'The Ovington Bank Robbery Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever, lovers, are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. The detectives are requested to investigate a rural bank robbery.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2020 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.
"The Henty gang."
"You sure?" Alice making her uncertainty plain to all.
"All the witnesses said so." Fiona,—as the two women sat at their shared desk in the offices of Drever and Cartwright, Private Detectives, 5th floor, Packer Building, Delacote City, NH, on this sunny morning in June 1934,—reveled in her own certainty on the matter. "Hell, the perps've had their faces in the news rags more often than not these last six months."
"How many's in this gang?"
"Let's see, there's John Henty himself; then Karl Geissmann, from down Pennsylvania way." Fiona mused on the rest of the gang members, tracking her memory through a maze of deadbeats, gangsters, hoods, and general no-hopers. "Will Mackleston—"
"Ha," Fiona had stumbled on someone Alice knew. "Tommy Mackleston? 'cause he uses a tommy gun, every time?"
"The very same, ducks." Fiona nodding agreement. "Then there's Harriet Jollitoe, John's gal; an', t'finish off, George Crawford—"
"—the wickedest man on the East Coast? God!"
"So the Delacote City Record would have us all believe." Fiona never being one to take news reporting at face value.
"Oh?" Alice cocking an ear, smelling the sweet exotic scent of gossip nearby. "There's someone even wickeder? If so, I wan'na know."
"Nah, I jest mean they're cookin' the goose at too high a temperature, is all." Fiona shrugging disinterestedly. "He's mean, certainly; but no meaner than, hell, a bevy of other vagrants an' drop-outs we've met ourselves."
Time stood still; at least, to Fiona that seemed to best express her feeling of the interminable silence that suddenly descended on the long office; only the street sounds, coming through an open window, helping to disperse the impression. Finally, she could take it no longer.
"What does Hmmm, mean; if I may ask?"
"Oh, nuthin'; I was only digesting the import, was all."
Alice sighed, well-used to having to explain her more internal modes of thought to her sweetheart and lover.
"I understood deep-dyed lovers, who thought the world of each other, were meant to communicate almost telepathically?" She gave her paramour a sad-eyed look. "Doesn't seem to be working today."
Fiona well knew the most effective rebuttal of this heresy and, office or no, she took the appropriate steps.
"An' let that be a lesson, dearie."
"Haar, ya got any more of that there commodity, sis; 'cause if so, I'm in the buyin' line, is all."
"Dear God; come on, you!"
The Head Office of the Farmers' Mutual Union Bank lay in the Lanningham Building on Pelling Street, in Delacote's city centre. A tall almost-skyscraper, only gracing the skyline to the extent of 14 floors, it held various other business concerns other than the bank itself; to reach this particular destination the hardy traveler in unknown lands needing to make their way to the twelfth floor: or, to be precise, floor 12B, there having been some almost violent discussion amongst the architects involved about the supernatural aspects of having a 13th floor in a largely business concern. Of course, the lifts helped no end; no-one in living memory ever espousing the wish to climb the stairs; even if the stairwell could be found. Fiona and Alice, not being stupid, took the lift.
One of the fine old customs of all well-off business enterprises was to have, as guard on the Public desk to ward off strangers, sight-seers, and persons of low social standing, a person, or harridan, or Cyclops, or, indeed, relative of Cerberus himself; someone who knew how to deal with unwanted boarders under all conditions. Such a lady now faced the till now intrepid detectives as they washed up in front of aforesaid Public desk.
Fiona glanced at the name-plate gracing the front of the desk, not knowing yet that Miss Laura Milligan was a red-backed sidewinder with venom in her fangs—but she was just about to discover this unedifying fact.
"Hi, we're the Drever an' Cartwright detectives, come t'see Mister Venables."
"Invitation?" Miss Milligan's ordinary speaking tone impressively echoing that of a broadside of Nelson's thirty-two pounders at Trafalgar.
"—er, no; telephone invite."
The Guardian of, well, everything pertaining to the Farmer's' Union did what she did best—placing the telephone to her ear and contacting those in authority, whilst simultaneously fixing the customer with a gimlet eye only imperceptibly less menacing than the Medusa's.
"Joan, two—persons—here, wishing to see Mr Venables." Her tone, on the telephone, reduced to that of light eighteen pounders on the Victory's main deck. "Yes, yes; oh, well. You may pass through; go to your right, along the corridor, Mr Venables' office is on the left halfway along."
Having given her instructions Miss Milligan returned to her paperwork; possibly a list of those currently seeking entry to Valhalla, or something just as serious. Fiona and Alice, knowing full well when they had only barely escaped a dicy situation with their lives, hit the corridor indicated at a rate of knots Nelson would have been proud of.
"Phew, she ain't following us, is she?"
"Nah," Fiona having taken a quick glance to her rear. "Head down over her desk; probably working on the obituaries of her latest victims. God, that was close."
"What?" Fiona still suffering from shell-shock.
"Mr Venables' office—here."
"Oh-ah; right, well, knock an' let's get inside, quick."
Inside turned out to be a small room much like their own outer office, with their secretary Helen in residence behind her desk there. Here, the lady manning the typewriter was young blonde sharp-eyed and apparently on top of her game.
"Miss Cartwright, Miss Drever?"
"Yup." Fiona having now regained most of her sang-froid.
"Mr Venables is waiting for you; just go right on through." The secretary indicating the only other door in the room. "Don't bother knocking."
Having finally gained entry to the inner sanctum the women found themselves in the presence of a middle-aged man with grey hair, round face, some slight over abundance of avoirdupois, and a ready smile.
"Hallo, ladies, kind of you to drop in, I'm sure. Nasty business."
For a moment Fiona and Alice thought he was referring to their scarcely past confrontation with Miss Milligan, before sanity intervened.
"Ah, the Ovington robbery; yeah, ain't it?" Alice almost back on the main track, too.
"We lost seventy thousand dollars in that fiasco." Mr Venables sounding as if each individual dollar came from his own personal pocket—which, in a sense, it did.
"Could'a been worse, I imagine." Alice, unsuspectingly putting her foot right in it.
"No, it couldn't." Mr Venables sure of his ground on this topic at least. "Every time a bank's robbed it reflects disparagingly against its reputation. People think banks should have enough security to discourage robbers from the get-go. In reality, a wholly untenable position, when one thinks about it."
By this time the ladies were settled in straight-backed chairs while Mr Venables took that benefit of the job, a deep-cushioned leather armchair behind a wide teak desk oozing power and influence.
"What exactly happened, over there in Ovington?" Fiona itching to clarify the juicy details. "Every little fact'll help our investigation, y'see."
"Ovington, as you probably know, is only a small town, based on farming; which is why even today Ovington's Bank is singularly represented by our own institution—The Farmers' Mutual Union Bank, that is."
"What do you mean—singularly?" Alice always willing and ready to pierce the fog of the unknown.
"We, Farmers' Mutual, have the only bank in the town, is all." Venables allowing himself to smirk with pride at this delightful prospect.
"Ain't that illegal?" Fiona stepping in where angels, having had the experience, would have known dam' better.
"Of course not." Mr Venables, in his distaste if not outright anger at this implied aspersion, seeming to blow sparks from his ears. "Simply a small town, with no other necessity for banks in toto than the one. Nothing improper at all. Anyway, aren't we moving some way from the topic under discussion?"
Brought back to the reason for their presence Fiona took up the cudgels of investigation, like a trooper.
"Right, Mr Venables; first, what was the security like on the day?"
"—of the robbery, you mean?"
"Well, um, I have the report here somewhere." Venables dithered around amongst the pile of loose folders, files, and sheets of accounts littering his desk. "Ah, here. So, there were two guards, both in the main hall at the time the robbery went down. Let's see, ah, yes, Mr Gailles the senior guard—"
"How senior?" Fiona stepping in with the question of most import at the moment.
"What? What?" Venables caught off-guard and somewhat at sea by the unexpected query.
"How old were the guards, in terms of years." Alice providing clarity in an uncertain world.
"Why, does it matter?" Venables still floundering in a sea of unknowing.
"To more of an extent than you might imagine." Alice sticking the unfortunate manager with her No. 1 stony glare, never brought out unless needed. "Insurance companies like certainty in their daily undertakings with their customers—safe an' sure certainty. Something hardly represented by dithering old age pensioners rather than young men on top of their game, you'll readily agree?"
"What my partner's gettin' at is, the insurance company—whoever it is you employ—will, as we speak, be doing their own investigation into the robbery; with the wholly acceptable idea of making sure they don't have to pay out on a bum deal, is all."
Mr Venables, taken aback by this possibility, sat silent for some time before struggling back to the case in point.
"We haven't, er, heard um, anything critically nuanced from our insurance company; at least, not yet."
"You will." Alice nodding as if assured of the fact.
"If the guards were both, let's say, rather more over than under a likely working age, then that affects the outcome of the robbery, you see." Fiona striving to provide lucidity for the struggling manager. "Slower reactions, less likelihood of their being capable in a sudden dramatic scenario as described, far easier chances for the robbers to pull off a successful robbery."
"In short, your dam' bank was sitting there, just asking to be robbed, is the short an' tall of the whole thing." Alice being mean because she felt justified in doing so. "At least, that's the line the Insurance'll take. You'll be lucky if they pay out more'n forty percent, tops."
This particular ending to his working day, vis-a-vis the Ovington robbery, never having crossed Mr Venables' mind, he took some time to adjust to the possibility put forward.
"According to our records both guards were shot, weren't they?" Fiona airing these nasty details as by duty bound.
"Ah, yes." Venables gasping somewhat, trying to keep up with such disagreeable events. "Mr Gailles was hit in the chest; still in hospital, I don't think he'll be coming back to work. Mr Stevens was hit in the arm; he will be back, eventually."
"And they got away with, how much did you say?" Alice tightening the tourniquet a little more than strictly necessary.
"Seventy thousand." Venables, faced with this unhappy topic, being as sternly reticent with his words as a Spartan.
"What in?" Alice addressing the important points.
"What in? What do you mean?" Venables, yet again, lost in a dark fog.
"What notes were taken?" Fiona coming to his rescue. "Twenties, tens, singles, paper money, or coins. What?"
The manager once more shifted the mass of loose paper documents covering his desk till he found the one salient piece of paper.
"Mostly in twenties, the rest in tens." Seeing the enquiring looks on the detectives' faces Venables came clean. "A delivery had just occurred; a security van had just stopped outside to deliver a large consignment of paper money. The guards accompanying it were still standing in the main hall, along with our own two guards, when the criminals ran in and, er, robbed us."
Fiona and Alice exchanged glances, they both having been previously unaware of this fact.
"Which company?" Alice, as ever, searching for unalloyed particulars.
"Barnard Security Corp." Venables shaking his head over the tragedy. "One of the best in the state; all a terrible business."
"Well, well, we'll see what we can do." Fiona rising, preparatory to leaving. "Coming, Al; we'll get back t'you when anything positive comes around, OK?"
"—er, yes, by all means; so nice to see you both." Venables sounding a little dazed as he stood to say goodbye. "Hope you find some conclusion to this affair as soon as possible."
Out on the street Alice was in two minds.
"Should we take a quick jaunt to Ovington?" She glanced at her partner with raised eyebrows. "Only fifteen mile or so, nor-west. Shouldn't' take more'n an hour or so?"
"Nah, no point." Fiona having her mind set on other matters. "Nothing of importance for us there. What we want is to check-out Barnard Security. You gettin' the same vibe about that firm as I'm havin'?"
"Inside job, y'mean?" Alice sharp as a tack. "Yeah, the thought crossed my mind."
"Well, catch it, an' keep a tight hold on it." Fiona leading the way to her red DeSoto sedan. "Figure the heart o' the matter lays close t'that firm. Come on, I'll drive."
Barnard Security, it turned out, had its HQ on Belverson Street on the outskirts of the main city centre; not quite in the heart of the business community,—but then, not quite not in it either. The building was an 8-storey brownstone from the last century, looking solid and dependable if a little dusty with advancing age. The deep-set portico entrance held a large board notifying the public that Barnard Security resided on the fourth floor; Alice was first in line for the antique elevator.
"Look at all this fancy ironwork? Art Nouveau, for certain."
"Hah!" All the architectural 'Arts' falling from Fiona's shoulders like snow from cedars. "Who cares, does the dam' thing work without rocking like a ship in a storm?"
On reaching their desired floor the intrepid detectives found that the security firm, obviously swinging it with the modern era, had no-one manning the public desk; there being just a long waist-high counter with, behind, an open floor catering to a mass of lined-up desks with a horde of personnel busy at, apparently, being busy—or, at least, being seen to be so.
"Busy place." Alice making the obvious assumption. "So, what do we do?"
"There's a bell."
The extended tinkling of the instrument, under Alice's expert hand, soon brought one of the mass of people over to see what the commotion was all about.
"Barnard Security, what's your problem?" The questioner being a young man, almost still a boy, with tousled red hair and a free and easy manner of carefree enthusiasm. "If it's home insurance, you've come t'the wrong firm; if it's matrimonial, y'can take your custom elsewhere, Barnard don't do matrimonial; if it's anything t'do with the IRS, get lost; if you think we can assist with finding the right commodity shares for you, think again. So, what can we do for you ladies?"
This sort of repartee being Alice's bread and butter she came out fighting right from the gate.
"Please, sir, please—my cat got run over by a milk truck in the street; the kind policeman who came to help tripped over a fire hydrant an' broke his leg; the nice passer-by who stopped to render assistance had a heart attack, and the pedestrian who fell over the body and broke his toe turned out to be a top litigation lawyer who promptly filed suit against the City, the Fire Department, an' me. So, help."
This series of tragedies, obviously till now well beyond the office-boy's ken, paralysed him for several seconds, before the penny dropped.
"Ah—ha-ha, very funny, ma'am." He grinned from ear to ear. "Ya got me there, fer sure. OK, I'll back up—can we help, at all?"
"We're detectives, on the Ovington Bank case." Fiona supplying the relevant details like a professional. "Here's our accreditation, OK? What we want is to talk to the person in charge of the concern."
"Ah, that'd be Miss Klaverson. I think she's free; lem'me get the counter-flap for you. This way, please."
Miss Klaverson's domain, a desk sitting against the wall of windows looking down on Belverson Street four floors below, was to some extent out of the main flow of constant activity going forward all round. At the moment she appeared to be intently concerned with a cup of coffee, a fountain pen without a nib, and a rubber band; which probably accounted for her wide smile at the prospect of customers in the flesh.
"Hi-ya, take a chair; they ain't comfortable, but, hell." She was in her early thirties, blonde with short tight shingled hair, rather old-fashioned; and sparkling brown eyes full of mirth and confidence. "What can ol' Barnard do for you two, then?"
On being made acquainted with the facts by Alice, notebook to hand, Miss Klaverson sprang into action.
"Lem'me see, where the dam' is it? Ah, got it." She produced a thick file from a drawer and commenced to study its contents. "Ovington, Gamage Street, six days ago; ten forty-five in the a.m; money delivery, two house guards, two security guards, ours; five robbers, one shotgun, two revolvers, one tommy-gun; result, robbery of seventy thou', plus two wounded guards. Pretty nifty; so, where're you both at, then?"
"What we thought we'd do is interview your guards." Fiona sounding rather less confident of her purpose than previously. "That is, see if they could add, er, anything relevant to the situation."
Miss Klaverson was on top of this query.
"Thought it was an inside job, the guards in on it?" She nodded knowingly. "First thing we thought of ourselves. Nah, they're both innocent; we checked 'em both down t'their cotton socks an' underwear—no go. They're innocent."
Stumped at the first tee, Alice and Fiona sat pondering the position awhile. So long, in fact, Miss Klaverson took pity on them.
"Can I get Barry t'get you both coffee; nuthin' like a shot o'coffee t'perk one up, y'know?" She regarded her disappointed customers with an expert eye. "If I can throw my ten cent's worth on the table, I'd suggest you go out to Ovington, an' stake-out the bank. Not that the guards there had anythin' t'do with the robbery—they both bein' shot in the course of it, an' all."
"Might've been the robbers, clearin' up loose ends?" Alice grasping at straws.
"Hardly." Fiona having nothing to do with this idiotic suggestion. "Now, the manager; that may be another story; what about him?"
"Jack Sangster, been there for the past four years." Miss Klaverson examining her records again. "Forty-three, in good health, if somewhat overweight, rather cold personality, nothing against him—but!"
"But, what?" Alice keen to clutch at any passing victim.
"Oh, only, in the course of our investigation some rumours surfaced, from various sources, that Sangster had a bad reputation, in several areas, is all."
"Which areas?" Fiona all ears.
"Ah, well; don't take this as triple-refined certainty, 'cause it ain't; but it's been spread around that Sangster's hands, if not muddy as all get-out, certainly aren't clean as a whistle. Only rumours, mind, no evidence; but we have our corporate eye on Sangster."
"Jack Sangster?" Fiona rolling the thought round in her mind.
"The very same." Miss Klaverson confident she had made a home run.
"Ah-ha." Alice bringing up the rear with aplomb.
The small country town of Ovington was based on farming; it being the fact it sat in the middle of prime farming territory some fifteen miles north-west of Delacote City. One church, one Fire-station, one main street with shops, one still functioning blacksmith's; and, primarily, one bank—now a little the worse for wear, a tommy-gun doing that to places. In the main hall the paintwork was still chipped around and about, ditto the woodwork of the counter and grill. There were loose and cracked floor tiles where stray bullets had made their impact; and the ceiling had large areas of shattered plaster where loose shots had landed. Present in the hall, apart from a scattering of customers, were no less than four guards, all young, strong, mean-looking, and clearly determined to get the job done, if pushed. On entering and observing all this Alice and Fiona sighed in tandem.
"Ah-ha." From Alice, old hand as she was.
"Hu-um." Fiona no less not impressed.
To one side of the main hall were a couple of desks, overseen by bank personnel; one, a young lady in a dark-brown blouse and skirt, rising to make eye contact as the detectives paused beside her.
"Can I be of any help?"
"Ah, we were lookin' to see the manager, Mr Sangster." Fiona eyeing the woman with professional attention.
"Oh, that won't be possibe, I'm afraid." The young lady shaking her head, though with a tight gentle smile. "He's taking a couple of weeks off, to recuperate from a recent, er, set-back."
"Yeah, losin' seventy thousand dollars will do that to a person." Alice showing her cold side.
"Uum, you've heard?" The lady looking less welcoming as a result. "Ah, do you wish to see, er, Mr Daniels, his temporary replacement?"
Fiona glanced at her partner, who returned the gesture in kind.
"Won't do any harm, I suppose."
In the manager's private office, surrounded by walls half-hidden by long ranges of head high wooden and metal filing cabinets, the far side of the room dominated by a desk that looked as if it had originated in some 17th century Inquisitorial Don's domain, they found Mr Donald Daniels, clearly a man harassed and over-burdened by his nominal though temporary duties.
"What can I do for you both?" He casting a weary eye at the women as they sat on the high-backed hard-seated wooden chairs opposite his deep-lined green leather armchair. "Detectives, by the look of you—can always tell; a lifetime's experience never being wrong about such."
"Oh, you come across many detectives in your career?" Alice firing off the first broadside of her defensive attack. "Had a lot of necessity to call in the cops in your time, eh?"
"What? What? No, no; nothing of the sort; just being, er, speaking, that is, metaphorically, is what I meant to say." His well-rehearsed attitude of trying hard to look like the present President in place behind his dramatic desk beginning to lose its authority by the second. "What is it you want? What, that is, can the Farmer's Mutual do for you? I can hardly believe, or hope, you wish to make a deposit."
"Har-har." Alice tickled by this witticism. "Too true there, buster. If I wanted to make a bank deposit in this here town, it wouldn't be in this bank."
"We are the only bank in the town, ma'am."
"Exactly." Alice piercing, with her metaphorical rapier, right through the bank manager's heart.
After letting the defeated man gobble like a turkey for a few seconds Fiona came to his rescue.
"We're investigating the late contretemps here, just over a week ago." She giving the uncomfortable manager her best No.3 glare. "Our sources telling us Jack Sangster basks in the shade; deeply enough to merit questions bein' asked. What ya got?"
It took the discomfited man some more fractions of his lifetime to understand the direction of this new questioning; but finally he came back with a nervously high-pitched retort.
"I have nothing. That is, I'm only here in a temporary position; before I came here I'd never heard of Ovington, never mind visited the place." He scrambled for a handkerchief which he used to mop his perspiring brow. "There is nothing I can tell you personally about Mr Sangster; neither can I open the bank's private files on him to you; that being the height of illegality. What more can I do for you?"
"Nothing, apparently." Fiona saying it as it offered, holding out her hand to assist Alice as they both rose to leave. "Nice talkin' to you; hopes, in future, we can talk about something you can actually use words to define; you know, hold a conversation over. A concept you'll be amazed how easy an' comfortin' it can be. Bye."
The main street in Ovington lay under the midday sun, quietly basking in its long-term anonymity and silence. The buildings lining both sides were no more than two-storey shacks, some done up with brick façades attempting some sort of style, though mainly failing dismally in this effort. The street looked as it had only recently, within the last six months, converted from bare earth to tarmac and the curbs showed blatantly bare, lacking the usual lining of parked vehicles; Fiona, as she glanced both ways, finding only her own nearby DeSoto sedan, a small open-backed Ford truck far distant, and another two-seater parked fifty yards along on their side of the street.
"Wild town." Alice giving her own ten cents worth of observation. "Looks as if Crazy Tom Muldoon and his rustlers only just left the premises some half hour ago."
"Don't forget, his cousin-in-crime John Henty only just paid a visit last week."
"Yeah, there's that." Alice acquiescing in this definite fact of life. "So, what do we do about Sangster? I've consulted my notebook, and we don't have his address."
"Didn't Inspector Fletcher come clean with that, way back at the start?"
"Nah, seems t'have slipped both our minds." Alice shrugging nonchalantly, nonetheless. "So, what's t'do?"
Fiona slowed her easy stroll along the street long enough to give her partner a considering look.
"Why're you looking at me like that?"
" 'cause I thought I was partnered by a detective, not a wet blanket, is all."
"Hey, hold off with the insults, won't ya." Alice peeved as anything. "So, what're you sayin', sis?"
"For a start, stop openin' with so all the time; makes ya sound like a ten year old—ya ain't ten, are ya, Al?"
Alice was up for this high class level of carping criticism, though.
"I'll have you know I'm old enough to use this here leather handbag as an offensive weapon, darlin'." She scowling awfully as she answered. "And, if pushed, opening the dam' thing, hauling out my point thirty-eight, an' dam' well blowin' your left big toe off, see if I don't."
Reassured by this salty repartee that her companion was still in the land of the living, and thinking rationally, Fiona grinned and passed to the item of most present interest.
"What I think is, we hit the local Library." She nodded off-handedly at her perspicacity. "They'll have a telephone-book for sure. It'll give us Sangster's address."
Alice stopped in her tracks, common-sense supplying a very obvious caveat to this standpoint.
"Love of my life," Alice being gentle with the lady of her bedchamber. "Look around; this one-horse town don't have a Library, and you know it."
Fiona stopped too, absorbing this setback.
"We could go back t'the Bank?"
"No, we couldn't."
"Nah, y're right, we couldn't."
Stumped for an answer both women stood on the hot sidewalk considering the matter. Then Alice had a brainwave.
"Hotel, or motel, whichever."
"Didn't we pass a motel on the way into this ghost town; back aways?"
"We did, lover, we surely did." Fiona perking up no end. "Come on, race ya back t'my DeSoto, I know the way."
"Har, know the way—you take this one single street an' follow it till you hit the motel on the outskirts, is all." Alice returning to her mean mood, as necessity required.
"Told ya I knew the way."
The motel sat, off-road, some three or four hundred yards beyond the town limits; consisting of a long single-storey office building in front of another long building, the same height, divided into around 15 cabins. As they drew up on the wide forecourt Alice, at least, was not impressed.
"The Gallows Hill Motel." She stood in awe, after climbing out of Fiona's DeSoto, eyeing the sign above the office door with a mixture of surprise, shock and distaste. "They'll have to change that, for a start, if they want to still be solvent, this time next year."
"Hu-um, come on."
Inside they found the office smaller than the outside suggested. A room, barely twelve feet square, divided in half by a waist-high counter with another closed door in the far wall leading to precincts unknown. On the counter sat that instrument so widely found in such circumstances; so benign in appearance, but strident and ear-splitting in its cry. Fiona banged her hand down on the hand-bell with determination and no pity for the innocent.
The far door swung open and a young woman joined them. She was in her twenties, blonde hair, pretty face, lithe figure in a waist-hugging green cotton tight skirt to the ankles, and a bright smile enhanced by peach coloured lipstick.
"Hi-ya, want a room?"
"Nah," Alice cutting to the quick straight-off. "just a quick gander at your telephone book; we need to find an address sharpish."
"Oh well, here, knock yourself out."
"Many customers?" Fiona struggling to make small-talk at short notice.
"Yeah, pretty fair; three-quarters of the rooms let for the coming week, at least." The blonde eyed Fiona, flickered her glance to Alice, head down over the opened book, then back to Fiona; this time with a certain gleam in her greyish eyes that showed she, for one, knew exactly what was what in the female partner stakes. "If two share a cabin it's a third off the price, y'know."
"No thanks." Fiona, caught short, even more at sea than previously. "We're fine t'go."
"Got it." From Alice, on top of her game, at least.
"Than—er, I mean, fine; well, thanks for the help, be seein' ya."
"Anytime, ladies; have a good day." The motel receptionist almost cracking a faint smirk, but dutifully restraining herself in front of possible future customers. "Come back, y'all, y'hear."
Grabbing Alice's arm, Fiona steered them both outside in record time; not stopping till they were by the DeSoto once more.
"What's with the iron gauntlet grip, lover; I bet my arm's bruising."
"Ah, nothing, nothing at all." Fiona trying to heave a deep sigh of relief without her companion noticing. "Come on, climb in; Time waits for no woman. Sure y'got the right address?"
"Yep." Alice speaking as the sedan pulled out onto the traffic-less street again, at something of a fair trot. "Here, not so fast; you'll have us up on the sidewalk."
"Sorry; so, where's Sangster's hide-out?"
"You can slow down, for a start." Alice settling herself in her seat. "And for another you can turn this jalopy round, we're heading in the wrong direction."
Fiona glanced suspiciously at her partner.
"Why, this's Ovington, y'know."
"Yeah, it's Ovington, right enough." Alice smiling like the Cheshire Cat as she revealed her recently found secret that wasn't one. "Except that, according to the telephone book, Sangster lives at an address in Portsmouth. Must'a commuted to work every day, I suppose."
"What? What the hell?"
"Portsmouth; four-two-five-seven, Ladysmith Road."
Ovington, and the far larger Delacote City, lay in the small Matilda county, landlocked by the more wide-spreading Rockingham county encompassing all the rest of the state's minute sliver of sea-coast; New Hampshire in this respect being very nearly on a par with Bohemia respecting the extent of this political and mercantile essential.
The county having its own independent Police Force had always presented difficulties with its all-embracing neighbour county, Rockingham. To such an extent, in fact, that each force tended to keep itself to itself, with just as little inter-action as they could responsibly get away with without causing political ructions. One side effect being that Rockingham was no friend of Matilda private detectives; giving such no authority outside the borders of their small sea-shore demesne. The fact that all the other counties in New Hampshire did not reflect these restrictions being another itching point between Matilda and Rockingham. So, beyond the confines of their home county, Fiona and Alice knew well they would have to walk tenderly on egg-shells whilst going about the streets of Portsmouth, following their duties.
By the time they arrived there it was early afternoon, and Fiona was just about fed up driving across the state, here there and everywhere.
"God, at last. Where was he hidin', agin'?"
"Four-two-five-seven, Ladysmith Road." Alice consulted the street-map she had to hand. "Take Ninety-Five in, then cut-off to the left just opposite the Hospital; Ladysmith Road's the third on the left."
Five minutes later Fiona pulled her DeSoto sedan to a halt at the sidewalk edge beside a seven-storey brownstone apartment block with a wide over-arching cornice on its roof-line.
"Looks like a survivor of the 'Forty-Niners." Alice being hyper-critical by nature.
"Idiot, Art Nouveau; eighteen ninety t'nineteen ten sort'a period. I wouldn't mind an apartment here." Fiona showing her conservative roots.
"Huh." Alice, lover of all things Moderne, leading the way into the long hall. "Let's take a look at the wall-board."
On the left wall a high brown wood board showed the names and apartment numbers of all the residents; but Alice quickly found a problem with this neat method of providing information.
"All the apartments seem to be named, except for this one on the fourth floor; its name's been scraped off, pretty recently."
Just as she finished describing this unhelpful detail, which Fiona was quite capable of noticing for herself, and indeed had, an elderly lady came down the wide stairs from unknown heights above. She wore a long blue cotton coat and carried a large bag obviously meant for comestibles and other things.
"Good morning, can I help you ladies?"
"Ah, yeah," Fiona raising her eyebrows and shrugging simultaneously. "We were sort'a told we could find a char—er, guy called Jack Sangster livin' here."
"Oh, you're too late, I'm afraid." The lady, seemingly perfectly happy to stop and chat, smiled at the detectives comfortably. "He left, for who knows where, just under a week ago. Permanently; not coming back; took all his worldly chattels and such with him—took two big trucks to carry everything away. Apartment's been empty since. Suppose the Directors of the Leasing company'll re-let it sometime."
"Oh, well, thanks."
"No trouble, goodbye."
"Oh, ma'am?" Alice grabbing her chance before it was too late.
"Can you tell us the name of the trucking company, that moved his, er, odds and ends? It'd help to find his latest address, maybe."
"Well, let me think about that." The lady, placing her bag on the hall floor, set-to doing just that. "Ah, yes, it was the Garnet Haulage Company. Their offices are on Longlane Street, down-town."
"Many thanks, again. G'bye."
Longlane Street was much further into the heart of the town, closer to the Piscataqua River. Garnet Haulage's neighbouring buildings all housed small companies of various natures, and the area seemed pretty respectable. A high curved brick arch gave entrance to a wide yard where several company trucks were parked. This time Fiona led the way into the main public hall, where a lady behind a waist-high counter awaited them.
"Looking for some information on someone your company moved recently." Fiona kicking-off with Spartan brevity.
"We can't give out perso—"
Fiona pulled out her official Private Detective identity card and waved it in the secretary's face, she having lost her remaining patience some time ago in this ongoing odyssey.
"We got authority; we're working in tandem with the Delacote City police officials, and the Farmers Mutual Union Bank." Fiona sounding as cold and formal as she possibly could. "Any sort'a official, manager, or whatever, who happens t'be handy?"
"Well, er, well, let me see." The receptionist wavered, glanced around for help that wasn't present; then gave in, picking up a telephone. "Mr Thomason? I have two detectives, female detectives; er, private dic-er, detectives, who want to gain some information on an, er, customer related matter. Would yo—you will? Very good. Please go down the corridor to your right; Mr Thomason's office is the third door on the right. Just knock and go in."
Mr Thomason's office, on the harassed women entering, discovered itself to be wholly modern; with a small Art Deco desk, ditto furniture in the form of modern metal-framed chairs, and a painted work of art on the far wall of a distinctly up-to-date School; Alice paused to examine it with undisguised interest while Fiona, unimpressed, carried on to the desk, her chair, and the official occupant of the office.
"Yip, here I be."
He, it transpiring, being a tall youthful, vivacious, and wide-eyed athletic sort, full of the beans of Life. Fiona took against him instantly; whilst Alice, arriving by her side a moment later, gazed on him as on a famous male film star—Fiona huffed disapprovingly under her breath.
"What can I do for you? If it's personal information, well, there might be some problem with that."
"We're on the trail of a shyster former bank manager." Alice stepping up to the hurdle. "His name's Jack Sangster, and your firm moved his worldly goods from Ladysmith Road just under a week ago, to who knows where—but we'd, Fay an' I, jolly well like to know just that."
"He's deeply involved in a recent bank robbery, where two guards were seriously injured." Fiona taking up the line of query. "We're a detective agency employed by the Bank, with associations to the on-going investigation being carried out by the Delacote Police Precinct. He's, Jack, that is, been givin' us all the slip these last six days or so. We ain't quite sure what his connection with the robbery is; but, by God, connection there dam' well is; an' my partner an' I mean t'beard him in his ratty den, wherever that is, if it's the last dam' thing we do."
Thomason, having raised his eyebrows as this description enveloped him, now sat back with downcast eyes, apparently absorbing the information. Then he raised his gaze to the two ladies—
"Sangster, eh?" He nodded slowly, as if in possession of information the ladies weren't. "Well, seeing you're official, the county Police are involved, and there were casualties, I expect various privacy regulations can be waived in this case. Sangster telephoned our office here at short notice exactly a week ago. He ordered two trucks for the day after to clear out his apartment. We did the necessary, and have been waiting for him to get in touch with us ever since—he not yet having paid a red cent of his bill, y'see."
"Where'd you take his goods an' chattels?" Alice piercing to the heart of the matter.
"A holding warehouse down on the Causeway, at Delacote City Harbor." Thomason furrowed his brows angrily. "We think he may be living in a nearby hotel, somewhere along the Causeway; but we haven't yet decided whether it's needful to proceed against him."
"It is all of that; all the way." Alice having made her own mind up on this point hours ago. "Which warehouse?"
"Compton's Holdings, Seventy-five, the Causeway."
"Thanks, we're on it." Fiona rising to leave far faster than she had arrived. "We'll let ya know what the outcome is. Bye. Come on, Al."
"Right with you, baby, right there."
The premises of Compton's Holdings, facing squarely out onto the open expanse of the Causeway, Delacote City, with its many wharves and jetties bordering the open Harbor, had the appearance of so many of its near neighbours in the architectural line—looking for all the world as it had been built in 1745 but never updated nor painted since. Alice, on their arrival having expressed the opinion she was beginning to feel dizzy with all the gallivanting they had done around the state today, now felt a veteran of this sort of thing, leading the way into the interior of the ancient edifice with a singular feeling of déjà vu.
"If we pass a man in the corridor wearing a blue long-coat, tight white stockings, a tricorn hat, and holding a musket, it's only a Minute-man, Fay."
"Very funny, get on along; is this the office?"
The office echoed the age and substance of the building as a whole; it was small, poky, the walls wainscoted to head height in a dark wood, and the counter, just under waist-height, looked as if it was an original piece of the building's furniture. Behind this counter sat a small elderly man with thin white hair actually hunched over a huge open ledger inscribing lines with a real goose quill, the open pot of ink by his left elbow. He also sported a green eye-shade.
"Yes, yes, yes, what is it?"
Pausing to absorb this frightening sight, each feeling as if they had somehow slipped sideways into the 18th century, both Fiona and Alice failed to reply; thereby fetching an even shorter query from the seated official.
"Do you want to engage our services?" This asked word by word in a slow cadence, as if speaking to children.
Alice was first to recover her wits.
"Nah, we want you to come clean on some information; that, or we call the cops an' shut this dust-heap of history down for good—just sayin'."
The seated clerk's response to this dubious threat took both women by surprise.
"Har-har. Hee-hee. Very funny; don't think I've been so amused since the Crash." The old man carefully deposited his quill on a porcelain saucer on the desk, then gave his visitors his full attention. "Shutting down this concern might turn out to be far harder than you think. Anyway, what's the trouble?"
"—dicks. Yes; saw that, the moment you both came in. What do you want?"
Realising this gentleman, apparently from a former era, was far sharper and quicker on the uptake than they had imagined, Fiona and Alice settled down to continue the conversation.
"You received, only some few days ago, the worldly goods of one Jack Sangster, from Garnet Haulage." Fiona presenting the main facts.
"Yes, that is correct." The clerk not even consulting his massive ledger for this affirmation. "And—?"
"And we wan'na know where the son-uv'a-bi—er, the guy is now." Alice beginning to show a certain impatience with Life.
The old man leaned his head on his right hand, gazing upwards as if considering the motion of the planets in their several orbits; then came back to life so sharply both women jumped.
"He said he was domiciled at the Golden Eagle Hotel, just down the Causeway a few score of yards, for the next few days. Anything else?"
Fiona and Alice both feeling they had experienced quite enough of this peculiar environment shook their heads simultaneously.
"Nah, we're good. Bye." Alice leading the organised retreat. "Come on, Fay."
"Jee-sus, another public desk." Fiona was by now fed up to her teeth with the day's activities. "How many's this make, t'day?"
"God knows; come on, make it snappy."
"Huh; oh, here we are. OK, OK, I'll go first; but whatever happens's all on your head, baby."
"Goofus-poopus; there's the dam' door, use it."
Inside the hotel's main hall they found themselves in an environment almost up-to-date. The main theme was still, certainly, late Art Nouveau; but there were small signs of the modern age, telephone-booths, new tables and chairs for the visitors and clientele, and a certain joie de vivre about the uniformed staff visible about the place. The desk seemed a hive of activity, with two receptionists, a youth and a more mature woman. Of course, the ladies found themselves facing the youth.
"Yes, can I help?"
"Who're you?" Alice, by this time almost moribund with weariness and an ever increasing level of indifference.
"John Campbell, ma'am; receptionist. Can I be of any help? A resident you wish to visit?"
"Almost." Fiona stepping in to save her lover's energy. "A Mr Jack Sangster; he's someone we'd really like to have an interview with, at his earliest convenience—if you could pass that message along to him? Or, better still, just give us his room number, an' we'll do the rest."
The youth hardly glanced at the bundle of cards in front of him on the counter before replying.
"Won't be possible, I'm sorry. Mr Jack Sangster, left us this morning; he going aboard the SS Ganymede, outward bound for Europe. Sailing time, let me see; oh, three-quarters of an hour ago. If you go out to the Promontory you might yet be able to see it leaving the Bay, in the distance—a two-stacker, red hull with blue funnels. The Blue Funnel Line, you see."
There was a long period in which the counter encountered only gentle silence, before Fiona came back to something resembling life.
Alice on the other hand, having also experienced a slippage of the mental gears, came to life with something to say across the board.
"G-dd-m it, so bloody close; an' now he's skipped t'Europe? G-dd-m it."
"Why can't you send a radio message, an' have him put in irons for the rest of the voyage; then collared by the French gendarmes?" Fiona, not for the first time, at cross purposes with Inspector Fletcher of the 5th Precinct.
"Because we don't have any hard evidence, is why, Fay." Fletcher's voice, over the telephone, sounding distant and squeaky. "No evidence, no formal warrant, nothing we can do."
In their office, on the 4th floor in the Packer Building. corner of 12th and Rosemartin Road, Delacote City, NH., Fiona and Alice, though back in their private domain, were far from happy.
"And you say you've caught bloody Henty?" Alice on the dual phone.
"Yeah, but don't look t'him t'squeal like a turkey anytime soon, if ever." Fletcher, even over the phone, sounding somewhat dispirited. "The rest of his gang are still t'be looked for, but we filled him ful'la lead in the course of our official duties; one shotgun blast, seven bullets, an' he hit his head serious falling on a concrete floor. He's out'ta the conversation, in his hospital bed, meb'be forever."
"F-ck it." Fiona finally reaching the end of her tether.
Alice had started by taking notes in her notebook; but now was simply tearing page after page to shreds as the conversation with the Inspector took its course.
"Where'd you think the bank robbery money ended up, then?" She asking this with little hope of a helpful answer.
"Our enquiries have gathered Sangster deposited it in the Titan Savings Bank on Morgenthaler Street, here in Delacote; changed it immediate in'ta anonymous bearer bonds, an' went aboard ship so encumbered; thereby takin' all the money out'ta the country in a form we can't trace back t'Ovington's Bank—not t'suit a jury, anyway's. The Titan also coming clean with the fact he also mentioned a private Swiss bank account in passin'. Those banks in Switzerland bein' like fortresses encircled by castles, encircled by citadels, encircled by military forces; as much hope of prising the money out'ta them as discovering the old alchemists' method of transmuting base metal in'ta gold."
"That's the fourth time you've said that, Fay."
"An' it won't be the last time t'day, Jacob." Fiona stating for the record what was a clear certainty. "OK, thanks; see ya soon. G'bye."
Sitting back from their individual phones the women regarded each other, somewhat despondently.
"What a dam' day." Alice starting the required debriefing, but not with alacrity. "All over the dam' state, in all directions, t'towns I never knew existed before; and what's the outcome? Dam' Sangster elopes t'Europe with a fortune that would'a made dam' Croesus happy, and there ain't a dam' thing either we nor Fletch can do about it."
"Yeah." Fiona nodding sadly in agreement. "Henty's immobilized for the foreseeable future; his gang's disappeared; and so has the dam' money, overseas; never t'be seen again by law-abiding citizens."
"What riles me most," Alice almost snarling in her anger. "is the fact that, as we speak, Sangster's sitting on an ocean liner, in the dining saloon, feasting on champagne and ambrosia and nectar and caviar; and the Law can't touch the son-uv'a-b-tch."
Fiona sighed gently, turning to place her hand on her paramour's shoulder.
"The Bank paid us, anyway; for what little we could give 'em. What time's it? Half past seven? We can go out t'Davidoff's? Chicken an' French fries, an' a nice wine, an' creamed rice for dessert? Wha'-ya-say, darlin?"
Alice perked up slightly,—after all any kind of a profit was any kind of a profit,—but, nonetheless, had a small complaint still to be addressed.
"Nix with the French fries, dear; I'll settle for mashed. Who's payin'? Only askin'.'
"What was that, lover?"
"I'm payin', love of my life; only me."
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.