From The Weerde: Book 2, Roc 1999
That morning the sky was the colour of cotton candy, pink with white streaks. I had a feeling we might be due for a bad storm. As usual I stashed my car in a garage a few blocks from my office, and rode the rest of the way by streetcar. I've made some enemies, and leaving my car outside the office all day might just have put a little too much temptation in someone's way.
Clients weren't forming a line to see me, so I propped my feet on the waste-paper basket and settled down with the San Francisco Examiner, which had another boring story about the stupid things people did during the War of the Worlds panic. You'd think that after a week they'd be tired of it. Two hours later I was working on the crossword when the door opened.
I dropped the paper into the basket, sat up straight, and tried to look more alert. She was blonde, about twenty-five, attractive in a quiet way but not a real looker. Well-dressed, but dressed for work, not a night at the opera, with medium heels and a small plain purse, topped with one of those expensive little hats with a silly scrap of lace veil. No rings. She had good legs, and the shoes were expensive. Her complexion should have been peaches and cream, but she had a deep suntan. Her tone of voice said Vassar or some other fancy college, the scent said Paris.
'What does it say on the door, sister?'
'Lou Ginsberg, Confidential Investigations.'
'Then who do you think I am?'
'For all I know you could be the janitor, and I don't have business with a janitor.'
'I'm Ginsberg. What can I do for you?'
She came in and shut the door. 'Prove it.'
'Prove you're Ginsberg.'
I dug out my wallet, and showed her my investigator's licence.
'Good enough. I wasn't expecting a fake.'
'Then why ask?' I wasn't sure if I should be amused or insulted.
'The Ginsberg I'm looking for is supposed to be a professional. I don't expect cheap sarcasm from a professional.' Ouch. Game, set, and match to blondie.
'OK, sister, you win. I'm Ginsberg, who are you and what can I do for you?'
She sat down in the good chair I keep for visitors, angling her legs so that I didn't see anything interesting except some reasonable ankles. 'My name isn't relevant at this stage. I represent someone who wants to talk to you, but can't come to your office.'
'He thinks that he may be followed.'
'And what do you think? Is he nuts, or is his wife on his trail?'
'Neither. I'm sorry, I'm not prepared to answer questions. This is an extremely delicate matter. We must be sure that you won't talk to the police or reporters, or describe this case in your memoirs.'
'I don't do that sort of thing. Bums like that guy Spade who writes for Black Mask, or that geek Goodwin who shills for Wolfe and puts every detail in his god-damned memoirs, they give this business a bad name. It says "confidential" on the door, and confidential is what you're buying. Even the cops have given up on trying to make me talk about my clients.' That last was a little exaggerated, because only the week before Detective Monroe of San Francisco's finest had been in the office making a nuisance of himself, but I meant the rest of it.
'Good. Very good. Are you prepared to spend an hour or so out of your office, and earn fifty dollars even if you decide not to take the case? Two hundred a day if you take it?'
'I'm like the Boy Scouts. I'm always prepared.' Business was lousy. People didn't even seem to be getting divorced any more, and I had no special reason to stay in when I could be out earning fifty bucks. For two hundred a day I'd think seriously about going to Outer Mongolia.
'Splendid.' She pulled a small roll of bills out of her bag, peeled off five tens, and put them on my desk, then gave me a small card. 'Be at this address at one, and ask for John Sloan. Show him this card. He'll take you to meet your client.'
The address on the card was one of the largest banks in the city; the only other thing on it was Box J131, handwritten in black ink. She got up and headed for the door.
'Wait a minute. How do I know this isn't some sort of hoax?'
'What have you got to lose?' She slipped out, and closed the door behind her. I waited thirty seconds then followed, intending to see where she went and find out a little more, but all I saw was the indicator on the elevator, going down. By the time I reached the lobby she was long gone.
Sloan looked like he worked in a bank; if that isn't much of a description, it's because I can't honestly remember much about him. Short, thin, and balding, I think. It's only in the movies that detectives have perfect memories, and he really wasn't important enough to matter. He was obviously expecting me.
He led me down stairs that had more marble facing than a mausoleum, past the vault, then through a door marked 'Employees Only' and up two flights to some extremely fancy offices. Eventually he showed me to a door that had the name of the chairman of the bank on it, held it open while I entered, then bowed himself out so inconspicuously that I hardly knew he was gone. Most of my attention was on the man on the other side of the office.
'Oh. Good afternoon, Judge Dell. What's this about?'
She'd said it was delicate, and she hadn't been kidding. Dell was one of the top judges in the city; in the country, for that matter. Everyone knew he was headed for the Supreme Court. He looked about forty, was pushing fifty-five, and I'd never heard anyone even hint that he could be bought. I'd testified in his court once or twice when I was on the force. He was as impressive up close as he was in court. A massive bull of a man, the type who looks like he can walk through walls if he really puts his mind to it. His handshake was surprisingly gentle.
'Please, take a seat. Have you eaten?'
'Now you mention it, no.'
'There are some sandwiches here. Nothing kosher, I'm afraid.' He gestured to a trolley, loaded with trays of food.
'That's all right, I'm not religious.' I took some ham and pastrami on rye. 'Why all the food?'
'I'm here for a working lunch with the directors of a charity for the dependents of bank guards. I've arranged for us to spend a few minutes alone before the meeting begins.'
'What's this about, Judge?'
'Hmmmph.' He looked at me for a few seconds. I felt like a dishonest accountant when the auditors start looking through his books. 'Mr Ginsberg, I suppose I must trust you.'
'It's usually a good start.'
'My son has been kidnapped.'
'How old is he?'
'Jesus. What the hell do you need me for? Every cop in the city must be looking for him, not to mention the FBI.'
'I haven't told them.'
I choked on the sandwich I was biting, spluttered a little, then got my mouth closed and my mind back into gear. 'Isn't that a little ... umm ... unusual, Judge? Considering your position, I mean.'
'The circumstances are unusual. He isn't being held for ransom, but for the release of a prisoner, Claude R Worlsman. You may know the name.'
'The murderer. If he's convicted, of course.'
I knew the name, all right. Worlsman was scum, a crooked psychologist who'd earned big bucks getting more criminals off the hook than any five attorneys. Then he got really greedy, and hit on the idea of blackmailing some of his former clients. One of them was Mark Lee, a psycho who really should have been locked away in the funny farm. Lee took it badly, and went after Worlsman with an axe, but Worlsman got him first, with a syringe full of strychnine. The cops stopped Worlsman's Buick, and found the body wrapped in an old blanket, with Worlsman's fingerprints all over the syringe.
'I thought it was a foregone conclusion.'
'Any judge can disrupt a case. For example, the defence will undoubtedly protest the evidence of the officer who found the body. He was actually after another Buick and stopped the wrong car.'
'I thought that accidental discoveries were admissible as evidence. Umm ... Weeks versus the United States, back before the big war, I think. That case only ruled out deliberate illegal searches.' I felt proud for remembering that one, maybe the Police Academy really had taught me something.
'You know your law.' It was a compliment, coming from him. 'Even so, Worlsman's lawyer will undoubtedly object. Normally I wouldn't hesitate to accept the evidence, but the District Attorney would have serious problems if I ruled it inadmissible. There are other points at which I could intervene.'
'So who's got your boy? It can't be Worlsman himself, he's in prison, and I never heard he had any partners.'
'Worlsman has apparently threatened to ... ah ... "spill the beans" concerning some of his patients if he's convicted. This would appear to be their response.'
He got out a piece of paper, with a few lines of neat typing, double-spaced with no corrections.
WE HAVE YOUR BOY, JUDGE. HE'S UGLY, BUT WE'RE SURE YOU WANT HIM BACK. IF WORLSMAN ISN'T FREED THE KID GETS IT. IF YOU GO TO THE COPS, DELAY THE CASE, OR DO ANYTHING THAT ISN'T PART OF YOUR NORMAL ROUTINE, WE'LL SEND YOU SOME TOES TO PROVE WE MEAN BUSINESS. DON'T CROSS US, WE ARE WATCHING AND WILL KNOW IF YOU GO TO THE POLICE.
The typeface looked like a new Remington, but I could have been wrong.
'It isn't a bluff. I'm fairly sure that I was followed here this morning. A black Packard has been parked across the road since I arrived.'
'Great. When did you notice your son was missing? And why the insult?'
'His nurse left him in a play-pen in the garden just before nine this morning, and came indoors to get a cup of coffee. When she went out again he was gone. The note was left on the sand.'
'How long has this nurse worked for you, Judge?' Naturally I was thinking that she had to have been planted by the mob.
'Nurse Jukes has worked for us since my daughter was born in 1913. She's nearly sixty, and has taken this very badly.' So much for that idea.
'Any new employees?'
'What about old ones?'
'We have a chauffeur, a cook, a maid, and my secretary. All of them have worked for us at least ten years.'
'Fired anyone recently?'
'No. My household hasn't changed in many years.'
'Any other family members live with you? Your wife, of course, and you mentioned a daughter, but are there any others?'
'That was your secretary that came to see me this morning, was it?'
'No, my daughter. Rowena lives on the campus at Stamford, and it seemed safer for her to make the initial contact.'
So blondie was Rowena Dell. I'd never have guessed, though maybe there was a slight family resemblance.
'Was she at home when the kid was snatched?'
'No. I called her and told her what to do.'
'How do you know they weren't tapping your phone?'
'We spoke in Latin. If they understood that they're better educated than any criminals I've ever encountered.'
'Oh. Anyway, write down the names and addresses of anyone who might be familiar with the layout of the house, and their connection to you.'
He wrote a few lines on a big legal pad.
'Any other kids?'
'None living. One other son, stillborn, in 1925.'
'Sorry. You never know when these things might be relevant. Now, you didn't answer part of my original question. About your kid's looks.'
'Is it relevant?'
'I think that there's something you're not telling me, and that's no way to do business.'
He hesitated for a while, then looked down at the floor. 'Richard is deformed. He suffers from a condition called acromegaly. His bones are growing too quickly, and it affects his looks. You'll appreciate that this is another reason why I would prefer to recover him before there is any publicity.'
'How bad is it?'
'At the moment his face looks ...' he hesitated '... rather odd. His jaws, teeth, and cheek-bones protrude, and he seems to find it hard to talk. Our doctor hopes that surgery and hormone treatments will eventually correct the condition, but he must grow more before surgery is possible. Fortunately it doesn't appear to be painful.'
'Hormone treatment? You mean something like insulin? Does he have to take it regularly?'
'Something of the sort. And no, he doesn't need regular treatment at the moment.'
'I'm sorry, judge, I didn't mean to upset you. By the way, put your doctor's name on there, and anyone else that might have seen the kid in connection with the treatment.'
'As suspects? I must admit that I hadn't thought of them. It's very unlikely, my doctor is an extremely old friend.' He added three more names.
'Who knows? Look, Judge, I think you ought to go to the police, no matter how much publicity you get. The kidnappers are probably bluffing, and you need more help than I can give you.'
'And if they're not bluffing?'
'If not, they'll probably kill the boy even if you let Worlsman go.'
He winced. 'I'm aware of the possibilities, but there is no question of my letting Worlsman go, even if I wanted to. You must understand that the kidnapping disqualifies me from trying this case, regardless of the result. Fortunately the case has been adjourned because his attorney has influenza. On Monday we resume. I'll carry on until the jury are ready to deliberate, if it will keep my son alive, but at that point I'll have to declare a mistrial, explain the circumstances, and call in the police and FBI. I've spent most of my life serving the law, and I am not prepared to compromise it now.'
'And if your son dies?'
'I'm hoping that you can prevent that.'
I thought it over for a couple of minutes, then said, 'You just hired yourself a detective.'
I left the office, and wondered what to do for a lead. If Dell's house was watched I didn't dare go near the place. Ditto the people on the list. If one of them had fingered the kid for the mob, they'd soon pass on the word that I was on the case.
There was one possibility. Dell thought that he'd been followed. If he was right, there might be a way to use the tail. I found Sloan and got him to show me out through the staff entrance, then crossed the road and strolled back towards the Packard. I casually glanced in as I passed it; the driver was a ratty little guy with pebble glasses. I had an idea that I'd seen him when I was a cop, but I couldn't put a name to him. There was someone else in the back, but his face was turned away from me. I walked on to the corner, found a call-box, and asked a friend to check out Dell's doctor. It was a long shot, and nothing ever came of it, apart from an extra item on my list of expenses.
I looked down the road. The Packard was still there. I made another call, and told the police that someone was casing the bank. I hung up when they asked my name, and hopped a cab to the local precinct house. Halfway there two police cars went by, headed towards the bank.
Detective Monroe wasn't delighted to see me, but for once I had something to give him; the address of a guy who was fencing hot cars near the docks. I'd been saving the information for a rainy day. While we were talking, the patrol cars returned with the pair from the bank, now handcuffed together.
'I know that bozo from somewhere,' I said, as casually as I could manage. Monroe isn't Einstein, but he really does have the sort of memory dime-novel detectives dream about. There was no way he could resist the challenge.
'Pebble glasses, looks like a rat.'
'Easy. Wallace Rosen.'
'Never heard of him.'
'Drum Rosen, the door-to-door salesman.'
'Oh. Umm ... the guy who used to sell encyclopædias on a five-dollar deposit, then change the cheques to read fifty before he banked them?'
'That's the one. Really small-time. We nabbed him when the regional supervisor of the Fuller Brush Company spotted him as a phony.'
'Yeah, I think I saw him at the line-up. What about his friend?'
'You're kidding.' The guy was as thin as a rake.
'Spelled P-I-G-G. Real name Harold. He was in prison when you were on the force, serving a ten-year stream for armed robbery. Got out last year. Hangs out with the Cream mob. I'd heard he and Rosen were buddies, they shared a cell or something.'
Waldo Cream was a bad bastard, who ran one of the largest vice rings outside Chinatown. Four years ago Worlsman helped to get him off a charge of aggravated assault, one of the last cases I worked on before I left the force. The memory still gives me nightmares.
'What have they been doing?'
'Why are you so interested?' As I said, Monroe isn't an Einstein, but he usually gets there in the end.
'It never hurts to know what's going on.'
He strolled over and exchanged a few words with the arresting officer, then came back to me. 'Someone spotted them casing a bank, and Porky was packing a concealed weapon. That's a parole violation, maybe more if we can prove they planned to rob the bank.'
'Good work. One of these days they'll promote you to Lieutenant.'
I chatted a minute or two longer, then glanced at my watch and said, 'I've got to run, a client's coming to see me this afternoon. See you around.'
He watched me leave, and I could feel the little wheels turning in his head, ever so slowly. Fortunately he likes crooks even less than he likes me, and there wasn't a chance that he'd tell them that I'd been interested. The danger was that he'd sweat them so hard that they told him what was going on, then all hell would break loose. With any luck one of Cream's lawyers would spring them first.
When I left the precinct house it really was starting to rain. I pulled down the brim of my hat, turned up the collar of my coat, and looked for a cab. Before one came along, a battered old Ford stopped by the kerb and the door swung open. 'Get in, I'll give you a lift.'
It was Rowena Dell.
'Just drive, and tell me what you want.'
She put the car in gear, and drove off a little jerkily, then said, 'What the hell do you think you're doing? They said they'd kill my brother if the police interfered.'
Dell's daughter worried me. When I saw her that morning she'd acted way too cool for someone whose little brother was kidnapped. Now she was apparently much more concerned, but I wasn't sure why. Dell wasn't a millionaire, so far as I knew, but with an address on Russian Hill he had to have money. From what he told me she'd been an only child most of her life, but now there was competition for her parents' affection. To add insult to injury, the kid wasn't even pretty.
'How did you find me?'
'I knew when you'd be with my father, and waited to see you leave. I wasn't expecting you to go straight to the police.'
She'd followed me five blocks without me noticing. That implied training, or considerable natural talent.
'Don't worry about the police. I haven't told then anything, and I've got a lead on the man behind the kidnapping.'
'Oh! Who is it?'
'Why should I tell you?'
'But he's my brother ...'
'That doesn't mean I have to trust you. For all I know, your boyfriend is holding him. You certainly didn't seem too worried about it this morning. Whoever snatched the kid had inside help.'
The note must have been typed in advance, and they knew what he looked like when they wrote it.
'I don't have a boyfriend. Look, he's my brother, but apart from that I don't really have a lot in common with a child that age. I've been in Egypt most of the last year, so I haven't even seen him much. I'll be upset if something happens to him, but being emotional won't help to get him back.'
'I can think of reasons why you might want a brother out of the way. Inheritance, for example.'
'Don't be stupid. My father's will leaves fixed bequests to members of the family, and the rest to charity. I wouldn't gain anything if Richard died.'
That killed that idea. I tried another.
'What were you doing in Egypt?'
'Archaeology. That's what I teach. There was a big German dig near Cairo a while ago, but they abandoned the site for some reason, and left a terrible mess. We were helping to record the inscriptions before the sand buried them again.'
'Oh, I went out with a team from Marshall College in Connecticut. One of their professors visited the dig while the Germans were there, and suggested the expedition.'
There was nothing for me there. I never could see the attraction in digging up the past, though come to think of it that's what a detective mostly does. I decided to try another tack.
'All right, let's assume that you're clean. Who would you say was their inside man in your house? Someone must have described the family's routine, and told them when they'd be able to snatch the kid.'
Her knuckles went white. 'I can't believe that anyone would do that. Everyone loves him.'
'What about your mother? How did she react when she found out her kid was a freak?'
She slammed on the brakes, and slapped me as soon as we screeched to a halt. I was too busy fending off the windshield to stop her.
'You despicable ... you revolting ...' She tried to slap me again, but I got my arm up first. Just as well, she packed quite a punch.
'Just asking. Some parents would hate a kid like that.'
'Not my mother. She loves him, truly she does.'
'When I was on the force most of the killings I saw were in the family. You have to know someone well to hate them.'
'That's a horrible thing to say.'
'Yeah. It's a horrible world, sister, and there are some horrible people running around in it. When you feel like driving again, turn left at the lights.'
She started the car again, and soon had us moving through the traffic. By now the rain was heavy, and I had to peer past the wipers to watch where we were going.
'Where are we going?'
'You're going to drop me on the next block, then head back to Stamford. I'm going to visit a cripple and ask a few questions.'
'Just stop here.'
'This is a convent.'
I climbed out of the car. 'They call it a hospice. Scram, you won't be welcome here.'
'What do you mean?'
'I'm going to see a girl who hasn't got much of a face. The bastard who did it might be the one that has your brother.'
'I'm not afraid to see her.'
'Don't be stupid. You're no Garbo, but you aren't that bad. How do you think she'd feel if she saw you?'
'I'll wait out here.'
'No you won't. If she helps me I'll want to move fast, and I won't be able to protect you.'
'I can take care of myself.'
'Nuts. I have enough to worry about without pushing you out of the way of bullets. Go home.'
She seemed to be ready to argue, but I slammed the door and headed for the entrance. I half expected her to come after me, but she put the car into gear and drove off. I would have been happier if she'd reversed first because she was headed the wrong way for Stamford.
Sophie used to be a beautiful girl, before she made the mistake of holding out on Cream. After he was finished with her she had one arm, one eye, no face, and legs broken so badly she'd never walk again. You had to listen closely because he cut her tongue to stop her talking.
'Ginsberg. Long time, no see.'
'How are you, Sophie?'
'How you think, asshole? Got any booze?'
I took a look around. There weren't any nurses in view, so I slipped her my hip-flask. She took a quick snort, coughed, and pushed it away.
'Can't take that like I used to. What you want?'
'You remember Worlsman?'
'Do I ever. Creep tried put me away for saying was Cream that cut me up. Hear he's in the slammer.'
'Maybe. He's got some powerful friends. One of them is trying to help him beat the rap.'
'Who do you think?'
'Bastard. Hope they rots in Hell, both them.'
'Maybe you can help me send them there.'
'Cream has a lot of girls in his string, and some of them must get pregnant occasionally. What does he do when that happens?'
'What you think? There plenty doctors in city to fix a girl for fifty bucks. Cream takes it out their hides.'
'What if it's too far gone for an abortion? Did that ever happen?'
'Now again. Give me another shot.'
She took another long gulp from the flask.
'So what did he do?'
'Sell kid, maybe cuts momma if she pretty no more.'
'What do you mean, sell the kid?'
'He know someone runs baby farm. Take kids, pretty them up, sell to folks that want a child. Money in it, 'less you gets careless, lets them die of measles or something.'
That had to be it. Someone in that racket wouldn't think twice about hiding a child. After all, that was half their business.
'Got a name for me? An address?'
'What do you want?'
'When Cream in jail, an' Worlsman, you gets me a big dose horse, or some sort pills, 'nough to see me dead. I hide it till you long gone, keep you out trouble.'
'Are you sure that's what you want?'
'Yeah. Only way I'll stop them nuns prayin' over me.'
'Done. As soon as the bastards are out of the way, I'll pay you another call.'
'OK. Doctor usually Dan Mosler. Not real doctor, but he good. Fix girls real quick, no trouble.'
'Mosler like the locks?'
'Where do I find him?'
'Dempsey Bar and Grill, Market Street.'
'What about the baby farm?'
'That I don'know. Mosler was front man for that. He take care of things.'
'OK, you've earned your fee.'
'Fuckin' right. See you soon, sugar, an don' forget my gift.'
I left a twenty-dollar bill in the collecting box in the lobby, said goodbye to a couple of nuns, and headed out into the rain.
I thought that Rowena might be waiting outside to follow me, but the only woman around was a stranger, one hell of a lot more attractive, who was looking at flowers outside a nearby shop. Maybe a relative of a patient. I gave her the eye, and she sniffed and went inside while I went on my way.
I was soaked by the time I got to Dempsey's Bar and Grill, and the barman tutted as I dripped on to his nice clean carpet. It wasn't quite the dive I'd expected; it was only a few years old, and the decor ran heavily to padded leather and chrome. The prices were chrome-plated too, or maybe they used a little platinum. There weren't many customers; a couple of smart businessmen in a corner, talking percentages, and a solitary drinker working his way through his third or fourth boiler-maker. I ordered a Scotch, helped myself to a few nuts, and asked the barman if Mosler was around.
'I'm afraid I don't know the name, sir.' He had a fake English accent, which I suppose was meant to give the place a little class.
'Mosler. Dan Mosler, I heard he's always in here.' I tried to sound just a little drunk, without making it obvious.
'I can't recall anyone of that name, sir.'
'Look, I have the name from a friend. Dan Mosler, like the locks.'
'I really don't know ... oh, I believe that there's a Doctor Mosler.'
'That's the one. He drinks here, does he?'
'No, I'm afraid he doesn't, sir.'
'Then how come you know his name?'
'If I'm right, he has an office on the fourth floor.'
'Oh. Maybe I got it wrong, I thought they said the bar.'
'Above it, perhaps? Would you care for another drink?'
'No, I've gotta see the doctor.' I picked up my hat and headed for the door.
Naturally he was right. The bar occupied part of the ground floor of a five-storey block; if I'd kept my eyes open I would have seen the lobby entrance next to the bar. The notice-board said that D. Mosler DO had an office on the fifth floor, not the fourth. I couldn't remember what DO meant, but I decided to take a chance and go upstairs anyway.
There were a half-dozen diplomas from the American Osteopathic Association on the wall of his waiting-room, which was all the help I needed. Doctor of Osteopathy. His receptionist should have been a looker, with peroxide-blonde hair and a build like Jean Harlow, but she was eating a doughnut when I came in, and I got an idea that her figure owed more to Maidenform than nature. She asked me the usual questions, and I gave her a fake name and address, and said I had a persistent pain in the small of my back. I was vague about where it hurt. Doctors love that sort of thing, they can spend hours poking around, then charge you even if they don't find anything wrong. While we were talking I noticed a covered typewriter behind the desk; I couldn't see the trademark, but it looked about the right size for a Remington. She asked me to wait while the doctor finished with another patient, so I spent a few minutes reading some medical magazines. You wouldn't believe some of the things that can go wrong with people's bones. It was educational, and some of it was very surprising.
After twenty minutes or so I heard a door click, and the doctor buzzed her on an intercom. She told me that he'd finished with his patient, and showed me into his surgery.
Mosler couldn't have been more than thirty, and looked like the sort of doctor you see on the cover of those medical romance magazines; the kind where the guy has a stethoscope round his neck, a mirror strapped to his head, and a nurse in his arms. Handsome, and then some.
He had a lot of equipment, including a sterilizer and other stuff I wouldn't have expected to see outside of a hospital. Maybe that was normal for an osteopath, but it was the sort of stuff that would fit in well with a sideline as an abortionist.
He asked me the same questions, and I gave him more of the same lies until his receptionist shut the door. Then I decided to take a chance, and said, 'Get rid of her, Doc, Cream sent me over to see you, and he doesn't want any witnesses.' I opened a button on my coat, and let him see the butt of the revolver.
'Cream?' He licked his lips nervously. He knew the name all right.
'Come on, Doc, cut the crap. Cream's upset, and if you mess him about, things'll get one hell of a lot worse.'
He looked around, a little wide-eyed, then pressed the button on the intercom and said, 'Take an early afternoon, Monica. I'll see to the rest of my appointments myself.'
'Are you sure, Doctor?' the intercom said.
'Don't forget Mrs Jones at four. I'll see you tomorrow.' I heard movements outside, then a door closing. 'That's smart, Doc. Now, Cream wants me to get the kid. Seems he's a little unhappy with your arrangements. Someone got too talkative.'
'Who ratted? Bates? Chalker?' No pretence that he didn't know what I meant.
'I'm just a messenger, Doc. I don't know the whole situation, I just know I'm supposed to get the kid.'
'Maybe it's just as well. Let me get my coat. Have you got a car?'
I thought fast. 'No, Cream said you'd drive me.'
'Oh. Well, we'd better get going if I'm to be back by four.' It was just after three now, so the kid couldn't be too far away.
He led the way out of a door that opened directly on to the hall. I followed and something heavy and hard hit me behind the ear.
'... bastard bit a lump out of my hand when I tried to make him eat his mush. I'm telling you, if the Judge doesn't play ball I'll ice the little brat myself.'
'Shh. I think he's coming round, Gladys,' said Mosler. I kept my eyes shut, and pretended I was still out.
'Who cares? Kill him now, Cream won't mind.' I recognized the voice of Mosler's receptionist. Calling her Monica must have been some sort of code, and of course she'd been waiting in the hall when we came out.
'Cream will want to have his fun.' Something poked into my eye, and I pulled my head back before he put it out.
'Ah, I thought you were awake.'
We were in some sort of cellar, and I was wedged into a corner with my hands behind my back. It felt like they were cuffed to a pipe. Naturally my gun was gone; I could see it in Mosler's belt. I wondered if the cuffs were the pair I usually keep clipped to my belt, or the pair from my pocket. There was a difference, but I couldn't find out while Mosler was watching.
There was a big machine to one side of the room, that looked like a boiler for a hot-water system. It made a deep throbbing noise, and I felt fairly sure that it would drown out any screams or shouts. The only other features of the room were a couple of rickety chairs and a heavy-looking steel door in the far wall. I wanted to throw up, but managed to keep the impulse under control. My head felt like she'd slugged me with a ball-peen hammer, but it was probably just a sap. With any luck I didn't have a skull-fracture.
'Where are we?'
'Not far from my office, Mr Ginsberg. Mr Cream was very pleased to hear that you were ... available.'
'That the Dell boy I heard you talking about? You must be out of your mind to snatch a judge's kid.'
He kicked me in the stomach, not particularly hard, but enough to make me puke over his nice shiny shoes. They were dry shoes, until I spoiled them, which either meant that he'd worn galoshes, or that we were in a basement of the office building. He kicked me again, much harder, then said, 'It wasn't my idea, but in principle I agree with it. Doctor Worlsman is a fellow professional, and it would be unfortunate if he were executed. If the Judge cooperates the child will be released unharmed, if not I'm sure that we can find a use for him. As dog food, perhaps.' He was a real sicko. Gladys wasn't turning a hair, and I guessed that she was as deep into the racket as Mosler. Sophie hadn't said he had an assistant, but I'd forgotten to ask her.
'If you let me go, I can get you off the hook.'
He didn't buy it, of course. 'If we let you go you can undoubtedly find enough evidence to interest the police, then I'm afraid we would probably be facing several decades in prison. Killing you should be a lot safer.'
'Wonderful, add murder to kidnapping.'
'Don't say any more, Danny. Cream might want to leave him alive, and we don't want him talking.'
'Don't be silly. Even if Cream does leave him alive, he won't be in any condition to talk.'
I thought of Sophie, and I felt sick again.
Mosler said, 'Check the child again, and do try to get him to eat something. For the moment we really must keep him healthy.'
She grumbled, and went out, giving me an uninspiring glimpse of a passage with rough brick walls. I strained to listen for any sign of the boy, but there was nothing but the rumble of the boiler. Mosler turned one of the chairs to face me. I gave the cuffs a quick tug while his back was turned; they felt much too solid for comfort, but I couldn't give them a real test while Mosler was in the room.
He sat down, put the gun on his lap, groped in his pocket, and stuck some gum into his mouth.
'Any chance of a piece of your gum?'
'No, I'm afraid not.'
'How about a drink of water?'
'Come on, my mouth tastes like a cat's sandbox.'
'Tut, what a shame.'
Gladys backed into the room, with a nasty-looking little automatic in her hand. She said, 'Look, we've got company.' She stepped away from the doorway.
Mosler said, 'Do come in, my dear,' and pointed his own gun at the entrance.
Rowena Dell stepped into the cellar.
'I thought I told you to go home.'
'I'm sorry, Ginsberg, I thought I might be able to help, so I followed you here.'
'Amateurs. That's all I need.' My professional pride was hurt. She'd been able to follow me twice without me noticing. I wondered how she'd done it, and how she'd found her way to the basement.
Mosler laughed, and said, 'What a touching scene.' He tossed a pair of handcuffs on to the floor. Mine, I guessed – I hoped. 'Pick these up, very slowly, then move over to the other corner.'
Rowena did as she was told. 'Now put one cuff on your right wrist.' Eventually she was cuffed to the other pipe, with her hands behind her back.
'Who is she, Ginsberg?'
'How did she get into the cellar?'
Gladys looked up from the handbag she was examining, and said, 'She bust the lock with a tyre-iron. I took it off her before I brought her in. By the way, the ID says she's Dell's other kid.'
Mosler said, 'You shouldn't tell lies, Ginsberg, your nose will grow like Pinocchio's.'
Gladys laughed, and said, 'Cream will love her. Maybe he'll want to keep her. A judge's daughter ought to fetch big bucks, especially if he lets people hurt her a little.'
Rowena said, 'Better let us go, the police will be here any minute.'
'Really? And what did you tell them?'
I twisted my wrists, and strained at the cuffs again. Still no result, though I couldn't use my full strength without them noticing me moving.
'Indeed? Well, then we'd better kill your brother, hadn't we? After all, that was what we said we'd do if the police became involved.'
I said, 'She's lying.'
'How would you know, Ginsberg?'
'If she was telling the truth she would have waited for the cops to get here. Besides, I didn't see any public phones in this building, and she can't have had time to use a call-box.'
'That may be true. Gladys, go up to the office, and see if you can see any signs of police activity. Bolt the cellar door behind you, and put the padlock on. I'll use the other way out if it's necessary to leave. Call down and let me know the situation.'
That meant there was a telephone somewhere down here. Gladys went out. This time I thought I heard a noise like a kid crying, but the pitch was higher than I would have expected from a child that age. Then I remembered that there was supposed to be something wrong with his face, which might affect his voice.
'If she has called the police I'll find the time to make you feel very, very sorry before I leave.'
Five minutes or so passed, then I heard a bell ring; not the steady rhythm of a public phone, but an irregular jingle. Probably an old hand-cranked bell. 'Perhaps I'd better get it, I think you're both a little tied up.' Mosler tittered, and went off down the passage.
I gave him twenty seconds, while I made a last try at pulling my cuffs apart, then whispered: 'They're trick cuffs. Pull on them, as hard as you can.' She nodded, and did as she was told. For a few seconds nothing happened, then there was a loud click, and a broken link flicked across the room and pinged off the boiler. Mosler was still talking, though I couldn't hear what he was saying. 'Get over here, I've got the key for this pair in my shoe.'
She started to get up, then crouched again. and put her hands behind her back. Smart girl. Mosler came back into the room.
'Well, it appears that you're right, Ginsberg, Miss Dell doesn't seem to have called the police. Gladys says that Mr Cream has just called, and will be arriving shortly. We'll have a little party, I think.'
'You won't laugh when my father is through with you. You won't laugh at all,' said Rowena.
'Miss Dell, I'm pleased to find you in such good spirits. So many young women in your position would faint or start to scream. Your faith in your father is touching; mistaken, since you do seem to be my prisoner, but touching.'
'Let me go. I'll pay you.'
'I don't see any money, and I'm sure that you'd try to kick me if I were foolish enough to come any closer.'
'It's under my sweater. A gold crucifix with diamonds.'
'Is it, indeed. We'll have to take that little trinket at some point, there's no point in leaving it with you. Later, perhaps.'
I decided that it was time for a diversion, and pretended that I was trying to break out of my cuffs. Mosler stepped towards me, 'If you don't stop I'll shoot your balls off, Mr Ginsberg.' Behind him Rowena silently rose, picked up the chair, and smashed it over his head. I hardly noticed, because the chain of my cuffs broke and I was busy falling on to my face.
By the time I got up again Rowena was making goo-goo noises at the kid, in a poky little nursery down at the other end of the corridor. I checked Mosler. He wasn't dead, but the side of his skull was smashed. If he ever woke up it would be a miracle.
I took a peek at Rowena and the kid. His father was right about his looks, any circus would have paid a fortune to have him as their dog-faced boy. Ugly, and then some.
The rest of this story doesn't take long to tell.
We didn't find Mosler's other way out, and we didn't have the tools to open the door from the inside, but I did have my gun. When Gladys and Cream arrived fifteen minutes later we were ready for them. I was through playing games, and had an old score to settle for Sophie. They came in looking the wrong way; I shot Cream before they realized that we'd escaped, tried to make Gladys surrender, and ended up having to shoot her twice before she dropped her gun. Cream and Mosler were dead by the time the police answered my call, Gladys was still in a wheelchair when she came to trial.
I expected to spend a few nights in jail, while the police decided whether or not they believed my story, but Judge Dell packed a lot of clout. They found four other children buried in the cellar, so no one was too concerned about anything that we'd done to get the kid back.
The press was there in force by the time the police were finished with us, and I couldn't stop them getting a few shots of Rowena and her brother. He looked a lot more normal by daylight, no worse than any other screaming kid with a dozen flash bulbs exploding in his face. It was mostly me they wanted to talk to, which suited the Dells just fine. I kept quiet about some details that weren't really relevant to the kidnapping, and we went back to the Judge's place for supper. Afterwards I told him the whole story.
'... I think I was wrong about an inside man. I took a look through Cream's coat while we were waiting for the police, and found a notebook with a timetable of your family's movements. There were pictures of your garden taken from above the street. There's a telephone pole in the road. Was anyone working up there in the last few days?'
The Judge's wife thought for a moment. 'Yes. We had a lot of trouble with bad lines last week, and there was someone up there two or three times.'
'He was probably listening to your calls too. The police will want a full description, though I'd guess it was just one of Cream's hired hands. The police have pulled in a few already.'
'Undoubtedly. Well, Mr Ginsberg, you've done a wonderful job, and I think that you've earned a substantial bonus...' They Judge reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.
I said, 'There's something that's still bothering me.'
'What's that?' asked the judge.
I got up and walked over to the fireplace, and stood with my back to it. I wasn't feeling cold, I just wanted to be sure that no one was behind me.
'Years ago a cop I knew was chained with his own cuffs, then they set fire to him with gasoline. I remembered that, and I didn't want it happening to me, so when I quit the force I bought a pair of fake magician's cuffs. I keep them on my belt, where it's easy to find them, and a real pair in one of my pockets. Mosler cuffed me as soon as they knocked me out, and he used the first pair he found. The trick pair. I just wasn't pulling the right way at first. Rowena was wearing the real pair.' I fished the broken link out of my pocket, and tossed it across to her. 'Toughened steel. You bent it like it was a paper-clip.'
'A poor weld, perhaps?' suggested the Judge. He looked a lot warier. So did everyone else in the room.
'Not a chance. Then there's the door she broke, and the way she smashed Mosler's skull. Normal women aren't that strong.'
'I get a lot of exercise,' she said. I ignored it.
'Your son's face was another clue. The shape of his bones was odd, and it seemed to change once Rowena calmed him.'
'Acromegaly. I told you this afternoon.'
'You did, Judge, but Mosler had some magazines in his waiting-room. Medical magazines about bone diseases. One of them had an article about acromegaly. It messes up the faces of adults, but children don't have that problem. They just grow extra tall.'
'Put it all together, and the answer I'm getting is rather odd.'
The Judge said, 'What answer would that be?' He rose to his feet, and poured a drink.
'Rowena is stronger than any human has a right to be. Your son's face changes shape, unless one of you tells him to stop it. I didn't see Rowena following me, but I did notice a woman outside the hospice when I headed for Mosler's place. Her coat looked a lot like Rowena's, only the face was different. Maybe the kid isn't the only one that can change his face. You gave me that story about acromegaly, and it's nonsense. You're reluctant to have the police or the Press investigate your affairs. Any other judge would have gone straight to the FBI if his kid was snatched, and that makes me wonder what else they'd find if they really started looking at you. I can't think of a rational explanation that covers all the facts, so I've settled for one that's downright silly. I think you're Martians, or something of the sort.'
'Martians?' His face was blank, completely impassive.
"Like The War of the Worlds?' said Rowena.
'No. If I thought that my gun wouldn't be in its holster. You work for a living, you love your children, and you don't seem to be doing much harm to anyone who doesn't deserve it. You're stronger than us, and you can change your looks, but I don't think that you're super-powerful. If you were, you wouldn't have needed a detective.'
The Judge's wife laughed. 'A peaceful invasion. What an odd idea.'
'I don't think you're invading. Maybe you just like living here, and want things nice, or maybe you're out to civilize us a little. I don't care. You've put away scum that needed it badly, and you gave me the chance to ice Cream. There's no way that Worlsman will get off now, even with another judge running the case, because everyone knows who set the ball rolling. I'm not complaining, and I couldn't prove anything if I wanted to.'
'I'm pleased to hear that...' said the Judge, relaxing a little, '...but it leaves me wondering what you propose to do with this peculiar theory?'
'Nothing. I told you when you hired me, I don't rat on my clients. I just want you to know that your stories need work. Think about it, because I'm not the only detective in the world, and some of them are as good as me, and much better equipped. Give me my fee, and that bonus you mentioned, and think about what I've said. And if you ever need a detective, find someone else. You lied to me, and that's something I don't like.'
'I'm sorry you feel that way, Ginsberg. Honourable men are hard to find.' Dell gave me seven hundred and fifty dollars, which was rather more than I'd expected, and shook my hand. His grip was still surprisingly gentle.
Rowena offered to show me out. In the hall she stopped and said, 'Wait a minute,' then took my hands. Her face started to writhe. I wanted to get free, but I might just as well have tried to break out of my handcuffs. The real pair. When her face settled down, a half-minute or so later, she was a dead ringer for Garbo. She pulled me close and kissed me, and I tasted blood as her teeth nipped my lip. I thought of vampires, but she pulled away after a few seconds.
'Now that's a neat trick,' I said.
Her face writhed again, and her looks returned to normal, but she kept hold of my hands. 'You'd be amazed, but perhaps I'd better not demonstrate. Thank you for helping to find my brother. He means a lot to all of us.'
'It's my job.'
She smiled coldly. 'My parents are too relieved to worry about anything you might do. I'm not quite so sentimental, although I feel some gratitude. I've just shown you that I can be anyone, Ginsberg. A woman you meet in a bar, or one you pass on the street. Think about it, and think about how easily I can get to you if I want to. I know your voice, I know your scent, now I even know what you taste like. If I ever think you're becoming a threat, I'll find you wherever you hide, and then you're dead meat.'
'I'll bear it in mind.'
'See that you do. Goodnight.'
She let me go and opened the door, and I walked out into the drive. Monroe was still there, talking to a couple of his men, and I talked him into giving me a ride back to my car. Along the way I started to feel shaky, and decided that I wanted a change of scenery.
Worlsman never did get sentenced: he rocked the boat too badly, and someone made sure that he wouldn't talk – the hard way. They found his body in his cell, a couple of days before they sent Gladys down for twenty. A week later I said goodbye to Sophie, and moved to a little town in Nevada, where a small detective agency was advertising for a new partner.
I never saw any of that family again, but I did keep tabs on them through the papers. Dell never made the Supreme Court; they don't like judges with odd reputations, and his use of a private detective raised just enough doubts to keep him out of contention. He retired last year. Rowena still teaches archaeology. She publishes a book every two or three years, but I don't know enough to say if they are any good. So far as I know, Richard Dell is still in school.
As for me, life in Las Vegas wasn't as quiet as I'd hoped. But that's another story.