'The Ball-Game Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. A baseball game leads to chicanery, trickery, and work for the ladies.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2018 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.
There were two places given over to public entertainment in the purlieus of Delacote City, NH; one being the combined airfield and racetrack at Meidener Field on the northern outskirts, while the other was the Ball-park at Grangemouth, west of The Heights; that salubrious middle-class conurbation where all the happy clerks, secretaries, mid-level Bank officials, and female private detectives lived.
On a Saturday afternoon it was quite common for Alice Drever and her lover Fiona Cartwright, in their condo in Casemount Street, The Heights, to be overpowered by the roars of the crowd over in Grangemouth Stadium.
"Is there a match on today, lover?"
Alice always left the gaining of knowledge in this matter to her tall dark-haired partner; Alice herself never having enough interest in the game to peer into the weekly magazines in search of the match schedules.
"Jeez." Followed by the sound of an irritated paramour scrabbling amongst the pages of the radio magazine. "Yeah, the Delacote Blockers against the Plymouth Cobras; supposed t'be a close-run match—bet there'll be thousands there. Kick-off, two-fifteen this afternoon."
"Dammit." Alice making free with her disregard for the sport of the masses. "Can we go for a run in'ta the country upstate, then, dear? I feel like a run upstate."
"Do ya indeed?" Fiona curled a pink-tinted lip derisively. "An' what if I don't?"
Alice was up for this incipient mutiny, crossing to the sofa and leaning down to give her companion a delicate kiss on the cheek.
"There, diddums, all better—when do we start? I've already got a thermos of coffee an' a bag of sandwiches ready-made."
"Kindly don't call me that ridiculous name." But Fiona folded, anyway. "Oh, alright; let's get to it, then."
Casemount Street was neither too long nor too short; but it was just long enough for a battered old Ford to sweep across from the other side to brake in front of Alice's Plymouth Roadster, bringing the ladies to a sudden stop amidst squealing brakes and ditto detectives.
"What the flyin' f-ck?"
"It's bloody Fletcher. It is." Alice regaining her perpendicular state and glaring through the windscreen. "The Phantom of the 5th Precinct, in person. What in hell does he think he's doin'? I dam' near t-boned his clapped out Ford. He better have a dam' good explanation."
As this conversation continued in the Plymouth Inspector Jacob Fletcher, the official bane of the womens' existence, climbed out his vehicle and strode across to lean a hand on the window edge of the ladies' car.
"Hi'ya, Al, Fay." Fletcher being in his usual grey wool overcoat and soft felt hat, concealing his hair of a similar shade. "Saves me the trouble of climbing those dam' stairs. Got somethin' you both might be interested in."
"Oh, yeah?" Alice was still steaming. "It better be good—ya near had my radiator an' engine through your pelvis, y'realise. What's with this crazy drivin'?"
"Sorry, gals." Fletcher displaying his famous grin, like that of a hungry hyena. "Perhaps it was a trifle over-enthusiastic, but duty calls. Dark goings-on over at the Stadium."
"Well, we were just on our way out'ta range of the very same place." Fiona as snappy as her partner, having knocked her knee on something in the drama of the moment. "So if you'd like t'clear the road we can be on our way. Have a happy afternoon—hopes yer catch him; whoever the dam' it is."
"Davis Leachey's been shot, over to the Stadium." Fletcher sharing this piece of hot news in a dry tone, he knowing full well the connection between the man and the lady detectives. "Thought you'd both like t'come along an' view the remains. Maybe help in figurin' out exactly who did it, even?"
Alice sat back, glancing helplessly at her partner. Fiona, on her part, returned the favour in silence.
"We just collared him fer that dud check scam a week ago." Fiona finally recalling the details of their last case but one. "He got out on bail quick enough, by the looks of it?"
"Good lawyer—Midas P Ankerley." Fletcher having the requisite details at his fingertips.
"Huh, he's bent as a used—er, used,—er, well, bent as all f-ckery, is all." Alice getting meaner by the minute, seeing her country jaunt disappearing like a mirage in the desert. "Who shot Leachey, then—an' have ya given the perp a medal an' a pat on the back, yet?"
"Nix t'both." Fletcher standing tall and turning back to his car. "So, if you'd like t'follow me we'll take a run t'the Stadium an' get down t'business—you two bein' so recently an' closely involved with the late bozo an' all; no sayin' what yer presence may open up an' clarify. Don't go over the speed limit; an' don't overtake me, or I'll have yer guts."
The women watched the tall man walking back to his car at a steady stroll, then Alice broke free.
"G-ddamit, look at him—strolling along at the regulation cops' pace, like he was back on his old beat. What in hell's he up to?"
"Suppose we'll find out more when we get there." Fiona looked across warily at her driver. "Y'wan'na get the ol' crate in gear an' follow the clown, then?"
"No, I don't; but havin' no other recourse, I suppose I'll have t'bow t'the inevitable."
"Was that a yes?"
The high stone-faced façade of Grangemouth Stadium sat on the left side of Lourane Street, its curved mass stretching into the distance. From the interior could be heard the always threatening susurration of the masses at play, sounding as one: a circumstance probably easily recognisable to any passing ancient Roman Emperor; bringing, no doubt, happy memories of spectacles in the arena not regarded nowadays as of a necessarily politically correct nature—or moral, for that matter.
This similarity was only increased when the women, accompanied by Fletcher and a couple of anonymous cops, passed through one of the many entrances. These numbered 18 in all, wide high and bringing the Public into equally high concrete floored and faced corridors, or more correctly electrically-lit tunnels, leading into the bowels of the vast structure. The intention was to direct various groups to particular sections of the stadiums' seating arrangements in the wide arena itself; but to reach this so-wished-for destination the gasping proletariat had to trek along numerous concrete corridors and up several iron treaded flights of steep stairs. The echoes in these passageways being loud and constant, pummeling the eardrums when tight-packed crowds pushed their way through, simultaneously.
"Jee-sus, place's a maze." Alice, who had never been inside the stadium before, astonished at the brutal utilitarianism of the interior.
"Just down t'the left, here." Fletcher, lord of his domain, leading the way confidently.
"Been here previous, eh?" Fiona raising a knowing eyebrow as they strode along shoulder to shoulder.
"Since I was seven—know every dam' corner."
"Hurph, should'a guessed." Alice, still gloomy at the loss of her country excursion. "Where's the—"
"To the left here, ladies—here we are, an' there he is, or what's left o'him."
The short corridor into which the Inspector had ushered his companions was only some twenty feet long, ending in a large closed iron door, leading no man, or woman come to that, knew where. On the concrete floor, tight up against the left-hand wall, lay a crumpled heap of clothes only recognisable as a human being by the pools of dark blood congealing all round the body.
"Jay-sus, shotgun, eh?" Fiona, impressed by the cold-blooded callousness of the hit.
"Didn't leave much t'identify." Alice, long inured to such scenes, taking the scientific outlook. "Head blown t'mush, an' no mistake, as well as most o'his chest; how'd ya tag him as Leachey?"
"His wallet." Fletcher shrugged, disinterestedly. "Seems t'have been a regular hit, not a robbery. Left all his possessions in his pockets."
"Well, seeing as you've just blasted someone t'slop with a sawn-off, I suppose the first thing on your mind would be high-tailin' it quick, fer pastures new." Fiona making a face as she stood to one side away from the pools of blood. "Nasty, very nasty. Seems t'have determined t'do a good job, whoever it was. Any ideas?"
"Was kind'a thinkin' you two'd be the one's t'ask that of; seein' you felt his collar only last week."
"Only fer passin' dud checks, Fletch." Alice shrugged her shoulders. "Nuthin' worse than that. He was only a two-bit grifter, far as Fay or I knew."
At this juncture there was movement at the corner of the side-corridor and the main thoroughfare, another cop leading a short man in a grey suit into the immediate scene of the crime.
"Ah, Mr Davidson, you're the Manager of the stadium, I believe?" Fletcher on top form.
"Yes, I—Jee-sus, Oh, God."
The rather fussily dressed man, having noticed the object of most interest in the local vicinity for the first time, turned away to lean against the concrete wall and retch noisily, adding substantially to the mess already covering the floor.
"Oh, God, take him back t'his office, Carlsonn. We'll speak t'him there." Fletcher shook his head as the man was led back the way he had come. "Civilians, I don't know."
"Not much more t'learn here, I think." Fiona attempting to take control of the situation. "How's about we go along t'that character's office, an' give him the spotlight an' rubber truncheon business; Al an' I runnin' on a schedule, an' havin' places t'be, an' all."
"Very funny." But Fletcher surrendered unwillingly, there seeming not much else to do. "Right, let's see if we can navigate this dam' maze. Often wondered what would happen if the light's went out along these enclosed corridors when they were packed with spectators. Mayhem an' tragedy, no doubt. Perhaps I ought t'get the City t'look in'ta the ground-plans, or somethin'?"
"A Police-officer's duties never end, eh, Fletch." Fiona waxing sarcastic because such was her natural nature. "One o'the joys o'your job that keeps you on your toes an' happy, I expects?"
"Quit with the beefing, or I'll scurry off an' leave you an' your paramour t'find your own way out'ta this ruin." Fletch fully up to his visitors' game. "An' that wouldn't be easy, I can tell ya both, now."
"Jeez, move it along, Fletch; there's a ham sandwich waitin' somewhere for me for a lunch that I haven't had yet." Alice looking at the purely practical ramifications of the situation.
"Har, follow me, then—an' keep stumm, fer God's sake."
The sunlight in the open-air arena, the heart of the stadium, hit both women like a solid object when Fletcher ushered them all unsuspecting through a door onto the high rear area of the seating rows. They came out from the back of the office block facing Lourane Street, looking down over the descending rows of seats to the baseball diamond stretching away across the field. On the other side rose the only roofed section, thin somewhat spindly scaffolding and girders holding a metal-sheet roof high over the heads of those seated on the rows of seats below. On the two other sides of the near square format of the stadium the seats were left to their own devices in the hot sun. Crowded, as it was now, with thousands of spectators the spectacle simply took the breath away, as it did Alice's.
"Gods, didn't realise there were so many cit's in the whole city." She whistled through rounded lips, mighty impressed. "Jeez, look-it them all."
"Yeah, yeah, come on, this way." Fletcher intent on the matter in hand, and a salty old dog as far as the present scene went. "D'ya know, a head-doctor I once heard a lecture from said in any baseball crowd it was a certainty at least fifty-four percent had committed some form of crime in their lives. Would ya credit it?"
"Nah, the only thing I wan'na credit at the moment is finding our way t'the dam' manager's office, so's we can brush the dust o'this hole off our rags an' get somewhere's else—don't much matter where." Fiona, running out of patience as was her usual habit in such circumstances.
"Along here, through this door; do keep up." Fletcher setting the pace like a three hundred yard sprinter. "Been much t'the gym lately, both o'ya? Could do with some exercises, by the sound o'your breathin'—only sayin'."
"Fletch," Alice, taking a deep and necessary breath, ready to retaliate at a moment's notice as was her wont. "can it, will ya. I could take you on a hundred yard dash, any day."
Mr George Davidson, manager of the stadium, liked to keep a tight ship; everything in its place and perfectly tickety-boo. The only problem with this admirable sentiment was its complete impossibility in a realistic setting. His office, therefore, showed all the disarray of a working establishment where actions spoke louder than words, and economic theory collapsed ignominiously before the working proletariat. In other words his office was the usual mess; files scattered everywhere, on chairs and tables; coats and hats resting untidily on a tall multi-armed rack in the corner; boxes, of both cardboard and metal, sitting on the floor in all the most inconvenient places; and a mouldy dry harsh character to the immobile air in the small room which caught the back of the throat. In other words, the ordinary disheveled topsy-turvy environment of a busy workplace—overly dusty, as well, just to complete the picture.
His desk sported two telephones, one of those multi-switched intercoms which were the latest thing, and the man in person slumped on his chair behind said desk, still trying to recover from his late fright in the bowels of the beast he called his stadium.
"Ah, Mr Davidson," Fletcher entering without knocking, keeping up his authorative dominant male attitude like a good 'un. "Feelin' better? Good, jest a few questions I'd like t'ask you. These here ladies bein', er, officially involved in the investigation, someways. Right, wha—"
At this point the cosy quartet were interupted by the appearance, at the still open door, of a tall broad-shouldered young man of imposing physique, carrying a leather briefcase.
"Mr Reynolds, come in, come in." Davidson quickly raised an arm in greeting, as to a lost soul arriving at the gates of Heaven. "My secretary, Mr Bryce Reynolds. He may be of some help in the present circumstances, I think."
Inspector Fletcher eyed the youth with no sign of the milk of human kindness being stirred in his frame.
"Secretary, eh? Wha'd'ya exactly do around these parts, laddie?"
Caught short with a question which had never crossed his horizon before, the youth paused to consider his reasons for being—clearly, in toto after much thought, finding the results less than convincing.
"I, er, secretary, I suppose." He glanced towards his boss, as if for support, and after a nod from this eminence went on. "Type letters, find files, usher visitors in and out, make the coffee an' whatnot. Everything a good secretary ought t'be on top of, I expect. Why?"
"We got us a dead 'un in the Nine-G tunnels, is what." Fletcher bringing the conversation back on topic like a professional. "Don't suppose you know anything interestin' about said corpse?"
"Good Gracious, no. First I've heard of it." Reynolds looked convicingly shocked. "News travels very slowly in this, er, environment, I'm afraid."
"Will it affect the game, this afternoon?" Davidson focusing on the important aspect. "I mean, the stadium's full, already. Some forty-thousand, if Reynolds's figures are up to date."
The secretary, having taken a sheaf of thin pages from his briefcase, now stood irresolutely looking from his boss to the Inspector and back.
"Have them here, sir; forty-two thousand, as it happens, and some few hundred over."
"People, there's been a murder here, or haven't ya both been listenin' the last coupl'a minutes." Fletcher, getting on his high horse at such disregard for the conventions. "If I say the stadium has t'be emptied—by God, emptied it dam' well will be—get me?"
There was a pause in proceedings while the two so-harangued officials made like hangdog puppies who'd been caught stealing treats; then Alice stepped into the conversation.
"Don't see any reason to go that far; at least, not yet." She pinned Fletcher with one of her famous glares, green eyes scintillating like opals under the sea. "Ain't that so, Inspector?"
Caught short, and not quite sure of his next move himself, Fletcher was saved literally by the bell—the telephone on Davidson's desk tinkling once then commencing to set up a ringing clamour as if it was itself pissed-of with the world around it.
The secretary lifted the receiver, listened for a few seconds, then became agitated as all get-out.
"Who's this? What d'ya mean? You can't do that. What? What? Hallo—Hallo. Sh-t."
"Reynolds, speak to me."
"A bomb threat, sir. Someone sayin' they've laid an explosive device somewhere in the stadium, an' if we don't give him twenty-thousand dollars by two in the afternoon, he'll set it off. And, if we try to evacuate the stadium he'll fire the bomb at the first sign of the spectators comin' out the entrances."
"Shit an' b-ggery, that's all I need."
"Probably a hoax." Fiona coming to life for the first time in the discourse. "Who'd be able t'get their hands on explosives? I ask you, must be a hoax."
"Can't put forty-thousand citizens lives on the line, just because we don't believe the perp." Fletcher recognising reality when it hit him in the face, like a wet fish. "Gim'me a few minutes while I get the boys in action."
Fletcher having left the office with a determined mien, Fiona brazenly took up the reins of the investigation as to the manor born.
"This sort'a thing happen often, Mr Davidson?"
"About once a year, on average." Davidson sighing deeply. "An', apparently, today's the day for this year."
"Hoax's all, I takes it?" Alice nodding in agreement with her own question.
"Well, as ya both can see, the stadium's still here; fer the time being, anyway."
Fiona had been roaming round the small office, getting the feel of the place; now she hove up in front of Davidson's desk and regarded him with that same interest Stout Cortez had shown, in Darien.
"Ya don't strike me as a fella who panics easy, Mr Davidson." She bringing all her character assessment skills to the forefront. "Bet ya a bent lead dime you've got a preset plan all worked out fer this sort'a thing?"
Davidson glanced at Reynolds, who had been for the past minute hovering by the red telephone like a retriever waiting to rush off for the downed pheasant.
"We do have a, er, policy in place, yeah." He gave his secretary a swift nod. "If you'll excuse us for a moment, ladies, duty calls."
With the nod from his boss Reynolds grabbed the phone as if it were a gold bar going spare and started giving orders like an army lieutenant.
"Corrigan,—plan Alpha. Yeah, this ain't no drill,—the full works. Clear all the entrances, get the marshals all round the ground clued-in then call me back. No, do nuthin' more till we tell ya."
"We have an emergency fail-safe plan all ready." Davidson addressed the women again. "Goes like clockwork. We keep all the spectators in their own sectors, open up some main walkways to the exits, closing others for safety's sake, then usher everyone out along planned organised routes no-one could have gotten to, previous. This place being, as ya may already have noticed, a regular Gorgon's labirynth."
"Minotaur's." This from Alice, who was up on her Greek mythology; a favourite subject.
"Oh, yeah? Well—"
"How long to empty the whole place?" Fiona still thinking of material things.
"From a standin' start?" Davidson contemplated the scenario, obviously going over the details in his head. "I'd say, with no hold-ups, about twenty minutes at the most. No, better make that half an hour."
"Chr-st, that ain't quick." Alice voicing her disdain openly, as she always did.
"Forty thousand people, ma'am." Davidson apparently having come up against this particular criticism before. "All of whom don't want t'do what they're bein' herded in'ta doin'. It is, in fact, very like an' old-time cattle drive; the main herd moseyin' along, but not without bein' coaxed all the way—while various strays try t'make their getaway on all sides; bein' pursued and subdued as necessary before bein' dragged back t'rejoin the main herd. It's a dam nuisance, is what it is."
"Sounds so." Fiona agreeing with the manager's assessment.
"If the perps'd just phone in an' tell us they were contemplatin' such, fer so-an'-so an amount, we'd jest give 'em the dam' money, an' save all this palaver an' problem." Davidson looked up at the two women quickly. "Don't let this idea get about though, ladies; don't want every slimebag in Delacote hoppin' on the easy band-wagon, do we?"
At this juncture Inspector Fletcher re-appeared, wiping his brow with a yellow cotton kerchief and looking mean; more so than usual, that is.
"Right, I've got the boys in action. Radioed fer back-up, an' the heavy brigade. The Bomb Squad, as well, o'course—be here in, oh, twenty minutes or so."
"Mr Davidson's already put his own plan in motion, Fletch." Alice spreading the good news, like a Girl Scout after another badge.
"Oh, yeah, an' what'd that be, then?" Fletcher showing all the scorn of a professional for the half-baked plans of the amateur.
Having been made au fait with the situation Fletcher had the grace to acknowledge the merit of Davidson's plans; but worse was still to come.—the blue telephone on Davidson's desk rang, with the brisk clarion call of an angel rehearsing for the Big Event. Reynolds was on it like an adder on its prey.
"What's that? Where? Gangway Twenty-seven? Yeah, I know it. The whole passageway? Is it showin' outside, in the arena? No? Thank God. Right, I'll tell him. Yeah, do your best. Yeah, I'll do that now."
"Give it to me, Reynolds." Davidson obviously suspecting only bad news.
"Fire alarm in Gangway Twenty-seven, that's on Level Four, Sector Eight—below ground level." Reynolds mustered his thoughts then continued. "Tompkins, the area marshal down there, says the whole passageway's full of smoke; no-one can reach the breaker-switches in the electric sub-station room there where the blaze seems to be seated. He's got the stadium fire-workers on it with their foam extinguishers—but it'll almost certainly need the Fire Brigade. No smoke leaking out into the atmosphere, at least where the crowd can see or smell it, yet."
"Place's goin' t'rack an' ruin all round us, apparently." Fiona expressing the general feeling of the company.
"If you'll excuse me for a while, Inspector, I have, er, things to do that can't wait." Davidson putting the red telephone to his ear as he spoke.
"Yeah, yeah, we'll leave ya to it." Fletcher motioned the ladies to follow him back into the corridor, shutting the office door behind him. "What a dam' mess. How my boys are gon'na be able t'search this dump fer a bomb with everyone glued t'their seats in the arena, I don't know. An' then this fire thing. If it goes off bigtime there ain't gon'na be any shilly-shallyin' about gettin' the crowd out,—it'll jest have t'be done, whatever happens."
A few minutes later they were in some unrecorded unlit-by-daylight concrete-lined corridor walking, they fervently hoped, towards the seat of the alleged fire. Fletcher, as by necessity bound, leading the way while Fiona and Alice strode purposefully along just a fraction behind. The corridor was plenty wide enough to walk three abreast, but the ladies knew if they tried to equalise the position Fletcher would just up his game and walk all the faster to retain his lead; his being that kind of a nature.
"Smell smoke yet, Fay?"
"Nah, the fire's maybe a quarter of the circumference of the stadium round-aways." Fiona having what she firmly believed was a perfect bump of Direction, as the old-time phrenologists used to say. "Take about ten minutes before we even see any sign, never mind smell it."
But Alice was already off on another tangent.
"Say, Fletch, what're ya haulin' us gals along in your wake fer? Shouldn't Fay an' I be investigatin' the bomb-threat hoax-ransom, first of all?"
"Yer both comin' with me fer the nonce, whiles' I kin keep my eye on yer." Fletcher growling menacingly, his voice echoing along the bare corridor as from far away. "No knowin' what's goin' on here. This fire thing may be jest another aspect of this madman's effort t'extort money from Davidson. Let's see how straight the fire is, afore we make any other plans, OK?"
"Oh, alright, but it's a dam' waste of our time, that's clear as day." Fiona waxing spiteful, as was her nature. "Hey, don't any o'these dam' tunnels have windows, t'let daylight in, or what?"
"Be a good trick if'n they did." Fletcher grinning sarcastically. "Seein' I reckon we're some twenty feet underground as we speak."
The fire, it rapidly turned out, was indeed a fire—at least if the smoke-filled corridor they finally approached was evidence of such.
"Tompkins, Area Manager fer this sector." The man who stood in front of the trio was middle-aged, grey haired, thin faced and sweating profusely; the temperature presently hovering somewhere around eighty Fahrenheit in the main tunnel-like corridor. "You the cops? Yeah? Great. Well, as ya can see an' feel, the fires well out'ta control—the reason bein' we can't yet get t'the seat. Need special fire-resistant jackets an' trousers fer that—we're workin' on it. Need some breathing apparatus, too; the smoke's too thick t'penetrate otherwise; choke ya t'death within twenty yards, y'know. The smoke's funnelling through these vents on either side o'this tunnel at the moment. Takes it along and through the ground t'distant vents well outside the Ground. The spectators don't know nuthin's up so far."
They were all standing at a sort of crossroads, with the smoke-filled tunnel angling away at right angles to the wider tunnel where everyone had congregated. Large long metal faced vents near the roof were sucking up the smoke vomiting from the fire tunnel like a rewind film of someone exhaling from a cigarette.
"These vents are doin' a great job." Alice giving credit where it was due. "Nice bit o'design. Say, what about the Fire Brigade? Ain't they gon'na show up ter the party?"
Tompkins, who had been consulting with the four or five other men beside him, looked round at this query.
"Well, it's a moot point." He wiped his forehead again. "We're supposed to find an' recognise the seat of any fire that breaks out in the Stadium. Sort'a beard it in it's den, so ter say. That way the Brigade know they're bein' called out to a bone-fide case. There's bin several earlier times when we've called 'em out to lots o'smoke only ter find it was a smoulderin' handkerchief, or spittin' short-circuit, or waste-paper bin in an office, or suchlike. We, the Stadium, havin' ter pay the Brigade full whack, anyway, y'see—which amounts to a tidy sum each time; so we like, now, ter make sure before we call the professionals."
"Hmmph, don't think I agrees much with that policy." Fletcher frowning darkly and looking authoritarian. "Don't seem much to take enough notice o'the thousands o'innocent spectators, y'know. Anyways—"
"Fletcher, how's about lettin' Fay an' I off the hook; we got investigations t'investigate, ya know?" Alice grabbing the Inspector's sleeve to impress her point. "I'm sure you an' Tompkins can look after this little to-do by yourselves."
Before Fletcher could reply to this act of mutiny during battle, something began ringing loudly in the confined space of the tunnel. A quick glance by all concerned identified a red wall-mounted telephone high on one concrete wall, a little light gleaming red on its rest.
"Emergency phone." Tompkins coming to the rescue. "Lem'me get it. Yeah, what? Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah, y'don't say. An' this interests me why? Why? —'cause I'm standin' thirty feet from a raging inferno at the moment, is why. Yeah. Yeah, well, if'n ya say so. Yeah, I'll pass it on."
Tompkins replaced the receiver, turning to find three pairs of gimlet eyes piercing him.
"That was Davidson, says the Security up in the stadium have located a character actin' mighty suspicious." Tompkins gazed primarily at Fletcher. "We have a whole team o'security dudes, eyein' every spare inch of the spectators seats with binoculars. Looking fer pick-pockets, fights, thieves in general. Davidson says this perp's standin' in sector C, staircase 3. Thought y'might wan'na give him the once-over, jest in case."
"Ha, a ransomer standin' right in the place he's holdin' ter ransom." Alice raised her astonished eyebrows. "That's a first. Either he's a genius, or crackers. We're on it, Fletcher; you stay here an' wait fer the Bomb Squad, an' all—Fay'n I've got it."
"Well, ain't that cozy—"
But he was speaking to empty air, the ladies having grabbed this heaven-sent opportunity and skedaddled like good 'uns, leaving no visible trace behind of their earlier presence.
The security room, more of a tight cubicle really, sat under the roof of the stadium. There were several of these set round the two sides of the stadium which were roofed, each room invisible to the spectators seated below. The high vantage-point gave the observers a clear view over the crowd through wide tinted-glass windows, allowing them to pinpoint any one individual or group acting out of order. Staircase C, cutting between two seating areas, ran down to the field only some forty feet to the left of this observation post, manned by a single security officer with a pair of Zeiss binoculars of grandoise size. On a table by his side in the tight room lay another smaller pair of glasses.
"You the gal—er, ladies come along with Inspector Fletcher?" The man, in his thirties with receding hair and a thin frame, nodded knowingly. "Davidson telephoned twenty minutes ago tellin' us t'give you free rein, an' all. Name's Frederick Coulson; so, what can I do fer ya?"
"We got the message you'd spotted a possible perp dodgin' around." Fiona took up the reins of the case with practiced ease. "Right, Fred, where is he, an' what does he look like?"
"Yeah, spotted him some while since." Fred nodded, indicating the spare glasses with his left arm. "If you take those you'll see him easy. That's Stair 3 over there; goes all the way from the top tier of seats right to the ground level. See the short guy standin' near the lowest point of the stair? Light grey suit, light brown shoes with yellow spats, and a brown trilby?"
"Jeez, no style at all." Alice, who by right had grabbed the spare glasses, now made a rude noise between her lips. "Should be picked up by the cops for that alone."
"Gim'me." Fiona talking over command of the binoculars with determined authority. "Where is he? Oh, down there. Huh, doesn't look much like anythin'. I could pick him up with one hand an' throw him halfway across the field, easy."
"Only needs a timer, or one press of a switch, t'blast a bomb, dear." Alice making the obvious even more so.
"Graa-rrh." Fiona giving her renowned impression of a tiger presented with too many choices for lunch. "What's he been up to, this last quarter of an hour then, Fred? That excited yer interest more so than anyone else down there?"
Frederick paused, to muster his thoughts, nodded to himself and gave of his best.
"He's been footlin' about that staircase for the last twenty minutes at least. Seems t'have a crush fer those stairs goin' right t'his heart." Frederick shuffled his shoulders slightly, as if embarrassed by this revelation of a poetic soul. "He ain't a grifter or a pick-pocket, neither."
"How so, Fred?" Alice always open to new information on what made the citizens of Delacote City tick.
"Pick-pockets always act in groups." Here Fred waxed emphatic, knowing the details like the back of his hand. "The pick-pocket himself; the taker who grabs the loot immediately its out'ta the victim's possession; then the runner, who's given it by the taker; and true to his nickname, sprints for the horizon like a good 'un. The victim's loss could be three hundred yards away, lost in the crowd, before twenty seconds have gone by, y'see."
Fiona, handing the glasses back to Alice, nodded knowingly.
"So if the pickpocket himself is apprehended, either by the victim or by-standers, there ain't no evidence of the loot bein' on him?"
"That's it in a nutshell, ma'am." Frederick nodded his assent. "Same sort'a thing goes fer bein' a grifter. Grifters always have a mark they're followin'; this guy hasn't glanced at anyone around him for the whole time I've been watchin'. Nah, he's workin' on his own; some private grift goin', like."
"Well, thanks, Fred." Fiona making for the door to the tiny room. "Been nice knowin' ya; thanks fer the info. Me an' Al, here, will jest go an' take a closer look at the guy, I fancy. Cheerio. Come on, Al, times' a'wastin'."
"Mrrph, 'come on, Al', is all I ever hear." Alice grumbling because she couldn't pass up such a wonderful opportunity. "Never let yourself be involved with a lady detective, Fred, it's a lost cause."
"Come on, you, what'd I jest say?"
"Coming, dearest, right behind you."
For those unused to such a position the most obvious sensation of being in a large crowd enjoying themselves is the huge noise, like a massive steam freight train running out of control. As Fiona and Alice made their way down from the giddy heights of the roof-line to the flat lane running behind the top tier of seating, from where Staircase 3 was still invisible, they were nearly knocked down by the cacophony reverberating everywhere.
"God, what a noise." Alice actually put her hands over her ears. "Fay, can you hear me?"
"Yeah, I hear ya." Fiona nodded, stepping closer to her partner as they walked along, "Lets keep t'gether; don't want us gettin' separated in the crowd. Hey, mister, mind where yer plantin' those dustbin lids yer calls yer feet. Yeah, you, ya palooka."
Staircase 3 providentially hoving into view on their right hand further confrontation was avoided as the women stopped to gaze down the remarkably steep flight of wooden steps.
"Have you noticed everything seems t'be made of wood, roundabout?" Alice making known something that had just occurred to her. "If that fire in Gangway Twenty-seven really gets out'ta control this whole stadium's gon'na go up like a bonfire."
"Well, that routine of Davidson's fer gettin' everyone out in a hurry just better work, is all." Fiona looking at the reality of life. "Nuthin' much we can do, except see if this character, down there, has anythin' t'do with the bloody bomb-hoax. Shall we?"
"Yeah, after you, lover. Got your forty-five?"
"Jeez, if you have your thirty-eight, keep it in your handbag." Fiona being perfectly aware of possible tragedies in the offing. "There's tens of thousands of people all round us; any one ricochet, or miss, could be catastrophic."
"God, something else t'worry about." Alice giving her best impression of the Ancient Mariner. "If it ain't one bloody thing, dam' me, it's another bloody thing. Where is he? Can't see him now. Has he scarpered while you were lecturing me?"
"Oh, it's all my fault, suddenly?" Fiona taking umbrage, as was her privilege. "Come on, lets get down there an' recce the joint. Move it, babe."
On reaching the foot of the staircase the women paused to glance out over the wide grass field where the baseball game would shortly be taking place. The teams had just emerged from their tunnel to spread out over the field, intent on warming-up exercises before the game began. Reverting to the crowd around them Fiona and Alice glanced along the lowest tier of seating in both directions, searching for their prey—it being Alice who came up trumps.
"There, over there." She pointed to her right, across the front rank of spectators. "I saw a yellow-spatted leg disappearing into a tunnel entrance. Twenty yards off. Come on, gal."
The tunnel turned out to run at ground level deep under the tiers of seats, and in a straight line; seeming to disappear into infinity in the far dim distance—the whole length being lit by widely spaced electric bulbs. Some forty yards down the tunnel, and moving at a brisk but not fast pace was the silhouette of a small man.
"Yep, that's him." Fiona making the necessary recognition, on pretty meagre evidence. "Right, let's get the guy—an' remember, if he is our man he may have some sort'a trigger device in a pocket or his hand. Put him down, sit on him, an' if he shows any resistance at all clonk him over the head with the butt o'your pistol. Got that?"
"Clear as day, gal."
An unexpected aspect of the women racing down the concrete-floored tunnel at full speed—or at least, as fast as their ankle-length skirts would allow—was the harsh loud echo set up by their shoes. In an instant the man in the distance heard this, turned to look back over his shoulder, then faced front again and began making like a 100 yard sprinter. Fiona and Alice, grinding their teeth, set off in pursuit.
But their race was not to last—a dark form materialised from nowhere beside the running man, there was a collision, arms and legs thrashing the air, then the feeble cries of a small wiry man held in durance vile by a much larger, and angrier, bear-like individual—one, certainly, with a grudge to settle.
"Hey, youse. What's the dam' game?" Bear Man hoisting his prize by the shoulder-pads till the scrawny man's feet nearly left the floor. "Youse want yer head beaten ter a f-ckin' pulp, or what? Mind where yer goin', an' yer manners as well, come ter that. Oh, hallo ladies, forgive the language, this creep tried to roller-coast me as I came out the side tunnel here. Well, laddie, what yer got ter say?"
The man in question, now set free to totter on his own feet, simply stood gasping for air, all opposition squeezed out of his meagre frame. Taking their opportunity Fiona moved in to corral his arms while Alice swiftly patted him down with expert ease.
"Nuthin' on him, Fay."
"Right, ya clown, what's the hurry, an' who the hell are ya?" Fiona immediately coming the bad cop routine, while he was still off-balance. "We got ya for all sorts'a misdemeanours—enough t'keep ya in clink fer ten at least, if not fifteen. Wan'na come clean while yer can, or what?"
"Oh, a wrong 'un, eh?" Bear Man nodded, smiling broadly as he reached into an interior pocket to come out with a small wallet he opened to show a badge and photo-card. "James O'Reilly, stadium security. What is it? A pick-pocket?"
"Nah, Davidson believes he may be a bomb-hoaxer." Alice putting the man in the picture with relish. "Davidson received a phone-call nearly an hour ago now. The usual, bomb hidden in the stadium, wanted money in large quantities, or he'd blow the whole stadium, and its inmates, t'Kingdom Come."
"Ah, the standard rip-off." O'Reilly nodded again. "Doesn't show much imagination, or initiative. Anyone with any sense'd never have tried it. That grift's old-hat these days. I mean, here we are, no explosion, him caught with his pants down in the dark, here; and lookin' at twenty straight, as a result. Bloody idiot."
"I didn't do nuthin'. I only—"
"Har, that's what they all say." O'Reilly grinned ferociously. "Say, ladies, want me t'take this heap o'crap off yer hands. We got us a fine cell block some ways back in the stadium's under-pinnings. He'll do handsomely there, till we decide t'hand him over t'the cops."
"That'd be nice, O'Reilly; you're a pal, he's all yours." Fiona relinquishing her prey with the slow easy grin of a hyena slavering over its still live dinner. "Pity t'lose him so quickly, mind—I had things lined up fer him I'd kind'a have liked t'put into operation. Oh, well, hi-ho."
"O'Reilly?" This from Alice, dusting her skirt down after her exhausting run.
"Y'heard from Davidson about the fire, yet?" Alice always one to pass on information in the right quarter when needed. "There's a fire, you know—underground in Gangway Twenty-seven. Just, if you put this dead-beat in a cell, ya might need to grab him later an' run fer the open air sometime soon, if the fire gets out'ta control."
"No worries there, ma'am." O'Reilly took control of their squirming prey by closing a wide hand round the small man's throat and dragging him sideways in the corridor. "I been sort'a taken up, meanwhiles, with a dead 'un in the Nine-G tunnels. But I got a call from Davidson not ten minutes since. The fire's out. They managed t'reach the sub-station, and put out the seat of the fire. Everything's tickety-boo now, so Davidson says. Can I be on my way, ladies? I got me a nice cell, an' some juicy questioning, I wan'na roll this guy with."
"Yeah, happy times, O'Reilly." Fiona nodding her assent as she turned to retrace her steps to the open air with her paramour by her side. "Have t'get my partner, here, in'ta the air anyway; she's covered in dirt an' dust, as it is. Come on, Al,—God, what a mess, how'd ya get that dirty?"
"Will you for God's sake, stop tellin' me t'come on?" Alice having reached the point of no return. "If I hear you say that one more time I'll,—I'll,—well, just watch out, lady, is all."
Alice's Plymouth two-seater roadster, sitting in the stadium car-park, seemed like a palace after the run-down dusty interior of the stadium proper; at least Alice felt so.
"God, glad t'wipe the dust of ages off me." She finished patting down her skirt and short jacket for remnants of the stadium's presence as she sat in the driver's seat. "Right, where to, now?"
"Well, Fletcher don't want us anymore." Fiona harping on the last conversation they had endured with the grumpy Inspector not quarter of an hour ago. "Seems to have gotten himself a likely perp fer Leachey's murder, all by himself."
"Lets us off the hook, darlin'." Alice focussing on the bright side.
"Yeah, there's that." Fiona acknowledging the reality of the situation, there being no other course open. "So, what now? Still wan'na go fer a run in the country?"
"Too true, lady. Why not?" Alice turned the key in the ignition with unbridled bravado. "Davidson's told us the stadium's gon'na shell out the spondooliks for us because we captured the bomb-man, after all. That being what I call a result. A result that badly needs celebrating. And it's still only early afternoon. Fancy heading for Lake Winnipesaukee? We could even stay overnight in a motel, if'n you wanted. You want, dearest?"
"I want, dearie; oh, yeah, I want."
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.