Frank’s partner, Carl Gibson, had a large waistband and chubby cheeks, with his hair cut into a dirty blond flattop. He wore a cheap Sears and Roebuck suit with a white shirt and a chocolate striped tie. He always smelled of Aqua Velva.
Carl sat behind the wheel of his new De Soto, a pale green De Luxe Business Coupe, and Frank occupied the passenger’s seat, staring out the window.
He and Frank hadn’t been partners long. They worked out of the Major Case Squad and had caught a call that morning.
“Did you check out the name of the lady filing the complaint?” said Carl as he drove.
Frank shook his head.
“Didn’t you wonder why we’re handling a stolen car? Does that sound like a major case to you? Sure doesn’t to me. Should be uniforms handling it, but they’re not. They kicked it up to us.”
Frank continued to peer out the window at the concrete and steel buildings and the men in suits on their way to work. Here and there a mother pushed a stroller, or a couple of school kids hurried to get to their lessons.
“Just guess who it is,” said Carl with a sniff. “Who’s got that kind of juice to get us assigned to a stolen car? You going to guess?”
“No,” said Frank.
“Dorothy Winthrop,” said Carl, looking over at him. “You know who she is, right?”
“I heard the name.”
“Yeah, how could you not, society dame like that, friend of O’Dwyer. Rich as Rockefeller, like the song says. You imagine? Some poor dumb mope steals a car, belongs to one of the richest dames in the city. Wow, is he up shit’s creek without a paddle. Sure wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.”
Frank rubbed his eyes and ran a hand over his crew cut. The night before he’d hung out at Minton’s Playhouse, listening to Kenny Clark’s band. Frank loved be-bop and frequented clubs in Harlem and on 52nd Street. He always stayed late at Minton’s to listen to the afterhours set and try to pick up one of the colored girls. He hadn’t gone home with anybody, but he still got to bed late and this morning he had a headache and his eyes burned.
Frank dug his pack of Lucky’s out of his pocket, shook one out, and lit it with his silver Zippo. He rolled the window down and blew out smoke.
“Use the ashtray, will you, Frank,” said Carl, pointing.
Frank tapped ash into it.
Carl took a deep breath and let it out with a slow hiss.
“So,” he said. “The wife’s been asking about you again. She’s curious, you know. You’re my partner, and she understands that’s a special relationship. We got each other’s back. So she wants to know about you. And, listen, Frank, she thinks it’s a little queer that you ain’t married. We don’t know nobody else around our age who ain’t never been married. I told her straight out, you’re a regular guy, a normal guy, don’t go in for any of that, you know, funny stuff. Hell, they wouldn’t have let you in the Army if you did. Anyway, she’s got this friend—”
“No,” said Frank.
He took another long drag on the cigarette.
“No, I ain’t going on any blind date. I don’t want a fix up, so forget it.”
Carl shook his head.
“Okay, but she ain’t going to be happy about it.”
“She’ll get over it.”
“Let me ask you, Frank, you got yourself a regular girl, somebody you go steady with?”
“Well, then, why don’t you meet the wife’s friend. Her name’s Jean, she’s a widow, husband killed in the war. She’s real pretty—”
“Just drop it, will you?”
He crushed out the cigarette.
“You know Frank, you’re kind of secretive. You don’t talk a whole lot, so it’s kind of hard to get to know you. Guys at the station wonder about you. I tell them you’re okay, but, brother, I don’t really know you that well myself.”
Carl pulled the car to the curb on East 71st Street and turned off the engine.
“You know that, right? You don’t talk a whole lot?”
Frank opened the door of the De Soto.
“Hadn’t noticed,” he said and climbed out.
A man in a khaki chauffeur’s uniform met them on the sidewalk in front of a four-story brownstone.
“Officers, I’m Mrs. Winthrop’s driver,” he said without offering to shake their hands. “I’m the one responsible for the car being stolen.”
“Detectives,” said Frank. “And how are you responsible?”
“I foolishly left the car parked on the street last night. Normally we leave it in a garage on Third Avenue, but yesterday I parked it here in front of the house, meaning to move it later in the day, but I got busy with other things and completely forgot about it.”
Frank looked up and down the block. Tall trees lined the street, expensive cars sat parked along the curb, and rich people lived in the homes. Guys like Frank wouldn’t ever be invited inside one of these brownstones except on business.
“Did anybody see anything?” said Frank.
“Oh, we know who did it, who stole the car.”
“Yeah, who?” said Carl.
The driver shoved a piece of paper at him.
“A colored boy. Here’s his name and address. It’s way up town, but he works at that garage on Third Avenue I was just talking about.”
“How do you know he did it?” said Frank.
“Mrs. Winthrop had a—let’s say—a run-in with him the other day, and then the housekeeper saw him loitering on the block last night.”
“That’s it?” said Frank.
“Isn’t that enough to go on?”
“It’s a start,” said Carl. “But it doesn’t prove that he stole the car.”
“We’d like to speak with Mrs. Winthrop,” said Frank.
The chauffeur grimaced. “Are you sure that’s necessary? She’s in a really bad mood.”
“It’s necessary,” said Frank, pointing towards the house.
The three of them walked up onto the stoop and entered the foyer.
“Please wait here,” said the driver, and he walked off.
Old framed photos hung on the wall, an Asian carpet ran up the hallway, and a small marble-topped table by the front door held a basket of fruit.
“I’m afraid to touch anything,” said Carl, looking around.
Frank stood at the door, looking out into the street.
“Old broad’s got to pick her underwear out of her ass, just like anybody else,” he said.
He heard someone clear her throat, and turned to see a woman he assumed was Mrs. Winthrop, though she wasn’t old. She couldn’t have been more than forty-five, with blond coiffed hair, a tan skirt and stiff white blouse, and a giant diamond on her ring finger.
“I’m busy,” she said. “What do you want?”
“The driver says you had a run-in with someone at the garage,” said Frank.
“That’s correct, the boy who stole the car.”
“What sort of a run-in?”
She folded her arms. “He’s one of the car-washers there. He put a scratch in the paint of the Cadillac. I had Wilson drive me there, so I could chastise him for it.”
“He denied that he did it, of course, and he became belligerent.”
“How do you know he did do it?”
“The scratch wasn’t there before Wilson took the car to be washed, and it was there after the boy washed it. What else am I to conclude?”
“Someone else in the garage scratched it, someone on the street scratched it, Wilson scraped against something while he drove it back here, Wilson’s lying. Should I go on?”
Carl gave him a nervous look and jumped in.
“Wilson said your housekeeper spotted the boy loitering in the neighborhood?”
“What was he doing?” said Frank.
“Loitering,” she said, giving him a severe look.
“Where exactly did she spot him?”
“On the sidewalk.”
“He was standing out on the sidewalk, doing what?”
“He wasn’t just standing out on the sidewalk,” she said. “He was walking by, looking at the house.”
“He was walking up the sidewalk?”
“That’s what I just said.”
“So he wasn’t loitering,” said Frank. “He walked up your block.”
“Loitering, walking, what difference does it make what you call it? He was monitoring the place. Why else would he be on my street?”
Frank looked at Carl, giving him a frown, and then turned back to Mrs. Winthrop.
“It’s a free country. He can walk up any sidewalk he wants to.”
“Be that as it may, there’s only one reason a miscreant like that would be in front of my house, and that’s to figure out how to take his revenge against me for our altercation.”
Frank pulled out his pack of cigarettes.
“You can’t smoke in here,” she said.
He put the pack away.
“We’ll look into what happened to your car,” he said, turning to leave.
“I demand that you arrest that boy,” she said, her voice strained.
“We’ll look into it,” said Frank, and he walked out.
When they climbed back in the car, Frank nodded at the slip of paper in Carl’s hand and said, “Let me see that.”
Carl handed it over, and Frank read. The name of the ‘boy’ was ‘Walter O’Neill’. Frank scratched his chin, staring at the piece of paper. One of the colored girls Frank saw on occasion, Carolina, had a younger half-brother by that name.
“Garage first?” said Carl.
“Yeah, pull around there. Let’s see if anybody’s available to answer questions.”
Carl made the turn onto 3rd Avenue, drove a block, and pulled into the garage entrance. They got out of the car.
“You go ahead and ask questions,” said Frank. He nodded at a pay phone. “I need to make a call.”
He stepped into the booth, closed the door, and pulled out his address book. He found Carolina’s number and dialed it. After the third ring, a woman answered.
“Hello Mrs. O’Neill, this is Detective Frank Koenig.”
Carolina’s mother knew about her relationship with Frank. Iris O’Neill didn’t approve of interracial mixing, but she didn’t seem to bear any ill-will towards Frank.
“May I speak to Carolina?”
“Little early for you to be calling.”
He heard her set down the phone, and in a moment Carolina came on the line.
“What you want, Frank? I got to get to work.”
“Your brother’s name is Walter, isn’t it?”
“He washes cars at a garage on Third Avenue?”
He heard her breath catch. “Did something happen?”
“He’s okay, but he’s accused of stealing a car.”
“Do you think he could’ve done it?”
She hesitated. “I’d like to say no. He’s foolish sometimes, but he ain’t outright stupid.”
“Okay. I’ll do my best to look out for him.”
“Thank you, Frank. I owe you one.”
He felt his pulse jump a beat. “I know a way you can repay me.”
“I bet you do,” she said, and he could hear the heat in her voice. It made him hard.
After they hung up Frank adjusted his erection through his trousers, and met Carl coming out of the garage.
“Come up with anything?” said Frank.
“The boy should be here any minute.”
“He’s almost thirty.”
Carl frowned. “So?”
“So don’t call him a boy.”
Carl shook his head.
“Anyway, the manager knew all about that squabble between O’Neill and Mrs. Winthrop. He said there wasn’t much to it. She came in, accused him of scratching the car, he denied it, she insisted, and he told her to go fuck herself under his breath.”
“That’s him getting belligerent?”
Carl nodded. “That was the extent of it, according to the manager.”
Frank looked up to see a young black man approaching. He wore dungarees and a red t-shirt, and had his hair cropped close. He looked more like Carolina’s brother Bobby than he did Carolina, but Frank could see the family resemblance.
A wary look came over his face as he approached the two of them.
Frank flashed his badge.
“Detectives Koenig and Gibson,” he said.
“What do you want?”
“Tells us your where-abouts last night.”
O’Neill folded his arms.
“I worked until around eight, had a beer with a buddy, went uptown and shot some pool, then went home.”
“You got witnesses?” said Carl. “People can verify that?”
“My buddy and the cats I played pool with, for sure.”
“What were you doing on East Seventy-First Street last night?”
He shrugged. “I walked across Seventy-First to get the subway.”
“What time was that?” said Carl.
“Around nine, a little after.”
“You didn’t come back to this neighborhood after you went uptown?” said Frank.
He shook his head. “Nope. Ain’t been back until now.”
“Somebody stole the Winthrop’s Cadillac, the one that got scratched. You know anything about it?”
O’Neill folded his arms. “Not a thing. I didn’t have nothing to do with that.”
Frank looked at Carl.
“Let me talk to him a minute.”
Carl frowned. “We got to take him in. You heard what Mrs. Winthrop said.”
“Take a walk,” said Frank.
Carl hitched up his pants and shuffled over to the De Soto. Frank took a step closer to O’Neill, and motioned for him to turn away from Carl. They spoke in low voices.
“I know your half-sister,” said Frank.
O’Neill looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Shit, you’re the cop, the one she’s bedding?”
Frank nodded. “I told her I’d look out for you best I could. So if you know anything about this car getting stolen, you’d better tell me right now.”
O’Neill flared his nostrils, and his face became hard.
“I don’t know nothing,” he said.
Frank pulled out his pack of Lucky’s and offered one to O’Neill. O’Neill thought about it, and took the cigarette. Frank took one of his own and lit both of them with his silver lighter. He snapped it closed.
“Don’t be fucking stupid,” he said. “If you don’t cooperate, we’re going to have to bust you, and that’ll be the end of it. This lady’s got connections, knows people, including the Mayor. Don’t matter what evidence there is, you’ll get convicted and do hard time.”
“Shit, that ain’t fair.”
“Don’t be a goddamned child. ‘Course it ain’t fair, but that’s the way it is. The juice this Winthrop dame has, a white man would do time. What chance you think you got?”
“Lefty Grimes,” said O’Neill.
“What about him?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I heard he’s been boosting fancy cars in rich neighborhoods.”
Frank nodded. “Good. We’ll look into it. In the meantime, keep your nose clean, and don’t go mouthing off to any more rich white people.”
Carl didn’t kick up any more fuss over letting O’Neill go, since they had another lead to pursue.
“Who is he?” said Carl as he steered the car through traffic. “This Lefty Grimes.”
“Small-time hood,” said Frank. “Deals in marijuana, cocaine, and stolen goods.”
“What’s he doing on the Lower East Side with all the immigrants and Jews?”
Grimes lived in a detached house with a garage just off Delancey Parkway, near the Williamsburg Bridge. Carl parked the car in front of a hydrant on the street, and he and Frank climbed up onto the stoop.
Carl raised his meaty fist to knock on the door, when Frank stopped him.
“You smell something?” he said.
Carl sniffed the air. “Like what?”
Carl turned his head, sniffing. “Reefer.”
Frank nodded. “I’d call that ‘exigent circumstances’, wouldn’t you?”
They drew their guns. Frank tried the doorknob and found it locked. He took half a step back, raised his foot, and kicked the door hard enough that the bolt tore through the wooden frame, and the door flew open with a bang.
They hustled into the living room to find two black men sitting on a sofa, one of them holding a makeshift pipe. The two men started to get up. An ashtray and a pistol sat on the table in front of them.
Frank and Carl pointed their guns.
“Hands up,” said Carl. “Now!”
They handcuffed Grimes and the other man, then searched the house to find stashes of money and reefer.
Carl stood guard over the suspects, while Frank exited the house to look through the garage. He rolled up the door with a clang. Two cars sat inside, one of them a burgundy Cadillac. He checked the right rear fender to find the scratch Dorothy Winthrop had described.
Frank returned to the living room. The two black men sat handcuffed on the sofa. Carl stood over them.
“The Winthrop’s Cadillac is in the garage.”
Carl let out a whistle. “This should win us a few points with that dame. And I guess this means O’Neill’s off the hook.”
Lucky Grimes let out an unpleasant chuckle. Frank looked over at him.
“You know something?”
“That O’Neill punk is the one who stole the fucking car.”
“You paid him to steal it?”
Frank turned to Carl. “Take him outside,” he said, indicating Grimes’ partner.
Carl grabbed the guy by the arm, got him off the sofa, and led him out the door.
Frank drew his gun, stepped over, and pointed it at Grimes’ forehead.
“O’Neill didn’t have anything to do with this.”
“You fucking heard me. You can take the whole rap, or you can pin it on some other punk. I don’t give a shit, only O’Neill wasn’t involved.”
“Whatever you say, detective.”
Frank pushed the gun barrel against his head, digging it into the skin, and pushing Grimes back against the cushion.
“Don’t fuck with me, shit bird. I find out you pinned this thing on O’Neill, and I’ll hurt you bad.”
“All right, all right. I got it,” said Grimes through clenched teeth. “He didn’t have nothing to do with it.”
Frank and his partner took the two men to the station and did the paperwork to put them in the system. Their Captain made a special trip to the squad room to congratulate them on wrapping up the case so fast.
That evening Frank sat in his Buick on 3rd Avenue just past 72nd Street, looking at the parking garage and smoking a cigarette. The sun had fallen behind the buildings and treetops. Shadows crept over the neighborhood.
An older man, dressed prissy in a trim jacket and slacks, passed on the sidewalk, and gave Frank the once-over.
Frank watched him to the corner, then looked back at the garage to see Walter O’Neill leaving the place. Frank tossed the butt. He climbed out of the car, drew his gun, and came up on O’Neill fast.
O’Neill’s eyes went wide, seeing Frank. He tried to backtrack, but Frank smashed him on the side of the head with the gun, and O’Neill fell backwards, stumbling onto the sidewalk. Frank bent down and grabbed him by the collar, threatening him with the pistol.
“Don’t ever make a jerk out of me again. Got it?”
O’Neill nodded, and blood ran from his scalp. Frank pushed the gun barrel into his neck.
“Tell me you understand.”
Frank dropped him on the sidewalk. He holstered his gun and walked back to the car.