'The Radio Star 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, take on the task of protecting a radio personality.

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—

'This is KLTY transmitting over the airwaves from Delacote City, NH, this bright morning on March 24th, 1937. This evening we have Morgan Easte flicking through the latest jazz output; but now, at eleven o'clock this morning let's hear it for Rose Martin, sheperding us listeners through the latest in Swing—here we go—"

Claire twisted the dial a trifle, looking for the centre of the signal but only causing the usual eerie wavering whine.

"Leave it, gal." John trying to assert authority about as much as he usually did.

"Only tryin' t'help!" Claire abandoning her ministrations with a pout.

"Hi'ya, friends," The radio emitting the velvet tones of a deep contralto. "here we are again, coverin' the best in Swing, and here is where you'll find it, or my name ain't Rose Martin. Let's get to it—here's the Mark Gainsbrough Band with their latest platter—"

"That'll do for now." John exerting his position slightly more strongly. "Don't have time t'listen t'a full radio show. So, that's our gal, eh?"

Claire nodded agreement, raising a carefully outlined brow towards her leader as they sat in the private office on the 3rd floor of the Carstairs Building in Delacote City.

"That's her; the first black radio DJ in American history! What'ya think?"

"What should I think?"

"Come on, Boss, divvy-up!" Claire shaking her head. "What's your line on the subject?"

"Got nothing against female DJ's, why should I? And as to her color or Race—what's that to anyone? Nothing t'me, as you very well know!"

"Yeah, sure, but—"

"Ain't no buts, Claire;—when it comes t'color—be it citizens generally or customers, that aspect don't enter in'ta my way of responding to who I meet or interact with. So, give me the basics of the case again, if ya would, my old memory not bein' what it was."

Claire, used to this method of attacking a case, sighed and consulted her notes.

"Rose Martin, radio DJ, taken up by KLTY here four months ago; she bein' the first black DJ anywhere. Since which the Radio Station and Miss Martin have been receiving threats against the business and she in person. Brad Jones, Director of the Station, comin' to us to help with security; some around the Station offices, but mostly for Miss Martin in her apartment on Hollister Street. That about covers it."

"What kind'a threats?" John musing over the details. "Any ideas of who's makin' them, from anyone? Is it anyone Miss Martin knows, for instance?"

"I've only had a preliminary interview with both Mister Jones and Miss Martin, neither feeling they have any particular individual in mind behind it."

"Ho-hum! What form are these threats taking?"

"Anonymous notes—the usual cut-out letters from newspapers and magazines pasted on plain paper." Claire nodding over her notes. "No clues there; envelopes unhelpful so far, but I gave Mister Jones instructions to hold onto any that come in the future."

"Yeah, sure." John sighing again. "So, we start from the usual position—zero!"

"That's about it, boss."

"Uumph!" John fiddling with a pen to no great effect. "Did you schedule an interview with Miss Martin, out of the Station's premises? At her apartment?"

"Yeah, three-thirty this afternoon."

"OK, maybe in more relaxed circumstances and environment we may be able to make progress. We'll take my car."

"Thanks, boss; save my gas that way!"

"Har!"

—O—

Miss Martin lived in a new rather glossy block on Hollister Street, The Heights, on the fourth floor. On opening her apartment door the visitors John and Claire had their first personal contact with the prime subject of their latest case. Rose Martin was tall, brown-skinned with an open friendly expression. Inside she seated the two Investigators on a long sofa in a bright airy living-room and offered coffee at once.

"Yeah, sure, thanks." John never passing-up an invitation to sup of the liquid that revivifies.

"OK, thanks." Claire more utilitarian about the matter.

Comfortably settled the interview could take its natural course.

"When did these threats first start?" John coming to the crux of the matter. "Were they against the Station generally, at first, or you in particular?"

"It's all down to my color, y'know!" Miss Martin pinning the important point straight-off.

"We figured." Claire trying to be as neutral as possible.

"So," Miss Martin continuing. "the first letters just spewed nastiness about the Station taking me on; talkin' about what a grotty place it must be, employin' black people t'talk over the airwaves, an' that sort'a thing."

"When did they focus on you in particular?" John frowning over the important aspect of the case.

"About a month after the first mail." Miss Martin sure of the facts here. "This all kickin'-off near three months ago. Just over three weeks after the first letter, as I said, they suddenly started making nasty references to me personally; makin' lewd an' disgraceful references t'—"

"Are the letters written by the same culprit, one person?" John on top of an important detail. "Or by several individuals?"

"Difficult to tell," Misss Martin shrugging in reply. "meb'be, meb'be not. I was hoping you could figure something out along those lines."

"Has anything physical happened to you or the Station so far?" Claire covering another important point.

"No, just threats; but they're gettin' more'n more scary."

"Got any to hand?" John fishing for concrete evidence.

"Yeah, Brad's keepin' all the letters he gets at the Station, an' those addressed to me."

"So the culprit knows your private address here?" Claire raising an eyebrow.

"No, they're addressed to me at the Station."

"Ah!"

"Think that's important?"

"Nah, could be a bluff; he, or she, may know where you live, but's just pretendin' they don't t'put you off your guard." Claire clarifying this aspect with brutal frankness. "So stay alert an' wary, even when you're here, OK?"

"Yeah, sure."

"You own a firearm?" John covering another aspect.

"Well, yeah, a revolver; got it somewhere."

"Dig it out, oil it, load it, an' if anyone tries anythin' at all out'ta the usual don't hesitate t'shoot."

"Yeah, shoot—don't try'n engage in conversation or argument," Claire backing-up her boss's advice—"just shoot, OK?"

"Well, how'd I know—"

"There probably won't be time t'figure out what's goin' down—just shoot first, an' aim true." Claire covering the main details of self protection. "Disabling your opponent's the main thing; get 'em on the ground, bleedin' profuse, an' you're halfway home."

"If you feel safe at that point then you can phone for the cops, but if he still has any life in him, an' you're still scared, shoot him again, or get out'ta this apartment an' find a safe place or person, OK?" John supplying the basics of an escape plan.

"Jeez!"

"Sometimes Life just ain't pretty, Miss Martin." Claire admitting the coarse nature of Life in general. "Things has t'be done you wouldn't normally think of doin', but there ya are! If it happens, which we don't say it will, it'll be a question of you or him—better him than you, don't ya think?"

"Jeesus!" Miss Martin seeing yet another point of order in this situation. "What if he's white—as he'll almost certainly turn out? Me, a black woman, shootin' a white man! What'll the cops, or the Courts, think o'that?"

This brought the two Investigators to a halt, musing on the likely probabilities involved.

"We here in Delacote are pretty forward-lookin' folks, cops included." John giving of his best. "No racial tensions worth talkin' about; no racial seclusions—I mean segregation or that sort'a thing. You ain't annoyed when you take a bus ride about the city, are ya? Or visit cinemas or restaurants, or places like that?"

"No-no!" Miss Martin looking somewhat bemused. "I know that sort'a thing goes on elsewhere—New York an' places—but it's never happened here, t'me or any of my friends."

"Talkin' of friends," Claire getting down to the nitty-gritty. "Can you supply us with a list of those you'd call close friends, not merely passin' acquaintances; just so we can tick them off our lists?"

"I'm sure none of my—"

"That's just what we can't be sure of, Miss Martin." John's tone taking on an icy inflection. "Certainly not in these circumstances. Best to investigate all comers, an' know for sure, rather than just hoping!"

"Oh, God!"

"I know," Claire trying to offer some level of comfort. "This sort'a thing makes us do things, and look at even our friends, in ways we'd never think of normally—but it has to be done; might save your life in the long run, or chance of bein' beaten up: neither of which are outcomes we want, eh?"

"Yeah—I mean, no, sure!"

"We'll keep in contact by phone, an' further interviews." John rising to leave. "The cops doin' anythin useful, by the way?"

"Nah, Brad tells me they're keepin' their noses clean—don't wan'na know." Miss Martin looking somewhat unhappy. "Thought it was because of my color, but perhaps—"

"This's the sort'a case where the cops have their hands tied, mostly." John shaking his head as one who knows. "Anonymous threats are one thing, difficult t'pin down; but actions are another—they'll be playin' a waitin' game."

Miss Martin looked daggers at John after this explanation.

"You sayin' the cops won't do anythin' t'help until I get beat-up, or killed? Then they'll swoop in t'finally say it's all very bad, but there ain't no suspects, an' two months later they close the case, unsolved?"

"If we all follow our own plans, an' stay safe, it won't come t'that, don't worry." Claire placing a comforting hand on Miss Martin's arm as they reached the apartment door. "Everything'll turn out OK, you just wait an' see."

"Meanwhile, just go on with your radio show like nothing's wrong." John giving this parting advice with a cheery grin. "Make the perp think he's failin' in his work—mab'be make him give up out'ta pure frustration, y'never know."

"God!"

—O—

The lists seemed to lengthen with each day that passed in the ongoing investigation.

"How many are there now?" John bowing over his desk perusing a sheet of paper three days after their latest interview with both Brad Jones and Rose Martin.

"Twenty-one."

"Twenty-one!"

"Ya sound surprised?" Calire looking up from her own pile of lists. "Why shouldn't there be twenty-one? Pretty low number, in fact, by my way of thinkin'."

"We only asked for a list of her close friends, an' now we're snowed under by a list t'equal the audience at a dam' Ball Game!"

"She's a famous Radio DJ," Claire pointing out the obvious. "As well as bein' a very nice gal in her own right—with the usual number of close pals as a consequence. Twenty-one so far, an' countin'."

"God!" John frustrated as all Hell-get-out. "Asked for a short list of friends; didn't think we'd get a bloody telephone directory's worth! How can one person be so adored?"

Claire gave her boss a knowing glance.

"Personality, ducks—you know!"

"Very funny!"

"Are we gon'na take each of these names one by one?" Claire sticking to the necessary work to be done. "Or herd 'em all into the Library an' grill them t'gether like in the last chapter of an Agatha Christie novel?"

John was exasperated beyond all control.

"Claire, your Romantic nature's sometimes only a hindrance, y'know! Dam' Agatha bloody Christie!"

"Oh, dear!"

But John had found another topic of interest.

"Any further letters arrived, for either the Station or Miss Martin, since last week?"

"Nah," Claire frowning over this problem. "Meb'be the culprit saw us there an's gotten cold feet?"

"I bet!" John snorting in disgust. "That'd be too easy by far. Say, we got all the letters here, now?"

"Yeah, all but two, Mister Jones says he's lost two, doesn't know where, get 'em to us whenever he finds them."

"So, what's t'be deduced from them?" John going into classic detective mode. "Ink, letters taken from which magazines, paper, envelope, stamps, postmarks? Gim'me the whole gen, lady!"

Claire paused in her reading to glance up at her boss two seats along the table from her.

"John, y're losing it, need another cup of coffee, or whatever? Can get ya something stronger if really needed."

John caved in.

"OK, meb'be a trifle pushy, but it's the strain of the whole thing, ya know! So, got anything at all?"

"In a word, no!" Claire shaking her head as she consulted the appropriate sheet of paper. "Ink, anonymous; mags', the usual commonplace big-sellers—except for one I haven't pinned yet; paper, envelope, an' stamps, ordinary an' routine; postmarks, various public Post Offices around Delacote of no significance. In short, nuthin' doin'."

"Sh-t!"

"Well, there ya are."

John was rapidly sinking into a Slough of Despond at the lack of activity on this particular case.

"Sherlock would've solved the case by this time, y'know."

"John, Sherlock's a fi—"

"We got'ta concentrate! That's what's needed—concentration!"

"In what way, sir?" Claire injecting her voice with just that useful aura of irony.

"There's something we're missing—got'ta be!" John frowning horribly. "Some little detail that'll solve the case in an instant. We got'ta look on everyone employed at the Station as a suspect. How many are there, again?"

"Two hundred an' thirty-two."

"What!"

"Just that amount an' no more. Radio Stations' don't run themselves, y'know."

"Jeesus!"

Claire had another facet of the case she was itching to comment on and this was her opportunity.

"if we interview all twenty-one of Miss Martin's close friends, and all the people at the Station, I reckon it'll take us a month an' a half, startin' from now."

"Jeesus!"

"All before we can do any further digging into just who the perp may be."

"Jeesus!"

"John, y'ain't contributin', y''know!"

Another five minutes flew by, as the Investigators sat at their desk contemplating the vast multi-tributary aspect of the case.

"Like a map of the dam' Amazon!" John putting this thought out on impulse. "Tributaries in all directions, some as large an' complex as the main river! This case could take us all over the State—the whole country, for that matter. Meb'be even abroad; your passport up t'date, Claire?"

"John take a break, a cuppa coffee, a chocolate biscuit, an' wind down. You're about as tense as one of the Bentley Boys goin' round Brooklands right now."

"Iirph! Say, read me the first of the letters, will ya? The one that Mister Jones first received."

So Claire did, scrabbling among the pile to find the original missive.

"Hmm," John musing after listening. "Nothing out'ta the ordinary there; just the usual filthy garbage. Read me the last received, just for contrast, y'know."

Claire once more completed her secretarial duties as required.

John took longer to think over this latter letter's contents than the first.

"See anything different there, Claire?"

"No, not really; just about the standard of what'd be expected." Claire sniffing censoriously. "The usual blatherings about Race, color, the White Man's privilege, an' how the country's goin' t'rack an' ruin because of the influx of the lower classes—lower in the sense of bein a different Race. Nonsense from start t'finish, o'course, but some folks thinks that way fer sure, sad t'say."

John raised his eyebrows, managing to frown ominously at the same time.

"Was thinking more along the way of context, myself. Grammar, vocabulary, smoothness of writing, an' so on. Think the first an' that last were written by different people, is all."

This concept made Claire sit up and take notice. Poring over the two letters she took the time to give her boss's theory her full attention.

"Yeah-yeah, now you mention it, there are significant differences; it could be."

"It is!" John confident in his own position. "Let's go through the whole bundle; I wan'na see who's writin' what, an' when. If there are two writers we might be able to separate them an' come t'some conclusion that way."

The next hour or so flew by as the Investigators read the whole series of letters, paying close attention to the style and grammar of each, before reaching their conclusions.

"The original letters addressed to the Radio Station in general are by one writer; but the later letters addressed to Miss Martin personally are by another writer." Claire nodding over this deduction.

"Yeah, seems clear enough, when ya know what t'look for."

"Which means?"

"Which means we got us a copycat!" John smiling gently, like a weasel facing an opportune rabbit.

"An' that takes us—where!"

John was up for this question.

"The copycat has a personal bone t'pick with Miss Martin; he waited till this other bozo started complaining to the Station in general before putting his two-cents in about Miss Martin, seeing the opportunity opening before his greedy eyes. Couldn't help himself."

"And?"

"This second guy—Miss Martin's hassler—is more personally involved than the prime suspect. He can't help himself, now the opportunity's before his very eyes; which means he won't be able to stop himself from continuing the series."

"Look, I've figured out something else about these latters addressed to Miss Martin alone." Claire continuing a route she had been pursuing for the last few days. "The magazines the writer's taking the letters from are entirely different from those the original writer's usin'.

"In what way—details, please."

"The original writer, who talks about the Radio Station in general terms, not picking Miss Martin out for any particular vituperation, uses ordinary weekly mags,—news rags, mags dealing with house decoration an' gardening, film mags. The writer obsessed with Miss Martin has a wholly higher grade of readin' material—two covering radio matters only, two dealin' in politics, monthlies, an' three, curiously, coverin' food cookin' an' recipes, but of higher quality than the other writer. The first writer goes in for pulp mags, the second for the glossies. One mag in particular utilized by the second writer only—Miss Martin's nemesis—Wavelength, a weekly, is an in-house mag not on Public sale—only Radio Stations gettin' it for their workers."

"That's worth noting." John nodding over this arcane piece of evidence. "Clearly points towards the perp actually having something to do with the Radio Station himself—a co-worker of Miss Martin's. Does Mister Jones have a list of those who receive the mag in his domain?"

"I can find out, sure; but there hasn't been a new letter for over a week now."

"That's nothing, you'll find they start arriving again in the next few days. Meb'be not the general ones from the first writer, but Miss Martin has a follower who isn't capable of letting go, mark my words." John smiling as it all came together in his mind's eye. "What we got'ta do is take a long hard look at the people most involved with Miss Martin at the Station; got an idea it's someone very close to her—someone she may know personally, but would never dream of suspecting on her own."

Claire had something to say about this disturbing theory.

"That ain't nice; why, she might invite him back to her apartment one night, all unsuspecting—then what might happen? Should we get on the blower an' warn her not invite anyone over till this thing's cleared up?"

"Probably wise to at least warn her of the likelihood." John nodding. "Where'll she be right now? Station or home?"

Claire consulted her schedule of their client's daily routine.

"Home, till tomorrow mornin', seven o'clock."

"Get on the blower an' give her the latest news; try'n make her fully aware of the seriousness of her position an' t'do what's required; emphasise it'll only be for a short time, hopefully."

"Only men friends? Or women, too?"

John thought about this carefully, his brow creasing deeply.

"Better make it both, can't take any chances."

"OK, boss, on it."

—O—

The coming evening was set to be a busy one; an early interview with Brad Jones at the Radio Station, followed by a later one at Miss Martin's apartment. As they drove to the Station in Claire's DeSoto sedan she had a detail to discuss with her boss.

"We're giving the folks at the Station the green eye of suspicion, but does that include Mister Jones, too?"

"Ah!"

Claire glanced across at her boss before quickly returning to the road ahead.

"What exactly does 'Ah!' mean?"

John sighed.

"It means—yeah! We got'ta cover all eventualities, even Jones. God, this's gettin' ever more complex with every dam' hour that passes."

Claire slid past the side of a Ford truck, shaving the paint off the surface of the bolts on her nearside tires in doing so.

"Dam' moron, can't drive fer toffee! How'd we tell Mister Jones we want Miss Martin to nix personal visitors to her apartment when that includes himself? Won't that make him dam' suspicious, if he's the culprit—which I don't believe for a minute."

John wasn't having this lax attitude on the part of his partner.

"Well, you should believe it—at least for every dam' minute in between now and the moment we clarify he ain't the culprit. Everything goes in cases like this—even to suspecting the innocent as well as the possibly guilty. Could save the victim in the long run. So let's look on Brad Jones as John Dillinger's kid brother until further notice, OK?"

"If ya say so, boss."

On arrival at the Station, and admittance to the Station Boss's office, the unfolding interview became heated very quickly indeed, just as soon as Mister Jones percieved the nature and direction of the Investigators' requirements.

"Are ya both implyin' what I dam' think you're implyin'?"

John sighed wearily.

"What'd that be, Mister Jones?"

"Ain't it obvious?" Jones turning red in the face. "That I'm—me!—a dam' suspect in this dam' case? Are ya both out'ta your combined minds? I've a good mind t'take ya both off this case, an' find a more capable business t'investigate the dam' thing!"

Claire tried, a little resignedly, gentle tact.

"All we're sayin' is, we want Miss Martin t'be as safe in her apartment at night as's possible. That means no visitors, at all, for the foreseeable future. The fact that includes you is just a matter of inclusiveness, not any suspicion on our part. D'ya get where we're comin' from?"

Jones sat back on his chair, striking anything but a satisfied pose in doing so.

"No, not really. Dam', how could anyone think I'm involved in this? I've gone out'ta my way t'make the road easy an' smooth for Miss Martin ever since she joined us. Spent long hours teachin' her the ropes, how t'handle life in a live studio, an' all that jazz. If ya wan'na call us friends, by all means go ahead—but me, a suspect in sendin' her filthy letters? Anyone'd think that'd have t'be out'ta their own diseased minds, is all!"

"We get'cha', Mister Jones, we get'cha!" John rising just as wearily as he had sat down. "Let's go, Claire, other business t'see to tonight. 'Bye, Mister Jones."

"Try'n come up with something more mature next time, OK?" Mister Jones obviously by no means pacified.

The interior of Claire's sedan, on the way across town, seemed more like the inside of a penitent monk's cell than anything else. She finally breaking the long silence.

"Well, did that go as expected?"

"Graah!"

"Thought so."

The silence, redux, continued unabated—finally—

"How'll we handle Miss Martin?" Claire facing the rapidly upcoming problem like a hero. "She'll probably be madder than Jones when she hears what's expected of her."

John, out of ideas, waxed stoical.

"Life, as you'll find out with experience Claire, is made up like a box of chocolates—some are fine, some are poisoned; it's just a case of figuring out which are which."

"That's very helpful—thanks."

The rest of the journey to The Heights was taken in a dense almost fog-like silence.

"Hi'ya, Miss Martin." From Claire, hoping her casual tone wasn't too much overdone.

"We got things t'discuss; got any coffee goin'?" John failing completely in the polite stakes.

Ten minutes later—

"What?"

"Just that's all." Claire acknowledging defeat from the get-go.

"We think it'll be helpful in the long term." John hardly helping.

"Kick my personal friends out, across the board?" Miss Martin showing she was in no manner amused. "This ain't no joke, you realise? I ain't never heard such bosh in all my life. Of course I ain't lockin' the door t'my intimate friends, or casual acquaintances, come t'that! What is it? I get a few dirty letters from some bozo with only half a mind, an' you wan'na make me the equivalent of the Count of Monte Cristo when he was still in jail? You're both out'ta your minds!"

Having already been told this by Mister Jones the two Investigators found it no more pleasant coming from their major client.

"It's a matter of safety." John trying his best. "We don't know who's sending the letters to you, but we do know he's possibly dangerous and probably has some kind of contact already with you—likely from the Radio Station. Keeping you out'ta circulation for a few days, or a week or two, when you ain't at work is all aimed at making sure nothing, er, harmful befalls you, is all."

"Yeah—better safe than sorry, surely." Claire hardly sounding enthused herself as she spoke.

Miss Martin sat frowning for a considerable time, clearly not in any way enamoured of the direction her life was headed—then she sighed in her turn.

"G-d'd-m it! OK, I'll go along with ya—but only for two weeks. Two weeks time, nuthin's happened I re-enter public life again, OK?"

"Two weeks?" John surprised at even this result. "Yeah-yeah, OK!"

"So, can I get my beauty sleep now, thanks? It's gettin' late."

"Yeah, sure—'G'bye." From John as happy as he could be, which wasn't much.

"—'Bye, Miss Martin." Claire just glad they had reached some kind of a positive outcome at all. "See ya tomorrow, probably. Come on, John, let's go home."

—O—

The Sun shone strongly the next morning; down on Rosemartin Road the citizens went about their daily lives with verve and enthusiasm; the traffic was its usual convoluted mess; the noise its usual minor gale interspersed with moments of wild monsoon; while in the private office on the third floor all was quiet but not peaceful. Claire had just broken a pencil in frustration, while John had deposited his coffee cup on the desk beside him with such force the handle had parted company with the body, leading to all sorts of energetic language.

"Gosh, Boss! Never heard that phrase before! Can ya repeat it so's I can take it down fer future reference?"

"Idiot!" John groaning loudly under the pressures of daily existence. "Any news on who gets that Radio mag at the Station?"

"Yeah, just about everyone." Claire consulting the notes she had made on her earlier telephone call. "Apparently a whole host get it delivered to their desks free, while the rest can buy it openly from the Lobby counter or Commissariat. Anybody at the Station could collar a copy whenever they wished."

"Another bloody dead end!"

"Yep. The bane of the Investigators' lives. So, what d'we do now?"

John looked up from examining his thumb to see if he had drawn blood over the coffee-cup farrago, giving his co-partner a stare the Medusa would have been proud of.

"Oh, give me ten minutes an' I'll come up with a solution that'll break the case wide open, just gim'me time!"

"Very helpful, I'm sure." Claire in no way dispirited by this display of childishness. "While I'm waitin', how's about we attack the prime suspect?"

"What?"

"The original letter-writer; the one who started this whole thing off. The one who's got a problem with Race an' Color in general, not against any particular person. The one who seems, if we're readin' his output correctly, more of a street-level bozo than the main bozo!"

This at least set John off thinking along lines of some usefulness to the company at large.

"Ya really think it's two different persons? Not just one puttin' on a different persona t'fool everyone?"

"John, I told you not t'read that article on Jung in the Atlantic last month. See where it's gotten ya now?"

"Just an idle thought."

"Well, switch your brain in gear next time before ya spout anything meant for general consumption—I've got a dam' headache as it is, OK?"

"Sorry."

Silence, as on a barren Siberian Steppe, entered through an open window, liked the doom-laden atmosphere, and settled comfortably for a considerable visit.

"What if we make someone a scapegoat?" John coming up with an idea idiotic even by his generally low standards. "Y'know, pretend we've nailed our culprit, make the real moron jealous, meb'be make him show his head over the parapet in righteous anger?"

Claire gave her Boss an anguished glance.

"John, just sit quiet while I go out t'the Doctor an' get a restrainin' Order; we can have ya in a nice cosy room with white-coated attendants within the hour, OK?"

"Sorry I spoke, I'm sure!"

The Russian Silence, liking it surroundings, took over again until—

"There is something practical we could do."

John, who hadn't a suitable idea in his head, took notice.

"What'd that be—You-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed?"

Claire snorted.

"Not so far off, lad! I was thinkin' we could scare the original writer into giving-up an' retreatin' back into the hole he came out of by makin' it known we were pursuing solid lines of enquiry that were leadin' us towards the perp, without goin' into details. He's a much more ordinary kind'a bozo, more workin' class than the other; meb'be not so intelligent. Give him a real good scare, make him wet his pants of a night worryin' over when the knock on the door was gon'na come! That'd be enough t'make him change his career, an' start writin' kiddies tales for the Comic sections instead, mightn't it?"

Even John, mired in self-pity as he presently was, could see the worthiness of this suggestion.

"That has merit, young lady; glad to see you benefiting by my experience an' ability—almost makes me proud—almost! Yeah, we'll do that; give Mister Jones the basics, then let him loose around the Station spreadin' rumors like a forest fire. The perp'll be runnin' round in circles lookin' for a safe haven within minutes. Given a good story, well told, we may never hear of the blighter ever again. Good thinkin', gal!"

Claire sighed under the pressures of Modern Life, going over to the window to close it just as the Russian Silence took the hint, sliding swiftly through the last remaining half-inch to freedom.

"So glad t'be of assistance, Boss!"

—O—

The afternoon found Mister Jones, in his office at the Radio Staion, only half-enthused if that by the plan set out by John.

"Have t'be mighty careful over something along those lines, don't ya see?" He pursing his lips in equal amounts of suspicion and discontent. "I make even the least suggestion that anyone in particular might take personal, it could open a Court case that'd end like Moby Dick an' Cap'n Ahab—not good for either, surely, but mostly me!"

"Let's not look deep in'ta the dark yawnin' abyss," Claire coming it the literary blue-stocking, way beyond the call of duty. "let's gaze out instead in'ta the broad sunlit uplands of Success, eh!"

"What the dam'!"

"This'll work, just give it a chance." John piling on the pressure. "All you have t'do is put it about that we, the best Investigators in Matilda County, if not the whole of NH, have more or less broken the case and are only holdin'-off pinchin' the perp for the last few drops of evidence. That should scare him in'ta a toilet dependency that might well leave him with his trousers round his ankles for a month!"

"Nicely put, boss." Claire grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

"Well, I'll give it my best shot; but don't blame me if it doesn't work!"

"It'll work, don't worry, it'll work." John grinning in his turn, though far more evilly than his partner.

—O—

And it did work, far more efficiently than either John or Claire, or even Brad Jones, had expected.

The intrepid Investigators were sitting in their office on the Monday morning, two weeks after their last confrontation with the manager of the Radio Station, going over their upcoming weekly schedule, Claire in the chair.

"The Lannister Case fell apart in Court last Friday." She curling a supercilious lip over this disaster. "The Defence taking us apart like a butcher a beef carcase."

"Ouch!"

"Yeah! Anyway, the Camlan-Barnes Case's comin' along fine—you still goin' up t'Concord on Wednesday?"

"Yeah, should close it easy then."

"The Matterdyke Case has some—"

Ring-Ring-Ring-Ring

"—s'cuse, duty calls—yeah, what? Oh, hallo, Mister Jones. What's that? T'day, right now? Well, give us a coupl'a hours, OK? Twelve-thirty, yeah, that'll be fine; OK, bye."

There was a gentle pause as Claire replaced the reciever.

"Ahem!"

"Just Mister Jones, from the Radio Station; says he's got hot news that can't wait—scheduled us for twelve-thirty this afternoon, says black tie an' tails not required, come as we are. Ya got your best suit handy, Boss?"

"Fool!"

On entering the office at the Radio Station John and Claire found Mister Jones and Miss Martin already in situ, both grinning like a group of schoolkids at a ginger-pop and sticky bun party.

"Something up?" John as suspicious as a mouse in a corn field while a dark unexplained shadow floated high above.

"It's all over!" Mister Jones declaring this in the same tone, one surmises, as Washington the Declaration of Independence.

"Oh, is it? That's nice. What?" Claire being far more utilitarian than was needed.

"I'm back in circulation, is what!" Miss Martin grinning ever more widely. "The sun'na-a-b-tch's gone back t'the swamps o'South Carolina, the dam' retarded denizens of which are welcome t'his carcase, ha-ha! I'm gon'na party for a month, till I drop, is all! You're both invited, bring a bottle o'wine, OK?"

"Oo-er!" Claire taken aback by this enthusiastic reaction to she knew not what. "Details,—not too gruesome, I hope?"

"We haven't had any more letters from Writer Number One for almost a fortnight—think he's given up his literary career altogether, Thank God!" Mister Jones equaling his female DJ's expression of delight. "As to the other—Miss Martin's concern, that is—we've had three members of staff—pretty high-up characters—bail-out an' leave the ship in short order. One of which—"

"The South Carolina piece o'crap!" Miss Martin anxious to clarify the position to her listeners.

"—left behind a letter of resignation that more or less proves he was the second Writer—Miss Martin's Nemesis!"

"Oh, yeah?" John with nothing more viable to say.

"That plan of yours, to spread rumors about your having pinned the identity of the culprit, came up trumps almost immediately." Mister Jones grinning like a circus clown, but with far less innate menace. "Just last week, around Wednesday, it all came t'a climax—people jumpin' ship left right an' centre. Wouldn't have believed so many could have guilty consciences, but there ya go!"

"You sure about this?" Claire waxing doubtful in the face of too much news. "I mean—"

"Got the letter here—wan'na read?"

Claire grabbed the missive with unwomanly eagerness, letting etiquette go to the winds—reading avidly before passing it unwillingly to her boss.

"Well, that does seem to put the last nail in the coffin, I allows!" Claire nodding agreement. "The language, an' all."

"That's our perp, no doubt about it." John coming in, at the rear, with his own opinion. "So, what're you gon'na do? Spread Litigation like snow in Winter, or what?"

"Nothing!"

"What?" Claire aghast at this response. "You've got him dead to rights; and after all this palaver an' distress?"

"Won't do any good, in the long run." Mister Jones glancing across at his new DJ as he spoke. "Miss Martin and I have thought about it, and come to the conclusion that things are best left as they are—no publicity. Wouldn't do the Radio Staion, or either of us, any good if it all came out in the daily rags. Best left t'fade in'ta oblivion, we think."

"Yeah, it'd get in the way of my enjoyin' life, anyway." Miss Martin covering the facts that mattered. "Me goin' t'night clubs, harassed every step by reporters at every table lookin' for salacius details of my private life! T'hell with that. Nah, let it go, give me my life back—that's all I want."

"And the Station wouldn't benefit none, either." Mister Jones facing reality. "This kind'a publicity always kicks-back against the plaintiff, y'know. Best kept under wraps, an' let Life get on with the usual garbage. So, send in your bill an' I'll countersign it happily—always supposin', o'course, it ain't a dam' rip-off! People these days, often think they merit the salaries of Kings in State, y'know!"

John, well knowing his co-partner's beliefs in this matter, settled in his chair closing his eyes in preparation for what he knew was something that was going to equal a second Great War.

"Mister Jones," Claire preparing for just this Conflict. "let me tell you—"

And she did!

The End.

—O—

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

—OOO—