'The Devon Street at Night Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are Private Investigators and lovers in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. Alice contemplates the nightlife of the city while on a stakeout.
Disclaimer:— This story is copyright ©2022 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.
The unimaginatively named Mayflower Hotel stood 12 storeys high almost in the centre of the 1400 block on Devon Street, Delacote City, NH, USA, this temperate evening of August 1936; at her room window on the 3rd floor, facing out onto said thoroughfare Alice Drever, one of the best Private Investigators in the City or accompanying Matilda county for that matter, was settling in for the long haul.
As she made sure all the tools of her trade were close to hand while dark night enveloped all outside she pondered on the trials and misfortunes of her calling.
"Cup o'coffee on the table here, good; magazines to hand on the sofa, good; plate of baloney sandwiches within grabbing distance, good; phone on the sofa arm, good; notepad by my side, good; pencil an' pen beside it, good; room door firmly locked, good; pair o'binoculars nearby, good; Smith an' Wesson in my handbag on the chair over there, good; OK, all's well, ready for anything!"
She had shifted the light sofa, not without effort and curses, so that its back leant against the wall under the window; by squishing round where she sat she had a pretty good view of the road in both directions and the buildings on the opposite side. What she was on now was an information exercise, inasmuch as she needed to spend almost the entire night watching the apartment building immediately over the road from the Hotel. There, in solitary splendor in his swish apartment usually sat, or rather waited ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims, Aldiore Runnunciata, Head of the Cosa Nostra out of Plymouth and ready and willing to expand into Delacote City given the least opportunity.
The present operation being a dual effort between Drever and Cartwright, Private Investigators, and the 5th Precinct Police Department under Inspector Jacob Fletcher; the latter especially keen to see the back of the infamous crime Boss as soon as such could be legally arranged, in one way or another. Inspector Fletcher, being a well experienced member of the Old School, had looked up various likely Laws and Regulations but at the same time had freshly oiled his personal Thomson machine-gun—just to be ready for any likelihood.
While these thoughts ran through Alice's mind, most fixing on the thought of her long-term lover Fiona Cartwright, the phone rang, as if in reply to her thoughts.
"Yeah? Is that any way to greet your lover of long standing, gal?"
"Oh, Hi, Fay!" Alice having the decency to turn a fetching shade of pink at her faux pas. "Just finished organising myself here, still a little out'ta breath."
"Ah," Fiona's tone somewhat skeptical of this feeble excuse. "So, how're ya doin'? How're things lookin'? Any action so far?"
"Nah, it's only ten-thirty, nuthin' doin'. The lights are on in all three of his apartment windows, but the drapes are all pulled tight, can't see a thing inside. Ghastly shade of mustard yellow; terrible decorative sense he has! How're things back at the office?"
"Shocking!" Fiona's voice coming over the wire with a nervous intonation. "Took almost three dam' hours t'get the connection between Fletcher's boys at the Fifth Precinct an' here; but we got it in the end. As for the lads an' lassie's out in the road, on foot an' in cars, they're just gon'na have'ta use whatever phone box or drugstore they can find open during the night; can only hope for the best."
"Oh, well," Alice striving to look on the bright side, while even now ogling the plate of baloney sandwiches with an eagle eye. "Fletcher's got umpteen cars of officers an' the best part of an army on foot distributed artistically round about this den of iniquity, so we should come out alright when anything kicks off. Are we really sure Runnunciata means t'hold a big meeting here tonight?"
"So Fletcher's informed all an' sundry who'd listen—including the DA, who's certainly fallen for his fair words." Fiona sighing at the other end of the crackling line. "All we can do is follow suit an' hope for the best. You settled in comfortably? I fancy it's gon'na be a long night for everyone."
"Yeah, I'm a happy gal, so far." Alice trying her best to enliven the coming boring watch. "Call back in an hour, see how I feel then. Love ya, ducks."
"You too, sweetie, 'bye."
Devon Street lay just on the outskirts of the central Downtown District, around 10 blocks in length it was something of a mish-mash as to its intended role in the City's life. A mixture of Hotels, apartment buildings, office blocks, eateries, restaurants, private clubs, and night-clubs; any time after 10.00pm it began to come to life after a day of inactivity and idleness. As Alice looked down on the road from her third floor eminence she noted the first stragglers in the army of nightlife that would soon infiltrate and amass along the wide sidewalks. There were several shops of quality lining the street, premises who left their large exhibition windows fully lit all night, so adding to the illumination along the thoroughfare. This adding no end to Alice's overarching spectating of the scene; she just settling into the situation as it unfolded below her—she invisible to those on the street in her eyrie far above in the dark night.
"There's a lady with a splendid hat!" She musing on the passers-by with professional interest. "Wide brim, round crown, slightly tip-tilted, pale yellow straw—nice. Jaunty chap in a tux, swanning along as if he owned the City! Ah, a couple out for a good time, can tell a mile away. There's a woman just comin' out an eaterie, looks like she's a worker in a large store hereabouts, likely; finished a late shift an' goin' home now—good luck t'her, wouldn't like t'work the hard hours she probably does. Who's this? Just gettin' out a taxi at the Green Lime nightclub; sniffy sort'a character, judgin' by his attitude, don't think I like him much."
Then things began to show promise as a large sleek Isotta Fraschini Town car, chauffeur in its open driving-seat, pulled up in front of the Carrington Club slightly to Alice's left.
"Who's this—the Mayor? Nah, some bigwig, though; that's some kind'a a car, mind. God, you can smell the cost of those evening clothes from here! The Carrington's exclusively for men, hiirrph! Prefer Hogan's Bar myself. Ha! Here's an early party comin' along! Three gals an' two men; wonder where the other partner's hidin'?—"
Alice leaned forward to push open the window slightly, on this temperate evening, allowing a soft breeze to refresh the room's atmosphere, also bringing with it the sounds of the street below.
"I can hear them from here, that's great. Sounds like they're gearing up for a swell time—best of luck to 'em, I say. Looks like there's gon'na be high times at the Green Lime t'night. Oh-oh! Someone else in the Upper Ten per Cent arriving at the Carrington. Must be something on there, too; all the swells rollin' up like to a circus performance. Is that a Delahaye two-seater?—"
"Hallo? Oh, Inspector Fletcher, how's things at the copshop, sparkin' I hope? I ain't bein' snarky at all, keep your hair on. So? Runnunciata's left his villa in the wilderness an's comin' in, OK. When's he due here? Two hours? God, Jacob, I'll have developed lumbago, or some strange South American disease no-one's ever heard of before, by then. Can't you push him a bit? No, suppose not. Yeah-yeah, I get it; you're the professional an' I'm the amateur. Ring back in another hour, sweet of you! Hi, Jacob? Jacob? Huh, bum's rung-off."
She glanced longingly at the low table whereon the baloney sandwiches she had made earlier resided, looking to her more and more like a Rajah's feast. Sadly she steeled herself against temptation, turning back to the view of the street below.
"Things seem t'be buckin'-up. Who's this ramblin' along the sidewalk as if he's already half-sea's over? Oh, staggerin' in'ta Kennedy's Tavern for a top-up. Here's a swish lady; very refined; God, is that really Balenciaga? If it is I'm green with envy. Goin' past the Carrington, of course; even if she were dressed in solid gold she'd still never be allowed t'set foot in those august surroundings! Ah, the Fairfield Apartment Building, should'a known; residences for the well-heeled! Who's this, comin' from the opposite direction? Oh, just another late office or store worker; God, some o'them seem t'put in dam' late hours!"
All this time, while she had been observing life on the street with her left eye her right had been focused on the closed drapes of the apartment immediately opposite; now she suddenly gave this her full attention as the left side window of the three making-up Runnunciata's apartment became dark as someone switched off a room light.
"What's goin' on over there? Someone's in residence, even if Runnunciata's still miles away. Pal, servant, associate? Wish Fletcher had said earlier. Oh, well, better keep a sharper eye open, I suppose."
All this time Alice had been sitting in a more or less blacked-out apartment herself. The drapes on her window were pulled across leaving only a wide enough space to easily see down to the street in either direction and immediately across. The main light in her room was off, allowing her to carry out her activities in the dark unnoticed by anyone outside, her eyes having long since become adjusted to the low light around her. The apartment building opposite was also far enough away to allow of her viewing it without being seen herself by any of its inmates. As she settled down again Alice continued her soft conversational tone to the empty room allied with a stream of consciousness that only she was aware of.
"What's happening now? Street's filling-up; more nightclub aficionados turning up from all directions. Huh, can tell their social standin' easy by their mode of arrival—there's those who turn up in private cars and are dropped off; then there's those who come by taxi; followed by those penniless tramps who come by bus or just walk from God knows how far away. Dear me, some people really put a lot of effort into enjoyin' themselves of a night! Oh-ho! Traffic's increasing wholesale now! Taxi to the Green Lime, car to the Carrington, pile of folks gotten off the bus at the stopping-place fifty yards north. Street's really dancin' now."
While keeping an eye on the activity in the street, as well as any possible movement in the apartment building which was really her main object of note, she was also keenly aware of the whole general trend of the passing and milling crowds now taking up space on the sidewalk opposite.
"What're those two gals doin', standin' by the corner of that side-alley along t'the right? Seem t'be idly chattin'. But not goin' anywhere, smokin', too. What're they up to, been there for the last ten minutes at least. Oh-Oh, ladies of the night, lookin' for custom! I'll be dam'med!"
As she peered down on the thrusting pushing variegated life below Alice concentrated on trying to individualise each person she focused on, as was her way.
"Here's a party comin' by. Been somewhere hot already, judgin' by their hilarity; an' goin' somewhere else, not anywhere nearby by the looks of their determined pace? Yip, goin' on along to who knows where, but the drinks'll be super expensive an' the entrance fee'll be astronomical, I bet. Hope they haven't run out'ta money yet; but they'll mostly be penniless by Dawn, for sure."
In the far corner of her room there was an electric hotplate on the top of a handy dresser, now Alice uncurled herself to step over to grab a coffee-pot, filled from a small sink in the opposite corner. Placing this on the plate she turned on the electricity and waited for the coffee to heat up.
"Should I have a baloney sandwich, just t'wash the coffee down? What would Fay say? No, I bet! Oh, well."
In due course she brought the steaming re-filled coffee cup over to the sofa, carefully placing it on the low table beside her, then turned back to her duties.
"What's been goin' on in my absence? Hmm, nothing of note, apparently. Those two dames still lurkin' in the alley shadows, won't be gettin' much custom till nearer midnight, I'd assume. There's a trio of ladies headin', where?; ah, the Green Lime. Must get Fay t'take me there one night, wonder what the ambience is like inside? Pretty raunchy, I'd think, by the amount of customers who seem t'think their evenin's not complete without a visit. Mmm, coffee's good!"
By this time Alice had surmised she had three major sites to keep track of; the Carrington Club, where some sort of evening get-together for the Big Knobs was under way; the Green Lime, which seemed the beating heart of the street at the moment; and the apartment building opposite, where her main quarry was meant to turn up sometime soon, along, possibly, with various other deadbeat Mafia types if she was lucky.
"If the bad guys make a night of it, comin' round t'visit Runnunciata like it's his birthday, I hope the cops are handily placed; don't wan'na have to take 'em all on by myself. Fletcher said he had uniformed cops and detectives sprinkled all round, like moss-killer on a lawn—just hope he wasn't exaggeratin'. That apartment building, where the Balenciaga lady went in, think I can scrub that, it's just what it pretends t'be, nuthin' else. Anyway, can't keep my beady eyes on every dam' building in the street all the time, go mad that way!"
Then life became interesting once again.
"Whoa! A Packard two-seater, swish! Off-loadin' another Earl of Commerce at the Carrington. Something big's goin' down over there for sure. He even has a red carnation in his buttonhole. My God, talk about style! Military lookin' mature gray-haired guy. Rather fancy himself myself, an' I'm—"
She took another deep swallow of coffee to calm her mind,
Then things decidedly began to go downhill in a very unexpected manner.
"What's this? Another whopper of a car—a Buick, built like a tank! Who's goin' in the Carrington from this? Jee-sus! It's Carleton Castermaine, by all that's unholy! What in hell's he doin' there? Ah, mixed up from boots t'Borsalino in this business of ours, I bet. That puts a whole new aspect, a dicey one, on things, no messin' around. Better tell Fletcher an' Fay—Fay first."
She grabbed the receiver on the table and rang her office with trembling fingers.
"Hallo, doll, still awake? Ha-ha! Guess who's just turned up in the offing? No, go on, guess, darlin'. You'll never guess! What's that? Oh, get on with it! OK, Just our favourite G-man—Carleton Castermaine, is all. Yeah, in person, goin' in the Carrington Club two hundred yards east of Runnunciata's hideout. Yep, I wondered that, too. You'll phone Fletcher with the news, thanks, doll. Bet Fletcher has a seizure! Yeah, OK, hear from ya later,—kisses an' whatnot, lover!"
Replacing the receiver she glanced over at the table where the baloney sandwiches sat awaiting their fate.
"Castermaine! Well, if there was ever a moment that moment's now!" She making her mind up without reserve. Slipping over she grabbed one of the plates and brought it back to the low table by her sofa at the window.
"Coffee—yeah; sannies—yeah; all's right with the world!"
Lifting the top slice of bread on her first sandwich she checked the meat hiding inside was liberally coated with thick yellow mustard.
When she bit into the glorious concoction her teeth met almost like an alligator assuaging its hunger.
"Mmm, just perfec'. I tell ya, if there's one thing I know how to do right, that's making a baloney sandwich!"
Another couple of bites, a hearty swig of coffee, and duty called once more.
"What's goin' on in the street, I wonder? Les'see. Hmm, quite a lot of folks meandering along, goin' places. The Green Lime's doin' a fair bit of business; ah, what's this young gal doin? She's just sauntering along at a snail's pace. Ah, window shoppin', know the system well. Givin' Saumeyer's Emporium a good lookin' over; now passin' by Carrington's—hmm, gave the entrance a curious look. Now goin' past the Green Lime—ah-ha, she's stopped, pretendin' t'look in her handbag—nice touch. Now she's movin' on again, hangin' around Foster's Garments, I wouldn't say no to some on show there, myself. Now she' wandering on along the street, be out'ta sight in a mo. Oh, well, good luck t'the gal, hope she finds a boyfriend soon to share her walks, or another girl, come t'that!"
Looking down at her plate Alice now recognised the inevitable fact that plates of sandwiches very quickly revert to just being empty plates, if a sense of restraint is not wholly adhered to by the diner.
"Oh, bother, only crumbs left—they were delicious while they lasted, anyway."
It was wholly dark by now, nearly midnight, and the artificial street lights had taken over from the waning natural light of the heavens. Although placed quite frequently at short intervals these tall lamp-posts could only spread their allowance of light in sharp restricted pools around them, leaving quite significant areas in between in deep shadow if not outright darkness. Pedestrians were continually walking into splashes of light only to disappear in oceans of darkness again within five yards. The store windows, brightly lit, did their bit in illuminating the sidewalk immediately outside, as did the flashy neon lights at the entrance to the Green Lime nightclub; the Carrington Club, of course, was far more reserved, a single bulb above the entrance doing sole duty in the attempt to hold Night at bay.
"About time I got an overall idea of what's goin' on down there, and over the road, as well." Alice bringing herself back to the matter in hand with cold purposefulness. "So, Runnunciata still hasn't arrived, must be soon though. The Green Lime's doin' a roarin' trade, the Carrington's still filling up with rich bozos, can't think why. Everybody an' their girl or boy friends are swannin' along the sidewalk like there was nuthin else t'do in the whole wide world. Those two lady operators by the side alley are stickin' there like limpets; would'a thought they'd move on by now. Must be waitin' for the Lime to throw out its inmates later. Oh-ho, what's this? A cop sauntering along from the Carrington Club direction—wonder if he's in the know or not?"
Knowing Inspector Fletcher's all-encompassing plan for the night's operations Alice could hardly believe this solitary member of the Force was unaware of the present set-up. Keeping a keen eye on him she watched his every step, trying to make her mind up about him.
"Coming up t'the Carrington, gave the fancy-clad doorman a polite wave, didn't stop for a chat though. Walkin' on the outside of the sidewalk to let all the passers-by do their thing. Comin' along t'the Green Lime. Ah, stoppin' t'give the joint the once over. Fondlin' his baton as if wantin' t'hit someone with it—know the feelin', laddie! Walkin' on agin. Nearing the floozies at the side alley—wonder what line he'll take with them? Oh-ho, dodgy work at the crossroads! He went past them without so much as a nod! What's goin' on?"
She glanced over the other side of the room again, towards the dresser with the plate of sandwiches and coffee, as if wondering whether a refreshment course wouldn't do any harm—then thought better of it.
"Fay'd only complain my waist-belts weren't fitting anymore, and why?"
Then, quite suddenly, her attention was attracted by movement in the apartment across the road where her main prey was said to have his lair.
"What's goin' on over there? Someone's opened the central window drapes. Looks like a man-servant. Wonder if he's had confirmation his Master's on his way? I'll hold off spreading the news till something definite occurs, I think. Don't wan'na indulge in rumors, only muddy the waters an' get on folks' nerves that way."
During the ensuing few minutes she indulged her sense of interest in Life in general; feeling more and more like one of those ladies you read about in old-fashioned novels—sitting behind lace curtains peering out inquisitively at people in the street. Then—
"What's this, Carleton's come out on the Club entrance doorstep, exchanging words with the doorman an', what, oh, draggin' a cigarette out from a fancy silver case. Now he's idly starin' at folks walkin' by on the sidewalk as if he hadn't a care in the world. Mighty suspicious!"
Her attention was distracted again by the arrival of a large vehicle stopping outside the apartment building opposite.
"Wow! A Cadillac! Who's this? Ah, Runnunciata in person, with some other bozo I don't recognise. So, the game begins!"
"Hallo! Oh, Fay! Yeah, I know, just watched him toolin' up in a fancy Caddie. Why? cause I'm watchin' fer just that, lady—what d'ya mean—why! OK, I accept. So, the rat's in residence—what now? Just keep my eye on him, others to appear in due time, you think? Oh, well, I'll do my best. Ha-ha. You too, 'bye."
Alice, energised by developments, returned to her spying duties with a sharper eye than ever.
"There's Runnunciata in his apartment; thank goodness the main room's the one with the open drapes an' the lights' on; let's me have a good view. Everything seems quiet in the street meanwhile. A few customers still comin' an' goin' from the Lime; nuthin much happening at the Club, Carleton's disappeared again. The crowds have thinned out some, must be the time o'night. What is it, anyway? Ah, twenty-five past midnight, the nightbirds are in residence now. Anybody in the street from now on has a reason to be, they ain't just idly wandering by. God, I can smell those baloney sandwiches from across the room, but I better pace myself. Les'see, have another break around half-one; yeah, that'll work."
She drained the last drops of almost cold coffee from her cup then went back to her study of Human Life as it is lived in this year of 1936 in Delacote City, NH.
"Someone half-seas over comin' out the Lime, staggerin' a bit; which way's he headin'? West! Oh-Oh! Towards our two friends by the side alley—what're they gon'na make of him? Try'n scam him for whatever he's got left in his wallet, I bet. He's havin' a word with them; about what I can guess—Ehrr! No, wait a minute; they're tellin' the drunk t'get lost. He's tryin' strong-arm stuff, the moron! Hoi! That gal near twisted his arm off, nice! He's on his way, with a near broken arm, spreadin' curses in his wake. Nicely done, sisters! Y'know, those gals ain't what they make out t'be—no-no, they're on the Force for certain!"
"Yeah, what? Ah, Fletcher, what's up? Yeah-yeah-if ya say so. You think at least three more characters are on their way here for Runnunciata? Well, I'll tell you when they arrive. Are they comin' t'gether, or separate? Separate? Any idea of the cars they'll be in? A Caddy, a Plymouth, an' unknown. Ha! Is that unknown this year's model, or last, d'ya know? Only jokin', Fletcher, take it easy. Yeah, OK, 'bye."
Alice sighed at the lack of humor people generally showed at her light repartee.
"No sense of humor at all. Comes of being stuck in that poky, dusty, airless office all day, I expect. He should get out more, do him the world of good."
An idea suddenly struck her, out of the blue.
"Why didn't I think of that earlier? Mind must be ossifying. The radio! If I turn the dial to Two-Four-Seven I'll get Stanley Loman's Jazz Show. That'll keep me from thinking I'm the last woman left alive in the world, if I keep the volume low."
Doing just this she crossed to the table where the instrument sat, awaiting a customer; flicking the switch and turning the dial appropriately the room was soon filled with the soft sound of gentle saxophone jazz dedicated to soothing the troubled soul and the late night investigator on the job.
"That's better; at least I ain't alone now."
She returned to her duties, scuffling down comfortably on the sofa till she could look out on the world outside and below without straining any muscles.
"What's goin' on? Nobody arrived over the road yet; what did Fletcher say? Sometime in the next hour or so? Could be anytime tonight. Hallo, what's this? Two gals strolling along from the east, look like real-life ladies of the night, as opposed to the two actors at the alley. Oh, they're gon'na meet, wonder how this'll pan out? Yip, there they are, party of four. Yeah, questions bein' asked; hope my gals have their story straight. Ah, the real ladies are movin' on some; looks like the cop gals got away with it. Oh, the new gals have taken up residence at the entrance to the next side alley at the far corner of the block, only about fifty yards away from the cops. This could be dicey, if anything kicks-off!"
A few more minutes passed with no further activity; only the occasional stroller moving purposely along taking no interest in the lit shops, the Club, or the Green Lime nightclub; they obviously more determined to get home to a late supper than dance the night away.
"What time's it? Near quarter past one! Jeez, I could'a been asleep for the best part of two hours since! Hope this's all gon'na be worth it!"
The monotony was broken for a short while by one of the City's Municipal wagons coming slowly by spraying water from it's rear across the dusty road and sidewalk, leaving glittering reflections in its wake. Then things bucked-up again.
"Har! Carleton on the Club entrance steps again, doorman must be gettin' fed up with the sight of the dandy. What's he up to now?"
As if in answer to this very question a car purred smoothly along to pause gently outside the apartment building opposite.
"Ah-ha! Action! What's that, don't recognise the make. Anyway, somebody oily an' sleek gettin' out an' goin' in the building. Got'ta just wait t'see if he joins Runnunciata, or not. Bet he does, no other reason for anybody t'be here at this dam' time of night."
Fulfilling her suggestion Runnunciata could be observed crossing his living-room out of sight, only to return almost instantly accompanied by the new arrival.
"The plot thickens. Wonder where it'll go from here? Carleton's gone back inside, too. What brings him out every time someone arrives for Runnunciata? Oh, God! I must be losing my marbles! Of course, he's gettin' phonecalls in his own right, from his own men an' women, keepin' him up t'date on the state of the nation. One thing's certain, he ain't working in collaboration with Fletcher, that's for sure. Jeez, if he tries to bring off a sting tonight, on Runnunciata, around the same time Fletcher kicks things off, there could be mayhem across the board. Better warn him."
"Hallo, Fletcher? Well, get him pronto, this's Alice from Devon Street. Yeah, I'll wait, but push him along, OK? What a time t'visit the bog. Hi, Fletcher? OK, the thing is things is hottin' up over here. You do realise Carleton Castermaine's got his sticky fingers in this roustabout, don't you? He's definitely up to something, holed up like a Lord in the Carrington Club. He seems to be hep to every arrival at Runnunciata's minutes before anything happens. What d'ya think of the chances of him tryin' something on his own tonight? Does he know we're on the job? Ya don't know for sure! God, this's gon'na be a catastrophe! Should we bring things forward? Settle for what we've got? Just t'keep ahead of Carleton? No, you want the whole gang? Oh well, I'll stay in place, sure; but you know there's dam' all I can do if Carleton kicks-off? Yeah, I'll get back t'you, 'bye."
She spent a minute staring across the road to the lit apartment window watching the two men standing talking together in the middle of the room as if they had not a worry in the world, then made her mind up.
"Hallo, Fay; God, things is goin' downhill fast here. Only that Carleton Castermaine's got his evil talons in this business just as deep, if not more so, than you an' I or Fletcher' mob. He's definitely up to some underhand game re Runnunciata, that could blow up anytime during the night. Yeah, from the dam' Carrington Club, seems they let any sort'a dross in these days. Fletcher's in the dark as to whether he, Castermaine, even knows we're on the job. Yeah, I know there ain't anything t'be done. But it'll be fireworks for sure if both Castermaine's an' Fletcher's mobs go at it at the same time. Oh, that's rich lover; just keep my pretty head down! Thanks for the advice. 'bye, again, love ya. God, Lovers, what a lot of trouble they are sometimes!"
Back to raking the street below with a withering glance Alice took stock of what little life was still on the go at this time of night, somewhere around half-past one.
"The Green Lime's settled down, wonder when it closes? The Club ain't doin' much business either; would'a thought it closed for the night, anyway; but seemingly not tonight. That Carleton must have some pull behind him! What's happening generally? Those two gals at the alley are sticking to their job come hell or high water; there go another coupl'a possible customers t'the real gals further along. What's this? Ah, doorman change at the Carrington Club. Well, a change is as good as—what? Must ask Fay, but she'll probably only laugh."
Sha sat back to stretch her arms and twist her body around, getting the kinks out.
"Aah! That's better. Well, I don't care who thinks what, lunch-time beckons. God, I love baloney sandwiches, 'specially when they're most needed. Better make more coffee, too."
Five minutes later, interspersed with frequent hurried returns to glance out the window in case of developments, Alice settled on the sofa again, this time fortified by a new plate of sandwiches and cup of steaming coffee.
"This'll keep the troops in fine fettle. Mmm, delicious! Hallo, who's this? A single gal strolling along from the west. Looks a little down in the mouth; sort'a cheap coat, hat's a bit scuffed, her right hand glove's got a tear along the seam; way she's walkin' her shoes ain't in much better shape; poor gal's down on her luck. Stopped t'look in the window of that closed eaterie. Bet she's starvin', poor gal. She's on the move again; glanced curiously at the two cop gals, thinkin' they're what they're not, of course. Got an idea she may be considering her next step down on the social ladder: God, hope it don't come t'that! She's passed along, out'ta sight; good luck to her, poor gal."
To break the monotony another car pulled up quietly outside the apartment building opposite, Alice leaning back a little to make sure she wasn't seen by prying eyes. The vehicle, a DeSoto 4-door sedan, sat silently for an appreciable time before the rear nearside door opened to disgorge a rotund man in a dark suit and hat who waddled quickly into the entrance. Within seconds Alice noted Runnunciata moving out of sight to, no doubt, greet his latest guest.
"No sign of Carleton on the Club steps? Must have thought it'd be too obvious this deep in the night. Yep, there they are, three peas in a pod, gettin' on famously by the way they're shakin' hands an' hugging each other. Bet they'd each plug the others in the back at the slightest opportunity—no honour among thieves; if I've learned anything in all my years, it's that!"
Duty once again called, even in the middle of the most succulent baloney sandwich she had ever tasted.
"Stay there, baby, mother'll be back in a trice. Hallo, Fay; yeah, who'd ya think it was, Ivor Novello? OK, what it is, is another hood's shown up, makin' three in total so far. You'll pass it on, great. Oh, pretty well, not much else happenin' round these parts, the Green Lime's stayin' open till Dawn, I think, and the Carrington Club's decided not to shut it's doors, either. Carleton must have some pull in dark corners. Yeah, exactly. Well, ring ya later, honey-buns. Mmmph!"
Alice, revivified, swallowed another mouthful of coffee and dug back into her abandoned sandwich.
"Mmm, that is good! Rations for the troops! OK, what's goin' on? Hmm, nuthin, that's just great. What's Runnunciata up to? Glad he's keepin' his drapes open, helps a lot. They're just sittin' at a table exchangin' anecdotes by the way they're laughin' at each other, like hogs in a mud-pool. Well, back t'the street for me. Hardly anyone about at all; but, hell, considering the time that's no mystery. What surprises me is the fact that there are some people still wanderin' around like lost souls, for why I have no idea. Oh-oh, here's a couple coming along at a fair rate! Walking along like they've missed a bus; obviously got somewhere t'go, an' in a hurry. Oh, they're arguin' about something? From her tone lady looks like she's real angry; guy missed her birthday or something? Anyway, there they go, off into the dark midnight never to be seen again. God, I'm getting lyrical in my old age. Anything else? Nah—time for another baloney sandwich. God, bet Fay makes me take up that Health Club regime again—but I just can't help it!"
Ten minutes later, finally satiated beyond even the desires of a Roman Emperor, Alice sat back replete in every atom of her being.
"Feel like Cleopatra after one of her banquets, but without the annoyin' presence of Mark Anthony or that oaf Caesar. God, I love that movie of De Mille's; Claudette Colbert's such a beauty! Anyways—business! Runnunciata still holdin' court himself, nuthin' much goin' off there yet. Green Lime's still open, stray people comin' out an' goin' in; the latter unsteadier on their pins than the former, true. The Carrington's showing a conservative face t'the world, as if butter wouldn't melt in its mouth. Nowhere else seems to be open. The sidewalk's empty, except for those two gals further along, an' the two cop gals nearer, still in place. Must be a chilly outpost by now; almost feel like going down t'offer them a cup of coffee an' one of my special sannies each. Bet that'd wake them up! No sayin' what they might call me in return—ha-ha! Oh-Oh! Bodily functions call! My bladder feels like an over-inflated football! Where's the bathroom in this joint?"
When she returned the inevitable had happened.
"Oh, God! Things is breakin' off. There's a fourth man in Runnunciata's hovel; where'd he come from? And the first floor of the Carrington's lit up from side t'side like a circus display, sumthin's on the go there, too. Oh, God, I bet Carleton's woken up an' about t'start another Great War! Where's the bloody phone!"
In her hurry she first upset the coffee-pot, pushed the remains of her sandwiches off the table onto the floor, and fiddled with the phone receiver as if it were redhot for several seconds before subduing it.
"God! What a dam' night! Hallo—Hallo! Hey, I ain't shoutin'—well, I am, but with good cause, baby. Things is taking off hereabouts—Runnunciata's got the makings of a Senate Sitting over in his apartment; and I think Carleton, in the Carrington, is about to gear up for a coming War. Yeah, lights like an ocean liner at night; something's definitely going on over there. Better alert Fletcher that life is about t'get exciting here in Devon Street. What? Ya haven't been able t'contact Fletcher for the past quarter of an hour? Why didn't ya tell me? What could I do? Well, now you ask, nothing much, I admit; but ya might at least have kept me in the picture. Don't matter? I wish to allow that it does matter, lady! Oh, alright!"
Alice had hardly put the receiver back on its rest than the damn machine rang once more.
"God, what've you forgotten now, babe? Oh, Fletcher, what's up; as if I couldn't guess? You are,—they are? Oh, God! Keep my head down? You're the second person t'tell me that tonight. Anytime now? Chr-st! Yeah-yeah, I'll watch out. What about Carleton's gang? What're ya goin' t'do about them? Oh, shoot miscellaneous, an' let 'em take their chance? God, I am gon'na keep my head down! Yeah, see ya, I hope!"
Alice returned to her post feeling more like an Army lookout scout than ever.
"This's gon'na be messy, I just know!"
Whatever might be about to kick-off in the universal sense Devon Street itself was calmly going about its usual business of serving the Public as a major thoroughfare in order to get from there to here, or contrariwise if coming from the opposite direction. Alice sighed deeply once again as she settled into her advanced outpost position for what might well be the last time.
"God! My head's spinning! What's likely to happen, then? Depends who makes the first move, I suppose. If Carleton gets off first, he'll probably swarm the apartment building with his G-men mates, like an Army regiment. Go right up to the third floor, burst in Runnunciata's apartment, an' commence t'creating havoc all round. If any one thug's left on his feet afterwards I'll be mighty surprised. Fletcher? He'll probably sight his boys an' gals all round the building, t'prevent escape from rear doors; then go up an' politely knock on Runnunciata's door an' ask him t'surrender like a gentleman. If not, then he'll whip out his machine-gun an' fall t'business. Oh, God! Amounts t'disaster from both directions, as things stand. Keepin' my head down don't seem bad advice after all!"
Alice, though slumped on the sofa in a rather uncomfortable position, was tense and anxious; wondering both about her own safety and what might happen in the next few minutes across the road.
"This is crazy! The craziest thing I've been involved in for years! God, it's the middle of Delacote, for Chr-st's sake! If things really kick-off it'll make the OK Corral look like a kid's tea-party in comparison. What's happenin'? Nuthin'. That's just great. When're they gon'na fall t'pullin' their irons, I wonder? Huh! For a supposed semi-military operation, at least on Fletcher's side, there's dam' all happenin'. God! I cringe at what chaos Carleton might unleash! Oh-Oh! Two guys in tux's comin' out the Carrington Club, slowly meandering along as if late night Hooray Henry's, an' very like. Couple o'bums. Oh, God! Their targeting the two ladies posing as, er, ladies! They've gone past Runnunciata's apartment, now they're definitely aiming for the women. What's goin' on? There they are, chattin' t'the gals; what on earth? The gals are gettin' excited, an' no wonder—Carleton Castermaine's evil shenanigans'd make anyone fall off the rails. A real argument unfoldin'; the gals ain't havin' any of it—good fer you, gals. Oh-Oh, a couple of uniformed cops from further down comin' ter their aid. Now there's a real hot conference goin' on; what'll the outcome be? The G-men are wavin' their arms around like they're agitated. And there they go, off back t'base at the Club; probably t'report defeat to Carleton. What's next?"
Alice swiveled round on the sofa to give the telephone an anxious glance, wondering whether to contact one or other of her co-conspirators, then shook her head.
"Better let whatever's gon'na happen, happen, I suppose. Nuthin I can do t'stop anything at this juncture. Oh, God! A bunch of girls comin' out the Lime! Come on, gals, just move along, for Chr-st's sake! There's about t'be a major battle here, y'know. Jee-sus! No! No! I don't believe it! They've all stopped outside Runnunciata's building t'gossip—at this time o'night! Come on, for Heaven's sake, this's no time for idle chitter-chatter! Move yer butts, for Goodness sake! No, they ain't; they're set for the rest of the night, by the looks of things. Oh-Oh,—is that? Yeah, it is—Carleton's come out on the Club entrance steps t'see what the hell's holdin' things up. What'll he do?"
This time she did turn once more to the phone, grabbing it like a drowning woman a feather floating past on the ocean's surface.
"Hey, Fay! Never mind that—I got somthin'. All Hell's unfoldin' here, there'a civilians in the firin' line; Carleton's openly takin' stock of the position like a General on the battlefield; cops are millin' around in the street like a Parade; Runnunciata'll likely figure something's up at any second. Everything's fallin' apart as I speak, lover! Do something! What? Ya can't? Why not? I thought you had this whole pig's breakfast under control? No, ya don't? Fine time t'tell me, ducks. So, what? Ya don't know? Just sit back an' see what happens? Is that any kind'a advice, gal? Best ya got? Jeez! Give ya a rundown on the state of things at the moment? OK-OK, lem'me just see. OK, there're two cops—yeah, uniformed, showin' themselves t'all an' sundry, yeah—talkin' t'two women cops posin' as, er, you know what? What? Tell ya? Jeez—OK, wh-res—OK? Yeah, exactly. Then Carleton's taken up residence just outside the entrance t'the Carrington Club, surveying his domain, never mind who might see him. Yeah, that's what I thought too, baby. Anyway, there're also various parties of the first an' second part gaily wanderin' along the street, because it is a street, as if they had nuthin better t'do, which they don't, obviously. Yeah, it'll be a disaster—Passchendaele all over again, for sure; that's what I thought, too. Sit back an' watch Armageddon unfold all round me? Huh, that's just great, lover! You're gon'na try'n find Fletcher? Good Luck t'ya, baby. Yeah, I'll ring back if anything happens, you bet. 'bye."
Another sigh, heartfelt in all aspects of its tone, echoed round the darkened hotel room; even Stanley Loman's jazz radio show beginning to pall on the solitary listener, whose nerves were showing signs of giving up the ghost and retreating to the safe haven of mild hysteria.
"What a dam' row? Wonder if Runnunciata can hear it over there? No, get a grip, lady! Things ain't as bad as they seem—but they dam' well will be in a few more minutes, that's for sure! OK-OK, what t'do? Any answers, Al? No, didn't think so. God, I'm talkin' t'myself now, as if I was compos mentis an' all was right with the world! Ah, at last, those simple-minded hussies outside Runnunciata's have finally decided t'head home t'bed, not dam' well before time. Go on, walk faster, for God's sake! There they go, safety at last—Jeez, what a dam' five minutes that was!"
Alice took a break to consider her next move which, as she very well knew, only consisted of phoning either Fay or Fletcher. Shaking her head at both possibilities she returned to her duty of being the eye of Authority in a very dicey situation.
"Who'd be a dam' investigator? Not me, for one, baby! Oh-Oh, those two cop gals by the alley have pulled revolvers—they've finally spotted Carleton, acting like the Lord of the Manor up at the Carrington! And—Jee-sus!—here it is! Men swarmin' out'ta the Club like it was a military barracks! Jeez, thousands of 'em, Carleton leadin' the way, with what appears t'be a Vickers machine-gun in his arms! F-ck me! He means business! Where're Fletcher's cops? Those two cop gals ain't gon'na be much of a defence against Carleton's army by themselves! Half a dozen goin' down the small alley leadin' t'the rear of the apartment building; the rest piling through the entrance of the building like flies to an abandoned body. The cop gals are holdin' back, probably for their own safety—good thinkin', gals. When'll Runnunciata grasp what's unfoldin' all round his sorry ass? Ah, right now! He can hear 'em all poundin' up the stairs, most likely. He an' his pals have drawn pistols—lot'ta use they'll be against an army! Here we go!"
At this juncture, when Carleton's men had all mostly entered the building, in pursuit of their own private usages, the street suddenly filled with vehicles as if the middle of the morning rush-hour. At least five wagons roared up to the entrance of the apartment building, the rest of the roadway being clogged by the arrival of around fifteen squad cars—all filled to capacity and over with cops swarming out even before their vehicles had come to a rest. In an instant, seemingly, the street was alive with uniformed members of the Police Force as if it was the centrepoint of all that was illegal in the City.
"This is a disaster! Here we go! Was that a gunshot? Jeez, more'n one; we're really kickin'-off now. Yep, I can see Runnunciata firin' at, I suppose, his apartment door. This can't end well. What's that? A machine-gun! Jeez, think Carleton's opened up with his heavy artillery! Yeah, there's Runnunciata divin' for cover, as who wouldn't! More firin' from inside the building? —"
"Jeesus! Bullet through my window! Dam' near parted my hair! Fay was right after all, keep my dam' head down! What the hell's goin' on over there? Have the cops opened up on the G-men, thinkin' they're thugs an' hoods! This's gon'na end messy beyond belief, for sure. Ah, someone's broken in the apartment. Firin' on both sides. There goes one of the hoods, riddled, by the looks of things! An' Runnunciata—jerkin' around like he's a puppet on a string, worked by an angry kid. An' he's down, an' there's Carleton, with a smokin' Vickers! Jee-sus! I can still hear subdued firin' from inside the building, it ain't over yet. Wait a minute, who's that's just spun Carleton round by his shoulder? By God! It's Fletcher, by all that's Holy! Now there'll be recriminations, I bet! What should I do? Make myself known? Put on my room lights? Wave over t'them? No, I ain't a idiot, keep low, keep out'ta sight, let 'em get on with it. I can phone Fay, though. Better than nuthin."
The phone took some finding, however, it having fallen under the table where Alice had trouble extracting it before she could make contact with her lover.
"Lover? Yeah, of course it's dam' me! Who else do I love with all my heart, may I ask? OK-OK, business! So, the Battle of Agincourt just took-off here, baby. Yeah, mayhem like no other; the Good guys fightin' the slightly less Good guys; both sides fightin' the Bad guys, an' general consternation an' catastrophe resulting. Yeah, most of the baddies are now deceased baddies. Includin' Runnunciata? Yeah, baby; Runnunciata's now a previous Runnunciata, meat for the Morgue wagon an' the History books. What's Carleton doin'? You'll never guess. Hey, is that any way t'talk t'the one you love? Well, it ain't much of an apology, but I'll accept it. Carleton, for your information, is in a heart-to-heart with Inspector Fletcher: that being Inspector Fletcher of the waving arms, ruddy complexion, and angry shouting tone—yeah, not a happy Inspector by any means. But, that's Life ain't it, ducks. What'm I gon'na do? Why, there's still half a pot of coffee left, an' two baloney sandwiches; hurry an' come over t'pick me up, dear, or there'll only be crumbs left for ya! 'bye."
Having abandoned any meaningful attempt to make herself known to the Authorities over the road Alice took a last look round her room, gauging what kind of a mess she was about to leave with no regrets at all.
"Dirty dishes, coffee cups littered everywhere, bit of a mess on the carpet, but not my fault. Bullet ricochet mark on the far wall, not my business either. Bullet-hole in the window, again nuthin t'do with me. Oops, better turn the radio off. Jazz is all very well, but ya can easy have too much of a good thing. Dam'mit, where's my handbag? Got my roscoe in it, somewhere?"
Having found the errant receptacle she leaned over the sofa, taking a cautious look into the street below, and across at the apartment building; the apartment in question now alive with a whole ocean of uniforms going about the business of clearing up a complete mess.
"What a fiasco! Don't envy Fletcher at all. Wouldn't like t'be the person takin' up space under Carleton Castermaine's Borsalino at the moment either, come t'that. What's goin' on in the Street now? Companies of police, the G-men faded back into the woodwork as if they'd never been here, and rightly so—God, that Castermaine's a right fool! Hah! One solitary lady sashayin' along as if she owned the town, taking a straight gander at the cops, wonderin' what the hell's goin' on, I bet. Wouldn't ya laugh if ya knew, lady! OK, that's it—show's over. Time t'go home t'bed, an' a dutifully comfortin' lover, I sincerely hope. God, Devon Street! What a dam' night!"
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.