'The Mary Barron Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever, lovers, are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's, where they become involved in dodgy doings at a local radio station, among other things.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2021 to Phineas Redux. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.

—O—

'The Mary Barron Show', curtesy of Ternet Radio Station, Delacote City, NH, transmitted two hours of swing music hosted by the eponymous hostess; scheduled from 11.00pm to 1.00am. each Wednesday; during each show Mary also including certain opinions on social and political items of interest. The Swing music went over smoothly, but the politics angle caused some concern in the public community; many listeners either calling the station or writing letters to the producer and to local newspapers. In essence, it took Mary a mere six months before her program was top of the schedule and head of all that was wrong with public shows; it all ending in general calumny and death threats: the latter bringing to the fore Fiona Cartwright and Alice Drever of the eponymous Drever and Cartwright Private Investigators. At the present moment, 4.00pm Wednesday, June 12, 1935, they all three sat in a large room in Ternet's HQ on Saunders Avenue, Delacote City, NH, nibbling dry biscuits and sipping cups of mediocre coffee.

"I know it isn't up to scratch." Mary apologising for the refreshments. "We lost our Chef last week; drinking the cooking gin, y'know. Haven't found a replacement yet."

"Tasted worse." Fiona allowing she'd been around and about the world. "So, over the last few weeks you've been receiving threats of physical assault?"

"Yes, that's the nub of the thing." Mary agreeing with this assessment. "Started with the usual acerbic criticisms about my show; how I picked the music, what I spoke about generally; then particularly my political outlook."

"Let me get this straight," Alice picking up the thread. "these death threats are focused around which aspect of your show? The music or your personal political opinions?"

Mary had a crisp rejoinder to this.

"My politics, for sure." She smiling, though somewhat wanly. "Started some three weeks ago; I said something about the Senate that didn't go over well, in some areas. Next thing my post-box, here at the station, is full of wormwood an' gall; mostly the former. Then, about two weeks ago, the letters began making precise threats against me, ending with one three days ago that clearly made a threat against my life."

"Inspector Fletcher, at the Fifth Precinct, would be more than interested in those." Alice taking the logical path. "You called the police about this, yet?"

"We did; the people upstairs, anyway. My Producer and whatnot." Mary looking glum. "The cops said what about evidence, letters and that sort of thing."

"So, you showed them the letters?" Alice, off the bat, already realising what was coming. "The whole series of letters you received?"

"Yes, that was the whole hub of their questions." Mary looking evermore embarrassed. "Show the letters? We couldn't! I asked my secretary to file the letters; but there was some mis-understanding—she threw them in the garbage, and they're gone, forever."

"That's helpful," Fiona sighing as the truth came out. "Wouldn't help the police investigation overmuch, sure."

"No evidence of crime, no crime, therefore no investigation, was the crux, more or less." Mary sighing in her turn. "Which is where you come in. The Bosses here deciding it was serious enough to call on Private Dic—er, Investigators."

Alice had meanwhile been scribbling in her notebook but now came to the surface once more.

"Any letters left at all?"

"No, sorry." Mary shuffling a pen as they sat by the room's desk. "The letters, the threatening ones, came from someone who hadn't been responsible for earlier telephone calls, or letters. The death threat letters started suddenly, about three weeks ago out of nowhere."

"When was the last one?" Fiona angling for any piece of evidence.

"Three days ago; but it went the way of all flesh too, I'm afraid."

"Any signed?" Alice covering a minor detail. "Not that he'd use his real one, of course. Was it a male, by the way? Maybe a female?"

Mary frowned at this, taking time to consider the question's scope.

"It was written, and signed, by a male." She looking from Fiona to Alice in turn. "The type of remarks made; the whole aura of each letter, and signed as by Ben the Mower."

Alice was scribbling industriously again, leaving her partner to take up the argument.

"An interesting name, wonder if it has any significance. Does it mean anything personal to you?"

"The signature? No, doesn't have any personal relation to me, no."

"Do you think they'll continue?" Fiona taking-up the next step in the investigation. "Do they come at regular intervals? Do you remember any details? Postmarks, for instance?"

"Oh, I do remember the postmarks on two." Mary coming to life at this. "One came from Portsmouth, the other from Queenstown, Matilda County. Just twelve miles north of here."

"Well, that's something." Fiona shrugging as she rose. "Right, thing is, we can't go much further until you receive another letter. When it comes, hang onto it like it was the Crown Jewels; don't give it to your secretary; don't put it in a drawer overnight; hold onto it till we can take if from you. As to that, when it comes, phone us right away. If you can recognise it from the envelope alone, don't open it, or handle it overmuch. Maybe we can get the Police Scientific Department on it, then. OK?"

"Yes-yes." Mary nodding as they all headed for the door. "I'll be sure to do that, you can be certain. Thank you."

"See you when, then." Alice smiling at their client as she preceded her partner into the corridor. "Let's hope for the best, or the worst, in fact—another letter. G'bye."

—O—

The call came five days later; Helen their trusty secretary making such known by intercom at 9.15am that Monday morning.

"Call from Ternet Radio, a Miss Barron, says she has a letter?"

"Ah!" Fiona, taking the call in the private office where she and Alice concocted their alchemical spells towards the forwarding of Justice across the State. "Tell her t'hang onto it; we'll be there pronto, thanks. Al! Al! Come out'ta there, we got work."

The faint sound of a flushing cistern in an adjacent room spoke to the reason for Alice's non-appearance; but this was soon dispelled by her re-appearance, somewhat flustered.

"What's the hurry? Hardly give me time t'wash my hands. What is it?"

"Miss Barron—another nasty letter."

"Oh, right. Well, in that case, who's driving?"

"Me; you can hang your hands out the window to dry in the breeze."

"Ha-ha!"

At Ternet's HQ on Saunders Avenue they were quickly taken to the actual studio from where Miss Barron transmitted her show; she being at the moment in the throes of putting her next transmission together. On the cluttered desk along with various curious machines and piles of records lay a grey envelope.

"That it?" Alice pinning the donkey to the tail right away.

"Yes, recognised the envelope; two previous had the same type of envelopes."

"Handled it much?" Fiona covering the most important aspect. "The less the better; might be, oh, fingerprints the police could bring out."

"Well, it came up from the mail-room—don't know how many touched it down there." Mary scratching her chin as she thought about these details. "My secretary, of course—I haven't touched it, by the way. That's all."

Alice now brought up a particular point of some seriousness.

"You say it's one of the threatening letters, but it's still unopened."

"I was following your instructions."

"Yes, sure; we're not criticising or anything; but it means we can't call the cops quite yet."

Mary could see the problem, and its solution.

"You want me to open it, so we can read it and make sure?"

Fiona shuffled on her chair.

"Only way; then we can contact the cops—when we really know its contents."

"Yes, well, yes." Mary obviously not happy with the predicated action. "I suppose—how'd I go about it? Use a paper-knife and gloves, or what?"

Alice, as ever, had the opportune solution to hand.

"Lem'me rummage in my handbag some; I got a knife somewhere, and gloves."

After a short scrabble she brought out into the light a dangerous looking flick-knife and a pair of grey leather gloves.

"Right, just let me grab the article—OK."

A few seconds expert work with the knife and Alice slipped a single sheet of rough paper from the envelope.

"Hmm, single sheet, capital letters in red ink thickly marked. No personal style to be found there. Don't seem to be any stains, visible ones anyway. Not much to be seen; possibly the cops can find something, though."

"What's it say?" Fiona referencing the most important point.

"Ah, well, yes." Alice hunching over the letter. "—er, 'YOU WILL DIE', all capitals—the whole thing's in capitals. 'LEDBETTER HAS A DARK SECRET—YOU KNOW. YOU WILL DIE—I'M WATCHING YOU. 1695 ARGONE WAY, HEIGHTS.'. That's the lot."

"That address—yours?" Fiona looking over to Miss Barron, expecting the positive reply she now received.

"Yes, that's my address. Jee-sus! he knows where I dam' live. I'm scared to go home, now."

"The cops'll see to that, don't worry," Fiona spreading oil on troubled waters. "as can Al and I. Ledbetter the local guy running for the Senate soon? This letter unsigned, wonder if that's significant? I think we can persuade the cops to send a car round at intervals day and night; meanwhile Al and I'll get a team together to watch from outside and inside your home, if that's alright by you. I don't like the tone of this latest letter; seems he's working-up to immediate action, rather than not."

"We'll have someone at your elbow all the time for the coming few days—see if anything breaks then." Alice nodding agreement with her partner's take on the matter. "It'll help to put your mind at rest, having someone with you at home; armed, of course. See how things pan out."

"Yes, er, well, thank you." Miss Barron clearly hardly comforted by this plan of campaign, but seeing no other recourse.

—O—

The office, back at their own HQ, was host to an almost supernal quiet as the two investigators pondered on their next move.

"What's our next move, lover?"

Fiona, long experienced in this aspect of her partner's thought processes, sighed deeply as she once more faced the necessary but difficult task of explaining the fantastic and convoluted turnings of the criminal mind in lay-woman's terms.

"For a start we got'ta get ahead of this character's thought processes—out-think the moron."

"Sounds easy—takes it such ain't, of course?"

"Never a truer word, darlin', never a truer word."

The silence lately effectively driven from the room now showed significant signs of making a come-back, but Alice intervened in time.

"What's the set-up, then? Is this a run of the mill blackmailer at work; a poison-pen writer, only out to cause annoyance and distress; or a real threat, with a deadly outcome?"

Fiona shrugged.

"Keep our eyes on each, sure; but focus on the latter, all the same. Can't take any chances."

"Yes, there's that." Alice musing on the heart of the problem. "Of course the cops, and we too come to that, can't keep an eye on Miss Barron at home and work for ever. There has to be a point when we just have to call the whole thing off; as much for her bank balance re our expences as anything."

"Mmmph!"

This time the abandoned silence, stiffening its sinews, did make a return in full—the bluebottle, wasp, and two flies all buzzing on their separate window panes seemingly creating a noise equal to the finale of Mahler's Second symphony.

"So, what've we got?—God!, those dam flies! Every time we open the windows they swarm in like this room's a haven for refugee insects."

Listening to her partner's whining Fiona shook her head, trying to bring the conversation back on topic.

"For the moment we got'ta take it as said it's a real threat against Miss Barron; we got'ta provide round the clock surveillance, as well as keep an eye on the letters that might arrive. Though, of course, we're also relying on the police to bring their Scientific expertise to bear. Can't get much forrader without that input."

"What if they can't find anything scientific?" Alice pouring cold water on their best chance.

"Helpful, ain't yer, young 'un?"

"Only sayin', baby."

"So," Fiona struggling onward. "what we need to keep an eye on is whether there really is any physical shape to these threats. Is it all hot air, or is there a kernel of reality to it?"

"Well, if one day half a ton of bricks accidentally falls-off a scaffolding on her head, we'll fairly certainly be able to answer that."

Fiona stared at her better half, lost for words.

—O—

Mary's home, she residing at Argone Way, The Heights, Delacote City, was roomy and airy with a distant ocean view; instead of an apartment in a residential building she was in command of her own family home, a turn of the century Art Nouveau structure but without much of the extravagancies of same.

"Nice big rooms." Alice feeling a little jealous as they were escorted into the living-room by a young female servant. "Looks very posh."

"My parents owned a small haulage company, long since amalgamated into a larger." Mary smiling broadly. "But I still have, er, adequate means to, uum, keep my head above the waves."

"Ah!" Fiona nodding, she astutely reading the tone of the moment. "Brings up another aspect of our problem. Namely, is someone trying to extort money from you with these death threats? Anyone tried that grift in the past?"

Mary, in the throes of fiddling with a coffee pot and cups, paused to consider this query.

"No, never; no-one's ever done that."

"Sure?" Alice always the suspicious member of their investigative duo.

"Well, er," Mary furrowing her brow in earnest. "There was an incident some years ago, when a guy tried to muscle-in to a company I had a high stake in. he finally came round to making some rather, er, dubious claims about my method of working and what he thought he could do instead; backed this up by making shady claims of a certain amount of money changing hands being beneficial to my ongoing success in the company."

Fiona and Alice gazed expressively at each other.

"That sounds like something Al an' I'd like to follow-up. Names?" Fiona's sharp eye pinning their hostess.

"And dates." Alice on top of her game too.

Mary passed her guests' their coffee-cups, indicating the milk or cream jugs silently with a finger while she pondered.

"Should I? It was over three years ago, after all. I can't imagine he has anything to do with today's, er, actions?"

"Never can tell." Alice pursuing her original thought. "And three years isn't long enough to cross it off the list. He might have been simmering in the dark for a while and just now come to the boiling point. Who was he, and where can Fay and I find him?"

Brought to the crux of the debate Mary folded under the unfamiliar pressure.

"Oh, if it's really necessary. He's Kenneth Nayland, lives in Baddeley Road, Northside, Delacote. He's a company exec—Farnley Engineering. He'll be in the phone-book."

"Right, we'll put him on our list of people we need to visit soon." Fiona showing her brutal side, just for the record. "Meanwhile we'll have a lady, one of our professional investigative team, spend the night with you over the next few days. Larna Compton's her name; she'll show up sometime this evening, meanwhile Al an' I need t'get on with our own investigations. Don't open the door to anyone you don't know. Better tell your maid that too."

"Yes, certainly."

"OK, Miss Barron." Alice putting on her soft side. "Everything'll turn out fine in the end, don't worry."

—O—

Northside, in the City, served several purposes; first to contain the homes of a select minority of individuals and families who, in trying times, still held onto the moolah in vast quantities generally nowadays disbarred from the majority; secondly to provide much needed work for the servants' slice of the Workers' industry, the majority of these houses needing armies of servants in order to keep up with the flow. Like the Forth Bridge in Scotland, once a week's dusting was finished it was time the following week to give the repeat performance ad infinitum.

Kenneth Nayland actually lived on the third floor in a superior apartment building; Fiona and Alice on entering which, at their unsuspecting Host's cheerful invitation, noting the highly stylised interior design, mostly up-to-date Moderne, something Fiona loathed with a will.

"Oh, God!"

"What was that, Miss Cartwright?" Kenneth turning to regard the first of the two women he had so incautiously invited into his private home. "Didn't quite catch it."

"Like the deco." Alice, more in tune with this style, acting as pacifying agent. "Anyway, Mister Nayland, we have a few questions about some meetings and conversations you had with a Miss Mary Barron some few years ago. Remember her, do you?"

Kenneth immediately took the back foot, eyeing his guests with less liking than he had shown on first opening his apartment door.

"Begin t'feel it may have been a mistake inviting you both in." He taking the impolite road with ease. "My personal business with whoever I know can hardly be anything I need discuss with others."

"Unless it consists of letters of a defamatory and threatening nature!" Fiona slamming the door, metaphorically speaking, on this feeble excuse.

Waving his guests to a long sofa Kenneth took the time to cogitate awhile.

"Letters? What letters? Don't believe any particular missives that I've written over the past few years stand-out t'me as being in any way out of the norm. Can you elaborate?"

Alice, pencil poised over notepad, did so with efficiency and conciseness allowing Kenneth to be swiftly brought up to speed with current events.

"Ah, I see." He wrinkling his otherwise remarkably smooth brow over the situation for a few seconds. "Who put me forward as First Villain, if I may enquire?"

"Oh, just came up in the natural course of discussion." Fiona airily tossing this question aside as of no moment. "So, got any specimens of your hand-writing we could, er, compare?"

"With what? Such being of some significance, you'll allow."

"Don't bother, if you don't want to." Alice making suspiciously light of the matter, keeping the fact there were no surviving defamatory letters a close secret. "Just, if we could rule you out right off the mark, well, no problem is all."

Kenneth leaned forward over the low table dividing them, opening a long silver casket.

"Cigarette? No? Oh, well, I'll just indulge myself, if you don't mind; Turkish, you know, mixed to my own specifications; if you can't have your tobacco to your personal taste what's the world coming to, I say?"

By this time Alice had taken just about enough of his attitude as she could comfortably stand, and now showed it.

"Mister Nayland, your tobacco doesn't interest us, as also most of your personal attributes, physical or intellectual—"

"Here, I say, that's dam' impolite!"

"Oh, we can get much more impoliter, given the chance, Mister Nayland." Fiona snarling like a hyena on a mission. "Your erstwhile business associate, Miss Mary Barron, is at the receiving end of some nasty missives; so far, the person most suspected of writing same is you. Any excuses, before the Fifth Precinct ships you off to the Big House?"

Kenneth curled his left eyebrow while at the same time frowning deeply; a dual action noted and admired by the ladies who had never seen this carried out successfully before. Then he sighed from somewhere low down in his chest, shaking his beautifully coiffured head the while.

"Ladies, I hate to disappoint two such nice persons as yourselves but I have an appointment here with someone in just under the hour. He being someone with whom I have a great interest and whom I do not want to disappoint by his finding me embroiled with two persons of dubious character and the opposite sex where he was expecting a cosy private tete-a-tete, if you follow my line of thought. Shall we put this whole misunderstanding down to experience and call off the Dogs of War? Miss Barron I do know, but not in any, um, personal or sexual manner. Sorry to be so brutally outspoken, but you try me dearly."

Fiona threw a glance at her partner beside her; Alice returning same with much the same expression.

"Mister Nayland," Alice taking up the cudgel of converse. "are you saying you would have no basic interest in making death threats against Miss Barron because you, ahem, are focused in entirely the other direction?"

"What a subtle way to put it." Kenneth obviously impressed. "You hit the mark precisely, young lady. As to Miss Barron's and my business association, that fell through some few years since; a sad occasion, but not one to shelter dark thoughts of revenge, like a Jacobean play, I assure you. As you can see by glancing around I am sufficiently possessed of the necessary to make the need of acquiring more wholly un-necessary. Shall we call it quits? Or should I let loose the Kraken—by which I mean Dubbs, Mortimer, Edwardes, and Veirheim, the best lawyers in NH?"

Fiona once again looked at her lover, and was not disappointed in the expression Alice wore—one much like her own.

"OK, we'll call it a day for now. But don't think we won't come back if things change."

"I would be surprised if, in such circumstances, you didn't!" Kenneth a gentleman to the last. "Let me show you to the door, ladies; a most interesting conversation, I'm sure."

—O—

They were driving back along Cordwainer Road when Fiona came to life.

"Think it's him, ducks?"

Alice, preoccupied with driving her Plymouth two-seater roadster, mumbled something incoherent; that Fiona, at least, didn't catch.

"What was that?"

"I said,—no."

"Oh."

It was, therefore, not till the always risky turning onto Galbraith Avenue had been successfully handled that Fiona felt it safe to continue her train of thought.

"If it ain't him, leaves the field wide open, still."

"Figured."

Fiona, however, had already started along quite a different route.

"Inspector Fletcher promised the Scientific Report tomorrow; that might provide something substantial t'work on. Those letters, accordin' to Miss Barron, were all written in red ink. Think that'd help any? Search the shops for whoever sells such in the city?"

"Darling," Alice taking her eyes off the road for a fraction of a second to reply. "red ink's as common as black or blue; you can even get green at several shops now, you know. Forget the ink, it isn't going to help. Oops!"

This last ejaculation had been necessitated by a car in front applying its brakes suddenly, leaving Alice about half a second to avoid a collision. Braking herself, though to little obvious effect, she dragged the wide steering-wheel across to the left sending the Plymouth hurtling into the oncoming lane with the inevitable result.

"Oh, God! Hang-on!"

Scree-uunch!

A head-on collision with a Dodge sedan sent the locked vehicles sliding into the kerb at the side of the road, thankfully without involving anything else in the catastrophe. There were a few grinding noises as the cars came to a halt, a pall of smoke and dust, then the smell of oil, gas, and dirt combined; a moment later someone grabbed Fiona's passenger door and, accompanied by horrible noises from the buckled metal, ripped it further open.

"You OK, lady? Come on, get ya out'ta there a'fore anything more awful happens. Hey, ma'am, you come out this side too, OK?"

A minute later Fiona and Alice stood on the sidewalk contemplating Alice's now very late indeed Plymouth roadster. The young man who had rescued them from the wreck standing by their side; he a mid-twenties University type in a grey wool suit.

"You both uninjured? The fellow in the other car's OK, too. Y'sure? OK, shall I leave ya both to it, then?"

"Yeah, thanks, mister. All's well, thanks." Fiona nodding at the young man as he turned to disappear in the still growing crowd gawking at the devastation—then a patrol officer strolled-up.

"What's goin' on here, then? Ah, I see's. Come on, move along youse all; nuthin' ter see here, ain't yer all ever seen a wreck a'fore? Move along—that's right keep it movin', now; don't wan'na waste yer efforts now ye've started. OK, so, youse responsible fer this fine example o'drivin', then, ladies? —'cause if so I got some leadin' questions ye'll kindly answer down at the Station. Ya ain't injured are ya, by the way? No?,-good, saves a bundle on paperwork. Follow me, ladies, I'll phone a recovery service when we're at the Station, got'ta keep the dam' streets open, y'know."

"What about that guy over there?" Alice rightfully not taking all the blame. "Him with the boater with the red band; he's the driver of the Dodge, he slammed into me, y'know."

"Save it for the Station. Hey, buster! Yeah, you! Get yersel' over here, we're all goin' ter the station. What's that, laddie? Oh, yeah? Ya got thirty seconds before I brings out the cuffs, boyo; what's it ter be? Nice an' friendly, or the Battle o'Vimy Ridge all over agin'? Good, this way."

—O—

Early evening was fast setting-in when the disheveled investigators arrived back at base safely ensconced in their office in the Packer Building, though Helen their secretary had to leave just after ascertaining her employers were both still in the land of the living and the uninjured. Alice collapsed on a chair by the long desk in their private office while Fiona went to the small annex to brew a much needed pot of strong coffee.

Five minutes later they both sat on adjacent chairs soaking-up the life-giving fluid like parched desert rats.

"Aah! Needed that." Alice acknowledging the facts of life.

"Right behind ya, babe. You got any bruises, or such?"

"A few aches here and there." Alice nodding slowly as she wriggled arms and legs to see what was working and what was not. "Yeah, everything's mobile but, ouch, aching a bit. Might be paralyzed with pain tomorrow morning."

"Gah! Hopes not, I'm in the same boat, ya know, dear. If we're both out of commission we'll have t'get Helen t'come over an' act as nurse fer the day."

Alice, having been given this gentle hint, was aghast at her lack of sympathy for those others afflicted by her own accident.

"Lover-babe! I'm sorry, are you OK? Don't see you limping, mind. And your arms are working, too. You got any aches?"

Fiona knew exactly how to react to this compassionate enquiry, late as it undoubtedly was.

"Several, dear, as it happens; here; lem'me see, yeah, there too; and, if I'm not mistaken, ah, lem'me make sure, yeah, everywhere else, too. That's all!"

Alice peered suspiciously over the edge of her coffee cup, assessing the truthfulness of her lover's words, then realised what she was up to.

"You idiot, you!" She shaking her head in annoyance. "Here I am, worrying over whether you're dead or the other thing, and all you can do is make jokes? God!"

"Har! Got'cha!" Fiona wholly unrepentant. "Anyway's, let's finish this coffee then head for The Heights; our condo beckons an' I for one jus' wan'na fall in'ta bed an' the Land of Nod and never come back out again. How's about you, lover?"

Alice, replacing her cup on its saucer, found she was fully in accord with her partner.

"Fay, lead the way. Thank Goodness your DeSoto's still workin'. Suppose this means I'll have t'shell out for a new car."

Fiona held out an arm for her slightly battered better half.

"Time you got a new car, anyway. That Plymouth, given another six month on the road, would'a had to be scheduled as a National Monument."

"Fool! Ouch, my back aches; have we got a warm poultice at home, dear?"

"See what I can rustle up when we get's there, ducks. Come on. Slowly-slowly."

—O—

The next day the intrepid investigators, both feeling the strain not to say pain, decided that working from home was an entirely professional decision to take—so they took it.

"Another biscuit, darlin? How's the wrist?"

Alice, lying on the sofa still in her loose and very fetching pink silk p-j's, accorded this question all the thought it's prominence dictated.

"Yes, why not; with the yellow icing? Oh, not so bad—but not great neither."

"OK, comin' up. Oh, sorry; but meb'be that half-bottle o'Dr Graham's Balsamic Ointment ya slathered all over it this mornin'll stop it in it's tracks!"

"Ha-ha! How's your ankle, babe?"

"Could be worse, could be better, could stay the same for the rest o'the day. Could—"

"I get you, enough already. Where's that biccy?"

Ten minutes later and now completely refreshed, as far as coffee and the usual suspects could provide, the women sat on the sofa contemplating the rest of the empty day.

"Is that tumbleweed I hear rustling along the street outside?"

Fiona snorted contemptuously.

"Windows're closed, dear."

"Still, I heard something." Alice not to be diverted from her pet delusion so easily or early in the otherwise unengaged day. "Fay?"

"Yeah, honey?"

"What the hell're we going to do with the rest of the day? I feel the Doldrums coming on, and it's only, what, nine-forty-five in the a.m, yet."

Fiona sighed, contemplated Infinity for herself, and came to an executive decision.

"Al, I've made up my mind."

Alice, now herself in the dark, looked at her counterpart with some concern.

"Fay, you got a fever, or what? Something else, more than what's already hurting, started hurting?"

But Fiona wasn't to be diverted from her need to change the world.

"Get your glad rags on, baby—not that ya don't look divine as you are, o'course. We're goin' car-huntin'."

Alice frowned before the penny suddenly dropped—with something of a clang, it must be admitted.

"Car? Oh,—car! Get me a new Plymouth, you mean,—I'm up for that, sure."

Fiona, already headed for their bedroom and the wardrobe therein, stopped in her tracks.

"Plymouth! Not on my watch, lady. You're gettin' a Chrysler t'day, ducks. I'm thinkin' four-door sedan with that new-fangled suspension and, er, four-wheel drive."

"Four wheel drive? What's that? Every dam' car has four wheels already—wouldn't hardly be a car without, or haven't you noticed?"

"It's—it's—" Faced with a technical explanation obviously aimed far over the head of its recipient, much as she loved her, Fiona buckled under the strain. "I meant front-wheel drive, o'course! Come on, babe, your new cream-tone cotton dress, I'm thinkin'—the one with the ankle-length flowin' hem?"

"Works for me, lover." Alice though, as always, ready with almost any level of inappropriate repartee when needed. "You wearing blue jeans an' that big green-check shirt along with those red leather boots. You know how sexy I think you look like that."

"Lover, your taste in clothes leaves everything t'desire."

Alice was somewhat confused as she joined her partner in the bedroom, wardrobe already wide open displaying all its exotic contents in the clothes line.

"Was that a compliment, dear?"

"No."

"Oh!"

—O—

The car-dealership, on Richardson Avenue in the western outskirts of the city, was high-class of its kind; a wide forecourt packed with vehicles of all marques from the tiniest two-seaters imported from England and the continent to the largest land-yachts from Detroit filling it to capacity. Fiona, keeping a tight grip on her lover's arm, headed straight for the line of Chrysler sedans—but her companion wasn't impressed from the get-go.

"Look like tanks, built like tanks, bet they no doubt perform like same—slow, noisy, and dam'med uncomfortable t'sit in."

Fiona, sighing but facing the challenge like a heroine, pointed at the vehicle before which they now stood, reading the sticker on the windscreen.

"Chrysler Airstream with Straight-Eight engine, can't go wrong there, babe."

"Look at the size of the thing!" Alice disgusted at the start. "I can't handle a giant like that. The steering-wheel's wider than my outstretched arms! And my feet'd never reach the pedals, they're set so far back—look!"

"Hallo, ladies, can I help?"

The salesman, appearing as his kind always did apparently from another parallel realm as yet undiscovered by scientists, was at their elbows before they realised they were no longer alone in the yard.

"Jee-sus! Where'd you com—er, I mean,—Hi!" Fiona shaken to her foundations.

"Name's Pat Garrett—no, no relation, ha-ha! So, what can I do for you both? Lookin' at the Chrysler's? Fine body of vehicles,-this Airstream's new this year, y'know."

"My DeSoto's an Airstream, too." Fiona putting her wrench in where it would do the most good.

"Yeah—DeSoto's, Plymouth's, Chrysler's, all the same brand more or less—same overall holding company y'see." The salesman on top of the details of his profession. "So, A Chrysler Airstream's the height of modernity t'day; straight-eight engine, front-wheel drive, fine suspension, brakes guaranteed t'stop on a farthing, speed hittin' sixty-five easy, gas consumption top of its class. Y'can't go wrong with a Chrysler, ladies'."

"Price?" Fiona coming to the heart of the matter with cold efficiency.

Seeing he was faced with the original Valkyrie, the salesman took a step back, considered his options, and finally voted for the truth.

"Well, bein' a Chrysler, top of the range, and just newly put out on the market, well—"

"It's too expensive, Fay." Alice beating her partner to the line before anything more could be said. "Say, mister, what's that sleek, low, open-top two-door white racer with the long bonnet, over there? Looks like a go-er t'me."

All three turned to gaze in the direction Alice was already taking such an interest in.

"Ah, that's an Audi Front UW 225 convertible, ma'am. Import from Germany—part of the Auto-Union company."

"Auto-Union?" Alice instantly alert. "The German racing-car company? They regularly win at Brooklands in England?"

"That's them, sure enough, lady." The salesman impressed with his client's knowledge and treating her, as a result, with increased respect. "Chrysler has some influence and interests over there, over the pond. So we can import some of the fancier marques at discounts that make them pretty good bargains here. You really interested in the Audi, ma'am?"

It was quite obvious to one and all three this was a leading question, as Alice was already ten paces in the lead on the chase to be first at the foreign car's side—Alice won.

She took a single glance at the sleek lines, stroked the surface of the bonnet's long run, and turned to the salesman with a grin.

"She's mine, buster,—what's the price?"

Fiona raised her eyes to heaven at this example of the wrong way to bargain for a new car; the salesman, taken aback but also impressed by the chutzpah of his customer, reacted like a human being for once instead of the brutalist car salesman he generally prided himself on being.

"Well, we originally priced it at thirteen hundred dollars, ma'am." He blushing slightly at this guilty admittance. "But, for you? Oh, shall we say, er, nine hundred?"

Fiona wasn't having this; if she had to bow to her loved partner's excesses at least she, Fiona, would go down fighting.

"Ha! Don't make me giggle! Seven hundred, and be glad ya get's that, buster."

The salesman pondered all the relevant aspects of the situation; Life in general, the possibility of selling the foreign roadster to anyone else at all, the state of the car market in this year of grace nineteen hundred and thirty-five, and folded like a wet blanket.

"Seven hundred does it, ladies—come in'ta the office an' we can get your offer down on paper—if there's any paper'll take the strain without flarin' up in fire an' ashes at the shame of it!"

"Seems mighty like ya got yourself a new car, babe."

"Audi, foreign racer, two-seater convertible, front-wheel drive, sixty-five tops, an' meb'be more?" Alice gave the vehicle one long last parting gaze of pure desire before they turned to the office. "That's my baby, babe!"

Fiona sighed inwardly, recognising her partner had acquired a new compulsion to fill her lonely recuperative days and feeling slightly jealous as a result.

"God!"

—O—

Two days later the investigators were in possession of Alice's new two-seater and back on the job in hand; the confines of the stuffy office in the Packer Building, however, proving too much for Alice to take for more than an hour that morning.

"Come on, Fay, let's hit Ternet HQ an' stir the ashes some."

"What?"

"We got to get to the bottom of this blackmail case with Miss Barron, you know. Can't let it drag on past the Season, and all. Shall we take my Audi? Of course we'll take my Audi."

"Al! Al! Wait fer me, fer God's sake, at least! Al!"

Ten minutes later, ten minutes filled with anxiety sometimes reaching outright fear on Fiona's part as her driver proved that road regulations were not matters of law but mere suggestions for those weak enough to allow of their wholly unnecessary influence, they reached their destination on Saunders Avenue at what must have been an unbreakable record speed through shocked urban traffic.

In her studio-office Miss Barron seemed almost as shocked as Fiona to see her visitors.

"Thought the whole thing had been swept under the carpet." She sounding less than thrilled at the way her case was being mis-managed. "So, what's new? Heard about your, er, traffic accident; dam' modern drivers, some of 'em shouldn't be allowed to run a child's toy-cart never mind a car."

Fiona gazed intently at the pile of records on Miss Barron's desk; thereby avoiding the dangerous option of catching Alice's fiery eye at this pointed calumny.

"Something wrong, Miss Drever?" Miss Barron jumping-in where Angels would have had better sense. "You look a little peaked; that car wreck a few days ago given you the heebie-jeebies'? It would'a me."

"Quite the contrary, Miss Barron—"

"Call me Mary, please."

"Ah, right." Alice coming to the surface, thankfully, after swiftly recovering from her attack of spitefulness. "No, everything's hunky-dory. Any news on the death letter front?"

"Nah, seems to have faded out, meb'be. If he, the letter-writer, was workin' t'a schedule as he seems t'have been in the past he's more'n a week late as it is."

"Hmm, interesting." Alice sounding as if she personally had very little of such going for her at the moment. "Give it another week, I suppose; in the meantime we can call-off your home-guard I think. You easy with that?"

"By all means." Mary nodding perhaps a trifle too quickly and definitely. "Guests are all very well, but it's amazing how fast you get dam' bored with a house bein' ful'la people you'd rather weren't there. Not that they haven't been helpful all round, don't take me wrong; but there has to be an end to all things, don't you find—or am I being too Biblical here? Anyway, do you think the whole thing's gon'na fizzle out, like a wet firework?"

Fiona and Alice exchanged glances imbued with all the assured feelings of those who hadn't a clue as to any likely outcome.

"Another week." Fiona echoing her lover's response, for lack of anything better. "Then we can put it on hold, at least."

"The Radio Station stopping paying your weekly fees, you mean?" Mary, hard as nails, as any true radio show host should be.

"—er, well, er—" Alice lost for a reply for once.

"We'll be on our way, Miss Barron." Fiona taking the chance to escape when offered. "Shouldn't wonder but the whole thing was just some nut's way of gettin' his—er, I mean, passing the time of day with somethin' that amused him. Probably got his eye on something else by now. Ya probably won't hear any more from him, I expect. Bye!"

"Bye!"

—O—

The Audi roadster, under Alice's frenetic driving, slid to a halt outside their condo in The Heights with the smooth but subtle grace of a salmon jumping a waterfall; Alice in full control, though it didn't seem so to her passenger.

"Jee-sus! Al, ya got a death wish or what? We near broke the hundred barrier on the way here."

But Alice was otherwise occupied, both physically as she stroked her car's steering-wheel and intellectually as she thought of future road expeditions to come.

"I love this car, Fay, really love it to bits. Driving's going to be real great from now on, I just feel it in my bones."

Fiona however, realising her bones might very well be taking the strain in a wholly different manner if she rode much longer beside her enamored driver, had a totally divergent outlook.

"God!"

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—