Mystery Stories Home Page
Copyright 2004 by Michael E. Grost
A Jacob Black "Impossible Crime" Mystery
By Michael E. Grost
The murder was seen. An unimpeachable witness saw the killing take place. Yet the killer seemingly vanished from the murder room as if he were a phantom, or could travel through the fifth dimension. The killer left behind a room with a locked window, and a bolted door. How could this have happened?
All of this took place, not in a Gothic mansion in the country, but in an ordinary office building. In Los Angeles, California, on a sunny Friday morning in 1924.
Later that day, an army of police traipsed around the victim's office. Here is a diagram they made of the office.
The crime was seen by Sy Bernstein, a highly respectable and honest businessman. The reader can rest assured that Sy Bernstein told the police everything that he saw, and as accurately and as best as he understood it. Still, the story Bernstein told seemed absolutely impossible.
Sy Bernstein was on his way to an important business meeting. Bernstein was Vice President in Charge of Business Development at Mammoth-Art Studios in Hollywood. He was meeting a New York financier, Albert Z. Peterson, to raise capital for Mammoth-Art's next year of filmmaking. Sy was 55, balding, and of above average height. His eyesight was excellent.
The Cowman Building was a typical looking office building in downtown Los Angeles, nothing fancy, but respectable. The upper floors were filled with furnished offices, that could be rented by the day or week by out of town businessmen visiting Los Angeles. Peterson was just in Los Angeles for a few days, and had rented an office there. There was a large lobby on the ground floor, and an elevator and stairs leading above. Sy entered the waiting elevator.
"Albert Z. Peterson's office," Sy told the elevator operator. The red-haired operator consulted his sheet, and started the fast elevator in motion upwards. Sy was the only passenger. Occupancy in the building was low, and there were not many people around. In fact, the elevator operator and a lady talking Russian with a friend in the lobby were the only three people Sy had seen.
"Eighth floor," the operator soon said, opening the elevator door. "Mr. Peterson is the first door on the left, around the corner." Sy soon found the office.
A plain cardboard sign on the closed office door, said "Albert Z. Peterson". Sy could see a man sitting at a desk through the large glass window panel in the door. The panel glass was wavy. It blurred outlines a little bit. Sy could not make out the man's features clearly through the panel. But he could see the man's blue suit, his large desk, and even an open window in the back wall of the office. Sy knocked on the door.
"Enter," a polite voice called out.
The man at the desk rose in friendly greeting. "Albert Z. Peterson," he introduced himself. Peterson was a handsome man of around fifty, with a charming smile. He was very well dressed in a well-tailored but quiet blue business suit. He motioned Sy to a chair in front of the desk, and resumed his seat behind it. Peterson radiated prosperity and confidence.
The office was simple, even Spartan. It was a simple rectangle. It had a door, in its South wall, the one through which Sy had entered. It had but a single window, in the far North wall. This was the window Sy had already noticed when first looking through the door. The window was open. Aside from the desk and two chairs, the other main furniture was a large bookcase, around seven feet high and ten feet wide, on the left hand, West wall of the room. The bookcase was completely empty, its wide shelves gathering dust. There was also a screen in one corner.
Sy's business with Peterson was highly confidential. Peterson had closed the door to the office. But he had not locked the door, or dropped down the bolt that could lie in a metal slot on the inside door frame.
"Here is the prospectus," Sy told Peterson. Sy handed him a twenty page typewritten document. "It outlines all of Mammoth-Art Studio's business plans for the coming year."
Peterson took the document, and placed in a drawer in the desk in front of him.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Bernstein," Peterson replied. Peterson gave Sy his biggest and most charming smile. "I can assure you that it will be read with the utmost care. On Monday, I will get back with you, and share with you and the Studio my thoughts at that time." Peterson made a hand gesture, politely but firmly signally that the business meeting was over.
Sy was nonplused. "I came prepared today for a complete discussion of the proposed business plan," Sy said to Peterson tentatively. "If you have any questions, please call me at Mammoth-Art."
Sy was puzzled. Peterson's reputation in financial circles was that of a hardcase. Sy had expected a relentless grilling. And Peterson was known as a ferocious antagonist and negotiator. Why was he being so charming to Sy?
Perhaps Peterson had another meeting soon, and wanted to get rid of Sy as fast as possible.
"It has been a great pleasure meeting you," Peterson said, standing up. He showed Sy to the door.
After Sy left the room, he could hear Peterson drop the bolt on the inside of the closed office door.
Sy wandered into the lobby by the elevator. It was still deserted. Before summoning the elevator to take him down to the ground floor, Sy paused to think.
"I did not even get a chance to warn Peterson to keep the business plan confidential," Sy realized. "If the details leaked out to Mammoth-Art's competitors, they could make millions at the Studio's expense. It might not be a bad idea to mention this to Peterson."
Sy retraced his steps, the short distance to Peterson's office.
He was about to knock, when he saw strange things through the glass panel in the door.
Two men were fighting in Peterson's office. They were locked in fierce combat, near the open window in the rear wall of the office.
Sy could not make out their faces, blurred by the door's wavy glass panel. One was a man in a blue suit. Sy guessed that was Peterson. The other was wearing a full-length camel's hair coat, with the collar turned up, and a hat that prevented Sy from seeing his hair. His back was to Sy and the door. The man in the camel's hair coat had the other man in a death grip.
With a final lunge, the man in the camel's hair coat lifted the man in the blue suit up. He threw the man in the blue suit out the open window. There was a terrifying scream from the man in the blue suit, as he plunged out the window, plummeting to his death.
The man in the camel's hair coat closed the window. And apparently locked it, although this was hard for Sy to see through the wavy glass door panel. Then the man moved rapidly to the left of the office. He was out of Sy's field of vision at the door, and Sy could no longer see him.
Sy was horrified. But he had always been a decisive person in a crisis.
Sy took his studio identification card, and stuck it through the door frame. He used it to lift up the bolt, on the other side of the door. Then he threw open the door, and went into the office.
It was completely empty.
The room's one window was still closed. Sy had not taken his eyes off it since he had seen the man thrown out it.
Sy was amazed. He could see the entire room at a glance, from the doorway.
No one was inside.
However, Sy could not see under the cubbyhole of the desk. He gingerly walked forward to the desk, and peeked under it.
The cubbyhole was empty.
Sy moved over and stood by the still closed window. From there, he could glance behind the screen. No one was behind the screen. The screen merely concealed an empty coat rack, a simple standing metal pole with hooks on it.
Sy also looked at the bookcase. It was flush against the wall. No one could be hiding behind it, or on either side of it. Or on top of it.
Looking in the cubbyhole and behind the screen had taken Sy less than ten seconds. He had hardly taken his eye off the window to do so.
Sy unlocked and opened the window, and looked out. Far below, he could see the crowds gathered around the body on the sidewalk.
Sy had a sudden moment of panic. What would happen if someone got ahold of the document? It would be disastrous if Mammoth-Art's rivals learned its contents. Sy closed and locked the window, and moved back to the desk. Sy opened the drawer where he had seen Peterson place the document.
A few other documents were there. But Sy's business plan was missing.
Sy hurriedly opened the other desk drawers. None of them contained his precious document.
Sy went back out into the deserted hallway. He rang for the elevator. Soon it arrived. The operator took him down to the ground floor. Sy went out the lobby, out the building, and immediately found a policeman on the next corner.
Jacob Black, known to his friends as Jake, was a scriptwriter at Mammoth-Art Studio. Jake was a gifted amateur sleuth, who had worked with the Los Angeles police as an unofficial consultant on many cases. Jake was thirty years old, and was wearing a spiffy charcoal gray business suit.
Jake was in his cubicle at the Writer's Building when a call came though from J. D. Upshaw, the head of Mammoth-Art Studio.
"Black," Upshaw's unmistakable voice told Jake over the wire. "We need your detective skills immediately. The guard will take you to the crime scene. Give it your all!"
Jake had hardly a chance to say "yes, sir" when the studio security guard arrived. He was wearing a motorcycle cop's uniform, and hustled Jake downstairs. Jake recognized the cop - it was Al Kucinich, one of the Studio's top security guards, a muscular man in his twenties. Al led Jake to his motorcycle, parked in front of the Writer's Building. He handed Jake a black leather helmet, and urged him to put it on. It matched an identical helmet Al was wearing, as part of his head-to-toe black leather motorcycle cop uniform.
"We're going to make a fast trip," Al told Jake with a grin.
Al seated himself on the motorcycle, and had Jake sit down right behind him.
"Wrap your arms around my waist," Al ordered, "and hang on tight!"
Al varoomed away from the curb. Jake had never been on a motorbike before. He found it both exciting and terrifying. Jake clung to Al for all he was worth, and prayed that Al would not have an accident. After the most frightening ten minutes of Jake's life, they pulled up at the Cowman Building.
Jake's policeman friend, Los Angeles Homicide Lieutenant Moe Apfelbaum, was already there. He greeted Jake warmly, and filled him in on the details.
"We've sealed off the building," Moe told Jake. "People can only exit through the front lobby. Everyone who leaves is searched by the police, looking for Mammoth-Art's missing business plan. Sy Bernstein is there with the police, ready to identify the missing document if it is found.
"I made record time getting here," Moe added with a grin. "Your colleague Bernstein called Studio head Upshaw, who called the Police Commissioner, who called me. And half the police force in LA. Upshaw has clout! The Commissioner also got search warrants from a judge, to look for the document. Unscrupulous rivals of Mammoth-Art will pay a fortune for the missing business plan."
As the head of a Hollywood studio, Upshaw had the power wielded by the Medicis in Renaissance Florence. The police and City Hall jumped to do his bidding. Jake was not sure if he entirely approved. Still, Upshaw's needs were strictly on the side of the law here. A man had been murdered and an invaluable document stolen. Upshaw wanted the killer arrested and the document found - not necessarily in that order. Within ten minutes of the crime, the Cowman Building was swarming with police.
The building was also full of Mammoth-Art security guards, sent in by Upshaw. They were in navy blue police uniforms, utterly official and authoritative looking. They looked much better than the real police, and far more authentic. There were also a half a dozen Mammoth-Art motorcycle cops in the street outside the building, astride huge black motorbikes. All were garbed in the same spectacular motorcycle uniform that Al was wearing. The black leather uniforms were a cross between an air pilot's flying gear, and a police motorcycle uniform. The sharp uniforms attracted a lot of attention. Many of the young men who worked in the district were crowding around the studio motorcycle cops, asking them all about their work at Mammoth-Art. Jake couldn't blame them. Al did look like the hero of a pulp magazine detective story in his black leather uniform. The uniforms were designed to exude the glamorous image, that was so important to a movie studio. Jake noticed one young man in particular, who was talking excitedly to Al, and asking questions about every detail of his uniform.
The policeman guarding the body on the sidewalk told Jake and Moe, "There are no documents in this man's pockets or jacket."
"Could someone have stolen the missing business plan from the body?" Jake asked.
"I don't think so," the officer replied. "My corner is just down the street. I got here just a few seconds after he fell. And I searched the body right away. There was nothing on him like the papers you described. He carried a wallet and a watch. That was it. The wallet has around two hundred dollars in it, and lots of cards identifying him as Albert Z. Peterson. Both Peterson's New York driver's license, and several men's club ID's, have photos on them that match the body."
"I saw him fall," a man named Harrigan added. "No one went near the body before the officer arrived." Harrigan was a man around thirty, with sandy blond hair, wearing a gray business suit. He worked as an insurance agent, in an office down the street from the Cowman Building.
Jake wondered if Harrigan had stolen the papers from the body. But it seemed unlikely. Harrigan would have had to have been down on the street, waiting for the body to land, ready to search it right after it fell.
"We also searched Harrigan here", the officer told Moe and Jake. "Harrigan did not have the papers on him. He would have to have removed them from the body right after it landed, then concealed them somewhere out of sight. We also searched the surrounding street, but found nothing."
"Probably the man in the camel's hair coat had already put the business papers in his pocket," Jake said, "before Sy returned to witness the killing. Then the man in the coat took them with him when he somehow disappeared from the room."
An ambulance drove up. "This man is still alive," the ambulance intern told a surprised Moe and Jake.
"That awning broke his fall," Harrigan said, pointing to a large, partially collapsed awning above an entrance to the Cowman Building.
The attendants loaded Peterson on a stretcher into the ambulance, and took off, siren blaring.
"You must be Jacob Black," a uniformed police officer told Jake, back in the lobby of the Cowman Building. "Lt. Sean Patrick Murphy," the impressive-looking officer said, introducing himself to Jake. He clasped Jake's hand in a strong grip. "Pleased to meet you, son."
"Pleased to meet you too, sir," Jake found himself saying.
Lt. Murphy was a tall, handsome man of around 50. His muscular build was emphasized by the well-tailored navy blue police uniform he wore. The good looking, fatherly Murphy seemed like everybody's image of a top cop in the movies. It took a few minutes for Jake to realize that Lt. Murphy was an officer of the Mammoth-Art Studio Police, one of the Studio security guards, and not a real cop. His uniform's elaborate looking insignia were not those of the LAPD, although they looked far more official. The insignia read SPA. Jake knew that SP stood for the Studio Police, but was unsure what the A meant.
Lt. Murphy had kind looking eyes.
"Come upstairs to our command headquarters," Lt. Murphy told Jake. The Lieutenant gently took hold of Jake's elbow, and steered him towards the elevator.
After Jake and Murphy reached the eighth floor, the officer took Jake to the office across from Peterson's. "This office was empty this morning," Lt. Murphy told Jake. "Too bad, because no one was here to witness anything in Peterson's office across the hall. But we've rented it now, to be Mammoth-Art Security Headquarters for the investigation." Lt. Murphy ushered Jake inside.
Three men in navy blue Police Sergeant's uniforms came to attention, and saluted Lt. Murphy. The three were built like gorillas. "At Ease!" Lt. Murphy told his men. Sgt. Boyle looked tough and intimidating. He was tapping his nightstick against his hand. Sgt. Foley was seated in front of a complicated-looking portable radio broadcasting unit, which was in communication with the Studio. Sgt. Clancy looked friendly and good natured. He went over and slapped Jake on the back. The trim, brand new looking uniforms of the three men fit them like gloves. Whoever had designed the uniforms had created them to call attention to their wearer's musculature.
"We received a call on the radio that you were coming," Sgt. Foley told Jake friendily. "And a description of you." Foley had a pleasant, business-like voice. Like his fellow Sergeants, he was around Jake's age, thirty. Like his brother officers, he had a clean cut look, with short, freshly trimmed hair, polished belt buckle and collar insignia, and recently spit shined black leather boots. The fierce looking Sgt. Boyle was black haired, Sgt. Foley was a wavy dark blond, and Sgt. Clancy was a classic red-headed Irishman. The three Mammoth-Art security guards looked like the idealized image of Police Sergeants in the movies, both rough and tumble, and spit and polish. Not for the first time since he came to Hollywood, Jake felt he was in the presence of a glamorous, entertaining, movie-land version of things that was not quite real. The classy looking Lt. Murphy and his muscle-man Sergeants looked right out of Central Casting.
"If there is anything we can do, son," Lt. Murphy told Jake, "to help your investigation, just let us know. We also rented the office next door, which was unoccupied this morning too. You can use it to make phone calls, or interview people." At a signal from Lt. Murphy, Sgt. Clancy tossed Jake the office key. You could see Sgt. Clancy's shoulders and chest muscles rippling under the fabric of his close fitting uniform.
"Good catch!" Sgt. Clancy told Jake. "Did you play baseball in high school?"
"Only on vacant lots," Jake told him, with a grin. Jake had never been athletic in school. But he had been working out at one of the Studio gyms ever since he came to Mammoth-Art, trying to build up his muscles. Jake's friend Greg had urged Jake to take advantage of the free fitness training Mammoth-Art staff received there.
"We also have master keys for the Cowman Building," Lt. Murphy told Jake. "They will open up every office, door and desk in the Building. We've had copies made for our officers." The Lieutenant pointed to impressive sets of keys that dangled from the wide leather uniform belts of the three Sergeants. "They'll even open the maintenance lockers, the elevators, the cash register in the lunch room, and the stalls in the men's room."
"Yes, Sir! We can penetrate anything in this building, sir," Sgt. Boyle said aggressively, "whether people want us to or not."
Sgt. Foley and Sgt. Clancy nodded happily in agreement.
Two picture perfect Mammoth-Art security guards in navy blue police uniforms let Jake into Peterson's office. Both were of Corporal's rank, with two chevrons on their sleeves. They saluted Jake smartly, then resumed their guard duty in the hall outside Peterson's door. Their polished badges gleamed in the bright noon time sunshine that flooded the Cowman Building. Both men looked much more like policemen, than most of the real police in the building did.
Jake examined the window in Peterson's office. It seemed like a perfectly ordinary window. It contained two large panes. The lower could move up and down; the upper was fixed in place. When the bottom pane was completely lowered, it could be fastened and locked by turning a small metal handle that fastened against a metal catch on the upper pane. The window had no curtains. And its pull-down blind was rolled up to the very top of the window, out of the way. Sy had told Jake and Moe that the blind had been rolled up during his entire visit to the office.
Jake unlocked the window and looked out. Directly below, a long way down, Jake could see the torn awning that had broken Peterson's fall, saving his life.
Jake closed and locked the window again. For the life of him, Jake could not understand how Peterson's would-be killer had escaped from the office. Sy had had the office door and window under observation from the time of the murder onward. And both were locked or bolted from the inside. So the killer could not have left through them.
It all seemed impossible.
Jake had Sy and Al up looking at Peterson's office. It was Sy's first trip back upstairs from the lobby, after the murder.
"Tell me if anything looks odd," Jake told Sy politely. Sy and Jake were casually acquainted at the Studio. Sy started poking around the office.
"The coat rack behind the screen has a hat on it!" Sy said. "When I looked at the coat rack after the murder, it was empty and bare."
The hat was a conventional man's hat, such as any businessman might wear. Jake examined it. It had Albert Z. Peterson's name in the hat band.
"This is presumably the hat Peterson wore today," Jake said. No man would ever go out on the street dressed for business, without a hat. "Are you sure it was not there after the killing?"
"Positive!" Sy replied.
Al Kucinich unzipped a pocket on his leather motorcycle uniform, and took out a miniature camera. He started photographing the hat from every angle. Al was an expert photographer.
"I just met your colleagues, Sergeants Boyle, Foley and Clancy," Jake told Al. "It is a new experience for me, working with the Mammoth-Art security guards."
"Actually, I don't know them myself," Al replied. "They must be in a different division of the Mammoth-Art Studio Police from me."
Sy kept exploring the room, while Jake started meditating deeply on the case.
Jake had a thought. The large bookcase was on wheels. It was not attached to the wall. What if there were something behind it, such as a door to the hall? This would be a simple explanation of the locked room. The killer could have left the room through such a door. And Sy would not have been able to see this, from where he stood at the wavy glass panel after the killing. The far left, Western wall of the room was out of Sy's field of vision during and after the attempted murder.
Jake easily pushed the empty bookcase, with one hand. It was surprisingly light, and moved smoothly over the room's linoleum floor.
He wheeled it out into the center of the room. There was nothing behind it, but a solid wall.
"Well, that explodes that theory," Jake said with a grin.
Jake also looked at the back of the bookcase. It was made of a thin piece of plywood, around an eighth of an inch thick. The shelves in the bookcase went all the way back to this plywood back panel. There was clearly no way any hiding place could be made in the book case, big enough to contain the killer.
Jake went over to the desk. He pulled out all the drawers. All were way too small to have concealed a man, or even a child. The desk looked completely ordinary. There were business papers in several of the drawers.
Jake wheeled the bookcase back over to the wall. The overhead ceiling light cast a bright glow on the top of the bookcase. Jake could see the top of the bookcase clearly.
"Sy is around the same height I am," Jake said to Al. "I'm sure he would have seen anyone on top of the case when he entered the room." Sy nodded vigorously.
Jake had Sy look through the desk.
"Are you sure the document is not buried in the other papers?" Jake asked.
Sy kept looking, but shook his head.
"It's just not here," Sy concluded. Sy thought a bit. "But the papers in the desk look a bit different somehow now, than when I saw them right after the murder."
"Different?" Jake said. "In what way?"
"I don't know," Sy said after a pause. "They just look a little different."
"Could there have been a man hidden inside the desk after the murder? Jake asked. "Could some papers have covered a hidden compartment in the desk, where the killer hid?"
Sy thought about this. "I'm pretty sure that isn't true," he said at last. "I rifled through the papers, searching for my document. All the drawers looked perfectly normal. And I pulled them out all the way. I was afraid that my document might have gotten jammed in the back of one of the drawers. It's just that the papers in it look different now, somehow."
"All right," Jake said encouragingly. "If you get any more ideas, please let us know."
Sy and Al went back downstairs, to renew the searches going on in the ground floor lobby. Jake went with them.
Al and his brother motorcycle officers stood guard outside the various doors of the Cowman Building, helping to ensure no one left without being searched by Moe's men. This was a rare excursion for any of the Mammoth-Art motorcycle cops off the Studio grounds. The Studio did not believe it was safe to ride motorcycles off of carefully prepared racetracks, and never let its cops ride their motorbikes on regular city streets. After his one ride today, Jake fully agreed. The risk of accidents was too great. Jake planned never to ride a motorcycle on a street again. It was too dangerous.
Reporters were beginning to catch on that something was happening at the Cowman Building. Several were outside the front doors of the Building, trying to get in past the police barricade. However, Mammoth-Art security guards, such as Sergeants Boyle, Foley and Clancy, passed in and out of the building freely. The three Sergeants looked so much like genuine police officers that even the real policemen guarding the Cowman Building seemed convinced that they were the real thing. None of the trio was especially good looking by Hollywood standards. They were just a bunch of ordinary, average-looking joes. But with their ultra sharp uniforms, confident manner and ready smiles, Sgt. Boyle, Sgt. Foley and Sgt. Clancy sure seemed like handsome galoots.
Jake saw Lt. Murphy's three muscle-bound Sergeants slip away outside with reporters from various papers. Sgt. Clancy, grinning like a big, dumb, ox, went into a lunch room next door with the reporter from the LA Daily Watch. The ferocious Sgt. Boyle grabbed a grizzled veteran reporter from the Chronicle, and took him into an alley. Even the serious looking Sgt. Foley was talking quietly to young Peters of the Tribune-Mirror, in the entrance way to a candy store next door. Outside, the sunlight gleamed with blinding brilliance off the badges on the men's high-peaked uniform caps.
It seemed odd to Jake that the three security guards would leave in the middle of an investigation. Jake wondered if Lt. Murphy knew his three Sergeants were AWOL, and talking secretly to the press.
The three Sergeants were among the tallest men in the crowd. They really looked imposing. Jake noticed all of a sudden that there were substantial lifts in the three men's black leather boots. The lifts were cleverly disguised - Jake would not have observed this, except for having similar lifts in a Mammoth-Art movie costume pointed out to him on a recent visit to a film set. The lifts added maybe five inches to each of the Sergeants' heights. The lifts were almost impossible to see, being part of each Sergeant's mirror-shined boots. The enormously high peaked police uniform caps each man wore also added to the illusion of height.
Jake was further perturbed to see the Chronicle reporter give Sgt. Boyle two tickets to a ball game after their meeting.
A guilty looking Sgt. Boyle stuffed the tickets inside the tunic of his police uniform. Boyle clenched his fists.
"If you ever tell anyone about our talks," Sgt. Boyle told him grimly, "You'll have to answer to me."
Young Peters had no bribe for Sgt. Foley, but he did offer him thanks, on his way back to the Cowman Building.
"This is my first job as a cub reporter," a grateful looking Peters told Sgt. Foley. "You're sure a pal to help me out."
"Think nothing of it, kid," Sgt. Foley told him, beaming friendily down on Peters from his apparent height. "But remember to keep it on the QT. I could get in trouble with the Lieut if word got out we're talking." The good natured Foley gave Peters a huge grin.
Sgt. Clancy had finished his snack in the lunch room with the reporter. Jake had seen the two of them through the lunch room window, with Sgt. Clancy munching happily through a big bowl of fresh fruit. The reporter had taken notes on everything Clancy said.
Jake suddenly realized something. He had not seen Sergeants Boyle, Foley and Clancy involved in the investigation at all. Al Kucinich and his fellow motorcycle cops had been heavily involved in guarding the doors of the Cowman Building, assisting the real police in their search for the missing business plan. But Jake had not seen Lt. Murphy or the Sergeants since he left them in the office across Peterson's.
Jake had only Lt. Murphy's word that Murphy and his men really were Mammoth-Art security guards. What if they were impostors? Al Kucinich hadn't known the Sergeants. And the four men said they had just rented the offices upstairs. What if they had actually been in that office earlier that morning, during the attack on Peterson? The office was right across from Peterson's. The full-length camel's hair coat worn by the killer could cover up a police uniform, as well as a suit.
The three Sergeants seemed like a trio of overgrown, good-natured roughnecks, done up in a series of spit and polish uniforms. But what were they really like, underneath this facade? They could be hired thugs, or con men, or private eyes, or undercover federal agents.
Jake brought Al Kucinich up to the office across from Peterson's. He knocked on the door.
"Enter!" Lt. Murphy's voice called out from the office. The Lieutenant was alone there, seated at the desk. He kindly had Jake sit down in the visitor's chair in front of the desk.
Al Kucinich, whose black leather motorcycle uniform bore shiny silver Sergeant's insignia, saluted the Lieutenant smartly. The Lieutenant stood up, and returned Al Kucinich's salute. Lt. Murphy walked over to the front of the desk.
"Pleased to see you again, Sergeant," the Lieutenant told him with his fatherly smile. Al plainly recognized Lt. Murphy.
Al and Lt. Murphy called each other "Sergeant" and "Lieutenant", with an easy camaraderie. Sgt. Kucinich and Lt. Murphy made some small talk, about recent events in the Studio Police. Both men clearly knew each other. Jake certainly knew Al, and Al knew Lt. Murphy. So Murphy and his men were not impostors. Or, Jake reflected, if Sergeants Boyle, Foley and Clancy were non-Studio impostors, Murphy at least would have to know all about it.
Jake looked up from his chair, to where the two officers stood over him. Sgt. Kucinich and Lt. Murphy did look impressive in their police uniforms. Al had at some point swapped his motorcycle helmet, for a police-style uniform cap. Aside from its black visor and silver badge, the glamorous, razor-sharp cap was made of the same shiny black leather as Al's uniform. Al's gleaming cap was as imposing and as high peaked as the Lieutenant's, further exaggerating the men's height. There was something visually fascinating about the dramatic, upward curve of the men's huge caps.
Sgt. Foley came in, and saluted the Lieutenant. He resumed his station at the radio. The portable radio station, and the chair next to it where Sgt. Foley sat, were both really high. They were designed to make Sgt. Foley look enormously tall, even sitting down. The lights at the top of the radio set included small spotlights that shone brilliantly on the Sergeant's chest badge, and on his glittering boots. Jake began to realize that the radio station was probably designed by one of the Studio's art directors. It was the sort of furniture that the Studio included in its films to glamorize its stars.
"I was wondering what time you and the Sergeants arrived here today," Jake said, looking up at Lt. Murphy. "And whether you saw anyone in the hallway outside Peterson's office."
"Boyle, Foley, Clancy and I came over as a group from Mammoth-Art," Lt. Murphy testified. "We arrived here an estimated twenty minutes after the crime. The hallway was filled with policemen and Mammoth-Art security guards, but no civilians. The crime scene, Peterson's office, had been secured five minutes previously by Lt. Moe Apfelbaum of the Los Angeles Police Department and his men. A search was already in progress for the stolen Mammoth-Art business plan." Lt. Murphy brought out this summary with effortless ease. He smiled his good-natured smile at Jake. "Hope this helps you out, son."
Sgt. Foley's radio was crackling away - you could hear echoes of it coming from the headphones Sgt. Foley wore. Sgt. Foley transcribed the radio broadcast, his fingers typing away with astonishing rapidity on a machine next to the radio. "A message for you, sir," Sgt. Foley said, handing the paper to Lt. Murphy. He stood at attention and saluted Lt. Murphy, with his usual razor-sharp precision. The Studio Police all saluted each other much more than any real police ever did.
"Have you ever worked a radio, Jake?" Sgt. Foley asked him friendlily. He motioned for Jake to come over. "Have a seat, Jake," the Sergeant added. He pulled out a second built-in seat, connected by hinges to the underside of the table.
"Thanks, Sgt. Foley," Jake said. Jake loved technology, and was eager to see the radio. Jake sat down. The seat was very comfortable. It was a lot lower than the Sergeant's chair. Jake found himself looking up at the Sergeant, who towered above him in his chair, looking taller and more gigantic than ever.
Foley was soon giving a fascinated Jake a brief demonstration of how to use the radio. The friendly Sergeant turned out to be an excellent explainer of technology.
"You're a good teacher, Sergeant," Jake said, getting up to go back to work on the case. Jake mentally resolved to ask the Sergeant for a second lesson after the case was over, and he had more time. It would probably take several sessions with the Sergeant, to learn all about the complex radio. The radio displayed countless glowing dials, gauges, signal lights, control levers, control sticks and buttons. Most of them contained cryptic but intriguing labels, which the Sergeant had no trouble explaining.
"Dismissed!" Lt. Murphy told Sgt. Kucinich and Jake.
Jake and Al left. Out in the stairway, Jake asked Al, "What do the initials SPA stand for on the Lieutenant's uniform?"
"Studio Police Academy," Al replied. "Lt. Murphy is in charge of the Training Program for Mammoth-Art Studio Police. He's a superb trainer of men." The bright sunlight in the window-filled stairwell gleamed off Al Kucinich's broad shoulders. Al's shiny black leather uniform glowed in the light.
"Lt. Murphy regularly introduces the Studio Police to Studio visitors, too." Al went on. "It really wows a lot of guys. Six months after they visit Mammoth-Art, they are still talking about the Studio Police. Thomas Meighan just loved it. Every time he comes to Mammoth-Art he asks to see Lt. Murphy." Meighan was a big movie star. "It's very good Public Relations for the studio. Lt. Murphy probably spends two thirds of his time with Studio visitors."
Officer Thomas O'Brien reported to Lt. Moe Apfelbaum, in the ground floor lobby. The young policeman had long been part of Moe's Homicide squad.
"We found the camel's hair coat and hat," O'Brien told Moe. "They were in a broom closet on the third floor."
"Presumably, the killer ditched them there," Moe said, "so he would not be caught wearing them."
Moe had them shown to Sy.
"They look like the same coat and hat I saw the killer wear," Sy told them.
Jake noticed a small grate in the floor of Peterson's office, over near the corner with the screen. The grate was around half a foot on each side, and probably used for heating in the winter. The grate was far too small to let any human being through it, even the smallest child. Jake did not see what it could have to do with the disappearance of the man in the camel's hair coat.
Jake could hear sounds coming from the grate. It sounded like a woman talking in Russian, a language Jake did not speak. Jake guessed that the voice was coming from the office directly below Peterson's, on the seventh floor. Jake also heard noises from above. He looked up, and saw a similar grate above him in the ceiling. Presumably the noises were coming from the office directly above Peterson's, on the ninth floor.
A thought occurred to Jake. If he could hear the occupants of the offices above and below, maybe they could hear him too. Perhaps one of them had heard part of the murder that morning. Or some other clue. Jake decided to investigate.
Jake was interviewing the woman with the office downstairs from Peterson's, on the seventh floor. She was Anna Petrovna Gorky, a White Russian businesswoman, in town temporarily to arrange the sale of some securities for Russian émigrés. She was a middle-aged grande dame, wearing a red dress and matching red turban over mountains of glossy dark hair. Her brilliant red clothes were the first splash of color Jake had seen all day. All the walls in the Cowman Building were painted the same dull pale egg-shell color. Jake suspected that Madame Gorky was the Russian lady Sy had seen in the lobby earlier that morning. She matched the description Sy had given of her.
"I heard nothing from Peterson's office," Gorky said. "But then I am nearly deaf. I saw him arrive this morning in the lobby downstairs. A man wearing a blue suit, no? I offered him some tea, but he declined."
Madame Gorky's office had the same rental furniture as all the other offices in the building - the desk, chairs, bookcase, screen and hat rack, all arranged in the same unimaginative floor plan. But she had also brought in a samovar for tea, in one corner, and a vase of fresh flowers for her desk. It made her office seem much more inviting than Peterson's, somehow.
"Your patronym, Petrovna," Jake asked her, "means your father's name was Peter, does it not?"
"That is correct," Madame Gorky replied. "It is the ancient and glorious Russian custom."
"That is similar to the murdered man, whose name was Peterson," Jake pointed out.
"Just a coincidence, I am sure," Madame Gorky said. Her voice now had an imperious chill in it.
Jake took the stairs up to the ninth floor. He knocked on a door with a sign marked "Rutgers Manley Molybdenum Enterprises", that looked as if it led to the office directly above Peterson's.
It was opened by a man who identified himself as Rutgers Manley. Manley was a vigorous looking businessman of around fifty. Manley shook Jake's hand with a friendly gesture.
"Always glad to get a new client!" Manley told Jake enthusiastically. "How did you hear about our mineral enterprise?" Manley handed Jake a lavish brochure promoting stock in molybdenum mines in Bolivia.
Jake did in fact look like a wealthy young business tycoon in his sharp gray suit. For that matter, Manley also looked prosperous in his equally upper crust blue business suit.
Manley's office had the same dreary rented furniture as Peterson's and Madame Gorky's. The offices in the Cowman Building had a depressing uniformity, Jake thought.
There was a small grating in the floor of Manley's office. Jake could hear Lt. Moe Apfelbaum and Officer Thomas O'Brien talking, in Peterson's office directly below. All of Moe's comments came through the grate plain as day.
"There is a murder investigation going on downstairs," Jake said. Jake was about to explain his role in the case when Manley broke in excitedly.
"It happened apparently while I was out to luncheon," Manley said. "I had just returned a few minutes previously, when I heard sirens in the street below, and saw an ambulance taking the body away."
"Earlier in the morning," Manley went on, "I heard a big argument coming from downstairs. A man with an Italian accent was loud and threatening. I told the police about him - he might be the killer!"
There was a brisk knock on the office door.
"That will be my next client," Manley said politely. "Perhaps it might be more convenient for you to leave by my private door."
Manley let Jake out of his office, through a side door. Unlike Peterson's office downstairs, Manley's office had two doors, the main door down the hall from the elevator, and the extra "private" door in the West wall. Even a small change like this really "stood out" to Jake, given the uniformity of the offices in the Cowman Building. "I will be in this office in Los Angeles for the rest of the week," Manley told Jake. "Remember, this is your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the deal of a lifetime!"
Jake found himself in a side corridor in the ninth floor. On an impulse, he went upstairs, to the office above on the tenth and top floor of the Cowman Building. Its door bore one of the ubiquitous cardboard signs, this one saying "Northern Minnesota Grain Cooperative". A man Jake's age in a cheap brown suit and tie sat at the desk there.
"Hello, I'm Arnie Koslo," he told Jake, shaking his hand. Jake had seen Koslo earlier outside. He had been one of the men crowding around Al Kucinich on his motorbike, asking him questions about his motorcycle uniform.
Koslo turned out to be setting up a new silo for his farmer's cooperative back in Minnesota. He was in Los Angeles for the next two weeks, making arrangements. The silo would make a huge difference to the economic well being of all the farm families in the cooperative.
Jake told Arnie Koslo he was investigating the murder.
"I heard all about it," Koslo said. "But I don't think I saw anything that might help. Everything about Los Angeles is fascinating," he added. "Officer Kucinich was answering our questions downstairs."
"Officer Kucinich must live a very exciting life," Koslo went on with an enthusiastic smile. "I would love to live a life of adventure, wear a swell uniform, and solve crimes at a movie studio. At least maybe for a few weeks."
Jake could understand Koslo's thirst for adventure. Similar longings in Jake were part of what made Jake a writer.
"Maybe you saw something that might help solve this crime," Jake suggested. "Did anything strange or different happen today?"
Koslo hesitated. "It is going to sound stupid," he said. "But someone stole my hat. Someone swiped it from my desk while I was out of the office. It was just a cheap hat. I am going to look like a complete idiot going home tonight without a hat," he grinned ruefully.
Jake and Sgt. Clancy went up to the sixth floor. Jake had a hunch that the office under Madame Gorky's was somehow important. Jake usually paid attention to his hunches. They were trying to tell him something.
The office was dark, locked and had no cardboard sign.
"We need to get in this unrented office," Jake told Clancy.
"Sure thing!" Clancy replied. Clancy grabbed his massive key ring, pulling it out by a long metallic tape attached to his black leather police belt. Clancy inserted a gleaming new key into the office door. It unlocked and opened. He let go, and the shiny metal tape rewound right back into its silver circular case on his belt. Clancy's dozens of master keys hung from the belt and case.
"It's all in the wrist," Clancy said.
"There's a thick layer of dust on everything," Jake said from the door. "No footprints. No one has been in here for weeks. Can you open the locked desk?"
"Watch me," Sgt. Clancy said. He pulled out his gleaming key ring again. Within seconds the Sergeant had all the desk drawers open. They were as dusty and empty as the room.
"Master Sergeant Timothy Clancy, pride of the Clancy clan," the giant Sergeant said. He set his cap at a jaunty angle, and gripped his hands around the front of his huge leather police belt.
"How do you keep all the different keys straight?" Jake asked. "You picked out the door and desk keys without hesitation."
"The building manager has the keys all coded," Sgt. Clancy explained. "The numbers are in the duodecimal system, base 12, to confuse outsiders, and to provide more digits for the code. The desk key here is 6XE-25, where X stands for 10 and E eleven. 6XE comes out to 985 in decimal numbers. Each digit means something in the building code, 6 being the sixth floor, for example." The Sergeant pulled out his nightstick, and started twirling it absent mindedly with practiced grace.
Jake was startled to hear a man who looked like every crime movie's brawny but good-naturedly dumb harness bull cop talk about the duodecimal system. But then he remembered that Clancy wasn't a real cop. He was a Hollywood imitation of one.
Upstairs, through the grate, they could hear Madame Gorky on the phone.
"The police don't know I met with Peterson back in New York," she was saying. "They'll never believe I know nothing about what is happening here." Gorky hung up.
Jake and Sgt. Clancy exchanged glances. With a pantomimed "Sh!", Jake led Sgt. Clancy out of the room.
Jake stopped in to see Moe, back in the ground floor lobby, telling him what he had learned.
Harrigan entered the building. The insurance agent, who had seen Peterson fall, waved to Jake and Moe, before he disappeared into the elevator.
Jake needed to think. He did what he always did when he wanted to concentrate: he went and sat down under a tree. There was a large fish-tail palm in the ground floor lobby of the Cowman Building, a Caryota mitis. It was covered with fan shaped leaflets, that did indeed remind one of the tail of a fish. Jake sat down on the low brick ledge of the planter that contained the palm. He stared at its beautiful leaflets. Soon, he was thinking about the case...
Jake began to understand how the crime was committed. And how the killer got out of the murder room.
Jake took Lt. Moe Apfelbaum, Sy, Arnie Koslo, Al, Lt. Sean Patrick Murphy and his Sergeants, and a dozen real police and Mammoth-Art security guards up to Manley's office on the ninth floor. Manley greeted them warmly at first, till he saw Sy step from behind Moe and the other police.
"That's Albert Z. Peterson!" Sy said, pointing to Manley.
"I don't think so," Jake said. "The real Peterson right now is in the hospital, fighting for his life. This man just impersonated Peterson when you met with him earlier in the day. His goal was to steal your business plan, and sell it to Mammoth-Art's business rivals."
"That's a slanderous statement," the smooth talking Manley told Jake. "I have never seen this man before in my life," indicating Sy.
"We have a warrant to search here," Moe told Manley.
The police soon found Sy's missing business plan in Manley's desk. Sy was overwhelmed with relief to see it recovered.
"I have no idea how that document got in my desk," Manley said. "This office was unlocked while I went out for luncheon. Anyone could have entered and put it there."
The police moved to take a still protesting Manley away. He grabbed his hat from the coat rack.
Jake stepped forward, along with Arnie Koslo.
"Is that your hat that Manley is wearing?" Jake asked Arnie.
"It sure looks like it," Arnie said with a grin.
"This is preposterous," Manley spluttered.
"My hat has the initials AK in the hatband," Arnie went on.
Moe examined the hat. It had Arnie's initials in it, all right. It also had the name of the hat shop in St Cloud, Minnesota, where Arnie had bought it.
Members of the LAPD bunco squad arrived, summoned by Moe's phone call. They immediately identified Manley as a notorious con man and swindler. Manley was just one of his many aliases. The phony mines in Bolivia were just his latest stock swindle.
After Manley left, handcuffed and escorted by the police, Sy said, "I still don't get it! How did Manley disappear out of Peterson's locked office?"
"He didn't," Jake said. "You were never there. You were here in Manley's office, up on the ninth floor, during your meeting with Manley-posing-as-Peterson. And during and after the attempted murder. You never set foot in Peterson's office till later in the day, after the police came. The two offices look exactly alike. And both are filled with the same rented furniture."
"Here is what I think happened," Jake continued. "Peterson had an office on the eighth floor. Manley rented the office above his on the ninth, and listened in on Peterson's conversations below through the grate. Manley learned about Mammoth-Art's business plan, and decided to steal it. He came up with a scheme to impersonate Peterson during Sy's meeting with him."
"Manley bribed the elevator operator. When Sy showed up for his meeting this morning, the elevator operator took Sy to the ninth floor instead. The operator told Sy it was the eighth floor. The operator sent him around the corner, to Manley's office. Manley had a fake sign on his door, saying it was Peterson's office. Sy and Manley had their meeting, with Manley impersonating Albert Z. Peterson."
"So that's why Manley got rid of me as soon as possible," Sy said. "All Manley wanted was to get the document, and get rid of me as fast as he could. Manley did not want me to stick around, and get suspicious asking the fake 'Peterson' business questions Manley could not answer. It also explains why the fake Peterson's personality was different from what I expected. The real Peterson is a tough negotiator. While Manley has the typical con artist's oily charm."
"Sy left," Jake continued. "Manley put on his camel's hair coat and hat, which had been hanging out of sight on the coat rack behind the screen. Manley wanted to leave the building, with the precious business plan, which he put in the pocket of his coat. But the grate in the floor works both ways. The real Peterson down on the eighth floor had heard Sy's penetrating voice through it, and discovered what was going on. Peterson went up the stairs to confront Manley. He cornered Manley in his office."
"Sy returned just in time to see the two men fighting. Sy could not see their faces through the door's translucent glass panel. Sy saw Manley, in his camel's hair coat, throw the real Peterson out the window. Then Manley noticed Sy at the front door. He hurriedly left the office through the private door in the West wall, which had been hidden behind the bookcase. Manley pulled the bookcase back in front of the door as he closed it. Manley wanted to conceal his trail. It worked. Sy had no idea where Manley had gone, when Sy looked over the office after the killing."
"My guess is that Manley hoped to leave the Cowman Building. But he waited around for Sy to leave his office, to get some other of his business papers back from his desk. By the time Manley got his papers, and walked the nine flights down to the lobby, the police had seized control of the building. The police were waiting with Sy in the lobby, searching everyone who left the building. An encounter with Sy would be fatal. Manley had little choice but to walk back up to his office. He ditched the camel's hair coat and hat in the broom closet on the third floor on the way up, so he would be less identifiable as the killer."
"And Manley needed a hat to wear home that night," Arnie Koslo said, "so he stole mine."
"After the crime, the police, and I went upstairs," Jake went on. "From that point on, the elevator operator always took us to the real eighth floor. We all explored the real Peterson's office. It had no door behind the movable bookcase, making it look like a locked room and an impossible murder site. We all did find the real Peterson's hat on the coat rack, which really confused us. It had been there all along. No one had moved it or touched it."
"How did you settle on Manley as a suspect?" Moe asked.
"I finally figured out that Peterson might have been attacked in a different office from his own," Jake said. "It was the only way I could explain the locked room. But whose office? It would have to be an office directly above or directly below Peterson's. Then Peterson would have landed in the same spot on the sidewalk below. And the office would have to be fairly high in the building - Harrigan had seen Peterson fall out of a high window. So it was on the seventh, ninth or tenth floor - the dusty sixth floor office had not been entered in weeks. Also, the owner of the office was probably impersonating Peterson - there would be no point for Peterson himself to use an office on a different floor. Of the three office holders, only Manley could have impersonated Peterson. Both were prosperous, middle-aged men in blue suits. Arnie Koslo is around my age, thirty, and in a brown suit, and Madame Gorky was a woman. She had very long hair under her turban. So we brought Sy up here to see if he could identify Manley as the fake Peterson."
Jake had Sy look in Manley's desk.
"This is the desk I searched after the killing!" Sy said. "These are the papers I saw at the time. They do look a little different from the papers down in Peterson's desk."
The police grilled the elevator operator.
"I thought it was just a gag!" the frightened operator told the police. "Mr. Manley gave me fifty dollars to take Mr. Bernstein to the wrong floor. Mr. Manley said it was a joke for a lodge initiation. I kept quiet about it later, afraid I was going to lose my job. I had no idea it had anything to do with the killing. Mr. Manley looks like such a respectable gentleman."
In the lobby of the Cowman Building, Lt. Murphy of the Mammoth-Art Studio Police was talking to reporters. The Lieutenant was downplaying the Studio's involvement in the case.
"Mammoth-Art is really grateful to Lt. Apfelbaum and the LAPD for their prompt work on the case," Murphy was telling the pressmen. "They deserve all the credit. This city can be proud of its police force." Murphy's charm and fluent gift of gab was making a hit with the reporters.
Peterson made a full recovery. He was visited by Mammoth-Art star Gregor von Hoffmansthal in his hospital room. Peterson turned out to be a big fan of Greg's, and loved his version of Robin Hood and other swashbucklers. He had Greg pose with him in his hospital room for pictures. Greg looked dashing in full white tie and tails.
"It just goes to show that everybody loves the movies!" Upshaw pointed out.
Upshaw was congratulating Jake on solving the case, in Upshaw's office. The Studio head's lavish office was the size of Bulgaria. The office was a perfect circle. The walls of the Art Deco office were covered with twelve huge abstract murals Upshaw had commissioned from Arthur Dove, the American painter. Their brilliant pastel colors blazed in the late afternoon sun. Jake had never been there before. This was the first time Jake had ever worked on a case at Upshaw's request.
"You are a good detective, Black," Upshaw said expansively.
Jake thought it wise not to contradict him.
"I always was fascinated with police work," Upshaw went on. "When I was growing up in Wales, my dream was to become a Scotland Yard Inspector some day." Upshaw's love of the Yard was well known around the studio. He had a large collection of souvenirs of the British Police. He also usually dressed like a typical Scotland Yard Inspector one saw in the movies, in tweedy British style suits.
"Of course," Upshaw went on with satisfaction, "now I have my own police force." Upshaw was referring to the Studio security guards, who he had organized along the lines of Scotland Yard. Upshaw was like a kid with a box of toys, when it came to his Studio Police. "I wish we could have you as a detective in it, Black," he told Jake. "Say," he went on with a fanatic's gleam in his eye, "We could make you an honorary member!"
Jake was startled, but he liked the idea. The Studio Police had always looked like loads of fun. Wheels began to turn in Jake's head.
"Could I get one of the motorcycle police uniforms?" he asked Upshaw tentatively. Jake had always loved these outfits.
"They are really something special, aren't they?" Upshaw asked with a twinkle. "I told Constanza that I wanted the sharpest uniforms in the world." Vincenzo Constanza designed all the fancy uniforms for the Studio's adventure pictures. He was one of Hollywood's top designers. Upshaw had also had Constanza create the uniforms for the Studio Police. There were around a dozen different kinds.
"Of course we will get you a motorcycle uniform," Upshaw went on. "And all the other uniforms worn by the Force. We want your appearance to be a credit to the Force."
Jake was tickled pink.
Jake did some more thinking.
"I want to be a Sergeant," Jake added. "A Master Sergeant. The highest enlisted-man rank. Fully credentialed and with official standing in the Studio Police. It will help in my detective work." Jake knew from experience it was best to ask for as much as possible during negotiations with the Studio.
"Good idea," Upshaw said firmly.
"Can I get a motorcycle uniform for a friend, too?" Jake asked. "He helped with the investigation today."
"You can deputize anyone you want into the Force, Police Sergeant Black," Upshaw told him.
Jake was sure Arnie Koslo would enjoy being an honorary member of the Studio Police. And wearing his shiny new motorcycle uniform.
There should be some adventure in everybody's life!
Jake went to see his friend Harry Callaway. Callaway was in charge of much of the Studio's publicity. Jake found Harry in the photographic darkroom near Harry's office. Harry was in full riding habit: white breeches, red tailcoat, starched white linen, tall black patent leather boots. Harry was scheduled to photograph Mammoth-Art stars at a riding meet later on that morning, and was dressed to blend in with the riders, so he could get close to them with his camera to take pictures. Actually, neither Harry nor the stars could ride horses, but that would not stop Harry from getting some terrific pictures of them on horseback. The stars would all look like glamorous equestrian experts in Harry's photos.
Neither Jake nor Harry knew anything about horses, being city boys. When Jake had introduced Arnie Koslo to Harry at the Studio the previous afternoon, both men learned that Arnie had grown up with horses back on the farm. Harry had immediately hired Arnie as an equestrian expert for the weekend for a substantial fee, given Arnie a list of his duties in posing Mammoth-Art stars on horseback at the meet, and packed Arnie off before 6PM to a Studio tailor, so Arnie could get an outfit suitable for a riding meet. A badly dazed but happy Arnie was unused to the whirlwind pace of Studio production.
After Arnie and Jake had left, Harry called up the tailor.
"Remember those tweed suits you made for Patrick O'Donahue?" Harry queried, mentioning one of Mammoth-Art's leading man actors. "We want a set of them for Koslo. Yes, those are the ones - worn with the high riding boots. The suits that look so ruggedly masculine, arrogant, commanding. And upper crust. O'Donahue really looked like a Scots Lord, when he starred in The Laird of the Castle. Yes, I know you can't wear Harris tweeds in LA much of the year, it's too hot. Koslo's from Northern Minnesota. It's colder than Hades there. They'll be real practical where he lives. We need all those heavy riding boots for Koslo, too - this guy was virtually born on a horse. How many suits are there in the set? Four? We want them all for Koslo. You should have seen the fan mail O'Donahue got when he wore them in that picture. And we need a couple of new regular business suits for Koslo as well. A banker's charcoal pinstripe, and a navy blue. Nothing subtle - he needs to look like a wealthy young businessman tiger. Try to get the brown suit Koslo is wearing away from him, and burn it." If there was one thing Harry understood, it was Image. Mammoth-Art was grateful to Arnie for his help getting the document back, and Harry was trying to show it. Arnie was an admirable active person, Harry thought, founding his Co-op. Now his outward appearance would reflect this.
Harry's motto was "Do Something!"
Harry had dropped in on Arnie and the tailor, in time to see Arnie in his new business suit.
"You look sharp in pinstripes," Harry told Arnie.
"You make me look like a banker, or some sort of capitalist," Arnie said worriedly. "I'm not. I'm an anarcho-syndicalist."
"Well, now you're a well-dressed one," Harry replied. Harry was used to dealing with troublesome Hollywood stars, and knew how to be firm and brook no opposition.
"I don't believe that businesses should be run for profit," Arnie went on. "The whole world should be organized around cooperatives."
"That's the opposite of the studios," Harry said. "This whole case turned on raising capital. Still, you'll do much better dealing with businessmen here in LA if you look properly dressed," Harry added firmly. This practical argument convinced Arnie.
Now, it was Saturday morning. Harry was supposed to pick up Arnie at his rooming house in an hour, to go to the racing meet.
Jake was hoping to talk to some of the horse trainers and riders, to research a movie script he was writing. Jake was properly dressed as a spectator for the meet. Jake was in full formal morning clothes, gray tailcoat, striped trousers, an ascot tie worn with a high, stiff collar, double-breasted pearl gray waistcoat, gray patent leather boots, an enormously tall gray top hat, gray suede gloves. Jake's clothes had a British flavor, and would have been correct for the opening day at Ascot. Jake always felt relaxed in his morning clothes. He knew he would be properly dressed for any formal daytime occasion. Jake's enthusiastic young tailor had made the clothes at once incredibly elegant, and aristocratically jaunty. Jake looked as if he were a young swell just out of Cambridge, off to London to raise some hell. Jake had already worn his morning clothes to three weddings of Studio employees, where everyone was formally dressed. Movie people all wanted to be as dressed up as possible at all times. It was part of their profession.
"I looked through Sy's business plan briefly," Jake told Harry. "It was all business statements and figures. It did not mention any of the Mammoth-Art movies written up in the papers. All the facts about Mammoth-Art movies in the newspapers are correct. But they have nothing to do with the document."
"Well it doesn't matter," a smiling Harry said. "The studio is getting thousands of dollars of free publicity for its next releases."
"Harry," Jake said, "What is going on? I saw Sergeants Boyle, Foley and Clancy talking to reporters from these papers yesterday."
"Well," Harry said. "Maybe they spilled the beans to the reporters. It's hard to keep things secret around a studio." Harry shrugged his shoulders under his beautifully fitted scarlet tailcoat.
"I'm not buying this," Jake told him. He looked Harry in the eye. Harry eventually flinched.
"So as soon as you learned about the theft at the Cowman Building," Jake said, "you called up the Sergeants with movie stories to give out to their reporter friends, allegedly about the stolen document."
"It was too good an opportunity to pass up," Harry said proudly.
"How did you know the three Sergeants would talk to the reporters, Harry?" Jake asked. "You were really taking a chance that they had reporter contacts in the first place. And that they would be willing to cooperate with you," Jake said slowly. "This is still more complicated, isn't it?"
"Jake, you're like a bulldog once you get on a case," Harry finally said. "If I don't tell you this, you'll start asking questions all over the Studio. Swear to me that nothing you learn here will leave this room." Harry reached out with the giant black leather riding crop he carried, and pushed the door shut, so no one could overhear.
"I swear," Jake said. Privately, he wondered what Harry was getting him into. But Harry was one of Jake's best friends, and Jake felt loyal to him.
"Boyle, Foley and Clancy all secretly 'leak' stories to their press contacts on a regular basis," Harry admitted. "The stories all come straight from my office at Mammoth-Art. The reporters all go for it hook, line and sinker. They think it's a real leak of secret studio information, against Mammoth-Art's will. Especially that guy at the Chronicle. He thinks he's corrupted Boyle, bribing him with sports tickets."
"Jake, in the PR game you have to use psychology," Harry said. "If we sent a press release about our new movies to the newspapers, they would just throw it into the trash. But if the papers think they have wormed or bribed the information out of an informed source - say a studio cop - it's news. It is one of our best ways to get big stories in the press about our pictures."
Jake thought about all this.
"It's not just confined to these three papers, is it, Harry?" Jake asked. "I bet these guys have built up newspaper contacts all over California, reporters, wire service writers, international correspondents stationed here in Hollywood. Each one of these reporters thinks of one of the Sergeants as his personal, private stool pigeon. The Sergeants are all feeding the reporters so-called inside information, all of which are actually Harry Callaway publicity stories."
"That's right," Harry said.
"Let me guess how the reporters think they are getting the dirt out of the Sergeants," Jake went on. "They think Sgt. Clancy is so dumb he'll say anything and spill any secret. They think Sgt. Foley is everyone's pal, and so amiable he'll tell them anything. And Sgt. Boyle can be bribed for tiny amounts of money, a two dollar bill, a fifty cent ticket to a ball game or movie show."
"Of course they're tiny bribes, Jake!" Harry said, looking shocked. "It wouldn't be ethical to extract much money from the reporters. What do you think we are - crooks? Boyle gives all the money he gets to Father Flannery down at the mission." Harry looked offended.
"Clancy is not really as dumb as he looks, is he?" Jake asked.
Harry grinned. "Actually, Clancy is as smart as a whip. He's using his Studio Police job to put himself through night school."
Jake began to realize some more things.
"Al Kucinich is a real security guard, isn't he?" Jake asked. "I mean, his job really does mainly involve guarding the studio and its interests. He's not involved with this at all."
"But is that really true of our three Sergeants?" Jake went on. "Al Kucinich told me the Sergeants were in a separate division of the Studio Police, one with little contact with his own. Are they really cops or guards at all?"
"Well, actually," Harry said, "No. And Murphy isn't a real security guard either. Actually, you might say that Lt. Murphy and his Sergeants are really press agents in uniform. Murphy was a down-on-his-luck press agent, who was slowly starving, before Mammoth-Art offered him the job with the Studio Police a year ago. Murphy usually serves as the Studio Police's liaison with the press, and as the public image of the force. He also spends much of his time with Studio visitors. Murphy is one of the friendliest, nicest guys you'll ever meet, and he's a big hit with reporters. Murphy had no police experience at all, but he certainly looks the part of a senior officer. And Boyle, Foley and Clancy are young PR guys with the right look to assume the rank of Police Sergeants. Murphy deals with the reporters publicly, then his Sergeants leak them extra information privately. Murphy knows nothing about the Sergeants talking secretly to the press, though. Murphy and his men are a lot more credible to reporters as cops, than if they were employed as regular PR men. Reporters don't trust anything a PR guy says."
"I wonder why!" Jake said wryly.
"That's not fair, Jake!" Harry replied smugly. "All's fair in love and PR." Harry folded his arms, causing his leather riding crop to stick straight up in the air.
"All of this sounds sneaky to me," Jake said disapprovingly.
"But, Jake, who are we hurting?" Harry asked. "The reporters get scoops, and Mammoth-Art gets publicity. And Murphy and his men are well paid. Everybody is happy."
Jake wanted to argue with this, but he couldn't put his finger on what was wrong with it. As was often the case, he felt in over his head with Harry.
"I've seen Sgt. Foley manipulate young Peters of the Tribune-Mirror," Jake said. "He's just a cub reporter, the lowest grade."
"Jake," Harry said with a smile, "don't worry about it. Sgt. Foley has been feeding Peters stories for months. He has been sustaining Peters' career at the paper. And you are not very observant with today's story in the Tribune-Mirror." Harry pointed to the byline in the paper. It read, "by Carl Peters, Tribune-Mirror staff reporter."
"Peters has just been promoted to regular reporter," Harry said. "His scoop from Foley about the Peterson case has put him over the top. You worry much too much, Jake," Harry went on. "Sgt. Foley has been a good friend to Peters. Foley has watched over him, while Peters was learning the ropes at his paper. Peters was just a young guy out of Indiana six months ago. He would have been eaten alive out here in LA without Foley's protection. Foley's a veteran PR man with years of newspaper experience back in Boston. He's been training Peters in everything about the reporting racket. Foley just looks like a cop, in that police uniform. Actually, he's a slick PR pro."
"You've got to learn to trust us, Jake," Harry went on earnestly. "This is Hollywood, the land of happy endings."
Jake was not so sure about Hollywood as a whole. But things did have a way of working out at the Studio.
Jake decided not to worry too much about all this. Most importantly, nothing criminal was going on. All Jake had been trying to do was tie up any loose ends of the Peterson case. He had no idea he was going to be plunged into the middle of one of Harry's schemes. Jake was not enthused about the actions of the Sergeants, but he decided that they were none of his business. Jake relaxed and squared his shoulders under his beautifully cut gray tailcoat. The coat was designed to make Jake look like a swaggering, healthy young animal, all shoulders and physical power.
Jake felt relieved about one thing. "I'm glad that Lt. Murphy knows nothing about the Sergeants sneaking off to talk to reporters," he told Harry. "And there is nothing wrong with Lt. Murphy's job - every organization needs someone to be a liaison with the press. Lt. Murphy's actions are perfectly ethical."
"That's disillusioning, Jake," Harry told him sadly. "I always thought our schemes with Lt. Murphy were particularly devilish. Don't you think that dressing up a PR man like Murphy as the ultimate social authority figure in a series of sharp uniforms is insidious?"
"Yes, it is," Jake replied loyally - he knew Harry liked to think of himself as a bad boy. Harry immediately stopped looking crestfallen, and started looking pleased with himself again. Actually, Jake liked Lt. Murphy far more than most of the real authority figures Jake had met. Many of them were obnoxious jerks, while Lt. Murphy seemed like a nice guy. Lt. Murphy might just be a Hollywood version of a social authority figure. But like many things Jake had encountered at the studio, he was much better than the real thing.
Harry began putting on his gloves, so he could go out and pick up Arnie. Jake put on his shiny gray top hat.
"You'll like Foley and Clancy once you get to know them, Jake," Harry said. "They are writers just like you - former newspaper reporters. Boyle's more of a hard case. He used to do PR for carnivals."
"Actually I like Foley and Clancy a lot already," Jake admitted with a grin. "And Lt. Murphy too. They charmed the socks off of me yesterday. I should have realized that Lt. Murphy was a PR man - he talks so articulately and easily. Foley could really explain all that complex radio technology, too, just like Clancy and the building key codes. And I've never seen any man but a reporter type as fast as Sgt. Foley."
"You've got a decent build," Harry said, eyeing Jake's shoulders. "Mammoth-Art trainers could beef you up even more. They're expert at turning men into he-men. They did a wonderful job with the three Sergeants. Maybe you'll want to do a stint as a PR man in the Studio Police. You could be a fourth Sergeant."
"Absolutely not!" Jake said, horrified.
"It's just a joke, Jake!" Harry said, punching him playfully in the shoulder.