Private Detective Lou Ryan, 1930s Chicago.
One Long Day in Chicago
Lou spilled the coffee he was pouring when Gloria stormed into the office. She was bawling her eyes out and using words a lady shouldn’t.
“Hey, doll, what’s up? Somebody kick your dog or something?”
“Oh, Lou! My brother Gary was just arrested for the murder of one of Lenny’s singers. Her body was found last night.”
“Murder? Whoa, sweetie. Start from the beginning.”
“Gary met her at the club; liked her singing. Said she was some hot tomato. They dated a few times, then last night happened. Cops say he’s the prime suspect. I know he didn’t do it, Lou.”
“I have to ask, doll. How do you know he didn’t do it?”
“Because, because there’s an alibi. He was involved in a different crime last night. Been down on his luck and needed the money.”
“Gloria, what’d he do?”
“He helped rob Gino Bacci’s jewelry store.”
“Not good, kid. Gino’s got powerful connections.”
“Damn! Now I’m more scared for him, Lou. What should we do?”
“I, not ‘we’ have to go poking around Lenny’s. Bruno’s not exactly gonna welcome me after that little incident the last time I was there.”
“Please Lou! He’ll spend time in prison if he admits to the heist, and will be in danger from his partners in crime if they think he’d expose them for an alibi.”
“Okay, Gloria, I’ll do some checking around if you promise me you ain’t gonna get involved in the investigation. Could’ve got yourself killed last time. ”
“I promise, Lou. Just help my brother and call me with updates, okay? I’ll be all nerves if I have to wait here and not know what’s going on, understand?”
“Sure, doll. I can do that. Stay close to the phone.”
Ah, that Gloria. She’s a swell secretary for an old gumshoe like me. But the doll’s a trouble magnet.
Lenny’s was a well-hidden speakeasy in the cellar of a cigar shop, located in an alleyway at a run-down section of Chicago. Lou took a deep breath, exhaled, then pushed the door open.
“Hey there, Bruno! Long time no see.”
“Hey, you! You got nerve coming back here after bumping-off my partner. And don’t try to lie about it. I know it was you and that broad that worked here, Adelle -- no, Estelle, yeah that’s the dame”
“C’mon, Bruno, you hated that sleezy guy more than me. I actually did you a favor. You have one less partner to split the profits with, see? Besides, he was about to kill Estelle. Being a gentleman and all, I couldn’t let that happen.”
“Yeah, well, we had to work hard cleaning-up your mess. Lenny’s sleepin’ with the fishes in Can’t have in my face, here. What do you want, Lou?”
“I need to get inside; have me a little looksy. Maybe I find the jerk who really killed that canary of yours, 'cause it ain’t the kid the cops have. ”
“Why should I trust you, or even care about a dead broad who ain’t no good for my business anymore?”
“Finding him is good for your business. New dames ain’t gonna want to work in this establishment ‘cause you let him in. Since the killer’s still on the loose your gals are targets, see?”
“Yeah, what I see is a slick dick. Okay, I’ll buzz you down. But no funny stuff, this time.”
Lou went behind the counter where Bruno controlled the trap door to the cellar. Following the corridor wall in the dim light, he entered the first room on the right.
There weren’t many customers on a Monday morning. Working guys were working; the others were sleeping-off the hooch from the night before. Lou ordered whiskey and studied the few patrons sitting there. One stranger looked too dapper to be in Lenny’s, at this time of day. A shapely, brunette cigarette girl approached him. Her costume was tight and exposed too much of her femininity. She bent over, winked and asked if he’d like a cigar. He started tapping his fingers on the table and kicking one of his crossed-legs up and down; no music was playing at the time.
If that dame bends over too far there will be an incident of indecent exposure. Can’t help but gawk, myself. But what’s up with that guy? He seems more agitated than shy around the dame. Perhaps I should make his acquaintance.
“Hi I’m Lou Ryan. Don’t recall seeing you here, before.”
“Problem, mister? Don’t need no busy bodies.”
“Sorry, fella, just trying to be friendly. "
Man’s hiding something. See it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. I'm this guy’s new shadow.
The cigarette girl finished her shift and left with her trench coat tied snugly around her shapely waist. Almost immediately, the stranger got up, threw some cash on the bar and left.
Before following him out, Lou held cash in the bartender’s face and asked for the girl’s name.
Lou followed the stranger for blocks, keeping a safe distance. He watched him duck into a three-story brownstone. He took cover at a newsstand and watched the apartment building entrance. When it looked like the stranger was staying put, he entered the building. The yellowed wall held post boxes with the residents’ names and apartment numbers.
Whoa, there’s an M. D’Angelo here. Why’s the guy at the dame’s place? She obviously irritated him, judging by his behavior at Lenny’s. Damn, apartment 305. Why couldn’t the dame live on the first floor?
Lou reached the top floor; the hall was clear.
Maybe coincidentally he resides in this building. Nah, he’s too well-healed to live here; the guy’s on a mission. Date with Mona? Either she let him inside willingly, or unwillingly. Nagging feeling it’s the latter.
Lou listened near the keyhole.
No voices. Sounds like there’s water running.
With his .44 ready, he tried the doorknob.
Crazy dame doesn’t lock her door?!
He peered inside the studio apartment. Nobody was in sight. He looked at the only other wall with a door -- the bathroom.
Holy cow, I hope this ain’t gonna be an embarrassing moment. She might be bathing. What if that guy's there, uninvited?
Lou went with his instincts and barged though the door. Before the stranger could react, Lou knocked him on the back of the head with his gun. The guy dropped to the floor, unconscious.
Lou pulled the still figure from the bathtub, grabbed a towel to cover her and removed something from her mouth. Although there was a lot of blood in the tub, she was still alive. He used her phone to call the ambulance and alert police, then wrapped her weakened body in blankets. He placed pressure on the wounds, while cradling her head from the floor. Mona started stirring when the cops arrived. Lou waited for the ambulance to leave, then he was escorted to the precinct to give his statement.
After the D.A. released Gary, he and Lou took a taxi back to the office. When Lou opened the door, Gloria ran into him on her way out.
“Lou, you promised to call me! I heard nothing fro--”
In mid-sentence, Gloria looked past Lou and screamed out. “Gary! Oh, my God, Lou, you got him out of jail. How?”
“I gave the cops the real killer. Pretty routine stuff. I knew it couldn’t be Gary, so I figured the killer had to be a customer of Lenny’s where the dame worked. I watched this stranger’s reaction to the cigarette girl. He was a nervous type, and better dressed than most of Lenny’s clientele. He followed the dame when she left work, making me suspicious. I trailed him and caught him before he could kill the poor thing.
“Who is he, Lou?”
The killer is Henry B. Leary. The “B” stands for Bacci, as in Gino Bacci.”
“That’s the jewelry store, you robbed, Gary!”
“Afraid so, sis. Henry’s the guy who hired me for the job, along with a couple of his old thug buddies. I had no idea who he was.”
“Why did he rob his father’s store? And why kill a singer?”
“I’ll answer that question, Gary. You see, Doll, Henry Bacci Leary, is the illegitimate son of Gino. His mother, a woman of loose reputation, looked remarkably like the women he chose as targets, shapely brunettes, working in sleazy joints. Cops think he’s behind some of their missing person’s cases, too. Guess he needed to punish his old man for leaving him at the mercy of an undesirable mother, who neglected him when he was young. Bacci paid the kid off all these years to keep him away from his legitimate family. Henry blackmailed his father and murdered his mother repeatedly, by killing the women who reminded him of her. He’s a real sick one, Doll. Probably would’ve kept on murdering, if not stopped.”
“That’s horrible! But, won’t Gary be indicted for robbery, now?”
“No, Doll, ain’t gonna happen. Henry's old man won’t want to drag-up all that paternity stuff. He’ll probably bribe some golf buddy officials to make the robbery case disappear and cover-up his relationship to Henry. They’ve retrieved the stolen jewelry from Henry’s apartment. Gary was paid to steal and to deliver the jewelry to Henry. He ain’t got any stolen goods in his possession. Besides, they’ve got this guy on murder, that trumps robbery. He’ll be doing hard time for the rest of his life. Good chance an acquaintance in the big house, owing Bacci a favor, will fit that scum for a like what he really deserves. ”
Gloria hugged Lou then pulled her brother toward her.
“Don’t ever scare me like that again, Gary!” She turned back to Lou and said, “We should celebrate. You’re a real genius, you know.” She gave Lou a peck on the cheek, leaving a bright-red lipstick smudge.
Lou’s face reddened.
Heck, I love that dame something terrible. Someday I might let her know that.
“Okay, kids, let’s get a move on. How about the steak place on Rush Street?”
“Sounds great! I’ll go powder my nose.”
When Gloria left the room Gary thanked Lou again for helping him out of the jam.
“No problem, kid. Just don’t cause your sister anymore grief. You need to keep on the straight and narrow, see?”
“Yes, sir! I’ve learned my lesson. But, shouldn’t we tell Gloria how the coppers knew he was the killer and not me because of the modus operandi attached to the singer’s murder?
“Nah, kid. Let Gloria enjoy tonight without pictures of that sort of crime scene in her head. Don’t mind telling you it made me cringe. Doc said she'll patch-up good, but I hate thinking about Mona with a face cloth stuffed in her mouth and bleeding at the corners of her lips where she was cut. And Gloria never needs to know what he planned to do with her next. Nope, Gary, this unpleasant stuff can wait. Case is solved, you've got your freedom and it’s been a long day. C'mon, let’s go celebrate with Gloria.”
Word Count 1997
Author's Note: I used some 1930s slang to give the reader a feel of the speech used. This story takes place between 1930-1931, hence Prohibition and the rise in illegal activity, bootlegging, speakeasies and an uprising in gang related crimes in Chicago at that time.
First Place winning entry, in the June, 2014 Journey Through Genres, mystery prompt. This is the contest version, thus there was a strict word count adherence in the rules. If a fuller version is released, it will probably be posted as a separate item.