About Add Post Articles Fiction News Reviews

Edge of Midnight Monday: The Hornet’s Nest

by Azrael

Case One – The Death of Harry Fontaine

Chapter Six – The Hornet’s Nest

Morning, 29th October, 1949

It never ceases to amaze me how money can open up doors, even the ones with solid steel bars and obstinate locks to go with ‘em. Despite the eye witnesses in the case of the destroyed building and the other evidence against Giles, Ruby’s fancy lawyer and her donation to the judge’s retirement fund got Giles sprung loose before the arraignment hearing was even over. A short while after that he vanished in a limo to Ruby’s mansion, and I have to wonder if he knows what he was letting himself in for.

Meanwhile, things are hotting up with the investigation into my murder. Shirley not only spurned Inich and Matthew’s advances but threatened the assistant lab-rat with a gun, too. I don’t know him too well, but I can’t help but think that ain’t the kind of insult that either of them is going to take lying down.

It’s starting to look like ‘Mr. G’, a known torturer for the Black Chrysanthemum tong is somehow involved in the case; he’s already tried to have James beaten unconscious and taken for questioning, but will he pursue things further? Did the bug in Shirley’s ‘phone and the threatening message on her door have anything to do with this, or has someone else got an interest in keeping the circumstances of my death a mystery?

One thing is for sure; Giles may have used Ruby to get out of jail, but he ain’t safe yet. If Myra Flannagan of the Crystal Ball Squad can unearth any evidence that implicates him in the building collapse tragedy, he could yet end up doing serious time or worse. She’s a woman with a mission, and something tells me that she’s not susceptible to bribes…

POV: Jake Bullet

I watch Shirley pulling her dress on, she doesn’t look at me, which is just as well because I don’t think I could meet her gaze. She’s in a rush to get dressed, but she covers up most of the marks before rushing through the doorway. I hear her stop and talking to Silas, which makes me smile. Knowing that Silas is about to find me injured, the fact that Shirley has just rushed in disarray from my room will to some extend mitigate any bad impression my injuries might cause.

Silas comes in and wipes down a seat with his handkerchief before sitting down. Someone people would be offended, but I know the comforts he’s used to, and I know these aren’t them. I recognise the dump for the place it is and I’m working hard to move up and out. I’m not sure what Silas came over for. He doesn’t have anything new to tell me about Mr G, but he wants to take the tong goon off my hands. I’m more than happy to let him have him, after I interrogate the guy, but at that point Silas shrugs and says it doesn’t matter, he trusts me to get out of him all the info I need to get.

Before he leaves though, he makes sure to point out that he’s aware of the manner that Shirley makes her payments, and that she can’t be left thinking she’s the one calling the shots or making such decisions. So next time she has to pay, to send her to him. Well the fellow has eyes alright, he knows good stuff when he sees it, and I don’t blame him wanting a piece. But he doesn’t strike me as Shirley’s kind of guy. heck, even if she was I don’t think she’d like being passed around like a piece of meat. Ok, I might joke about it with the boys, but… that’s not the same. Still… she decided she’s going to pay this way… and she’s paying the Pattersons, not me. I give a nod of my head, “Yeah, I don’t see that being a problem” I say, unable to think of anything else to say. But after this morning, I don’t think Shirley will ever look at me the same way. Maybe I’ve already gone too far and it doesn’t matter. But if there’s anything there that can be salvaged I’m not going to do it by pimping her out to Silas.

I smile, make small talk, even raise my hand to wave without wincing, but inside my head I’m trying to work out what’s going to happen next week. She could pay cash, that would put Silas off. I’m a little disappointed at that idea, I’ve gotten used to the weekly payment, I look forward to it, the idea of it being a thing of the past somehow doesn’t sit right with me. I could always take the payment the usual way, and pay out of my own pocket, putting her down in the books as a cash payment. That’d cover me on the paper work… but tongues wag. Someone somewhere would know we were still having our weekly ‘meetings’, and if Silas found out he may be none too happy. A lot for me to think about, but the only advantage is that I have about a week to think on it.

I’m in a bad mood, but that’s not always a bad thing. I call Rocky in and get him to help me get dressed, at least more than I currently am, and to help me into the front room. Bad moods are good to help get through the more disgusting parts of interrogation.

Before I can get the tong kid brought out, there’s a hammering on the door, and Sammy is let in. He looks in an awful state, and so I have him sit down, asking him to tell me what the problem is. It takes a while, but he spills his guts, figuratively speaking of course. I don’t gut the kid. He’s had a visit from two guys, one greasy businessman in a fancy suit, and a rougher guy with a moustache and a grey hat. The upshot is that they’ve told the kid that if he says anything about Giles and the building he brought down, they’re going to drop him into trouble over the Angeli kid.

Sammy knows he’s only told a few people about his involvement with the Angeli kid, and he’s scared. I put him at ease a little telling him that Shirley’s seen to taking care of the body already. But it does make me think. These blackmailers could be from Giles, who else would want silence kept over the issue? Ruby? She is helping him after all. She did come around yesterday and ask me to keep quiet. She asked about Sammy. I’d told her I could keep the kid quiet if necessary. Maybe she felt she had to make sure herself.

Having settled his nerves, Sammy asks me if he lives in a tong area. I know he doesn’t, and I ask him why he’d suspect that. From the story he tells me, it seems that four of the Patterson employees (Jimmy, Stew, Mac, and Donnie) appear to be doing some on-the-side collecting for the tongs. Bad news. Very bad news. Sammy leaves while I mull things over. My mood today has gone from bad to worse.

Sitting on the sofa I lean back and get Rocky to bring out the tong goon. He’s just a kid, but he’s made his choices. He was ready to lay into James with his baseball bat, so I feel no qualms about what I’m about to do. Plus he’ll give me someone to work my frustrations out on.

At first he claims to know nothing, even dares to deny that he was going to do anything to James. I recognise his bluster, he thinks the Tong will find him, help him. He thinks there’s nothing I can do to make him talk. He’s never experienced true pain before. He’s never had to face the immediate threat of bodily injury to weight against the notion of loyalty to his employers.

I instruct Leo to get the hammer and some nails from the tool box, and I get Rocky to tie the Tong kid to a chair with a hand free, pressed palm down against the table. Brave kid, not talking yet. Maybe he doesn’t think I’ll go through with it.

“Right through the knuckle,” I say, and give Leo the nod.

“Want me to drive it all the way in, boss?” Leo asks me.

“Is it nailed in to the table?” I ask.

Leo confirms that it is, and so I tell him he doesn’t need to nail it in any further. Maybe the kid saw this as a sign of squeamishness, ’cause he’s not being as responsive as I hope. Another nod, and the next nail crunches through. I hear his knuckle shatter despite the scream of agony. Or maybe I just think I do. But he talks. So ready to talk. In the scheme of things I’ve barely caused much damage to his body, and he already talks. Well there’s a valid life lesson for him, but I just don’t know how long a life he may have left. He tells me about the fellow Tong gangers he was with, where they live, their names. Maybe I’ll look them up some time, or maybe pass their details on to James. He mentions Dr Chang’s Emporium of Oddities, Lucky Best’s Mahjong Parlour, some other tong places. After general info, I get him to tell me any other tong names and places he knows, and he mentions a few, I make a note of them to pass up the food chain. I have Leo pull the nails out, and the kid screams some more. Yep, pretty sure he’ll tell me anything I need to know.

Knowing that James might be quite interested to hear what the Tong kid has to say I give him a call. James tells me he’d be happy to come around, and mentions that later he’s off to Eastowne to pick up something for the museum. When he mentions the Emporium place, a place the kid mentioned, warning bells go off in my head and I tell James that it doesn’t sound safe – telling him it’s a known Tong place. He won’t be persuaded against going, but invites me along with him. I guess after yesterday he knows I’m the kind of guy you like watching out for you. I accept… on the ground he comes to pick me up, takes a look at my bandages before we go, that sort of thing.

A while later James does arrive, and I have the Tong kid dragged out in case James has any questions. James is a little shocked at how the kid has been treated, but I get the kid to tell James what would have happened to him if they’d manage to kidnap him. The kid is pretty much broken, and tells James that he would have been taken off to a Tong torturer. That seems to be the end of James’ sympathy, and questions, so I get Rocky to throw the kid back into the bathtub.

We’re just on our way out when a limo pulls up. I turn around to close the door to my place only to find that James has ducked back inside and closed the door behind himself. Obviously he doesn’t want to be seen here, so I keep walking. Then Giles gets out of the car. That gives me a shock. He was supposed to be being arraigned this morning. He’s supposed to be going down hard, and here he is walking the streets. I’m not pleased to see him, but I smile. He starts talking about this club in Eastowne where Eva might be. I don’t let him know that we’ve already investigated that lead, but I make small talk about how we could meet up later to go there. I notice that Ruby is across the street, standing by a police car and chatting to the guys inside. Ruby starts walking back towards her limo, smiling, she gets in and Giles joins her. She gives me a broad smile and a wave as she drives off, and at the same time there’s a policeman walking towards me. Not a good situation.

The cop tells me that I’ve been pointed out as a local mob guy by Ruby. Well, how terribly nice of her, I think to myself. I smile at the cop and turn on the charm, joking about Ruby, letting him know that I know her. She’s blowing smoke up him, and I think he gets the idea. He even suggests it might be a trick to stop him following her. That has me wondering why he is following her. Then again, he’s probably following Giles. Still, he can make things tough for me, so I slip him a 20 to save us both the unnecessary paper work. Civic minded as always, I mention to him that Giles had mentioned visiting the city morgue, and that if he wanted to catch them up, that would be a good place to start.

When the cop leaves, James finally comes out of hiding and we head over in his car to some café. When I enter the café I see Shirley sitting at the far end of the room, a cloud of smoke above her seat and an ashtray almost overflowing with cigarette butts. My eyes watch her as we approach, my gaze casually sliding from her and to the tabletop when she turns. I don’t catch her expression, but her greeting seems a little cold, not that I can blame her. Not after this morning. Not after what Silas asked for… but of course, she doesn’t know that yet. Once again it surfaces in my mind, and I sit and ponder while she and James make small talk and we all get coffee. I ask the waitress to bring me some pecan pie. The advantage of food is that it gives you an excuse to keep quiet, and right now I can’t think of much to say. Well, not true. I can think of so many things to say. But none of them would do. Some of them couldn’t be said in front of James, most of them in fact. I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of James. As for some of the other things, I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of James either. I take a deep breath and resolve not to worry about it. Sometimes things just aren’t yours to control, and this was one of those situations. I should just steel my resolve. I join the conversation, discussing the visit to the Emporium, and re-telling James about Giles and Ruby’s visit. I wanted Shirley to know, and this as the easier way to do so without having to talk to her directly.

Finally we set off for Dr Chang’s Emporium of Oddities. When we arrive there’s a group of suspicious looking golden-types just across the road from the Emporium, so I get James to keep on driving. I want to catch these guys by surprise, but James is far more interested in driving around back of the Emporium and finding an alternative way in. So round the back we go, James jumping around with that umbrella of his to catch the fire escape. There’s a firedoor, but no obvious lock to pick. I pull the bamboo fork out of my jacket pocket and try to jimmy the catch of the door. Shirley’s behind me, watching over my shoulder. James is still at the bottom of the fire escape. I wiggle the fork, only to snap off one of the fork’s prongs. Why do I always find it hard to concentrate when I know she’s behind me watching. She reaches out, saying to let her try. How familiar. However this time her warm hand doesn’t wrap around mine. Her fingers carefully close on the fork and pluck it from my grasp without touching me, even her voice is careful and matter of fact. I mutter something off the top of my head, about having made the fork easier to use by breaking off one of the prongs, but I don’t think she’s listening, or cares even.

No time to worry about that though. The door swings open, and there’s a golden type standing there. A finger waving at us as he says we need to pay to look around, we can’t get in without paying. He won’t let Shirley or me get a word in edgeways. James, however, rushes up the fire escape to us and announces he’s here to pick something up. That does the trick and we get let in. But there’s no escaping a bad guided tour of the place. I can barely understand half of what this Chang guy says. Something about a flag that doesn’t exist for an army that never was. Sounds appropriate to me… also sounds like a stupid kids’ game. He shows us a tiny midget guy in a case. Insane. I wonder if it’s real.

Finally we get to see what we came for. The item to be handed to the museum. It’s a guy’s head in a jar and a tatty book about mining camphor or something. I’m not impressed. I tell James that if he wants a head in a jar, I could get him some for a good price. For some reason James doesn’t want any other head, he wants this head, even though he doesn’t know who it is of. Go figure.

We leave the place, heading back to the museum. I remember that James mentioned some potential tong-types hanging out at the museum watching him, so I suggest we go ‘ask them some questions’. Shirley doesn’t like the idea, she asks to be dropped off at home first. James isn’t keen either. so I guess that plan goes out the window.

POV: Shirley Holmes

The smartly dressed man known to me only as Silas passed me to enter Jake’s room. I moved back slightly to avoid him deliberately brushing past. Normally I’d be amused at how easy it is to pander to men’s impulses, but right that minute I just wasn’t in the mood. I went into the bathroom; I felt a mess, and sure wasn’t going to head back to my office until I’d cleaned up. My shoulders sagged as I saw that the Tong mook was still in the tub. He looked at me, confused and pleading, and I noticed for the first time how young he was; a few years my junior, and too young for getting involved with gangs.

“Rocky, can you get this Tong out of here?” I called out to the main room. Sure enough, Rocky comes in and lifts the guy over his shoulder, then just stands there smiling at me. I know I’m covered up by only clutching my dress to me; I smile back at him, amused at how easily he’s distracted. Once he left the room I cleaned out the tub, the old boiler juddering into life as I ran a deep hot bath. I stepped in gingerly, the water just below scalding point. I lay back, trying to relax and let the soothing water calm my emotions. After a few minutes I realised it just wasn’t going to work. I opened my eyes and sat forward, noticing how the warm water had raised red marks all over my skin, marking the damaged areas. I grabbed the soap, it was cheap and rough, but allowed me to scrub all over, before I rose and used the grimy towel to dry off. An overall improvement I felt. I slipped my dress back on, using some contortions to zip it up, gave my hair a quick comb and applied the red lipstick that Jake had so disproved of the previous evening. Feeling more like myself I decided to head back to my office. I feared the worst, but had to go there sometime.

Sashaying out I waved goodbye to Jake’s boys, still hearing murmured voices from the back room. I left without having to talk further to Jake, and went onto the bright street. The sky was clear and the air was crisp as I walked the few blocks down to the office. I was tense and on the lookout, but didn’t see anything strange… until I reached the door. Now red, but at least with no writing, but there was an envelope tucked under it. I tentatively pulled it back, and walked away from the door. It had my name on the envelope, and with a brief glance around I opened it. There was a single piece of paper, torn out from a notepad. Unfolding it I read the message from Jackie, he’d got some info on the bug I’d left him with. Well, may as well see if he’s in. Being a Sunday I wasn’t expecting to see him, but the note was there. I guess us gumshoes are never on holiday, but we do get to lay in. According to reputation, anyway.

Sure enough, I got an answer when I knocked. I glided into his office, “Hey Jackie, I just got your note,” I greeted him, all smiles. He invited me to go over and sit down so I went and perched on his desk, leaning in towards him. Jackie went on to tell me that his contacts had had a look at the bug, and that it was a Patterson design. My head was reeling at this; why would the Pattersons want to listen in to what I’m doing? And Harry? If it was them who’d left it in Harry’s office too. Worse, was Jake in on it? He’d have to be, this was his territory after all. It seemed Jackie’s thoughts weren’t so different, as he commented on my particular way of paying protection. He didn’t seem so certain though, so I assume it was mostly gossip he was commenting on. I replied, “We all pay Jake, one way or another,” I replied, neither confirming nor denying his suspicions, trying to warn him off the subject with my tone of voice. He went on to warn me instead, pointing out how troublesome and dangerous Jake was. Don’t I just know it! Unfortunately it wasn’t something I was aware of that first morning in the office when he came in. “He’s untrustworthy, Shirley,” he said, fixing me with a serious stare, pausing in his slow typing so I understood how serious he was. “Dealing with him is going to bite you in the ass one day.” Sooner than you think Jackie…

I headed back down the hall, entering my office carefully. I looked around, expecting some sign of having been broken into again, but there appeared to be nothing different. I’d just finished checking the phone for bugs and as I put down the receiver it began to ring. I was tense with anticipation already and the loud sound cutting through the silence made me startle. I tentatively pick up the receiver, “Hello? Watts and Homes investigations,” I answered. It turned out to be James, and therefore a pleasant surprise. He invited me to lunch, which was unexpected, but didn’t give a specific reason why. I agreed, telling him that I thought we should meet to discuss the case. He agreed, a little too readily suggesting that it hadn’t been his initial motivation. Hell, for all I know he just felt like some company over lunch given that Ruby seemed to have turned her attentions from him to Giles. I didn’t think the historian was so superficial however, and I was a little concerned, but after asking where and when he wanted to meet my fears were allayed somewhat as it was a public enough place. I wondered if he had invited Jake as well, but James didn’t mention him so I decided not to either. No need to give James any ideas, was my excuse.

I spent a little while tidying up the office, moving files around and making a few notes on what I wanted to include in my report to Lady Ruby. I found it hard to get far though, my gaze kept getting drawn to Harry’s hat. “Where are your missing case book pages?” I kept silently asking it.

Eventually it became time to head to café Rouge. I touched up my lipstick and hair; I was wearing it straight today, with an undercurl at the end instead of my usual waves. I clipped it back and fixed my hat on. “I’ll have to get that cut soon,” I thought to myself as I did so; That’s it Shirley, focus on the mundane things…

I got to the café slightly early, but that was fine – it gave me a chance to grab a coffee and warm up from the brisk late October winds. However as time went on I began to mull on things, subconsciously lighting cigarette after cigarette, trying to keep calm. Jackie’s findings, the ballistics report, this morning… The Pattersons weren’t looking good, but now I wasn’t sure if I could trust Jake, my only contact who could confirm or explain the facts. I was also on my umpteenth refill when James finally came in. I was starting to get concerned, but my heart sank as I saw who was following him; Jake Bullet.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, if James thought this meeting was to discuss the case no wonder he’d invite Jake too. I’d wanted to come over as suave and unconcerned as I could, but found that I couldn’t even point out the unexpected turnout to Jake, but directed it to James instead. Turned out the reason James wanted us there didn’t fit any of my theories; his boss was sending him to Eastowne to collect some curio for the museum, however, Jake’s talk with the Tong he’d brought home last night revealed that James’ destination was a known Black Chrysanthemums hang out and James wanted some back up. Apparently the Tong kid had also suggested that James had been, ‘marked for death’ which he was understandably worried by.

An awkward silence descended, so I suggested heading out – we may as well get this historical curio business sorted. The men agreed, Jake getting his pecan pie wrapped up while we paid. James kindly picked up my tab given that he’d kept me waiting, and the reason for the delay soon became apparent. While we were driving to Eastowne Jake explained about how Ruby had sent a policeman to hassle him, if only so she and Giles had a chance to get away. Not particularly helpful on her part, especially given that up to a point Jake had been helping me with the investigation. The other odd thing was that Jake seemed to be telling this to James, sat in the front, but as it had happened straight after James had finished tending to Jake’s bullet holes wouldn’t he have been there? Men, just don’t get them sometimes!

We arrive at this curio emporium in Eastowne, apparently not so far from the Jade Lotus club where James had looked for Eva the previous night. We cruised by it, and once again I was grateful that James’ old Sedan, Petunia, is wonderfully nondescript. Outside we see a snack cart, with a cook preparing dumplings, however the cart looks a little large, and the guys eating there seem a little too bulked out for our liking. Given the fairly deserted nature of the area it didn’t look too promising. The boys were talking about their chances of taking them out, but fortunately agreed to my suggestion of going around the back. Sure enough there were some large doors there, but they were locked shut. James reached up with his umbrella to release the fire escape ladder.

Jake and I headed up, to find that the door has a mechanism which means it can only be opened or closed from the inside. Jake pulled out some flat fork from his pocket and slid it through the crack, trying to jimmy the catch. It looked like it was about to give way, but he applied too much pressure and the fork gave way instead. I smile slightly at what seems to be routine, Jake has the tools to get in, but not the delicacy. As before I suggest trying, and take the fork from him. I wondered briefly if during any of his previous attempts he’d hoped to impress me, I have to say lock picking isn’t the way into this girl’s heart, although it may have worked for some of his Patterson girls. I winced inwardly as I got a brief flashback of memory to this morning. Yes, getting into bed with Jake would also mean getting into bed with the Pattersons, whether it was purely business… or something further. No more thoughts like that now, I’d make sure once I got paid for this job it’d be cash all the way. And my own set of lock picks.

We opened the door to find an elaborately dressed old golden man standing there waiting for us. He started insisting that we pay to enter, I tried to explain we were there on official business, but he just was not listening, and kept demanding 50 cents to show us around. When James comes up the ladder to join us he then mentioned the museum piece he’d come to collect, and the old man was then happy to give us a tour. I was worried that this was a ploy, some delaying tactic while his friends out front got in position around us. I tried to persuade him just to give us the artefact so we could leave and not take up his time. He insisted on the tour, and that my feminine wiles wouldn’t work on him. Well, I couldn’t take that lying down, and so really tried to charm him round. He mostly gave in, just showing us a couple of his favourite pieces en route to where the museum piece was kept. There was a flag, and some really small preserved person, but I wasn’t paying much attention, I was on the look out for anything odd. Jake seemed to be having fun, almost ridiculing the old man about his somewhat nonsensical descriptions, James was looking at them more closely, no doubt casting a professional eye over them and coming to his own conclusions.

I looked around at the displays of things, some familiar, others not so. Only a few were obviously old, many were simply curious, but timeless. Looking at the old flag I wondered just how we got to the stage where we couldn’t prove so much. I’d have to ask James about it.

Eventually we got to Dr Chang’s office where he presented James with a head in a jar and a book in some foreign language, but I had no idea which. James seemed to find it vaguely familiar and was pleased to take it for the museum. Jake clearly didn’t see what was so important about this head, and offered to make some up of James’ choice. Normally I’d be amused by Jake’s blunt and somewhat unfeeling suggestions, but having so recently been a victim of his own callousness the idea made my stomach turn. Is there nothing that trouble boy won’t do for money?

Taking the jar and book we headed out the back way, this time with the door being opened for us. We headed out to the car; I was still wary, but we made it around the front without problems. The snack cart was still there, unchanged, and prompted the guys about some Tong laundry van parked outside the museum, possibly in wait for James. I was happy to go back to the museum and help to ‘guard’ James and the artefact, but then Jake started talking about just going in and ‘questioning’ them. Guess his injuries have left him smarting some on the inside too, because he was eager to go in there and deal out some retaliation. I decided that I don’t want a part of that and ask James to drop me off at my office instead. I’ve got Ruby’s report to write… and an appointment to arrange.

Originally authored by: Alice, Azrael, & Skimble


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.