Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Backwards work

Wolfson Manzoni sneered at the poster put out by the police. He was a tall, lean man with dark eyes and a suitably wolfish smile. He was wearing a dark grey suit, black brogues and a white shirt. He was sober but the five o'clock shadow and rumpled clothing showed he'd not had time to get home since the night before.

He'd been following a lead in Ravenstone looking for a killer himself. Harcourt Herbert the industrialist had been found dead after he'd called and asked Manzoni for help. Manzoni could have let the police handle it, but it felt like a personal slur and he considered all the information he had. It wasn't much. Herbert had been a tough man with many enemies, both in the industry and in his own boardroom. Manzoni had noticed Fletcher Lockheart arguing with Herbert earlier in the week and that made him a suspect. He'd driven out to Lockheart's building in Evelyn Drive to talk to him. Lockheart wasn't in, which made Manzoni more suspicious. He'd sat in his car dosing himself with coffee and had bought a sandwich from the diner along the street. Lockheart hadn't come home and Manzoni had grown more suspicious. He'd driven to Daisy's Diner near his office and had breakfast.

"Where've you been honey? You look like hell," Daisy had said.

He'd thanked her wryly and said something about working for not much of a living. She'd brought him more coffee with his bacon and eggs. She'd pointed to the poster at the bus stop outside and he'd sneered at it. He preferred to start with all those who'd wanted Herbert dead, look for the motives and then eliminate them from his list as they became more innocent than others. Suddenly it occurred to him from all he knew of Harcourt Herbert.

"Hell, I wouldn't put it past him either," he muttered to himself.

He finished his breakfast and paying Lily he went out into the street and stared at the poster again. Then he stared at the pavement with his hands in his jacket pocket. When he looked up again he smiled slowly and went for a walk. Along the street there were all kinds of shops, but he ignored them all. He turned right into Curiosity Street and a little way along he stopped and peered into Cato's restaurant. They did breakfast in there too, but it was more high class. You could tell from the prices and the clientèle. Manzoni let his eyes sweep across the customers for a moment before he went in, pulling his hat brim low over his face. He strolled through as if he belonged and nobody stopped him. First he called Captain Delaware at Police Headquarters.

"Frank? I got the killer of the man at the Herbert house at Cato's. Can you get here in ten minutes? Okay. I'll tell you more when you've got him," he said quietly into his cellphone.

Then he went to the bar and ordered an orange juice.

"Real hard man, huh?" the barkeeper said casually.

"Real hard brother, it's the clean living," Manzoni replied ignoring the insult at his crumpled clothes.

A little later, two police officers strolled into the restaurant and Manzoni put down his second juice and told them where the killer was. He followed them to a booth at the back and leaned across the table.

"Hey Harcourt, all that killing hungry work?" he asked softly.

The man with too much beard and all of it false did not look up.

"Don't know who you're talking to mister. Don't know you either," he answered.

"Sure you do Harcourt. A rich man like you leaving clues all over the city," Manzoni said.

"Officers this man is harassing me. What do I pay my taxes for?" the man said looking up.

His blue eyes stared from an apparently old face and Manzoni grinned, leaned forward and tore away the false beard. The man gave a yell and clutched at his chin, but the officers knew him now and arrested him.

"Really," Manzoni told Herbert as he was led away, "Backwards work killer a catch To. That's poor Harcourt, very poor."

Captain Delaware leaned back in his chair and asked Manzoni to explain. Manzoni began by telling him how Herbert had wanted to see him. But that he also owned a lot of advertising space and publishing outlets.

"He had the posters printed in case I wanted to meet him outside of his house. That phrase was what finally got to me. You and I captain, we gather evidence and then work out who the killer was. We don't work backwards from a murder, we work around it to get at it. Killer a catch reminded me of kill a cat. That led me to Curiosity Street because I was near there and it fitted. That meant somebody who knew I had breakfast at Daisy's, near my own office. Curiosity Street is backwards from Davies Street going towards the bay too.

Catch to I just knew was Cato from the first two letters. Though I'd worked that out anyway. Cato's would be known by Herbert, his sort don't eat at Daisy's. At first I couldn't work it out until I remembered that the dead man at the Herbert house had his face mutilated beyond recognition. Then I realised it had to be Herbert who was the killer and not the victim. I'm guessing but I'd say the victim was Tim Luker the publisher, his company had been threatened with takeover by Herbert's publishing company. He must have gone around to negotiate with Herbert who killed him."

"You're right, it was Luker, he was identified from dental records. Not bad work for a shamus like you," the Captain told him.

Manzoni sneered wolfishly and got up. He took his hat and went out of the police station. He was looking forward to a shower and bed.


The Awakened Heart said...

Good story! I like a bit of detective work and I love the poster idea.

madameshawshank said...

this one was loads of fun..I could hear their voices :-)

Griffin said...

I thought I'd revisit my love of forties hard-boiled detective tales for a change. Still, I haven't forgot the faerie and other magical things.

Glad you could hear the voices, o Snapper mine. It's one of the things I love about those forties novels. The wisecrackery and style of the language.