Two packs of smokes and a bottle of hooch. My pay for a job well done. Fine by me, sure, but I do believe Betts will blow sky high. Three weeks’ tailing a dame, watching her smooching up her husband Richie’s best friend, giving the husband proof she’s playing him for a sucker, he decides to forget the mess and takes her back. Most days I wonder why I bother getting out of bed, and today was sure no exception. Betts will be back soon and I have to come up with a plan on how to break it to her. Wait. Let me explain Betts to you so you get my drift.
My name’s Mo. Mo Pollniak. I was christened Maurice, but nobody’s allowed to use that on me. Okay, so it was alright for Ma and the nuns down at The Virgin Mary of the Sacred Woods School, but that’s it. My Pop got runned down by a beer truck one Saturday morning when I was 2, so I don’t really remember what he used on me. But Ma worked on the line over at the bicycle factory right up till the day she died so I’d be able to eat and go to parochial, so it all worked out.
I’m a PI, in case you were wondering, and I’ve been doing this near to 30 years now. I never eat breakfast, I shave at least once a week, I hang my one suit out on the fire escape to air out, and the Chinese lady down the hall washes and irons my shirts out of pity since she thinks that I’m broke and a real loser. Smart lady. Now let’s get back to Betts.
I first opened my business in an abandoned storefront, and just hung a handmade sign in the window that said ‘Mo Pollniak-Investigations‘; you know, all classy like, and she walked in. Said her name was Betsy Malone, but if I ever didn’t call her just Betts, she’d break my arm. Her man had went out for a shot and a beer three weeks ago, and hasn’t been home since. She needed a job, this was close enough to walk to so she wouldn’t need carfare, she’d work cheap and she made the best sandwiches in the State. She started that afternoon. The best thing about Betts is when a job gets done, she makes sure we get paid. Not sure what I’m going to tell her about our latest though. Gotta think…
When she got back from lunch, slammed the door, and threw a bag with two roast beef on rye and a cream soda on my desk, I wondered how she found out about Richie. Was I ever barking up the wrong alley…
“I knew it. She told me he was going to kill her and now she’s dead. The cops are wandering around in circles as usual and he’s going to get away with it just like she said he would. Mo? You’ve got to do something!”
I asked her if I could eat my sandwiches while she told me the story, and once the drop-dead look in her eyes passed, I took that as a yes.
On her way back to the office, she passed this town’s only hotel, cops all over it. Betts’ friend, one of the maids, was outside, and told her a man named Howard Marshand had found his wife, Suzanne, strangled in their room.
“What the hell was Suzanne doing here in a hotel anyway?” Betts was boiling mad. “She and I went to St. Mary’s together and her Daddy had some money and when he died, he left her the house and enough cash to get by. I hated it when she married that Marshand character. He’s low-life scum that just lived off her all these years. He’s a lying bum, and the last time I talked to her about 2 months ago, she said she knew he was planning to get rid of her. He had some floozy on the side and wanted the house and the cash. Mo, I’ve never asked you to get involved in my business, but I am this time. I can’t prove it, but I know he killed her. Please?”
First ‘please’ in 30 years. How could I say no?
I got the scoop from one of the uniforms at the scene. The happy couple had booked the weekend to spark their fire, but got into it over something, and he left to spend the night with his part-time gal. Real classy gent. When he got back to the room this afternoon, the poor kid was on the floor with a scarf knotted around her neck. She had an ugly gash in the back of her head too and the desk had blood on a corner. Somebody wanted her real dead.
I went up to the room to have a look-see and my old pal, Lt. Dave Hastings, was finishing up.
“What do you want here, Pollniak? A real crime happened in here.”
I knew he’d be thrilled to see me.
“Just looking around, Dave,” I said. “Can’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on it, right? Who’s the broad he spent the night with anyway? She alibi him?”
I could tell he wasn’t in a very cooperative mood.
“Not that it’s any of your beeswax, Mo, but her name’s Molly something, and she lives in those rooms in Riverdale. She gave a statement that Marshand ate dinner over there, played some canasta, and he stayed the night, like they were some regular Dick and Jane. End of story. Let her be, okay? This time, the husband didn’t do it so we gotta start looking somewhere else. Now, beat it, huh? Doc will be here soon to get her out of here.”
For some reason, I didn’t feel quite as good about Molly something’s word as Dave did. I figured it was about time I stuck my nose in where it didn’t belong.
* * * * * * * * * *
A week later, Betts comes in, smiling ear to ear.
“It’s over, Mo. It’s all in this morning’s paper. That son-of-a-bitch confessed and the cops were right there listening. They had it all set up. She got him over to her place and told him she wanted him to take his clothes and scram. She said she knew that he had murdered his wife while he was wearing his brown jacket because she found out what happened to the missing button. He said he didn’t know anything about a damn button, and besides, he had been wearing his blue jacket when he killed her--not the brown one--and she’d better clam up about it or she’d get hers. Well, the cops came out and arrested him right then. Can you believe it?”
Uh-huh. I sure could. All it took to shake his little gal up was a quick phone call one night, letting her know she shouldn’t alibi a murderer since the cops were planning to arrest her too unless she came clean. See, they found the button. When he was choking his wife’s lights out, she pulled a button off his jacket and they found it clenched in her cold dead hand. Molly put the phone down to check the closet, and mumbled something that sounded like ‘lying bastard’ before she hung up.
There wasn’t actually a button found, you know. A wife, she isn’t going to let her man leave the house with a button missing, but a girlfriend? A man doesn’t spend time with a girl like Molly because of her abilities as a seamstress. I knew there had to be at least one button missing from something he stashed at her place.
Betts handed me three roast beefs on rye and two cream sodas. There was a pickle in wax paper and a napkin too. Out loud ‘Thanks’ and ‘You’re Welcome’ would have been sappy and were already understood. I was ready to chow down and grabbed at that pickle when Betts said “By the way, Mo. Did Richie ever stop by to pay us for trailing after that cheating tramp of his?”