'The Five Motels Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives, and lovers, in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. The ladies find themselves involved in a complex crime wave.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Note:— The Savage single-action revolver mentioned in the text is a real weapon.

Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.

—O—

"Which was first?"

"Carson's Motel, out on Delagarde." Alice referring to the notes on her lap as they sat in their office on the 5th floor of the Packer Building, it standing four-square on the corner of 12th & Rosemartin, Delacote City, NH. "September the twentieth, of this year, '34—a Thursday, that was; nobody injured."

"OK, an' the next?"

"The Thrift Motel, on Harris Road in the Northern suburbs. Wednesday the twenty-sixth o' September; night-clerk shot an' killed." Alice keeping score like a ball-game official.

"Mmmph, —third?"

"MacCallister's Motel, Ocean Drive, five miles north along the coast." She flicked through the pages of her notes, wildly hunting for her prey. "Ah, got it, Thursday, October the fourth; nobody hit."

"Hmm, next?"

"The Alabaster Motel, San Giordino Drive, southern suburbs." Alice again shuffled her not very well sorted notes. "Urr, here it is, October the tenth, a Wednesday, again; a guest shot in the arm."

"An' the final joint?"

"Yolanda's Motel, Brannigan Way, out by The Heights. Thursday, October the eighteenth; night-clerk an' a guest both shot, not seriously. " Alice looked up. "That's the nearest t'our condo, baby."

"Yeah, mmm."

"Thinkin', lover?"

"Tryin' to, anyway's, if given half a dam' chance."

"Har!"

"It's Wednesday, the twenty-fourth, t'day, lady."

"I do know what dam' day it is, sweetie." Fiona getting catty at such a pointed note in her lover's voice.

"Just that I've noticed all these previous hits took place on either a Wednesday or a Thursday, is all." Alice retaliating with hard facts, and a gentle smile of accomplishment. "Just something I thought ought'a be thought about, some."

For a moment Fiona gazed at her paramour silently, then rose from her chair to circle the long table in their office; having completed which she leaned down to plant a long soft kiss on her lover's cheek.

"Sorry, babe, am I bein' mean, again."

"Oh, nuthin' that last kiss there didn't heal, baby. So, back t'business."

"Yeah, right."

—O—

An hour and a half had passed in the office; lunch was fast approaching and the ladies had been busy. Laura, their brilliant secretary, had been on the phone to various motels, seeking all kinds of information; Alice had been engaged in a ditto exercise, though focused on a particular type of motel; while Fiona had annoyed several receptionists at motels all round the suburbs, and even further out from the city's boundaries: all three womens' goal—to find a motive.

"At least none of 'em reported a new hold-up." Alice taking the jug half full road.

"They all happened in the late evening." Laura pouring some of the contents out Alice's metaphorical jug.

"Yeah, too early for 'em, yet'a'ways." Fiona emptying the receptacle with cold finality.

"Oh." Alice, defeated.

"Anybody got a clue?" Fiona setting the conversation back on track.

"The McKay Group report no hold-ups since '31, and that was just a drunk thug—still doing five in the Big House as we speak; he being armed at the time, an' all." Laura summarising some of her hard-earned knowledge.

"Hmmph, what about the Simpkins Motels?"

"They're cold, too." Alice unloading what she had discovered over the phone. "No hold-ups in the last six years."

"That's a dead-end, then." Fiona pursed her lips in silent thought, running over what she had learned. "The Callaghan Motels, anyone?"

"Three hold-ups in the last three years, but they were all single-action scenarios." Laura nodding sagely at her input.

"How so?" Alice, always open for the gossip of the day.

"One husband finding his other half in a motel bed with someone who wasn't him—he, the outraged husband, bein' tooled up with a Smith and Wesson snub-nose 'twenty-two."

"Ah, blood everywhere, I expect?" Alice nodding in her turn, an aficionado of such social events.

"Nah, he missed with every shot, but gave everyone within fifty yards a dam' good shock." Laura relaying these juicy details with delight. "Last the lover boy was seen, apparently, was him running down Ocean Boulevard in the nude, like a pro athlete. The husband and wife had reconciled, can ya believe it, when the cops showed up ten minutes later."

"Ha-ha." Fiona seeing the funny side of the affair.

"So they, the cops, made do with feeling the husband's collar for firing a firearm in public for no good reason." Laura broke into giggles here herself. "Sorry; just, the Judge threw the case out when it came up a week later; said he had better things to occupy his court than this sort'a comedy of errors. The other two crimes were pretty much cut from the same thread."

Alice laid her hard-used pencil down on her equally battered notebook.

"Well, as nothing much else seems t'have turned up I vote we stop for lunch—any takers?"

"Yep."

"Yip."

"Duly agreed; put it down in the minutes, Laura." Alice's eye firmly on those things which really mattered at twelve noon of a working day. "Where're you going fer lunch, Laura?"

"Think I'll hit Bartleby's Diner, good hamburger there."

"You an' I're headin' fer Veronica's restaurant." Fiona smiling widely in the direction of her lover. "Shrimp linguine an' half a bottle o'wine—how's it sound, lover?"

"Do for me, babe—see you later, Laura."

"Enjoy yourselves."

"Oh, we will, don't worry." Fiona rising and holding a hand out to help Alice. "All I need worry about is this gal here's table manners, an' her inevitable need t'swallow every particle o'available food within a ten yard radius of our table."

"Hey, give over. Say that sort'a thing often enough, people'll bloody start t'believe you."

"Sorry, Al." Fiona smiling, wholly unrepentant. "Bye, Laura. Come on, babe, it'll all be gone by the time we get there if'n ya don't shift yerself."

"God, dominant women—I don't know."

"Wha'sat, babe, didn't catch it?"

"Nuthin', lover; come on, got your purse? You're paying for this binge, y'know."

"Aaargh."

—O—

"Suppose we'll need t'be tooled up when we go investigating?"

"With, what is it, four victims? I should say so, babe."

"Yeah, four; one dead as mutton, remember." Alice consulting her notes as they sat at their large desk back in the office later that afternoon. "These jokers mean business, seemingly."

"How many of them are there, in numbers?"

"Well, that's a matter of opinion."

"Whose?"

"What?"

"Whose opinion is it a matter of, and why?" Fiona lifting an encouraging eyebrow towards her partner.

Alice paused in her ruminations, glanced to her left, where the source of her trouble sat, and sighed wearily.

"The witnesses, o'course; an' the survivors, too." She flicked through a couple of pages from a file lying in front of her. "One clerk says there were definitely three men, all wearing hoods; and, he thinks, someone else out in the parking lot in charge of the getaway vehicle."

"Anything on it's make?"

"Nah, the clerk didn't go outside; kept his head down, an' called the cops later from a dime store some half a block away."

"Why so?"

"The perps cut his phone line before leaving."

"Oh, professionals, eh?"

"Apparently."

The long office basked in a comfortable silence for around thirty seconds, before Fiona found her second wind.

"Don't stop there, what about the other witnesses?"

"Iirph, lem'me see—OK, it's like this, taking each raid in order," Alice always liking such in the more usual dis-array of her daily existence. "First, Carson's Motel—that's where the clerk did, an' saw, what I've just told you, gal."

"OK."

"—next, the Thrift Motel, clerk shot dead." Alice frowned over her hastily typed notes. "Must slow down some when I'm typing—what? Oh, yeah—right, clerk dead, so what he saw went with him into the Great Unknown—"

"Al, baby?"

"Yeah? You're interrupting the flow, y'know, darling."

"Just, a little less poetic philosophizing, an' a little more accurate logical fact would be good—only sayin'."

Alice pursed her pretty lips in disgust, thought of a truly spiffing reply that'd knock her dearest lover for six and no mistake; then thought better of it.

"Urr, clerk dead, but two witnesses saw two men galloping away in'ta the night—just shapes, before you ask, lover."

"Hiiph, no help there. Continue, please."

"MacCallister's Motel, shots fired, but no-one hit." Alice rifled through several pages. "Ah, here it is, shot fired at the clerk, but he'd long since ducked under his desk. Another shot aimed at a customer, but missed; and a third at a passing pedestrian, just from spite, apparently—missed again."

"Like t'shoot at people, these dudes, don't they?"

"Yeah, itchy trigger-fingers, certainly."

"How many o'them were at this gunfight, then?"

"Take your choice, lover." Alice making a rude noise under her breath. "The clerk says four men; the customer nearest t'the fray says two men; the pedestrian, out on the sidewalk, says three men an' someone driving the getaway vehicle."

"Which was—what?"

"Who can say? Certainly not any o'the dam' witnesses." Alice making unnatural noises once more. "They all professing they had other, more important matters, to hand than identifying passing cars makes' an' numbers."

"Witnesses, ain't they all jest all the dam' same?"

"Dam' straight there, ducks."

"So, the fourth hit?"

Alice made more of a mess with her loose sheaves of notes, then found what she wanted.

"The Alabaster Motel, not so very far from where we are now, y'know—"

"—I know—"

"—the usual thing, perps storm in like an army, shout for the till contents, get angry when the clerk turns in'ta a jelly, then commence firin' at will—"

"—poor Will, al'lus in the wrong, no matter what;—"

"—what?"

"Never mind, don't let me block your flow, darlin'."

Alice gave her better half a long slow considering look, before giving up and doing what had been asked of her.

"So, where—ah, yes; right, perps try t'give the clerk a long unpaid holiday, but thankfully miss—"

"—like t'shoot at people a lot; but dam' awful aims, these guys?"

"—Fay, quit it, will you, I'm gettin' one o'my migraines." Alice, having had more than enough. "However, one at least of the perps seems t'have known how t'use his firearm—shot a guest comin' into the hall in the arm. Then they made their usual getaway."

"How many?"

"Clerk opines three; shot guest, from his hospital bed, says one; a passing stranger on the sidewalk, says two, one runnin' an' shootin', one in the car."

"Chr-st."

"My thoughts, too."

"Any more?"

"Yip, the last; Yolanda's Motel, another bloodbath.—"

"—oh, great,—"

Alice, giving up on making her partner stop interrupting, carried on stoically.

"The night clerk shot in the chest, not too seriously—he'll recover." Alice frowned as she twiddled with the sheet of paper in her hand. "Another guest shot, too. This one, it seems, really riled one of the perps. He, the perp, said something t'the guest, who'd just moseyed into the hall all unsuspecting; then, before the guest could react, the perp upped an' shot him, right in the chest, with malice aforethought, an' deliberate aim."

"Who says?"

"Three witnesses." Alice grinned, triumphant; all her notes surrounding and piling up round her like sand dunes on a beach. "Another guest, a maid, an' a young woman in the hall, apparently waiting for one of the guests. The perp picked the victim out, set him up, an' shot him vindictively, an' with meaning."

"Hmm, wonder if they knew each other?" Fiona bringing her expertise and experience to bear. "Maybe, just from bad luck, this guest knew the perp? That'd be more'n enough fer him t'be shot. How is he, by the way?"

"Still in hospital under doctors' orders, but denying any knowledge of who shot him, he says."

"Huh, could'a guessed." Fiona, as cold and hard as a long life in her chosen career had made her. "Did any o'these witnesses give numbers, or details?"

Another rampage through scores of sheets of notes finally gave Alice the needed facts.

"One guest said three men; another guest said two men; the lady waiting in the hall says one man only; and someone out on the sidewalk says four men on foot and someone driving the getaway vehicle—details of which are as unknown as the fate of the crew and passengers on the Mary Celeste."

"Graagh."

After which a much longer silence filtered down, from where silences await their call to arms; this one settling in with all the determination to stay as if it were a Russian winter. Then Fiona dragged herself to her feet, glancing down at her partner, and offering a helping hand.

"Come on, lady o'my life; let's go an' beard Inspector Fletcher in his den."

"Hah, that'll be fun; right with you, babe."

—O—

The 5th Police Precinct of Delacote City, NH, was located in a four storey brownstone built in the last years of the 19th century; its main claim to fame being its eaves; which overhung the building, and sidewalk below, by a good five feet. On the third floor of this now antique building sat Inspector Jacob Fletcher's office; itself nothing to write home about.

"God, gets pokier every time I visit." Fiona giving of her best. "Why don't you put in a chit for a better office?"

"Because the Department doesn't work that way." Fletcher, as usual, exhibiting symptoms of overwork and under-rest. "So, wha'd'ya want, I'm busy y'know."

"The Motels business." Alice supplying the necessary.

"Ah, an' who put you both up to that, may I enquire?"

"The Aloysius Business Company; the Corrigan Buildings Association; and Henry C. Morgan Affiliates, Limited; to name the three most important." Fiona armed for the fray at all points.

"Oh, big business, eh?"

"Jest that, an' no more." Fiona in her element. "So spit it out; what're the details o'the whole concern? We y'know, Al an' I here, wantin' t'know, y'see."

Fletcher, well used to the untoward antics of these two friends of his, took time to consider the matter from all angles.

"Why should I tell ya anything? What's in it for me, then?"

"What's in it for you?" Alice taking up this concern with youthful verve. "Well, the suits round the tables in the board-rooms think the police are behaving rather, er, tardily—"

"Dam' 'em all."

"—er, yeah, quite." Alice in no way put out. "So, what they feel is we, Fay an' I, can do better; or, at least, quicker, than the police, is all. So, you give us some of the details you've been keeping under your hats, an' we see if we can't do anything to help. What d'you say to that, Fletcher? A straight-forward business association, eh?"

Fletcher didn't like it one little bit; but faced with a brick wall in the investigation, he decided to try this curve ball, for what it was worth.

"OK, as it happens, I got the files right here—some of us working on the case t'all hours o'the night, no matter what everyone thinks."

"We believe ya, Jacob." Fiona grinning widely as she sat opposite the harassed officer. "So, split with the gen, laddie."

"Gawd."

But, in his eyes faced with no other course, Fletcher buckled and started to explain the facts to the two women—facts they had not been cognisant of previously; and which, to them, set the investigation on a whole new path.

—O—

"We think, my compadres an' I, the whole set-up's a classic concealment lay."

"In what way?" Alice always first to question, where others wouldn't.

"Gim'me a chance, an' I'll dam' tell ya, won't I?"

"Sorry, please continue."

"Hummph; so, most of these hold-ups are meant t'confuse, is what we here at the Precinct think.—"

"—I—"

"Can it, lady."

". . . . "

"As I was sayin'," Fletcher paused for a fraction, looking grumpy, then went on. "it's all an extended con-trick. By which I mean these hold-ups are meant to muddy the waters. Something is going on they, the perps, don't want us, the authorities, to discover—or, at least, not too soon."

"Iirph."

"What was that, Miss Drever? Didn't quite catch it?"

"Just, I don't see the connection." Alice stared down her nose at the Inspector; quite difficult from her sitting position, but she managed it. "Who'd want t'go out'ta their way, robbing motels, just to conceal another hold-up somewhere else? Has somewhere else, of import, that'd fit your theory been knocked over recently—?"

Fletcher, during this harangue, had been tapping his desk-top with the end of one of his famous cigars; famous because he had never been known, in the whole history of the Precinct, to actually light one; his favourite policy being to either chew them to paste, or tear them apart with his fingers in moments of high tension. Now was one of those times.

"What our pal's trying t'tell us is one of these previous motel heists ain't kosher." Fiona filling in herself for the lack of logical thinking coming from her partner.

"Exactly."

"Wha'd'ya mean?" Alice, bless her, still all at sea.

"One of these motel heists, or perhaps one still to come, who knows, is the real deal." Fiona nodding to herself as the scenario came into focus in her mind. "They mean t'hit some motel or hotel, or maybe hit some individual; and they're using these preliminary heists to put the authorities off the track."

"Ah," Light dawning for Alice. "hoping they, the cops, will just put the real hit down as part of the other heists, an' take no real note of it?"

"Precisely, another twenty years of experience and you may well still make a police officer, Al." Fletcher coming it the old dog with great relish.

"Very funny." Alice screwing her mouth up as if biting a lemon.

"Are there gon'na be any more hits, d'ya think, Fletch?" Fiona expertly bringing the conversation back on track.

Fletcher perked up at this question, reaching over his desk to open a file of documents and photographs.

"There's several ways to look at what's already occurred." He settled back in his chair, a sheet of typed paper in hand. "These last five motel heists could be the whole thing; nothing else, just a series of heists by a more or less amateur gang.—"

"I like that theory; covers all the known facts, don't it?" Alice adding this proviso on regarding the looks her lover as well as Fletcher were aiming her way.

"Or," The Inspector gamely carrying on against all odds. "they're mainly meant t'hoodwink us, an' whatever the perps are concealing's in amongst them, somewhere."

"Don't see it, myself." Alice still playing Devil's Advocate, because she felt so inclined.

"Don't ya, how sad." Fletcher turning sarcastic as a last resort. "Or, thirdly, the heists may well not be over yet; some more t'come, amongst which might well be the one they are actually concentrating on, and wish us to miss among the dust an' debris o'their earlier efforts."

"The problem with that—" Fiona began.

"Seems awfully complicated, as well as dangerous for the crooks." Alice sailing innocently in regardless of her audience. "I mean, all those hits, an' gunfire—an' the victims who've been shot already. Just making things all the worse for themselves when you eventually catch 'em. Eh, Fletch?"

Giving an excellent impression of King Louis XIII just noticing a bad smell in his vicinity Fletcher ignored this interruption; instead focusing on Alice's neighbour.

"You were about to say, Miss Cartwright?"

"Only that it's gon'na be a bitch t'clear up; I mean, sorting out which motel, or person shot, is the stand-out victim." Fiona pursed her lips dismissively. "Unless one or other does stands out sharply from the others. Any thoughts, thataway, Fletch?"

"Nah, nobody of interest to the authorities has been attacked so far."

"What about that guy still in hospital?" Alice never giving up, no matter the odds. "You know, singled out by one of the perps, an' shot in cold blood, with deliberation an' the intention of doing a good job on him. Surely he counts for something?"

The Inspector wasn't to be side-tracked by this unimportant side-issue.

"He would, if'n he was anybody; but he ain't—jest some Joe Doe, is all; nuthin' on him worth cryin' over."

Both women, knowing the Inspector's thought processes probably better than he did, saw the hidden sleight of hand in this statement, and reacted accordingly.

"But you do have something on him?—" Fiona hitting the important mark.

"So cough up, Fletch." Alice showing her teeth, like a snarling Skye terrier. "What's his record, then? Something juicy?"

Having failed to skate over the issue, and knowing the women would give him no peace till he spilt the beans, Fletcher sighed and gave in. He reached for another file; this one he passed over the desk to the eager detectives; Alice grabbing it first, of course.

"Hmm, Greg Allardyce, forty-two, mm, naaah, iirh, Hah!, spent three in the Tombs fer assault an' battery, then became a driver for Capone. Apparently gone straight in the last two year. Well, well."

Fiona tore the file from the talons of her dearly loved partner, casting her own eyes over the contents.

"Dear me, just some Joe Doe, y'say, Fletch. Losing your touch in your old age, are ya, then?"

The incensed Inspector wasn't standing for this contemptuous attitude.

"So he drove a bootleg wagon fer Capone—does that make him the man most needful o'bein' given the shove t'day, come what may? I don't see it, gals."

But Alice did.

"It's something t'start with, anyway." She showing her famous Ice Maiden attitude towards those on the wrong side of the Law. "What say Fay an' I pay the loafer a visit by his hospital bed an', y'know, make him tell us the real gen?"

The Inspector showed little reaction to this outrageous suggestion, probably from long experience of the ladies' and the way their minds worked.

"Ya want ter spend the next three month in Portsmouth Correctional Institute, d'ya?" Fletcher grinning coldly. "I'd jest love that; gim'me some well earned peace, fer a change, at least."

"Har."

—O—

"The great thing about thieves, Fay, is the beautiful moral outlook they always show, to stick by each other in times of dire need."

Flummoxed for any meaning in this statement Fiona gazed at her companion as they drove, in Alice's Plymouth sports coupe, along Celander Drive on the outskirts of northern Delacote City.

"Explain, dearest, but keep yer eye on the road, too."

"Ha." Alice grinned, not put out in the least, relishing the moment. "So Fletcher puts the pitch on all his local grasses and informers, and what does he come up with, just two hours ago? The goods, baby, the goods."

"You wish." Fiona still no-way convinced of the veracity of the information so gained.

Alice twisted her steering-wheel to avoid a dark shape lying in the centre of the road, then steered back into her lane.

"Someone's lost their jacket, probably a drunk."

"Police informers, lassie?"

"Oh, yeah; well, Fletcher's pet grass, don't know who he is, came in three hours ago an' had a long chat with Fletcher, just as we were about t'leave." Alice nodded to herself as the facts clarified themselves in her memory. "Fletch tells us t'wait, then comes up with, like I just said, the goods."

"So his informer told him he knew where the motel gang were gon'na strike next, tonight." Fiona hummed and hawwed to herself in the dark passenger compartment. "Never thought much of grasses, myself; always out fer themselves; taking advantage of any old happening to line their pockets in the short term. Who's t'say he gave Fletcher the real gen?"

"Fletcher himself, of course." Alice coming up with the easy answer to this infantile question. "This nearside headlight needs fixing, it's flickering; probably go for good in the next day or two—oh yes, the informer. He's Fletcher's grass; an' you know fine well, lady, what our friendly Inspector'd do to a grass who welched on him?"

"Send him t'Sing Sing fer a decade, probably."

"At least, baby." Alice peering ahead, over her headlights, searching for a turn-off. "Where's the dam' corner? You see it, lover; we must be there by now? Surely the Carnigan Motel's good for a neon sign?"

And, indeed, it was; showing up on the nearside of the road by a turn-off just half a minute later. Alice, always easy-going as a driver, brought her Plymouth two-seater to a shoulder numbing halt in the parking area as if she had hit a brick wall instead—her usual routine. Fiona was miffed beyond endurance.

"Before I get in any vehicle with you again, lady, I wan'na see an up-to-date driving licence, without any red stamps on it." She shook her head sorrowfully as they both climbed out and headed for the single-storey motel building. "In fact, I'll do the driving when we leave, later—OK?"

Forbearing to give any answer to this belittling critique Alice led the way into the poky office where behind a low desk a youth, so young his pimples had not as yet grown up and left home, oversaw the official facade of the business. It was, going by the fly-stained clock on the wall behind him, 8.35pm.

"OK, buster, who're you?" Alice taking the official tack.

"What my friend means t'intimate is—can ya help us in a little difficulty we have at present?" Fiona overlaying a sheet of flattery on her lover's utilitarian approach.

"What?" The desk night man wholly at sea.

"Anybody here, representing the joint officially, other than you?"

"Nah—ma'am." The youth hedging his bets, on studying the natures of the women before him. "Can I help? I mean, yeah, I can help—er, what's the problem?"

Now the formal preliminaries had been more or less successfully overcome Alice sniffed regally and got down to the real business.

"If you're here by yourself you might wan'na think about vacating the premises for a while—what's your name, by the by?"

"Dan'l, Dan'l Barton."

"Right, Dan'l, this's how the next few hours're gon'na play," Alice now in her element. "We, my friend here an' I, are private detectives—here's my badge. Show the lad your badge, dear. Don't gim'me that look, baby, he's got'ta know we're on the level, ain't he? OK, son, what's about to come down on this decrepit joint is wholesale war—like as if we was all back on the Western Front in the Great War."

There was a pause, while the youngster, who didn't look more than seventeen, digested this information.

"How so, ma'am?"

Fiona stepped in, fed up with indecision and the waste of valuable time.

"We're detectives; we're armed, t'the teeth t'be accurate; in the brush an' undergrowth an' side lanes all around this layout some fifty police officers—all themselves armed with more fire-power than the Army had in said previous conflict—are at present hiding themselves in various nooks an' crannies of the local terrain. Why, I hear ya think ter yerself?"

"—er,—"

"Because, sonny," Alice butting in again, still full of vim and ready for the forthcoming fray. "we have it on good authority that, at around ten pee mm tonight, you're gon'na get knocked over by the worst gang of crooks this side of Chicago."

"How's that grab ya, kid?" Fiona raising an eyebrow, curious to see how the youth would take this dramatic news.

Dan'l looked from one woman to the other for a few moments; pursing his lips and frowning darkly—obviously under considerable mental strain as he thought about the situation—then took action. Stepping two paces to his right he leaned low down, disappearing below the level of the counter for several seconds. When he raised his head, and the rest of himself, again he placed something long and clearly heavy on the counter for the detectives to examine.

"What the flyin' f-ck's that, laddie?" Fiona caught completely off-guard.

"Yeah, jeez." Alice actually lost for words, herself.

Brightening up considerably at the impact his action had obtained on his spectators Dan'l smiled, though through tight lips.

"Thet there's my gran-pa's Savage point thirty-six, single-action six-shooter." Dan'l was obviously proud of the weapon and its historical antecedents. "Pa once shot a full-grown grizzly with it—only took the one shot, too."

"I bet." Fiona impressed, against her better nature. "You ever fire the thing?"

"From when I was seven." Dan'l even more proud than before. "I kin hit anything, at any range ye cares ter mention. An' when anythin' gets hit by this here cannon, it dam' well knows it's bin hit, an' no mistake, ladies."

Impressed by the lad's determination, and capacity to do what he had said he could, Alice and Fiona exchanged looks, then Fiona turned to the youth again.

"Well, bearing all this in mind, an' takin' one thing with another, we wonder, my friend an' I, whether you might not want ter stay the course, an' take down the enemy along'a us, this evenin'?"

The bright, white-toothed, grin they received in exchange for this question was answer enough for the ladies; even without his next comment.

"I'm only good fer the six, mind leddies." He raising the formidable weapon and showing them the cylinder, each of its cartridge chambers sealed with thick grey grease. "I fires singly, an' when I'm through, that's it—reloading under duress bein' a complete bitch, beggin' yer pardon; powder an' ball bein' separate, y'see.

The ladies glanced at each other again.

"Oh, we're easy with that, Dan'l." Alice speaking for both. "What with our own weapons, an' the cops outside, we'll do well enough, I'm thinking. Eh, lover?"

"Dam straight, gal. Don't worry, Dan'l; everything's gon'na come off jest perfect, take my word fer it."

—O—

What later became known, in the local and nationwide newspapers, as the Battle of Celander started off peacefully enough. By now it was 9.45pm, and the brigade of police officers backing Alice and Fiona's play were safely hidden in several parts of the nearby local scenery, awaiting the arrival of the purported Motel Gang. Inside the low building, presently thankfully bereft of guests, Fiona had set out the battle-plan for herself, Alice and Dan'l.

"Y'sure the sign out by the road says 'No Vacancies'?"

"Yip, nobody comin' in tonight." Dan'l nodded confidently. "Not that many ever do, y'know. Only had five guests in the last week, an' none stayed more'n one night. We never tendin' t'make a big profit here, ladies."

"Anyway's," Fiona not to be side-tracked. "You've got your weapon t'hand—"

"Surely does, ma'am."

"Sure you'll be able to actually shoot someone, Dan'l—if it comes down to it?" Alice giving the young lad some leeway to back out if he so desired. "It's a big thing, mind."

"Shot one man, already, ma'am." Dan'l affecting not to make much of this surprising fact. "Just over a year since; he was a downbeat thug—came in an' tried t'roust me fer the till's takings, so I up's an' shoots the bas—er, gentleman. Not with this here Savage, but my pap's snub-nose Bulldog."

"Ah." Fiona, not quite sure how to react.

"Umm." Alice rather shocked, if the truth be told.

"Took him right in the centre o'the chest—went down like a bowling-alley pin." Dan'l grinned cheerfully at the memory, not in the least put out. "He spent three months in hospital, a'fore the cops took him t'jail. He's in the course of doin' three t'five as we speaks, ladies."

"Well, that answers that question." Alice wholly defeated.

"How many o'these here thugs is there gon'na be, invadin' the place, ma'am?"

Alice looked across at Fiona before answering this important question.

"Well, that's up in the air, Dan'l; we don't quite know."

"Might be anywhere from one t'four or more." Fiona shaking her head as she faced this unknown quantity. "There's two ways they'll probably work—one, they comes in already blastin'—in which case we're free t'return fire promiscuous. Or they tries t'soft soap you, throw you off-guard t'start with; in which case y'jest keep yer eyes wide open till the fun actually begins—"

"Whereafter, it's the plan as before—shootin' high, wide, an' handsome, all bets off." Alice really getting into the swing of things. "These bums've been havin' the town t'themselves for far too long—time they tasted some of their own medicine, in my opinion."

"Al, you're like a wildcat when you're riled, —loves ya."

"Ha!"

—O—

10.27pm, and the inmates of the small motel office were beginning to feel their nerves stretching to breaking point.

"If'n they're gon'na hit the joint, it'll be somewhere in the next half hour." Fiona setting the parameters of the coming confrontation. "Don't see 'em arrivin' much after eleven; they never has before, 'ccordin' t'what we've been told."

"Yeah, you gon'na stay here with me, on this sofa?" Alice raising an eyebrow in enquiry.

"Nah, I' take point over here, by the door t'the back-office—gives us all a three hundred an' sixty degree sweep of the office." Fiona glanced round the small room towards the front entrance door. "Once they're in, they're in our line o'fire, whichever way they tries t'dodge."

Just as Alice was about to deliver a snappy answer they all sat up and turned to the door leading to the parking area outside—the sound of a large car driving in and coming to a screeching halt overpowering any wish to carry on talking between them.

"Sounds like whoever they are, they're in one mighty hurry." Alice coming to attention, putting one hand in her large leather reticule lying on her lap.

"Get ready, people." Fiona giving the last warning.

Then it all happened in a flash of mixed action, and smoke clouds.

The outer door smashed open, crashing against the wall, revealing three men in short jerkins and jeans or twill trousers. They stormed in like a platoon of soldiers on a mission, took note of the three people awaiting them, immediately realised they'd walked into a trap, and began a defensive retreat.

The leading thug, a tall well-set individual, threw his right arm forward pointing a long-nosed revolver in Fiona's direction. Before he could fire she had already returned fire herself. A cloud of dust bounced off the chest of his jacket and he swerved round for the door in a matter of a second, dashing through like an athlete out to beat the standing record.

Meanwhile the second thug, a tow-haired scruffy man, taking the office clerk for his target managed to get off two shots, all high, before Dan'l brought his antique piece to the ready and fired—the resulting noise deafening everyone in the room for the next hour. The scruffy man, now even scruffier than before, shook in his boots, quivered like a jelly, dropped his jaw in astonishment, then collapsed like a redwood in the forest; ending as a neutral pile of clothing on the floor. The third man, swifter on the uptake than his erstwhile companions, bent double, curved round and exited the door to freedom like a hundred yard sprinter.

The room now being filled with noxious throat-catching gunsmoke everyone stood with hands to their mouths, trying to gasp in some remnants of fresh air. From outside came what can only be described as a military earthquake; every officer in range, and many who certainly weren't but didn't want to miss out on the fun, letting fly at the remaining thugs, one certainly already mortally wounded, and apparently two others still in the getaway car.

No fools, Alice and Fiona made no effort to head for the office door till the firing outside had died down and stopped; neither wishing to become the victims of friendly fire, as it were. Several bullets, indeed, could be heard ricocheting off the exterior walls of the building as they listened to the ongoing battle. Finally, when they did make the short journey and gazed out on the wide parking-lot a scene of utter devastation met their eyes.

The last of the thugs who had attacked the office lay on the dusty earth; no longer a person, but simply an object. The car they had all arrived in now looked more like Bonnie and Clyde's last ride than anything resembling a modern vehicle. The driver's door lay almost off its hinges, it had taken so many hits—from shotguns as well as revolvers, automatics, and semi-automatics. There were jagged holes in the roof, the rear doors, all the windows including the shattered windscreen, and the wheel-covers, three tyres of which were now flat remnants of their former selves. Smoke trails rose airily from the broken bonnet, as if the engine beneath was quietly considering whether to burst into flame or not. Inside, two bodies, both immobile, could be seen hunched in odd positions in the front seat; in the rear compartment another shape, again showing no sign of further movement, made a dark outline in the interior. From various places all round, from bushes, thorn trees, high grass, and low lying hollows, a regiment of uniformed figures were beginning to emerge, to examine the results of their combined efforts to restart the Great War in New Hampshire. The Battle of Celander was over.

—O—

"What I don't understand is, did they ever succeed in doing what they originally intended, or not?" Alice sitting comfortably, or as much as was possible on the hard chairs, in Inspector Fletcher's Precinct office early the next morning, Fiona by her side. "I mean, what were they up to?"

Fletcher, surveying a pile of files and loose typewritten sheets on his desk, sighed mournfully.

"We'll probably never know fer sure." He shook his head angrily. "That guy, the hospital case—"

"Allardyce?" Alice being helpful, where such wasn't wanted.

"—I know, God." Fletcher happy to have some constant point on which to vent his displeasure. "Ain't I just got the facts here in front o'me, or what?"

"Sorry."

"Immph, anyway, Allardyce is keepin stum; not a word out'ta him, nor likely ter be."

"So we'll never find out what their primary purpose was?" Fiona pin-pointing the salient feature of the case.

"You said it, Fay." Fletcher shaking his head once more. "Whether it was one of the joints they knocked over; though I don't see it, if so. Or one of the victims, up to an' includin' this pest Allardyce, whom they plugged fer no obvious good reason. Who's ter say?"

A gentle silence permeated the small dusty airless office; settling like Time itself on the Pyramids.

"At least we managed t'rid Delacote of a whole passel o'thugs." Alice looking on the bright side. "How many were there, again?"

Fletcher shuffled through his voluminous notes.

"At the last count, seven."

"Seven?" Fiona was impressed. "How so, didn't think I saw so many there; or was it just the gunsmoke, an' bein' deafened—I still can't hear straight—by that boy Dan'l's bloody antique hand-cannon?"

"There was a further body, lyin' prone on the floor of the rear passenger compartment." The Inspector nodding as he read the appropriate file. "Nobody noticed him, at first, in the hoo-hah goin' on all round. Shot t'shi—er, pieces, all the same, anyway. Still tryin' ter identify him. As things stand we have monikers for four o'them, so far."

"Do we care?" Alice showing away with all her cold nature towards members of the underworld. "They're all dead an' gone, as it is—an' good riddance to 'em, I say."

Another silence found time to make a short appearance, while Fiona and Fletcher tried to think of some rejoinder to this callous remark, but failed. Then Fiona, anxious for the well-being of her partner and lover, took action.

"Well, Fletch, thanks fer the ride—it was a real fun time while it lasted." She rose, offering her better half a hand to do the same. "But Al here, an' I, have places ter be, I'm afraid. Say goodbye t'the nice police-man, dear."

"Idiot. G'bye, Fletch; mind y'don't choke on that ceegar."

"Har, close the dam' door on yer way out."

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—