Mystery Stories Home Page
Copyright 2004 by Michael E. Grost
A Jacob Black "Impossible Crime" Mystery
By Michael E. Grost
Hollywood, May 1924. Jacob "Jake" Black was in his writer's cubicle at Mammoth-Art Studio, the Hollywood film company. His airplane adventure novel Sky Heroes of the Secret Service was being made into a movie, and Jake was doing the scenario. As a lark, Jake was also playing a small role in the picture, as a pilot. He wore his pilot's costume full time, in case he was needed on the set. Jake knew this was only an excuse. Jake loved the snappy pilot's outfit, a one-piece flight suit made out of gleaming black leather. Ever since Jake was a little kid, he had loved everything about flying. Now he was thirty years old, wearing a pilot's suit himself, and enjoying every minute of it. Everyone Jake met at the studio commented on the fancy flight suit.
Hiram "Hi" Pavlovski, the office boy at the Writers Building, was especially impressed. He told Jake that that was the greatest looking outfit he had ever seen. This was a big speech for Hi, who was a shy 22 year old.
That evening, Hi came to him right after work.
"Mr. Black, could I ask you a big favor?" Hi said. "Could you come out to our baseball game, and throw out the first ball?" Jake thought this might be a command performance, and he agreed. Hi played in a local amateur league, every Wednesday night.
Jake and Hi strode jauntily out of the studio gate. They boarded the streetcar that would take them to the playing field.
The game was held at a baseball lot run by the YMCA, in a suburban neighborhood. The Y sponsored Hi's team, the Lions, which consisted of a bunch of guys in their early twenties. The team members were all thrilled with Jake's flight suit, and crowded round him, asking him questions about it. The poor guys on Hi's team said Jake looked like something out of a parade, or the movies. Hi told everyone proudly that he worked with Jake at the studio.
Jake noticed that Hi's team all played in their patchy street clothes, while the other team wore baseball uniforms with their team name on them, the Cowboys. Jake quietly asked the Lions' coach about this, a nice young man in his thirties named Ronald G. Putnam who worked at the Y as a volunteer. "These young men can't afford uniforms," he told Jake softly. "Their jobs leave them just enough for room and board. The Y provides them with baseball equipment, bats and catcher's mitts, but we don't have money for uniforms either." The coach was an athletic looking man whose white summer suit made a contrast with Jake's shiny black pilot's outfit.
After the game, Hi told him that Jake's coming out to their ball game had made it one of the great days in their club's history. Jake suddenly realized that the ball team was the most important thing in these young men's lives. They had no money, but they belonged here. The realization hit Jake powerfully.
Jake remembered when he and his friend, actor Gregor von Hoffmansthal, had been supposed to appear in a charity show at a children's hospital. Greg, as his friends called him, had been eager to appear - Greg was an enthusiastic do-gooder. Until the director of the show told them to appear in casual clothes. He told Greg NOT to wear his trademark white tie and tails, or a suit, or anything formal or dressy. Greg looked puzzled and distressed.
Jake showed up in a white tennis sweater and matching white trousers. He wondered how Greg would dress. He had never seen Greg in casual clothes - the studio had drilled Greg in the importance of being dressed to the nines at all times. Greg represented Mammoth-Art, and was supposed to exude glamour. But Greg could hardly wear a suit, or evening clothes.
Greg was not in a sweater. Instead, Greg was in the full uniform of a professional baseball player. The tailored uniform fit Greg like a glove. It had his last name, HOFFMANSTHAL, in large black capital letters in back. Greg's favorite number, 7, was all over the chest, back and sleeves of the pinstriped uniform. Greg wore a black baseball cap, and black cleated baseball shoes. A really snappy satin baseball jacket completed the uniform. The black satin jacket had his first name, Gregor, embroidered in white on the chest. The cleats on Greg's shoes were unusually large and "wicked" looking, so they would be obvious in photos.
"I wore it for a bit part in one of Seltzer Floyd's comedies, in which he raises havoc on a baseball diamond," Greg said, when Jake complemented him on the uniform. Seltzer was a star of slapstick comedies at the Studio. "Harry Callaway arranged the cameo. He thought he could get some good newspaper coverage for the picture with it." Harry Callaway was Mammoth-Art's indefatigable publicity photographer. He was always setting up things to publicize the studio's pictures.
"Harry's full of schemes like this," Jake said.
"This was definitely one of Harry's better ideas," Greg said with a big smile. "I've wanted to be a baseball player since I was a little kid. Just putting on this outfit makes me feel like a kid again! Not all of Harry's ideas are this good. After he had me wrestle that alligator at the carnival in Florida, I told him never again!"
Greg's baseball uniform was a big hit with the kids at the benefit.
"It must be interesting to be an actor and act out all your fantasies," Jake told Greg.
"Who were your heroes while growing up?" Greg asked Jake with interest.
Jake gave a smile. "Air pilots. That's why I write about them now, I guess."
This conversation came back to Jake, now that he was here at the ballpark with Hi and the Lions.
The ballpark was on the edge of a growing suburb - Los Angeles was booming in the 1920's. The ball park was owned by the city, and was for the use of amateur leagues of baseball players. The region behind home plate and the bleachers was a fully occupied suburb, separated from the ballpark by a high wooden fence. By contrast, the region beyond the outfield was the largely empty space of a new subdivision under construction. So far, roads had been fully built, including a road that ran right beyond the outfield. But there was only one house in the whole new subdivision. This was an empty demonstration model. It was right across the road from second base. It had a lushly sodded lawn, but no trees.
Jake looked up, and saw Sophie Chadwick in the stands. She was the photographer for the newspaper, the LA Daily Watch.
"Is the Watch covering this game?" Jake asked her with some amazement.
"Nope!" Sophie said with her usual enthusiasm. "I'm off duty. My kid brother Dave is playing with the Cowboys." She pointed to a freckle faced youth, wearing a Cowboy uniform marked #4. "I have my camera with me, though," patting it affectionately on the seat beside her. "Never go anywhere without it. You never know when you'll get a picture."
"I've got my writer's notebook here too," Jake told her, unzipping a pocket on his chest and pulling it out.
"What about you?" she went on. "Did you just fly in here?" she asked, pointing to Jake's pilot suit.
Jake explained about his small role in the movie.
Sophie wanted to take Jake's picture. Jake modestly feigned reluctance. Actually, he was tickled pink.
Sophie carefully posed Jake, setting his black cap at a jaunty angle, and placing him where the bright sunlight would gleam off every angle of his leather suit.
"Say Limburger!" she told him.
"I'll be back here on Saturday, on assignment," Sophie told Jake. "Sun Yat-sen is coming in from China and will parade right through here. The civic authorities thought an unbuilt suburb would be perfect. The roads are all built, and the empty lots can hold the crowds of spectators. The parade will end here, in the ballpark, and Sun Yat-sen will speak from the playing field. The press will be right here, in the ballpark bleachers, along with the crowds. They'll give us a high angle view of everything." Sun Yat-sen, the head of the Chinese Government, would be News.
An ice cream vendor had stationed his cart on the road behind the playing field, towards the far left of the baseball diamond. Jake got Sophie a toffee bar, and a bright green lime juice bar for himself.
The game had started. Jake saw Coach Putnam standing attentively at the sidelines, looking trim and athletic in his spiffy white suit. Jake reflected that the other team and the umpire treated the Coach and his team with more respect, because Coach Putnam looked the part of a Coach and leader. Jake wondered what Putnam's profession was.
Jake was watching the game closely. Sophie's brother Dave was up at bat. His face was frowning in concentration under his thatch of red hair. The Lion pitcher Pete was on the mound. Back at second base, Cowboy Eric was as far off base as possible, getting ready to run to third if Dave scored a hit.
Pete threw a fast ball. Dave swung at it, and connected. Jake thought it might be a home run. The ball soared far over the outfield.
Suddenly, deep in the field, past second base, a figure jumped up, seemingly out of nowhere. It leapt up, and caught the ball. Jake turned his binoculars on the figure. A surreal sight caught his eye. The figure had the head of a gorilla. It was wearing a brilliant, iridescent red dressing gown, and had an ascot scarf wound around its throat. It carried the softball in a catcher's mitt in its left hand. "It's a Southpaw Gorilla!" Jake thought, absurdly.
Suddenly, the figure crouched down in the grass, and completely disappeared from view. Jake and the Lion ballplayers in the outfield began to run towards it. Jake found that somewhat to his surprise, his shiny black leather flight suit was light weight, and didn't interfere with his running.
Jake could see the empty house across the street. But he could not see the road, which was in a dip between the ballpark and the rise that contained the house. Jake kept his eyes on the house at all times. He thought the gorilla might run towards it. But that never happened. In fact, Jake couldn't see the gorilla at all Ever since it had crouched down after its catch, the gorilla had disappeared entirely. Jake figured it must be somewhere low along the road.
The ballplayers ahead of Jake stopped, obviously puzzled. When he caught up with them, looking down on the road, Jake saw why. The gorilla was nowhere to be seen.
Impossible as it seemed, the gorilla had vanished.
Jake thought he recognized all the Lion ballplayers around him, including Hi. But just to make sure, he asked them if they recognized each other, and where they had all been during the last five minutes. They all agreed that each one of them had been highly visible on the outfield, during the last inning. Clearly, none of them had been the figure hiding under the gorilla mask and dressing gown. None of the Lions were in a baseball uniform, and each Lion present wore his own highly distinctive clothes, making him easily recognizable at a distance.
"We know nothing about this gorilla," Hi swore to Jake earnestly. The other Lions nodded in agreement.
"I'm sure the Cowboys know nothing about this, too," Eric said. Eric on second base was the only Cowboy in the outfield. He was conspicuous in his white Cowboy uniform with the red pinstripes.
Jake stood there in the outfield, looking around. He folded his leather-clad arms, in an aggressive stance. He also pulled down his glamorous pilot's cap so its huge curving, shiny black visor hid his eyes. Both gestures had been drilled into Jake, during rehearsals for the film Sky Heroes of the Secret Service, to make Jake's pilot character look more "tough". Jake did them now automatically, without thinking. However, neither helped him in the slightest, to figure out the mystery of the vanishing gorilla. Jake slowly made a 360 degree survey of the entire outfield.
The only other figure nearby was the ice cream peddler, down the road to the left. Jake was sure he had seen the peddler almost at the same time as the leaping gorilla. He strongly doubted if the peddler could have disguised himself as the gorilla. After all, the ice cream vendor and his cart were in full view of all the baseball fans at all times.
Jake went and talked with the peddler. The ice cream vendor was an Italian, named Federico Buffonelli, and wore a huge drooping black mustache. The peddler had seen the gorilla too, even closer than Jake, but had seen nothing more after the gorilla crouched down in the grass and disappeared. The curve of the road and the rise of the ballpark had blocked the peddler's view.
Jake looked into the vendor's cart. He wondered if the gorilla could be lurking inside. But the deep cart had nothing but ice cream bars inside it. Jake compared the inside and outside of the cart. The cart clearly did NOT have a false bottom, or any other place where a man could hide.
A postman on a bicycle came peddling down the road, from where it curved around and disappeared behind the model house on the far right of the field. The postman, in a red and blue uniform, was a stocky man of around forty. He had met no one on the road, he told Jake, during his ride through the unbuilt suburb.
Sophie Chadwick had gotten a great shot of the gorilla with her camera. But she had not been able to see what happened to him, after he dropped down out of sight. Sensing a human interest story, she also took pictures of Jake with the ice cream peddler, and with the postman.
With the ice cream peddler blocking off the road on the left, the postman the road on the right, Jake watching the house, and the whole outfield searching for him, the gorilla had completely vanished. It all seemed impossible...
Back at the bleachers, everyone stood there, looking amazed. Ronald Putnam, the Lions' Coach, was the first to recover. He immediately went up to the coach of the Cowboys, and started talking quietly and earnestly to him. Putnam's snow white suit made him conspicuous everywhere he went. The white color seemed to attract the eye, and stood out from any background.
The Cowboy Coach wore a well-tailored light blue gabardine suit, a three-piecer with a tight 12-button double-breasted vest. He too understood the power of dressy business clothes. The gabardine had a certain luster that made it gleam in the sun. In fact, Jake wondered which suit seemed more glowing with light, Putnam's white one or the Cowboy Coach's gabardine.
After a while, Coach Putnam turned and addressed the public and the players in a louder voice.
"The Lions had nothing to do with the recent interruption to the game, and deeply regret it took place," the dignified looking Coach said. "We believe that the recent hit should be considered as a home run for the Cowboy team, and that Cowboy player number #3 on second base should be counted as an additional home run." The Coach had a rich, resonant voice, and was a good public speaker.
The Cowboy Coach then spoke up. "We appreciate the good sportsmanship the Lions are showing here today," he said graciously.
The two coaches hurriedly beckoned their team captains to step up. They had the two young men shake hands, in full view of everyone present. Everyone cheered. Sophie's brother Dave started to run around the bases, and Cowboy Eric started to run home from second base.
It was still daylight after the game. The Lions had won, by a single run.
The teams had gone home. Before leaving both Coaches had donned trench coats they had brought along, despite it being a beautiful spring day without a hint of rain. Coincidentally, both trench coats made the Coaches look dressed up, uniformed, and incredibly bulky in the shoulders and chest. The Coaches' crisp white dress shirts and ties were visible at the collar of the coats, but their suits were otherwise completely covered up by the long trench coats.
Sophie Chadwick took group photos of each team, before leaving. Sophie also got glamour shots of both Coaches in their trench coats. Sophie told Jake that first one coach in the baseball league had shown up to a game in a trench coat. Soon other coaches were wearing a trench coat over their business suits too. Both Putnam and the Cowboy Coach were early adopters. "I hear it might rain" became a standard part of the Coaches' small talk. Ronald G. Putnam held out his hand testing for rain, in one of Sophie's photos at her suggestion. She also got a group photo of Putnam and his entire Lions team with their hands held out testing for rain. Putnam looked smiling, confident and authoritative in the pictures. Jake pushed his high-peaked black leather pilot's cap backwards on his head, so he could get an unobstructed view of Sophie taking her pictures. This too was a gesture Jake had been trained to do automatically for Sky Heroes of the Secret Service. Despite the precautions both Coaches had taken against rain, Jake knew the city hadn't had rain in three weeks, and was unlikely to get any soon. Sophie's newspaper was always on the lookout for photos dramatizing the drought, and these Putnam pictures would make a cheerful feature.
Now Jake and Hi were alone in the deserted ballpark.
There was a huge ombú tree from Argentina, at the far left of the ball park. Its giant roots stuck out at the base of the tree, and made natural benches on which people could sit. Jake did what he always did, when he needed to think out a problem. He sat down on one of the roots, and stretched his long leather-clad legs out in the shade. Jake knew about ombú trees and the pampas, from reading the South American adventure books of W. H. Hudson. Hudson had been an influence on Jake's own adventure writing for the pulps. Jake wrote Hudson a fan letter when he was in high school, and received an encouraging reply, all the way from where Hudson lived in Britain. Jake kept the letter as one of his treasured possessions.
Jake marveled that the giant tree was a relative of the common pokeweed, a plant he had often seen in vacant lots while growing up. Both were just kinds of Phytolacca. Jake studied the spreading branches of the tree. Soon he was thinking about the vanishing gorilla...
Jake went down the road, around the back of the model house. Sunset was beginning to blaze, in the sky to the West. There was a depression near the road, where the newly sodded grass sloped down to a hollow. Jake walked over to the bottom of the depression in the lawn, and started scrutinizing the sod. He found patches that looked as if they were at the absolute lowest point of the hollow.
Jake pulled the patches of sod up. The fifth patch proved lucky. A barred metal grill led down into a sewer. The grill was hinged, and opened up. Jake climbed down a metal ladder into the sewer. Hi followed after him, carrying a lantern he had borrowed from the storage shed at the bleachers. The lantern threw strange shadows from Jake and Hi on the walls of the sewer. The concrete storm sewer was around twelve feet high, forming a giant tunnel underground. Large rectangular corridors stretched off in both directions. The large sewers were clearly built to give flood waters a place to drain off. The whole Los Angeles region was subject to flash floods. The sewers were bone dry; Los Angeles had had no rain for over a month. Jake guessed that the same construction company that built the roads for the new subdivision had also installed the sewers. Jake and Hi started exploring the sewer, going in the direction of the model house. The click of Jake's boots on the concrete floor made eerie echoes as they marched through the sewer. The lantern only allowed Jake and Hi to see a few feet in front of them. What lay beyond in the huge sewer was dark.
Jake found a packing crate near where he judged the front of the model house to be. There was the head of a gorilla costume and the red dressing gown, lying on the crate. There was also a brilliantly colored gold and red Chinese robe and face mask, like the singers in Peking Opera wore.
Not far away, Jake saw another grill in the roof of the sewer. It too was covered with a piece of sod. Jake climbed up the metal ladder leading to the grill. He easily pushed the sod up, and came out in the dip in front of the model house. Hi followed after Jake. Jake's guess had been correct. Here was where the gorilla had vanished. The gorilla had simply dropped down into the sewer entrance, closing it shut and replacing the sod over the bars of the grill. He had then taken off his mask and dressing gown, revealing the postman's uniform he had worn underneath. He then walked back through the sewer, to the grill where Jake and Hi had originally entered the sewers. He had exited the sewer behind the house, and got back on the bicycle he had hidden there, appearing as an ordinary postman on a bicycle.
Jake suspected that originally the grills leading to the sewer were open and clear, when the contractors built the suburb. The gorilla-fake-postman covered them with sod, to disguise and hide their existence.
Jake looked down at the Chinese robe and mask. He began to get an ominous feeling.
Jake carefully put the sod back in place, leaving everything as he originally found it. Then he went to the phone booth behind the bleachers. Jake unzipped a side pocket, and took out some nickels for the phone - there were zippered pockets everywhere on his black leather flight suit. Jake placed a call to his friend Lt. Moe Apfelbaum, of the Los Angeles Homicide squad. Soon, Jake was giving a guided tour of the storm sewer to Moe and his young assistant, Officer Thomas O'Brien.
Moe and O'Brien were standing in one of the eerily silent tunnels.
"A fellow could get lost down here," Moe quietly said to O'Brien.
Moe and Thomas O'Brien had been summoned away from duty at a ceremonial city government dinner. Both were in sharp, jet-black LAPD police uniforms. Jake had never seen Moe in uniform before - Moe usually wore suits on the job. Moe's broad shoulders filled out his uniform very well indeed. Both Moe and O'Brien sported black police uniform caps, that were as giant and high-peaked as Jake's own pilot's cap.
Jake was just above the two men, climbing down one of the metal ladders. Jake paused, and gripped hold of the ladder with his left hand. With his right hand, Jake opened one of the patch pockets on the back of his black leather trousers.
"Here's a rough map I made," Jake said, taking a folded paper out of the pocket. Jake handed the map down to O'Brien, who stood just below Jake. Jake re-buttoned the huge stiff leather flap of the fancy patch pocket. The stiff flap took forever to unbutton and re-button.
"This way to the evidence," Jake said, as he joined Moe and O'Brien on the tunnel floor. Jake began striding rapidly down the tunnel, with the forceful, purposeful gait that he had been trained in during the rehearsals of Sky Heroes of the Secret Service. Moe and O'Brien followed, holding high-powered long black flashlights, covered in mirror-shiny black chrome. The three men's boots made a clatter as they marched down the concrete tunnel.
The police's bright flashlights picked out some bullet casings on the tunnel floor that Jake had missed earlier. Moe unzipped a side pocket of his black leather LAPD motorcycle jacket, putting the casings inside.
Moe and his men staked out the ball field early next Saturday morning, long before Sun Yat-sen's appearance. Moe caught Snooker Galhouly, a notorious mob muscleman from St. Paul, Minnesota, sneaking into the sewer behind the house. Snooker was dressed as a postman, just as Jake had predicted. Snooker was wanted for many other crimes, but his whereabouts had long been unknown. Sophie Chadwick had talked the Lieutenant into letting her come along. She had pictures of Snooker's capture to go along with her earlier photos of the gorilla catching the ball, and Snooker in his stolen postman's uniform talking to Jake.
Jake was explaining what Moe had learned to Sophie Chadwick. Jake's actor friend Greg was also there, resplendent in white tie and tails. The infinitely shiny black satin lapels of Greg's jet-black tailcoat suddenly reminded Jake of Greg's black satin baseball jacket. Even in his tail coat, rather than his baseball uniform, it was obvious that Greg was an athletic man with a highly developed physique.
"Snooker had been hired by a gang smuggling drugs into China," Jake began. "Their goal was to assassinate Sun Yat-sen, who is trying to shut down the gang's lucrative drug trade".
"The gorilla disguise was practice for Saturday. Last Wednesday, Snooker wore a gorilla mask and a dressing gown over his postal uniform. Saturday, the plan was to wear a mask representing a character in Peking Opera, and a bright Mandarin's robe over his uniform. This would make the killer look Chinese, thus confusing the police and public. Actually, the killer is just a hit man, representing the foreign opium interests Sun Yat-sen opposes.
"Wednesday's practice run with the gorilla costume was a rehearsal. Snooker wanted to see if everything would work out for Saturday. Snooker, covered up in the Chinese robe and mask, planned to jump up Saturday afternoon out of the field. Then he would shoot Sun Yat-sen, and vanish back down in the sewer, reappearing soon after as the postman," Jake concluded.
Jake had run into Ronald G. Putnam at a Los Angeles charity event, but had been unable to have a conversation with him. Putnam was in an all-white, double-breasted tuxedo. The jaunty tux was designed to set off Putnam's athletic build. Acres of peaked white satin lapels pointed up to Putnam's broad shoulders. Putnam looked neat and sleek.
"White is definitely Putnam's color," Jake thought.
Now that the case was solved, Jake decided it was time to take off his flight suit. At least for now. He had things he wanted to do wearing his regular clothes.
Jake had really enjoyed being all dressed up in the special pilot's outfit during the investigation. It had seemed to encourage him to be more physically active too, running around the ball park and climbing in and out of the storm sewer. Jake had asked the flight suit's designer, Vincenzo Constanza, about this.
"It's what we call 'action wear', Jake," Constanza explained. "It's designed to be worn by actors and stunt men, in dynamic motion in big movie action scenes. The suit is built to enable maximum ease of activity: running, jumping, leaping, throwing, any sort of athletics or stunt work."
Jake decided the pilot's suit was ideal for detective work. Maybe, if Jake encountered another mystery, he would wear the flight outfit again.
"I think the office boys at the Studio should get a raise," Jake told him. "Especially considering how much money Mammoth-Art is making."
The suave Grisby was nonplused. He politely but unmistakably told Jake to mind his own business, then dismissed Jake from his fancy office.
Still, two weeks later, the Studio rumor mill reported that the office boys had received a substantial raise.
"There's a reward for you, too, Jake," Moe told him. "Snooker Galhouly is wanted in five states for armed bank robbery. You'll get three hundred dollars."
That night, Jake was struck with inspiration, about what to do with the reward. Jake called up a contact in the studio costume department. "If I wanted to make a picture about a champion college baseball team, where would you guys go to have the costumes made? They've got to be the sharpest uniforms in baseball history."
The contact knew the answer immediately, as Jake knew he would. It was a local sports equipment store and uniform shop. The head tailors were two middle aged Danish brothers who knew everything about sports.
Two Wednesdays later, Hi showed Jake his Lions baseball uniform, white with blue pinstripes.
"I've got a team number now," Hi told Jake proudly. "I'm nine, my favorite number". A huge blue nine was on the front and back of his baseball shirt. Hi's name was also in blue block letters on the back of the shirt.
"They're from an anonymous donor," Hi continued.
The baseball jackets looked snazzy. They were royal blue, and made out of shiny satin. Each sleeve had the player's numbers on it, surrounded by conspicuous Sergeant's chevrons in blue. Each jacket also had the team's logo on its chest, a stylized lion, and the word's "Varsity Team" below it in white. A large letter A showed that each team member had lettered in baseball. The same white-and-blue lion was on the team's royal blue baseball caps.
Hi looked like one of the clean cut young men who just won the big game for Harvard. He looked as if he had just stepped out of an illustration of a college sports story in The Saturday Evening Post.
Hi invited Jake to the game again. "There's going to be a big celebration before it." Jake wore a deceptively simple but exceptionally assertive-looking black pinstripe suit to the game. The suit oozed aggression. It was designed for one purpose: to make Jake look like a ruthless, hyper-competitive corporate executive. Jake had found that other men liked the gladiatorial combativeness the suit conveyed. All in a business-like way, of course. It was a paradox, but Jake knew from experience how much men enjoyed seeing him dressed up in the business suit. It was a bit much for the ballpark - Jake looked like a killer executive who had somehow wandered into the ballgame - but Jake also knew how effective being over-dressed could be. Jake carried a long, jet-black gabardine trench coat, just in case it rained. The trench coat was loaded with every sort of buckle, strap and flap imaginable. It too had a strong business executive look.
A somewhat dazed Ronald G. Putnam greeted Jake at the ballpark. Putnam was in Lions uniform, too. His satin team jacket had the word COACH in large white block letters, over his bulging chest muscles. The word COACH was also on the jacket's sleeves, in a curving arc of pale blue letters. He wore a large, royal blue whistle around his neck. He carried a clipboard made out of some shiny blue metal. The brothers at the sports shop always believed in making the coach look sharp. They had laid down the law to Putnam, that he had to be in full uniform at all times, when working with the Lions. An initially reluctant Putnam, who felt he did not need a uniform, gradually became convinced. Putnam insisted on paying for his uniform himself - his real objection. The coach, who was a prosperous real estate salesman, did not want to take advantage of the donor's generosity.
After this, Putnam began to get into the spirit of things. There was still some of the donor's money left, because Putnam was paying for his own uniform. Putnam mentioned to the brothers that a few top college football teams sported Varsity jackets, they could wear over their regular clothes when not in uniform. Putnam had seen Varsity jackets for the first time when the University of Michigan football team had visited UCLA for a game, and had been curious enough about them to ask the team's coach. The brothers, who had only seen such "Letter" jackets once themselves, were intrigued. They designed spiffy leather Varsity jackets for the Lions, royal blue with white sleeves and trim. The leather jackets managed the neat trick of looking both friendly and casual, but also totally dressy. Once again, Putnam paid for his own Varsity jacket himself.
Putnam was delighted. Many of his poverty stricken team didn't have any decent clothes to wear, on or off work. The Varsity jackets would give them something really attractive to wear in their personal lives. The shiny blue leather jackets could be worn everywhere.
Putnam suggested to the brothers that the batters might have hard baseball caps made out of the same blue metal as his clipboard. The brothers thought this was a good idea. The brothers also quietly created a souvenir bat for the Coach, hollow, and made out of the same shiny blue metal. All the team players signed it, in blue ink. Putnam was touched when the team presented it to him, before the game.
Jake had arrived early at the ball park, before anyone had shown up but Coach Putnam. Jake was idly wandering around, looking at the park. He glanced up at a new flagpole that towered over the field. He glanced back at the bleachers - and all of a sudden saw the Cowboy Coach. The Cowboy Coach had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. But now he was standing in the sidelines, in front of the bleachers. There was no mistaking the Coach. He was all done up in his baby blue trenchcoat. The coat was thoroughly buttoned, buckled and strapped, and went down to his ankles. He probably couldn't have run fast in the sharp coat. He wore a pair of black binoculars strapped around his neck.
Impossible as it seemed, the Cowboy Coach had appeared out of nowhere.
Jake couldn't make sense of this at all. Jake had just looked up at the flagpole, and "Poof!" The Cowboy Coach had appeared. Jake started walking towards the Coach.
The Coach raised his binoculars to his eyes. He started looking at something above and behind Jake.
Jake turned around, to see what the Coach was looking at. It was just a bird. An instant later, Jake turned towards the Coach again.
But the Coach was gone.
Impossible as it seemed, the Coach had vanished.
Jake soon reached the bleachers. They were clearly empty. There was no obvious place to hide in them.
"What is it about this ballpark?" Jake thought. "People appear and disappear out of nowhere."
The Cowboy Coach had not looked as if he were in the slightest bit of trouble. The well-built Coach had looked confident, calm and assertive.
Jake was puzzled, but not worried. He decided that the Coach was likely not in any sort of danger.
During the celebration Mammoth-Art Vice President Thomas Grisby and a half-dozen other Mammoth-Art employees roared up to the ballpark. They were given a heroes' welcome.
Among his many other titles Grisby was Police Commissioner of Mammoth-Art City, the postage-stamp size metropolis that contained the Studio. He was head of the Mammoth-Art Studio Police. If the occasion called for it, this enabled Grisby to wear sharp, authoritative police uniforms, instead of his usual executive suits. Today he was in full motorcycle cop gear: silver helmet, black leather jacket and trousers, boots. So were the six other Mammoth-Art employees who came with him. Two of them were Grisby's assistants. The other four were expert Studio Public Relations men. Grisby was a good-looking guy, and the others were all exceptionally handsome men. Today they were all in trim, custom tailored motorcycle cop uniforms. Grisby's uniform had a Commissioner's five stars. The other six men's uniforms featured a Captain's rank and insignia. These Police Captains all addressed Grisby as "Sir" - he was their superior officer. Grisby referred to the Police Captains as "my men".
The well-dressed "cops" all rode into the ballpark parking lot on the huge, spectacular black motorcycles the Mammoth-Art Studio Police favored. Actually, a truck had transported the motorcycles to less than a block away from the ballpark. Then the "cops" had mounted the motorbikes and ridden them into the ballpark. Mammoth-Art didn't believe it was safe for people to ride motorcycles on public roads. It thought this approach was far safer than allowing anyone to ride a motorcycle all the way from the Studio. Plus, this kept the "cops'" uniforms pristine.
There was a ceremony just before the game. Coach Putnam and Grisby stood on an elevated reviewing stand in the middle of the ballpark. Coach Putnam enthusiastically thanked Grisby for his gift. The Mammoth-Art Studio Police had made a generous donation for the upkeep of the ballpark, and to provide equipment for the mainly poor teams that played there.
Jake, standing below in the ballpark, admired the skillful way that Putnam and Grisby were made to look like authority figures. Their sharp uniforms were designed to make them look in charge; the serious sounding Mammoth-Art announcer who introduced them over the ballpark loudspeaker treated them with reverence and respect; and the high reviewing stand was the kind used by Senators and Generals to review and pass judgement on the actions of subordinates below.
Commissioner Grisby made brief, gracious remarks about the importance of giving back to the community. This would be the first of a series of Community Grants that Mammoth-Art would be making to worthwhile local causes. Then he patriotically urged everyone to enjoy the National Game. He modestly refused to hog the spotlight, talking for less than a minute.
Coach Putnam then asked everyone to stand for the flag of the United States. Actually, it was an order to stand. Everyone in the ballpark rose to their feet. Grisby's six men poured out onto the field, from two concealed doors in either ends of the bleacher. Jake would have sworn that neither door was present the last time he visited the ballpark. The black leather Police Captain uniforms of Grisby's men gleamed in the sun. Grisby's leather-clad men then raised the U.S Flag on the ballpark's new flagpole, moving with disciplined precision. They had drilled for several hours at the deserted ballpark last Thursday, till every move, gesture, body posture and facial expression was perfect. Their ramrod straight postures underscored their well-developed muscles. At the end, the men passed in front of the reviewing stand, saluting Grisby above as their superior officer. With trained, precise salutes between Grisby and his officers, the brief ceremony came to its climax. Authority figure Grisby approved his men's actions. From their rigid posture and tightly focussed faces, Grisby's approval was all-important to his men. They expressed pride and personal fulfillment as they marched off the field in their leather Police Captain uniforms. The last Police Captain to pass in front of Grisby for review, known back at the Studio as Grisby's assistant Thomas "Whip" Masters, led the crowd in singing "The Star Spangled Banner". Coach Putnam told everyone "Be Seated". Grisby and Putnam left the stand, which was wheeled out of the ballpark.
Grisby soon wandered over to Jake. Grisby slapped Jake friendlily on the back, with one of his leather-gauntleted hands. He acted as if he and Jake were the best of friends, as indeed they generally had been before the meeting in Grisby's office a few weeks back. Jake eagerly reciprocated, pumping Grisby's hand.
"Nice suit!" Grisby added, nodding at Jake's pinstripe.
Jake guessed what most people at the ball park didn't know - that the impressive "raising the flag" ceremony had been designed and coached by one of the world class Precision Drill experts the Studio employed. The Studio liked to feature Precision Drill in its movies. Jake also guessed (correctly) that Grisby's warm welcome for Jake had been coached by the same expert, down to the friendly slap on the back and Grisby's warm, seemingly spontaneous grin. Jake didn't think it mattered. The key thing was that Grisby was trying to re-establish good relations with Jake. This "accidental" encounter at the ball game allowed Grisby and Jake to reconcile, without either losing face. That was important in Hollywood.
Grisby and the others gave every appearance of thoroughly enjoying the ball game. The Public Relations men fanned out into the crowd, doing everything they could to be charming and promote a Positive Image for Mammoth-Art. Their sleek leather uniforms were razor sharp, but subtly conveyed the idea that they were a bunch of rich executives enjoying themselves with a motorcycle club on their day off. They looked friendly, clean cut and very, very handsome in the Police Captain uniforms.
Jake saw the Cowboy Coach again, during the ball game. The Coach looked completely unharmed. In fact, he looked as confident and unruffled as ever. The Coach was in a dressy blue business suit, double-breasted and with huge peaked lapels. It was hard to imagine that the Cowboy Coach had been through any sort of incident or difficulty. He looked as if he had just stepped out of a corporate boardroom.
Jake was glad that the Coach was safe. But all this just deepened the mystery of his appearance and disappearance.
Jake also saw Studio costume designer Vincenzo Constanza wandering around the ballpark. Constanza had certainly designed the Captains' uniforms, Jake thought. They had the unmistakable Constanza style that Constanza brought to all of Mammoth-Art Studio's uniforms.
Constanza was in police uniform himself today, but it was different from the Captains'. Constanza wore the outfit of a traditional beat cop, with a large front panel that buttoned up its sides. The uniform was made of a shiny, tough-looking black leather. The dozen buttons that rose in a V-array on either side of the front panel were a shiny black metal.
Constanza liked to show up and keep an eye on things, when his work was on display at Mammoth-Art events. He also liked to wear his own uniforms. Constanza had "artistic temperament" - he clearly cared about his work. Constanza was in his early thirties. He looked bulgingly muscular in the leather cop uniform. As usual Constanza seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.
Mammoth-Art had also sent in a dozen security guards today, to help keep peace at the ballpark. The friendly looking guards wore police uniforms similar to Constanza's, only made out of Navy blue wool. These guys looked like friendly neighborhood beat cops. The clean-cut cops smiled a lot, and helped out kids.
The Studio also had two young men who gave away free helium balloons to kids. These men wore snappy white uniforms with red bow ties. They looked fresh and smart-alecky. Constanza was quite capable of creating uniforms with a light touch. The guys looked like wiseacres who had stumbled into a good job, and were making the most of it. Their uniforms were exceptionally sharp, without looking at all intimidating.
The pair giving out balloons had been known as Fenton & Porter in their vaudeville comedy days. Now they were supporting players under contract to Mammoth-Art Studio. If a Studio film took place in a boarding house, they would be residents there. If a film were set in a office, they would be two of the workers. They tended to brighten things up. The pair had a urban, lower middle class and respectable feel. Jake had cast them in supporting roles as young Coast Guard officers, in two of his sea adventure films. They had added some nice comedy relief and good characterization, to the films. The two had also shown a flair for wearing uniforms.
Hi had at first been visibly nervous, seeing a studio big-shot like Grisby arrive. The fact that Grisby was dressed as a cop hadn't improved the situation. But seeing young Rod Johnson among the Studio Public Relations men brightened Hi's mood. Hi had worked for the kind-hearted Johnson at the Studio, and Johnson had always been friendly to him. The fact that Johnson was now dressed as Police Captain Johnson in a shiny leather uniform hadn't dampened Johnson's friendliness one bit. Soon Hi and Johnson were talking and laughing away. Hi was in a new uniform, just like Captain Johnson, and both men gleamed in the sun.
Hi asked Johnson about the flag raising.
"The expert who drilled us is around here somewhere," Johnson replied. "He said he was going to show up and keep an eye on things." Johnson scanned the crowd, and flagged down a rather forlorn looking cowboy.
"Ram," Johnson introduced the cowboy, "This is my friend Hi. Hi this is Ram. Full moniker: Rameses O'Ryan."
The young cowboy was not at all what Hi had expected, as a Hollywood expert on drill. Ram was very young - maybe Hi's age of 22 or so. The cowboy looked poor and lost. He had a thick thatch of straw-colored hair that badly needed a haircut, and a similar big blond mustache. Ram wore an old blue cowboy shirt, now rather worn. By some miracle, the shirt happened to fit him like a glove, displaying his huge muscles. Ram also wore skintight old jeans, and a worn pair of black cowboy boots he'd shined up.
"Pleased to meet you," Ram said shyly. He had a Texas accent.
"Are you playing in today's game?" Ram asked, eyeing Hi's uniform. "I could never do that." Ram blushed.
Grisby, standing a distance off, was making hand gestures to Ram.
"Gotta run," Ram said to Hi. "Nice meeting you. Business calls."
Hi and Johnson saw Ram's back as he walked rapidly off to Grisby. The worn cowboy shirt displayed every ripple of Ram's muscles as he hurried along.
"I liked meeting Ram," Hi told Johnson.
"I'm not sure you have!" Johnson replied with a rueful laugh. "That cowboy you met is a character Ram is playing in a new film. Ram seems to have shown up here today in costume and in character. Lots of actors do that. He can also blush at will - Ram has great control over his body, including Precision Drill. He's being a real stinker! But he genuinely likes you. I could tell that," Johnson hurriedly added.
"I remember where I've seen Ram before!" Hi suddenly said. "It was one evening at the Studio. Ram was in white tie and tails. He looked like a millionaire. He oozed confidence."
"That's Ram!" Captain Johnson agreed.
Jake had walked up and joined them.
"Cool suit, Jake!" Johnson told him.
"Say, maybe you could help me out, Jake," Johnson went on. "I'm supposed to publicize Ram O'Ryan and his big hair and mustache. The problem is that women like men who are clean cut, with short hair. And mustaches are only worn on-screen by villains, plus an occasional Society playboy. Have any ideas?"
Jake thought a little. "Get him in buckskins that match his hair and mustache. The same light yellow color. Lots of fringe on the buckskins, lots of hair on his head and lip. Also get him in a black leather motorcycle racing jacket loaded with fringe. Cast him as a daredevil pilot, in an endlessly complex flight suit. His complex hair will fit right in. I'm getting a mental image of him as a pilot doing mechanical work on his plane, holding the biggest wrench you ever saw. Also have him in a Western movie big seduction scene where the saloon girl with a heart of gold tries to seduce him in the hayloft. It doesn't work - it never works on screen - those censors stop everything after a kiss or two. Just running her fingers through his hair drives her wild with passion. Have the hay all over his hair."
"Go on," Johnson said.
"Have him be in a big rainstorm, just torrential. He's wearing a long cloak with a hood. When he gets inside, he pulls back the hood and his hair is perfectly dry, with every hair in place. It makes him look connected to the power of nature."
"Have Ram throw out the first pitch in today's game," Hi said.
Jake and Captain Johnson just looked at Hi. They didn't expect him to say anything.
"Ram was just joking today about not being able to play baseball, right?" Hi went on.
"Actually," Johnson said, "Ram is an ace."
"So," Hi said, "first Ram does a brief bit of warm-up on the mound, showing off all those big muscles of his. Then he prepares his famous Mustache Ball. He rubs the baseball gently from one end of his big mustache to the other. There's a bit of suspense. Then Ram throws the fastest curveball he can. That's his Mustache Ball!."
"It's like a spitball," Hi said, "but a lot more sanitary."
"And he's got to swagger out there on the pitcher's mound," Hi summed up. "Ixnay on the humble cowboy routine. That was funny. But it won't sell the Mustache Ball. Ram can swagger, can't he?"
Johnson nodded. "You should have seen him Thursday when he was coaching us all in the flag ceremony."
"Ram can throw out his Mustache Ball for charity, all over L.A." Hi added. "Sportswriters will catch on it's just the old fastball. But no one will care when a movie star appears for free for charity."
Johnson thanked both Hi and Jake and vigorously shook their hands. Hi left to prepare for the ballgame. And Johnson to see about Ram's Mustache Ball.
Jake began to wonder if Hi had a future as a publicity man. After all, Hi was the one who had started this whole thing by inviting Jake to the ballgame. And without Jake there in his leather flight suit at Hi's request, there wouldn't have been today's spectacular Precision Drill, with its men embodying leather-uniformed motorcycle cops. Grisby and Ram had just escalated Hi's original concept. They'd taken Hi's idea and mass produced it.
Jake still wondered about the hidden doors at the bleachers. Jake tracked down Grisby's assistant Police Captain "Whip" Masters, who would know if anybody did. Whip was Grisby's "facts and figures" man. He was always handing Grisby well-researched documents, filled with detailed information on every possible subject. Grisby used these to make intelligent decisions on Studio business. Whip had a good reputation for research that was thorough, deep, and which explored less obvious angles. Other studios and businesses were always trying to recruit Whip away from Mammoth-Art.
The tall, broad-shouldered Whip looked imposing in his leather police uniform. This was only the second time that Jake had seen Whip in anything other than the serious, elegant pinstripe business suits Whip favored back at the Studio. The other time was at a movie premiere, where Whip hovered in the background near Grisby. Whip had been in a faultless set of well-tailored white tie and tails. Come to think of it, Jake had also seen Whip at a Hollywood costume party, dressed as Zorro, in a black satin costume and shiny black domino mask. Whip had scratched a huge black Z (for Zorro) on a door with his sword, which at first annoyed his hostess. But she preserved the door with its Z, and it was often cited as proof of her ability to throw really glamorous Hollywood parties. Whip's only known eccentricity was that he was a vegetarian. The Studio Commissary had a large array of vegetarian dishes, widely attributed to Grisby's campaign to keep Whip on the Studio payroll. Whip was always sitting there at lunch, eating a man-sized bowl of tofu steamed in black bean sauce, or garbanzo beans and noodles, while concisely setting forth a business case about some proposed venture. Whip had straight brown hair, brown eyes, and like all the other Police Captains today, perfect posture.
Whip showed Jake the hidden springs that opened the concealed doors. Inside a passage led to a simple locker room at the back of the bleachers.
"This park didn't even have a locker room before, Jake!" Whip said. "Now the ball teams can lock up their street clothes here. They can also make a dramatic entrance to the playing field through the doorways."
"This must have cost a lot of money," Jake suggested.
"Absolutely not!" Whip replied. "We used pre-fabricated modules. We just ordered them from the factory, and installed them in a single afternoon two weeks ago. Pre-fabrication is the future of industrial architecture. They are 5.7 times cheaper than standard construction, and over 7 times quicker to install," Whip said quietly.
"I liked your drill team work," Jake said enthusiastically.
"Thanks! It was very interesting. You know, I asked for this assignment. Wanted to broaden my range beyond office work. Ram is brilliant. Took careful notes on everything Ram taught us during drill rehearsal. Notes help you learn. You don't really learn anything, till you write it down and try to explain it to someone else."
"That's true!" Jake said.
"Who's idea was it," Jake asked, "to make the bleacher doors concealed?"
"That was mine," Whip admitted. "It seemed like a cool idea. I always liked secret passages in books and movies. Now was my chance to build one in real life. The doors also have hidden keyholes, remote control that allows the doors to spring open while no one is nearby, and special timers that allow them to be automatically unlocked before a big game. There is also a microphone in the locker room, that allows one to make announcements through the ballpark's loudspeaker. None of this is expensive, if you plan for it in advance." That last sentence sounded like Whip's official motto.
"And Captain Rod Johnson designed the communication facilities," Whip added. "There is a bank of phone lines, a telegraph key, and a microphone for radio broadcast. It connects to two local radio stations. Radio is just going to grow and grow. We want this park to be a place where drama students, debate clubs, musicians can give public performances. It's for them as much as it is for ballplayers."
Whip paused thoughtfully. "Captain Butch Stryker added sophisticated lighting systems, for both the ballpark and the locker room. You can set them up for anything from soft glamour photography to stage lighting to brilliant illumination for motion picture making. Butch has much experience writing and staging plays. Butch's background in theater work helps his efforts as a Mammoth-Art publicity man." Jake knew Butch. Jake and Butch had much in common: both were writers, both loved to talk, both were around thirty. Both enjoyed being well-dressed in good business suits that made them look like high-powered business tycoons. Butch often did public relations among theater people. Butch had both stage knowledge and a slick sophistication that helped him in dealing with theater folk. Jake had seen Butch earlier at the ballpark, guiding a group of Los Angeles theater luminaries around the park. Usually Butch wore sharp suits, but today he was in his black leather Captain's uniform. The smiling, friendly Butch managed to look debonair, even when he was encased from head to toe in shiny black leather.
"The Police Captains as a group enacted Mammoth-Art's intervention at the ballpark," Whip summed up.
"Did you add anything else to the lockers?" Jake asked.
"We thought of including a hidden staircase from the locker room down to the sewer system underneath. But it would have been expensive. Worse, tipsy ballplayers or fans could fall down it and get injured. One thing I learned from talking to the Captains," Whip added. "None of us drink or smoke. You cannot stay in shape unless you avoid alcohol and tobacco."
"I've never drunk or smoked either," Jake replied.
Whip squared his broad, leather-uniformed shoulders. His silver Captain's bars there glittered in the sun.
"It's the best approach to take!" Whip said.
Jake stood under some mesquite trees that were on the other side of the ballpark's parking lot. The trees were in full bloom, with spikes of yellow flowers. He thought about the case.
Jake realized that the hidden doors explained the mystery of the Cowboy Coach. The Coach had simply wandered onto the field from a locker room through one of the doors, then wandered back. The Cowboy Coach hadn't intended to cause any mystery.
The six Police Captains held a special ceremony. It was private, just for them. They allowed Jake to watch.
A lowly beat cop handed each of the Captains a nightstick. The beat cop was in a black police uniform, with just one stripe on his sleeve. He looked just old enough to vote. He kept calling each Captain "Sir". He was sincere and respectful. He looked a bit flustered and intimidated by all these senior officers. He dropped a nightstick a couple of times, crouching down to pick it up, and handing it up to the severe looking Captain towering above him.
Each Captain twirled his black nightstick. Then he held it in front of him, and pressed a hidden switch in the nightstick's handle. The nightstick then sprang open, with a hidden shaft emerging, doubling the nightstick in length. The new part that erupted was a shiny black steel.
The Captains formed a circle. They all reached out, and touched the tips of the nightsticks together, in the circle's center.
Captain Johnson led the other Captains in a pledge.
"We pledge never to forget this day" he began.
"We pledge never to forget this day" the Captains echoed.
"Or what we accomplished here."
"Or what we accomplished here."
There was a group cheer.
The young beat cop brought out a camera, and started photographing the Captains. He was suddenly more recognizable as a photographer in the Studio Public Relations unit. He was grinning and enjoying himself. He had stopped calling the Captains "Sir" and stopped being clumsy.
Lots of souvenir photos were taken of the Captains.
Instead of hot dogs, Mr. Wong of Wong's Lotus Palace Restaurant had brought in free dumplings for everyone at the ballpark. Wong was president of the Los Angeles Chinese Businessman's Association. Quite a few members of the Chinese community had come out for the game, too. Mr. Wong made a speech thanking everyone for thwarting the attempt on Sun Yat-sen's life.
Wong's son Eddie, a strong looking young man in his early twenties, had carted in the Chinese food. He looked wistfully at the baseball players, all sharply suited up for the game that was soon to start.
Hi went over to Eddie. "Would you like to join the team? The Lions need all the good players they can get!" he said with a sheepish grin.
"You bet!" Eddie said with a big grin. He was the only player that night not in uniform. But he hit a home run.