Thrilling Detective is really pleased to present this entertaining short short,
by Robert L. Iles.


Now You See Her...
from The Adventures of Peter B. Bruck, Private Investigator

by Robert L. Iles


........Odd cases from odd places.

........Take for instance the one that came up around the poker table in Pighead's back room one night. Doc Pott was collecting our money steady as a clock, but that was all right, we were cheating to slow him up. Known in polite society as George Potter, MD, Doc seldom spent time in polite society, preferring to spend it playing the horses, the piano and poker with the likes of us.

........But that night he said he was trying to find a girl.

........"A girl?" Pighead said. "You want a girl, I can--"

........Doc shook his head. "Not a girl, Pighead. A particular girl. I saw her yesterday. A dancer--"

........"Hootchy-kooch?" Pighead said. "Like I said, I can get you--"

........Doc shook his head again and smiled. "No, you don't understand. A Broadway dancer who was my patient. She came to my office badly bruised. Said she fell into the orchestra pit at rehearsal. I patched her up and sent her down to x-ray. But she never came back to my office. She was in a big hurry when she was there, like someone was chasing her or something. Anyhow, she's not in the phone book and the address she gave me would be across the Hudson somewhere in the middle of the Jersey swamps if the street numbers went that high."

........"Ya want your money, huh, Doc? Mickey could get it," Pighead offered.

........Mickey rolled his cigar to the other side of his mouth and gave Pighead a shut-up look.

........"Let's play cards," Lew said.

........"How about it, Bruck?" Doc said, "Got time in your crime-fighting schedule to save a girl's life?"

........"I might be able to squeeze you in." I led the way to Pighead's barroom up front. We took a booth. "Tell me about it."

........"It was obvious someone had beat her up," he said. "From the marks on her arm, I'd say someone held her and punched her. It's her broken ribs I'm worried about. If she's not careful they could puncture a lung."

........"What name and address did she give you?"

........Doc said, "I already checked--"

........"Yeah, I know. Gimme."

........He handed over a piece of paper on which was written Shelly Barber, 570123 West 43rd Street. I smiled and he asked what was funny. "Maybe she gave you the right address after all," I said.


........"What? I told you--"

........"I know. Just a hunch. I'll check it in the morning. Let's go back and see if anyone's punched Pighead in the mouth yet."

.

........The next morning I walked down West 43rd and, not too surprised, found a converted brownstone at 570. I was less surprised when I found that one of the mailboxes in the entry hall belonged to a Barbara Shelly, apartment 3B. I hit the buzzers of all the other tenants and someone rang me through and I went up and rapped on the door.

........"Who is it?" The voice was muffled, masculine.

........"A friend," I answered in a high feminine voice.

........The door opened on the chain and the muzzle of an automatic poked out. "Go away."

........I moved to the side out of the gun's arc and shoved the door with everything I had, snapping it off the chain and knocking whoever had the gun back. I went in with my gun drawn and found a guy on the floor, his gun just out of reach next to him. He stretched for it and I stepped on his hand. I recognized him as one of Joe Hugs' henchmen. Joe owned the protection rackets on the upper east side and ran them with guys who belonged in the Bronx Zoo. This one had a square head on a square body, black bushy eyebrows and an IQ I'd guess about the same as his hat size.

........"No way to greet a visitor," I said, kicking his gun under the sofa with my other foot. "What if I'd been the Avon lady?"

........I bent down to put more pressure on his hand. Any normal person would have howled with pain. He wasn't and he didn't. "Where's the girl?" I asked.

........Not a whimper, not a word, but I got him to make a face and he tried to wiggle free. I twisted my foot and we both heard something crack. Now he howled. I put my gun to his temple. "Where is she?"

........Without a sound, the bedroom door opened and a young woman wearing a scarf and sunglasses and a long coat streaked for the front door. I got a glimpse of purple and red bruises and puffy lips.

........In the moment of distraction, Bushy Brows pulled his hand free, got to his feet and drove his good fist into my midsection, then tried to wrestle my gun from my hand. When he couldn't, he brought a knee up into my groin. I went down, firing blindly through the pain. He left.

........When I could suck in air, I staggered after him. At the head of the stairs an old couple had come to see what was going on. By the time I do-si-do'ed around them and got down to the sidewalk, neither the girl nor the guy was in sight.

........But, always a cop around when you don't want one. Here came one up the sidewalk, gun drawn "All right, buddy, drop it You're under arrest."

........

........Lieutenant Dick Pritchard of the 83rd Precinct wasn't buying. "You're gonna have to do better than that, Bruck. A girl you don't know at an address you somehow stumble on. She's injured so bad a doctor is worried about her dying, but she runs away while you're wrestling a convenient gunman. Who also gets away. Come on, why'd you fire your gun?"

........"Okay," I said. "I confess. I was selling poetry door-to-door and when she said no I took a shot at her." I held my hands out to be cuffed. "Think the D.A.'ll let me off with life in the chair?"

........His neck turned red, indicating a direct hit. I watched the color flow up his face to his hairline, at which point he popped. "Now you lissen to me. You fired a gun and was apprehended waving it around. I ain't gonna have nobody blasting away in my precinct--"

........"Tch, tch. Grammar. Why don't you go to the apartment and check? Look under the sofa for the gun, look for a bullet hole in the wall? Or would you rather let the gorilla get the girl?"

........He couldn't answer that. Finally: "If I find out you're pulling something, you're going to jail for disturbing the peace, lying to a police officer, discharging a firearm with reckless disregard--"

........"Aw, Dick, you been reading too many police manuals. C'mon, let's go detect."

........When we got to the apartment, a young woman--no bruises, no puffy lips--answered the door.

........"Miss Shelly?" Pritchard asked.

........"Yes."

........"I'm Lieutenant Pritchard, NYPD." He showed his badge. "I'd like to ask some questions."

........I was dumbstruck. She didn't look anything like the girl I'd seen running from the bedroom. She was taller, bigger, and wore so much make-up she looked like a Max Factor demo. I had to check the number on the apartment door to be sure we had the right place.

........"Of course," she said. "Come in."

........Dick and I took a look around the room. No bullet hole. She offered us a seat. "I'll be right back." She went into the kitchen and came back with a china saucer and set fire to a Chesterfield. "Now, what can I do for you?"

........She settled on the sofa, crossing her legs and flicking ashes into the saucer. Maybe a few years past her prime as a glamor girl, but she still had the equipment and knew how to use it.

........Dick ran through his questions: Were you here earlier today? Yes. All day? Yes. Have you ever seen this man, indicating me? No. Have you been to see a Doctor Potter recently?

........"Never," she said. "Now if you don't mind, I have to go out." She snubbed her cigarette in the saucer to the punctuate the statement.

........"Wait a minute," I said. "You won't mind if I take a look around." I checked the bedroom, the bathroom, the closet, the kitchen--everywhere a body could hide or be hidden. Back in the living room I got down on the floor and looked under the sofa. No gun. As I was backing out I had an idea and rolled over, face up next to the woman's legs. She gathered her skirt tight and scooted away, looking a question at Pritchard: Is this guy nuts? Pritchard looked an answer back: Probably.

........"Sorry to have bothered you, Miss Shelly," Pritchard said, coming to pull me up. Under his breath: "C'mon, you idiot."

........Out in the hall, he backed me against the wall and stuck a finger in my face. "I don't know what you're up to but you ain't gettin' away with it. Your story doesn't hold air, let alone water. Jerking me around, bothering an innocent citizen. What kind of stunt was that? You're going to jail if I have to--"

........I let him rant, standing head down like a pup who'd pooped on a Persian carpet.

........When he ran out of breath, I filled in. "Ya got me, Lieutenant. I guess I'm headed for jail."

........But when we hit the sidewalk, I told him, "Quick, in the car, so we can follow her."

........"What? You are nuts. I'm not following--"

........"There's a bullet hole in the ceiling of that room," I told him. "A good detective notices that kind of thing." He opened his yap but I went on. "And she doesn't live there. When's the last time you saw a smoker's apartment without any ashtrays?" That stopped him. "Go on." I pushed him. "Get in the car."
Less than a minute later she came out, pretended to feel around in her purse for her car keys while looking up and down the street, and got in a Dodge sedan and pulled out into traffic. Pritchard tucked his city-issue Ford coupe two cars behind the Dodge and followed up to 129th and Second Avenue. She parked and went into a beauty parlor.

........"Stay here a minute," I told Pritchard, "Unless I miss my guess, someone we're interested in will go in or come out." He grumbled about a wild goose chase.

........Within minutes, the gorilla shambled down the street and into the beauty parlor.

........"One of Joe Hugs' boys," Pritchard said.

........"Good for ten points. Wanted on more charges than you wanted to hang on me. Want to try for twenty? Step over there and arrest him. You get the jackpot if Joe Hugs is in there with our beautician friend working on the damaged dancer."

........

........The next poker night at Pighead's, the boys wanted to know how I'd done it.

........"It wasn't complicated," I said. "Joe Hugs slapped his girlfriend around once too often. To keep her from going to the cops, he stationed the gorilla at her place. I showed up, the girl made a getaway, the gorilla caught her and took her uptown to Joe."

........"The woman you and Pritchard saw at the apartment, where does she fit in?" Doc asked.

........"A beautician friend of Joe's," I told him. "He sent her to the apartment to get the gorilla's gun and tell any cops who investigated there was nothing wrong."

........"Why was Joe keeping Barbara at the beauty shop? Why not take her to his place?" Doc asked.

........"The idea, it seems, was to cover up the girl's bruises so she could go back on stage."

........"Good thing for her you found her," Doc said. "If she had tried dancing it almost certainly would have killed her."

........"Good thing for her, too," I said, "she was willing this time to give the evidence that will put the gorilla and Joe Hugs away."

........Pighead wanted to know, "But, Bruck, how'd you know where to find her?"

........"People are funny. When they have to come up with a false name quick, they choose something close to the truth. Address, they do the same thing. So I followed a hunch. The address on West 43rd was obviously wrong, but the 1, 2, 3 on the end, they looked like numbers just tacked on to the right numbers up front."

........"Gee, close to the truth," Pighead repeated. "I wonder what I'd say my name was."

........"It begins with S-H," Mickey said.

........Pighead thought. "Sheephead, you mean?"

........"Shut up and play cards," Lew said.

Copyright (c) 1999 Robert L.Iles



Robert Iles is a professional writer who switched from medical articles and books about three years ago to write what he likes best, detective fiction. He's written a dozen or so (and counting) stories featuring private eye Peter B. Bruck, which have been all published or accepted for publication, in small-circulation magazines.

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"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk."

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