Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure



They don't come more hard boiled than this!  That's right, Faithful Fiends, R.D. Wheadon's gun-wielding gumshoe Sam Cassell returns to P&D in this mesmerizing maze of murder and mayhem that definitely hits Too Close to Home!  (And check out Robert's other Sam Cassell story, The Green Gun Murders, plus his Sword and Sorcerer, Against the Gods. You won't regret it.~Boastful Blair)...

 

Too Close to Home
 

By R.D. Wheadon
About the author


MY NAME'S SAM CASSELL.  I don't like dead bodies, never have.  You'd think I'd be used to them by now, being a private detective and all.  How did I get so lucky as to find two stiffs?

Well, a few nights ago I was shuffling back to my office from the Paradise Lounge after tossing back some of their best aged turpentine.  It was about one o’clock in the morning and I'm walking past this alley.  And that's when I saw these two fresh pieces of meat laid out on the ground.  No sign of a guilty party.  No scampering footsteps, no furtive shadows.  Nothing.

About then my curious nature came to the forefront and I figured I'd better make myself acquainted with the newly deceased.  One was tall, with light brown hair and husky.  He had a bullet hole in his chest.  His companion was shorter, stockier with black hair with a matching bullet hole in the chest.  By the look on their mugs, their demise was rather unexpected.

Going through their pockets, I learn that the tall one was a Tony Arreglio, and that his shorter chum was a Dino Marspaza, recently of Chicago.  I also discovered that both are packing heat, still in their shoulder harnesses.  All this adds up to some very interesting corpses for the police.  Not for me.  I do not get mixed up with live gangsters from Chicago, let alone dead ones.

I replaced their wallets and strolled down to the next block and around the corner where there is an all-night drugstore.  I walked to the back, tipped my hat to the old geezer manning the counter, and phoned the cops about the two lumps of daisy food lying back in the alley.  Duty done, I started to leave when I noticed this doll that had come out of the ladies room and is just now sitting at the counter.  She's a pert little redhead wearing a white with black polka-dot number.  Cute.

As I got closer I notice she's sporting a red mark on her right cheek.  Looked like she's been slapped recently, and hard.  She is also wearing a silver Phi Beta Gamma ring on a silver chain around her neck.  Big boy fraternity.  Goes well with the tears in her eyes.

I decided to saunter up to the counter. I said, "Nice ring--boyfriend's?"

She looked up, suddenly aware of my presence.  She stammered out, "P-pardon me?"

I smiled.  "I'm not trying to get fresh, Miss.  My name's Cassell.  Sam Cassell.  I'm a private detective and you appear to be a little upset.  Do you need any assistance?"  I gave her my best smile, which isn't much, and showed her the photostat of my license. She must've figured it was okay to at least be polite in return and smiled a little.

"No thank you, Mr. Cassell.  I'm just waiting for a cab."

"Did your boyfriend do this?" I said, pointing to her cheek.

Her eyes widened. "Steve?  Oh, he would never, I mean…It wasn't him. It was just…"  She dropped her eyes as she started to tear up again.

That was all I got out of her. There wasn't time for another question.  I looked up and saw a black car pull up to the curb and the snout of a Tommy gun poke out the side window.  I grabbed the girl and threw her off the stool with me right behind her.  The gun started to chatter.  The plate glass window exploded.  The counter shredded.  The wall mirror crashed to the floor.  Then it all stopped. Then all I could hear was the sedan speeding away.

I slowly got to my feet and helped the girl up.  She was shaking, eyes wide, wild, ready to scream.  I shook her, hard.  When I let go, she fell back a step and took a swing at me.  I grabbed her wrist.  She struggled for a second.  Then she collapsed and sat down right on the floor sobbing, shaking with the effort.

I left her there and went to check on the old man. He was slumped on the floor behind the counter. Bits of glass lay scattered like carelessly strewn diamonds.  The slugs had caught him in the gut and torn him wide open like a wad of wet, bloody newsprint.

I went back to the girl.  She had managed to fish out some tissues and was dabbing at her face.  I knelt down in front of her.

"You okay?" I asked.  She looked up at me and tried to give me a shaky grin.

"Yes, I'm fine.  I'm sorry I tried to hit you, Mr. Cassell," she said.

"That's okay.  Getting shot at makes a person do funny things.  I do need to ask you something, though.  You have any enemies?"

"Me?" she squeaked.

"Yes, you," I answered.  "I don't know anybody who wants me that dead.  That just leaves you, or the old man.  But he's not answering any questions."

"Oh," she said.  She didn't appear to want to answer any questions, either.

Just then a car horn sounded.  The girl jumped up, said, "Here's my cab.  Bye. Mr. Cassell!" and disappeared out what was left of the door.

I didn't follow her.  I thought I'd try and find this "boyfriend," anyhow.  He could possibly answer more questions than that blue-eyed baby.  So I called Detective Harry Grant, my official "buddy" at police headquarters, and told him how things stood.  He said he'd be there with the meat wagon pronto.  And he was.  Inside of fifteen minutes here came Detective Grant along with the coroner.

"Hi, Harry," I said.  Harry Grant was tall, broad-shouldered and suspicious of everything.  He had steely grey eyes and explosive red hair cut in a crew cut.  Shaggy eyebrows perched like giant, red wooly pipe cleaners over his eyes.  His gaze took in the whole scene as he stalked through the wreckage that littered the floor.  He looked at the old man's body for a moment.  Then he walked over to me.

"Well, Cassell.  This looks like your typical blood bath.  Nice work.  What's the story?"

I gave the short version, leaving out the stiffs in the alley and that there was a no-name dame that took a powder in a taxi.  Grant shoved his hands into his coat pockets and gave me an inquisitive look.  He said, "You expect me to believe that it is purely coincidental that I find your ugly mug here?  This has all the markings of a Sam Cassell foul-up.  What kind of chump do you take me for?"

I decided not to respond to his last question.  I stayed with the plain, edited truth.

"Hard as it is for you to believe, Grant, I was only in here to use the phone."

"Well, if that's all you know, and your business is done here, scram, Cassell.  The real policemen are here now," Grant snarled.

So I left.  There was a lead I wanted to follow up. I caught a cab and went up to Frat Row where all the fraternity houses sit.  Phi Beta Gamma's house was up here and I figured I'd see if "Steve", the boyfriend, was up.  The cab pulled up and lights were on everywhere, even with it being two o'clock in the morning.  I paid off the cabby and walked up to the front door.  A pimply-faced kid responded to my knock.  I flashed him my special detective badge and said I needed to talk to Steve.  The kid went all bug-eyed and stammered out, "Wh--which one?"

"How many are there?"  I countered.

"Just two.  Steve Miller and Steve Hatu." My eyes glinted with recognition.

"Show me to Mr. Hatu, please."

The kid with the craggy complexion led me down a hall towards the back of the house.  He stopped in front of a paneled, wooden door and indicated that this was the place.  I gave him my best "Get lost," look and watched him scram back down the hall.  I put my ear to the door and heard hushed, tense voices on the other side.  I knocked.  The voices stopped.  I heard some muffled movement and then the door opened.  A young, dark-haired youth stood there, defiant, hands on his hips.

"Who are you?" he challenged.

"My name's Sam Cassell.  Private detective. You Steve Hatu?"

The kid's jaw muscle tightened.  He said, "Sorry, Mr. Cassell.  I'm kind of busy studying right now.”  I nodded in understanding.

"I just need a minute.  You see, it's about your girlfriend…"

His eyes opened wide.  "Rose?  What about Rose?" he queried.

"Why don't you get her out of the closet you're hiding her in and we'll all talk about it," I said.

Hatu's eyes narrowed.  His lips thinned out in anger.  He was just about to slam the door when a soft voice called out, "Steve…?"

At the sound of the voice, all the anger flowed out of the boy like air from a balloon.  He then slowly held the door open and let me pass.  Rose stood leaning against the closet doorframe, still in polka dots.

I said, "Looks like you've had a tough night, Rose. Slapped around, shot at, who knows what else.  Why don't we all sit down and discuss it."

Steve broke in.  He said, "Why don't you just leave her alone?  She never done nothing to you.  She was just…"  Again, Rose said, "Steve," and Steve became quiet.  He went over and put his arm around her shoulder.  He said, "I'm sorry, baby.  Here, you had better sit down.  After the night you've had.  Come on, have a seat."  He led her over to a straight-backed wooden chair next to the bed.

She said, "I don't know where to begin, Mr. Cassell. Tonight has been one nightmare after another.  After those two men were shot…"

Steve interrupted.  "Rose, you don't have to say anything to this guy."

She smiled a tired smile and said, "Steve, Mr. Cassell is the one who helped me in the drugstore.  He's okay."

Steve mumbled something conciliatory and sat down on the edge of the bed.  Rose said, "It was like this, Mr. Cassell.  Steve and I were walking downtown after a little party.  When we came to this alley on Main Street these two men appeared and called to Steve.  We stopped and they said they had a message for Steve's father.  They grabbed Steve.  I guess I screamed.  That was when one of them slapped me and told me to be quiet.

"Steve took a swing at him, but his buddy grabbed Steve and shoved him against the building.  It was then that a long, black sedan pulled up and this little guy in a dark suit hopped out.  The two mugs let go of Steve and stood there while this little guy came up."

Steve interrupted, "It was Tom Crawley, a guy who works for my dad.  He does odd jobs and stuff.  He and these two gorillas stepped back into the alley.  All of a sudden I heard two shots and Crawley was running out of the alley.  He grabbed me, shoved me into the car and we took off."

Rose continued, "I was left standing there. I looked in the alley and saw the two men lying on the ground. I got real scared.  So I ran down to the drugstore to call a cab.  That's where you found me, Mr. Cassell."

I turned to Steve.  "Where'd Crawley take you?"  I asked.

"He dumped me back here.  Told me stay put until I heard from him."  That fit.  Crawley had then come back around hunting for Rose with his machine gun to get rid of a witness.  I said to Rose, "So the cab you jumped in brought you up here."

"Yes," she said.  "I came around to the window and crawled in that way.  I was telling Steve what had happened when you knocked on the door."  I was starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.  Some movement at the window caught my eye.

"Get down!" I yelled.  The ugly snout of a Tommy gun had just cleared the windowsill.  Steve threw himself over Rose just as the gun started to chatter.  The shooter was the same guy I saw at the drugstore. Crawley.  I yanked my .45 clear and sent two slugs back out the window.  He took the two slugs high in the chest and dropped.  I heard moaning from the floor.  I went over to the bed.  Steve Hatu was dead. He had a tattoo of bloody bullet holes across his back.  I pulled him off of Rose, who wasn't hit, but had hit the floor pretty hard.

Just then someone started pounding on the door.  I threw the door open.  The pimply-faced kid was standing there.  I turned him around and told him to call the cops and then get back here and help Rose. The dead were beyond help.  I ran out the front door.

I grabbed a cab and went down to the railroad yard. The offices of Hatu Trucking Company were down there and I had a hunch what I was looking for was down there.  The Hatu Trucking Company was a dark, hulking brick building.  A single light illuminated the sign painted over the door.  I gave the door a try and it opened.  The smell of grease, sweat and tires greeted me as I went in.  The main office of Mattias Hatu was at the top of a flight of wooden stairs.  A light shown through the pebbled glass of the office door. I went up and opened that door.

I had known Mattias Hatu for years.  He was a dark, swarthy man with hands the size of anvils.  His face was rugged, made that way after living the hard life. His hair was close-cropped and shot with gray.  His shoulders, massive under his blue work shirt, only just showed the weight of the fifty plus years that they carried.  They would carry more.  He looked up.

"Cassell.  What are you doing here?  It's a little late for a social call."

"It's a little late for you, too, Mattias," I responded.  "If you're waiting up for your boy, Crawley, he won't be in."

Hatu looked at me steadily.  "You have my attention, Sam.  What about Crawley?"

I snarled back at him, "Why don't you tell me about the two hoods I found shot dead tonight?  Why did Crawley shoot up a drugstore tonight gunning for a sweet kid named Rose?"

Hatu sat there.  He didn't say anything for a moment.  He scratched the back of his ear.  He finally said, "Just between you and me, Cassell.  Okay?  Some boys from Chi town blew in and were nosing around my business.  They came to me, see?  Wanted to bring me into the big time hauling some of their 'goods' out here to the West.  I've never had no partners, see? I ain't about to start now.  I sent Crawley out to deliver my answer to their proposition.  I don't know nothing about no drugstore.  If he shot up someplace, I'll pay the damages."

I said, "Yeah, well, Crawley found the Chicago boys hassling your boy Steve when he was walking with his girlfriend, Rose.  Crawley delivered your message right there in front of the kids."

Hatu grumbled, "My boy can handle himself. He's been around.  I told Crawley to keep everything tidy. You know, no loose ends."

I said, "He must've thought Rose was a loose end, Hatu.  He went gunning for her at a drugstore around the corner.  He got the druggist instead.

"I went up to your son's dorm after that. Steve was there.  So was Rose.  He was trying to calm her down. While I was there, your boy Crawley showed up again and tried to take care of Rose."  I paused.

Hatu spread out his hands.  He said, "Well, what happened?"

I said, "He didn't get her.  Crawley didn't see me by the door and caught the two bullets I threw at him. Blew him right off the crate he was standing on."

Hatu growled, "That idiot. He was supposed to keep it simple.  No witnesses.  Nothing to tie me in.  Now I got this mess!"  His fist thundered on top of the desk.

I said, "Mattias, that's not all.  Your boy, Steve, threw himself in front of the girl.  Caught the whole burst of lead square in the back.  He died right there."

My words hit Hatu.  Hard.  I could see the light die right there in Hatu's eyes.  Things had gotten messy. The whole stinking mess had hit too close to home.

"Steve…” he gasped.

I left him alone.  The cops would be there soon, anyway.
 
 

The End.



 


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Too Close to Home is copyright by Robert Wheadon. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)