'The Hamilton Garage 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. While looking to buy a new car the detectives become embroiled in the Protection racket.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2017 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 some light swearing in this story.

—O—

"So, what's it gon'na be? Another Buick?"

Alice Drever walked at the side of her lover Fiona Cartwright as they strolled along Carstairs Drive, Delacote City, NH, where all the good quality car showrooms showed their wares. The day was a fine bright Saturday in late March, the year 1934, and all was well with the world, America, and the 'Drever and Cartwright' detective agency. As a means of filling up their free weekend shopping day, Alice was accompanying Fiona on that lady's search to replace her old Buick, which had met a dramatic end falling down a cliff some few months earlier.

"Buick? Maybe, but I'm easy; if something better turns up, I'll consider it."

"Oh-ah?" This was the opportunity Alice had been awaiting with baited breath; there being nothing she enjoyed more than stringing her lover along mercilessly when the occasion presented itself. "That might be what, then? A Delahaye, for starters?"

"Don't talk nonsense, dear." Fiona shook her head innocently, not yet realising her partner's ploy. "Only foreign Princes an' film stars can afford them."

"Well, what about a Duesenberg?"

"God, d'ya think I own a bloody bank, or what, gal?"

"Hmm, what else is there? Oh yes, a Isotta-Fraschini."

Fiona paused on the sidewalk to give her shorter partner a close examination.

"Oh, I get it." Fiona nodded, truth dawning on her at last. "Ya think y're bein' funny? I get it; well, you just carry on bein' funny, gal, if that's what ya want."

"Umph, if you want t'descend to ordinary people's cars, then, what about a Cord?"

"Just as expensive, an' dam' difficult t'find these days."

"A LaSalle?" Alice continued at her lover's heels. "That ain't a luxury brand, is it?"

"Well, maybe not. I'll think about it."

"Hey, I got it—a Stutz."

"Are ya bloody mad, girl?" Fiona again stopped in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to castigate her companion, who was now getting on her nerves. "What'd I want a monster like one o'those for?"

"Only a suggestion, don't get heated, gal; y'know what that does t'your complexion." Alice loved niggling her paramour gently this way. "Take it easy. Of course, why didn't I think of it before—a Alfa Romeo two-seater, just the thing." Fiona shook her head dismissively, as they carried on along the sidewalk.

"Who wants a dam' racing car? What good'd it be in the kind'a traffic we get in Delacote City, may I ask." And other technical difficulties sprang to her mind. "An' what about the dam' speed limit? With a Alfa Romeo racer I'd be in an' out'ta the dam' District Court with a bunch o'tickets more times than some gangsters. Haven't ya got any constructive ideas, at all?"

They had now reached the first of the great car showrooms, and stopped to gaze in the high glazed windows at the vehicles sparkling with polish sitting inside.

"What're these then?" Alice almost pressed her nose against the plate-glass. "Oh, Delage's, very nice. Very comfortable, I'm told; I'd enjoy bein' a passenger in one o'those-hint, hint."

"Hint away, gal, I ain't buyin' one."

"Oh, phooey."

"Come on, nuthin' t'see here." Fiona sniggered as they continued along the road, this police routine order pleasing her sense of humour.

Forty yards further along on the same side the next showroom appeared.

"What old crates are these people tryin' t'foist on an unsuspectin' Public?" Alice loving her little joke of a morning. "Ker-rist, what in hell's that?"

"Bugatti Royale." Fiona read the large display card placed by the front bumper. "Well, you've been searchin' for a car fit fer a Prince, that fill the bill, at all?"

"Jee-suus, it's, it's,—my God." Alice was speechless.

Having let her brunette partner drool over the amazing vehicle for another thirty seconds Fiona gently took her elbow and prized her away to continue their search elsewhere.

Five minutes later, after crossing the road, they reached what gave every sign of being a more normal showroom. They stood at the windows looking in at the merchandise once more.

"Ah, a mixture; makes a change."

"And ordinary cars, too." Fiona sighed with relief, she having begun to wonder when such would turn up. "Let's go in an' case the joint."

Inside the car exhibition area was as large as a warehouse, floored with what appeared to be concrete. There was a selection of nearly twenty-five vehicles, of various makes, all polished to a high reflective index which almost hurt the eyes.

"Hey, wait a minute." Alice had seen something which distressed her delicate moral view of the world. "These are all second-hand."

"So what?"

"Well, they've been used." Alice, horrified, sought to clarify the matter. "They've been driven already, by other owners; they ain't fresh from the factory."

"That'll jest mean they've been comfortably driven-in." Fiona was unconcerned. "Engine running nicely, some miles under the wheels to settle everything, an' the price'll be right, too. Come on, let's look around."

Defeated by this common-sense outlook, Alice gave in with a grumpy mutter under her breath, accompanying her lover towards the first vehicle on show.

"I'm lookin' fer a four-door sedan, an' this seems interestin'." Fiona leaned over the vehicle, studying its features with an expert eye.

"A DeSoto? Well, if that's what you want, lover."

"Nineteen thirty-two, not that old." Fiona leaned in the open side-window. "Upholstery looks in fine condition. Seats are nice n' low, steering-wheel seems well-set, an' there's a good view out the windscreen. The engine's on these are pretty good too, I believe. Lady, I think we need search no further—I've jest found the Pot o' Gold at the end o' the rainbow."

"Oh God." Alice surrendered, seeing the expression in Fiona's dark eyes. "If you say so, dear."

—O—

An hour later they were back in the street, their mission accomplished, Fiona being the new owner of a hardly used 1932 DeSoto four-door sedan, dark crimson in colour. Price, well within what the happy new driver considered a bargain.

"So, the manager in there said he'd have it sent round to the company's garage and tuned up for you, filled with gas an' suchlike?"

"Yep." Fiona walked with the long stride of a purchaser who had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. "Give the engine a tickle, t'see it was still alive, fill her with gas, give it a final polish, an' then it's all mine. If we go round t'Hamilton's Garage in about three hours it'll be awaitin' my hot little hands, gal. Can't wait."

"Hum."

—O—

After a couple of hours spent in raiding the local shops for various items, some more needed than others, the ladies brought up outside Hamilton's garage in Clouston St, a fairish way outside the city centre proper. It was one of those fine newly built affairs, all white walls and lines of low windows; with a large double-door entrance giving enough room for two trucks to enter or leave side by side. As they entered the women were assailed by a variety of aromas; oil, hot engines, well-used leather upholstery, and that harsh throat-catching suggestion of raw petrol fumes so typical of all garages. A deal of activity was going forward, by what seemed to the women like an army of mechanics working on several vehicles in the noisy interior.

"Say guy, where's the office?"

"Over there." The middle-aged man in overalls, so questioned, pointed out a partitioned-off cubicle against the side wall, then went back to his work under the bonnet of a small truck.

"Anybody home?" Fiona banged on the closed door, then pushed it open and led the way in. "Ah, you the manager?"

The youngish man sitting at the cluttered desk was dressed in a crumpled suit, wearing a harassed expression. He gazed up from his paperwork to eye the women suspiciously.

"Who're you? Y'ain't from the dam' insurance company, are ya?"

"An' if we were?" Fiona was always quick to catch on to unusual atmospheres.

"Well, that is—" The man sat back, realising his mistake, and trying valiantly to repair the damage. "I seem t'have gotten the wrong end of the stick, sorry. What can I do for you?"

"We're here t'collect my new car; a DeSoto sedan, crimson, from Bailey Bros." Fiona continued to eye the seated man speculatively. "Havin' a hard day, or what?"

The manager, riffling through a pile of receipts, paused to look at his visitors, frowning the while.

"Who are you two?"

"Drever and Cartwright." Alice joined the conversation, as suspicious as her partner of the general atmosphere in the small office. "I'm Drever, she's Cartwright. Private Detectives. What's up?"

The man remained silent, sitting back in his small chair, contemplating the women. It was quite apparent he was struggling with an internal argument as to his next move; so both women let him be, to make his mind up as best he could.

"OK, OK, maybe private dicks, beggin' your pardon, is just what I need right now." He had come to a decision. "I'm havin' a little trouble, with what y'might call protection."

"Is that why you talked about the Insurance comp—oh, that kind'a protection." Alice had caught on.

"Who's behind it?" Fiona liked to get to the heart of the matter.

"I dun'no; just a couple of bozos, coming round with threats an' things." The man shook his head, as he took the receipts Fiona offered, dealing with her new purchase. "I'm Bradley, Jim Bradley, by the way."

"So what's been goin' on?" Alice poked around in her handbag, pulling out a notebook, and taking a pencil from her jacket pocket. "Jest the main details as they happened."

"Ha, y'are detectives, ain't ya." Bradley smiled flatly. "Well,—by the way, hope this here consultation ain't gon'na cost the earth; 'cause the earth is jest what I ain't got."

"Nah, nah, rest easy." Fiona put this worry to rest. "If we think your case's interestin' we'll give ya bargain rates. If not, we'll take my car, an' split the joint."

"OK, yeah." Bradley, reassured, shifted his chair a trifle to face the women. "Here, sit yourselves down; those two chairs ain't exactly from Versailles Palace, but they won't collapse under ya. Right, so what happened is last week just before I went home late at night, these two thugs hove up an' started in'ta their spiel. I didn't quite get their drift t'start with, then one knocked me down with his fist. Before I could clear my head an' get up t'paste him on my own acount they'd grunted out some threats and turned an' skedaddled."

"Any sort'a description goin'?" Fiona sat back comfortably on her chair, taking a preliminary glance round the cluttered office to get the feel of the place. "Perhaps we know the bozos."

"Well, lem'me see." Bradley thought about the subject for a few seconds. "There were two, like I said. One was a big gorilla, all muscled shoulders, huge chest, seaman's rolling gait, an' a face like King Kong."

"Buster Halligan." Alice didn't need to think about it.

"Yup, large as life, an' just as thick between the ears." Fiona agreed, then nodded at their latest client. "Carry on, you're doin' fine."

"Was it him as, er, busted you one?" Alice always liked to get the exact facts clear for the record.

"This Buster ape?" Bradley shook his head. "Nah, if he'd hit me my head would'a come loose an' bounced along the floor like a football. Nah, it was the shorter guy. Shorter, but dam' meaner. About five foot six tops; rather spindly, but tough as a teak plank by the look of him. A long face with a pointed chin, an' a strip o'moustache creeping along the top edge of his lip like a coffee stain. Blue eyes like icebergs, an' a general set expression as if he'd just seen a kid run over by a steamroller, an' liked it."

"Clark Knuckles Beresford." Fiona nodded, absolutely sure of her identification. "Not a sap y'wan'na meet anywhere, anytime, never mind down a dark alley at night."

"He's crazy, a sadist." Alice glowered, knowing the thug's reputation. "Don't get mixed up with him, is my advice—unless y'see him coming from a distance, an' you've got your .45 handy. Didn't think anyone local with any sense was still employing the deranged clown."

Bradley looked from one of the women to the other, a slight frown showing his thought process as if he was shouting his questions.

"—er, so, if ya both know these guys, does that mean you're just gon'na go out an' arrest the b-st-rds?"

"Nah, doesn't work that way, sadly." Alice looked up from her notes. "What's needed is proof, y'see. An' what you've given us so far wouldn't stand up in a Court o'Law for an instant. We need something solider."

"Like what? These guys haven't given up on me yet; I'm pretty sure they're planning a return visit sometime soon."

"Well, like discovering who the mastermind is behind them." Fiona rubbed her chin in reflection. "Those guys are just thugs, the heavy mob who do the dirty work. There's someone sittin' back in the shadows who's the planner, who takes the big rake o'the profits. He's who we'll need'ta nab, t'stop this thing in its tracks."

"Well, umm, should I leave that up to you, then?"

"Yeah, Mr Bradley." Fiona rose, along with Alice, nodded at the still harassed looking man and turned for the door. "Just keep your head down, try not t'be caught alone here at any time, day or night, an' we'll see how things turn out. Y'might think about arming yourself, fer self-defence. We'll come back to you with news, when it happens, OK?"

"Yeah, thanks."

"So, can I take my car now, then?"

"Oh, yeah, it's ready for ya. Just go over to Jenkins, there; he'll see ya right—an' thanks again."

"No problem." Alice smiled, always happy to have a new client on the books. "OK, sister, just remember you don't know how this jalopy works yet, so go easy on the way home, OK?"

"Yeah, yeah, come on; nuthin' but bloody grumbles."

"Wassat, lady?"

"Nuthin', darlin', nuthin' at all. Jest enjoy the ride."

"Hmmph."

—O—

Back in their comfortable condo, on the 7th floor of the Collister Building, Alice and Fiona relaxed; the former with her notes, the latter with delighted memories of her first interaction with her new second-hand car.

"That went dam' well."

"Yeah, Bradley seems a good client."

"Nah, the DeSoto, a nice drive."

"Oh-ah, yeah, the DeSoto, yeah. A good enough car, I suppose; if y'haven't set your sights any higher."

"Idiot."

Fiona had made coffee, and now leaned over the low table they sat beside to fill their cups, though these were more in the order of large deep mugs.

"There ya go, dearie, that'll warm yer cockles." Fiona sipped from her own cup then sat back on the sofa and glanced at her lover. "Right, the evening's before us, gal, so let's get down t'business."

"What, so early?" Alice sighed gently, pretending to start unbuttoning her pale cream silk blouse. "If you say so, darlin'."

"No, no, get a grip, woman." Fiona, as always, fell for it like a country gal new to the big city. "This thing about Bradley, an' his garage."

"Oh, right." Alice chuckled inwardly, pleased her joke had fooled her paramour completely. "The garage, OK. So, who d'you think's behind the protection racket, then? Must be going on all through the local district where Bradley has his outfit, I expect."

Fiona didn't answer at once, holding her coffee-cup idly while she gave the subject consideration.

"Well, could be any number o'crooks, generally speaking." She nodded towards her lover, as she gave her views. "Protection bein' a mainstay of any self-respectin' gangster, these days. For starters I suppose we ought'ta finger Jimmy Favelli."

"Stands to reason." Alice agreed without hesitation. "The biggest gangster in Delacote; he'll have his finger in the protection pie for sure."

"Then, just t'cover the range, how about Charlie Frensham?" Fiona smiled, pleased she'd thought to include this low life. "Only a second-rater, o'course, but protection wouldn't be beyond him."

"Hmm, I'll put his name down. Anyone else?"

"Why'm I doin' all the heavy work?" Fiona aimed a Mark 1 sneer in the direction of her lover, without much hope of its effectiveness. "Let's hear your suggestions, fer a change. Always supposing y'have any."

"Oh, very funny." Alice shook her head sadly, like a teacher faced with a problem pupil. "George Chapman, how about him. As greasy a reprobate as ever washed up on the shore."

"He's got the numbers racket all sewn up at Meidener Field, hasn't he?"

"That's the scumbag in question, yep." Alice made another note, licking her lips the while. "Bein' in one racket, I expect Protection would just seem like broadening his horizons, t'him."

"Got any more?"

"Lem'me see." Alice put the end of her pencil between her lips and began sucking, making Fiona feel hot and bothered. "Ah, Paul Essingham, the king of the tobacco trade; the illegal side of it, of course."

"What makes ya think he might'a expanded in'ta Protection?"

"Dun'no, but I'm naming names here, ain't I; and he's a name, ain't he?"

"Barely." Fiona registered contempt. "Tobacco's easy; no real violence involved, jest good planning and night-time truck runs. Protection, as you'll probably have worked out by now, dear, is based wholly on violence, or the threat of same. Hence Buster Halligan an' Knuckles Beresford."

"So what y're sayin darlin' is, nix with Essingham?"

"No, keep him on the list." Fiona made a regal gesture. "Suppose he might be as guilty as anyone. Better not lose sight o'the crummy loser. Anyone else?"

A silence enveloped the cosy living-room, as both women considered the wide variety of criminal and low life which infested the back-streeets of the city. It was Fiona who spoke first, after this refreshing pause.

"How about Miss Jenny Davidson?"

"Jenny? You got'ta be kiddin' me." Alice spluttered as she nearly choked on a mouthful of coffee. "She's the shinin' star of the high-grade brothel business in Delacote. What in hell makes you think for one single minute she's broken out'ta the corral and taken up with Protection? Have you lost your senses, lady?"

"Just spreadin' the net wide, is all." Fiona raised an eyebrow in Queenly disdain. "Can't let anyone off the hook just because we like them."

"Who say's I like her?" Alice was incensed, this remark almost amounting, in her ears, to libel. "Just because I happened to meet her a few times during that 'Candlemas Night' incident nearly a year ago now. Doesn't make her a bosom friend."

"If'n I recall correctly y'spent two days an' two nights holed up in her most expensive and high-class brothel." Fiona had found this fact funny from the moment of its inception, and never let her paramour forget it whenever opportunity offered. "That's some sort'a friendly connection right there, t'my mind."

"Fool. Idiot. Where was I?"

"Coming t'the end of the list of possible ingrates who might'a been involved in Protection in this rose-scented City of ours." Fiona placed her cup back on the coffee-table, sniffing abstemiously. "Reckon we've rounded up as many candidates as we'll ever find, dear. Let's call it a day."

"Start work tomorrow on trailing them to their indivudual dens, an' workin' them over mercilessly, doll?"

"Ya got it in one." Fiona here reverted to more important matters. "So, we've got the rest of the evening t'fill; any ideas, gal? Say, are those buttons on your blouse not a trifle tight? Wouldn't ya be a sight more comfortable if'n ya loosened a few?"

"Oh God, if you say so, Lady of my Heart, if you say so." Alice giggled quietly, leaning towards her lover. "Here, this one's stuck; lend a lady a hand, why don't you."

So Fiona did.

—O—

Next morning, bright and early, Fiona took her brand new second-hand DeSoto sedan out of the nearby garage where she habitually kept her vehicle, and they set out to beard the first of the thugs on their list in their den of iniquity.

"461, Laningham Road, Todmorton."

"I know, gal, we've been there often enough, haven't we?"

"Just keeping you on the straight an' narrow, dear." Alice wasn't put out in any way by her lover's sharp tone. "Don't want you getting lost, in this bright new car, an' all."

"Fool."

"Oh, dear."

The low one-storey Spanish style house of their first visitant sat behind a row of thick trees and bushes. It was protected both by a large oak double-door which could have stopped a medium tank, and a Spanish female cicerone of imposing nature. But finally they made it into the presence of the house-owner, Guistino Jimmy Favelli, the most successful gangster in Delacote City; middle-sized, brown hair, of Italianate character, though born in Delacote.

"To what do I owe this delightful visit, ladies?" He smiled, more or less warmly; not himself understanding the concept of a guilty conscience. "Here, park yourselves on the sofa there. Want any coffee, or anything? Nah, oh well. What can I do fer you?"

"We've just been moseying around in the slimy field of Protection, Jimmy." Fiona curled a supercilious lip. "From what we've heard some nasty pieces o'work are involved on the brute force side, in a particular district o'town. Not people ya wan'na add t'your Christmas Card list, at all. So, of course, we thought straight off of you; didn't we, Al?"

"Surely did, Fay."

"Very funny, ladies." This sort of thing always niggled Jimmy, he having a high regard for himself. "I'd have thought by now you at least knew I steer clear of violence; shooting people, or otherwise disposing of 'em, went out when Al Capone went in, y'know. Nah, nowadays I try'n keep everything above board an' virginal from a legal point of view—if you'll pardon the expression, ladies."

Alice, as usual, was deep in her note-taking, leaving the field of interrogation to her partner.

"We got two suspects, Jimmy." Fiona, fed up with this foreplay, got down to the nitty-gritty. "Buster Halligan, an' Clark Knuckles Beresford. Seen either lately, or know where they hang their repulsive hats these days?"

A silence descended in the long bright room; the women sitting forward eagerly awaiting some crumb of interest, Jimmy reclining back in his armchair considering the ceiling through the blue haze from his cigar.

"As nice a couple as you could wish t'meet on a sunny afternoon, eh?"

"Yeah, thought you'd know 'em." Alice took time off to make this catty remark almost but not quite under her breath.

"Huumph, well, who hasn't heard o'those two scumbags?" Jimmy was undaunted by other's moral views of his activities. "Especially Knuckles; thought he was dead, anyway. Didn't he get pulled, dripping an' covered in weed, out'ta the Piscataqua some time since?"

"Nah, that was probably Harold Trocker." Fiona supplied this update with relish; one less thug being alright with her any day of the week. "Beresford's alive an' kickin' like a good 'un, still."

Favelli chewed on his cigar some more; obviously intrigued by how those who definitely needed whacking, as a mere service to the State, often seemed to slither out of their meeting with a sawn-off shotgun, veering truck, or stoutly-applied blunt instrument of unknown origin.

"Buster, I've no idea where he may be holed up." Jimmy sneered impressively, baring perfect white teeth, except for those that were gold. "Knuckles, now, he I may be able t'point a finger towards."

The silence returned, except for the sound of a fly at the far end of the room politely cleaning its feet, having just entered from outside through an open window. Then Fiona could take it no longer.

"Where then, where?" She gazed morosely at the man opposite; he being a shining example of why neither she nor her heartmate by her side had ever taken to that sex. "If ya know where his sty is, cough it up. Inspector Fletcher don't like Protection; an' if he knew he could make it stick t'you, he'd go out of his way t'manufacture enough dodgy evidence t'put ya away for thirty years."

Confronted with this unappealing likelihood Favelli gave up the argument, cutting his losses as he abandoned the two thugs to their individual fates.

"OK, OK, I get what you're sayin'. God, women." He threw the remains of his extinct cigar in an ashtray and glanced at his interrogators with little love. "As far as I know, an' mind it's news some weeks old, Knuckles was hidin' in the dark behind closed drapes in a small apartment in Garstone; Verriker Road, I think. That's all I got."

The women rose, Alice closing her notebook with a grin.

"Very nice o'you to be so public spirited, Jimmy." Alice gave an approximation of an appreciative nod. "See you later; don't bother showing us the door, we know where it is. Bye."

—O—

The district of Garstone, on the southern edge of the city, was renowned for being the oldest part of the surviving conurbation and the least salubrious. Whether it had started out in this condition, or reached that low by slow degrees no-one could tell; but today, March 1934, it was a wasteland of abandoned factories, workshops, and streets of two to three storey tenements, interspersed with others of seven storey 19th century brownstones with antiquated fire-escapes straddling their frontages like the remains of old film sets.

Verriker Road was of the latter persuasion, a line of six-storey brownstones built as a solid row, now all hopelessly decrepit and bedraggled. The high steps leading from the broken sidewalk to each front entrance consisted of thick granite, mostly cracked and missing their formerly rounded edges. The door to No.3215, chosen somewhat at random as being visibly cheesier than those nearby, was open for the plain to see reason it had obviously last been closed sometime before the Great War. Inside was simply a corridor ending in a dingy tight stairwell leading to greater heights, but of no less decrepitude.

"Jeez, what a dump." Alice, bravely, led the way."What're the name's on these three doors?"

"Y'expectin' Knuckles t'advertise his presence t'all an' sundry?" Fiona immediately saw the flaw in her partner's thinking. "Here liveth that useless ape Knuckles Beresford, please knock?"

"Fool." Alice shook her head dismissively and strode up to the first door, with peeling green paint, and banged on it magisterially.

"That's a cop's knock." Fiona sniffed sarcastically. "They'll never open now."

As if racing to prove the detective wrong the door opened suddenly to a thin crack, clearly held from further extension by a thick safety-chain.

"Wha'd'yer wan'?" This in a pale cracked falsetto, a dear old lady. "I paid my f-ckin' gas bill last week, dam' yer."

Freed from the idle necessity of remaining polite Fiona let all her natural enthusiasm for her job run free.

"Give over, woman; who cares a flyin' f-ck fer yer bloody gas, not me?" Seeing the door remained ajar she carried on, having caught the inmate's attention. "We're lookin' fer a pal of ours—big man, built like a gorilla, broad shoulders, face like that film monster, King Kong; y'seen the goon aroun'?"

"Are ye f-ckin' crazy?" The unseen woman obviously had a beef against the world in general and anyone in particular who banged on her door. "I only goes out once a month, t'visit cousin Betsy down the street; what'd I care about some lousy bozo clutterin' up the district?"

With this last contemptuous disclaimer the door shut with a bang, leaving the detectives alone in the dim corridor with the dust and the smells.

"Well, that went well." Alice made this observation as they moved along the corridor. "Any more like that an' it'll take t'Christmas t'find Knuckles. Here, lem'me try this one."

Alice's now restrained knock brought a thin lanky teenager to the door. Of narrow pasty face and greasy hair he seemed at first glance no improvement on their first encounter.

"Hi'ya, we're lookin' fer a, er, friend, maybe you can help?"

The boy, of around fourteen, gave the women the once-over, apparently didn't think much of them, but condescended to engage in conversation all the same, being rather more polite than his neighbour.

"Oh, yeah?"

Sighing resignedly Alice launched into the usual spiel, though without much hope.

"A guy like that'd be easy t'spot." The lad, after listening to the details, nodded enthusiastically; being interested in the topic. "Bozos like him'll be gangsters, y'know—bound'a be, don't yer see? Anyway's I ain't seen no-one like him aroun' these parts, an' I get's aroun', ya know."

"Oh, well, thanks anyway."

The women looked despairingly at the last door on the ground level. It was much of a muchness with its compatriots, brown paint, not renewed since 1913, scraped and battered over every inch, and smelling indefinably of some vague rank bodily function best not gone into too deeply.

"Third time lucky?"

"You think, lady? I don't." Alice had given up all hope.

"Sounds like my cousin Luke." The middle-aged, rather corpulent, man dressed in baggy dirty pants and a thin vest which had once been white but would never achieve that pinnacle of cleanliness again, sneered dismissively from behind the three inches he had allowed his door to reveal him. "Ya meet the b-st-rd, ya tell him Frank's still lookin' fer that five hundred dollars, an' I better get it quick."

With this statement of intent the man closed the door with what could only be described as strong disfavour—that is, with a bang.

"Oh, f-ck it, let's go home." Alice had taken enough for one day.

"Hey, gal, buck up fer God's sake." Fiona wasn't standing for this defeatist attitude. "This's only the first floor, an' we've five more t'go; an' then there's the rest o'the street, both sides."

"Jeesus Christ, Fay, it'll take a month at least."

"Well, let's not waste any more time, then, OK?"

"Ker-rist."

—O—

The day had not gone well; the women having achieved the grand total of four of the brownstone residences in Verriker Street before Alice, mutinying at the whole horrendous desperate meaninglessness of the thing, called it a day.

"We're goin' home, Fay."

"But—"

"Get in the car, Fay."

"What abou—"

"Get in the bloody car, now."

"Oh, OK, if ya say so; but we could still go on—"

"Get in that bloody car, before I bloody shoot you an' go home alone."

"Oh, fine, fine, I can take a hint; let's go.

"At f-ckin' last."

"Uumph."

—O—

The day had not gone well; back at their condo the women threw off their shoes, made a cup of coffee, and sat down to consider the limitless horizons of their failure.

"G-dd-m door t'door enquiries, I'm never gon'na do that again, never." Alice having developed strong views on the matter, from bitter experience not long enough past.

"Just part of the job, ducks." Fiona was still slightly miffed, she feeling she had just been getting into her stride in the affair.

"There's got'ta be another angle."

"What?"

"Some other way of findin' out where dam' Beresford is." Alice sipped her coffee morosely. "An' I think I'm coming down with a cold."

Fiona sat back with a sigh, she having fondly imagined things couldn't get any worse.

"What about—what about—"

Alice, sniffing self-righteously, awaited her partner's pleasure then, nothing happening, snarled.

"What, fer God's sake?"

So encouraged by her gorgeous lover Fiona came clean with the only plan which had sprung to a desperate mind.

"It's just gettin' t'be evening, doll; what say we head over t'Mr Bradley an' his garage, an' see if ol' Knuckles an' Buster show up t'turn the screw on Bradley a little more?"

Nothing loth at this brainwave on the part of her paramour Alice bucked up visibly.

"Yeah, sounds reasonable. An' it'll give me a chance t'shoot the miserable rebrobates, if'n they do show their ugly mugs. Jest give me half a mo t'load my trusty .38."

"Jee-sus."

—O—

The environs of Clouston Street, near Hamilton's Garage in particular, at this time of night were as deserted as the deck of the Mary Celeste. Fiona, perhaps from a sixth sense, had parked some forty yards along the street and she and Alice were now walking to the large double-doors of the garage.

"They're still open." Alice noted this fact with a furrowed brow. "What time's it? Ten-fifteen? Fill your hands, Fay, we may have trouble brewin' here."

Suiting her words to the action Alice pulled her .38 revolver from her shoulder-bag, cocking it quietly as the women cautiously slowed their pace.

There were no street lights near, and only one weak bulb glowed from the interior of the apparently deserted garage, so dark shadow enveloped everything as the women approached the entrance. At first sight the garage was empty, no movement being visible; then a commotion could be heard from the direction of Bradley's small office. Bangings and crashes echoed in the large space of the workshop, accompanied by some grunts and the occasional cry of pain.

"Looks like Knuckles an' Beresford are havin' fun." Fiona touched her lover's shoulder lightly. "Let's go an' join the party."

Both women cautiously entered the garage; Fiona being first to give voice in the otherwise silent night.

"Hey, Buster, quit ticklin' Bradley, an' you an' Knuckles come out with yer mitts in the air."

Without a second's delay the night was rent with the cracks and flashes of firearms as the inmates of the office made their dislike of this request plain.

"That's how it's gon'na be, eh?" Alice bared white teeth in an animal snarl. "OK, boys if ya know a short prayer, now's the time."

Crouching low she ran further inside, ahead of Fiona; her gun flashing in its turn as she returned fire. Fiona, too, opened up with her .45 automatic, spraying bullets through the window and walls of the flimsy office. There were a couple more return shots, then silence.

"Easy as ya go, Al, easy."

The women padded across the concrete floor to the open door of the office; open because most of a trousered leg, ending in a scuffed dirty shoe, stuck out from within.

"Hey, anyone breathin' in there?" Fiona made this call in a low clear voice.

Nothing, but some unidentified scramblings and thumps. The weak light-bulb in the ceiling of the office still glowed gently as the women peered round the door. Inside, what remained of Buster Halligan, and that was a lot, lay sprawled on the document littered floor. A neat round red hole in his right temple telling its tale. Close to the desk was a heap of miscellaneous clothing that appeared to belong to a man with four writhing legs and three arms as well as two pair of shoulders, before it disentangled itelf into Bradley climbing to his feet with groans and curses, while the other part of the pairing remained lifeless on the floor—Knuckles, too, having handed in his lunch-pail for the last time.

"God, Al, y'peppered him like a bloody colander—he's shot t'sh-t."

"I do my best." Alice affected unconcern at her excellent aim. "Hey, Bradley, still ahead o'the game, are we? Ooh, that's a nasty-lookin' bruise; that'll hurt like hell, later."

—O—

At the 5th Precinct police office Inspector Fletcher was full of enthusiasm for once.

"Ya managed t'do fer Buster an' Knuckles? Congratulations, saves the city a long costly trial." He sat behind his desk, champing the habitual unlit cigar between his teeth. "An' this Bradley character's gon'na be alright; once the bandages come off, an' the swellin' goes down, anyways?"

"Yeah, he'll come through it OK." Fiona nodded, glancing at Alice sitting by her side. "Don't think there'll be any more Protection threats in that part of Delacote."

"Did ya find out who was behind the whole set-up?"

"Nah, Fletch." Alice sighed unhappily. "Bad enough tryin' t'locate those apes at home, never mind goin' for the Big Guy. God, what a dam' day I had."

"Hey, I was there, too, lady."

"Suppose y'were, Fay; but it was me who had all the work—"

"Oh, come on, I ain't gon'na let that go." Fiona was incensed. "Four bloody brownstones, each ten storey's high—"

"Don't believe a word of it, Fletch; she's exaggerating for effect an' sympathy." Alice could be caustic when needed. "They was only six storeys high, an' that was enough, believe me."

"Talkin' about the Big Guy," Fletcher studied his visitors calmly, a gleam showing in his grey eyes. "either o'ye heard o'Charlie Frensham?"

"The name rings a faint bell, yeah." Fiona, suspecting dubious going's-on, frowned at the Inspector.

"Well, we sent a couple of squad cars to his pad, over at Lanchester Street; on a minor matter of no moment, as we innocently thought." Fletcher paused, enjoying the suspense. "When they quietly tapped on his front door, as cops do bein' polite cusses by nature, he went mad, openin' up with a Tommy-gun."

"Ker-rist." Alice was impressed. "Sounds like the bad old days."

"Yeah, well, cops bein' cops, they fired back, in'course." Fletcher stopped again to relish the professionalism of his troops. "Not t'put too fine a point on it Frensham will not be figurin' in next year's list of Those Who Matter in Delacote City."

The two women glanced at each other, their worst suspicions beginning to bear fruit.

"And this concerns our little affray, how?" Alice, however, could see it coming with the best.

"From papers, documents, an' what-all else we found scattered around his flop-joint, it appears Frensham was branching-out—headin', so he thought, fer the big-time." Fletcher nodded to himself, well-pleased with his day. "In short he was the kingpin behind this new wave of Protection goin' on, around and about."

A pause ensued while Alice and Fiona digested this news; which, of course, put an end to their own investigations and case for Bradley.

"So, what you're sayin is the City morgue's enlargin' it's list o'customers wholesale, while you've closed the Protection racket case, enjoining slaps on the back all round at the Precinct?" Alice made a curious noise between pursed lips which could never be called polite in any genteel social assembly. "Where's that leave Fay an' I? We were hot on a nice little case, y'know."

"Should I care?" Fletcher showing all the professional's delicate understanding of such matters. "You're both jest private dicks, while I'm a real one. Aah, er, that's t'say, I'm a true professional police-officer, unlike you two, is what I mean."

"Ha-ha, Fletch, y'had it right the first time." Fiona, standing with her partner to take their leave, sniggered openly. "See ya around."

"Get the hell out'ta here."

—O—

The DeSoto sedan coughed three times, gave a heart-wrenching gurgle in the bowels of its engine, and coasted to a halt half-way along Pataloc Avenue.

"F-ck me."

"Car died on you, dear?"

"You tryin' t'be funny, young woman?"

"Only a little." Alice remained unfazed by life in general, and this present crisis in particular. "Maybe you've just run out'ta gas."

"An' maybe you've—"

"Don't say it, lady."

"Oh, b-gg-ry."

The End.

—O—

The next 'Drever and Cartwright' story will be along shortly.

—OOO—