'The Strolling Mafioso Problem'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— John Drage is a private investigator in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. He and Claire Baxter, his fellow investigator, become embroiled with the local underworld and a visiting Mafia Boss.

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—

"What's that, Helen?" Claire on her phone listening to Drage Investigators' secretary out in the public room. "You're joking? No? OK, I'll tell him, bye."

John Drage, owner of the Private Investigation company so named, looked up from his copy of 'The Delacote City News'.

"New client?"

"Nah," Claire pursed her lips as she glanced along the mutually shared desk in the long private office on this bright morning of August 1936 in Delacote City NH. "Helen says she's just had a call from Jimmy Favelli; he wantin' us t'visit sometime t'day; matter of urgency, drop everything an' come at once sort'a thing, apparently."

"Oh-ho!" John frowning over this news. "The Kingpin of Delacote's underworld? Wonder what he wants? We got a free slot in our schedule t'day?"

Claire grinned at her respected leader.

"No clients today; we're free. Any time you like."

"Not before lunch." John taking the pragmatic road. "Favelli can wait till we're stocked-up on the vittals; say, around two o'clock?"

"OK by me."

"Right, let Helen know; gives me the rest of the hour to read the sports pages."

"Don't put yourself out, Boss."

"Don't worry, I don't mean to; especially around Jimmy Favelli. Shall we take my car, or yours—or both?"

"Both; give's us double the means of makin' a quick getaway, if required."

"Good thinkin', Claire; with ya all the way."

—O—

The district of Todmorton lay on the western outskirts of Delacote City, it being the lair of those with money, influence, power, business acumen, and daddy's or mummy's millions. Jimmy Favelli's house, a sprawling Spanish Hacienda style edifice, lay back from the main road at the end of a curving driveway. When John and Claire drove up to the front entrance Favelli was already standing by his open front door, looking anxious.

"Come at last, eh?" His tone that of a schoolmaster berating a late pupil.

"We hadn't anything more important." Claire, standing by John's side, taking the imperial stance to this critique. "So we thought we'd give ya five minutes. Can we talk here, on the doorstep? Or inside? I'm easy either way, just make it quick, OK."

Favelli fiddled with the walking-stick he habitually used as a result of an old gunshot wound to his left leg.

"Oh, come in, of course, dam'mit."

Two minutes later the trio sat in the long lounge, lit on one side by a row of tall windows allowing sunlight to swamp the room; John and Claire on a long sofa, Favelli in a chintz easy chair.

"Mary, tea for three, and those tiny salad sandwiches, thanks."

Having given this order to the uniformed servant, who swiftly went about seeing to this, Favelli sat back frowning darkly.

"We got us a problem here, is what."

John wasn't having this, in any form.

"Your worries ain't ours, Jimmy. But what can we do t'help, if legal."

Favelli sighed deeply, gazing at John with a cold eye.

"Tomorrow morning, around ten o'clock, I'm meeting Luigi Consatorni at the Morris Hotel, Downtown."

Claire perked-up at this, raising her pencil from the notebook in which she was already taking a memorandum of the present conversation.

"Consatorni? Rings a bell."

"Mafia Boss, out'ta NY." Favelli giving this information with the aspect and tone of a striking cobra.

John and Claire both sat back at this, exchanging glances the while.

"That don't sound like good news for anyone." John speaking from his heart. "Why?"

"He wants t'take over operations in Delacote and ancillary districts." Favelli spitting this with the air of someone having bitten into a rotten apple. "His aim's t'get me t'kowtow to his organisation—an' NY Mafia family, y'know—so's he can eventually takover from me hereabouts."

"What's he coming here to see you for, then?" Claire searching for the facts in the matter.

"T'buy me off, I suppose." Favelli sneering at this proposal. "Pretend t'make me one of his goons—a Lieutenant or something similar; then, of course, six months down the line I trip over my bootlaces an' take a dive in the Bay, my boots magically turned t'concrete!"

"Ah!" Claire seeing the direction of Favelli's thoughts. "And we can be helpful—how?"

Favelli was up for this, sitting forward in his chair gazing at his visitors with the eye of an angry eagle.

"It ain't just me; if Consatorni gets his way it'll mean the Mafia in Delacote. You realise what that'll mean?"

"Mayhem around the clock!"

"Yeah, exactly, John." Favelli nodding indignantly. "You think I'm a bad case, but I run things in a precise manner; nothin' too nasty. I mean, I don't go around murderin' folks left, right an' centre for the least infringement of supposed orders; the Mafia does. What it boils down to is you got a choice—you can have me, who ya know from way back; or the Mafia, an' you know how hard it'll be t'keep a check on that bunch!"

Claire nodded understandingly.

"See where you're comin' from. You kind'a keep the lid on the worst excesses, sure. I can see how it'll run with the Mafia in control, lunacy every hour of the day. You thought of bringing Inspector Fletcher into the equation?"

"Well, would he? Have a position on it, at all, I mean?"

John took up this question from Favelli with enthusiasm.

"He has to take note. His official stance is to protect the citizens; and he won't do that by ignoring or turning the other cheek to the Mafia."

Favelli frowned over this for a while.

"Well, if you see your way, a word there won't go wrong, I expect. But faster rather than not, mind."

"It's early yet," Claire shrugging nonchalantly. "we can hit the Fifth Precinct easy this afternoon. We'll give ya a call later t'pass on the outcome—if Inspector Fletcher doesn't himself."

"Yeah, OK; well, thanks fer listenin'." Favelli standing to show his guests out. "Just seemed something I needed t'pass on t'the relative authorities. Thanks fer comin'."

—O—

The office on the third floor of the 5th Precinct, Delacote City, where Inspector Jacob Fletcher spent his official day was, on John and Claire entering the hallowed space, just as dusty confined, airless and uncomfortably cluttered as ever.

"God, what ya need here's a Spring Clean, Jacob." Claire giving her houseproud nature full sway.

"Happy day!" Fletcher growling like a hungry hyena. "Up t'City Hall; expences, y'know—so, hasn't happened yet. What's on your collective minds t'day, then?"

Having the whole story expertly delineated in her shorthand notes it took Claire, John sitting back gazing morosely at the grubby ceiling, only a couple of minutes to put Fletcher in the picture.

"Damnation!" The Inspector sitting up on his chair behind his desk, itself creaking under the weight of mountains of files and books, he chewing stolidly on an unlit cigar. "Mafia? Them we can dam' well do without. Is this a done deal, d'ya know? I mean, is Favelli certain it's gon'na fall out the way he says?"

"We know Favelli like a dear loved Uncle," John nodding sadly. "he believes it, sure. Consatorni, y'know anythin' about him? His Family; what he gets up to? How powerful he is?"

Fletcher shrugged, regarding the mess covering his desk.

"Know his name; general idea he's mixed-up with Mafia dealin's in NY. Have'ta dig out the files an' read up on him, though. Gim'me a coupl'a days."

Claire looked up.

"Favelli says he's meetin' Consatorni tomorrow; want John an' I t'trail him? Get a general idea of what he's up to? Favelli said, before we left him, we could come early tomorrow to his place an' listen in hidin' to their conversation."

Fletcher considered this possibility, frowning darkly and allowing tobacco shreds to fall from his lips on the files laid out before him on his desk.

"Well, I don't much like it, but if time's a thing suppose it might help. Just don't get in a shootin' war, is all, OK?"

"Do our best, Fletch." Claire grinning widely. "Can't promise, but we'll see how it falls out."

—O—

The room next to the lounge in Jimmy Favelli's house was much smaller than its neighbor, he calling it a dining-room though Claire remained dubious.

"Pity we haven't got one of those new sound recorders we saw at the last P.I. convention."

"Cost more'n a thousand bucks, Claire." John putting his foot down with swift efficiency. "Us not bein' in the same ball-park as Pinkerton's, that'll remain a sad day-dream. We'll leave the door open; Favelli'll leave the sliding-door of the lounge partially open too so there should be some hope of us hearing something interesting."

"Maybe put of a tumbler against the wall, ears t'the butt-end, an' see if we pick up any chitchat?"

"Works in comics an' movies, sure, but not real life." John kicking this idea into the long grass without giving it the time of day.

"Heigh-ho." Claire now out of ideas. "We can slip along the corridor an' listen outside the lounge, if we're careful about it."

John nodded, allowing this at least had some likelihood of success.

The time was just short of 10.30am, they having arrived at Favelli's homestead more than an hour earlier to prepare for their eavesdropping duties well before the arrival of Consatorni. Favelli had told-off his servants not to mention the unseen visitors in Consatorni's presence and had agreed to raise his voice a trifle to let John and Claire keep track of the conversation. Now, as they stood regarding their lair's possibilities, the outer doorbell rang.

"Looks like we're in business." John putting a finger to his lips in a melodramatic manner. "Stumm from now on till he leaves."

"Then we follow in my jalopy?"

"That's the plan—OK, quiet."

They listened as the servant went to open the door and then, before she had time to ask the visitor came on in a pushy forthright manner.

"Consatorni, t'see Favelli, lem'me in, ducks."

Some sort of affray then ensued; the Mafia representative apparently trying to strong-arm the servant out of his way in entering without permission—but things didn't pan out the way he obviously expected.

"Aa-ouch!"

Next moment a solid thump shook the floorboards in the dining-room as Consatorni hit the floor with some force.

"What in Hell's goin' on?" Favelli springing from the lounge in answer to this eruption of violence.

"The visitor tried to enter without permission, sir." The female servant hardly sounding much put-out by circumstances. "I stopped him."

"Quite right, Elaine; that'll be all now, thanks." Favelli standing four-square with his servant. "OK, Consatorni, what's the rub? Ya got any manners at all? Can't wait fer a simple request t'come in, can ya?

There were sounds of a heavy body attempting to come back to its feet and recover its poise.

"Consatorni, what the Hell're ya tryin'? Pointin' a roscoe ain't gon'na cut the cotton, baby. I ain't scared by that sort'a play one bit. Put the dam' thing away, fer God's sake. Did ya come here t'talk or start the battle of Appomattox all over again?"

Sounds of a disgruntled Mafia Boss reverberated along the corridor; these followed by movements related to people moving into the lounge allowed the listening investigators to follow the course of events at their door as Favelli did the host for his unwanted visitor.

"First-off, Consatorni, pointin' a roscoe at my head ain't the way t'get in my good books." Favelli telling it as he saw it. "Ya can't wait t'be asked first before forcin' your way in someone's house? What kind'a manners are those? Ya ain't impressing me none at all, y'know."

"Sorry—sorry." Consatorni showing he spoke with a pure Bronx accent. "Anyways, I'm here now; so, ya know the general layout of what I wan'na lay on the table?"

"Ya want t'push in'ta my organisation, seemingly—come what may. Do I get t'have any input in'ta this?"

"All I'm sayin' is, I'm offerin' a business agreement." Consatorni, by his tone, a little peeved someone wasn't passively turning over and submitting to his requests right off the bat. "I come in t'Delacote with my boys, we set-up the usual things—Numbers game, prostitution, casinos, drugs—drugs is very good, huge profits there, you'd be surprised. All that sort'a thing—just bringin' yer racket up t'date's all. See?"

A long pause ensued, Favelli obviously considering his reply seriously.

"What do I get out'ta this upgrade t'the way I run the City, then?"

"I ain't tight-fisted." Consatorni attempting to show his lighter side, completely unaware he didn't have one. "I can go as far as, oh, twenty per cent on the Numbers; mab'be twenty-five on prostitution; an', oh, what the hell, thirty per on the casinos I'll be openin'. That's fair, surely?"

Another pause filtered along the corridor to the listening investigators before Favelli retorted.

"What about the cops?" Favelli coming to the major point at issue. "We got five Precincts here, no one of which'll greet your Mafia activities with any level of joy or happiness."

"Cops are dirty through the whole world, ya must savvy that." The Mafia representative revealing his personal moral outlook on life. "I flash a few thou in front of any big cop in this city an' all opposition'll disappear overnight, always works."

Yet another silence dragged its weary feet along the corridor to the by now uncomfortable listeners at the door to the dining-room.

"Consatorni, ya got some big one's, is all." Favelli finally losing his poise altogether. "Ya try that on the cops here in Delacote you'll find yourself in the Big House before the stars come out to shine. And anyway, I've listened t'your speil an' found it wantin' in every aspect of interest t'me. Fancy our conversation's over; shall I escort you to the door? Only because I don't want my servants assaulted again."

Hearing sounds of bodies in movement John and Claire darted back into the safe environment of the dining-room as Favelli did indeed walk ahead of Consatorni to the door.

"We ain't finished, Favelli." The Mafia Boss not taking no for an answer, even as he left the premises. "I got a mind t'take over this hick town, an' your opposition ain't gon'na cut me off. I'll get back t'ya, one way or the other."

The sound of the door closing brought the investigators out of hiding.

"That was a mess." Claire sounding out her take on the matter.

"Yeah, wasn't it." Favelli nodding sadly. "Good job Elaine knows Ju-Jitsu, took that creep down in half a second; wish I could do the same. Ya want a cup'pa tea, or ya gon'na follow him wherever he's goin'?"

"We better get on his tail." John placing his hat on his head with a positive sweep of his hand. "Thanks anyway, Jimmy. We'll get back t'ya in an hour or so with any news. Come on, Claire, duty calls."

"Bye, Favelli," Claire nodding to him as she passed out the door. "thanks for lettin' us hear all this—a dam' serious situation, an' you may have let us get the drop on Consatorni in the long run, bye."

—O—

The traffic at this time of day was as busy as ever, Delacote being a thriving metropolis well aware of its importance to the American economy—cars and trucks nose to tail as usual, in fact: car horns beating out the symphony of the street, honking in every direction.

"How important is this guy, all in all?"

"Consatorni? Well, he is the head of a Mafia group down in the Big Apple." John considering the question seriously. "Which means, of course, he's cold as a dead fish, heavy-handed, and's probably got a whole heap of murders on his conscience. That latter a wholly meaningless term in his case."

"Makes Favelli seem like a Sunday preacher!" Claire nodding in agreement. "I can't see him ahead yet; we haven't lost him from the get-go have we?"

"Nah, there's only one main drag out'ta Todmorton," John steering his DeSoto sedan through traffic like a racing driver. "Where'd everyone come from? Consatorni's driving a blue Ford sedan."

"Ah! Saw that half a minute ago; it's about five cars ahead of us." Claire bucking-up at this. "Wan'na slow down some? Don't want the jerk t'see us."

"Once we get out'ta Todmorton traffic'll ease off on Margitson Drive; we can fall back a mite then." John showing he actually knew his way around the city. "Two choices!"

Claire glanced over at her driver, raising a querying eyebrow.

"What choices are they, then?"

"He's either shacked-up in some hotel, probably a flash one: or he's got a private place somewhere, hopefully not miles out'ta town."

Five minutes later, as Margitson Drive allowed the various vehicles to spread out on four lanes, the investigators had their first clear view of their prey now four cars ahead and travelling at a steady forty miles an hour.

"Don't seem in a hurry."

"Yeah, at least we can stay with him." John nodding comfortably behind the wheel. "He's missed the turn-off for Downtown, fancy he's heading for the outskirts—probably some private pad somewhere."

Another ten minutes found the investigators beyond the borders of the city on Ocean Drive, the blue sea sparkling on their right hand.

"Headin' north, maybe for Claverston?"

"Could be." John wrinkling his upper lip in thought. "Traffic's thinning, I'll drop back some, give him some room. Keep an eye on any exit ramp's, don't want him sliding off before we're ready. How far's Claverston?"

"Another four miles, on the left." Claire consulting a map taken from under the dashboard. "Ramp coming-up in a couple of minutes. Three cars ahead now; wan'na slow down again?"

As Consatorni did indeed take the Claverston ramp John was ready two hundred yards in his rear, sliding along smoothly in his wake.

"Claverston's a village, not more'n three hundred cit's." Claire dredging her memory. "Probably renting a house on its outskirts. Wan'na fall back some more? There he is, three hundred yards in front, an' no-one between us."

Taking the hint John eased-off on his accelerator, letting the DeSota cruise quietly along the narrow country road in as innocuous a manner as possible. The town having only the one main street it was a matter of less than two minutes before the two cars were again on a lone country road, leading who knew where.

"He's slowing—turning-off somewhere."

John, looking ahead, watched their prey slow to a crawl then disappear to the left, the exact location hidden by the high hedge on that side.

Letting his vehicle roll slowly forward John and Claire finally glanced to their left as the car passed the driveway now visible from the road.

"What's that nameboard say?"

Claire leaned forward, across John, peering out the window.

"Tompkin House!" She sitting back. "Never heard of it; have t'look up the Directory. We goin' up there?"

"Nah, too private, don't know what's waitin for us; place's hidden by all these trees—a dam' forest, seems."

"So, we goin' home?"

"Yep. You'll need an hour or so riffling through local Directories t'find out about the House."

Claire huffed grumpily.

"Oh, that's the way it is, eh? Me doin' all the hard research? What, if I may ask, will you be takin' up the afternoon doin'?"

John had the answer to this simplistic question readily to hand.

"Paperwork, dear." He grinning widely as he glanced over his shoulder, turning the sedan in the narrow road utilizing the driveway entrance as a help. "Busy organisation—Drage Investigators! Take me all afternoon, an' there'll still be some left over. I'll be exhausted by five o'clock."

Claire snorted disagreeably, clearly unconvinced.

"Drive carefully, we don't want an accident on the way home. You'll find it pretty uncomfortable doin' paperwork with your leg in plaster in a hospital bed!"

"Har!"

—O—

"Tompkin House, owned by a company specialising in renting accommodation; office in Harver Street just off Downtown." Claire giving of the fruit of her researches later that afternoon in their own office. "Got on the phone t'them, asked about rental but they said it's taken for the coming fortnight, wouldn't say who to."

"Nice." John nodding knowingly as he sat behind his own desk. "But we know that already, don't we? Well, at least we know where the slimy rat's hidey-hole is, anyway."

"He's already been given the brush-off by Favelli," Claire following her own line of thought. "Where's that leave him? He gon'na try another angle, y'suppose, before throwin' the towel in?"

"Long as it doesn't include a roscoe, a dark alley, an' a darker night!"

"Har!" Claire was up for this possibility. "Be an idiot if he did that. I mean, he'd have t'do the deed himself, then get rid of the weapon, then hope no-one fingers him for the rap. Don't see it, myself."

"If he did Inspector Fletcher'd have him by the collar while the corpse was still bleedin' out!" John looking at the scene from the purely rational point of view. "Chemical tests on his hands'd show he'd fired a gun within the hour an' that'd be that."

"Yeah, see where you're comin' from." Claire wrinkling her brow in thought.

John pondered the problem for a few seconds, idly scratching a steel-nibbed pen on the cardboard placemat on his desk that he wrote letters on. Then the phone by his left elbow rang.

"Yeah? Oh, Favelli! Ya won't mind if my associate joins us, do ya?" John making motions with his free hand indicative of this to his compatriot, who already had her own receiver in hand. "So, what's the grift now? Only been four hours since our last chat? What? Consatorni wants t'meet with ya again? Where? Mary's Eatery, on Ocean Boulevard? Eight this evenin'? Don't go! Yeah, don't go. We, Claire an' I, we've been thinkin'—oh, very funny, wise-ass! Like I said we've been cogitatin' some over your little problem an' we've come t'the conclusion Consatorni's liable t'take the easy road t'Redemption. What? What the hell I mean? Just, ya go t'Mary's, you'll be returnin' curtesy of an ambulance, your remains covered by a messy blanket's all. Yeah, I'm serious. So, what d'ya do? Well, that's worth thinkin' over some, for sure; ya said eight this evenin'? Yeah, right, gim'me half an hour, I'll come up with somethin'—call ya back then. Yeah, stick by your phone, an' don't go rogue an' head there by your innocent self—I find it so nerve-wrackin' dealin' with messy murder scenes, y'know!" Yeah, bye for now. Well, well, who'd have thought?"

"We should'a, I expect!" Claire courageously facing the realities of Life.

"Ocean Boulevard!" John thinking about the unfolding scenario like the professional he was. "See where he's goin'? Do the deed, hit Portsmouth an' the airport there, be out'ta the State within an hour, then lose himself in NY. Probably figures he can outwait the heat, then sidle back an' takeover Favelli's remainin' operation easy as pie."

Claire had been frowning over this set-up as related by her boss, and now spoke up.

"What's in it for us? I mean, couldn't we just let Consatorni do the deed, then nab him with the help of the Force? Kills two birds with one stone, don't it?"

John regarded his trusted, respected, and slightly feared co-partner with raised eyebrows.

"Claire, sometimes you scare me! Ya ain't serious, surely?"

Claire pondered on her latest idea for another few seconds.

"Nah, suppose not; but it has its bright side, for sure!"

"Jeez," John shaking his head at this Gordian manner of dealing with a problem. "lem'me think,—umm."

Five minutes passed uninterrupted, before Claire lost patience.

"Seems t'me we got'ta—"

"We got'ta go t'Mary's Eatery ourselves." John, goaded into action, hitting the floor running. "We need'ta beard Consatorni between a rock an' a hard place, make him see sense if we have t'batter it in'ta his thick skull."

"How'd we do that?"

"By brute force, lady." John now showing his steel glove persona to the full. "We wait in the Eatery, havin' got the patron or patroness, whoever's available, t'give their guests' the bum's rush for the evenin', then we take over. When Consatorni shows up we hold him at bay via our guns, beat some sense in'ta him—have I said that before? Bears repeatin'. Then we kick him out, with a definite implication that if he ever hits Delacote again it'll be bad medicine for him."

Claire considered this plan, frowning darkly while doing so.

"Reckon it has any chance of workin'?"

"Load fer bear, buckshot an' grapeshot; then we'll take it as it comes."

"Jeez!"

—O—

Mary's Eatery lay on Ocean Boulevard just that perfect distance from both Delacote City and Portsmouth to the north that allowed the weary driver to develop an appetite that wouldn't say no. When John and Claire pulled up, John's DeSoto sedan doing double duty, they found the restaurant running smoothly with just the beginnings of the evening customers already in residence at several tables. Then came the hard part.

"What!"

"We want ya to kick everyone out, poste haste, pronto, an' as quick as ya can's all." John pushing his dominant persona to the fore, chin stuck out like the jib of a sailing clipper. Then he entered the world of pure fantasy. "We got the nod from Inspector Fletcher of the Fifth in Delacote. Orders t'clear the house of all innocent customers, there goin' t'be some mighty dangerous times comin' in the near future."

"But—but—" The manager, a middle-aged small bald man with a pale face, now much paler than ever. "We can't do that! Folks' have ordered—they're sittin' down t'their main course just now—and we have a full evening scheduled. What sort of danger?"

"Murder, death, an' destruction on a scale never seen since Sennacherib descended on the Fold way back when." Claire now also making it up as she went. "If ya don't want this restaurant turned into a butcher's shop—puddles of blood, entrails over the floor, an' body parts every dam' where, I suggest you find a fire alarm, encroaching water from the sea in the basement, infestation of dry rot, or imminent collapse of the main structure of the building, something along those lines. Ya got precisely, let's see, eighteen minutes, buster. Better get to it; it bein' wholly on your shoulders now—my partner an' I havin' done what we can an' delivered the message. Well?"

Just over twenty minutes later the intrepid investigators sat, having asked the manager before he too left not to cut the electricity, in solitary triumph in an empty dining saloon, only the faint aroma of meals hurriedly left on tables to grow cold untended still hanging in the air around them.

"Everyone gone?" Claire peering through the line of windows to the parking lot outside. "They all gone, as per orders?"

"Yeah, took some doin', I allow, but they went." John passing a violent green and yellow silk handkerchief over his perspiring brow. "Thought at least three men'd draw down on me, mind you; but it passed safely."

"So, what do we do?" Claire now focusing on what was to come. "This gon'na end up like a repeat of the OK Corral, or what? Is Consatorni gon'na come alone, or bring his mob with him? Matters, y'know; at least, t'me it does."

John sat back on his chair, considering the possibilities.

"Reckon he'll come by himself; seems t'like doin' everything personally. Just remember, at the slightest sign he's getting' itchy shoot the bum without pity or mercy. Do it t'him before he does it t'you sort'a thing."

"God!"

Further comment was interrupted by the sound of a car in the parking lot. John and Claire sat forward eyeing the car with the silent intensity of eagles picking their midday meal in the field below.

"Green Chrysler Straight Eight," John bringing his knowledge of such to bear. "ain't Favelli's, ain't Consatorni's either, far as I know."

"An' that ain't Consatorni gettin' out an' comin' in here." Claire adding her ten cents to the discussion. "One of Consatorni's bums, ya think?"

"Dun'no; let's wait an' see. Make sure your pistol's cocked."

The man, on entering the dining saloon, showed as wearing a sharp dark grey silk suit topped by a white Borsalino shading a thin wiry face whose tight thin lips and almost hollow cheeks shouted to one and all here was a man who didn't take kindly to almost everything in Life. He paused to examine the almost empty room, gave John and Claire a searching glance, then wandered over to a table by the far wall from where he could observe the entirety of the room. Sitting back he reached into a jacket pocket, a moment fraught with doubt for the investigators, but his hand only re-emerged with a cigar case from which he proceeded to extract and light a thick specimen that looked as if it had travelled all the way from sunny Havana.

Time passed, in that uncaring neutral manner Humanity had long grown to know and despise. Then the man stood and made his way leisurely to the only other inhabited table in the room, standing over the investigators pinning them both with a steely glance from coal black eyes with no glimmer of Love for all mankind lurking in their depths.

"Where is everybody? Ain't this dam' place open? What're you two doin' here, then?"

Having nothing better to hand, and being mighty suspicious of this intruder into their carefully worked out plan, John and Claire together gave him the silent treatment.

"OK—OK, I get it, you're peeved! I can see. OK, I'm Trevor Kavanaugh, P.I. out'ta NY, looking for a bird roamin' the local environment. Don't like the looks of this cockamamy restaurant, don't much like the looks o'you two, come t'that, but Hell! Either of ya seen a tall man, thin faced, sharp silk suit, talks with a Queens accent, Italian. Got'ta warn ya both, he's a Mafioso, so if ya have met the jerk I sincerely hope ya didn't shake his paw or otherwise; that same makin' me some mad after the trek I've had stickin' t'the bum's tail. Well?"

John sighed regretfully.

"Ya pass a blue Ford sedan on your way here, by any chance?"

Kavanaugh stood still, looking down on John with a frown.

"Yeah, as it happens; I was doin' below the speed limit on account o'passin' a mighty suspicious squad car five mile down the track. This dam' blue Ford shoots up alongside me, driver obviously wantin' t'pass me at light speed. He glances over at me as we're runnin' panel t'panel, frowns like a grizzly in a temper, falls back and lets me run for the horizon. Fancy I saw him slowin' an' turnin' back fer Delacote before I lost sight of him. That'd be, oh, quarter an hour ago. Why? Oh, sh-t!"

"You saw him, toe to toe?" Claire hitting the main point with accuracy. "But didn't recognize him? Some P.I. Ain't you ever heard of photographs?"

Kavanaugh's face turned red, his advancing frown likely to take over his forehead permanently.

"Wasn't thinkin'; his fedora was pulled low, couldn't make out details, didn't know what car he was drivin'. Oh, sh-t! Look, delightful as this conversation is, I got places t'be, back t'Delacote. Sayonara, an' nice meetin' ya both, I'm sure."

With which hurried farewell he headed for the door, the sound of a car engine seconds later telling the remaining investigators what was in the wind regarding his next move.

"Bit of an amateur." Claire making her opinion available for public discussion with a curl of her lip.

"Yeah, well, we can kiss goodbye to Consatorni turnin' up now. Kavanaugh obviously scared him off, bigtime. Come on, let's go—we got'ta get back t'Delacote too. See if he's returned to Tompkin House."

"OK, but I'm likely t'have one of my giddy spells if this comin' an' goin' keeps up for the rest of the day, only sayin', boss."

"Gawd!"

—O—

John brought his DeSoto sedan to a heart-wrenching halt at the drive entrance to Tompkin House; this necessitated by the appearance of another car heading out from the drive and nearly hitting the returning investigators head-on.

"Jeez!" Claire in no mood to see her past life flickering before her eyes like an old silent movie. "What the Hell?"

"Hey, buster," John leaning out his side window to engage the corsair of the road. "What ya mean? Can't ya drive?"

A head appeared out the side window of the offending vehicle, then the door opened and the driver climbed out; all apologies, judging by his body language. Coming over to the DeSoto he broke into a series of explanations heavy with regret.

"Sorry—so sorry." He showing as a man in his late forties, slightly broad of girth and round featured, dressed in a dark grey linen suit and crumpled fedora. "Driveway rather tight here, I know—were you going in to the House? I'm representative of the realtor, y'know; —er, you don't, but anyway—the House's empty, last tenant gave up the lease this afternoon; long gone by now: I've just shut the place up, ready for an inspection before offering it on the market again. You in the way of making an offer, perhaps?"

John groaned in despair.

"Consatorni fled the field, eh?"

"Ah-er, I cannot discuss previous tenants you'll understand. If you wish to make an offer for the lease if you follow me back to the office I can get things moving."

"No-no. I ain't interested." John shaking his head. "You don't happen to know where the bu—where Consatorni went, do ya? I'm a P. I. on his tail, an' need t'know his whereabouts urgently."

The man, already nervous, now became almost demented with nerves.

"Ah—I couldn't possibly provide information of that nature—against all our principles of privacy, you understand. Perhaps if you came to the office Mr. Taylor, our senior manager, may be able to help, but I wouldn't count on it."

"Nah, never mind, I'll pass. See ya." John shaking his head and preparing to back away from the other car, leaving the man standing by its bumper scratching his head.

Two minutes later they were again on the way back to Delacote and their own office.

"Well, that was a bust—almost in more ways than one." Claire giving her opinion of events. "Where'd you suppose he's gone now? Recognising Kavanaugh on the Boulevard seems to have shaken him more than we expected."

"Tell ya what," John pondering on the difficulty as he drove. "We'll phone Favelli, back at the office, see if he's heard anything new. Perhaps Consatorni's already changed plans and decided to meet Favelli somewhere neutral, away from prying eyes?"

"Mmmph!" Claire hardly convinced.

Arriving back at their office just after 6.00pm they found, as expected, their faithful secretary Helen had shut the place up, they using their own key to gain entrance to the empty office. Claire rang the number, John ready listening on his own phone, and connected with Favelli with the minimum of waiting.

"Hi, Favelli, you OK?" Claire starting on the right foot—ready with commiserations if anything had happened to her favourite criminal. "Nuthin'? Good. You heard from Consatorni? He blew the meeting at Mary's Eatery—got jinxed by another P. I., out'ta NY apparently. Yeah, that's how it went down. He's been on the phone complainin'? Well, not surprised; he say anythin' about a re-arrangement? Oh, he did; well, spit it out; I'm all eager anticipation. What? Claymore? That's a hick village north-east in Matilda County, ain't it? What's there, he wants t'meet there? Nuthin' you know of, hmm! Wants t'meet ya in your car on Main Street just outside the Library? Jeez, that creates problems. Get him t'go in the Library. How? I don't care, just get him inside the dam' building's all. We can't overhear his chat with you when you're both passing the time of day through your respective side-windows can we? When's this literary conference taking place? Tomorrow, 11.00am? Oh, well; we'll be there early, dressed as eager bibliophiles fading into the surrounding bookcases. Bibliophiles, Favelli, what'd you think I said? Idiot! Right, we'll be there; just don't wave us a fond greeting when you and the happy Mafioso get there's all. Yeah-yeah, g'bye till tomorrow. God, what a man; he'd suspect his own grandmother of going over t'the Feds at the drop of a Forty-Second Street Skimmer."

John, on the other hand, had ben making plans on his own account, frowning over the heavy unwanted task this late in the day.

"How'd we overhear what they're sayin?" He shaking his head anxiously. "I mean, a Library's all very well but what do we do? Hide discreetly behind a bookcase an' open our ears wide? Sit at the same long desk as Favelli an' Consatorni an' try t'look inconspicuous? Keep walkin' past them, books in hand like we're absorbed in Jack London or Edith Wharton? What?"

Claire, after replacing her receiver, sat back to regard her boss with a gloomy mien.

"You're folding like the proverbial wet blanket, boss." She taking no prisoners in her assessment. "We go there, take station like old pro's, make like we can blend in'ta the woodwork, then take whatever chance occurs to overhear them chattin'. Easy."

"Oh," John slumping back in his chair gazing at his partner, on his part, with the eye of a dead haddock. "Never would'a thought o'that—bound t'work, great thinkin' lady."

"Boss, I ain't above heavin' a Directory in your direction, an' you ain't above bein' hit by same, just a friendly warnin'."

"Oo-er!"

—O—

Claymore lay almost on the border between Matilda and Rockingham counties, a bare half mile intervening between the village's outskirts and the border proper—not that there was any sign of the transition, customs posts, police barriers or what-all: just the empty road carrying on further into the wilderness all round with no acknowledgement of local by-laws. John had pulled up in what passed for Main Street just after nine in the morning, Claire by his side in the trusty DeSoto, and now they were examining the prospect from the safety and comfort of their seats.

"A dump!"

"Never thought it'd be anything else." Claire making plain her outlook on the matter. "Quite nice, mind you. Small houses, no skyscraper offices, wide roads an' no traffic. We better hide your jalopy round a corner somewhere, don't want Consatorni recognising it, then we can hit the Library—that it over there, the redstone three-storey building with the fancy arched entrance?"

"Yeah, it's a Carnegie foundation, built t'outlast the literary appetites of the passin' local citizenry. Door's fast closed, though; don't seem open yet."

"Good, that dinery along on our right is, though—open, I mean." Claire focusing on the needful. "Come on, let's get a cup'pa coffee an' a sustainin' buttered bagel, keep us fit for the chase; I missed breakfast this mornin'."

Seated in the small, but surprisingly busy, eatery they were quickly served with hot coffee and bagels, creating a nice aroma of warm food around their table against the wall towards the rear of the long room. John wasted no time in cutting his bagel open and spreading marmalade on the interior, while Claire sustained herself with a thin ration of butter.

"Aah, that's better; now I feel like I can face the world." John sitting back with a comfortable expression. "Should I order another bagel, d'ya suppose."

"It's your waistline, boss." Claire giving of her best censorious tone.

"Humph!" John, however, raising a hand to beckon to the nearby waitress. "Another of the same, thanks; they're very nice."

"Made in shop, dear," The waitress smiling proudly. "My daughter, y'know; she's a great cook. Another pot of coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks, that'll go down great, too."

Claire, in the meantime, had been nibbling her own bagel with what she fondly hoped was ladylike discretion and poise.

"What's our plan for when we hit the Library? Remember, we're banking on Favelli arguing Consatorni into goin' in the joint in the first place. If he doesn't we're screwed, to use a polite synonym."

"We'll face that scenario if it happens," John not taking no for an answer. "I have great faith in Favelli's powers of persuasion."

Claire shook her head sadly, knowing her boss down to his socks.

"Hey, look who's just barged in!"

Claire glanced to her right, towards the entrance, taking in the heavy-set broad shouldered man who had just entered, he looking around as if in search of a friend.

"Jeez, seen that guy before, somewhere."

"Cauly Markham, on account of his busted ear, see?" John in complete command. "He used t'be a prize-fighter, but gave it up for a better easier life as a thug. Oh, God, he's comin' over here!"

The bulky man stood by the side table, casting a dark shadow over its occupants, head inclined down to stare menacingly at both John and Claire.

"You two Drage n'Baxter?"

"We is—I mean, we are. Why?"

"I'm just come from Favelli—ya know Favelli?"

"Oh, sh-t! What now?" John sighing like a leopard tripping over an anthill just before leaping on its breakfast antelope out on the veldt.

"He sez, Favelli does, ter tell ya both, change of plans."

A silence, as of the Ages slowly gathering dust, lay over the immediate vicinity like a heavy blanket before Claire recovered the will to argue.

"What? Why? What's the dam' caper?"

"Easy, lady, easy. Don't get yer knickers twisted; dam' uncomfortable, I'm told." Markham suddenly waxing nostalgic at the drop of a hat. "I remember Jane, she was a good little gal, Jane; well, one day she—"

"Cauly?" John butting into his reminiscences.

"Yeah, what?"

"You had a message from Favelli; any chance of hearin' same any time before noon?"

"Oh-ah, yeah." Markham visibly casting his personal memories to one side, coming back to the subject at hand with some difficulty. "Favelli sez ter tell ya both, change of plans. This creep Consaquigli, or whatever, he's skipped bail on comin' here, t'this dump whatever it's called. Phoned Favelli early this mornin' ter tell him ter get his butt over t'Harldene quick as he could, or even faster if he knew what was good fer him. Sez ter tell ya both he's gon'na drive out Harldene way, stop at Buck's Garage, ya con't miss same, an' wait fer you two t'catch up with him, so's ya'all can have a friendly pow-wow about how t'put the brakes on this bozzo Consardine; Favelli bein' pissed-off mightily at the bum, all ways ter Concord an' back. Sez, bring yer hardware, loaded fer grizzly, an' get movin' soon's I've told yer. That's it."

John sighed again, looking round the restaurant as if for help and relief, but finding none.

"How far's Harldene from here?"

"Dun'no, never been there." Markham shrugging disinterestedly. "It's you two Favelli wants there, not me. I'm goin' back ter Delacote in about five minutes, is all. Ya goin'? Or what?"

Claire took pity on her boss, rising from her chair in preparation for the ongoing safari this case had turned into.

"Yeah, we'll be there, somehow. Thanks for lettin' us know, saves us sittin' here for hours like fools. Come on, John, I got maps in the glovebox'll set us right. Harldene's around forty miles south, I fancy."

"OK-OK," John rising too. "Suppose it's our only course; thanks Cauly, see ya around. Buck's Garage, ya say?"

"Yeah, Buck's Garage." Cauly nodding as they all headed for the door. "Sits on the left side of the road headin' south. Big sign, ya can't miss it."

"Right, thanks."

—O—

The town of Harldene was, in every way, a more prosperous place than the village of Claymore; there being no comparison between size, citizen members, industrial works, and just about every other resemblance. Not that John's sedan was fated to get within sight of the town anytime soon, they finding Buck's Garage, as advertised, some 11 miles short of the metropolis, heavy woods on each side of the road. Pulling into the small parking area in front of the garage John and Claire instantly saw the Delahaye two-door favoured by their intimate friend Jimmy Favelli, walking stick by his side; he being all things to everybody in the way of criminal proceedings in Delacote City.

"He's here."

"Yep. Wonder what his excuse is this time." John relieving his feelings by way of sarky insult as they made their way over to the public shop by the side of the actual garage itself. Inside they found a waist-high counter lined by tall leather topped stools; the only other customer being the man himself, nursing a coffee cup and looking angry at the World in general.

"Hi, Jimmy, what the hell's up now?" John taking the stool to Favelli's left while Claire took command of the one to his right. "What's with Consatorni peripateting around like a camel with a headache? What's with this Harledene thing?"

"Yeah, we've only glimpsed the clown for about twenty seconds in all the four days we've supposedly been on his trail." Claire succinctly setting out their argument. "Beginning t'think he's a mythical construct, not real at all."

"Huh," Favelli wriggling his silk-suited shoulders in some distress. "The bum's real as grits on Sunday; he also has a suspicious nature a grizzly'd think was takin' it too far. I been thinkin', and I fancy he may be under the suspicion I've put someone on his tail, so he's divin' an' jerkin' around t'put said followers off."

"Well, he ain't wrong is he?" Claire allowing reality in their ongoing affairs. "We're here, after all."

"Yeah—yeah!" Favelli scowling horridly. "Ya wan'na order coffee? It'll keep the bartender out'ta our hair while we go over this thing. OK, three coffees, bud. Right, thing is, I'm beginnin' t'think Consatorni's goin' about settin' me up fer a fall."

Claire glanced at John, who returned the action ten-fold.

"You mean he's plannin' t'knock you off? Bury your body in the wilderness, an' take over your operation wholesale? Is that likely? Sounds rather over the top t'me."

"Lady, you're intelligent, I know that—but Consatorni's Mafia, a bunch that don't take no heed of morals, social niceties, or normal thinkin' an' actions. He decides takin' me out's the way forward he won't hesitate a dam' second."

"And you think that corner's arrived?" John giving the worried gangster a serious look.

"Yeah, I do." Favelli taking a deep gulp of his coffee. "He's been avoiding me the last three days; he's obviously trying to put off any people on his trail; and now I think he's got the climax to hand. He says to come to Harldene to the Ancaster Hotel. I know that place, it has an enormous parking area on its right side; easy enough for me to drive in there, get out'ta my jalopy an' be hit by a passin' assassin who drives off instantly never t'be seen again; my body lyin' on the tarmac, bleedin' out fer the spectators who've turned up t'watch my last seconds."

"You don't sound happy, Jimmy?" Claire making an obvious supposition.

"Dam' right, lady." Favelli nodding with determination. "Did Cauly follow ya here? Is he outside?"

"Nah, said he was goin' home, left us to find our own way." John giving the bad news in low tones.

"Dam'!" Favelli sighing miserably. "I only got Randy an' Hugh with me; they got their own car outside. Wonder what Consatorni'll do when I roll up with them an' you two in tow? Think your presence'll be enough t'stop any hit in its tracks?"

John consulted his partner, who shook her head doubtfully.

"Well, let's hope it don't turn into a shooting war." John taking the pragmatic line. "We're both armed, but only with small weapons; we' didn't think t'bring our BAR's an' grenades."

"Pity, they'd be dam' useful." Favelli scowling viciously as he drained his cup. "Look, there's two ways this can work out—first, I'm right an', given my innocent nature, I roll up t'the parking lot at the hotel an' get blasted fer my trouble. Second, I'm wrong, an' all Consatorni wants is to influence a high-roller in'ta accepting his terms, like before. Either way I'd feel happier with you two on my coat-tails. One thing, anything funny even appears t'be goin' down, shoot first, shoot nasty, an' f-ck askin' questions, right?"

"No way, Jimmy." Claire hot on the heels of this idiotic plan. "We're upholders of the Law, not back-street thugs like you! We'll defend ourselves if necessary, but only then. You look out for yourself, meanwhile."

Favelli turned to examine this Valkyrie in detail, shaking his head afterwards.

"Ma'am, you're some woman, give ya that. Right, I got my Delahaye, Randy an' Hugh are outside in a black Buick; you got your DeSoto I expect? Yeah? Well, let's get this dam' show on the road. God, I feel like that character in that old Greek story—went all round the world tryin' t'get home, but was held-up at every corner, took him years."

"Odysseus?" Claire on the ball as usual.

"Yeah, that's the bozo; well, I feel just like him." Favelli rising from his stool. "Is this gon'na be the end of the run? Or are we gon'na be on the lam fer dam' years t'come before this ingrate Mafioso sees sense an' hobbles back t'NY?"

"Let's hope, let's hope." John purely matter-of-fact as they left the shop. "You go ahead, Jimmy, with your two friends; Claire an' I'll follow some behind, so we can see the lie of the land as we drive up. Don't start shootin' without us, mind."

"Uurph!"

Back in John's DeSoto Claire took up a point of interest.

"I'm loaded, but only with one spare mag, you?"

"One spare, too." John shrugging as he started the vehicle. "If it turns into a shootin' war, it won't last long's all."

"God!"

—O—

Driving on towards Harldene John kept his sedan well behind the black Buick of Favelli's two acquaintances, his vehicle out of sight well ahead.

"We leaving too much room between us an' them, you suppose?" Claire wondering out loud as she surveyed the passing scenery.

"Nah, they're still in sight," John shaking his head. "we'll only be a coupl'a minutes at most behind them when they reach base."

"Then what?" Claire still concerned about the coming meeting. "If we start shooting we better pick our targets precisely; don't wan'na waste what little ammo we have."

"Yeah, been worryin' some over that." John accepting the problem facing them. "All we can do is wait to see who Favelli and his companions are shootin' at, an' join in; or see who's poppin' off at them, an' aim thataway."

Claire grunted sarcastically.

"That ain't a plan, that's just hope—unfounded at that."

"Think of something better, let me know."

"Hah!"

Just as Claire was in the throes of thinking up another query to heighten her boss's blood pressure things took another turn. The road was a two lane highway, quite wide so overtaking was easy if the right moment was seized. Now, a dark vehicle slid alongside John's sedan on its left passing at a rate of knots; before John or Claire could react it had moved ahead passing the Buick as smoothly and quickly. Then, as it apparently ran parallel with Favelli's still unseen Delahaye the investigators heard a rattle of gunfire; there was a screech of brakes as the Buick came to a sliding halt, the ensuing all-encompassing cloud of dust swirling across the full width of the road. All vision was lost to those in the DeSoto for a few seconds as the heart of the dustcloud passed over their vehicle, then wafted away to show a sight of mayhem in its wake.

In the far distance John and Claire just caught a glimpse of the green Chrysler as it disappeared out of sight; to their left the rear of Favelli's car could be seen in amongst the thin new trees and bushes at the side of the road, the Buick sideways on and stationary, its two occupants already out and crossing to assist their boss.

Seconds later both John and Claire were also at the side of the crashed vehicle, by its right side.

"Bullet holes every dam' where!" Claire making an observation that had not gone unnoticed by the others. "Hi, you Randy?"

"Nah, Hugh." The big heavy-set man acknowledging his status with a shake of enormous shoulders, he carrying a huge automatic in his left hand as if it had grown there naturally. "Come on, lend a hand, wheels are near off the dam' ground this side. Hey, Jimmy, ya OK?"

Some mumbling grunts from the interior showing that Favelli was at least still alive for the moment, the four rescuers got to work as a team to extricate him from the wreck. Two minutes later he stood on the roadside, covered in dust, jacket arm torn and blood running down the left side of his face.

"Ya OK, boss?"

"Yeah-yeah, mostly, dam'mit!" Favelli bending over to take a few deep breaths.

"I got a medical kit in the sedan." Claire coming to the rescue again. "Gim'me a mo', I'll be right back."

"What the hell happened?" Hugh taking up the burden of the situation.

"What happened?" Favelli showing his teeth in a grinning scowl. "What happened was someone tried t'take me out, with malice aforethought."

"Anything broken?" John giving as much assistance as he felt proper.

"Nah, don't think so, anyway. Gim'me a coupl'a minutes till the shock wears off—then I may start screamin'."

Claire returned with her first-aid kit and soon Favelli was sitting on the passenger seat of the Buick, door wide open, being given sustenance by the proto-nurse. A few preliminary brushes of hands over the body and limbs of the victim elicited a few groans but nothing that seemed potentially fatal.

"Bruises, a few scratches, an' that nasty cut on your head." Claire finishing her examination and getting down to dressing the wounds. "This's antiseptic, it'll sting like hell when I dab it on with this cotton ball, just so's ya know."

"Oh, great—Aagh!"

John, meanwhile, had the wider horizon of the affair in hand.

"Randy, ya wan'na stand a might forward there; take a gander up the road, see if that moron has plans t'make a return appearance?"

"Sure—sure."

Next John turned his attention to the now bandage-wrapped wounded man.

"OK, Jimmy, what's up? Give it to us in words of two syllables or less, we bein' only ordinary P.I's, y'know."

"You get a glimpse of the shooter, or recognise the car—a green Chrysler?" Claire, finished with her Lady of the Lamp routine, now back to her cold investigatory persona.

"Yeah, both counts." Favelli shuffling uncomfortably where he sat. "Name of Red Sanderson; thug works for the Queens Mob—an enforcer. They obviously thinkin' Consatorni bein' out in the sticks is a great chance t'knock him off; he bein' head of the Brooklyn Mob, ya know."

"Hmm, no honor amongst the Mafia, seems." John curling a censorious lip. "But why you first, though?"

"Must'a thought gettin' me out'ta the way'd be like hittin' two birds with one stone." Favelli frowning as he thought about the situation. "Sanderson's probably on his way now t'put out Consatorni's light, in Harldene."

"Green Chrysler, John?" Claire providing the ambrosia necessary to her boss's intellectual smooth running.

"What? Yeah, rings a bell—hell, Mary's Eatery, Kavanaugh!"

"The very same."

"What's this? Ya know the bum too?" Favelli bucking-up substantially. "Why in hell'd ya not take the bum out when ya had the chance, then?"

"Ships passing in the night; we didn't know who he was. Old news now, anyway." John frowning as he pondered on their next move. "So, the gloves are off? What we got'ta do is head for Harldene at a rate of knots, an' try'n save the palooka Consatorni from his rapidly arriving Fate."

"Huh, by the time we gets there it'll be too late." Favelli under a cloud again.

"Only thing we can do." Claire taking charge of her patient with an air of authority. "You up to carrying on?"

"Yeah, suppose. Ya got any painkillers on ya?"

"Aspirin, I'll give you two."

"Gim'me four. I'll take the other two later. I promise!"

Two minutes later the fleet of vehicles once more took to the road, Favelli's Delahaye surprisingly relatively unscathed by its untimely side-track into the undergrowth.

"Built like tanks." Favelli taking his vehicle's strengths as understood. "Come on, we're wastin' time. Though all we'll be in time for's spectatin' over a dead body, of course!"

—O—

The large open parking-lot adjacent to the seven-storey Ancaster Hotel on the outskirts of Harldene resembled, as the trio of cars filed in through the entrance, more the set of a 'B' gangster movie than anything else. To the left side of the lot, away from the majority of parked vehicles, a scene of mayhem lay across the tarmac, John being first to comment as he and Claire walked across to where a bunch of uniformed police officers had the area under observation.

"Who the hell're you two?" The sergeant in charge eyeing the newcomers with little joy or happiness. "Place is cordoned-off, beat it."

John produced his identification card, holding it so the sergeant could give it a close examination.

"P.I.! Out'ta Delacote; I'm after a bozo called Consatorni; think this massacre's up t'him."

The sergeant, satisfied with the document offered raised a cold eye to the P.I in question.

"As ya see we got three bodies—one by this green Chrysler. Ten yards off, business suit, an' over there, check jacket an' trousers. We also got two more bums say they're this Consatorni's bodyguards. Say this bum here, by the Chrysler came in hot an' ready, aimin' ter take down their boss so they opened up—results as per what yer sees."

"Where's Consatorni?" Claire coming to the source of the puzzle with female intuition.

"He got nicked by a bullet; apparently in the heat of the moment—the situation goin'-off sudden an' quick thataway; the shootin' startin' promiscuous all round, the bullet could'a come from one of his bodyguards as much as the perp here. He's dead, by the way, in case yer were wonderin'. Don't recognise him, by any chance?"

"Moniker's Red Sanderson, works fer the Queens Mob, out'ta NY. He had it in fer both Consatorni an' me."

The sergeant had been staring at Favelli fixedly during this discourse and now produced the results of his cogitations.

"You're Favelli, Jimmy Favelli; seen yer mugshot in the records. So, this case's gettin' murkier by the dam' minute. Anybody else, member of the underworld, scheduled t'show up in these parts? Nah, don't answer, you're all comin' back t'the 3rd Precinct with me. My buddies, the plain-clothes mob, will have some juicy questions fer you all. Hey, Charlie, Rob, take this hugger-mugger assortment o'dropouts t'the Precinct—yeah, the lady too. Come on, time's a'wastin'."

—O—

The Kruger Depot, main railroad terminus in Delacote City, was main host to the New Hampshire & Hudson River Railroad, last stop New York. On this bright sunny day, the second full day after the investigators interrogation at Harldene, Platform 03 was swamped with passengers standing around awaiting the arrival of the 11.30am Highflyer, destination the Big City. In a bunch to one side John, Claire, Inspector Fletcher of the 5th Precinct, and Jimmy Favelli were all grouped together; while a short distance off, surrounded by three officers in blue, Consatorni and his two surviving bodyguards cooled their heels anticipating the Highflyer's arrival.

"No need fer you all t'be here—can see this bunch of deadbeats off easy myself." Fletcher voicing his usual grumpy take on the matter. "They'll be put in charge of the group of officers come up from NY yesterday t'meet them. it's the Tombs fer them all, certin'. Surprised you're here, Jimmy? Ya got off lucky, seein' you had carryin' certificates fer the arsenal ya had in yer pockets an' car. So, what's the big lam then?"

Favelli, well used to this attitude, merely sighed gently not taking it in any way personally.

"Just wan'na make dam' sure Consatorni actually gets on the dam train an' heads back t'NY's all. Just make sure's all."

"He been rufflin' yer feathers some, I take it? Wan'na sing like a canary? I'm all ears."

Favelli gave Fletcher a sad look, like a basset hound that had been refused a treat.

"Inspector, ya know me better'n that. Ah, here comes the shunter with the coach stock. Won't be long now. I'll breath deep when the loco hauls them off back t'NY."

"How much private time ya had with this bozo? Seems he's something big back in NY. What's he want up here, with you?"

"Inspector, my lips is sealed." Favelli well used too to this game of cat and mouse. "Ya wan'na quiz me you'll need a general warrant, a Grand Jury Indictment, a signed affidavit from J. Edgar, an' a note in writing from the President in person: an' ya still won't get so much as a Good Day out'ta me. OK?"

Fletcher, no way satisfied but knowing his adversary from way back, scowled horribly, lips moving as he masticated the latest unlit cigar residing between them; then he turned his attention to the two investigators.

"What's your interest?"

John took him up on the query, though not with any sign of joy.

"All Claire an' I wan'na see—with our own personal baby-blues—is that creep hauling his fat ass aboard the Flyer, an' bein' taken back t'his den in NY, or more happily a cold dank cell in the Tombs."

"Yeah," Claire nodding agreement. "We wan'na make sure the bum leaves this garden city once fer all. You wouldn't believe the god-dam safari he's led us all on these last few days. Don't think he stayed in one place for more'n two hours at any time. We've scoured the outer reaches of Matilda county an' most of the rest of the dam' State on his heels, red herrings an' bullets flyin' all ways as we went! G-d'd-m bum!"

As she finished this diatribe the main loco, now attached at the front of the long train, whistled loudly; there was a crash of linkages taking the strain, and the coaches began to move forward.

"Well, that's that." John on his part whistling the opening of The Merry Widow, "See ya, Fletcher—bye, Favelli, next time. Come on, Claire, there's a hot cup'pa coffee waitin' back at the office."

Claire nodded in her turn as she walked off by her boss's side.

"See ya all again. Don't fret over formality, just keep your doors unlocked an' I'll barge in as required! Bye!"

The End.

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Another 'John Drage, Private Detective' story will arrive shortly.

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