Delancey and the Stickball Game

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic


The fourth Delancey has the detective helping some neighbor boys. Two of these guys will become semi-regular cast members. There's a bit more darkness in this one.

Submitted: July 12, 2018

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Submitted: July 12, 2018

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Case #18 - Late August, 1927 - Delancey and the Stickball Game

Having dispensed with the Knuckles case, and that silly little case in between, of Mrs. Perkins’ husband, caught with his secretary (least said about that, the better), I was ready for some relaxation. Beulah will tell anyone who listens that I spend most of my time in such a state, but she’s a fine one to talk.

Anyhow, it was pretty hot for this late in the summer, and I had the fan on, but it only does so much. The windows were open, too. Now, the view from my office window is split in two. To the right are houses and a dead end street. To the left is Herplatz’s Department Store, and next to that, Joey Black’s restaurant. In between is an alley. The street where my office building is, sort of crosses the T made with the alley.

The dead-end part of the street is mainly houses, like I said—rentals, mainly. It’s not a slum, but it’s hardly high-class. Husbands work, wives keep house, kids go to school.

And play stickball.

As you may know by now, I love a good game of baseball. I figure those kids down there might be Babe Ruth or Christy Mathewson some day. So long as they don’t play with the Yankees, I’m okay with it. 

There’s some real talent in the neighborhood, and in summer—especially late summer, when school beckons—a whole gang of kids can be seen outside, playing ball. With my window open, I can hear them shouting, “Come on, hit it!” or “He’s out by a mile!” or “I ticked the ball! It’s a foul!” and so on. And I think how great it must be, that the worst these boys have to worry about is whether or not the batter is out or fouled it off.

That day, I was sitting in my office, listening to the game. I smiled sort of stupidly, dreaming of my own days in the fields behind my parents’ house, losing our only ball in the weeds and the triumph when one of us found it.

The chatter, the sounds of broomstick on overused baseball, the shouting, reached a high pitch. Someone must’ve really cracked a good one.

And then, everything went quiet.

My first thought was, someone’s gone and hurt himself. That could be bad. If it was just a scrape, no one would’ve stopped shouting. Cuts and bruises and scrapes are part of growing up. But maybe this time, some kid busted his leg. I went to the window, expecting to see a gaggle of boys around one of their teammates, writhing in pain.

Nope: They were crowded around a man, and from the looks of it, he wasn’t hurt, he was dead.

“Call Fenrow!” I said to Beulah as I left my office. “I think there’s a dead body on the street.”

I ran downstairs because it’s faster than waiting for the elevator, and was on the street in a minute. The boys hadn’t budged.

The body was on its back, and was lying near some boxes, stacked in the alley next to Herplatz’s. The boys saw me (most of them I know on sight) and started talking at once. I held up a hand.

“Hang on! Jimmy—what happened here?”

Jimmy Schmidt, a good kid and one of the older ones playing (though he’s kind of a runt, and an average player), rubbed his cheek with a dusty hand and said:

“Kevin hit the ball a good one, and it rolled near them boxes. Patrick ran to pick it up—“

“I didn’t! Ralph did!”

“Oh. Right. Eddie ran to pick it up, and he saw something.”

“A hand,” Eddie said proudly. Eddie’s always had a strange sense of what to take pride in. His teachers love him.

“So,” Jimmy went on, “we took down them boxes and here he is.”

“Should we call a doctor?” one of the boys asked.

I had crouched down and felt for a pulse, but there was enough of an odor of decomposition to tell me there wouldn’t be one. I stood up.

“I’ve already sent for the police.”

One of the boys, name of Iggy, took off like a shot. Iggy is fine, but his father’s a bit of a rascal, and no friend of the police, so I couldn’t blame him. Fenrow wouldn’t miss one kid out of the bunch. But I did tell all the other boys to stay put. They obeyed. One of them picked up the baseball, and I was about to tell him to put it back, not to touch anything, but doggone it, that was their only baseball (unless you count their spare, which has the texture of a six-week old melon), and the thought the cops might take it as evidence was cruel.

Two uniformed officers came round the corner. I recognized them, and they knew me. Why is it, when cops see me and know who I am, their shoulders slump? Anyhow, I told them what Jimmy had said, and they nodded.

“That brown stain,” I finished, “on his shirt looks like old dried blood.”

The older cop crouched, lifted the shirt like a society gal lifts a teacup, and made a face.

“Definitely a wound of some kind.” He stood. “Knife or gun, I can’t say.” He turned to the boys. “Now look, boys. I’m Officer Glenn. Most of you know me, and know I’m a straight shooter. I know none of you did this. So all I want is your names, and then you can go. Maybe the inspector—“

He stopped because a car pulled up, and out popped—not Inspector Jacob Fenrow, but Inspector Clark Wing. You know what? Every single one of us groaned.

Inspector Wing heads the precinct next door to Fenrow’s, and fills in when Fenrow is gone. He’s an officious little tyrant, with beady eyes and perpetual sneer. He talks…real…slow…and you want to yank the words out of him sometimes.

“What’s the trouble, here?” he drawled. Then he spotted me. “Delancey! What the hell you doing here?”

“Isn’t it obvious, inspector? I’m the murder victim.”

He started to ignore me, then caught what I’d say and glared. “Still a smart ass, eh, Delancey? Get out of here.”

“Inspector,” said Officer Glenn, “Mr. Delancey called this in. He’s a witness.”

“Oh, hell. All right, then, what’s going on?”

Officer Glenn told the story and Inspector Wing nodded and surveyed the scene, no doubt absorbing all of it into his keen mind. I’m being sarcastic, by the way—Inspector Fenrow has more brains in his pinky than Wing does in his head, and I’m not saying that because Jacob’s my friend.

“Where’s Inspector Fenrow?” I asked Wing.

“On vacation. And don’t bother me. I’m thinking.”

“I thought the wind had shifted from the city dump.”

“That’s it. I don’t need you. Go back to your office. I’ll talk to you later.”

So I’d overplayed my hand.

I went back up and told Beulah all I knew, then sat in my office till closing.

As usual, Beulah left a few minutes early so she could catch the five o’clock streetcar home. I was ready to pack it in, too, when I heard a small sound from the hallway. Whispering. I tiptoed to the door and suddenly sprung out.

Man, those two boys squealed! I thought they’d run, but I told them to hold it, and invited them in.

It was Jimmy, the older kid, and Iggy, the one whose dad isn’t fond of cops. Jimmy is a shrimp for his age, like I said. He’s around eleven or twelve, and has blond hair that sticks out on all sides. His blue eyes could cut steel, and I could tell he’d be a heartbreaker with the ladies someday. Iggy is even littler than his buddy, though I’d call him nine or ten. He has black hair that’s usually combed, and always looks like he knows he’s being followed. I think he picked that up from his old man.

“What’s up, boys?” I asked as they sat in my office, across the desk from me.

“Who’s that cop?” Jimmy wanted to know. “Wing?”

“Ah, he’s okay. Acts the part of a jackass, but he can’t help nature. Why?”

“Iggy don’t trust ‘im.”

Iggy shook his head, for emphasis.

“Well,” I said, rubbing my nose, “he is a cop, through and through. Not like Officer Glenn or Inspector Fenrow, who might look the other way if you did something you shouldn’t.”

“Thought so.”

Iggy nodded.

“So what brings you two here?”

“We want t’ hire you.”

“Oh?”

Iggy nodded, and spoke. “Pop says you’re a straight shooter.”

“I try. What do you want to hire me to do?”

“That Wing guy,” Jimmy said, “has it all wrong. He thinks someone knifed the dead guy and dumped him in the alley.”

“That isn’t what happened?” Head shakes. “And you know this how?”

“Because we think one of our boys done it.”

Now that, I was not expecting.

“You think one of your team is a killer?”

“Not on purpose!”

“Maybe you’d better start over at the beginning.”

“First, we wanna pay you. Then you can’t blab to the cops, right? If we pay you, you work for us, right?”

Before I could answer, Iggy reached into his shorts pocket and pulled out a wad of string, three marbles (one was a cats’ eye), a black thing that looked like a dried-up mouse paw, and two nickels and four pennies. The twenty-four cents, he slapped down on my desk like a poker player who goes all in.

“We can get more,” Iggy said. His voice was cold, like his old man’s, and it made me shiver a bit.

“Look,” I said. “Keep your money.” I took a penny. “Except for this. Do you know what a retainer is?” Head shakes. “A retainer is a little money that basically hires me. It can be any amount I say, and I say it’s one penny. Now you’ve hired me.”

The boys grinned. Iggy scooped the rest of his bounty into a palm and shoved it back in his pocket. Including, I was happy to see, the mouse paw.

“So,” I said, “why do you think one of your buddies killed that guy?”

“Because he was hanging around our ball game for days and then he wasn’t,” Jimmy said.

“Back up. This guy was watching you play ball?” Head bobs. “Just watching? I mean, I don’t see the harm in it. I like watching a ball game, no matter who’s playing. Why would someone want to kill him for that?”

Iggy nudged Jimmy with his elbow, and Jimmy said, “Well you tell him, then!”

Iggy shrugged. “He was watching us for days, like Jimmy said. Couple times, he was eating an ice cream cone. So I figured he was like you said, just watching. Couple guys didn’t like it, but I figured, who cares? He ain’t doin’ us no harm.”

“How long did he watch?”

“Maybe ten minutes the first time, then half an hour. Then he’d come right after we started and watch nearly the whole game.”

“Was he dressed in a suit and tie? Or shirtsleeves, like he was found?”

“Shirtsleeves and a tie.”

“He wasn’t wearing a tie when found,” I said, thinking out loud. “Do you know what direction he came from?”

“Only one way to come, right?”

“There are a few doors down that alley.”

The boys made faces, and I had to concede it wasn’t likely he’d come from that direction: There were three doors down that alley: One led to Herplatz’s Department Store, used by employees to catch a smoke; the other two doors were for apartments for the poorest of the poor, one step from homelessness. If the guy worked at Herplatz’s, he’d have had a suit to go with the tie; if he lived in the apartments, he couldn’t have had the tie or afford the ice cream.

So I dropped the alley door angle, and asked, “Tell me, then. Why do you think one of your buddies killed the fellow? Just ‘cause he watched you play baseball?”

Iggy and Jimmy looked at each other. At a nod from his friend, Jimmy said, “Because we think he was one of them…you know, guys who like boys.”

All right, this was interesting, mainly because I had no idea these two were old enough to know about such people. Before I could play innocent and ask what they meant, Jimmy went on.

“Patrick—he’s Roman Catholic, you know—Patrick said a buddy of his, an altar boy, got in trouble with a priest. Said the priest…well, did things to him.”

“A priest? I can’t believe that.”

“Believe it,” Iggy blurted out.

“Okay, okay. But what makes you think this fellow—“

Just then, a car door slammed in the street below. Came through loud and clear because my window was still open. I held up a hand to the boys, and stepped over to the window. One glance below was all it took. Back to the desk, I whispered:

“It’s Inspector Wing.”

“Did you call him?” Iggy demanded, too loud.

“Now when would I have done that? And keep your voice down.”

I looked around, then stepped into the hall. Thank goodness, Jack Tanner’s office was still lit. I waved the boys over, ushered them inside Tanner’s office. He looked up, startled.

“Jack, I need a quick favor. Keep these two here while I handle a troublemaker. I’ll explain later.”

All he could do was nod, and I closed the door with them inside and hurried back to my office. Made it look like I was cleaning up after a hard day (playing cards were all over the place), and acted surprised when Wing came in with a sergeant from his precinct in tow.

Apparently, cops in his own precinct didn’t like Wing any better than the rest of humanity, because during the conversation that followed, I got the impression the sergeant wanted to be anywhere else.

Wing made himself at home. Hope he didn’t catch that the chair seat was warm. I sat across from him.

“I was just getting ready to call it a day,” I protested.

“Never mind that. I want to know what you know.”

“Wouldn’t that make your head explode?”

The sergeant hid a smile and I grinned at him. Wing sneered.

“Listen, buster. You answer my questions, or I haul you in.”

“So ask your questions.”

“What happened this afternoon? Why were you at the scene?”

I explained about the stickball game, the sudden quiet, and my going downstairs to help.

“Good thing I did, too,” I finished. “Those kids might’ve made off with the fellow’s wallet—“

“He didn’t have a wallet on him.”

Thanks, I thought. “No ID at all?” I asked.

“No. We’re looking into it. Now hold on! I’m asking the questions. Had you ever seen this fellow around the neighborhood?”

“Nope.”

A pause. “That’s it? Nope?”

“What more can I add? I’ve never seen that man before.”

“I suppose you’ll be snooping into the case?”

“Now why on earth would I do that? There’s no relative or friend to hire me, and what are the odds the kids would hire me?”

“Yeah, yeah. All right. Let this be a warning to you. If someone does hire you, you keep out of it. You hear? Fenrow may put up with your shenanigans, but I won’t!”

“Inspector, I hereby promise that if any relative or friend of the dead man tries to hire me, I will turn it down.”

“That’s better.” To the sergeant. “You see how it is? You have to handle these smart guys with a firm hand.”

Wing was about to leave when footsteps were heard on the stairs and an officer stepped inside. This new guy was so young and green, I felt sorry for him. He had a paper bag in one hand and brought it over.

“This was just found in a corner of the alley,” he said.

Inspector Wing took the bag like he thought it might contain a head (bag was too small) or some other body part. He peeked inside and his whole face changed. Reaching in with two fingers, he gingerly removed a man’s wallet from the bag.

“Sergeant, have you a pair of gloves?”

The sergeant didn’t, but I did, and to show my full cooperation, I handed them over. I could tell Wing wanted to check the gloves out, in case I’d tossed a scorpion in them first, but he slipped them on and opened the wallet.

There were no dollars inside. A few pennies and nickels. And a Union card with a name.

“Edgar Peach,” the inspector read aloud.

“No proof it’s the dead man’s,” I pointed out.

Wing sneered. “And whose else would it be? Who tosses away a wallet with ID and money inside?”

“Point taken.”

The inspector gave me a “put you in your place, didn’t I?” look. Then he dropped the wallet back in the bag and handed back the gloves. Without a thank you, I’ll have you know. Then he got up and told the officer to show him exactly where the wallet had been found.

“Mind if I tag along?” I asked brightly.

“Go to hell,” Wing snapped.

“Only if the wallet was found there.”

Not having any better response than Go to hell, Wing sneered and marched out, his officers in tow.

I went to the window when they'd gone. The trio walked into the alley, and unfortunately, out of sight. So the wallet must’ve been found pretty far along, because from my window I can see about halfway down. Then I went back to Jack Tanner’s, to fetch my clients.

Each had a lollipop.

“Didn’t your moms ever tell you not to take candy from strangers?” I asked them.

“Nope,” each of them lied.

“Thanks for watching ‘em,” I said to Jack Tanner. “I had some guests they should not be seeing.”

“You’re welcome,” Jack said with a smile. “They’re good boys.”

I thanked him again and ushered Jimmy and Iggy back to my place.

“The dead man’s name is Edgar Peach,” I said. “Does that name sound familiar? Have you heard any grown-ups around mention that name?”

Head shakes.

“Now,” I said, sitting down. “You seem to think one of your gang killed Mr. Peach. Why is that, and why would you want me to investigate, if it’s true?”

They looked at each other. Then Iggy said:

“I think my mom’s callin’.”

“Mine too.”

They started to get up, but I called, “Hold it! Either you tell me everything, or you can take your penny back and I’m off the case.”

Reluctantly, they sat down again. I said, “Now. Out with it. Why do you think one of your group killed Peach?”

Iggy nudged Jimmy. Jimmy nudged back. Finally, Jimmy spoke.

“It ain’t just any one of us. It’s Chuck. He done it.”

Chuck was a skinny kid, too gangly for baseball, but played so hard you had to root for him. He was short, too, and had no muscles at all. When it was Chuck’s turn to bat, everyone came in because he couldn’t hit it very far. You just had to wish he’d lay into one and bang it over their heads. He never did. The ball would dribble eight or ten feet, and he’d be thrown out at first before he was halfway there.

“Chuck?” I asked. “Why him? He seems harmless enough.”

“Yeah, well, he is. But that guy—Peach—like I said, might’ve been one of those…you know. Guys that do stuff to little kids. And he kinda zeroed in on Chuck. We told him to be careful—Iggy and me told him—and he just said he’d take care of himself.”

“Sounds like any other boy. Doesn’t mean he killed the guy.”

“Listen. I ain’t finished yet.”

“Sorry.”

“Next day, Peach wasn’t there. Not the next day, neither. And the next was today. And when I said to Chuck, ‘Well, it’s a good thing that one’s gone,’ Chuck just smiled and said, yeah, he’s gone all right.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that sounds incriminating. But—“

“I still ain’t finished. The last day Peach watched us, I seen him talking to Chuck after the game, and they was still talking when I went home.”

“And you didn’t think to stick around? You thought Peach might be…one of those guys, and you left?”

“I had t’ get home! Didn’t you have no parents that told you t’ get home, and fast?”

I admitted I had.

“Something doesn’t add up, though,” I said. “Let’s say Peach tried something with Chuck, and Chuck stabbed him. You’re telling me scrawny little Chuck dragged a full-grown man to those boxes and shoved him behind?”

They looked at each other.

“All we know,” said Jimmy, “is what we saw. And we figure, what if someone else saw what we did? Plenty of windows around. Maybe somebody saw Chuck do it. Them cops’ll railroad Chuck into a confession, and before you know it, he’s dangling from a noose.”

“Okay. First off, we don’t have the death penalty in this state. Second, we don’t hang boys. Third, Inspector Wing might be all sorts of names I can’t repeat, but he doesn’t railroad. Inspector Fenrow has told me that Wing is honest as the day is long—sometimes too honest. He does everything by the book.”

“So you won’t take the case,” Iggy said.

“I didn’t say that. I just need to know what it is I’m investigating.”

“We want you t’ find out if Chuck really done it, and if he did, make sure the cops know he didn’t mean to.”

There was no use arguing all that was wrong with that statement. How do I prove one boy innocent? How do I prove it was in self-defense if he did it? Most of all, how do I do those things without getting in Wing’s way? Oh, well, I had no other cases. Might as well pass the time.

“Okay. I’ll do it. But I need to know a few things.”

“Can it wait?” Jimmy asked. “I gotta get home.”

“Me too,” Iggy chimed in.

“Okay. Tomorrow. Here. Ten o’clock. Bring Chuck.”

They looked scared at that, for some reason. I told them I had to hear Chuck’s side of it.

“But what if he really done it? Then he’ll know we ratted on him.”

“You didn’t rat on him. You hired me to help him, remember?”

Reluctantly, they agreed to bring Chuck.

 

Next day, I told Beulah everything. She looked amused.

“And you left a whole penny in the office overnight?” she asked. “What if we were robbed?”

“That’s what insurance is for,” I replied, not giving her the satisfaction of needling me.

Around ten, my clients arrived. Chuck was with them. He looked a little miffed, which was pretty funny. I always think it’s funny when a little kid acts put out. You could sit on their lower lip. Little stick-arms folded across a nonexistent chest. Beulah said hello, which embarrassed them no end. I brought an extra chair for Chuck, and Beulah toted hers to my office and sat, pencil and paper at the ready. The boys were impressed. I think Iggy was in love.

One thing I noticed: Chuck had a bruised left wrist.

“Now, Chuck, I want to be straight with you,” I said. “Your buddies here think you might’ve done something. Killed that man. Did you?”

“Nope.”

There’s one thing little boys don’t do very well, and that’s lie. The human brain at that age hasn’t yet figured out logic. So, if a vase is broken at home, it was some guy in a mask who ran in and did it. If the cat has paper sacks tied to its paws, the cat must’ve done it to herself. So, either Chuck was actually forty years old, or he was telling the truth. I glanced at Beulah to confirm it, and she nodded.

“But you saw the dead guy before?”

“Sure. He watched the games.”

“Was he kind of creepy?”

Chuck dropped his cold act and actually grinned. For only a second: Then he got serious again, and a little nervous.

“Sure. We all thought he was weird.”

“Did he ever try anything? To you, I mean.”

Okay, now the lies started.

“Nope.”

“Come on, Chuck. What did the guy do?”

“He didn’t do nothing!”

“Easy, easy. Did he say anything to you?”

“Yeah…He…well, he asked me to come with him, for an ice cream cone.”

“Where did he want to take you?”

“I dunno. I told him to buzz off, and he took the hint.”

“Where’d you get that bruise on your wrist?”

He tried to hide the wrist. “What bruise?”

“Where?”

Chuck sighed. “I got it playin’ ball.”

“Chuck, Chuck. I played ball as a kid. For hours and hours, every nice summer day. I cut my knees, skinned my hands, got beaned a couple times, but not once did I get a bruise that circled my wrist like that. Mr. Peach—the dead guy—grabbed you, didn’t he?”

Before Chuck could answer, Iggy blurted out, “He did! I mean, didn’t he, Chuck? You told us.”

Chuck hid his face for a second, wiped his eyes, and said, “Yeah, he grabbed me. But I hollered, and he let go. I never saw him again.”

“Where was this?”

“Near the alley.”

I had an idea. “Show me.”

All of us went downstairs, to the street. Chuck led us to a spot and stood. “Right here,” he said.

The spot was a foot or two from the alley entrance, opposite from the boxes where he’d been found. I stood there and looked around, then up. My office window had a clear view; so did a few houses on either side. The spot was too close to the buildings on that side for anyone to have seen, unless the witness stuck his head out the window. I pointed at the two buildings on either side of our office.

“Who lives in those two places?”

Beulah gave a sigh.

“How long have you worked here, Delancey, and you don't know the neighbors?”

“And I suppose you do?”

She proceeded to rattle off the family names of everyone, including the floors. I should've accused her of making up the names.

“Any of those names ring a bell?” I asked the boys.

“Sure,” said Iggy. “One of ‘em’s mine. One’s Patrick. One’s Eddie.”

“Not you?” I asked Jimmy.

“I’m over there,” he said, pointing to the side of the street we were on.

“One thing more,” I said after thinking a minute. “Do you remember what time it was when Peach grabbed you? About?”

Chuck shrugged. “Maybe five-thirty. We eat at quarter to six, after Dad gets home.”

“Could your dad have seen Peach?”

“He wouldn’t have done nothing!” Chuck snapped. Quick thinking on his part, seeing where I was headed.

Just then, who should come from out of the alley but Inspector Wing. He had a couple uniformed officers in tow, and he looked smug.

“That’s very interesting,” said Wing.

“Were you listening?” I demanded.

“Couldn’t help it. You got a voice like a bullhorn.” To Chuck. “What’s your name, son?”

Chuck didn’t answer.

“Did Mr. Peach try to molest you?”

No answer.

To the officers: “Stay with the boys. Delancey, come with me. There’s something you should see.”

He led me down the alley, to one of the doors opposite the store.

“Once we learned the identity of the dead man, we searched property records. He leased an apartment over on Sixth, but he also leased this place. Nothing to find on Sixth, but here…” He unlocked the door and we stepped inside.

The smell was sickly sweet, like someone trying to cover up body odor with cologne or perfume. It was sparsely furnished, with a table and three chairs, a kitchen area, and a divan. Wing led me to the only door in the place.

It was a bedroom, and I’ll leave it at that. All I will say is there were photographs that showed our suspicions of Peach were correct. The medical boys called him a pedophile; I won’t say what I call him. Turned my stomach. Wing seemed proud, like a museum curator opening an exhibition. I stepped back out.

“Now,” said Wing as he locked up, “between you and me and the lamp post, I think whoever killed Peach did the world a service. But it’s still murder, and I need to interview this boy’s dad. You know it, Delancey. So tell me the boy’s name.”

“Chuck Linfield.”

“Good. Do you know the father’s first name?”

“Nope.”

“We can get it soon enough. Don’t look so glum; I’m guessing the fellow did it because his son was in danger, and I can’t believe a jury will be too hard on him. By the way. I thought you said you had no client.”

“I never said I had no client.”

To my surprise, Wing just shrugged it off. I guess since he figured his case was wrapped up, we could be chums. All I wanted to do was get as far away from that bedroom as possible.

For all the rest of that day, the street below was quiet. Another hot day, so I had the window open, and all you could hear were distant car horns and the streetcar bell. A few times I looked out the window, but the boys were nowhere to be seen. Wing had planned to take them all in, to talk to each of them, and I guessed he’d done that.

Around four, Jimmy and Iggy arrived, looking as glum as I’ve ever seen them.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Chuck’s dad’s been arrested.”

I expected it, to tell you the truth. For once, I could see Wing’s logic. That Edgar Peach fellow was a nasty bugger, and Chuck’s dad had seen him try to kidnap his boy. It was all pretty clear. But there along with the sad faces, the boys had a determined look. I fished into my pocket and set down a penny.

“Here’s your retainer. I didn’t do anything to earn it.”

Jimmy and Iggy looked at each other, then at me.

“Keep it,” Jimmy said. “You ain’t done yet.”

“But—“

“Chuck’s dad didn’t do it.”

“How do you know?”

Beulah came in just then. She sat quietly to listen. Jimmy watched her, then went on:

“Simple. Mr. Green—“ That was Chuck’s last name “—don’t come home from work till five-thirty. We saw that Peach guy grab Chuck just past five. The Herplatz clock.”

Herplatz’s Department Store has a big round clock that stuck out from the front of the store at a right angle. Lots of folks set their watches by it. The clock chimes every hour, and anyone nearby instinctively looks up. So it made perfect sense the boys would know what time it was. Besides, they had to get home and wash their hands before supper.

“Did you tell that to Inspector Wing?”

Iggy blew a raspberry. “That inspector don’t know nothin’,” he said. “All he cares about is he’s got someone in jail.”

“It doesn’t sound like Wing to ignore such an important fact. He knows the defense would call you boys, to tell what you know about the time.”

“Wing don’t believe us!” Jimmy snapped. “He says, Mr. Green got out of work at four-thirty, and walked the ten blocks, and would’ve been there in plenty of time.”

“He doesn’t stop for a beer? When it’s this hot?”

“That’s just it. He does. He always does, like you said, when it’s hot. But Wing says there’s no one, can back him up on that. He says they talked to the bartender where Mr. Green stopped, and the bartender don’t remember. Says it was too busy.”

“Lots of men stop for a beer on the way home,” I agreed.

“But we know Chuck’s dad wasn’t back till later. Mrs. Green says so.”

“A wife’s testimony won’t hold much water,” I said. “The jury will figure she doesn’t want her husband in prison, so of course she’ll say anything.”

“And there’s something else Wing said. He said Mr. Green had blood on his shirt.”

“Oh, oh.”

“He fixes machines! I ain’t never seen him without a bandage on some part of him.”

I sighed.

That was when Beulah had had enough. She slapped her notepad down on my desk, making us all jump.

“Damn it, Delancey! Why are you giving up on this? These boys need your help, and all you can give them are excuses. They say Mr. Green didn’t do it, and I believe them. You should, too. So why don’t you just find out who really killed that man, instead of arguing the D.A.’s case?”

That did it. Iggy really was in love, now.

I sat back, tugged at my lower lip.

“You’re right,” I said at last. “I’m sorry, boys. The heat makes me lazy, I guess. Fact is, that man was violating other boys. Any one of them might’ve said something to their parents. Somehow, I’ve got to get back into that apartment—“ The thought made me queasy “—and find evidence that another angry parent killed him.”

“How you gonna do that?” Jimmy wanted to know.

“I’ll think of something.”

Truth is, I had already thought of something, but I didn’t much like it. Trying to get in during the day was risky: People were about, and the cops were likeliest to go there in the daytime. There was only one window, and I imagine the place gets plenty dark at night.

So that was when I had to go.

This time of year, the sun sets around seven-thirty, and it doesn’t get dark until well past eight. So I had supper at Black’s, then went home for a few hours. Around nine, I grabbed my flashlight and my tools, and left.

One of the things you learn in this business is, it’s easy to make things tougher than they are. So there I was, all set to jimmy the door while holding the flashlight under my arm, and instead I tried the door and window first. Son of a gun, the window wasn’t locked.

It was a tight squeeze, though. Too many dinners at Joey Black’s, I guess. I climbed in, and closed the window.

You know, as bad as the bedroom was, the outer room was worse. What I mean is, knowing there was that junk in the next room, and here was the front room, looking just like any other apartment…it was a lot like Edgar Peach: Respectable on the outside and nasty on the inside.

I played my flashlight beam around the front room, then swallowed hard and went into the bedroom.

In here, the window had been boarded up. There was an oil lamp in one corner, so I struck a match and lit it.

Did I say the outer room was creepier? Nah. What was worse, was seeing all those innocent boys, staring back at me from their black and white photographs, pleas for help. It made me mad, knowing there was doodley I could do. But it did make me wonder what had happened to all those lads.

I did a quick search of the bedroom, trying hard not to look the boys in the face. The police would’ve already done this, but I figured what the hell, maybe I can get lucky. Nope. There wasn’t a single thing. I didn’t really know exactly what I was after: Just something to point to another killer besides Mr. Green. It occurred to me that maybe one of those lads in the photos had grown up and got his revenge. That was a real possibility, but where was the proof?

An idea came to me then. Maybe it came because I really wanted out of that room. I snuffed the lamp and went back into the front room. Maybe, I thought, the cops didn’t search out here so much. All the evidence seemed to be in the bedroom, but what if there was something out here?

Like I said earlier, the room didn't have much. Certainly not a lot to search. A few drawers and cupboards, but really, there was nothing inside that you'd not expect in a kitchen/front room.

Well, I thought, there’s an evening shot. Now, I’m not the kind of guy who likes to think he’s been on a wild goose chase. Beulah says I can’t ever admit I’m wrong. I can so. But I will admit, when I have a hunch, it’s often right. So when it isn’t, I get bullheaded and figure it can’t be true. There must be something!

So I went back over things. I scoured that front room hard. And finally, it paid off.

I had an aunt who used to line the bottoms of her drawers and cupboards with newspaper. It was cheap, and protected the wood (or so she thought: newspaper has a way of sticking to the cupboard wood). Anyhow, this Peach did the same thing. And when I opened a drawer, and took out the silverware he had inside, there it was.

It took me about half an hour, but I removed all the newspapers from that room. Then I left the place and went home.

I poured a nice tall drink and looked hard at the papers. What had first caught my eye was, every newspaper was from a different city. Milwaukee, Chicago, Evansville, Detroit, Sandusky…And every one of them was about either a missing boy or the finding of a boy’s body.  A boy had washed up on the river bank. Another was in a shallow grave. These papers weren’t cupboard and drawer liners; they were a list of accomplishments.

After I had another drink, I tried to focus. So this Peach was a horrible man, and good riddance. How did that put me any closer to proving Mr. Green innocent?

It didn’t. In fact, it made things worse. If Peach murdered the boys, then took off, there was no way a parent or a victim could have killed him. Maybe, just maybe, there was a grieving parent who had investigated on his own, and finally tracked him down. But really, how would that help? That parent would be long gone. If he read about Mr. Green taking the rap for the murder, the parent might feel a twinge of guilt, but I couldn’t see him coming forward.

I drained my drink and went to bed.

 

Next day was cloudy. A few rumbles of thunder meant the heat wave was coming to an end, and I was happy about that. Never could stand the heat. I hustled to the office, to get there before it rained, and sat at my desk just as Beulah came in.

“Going to rain buckets,” she predicted.

“Sure seems like it. When you’re settled in, come here a second, will you?”

I had spread out the newspapers on my desk. When Beulah saw them, she put a hand to her mouth. I told her where I’d found them. I expected her to caution me about removing evidence but she didn’t. All she could do was look at the pictures and headlines and shake her head.

“Good thing he’s dead,” she said, “or I’d have killed him.”

“Get in line. Anyhow, I want your thoughts. What the hell good does this do Mr. Green?”

Beulah was about to say it proved all sorts of people wanted Peach dead, but she thought it through first and came to the same conclusion I had.

“This is too big, Delancey,” she said finally. “You need to call the Feds. I mean, these are crimes in other states. You can’t sit on this.”

She was right.

Now, I don’t happen to know anyone in the Federal government, but I guessed Inspector Fenrow might. Trouble was, he was on vacation somewhere. And I absolutely refused to go to Wing with all this. Beulah offered to do a little research, and I agreed, so she went off to the library, to see what she could find. She came back a few hours later, smiling.

“What’d you find out?” I asked.

“You should be getting a visit from a Detective Stillwater, of the FBI.”

“Good job. When?”

“Today or tomorrow, I guess.”

I thanked her, and we waited for Stillwater to arrive, but he didn’t that day. We sat in the office and listened to the thunderstorms going through, and finally called it a day. Beulah hustled out, umbrella up; I put on my fedora and turned up the collar and dashed for Joey Black’s and supper.

I never made it.

Barely made it out the door when a car pulled up and two men got out. One of them said my name, the other took my arm and hustled me inside.

“I was going to supper,” I protested.

“Detective Stillwater wants to meet you.”

“I left the stuff to show him in my office.” Okay, I sounded like a little kid, but after my bout with Knuckles Moran and his gang, I was in no mood to be shunted anywhere against my will.

“We’ll get it.”

“Here’s the key,” I said before I knew what the hell I was saying. I didn’t know these goons from Adam, and there I was, giving them the key to my office! What a dumb-head, as my sainted Aunt Matilda would have said. But I guess the reason I did it was, in the back of my mind, I figured they’d just break in anyway, so I might as well lend them the key. “Don’t steal any of my Tootsie Rolls!” I shouted after him, but I don’t think he heard.

He came back, and I couldn’t smell Tootsie Roll on his breath, so I guess it was okay. We rode off.

There were two men in the front seat, and the three of us in back. No one said a word. I thought about using my jovial banter, but nixed it. These fellows didn’t seem the jovial banter sort. I did resent this cloak-and-dagger approach to things, though, and planned to give Detective Stillwater a piece of my mind when I saw him.

We pulled up in front of an office building downtown, and the three of us got out. Apparently the driver and his front seat buddy were going to park the car and neck somewhere. So we headed into the building. One of my handlers nodded short and sweet to the woman at the front desk, who nodded back. Up the elevator we went to the fourth—and top—floor. I guessed Stillwater was one of their best men.

I was told to sit outside an office door with DETECTIVE STILLWATER on it. The guy who’d gone to my office handed me my keys and the newspaper articles I’d left on the desk. It took a few minutes before the door opened and a bright, cheery sort of chap popped his head out. He was balding, around forty, and his necktie had disappeared somewhere under his chins, but he smiled and introduced himself as Detective Stillwater. He asked me inside.

The office was small and neat, and I took the offered chair.

“I spoke to your secretary—Miss Willows?—who said you have something on Mr. Peach.”

“Hang on, detective. I don’t mean to be testy, as we’ve just met and all, but I sort of resent being dragged here like a crook. I was going out for supper—“

“Oh, dear. They didn't hurt you, did they?”

“Nah. But—“

“Yes, I do apologize. You see, the plan had been for me to come visit you, as Miss Willows no doubt told you. However, for reasons I cannot disclose, well, it was better this way.”

“So a telephone call was out? I mean, I could’ve hopped a streetcar—“

“We thought it nicer if we drove you here. At any rate, I am sorry, Mr. Delancey. Sometimes, we can get a little…carried away. When we’re done here, I’ll tell the agents to drop you wherever you wish. In the meantime, would you like a sandwich? Our cafeteria makes a very nice ham on rye.”

“That would be fine. And a root beer.”

Detective Stillwater liked that. He laughed. “I’ll see if they have root beer. My guess is they do.”

He scribbled down my order, pushed a button. In a few seconds, a snappy-looking young agent stepped inside, took the paper, nodded (the standard FBI move, I was guessing) and left.

“Now. While we wait, Mr. Delancey, perhaps you’ll share what you’ve found about Edgar Peach?”

I explained how I’d come by the papers, leaving out the identity of my clients (FBI probably knew, anyway), and handed over the newspapers. Stillwater glanced through them. He nodded (!) several times. Read one of the articles for quite a while. He was just setting the last newspaper down when my ham sandwich and root beer arrived. It was good. And Stillwater even had a little wooden coaster for me to set my glass on.

“This is very good, Mr. Delancey. Very good, indeed.”

“Thanks. You can keep those papers. But what I really want to know is, who killed Peach? I don’t think it was Mr. Green, the guy they have in custody.”

Stillwater didn’t bat an eye.

“We don’t know. We agree that Mr. Green seems unlikely, and the police will probably come to the same conclusion, but exactly who the real culprit is, we may never know.”

I watched him close. I suppose FBI know how to lie pretty well, so when Stillwater looked sincere, I didn’t know if it was because he really didn’t know Peach’s killer, or was pretending. Nor did I care.

“Can you do anything to get Mr. Green off the hook?”

Stillwater tapped the newspapers on his desk. “Thanks to these, I think I can. This makes it a Federal case, and I’ll be taking over from Inspector Wing tomorrow.”

I grinned. “He’ll be madder than a wet hen.”

The detective smiled a wee bit. “I don’t much care—and I suspect, neither do you.”

“You’re right. Well,” I said, sticking out a hand, “thanks for the sandwich. You need a better brand of root beer, though.”

Stillwater shook my hand, then pressed the button on his desk.

“And thank you for this. You’re a good man, Mr. Delancey.”

The agent stepped in.

“Take Mr. Delancey wherever he wants to go.”

The agent nodded—of course—and with a final good-bye, I left Stillwater’s office.

Felt pretty good. I’d gotten on the FBI’s good side, foiled Inspector Wing, got Mr. Green released, and had a ham on rye and root beer on the taxpayers’ dime. Not as good a supper as Joe Black would’ve whipped up (I was all set for his beef stew, which is to die for), but what the heck, it was free.

I did sit at home that night, wondering if I’d accomplished what the boys had hired me to do. Not really, I figured, but then again, Mr. Green would be let go, and to be honest, did anyone really lose sleep over not catching Peach’s killer? Not I. And yet, I really thought I should speak to Jimmy and Iggy next day, to see if they were satisfied.

So the next day, I strolled down to the street, where a few of the boys were playing catch. “Catch” in this case—where half of them didn’t have gloves and the other half had moth-eaten mitts handed down by big brothers and dads—was a makeshift affair, but they seemed to be having a good time. Each boy, I noticed, threw like a player on a baseball card, with exaggerated follow-through and strange overhand toss that generally sent the ball into the ground.

“Hey, boys,” I said. “Where are Jimmy and Iggy?”

“Iggy’s waitin’ for his old man t’ come home,” said Patrick. “I dunno where Jimmy is. He said he’d be here.”

That made me shiver a bit. I mean, the bad guy Peach was dead, but what if he hadn’t worked alone? What if Peach’s partner found out Jimmy had hired me, and the boy was now in danger or dead? I hustled over to Jimmy’s house. The door was answered by a woman clearly with better things to do than answer my knock.

“Whatever your selling, I don’t need it, I don’t want it, or I already have one.”

And she started to shut the door. I quick asked for Jimmy, and she stopped.

“He’s sick in bed.”

Now, when a kid is sick two weeks before school starts, you know he’s not faking.

“I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am. Would you please tell him Mr. Delancey just stopped by?”

“Who are you?” she wanted to know, and I couldn’t blame her.

“I run the private detective agency nearby. I see the boys play ball, and when Jimmy didn’t show up—you know, with the murder nearby—it made me worried.”

She eyed me up suspiciously, then softened. “Oh. well, he’ll be fine. Just a bad cold.”

I touched my hat brim. “Give him my best, will you?”

Jimmy’s mom actually smiled and said she would.

It wasn’t till two days later that I got to meet with Jimmy and Iggy in person. Before that, though, I got a visit from Inspector Wing, who was mad as could be that the murder got taken from him by the FBI and that his prime suspect was let go. Thankfully, he didn’t know what I’d done, but he was damned sure I had done something.

“You’re lucky,” he snarled, “you’re not in my precinct. I’d have you run in so damned often, we’d name a cell after you.”

“Oh, come on, inspector. I should think you’d be happy. This way, you can go back to arresting jaywalkers.”

“In your ear,” he said, and stormed out.

 

My meeting with the boys went as I’d hoped. They were okay with me dropping the case. Jimmy refused to take back the penny, after I told them what I’d discovered in the front room of Peach’s apartment. Said I’d earned the fee, and looked relieved when I said I’d settle for the penny and not send them a bill for my time and services.

I didn’t tell them my suspicion of who actually murdered Peach. There was no point. I did, however, tell Beulah, who couldn’t believe it.

“You think those boys killed that man?”

“I do. Look at the facts: Peach accosted Chuck after the game. That means a bunch of the boys were probably nearby. I bet if you checked all their pockets, a good half of them carry jackknives or penknives. A penknife couldn’t have killed Peach, but a jackknife sure could. My guess is, a few of the boys saw what happened and came to the rescue. One pulls a knife and stabs the guy—just to get him to let go, understand? But the knife hits an artery or some such, and Peach dies. They drag him behind the boxes, and there you go.”

“But the boys found him.”

“Ah, but not all the boys were in on the killing. Maybe the kid who found the ball didn't know about the body.”

“Jimmy and Iggy hired you.”

“To make sure their buddy wasn’t arrested. Not to find who did it.”

Beulah shook her head.

“It’s pretty cold.”

“Not really. Just some scared kids. Like a boy breaks a plate and hides it at the bottom of the stack. I don’t think those boys had a clue how serious it was.”

Another head shake.

Like I said, Jimmy and Iggy stopped in a couple days later, and we agreed that my time on the case was over. I watched for signs of relief, that I was giving it up, but saw none. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe those boys were innocent. All I know is, after they left, Beulah looked at me with “I told you so” in her eyes.

The day after, I came back from the store with a small picture frame. Took a hammer and nail from my desk drawer. Beulah, who is always amused when I try something fancy, watched. I hammered in the nail, then fumbled a bit with the frame. I asked her for some tape, which she brought. Pretty soon, I had it hanging behind my desk:

The penny the boys had given me.

“What’s that about?” she asked.

“It’s to show no job is too small, that I shouldn’t take any case for granted.”

“I’m impressed.”

“So am I,” came the word from the outer office.

We turned. There was Inspector Fenrow, looking happier and better rested than I’d seen him in a long time.

“Here you are!” I said. “How dare you leave me with Inspector Wing?”

“Yeah, I am sorry about that,” he said, taking a chair. Beulah and I sat. “Would’ve liked to have seen the look on his face when the Feds took the case from him, though.”

“Where did you go on vacation?” Beulah asked.

“Atlantic City. The wife always wanted to see it. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but anything to get me out of town was okay by me. Going a little bughouse, I was. It wasn’t bad,” he allowed, “but I can’t see ever going there again.”

“I’ve been to places like that,” Beulah nodded.

“So,” said I, pouring drinks for us, “any word about the Peach case? Any idea who killed him?”

“Nope. And I don’t expect any, either. The Feds are more interested in wrapping up all those missing boys’ cases. To be honest, everyone besides Wing thinks it’s good riddance to bad rubbish. Wing wants to catch whoever killed Peach; most of us want to give the killer a medal.” He paused. “What’s with the penny?”

I told him about my case. He grinned.

“Don’t forget to put that on your income tax.”

 

So. There’s not much more to report. I kept this file open for a few weeks, in case something broke on the case, but I think I’ll just put it in the drawer. If anything changes, I’ll add it on later.

 

[This was added much later — Editor]

 

Time to reopen this file, but I can’t really add too much right now. All I can say is, the real killer of Edgar Peach has been revealed, at least to a few of us. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read about my case involving Inspector Fenrow, from December 1927. I’ll explain it all then. - T.D.

 


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