'The Peridot Club Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives and lovers in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. The ladies become involved in Delacote City's exotic burlesque nightlife.

Disclaimer:— This story is 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—

Fiona Cartwright and Alice Drever—of Drever and Cartwright Private Investigators, Delacote City, NH—were sitting in their private office on the 5th floor of the Packer Building, Delacote City, NH, this bright morning of August 1935 having a discussion about their latest case, with which they were experiencing some concerns.

"It ain't like the MonteLuta Sun Club at all; we both goin' up to Lake Winnipesaukee once a month or so, weather providing, without any follow-ups t'worry us." Alice putting her point forward with some asperity. "That's all natural an' straightforward; y'go there t'take your clothes off an' enjoy the fresh air as Nature intended—all sweet an' fine. Cavorting about on stage in front of a audience of pervs is something else entirely."

Wishing she hadn't brought the subject up at all this morning, or indeed taken the case at all, Fiona sighed gently wondering how to bring her beloved partner round to accepting the situation.

"T'ain't as if we're gon'na be corraled in'ta going to the Club itself." She trying her best. "I mean, the victim, Harriet Norley, was killed in her own apartment in The Heights, y'know!"

"Alminster Drive, block of apartments, yeah. Where you going with this?"

"All I'm saying is, we visit the scene of the crime, as per regulations, n'go from there. No need to sully our designer clothes by entering the ruby-red portal of the Club at all. If we need any information from there we just ask Mr Kerham the manager over the phone, is all."

"Suppose." Alice hardly contented, but looking as if she was about to surrender her moral doubts in the matter.

"And we're getting' paid—full level as per! That makes a statement in itself, don't it?"

"Oh-OK!" Alice clearly not happy but taking it on the chin like the heroine she was. "Let's get to it, then."

—O—

The apartment block in Alminster Drive, The Heights, was wholly ordinary of its kind, having no visible relation to any of the more well-known styles of the day or the previous century. The apartment under consideration lay on the third floor; the ladies having permission from Inspector Fletcher of the 5th Precinct to enter. Although the murder was only some three days old there was no officer standing guard, so Fiona used the key supplied from Mr Kerham to let them in.

"So, what've we got?" Alice starting with her studied critical face. "Where was the late lady found?"

"In her bedroom, on the bed, strangled." Fiona taking these facts from the thin file she had brought along.

"Classic!"

"Yeah, ain't it!" Fiona sighing heavily. "OK, let's find the place an' see what there is t'see; follow me, think this's it over here."

The room she entered did indeed turn out to be both bedroom and scene of the crime; Alice looking round with the eye of long experience.

"Bedclothes been thrown around an' dumped back on the bed. Nothing to be found there, now. Did the cops take all her personal items, letters, certificates, clothes, general bits and pieces?"

"Looks like it." Fiona going through the draws on the bedside table as she spoke. "Nothing of interest here, anyway. So, where are we?"

Alice had been taking a roam around on her own account, though not to any greater end than her partner, apparently.

"I'll take the walk-in wardrobe here." Alice coming to a decision. "You go through the living-room an' kitchen. We'll meet back in the living-room in twenty, see if there's anything to show, OK?"

"Mmmph!"

Twenty minutes later, almost to the minute, the investigators stood in the living-room, gazing vacantly round as if wishing for Heavenly intervention.

"Nothing." Alice first to allow her failure.

"Me too." Fiona accepting the inevitable. "Looks like the cops did a good clean-up job. Doesn't seem there's anything left at all useful to our investigations."

"So where's this leave us?" Alice echoing her partner's earlier question, though hardly sounding enthused with the case as far as they had gone with it so far.

"Well—!" Fiona hardly daring to put her next suggestion into words.

"I know what you're gon'na say!" Alice on top of her partner's thought processes. "The Peridot Club! Must we? Do we have to?"

Fiona shrugged as they headed for the apartment door again.

"Nothing else for it. No clues here; if we wan'na make any progress we'll need to take a quick gander at her working environment, at least.

"Oh, dam!"

—O—

The Peridot Club, on Fiona and Alice's arrival there proved to be, or at least show the façade of, an ordinary nightclub; a wide doorway overtopped by a large electric sign, boards with advertisements on either side giving the passing Public a faint idea of what was to be found on offer inside.

"Looks a dump!" Alice making no concession to politeness.

"Give it a chance." Fiona trying to hit the right tone, though aware she was as yet some way from success. "Drinks, dancing, and a floor show, is all."

"Calls itself a nightclub; but really, it's just a strip joint."

Aware she had lost this particular chapter of the story Fiona shrugged again, turning to the open door of the club.

""Let's see what's inside. I wan'na find the manager's office, hopefully with said character in residence. Hallo, ma'am, the manager around anywhere? Drever and Cartwright, Private Investigators; he knows we're on the case."

Three minutes later they stood in the lion's den, though both somewhat underwhelmed by their surroundings. A twenty-foot square office basically furnished with one filing cabinet, a small cheap desk, two straight wooden chairs, and a middle-aged dark-haired man behind the desk in a white shirt showing signs of sweat, his dark jacket flung over the back of the leather chair he inhabited.

"Mr Kerham?"

"That's me." Kerham admitting his identity without difficulty. "You the two Dic—er, investigators on the job? First time I've seen you in person. The cops seem a little bored with the whole affair from what I can understand—don't know why. Do you? Oh, si'down, please."

The ladies took swift advantage of this invitation, easing the weight on the hard-seated chairs as being bettter than nothing.

"Mr Kerham, when did you first hear of Miss Norley's situation?" Fiona starting with a specific query dealing with the time of the lady's death. "Cops say she was strangled four days ago. Where were you at the time you heard, and who told you?"

Kerham shuffled a thin file on his desk, screwed his lips into a curious expression, then faced his questioner.

"I wasn't anywhere—I mean, I was the person who found her. I had to go to her apartment to ask if she would do an extra turn that evening, she not answering her phone, it being her evening off, y'see. Went there, found the apartment door slightly ajar, went in, called, then found her in the bedroom; that's about it."

"How'd the cops take your story—er, description of events?" Alice taking a hard line.

"As you'd expect." Kerham coming to life at the memory. "More or less the Third Degree, for around four hours through the night. Finally, when my alibi, or story, proved unassailable I found myself thrown out in'ta the street with contumely and curses, more or less. Think the cops still fancy me as the major suspect for perp of the day! So, if you can make headway in the case it'd help me greatly to begin with if nothing else."

"See what we can come up with, certainly." Fiona now harking back to an earlier point. "Do you know anything about what the cops took from the apartment? Far as Al an' I could discover she had no personal private items or official identification at all—that can't be right, surely?"

Kerham mused over this for a few seconds.

"Think I recall one of the sergeants saying they didn't find anything significant either. Must'a been a quirk of Harriet's; or maybe someone, the culprit perhaps, took whatever there was to take."

"Begs the question—what kind'a crime was it?" Alice covering the technicalities of the case. "I mean, murder, sure—but why? Was it romance? Her lover or partner having a seizure an' going crazy? A burglar going that one step too far? A gangster getting his own back for some imagined or real problem she'd caused him? Talking of which, Mr Kerham, how's your club doing these days? In with anybody on, er, the wrong side of beautiful, legally speaking or what?"

Kerham looked at Alice with the expression of a rabbit that had just cause against the terrier that was harassing it.

"Ma'am, Harriet was the top turn of the evening show; she performed four times a week, one turn a night. She was the diamond that brought in all the high-rollers; it's been my life's work to make sure everything Harriet wanted or needed she got without hesitation. I kill her, I kill my golden goose, is all. And no, I ain't got any ties to the underworld, believe it or not. Sure, some so-called gangsters come in now and again, but not to the extent of making spectacles of themselves."

Rather disappointed, Alice frowned over her next move; Fiona meanwhile taking-up another aspect of the case.

"Who was she, Harriet Norley? I mean, where'd she come from? Did you discover her, or was it someone else; or did she pull herself up by her own bootstraps? What's her history, is what I'm getting at? Any relatives living nearby that're still involved in any way with her, for instance?"

Kerham shrugged behind his desk, nervously tapping the fingers of his left hand on its top.

"Where'd she come from? She was always tight with personal information, when folks brought the subject up. Think she hailed, original, from Illinois, but don't press me on that. Relatives? Think there's a sister living in Portsmouth, Lorna by name, if I remembers right. That's about it."

Alice, as was her usual habit, had been scribbling in her notebook with a short pencil; now she looked up.

"She was strangled—any idea why? I mean, the method assumes the possibility there was some deep feeling between her and someone else. She going out with a boyfriend lately, do you know?"

Kerham jerked his head up, staring at Alice after this question, then fell to shuffling loose items on his desk in a hopelessly suspicious manner.

"Come on, out with it. What?" Fiona grasping at the one hope so far appearing in the case.

"Well,—boyfriends!" Kerham cleared his throat, looking at the two women in a peculiar manner. "Ah—that is—uum—say, is this really necessary? I mean, delving in'ta her private life like this?"

Fiona glanced quickly at Alice, they both of the same opinion on this.

"Yeah, it is. We find someone with a real grudge against her, lets you off the hook, for starters."

Apparently never having considered this angle Kerham turned an interesting shade of pale then came to a decision.

"Well, her private life—you see, Harriet didn't go with men; she preferred, er, ladies in that corner of her, ah, affections. For God's sake don't make this public whatever you do, OK?"

"She was an Invert—a Lesbian?" Alice, by her nature propelled, coming right out with the hard fact.

For answer Kerham just turned a fetching shade of pink, clearly embarassed by the turn the conversation had taken.

"Oh, well," Fiona affecting a professional disregard. "We'll keep it under our hats, don''t worry. Might be useful in contacting any friends with similar tastes she may have associated with—might lead somewhere. In fact, d'you know any? Names, addresses, hang-outs? Help a lot, if ya really want the cops off your back, like we said."

"Oh, sh-t!" The manager buckling under the strain. "Yeah-yeah! The Pearl o'the Ocean Café; that's a regular place fer ladies o'that persuasion, I understands. Heard Harriet talk of it now an' again. That's all I got on that."

"OK," Fiona satisfied with this snippet. "Think that's all we need for the moment—be seeing ya."

"Yeah, g'bye." Alice giving her own farewell as she followed Fiona to the door. "Probably be back at some point, but we'll see. Bye."

—O—

"Here she is." Alice having waded through the Portsmouth telephone directory finally coming up with the hot gen. "One-Two-Nine Alveida Avenue. What time's it? Eleven-fifteen? We still got plenty of the day left yet; come on, I wan'na give my Audi a test run, anyway."

Alice had just recently shelled out for a new car, though not without bidding her old Plymouth Roadster goodbye with genuine tears in her eyes. Her new purchase came curtesy of a Ford dealership with ties to the European market thereby explaining her choice of new vehicle—an Audi Front 225 2-seater roadster convertible. Fiona, though, still having reservations about it as they both climbed into its roomy interior where it sat next the sidewalk outside the Packer Building.

"Nice-lookin' job, I gives ya that—but it can't run at speed fer coconuts, as you've very well proved yourself, darlin'."

"Six cylinder engine, front wheel drive." Alice taking no back-talk from her partner as she settled herself behind the wheel. "Even if its top speed's officially only in the low sixties she still runs smooth as a raspberry milkshake; an' I bet, given the chance, I can take her over the seventy, meb'be seventy-five mark! Come on, get comfy, Time waits fer no woman."

"Gawd!"

The run along Ocean Boulevaard to Portsmouth passed without incident; Alice, at Fiona's insistence, even forebearing to hit top speed in her new car. Alveida Avenue, when found by curtesy of a local street-map Alice had providentially brought along, turned out to sit on the north-western outskirts of the city, near the airfield and close to the Piscataqua River; the Avenue showing as a line of old three-storey redbrick residences.

"One-Two-Nine, there it is, on your side, baby."

"Got it."

Two minutes later they both stood in the wide hall of the building looking at a list of occupiers on a board on the right-hand wall.

"There she is, third floor, number 312."

"Follow me." Fiona taking charge like the professional she was.

As they walked up the stairs, there being no elevator, Alice brought up a notion that had just occurred to her.

"You phone here earlier, t'let her know we were coming?"

Fiona raised her eyebrows in mystification at this question.

"Why'd I do that? You did the deed first, didn't ya?"

There was a quiet pause as they proceeded up the flight of stairs, that curious taste and smell of disinfectant so prevalent in stairwells hitting their nostrils without mercy.

"Well, did ya?" Fiona by now aware that a hump in the road of their comfortable journey was about to rear its head.

"Ah, t'tell the truth—no, I didn't." Alice admitting liability in a soft remorseful tone. "Thought you'd done so, or asked Helen to, anyway."

Fiona paused on the fourth step of the third flight, turning to regard her partner two steps below.

"Now ya tells me! This could be a bust, y'know? We come all the way here, bang on her door till we get bunions on our knuckles, then find she's gone t'Europe for the Summer Season! All your fault, ducks."

"Ah, come on, baby, anyone could'a fallen in the same trap!" Alice loath to take full responsibility. "Miscommunication is all it is, don't fret."

"I'll fret something awful," Fiona continuing her way up the stairs and using a chilly tone in doing so. "if she ain't home, you bet! Right, here we are; you can knock, seeing you're the prime mover in this unfolding fiasco, lady."

"Harsh!" Alice's only comment on her lover's testy attitude.

But all was not lost: on Alice's somewhat reserved knock the door opened almost imediately to reveal a medium-height blonde in her early thirties and a cream silk kimono, with just that delicately nuanced too much make-up that tells in the long run.

"Yeah, was'sup, gals?"

"We speaking to Lorna Norley?"

"That's me." Lorna casting suspicious glances from one to the other as she leaned in a fetching pose against the door lintel. "You look like Dic—, er, investigators. You come about Harriet? The cops've been houndin' the hell out'ta me these last four days or so. What do you two want now? Oh, suppose ya better come in."

Escorted into what must have been the main living room they found it long airy high-ceilinged with two tall windows giving plenty of sunlight. The decoration and furnishing was a mix of the old and new; some chairs and tables obviously dating from decades earlier, while the three-piece suite was certainly Moderne and entirely up-to-date. Fiona, who had an antipathy to this style, wriggling her nose as she was waved to a seat on its long sofa.

"So, what's the scuttlebutt? The cops found the piece o'crap who killed my sis, then?"

"—er, no, not so's we've been told, anyway, no." Fiona admitting the major unknown in the case so far. "Which's why we've come, to ask some questions about your sister, if we may. We're working on behalf of the Fifth Precinct, Inspector Jacob Fletcher."

"That so? So what can I do? We haven't had the chance to meet often over the last year, Harry an' I, both going about our own careers, y'know; keeps us both busy—well, it did."

"First off," Fiona starting with the basics. "If I may ask, what do you do, as a job I mean? Just for the record, is all."

Lorna seemed to take a longer time than strictly necessary to answer, but finally revealed the facts asked for with a toss of her long blonde hair.

"I sing at the Green Diamond Club, here in Portsmouth. Been the main singer there for the last eighteen months. Want the manager's number? No problem, just doing your duty, I know."

"Thanks, that'd be useful."

"Frank Leonardo, Club's on State Street near the Rockingham, phone number Armstrong 5567."

Alice took these details down in her notebook with the eagerness of a trained stenographer.

"Great! So, what kind of girl was your sister?" Alice now coming forward with another pertinent query. "I mean, her character? Personality? Was she, er, much pursued by suitors at the Peridot Club to your knowledge? If so, can you supply names, at all?"

Lorna sat back, giving the questions time to circulate in her mind before answering.

"Harry—uum, do you know about her? Really know, I mean? Her, ah, inclinations?"

"We've been told she preferred female acquaintances, if that's what you're referring to." Alice giving all the help she could.

"—aah, yeah, that's it." Lorna relaxing a little. "She only had, aah, female friends, that bein' her nature from when she was a young girl. Ma knew, an' me, obviously; but otherwise Harry kept it dark from public view, of course. That got anything t'do with her death, then?"

"We don't know, have to pursue every avenue of interest, is all." Fiona ruminating on her next question. "Do you know the names of any female friend she was seeing say, in the last three months?"

Lorna again took time to consider her answer; clearly a lady who never rushed into anything, or any course of action, without deliberate and careful reflection beforehand.

"I only managed to visit her in Delacote, oh, three or four times over the last six month. But once she said something about her latest amour—amours', that's what she called all her girlfriends—she said Gerry was gettin' a little too possessive; might be breakin' with her soon. That's all I ever heard on the matter."

"Know her full name?" Alice, notebook to hand, thirsty for facts.

"Nah, never heard Harry say it, sorry. Just Gerry."

"Right."

"Well, we better leave it at that, for the present." Fiona rising from the sofa preliminary to making her goodbyes. "The Precinct'll get in touch if they come up with anything, don't worry."

"Yeah, thanks. Bye."

"Bye." Alice echoing her partner as she too walked along the corridor to the front door. "We'll let you know if we unearth anything, too."

"OK, thanks."

—O—

The ladies were sitting in the parked Audi on an anonymous street in Portsmouth, mulling over their next course of action.

"Should we hit this Green Diamond joint, do you suppose?"

Fiona was clear on this option, sharing such with her lover via a negative snap of her head.

"Nah, no point, he won't have anything to add to the scene. I was thinking of the Pearl, back in Delacote, myself."

Alice nodded understandingly.

"Yeah, knowing the joint ourselves from long experience. Where we both first met, y'know."

"Hardly likely t'forget, young 'un!"

"Ah, happy memories; me picking the songs from the twelve record choice, an' you shelling out the dimes to play them on the Rock-Ola jukebox. Aah, memories."

"Cost me a bloody fortune." Fiona reflecting on the more pragmatic view of these memories.

"Well, look where and what it got you, babe—me!"

"Har, gifts with hidden barbs!"

"What was that, lover?" Alice a trifle piqued by this tone.

"Better get movin', shouldn't we?" Fiona taking the safe, but craven, course of pretending she hadn't heard her partner's complaint. "If we wan'na get t'the Pearl before the stars come out, anyway."

"Rrrh!" Alice no way taken in by her lover's attitude. "Oh, well, I'll be able to test this crate's fifth gear on the way back—think I can push her over seventy, with any luck."

"Oh, God!"

—O—

The Pearl of the Ocean Café sat on Dawne Street in the heart of Delacote City. First opening just after the turn of the century as a straight business; its locality on such a quiet street, though close to the beating heart of the city, eventually making it the centre of interest for a specific clientele. Just as other cafes tended to have particular groups gravitate towards them—bikers, jazz enthusiasts, business-people, truckers, taxi-drivers, market workers,—so, the Pearl eventually found itself the meeting-place serving another very specialized following—lesbians, in this case.

Fiona had originally been resident in the city for some three years, working as an investigator for a large organisation, using the Pearl almost as a home from home—it providing a friendly atmosphere and customers she found congenial to her own tastes. Here she had indeed first met the young lady, Alice Drever, who would eventually become her amour par excellence, and everything had gone very hunky-dory for both from that point on.

"Ah, place hasn't changed at all." Alice making this assessment as they both entered the café's door late in the afternoon.

"Just as well; I don't like changes, make me nervous." Fiona airing this mild insight into her nature as they walked to their favourite table, which was providentially vacant. "I need a revivifying coffee anyway, after that drive. God, d'ya think you're one of the Bentley Boys, or what?"

Alice wasn't having any of this discord in her aura as they sat down; the manageress meanwhile, recognising her old customers, coming over to serve them herself.

"That's an out-dated reference, doll; you're showing your age. Anyway, I only just managed to coax the ol' gal over seventy for a couple of miles; what's to complain about that?"

Fiona had a pithy answer ready for this denial.

"Only you chose the most twisty part of the Boulevard's all! Goin' round bends like you were on Brooklands! Offside wheels near running on thin air as ya cornered! God! I could see my Will spread out before my eyes as we went along, and all the changes I wanted t'make in it, too!"

"Can it, gal; you're bringing a tear to my eye. Hallo, Gwen!"

"Nice to see both of you back, been too long." Gwen Lomax, manageress of the establishment, smiling happily as at the return of the two Prodigal Daughters. "What's it t'be?"

"Yeah, near on a year; we must come back more often, miss old friends." Alice looking round and already noting some acquaintances they would both need to acknowledge again before leaving. "Coffee for us both, and have you some of those delicious flapjacks with maple syrup? Two for me, one for my compatriot here, she being on a strict diet, y'know."

"Hey! Give over, gal!" Fiona embarrassed beyond all measure. "Never mind the help, Gwen; so difficult t'find good tweenie-maids these days. I'll have two, too, thanks."

As Gwen went off about the order Fiona sat back, glancing round on her own account.

"There're Rosaline and Carol over there; have'ta say hallo t'them before we leave."

"Yeah, saw them." Alice reverting to the matter in hand with professional fervour. "So, what about it, then? Any ideas?"

"It being Harriet Norley's unfortunate demise?" Fiona having her little joke when the occasion offered.

"Oh, ha-ha, lady!" Alice sighing despondently at the low taste of some she could mention but wouldn't because she at least was a Lady. "Where've we gotten so far, then?"

"Well, considering everything—not very, is the answer."

Alice nodded.

"Yep, seems that way t'me, too." She then turning her attention to the flapjacks just laid before them by the attentive Gwen. "Muchos gracias, they look delicious! Gim'me a moment, Fay, business beckons here."

"What a gal!" Fiona laughingly accepting responsibility for their intimate connection. "And all mine, too. Why'm I so lucky?"

Alice, between bites, still had her antennae firmly focused on her own special amoureuse.

"If that was a snarky quip you're payin', doll; if it was heartfelt, I loves you to pieces, is all!"

Fiona, speechless, bowed over her own plate then recalled the manageress still standing by her chair..

"Where was I? Oh, yes! Gwen?"

"Yeah, honey?"

"Your customers, I know there's a crowd of them but can you recall anyone by the name of Gerry? As in Gerald, but a gal."

"She may have hung-out, latterly, with Harriet Norley." Fiona giving further details in hope of a fair return.

"Gerry?" Gwen mused over this for a few seconds. "Harriet—that gal that was murdered around a week ago? Yeah, I remember them both; used to come around maybe twice a week for three months or so. Haven't seen Gerry since the news broke about Harriet."

"Do you know anything else about her?" Alice searching for whatever might be useful. "Name, address, phone number, even. That sort of thing."

Gwen spent less time over this series of questions.

"Yeah, think I can help some. Let's see-Gerry—Gerry—got it, Gerry Rampton, lives at the Hepplewhite Building, an apartment block on Reivers Road. That's all I can give you, sorry."

"More than enough." Alice grinning cheerfully "Thanks again."

"No trouble, come again, soon's ya like, both of ya."

"We'll do so for certain." Fiona grinning broadly. "If nothing else those flapjacks'll drag me back from Central Park. Al'll back me on that."

"God, it's only the bare truth, Gwen." Alice smilinging protectively towards her partner. "You don't know the half of what I go through daily trying to keep this lady away from the carbohydrates! Thanks, Gwen."

"Idiot. Yeah, thanks, Gwen."

"Nuthin' to it—anything else ya fancy before ya leave, jes' yell!"

—O—

The Hepplewhite Building proved to stand halfway along Reivers Road, a thoroughfare on the outskirts of Downtown; Alice parking her Audi with supreme disdain for the other ordinary Fords, Dodges, and Plymouths scattered along the edge of the sidewalk. Walking in the wide ground floor hallway a nameboard on the wall proved to contain the lady and her floor number whom they were in search of so, three minutes later, they stood by the door arguing as to which was going to ring the bell.

"My turn." Fiona certain on this point.

"You rang Lorna's bell, back in Portsmouth!" Alice having none of it. "My turn."

"Oh, if you insist."

"I do, stand aside."

But before Alice had the pleasure of over-ruling her compatriot the door opened to reveal the apartment's tenant, clad in fiery red pajamas with wide flapping legs, looking at the ladies quizzically.

"Holding a meeting of the Distressed Ladies Mutual Assistance Society out here, are ya? What'n Hell's up? Y're makin' enough noise t'fright Goliath. Ya want something o'me, or what? If so, come on in; the other tenants don't take kindly t'a Fete goin' on in the corridor this late in the evenin'. Come on, jes' follow me—shut the door will ya, blondie, there's nice. Living-room's jes' along here."

Missing her chance to retaliate in kind with words of her own choosing at this unwanted epithet from the householder Alice contented herself in doing as requested, but with a bad grace. In the living-room they found a peaceful atmosphere and quiet furnishings, all dating from the turn of the century, so at least causing Fiona no distress style-wise.

"Park yourselves on the sofa, ladies." Gerry taking a chintz easy chair for herself. "There's fresh coffee in the pot there, an' spare cups, if you're thirsty."

"Nah, thanks, we'll pass." Alice shaking her head before Fiona had the chance to make the wrong decision vis-à-vis refreshments. "Had enough coffee already today to sink a destroyer. So, you're Gerry Rampton?"

"I am, and I can surmise you two are dic—er, investigators. Cops put ya onto me? Yeah, that'll be the grift—I tell ya, everyone an' their gran'ma in uniform in this dam' city thinks I did for poor Harry. Doesn't matter how much I say nay, the cops say yay. Whose side're you two on, then?"

"We're neutral, just investigating, as you say." Fiona coming to the point. "We hear you and Harriet used to go together—yeah, we're up t'date with the scend of the sea that way; don't worry, we ain't gon'na make anything big about it just, we got'ta get t'the bottom of what's goin' on an' that means gettin' in'ta everyone's private business, as far as it pertains to Harriet, anyway."

"Huumph!"

"So, what can you tell us about, er, your association with Harriet?" Alice bringing what she fondly hoped was a clinical detachment to the situation. "When was the last you saw her, for a start?"

"She was killed last Tuesday, four days ago." Fiona helping Gerry's memory along.

Gerry looked from one to the other of her visitors, sighed deeply, then with a grimace pulled herself straighter in her chair.

"Well, if ya knows we were a couple I suppose I better come clean about our, ah, affair. I told the cops two days ago, but all I got from them was a lecture on morals from a big brutal sergeant with no manners an' the threat that it was just pure luck on my part they weren't quite ready t'put the cuffs on me just yet. Bums!"

Fiona and Alice exchanged knowing glances.

"Sounds like Sergeant Keisler." Alice making public her inner thoughts.

"Yep, same modus, anyhow." Fiona agreeing with her amour. "Relax, all we want is some information, we not having cuffs t'use even if we wanted to. What about Harriet? Tell us in your own words; don't worry, we got all night, if necessary."

"God, I hope not!" Gerry revolting at this assumption. "I wan'na get my beauty sleep, for one. Harry? We were t'gether some three months, in all. We met at the Pearl—you know the Pearl?"

"Yeah, sure, go on." Alice gently pushing the woman to continue.

"It was never an affair of the heart, really." Gerry's eyes softening as she recalled the details. "Oh, we had feelings for one another, sure; but in a simple off-hand way, if ya know what I mean. It was never gon'na be a long-term thing, from the start; think we both understood that. Harry's career, dancing at the Peridot, didn't help, either. If she wasn't dancin' she was layin' flat out in her apartment regaining the energy for her next turn—hardly saw her more'n two or three times a fortnight, and only say once a fortnight to, er, have a real good evenin', if ya follow me."

Alice and Fiona again exchanged glances full of personal knowledge of this particular situation.

"Last time I saw her?" Gerry frowned over this, shifting on her chair as she did so. "Les'see—must'a been say a week ago, coupl'a days before, well, you know."

"How'd she seem, in herself?" Fiona coming to the crux of the matter. "Happy, contented, no worries?"

"She was always a happy-go-lucky character; take a lot to push her off her usual track. No, I didn't feel there was anything wrong the last I saw her, sorry."

"I suppose the cops went over your intinerary pretty closely, dealing with the times of her, er, demise and what you were doing then?" Alice covering another important aspect of the investigation.

"Didn't they just!" Gerry no way happy at the memory. "They had me in that dam' Fifth Precinct two days ago; treatin;' me like I was a dead flattened hedgehog lying in the road four weeks an' smellin' something awful! No sense of how t'treat a lady, those bums, none whatever. If it hadn't been I'd had the sense t'hire J. Polk Andrews, the best Defence lawyer this side of the Piscataqua, I'd probable still be in a cell t'day. Costin' me a dam' fortune, by the way. D'ya think I can sue fer recompence, ladies? I dearly wishin' the same, with bells on!"

Both investigators were well aware of the reputation of the lawyer under discussion, nodding knowingly at each other.

"Well, if Andrews's on your team you ain't got much t'worry about," Alice saying it like it was. "He could've gotten Dillinger off, even if he'd been collared with a smoking gun in his hand and a still warm body at his feet."

"Puts my mind at rest, sure." Gerry smiling for the first time. "I know I may come across as cold an' unlovin', about Harry's death—but I'm all shook up inside, believe me. If ya both can bring some sense an' closure to this tragedy I'd be forever grateful—for Harry's memory as much as anything else."

"We'll do what we can, Miss Rampton." Fiona rising from a sofa for the umpteenth time that day. "Al and I'll get down to it and see what's to be found out, don't worry. Well, we better leave now—things still t'do, y'know."

"Sure, thanks for stopping by." Gerry rising herself to make her farewells. "Makes me feel something's being done in the right direction, anyway. Bye."

"Bye, Miss Rampton." Alice accompanying her partner as they all made for the door. "We'll get back to you in due course, with whatever turns up."

"Thank you."

—O—

The office in the Packer Building, when the investigators returned there half an hour later, was cold dark and unwelcoming, their secretary Helen having beaten a retreat some three hours since. Fiona shuffled some files on their large shared desk while Alice went to the sideboard to make fresh coffee.

"Why I'm doin' this I don't know, sis." She complaining as per contract. "It'll only keep me awake from now till four in the mornin'."

"Just as well, we goin' where we will be, later." Fiona showing no tender feelings at all.

"Where we're—?;—oh, no, say it ain't so!"

"We got'ta, babe—only option left open, no way out."

"But jeez, a strip-joint! Not my scene, lady."

"T'ain't a strip-joint—a nightclub, with exotic floor-show."

"Floor-show my ass!" Alice having none of this prevarication. "The gals walk on stage barely dressed at all, strip t'their skin, an' let the perves drool over them! Jeez, barely more'n walking the street, ask me!"

Fiona had known from the start this would be her lover's attitude, now she set herself to soothing delicate moral feelings.

"Main thing is—we get Kerham t'let us behind the scenes; back-stage, y'know. We meet the gals, hear what they got'ta say about the whole set-up, Harriet's demise, an' whatever else floats t'the surface. Who knows, might help solve the case there an' rhen!"

"Some chance!" Alice in no way mollified. "Oh, God, OK, bring it on—but I refuse to like any part of it, doll, I tell you straight."

Fiona, satisfied with this almost Pyrrhic victory, said nothing, simply sipping her coffee like a lady.

—O—

The Peridot Club, on Amherst Road just outside The Heights district, had an open lot beside it that served as a parking area for the clientele and judging from the flotilla of vehicles parked there when Fiona and Alice rolled up in Fiona's DeSoto sedan a fairly large audience was already in residence. Five minutes argument with the doorkeeper, who wore his fancy uniform and acted as if he was still a Quartermaster in the Army, found them once again in Kerham's office, pleading their case.

"So, y've been here, there, an' the other place, all t'no purpose?" The manager hardly impressed. "Don't seem like much good investigating t'me. Ya come up with anything new at all?"

Alice, faced by this level of noxious contempt, went into her Valkyrie mode without further prompting.

"Listen buster, investigating crimes is always a dam' hard grift. We have'ta go all over the place, looking for the slightest detail that might break the case. It's a dam' long-drawn-out process at best; just be thankful we're on it an' will bring it to a finale at the end, OK?"

"Sure—sure!" Kerham, suddenly aware Valkyries' on the Opera stage were mere phantoms compared to this, the real thing, took a step back—a remarkable achievement in itself considering he was sitting on his chair behind his desk at the time. "So, what ya wan'na do presently? Tell ya what—the second floor-show's just about t'start—you can have a table in the auditorium an' watch same then, after, y'can go backstage an' jolly the gals along, all free-gratis—how's that sound?"

Fiona and Alice, having achieved their primary purpose, nodded in unison like two puppets.

The auditorium, when Kerham showed them there in person, proved something more than Alice at least had expected.

"Great Scott!" She overwhelmed from the get-go. "What the hell's this place? Looks like Nero's palace!"

"Built initially as a metalwork factory during the Great War." Kerham filling the ladies in on the building's history with some pride. "Made shell casings, I believe; then it became a warehouse, then stayed empty for a while, then sponsors, business-people y'know, came along and put the Peridot together, an' here we are!"

The front foyer and corridors leading to the manager's office, which the ladies had already circumnavigated, had held no promise at all of the vast Hall they now found themselves mere specks in.

"It's dam' four storey's high!" Alice taking a slow perusal of the enormous room. "Must be sixty feet wide and a hundred and twenty long, at least. God, there's tables enough t'seat three hundred people."

"Often does." Kerham not slow in praising his establishment.

"The decoration, too!" Alice's eyes wide at the overpowering sight. "Light blue and silver paint, silver chrome decorations, Moderne furniture and, Jeez, the folks're kitted-out in their best glad-rags! Ain't never seen such style in the ladies' except in fashion mags from Paris!"

"Yeah, our clientele mostly tends to the upper, if we must talk class." Kerham again simpering with pleasure at the effect his Club was having on the visiting hoi-polloi.

"And the stage!" Alice almost struck dumb by the sight, now she had noticed. "Like a big Theater! Jee-sus, you could stage a full musical on that!"

"We do, every night!" Kerham almost bursting with pride by now. "We provide fully produced shows wholly up to the standard of the Moulin Rouge, or Josephine Baker's or Mistinguett's shows, over in Paris, France."

"Jeez!"

Fiona had been casting her eye over the audience, judging their relative types and station in society.

"Seems you have some high-rollers in tonight? I recognise some, here an' there. Didn't think they'd be seen in a pla-, er—!"

"In a place like this?" Kerham finishing her inappropriate remark for her, though with a smle. "Thought the joint was just another run-down strip-joint? Yeah, I know ya did—well, prepare to be surprised, because it ain't! See ya after the show; like I said I'll take ya behind the scenes to see life as it really is in one of these places; you'll be mighty surprised, I bet! Enjoy yourselves; this's my maitre'd here, John, he'll see ya both right. John, nuthin's too good for the ladies, OK? Champagne an' caviar, if they like, but the best wines, anyway."

"Yessir! What may I order for you, ladies?" He taking charge as Kerham faded into the background, off on a mission to caress his customers.

"This's some joint, John!" Alice still in awe of the sights all round. "I'm impressed."

"We'll have white wine and a salad, thanks." Fiona more down to earth. "That'll be fine."

"At once, ladies'."

"You know, Fay," Alice perking-up no end as she took in the aura. "I could get to like this sort of thing mighty easy."

"And what of when the dancing girls come out onstage—all naked an' everything?" Fiona having her little joke.

"Oh God, you're spoiling the tone, you know." Alice relapsing into gloom. "Yeah, dam' nekked ladies! Why, I asks you?"

Fiona was up for this, as two waitresses placed their salads and wine before them.

"Thanks—because it's fun, and great entertainment, when done properly; and I think we're about to find out Kerham does do it properly here!"

Alice, still hardly accepting of the situation, pouted pink lips.

"We'll see—we'll see, madam!"

—O—

The floor-show, when the long drapes on the high stage at the far end of the auditorium swept aside, proved itself to be everything Kerham had boasted of. The stage proper revealing itself fully lit from several angles, the limelights beaming down on the deep stage like midday in Summer. From both sides a double line of dancers in exotic but, surprisingly, not overly revealing costumes danced across the boards, presenting a colourful spectacle as they swayed to music from the Club's band off to one side.

Suffice to say that for the ensuing hour Fiona and even Alice were entranced by the ever-changing vision of chorus-girls letting rip with up-to-date songs and modern dance routines; while single performers, some in very revealing though still not outrageous costumes, presented turns guaranteed to heighten the blood pressure of even the most jaded roué, though never in a common manner—these ladies at no time showing anymore than was strictly necessary, though what they did show was entirely satisfying to the audience if the forthcoming series of loud rounds of applause were anything to go by as each performer did their thing.

It must be admitted the costumes of the ever-varying dancing girls—who often slipped off-stage in line with the music only to reappear in ever more colourful and almost but not quite shocking attire,—did slowly became closer to the unusual if not downright inappropriate, though still just holding fast this side of decency. Then came the highlight, just before the hour was up; a fanfare announced the appearance of the night's star, Gilda Gallienne herself, fresh from off-Broadway. Tall in her own right, slim as a gazelle and fleet of foot as a deer she sashayed into the centre of the stage apparently clad only in two enormous pink ostrich feather fans towering over her head as well as enveloping her whole body, leaving only bare shoulders and her head, surrounded by waves of long red hair, on view to the now enthusiastic audience.

"Boy! She sure knows how to make an entrance!" Alice herself admitting the glory of the performer's art.

Over the next five minutes Gilda continued teasing her admirers with a series of slow glides and turns from one side of the stage to the other, all in step with the music's heightening tempo though always expertly hiding herself behind her wall of twisting feathery fans, her dance ever climbing towards what was obviously going to be a grand finale. Which, when this much-anticipated point was reached, provided all the audience had been so long and expertly teased to expect; with the music reaching a height of energy, and trombones reaching notes seemingly never yet attempted in the musical world, she suddenly stood straight in the centre of the stage, swept her enormous feathery fans aside and stood showing her completely bare left side towards the audience with strategically bent leg in just the right position to conceal what was necessary; though still, for all of one second, apparently revealing herself to be as nude as a Greek statue before the lights switched-off leaving the whole stage in stygian darkness to the raucous disappointment of the now fully appreciative crowd of onlookers: they joyously clapping like it was going out of fashion as the drapes swung across the stage, these even including Alice, who continued for all of thirty seconds before realising what she was doing.

"God! That was wonderful!" She not being able to contain her enthusiasm a moment longer.

"What about the nudity, there at the end? Not t'speak of the teasing through the whole show? She wasn't wearing much, y'know. Nothing, in fact, as we all saw at the end there! What about striptease then, lady?"

"That wasn't stripping—that was Art, baby." Alice completely engrossed and overcome by the so-recently past spectacle. "Never seen anything like it."

"Clearly not!" Fiona chuckling as she glanced at her companion, whose eyes still glittered with delight. "Seems ya liked the show, dear?"

"Can't say I didn't, no." Alice valiantly trying to regain some tattered thread of respectability as the atmosphere subsided in the huge auditorium, all the other spectators obviously having been as much entertained as she herself. "Better than I thought it would be; and that glimpse of, er, you know, at the end, it wasn't anywhere near what I was worrying it might be. Quite artistic, in fact."

"Well, there ya go!" Fiona smiling still at her lover's reaction. "Oh, look, here's Kerham, come t'take us backstage. Ready?"

"We going to meet Gilda?"

"Sure thing, babe, why not."

"Lead the way, lover."

—O—

The building containing the nightclub, previously a munitions factory as Kerham had explained to his guests, now revealed the scope of its size as the ladies entered the backstage area; immediately behind the stage the space was vast in that anyone standing on the boards at stage level could look up to the roof trusses some hundred feet over their heads: while in the various narrow corridors leading off a multitude of smaller and larger rooms and interior spaces were filled with equipment, laid aside props and backdrops, or miscellaneous bits and pieces of no known use to the uninitiated.

Amongst all this crowds of scantily clad girls—even more scantily clad in close-up than they appeared to have been when on stage—milled around, some going in one direction, some the other, a scene of virtual mayhem and noise fit to equal a bustling street market at its height. Kerham, however, leading his guests through this maze like Virgil escorting Dante through Hell itself.

"I'll introduce you to Gilda, she likes people who like her!" Kerham ushering them along a narrow corridor, keeping to one side while a line of chorus-girls filed past on the other their feathery costumes, what there was of them, brushing against the investigators' clothes as they went by screaming, gossiping, and arguing as they did so.

"Don't mind the gals." Kerham obviously well used to the scene. "Always nervous an' excited on show night. Here's Gilda's dressing-room. Here, lem'me knock."

Giving the door a cursory tap he opened it without further ado, ushering the women in ahead of him.

"Gilda, here's a coupl'a fans wan'na tell ya how good you were t'night. I got'ta go see about other things, I'll leave ya all t'gether fer a chat, shall I? You can roam around to your heart's content after, if ya wan'na, ladies; don't mind me. Just come back t'my office when you're finished, if ya like."

On which note he disappeared like Houdini, leaving Fiona and Alice alone in the small room with a star hardly dressed at all—in fact, not at all.

The enormous feathery fans which had so sufficiently protected her privacy whilst on stage had disappeared without trace, leaving her in only her costume—which to Alice at least seemed to consist of virtually nothing at all—Gilda noticing her fan's hesitancy.

"Don't mind my costume, or lack o'same, we bein' all gals together, eh! You ain't been behind the scenes before, have ya?"

Alice, speechless, shook her head, while Fiona simply raised her eyebrows.

"Nah, thought not." Gilda no way put out. "Look, see? My ti—er, upper works're covered by these small tassels, nearly flesh coloured, so they're invisible from the audience's point of view. Gives the effect of—well, you know! An' as fer the important part, well, ye see I'm covered by a thin g-string. Not much of it, I allows, but enough t'serve for all legal purposes—again never seen from the patrons' look-out. All done with smoke and mirrors, y'might say."

Having looked, seen, and become even more embarassed than before, Alice did indeed grasp the full effect of the performer's costume details. Gilda was actually not naked judicially speaking within the meaning of the term but her costume, in its tiny insufficiency, seemed only to draw attention more strongly to those parts they pretended to cover—making her, in effect, more naked than if she actually had been wholly nude.

"Covers, only t'reveal; yeah, I see!" Fiona showing she had understood the nature of the proposition. "A deal more complex an' artistic than my partner previously thought. What ya say, Al?"

Placed in solitary splendour in the discussion by her unfeeling lover Alice turned a pretty shade of light pink, her eyes flickering everywhere but the main attraction.

"Yeah—ah, yeah—uum!"

"What Alice means is—what a performance earlier!" Fiona speakng for her amour. "She loved the whole show, but especially your turn; was raving about you out at our table."

Alice, having no quick come-back to this, merely gave her lover a glance that would have instantly shriveled lesser mortals.

"Your act was—was very entertaining, Miss Gallienne." She finally finding voice again. "Much more, er, artistic than I'd been led to believe by some I won't name!"

Fiona wasn't having any of this snide back-chat.

"She means she thought the joint was a speakeasy, an' you'd jus' be a plain ol', er—!"

"Stripper!" Gilda laughing out loud, not displeased at all. "I get that all the time, from patron's who've come t'see my act with the wrong preliminary ideas of what it was goin' t'be. Nah, there's a deal more t'Burlesque than many think. It ain't mere work, like stripping—it's a art-form in it's own right—though magazine theatre critics'd choke themselves before admitting same, sadly."

By this time, in fluid well rehearsed movements, Gilda had unashamedly discarded all the previously named items of apparel and slipped into a fetching pink translucent robe of almost see-through transparency in its own right.

"Can we talk t'you about Harriet Norley while we're here?" Fiona getting down to essentials. "We're investigators workin' for the Police Department; we've already seen Mr Kerham about the, er, present situation. Thought you might be able to throw some light on Harriet's personality, how she worked with everybody here, that sort'a thing."

"Poor Harry!" Gilda apparently truly saddened by Harriet's sudden end. "A real tragedy; a good gal all round. What can I tell ya, then?"

"Was she friendly with everyone?" Alice finally regaining the calmness to continue her investigating career, though making sure not to look too closely at Gilda while doing so. "Did she have any enemies? Or just folks who disliked her, or her them?"

Gilda now sat at her dressing-table facing the mirror and wiping make-up off with a tissue, though frowning over these questions at the same time.

"Enemies? Nah, too kind-hearted for that, take my word. She'd go out'ta her way, oftentimes, t'assist some chorus gal needin' a helpin' hand one way or another. Dislike? Now, that could be a hoss of a different colour, seein' ya brought the subject t'mind."

Alice, given something concrete to focus on rather than her immediate surroundings, thankfully perked-up a good deal.

"As how?"

"Well, there was a gal, one of the chorus, y'know." Gilda furrowing her brow over the matter. "She came along, oh, some three month since; a tall well-formed young flighty blonde with a sharp racy attitude—came original from the Bronx, I'm sure. Thought a lot of herself, too. Seems t'me she formed a liking for Harry over the few weeks she was here; though I had the distinct impression Harry wasn't much taken with her! Left the Club, the Bronx gal that is, about a week before Harry's, er, you know!"

Fiona and Alice glanced at each other, both with rising hopes.

"Name?" Alice scrabbling in her purse for her trusty notebook and stub of pencil.

"Zerina Talbot." Gilda nodding as her memory provided the necessary. "Though I wouldn't go far on it bein' her real moniker, o'course."

"We'll see Mr Kerham about her personal details." Fiona all professional at this possible turnaround in the case. "We'd better leave ya to it now, sorry t'bother ya."

"No problem, glad ya liked the show; always happy t'meet satisfied customers, 'bye."

In the corridor again Fiona grasped Alice by the shoulder with a firm grip.

"Looks like we may be onto something. Better beard Kerham in his den quick, before the lady's personal files go up in flames by accident or whatever."

"Yeah, don't want any more dead-ends now we're getting somewhere." Alice equally determined to see the case through now there was a chance of such happening. "Say, which way? This dam' theater's a Minotaur's labyrinth."

—O—

"Zerina Talbot? Yeah, she worked here a few months some time since." Kerham rising from his chair to circle his desk heading for a tall filing cabinet in his office. "Gim'me a mo', her details'll be here somewhere."

"It's a faint chance, but it may lead somewhere." Fiona calling the tune as she saw it. "Can ya give us her real name, too?"

"Sure." Kerham sliding a thin file from the third drawer of the cabinet. "Lem'me see, didn't like that gal much myself, as I recall—too strongly-built, very muscular, well-honed body an' muscle: some patrons like that sort'a thing, but it never triggered my feelings overmuch. Yeah, here she is—Zerina Talbot, real name Olive Harper; address, One-Seven-Nine Alderley Street, The Heights. That do ya?"

"Why'd she leave here?" Alice covering a significant point. "Wanted to better herself? Trouble with her co-workers? You have a run-in with her?"

Back behind his desk, file still to hand, Kerham shook his head somewhat sadly.

"The second of those, I think. She came in one mornin', growlin' with suppressed anger like a grizzly that'd missed out on a blind deer, said something about g-d-d-m dames I didn't quite catch, an' gave in her resignation with what I can only call rage, contumely, an' a spread o'language that'd have done a Round-the-Horn'er proud!"

"When was this?" Fiona on the ball instantly. "In relation to the date Harriet met her end?"

Kerham, seeing suddenly where this questioning was headed, gave it some concentrated thought.

"Well, it was Wednesday; day I always do my rounds of the ship t'see eveythings hunky-dory with the janitorial side of the Club. That'd have been, oh, two days before Harry copped it? Say, ya don't think—"

"No, we don't think, yet anyway, Mr Kerham." Alice rising from her chair with a skip in her step. "But, by G-d, we're going to do some in-depth investigating that'll stir the pond right down t'the mud on the bottom, if I have any say in the matter!"

"Got'ta go." Fiona by her lover's side. "Things ter do; thanks for your help, been a great assistance, 'bye."

—O—

In Fiona's DeSoto sedan another Council of War was well underway.

"Think we've finally hit gold, lover?"

"Could be; a little early yet, but it looks good—better'n anything so far, anyway." Fiona settling herself behind the wheel and putting the car in gear. "Where's Alderley Street? Passed through it, I think, but can't quite recall where."

Alice scrambled in the glove compartment, coming out with a local streetmap.

"Ah, yeah, northern border of The Heights, six blocks from our place. Take a right, another right, another right, then a left; then go straight till I tell you otherwise."

Fiona laughed outright at the determination in her partner's tone and stance.

"Think I'm drivin' in the Italian Mille Miglia, an' you're my navigator!"

"Just stay within the speed limit, gal." Alice curling a sarcastic lip. "Don't want to knock over some old lady on our way."

The address in question, on the DeSoto's arrival, proved to be a somewhat rundown second-rate brownstone hotel with four floors. In the wide lobby Fiona advanced on the check-out desk like the American Army advancing on the enemy. The middle-aged man behind which, seeing her coming from way off, paled significantly as a result.

"Olive Harper! Which floor an' number, thanks?"

"—er, we can't divul—"

"Y'can talk t'us, or the cops down at the Fifth Precinct—choice's yours, pal." Fiona in no mood to take prisoners.

Two minutes later they stood at the door of No.23, second floor, spare key in hand provided by the defeated concierge.

"Miss Harper been away somewhere, on holiday probably, since she quit the Peridot, so that clerk says." Alice appreciating the first turn of good luck they had yet experienced in the on-going saga.

"Yeah, well, let's see what's t'see." Fiona turning the key and stepping in the room, only to instantly retreat, pushing her partner back at the same time.

"Ooh, graah!"

"What's wrong, lady?" Alice mystified by her lover's action. "Wha—oh, great God!"

She too put a hand to her nose as Fiona closed the room door firmly in their faces, holding her own offended olfactory appendage betweeen tight fingers.

"Jeez," Alice making the obvious assumption. "Something's long dead in there!"

They stood in the corridor silently gazing at each other.

"An' we don't have t'go far to surmise what—or who!" Fiona making the only possible conclusion. "Well, neither of us is goin' back in there, it's Inspector Fletcher's bag now. Come on, back down t'the lobby—I got questions t'ask that clerk."

Back in the lobby the clerk was thunderstruck at Fiona's revelation.

"Dead, all this time? My God!"

"Why so long, for God's sake?" Alice flummoxed by this detail. "Don't ya ever dust the rooms, or change the sheets, or what? It's near six days now since Miss Harper left for her last ever destination; did she, by the way, pay her bill?"

Flustered as he was this fact pertaining to the running of the hotel brought the clerk back to reality.

"No, she didn't, that's the reason; I mean, her next payment isn't due till the end of this month. That's why we've left her room as is, thinkin' she was still in residence just, like I said, on holiday somewhere; tenants often tend to go off for days or weeks at a time, for whatever private reasons. If they're paid up we just leave things as they are till they return, or the rent becomes due. Even then, we might not open any room in such circumstances till at least another fortnight had passed—legal restrictions and hotel policy, you know!"

Alice and Fiona exchanged glances and a couple of heartfelt sighs at the strange workings of the world around them.

"Gim'me your phone, time t'call the cops." Fiona all out of patience. "I tell ya, buddy, the cops're just gon'na love this—you got some bigtime explaining t'do, buster; wouldn't like t'be in your shoes for all the gold in the State when Sergeant Keisler shows up!"

—O—

"Six days, an' they didn't open the room in that time?" Inspector Fletcher, in his office at 5th Precinct HQ, outraged by the inefficiency of the proletariat. "Might as well be in one of those Banana states down in South America!"

Fiona and Alice, sitting on the opposite side of his desk, could feel his smouldering wrath beating across to them like a gathering monsoon.

"How'd she cop—er, meet her end, Jacob?" Fiona looking for the bare facts to close the case, at least from Alice's and her end.

"Dead in bed, drug overdose, left a note, admitting what she'd done earlier that night." Fletcher racking his recent memory. "Seems she and Harriet Norley had a fight over personal feelings between each; Olive being a strong woman with uncontrollable passions, apparently, took against Harriet for rejecting her once too often and did the deed with her bare hands. Went back to her own apartment, felt the pangs of regret and took an overdose—end of story."

"How'd you find all this out so fast?" Alice raising an enquiring eyebrow.

"Left a note in a clear steady hand admitting it all!"

"Ah!"

Fletcher looked across at the investigators, taking pity on their combined expressions of woe.

"Not your fault, no-way! She made a big error, the biggest, and passed sentence on herself after. Got'ta thank you two fer breaking the case, good work there. Sergeant Keisler nearly had a fit when he went t'the hotel on your instructions. Never seen the like before, hotel policy wise, he told me. The two uniform cops along with him had to restrain him with armlocks to stop him taking it out on the dam' stupid clerk. Anyway's, it's all over now, thanks muchly."

—O—

The duplex on Rathmore Street, The Heights, was a haven of peace and much needed tranquility as the tenants, Fiona and Alice, took their ease after a long hard couple of days. Alice sprawled on the long sofa in a pair of loose light blue silk pajamas that set-off her skin tone perfectly; Fiona, in a shirt and comfortable jeans, sitting on a chintz armchair opposite, enjoying the view.

"Well, there we are!" Fiona delicately touching on the touchy subject.

"Yep, what a—a Gordian Knot!" Alice just as perplexed and tired. "Here, there, an' everywhere! Wouldn't want many cases like that, for sure."

"Back's ya complete on that, honey." Fiona rising purposefully to her feet, a key destination in mind. "What'll it be? Bourbon, whiskey, wine, or Ovaltine?"

"Hah!" Alice laughing unrestrainedly for the first time that day. "The latter'll probably do me more good, but I'll settle right now for whiskey. What'd you think of the show, back at the Peridot, by the way, dear?"

Standing by the sideboard, preparing the drinks, Fiona shrugged.

"What'd you think of it, ducks?"

Alice took her time replying, the subject having many variant angles for her to consider.

"Well, it wasn't anywhere near as common or vulgar as I expected, I'll give you that. Rather artistic, really, I admit. But I think I'll settle for going to the MonteLuta Sun Club whenever I feel the need to get naked, lover. More natural, all round, don't you think? And there ain't an audience out by the Lake drooling over your every move and every uncovered inch of your skin, either. God, I couldn't perform nekkid in front of an audience, like Miss Gallienne, no way."

Fiona smiled to herself, she well knowing that on their generally monthly visits to the Sun Club there were often a hundred and fifty or so other people present just as naked as them on the day—an angle Alice apparently hadn't, or wasn't presently in the frame of mind to, consider.

"Oh, well, horses for courses, I suppose. I'll just keep it as a private dream then! Here's your whiskey, don't swallow it in one go just to show you can—that's so de trop these days, darlin'."

"Fool!" Alice taking this mild reproach in good part. "What dream?"

"Oh, just you performing on stage before a vast audience, clothed in nothing, and I mean nothing, but two feather fans. I can see it now, doll!"

"God, what a woman; obviously it's a good thing I'm here at all, to keep you in check!"

"Har!"

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—