by Horace P. Sternwall
Originally published in “Popular Police Stories”, December, 1950; reprinted for the first time ever in book form in They Call Her Mrs. Big: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 10, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Studies, Olney Community College.
Illustrations by the illustrious rhoda penmarq: a penmarq studios™/Horace P. Sternwall Productions™ co-production.
(Click here to read the previous Gwendolyn story; go here to return to the very beginning of the saga.)
“Detective Dooley, reporting as ordered, sir.”
“Dooley,” said Captain Callaghan.
For a moment the big man said nothing else, and Dan Dooley stood there, with his hat in his hand. He waited. Four years in the army, almost five years on the force; if he had learned anything, he had learned how to wait, and how to keep his mouth shut until he was invited to open it.
The Captain sat there at his desk, drumming his fingers on some papers in an open manila folder, looking at Dooley.
Dooley looked right back at him.
Finally the big man spoke.
“Shut the door, Dooley, and sit your ass down.”
Dooley shut the door and took one of the two armchairs in front of the Captain’s desk.
The Captain tapped the papers on his desk.
“Been looking at your file, Dooley.”
Dooley said nothing.
The Captain again stared at Dooley, and Dooley stared back.
The Captain nodded, and rapped the papers again with the knuckles of his big hand.
“Fighting 69th. Action at Saipan and Okinawa. Field commission. Two purple hearts, Bronze Star, Distinguished Service Cross.”
He looked up at Dooley again.
“You kill many Japs?”
“I suppose I got a couple, sir,” said Dooley.
“Just being honest, sir. It wasn’t always easy to tell if you killed someone or not.”
“Modest,” said Captain Callaghan. “Modest and honest.”
Dooley said nothing.
The Captain rapped the papers again.
“After the war you join the force, and go to college at night, NYU. Get a degree in criminal justice, with a minor in English. Excellent record as a patrolman, and just this past year you make detective. That same week you pinch the international jewel thief Stanley Slade, the FBI’s most wanted man.”
The Captain closed the folder, rapped it one last time with his knuckles, and then sat back in his chair.
“You smoke, Dooley?”
There was a humidor on the desk, and the Captain opened it and took out a big cigar.
Dooley waited while the Captain cut the cigar and then lit it with a wooden match.
“You drink, Dooley?”
“Nothing? Not even beer?”
“What do you do with yourself after work?”
“I read. I go to a movie now and then, or a concert.”
“And you live with your mother?”
“That’s correct, sir.”
“Why don’t you get your own place? You’re a bachelor. You can afford it.”
“I like living with my mother, sir. And besides, she’s a widow, she would get lonely if I got my own place.”
The Captain puffed on his cigar for a minute before talking again. He continued to stare at Dooley, through the smoke.
“I’m gonna ask you a personal question,” he said, finally, “and I don’t want you to take offense at what I’m gonna ask.”
Dooley said nothing.
“You’re not a fairy, are you, Dooley?”
“A fairy, sir?”
“A fag, a pansy. A homo.”
“Oh. No, sir.”
“So you like girls.”
“How come you’re not married yet? Good looking young guy like you.”
“I guess I just haven’t met the right girl, sir.”
The Captain sat back, smoking, staring at Dooley.
“Okay, one more question. Are you for real, Detective Dooley?”
Dooley paused for a moment before answering.
“Yes, sir. As far as I know.”
“As far as you know. Ha ha. I like that. Oh, one last question. Are you a religious man?”
“I go to mass every Sunday with my mother, sir. Unless I’m on duty.”
“What about if you’re on duty?”
“Then I miss mass, sir.”
“I’ll repeat my question. Are you a religious man?”
The Captain took another long pause, and then swiveled his chair all the way around so that he was facing out the window, which overlooked East Fifth Street.
Dooley waited. The sounds of the early-morning city came up from the street, but everything else was silence. He didn’t mind silence. He had heard enough noise in the war to last him a lifetime.
After a full two minutes the Captain swiveled around again.
“Well,” he said, “you’re probably wondering why you’ve been transferred down here from the Thirty-Third.”
Dooley said nothing.
“You don’t say much, do you, Dooley?”
“No, sir,” said Dooley.
“I like that,” said the Captain. “I’m not so sure I like you, but I like it that you’re not a chatterbox. I’m not so sure I like you, because you seem too good to be true. But that’s also why you’ve been transferred down here to the Ninth. Because we need somebody who’s too good to be true.”
He opened a drawer and brought out another folder, a very thick one, and tossed it to the far side of his desk.
“You’re on special duty from here on out, because we need a good detective here who’s also an honest cop, and the bums I got around this joint, well, let me just say some of them been working in this neighborhood a little too long. Pick up that file.”
Dooley did as he was ordered.
“For a long time things were under control in this precinct,” said the Captain. “A guy named Tommy Sullivan handled most of the shylock and gambling operation, a dago named Jimmy Mazzaro handled the dope. We knew what was what and we also knew we would never get anything on either of these birds. But things were quiet. Then one fine day Tommy Sullivan got gunned down outside the automat over by the Hotel St Crispian, and a few weeks later Jimmy Mazzaro and four of his goons went up in smoke. You probably heard about that.”
“A gas explosion, the papers said,” said Dooley.
“That’s what the papers said, yeah,” said the Captain. “And that’s correct if you consider three Molotov cocktails to be a gas explosion.”
Dooley said nothing.
“There’s a new mob in play around here, Dooley. And we have no idea who they are. I want you to find out who they are. You’ll get a car and as much assistance as I can give you in the way of manpower and other, uh, resources. You report to me, and only to me. Take that file and study it, report back to me before five o’clock this afternoon. That’ll be all. Check back with Sergeant Jones and he’ll show you to your desk, give you the keys to your car.”
Dooley stood up.
“Oh, one last thing,” said the Captain. “One lead I want you to check out especially. You’ll see a mention in that file of a certain party known as ‘Mrs. Big’".
“That is right,” said Callaghan. “Mrs. Big. Find out who this so-called Mrs. Big is and I think you might have the key.”
“But, Dooley, one last thing.”
“This Mrs. Big – if she had balls enough to take out five of these connected greaseballs in one go, she might just have balls enough to take out a copper. So I’m telling you now: watch your step.”
“Yes, sir,” said Dooley.
Roger Dilworth Biddle entered the automat and saw the little blonde girl sitting alone at a table with what looked like a cup of cocoa topped with whipped cream. She wore her Miss Churchill’s School uniform, just as Roger wore his Falworthy School blazer under his camel’s hair polo coat.
He went over to her table and sat down across from her, putting his book bag on the floor.
“Well, hello, Roger,” she said.
“And have you considered my offer?”
“I have,” said Roger. “And I accept.”
“Splendid. May I buy you a hot cocoa to celebrate the happy occasion?”
“How about a hot cocoa and a slice of cheesecake?”
“Oh ho, I like your spirit. I think we’re going to get along quite well together, Roger.”
“I certainly hope so, Gwendolyn.”
Gwendolyn had a small dark patent-leather purse on the table next to her cup of cocoa. She opened it, and Roger caught a glimpse of what looked like the butt of a revolver in it. She took out a dollar bill and held it out to Roger.
“Here you go, Roger. Get me a slice of cheesecake too, and another hot cocoa, please, with extra whipped cream. We have ever so much to talk about.”
Roger took the dollar.
“Sure, Gwendolyn,” he said. “Or should I address you as ‘Mrs. Big’?”
“Ha ha,” she laughed.
Her laugh reminded Roger somehow of the Sèvres tea service in his grandmother’s house in Turtle Bay – a laugh that was delicate and beautiful but somehow daunting, too.
“’Gwendolyn’ will do just fine,” she said, and she snapped the purse shut.
Roger got up from his chair and went to get a tray.
(This story appeared in somewhat different form in the September 3, 2014 edition of New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.)
(Our editorial staff is now busily preparing Volume One of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™ for publication, but we will return here with all-new chapters soon!)