All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Fractal Bob was rolling a cigarette in his small, dimly lit office above the department store when Maggie slipped in.
Maggie, his ginger-haired secretary—known for her keen intuition and ability to pound out 120 words per minute on the Remington at her desk—grinned teasingly.
“You’ve got another one, Frack,” Maggie said. “But this one’s a knockout. You’ll want to see her.”
“Shoo her in, Precious. By all means,” Fractal Bob said. He was lighting the hand-rolled cigarette when the woman walked in.
She had legs from here to eternity. Her eyes were a bright, limpid green and her hair the color of champagne fizz. Dressed from head to toe in scarlet, she smelled of French perfume. Her voice was soft and husky as she introduced herself.
“Carissa,” she said, lifting the red veil from her feathered hat. “Musucara.”
“Musucara,” Frack said, smiling. “Irish?”
Carissa Musucara laughed purringly, batting her long lashes against delicately rouged cheeks. “Italian. My father works in film. ”
“I don’t know what my father did. I’m a bastard,” Frack said.
Carissa drew herself up, emphasizing her leggy five-foot-nine frame. Her lips formed a pout. “Really?”
Frack laughed dryly. “Only kidding, angel. What can I do for you?”
“I want to report a murder,” Carissa said.
“Then you want the police station, angel. I’m the guy you call to get the goods on a philandering husband—or wife—or track down city hall graft and corruption, exposing government misconduct— ”
“May I sit down?” Carissa said.
Frack pulled out the chair in front of his desk. “How about a cup of joe or something stronger?”
But Carissa wasn’t interested in Fractal Bob’s meager refreshments. “That’s exactly what this is about—graft, corruption, misconduct.”
“Last time I looked, murder was a little more serious than simple misconduct. Let me call a detective for you and then what’s say we head over to the Stardust Room for a drink?”
Carissa wrung her gloved hands. “But the murder hasn’t happened yet, and the police aren’t interested in preventing a crime. I need you.”
“Strange,” Frack said. “You’re the second dame in an hour who’s come in to report a murder before it happened.”
“Dame?” Carissa said witheringly.
“My apologies, Miss Musucara. I shouldn’t have lumped you in with the first one. Nevertheless, she seemed just as interested,” Frack said.
“Oh, in what exactly?”
“You wouldn’t be talking about the Councilman, would you? Jim Finch?”
Carissa jumped, startled. “Why, yes! That’s exactly who I mean. Oh, Fractal Bob! You must do something to stop this.”
“Oh, I have, angel. The Councilman is perfectly healthy, and he doesn’t have a clue about why anyone would think otherwise.”
Carissa sat on the very edge of the worn tufted, leather chair. “You spoke to him? Yourself? How long ago?”
“Not me. My Girl Friday. So why is everybody so sure Councilman Finch is a goner?”
Carissa looked away, her huge, absorbent eyes taking in the bright white sky through the grimy windows behind Frack’s desk. He became morosely distracted, waiting for her reply. He and beautiful, mysterious women like this one never mixed well. Not for long, anyway.
“I want you to follow him,” she said, eyes once again on Fractal Bob. “Keep him safe.”
Just then, Frack’s partner barged in without warning. “Oops, sorry,” he said, leering at the two of them.
“Butch Jackson,” Frack said by way of introduction, “Carissa Musucara,” and Butch hovered lasciviously over her, extending a clammy paw. “My pleasure,” Butch said, shaking the young woman’s hand.
“Her father’s in film,” Frack said.
“Oh, really?” Butch said. “My brother’s a bit player at one of the studios. Maybe you know him.”
“She doesn’t,” Frack said, waving Butch aside. “Take a powder, why don’t you? The lady and I have business to wrap up.”
Carissa opened her purse and withdrew two big bills. “Will this do?”
“To tail a guy for nothing? You bet, angel, but I admit to feeling a little guilty,” Frack said.
“Don’t. Just keep an eye on him,” she said. “For as long as it takes.”
“How long will that be?” Frack said.
“I wish I knew,” she said, eyes downcast.
Both men jumped to their feet as Carissa rose gracefully from the battered chair. She handed Fractal Bob a card. “I’m at the Belvedere. I’ll wait to hear from you.”
Frack sniffed the scented card. “Chanel No. 5,” he said.
“No. 19,” she said, a brief but flirtatious twinkle in her eyes. “I’m not like every other girl.”
“Indeed,” Frack said, and then Carissa Musucara was gone.
Butch snatched Carissa’s card from Frack’s fingers. “She brings a smile to my lips,” he said.
“She brings poetry to mine,” Frack said. “Of her choice virtues only gods should speak. Or English poets who grew up on Greek.”
“You’re an odd one,” Butch said. Then he took one of Carissa’s bills from Frack’s desk and snapped it. “This looks right, and there are brothers in that big bag of hers, I bet.”
“You can only tail Councilman Finch so long before it looks like the racket it is,” Frack said. “Who is this guy anyway?”
“The Boy Scout in a den of thieves,” Butch said.
“I heard he was a bit of a skirt chaser.”
“Yeah, well who isn’t?” said Butch and then he headed to the door.
“Where do you think you’re going, partner? It’s not happy hour yet.”
“Stand down this time, Frack. I’m on the Finchster and the daddy’s girl,” said Butch as he pocketed the lady’s hundred-dollar bill. “Maybe you saw her first, but I spoke first.”
Frack chuckled dryly. “You’re engaged to be married, Butch. Got a handkerchief? Well, remember to use something else to wipe off her lipstick before you go home tonight.”
“Sure thing,” Butch said and winked.
As soon as Butch was gone, Frack settled back into his chair and poured himself some bourbon. Maggie entered in hat and coat, ready to say good night.
“What’s with you, sad sack?” she said.
Frack began rolling another cigarette. “I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand. She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake, coming behind her for her pretty sake. But what prodigious mowing did we make.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Maggie said. “You’re already pulling out Theodore Roethke?”
“Butch has gone to do her bidding, and I’m sitting here like a sap.”
“Good,” Maggie said, “then maybe this time you’ve dodged the bullet.”
Then, hit by a sudden thought, Frack sat bolt upright. “Before you go, precious, get me Little Sister on the phone. I want to know what she knows about this bird Finch and the floogie who was in here blabbing about him before the blonde bombshell came in and did the same.”
“Yes, sir,” Maggie said, pulling off her coat. “I’m on it.”
• • •
Frack was dreaming about shells exploding all around him in the French countryside and dying men moaning in the damp darkness when he awoke to the pounding of a couple of ham-sized fists on the door. Adrenaline pumping, he hurried to let them in. It was two burly detectives, Raymond and Wagstaff.
“Calm down, you bulls. You’ll wake the dead.”
The detectives pushed their way into Frack’s little flat. “Get dressed. You’re coming downtown,” Raymond said.
“I’m not going anywhere with you thugs. What’s this all about?”
“Butch is dead,” Wagstaff said. “And where were you tonight?”
Frack hesitated, gathering his wits about him. “Butch, dead? Where?”
Down by the docks, they said, still lying there, body half warm and shrouded in midnight fog. So Frack dressed quickly and made Raymond and Wagstaff drive him out there.
Given the lonely hour, no one was on the streets but the cops and Fractal Bob. Butch lay on his back at the bottom of a ravine, having fallen down from the street where he’d been hit. Two men stood over him, holding an electric torch. Butch’s face was a mess from the fall and he’d lost his hat in the roll down, but his overcoat was still buttoned.
“What’d they kill him with?” Frack said.
Wagstaff took the gun from his pocket. It was a .38, a Colt revolver.
“You sure that’s not your gun?” Frack said.
“That’s the gun we found,” Wagstaff said.
“That’s a cop’s gun, boys,” Frack said. “What’s going on here?”
Raymond lunged at Frack menacingly, but Wagstaff caught him and held him back. “What’s that supposed to mean, you lousy gumshoe?” Raymond said.
“My partner’s dead and the murder weapon is a standard-issue policeman’s gun,” Frack said. “So you tell me. What gives?”
Just then, another cop scrambled down the alley toward them. “Let’s go, gents. We’ve got another one,” he said.
“Who?” Wagstaff said.
“Some big wig,” the cop said. “Name of Finch.”
TO BE CONTINUED