The neon light from the night club illuminated the O’Brien and Moore detective agency in various shades of blue. Battered filing cabinets and two desks sat underneath a large board filled with newspaper clippings and notes.
A dark-haired man sat at a desk. His feet sprawled on the surface, crumpling documents and tipping the pencil holder precariously. In one hand he held a telephone and in the other, the smoldering stub of a cigarette.
“Of course, Chief. Always happy to help.” With a self-satisfied smirk, Adam O’Brien replaced the receiver.
“That’s the Bolton Murder solved then?” his partner, Henry Moore, stood in the doorway. A bottle of whiskey and two glasses in hand.
“Child’s play.” Taking a draught from his cigarette Adam swung his legs off the desk.
“Our esteemed Chief of Police was convinced Bolton was mixed up with The Mortem Syndicate.” He dipped his head to indicate the board. Most prominent were pictures of a curious tattoo. A two headed snake wrapped around a wilting flower.
“While that bozo had his men running around town. I was tracking down the real murderer.”
Holding the cigarette between his lips, Adam reached for the whiskey with a chuckle. “The Mortem would never have worked with a wet fish like Bolton.”
“I don’t know Adam. The evidence…”
“Moore. When I took you on last year I thought you’d pick up on this business faster.” Adam flicked his cigarette so it lay smoldering on the carpet.
“Maybe you aren’t cut out for this kind of work.” He threw back his whiskey and hummed appreciatively as the liquid burned down his throat.
“I contribute to the business.” Henry put his glass down.
Nodding sympathetically Adam poured another glass for himself. “Of course Moore.”
He took another drink, enjoying the pleasant warmth the alcohol brought. “Listen. I’ll read you my report. Then maybe you’ll learn something.”
When I read about the Bolton case in the papers I knew something was wrong. The belief that The Syndicate had been involved was ridiculous.
I knew better.
I was the one responsible for shutting down one of their major smuggling operations last year. And I know a thing or two about how they operate.
I saw the shabby Syndicate brand on the body for what it was.
Someone trying to cover their tracks.
I began with the wife.
A wonderful woman. Very gullible. But not, I thought, a murderer.
Bolton’s son, Jim, and his daughter, Maggie, were obvious suspects. Neither seemed particularly upset. And after a few phone calls I discovered that they were both prepared to inherit several thousand dollars from their father’s estate. Looking into their lifestyle it was apparent they both enjoyed money and everything that came with it.
The third suspect was Jim’s school chum, Franky. A young man with bad teeth and even worse spending habits. Seems Jim spent a lot of money every month keeping Franky out of trouble. He gambled often and always with the wrong sort of people. I’m sure he was more than happy to see his friend inheriting a large sum.
The last was one of the maids. Patricia Lane. It was easy enough to find out that she was a thief. Taking jewelry and small nick-knacks down to a shady pawn shop downtown every week. What if Bolton had caught her in the act?
I spent a couple of days getting to know my suspects and exploring their daily haunts.
That’s when I spotted it.
A quick trip to the Coroner’s Office and I confirmed my suspicions. The knife Bolton had been stabbed with told me everything I needed to know.
It was definitely the dagger missing from the display case at Brook’s Club.
When I arrived at the house that evening, I could feel the tension in the air. The club had probably called ahead and warned Jim that I’d been there.
He was waiting for me in the lounge.
I could tell right away he was testing the waters. He needed to know if I’d found him out. And if I’d told anyone else.
It only took a few minutes, but I was sure he was my man. I tried to make my excuses and leave. But he insisted I stay for a drink.
He poured me a glass of scotch from his father’s stash. And as soon as I took a sip, I realized it was poison.
You don’t stay alive in this business as long as I have if you don’t have a good sense for danger.
It was a pathetic and desperate attempt.
You should have seen his face when I spat it out and drew my gun.
When the police arrived, I let them haul Jim off and told them to give my compliments to the Chief.
Wrapping up another successful case for the greatest P.I. in Chicago.
Adam looked across the desk at his partner. “See what I mean Moore? This business takes real smarts.”
He pushed his glass clumsily forward and gestured for more whiskey. He felt quite drunk already. Maybe Moore had sprung for the good stuff.
“Well. What do you think? Brilliant right?”
“I think it’s amazing.” Henry said.
“Amazing that you ever managed to stumble upon the Syndicate smuggling ring last year.” He stood and began wiping the whiskey bottle with a handkerchief.
Adam tried to protest but his tongue felt heavy in his mouth.
Everything felt heavy.
There was a dull thud as his glass fell onto the carpet.
“The boss wanted me to keep on eye on you. Find out what you knew. But it seems to have been nothing but dumb luck. Even Bolton was smarter than you.”
He leaned over the desk with a grin.
“Maybe you just weren’t cut out for this kind of work.”
As his vision faded Adam found his eyes drawn to the glimmer of the neon light on Henry’s ring.
A two headed snake.
It seemed important.
But he couldn’t remember why…