Ted was well into his training when Alan arrived. He was doing his best to concentrate but thoughts of Stretch kept coming into his mind.
Alan as was his routine crossed to the scales. It was the type you see at many subway stations. It comprised of a scale pan which you stood on and a dial meter at approximately head height which showed your weight.
The problem was that Alan was hardly registering at all. He was about to call across to Socko to get it fixed when suddenly it displayed his true weight before shooting up to four times his weight then steadied back to his natural weight again. He stepped off puzzled.
“Alan do some sparring with Slugger.”
Alan stepped into the ring with a powerfully built man in his forties. Slugger had two enlarged gloves on that looked like heavily padded baseball mitts. Slugger held them out for Alan to hit.
Alan danced around the man and jabbed at the mitts then something odd happen. Slugger flicked out his hand to tap Alan’s cheek but the faint breeze created by the action pushed him out of reach. Alan countered with two strikes of his own at the gloves. His weight shot up as his right hand jabbed out knocking Slugger off his feet.
“Oops! Sorry Slugger I forget my own strength.” He reached his gloved hand down and helped the man up.
Slugger stood there shaking his hand to get life back into it.
“Dat’s alright Alan you just caught me unawares like, dats all.”
“If you hit like that in the fight you’ll have him cold in round one.” Ted was watching from ringside. “You’ll do yourself proud my little atomic friend.”
Alan smiled at him despite the things that were troubling him.
“When you’re done do you fancy doing a bit of detective work.” Jim said from the other side. “Ted and I have decided to try and find out who put Stretch in hospital. I’ve been given leave till after the fight and Ted’s got the afternoon free.”
There was a hubbub from the doorway as the newspaper boys and girls came in.
Jim turned irritated, and crossed over to have a harsh word with the youngsters when a thought struck him.
“I wonder. Kids over here please.” He propped a cheek of his backside on a low beam.
As Alan got out the ring, making sure Slugger was alright, he lifted a questioning eyebrow to Ted but all he got back was a shrug.
Once they were gathered and quietened down Jim spoke to them.
“Kid’s Mr Grant needs our help. Have you all heard about the man that was beaten up not far from here.” They nodded all except Scrapper.
“Yes Officer Jim and boy I’d sure like to get hold of him that did it and give him some lumps and see how he likes it.”
“Leave the giving of lumps to us three adults Scrapper shall we.”
“Ah sure Jim.” Scrapper sounded so deflated it made Ted smile sadly.
“Well I think you can all help us? You guys know the kids that live on the street around here and the rough sleepers. Try and find out what happened, did anyone see it or recognised who did it? Were they street fighters or criminals? Don’t do this on your own, stay together.”
The children were nodding.
“Don’t take any risks, if it looks like the hammer is about to fall high tail it out of there.” Ted cautioned them whilst feeling uncomfortable about using the children in this fashion.
“Don’t look at me like that the pair of you.” Jim said after the children had left. “They can ask questions of people who would clam up if we asked them. They are well able to survive on the street, better than we could, it’s sadly their home.
I’m going back to the precinct house and have a word with the investigating officer assuming there is one.
What about you two?”
Ted and Alan looked at each other and nodded realising they had both had come to same decision.
“We’ll be finding what cases Stretch was on and where he lives.” Ted told him. “We’ll meet back at the diner opposite in shall we say two and a half hours from now.”
Socko crossed over to the boys a grim look on his face.
“I’ve found out whose sponsoring the whole shebang and you won’t like it. It’s Mr Brimstone.” Socko said it as if he had a terrible taste in his mouth. “He’s arranged a press conference at eight tonight where you’ll be weighed in and meet your opponents. Sorry Ted, I know your feelings about them but I couldn’t get out of this one not with the Valentine brothers breathing down my neck.”
Ted loathed the whole charade, where he’s supposed to hate his opponent and they swap insults. It was all false and did nothing in his mind to lift boxing out of the shady backstreets into the light of a honourable sport.
Later as Ted and Alan drove to the private eye agency Ted asked about Brimstone but Alan couldn’t help him much except that it is believed he was a white supremacist but nothing could be proved or made stick.
Alan pulled up outside the Ha Ha Comic and Magic shop.
“Why have we stopped here buddy?” Ted asked.
“We need a costume like those Mystery Men and Women that are popping up everywhere if we are going to do this. And I know that the owner of this shop has racks of fancy dress costumes which we can use.” Alan said earnestly.
“Oh no. There is no chance of me dressing up as a freak I can tell you now.” Ted complained. “Besides they’ll know its us.”
“Well our sizes would be a give away as would our voices. Now drive on McDuff.”
Still moaning Alan drove on. Ted was staring out of the window and saw for just a moment the face of a Great Black Panther reflected back at him.
The Ponds Detective Agency worked out of a set of seedy offices in a rundown office block.
“I told you we’d better off in costume.” Alan said nervously.
“Oh come on will you.” Ted got out of Alan’s roaster and examined the building critically. He wasn’t impressed. “Somehow I suspected they would be in more upmarket establishment.”
They entered and examined the buildings business board. The Ponds Detective Agency was on the twelfth flood.
The door with their name on the glass had a crack across it and looked if it needed a good clean.
Ted knocked on the door.
“Come in.” A woman’s voice called out.
The boys went in to find a very pretty secretary sitting behind her desk in an anteroom. Her hair was strawberry blond, her face showed some freckles beneath her make up.
Alan absorbed all this in a moment and flashed her a dazzling smile.
“Oh hello gentlemen how can I help you?” Her voice was a soft Irish brogue that melted Alan’s heart.
“We are here about our friend Stretch, I mean, Simon Skinner.” Alan said falling over his tongue. “I’m Alan Pratt and this is Ted Grant.”
“Oh it’s so awful isn’t it. Poor Simon hasn’t been with us long but everybody has fallen in love with him. He’s a real gent.” She said clearly upset.
“I couldn’t help but notice the crack in your front door glass?” Ted asked in an attempt to change the subject for a moment but he should have guessed the answer.
“Oh that was Simon poor thing he fell over the new rug.” She sighed.
Both men laughed and said in harmony.
“That’s our Stretch!”
“I wonder if you can help us? I’m sorry I don’t know your name?” Ted asked.
“Miss James, Mary James.” She blushed.
“What a lovely name.” Alan smiled winningly at her.
Ted sighed. This was getting nowhere fast.
“I wonder if you could tell us what cases Simon was working on just in case they shed a light on why he was so heavily beaten.”
“Of course. How is he?”
“They have him heavily sedated. He’s had some operations for internal bleeding and seems to have come through them alright. It’s still tough and go.”
“I’m glad he has two good friends like you two. He has spoken about you Mr Grant often.” She said.
“Ted.” Ted replied. “The cases Mary?”
“Oh yes. He was working on two. He was searching for the next of kin of the eccentric inventor Unislav Karpol. He died intestate.”
The two lads had no idea what she was talking about.
“He didn’t leave a Will so Simon was searching for family members to make sure they get some of the inheritance.”
“And the other case?” Ted asked.
“He was on surveillance. There is a suspected crooked accountant falsifying the book’s so to speak. An Amos something or other.”
Ted took step back in shock.
Alan quickly covered for his friend.
“Do you know why he was keeping a watch on this accountant?”
“I don’t know.” Mary replied honestly.
“And even if she did she couldn’t tell you. Client Confidentiality and all that.” The owner was a thin dishevelled man standing in the doorway to the inner office. He looked down his nose as if he was looking at some pretty smelly dog droppings.
“But you can tell us even if Mary can’t?” Ted persisted.
“And why should I?” He sniffed.
“Because my best friend is lying in a hospital bed after being beaten so severely that he may not survive and even if he does he may be brain damaged!” Very rarely did Ted loose his temper but this was one of them times and it was horrible to witness.
“I sympathise of course, Simon was a good worker. But I can’t tell you.”
“But you can tell me.” Standing in the doorway out into the lobby was a police detective.
“My name is Lieutenant Cord of the LPD and this is Officer Harper.” He flashed his warrant card before making a great effort to look in his note book. From where Ted was standing he could see there was nothing written in on those pages. It was a ploy to allow the Detective to order his thoughts. “I’m investigating the severe assault on one of your employees. A” He looked down at the book again. “A Simon Skinner. I take it that you are Nathan Ponds?”
“Yes that is me.” His haughty expression have evaporated to be replace with a servile one.
“Like these gentlemen I would like to find out what cases Simon was on or had finished so we can eliminate them from our enquires. I will need to look at his note books. We will use your office.” Cord wasn’t in the mood to brook any refusal. “Harper will you take notes please and you sir can be our independent witness.” He pointed at Ted before leading them through to the more spacious office.
Mary and Alan stood there for a moment wondering what they would be expected to do while they had gone.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere? Your face is so familiar.” Alan said half sitting on her desk.
“Possibly.” She said impishly.
“Come on you can’t leave it like that?”
“I’m at Cal Tech studying Psychology, Sociology and History. I want to be able to help people with drug and alcohol dependency when I’ve got my degree.”
“Wow heavy stuff.”
Mary laughed a laugh that went straight to Alan’s soul.
“This is from the man who is taking Nuclear Physics and Physical Education at the same time. The man who is the fastest, strongest and more bendy than all the other sport jerks put together.” Mary crossed over to a metal door and unlocked it from the bunch of keys on her key chain that dangled from her waist.
“Oh you’ve noticed then.” He followed her into a store room where stacks of folders and miscellaneous files filled the two massive shelf units.
“And so has most of the females on the campus and that includes the teachers.” She pulled off a shelf a heavy metal case.
“But I don’t what to go out with any of them only you.” Alan the great charmer stuttered to an embarrassed stop.
“Did you just ask me out on a date?” Mary refusing Alan’s help lugged the device across to an empty desk.
“Yes I supposed I did, in fact I’m sure I did.” Alan flashed a winning smile again. “How about Saturday Night?”
“Okay where to.”
“To the boxing?”
The couple seemed so at easy in each others company.
“Why on earth would I want to watch two brain dead thugs beating the hell out of each other?”
“Because I’m fighting, as is Ted and Officer Harper, and I could do with the support.” He held out a complimentary ticket. “The best seats right at the front and afterwards we can go to a nice Italian restaurant I know.”
Mary unclipped the case and opened it to reveal a large reel to reel tape recorder.
“I’ll think about it.” She took out a tape from a large brown manila envelope and proceeded to put it on the spindle and loop it through the play and record heads. “Alright I’ve thought about it, I’d love to come.” She took the tickets from his hand and put them in her hand bag.
“Simon’s handwriting is so bad we eventually agreed for him to dictate his reports into a tape machine like this one. I’d play it back on this one and take short hand of it before typing it up properly.” She explained. “This was the last one he did.”
She pressed the heavy piano like keys and Stretch’s voice can over tinny through the speakers.
“Report Nine. Subject Amos Grant. To date he has had no contact with known mafia bosses or any gang leader.” Stretch coughed like he always did when he was nervous. “All the companies and individual’s he is working for are above board. I have traced his movements and he visits the Battery Gym to watch his son, Ted, train.”
Mary and Alan heard him get up.
“Simon often forgot to turn it off.” Mary explained.
“A faucet running. Now he’s filling the kettle. Knock at the door . Put kettle down and crosses to the door and opens it.” Alan said listening intently.
They heard someone’s voice though not enough to make out what had been said before Stretch replied in his slow style.
They heard Stretch say he was sure his benefactor would be interested in their concerns.
The other said something. Brimstones name was mention then there was the sound of cosh hitting Stretch’s head and the sound of him being dragged away.
“It sounds like he was dragged away to the alleyway close to the gym and beaten half to death. I think…” Alan stopped as a thought struck him. “How come you have got the tape.”
“The mail only came in about five minutes before you arrived.” Mary said indignantly.
“I’m not accusing you. What I’m getting at is that neither Stretch or the thugs who took him stopped the tape and sent it to you, so who did?” Alan explained. “When was it sent do we know?”
“It came by courier as usual.”
“I don’t think he went willingly that’s for sure.”
“I don’t like this Alan.” She said using his first name for the first time. “I think the police detective should hear this.”
“Get it back in the right position while I go and tell the Lieutenant.”
When Ted entered the inner office he couldn’t help noticing how different the two offices were. This office was large with a deep pile carpet on the floor and wood panelled walls. The desk was an antique which fitted the demeanour of the owner.
“Drink gentlemen?” Pond asked opening up the large globe to reveal a dazzling array of alcohol. “No. Do you mind if I do.”
Cord waited patiently for the man to pour himself a whisky.
Over the next ten minutes they went over the cases Stretch was involved with. If he had made enemies it was difficult to see who.
“I’m afraid there is little else I can tell you officer.” He said smoothly.
“I doubt that but we will let that lie for a moment.” Cord said. “May I see his note books?”
Reluctantly Pond crossed to the shelving unit and returned with two small red notebooks.
Inside was an almost unintelligible scrawl.
“I am afraid that Simon wasn’t the best writer, but so far, unless his latest notebook said otherwise he was on non controversial work.”
Cord picked his way carefully through them before with a sigh he gave up.
“Tell me about Simon?” He asked.
“Simon was a hard working, diligent if a little clumsy employee. He was well like by the other employees.” Pond took a calculated sip of his whisky. “As I said he was working on a case involving Amos Grant. My client suspected that Grant was embezzling money from him or his holdings so he could finance his sons career as a boxer. We were also looking into the possibility that he was laundering Mafia money for the families through offshore accounts and companies.”
It took all of Teds control to stop him from bursting out that it was a lie.
Cord casually passed over the note books to Ted and gave them a tap with his middle finger.
Ted opened them and studied what was written inside.
“Did he find any evidence of money laundering?” Cord asked.
“If he did he kept it to himself.”
Cord was distracted by Ted who instead of looking at the writing in the note book normally he was holding it almost horizontally.
He looked at Cord and gave a short shake of his head.
If the detective understood he didn’t show it as Ted passed them back.
“Thank you. I’ll keep them as evidence if I may. Harper write him out a receipt for them?” Cord carried on coolly.
After some minute discussing how Stretch got in contact with the agency they were disturbed by a knock at the door and Alan’s head poking in.
“I think you’ll want to hear this.” He told them before leading them back into the anteroom and the tape player.
Cord listened intently to the sounds in the background as instructed.
At the end he gave a loud sniff.
“I’ll take this too Mr Pond. Bag it up please Harper.”
“Yes sir.” He paused unsure how to carry on.
“Just the tape Harper I assume we have a tape player back at the Precinct House.”
“Yes sir.” Jim said relieved.
Then Cord did something strange he re-entered the office of Mr Pond and crossed to the great window that looked out over the city.
They all trailed behind him.
“I can open the French windows to the balcony if you want?” Pond said completely confused by this sudden change of events.
“No that won’t be necessary.” He replied vaguely before talking in a most cryptic fashion. “It’s my job to protect this city of ours, to ask the questions that in turn opens the dark side of a persons soul.
Sometimes it is worth coming back later to the scene of the crime especially at midnight when nearly all the law abiding citizens are asleep. Like this building when you have the legal means to enter it.
Often you have to work together with someone you would never suspect to be involved and they have the key to solving the crime, like those mystery men and women that have appeared. And you must teach them what they can legally do.” He turned round and smiled at Ted and Alan. “Time to go. Thank you for all your help Mr Pond, Miss.”
He shook Ponds hand and then nodded at Mary.
If Cords words were puzzling so was Mary’s reaction.
She went and kissed Alan full on the lips. It took his breath away.
She pressed something into his hand.
“I’ll see you at the fight on Saturday. You better win lover boy.”
The pair of them laughed and Alan followed the others out of the room.
“He’s a boy from college. All the girls are after him but they are going to be pig sick because he asked me out on a date.”
“I’ll never understand the mind of a woman.” He heard Pond say as the outer door swung shut cutting off the conversation. But not for long as Cord turned round and stuck his head around the door frame.
“Oh Mr Pond it’s very remiss of me but I have forgotten to ask who the client was?”
Caught completely off guard he actually answered honestly.
“Mr Brimstone of Brimstone Sulphur and United Overseas Holdings.”
“Thank you. I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on.”
Together they waited for the elevator.
“Interesting.” Cord said to no one in particular before rounding on the three men.
“What the hell did the three of you think you were doing, and yes I am including you in this Harper.” Jim flinched under the tirade but didn’t apologise. “You could have tampered with crucial evidence without realising it and put the suspect on their guard and giving them time to destroy, lose evidence.”
If he was expecting the three men to back down he was in for a shock. All three of them stood defiantly together as the elevator door opened for them.
With a sigh Cord followed them in.
“Okay you did well, alright. I wouldn’t have taken the note books or the tape without your help. Satisfied?”
The faces of all three of them relaxed into a smile.
“What was so special about the note books Grant?” He asked as he lead them across the foyer.
“The writing in the note books were not all made by Stretch, sorry Simon. I’ve always been able to read his scrawl by holding it at an angle but sections of it I couldn’t. Someone has done a good copy of Simons writing.” Ted explained.
“But not good enough. I wondered what you were doing. I’ll get our young calligraphy expert to take a look at them.” Cord seemed pleased.
“There’s something screwy about that tape.” Alan said as they reached Cords car.
“In what way?” Cord asked.
“It’s not the recording that’s odd it is the fact that it was delivered in the last post. If neither Simon or his attackers put it on to one reel and post it who did and why?”
“I’ll question the carriers and see if they collected it and if there was anything unusual about it.” Jim said.
“No you won’t I’ll do that or should I say one of my team will. Now go home and rest or whatever boxers do.”
“We’ve the prefight weigh in at ten o’clock with all the press there.” Alan told him. “It’s taking place at the Waldorf Park hotel. I’m sure I can get you in as a plus one for tonight.”
“No thanks boys that’s to rich for me besides I’ve a late night meeting to attend to if you get my meaning.” Cord turned to Harper and prodded him with his bony finger. “You better win lad as I’ve a bet on you.”
“A proper legal one I hope Lieutenant?” Ted asked with a smile.
“I shouldn’t ask if I was you.” Cord got in his car and gave them a wave before driving a way.
Things were moving fast, far to fast for Teds liking.