Mystery Stories Home Page
Copyright 2004 by Michael E. Grost
A Jacob Black "Impossible Crime" Mystery
By Michael E. Grost
"We saw the phantom cop last night again," Officer Perkins said.
Perkins was in the office of his superior at Homicide, Lt. Moe Apfelbaum, in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles. It was November, 1924.
"He was in a white uniform," Perkins went on. "It was just like an LAPD uniform. Only it was all white: white shirt, trousers, belt, cap. Even white boots. And his face was all white, like a clown in a circus. He gave me the creeps," Perkins went on with a shudder.
For a week, officers on Night Duty at the Pasadena station had seen the white figure the police dubbed "the phantom cop".
"I was just walking down the corridor on the second floor," Perkins went on. "And there he was, far down the hall. I went after him, but he slipped into the stolen property room, and locked the door. By the time we got the door unlocked, he was gone. He must have slipped out of one of the other doors in the property room."
"This is the third time the phantom cop has been seen," Moe said. "Phantom cop is a bad name. There are no such things as ghosts. This is some real flesh and blood joker. And he's up to something."
"But what, Lieutenant?" Perkins asked. "So far, he hasn't done anything but show up, wander around the building, then vanish. He doesn't seem to have stolen anything."
"Maybe he's a practical joker," Moe said. "But I doubt it. The whole thing is too elaborate. My instinct is telling me there is something rotten behind all this. It is too much of a coincidence. We're working on the Carson gang, the biggest case in years. And now this is happening. I smell a connection."
"Is the evidence against Carson safe?" Perkins asked.
"I just checked it again," Moe said, pointing to a series of locked file cabinets in his office. "We have all the new evidence on Carson's takeover of the drug trade in Los Angeles. Plus his long history in racketeering and extortion." Moe had collected this for months. "We almost have enough to go into court."
"I've got an eerie feeling about this," Moe went on. "Carson is real, and our fight against him is real. But everything else around here seems unreal somehow. The ghost cop especially. It's as if we've stumbled into some Alice in Wonderland style world."
Moe had another possibility in mind about the phantom cop.
Mammoth-Art Studio publicity man Harry Callaway was always setting up outrageous stunts to promote the studio's movies. Several of these had involved fake "policemen". These ringers were so convincing that they had even fooled Moe. When Harry learned that he had successfully deceived the experienced Lieutenant Apfelbaum of LA Homicide, he was delighted.
Soon the irrepressible Harry was sending in fake policemen as a challenge to Moe around once a month. Harry didn't mean anything by this - he just loved the challenge of trying to outwit Moe. Moe eventually found he was looking forward to trying to spot Harry's fakes, too.
The phantom cop didn't seem like Harry's style. The phantom cop was obviously not a real policeman. Harry's ringers always looked like real cops. They were intended to deceive. And there was never anything malicious about Harry's fake officers - Harry created them for the sheer joy of imagination. But Moe strongly felt the ghost cop was up to something sinister.
Moe cornered Harry in his office at Mammoth-Art Studio.
Mammoth-Art Studio head J. D. Upshaw had given Harry an executive rank at the studio, and an office in the Studio's headquarters, with the proviso that Harry spend as little time there as possible. Upshaw wanted Harry out in world, taking publicity photos. The office was to help Harry meet with non-Studio bigwigs on their own terms, when Harry was planning publicity campaigns. Like other Studio executive offices, it was as imposing as possible. The Art Deco office was as long as a bowling alley. Moe had to walk an endless distance just to approach Harry, who was seated behind a huge desk at the far end. Harry was dressed in a suit that dripped Hollywood glamour and sophistication. Large abstract pictures were on the wall, from Upshaw's personal collection - he was a famous connoisseur of modern art. The well-read Moe recognized a Kandinsky, a Tatlin relief, and a Marsden Hartley. The office, like the whole building, was the work of top architects and designers.
"It's like the office Andrew Carnegie always wanted, but never had," Moe thought wryly.
Harry stood up, and vigorously shook Moe's hand.
"Pleased to see you, Lieutenant," Harry told Moe with his usual enthusiasm. "How can I help you?" Harry looked sincere. Harry ALWAYS looked sincere - he looked like an innocent young college student, although Harry was actually 28. But Moe detected a trace of Harry's usual deviltry.
"Did you send the phantom cop to our station?" Moe began bluntly.
"What are you talking about?" Harry said gently.
Harry soon got the whole story from Moe. He denied all knowledge or responsibility for the ghost cop.
"If you didn't send the ghost, then it must be the work of the Carson gang," Moe added grimly. Moe was soon telling Harry all about his current stand-off with the mob.
"Maybe this is part of an attempt to steal the evidence you have against Carson," Harry said thoughtfully. "Do you have any copies of the evidence stored outside the police station?"
"No," Moe said, "There is no money for anything like that. We don't get any support from the Department on the Carson investigation. Carson has a lot of friends in high places. Basically, the investigation is just my staff and myself - no one else in the LAPD will help us."
Moe's superior, Captain Spencer, called Moe into his office.
"You're off the Carson case," Spencer told Moe bluntly. "Word has come down from City Hall."
"Carson has bribed city officials," Moe told Spencer.
"Look," Spencer said, "I warned you right from the start of the Carson investigation that you would never bring him to court. Carson has too many friends. But you insisted on investigating Carson anyway."
"Carson is now selling all the dope that reaches LA schoolchildren," Moe said grimly.
"If you do any more work on Carson, you will be expelled from the force," Spencer told Moe. "Your investigation is being shut down. You are the only cop in LA dumb enough to go after Carson. You are all alone on this. You can't fight City Hall."
"Thanks a lot for your support, Captain," Moe told him sarcastically. "I knew I could count on you."
"My hands are tied," Spencer told him.
Moe rose to go, but Spencer motioned for him to sit back down.
"You are also ordered not to have any contact with people at that Hollywood studio," Spencer told him grimly. "You will no longer have them working with you on your cases."
Moe's friend Jacob "Jake" Black, a scriptwriter at Mammoth-Art Studio, had frequently assisted Moe with his cases. Jake was a gifted amateur sleuth.
"Any attempt to contact them, even by telephone, will result in your expulsion from the force."
Spencer dismissed Moe, and he turned and left the room.
Moe called Jake from a pay phone that night and told him the news.
"They are trying to stop the Carson investigation. And they do not want me to get any outside aid," Moe told his friend Jake. "You know how much help you've been to me on your past investigations."
Jake was shocked. But he rallied to his friend.
"I know you've got a wife and children to support Moe," Jake told him loyally. "I won't try to contact you for a while. But I'll keep thinking about your current problems..."
Moe was disturbed by the power of the Carson gang. He and his wife Esther talked it over. They agreed it would be safer if Esther took their two kids and Moe's parents and left town. They knew of an obscure resort in the mountains where they could hide out. Esther's parents were living out of the country, in Martinique in the Caribbean, and were probably safe.
Moe was walking down a long corridor on the third floor the next morning. The police station was deserted. At seven AM, no one was on the floor but Moe. It was still dark outside - this was late November. Suddenly, he saw a figure, at the far end of the hall. It was all in white. The man turned. There was nothing under the visor of his white uniform cap, but a white shiny face mask. The man carried a huge white night stick. He turned, and pointed the white night stick at Moe. Moe started running toward him. The phantom cop went into the door of a nearby storeroom.
Moe kept running. He reached the door of the storeroom. It was locked. Through the heavy glass panel of the door, Moe could see the inside of the storeroom. The white figure was already at the far end of the long, narrow storeroom. Moe could see the phantom cop in the dim light. The sinister white figure opened a door at the far end of the room, went through it, and closed the door behind him. Just after he closed the door, the overhead light in the store room suddenly went out. Moe could see nothing more in the room.
Moe rattled on the knob of the door. It was completely locked.
Moe tried to smash the glass of the door, but it was reinforced by a wire mesh. He went back and got a key.
Moe went in the storeroom. He turned on the light. Moe started down toward the far end of the room, where he had seen the ghost cop leave through a door.
Only there wasn't any door.
The far end of the storeroom was an unbroken expanse of blank wall.
The door had vanished. Just like the ghost cop.
Moe went to see Captain Spencer, the police captain in charge of the station. He found him talking to his aide, Sgt. Rafferty. Both men were in police uniform. Moe told them his bizarre story.
"If you've seen the phantom cop," Spencer said slowly, "then we have to believe he's real. I'd simply written him off as some sort of tall tale circulating among the men."
"Did either of you see anything this morning?" Moe asked the Captain and Rafferty.
"No," Spencer said, "we've been in my office the past hour. The walls are so thick in this building a bomb could go off and we wouldn't hear."
Spencer's long time aide, Officer Terry Flynn, had transferred out a month ago, after Spencer gave him a promotion. Spencer was now supported by a new officer, Sgt. Mike Rafferty. Rafferty's old police partner, Officer Jeremiah "Jerry" Peterson, had been brought in at the same time, to man the Pasadena Station telephone switchboard. The two men looked tough. Both were newcomers to the district, and neither had any friends among the officers in the division, keeping largely to themselves. Moe had never met either one before. Spencer seemed pleased with their work.
Moe had a team of carpenters examining the storeroom that morning. They sounded walls, took measurements, and even drilled into the plaster of the wall. Their conclusion: there was nothing but a solid wall.
"It is impossible for any door to be here," the middle-aged head carpenter told Moe. "There is nothing but the solid outer wall of the station building. Even if someone had walked through the wall, somehow, they would have been forty feet in the air, outside the third floor of the station."
An architect told Moe the same thing. Pyotir Wachislaw was an old friend of Moe, who had a flourishing business, mainly designing office buildings. He came over at Moe's phone call, and listened carefully to Moe's problem. He measured the walls, compared them to the blueprints of the building, and did a series of mathematical calculations. "There is just no space here for a secret passage," he said, "or for any layer between the storeroom wall and the outside of the building."
Moe also wondered how the light had been turned off in the store room, after the ghost cop had left by the now-vanished door. There were two light switches in the store room. One was by the door Moe had stood. The other was in the far end of the room, in the far wall that had contained the door. Moe hadn't actually seen either light switch last night - the illumination had been very dim, and the walls were murky and faint looking. But he was sure that nobody was standing in the room near the position of either light switch. Moe would have seen them, dim light or not. So how had the light been turned off?
Moe had an idea.
Moe was a great reader. He loved mystery fiction. Two of his favorite authors were the American Jacques Futrelle and the British R. Austin Freeman. Both had written brilliant stories in which mirrors were used to create impossible crimes.
"Could a mirror have been used here?" Moe asked the architect. "Maybe what I saw was the phantom cop in a mirror. He could have been exiting by the side door. No one was watching that, while I was at the front door of the room. Maybe a mirror was positioned so that the door in a side wall was made to look like a door in the rear wall of the room."
Pyotir obtained a huge full-length mirror from a furniture dealer. He and Moe started experimenting with placing the mirror at different angles or positions within the room. Unfortunately, no matter how they arranged it, they could not get an effect that duplicated what Moe saw the night before.
"The only door in the side wall is just too far forward," Pyotir said. "There does not seem to be any way to position a mirror, to create the illusion you saw. It's a good idea, but it just doesn't seem to be working."
Captain Spencer's friend, LAPD Captain Hiram Wilson, stopped by the division the next morning for a visit. Wilson had stopped by Spencer's office to ask Spencer for information on a counterfeiter Wilson was investigating, but Spencer had never heard of the man, and had nothing to tell Wilson.
Wilson was a grizzled veteran, a big tough looking middle-aged man, still in good shape. There was something fatherly about Wilson; he just naturally seemed to inspire confidence in people. Spencer had first met Wilson two months ago, when they were seated together at a police banquet. They'd run into each other a couple more times at the race track Spencer frequented. Now they were sitting in Spencer's office, smoking a couple of Wilson's excellent cigars.
Spenser received a phone call from his wife. A radio station had awarded them a prize of $200 - big money in the 1920's. But they both had to travel to distant Ventura that afternoon, in person, to collect the money.
Spenser started telling Wilson about his dilemma.
"I could continue my counterfeiter investigation from this station today," Wilson told him, as if a sudden idea struck him. "I brought two of my men along with me. And I could serve as your back-up for the rest of the day, while you head up to Ventura."
Spencer liked the idea. He soon called the station's men together in the squad room, including Moe. Spencer introduced Wilson.
"My old friend Captain Hiram Wilson is in charge of the division, today," Spencer told his men seriously. The big Wilson stood there, looking impressive in his Captain's uniform. He looked like everyone's ideal of a tough police Captain. Just like in the movies...
Captain Wilson promptly stationed himself in Moe's office for the day, seating himself behind Moe's desk, and grilling Moe, who had to sit in his own visitor's chair. Wilson, who seemed to know all about Moe's career, actually made Moe sit in the uncomfortable chair Moe reserved for felons, not the cozy chair Moe usually provided for visitors. Wilson then ordered Moe out on a wild goose chase, all the way out down to Orange County. At the end of the day, Moe had discovered a letter from Harry Callaway in a PO Box in Irvine, calling him a gullible idiot. Wilson was one of Harry's ringers...
According to Moe's aide the next morning, Capt. Wilson and a whole team of his uniformed police assistants had spent the previous afternoon in Moe's office, with the doors closed. Moe's files had been thoroughly rifled, but nothing had been taken or destroyed.
Moe was a bit disgusted with Harry. And puzzled, too. It was not like Harry to hit a man while he was down. Harry had an extremely playful nature, but he'd never seen him do anything malicious. Harry knew that Moe was up against it with the Carson gang. It seemed like a strange time for Harry to be pulling one of his stunts.
"There's a telegram for you," Moe's aide told him.
The uniformed telegraph delivery boy entered the office, shutting the door behind him. It was Harry. The baby faced Harry looked around 20 in his authentic uniform. He handed Moe a piece of paper.
"Your office might be full of listening devices planted by the Carson gang.
Say nothing about Captain Wilson to anyone on the force. You do not know who you can trust.
Pretend to everyone he was a real police Captain.
There is more to this than meets the eye.
Promise me this by nodding your head!
Your friend, Harry Callaway."
Harry just stood there, looking at Moe intensely.
Against his better judgment, Moe finally nodded his head. He was deeply annoyed with Harry. But like most people, he found it hard not to trust Harry.
"Thanks for the tip!" Harry told Moe loudly, and left the office, taking the paper with him.
Two days later at the station. 7 AM. It was even darker outside, as the days hurried into winter.
There was a horrible sound, like a large roaring. Moe rushed out of his office. Down the hall, he saw Captain Spencer and his aide Rafferty running in his direction.
"It's the phantom cop," Spencer shouted. "We just saw him throw a bomb." The ghost cop was nowhere to be seen now. "He ran into the lineup room after throwing the bomb," Spencer added.
Fire bells were ringing in the building. Great clouds of smoke were starting to appear. Spencer, Rafferty and Moe made their way down the huge front staircase, and out the stone steps down into the street. By this time, the whole two top stories of the station were in flames. Great clouds of red fire were burning against the night sky. Moe was looking at the dozen officers on the sidewalk. It looked like everybody who worked in the building, except switchboard operator Peterson. With a sense of relief, he soon saw Peterson make his way from the side of the building, where there was another exit. Peterson's silhouette was unmistakable in the darkness; he was six foot six. The building's cleaning staff never worked after three AM, and should all have gone home hours ago. It looked as if everyone was safe.
The fire department soon came. But could do nothing against the inferno. Within an hour, the building had burned to a ground.
"All of the evidence we had against the Carson mob is gone," Moe told Captain Spencer. "So this is what the phantom cop was up to. We'll never be able to prosecute them now."
Moe went over to Peterson, who was stationed at the side entrance. He told Moe that no one had gone out the building since 6 AM, when he came on duty. And Sgt. Kennedy, who was on the desk at the front door, said the same thing. So did Lucek, who was talking with Kennedy when the bomb went off. So how had the phantom cop left the building? The front and the side door were the only exits.
Moe began to question the men. The only one alone at the time the bomb was thrown was Peterson, at switchboard near the side door. Did this mean that Peterson was the ghost cop? Moe had seen the phantom cop himself, and pegged him as being a little under six feet tall. The very tall Peterson was certainly not the man Moe had seen two nights before, in the white phantom cop uniform. Besides, Peterson and the other officers were in full LAPD uniform, when Moe saw them right after the bombing. They had their ties tied, belts buckled, and their black leather boots laced up to their knees. None of them could have gotten out of the white ghost cop uniform, and into their regular black LAPD uniforms, in the time between the bombing and when Moe encountered them on the steps. Moe always wore regular civilian suits, as required by his position as head of Homicide, but everyone else on duty at the Pasadena station was in police uniform.
Moe looked at the still flaming building. If the phantom cop were still inside, he was not alive. No creature could survive such an inferno.
The Pasadena police were moved after three days to temporary quarters in an old Armory. This was a vast building. The squad felt lost inside of it. It was a gloomy old structure, with huge dark corridors, and many wings and floors. Even with the division staff transferred there temporarily, the Armory was still full of empty offices and rooms.
Moe was still getting oriented in his new office. A knock on the door was followed by the introduction by his aide of "Officers O'Ryan and McGillicudy to see you".
Two young policemen entered the room. Both looked barely twenty-one. The young men had the powerful builds and wholesome good looks of college football heroes. Both were in formal dress uniforms of the LAPD, jet black with silver trim. Their new looking uniforms were pressed to razor sharp creases. The two men must have worked an hour to spit shine their boots. Each had a single silver stripe on their sleeves, the lowest rank of police officer. They moved into Moe's office, stood at attention and saluted him smartly. Moe had never met either before.
Officer O'Ryan seemed to be the spokesperson.
"It's a great honor to meet you, Lt. Apfelbaum, sir!" he belted out.
Moe was nonplused. No one had ever told him that. Moe finally stood up and formally returned their salute. "At ease!" he told them.
The two young officers shifted to Parade Rest.
After a pause Moe told them to state their business.
"Sir, we are on duty executing orders from LAPD Captain Wilson, sir!" O'Ryan told him. "Sir! Captain Wilson says you will remember working with him last November 25th, sir!"
Moe kept smiling at the two excessively formal young recruits. Then all of a sudden, he remembered who Wilson was. He sat down with a thud.
Wilson had fooled Moe completely. Moe had never seen one of Harry's ringers introduced by the trustworthy Captain Spencer before, and found it impossible to imagine that Wilson was anything other than a real Police Captain.
Now Moe glared at the two young "officers".
"Tell Harry Callaway I'm not in the mood for any fun and games, today, boys" Moe said wearily. "Harry means well, but things are too bad around here for fooling around. Go back to your fraternity, or football team, or wherever Harry got you."
The serious looks on the face of the two officers did not change.
"Sir! Permission to speak, sir!" O'Ryan stated.
Moe waved at him.
"Officer McGillicudy and this officer have orders to help you, sir! From Captain Wilson, sir!"
"What are you boys up to?" Moe queried.
O'Ryan went to Moe's office door and opened it. Two more recruiting-poster-perfect young police officers came in. They were wheeling in a huge file cabinet. Moe could barely look. Harry probably had it full of poisonous snakes or something.
O'Ryan opened the cabinet. He pulled out a huge folder, and deposited it open on Moe's desk, with a respectful salute.
Moe started glancing though the folder. The folder contained photostatic copies of all the protection racket records of the Carson case. Moe had been sure that all such records had been destroyed in the mob-set fire at the division house last week. Moe took another binder from the cabinet. It contained duplicates of the Carson drug peddling records, also thought lost.
"This is amazing!" Moe said. "Where did you get this?"
O'Ryan took a deep breath, then thought better of saying anything out loud. He wrote Moe a note instead: "Captain Wilson made photocopies when he was in your office last November, Sir!"
Four more young men in spit and polish police uniforms entered Moe's office. All were wheeling in file cabinets. Moe opened them. Every record in his office last November 25th seemed to be in them in duplicated form.
Moe felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Getting rid of these records had been the mob's main goal. And here they were all safe and sound. Moe sat there with a huge grin on his face.
Moe also realized, for the first time, what Wilson had been up to in his office last fall, while he had been sent on the wild goose chase to Orange County. Wilson and his men had been photographing all his records. Harry had had copies of Moe's police records since last month. Harry had probably long been planning some new madness to bedevil Moe with his Captain Wilson ringer.
Instead, when Moe had been in trouble, Harry had come to Moe's aid.
Moe stood up and called out "Attention!"
The eight young police officers stood in a row, in perfect formation. "How did they do that so fast?" Moe wondered.
"Tell Harry Callaway he has my undying gratitude," Moe ordered them. "And you men... I couldn't respect you more if you were real police officers!" Moe saluted them.
They all saluted back in unison. Moe had never seen anything like it.
"These guys have got to be some sort of precision drill team," Moe thought.
Moe had an idea. He went out the door and asked his aide to send in eight nightsticks. His puzzled aide soon returned, and Moe had him distribute the nightsticks to the eight officers.
"I'd like to see you do your best with these," Moe told them with a grin.
O'Ryan looked at his nightstick, and nodded. He seemed to be his team's leader. With a serious look, he started whirling the nightstick around. An amazing display soon followed from the rest of the team. Nightsticks moved in every direction from the team. They marched into pairs, and tossed nightsticks back and forth between each partner. They moved into groups of four, and passed nightsticks around in intricate maneuvers. They reformed into a line of eight, and did dazzling precision drill in perfect unison.
When they finished their routine, they moved back to attention and saluted.
Moe told them, "You guys ought to be in the movies!"
"Yes sir! We are appearing in Mammoth-Art's latest film sir!" O'Ryan said with stiff-necked pride.
"So that's where Harry got you!" Moe said.
It turned out that the eight young men were from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They had recently won a precision drill contest in San Diego, California, which is where a Mammoth-Art recruiter had seen them and brought them to Hollywood. With the money they were making from their film appearance, several of the team were planning to go to college. This was something these working class young men had never been able to afford.
O'Ryan handed Moe a letter from Jake. Jake wrote Moe that he and Harry were in Moe's corner, fighting for him. But Jake still had no ideas on how the phantom cop did his sinister tricks. Moe was pleased with the support, but promptly burned the letter.
While the young officers were still there, Moe's aide announced two more visitors, this time from the DA's office. Grateful as Moe was to Harry, he found it a relief to be talking to "real" people. Raymond G. Alsop was a lawyer on the DA's staff. He was a trim, athletic man in his early thirties, wearing a three-piece business suit. Moe found himself liking the quietly confident, competent looking young man. Accompanying him was Sergeant Dennis McConnell of the DA's staff. Moe couldn't help comparing McConnell's uniform, which showed the signs of months of regular wear, with the brand new dress uniforms of the young "officers" on the drill team. Moe had never met Alsop or McConnell before.
Moe felt he had to introduce the young "recruits" to Alsop and McConnell. "May I present Officers O'Ryan, McGillicudy, Lafferty, Murphy, Fitzhugh, O'Reilly, O'Connor, and O'Casey," Moe said, reading off their uniform name tags. The Irish Harry loved to give his ringers Irish names. "They're a fine group of young men who've just done a signal service to the Department," Moe said gratefully.
Alsop smiled his friendly grin. "Maybe next time I meet you, you'll all be promoted," he told them, shaking their hands, as they left Moe's office.
"That might be sooner than you think," Moe replied dryly. If he knew Harry, Harry would soon have these kids in Sergeant's uniforms, or maybe even they'd be uniformed as Police Captains with gold badges.
Alsop reached into his attaché case. He brought out a business card, which he handed to Moe. "We appreciate your help Lieutenant, with our current prosecution," he told Moe.
Both Alsop and McConnell wanted to study Moe's files, not the Carson investigation, but the McGuire case that Moe had worked on before that. They had heard about their alleged burning by the mob a few days ago, and were relieved to see that the files had survived. They asked Moe to set up an office near his for the two of them, for the next few days. There was tons of empty space in the old Armory, and Alsop and the Sergeant were soon ensconced.
Moe found he had friends in common with Sgt. McConnell, a roughneck who was typically serious on duty, but friendly off. Both had served some years ago, at different times, under Captain Beckett, who'd been a holy terror. Both men swapped stories about Beckett, and instructors they'd known years ago at the Police Academy.
It turned out that Moe lived on the route Alsop drove to work every morning. He offered to give Moe a lift in his car, to and from the division every day. Moe, who usually took the streetcar, gladly accepted Alsop's offer. Alsop always had McConnell with him when they arrived at Moe's little house every morning. Alsop would ring Moe's doorbell, and walk with him down to his car.
The Los Angeles Police officially closed down the investigation into the bombing that afternoon. Stated reason: the story of the ghost cop would cause embarrassment to the force; the press would say the Pasadena cops were drunks or fools. Moe and the other Pasadena police were forbidden to talk with the press. Official doctrine also stated that the phantom cop must be a lone madman, acting out some bizarre personal vendetta. It was made clear to Moe that the bombing could not have anything to do with Carson, or his attempt to destroy evidence against his gang. Any attempt on Moe's part to suggest otherwise would lead to Moe's dismissal from the force.
Moe believed none of this. He was sure the so called phantom cop was really an agent of the Carson gang.
Moe told no one about the restored Carson evidence files. He was afraid that there were traitors on the police staff, men who had sold out to Carson. He could not see how the ghost cop could have roamed the station at will, without inside help. Moe also took advantage of the chaos that surrounded the bombing and move to the Armory to resume his evidence gathering against the Carson gang. He did this quietly, and told no one.
The only person who expressed an interest in the phantom cop was Alsop. He got the whole story of the ghost cop and the bombing out of Moe over lunch. Alsop had taken the two of them to a dignified lunch room that catered to local businessmen.
Alsop was wearing a navy blue pinstripe suit. As usual, everything about his appearance looked quietly graceful and just right. Without quite noticing at first, you realized after talking with him a while how totally spiffy he looked.
It had been a long time since Moe bought a new suit. On his policeman's salary, and with two growing kids, such things were a low priority. He admired Alsop's suit. It showed quiet good taste and refinement. It didn't shout at you. Yet the more you looked at it, the more you noticed how well made it was. It helped give Alsop that look of easy sophistication that he wore so casually. Alsop looked comfortable in his clothes. He also in a quiet way looked totally dressed up.
Jake was deeply concerned about his friend Moe. While Jake had kept his promise not to contact Moe, he had kept in touch with events at the station by roundabout means. Jake did what he always did when he needed to think deeply about a case. He went over and sat down in the shade of a tree. This was a giant Erythrina coral bean tree, covered with big spikes of red blossoms. Hummingbirds were flitting around the tree, drinking nectar from its flowers. Jake thought long and hard about the case.
Moe was in his office. He received a telephone call from Jake at the studio.
"Moe," Jake began, "I've figured out how the phantom cop went through the door that night." Jake explained the disappearing door to Moe.
"But I can't figure out the actual bombing," Jake went on. "It is as if somebody were lying. It's the only thing that makes sense. I've got it!" Jake went on. "The culprit must be" and here the phone suddenly went dead.
Moe tried jiggling the phone. But his line was completely cut off. He couldn't get the police switchboard either.
Moe went to the office of Captain Spencer.
Spencer was fascinated to hear about how the disappearance was done.
Moe went on to explain about how Jake was cut off while figuring out the culprit. Moe started reasoning out what Jake had said.
"Someone was lying, Jake said. But who?" Moe went on. "Who's lies could have made the final bombing possible?"
Moe was looking right at Captain Spencer while explaining this. All of a sudden Moe knew. Captain Spencer could see that Moe knew, too. Spencer whipped out a gun and held it on Moe.
"You are the one," Moe said with pain in his voice. "You and Rafferty lied. The two of you threw the bomb. Then you made up the lie about seeing the phantom cop. Nobody needed to change out of the ghost cop uniform that night, after the bombing. No one was wearing the ghost cop uniform the night of the bombing. It was all a story you made up.
"That's what the whole phantom cop scare was about, wasn't it Captain?" Moe challenged Spencer. "It was to give you a culprit when you burned down the station. You must be in the pay of the Carson gang."
"Captain," Moe told him urgently, "it's not too late to get out of this. Get the hell out of the mob today. You haven't killed anybody yet. We can bury your involvement with the fire so deep, no one will ever know. You have a good record with the Department. Everyone'll be glad to have you back as an honest officer on the force."
Spencer laughed at Moe. "I don't want to be some loser working for the Department. I like the money I'm making now. And you're not going to stand in my way.
"You're a loser, Moe," Spencer sneered at him. "What do you get out of all this? Nothing! You're just a two bit loser with a tiny house and the income of a street peddler. And you're too stupid to know what a failure you are. You're about to die, and you still don't get what a no account bastard you are."
The Captain's door suddenly opened and Alsop entered. He smiled his friendly smile. "Pardon the intrusion, Captain, but there some papers I thought you ought to see."
Spencer kept his gun pointed at Moe, but hurriedly covered it underneath a newspaper on his desk. Spencer looked harried. Alsop moved in his usual firm but unhurried way towards Spencer. Alsop was carrying his elegant black leather attaché case, and took an impressive looking legal document out of it. "I think this might be the breakthrough in the McGuire case we've all been searching for," he said with quiet excitement. "The document names a holding company we can trace back through other sources." Alsop was standing next to Spencer now, smiling his friendly grin. "Look right here," he said, putting the document down on Spencer's desk, next to the newspaper and the gun. "Paragraph 45, section 9, subbullet 7."
Spencer bent his head over the document, to read the tiny legal print. With a deft gesture, Alsop had his arm around Spencer's neck in a choke hold, and efficiently squeezed Spencer into unconsciousness. With a big pantomimed "Sh" and finger to his lips directed at Moe, Alsop quietly picked up Spencer's phone. "McConnell," Alsop was saying in his well modulated voice, "the torts have arrived in Philadelphia."
Alsop opened his attaché case. He took out a pair of handcuffs, and snapped them on Spencer's wrists behind his inert back. He also plopped a spring gag from the briefcase into Spencer's mouth. He did all this with the casual unconcern of a man tying his shoelaces. He put Spencer's gun in his attaché case, took another gun out for himself, and snapped a wicked looking pair of flesh colored brass knuckles on his right hand. Alsop motioned Moe to stand away from the door to Spencer's office. Then Alsop went over, and quietly opened the door.
"Ah McConnell, glad you could bring the papers," Alsop said.
Moe could hear sudden thumps out in the lobby.
McConnell stuck his head in the door. "All clear, Lieutenant," he said respectfully. Moe entered the lobby. McConnell had choked Peterson with his nightstick, and was now handcuffing his inert form. Alsop had slugged Rafferty at his desk, with the brass knuckles. Rafferty was lying back unconscious in his swivel chair.
"Who are you guys?" Moe asked Alsop and McConnell. "I owe you my life."
"We're bodyguards from Mammoth-Art," Alsop said quietly. "Harry sent us."
"Alsop and McConnell are members of Mammoth-Art's security staff," Harry later explained. "They're the studio's top bodyguards. Each is an ace detective, in his own right. Normally they exclusively look after Mammoth-Art's interests, but Upshaw authorized an exception in your case, due to your long friendship with Mammoth-Art." J. D. Upshaw was the head of Mammoth-Art Studio.
McConnell told Moe that he frequently wore his LAPD Sergeant's uniforms on bodyguard duty. They were more effective at intimidating would-be crooks. McConnell also had a lot of policemen buddies, who'd told him stories about officers on the force.
"Rafferty and Peterson aren't real policemen anymore than I am," McConnell said. "They are mob muscle, imported from Kansas City. Spencer brought them in so he could have henchmen he could trust within the division."
"What's your real name?" Moe inquired of Alsop.
"Actually, Lieutenant," Alsop replied affably, "We change names for every case, as a security precaution. No one at the Studio knows our real names. You can call me Alsop for the duration of this case."
Jake arranged for Moe to bump "accidentally" into a party of Mammoth-Art Studio employees in a night club. Harry was in a black tuxedo and a top hat. Jake's actor friend Gregor von Hoffmansthal was in white tie and tails. Screenwriter Felicia Alburton was in a blue gown, with blue turquoise earrings and necklace. Jake was in that latest craze, a yachtsman's evening rig, a combination of a formal dress uniform of a ship's captain, and a tuxedo. He wore a beautifully tailored short white mess jacket, white evening shirt, black bow tie, black trousers, black patent leather evening shoes and a high-peaked white cap with a huge curving black visor. He looked glamorous and adventurous. Everything nautical was very big. Moe had last seen O'Ryan, McGillicudy and the rest of the drill team in the papers, in publicity photos made by Harry. The young men were depicted socializing on a yacht, wearing elegant navy blue yachtsmen's uniforms.
Moe, Jake, Harry, Greg and Felicia all sat at a secluded table in a corner of the nightclub.
"Making the photostats was Jake's idea," Harry told Moe.
"The Police Department had no money to do this," Jake said. "And I was afraid that if Mammoth-Art just went in and photocopied your records, our Studio staff would be the target of the mob. That's when I remembered Harry and his running duel with you over his police ringers. I asked Harry if he could get one of his fake officers alone in your office for a day, so he could photograph your records in secret, without anybody knowing. I also suggested that the cop should be someone who was a high authority figure, someone who's orders wouldn't be questioned by people at the division house. Harry came up with Captain Wilson, and his scheme with your own police Captain. Harry had been working on his Wilson ringer for months. No one would have any idea that the photocopying took place. If there were a traitor on your staff, he'd have no clue that the copying had taken place, or who'd done it. I still think we should keep the Studio's involvement with the case a secret."
Moe nodded in agreement. "These Carson boys play rough."
"When Jake was cut off on the phone with you," Felicia told Moe, "We were worried that you were in danger. I called up Alsop, pretending to be his wife. I gave him some coded hints that you were in danger. We had long worried that crooks might have a way of listening in on police station phone calls. It turns out that the switchboard operator, Peterson, was one of Spencer's confederates. Alsop went looking for you, and eventually found you in Spencer's office."
"How did the phantom cop and the door disappear that night?" Greg asked. He had just gotten back in town from a movie shoot in Arizona.
"The whole wall along the back of the room was just a cardboard prop," Jake explained. "It was just three feet away from the real wall. In the dim light, it looked enough like a wall to pass muster, when seen at a distance by Moe. It had a door in it, through which the phantom cop temporarily went. He was then in a narrow, three feet wide space, between the real back wall of the room, and the fake cardboard wall stretched out in front of it. The light switch was in the real back wall of the room. The ghost cop turned it off, plunging the room in darkness. After the lights went off, the ghost cop folded up the cardboard wall, and left by the side door of the storeroom, carrying the cardboard wall with him. He went back to the broom closet area, where both the wall and the phantom cop costume were kept. He changed back into his regular police uniform.
"The phantom cop was Rafferty. He was Spencer's man, and part of the Carson mob. Spencer gave him an alibi, saying he was with him at various times of the crimes."
Moe's evidence was enough to shut down Carson's drug trading ring, and send Carson and his henchmen to prison for twenty years. Moe leaked copies of the records to the press, and City Hall had no choice but to prosecute, given the public outcry.
The police department was deeply embarrassed by the scandal of Captain Spencer's involvement. The idea that a police Captain could bomb his own station house was horrifying. A City Hall bigwig decided that the best way to deal with the situation was to play up the heroism of Lt. Apfelbaum in the press. When Harry Callaway got wind of this, Mammoth-Art Studio immediately volunteered to handle the publicity. Harry and the Studio had long publicized police department benefits, as a good will gesture.
Harry soon had Moe appearing in a series of photographs, that depicted him as a fearless crusader against gangsterdom. While Moe's real work against the mob had involved the endless gathering of evidence, Harry preferred a more dramatic manhunter image of Moe. Harry also planned to get Moe a series of new suits.
"We have to get Lt. Apfelbaum a whole new look," Harry told the Police Commissioner breathlessly. "He needs to look like a crusading cop in the movies. This is necessary to convey the Right Image."
Moe was soon under orders from his (new) superior in the LAPD to report to the costume department at Mammoth-Art Studio for a fitting. There Harry introduce Moe to a middle-aged tailor named Ambrosio Perlucci.
"Mr. Perlucci here is the Studio's top creator of men's clothes," Harry told Moe. "He designs the suits and evening wear of all of Mammoth-Art's male stars."
Perlucci was a slim, medium sized man, with bushy eyebrows and black eyes. He was soft-spoken, but intense in his personality. Moe had the impression that he was an imperious man in his own domain, and something of an absolute authority figure when it came to men's couture. Moe could see him laying down the law to Mammoth-Art stars and directors alike, when it came to what clothes should be worn on screen.
Moe had soon found himself with a whole new wardrobe of six sharp "tough cop" suits, with matching hats, ties and shoes, all provided at Mammoth-Art's expense, and orders from the Department to wear them. Suddenly Moe found himself looking like everyone's idea of an incorruptible authority figure. There was even a tough looking tuxedo, that made Moe look like he were about to raid a night club, and arrest all the gangsters within it.
Harry's photos of Moe in his new suits, raiding underworld establishments, became fixtures in the LA papers. There were also shots of Moe with his men, shaking their hands, and officially wishing them good luck on their mission. Moe never looked quite as official in real life, as Harry made him look in these tough, authoritative, jut-jawed portraits.
When Moe returned to the Studio costume department for a final fitting of the suits, Harry was there as well.
"Gosh, Lieutenant, you look swell," was Harry's comment when he saw Moe in his new suits. Moe did look razor sharp, in a forceful, heroic, authority figure sort of way. "We'll be taking lots more pictures before all this is over," Harry continued, "and you look like a million dollars."
The tailor at the Studio who had created the six heroic tough guy suits asked Moe whether he really wanted to dress like a manhunter in the movies. "Lieutenant, what would you like to look like?" Ambrosio Perlucci questioned him in his quiet voice. "Nobody has ever asked you."
"I like the gentlemanly suits Alsop wears," Moe said diffidently.
"I did all of those for him," the tailor replied with a smile.
"That's not the image we are trying to project here!" Harry interjected. "We need the manhunter look."
"The Lieutenant has good taste," the tailor stated quietly but authoritatively.
"OK," Harry conceded, "we'll throw in a half dozen additional suits with the District Attorney look, like Alsop wears, too. The Lieutenant can wear the manhunter suits for the publicity pictures, and the high-toned DA style suits for speaking to civic organizations." Harry had set up Moe for a series of speeches and awards at the LA Chamber of Commerce, and other local business groups. "The Lieutenant should be better dressed than all these businessmen to whom he will be speaking."
Perlucci looked pleased. "Three pinstripes, two dark charcoals, a gray nailhead, some tweeds for the country, two double-breasted navy suits for official occasions, and three light gray suits for summer wear would be the minimum we could get by with," the tailor stated. "All subtly different, of course."
"Okay," Harry said, "you've sold me."
"We'll make you a set of white tie and tails to go along with them, and a cutaway for daytime formal events," Perlucci said thoughtfully. "A gentleman should be prepared for all occasions."
"He can wear them if we take his picture with the Mayor or Police Commissioner," Harry added.
"You will need the right hats for all of these," the tailor continued. He was on a roll.
"We should throw in some outfits for golf and tennis, too, and a white suit for parties," Harry said. "Plus a yachtsman's rig."
Moe was dazed, but Harry and the tailor swept all before them.
Harry wanted to get Moe Army, Navy and Marine Corps officers' dress uniforms, too, but Moe put his foot down. Moe had been through the horrors of the world war in 1918.
"I always swore that when I got out of the service, that I'd never wear a military uniform again," the determinedly pacifist Moe told Harry.
When he got the second set of refined suits a week later, Moe had to admit that the original tough cop suits went better with his job. Investigating a shooting at a speakeasy, or grilling a felon at headquarters seemed to require a hard-boiled look. Moe did look like the new sheriff in town in these tough suits. But whenever his work brought him in contact with people who did not carry concealed weapons or brass knuckles, Moe tried to wear his more gentlemanly clothes. Moe was amazed at how comfortable they felt. He was always surprised, too, at how they seemed to have a cheering effect on everyone around him. Their spruce good looks seemed to give everybody a lift. In his white tie and tails, Moe looked like he was the host of the most wonderful party imaginable.
Esther and Moe went to the symphony every week, at the Hollywood Bowl. She and their kids had long since rejoined Moe in LA. Esther was amazed when Moe came home the night of the next concert, in white tie, top hat and tails, and carrying a huge bouquet of flowers for her. Esther was highly pleased, however. She had been urging Moe to upgrade his wardrobe for years. "I'm comfortable with all my old clothes," he'd always tell her.
Moe was speaking at an elementary school, to a room full of first graders. Esther was with him. The teacher introduced Moe as the man who had gotten rid of the drug dealers near their school.
After Moe's brief speech, a little boy stood up. He told Moe, "When I grow up, I want to be a policeman like you."
Esther noticed that Moe was responding to this. She hurriedly excused the two of them, and went with Moe to a cloak room outside the class. Esther shut the door. She held Moe in her arms, as he sobbed his heart out on her shoulder.