<< Discuss this fan fiction
At about a quarter past six that evening I put myself into a hack and had the chauffeur take me to police headquarters downtown. I got in to see Tom without any trouble. The sergeant at the front desk knew me by sight and Tom had left instructions to shoo me up as soon as I showed. Tom was alone in his office, a small windowless room on the third floor that he shared with five other lieutenants and only three desks, all of which could have been swallowed whole by Steinauer’s and still have had room left for the chairs. He was shepherding papers around his desk when I entered the room. His suit, which normally looked adequately pressed, hung limply on his bones. He’d probably spent most of the hours since I’d seen him last grilling the gunsel.
“You took your time,” he said, barely glancing up from his paperwork.
I plucked my hat off my head and dropped it on one of the other desks. I pulled its chair away and straddled it, resting my forearms on the back. “Had things to do,” I said. “and you needed time with that punk.” Tom nodded and kept on scribbling. I leaned forward a little and saw he was working on a report, probably on the gunsel. “Find out who he is?”
“Eventually,” Tom said. He didn’t ask who ‘he’ was, so I must’ve guessed right. “The runt’s as tight as an oyster. We had to identify him by his teeth. That should give you some idea how close he’s playing it. His name is Herschel Nussbaum, usually called ‘Harry’ or ‘Squirt’. Ever hear the name?” I shook my head. “No surprise. You can buy his kind by the gross on the Upper West Side.”
“He’s got a record?” I asked.
“A long one,” Tom confirmed. “Mostly petty. The occasional gas station. Some light muscle work in the rackets. That includes when he was alive. Death hasn’t given him any new virtues. Or vices, for that matter.”
“Not a professional button man, then,” I said with a nod. “I knew I had him pegged right. If Diamond did hire him, it might have been indirectly through one of his mob as a way to cover his tracks. That’s how I figure it.”
Tom stopped writing long enough to look right at me. “What’s your take on the setup? Was Nussbaum hired to throw a scare into Steinauer, do you think?”
I sampled that idea but sent it back to the kitchen. “I think he would’ve popped me if I hadn’t taken his squirt gun away. He seemed out of control enough, even if he had been ordered just to scare his man.”
“Out of control?” Tom mused. “I wonder. We haven’t been able to pry anything out of him and we’ve been at him for hours. Of course, there might be something about holding a gun on a man that makes him lose it. I think we’ve both seen that type.” He paused. “You worked homicide for a while in Frisco, right? I thought you had,” he said when I nodded. “But I think Nussbaum was supposed to sprout Steinauer, too, for what it’s worth. Trouble is: who really hired him? Diamond, whether directly or indirectly? Or was that ‘Mr. Maxwell’ stuff just a blind? Maybe Steinauer was only a means to an end. Diamond has plenty of enemies in the rackets, you know.”
I laughed a little. “You’re the second man today who’s suggested to me that Nussbaum was playing games. I think you’re both wrong and you, at least, should know better.” I could see Tom bristle a little as I continued. “If Nussbaum really was intending to sprout his man, why bother with a smokescreen? Daffodils tell no tales.”
Tom looked a little chagrined. “Yeah. That’s true. And I saw the look Nussbaum got when you showed him your name on the door. Until that moment he was certain he was where he was supposed to be.”
“Oke,” I said, “so finally we’re all in agreement. Nussbaum really was going to sprout Steinauer, and someone name Maxwell really put him up to it...directly or indirectly. And it only took us most of the day to finish up where we started from. The gunsel have a mouthpiece?”
Tom was projecting a frown at my snide summation. He shook it off to answer, “No, none; and he hasn’t asked for his phone call, either.”
“That’s smart,” I said and meant it. “If Diamond...or whoever...sent a lawyer for the kid, we might be able to make the connection no matter how well it was hidden.”
“There’s still that chance,” Tom said. “Bail has been set. Someone might come to spring him.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but anyone can walk in with bail money.”
“Well, we can try working on the connection from another angle,” Tom suggested. “What about Steinauer himself? Have you managed to get anything on him?”
“Not much,” I admitted. “The sign on his office door says he’s a numismatist and I haven’t found anything that says otherwise. If it’s a cover for something, then it’s a very good cover. Every other numismatist in town says he’s on the level. Even the boys in down in Vice say he’s on the level, in their own way: they’ve never heard of him. The prosecutor’s office has, though. It seems Steinauer has testified for them in more than a few forgery and counterfeiting cases as an expert witness. The only shady thing I’ve been able to uncover is that he’s known to several of the big book makers in town. But, hell, so am I.”
“Me, too,” Tom said, “but that could be a link to Maxwell: gambling.”
“Maybe,” I grudgingly agreed, “if you can make a connection between any given bookie and Diamond. He’s far from the only gambler in this city, and even the district prosecutor has to admit that. Besides which, Steinauer is said to be a man who pays his debts. It’s hard to see where Diamond could get a finger hold. Of course there could be other things; but if there are, they’re not out in the open where people can gossip about them with a private dick who’s not trying very hard.”
“And, anyway,” Tom added, “it might not be about what Steinauer did. It could be about what he didn’t or wouldn’t do.”
“That’s an angle,” I agreed. “Maybe Diamond will tell you which it is if you send him a box of chocolates.”
“You’re a goddamned prick, Wells,” Tom growled but without any real annoyance. “So what’s your next move?”
I picked up my hat. “Out to eat. I’m starving.” That was a lie, strictly speaking, but of course it was only a figure of speech.
Tom projected a frown. “Is that all? That doesn’t sound like you. What about dropping in on Diamond’s joint? What the hell kind of a snoop are you?”
“I’m a snoop with several cases going and none of ’em are this one. Sorry, Tom, but I’m only here because some half-wit kid with a daisy maker walked into my office and threatened me with it.” I reached into my breast pocket and pulled out a thin, folded sheaf of papers and tossed them onto Tom’s desk. “Here’s all I could dope out. The rest is up to you.”
Tom muttered something, but his frown cleared up. “Oke, oke. I can take a hint. I guess I was expecting too much from a mercenary like you.”
I shrugged, put my hat on, and stood up. “The day I can be talked into charity work is the day I’m ready to leave for the Ninth Underworld. You’ve got a lot of good boys in your department and I’ve got a business to run.”
“Yeah,” Tom said, “but don’t be surprised if I try to pick your brain.”
“Sure,” I said. “Anything useful I hear, I’ll let you know.” I tipped my hat and went out.
<< Discuss this fan fiction