'The Minnesoa Creek Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are lovers & private investigators in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. They travel to a local small town to sort out a couple of cases.

Disclaimer:— Copyright ©2023 Phineas Redux. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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

—O—

The Belvedere River ran down from the White Hills in the far north to rush out into the ocean some ten miles south of Delacote City, NH. Thirty miles further north the small town of Minnesoa Creek lay directly on the River and it was here, on a rainy morning of January 1937 that Fiona Cartwright and Alice Drever, her partner in so many things, arrived after a tedious road journey in their separate cars. Their destination, the Alhambra Hotel.

"Looks like a dump!"

"Hell, we ain't even walked in the front door, give it a chance." Fiona trying her best to take a positive outlook. "Come on, at least we booked ahead."

Inside the lobby was square with a staircase at the far end; on the right a waist-high desk behind which a middle-aged man with thin grey hair looked askance at the new arrivals.

"We're full, try the Gainsburg, down the road."

"A Hotel with three floors, in a hick town?" Fiona coming out fighting. "I doubt it very much. Anyway, Cartwright an' Drever, we booked yesterday, OK?"

The man twisted his top lip with an accompanying scowl, flicking through the pages of a ledger on the desk before him.

"Hauur!"

"Take it that's a yes?" Alice losing her patience, of which she never travelled with an excess. "Which room?"

"How come ya ain't taken two? Rooms?"

"Any business o'yours, buster?" Fiona beginning to realise they were facing a man of few appropriate words and less politeness.

The man glanced from one woman to the other, his expression clearly showing his innate suspicion of the unfolding situation.

"This's an upstanding business, we don't allow any perversions, or perverts here; we ain't a dam' flop-house!"

Alice took a deep breath, but Fiona got the first word in.

"Listen laddie, we work for the Government back in Delacote, you play funny with us we get the Boys on yer back pronto, see! How long'll this dosshouse last when the Housing Department sends its best t'examine it from basement to roof? Wan'na spend the last productive years o'your life squatin' in a cardboard box on Skid Row, buster?"

"Which room?" Alice twisting the knife, because she could.

"Gah! Thirty-two! Second dam' floor."

"Thanks muchly."

Five minutes later, key reluctantly given in hand, in the room allotted, Alice was still seething.

"Dam' moron! Meb'be it'd be better if we did transfer t'this Gainsburg place? Don't like the service here at all, an' we ain't been here ten dam' minutes."

"Settle in, lady, we been in worse places in our time. Come on, let's get our suitcases unpacked; we got an appointment at one o'clock."

"That man makes any more cracks about us, I'll deal with him like he never imagined, just sayin'." Alice making her position public, her expression matching her words.

—O—

Two hours later they were on the cracked paving of the sidewalk some way from the Hotel, on their way to their appointment.

"Sure Vermaine's in this direction? Where's that street map we bought back in Delacote?"

"Back in Delacote," Fiona coming clean with a clean conscience as they walked along with firm strides. "forgot it."

"Huh!"

But Fiona's sense of direction proved correct when they came to the first corner.

"OK, this way, should be on this side, too."

"Let's hope so." Alice squeezing as much as she could from the incident.

And again Fiona's sense of direction proved correct.

"Here we be—One-Five-Seven Vermaine Road. Three-storey family house—big place, look at that entrance! Massive Art Nouveau."

"Don't like it, wouldn't live here if ya paid me a thousand a month." Alice nevertheless ringing the bell at the side of the windowed door after they had climbed the seven wide granite steps to that elevated position.

The woman who opened the mighty door was dressed in a dark dress and was obviously the cicerone of the establishment, a fact which knocked both Investigators out of their stride immediately.

"Yes?"

"Ah, we're Drever an' Cartwright, come to talk with Mrs Wellspence. Appointment, y'know." Fiona doing her best.

The Housekeeper gave both visitors a look as of someone just noticing a dog doing something nasty on the sidewalk, then turned and retreated into the dark interior of the house—the supposition being, so Fiona and Alice could only imagine, they should follow in her footsteps, so they did.

A long hallway with a steep staircase on the left and a series of doors on the right effectively drew them well into the house's interior until the Housekeeper paused at a particular door, glanced round to see if her chaperoned visitors were still in attendance and, seeing they were, opened the door and indicated they should enter ahead of her.

A pair of tall windows allowed an amazing amount of light to illuminate the room, which was square, very high-ceilinged, with walls painted in a deep aquamarine; each playing host to at least two large oil paintings of the Impressionist variety. Alice looked around with interest, Fiona merely curling a critical lip. Standing by the large white marble fireplace, its mantel as tall as her head, stood a Lady of exquisite refinement, like a character from a novel by Edith Wharton.

Dressed in the latest Fashion of 1937, but giving off an irresistible aura of actually dating to the late 1890's, Mrs Wellspence took command of the situation immediately, like a well-trained General in the field.

"Three teas, Mrs Garford—with the Number One biscuits, I believe, thank you."

Mrs Garford, standing by the door, gave an expression as of a miner about to go down the local pit, then turned and vanished in the hallway darkness before the door seemed to close automatically behind her.

"Welcome to ManoirVert, ladies."

"What?" Alice at sea without a compass. "Thought this was Minnesoa Creek?"

"No-no, my residence—ManoirVert—Green Mansion; an idle thought, I know, but pleasing, all the same." Mrs Wellspence getting over this little social hiccup with innate grace and refinement. "So, I hope your journey here was pleasant; the weather keeping-up fairly well, I understand."

"Uumph! Rainin' bloo—er, rainin' buckets, actually." Fiona dragging her agonised eyes from a particularly colourful, yet unfocused, landscape to eye her hostess with a steely glint. "M'Ford's actin' up as usual, but we both got here. So, what can we do for you, ma'am?"

"Please, be seated; this sofa will afford some degree of comfort, I believe." Mrs Wellspence doing the Hostess with an air of supreme confidence. "Ah, here is our tea and biscuits—shall I be Mother?"

Three minutes later, the servant having exited the room unnoticed, the three women were alone again. Alice already scoffing her second oatmeal biscuit with unalloyed delight; Fiona nibbling something doughy with raisins with what she hoped was gentlewomanly grace.

"Your phone call, yesterday, said you had a problem of some moment to discuss with us. Something you really wanted cleared up as soon as possible?" Fiona coming down to hard facts.

Mrs Wellspence looked, for the first time, somewhat uncomfortable.

"I hope this Assam is to your taste? There is Ceylon, and China of course, but I have always preferred the wholesome flavor of Assam. Don't you find?"

Alice, having no idea what was being discussed merely raised neutral eyebrows in answer; Fiona sighed gently, beginning to think they had come on a mug's journey.

"Yeah-yeah! But what's grabbin' your knick—er, I mean, what's annoyin' you so much you've brought in the detectives, ma'am? We operate on a Timely basis, y'know—an' Time equals money, which is hard t'come by these days, but very easily lost for no reason. What's up?"

So pressed Mrs Wellspence eventually came to the point.

"Well, you see, for the last few weeks my niece, Miss Evelina Parkinson, of Gateways here in Minnesoa Creek, has been going out with a young man. A young man of means, I hasten to add; nothing short-change about him, I assure you! But curiously, well, common, in his manners. What One might almost call a person of Money but no Breeding—Nouveau Riche, y'know!—and Breeding is so important these days, don't you agree?"

Neither Alice nor Fiona thought so; Alice being first to make this known to their Hostess.

"No! We, Fay an' I, ain't got no breedin', an' it ain't stopped us in our tracks yet, I've found. Or, at least, no less breedin' than anybody else, far's I can make out! Why so niggly with people's manners? Can't ya let folks be themselves, especially in this Modern Age? The Victorians were forty years ago, after all!"

Taken aback by this forthright and wholly unexpected attack on her Social bearing Mrs Wellspence took refuge in pouring herself another cup of Assam tea; clearly trying her best to discover a competent rejoinder.

"Ah, perhaps I mis-spoke. What I mean is Robert Graham, my niece's frien—er, acquaintance, exhibits certain, ah, habits more usually associated with persons, uum, of a naturally back-street habit, if you follow my meaning?"

Alice and Fiona looked at each other, somewhat in the same manner as that chap on a Peak in Darien, before Alice replied.

"No! We don't. Can you be a little more specific?"

It was their Hostess's turn to sigh, as at unruly children in a classroom.

"Well, to be brutally frank about it—I think Robert Graham is a criminal!"

"Ah," Fiona nodding understandingly. "now we're gettin' somewhere!"

"Evidence?" Alice becoming wholly professional in an instant.

"What?"

"Evidence, Mrs Wellspence." Alice sticking to her principals. "We can't do anything without evidence. You say you have suspicions; well, suspicions never got anyone anywhere, more or less! Not till they become hard facts, anyway. Where's your evidence that this Graham palooka is really a criminal, brigand, or thief in the night? 'cause if there isn't any, evidence I mean, well, where are ya, then? Or Fay an' I , come t'that?"

Mrs Wellspence frowned over this difficulty, sipping her tea meanwhile in deep thought, before returning gallantly to the fray.

"It's an accumulation of various bits and pieces. He did this; he did that, so I am reliably informed; he is suspected, of which I have recently been made cognizant, of possibly being responsible for several other, er, things; his manners leave everything to be asked; he has seemingly unlimited funds, though not having explained how these are come by whilst working, so I am told, in a mere, well, garage! He is suspicious, at least in my eyes, from the toes of his personally made boots to his Borsalino hat. I myself wouldn't give him the time of day; he not being of the Bon Ton, you know. But Evelina seems head over heels about him, Goodness knows why!"

Alice and Fiona raised eyebrows at each other, Fiona taking the initiative.

"We'll look into it, Mrs Wellspence. Where's Graham hang out?"

"What?"

"Live!" Alice curling an irritated lip. "Where's he live?"

"Oh-ah! The Burnside Apartment Building, Oleander Drive."

"Thanks," Fiona rising, giving her partner the eye of departure. "We're on it, ma'am."

"Nice biscuits!" From a satiated Alice as they both left their Hostess with the best grace and poise they could individually muster.

—O—

The Apartment Building in question, when found, soared an impressive 11 storeys into the cold damp air; its roof-line cornice standing a good 6 feet out from the walls, shading the last two lines of upper storey windows.

"Looks Posh." Alice staring up at the edifice. "He must have money behind him, after all."

"We'll see." Fiona preparing for the coming fray. "Now remember, on your best behavior. We want information from the Lackey on the desk, so be polite—you know polite, ducks?"

"Very funny; come on, let's get inside, it's dam' cold an' wet out here!"

After the plain exterior the interior showed-off somewhat being in the Moderne, so-called Art Deco, style of some years past. The white walls of the Lobby were lined by dual rows of thin green tiles while the long desk shouted stylishness at the visitor shamelessly. The young woman behind the desk even wore a uniform dating some ten years from the past, including a little tip-tilted round hat. Alice thought she looked exquisite, Fiona sighed in pain.

"OK, ducks, we're lookin' for the abode of one Robert Graham; he have his den in this pile, by any chance?"

"—er, yes, ma'am, but he's out at the moment. Works all day, y'know."

"No, we didn't." Alice taking an interest. "Where's he work?"

The lady frowned over this question, obviously finding her customers less than trustworthy; but finally gave way.

"Campbell's Garage, on Leathermore Road, East."

"He be there now, ya think?" Fiona not wanting a long drive for nothing. "How far?"

"Yes, about a mile an' a half; there's a taxi rank at the end of this street."

"Thanks, ducks, very helpful. Don't tell him we asked when he comes back, by the way—want it t'be a surprise, y'see!"

Back out on the street Fiona was once again dubious about her whereabouts.

"Taxi at the end of the street, she said. Which way's the end of the street? This way, or that?"

"It sure ain't the way we came or we'd have seen it." Alice being coldly logical at this inane question. "So—?"

"Yeah, quite." Fiona sighing again. "Ya have 'ta be so forceful? Near knocked me of my feet there!"

"Idiot!"

Taking one of the taxis, after finding the rank as Alice had prophesied, they reached the Garage in question five minutes later, only to find another example of Moderne staring them in the face.

"Jeez, looks like most of this hick town was built around Nineteen Thirty, by an architect with but one idea in his head." Fiona finding no consolation in the supposed beauty of the building whatever.

"Everyone to their own." Alice so accustomed to her partner's constant opposition to this style she no longer reacted overmuch.

Inside the wide portal they found themselves in a spacious hall, metal rafters and skylights overhead, stained oily concrete floor under their heels; various trucks and cars scattered around haphazardly while the cheerful racket of a group of mechanics at play echoed in the broad confines. Fiona led the way across to one overalled specimen who stood by a DeSoto sedan examining something he held in his dirty hands.

"Hi'ya, Robert Graham anywhere around, at all?"

"Usually, but not t'day."

"Oh, why not?"

"Gone up t'Tilton t'collect a truck; won't be back till dark. Wan'na leave a message?"

"Nah, we'll come back some time, thanks."

Back out in the street, rain now making the surface reflect the town lights like a long mirror, the women consulted on their next move.

"What's our next move gon'na be, then?"

"Ya askin' me, Al?"

Well used to her partner's twisted sense of humor, Alice shook her head resignedly.

"Let's find another taxi an' go back t'the Hotel. We still got Mr Barclay t'see; his appointment's just in another hour, time for us t'refresh our make-up an' appetites. Time for luncheon, y'know."

Fiona sighed yet again.

"Yeah-yeah!"

—O—

The Algonquin Office Building stood sixteen storeys high on Paternoster Row in the centre of the town, only a short walk from the investigators' Hotel; so took them no time at all to reach their second appointment of the day, the time being nearly seven o'clock in the evening. The spacious rectangular lobby had a long desk on one side, presently unmanned, with the opposite wall entirely taken up with an index board showing all the resident companies.

"There it is—Farley Interchanges Inc, whatever that stands for, eleventh floor. At least they have an elevator."

Fiona dutifully following behind her partner as Alice led the way to the further end of the lobby and the elevator door. On the Eleventh floor the corridor bisected the view but signs on the wall opposite clearly showed which direction every Company on that floor resided; so, two minutes later they were knocking on the door of the relevant Company some way along the left-hand corridor.

It opened immediately to reveal a man in his late fifties, of solid but not fat physique and balding head. He waving them through into his office with a wide grin.

"So ya both got here, glad t'see it. Come on in. Wan'na cup o'coffee?"

"Yeah, why not." Alice never one to refuse hospitality when offered.

"OK, gim'me a minute, my secretary havin' gone home an hour ago; but I can make a pot o'coffee, at least." Five minutes later they were all settled round his desk, cups of steaming coffee in hand, ready for the fray.

"So, what's the beef, Mister Barclay; you sounded mighty put-out earlier on the phone this mornin'? Good job we were gon'na be here, in the vicinity, anyway." Fiona starting off the conversation in professional manner.

Barclay sipped his beverage contemplatively before replying.

"I'm in aircraft parts; nuthin' big, just small parts for small aircraft—but I make a profit. Trouble is, like in almost every other aspect of big business there're other larger Companies' just waitin' their chance t'knock ya sideways an' takeover your action. The same bein' done t'me as we speak, ladies'!"

Fiona nodded knowingly, having been involved in several cases of the sort.

"Industrial espionage?"

"Well, more baseball bats down dark alleys, an' find your own way t'a Hospital, sort'a grift!"

"Dear me; they sound unfriendly." Alice perking-up at the scent of skullduggery in the night.

"Who are they, by way of detail?" Fiona sticking to the main road.

"Avery Electronics, Inc, out'ta Portsmouth." Barclay naming his opponents with the tone of a Judge naming a Pirate of ill-fame.

"Hmm, big, are they?"

"What's electronics?" Alice butting-in with her query.

"Ah, yeah, very big. Electronics? Well, sort'a electric-based calculating machinery, mainly for aircraft an' big ships. Very expensive."

"Oh, sure." Alice not much enlightened.

"What brought them to your attention, first off?" Fiona still on the trail of useful detail.

Barclay had this information at his fingertips.

"They sent a letter proposing a take-over, all according t'Hoyle, nice amount, but I wasn't in the mood to be took over, if ya see what I mean, so I declined all legal, above board, an' Bristol fashion."

"OK, then—?"

"Then, I began to discover my suppliers were findin' it ever more difficult to send me parts, necessary important parts." Barclay snorting in subdued rage at the underhand tricks played on him. "Parts without which I can't carry on. So I made enquiries, through other business acquaintances, an' figured Avery were behind it, pressuring the suppliers t'ignore my orders."

"You could take 'em t'Court, I expect." Alice giving of her legal best.

"No doubt, if a long interminable legal battle costing me a dam' fortune was in my plans for the fiscal year, which it ain't!"

"Ah, well!"

"So?"

"So, I called you in; there must be something you can do? Something t'help? Something illegal you can discover in their books or property or doings generally? Get 'em off my back?"

Fiona shook her head regretfully.

"Industrial espionage, which this is an off-shoot of, is mighty convoluted; takes a lot'ta gettin' t'the bottom of. It's gon'na cost an impressive amount just to figure out if Avery actually are at the bottom of your situation. Then finding evidence that'll stand-up in Court, well, that's mighty unlikely. Mighty unlikely."

"You sayin' I got a busted flush on my hands?" Barclay looking almost ready to cry. "There must be something I can do. Something you can do to help. They can't just be let get away with dam' murder, surely?"

"We can look into it, from the outside." Alice allowing of a slight recourse of hope. "Maybe pressure them, the Directors I mean, into believing we had some sort of evidence that'd scorch their chances in Court. Maybe make 'em back-off that way. But it's unlikely, like Fay says."

"Anything! Anything at all." Barclay obviously willing to consider any possibility. "Whatever it takes; even, er, if you do something, er, not actually in the Rule-book! Not illegal, of course, but all the same, not usual, if ya get my meaning?"

"Let's not go off half-cocked, Barclay." Fiona bringing everybody back to reality. "Letting Avery call the cops on us is not the way to happiness in this situation."

"Yeah, if ya want to end up in the Land of Sweetness an' Light you got'ta follow Regulations to the letter, Mister Barclay." Alice sounding the Knell of Common-sense. "Otherwise Avery'll be dining off your breakfast plate before you can sing the first verse of Waltzing Matilda."

—O—

Back in their hotel room they sat on the sofa contemplating their next move.

"Saw an open restaurant on our way back." Fiona making an offer. "The White Tiger, seemed a good place; wha'ya think?"

"I'm famished's what I think, lady; let's go!"

Twenty minutes later, washed and cleaned-up enough to look respectable if not too eagerly examined, they walked into the restaurant in question.

"Table for two, ladies?" The uniformed waitress smiling warmly in greeting. "Of course, over here, please. Menu's on the table; shall I come back?"

"Nah, we'll order now." Fiona deciding to get right down to it. "I'll take the Beef Bourguignon; how about you, doll?"

"Lamb casserole with roast potatoes an' vinaigrette dressing for me, thanks; and a large bottle of white wine, French for taste if available, OK?"

"Certainly, ma'am. Back in five minutes."

"You're goin' large tonight, lover." Fiona attempting a light joke. "Think that was the last meal ordered on the Titanic!"

"Fool!"

Twenty satiated minutes later only crumbs and the stains on their napkins were left to testify to the late comestibles; Alice still sighing over her casserole and wine.

"Mmm, is there another glass at the bottom of that bottle, lady? 'cause if so it's mine!"

"Gods—OK, here! Hope ya ain't gon'na get drunk on me, t'end the evening on a high note?"

"Fool! I can take my drink; three glasses of white wine ain't drinking, anyway; it's just moistening the palate's all."

"Gods!"

Later, the table cleared, they sat back with time on their hands, sampling a bottle of old port in the meantime as a luxury, pondering on their latest cases.

"Don't see much coming of Mrs Wellspence's snobbery, do you?"

"Nah, she hasn't a hope of standin' in the way of Modern Love." Alice being as snarky as she felt the situation demanded. "So, she's used to moral stances an' social rules dating from forty years ago at least! That ain't gon'na get her far t'day. While Graham owns a large garage an's making money hand over fist, far's we can make out? Nuthin' t'stop dear Evelina marryin' him fast's as she can manage same, I think."

"Yip," Fiona taking another sip of her port. "Mmm, this's good, could make it a habit, y'know."

"Expensive habit, gal; if so, you're the one'll be payin', just sayin'."

"Ha!"

"What about Barclay?"

"Yeah, that's gon'na be a b-gg-r, t'use a technical term!"

"Always convoluted, these espionage cases." Alice considering the ins-and-outs of the case. "Trying to find evidence would mean gettin' someone placed in the Company, high enough to be able to uncover material we need. That'll be impossible in the short term."

"And Barclay can't last the long term, I'm thinking."

"Just so." Alice nodding agreement. "Looks like the only option'll be some form of bluff. Make 'em think we have something on them, even though we don't."

"Could go to the individual suppliers an' make out we have evidence against Avery that might land associates in Court if it comes out in Public?"

"Mighty close t'breaking the Law, lady?"

"Yeah, there's that, surely."

"Worth considering, though."

"Let's sleep on it, OK?"

"Yeah—wake up in the mornin' with the answers t'everything, eh?"

"Ha! You, meb'be; but not me, ducks!"

—O—

The next morning found the ladies at Campbell's Garage once again; this time talking to the owner, who had returned from his expedition to rescue a sick truck up-state.

"Been wantin' someone t'look over my Ford sedan, been actin'-up some the last few weeks. It's engine, y'know." Fiona trying her cover story for size as they talked in the wide echoing shed surrounded by noise and oily smells.

"Ya don't say—something wrong with the engine? Well, ya came t'the right place, lady—we bein' a garage, an' all."

Looking to see if she was being taken for a fool, but unable to read the man's expression, Fiona carried bravely on.

"Yeah, er, yeah! So, the engine—it ticks, or rather, it sort'a clicks every few seconds, think the bearings need fixin'."

Robert Graham, being a man who could see a church in daylight, broke character to grin outright.

"Tosh, bosh, an' nonsense, ma'am; if ya don't mind me sayin' so. Mrs Wellspence put ya both up t'this, didn't she? Yeah, she did; same bein' a scientific fact, like Einstein's Theory. We're gettin' married this comin' weekend, Evelina an' I, y'know! Well, ya didn't, but ya do now—so what?"

Fiona, having been called out for her poor acting, looked at Alice who merely raised her eyebrows in return.

"Well, er, we'll be sure t'let Mrs Wellspence know. Sure she'll come up with a juicy wedding present."

"Like your confidence, ma'am." Robert hitting the sarcasm ball out of the field.

"Nice meetin' you—let's go, ducks, our duty's done here!" Alice taking the utilitarian outlook.

Sitting in Alice's Plymouth coupé they considered their options.

"We gon'na beard Wellspence in her den, an' tell her the news personal?"

"Think that's a wise move?" Fiona clearly hardly of this opinion herself.

"Not really." Alice shaking her head. "Seems something they, Robert an' the divine Evelina, ought'a tell her themselves. What say we beat a retreat back t'Delacote, send her our bill, an' see if she bites the bait without swearin' too foully?"

"It's a plan; yeah, let's do that!"

"What about Barclay?"

"Barclay—Oh, God!" Fiona fed-up with this aspect of their case history. "Well, not much we can do immediately. Let's just think about it for a while; bound t'come up with something, given time."

"Humph!" Alice hardly convinced. "We can sign-out of that grotty Hotel, hit Delacote, take time-out t'review our options, an' come up with something that'll knock Barclay on his doozy it'll be so brilliant. How's that sound?"

"Like a fool talkin' t'a idiot, surrounded by a crowd of admirin' morons!"

"Oh!"

—O—

The next two days were full to the brim, various other cases taking precedence; but finally the Investigators found a quiet half-hour to look to the future, over coffee and hamburgers.

"They put tomato relish on mine, after I particularly told 'em mustard." Alice in a fury. "Last time I order from DiMaggio's, that's for sure."

"In which case you'll be sittin' famished watchin' me dig in, lady." Fiona taking no prisoners. "I like their burgers, an' their relish's home made—delicious."

"Glad ya think so. So, what about this letter from the Wellspence up in Minnesoa Creek? What ya make of it?"

In answer Fiona, wiping her fingers on a napkin, took up the missive in question to scan it once more.

"Delivered this morning," She reading rapidly from long experience. "Dear Miss Cartwright—probably couldn't remember your name!"

"Graagh!"

"Dear Miss Cartwright," Fiona grinning widely. "In regard to the conversation we had some few days ago I have come into information which is of some significance and would be glad to meet with you both in the near future. Say, this coming Thursday at Three pee-emm? Yours, Mrs Florence Wellspence."

"Nice letter."

"But what's behind it?" Fiona showing all her innate suspicion of Life in general and clients in particular. "Does she know? About the wedding? Has she been told by the miscreants under discussion, or have they been ratted on by one of her spies?"

"Who knows—who cares." Alice all one about this. "maybe she just wants to pay us for our trouble in person?"

"More like throw a coupl'a cowpats in our faces for insubordination an' bein' just inept investigators, I bet."

"Mrs Wellspence!" Alice laughing out loud at the thought. "Her ideas of the Social Graces would never allow such a thing. She'll probably offer us the inferior Ceylon tea, with Number Three biscuits, say tch-tch-tch to our faces like a children's disappointed schoolteacher, an' kick us out with tuppence-ha'penny each in compensation!"

"And then there's the letter from Barclay." Fiona turning to the second of their hard cases. "Dear Ladies, things is looking up hereabouts, but I'd still like some input from you both if possible. Thursday at ten-thirty a.m. suit? Yours, Bill Barclay."

"Can't imagine what's made him break out in smiles all of a sudden." Alice sounding an ingrained note of suspicion. "Beginning of the week he was sure the world was comin' to an end, no holds barred. Maybe Avery have gone into liquidation?"

"Hardly; too easy for us, ducks." Fiona facing reality. "Bet it's something gruesome that'll cause us untold trouble over several months, an' cost a fortune in expences."

"Lady, what I love about you is your determination to always look on the bright side!"

"Fool!"

—O—

Minnesoa Creek in the sunshine looked no more tempting to the passing motorist's eye than it had in the earlier rain; Alice certainly of this opinion as she drove along Main Road in her Plymouth coupé ahead of Fiona's Ford sedan.

The Algonquin Office Building appeared, if possible, more decrepit in the morning sunlight than a dull rainstorm as previously; the ladies parking their motors by the kerb at the main entrance and rushing inside without formality. Outside the door of Farley Interchanges Inc on the Eleventh floor they had to bang on the glass upper portion and wait for a dark silhouette to appear to open it, only after the slipping of innumerable locks and chains; Barclay showing himself a trifle scared as well as excited to their professional eyes.

"What's up, Barclay?" Alice coming to the point as they stood inside watching him relock his outer portal with a degree of intensity and care.

"Can't be too careful these days, ladies, all sort's of crooks wandering loose about the place, y'know. Come on in my private office. Want a shot o'whisky? Nah? Oh well, I do, beg pardon."

He poured from a tall bottle into a thick glass, replaced the bottle in a filing cabinet and ushered his visitors to his desk where straight hard chairs awaited.

"What's goin' on?" Fiona coming to the point, somewhat mystified. "Thought from your letter things were on the up-an-up for ya."

"No such luck, ladies; quite the opposite, in fact." Barclay prefacing this with a deep swig of the tonic that warms. "Always been a bad habit of mine—writing letters that give entirely the wrong impression of my feelings. Don't know how it happens, just does."

"So?" Alice looking for something material to bite on.

"What?"

"So," She beating a dead dog. "What's goin' on? We thought Avery had given up an' offered ya an annual pension or something."

"No fear o'that!" Barclay shaking his head miserably. "Got a letter from their lawyers two days ago, says their gon'na put out an APB on me for using one of their patents without permission. If it goes t'Court it'll ruin me for sure. So, what can you do about it for me?"

Fiona and Alice interchanged frowns before Fiona stepped to the mark.

"Did ya?"

In return Barclay looked confused.

"Did I what? It's dam' Avery pullin' the fast steps in this dam' dance, y'know."

"No-no! Did you use their patents without permission?"

The depressed businessman sighed and took another drink.

"I may have done. There's a lot of confusion around the small print in these things, y'know. What one can do, an' what one can't; changes with the situation, often as not. I may have done; but then I may not of! A dam' legal smorgasbord."

"That don't help much." Alice sitting back, disappointed.

Fiona had been thinking, bringing her vast expertise to bear on the matter.

"We could try the same on them! They throw a subpoena at us, we reciprocate in turn."

"How?" Barclay even more confused. "What've I got against Avery of any importance?"

"Nothing, but we can cook something up, no trouble." Fiona on a roll, grinning evilly.

Alice glanced at her partner with a worried expression, knowing what infinite borders of craziness the lady was capable of if unrestrained.

"What'd that be, gal?"

"Oh, just the Nostromo Grift, doll."

Alice sat up straight, both appalled and amazed at one and the same time.

"Oh, God."

Barclay, sitting behind his desk, looked from one to the other wholly in the dark.

"What the Hell's the Nostromo Grift?"

So Alice, grinning like a Demon from Hades, told him.

—O—

The Art Nouveau exterior of MaisonVert, when the Investigators rolled up in their individual motors, still looked like a birthday cake that had been too enthusiastically decorated and slumped in places as a result. Inside its proprietor stood awaiting her visitors like a Queen in her state-room.

"So glad you could come; isn't it a fine day. Tea, Mrs Garford; Ceylon and, ah, you know!" She fleetingly holding up three fingers in a motion that both Fiona and Alice fully understood. "Shall we sit in the Drawing-room? This way."

Seated on what had once been a great and soft sofa but, with the passing decades, now resembled some form of Renaissance torture table, the Investigators bravely faced their light afternoon déjeuner. The Ceylon tea turning out not so bad as they had expected, but the biscuits were dire, obviously obtained cheaply from some Ship's old obsolete stock; Alice nearly cracking a tooth on her first unwitting bite.

"What can we do for you, ma'am?" Fiona breaking-off for the good guys.

"Oh, I just thought it time to wrap-up this silly confusion." Mrs Wellspence attempting an air of girlish innocence that had not been appropriate to her armory for the past forty-five years. "Such a silly mis-understanding, don't you think?"

Not for the first time that day Fiona and Alice exchanged curious glances; Alice bowling for the team.

"What?"

"That delightful gentleman, Robert Graham, came to tell me about his imminent plans to wed dear Evelina, and so pleased, I was." Mrs Wellspence beginning to lose her grasp of Grammar in her excitement. "What do you think, it coming out quite by chance, of course; dear Robert talking about his relatives—Family, you know, so important these days, I'm glad to say."

"Oh, yeah?" Fiona suspicious as all Hell.

"Yes," Mrs Wellspence carrying-on regardless. "it turning out he, Robert, is nephew to our very own Senator, Waldyce Corrigan! What do you think of that? A Senator, a real Senator in our Family! Why, I was quite taken aback, I must say. It will be of immense importance to me—I mean, in various ways to the Boards of Charities and suchlike I happen to Chair. I was immensely pleased at the news; can't imagine why dear Robert kept this such a secret all along. Why, if I had only known the good tidings earlier there would not have been the need to involve such a distressing common nuisance as private detectives in our, obviously, private concerns! Such a weight off my mind to know everything has turned out quite excellently. Have you finished your tea? I'll send a cheque by post, if that is quite acceptable; thank you both, and goodbye!"

—O—

The office in the Lottis Building, 12th & Cadesco, Delacote City, NH, was warm and a trifle stifling, the windows not having been opened for the last two days. Alice, on their return, set about remedying this with some determination, while Fiona made a pot of coffee on their side stove in the private office.

"Won't be as good as Mrs Wellspence's tea."

"Who cares about dam' Wellspence?" Alice heaving a deep sigh. "There, fresh air at last. What d'ya think of everything, doll? Yeah, I'll take the thin biscuits with the pink icing, thanks."

Once settled together at the long desk on well-padded chairs, they began their resume of past events.

"Amazing how far snobbery'll get ya."

"You don't say?" Alice snorting in disgust. "Wellspence thinkin' Graham's a hick 'cause he works in a garage; then thinks he's Adonis Redux because his Uncle's a Senator! I know what she is, well enough. She's—"

"No doubt," Fiona expertly cutting her partner off at the creek. "and the Barclay thing went well."

"Yeah, the Nostromo Grift never fails; worked to perfection yesterday." Alice grinning broadly. "Barclay won't be hearing from Avery any time this next decade, I bet. Ha-ha!"

"We'll need t'pay Gerald Fairbrother a coupl'a C-notes for his trouble there."

"It'll come out'ta expences." Alice at one with this outlay. "Always works better when he's on deck. Tell ya one thing, dearie?"

Fiona, considering whether a third biscuit was that biscuit too many, dragged her gaze away from the plate, turning her warm brown eyes on the lady she loved most in all the world.

"What might that be, lover?"

"I don't want to set foot in Minnesoa Creek myself again, for the next decade either. Just, y'know, a personal thing."

Fiona nodded abstractedly then, casting her doubts to the four winds, took the biscuit; crunching cheerily while inclining her head in her partner's direction.

"See where you're comin' from, gal, sure do!"

Alice looked at her lover, glanced at the plate of biscuits on the desk and regarded her partner once again, with a critical eye.

"Don't even think about one for the road, dear! You try for another biccy, I do something that Mrs Wellspence'd regard as mutiny on the High Seas, just so you're warned!"

"Not even that small oatmeal crumbly? Just that small one?"

"Not even that!"

Fiona pouted her adorable pink lips, glanced at her lover and reached out anyway.

"Don't ya dare!" Alice leaning over to grab her partner's hand before it could touch paydirt.

"Oh!"

"You'll thank me later, when the weighing machine in the bathroom back at our condo doesn't break under you!"

"Fool!"

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—