Delancey and the Lonely Hearts

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Delancey and Beulah are caught up in the world of Lonely Hearts' Club dances, when one of the dancers is murdered.

Submitted: October 27, 2018

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Submitted: October 27, 2018

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Case #31, February 1928: Delancey and the Lonely Hearts

Let’s get a few things straight before I begin.

I first met Beulah Willows a year ago. Her husband was murdered, and she was a suspect, and I helped solve who had actually killed him. She didn’t much know what to do with herself after that, and I hired her because she’s smart and efficient. Some might roll their eyes and suspect there’s hanky-panky going on, but I can guarantee you, it isn’t true.

This is not to say Beulah is ugly, or that we don’t get along. She’s cute in her way, and we get along very well. But remember, I knew her as a married woman and then a grieving widow, and now as an assistant, and, well, I just never looked at her any other way. I can’t speak for Beulah, but I think she feels the same. We’re friends, I would say. Good friends, even. And that’s all.

I’m not going through this rigamarole to bore you. I just want our relationship to made clear to you before I begin this next story. Okay?

 

On a fine February morning, then, Beulah came into my office as usual. We had just finished a small case, and there was nothing on the horizon, so she decided to come in and sit to chew the fat. Or so I thought.

“Tom, I’ve got a question.”

Oh, oh. She always calls me Delancey. If it’s “Tom”, it’s more than just a question. It’s either she’s done something wrong, or she has a favor to ask. I sat back and waited for the shoe to drop.

“It’s been a year since my husband died.”

I nodded. The behavior and later, the murder, of Beulah’s husband was how we’d met. After the case was solved, she wanted something to get her out of the house (hubby had left her with enough to live on, as I recall), and came to work for me.

“And I was thinking,” she went on, “that maybe I should get out more. You know, to meet people.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said.

“I thought so. Anyhow, I was reading the paper last night, and I saw this.”

She placed a neatly-clipped ad in front of me.

St. Valentine’s Day Dance - Saturday, February 11 - 7 p.m. - Melville Hall

Enjoy music, food, dancing, all for $1.00! A chance to dance with your sweetheart or meet that special someone! Singles are especially welcome.

“What do you think?” she asked as I handed back the clipping.

“Well, I’ve never been too keen on those things. I mean, you’ve got good people like yourself, and then you’ve got the ones on the prowl. Looking for someone to hook up with and drop. Or worse, people who are after a husband to provide for them or a wife to slave for them. Either way, it’s dangerous.”

“Dangerous? You don’t think I can take care of myself?”

“Of course you can. Hell, you’re one of the most independent women I know. But everyone—and I do mean everyone—can fall for flattery.”

“Well, I’m going.”

“Suit yourself. I just don’t know why you asked, if you weren’t going to take my advice, anyway.”

“I often ask for your opinion and do what I want, regardless.”

“So I’ve noticed.”

Beulah suddenly softened. She said, “Look, I know what you’re talking about, Delancey. Heck, I had a friend ask me on a date at my husband’s funeral! I guess…I don’t know how to date anymore.”

“How did you and Henry meet?” Henry was her husband.

“At a church social. I was a member, he wasn’t, but he was looking for a church. So we talked, and one thing led to another. But we started as friends, not on a date. So this…” she pointed to the ad, still on my desk in front of her “I just don’t know.” Suddenly, she said, “Come with me.”

“Me! Oh, no. Oh, hell no. Beulah. Me! Go to one of those?”

“Please? I really want to go, but you’re right—I am a little wary of guys who want sex or a slave—or both. So come with me. I’ll pay your entry, and you don’t have to do anything except eat something and watch out for me.”

Why was she doing this to me? This was so against every fiber of my being. And yet, Beulah was like my sister. I’d…well, I’d take a bullet for her. She means that much. Would it be so bad? Yes, it would. But this is Beulah.

“Fine. I’ll go.”

My assistant was never so happy.

 

I hate neckties. I really, truly do. In the office, I have one on, because that’s what clients expect, but when no one’s around, it gets loosened and my collar button undone, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

For this little soiree, however, I figured I better wear one, collar buttoned. I picked up Beulah and we walked to Melville Hall, which is a big dance hall that doubles as a place to vote on election day and a gathering place for rained-out Fourth of July celebrations. The acoustics are lousy because the hall is really just an army tank with better doors. It’s in the middle of town, near City Hall.

People were coming to this Valentine’s dance. They were actually coming. I sighed a couple of times as we got nearer, but otherwise behaved myself. Beulah took my arm, but that’s as close as we got. I paid our way in (gentlemanly). We signed a guestbook, which I figured was so that they could contact us later, see if we wanted to become clients of whoever was sponsoring this dance.

The hall was filled with all sorts of people, and up on stage was a band, Dark Willy and His Hothouse Five. Dark Willy was named that because he was one-quarter Negro, and I suppose some might be offended by the nickname, but here’s the thing: There was another band member whose name was Willy and he was called Paste Willy, so I ask you, who got the better end of the stick?

I have to hand it to the organizers: The Hothouse Five were pretty damn good. I was tapping my toes before I knew it. I fetched drinks—a watery fruit punch—for Beulah and myself, and we sat back to enjoy the music.

Of course, we were there so Beulah could get to meet someone, but on that count, we failed. I couldn’t figure it out: Beulah’s not chopped liver; why didn’t any man come up and ask her to dance? Then, it struck me.

“We’ve got to prime the pump,” I said.

“What’re you talking about?” Beulah asked.

“Simple. No one’s seen you dance, and we’re sitting here twiddling our thumbs. We’ve got to get you out on a dance floor. So,” I said, standing and offering a hand, “care to dance?”

Beulah was reluctant (Later, she admitted she thought I would have two left feet. Where she got that notion, I’ll never know), but it was a lively Charleston, and looked like fun, so off we went. I have to admit, she’s a pretty good dancer, and we had a great time. I figured that, even if no man offered to dance with her, at least we had some fun.

But my strategy worked. We sat down, puffing and fanning ourselves, and were just taking sips of watery fruit punch, when I hear a man’s voice say, “Would you care to dance?”

I looked up and saw a guy smiling and holding out his hand to Beulah. The next dance was a bit slower, so she said yes. Not even a glance my way. Well, I never.

Anyhow, the fellow was a shade taller than I, maybe pushing six feet. He wasn’t bad looking, maybe a few years older than Beulah, who I guess is in her late twenties (she refuses to tell me her age, and I don’t press it). He wore an expensive suit and his dark hair was a bit longer than is fashionable, but was slicked neatly into place. Like a big brother, I grudgingly admitted he wasn’t bad for Beulah.

The dance ended, and Beulah started back to her chair, but the guy held on, said something, which I figured was a request, and she nodded. They started to dance again. Three straight, they wound up doing, but then Dark Willy declared it was time for a fifteen minute break, and the couple had no choice but to sit.

I’d never seen my assistant so radiant. She was really enjoying herself, and I thought, Good for you. Some people are just meant to be with someone, and Beulah was one of them. They sat down next to me, Beulah in between us. The guy reached a hand over to me.

“Pete Stephenson,” he said as we shook.

“Tom Delancey.”

“Tom’s my boss,” Beulah quickly put in. I was surprised she hadn’t explained me before now.

“Oh?” Pete said. “What is it you do?”

“Private investigator,” I said. Beulah looked a bit peeved; I think she wanted to say I was in international banking or corporate law. Yet, Pete seemed interested.

“That must be fascinating!”

“I almost got killed last year.”

“I bet!”

“And what is it you do, Pete?”

“Nothing quite so exciting. I work for the police.”

“An officer? Well, that must be exciting, too.”

“Not really. I’m not a real officer. I manage the department’s budget and such. I’m an accountant.”

What could I say to that? “That must be thrilling”? No, I kept my trap shut to that. Besides, Beulah was getting a little impatient that we were chatting like old school chums at a reunion, while she sat back quietly.

“Beulah,” I said, trying to make it up to her, “is a gem. She’s really an assistant. Smart as they come.”

“I’m not surprised.” To Beulah, Pete asked, “Would you like more punch?”

“No, thanks.”

So we sat quietly and waited for the band to start up again. When it did, they were back at it, and I could tell Beulah wasn’t miffed anymore. As I watched them twirl about the floor, a fella sat next to me. He was small, round-shouldered, and looked like he’d rather be at the dentist’s than here.

“Aren’t you upset?” were his first words.

“Upset? Why should I be upset?”

“Well, that big galoot is dancing with your girl.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but she’s not my girl.”

“You came together.”

“What are you, the house dick? We work together, and we’re friends, and I for one am glad she’s having a good time.”

“Oh. Sorry. Bob Winkelman,” he said, extending a hand.

“Tom Delancey. You here alone, Bob?” I didn’t really care, but I figured he should get a taste of nosiness. He didn’t seem to mind, though.”

“Yep. I go to all these dances. I know I’m no prize, but I keep hoping, you know? Someday, I’ll meet Miss Right.”

“Keep on plugging.”

“That’s what I say. How about you? Are you on the lookout?”

“Me? Nah. I figure whatever happens, happens, you know? If Clara Bow came waltzing up to me right now, and asked for a dance, I wouldn’t say no, but as that’s not likely, I’ll wait.”

Bob grinned. He needed dental work. “I like that. Maybe I should try that.”

“I dunno, Bob. You see that tactic hasn’t done me any good.”

So we sat there for a bit longer, then Bob said his goodbyes, and I sat back to wait.

The music was still going on, but Beulah and Pete came over to me, out of breath and sweating.

“We’re going somewhere for a decent drink,” Beulah said. “Want to come?”

“Nah. If you two want to do that, I think I’ll head home. If that’s okay?”

“Sure,” Beulah said, very quickly. Pete said it was okay, too.

So off I went. I stepped outside and took a deep, refreshing gulp of cold February air. That hall was too warm and smoky. Then I headed home. Not a single dance, except with Beulah. Oh, well.

Monday came, and Beulah was late. She’s never late. I started to worry: She went off with a strange guy, after all. Who knew what mischief that fellow was up to? I guess I figured Beulah could take care of herself, but that Pete was a big guy. Anyhow, I worried for nothing, because at ten past, she came hustling in, apologizing. She sat at her desk and put her purse in the drawer while I stood at the doorway between our office spaces.

“What’s going on?” I asked, trying not to snap. “You’re never late.”

“Oh, sorry. I was with Pete yesterday, and well, the hour got pretty late, and I overslept.”

“Sounds pretty serious.”

“I don’t know about that. Yet. He’s a good man, and we hit it off pretty well, but it’s still early, you know?”

“No whirlwind courtships for you.”

She looked angry for a second, that I was teasing her, then she busted into laughter. “No. My late husband took three years before he proposed. We were on seven dates before he pecked me on the cheek.”

“Ah. Well, as long as it’s going well. You going to see him again?”

Now, we seldom discussed our personal life, unless it had a direct effect on business, so maybe I was overstepping my bounds, but we were buddies. Besides, it could affect my business if she upped and married and told me to go find another assistant.

“Sure. Tomorrow. Valentine’s Day,” she added, in case I missed it. “It’ll just be supper and maybe a movie.”

“You want the day off? To primp?”

“Primp!” she cried, clearly amused. “I’ve never primped in my life! Wouldn’t know how. But thanks, I might take off an hour early, if that’s okay. To wash my hair and dress, you know.”

“Sure thing. Take as long as you like.”

She smiled, and I returned to my office. It was a quiet time. No baseball game to listen to on the radio, no cases, no latest issue of “Jake Sharpe—Detective”, my favorite pulp magazine. So I sat and read the newspaper. I usually just read the sports and the funnies, but I perused the whole thing this time. That’s how bored I was.

Thankfully, the elevator clanked to life and stopped at my floor. Soon, a female voice was heard in the outer office, and Beulah came in and said someone was there to see me. I invited the woman in.

She was around fifty, hair graying prematurely and pulled back into a bun so tight I thought her eyeballs would pop. She was heavy-set and had glasses on a chain laying on the ample front porch. I invited her to sit. Beulah took her usual seat at one end of the desk, to take notes.

“My name,” said the lady, “is Valentine Schwartz. My card.”

Lonely Hearts, Ltd.

We bring love into your life!

Miss Valentine, prop.Telephone SIgma 202

“You left off your last name,” I pointed out, and she frowned.

“My last name is somewhat…unfortunate for my area of business. I go by the more prosaic ‘Valentine’.”

I looked up “prosaic” later on, and decided Miss Valentine didn’t know what it meant, either.

“What can I do for you, Miss Valentine?”

She looked pleased that I used her business name. Then her smile faded.

“I have a most distressing thing to report. One of my girls is missing.”

“Your girls?”

I started to think that ‘Lonely Hearts, Ltd.’ was a front for something more…prosaic. She put that to rest, though.

“Yes. Allow me to explain, Mr. Delancey.” She hesitated. “Does she have to be here?”

“Beulah? Yes. She’s my assistant. Don’t worry. Anything you say goes no further, so long as it’s legal.”

“Of course my business is legal!”

“I meant no offense.”

“Very well, then. My company is all about making matches. We try to get people happily married. To that end, we have dances, such as the one last Friday.”

“Yes. I was there.”

“Were you? Yes, I could see you might need some help in the dating department. At any rate, many of our clients are quite shy, quite the wallflowers. So, for these dances, I temporarily hire three or four of each gender, to mingle, to try to draw in those who are sitting alone, to get them to dance and enjoy themselves. Of course, we do hope to turn them into clients, but there is no obligation.”

“Of course. Funny, I was sitting there a couple hours, and no one asked me to dance.”

Beulah looked up from her notepad. She was clearly enjoying this.

“Really!” Miss Valentine exclaimed. “Well, I shall have to tell my people to be more vigilant in the future.”

“So. It’s one of those girls who is missing?”

“Exactly. My people are never, ever, permitted to accompany one of the potential clients out the door. If I discover they have, they are dismissed. I make that quite plain.”

“Got it.”

“In order to guarantee no shenanigans, I do not pay them until everyone has gone for the evening. They could, of course, arrange to meet someone after they get paid, but again, they would risk dismissal.”

“What do these folks do for a living? I mean, I’m sure you pay well, but it can’t be enough to get by on.”

“No. Well, let me see…I have two married couples who participate. They remove their rings for the night, of course. The others are mainly shop clerks and such. Something that leaves their evenings free. Mind you, I don’t really care how else they earn a living, as long as it’s above board.”

“So. The missing gal.”

“Right. Her name is Minnie Glaus. She has been with me for a few dances. A young blond, short and thin. That flapper look, you know. But quite respectable. I believe she works as a clerk at one of the perfume counters at a department store. At any rate, she left the dance some time before it ended. I thought she might be ill, because I never suspected she would be one to duck out with a man, especially before getting paid. I always had the impression she needed the extra money she made from me.”

“Did you try to telephone?”

“I did. She has an apartment but no personal telephone, just a communal one in the lobby of the building. I telephoned Sunday afternoon and this morning, and each time I got a pleasant gentleman who promised to knock on Miss Glaus’ door. After a moment’s pause, he returned to say she was not in.”

“Have you talked to the police about this?”

“No!” She looked aghast, then calmed down. “What I mean to say, Mr. Delancey, is that my entire organization is built around trust and security. We offer more services than simply dances. We have clients who come to us for help finding that right person to marry. They fill out a rather long questionnaire about their likes and dislikes and so on, and two analysts and I sit down and try to find them the perfect match. To reveal so much about themselves, requires a degree of trust. We lock up our information securely, and we investigate our clients so no person already married tries to use our services for illicit liaisons. If anyone thought there was a danger, that someone might…”

“Do you suspect Minnie Glaus has met with harm?”

“I don’t. But the police might, and if word got out the police were poking around…I can do without that publicity, Mr. Delancey, especially with tomorrow being Valentine’s Day. We are extremely busy, but could lose clients if anyone thought there was danger.”

“I see.”

“There’s probably nothing to Miss Glaus’ disappearance. Maybe she just had a prior engagement and forgot to tell me. I don’t insist my part-time dancers tell me everything about their lives.”

“But she would’ve picked up her paycheck.”

“Precisely.”

“Okay. I’ll see what I can find out. Are there any members of your dance team that Miss Glaus is friends with?”

“I don’t think so. They all got along, but I can’t say if there was one or another that she was especially close to.”

“Can you give me the other dancers’ names?”

“No.”

I sighed. “That’s going to make it a lot tougher. Well, I’ll see what I can do. At least give me Miss Glaus’ home address.”

This she did, and after a brief discussion about my fee, she left. I waited a bit, to think it over, then told Beulah I was headed for Minnie’s apartment building.

The day was cold and clear, and the apartment building wasn’t more than a mile, so I walked over. It was an okay part of town, not ritzy and not downtrodden. I felt comfortable enough walking up to the door and pressing a buzzer to be let in. An old gent came to the door.

“Come in, come in!” he cried, without knowing who I was. He was around seventy, with a bushy white mustache that could’ve held a three-days’ food supply. He carried a cane, but didn’t really seem to use it, and wore a snappy suit and vest combination.

“Name’s Perkins. Wally Perkins. Call me Wally.”

“Tom Delancey. Call me Delancey.”

He shook my hand and said he was pleased to meet me and would I care for coffee. I said I’m no coffee drinker, but wouldn’t mind taking a load off. So we sat in his immaculate living room.

“The reason I came—“ I started, but he waved it off.

“Never mind that for now. Tell me about you!”

“Um. Well, let me see. I run a little private detecting firm.”

“No, no. Not your business. You.”

I don’t often get stuck for words. Ask Beulah. I was then. But what could I do? A neighbor as nosy as this guy was could be a valuable trove of information about Minnie Glaus. So I gave him a brief rundown of where I was born and raised, and so forth, and he nodded, as if this was a quiz that I was scoring well on.

“But to get to why I came,” I said. “Do you know Minnie Glaus?”

“I should say so! A real crackerjack, she is. Are you her brother?”

Now, he knew we had different last names.

“No. Like I said, I’m a private detective, and a friend of hers is worried she’s not around.”

“Oh. You working for that lady who’s called twice?”

There was nothing to do but admit that I was. Normally, I don’t say who I’m working for, but he had me.

“Yes.”

“Damned busybody. Can’t stand people who always butt in to other people’s business.”

“This was Minnie’s boss.”

“Eh? Nah. She works for a department store. Everton’s, over on Ninth. At the perfume counter.”

“She earns a bit more money, working some nights.”

“That so? I thought she might have a fella. She’s a crackerjack. Wouldn’t have been surprised.”

“So. Have you seen Miss Glaus recently?”

Wally seemed to have drifted off, staring into space. “Eh? Oh. Not since…Friday, I think. She came home from work and changed clothes and headed out. I figured she had a date. She’s a crackerjack.”

“So I’ve heard. How did she seem? As usual?”

“Sure she was! Bubbly, I’d say. Full of life.”

“A crackerjack.”

“Precisely.”

“Does she have any friends in the building?”

“Friends? Ah, Delancey, we all get along here. There’s only the four of us, you know. Mrs. Sprinkle, across the hall. John Upton has the rooms on the second floor to the right, and Minnie has the rooms on the left. Just the four of us, and we get along fine.”

“But don’t socialize?”

“Oh, maybe a drink at Christmas, but nothing more.”

“How old is John Upton?”

“Around forty. Nice chap. Sells shoes at Everton’s. Fact is, that’s how we got Minnie. John knew we had an opening here after poor Mr. Jackson got sent up the river for making false currency. He posted a notice in the employee locker room at Everton’s, and Minnie saw it.”

“Who owns this house?”

“I do! My family home, to tell the truth. In my younger days, this was our living room. Called it the front room back then. My father’s been dead thirty years but you can still get a whiff of his pipe tobacco now and again in this room.

“At any rate,” he went on, “after my dad died, I changed the house around and let out the three apartments. I was injured in the Spanish war, you understand, and this was a way for me to have an income.”

“That was good thinking. So do you have a key to Miss Glaus’ apartment?”

“I have spare keys to all three apartments,” he said, and for the first time there was a touch of frost in his voice. “But I wouldn’t dream of letting anyone in. My tenants want and deserve privacy.”

“I assume Mr. Jackson had privacy while he made funny money?”

“Touché, Delancey. But I really cannot let you in.”

“Me, no. What about you? You could knock, and if there’s no answer, let yourself in.”

“Only if I thought there was an emergency.”

There seemed no getting around it. Then I had an idea.

“Tell you what. I’ll go to Everton’s. Minnie should be working there now, right? If she’s there, fine. I won’t bother you. If she’s not in, and hasn’t showed, and didn’t telephone to say she’d be out, then will you let me in her rooms?”

“I’ll get my coat.”

Arguing there was no need for him to come along, was useless. He got his coat and we hopped a streetcar to Everton’s on Ninth.

I don’t think it’s really necessary to go over all the rigamarole we went through at Everton’s, just to find out Minnie Glaus wasn’t in, hadn’t called to say she would not be in, and was this close to getting fired. All I can say is, Wally and I left the store, and he was convinced something was up because Minnie would not just fail to show for work.

“She was always punctual with her rent,” he told me on the streetcar back, “and I sensed she truly needed her job. Even if she’d met the Prince of Wales and was getting married to him, she would have telephoned Everton’s to say so.”

“Now will you let me in her apartment?”

“Very well. But I insist upon entering first. I won’t have a young man barging in on a young woman. Not in my house.”

“Fair enough.”

We returned to Wally’s apartment and I sat on his sofa while he fetched the spare key to Minnie’s room. We started upstairs, and were just knocking on her door, when footsteps on the stairway made us turn.

“Inspector,” I said, seeing my old friend from Homicide and not feeling good about it.

“Delancey! What the hell?” He had two uniforms in tow. Inspector Jacob Fenrow is short and scruffy, and my closest friend. We grew up together. He went into the police force and I…didn’t. Jacob tosses me crumbs now and again, people who might make use of my services, and I try to help him solve murder cases, which annoys the heck out of him. Which is why I do it.

“What brings you here?” we asked each other at once.

“You first,” he insisted.

“Allow me to introduce Mr. Wally Perkins, landlord. We were just going to see if Miss Minnie Glaus was at home.”

“Save your knuckles. She’s dead.”

I’d suspected it the second I saw Fenrow’s mug coming up the stairs. Wally said “Oh, dear,” or some such.

“Would you allow us into her apartment, please?” the inspector asked him.

Wally just stood there a moment, in a daze, then obliged. I started to follow Jacob inside, but a burly officer stopped me.

“I have valuable information,” I protested.

“Oh, let him in,” Fenrow told the officer. “So long as he doesn’t muck up the scene.”

With so much politeness, how could I refuse? I stepped inside.

The apartment was as neat as Wally’s. Not a magazine or teacup out of place. Kind of spare, but then I’m not one to talk: When you’re single, what do you need with a bunch of crap lying around? She had three chairs and a coffee table in the living room; a bed, dresser, and nightstand in the bedroom; and a kitchen table with two chairs in the kitchen. None of it fancy, but all of it good quality. Based on the fact that it was older stuff, I sensed she’d either bought it secondhand or got it from her folks. There were no photographs. A few prints hung from the walls, tasteful scenery of country lanes and such. In a way, it was kind of sad. A young woman was dead, and these were her worldly goods.

“How did she die?” Wally asked from the doorway.

“Murdered. A knife.” Fenrow was very matter-of-fact in his reply. “Found in an alley over on Elm.”

“Elm and what?” I asked.

Fenrow looked at me as if he’d forgotten I was there. “Between Tenth and Eleventh.”

That was less than two blocks from Melville Hall, where the dance was.

“You okay, Delancey?”

“Sure. Just a few things I need to tell you later.”

Fenrow turned to the two officers. “Do a thorough search. Anything personal, like a diary or photographs, stick in a bag and send it to me. All else—furniture and clothing and kitchen stuff—just leave. It belongs to her next of kin.” He then turned to me. “No sign of violence here. Not that I expected anything. Pretty clear she was killed in the alley where she was found. Come on back to the station. We can talk there.” Finally, to Wally, he said, “No one—I mean no one, not even you—goes in there until I say so. Got it?”

“Of course,” said Wally, looking a bit put out.

“Right. Come on, Delancey.”

I very seldom go to Fenrow’s office. He comes to my office plenty, but I think he doesn’t want it spread around that I might be helpful to his investigations. Now, of course, I had official information, so it was okay. I got into the inspector’s rickety Ford and we drove downtown to police headquarters.

Once we were settled in Fenrow’s office (a real pigsty, by the way—and I mean that as a friend), he had a cup of coffee and I had a glass of water. He asked what I knew.

I figured, the case is blown, anyway. I mean, Valentine Schwartz had wanted me to find Minnie before any bad publicity got out. Well, Minnie was found, I hadn’t found her, and publicity was bound to happen. So I spilled the whole story. Fenrow listened. He seldom takes notes. I don’t know how he does it—me, I’d lose my legs if they weren’t sewn on. Beulah remembers things for me. Fenrow just soaks it in and has it.

“Now,” I said when the story was done. “Would you do me a favor?”

“If I can.”

“I’d like to tell Miss Valentine the news first. Maybe explain why I had to toss her case.”

“Sure.”

“It would help if I knew a little more about how Minnie died.”

Fenrow arched an eyebrow. I didn’t have to know one thing about how Minnie died, in order to tell my client her employee was dead. It was pure curiosity. But Jacob figured I’d helped him, so he obliged. There wasn’t much to tell, actually.

“This morning,” he said, “a hobo was chased off a bench by one of our officers. He ran into the alley, and found the girl. He called out to the cop. The girl was on her back, sprawled as if she’d been tossed there. Her throat was cut. Blood all over.”

“Was she wearing a dancing dress?”

“You mean, did she come from the dance Friday? Probably. The coroner figures she’s been dead a couple days. Anyhow, she hadn’t been sexually violated, and she hadn’t been robbed: Her purse was nearby. Inside were three dollars and change, a handkerchief, lipstick, and an employee card for Everton’s, with her name and address on it.”

“There was a dance at Melville Hall last Friday. She probably came from there.”

Another arched eyebrow.

“And you know this how?”

I could’ve said Miss Valentine told me, and I wouldn’t have been lying. Instead, I stuck with the truth. Told him about Beulah, and my getting roped into helping her. When I’d finished, he didn’t laugh at my not getting a dance. He just said:

“Do you remember seeing Minnie there?”

“Well, since I don’t know what Minnie looks like, except for a brief description—“

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. You want to see the girl. Okay. Come on.”

The morgue is in the basement of the police station, so we hoofed it downstairs and a squirrelly little guy named Feen let us in. Feen is the coroner’s assistant and a little too enamored of his job, but I let that slide. On Fenrow’s word, he let me see the girl.

Broke my heart. She was so young and innocent, and I could picture her laughing with friends, getting her first kiss, helping out at the perfume counter…

“I’m pretty sure I saw her Friday,” I said as Feen covered the face again. “But only in passing. There were a lot of people at that dance, and I couldn’t tell you when or with whom I saw her.” We started up the stairs. “And, I couldn’t tell you when she left.”

“But it was before the dance ended. And maybe not much before,” Fenrow added, “because it sounds like Miss Valentine would’ve known if one of her people was missing.”

I nodded. “She seems to have a tight rein on her operation.”

“Fine.” We stood now at the door to outside. “You talk to your client, tell her Minnie’s dead, and tell her I want to see her soon. I’ll give her a call to get her here. Meantime, it sounds like you’re without a client. Sorry.”

He meant it. Jacob and I are friends, as I said, and he wants me to succeed, just as I want him to be police chief someday, if he wants it.

I headed out and decided to go to Miss Valentine right away. She wasn’t in, but a secretary named Pearl was eager to please. I told her Minnie was dead, which made her gasp, and that Inspector Fenrow would be calling soon, so Miss Valentine should be prepared to tell the inspector what she knew. Pearl wrote it all down, and I thanked her kindly and headed back to the office.

First, I stopped for lunch at Joey Black’s. I like Black’s, as it’s called, because they leave you alone to eat but are quick with the order and the check. And Joey sometimes hears things. Joey’s a big guy who you don’t mess with, though to his friends, he’s a gem. As a regular customer, I’m his friend, and I casually asked him if he’d heard any whispers about Minnie Glaus getting killed. Joey shook his head, which didn’t surprise me, because a) it was fresh, and b) the murder took place some ways away. Still, I asked Joey to keep an ear open, which he said he would.

Back at the office, I found Beulah at her desk and a fresh red rose in a vase nearby. I pointed and ask what the flower was for.

“Valentine’s Day, silly. Tomorrow, remember?”

“I meant, who’s it from?”

“Pete. He sent a nice card, too, which you will never see.”

“That sappy, eh?”

This was a mistake. Beulah can take ribbing, and is as good at dishing as taking, but apparently I was not to kid about Pete Stephenson. She gave me her nastiest glare, so I changed the subject and told her everything that had happened. She sighed.

“No case, then,” she said.

“Nope.”

And there it laid. That evening, though, Jacob came by to chat, to drink my bootleg brandy, and discuss the case, as he sometimes does. Beulah had left—she was expecting a telephone call from Pete.

“So,” said Jacob, leaning back, “this could be a tough nut. My men spoke to the other residents in Minnie’s apartment. That Wally Perkins is a pip. He keeps track of all his residents’ coming and going, but it took a crowbar to pry any of that information from him. Then, when he finally told us all he knew, it turned out he knew almost nothing helpful. Minnie was a single gal who was nice and kept herself to herself. She had no parties, never came home tipsy, and spent most nights at home. Wally liked her, I think because she was the ideal tenant.

“Then there’s Mrs. Sprinkle, across the hall. She’s a piece of work, as my dear Aunt Olga used to say. Around eighty, deaf as a post, and not all there in the brain box. Polite and friendly, but no help because of her lack of hearing.

“Finally, we have Mr. John Upton. Works in the shoe department at Everton’s, which is how Minnie got her apartment there. My boys kept digging for a closer relationship between them, but he insisted there wasn’t. Not surprised: He’s no idea of a burly he-man. Anyhow, he says their only connection was working in the same big department store. At work, he’d posted the notice for an open apartment in the building, and Minnie had jumped at it.”

“Did anyone know why Minnie was so eager for a new place? Where was she living before?”

“I was getting to that. Minnie moved out of her folks’ place a few years back. Nothing nasty, from what we can tell: She recognized that her folks had trouble making ends meet, and so she struck out on her own. Like any young person, she wanted to try life alone. Well, she started in a ratty old place downtown, and was eager to get out. When she landed the job at Everton’s, and then the spot on Miss Valentine’s dance staff, she had enough coin to find a better place.”

“So it doesn’t sound like any of her fellow tenants did the deed.”

“Nope. Definitely not Mrs. Sprinkle, and I doubt either of the guys did, either. One thing they agreed on, they all liked Minnie.”

“Yeah,” I mused, “I like any fellow tenant who keeps the noise down and doesn’t pry. Sounds like Minnie scored on both those counts.”

“Right.”

“You hear from Miss Valentine?” I told him about my talk with Pearl.

“Yep. She’s coming in tomorrow morning. Speaking of which,” he checked his watch, “I should he heading home.”

We wished each other goodnight, and I left for home soon after.

Next day, I came to the office and began to fiddle with my middle desk drawer, which always sticks, and I suspect has something caught in it. It’s my pastime until baseball season starts. Beulah sat at her desk and read a magazine. Then came the sound of tromping feet. Young feet.

“Well, if it isn’t Iggy and Eddie!” Beulah cried, and I stood, expecting them to come see me, but they stayed in the outer office, so I went out to meet them.

Iggy and Eddie are local boys. Good kids, but they’ve been known to get into mischief once or twice. They’d been involved in a murder case last year, and have become a helpful, if a bit nosy, couple of kids. Oh, and Eddie thinks Beulah’s the bee’s knees.

When I came into Beulah’s office, then, I wasn’t too surprised.

“Look, Delancey,” said Beulah, faking enthusiasm. “Eddie’s brought me flowers.”

“Well! Isn’t that capital!” I replied, and she glared at me. “Say, Eddie, where’d you get the money for ‘em?”

“I didn’t steal nothing,” Eddie said.

“Didn’t say you did. I just wondered.”

“He’s been helpin’ Mr. Fitzroy with deliveries,” Iggy put in. Iggy is a man of few words, but defends his buddy to the death.

“Very enterprising. Say—aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

“Iggy’s got croup,” Eddie said.

“Croup?”

“Or consumption. Something with a K.”

“I’ll tell you what. You come into my office for a little, to have a short chat, then you go to school, and I won’t report you to the truant officer. How would that be?”

They didn’t seem too thrilled, but marched into my office like men to the gallows.

“You won’t need to sit,” I pointed out. “This won’t take very long. I’d like your help solving a murder.”

It’d just been spur of the moment. I’d fully expected to drop the Minnie Glaus case. But I figured, what the hell, these two will do some work for small change. So I laid out the whole story.

“I know the murder wasn’t around here,” I finished, “but maybe you can find out something.”

“We’re on the case,” Eddie said.

“Good. Now scoot. To school.”

Their faces fell—thought I’d forgotten about it, I guess.

That afternoon, I got a visit from Miss Valentine, and it wasn’t all that pleasant. She stormed into the office, ignored Beulah’s “Good afternoon” and headed for my door. I invited her in, which was a waste of breath because she was already in and seated.

“What I can do for you?” I asked, trying to still the storm.

“You can explain yourself. What business had you, to tell the police I employed Minnie Glaus? What business had you, to drop me as a client the instant the police took over? What business had you…” She trailed off, running out of questions about my business.

“I’m happy to answer both questions,” I said as Beulah sat at the end of my desk, pencil and pad handy. “First, I have a license to be a private detective. That license requires me to cooperate with law enforcement. If I don’t, I’d be out on the street panhandling, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want that on your conscience. So, when Minnie Glaus was murdered, it was my duty to report what I knew. They would’ve found out, anyway.”

Now, I was fudging a bit here. I’ve kept plenty from the police, even my good friend Jacob Fenrow. What I’d told her was legit: I was legally required to share with the police. I just don’t do it all the time. And I wasn’t kidding about the police finding out Minnie worked for the Lonely Hearts. Fenrow and his boys are pretty good at doing such things.

“As to the second question,” I went on, “I assumed that, since Minnie was now found, which was what you hired me to do, our relationship was finished. I won’t charge you, since all I did was shlep around the city a bit, and it was a nice day for a streetcar ride, anyway.”

“Don’t be smart with me, young man. I didn’t get where I am in business by getting talked back, nor am I used to being told what I should or shouldn’t do. Yes, I hired you to find Minnie Glaus, and she’s been found, but now I want you to find out who murdered her. And before you tell me the police can do that, I want to tell you that I highly doubt it. A few weeks ago, my office was broken into, and the police never found the culprit. Inept, the lot of them.”

“I’ll be sure and tell Inspector Fenrow you send your love.”

“Good God, you’re a smart mouth!” To Beulah: “How do you put up with him?”

“Purgatory on earth,” my assistant replied.

“I can imagine. At any rate, I want you to investigate Minnie’s murder. If the police find her killer before you, well and good. I shall pay you double your rate, however, if you find the man first.”

“You assume it’s a man.”

“Don’t bother me with semantics.”

“Okay. I’ll see what I can do,” I promised. I was glad I’d asked Eddie and Iggy to keep ears open, now.

After Miss Valentine left, I sat back to think. Beulah likes to scoff at this, but deep down she knows this is when I’m working hardest. I sit back, stare out the window, or at the ceiling, or at the desk, and ponder everything I know about the case. Beulah usually leaves me be at these times, but now she hovered.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Well, it dawns on me, I know a bit about this case, too. I was at the dance.”

“Sure. So what’ve you got?”

“Well, let’s put it this way.” She took the clients’ chair across from me so we could look at each other as we talked. “There are three possibilities. One, she was killed by someone she didn’t know.”

“In which case, we’re out of luck.”

“Right. Two, she was killed by one of her co-tenants.”

“The only possibility there is John Upton, who lives across the hall. Wally Perkins is too…everything to have done it. Old, a bit prissy, and why would he kill his own tenant? Mrs. Sprinkle, I understand, is old as the hills.”

“Okay. So maybe Upton, but the cops ‘ll be all over that. That leaves someone at the dance.”

“Right. You think we should start there.”

“I do. Now, we signed that guestbook—“

“Sure! I’ll ask Miss Valentine right away. Bless you!” And I picked up my telephone receiver.

“While you do that,” Beulah said, “I’d like to duck out for the day. Dinner with Pete.”

“Have a good time.”

She waved her thanks and I dialed the number. I got the same secretary I’d had before. They were pretty busy, she said, what with it being Valentine’s Day and all, but she would ask Miss Valentine if it was okay to get the book to me. If so, she’d send it by courier; if not, she’d call me back.

I did receive the book next day, with a sharp note from Miss Valentine, telling me I was to let her know before I got a hold of any of the people listed. Privacy, I guess. Well, I was mainly after the names, anyhow.

In the end, I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for. Maybe that someone like John Upton would show up in the guest book. That would be a connection. No such luck: My name, Beulah’s, Pete Stephenson, were there, as was Bob Winkelman, the little guy that sat with me a bit. No other recognizable names.

I set the book down, checked my watch. Beulah was late again, this time nearly a half hour. This was worrying: I mean, it was great that she’d found someone she liked, and Pete seemed a nice guy, but this was a business, albeit a small one. So I was happy for her, but I was a bit peeved, too. Then there was the remote possibility that Pete was our killer. What if he was a madman, preying on young women? What if—?

Just as I was thinking about all the what ifs, Beulah came traipsing in with a mound of apologies. I asked her to sit in my office.

“Did the book help?” she asked, nodding to the guest book.

“Not really. It was a good idea, though. Look, Beulah, I’m glad you’ve found a good guy, but this business of coming in late—“

“It won’t happen again.”

“I know you think it won’t, but I need to be sure.”

“You can be sure. Pete and I had a long talk last night—that’s why I’m so late; it was past midnight when he dropped me home—and we agreed to cool things down a bit.”

Now I felt like a heel.

“I didn’t mean for you not to see him. I just wanted you to show up on time, or at least call.”

She grinned. “We didn’t decide to cool it because of you, Delancey. I am sorry I’ve been late a couple days, but that wasn’t it. We just decided that we were moving too fast. So I’m still seeing Pete now and again. Just not every night, or even every week. It’s all very amicable.”

So this is what the New Woman has come to. First the vote, now they don’t get serious about a good guy, but just see him now and again. Next thing you know, they’ll be joining the Army or being presidents of corporations. This will take some getting used to. Oh, well. As my dad always says, “Things’ll change whether you want ‘em to or not, so get over it.” Sentimental, is my old man.

“I think,” I said, “my next move will be to talk to the other dancers for Miss Valentine. Their names aren’t in the guest book. Maybe they chatted, know something about her.”

“Still think she was murdered by someone she knew, then?”

“I have to. There’s no way I’ll catch a killer who does random murders.”

I telephoned Miss Valentine and got her, this time. She reluctantly gave me the names and addresses of the three other dancers. She also told me where I could probably find them, in their day jobs. I thanked her and headed out.

First stop was Dick Platz. He worked on the docks, loading and unloading cargo. Funny; I expected these dancers to be fancy ladies and gentlemen, but it seems they were normal folks. Maybe that’s what Miss Valentine was after: Ordinary people who liked to dance and were good at it.

Anyhow, I caught Dick as he was taking a break, and I explained why I was there. We sat on a couple of crates.

Dick Platt is a big, strong sonuvagun, with massive hands and a chiseled chin. He was personable, though, and seemed genuinely sad about Minnie Glaus.

“She was a good kid, and not a bad dancer,” he told me. “Liked to laugh.”

“Anything more than friends?”

“Us? Nah. She was a little too high-class for me. Know what I mean? Don’t get me wrong: I can fake the high-class stuff, for when I’m dancin’ with gals like that, but I couldn’t stand to be around ‘em.”

“Did she have trouble with anyone in particular?”

“You mean like mashers? Guys to come on to her?”

“Sure.”

“Nothing that couldn’t be handled. I mean, there was one guy, an older gent, who tried it on with her and wouldn’t take no for an answer, but I stepped in, and he beat it sure enough. But that was a year ago.”

I thanked him for his time and moved on to the next dancer, a gal named Debra White. She worked as a maid at a big mansion, and had no time for me. I gave her my card, and she promised to get hold of me after hours. Usually that’s an excuse, but she did telephone. Our conversation was simple and to the point: She liked Minnie, though she thought her flighty. Never had an argument with her, and was sorry she’d been killed.

My final dancer was a guy by the name of Elbert Gross. Elbert was the oldest of the bunch, in his thirties. He was tall and, with a touch of gray at the temples, looked the country gentleman. He was different from the other two in every way. Independently wealthy from inheritance, he didn’t have to fake the poshness like Dick Platt did. He lived in a highfalutin house and drove a fancy Buick and clearly had no need to dance for money. Or did he?

“The truth is,” he admitted as we sat in his spacious living room, “my father tied up my inheritance into all sorts of knots. He owned a company—Gross Engineering—and expected me to take over the business. When I told him I didn’t want to, he blew a gasket. Then he arranged his will so that if I sold the business the money went to charity, so I’d have to at least pretend to be interested in the business. I receive a salary, but it is meager, and the board of directors—all my father’s friends—won’t raise it. So I do a bit of dancing, just to earn some spending money.”

It was pretty clear he didn’t really need spending money. I guessed he made plenty from his salary. But that wasn’t for me to judge. I just smiled and nodded politely. Then I asked about Minnie.

“A delightful lass,” he exclaimed. “I loved her like a brother. Although, just betwixt you and me, she had her troubles.”

“Oh? What about?”

Elbert sat back on his cushy chair. “Sadly, I cannot say. But I can tell you that on two occasions, I found her in tears. Once was on the front steps of the hall where we danced, the second time was in a hallway leading to the floor. She quickly dabbed her eyes and said it was nothing, but there was clearly something wrong.”

“And the night of the dance?”

“She was calm enough, though once the dance started, I was rather busy and didn’t notice her much.”

“One more question. Did she know anyone at these dances? I mean, were there guys she danced with more than others, or was friendlier to?”

“I wish I could help you, Mr. Delancey, but I don’t know. Again, when the dance begins, we are expected to seek out partners. What I will say is, there were attendees who came to every one of our dances, mainly because they had favorite dancers. I will also say, that it’s human nature to prefer some of these folks to others. There’s one lady in particular, old enough to be my grandmother, who could dance rings around most others. She likes to get out and whoop it up. I absolutely adore her. Just an example. I’m sure Minnie had similar gents she preferred to dance with.”

I thanked Elbert, and as we shook hands he said that anything more I wanted to know, I should just call. That made me feel better about having gotten nowhere. All I had was that Minnie cried a couple of times for unknown reasons.

Back at the office, I sat pondering until it was time to head home. As I was getting my coat, though, Inspector Fenrow entered and I rehung the coat and sat.

“How’s the case going?” I asked, pouring brandy for him, Beulah, and me.

“Ah, it’s a dead end. No one saw or heard anything. Damnedest thing.” He shook his head and took a drink. I told him about my discussion with Elbert, and that Minnie was seen crying. “Well,” Fenrow said, “that’s more than we’ve been able to dig up. Her fellow tenants say she kept herself to herself, no indication she was upset.”

“Do you mind if I talk to them?”

“Be my guest, though you already talked to the landlord, Perkins.”

“Yeah, and it’s not an exercise I’d care to repeat, but I have to think there’s something there. Have you talked to her coworkers at the store?”

“My boys did. Same as the tenants. She was a private person. Nice enough. Polite. Even friendly. But never said a word about her personal life. Once, I guess, she let slip she was from up north somewhere.”

“So you don’t even know if she has family?”

“Nope. We’ve dug through her employment records, her personal papers. We’ve searched city directories. Made telephone calls to every Glaus within shouting distance. Nothing. The clue that she was from up north helps, but you know how many little burgs there are ‘up north’? And most of ‘em don’t have city directories or telephones. It’s a real pain.”

“That’s interesting. Maybe our Minnie Glaus has a shady past.”

“Thought of that. I sent around her photograph to sheriffs up north, and to the big cities. Even sent one to the Federal boys, though they haven’t got back to me yet. The others just said no, she didn’t look familiar.”

All three of us took a deep sigh and sipped our brandy.

Next day, I stopped in the office only long enough to say hi to Beulah, then headed back to Minnie’s apartment house. Wally Perkins let me in, and I told him why I was there. He frowned.

“The police have already talked to us, and it was embarrassing and tedious. I don’t care if the other two wish to indulge you, but I shan’t. Bad enough we had to speak to the police; we do not have to indulge you.”

“No, you don’t. So I’ll just move on.”

I started up the stairs, but Wally stopped me. “Mr. Upton is at work. Best try Mrs. Sprinkle.”

I didn’t really want to: A nearly-deaf old woman was not a suspect, and unlikely to have heard anything helpful. Still, I’d made the trip, so I knocked on her door.

“Louder,” Wally prompted with a hint of smile.

I knocked again, louder.

“Louder,” he said.

Finally, I banged on the door, which was opened swiftly by a white-haired lady in house dress and carpet slippers.

“All right, all right,” she said. “I ain’t deef, you know.”

“Excuse me, Ma’am. My name is Tom Delancey, and I’m a private investigator hired to find out who killed Minnie Glaus.”

She just stood in the doorway, staring as if I’d not said a word. Behind my back, I could feel Wally Perkins’ smirk. Then, her brain suddenly clicked into life.

“Oh. Of course. Come in.”

Perkins must’ve been so disappointed.

I was ushered into a flowery little front room. To one side was a door to the bedroom, another door led to a small kitchen. All the comforts of home. There were photos on the mantel and religious prints on the walls. She told me to sit on the sofa and asked if I wanted tea. I refused, and she sat across from me.

“So. Who hired you?”

“That’s confidential.”

“Bah. You may as well leave. You expect me to help you, and you won’t tell me one little thing? At least when the cops were here, I knew who hired ‘em.”

“Sure,” I said with a grin. “It was Minnie’s boss at the Lonely Hearts club. Miss Valentine.”

Mrs. Sprinkle let out a raspberry. “That trollop? The whore of Babylon, she is.”

“You’ve met her?”

“Sure. She used to come ‘round here, to visit Minnie. Not sure what they talked about.” She leaned forward. “Can you keep a secret?”

“Sure.”

I can hear just fine. I tell Wally I can’t because it saves me listening to his prattle. Try it some time. You don’t want to listen to someone, try saying ‘What?’ a few times. Pretty soon they give up. By the way, you’d better shout a few times, just in case old Perkins is listening.”

“Like this?” I shouted: “What can you tell me about Minnie?”

“Perfect,” she chuckled. “Not a blessed thing!” she called. “I’ll get you some tea, Dearie!”

Then she sat back and chuckled. In her normal voice:

“I can’t tell you how many religious nuts and vacuum salesmen I’ve got rid of with that routine. Anyhow, even though my hearing’s fine, I couldn’t hear what Minnie and the whore spoke about.” She shook her head sadly. “I’m gonna miss Minnie. She was all right.”

“After Miss Valentine visited, how was Minnie? Angry? Upset?”

“Nah. She was fine.”

“Did she have any other visitors?”

“Nope. Quiet as a mouse, that one.” Suddenly, she shouted: “Here’s your tea, Dearie!”

“Thanks!” I called back. Then, in normal voice again: “How’d she get on with the others in this place? Wally or John Upton?”

“Wally is fine with anyone who pays rent on time, which she did. That John Upton, though…he’s an odd duck. Even quieter than Minnie. He’d creep in and out, and spend most of his time in his room. I thought for a bit that he was Dr. Jekyll, but he’s not handsome enough for that. Anyhow, I’d lay odds that those two—Minnie and Upton—never even clapped eyes on each other.”

“But they worked at the same place.”

“Them? Nah. Did Wally tell you that? He’s full of beans. Upton works at the woodworking place. Fletcher’s.”

“Why would Wally have the idea he worked at Everton’s in the shoe department?”

“Maybe he did once. I don’t know. All I know for sure is, Upton works at Fletcher’s, and has for some time. He came in one night, sawdust all over him, and I snapped at him for making a mess, and he told me that’s where he worked, and apologized, though I don’t think he meant it.”

Now I really had to talk to Upton. He lied to the police and to Wally Perkins.

“Anything else you can tell me about Minnie?”

“Just that she was a sweet kid and deserved better.”

“No idea where she was from originally?”

“Up north somewhere. I got the idea she had troubles up there—family thing—and wanted to get out as soon as she was old enough.”

I thanked her kindly and shouted a farewell, which she returned with a wink.

There were things to ponder while I rode the streetcar to Fletcher’s Woodworking. Why did everyone think John Upton worked at Everton’s Department Store? The most obvious possibility was that both were true, that he had two jobs. Everton’s usually was open till six, and Fletcher’s—which made really nice furniture—had factory hours until midnight. Upton could easily work two shifts, if he was so inclined.

Now, during the day, it was most likely that Upton would be at the store, but I was headed to Fletcher’s anyway. See, my guess was that the cops had been to Everton’s and asked his coworkers about him there. But maybe they didn’t know about his job at Fletcher’s. Maybe I could be one step ahead in the investigation. Or maybe I was being stupid.

For once, I wasn’t being stupid.

I hopped off the streetcar and walked the block to Fletcher’s, a big white building with a giant kitchen chair outside. There was a door marked “Visitors” and I went through it to find a middle-aged gal seated at a desk. She was the picture of no-nonsense efficiency: Neat desk, hair pulled tightly back, no polish on the nails or lipstick. Even her smile of greeting was short and to the point.

“My name is Tom Delancey,” I said. “I wonder if Mr. John Upton is working here today.”

“John Upton? We don’t have anyone here by that name.”

“Are you sure?”

That was a mistake. Never accuse a sharp receptionist of being dim. What was left of the smile withered and she said coldly:

“I am positive. There is no John, Jonathan, Jack, or anyone else named Upton who works here. Nor has there been anyone by that name in the past twenty-one years, since I first sat at this desk. Good day.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to insult you. I’m sorry.”

That thawed things a bit.

“Don’t mention it.”

Now, my whole trip might’ve been wasted, except that just then, a burly guy entered the scene. He was a real bulldog, short and square and crewcut. He needed a shave. His shirtsleeves were rolled up and his tie was crooked. He stepped out of the office just behind the receptionists’ desk, carrying papers, and was about to say something when he saw me.

“Who’s this?” he growled. I don’t think he was really being sour. It was just his voice.

“Oh,” said the receptionist. “Mr. Fletcher. This is Mr. Tom Delancey. He was just leaving.”

I seized the chance and offered my hand, which the bulldog shook.

“Sorry to have wasted this lady’s time. I was just asking if a John Upton worked here.”

“And I told him there isn’t, and never was.”

She said it, but Fletcher wasn’t listening. His jaw had dropped and his eyes narrowed—which is hard to do at once: Try it. Anyhow, the name clearly rang a bell, so I pursued it.

“Have you heard of the man, sir?”

“You say your name is Delancey?” he managed to growl.

“Right.”

“What did you want to know about Upton for?”

“So you do know a guy by that name?”

“Step into my office.”

I followed and he shut the door behind me. We sat. His office was a jumble of papers in no discernible pattern. I wondered that Miss Efficiency out there allowed it.

“Why did you want to know about John Upton?”

I briefly explained. Saw no reason not to tell him the truth. His narrow slit-eyes got narrower.

“So,” I concluded, “all I want to do is talk to Mr. Upton, and if you could tell me how I can get a hold of him—“

He interrupted. “Sorry. I thought you said Upsome. John Upton, you say? Never heard of him.”

Mr. Fletcher did not have a career on the stage. And I was a little tired of getting the runaround when it came to this guy. So I took a chance.

“Look. I’m not a cop. You want to fib to them, go right ahead. All I want to do is talk to the guy, and it’s pretty obvious you know who he is and why he’s harder to catch than Red Grange. So please, just tell me where he is, and I’ll talk to him, and leave.”

“Get out.”

I started to fold my arms, figuring he’d have to drag me out (which he probably could have), then stopped in mid-fold, and smiled. “Sure,” I said. “Sorry to have bugged you.”

I headed out and shut the door behind me, but instead of going to the entrance door, I made a beeline for the shop door. Fletcher didn’t see me, but the receptionist did. She yelled at me. I lied and said, “Your boss said it was okay.” She looked at me a second, must’ve seen through the lie, and started for Fletcher’s door. I had maybe half a minute to make good.

Why was I even bothering? I didn’t know what Upton looked like, and the odds were, if the receptionist didn’t know him, no one in the shop did, either. My guess was, Upton had been hired by Fletcher under a different name for some reason, so even if he was working there, no one would’ve called him John Upton.

But I caught a break. I entered the noisy, sawdust-filled shop, and took a second to survey the scene. Guys were working on sanding, sawing, nailing, and staining. The radio played some jazz tune, but you could barely hear it. I started forward, knowing that at any moment Fletcher would come in.

Here’s the break: I spied a familiar face.

“Well! Bob Winkelman!”

Sure enough, it was the little guy from the dance, the round-shouldered man who looked like he didn’t want to be there, yet said he went to all the dances. When I called his name, Winkelman looked like he’d seen a ghost. He was staining a chair, and had gloves and a staining cloth, and just held out his hands like a minister at Communion. For a second, it didn’t register why he’d be so scared at seeing me. Then I took a chance.

“Or,” I said, “maybe you’d rather I call you John Upton?”

His wide-eyed look told me I’d hit pay-dirt. I started for him, when I felt a big paw on my shoulder.

“You’d better leave, pal,” Fletcher growled.

“Sure. Right to the police.”

I wasn’t expecting Fletcher to haul off and belt me in the gut, and that made his hit all the harder to take. I collapsed, gasping for air, certain he’d busted my guts. I heaved for breath, on my hands and knees. I could see his foot coming up to give me a kick somewhere. Through the pain, I spied a full can of stain. I grabbed it by the handle and swung it, hard as I could, into his shin. Fletcher let out a cry of pain and crumpled to the floor.

Everyone was just standing around, watching—except Upton/Winkelman, who had taken a powder—and I really and truly expected this gang of strong carpenters to begin to pound on me. And they had tools that cut and bruised. I had to get to my feet and get out of there.

Help came from an unexpected quarter. As I staggered upright, there was the receptionist, standing like the Kaiser, yelling at everyone to get back to work. They did! Then, ignoring me completely, she led her boss, limping, off to his office. I slowly started out the back door, where I’d seen Winkelman go.

I was out in an alley, with no sign of my guy, which didn’t surprise me. I sank down again and sat against a wall, just recovering. Finally feeling better, I got up and made for the nearest telephone.

 

At Beulah’s insistence, I got checked out by the doctor, who said I’d live, and I sat in my office that night, waiting for a visit from my friend, Inspector Fenrow. Sure enough, he showed up just after closing. Beulah stuck around, because she wanted to know what had all gone on, too. But it wasn’t good news the inspector brought. They’d caught Winkelman/Upton back at his apartment, but:

“We don’t have enough to charge him with the murder of Minnie Glaus,” he said, frustrated. He sat with a glass of my bootleg brandy in hand, looking tired. “In fact, we barely have enough to hold him. Yeah, he ran, and yeah, he used a phony name to rent the apartment, but that’s pretty flimsy.”

“Does he have an alibi for the murder?” I asked.

“Not really, but since Miss Glaus was murdered in the wee hours of the morning, his claim that he went home to bed after the dance isn’t hard to swallow.”

“Maybe,” Beulah said, “he knew her from earlier. Folks said she came from up north. Did you check with sheriffs up north about someone named Winkelman or Upton?”

“We’re doing that now. By the way, he did admit his real name is Bob Winkelman. Gave no reason why he took the apartment under a different name, and we can’t really force it out of him.”

So we sat, a pathetic trio, figuring we’d been licked. Then the sound of tromping footsteps snapped us out of it.

“It’s Eddie and Iggy,” I said. “Tell me you’ve got something, boys.”

I only asked because those two looked like cats that swallowed a canary each. Eddie carried a severely rumpled paper bag. They stopped short when they saw Fenrow, though. For some reason those two innocent lads have always been wary around police.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Come on in. Inspector, this is Eddie Duckworth and Iggy Green, two neighborhood boys. They—“

“I heard all about ‘em from Inspector Wing. They were involved in that case last year with the guy in the alley.”

“Right. And someday one of them might take over when you retire.”

“Heck no!” Eddie cried. “We wanna be like you, Delancey.”

“Your poor mother,” Fenrow cut in, which I thought very rude.

“Anyhow,” I said, “they can be helpful, sometimes, so I asked them to keep an ear out about the Minnie Glaus case.”

“Let me get this straight,” Fenrow said. “You asked two boys—what are you, ten?” he asked them. They shrugged. “Two boys,” the inspector went on, “to take on a murder investigation?”

“You make it sound like they’re in danger. All I asked—“

“Was for them to snoop around, when the killer is still out there, and maybe wouldn’t think twice about killing two boys. If he murdered a woman in cold blood, what’s to stop him from offing two kids? Delancey…” His voice trailed off, and he shook his head.

When he put it like that, I could see his point. It was just that the kids were so eager, I never gave it a thought. I got into this business knowing I could get stabbed, like last year, or punched in the gut, like at the furniture store, or maybe shot at someday. Those kids just know danger from the Saturday matinee, where spacemen shoot ray guns and monsters are men in gorilla suits. I’d have to rethink this. But not now. Now:

“Here,” said Eddie, handing the bag to Inspector Fenrow.

Fenrow looked inside, looking like he expected the bag to contain dog doo. What he saw made him say, “Holy cow. Where did you find this? Never mind. You two come with me. Delancey, will you call my wife and tell her I’ll be late?”

“Provided you tell me what’s in the bag.”

He showed me. It was a bloody knife.

I wish I could say this wrapped up the whole thing, but it really didn’t.

First off, we—Fenrow and I—knew very well Winkelman killed Minnie Glaus. In fact, the cops finally traced Winkelman back to up north, and found out that he and Minnie had been married at one time. Turns out, Winkelman was a wife-beater, and Minnie had enough. She got no help from the local sheriff or the church or the townsfolk, so she just packed up and left. Came to our fair city, took back her maiden name, and settled in.

But Winkelman tracked her down. He got a job at Everton’s, and an apartment, all under the phony name of Upton, so he could keep an eye on Minnie. Then, by sheer luck, a place opened in the apartment building where he lived, he posted it in the company break room, and sure enough Minnie took it. That was perfect for him. He rigged a system whereby he could keep track of her ins and outs, and watched her from a safe distance. He didn’t want to tell her he was in town.

Then he heard Minnie was dancing to add to her income. He lied to me about coming to those dances a lot: He’d never been to one before. His plan was to finally confront her, and he did. When she told him where to go, he killed her.

At least, that’s the story Fenrow, the cops, and I worked out. We just couldn’t prove any of it, beyond his being Minnie’s husband, and going under a phony name. Winkelman knew we had no proof, and when the cops let him go, he just took off. Didn’t return to his home up north, and we’ve no idea where he is now. Probably married again to some other poor gal.

Now, as to the bloody knife. My hope that the boys had found the murder weapon was dashed the day after they brought it in. Fenrow came and told me so, and he wasn’t pleased.

“Delancey, those boys—and you—have opened up a real can of worms here. That knife doesn’t fit the murdered gal. There are fingerprints on the handle, but they don’t match Winkelman’s, or anyone else we know of. But there’s a whole lot of blood around where the knife was found. Something bad happened in that alley, Delancey, something that I think the knife-man figured would get washed away by rain, but something that’s out in the open now, thanks to those boys.”

“Do you think Eddie and Iggy are in danger?”

“Only if their names gets out. We won’t tell anyone, but I bet you anything those boys have already bragged to their friends how they cracked the Glaus case. So word ‘ll get out, and it’s only a matter of time before the papers pick it up.”

“I’ll have a talk with them.”

“Good. We lectured ‘em, but you can guess how well that went over.”

All I could was nod.

I did speak to the boys, told them they had to watch themselves. They nodded, and seemed to take me seriously, but when you’re used to running wild after school and exploring streets and alleys on your own, it’s a hard habit to break.

All in all, this was one very dissatisfying case.



© Copyright 2018 dan kussart. All rights reserved.

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