Spontoon Island
home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story

"Telephone Inspector Stagg!"
Incidents in the life of Inspector Franklin Stagg
 as reported by Detective Sergeant Orrin Brush
& edited 

by EO Costello
-story illustration: Kjartan-

Sgt Brush greets Inspector Stagg

"Knave High"

16 November 1934 1510

      Don't hardly anyone 'round here likes November weather.   Windy 'n cold, grey skies, an' all that. Most people sorta sulk indoors, readin' what little is in the Mirror.   Even the yeggs kinda take it easy. You'd never figger crime's gotta off-season, wouldja?

      I say don't hardly anyone, 'cause the only one I wuz seein' that seemed to like the weather wuz my boss, Detective Inspector Stagg.   Him 'n me, we're the whole 'tective Division of the Spontoon Islands Constab'lry.  Anyway, *he* likes the weather.   'course, back where he came from, way off 'n gone in New Haven, they had weather like this.   Used to be a bigshot in their police force.   That was 'fore the rev'lution in those parts, though.   Stagg got out with the clothes on his back, an' a busted right hoof, an' that's the lot. He was splittin' his down time writin' some notes, an' readin some Roman poet, name of Juvenal.   Me, I was readin' the afternoon edition of the Mirror for like the fourth time.

      Anyhow, things was pretty quiet, only sound was the rain drummin' offen the windows (some of it leakin' in through one busted pane), when one of the Chief's sec'taries gives a real quiet tap on the door, an' pokes her lil' pink nose inta the office.   She coughs, real delicate like, to get Stagg's 'tention.   Gist of it was, there was some big badger thumpin' the Chief's desk, complainin' bout bein' cheated at cards, an' here he wuz, a taxpayin' cit'zen, an' what wuz he, meanin' the Chief, gonna do 'bout it?   She pads off, in a lil'  swirl of tailfur, leavin' Stagg lookin' up from his poetry book.

      "Card shapring?   The menu seems to be a little brief in the off-season, Sargeant."

      "I got two-an-six sez it's all 'bout the doin's over at Borzoi's."  Stagg looks over at me, raisin' a brow, so I dug out the Mirror from two days ago (it wuz holdin' up my desk to keep it from wobblin'), an' found a bit in the gossip page.   Ain't hard ta find, since not much gossip 'round November.   "See, Borzoi's is what they call a "gamblin' club."   Ain't like onea the glitzy casinos, see?   Just about two rooms.   But lemme tellya, these rooms, they're like somethin' you see in a London genneman's club."

      "Not personal observation, I take?"

      "Naw.   Ain't never had no call to go over there.   The gang over there, just high-rollers in evenin' dress.    Only thing worse'n bad credit over there is bad manners.   'course, they serve vintage bubbly an' meals cooked up by some chef Borzoi brought over from the old country, fine china, crystal."

      "Sounds a bit odd, having an establishment like that here in the Islands."

      "Not really.   See, worda mouth.   They don't never advertise.   Just  sorta whisper 'bout.   No limits, good food, an' such.   Oncea you get an invite from a guy witha card, you're in.   Way I hear it, ain't unusual to see thirty, forty thousand pounds cross the table.   Like a few nights 'go."

       Showed Stagg a bit in the Mirror.   Seems fella named Colonel Jabez Q. Cougar, late a' Lexington, 'tucky, was doin' real well.   Wit sparklin' like the fine champagne bein' served, an' takin' some Greek shipowner in a seven-hour poker game for the nice, round sum of 9,000 pounds.   An' that was 'fore this badger guy givin' hell ta the Chief upstairs.   Guy's shtick is silver.   Black suit, silver vest with silver watch.   Ebony cane with a silver knob on top, silver cigar box with Havanas, silver soda gizmo, silver mint julep cups, the works.   Could see how the Mirror would think this guy's a godsend, comin' in the offseason.   Stagg takes all of this in, real quiet like.   Pulls out a small note card, makes onea his lil' tiny notes, an' stuffs it back in his jacket pocket.

       Sure enough, we get onea the Chief's memos.   Asks us to go real quiet like to Borzoi's joint, an' have a look 'round.   One paragraph on orders, three on manners.   Kinda resented the sentence on gettin' my shoes polished.   Least the Chief didn't give me no orders on what fork to use.

16 November 1934 2035

      Stagg made a few calls.   Not much on this Cougar fella.   Record clean as a whistle.   Luggage checked by customs, not a thing outa place.    Customs guys sure recalled him.   Tipped each a' em 20 pounds.   Whatever he wuz, he sure as hell wasn't tryin' to be no wallflower.

      So we pull up to Borzoi's joint.   Quiet side street, parta town where the houses are behind these thick walls an' iron gates.   No sign, no brass plate, no nothin'.   You don't know it's there, it ain't there.  Doorman at the gates, sez the Chief 'phoned, we're expected.   An' then sends us 'round to the "tradesman's entrance."    Things went a lil' down from there.

      Borzoi himself stalks out to see us, all dolled up in white tie an' tails.   First guy I seen in the Islands who's big enough to look down at Stagg.  Physically and all else too.   Fixes Stagg this real nasty glare through a monocle.

      "I trust you will make this investigation brief, yes?   I have no desire to experience inconvenience to my guests."

      "Well, Mr. Borzoi, one of your members visited my superior..."

      "EX-member.   This disgrace of calling in the police, I shall not have.   Nekulturny."

Mr. Borzoi meets Insp. Stagg & Sgt Brush

      "Be that as it may, Mr. Borzoi, I feel it is necessary to at least observe a night's play, especially if Col. Cougar is playing tonight.   Is he, in fact, expected?"

       Borzoi clenches his fists, an' you can see him quiver all over, like he had a chill.    Claps his paws sharply, an' up scurries a waiter.

       "These...policemen.   They shall be observing the gaming tonight.   Have the chef make them each a hamburger and a Nootnops."   He looks us both over.   We sure as hell ain't up to the dress code, 'specially with Stagg's old, wornout linen suit.   "And make sure they dine in the kitchen."   An' with that, he flounces out.

       Stagg let me have his burger.   Gotta say, best burgers I've ever had.   Mebbe burgers taste better on Dresden china, I dunno.

16 November 1934 2115

      Stagg dawdles over his coffee, thinkin'.   One of the waiters comes back to the kitchen, an' whispers in Stagg's ear, pointin' outside.  Looked like the festivities had started.

      Me an' Stagg, we go inta one of the game rooms.   Mahogany panelin' on the walls, marble fireplace, deep carpet, cut-crystal chandelier, an', in the centre of it all, a big mahogany table with green baize toppin', far from any mirrors or other such on the walls.   There's a smallish crowd in the room. Every gent in there in white tie.   Every dame in there in a dress that I bet cost more than what I get paid in two years.   Whole lotta looks at us.   Mostly over an' down noses.   We then get politely ignored, as the star of the show comes in.

      'course, he came in after his props.   The waiters come in with all sorts of glitterin', polished gear on silver platters.   Soda gizmo, cigar box, flask, ice bucket, small cups, small platea mint leaves.   An' then Col. Cougar enters.   Now, some folks would come off as pompous, but this guy, he's the soul of gentility.   Shakes paws with all the gents, makes a few polite, flatterin' comments to the dames, an' sits down.   He ain't in evenin' dress, but his duds are sure tailored.   Black 'n silver, down to the fancy silk cravat he has on, with a silver 'n gold stickpin, shinin' in the light.

      "Well, now, ladies and gentlemen.   Is there anyone who would care to dance a quadrille with Lady Luck, tonight?"    There wuz.   Four guys take some seats, an' take out rolls of bills, rolls you could choke on.   Soon they gotta bunch of chips stacked up like castles in front of 'em.   Stagg whispers quiet-like to me to keep track of who deals, an' who wins on each hand.

       Gotta say, it was kinda tough keepin' my mind on the job.   Cougar kept up a constant stream of patter, an' he had a whole lotta funny stories.   I don't mean stories people give polite laughs at, an' I don't mean the ones 'bout the travein' salesman in Hawai'i.   I mean the real funny stuff.   I think the juleps he was downin' was helpin lubricate his tongue, too.    He was pretty free with sharin' out Havanas from his box, too, 'specially after a guy lost a big hand; it wuz always open.   The audience was enjoyin' this.  They wuz seated 'bout a few yards back from the table, an' many were whisperin' and gettin' up to have somethin' from the buffet, or havin' some cocktails an' such.

       He was prolly up 'bout 5,000 pounds when he makes like he sees us for the first time.    "Well now, Ah declare.   Am Ah addressing some fine representatives of the local constabulary?"

       Stagg looks up.   He'd been readin' from his Juvenal.    Doesn't do much, just politely nods, an' goes back to his book.   Cougar doesn't seem angry.   Hell, he's laughin'.   "Well now, seein' as Ah'm under the *strict* supervision of the law, it would behoove me to ask for some fresh cards now, wouldn't you say, sir?"   Waiter runs up with a few packs on a silver salver.   Cougar waves him over to 'nother fellow, and has the other guy break the seal, and shuffle the cards.   This whole business of getting fresh cards happens about every ten hands or so for the rest of the night.    Cougar's got the brass to wink right at me as one guy is carefully shufflin' the cards.   Makes a whole gag about showin' that he ain't got nuthin' up his sleeves, 'ceptin a handkerchief.   Which he uses to blow his nose.   He also uses Stagg as astooge, too.    Spots the Juvenal in his paw, an' starts recitin' some of the funnier stuff  in it.   Nearly blew his deal, laughin', an' he laughed some more, when he won that pot with three twos.    By about midnight, the other guys throw in
their hands.   I figure they're down 'bout 11,000 pounds.   Cougar had an OK night, but most of his winnins came on three big pots, an' one huge pot, a 7,500 pot he took with a straight, knave high against a full house a' queens and nines.   I know those guys did eat a good dinner, but that sure was one expensive poached salmon those guys had.    Me 'n Stagg, we get escorted back out the "tradesman's entrance" by a waiter.

      "What did you think of the performance, Sergeant?   Col. Cougar seemed to be in rare form.    He was also letter perfect in his Juvenal recitation, by the way."

      "Missed his callin'.   Shoulda been a magician, especially with that getup he had, an' that non-stop yammer."

      Stagg, who wuz walkin' along thinkin', suddenly stops, an' gives me a look.   He tilts his head at me, an' half closes his eyes.   After 'bout 15 seconds, he nods, and then walks on wit' me, not sayin' a word, as we head on home.

17 November 1934 1015

      Stagg 'phones me up to tell me to fix it with the wife to be out today, on a Saturday.   He's up ta somethin', but I don't know what until I get into the office.   He's cleared off his desk, an' laid a cloth on it.   An' he's gotta pack a playin' cards, which he's shufflin' in a sorta moody way, thinkin'.

      "Pinochle is my sorta game, sir."

      Stagg gives one of his wint'ry lil' smiles.   "I had another guest in mind, Sergeant.   In fact, he appears to be right on time, if I'm judging correctly from the laughter I'm hearing outside."

      Sure enough, in walks Col. Cougar himself.   Same getup as last night, but fresh as a daisy.   Not a hair on his hide outta place, and grinnin' broadly an' flourishin' his ebony an' silver walkin' stick.    He walks in, an' spots Stagg's setup.

      "Well now, sir.   You have me at a positive disadvantage, as Ah was not expecting a game of chance at this fine hour of the morning.   Ah so rarely do anything before noon."

      "I was thinking, after seeing you last night, Colonel, that I would like a game with you."

      "Ah do not mean any offence to you, sir, but as a man of the world, Ah am familiar with the means of most police officers, and it is rare indeed to see one who plays for the kind of stakes Ah am used to."

      "Well, Colonel, perhaps you would be willing to give me some security on this."   Stagg pulls out a folded sheet of paper, and hands it the Colonel, who opens it, an' gives a good squint.  

      "It would appear, sir, that you suspect me of some sort of wrongdoing, as you have handed me an arrest warrant.   Now, where Ah come from, we take this sort of thing very seriously, and few countenance rash accusations of malfeasance."

       Stagg waves a paw to the one good chair we got in the office.   "Please have a seat, Colonel.   I realize that these are not the sort of surroundings you usually play in."

       The Colonel, nods, and sits down.   He don't look rattled, so Iwunner what Stagg is thinkin'.

       "You are, Colonel, a man of both exceptional eloquence and intelligence."  

       "Ah thank you kindly, sir."

       "Nearly every one of the standard methods of cheating at cards, you cheerfully and with great showmanship, showed not to be in operation.   The table was set far away from the mirrors.   You had no devices on your person to  hide cards.   You demanded, and got, fresh packs of cards and allowed others to  shuffle the cards.   Even if many thought I had my nose in my Juvenal, I did notice that the onlookers were seated in a way that would have made tipping off  the hands to you nearly impossible.   Sergeant Brush tells me that the breakdown of winning hands was fairly even, and that it was only a few very large pots that allowed you to win so handily last night."

       "Lady Luck, sir, is very sociable.   She does not give her favours to one person alone."

       "Which brings us both to this table, Colonel.   I'm sure that you would like to show how Lady Luck smiles on us both.   I regret that I do not have any mint juleps to offer you, but perhaps you can refresh yourself from your flask.   If you brought it with you.   I notice you don't use it that often."

        Cougar doesn't bat an eye.   Hell, he grins.    "Welllll now, sir.  Surely a man can be partial to mint juelps in the course of an evening's gaming?"

        Stagg points to me.   "Sergeant Brush made one perceptive comment to me on our way home last night.   He compared you to a magician.   Magicians use patter and misdirection to perform their art.   In your case, you kept up a stready stream of anecdotes and wit.   To distract people from the fact that you were dealing the cards slowly over your flask.   Your polished silver flask.   Which acted as a mirror, allowing you to see the cards that were dealt.   You didn't have to cheat on many hands.   Just a few big ones.   And you would come out ahead."

        Stagg placed the deck in front of Colonel Cougar.   "So there you are, Colonel.   I admit I haven't played much since I was in the Great War, but I'm sure it will come back to me readily enough.   How much are you willing to advance me on your arrest warrant?"

        The Colonel leans back in the chair, an' gives a slow, rumbly chuckle.   "Sir, Ah do declare that you are a sportsman and a gentleman.  Coming from me, Ah assure you, there is no higher compliment.   Ah will advance you 2,500 pounds on mah arrest warrant.   Cut for high card."

18 November 1934 0250

        So Stagg and the Colonel went at.   Nothin' fancy, just staright five-card stud.   The Colonel didn't have none of his toys, but he showed he didn't need no toys if he had to.   I sit in back of Stagg, watchin,' but I didn't say nothin.   Things sorta went back 'n forth, but gradually Stagg got the advantage.   Near dinnertime, the Colonel sends back to his hotel for a bigger bankroll, an' soon the stakes began gettin' a bit higher.   Stagg bluffed the Colonel outa 9,500 on one pot alone, an' that was just the warmup to the last showdown, way after midnight.   'bout 30,000 in the pot.   Each of 'em has a full house, but Stagg takes the pot with aces over knaves.   The Colonel is cleaned out.

        Funny thing, though.   He ain't sore.   He gets up, gives a little stretch, an' then bows to Stagg.   "Ah regret, sir, that Ah must let you go.   This has been most enjoyable, sir, and, if Ah do say so, educational.   You will permit me, sir, to have a souvenir of this encounter?"   With that, he takes the arrest warrant, and folds it carefully into his jacket pocket, an' then turns to the door.   Just 'fore he leaves, he spots Stagg's old cane propped up against his chair.   With a real actor's flourish, he turns, bows, and tosses his ebony an' silver cane onto the table, like a field marshal surrenderin' his baton.   An' with that, he marches off into the night.

        Stagg yawns, an' rubs his eyes, an' looks bleary-eyed at the pile of dough mounded up on his desk.

        "Count out the money, Sergeant, and see to it that the complainant is given his restitution.   You might also telephone Mr. Borzoi, and ask if the monies the Colonel won from his members should be sent to him care of the Mirror.   I'm sure he will appreciate the courtesy.   If there's anything left over, you might have a word with the officer in charge of the Constables' Benevolent Fund."

         "Aintcha gonna get somethin' out of it, sir?"

         Stagg picks up the cane the Colonel surrendered to him.   "A sportsman isn't in it for the mere money, Sergeant."   An' with that, he hobbles on home.

to the cases
"Telephone Inspector Stagg!"