Lowering my feet to the linoleum, I get up, go to the window and close it in the hope of shutting out the smell of the garlic. Then I politely announce, "Okay, hush it with the racket and come inside, already," and the door opens to admit none other than Big Louie Bigelow. As you might well imagine, I am not impressed.
Big Louie is never the shy type and I am never stupid -- well, never more stupid than I can avoid -- so I open the desk drawer where I keep my best bottle of rye and take out the gun lying next to it, which I point in the general direction of Big Louie's brisket. Big Louie says, "While I am not happy with this form of greeting, Benny, it does speak well for your memory."
"To say nothing of my ability to judge character."
"Of which I said nothing," Big Louie points out. He stands up and opens his jacket to let me see inside of it. He is wearing his favorite shoulder holster, but the heater is not tucked in. He takes the jacket off and whirls around, for all the world like he is a model on a runway, though that is the only way Big Louie resembles a model on a runway or anywhere else, unless you mean a model railroad engine. He is a large lumpy fellow in loud clothes with a too red face and a record that will be prominent in the book of world records when their standards coincide with those of your local gendarmes' establishment. There is no overly suspicious bulge to suggest Louie is carrying.
"Where might your gat be, this fine afternoon?" I ask him, as he sits back down.
"I leave it in the glove box in my car. With your memory you do not have to see it again, do you?"
"I would be perfectly happy never to see it to begin with," I reply; but I decide this is not a social call and put my gun down on my desk, though not far out of reach. Big Louie and I go way back.
"And speaking of your coffin, ever a cheerful subject, would you like one of these?" I ask, removing a pack of gaspers from out of my pocket, taking one and offering another to him. He thanks me, believe it or not, takes the weed and produces a match which he strikes on the edge of my desk. He holds the match for me and then applies it to the business end of his own coffin nail. I choose that moment to enquire, "What brings you here on such an otherwise lovely day?"
"Perhaps it is I am under the mistaken idea you own a fan," he says. He takes a puff and looks around for an ashtray.
"Why do you think I have linoleum and a broom?" I ask and he nods and flicks his ash on the floor. "And how would I own a fan considering what I make from the class of clientele I deal with?"
"Such as myself," says Big Louie, puffing a cloud into the air. There is no hint of hurt feelings in his voice, but the smoke hovers over us both, looking suspiciously like it is a rain cloud.
I decide it is time to get down to business so I say, "Louie it is as big a pleasure to have you visit me today as it was in that dark alley where we first met and you tried to mug me. Suppose you tell me why you are here."
"Ever the businessman," remarks my unwanted guest. "I am here because I am in need of protection."
"You? Since when, Big Louie, are you not in that need?"
He nods at me. "That is true. But this is special. It seems the latest acquisition of my old boss, Legit Larue, is a dislike for me."
"Commendable but conventional behavior on his part."
"Indeed," responds Big Louie, sadly. "But he is not the only one. There is a girl also. Do not feign surprise, please. My former girlfriend, Rosey Rosemont, unexpectedly decides she would like to see me in two sections, each separated from the other at the neck. We argue, I fear, and Rosey is of an unforgiving nature."
"And what, may I ask, did you and she argue about?"
"Whether or not she needed my approval to do something."
Suddenly he seems shy. I clear my throat just to remind him why he is here, and he goes on. "My approval to go out with Legit Larue."
"He seems not to think he needs my approval to go out with Rosey."
"And you have confronted both these individuals on this issue?"
"To do so," I say wisely, "confirms my estimation of your intelligence."
"So you can see why I am in need of a shamus."
"I can see why you might be in need of General Patton and the Third Army," I admit.
"I like less ostentation than that," Louie confesses, "which is why I am coming to you. It seems this morning someone throws a knife at me."
"Indeed. I am walking down the boulevard when of a sudden I hear a whish and a thump and I find this stuck in the trunk of a tree which I am passing." He reaches into his pocket and takes out a handkerchief in which is wrapped an object. Upon his unwrapping of this object I see that it is a long thin dagger of the stiletto persuasion.
"Which you bring to me."
"I think perhaps you might enjoy the earning of five hundred clams by determining who sent this in my direction."
"Wait a minute," say I. "Someone sticks a knife in a tree just inches from your head, all this on a public street and in broad daylight, yet you do not see who the guilty party is?"
"I do not. I look around, of course. But the street is empty. Across the street there are several open windows and I decide it is from one of these that the knife is directed."
"So you come to me with the idea I would be willing to take you on as a client despite the fact that you are a rat of the first water?"
"So it seems. But knowing your impression of me -- which, by the way, I regard as uncharitable, albeit justified -- I take the precaution of lugging with me a persuader." His hard reaches inside his coat.
have already seen that his shoulder holster is empty, but even so I refresh my grip on my automatic. His hand withdraws from his jacket filled not with the heater I expect, but with several folded bills. Paying no attention me he unfolds these pieces of paper and counts off ten of them, which he places on my desk top.
Each features, I notice, the unsmiling visage of our 18th president. I never understand that. Anytime I am worth fifty dollars, you can bet on me smiling.
"Not the persuader I expected," I confess, stowing my automatic away again, although in a holster beneath my own jacket, rather than the inconvenience of a desk drawer.
Big Louie beams at me. "With age comes wisdom."
"Both are unexpected in your case." In a sense it is a pathetic situation for Big Louie has many marks against him and clearly does not reach the minimum standards of decency I have set for the clients I am willing to do business with. I admit to a momentary wavering, because my bank account is as on the verge of respiratory failure, as one or two of my creditors claim to be.
Again I clear my throat. Even to me it sounds like I am gargling with lysergic acid. "Louie, this does not seem to me to be much of a mystery. While I admit a stiletto is not Legit Larue's customary form of greeting, it is possible he has a new henchman who prefers this sort of memento. It is certainly unlikely a delicate flower such as your Rosey -- or your former Rosey -- could heft even so aerodynamically attuned a device as this across an entire street and come that close to even a target your size."
"As a matter of fact, there is a newcomer in Legit's entourage, one Harry the Hasher, freshly arrived from Kansas City, who has just such a reputation as you refer to. In fact, Harry the Hasher is so fond of sharp and pointy instruments that he never carries a gun. He is furthermore ambitious and would be eager to cement his reputation in this berg by rubbing out a prominent citizen such as myself, should he have the opportunity. But don't write Rosey off so easily, my friend, for she is a girl of many skills, some of which would amaze you."
"Does this include knife throwing?"
"In her youth, or so I understand, she tours the vaudeville circuit as a knife thrower."
nodded. "It becomes interesting at this point. Clearly interesting. But Louie, we are still at an impasse. My agency, small as it is, has standards. One of them is that I do not represent rat bastards. Not even rat bastards with as much money as you have, all of which is gathered by questionable means, I may add."
"I need the best there is," says he, spreading his hands.
"Thank you for the compliment," say I. "But no thank you for the offer." I rise to my feet. "There are a dozen private eyes in this town who are not so squeamish as I, and I suggest you hire one of them."
His brown eyes are laden with sadness as he looks up at me. "Not one of them is able to face up to Legit Larue. For that matter, he could buy off any one of them for a fin."
At that I say nothing for there is nothing to say.
After a moment or several of silence, Big Louie shrugs. "I guess I tried," he says. He rolls the knife up again in his handkerchief and puts it away.
He heaves his bulk to a standing position, sighs, turns and strolls to the door, letting himself out, closing said door behind him.
I sit for a moment brooding. Then I get up and open the window to let out the smoke from our gaspers, and let in the fresher smell of garlic from below.
I sit back down and immediately notice that Big Louie has forgotten something. Ten somethings, laid out in a row on the far side of my desk. His money. Knowing the elevators in this building, I suspect there is time to catch him if I take the stairs. I gather up the finance, rush into the hallway and the stairway door.
When I reach the lobby, it is empty. The elevator is there, the door open. Somewhere upstairs somebody must be punching the button for it because the door is trying to close. It cannot do so. Big Louie's foot is in the way. I can see the handle of a stiletto -- one that looks like the very one I had looked at in my office -- sticking out of his chest. He has no further immediate need for protection.
I still have his money in my hands.
I shove it in my pocket and take the stairs back up to my floor to call the meat wagon.
Our city's finest do not seem all that broken up by Big Louie's demise, nor am I for that matter, other than that he got himself inconsiderately bumped off in my building, costing me most of an afternoon what with the statement for the police, and assorted red tape. Lt. Mullroy drops in to talk tough with me but his heart is not in it and he omits many of the standard threats and accusations. After a while he figures he has sufficiently covered the routine, though, and we go across the street to where there is a beanery that does not specialize in garlic, and we share a modest repast. He does not pay.
have told the police my story, but only the Reader's Digest condensed version because I do not figure they intend to spend a lot of time on this case anyway, and indeed, Mullroy and I discuss baseball and boxing while we eat, and the case is as ignored as if it never happened. Such is the esteem the city's finest hold for Big Louie Bigelow.
I return to my office because I think best with my feet on my desk and an open bottle on the typewriter stand beside me.
It is certain Mullroy will not pass up a chance to question Legit Larue and such of his minions as do not have an unbreakable alibi, that is to say an afternoon court date or jail sentence. So I decide not to annoy Larue just now. To be honest, I would rather not annoy him at all, and I am certain the police will not pass up a chance to pin the tail on that donkey if the opportunity arises. But what if, for once, Larue is actually innocent?
So I decide it's time to talk with Rosey Rosemont.
As I approach the apartment house of said Rosey, I see two men coming out the front, and I recognize them both. One of them is none other than Legit Larue, himself. He is in the disreputable company of one of his hirelings, Manny Polonsky.
Rosey is a small, slender frail, looking somewhat mousey by daylight, though I know that in the evening she is a knockout. Or was. I have not seen her in months. It's daylight, so I give her mousiness the benefit of the doubt and tell her the sad news about Big Louie, inasmuch as the flatfeet have not yet touched base with her, and Legit, it seems, fails to give her that bit of gossip. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but tears, big tears that roll down her cheeks.
It has not occurred to me that anyone might turn on genuine rainclouds over Big Louie and I make a mental note to possibly revise my estimation of him -- or Rosey.
"I wish I could tell you I had a lead," I remark to her when she is calm. Not too calm; her shoulders still quiver a bit.
"How much lead do you need?" she asks, her voice small and quiet in the darkness of her apartment. "I am in love with Big Louie. But Legit wants me. You need more than that? Then you ain't the shamus I hear you are."
"I admit Legit is the outstanding nominee just now," I say tiredly. "But experience whispers in my ear that even that rat should be handed a reasonable doubt until facts tell me otherwise. And there are many trial judges in this town, even honest ones, who will agree with me."
"No doubt is reasonable where Legit Larue and back-stabbing are concerned," she says. I do not bother reminding her Big Louie was stabbed in the chest. "That particular type of stiletto is the trademark of Harry the Hasher. I know that bastard from my days in K.C. And Harry the Hasher is on Legit's payroll now."
It is true, of course, and inwardly even I am forced to admit as much.
I am a private dick for lo these many years and these many years merely confirm what I am suspecting when I start out: The hours are long, the pay is low, and the gratitude for a job well done does not exist. But I find a certain satisfaction when I put away a scoundrel of Legit Larue's scope and stripe. So why am I so reluctant to consider him the guilty party here?
It makes no sense, I tell myself, to question matters. If Big Louie is dead from the efforts of someone on Legit Larue's payroll, then it is certain Legit Louie is behind things. I decide it is time to mane the lion in his own den.
But Legit keeps an array of dens and it takes a couple of hours to determine which one he is in. It turns out to be that grimy pool hall of his down on 14th Street.
Late in the afternoon the habitues of this particular establishment begin to gather round the timeworn tables, cues in hand, to assault such of the assortment of wooden balls upon those tables as the sharks do not get to first. It is almost five o'clock and by now many of the players are down to their last nickel, as anyone can tell by a glance at their faces. I walk past these souls to the door in back that leads to Larue's office, hoping he is in as my feet are beginning to grouse about all this exercise. To my delight, Larue is there.
To my -- let me be honest -- further delight and somewhat of surprise, he is also dead.
And a very familiar-looking stiletto handle protrudes from his shoulder blades.
Comes a still small voice from somewhere behind me and to one side. "It wasn't me, Benny. I wish it was, but I didn't kill him."
I turn around and there in the shadows of a corner stands Rosey Rosemont.
She looks as if it would be a relief to her to shed tears, but her face is all dried up. Drawn up, too. Her eyes seem set deeper than before, her cheeks more hollow. She seems a smaller woman. Her hands are shaking.
I bend down and check Larue's pulse, just to confirm what I already know. "How long are you here?" I ask her.
"Minutes. I don't know exactly."
"And you come in through the establishment's front?"
That tells me something. She wears a seashell-print dress, which is her trademark. People who see her do not forget her in that dress. Even in the unlikely event no one out front knows her name, the cops would know her by the description of that dress.
"Did you do this, Rosey?"
"It wasn't me. I am telling you, it wasn't me."
I stand up. "And I am hearing you. I must make sure, that is all." I look around and notice a back door. "Do you know where that leads?"
"There's an alleyway behind the building," she says.
"Then you go out the back," I tell her. "But do not go back to your own place. The police will look for you there." I have a key in my pocket which I hand to her. "There is a boarding house on Fremont and 12th."
"The place that belongs to Bobby Aces?"
"He is not called that any more, not since he plays cards with me and puts up the deed to his boarding house. This is the key to a room in back, just off the kitchen. Go there and wait for me."
Her answer is a nod.
fter she is gone, I check out our host again and find that he is no less dead now than he was when I come in. But I notice something else. The knife is not in his chest as deeply as it could be -- not, indeed, as deeply as it should be. Some further checking and, sure enough, I locate a small bullet hole just behind the right ear.
Then the door opens and closes behind me and someone says, "Son of a bitch!"
That is not a greeting I like to answer to, but in truth I hear it often enough that it seems I now have that unconscious habit. I say, "Hello, Harry. Is this yours?" And I indicate the handle of the stiletto.
"Son of a bitch," he repeats, pushing me aside and bending down to look closely at the knife. He reaches toward it, but I say, "Take it easy, Harry. You don't want to spoil any fingerprints, do you?"
He looks at me as if he has never had the pleasure of my visage before and says, "Who the hell are you?"
"The name is Benny Sawyer," I say. "Shamus by trade."
"Did you do this?" he asks me, indicating Larue.
"No, but it is the second body I find today, which leads me to think somebody is doing it and I am just a step or two behind the rat. Your breath smells of cheese, Harry."
"You go to hell," says he. Then looks at me and adds, "Far as that goes, Shamus, I wouldn't mind sending you there, myself."
"Like the other two you sent today?"
"Other two --! You mean Larue here and Big Louie? You're crazy, Sawyer. I didn't kill them and you got no reason to think I did."
"That looks suspiciously like your stiletto," I tell him.
On the table by the window there is a convenient telephone. I go and make a call to the constabulary. When I turn around, Harry is nowhere to be seen. He is just that predictable.
After a brief dally with the law, I return to my office and sit there watching the daylight fade and the electric lights of the city come on outside my window. I am grim and not happy.
If I am reading a story, by this time I expect the detective to know more about what is going on than I do. It is not that hard. But this detective knows nothing of much use.
It is not that Big Louie is a pillar of the community, much loved by widows and small orphans. Widows rue the day they meet Big Louie, and small orphans kick his shins. If anything, it is too easy to find those who will cheerfully off him. Check the phone book.
The one suspect who stands out is the new kid on the block, Harry the Hasher. It is Harry's stiletto that I have seen protruding from Louie's back. And Larue's.
So what do I know about this Harry the Hasher?
He is a long time luminary of the KC social scene of the lower sort. It is probable that Legit Larue knew him well when he himself ran small errands for the Hopkirk gang in that metropolis. When Larue hits the big time and the moment comes around that he needs another strong arm, it is only logical that he makes the call to Harry.
So Harry the Hasher comes to town and, not surprisingly, the bodies begin to stack up. And each is found with Harry's trademark stiletto protruding from his vitals.
The blood of Harry the Hasher is colder than the water out of a rooming house tap. And he is never shy about people knowing his handy work, so long as he can stay out of the hands of the police. But leaving so many stilettos lying around at today's prices, strikes me as not just careless, but reckless. And the Harry the Hasher I know and hate is never reckless.
Who has Harry the Hasher's job before Harry comes to town, I ask myself.
And that is Manny Polonsky.
But to my way of thinking, the most likely motive for this killing is lust and the most lustable amongst the dramatis personae of this little playlet is our girl Rosey Rosemont. So far as I know, Manny has never lusted for her or any other dame. And he is not the shrinking violet type.
Harry the Hasher's arrival means a demotion to Manny, who finds himself in the boonies, running numbers, and not very big numbers. Now, it seems he has his old job back.
Possibly I should consider another motive . . .
Legit Larue is the shameless owner of a dive on 34th Street called The C-Note. As I enter the place, I am treated to the sight of Harry the Hasher his own self, walking through the door that leads to the back. As I am myself on the way to visit the office of this establishment, I amble along after him.
he door leads to a short hallway that leads past a couple of back dining rooms which are not in use right now, with the office at the end. I am halfway along the corridor when I hear a small pop from the office which I take to be a gunshot.
I pull my own gat from its comfy repose beneath my jacket and kick the door to the office open.
Sure enough, the first thing I see is Harry the Hasher. He is face down on the floor and Legit Larue's expensive carpet is soaking up a pool of blood Harry has inconsiderately spilled from an apparent opening in his forehead.
The office is of medium size, with two doors, the other one leading out a back way. Behind the desk stands Manny Polonsky and in his pudgy hand I discern a small caliber gun that is smoking.
He looks up at me and for a moment I think he plans to shoot me, also. But maybe he realizes it will be more difficult to claim self defense in my case, because he gives a shrug and shoves the gun into a holster he wears on his belt.
"I have to do it to prevent being shot by Harry the Hasher," he says.
"Harry never carries a gun," I say. "I can't say as how I see one, either. That is likely because you have not as yet had time to plant one."
I am not to dumb as to put away my gun, but as I bend down to confirm the status of Harry the Hasher, I take my eyes momentarily away from Manny just long enough for him to pick his own back up. When I look at him, I see said weapon pointed at me.
"You will have much more trouble explaining two bodies than one," I tell Manny.
He replies, "This is not the gun I shoot Harry with. Rather it is the gun with which Harry shoots you."
And a shot rings out.
If Manny's gun drops from his hand, it is likely because he no longer had use of it. Or anything else. Standing in the back doorway, Rosey holds a gun in her hand and smoke dribbles upward from its muzzle.
Manny dribbles downward across his desk. I check his pulse and find none.
"I overheard him and Harry," the girl says. "Harry accused him of trying to frame him for the murder of Louie. Manny said it was true and shot Harry."
I take the gun from her hand and lead her to a chair and make her sit. "He wants his old job back, so he makes it look like Harry is guilty. But he's not very careful with the details, and both Harry and I figure it out. And it looks like you did, also," I add.
"Everyone saw through it but the cops."
"I am not counting them out," I tell her.
In fact, coming in I spot a plainclothesman sitting at one of the tables. I figure about now he is making a call.
I don't figure there is a lot of time
help her to her feet, intending to send her home but one look at how her knees are shaking and I realize she will not be able to get there on her own. I hear people in the hallway. I shove her into a closet and say, "Keep quiet." I close the door about a hundredth of a second before Mullroy and two uniforms come in.
Mullroy sweeps the office with his eyes, the only sweeping it has enjoyed for weeks. One of the uniforms moves to the back door to look out. The other reaches for the closet.
"Don't bother searching the place," Mullroy says. "It's pretty obvious what goes down here, isn't it? Manny kills Harry the Hasher and Benny here comes in and has to shoot Manny in self defense. Is that it, Benny?"
"I could not have figured it out any better myself," I reply.
He sends the uniforms out, to watch the patrons of the club.
Once it is just the two of us he checks the bodies and finds nothing to surprise him.
"I don't want to get any prints on the phone here," he announces. "So you wait here for me while I call for a brace of meat wagons."
I assure him I will manage without him.
When he is gone I open the closet door. Rosey is steadier on her feet now, though not by much. It doesn't matter because the main thing is to get her out.
I figure Mullroy is just happy to have so many of the city's more prominent lowlifes out of the way. It will certainly clear a lot of his files, also, especially once he checks out the ballistics. So when he recites his version of what happened I do not contradict him. Mullroy is one smart cop when he needs to be.
I guess it was six weeks later that Rosey left town. About two weeks after that I get a card. She is living now in another town, and hoping she can make new friends.
That should not be hard for a girl such as she is. But I hope she makes a better class of them.