Chapter Two Detective Sergeant Stephanie Corrigan
Steffi stood in front of Captain De Cotsa listening to the man drone on about how pleased he was that she had returned to the force and to say with false sincerity how sorry he was about Steve’s death. Steve and De Costa didn’t see eye to eye on most things so his sympathy made Steffi want to punch his lights out, but she refrained and gave a polite nod instead.
“I suggest you catch up on our next two targets Sergeant as I’m sure there’s a lot of paperwork to file. Dismissed.” De Costa waved a dismissive hand.
Outside of his office she was surprised to find Hugo loitering.
“Hello Steffi.” He said with a warm smile. His voice was hoarse and his skin looked yellowy, the lose clothes that hung from his body showed clearly that he had lost weight. “How are you?”
“Fine Sir Hugo, a few aches and pains but nothing of note surprisingly. I suffered a couple of broken ribs and a cracked skull, but you know what they say. ”
“Yes you were very lucky. Have you been to the grave yet?” He pulled out a packet of cigarettes looked at them then thought better of it and put them away.
“No, not yet, I can’t quite face that, not at the moment.” Steffi replied sadly.
“I understand. Do you remember anything that happened?”
Steffi shook her head.
“Don’t use your position here to investigate Steffi. It was an accident, a terrible accident.” Sir Hugo put a fatherly hand on her shoulder. “What time do you finish?”
“Around ten tonight, why?”
“Give me a ring and I’ll pick you up. Promise me Steffi.”
“Alright Sir Hugo I promise.” Steffi was embarrassed but couldn’t say anything else. “You’ll have to excuse me Sir Hugo I have work to do.”
Having got his consent she crossed over to the incident board where Bob was waiting for her.
For the next hour Ben briefed her on the current investigations, pointing out salient points and the cast of major suspects.
Eventually they found themselves at one of the windows looking out over the city and stood in companionable silence for awhile.
Ben cringed knowing what was coming next.
“Yes Sergeant.” He replied trying to keep it more formal.
“Where did they find Steve Ben?” Steffi asked as she looked through the clear glass at a crane off loading a ship in the docks.
“He was still in the car Steffi.” He replied quietly, wiping away the condensation his breath had created on the window pane, reluctant to tell her that there was little of her husband left after the car had exploded in flame. “You were found by a tree a few feet away from the car by some British medical students. If it wasn’t for them you wouldn’t be here today. They tried to help Steve but it was too late.”
“I’ll have to find out their addresses and thank them.” Steffi quietly replied looking out of the clear glass to the city beyond.
A little later she was studying the notes that Ben had left her with when she noticed something odd.
“Julie?” She called to a young officer who was hovering nearby doing some filing.
“Yes Sergeant?” She replied cheerfully.
“Since when has Laura Cantrell been part of the Murphy gang she’s Bruno Carlotto’s girl?” She asked.
“Since he has vanished, he disappeared while you were in hospital. She even came here accusing us of holding him.” Julie rifled through the files. “Here we are.”
She passed over a thin folio.
“Bruno inherited most of the gang’s legitimate business and money. Became quite wealthy but then he vanished.” Julie told her. “What is odd is that he didn’t take any thing with him and hasn’t touched the money in the bank.”
“I think we will pay the lady a visit. Julie see the dispatcher and get us a car.” Steffi voice had become clipped and commanding. “Change into your blues and I’ll see you downstairs in five minutes.”
“But sergeant.” Julie flustered. “Women don’t go on investigations.”
“Well they do now!” Steffi relented at little. “Look Julie you and Bob are supposed to make sure I don’t have a, how shall I put it.”
“Relapse.” Steffi scowled at her young partner. “Am I right?”
“Yes but.” Julie protested weakly.
“I need to get some free air so you better come along.” Steffi grinned.
Julie grinned back.
“Five minutes? Well I better get started then.”
Ten minutes later Steffi, resplendent in her blues, stood outside the police house, waiting for Julie.
She could suddenly hear clearly Steve’s voice in her ear.
“It’s alright darling you’re doing fine. You need to find out who paid him to kill us.”
Steffi shook herself to clear her thoughts.
“Am I going mad? Ha I must be, I’m talking to myself now.” She muttered as Julie turned the corner in an old Buick green and white. Steffi could see clearly where the roof lights had been removed to obey the black out laws.
“Sorry it took so long sergeant but the dispatcher decided to play hard ball.” Julie told her as Steffi got in the car. “I had to do some name dropping to get him to even let us have this old thing.”
“That’s alright Julie I hadn’t expected you for another five minutes, so well done.” Steffi slid in beside her and tried to get as comfortable as she could on the well worn seat. “Tell me about Laura Cantrell?”
“Not much to tell to be honest. She was the original good time girl, working in theatres and low dives as a dancer and singer.” Julie carefully drove out into the traffic. “That’s where Bruno met her. Laura had rich tastes and he had the wherewithal, they were a perfect match. There were rumours that she preferred female company rather that of men and that she was running Bruno’s prostitutes but nothing could be proved. She was adored by Bruno who lavished expensive clothes and jewellery on her as well as taking her to all the swankiest parties. That’s what doesn’t make sense about him disappearing like that.”
“Unless someone gave him a concrete overcoat for old time’s sake.” Steffi mused. “Where does she live anyway?”
“In an exclusive apartment block off Lexicon and 59th street, apparently she has half the tenth floor.”
“My, she has gone up in the world.” Steffi sank back into her seat deep in thought for awhile before saying, as they approached the apartment block. “Right, this is how we are going to play this.”
The entrance hall to the apartment block was a temple to the art deco movement in its design and furnishings. Steffi hated it as soon as she walked in. Its obvious vulgarity grated on her nerves as did the resplendently fogged doorman that looked down his nose at them.
“Yes can I help you?” His voice was deep and had a strange arrogance to it.
“Can you tell me if Miss Laura Cantrell is at home?” Steffi flashed her badge at him as if he couldn’t tell they were officers from their uniforms.
“She is. I will phone to see if she will see you.” He made to cross to the telephone on the desk.
“Don’t worry her my good man.” Steffi said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “And don’t bother to show us the way we can make our own way up.”
“Please don’t phone her to let her know we are coming as then I’d have to arrest you for interfering in a police investigation.” Julie warned. “Please keep yourself available for questioning.”
Both women smiled at each other as they crossed to the lift. The man’s face had been a picture.
Steffi carefully adjusted the piece of tape that covered her name ribbon on her uniform hiding it from view. Satisfied she knocked on the door with official sounding raps.
The door opened to reveal a young woman in a skimpy French maid’s outfit that was struggling to hold her amply provided bust in place.
Steffi flashed her badge making sure to obscure her name.
“New Amsterdam Police Department here to interview your mistress over the missing person’s report she filed.” The girl didn’t bat an eyelid.
“If you follow me I’ll take you to her.” She said with a sniff.
If outside was Art Deco then inside was definitely Art Nuevo. A style that Steffi whole heartedly approved of.
The ‘Maid’ led them into a well lit room with many paintings on the wall and two large floor to ceiling windows.
On a chez long lay a slim young woman in a gossamer thin negligee that emphasised rather than hid her naked form.
Steffi coughed to get the woman’s attention.
“The police to see you madam.” The maid announced from behind them before crossing and draping herself seductively over the other woman’s shoulder.
“We are from the missing persons section of the New Amsterdam Police Department Miss Cantrell here about Mr Bruno…”
She didn’t get any further as a voice interrupted from behind the easel set up in the corner of the room.
“About bloody time!”
A face appeared from behind the easel.
“With you in a moment officers.” She said before adding. “Leonora you can dressed now but can you come back same time tomorrow.”
The young woman on the settle swung herself round and sat up.
“Yes that will be fine Miss Cantrell.” She breathed sultrily.
As she stood up she casually let the negligee drop to the floor and stretched as if flaunting her beautiful naked form was nothing at all.
“Bella I won’t be requiring your services for the rest of the afternoon thank you.” The disembodied voice called.
“Yes miss. I’ll return at five, miss, to prepare your evening meal.” The maid replied, with a curtsy to no one in particular before taking the models hand.
“That will be fine. You’re dismissed.” From behind the easel appeared a very short woman of indeterminate age dressed in a long flowing robe of electric blue and a white turban that didn’t quite catch all of her ginger hair. “Well officers have you found the stupid mother?”
“No we have not as yet found him but it is early days of the investigation.” Steffi said smoothly. “When did you last see him Miss Cantrell?”
“I told them down at the precinct!!” Laura snapped angrily.
“Yes I know but these questions are merely to see if you can remember anything else no matter how insignificant.”
“Oh I see. The last I saw of him was at a friends place up in the hills. We were staying for a few days to relax, go walking and fishing, that sort of thing.” Laura watched as Julie scribbled shorthand into her note book. “We stayed at Sean Murphy’s place ‘The Blarney Stone’ on Anatolia Highs. We drove up there the night of the tenth.”
“How did he seem? Was he agitated or depressed at all?”
“Well he certainly wasn’t happy about your lot putting all the rest of his family in prison. Even though he was disgusted about what they did they were still his family.”
Laura replied showing them to a group of chairs around a low table on which stood a coffee percolator bubbling away. She offered them a cup as she poured one for herself. Steffi refused politely whilst Julie join her. “We had a row just before he left.”
“Can I ask what the row was about?”
“I’m pregnant and to a good catholic boy like Bruno that’s a sin before marriage even if we were planning to tie the knot in six weeks time.” Laura explained calmly. “I know he came home as his case was back in place and so were his clothes. I know he was due to go down Wentworth and Third to visit some clients but who I don’t know. I leave all that stuff to him it doesn’t interest me.”
The questions carried on for awhile before naturally petering out.
“Did you paint all these Miss Cantrell?” Steffi asked pointing at the works of art that decorated the wall.
“Yes, in fact that’s Bruno in that one.” The picture was very life like and caught Bruno’s sartorial elegance and arrogance to a tee.
“Is this one of Madison Park miss?” Julie asked. “I used to play down there as a kid but I don’t remember the bridge being so close to the slipway.”
“It isn’t it’s what is called poetic licence officer.” Laura smiled an amused smile.
The painting was very fine showing the park in the fall. Ducks swam under the central span of the old brick bridge whilst a colourful little rowing boat bobbed in the slight swell and strained against its mooring beside the slipway. The leaves of the trees were shining gold’s, ambers and firecracker reds. The bucolic scene conjured up memories of mulled wine and the sound of the brass bands playing Christmas songs in Steffi’s mind.
“You are very talented miss.” Steffi said eventually. “I think we have all the information we need for the moment. We will be in touch if we find out anything.”
Laura escorted them to the door out into the main lobby.
“Thank you for coming Sergeant Corrigan.” Laura paused. “We came passed where the crash had taken place, an awful bend. I’m so sorry.”
Steffi nodded and led the way out.
As they descended in the elevator Steffi pealed the tape off her name badge deep in thought.
“What do you make of her Julie?” She asked.
“She doesn’t seem very sad at him vanishing and those two women dressed in next to nothing seemed very odd too.”
Steffi had to agree. It was a very strange set up indeed, very Bohemian.
“She was lying about the argument I’m sure.” Steffi lifted her head up and became more business like. “Julie interview laughing boy downstairs about Bruno’s movements then meet me in the car. I think we’ll see if any of his clients remember anything. Oh another thing, how did she know who I was and what had happened?”
“The accident was in all the papers with a photograph of Steve but now you mention it I don’t remember there being any photographs of you.” Julie confirmed with a frown.
The cold air played over her face refreshingly as she walked over to the patrol car.
“You’re on the right lines darling.” Steve’s voice said in her ear making her jump. “They argued about Bruno joining Murphy’s gang. It can’t be for any other reason.”
Steffi swung round in panic expecting to see Steve standing there behind her with his irritating lopsided grin but there was nobody there.
Shakily she got in the car and slumped down in the passenger seat wishing with all her heart that she could see that lopsided grin once again.
A few minutes later Juliet joined her and they drove toward the area which Laura gave them.
Steffi close her eyes and wondered for her sanity unaware of the caring eyes that watched over her.
Manny was sitting in his usual place behind the grill leafing through the Jewish Chronicle for the umpteenth time when he heard the shop bell tinkle. Looking up he saw two female police officers entering the shop and with an exaggerated sigh beckoned them in.
“Oy Vay.” He said increasing his Jewish accent. “Can’t a person run a business in peace? I suppose you’re here to check my stock for stolen goods again?”
For some reason Steffi warmed to the man instantly.
“No sir we are here on a different matter entirely.” She walked forward and stepped onto Bruno’s screaming face locked in the floor tile, the heels of her shoes inflicting fresh agonies. She had a sudden shiver as if someone had walked over her grave.
“Are you alright Sergeant?” Julie whispered.
Steffi gave a slight nod and continued.
“We are conducting a missing person’s investigation on a Bruno Cantrell and wondered if you could help.”
The face in the tile screamed silently at his name making Steffi shiver once more.
“So someone has killed the bastard at last.” Manny stopped and looked at Steffi with concern. “Pardon my language ladies. Where are my manners, officer will you lock the door and turn the sign round then come through to the back? I have some tea brewing and the pair of you look absolutely frozen.”
Soon the three of them were huddled around the log fire grateful for its heat as Manny poured out steaming black tea for himself and Julie from the silver samovar.
“Are you sure you won’t have a cup Sergeant Corrigan it will warm you up?” Manny asked with concern.
“No thank you. I don’t mean any insult but I’m not that keen on tea.” She replied with a warm smile.
“I have some liquid coffee if you would prefer?”
Steffi shivered at the thought of drinking the French chicory concoction but didn’t want to appear rude so she accepted the offer.
“You don’t have a high opinion of Bruno I take it?” She asked as the little man busied himself at the little sink.
“He is, was, whatever, a thug. Don’t let the fact that he wears expensive suits and has a charm about him fool you. He’s a vicious extortioner who would sell me his own grandmother if he felt it would profit him.” He said vehemently.
“You’re the only one on this street who has even acknowledged knowing him no matter agreeing to talk to us about him.” Julie said taking a sip of her steaming tea. “This is beautiful by the way, the best tea I’ve ever tasted.”
Manny turned and beamed at her.
“Why thank you child, the secret is allowing it time to brew.” He paused before adding more seriously. “I am not surprised the others would not talk to you they fear reprisals you see.”
He passed Steffi the coffee.
“And you don’t Mr Goldberg?” Steffi asked with a nod of thanks.
“The name’s Manny my dear, as for Bruno I don’t think you will find him. Not unless you intend to dredge the river for him.”
“Why is that Manny?” She asked taking a sip of what surprisingly turned out to be an excellent cup of coffee.
“Bruno was an extortioner. He sold he’s own special kind of insurance to all of us on this street. You pay and nothing happens to your business.” Manny took a deep breath to calm himself. “He upset many people sergeant, especially the girls he ran down in the docks. I have to pay more often than others on the street because I’m Jewish. Bruno is a follower of Benito Mussolini I’m afraid. But he has missed three collections, something he has never done before, so it’s not to much a stretch of imagination to consider that he is dead.”
For awhile the conversation turned to the technicalities of times and events before with a final sip of coffee Steffi stood up to take her leave.
“Thank you for all your help Manny. Is there anything we can do for you?”
He took her hand in both of his and looked deep into her eyes.
“No I’ll be fine but you take good care of yourself Sergeant.” He said warmly. “You’re welcome for a cup of coffee anytime my dear, but here take these gloves to protect those cold hands of yours.”
Out of politeness she pulled them on puzzled why her hands should feel cold to others but not to her.
She paused at the shop door noticing the collection of porcelain figures on the little table.
“A nice collection of figures Manny, they remind me of the couple of German ones I had as a wedding present.” She smiled as she picked up one of a milkmaid turning it delicately in her hands. “If no one comes back to claim these Manny I’ll have them, except for the broken one. Why would anyone want to pawn a broken one?”
She picked it up and examined it.
“Who ever did this did it on purpose. The breaks clean as if cut with a knife .” As she put it down something glinted and caught her eye.
It was the silver buckles on its shoes.
She frowned as if trying to catch an elusive thought.
“You’ll be surprised what people bring.” Manny said with a sigh. “I sometimes think I’m a lost property for all those lost souls out there.”
With a last shake of hands the girls left and Manny shut the door.
A shadow coalesced into a tall man dressed in a dark suit and white roll neck sweater, his face in shadow from his fedora.
“She doesn’t know does she?” Manny asked.
“Apparently not, this is of concern for us all.” The man’s deep voice was rich and warm. “Unchecked it will cause untold havoc. I think an intervention by another of our number may be necessary.”
“What about Bruno?” Manny ask respectfully.
“You are safe Israel Emanuel he will bother you no longer. He is beyond all help now.” The man laid a comforting gloved hand onto Manny’s bony shoulder. “Thank you for your help Emanuel.”
“I owe you Stranger for getting my family out of Germany, before that lunatic got his hands on them. Not that I see much of them these days, to busy with their own lives apparently?”
As he said that there was an enthusiastic knocking on the front door.
“Grandpapa, grandpapa are you there?” A child’s voice called.
“Easy Becky Granddad wants his door intact.” Manny’s daughter, Ruth, voice floated through the door.
Manny’s old face creased with pure joy as with fumbling hands he unlocked the door.
“Grandpapa!!” A little girl barrelled in and leapt into his arms.
Manny stole a furtive glance around the room but the Phantom Stranger had gone, back to wherever he came from.
Such was his joy he didn’t notice that the headless figurine had gone.
“Becky stop stamping on that flag stone!” Becky’s mother chastised her daughter as she gave her father a cuddle.
“I don’t like his face!” She squealed.
“Becky!!!” The child stopped and ran over to the others. “Come on Dad and pack your bags you’re coming home with us.”
“We’ve that chess match to finish you old skinflint.” Manny’s brother was at the door to the shop.
“Skinflint?! At least I don’t fritter it away like you do.” Manny said with a stern look on his face that changed into a radiant smile. “Hello brother in law.”
The two men embraced each other which gave Jakob the chance to whisper.
“Someone’s been here.”
“I know we’ll talk about it later.” Manny replied also in a whisper.
Steffi smiled as she sat in the car watching the family’s arrival.
“Where too Sergeant?” Julie asked reluctant to break Steffi’s good mood.
“Back to the Precinct house please Julie to face the music.” Steffi laughed unaware of a woman watching intensely from the shadows as they pulled away.
“I will meet you soon Sergeant, not yet, but soon.” Her face turned into a grinning skull for a moment. “But will you want to meet me?”
Manic laughter filled the air as she turned into mist and blew away.