All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The beat reporter from the newspaper caught Frack before he could burst through the door of Councilman Finch’s Bush Street apartment building. “What gives, Fractal Bob?” he said. “The cops are all very hush-hush.”
“Just a couple of rounds of who killed Cock Robin,” Frack said. “Talk to the DA. If you can find him sober.”
Frack followed detectives Raymond and Wagstaff inside. They rode the elevator to the fourth floor and as soon as they got off, they saw him. Councilman Finch, hopping around like a live one.
“Where’s the stiff?” Frack said.
The detective in Finch’s apartment took the other three to the window and pointed at a small form on the floor. “Here,” he said.
It was a bronze statue in the shape of an owl. Somebody had hurled it through the councilman’s window with a note, typewritten on a torn scrap of university stationery. “GET OUT,” it said. Signed, “Hoot.”
“Who do you suppose Hoot is?” Wagstaff said.
“Beats me,” Raymond said.
“What does Councilman Finch say?” Frack asked the detective, but before he could answer, a bustle of activity at the councilman’s door caught their eye.
“Look! Finch! He’s leaving,” Wagstaff said.
The detectives formed a clot in the doorway, blocking Finch’s path, and the pale-faced, bleary-eyed city councilman set down his bags in the threshold of his home, cluttered with shards of broken glass and nosy coppers.
“What’s with the owl, Finch? What’s the bird mean? Who’s Hoot?” they said.
“Look,” said Finch, his thin lips pressed in a resolute line, “give this letter to the mayor. I’ve got nothing more to say. You boys don’t know who you’re dealing with. If I were you, I’d leave it alone.”
Frack put his hands on his hips and stood squarely in front of Finch. “But I’m not you,” he said.
Finch smiled dolefully. “But you will be, shamus. You can’t fight these people. They’re used to winning, and they’ll do whatever they have to. They don’t care what it does to this town.”
They let the councilman pass.
Frack buttonholed the detective. “Did Finch give you any clue about the bullet hole in my partner?”
“He’s been home all night,” the detective said. “Packing his bags.”
Frack left the detectives and walked the eight blocks to John’s Grill for a late dinner. He’d asked the waiter to hurry his order of lamb chops and a baked potato and was smoking a cigarette when Carissa Musucara slipped into the seat opposite him.
“Well, hello,” Frack said smiling. Carissa was wearing a black lace dress with a plunging neckline, which showed a little bit of cleavage. “So you heard?”
The filmmaker’s daughter was beaming. “He’s alive,” Carissa said over the piano player. Frack noted the shape of her perfect white teeth.
“Yes, but my partner’s dead. I sent him out to keep an eye on your Councilman Finch, and somebody put a hole in him.”
The color drained from Carissa’s beautiful face. “Oh, Bobby baby. I’m so sorry. Perhaps it was an accident, something completely unrelated.”
“Oh, you think so, do you?” he said, eyebrows arched, as the waiter arrived. Frack ordered Musucara dinner and a gin and tonic. “So what’s he to you, this Finch?”
“He’s a statesman,” Carissa said. “The real deal. He stood up to the fat cats for as long as he could and then when they finally came after him—.” Then she fell silent, looking suddenly morose.
“He left gracefully,” Frack said. “He’s a good boy, Councilman Finch. Too good, maybe. What do they have on him?”
“What they have on anybody, Frack. Power. Your job, your livelihood. And then once they pull that chain around your neck tight enough for you to feel it, you’ll do whatever you have to do to pay the rent and put the food on your table,” Carissa said. “No one is too insignificant if they want to send a message. Why, one time Councilman Smirkle tried to get a hat check girl fired because she made a joke about his taste in music.”
“That’s a coward’s way of doing business,” Frack said as the waiter brought out their orders.
“Another drink, sir?” the waiter said.
“Yes, please, and keep them coming.” Then Frack looked into Carissa’s bottomless green eyes. “So who is this Hoot character and what’s all this to you?”
Carissa looked up at Frack through a fringe of long black lashes. “Oh, come on. I don’t believe someone who’s been a private dick in this town as long as you have doesn’t know who Hoot is.”
“You’re right, precious. I just wanted to see if you’d give it to me straight. Or maybe you’re playing me a little to see which way I’m going to come down on city politics.”
“Hoot is a lackey for the college. He reports to the Roundtable, the movers and shakers, the one and only board of directors over the whole town,” Carissa said.
“So Hoot’s just muscle,” Frack said. “A gunsel in a nice suit and tie.”
“Exactly,” Carissa said. “It’s the Roundtable you have to worry about.”
“And wouldn’t it make sense to send someone like you to find out what someone like me is up to?” Frack said, a snarl creasing his lips.
Carissa smiled with real mirth. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Bobby baby. It’s not becoming. They don’t even know you’re alive.”
“So they don’t. Check and mate, precious.”
Then Carissa’s gorgeous eyes darkened. “They tried to destroy my family,” she said. “That’s what I’m doing here. We stood up to them. Or tried. Just like Councilman Finch. We called them cheats and liars and they didn’t like that.”
“Yes, well, they are a very sensitive bunch.” Frack offered Carissa a cigarette and then he lit it for her, enjoying the thrill of her touch as she cupped his hand. Then he lit one for himself and pushed back from the table a bit. “Is the district attorney on this Roundtable? The mayor?”
Carissa scoffed. “You know the answer to that. The weak-willed and feeble-minded make wonderful stooges if they have a little power, but they’re not fit for a place at the table.”
Frack pulled a sealed envelope from his inside coat pocket. It was Finch’s letter to the mayor. He passed it across the table to Carissa. “Open it, precious. Let’s see what Finch wanted the mayor to know.”
Carissa tore open the envelope and read the letter aloud to Fractal Bob.
“Remember why you’re here. You’re here to serve the citizens. You’re not here to serve yourself. You’re not here to serve a certain group. You’re here to serve every single person that lives and works in the City. That means the people that voted for you. That means the people who voted against you. That means the people that didn’t vote. You’re here to serve everyone. And that’s my charge for you, as you continue down this road. Remember that you’re here to serve each and every person.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Frack said.
“Just what it says,” Carissa said.
“What a sap. And for this my partner was killed?” Frack tossed down a few bills for the tab and got up. “Want me to walk you home, babycakes?”
“Not tonight,” said Carissa, smiling coquettishly, her eyes reeling Frack in while letting him dangle uncomfortably. “I’ll take a cab.”
. . .
These were the wee hours of the morning in which Frack, wide awake and mulling over a dilemma, debated: booze or coffee? Booze. Frack poured Dimple Pinch and rolled a cigarette. Then he crumpled Councilman Finch’s letter to the mayor and set fire to it in his ashtray. “For all the good it would do,” he muttered to himself.
Then Frack heard something—someone trying to jimmy the lock on the door of the darkened outer office. He snapped off the light at his desk and hid behind the wooden filing cabinet to the left of his office door. The outer door clicked as the lock yielded to burglar’s tools and then Frack heard a shuffle along the hardwood floorboards as someone crept through Maggie’s office to her desk.
Luckily, Maggie kept things nice and tidy. There was nothing on her desktop for the burglar to rummage through, and all the drawers and cabinets in the outer office were locked. Maggie kept the keys in her purse, which she kept with her. It made Frack grin to hear the burglar sigh in frustration, but he was soon crossing the floor toward Frack’s inner office where he would have a lot more luck if he weren’t stopped soon.
The burglar came through the inner door and entered a dim pool of light cast on the floor by the streetlights outside. He was a small, slight man in an overcoat that almost swallowed him, and he brandished a .38 just like the one that killed Frack’s partner, Butch Jackson. Frack let the burglar get all the way inside before he jumped him, yanking his overcoat down to pin the burglar’s arms at his sides and snatching his gun. He forced the little guy into a chair and snapped on the light. Then Frack pointed the gun at him.
“Breaking and entering. This is a fine way for a copper to act,” Frack said.
“I’m no copper,” said the surly little burglar.
“This is a cop’s gun. The second one I’ve seen tonight. Where’d you get it?”
“Found it,” he said, rubbing the peach fuzz over his thin upper lip.
“Why’d you kill my partner?” Frack said.
The gunsel gave Frack a surly smirk. “Got to show we’re serious every now and then. Otherwise, the citizens might get overconfident, forget who really runs the joint.”
“ ‘Overconfident.’ Now there’s a two-bit word for a nickel-and-dime boy like you. What’s your name?”
The kid smiled again. He wanted Frack to know just who he was. If he’d been classy enough for calling cards, he would have produced one. “Joel Crock,” he said, proud of himself.
Frack sat down, the .38 still trained on the burglar’s pump. “Crock of what?” Then Frack broke into a big grin of his own as the gunsel’s face and name finally registered. “I know exactly who you are and who you work for. Councilmen Smirkle and Simpleton, I presume. It’s a little telling to find a name like yours on their roster. Just like the Nazis, pulling their henchmen from the police blotters. And how’s that working out for them?”
“Keep it up, gumshoe. They’ll be picking lead from your liver, too,” Crock said.
“The cheaper the hood, the gaudier the patter,” Frack said. “I believe that’s how that line goes, anyway. So what’s so interesting you had to break into my office?”
“Who told you about Councilman Finch?” Crock said.
“The guy on the street corner. What’s it to you?” Frack said.
“Can I have my gun back?”
“Go borrow another one,” Frack said. “And if anything happens to a certain flat-foot floogie who visited me yesterday morning or the lady who hired me yesterday afternoon, you’ll have me to answer to.”
Crock was on his feet now. He made a fist. “Be careful, mister. You’ll get ahead of yourself.”
Frack let the unarmed Crock back his way out of the office, and once he’d heard the outer door close behind the little gunman, he locked it. Then he picked up the phone at Maggie’s desk.
“Good morning, angel. Yes, I know it’s early. You know the dame in here yesterday? Miss Musucara, right. Go pick her up at the Belvedere and bring her here straight away. She’s not safe. Thanks. That’s swell of you. You’re a good man, sister.”
TO BE CONTINUED.