Delancey and the Halfback

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


Here is Delancey #5. Delancey gets involved in the world of professional football.

Submitted: July 20, 2018

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Submitted: July 20, 2018

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Case #21: October 1925 - Delancey and the Halfback

I’ve said a few times that Inspector Jacob Fenrow and I were school chums. Even then, we were of a type, as my Aunt Hilda used to say. Jacob was always obedient (well, most times; what do you expect from a boy?), and eager to please. I was a smart-mouth who got in more than his share of trouble. Sometimes, I got Jacob in trouble by association, and sometimes he got me off because of his innocence. Sounds lopsided, I know, but we stuck together. I think each of us, in our way, admired the other. I wanted praise from grown-ups, like he got, and he wanted adventure from misbehaving, as I had.

Enough with the introspection.

While Jacob and I were inseparable, there were one or two others we admitted to our tight friendship. Like Johnny Bulwer.

Johnny was the guy that lumps like Jacob and I wanted to be. He was big and strong, handsome, and pretty smart. All the gals went ape for him, and what was really griping was, Johnny was a great guy. Us guys, who envied him, also liked him. Damned annoying.

I hadn’t thought about Johnny for years, not since we finished school. So I was pretty surprised when Johnny Bulwer himself walked in my office, a smile on his face as if we’d just seen each other in home room.

He still walks kind of cocky, like he used to when he stepped up to the line of scrimmage and you knew he was going to run the ball down your throat, and there wasn’t a thing you could do about it. But he shook my hand and said he hoped I was doing well.

“Your own business!” he said. “Impressive. And a cute gal as your secretary.”

“Assistant,” I said before Beulah could.

“Oops! My mistake.” He stuck out a hand to Beulah, who’d just come back from the bank. “Johnny Bulwer.”

“Beulah Willows.” She shook like a trouper, and we sat.

“Tom and I went to school together,” Johnny explained to her. “He was the smart one.”

“Too bad,” she blurted out.

“Moving on,” I said, “what brings you here, Johnny?”

“Purely social. I don’t know if you heard, but I’ve been named coach of the new local football team.”

“I didn’t even know we had a football team.”

“It’s new,” Johnny repeated. “Anyhow, you’ve heard of the National Football League?”

“Sure.”

The league had been started by a bunch of hooligans who wanted to get paid to play a game most guys outgrew. Now, in college, it was okay to play the game. There were some big-time guys out there—Red Grange, especially—who made the jump from college to the pros, but I don’t think the Galloping Ghost’s reputation has been the same since.

“Well, we want to be a part of it. First, though, we have to get a team together. I’m playing halfback and coaching.”

“And you want me to be flanker, right?”

Beulah almost busted a gut laughing.

“What’s so damned funny?” I demanded.

“No offense,” Johnny said, “but you weren’t in shape when you were in shape. No, Tom. I just wondered if you and your assistant, here, wanted to come watch a game. We need as many folks in the stands as possible. There’s a rumor that a few of the league boys might be there, and we need to make a good impression.”

“I’m more a baseball fan,” I started, “but sure, why not?”

“Great! This Sunday, one in the afternoon. Here’s a couple tickets. And why not stop by before the game? You can meet some of the guys.”

Johnny flashed a smile at Beulah and left.

“Well!” said my assistant. “I guess he got all the personality in your class.”

“Ha, ha. Look. Johnny’s a good guy, but I really don’t care for football—“

“Oh, come on. The tickets are free, and what else do you have to do on a Sunday afternoon? Let’s go.”

I grumbled a bit.

“Besides,” Beulah added, “that Johnny’s a good looking man. Almost as handsome as Jack Tanner.”

Jack Tanner had moved in a couple months before. Beulah was always going on about how handsome he was, teasing me a bit. I think I look pretty good—no Rudolph Valentino, but not bad, you know? And contrary to what some think, I’m not boastful of my looks. She sure thinks I am, though.

Anyhow, I’d had enough.

“That’s it. I’m going to see this Jack Tanner for myself.”

Beulah actually looked a little scared. I ignored her and headed out across the hall.

The door to Tanner’s office said he was a C.P.A. and specialized in taxes and small businesses. I knocked and was told to come in.

A one-man operation, no secretary. A desk, four chairs, and two filing cabinets. I noticed all that later. For now, I focused in on Mr. Jack Tanner.

He was a runt. A troll sort. His nose was too big, his hair a mess, his face mottled. But he smiled when I came in, and held out a hand.

“Mr. Delancey! We meet at last.”

From behind, I could hear Beulah’s laughter. The whole business about how handsome and dashing Jack Tanner was, had been a big put-on. Beulah, Inspector Fenrow, even Tanner himself had been in on it. I wanted to slug someone at first, then realized it was harmless, and laughed, myself. We shook hands.

“It was Beulah’s idea,” he said as I took the offered chair. “Although I went along willingly.”

“You’re okay with people making fun of you?”

“As long as I’m in on the joke, yes. Look, Delancey—may I call you that? Beulah says you prefer it.”

“Sure.”

“All my life, I’ve never been much in the looks department. Never much of an athlete, either. So I developed my brain and I kept my sense of humor. Some women turn away when they see me, but some—like your wonderful assistant—actually take the time to get to know me. When I explained this to Beulah, she came up with the idea of teasing you, that I was some handsome devil. To your credit, it took several weeks before you finally marched over here and met me. Most men would’ve been here much sooner. Of course, that made the joke that much better.”

“So how’s business?” I asked, and he burst into laughter. The guy was okay.

We chatted a bit, then I said sayonara and went back to work. Beulah gave a little smirk as I passed her desk, which showed a good deal of restraint on her part, I thought.

 

The big game day was chilly and cloudy. I spiked a little coffee and brought it in a bottle for Beulah and me to sip during the game. Beulah’s not much of a drinker, but for forty degrees and windy, she makes an exception.

We hopped the streetcar to Higgins’ Stadium, which seats ten thousand or thereabouts, and would be the home of the Daredevils, which is the name of the team Johnny coaches. The opponent were the Pepper Pots, a great local team. The winner would play an exhibition against the League’s mighty Steamrollers, from Providence, Rhode Island. The Steamrollers would come all this way because they were playing Chicago, and had time for an exhibition game. The idea was, if the Daredevils could beat the Pepper Pots, then hold their own against the Steamrollers, even beat them, the league would take notice.

Beulah and I walked to our seats, which were damned nice: In the middle of the field and two rows up. The players were warming up before the game, doing some halfhearted calisthenics. I never cared much for physical education class, but even I put more into it than those guys.

Anyhow, we were sitting down only a minute when I heard my name. Johnny walked over from the sidelines.

“What do you think?” he asked me. “Good crowd, eh?”

“It sure is. Listen, Johnny, do you really think you can beat those guys? I mean, they look pretty big.” True: The steamroller resembled their name. More than one guy had a Santa Claus physique, and if they sat on our guys, it would not be pleasant.

“Sure,” said Johnny. He seemed to eye a couple men off to the side as he talked. “The main guy to watch is Number 22. Fry-Pan Jones.”

Beulah burst out laughing, and I had trouble holding it in.

“He’s called that,” said Johnny, a little testy, “because of his hands. Big as frypans. And with those hands, he can do what no team in the league can. He can throw the ball on a dime.”

“I thought this was all about running and tackling.”

“The game’s changing, Tom. Some day, all teams will throw the ball more. It’s what sets us apart from sports like rugby. Just you watch.”

I promised to do it. Another guy came over, from the stands. He wore a camel-hair coat and smoked a fat stogie.

“Gonna win today?” he asked the coach.

“Sure, Mr. Platt. Oh. This is a friend of mine, Tom Delancey, and his assistant, Beulah. Tom, Beulah, meet Mr. Hector Platt. Team owner.”

We shook hands, and Platt took his seat in front of us.

Just then, Beulah let out a cry of recognition. I turned to see her, and there was Jacob Fenrow and his wife.

I’ve told you before that Jacob and I have been buddies since we were kids. Though our jobs often pit us against each other, we’re still friends. What nearly set us apart was Jacob’s wife, Gretchen.

The former Gretchen Zimmerman was always a pretty girl, though quiet. From the day he met her, Jacob was head over heels. He thought—still thinks—Gretchen is the prettiest, sweetest gal on earth. He might just be right. Anyhow, I like Gretchen, but…how can I put this? While Jacob was googly-eyed over her, she was googly-eyed over me.

I know that sounds full of myself. I do. But all I know is, it’s a fact. For some reason, Gretchen thought I was the living end, and I couldn’t steer her to Jacob for all the tea in China. I mean, Jacob’s no dog’s dinner; he’s good-looking, and kind. I was too flighty. Always was. Wanted things my way. While Jacob had a clear picture of his future as a cop, I had dreams of being a top private detective. Any gal with sense would’ve seen the better option.

But no. Gretchen only saw my career choice as exciting and dangerous. Jacob’s choice was safe and dull. And no amount of talking could change her mind.

Jacob was furious with me. What could I do? Mangle my face? Rob a bank? Friendship only goes so far. If Gretchen was too dim to see who she should marry, then no amount of my talking would fix that. Jacob and I didn’t speak for months. All the time he pounded a beat and I worked for a detective, learning the ropes, we were silent. I don’t know what Gretchen was up to then; all I know is, she wasn’t with me—though I think Jacob suspected she was.

What finally changed her mind was time. Gretchen grew up, and saw us for who we were, and realized that life with me would be one constant struggle. Even now, when my bank account is a little more comfortable, life is too unpredictable. The next client through my door could be a ten thousand dollar case or a ten dollar case. Or no client at all might come in.

The upshot is, a few years back, Jacob announced he and Gretchen were getting married, and that I was to be his best man. So we were friends again, and have been ever since. The Fenrows came over and said how-d’ye-do, and we chatted a bit before the game. When the teams looked ready to go, we took our seats in the bleachers, and the game was underway.

I was sitting next to a fellow who introduced himself as Jim Platt, brother to the team owner, Hector Platt.

“So you don’t get involved in all this?” I asked.

He smiled. “Someone has to run the business. Hector was always an athlete, loved sports. Bigger than life, really. He started the Daredevils, and we agreed I would run things at the plant. But I like the Daredevils, and come to every game.”

“Good for you. Who’s the maniac on the other sideline?”

Jim chuckled. “That’s the Pepper Pots’ coach. Mungo Jack they call him. The man next to him, who doesn’t wave his arms but still looks like he’s ready to have a coronary, is Devlin Potter, owner of the Pepper and Potter Spice Company. He would give his right arm to win this game and join the League.”

“And is it a done deal that the winner’s going to the N.F.L.?”

“Practically. Let’s just say, it’ll be a giant step.”

We watched the game for a bit, and it seemed a pretty slow affair. Run the ball left, huddle, run the ball right, huddle, repeat.

But that was the Pepper Pots. They had some success but had to punt, and now the Daredevils had the ball. “Watch this,” was all Jim Platt said.

Fry Pan Jones took the ball, dropped back the five yards you were required to be behind the line, and heaved a beauty of a pass twenty yards downfield that nestled into the receiver’s arms like a bird coming in to roost. The crowd roared with approval. The receiver gained another few yards after he caught the ball, and the Daredevils were in business at midfield.

I won’t give you a play-by-play. Just know that Fry Pan Jones was a star. Even a baseball fan like me could see that. He mixed up the plays, sometimes passing, sometimes tossing the ball back to his fullback who’d gain big yards because the Pepper Pots were back covering receivers. By the halftime gun, it was Daredevils 20, Pepper Pots 3.

I went to get popcorn and soda pop for Beulah and me. Jim came, too, to use the men’s room. I took one look inside the men’s room and declined. My bladder lost the argument to my nose. When I got back to my seat, Jim hadn’t returned, but he was back a minute or two after, sporting a box of popcorn and a soda pop for himself.

I’m no judge of football. Baseball, I can tell you everything about every batter and pitcher playing. Football, no. But I can tell you, that was the crummiest half of the game ever played by the Daredevils. Fry Pan looked like he had shorts full of turds, as my sainted Aunt Matilda used to say, and the rest of the Daredevils weren’t much better.

The Pepper Pots scored early, and cut the lead to ten. Then Fry Pan let fly with one of his patented throws, and it landed…right in the hands of a Pepper Pots’ player. The player, a big lug by name of Kowalsky, thundered down the sideline with the ball, shedding tacklers like mosquitoes. Finally, six Daredevils dragged him down, around the ten yard line. The Pepper Pots couldn’t punch it in, and kicked a field goal, and it was 20 to 13 as the fourth quarter started.

That quarter went back and forth. The Pepper Pots added three more to cut the lead to four, and were threatening to score the winning touchdown. They handed the ball off to Mungo Jack, the player-coach who looked like a German tank, barreling along. Standing between him and the end zone was none other than Fry Pan Jones. The crowd held its breath, and it looked like everything was going slower than normal.

Mungo Jack was not the type of runner to fake people out. He didn’t have the speed or finesse of, say, Red Grange. No, he was more a lumberer. Instead of trying to run around Fry Pan, he ran right at him. Fry Pan braced himself, arms out.

The resulting collision must have rattled bird cages in Topeka. Everyone groaned, figuring Fry Pan was dead for sure. But no, he crumpled a bit, then held on. Mungo tried to shake him and couldn’t, and finally, he fell down, the ball a good yard shy of the goal line. The gun sounded, and that was it. The Daredevils had hung on to win, 20-16.

The crowd erupted in cheers. As Fry Pan staggered to his feet, he got pummeled on the back by his teammates. My buddy, Johnny Bulwer, fell to his knees like he was praying. Hector Platt, Daredevils’ owner, threw his hands up and pumped his fists in jubilation. Across the way, Devlin Potter, the owner, slammed his rolled-up program to the turf. Mungo Jack was on his hands and knees, pounded the ground with a massive fist.

Most of the spectators stormed the field, and I lost track of those people. Jim Platt, who stayed pretty calm, said above the roar:

“Why don’t you and Miss Willows join us downstairs for a celebration?”

Beulah and I agreed, and we swam through the mob to get to the team room.

That room was a big meeting area below ground level. Off to one side was the locker room and showers (verboten to us, of course); in another direction was a restroom, and across from that, the tunnel that led up and out onto the field. A police officer stood, barring our way to the team room, but when he saw Jim Platt, smiled and let us through.

A few of the players were milling around in the main room; the rest, I figured were getting changed in the locker room. I couldn’t see anyone I knew, and even lost track of Jim Platt for a bit, as the room slowly filled. There were lots of congratulatory pats on the back, and a few inappropriate leers Beulah’s way. Luckily, many of the players had girlfriends or wives who entered, and the leering went away.

When the room was nearly full, Coach Bulwer stood up on an orange crate and called for quiet.

“You guys,” he announced, “did yourselves proud today. I figure we’ll be getting a call from the N.F.L. any day now.”

Cheers.

“Couple players I want to point out,” he continued. “Where’s Fry Pan?”

More cheers, but no Fry Pan. People started looking around. One of the players, standing near the locker room door, ducked in and a few seconds later came back out. “Not in there,” he said. Another player was near the restroom door. He ducked inside, and was in a lot longer. When he came out, he had blood on his hands and looked dazed. Immediately, a few other players went into the restroom. One came back out and shouted to call an ambulance; another came out and called for the police.

 

I pushed through the crowd. When I was refused entry, Johnny Bulwer came to my defense.

“He’s a detective,” said Johnny. “Let him in.”

I stepped inside. It was like any other men’s room, with a communal urinal trough and a couple stalls. Three sinks and a mirror. Lying on the floor, on his back, was the still figure of Fry Pan Jones. He had a big red blotch on his jersey front, with a black hole in the center. His eyes were open.

“No one touch anything,” I said. I know that’s trite, but sometimes when you’ve had a shock, you need a reminder. The four guys who’d come in initially were standing at the door. “Did any of you touch anything? A sink? A wall?” They shook their heads. To the first guy: “How’d you get blood on your hands?”

“I…I had to check if he was alive,” he muttered. He was still pretty stunned.

“Fair enough.” To one of the others: “Go to the entrance and tell your guard not to let anyone out, and to only let the police or the ambulance men in. Got it?”

He nodded, and left.

I went to the stalls and, using a knuckle, nudged the doors open. No one else in the room. Then I looked at the body.

Fry Pan was, like I said, on his back. His right leg was bent at the knee and hip, his arms were bent at the elbow, palms up, hands near his ears, and he looked like he was doing the Highland Fling. I walked over to the wastebasket. In the bottom was a pistol. Well, that would make life easier for the cops, I thought.

Speaking of the devil, two uniforms came in just then, and right behind, Inspector Fenrow.

“What the hell happened here?” Fenrow wanted to know. Sometimes, he asks the silliest questions. What he really wanted to know was what I had observed.

“Fry Pan’s been killed. There’s a pistol over there. Those four guys have been in here, and I told ‘em not to touch anything, but you’ll have to ask ‘em if they did before I could warn them.”

“Fry Pan killed?” That was one of the uniforms, a baby-face who looked ready to cry.

“Have you sent for a doctor?” Fenrow asked me.

“I told them to, yes.”

“Good. Well, Delancey, you’ve been a help, but we’ll take over from here.”

“With pleasure.”

As I started to go, the inspector added, “But don’t leave that room out there. We’ll need an official statement.”

“I’ve got school tomorrow,” I quipped, but Jacob failed to laugh.

I’ll spare you the details of the next three hours. The doc came, the body was removed, the cops set up a table and chairs and took us one by one, cross-checking stories about who was seen after the game and who wasn’t, and so on. It was the dullest Sunday I’ve spent since we visited Aunt Myrtle’s when I was ten.

 

Next day, who comes in but my pal Johnny Bulwer and Hector Platt, the team owner. Platt wore a camel-hair coat that made him look ridiculously younger than his age; Johnny had on a simple coat. It was pretty cold for so soon in autumn.

“What can I do for you?” I asked them after they’d sat and refused coffee.

“I want you to find who killed Fry Pan,” Platt said. He had a fat cigar in his mouth, but at my request, hadn’t lighted it. My Uncle Fred used to smoke cigars and I swear birds dropped from the trees from the fumes.

“The police—“ I started.

“Are inept. I pay good tax dollars for them, and what do I get? Lot of runaround. Why, they even wanted to know where my brother got to!”

“I’m sure they’re checking everyone’s alibi,” I tried.

“Balderdash. They’re wasting time.”

“Do you suspect who killed Fry Pan?”

“Of course! It was either Mungo Jack or Potter.”

“The opposing coach and owner? Why?”

Platt turned to Johnny. “I thought you said he was bright.”

Johnny shrugged back, as if to say, “He always used to be.” Platt turned back to me.

“We’d just beaten them. We were on our way to the National Football League. The big-time. They either wanted revenge, or they thought that if Fry Pan was gone, they’d get invited to the league, instead.”

I leaned forward and got serious. “Look here, Mr. Platt. I’ll take the case, but I won’t go in to nail someone on your say-so. Seems like every person who walks through that door has it all figured out, and all he or she wants is proof to give the cops. No, sir. If I investigate, I investigate the whole case and go where it leads me. If that suits you, fine. If not, there’s the door.”

Platt looked ready to explode. His face got all red and purple and he took the cigar from his mouth, and turned the fancy big ring on his pinky around and around. Then he suddenly busted out laughing.

“Good deal! About time someone actually had the guts to stand up to me.”

“I’ve had experience,” I replied, thinking of Knuckles Moran, the gangster.

“Well, good. Now don’t waste my time and money going over every cotton-picking thing the police do.”

“There might be some overlap,” I cautioned, “but I’ll try to avoid it.”

“Good! You need a retainer.” He tossed a fifty on my desk. “Will that do?”

“More than enough.”

“Let me know when you find something out.”

And with that, he and Johnny left.

Beulah strolled in. She’d been watching from the doorway, amused. Now she sat down, arms folded.

“The inspector’s not going to like this.”

“And that worries me how?”

“So where do you start?”

“A visit to the Pepper Pots’ headquarters.”

I grabbed my coat and said I’d be back after lunch; Beulah asked me to stop at the bank on the way, to draw out a little petty cash, which I promised to do.

My stop at the bank took longer than usual, because while I was there, who did I see but Jim Platt. He was seated outside an office, and was surprised to see me, but we shook hands.

“I’m just here for business,” he said by way of excuse. Like anyone comes to the bank for the ambiance.

“Me too,” I said good-naturedly.

“Talk with the vice-president.”

“Petty cash.”

“Oh.”

“Terrible thing about Fry Pan.”

“It was. Mind you, I didn’t have much to do with the football team, but Hector is devastated, and I’m sorry for him.”

“Did Fry Pan have any family?”

“Not around here, I understand. He’s an Iowa farm boy, and I believe his parents are still back home, growing corn or whatever it is they farm.”

“Too bad for them.”

“Yes…”

I said goodbye, and went to get the petty cash. When I stepped away from the teller, Jim was gone from his chair. The VP must’ve been ready for him.

From the bank I hopped the streetcar to the Pepper Pots’ headquarters, a former college football field. The college had dropped the game after three of their players died from injuries in one season. It’s a brutal game.

The place was quiet, but when I knocked, I was let in by a pretty blonde woman, dressed smartly and professionally, who listened to my reason for being there and nodded. She led me through a maze of corridors to a small office, knocked, and ushered me in.

“This is Mr. Delancey,” she told Mungo Jack, who sat behind his desk looking through papers as if printing were a new invention. “He’s looking into the murder.”

Mungo looked up at me through squinty eyes and pursed his lips.

“What the hell do I know about it?” Then he added, “Take a seat. I’m a busy man.”

The woman left us and I sat.

“Are you with the police?”

“No, sir. I’m private.”

“Who hired you?”

I grinned. “I’m not supposed to say, but you can probably guess.”

“Platt,” he said with a nod. “That bastard would send you my way.”

“If you’d rather I left…”

“Nah. Nah. Just stay put. I figure the cops ‘ll be here eventually, so I may as well try out my story on you first.”

“Police haven’t been here?”

“Nah. What the hell do I know about Fry Pan’s murder? I was back in my own locker room, trying to keep the boys from ripping the place apart.”

“But there’s no love lost between you and the Daredevils.”

“Nah. But it’s a game, right? I mean, some guys take it life-and-death, but it’s still a game, am I right?”

“You’re right.”

“Sure I’m right. Would I give my right arm to have won? Nah. Left arm, maybe. But my right? Nah. It’s a game, am I right?”

“Were there any on your team that took it too seriously? What about Mr. Potter?”

“The boss does take it serious,” he nodded. “Now he would have given his right arm to win. But you know what? It’s less about the game and more about beating Hector Platt.”

“The owners don’t get along?”

“Hell no. They’re like black and white. Can’t stand to be in the same room. But you know, wouldn't you figure if Mr. Potter would bump anyone off, it’d be Platt?”

“You’ve thought it through.”

“Sure. And I figure killing Fry Pan don’t make sense. Potter hated Platt. Don’t people usually kill the ones they hate?”

“Usually. Not always. Sometimes, they want to keep the ones they hate, alive, but punish them. You know?”

Mungo shook his head. “Potter don’t think that far ahead.”

“Was Fry Pan liked as a player? I mean, did your boys respect him and like him?”

“Off the field, most did. Some played cards or drank at speakeasies with Fry Pan. Of course, if Potter found out, he’d have wrung their necks. But sure, Fry Pan was okay. On the field, of course, we wanted to beat the crap out of him. But when the gun sounded…? Nah.”

“Do you think Mr. Potter would see me, if I asked?”

I expected a “hell no”, but instead he gave a shrug and said, “He might. Like I said, Potter had no beef with Fry Pan. Hell, he even tried a couple times to get Fry Pan to play for him.”

“And he turned him down?”

“Flat. But Potter never stopped hoping. So my guess is, he’d like to find who bumped off Fry Pan, too.”

“Would he be at his company office, now?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Probably. It’s a workday.”

So I went over to the Peppers and Potter Spice Company. On the factory floor, I met Mr. Peppers, a busy little nuthatch of a man, flitting from one place in the factory to another. When I introduced myself and why I was there, he blinked a few times, as if he didn’t even know Potter owned a football team, let alone there’d been a murder. Then he said:

“Oh, yes. All that business about the football team and that player getting killed.”

“You don’t care for the game?”

“It’s dirty and loud and no I don’t, Mr. Delancey.”

“But the company sponsors a team.”

“We do. It’s Mr. Potter’s baby. For my part, I prefer the symphony orchestra, and our company donates a great deal of money to that. So we each have our babies.” He smiled, and I believed him. “You can find Mr. Potter,” he went on, “up those stairs and the first door to the left.”

I thanked him, and pretty soon was in a small anteroom where a tiny gal sat behind a desk, just itching to be useful. After introductions, I asked to speak to Potter, and she pressed a button. She looked very proud of that spanking new intercom system. After a moment’s reflection, Potter agreed to see me, and I went on in.

All the budget had been spent on that office, from the looks of it: Where the secretary’s office was a mouse hole, this was bigger than my apartment. I wondered if Peppers’ office was equally large and fancy. Potter shook my hand, told me to take a seat, and then asked why I was there.

“About Fry Pan?” he guessed. I nodded, and he said, “And I assume Hector Platt hired you?”

“He did.”

Then I waited to be kicked out. Instead, Potter said:

“I don’t know if I can help you, but I’ll try. I liked Fry Pan.”

“Rumor had it you tried to lure him away from the Daredevils.”

He laughed. “That’s more than rumor, Mr. Delancey. And everyone in the business knows it. I didn’t try to be secretive. I don’t believe in that.”

“From all I’ve heard, Fry Pan was well-liked. Do you have any idea, then, who would’ve killed him?”

“If I’d been able to lure him away, I’d say it was Platt. And believe me, I’d like nothing better than to point a finger at him. But quite honestly, I don’t see why, and I don’t see that anyone had a grudge against him. Sorry.”

“May I ask, when was the last time you made an offer to Fry Pan, to joint your team?”

“That’s easy. It was a week before the game. I wanted to win that game very badly, Mr. Delancey, and if I could’ve lured Fry Pan over, I’d be speaking to the league now, instead of you and the police.”

“The police have been by?”

“They spoke to me yesterday. Figured that if anyone wanted revenge against Fry Pan, it was me or the coach.”

There didn’t seem much else to ask. I thanked him, and as I was leaving, he said:

“Mr. Delancey, I know if I spoke to Platt, he’d slam the door in my face, so would you give him a message for me?”

“Sure.”

“Tell him I am sorry, that I liked Fry Pan a lot.”

I promised to relay the message, and left.

 

Back at the office that afternoon, Inspector Fenrow stopped in. Jacob made himself right at home, and I brought out the bootleg brandy and two glasses. Beulah sits in on our chin-wags, but doesn't drink much. And I know, Jacob’s a cop, and the brandy is illegal, but what does he care if it’s free? Anyhow, he has the philosophy that busting someone for having the odd bottle is penny-ante stuff. The police have bigger fish to fry.

“I hear,” he said after a sip, “you’ve been hired for the football case.”

“Johnny Bulwer is an old friend,” I reminded him. He knew Johnny, too, when we were kids. “I couldn’t see turning it down.”

“Any progress?”

A word here. Jacob and I have an odd professional relationship. Because we’re buddies, we often share clues we’ve picked up. There’s an unspoken agreement though: Jacob doesn’t try to cheat me out of a fee, and I keep quiet so Jacob gets credit from the higher-ups.

“Not much. All I hear is, Fry Pan was a great guy who no one’d want to kill.”

“I heard the same thing. Does it ever occur to you that on these cases, either the whole world wanted to murder the victim, or no one did?”

“I prefer the first situation. Then I can start eliminating suspects one by one. This way, you really have to dig and hope you hit pay-dirt.”

Jacob nodded. “I agree. Who’ve you spoken to?”

I told him about my meetings with Mungo and Potter, and even Peppers. He took it all in without a notebook, and even got a refill along the way. When I’d finished, he said:

“So you don’t think Potter did it? For revenge?”

“Nope. Like Mungo said, if he’d kill anyone, it’d be Platt.”

“Too many names with P at the front on this case. Sounds like a tongue-twister.”

“It’s to test your mental acuity.”

“Oh. Is that it?”

“Yep. Anyhow, what about you? Who’d you talk to?”

“Well, aside from Mungo Jack and Devil Potter—we didn’t speak to Peppers, though it might come to that—we talked to Hector Platt and Johnny Bulwer. Both seemed pretty torn up about the murder.”

“You think there’s anything to Platt, hearing about Potter’s wanting to lure Fry Pan over?”

“I doubt it. Just as Potter would kill Platt, not Fry Pan, I think the reverse is true. If Potter was meddling, Platt would’ve bumped him off, not his star player.”

He was right, of course. This was frustrating. Beulah spoke.

“Then you have to find the motive.”

It was, as usual, a brilliant statement. The way we were looking at it, there was no motive, no one wanted Fry Pan dead. But obviously, someone did. Since no one was ‘fessing up to it, there had to be a motive no one was telling us about. To take it a step further, I hadn’t caught anyone lying. So, I figured, the true motive was something we hadn’t asked about. Jacob and I had gone under the assumption that the killing was football-related. What if it wasn’t? What if, say, Fry Pan had fooled around with someone’s wife? What if he stole money from the gate receipts? What if…well, you get the idea. We had to stop looking at this purely from a football standpoint.

“I don’t get it,” said the inspector, who is not dim, but sometimes we all have trouble. “Isn’t the motive football?”

“I think it’s connected, but maybe not quite so clear as we think. What did the players say? Did everyone like Fry Pan?”

“Sure. He was very popular. If there was any knock on him, he was too clean-cut. Wouldn’t go to the speakeasies with the boys. His strongest cuss was ‘Gosh darn’. One guy told me that, in one game, the opposing team’s star player had the ball, was looking in another direction, and Fry Pan had a clean shot. Could’ve really laid him out. All he did was tackle him. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

“Right. So Beulah’s point is, we have to look someplace else for a motive. Not only was he a good guy, but think about this: Let’s say someone from the Pepper Pots wanted the National Football League bad enough. Wouldn’t it make sense to bump off Fry Pan before the game? A little late after.”

“Maybe it was gamblers. Lots of money riding on that game, so I hear. Maybe they paid Fry Pan to throw the game, and when he didn’t, they killed him.”

I shook my head. “It’s a possibility, but as straight-laced as Fry Pan was, I can’t see him getting mixed up with gamblers.”

“Sometimes, a guy doesn't have a choice. The gamblers find you, and you’d better play along.”

“Again, that’s possible, but unlikely. I mean, if I’m one of those high-rolling gamblers, I’d go after someone who had a reputation for being bought. Fry Pan had no such reputation. Unless he had a secret life no one seemed to know about…”

“I get it, I get it. Every obvious motive strikes out.”

“You’re mixing your sports.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Which is what he says when I’m right.

“What about the gun?” I asked. “Did you find out whose it was?”

“Nope. It wasn’t Fry Pan’s, because no one recalls ever seeing him with one. All identifying marks were filed off. And it’s common enough.”

After Fenrow left and Beulah went home, I stayed at the office for an hour or so. I pondered all sorts of motives for murder. Basically, there’s money, anger, jealousy, fear, and revenge. There’s lunacy, too, but I was pretty sure our killer wasn’t nuts. Anger was out, too: If a killer brought a gun, he or she intended to bump off Fry Pan earlier, and anger is a last-minute motive. Money? Well, if Fenrow’s gambling idea is right, then it could be that, otherwise, I didn’t think so. Jealousy? Was Fry Pan fooling around with someone else’s gal? Doubtful, if he was the Boy Scout everyone said he was. Fear? Of what? I set that one aside. Revenge? For what? For winning the game? Again, that was a gambler’s motive, and I didn’t like it. And anyhow, it sounded like the cops were exploring that angle.

Maybe I should have a talk with a player or two. Some of those guys have had dust-ups with police before, and might not have been as open with them as they could’ve been.

So the next day, I scooted over to the Daredevils’ practice field, where a halfhearted scrimmage was going on. 

No one seemed real eager to get back to playing, and I was there not ten minutes before Johnny called a halt. I walked over and we shook hands. I asked if I could speak to some of the players, and he said sure. Then he made an announcement to the boys, told them I was investigating Fry Pan’s death, and they should cooperate. A few looked put out by that, so I skipped them. Instead, I picked out a few boys who looked eager to help.

What they weren’t eager to do was talk one on one, so I took all three together. They were Eddie Baxter, George Polonski, and Herman Weiss. Strapping lads, every one of them, and none too bright. I explained what I wanted: Some reason for Fry Pan to get murdered. They looked at me blankly.

“I dunno,” said George. “We all liked Fry Pan.”

“But somebody didn’t,” I pointed out. “And maybe he got killed by someone who liked him.”

“Huh?” was the general response.

“Never mind,” I said, figuring that was pointless. Instead, I said, “Let’s talk about Fry Pan. I hear he was pretty straight. What’d he do for fun?”

“He played football,” Eddie said.

“And besides football? Did he have a girlfriend?”

“Oh, yeah,” Eddie said eagerly, and the other two whacked him in the arm. “Ow! Lay off, can’t yuh? I know Fry Pan said not t’ say nothin’, but he’s dead now.”

“Come on, boys,” I said. “Spill it. Who was his girlfriend? Was it serious?”

Herman Weiss seemed the smartest of the group, and he spoke up.

“Yeah, it was serious. But he didn’t want Coach to know, see? Figured Johnny might not like it.”

“Why wouldn’t the coach like it? Surely more guys on your team are married or have girlfriends.”

“Sometimes, both,” Herman said. “Yer right. I’m married; so’s Eddie. George, he’s got a gal. But Johnny, he didn’t much care for it. An’ Fry Pan, bein’ his star player an’ all, well, he wouldn’t have sat still for it.”

“What could he do? Kick him off the team?”

“Nah. But he sure could make life hell for Fry Pan.”

“So this was serious? Fry Pan and the gal?”

“Yep. Fry Pan told me a few days before the game, he was plannin’ on marrying her.”

“Was he going to talk to Johnny about it?”

“Actually,” Herman said, looking at the others, “I think he was goin’ to see Mr. Platt.”

“The owner? Why?”

“Don’t know.”

“I do,” said George. “Mr. Platt didn’t care about girlfriends and wives, so long as you played okay. So he went t’ Mr. Platt first, t’ tell Coach.”

There was a pause, then George looked embarrassed. I asked:

“Do you know this for a fact, or is it just a guess?”

“Well, Fry Pan didn’t come right out an’ say it…”

This time it was George’s turn to get whacked in the arm. I held up a hand.

“Hang on! What George said made sense. Johnny could hardly argue if Mr. Platt said it was okay, right? Do you know when Fry Pan was going to see Mr. Platt?”

That was a head-scratcher. Finally, Herman said, “Well, Fry Pan told me he was going to talk to Mr. Platt on Wednesday, and it was too late to do it then, so sometime after that.”

“Got it. One more thing. What was the name of Fry Pan’s sweetie?”

“Lydia Jarvis,” they all said.

“And where can I find her?”

“She works over at Herplatz’s, in the perfume department. She’s got dark hair and eyes, and a sweet smile.”

“I appreciate it. Thanks, boys.”

Off I went to Herplatz’s, which I’ve told you is just kitty-corner from my office.

It’s a nice store, owned by Mr. Henry Herplatz. There’s a Sear’s and Roebuck store in town, and that has its shoppers, but many folks like the fact that Herplatz’s is local, and I’m one of them. So I knew right off where the perfume counter was: I usually buy Beulah’s Christmas gift there.

I found Lydia Jarvis, but she hadn’t time to talk. She did agree to speak to me about Fry Pan on her break, which was in half an hour. So I wandered around, probably excited the floor walker who thought I was out to steal. When Miss Jarvis’ break came, we headed over to a lunch counter. I bought her a soda, and we talked.

“Herbert was a real nice guy,” she said sadly. She was cute, I decided, in the farmer’s daughter sort of way, not sophisticated, but nice. Unspoiled, my dad used to call such gals, as if they were a tract of land.

“Herbert?”

“I never called him Fry Pan. He told me once he hated that nickname, but let the fans use it because they liked to.”

“Everyone says he was a good guy.”

“He was, Mr. Delancey. The best. All my girlfriends loved him—not in that way, of course—but you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do.” I felt pretty darn sad for this gal. “May I ask, how serious was your relationship? Was marriage on the horizon?”

She didn’t try to play coy. “Yes. That was the reason Herbert was giving up football, to work full-time.”

“Holy cow. He was giving up the game? Did Mr. Platt know this? Did Coach Bulwer?”

She shook her head, and my hopes—which jumped for joy a few seconds before—fell.

“No one knew. Herbert went to tell Mr. Platt the day before the game, but he wasn’t in his office. Herbert came back very upset, he wanted to tell him so bad.”

“I can understand that. Did he have a job all lined up?”

“Actually, that was what Herbert dreaded most: Telling Mr. Platt he was going to work at the Peppers and Potter Spice Company.”

“Now this is important, Miss Jarvis. Are you absolutely certain that Fry Pan—Herbert—did not tell anyone he was leaving?”

“I’m positive. He would’ve told me. We had no secrets.”

I smiled. A bit naive, but a nice gal. I thanked her and left her to finish her soda. She told me as I was leaving that if I had any other questions, she had off Wednesdays and Thursdays. I thanked her again.

Normally, I don’t like to share information with the cops. Well, Jacob Fenrow and I do chat about a case, especially one we’re both working, and I want to see my old pal do well, but not if it means he solves a case and I’m out a fee. He gets paid whether he wins or not. This bit of information, though, was too hot. With all due respect to Miss Jarvis, I think Fry Pan must have told someone else, and that was clear motive.

I returned to the office, told Beulah what I’d found, and she agreed with me, that Fenrow needed to know. So I called, and he agreed to stop over after work.

“This is a hell of a thing,” were the first words out of Fenrow when I told him. He was sitting across from me, drinking my bootleg brandy as usual, very relaxed. Even this big news didn’t rouse him much. “Maybe it was a lie? Maybe Fry Pan had no intention of giving up the game?”

“That makes no sense,” I replied. “Lydia—Miss Jarvis—was fine with Fry Pan playing football.”

“She says.”

I was getting a little hot. Lydia seemed pretty honest to me, and here was Jacob, suggesting she was a liar. I was fuming, and he saw it.

“Easy,” he said, holding up a hand. “I’m not saying she lied. I’m just saying we need to look at all angles.”

“But we should look into it.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

That was not enthusiastic.

“Why? You got something else on the hook?”

“Maybe. And maybe, it plays into what Miss Jarvis told you, anyway.”

I could’ve shot him. First he suggests Lydia lied, then he admits what she told me fits into his own theory.

“See, there’s evidence that all is not well with Platt’s company. All his messing around with the football team when maybe he should’ve been watching out for his business.”

“Embezzlement?”

Jacob shook his head. “Don’t know. All I’ve heard is the state auditors are paying a visit to Platt’s company today, to go over a few things, and Hector Platt better be there.”

“So if Fry Pan was leaving—“

“That’s another brick in the wall. His company hurting, and now his star player leaving.”

“But Miss Jarvis claims Fry Pan never got to see Hector.”

We thought about this a bit. I could tell Fenrow wanted to suggest Lydia was wrong, that Fry Pan had gone to see Hector, because that would give him motive, but he didn’t want to ruffle my feathers again. Beulah spoke up.

“What about the brother? Jim Platt. What if Fry Pan came to see Hector, but he wasn’t in, and told Jim Platt, instead?”

I shook my head. “Jim wouldn’t have cared if Fry Pan was quitting. In fact, he might prefer it: Till now, he’s had to shoulder all the work while Hector goes to play football mogul.”

“But Jim was in charge with Hector gone,” she argued. “Maybe he liked being in charge.”

This time, the inspector spoke. “Okay, I’ll buy that. But why bump Fry Pan off? Seems to me that would run opposite to what he wanted. Wouldn’t he want Fry Pan to stay? Now, with him dead, the team ‘ll never get into the league.”

That was when the telephone rang. Beulah answered, passed the receiver along to Inspector Fenrow, who listened and listened, as his face went darker and darker. Finally he handed the receiver back to Beulah.

“Trouble?” I asked.

“Damned right. No one can fine either of the Platts. I’d gone over to their office before coming here, to ask a few questions, but they were out. Telephoned the house, no dice. So I told a few of my men to ask around, to find out where they were. Secretary doesn’t know, servants don’t know…They’re gone. The question is, why? Because of the state auditors? Or because of the murder?”

 

That was a question that wouldn’t be answered right off, because for two days, there was not trace of either Platt brother. I had a visit from Johnny Bulwer, who was beside himself because he had no owner for his team and no star player, and what the hell was he going to do now? I had no answer, and he left after two brandies and a good cry.

With nothing better to do, I decided to pay a visit to Platt’s office. Okay, okay, it was Beulah’s idea. Sometimes, when I think I should be doing something, I get underfoot, and she shoos me out. Generally, she sends me on some nonsense errand. This time, it would be the best idea she’d had in a long time.

Unlike the Pepper folks, Platt’s organization is a little less clear as to what they do. Best I can tell you is, they make money. I’m serious. They invest money, they buy and sell companies and property, and in general they make money. Normally, as long as you pay him, Uncle Sam doesn't much care how you make your daily bread. But Platt doesn’t just invest his own money; he’s brought other people in. Gives them a share of the take in return. And that means the Feds and the banks can take a look at the books whenever they think something’s goofy.

The question I’d never asked—no one had asked—was what set the auditors on Platt in the first place. I mean, those men in suits with adding machines in hand and visors on their heads don’t go around auditing for kicks. Well, maybe they do; I’ve never quite understood guys who play with numbers. But it was a sure bet someone put them wise that something was wrong at Platt, Incorporated.

And the result was, when I arrived at the Platt Building (yep, he has his own building), the auditors were swarming like ants at a picnic. They ignored me as I entered and went to the receptionist. In another life, she was a perky little thing; now, all this going on left her eyes tired and her voice impatient. I told her who I was, and that Mr. Hector Platt had hired me to investigate the murder of Herbert Fry Pan Jones.

“Mr. Delancey,” she said wearily, “as you can see, we’re very busy. And neither Mr. Platt nor his brother are here.”

“I know. The cops are trying to find them. And I’ll let them do that because they’re good at it. Meantime, I’m here to look at a different angle. May I go up, or not?”

She waved me off, which I took as an okay. The Platt Building is four floors, and I was pretty sure Hector and Jim had offices at the top. I took the stairs, because it’s good exercise, and because if you’ve ever taken the elevator in my building, you’d prefer the stairs too.

The top floor was a madhouse. In the small reception area was the secretary, trying to look busy and failing. No boss around, there’s precious little for the secretary to do. I walked around two auditors looking concerned at a piece of paper, and introduced myself. She eyed me suspiciously—I like to think she also was sizing me up for possible dating material, but that might’ve been my imagination—and told me to go on through.

There were two office doors, both open. I took a peek inside the first, which had three men seated at a round table, chewing the fat. They might’ve been discussing last week’s Packers’ game, for all I knew. They glanced up at me, and I said hello. I ducked out again, but not before checking the room. It was surprisingly neat, given the messing around these boys had been up to. A desk, five chairs, books on three shelves. On the desk was a blotter, two pens in holders, and a note pad. It was a very tidy, efficient place.

From there, I went to Hector’s office. Only slightly larger than his brother’s, this office was a mess. Papers everywhere, on the desk, the table, the floor. Four auditors stood around while a female assistant sat at Hector’s desk with an adding machine. A very long tape extended out of that machine. A few of the auditors and the assistant looked up when I entered.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Tom Delancey. Who’s in charge here?”

A tall, thin man with rheumy eyes approached.

“I am. Clark Callahan.” He didn’t extend a hand and I didn’t offer. “What can I do for you, Mr. Delancey?”

“I know you have a job to do, and I don’t want to interfere. But I’m investigating a murder, and would like to speak to Mr. Platt.” Yeah, yeah. I knew he wasn’t there. What I was after, was what Callahan told me.

“So would we. He has a lot of explaining to do.”

“Fraud?”

“On a massive scale. And not very clever, either. Mr. Platt clearly was not expecting to be audited.”

I was about to reply when who marched in but Inspector Fenrow and two uniforms. Jacob stopped when he saw me, then kept on marching, straight for us. He ignored me, focused on Callahan, whom he’d clearly met before.

“Mr. Callahan.”

“Really, inspector. We have work to do, and first you send this flunky—“

“We didn’t send him,” Fenrow said. “I’m no flunky,” I said. Callahan focused on what the inspector said.

“You didn’t send him? Then who—?”

“Never mind Delancey,” Fenrow snapped. “All I want is one piece of information. In your search, have you run across payment for an airline ticket or two?”

Callahan was a supervisor who left details to his underlings. He turned to them now, and since the police had attracted their attention, they were ready to answer.

“Sure,” said one young whippersnapper. “It’s right here. One of the last entries.”

He brought over the book, handed it to Callahan, who handed it to Fenrow (ignoring my own outstretched hands, the lout). I peeked over Jacob’s shoulder. There it was in black and white. One airline ticket, the requisition signed for by Hector Platt.

“The hell,” Fenrow muttered. He handed the book back. “I assume you haven’t found the ticket, or a receipt?”

“No sir,” the young man replied.

“The hell,” he repeated. “Who was the money paid to?”

The young man consulted his notes. “Universal Travel.”

“Got it. Thanks. Delancey? Come along like a good flunky.”

The hell.

On the way out, I stopped at the secretary’s desk. Fenrow grinned. He thinks all I care about is hitting up pretty gals for a date. I let him think it. But I was after something entirely different.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Tom Delancey. And you are…?”

“Unavailable.”

“And cold. Look, I’m not trying to ask you out. I just want a couple of answers, if you don’t mind. I’m investigating the murder of Fry Pan Jones.”

“Oh!” That helped. She’d liked Fry Pan. “All right, then. What do you need to know?”

“Did Fry Pan come here shortly before he was killed?”

“Sure. He was looking real serious. Asked to see Mr. Platt.”

“Hector Platt.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And did he?”

“No. See, it was the darnedest thing. I sent Fry Pan on through, but then I remembered that Mr. Hector Platt was gone for the day. His brother was in his office.”

“Jim? Why?”

“Oh, he was in there lots. See, Hector—Mr. Platt—didn’t spend much time in the office during football season. So his brother did most of the work. And that meant him going into Hector’s office lots.”

“I see. Did he sign anything for Hector? Checks? Purchase agreements? Contracts?”

“Not contracts, but near everything else, sure. Funny how well he could copy his brother’s signature. Most times even I couldn’t tell who’d signed something.”

“You’re a doll. Thanks!”

That was too big to keep. I told Fenrow right off. He was still grinning when I got back to him, thinking the secretary had shot me down, but the grin vanished when I told him about Jim. The implication was pretty clear.

“So,” he said slowly as we walked down the street, “you figure it was Jim that killed Fry Pan because…?”

“Those auditors. Who tipped ‘em off?”

“Ah. Well, I asked, and the head man said they’d received an anonymous tip.”

“Probably Fry Pan. I think he went to Hector’s office, hoping to tell the boss he was leaving football, and instead he found Jim Platt up to no good.”

The inspector stopped, and I did too.

“Hang on. How would Fry Pan know he was up to no good? I mean, fooling around with a secretary, yeah, that’s pretty obvious. But embezzling? I doubt Fry Pan would’ve been able to spot that.”

“Yeah, you’re right. But it does explain the airplane ticket and Jim’s disappearance.”

“And Hector’s, if Jim polished him off.”

“Right.”

“I’ve got men looking for the Platt boys as we speak.”

“What if you get a handwriting expert in? See if it really was Hector who signed for those shady deals?”

“That’ll only prove embezzlement.”

“But it’d be enough to hold him while you proved murder.”

Fenrow nodded. We shook hands and promised to keep in touch. I returned to the office, where Beulah informed me I had a visitor. Thinking it was my pal, Johnny, I strolled in. But it wasn’t Johnny: It was the two boys, Iggy and his pal Jimmy. Iggy, you might recall, is not fond of cops, but opens up to me. Jimmy, older and bigger, fancies himself a ladies man (he’s what, twelve?), and makes goo-goo eyes at Beulah.

“Gentlemen,” I said as I sat behind my desk. They were in chairs across from me, and Beulah entered to take notes. Jimmy watched her carefully as she sat and straightened her skirt hem. “What can I do for you?”

“We unnerstand,” Jimmy said, “you’re ‘vestigating the Fry Pan murder.”

“And how would you know that?”

He shrugged. “Word gets around. Are you, or ain’t you?”

“I am.” I saw no reason to deny it, especially to those two.

“Right. We seen Johnny Bulwer, the coach, come here a couple times. Anyhow—tell ‘im, Iggy.”

Iggy, the more serious of the pair, took a deep breath.

“Last time Johnny Bulwer was here, he rode off in a car with that big man.”

“Hector Platt.”

“Right.” As if he knew Platt. “Well, there was another car waiting. One man. Soon as Bulwer and the other guy drove off, he did, too.”

“So someone was following Platt and Johnny. Can you describe him?”

Iggy did a fair job of describing Jim Platt.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Sure,” Jimmy said, as if I thought they were simple. “We wouldn’t hardly waste your time with just that. Iggy and me saw him the next day.”

“Here?”

“Nope. We’re over on Michigan, you know? Talkin’ with some guys about school and about how Mr. Connor is probably the worst teacher ever invented. Anyhow, that same car drives up, and Iggy tells me it’s the guy that was following Johnny and that Platt guy.”

“What’d he want?”

“Well—you tell ‘im, Iggy. I get too worked up.” He cracked his knuckles to show how worked up he was. He glanced mysteriously at Beulah, who glanced my way, ready to punch me if I grinned.

Iggy said, “The feller got out of the car and went into the bank. You know the one on Michigan.”

“Sure.”

“Then he walks out like he’s king of the world or somethin’. Gets in his car and heads north on Twelfth.”

“You’re quite the detective,” I said.

That didn’t make Jimmy too happy. He wanted to be the hot-shot detective around my assistant.

“And you, too, Jimmy,” I added. “Good job surveilling.”

That helped. I picked up my telephone receiver, dialed a number that was handy and soon got Jimmy Bulwer.

“Ah. Jimmy. Have you seen the Platt brothers recently?…No. No, it’s nothing. When was the last time you saw either of ‘em?…Right. Well, thanks a lot.”

I hung up.

“Jimmy Bulwer has not seen the Platts in a few days. That’s a problem during the football season. Hector Platt doesn't stay away from the team for more than ten minutes. Hang on. I’ve got another idea.”

Another telephone call to a number I knew by heart, and a few minutes later I had more information.

“Inspector Fenrow doesn’t know where either Platt man is, but I just suggested he check travel agencies. Jim Platt driving north on Twelfth sends him right for the airport. Lots of other stops on the way, but it makes the most sense.” Back to the boys: “Thanks again, you two. I’ll let you know when I hear something.”

Iggy grinned. Jimmy looked like a man of mystery and danger. They left.

“Don’t you smile at me,” Beulah warned.

 

The whole case finished up that night. Well, as finished as it was going to get.

Fenrow stopped by my office just around closing time. He took the offered brandy, and sat himself down. Beulah pulled up a chair. She could’ve gone home, but the look in Jacob’s face told her to stay.

“It’s pretty clear Jim Platt killed Fry Pan. Probably his brother, too.”

“Why?” That was Beulah.

“Jim Platt had no interest in football. He hated the game, and hated the way Hector spent every hour in fall with his team. What Jim was interested in, was money. He put two and two together, and decided to cook the books. He’d become pretty good at forging Hector’s signature, and could make it look like Hector was the cheat.

“When Fry Pan came to the office, to tell Hector he’d had enough of football, Jim was there, instead. Our guess is, Fry Pan witnessed Jim’s cheating. Now, it had to have been pretty flagrant, because Fry Pan was no accounting genius. This had to be something that anyone could tell was wrong. The likeliest was a check that one of our boys got from the auditors. A check for fifty grand, made out to Jim Platt from Hector. Only Jim was signing his brother’s name to the check. Our handwriting experts were able to verify the check was forged.”

“Why didn’t Fry Pan report Jim to the police?” I asked. “Or to Hector?”

Fenrow shrugged. “I think he was going to tell Hector, but the game got in the way. Hector was so keyed up by the game, no one could’ve talked serious to him just then. But I’m pretty damn sure Fry Pan was going to tell Hector after the game.”

“How can you assume all this?” Beulah asked.

“The details we can assume. The generalities are pretty sure. The timing of the check, written out the day before the game, the same day Fry Pan went to the office…It seems to fit. But there’s more. Fry Pan was killed with a .38. Jim had a license for a .38, and we can’t find that gun anywhere in his house. But the biggest clue was the one you gave us, Delancey. The travel agents. How’d you come up with it?”

“I had some boys looking into it,” I hedged. “They spotted Jim Platt leaving the bank—to cash that fat check, I assume—heading north on Twelfth.”

“Would they testify to that?”

Beulah let out a laugh. She could picture Fenrow’s face when I told him my “boys” really were boys. The inspector bailed me out.

“Ah, they probably won’t have to. Jim Platt skipped. According to the travel agent, he flew to Italy. We checked with the Italian officials, but they have no one named Jim Platt living there. He probably changed his name, and might not even have stayed in Italy. It’ll be dumb luck if we ever find him.”

“And Hector?”

“He’s disappeared. Best guess is, Jim bumped him off. Hector knew very well he never wrote out a check for fifty grand, or cooked the books. I’m sure they had it out, and it didn’t end well for Hector. Where his body is…”

Beulah asked if it was possible the brothers were in on it together.

“Possible,” said Fenrow, “but doubtful. All the shifty stuff at the office was forged. If Hector had been in on the embezzlement, he’d never have to forge his own signature.”

“He might’ve had Jim forge the signature, to give himself an out in case the auditors got wise.”

“Yeah, he might’ve, Beulah. For now, we’re going under the assumption Hector had nothing to do with any of this.”

 

That was that. I hate to tell you, but it looks like we’ll only find Jim Platt if he walks into a police station and gives himself up. And finding Hector might be just as tough, especially if Jim killed his brother. I’m adding this a few weeks later, and there’s been no news. The case is out of the papers, and off the police blotter. When I mentioned it to Fenrow, he just shrugged and said there was nothing going on with it.

The only thing I can add is, Lydia Jarvis—she was Fry Pan’s girlfriend, remember, the one who worked at the perfume counter—and I have been out a couple times, for dinner and a dance or two. We went to see some motion picture called “Wings” that everybody is playing up, but I think I got air-sick watching it, so I can’t see what the big deal is all about.

[Editor’s Note: I have searched on-line newspaper records, and have not found any references to Hector Platt, so I assume his body was never found. As to Jim Platt, there is some suggestion that he perished when the Nazis overran France. If the records are true, he had been living alone in a farmhouse, doing awful watercolors and tending a few sheep.]


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