1930's Chicago,-- Back Street Private Detective, a Girl and a Gangster
Chicago, the windy city, where dark secrets lurk in the back alleys and wise guys rule the hood, I sat alone in my office, as I have done many nights after closing. This very nervous woman barged into the room.
"Oh, please, you have got to help me hide. If Vinny finds me he will kill me."
"Ma'am, what's the problem? Are you in the wrong building? If you don't mind me saying so, you look kind of out of your element here. Michigan Ave. is a few blocks away. This area just ain't safe."
"He would never think of looking for me here. You've got to help me, please."
Yes, folks, it all started that night. Hi, I'm Lou Ryan, a small time private investigator barely making ends meet. I live at my office in a low rent backstreet Chicago district. I hide a cot and a hot plate in my broom closet. So sit back, give them dogs a rest. Here's how the story went.
This dame busted into my office pleading for my help and shelter from the notorious mob boss Vinny Lo Bianca. She was supposed to meet Vinny at this little steakhouse on Rush Street, called Murray's. She said it was too early for their date, when she arrived so she decided to take a little stroll around the area. She spotted Vinny near the alley entrance with his large knuckled hands around some guy's collar. He pushed him up against the brick wall and pulled a knife and shoved it right into that poor sap's gut. The guy fell to the ground writhing in pain. Vinny grabbed his gun and shot the guy right between the eyes. That's when the dame screamed out. Vinny heard her scream and called to her. She ran from the scene, and somehow ended up in my office.
She was shaking like one of those yappy little lap dogs that dames like so much. I managed to calm her down and get the rest of the story.
"My name is Gloria Kranski. I have been dating Vinny for several months. I knew he was involved in some shady business, but I could not believe he would murder someone. When I let out that scream, Vinny looked at me as though I was his enemy. After I ran from him, I caught a cab that was cruising by the restaurant. I jumped in and told him to drive away, anywhere. I looked out the back window and saw Vinny's men running toward the cab, but we moved away before they caught up to us. I made the cab stop a couple blocks from this place, and just kept walking. I noticed the light on in your office window; that's how I came here. It was just pure luck. Most offices in this area are closed up for the night. So, will you help me? I am desperate."
I made sweet Gloria a cup of Joe, and tried to calm her down. I told her everything I knew about her mobster boyfriend. She had not lived in the area too long. I guess that's why she never saw all those headlines about Vinny last year in the Herald. He had been on trial for various money laundering, and gambling offenses. None of them stuck of course, because he either paid off or threatened some jurors. However, just two years ago, he was accused of murdering a beat cop. Oh that did not set well with the rest of the cop buddies. There was a trial and tons of evidence, but the jury feared repercussions so he got out of that mess also.
Yes, Vinny Lo Bianca is a very slippery character. I mean don't get me wrong, he's no Scar Face, but he does his share of violent crimes in this fair city. Since Capone's arrest this year for tax evasion, Vinny feels he's the top dog.
After I finished my little introductory course to Vinny Lo Bianca, the dame just broke down and bawled like a little kid. She does have the waterworks valve wide open, I tell you.
"Now relax, Miss. You are safe here. Like you said he would never think of looking for you in dump like this; a fancy dame like you, and all, wouldn't be caught dead, erh, I mean, well, you just wouldn't be here."
I decided to close the Venetian blinds and turn off the bright ceiling lights. I kept the old banker's lamp on my desk lit so the dame wouldn't get spooked or something. This time I offered her a little sting to her coffee; not any fancy stuff mind you, just some local homemade brew from a very discreet and reliable source. She was happy to accept the small offering.
I knew this would be a long night. I didn't want to frighten little Gloria as I just got her all calmed down, but I know the type of thug Vinny is. He won't leave anything to chance, that guy. He must have his goons all over this city like those sewer rats they always talk about at the barbershop. Those rodents eat their own you know; when they get all crowded out of a place and food supply. At least that's what Charlie the barber always says. I opened my cot and got the blankets I had on the closet shelf. I told Gloria, she might as well get comfortable, ‘cause it ain't safe outside. She didn't even object, and just went over to the cot and stretched out. That rotgut must have knocked her for a loop, I guess. She looked all pretty and had a youthful innocence when her eyes were shut.
I had that creepy feeling on the back of my neck and a little knot in my belly, and I knew the booze didn't do it. I turned off the desk lamp, waited a minute; then I went over to the window. I carefully moved the blinds up a bit at the sides and took a glance. My gut never fails me. It didn't fail me this time.
I noticed these two guys standing by the lamppost. They were smoking and looking around. I pulled away from the window when one of them started to lift his head. I was right about Vinny, not taking any chances. He must have had that cab followed. Vinny's guys would always be close by, waiting for him to finish conducting his business. This time, the business must have been very personal because Vinny usually gets somebody else to do the dirty work.
I pulled my trustworthy .38 revolver out of the desk drawer and swallowed another swig of booze. My office is on the third floor, if they should decide to enter the building, we at least have a little time and space before they can climb those creaky old stairs.
I didn't want to disturb the dame she looked so peaceful, but this is some serious business about to come down.
I took another gander under the side of the blinds. Then I opened them more daringly as I noticed the goons were no longer waiting by the lamppost. This is not a good sign. They could be in the building already. Yeah, if I were an optimist, I'd say, they gave up, got bored, took off. But I ain't no optimist, I'm just a small potatoes gumshoe dick, out to make a buck and spare my jaw from some cheating husband's pummeling.
Knowing Vinny's handlers were missing from the comfy spot at the lamppost, I concluded that we should try to make a run for it.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty, wake up, we got to get out of here, fast."
"What? Oh, Mr. Ryan, did you say we have to leave?"
"Yeah doll, --and it's Lou, okay? I spotted a couple of Vinny's thugs by the lamppost out there, and now they're gone. They could be blocks away from here, or roaming the building at this moment. So, I don't want to be no sitting duck here, okay?"
"I'm scared, Mr. --ahh, I mean Lou, really scared."
"Look, You see that door over there? It has a transom that leads to some bean counter's office. I will help you get up there so you can climb over. Vinny's muscle won't find you here...see. You can hide safely. I will create a diversion to get them on my trail and away from you. You got to be quiet like a church mouse sweetie, okay?"
"Yes, whatever you say Lou, just help me up there."
Well, I pushed and shoved that feather light broad up to the transom enough to allow her a good grip. She did a little twist and turn reminding me of those bump and grinders down at Joe's Cellar. She managed to get on the other side of the door, and tapped while softly whispering, "I'm fine, Lou."
After I told the dame to keep very quiet, and not to leave the office until I came back for her, I grabbed my gun and taped it underneath the desk chair. I knew if the thugs stopped me, they'd frisk me down. I went into the hallway of the cold, dimly lit building. There was a distinct sound of muffled voices coming from a lower floor. I was right, they are searching the building.
I quickly went into my drunken bum mode. I pulled the little bottle of homemade whiskey and splashed some around my collar. "Oh, give me a home, where the buffaloes roam, and the deer ..."
"Hey buddy, celebrating are we?" One of the thugs asked while ruffling my hair.
"You sure are right there Mr. Big Guy. I don't remember seeing you around this building before."
"We'll ask the questions, Buddy. Have you seen a pretty blonde woman, about yea high, in this building?"
The suit raised his hand about chin high to my face. That was certainly Gloria's height. She was a pretty blonde dame too.
"I can't say that I have seen something that delicious lately. I don't think she would be around here at this time. These are offices and they are all closed up by now, you know. So I guess you fellas ought to be on your way to a fancier area to find your missing gem, ehh, boys? "
"Not so fast yourself, guy, why are you wandering this building? You don't look like any of those suits that are listed on this plaque, here. Let's see, there's a dentist, an accountant, a podiatrist--I think he cares for children or something, a hairdresser and a private eye. You don't look like a Miss Louisa, the hairdresser. Oh, maybe you are Doctor Wyszynski, you know-- you like doctoring kids. I don't think the profession fits you. In fact, these people on the list all seem to be kinda professional--that is except for some gumshoe detective named Lou Ryan. Yup, I think that's you trying to pull something over on us."
"Fine, you got me, I'm Lou Ryan. Oh, hey, by the way genius, a podiatrist is a foot doctor." I should learn to keep my mouth shut because the guy just started knocking me around.
"I think you're hiding her. Tell us where the dame is."
I was still trying to clear the fog from my brain after those punches.
"Hey, Max, which floor is the private eye's office?"
"Three, Jimbo, like the accountant."
"Max go to the limo and tell the boss we think Gloria is hiding here. I'm taking this jerk upstairs to make him talk."
I get used to being tossed around by some enthusiastic client or rather the cheating spouse's boyfriend, but these guys, they mean business. This is going to hurt.
The Jimbo guy trashed my office looking for, well I don't know what because Gloria, although petite, could not fit in my file cabinet. He noticed the cot with the blankets all disturbed. Then he looked in the closet.
"Okay, I know she was here. I can smell her perfume.
Where did you hide her?"
Damn dames and their sweet smelling stuff, they always give themselves away.
At that moment, I heard phwew, the sound of silenced gunfire on the street. Jimbo ran to the window to check it out. I joined him there like we were old buds or something. I couldn't believe my eyes, that feisty Gloria was running down the street. Vinny was shooting recklessly toward her. The gal just slipped in between a building and disappeared.
Dames, I tell you, they don't listen to no one, I distinctly told her to stay put at the office. No, she runs out into the muck without thinking. Wow, what a dame!
While Jumbo or Jimbo, was looking out the window swearing under his breath, I grabbed for the gun I taped under my chair, and plugged the guy good. I wasn't taking any chances with a guy this big. I figured the four shots I put into him would also attract the goons downstairs with Vinny. I was right because they looked up as Jimbo fell pulling the blinds down with him.
I ran up toward the roof before the no-necks made it to the third floor. I'm not always such a cynical guy, but I like to be prepared. On the roof, there was a bunch of pigeons in cages belonging to the podiatrist. I think they are called messenger birds. I guess he had them for a hobby. I mean it can't be fun staring at old folk's feet all day. Anyway, behind the cages on the ground, I kept a spare gun with a silencer attached to it. You see in my kind of business, you got to have a plan "B" just in case. Sometimes my office would get trashed; I'd loose a gun and be left defenseless. I thought this would be a great place to hide a back-up weapon. It's a good thing too, because I didn't have time to reload after shooting Jumbo, there.
I heard the goons breaking in my door downstairs. It wouldn't be long before they figured I came up here. I peered over the roof and my heart just felt heavy in my chest. There I saw a tall lean man dragging Gloria by her hair right over to where Vinny was standing. That smarmy monster just stood there puffing away at his cigarette. Poor Gloria was whimpering loud enough for me to hear up on the roof. Then Vinny, he put his dirty hands around Gloria's throat, and dismissed the tall goon, who walked into the building.
I didn't hear anybody heading up the stairs. Could it be possible they were too stupid to think about the roof? I placed my attention to the street below. Vinny was slapping Gloria. That heartless thug, never deserved such a classy lady as Gloria. I didn't want to react prematurely, so I waited. Then, he did what Gloria described when she showed up in my office. He pushed her against the limo, pulled a knife, and put it to her throat. It was at that point I aimed my revolver at his head. It had to be a perfect shot so that Gloria wouldn't get hurt or worse.
Just as I was ready to take the shot, I heard footsteps heading up toward the roof. That flimsy chair I stuck under the doorknob wasn't going to hold for long. I tried to focus on the scene below.
I had a brilliant idea. I opened all the pigeon cages and spooked the birds until they flew off the roof making a racket. A nervous Vinny looked up at all those birds flying wildly.
Phwew The bullet was released and landed effortlessly in the side of his temple. He dropped back immediately, knife still in hand. Gloria, she stared those baby blues right up at me. I told her to run, and don't look back. Finally, she listens to me. I watched her run until I couldn't see her anymore in the darkness. Then I pulled off the silencer and began shooting at the meat store window across the street. The dry cleaner's window came next. Soon the street had attracted a tired cop on the beat. He pulled a switch on a blue box, which set off an alarm. Within minutes, the street was filled with police and fire trucks and a meat wagon. The goons gave up trying to push through the roof door when I started shooting wildly into the local establishments. They knew the commotion would attract cops. I saw them run from the building. When they reached the sidewalk, they pulled Vinny's body away from the limo, got in and left.
It was nearly dawn when the cops finally finished removing Jimbo from my office, and marking my doorway with police crime scene tape.I got the usual "come by the station later and make a full report."
Finally, it was safe enough to creep back to my office, and slip under the crime scene tape. My cot was ready and waiting for me to stretch out and put the whole night behind me. I swished a little more of that booze in my mouth and swallowed hard. It had been a good night. I had done someone a solid. Maybe, just maybe, li'l ol' Gloria will do me a solid someday.
Thank you for reading this short story. If you enjoyed it you may want to read the second entry in the Lou Ryan series,