“Well, well, well,” said Jerry, twirling his hat thoughtfully in his hands as we walked away from Amber’s apartment building. “Amber Allen and Knuckles Bryson – I’ve got to hand it to you, I never saw that one coming. I guess there’s just no accounting for taste.”
“I suppose some women go for that hulking Neanderthal type,” I said with a casual shrug.
“Do you?” asked Jerry with a raise of his eyebrow.
I smiled. “That’s not a question you’d feel the need to ask if you’d ever met Peter.”
“Who’s Peter?” asked Jerry.
Jerry stopped abruptly. “But I thought…” he began. “Didn’t you say earlier that you don’t have a boyfriend?”
“No, I said Michael wasn’t my boyfriend,” I replied. “That’s not the same thing.”
Jerry eyed me thoughtfully for a few strides. “So where exactly is this boyfriend of yours while you’re running around town in the company of another man?” he asked.
“He’s, er… well, he’s stuck somewhere else just now.”
“Well, I suppose that’s something,” said Jerry with a smile, finally setting his hat on his head and pulling it down rakishly over one eye.
We stopped at a nearby drug store where Jerry made a couple of calls, leaving messages for Woody and Michael to meet us at the diner as soon as they were able, and then headed over there to wait for them.
“At least this narrows our list of suspects,” I said to Jerry once we’d settled ourselves into a booth and ordered coffee. “I can’t see Knuckles Bryson knocking off any of the witnesses that might convict Egan, not if he’s having a fling with Egan’s girlfriend. Let’s hope Woody and Michael didn’t waste their morning chasing that red herring.”
“I shouldn’t worry,” said Jerry with a wry smile. “If I know Woody, given a choice between taking on Knuckles Bryson and Morrie the bookman, he’ll pick the accountant every time.”
“I can’t say I entirely blame him,” I replied.
Before we could say any more we were interrupted by the appearance of a broad man in his mid-forties, wearing a dark shiny suit that showed signs of wear around the edges and holding a crumpled fedora in his hands. He approached Jerry with a slightly weary smile, as though someone had just told him a very familiar joke.
“So there you are, Jerry my lad,” he said in a pleasant Irish lilt. “I might have known you’d not be able to keep your mind on detecting for long when there’s other distractions around.” He flashed me a cheerful smile as he spoke, as though to ensure that no offence were taken.
“Good to see you O’Halloran,” said Jerry cheerily. “And I’ll have you know that we’re working on the Egan case as we speak. May I introduce Miss Natasha Everingham, amateur sleuth extraordinaire? Natasha, meet Detective O’Halloran, the last honest man on the force.”
“Go on, I’ll buy it, though there’s thousands wouldn’t,” said O’Halloran sardonically as he took my hand. “Glad to know you miss.”
“You ought to buy it,” retorted Jerry. “We talked to Amber Allen this morning and she’s, rather reluctantly, put us on to a piece of evidence that, if we can turn it up, should nail Egan for good. And quite possibly take half the town down with him.”
“Well, we sure could use a break,” said O’Halloran, scratching the back of his head with a thoughtful air. “Cause someone out there is still pulling the strings for Egan and they’re playing a mighty tune. They got to another safe house in the morning – tried to make a regular party out there with a bunch of automatics and a couple of hand grenades.”
“Any witnesses down?” asked Jerry quickly.
“No, by some sweet miracle we managed to get them out just in time,” conceded O’Halloran. “But I’ve two good officers in the morgue and another four in the hospital. Whatever you’re onto you’d better dig it out fast cos the D.A’s getting all kinds of twitchy.”
“You don’t think he’s going to drop the charges already, do you?” asked Jerry in concern.
O’Halloran shrugged. “It took a lot of guts for him to take on Egan in the first place. I guess you can’t altogether blame him if he starts wondering if there’s not still time for him to get out with at least some of his limbs still attached.”
“Just get him to hold fast for another twenty-four hours at least, can’t you?” begged Jerry earnestly. “I’m sure we’re onto something now.”
O’Halloran smiled his weary smile. “For you, Jerry my lad, I’ll see what I can do. But if we lose another witness there’s no saying how the D.A will take it.”
“I suppose it’s fruitless of me to ask if there’s anything more you could be doing at your end to put a lid on Egan,” said Jerry.
“I’ll not even have the warders near his cell unless it’s to pass him his meals,” protested O’Halloran. “But I can’t stop him receiving visitors. And though he’s watched like a hawk you know as well as I do that the most innocent sounding conversation can be full of meaning for those in the know.”
“I know,” said Jerry ruefully. “By the way, I’m assuming that after you pinched Egan you had someone go over his office at the Blue Room club. Someone trustworthy I mean.”
“I did it myself, I’ll have you know,” said O’Halloran firmly. “That’s the only trustworthy way I know.”
“And you didn’t come across a book there – a red leather-bound book embossed with gold initials on the cover?”
“I did not.”
“Was there time for Egan to smuggle out such a book before he was pinched?” asked Jerry.
“My lad, there was probably time for him to smuggle out a whole library,” replied O’Halloran resignedly. “It was that kind of a night. But what’s in this book?”
“If what we’ve heard is true,” said Jerry, “enough to put the final nail in Egan’s coffin and hammer down the lid for good.”
“Then I wish you luck in your search for it,” said O’Halloran and, lifting his crumpled hat in a farewell salute, he turned and left.
We were onto our third cup of coffee by the time Woody and Michael finally bowled into the diner, looking slightly dishevelled and clearly bursting to tell their story. Well, Woody was clearly bursting to tell his story, Michael settled for wearing an enigmatic expression that indicated he undoubtedly had a story to tell but on this occasion he was prepared to leave the glory of telling it to Woody.
“Hell Boss, have we had a morning,” exclaimed Woody as they settled into the booth opposite us.
Jerry, clearly realising it would be futile to intrude upon Woody’s tale, signalled the waitress to bring over more coffee. “Then you’d better tell us all about it.”
“Well, it all started when we moseyed on down to Morrie the bookman’s office on Stanton Avenue to see if we couldn’t put the squeeze on him a little,” began Woody.
“Morrie, eh?” said Jerry, shooting me a knowing glance. “You didn’t think to start with Knuckles Bryson then?”
“Morrie’s place was closer,” replied Woody with a casual shrug as the waitress poured his coffee.
“Of course it was.”
“Anyhow, from the corner of the block we see Morrie already heading out the door,” Woody went on. “I was gonna go over and stop him but then it occurred to me that maybe we could get more out of Morrie’s empty office than we were likely to get out of Morrie, if you get the idea.”
Jerry and I nodded sagely to indicate that we got the idea.
“So we wait till the coast is clear and then go on over,” continued Woody. “His office is on the third floor. Two minutes and we was in. I tell ya, they don’t make locks like they used to.”
“It’s a scandal,” said Jerry.
“Well, we had a good old root around but the search was a bust. Nothing to tie Morrie to the witness jobs.” At this point both Jerry and I opened our mouths to interrupt but Woody ploughed straight on. “So we’re getting ready to take our leave when suddenly we hear voices on the stairs. Turns out Morrie’s made his return a little sooner than we anticipated and what’s more it sounds like he’s got company with him. So we’re trapped in the middle of his office with no place to hide and half the Egan mob about to burst in on us.”
Woody paused and took a sip of his coffee for dramatic effect. “Goddammit, that’s needs some sugar,” he murmured disgustedly. “Anyhow, we’re standing there, readying ourselves for the hail of bullets, when suddenly I remember there’s a fire escape up onto the roof,” he continued, all the while piling spoonful after spoonful of sugar into his cup. “From up top it’s a short leap to the next building. The jump ain’t without its risks but I figure it’s our only chance. Only I’d failed to notice the roof of the next building has a slope to it and it’s been raining lately. Mike and I make the jump alright but we go skidding straight across the roof and crash right through a skylight someone has been dumb enough to leave open.”
Having finally emptied the sugar bowl Woody paused to take another sip of coffee. “Ah, that’s better,” he proclaimed. “Anyhow, fortunately there was a big old empty bed directly beneath the skylight which more or less cushions our fall, meaning no bones broken. Not so fortunately, there happens to be a dame sitting two feet away at her dressing table wearing nothing but her negligee and on finding herself with some unexpected company she starts to scream the place down.”
“Tough break,” commented Jerry sympathetically.
“Well, not quite so tough as it might have been, cos after the broad gets a good look at Mikey here she decides that maybe we’re not the worst thing that could come crashing into her bedroom after all and she quietens down a fair bit. In fact, he’s barely had chance to offer a few words of apology before she’s worrying about whether or not he might have hurt himself and whether there ain’t maybe any bits he’d like her to bandage up for him.”
“He has that effect sometimes,” I said with a wry smile.
“It’s that English accent, I tell ya,” said Woody with a rueful glance at Jerry. “Gets ‘em every time. But that ain’t the end of the story. Cause the dame might be all smiles now but her earlier screaming ain’t gone unnoticed. And while we’re stood around, getting better acquainted if you like, this mean-looking Joe who turns out to be her husband comes bursting in with a shotgun in his hand.
“So this time I really am saying my prayers cause this guy takes one look at his wife in the nearly altogether and the two of us on her bed and jumps to all manner of unfortunate conclusions. But before he can pull the trigger Mike here swings straight into action with some story about us being building inspectors come to check for dry rot in the roof or something. And at first the Joe ain’t quite buying it, saying if we were proper inspectors he’d have had some kind of notification. But Mike just keeps right on at him, saying as how he must have had a letter but just not read it properly, which really makes the whole business entirely his fault. And once the guy starts floundering Mike really goes in for the kill, telling him how he ought to be ashamed cos his carelessness has meant that we’ve stumbled in on his old lady in a state of undress and doesn’t he think he owes both us and the twist an apology for all the embarrassment caused.
“Well I tell ya, by the time Mike’s finished the poor schmuck don’t know whether he’s coming or going or whose wife is whose. And he’s about ready to beg forgiveness for the broken window, his old lady’s damaged honour, the Lindbergh baby and anything else we want to lay at his feet. This guy’s a marvel,” concluded Woody with an admiring glance at Michael. “He oughta be on the stage.”
“It was nothing really,” said Michael with a modest wave of his hand.
“Nice work,” said Jerry admiringly. “But to take you back a little way, while you were searching Morrie’s office you didn’t happen to come across a red ledger with gold initials on the cover, did you?”
There was an immediate shake of the head from both Michael and Woody.
“No, nothing like that,” said Michael.
“Fraid not boss,” said Woody.
“You’re sure you checked everywhere?” pressed Jerry.
“Hey, if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s shake a joint down properly,” insisted Woody with a touch of wounded pride. “What’s the deal with this book anyhow?”
Jerry gave them a brief rundown of our chat with Amber and her disclosure about the book. “We know that Egan can’t have passed it to either Amber or Knuckles Bryson,” he concluded, “which surely leaves either Morrie the bookman or Chuckles Bryson as its custodian.”
“Well, if Morrie doesn’t have it at his office is there anywhere else he might keep it?” I asked.
“I hear he also has an office out by the docks,” said Woody. “Egan rents a couple of warehouses down there for storing his bootleg liquor.”
“Okay, that sounds like somewhere else for you two to check up on,” suggested Jerry. “Now what about Chuckles? Where does he usually hang out?”
“At the club or the racetrack mostly,” replied Woody.
“Although,” Woody added after a pause, “there was word that Egan had fitted him up with a pad in that fancy apartment building he owns over by the public library. You know, the one where they hold the high stakes card games for the high rollers on the top floor.”
“That was generous of him,” remarked Jerry.
“I think it was kind of a thank-you to Chuckles for icing Billy the Dutchman,” explained Woody.
“Reward for a job well done, eh?” mused Jerry. “Alright, then I suggest that whilst you look over Morrie’s office by the docks maybe Natasha and I ought to pay a little call on Chuckles Bryson and see what we can’t dig up. What do you say Natasha?”
I smiled weakly in reply. Not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm I preferred not to say anything but inside I couldn’t help praying that Chuckles might be out when we went to pay our social call. After all, the more I heard about that particular scion of the Bryson family the less I wanted to meet him.
To be continued…