t my phone so I wasn’t about to answer it. The frosted-glass door opened and MacGregor rushed in, a brown paper bag in his hand. He put it on the desk and picked up the receiver, one of the newer ones that you could listen and talk with the receiver in one hand. “Great, chief, thanks,” he said and placed the receiver on the cradle. He turned and saw me half sitting, my legs straight out in front of me. “Sorry if that woke you. That was the police chief and he said they found the Ford from last night. It’s over on Ouellette alongside the Ritz Hotel. He said he has a squad of guys headed that way.” “We ought to get over there…” I began. “You’ve got time,” he smirked. “What you need is a shave and a little freshening up. I brought you a little shaving kit.” He held up the bag. “My washroom is right in there,” he said pointing to another door. There was a knock on the office door and it opened. A young man, possibly just out of high school, walked in. He had a newspaper under his arm and two tin cups of coffee. He also pulled a manila envelope from under his arm along with the paper. “The chief sent these pictures over to you since you said the woman is an employee, whatever that means.” “Did you peak in the envelope?” MacGregor asked him in a stern, fatherly voice.
“Oh, no sir,” he answered. “I wouldn’t…” MacGregor raised his hand. “I’m sure you didn’t, son. Thank you.” The young man spun around and quickly left the room shutting the door carefully behind him. “I just love these trainees,” he laughed. “Reminds me of me a bit…” “Oh, horseshit,” I grumbled as I reached for the cup of coffee. “You were a rich little bastard from the right side of the tracks who wanted to be a soldier and your daddy fought like hell to keep you out of the war, but you told him to take a flying you know what. Remember the little talk we had trying to stay alive in that bomb crater? You came home tough as nails which is why this job appeals to you. Hell, I’d bet you could be running your own company if you wanted, but Ford is the future, am I right?” He grinned at me. “Something like that.” He picked up the Windsor paper and scanned the front page. “Here it is.” He turned the paper around and pointed to a brief in the lower left corner. I squinted at it: “Woman Found Strangled.” “The reporters must not know who she is,” I observed. I sipped my coffee and puffed on a Lucky. “Let’s see what the chief sent over.” MacGregor unwound the string on the envelope and opened it, pulling out a handful of glossy black and white crime-scene pictures his department photographer snapped. Poor Christine Dehavilland stared into the camera, her body sprawled on the bed as she was when we found her. I held up the photo. “It’s too neat, Mac.” “What do you mean?”
“The bed,” I answered. “It’s made up and it looks as if she gently laid down and died. There had to have been a struggle and even if it occurred while she was standing and was pushed down onto the bed, it would have been rumpled at least.” “You think she was carefully put down on the bed,” he said slowly, studying the picture. “I’m pretty sure, which means she was strangled somewhere else in the house and carried to that bed. If I was to guess, I’d say she let in the killer, that she must have expected him. What I think happened was she was demanding more money to keep quiet and whoever she was dealing with agreed to send someone over with the money. It would explain why there was no forced entry. Remember the back door was open when I went in and it appeared okay and the front was locked because I had to unlock it for you.” “That’s right,” he said snapping his fingers. “And we saw nothing much out of place in the whole house.” “Except the kitchen,” I said. “There was that glass broken in the sink. I wonder if the chief had that checked for prints. I think she might have had that in her hand when she opened the door. I noticed something shiny on the floor when I walked through and even stepped on some of it.” I raised by feet, one at a time, to inspect the bottoms of my shoes. Sure enough on my right heel there was a tiny spec of glass embedded in it. I pulled my pocket knife out and jabbed it free, holding it up to the light. “There’s glass on that floor, Mac. She dropped the glass when he attacked her. On his way out, he snatched up the big pieces and threw them in the sink but had to get out of there when he heard us on the front porch. He didn’t have time to clean everything up.”
MacGregor was on the phone before I stopped talking, telling him to make sure to check for prints on the glass. I shuffled through the series of pictures. “It happened quickly,” I said. “A strong man wouldn’t have taken very long to crush Christine’s throat. It would have been over in few seconds.” I put the pictures on the desk and grabbed the bag MacGregor had thoughtfully provided. I washed up and shaved and felt just a little bit better. The image of Christine’s lifeless body on the bed was haunting me. She was a disturbed woman who had to face justice but this wasn’t it. “Here,” MacGregor called as I emerged from the washroom. He tossed me a laundryfolded dress shirt he pulled from the bottom drawer of his desk. “I keep a couple of them handy just in case.” I slipped into the shirt and it almost fit except the sleeves were a bit long. “Well, let’s go see what your chief found over on Ouellette,” I said, strapping my shoulder holster back on and donning my coat and hat. “Maybe our mystery man was kind enough to check into the Ritz Hotel.”
The early morning traffic was picking up as autos moved up and down Ouellette, the main drag of downtown Windsor, mingling with the electric trolley cars. The Ritz was on the northwest corner of the main intersection of Ouellette and Sandwich. Two uniformed Windsor policemen stood near a car parked on the east side of the street. They were about to waive us away as I pulled the Buick up behind a police car a few feet from the wanted Ford. One of the cops recognized MacGregor and gave a half-hearted tip of his cap. “We’ve been looking for this car, officer,” MacGregor called to the cop as we walked up to him. The cop eyed me for a moment and smiled at MacGregor.
“I’m Officer Warren, Bill Warren, Mister MacGregor,” he said in a forced official voice. “I’ll hold the car so you can take a look before we impound it.” “Find anything?” I asked him. He eyed me again with a frown and then looked questioningly at MacGregor. “He’s okay, Warren, he’s working with me, a private investigator from Detroit and he’s helping the Fords out.” That seemed good enough for the policeman. “Yes, we found a gun under the seat, the driver’s side. Don’t know if there are prints on it but we’ve secured it for testing,” he announced. “More importantly, I guess you might say, it turns out the car was stolen yesterday from a parking lot over by the distillery in Walkerville. The owner reported it missing when he got out of work last evening. He left the keys in it and, surprisingly, the keys still are in it. Otherwise it’s clean. We’ll have a look for prints, but in this weather, the guy probably wore gloves.” “Anyone around here see the driver?” MacGregor asked him. “Don’t know because it’s just the two of us here so far,” he said. “If you want to check around, be my guest. Just let us know if you find anything useful.” “What kind of gun did you find?” I asked walking around the car, peering in the windows. It looked empty with nothing on the seats or on the dashboard. “It was an S and W thirty eight. Serial number was filed off and the grip had tape on it.” “It was a pro’s gun all right,” I noted. “Had it been fired?” He shook his head. “Not lately. It was loaded and clean.” Too bad, I thought. He had it on him just in case he had to fight his way out of that house, but as it turned out, all he needed was a pair of pretty good wheels to get him through those back yards ahead of MacGregor.
“Just a minute, Mister MacGregor,” the other officer called as we started to walk up the street. A diminutive white-haired woman, possibly in her seventies, was standing next to the cop. She was jabbering away in French with some English words mixed in and he was nodding while trying to get our attention. “This lady says she saw something and maybe you’d be interested,” he called. We walked up to them standing in front of the Ford. “This is Madame Voisine. She and her husband own the little flower shop across the street and she was up early today. Her legs bother her quite a bit. Anyway, she decided to do some work in her store before it opened and she saw the car pull up. It was about five thirty. It sat there for quite a while and for a moment she was afraid that the guy in the car was thinking about breaking into her store. Anyway, she can tell you the rest. She speaks some English but mainly French, if you can understand Quebecois French. “I learned some French overseas,” I said, “though most of it shouldn’t be repeated in front of this lady. The cop coaxed her and she turned to talk to us. “I saw him sitting here in his car,” she began in halting English. “He was smoking a cigarette and threw it out on the road. Then he got out and he looked right into my window but I don’t think he saw me. Mon dieu, je ne sais pas!” She brought her hand to her throat. “Anyway, he looked around and pulled a gun, grand pistole,” she emphasized with her hands spread a foot apart. “He took it from his belt. I got very scared, I’ll tell you, but then he bent over and put it under the car seat and closed the door. He walked around the car and up the street. I watched him and he went into the hotel.” “Can you describe him?” I asked.
“Certainement, monsieur,” she smiled politely. “He was not tall and was kind of bulky but that could just be his coat and he had dark features, le peaux mates. I don’t know, he could be French, Italian, something like that. He had a hat and coat so I couldn’t see his hair, but judging from his face and eyebrows, I think his hair is dark. The only distinctive thing about him is the way he walked. It was a limp of sorts, so something was wrong with his right leg, boitiller, although he didn’t seem to need a cane.” “Merci beaucoup, Madame,” I said, touching my fingers to the brim of my hat. MacGregor and I walked up the street to the hotel entrance. “I’ll let you do the honors, Mac. Ask if the guy had a room here and if he’s still here. I’ve got a hunch, a long shot as to who this guy is so I’m going to follow up. I’ll use a pay phone.” I watched MacGregor march up to the front desk of the old Victorian hotel while I wandered across the lobby to a phone booth. You’d think it would be relatively easy to make a phone call across the river, but it wasn’t. First, you had to wait for a connection to a longdistance operator and then an international operator who dialed the number and asked for the person you named. Fortunately for me, I remembered the number of the sergeant’s desk at the Detroit central station. He connected the operator to George Matrikos. “Hi, Jack, I’m pretty busy, so what’s up?” George announced, not unfriendly but he sounded harried. The Eunice Ponder case was drawing a lot of heat and it was all aimed at him. “How’s Bernie?” I asked quickly before he could take another breath. “Oh, she’s okay. She’s back working but she is worried about you.” “Thanks for keeping an eye on her, George. Now here’s something that’s going to sound odd, but I would like you to check something.” “Shoot.”
“Gino Corelli,” I said, hoping to keep my voice steady. “I’m assuming he is still in jail, but just to make sure, could you check?” “Corelli? That’s the gangster who set you up at Sid’s and the same one who dropped through your porch onto your knife garden?” Matrikos chuckled. “The very same,” I said. “Just a minute.” I heard the phone clunk down on his desk and his footfalls retreated out of range. I glanced over to see MacGregor writing something down in his notepad so the desk man must have given him something useful. The phone clunked again as George picked it up. “Jesus, Jackie, you’re not going to believe this…” “He escaped from your fine facility?” “Didn’t have to,” George sighed. “Someone posted bail for him.” “Bail?” My voice almost cracked. “How the hell did a judge set bail in a murder case? I mean, the guy’s from out of state and sure as hell is a flight risk and then it is a capital offense, murder conspiracy, attempted murder, assault.” “Someone has the judge in his pocket, it’s safe to say,” George said. “But even at that, the bond was one hundred grand.” “Who posted it?” “They said it was one of the bail bond outfits. I can check it, but there’s no way some run of the mill bondsman would post it for the likes of Corelli unless there was someone big backing the whole thing.” “Well, they better pay up, George, because Corelli skipped the country,” I said. “He was here in Windsor and I’m pretty sure he killed Christine Dehavilland.”
There was silence on the other end for a moment. “She’s dead?” “Yes, and we were only a couple of minutes too late finding her,” I said, filling him in on everything that happened. “A guy with a limp,” he repeated. “It has to be Corelli. That foot of his never will be right again so you can bet he wants to get you too, Jack. You better watch out.” “Oh, I know, but actually he’s the one who better watch out because when I find him…” “Don’t say it, goddamit,” Matrikos shouted. “Just keep me posted and I’ll go ahead and let the court know he’s a fugitive. Maybe we can trace the bond money if someone has to pony up the dough.” “Keep on it, George,” I said and hung up just as MacGregor walked up. “I know who we’re looking for,” MacGregor said flipping open his notebook. So did I. “Guy’s name is Hoskins, Steven Hoskins,” MacGregor continued, glancing at his notes. “At least that’s the name he used when he checked in.” “Unless we’ve witnessed a miracle of Biblical proportions, the guy who checked in here was not Steven Hoskins,” I said. “Steven Hoskins is naked on a slab in the Detroit morgue, shot full of holes by this guy, whose real name is Gino Corelli.” My mind raced back to Tuesday night under the Ambassador Bridge. The real Hoskins, scared shitless as the gunmen opened fire, shooting back as he went down in the freezing snowstorm. I saw the shooters’ car spin and crash, the horn blaring as the driver breathed his last, his chest crushed on the steering wheel. I still pictured the gunman in the road firing up at me, the last act in his miserable life as I dropped him, but in the background, the third hit man was moving away from the car, not bothering to help his friend or to look in my direction at all:
the man with the limp. I mistakenly assumed he hurt himself in the crash, but it was Corelli. He had been sprung from jail to do another job. Now it was his little joke to use his target’s name at the hotel. If we can catch up to him and keep him alive, maybe we could get some answers. He’d be as good a witness as Christine. “This Hoskins or Corelli or whoever asked the clerk about the train schedule,” MacGregor said flipping a page in the notebook. “He said he was thinking of going to the Soo.” “Ah, yes, what a vacation spot,” I grinned. “The Soo Locks in March; what could be better than that?”
“Corelli isn’t going to give up without a fight when we catch up to him,” I said as we walked into the train station. “If he was going to the Soo, it’ll take forever given all the stops. We’re going to have to head him off.” Brian Bannister stood behind the counter, his green eye shade still in place. “Good morning, Brian,” I said as cheerfully as possible. “You work all night?” “Oh, hello,” he responded, offering his polite but cool smile. “No, I was called back in when the morning man became ill. Did you find the young lady?” I returned his smile. “As a matter of fact, we did locate her thanks to your assistance.” “What can I do for you, eh?” he asked, resting on his forearms and tilting his eyes up at us. I leaned on the counter, putting my face close to the bars. “We’re looking for a man, this time, Brian, who goes by the name of Corelli, Gino Corelli, although he sometimes uses the name Hoskins.” Bannister stroked the salt-and-pepper close-cropped beard, shaking his head slowly and pursed his lips. “Doesn’t ring a bell.” “He walks with a limp,” I added. Bannister’s blue eyes lit up. “Oh, yes, of course. He didn’t give me his name, eh, but I do recall him. A Mediterranean type, I’m guessing, so Corelli, as you said, might fit. Anyway, yes he was in early this morning and bought a ticket to Sault Ste. Marie, Canadian Soo. I told him he’d be better off taking the train through Michigan and up the Mitten, but he said he preferred to go the long way around, and it is a long way around, lots of stations. He’d have to go up to
Sarnia and then over to London, eh, where you switch trains and then you go on up around Georgian Bay. His train left an hour ago. “Any stops along the way to Sarnia?” MacGregor asked leaning around me. “Oh, hello, Mister MacGregor, I didn’t know that was you.” “Hi, Brian,” MacGregor nodded his way. “Can you help us out?” “Oh, for sure. The train’s hardly an express. Let’s see, he’d be stopping in Chatham and Sombra, although that one it isn’t much of a layover, just mail and passengers, if any.” “We could take Highway 2 and cut off at 40, getting up to Sombra before his train pulls in,” MacGregor suggested. Bannister unfolded a map he took from under the counter and spread it out, reaching under the bars to straighten out the folds. “This ought to help, eh.” I thanked him and bent down for a look. I traced the route with my finger, tapping it on the dot with the name Sombra above it. If the roads were clear enough, it might work. “If we call the OPP, the Provincial Police, they’d help out,” MacGregor continued. “I could get some of my boys up there too. I’ve got a couple in Sarnia in fact, so they’d be there well ahead of us.” I shook my head. “No uniformed cops. That would just spook Corelli and all we’d need is a trainful of hostages. If the OPP can supply plainclothes men and you can get your guys up there this could work. Just have them wait for us out of sight.” “You got it,” he said, reaching for the pay phone beside the counter. “So, Jackie, you were going to leave me out in the cold while you hog all the glory?” a woman’s lilting voice echoed in the waiting room behind me. I spun around to face a grinning Bernie Robbins.
“Now, Jackie, George filled me in on some of the details and I know a lot wasn’t released because the Canadian papers didn’t have much, except a woman was found strangled in a rented home in Ford City. Now we know the dead woman is Christine Dehavilland and the guy who did it is one of the Corelli brothers.” “The only one left,” I said, moving the few steps to get up to her. She clattered across the floor. She was all business, but in a sexy way. Her open wool tan coat revealed a dark tapered two-piece suit. She looked at me and then at MacGregor, who still was talking on the phone. “This is the Canadian version of Harry Bennett?” Her voice had suddenly turned serious and very cool. “Yes, but he’s not like Bennett,” I offered. “He’s tough and is a company guy, but he’s trying to do the right thing. He reports to Edsel Ford and not Bennett.” “He was another war buddy of yours, too?” she asked, her voice softening only a notch. “He was in the Canadian army and we were stranded together in the trenches, fought together. We’ve kept in touch over the years.” She cocked her head and studied MacGregor, who momentarily glanced our way and waved. “What are we going to do?” she asked. “We aren’t doing anything, my dear,” I shot back. “You are going home and waiting for the all clear.” “And miss out on the biggest story of the year and an exclusive at that? You bump your head or something? I’m going to get my scoop with our without you boys.” MacGregor hung up the phone and walked our way. “It’s all set, Jonathan. Who have we here?”
I introduced them. He offered his hand but she started questioning him right away. “So, what’s your stake in all this? Seems as though you have a murdered Ford spy on your hands and quite possibly the killer is a hit man also in Ford’s employ. How am I doing so far, Mister MacGregor? Care to comment?” He blinked and turned to me. “Is she on your side?” “She is on her side,” I said with a grin. “Bernie O’Boyle Robbins is a talented young woman who is determined to write the story of how the murder of Eunice Ponder unraveled a corporate espionage ring and led to a series of other murders and international intrigue. How am I doing, Bernie?” She grabbed my arm and gave it a hug. “You could be my publicist.” After a moment she stepped back, her face back to business. “So, fill me in on how Gino Corelli is going down.” We sat down on one of the wooden waiting room benches and I started to describe the plan, such as it was. “You can’t go on that train and confront him, Jackie,” she declared. “He knows you. You won’t get a half-car length from him before he starts shooting. I’ll bet he’d peg your friend here for a cop. He looks like one and if his goons get on board, he’ll spot them for what they are.” She paused. “Now, maybe if I get on and get near him, you know, distract him, you might be able to sneak on and grab him.” “Oh, lassie, that sounds dangerous,” MacGregor said slowly shaking his head with a frown. “Bernie, he’s seen you, too,” I protested. “At Sid’s, remember? He could recognize you, too. Maybe the plan is too shaky to work.”
MacGregor’s face brightened. “Not if you didn’t look like you, the two of you, I mean. Perhaps, even myself, included.” I frowned. “What have you got in mind, Mac?” “It just came to me. You know Madame Voisine, the flower shop lady we talked to earlier. Well, she’s involved in the local theater troupe. They put on a production twice a year. She keeps a lot of the costumes and so forth in the back of her store. Actually it’s connected to a warehouse behind her building and there’s a lot of stuff back in there. I’ll bet she can come up with disguises for us which could get us right on board the train without Corelli suspecting a thing. But, we’ll have to hurry. It’ll take quite a bit of time for the train to get out of Chatham and on its way, but we can’t waste much time. What do you think?” I had read quite of bit of Sherlock Holmes in my day, and he often used disguises. Why not us? “Bernie?” I said turning to her. “If you are determined to get on that train, I’d feel better if you were near where I could at least protect you.” “It could be fun,” she laughed. “It’s not a game, madam,” MacGregor warned. “This guy’s bad news.” “Exactly,” she said. “Bad news is good news. Lead the way, gentlemen.”
Madame Voisine had done her job well. We looked like a trio of country folk dressed in our long out-of-style, turn-of-the-century finest, train tickets in hand, bags and a trunk on a flat baggage cart waiting for the northbound to pick us up. Surprisingly, we weren’t alone. Along with the three of us on the wood plank platform next to the single set of tracks was an old German couple, also dressed in their finest and could certainly have been outfitted by Madame Voisine herself. She had a great time choosing the “image parfait,” as she put it, for the three of us. “I love styling people from French literature and arts and adapting them to our plays,” she said. Showing us pictures of the characters we were to resemble, we were dumfounded at the results. Since we had little time, she decided to model Bernie after the actress Sarah Bernhardt, in burgundy velvet, layered dress with ribbons and a high collar, fur cloak, and matching hand muff. Her auburn hair was hidden by a stylishly flowered floppy-brimmed hat. When she was finished, Bernadette Robbins had disappeared, replaced by an Ontario woman who resembled the famed French actress. To Gino Corelli, she would like an eccentric, although somewhat attractive rural maiden. Duncan MacGregor, with his curly red hair and thin mustache, didn’t have much of a reconstruction. Madame Voisine snipped some of the curls away and combed down his hair, slicking it down with some grease, and glued a scraggly short-cropped set of whiskers along his jaw line matching it with a brushy reddish mustache. “You are a middle-age version of Renoir, monsieur,” she told him. He could easily have passed for an Irishman or Scot, as do you.”
I, on the other hand, was not so easy. I was the most recognizable to Corelli, so I got the works. When she was done, I had a full, long, scraggly salt-and-pepper beard; some enhanced white streaks added along my temples and an old wool suit and vest. She even put something like glue on the back of my hands to age them. “You, mon ami, are the image of Claude Monet! Of course, few people know what he looked like, so you are anonyme, monsieur.” While I’m sure we looked silly, especially as we paraded out of the flower shop and into MacGregor’s four-door Ford, I was surprised the we all were transformed in less than a half hour. With a few bags as props, we were off to infiltrate the passenger car. “This is quite invigorating, liberating,” Bernie chirped as we sat on a bench waiting for the train which was quickly approaching from the south. “We all have new names and new identities. I like the fact that I am your daughter, father, instead of you being a dirty old man with a young woman as a lover and a leering pal to go along.” She pointed her thumb in MacGregor’s direction. He clearly was not comfortable with his new skin. Hopefully, we wouldn’t be play-acting for long. I bent down and lifted my pantleg, removing the small thirty-two from the ankle holster, keeping it hidden from anyone. I slid it up along my leg to the bench between Bernie and me. “Here, you put this inside that hand warmer and hold onto it, just in case,” I said softly. Bernie shook her head violently. “I’m not taking a gun and I’m certainly not going to shoot someone,” she hissed. “You should be ashamed. I’m a reporter. I write stories. I bury people with facts, not bullets.” “I know, but keep the gun in there just in case I need it,” I said pushing it up against her hip. She looked around to see if anyone was watching, but the attention of those on the platform
was riveted on the approaching train. She picked up the gun with her left hand and placed it quickly inside the muff.
“Here, old-timer, let me help you,” MacGregor said, clutching my arm as the train idled restlessly beside the station. “Don’t push it,” I mumbled and then raised my voice, “thank you, sir. My bones aren’t what they used to be.” He pretended to help me up the steps into the last of two passenger coaches. Most of the seats were occupied on both sides of the narrow aisle and I quickly scanned their faces but Corelli wasn’t one of them. “Looks full,” I said loudly and turned around. “Let’s check the other car.” I inched past MacGregor and Bernie to the platform between the two cars and then opened the door to the first car. Only a few of the seats were filled and then I saw him. He was about halfway down the aisle on the right, sitting facing me, although his attention was occupied by looking out the window. The aisle seat next to him was empty and so were the seats opposite him. It was as if I had planned it myself. I hobbled up with aisle and half turned to take Bernie’s hand. “Come along, young lady,” I ordered. We marched along the aisle until we reached Corelli’s spot. “Here we go,” I said loudly, pulling Bernie back so MacGregor could slide in to sit across from Corelli, who now turned to watch us as we invaded his space. MacGregor smiled at Corelli. “How are you today?” he asked Corelli, plopping heavily down in the seat facing him. “It is very cold out there, my friend. It might be cold on this train but not as bad as out there, I’ll tell you.” Corelli ignored him and turned his attention to Bernie.
“Here you go, my dear,” I said to her, guiding her to the seat next to MacGregor. “Thank you, father,” she said demurely, carefully keeping her left hand inside the muff. She looked over to Corelli and smiled shyly. He returned the smile. I shuffled around and dropped back into the seat alongside Corelli, allowing my left arm and shoulder to bump into him. He edged away from me but said nothing, continuing to eye Bernie. He had kept his hat and overcoat on but had removed his gloves, which were sitting on his right knee. I wondered where he kept his gun, or if he was carrying more than one. “I can’t understand why your sister was so intent on getting married this time of year,” I bellowed toward Bernie. “If she had been more considerate, she’d have waited until the warm weather months.” I turned toward Corelli just as the train began moving. “My younger daughter, the impetuous one you might say, decides that this is the best time for her to marry her beau, can you believe it, sir?” I cackled with a conspiratorial tone. “A gentleman wouldn’t allow such a thing, eh, and would have demanded that they marry in the late spring or summer.” “I guess you are right,” he said not appearing interested. He quickly turned his head to look out the window as the landscape and Lake Huron in the distance began moving at a brisk pace. “Where are you headed, friend?” MacGregor asked his voice amiable and light. He was getting into character. Corelli slowly turned his face toward MacGregor and then back to the window without responding. Mac looked at me and I nodded.
“Well, that’s hardly very friendly,” he declared, his voice deepening. “Someone should correct your attitude.” Corelli frowned and looked at MacGregor as if studying him in a textbook. Next he swung his gaze to Bernie who smiled politely. He turned his body half way in the seat so he could face me better. He looked at my eyes first and then at my beard and back at my eyes. I may have had a sixty year old face but my eyes still were thirty two. His face registered the mixture of surprise and fear, quickly giving way to anger. He shot his hand into his right side coat pocket but he was too slow. I yanked the Colt from my shoulder holster and jammed it into his ribs. “Well, Mister Corelli, I’d say we know where you are headed now,” I snarled. “Who are you people?” he shouted, drawing the attention of the handful of passengers sprinkled throughout the car. The train had gained its full speed and rocked in rhythm from side to side. “Well, you might say my last name is Mare,” I said pushing the gun deeper into his ribs eliciting a grunt. “My first name is Night, and I’m all yours, brother.” “Are you cops?” “Worse than that, for you, bucko,” Mac said, cracking a smile. “We don’t have badges, just guns.” He slid the scarf off the forty-five automatic he had on his lap. “Look at it this way, you will get your choice of vacation spots,” I said. “You could spend the rest of your life in a Canadian prison, or you could opt for a lifetime supply of boredom in Michigan. Unless, of course, you are connected to that nasty St. Valentine’s thing in Chicago in which case, you could be spending eternity in a box.” I glanced at Mac. “Illinois is a death-penalty state.”
“I’d say there’s only one viable option, really, for you to consider, Mister Corelli,” Mac suggested. “What’s that?” he spat. “Turn state’s evidence,” I interjected. “Testify against Bennett and you just might get to plead to a charge where there is parole involved, at least in Michigan. I can’t vouch for Canada.” “You want me to testify against Harry Bennett? In connection with what, exactly?” His voice was starting to shake, as if it was building up for an eruption like Vesuvius. “With what he hired you for, you fucking dimwit?” I shot back. “He didn’t hire me for anything,” Corelli scoffed, his lips curling into a sneer. “You and your brothers were hired to kill me,” I said pushing the gun into his ribs again. “You?” his voice cracked. “Why would I be hired to kill…?” His voice trailed off as I reached up and pulled off my hat and wig. I would have pulled off the fake whiskers but the glue was of such fine quality it would require two hands to peel off the beard. “Shit,” Corelli sighed. “Raines?” “So we repeat,” I said. “Just say it. Bennett hired you to kill me and Hoskins and Christine Dehavilland.” “I could say it, Raines, but you wouldn’t want me to commit perjury,” he grumbled. “I wasn’t hired by Bennett. It’s as simple as that.” “Then who did hire you?” I insisted. “Tickets,” came a voice over my shoulder. “Get your tickets out, please.” The conductor stepped into view and tipped his cap to us. “Tickets, folks.”
I debated on whether to turn my gun on him and tell him to get lost or just give him a ticket, until I saw his eyes grow large when he spied the gun in my hand jammed into Corelli’s ribs and MacGregor’s pistol as he tried to cover it up again with his scarf. “What’s going on here?” he demanded, his voice broadcasting his alarm. He shuffled back, his eyes darting up and down the aisle, possibly seeking a safe path of retreat. I turned slightly to say something to calm him, to assure him we were the good guys, but it was the opening Corelli was seeking to make his move. He bolted from his seat, grabbing the front of Bernie’s dress, raising her up and dragging her out into the aisle. Corelli shot an elbow out, knocking the conductor over backwards into the empty seats behind him and in another movement, pulled a switchblade from his right pocket. He held Bernie with his left arm pinning both shoulders against him and held the opened blade to her neck. “Drop the guns, gentlemen,” he shouted. “Drop them or I’ll draw this knife all the way across this lovely lady’s neck.” I knew he meant it. If he could strangle a woman with his bare hands, he could easily cut another woman’s throat. “Throw them over at my feet, please.” We both tossed the guns down where Corelli knew it would be impossible to reach them in time to prevent what he had planned. In my mind I already saw what he was about to do. He’d switch from the knife to one of the guns and then drag her with him out through the connecting doors. He would either throw her off the train or jump himself, or he would shoot her and us, not necessarily in that order, and then jump. That would have worked except the train is going too fast and he’d certainly be killed in the attempt. Corelli dragged Bernie a few steps down the aisle, then bent down to pick up one of the guns, dropping the knife. Before his fingers could latch onto one of the guns, Bernie pulled the
thirty-two from the muff and planted the barrel on Corelli’s forehead. For a second he looked like Ben Turpin crossing his eyes. “I guess a gun can come in handy for a gal now and then,” Bernie said through clenched teeth as she pressed the gun into the killer’s flesh. Corelli stood straight and let go of Bernie’s shoulders. “Careful little lady,” he said softly, his nerves now showing. “You don’t want to do anything…” “Sure I do,” Bernie hissed. “You bet I do.” I bent down and grabbed both guns, tossing the forty-five to Mac. Now all three guns were aimed at Corelli. “Looks like your choices have diminished again,” I said. Get down in that empty seat behind you,” I ordered. The terrified conductor had scampered to the front end of the car where he opened a phone box, connecting the car to the engine. Within seconds, the wheels locked and the train was sent into a full braking sequence, although it would take a mile or so for the engine to finally come to a stop. There was a momentary pause where we all sat frozen in our places like a Christmas tableau at the local playhouse. Suddenly two men in business suits opened the car door from the other end and marched up the aisle. “Ontario Provincial Police,” one of the men hollered, producing a badge for all to see. “We’ll take it from here.” I put the gun in my pocket and began tugging off the beard, peeling the adhesive a few inches at a time. “I’ve got a question for Mister Corelli, officer.” Corelli looked up at me, obviously distressed at his sudden change in fortune. “Who hired you for the Christine Dehavilland hit if it wasn’t Bennett?”
He stared back at me. “I guess it won’t hurt to say because I’m going to cut a deal anyway. They’ll have to protect me better than they did the others.” Bernie handed me the thirty two and sat down in an empty seat behind me. “I’m sure they will, now spill it,” I demanded. “It was Falcone,” he said, sounding almost relieved that he had let it out. “Sallie?” I whispered more to myself than anyone else. “Salvatore Falcone,” I repeated louder. “He’s in cahoots with Bennett?” Corelli shrugged. “Could be, but I only know Falcone gave some of the orders anyway and that last one to me directly. I’ll testify to that, so long as these Canadian coppers keep me alive.” “I know Sallie was helping me out by tipping you off on where to find me. We’d made a deal. I’m not sure why he’d be mixed up with a murder like this. She was nothing to him, no threat as far as I can tell, so why give the order?” “Everyone knows he was mixed up with bootlegging and was building an empire, Jackie, and I guess murder is all a part of it,” Bernie said softly. “Good ole Little Sallie.” “He’s Mister Big now,” I pointed out. “It was his warehouse, remember, where Sarrow was holed up.” “You mean where we almost were killed,” she cried. “So it is Sallie’s fault.” The train started to move again. “We arranged ahead of time to have cars at a couple of main crossings, just in case of a situation like this, so we’ll be moving up to one of those pretty soon,” one of the officers said as he finished handcuffing Corelli.
Fifteen minutes later the train slowed down and stopped near a crossing which looked to be in the middle of nowhere, probably twenty miles south of Sarnia. Why they didn’t wait until we got into Sarnia itself I couldn’t imagine but if the OPP wants someone, I guess they’ll have him, similar to the RCMP where the Mounties say they always get the guy they’re after. “Up you go, pal,” one of the officer said as he hoisted Corelli up, marching him off to the front of the car and out the door, disappearing down the steps. I moved over to the window and looked out. The train was blocking a crossing, an old country road where a single car sat, motor running. The driver was wearing a police uniform and got out, opening the door rear passenger door for the other officers to put Corelli inside. The train began to move again and I watched the police car turn around and head east on the old road.
I moved back and sat down in Corelli’s seat. Bernie stepped up and sat down
next to me. I eyed MacGregor who smiled and stared back. “What’s wrong with you, lad?” I gazed out the window to my left, watching the gray-blue lake in the distance. The clouds overhead grew thicker and it probably would snow again. “Yes, Jackie, it’s over,” Bernie breathed as she moved closer, leaning against me. I could feel her warm breath on my cheek. “Is it?” “Oh, now what’s going on in that head of yours?” MacGregor laughed. “Why can’t you accept the fact that you were successful? The match is won, bucko.” “Yes, it has been won,” I responded, still looking at the wintery water. The edges of the lake still held tons of ice, some stacked up on the shoreline. It would be another month at least before the ice was gone, unless there was a prolonged heat wave. I wanted my mind to
concentrate on the lake, on the shore, the sky, anything. Even the movement of the train was consoling. Still, it all felt wrong. And I knew why. At least I had my suspicions. “Those weren’t OPP cops were they?” I commented, finally turning my eyes from the lake to MacGregor. “I mean, if I thought about it, they wouldn’t have wanted to get off the train in the middle of God’s country when it would be certainly easier to take him into custody in Sarnia where there is a jail. Out here in the wilderness, they’d have to drive and drive and drive some more to get to a facility, and I’d guess the closest would be Sarnia anyway. MacGregor smiled but said nothing. “Those guys worked for you, or for Ford, or for Bennett,” I stated. “It probably makes no difference. It all leads back to the same putrid source.” “That is absurd, Jonathan,” MacGregor said. “I don’t work for Bennett. I work for Ford of Canada. I am in charge of security for this corporation. I don’t employ killers, nor do I conduct business in an extraordinarily harsh manner. However, I am obliged to protect the company.” “By having Christine Dehavilland murdered?” I was clutching the grip of the Colt with my left hand. I did not want to use it, fully aware that MacGregor had the forty-five I retrieved for him. MacGregor frowned. “Of course not, Jonathan. I certainly am not involved in any of that. You heard Edsel Ford. I am working for him. But you have to understand, my job was to get the truth out of Corelli, too. Not in some goddam courtroom, but here in front of witnesses, the two of you. He readily admitted working for Falcone in Detroit. That means Falcone’s reach is into Canada, into Ontario in particular, and that affects all of us. If the mob is here killing people on our soil, then it’s time we take action against it. We have clout in the provincial
parliament. We can act to protect ourselves. As you saw, there are no OPP detectives. We need that and I think we can persuade the lawmakers to expand the police powers. “We’ll turn Corelli over to the Windsor police, but we already have notified the RCMP to step up and help with the border situation, with Falcone’s men coming across at will. That has to stop.” “You never did call the OPP,” I said. “Nor did you think to clue me in.” “No, there was no point in talking to the OPP, but they will benefit from all this. My family’s connections in Ottawa will help expedite things.” “Unfortunately,” I pointed out, “Corelli’s testimony in Canada won’t be evidence enough to take down Falcone in Detroit.” “He will be perceived to be weaker, though,” MacGregor said. “That could lead to someone else going after his top spot.” I nodded. “More blood on the streets. Thanks, Mac.” “It’s the least I could do,” he nodded. “You two are horrible,” Bernie said not moving away from me. “But, then again, thanks to you, I have quite a story to write once we get into Sarnia. Until then, I’m just going to stay here and rest.” She hugged my arm tighter. I liked it.
Published on Jul 22, 2012
Tim Younkman brings mystery and histroy to life in "Detroit 32: Cadillac KIll". Detroit, 1932, the turf of private detective Jonathan Raines...