'The P. I.'s Convention Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. They attend a convention where several well-known private detectives give lectures, and one dies.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2016 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is a certain amount of light swearing in this story.

—O—

The date was Thursday, March 22, 1934, and Alice was back on her feet once more, as sparky as ever and raring to go—which made her partner as anxious as a hen with ten chicks.

"Sure ya got enough strength t'walk down t'Canterbury Avenue?

"Jeez, what am I, an old wreck laid-up at the quay-side?" Alice sneered her reply to this inane question, as they both left the entrance hall of the Packer Building where their office sat on the fifth floor. "I got feet, an' they're both back in action. I'm alright. The Grand Banks Hotel ain't that far."

"Just askin', is all." Fiona affected to be dis-interested, but sighed wearily to herself; it was going to be one of those days. "Like your skirt, by the way; that shade o'yellow suits ya just fine."

"Why, thank you, lady."

As they entered the long sweep of Canterbury Av., the tall white structure of the fancy hotel where the Convention was due to open could easily be seen in the distance. It had just recently been built—1928 to be exact—and constituted a prime example of pure Moderne architecture; the same being the bane of Fiona's life.

"All that goddam glass an' chrome, an' flatness an' curves, an' bloody light green an' white paint."

"What, lover?"

"Oh, just musing." Fiona sniffed haughtily as they proceeded along the sidewalk; the passers-by not being too numerous at this hour of mid-morning. "So, who's gon'na be there, then?"

"At the Convention?" Alice perked up at the thought of the many other private detectives who would be on hand in the large ball-room of the famous hotel; she dearly loving a gossip. "Let's see—Tom Dracke, for one. Theresa Bolken, too; then I think Linda Henderson'll be there too. An', oh, masses o'others."

"All the dicks who are dicks, in fact; an' even some who're Private Detectives, if we're lucky?"

"Fay, stop with the heavy sarcasm, will ya." Alice knew perfectly well where the foundation of her loved partner's ill-humor originated. "Just because you an' I were passed over for the Top Detectives Award last year, doesn't mean y'have t'let it blight the rest o'your life, for God's sake."

"But Kelly Braunstein?" Fiona stuck doggedly to her bone of contention. "Just because she single-handedly caught 'Flip' Maugham. Hell, that wasn't much."

By this time they were nearing the entrance to the hotel, shaded by a long canvas canopy running along above the sidewalk in front of the building; the entrance itself guarded by a doorman resplendent in the hotel's business colour of mid-blue, gold braid much in evidence on his long uniform coat and cap.

"God, looks like a General in the Ruritanian Army."

"Ssh, he'll hear." Alice took the arm of her obstreperous partner, guiding her firmly past this first barrier and into the wide vast entrance hall itself. "Here we go."

The first person they met, just inside the main lobby, was a short, well-built woman in her early forties who greeted the new arrivals with a broad grin and a loud paean of welcome.

"Hi'ya gals, how's life in this one-horse town suitin' ya, then?" Linda Henderson was nothing if not forthright. "Solved any crimes lately? Or are ya still doin' divorce work; runnin' with a camera after half-naked men skippin' out down dark alleys, still tryin' t'pull up their pants?"

"Come off it, Linda." Alice snorted contemptuously, as she put out a gloved hand to greet her old friend. "We might well ask what on earth Portsmouth's doin', allowin' a gal o'your infam—quality, t'roam the streets free."

"Ha-Ha." Linda dearly loved a joke. "Well, here we all are, back at yet another Private Dick's Convention. Wonder if anyone's got some snappy stories t'tell? Maybe you two an' I can get together with some old friends, an' swap lies, sometime. How's tomorrow night suit? Right here."

Alice exchanged glances with her loved better half, caught the light of agreement in her tall companion's dark eyes, and nodded back at Linda.

"Suits us fine. What time?"

"Oh, say seven-thirty, for eight." Linda laughed loudly. "Give me time t'get my make-up on. Hey, I better go, I've got an appointment to meet someone in half an hour."

She swept past the two women, like a tidal wave roaring ashore; leaving the rotating door, and its attendant, spinning in her wake.

"God, don't know how her associates can stand more'n five minutes with her."

"Oh, she probably calms down a little as the mornin' goes on." Alice sniggered as they traversed the wide hall, replete with chairs, sofas, and leafy potted palms. "Which way's the lecture-hall, again?"

"This way, darlin'." Fiona laughed in her turn. "Here, gim'me your arm; y'll get lost fer sure, otherwise."

The lecture-hall was in fact the hotel's ball-room, suitably readjusted. The bare floor, extending forty feet across and one hundred and twenty long, was covered in lines of chairs of a singularly wide variety; these having been culled from various other places in the hotel, and a nearby rival. In the far corner by the stage a string quartet, of all things, was enriching the hour with a classical recital few of the rapidly strengthening audience could lay claim to be au fait with.

"What's that they're playin'?" Fiona was naturally inquisitive in these things.

"Mozart, probably." Alice shrugged uninterestedly.

They were passing a uniformed cicerone, at the door to the hall, as this conversation took place and he rapidly cleared the matter up for them

"Boccherini, ladies. Quite a swingin' number, too, don't cher'think?"

The hotel, as a result of the large numbers of clients arriving for the lecture series, had engaged extra hands from various sources; some not exactly up to speed with the usual etiquette at such times.

"Hrrph." Fiona making this less than happy rejoinder to the unwanted information, as she and Alice carried on into the large echoing chamber.

They chose a couple of seats about three-quarters of the distance down the long hall from the stage, where-on a row of chairs contained the morning's VIP's. These consisting of sundry well-known investigators from Portsmouth, Boston, Chicago, and NY itself. Sprinkled amongst these civilians were a couple of uncomfortable-looking high-ranking uniformed officers of the true Law. Fiona and Alice settled as comfortably as was possible on the hard wooden seats, put their handbags down by their feet—they sitting at the window end of one of the rows—and glanced suspiciously at those surrounding them, on the look-out for thieves and bag-snatchers; it being eminently recognised that some P. I.'s were capable of doing anything for a dollar.

"Got y'r menu—I mean, the what's-it-called, catalogue o'what's goin' on?"

"Schedule?"

"Yeah, that's what I meant, schedule." Fiona nodded wisely, ignoring the gleam in her compatriot's brown eye. "So, ya got one, then? I like t'know what the Hell's goin' on at these do's, y'know."

The quartet meanwhile, in the far left corner of the room, and invisible from Fiona's and Alice's now seated position amongst the rapidly increasing audience, chose this moment to finish playing. There was a short pause where what could only be considered desultory applause rippled quietly through the hall, like autumn leaves falling on an exceptionally dry afternoon: though some life appeared to be invigorating the people on the stage as Alice unfolded the thin pamphlet in her hands.

"Here we are, everythin' that's goin' forward t'day, with a little more detail than's strictly necessary." Alice sniffed as she cast an eye over the printed pages. "Wha'd'yer wan'na know then, doll?"

"What I wan'na know, really know—seein's y'r askin', is where the Hades O'Herlihy's campin' out." Fiona harked back to the case now open upon their files and on which they were presently engaged. "Much rather be huntin' him through the back-alleys, than sittin' here, gettin' a rheumatiz in my butt, all fer nothin'."

"Can the carpin' criticism, gal; my ears are hurtin'." Alice was unsympathetic. "Right, first up's Jimmy Corrigan. He's gon'na give us the low-down on that series of grifter frauds last year—y'remember, Karl Sampson diddled some o'NH's finest an' wealthiest out'ta thousands, sellin' dud bank certificates."

"That'll be a barrel-load a'fun." Fiona sniffed resignedly, shuffling in her chair. "Then what?"

"Then we come to Agnes Rutherford; she's gon'na wax lyrical on the benefits o'workin' closely with the Police Criminal Records Department—"

"That's crap." Fiona's interest sprang to life at this news. "Make us independent investigators work with the Department? Huh, all that'll do is give the Police power over every an' all actions we wan'na take. We won't be able t'run crooks down, with menaces an' threats; nor start firin' first—but lettin' the thugs have first shot; and, o'course, when the case's closed who d'ya suppose'll get all the credit? Not us, by God."

"Well, Agnes—"

"Just because her father's the Chief Commissioner, don't mean her every word has t'be taken as gospel." Fiona progressed from an angry frown to actual grinding of teeth. "Gal thinks a university degree makes her the best hoodlum-catcher since Hoover set up in business. Graagh."

Alice shook her head sadly, partners!; then gently put a hand on Fiona's wrist.

"Sit back, take it easy, listen t'the speakers, an' maybe we'll both learn somethin'."

"I know somethin' already, gal."

"An' what—I hardly dare ask—would that be, light o'my life?"

"I know it's gon'na be a dam' long mornin', is what I know."

"Sheesh."

—O—

Annie's Corner Eatery sat on the junction of Canterbury Avenue and Sanderson Street, about two blocks away from the Grand Banks Hotel; thus allowing of just the right amount of foot-slogging to work up an appetite for lunch. The ladies, having jumped ship some considerable time before the end of the last morning lecture, had made it to the popular watering-hole more or less first; thus being able to grab the best table, in a quiet little nook out of the cut and thrust of the main thoroughfare of savagely hungry diners and merciless waitresses. From their safe haven, bounded on one side by a large plate-glass window looking out on the hurly-burly of Sanderson Street, and on the other by a blank interior wall, half-panelled in dark varnished walnut, the women had a splendid view of the milling throng at the other tables. Alice quickly taking note of those points of interest to the expert gourmand.

"Look, there's Sally Mortimer digging into the oysters like nobody's business. God, she does love a good oyster."

"Oysters make you throw up." Fiona had other ideas, wrinkling her nose disgustedly. "At least, that's what they do t'me. Not that I've actually had one in the last five years; me not being a fool, an' all."

Alice contrived to hide her expression behind a large napkin just in time.

"Oo-hooh,—I mean, ahumOh, that's sad."

"Wha'd'ya say, doll? Can't hear ya, behind that overgrown hankie."

"Nuthin', nuthin'. What's the soup t'day?"

Fiona had grabbed the menu as they sat and now perused the vital document with interest, she loving her grub at all times.

"Hmm, chicken, or vegetable, or mulligatawny."

"Huh, mulligatawny's too spicy, on a hot day like t'day." Alice made her culinary opinion clear on this point, with a critically raised eyebrow which brooked no opposition. "Vegetable for me, thanks."

"Seein' as I don't wan'na annoy ya at y'r grub, I'll take the chicken, then."

Fiona, having thus made the politic choice, nodded to the hovering waitress then returned her attention to the other goodies printed on the menu.

"Ummph, everythin' y'could wish for as the main course, darlin'. So, what's y'r pisin'?"

The brunette growled low in her throat, shaking her head the while.

"Let's hope, at least, it ain't as poisonous as y'might think. Steak, is there?"

"Sirloin, or T-bone, thick or thin."

"Ham?"

"Yep. Oklahoma, Indiana, or Parma."

"Pork?"

"Sausages, sliced cold, or braised or fried chops."

"Chinese noodles or rice?"

"Nah, this ain't Chinatown, gal."

"Mrrph, vegetarian choice, is there?"

"Yeah, vegetable lasagne—though God knows what that'll be like." Fiona's lip curled unashamedly. "Always thought lasagne had'ta have meat in it; but I ain't an expert."

"Pasta, with tomato sauce?"

"What's that, gal? My mind was elsewhere, fer a second."

"Pasta; you know—pasta; with a thick red tomato sauce t'give it flavour."

"Sounds nice, but why're ya bringin' the subject up, may I enquire?"

"On the menu, woman; goodness, have you lost your wits, or what?" Alice sniggered impolitely. "Is there pasta on the menu, for a main choice?"

"No, there dam' well ain't any pasta." Fiona shook her head, non-plussed not for the first time by her partner's thought processes. "We've passed over Chinese; now I can positively inform ya we can also ignore the Italian theme. This is New Hampshire, darlin'; with what ya might informally call local recipes an' food. So, what d'ya want—an' make it snappy, here comes the waitress with the soup, an' she'll be requirin' an answer."

"Oh, Parma ham then, if I must."

"Potatoes with it, lover?" Fiona ran her eye down the page, gathering the alternatives together. "Boiled, roasted, French fried, or mashed with lashings o'butter."

"Mashed, thanks; an' plenty o'them too Miss, seein' as I'm a growin' gal."

"Vegetables, Miss?" The waitress, though young, was on top of her game.

"Vegetables?"

"Yes Miss, along with the Parma ham an' the mashed potatoes. The vegetable choice."

"Thought we'd discussed vegetables already?"

"That was the soup, dear." Fiona strove to bring her loved one back on track.

"Oh, yeah." Alice nodded, as if this was news to her. "Of course. Vegetables, eh? Umm—."

"Jeez, give her peas, Miss." Fiona took command of the rapidly deteriorating situation. "Peas'll see her through—before the End of the World arrives instead before we reach the dam' main course."

"Oh, alright, peas it is." Alice surrendered with as much grace as she could muster, though the corners of her lips were turned down gloomily as the waitress walked off with their order. "I'd a'preferred mashed turnip; but too late now, I suppose."

"Ya suppose dam' well right, gal—eat y'r soup; an' don't slurp, it ain't ladylike."

"Hah."

—O—

The afternoon session of speakers had hardly started when Fiona and Alice entered the foyer of the Grand Banks, just a trifle late because of, well, the whisky trifle they had taken for their dessert at lunch. It had not been Fiona's choice but, Alice spotting the description at the tail-end of the menu, the brunette had elbowed aside all resistance to her selection. Now, content and satisfied, they walked across the hall of the hotel, heading for the ballroom and another couple of hours of boredom—but they were waylaid before they could enter this portal of doom.

"Fay. Fay!"

Turning, the women found Linda Henderson at their elbow, in a state of excitement.

"Hi, Linda, what's goin' on?"

"I got news, hot news." Linda stood by their side, gasping quietly and shaking her head. "Heard it no more'n ten minutes ago, from Dav—er, that is, a reporter I'm acquainted with. Y'know Talbot Monteith?"

"O'course we know Talbot." Alice nodded at their friend. "Great guy, took down Jake Venables a year ago—boy, was that somethin', or what. Wish it'd been us."

"He's dead." Linda, having taken a deep breath, broke the news in her usual utilitarian manner with no frills. "Found in an alley across by Spelland Street, near the docks. Three bullets in the back—dead as mutton."

"Shit, when'd this happen?" Alice flicked a shocked glance at Fiona as she asked this question.

"From what my sources tell me, around two hours ago." Linda sighed in sympathy with her friends. "He was a good guy, like ya say. The cops are swarming all over the scene now—everythin' still in situ at the moment, I think. No culprit, no suspects, as far as I can discover; ongoin' investigation by the cops. It's all up for grabs. You gon'na carry on with this here confabulation o'gossip an' idle chatter, then?"

"Hell, no." Fiona turned on her heel, heading for the main entrance again. "Come on, gals; we got work t'do. Whatever Talbot was up to we got'ta find out what, who, an' why. Comin', Linda?"

"Dam' straight."

"Thanks."

—O—

At the scene of the crime Spelland Street had been cordoned-off by the simple expedient of parking a police car across the entrance on Acland Road. Beyond the warehouse roofs, these lining both sides of the narrow street, the masts and funnels of several ships tied up at the quays on the waterfront towered into the air. The two cops on duty at the corner were, of course, no match for Alice's insouciant nature.

"Hi, guys, headin' on through; Inspector Fletcher's waitin' for us."

Her point of view being, if you're going to lie, make it a good one.

Halfway along the short thoroughfare another trio of police vehicles cluttered up the road. A gang of uniformed officers stood around something lying up against the wall of a warehouse on the left side of the street. Resplendent amongst these upholders of the Law in Delacote City stood the grizzled grey frame of Inspector Jacob Fletcher; a man always under strain from his chosen occupation, never more so than when the representatives of Drever and Cartwright oiled up unannounced to spoil his day.

"Oh, God, might'a guessed." He never being one for the niceties of social intercourse. "What d'you two bu—ladies, want? Henderson, as well, I see; why didn't ya just invite all those other dicks from that convention while y'were at it? An' how'd ya find out about this little to-do, anyway?"

"Oh, we got our ears t'the ground, like every good P. I. should." Fiona smiled disarmingly, then glanced at the crumpled form on the sidewalk hunched up against the greasy wall of the building. "So, Talbot got his, eh? Any ideas?"

"About what?"

"About who the b-st-rd was who did fer him, is what." Fiona's voice had taken on a hard tone. "Just, we'd like t'know, so's we can pay a call on the jerk."

"After which, no doubt, I'll have the great pleasure of booking all three o'you fer murder one. Is that what ya want?"

Alice, as often in circumstances similar to the present, butted in with her patented oil-on-troubled-water routine.

"Not, perhaps, that as such." She shrugged nonchalantly. "He was a pal, so we'd just like some, er, pointers—clues, y'know,—as to any possible identity of said perp."

"Well, y'r all on a bum steer—there ain't any." Fletcher shook his head, looking down at the body. "The Doctor's just left; seems Monteith was shot three times in the back at medium range—"

"No burn marks?" Fiona raised an enquiring eyebrow.

"Yeah, yeah,-don't interrupt." The Inspector sniffed haughtily. "Forty-fives, he thought—the big stuff. Tore him apart, which accounts for all the blood on the pavement. All three went straight through, bouncing off the stone wall there—y'can see the ricochet marks. Hell knows where the remnants are, but we'll find 'em, eventually. Died instantly, more or less, o'course."

There was a pause, while everyone contemplated this scenario. The body was crumpled for all the world just like a pile of clothes thrown down in the street—hardly seeming to bear any human relation at all. The stones of the sidewalk were clotted in dark red blood, which had spread all round, necessitating the spectators keeping a respectful distance. Monteith had been wearing a long woolen overcoat of a dark brown shade, with dark trousers and black shoes. His head, providentially, was hidden by an arm lying across his face; giving a wholly impersonal appearance to the remains.

"So, what was he doin' down here at the docks, then?" Linda put in her pennyworth, gazing at the police officer as if she expected instant response to her question.

"If I knew that, I wouldn't tell ya." Fletcher was always a stickler for the proper routine in an investigation; getting information out of him, as Alice had often said, being like pulling a sore tooth with a pair of pliers. "When I find out, an' I will, I still won't tell ya—privileged information, y'know."

"Thanks a bunch, Fletch." Fiona essayed a sneer which, from long exposure to such, slid off the Inspector harmlessly. "Was he headed anywhere in particular? Surely y'can tell us that, at least?"

The Inspector, in his heart actually looking on the women as old friends, unbent a little—though it obviously cost him.

"Eerph, from a piece o'paper, a note, in his pocket, we think he may have been goin' t'visit Halligan's Speakeasy, down on the Causeway."

"Oh, yeah?" Fiona sounded dubious.

"That dump." Alice put her feelings more concisely.

"Who runs that beat-up joint these days?" Linda frowned in her attempt to figure this out. "Since Prohibition finished these places have gen'rally all gone t'Hell in a handcart."

"Guistino 'Jimmy' Favelli, so I'm reliably informed." Fletcher parted with this information more or less willingly, knowing the women would find out anyway.

"Huh, that bum." Fiona had never warmed to the big-time hoodlum who operated in the city.

"Opens up a whole can o'worms." Alice eased her shoulders, as if they ached with the strain. "With him in the picture nearly anythin's possible."

"Well, ladies, if you've all had your fill, some of us have jobs t'do, an' investigations t'complete." The Inspector turned to a bulky figure just emerging from yet another police car drawing up to the edge of the sidewalk. "Hey, Keisler, did ya bring the boys? Oh, yeah, ya did; right, get on the forensics right away—see what y'can find around here. Right, g'bye, ladies."

"Yeah, yeah, g'bye, Fletch." From Fiona.

"See ya." From Alice.

"Uurph." From Linda.

—O—

They say speakeasy's were the heart and soul of any city that thought much of its reputation during Prohibition; but with the passing of that fine institution for making money without the necessity of paying taxes this black economy fell apart, leaving those involved with few recourses—principally, returning to the old ways: these being ladies of the night; transporting and marketing snow, for those really intent on making a buck; fiddling the races at the local horse-track; and good old bank robbery. The less adventurous survivors of the fall took to real estate as a means of making a profit in the long term. Some few speakeasy's dragged out a post-Prohibition existence as mere shadows of their former selves—mainstream nightclubs; 'Halligan's' being one of these ghosts of the immediate past.

The Causeway was a large promenade running along the seafront of the docks. On one side ran a series of old long-established warehouses and offices, now mostly in a state of ongoing terminal decrepitude; while on the other side, across the wide cobbled fairway, with its train tracks, cranes, and other obstructions, ran the quays, jetties, wharves, and associated buildings of the busy shipping port. Halligan's sat a few yards down a winding alley leading off the main concourse, with only a vertical painted sign to mark its presence. The three detectives, after a short walk, hauled up in front of this unimposing edifice; Fiona in the lead as they surveyed the tatty frontage of the supposed house of mirth and entertainment.

"Y'were right, doll, it is a dump." Fiona let her opinion have free range as she curled a lip at the mean surroundings they found themselves in.

"Yep, didn't I say so, lady." Alice's tone oozed moral superiority. "Well, don't just stand there, knock."

A sustained and lengthy barrage on the peeling green paint of the firmly closed and locked door finally brought the premise's cicerone—all pails of water, grubby overall, and cigarette in the corner of her mouth; a lady of some years and experience who had clearly seen it all before, and was no longer in the market for surprises.

"Yeah, wa'd'yer wan'? We're closed, openin' time nine-thirty pee em,—come back then."

Fiona, from long experience, already had a solidly booted foot in the doorway thereby stopping this spectre from slamming it in their faces.

"We're here on business, police business." Fiona laid it on thick, aiming for the dramatic high ground. "We're comin' in, an' the Boss'd better be in a mood t'meet us, 'cause we've got things t'ask him of import. Stand aside."

The interior of the club was hardly more prepossessing than the exterior; a long dark corridor led into the depths of the premises before opening out into a wide long saloon or entertainment area. A largish floor expanse was covered in tables encircling a central open dance area. To the side was a small podium for the band and any singers; against the far wall a long bar ran along the length of the room, mirrors and ranges of bottles glinting in the subdued light. There was a curious echo from the empty room; the only occupant being a middle-aged man in a dark blue suit sitting at one of the tables surrounded by account sheets and notebooks. On raising his head to survey these unannounced visitors he gave a groan and shook his head sadly.

"Oh Gods, the myrmidons of the Law." Jimmy Favelli was never one for kowtowing to the authorities. "What is it this time? Back taxes, rent, water rates, what?"

"Dead bodies lying in pools o'gore in the street, Jimmy." Linda sneered deeply, enjoying this opportunity for open aversion to a deserving cause. "Knockin' off your enemies in the street? Ain't that rather old hat fer you these days?"

"Jeesus, if ya know anythin' about me, it's that I don't knock over people—there's no lasting profit in it, an' usually a great deal o'misery in consequence from the Old Bill, as the Brits say." Jimmy curled a supercilious lip. "Wasn't me,-somebody else. Who was the victim, anyway; someone I know?"

"Talbot Monteith." Fiona stepped in with the facts in the case, taking a seat at the round table opposite the busy accountant. "What's this, accounts? Fer this joint? What'll they be, all of twenty dollars a week? Surprised ya come down t'check the books yourself. Should've thought a scribbled note on half a page would fit the situation. Counting the pennies are we, Jimmy, since the end o'Prohibition, an' all? Feelin' the pinch, eh?"

"Very funny."

"Talbot's lyin' in the street, half a block away." Alice interjected, placing herself on a chair by her partner's side. "Someone shot him. For a reason. Inspector Fletcher tells us he was on his way here. So, spill the beans, Jimmy. I'm surprised Fletcher ain't here already, t'haul your sorry ass down t'the Precinct an' give you the ol' third degree."

Faced with the classic choice, between Scylla and Charybdis, Favelli sighed and took the easier path.

"OK, OK. Jeez, dolls,—is there no escape?" He shook a greying disillusioned head. "So he was coming here; I was just beginnin' t'wonder, as it happens, where he'd gotten to. He was on the track of some guys runnin' dope; I don't know what kind, an' I don't wan'na know—not my scene. He'd gotten the name of some jerk he thought was in the thing deep; wanted t'get the gen on him from me—me knowin' the hood, in a passin' sort'a way. That's all."

A short pause ensued while the three women digested this information, Fiona finally attacking the main front of this explanation.

"So, give, Jimmy. Who?"

"Gods, always the information; don't y'ever think o'just visitin' me, jest fer the joy o'the thing?" Waxing lyrical not really being the criminal kingpin's best angle at any time he sat back and sighed once more. "OK, lem'me see. Right,—an' mind, I'm only tellin' ya this 'cause I know if I don't y'll make my life a misery fer months t'come—"

"Too true, Jimmy." Alice grinned widely.

"—huurph, so, the guy's name's Conrad Henzle; he's a driver." Jimmy's grey eyes narrowed as he brought the facts to mind. "Nothin' big, just the odd bank job, or moonshine run; that sort'a thing. But recently he's been in the dough, bigtime—an' not been shy about flingin' the greenbacks around. Made quite a spectacle of himself lately thataways, in fact. Probably how Monteith cottoned on t'him. That's all I know."

Alice and Fiona, not to mention Linda, hadn't been in the detective game so long without divining when the well still held a few drops of water.

"Names, Jimmy; places, hideout's, addresses, an' all known accomplices, just for good measure." Alice raised an enquiring eyebrow, notebook already on her knee, like a good secretary waiting to take dictation. "Spill it all, dear."

"Jeez, think I'll join the Marines—bound t'be less stressful than this business." After this intellectual reflection Favelli shrugged resignedly, and came up with the goods. "One One Three Eight, Dover Road. Conrad Henzle, thirty-two, five feet seven, brown hair, square face, clean-shaven, talks with a New York accent. Never been had up for a serious crime, but known personally for a quickfire temper, an' tendency t'get inta fist-fights at the drop of a hat. Known t'have beaten up several characters who got on his wrong side, at one time or another. One or two previous bodies, of no fixed address as far as the cops have found out, that might or might not be down t'him—no real proof, y'understand. If you're really gon'na go after him I suggest heavy armament, and the makin' use o'such at the first opportunity; without due warnin', jest t'be safe. Anythin' else? These dam' accounts need sortin' out, y'know—think the dam' manager here's tryin' t'skim me for a tenderfoot."

"Thanks, pal, knew you'd see your old friends right." Fiona got up with a flourish, taking Alice's arm as they departed. "Have fun with the numbers. Hey, there's an idea, how about the Numbers racket, Jimmy—money t'be made there, eh?"

"Go away."

"Sure thing." Alice laughed over her shoulder, as Fiona and Linda escorted her to the door. "Till next time."

"Oh, God."

—O—

The less than salubrious district of Garstone, on Delacote's West Side, had the honour of hosting the detectives' next stop, Dover Road. The streets were narrow; the buildings all dated from the 19th century, and were generally six to fifteen floors high faced with dark brownstone and a multiplicity of metal-framed fire escapes. These latter mostly nowadays doing duty as exterior porches and clothes-line fixtures. There was also a distinct smell, peculiar to the district and never yet satisfactorily explained by the authorities. Alice pulled her Plymouth coupe into the sidewalk and, as was her wont, dragged on the handbrake with firm determination—making her two passengers lunge forward uncomfortably.

"Al, fer Christ's sake!"

"What? Be careful, won't you; y'nearly knocked my gloves off the top o'the dashboard; they're nearly new, y'know."

"I may know, but do I care?" Fiona snarled quietly, as she extricated her long legs from the depths of the compartment. It being a bit of a squeeze with three women in the supposedly two-seater coupe. "What you need, lady, is someone competent t'teach ya how t'drive properly; y'not havin' the knack of it yet, by a long way."

"Haarph." Alice stood on the sidewalk, looking up and down the shaded street; raising her head to stare at the top floors of the ancient buildings running along either side of the less than perfect roadway. "So, where's Henzle's dugout?"

"One One Three Eight." Linda, now also safely disgorged onto the sidewalk beside her friends, came up with the goods. "That'll be—er, downaways, to your right, Fay. I think it's—yeah, this is it. The Parisian Hotel."

"Ja-ay-suus."

"Calm yourself, gal." Alice stepped in to lend aid to her distressed partner. "Hotel in name only, as is perfectly apparent t'the meanest eye. More your certificated dump, no questions asked. So, who's gon'na collar the cicerone, an' squeeze till they're dry?"

"Me." Fiona growled low, clearly still suffering from the shock of the whole thing. "Parisian Hotel, my arse. A dead-beat dropout dump, class zed; that's what this hovel is. If it had any kind'a ambition in life it might aspire t'the level of a pigsty—but it'd have'ta work at it."

Climbing a flight of stone steps brought the weary travelers to a high deep entrance in the depths of which a solid teak doorway, clearly dating from the period when Art Nouveau was at its peak, barred their way. Fiona raised her booted foot, but then thought better of this forthright manner of making a dramatic appearance; instead merely turning the door-handle which, satisfactorily carrying out its contracted duties, turned squeakily allowing further access.

The entrance foyer, for lack of a better term, was low-ceilinged, square, dark, panelled in wood, and contained a threadbare sofa dating from the Third French Empire, and two cane chairs clearly never meant for any sitter's comfort. Behind a low counter on the left of this entry, or Western Avernus, to the Underworld sat a dark figure; in the dim shadows not at first readily identifiable as either male or female.

"Yo, gal,-er, guy—no, gal. Say friend, are you alive?" Fiona began with a sharp incisive conversational lunge most guaranteed to catch the listener's attention. "—'cos ya don't look it."

"Tryin' t'be funny, doll? That don't work wit me." The figure, now pinpointed by the deep voice as that of the less deadly sex, leaned over the counter and regarded the three women with a jaundiced yellowed eye. "So hit the street, the whole bilin' o'ye, before I come round an' heave y'all out by hand."

At this juncture he instantly found out his tactical error—that of leaning forward over his protective wooden barrier, thus bringing his body within easy reach of those besieging his domain. Fiona grabbed his coat lapels with both hands; dragging him forward, like a fish gaffed on the riverbank; and let go as his legs,—he being, after all, a thin lightweight,—passed the outer edge of the counter; his body dropping, thereby agreeing with all the laws of physics, like a brick. He landed with a dull thud, and lay there gasping, face down; undeniably amazed that his whole world had just hauled off and bitten him on the rump.

"Is he dead?" This from Linda, between giggles.

"That's just got'ta have hurt." This from Alice, hand over mouth to stifle her laughter.

"Nah, the jerk's just winded." Fiona sneered with professional pride. "Probably do him the world of good—better than a three mile run. Say, guy, drag yerself upright and pay attention. Come on, that's right—hey, steady, don't fall down again, that's just wastin' our valuable time. OK now? Good. I wan'na talk with you—an' what we all here wan'na hear is answers—dig me, baby?"

The man, now visible as being around Alice's height, about forty something, and with thin receding hair, took a deep breath, gazed at Fiona as if she were the definitive Gorgon, and blinked like a rabbit caught in a car's headlights.

"Wha-what d'ya wan'na know?"

"Conrad Henzle, where is he?" Fiona started out with the principle question, ignoring the polite preliminaries. "We know he hangs out here, so which room's his—an' is he in residence as we speak?"

"Henzle? Are ya all mad? He'll eat ya fer breakfast, all'a you." The cicerone shook his head, eyeing the ladies as if in the presence of residents of a madhouse; but also quickly deciding to come clean with all the facts in the matter he was presently privileged to have some knowledge of, as a form of safety measure against these obviously more than usually dangerous examples of their sex. "He's armed t'the teeth, like a dam' Army station. I know fer a fact he has a BAR up there in his room, not t'mention other things—like forty-fives, a Tommy-gun, an' grenades."

"Grenades? You're jokin'?" Alice snorted in disbelief, glancing nonetheless at both the stairs to her left, and the metal-barred lift entrance. "What's he plannin'? T'knock over every dam' bank in the state?"

"Henzle's a guy with a guilt complex, is what." The hotel employee had now regained his breath, and some portion of his decorum. "What are you? Dicks? Yeah, I can see that plain. Armed, are ya? Y'better be, is all I say. Just give me time t'get in'ta my office at the back there, so's I can call reinforcements—an' ambulances. Y'really goin' up there? Sixth floor, room One Two Five."

"We intend just that, laddie." Alice nodded, reaching into her handbag to reveal her trusty .38 Colt Special, while Linda waved her own Smith and Wesson .38 automatic; Fiona bringing up the rear with her .45 Colt automatic. "We brought along our own toys, too."

The man took in this display of heavy armament, then shook his head, as he retreated towards the door to his private enclave.

"I'm gon'na call the cops." He visibly paled at what was about to take place. "Jeez, I'm tellin' ya—if ya start somethin' up there, it'll make the Second Battle of the Somme look like a Ladies Quilt Party. There's gon'na be blood."

With this admonition he vanished through the door to the hotel's nether regions on the far side of the counter, leaving the women to straighten out the minor details of their imminent assault.

"So, how're we gon'na play this, Fay?" Alice checked her revolver was loaded and glanced at Linda. "Sure y'wan'na be in this party, too?"

"Too dam' right." Linda nodded, a mean expression on her face. "Talbot was by way o'bein' a good pal. I'm gon'na do my best t'send this ape upstairs straight t'Hell if so required, given any kind'a luck."

"OK, let's go." Fiona led the way across the foyer. "Stairs, I think; don't fancy bein' trapped in a tight lift cage. Right, quick as we can."

—O—

They walked along the sixth floor's dank dingy corridor, originally painted white but now a nasty greyish dirty cream, with all the stealth and cunning of a swarm of wasps approaching an unguarded jam sandwich at a garden party. Fiona led, gun held low but ready; Alice strode just behind, with Linda bringing up the rear. A few yards from their destination, 125, they paused for a last whispered discussion.

"The guy downstairs said Henzle had a bloody BAR." Alice mused on this nasty detail; idly scratching her chin with the barrel of her revolver before realising what she was doing and desisting—there being, as she logically surmised, no point in blowing your own head off when there were hoodlums in close proximity who would gladly take on that task for free. "What if he opens up with it?"

"Duck."

"Idiot, Fay; do get a grip."

"Sorry." Fiona put a hand out to caress the shoulder of her partner. "Let's hope he don't get the chance. What's the best way o'lettin' him know we're here? A gentle knock on the door, followed by a ladylike request fer him t'show face an' surrender like a gentleman?"

"Phooey, t'that." Linda obviously held little belief in this idea.

"It's only a third-rate hotel door." Alice, as usual, noted the reality of the situation. "Bound t'be thin as notepaper. One good kick should do it, Fay."

"If he's within grabbing range of any kind'a firearm at all, open up with everything we've got." Linda held a clear idea of the etiquette in such an arrangement. "Worry about Inspector Fletcher's carping criticisms later."

"Hmm, it's a plan." Fiona glanced at her better half.

"Better not, Fletch'd never forgive us." Alice sighed regretfully. "Much as it covers all we actually need, Linda. Suppose we'd better give the rat the benefit o'the doubt, an' politely ask him t'surrender—before riddling him like a colander, if necessary. OK?"

"Yeah, right." Fiona prepared for action, taking a step forward. "This is it. I'm gon'na kick the door in. We jump inside like a dose o'salts. I shout out the necessary warnin'; then we allow, oh, I don't know, three seconds fer him t'make his mind up. If he don't show willin' we shoot him in the legs, fer safety's sake. That work fer you gals?"

"I'm in." From Linda, looking grim.

"Yep." From Alice, cocking her revolver and crouching slightly, ready for action.

"OK, let's go."

Under the impact of Fiona's well-shod heel, after she had hoisted her ankle-length tweed skirt for the purpose, the door gave a pained shriek of splintering wood and burst open like a ripe marrow. Fiona dived in, immediately stepping to her left. Alice moved to the right inside the small room, while Linda hunkered low just past the shattered doorway.

"Arms in the air, Henzle." Fiona barked her orders in her best parade ground manner, glancing swiftly from side to side, taking in the room's layout. "No funny business, or we'll blast your sorry ass. Move it, Henzle."

Silence, and a dusty tranquility, permeated the room; no sign of human life being apparent. The women fanned out across the open space, and Linda made the discovery of the moment.

"Hey gals, lookee here; between the bed an' the window."

Fiona and Alice walked over to stand by their friend; the dirty window providing more than enough light to illuminate what lay on the cramped floor-space between it and the crumpled bed. A body in a cheap grey suit, the linoleum floor by its head and shoulders dark with coagulated blood in a wide pool.

"Throat cut." Linda pinpointed this detail with an experienced shrug, putting her automatic away in her side pocket. "Looks like our enemies' enemy got here before us."

"Dam'."

"What d'we do now?" Alice looked from the body to Fiona and back. "This's a bummer."

"We could give the place the once-over—for clues an' suchlike." Linda raised an eyebrow in query as she made this proposition.

"Nah," Fiona shook her head, taking in the sordid messy room. "Fletcher'd know immediately, an' bust our butt's fer a day an' a half as a consequence. Better leave things be; that character downstairs has long since called for the boys in blue, anyway—should be here anytime."

As if echoing her thought there came a wail of sirens in the distance. Alice carefully leaned forward to look out the window into the street below; providing a running commentary on the unfolding drama.

"Yep, three cars, piles o'uniforms, Fletcher in person, an' dear ol' Keisler in the other car. The whole brigade's here; better polish up your make-up, gals, we're about t'be the stars of the show."

In what seemed only a handful of seconds the heavy tread of the purveyors of Law in Delacote City could be distinguished approaching the scene of the crime—mostly because the floor began to tremble under the women's feet, dust once again rising in the air all round them. A dark shadow filled the broken doorway, and Inspector Fletcher paused to survey the prospect.

"Ah-hah!"

—O—

The 5th Precinct Police Office was housed in a late 19th century brownstone building, with all the usual heavily ornamented rows of windows and wide deeply moulded cornice casting shadow down the frontage. In the centre of the façade at ground level was a two-storey entrance bay with a curved roof leading back some thirty feet into the building's interior before a heavy door gave admittance to the public counter. Upstairs were the many regulation offices, interrogation rooms, and filing departments. To the first-time casual observer there appeared, indeed, to be far more female secretaries wandering around, seemingly at loose ends, than actual uniformed officers: but this was misleading; the place really being, as always in these cases, a hive of subdued but steady official activity round the clock.

Inspector Fletcher's room lay on the third floor, and left a lot to be desired in almost every direction; its original purpose having been for something other, and more mundane, than the office of a high official. Square, twelve feet on each side, and with only one window protected by dusty venetian blinds; a metal filing cabinet, small cluttered desk, and a trio of straight-backed wooden chairs clearly designed by a sadist amounted to most of its fittings. The top portion of the door to this den was of frosted glass, painted with the Inspector's full title and name. This evening, with himself, Sergeant Keisler, Linda, Alice, and Fiona all cramped in the small space together, the Lord of the Manor felt a long detailed resume of the afternoon's proceedings was the last thing needed in this stifling atmosphere. But still, he had his reputation to uphold.

"Up t'your usual tricks, I see, Miss Cartwright-Miss Drever?" Fletcher liked to adopt a faux formality on those occasions he bawled out contentious intruders into his affairs. "Arrive at a perfectly standard murder, soak up the details, then go off t'waylay the supposed culprit an' exact personal unofficial vengeance in your own time.—"

"Come off it, Fletch." Alice sneered at this interpretation of events, casting a cold beady uncowed eye over the frowning officer. "You know the original victim was a P. I., like us. What d'you think we were gon'na do, when we found out who might'a been responsible? Sit back an' let you have all the fun o'catchin' the rat who did it? In your own time, too."

"Yeah," Fiona nodded vigorously, backing up her partner to the hilt. "y'weren't exactly burnin' up the tarmac in y'r haste t'grab Henzle, were ya?"

"All in good time." If there was anything Fletcher hated it was being steamrollered. "Official methods have t'take their course in these investigations—as you all dam' well know. We can't just barge off an' pin down any old suspect, y'know. We got'ta find just cause, and clues, and evidence, an' suchlike rubbish. We can't just jump in, with all guns cocked an' ready t'fire, like you bums."

"Hey, watch yer mouth, sunshine." Fiona wasn't going to let this snappy remark go undefended. "Y'r talking about ladies here, or haven't y'noticed, ya big ape?"

"OK, OK, so what d'ya know about this character, Henzle?" The Inspector hastily switched to the safer topic of the crime in question. "Who's Henzle? What's his connection with Monteith? An' generally, what d'ya all know about this whole pig's dinner? Cough up."

Quiet descended on the small tightly packed room. Sergeant Keisler doodled idly on his shorthand pad; Linda tried to get comfortable on a chair which was at least two sizes too small for her; Alice and Fiona pursed their lips in deep thought, trying to look as if they were considering the wider scope of the problem. Finally Fiona broke the impasse.

"We don't know anything you don't know, Fletch."

While the Inspector frowned over whether this remark held any logical meaning Alice nodded sagely and stepped in to clarify the whole set-up so far.

"What we got here, Fletcher, is a failure t'communicate." She stopped suddenly, obviously impressed by her own rhetoric. "—er, that's t'say, who knows what's goin' on? What've we got? One dead P. I. Not somethin' that rates very highly on Police activity, I expect.—"

"Graagh—"

"Don't interrupt—I'm extrapolatin'—"

"You're what?"

"Fletcher, will you give me some air; I'm tryin' t'help here—"

"Doesn't sound much like it t'me." The Inspector snorted grimly.

"—so," Alice continued valiantly. "then comes body number two—"

"Conrad Henzle's his monicker." Fletcher smiled sarcastically. "Y'know the perp's name, why not use it—"

"Fletcher, I'm runnin' out'ta patience here." Alice gave the grey haired man the benefit of her best Gorgon scowl. Whilst having no visible effect on the Inspector, Keisler jumped nervously in his corner. "An' as t'your insinuations about our love of artillery, he had his throat cut—not a method favoured by any of us ladies here present t'day, if you hadn't already realised that, Fletcher."

"Yeah, yeah—"

"Which means, of course, there's now another, live, body on the go in this murky affair—Perp Two, as it were." Alice was in full command of the situation now. "Henzle's enemy, in fact. So, Henzle knocks off Talbot, then himself gets an invitation t'visit with the Grim Reaper, from person or persons unknown. Are you keepin' up?"

"Haarph, so who's this second jerk, d'ya suppose?" Fletcher raised an enquiring eyebrow, though still scowling slightly. "Or have ya got his home address an' IRS number t'hand already?"

"Fun-nee." The brunette detective was not to be put off by this lack of belief. "Whoever it was he was someone he knew. Why else'd he let him inta his room, an' get close enough t'do the business with a knife? Asked yourself that recently, have you?"

This analysis of the facts led to another pause for thought by all those in the uncomfortable environs of the small office. Alice's chronology held together; and her suppositions about the debacle in Room 125 appeared logical. The resulting course seemimg obvious to all gathered in the office.

"What we got'ta do," Fiona mused on the possible choices available. "is t'find out who Henzle was involved with; who were his associates, or friends, or whoever. Needs some thinkin' on."

"Well, go an' think all ya want, but in your own time." Fletcher had clearly come to the end of his daily ration of patience towards members of the great unwashed Public. "Hit the street, we here in the Precinct have official business in connection with this dam' f-ck-up to sort out—an' we don't need amateurs gettin' in our way. Beat it, the lot'ta ya."

"An' we bid ya a fond farewell, too, Fletch." Fiona held Alice's arm as the three women made for the door. "Been lovely chattin' with ya; let's do lunch sometime."

"Out."

"Cheerio, Fletch," Alice grinned widely as Fiona escorted her into the corridor. "always a pleasure."

"Haa—graagh."

—O—

The next morning the three detectives made only a cursory appearance at the Grand Banks Hotel for the second day of the P. I.'s Convention. Linda met Fiona and Alice in the main foyer of the gleaming Moderne structure; they only fleetingly entering into the lecture hall to scribble their names in the attendance book, dump newspapers and lecture pamphlets on some chairs to mark their territory, then hit the street and Alice's car again; this time Linda having brought her own Ford for comfort.

"So, what's the schedule t'day?" Linda glanced from one to the other of her friends as they stood at the edge of the sidewalk by their respective vehicles. "Figured out a plan yet?"

"All we got t'go on is Henzle—"

"Who ain't in any fit state t'chat with anybody." Fiona thought it politic to acknowledge this minor point.

"But who must'a had friends, or at least acquaintances o'some sort." Alice nodded wisely. "Fay an' I fancy the only connection that's any way viable at present is Favelli."

"Shit, y'won't get anything relevant out'ta him." Linda shook her head knowingly. "He's got fingers in almost every pie goin' in Delacote, sure enough; but even I know murderin' a dirty drug-pusher ain't in his ball-park."

"Well, sometimes people know more'n they think they know." Fiona shrugged, curling her lip the while. "Put the squeeze on Favelli, let's see what oozes out."

"Jeez, well, as long as it ain't blood." Linda made a face as she turned to her car.

"Come on then, Al, get this heap o'yours in motion." Fiona grinned as she stepped in the nearside door of the small coupe. "God, can't wait till my new car's ready."

"Meanwhile I have'ta be your personal taxi-driver." Alice mumbled something derogatory under her breath which Fiona, thankfully, didn't hear. "Close the door then; I wan'na move off this morning, at least. Look, Linda's drivin' away in front of us."

"OK, OK, give me a chance; there ain't much leg-room in this jalopy for tall gals, y'realise."

"Stop grumbling, lady." Alice put the Plymouth in gear and turned out into the traffic with all her usual care for passing vehicles; which wasn't much. "Hey, don't honk your horn at me, buster. Right, Todmorton here we come. Should I try'n catch Linda, an' beat her t'the finish?"

"Hell, no." Fiona knew what was good for her in such circumstances. "How many times do I have to beat it inta your head, you ain't Nuvolari, not by a long way—drive slow an' careful. I, at least, wan'na be alive at the end o'the run, if ya don't mind."

"Oh, phooey."

—O—

The up-market district of Todmorton, on the north-western outskirts of Delacote City, was highly salubrious, thereby restricting its house-owners to those with bags of money. The houses tended to sit in their own private grounds; of greater or lesser extent depending on the wealth of the owners. Jimmy Favelli's residence was a Spanish-style two-storey hacienda which spread itself comfortably across the grounds surrounding it. A belt of tall trees and a low iron fence protected it from the sidewalk and the eyes of interested passers-by. A large iron gate and a sweeping drive led to the front entrance, protected by a heavy teak door under a deep portico. The ladies' Ford and Plymouth rolled up to the wide gravel space in front of the main façade; though these ordinary common-place vehicles were immediately over-shadowed by a couple of parked limousines, one a fancy Isotta-Fraschini, the other an even more imposing Duesenberg Model J Phaeton, looking utterly majestic as it sat gleaming regally in the sunshine.

"Now that's what I call a car." Fiona whistled briefly between her teeth as the three women approached the front door. "You knock, Al; y'know how scared I am of butlers."

"Jimmy won't have a butler, dear. Too much trouble, an' he won't like bein' bossed around, an' told what kind'a hat he can wear or what colour braces go with afternoon tea." Alice snorted contemptuously, stepping up to rap on the woodwork with gay abandon. "Maybe a maid, or somethin'."

In the event it was the Lord of the Manor himself who opened the door and gazed sulkily at his visitors.

"Gods, the Fates return; or should that be the Valkyries?" Favelli stepped back and waved a hand, ushering the women into his domain. "Step this way, ladies, all the wonders of the East at your pleasure; the door on the right, there, if ya please."

The lounge, or living-room, or drawing-room, or whatever, was long wide and low-ceilinged with pale wooden rafters. A row of shuttered windows, open at present, flooded the room with light. Several comfortable-looking leather armchairs, covered in floral chintz, sat about; accompanied by a number of wide walnut tables and a large leather sofa. Jimmy indicated the chairs and himself sat on the sofa; taking a long cigarette from a silver box on the nearest table as he did so.

"Cigarette, anyone?"

"Nah, thanks." Fiona spoke for her friends. "We've given the weed up; health reasons, y'know. Got'ta reserve our wind fer chasin' hoodlums down dark alleys, an' suchlike."

"Har-Har." Jimmy didn't seem all that amused; sitting back, blowing a cloud of fragrant smoke into the air, and regarding the women without much interest. "So, what's the latest news from the Front? Can't imagine y'all came this mornin' just t'chew the fat."

"We wan'na pump you on Conrad Henzle." Alice, as usual, jumped in where angels would have first carefully considered their options. "You remember Henzle? At present takin' up a parking space in the city morgue."

"Henzle, as you so percipiently point out, is dead as mutton." Favelli raised an eyebrow, as if slightly offended by the question. "Which puts him out'ta the runnin' for bein' of any further interest t'anyone, I should'a thought."

"Maybe t'you," Fiona sat up straight and aimed a scornful glance at the big-time crook. "but not t'us. He probably murdered Talbot Monteith; one of us, another P. I.; so we naturally have a personal interest in what happened to Henzle, an' who did it—whoever it was no doubt bein' the brains, to use a common term very loosely indeed, behind the whole stinkin' set-up, and who therefore has ultimate responsibility for Talbot's demise. And we mean ta find out if we have'ta tear down every hoodlum's hideaway in the city to do so."

"So, that's your attitude is it?"

"Pretty much, Jimmy." Alice nodded soberly. "Fay means what she says; there are a fair number of P. I.'s in this city, and numerous others scattered around the rest of the state. We're all holdin' a convention here at the moment—so there's actually over a hundred of us within' callin' distance as we speak. D'you realise the effect on your business interests if we all set out, all at once and together, t'dismantle all an' every dirty little numbers game, unlicensed betting-shop, an' whorehouse in the city an' wider local neighbourhood?"

"If we really tried, Jimmy," Fiona leaned forward to emphasise her point. "we could make your life a misery for months t'come. An' there'd be far too many of us fer you t'think of takin' any concerted action against us. Think what that'll do to your profits, laddie."

"Jeez, I think ya really mean it, too."

"Dam' straight we mean it." Here Linda put in her oar, growling low and menacingly. "What my friends here say is the bona fide goods; ya better believe it, my friend. We want the answers t'some questions; an' if you don't show willing, we'll make you feel like you've relocated t'the seventh circle of Dante's Inferno, trust me."

"Shit."

"So, what we wan'na know is—who was Henzle, who were his intimates, where do they hang out, how many of them are there, and what exactly are they all up to?" Fiona sat back to regard her prey with a cold eye. "Answers at your convenience; but make it snappy, all the same."

Silence descended on all those sitting in the bright room. Favelli meanwhile leaned back, puffing industriously on his cigarette and obviously thinking hard. A hard scowl flickered across his forehead every now and then, as some fact or circumstance made its presence felt in his lucubrations with more than usual discomfort. Finally he sighed heavily, sat forward to stub his cigarette in a silver ash-tray, and glowered at his expectant audience.

"OK, ya got me in a corner." He shook his head, almost in respect, as his eyes passed over each of the women. "I don't know why I'm gon'na do this, I really don't; but, if ya want facts, I'll give ya what I got—all on the understanding, mind you, that afterwards ya all vacate the premises, an' don't ever come back without first sendin' official envoys t'negotiate a treaty. Got that?"

"Yeah, quit with the braggadocio, will ya." Fiona was not impressed. "So, what'ya got?"

"Henzle is-was, a fixer for the Chambers-Williams gang—"

"Oh, shit."

"Yeah, y'know who I mean, Miss Cartwright?" Jimmy nodded tellingly. "The last of the mobile bank-robbing shoot-'em-up brigade. Way past their best, as we speak, but still free as birds an' mean as coyotes with the rheumatiz. Lately they've widened their horizons, if ya can call it that. They rubbed out Bennie Hargreaves a few months ago—"

"Found his body in Delacote Harbor." Alice provided this piece of biographical information.

"Yep, his concrete boots must'a come adrift." Jimmy contemplated this piece of shoddy workmanship for a few seconds, then returned to what was relevant. "Anyway, he when alive an' kickin' peddled all the local illegal drugs, t'those in the market fer such; mostly snow. Since Pete Chambers took command, though, he's been more'n more gettin' inta things like heroin. I've been beginnin' to dislike the guy myself, recently. But not t'the extent o'knockin' him off, don't think that fer a moment."

"Cocaine, heroin, not nice stuff t'flog around the streets." Alice sneered tightly. "Guys like that need takin' off said thoroughfares, no questions asked."

"Well, even I got'ta follow some rules." Favelli shrugged resignedly. "What d'ya want me t'do? Go out, face the gang off in the High Street, like in an old-time William Hart movie, an' blast 'em all in'ta eternity?"

"That'd be worth seein'." Linda mused on this delightful prospect for a while. "So, are you sayin' you know where t'find these bums, wherever they have their bolthole?"

Jimmy leaned forward, tapping a finger on the surface of the low table by his sofa; then finally looked up with a dark determined expression.

"Like ya say, drugs is dirty. I may be less than law-keepin' myself, but I got enough moral pizazz t'pass that stuff by on the other side o'the street." Favelli motioned with his hands, then looked squarely at his visitors. "Pete Chambers, an' his outfit, are at present located in a broken down old shack out the Donnington road. Y'know, it leads up inta the hills, where old Donnington, the ghost town, lays a'moulderin'. He's there, an' six, maybe seven, of his gang. That's where they've stored their stash o'drugs fer the time bein'. Was thinkin' o'collarin' a bunch o'the boys an' payin' him a late night visit myself, one o'these days. Just ta beat some sense inta his ugly mug, an' burn his supplies an' goods, as it were. Leave him a better an' a wiser man, don't ya know. Haven't had the opportunity yet, as it happens."

"We can take that delightful social duty off your hands, though." Fiona sat up with renewed interest. "There's only three of us; but there's only seven o'them. An' we got a fine armory, an' good reason, too; don't we gals?"

"Tootin' right, Fay." From Alice, grinning broadly.

"Got a double-barrel shotgun in my Ford." Linda sprang this information with an evil smile. "Been wonderin', lately, when I could shoot me some vermin."

"Jeez, think I'm in a dam' Tom Mix movie." Jimmy sat back, defeated once again by superior feminine wile.

—O—

The convoy of Ford and Plymouth had hardly left the neighborhood of Favelli's house when they met an obstruction. Approaching the turn onto Acrington Road, in Todmorton, Alice had to apply her brakes with more than usual swiftness and efficiency, nearly making Linda, behind, ram her. Across the roadway, side on and radiating menace and power sat two police cars. Standing by one of which was the easily recognisable figure of their old friend Inspector Fletcher. He pushed his fedora back on his forehead, ambled across, and stood with an elbow on the door-sill of Alice's car, beside Fiona.

"Hi'ya gals, nice day fer a drive." He looked at his prizes with all the content of a sated hunter or fisher with a full bag at the end of a hard day's hunting. "Just come from visitin' Favelli, have we?"

"What's it t'ya, Fletch?" Fiona sat back, knowing full well what was coming.

"Everythin', is all; just everythin'." Fletcher glanced up and down the deserted street, then turned his attention to the ladies again; nodding pleasantly, meanwhile, to Linda who was leaning out her window looking daggers at the congregated group of uniforms surrounding the two cars. "I've just cordoned-off the entire area. Had me some thought o'corralin' Favelli an' squeezin' what he knows out'ta him. Doesn't look as if I'll need the ol' third degree after all. OK, you've seen him; you've tasted his salt; you've chatted idly with him; so, spill everythin', an' I mean everythin'. How's about you start off, Miss Cartwright; I do so enjoy listenin' to your golden tones."

"Ker-rist."

—O—

The Donnington trail was just that; an unsurfaced dirt road long out of use as a general highway—the minor township of Donnington having returned to the wild some forty years previously, and now just a collection of abandoned dried-up, peeling, collapsing huts and houses.

Fletcher, having digested the information unwillingly supplied by Fiona ad Alice, had decided on his plan of attack. Calling in back-up, he now stood resplendent at the head of no less than seven vehicles packed with officers, all heavily armed. Against his better judgement, but feeling it the least he could do in the circumstances, Fiona, Alice and Linda were also present in their own vehicles. His plan—if, as Fiona had sarcastically opined, it could be so called,—consisted of a rapid assault with all police vehicles, and the P. I.'s, down Main Street; coming to a sliding halt outside the building, an abandoned dry-goods store, where they had pinpointed the gang to be holed up; make a call for surrender and then when, of course, the answer was decidedly in the negative as was only to be expected and the bullets started flying, open up like a line of battleships and blast the store out of existence—leaving the mortuary attendants to clean up whatever slight human debris remained inside afterwards.

"Sort'a an all-encompassing plan, ain't it, Fletch?" Fiona, hitching her ankle-length grey skirt comfortably, felt something in the line of restrained caution was required.

"Like Armageddon an' Götterdämmerung combined, eh?" Alice on the other hand, showing a cat-like savage undertone to her spirit hitherto unrecognised by her intimates, smiled complacently; checking her revolver was loaded the while. "I like it."

"Suits me." The Inspector gave a short nod to his associates, then waved everyone back to their vehicles. "OK, let's get this show on the road. Remember gals, don't shoot till they shoot first; but when they do, feel free—just don't get in the official line o'fire, is all. Right, let's go,"

—O—

What later took on the sobriquet of the 'Massacre at Colter's Store',—at least, according to the 'Delacote Daily News',—started off with more of a low whimper than a bang. The countryside in the region where Donnington was located, if the ruined township could be said to exist at all, was mainly grass-covered scrub and outlying patches of woodland interspersed with tinkling streams and rivers. This whole area thus providing a fine setting for amateur hunters, walkers, and picnickers. As it turned out there were several members of each of these categories wandering around the immediate locale that morning.

Harry Goodright, his wife Jane, and their two children, were sitting at the edge of a quiet stream a mile and a half south of the township; Harry having driven along a secondary trail to reach this favoured spot. They had spread the checkered tablecloth on the short grass, laid out their packets of sandwiches, and had settled down for an enjoyable half hour when young Frank, cocking an ear, made the first known reference to what was going forward some way off.

"Dad, what's that?"

"What, son?"

"That bangin', in the distance." The boy turned, head at an angle to hear better. "Sounds like fireworks, or somethin'."

"Hardly the right time for fireworks, son." Harry, nevertheless, placed his first ham sandwich back on its plate and attended to what had gained his offspring's attention. "Darned if y'might not be right, after all. That's funny."

He listened for a few seconds more, then turned pale and looked at his wife in some consternation.

"Jane, them's guns; and they ain't bein' fired in no atmosphere o'light-hearted huntin' or amateur cajolery, or whatever." He turned to look where his son and daughter sat beside their parents. "That there's a barrage bein' laid down, mighty spiteful. I recalls the same from bein' in the trenches, myself. There's anger behind that there firin', or I'm a Dutchman. Think we better think about abandonin' this here repast, Jane, an' hot-footin' it back t'Delacote. Think the authorities might wan'na investigate what's on the go, over there a'ways."

A mile west of Donnington Arthur Rankine and his old pal Gordon Harcourt were doing their best to imitate experienced bear hunters. They had the requisite checkered shirts and heavy jackets, jeans, and rifles of bores big enough to stop a rampaging elephant. Arthur was first to halt in his tracks as they negotiated the uneven ground in the heart of a small but thick wood.

"Gord, hear that?"

"Yep, someone else, other than us, is out somewhere's close; after bear too, I suppose."

The men listened for a few more seconds, then turned to survey each other, frowns on both their faces.

"That there ain't no bear hunt; that there's a shootin' war, Gord."

"Dam' right, goin' at it like the clappers, too." Gordon listened intently some more. "Comin', I fancy, from over to Donnington. Sounds like someone's real angry, with someone else; an' they're exchangin' compliments the while, in a wholesale an' mean-spirited manner."

They stood silent again, listening to the distant ongoing firing, coming to them like low rolling thunder. The seconds went by, and still the firing continued, now lessening, now reaching to a supreme cacophony and climax, before retreating to the level of a continuous crackling.

"Jeez, reminds me o'the Second Battle o'the Somme; I was there, y'know." Arthur shook his shoulders, as if in the throes of a cold shivering. "I don't know why they're doin' it, but they really mean it, that's fer sure."

"Art?"

"Yeah?"

"Think we better abandon this here bear hunt." Gordon stepped from foot to foot in an excited nervous manner. "I don't know what's goin' forward over there, but I don't wan'na get any closer than this; an' I surely don't want them, whoever they are, comin' visitin' us. Let's make for the station-wagon an' get our butts out'ta here. Wan'na make a stop at the police station, back in Delacote?"

"Dam' right. OK, let's go. Jeez, they're still goin' at it over there. It is a bloody war."

On the crest of a low wooded hilltop, some three-quarters of a mile north of Donnington, were the spectators who, perhaps, had the best view of the ongoing affair running its noisy course in the main street of the old town. Rose Tremaine, a dark-haired lady in her mid-twenties, and her close friend Gaile Desmond, fair-haired and twenty-one, both out for an invigorating day's tramp together in the local wilderness, lay supine on the short grass under the cover of a stand of tall trees, watching the drama taking place in the ghost town nearby. They both had strong binoculars pressed to their eyes and were in such a position, at such an angle, that they had a perfect view of the distant scene.

"Christ, a whole convoy o'cars, an' an army o'cops." Rose whistled gently as she took in the scene. "What the Hell'r they up to?"

"Looks t'me as if they've collared some reprobate in one o'the old shacks down there." Gaile could see a church spire in daylight as well as others.

"Well, judgin' by what they're doin', the cops haven't taken t'the suspects in any very friendly way." Rose grunted softly as the rippling noise of the distant firing came even more loudly to their ears. "Jeez, they're givin' it everythin' they've got, an' no mistake."

"See that tall grey-haired guy, in front of the Plymouth coupe?" Gaile had particularly sharp eyes, which she was now putting to fine use. "Looks like he's in charge; an' dammed if there ain't a posse o'women, blastin' away like good 'uns by his side. What is this?"

"Well, it's either a mirage," Rose pondered on the problem as she carried on fixedly watching the ongoing action through her lens. "or someone's making a film; but I don't think so, somehow; can't see no cameras. Or it's a modern replay of the Gunfight at the OK Corral; only more so, with stronger antagonism an' murderous intent. Jeez, ain't they ever gon'na stop shootin'?"

As if in reply to her thought the distant crackle of gunshots faltered, came to the fore once more with a last sustained barrage of noise, then flickered gently to a close, leaving the immediate region in silence once more—the Battle of Donnington was at an end.

—O—

The third, and last, day of the P. I.'s Convention dawned bright and sunny. Fiona and Alice walked through the Grand Banks foyer at ease with the world and themselves. Once again Linda Henderson awaited them amongst the potted palms.

"Hey, gals, sweet an' chipper are we, t'day?"

"Both o'those, an' more besides, Linda." Fiona bent forward to give their friend a peck on the cheek, closely followed by Alice. "So, what's the gen t'day?"

"Oh, the usual stuff, everyone tellin' everyone else what a great time they've all had." Linda preceded them into the lecture hall, at present only half full. "Can't say there's much doin' this mornin'. It's only the mornin', y'know, we'll be takin' up, before the convention closes."

"Thank God for that." Alice, at least, had no very high interest in the day's proceedings. "So, what's come of yesterday's little hoo-ha?"

"I managed t'get a few words at the Precinct with Inspector Fletcher before I came along here." Linda swept a hand over her brow as they sat on the row of hard chairs. "Caught him just before the newspaper guys an' dolls grabbed him. Seems all seven of Chambers' gang were present, at the scene of the crime."

"There were no survivors, were there?" Alice asked this with no particular wish to hear otherwise than what she already knew was the outcome. "Shouldn't have thought so; especially after Fletcher leaned back into his car an' came out clutchin' a bloody Tommy-gun, an' proceeded t'let rip with the dam' thing. Jeez."

"Yeah, that was a sight t'see." Fiona spoke in an impressed tone, as indeed she had been at the time. "Never knew ol' Fletch had it in him; but he took t'that Tommy-gun like a veteran: blasted the remains o'that store inta t'chips an' fragments."

"So, they all got their call-up papers t'the Great Beyond?" Alice sniggered at her own dark humour.

"Yup." Linda confirmed their thoughts on the matter. "Fletcher told me, snappin' an' snarlin' at the newshounds the while, that all seven gang members, includin' Chambers and Williams, got theirs',—wholesale, retail, an' for export."

"Har-Har."

"Seems two o'the bodies are still unidentified." Linda pursed her lips as she gave this information. "Not that it matters over-much who they were; dam hoodlums, mixed up in the drugs racket—whoever they were they got what was comin' t'them, sure enough."

"Bit of a real war, wasn't it?" Alice mused on the previous day's activities. "Bullets whinin' round us like bees at a picnic. Dam' glad we all escaped injury, anyways."

"Well, Talbot got his revenge." Fiona became serious for a moment. "He set out t'collar the deadbeats, an' it's worked out that way. He should be proud, wherever he is at the moment."

"Yeah. Tell you what, Fay—"

"What? Spill—."

"Why don't we dump this convention thing, an' go back t'the office an' open ourselves a bottle o'beer each as a toast t'old Talbot?" Alice looked from Fiona to Linda and back to her one true love. "Seems the least we can do, after all."

"Works for me." Linda gave her acquiescence with a wide grin. "But I can't stop long; I've got a meeting with someone, er, important at eleven o'clock."

"I bought six bottles, too, yesterday. Oh, well, in that case Fay an' I'll just have t'finish them between us." Alice could bend to suit changing circumstances like a professional. "Think you're up t'it, doll?"

"Alice, I'm always up fer it." Fiona grinned at her paramour as they all rose to leave the lecture hall again. "As you'll find out after, oh, the third drink or so."

"Ha-Ha."

The End.

—O—

To be continued in the next story in the 'Drever and Cartwright' series.

—OOO—