A Hooke and Marton Confidential Investigation Story
The Lady in Grey
I still have several first-draft chapters of a hard-boiled, Raymond Chandler inspired mystery story that I and my friend, Dennis started in 1973, which actually makes it six or seven years earlier than the Hybrid-worlder or the Brigand Sea-Prince. No doubt I was working in the drill press department of Allen Bradley at the time, though that fall I would take a job with Bureau of Public Debt in Chicago for a while. It was a long time ago. In any event, we both were fans of Raymond Chandler and this story was an attempt to take Chandler’s sunny southern California motif and mutate it into something, well, Milwaukee-ian mostly just for laughs.
The Lady in Grey
It was an October morning, 1947 and I needed a five-letter word for ‘tax’. I lay stretched out on the office’s worn couch working the morning daily’s crossword puzzle. My partner, Chester Hook, sat behind the desk with his hat still on and his feet resting on the desktop reading some gaudy covered pulp magazine. Business as usual.
Every once and a while I would hear the chair squeak as Hooke reached from behind his detective magazine and fumble with a box of Smith Brothers cough drops. He claimed he was addicted to them. He might be. The desk was set diagonally to the corner with the bow windows overlooking the Milwaukee River, on which was painted in gold letters; “notraM bna ekooH, etavirP srotagitsevnI,” which read from the outside, if any customers happened to be floating down the river, “Hooke and Marton, Private Investigators.” To the left of the desk was the hissing radiator and a bare stretch of flaking paint to the other corner, where three filing cabinets stood against the wall. They contained mostly half-finished crossword puzzles ripped out of the morning paper, and Hook’s current collection of second-hand detective magazines. Next to the filing cabinets was a brownish washbowl and a small cupboard on which rested the hotplate and coffee pot. A door opened to a small closet in the other wall by the corner. In the center of the tile floor, roughly in front of the desk stood the straight-backed chair for our clients. I lay on the red and green couch along the wall opposite the filing cabinets, with a battered end table supporting a cracked lamp with a Chinese pagoda painted on it in gold and red. I looked at the Allen Bradley’s calendar with three days crossed off, which was tacked up on the wall over the filing cabinets. We were three days behind, as it was the 6th.
We said nothing for twenty minutes when I thought out loud, “Thirteen down, a five letter word for ‘tax’.”
No answer from the man reading the pulp with a skull singing into a microphone on the cover.
I sat up. Setting the paper down next to me, I announced, “I’ve got the flu. I think I’ll take a couple fo aspirins.”
‘You go a hangover,” Hooke mumbled.
“To hell with the aspirins, I’ll have a cigarette instead.” I fished one out from my shirt pocket and laying back, lit it with a match from the table. I returned to the crossword puzzle. Eighteen across…
Some time later I noticed the rare tap-click of high-heels coming down the hallway. They stopped, as if reading the sign on the door down the hall, and then started our way again. They stopped in front of our door. There was a pause, followed by a light tap on the glass of our door. From my position on the couch I could see beyond the open doorway between the waiting room and our office, a slender shadow on the frosted glass of the outer door.
“The door’s open,” call out Hooke.
After some hesitation, the door opened a little and the slim shadow slipped through the narrow opening into our small waiting room. She was a brunette, twenty-five, maybe thirty-ish, wearing a plain grey suit over a white starched blouse. The jacket had wide lapels and a black buttons down the front. On the right lapel was pinned a piece of silver jewelry. She did not wear much makeup – she didn’t need any. Shyly, she looked through the open doorway at Hooke, who had not stirred. And cast a quick glance in my direction. Puzzled and embarrassed, the lady in grey looked down at the small end table and chair next to the door and bent her head enough o look at the old Saturday Evening Post on the table. Then she shifted her attention to the faded print of a guy and his dog hunting pheasants hanging on the wall separating the waiting room from the office. She carefully avoided looking into the office or at me.
‘Come in, Miss,” Hooke called out, again without looking up from the detective pulp. I watched her make up her mind that this was something she had to do and get over with. So, with a determined look on her pale face, she walked into the inner office. I watched her as she swayed, slightly, in – her large soft eyes gave her face a girlish look and her pale complexion suggested that she had not be out of doors too much. She glanced at me, again, and then at Hooke’s feet on the desk.
‘Mr Hook…?” she half said and half asked in a quiet voice looking in Hooke’s direction.
“Please be seated, Miss,” said Hook, still not looking up form the magazine before him.
The ends of her lips moved a little. Yes, she had guessed right. It pleased her a little.
“I’m Hooke,” he said, closing the magazine and laying it carefully on the desk. Just as carefully, he slid his buster-browns off the desk and with a squeak from the swivel chair, sat upright. Shaking his head, he slowly sighed and said, “I never even suspected him...” He looked up at her, “Sorry, Miss. You came in at the last page. What can we do for you?” He didn’t sound particularly interested in doing anything for her. A real go-getter, Hooke is.
She sat down in the customer’s chair, tentatively, and carefully placed the small square purse on her lap. “I was hoping you could help me,” she said, dividing her attention between a speck of lint on the cuff of her jacket and the tip of Hooke’s nose.
“Thirteen down, five letter word for ‘tax’.” I was back at the crossword puzzle and thinking out loud again. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her turn her head to look at me. Her puzzled look returned. Everyone was silent.
“Ah, Miss, just what sort of help?” asked Hooke after studying our would-be client a bit. He even managed to sound slightly more interested. He helped himself to a cough drop.
“Mr Hook...” she looked at me, shyly.
“Uh, he’s the other name on the door. My partner, Art Marton,” said my partner with a generous sweep of his hand. “Feel free to talk in front of him. He’s harmless when hung over.”
She was liking this whole business even less from the expression on her face. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t had to do this sort of thing before. Hire a detective, I mean. But I need help and I’ve been to three other agencies since yesterday and they all refused to handle this matter.” She was looking at Hooke again.
Hooke muttered a meaningless “Oh,” and taking a deep breath, added “Just what is it you need help with?” he asked, sounding somewhat impatient, but making the effort to lean forward and look more concerned than all of us knew he was.
“I need to find my brother.”
And I’ll just add a little from Chapter 2
“Someone sure wanted him dead,” Detective Barron said.
“Yeah, we got that, else he wouldn’t be dead, right?” broke in Lieutenant Hank Wood. “Okay, what have we got so far?”
“We got one through the door, a spent case in the corridor, and three more after the killer came in through the door. Three more spent cartridges in the room. Guy answered the door with a .45 in his hand, which bounced under the end table after he was shot,” Barron replied mechanically. “No indication of who might have done it. The room was searched, thoroughly, I might add.”
“No indication unless somebody hast told us everything, Said Wood, looking over the three of us; Mary still seated in the chair with Hooke and I standing on either side of her.
“You’ve got all of it, Lieutenant. Everything we had to do with it,” Hooke replied.
“Far be it from us to withhold information from the police. It could be our license,” I said, not trying to sound sarcastic, but it came out that way. Must have been the booze. Or the homey atmosphere.
‘If you did, withhold information, that is, it will be your license, you can count on that,” Wood shot back, pointing a finger at me.
“Why, Lieutenant, I don’t think you care for private detectives,” said Hooke.
‘You got it pal. Okey, Barron, ring up the coroner. It’s about time he got in on the frolics.”
It was clear he didn’t care for private detectives. What’s more, he didn’t trust us. I gathered that he had talked tot he manager. And our popularity rating with the manager wasn’t too good either.