Wheeefun! My first attempt at a detective story. It's supposed to be a parody. Anyway.. my father helped me a lot with this, and like much of my other work, it was a school assignment.
It was a typical gloomy afternoon in my office, where I sat swigging down whiskey and gin, alternately. I was expecting an idiotic man to visit me - something about his fiancŽ missing her diamond engagement ring. Reduced to missing rings, I was in a sorrowful state. Me, the formerly ace detective for missing persons and murders.
Yep, that's me - Private Eye Dirk Manly, the famous Chicago investigator. Used to be a dashing young fellow, in my day, clean-shaven and clever. Now? I drink two bottles a day and have been moved to a tiny office on a dirty street, which I somehow can never quite pay off the rent on.
So there I sprawled, waiting for the dupe who was dope enough to get engaged. Soon I heard the click of shoes on the dingy linoleum tiles outside. Muttering about marriage and annoying young men, I removed my feet from my desk, and took the liberty of pouring my customer a shot of whisker. After pouring one for myself, I loosened my tie and leaned back in the desk chair.
A shapely silhouette shone dimly through the door. And then....
The dame walked in.
She was a nice looking doll. I had a weakness for gorgeous brunettes, but this was a prime example of a redhead. She had huge, beautiful blue eyes. Beautiful blue eyes.
My head came in painful contact with the concrete floor, and I struggled up from where I'd fell. The girl took her gloves off and stuck them in a small handbag. "Dirk Manly?" Her voice was sultry and low. I shook my head. The whiskey must have been getting to me.
Carefully righting the chair so as not to injure my dignity any more, I tried to look businesslike as possible. She took a seat on the couch I gestured to.
"Dirk Manly?" she repeated, and I nodded dumbly. The dame sat up a little straighter. "I need your help, Mr. Manly!" I saw now that her eyes - her huge, beautiful blue eyes - were damp with tears. She touched the corners of a dainty handkerchief to her eyes.
Intertwining my fingers behind my head, I cleared my throat. "What particular sort of help d'ya need, toots?" I put on an exaggerated gangster drawl, watching her delicate eyebrows creep upwards. Seemed a first-class ditz. Just my type.
She sniffed in a most ladylike manner, then leaned forward and said anxiously, "It's my boyfriend, John Bland. I remembered reading of your expertise in solving missing person cases. And John has been gone for three weeks now."
I, too, leaned forward and rested my elbows on the desk. "What were the circumstances surrounding the time you saw him last?"
"Well, he was at my apartment. He said that he would be able to spend some time with me - he's a ship's officer, you see, always in and out of the city - but that first he had to check on a shipment. He left then, and I haven't seen or heard from him since. I asked all of John's friends if they knew where he might be. None of them did." The doll whimpered a bit, pressing her scrap of lace to her nose.
Hmmmmmmmm. One thing was missing, and only one. "What's yer name?"
"Oh!" She coughed slightly and folded her hands in her lap. "I beg your pardon. I am Joelene Buxtehude. My boyfriend and I moved here from Holland, Michigan about a year ago. That's where we were both born, you see."
Joelene Buxtehude? I admit, it fit the dame, but rarely had I heard a stranger handle. Watching her from the corners of my eyes, I prepared to write down the bare facts about this John Bland. "Now, Miss Buxtehude, give the details about your relationship with Mr. Bland and also his place of employment, employer, description, and so forth." I was sickened with myself. I sounded like a good-fer-nothin' baby-faced cop. Supposed I'd lost my touch.
"Our relationship, Mr. Manly? How does that concern the case?" Joelene's beautiful eyes were wide and blue and still brimming with tears. I dragged my own eyes back to my notepad and growled slightly. She took the hint.
"We've been involved with each other since we were mere kids. Tenth grade, I'd say. When we moved out here he got a job with Mr. Sanders, who transports, well, stuff, I suppose. He's got several boats, which often dock at Calumet Harbor.
My pen lazily scrawled out this monologue, and I was starting to get very bored. But I motioned for her to continue when she paused.
"I guess that's about it. Except for John's looks... He's tall, about six feet, with blond hair and blue eyes." Joelene bent her face downward, starting to sob anew. Grumbling, I stood up and thrust a shot of whiskey into her hand. She looked shocked, so I shouted, "Drink it!" which made the dame gulp it down faster than a drunkard. Then I took hold of her shoulder and literally threw her out the door. "Go home!" I growled. "I'll work on it. Look you up later and tell you what I've found out."
Joelene shied away like a dog that had been struck. She was too timid for words! I decided that females with a bit more gumption are my type. Again, I snarled at her. The doll took off like a bullet and disappeared around a corner of the hall.
I sat down, tugged at my uncomfortable tie, and picked up the phone at my left hand. Dead. As usual. After putting on my coat and grabbing some change, I headed out into the hallway. The pay phone was just outside on the corner. Putting the money in the slot, I dialed the police and made inquiries about John Bland. He had no criminal record and hadnÕt been reported missing. The idiotic girl! CouldnÕt even phone the police.
Then I rang up the Calumet Harbor officials and asked about this Mr. Sanders. They told me where he lived and said he had mentioned vaguely that an employee hadnÕt shown up for work, but that nobody thought anything of it.
As I wrote down this information, I noticed a man bundled up in a black overcoat enter my office building. Uttering a quick thanks, I dashed past the ranks waiting for the pay phone in pursuit of the man.
I chased him up to my office. He turned around, saw me, and gave me a brief nod. Then the man rapped on my door.
Grimacing, I tapped his shoulder. The look he gave me was decidedly not nice. I gave him such a look back and stuck out my hand.
"Trevor Sanders." He refused to shake my hand.
I shrugged and gestured towards the door. "This is my office."
He was slow. I pointed to the name plaque. "My office, yÕsee?"
We stepped inside. Stepped is too mild a word. I sat. He stood.
"So," I said. "Whaddaya want?"
Mr. Sanders circled around to the front of my desk. "IÕve lost a shipment of tulip bulbs." I was about to laugh when he emphasized, "Expensive tulip bulbs."
I nodded, barely containing my amusement. Tulip bulbs? What was he, a little olÕ lady gardener?
"Somewhere along since the time I got them in my hands to, er, transport them, and the time when I was supposed to transport them, they got lost. My manÕs missing, too." He glared at me.
I glared at him. "Really. And whatÕs your manÕs name?"
Trevor Sanders narrowed his eyes at me. "What difference does that make?"
Shrugging, I poured two shots of whiskey, saying, "Your man could have made off with the tulip, bulbs, yÕknow."
He accepted the whiskey and shook his head. "No. BlandÕs a good man, honest. I sent him off to -er- haggle the price of shipping. Never came back."
Interesting. But hold up. "You said Bland. John Bland, I presume?"
How I relish those looks of surprise. He nodded dumbly and I smirked. "Well, well, well. ItÕs been a long time since IÕve seen this kind of case."
A look of slight anger crossed Mr. SandersÕ face, and he asked abruptly, planting his expensively gloved hands on my desk, "Can ya find the tulips or not, Manly? And whatÕs this about Ôlong timeÕ?"
I started to smirk, then dropped it. He was a bigger man than me. "It just so happens a doll by the name of Joelene Buxtehude came by before you asking me to investigate BlandÕs disappearance."
Yes, oh, you big lug. "IÕm thinking that you can help with the dameÕs case, and vice versa. So about these tulips. How much, how packaged, who needed them shipped?"
The man finally took a seat on the couch near the door. I winced as I heard the boards creak.
"Half a ton. In wooden milk crates. Who was it who needed them shipped? .........." He paused.
I felt obligated to prompt him. "Who?!" I yelled.
Another glare for my trouble. Devil take the man.
Mr. Sanders frowned slightly. "It was a tulip nursery in Holland, Michigan."
Now weÕre getting somewhere. Holland, Michigan. The dollÕs hometown. And BlandÕs.
I rapped my knuckles on the desk. Trevor Sanders jumped, so I took the opportunity of his attention to ask some questions about this Bland fellow. "What do you know about John Bland?"
"Well, this Joelene gal is his girlfriend. Grew up together, I gather. When he wasnÕt transporting he stayed here in Chicago with her, in her apartment, or in a room he rents on a more or less permanent basis in a hotel on the South Loop. HeÕs an aggressive sort of guy, I guess you could say. ThatÕs all I know of him."
I asked for the address to both JoeleneÕs place and BlandÕs South Loop room. Could be something of interest in one of the residences.
With my coat tucked around me against the wind and my hat pulled low over my brow, I set off for 2735 North Magnolia Street. That was the dameÕs address. The street was a quiet, rather pleasant one. Sickeningly pleasant. Probably no brawls in the road at night. Pity.
I rapped on the door of her apartment. It was the lower flat of a two-story black building. Joelene opened the door, wearing a loose white dress, quite different from the prim, business-like getup she had appeared in at my office.
"Mr. Manly!" she squeaked, seeming taken aback to see me standing there. I asked if I might come inside and look around. Her eyes got big and round but she stepped away from the door and ushered me into a small entrance foyer. I took myself on a brief tour of the three-room apartment. She had a quaint little sitting room, a sparsely furnished bedroom, and a tiny kitchen. When I circled back to the foyer Joelene was still standing there, but she had composed herself and looked very... well, composed.
"Hello again, Miss Buxtehude. Thank you for letting me intrude. Now, if I could just ask you some questions -"
A knock soundly loudly at the door. I stopped in mid sentence as she went to open it. Outside stood an overweight man with an absolutely disgusting goatee. He grinned at her, saying, "Hey, Joelene, sweetie. Need either your rent or -"
Joelene slammed the door in his face, and locked the dead bolt. Her face was contorted into a mask of hatred. I cocked an eyebrow. I continued. "- about where you work and how often you saw John Bland."
She glared at the door, then answered. "I work as a secretary. Candy factory down the street. I saw him twice every two months. He usually stayed at a hotel on the South Loop."
"Yes, I know," I cut in. Joelene looked surprised, and I explained, "BlandÕs old buddy Sanders came over after you left. He said that he was missing a shipment of tulip bulbs. Then he told me that Bland disappeared when Sanders sent him to haggle over the shipping price of these flowers.
The doll started to speak, but I waved her aside and stepped towards the door. "That man. Landlord?"
Her glare seemed to penetrate through the door. "Yes."
The poor dame. He seemed every bit the role of a god-awful landlord. I nodded. "Thank you, Miss Buxtehude. IÕll get back to you soon."
I went through the door.
"WhoÕre you?" he screamed in my face. Spit flecked my cheek. With no little disgust, I removed the offending liquid with the collar of my coat. "YouÕre not her usual boyfriend, are ya, mister?" he tyrannted.
Gruffly I muttered, "IÕm a detective she hired. IÕm searching for the yellow brick road. I wonder if you know where it is?"
He guffawed loudly. "Funny feller, eh? Well, thereÕs no yellow brick road Ôround here. Be off with you, street scum."
I pulled out my handgun. "Wanna say that again, friend?"
The landlordÕs eyes grew even buggier. I stepped off the curb and started down the street, headed for this notorious hotel room of BlandÕs.
The afternoon darkened rapidly as it approached evening. When I reached the hotel, I had to bribe the clerk to give me the key to BlandÕs room. I plodded up the nasty, cockroach-infested stairs, since the elevator was broken. Sleazy place.
His room was up on the second floor, with the el roaring past every five minutes. A cot covered in a dirty grey blanket was shoved under the open window. I opened the two drawers of a low dresser to find a pair of slacks, a shirt, and an old razor. On top of the dresser was a thin brown wallet, containing a twenty and a little photograph of Joelene.
Glancing around the room, I again heard the rumble of the train passing and felt a chill coming through the open window.
Bland must be an idiot, to keep his window open in Chicago in late fall. This prompted me to go to the window and gaze out.
Under the tracks of the el, a long, dark shape dangled horizontally, as if suspended. Peering closer into the eveningÕs gloom, I saw the thin outline of ropes at each end and middle of the object. And it seemed to be wrapped in burlap bags, with writing upon them. Dutch writing.
I hurried downstairs, stomping on several cigarette butts as I did so, and grabbed up the phone on the clerkÕs desk. He gave me a dirty look and an even dirtier phrase. I dialed the police.
They arrived in seven minutes, eight of them. I directed them up to BlandÕs room, amused by their obvious contempt of the hotel. When I pointed out the window to the object, one of them started to jump out the window. My hand on his collar reminded him that this action might not be advisable, and the whole dumb lot of them rushed downstairs and dragged me along.
"John BlandÕs body lay a-moldering in the bags," I sang under my breath. He had been strangled brutally with what I assumed to be his tie. As the police examined the body, I explained my current case to one man. He nodded, saying that they would look into it. They put BlandÕs body in a large, dark bag in one of the patrol cars. While the police hoisted the body into the bag, I saw a slip of paper flutter to the ground, out of BlandÕs pocket. The policemen complied the telepathic messages I sent them : they did not notice it.
Once the cop cars were far, far away, I knelt down and picked up the card. On one side it read ÔSanders.Õ I flipped it over and found an address, near Randolph and Magnolia.
By this time it was quite dark outside. I took turns down dark alleys, conversing briefly with many of my underworld acquaintances. When I reached the area near Randolph and Magnolia, the street was unusually silent. All around warehouses loomed, dark and empty for it was eight oÕclock. But a ray of light spilled over the pavement and I followed it to the source.
It was a warehouse, with the exact address that I had discovered on the card. The windows were aglow with light. I quietly crept around to a back door, and came through into a spacious room. A large group of men were bustling busily about like little ants, carrying crates to some others sitting on the other side of the room. They were repackaging.... tulip bulbs. The men were talking loudly, and I recognized the sound of the language as Polish. I hid behind a stack of packing creates as a big, muscular guy passed me.
The same door I had come through opened abruptly, and I scurried away into the darkness. Enter Mr. Sanders and the dameÕs landlord.
Sanders was yelling nearly at he top of his voice, seemingly trying (in a most unsuccessful manner) to beg back his shipment. The landlord grinned smugly and called out an order to the men in Polish.
Immediately they cleared out, leaving me, Sanders, and that damned landlord in the room. I pulled out my handgun, just in case is got nasty.
"Now then, Sanders," the landlord began, "These tulip bulbs are an illegal shipment anyhow. If you report that I have stolen them youÕll be condemned right along with me. Eh? We could be cell partners, you anÕ me, buddy. HowÕd ya like that?"
Trevor Sanders looked way past mad. His hand snaked into the pocket of his overcoat. I snuck out of my hiding place and circled around to a more strategic shooting position.
Landlord evilly glanced about, and before he could have a change to penetrate my location, I jumped out, holding up my gun. Both men spun around, and Sanders held a small pistol. JoeleneÕs landlord pulled out a gun similar to mine, and a few minutes of wary silence commenced.
"So." I decided it would be best to break the quiet, for I got the distinct impression that if I did not, a gunshot would. "You were behind the tulips, whatever your name is."
The landlord smiled slyly. "Right you are, Mr. Detective. You want to think some more or do ya want a bullet through yer skull."
Sanders started backing away. I swiveled my aim, which, of course, is perfect like everything else about me, and yelled, "Oh, no, you donÕt, Sanders. Illegal tulip bulbs? The copsÕll have a good laugh, but itÕs a pretty sentence. If you hadnÕt been so chicken as to send Bland here, youÕd be hone. Hung up under the el. Looked like fun!"
IÕd begun to babble, as I often do when I catch thieves. Pointing my gun straight out the open door, I fired a single shop. Feet were heard pounding on the sidewalk, and the neighborhood cop burst into the warehouse moments later. Several others followed him, and they looked at me peculiarly. They knew me, since I made a point to get to know all night watchmen. It comes in handy, sometimes.
"What the hell are you doing, Manly?" one shouted, who I recognized as a punk whose reputation I had saved in a murder case back in Ô54. The police surrounded Sanders and the landlord, snatching away their guns.
I took my friend aside and told him that I was researching a case. He demanded details.
"This guy Sanders deals in illegal smuggling. He picked up some expensive tulip bulbs -" I could not get through it without a snicker, "- from Holland, Michigan. Sanders sent a man, Bland, down to check the shipment, who was caught by the Polish Burglars, who also stole the tulips. This landlord and his henchmen killed Bland and suspended him from the el tracks. BlandÕs girlfriend, Joelene Buxtehude, came to me complaining that he was missing. Sanders came and said the tulips were missing. I solved the case. Happy?"
The cop raised one eyebrow. God, how I wished I could manage that trick. It would help when I was ragging on criminals. And when I was being the suave flirt. "How did the Polish Burglars find out about the tulips?" he asked.
I grinned and did a little swagger. "Ah, well, I have not yet questioned those in... question, but I decided on one most possible way - this guy was JoeleneÕs landlord. Bland lived with his girlfriend part of the time. The landlord heard Bland on JoeleneÕs phone once when he was out, talking about the tulips."
From the circle of cops, I heard a gruff yelp of, "Damned detective!"
How nice. I guessed right.
One last thing to do. I wasnÕt looking forward to it.
I trudged back towards the dameÕs apartment, my collar standing up straight against my neck. She responded almost immediately to my knock and ushered me inside, her blue eyes wrought with worry.
Tactfully, I left out the grotesqueness of BlandÕs body, but still, when my explanation was complete, Joelene broke down sobbing. She leaned against my chest and cried, dampening my coat thoroughly. Then she looked up at me with woe in her face and IÕm ashamed to admit that all I saw was her eyes. Her big, beautiful blue eyes.