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Edge of Midnight Monday: Boiling Point

by Azrael

Case One – The Death of Harry Fontaine

Chapter Three – Boiling Point

28th October, 1949

I hoped that Giles would be too caught up in the hunt for my killer to dwell on the fact that he was all alone again, and it seemed to be working, for a while. Sure, he was still acting hinky, with the mumbling and the strangeness, but a few eccentricities are understandable when you’ve been through as much as that poor sap has.

Things started to go queer when that armed robber decided to try his luck at Al’s liquor store. It was a case of wrong place, wrong people, wrong time for that palooka, must have been last in line when the smarts were handed out I guess. Still, he got handled pretty quick by Jake and Shirley; getting a couple of bullets in him definitely rained on his parade.

Things really started to go south when the thug made a run for the door, only to be beaten back by Giles. Fine, as far as it goes, but when Shirley and Jake asked him to stop whaling on the guy he just didn’t listen.

I’ve been with Giles when he gets like that; all you can do is try and talk to him soothingly, calmly, try to bring him down from his worked-up ways to a semblance of normality. Having witnessed it first hand, I can now say that shooting him in the foot is not a good way of doing this.

It didn’t take long for the worm in the apple to bite this time; barely a day into their investigation and half of my old friends are at each others’ throats. Jake’s been looking at the ruined building ‘cross the street with a glint of murder in his eyes. Giles has been dragged off by Ruby and James has followed ‘em both, obviously worried about what Giles might do in his current state of mind.

Can they pull themselves back together and focus on the task at hand, or has Giles gone too far this time?

I guess only time will tell..

POV: Shirley Homes

After the rubble finished crashing down and spreading there was a heavy pause. It was as if the entire city was holding its breath. I stood aghast at what I saw. Jake began hauling the would be robber to his feet and my shock dissipated. I wanted to talk to him further so I followed Jake as he hauled him back to his office. Police sirens were just around the corner as he threw the guy in. I followed, dreading what might be in store for this guy. I had to stand by and watch while Jake pulled out the bullet with a basic pair of pliers. I’m not too squeamish, and have seen my fair share of injuries and insides, but this guy was obviously in pain. He kept pleading with Jake, explaining how he needed the cash for his kid and so on. It was kinda hard to watch, but I understood why Jake needed the bullet out of him. At least Jake took the guy’s scarf to try and plug the hole up. Neither of us believed his story, and I have to admit I joined in with trying to get the real story out. Not my proudest moment, but it had been a trying day. Jake took out his wallet and was disappointed to find only a quarter, I had a look at his ID, one Bob Ferguson apparently. I quizzed him some more while Jake made a phone call to the police, promising to hand him in. Bob apparently had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, I’d finished with him, and Jake seemed to have too, especially as Bob didn’t appear to have a family he could harass.

I decided to get some practice in for my upcoming date and headed to a nearby basement dance club. It wasn’t hard to find a few gents to spin me around the floor a few times, but after a few hours I realized my heart just wasn’t in it. I’d seen too much today, and the images couldn’t stop going through my mind. I drank more gin than I should, courtesy of a fellow bar propper. He’d taken off his ring, but clues that he was married were everywhere. Well, I went back to the office alone to chase away the last few memories with some gut rot, and fell into bed as the first light of dawn came peeking through the blinds.

It was almost afternoon by the time I was wiping the sleep from my eyes. My head was sore and rang like a peal of mass bells as I sat up. I decided to get some fresh air and headed down to the cubby holes, taking a moment to arrange my hair and retouch my lipstick. Just because I felt like a pile of minced meat was no reason to present a less then perfect appearance. I sauntered downstairs, no mail, but I grabbed a paper and headed back up to my office. I stopped dead in my tracks as I saw the outside of my office door. An eyeball, dangling a nerve, had been nailed to it, with ‘let the dead lie’ carved into the cheap brown paint of the door itself. The eye was brown too, and looked disturbingly like Harry’s. No doubt it was a warning, but a decidedly sick one. My stomach lurched as I thought about poor Harry’s body. Well, I didn’t have anything planned until the evening, so I may as well sort this mess out in the meantime. First things first, I sashayed down to Jake’s office and knocked. Fortunately he was in; unfortunately he gave me an intense grilling over why I needed the pliers. I tried to fob him off with a story about needing to pull a loose nail out of the carpet, but PIs get an instinct for when someone’s being economical with the truth and Jake’s no exception. My half truth wasn’t convincing him, but I fobbed it off explaining my late night. I sashayed out, letting my dress drag off the desk, hoping the view would distract him.

Opening the paper I pulled out some page I’d have skipped over, the financial section came out and was used to wrap up the eye once I’d yanked it out with the pliers. Well, that was part of the problem, but I wanted to hide the engraving. It went pretty deep, and after considering a few options I decided that painting over would be the cheap and permanent solution. I headed to the hardware store down the street, run by a small Eastern guy. After opting for red paint and realizing I didn’t have enough silver to cover the small tin I renegotiated for a cheaper one. I headed back up and along to Jake’s to borrow a brush, although he leant me one he didn’t like the idea of me repainting the door. I’d gotten started when he approached my office, the etchings were still visible so I sauntered down to meet him halfway. Apparently he was heading off to see what he could find about the bug, he seemed concerned, but didn’t spot anything hinky. I returned and continued painting.

Eventually I’d covered the outside of the door, but as it was drying the paint still showed the message. I decided to let it dry properly and then retry. While it was doing so I had an… acquaintance that needed a visit.

Arriving at the hospital I sauntered straight on through to the morgue, taking a perch on the reception desk as I asked the young man there if Mr Inich was available. The guy barely confirmed it before he started suggesting meeting up one evening. At this stage Gregor stepped forward and invited me down to his office. I sashayed alongside, with my heels on I was noticeably taller than him, something quite rare given my stature. Gregor started by wittering on about missing cigars and a coat, I knew exactly where they must be, but I wasn’t going to start explaining to him how the pair of us got into the morgue unannounced, for a start, they might tighten up security. After denying all knowledge I brought the package out of my purse. Gregor inspected it without batting an eyelid. I had to spell out the implications to him, although that was hardly surprising when he revealed that Harry’s body had been cremated the previous night, and the eye was most likely from an animal. Although that helped to quell the sickening images, it raised new questions. Why had the body been burnt already? And who had organized it so early on? I asked Gregor if anyone could have gotten to the body before the cremation, but he doubted it. Apparently they did keep a record on the front desk for visitors. I asked him what time I should expect him that evening and some details of where we were going before I excused myself. On returning to the front desk I decided to see if Matthew had any further helpful information. Perching on the desk I slid over my business card, suggesting that he call me should he find himself with a spare evening. His eyes lit up, I guess working where he does he doesn’t get to meet many girls, or at least, have them approach him. I asked if I could check the visitor’s book, he was happy to let me see. I noticed him admiring the view, and perhaps leant forward a little more than was necessary. No need to encourage the guy, he leant in nearer, the smell of formaldehyde singeing my nostrils. I think I found someone who could out-creep Giles, who at least had an excuse for it… It totally threw me off, Matthew was very complimentary, but my usual comebacks just failed me. As soon as he mentioned being able to ignore the smell of death it was too much given recent events, so I just asked if he’d seen anyone come in as he was on the night shift. He said he hadn’t, meaning someone had got in earlier, or he was being sweetened to lie as well. I thanked him and sauntered off, hoping he wouldn’t have the guts to follow through and call.

Returning to the office I’d just began painting again when who should turn up, but Jake Bullet. Ah yes, collection day. First things first, he wanted to know why I was painting and not working on the case. Checking to see if the corridor was clear I led him into my front office, carefully closing the door. I explained what I’d found in the door, and that I was covering it up. Besides, I had some things in the evening, namely getting the ballistics and forensics reports of the coroner through my date with him. I used the opportunity to ask Jake if he wouldn’t mind sending one of his boys to collect me at an opportune time, so the date wouldn’t go any further than I wanted. I had in mind that the car would be useful for getting me to Angeli’s body, and away again quickly. Jake was surprisingly happy to go ahead with it. Although one doesn’t get favours from that kind easily, no doubt he’d call in on that one soon. After sorting out the fine points I returned to painting, Jake seemed content to kick back in the receptionist’s chair and mull through my paper, occasionally calling out crossword clues he’d gotten stuck on.

After a while someone else headed up to my office, James Sinclair, who also wondered why I was painting rather than solving the case. I explained, with Jake’s input, what I’d found on the door and therefore why I was painting. I explained that I’d taken the eye to Mr. Inich, and he doubted it belonged to Harry, although we couldn’t check as the body had been cremated. Apparently Giles had filed paperwork to claim the body… but given the effect Giles has on people the papers might have been ‘lost’ simply out of spite.

This lead us to discuss the recent news of the building, and what was happening with Giles. James asked me what I thought should be done with him, I surprised myself by saying that he could be useful to the investigation; he knew Harry well, and had mentioned his ‘heart book’. I admitted to myself I’d be quite happy to see him locked up on Gunmetal Island for what he did, but something stayed me from saying that out loud, perhaps because James had gone off with Giles and Ruby I wasn’t quite sure where his loyalties lay just yet. I did admit I wasn’t going to get into trouble with the police for him though. I think the guy was out of order, and should be glad that I hadn’t shopped him in already.

Jake then wondered about the other cases Harry had been working on, the Angeli case had been solved, and hopefully sorted out by tomorrow. I told him my plans to go and inform the family, to which he suggested I charge them the fee. We swung easily into some bantering, but once again I found myself void of any comebacks. However, this was for entirely different reasons than earlier, I didn’t want to discourage Jake as I had Matthew, quite the opposite, although the warning klaxons in my head seemed to drown out even the expressions I’d use by habit. I had to settle for looking away coyly and bringing James back into the conversation. What a cop out, but it’d be terribly, terribly foolish to let myself fall for someone as dangerous as Jake Bullet.

Eva was the other case we know Harry was looking into, well, I say case, there’s defiantly a personal motivation there. I suspected that she’s involved in this somehow since we first got the book, and Jake could come up with a string of reasons as to why and how. Possibly even that he pushed her somehow, but James and I knew that wasn’t likely, and lets face it, it must have been bad if she thought working in a Tong dancing club was a better gig than being with Harry. Either way, there were plenty of motives for her not wanting Harry to find her. Also, the club was going to need investigating. I had plans for most of the evening, besides it wasn’t the sort of place where ladies were guests, as James rightly pointed out. He wasn’t keen to go himself, but I pointed out that as a rival mob family Jake wouldn’t exactly be welcomed. That left James. Jake suggested I could go in a more official capacity, i.e. to look for work, but not surprisingly that didn’t appeal. It would get me on the inside however, but it was definitely worth James doing the initial recon. He only had to go in and see if he could spot Eva, maybe ask around if it was her night off if he didn’t. He seemed happier once he realized he was only scouting the place, and didn’t have to approach her. The guys started discussing what James should wear, Jake offering him a cashmere coat, but James wanting to stay in his tweed…

The guy was going to look uncomfortable and out of place anyway, you may as well give him a feather boa and heels…

POV: Jake Bullet

I wake early, while the dawn is still trying to break through the dull grey sky. Pulling myself out of bed I splash some cold water on my face, the memories of the previous evening flooding back to me.

Holding the towel to my face, I close my eyes, only to see the collapsing building, rubble and masonry crashing to the ground – silent but for the screams of the victims.

Throwing the towel onto the bed I shake my head vigorously. I know I hadn’t heard anyone screaming, for all I know there was no one in the building when it fell. Holding that thought in mind, and pushing away the many familiar faces of people that I know live there, I step into the next room where a drowsy Rocky is watching over my prisoner. Having interrogated the guy the night before, I know there’s no reason not to hand him over to the cops. He wasn’t working for anyone else, just a guy trying to make ends meet, and not having the sense to do so elsewhere.

I send Rocky to get some sleep, he’s been up all night watching the prisoner and I wake Leo, telling him to ready the car while I make a call to the local station. I let my contact know that I’m bringing in a guy who tried to rob Al’s place. He says that’s ok, but he’s more interested to find out if I know anything about the destroyed building. A voice inside my chest wants to scream out that I know who did it, but a fist of reason wraps around the voice and crushes it into silence and I non-committally say that I’ll look into it and ask about on the street. I get in the car, pushing my terrified prisoner along for a ride he begs me not to take him on. I’m not quite sure what he thinks, what scares him most, the idea that I’m taking him down the station, or that I might be taking him to swim with the fishes or to dig his own shallow grave. I spend a few moments considering if I really want to hand him in, if there’s anything about me he might tell the police that I don’t want them to know. It won’t be a big shock to the police to know I shot him. But I took care last night to pluck the bullet out with a pair of pliers, so they won’t have any ballistic evidence to link to me. I reckon I’m fine.

Sitting in the back of the car, being driven to the station, I distract myself with the newspaper. The front page brings a foul taste to my mouth, like the dry gritty taste it took all night to spit out. But I keep reading… bodies still being dug free… crystal ball squad looking for a Professor Giles Xavier to ‘assist’ with their enquiries. If I had any doubt that their Giles was the same Giles I met yesterday, the photograph shattered it.

Trying to keep myself focused on one thing at a time, I put the paper down. We’re at the station, and I push the guy in through the doors and towards the front desk. The blue behind the counter doesn’t think it’s a good idea for me to be there (nice that someone recognises me), and I wonder to myself why I am. Maybe it’s the weight of all those innocent dead pushing me to do the right thing. I try and shrug it off. Killing people hasn’t bothered me before, so what’s so different this time? I didn’t kill them! Maybe I’m feeling responsible… they were my people, on my street. I feel as if I was supposed to be looking out for them. Or maybe it’s because I was there and couldn’t do anything. Maybe it’s my hatred of warlocks bubbling to the surface, wanting him to pay for his callous disregard for normal people. I get back into the car, slamming the door behind me, I’m not doing a good job of not thinking about it.

I stare out the window on the drive back to Snoops’ Row, one moment I’m staring at the door of the police station, the next it’s my office. I step out of the car, resolved now with my plans. Entering the office I pick up the phone and call Silas Mortimer, he’s a lawyer I deal with when I want to pass word up the food chain. Once he works out what I’m calling about, Silas arranges to meet me in a diner situated about 30 minutes away from Snoops’ Row. Putting the handset back on the cradle I get a flash of anger at myself. I unscrew the mouthpiece looking for a bug, cursing myself for not having thought to check before I made the call. Luck seems to be on my side, and I sigh with relief as I discover no bug.

I head out to the diner to meet Silas, and when I get there I explain the background of how I met Giles and how he, some others, and I are looking into Harry’s death. I explain how I saw him destroy the building with such casual demented ease. I look at the balding rotund man, wiping sweat from his brow, and try not to look disappointed. I have to force myself to remember that it’s his mind that has gotten him where he is with the Pattersons, not his outward appearance. I ask him for advice, and first he says that he sees no reason not to turn Giles into the police. However, he then starts to speculate about Ruby Valentine, and why she’d be trying to help Giles, going so far as to suggest that she herself might be a warlock. This would explain why she’d go out of her way to look out for Giles, if she’d truly never met him before.

Silas suggests that it might be a good idea to see if she can be shaken down, and only if she can’t be to then drop Giles as deep into it as I can. I thank him for his advice, and as he leaves he drops a $5 bill and tells me to get myself something to eat. Now some people might be offended at that sort of thing, but I know Silas, he’s the sort of man that regards buying a meal for someone to be the height of praise. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I order the best meal on the menu, and find that there’s plenty left afterwards to spend on doughnuts to take back to the boys. I chuckle to myself as the image plays in my mind, it’s quite literally a food-chain at times.

I get back to the office, my mood as dark as the bleak autumn day, throwing the bag of doughnuts to Leo and reminding him that it’s collection day. He asks if I’m once again going to collect from Shirley personally. The thought of collecting from her is like a shaft of light breaking through the dark sky, and I nod my head.

“Yeah, I’ll collect from her. Though maybe I’ll let you do her collection next week” I say, and head out down Snoops’ Row towards her office. It’s a good a time as any to collect, besides which there’s still Harry’s murder and the investigation into it to discuss.

I climb the stairs slowly, in no particular rush, and as I turn the corner onto the correct corridor I see Shirley crouched down by her door doing something. I pause for a moment, she hasn’t spotted me yet, and so I watch her slowly and painstakingly painting her door. She doesn’t look as if she’s painted all that much before, but she’s trying hard to do a good job. I start walking towards her, offering her a greeting as I get closer.

“Good afternoon… I thought you had a case to work on?” I ask with an easy smile. Only to be quickly shuffled into her office, the door partly closed behind her as she tells me about the warning scratched into her door to ‘let the dead be’ along with the gruesome sight of an eyeball nailed alongside it.

Shirley goes on to tell me that the eyeball had Harry’s colouring, and that she has already visited Inich at the morgue, only to be told that it is probably a sheep’s eye, and that Harry had been cremated the night before. That in itself is suspicious, and offers avenue for investigation. She seems quite eager to keep on investigating the case, which is the Shirley I know. She’s always been prepared to put up with the unpleasant to keep business turning over. Deciding to be understanding about her recent shock, I decide to put off today’s collection until the evening.

“I’m meeting Inich tonight” she tells me, “Would it be possible for one of your boys to pick me up afterwards, give me an excuse to get away?” she asks. Which has me wondering if she too has in mind putting off the collection until the evening, and if she’s trying to subtly arrange for one of my boys to take payment instead of me.

I agree to having her collected this evening, retreating to my thoughts of how to best proceed. I decide to take a seat, have a coffee, and finish reading today’s newspaper, idly looking up now and then to watch Shirley’s slow efforts at repainting her door and covering up the warning.

Seated once more at the receptionist’s desk, I look through the papers, not finding anything new, thinking how suspicious it is that the contents of the files on the desk never seem to change. Time passes slowly, and not having anything immediate to talk about, I cut through the silence by calling out crossword clues, writing down Shirley’s answers.

Things must have still been a little awkward, because as soon as James turns up the silence is shattered and we’re both asking him questions. Wanting to know about Giles, where he is, what happened last night, and more. It turns out that Ruby took Giles home with her and let him stay the night. This makes me think back to what Silas speculated upon. Could Ruby really be a warlock herself? Or does she have some other secret reason to protect a mass-murdering warlock?

Having extracted Giles’ current location from James, I quickly try to change subject towards Harry’s case book, and especially some of his most recent cases that we had decided we ought to look into. The conversation quickly turns to Harry’s potential discovery of Eva’s current location, and we start discussing who’d be best suited to visiting the Golden club.

Being a member of the Patterson outfit, it might not be a good idea for me to be seen there. Shirley doesn’t think it’s the sort of place a woman should go. Personally it seems like the sort of place that Shirley could easily fit in, though I decide not to so blatantly express my thoughts. Which leaves us both looking at James. I almost feel a little guilty at the very idea of sending the naive-looking historian to such a place, but he’d be far safer than I would be. In the tweed jacket he wears, he would just look like another sad guy there to watch the ladies dance.

“You carry a piece?” I ask James, hoping at least he’d be able to protect himself a little. To which he responds by saying that while he is carrying at the moment, he doesn’t think he should go into such a place armed, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Being found with a gun is the surest way to be spotted as something beyond the norm.

“It could be that Eva had Harry killed… if she was trying to get away from him and she found out he had been trying to discover where she was” I suggest.

“Or maybe she’s been trying to hide so that Harry doesn’t get mixed up in whatever she’s mixed up in. And the Golden connections found out that Harry was snooping and had him killed?” comes a suggestion from one of the others.

“Or maybe this has nothing at all to do with Harry’s death,” is yet another suggestion.

Mulling the possibilities back and forth, the three of us discuss the case, James joining me for coffee while we watch Shirley paint. I never took watching paint dry to be such a fun spectator sport, but Shirley seems to be able to fascinate us with her performance regardless.

“I’m going to need a smaller gun this evening, when I go to meet with Inich…” Shirley comments softly, seemingly to herself. However I pick up on her words.

“I’ve got a derringer you could borrow, Shirley. If you want?” I say, “I can bring it ’round later and give you tips on where you could conceal it”, I add suggestively, expecting a shocked response. I’m somewhat surprised that she just turns back to her painting without retort. Maybe she’s not comfortable with me behaving that familiar while someone else is around, which after thinking about it for a few moments makes sense. She wouldn’t want anyone to know how she had to pay for protection, she’d probably be quite ashamed of it, so I should probably take care what sort of things I say while others are around. Or maybe the cold-shoulder is yet another subtle indication that she’d prefer one of my goons taking the payment instead.

Silence descends again, the three of us sharing the same space, but thinking our own thoughts.

Originally authored by: Alice, Azrael, & Skimble

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