A rap on the glass of my outer office door woke me from a great dream. The Radio City Rockettes had finally answered my letters asking for a date. They had all showed up at once. Imagine my disappointment when our nightcap was disturbed by some clown banging on my door at 10:30 in the morning.
I rolled off my couch and staggered through the doorway of my private office. I'd been sleeping there recently because my secretary and I had gone a few laps but she quit when I didn't offer her a shiny rock for her pretty little finger. Lately, she'd been hanging around my apartment building with some gorilla she claimed was her brother. I don't know maybe she said "Oh, brother." It didn't matter, I needed to stay low for a couple of weeks and find another secretary. This time I would hire one who wasn't so pretty, but could type.
Most people don't bother with the formalities of a regular business once they read the sign "Hank Armstrong Private Detective." The knock came louder this time and it echoed in my head like a cannon shot down Wall Street. I wasn't in the mood for entertaining this particular morning. The city's a noisy place at night and my fourth-floor window barely kept out the rain much less the hustle and bustle of "The City That Never Sleeps," so to get some shuteye I spent the night with a friend--Jim Beam.
The knock came again.
"Alright, keep your short arm in your holster" I shouted. I looked at the glass door and saw a female outline on the other side. I peeked through the mail slot to make sure it wasn't my love struck secretary. The pleated wool skirt on the other side of the door was spendy. Gals sporting that kind of wardrobe weren't usually referred to as secretaries: they were called "personal assistants."
I tucked in my shirt and ran my hand over my hair. When the door swung open a shapely woman stepped through and looked me right in the eye.
"Are you Henry Arthur Armstrong?" When someone calls you by your full name--and it's not your mother--it's best to run. Unfortunately, I had no place to go.
"Sure, serve your subpoena and close the door when you leave," I said as I turned and shuffled back into my private office.
"I need your assistance, Mister Armstrong."
"Hank," I corrected. Over my shoulder I waved her into my private office.
"I'm in desperate trouble and I don't have any money right now... but I can get some." She tossed her hat in the middle of my desk, a sure sign she wouldn't take no for an answer, unless the question was, "have you had enough?"
I fell into my chair and leaned back. Just my luck: desperate trouble and no money. Those words followed me like stink follows a hobo.
I lit a smoke and looked her up and down. Even bundled up against the cold, to say this blond was "a woman" was like saying lightening "struck." My shoe black got his brains scrambled by lightening and he described it as something more convincing. Her oval face had just a hint of makeup. Any more would have been like putting lipstick on that Statue of Liberty gal.
"No money, huh? 'at's my life story. So what've ya got?"
She unbuttoned her coat quickly and pawed at the buttons on her silk blouse. At first I thought she had on one of those special bras that "lift and separate," except this one must've been designed to make 'em stand at attention and salute like the Soviet Premier at the May Day Parade. She undid the clasp in the front: I've always admired technology when it makes life easier.
When those sisters rolled into view and didn't drop more than an inch in elevation I let loose with a long low whistle.
"S'matter? You hailin' a cab?" she asked with a smirk.
All those obvious charms and a sense of humor.
"Nah. I thought maybe you got the wrong office. The type o' guy a gal like you looks for usually starts on the twenty-fifth floor and works his way up from there."
"I know who you are. That's why I came. Consider this a down payment," she answered as she stepped out of her skirt and slip.
"Okay, but you know I get a daily fee, too." With the soft rustle of silk hitting the hardwood floor she was new-born naked standing in front of my desk.
"We can discuss that."
She had the long slow curves of the cross-town subway, built for comfort at high speeds. The smooth expanse of her stomach and the lazy lines of her ribcage were stopped dead by her two greatest assets. They stole the show. Hell, they stole the show and the tent that it came in. This woman was so hot, raindrops would evaporate before they hit her bare skin.
Directly in the middle of her shapely hips a small patch of light-colored hair showed she was honest about one thing, at least. I stood up and moved around the desk still drinking in all her charms.
"Well? What're you starin' at?"
I cocked my head. "It looked like you might be cold." I stopped directly in front of her. "I thought some o' me might keep ya warm."
She melted into my arms. Her dainty little chin pointed at mine when she asked, "Is it a special occasion?"
Her hands dropped to the fly of my trousers. "Well, the flag seems to be flyin' at half mast." With my zipper open she fished around in my pants like a professional pickpocket until she found what she was searching for. "Oh, my mistake. Everything seems to be in order here."
I touched her cheek with the back of my fingers and looked deep into her green eyes. "Maybe you better take a closer look. You got an Inspector's License?"
As she sank to her knees she cooed, "Not on me. But I wouldn't try to fool a professional."
I leaned back against the desk. She didn't need the license, she could've issued the damn things.
As it turned out, her old man owned some big factory in Jersey that made widgets for the war effort. Seems the old coot was making a fortune until VE Day. Now the company wasn't solvent... or something like that. Whatever she called it, it meant they were broke. To be honest, she spoke a few words while I collected my deposit but in between her moans and hissing like a cat in a street fight not much came out that made any sense.
I lit a couple of smokes and offered one up to this gal who called herself Cynthia: not Cindy, but Cynthia. She was a class act, despite her enthusiasm for settling accounts up front.
"Hank, last year my father married a girl a couple years younger than me and now he's gone and the company's going broke. It's more than coincidence." I nodded in agreement. It had been my experience that coincidence was a word that meant "we haven't figured out how they did it."
I took the case. I figured I knew enough about my client that I'd take a chance. What the hell, I could run up the bill for a while, at least. We spent the rest of the day working out a payment plan. Come sunrise the following day I figured I'd either have to solve this case or die of a heart attack, trying.
We took the streetcar over to Jersey to take a look at the plant that Cynthia's old man owned. On the way I wanted to get the facts in a straight line.
"So what happened to your old man? You said he died or something?"
"Damn, these seats are hard," Cynthia mumbled as she wiggled her cute little bottom. I tried not to smile. "No, he isn't dead, he's gone. Went to South America, He said 'to tie up some loose ends.' The minute he left my 'new mother,' Trixy, stepped in with some mouthpiece, took over and now the company's goin' broke."
"What's your old man got in South America?"
She made a face and replied, "Nothing, that I know of." I stared at Cynthia for moment. "What?" she quizzed.
"Nothing. Just, you look great even when you make that face." She slapped at me playfully and squeaked a little as she shifted in the hard wooden seat again. This time I couldn't help but grin.
Once we arrived at the loading dock I eyed the dock apes for a minute, snapped down the brim of my fedora and whispered over my shoulder, "Follow my lead." She was already gone. I spun my head towards a chorus of loud whistles from the loading dock and there was Cynthia strutting along with more moving parts than a Swiss watch. I took in the sights for a minute myself and then put my head back to business. I got into the upstairs offices easily while that crazy beautiful blond collected catcalls like the Yankees collect home-run hitters.
Offices on the corner of the building that catch the most sun are usually the best place to start any search and then I looked for the prettiest secretary to determine who was in the know and who was just a bean counter. I stuffed my hat into my hand and tried to blend in with the skinny geeks who made up the "laugh in the face of death" world of accounting. Lumbering down the hall near the back entrance I noticed a bruiser bigger than me keeping pace behind an obvious numbers wimp. I let them pass by. The pair looked out of place so I tried to fall in step behind them. Not so close as to attract attention but close enough to keep a tail on them.
I overheard that a "delivery" was "scheduled." Now all I needed was a place and time. The pair headed to the elevator and I hurried to catch up.
The gorilla growled, "Dah, wha' floor?" in a voice tinged with a boxer's slur.
"That one," I pointed towards his feet as the door smoothly clamped shut. When he looked down I landed a shot right on his chin and the huge man collapsed in a crumpled heap. The skinny guy looked at me in terror. Pulling back my coat I let him see my .45 Colt Model 1911, leaned close to him and then I smiled.
"I just wanna talk." The man's body shook like martini mixer but he was able to nod without falling down or soiling himself. I pulled the "emergency stop" button and stared directly into the man's pale eyes.
"Do you know who I am?"
The man shook his head.
"Good." I glared at the man as I released the "stop" and stabbed the button for the loading dock. We were on our way. When the door slid open several rough necks stood in front of us. A poke into the guy's rib with my finger convinced him I would shoot him if he tried anything funny.
"He's drunk," I jabbed my thumb over my shoulder at the goon lying in the corner of the elevator. "Send him home and dock him a half day's wages."
The skinny guy turned slowly towards me, his eyes wide in amazement. I nodded at the dock apes and they scrambled towards the elevator to haul out the goon.
"Make it a full day," I added as they flowed around us. We took a couple of more steps and were gone. Cynthia had a cab waiting around the corner.
"Got what we came for?" she asked with a smile eying the scrawny man in my grip. I nodded and the car shot away from curb.
The skinny accountant was tougher than I expected. My hand was getting sore from smacking his kisser. The accountant had nothing important to anchor him to the world except this job so he was reluctant (I learned that word from Cynthia) to tell me why he had fifty thousand dollars in a briefcase and a first class airline ticket to Mexico City for nine PM in his coat.
After a half hour Cynthia wandered into my private office and sat on my desk, crossing her pretty legs for effect.
"Is it Ken or Kenneth?" The accountant didn't answer. So far, the only thing I had was his name and I got that from his wallet. "At's okay. I'll ask your wife at the inquest." His eyes widened at that. "I'll tell her you never told me about your heart condition." She slid off the desk and took several steps closer to the man. Her finger trailed a line through the dust on the edge of my desk while she put together her next sentence.
"A working girl needs to know a thing like that." Her face was inches from his as she finished. The accountant was almost panting. "Hank, I don't know if he's telling us everything he knows." Her eyes stayed level with his.
"Dead in the arms of a B-girl would be an ignominious end for an egg-head accountant, hm?" I swiveled my head towards her slowly. I'd have to ask her what "ignominious" meant later.
"I don't know nothing," he sobbed. "I make a delivery and fly back. That's it, I swear."
Cynthia pushed out her bottom lip to look at the accountant with a pout before she cooed, "Kenny, you disappoint me." Her gaze fell to mine.
I doubled my fist and connected with his jaw, even though my hand hurt already. I learned everything I knew from the Waffen SS during my brief stay in a German POW camp. When they no longer had anything to teach me I snapped the necks of two interrogators and went over the fence, without a moment's remorse.
"I'm afraid my friend here," she flipped her head towards me, "is probably getting tired of this. I know I am. When that happens, I'm no longer..." she searched for the correct word. "Um, no longer... amorous." I bit my lip to keep from laughing--I knew what that word meant. "And if that happens..." she dipped her head, "...then my friend, isn't happy. She shook her head slightly. With a sigh she began to pace and continued with her side of the "interrogation."
"We had some carnal calisthenics this morning... and then at lunch. But he's the... active type, and if I'm not interested after dinner he might take it out on you." Cynthia stepped closer to me and touched my zipper briefly with her index finger.
"Do you want this man angry with you and sexually frustrated?" She turned to face the accountant while I continued to glare at him.
In all my years as a private dick the most difficult thing I ever had to do was try not to laugh while this crazy woman played the "question game" with the accountant. Cynthia was smarter and better than any woman I had ever met. Hell, she was smarter and better than most men I knew and every time she proved it I found myself growing more attached to her. For a man in my business that was trouble. But I'd been in trouble before.
Once the accountant started talking we couldn't shut him up. The company was dumping fifty big ones every week into a Mexican bank that transferred forty-five to an Argentinean account with the five grand as a transfer fee. These were not front-office dealings.
Cynthia convinced the accountant to deliver that week's deposit and vanish for a week or so. "Take in the sites of Mexico City," she advised with a wink. She had class with a hint of mischief, that's for sure.
"Wherever you end up tell 'em Cynthia, the pretty blond from Manhattan, sent you."
After a look at the business license's downtown I learned that the company Cynthia's old man owned had a main office closer to Central Park than my "Five Corners" address. I needed to visit some of the important people without the boss' daughter on my arm. Especially a boss' daughter who attracted attention like a picnic attracts ants. So I asked Cynthia to find her old man's bride, while I chatted with the money players, uptown.
I hung around the building's parking garage watching a shiny black Lincoln Continental sporting pristine hubcap-to-pavement white walls. That machine shouted, "pure executive." At 6:30 only one car was left: Mister White walls.
I tipped the elevator operator half a saw-buck and was delivered in front of an office with a view. The door was unlocked so I wandered in.
A pinstriped suit was holding up a medium-sized man with a halo of gray hair seated behind a huge desk. I ran my finger along the edge of the dark wood as I eased into his inner office.
Glasses that looked liked the bottom ends of two coke bottles pointed, first, at my finger then towards my face. The man nodded.
"Yes, it's Philippine. Can I help you?" There was suspicion in his voice.
"Hank Armstrong, Private Detective. I represent someone who has an interest in keeping this company solvent." I tested out my new vocabulary. It must have been the right word.
"All right. How much do you want?"
"My client seems to think you're stealing from her," I continued.
Slowly rising the man leaned forward onto his desk. "The old man's daughter needs to understand: once the shooting stopped nobody wants war products." He paused. "But moving big money is a business we can all profit from... Mister Armstrong." He pulled off his glasses to reveal beady eyes behind that thick glass: dull eyes, too greedy to reflect light.
"You don't understand, Armstrong. This dough is Nazi money. They took it from the Jews and we're takin' it from them. Nobody can claim this money and there's enough for you and me and the old man's daughter."
"I get an hourly rate from the old man's daughter and, frankly, I don't think you can match it."
He narrowed his dark eyes before he slowly let a knowing smile crease his thin lips. "She is an extraordinary woman isn't she?" I noticed his hand drifting towards his top drawer an inch at a time. Did I want to wait for him to make a move so I could finish this here and now--save the justice department a couple of bucks--or take him down so he could become some convict's new girl friend?
"If you got a piece in that drawer, use it now or keep your hands on that desk top, mister," I growled reaching to my shoulder holster to flash my .45 caliber assistant. There was a moment's hesitation in the man before he yanked the drawer open.
I bounded over the desk, plowing through paperwork and lamps. My fist, filled with nickel plated Colt-made steel, connected with his chin sending him sprawling backwards over his chair and into the shutters. Inside his drawer was a two-shot .32 caliber Derringer.
By the time I pulled the little piece out and turned to show him how funny that tiny pearl-handled toy looked compared to my piece, he was perched on the ledge of the open window, ready for the "big leap."
"Easy, mister." I held my hands up, in hopes he might come back inside. I needed him to tell the cops the details of his operation.
"I ain't goin' back to prison, Armstrong." There was a little lean backwards and he was gone. He fell forty-three floors without a sound. Several cars slammed on their brakes when he landed partially blocking the slow lane. One even honked... welcome to Manhattan, Mister White walls.
An old friend--if I could call any of "New York's finest" a friend--told me the dead guy in the street was a two-time convict who got to the top office by blackmailing some big shots in the State Department. Seems the only two people in the entire borough who didn't know the details of this operation were Cynthia and me.
"The feds'll ask you a few questions, Hank. But I don't think anybody's gonna make a fuss about this guy being dead. They won't even have an inquest."
I stared down at this dead man who profited handsomely from human suffering most people could never even imagine and lit a smoke. I jerked my head towards the legs that came away from his body at odd angles across the white lines between parking spots.
"Give him a ticket fer illegal parking,too."
The cop shook his head and laughed. "Go home, Hank."
Now I had to find the old man's wife and Cynthia.
I walked through the doorway at my building and stopped in front of the elevator. In the shadows I caught the red glow of a cigarette and I spun towards it quickly ready for a fight. Cynthia stepped into the light smoothly and dropped her butt onto the marble floor.
"Hey, Armstrong. What took you so long?"
I relaxed when I saw her pretty face. "An old friend of yours dropped by."
Riding in the cab she explained how she tailed her step-mother to her old man's apartment and I told her about Mister White walls.
"Nazi dough, huh? My father must've been funneling money to the Fourth Reich in Argentina." I nodded. "I want no part of them, Armstrong. I just want my father's company." Cynthia was sharp. Even ex-Nazis play hard ball.
Her father's digs were pretty classy. I was able to walk past the doorman only because I was carrying a classy looking lady on my arm. The way he looked at me: I'm sure he'd have given me the bum's rush any other day.