Mystery Stories Home Page
Copyright 2003 by Michael E. Grost
A Jacob Black "Impossible Crime" Mystery
By Michael E. Grost
Los Angeles, November 1924. Night after night cold rains swept through the city. Huge fog banks drifted in from the Pacific, making it impossible to see more that a hundred yards in the city.
Slats Buchinsky was meeting with his men, in a cheap dive he owned. Buchinsky owned a lot of things, most of them illegal. The most feared mobster in the city, he ruled with machine guns and intimidation. A sociopathic personality, Buchinsky had killed a long line of victims on his route to the top, but the police had never been able to bring his crimes home to him. Now Buchinsky was attempting to take over the taxicabs of the city. Small, independent cab companies found their headquarters wrecked. Roving gangs of thugs would attack their cabs, and beat up their drivers. Most of the independent taxi drivers in the city went armed with wrenches or lead pipes, prepared for the worst.
Buchinsky was plotting out with his lieutenants a new line of intimidation. He was about to launch into the night a special gang of hoods, to attack the city's drivers.
The red cab of death was set to roll out into the fog.
Biff Callaway was waiting for a fare. His taxi was parked outside a deserted warehouse in a lonely part of town. As far as he could see in the fog, no one was around. He stared into the distance. All of a sudden, bright red lights shone out of the fog. They were the headlamps of a car. Biff could see the car plainly - its front and sides were lit up by red lights, but he couldn't see anyone in the car. In fact, it looked as if the car had no driver. There were just faint black shadows within the car. All of a sudden, grinning white skeletons appeared in the car. Their skulls were shining, with a bright white glow. There were four of them, including a skeleton driver. They had cabby's uniformed caps on their heads, gleaming white caps with red visors. The shiny red car with the bright red lights pulled up right in front of Biff's taxi, blocking its way. Biff got a good look at its license plate number, before the car's lights were doused: it was a California plate, number 'FEAR'. Soft white light now emitted from the car. The skeletons poured out of the car, their bones barely visible in the dim white light through the dark fog. Their caps gleamed with the words "Hell Cab" in flaming red letters. The skeleton cabbies carried huge white clubs, covered with spikes. They moved towards Biff. He whipped out the lead pipe he was carrying and advanced on the men. This seemed to scare them. But they moved towards his cab, and began wrecking it, smashing the windows with their clubs. There was little Biff could do against four men. They then piled into their cab, and took off, red lights blazing in the fog.
The next day, the city editor of the newspaper, the LA Daily Watch, was sitting in his office when the phone rang. A gruff voice told him "The red cab of death will ride tonight!" Then the voice hung up.
The skeletons appeared to another lonely cabby that night, parked across from a warehouse. Once again, they emerged from a seemingly empty red cab. One of them tipped his cabby's cap, revealing his bare grinning white skull. The crowd of skeletons attacked the helpless cabby's car.
The red cab appeared repeatedly over the next few days, always to isolated cab drivers. No one had ever seen the cab leave its home base, or return to its origin. It would suddenly appear in the middle of a foggy street, its red headlights blazing. Then it would disappear into the fog after its dirty work had been accomplished. The appearance and disappearances were often quite sudden. There were few people on any of these streets: the red cab mainly appeared at night, in the downtown business district, after most workers had gone home.
The "skeletons" were obviously men in Buchinsky's gang, wearing body-and-head covering skeleton suits. The suits would be black, painted with white skeleton bones. A shiny white skull mask would cover the head. A reporter from the Daily Watch interviewed the cabbies who had seen the skeletons. The cabbies uniformly described the skeletons as eerie and unnerving.
The skeletons likely had black hoods with eye slits they could lower over their costumes, making them invisible while driving the red cab. Removing the hoods would make the skeletons appear suddenly in the car, a creepy effect. Simultaneously, a light inside the car would be switched on, highlighting the shiny skulls.
Jacob "Jake" Black read the article about the red cab which appeared in next morning's newspaper. Jake was a screenwriter at Mammoth-Art Studio in Hollywood. A gentle, mild-mannered intellectual of around thirty, Jake was dressed in a well cut set of tweeds that made him look like a young professor. Jake's brain power had helped him solve a series of baffling murder cases, in collaboration with his friend, Lt. Moe Apfelbaum of the LA Homicide squad. Many of Jake's cases had been set among movie people, and involved puzzling events that required Jake to use his reasoning powers to their fullest. Jake had never been near a brutal mob case like the red cab, however.
The next morning Biff called up his older brother, Harry.
Harry Callaway was the leading publicity photographer for Mammoth-Art Studio, the studio which employed Jake. Harry was 28, but he looked like a college student, with an innocent, naive look.
Harry would do anything, ANYTHING, to generate publicity for a Mammoth-Art movie. He had a baroque imagination, and few inhibitions. Moe had tangled with Harry during the episode in which Harry had set up a fake jewel robbery at a night club, during the evening show. The star of Mammoth-Art's latest crime film courageously fought with and defeated the fake crooks, who fled in terror, while Harry happened coincidentally to be on hand with his camera, taking pictures of everything. The LA police got finger prints of the "crooks" off the jewelry that the star so heroically recovered, and proved the three men were Mammoth-Art character actors, sent into action by Harry.
Harry had mended fences with the police by mounting, for free, the publicity campaign for last year's Police Benefit for Police Widows and Orphans. The sight of the Police Commissioner and the top LAPD brass riding a herd of elephants past City Hall made newsreels from coast to coast. It also helped pack them into the benefit.
Harry had set his two younger brothers, Biff and Seamus, up in a taxicab company in LA. Harry often impersonated a taxicab driver himself, to take candid publicity pictures for the Studio. Harry was talking with Jake's friend, Lt. Moe Apfelbaum of the LA Homicide Squad, about the attack on his brother Biff. Harry was explaining to the Lieutenant how his taxi driver role could be used to help nail the red cab.
Harry was wearing a cabman's uniform. A neat looking black leather uniform jacket, full of zippered pockets and fastened with a heavy leather belt in front, was worn with a white dress shirt, a shiny black leather bow tie, and black trousers with a red stripe down their side. A high peaked white uniform cap with a shiny black vinyl visor completed the outfit. Harry looked as well polished as his black uniform shoes. It was not the outfit of any real life Los Angeles cab company. Instead, the spiffy uniform had been whipped up for him a year ago by Mammoth-Art Studio's costume department. Both the shiny silver badge on the front of the cap, and the matching badge on the front of the leather jacket, proclaimed Harry to be driver Number 7 of his cab company. The elaborate badges looked very official, like those of a policeman. Harry had a miniature camera concealed by the badge on his uniform jacket. He could make pictures by squeezing a small bulb in his pocket, without anyone knowing.
"You'd be surprised the pictures you can get as a cabby," Harry said. "You can follow stars anywhere, taking them out to locations, or going right into their hotels or homes. Everyone just accepts you, and no one pays any attention to you. Plus, people like to talk to cabbies. You'd be amazed the tips on publicity stories you can pick up."
"What if people ask for identification?" Moe queried.
Harry whipped out a leather wallet. It had complete credentials, showing Harry's picture. "I've got a hack's license with the city. It's not hard, if you can pass the driver's test." Harry's cab company was listed as the "Speedy Elite Taxicab Co." of Los Angeles, and confirmed that he was their driver #7. Actually, the Speedy Elite company was wholly owned by Harry, and he was their only driver. The wallet also contained another silver badge, matching those on Harry's cap and leather uniform jacket. Harry also carried a fake newspaper clipping, with his picture in his cab driver's uniform, that told how Harry had rushed a pregnant woman to the hospital just in time to give birth. "Showing a clipping like this to people adds verisimilitude," Harry explained. The article said that Harry had been driving a cab for three years, and included praise for Harry from his (fictitious) boss at the Speedy Elite company. "One of Harry's best traits," his alleged boss went on, "is that you can tell him anything, and he never repeats it. That's one reason why his passengers like to confide in him. Harry's just a really good listener. People always feel better after talking to him, and telling him what's on their mind." "I grew up with Harry," an equally fictitious Police Sergeant Michael O'Hara was quoted in the article, "and I'd trust him with my life. He's a good guy."
"Driving a cab every day as I do," Harry was quoted in the article, "you get to meet all kinds of people. I guess I just like to help people," Harry continued modestly. "Driving a pregnant woman to a hospital is just the sort of thing a cabby does every day." Harry had numerous copies of the fake article, and he always carried a fresh one folded up in the zippered chest pocket of his leather uniform jacket, ready to whip it out and show to new customers in his cab. After they'd read it at the start of a long ride, he'd thrust it back into his jacket, zipping up the pocket with a jaunty gesture.
Moe felt thankful that Harry was honest and not a crook - all Harry wanted to do was snap pictures and get publicity shots. Harry clearly had the makings of a first rate con man, and would have been a major thorn in the Los Angeles Police's side, had he chosen a life of crime.
Somehow, despite everything that Moe knew about Harry, he felt like trusting the kid. Harry just looked honest. He also felt an urge to protect Harry, and keep him out of trouble. Moe knew these feelings were absurd - Harry could probably handle an earthquake or a volcano. But there was something about Harry's personality that triggered them.
Harry Callaway pushed his way into Slats Buchinsky's ostentatious office. Every thing in it reeked of vulgar display. A pair of priceless Chinese vases had had holes drilled into them, and converted into lamps. Buchinsky was dressed like a City Hall alderman, in a formal cutaway and striped trousers. Even in his expensive clothes, Buchinsky still looked like a toad, Harry thought. "There's something about all the mobsters I've met," Harry thought, "They're all ugly as sin."
Buchinsky was talking with a city machine politician. "My wife and I were entertaining foreign aristocratic guests last night at the club," the politician was saying, but broke off at the sight of Harry in his cabman's uniform.
"We didn't order a cab," the politico said with a dismissive gesture.
"Your red cab of death attacked my brother last night!" Harry said, poking a finger in Buchinsky's chest. "I wanted you to know you can't get away with that." Harry poked Buchinsky again, and called him a name not used in mixed company.
Buchinsky looked like he was going to explode with rage, but stopped at a signal from the politician. "Just because your brother got drunk and indulged in his superstitious fantasies about skeletons," the smooth politico said with a smirk, "you think you can make slanderous remarks about Mr. Buchinsky here. The courts will not take kindly to the fantasies of a drunken Irishman."
All of a sudden Harry understood something. He went over and looked the politician in the eye. "That's the purpose behind this skeleton idea! You all think that a bizarre scheme like that would give this killer protection in court." The politician had gone white, and Harry guessed his shot had hit home. "Listen bub, when the police prove who's doing this, you're not going to have any of your snobby friends left at the country club."
Buchinsky had been frantically pushing a button on his desk all this time. Two giant men who looked like gorillas came in. The two, who were dressed in cutaways like Buchinsky's, picked up the slender Harry and carried him out the door.
"Come down to my cab stand in front of the Hospitality Hotel tonight," Harry yelled from the doorway, "and I'll show you what you can do with your cab of death!"
"We could make you a fellow cabby," Harry said to Jake. "It might be more convincing if there were two of us." Harry wanted Jake's detective abilities devoted to the red cab case.
Jake reported to the address Harry had given him. Harry had prepared everything with his usual thoroughness. There was a cabman's uniform nearly identical to Harry's, black leather uniform jacket, cap, and matching black leather bow tie. Jake's driver id was 9, and number 9 was featured prominently on the badge on his uniform jacket, and on the matching badge over the visor of his high peaked cap. Jake also had a license with his picture on it, saying he worked for the "Speedy Elite Cab Company." Harry pointed out that this now made him Jake's boss.
Harry also had a fake newspaper article for Jake. It told how Jake had once helped the police foil a robbery while driving his cab. Jake had subdued the robbers with jujitsu, which he had learned as a sailor in the Orient. Everyone at the cab company knew Jake as "Killer" Black. The photo in the article showed Jake in his cabman's uniform. It also featured the giant fake scar on his cheek that Harry had had Jake wear during the photo session the day before. Jake did in fact look like a monstrous thug with the scar. The fictitious boss of the Speedy Elite Cab Company said in the article, "Passengers really feel safe with a man like Killer Black driving them. Even the toughest gangsters would think twice about tangling with Killer."
"You know jujitsu, of course," Harry said. "Lt. Apfelbaum had you take a course in it."
"But that was for self protection," Jake said. "I've never actually had to use it, let alone beaten up a gang of robbers with it."
"There's always a first time," Harry said brightly.
The imaginary Police Sergeant Michael O'Hara made a return appearance with a quote in Jake's article too. "Growing up on the docks like Killer Black, you have to be tough. Killer's a great guy. There isn't anyone I'd want on my side during a fight more that Killer. And not many men would turn into the police a wallet with a thousand dollars left in their cab, the way Killer did." There was also a quote from Killer himself. "When I saw that gang of thugs trying to rob and beat up that old woman," Killer said, "I just saw red. The next thing I knew, I was pounding the crap out of all those hoods. Any man who'd raise his hand to a woman is a swine."
Before the photos were taken, the make-up department at Mammoth-Art had cropped Jake's hair close to his head, and dyed what was left of it blond. It really made Jake look like a roughneck.
"I always thought you had a fierce quality, Jake" Harry said. "We're just bringing it out."
Jake noticed that his uniform was a lot "tougher" looking than Harry's. It was designed to make him look like a brutal thug.
Jake's bow tie was much narrower, long and straight, while Harry's was wide and elegant. Harry's tie looked like something a frat boy would wear with his tux, while Jake's was shaped like a guard at a prison or asylum might wear with his uniform. The collar points on his dress shirt were longer and flatter than Harry's. Jake's white dress shirt was made of a tougher, heavier looking material than Harry's. Jake's collar was cut a little tighter, to make his neck look as if it were bulging with muscles, and straining against his collar. The leather of both jackets was jet black, but Harry's had a shinier glaze on his. Jake's was more coarse grained, and had a much stronger leather smell than Harry's.
Harry also snapped in two plates into Jake's mouth. One covered his lower teeth, the other his upper. "These will make you look tougher" Harry said cheerfully. The bridges were actually quite comfortable. They did not hurt at all to wear. Their visual appearance was another matter.
The plates had a horrifying effect. Jake stood in front of a mirror and opened his mouth, and reacted in terror. Huge jutting teeth poked out of all corners of his mouth, bigger than any ordinary human's. They looked razor sharp. Jake looked like some ferocious carnivorous animal, waiting to pounce on its prey.
"They're there to give you that fierce look," Harry said casually.
"Holy moly!" Jake said. "They look like something out of a Lon Chaney movie. I can't wear these, they'll give people nightmares." Jake had just seen the horror star Lon Chaney, famous for his sinister make-up jobs, in one of his scariest roles, The Phantom of the Opera. Chaney did all of his own make-up and horrifying disguises, and was known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces".
"Well, actually, Jake," Harry began, "Lon owed me. I'd helped him out with the publicity campaign for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So I asked him to design something really scary for you."
"You mean Lon Chaney designed these?" Jake asked.
"Sure," Harry said. "He made them a combination of the teeth of the wolf, the tiger and hyena. Lon's theory is that evoking man's ancient enemies, the animals that used to kill and eat him, will arouse primitive, uncontrollable fears in everyone who sees you. It seems to be working," Harry said with satisfaction. "They don't call you Killer Black for nothing."
"I've never done an undercover role before," Jake said. "I don't know if I have the acting skills to pull it off."
"Don't worry," Harry said. "I plan to send you reinforcements. Just leave everything to papa."
Killer Black was hanging around the cab stand where the red cab had last appeared, scanning the large crowds which thronged the business district during the day. Jake was trying to keep his mouth shut. He'd make the mistake earlier that day of grinning at a joke told by a big, tough looking Marine. The Marine had taken one look at Jake's monster teeth and fainted.
"Faith and begorra, if it isn't my old friend Killer," a loud voice said, with a rich Irish brogue. A huge hand reached out, and slapped Jake on his back. Jake turned around. There was a tall, well built Irishman, wearing a policeman's uniform. The officer was carrying a large nightstick at a jaunty angle. His black uniform had large silver chevrons on its sleeves, making it obvious that he was a police Sergeant. The officer was smiling, a wide grin that lit up the area like a Christmas tree or a Fourth of July fireworks display. The Sergeant seemed radiantly happy, and in a terrific mood. One had to admit that the Sergeant was a handsome man. He was tall, exceptionally good looking, and built like a brick.
Jake bent forward, and read the silver letters engraved on the officer's jet black name tag. They said "Sgt. O'Hara".
"Killer was always one of my best buddies," Sgt. O'Hara said. "I always hoped he'd marry my kid sister Kathleen" he said with enthusiasm. O'Hara's voice had a beautiful musical lilt, that would please anyone nostalgic for the Emerald Isle.
"Killer" the Sergeant went on, "aren't you going to introduce me to your friends? Mike O'Hara's the name". O'Hara went around, vigorously shaking the hand of everyone in the street. If possible, his smile got even bigger, as he shook hands and met everybody present.
Jake realized that the fictitious Sgt. Michael O'Hara of Harry's fake newspaper articles had somehow come to life. He was awestruck, and wondered what was coming next.
"I've known Killer here ever since he saved my life down on the waterfront, three years ago last Saint Paddy's day." Sgt. O'Hara was plainly itching to tell the story to the crowd. "There I was, surrounded by bootleggers, all aiming to murder yours truly and drive him to an early grave. When all of a sudden who do you think up and ran into the fray? Killer here!" O'Hara pronounced breathlessly. "What a man! I've never seen such a fighter, not since John L. Sullivan retired from the boxing ring. Sure, and it was the great John L himself, reborn in Killer Black here. He jabbed to his left. He thrust to his right," O'Hara said, illustrating with boxing gestures. "He mowed down the bootleggers like a row of ninepins. Soon there was not a man left standing other than Killer and meself."
Jake was listening to this recital with amazement.
"Ever since then, Killer has been the man I've most wanted to have by my side in a fight," O'Hara went on gratefully. "He's never disappointed me."
Everyone else present but Jake looked deeply impressed by the Sergeant's recital. It was clear that they believed every word of it.
Jake's detective abilities had not gone to sleep during all this. The most probable explanation was that Mike O'Hara was a ringer, created by Harry, and sent in to make Killer's life history of fisticuffs more believable. The other possibility was that O'Hara was a real police Sergeant. Jake discounted this idea - he didn't think a real policeman would lie his head off like this, although Jake couldn't be certain.
In either case, Jake realized he was stuck. Jake was now trapped even deeper in the Killer role. O'Hara was working with everyone else to coerce Jake into his new Killer identity.
"Sure and he's tender with Kathleen," the Sergeant went on sentimentally. "She just loves the big lug. And why not? He's the finest man this side of Killarney. If I were a girl, I'd marry him meself. A man like Black here will make some lucky girl the finest husband in the world." Mike O'Hara gave Jake a friendly slap on the back again. "It will be the greatest day of my life when Black marries me sister Kathleen." O'Hara stood there, tall and smiling, pride and affection beaming on his handsome face at Jake.
Jake decided O'Hara was probably harmless. In fact, he seemed good natured. Like many of Harry Callaway's schemes, this big friendly cop was outrageous, but not harmful or malicious. Harry was basically a good guy, although he'd reject that description if you called him that to his face. Jake also suspected that all of O'Hara's dialogue was written by Harry - it had the earmarks of his style. O'Hara resembled an Irish policeman in a musical comedy - he was not at all like the many real Irish police officers that Jake had met in real life. Jake decided he should play along with O'Hara, and see what developed. Harry certainly had further developments in mind.
"Sure, Mike and me are pals," Jake said. "I can't wait till me and Kathleen tie the knot, and me and him become brothers-in-law. Mike's always been like a brother to me anyway." Jake went over, and put his arm around O'Hara's huge shoulders. The two men stood side by side.
"Sure thing, Killer!" Mike said with enthusiasm. O'Hara was much better at his role, than Jake was at his. Jake guessed that O'Hara was probably a professional actor, probably one of the dozens of young hopeful players under contract to Mammoth-Art. Harry had probably sent him out on this assignment, and would shoot publicity pictures of the actor later in this role, thus killing two birds with one stone. And the young performers would give it their all. Publicity was an actor's lifeblood.
Jake made the mistake of smiling at the crowd, opening his mouth wide in his biggest grin. Everybody sprang back in terror. One lady screamed. Jake had forgotten about the plates he wore over his teeth. Jake hastily closed his mouth, and tried to look benevolent. It was not easy.
O'Hara was working on damage control. The handsome, friendly cop gave everyone his biggest smile. "Killer here is a good guy. But I wouldn't want to be in any gangster's shoes who fought him. It's great that we have men like Killer protecting the weak and innocent." O'Hara smiled his radiantly reassuring smile at the crowd. And he winked at the lady who had screamed. Everyone relaxed and looked happy. It was amazing the cheering effect this good natured Irishman had on people. They ought to bottle him, and sell him for a spring tonic, Jake thought.
After the crowd dispersed, one lady lingered behind. She gently tugged on the sleeve of O'Hara's uniform.
"Officer O'Hara, you seem so nice," she began.
"What can I do for a beautiful lady like yourself?" O'Hara asked her, with his biggest smile.
"It's that man," she said, pointing to Jake apprehensively. "Are you really going to let him marry your sister? He looks so fierce."
"You can be sure that when Killer marries her, that no one will ever dare lay a hand on me darling Kathleen. Killer would kill em."
"I can believe that," the lady said.
The Hospitality Hotel was a major fleabag. Most of its denizens were one step up from Bowery tramps, with a few seedy traveling salesmen thrown in for good measure. Harry was waiting at the cab stand out front as the sun went down. He was sure that Buchinsky would not be able to resist avenging the insults he had given him. Harry had a broken down old car, purchased for ten dollars from a junkyard, fixed up as a cab in front of the stand. If Buchinsky's men wrecked it, it would be no loss.
The police had the whole perimeter surrounding the Hospitality Hotel under surveillance. All the appearances of the red cab had been within a three-mile radius of the Hotel, which is why Harry picked it for his stand. Every street leading to and from the hotel was watched by police. If the cab passed through any police surveillance points, it would soon be captured and its skeletal occupants arrested.
With twilight, the fogs were rolling in. Soon it was so dark that nothing could be seen beyond a hundred yards. The police knew that they would not be able to see. But they also planned to stop any vehicle entering their area, even if it were running without lights.
The streets were deserted. Everything was deathly quiet. Little could be seen in the fog. Harry made a tempting target in his cab, with the bright light from the hotel's doors streaming down over his cab.
Suddenly, down the road from the hotel, two bright red headlamps cast their light through the fog.
"How the heck did the red cab get through the police cordon?" Harry wondered.
The cab looked driverless and empty. All of a sudden, skeletons appeared in it. They pulled up in front of Harry's car, and got out, carrying their glowing white clubs.
This was the signal the police had been waiting for. Huge floodlights on the hotel beamed down, making the street brightly lit. Police began to stream out of the warehouse across the street. The skeletons were now plainly revealed as men wearing black body suits with luminous white skeletons painted on them. Just as Jake had predicted when he had helped Harry set up this trap. The skeletons fled back into their cab, and took off into the fog. They doused their lights, and turned down into one of the many back alleys that criss-crossed the district. They completely lost the police, unfortunately.
The police kept manning their border points. But it soon became clear that no vehicles had entered or left the district they had under observation. Impossible as it seemed, the red cab had appeared out of nowhere, then vanished back into the fog.
At least, Harry had gotten some good pictures of the red cab and the men in the skeleton suits, using the concealed camera in the badge on his uniform jacket. The pictures, which appeared on the front page of all the LA newspapers the next day, showed the cab and the skeletons were real, and not the figment of the cabbies' imagination.
Jake had also had his old pal, newspaper photographer Sophie Chadwick of the LA Daily Watch, stationed on an upper floor of the Hotel with her camera. She got several terrific aerial shots of the cab and skeletons.
The police immediately began a search of all the buildings in the district, for the missing cab. Several of the buildings turned out to have financial ties to Buchinsky and his gang, an index of how deeply Buchinsky had his talons sunk in the city.
Moe said that Killer Black was a witness, and brought him along, purportedly to see if he recognized anyone in the various buildings. This gave Jake a chance to see the various suspect areas along with Moe, without blowing his cover as a cab driver.
Murphy's grocery store was on land leased from Buchinsky, although Murphy himself had no police record. The irascible Murphy, apparently woken in the in the middle of the night, was irritable. Murphy was notorious in the neighborhood for never smiling, and snapping at any kids who lingered in his store.
There was an areaway leading into Murphy's cellar, and a ramp leading down to it. Murphy explained that it was used for trucks making deliveries to his store. The red cab could easily have entered and left Murphy's cellar by this ramp. However, there was no sign of the red cab or any other vehicle in Murphy's cellar tonight. The police even searched through the mountain of coal in Murphy's coal bin, looking unsuccessfully for any sign of the cab.
Jake unzipped one of the pockets on his cabby's leather jacket, and took out the little notebook he always carried. Jake started making notes in shorthand about the search.
An ice plant controlled by Buchinsky was stationed within the police stakeout region. The main source of ice for the numerous iceboxes in the central city, its cavernous warehouse-like rooms could easily hold the red cab. Moe and Jake searched the building thoroughly. Huge blocks of ice were everywhere in the freezing plant. To cut down on heat from the lights, colored light bulbs were used, and red, green and blue lights shown everywhere through gleaming blocks of ice. It was like some strange fairy kingdom, like that of the "Woman in the Snow" in the Japanese folk tale. Moe had several freezer areas unlocked. Each was big enough to hold a car, but none contained the red cab, just more ice. Vehicles used to transport the ice were regularly driven through the building during the day, and the floors were a mass of tire tracks.
Harry had once met the night watchman of the plant, the only one there during the evening hours. This was Mr. White, a retired stage magician. White certainly had the skills to bring off the magical effects of the skeletons. Jake and Harry both regarded him with suspicion.
Jake looked down the street and saw a milkman driving his horse-drawn cart down the street. Both the horse and the milkman looked oddly familiar to Jake. When they got closer he recognized Mammoth-Art cowboy actor Tom Wilson as the milkman, and his beloved horse Pete drawing the cart. Harry Callaway presumably had Wilson undercover, keeping watch on the streets.
Harry was in charge of all of Wilson's publicity. Before Harry started, all of Wilson's fans were under ten years old, and Harry set out to get him some adult audience attention. Harry noticed how good Tom was with a lasso, and other cowboy rope tricks. Wilson was really coordinated. Harry had him take dance lessons at the studio. Soon Tom was a demon on the dance floor. He also got Wilson a whole new wardrobe. Wilson had only owned one suit, which looked as if he had bought it from a mail order catalogue in 1907. According to Harry's publicity, Tom Wilson was the "Tango King of Pasadena". Tom's picture soon started appearing in newspapers and fan magazines, doing the tango at charity benefits, dressed in white tie and tails.
Wilson tipped the cap of his snow-white milkman uniform at Jake.
Two large buildings turned out to straddle the border of the district in which the police had under surveillance. That means that the cab could have entered the front of the building, and left by the rear, escaping the guarded district, without the police seeing it. The police had mainly guarded roads, not buildings.
A meat plant was on the East side of the police cordon. All of its West side, and around half of its North and South sides, were within the police blockade, while the East side was outside of the cordon. Jake and Moe investigated whether a cab could have been driven in the West and out the East side of the building, or whether the cab was still hidden within the structure.
An all weather red carpet stretched out on the sidewalk in front of the West facade of the meat plant. "We give our customers the Red Carpet Treatment!" a large banner proclaimed. The bright red color reminded Jake unpleasantly of the red cab. Could there be a connection? Jake went through the elegant, but fairly narrow glass door that led into the meat plant. The door led into a pleasant office, and was the only door in the brick wall on this side of the building. There were similar small doors on the North and South sides of the building. All the big open delivery areas for the plant were on the East side of the building, away from the main customer area on the West. Jake didn't see how a taxicab could ever be squeezed through the tiny doors on the three sides of the building within the police cordon.
There was a large cellar in the building. A barred door to a freight elevator, big enough to hold the missing cab, stood against the far West wall. Moe had the freight elevator unlocked. It was empty, however. By the time that Jake and Moe searched the butcher shop, both its main floor and cellar had been hosed down - the shop was scrubbed clean four times a day, for health reasons. This would have obliterated any cab tracks.
A witness, Herbert Castle II, the prominent young society lawyer, had been working late, in his office across from the East side of the meat plant. His lights were still on in the huge corner suite of offices he occupied on the top floor of the lavish building. The twenty-five year old lawyer was still in his business suit, sitting on the throne-like black leather chair behind his huge desk.
It turned out that Castle had been watching out his window after the floodlights came on, a few blocks away. In answer to Moe's question, Castle was certain that no one came out of the East side of the meat plant after the flood lights appeared near the Hospitality Hotel, and before Moe's man had arrived searching the area.
"The street below is very well lit," Castle continued with his refined voice. "I was curious about the flood lights and the noise, and was watching down towards the street below. I saw the police arrive down below. They were the first pedestrians or vehicles of any kind in the street. Certainly, no one drove out of the meat plant."
The Trustworthy Fur warehouse stood at the South edge of the police cordon. It was owned by Buchinsky, and was a mob front. The organized crime specialists in the LAPD had long suspected it as being a center of Buchinsky's money laundering. The lime green warehouse had huge doors on both its North and South sides. It would have been easy to drive the red cab through it. There were plenty of tracks of vehicles, used to unload furs, on the light pink concrete floor of the building. However, one of Moe's men, Officer Thomas O'Brien, had been stationed near the North door of the building. O'Brien swore to Moe than no one had entered or left the fur warehouse during the long night. Moe's police superiors even asked him if he believed that O'Brien could have been bribed by Buchinsky. Moe stood by O'Brien, a young officer who had worked for Moe for two years. He pointed out that the decision to stage O'Brien by the building had been made by Moe at the last minute, and that neither O'Brien nor Buchinsky could have known about O'Brien's presence at the warehouse before hand. Moe's superiors told him that O'Brien was suspect number one, anyway.
O'Brien worked on weekends as a singer in various local nightclubs, when he could get the work. He was also an aspiring actor who had had some tiny roles in various Hollywood movies. These facts were thrown in his face when he was interrogated by the police Internal Affairs Unit.
"The club where you sang six months ago" a tough looking cop told O'Brien, "has ties to Buchinsky. His mob supplies all the liquor to the club. You're one of Buchinsky's men."
"That's a lie!" O'Brien said. "I'm just a two-bit singer. If I were sponsored by Buchinsky, do you think I'd be singing at the hole in the wall I'm featured now?" O'Brien was appearing in a tiny Irish bar, where he sang "Mother Macree" and other ballads to bleary customers. "Everyone knows who Buchinsky's singers are. They highlight the bills at the fancy nightclubs Buchinsky runs. Why don't you go after some of them?"
O'Brien was put on suspension while the investigation continued.
Jake and Moe discussed the case in Moe's office.
"I don't believe O'Brien is guilty, either," Jake told Moe. "I've known him since the Hansen case, and he's always seemed like an honest man to me. The problem is, is that there does not seem to be any other possible explanation of the crime. If O'Brien is telling the truth, the disappearance of the red cab seems just plain impossible."
Jake was on a stakeout with Mike O'Hara, in a hotel room across from the fur warehouse, just before dawn. O'Hara was still wearing his sleek black Police Sergeant's uniform. Although the two men were alone, O'Hara had kept up his role as the Irish cop. Jake thought of urging him to drop it, but decided not to. Probably the actor was under strict orders from Harry to stay in character no matter what. And Jake knew from experience at the Studio that it was easier for many actors to remain in their roles, rather than moving in and out of character.
The cheap hotel room was unheated. It had little beyond a bed, a table and two chairs, and an old wardrobe with a warped full-length mirror. It soon got very cold. Jake zipped up his cabman's leather jacket, and buckled the heavy belt at the jacket's waist. It fitted tightly, and suddenly made Jake look as if he had no waist and was all broad shoulders and chest. Jake also turned up the jacket's huge, wide collar, fastening it in front. Jake got a glimpse of himself in the wardrobe's mirror. The black leather jacket made him look impossibly broad-shouldered and bull-necked. Jake really looked like a Tough Guy.
There wasn't much to do in the hotel room. Jake had his notebook, and was busy working on his latest film script. But poor O'Hara looked bored. O'Hara soon got out a book, and started reading it. Jake snuck a peek at the title. It was the Oresteia, by Aeschylus, in English translation. Jake wondered if O'Hara were appearing on stage in it, somewhere.
"Pretty good reading, for a tough lug like us," Jake told him. O'Hara ignored him.
Jake had an idea. He asked O'Hara to twirl his nightstick.
"What?" O'Hara looked embarrassed.
"You know," said, "twirl your nightstick like a cop patrolling a beat."
"Sure, and I've never done that," a red faced O'Hara said.
"What," Jake exclaimed, "surely all you Police Sergeants can twirl your truncheons."
O'Hara mumbled something.
"Could you please hand me your nightstick?" Jake asked politely.
O'Hara looked dubious. "It's nothing for a civilian to be handling, my boy," he said in his rich brogue.
"If I can marry your sister," Jake said with a grin, "I can handle your nightstick."
O'Hara reluctantly handed it over. It was long, jet black, and heavy, with a leather strap at the handle. Jake stood up, hefted it back and forth between his hands for a bit, then took a firm grip on it by the strap. Jake started twirling it, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Jake took O'Hara's uniform cap, which had been sitting on a table, and placed it on his head at a jaunty angle, twirling the nightstick all the while. Jake looked just like a friendly neighborhood cop patrolling his beat. Jake began to whistle "When Irish Eyes are Smiling."
O'Hara kept his eyes glued to Jake.
Jake started executing fancy moves with the whirling nightstick. He passed it under his legs, and behind his back. He pushed up his uniform cap with a big grin, and twirled the nightstick even faster. Soon he executed a dazzling series of precision moves, then slid the nightstick in the belt of his cabman's jacket.
"Holy cow!" O'Hara said, without any trace of his Irish accent. "How'd you ever learn how to do that?"
"I learned for a case around a year ago," Jake said. "I was trained by old Heinrich at the Studio. You should try to take a class from him sometime. You've probably never been near a film studio," Jake said dryly. "It's a big place where we make movies. You'd like it."
O'Hara was struggling to get back into character. "Killer, me pal, that was a fine bit o' twirling."
"You could do it too," Jake said friendlily. "Here, hold the stick like this." Jake showed O'Hara the correct grip. Soon, O'Hara was executing a basic twirl of the nightstick. Jake showed O'Hara how to walk around, without losing control of the stick. Next, he showed O'Hara how to pull the stick out with a graceful gesture from his policeman's belt, and how to return the nightstick to the belt when he was done. O'Hara was grinning with delight. They also worked on speed control of the nightstick.
The stakeout revealed nothing. After dawn, when Jake and O'Hara were walking down the street, O'Hara was twirling his nightstick. He looked every inch a policeman. He began whistling "When Irish Eyes are Smiling." He looked over to Jake with a big grin.
"Top of the morning to you, Mr. Murphy," O'Hara said as they passed Murphy's grocery store. Murphy tipped his hat to the big handsome Irish cop. O'Hara just kept twirling his nightstick, with a steady rhythm. "Sure, and how are Mrs. Murphy, and all the little ones?" he asked, with his friendly smile. To Jake's surprise, the sourball Mr. Murphy began to smile.
"Mike, me lad," Jake told him, "You're a fine figure of an officer of the law."
Jake and O'Hara ran into Harry, talking on the street to Tom Wilson, seated on his milk truck. They had just said hello when an ominous voice behind them said "What have we here?"
It was Slats Buchinsky, with three of his men.
One of Slats' henchmen pulled a large tommy gun out from under his elegant gray chesterfield coat. He trained it on Harry, Jake, O'Hara and Tom. Slats quickly herded the group down a maze of alleys, into a large courtyard surrounded by a high fence. No one could see them within the deserted courtyard. Jake feared the worst.
"Here's what I think of you, copper." Buchinsky took a large gun out of his cutaway coat. He shot O'Hara three times in the chest at point blank range. O'Hara collapsed to the ground, face down. He looked dead.
Jake, Tom and Harry stood there horrified, but helpless.
A smiling Buchinsky put the gun back in his pocket. He took the tommy gun that his man had, and aimed it at Jake.
"I heard your pal here call you Killer," he said with a sneer. "Bet you think you're pretty tough. We'll see how tough you are."
If there was one thing that Jake hated it was a bully.
Slats was right in front of Jake. He began chewing Jake out, yelling in his face. Slats shoved his face right up against Jake's like a sadistic drill sergeant chewing out a new recruit. This was the moment Jake had been waiting for. Jake opened his mouth, and roared like a lion at the top of his lungs. The sound echoed like a shot in the courtyard. For the first time in Slats' presence, Jake opened his mouth, as wide as he could. Jake displayed his monstrous set of fangs. Jake's nightmarish, razor sharp teeth were less than a half an inch from Slats' eyeball.
Slats screamed in terror, and dropped his tommy gun. Jake grabbed Slats, and applied pressure to his neck right where his jujitsu instructor had taught him. Slats went unconscious, and crumbled to the ground. Harry had rushed over, and picked up Slats' tommy gun. He was covering Slats' men, who also had been terrified by Jake's fangs. Tom Wilson got rope out of his milk wagon, and tied up Slats' men with tighter knots than they had ever thought possible. They looked like a bunch of hog-tied steers.
Jake looked down at the fallen Slats. He was amazed that his jujitsu hold had really worked. Mr. Mizoguchi really knows his stuff, Jake thought of his elderly instructor.
Harry had had O'Hara wear a bullet-proof vest under his police uniform. It had saved O'Hara's life. The force of the bullets had knocked O'Hara out, however, and cracked two of his ribs.
Harry had gotten excellent pictures of the whole confrontation with his hidden camera. The shots of Slats' attempt to murder O'Hara appeared on the front pages of newspapers throughout the continent the next day. Slats and his men all received twenty years in prison for attempted murder. Harry also had a great shot of Jake baring his fangs at Slats. Later, Harry arranged for a publicity photograph of Lon Chaney and Jake side by side. Chaney was in full make-up for London After Midnight, and the caption of the picture asked, "Which Man is Scarier?"
Buchinsky wasn't talking. He would admit nothing and explained nothing, even though he'd been caught red-handed on film trying to kill O'Hara. The cloud of suspicion over O'Brien remained.
Jake left the Studio commissary after a large breakfast of fruit the next morning. The hallway featured photos of Mammoth-Art stars, including his friend Greg, dashing in white tie and tails. Jake missed Greg, who was shooting a film on location in San Francisco. But he knew that if the author tried to include every continuing character in the series, that he would never bring this story in at 9,000 words. With a sigh, Jake left the building, and went and sat under a Rain Tree, a beautiful Samanea saman covered with big pink balls of flowers. Jake always did his best thinking under a tree. On this sunny day, the leaflets of the tree were open. But Jake knew that when it rained, the leaflets folded up, and let the rain pass through the tree to the ground. They were just like a hinged set of doors. Jake had just seen a comedy two-reeler featuring his studio friend "Seltzer" Floyd. Seltzer had been chased by around 200 cops. He'd turned a corner, and jumped on top of a sidewalk elevator just as its folding doors were opening. The elevator, and Seltzer, had disappeared down into the sidewalk, and its folding doors had clanged shut, just like the leaves of the Rain Tree. The cops had poured all over the sidewalk, and were right on top of the elevator doors in the sidewalk, completely clueless to where Seltzer had gone. Jake laughed and laughed. Suddenly Jake got an idea...
Jake and Harry were standing with Lt. Moe Apfelbaum in front of the meat plant, together with a Mammoth-Art newsreel crew. Moe had brought a suddenly hopeful Thomas O'Brien along, even though he was on suspension. Moe had insisted that O'Brien wear his full police uniform, despite the suspension. While Harry got his camera crew ready, Moe had O'Brien move over to one edge of the long red carpet covering the sidewalk in front of the building. At a signal from Harry, O'Brien began rolling up the carpet revealing the bare cement sidewalk underneath it. Just a few feet from the corner, metal plates started appearing in the sidewalk instead. Soon, the metal doors of a giant sidewalk elevator were revealed. The doors had been completely covered by the red carpet. The elevator was huge. It could easily have carried a car, such as the red cab of death. To demonstrate for Harry's camera, O'Brien drove a shiny LAPD police car right over the elevator doors.
"The elevator in the basement led outside, to the sidewalk," Jake said. "This is common in urban industrial buildings. The sidewalk entrance to the elevator was covered by the red carpet. All anybody had to do was roll back the carpet, drive the cab into the elevator from the cellar, then raise it to the sidewalk. Then Buchinsky's henchmen would send the elevator back down, and cover its folding doors up with the carpet again. This is how the cab emerged from seemingly nowhere into the city."
"After the attack on Harry at the Hospitality Hotel," Jake continued, "the cab was driven back into the cellar, through the sidewalk elevator. The red carpet was rolled back on top of the elevator doors."
"But how did the cab get out of the cellar?" Harry asked. "It wasn't there when you searched later, and Herbert Castle swore it hadn't left by the East doors."
"He sure did," Jake said. "But he must have been lying. I wonder if he and Buchinsky are allied. Castle has made huge amounts of money, for such a young man. And Buchinsky has made a lot of contacts all over the city's government and business, for a street mobster. The two could have been working together and sharing profits. The idea of getting legal protection though the skeleton gag could also have been Castle's. A legal idea like that might have occurred to a lawyer."
Investigation by the LAPD confirmed the truth of the statements. Castle was eventually indicted on income tax fraud, the only charges against him that could be documented.
"Also," Moe later told Jake, "Castle's Ivy League college fraternity-like "secret society" had long pulled such skeleton stunts during its initiation ceremonies, which is where he probably got the idea. They are a bunch of rich kids who pledge to help each other in their business activities throughout their whole lives."
A lawsuit against Slats and Castle recovered the costs of the cabs their henchmen had destroyed. Castle was exposed in the press. His fellow secret society men from his famous Ivy League university were not upset about his criminal activities - many of them were involved in civic and business activities at least as corrupt as Castle's - but they were horrified that he had revealed what they regarded as the sacred initiation secrets of the society. "It was really bad form," as his class's society president said.
Officer Thomas O'Brien was completely cleared, and restored to active duty.
Jake was glad to be back in his own clothes, working on a script in his writer's cubicle at the studio. He was in his dressy new suit, an aggressive looking charcoal gray. His hair was growing back, too, but on a whim he'd asked the studio make-up people to keep him as a blond. It gave Jake a souvenir of his role in the cab case. Maybe Harry was right, Jake reflected. Maybe somewhere inside Jake, there really was Killer Black as part of his inner personality.
"Jake, allow me to present Patrick O'Donahue," Harry said. Jake had already met O'Donahue, although not under that name. It was the erstwhile Sergeant Michael O'Hara. The handsome O'Donahue was now wearing a beautifully tailored pinstripe suit that would have done any banker proud.
"We've already met," O'Donahue said in his well-modulated voice, without any trace of Irish accent. "It's an honor to be introduced officially." O'Donahue shook Jake's hand with a firm, manly grip, looking Jake sincerely in the eye.
"O'Donahue is one of Mammoth-Art's newest actors," Harry went on. "He just arrived from Boston, where he's had a number of stage roles."
Castle's downfall also provoked ill will towards Mammoth-Art Studio from Castle's associates in the city's business elite. They were horrified that a business owned by a Jew like Mammoth-Art Studio head J. D. Upshaw would dare to attack a member of the WASP elite like Castle. Upshaw had never been socially accepted by well-to-do circles in Los Angeles anyway, and his funding came from New York City, not from local businessmen. Still, Upshaw was so teed off by what was said about him that he immediately gave Harry a bonus and promotion, publicly thanked Jake and Tom Wilson for their contributions to the case, and starred Patrick O'Donahue in one of the studio's many romantic comedies.
Upshaw always believed in defiance, the more public the better.
"A hundred years from now," the idealistic Jake said to Moe in his office, "We'll no longer be ruled by WASP's who are members of secret societies at elite schools. Instead, we'll have Jewish presidents and women presidents and black presidents. And we won't have any wars, either."
Moe agreed with Jake's sentiments, but was not sure of his timing. "Maybe this will take longer than a hundred years, Jake."
Both Tom Wilson and Patrick O'Donahue were guests of honor during Los Angeles' annual cab parade that year. Harry was right there, recording it all for posterity on film.