Mystery Stories Home Page
Copyright 2006 by Michael E. Grost
A Jacob Black "Impossible Crime" Mystery
By Michael E. Grost
The largest Mammoth-Art Studio gym contained a boxing ring. Reporters frequently were invited to exhibition matches, given by the Studio's stars. These were workouts, in which the young actors would go five or six rounds with a Studio trainer, as part of their regular conditioning and exercise training. The trainer, a homely, tough looking man named Mugs Kovalevsky, would always loose gracefully to the star. The trainer was an expert at making the star look good in the process. The star would give the reporters an interview, talking to them between bouts of the match. The reporter would stand below the ring, looking up at the star far above him, leaning over the ropes at the reporter below. There were always plenty of well-staged publicity photographs the Studio's PR rep would hand out to the reporters, showing the star taking part in exciting boxing bouts. And the reporters could bring their own photographers along, to take pictures of the current match. The superb lighting in the ring was excellent for press photography.
Patrick O'Donahue was the Studio star in the ring today. Leading man O'Donahue was appearing in a new romantic comedy, The Fighting Irishman, in which he played a boxer. O'Donahue's film costumes had been designed to look good in a black-and-white film, and in black-and-white publicity photos. O'Donahue was in shiny black satin trunks. He wore matching black lace-up boxing shoes, whose dozen or so criss-crossed white laces really stood out against the high black shoes. His unusually large boxing gloves were covered in black leather. O'Donahue's opponent, trainer Mugs, was in red: red trunks, red boxing gloves, red shoes.
1920's America was sports crazy. Movie studios never lost a chance to have their stars photographed as athletes. Both movies and publicity shoots showed the stars as polo players, racecar drivers, baseball players, college football heroes, tennis champions.
Jacob "Jake" Black was a writer at Mammoth-Art Studio. Jake was an amateur sleuth who had solved several mysteries, with the Los Angeles police. Jake decided to attend the boxing match, but never suspected that he would encounter another mystery there. Jake wore a dressy three-piece charcoal pinstripe business suit, with vest, giving him an aggressive, jaunty air.
Jake ran into his friend Sophie Chadwick, a press photographer, in the stands at the arena.
"I'm covering the match for the Daily Watch," Sophie told him, mentioning her newspaper. "Did you hear about the big jewel robbery?"
"No!" Jake said.
"It just happened two hours ago, here at Mammoth-Art," Sophie said. "That new European actress Mammoth-Art imported, Pola Negri, was wearing the famous Padereski pearl earrings, as a publicity stunt. They're priceless. Something went wrong, and the pearls disappeared. No one knows if it is a real theft, or a publicity stunt. But it's news."
"What do the earrings look like?" Jake asked.
"They're giant pink pearls, in silver settings," Sophie replied. "Anyway, that's why all these reporters are here. They rushed over to the studio to cover the theft. None of us reporters were present at the actual theft, but we got detailed eye-witness accounts from people who were. When the studio publicity men got word of all these reporters on the lot, they hurriedly set up this exhibition boxing match to get some publicity for their new film."
"That sounds like the publicity department," Jake agreed. "They never miss an angle or a trick."
"With all the guards around Mammoth-Art," Jake went on, "how did the thieves get the pearls?"
"No one can figure that out either," Sophie said. "Pola Negri, her Studio make-up people, dresser, maid, personal secretary were all in her dressing room, upstairs right in this building. Negri was being photographed with three young Mammoth-Art contract players. The three men were all dressed as boxers, to help promote The Fighting Irishman. Then Gloria Swanson swept in, with her entourage, to congratulate Negri."
"The fan magazines say Swanson and Negri are rivals," Jake interjected, "for the Glamour Queen of Hollywood crown."
"They have the biggest feud since John L. Sullivan boxed Jim Corbett!" Sophie replied. "But in person it's always 'dear' and 'darling' with each other. Anyway, La Swanson brought her pet wolf hound on a leash. The pearls were just sitting there, on Negri's dressing room table, and no one was paying attention to them. The wolf hound, whose name is Boopsie, went over and did something at the dressing table. The next anybody noticed, the pearls were gone. Negri's maid was screaming, and everyone went into a panic. At first, everyone thought Boopsie had eaten the pearls. He could have done that, while no one was watching. But the studio wheeled an X-Ray machine right into the dressing room, and it was proven that the pearls were not inside Boopsie. Swanson kept telling him what a good dog he was. She also fed him some of his favorite chocolate creams. They tested the chocolate creams, too - the pearls weren't there."
"Did they search the people in the dressing room?" Jake asked.
"And how!" Sophie replied. "But none of them had the pearls on them. They even used the X-Ray machine on the people, and none of them had swallowed the pearls. Swanson made a rousing speech about what a trouper she was, and insisted on being searched. So Negri had to insist on being searched too. Neither dame had the pearls, and no one else in the room did either. It became clear that anyone in the room could have stolen the pearls - no one was paying any attention to them on Negri's make-up table. But what happened to the pearls then, no one can figure out."
"Did anyone leave the room?"
"Nope!" Sophie said. "The security guard outside her dressing room made sure of that. They even searched him too. No pearls. Impossible as it seems, the pearls vanished into thin air!"
"Who were the young actors from Mammoth-Art?" Jake asked.
"Let's see," Sophie said. "It's easier to remember by color. Each one was in different colored boxing outfit. Armand Boucher was all in green - green trunks, green boxing gloves, green shoes. He's supposed to be a romantic Frenchman on screen. Actually, he's from Tennessee. Jimmy Martin was all in red, red trunks, gloves and shoes, and Alfredo Notini was in yellow. He's a Latin Lover - from Cleveland."
"I've seen these three guys around the studio," Jake said, "but don't know any of them well. They are all new. I've met Jimmy Martin. He's a really friendly, charming guy." Jimmy was an All-American, guy-next-door type, instantly likable.
Jake's friend Thomas O'Brien was working as the referee in the boxing match today. O'Brien was a young patrolman in the Los Angeles police, who had a small side career as an actor. O'Brien played the role of the ref in the movie, and having him here today would get his face included in the publicity pictures. The handsome young O'Brien wore a snappy black tuxedo. O'Brien was a real cop, Jake reflected, but dressed as a civilian, while the numerous men stationed around the arena in official looking police uniforms were actually just studio security guards. "Only in Hollywood!" Jake thought. The head security guard today was Al Kucinich, also a friend of Jake's. Al was in one of the navy-blue police uniforms, with huge Sergeant's chevrons on the sleeves. Sgt. Kucinich, as his uniform name tag read, was a muscular man in his late twenties.
The ring was unusually high. There seemed no way to get up to it. This would prevent over-eager fans from storming it, to get close to the star. Jake wondered how the star, the trainer Mugs and ref Thomas O'Brien had actually reached the ring. They were already there when Jake arrived in the stands. Perhaps the Studio had a moveable ladder, which the three men had climbed before the start of the match. The ladder could then have been removed, and put into storage. This did not seem very convenient, however.
The whole area underneath the ring was clearly visible, to anyone standing there. There was nothing in it, except some strong metal posts supporting the ring above. One could look right through from one side of the ring to the other, with clear visibility hardly impeded by the thin metal poles. The posts rested on the hardwood floor of the gymnasium room. The light colored floor was highly visible, against the shiny silver posts. The whole area was much cleaner than most real boxing arenas - the Studio always wanted a wholesome image.
Sophie put a telephoto lens on her camera, and got some good close shots of the men boxing. Mugs was right-handed, Jake noticed, while O'Donahue was a southpaw. A couple of friendly studio publicity men, in loud, cheerful suits, were circulating among the reporters, making sure they had everything from pens and paper to extra flashbulbs for their cameras.
The match was over. O'Donahue was the victor, after ten rounds. O'Donahue raised his hands in victory, while the crowd cheered. He stepped forward to the edge of the ring.
"Thank you all for coming," Patrick O'Donahue told the crowd, in his resonant, stage-trained voice. "It is so good to see you all in person." In addition to reporters, the gym was full of fans, who had been touring the studio when the boxing match was announced. Being shirtless and in boxing gear gave the hugely muscled O'Donahue a chance to show off his physique.
Meanwhile, Mugs had crouched down, in the far corner of the ring, as if he were looking at something on the canvas floor of the ring. He was soon lost to Jake's line of vision.
"If you will form one line," Thomas O'Brien told the crowd, "Mr. O'Donahue will sign autographs." He retreated to the center of the ring, while O'Donahue crouched down towards the front edge of the ring, to greet his fans.
Jake was wondering what Mugs was doing. Jake got up, turned, and stood up on his chair to get a higher view. Jake looked down into the boxing ring.
Mugs had disappeared.
"But that's impossible!" Jake thought. Mugs was not in the ring, on the floor of the gym, or anywhere else. He had vanished completely. Jake could see right under the ring itself, through to the bare gym wall on the other side. Mugs was not under the ring, either.
"In the ten seconds in which I stood up on the chair," Jake thought, "Mugs vanished."
There were plenty of people in the arena. But they were all in suits. Mugs, shirtless and in bright red boxing trunks, would have stood out instantly in the crowd.
Neither Thomas O'Brien nor Patrick O'Donahue in the ring seemed at all perturbed. Jake began to relax.
"Probably Mugs just left the ring by some normal route I don't know about," Jake thought. "I'll asked people later how Mugs made his exit."
Jake noticed that his friend O'Brien also crouched down, in the center of the ring. Jake saw him pick up a small pink object, that had been lying on the canvas. O'Brien stood up and looked at the object, plainly startled. The shiny pink object, about twice the size of a large pea, glittered in the bright lights of the arena. O'Brien put the object in the side pocket of his tuxedo jacket.
Al Kucinich and the guards were beginning to herd the crowd of autograph seekers toward the ring. A publicity man standing below the ring handed O'Donahue a huge black fountain pen, which O'Donahue was able to grasp with his black leather boxing gloves. The studio publicity man was wearing a loud, flashy checked suit, like a boxing promoter might wear.
Jake moved down to the ring's left side, away from the crowd, and Thomas O'Brien followed Jake over there. The bright arena lights shone on the dressy, shiny black tie Jake wore, Jake's well-polished black business shoes, his starched, gleamingly white dress shirt, and highlighted the pinstripes of his charcoal suit. Jake did not look like a boxing promoter. Jake looked like a business man. Maybe the Chairman of the Board of a vast corporation.
"What did you find, Thomas?" Jake asked him.
O'Brien somberly handed Jake the pink object. It was a pearl earring, which shone with a beautiful luster.
"This is one of the Padereski pearls!" Jake said. Then he looked up at O'Brien's troubled face.
"Jake," O'Brien began, "this is not going to look good for me. The pearl wasn't there at the start of the match - a million press photographs will show the canvas was bare. I'm the only one who could have brought the pearl into the boxing ring. You couldn't hide a jewel of this size in the boxing trunks the men wore. So where did it come from? They are going to say I brought it in my tuxedo."
"Nonsense," Jake said. But he began to feel worried.
"I'm the only outsider here, too," O'Brien went on. "O'Donahue is a big star, and Mugs has worked for the studio for years. I'm just an aspiring player that got hired off the street for a few days work on the picture. I bet I only make a fraction of the money those two do, too."
"Did you have an opportunity to steal the pearls?" Jake asked.
"I was in a dressing room right down the hall, changing into my tuxedo, when the pearls were taken," O'Brien said. "There was a huge rhubarb. I identified myself as a police officer, and helped search the area right after the theft. People will say I found the pearls, and took them away with me."
"Maybe the real thief hid them in your tux," Jake said. "That would be a clever idea - planting the pearls on one of the police officers, to get them away from the crime scene. And the pearl could have just fallen out of your tuxedo pocket a minute ago, onto the ring."
"That won't wash, Jake," O'Brien said. "At the start of the boxing match today, I checked to make sure all my pockets were empty. It affects the hang of your tuxedo if something is in the pockets, and I wanted to look my best for photographers. My pockets were empty. And as you can see," O'Brien pointed down, "my tuxedo has no cuffs. There is no place for an earring to catch on to the tuxedo."
"What about now?" Jake suggested. "Is the other earring in one of your pockets right now? They are a matched set of two earrings, if I understand correctly."
O'Brien thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "There's nothing there," he said, pulling out his empty hands.
Jake thoughtfully scratched the back of his head.
"Where were O'Donahue and Mugs during the theft?" Jake asked.
"They were nowhere near Pola Negri's dressing room, the whole time," O'Brien replied. "I don't know where they actually were. But neither had the slightest opportunity to steal the pearls."
"What about the security guards?" Jake asked. "Are any of the guards here at the boxing ring, also guards who were on duty at the theft?"
O'Brien looked around. "I don't think so," he said. "The guards at the theft are still busy with the investigation. I would probably still be there myself, but was called out to referee this match. I am the only person who was present at both the theft, and the boxing match."
Jake thrust his hands determinedly into the trouser pockets of his pinstriped suit. The gesture made Jake look even more than ever like a hard-charging young business tycoon.
"We need some official witnesses," Jake told O'Brien, "to establish your innocence."
Jake glanced over to O'Donahue, who was crouching down at the edge of the ring, signing autograph books that fans standing below were handing up to him. O'Donahue was surrounded by a crowd of uniformed security guards, that stood vigilantly around him in the ring.
"Now how did all those guards get up to the boxing ring?" Jake wondered. There was still no sign of anything like a ladder that might lead up to the ring. "If they'd somehow climbed up over the edge, their uniforms would look mussed. But these guys all look as if they just stepped out of dress parade." Every tie was perfectly tied, every belt buckle was precisely centered on the men's police uniforms, just as always.
Jake motioned to Sgt. Al Kucinich, the head security guard, who was standing in the ring with his men. Al came over to Jake and O'Brien. Al's police uniform looked as poster perfect as his men's.
Jake handed the pearl up to Al, who stood towering above Jake in the ring, next to O'Brien. Jake craned his head far up, to look at the glittering badge on Sgt. Kucinich's police cap. Its number read "4479". Al Kucinich looked uncannily like a real policeman, in his authentic navy blue police uniform.
"The Padereski pearl," Al said. "Or one of them."
"Sgt. Kucinich," Jake said formally, "I want you to search Thomas O'Brien here. Make sure he does not have the other earring."
O'Brien lifted his arms, while Al patted him down, then thoroughly searched him.
"He's clean," Al told Jake.
Al Kucinich went and talked to his men, then returned to O'Brien and Jake.
"So where is the other Padereski earring?" Sgt. Kucinich asked, in an official police voice.
"We don't have it," Jake replied, "and you'll be able to testify to that in court."
Al Kucinich grinned. "Well, Jake, you asked for a search, and we gave it to you. Every inch of the ring is also being searched. And if you try to tell me that Mugs or Patrick O'Donahue have the earrings, I'm just not going to believe it. Two men with short hair and tight boxing trunks and tighter shoes - without heels even. Where could they hide it?" Mammoth-Art Studio's costume department favored form fitting clothes, that revealed the contours of its performers' bodies. It was all part of the Studio glamour treatment.
"No one else came near the ring," Jake said, "from the start of the match, to when Thomas discovered the pearl."
"And I'm sure," Thomas O'Brien said, "that the pearl was not on the ring at the start of the match. And not in my tuxedo at the start of the fight, either."
"I looked over the ring a couple of times myself, before the match started," Al said. "I wasn't looking for the pearl of course, but surely would have seen anything that big or shiny."
"And no one could have tossed the pearl onto the ring during the match," Jake said. "A big pink object flying through the air would have been noticed by a lot of people. So it seems impossible that the earring ever appeared in the ring, at all. But it did."
Jake walked through a maze of tunnel-like corridors, till he came to the gym dressing rooms. The rooms were large, bright and very well lit - they were clearly designed for taking publicity pictures, Jake reflected. Otherwise, they looked like the sort of dressing rooms a champion boxer would have in the movies.
Mugs was there, still in his red boxing trunks, talking with the dresser. Up close, the muscular Mugs looked more like a gorilla than ever.
"You can't have my gloves," Mugs was saying argumentatively, "or my trunks or shoes. I gotta stay dressed, so there can be more publicity pictures with O'Donahue."
"Make sure you keep them all clean," the dresser replied. "I'm responsible for these Mammoth-Art costumes." The dresser was a forty-ish man in a black suit.
A loud noise erupted in the corridor outside. O'Donahue was coming down it followed by reporters and photographers. Cameras were clicking like mad.
There were more pictures taken, of O'Donahue and Mugs shaking hands.
A studio publicity man handed O'Donahue a huge silver trophy. Photographers took pictures of O'Donahue in his boxing trunks, holding the trophy over his head. The dresser threw a shiny black satin boxer's dressing gown over O'Donahue's broad shoulders. More photos were taken.
O'Donahue casually moved over to a section of the dressing room lined with full-length mirrors. Suddenly, there were dozens of reflections of O'Donahue, in this hall-of-mirrors area. His highly muscular body was repeated a seemingly infinite number of times. Photographers went wild getting photos of O'Donahue there.
Jake's actor friend, Gregor von Hoffmansthal, showed up, in full top hat, white tie and tails. The giant young star, known as Greg to his friends, looked dashing and glamorous. Publicity pictures were taken of him shaking O'Donahue's hand and congratulating him. Jake remembered that when Greg had taken part in a boxing match staged for public relations purposes a few months ago, that O'Donahue had shown up in full evening rig, and shaken Greg's hand. Now the roles were reversed, and Greg was returning the favor.
Greg had been in silver boxing gear for his own boxing match, silver trunks, shoes and gloves, that looked good in black and white photos. Greg was promoting a romantic comedy he had filmed at that time, in which he played a boxer. Greg's dynamic young boxer was known as The Silver King, which was also the title of the movie. Jake had written and directed this film. In the movie, in addition to his silver boxing gear, Greg had also appeared in a set of silver white tie and tails. This was a complete white tie and tails formal evening outfit, only with a shiny metallic silver tailcoat and trousers. Greg also sported a giant silver top hat, and a huge silver cane. Greg's apartment in the film was all full of gleaming silver chrome furniture, too - everything associated with his character was shiny and metallic. Greg had loved playing in the film, which gave him a chance to appear in a comedy. The studio had designed the film as a change of pace role for Greg - usually, Greg played characters who were European aristocrats, but here he portrayed a poor young man from the wrong side of the tracks. With his usual energy, Greg's character had gotten the girl, won the boxing championship, rescued a group of orphans, piloted a plane full of shiny silver controls and radio equipment through a thunderstorm, while wearing a silver metal pilot's flight suit, and rounded up a gang of bad guys who were threatening everybody. In the next-to-last scene, Greg had snapped sets of gleaming silver handcuffs on the villains, before they were hauled away by the police. Then Greg had been made an honorary member of the police force, in recognition of his accomplishments. The finale showed him being inducted into the police in a special ceremony, wearing a silver metallic police uniform that was a triumph of the costume designer's art.
Jake had gotten the idea to create The Silver King from the previous film Jake had written and directed, Speed Angels. Speed Angels was about racecar drivers. One of the heroes drove a silver car. Jake had him dressed in silver clothes, including a spectacular double-breasted silver tuxedo. Jake had suddenly wondered what a whole movie about a man who loved everything silver might be like. Jake had quickly put together The Silver King. Ideas had flowed out of Jake's brain in swift profusion. And Mammoth-Art's expert technicians had no trouble turning Jake's ideas for silver sets and costumes into vivid reality. The whole film had come together in just a few months.
Jake went outside. There was a banana tree in the courtyard outside the gym, sitting in a high brick planter. It was an ornamental species, Musa velutina its label said, and covered with large pink-skinned bananas. It was not the regular species of banana that people ate. Jake had seen it before, and wondered if the bright pink bananas were edible. Bananas were Jake's favorite fruit. Jake had eaten a regular banana once, straight from a banana tree. It had tasted a bit sweeter than the bananas from the grocery store, which were picked less ripe, and shipped in from Central America.
Jake sat down on the pink wrought-iron bench under the tree. The shocking-pink bench made a vivid contrast to Jake's charcoal gray business suit. Jake's dressy suit was designed to make him look as if he belonged, not on this pink bench, but on an executive's black leather chair. The pink paint on the bench exactly matched the purplish pink shade of the bananas. It reminded Jake of the pink pearls. Jake began to think about the case. How did the Padereski pearl get into the ring? It seemed impossible that anybody brought it there. Where was the other pearl? Would his friend Thomas O'Brien get blamed for the crime? Jake was sure Thomas was innocent. And how were the pearls stolen in the first place?
For that matter, how did Mugs disappear from the ring? How did Al Kucinich and his men get up to the ring after the match? Jake wasn't sure if these last two questions had anything to do with the mystery. Probably they were entirely separate questions. But Jake felt curious about them anyway.
Jake began to look at the beautiful banana flowers above the fruit on the tree. They were surrounded by giant pink bracts, the same color as the fruit. He started thinking about the case...
Jake went back down to the boxers' dressing room, where Patrick O'Donahue and Mugs were having publicity photos taken. Al Kucinich was there, too. The reporters and fans had left, except for photographer Sophie Chadwick.
"There is one place we didn't search for the pearls," Jake began. "In the boxers' gloves."
There was nothing in O'Donahue's black gloves. But the left hand of Mugs' red gloves had a concealed compartment, around the wrist of the glove. Jake managed to worm it open. Inside, was the other pearl earring.
"I had no idea it was there!" Mugs said.
"That is probably true," Jake said. "And it looks as if there is a second compartment, on the wrist of the right glove. It's partly open. It likely came loose while Mugs was battering with his right hand during the bout. And the other pearl earring that was there fell out onto the canvas."
"Mugs," Jake asked, "where did you get these gloves?"
"I just pulled them out of the dressing room storage cabinet, before the match," Mugs replied. "I was wearing red trunks, so I took the first pair of red boxing gloves in the cabinet."
"How did the earrings get into the gloves?" O'Donahue asked.
"And also important," Jake replied, "How did a secret compartment get into the wrists of the gloves? Someone must have constructed special gloves, ahead of time, then used them to conceal the stolen pearls right after the theft. Remember, no one knew the exhibition boxing match was going to be held today. The gloves seemed like a safe place to store the pearls. Then Mugs raced down here, and put the gloves on for the surprise bout. I suspect that proves Mugs is innocent - if he had any idea the stolen pearls were in his gloves, he never would have boxed with them, taking huge risks."
"That's right," Mugs said, assuming an air of injured innocence.
"A suggestion," Jake said. "No one knows the pearls have been found but us. Put back the gloves in the storage closet, as if nothing had been discovered. Then stake out this dressing room. In a few days, after the excitement surrounding the theft has died down, the real thieves will come back for the pearls they think are in the gloves, and you can nab them then."
Sgt. Al Kucinich slowly nodded in agreement.
"This doesn't explain how the pearls were stolen," Al Kucinich said. Sgt. Kucinich was using his special, official sounding police voice again. Jake wondered if Mammoth-Art had a training class, in which the Studio Police were taught to speak this way.
"Jimmy Martin was in all-red boxing outfit, while the pearls were stolen in Negri's dressing room," Jake said. "He could have been wearing these same red gloves. After Martin swiped the pearls from the table, he could have immediately hidden them in the wrists of the gloves. As soon as the theft was discovered, Martin, like everyone else, would be watched constantly. But it would not matter - the pearls would be hidden by then, and Martin would not do anything suspicious looking from this point on. None of the searchers found the secret compartments in the wrists. Later, after Martin left the dressing room and changed into his street clothes, he could have left the boxing gloves in the storage cabinet, still with the pearls inside. He would have thought they were safe there. After all, no one knew O'Donahue and Mugs would have a boxing match today - it was whipped up at the last minute by the publicity people."
"Martin," Sgt. Kucinich said, "like all the other Mammoth-Art employees present at the theft, was searched again when he left the Studio after the theft this afternoon, in his street clothes. He didn't have the pearls then - none of the Studio employees did. Stashing the earrings in the storage cabinet gloves would be a safe hiding place. He certainly couldn't afford to keep the pearls on him, or in his street clothes."
"How did you figure this out, Jake?" O'Donahue asked.
"I kept looking for common denominators between the theft in Negri's dressing room, and the boxing match where the pearl was found," Jake replied. "But I could not find any." Jake tactfully avoided mentioning that his friend Thomas O'Brien had been present at both. "Finally, I remembered that there had been men in red boxing uniforms at both the theft and the match - Jimmy Martin and Mugs, respectively. They could not have shared either boxing trunks or shoes - those have to be fitted to each person's individual size. But they could have worn the same boxing gloves. This led one to wonder if the pearls could be hidden in the gloves."
"Jimmy Martin is a brand-new actor at the studio," Sophie Chadwick said. "He has only been here two weeks. I got a candid snapshot of him with his agent, at a night club a week ago. Don't think the two ever realized they had been photographed." Sophie fished a copy of the photo out of the voluminous bag she always carried with her camera. "If Martin turns out to be the crook, the snapshot might have real news value." She passed the snapshot around. It showed Jimmy Martin and his agent, a distinguished looking, patrician man in his forties, wearing a well-tailored tuxedo.
Thomas O'Brien took one look at the snapshot and did a double take. "That agent is Long-fingered Louie, the jewel thief and con artist!" O'Brien said. "Everyone calls him Long, for short," O'Brien added, a bit confusingly.
"You're kidding," Sophie said. "His agent looks as if he were a Senator, or maybe president of a bank."
"That's Long's stock in trade," O'Brien said. "He always looks like a real gentleman. Jake and I foiled one of his jewel robbery schemes last fall, involving a phone booth at a night club."
"Long is known for the mechanical devices he invents," Jake said, "which he uses for his thefts. I bet he's behind this crime. Jimmy Martin is probably a member of Long's gang, whom Long planted here at the studio, pretending to be a Hollywood agent. Long probably invented the boxing gloves with the secret compartment. It is just the sort of gimmick he uses in his thefts."
"The police have never been able to prove anything against Long," O'Brien said in some frustration. "I bet his alleged business as a Hollywood agent will turn to out to be entirely legitimate. As least as far as anyone can prove. This guy is really slick. And unless Jimmy Martin shows up to try to get the pearls out of the boxing gloves, there will not be any real evidence against him, either."
"Long has never been involved with anything violent," Jake said. "It is one of the few good things you can say about him. Mainly, he steals rich people's jewels."
"If they make a movie version of this case," Patrick O'Donahue said thinking aloud, "I get to star in it, playing a dual role as the boxer in the ring, and the detective who solves the case. We could make the two men be brothers, and I could wear my hair differently for each role." Multiple-role films were very big in silent movies - audiences loved the special effects where an actor would seem to shake hands with himself, playing another role. "Excuse me gentlemen," O'Donahue said, bowing to the room, "I'm off to pitch this idea to Studio management." Actors never lost any time looking for a good role.
Pola Negri showed up that afternoon, and thanked everyone for helping her recover the pearls. Mugs Kovalevsky was especially impressed. The two talked together in Polish - Negri had started out as a stage actress in Warsaw, and Mugs had been born on a farm south of Krakow, before he and his parents came to the US. Sophie got a great photo of Mugs kissing Negri's hand.
"They make quite a contrast," Jake said quietly to Sophie.
"Negri is possibly the world's most sophisticated, glamorous woman," Sophie said, "and Mugs looks like the ultimate roughneck. Readers are going to love this."
Now that the mystery of the pearls was solved, Jake thought he should clear up Mugs' disappearance from the ring.
But Jake found he was distracted, like everyone else in the studio, by one of the studio's chief business interests: publicizing movies! Jake wanted to get his friend, actor Thomas O'Brien, some movie publicity. But Jake was not sure how to go about it.
Jake was talking to one of the studio publicity photographers, Augustus Rudnick, outside the boxing ring. The expert photographer was around forty years old, a trim, determined-looking bull of a man with sandy brown hair. Rudnick, like all the other studio publicity men, was dressed today in a flashy suit. They looked like the good-natured sports and promoters that would gather around a real boxing match. Jake noticed that the suits were probably much better tailored than the suits worn by real-life promoters and fighters. The suits featured bright colors and flashy patterns, but were cheerfully flattering to their wearers. They looked as if they were fun to wear.
Jake had encountered this same photographer a few weeks ago. This had been at a Studio presentation at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Jake had been one of the speakers - Jake regularly gave lectures and public talks, sometimes for the Studio, sometimes on his own. The photographer Rudnick had been in a dressy, stylish business suit that made him look like a top corporate executive.
The Studio Public Relations department sure knows everything about image, Jake thought.
"Thomas O'Brien would make a good boxer in publicity photos," Jake suggested to Rudnick. Jake was sure O'Brien could use the publicity.
"That's an idea," the PR man agreed. "We'll have him in navy blue boxing gear next week, for a match with Mugs. And also have him photographed wearing one of those sharp navy blue police uniforms the Mammoth-Art security guards wear. We'll play up his role in helping to catch the pearl thieves. He'll be O'Brien - the Boxing Cop."
Jake hoped that this would lead to a studio contract for O'Brien. The studio liked to employ actors it could publicize.
"We'll show O'Brien in a newsreel movie," Jake said, thinking aloud. "O'Brien will be in his boxing gear, and it will magically transform into him wearing the cop uniform. He'll arrest some bad guys in a big scene - a chase on a motorcycle, O'Brien capturing the bad guys, and O'Brien handcuffing them and placing them under arrest. Then his police uniform will magically transform back into his boxing gear. A couple of the crooks will temporarily break free. O'Brien will kayo the biggest, meanest looking crook with a punch of his boxing gloves!"
"Now you're thinking like a PR man!" Rudnick told Jake.
Jake felt uncomfortable, hearing this.
"Movie audiences love special effects," Jake went on. "Mammoth-Art's special effects department will have no trouble creating dissolves, showing an actor's costume transforming into another costume."
Jake's actor friend Greg jumped into the discussion.
"After the big arrest, at the end," Greg said, "O'Brien's boxing outfit could magically transform into a formal police uniform version of a tuxedo, for a big party. A midnight-blue uniform mess jacket, starched evening shirt and black bow tie, epaulettes, silver braid, shining police insignia, a chest full of medals and decorations for police bravery. The public always wants to see movie heroes dressed in formal wear. It is one of the first laws of costume design." Greg was standing there in his signature outfit, white tie and tails. Greg had a formidable knowledge of the various crafts that affected actors in movies, including costume design. "And a really big police cap, with a shiny badge," Greg added. Greg was wearing an extra tall, black silk top hat. "Can O'Brien dance?" Greg asked.
"Yes," Jake said, "but he is a much better singer."
"Then he should be dancing in this formal police uniform at a big party," Greg went on. "Movie heroes always get to go to big parties." There was often a big dance scene in Greg's movies.
"Next, O'Brien will wink at the audience while dressed to the nines in all this police-tuxedo gear," Jake suggested. "He'll hold up his hands showing he is wearing his boxing gloves along with his snazzy formal dress uniform. This will merge the two types of clothes he has been wearing throughout the film, police uniforms and boxer's outfits. Then we'll have an iris-out and the promotional newsreel will end." Jake quickly made notes in the little notebook he carried, so he would not forget any of these details. "I'll start typing out tonight a complete shooting script for a short promotional movie about the Boxing Cop," Jake said.
Rudnick opened the spiffy black leather attaché case he carried. He fished around in some papers inside, handing them to Jake.
"Here's a transcript of your conversation with O'Brien this afternoon," Rudnick said casually to Jake. "Maybe it will help you write that promotional film."
Jake looked over the notes. Everything he and O'Brien had said to each other when O'Brien had first showed Jake the pearl was down in black and white, on the typewritten pages. Before Jake could ask questions, Rudnick was on his way out of the gym.
"Wait here by the boxing ring," Rudnick told Jake. "Stick around, we'll get you involved in some O'Brien publicity!"
"Now how did anyone hear our conversation this afternoon?" Jake wondered to himself. "No one was near O'Brien and myself. Impossibilities just keep multiplying like rabbits around this boxing ring!"
"You ought to try boxing yourself," Mugs told Jake, after the PR photographer left.
"I don't have any interest in hitting someone," Jake said. "It's fun to watch a staged match, but an actual fight with someone sounds dangerous."
"It is great exercise, Jake," Greg said. "You could hit the punching bag, and get a great workout. There is no need to fight with other people. It is part of my fitness program." Greg's huge muscles bulged all over his well-tailored white tie and tails.
"I'd be glad to show you the ropes," Mugs said. "It will help tone you, and get yourself in shape."
"And we will talk to the costume department," Greg told Jake. "A bright magenta-purple would be perfect for your boxing workout gear, Jake. The purple trunks should be contrasted with yellow trim - a yellow waistband for the boxing trunks, with yellow stripes down the sides. Yellow is the exact opposite of purple on the color wheel. Putting complementary colors together creates an optical illusion. It seems powerfully vibrant to the eye. It will attract attention to the trunks, and make them seem like a source of vibrating energy. My own workout clothes are a bright royal blue, with contrasting red trim. They create a similar vibrating optical illusion." Greg, like most star actors, was supposed to be well-dressed at all times - he never knew when he would meet the press and public. He had been called on several times to give press interviews during his workouts.
Greg started twirling his elegant black walking stick, always a sign of satisfaction with him.
"I'll start Monday," Jake decided. Jake had really been trying to work out in recent months, and build up his muscles.
Now that the case was solved, the Studio called back the real police, from the Los Angeles Police Department robbery squad, who had investigated the thefts in the dressing room earlier that day.
"It is agreed, then," Sgt. Al Kucinich said, shaking hands with the senior LAPD officer, "that the LAPD will get warrants and conduct a stakeout on the storage cabinet with the boxing glove, to arrest the thief."
An officer in navy blue Studio police uniform came up and saluted Sgt. Kucinich sharply.
"Corporal Johnson," Sgt. Al Kucinich said to the guard, "show our LAPD visitors every courtesy during their investigation here, working with them as official liaison officer."
Corporal Johnson was the young public relations man, who Jake had last seen handing up a fountain pen to Patrick O'Donahue in the boxing ring. Johnson had been in a splashy checked suit then. The muscular Johnson now looked handsome, brave and noble in his beautifully tailored police uniform.
"Yes sir!" Corporal Johnson replied, giving an equally sharp salute.
"Rod Johnson will take good care of the LAPD men," Augustus Rudnick said quietly to Jake. "He's a really good PR man. If it helps get publicity, any of the Studio PR men can show up in studio guard uniforms." Johnson's badge number was "1171". Johnson made a most convincing looking cop. He talked in police voice now, just like Sgt. Kucinich.
"It's a really flattering uniform," Jake agreed. Jake always thought the studio police uniforms looked fun to wear. Johnson was clearly having a good time, pretending to be a cop for an afternoon.
"We will be using it more often for publicity purposes," Rudnick said. "It worked great for Jimmy Martin."
"Martin?" Jake asked. Jake suddenly felt worried.
"Yes," Rudnick replied. "We got young Jimmy Martin done up in a whole series of the studio cop uniforms. Going to take publicity photos in them next week. Even had him take some cop training classes the studio offers. Sgt. Martin sure looks like a handsome devil in the uniforms. Just like a real cop."
"Whose idea was this?" Jake asked casually.
"Actually," Rudnick said, "it was Martin's agent who suggested it all. Very classy chap - not your typical Hollywood agent. Jimmy Martin suggested his agent appear in a few of the pictures, too. The agent will be in police captain's uniform - very dignified. The Captain will congratulate young Sergeant Martin in the pictures. Everything's all set for the photo sessions next week - both men have their uniforms."
So Long-fingered Louie and his henchman Jimmy Martin could appear anywhere in Los Angeles, dressed convincingly as cops, Jake thought. Or show up as guards at the Studio. This sounded like Long, Jake reflected. Long never missed a trick.
Jake went to talk with the studio guard, who was standing watch outside the supply cabinet with the red boxing gloves.
"Any sign of crooks showing up, looking for the pearls?" Jake asked the guard.
"Not at all," the guard told him. "It's been real quiet. No one has been here except a studio police Sergeant."
"A Sergeant?" Jake asked. Jake wondered if the Sergeant was really Jimmy Martin.
"Yes," the guard replied. "He looked over the gloves, and saw the secret compartments were empty. And he congratulated me on the good job I was doing with the surveillance. He also borrowed the gloves temporarily, to test them for fingerprints."
There goes the last of the evidence against Martin, Jake thought. Jake had the guard describe the Sergeant.
"Tall, good looking guy," the guard said, "around six feet one, well built, light brown straight hair, blue eyes, good teeth."
It was definitely Jimmy Martin, Jake thought. Long and Martin must know that the jig is up, Jake realized. The story of the pearls was over.
Then the Studio got down to really important business. Augustus Rudnick talked the LAPD officers into posing for photographs.
On his way out of the gym, Al Kucinich stopped to talk to Jake. When Jake looked up, the LAPD, Corporal Johnson, Rudnick, Patrick O'Donahue and Thomas O'Brien were all standing up in the boxing ring, over head.
"How do people keep doing this?" Jake wondered. There was no sign of any way up to the ring.
Rudnick, who was one of Hollywood's most expert publicity photographers, was soon getting a complete photo record of all the LAPD's activities, including their meetings with star Patrick O'Donahue. O'Donahue shook the officers' hands, and showed them around the boxing ring. Rudnick also found time to have Thomas O'Brien make a complete reenactment of finding the pearl earring, for his camera. This pleased Jake, when he saw it. Jake suspected these "police" photographs were mainly destined for publicizing both O'Donahue's and O'Brien's film careers.
When the LAPD team realized that Thomas O'Brien was one of their own officers, they really went to town. They took turns congratulating him, shaking his hand and saluting him. They also posed enthusiastically for the reconstruction of the discovery of the pearl. Rudnick photographed everything.
Jake asked Rudnick about all this, when the two of them were briefly alone.
"You took a lot of photos of the LAPD men," Jake said.
"Yes," Rudnick said, "and they will all look great when the photos appear in the paper. Everyone always looks good in studio photos." Rudnick made the last statement sound like Official Mammoth-Art Studio policy. "It will be helpful for all the LAPD cops' careers, to get their pictures in the paper."
"By the way," Jake asked, "are there newsreel cameras making motion pictures of events in the boxing ring?"
"Of course!" Rudnick replied. "They're up in a booth hidden in the upper front wall of the gym, next to the lighting facility. The cameraman up there has good movie footage of the big boxing match today. And all this recent publicity with the LAPD, O'Donahue and O'Brien in the boxing ring. That's why I'm now in police uniform myself. It will look less conspicuous if I show up in the newsreel footage."
Rudnick now wore a well-tailored police Sergeant's uniform. The official looking insignia on his uniform said he was Police Photographer. Rudnick looked like the type of policeman one sees in the movies, a good-natured, tough police Sergeant with a heart of gold. He looked reliable and trustworthy. Sgt. Rudnick's badge number was "1477".
"So that's where you got the transcript of O'Brien and me talking," Jake said. "You have lip readers making notes, looking at all the filmed silent footage."
"Sure," Sgt. Rudnick said. "It's to edit out swear words. And any private stuff that might start a scandal with the gossip columnists. We've got to know what everybody is saying, so we can chop the bad parts out of the edited movie. Do you have any idea how many people in America can read lips?"
Jake knew. Everyone on the studio lot had been cautioned many times not to swear in front of a movie camera. Even though the footage was silent, half the audience seemed to be able to lip read every word an actor said on screen.
So that explained one of the impossibilities - how the transcript of O'Brien and Jake's conversation was made.
The LAPD Lieutenant in charge of the visiting officers came up to Sgt. Rudnick.
"Hey Sarge," the Lieutenant said to Rudnick with seeming casualness, "maybe you can come down to the division house tomorrow, and take more pictures of the squad."
Sgt. Rudnick pushed up his police cap to a jaunty angle, and gave a friendly grin.
"Sure thing, Lieutenant," Rudnick said. "How about 9 AM tomorrow? Make sure the boys are in their best dress uniforms, all spit and polish."
The smiling Lieutenant departed downstairs, to see the dressing room.
"I'll take O'Brien along to the police station tomorrow morning," Rudnick told Jake. "It will be a chance for more publicity pictures for him."
Rudnick and Jake's conversation was interrupted by the arrival of actor Alfredo Notini, one of the studio's several Latin Lovers, and one of the three young actors present during the theft of the earrings.
"Remember," Rudnick coached Notini, "you are an important witness to the theft of the pearls. It is vital that you give your eye witness account of the pearls' disappearance in Negri's dressing room to the LAPD detectives. I will photograph everything. This publicity will be great!" Rudnick concluded with an enthusiastic smile. He slapped Notini encouragingly on the back.
"Roger!" Notini said. "Wilco and out." Notini winked at Jake. "You see, I am studying pilot lingo. I want you to write an air pilot adventure film for me. Something really heroic."
The tall, dark and handsome Notini was no longer in the yellow boxing trunks and gloves he had worn earlier in Negri's dressing room. He was now dressed in the matador's outfit he had worn in his latest picture, a spectacular "suit of lights". Notini gave Jake a toothy smile, that was even brighter than the glittering gold suit he wore.
Rudnick and Notini departed downstairs, in search of the LAPD.
"Just to satisfy my curiosity," Jake said later, "is there a hidden staircase in this boxing ring?"
Before Jake knew what was happening, Sgt. Al Kucinich was climbing a small staircase up to the boxing ring platform. The officer had unlocked a side door of a metal case under the outside strip floor of the platform, and sliding metal steps had sprung out, and reached down to the gymnasium floor. After Sgt. Kucinich, O'Brien, Mugs and O'Donahue reached the top of the steps and were standing in the boxing ring, the Sergeant closed the mechanism and the steps telescoped back up into their case under the platform. The metal case was well hidden among the metal support framework running along the underside of the platform.
Clearly, this was how Sgt. Kucinich and his men had ascended so mysteriously to the platform after the match. And how Rudnick and the LAPD had reached the ring recently.
Jake was still stuck on the ground, while everyone else was standing above him, on the boxing ring. Jake had an eye level view of Sgt. Kucinich's spit shined black leather police boots. He could also see O'Donahue's equally well-shined black laced-up boxing shoes, and the gleaming black patent leather evening shoes O'Brien wore with his tuxedo. Mugs' shiny red boxing shoes made the only color contrast.
Jake still had to explain how Mugs had disappeared after the boxing match.
"And, is there a trap door that allows someone in the ring to drop down under the gym?" Jake asked.
Far above him, Sgt. Kucinich pushed a concealed button in the corner ring post. Two trap doors slid back at once. One was above Jake, in the boxing ring, near the north-east corner. The other, bigger hole was in the gym floor itself, directly below it. Jake walked over to the newly opened gap in the hardwood floor.
"I see what look like padded mattresses down there," Jake said, peering down into the floor hole.
"Gangway!" Mugs shouted. He dropped straight down, falling first through the hole in the boxing ring, then through the hole in the gym floor, down to the mattresses below. Mugs stood up with a smile, on the cellar floor next to the mattresses. Mugs looked up at Jake.
"This corridor leads straight to the boxers' dressing room," Mugs said. "Adios amigos, I'm going to get out of these boxing duds finally!" Jake could see him strolling away down the cellar corridor below.
"This quick exit was built for security," Sgt. Kucinich said. "If unruly fans stormed the ring, we could get the stars away in a hurry." He pressed another button, and both traps slid shut. They were invisible again when closed. "It also can be closed by pushing buttons down in the cellar."
"Well," Jake said, "that explains everything."