Story by Walter Giersbach
Illustration by L.A. Spooner
I knew life was going to get interesting when Cassidy’s secretary asked me to come see him. Cassidy was managing partner in a white-shoe law firm. The shelves behind his desk were crammed with books with just enough space for a Harvard Law beer mug. The wall by the door was covered with photos. Cassidy and J. Edgar Hoover. Other pictures of Eisenhower and Kefauver let you know where his sentiments lay.
“Shannon, come in. You’re looking good for an old investigator.”
“Well, Mr. Cassidy, there’s good investigators and there’s dead ones. I’m still on the right side of the grass.” People said I was shaped like an NFL tackling dummy, but at 31 years old I was the one ready to do the flying tackle.
“Here’s the situation.” The shrunken man behind the desk templed his fingers, “A wealthy woman believes her husband is dissembling….”
“That means he’s cheating on her, right?”
“He owns an importing business — successful enough to hold his own against his wife’s inheritance — but he travels a lot and his actions don’t seem to add up. She thinks it may be another woman stealing her affection.”
“Isn’t that always the case? What you got is never good enough.” I’d been in this business a decade. I cut my teeth as a patrolman with the LAPD. After the war in France and Italy, I spent another couple of years in Chicago before getting licensed in New York as a PI.
“Your target is Pierre de Choissy, allegedly a French nobleman….”
“Or perhaps a no-account count?”
“Ha ha,” Cassidy said mirthlessly. “Mr. de Choissy is going to Chicago on business tomorrow, according to his wife. You need to be on the Twentieth Century Limited tonight and tail him. Call me once a day with whatever you’re learning. Any questions?”
“Got a photo?”
“This is the gentleman.” He pushed a news clipping from the Herald Tribune society pages over to me. De Choissy looked a proper stiff, but many frogs have that air about them.
“Your contract gives you the usual hundred dollars a day plus expenses.” He placed his hands squarely on the desk. “I expect receipts, Mr. Shannon. There’ll be scrutiny concerning bar bills.” He peered over his glasses. “And, Mr. Shannon, get a haircut. You’re an American veteran. Show pride.”
— ♦♦♦ —
Grand Central Terminal was a beehive with all the dashing Dans running to catch trains home to kiss their dogs and kick their wives. I got my New York Central ticket and hauled my overnight bag down to the gate.
Ten minutes later I watched de Choissy amble down the red carpet to his car. Another guy, also dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, walked two steps behind him. I stood by a pillar on the opposite side of the platform. De Choissy was what they call urbane, head up, nose in the air. The trailer had eyes that scanned the area like radar. Shark eyes. He looked like muscle, which raises the question: Why’s a businessman need a bodyguard?
My reserved seat was two cars behind them. I threw my bag in the overhead and settled into my seat with the Trib. Good feelings overwhelmed me. I like trains, but I loved the Twentieth Century. It was classy. Leaves New York at 6:00 p.m. and pulls into Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station the following day at 9:00 a.m.
Forty minutes later we were rolling up the Hudson River. It was time to take a hike. I strolled up two cars and saw monsieur sitting beside the cold fish. Both were staring out the window like dress dummies. I strolled back.
One car to the rear, a babe’s head snapped up and she called out, “Shannon. No shit, as I live and breathe.”
“Yeah,” I said, recognizing her. “Uh, Julie.”
“AKA, Carmen Geddon, my stage name.”
“What the hell kind of name is that?”
“Carmen Geddon. Armageddon. After they see me perform it’s the end of the world. Listen, I still thank you for saving my ass. The Star Theatre bust? Chicago?”
She said theatre like thee-ater. And I remembered back those years in Chicago when we had vice squad busts for naked babes. Half a dozen broads were hauled in one night, but somehow, I could see Julie was just a screwed-up kid trying to get by. I gave her a pass. Afterward, she caught up and thanked me. Said I could have anything I wanted. I gave her another pass. My loss. Julie was a medium-height brunette who had the nicest little nose and deep brown eyes I’d ever seen.
“So how come you’re on this train to Chicago?” It was warm in the car, but she had a coat pulled up around her neck.
“Some business,” I said. “Loose ends, for a day or two. And you? Cold or trying to look inconspicuous?”
She ducked and nodded like an amateur boxer. “Problems again. Guy in Chi Town is on my case. I gotta straighten things out.”
“Let’s walk back to the bar car. Relax and tell me about it.”
The bar was in a bullet-shaped parlor lounge at the rear of the train. The large observation windows told you where you’d come from, but not where you were headed. I found a banquette and we sat. “So, what’s the beef?”
“Horse races. Really heavy betting.”
“There’ll always be the ponies. Aqueduct’s my idea of a good time.”
“Yeah, well.” Her voice got softer. “When Eddie Arcaro riding Citation is a 10 to1 favorite at Santa Anita and you’re in New York, but you know that pony’s a winner 90 seconds before everyone else, you got time to put your booty down and clean up.”
“You’re talking about having a good tip sheet?”
She shook her head. “Guy I met, name of Jim Vaus, works for the Mickey Mouse Mafia. Know what I mean?”
I did. Mickey Cohen, the LA mob boss.
“Jim is a heckofa nice guy who told me he’d jacked up an electronic system to hold back race results coming over the Continental Wire Service. The guy’s a wizard. He put up a system of Teletype equipment and electronic stuff, so they can hold back race results for about 90 seconds. In that time, they flash the winners to co-workers, who’d put down off-track bets in other parts of the country. I saw it work in a betting parlor in Cicero. The guys cleaned up, big time. Ain’t technology grand?”
“Why’re you in hot water?”
“Jim’s a sweetheart, but he shouldn’t have tipped me. I made a nice roll of cash. But you’re never too old to do something stupid. I bragged to a girlfriend who blabbed to a mob guy. Now I’m dead meat if I don’t make it clear I won’t blow their scheme. It’s not just Mickey Mouse. Al Capone’s in on it. And I heard some French guy is buying into the scheme.”
“Why’re you telling me, Julie?”
Her shoulders shuddered. “I’m scared.”
“What’ll you have to drink to make you stop shaking?”
“Um, daiquiri maybe. But it’s too soon to celebrate.”
I ordered up and stared deeply at this kid. This one seemed like she could plug all the holes of loneliness in a guy’s heart. “You look like a smart cookie. Any better ideas about what’s next?”
“I want to be an actress. A real one, but I got no education. All I want is a chance to try. Once. The movies or a play. I know going to church don’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. But you can learn to be an actress, can’t you?”
I spotted our waiter coming with his tray of drinks, shifting in the rolling car like a sailor in a typhoon. “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” I said, pulling a line from that new Bogart movie.
She hoisted the glass to her lips, took a sip and pushed it away. “This isn’t a goddamn daiquiri.” She spit on the table.
At the front of the bar car, a lady in a house dress suddenly stood, grabbed her throat and pitched into the aisle. “Lucille!” a man with her shouted.
The conductor hustled through the crowd, then another man pushed through. “I’m a doctor,” I heard the new guy say. “This woman is…no longer living.”
Julie said it before I did. “That woman’s drink was meant for me. I just know it.”
Might be, I thought. De Choissy and his minder had been sitting near the bar but were no longer there. All it required was a distracted server putting Julie’s drink on the wrong table.
— ♦♦♦ —
The conclusion hit me like a sledgehammer. Someone had spotted Julie, knew her connection to Vaus and the mob; and tried to eliminate the problem. Why not here? There’s no cops on a train going 60 miles an hour. But — oops! — the dumb waiter served the mickey to the wrong customer.
Next conclusion: Julie playing cozy with me meant the killer had my number too. And this all raised the question: Who the hell was de Choissy?
I took Julie back to the seat where her copy of Photoplay was still open, then grabbed an empty seat nearby so I could keep an eye on her. Julie soon looked like she was napping. Everyone was out. Things seemed calm — maybe the calm before the storm, but I had to use the men’s room.
I opened the door at the end of the car and somebody slammed me against the wall. The fingers of a guy bigger than me wrapped around my throat while his other hand forced my shoulders back over the can.
“What’s going on, pal?”
“Who wants to know?” I croaked.
“I saw you in the bar car. Your girlfriend spit out her drink. The old lady pitched over dead. Then you took off.” His grip on my neck loosened.
“First, who wants to know?”
“Name’s Jack Regan, Special Agent, FBI. Now….”
“Okay, Jack Regan, show me your ID.”
The badge and photo matched the bruiser, an all-American type if you happen to like John Wayne. “And this is me.” I showed him my private investigator license, gave him a few words about being hired to tail de Choissy, about Julie coughing up her problem, and just two more words: Cohen and Capone.
“Senator Kefauver’s going to drop a brick when Mr. Hoover briefs him,” Regan said.
“A racketeering investigation won’t be worth crap if all the witnesses are dead or disappeared,” I said.
“Look, Shannon, this train hits the LaSalle Street Station in eight hours. We have one — maybe two — bad guys on board. And we have a young lady caught in the middle.”
“And me. I’m in the sandwich too.”
He smoothed the lapels of my jacket. “I’m going to find the conductor and wire ahead to Chicago for the police.”
“We hit Toledo at 6:00 a.m., South Bend and then Gary. Allowing for the time change. Why not get the cops in one of those places?”
“You ever seen the hicks there? I wouldn’t ask them to arrest my grandmother. She could defend herself with a knitting needle.
“Shit,” I muttered.
“Watch your mouth. We don’t like dirty language.”
“Oh, …shucks, Mr. Regan. Go find your conductor. Probably still back in the bar car. I’ll keep an eye on Julie.”
We left best of friends and I walked back to her car to find…an empty seat where Julie’s cute butt was supposed to be. A cold chill ran up my back as I reached for my hip to make sure my .38 S&W snub nose was holstered. If Julie wasn’t behind me on the train she had to be ahead. I began walking very quickly.
I ran all the way to the head car behind the diesel engine, spun and came back. Only place they could be was the men’s room. I tried two. Both empty. That left….
The ladies’ can was locked. I banged loudly and shouted, “Conductor. Ticket please!”
Ten seconds passed. “Don’t make me use my pass key!” I shouted. A porter came by and I grabbed him. “Open that door, buddy.”
“I cain’t do that, sir.”
“This gun makes it an emergency.” It made the porter say “Yessir!”
De Choissy had his back to the door, his hands around Julie’s neck as he pressed her against the mirror over the sink. Her eyes were rolled back, and her tongue hung out. I whirled him around like a cue ball doing a reverse English spin. “Let her go, Mr. French Guy. Put your hands where I can see them.”
We were in that loud narrow space half in and half out of the can with the dark countryside whizzing by the windows. “You got a lot of explaining to do. Kidnapping this lady. Mob ties. Racketeering.”
“Bâtard de fils de pute!” he hissed. “I will kill that bitch and I will kill you.”
“Guess that means we’re friends now, huh?”
I was suddenly whacked in the back. “That means you are in trouble, you morceau de merde.” The guy with the shark eyes had come up behind me and jammed something in my ribs. I didn’t want to know what that something was.
Julie looked over my shoulder and shrieked. That’s when I heard a gun go off. The French fish hit the floor. I turned to see a middle-aged broad holding a little pimp gun. I started to say thanks when de Choissy gasped.
“Angelica, what are you…?”
“Pierre, it’s your turn to talk. You told me you were on business. You’re accompanied by a thug who indicates he’s going to shoot this man. I find you in a lady’s room with a young woman.”
“Ma’am, he abducted me right out of my seat.” Julie’s tears began to flow. “These are bad people!”
“He’s my husband. I know he’s bad, but I didn’t know he’s evil.”
“Mrs. de Choissy,” I said,” I’m Toby Shannon, the man Mr. Cassidy hired to follow your husband.”
“Shut up. I know who you are. I want to know what my husband is doing with this…this girl in the bathroom.”
“He was in the process of killing her,” I said. “Seems your husband is mixed up in the rackets. And, he’s tied to the murder of a lady passenger in the bar car. Some people in the FBI and Congress are going to be very interested in his love of ponies. And then there’s….”
“Shannon, what the heck have you done?” Regan burst into the very small noisy space that was getting very crowded.
“I think Mrs. de Choissy has just wrapped up our case, Regan. But I’ll let you take the credit. All I want now is a stiff drink…with my friend Julie. Julie, I never did catch your last name.”
— ♦♦♦ —
Regan cuffed de Choissy in the conductor’s room. He said he’d testify that Mrs. de Choissy — Angelica — was justified in shooting to save my life and Julie’s. The goon was badly wounded, but not dead. Oh, and Regan and I found a bottle of strychnine in de Choissy’s luggage.
“Julie,” I said, “screw Capone’s mutts. The Feds will nail him. Whyn’t you come back to New York with me?”
“Guess I haven’t handled my life real good. Think you could keep me from going off the rails?”
Angelica came up at that moment. “Join me for a drink to greet the new day?” The elegant lady’s choice of poison — no pun — was Kentucky bourbon. Double. Straight, water side.
Saluting me with her drink, she said, “I snuck into a roomette on board. I knew Mr. Cassidy had hired you. He’s a good lawyer, but I had to see for myself. It’s so sad. Pierre is my third husband. Oh, I can’t stand dissembling! I see so much of it in the theater.”
“You’re in the thee-ater, Ma’am?” Julie asked. “I’m an actress.”
I took a pull on my whiskey. “All the world’s a stage, isn’t it? Maybe Angelica can introduce you around.”
“It’s the least I could do,” Angelica said, putting a diamond-ring encrusted hand over Julie’s.
“I’m going to be right behind Julie all the way, so maybe you could wangle a free ticket for me when she’s a star.”
“Sounds like a protection racket,” Angelica said.
“Just protecting my interests, ladies.”
— ♦♦♦ —
Mabel’s Church. By N. Immanuel Velez, Art by Chlo’e Camonayan
Robert was never scared of anything. In school, he was always the one that took the dare or investigated the eerie claims of his classmates. He and his father shared a love of horror/gore films. His father often chided him though on his inability to care about what might happen to people when they die. Was there an afterlife…a heaven and hell? Was it just “the end”? After his father’s death, Robert decided to seek out a real supernatural experience. He wanted an experience that would prove there was something more. He found his answers… at Mabel’s Church.