continued from above.....
Although the golf course is technically in the county, two city cop cars pulled out on to the seventh fairway and parked. I had moved over to the eighth tee in order not to be mistaken for having nosed around for evidence on the seventh green. Most of the city cops know me and all of them but one disliked me. And all of them were irritated if I was already at a crime scene when they showed up.
Five officers and the guy who reported the dead body got out of the cars and walked to the green. I gave them ten minutes to survey the scene on their own, then slowly trekked over to the seventh hole.
As I approached, one of my police detractors saw me. He pointed at the corpse. “Private Eye Rainsford Hart. Is this gentleman a client of yours?”
“I don’t recognize him but if he is, I hope his bill is paid.”
“Rainy? What are you doing out here?”
My full name is Rainsford Francis Hart. The cop calling me “Rainy” was that sole exception on the local police force, the one policeman who finds me tolerable, Mick Kelly. We had fought together in the war a few years ago. Both of us chasing the Hun back to Berlin. And drinking German beer when the war allowed. No human bonds are stronger than those formed while drinking beer with a fellow G.I. in a foreign land.
“Golfing,” I answered.
“That makes me nervous.”
“Me? Golfing?” I responded indignantly.
“No. You and a dead body on the same golf course. I hope there’s no connection.”
“I don’t like golfers but not enough to kill them.”
The first cop who talked to me came closer. “You don’t like cops or golfers?”
“I wouldn’t have either for a friend.”
The offended cop flicked his cigarette butt at my shoes and turned back to walk through the crime scene.
Mick Kelly shook his head and asked me, “Would you have a golfer for a client? Come and take a look at this dead guy over here.”
I followed Mick to the corpse. We both viewed the body from several angles as though I had not already done that.
“Looks like something hard hit him in the head,” I remarked.
Mick pointed to the bloody nine-iron that was being packaged by the lab guy. “I think he might have been hit twice. “
“And insurance stroke?”
“There are two gashes on the same side of his skull and his neck is crooked hard to the left. Not the natural way a dead body falls. Any thoughts on the crime,” Mick asked.
“What’s his name?”
“Sammy Fanning. His name is on the golf bag,” Mick answered in a sarcastic tone.
I looked down and shook my head like I had never been on the seventh green. I would rather do that then lie to Detective Mick Kelly while looking him in the eyes.
Kelly beckoned me to step away from the investigative group. We moved twenty feet off the fatal green.
“Rainy, quit playing me for a fool. You know who he is.” Mick growled quietly.
“What?” How could I know the guy’s name?” I mustered even greater indignity.
“When we pulled up, you were on the eighth tee. That means you came from the seventh hole. Did you putt around the body?”
Mick was wise to me.
“Okay. But Mr. Fanning was not my client. I’ve never met him.” That was technically true although I did carry a picture of Fanning in my pocket. It had been given to me by his suspicious wife.
“But you were shadowing Fanning. For who?”
“Mick. If I told you the names of my clients, I wouldn’t have any.”
“Tell me what you do know that I don’t?”
“I’m always grateful for an opportunity to cooperate with the police. First, the killer was probably known to Sammy Fanning. It looks like Fanning was tapped with his own nine-iron. Probably as he bent down to pull his ball out of the hole. His assailant must have been facing Sammy’s direction when he swung. The club crushed the left side of Sammy’s skull. A right hander using a right-handed club. When I first walked up to the body, there were foot prints in the damp grass leading from the green into the woods.” I pointed to where the tracks entered the trees. “Large shoes that were worn by the killer. Probably had a car waiting on the access road.”
“And like you, Rainy, how did the killer know that Sammy Fanning was golfing here this morning?”
“Seems reasonable. Tee times aren’t a secret. The schedule is on the wall in the club house. Anybody can see it, days ahead of time. I don’t think this was a random killing. Look for a right hander who can hit the long ball.”
“Yeah. I’ll assign two men to every driving range in the state.”
Mick walked over to the trees where I had pointed.
I walked back to clubhouse. I would need a few beers before I dialed up my client to tell her that Sammy Fanning would not be meeting his secret baby-cakes for lunch today. Unless she takes her meals in the refrigerator at the city morgue.
Chapter 2 - Back At The Office
One week ago Mrs. Veronica Fanning walked into my office. Avis DeHaven had signaled me on her arrival using the intercom to announce my visitor’s name.
I invited Mrs. Fanning to be seated on one of the new oak and leather chairs across from my desk. The chairs were rented but they matched my older desk on which I had recently made the last payment.
“Mrs. Fanning, is it?” I broke the ice.
“Veronica Fanning.” Snug on her head was an expensive beret style green hat with a net veil that came down over half of her face. The veil was almost opaque, like one that might be worn at a Mafia funeral.
“My name is Rainsford Hart. How may I be of assistance to you?”
She pulled up the veil but did not look at me. It seemed like she was posing. Her face was stunning. A couple of small slit wrinkles between the eyebrows was all that kept her from perfection in my estimation. “I am here about a very private matter, Mr. Hart.”
“My friends call me ‘Rainy’” I offered attempting to warm her up. “And privacy is my business.”
Her perfume hit my nostrils. Tabu. I knew the scent because my last girlfriend worked at the Crescent Department Store, in the perfumery. She used free samples of Tabu to douse herself liberally before I picked her up to give her a ride home from work. She told me that the scent was invented by a French prostitute. Turns out that she didn’t know much about France but she had some experience in prostitution. Damn, I can pick ‘em.
“My husband’s office is on the next floor above where we are sitting right now,” she announced. “His name is Samuel Fanning. The business is the Fanning Travel Agency.”
“That would be office number 324?”
“Precisely.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a silver case from which she extracted a cigarette. I grabbed my desk lighter and lit the flame when she tapped the end of the cigarette on the broadside of the silver case.
She didn’t thank me for igniting her smoke.
“Mr. Hart, my husband is having an affair.”
“Does he know that you know?”
“He should. But he doesn’t.”
“Do you know any of the particulars?” I asked although I was sure that she did. A woman with the bearing of Mrs. Fanning was in the know. There is a difference in the attitude of women who come in my office knowing the identity of their husband’s chippie and those who want me to discover the identity of the home wrecker.
“She’s the wife of a railroad engineer,” Veronica Fanning said while sliding me a paper with the typed name and address of Mr. Fanning’s dalliance. “Her husband’s out of town a lot.”
This town is a railroad town. I had a drawer full of cases regarding rail’s wives cheating while their husbands were on the road. A lot of these cuckolds had returned from the War to discover that their Rosie’s had learned more than riveting while they were gone.
Sammy’s office door said THE FANNING TRAVEL AGENCY. The day after his wife hired me to get the goods on him, I asked Veronica Fanning to advise me if there was some evening when her husband was in his own bed and sleeping.
She did and asked “Why do you want to know that?”
“I might find some useful information in his office. Appointment books. Phone numbers. Secret meeting places.”
“Won’t you need the key to his office door?”
“Maybe he left the door unlocked,” I suggested.
“No. Sammy would never do that.”
“I’ll take that chance. Good evening, Mrs. Fanning” I hung up.
I drove from my apartment to the Zukor Building, then went into my office. I waited until the night janitors moved to the upper floors before I visited Sammy Fanning’s office on the third floor above me.
The door lock to THE FANNING TRAVEL AGENCY was the same type as most of the offices in the building, my own included. They were quality but old. The lock action wouldn’t surrender to a rake but a well chosen pick got me into the travel agency.
I flicked on the light at the switch. The outer office was spare but nice, a few chairs, a desk and an expensive looking brass standing lamp. Several travel posters adorned the walls. Cruise ships steaming for foreign ports. A Pan Am Clipper flying low over Waikiki. And a Canadian Railway calendar. I pulled open the desk drawers but nothing incriminating was apparent.
The door to the inner office was locked also. It was less of a challenge than the hallway door. In this office were four desks rather squeezed together. Each desk was cluttered with three or four phones. The waste paper baskets were almost filled with new and some older trash. That told me the janitors did not have access to this inner office.
There were note pads and pencils on each desk but the drawers were empty. A locked safe stood in the corner. The walls were bare. I did not have the skills to open the safe but I knew who did.
The desks and all the telephones in an otherwise bare room meant that clients were coming into the office via the phone wire rather than in person. Mr. Sammy Fanning was making book in the back office. Clients were laying bets on various possible outcomes of events. Rather than reserving second class passage on the Cunard Line, many of the callers were probably laying money down on the third race at the local Playfair Racetrack.
I couldn’t be sure if the late Sammy Fanning’s wife was wise to her husband’s “travel agency”. Clients sometimes tell more lies than their cheating spouses.
I paused before leaving the Indian Canyon golf course parking lot. Sammy Fanning’s car parked in the lot. I wanted to look the car over, especially inside, but feared that the cops might catch me. The coincidence would be hard to explain. So I drove my car out of the lot and turned onto Sunset Boulevard which dropped down the hill to my office in the Zukor Building.
The Zukor building is not the tallest structure in the Lilac City. The main distinction the building claims is that “Zukor’s Women’s Store” at street level on Riverside Avenue was the first store in this city to sell seamless nylons after the War was over. The other minor distinction for the building was The Peerless Dentists who extracted real teeth and installed false teeth on the second floor. They offered more than a dozen chairs and took walk-ins. My office, with no distinction, shared that floor with the production-line dentistry. Although the Peerless Dentists advertised in neon on the corner of the building, I had only fake gold lettering on my door: LILAC CITY DETECTION AGENCY – PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS.
Several offices the same size as my own were present on all five of the upper floors of the Zukor Building. However, I paid only half the monthly rent of other tenants. My discount was compensation for the screams that regularly sounded in my hallway due to the discomfort being suffered by dental patients. Screams were more frequent on some days than others. Perhaps when the PEERLESS nitrous oxide tanks went dry.
Until Veronica Fanning hired me, I had no knowledge regarding the guy paying the rent on that office above mine. The fact that my office was in the building with her husband’s office is why Veronica Fanning came to me as a client. She saw my business name on the listing next to the elevator doors.
By the time a wife is suspicious, the husband has probably gone through a parade of chippies but my shadow work was centered around Maxine Stevens. Mrs. Fanning had supplied the name of her husband’s cheating interest. Maxine was married to Alden Stevens who was a hog-head working for the Great Northern. Mr Stevens was often out of town pulling freight and passengers to distant cities.
Now that Sammy had been murdered, the railroad engineer was likely the prime suspect. I should have told police detective Mick Kelly all this back at the crime scene but for the time being, that information would remain private, hence the term “private investigator.”
I hoped to pressure the new widow, Veronica Fanning, into paying me the other half of the retainer that I had carelessly allowed her to put on the cuff until she could get some money from her mother in Coeur D’Alene. I had hoped to be holding a bundle of incriminating photos to insure her payment but now I had none and the adultery was over. I didn’t have an ace-in-the-hole that might spur the heart-broken wife into paying me. And somebody needed to pay for my new golf shoes.
I strode down the second floor hallway and twisted the knob on my office door that allowed me to view Avis DeHaven, my part-time receptionist. Avis has red hair and porcelain skin. She is lovely and fussy which means she is shocked that her employer comes into the office in the morning wearing the same clothes that he wore yesterday. Avis thinks that cheating spouses should take a break so gumshoes can bathe and change clothes during the night. She views private detectives, especially this one, as necessary evils. But not a hygienic evil.
Avis DeHaven is a part-time receptionist because most of her forty hours a week are spent doing crossword puzzles while on my dime. Avis claims that this office was so boring that without crossword puzzles she would crack like a stir-crazy convict sentenced to life in isolation.
Her skills at extemporaneous lying to clients is so good that I had to forgive her. And she can snow job a cop without any quiver in her voice. There is no class on “snowjobs” at the Kinman Business College, Avis’ alma mater. Plausible lying was something that she had learned on her own. It is a skill more important to a private investigator than knowing the correct f-stop in dim hotel light.
Avis raised a finger. “Lawyer Hudlow called at ten. He needs some action photos of a ‘filly who’s jumped the fence’ and some insurance agent called at noon. He wants you to catch a policy holder who’s making a bogus claim.” She placed a piece of paper with the phone numbers on the corner of her desk.
I grabbed the paper and headed for the door to my Inner Sanctum where a bottle of Canadian blend was in need of sipping. The events on the golf course today needed contemplation. I needed money. There was a fine line to walk in this situation. My detective license didn’t allow for blackmail.
When I told Sammy’s wife that he wasn’t going to lunch with his cheater girlfriend today on account of the language side of his skull being crushed, she remarked, “That’s what the son-of-a-bitch deserved.” Maybe so. She didn’t seem concerned about who did it. I must eventually wise up the cops, however, a decent delay could allow me to collect the retainer owed to me. I decided to leverage Mrs. Fanning with a little fear in order to get my money.
“Mrs. Fanning,” I spoke in a grave tone into the telephone, “you may want to come into my office and discuss the danger that you may be in.”
“I will. I want to talk to you before the police contact me. And…to pay you what I owe.”
If she was sincere, Veronica Fanning might come across with the money before she learned all the details from the cops. Nobody pays off a private investigator when all the details are known.