'The Lady's Chauffeuse 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. Alice becomes a chauffeuse for a very important person.
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 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8B swanned along 12th Street, Delacote City, NH, like a pearl amongst swine; the other vehicles on the road being careful to avoid the destroyer-long vehicle as it purred past them, nose in the air on this sunny morning of June 1934. Sitting in the exposed roofless driving seat, in front of the enclosed passenger compartment, Alice Drever was having fun. In reality part owner of the famous Drever-Cartwright Private Investigators Agency in Delacote City NH, she was at the moment moonlighting as a chauffeuse; a position she was coming more and more to entertain a liking for.
The huge limousine was by no means easy to drive; its immense weight allied to its length making it far more like a tank than a civilian car; but through necessary experience over the last few hours Alice had, she hoped and believed, brought the mighty beast under control. The fact that she was dressed in a chauffeur's uniform, light grey jacket and trousers with black shoes and a grey peaked cap, along with grey leather gauntlets, also adding to the fun of the thing. Yes, all in all Alice wasn't at all unhappy with her new, if temporary, position.
"Got a good one here, lover."
So addressed Alice raised her head from her own pile of morning mail in their shared office on the 5th floor of the Packer Building, corner of 12th and Rosemartin, Delacote City, NH, to gaze at her paramour Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright.
"Oh, good in what way, lady o'my heart?"
"A Mrs Bertha Connaughty writes to request security on her daily car runs from her house out in the hills behind the city to her office downtown, an' back." Fiona selecting choice passages from the letter in her hand as she spoke. "Les'see, yeah, so, she says she has some notion,—probability she says here,—that someone is attempting to kill her, one way or another."
"One way or another, eh?" Alice intrigued by the very indefiniteness of the threat. "She's got a selection to choose from, already, then?"
Fiona again consulted the letter before her.
"Two weeks ago a lump of stone broke free from the cornice of her office block, landing close by her as she headed for the front entrance. From its seven-storey start hitting the sidewalk like a shell exploding, she being cut and bruised by flying shrapnel, but not seriously. Investigators came to the conclusion it was an accident; she thinking different."
"Nasty." Alice all comforting towards the woman she had yet to meet. "Thing like that'd make me shi—"
"Al, d'ya mind?"
"Huh! Carry on, don't mind me. So, what happened next? Sounds like an Irish Banshee's got its talons out for her."
"Uumph." Fiona flicking across the letter to find her place once more. "Right, then, ten days ago, she stepped out her front door, at the country mansion she owns, and the thick red tile surface of her front step gave way, throwing her down the three or four other steps to the gravel drive. Bruised her ankle but nothing else. No sign of dirty work at the crossroads, but she harbours suspicions dark as a stormy night."
"Dear, dear, lot o'bad luck hounding her every move, by the sound of it."
"I'll say." Fiona nodding in agreement at this sound interpretation of events. "Third, just three days ago, she was being driven down Colchester Avenue, by her chauffeur, when a truck came out a side road and t-boned her Packard, racing away afterwards to parts unknown."
"Hurt, was she?"
"Nah, got away unscathed again."
"Luck of the Devil, seemingly." Alice sniffing censoriously. "What she needs is security."
Fiona gazed wonderingly at the woman in all the world she loved the most, then returned to her missive.
"At this point, she obviously having had quite enough—"
"Don't blame her none."
"Sorry, continue, darling; I'm listening to every word—I am!"
"Hmmph, well, where was I? Oh, yeah; so, her chauffeur now being in hospital with multiple fractures, she says here she's in the market for top-grade security and a new chauffeur. Signs-off by more or less sayin'—Well!, metaphorically."
A silence descended on the long office, echoing from the line of wooden filing cabinents inherited from the last inhabitants of the office suite who had installed same in 1895; then Alice sprang to life.
"Seems to me what Mrs Connaughty's looking for is someone who can both catch criminals and drive a car."
Fiona resolved to say nothing to this dubious statement.
"Now, while looking in our bathroom mirror this morning," Alice coming it some coquettish. "apart from the lovely lady I saw reflected there, I also saw someone who's a whizz at catching criminals, and someone who can drive a car. Wha'ya say, ducks?"
Fiona, forced by circumstances beyond her control, faced the inevitable.
"Al, you're a fool, as well."
"Har! So, when do I start!"
Mrs Connaughty, faced with this variation to the norm, as she sat in her living-room in her fashionable mansion on Berringer Ridge a mile or so to the north-west behind Delacote City, took a few moments to consider the matter.
"You can drive?"
"That there red Plymouth Roadster, sitting in your driveway as we speak, belongs to me, and I drove it here." Alice kicking this inane question into the long grass with cold efficiency. "Damn nearly took the front fender off that ocean liner you have parked there, for whatever reason."
"My Duesenberg, madam."
"What with Charles being hospitalised, and my Packard reduced to scrap, I had no other choice but to bring my Duesenberg to the fore, out of storage." Mrs Connaughty hiking her nose another couple of degrees in the air, as any Duesenberg owner should. "Though, of course, without a chauffeur I wonder how I shall carry on."
"Charles?" Fiona asking what she hoped was a pertinent question on her part.
"My chauffeur; at least, my nearly late chauffeur."
"He ain't gon'na snuff it, surely?"
"What, Miss Cartwright?"
Fiona tried the simple approach.
"He ain't gon'na die from his injuries, is he?"
"—'cause that would make it murder, straight and true." Alice cutting in with a grin. "Then we could really break out the heavy artillery and go on a safari for big game."
"What?" Mrs Connaughty still wholly at sea.
"My partner's, eventually, coming round to suggesting she take on the temporary role of your chauffeuse," Fiona filling in the fine detail for her client. "thereby providing transport while acting as security at the same time. Two birds with one stone, as it were."
Mrs Connaughty, from the safety of her chintz-covered armchair, surveyed the two women sitting opposite on the long sofa. What her deepest feelings were, appertaining to her visitors, neither Fiona nor Alice could quite fathom from her blank almost inert features—but she soon relieved their doubts thereto.
"I suppose it is, at least, a kind of an answer—for the time being, anyway."
"Thanks." From Fiona.
"Thanks, you won't regret it." From Alice, happy to be of service.
"You can shoot?"
"What?" Alice suddenly not so sure of her position as a few seconds earlier.
"Shoot—guns, pistols, rifles, carbines, shotguns, Tommy-guns?" Mrs Connaughty revealing a knowledge of modern artillery unsuspected by her two visitors. "I would prefer the latter, of course; but realise the fact you will hardly be allowed to fire one off in public. Automatics, I expect?"
Caught short, the two detectives rapidly re-evaluated their new client.
"Ah, yes, just so." Fiona scrabbling for solid ground. "I use an automatic; Alice, here, uses a point thirty-eight revolver."
"Colt, Smith and Wesson, Webley, Forehand and Wadsworth, Nagant?"
Again stupified by the detailed knowledge shown by Mrs Connaughty the detectives strove to catch up.
"Uum, Smith and Wesson, ma'am." Alice feeling as if she was blushing.
"Colt." Fiona more matter of fact.
Mrs Connaughty, sitting forward to reach under the top of the low table by her side, then produced a heavy revolver as if by magic, keeping the barrel pointing ceiling-wards.
"I prefer, as house security, my Webley-Fosbery; noisy, and a little difficult to handle, I agree; but produces a wholly satisfactory end result—especially at close range, I find."
By this time both Fiona and Alice were completely dumb-founded.
"Mrs Connaughty, I think we're gon'na get along just fine!" Fiona catching her breath first, while Alice remained open-mouthed staring at the old but deadly revolver in her new client's hand. "Jes' fine!"
The maid, for it was that kind of household, had just retired, closing the drawing-room door behind her, when Mrs Connaughty got down to the details that mattered.
"I'm being hounded to death, you realise."
Both detectives, now made cogniscant of their client's position, still felt it necessary to require added details.
"As how, ma'am?" Alice panhandling for gold as best she could.
"All sorts of ways, my dear." Mrs Connaughty sniffing regally. "Car crashes, houses falling on my head, the very ground under my feet giving way; I tell you, whatever comes next has a very high chance of success unless something is done, and done fast. That, of course, being the reason I have sought your services."
"And a prime service you'll receive, too." Fiona making this aspect crystal clear to their new client. "Drever and Cartwright have a great reputation throughout the state, and we mean to keep the high repute goin' forward. Alice'll be with you most of the day, when you're out in your car or at your office in Delacote."
"Do you mind telling us just what exactly you do, Mrs Connaughty?" Alice coming in with a cogent query. "Just so we know where we stand."
The lady sat back in her chair, having put her artillery away, musing on this question.
"I deal in stocks and shares—not, I admit, a well-liked career these days, what with one thing and another, but it still brings in a profit."
Both Fiona and Alice thought about Packards and Duesenbergs, and admitted silently to themselves that, indeed, it did seem to provide a cosy return.
"Ah, well; so, will it be the Duesenberg out on the drive I'll be, er, driving tomorrow?" Alice taking heed of the personal angle of her involvement.
"Yes, it's a Duesenberg J; I bought it years ago as a town car for New York." Mrs Connaughty fell to day-dreaming of splendid days long past. "Put it in storage in my garage here, when I bought the Packard. Henry, my Steward—he doesn't like the appelation butler,—dusted it down and saw that it still worked. A large vehicle, but I'm sure you will soon get the hang of the thing, Miss Drever."
Miss Drever sat on the sofa with an expression that reflected something wholly less positive, but what could she say.
"How, er, how is it for gas?"
"How much gas does it drink, per mile, that is?"
Mrs Connaughty considered this esoteric matter for some seconds; clearly never having thought about it before.
"Quite a lot, I should imagine; when Charles presented the monthly expenses for my vehicles I must admit I always thought the gas total seemed mighty high."
"Well, I'll leave you now, Mrs Connaughty." Fiona rising to do just that. "As decided, Alice'll take up Charles' abandoned flat over the garage and be available to drive you into Delacote in the morning. We'll see where things go from there. Goodbye."
"—'Bye, Fay; see you around."
What Fiona and Alice had not told their new client was that far from sloping off to go about her own business of a day, Fiona was actually going to trail, at a safe distance, each and every journey Mrs Connaughty made between her house and the nearby city, and back again. While Mrs Connaughty was in her office, doing whatever people did to turn stocks and shares into vast profits, Alice sticking by her side the whole time, Fiona would be somewhere to hand in the vicinity outside casing the general area for any signs of low-lifes', hoodlums, or dodgy characters doing what they shouldn't be doing. All in all both women felt they had this case all sewn up, bar the actual discovery and apprehension of the culprit; a supposition soon to blow up in their faces, almost literally in fact.
"Nah, I don't want a lottery ticket." Fiona elbowing aside a greasy little man in an even greasier grey suit on the sidewalk along Pathfinder Road. "Jeez, ain't the cops got the Numbers racket under control yet?"
Just a few yards further on a tall thin oily character slipped away from the protection of the inner sidewalk and the building there and, bold as brass, came up to her side and propositioned her.
"What? What the hell'd ya just say, buster?"
"I said I wants' it this-away." Pointing to his lips. "An' I don't mean talkin' gossip or who won the two-thirty at Meidener Fields, get me? How much? We can go down this here alley fer privacy."
Fiona had been propositioned in various ways before, by various types, over the years—it being part of the job, she had quickly found,—but still it rankled.
"Listen, bozo," She having now lost her cool entirely. "ya seem mighty attached ter that thing ya think makes ya a man—what say I rip it off with my bare hand an' feed it t'those two dogs over there? Push off, loser."
Looking into the face, and particularly the deep brown eyes, of the lady he had so intemperately confused with a different class of operator, the man frowned darkly, took another look, then changed this expression to one of confusion mixed with fear.
"OK-OK; Jeez, only dam' askin', is all. OK, I'm goin', leddy, I'm goin'—Jeez!"
A few yards further along the road Fiona finally came across that refuge of the weary, an open diner. Acting with the speed of a charging panther she stepped inside in an instant, to calmer safer shores.
"What can I get ya, sis?"
The lady behind the counter wore a red blouse apron, had short dark hair and the expression of someone who had seen it all but still smiled against all the odds.
"Coffee, please. Get much custom round here?"
"At lunch and knocking-off time." She brought over a cup and saucer, filling it from a steaming pot. "There, how's that?"
Fiona took a cautious sip, and was pleased at the result.
"Mighty fine, nice flavour."
"Thanks, my cousin Elbert, over t'Montana, imports the beans from down South."
"Oh, Kentucky, meb'be?"
Fiona returned to her coffee, somewhat chastened, but bucked-up immediately on looking out the wide window onto the street.
"Sure got a fine view from here—see everything goin' down out there fer sure."
The lady behind the counter stopped wiping the wood surface to give her customer an appraising stare.
"You a cop?"
Busted at the first fence Fiona came clean.
"Nah, private dick."
"Har, thought it was that gen'ral ball-park." The lady nodding her head at her correct guess. "So, what brings you to this neck of the woods, if you don't mind me askin'?"
"Oh, this an' that—mostly that." Fiona playing her cards close to her chest.
"Ha!" The lady highly amused by this answer. "That tells me, for sure."
"What's the street-life like, round these parts?" Fiona angling for the feel of the district. "I've already met some doubtful characters, just outside as we speak."
"Know what you mean." The lady nodding in agreement. "My name's Clara, by the way."
"Fay." Fiona touching her jacket with her free hand.
"Nice t'meet you." Clara smiling in return. "What's the area like? Well, the answer is, not so nice as it used t'be. Gone down in the scale over the last five years; but, then, where-all hasn't?"
"Yeah, something in that." Fiona taking another sip from her cup. "Get many customers from that big high-rise half a block along t'the west?"
"The Allied Mutual Farmer's Union Building? Yeah, lunch an' evenin' trade. Why?"
"Got some fancy business's goin' on there, is all." Fiona coming to the point rather more clumsily than she wished. "—er, ever see a Mrs Connaughty comin' in here fer refreshment?"
"The stocks lady? Yeah, regular customer." Clara laughed delightedly. "Sell you five hundred Silver Amalgamated Denver Mines as soon as say hallo t'you. Watch your step there, or you'll leave a dam' sight poorer than when you came here."
"Thanks for the tip." Fiona ruefully thinking about how impossible it was to truly keep private matters secret, when most desired. "Well, thanks for the coffee; be back some time."
"Have a good day, y'all."
The offices of the Connaughty Stocks and Shares Company Inc., were less imposing than Alice had anticipated; running to only an outer reception room with secretary and three private offices of the standard size and style. Being on the third floor of a seven-floor brownstone dating from before the start of the present century gave the whole thing a certain aura, though whether of incipient chic or mere age was left to the individual—Alice not being particularly impressed.
Mrs Connaughty's office was the left-hand one of the three private offices, with two high windows looking down on the passing traffic in Pathfinder Road, which hardly constituted entertainment of any value. The furniture consisted of a large desk for Mrs Connaughty on which were no less than four telephones as well as her intercom to her secretary, three metal filing cabinets ranged along the wall opposite the windows, a smaller desk against the far left wall where presently Alice had taken up position, and a couple of hard wooden chairs for customers to feel uncomfortable on while Mrs Connaughty relieved them of their money in exchange for printed certificates of dubious future value.
"So, what do you think, my dear?" Mrs Connaughty relaxing in her own padded chair, carefully placing her Webley-Fosbery in a draw in her desk close to her right hand. "At least, with no equal or higher building opposite, I don't need to worry about snipers shooting through my windows."
"Huh, that's a positive, anyway." Alice curling a lip in sarcastic agreement. "Pity we had to park the Duesenberg out in the street, though; not a vehicle that mingles with its acquaintances easy."
"There's a sub-police station just at the other end of the block; Precinct 12." The owner of the office smiling cheerfully at this criticism. "I've, er, given them some assistance in various areas over the years; so they try to make sure no-one plays fast or loose with my cars. Kind of them."
Finding no adequate reply to this information Alice chose silence instead.
A minute later one of the phones on Mrs Connaughty's desk rang briskly, as of a share-miner ready and willing to off-load their latest cargo.
"It's for you; may I call you Alice if you call me Bertha? Just pick up your phone and I'll transfer the call."
Picking up the receiver of the phone on her own desk Alice quickly recognised the golden tones of her caller.
"Oh, hi, Fay—where you at? Whas'sat? Oh, a diner, right. Anything going on? No, oh. No, everything's fine here, all tickety-boo so far. No, the Dues's out at the edge of the sidewalk close by the main entrance—no private parking nearby. Yeah, well, there you are. So, we'll see how the day goes, eh? Yeah, right. OK, I'll do that. For Chr—I mean fine, honey, I can manage that too. OK, bye. That was my other half—"
"I suspected as much." Bertha showing an incipient humorous nature behind the stone façade.
Having finally left the safe haven of Clara's diner, there being only so much coffee one could imbibe in one sitting, Fiona found herself with two possibilities; to return to her sedan and sit out the rest of the day, or further perambulate the immediate district—she choosing the former without much effort.
"God knows what other tramps I'll bump into, round these parts; at least the DeSoto'll be comfortable."
Not wishing to make too much of a spectacle of herself Fiona had parked her sedan on an empty lot where other cars had also taken the liberty, so her vehicle didn't stand out; and, anyway, it was only some half-block away from Alice in the Farmer's Union Building.
Two hours later she wondered whether she had made the right decision, after all.
"God, my butt hurts. Think I'll take a stroll t'get the blood circulatin' again."
Feeling like one of those shamus's in thriller films, who wander around the scene of the crime as if they were invisible, Fiona started along Pathfinder Road on the opposite side of the street from the building she had most interest in. But she wasn't invisible, as the stares from locals sitting on their stair-stoops proved as she passed them; as also was the Duesenberg parked on the other side of the road as she passed the Union Building.
"God, stands out like a sore thumb. Why's it never been vandalised?"
Two minutes later, further along the Road.
"Oh, I see—cops."
Pausing only briefly near the police station she turned to retrace her steps, having had quite as much fresh air as required in this neighbourhood.
"What time's it? Twelve-fifteen! God, somethin' wrong with my watch, meb'be? Jeez, well, what's on the agenda? Hit Clara's for lunch, I expect; maybe see Al there? God, it's gon'na be a long day; wonder if we can figure something else out tomorrow? Well, heigh-ho the blue-plate special!"
The knocking-off time for the majority of workers in the Union Building turned out to be 5.20pm, at which time the main hall on the ground floor looked more like the exits of a football stadium immediately after the game than not; the crowds actually elbowing each other for room in the constricted space of the forty foot wide and fifty foot long hall; the actual swing-doors onto the street being a nearly fatal bottleneck of thrusting heaving swearing humanity. Bertha, on the other hand, chose to continue working till nearer 6.00pm; stocks and shares, as she casually informed Alice, being always shy creatures needing careful shepherding to bed of an evening if you didn't want to lose the delicate ones: Alice being left to herself to decide just how much of this was hard fact or Bertha's warped sense of humour. But finally they found themselves on the now almost deserted sidewalk, heading for the still surviving Duesenberg.
Being an old-fashined Town Car, it had an extremely long bonnet hiding an engine with enough bizazz to power a light aeroplane, an enclosed passenger compartment, and a driving area open to the elements, barring the difficult unfolding of a sliding roof which clipped shut on the windshield top edge. The fact that Alice had been dressed in her chauffeuse's uniform the entirety of the day not making her any more happy or comfortable as Bertha took her private seat while Alice clambered into the open driver's seat—where she soon found that the leather thereon had absorbed all the heat of the sunny day and was clearly most unwilling to let go of any of it.
"Jeez, my ass's burning, an' I've only just sat dam' down."
As she had earlier found, on the journey in from Berringer Ridge, the Duesenberg was a monster to control; its weight allied to the need to twist the driving wheel with all your strength making it hard to navigate round anything like a real corner. The fact its engine was slow to transfer power to the wheels when most required also needing the driver to think almost half a block ahead when any important maneouvre was required. At least, Alice thought to herself as she settled behind the wheel, they had missed most of the evening home-going traffic, so the roads ought to be that little clearer; she, as she knew dam' well, needing every available extra inch of space going.
But, Nemesis having marked her for Her own from the moment Dawn rose that day, Alice had only steered the land-yacht onto nearby Carter Avenue when disaster struck.
In an instant Alice found she had lost all control of the vehicle; which now seemed to have developed a soul of its own—one bent on imminent destruction, of itself and all who rode in her. The engine began to roar out of control, the vehicle veered to the left, crossing onto the sidewalk, Alice being unable despite all her efforts to stop it, and finally crashed at speed throught the wall and window of a high-class fashion shop on the exclusive road; only the rear luggage rack of the Duesenberg remaining visible from the sidewalk outside after the bricks and mortar, the glass shards and dust, had settled.
Inside the shop, haply free of customers, all mayhem had broken loose. Three assistants, two of them men, had collapsed in hysterics, the manageress stood close by thanking her lucky stars she had not been flattened, and Alice sat crouched in the remains of the vehicle gauntleted hands over head, still in the throes of hoping the rest of the building overhead didn't decide to fall on her. Finally, time passed and she regained a modicum of her senses; enough, anyway, to recognise and gaze around at the destruction encircling her and what remained of her vehicle.
"Madame! What the hell're you doing? This is a fashion shop." The manageress still not thinking quite straight.
Alice, taking a deep breath redolent of plaster dust and broken bricks, struggled as best she could from the driving seat, the door being now a mangled piece of sheet metal.
"In a moment, lady."
Alice struggled out onto the floor of the shop, now looking like part of the Front Line at the Battle of the Somme, and clambered over the wreckage underfoot to the rear of the car. A few tugs on the passenger door proving ineffectual she looked around and picked up a long broken strip of wood. Inserting this in the twisted handle she tried again, with more success as the door, squealing in agony, allowed its tortured form to be dragged open.
"God, Mrs Connaughty, you alright?""
From out of the dusty dark interior a form appeared, sliding across the bench seat into the light, or now near twilight, of the destroyed shop's interior, at last being identified as the owner of the car in person. She stepped out, with Alice's assistance, straightened her hat, looked around with some interest, then addressed her chauffeuse in a remarkably cheerful tone.
"So, that's my Duesenberg up the Swannee, as well as my Packard. Seems I'm running out of vehicles eh? Oh, well, obviously time I ordered Henry to bring m'Isotta-Fraschini out of mothballs to join the fray, don't you think, Alice?"
The evening had lengthened into near darkest night, the investigators were back in their Packer Building office and a thorough investigation of preceeding events was under way.
"Gim'me another shot of that whiskey, lover."
Fiona, nothing loth herself to top-up her own glass, did as bid.
"Mm, need that." Alice imbibing the drink that refreshes and soothes. "So, what happened?"
"The police Superintendent says the car mechanics, when they'd finally recovered the debris, said there was too little still in one piece t'determine what had happened."
Fiona considered her other half, lying at full-length on the office sofa by her side.
"What makes you take that attitude, darlin'?"
Alice, however, was up for this.
"All the earlier things that've happened to la Connaughty! Her Packard being totalled, now her Duesenberg—God, I was getting to love that car!—taking a hike off the road into the nearest high-class fashion atelier? What else can one think? Good job Bertha's still got a fall-back, in her Isotta-Fraschini, or we'd be well stumped."
"Chr-st, how many high-class vehicles does that woman have?"
Alice ignored this carping criticism of those who had the spondoolicks to throw around wholesale, having something more important on her mind.
"Yeah, another fill-up? Ya haven't finished your glass yet."
"God, get t'the point, young 'un!"
"There's two outcomes, two propositions that cover present events."
A pause ensued.
"So, hit me with 'em, lady." Fiona losing patience.
Alice took another sip of her drink and revealed all.
"Two likelihoods—one, it's all a series of accidents, and Bertha's having hallucinations about being fingered by a murderer. Or, two—it's all according to Hoyle, and someone's really out to get the gal, come Hell, High water, or any other obstruction to him getting his evil way. Now all we, as expert tec's, have to consider is—which it is."
A second pause filtered quietly through the office; both women being too absorbed in deep cogitation to notice its presence, then both came to the same conclusion simultaneously.
"Dirty work at the cross-roads." Alice being over-dramatic as her character necessitated.
"Someone definitely working a crap-shoot on the ol' gal, fer sure." Fiona, more colourfully, agreeing with her now slighty intoxicated lover. "Oh, look at the time. Better buck up, doll; it's time you were headed back out t'Berringer Ridge in your Plymouth—ya still got your chauffeuse' duties in the mornin', y'know."
"Yeah, suppose so." Alice loth to leave the warm comfort of her lover's presence. "Gee, hope a cop doesn't stop me on the way; I'm tanked up, as it is."
"Huh, one last kiss before ya go, lover?"
"Hmm, better make it two, darlin'.
"I kin do that, baby—c'mere."
The Isotta-Fraschini was a lovely vehicle; even more so than Alice had expected when she set eyes on the vast automobile the next day, back at the house on Berringer Ridge.
"God, Bertha, what a beauty!"
"She does make a statement, doesn't she." Mrs Connaughty revealing a certain pride in ownership. "Hope to Goodness she survives the coming days, is all."
Alice nodded soberly.
"Yeah, too true. But, don't worry, everything Fiona and I can do to stop such is being hauled out and set-up as we speak. We've, Fiona and I, taken on five other detectives to help in investigating just what the hell's going on here. We've been in contact with the Twelfth Precinct, on Pathfinder Road; and we've passed what we know onto the Fifth Precinct downtown—Inspector Fletcher there is a great guy. We're gon'na get to the bottom of things, or die trying, is all."
"As long as you don't take me with you, in the latter event, eh?"
"Oh-ah, yeah, well, that goes as said for sure, of course, Bertha." Alice somewhat embarassed by her own words. "But let's look on the bright side—this Isotta-Fraschini's built like a bloody tank; take a shell or aerial bomb to scratch the paint-work, even. We should be safe enough in it, surely?"
"Well, one can only hope." Bertha more conservative in her opinion. "What are your, or our, plans for the day, then?"
"For a start we ain't leaving this magnificent piece of modern art out at the edge of the sidewalk, like the poor Duesenberg, for anyone and their cousin to slip by and do horrible things to her innards." Alice on top of the situation. "There's another office building three blocks to the west, on Pathfinder Road; we've called the owners and negotiated a space in their guarded underground parking level for the next month. We'll just have to walk to and fro from there, in the interests of staying alive and what-not."
"And your partner, Fiona, is—?"
"Doing the foot-work as we speak." Alice nodding sagely, as having this aspect under control too. "She's got our new team looking into every angle of the information you've given us since yesterday. We're going to shine searchlights on everything you've done, and everywhere you've been, and everyone you've met, over the last three months. There's got to be a connection somewhere along the line."
"If there is I haven't discovered it, yet."
"Well, sometimes these things can be dam' esoteric; criminals, especially the worst sort, having warped mentalities that'd stump a mere amateur." Alice making free with her expert knowledge. "I speak as one who's seen, shaken hands with, and shot same, y'see?"
"Shall we scramble into this ocean liner then, Bertha?" Alice all eagerness to find out if the Isotta-Fraschini was any better than the deceased Duesenberg or not. "How're the brakes? Good, I dam' well hope?"
The Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8B swanned along 12th Street, Delacote City, NH, like a pearl amongst swine; the other vehicles on the road being careful to avoid the destroyer-long vehicle as it purred past them, nose in the air. Sitting in the exposed roofless driving seat, in front of the enclosed passenger compartment, Alice was in her element having fun, coming more and more to entertain a liking for her temporary new career as a chauffeuse.
The huge limousine was by no means easy to drive; its immense weight allied to its length making it far more like a tank than a civilian car; but through necessary experience as she drove Alice had, she hoped and believed, brought the mighty beast more or less under control. The fact that she was also far more comfortable now, dressed in her chauffeuse's uniform, only adding to the fun of the thing. Yes, all in all Alice wasn't at all unhappy, for the moment.
Driving slower than the traffic building up behind her apparently relished she cruised along 12th till the turn-off onto Brakespeare Avenue hove in sight. Turning into the Avenue with what could only be regarded as regal insouciance she drove the Isotta-Fraschini on along the road at a careful twenty-three miles per hour, to the distress of those still behind her, but did she care—of course not.
Taking her eyes off the road for an instant, and more dangerously one hand off the huge steering-wheel, Alice unhinged the ear-piece of the intercom, like an old-fashioned two-piece telephone, set on a hook on the dividing partition by her left ear and put it to said ear. A grill-covered microphone on the partition allowing her to communicate verbally with her passenger, if she shouted loud enough.
"Bertha! What's up?"
"Oh, sorry. So, what can I do? I am driving this monster, here, y'know."
"That's what worries me. I mean, can't you go just a trifle faster? I was looking out my left-hand window a minute ago and a snail on the sidewalk passed us with a sneer."
"Oh, very funny." Alice not at all impressed by this attempt at humour. "This baby has a turning circle wider than the Mauretania's, if you haven't noticed. I have to get ready for a corner half a block before-hand, to be sure of making it; that's why I'm going slow. The other traffic can just look after themselves."
"Oh, well—whatever you think is best, of course."
The Packer Building office of Drever and Cartwright had not seen so much industrious activity since the Crash of '29, when an Insurance company had the premises. On the long office desk were now no less than 6 telephones, under the control of Fiona and Jesse Markham, another private detective who usually worked on her own in Delacote City but was a close friend of Fiona and Alice. At the moment they were both snowed under by incoming calls, seemingly without end.
Jesse, who was small and blonde, but with the persona of an angry leopard, was at the moment trying to sieve fact from useless detail as one of her informers called in.
"Nah, Bennie, I ain't breakin' free with fifty dollars—I wouldn't give ya that amount if ya told me fer sure an' certin' the King of England was having it away with a previously married American Lady of means." She decisively laying out the border-lines of her charity. "Ten, I'll split for ten, but only if the gossip's good, mind. So, what ya got? What? That's just longshoreman's scuttlebutt, from the wharves on the Causeway, and not good scuttlebutt, neither. Ya got something better'n that? No? Then why're ya invadin' my ear with drivel? Ring back when ya got something useful."
She slammed the receiver down just as Fiona, an interested and amused listener to the conversation, picked up her own now ringing receiver.
"Hallo, Drever an—oh, Jack; so, what's up? Where are you? Todmorton? Why, if I may ask? Who's in the realm of the High an' Well-padded from the cold who're of interest to us? Anne Malcolmson? The gal who sticks to Splits Donavan like a limpet? That gal? Why, again? What? Jack, have ya lost your mind? I want the gen on who's been tagging along by Bertha Connaughty's side; not the daily doings of a dame who ain't no better than she should be. What? What? Now, Jack, that's just plain nonsense; how could you think she thought Bertha was a threat to her long-term plans to squeeze Splits for every penny he owns; dimwit, I agree, as he surely is? Nah, that don't hang. An' that's crap, too, if ya don't mind me sayin'. Of course I want information, Jack. Of course I know you're doing your damndest; who ain't in this present set-up? Yeah, I always take everything ya tell me as the gospel truth, except when it ain't. Jack? Jack? Huh, the clown's rung-off in a huff, Jesse. Just hope he has something more concrete when he eventually rings back."
"Yeah, I got'ta sa—"
But there was to be no respite. The blue phone by Jesse's right hand buzzed like a herd of angry bees.
"Why's it making that noise?" Jesse searching for information even as she lifted the receiver.
"Ex-Army stock; I got it cheap a year ago." Fiona passing on the needed data as the white phone by her left hand rang imperiously in its turn. "God, I feeel like an operator at Bell Telephones—what? Oh, it's you, Davis—so, what? Yeah? Yeah? OK, that could be useful, thanks. Yeah, eight o'clock this evenin'. Bye."
"Listen, Vera, what did I tell you this mornin'? Yeah, so why're you goin' in the opposite direction?" Jesse deep in another argument. "Forget all the out-o'-towners; we ain't got time for them. Stick to the business district Downtown; that's where Mrs Connaughty's enemies'll have their sordid dens, take my word for it. Yeah-Yeah—OK."
For a brief moment silence descended on the office, letting both women sit back with deeply felt sighs of relief.
"God, didn't think keepin' track of half a dozen assistants an' informers would be so time consumin', an' tirin'." Jesse's tone saying it all.
"If any one of them comes up with something solid, it'll be worthwhile." Fiona taking the positive outlook.
"Jeez, when'll it all end?"
The Isotta-Fraschini was cruising, with a great deal of éclat, along 12th Street ignoring as usual the rest of the traffic, especially that building up behind it. Following Alice's advice Bertha having decided to vary her intinerary by leaving the office an hour earlier than usual.
"Bozos' don't like time-tables being messed around with—put's them off their stroke, y'know; they only having simple minds to begin with." Alice telling it like it was to her client. "We hit the street early they won't know what hit 'em till we're well past and home."
Following her own advice Alice was now happily, if carefully, steering the vast machine along the road with all due care and tenderness which, she had quickly found, the Isotta-Fraschini needed a lot of. Then things began to become interesting.
Alice had taken one hand off the car's huge steering-wheel long enough to push the button on the partition by her left ear that made the passenger's interior intercom whistle its lively tune.
"What is it, Alice?"
Adjusting her tone to the circumstances of the quite noisy traffic around her Alice entered into conversation.
"Something's up, Bertha; you might wan'na think about hunkering down for the storm."
"What's going on?"
"There's a light truck behind us, and a heavy sedan in front—both of which are acting strange. I think their gon'na try the ol' squeezeroo on us in the next half-block or so."
"What about our police escort?" Bertha au fait with all the new defensive measures for her put in place during the last twenty-four hours.
"They're in civilian cars in front and behind." Alice also well aware of the extended protection now quietly surrounding them. "The gangsters won't know they're anywhere near. But hold onto something solid, I may have to take defensive action in the next couple of minutes."
In the next minute, out of seemingly nowhere, the very action Alice had foreseen came to pass—the heavy dark sedan in front suddenly came to a complete halt while the truck behind increased speed, obviously with the intention of crushing the Isotta-Fraschini between them, to what purpose or outcome remained as yet unknown: but Alice wasn't letting this happen on her watch.
Twisting the large steering-wheel she brought the large town-car out of the stream of traffic into the oncoming vehicles on the opposite side of the wide road. Tyres and brakes screeched as these tried to veer out of the path of the destroyer, in more than one meaning of the term, which suddenly appeared in their paths. But one, an old Model T Ford, just didn't have the power or strength of purpose to make a successful avoiding maneouvre—two seconds after seeing the mighty Isotta-Fraschini the Ford hit it head on, bumper to bumper. But while the Ford's were tin sheet, the I.F.'s were steel beams—the Ford bounced into the air, all four wheels off the ground, executed a perfect pirouette and came crashing down in front of a Pontiac which couldn't do anything other than plow into the shattered remnants of the Ford
Dust, and rust, billowed everywhere like a sandstorm in the desert. The traffic came to a standstill all along that portion of 12th, and the respective drivers of both the Ford, amazingly uninjured, and the Pontiac clambered out their vehicles to espostulate with each other over the damage, which was extensive. Alice drove a few yards further on till she was alongside the dark sedan which had harboured devious plans towards her; here she expertly veered the Isotta-Fraschini over till its vast bulk slammed against the side of the sedan, stopping anyone inside exiting from that side, just as a plain black car raced up on the other side from which, on its braking to a halt in a hail of gravel and dust, a whole platoon of police officers descended into the fray.
Some three men had attempted to take leave of the dark sedan but, hampered by only having the near-side to make use of they were instantly corralled by the cops; other men in blue uniforms seeing very expertly to the crew of the truck to the rear—and all was over.
"Very nice—very nice indeed. Couldn't have done better myself." Alice grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
"What's going on? Have we crashed, again? What about my beautiful Isotta?" From the owner in the back-seat, wondering what the hell!
"Everything's under control, Bertha." Alice cock-a-hoop. "It's all over, all over."
"Explanations? Well, they're rather complicated, to be sure." Inspector Fletcher of the 5th Precinct sitting at peace at the long desk in the Drever and Cartwright office alongside Mrs Connaughty, Fiona and Alice. "It all seeems to be down to an intricate, almost Byzantine, plan to make certain shares Mrs Connaughty, here, is in charge of take a tumble on the Stock Market."
"To what purpose?" Fiona still somewhat in the dark, as were almost everyone else in the room.
"Profit, of course." Fletcher declaiming like an old time Prophet. "You wouldn't believe how much money some of these here shares an' things can be made to be worth—in words if not real money, anyway—for a short period of time whiles you keeps the grift goin', anyway."
"What was the point of making people, shareholders I presume, think Mrs Connaughty wouldn't be in a position to manage them?" Alice eager for the light of reason to begin to shine in her vicinity.
"So's the prices of same would plummet." Fletcher up for this old scam. "A weary kind'a game, in this day an' age; but still got some life in it yet, apparently. They, the grifters, push the prices down, buy up the worthless stock at kid's prices then, when it's found the stocks are actually still worth huge amounts of money, they sell thereby gaining hugely inflated profit margins. Mrs Connaughty was just the patsy in the field of fire; they didn't mean anything personal in trying t'kill ya, lady, just a business deal, was all."
"Oh, that makes me feel a lot better, I'm sure not!" Mrs Connaughty looking daggers at the Inspector to no purpose; he now being, from long experience, entirely immune to such responses.
"Well, at least everyone concerned has been caught an' put in durance vile; ain't that so, Fletcher?" Fiona clearing up the loose points of the complicated game just over.
"Yeah," Inspector Fletcher admitting this with some effort. "Your work on the phone, all those informers an' assistants ya had out on the street; they fingered just who was behind it all in the end, sure enough—got'ta give ya that."
"Miss Drever?" Bertha turning to her erstwhile chauffeuse, now it had all been straightened out. "What would you say to a career as my chauffeuse—a thousand a year, and benefits?"
Alice paused to consider this excellent offer with the attention it fully deserved.
"Mighty fine of you to offer, Mrs Connaughty; but, what with one thing and another, I think I'd better stick where I am—I mean, what'd Fay, here, do without me, I ask you?"
Fiona turned to her lover and partner with a wide grin.
"Huumph, thanks I'm sure, young 'un! Al, put this here closed file in the green filing cabinet over there, will ya?"
"Sure thing, doll; shall I break out the booze in the top drawer there, too?"
Fiona looked at the anticipatory expressions of those round the desk with her.
"Reckon so, darling; but leave the Green Fairy alone; we'll make do with the mash whiskey, OK?"
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.