Staring Into The Dark

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
New York, 1940s, private detective Jim Turner investigates a missing woman. As he says, these kind of cases were always the toughest to crack.

Submitted: November 29, 2013

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Submitted: November 29, 2013

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It always started with a missing woman, that’s what I found. I worked lots of cases. I never turned a job down. But I found that those involving missing dames, they were the toughest nuts to crack. I wasn’t the most highly paid private detective in New York but I was in demand. My ex wife used to say that I sold myself short. Said that if I charged what I was worth then we could have an apartment overlooking Central Park. Eventually she left me for some Wall Street big shot with a double barrelled name.

There was a knock on the frosted glass of my office door. I called ‘come in’. the guy came in. Took the seat across from me as I folded my newspaper. He was in his late forties and had greying hair but still had the physique of a younger man. He smoothed a crease from his tailor made suit. I shifted in my crumpled cheap suit. My suit didn’t so much need ironing as taking outside and burning. I lit a cigarette. Offered the guy one. He shook his head. I knew what he was thinking. He was asking himself why the hell he’d come to my shabby little office. Asking himself if this really was the office of the detective with the reputation. Was this Jimmy Turner all he was cracked up to be? Was I? Maybe. Maybe not. I just worked my ass off till I got the answers I wanted. Sometimes that was like banging my head against a brick wall. Nobody did that with as much enthusiasm as I did.

‘Mr Turner?’

‘That’s what it says on the door.’

‘My name is Raymond Doyle. It’s about my wife, Rita. She’s gone missing. I’m worried something has happened to her.’

‘How long has she been missing?’

‘Four days now. Nobody has seen her since Monday.’

‘I assume you’ve gone to the police.’

‘Yes, but you know how incompetent they are. They follow procedure, go through the motions. But I want my own man on it. I want her to be found.’

‘So you came to me.’

‘Exactly. Money isn’t an issue, especially where those I love are concerned.’

I couldn’t help thinking that this guy was hiring a private eye with the same attitude that he hired his driver and his gardener. Just another mug he could pay to do his biding.

‘I charge twenty five bucks a day plus expenses.’

‘Fine. Fine. Just find my wife please.’

‘I’m going to need details. What do you do for a living?’

‘I’m in property.’

‘Business good?’

‘Booming, Mr Turner. By 1950 I hope to have enough behind me to buy out my main competitor.’

I nodded. Nice to have an ambition. I hoped I had enough dough to pay the rent on my office.

‘Speaking of work, is your wife employed or are you the bread winner?’

‘Rita is a strong willed woman. She has never liked the idea of being kept by me. Even though I can afford to keep us both she insists on having her little job.’

‘Which is?’

‘She works for a solicitors. Typing and general office duties. She is younger than me. Thirty six. I know what you are thinking but Rita is not with me for my money. The fact that she insists on working proves that point. She is a sweet, sweet woman. I really cannot think where she has got to.’

‘Any family?’

‘A sister. Eleanor. Four years older. They are not close.’

‘Have you contacted her this week?’

‘Yes, of course. She hasn’t heard from her in months.’

‘What did Eleanor say when you mentioned her sister was missing?’

‘She told me to let her know when she turns up.’

I nodded.

‘When did you last see Rita?’

‘Monday morning. She left for work as I left for a meeting. She was at work all day, left the office at five PM and has not been seen since.’

I said nothing.

‘So will you take the case.’

I couldn’t help but notice he’d said ‘take the case’ and not ‘find my wife’, or ‘help me’. That did not mean that he did not love his wife but it did suggest that he had a cold, businesslike way of looking at everything, even the people closest to him. But, that was no reason to turn the case down. And I liked a challenge.

‘Yes, I’ll take the case. Do you have a photo?’

He slid across a glossy print. Pretty, very pretty. Looked like a movie star. I could imagine her in a picture with James Stewart. I found that looks like that in a city like this could be trouble. I hoped for Doyle’s sake I was wrong.

Mr Doyle got to his feet. Shook my hand with a practised firm handshake. I said I’d be in touch for more information and specific details.

As the guy closed my office door I reached to my desk drawer. Took out a half bottle of Scotch and a glass. Don’t judge me too harshly, it was gone three in the afternoon and I was on a case. I poured myself a measure. Lit a cigarette. As I sipped my liquor and watched the cigarette smoke dance upto the ceiling I thought over what Doyle had said.

 

The next morning, dressed in a cleaner, almost crease-free suit, showered and shaved, I grabbed my trench-coat and hat, and climbed in my car. I made my way through the city’s beeping, bustling traffic. I had no idea what I would say to Eleanor Gillespie when I got there. The impression I’d been given by Doyle was that Rita’s sister was no open book. I had a sharp tongue, I was no charmer. I was more a ‘kick the door open, grab the guy by the scruff of the neck and shake him till he talked’ kind of guy. I wasn’t the smooth talking smarmy type. But, what can I tell you, my way worked more than it failed. I had been a lousy husband but I was still one heck of a gumshoe.

I pulled up outside the Manhattan apartment block. Stood on the sidewalk. Adjusted my coat. The term trench coat came from the First World War. That conflict was before my time. These days what we called trench coats were worn by private eyes and gangsters. We saw conflict of a different type.

I tapped on the door of apartment seventeen. Waited. A few minutes later the door opened. Eleanor Gillespie was pretty like her sister, but older, had an air of class about her.

‘Yes?’

‘My name’s Turner. I’m a private eye. Mr Doyle hired me to find your sister.’

‘You’d better come in.’

She spoke with a wary, guarded tone that people use when answering an unexpected phone call at one in the morning. We went through to the lounge. The place wasn’t the largest but it gleamed. She waved me to sit on the sofa while she took an arm chair. She didn’t offer me a coffee.

‘What can you tell me about your sister?’

‘We weren’t what you call close.’

‘But you are what I call family.’

‘Do you have family, Mr Turner?’

‘No. I wouldn’t be doing this job if I did.’

She smiled. Then spoke.

‘Rita decides what direction she wants to go in. She knows her own mind. I just hope she hasn’t done anything stupid.’

‘Such as?’

‘Let’s just say she hasn’t always made the right choices in life.’

‘You told Doyle to let you know when she turns up. You’re confident she’ll be back?’

‘As I said, Rita decides what she does, right or wrong. I have given up worrying about her. Have to focus on myself.’

‘I understand. Can you tell me anything else that will help me find her?’

‘Nothing you don’t already know.’

‘Mr Doyle said that people said your sister was only with him for his money. Are you one of those people?’

‘I am not going to bad mouth my sister. Family is family.’

I nodded. I noticed she hadn’t exactly leapt to defend her sister’s honour. I told her to get in touch if she thought of anything, or if she heard from her sister. I handed her my card. She handled it the way babysitters handle used diapers at changing time.

 

My next stop was the office where Rita worked. I pushed through the glass doors, headed for the reception. The woman behind the counter was in her early twenties and looked bored. She looked at me with the kind of expression normally reserved for traffic cops when they pull you for speeding.

‘Can I help you?’ she asked.

‘I’d like to speak to the manager, please.’

‘And what shall I say it’s concerning.’

‘It’s about a missing member of staff.’

The woman nodded. She disappeared through double wooden doors. I waited. I watched people passing on the street outside. A few minutes later the woman returned.

‘Mr Cooney can give you a few moments of his time.’

Her tone implied that his time was considerably more important than mine.

‘Follow me.’

She showed me through to the open plan office. The office was as I found most offices to be. There were the desks, filing cabinets, clacking typewriters. A miserable place full of miserable people. Some of the staff whacked at the typewriters, others consulted reams of paperwork. I could tell by their faces that every one of them was counting down the hours till five o’clock.

She tapped gently on a door. Then entered. I followed. The man I assumed to be Mr Cooney was sitting behind a large mahogany desk. He was a thin, wiry man, balding with reading glasses perched on the end of his thin nose. He tossed the glasses onto the desk. He said ‘Thank you, Elaine’ as the receptionist scuttled back to her post.

‘You wanted to see me?’

I handed him my card. As he studied it I spoke. Explained that, as he probably knew, Rita Doyle had gone missing. Told him I’d been hired to find her. He looked about as interested as if I was trying to sell him a set of encyclopaedias.

‘What can you tell me about Rita Doyle?’

‘Very punctual. Efficient.’

‘And you find this disappearance out of character?’

‘Mrs Doyle has worked here for four years now. Her work is always first rate.’

‘What can you tell me about her life outside of your company?’

‘Mr Turner, my staff are simply that, staff. I have no interest in their out of work activity. If anything has happened to Mrs Doyle then that is most unfortunate. I am sure the police are doing all they can.’

‘Well, that’s all very touching. That’s one attitude I suppose. If she’s been run over by a train then you just get a replacement brought in. No harm done.’

‘I don’t care for your tone.’

‘And I don’t much care for your staff policy. I’ll need to talk to your workers. See if they can shed any light on what has happened.’

Cooney looked angry.

‘Look, what Rita gets upto outside of working hours has got nothing to do with me. She can be out at Tipitina’s till three in the morning for all I care. As long as she is here and fit for work at nine a.m.’

‘I will need to speak to your employees.’

‘Talk to whoever you like but don’t take up too much of their time. They are here to work.’

‘Thanks for your co-operation.’

 

I walked into the middle of the office. Most of the workers were female. They pretended to be busy whilst studying me all the time out of the corner of their eyes. I approached a woman in her early fifties. She had dark shoulder length hair and wore too much make up. She reminded me of a corpse that the undertakers had finished touching up.

‘Excuse me, ma’am?’

She stopped tapping at the typewriter.

‘I’m here about Rita Doyle.’

‘Are you police?’

 ‘Private eye. What can you tell me about Mrs Doyle?’

‘Well,’ she leaned forward. ‘She used to be into drugs, you know. I think she has gone back to her wicked ways.’

‘Did you ever see her taking drugs?’

‘No, but you hear things.’

I nodded. Turned away. The office gossips. Nothing quite like them. They made my old Irish grandmother look like the strong silent type.

Another woman I spoke to wore lots of jewellery. Gold hung from around her neck, wrists and fingers. At the mention of Rita Doyle’s name she sniffed, grimaced. Her lips turned downward like she had caught a whiff of something unpleasant.

‘She used to be a call girl. Did her darling husband tell you that? No, I didn’t think so.’

One woman tapped me on the arm. Looked side to side as though she was about to reveal National secrets.

‘I don’t want you to think I’m gossiping.’

‘Perish the thought.’

‘Rita is a gold-digger. Nothing more. I think she’s met someone richer than her husband. I bet that’s what’s happened. And if she hasn’t she’ll come running back when she needs the money.’

‘Could you show me which one is Rita’s desk?’

She pointed a painted fingernail to a desk by the window. On the one hand Rita had a good view of the city but on the other, I wouldn’t have turned my back on these women for a second.

I rummaged through the papers on her desk. Looked to me like general office paperwork. I went through the desk drawers. More papers but also some personal items. Lipstick and a compact mirror. A well thumbed Agatha Christie paperback. In the bottom drawer under a black notepad was a matchbook. It was small, blue with silver writing. It was the kind of thing a lot of places in the city handed out. I picked it up. It was from Tipitina’s night club. I pocketed it. Thanked the office workers for all their help and left.

 

As I put my hat on and jogged to the car I wondered who the real Rita Doyle was. Her husband painted his wife as a wonderful woman who would do anything for anyone. Yet her colleagues spoke of a materialistic woman who would do anything for a Dollar. I drove back to my office I couldn’t decide what to make of it all. It sounded like they were talking about half a dozen different women. From their accounts anything could have happened, all options seemed plausible. She could have fallen down a well, been run over by a yellow cab, joined a convent or run off with a pimp and drug dealer.

 

I sat in my office. Slouched behind my desk. I turned over the matchbook in my fingers. Tipitina’s night club. Not a nice place. You wouldn’t take your girl there on a first date, or any date for that matter. It wasn’t the biggest dive in the city but it was up there. The place was trouble. The only reason it was still open must have been that the club earned enough money to be able to pay City Hall enough not to close the place down.

Two things struck me. Firstly, the dame, this Rita Doyle, wasn’t the fragile delicate flower her husband had made her out to be. He had painted her that way. And like an artist it was purely his impression of the woman. Brought out her good side and ignored the rest. But hey, that happened a lot. This city was full of guys who knew deep down that their wives were fooling around. Yet each and every time she came home late, stinking of cheap booze and cologne, the guy would buy the line that they were working late or visiting an imaginary sick friend. The matchbook for a sleaze pit like that put paid to any notion that Rita was any kind of shrinking violet.

The other thing that struck me was that her boss, this Cooney, had said he didn’t care if his missing employee was out at Tipitina’s as long as her work was upto scratch. I took a hit of scotch. Sighed as the liquor burned all the way down my throat. Was it coincidence that her boss had picked that club to mention in his rant at me? Maybe. But I didn’t like coincidences. There were lazy gumshoes and cops who would shrug and put things down to coincidence. Just one of those things that her boss had mentioned this club and I’d found the matchbook for the very same place. Just one of those things.

But I didn’t like it.

 

By the time the staff at the solicitors office left for the evening I was parked across the road in my Oldsmobile. I slumped low enough not to be seen but I still had an eye on the office door. My pistol was in a holster under my arm. The gun was licensed. The authorities were fussy about things like that. I didn’t think it mattered all that much. If someone shot you then you were still dead whether the weapon was licensed or not. And I found that those who would be inclined to shoot people weren’t all that bothered about the paperwork.

I watched the office workers trudge off into the darkness. The women, clutching large handbags, chatted and said goodbye to their colleagues. Off they went, the nine to fivers had clocked off. I found that in my line of work there was no such luxury as set working hours. There was one light burning in the place. The glow came from Cooney’s office. I shifted in the driver’s seat. Got comfortable. I had no idea how long I’d be sat here. Could be a half hour or till the wee hours.

Ninety minutes later the office light went out. I tilted my head side to side. Blinked several times. Cooney appeared in the doorway. Turned his back to the street, locked up.

He climbed in the sedan parked in front. I’d had a feeling that this would be his automobile. The boss usually got the best space in the parking lot. He started the engine and pulled out. I let a couple of cars go past before following. I watched the traffic but was concentrating on the sedan. We shuffled through the city.

A while later he turned down a side street. I did the same. He pulled outside a doorway. The neon light said Suzy’s. I parked at the end of the street. In my rear view mirror I saw Cooney’s wiry frame cross the sidewalk. I climbed out of the car. The place was a lapdancing club. The sign flickered like the bulb was going. I climbed out of my car. I went through the door and into the club.

The air was thick with cigarette smoke and perfume. The room was dark, lamps glowed from each table. The lighting was probably dim for the discretion of the customers. Bright enough to see the girls as they ‘danced’ but not too bright that you could tell that the girl in question was the wrong side of forty for this job.

Some of the girls gyrated for the customers, others carried trays of cocktails. Some wore evening dresses, others revealing swimwear. Most of the men were on their own. And in suits cheaper than mine. I’d been in these kinds of places before, purely in the call of duty, you understand. This place was the same as the others. My feet stuck to the carpet in the same way, the girls pretended to be interested in the deadbeat customers in the same way. One girl came over to me. Her expression was practised provocateur, but we both knew she was wondering how much she could rinse out of me. I shook my head, told her to take a hike. I saw Cooney slipping past the attractions and through a door out back.

Well, one thing was for sure then, he wasn’t here for the dames. I went to the bar. Ordered a scotch on the rocks. The barman slid the liquor across to me. I winced when he told me the price. I could have had a week in Florida for what he was charging. I sighed, tossed the bills onto the bar. He grinned, snatched the green and shuffled off. At those prices I guessed I’d be happy in my work to.

Half an hour later Cooney appeared. He adjusted his suit jacket, closed the door behind him. He crossed the room. I downed the whiskey. I left the room before he did. Out on the street I paused. Lit a cigarette. Cooney rushed straight past me. That was an old gumshoe trick. People wary of being followed instinctively look behind them, over their shoulder, and ignoring those ahead of them.

From there he drove to an apartment on the East side. The way he let himself in I knew it was his place. He unlocked the door and went inside with a familiarity. Remember locking your front door this morning? It becomes part of your routine. You just kinda do it, don’t you?

I watched his apartment for the next couple of hours but I had the inkling he was done for the evening. I couldn’t help thinking that Cooney’s business was done for the day.

I had the feeling that I was on to something with this guy, though. I was barking up the right tree here. He was dodgy, I knew that much. But the city was full of shady characters. Did that necessarily mean he knew what had happened to Rita Doyle?

 

I tailed Cooney for the next few days. Partly because I had a gut feeling he knew something about the disappearance and partly because it was the only lead I had. One of those days he left his office early in the afternoon. He visited a bank on Forty Second Street. Surely if it was company business then he would have sent one of the nasty girls from the office. From the street I could see him queue to speak to a teller behind the counter. He passed over something I couldn’t make out and was given a receipt in return. As he was jogging back to his car I started my motor. Pulled out just before him. I watched him in my rear view mirror. He headed back to the office.

 

That night straight from work I followed him down to Little Italy. Now this was interesting. Cooney. Hardly an Italian name. He was about as Italian as I was Chinese. He parked outside a restaurant on Mullberry Street. The place looked to my untrained eye like every Italian restaurant in New York. Red and white table cloths, candles, and waiters in white. I watched Cooney through the large window. He went straight to the group of men seated at a table in the corner. They looked Italian from their complexion, slicked hair, and that they were in this district. Even from this vantage point I knew that their suits cost more than my car.

I guessed that Cooney wasn’t here for the pasta. He shook hands with the three men. They spoke with focussed expressions. Cooney nodded when they spoke. He was clearly being given instructions. They spoke, gesturing and waving to him. Cooney reached into his pocket. Produced an envelope. Slid it across the check table cloth. One of the men picked it up. Inspected the contents carefully. Then grinned, pleased with what he found.

Cooney left. I followed him back to his apartment.

 

Over the next few days Cooney went to various banks across the city. Same drill as the first. Counter service. Then back to the office.

Some nights he went to Tipitina’s night club. The place was a dive. Those wading in the murky waters of New York sewers knew Tipitina’s. Cooney sauntered through the people hanging round the doorway. He said hello and shook hands with a few of them. They were pimps, drug dealers and other parts of the best the city had to offer.

He returned to Little Italy. Spoke to the same wiseguys and left like the lapdog he appeared to be.

 

A couple of days later I got a phone call in my office. Whenever my phone rang it meant news. Something had gone down. The douchebags flogging life insurance knew better than to dial this number. I picked up. It was a guy I knew on the Police Department, Christy Butler. We helped each other out. Threw titbits each others way. He always knew which case I was getting myself tangled up in and would pass on what they knew. I would return the favour and keep him as upto date as I could with my lines of enquiry.

‘They’ve found a body, Jimmy.’

‘Where?’

‘Waste ground down near Statten Island. Strangled with rope.’

‘Is it Mrs Doyle?’

‘Yes it is.’

‘Does her husband know?’

‘Uh-huh, we sent a car to get him.’

I thanked him and hung up. So that was where Rita Doyle had ended up. Sleeping the big sleep. I poured myself a large measure of scotch. Raised a silent toast to another victim of the Big Apple.

I called Mr Doyle the next day. He sounded lost, beaten, defeated. He spoke with the same hopeless tone of an over the hill fighter after one loss too many. I told him I had leads I was pursuing. Told him whoever did this would be made accountable. He thanked me with the same whatever attitude you thanked the pizza delivery guy.

My guy on the NYPD would call me should anything else happen. He would let me know what they found. I hung around. Tailed the skinny Cooney from his apartment with a renewed gusto. This wasn’t the search for a missing broad. This was the hunt for her killer.

That evening he went to Tipitina’s. I left him there with the rest of the dregs. I went to my favourite place to eat. The Tick Tock Diner. I loved it there. For me it was as big a part of this city as Yankee Stadium. Granted the food wasn’t the best you could get, but the décor, the atmosphere, the buzz of the place, that was second to none. Sitting there in a booth munching my way through one of their hamburgers I could be nowhere else on earth but in New York City.

Feeling full to burst, I paid the cheque, tipped the waitress. I stepped out onto the sidewalk. I was just deciding where to go for a beer when a huge guy stepped in front of me. His expression said he was looking for trouble. When his shovel-like hands grabbed my lapels I knew he’d found it.

‘I was just gonna grab a cold one. Fancy a beer?’

In response he dragged me down the alleyway. The smell of trash in the alley overpowered the guy’s awful aftershave. Once he had me in the shadows he leaned in, adjusted his grip on my suit.

‘You just forget about the Doyle girl.’

‘Now, what would you know about that?’

‘Just drop it, gumshoe. Y’understand?’

I grabbed his wrists, leaned back. Then slammed my forehead hard into the bridge of his nose. He went down. He crumpled into a heap among the garbage, clutching his busted nose. The red mist came down. I was furious. I levelled a boot at his ribs. Told him if I ever saw him again I’d kill him. I meant it. This city was a tough place to live, nevermind work as a private eye, but I never could take being threatened. A fair fight, let’s go, but don’t try and intimidate me.

I breathed hard as I marched to my car. Climbed in my Oldsmobile, gunned the motor. Drove as fast as I could, jumped red lights. Cooney. He had known since my visit to his office that I was working the case. I figured he must have gotten an idea that I was poking my nose in his affairs. Well, he was gonna find out exactly what I was up to.

I pulled up outside Tipitina’s. As I headed through the doors and down into the bowels of the cesspit I cursed my lot that I had to stoop this low to earn a living. Still, I could be working for a creep like Cooney instead of investigating him.

The place was packed. Dim lights revealed little of the clientele sitting around the tables. They looked like the same rabble as the last time I’d been in here. The boys from NYPD vice squad would have a field day. Jazz music came from a stage at the end of the room. The band were competent musically even though they looked as though they could hold their own in an argument against the villains gathered there. Cigarette smoke hung in the air. I scanned the room. Cooney’s thin frame was sitting with a couple of guys halfway down the room.

I went over to his table. Leaned in.

‘I got your message.’ I growled.

‘What’s that?’

‘I said, I got your message. That goombah hood you sent. Had to put him out with the trash.’

Cooney swallowed eyes wide.

‘Now, you and me are gonna have a talk. We can either do it here or at my office. Don’t think of causing a scene in front of your friends. If you do, then I will find you when you’re on your own and I won’t be as friendly.’

He looked at me. Saw the conviction in my eyes. He looked to the guys sat with him. Unless he had round the clock bodyguards he would have to face me on his own eventually. He nodded. Downed his drink and got to his feet.

‘I’ll see you around.’ he told his compadres.

His friends’ expressions asked if he wanted them to step in. Part of me hoped they would intervene. Even if they overpowered me they’d be in the Emergency Room tomorrow with their injuries, I would see to that. Cooney waved a hand. Shook his head.

 

Twenty minutes later we were sitting in my office. We sipped whiskey, smoked cigarettes. The smoke danced in the glow of my desk lamp. Somewhere out there police sirens wailed. Cooney’s eyes darted to the window over my shoulder.

I placed my pistol on the desk in front of me. Stared at him. Tugged my tie loose then took a hit of whiskey.

‘You want to tell me about what happened to Rita?’

Cooney said nothing.

‘You are going to tell me. You are going to tell me everything and then I’m going to call my friends on the NYPD. Her body was found today. But something tells me you already knew that. I know about your money laundering for the Mob. But that doesn’t make you a killer. Not an altar boy at Saint Patrick’s but not a murderer either. Tell me. Or I’ll tell my buddies about your racket with our Italian friends.’

He sighed. Shrank down into the chair. Seemed smaller and thinner than ever.

‘Rita and I were kind of seeing each other. We were screwing around. It just happened. And then it kept happening. Her married life was flashy but boring. She used to tell of the fine dining and roll her eyes. With me she could let her hair down, go wild. We had some crazy nights.’

I believed him.

‘Why did you kill her, Mr Cooney.’

He looked around the room, stared into the dark corners of my office as though the answers lay there. He took a swig of liquor. He looked like a man who had reached a big decision.

‘She found out about me working with the Mob. Hated the idea of me working for the Falcone family. She got upset. Threatened to tell the police if I didn’t stop. What could I do? I could hardly hand in my notice with the Italians. And if the Falcones had gotten wind of any of this they would have killed us both. So I took care of it.’

I rubbed my jaw. Thought it all over.

‘How did you do it?’

‘What?’

‘How did you kill Rita?’

‘Well, I – I slit her throat.’

‘Nice try. But wrong answer. She was strangled.’

He sighed, shoulders slumped.

‘Come on. Who are you covering for?’

He sighed again. Reached for the whiskey bottle. I offered my empty glass. I guessed he was right. We could both use another drink. He swung the bottle. Caught me on the side of the head. I saw stars. Hit the floor with a thud. I could make out his feet as he rushed from my office. I clutched my aching head. Pulled myself upright. Cooney would be out on the street by now. Gone. Lost in the night time souls of the city.

I shook my head. Rubbed my temples. Thought things through. He would have to get out of New York. And quick. If he stayed in NYC he knew I would find him.

I put the actual details and questions I had out of my mind. I ignored that Cooney had confessed to murder. He didn’t do it. His confession had more holes than Macy’s Swiss cheese counter. What was interesting was why he had lied. And I took it that line about killing Rita because she was going to go to the police was just that, a line. Where was he now? Where would he go? That was what I needed to find out urgently. He wasn’t the killer but clearly he knew who was. That he had lied to cover for them spoke volumes.

I picked up the telephone. Called my friend on the NYPD. I explained that the guy who had answers on the murder was her employer, Mr Cooney and that he was presently trying to leave the city. We both agreed that the place to cover would be the train stations. You could buy a ticket for the rain road no questions asked, no waiting in line like the airport, no names, no ID. And ride out of town soon after. I hung up. The Police Dept would have the stations covered shortly.

I grabbed my coat, my hat and my gun. Slammed my office door shut behind me. I jogged down the stairs to the street.

Grand Central Terminal. The most famous station in the city. If I wanted to disappear then that’s where I’d be headed. The boys from the PD pulled up and spoke on their radios. I rushed into the main hall of the terminal. Even at this time of night the station was busy. People coming and going, buying tickets, waiting for friends, lovers, family and to board their train.

I looked around, my eyes scanned the people around me. I knew I didn’t have much time. I raced to each platform, rushed up and down the wide staircases. My chest hurt from the excursion. I made a vow to cut down on the cigarettes when all this was over. Clean my act up, drop the typical private eye lifestyle. You never knew, I might actually do it. I moved quickly along each platform. Had an image of Cooney in my mind. I passed couples with light luggage, families with young children, their tired expressions, as they dragged their suitcases along behind them. I ticked each platform off the list as I passed. Moved on to the next platform, then the next.

It was possible I’d missed him and that he’d slipped away on a train before I reached the station but I had to check. Could do no more, and you never knew, maybe the guy upstairs would cut this tired detective in his cheap suit a break.

 

Then I saw him. He looked gaunt, pale and scared. He looked up and down the platform with panicked eyes. He was not alone. He had his arm around a tall brunette who had curves that would tempt an arch bishop. She chewed on her lip nervously.

I tugged my hat down low. Moved through the crowd. Squeezed my way along the busy platform. As I reached them I pulled my pistol. Then lifted my hat. He swore as he recognised me. Before he could make a move I dug my pistol in his ribs.

‘It’s over.’ I said. ‘The cops have got the station surrounded. They will find us here in a few minutes.’

We were interrupted by the clacking and rattling as a train neared the platform. I pushed the barrel of my gun harder into his ribs. Shook my head. We both knew that if he made a move I’d drill him right there. The girl slipped from his grasp. Made a stumbling dash for escape. She teetered on her high heels.

‘Dolores?’

She half turned, losing her footing on the edge of the platform. We watched as there was a split-second of terror in her eyes before she fell onto the tracks.

There were screams as the silver train ploughed into the platform. More screams and shouts from the edge of the concourse as those nearest witnessed the full horror of what had happened. Train drivers called it a one under. Whatever term you gave it, it was a nasty way to go.

Cooney had tears in his eyes. His hands trembled. As the police department boys flooded the platform and ushered the passengers back Cooney broke down.

‘Dolores!’

I nodded. I lead him to the back of the platform. Stood between him and the tracks.

‘We were lovers. More than that. We are-were engaged. But old habits die hard. You’ve been tailing my ass long enough to know something about my lifestyle. That’s what Dolores wanted. She loved the drama  and excitement of life with me.’

‘But she didn’t like the sleeping around?’

‘Hated the idea of me with another woman. Dolores could just about handle me banging cocktail waitresses and prostitutes here and there but when she found out that I was screwing Rita, she was furious. She was raging. Because it was a girl from the office. She saw it as more than a bit of fun. But it wasn’t. The next thing, Rita goes missing. And Dolores is acting odd. I tackled her about it. She told me she did it for us. For our future. What could I do? I loved her.’

The idea that you’d kill someone or cover up a murder seemed messed up to me. Shouldn’t love be about self sacrifice, about roses and sunshine. Not about sex and murder.

My friend on the NYPD came over. I nodded to Cooney. Tears burned as his cheeks as he offered his hands for the cuffs.

‘Tell them what you told me.’

He nodded as he was cuffed and lead away. As I made my way from the platform and towards the exits, past all the police officers swarming like worker ants, I went over what happened.

Rita Doyle had been cheating on her husband. She wasn’t the saint he thought she was. She was having a casual fling with her boss and it had cost her dearly. She hadn’t deserved to die. She was no angel but there was worse things going on unpunished in this city every day. That was life. It wasn’t black or white. Just grey.


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