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Uploaded 10 July 2006
Illustration added 5 January 2008
The Pickering Papers
by E. O. Costello
The Pickering Papers
by E.O. Costello
A. Abel Pickering, Caroline Lamm, Charles Foster Crane,
Franklin Stagg, Orrin Brush, Nicholas Capricorni © E.O. Costello
Lord and Lady Allworthy © and courtesy of Walter D. Reimer
Caroline Lamm paced the living room of her very up-to-date apartment on Casino Island. She badly wanted either a drink or a cigarette, NOW, but she had an inkling that it would spoil what was necessary for her to operate later that afternoon.
Miss Lamm's stock-in-trade was contained underneath the white silk robe she was wearing, the contents of which we will linger on, since it is essential to our narrative. These contents can be described as approximately five feet in height, and covered with a tight mass of curled fleece. This fleece, owing to the attentions of a rather expensive salon on the Island, was kept a gleaming white. There were very eye-catching swells in this sea of fleece, located in the regions of the chest, hips, and rear, which formed the most prominent part of her stock in trade, and can be regarded as worthy of the carriage trade. They were of a proportion that was generous, but not so generous as to make one ponder as to the inevitability of gravity. One item in the inventory was placed on display outside of the silk robe, which was a pair of cornflower-blue eyes, which were highly useful for expressing admiration, hero-worship, and ecstacy.
Of course, the preceding description of Miss Lamm's stock-in-trade omits one crucial fact, namely, Miss Lamm's trade. We supply it herewith: she is a spy, currently of somewhat uncertain employment and prospects.
But let us begin at the beginning. Miss Lamm has neglected to provide us with much in the way of an autobiography, so we can only deduce from her accent (while not "on the clock") that she is a native of one area or another of North America. Like most ewes, she likes to keep her age a secret, though it can fairly be estimated that she is somewhere in her early twenties, chronologically. The clock can be temporarily set back, of course, as need be.
Those who are keen to weigh in on one side or the other of the nature-versus-nurture argument would find slim pickings in Miss Lamm's history, since we do not know why this young lady left home. Hollywood? Adventure? Unhappy home life? We have no Boswell, alas, to tell us for sure. Certainly, she seems to be the possessor of a type and level of education that does not form part of the curriculum at, say, the University of Pennsylvania. At least the Alumni Office there would hope so.
Where Miss Lamm first hoves into our ken is in San Francisco, anno domini 1932. While most of the city is sunk in the gloom of the Depression, there are those who can shop at the I. Magpie department store, which attracts what we have alredy referred to as the carriage trade. Unlike those standing in the soup lines, those standing in the various departments of this emporium have wallets that merit closer attention. Certainly, they merited Miss Lamm's attention, and her previous success can be attested to by her wardrobe, which was obtained legitimately, through the use of funds obtained illegitimately.
The target this afternoon was a suavely dressed goat, who was peering at the display of china and glassware on the sixth floor with an intent and experienced look. It takes great care to walk in such a department, and Miss Lamm was thus most apologetic when she gently bumped into the gentlefur. She was readily forgiven, and her quietly murmured apology graciously accepted. Cornflower-blue eyes will have that effect.
Ten minutes later, Miss Lamm was strolling leisurely down Market Street when she felt a tap on her shoulder. A quick glance showed it was not, fortunately, a policefur. Perhaps unfortuantely, it was her recent conquest, who was wearing a surprisingly amused smile.
"I give you nine marks out of ten for planning, my dear, and seven marks out of ten for execution. Let us effect an exchange. I will give you an introduction, and you will return to me my wallet, which contained approximately $62 in currency."
The young ewe considered her alternatives. One was to scream "masher" and escape in the confusion. A bit risky if some officious flatfoot decided he needed her for a witness. The other alternative was to see what was on offer here. The mel seemed to be just that little bit extra sharp in his dress that sets apart the naturally well-dressed from those who dress well for tactical purposes.
A nearby restaurant seemed a way to test the waters. "Only if you buy me lunch, sport."
The goat gave a wicked grin. "Ah. A hard head for business. I applaud such practicality. But I will require the wallet, first. After all, it contains my business cards." Which announced him as Nicholas Capricorni, attorney at law.
"To a certain extent, that card is misleading," he said, after polishing off a plate of stuffed grape leaves. "What I really am is a talent scout."
The young ewe smirked. "Uh-hunh. Anyone tell you that vaudeville is dead?"
Capricorni smiled, lighting a cigarette. "My clients avoid the greasepaint and the footlights like the plague. Bad for business, you see."
Miss Lamm pointed at her water glass, with an ironic smile.
"No, not that business. Which, I assure you, will be obsolete in its current form as the buggy whip has now become, give or take nine months. Economic depression and prohibition are an unhappy combination."
The barrister blew a cloud of smoke in the air, and lowered his voice. "My clients operate in a wide variety of fields. You can guess what they are. Suffice it to say, they don't like attention from anyone. Particularly those who don't appreciate my clients' interpretation of market economics."
"Sorry, buster, but I left my business school diploma in my other purse. Can't help you there."
Another smoke ring or two. "Diplomas, even law-school diplomas, are overrated. What counts is experience and coolness. You're young, aren't you?"
"You expect me to tell you my age?"
"No, actually, I don't. It's reasonable to guess that you are, ahem, "legal," are you not?"
Lamm frowned. "Listen, you creep, I'm not 'San Quentin Quail,' if that's your meaning. And I don't turn tricks in a cathouse for no madam, either. If that's the game you're calling, include me out. Fems like that end up six feet under, but fast."
Capricorni lit a fresh cigarette. "What I have in mind isn't something you could write home to Mother about. Or anyone, for that matter. It does require the utilization of all of your talents, but in a one-on-one setting."
"Who's your client, then? J. Edgar himself?"
"No. They are a family concern based on Krupmark Island, some distance from here." Capricorni narrowed his eyes, to judge the reaction.
Lamm's reaction consisted of reaching into her purse, taking a Lucky Strike with a steady paw from a silver case, and lighting it with an equally steady paw. Some seconds, interwoven with smoke clouds, passed.
"Dangerous place, Krupmark. A girl could get hurt there. They don't sell too many round-trip tickets to Ft. Bob, you know."
"Ah, so you know of Krupmark?"
"Heh. How long have you lived near the Barbary Coast?"
"Kinda makes it hard to have a job interview, don't you think?"
Capricorni crushed out his cigarette. "I wasn't wrong when I guessed you were a practical young ewe. Look, it's up to you. There's my card. You can take the next step, or not, as you see fit." A few greenbacks were tossed on the table. The lawyer chuckled as he saw the sheep check to make sure it would cover the bill. "Trust no one, eh? You'll go far, miss..."
Sitting alone in her room that night, Lamm took stock. Where did she go from here? Picking pockets will only take you so far, and the next time she screwed up, maybe she wouldn't get so lucky as to get a shyster for a mark. A quick calculation was made of her life expectancy in jail. Nasty, brutish and short. And the alternatives weren't much better, either. Jobs, legit ones, were just a bit short right now. Happy days sure as hell weren't here again, no matter what those bums on the soundtrucks were saying.
The little bit of expensive cardstock was fingered thoughtfully. If you're going to die, kiddo, go out in style, and leave a good-looking corpse.
Surprise #1 was that upon agreement to try out for the as-yet unnamed job, Lamm was handed over the sum of $1,000, as "living expenses" until final travel arrangements could be made. Clearly, whoever the client was, it was someone that wasn't selling apples on streetcorners. Prudence dictated the conversion of some of the money into a more portable format, and she settled for the blue-plate special instead of painting the town red.
Surprise #2 was the travel arrangements. Steamship, first class stateroom, San Francisco- Honolulu. Further arrangements would be disclosed upon arrival. The ewe mused that if she was being set up for a fall, it was a hell of a way to go. She skipped the captain's table, though, and kept to herself in her cabin.
The final leg of the journey was on a small, but very powerful, motor yacht. It was built to take only a few passengers. The crew was deferential, but silent. Lamm wasn't in much of a mood to ask questions, though, and continued her policy of keeping to her cabin. With a knife handy under her pillow. A girl has to be cautious among strangers.
The yacht, some days later, approached an island after dark. With the lights out in her cabin, signals could be seen being flashed from ship to shore and back again. Obviously, this wasn't exactly the kind of entrance that you make on the Normandie into Gnu York harbour. Still, someone was taking precautions.
The dock was occupied by a pawful of furs, all of whom carried one kind of weapon or another, ranging from a Mouser rifle to a .38 to one fur who seemed to prefer a baseball bat. Whispered watch-words were given, and Lamm was escorted into a Packherd, with a few of the goons standing on the running-boards. Perhaps this was necessary, as a few stray shots could be heard echoing in the distance as the car made its way to a well-protected house.
Mine Host turned out to be a lord. Whether real or not, Lamm didn't know and didn't care. He certainly looked the part, with a vast bulk that was helped around somewhat by a walking stick. He had the accent down cold, too. He introduced himself as Lord Leon. The hostess was Lady Susan. She had the kind of glint in her eyes that Lamm doubted was taught at the finest Swiss finishing schools.
A light tea was arranged. Light for the ewe and the lady wolf, anyway. Lord Leon's idea of a "light tea" for himself would have appalled a soup kitchen. Lamm kept her mouth shut, figuring developments would come. She had her knife inside her garter, figuring that the goons were already pawing through her stuff. (She actually figured wrong, she thought later: all of her clothes and toiletries were put away neatly and intact in her guest room.)
Some days passed, without anything of importance happening. That is, if you don't count the occasional firefights in the distance at night. Sort of the local sport, the guest Casa Allworthy imagined. She occupied herself with some of the books in the library while waiting to see what was up.
On the sixth night, as she was bending down to replace a book in the bookshelf, she felt a wandering pair of paws near her tail, preceded by a bit of heavy breathing. She got up, turned around, and was enveloped in a slightly sweaty embrace by the master of the house. Who evidently had more than the two paws that were the standard ration for God's sentient creatures. Lamm snarled a bit, and glowered as they wobbled back and forth in a dance. Finally, a hoof came smartly down on a lupine foot, and with a yelp, the paws (two, three or more) were withdrawn.
A voice came from the doorway. "Leon, damnit! I told you to keep your damn paws to yourself. This is my project, let me remind you. So mind your manners."
The wolf gave a shifty-eyed look of guilt, and rumbled an apology, before gradually shuffling out of the library, to the accompaniment of a smack on his ear by the lady of the house.
Caroline expected developments that night, and as a precaution, once the lights were out in her room and in general throughout the house, she arranged the pillows and blankets on her bed, and the window shade, to obscure how the room was occupied.
A few hours later, one of the armoires opened up. Typical, the ewe thought. The place was probably loaded with all sorts of architect's tricks. A form passed through the room, approaching the bed. It smelled of wolf. Wolf bitch, to be precise.
Lamm had stationed herself near the light switch, and this was turned on, to reveal Lady Susan in an expensive dress for bed. She must have used expensive material, because she certainly didn't get all that much material for her money.
"Come to tuck me in and tell me a bedtime story, Lady Susan?" Lamm smiled, and leveled a small automatic at her hostess.
The look of surprise, followed by a look of annoyance, was deeply appreciated by the ewe.
"May I ask where you obtained that gun, Miss Lamm?"
"Sure. I don't have any secrets. I took it off His Lordship when he was pawing me all over. Guess he didn't figure I knew how to use my paws, hanh?"
Lady Susan Allworthy snorted in irritation. "Damn Leon and his toys. One of these days, that habit of his of walking around like an ambulatory Woolwich is going to get him killed."
Lamm looked her hostess up and down.
"Look, sister, it's probably what? Two thirty in the morning? You didn't come here dressed for business. I'm open-minded and all that, but my tastes run to rams, get my drift?"
The wolf bitch did, and looked disappointed.
"If you're going to have me killed, let's do it now and get it overwith. I figure you've got something on you right now -- and let's keep that right paw in view, shall we? -- so if your business involves me dying a messy death, c'mon. If not, how about you amscray back to your room, get some clothes on, and let's talk. Your call."
The wolfess glowered, her tail swishing. After about a minute or so, she gave a rather nasty smile.
"So. Capricorni's eye hasn't failed him. He's worth the $100 an hour we pay him for his services. Get dressed. I'll be back in fifteen minutes."
"How about you try the door, this time?"
The job was laid out for Caroline Lamm's inspection, with no details spared. Put bluntly, she was to use her charms on one particular target.
"This is the new Chief Constable of a nearby group of islands, the Spontoons, A. Abel Pickering." A photo was passed over, showing a fox in a snazzy, well-tailored police uniform, down to shiny Sam Browne belt and gun holster.
"Wow. His mommy got him the Police Chief costume for Christmas."
An audible sneer from the wolfess. "Yes, he's very fond of that uniform. Though after I get through with describing him, I think you'll agree it's the uniform that wears him, not the other way around."
Sure enough, the tale that was told was that of a mel who'd gotten his job by cleaning the windows, polishing the floor, and shining up the handle on the big front door. And probably shining his nose kissing the furry asses of his superiors, too. Of whom, intellectually, there promised to be many.
"Okeh. What's my competition?"
A photo was passed over, showing a rather glamarous vixen in an evening gown. She was wearing pearls and an expression that suggested she found the photographer to be a crashing bore. Lady Allworthy explained this was Helene Pickering, originally from Charleston, South Carolina."
"Yeesh. Steel Magnolia, squared. She doesn't look like she gives it out, much. Any kits?"
"Figures. Probably ruin her figure."
"You can see how you fit into the picture."
"Oh, yeah. So after I get the Top Cop, what then?"
For the next six hours, the ewe was given Criminal Intelligence 101. It was crimebusting from the other point of view. Lamm didn't mind this. She was broad minded.
"And I'll bet anything else I find out of interest will be appreciated, right?"
"You provide the raw data. We'll use it as we see fit."
Lamm proved she could sneer, too. "And I suppose we'll have happy snaps for souvenirs, right?"
"Certainly, once we get the proper arrangements laid on, and after your initial successes."
"Yeah, how will Lord Leon use 'em?"
A frown indicated that this question was best left unanswered (and perhaps unasked), and talk moved to the mechanics and timing of reports getting back to Krupmark, and payment going the reverse direction. There was some hard bargaining on this point, particularly when it came to the use of cash, but eventually agreement was reached. Pawshakes were dispensed with.
A few weeks later, a three-week tourist visa in paw, Caroline Lamm got the same stamped in the Customs Shed at the seaplane terminal on Eastern Island, in the Spontoons, followed by a water-taxi to an inexpensive hotel on Casino Island. She could see that even with world conditions being what they were, a four-star hotel was going up on the island, not far away.
There were two local papers in English. One of them, the Elele, seemed to be more geared toward practical things, like announcements of speeches. The Chief Constable was due to give one later that night at the local high school, free admission, all welcome.
It was sparsely attended, which didn't seem to faze the speaker, who seemed very pleased with himself as he talked about the new blood in the Constabulary, and the new innovations that were coming, including the proposals for a detective force. Most of this seemed to bore even the reporters from the newspapers, who were probably used to this.
It was thus not surprising that a nicely dressed little ewe, and one that was paying rapt attention, would stand out in a crowd. Her applause was noted with a smile and a bow. At least from the podium. The reporter a few seats down rolled his eyes.
In the succeeding nights, Chief Constable A. Abel Pickering seemed to have what those in opera circles call a claque. A claque of one, to be precise, but a claque nonetheless.
After another speech (this one on the adequacy, or lack thereof, of financial support for the Constabulary), the ewe gave her usual enthusaistic response, and then started to return to her hotel room. To her surprise, a rather weary constable stopped her, and indicated that "the Chief" would like to say hello.
This afforded an opportunity to listen to a hello, and return the favour with a gushing bit of flattery. Pickering seemed to take it as his due. His escort had occasional coughing fits, which somewhat disrupted matters until the constable was ordered to check on matters at the seaplane terminal and stay there until dawn.
This continued for most of the period of Caroline's three-week visa. Whether anyone other than Pickering (and perhaps a boredom crazed reporter or two) noticed is probably open to question. But Pickering did indeed notice, and evidenced great appreciation for the fresh-faced eagerness and budding hero-worship of the ewe. You will recall at the start of this narrative we referred to the cornflower-blue eyes of Miss Lamm. These tools were most useful at this point, as they were the only part of the stock-in-trade that was clearly on display. Though even with proper skirts and blouses, the other items of inventory were hinted at. Pickering had muffed a few lines in his speech owing to certain distractions.
Finally, with a few days left on her visa, the ewe decided to set the hook. On this particular night, the claque was obviously distracted, which put the Chief Constable slightly off his game, and took his edge off his speech ("Underworld Keep Out!").
This time, there was no intermediary, but the man himself making the enquiry.
"Is there anything wrong, my dear?"
A show of lip-biting nervousness was given, and the promise of incipient tears was made clear. A very quiet, trembling voice asked for an appointment tomorrow, as something was needed. This request for an appointment was readily granted. (The Chief of Patrol could be granted an audience at any time; after all, he served the Chief Constable, not the other way around.)
It was indeed a four-Kleenex tale that was told in the office that next morning. A runaway from home. No money left. Visa expiring. Doesn't want to go back. Doesn't know where to turn. Earnest, moist look of appeal to police officer.
Soothing words in response. Paperwork would be taken care of, certainly. Miss Lamm need not trouble herself about that. And he, the Chief Constable, would have a word with the hotel, until things could be sorted out.
Gushing words of gratitude in counter-response. Indications of willingness to do anything for the Chief Constable. Smile. Reiteration of the offer.
Long pause of silence, broken only by the sound of slowly beating eyelashes on the part of Miss Lamm, and then by a short telephoned order from the Chief Constable to cancel the other appointments for that morning.
There was a calculated level of resistance to what transpired next, mostly half-hearted protestations and nervous glances at the (very securely locked) door. Reassurances were given.
Paw-written notes were exchanged later that day by messenger. One was burned in a wastebasket. The other was carefully saved in a notebook, on the first page.
After a few weeks, and a few other intervals (the Chief of Patrol having the misfortune to have two other meetings cancelled at the last minute), other arrangements were quietly made. The visa problem quietly vanished. The hotel bill quietly vanished, courtesy of the Chief Constable's Discretionary Fund. This Fund was also useful in obtaining a lease on a smart apartment in one of the newer buildings on Casino Island, and making a start on furnishing it as well.
One of the rooms was very simply furnished, with a metal desk and a leather sofa, and a large mirror on one wall. Workmen were brought in from some distant islands to install the mirror according to certain specifications.
The level of shyness and nervousness that marked the first few interludes with the Chief Constable were gradually superceded by meek obedience and eagerness to please. Not to mention an openness to suggestions. Statements were made to the effect that Miss Lamm was much preferable to Mrs. Pickering, who it seemed was prone to headaches.
After a few months, it became clear that the Chief Constable liked to assert (to borrow from his distant lupine relations) his status as an alpha male, for which the presence of a seemingly submissive and compliant ewe was indeed valuable. Certainly, the attention paid to the Chief Constable's uniform, in its maintenance, and in putting it on (and, more importantly, removing it) was deeply appreciated.
Even more appreciated was an eager, adulatory audience. The Chief found to his delight that he had an audience that never tired of his views on the Constabulary, and what was wrong with it, and how it could be corrected with the proper leadership (ready to paw, naturally). The fact that there was a ready audience in private led to a decline in the number of the Chief's speaking engagements, which proved to be a relief to the junior reporters on the local newspapers.
This was usually the best time to find out how exactly the Chief Constable was acting to tear up crime, root and branch, in the Spontoons. The fruits of A. Abel Pickering's genius were laid out for the (oft-expressed) admiration of Caroline Lamm, and her (private) recordation in memoranda sent on to Krupmark, by means of secure couriers.
An interesting insight into Pickering's mind-set came with the introduction of "play" costumes. The two favourites appeared to be the Lady Constable and the Spontoonie. The Lady Constable required the use of a special breakaway version of the uniform worn by lady constables. A few samples were gathered to be tailored. At least one was lost by a tailor who had a cousin on Krupmark. The Spontoonie required little more than flowers and woven grasses, but at least that could be replaced at little or no cost.
Advance notice was requested for dress-up. On a few occasions, this served not only to allow Lamm her Stagislavskii moment, but to allow certain assistants behind the mirror in the "playroom" to record the events for posterity. Some of it in extremely expensive Kodachrome, which required a secure processing facility.
Lamm was never quite sure how her reports were received, but the monthly payments in advance were made on a regular basis, sure as clockwork. The only deviation from this was a significant bonus that was paid a few weeks after the first rounds of pictures were taken.
A Chief Constable that is the terror of Crime knows no office hours, and often excuses were telephoned to Helene Pickering that dinner was not to be held up, and that she was not to wait up. It was not clear whether there was any dismay expressed at these requests.
One advantage of these late hours is that they afforded an opportunity for the ewe to relieve the stress that so often plagues a Chief Constable when he has to work late hours. Suffice it to say that it was a good thing that the Chief Constable had a desk that was roomy on top and roomy underneath.
The patrotic efforts of Miss Lamm were rewarded with a key to the back entrance and back stairs to Police HQ, which led only to the Chief Constable's office from a non-descript building next door. This obviated the tedium of having the desk sergeant send the ewe up...even if, like most Spontoonies, the desk sergeant probably wouldn't have cared less that the Chief Constable was seeing a bit of fleece on the side.
The desk sergeant might have had different views had he seen not the stress-relieving efforts of Miss Lamm, but what usually took place in the fifteen minutes or so while the Chief Constable used his private bathroom to wash off ewe scent. (The Chief had a good idea of how ewe scent would be viewed at home.)
Lamm made the pyschological guess that the new safe that had been installed (in plain view in a lower desk drawer) still used the combination set at the factory. A guess that proved, naturally, to be correct. This proved to be a ready source of petty cash (more Chief Constable's Discretionary Fund, provision for which had increased noticeably in the preceeding months), and some interesting files, which were discreetly borrowed.
The rather public death of a few individuals unmasked as SIC agents opreating on Krupmark Island greatly vexed the Chief Constable, who cursed his agents' carelessness. It took Nurse Lamm's administration of his "annual physical" to distract him from considering further and deeper how such a tragic turn of events could occur.
It wasn't tragic for all concerned, of course. There was another substantial bonus paid shortly after this incident.
Carelessness of the workers in the Chief Constable's office was a continuing secondary theme, as documents would be misplaced and reappear. Stern orders were given to Miss Lopp, the Chief Constable's secretary, not to fiddle with the papers on his desk. Acrimonious words were exchanged, which usually resulted in tearful cups of tea at Luchow's down the street, and the sympathetic ears of the worthy who ran that storied diner.
All gardens have their snakes, of course. Only the snakes in Lamm's garden had either horns or a brush. About a year after the Chief Constable's private life improved, the SIC formally hired two detectives. One was a promotion from within, a Spontoonie fox who was on record as beliving that there was more justice in a blackjack than there was in a court of law, a novel theory not found in Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England. It was widely (and correctly) believed that keeping Orrin Brush off the streets as a constable brought relief to many of those who did not walk the straight and narrow. Certainly, the incident with the barge full of smuggled weapons gave many pause, and an excuse for promotion.
Brought in as his superior was a foreigner, a rather morose looking whitetail deer buck, who dressed like a remittance man whose cheques were consistently late, and bore an expression one normally sees in stained-glass windows depicting saints acheiving their status the hard way.
Lamm decided the best policy was to stay far away from Brush and his blackjack as was possible. She wasn't the only one by any means who considered this. As for the deer, whose name was Stagg, he seemed on the outside to be lost in his own misery.
Pickering didn't like either of them, and kept up a show of cheerfulness only as a front, at least for the initial period of time the Detective Bureau was in place. In private, Pickering sneered at, and complained about, Stagg. Stagg had apparently been chief of his native land's police force before a particularly bloody revolution ended that part of his resume, and Pickering was under the impression that Stagg was after his job.
Lamm had her doubts, but there was no question that Stagg and Brush knew their jobs. They were solving a number of relatively high-profile cases, to the intense irritation of the Chief Constable, who could only claim most of the credit in public.
The reports (and the payments, with occasional generous bonus) continued through to the summer of 1936. It was at this point that Caroline Lamm's ears began to twitch. She had to endure whined complaints that the Chief of Patrol and the two detectives were scheming behind his back, and not telling him things. Certainly, this happened during a high-profile rescue of a kidnapped mother.
Pickering got his licks in, occasionally, such as when he took away a murder case from Stagg and Brush. Or, rather, murder cases, as they were the product of a particularly twisted little swamp deer. Details of this, and Pickering's gloating, were conveyed to Krupmark. Unusually, this triggered some follow-up queries as to the known information. Lamm guessed that the Allworthies wanted to pick up some pointers. They must have liked what they heard; she got the biggest bonus yet. Lamm hoped they weren't experimenting.
But there was a sense that something was up in the summer of '36. Stagg was skulking around in his usual bleak fashion, and Brush looked like he knew everything. (These two facts, by Pickering's reckoning.)
To Krupmark, Lamm indicated that Stagg was plotting something. For herself, Lamm began to convert as much of her wealth as possible into small, portable means, stashing it in distant bank accounts, far away from the Spontoons. A bag containing essentials for three days' of travel, including travelers' cheques, was kept by the door, for a quick departure.
Stagg and Brush vanished one September afternoon. So did the decrepit old hound that was the Chief Magistrate. And some constables went on a "fishing trip" at the same time. Pickering was hoping they were going to overthrow some distant island.
It was only when Caroline opened up the September 23rd edition of the Mirror that she saw what Stagg, Brush & Co. had been up to.
Reuters was reporting that Lord Leon Allworthy and Lady Susan Allworthy had been executed in the Gilbert and Sullivan Islands, based on an outstanding Crown Warrant.
For the first time, playtime was called on account of headache.
Lamm was on tenterhooks. She had no one to report to, and the couriers had vanished. She had no idea of who she might report to on Krupmark, or who knew of her existence on Krupmark. And whether any information she had supplied to Krupmark had, perhaps, been used in a competitive fashion against them.
Her alarm increased when Pickering fumed (after a particularly vigorous session of "Interrogation" that ruined some very expensive Japanese silk lingerie, paid for by, as usual, the Discretionary Fund) that Stagg had been spending SIC money (of all things!) to break the codes used by the Allworthies in their business.
Lying awake in her apartment, Lamm thought furiously. How good were the Allworthies at keeping their secrets? Did they blow her cover? There was one way to find out.
A new game was introduced, with a pungent (and perhaps unintended, had Lamm known) bit of irony, "Madame Onca." This was well-received. Whispers and giggles after Madame Onca had escaped the firing squad by revealing herself revealed something else: all that was known was that Allworthy had bragged that he had friends, plural, on Meeting Island. Pickering vowed he would leave no stone unturned to prove this was rubbish.
His playmate doubted this, of course.
Weeks passed. For the most part, nothing happened, unless you count an idiot playboy of a whitetail deer that was running around Casino Island casuing havoc, as he'd been doing since spring. At least his antics kept the detectives somewhat distracted.
The Mirror was reporting shootouts at Ft. Bob. Most dismissed these reports as typical sensation-mongering by Charles Foster Crane. This point of view was endorsed by the Chief Constable, who had his own sources on Krupmark.
His playmate doubted this, of course.
Christmas came and went, with a specially wrapped "present" for the Chief Constable. He seemed like he was in a better mood (Pickering sneered that Stagg was getting some attention from a blowsy cheetah, and racously imagined what he was getting). Stagg, for one, seemed less prone to adventures, and even got badly sick shortly after the New Year.
The Chief Constable publicly expressed his get-well wishes. Privately, he cut an order to retire Franklin J. Stagg on the grounds of health. Once Stagg was gone, it would be simple to disband the Detective Bureau, and transfer Brush to some new post. Like, say, resident constable on Gull Island. A thought that doubled over the Chief Constable when suggested by his playmate.
We should, in all honesty, note that neither Chief Constable Pickering nor Miss Lamm were aware of certain events that had taken place after the untimely deaths of the Allworthies...such as what had happened to their file of material sent from Meeting Island. These had been recovered by a Krupmark family whose sense of civic duty was overshadowed by their sense of self-preservation and even sharper sense of the main chance. Conveniently, a member of the clan was attending a local academy.
A copy of the file of material was made for this scion's use as she saw fit. The original was given to Inspector Stagg, hours before his illness struck. It was unclear what had happened to it. The duplicate had been sold by the clan member (at a good price) to a classmate whose sense of capitalism was untrammeled by anything resembling ethics. After perusing the file with some classmates equally disdainful of the majesty of the Law, the file was given, with compliments, to the Spontoon Mirror. Rumour has it that a significant cheque was likewise given, with compliments, to the budding entrepeneur.
The first inkling of trouble came with a phone call early one evening in February (when no "playtime" was scheduled).
The caller introduced himself as a reporter from the Mirror. This was alarming, even if the fact that Pickering had a mistress was known to many (except, seemingly, Mrs. Pickering). Some impertinent questions were asked about how she entertained the Chief Constable, and how she could afford such tasteful decorations in her apartment.
The connection had been ended no more than five seconds, when a call was made to Pan-Nimitz to see if there was a vacancy on the next flight to Honolulu. There was, leaving in twenty-five minutes. Just enough time for a quick note.
Thus occupied, our "heroine" would not have known that at that moment, counsel for the Spontoon Mirror was attempting to dissuade his client from publishing a head-turning expose in the next morning's issue.
"For God's sake, Mr. Crane. Surely you're not going to publish THAT picture!"
The picture in question was one from the Allworthy file, and showed the Chief Constable, in his uniform, playing with Miss Lamm, who was dressed as a Spontoonie, and who looked to be in immiment danger of losing her costume, to her feigned dismay.
"Why not?" Mr. Crane settled back in his desk chair, puffing on a cigar. He was a firm beliver in the principle of "you furnish me the pictures, and I'll furnish you the scandal."
"It's going to set off every native in the Islands, including the ones on the Althing. Which, I may remind you, can take away your radio and television licences. You're still not a native, you know."
"Which gives me such a fresh perspective on this matter, one you'd never get in the Elele. Besides, the angle on this photo is much better than the one where she's playing the Pan-Nimitz stewardess. I'm relegating that to pages four and five."
"Do you have anything else, other than exposing Chief Pickering's night life to all and sundry?"
Crane merely blew a smoke ring.
"Oh, come now. That would be telling, wouldn't it?"
The four-star morning edition of the Spontoon Mirror, which was the first to carry the story, sold out faster than any issue in the paper's relatively young history. Unusually, a five star edition had to be run.
The headline was pithy.
Helene Pickering had her usual appointment to attend to her brush. As a regular (home delivery) reader of the Elele, she had no inkling of what else was happening. The Mirror was vulgar. It was common. It was Casino Island. No well-bred Charleston vixen would ever read such trash.
All conversation stopped when she entered the salon, which was of some irritation. Nose in the air, she decided to ignore her sisters who were likewise having their fur and claws attended to, and looked to see if the latest issue of Harper's Bazaar had finally reached the Islands, a few weeks late as usual.
She noticed with some irritation (building on her previous irritation) that someone had shoved a newspaper hurriedly underneath the table holding the magazines. She held it by the thumb and forefinger when she saw from the back sports page that it was the Spontoon Mirror. She flicked it aside to a nearby chair, with the result that the front page landed face up.
It was not difficult to recognize at least one of the figures on the front page.
Even with a vision that seemed to be turning crimson and carmine.
A well-bred Charleston vixen, when faced with a crisis of events, is never at a loss for action. It was the work of moments to figure out that a visit to the local bank was the first and proper order of business.
The Interior Minister was ordinarily an ally of Chief Pickering. He had little taste for Inspector Stagg's antics, and considered the old buck to be a drama queen who should go on stage tour, preferably in some remote archipelago far away from his office.
This morning, the Interior Minister was livid. He was holding the same edition of the Mirror that Mrs. Pickering had viewed, not by thumb and forefinger, but by rapidly shaking feline paw. He managed to squeak out, in a voice about two octaves higher than normal, a pertinent question.
"ABEL?!? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR BLOODY MIND?!? WHAT WERE YOU *THINKING*?!?
Pickering's train of thought, which largely involved finding a way to get rid of Charles Foster Crane and make it look like a tragic accident, was sidetracked.
"All right, all right! So I've been seeing someone."
"You've been damn well more than "seeing" some one, judging from these photos. Damnit, I've already had a phone call from Pan-Nimitz, and I'm betting Father Merino is going to give me hell over page nine."
Pickering wished to hell he'd never thought of that "game."
"Look, just shut up and calm down. No one gives a damn about screwing around on these islands, and you know it. Hell, even that holier-than-thou bastard Stagg's shagging some tart from the Double Lotus, would you believe. It's probably what nearly killed him, worse luck for us. I'm going out there, and I'm going to tell the Elele and the Mirror that they should mind their own damn business about what I do when I'm off duty..."
The Interior Minister was about to point out certain timelines when he was waved off.
"And, as I was saying, that's all there is to it, case closed."
"Damnit, Pickering, are you sure that *is* all there is to it?"
"God-damnit, don't give me that crap now, of all days."
"All right, all right, but you better be God-damn sure you're on the stick with this. God help us if Crane's got something up his sleeve."
It was not until after the somewhat awkward interview with the Interior Minister had ended that Chief Pickering realized an even more awkward interview was impending. Namely, one with Helene Pickering. Thus, the press conference with the reporters was short, to the point, and only two questions were taken, both heated denials.
Hurrying along the streets of Meeting Island, Pickering hoped that Helene's customary disdain for the Mirror had held, and that she had either not seen today's paper, or that she would dismiss it as a pack of sensationalist lies.
Pickering opened the front iron gate and trotted into the yard. He had gone about five feet when he stopped dead in his tracks.
What appeared to be the entire contents of his wardrobe and dresser drawers were heaped onto the lawn. Stuck in as kindling were a vast quantity of the Chief's books, personal papers, and momentoes, acting as kindling. One of the maids was just finishing emptying a jerrican of what smelled alarmingly like petrol over the pile, and judging from the pile of tins tossed aside, it wasn't the only one.
Pickering, at this moment, realized that his marriage was dead, and that his wife intended to give it a Viking funeral. Seeing her mate standing slack-jawed, Mrs. Pickering took a deep breath. She then proceeded, for the edification of both Chief Pickering and anyone within about a one hundred-yard radius of the Pickering residence, to detail what she thought of a sick, twisted, two-timing, lying, cheating, bastard of a mate.
Seeing his mate engage in a high-decible discussion that would shock the bosun of a tramp steamer, something one does not normally expect of a South Carolina vixen of long and distinguised pedigree, confirmed in the Chief's mind that if he didn't act fast, something irrevocable would happen.
Helene Pickering, seeing her mate approaching, reached into her purse and took out a small, pearl-handled Colt automatic.
"For God's sake, Helene! Don't do it!"
A fierce glare was given in response. "Ah wouldn't waste a bullet on yore miserable brush, Abel. It would be a waste of good lead. And as for me, Ah'm going home to Mother. But Ah thought Ah'd give you all a nice house-wahming. Ah know you *hayte* to come home to a cold house."
And with that, Mrs. Pickering fired three shots into the petrol-sodden heap. With an audible "FWOOOOMPH," the pile ignited. Pickering dived out of the way to avoid getting either his brush or his eyebrows signed. After a minute or so, he got up, turned around, and watched in agonized silence as approximately fifty-six years of his life, much as the sailors in that old song watched "that smoke so black/go from that old smokestack. It's floating right to heaven/and it won't come back."
Mrs. Pickering did not omit to take advantage of this distraction to clobber the Chief on the ear with the hard, leather-bound edge of her train case, before flouncing out the front gate in a high dudgeon, not to return.
There was nothing for it but to trudge over to Casino Island, and to Caroline's apartment. The Chief rationalized that if he had lost Helene Pickering, he had at least gained someone who was going to pay attention to him. And who took better care of his clothes than dousing them with a few dozen gallons of Ethyl. If there was ever a day he needed tensions released, it was today.
The apartment appeared normal. None of the furniture was missing, and a quick check of the closets showed racks of clothes (both walking-out clothes and "play" clothes) still there. Sighing with relief, Pickering fixed himself a stiff drink at the drinks cabinet, and settled down on the sofa to await his paramour's return.
It was at this point that he noticed an envelope lying neatly in the centre of the coffee table in front of the sofa, addressed to "Sweetbrush."
The message inside was telegraphically terse.
"So long, sucker."
One would think that the Chief would have the presence of mind to use his drink as a sedative and not a missile against the far wall, but in so thinking, one would over-estimate Chief Pickering's ability to think on his feet.
The chief pressman at the Mirror was in conference with his publisher. Dilemnas, dilemnas. On the one paw, there was the lovely part two of the expose, which detailed all of the uses (and abuses) of the Chief Constable's Discretionary Fund. On the other paw, there was the pungent details of sensitive SIC information leaked to Krupmark sources. What to lead with, what to lead?
This toothsome puzzle was rendered moot by the news that Sergeant Brush and an assistant in the Attorney General's office had located where Inspector Stagg (still on holiday) had stashed the original of the Krupmark file. It proved to duplicate the file provided to the Mirror, in all respects, except that the photos in the original were partially in colour.
Crane bitterly regretted that he could only print comics in colour. He soothed his disappointment by listening to the sound of his presses running all night.
Newsstand sales of the Mirror set a new record the next morning. Chief Pickering saw his first copy when he stumbled out of the (now ex-) love nest, with a nasty hangover, in desperate need of some coffee.
The headline didn't help his condition.
"PICKERING, EWE ARE LYING! Mirror exposes lies, leaks and lucre!"
*****The Chief bolted back to HQ on Meeting Island, coffee forgotten. At the front desk area, the desk sergeant was presiding over a small group of constables, who were holding a huddled conference. If they had been kneeling, one would suspect either a prayer meeting or a crap game. Standing apart from the group, and enjoying a long drink from the water cooler, was Detective Sergeant Brush, who was wearing a rumpled suit and a neat, toothy grin.
This was a bit much for Pickering. He strode to about six feet from Brush and yelled at the top of his lungs.
"WELL, DON'T JUST STAND THERE, YOU IDIOT! CALL THE SEAPLANE TERMINAL!"
Brush finished his cup of water, belched, tossed the cup in the wastebasket, and used the back of his paw to wipe his mouth. "Why? Seein' yer wife off, sir? Th' boys at Customs told me yestiddy she looked packed fer a long trip."
"HOLD YOUR GOD-DAMNED TONGUE, YOU ____________. I WANT YOU TO ARREST CAROLINE LAMM, *NOW!*"
Brush merely leaned on the water cooler and titled his head. "Uh-hunh. What's the charge?"
"MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS! NOW GET GOING!"
Brush examined his claws thoughtfully. "See, I gots a lil' problem, here. Yer askin' me t'put the cuffs on someone. Never mind, see, that I figger that's yer job. When *I* puts th' cuffs on a perp, I kinda like t'know th' reason why, see?"
"GOD-DAMNIT, DO YOU AND THAT __________ IDIOT PARTNER OF YOURS HAVE TO QUESTION EVERY _________ ORDER I GIVE?"
The second half of the Spontoon Islands Constabulary Detective Bureau poured himself another cup of water thoughtfully. The only sounds in the room were the gurgling of the water cooler and the heavy breathing of Chief Pickering. The other constables were watching the scene with silent attention.
"See, I'm a lil' confused. Folks tell me at yer presser yestiddy that youse said ye'd done nothin' wrong wit' yer lil' bit o' fleece, and that it ain't no one's business but yours. Okeh, fair enough. You ain't gotta answer t'Augustus Merino on that one. Ceptin' mebbe that outfit ye were wreckin'. But that ain't square wit' what yer tellin' me, now. *Now*, y'want me t' slap th' cuffs on yer sweetie."
Brush emptied his cup of water again, and tossed the second used cup after the first.
"So, lemme ask ya. You lyin' yesstidy t' the press-boys? Or are y'lyin t'me, now?"
Pickering's muzzle crested at this cool insubordination. He was still Chief, and he was going to show this upstart a thing or two...
Seeing his superior take one step forward, intent on confrontation, Brush merely licked his lips and gave a slight flick of his right paw. The more attentive of the constables, and those among them that were the most experienced, took three steps back. They knew where Detective Sergeant Orrin F.X. Brush hid his blackjack, and it was common knowledge around HQ that Brush could use the blackjack the way Kreisler could use the violin.
Pickering had closed to within about two feet when he looked down to see the sap in the ready position in Brush's paw. His eyes met Brush's, and only saw a look of languid anticipation. Brush was obviously choosing which part of Pickering's skull would form the target.
At this point, Pickering realized two facts:
Firstly, every last constable in the room, including the senior patrol sergeants, had retreated to the far wall, leaving him on his own.
Secondly, and this was directly related to the first fact, there was a warm, wet stain that was rapidly spreading on the front of his uniform trousers.
Brush began twirling the blackjack through the fingers of his right paw, chuckling softly.
It was a long walk for Pickering to get to the stairs, and it required going through a knot of constables to do so. He had almost reached the first landing when the boom of laughter from the front desk area reached his ears.
There was a long, acrimonious debate at the Executive Committe of the Althing that afternoon, which lasted into the early hours of the morning.
Charles Foster Crane, looking smug, tapped his fingers on his copy of the ex-Allworthy file, while the Attorney General, looking exhausted, gave his preliminary opinion as to the contents of the copy recovered from the confessional booth at St. Anthony's, where Inspector Stagg had hidden it to keep it safe.
Each fresh detail of the defalcations relating to the Discretionary Fund made the Finance Minister tighten his jaw further. After a few hours, he looked like he had a death rictus, a situation he was heartily wishing to visit upon his counterpart at the Interior Ministry, who was sinking lower and lower into his chair at each fresh revelation.
Many attempts were made to contact the Chief Constable to get an explanation. These were unsuccessful.
One attempt was made to get the Interior Minister to resign. This was all that was necessary. The Althing's secretary and chief clerk sitting in as interim minister, the Althing next turned to the fate of A. Abel Pickering.
A. Abel Pickering sat at his desk, staring down at his right paw. Cradled in it was his service revolver, and he was staring at it as if it were an item that had suddenly materialized from another dimension to his grasp.
His mouth moved silently, as if he were lip-reading the field manual instructing Constabulary rookies on the art of firing the revolver. These may have been the words, but they were impossible to comprehend at any distance further than six inches.
Getting as close as six inches to Pickering might well have been a poor idea at this juncture, given that he had not stirred from his chair since he had fled from Det. Sgt. Brush the day before, locking his office door behind him. A cloud of gloom mixed with fox musk (and other fox scents) is something that is not likely to be bottled in Paris any time soon.
Pickering had thus missed that morning's four-star Mirror, and the Elele, which had caught up with the story. Occasionally, the telephone rang insistently, as it had the day before, but he stared at the instrument uncomprehendingly until it relapsed into silence. Most of his intentions were focused on his revolver, to the practical exclusion of nearly everything else.
It was thus that he did not hear the quiet click of a key in the office door-lock, and that he did not see the bulky form of what he knew as the Chief of Patrol (and not by his new title) quietly pad into the room. This worthy surveyed the scene sadly, but this did not prevent him from taking decisive action.
There was no resistence as a paw quietly removed the revolver from Pickering's grasp. The spell broken, Pickering looked up through dazed, blood-shot eyes, as the other paw was placed on his shoulder.
"Come on, Abel. It's time to go downstairs. I'll do the booking and the paperwork personally."
And with that, the new Chief Constable of the Spontoon Islands led the former Chief Constable of the Spontoon Islands out, closing the door softly behind him.
The folks who write the tourist guides often write of the joys of New Zealand: its quiet, pastoral meadows; deep, hushed forests; softly gurgling waterfalls; and the general air of ease and contentment that rubs off on the residents. The world seems far away and remote, and everyone likes it that way.
Certainly one recent addition to the local population did. No one knew who she was, and an equal number cared. She had left no forwarding address, and a brief bit of seaplane-and-alias borne tag among the islands of the South Pacific gave her confidence that as far as the world in general knew, her former self had vanished into the vast ocean, never to be seen again. Good riddance, she thought. Omit flowers.
She was now the proud possessor of a comfortable (and mortgage-free) house, with a substantial garden. At this moment, the garden was being tended by a broad-shouldered teenage ram. The scenery was pleasing, particularly as he flexed his muscles and bare chest to trim the edge of the bushes, and leaned over in his practical and abbreviated shorts to attend to the more difficult-to-reach areas.
A warm smile was given to this son of toil as he finished his job, and walked up to the ewe of the house. Was there anything else, the cheerful and earnest question came, that Madam would like him to do for her, this afternoon?
She had a few ideas, indeed.
On the fog-bound coast of Tillamook, a number of grey-clad figures were hunched over, each attending to a fishing net, healing the inevitable rips and tears that plague fisher-folk the world over. The Prince Kropotkin Penitentiary had been founded with the idea that useful, productive work was better for a prisoner than mindless chain-gang work, or the shutting away of a lost soul in a masonry box. This was an idea that appealed to the sensibilities of both Tillamook and a number of its allies, and it was thus a polyglot group that was busy paying its debt to Society early that morning.
One of the grey-clad figures stopped at his labours, and looked up across the Pacific. His thoughts turned to a distant group of islands. What was going on there, he wondered? Was life going on, as normal? Did anyone remember him? Did anyone care?
A harsh voice cut through the fog. "Hey! You! 37-095! Stop wool-gathering, there, and get back to work."
A. Abel Pickering winced at the possibly unintentional choice of words, sighed, and turned his attention back to a skien of tangled net.