'The Harrow Hill Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever, lovers, are Private Investigators in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. They provide security for a Russian Countess who needs their help with a Business problem.

Disclaimer:— Copyright ©2024 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—

Light, when it dawned this morning on the hardly as yet operating brain cells of the Private Investigator, cast an intense beam into the dark corners of what she was used to calling her intellect.

"As in a real true live Countess? Russian? Does she have a collection of eggs t'prove it?"

Fiona, sitting at their shared office desk, having just read the accompanying letter describing this tourist's needs and requirements, gave her other half a penetrating stare on her own account.

"Al, ya awake yet, babe? Yeah, a Russian Countess; true t'life an' not a copy. Eggs?"

Alice Drever, still sleepy co-owner of the Investigative business, curled a supercilious eyebrow as only she could.

"Mrrph! How can she be kosher? I ask you, lady. Didn't all the Russki aristocracy get hit over the head with blunt instruments or kicked out'ta the country, after the Revolution, without a penny t'their names?"

"Foreign Bank accounts," Fiona up for this minor detail of how to survive a local Revolution. "Some had money in Swiss an' French an' American Banks. Anyway, from what I can gather this specimen's rollin' in greenbacks, an' huge piles of money of a variety of other colours, so it seems; so no worries there."

"Ahh! Who is she, then?"

Fiona consulted the letter before her for this important information.

"One Helene Dubrovski Hohenzollern-Skawovski-Menlik. Letter's written by her secretary who adds in a side note that when we meet the exalted lady we should call her Your Majesty at first, followed by Your Highness thereafter—"

"Bollocks t'that!"

"Quite." Fiona not even trying to argue. "He, the secretary, gives an annotated list of our expected functions, starting at six am an' goin' through t'midnight each day; he making plain this schedule must not, and cannot, be diverged from for any reason on our part—but she, the Countess, may change her plans to suit herself at a moment's notice, to which we are expected to conform without complaint. Also gives his schedule of our payment which is, by my quick calculations, around one third of our normal rates for such a job."

Alic had been listening silently to this but now, freed by her partner's silence, spoke up loudly, comprehensively, with innate verve, and a control of the American language which impressed her lover all over again.

"Yes, quite—take it that means we're gon'na take the case on, then?"

Alice nodded, a malicious gleam flickering behind her brown eyes.

"Sure thing, ducks, if only t'get the chance t'give her a clear idea of just how Life is lived in these here independent, free, Democratic States! I'll open her eyes, don't worry about that, dear!"

Fiona nodded again, quite sure her partner meant every word, reaching for the internal phone.

"I'll just give our Helen the nod t'send this secretary our acceptance of his request, but with some slight adjustments."

Alice was already straining at the bit over this, however.

"Yeah, make sure he knows we work for real wages, not pennies. Then we call the dame Helene, or Miss Menlik, nuthin else. An' make sure he knows our hours of work fall strictly between the approved hours—nine t'six, an' dam' anything that happens outwith those hours, dam'mit!"

Fiona nodded again, her neck beginning to feel the strain.

"Right-on, babe; jus' gim'me a mo'. Helen?—"

—O—

The house lay on Harrow Hill, an exclusive district outside the northern boundary of Delacote City; an area on the slope of a rolling foothill over which a spreading wood interweaved between open glades in which a variety of high-range villas had been built. There were a few leftovers from the turn of the century when the area had first been inhabited by rich merchants—old Art Nouveau or Hudson River Bracketed buildings long outdated. But the majority now showed as white buildings in the latest Moderne style, all curved flanks, flat roofs, and high windows. The pad they were headed for, the residence of the Russian Countess, was one of these, but one of the larger variety of those available, as Alice noted on first glimpsing it as they drove up the long drive.

"A small palace! She must feel right at home."

Fiona, driving her sedan, shuffled behind the wheel.

"Must'a been a small child, meb'be only a baby, when she left Russia; couldn't have any memory of palaces—unless she lived in one in Monaco or somewhere similar."

"Poor gal!" Alice letting all her reserved sarcasm have free range.

Braking to a halt on the gravelled drive outside the building's main door the women climbed out to face the man waiting by the open entrance.

"Good morning, ladies, good to meet you both; a couple of rules before we go inside, if I may," He, tall, thin but physically fit, and with elongated features, gave an impression of haughtiness supreme. "First, the Countess, being a Royal member of the Russian aristocracy, must on first acquaintance be addressed as Your Majesty then—"

"What's your name?" Fiona harshly breaking into this spiel.

"What—what?"

"What's your name, laddie?" Fiona repeating herself calmly.

"I—I—Raymond Henderson. Is this relevant, ladies? Her Majesty is being kept waiting!"

"As long as we feel necessary, yeah." Fiona shrugging casually. "Back to the relevant—what's your name? Al an' I ain't takin' another step till we find out. We know you signed the letter you sent, but we both like facts from the lion's mouth. So—?"

"—er, Raymond Henderson, like I said. Is that sufficient, ladies?"

"And how do we address you?" Alice breaking in at this moment.

"Me?" Raymond seemed even more distressed than before. "Well, sir, would be sufficient, I expect."

Fiona laughed, half a second before her lover who laughed even louder.

"There ain't gon'na be any instance when I ever call ya that, bozo." Alice shaking her head conclusively. "You're a low grade servant, or employee if ya wan'na be contemporary. Tell ya what, we'll call ya Ray from now on. An' as t'her haughtiness—we'll call her Helene or Miss Menlik, t'her face too, OK?"

Raymond was clearly astonished by this stance, standing back visibly gasping for breath.

"You can't do that. I mean, I'm the Countess's secretary—I should be addressed with the ordinary level of politesse, as should Her Highness. If I may, I should be very careful—very careful indeed—about your methods of interacting with your betters! You have not as yet even set foot inside our residence, and are not likely to do so until you both see sense and conform to the ordinary levels of polite Society."

Fiona glanced at Alice, they both then turning on their heels to walk back to their car.

"Where are you going?" Raymond obviously flustered by this clear mutiny in real time. "The Countess awaits your presence before her."

"Tell her t'go t'Hell, an' take you with her." Alice casting this adieu over her shoulder as she climbed back into the sedan.

"Ladies!—Ladies!—come back!"

But his plea wavered on the wind and softly vanished into the ether without reply, except for the grinding roar of Fiona's engine as she slid the sedan over the gravel on the way back down the drive, leaving a blue cloud of fumes in her wake.

—O—

The office, back in the Collister Building, corner of Metcalfe and Roanone, Delacote City, NH, this morning of June 1938, was bright with morning sunshine gleaming through the high windows of the third floor as the owners sat by the long desk going over the morning mail.

"That was a blast yesterday." Alice still relishing the drama of the day before. "Certainly told Ray where he gets off; pity we never saw the Lady, t'tell her too!"

Fiona chuckled as she sat on the adjacent chair, fiddling with a teacup.

"Yeah, that'd've made a scene for the history books, I bet."

The internal phone rang at this juncture, Fiona reaching over to claim it before her excitable companion.

"Yeah? Oh! OK, put her through, sure. Hi, Miss Menlik, or should I say, Countess? Ah, Helene, sure! So, what can we do for you? Oh, Mister Henderson's parted company with you? He had an outlook completely opposed to that you want to show to the world. I see. You want us to show up again at the ol' rancho? Yeah, OK, we'll be there sometime this afternoon. Say, ya got a new secretary yet? Not yet; probably do without from now on—good idea. Yeah, g'bye. Got the gist, love?"

Alice shrugged beside her.

"Yeah, for what it's worth. Can't see it gettin' us anywhere concrete, all the same. What'd she sound like? Anything like Mischa Auer, f'instance? A real movie Russian aristocrat, or what?"

"Spoke with a Texas accent; sounded fully American t'me. Nothing Russian about her speech at all."

Alice sat up straighter at this.

"Oh! Sounds like she may be easier t'get on with than I thought."

Harrow Hill, on their return, seemed determined to show its best side to the prodigal visitors; as they entered the exclusive district their plain DeSoto sedan was passed in the other direction first by a Cadillac then immediately followed by a resplendent Delahaye sporting exotic Saoutchik bodywork.

"My God! Get a load o'that thing, lady!"

Sitting on the passenger seat Fiona was quite able to do so without assistance, merely shrugging with slight interest.

"Whatever, dear."

Their destination, on arrival, showed much as it had the day previously except that now a young woman stood awaiting her visitors by the front door; while, a few yards across the gravelled drive, a light red two-seater Jaguar sports car sat in quiet glory.

"Hi, Miss Menlik." Alice jumping out to get the first word of greeting in.

"Helene, please." The Countess showing her Democratic nature right off the bat.

"Hallo, Helene." Fiona much more restrained by nature. "Glad t'meet you at last. Pity about Ray, yesterday."

Helene, turning to gesture them to enter the house ahead of her, paused to give a glum look.

"Was a trifle worried when I first took him on, to be truthful; thought he had a curious principal outlook on the job, an' me—but didn't think he was, er, quite so into upper class superiority. Not my scene at all, so he had to go, I'm afraid. Especially as I really need your help at present."

Inside a maid in a white uniform was waiting to usher the group into a brightly lit drawing-room where, a long sofa and several chintz covered easy chairs available, a delightful light lunch awaited.

"Only sandwiches, I'm afraid." Theit hostess indicating the low table by the sofa. "Asparagus and anchovy; tuna and tomato; or kail, sweetcorn, and sliced beetroot pickled in red wine. Nothing special, you understand."

Pausing for only the half second needed to raise her eyebrows towards her lover Alice nearly dashed to take her seat and lean over the table to make her first choice.

"She missed breakfast!" Fiona offering something like an apology as she too sat down. "Think I'll try the kail sannies, thanks. Are those three all coffee-pots?"

"Yes, a trifle over-necessary, perhaps, but what the Hell!" Helene nodding as she too took her seat on an easy chair on the other side of the table. "American, Columbian, or Egyptian; whatever your taste may be, ladies. Shall I pour?"

Twenty minutes later the ladies, now replete and comfortable, sat back to discuss the official reason for the meeting.

"Time to lay out the reason why I need your assistance, ladies."

Alice nodded, but had a more important point to cover before they got that far.

"Yeah, but, if I may—I was expecting a Russian lady; a real exotic Lady from the far Steppes of Siberia, or wherever. You, obviously, ain't that."

Helene laughed by way of reply.

"You've noticed? Well, I admit I can't go into Pictures and act like Mischa Auer, I admit. No, I'm American through and through; married an ex-patriot Russian Count, you see."

"Oh, he in residence as we speak, by any chance?"

"No, sadly, he's dead now."

Feeling she had opened a can of worms Alice tried to backtrack.

"Umm, sorry; that, ah, answers a lot."

"Don't worry." Helene taking the memory rather more lightly than might have been expected. "He was a rather quarrelsome kind of guy; got himself into—you'll hardly believe it nowadays here in America—a duel with swords! End result, he died and the local cops kicked-up a real storm over it; but that's Life."

"Oh!" Alice finding nothing more specific in reply.

"Anyway, as to the reason why I called you both," Helene getting down to business. "I'm in the process of going into the womens' fashion trade, via a line of shops I mean to open across New Hampshire. My lawyers have done some preliminary work but have come up against a possible hiccup—Protection."

"Ah, that old grift!" Fiona nodding from long experience. "Any idea who's behind it?"

Helene frowned at this, clearly out of her comfort zone.

"Who? What do you mean? I don't know; just general gangsters, I suppose."

Alice shook her head, as one who knew the truth about this particular topic.

"They're all usually connected with big gangs; gangs who're led by known criminal leaders. There are only around three such in this state that matter. How did they initially connect with you, or your representatives?"

Helene paused to consider the question.

"Well, my lawyer—Mister Frederick Knowles, out of Manchester—took the brunt, I suppose. He phoned me a fortnight ago to say someone had bearded him while he was inspecting an empty shop in Concord, giving him the spiel that it would be sad if accidents weren't guarded against, re the shop burning down one dark night; that sort of thing. Then, just a week ago, Mister Roderick Neilson of Dover, contacted me to say much the same again. So I thought it was time to call in the experts to see what could be provided by way of legal protection for me."

"What'd the cops say about this?" Fiona covering an important point. "Are they involved, by way of opening a case on the thing?"

Helene shook her head.

"No; that is, I had a word with the local Precinct here in Delacote, but they said each local force would have to take control of any local investigations, and that they'd need more proof than just unsupperted accusations by anonymous individuals. So I left it at that, and contected your firm hoping for, if I may say so, something better."

Fiona nodded, well used to this attitude on behalf of officialdom.

"Well, OK. That's pretty standard, sadly. Makes folks think there ain't much they can do in opposition, but we'll do what we can. If you give us the addresses of these two lawyers we'll contact them ourselves, see if we can squeeze any definite facts that'd be useful out of them, OK?"

"Sure, sounds like a fair start. Don't worry about your salary, by the way, my late Lord left me loaded t'the gun'nels with greenbacks—he was a tinned beef King, y'know, in the end. Russian perseverance an' work ethic, even if he was an old stuffy aristocrat."

Having no sound reply to this revelation Fiona and Alice merely looked sympathetic as they rose to leave.

"We'll get in touch in a couple of days, when we've made progress." Fiona hoping to leave their client on a high note.

—O—

Manchester was the largest city in that district of New Hampshire and rather liked to promote the fact, somewhat over-enthusiastically some said. A large central Business area sprinkled over with ambitious skyscrapers; lots of factories and other businesses around the outskirts; and no less than three large Libraries, two Infirmaries, and a Police Precinct station that looked more like a Business skyscraper than not. Frederick Knowles' firm of lawyers practiced out of one of these tall skyscrapers, on the 17th floor.

"Hooray for elevators." Alice making a point as they entered the building's example of the type. "D'ya realise, Ricky, if it weren't for these inventions no-one would'a been able to build higher than, oh, six or seven floors!"

"Well, we have, and they don't, so press the button for the Seventeenth an' lets get on with it!"

"Snarky this mornin'."

The lawyer's office on exiting the elevator proved to be guarded by what appeared to the weary investigators as a latter day rendition of the ancient Medusa, she in the interim having lost no whit of her former powers.

"Aagh!" From Alice.

"Great—"

"Do you have an appointment?" This from the lady behind the low desk, giving her visitors the evil eye to its fullest extent. "If not you may leave at your convenience; Mister Richardson only see's by appointment."

"We-ah-we came t'see Mister Knowles," Fiona braving the full-on attack. "Drever an' Cartwright, Investigators. We phoned."

Looking like a cheetah staring down a fawn the secretary pursed her thin lips, consulting a ledger on the desk before reluctantly reaching for a phone.

"Mister Knowles, your Eleven-thirty appointment. Yes—yes—alright. You may go in—the door to your right."

Inside the office things seemed far more approprioate to the natural concept of a Lawyer's rooms. Teak bookcases filled with rows of leather-bound volumes, a wide dark desk behind which a large leather armchair held the rotund form of the owner; the visitors feeling like subjects before their sovereign, a faint odour of old parchment hanging in the close air; a single window with half closed blinds hardly contributing its full contractual input to the dim interior.

"Good morning. I do like clients to be on time." This coming in dark stern tones from the form behind the desk.

Fiona however was not put out in the least.

"Fancy pad, yeah, as t'time we got here when we found it convenient. Can ya open the dam' window more, like midnight in here. So, you're Mister Knowles, I take it? Better be, or our journey's been wasted. Any chance of a pot of coffee, or what?"

Knowles, obviously having developed a certain aura and quality over the years to suit his perceived station in Life, baulked at this down to earth response.

"You do not, I believe, understand just whom your are in the presence of!"

"Oh, we can see that clearly." Alice, so triggered, telling it like it was. "The hive, or should I say kennel, of a jumped-up braggadocio loving braggart whose wind's mightier than any physical action he could ever take. Think a lot of yourself, buster, don't ya? Ricky here an' I, we work in the real world, amongst real people; you, on the other hand, obviously want t'sit on the right hand of God A'mighty an' enjoy all the appropriate supplication thereof. Forget it, laddie; you're a two-bit back-street lawyer who's struck it rich, God knows how, that's all. Just because one of your clients is a Russian Countess don't start counting your golden eggs before they're laid. Right, what ya got on the Countess, then? Somebody tried t'put the pressure on ya, we're told, Protection wise? Who was it? Come on, we're busy women, we got other better places t'be, spit it out, buster."

Having failed so spectacularly in his attempt to be the next local Dictator Knowles folded without further struggle.

"Aah—ooh—umm!"

"Protection, in Manchester, where, who, and what was it all about?" Fiona losing patience.

"Yes—er—quite. Protection—just so."

A pause ensued, Knowles apparently having run out of the will to live, never mind speak; finally Alice having to intervene.

"Mister Knowles, a few weeks since you were at a property in this fair city when you were accosted by at least one ne'er-do-well, or in modern parlance bum, masquerading as a gangster. His idea being you hand over money each month and your prospective property continues to avoid the dire crescendo of goin' up, one fair night, in flames. Am I on the ball here?"

Knowles, apparently not capable of anything more positive, nodded weakly.

"So, we're gettin' somewhere at last." Alice going into her famed interrogator role, honed over many happy years. "Next point—who was it? Try'n give us as best a description of the creep as you can recall. Height, body weight, how dressed, how he spoke, what his exact words were, what exactly he wanted and what according to him would happen if his dearest wishes were ignored; that sort'a thing. Proceed."

Gasping for breath, and giving the large silver humidor on his desk an agonisingly desperate glance, Knowles finally broke his duck and started to speak, in a hoarse voice.

"Never seen the goon before, he was tall—dam' tall. About six feet at least, probably more. Looked as if he could take on a wild gorilla and win, that sort'a physique, I kid you not. Dressed in an extremely expensive brown wool suit, black leather shoes that looked tailor-made, brown derby with dull red ribbon. Spoke with a Garstone accent, if you've heard that?"

"Yeah, everyday, near enough." Alice nodding her approval so far.

"What did he say?" He continuing. "Well, can't recall the exact words or phrases, but the gist of the thing was I had a very nice pad there, lovely place, but how often lovely places were liable to the most outrageous bad fortune. Wouldn't it be a disaster if it burnt down one night! Who'd pay for the damage an' stock, an' goodwill, an' all that malarkey?"

"Yes, sounds like the regular grift, go on." Fiona appreciative of the unfolding tale.

"So," Knowles pausing to catch his breath, the memory obviously not one he enjoyed. "Said he himself might be strolling round the back alley one night an', just accidentally, throw a half-lit Burton's Excelsior Lucifer match over the fence through a broken window into the rear premises—all simply an accident, you understand, after lighting his cigarette."

"Ah-ha!" Alice coming to life at this detail.

Fiona nodding her own interest in what she had heard.

"A Lucifer? You sure of that?"

"Oh, quite—I noted the phrase immediately." Knowles nodding eagerly. "Seemed so dramatic, don't you know."

"Go on." Alice panting for more.

"Well, that's all; he said his say, I gave him a look of disgust, he smiled—rather more sneered—at me, then turned on his heel and was gone. That's all."

"And quite enough, too." Alice happy as a lark. "Thanks for your time; you've been of the greatest usefulness, Mister Knowles. If we need anything further we'll come back. See there's coffee an' biscuits awaitin' us next time, though, eh? There's a good lad, bye."

"Sounds like 'Big' Paul Abernethy." Fiona sitting in the sedan ten minutes later contemplating their late interview.

"Yep, not a doubt about it." Alice in full agreement. "Who else habitually threatens folk with a lit Burton's Lucifer if they don't come clean with the greenbacks when asked? Only our favorite broad-shouldered tough, Big Paul. Know where t'find the goon, baby?"

"Walter's Pool Hall, Garstone, Delacote."

"His home from home." Alice nodding wisely. "Step on the gas, babe, we might yet find him in residence t'night. Can we stop off at the office; I wantin' t'change my Smith an' Wesson revolver for my Colt Nineteen-eleven?"

"OK, can't be too careful, sure."

—O—

Walter's Pool Hall, Fountains Road, Garstone, Delacote City, had seen better days—as had the entire district in which it sat. Gone were the heady days when armies of well-behaved workers from adjacent factories piled in of an evening to enjoy a night's pool; now only a few hardy souls regularly haunted the premises like ghosts of centuries past unable to tear themselves away to better regions. The floor of the main hall was dirty, dusty, stained, and gritty to the soles of one's shoes on entering. The tables were hardly in better condition; the blue felt surfaces being more or less well-kept, but only because if not the proprietors were in serious danger of having their surfaces knocked about rather more than a bit. The atmosphere was, of course, heavy with cigarette and cheap cigar smoke and the raucous echo of a multitude of folk trying to tell their friends beside them naughty stories all at once. So when Alice and Fiona entered nobody took much if any notice.

"Don't see him; place's packed for some reason."

"Nah, let's mingle for a while, see who pops up."

There was a long bar against one wall and it was to this the women gravitated, pushing their way through the crowd of mostly working men—and a handful of obviously working women, though in entirely a different trade from their temporary partners.

Seating themselves on adjacent stools the Investigators went to work.

"Hi, barkeep!" Fiona raising a hand in the usual gesture. "Any chance of a light sherry here, or what?"

The barman, a big beefy specimen looking like a pensioned-off prize fighter, curled a supercilious lip whilst polishing an empty glass with one hand and a clearly dirty cloth.

"Sherry! What's thet? Some foreign swill? Frog? Limey? Wop? We got Taylor's beer, take it or leave it."

Not wanting a confrontation straight off Fiona sighed internally and spoke with a delicate air.

"Two, thanks; Place's busy t'night, what's on? Something must be scheduled t'pull this crowd o'deadbeats in."

The barman shrugged, hardly interested in starting a conversation.

"Night we offer half-price drinkin'; drink till ya drop, all at half price, everybody loves it."

"I bet." Alice shaking a censorious head as she looked around at the other customers lining the bar on either side. "Looks like most are already half-sozzled, an' it ain't half-eight yet. Suppose ya got someone t'throw the drunks out, when they get too emotional?"

The man dispensing the local form of poison bucked-up at this.

"Yeah, don't we half, ladies! Only Big Paul Abernethy; ever heerd o'him? Well, he's built like a battleship, an' has much the same effect on bums he throws out. Once you've been thrown out in'ta the gutter by Big Paul ya don't come back fer a second round, believe me!"

Hearing the call of the parched wild from further along the bar the man here left the women to attend to serious business, letting Fiona and Alice discuss in low tones what they had learned.

"So he's here, somewhere?"

Fiona nodded.

"Yeah, we both know what he looks like, from past experience, so the moment he shows we corral him an' guide him into some private room—see the doors at the far end of the hall? A little private conversation an' we should find what we want."

"Curtesy of our pals, yeah."

Fiona was curious.

"Pals? What pals?"

"Colt, an' Smith an' Wesson!" Alice smiling like Countess Bathory contemplating her coming regular evening bath. "Been best buddies with me at least these ten year past; how about you?"

Fiona shook her head, sighing soflty.

"Sometimes I wonders about your intellects, babe; whether they need fine tuning, by a man in a white coat, or not?"

"Har-har!"

This idle chitchat, delightful as both no doubt thought it, came to a close when Alice glanced over to the main door.

"Thar he blows!"

"What?"

"Paul, over by the entrance, looks like he's putting the pressure on someone tryin' t'get in below the ropes. Shall we?"

Fiona took a last look at her glass of beer, decided against tasting it's dark and mysterious depths and turned to follow her heartmate betweeen the tables.

"Paul?" Alice trying the polite form of greeting for what that was worth.

"—so, like I sez, yer comes in straight an' no funny business about payin' yer way, or yer gets threw in'ta the gutter—the which, buster, I kin do one-handed. Got me? Yeah, OK, git on in, an' mind yer manners. Whas'sat? What is it, ladies, I'm busy here."

"Paul," Fiona now in her element. "Crazy t'see ya once more; when was the last time? Oh, yeah, Inspector Fletcher's office at the Fifth Precinct four months ago. Still out on probation, are ya?"

"Oh, f-ck!"

"Now-now, baby," Alice too settling in for the long haul, with an evil smile. "is that any way to greet old pals? Is that office free, down at the end of the hall? Just, Ricky an' I have something t'discuss with you of a private nature, you understand. You lead the way; we'll stroll along behind ya."

Paul looked at the two women before him, glanced around as if for a non-existent assistance and finally gave in, heading disconsolately for the far door indicated.

Inside what was indeed a small bare unoccupied office they could finally get down to business.

"What yer wants?" Paul not at all happy with this unexpected turn of events. "Whatever it is I didn't do it, I got alibis, so there."

Alice shook her head, exhibiting a smile cold enough to bring on another Ice Age.

"Ya may not have done it, as yet, but you sure are involved an' what may happen at a later date is what's disturbing our sleep these balmy nights, Paul. What's with threatening a innocent lawyer—yeah, I know, but there are such floating around—over t'Manchester?"

"Just a hobby you're followin' yourself?" Fiona heading down the sarcastic path. "Or givin' someone a helpin' hand in developing a new career in the business line—shall we say, Protection?"

"Talkin' of which," Alice on top of her script. "what about those inflammatory Lucifer matches you're well known t'carry loose in your pockets? Dangerous when thrown around, I'm told. Should we search you before carryin' on with this delightful chat, or what?"

"Say," Fiona pretending to have just had an interesting thought. "Are ya still on probation? I mean, if Inspector Fletcher was t'come t'hear about your secondary vocation, an' its likely end results, what d'ya think he'd think o'that? An' we, Al an' I, would be honor bound t'tell him straight, too, wouldn't we?"

Paul, caught between Scylla and Charybdis though his education didn't stretch to such a Classical allusion, frowned deeply over this distressing idea.

"What ya want? Ya pinchin' me fer a bribe, or what?"

"Jeesus, man!" Fiona out of patience already. "No! But what we do want is the name, address, character, and tailor's name, of the jerk who's puttin' ya up t'this moonlighting as a Protection rat. Come on, spill the beans before we get bored an' go seekin' Inspector Fletcher. Who, baby, who?"

At this point Alice paused to pointedly search in her small handbag, making sure the butt of her Colt automatic was on full view for a few heart-wrenching seconds, before taking out a powder compact, opening it and critically regarding her face in the mirror before returning to the fray.

"So, Paul—what's what? Come on, ante-up before my partner an' I both get bored an' do something dubiously legal regarding you!"

Never one for fighting when the odds were stacked against him Paul sighed deeply and came up with the goods.

"Antonio Altefiori, that's who; over t'Rochester. He figured, as Boss of the East Mob, he had some say in where some dame with a business flea in her ear wants t'open fancy shops. So he asked me to, y'know, open her eyes fer her, so's she could see clearly at last, re her business concerns an' what would be good t'protect same. Just an ordinary business deal, y'unnerstan'!"

"Business to you an' Altefiori, sure; but crime to the Law an' Police, an' Inspector Fletcher at the Fifth Precinct." Fiona laying out the facts of the matter.

"That's very nice t'know, Paul." Alice sniggering in a highly unsettling manner. "Say, laddie, if you want t'survive the next few weeks we feel you taking a long vacation, somewhere in the wilds, say, of Florida, would probably save you from a lengthy stretch in the Big House, savvy?"

"Shit!"

"Quite." Alice nodding happily that her words had created the right impression. "Come on, Ricky, places t'go yet. Bye, Paul; work on your tan down in the Everglades; you're lookin' a mite peaky as things stand!"

—O—

The interior of Fiona's DeSoto sedan, minutes later, was warm and welcoming unlike the topic of discussion between the two Investigators.

"We could beard Altefiori in his den in Rochester?"

Fiona shook her head, accompanying this with a clearing of the throat which plainly opposed this head-on approach.

"An' get ourselves whacked the next minute an' buried in a nearby field at midnight, without any markers? You kid me, sis."

Alice hunched her shoulders.

"Only a passin' thought, babe. So, what?"

"The only really safe option'll be Inspector Fletcher's office at the Fifth Precinct. Anywhere else an', as I've previously noted, we get our asses handed to us on a silver platter."

"Yeah, there's that t'consider, sure." Alice's tone echoing her thoughts on this matter.

So it fell out that, two hours later, they sat in the aforementioned office, trying to get comfortable on chairs specifically built with precisely the opposite in mind for unwary visitors.

"Can't ya get cushions for these medieval torture devices, Jacob?" Fiona not for the first time criticizing her host's interior decoration set-up.

"Nah, who cares?" Jacob Fletcher himself well settled behind his desk. "Mostly bums an' thugs sittin' there, anyway; just what they need when I'm threatenin' 'em with a hearty dose of the rubbber truncheon an' Third Degree."

"No doubt!" Alice sniffy in response. "Say, how'd ya like Antonio Altefiori here in place of us? All comfy on one of these rat-traps, two of your boys guarding the door while you exercise your right hand with your favourite rubber blackjack? Just something to think about, meb'be warm the cockles o'your heart."

Fletcher allowed himself a moment to muse on the topic.

"Altefiori? Yeah, there's a bum who'd benefit from a well-directed beatdown, sure. What ya got on him that'll fit the bill, then?"

Alice sniggered frighteningly.

"Oh, just a piece of the ol' Protection game's all. Complete with the goon responsible for putting-on the pressure, arson-wise!"

Fletcher bucked-up considerably at this, replacing on his desk a thin file he had been idly flicking through.

"Words indeed in memory to warm the aged sunsets of my decrepit age. Spill the whole sordid history, leavin' nuthin' o'note unused, thanks!"

—O—

Rochester, near the eastern border with Maine, had managed to grope its way through Local History fairly innocently—the only moment of note being the famous Gunfight in Rankine Square in 1882 when Sheriff Grahame had confronted the Franklin Gang by himself and shot all five members without receiving as much as a scratch himself: two sawn-off shotguns having that effect when handled by a cheerful expert.

Anyway, then was then, and now, June 1938, was now, and the populace had settled down admirably in the interim, until, of course, the arrival of Antonio Altefiori anf his business group—based wholly on the well established methods of Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde combined: in effect making nightmare times for Inspector Campbell of the 3rd Precinct there. The arrival therefore of Inspector Fletcher, accompanied by Fiona and Alice, all three tooled-up for business, being a white-stone day in his diary.

"Glad t'see ya once agin; what brings ya t'these climes on a sunny day, Jacob?"

The flesh of the matter being gone over in fine detail accompanied by a certain amount of subdued glee Campbell was soon in complete command of the picture.

"We could just bust in his house, mind you, over t'Apormortain Avenue, with our combined firepower, shoot him up comprehensive an' with malice aforethought, then think of a good excuse later? Always dreamed o'sich in latter times, y'know."

All three of his visitors shook their combined heads at this brutally Visigothic answer to all their problems.

"A nice thought, sure," Fletcher speaking for the majority. "But ya ain't takin' in'ta account the minor fact o'Law an' it's associated Order? You sportin' that thar tin badge on your coat lapel, an' all?"

"Man kin dream, cain't he?" Campbell unwilling to so easily give up a good idea.

A further hour of the rapidly diminishing morning was taken up in forcing,—well, arguing—the local Judge into issuing a search-warrant, but common-sense prevailed and Campbell slipped the document into his jacket pocket with the air of Rockefeller pocketing a bundle of share certificates for a healthy oilfield.

Forty minutes later Apormortain Avenue was host to as dramatic a half hour as the town had ever seen since those exciting days of the Old West and its heroes. Three cars pulled up in front of the detached villa, standing in its own small grounds that made up 1287 Apormortain Avenue. In the lead car Inspector Fletcher clambered out followed by three other burly officers in full uniform and armed literally to the teeth. The second car spewed forth no less than 5 more police-officers, as heavily armed as their companions. The third vehicle, Fiona's sedan, sat quietly to the rear, it's two excited inmates happy to let the official members of the Force carry out their sworn duties.

A loud confrontation at the front door of the villa immediately took place, angry voices of two henchmen being heard in the forefront, apparently security for the place, taking umbrage at this sudden descent on them by superior forces. Angry words, vile assignations, broken vows, and hearts, and heads, as the Poet once said, then taking place before the heavy thump of strong-willed officers taking their just methods in hand, and the sound of bodies hitting the stony ground with well applied force echoed round the Avenue. Another crash reflected the entrance of the band of brothers into the interior of the establishment followed by utter silence for almost ten minutes before Campbell exited again, this time accompanied by no less than six men in handcuffs, led by the irate and much ruffled form of Antonio Altefiori himself, looking less than usual the fine Dandy he liked to represent himself as being.

"Job done!" Alice hardly able to contain her enthusiasm.

Fiona, more restrained but just as pleased, nodding wisely.

"Yip, fancy it'll be some long time before he tastes the joys of free air again. We'll accompany them t'the local lock-up jes' t'make doubly sure, then head for Home, OK?"

"I'm there, babe, sure thing."

—O—

The House on Harrow Hill, Delacote City, the next morning played host to not only its registered cicerone but Fiona and Alice, all three in high spirits—Countess Helene Menlik perhaps most of all.

"I can hardly believe you've accomplished so much in such a short period of time!"

"Oh, we have our ways an' means, ma'am." Alice playing it smooth and easy.

"You've certainly earned your salary, that's certain!" Helene apparently nearly over the Moon with joy. "Means I'll be able to open the series of shops I've always wished to without undue interference from, er, people of that man's ilk. Thanks."

"Nothing to it." Fiona grinning widely. "Glad we could help. Don't worry about any repercussions, either. Inspector Campbell was adamant that the whole gang had been taken into the gentle care of the local lock-up, most of them not likely t'see the light of day again for several years."

"Amazing!" Helene still highly gratified. "Well, with that being all over, how about a nice quiet luncheon in the Red Dining-room? I've asked Cook to excel herself, and I fancy she has done just so. Will you both?"

Fiona glanced at Alice, whose expression said all that needed to be said. Five minutes later they were seated at a round teak table covered with a white linen tablecloth, heavy silver cutlery to hand and cups and plates of a clearly highly expensive antique quality before them; then two young maids brought the first course.

"Good God! Is this what I think it is?" Alice hovering over her plate with tiny Mother of Pearl spoon in hand.

"Beluga caviar?" Helene smiling broadly. "Of course, what other opener could one possibly provide? Will you allow Serena to fill your wine glasses? A delightful thirty year old Speranza from Tuscany, a vintage classic of its type, I assure you."

Alice glanced warmly at Fiona, unashamedly lovingly at her hostess, then fell on her hors d'oeuvre with a keen, almost feral, relish.

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.