'The Bank Shares To Bagels Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are Private Investigators, also lovers, in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. They come up against an old mystery which has a modern silver lining.

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—

It was a bright crisp morning in November 1936 in Delacote City, NH, USA, and everyone was thinking about the approaching yearly festivities, and expence involved. On the 3rd floor of the Addison Building, Rose and Cutwater, of this city Alice Drever, half of the renowned Drever & Cartwright Investigators Agency along with her lover Fiona Cartwright, was musing on the moral nature of those caught up in the annual throng.

"Christmas! Bah! Humbug!"

"It's bin said before, sure." Fiona not impressed as she tried to finish a case report. "Change yer tune, ducks. Anyway, what about all those relatives o'yours you'll need t'send cards to? Aunt Dorothy, down in Tennessee waiting with a gentle smile for your annual letter; your niece Georgiana, over t'Californy, anxious for that bundle of greenbacks you always break out for; and, of course, Uncle Arthur, who no-one talks about, but you always send him a pound of Virginia tobacco an' a encouraging card with a moral message. What'll they all do without your kind annual regards?"

"Fay, have you lost your mind? What little still remains, that is! What in hell're you talkin' about?"

"It's the Christmas Spirit's all." Fiona shrugging casually, still more interested in looking to see if the tip of her fountain pen was clogged. "Everybody loves Christmas."

Alice made a face reflecting quite the contrary.

"Dream on, babe; I don't."

"Oh, well, there ya be." Fiona casting the subject aside like a used handkerchief.

"I mean, the expence!" Alice coming to the crux of her opposition to the coming event. "It's gon'na cost a dam' fortune, like always. I spend all year struggling t'make a conservative profit, then spend it all at Christmas, leaving myself a new pauper for the coming year. Never fails."

Fiona shook her head, trying to concentrate on her report.

"I love how much y'exaggerate things. You'd think every cent you make's bein' dragged out'ta your hand each year's end by Father Christmas in person; it's debilitating."

Here they came to the major point that motivated the gloomy Investigator.

"I love my money." Alice coming clean with her underlying dearly held motive. "I spend such energy an' effort on making it all I find throwing it away again, on nonsense like Christmas, just appalling."

Fioan sniffed superciliously.

"Don't, then."

"Don't what, lover?"

"Don't send cards, or money, or congratulations, then—sorted. You're relatives'll complain, of course!"

Alice bucked-up enormously at this proposition.

"Those who like me won't care; those who don't, really, can go an' —"

"Darlin', remember the niceties—it's Christmas we're talking about, remember."

"Huh!"

—O—

Helen, their irreplaceable secretary, called via the intercom from her eyrie out in the Public-room of the suite of offices.

"A Miss Lara Conway here, needs some advice about her scholastic career; t'do with her expences? Some sort'a mystery surrounding same, apparently."

Fiona exchanged glances with her partner, raising her eyebrows. Alice, hardly interested, shrugged indifferently.

"OK," Fiona making the necessary decision. "Send her in."

Their latest client, on entering the Private Office, proved to be a young blonde long-haired woman well dressed in a pale fuschia combination ankle-length skirt and waist-length jacket sporting large pink buttons.

"Miss Conway? What can we do for you?" Fiona at her most polite. "Take a chair an' tell us everything."

"Thanks. It's a little complicated, I'm afraid." Lara sitting as invited and smiling at the Investigators. "I'm just about to start the second year of my University career in a few weeks, and there's something I'd like cleared up regarding same."

"We like complications." Alice putting their client at ease. "Straightforward cases are so boring, we find. So, what's it all about. Don't mind me taking notes, by the way."

"Well, to begin with, it's about the money that, ah, appears in my Bank account to cover my expences."

"You don't cover your own expences?" Fiona addressing the most important question.

"No, not wholly, it mostly comes from—from what I can only call unknown sources. That's why I'm here; to try and find out the source of the money that's co-funding my education."

"Go on."

"So, every year; well, last year and just a month ago, again, money was placed in my Bank account enough to cover my imminent scholastic expences and a little over. The thing being, I have no idea where it's coming from, or who is responsible. It worries me; I mean, what if I'm expected to pay it all back at some point? Is it some indirect kind of Protection Racket, or what? Should I be using the money at all, in fact?"

Alice had been taking notes industriously but now paused to glance up at Lara.

"You really have no idea where the money's coming from? Your parents; Uncles, Aunts? Some distant cousin or what?"

"Could a Business of some sort be funding you anonymously, for whatever reason?"

"Not that I know of, no. Nor my relatives, either, as far as I can figure; none got enough loose change to hand, far's I know."

Fiona had been pondering possibilities, bringing one in particular to the fore.

"Someone's doing it, all we need is evidence pointing to whom."

"Which is precisely why I've come to you." Lara nodding pointedly.

"Have you ever received any kind of message with these contributions?"

"Yes; well, a couple of short notes." Lara nodding again. "Just a couple of typewritten notes saying something along the lines of—this is for your education, enjoy it. That's all. I've got them both with me, if you want to see?"

In response Fiona held out her hand; Lara delving in a small cute reticule to reveal the necessary documents.

"Hmm," Fiona settling to the deductive part of her job. "single pages, typewritten except for the signature. Both written on the same machine, a Remington I fancy, and on the same type of paper—a very common brand. What d'you think, Al?"

Alice, taking the two notes, examined them with an even greater studiousness than her partner had observed.

"Machine's a Knightwood, see those capital T's, only Knightwoods have that font."

"Oh-Ah!" Fiona having been put in her place.

"And the signatures, by two different persons; one's signed Donald Gibson, the other Don J. Gibson, and each are written at differing angles—the ink's not the same, either. You got or remember the envelopes each came in, Miss Conway?"

Surprisingly, Lara nodded and delved in her handbag once more; what she revealed this time being two crumpled but complete cream coloured envelopes undamaged except for their slit tops; Fiona almost grabbing them in order to continue her investigation.

"Humph, yeah, quite, couldn't expect anything else; yeah-yeah."

"Gim'me!" From an anxious Alice.

"Yeah, you're right, of course; can see that easily." She nodding in her turn. "Don't suppose they've been tested for fingerprints?"

"—er, no."

"Doesn't matter, too late now." Alice taking this negative news in her stride. "Who's Gibson, by the way? Some distant relative? Anyway, when was this second, last, note delivered? Try and be precise as to the exact date, please."

"I've never heard of Gibson; not related as far as I know. The second envelope arrived three weeks ago, September Eleventh."

"A Monday, so it must have been posted probably on the previous Friday or Saturday."

"A weekend hobbyist?" Fiona following her own line of thought.

Alice nodded, fingering the envelope delicately before suddenly raising it to her nostril and sniffing deeply.

"Magnolia! Seems the sender's—!"

"Yeah, quite!" Fiona raising her eyebrows as following the same train of thought. "Any of your male relatives openly or just a little, er, umm,—Miss Conway?"

"Are they what?" Lara not quite comprehending, then the penny dropped. "Oh-ah, well, I don't know—no—no, certainly not, no!"

"Oh, well, worth asking, anyway." Alice not depressed by this failure. "Gives us something t'work on, at least. If you leave the address of your Bank with us, we'll let you get on with your day, and start a few enquiries of our own; that sound OK?"

"Yes, sure." Lara rising from her chair. "Thanks for your help; about your expences—?"

"We'll get round t'that when the case's closed, Miss Conway." Fiona showing her to the door. "Until then just take each day as it comes; we find anything of interest along the way we'll yet you know pronto, g'bye."

—O—

The great thing about the insalubrious Underworld slumbering under the surface social graces of Delacote City were the various levels within this widespread and straggling body; almost an intricate Society in itself. The next day after interviewing Miss Conway Fiona sat in Carol's Café on Brookmeier Road at a corner cubicle speaking to a representative of this same—the Underworld, not the Café, which itself produced a perfectly accceptable Blue Plate Special.

"Iris," Fiona frowning slightly as she covered the subject under discussion. "you never change, that style went out of fashion with the demise of short skirts near ten year ago."

"I like the way I dress." Iris sticking her nose in the aromatic air of the Café's busy interior. "Them as don't kin go an'—"

"Anyway," Fiona interrupting her companion's personal angst. "Business! D'you happen to know anyone employed at the Middleton Associated Bank, down on Gregg Street? A clerk, hopefully."

Iris, halfway through her lunch, paused her knife and fork to consider the question.

"Lem'me see, yes, there is, ah, someone, sure. What d'ya want?"

So Fiona explained the body of her need in detail.

"I see," Iris nodding, returning valiantly to her plate's contents. "He could manage that, I'm sure; probably need a coupl'a days, mind. That OK?"

"Have t'be; OK, it's a deal."

"Same rewards?"

"Of course, if the answers' are satisfactory."

Ten minutes later, Iris having satisfied her appetite and gone about her mysterious purposes, Fiona sat on the hard chair in the Café's telephone booth communicating with her better half back at the Office.

"What's that, Al? You fell in the bathtub? What bathtub? Oh, that case? Ferget it, it ain't gon'na come t'anything, take my word for it. So, I've given Iris the gen on Miss Conway; we should start seeing light in a coupl'a days. What's that? Why not sooner? 'cause that's how Life goes, dear, just hang onto your patience a while longer, OK? Dear-dear! Language, darling, people might hear ya! Anything interesting come up in my absence? Nah, oh, well! I'll visit the newstand on my way back, mags an' newspapers; won't be more'n half an hour, see ya!"

—O—

The office, later that afternoon, was a hotbed of activity; Alice was on the phone again, trying to pinpoint various newsagents that might sell the rather common type of envelope and paper similar to the typewritten notes Miss Conway had received; while Fiona was huddled over the large desk peering through a magnifying-glass at the two postmarks on the envelopes.

"Hardiman Office, The Heights."

"Ah, you unravelled the postmarks? Good work; both from the same Office?"

"Yeah, gives us a start."

"Well, you know the next step, dear? Me being caught up with this paper thing still."

"Oh, God! Must I?"

"Only you available, lover, only you. Go to it; it'll get me off this dam' paper trek to nowhere, at least."

"Dam'!"

Twenty-five minutes later, against her better judgement, found Fiona driving slowly along Hardiman Road in the middle-class enclave of The Heights, Delacote City, looking for what she was still not quite clear.

"It would be seven blocks long, dam'mit. All sorts'a shops, stores, offices, and whatever. Where t'start? Goin' t'the Post Office won't be fruitful, they'll just kick me out on my ass. Here's a newsagents comin' up, try there first, I suppose."

A minute later she was in the shop holding in her hand one of the envelopes sent to Miss Conway, asking the shopkeeper if he sold such.

"Lem'me see." He peering at the quality of the paper in Fiona's hand. "Yeah, I got that type on my shelves. Sell quite a lot weekly, all the same. Good quality of its kind, y'know. How many envelopes you want? Want sheets of the paper too?"

"Nah, just enquiring." Fiona knowing she had talked herself into that tight corner where she had no choice but to reveal her identity and purpose. "Me being a Private Investigator, an' all. So?"

The shopowner eyed his customer for a few seconds before making a decision.

"Help if I can, within reason anyway. What d'ya want t'know? If it's who buys these envelopes an' paper there're quite a few, spread over the weeks."

Without trying to influence his answers Fiona attempted to direct him in a particular lane of thought.

"Maybe someone who's, oh, a regular? Maybe buys other things on regular visits, but also the paper. Someone who comes in for this, oh, every few weeks or so?"

Again the shopkeeper considered the point, scratching his chin the while.

"Well, I've got quite a good memory if I say so myself, and if by regular you mean every month on the day like clockwork, there is at least one man who comes t'mind."

"Who, and why?" Fiona interested in what had jogged the man's mind in this situation.

"He's a local; the Baker, his shop's half a dozen along to the left outside."

Fiona bucked-up at this, always glad of an easy answer to a difficult question.

"Name—please?"

"Conway, Robert Conway. Names above the shop-front, can't miss it."

Fiona stood rigid for a few seconds, struck dumb by the man's information.

"Well, that's—er, that's hunky-dunky, sure; thanks!"

Five minutes later she stood on the sidewalk, annoying the other pedestrians who had to steer round her, looking at the shop in question. The name indeed proudly proclaiming the title of the owner in wide red letters, making no bones about it.

"I just don't believe it!" Fiona hardly able to trust the evidence of her own eyes. "Well, here we go!"

Inside she found a long glass-faced counter, on shelves behind which were laid out the usual comestibles to be hoped for in this particular form of establishment. Also behind the counter stood a medium-sized woman in a red smock ready and able to provide the hungry customer with whatever, in this line, they craved.

"Hi, is Mister Conway at home?"

The lady raised her eyebrows, giving Fiona a perceptive look.

"Yes, he's at home."

It was Fiona's turn to make play with her dark eyebrows.

"Can you give him a nudge, then; tell him someone's here wants a quick word with him?"

The employee shrugged dismissively.

"Can't; he ain't here."

Fiona, faced with this logical fallacy, took a deep breath.

"Thought ya just said he was?"

"At home?" The woman smiling coldly. "You asked if he was at home. He is, at home; his private home, not here in the shop!"

Fiona closed her eyes for a brief period, letting the beast within have its moment but not actually reach the surface and cause mayhem and bloodshed; then she recovered her equanimity, what was left of it anyway.

"Lady, I've never liked riddles, never found them funny. Can ya split with the address then, thanks? Me being someone who has a, ah, personal, reason for talking with your employer some seriously."

The woman behind the counter, the shop being presently barren of any other customers, eyed Fiona silently; Fiona replying in kind before the penny dropped.

"Would a five-spot help?"

"A ten-spot'd have a better chance!"

"Uurph!" Fiona glared through a red mist for a moment before diving into her handbag to return with the required greenback to hand. A quick transaction and the woman found both her voice and memory refreshed.

"One-one-two-five Holbeck Road, The Heights; about three blocks along t'your right. It's an apartment block, third floor."

"You've been a dear, thanks." Fiona making her escape before the astonished employee could think of a suitable reply.

The apartment block in question, when approached by the weary traveler, stood foursquare faced with white granite from foundation to corniche five yards setback from the Road itself; a flight of wide stairs leading via a high deep curved entrance to an equally high-ceilinged Lobby equipped with a mahogany counter behind which a uniformed concierge held sway over his domain.

"Can I help you, madam? A tenant?"

"Looking to talk with Mister Robert Conway." Fiona ready to accept any help going.

"You wish to visit him today, within the next few minutes as it were, ma'am?"

"That would be the purpose, yeah. Something standing in the way of achieving same, or what?"

"Just that Mister Conway ain't in residence at the moment, ma'am. He left for his place in Tarleton, twenty miles down the coast, yesterday."

"Oh, sh-t!"

The concierge shrugged, as not being much interested.

"When's he coming back? Y'know at all?"

"Think he's going on a late break; might be away for a couple of weeks."

"Oh, God! OK, thanks, very helpful, g'bye."

Back in her car Fiona sat strumming her fingers on the steering-wheel, trying to figure out what the next step would need to be.

"Better get back t'the office an' fill Al in, I suppose. God, what a day!"

—O—

In the interim of her partner's absence Alice, robbed of any further necessity to engage in convoluted telephone conversations with newsagents about their paper and envelope situations, had reverted to that most important part of a Private Investigators day—reading her favorite monthly magazine, drinking coffee, and nibbling a sweet iced biscuit.

"Hi, Fay, have a good day? Wan'na coffee an' biscuit?"

"Too dam' right, baby; make it dark an' strong; I'll have three o'those oat cookies, too, thanks."

"Ah," Alice rising to perform this request with an all-knowing expression. "that kind'a day, eh?"

Having been filled-in over the stumbling odyssey that had been Fiona's day Alice nodded understandingly.

"Yeah, goes that way far too often, don't it? So, a bit late t'day, an' we still have that thing with the Petersen case t'see to yet. What about hitting the road early tomorrow morning for Tarleton, the both of us? It's only a small town, nearly just a hamlet; shouldn't be any problem in winkling ol' Conway out from whatever retreat he's gone t'ground in. Obviously, by the name, he's involved up t'his neck, but I'll soon squeeze the facts out'ta him, doll, don't worry."

Instead of replying Fiona merely raised her right eyebrow, and reached for another cookie.

—O—

Next day, just after 9.30am, the small town of Tarleton revealed itself to be one of those annoyingly twee seacoast villages focused entirely around the artistic community. Little slate-roofed houses dating from the latter part of the last century, a stone wharf at the harbor wherein a variety of gaudily painted sail fishing-boats sat tied-up looking like participants in a romantic movie. There were even small groups of men, apparently local fishermen, who sat about clad in heavy trousers, boots and thick jerseys trying their best to look the part of those figures one sees in oh so many genre paintings of the type.

"God, what a hole!"

Fiona was of the same belief but bore her troubles more stoically.

"These deadbeats over by the harbor don't look as if they've gone out in those boats since Nineteen-eighteen! Come on, let's jog their senses some, see if any knows where Conway hides in this dump."

Having spoken to one of the sitting pipe-smoking locals, and a certain greenback having left Fiona's possession to enter into his, they received the appropriate information.

"Go along the Harbor thet way—ay', thet way thar. Go round the corner by the Chandler's, see thar? Then go along t'the house wi' the red door; thet be ol' Conways, but don't look fer a happy friendly welcome, ladies, he bein' some o'a boor gen'rlly."

"A bore?" Alice not quite understanding. "Well, he'll soon find what we have t'tell him of interest, I assure you!"

"No, ma'am, a boor—a loudmouth! He ain't got no manners, nor patience fer gen'ral conversation wi' anybody at all. The moment he opens his door t'ye he'll probable start cursin' ye out from the get-go a'fore either o'ye kin get a word in; jus' so's yer warned, see!"

Heading in the direction indicated, their flat heels slipping on the rounded cobbles of the harborside, they eventually hove-up by the red door, both then looking at each other with a certain air of apprehension.

"Whatever y'do, Al, don't haul out your Smith an' Wesson an' start blasting! That jus' won't do, OK?"

"Har-Har, lady! You knock, I'll stand back behind you."

"Fool!"

On the door opening to Fiona's assured rat-a-tat it revealed a small portly round-faced individual in his early sixties sporting one of the most obvious, and poorly executed, comb-overs of an otherwise completely bald pate either woman had ever experienced. Glancing swifly at his visitors he opened his mouth with an angry scowl, but wasn't in time to utter a single word before Fiona, forewarned, took the initiative.

"Conway! What the Hell're you think you're doin'? Sending Miss Lara checks to her Bank under cover of darkness an' not tellin' her for why? If ya think you're Father Christmas we're here t'tell ya otherwise, bozo! Ya ready fer the coming Court case, eh?"

Like so many highly-strung individuals faced with strong opposition he instantly folded like a wet rag, lips quivering though no sound emerged, he only looking more like a frightened rabbit than before.

"—er,—er,—ah—"

"Let's find somewhere private, an' have the whole thing out, shall we?" Alice giving of her best. "You'll feel the benefit in the long run, I assure you; and meb'be avoid the worst of the legal issues involved, too."

In his living-room, rather outrageously furnished with some ancient but heavy furniture exhibiting the worst excesses of Art Nouveau, they all found seats to continue the discussion.

"I-I don't quite know, er,—"

"Miss Lara Conway, your niece we suppose, has been receiving anonymous contributions to her academic studies at University and wants to know who the culprit is—you, by all appearances!" Fiona laying it on the line.

Conway wrinkled his brow in apparent confusion.

"Don't know anything about it. Certainly ain't me. I got better things t'do with my money, and throwing it away on Lara Conway, daughter of my ghastly late sister Sarah, is the last dam' thing I'do, see!"

Fiona and Alice exchanged glances and short knowing nods; Fiona then firing a fine broadside across Conway's bows.

"We got your envelopes, your notes, usin' a fictitious name, o'course; hell, in a few days we'll have your Bank statements showing the transactions. You ain't got a leg t'stand on, Conway. Just admit it and let's get along, eh?"

"I've never given dam' Lara a broken cent, nor have any intention of doin' so in the immediate future, either." Conway becoming excited. "I've scrimped an' saved fer years t'get back on my feet, an' now I'm here I'm dam' well stayin' here! Throwin' my money around senselessly ain't on my schedule, so why don't you two jes' take a dam' hike an' leave me in peace? Wait a mo'! Sendin' money? T'Lara? Well, I'll be dam'med; bet it's dam' Harriet Johnson, up t'Hanover! She been squeezin' money out'ta me these two year past, on the excuse she requires it as part of being a old business associate an' having supported me in, er, certain transactions we had t'gether a'fore the Crash. Even took me t'Court over it, jes' over two year since. That'll be it; it'll be her as's sending Lara money, an' pretendin' it's from me, somehow—God knows why, dam'mit!"

Alice shook her head, frowning gloomily.

"That's the poorest excuse I've ever heard, Conway. You do the crime, then accuse someone else? Come on, who's gon'na believe that? Give us a break, just admit it's been you all along an' we can get on to what's t'be done about continuing your largesse an' charity on a more open official basis, or whatever."

Conway shook his head, going red in the face in doing so.

"T'ain't me, I say! Why should I give money to someone I have no interest in, contact with, or love for at all? The only person, these last two year, who's been able to milk me fer hard earned pelf is dam' Harriet Johnson, like I said. Go see her, up in Hanover; you'll find out quick enough I'm right."

Fiona now took the strain of the encounter.

"We will, don't worry. But if we have t'come back, knowin' you've been tellin' porkie-pies; well, just prepare for stormy weather's all, OK?"

"What's her address?" Alice taking care of the more mundane necessities.

"Two-nine-eight Gardner Drive, Hanover." Conway coming forth with the information, though with a face like a pickled onion well past its sell-by date. "An' when y'see her y'can tell her from me t'go an'—"

"Yeah—yeah, no doubt." Alice rising along with Fiona. "Hasn't been a pleasure talkin' to you at all, Conway. Hopes some sure never t'have the necessity again any time in the future, either; g'bye!"

—O—

In Fiona's DeSoto sedan, on the way north for Hanover, the ladies were in deep discussion around the convoluted case.

"All seemed so simple when we started out, now look at us!" Alice grumbling in the passenger seat to her heart's content. "All gone to Hell in a hand-basket!"

"Not untrue—surely." Fiona trying to concentrate on not wrecking her fairly new car.

"I mean, what was there about such a straight-forward case to make you think it'd end so complicated?" Alice determined to mine her misfortune to its maximum. "Why're people so—so dam'med complex? I mean, why make such a dog's breakfast out'ta such a simple situation? Why couldn't Conway, or this Harriet Johnson, just come out in plain sight an' give Lara what she needed without all this tomfoolery?"

"Uurph." Fiona not willing to engage in the conversation, as much as it was of a conversation.

"We going back through Delacote?" Alice suddenly changing the subject.

"Why? You wan'na stop off at the office, or condo, for something?"

"Nah, just, if we take the Wilmington Freeway we'll knock at least an hour off our journey."

"Good idea." Fiona acknowledging the advice. "I'll take the next turn on the left. Glad t'know you're useful for some reasons sometimes, gal."

"Idiot."

Two hours, and a trifle more, later Fiona drove into the environs of Hanover, a fair-sized town in the country surrounded by cornfields and vegetables of the turnip family, or near cousins.

"Very rural." Alice back to her usual snarky attitude. "Won't be surprised t'see herds of cows roaming the town square, an' I bet the only Hotel dates back t'the Revolution."

"Al, you're so easily pleased; one of the points that drew me to ya so long ago."

"Clown!" Alice well used to this off-hand humor. "Say, there's a Hotel over there; hit the brakes dear, I'm parched."

Half an hour later, sated to her limit on tea and cake, Alice felt more like facing the actual reason for their visit.

"OK, so what was this lady's address again?"

"You should know." Fiona passing the buck efficiently as they made their way back into the street. "You noted it down, after all."

Alice slapped her forehead.

"Sh-t! Left my notebook in the car; won't be a jiff; gaze lovingly, or not—up t'you—at the local architecture for a minute, will ya, babe!"

On finally being found Gardner Drive turned out to be a salubrious thoroughfare lined with detached two-storey modern buildings set back in small gardens behind low brick walls.

Alice, warmed by three cups of tea, stepped forward to rap on the front door confidently.

"Come out—come out, wherever you are, Miss Johnson."

Fiona sighed softly.

"Sometimes you frighten me, Al."

"Not often enough, dear." Alice completely uncontrite as the door opened to reveal the house's inmate, and supposed owner.

Miss Johnson was around five feet seven in height, grey haired, seeming in her late sixties, and gave her unknown visitors a warm smile.

"Good afternoon, can I help you? You aren't, by any chance, those ladies who go round selling household utensils? I could do with a new teapot and a sharp cutting knife for my vegetables."

Alice took the strain like a true heroine.

"No, sorry; we're, ah, Investigators; working on a case to do with a Miss Lara Conway, down in Delacote City."

The lady on the doorstep nodded, as if knowing all about the subject.

"Ah, dear Lara, of course. Well, you'd both better come in, now you've found me. You, no doubt, have all the facts at your fingertips, so it won't be any use my denying anything; not that I want to, of course. Please come in, I was just about to make a cup of tea, if you feel minded to join me. This way."

Comfortably settled on a settee in a chintz-infested sitting-room, teacups and small plates of delicate biscuits within easy reach, the three fell to discussing the topic of the moment.

"You sent Miss Conway money last year, and this year too, for her University education?" Fiona starting with the main point.

"Yes, I did."

"Why?" Alice starting her interrogation with as much delicacy as she could muster at short notice.

"Why? Because she deserves such, of course." Harriet smiling broadly, without the faintest sign of guilt about her actions. "I'm comfortably off, myself; I used to be something of a business-woman, but lost a lot when the late Crash wiped out so many. But I have survived, even if I had to resort to the Courts to do so."

Alice perked-up at this statement.

"You took Robert Conway to court? Why was that?"

Harriet mused on the question for a few seconds.

"Robert Conway was a businessman himself; rather a bigwig, in fact. He owned a string of Bakers' shops, dotted here and there around Delacote and the rest of the County, as well as being the Managing Director of Samuels Access Bank. He was a rich man in his way, but lost almost everything in the Crash; surviving, like me, by the skin of his teeth—falling back on a bare couple of Bakers' shops which had survived the storm. From Bank shares to bagels, you might say, if looking on the humorous side."

Fiona had been listening avidly and now broke in.

"What relation are you to Miss Lara? Why have you gone to so much trouble to see her well set-up?"

Miss Johnson shrugged off-handedly.

"Sarah Conway was one of my closest friends, so I have been just as close to Lara since her childhood. I was devastated when Sarah died but, because of the Crash I was unable to do much for the child. I myself had placed a lot of my money and resources with Samuels Access Bank. When it went under too I lost almost all I had, except for a few hundred here and there. Since then I have managed to work myself back to a fair prosperity, not least because I found out lately I could still take Robert to Court to recover a percentage of my lost assets, which I did without hesitation. Since then, two year ago, I have quietly supported Lara from an anonymous distance, you might say."

Alice had been assidiously taking notes all this while, as Fiona followed-up on her questioning.

"What about making out the money came from someone else; the fictitious Donald Gibson?—or Robert Conway, in fact, to let the truth have some air?"

"I felt embarassed about giving Lara money outright; afraid she might well refuse my advances." Harriet reddening slightly. "So I fell back on the plan of anonymous contributions to her Bank account, and giving the impression it, the money, might in the end be coming from Robert—who I well knew had no interest in Lara whatever. Serve him right, I suppose I felt."

Alice, always one for dotting all the i's, took up another detail.

"We, Fiona and I, examined the envelopes and notes you sent; we figured a Knightwood typewriter and two different authors, from the signatures. Who's been helping you, Miss Johnson?"

Harriet smiled even more widely, shaking her head the while.

"No-one, you're wrong on that. I wrote the notes myself; if there's any difference in them it must be attributable to my rather shaky handwriting; and I use a Morgan typewriter, it's upstairs it you wish to examine it. That's all. Another cup of tea, perhaps?"

Faced with such incontrovertible evidence of the failure of their own material reasoning in the case Fiona and Alice exchanged rueful glances.

"Ah, is that so?" Fiona finding nothing more relevant to say. "Very, ah, interesting."

Alice, however, took a more pragmatic outlook on the rapidly unfolding affair.

"Look, Miss Johnson, some facts about this whole situation—first, this putting the suspicion on Robert Conway, that'll have to be nipped in the bud right away. If it continues any further he may well have a strong chance for bringing a legal case against you if he finds out. Secondly, we've spoken with Lara and we're sure she'd be overjoyed to learn of your involvement. I don't think there's any reason for keeping yourself in the dark any longer. If you give permission we'd be happy to explain the situation to Lara and you can both take things from there. I'm sure she will be more than understanding and grateful to you if you give her the chance."

Harriet expressed some worry at first, but after further discussion with Alice and Fiona, changed her mind and accepted the inevitable.

"Alright, from now on all will be on the up and up, I assure you. Will you inform Lara yourselves right away?"

"We'll be glad to pass on your message." Fiona smiling gratefully. "In a few hours you can look forward to a phone call from her, I'm sure. I hope your relationship blossoms even more from now on."

"Thank you, that's very kind of you. Sorry for causing so much trouble."

"Oh, no trouble at all." Alice lying through her teeth with a wide smile as she and Fiona rose to leave. "Been a pleasure, I'm sure, g'bye."

—O—

That evening, in their private condo in The Heights, the weary Investigators were relaxing in their living-room, glasses of single malt whisky to hand.

"Always good when a complicated case comes to a respectable conclusion." Alice sipping from her glass with a refined pinkie in the air.

"Yeah, eventually." Fiona sighing in relief herself. "Dam' convoluted all the same. We messed up on the details of those notes, we ran after all the wrong people in the beginning, then stumbled over the closing of the case more or less by accident."

Alice sniggered lightly.

"We followed our usual course in fact, you're saying?"

Fiona sighed again.

"Lover, you've had two glasses; you ain't gettin' a third, OK?"

"Spoilsport."

"I have my strict moral mores, y'know." Fiona sounding strait-laced even to herself.

"Very School-marmish!" Alice not letting the opportunity pass.

"Comin' t'bed then, doll?" Fiona fixating on altogether another topic. "Wearin' your pink or mauve silk jim-jams t'night?"

"Wasn't thinkin' o'wearin' any, as it happens, lover!"

"Whee—even better!"

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.