Trench Coat and Trilby (part 1) a short story by Steve Hargett

Foreword

This story isn’t to be taken too seriously as a literary work. It is a bit of a joke with my work colleagues, written for their amusement. I won’t go in to details as from this no-one can be identified. However when my colleagues read it almost every character that appears in the story is based on one of them.

No one was offended and those that have read it have told me it was good – though as I say it is full of in-jokes. in fact one person who isn’t in the story has asked to have a part included. I have written it in such a way that the in-jokes should be invisible, or at least almost transparent. The story should read clearly for everyone who doesn’t know the people upon whom the characters are based.

This is just under half of the project, the second part will be published here in April after my colleagues have read it.

Trench Coat and Trilby

by

Steve Hargett

*** Chicago October 17th, 1931

It was a rainy night in the Windy City.

I walked out of the Precinct House, passing Police Officers going in both directions. Pulling my collar up to shield my neck from the cold wind with my right hand I put my trilby on my head with my left.

I ran across the road through the slow traffic, horns blared but I paid them no heed.

Reaching my car I pulled the door open and got inside. Tossing my trillby on to the passenger seat I then reached inside my coat and took out my colt and tossed it next to the trilby. The morning’s paper was still on the seat unread, Capone’s face on the front page.

Capone might be big news but as I pulled out and in to the early evening traffic he was the last thing on my mind.

I drove south to our office, my office now. Arriving I re-holstered my gun and put my hat on as I got out of the car. The lobby was open but there was no sign of Wilson. I jogged up the stairs to the third floor.

‘Jackson & Pollock Detective Agency’ it said on the door I unlocked. I thought then that I had to decide of I leave his name on the door or if I change it to read ‘Jackson Detective Agency’. The day staff were gone, by day staff I mean Janine. Things had been going slow and we only just managed to scrape enough business together to still be able to afford Janine’s pay.

Now, I had no idea if I could keep Janine on.

Pollock was dead. I’d just formally identified him in the morgue of the Precinct House. I opened my draw and rummaged around, I found what I was looking for. Pulling out a bottle of Seagrams. My line of business by-passed Ness too at times. Opening the bottle I dispensed with the glass and took a slug straight from the bottle.

Twelve years my partner in business, closest thing to family either of us had. And I just saw him with half his face missing on a cold slab in the morgue. Two puncture wounds on his forehead and a third under his chin. His face half burnt off with some form of acid. What sort of a monster could do this to a person?

All I knew was that I was going to find the culprit. Whoever he was I would hunt him down. And it wasn’t justice I wanted, it was revenge.

I didn’t know what case he had been working on.

I took another slug of Seagrams, sealed the bottle and walked over to Jake’s desk. I used his letter opener to break his draw open. Inside was his office notebook. He kept notes on all current cases, not as detailed as my own but he kept notes.

I opened the book and flicked through. It didn’t take long, given the shortage of work. He had been visited by a woman early today, no name given. Attractive and slim with a well turned ankle from the way his notes read. All he had noted about her that was of any use was her red stilletos. Not your average footwear.

She was worried about her husband, his employer was planning on putting someone out of business. She wouldn’t say who her husband’s employer was or who the opposition business was either. She’d just given him an address. It was a warehouse on Lake Calumet.

Jake had been found floating in the river, but not near Calumet.

*** Warehouse District, Lake Calumet

Lake Calumet was the largest body of water inside Chicago City Limits. There was a lot of varied usage in the area but the address was one of the many nameless buildings in the warehouse district. Pollock had almost certainly come here earlier today, as I got close I turned off my headlights and headed forward slowly.

I soon saw Pollock’s car parked up. I parked behind his car, drew my pistol and slowly slipped into the night. I moved slowly, the car looked unoccupied but there was no way to be certain in this light until I was right on top of it.

His car hadn’t been disturbed, whoever had killed him couldn’t have seen him leave it. I opened the door, he’d left it unlocked. I checked through it thoroughly, nothing seemed to give me any extra clues about what had happened to my friend.

Moving slowly towards the warehouse I carefully checked all sides for signs of occupation. There were nothing giving any clue to the business that lay inside. A few of the other warehouses were open, this one appeared to be closed, appearances were not always what they seemed.

No one came, no one left and I saw no lights within during the half an hour I kept watch. I couldn’t wait much longer, if there was a business here the staff would surely soon arrive. The absence of obvious security though suggested the place was empty. I moved location three times to try to get a good look at the building.

I watched the nearest warehouse, there was a security presence there and they didn’t look this way once. Again a suggestion the place may be vacant. But why would this mysterious woman give a vacant address to Pollock? Perhaps I had stumbled on where he had been murdered but not the why. Was it a ruse, was I drawn here just to be killed. Was it another case that I needed to look in to.

I was running out of time. I needed to look inside now to see what I could discover before returning to the office to check for anything that could give me more clues.

I skirted round to a rear entrance and was surprised to find it open. Slipping in I was instantly blinded by a bright flash and thrown back against some shelving. All I glimpsed in that chaotic instant was a scrap of green silk drifting through the air until it was burnt away.

I shook my head to clear my senses and quickly looked around. There were fierce flames moving through the warehouse and I saw a figure running to another exit. I dashed after him, covering my mouth and nose with my hands. The fire was catching up with me quickly as I ran.

As I reached the door I saw the fleeing man getting into a car, harbor lights illuminated his face for a brief moment and I recognised him in that instant.

Ricardo “The Match” Pegliani. Mob hit-man for Madam Riant, the only female mob boss currently operating in Chicago.

One other thing concerned me about that brief glimpse I had of Pegliani’s face. He loved his work and enjoyed watching his labor come to fruition. Why was he leaving and why did he look scared?

A shadow passed over me, I spun round but saw nothing. By the time I looked back Pegliani and his car were gone.

I had an idea where to find him.

*** Ma O’Reilly’s Diner, 2100 W. Irving Park Rd

Ma O’Reilly’s was right next to the Armitage El stop and trains ran regular past the joint. O’Reilly was the name of the Police Commissioner, first generation American of Irish Origin, something told me Ma wasn’t Irish.

For one thing Pegliani was tight with the guy that ran Ma’s other interests. No matter how much sausage casserole or slow roasted lamb the serve the diner isn’t all it appears to be. If you know the right people you get to go downstairs. Mister O’Reilly, it isn’t his real name, runs one of the hottest speakeasys still going.

He’d evaded Ness and the Untouchables through their blitz on those that were breaking prohibition because though unrelated to the Police Commissioner he had some of the force firmly on his payroll. Some of the police officers that frequented the diner dunked things bigger than doughnuts.

This was where Pegliani was usually found, he was a close friend of Mr O’Reilly and this was the main business interest of the Riant Family.

I walked over and entered the diner. At least half the customers were genuine diner customers, unaware of what was downstairs. The diner had a thriving trade, being next to a train station meant there was always passing trade. There were three police officers in the joint, almost certainly all with dirty money in their pockets.

I counted at least three Riant mobsters, there would be others I didn’t recognise. They had recognised me when I entered. That just deepened my puzzlement.

Pegliani knew Pollock, when my partner had been on the force he’d run in a juvenile Pegliani twice. If the Riant family had killed Pollock why had his car been untouched.

None of the mobsters I recognised had seemed overly concerned when they saw me come in. I walked over to the washroom door, but once through I passed through the door marked ‘Private’. Three more mobsters were sat at a table.

“Don’t sweat it Mikey,” one said as he saw me, “this guy is fine.”

“Go on sown Mr Jackson.” the mobster said.

I couldn’t remember his name so simply smiled and gave a non-commital wave.

I descended a set of quite plain stairs and into a plain, empty room. Tapping twice on the far wall I stepped back and a portion slipped to one side and I walked in to a different world.

Half the names of the city were in the room. Scott Dogg, Diamond trader, was sat talking to Lord Stringer, a British noble, cousin to the Queen. Owen Michaels, Banker, and his wife June. Golfing ace Timothy Fowler was dancing with the actress Donna Williams.

I saw her across the room, Id foolishly tried my luck two years ago, she’d spurned me out of hand. Jolee Riant, head of the Family since her brother Tony had died.

Madame Riant, she had married a construction magnate last year but continued to use her own surname, though only for business. I couldn’t help watching her as she slinked across the room.

“I didn’t expect to see you back so soon,” she said huskily as she blew a plume of smoke and held her cigarette holder gracefully to one side.

The mystery woman had said ‘her husband’s employer’, that would have ruled out Madame Riant as the mystery woman even if Pollock hadn’t known her. But was she the employer. Had Pegliani been there to put one of Jolee’s opponents out of business?

There was no sign of Pegliani or Mr O’Reilly.

“You heard about Jake?” I asked, I didn’t feel like beating around the bush.

“Only an hour ago,” Jolee said.

I didn’t see any suggestion that she was lying.

“I’m sorry, I liked Jake,” she said with the stress on the word ‘liked’ clearly showing her thoughts about me.

The tension was fraught. I couldn’t understand the messages she gave off, and I realised it was foolish to think she would tell me anything.

“Stay, have a drink,” she said, “but be gone in an hour.”

She turned and walkd away.

Looking around I saw a friendly face. A gambler known only as Chicago Bear. The football team had only had the name for nine years, he’d been known as The Bear for longer.

I walked over and he looked up from his drink.

“Hows it going, Bear?” I asked.

“Not good, the House always wins. You can trust me on that.”

He bet heavy and he lost frequently. But he didn’t have any other source of income so he clearly won too.

“Sorry to hear about Jake,” Bear said, “Jake was a stand up guy.”

We talked for a few minutes. Bear was always a fountain of knowledge, he knew everyone’s secrets. He’d never tell it to the man, but if he thought someone should know something he’d say.

I gave Bear what I knew about the case.

“Can’t tell you much, you know I would if I could.” he said. “But I can tell you that Jolee is worried about the Neilson Family’s activities. That warehouse is theirs, why no one was there I can’t even guess. Last I knew they were moving something in there.”

Green silk, that didn’t tell me anything. The Riants didn’t deal in fabrics and there wasn’t that much profit on silk in the black-market  but I was on the right track it seemed.

The Neilsons, They might recognise me but Pollock was a different matter. They’d also know him.

Being on the right track wasn’t enough, this plot was getting no clearer.

“All I can tell you, speak to The Painter.” The Bear said as he pushed a matchbook over to me. “He buys imported spirits for his oils.”

I took the matchbook and left.

Continued in Part 2

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One comment on “Trench Coat and Trilby (part 1) a short story by Steve Hargett

  1. Part two is currently at work doing the rounds. Will be on the blog when the main people involved have seen it.

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