'The Outstanding Cases Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever, lovers, are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. The detectives attempt to bring their paperwork and uncompleted cases up to date.

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.

—O—

"Seventeen."

"How many?"

"Seventeen, dear."

"That's impossible; how can we possibly have seventeen open cases still on file?" Alice, sitting by her lover's side at the long office desk, could not believe her ears. "Show me—tell me. How?"

Fiona was far more relaxed about the apparent backlog, having gone through their files with a fine-tooth comb over the course of the last two days—inventories always being a long haul.

"It just is, is all." Fiona shrugging nonchalantly the while. "Of course, some just need signing off, is all."

"Why didn't you say, lover?" Alice perking up somewhat. "That's just paperwork, a mere technicality. Won't take two minutes, I bet. So, which are they, then? Come on, Time waits for no woman, you know."

Ignoring this childish jibe Fiona cast about amongst the sea of soft-covered files littering the desk in their offices on the fifth floor of the Packer Building, on the corner of 12th and Rosemartin, Delacote City, NH, this comfy morning of July, 1934.

"Well, t'start with, there's the Gabbs-Barker fiasco—it's still got life in it yet."

"Jeez, the Gabbs-Barker affair?" Alice could hardly credit this. "Why, we opened that dam' case, when, last November? What've we been doing since, that we ain't closed it yet?"

Fiona had her excuses ready for this one.

"Waiting on Judge Lawson t'reach his conclusions an' sentencing of Gabbs, is what." She nodded sagely glancing at the relevant file. "Just came out with his sentence three days since. So we can sign-off the case now."

"What was it?"

"What was what?"

"The sentence, fool, what else."

Fiona, a long term receiver of this kind of back-chat from the one she loved, sighed heavily and consulted her file.

"Ten year in the Pen—happy?"

"Yeah, suppose. Shall we sign it out'ta existence, then? You go ahead, I got my fountain pen to refill first."

"Gods."

Ten minutes later they had dealt with four more open cases in much the same manner.

"How many's left?"

"Twelve."

"Twelve? F-ck, is there no end to it?" Alice groaning like an old-time theatre queen. "OK, hit me, who's next?"

There was a pause while Fiona riffled through the remaining files; casting each's interest against that of its compatriots: finally, she picked the next on the list.

"The Diesel Aero Engine Fraud."

Another pause ensued; Alice trying to come to terms with her lack of knowledge re aero engines. Then, as her audience fully expected, she gave up the unequal struggle.

"What's a Diesel engine?"

"Oh, come on, Al." Fiona having no patience with this level of forgetfulness. "We went in'ta the whole thing three months ago. Don't ya remember anythin'?"

"Can't say I do." Alice wholly unmoved by this criticism. "Anyway, who cares what the dam' the engine is? Why's the case still open?"

"It was, as I'm sure you recall clearly, a grift with the main body of the fraud originating in France." Once again Fiona gazed intently at the relevant file. "The Caillard-Bellaime air-cooled rotary Diesel engine. One prototype, and a lot of hot air from the grifters. Whole thing went bust a year ago. We've had t'wait on the French Gendarmes' reports before we could close-up, is all."

"And they've come through?" Alice sounding only slightly convinced.

"Yeah. All done an' dusted; the Caillard-Bellaime grift's a thing of the past, ducks."

"Thank God for that—hand me your pen, lover, mine ain't working at all."

"Jeez."

The long hand of the clock on the inner wall of the office, rescued from a nearly demolished railway station years since and guaranteed to keep time to ten seconds in the month, had revolved round another two large figures on its wide face before the two sweating detectives reached their next Rubicon.

"We got seven cases still t'go now, lady."

"Seven?"

"Yep."

"It was seventeen, twenty minutes ago."

"Now it's seven." Fiona cast an eye sideways at her lover, thinking strange thoughts. "We've signed-off all the cases needin' signin'-off. What's left is the downright, no-holds-barred open cases. Cases we should still be working on, if we had any idea of what would bring 'em all to a safe harbor."

Alice jiggled the small pile of files handed over to her from She-Who-Knew, opening them at random and giving each far less attention than they deserved.

"So, you've been through them all. Just give me the exordia, if you will."

"The what?"

"The grist, not the detail." Alice sticking her nose in the air in an entirely condescending manner, to someone nearby's idea of things. "Well, which's it t'be?"

"Oh, God! Wish I'd just thrown 'em all in the building's incinerator yesterday; which was my first thought." Fiona regretting her earlier decision with every passing second. "Alright, alright; the Warrington affair. You know, Mrs Compton's dam' diamonds."

"—'course I remember; who could forget Mrs Compton?" Alice sniffing haughtily, much in the manner of the lady under discussion. "She's a piece of work, and no mistake. So, what's the hold-up? They been found yet?"

"No, they haven't been found." Fiona shaking her head in disgust at this ridiculous notion. "Probably in Pennsylvania, being cut up into small pieces, this last month or more. The Warrington Diamonds are, by now, probably the Warrington nephews an' nieces, an' great second cousins fer all we know, of the originals. As much hope of finding them intact, the Warrington Diamonds that is, as finding El Dorado, dearie."

"Humph." Alice considered the possibilities for all of thirty seconds. "Suppose we better leave that one open for the nonce,—eh, love of my life?"

"Dam' straight, lady of my heart."

"So, what's next?"

Another chunk of Time flowed through the arctic wastes of the office before the ladies', gasping for nourishment by now, reached another peak in their industrious day.

"How many left?"

"Four."

"Four? Thank God!"

"Ya ain't asked what they are, yet, honeybuns."

"Huh! After the Mickelson Inter-State Bicycle Race what could be worse than that?"

"Dan Bolton, over to Portsmouth, collared Bayley fer us yesterday, over that, didn't he?" Fiona trying to instill backbone in the weakening help. "That puts paid t'that case, anyway. So, like I just said, four left."

Alice sighed with deep-seated feeling, then looked the world in the face like the heroine she was.

"OK, let's hear it—what are they?"

Fiona, shuffled the last four files into a line in front of her, fiddling to get their edges all straight. Alice noticed, and took instant advantage of this Heaven-sent opportunity.

"Happy, dear? All nicely lined up? What about that light green file at the end? Wouldn't it look better, colour-coding-wise, on the left-hand side? Just trying to help."

Fiona, under pressure, shot her loved partner her No.1 Scowl From Hell, but knew even as she did so it would crash and burn; Alice being a pro at de-fusing this too-oft used version of the evil eye. In an attempt to appear oblivious to her failure Fiona opened the left-hand file, dull red, and scowled at its pages instead.

"The Darleigh Murder." She perused the first page of the file closely. "We got four suspects, of whom we know fer sure one of 'em did the deed. Question is—which one?"

"What's the breakdown?" Alice all professional, faced with an interesting case.

"One women; three men."

"Ah-ha. Ages?"

Fiona raised a dubious eyebrow.

"Ages? Does it matter? Is there an age curfew on murder, or what?"

"Nah, I just mean, give me their ages, so's I can get an impression of them, is all. God, you're crotchety t'day, lover. I told you sausages an' fried tomatoes for breakfast, like I had, would'a been better than that bowl of nuts an' dry oats you nibbled."

"It's Swedish, or is it Swiss?" Fiona not quite sure of her breakfast's antecedents. "Anyway, far better fer ya, healthwise, than all that grease you gobbled."

"Ha! We'll see. Anyway, the Darleigh suspects—ages? I ain't forgotten, you see."

"Jeez, like livin' in a zoo, in the wrong cage."

"Wha'zat, dear? Didn't catch it."

"The suspects' ages?" Fiona swiftly moving on, well-knowing what was good for her health in other areas than mere food. "OK. Caitlin O'Connel, thirty-one, or so she admits to. Secretary t'the deceased, alibi full'a holes, very suspicious.—"

"Top o'the list, then." Alice never behind-hand in making a decision on the hoof.

"Ha!" Fiona shook her head, as many times before, then continued. "Gerry Venables, twenty-eight, mechanic an' chauffeur t'the deceased. Solid alibi, but, as we discussed two weeks ago, he's probably got his back-up t'support him fer cash down."

"Might be able to squeeze his alibi friend to come clean, if we can threaten him the right way." Alice, on the chase of closing a case positively, always being meaner than an angry wildcat with an intinerary.

"Hmmph." Fiona raising her eyebrows at this dubious, but often commendable, method of applying the Law. "Third, Phil Jenkins, thirty-eight, friend of the deceased; but not so friendly they haven't had some juicy arguments in front of witnesses—one at least ending in a fist-fight. Could he have done it? Yes, he could."

"OK, we'll put Jenkins at the top of the list, for now." Alice nodding sagely. "Who's left?"

Fiona consulted her red file once more.

"Herbert Anthony Harrison, scion of the Harrison's Tinned Beef clan." She sniffed somewhat critically. "Bags of money, private yacht, huge expensive cars, private plane. Houses an' condo's all over the country, from East to West."

"What's his state of mind, re the deceased?" Alice keeping to the points that mattered. "Capable of knocking Darleigh off, is he?"

"I think so."

Alice digested this answer for a while.

"But does anyone else? For instance, Inspector Fletcher?"

Alice, probably knowingly, had struck a delicate nerve of her partner's feelings here.

"What Fletch thinks is entirely his private business." Fiona speaking in a cold tone, rife with indifference. "What I say is, Herb could'a done the deed, easy."

Alice let this supposition hang in the air for some time, as she considered its merits; then she came back to life, vocally speaking.

"So, what you're saying is, of the four suspects left we each suspect of the killing, we still got four strong suspects who could have killed the deceased? Sort'a doesn't get us very much further forward, don't you think, lover?"

Fiona slapped the offending red file on the desk with energy, feeling, and a great deal of subordinated dislike towards it.

"Quit harassing me, woman. What can I do about that? There's four people near enough t'the deceased t'have put him in that state; which o'them it actually was, is up in the air at the moment. What it wants, dear, is some high-class investigatin'. Know anyone in the business who's got the level of intellect, common-sense, an' professionalism t'break the case, do ya? —'cause I don't."

Seeing her partner, and lover, working herself up into one of her famous dark sulks, Alice did what was necessary to soothe the savage beast. She leaned over, wrapping an arm round her lover's shoulder, resting her head against Fiona's.

"There, there, dear. Who's here to keep you safe and happy? Me, of course. Want a cup of coffee and a chocolate cookie?"

Fiona sniffed, as if controlling an incipient cold in the head, then nodded quietly, patting her lover's hand.

"Wouldn't say no, you gorgeous gal, you."

"OK, two minutes, and we can take a break, and chat about Claudette Colbert in 'It Happened One Night'. God, what a movie."

As Alice rose to attend to the needful Fiona sat back, wondering if she had just exchanged the frying-pan for the fire.

—O—

"Right, we take time off next Tuesday to go into the Darleigh case." Alice all efficiency and determination. "Probably something simple will break the case, after a little more thought. So, what's next?"

It was just past 1.30pm; they had taken a lunch break in the restaurant of their choice, where they had dined well and happily; now, returned to the fray in their office, they were ready to face a line of raging Valkyries, Demons, or plain common Nuisances, in their efforts to subdue their errant case-loads.

"The Verity Ventura Bracelet Scandal."

Alice was impressed.

"Fay, you said that all with capitals. How'd you do that?"

"Idiot." Fiona, refreshed by a nice meal, ready to face the world unbowed again. "So, Verity Ventura, the famous film star—"

"I hadn't ever heard of the broad, before her agent came to us for assistance three months ago." Alice just stating the plain facts of her personal relationship with the movie goddess.

"Clam up, baby; your lover's workin' here." Fiona shaking her flowing dark locks censoriously. "She was on the set of her latest biggie, 'The Swashbuckler's Return', and a real emerald bracelet, hot from Tomkins and Tomkins of Fifth Avenue, NY, acting itself as an extra got nicked—"

"And now it's hot for real." Alice finding it impossible not to make the awful pun.

Fiona paused to take a deep breath.

"Gawd! What a gal, an' I sleep every night with her, in the same bed—how'd I do it?"

Alice made a face, then remembered she had just renewed her pink lipstick so hauled a small mirror from her always close-by handbag to check no damage had been done.

"Go on, go on; I'm listening."

Fiona, glancing at her inamorata making hurried repairs where they weren't needed, smiled gently then got back to the matter in hand.

"Obviously someone on the set pinched it—"

"Ah-ha, but that's where we ran up against the brick wall, wasn't it, dear?"

"If by brick wall you mean the irrefutable fact there were two hundred and twenty-eight persons on the set at the time, then you're right, lover." Fiona accepting what couldn't be ignored. "Which, you'll also agree, is pretty much why, at this late date, we still don't know who pinched the dam' bracelet, or where it might be by now. Got any ideas on how to push the whole farrago forward, dear?"

A soft quiet silence, redolent of gentle warm Summer days spent lying in a cornfield looking up at the fluffy white clouds slowly passing overhead, engulfed the office and its inmates for an appreciable length of sidereal as well as normal Time—then Alice dragged herself back to reality.

"Well, not in so many words, no." She admitted this with another, but this time carefully restrained, wrinkle of the facial muscles—an act which, in her companion's fascinated gaze, only made her all the prettier. "It could'a been La Ventura; but we've pretty much kicked that theory into the long grass. It wasn't the Director or Cameraman, 'cause they were doing what they usually did on the set. It wasn't the Producer, 'cause he wasn't there that day. The Dress Designer's out, too; she being harassed from pillar to post in her department across the Lot, trying to make repairs to a fancy dress that was needed for the next scene but one. Which leaves, let me see, ah yes, only two hundred and twenty-four remaining suspects. So, Fay, which was it, then? We here being on a schedule, at the moment, you know."

Fiona, in reply, didn't reply. She sat back on her hard-backed chair, wriggled some trying to find an impossible comfortable position, looked up at the plain white ceiling, then sighed softly.

"We'll put it on hold; that there bein' some kind'a a case, an' no mistake. We'll come back to it in the Fall, or whatever. Next?"

"Yeah, why not."

Fiona shuffled the few remaining files, this time picking up the dull yellow one.

"The Body in the River. Eww, nasty." Fiona now wrinkled her own nose, but for entirely different reasons from her partner. "Dragged out'ta the Piscataqua four month since, identified as a female, possibly daughter of Mrs Helena Muller-Crossweiser. This not so far verified; only identifications, the blood group and the remains of a small scar on the left shin which might relate to one the daughter gained in youth while playing lacrosse at school."

"Wish Mrs Helena hadn't decided to engage us to make the formal identification." Alice groaning awfully at the memories. "Nasty doesn't cover half of it. Anyway, big question—if the daughter ain't the present party of the first part; but is swanning along somwhere's happy as a lark, have we gotten any closer to uniting Mother and Daughter again, yet?"

"Big question of the day we've so far overlooked—does the errant daughter, if still in the land of the livin', want t'be re-united?"

"How d'you mean?"

"Mrs Crossweiser—"

"Muller-Crossweiser."

"Mrs Crossweiser," Fiona standing for no interruptions of this nature. "is not the gentle pleasant ever-lovin' mother found in romantic fiction. Rather something akin to a harridan from one of the original grosser an' more terrifyin' fairy tales of the brothers Grimm."

Alice fell back on memories of meeting the lady in question, some months ago.

"Got'ta give you that, lover. She surely ain't someone I'd come back to, once having left the family den; the which is lookin' more'n more like a likely explanation of the whole sordid affair, if you ask me. Still leaves the actual corpse unidentified, if so, of course."

"The daughter probably looked on the finding of the soggy corpse as a personal favour from Heaven." Fiona building fairy tales herself, now. "What say we leave this in the pending tray till it starts t'stink, too. Then we can throw it away an' forget Mrs Whatever-her-name-is?"

It took only milliseconds for her bettter half to produce an answer to this entreaty of Fiona's.

"Right with you, baby. God, ain't it great how two professionals like us can whip through a mountain of work in no time flat?"

Fiona favoured her lover with another curious look; it always being of interest to the dark-haired lady how, or indeed on occasion if, the mind of the one she loved worked.

"There's still the last case-file t'go, y'know."

"Yeah, I see it; the blue one. So—?"

Struggling against adversity Fiona shook her head; though this time not attempting to count the times previously, she having long lost count earlier that morning. Instead she gave the last file her full attention; which, after reading through the initial pages, bucked her up no end.

"Favelli, against the city of Delacote City and the State of New Hampshire."

Alice realised at once, too, what was giving her heartmate the jooblie-ooblies of merriment.

"Ha! Jimmy's finally in the doo-doo, deep. Up to his neck, in fact. Ha-ha!"

"Well, theoretically, anyway."

"Come off it, sis." Alice in this instance no way prepared to toe the line of verifiable fact. "He did it. Everyone knows he did it. Hell, the Judge knows he did it. Hades, even the jury knows he dam' well did it, and they haven't even been called yet, 'cause the trial isn't scheduled for another two weeks."

"In short, Favelli's guilty?"

"Let me think about it, just for a fraction of a second—totally dam' yes, sister."

It was in situations like this that Fiona found it hardest to communicate, on a logical level, with the one she loved, adored, and would go the whole mile for—but, dam', the exhausting work and struggle and strife involved!

"You'll recall the DA's entrusted us with finding the dirt on Favelli? Which means, contrari-wise, if there ain't any legally speakin' then we'll have provided the non-dirt that'll let him off scot-free?"

"F-ck that, lady." Alice having decided opinions on the defendant in question, his modus operandi, and dam' everything else about him. "If we find we can't quite get there, not to suit a sworn jury anyway, we'll just set him up, is all. Should be easy, considering what we already have on him over the years."

Fiona couldn't let this piece of moral disingenuousness pass without remark; particularly on its flaws.

"Lady, listen up, an' listen hard—we, both of us, are here t'uphold the Law; not do the other thing with it. Ya gettin' me?"

Alice, with no other escape path, pouted like a naughty schoolgirl found out in some high jinks, shrugging her shoulders despondently.

"Oh, alright; but only 'cause you say so, dear. Wouldn't do so for anyone else. Hell, I mean, what if he gets off? I mean t'say?"

"If he gets away with it, it won't be because we didn't put our all in'ta tryin' t'sock it to him with evidence, will it?"

"Dam' right there, my love."

"So, let's get on with it." Fiona taking another close look at the file. "This seems t'be the only remaining case we've got that's open. Nothing else t'hinder our efforts; so, let's put our backs in'ta it, eh?"

"Dam' straight, you juicy glorious woman, you."

"Ha!"

—O—

But all was not to be so easily dispensed with. As in all cases where logic, method, and reasonable decisions are made, there is always someone to carp, complain, and generally get under your skin about your decision. So it was with the firm of Drever and Cartwright, Private Detectives. Later that same afternoon the telephone rang in their private office where Alice had the poor judgement to pick the receiver up.

"Hallo, Drever and Cartwright, what can—"

The ensuing three minutes were some of the most annoying the brunette detective had ever suffered through. How do you not give back in kind, with knobs on, what an angry client feels easy about calling you, and your incompetent company?

"Yes-yes. I can't—well, if you think so—Oh, I wouldn't say tha—what? Oh, come on.—No, I ain't being impolite; what've I got—No, No, I can't; Drever and Cartwright can't. Well, if that's the way you feel abo—hallo? Hallo? Oh, sh-t!"

"What was that all about?" Fiona having been an interested auditory spectator.

"Oh, just Ma Barker gettin' riled about Judge Lawson and the Gabbs outcome." Alice stood, picking up their coffee cups and making a bee-line for the sideboard where the percolator sat. "Refills? OK. She wanted us to put our names to an appeal to the Judge to scrap his decision. Said, if we don't she'll get even with us for sure."

"Ha!" Fiona was totally unimpressed by this common threat, as she took the cup Alice offered her. "Thanks, baby. You'd think Ma Barker was the other, more dangerous, Ma Barker, all the noise she makes. She won't do anything. What's t'do, anyway? Lawson's said his piece, Gabbs's gone down for ten t'twenty, it's all over."

"Yeah, thank God she ain't the real thing; if so, then I might start worrying." Alice counting her blessings that their erstwhile client wasn't the well-known gangster of the same name. "Well, we can certainly scratch that case off our files, anyway."

Before they had each taken three refreshing sips of the magic brew that resuscitates, the phone rang again. This time, she feeling she ought to take the strain too, Fiona hoisted the receiver from its rest.

"Hallo, Drev—"

Not even being given as long as her partner had been to reply Fiona sat listening to the second irate diatribe of the afternoon.

"What? How can we possi—no, no. Wha'ya mean—Oh, come off it. What? Ya think so, do ya,—no, an' that's a definite. Ho! You too, mister. Hallo? Hallo? G-d'd-m!"

It was, of course, now Alice's turn.

"What was that all about, dearest?"

Fiona gazed, or indeed glowered, at her partner as she slowly ground her teeth in an effort not to break out in some bloodthirsty, but satisfying, action.

"That was Monsieur Bellaime from the aircraft company of half that name. All the way from Paris, would ya believe. Only telling us that, as the representatives of the American side of the legal team that made his company go bust he intends to sue us from the East Coast to the West Coast, all points in between, and probably over to Hawaii, if necessary. He's sort'a angry, y'see."

"Jeez." Alice stumped by this development. "Any chance of his coming through with his threats?"

"Not a hope, darlin', rest easy. French Law against American Law—they ain't got a dam' hope in Hell."

Peace reigned in the long office for all of the next twenty minutes then, making both women jump as if shot, the phone rang again. This time there was a decided lack of interest in replying; Alice finally taking the bull by the horns, though not with a merry mien.

"Hallo." She speaking slowly and carefully, as if standing on eggshells. "What can we—"

What had transpired before, transpired for the third time.

"No—we just can't—You don't understa—we can't, I tell you—you can't, that won't—give me a chance—so what? Go ahead, see wha—hey, that ain't nice—Hi-hallo? Hallo? Huh, jerk!"

Fiona didn't want to, but there was no way out—it had to be done.

"What, dearest? An' don't go off the deep end, I didn't have anythin' t'do with it—whatever it is."

Alice sighed, then came clean.

"That was Mrs Compton's lawyer. He says his client is fed up waiting for news of her precious darling diamonds, and if she doesn't hear from us that we've found the dam' things intact in the next week he's going to sue us for their market value."

"Which is?"

Alice shrugged her trim shoulders enticingly; the tight yellow linen jacket she was wearing helping in this matter.

"If I recall from the last audit we had of the dam' things from a jeweller, somewhere around three million dollars."

"F-ck!"

"Yes, exactly."

"Nah, don't worry; I'm sure, thinkin' about it, we're covered—some kind'a overall business cover that let's us off for the lost property of our clients. We're in the clear—it's only empty threats from Mrs Compton an' her cohorts, tryin' t'push us along in the investigation, is all."

"You sure?"

"Yep, pretty much." Fiona nodded decisively. "Forget it. What can we do, till something new turns up, anyway? Let it rest."

"Jeez, what a dam' day."

Just under an hour later the telephone rang again.

"G-dd-m, can you get that, lover? I'm busy."

Fiona, however, was ready for this blatant abandonment of duty.

"Alice, pick that dam' phone up, or you sleep on the sitting-room sofa for the next month."

"Oh, God; slavedriver."

But she did the needful, already sure of what mood the person on the other end was going to be in.

"Hallo, this is—"

The fourth tirade of the day inevitably ensued.

"Hey, calm down, Dan—no, they can't—it ain't legal is why. No—Don't do that—Jeez, man get a grip—Hey, politeness, if you plea—what? Ha, that's a laugh. Go ahead, it won't get you anywhere. They're conning you, idiot. No, don't, it won't help. Now, Dan, what did I tell you last tim—Oh, if you must. What? What? Hallo? Jeez, he's rung off, idiot that he is."

This time Fiona had some inkling of whom her partner had been exchanging pleasantries with.

"That Dan Bolton?"

"The same, lover. Wan'na hear?"

"Of course."

"Huh!" Alice sighed with the full force of a hard-tried soul. "You know he collared Bayley for us yesterday?"

"The fact had penetrated my consciousness, darlin'."

"Well, don't be so happy about it—Bayley's lawyer's got him out'ta clink on bail."

"What? How the hell—"

"What lawyer's generally do, dear; twist the Law till it don't know whether it's coming or going." Alice spitting acidic sarcasm for all she was worth. "Not only that, the lawyer says he's going to put Dan on the spot, for wrongful feeling of the wrong perp's collar, or something equally esoteric. Nothing in it, of course; but Dan's feeling the Blues coming on, so he says he's skipping town for the forseeable future—all letters to be addressed to J. Smith, Post Restante, the Back of Beyond, for the next six months."

"Oh Chr-st!"

"Well, there you are" Alice sighed again; the weight of the world's woes lowering on her pert shouolders. "What could possibly go wrong next?"

The phone rang, imperiously.

Having no option Fiona delicately picked up the by now red-hot receiver, holding it near her left ear as if it were contaminated with something.

"Hal—"

The call coming through was long, involved, sarcastic, and wholly directed towards putting across the caller's deeply held feelings of unhappiness.

"What? How can ya pos—hey, hold on, there. Come again? Listen, bozo—what? Open yer ears, ya lump, I'll call ya—ha, if ya meant that you'd already be—get lost, moron. Hey! Hallo? Hallo? Huh, rung off."

Alice sipped her coffee, needing the sustenance.

"I'm ready, darling, I can take it—who was it, this time?"

"That, dearest, was none other than Cecil F. Aldridge."

There was a quiet pause while Alice cogitated over this fact.

"Aldridge; Cecil, of the same name? Never heard of the guy. What's he want?"

"Personally, for himself, dam' all." Fiona sneered to the greatest capacity of her ability to do so. "As the legal advisor to Herbert A. Harrison, however, son to the Beef King empire, he says he's ready t'sue our sorry asses from here t'San Reines, Arizona an' back, in his endeavour to get his client off the hook for the Darleigh murder. Any slightest complaint in public or the courts on our part that his client's involved in any degree, an' he'll have us, he says. His very words—'He'll have us',—direct from the horse's mouth. Wha' d'ya think o'that?"

Alice was outraged by this underhanded attempt to influence neutral investigators in their ongoing inquiries.

"Who's he think he is?" She sitting up straight, a mean scowl complimenting her maquillage. "Don't he realise we have to look into everyone involved? That's how detectives work, y'know."

"Think nothin' of it, baby doll." Fiona shrugging listlessly where she sat, far too close to the again silent telephone. "These shysters always try t'put the heat on the opposition—the first rule of bein' a deadbeat lawyer. He's just spoutin' hot air, tryin' t'make us uneasy—fat chance!"

For something slightly over half an hour the office remained telephone-message free; a state that seemed, to the over-harassed inmates, almost like holidaying in Atlantic City—then the spell was broken yet again.

Rrr-Rrr-Rrr-Rrr.

"Helen's line?" Fiona lifting an eyebrow as the white telephone to their secretary did it's business. "Wonder if it's a new client. Yeah, Helen, what's up? Who? About what? Oh, suppose ya bettter wheel him in."

"What? Who? Why?"

"Carl Overbroek, from Tomkins and Tomkins, Fifth Avenue, NY."

"That second happy couple rings a bell."

"The jewellers who provided Verity Ventura with that emerald bracelet—you know, the one that got half-inched on the set of 'The Swashbuckler's Return'?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Come in, Mr Overbroek." Fiona going into full hostess-mode. "Take a pew; so, what can we do for you?"

Carl Overbroek was tall, athletic, and clearly a late University graduate; probably Yale. His bright blue eyes sparkled with joy towards all Humanity and his teeth gleamed like a toothpaste advert in the glossy magazines. Beaming, sitting with 42nd St. Skimmer in hand, he cast joy and happiness all round from the other side of the desk to the women.

"Hallo, ladies, fine day, ain't it. I'm the Delacote City representative of Tomkins and Tomkins, fine jewellers to the elite on Fifth Avenue, NY." His voice had that manly depth insinuating character, gently seasoned with humor. "Just thought I'd drop by t'let you know, as the detectives on the case, that if we—Tomkins and Tomkins, that is—don't get our money back re the price of the emerald bracelet at the moment unaccounted for, we intend to sue the Police, the film studio, and your company, Drever and Cartwright, for full compensation. Wha' d'ya say, ladies? Shall we settle this little problem straight-off with full payment by banker's cheque right now, or what?"

It didn't take Fiona long to make her decision.

"You can have 'or what'."

"What?"

"You said pay, or what." Fiona enjoying every second. "We ain't payin', not a dam' cent; so you can take 'or what' in full, boyo."

Carl, University graduate and highly intelligent as he certainly was, had no real experience of the bite dog or go under mentality of the real world. Faced with this cold hard rejection of what he had till now considered an unarguable choice Carl sat flummoxed from head to foot.

"—er, er, ladies', isn't it clear you don't have a foot to stand on—"

"Mr Overbroek," Fiona, rising to the challenge like Boudica, began to smile with ill-concealed intent. "Your threats are empty; we've been in this business probably from before you were born, you can't carpet-bag us, laddie. We know more about the fine tuning of the Law than most lawyers in this here city by the sea. Now you, representing your company, have a problem—the lost bracelet. The investigation now taking place in'ta recovering same includes the Police, the Investigation Team of the Film Studio's Front Office, and lastly us, Drever and Cartwright, the best Private Detectives in New Hampshire. So, you can go about happily threatening everyone in sight with soft soap, railway shares, and tickets t'the next Ball Game, but ya won't get an inch nearer findin' the bracelet by doin' so."

"We're on the same side, Mister." Alice putting in her two-cent's worth. "You can't threaten your own team; that won't get you anywhere. Now, if you want to help, really help, I sugggest you get Tomkins and Tomkins to set up another investigation team, back in NY maybe, and let them take an interest in the whole thing, from their perspective. Meanwhile we, Drever and Cartwright, are happily going about our own concerns in the matter—and your empty threats are just sea-mist in the morning, burnin' off in the sun and disappearing as if they had never been. There's the door, laddie; it was the entrance when you came in, now it's the exit—g'bye."

Carl, a broken man, exited as suggested, tail between his legs, just as the telephone rang yet again.

"Oh, God! What now?"

Alice, hardly through throwing Carl out, grabbed the telephone receiver like a dog-owner trying to grab their elusive pet by the neck hair.

"Yeah, what the hell? Oh, sorry. Yes, yes,—you don't say? Well, I'll be a—What? You'll be, too? Ha-ha. Well, thanks for letting us know. G'bye."

She replaced the receiver far more gently than she had picked it up; then looked over at her partner with a curious expression even Fiona couldn't quite fathom.

"What? Ya won the State Lottery, or somethin'?"

"Fay, great news from the Outback."

This level of humor Fiona wasn't for standing up with.

"Give over, it's been a tryin' day—just, what the Hell, is all?"

"Ha! That was Sergeant Hopkins, over to the Third Precinct, Portsmouth."

Fiona was suddenly interested.

"Portsmouth? Hum, what've we had t'do with Portsmouth recently?"

"Only Mrs Helena Muller-Crossweiser. Ring a bell?"

"Oh, God, the body in the river." Fiona on top of it at last. "Don't tell me they've found another? If so, ring back t'say we ain't interested."

"Nah, Hopkins just rang to tell us the real McCoy had turned up—or, at least, let the authorities know they were still hale and hearty and in the Land of the Living."

Fiona suddenly felt one of her migraines coming on.

"Al, be nice, tell me in words a three year old could understand,—what's goin' on?"

"Mrs Crossweiser's daughter—you know, supposedly dragged out'ta the Piscataqua in a less than perfect state three months since—has rung the Plymouth cops to tell 'em to cease and desist with their noisy rumbunctiousness tryin' t'find her –she not bein' in the wanting to be found mode at the moment."

Fiona frowned over this story, piecing the facts together in as near a logical sequence as was possible.

"So, lem'me get this straight, Mrs Muller-Crossweiser's daughter seemingly, as you say, recently dragged forth from the murky waters of the Piscataqua in a horrid decomposed state—"

"—eww, baby!"

"—turns out t'be still up an' about, annoyin' the traffic cops? Well, I'll be dam'med." Fiona shook her head at these marks of an ill-natured Fate. "So the soggy remnants weren't those we was lookin' for, after all?"

"Apparently not." Alice seeing the silver lining to the cloud with the best. "So, we can sign-off that case with a clear conscience, at least."

"Too dam' right." Fiona agreeing whole-heartedly. "There, the file's somewhere among that lot; when ya find it, sign it, then gim'me back my pen, will ya?"

But, unsuspected by the inmates, Peace and Tranquility had both colluded to by-pass the office of Drever and Cartwright that day. Twenty-two minutes and fifteen seconds after Fiona had reclaimed her adored pen the telephone rang for the umpteenth time.

"Jee-sus, God, an' Mary!"

Alice, feeling herself to be a mix of Saint Honoria and The Lady With the Lamp, whoever the dam' she was, picked up the receiver, as if doing so with a scorpion.

"Hallo, what in hell can you possi—oh, hallo, Fletch, what I can do for you? Yeah, that's true enough—that ain't, on the other hand. You believe him? Neither do Fay an' I. He said what? Har-har-har! And you think—yes, that'd work. He's gon'na try—nah, he ain't got a hope. Yeah, we can do that. Yeah, that, too. You want us to? OK, we'll do that, as well. OK. OK. OK. 'bye."

Fiona, sitting next to her heroic partner, had grasped the basics of this conversation; all that was left was the distinct details.

"What'd Inspector Fletcher want? And ya seemed t'be agreein' with every dam' thing he asked? Only wonderin', is all. Me jest bein' an equal partner in the business, an' all."

"Sweetie, sweetie, calm down, all's well—"

"—but it ain't lookin' much like endin' well, so far, ducks; or hadn't ya noticed?"

"Good news from on High." Alice leaned over to put her arm round Fiona's shoulder once more. "Fletch's just given me the lowdown on Favelli's lawyer's intentions in court. He's going to go for an all-out cancellation of all charges, on account of dodgy Police accounting and investigating. You know, not conducting proper lawful searches in Favelli's house, and that kind'a thing."

"Did they?"

Alice was thrown a trifle by this extraneous query.

"What?"

"Did the Police mess-up their searches? An important point, I hope you'll agree."

Alice, assured once more, shook her head with a wide grin.

"Nah, allow Inspector Fletcher better than that. He did everything according to the book, from start to finish." Alice actually snickered in glee. "He says he's got the files an' official papers covering every aspect of his investigation from start to today; without a blemish, legally speaking, on any page. He and his boys, and some gals too, are in the clear, he says; which means, he is also happy to let us know, he has every chance of really stickin' it to Favelli, come the court date. Asks if we'd like to attend, just for the fun of the thing, when it kicks-off?"

Fiona wasn't behind-hand in replying to this delightful prospect.

"Other than sittin' watchin' a work-party diggin' holes in the road fer hours on end whiles I drinks a Bloody Mary or four, I can't think of any better pastime. You up for same, doll?"

"Too right, my lovely lady." Alice smiled delightedly. "Being there, and seeing Favelli being put away for years, will be the icing on the cake, and no mistake."

—O—

It was much later in the afternoon; early evening, in fact, and the office telephone had been silent for more than two hours. Even if it had found the energy, and bad taste, to ring it would have been a lost cause—the office having been closed for the day for the last hour and a half. But there are people in this world who take no note of other people's social or private lives; the telephone did what telephones do, again, and again, and again. But nobody answered; finally, having itself for once obviously gotten the message, it did what most other telephones did in the same circumstances; saddened at the loss of another victim, slightly disappointed at being unable to fulfil its lawful purposes, and noteful it had other customers on hold, it stopped ringing. Finally, at last, in the long office peace and quiet held sway over all.

—O—

"What about a sherry before we go?"

Fiona, already dolled up to the tonsils in her going-out to an evening restaurant get-up, thought about this suggestion, glanced at her slim silver wrist-watch, pursed her lips, then looked at her partner's obviously still far from ready state, and made her decision.

"Seein' we're takin' a taxi, I don't suppose a preliminary glass o'nose paint'll go wrong. Ain't ya ever goin' ter get ready, doll? Or are ya thinkin' of goin' out in Public like that?"

"Har-har." Alice had suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous sarcasm such as this from her lover for too many years now to take it seriously any more. "I can't decide if this yellow silk blouse, or this pale pink one is better. God, evening dress is such a trial."

"You're wearing, or will be some time in the far future if I'm lucky, a brown jacket." Fiona coming to the fore with her fashion house expertise. "So, if I were you an' not colour-blind, I'd go with the pink."

A few minutes later, fortified by a glass of cream sherry each, and Alice at last fully clothed and decent, they took a last glance round the living-room of their condo.

"All ready, dear?"

"Rarin' t'go, lover."

The telephone rang.

Rrrr-Rrrr—Rrrr-Rrrr.

Fiona straightened to her full height, as if jerked upright by invisible wires. Alice, on the other hand, visibly crumpled, like part of a mountain-side preparing to slip quietly into the valley below. Neither made a move, though both turned an extra shade of pale. At last, braving all the world might throw at her, Alice picked up the receiver.

"Ha—hal—huarr—hallo? Who's—oh, Oh. Oh. Righty-ho. Thanks, 'bye."

Fiona made three attempts to speak before finding voice.

"Who, er, who, umm, wh—"

"Just the concierge down in the main hall lettin' us know our taxi's waiting."

"Chr-st! Thank God fer that!"

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—