‘Black Market Murder’ – a mystery, of course
Harry wrote the following story when he lived in Buffalo, N.Y., before his 1949 move to Maryland at age 28. Like many of his tucked-away writings, I discovered the yellowed, typed pages held together with rusty paper clips. I have to wonder what Harry would’ve thought about these fictions if he had taken another look in his old age, say, 60 years after he wrote them. We’ll have to trust that he would have been as proud as ever. (Note: During WWII, the government issued ration stamps to purchase gasoline and other necessities.)
It was 2:00 Monday afternoon when the strident ringing of the telephone startled Handy Marker as he was dozing in the comfortable leather chair in his office.
“Handy Marker speaking,” he mumbled into the phone.
“Hello, Handy, this is Al.” The voice at the other end was large and hearty, with an undercurrent of laughter running through it.
“Yes, Al, how do you feel today?” Handy’s voice flowed as his words brought to mind the hazy, but nonetheless pleasant recollection of the party he and Al had attended the night before.
“A little tired, Handy.” The hearty voice sounded slightly hoarse. “Say Handy, if you’re not busy this afternoon I’d like you to stop in and see me.”
“Why sure, Al. I’ll come right now, if you want.”
“No, no. Not now. Say about 4:30.”
“Okay, Al. Anything wrong?”
“Well, I’d rather not talk about it over the phone, Handy, but I … there is something wrong and I need some good advice.”
“I’ll see you at 4:30, Al.”
As he replaced the receiver, Handy could not help thinking that Al sounded worried. But that wasn’t like Al. Not Al Honesty. That big galoot never worried about a thing.
“Oh well,” he shrugged, “he’s probably got a hangover; I know I have.” As he resumed his interrupted nap he was dimly aware of a feeling of self-satisfaction that Al should be asking him for advice. Of course, he was Al’s closest friend and it was only natural that … Ah, how we do admire the wisdom of those who come to us for advice!
It was exactly 4:30 p.m. on Handy’s expensive wrist watch when he tooled his powerful coupe through the snowy ruts of the driveway leading into Al Honesty’s Service Station. He drove past the gas pumps and parked beside the small building, which housed a modest office and a tiny rest room – a building so familiar to thousands of similar stations.
As he sauntered around to the front of the building, he slanted a cigarette between his firmly chiseled lips and applied flame from his lighter. Then, his hat adjusted at a rakish angle, he pulled the door open.
The joyous greeting in his heart was frozen on his lips. For there, lying on his back in the middle of the floor was Al Honesty. It was immediately apparent that Al was dead.
For one moment of incredulous shock Handy stood petrified in the doorway. Only gradually did he become aware of the details of the scene before him. The thin, but noticeable gash in Al’s exposed throat, with blood still oozing out of it. The wicked-looking dagger lying beside him on the floor, its blade shining dully where it was not covered with blood. And the man sitting silently at Al’s little desk, his hand still resting on the telephone.
An innocent enough setting for tragedy.
The Inspector turned his impassive gaze on the man, still silently seated at the desk.
“You called Headquarters?” It was more a statement than a question.
The man stirred and sighed. He was short and stout, with jet-black wavy hair and incredibly black eyes. His normally olive complexion had turned a sickly, sallow color.
“Yes,” he murmured in an almost inaudible voice.
While they talked, the Inspector’s assistant was directing the activities of the Homicide crew. They were operating with the smooth precision of a well-trained football team, yet they scarcely made a sound.
“What’s your name?” asked the Inspector.
“Allen Carmello,” replied the black-haired man.
“What’s your business?”
“I run a gas station down on Jersey Street.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Why – why –” he was obviously fumbling for words. “I – that is, Al Honesty called me and asked me to come and see him at 4:15.”
“Yes?” the Inspector prompted.
“I was delayed a little and I had a flat tire about a block from here so I walked from there. I guess I was a little late.” He trembled, as from a sudden chill. “When I got here,” he continued in answer to the Inspector’s relentless gaze, “I found him like that – so I called Headquarters.” His voice trailed away curiously.
The Inspector, an old, old hand at this game of question and answer, regarded him quietly for a moment, trying to put a mental finger on a flaw.
“Hey, Chief,” cried his assistant suddenly, “this knife’s got the initials A.C. on it.”
The Inspector’s steel-grey eyes seemed to bore holes through Carmello. The man lost all vestige of his self-control.
“No, no,” he cried brokenly, “I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it. They framed me. I didn’t do it!”
Handy watched the grim scene with distaste.
At that moment the Medical Examiner walked in, exuding the faint scent of a morgue. The Inspector pointed to the corpse and stood by silently while the doctor made his preliminary examination.
Handy, fully himself now, lit a cigarette and studied the wall above the desk where Al’s gasoline permit hung. Hanging beside it, elaborately framed, was a beautiful certificate, proclaiming Al Honesty President of the Local Service Station Organization. He almost smiled as he recalled the party last night which had celebrated Al’s election to that coveted position.
When the Medical Examiner had finished, he rose and faced the Inspector.
“This man’s throat has been cut as neatly as though it had been done by a doctor,” he said.
“What time did it happen?” asked the Inspector.
The doctor frowned. “It’s hard to say exactly until I’ve made an autopsy,” he muttered. “But I’d say offhand that it was sometime between,” he consulted his watch, “four and four-fifteen. I’ll send the boys in to take him out.” And he walked out.
“How soon will I have your report?” shouted the Inspector after his retreating figure.
“Sometime tonight,” came the reluctant rejoinder.
“Damn all doctors!” the Inspector exploded.
“Physicians mend or end us,
Secundum artem; but although we sneer
In health – when ill we call them to attend us
Without the least propensity to jeer.”
Handy quoted the lines absently and was immediately sorry, for the Inspector turned the full batteries of his camera eyes on him.
“What’s your name, son?” he sounded almost friendly.
“I’m a writer – mystery stories and other foolish things.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well – I might have come for gas.”
“Your car isn’t parked by the gas pumps.”
“Hmm – you are observant, aren’t you? Well, the truth is, Al Honesty happens to be – or was, a close friend of mine. He called me this afternoon and asked me to stop in at 4:30.”
“He liked to make appointments, didn’t he?” Inspector Donaldson murmured in an aside.
“What time did you get here?” he asked.
“It was exactly 4:30,” said Handy displaying his wrist watch. The Inspector looked at it a moment, thinking.
“Was this man,” pointing to Carmello, “here?”
“Yes, he was.”
Abruptly, he whirled on Carmello.
“What kind of flat tire did you have? Blowout or leak?” The question was so completely unexpected that even Handy blinked.
“L-l-leak, I guess,” Carmello stammered.
“Listen Carmello,” all at once Inspector Donaldson became a friend and a confidante, “you’re in a jam. Who do you think is trying to frame you?”
“I d-d-don’t know, Inspector.” He looked terror-stricken and his lips were quivering uncontrollably.
Inspector Donaldson regarded him for a few seconds, his all-seeing eyes seeming to pierce through to his innermost secrets. Then, with a sigh, he straightened his massive shoulders.
“Sarge,” he directed wearily, “bring him along back to the office.”
“You’d better follow us down to Headquarters, son,” he remarked. “I’ll need you when I fill out my report.”
“Inspector,” said Handy, “have you got any ideas? Do you think he did it?” He pointed at Carmello.
“We’ll talk about that later, son.”
“But I’ve got to know. Look, Inspector, I know I’m not a detective, but I have written mystery stories and have got imagination. And from what I’ve seen and heard in here, there are possibilities. And,” he added slowly, “I think you’ve seen them.”
He paused breathlessly. A faint glimmer of interest showed in the Inspector’s eyes.
“Maybe you have too much imagination,” he commented dryly. “But go ahead, let’s hear it.”
“You’ll have to ask this fellow – uh – Carmello a few more questions, first.”
“That’s why I’m taking him down to Headquarters,” was the Inspector’s calm rejoinder.
“Then can I just sit in on the questioning?” asked Handy, hopefully.
“Yes, son, I think we can arrange it,” he replied, while his right hand, with its powerful stuffy fingers, absently stroked his cheek.
As they were filing out, Handy reached up and detached the framed certificate from its hook on the wall and tucked it under his arm. Inspector Donaldson glanced askance at him but said nothing.
In front of the gas pump, where the Squad Car was parked, the Inspector took the Sergeant and one of the other detectives aside and spoke to them in a low voice for a few minutes. He was evidently giving them some unorthodox instructions, for both men looked violently surprised. Handy, leaning against one gas pump, gazed unseeingly at the figures beneath the glass face, thinking furiously.
The Inspector, finished issuing mysterious orders, settled himself into the car and waved as he drove off, leaving the Sergeant and his cohort behind. As he turned toward his own car, Handy noticed things. One; the sergeant had departed, walking, and the other detective had gone inside the little building. Two; the figures under the glass face on the gas pump represented the last disbursement of gasoline as 19.7 gals.
“That reminds me,” he muttered, “I’d better buy some gas on my way down to Headquarters.”
Twenty minutes later, having filled his gas tank (10 gals. – 2 C stamps) he was seated in Inspector Donaldson’s office, with the Inspector and an alert-looking, bright-eyed man who had been introduced as District Attorney Farrell.
The Inspector was leafing through several typewritten reports on his desk, and, from time to time during the next few hours, more reports were delivered by silent stenographers.
“Did you know anything about Al’s family, son?” asked the Inspector, his eyes casually raised to Handy’s.
“No, I didn’t,” Handy regretted. “He never mentioned anything about his family connections to me. As a matter of fact,” he almost grinned, “I don’t know if he was born or hatched.”
“Hmm, ahem,” the Inspector cleared his throat while the District Attorney lit a cigar and concentrated on some vague point on the ceiling.
“His parents died ten years ago in a train accident. He was forty-four years old, he had a brother forty and a sister thirty-six. His brother joined the Army three years ago, spent two years in the Pacific killing Japs and deserted when he came home on furlough. The F.B.I. is still looking for him. His sister married seven years ago, but her husband died two years later and she collected the insurance and disappeared. We’re still looking for her.” He paused for breath.
“Quite a family,” muttered the District Attorney.
The Inspector grunted, but whatever he had to say was interrupted when his erstwhile assistant, Sergeant Bolton, entered the room, bearing bags of sandwiches and coffee. Handy and the District Attorney both noticed the glance of understanding that passed between him and the Inspector.
For the next ten minutes, the four men consumed sandwiches and drank coffee, but not a word was spoken. Handy, his brow furrowed in concentration, found it difficult to reconcile this little scene with the previous conceptions of police work.
When they had finished, the Inspector left the room with the Sergeant, leaving Handy and District Attorney Farrell alone for a few moments. He returned with Allen Carmello, whom he seated under a lamp. Then, resuming his own seat behind his desk, he spoke.
“Carmello,” his voice was almost soothing, “you told me before that you arrived at Al Honesty’s station a little late for your 4:15 appointment. Is that right?”
“Yes, sir.” Carmello had regained control of himself, but the corners of his mouth still twitched a little now and then. Handy wondered, suddenly, if he were acting or …
“You also said,” the Inspector continued, “that you were delayed a little and that you had a flat tire a block away and walked from there. Is that right?”
“Yes, sir.” There was an air of tension about him.
“What delayed you?”
Handy smiled to himself in approval. This Donaldson knew his business.
“My – Herb – he’s – he works for me.” Carmello was visibly trembling again. “He was out on a service call with the truck and I had to wait till he got back before I could go.”
“I had to use the truck to go. And besides, I couldn’t leave my station alone.”
“What time did he get back?”
“It was ten after four. I remember bawling him out for being so late.”
“Where was this service call?”
“Oh – it was way down on the East Side. One of my best customers.”
“Mr. Carmello, where did you keep your knife?”
“Why – why – in my desk at the station.”
“I see. Now tell me, who do you think would want to frame you?”
“I don’t know, Inspector. Honest, I don’t.”
“What did Al Honesty want to see you about?”
“I don’t know that, either. He just called and asked me to come over and see him.”
The Inspector raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
“It’s the truth, Inspector,” Carmello pleaded. “He’s the President of the Service Station Organization, and he could have called anybody to come and see him and – well, it’s his privilege,” he finished lamely.
A quiet-footed stenographer stole in, deposited a sheet of paper on the Inspector’s desk, and stole out again. Then the phone rang and the Inspector spoke quietly for a minute and hung up.
He pressed a button on his desk and when the Sergeant appeared in the doorway, motioned him to take Carmello away.
“Now, son,” he said, turning to Handy, “why did Al Honesty want to see you?”
Handy frowned. “I don’t know,” he replied. “He said he wanted some advice and he sounded worried.”
“Was he in the habit of asking you for advice?”
“No, he wasn’t. That’s why I know he must have been pretty much upset.”
The Inspector sighed, his fingers absently stroking his jaw.
“What do you make of this, son?” he asked slowly.
It was a challenge. No, it was an invitation. The District Attorney stirred in his seat and gazed at Handy with his bright eyes. Handy lit a cigarette idly and took several deep drags.
Must uphold the honor of mystery-story writers and other foolish things, he thought to himself, wryly.
“Well, Inspector,” he said aloud, “I may be off the track and somehow, I don’t think we have all the facts, but – here’s how it looks to me.” He drew a deep breath. “This Carmello is either acting or he’s being framed. Let’s assume for the moment that he’s being framed. If so, who had the opportunity to frame him? And the first one that comes to my mind is the fellow who works for him. He had access to Carmello’s knife. He was responsible for Carmello’s original delay because he was late getting back from a service call – he says. And he could have tampered with Carmello’s tire so that it would go flat before he reached Al’s place. These are possibilities, mind you, and I can’t see any motive at all but – well, I’d pick him up and question him if I were you.”
Inspector Donaldson smiled, the grim wrinkles under his eyes folding into genial lines.
“That,” he said as he pressed the button on his desk, “is exactly what we’ve done. Oh Sergeant,” to the opening door, “bring him in.”
The Sergeant reappeared with a medium sized, sandy-haired man in tow, a man with huge bags under his pale green eyes. Handy wondered if they were from dissipation or lack of sleep.
“What’s your name?” asked the Inspector quietly, when the man had been seated.
“Herbert Jenkins, Sir.” His voice was thin and cracked.
“You work for Allen Carmello?”
“This afternoon you went on a service call for Carmello and returned late. Is that right?”
“Where was it?”
“Down on the East Side. Mr. Gardin, one of our best customers wanted … I told the Sergeant all about it.”
“Never mind. What time did you leave him?”
“About a quarter to four, sir.”
“What time did you get back?”
“About ten after. Mr. Carmello bawled me out.”
“You know we can check with Mr. Gardin on that, don’t you?”
“Oh, but he wasn’t there, sir. I just fixed his car and came back.”
During this interchange of words, Handy intently studied Jenkins’ face. Instinctively he distrusted the man. The Inspector evidently shared this distrust, for his next question was blunt and forceful.
“Did you tamper with Carmello’s truck tire so it would go flat?” he demanded.
“Oh no, sir. I had barely pulled into the station, when Mr. Carmello jumped in and drove away.”
“As a matter of fact, sir, the truck was very low on gas, almost empty, and I wanted to fill it up, but he drove away too fast.”
“Did you know Al Honesty?”
The question had a strange effect. Not a muscle of the man’s face moved, yet his pale green eyes suddenly had an unholy light in them. The District Attorney, veteran of many courtroom battles and wise in interpreting facial expressions, caught his breath audibly.
“Only slightly, sir.” The answer was innocent enough.
“Did you kill him?”
This time the reaction was violent. He got out of his chair and covered the three feet to the Inspector’s desk in a single, tigerish leap.
“No!” His thin, cracked voice was barely audible with suppressed hatred. “But I would have, if I had the chance. The d – – – righteous rat.”
The outburst was so unexpected that the Inspector blinked several times before he spoke.
“Sit down, Jenkins,” he snapped. “Now, that’s better. Why didn’t you like him?”
But Jenkins’ lips were sealed. Not another word could they get out of him. Finally, the Inspector ordered the Sergeant to take him away, after which he sat and absently stroked his jaw with his eyes closed. The District Attorney paced up and down the room, also thinking. And Handy smoked furiously.
Suddenly he jumped up, muttering oaths under his breath.
“Inspector,” he said, “will you trust me? Will you let me do something, something that may break this case?”
“Now wait a minute, son.” The Inspector was disconcertingly calm. “This thing isn’t so tough. Besides, there are a few angles which you don’t know of yet.”
“Such as what?” murmured Handy.
“Oh,” the Inspector shrugged his huge shoulders, “such as, for example, this report on my desk which tells that Allen Carmello was dealing in black market gasoline and that Herb Jenkins was the contact man for the black market gang. Also, that Al Honesty, early this morning, notified the executive committee of the Service Station Organization that, by virtue of his authority as President, he was going to have a talk with Carmello and maybe order him to close down for two weeks. Also, that Mr. Gardin, the one whose car Jenkins serviced, says that his neighbor saw Jenkins leave at three-thirty, not at a quarter to four.”
The Inspector paused, breathless.
Handy remained standing, a cigarette smoldering unnoticed between his fingers.
“Say, you really get around some, don’t you?” he whistled.
“That, my boy,” said Inspector Donaldson, “is what a Police Department, and more especially a Homicide Squad, is for. That is why I have six men on my staff; and what’s more, that’s why I’m getting paid. The trouble with you mystery-story writers,” he added with a good-natured chuckle, “is that that is what you fail to take into consideration. You think that cops are dopes, and you forget that actually we do solve quite a few cases without the help of a Sherlock Holmes or an Ellery Queen.”
“Well, this is certainly an education to me,” Handy murmured. “By the way, Inspector, who did kill Al Honesty?”
“We’ll both know soon,” said the Inspector grimly.
“Then do you mind if I borrow one of your men for a private experiment?” asked Handy hopefully. “I’d rather not tell you right now,” he added hurriedly in response to the questioning eyes aimed at him. “Maybe I’m silly, and if I am, I’d rather keep it to myself, but then again, there is the possibility …” he spread his hand deprecatingly.
The Inspector said nothing. The District Attorney, whom Handy had begun to suspect had lost his tongue, rose suddenly, yawned and stretched.
“Well gentlemen,” he said, “I really must be going.” He winked at the Inspector. “And give this young fellow a break, Don,” he added, glancing at Handy.
“Nice guy!” exclaimed Handy when he had gone.
“Yes, he is,” the Inspector nodded as he pressed the buzzer, “and he doesn’t miss much either. Oh Sarge, send Matthews in here.”
Matthews was the detective whom Handy had seen at the gas station, the one who had remained there at the Inspector’s orders. In his hand he held two official looking sheets of paper and he handed them to the Inspector with a smile. “Mat,” said the Inspector, dryly, without looking at the papers, “Mr. Marker would like your help in the performance of a little experiment. See what you can do to make him happy.”
“Thanks, Inspector,” said Handy. “Now Mat,” he turned to the detective and in a low voice whispered some instructions in the man’s ear. “And when you come back,” he concluded aloud, “just stick your head in the door and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
When Matthews had gone, the Inspector raised his head from the papers he had been reading and with a twinkle in his grey eyes jovially asked Handy whom he suspected.
“Blessed if I know,” Handy muttered, “but I will,” he added brightly, “when Matthews gets back.”
“Well, son,” the Inspector chuckled, “I’ve got the answer right here.” He tapped his powerful forefinger on the papers on his desk. “Listen to these two reports,” he went on in a brisk tone. “One; Matthews canvassed the neighborhood around Honesty’s station and found someone who will swear that he saw Carmello’s truck standing at the gas pumps about 4:00. That could only have been Jenkins’. Two; we’ve checked Jenkins’ fingerprints with the F.B.I., and he happens to be Honesty’s brother, the one who deserted from the Army.”
The words exploded, one by one, on Handy’s consciousness, till the whole picture was clear. He had thought … but there was still a possibility … must wait till Matthews got back, though. Automatically, he lit a cigarette and silently reviewed the whole case in his mind. He felt a sense of admiration for the Inspector, but that faint glimmer … still, the man knew how to get things done.
“Well,” he mused philosophically, “we’ll see at the end.”
Meanwhile, the Inspector had ordered Sergeant Bolton to bring two suspects in, and a stenographer, and another detective. The room was beginning to look like a small congregation was going on, when Handy was suddenly startled by the Inspector’s voice, speaking in harsh tones. He was addressing Carmello and Jenkins.
“One of you killed Al Honesty,” he began grimly, “and before that one gets out of here, he’ll confess.” There was a hush in the room.
“All right,” the Inspector went on. “Carmello,” his voice snapped like a whip, “we know that you’ve been dealing in black market gasoline; we know that Honesty called you down to talk to you about it with the idea of ordering you to close your station; we know that you have been chiseling on the black market gang so that they had to put a watch on you; we know that you were at Honesty’s place at the approximate time of the murder; and we know it was your knife that killed him. Are you ready to talk?”
By the time the Inspector had finished talking, Carmello was trembling violently, and beads of perspiration were forming on his forehead.
“What you say is true, Inspector,” he pleaded, almost whining, “but I swear I found him dead when I got there. And why would I have killed him with my own knife, and why would I have called the cops?”
Handy had to admit, ruefully, that the man’s defense was good.
The Inspector, however, focused his chilled steel eyes on Jenkins.
“You, Jenkins,” he continued in the same whip-like tones, “we know that you left Gardin’s car at 3:30; we know that you were at Honesty’s place around 4:00; we know that you had an opportunity to swipe Carmello’s knife; we know that you were contact man for the black market gang; and,” he paused to lend emphasis to his final statement, “we know that you’re an Army deserter and that you’re Al Honesty’s brother.”
Suddenly Jenkins broke. One moment he had been sitting there, composed and collected, and the next moment he was a quivering mass of flesh. His thin, cracked voice was hoarse when he spoke, and his pale green eyes looked hideous.
“No,” he rasped, “no, I didn’t do it, I didn’t, I tell you.”
“Why did you go to see him this afternoon?”
“I … I,” he licked his lips, “I was sent, because we knew he was gonna crack down on Carmello and … I tried to talk him out of it.”
“Carmello owed us money and we wanted it, and we couldn’t get it if he was forced to close.”
“He wouldn’t listen to me … threatened to call the F.B.I. and turn me in … he knew they’d shoot me if they caught me.”
“So you killed him with Carmello’s knife and then …”
“No, no … you’ve got to believe me, I swear I didn’t … but,” he continued slowly, “if I had a knife, I would have.”
He subsided weakly in his chair, then suddenly pointed a bony finger at Carmello.
“He did it,” he shouted wildly, leaning forward, “he did it. He’s smart enough to do a thing like that. And he knew if Al made him close he’d be ruined. And he knew I went to see him. He framed me, the fat slob. He thought he could kill two birds with one stone, because no one would believe me. He knew I was Al’s brother and he knew I was a deserter. And he knew I hated Al and would have …” the expression on his face altered as he turned and faced the Inspector. All of a sudden he was calm again.
“Inspector,” he said quietly, “how did you know I went to see Al?”
“Someone saw your truck parked in his station about 4:00,” the Inspector replied.
“That proves it.” Jenkins sprang to his feet, and shot a vindictive glance at Carmello, who, strangely, had ceased trembling and was quietly smoking a cigarette. “He must have planted that guy, because I parked the truck a block away and walked to Al’s place – and I can prove that.”
The Inspector swung his steel-grey eyes to Carmello. There was no denying the sincerity in Jenkins’ voice. For a moment he allowed his eyes to bore holes through Carmello.
“Well?” he snapped.
“Okay, Inspector, I did it.”
At that moment Matthews stuck his head in the door, looked at Handy and said, “Yes!”
A half hour later, Carmello’s confession having been duly signed and witnessed, and Jenkins having been turned over to the local F.B.I., Handy found himself once more closeted with Inspector Donaldson. He withdrew the last cigarette from his crumpled pack and lit it thoughtfully.
The Inspector, with a satisfied air, lit a huge corncob pipe and looked at Handy out of those incredibly grey eyes.
“Now that it’s all over,” he remarked idly, “I don’t mind telling you that I really thought Jenkins did it. He’s a pretty bad egg.”
Handy agreed silently.
“By the way, son,” the Inspector continued, “what was that experiment of yours all about? In the excitement I almost forgot about it.”
“Once a detective, always a detective,” Handy chuckled, then sobered. “You see, Inspector, I suspected Carmello all along. When Jenkins came back to Carmello’s place, he said the truck was out of gas, or almost out of gas, but he didn’t have a chance to fill it up because Carmello jumped right in and drove away.”
“So what?” growled the Inspector.
“Well,” Handy continued imperturbably, “when I was at Al’s place I noticed that one of his gas pumps showed the last disbursement of gasoline as 19.7 gals. Now most cars have small tanks and won’t take that much gas, but most trucks will. So right away I figured that maybe Carmello pulled into Al’s place and filled his tank. Then he talked to Al. Maybe he didn’t mean to kill him when he went there; that’s why he drove in, and seeing that he was out of gas, filled up. And, incidentally, took the awful risk of being seen himself. Or maybe he filled up his tank after killing Al, when he was leaving and saw that he was out of gas. I don’t know. Anyway, after he killed Al, he probably fixed the tire so it would go flat and drove a block away and left the truck. Then he came back and called Headquarters. That was a pretty smart trick. But I figured that if his truck was full of gas, that we could prove he had been at Al’s before the time he said he got there … in other words, he must have killed Al, or else why go to all that trouble just to prove he was a few minutes late for his appointment. So I sent Matthews to look at his truck, and sure enough, the tank was full.”
The Inspector, who had listened intently to Handy’s words, solemnly rose, came around his desk and extended his huge hand.
“Put ‘er there, kid,” he exclaimed, and added, “contrary to public opinion, son, the cops don’t mind when an honest citizen like you out-thinks them – once in a while. But don’t let it go to your head,” he warned. “And incidentally, if you ever want a job as a detective, son, look me up.”
“I’ll remember that, Inspector,” Handy smiled, “and by the way, do you think you can detect a place where I can buy some gas – without stamps?” he asked as he ducked out the door.
Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman