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O'Hart & Sloan - Investigations Unlimited ~ Bruce Cook

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 13, 2020 4:43 pm    Post subject: O'Hart & Sloan - Investigations Unlimited ~ Bruce Cook Reply with quote

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_________O'Hart & Sloan: Investigations Unlimited
_____________________by Bruce Cook


The ceiling fan in the sweltering office made slow revolutions for no apparent reason, and Jackson O’Hart — licensed private investigator — gazed up at it because there was something in his dingy little office he couldn’t bear to look at.

He'd decided to count the turns of the blades of the fan to see how many it made each minute. But he soon realized that if he didn’t look down at his watch occasionally he wouldn’t know when a minute was up. On the other hand, if he did look down at his watch, he’d loose count of the fan.

Life can be so unfair, Jack thought to himself . . . so he gave into temptation and looked over at his new business partner as she leaned down to peer into the lowest open draw of the filing cabinet and rifle through Jack’s old case files.

She was looking for files that had no receipt to show that the client had paid Jack, because she disapproved of his tendency to let people who were down on their luck skip their payments when they were short of money.

But while she was doing that, Jack was looking at the way his new business partner’s skirt was pulled tight across her shapely hips when she reached down into the lower drawers.

Twenty seconds of this lecherous sight made Jack uncomfortable enough to look back up at the lazy ceiling fan and start counting the turns again. His count was interrupted by a soft female voice just as his count reached twenty-one.

“O’Hart, what are you doing?”

Jack cleared his throat and struggled for a clever reply . . . but he quickly realized there was no way to look like an idiot while sounding like a genius, so he gave up and met the green-eyed gave of Miss Veronica Sloan, fellow licensed private investigator.

Jack gave Veronica the kind of strained smile that nervous murder suspects give hard-nosed detectives while sitting in dark rooms under bright lights, trying to avoid answering tough questions that would land them in jail.

“Ummm . . . “ Jack fumbled for an answer. Out of pure desperation he blurted out, “I was just wondering if somebody might invent a way to cool the air in a building — some kind of 'air chilling' gizmo. When the war is over, all the scientists in the world can stop inventing weapons and get jobs doing good things like that.”

Veronica stood their with her arms folded and her lovely head cocked to one side while she studied Jack the way District Attorneys look at crooked politicians who want to cut a deal. In her sultry voice she asked a question.

“An air chilling gizmo? That’s what you’ve been thinking about . . . while I’ve been rummaging through your chaotic files, looking for deadbeat clients who owe you money?”

Jack sat bolt upright in his old wooden office chair and resisted the urge to squirm like a guilty man in a murder trial. He hated the way Veronica could look at him with crossed arms and a tapping foot while arching one blond eyebrow and make him feel like his mother did when he was twelve years old and came home with bad report card.

She held his guilty gaze and then she finally broke down and said what was really on her mind.

“O'Hart . . . I’m hungry.”

Jack’s expression changed from guilt to sympathy, the same way that dry flowers wilt, only much faster. In a low voice he said, “I am too, Sloan. We just need one thing.”

A sudden look of hope lit up her face. “What’s that?”

“A knock at the door.”

Her hopeful look dissolved before Jack’s eyes, and he missed it before it was even gone. Knowing he was bluffing with a bad hand, he said the first thing that came into his head.

“Come on. I’ll treat you to a steak dinner.”

“Wonderful! But what will YOU eat. We can’t afford lunch for both of us.”

“Be patient. All we need . . . is a knock on that door.”

Jack wanted to bring her hopeful look back, so he played a long shot. “Hey . . . wait. Don’t you hear a knock on the door? It must be our next client . . . with money hanging out of his pockets and a problem so easy to solve we won’t even be late for lunch at Giovana’s Restaurant.”

Veronica was fighting a smile that wanted to spoil her resolve to make Jack feel guilty for the way business had been so utterly dead lately. She’d agree to be his partner only because she felt guilty for having him arrested after he killed a mob boss in self defense.

After all . . . nobody was perfect.

The moment was suddenly electrified by the last thing either or them expected: a knock at the door.

Jack’s sudden smile of triumph was infuriating, and Veronica was glad her revolver was in her desk where she couldn't get at it quickly. But Jack's next remark made her wonder how it would really take to pull it out and shoot her partner.

“Too bad we don’t have a pretty secretary to get that.”

Veronica smoldered visibly as she said, “Then I suggest you get it.”

“No. You should get it. He’ll like you better than me.”

“And just how can you tell it’s man?”

“That’s easy. The manly sound of his knock. I’m a detective, remember? I notice things like that.” Jack smiled as he leaned back in his creaking elderly chair, hands behind his head while he wore a smile that tempted Veronica even mpre to shoot him on the spot . . . if she'd just been armed!

But Veronica’s sudden look of resignation was proof positive that she was determined to make this partnership work, no matter what it took. She straightened her shoulders, smoothed out her well-fitting skirt, shook her blond hair to fluff it up, and turned towards the door.

Jack’s eyes glazed at the sight of her walking across the room with all her feminine talents on full display, and he was convinced the room was tilting slightly to the right. Before she reached the door she looked back over her shoulder.

“O’Hart, if this turns out to be woman, you owe me a steak dinner.”

She swung the door open . . . and turned into a statue. So did Jack when he saw who was standing there.

The big man’s shoulders blocked out most of the light from the hallway. He wore a long, expensive overcoat that gave him the look of Goliath just before David got lucky with a little stone. His wide, granite face was a portrait of power, the kind of man who gave orders and took no prisoners if things didn’t get done just right.

It was Max Giadano, the boss of city’s biggest organized crime syndicate, the titan who took over when Eddie Fortune, the former boss, was killed . . . by Jack O’Hart.

Jack held absolutely still, because he knew there was no need to reach for the revolver in his shoulder holster, since Max might have three armed bodyguards standing right behind him, all well hidden by his massive bulks.

Well, perhaps that was an exaggeration . . . but why take chances?

Veronica handled herself extremely well by turning on her charm and aiming a sleepy-eyed smile at Max that had an instant effect. Max’s stone face turned to lava and shifted into a surprisingly friendly smile while he held Veronica’s sultry gaze for moment. Then it slide down to her high heels and back up again while he took inventory and decided that everything was just exactly where it needed to be.

When he spoke, his voice was deep and pleasant and very low, as if he was speaking just for her and he didn’t want any interruptions.

“Hello there, gorgeous. I need to see your boss.”

Veronica’s mesmerizing smile never wavered when she answered with a voice that sounded like a lady inviting her lover into her boudoir.

“Check the names on the door, handsome. You’ve got two bosses to choose from.”

Max must have done his homework, because he was quick to realize his social blunder. He gave Veronica a slight bow and then said, “My mistake Miss Sloan. May I come in?”

Veronica stepped back slowly and waved him in, her expression never loosing its hypnotic charm. Max stepped into the office, and Jack took note of the way the floorboards creaked softly under his impressive weight. Thankfully there seemed to be no hidden henchmen crouching behind that mountain of a man, but Jack was sure there were several out in the hall, ready to appear the moment they were summoned.

Max glanced around the room and quickly realized that the one piece of furniture he could sit on without making it look like London after the German blitzkrieg was the sofa. Jack was grateful when he saw Max lowered himself onto it slowly. The sofa made no audible complaints, thus proving it was the sturdy product of American industry.

“Something to drink, Mr. Giadano?” Versonica’s question came fully equipped with a sultry voice and an arched eyebrow that would drive good men to over indulge in alcohol. But Max gave her a knowing look and a lopsided smile, proving that the last lady who had any real influence over him was his mother.

“Another time, gorgeous . . . when the lights are low and we’re whispering lies to each other.”

Jack was surprised to see Veronica blush. He’d never managed to make her do that . . . and God knows he’d tried.

Veronica strolled over to the nearest wooden chair, grabbed the back with one hand, and spun it around to face Max on the sofa. Her high heels rapped on the floor boards a few times as she moved around to the front of the chair, sat down, and crossed her shapely legs so slowly it was like watching a scene from Rimsky Korsako’s ballet, Scheherazade.

Max’s face went slack and his eyes glazed for a moment, but Jack saw him martial his mental troops and make them stand at attention while he held Veronica’s green-eyed gaze and silently dared her get the upper hand.

The lady focused a faint smile on the big man and waited for him to state his business, rather than act too eager to find out why he needed the services of O’Hart and Sloan, Private Investigations.

Jack realized he was just sitting at his desk, acting entirely too much like Veronica’s silent partner and loyal sidekick. But if he got up and placed another chair next to Veronica, then he would look too much like Max Giadano’s loyal stooge, waiting to be told what to do. So, with arrogant nonchalance, Jack leaned back in his swivel chair and placed both feet up on his desk, letting his aging brown shoes land one at a time with a noisy impact which seemed to say two rude words to Max, the first of which rhymed with “luck” and the second rhymed with “blue”.

And he punctuated his wordless remark with a spoken question. “Max, I’m guessin’ you’ve lost something and you think I know where it is. Right?”

Max’s face was a portrait of conflicting emotions; his eyes narrowed in anger, but his mouth formed a forced smile as he studied Jack for several seconds. Finally he just nodded slowly . . . and waited for Jack’s next move.

Veronica had turned to look at Jack, and she clearly wasn’t sure of what to say . . . so she remained silent and just waited.

Jack pulled his feet off the desk and smacked them down on the floor as he stood up quickly, walked around the desk, and sauntered over to Max with his hands in his pockets. His face wore the look of a man holding four Ace’s in a high stacks poker game. He stopped when he was standing next to Veronica, and he gazed down at Max with a sunny smile.

“The money Eddie Fortune stole from his organization. The money he embezzled but wanted to pin on you, with phony evidence he planted for me to find. You still haven’t found it?” Jack watched Max’s face closely, and the flexing muscles in his jaw gave him the answer. Jack kept his smile from growing too wide so it wouldn’t insult this dangerous man.

“No, we haven’t. Eddie was smart. I’m glad you were smarter or I’d have been thrown off a bridge . . .instead of taking over the organization.”

“Well, I was glad to be a service, Max. And now you’d like for us to take a crack at finding the loot for you?”

Max was shrewd enough to realize that Jack’s little act was intended to cover the fact that he wanted this job as badly as crying babies want milk at 4:00 AM. He glanced over at Veronica’s lovely face and admired the way she hadn’t tried to muscle in on Jack’s play, even when she hadn’t quite known what he was up to at first.

“Miss Sloan,” said Max quietly, “Do you share Mr. O’Hart’s enthusiasm for this assignment?”

Veronica leaned back casually in the battered wooden chair and propped her arms on the armrest while she smiled like the Mona Lisa, her head titled at just the right angle let her blond hair fall away from her face on one side. She glanced up at Jack for moment, then she answered Max’s question.

" Mr. Giadano, there’s nothing I like better than a challenge.”

“Nothing?” said Max, his tone loaded with innuendo.

“Almost nothing,” Veronica conceded, her voice low and filled with honey.

Well, that just fine.” Max mimicked Veronica’s casual pose by placing one huge arm along the back of the sofa while he studied Jack for a moment. Then he surprised them both with a question. “How’d you do it, O’Hart? How’d you beat that murder rap? You ought to be in San Quentin for gunning down poor Eddie Forture.”

Jack folded his arms and leaned his hip against Veronica’s chair. “I owe that to her.” He glanced down at the lady’s blond head and the look in his eyes soften. “While I was in the slammer waiting for my trial, she brought in the crazy little lawyer, Sid Moskowitz. Heard of him?”

Max chuckled. “Sure. I like the guy. But he won’t do any work for me because he’s allergic to anything illegal. But I respect the little gnome. If I ever go to trial for something, I want him on my side . . . if he’ll take the job. So, how did he keep you out of jail?”

“Veronica’s client was Eddie’s Fortune’s mistress, and she was charged with the murder, ‘cause she was in Eddie’s bedroom when I shot him. She was peaking through a crack at the door when she heard Eddie shouting at me just before he pulled a gun and tried to plug me when I told him I knew he was the one embezzling this own mob’s money and planning to leave the country to beat a tax evasion rap with the feds.”

“Yeah, yeah, I read all that in the papers.” Max shifted his bulk on the sofa, impatient to hear what all this had to do with Jack being acquitted.

“When the cops found out I killed Eddie they dropped the charges against the mistress. Crafty old Sid wasted no time switching over to become my lawyer and using the testimony by the mistress to prove that I shot in self defense. He told the jury that if I’d shot Eddie first — right through the heart, by the way — Eddie couldn’t have gotten off this shot while I was diving behind the couch.”

Max looked impressed. Jack’s story was better than a radio episode of Gang Busters.

“What about that charge of blackmail?”

Veronica looked up and smiled up at him for a moment as Jack said. “You shoulda seen the show that Sid Moskowitz put on in the courtroom when the D.A. tried to nail me on that one. Sid acted like the D.A. was crazy for thinking that I could have left Eddie’s living room alive after telling him I knew he’d betrayed his whole organization.”

Max was smiling and nodding, because he knew quite well what he would have done in that situation. “Let me guess. You told Eddie you’d keep your mouth shut if he paid you off.” Max snorted a quick chuckle. “And you expected him to believe that?”

“Nope, not for a second. But I thought Eddie would give me a wad of cash from his safe and send me on my way with a big smile. Then he’d send one of his boys to knock me off in my own place and bring his money right back, with no questions asked by his loyal errand boy.”

“Hmmm . . . good thinkin’, O’Hart. That’s what I’d have done.”

“Right. But you’re smarter than he was, Max. Eddie panicked and pulled a gun from his safe instead of the money. He almost nailed me while I was sailing through the air like Peter Pan, hoping to land behind the couch with no holes in me.”

Max wore a solemn look for a moment, then she said, “And you plugged Eddie in the heart while you were in midair?”

Jack wore a faint smile, but the hard look in his eyes was like two cat’s eye marbles. He just held that look on Max and let him stew for moment while the big man silently told himself never to underestimate Jackson O’Hart.

It was a chilly moment, but Veronica broke the sudden cold spell with a warm smile and a strategic re-crossing of her spectacular legs, which diverted the attention of both men instantly.

“Gentlemen,” she said in her furriest voice, “If you’re both through flexing your muscles, I believe we have business to discuss.”

Max’s face lit up as he focused his attention on the lovely lady.

Jack made a deliberate effort to shake off unpleasant memories by walking over to the window and looking down at the street below. The midday traffic flowed along like a lazy river, while the people on the sidewalks rushed to-and-fro, an endless stream of desperate people in search of solutions to their everyday problems: next month’s rent, or the promotion they were promised, or somebody who would love them despite all their faults and failings.

Jack turned from the window and walked back over to the chair Veronica sat in, forcing his face to show strength and confidence. He looked down at Max and kept his voice low and level when he spoke.

“Give us what you know, Max. Don’t hold anything back.”

Max bristled at the suggestion that he might have something to hide, but he knew his only chance of finding the late Eddie Fortune’s hidden loot was to equip these two clever people with everything he’d learned. So, he took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and launched into his pitch.

“Once I found out Eddie Fortune had been siphoning off cash from our operations I had my bookkeepers check the financial records of all the enterprises Eddie was in charge of.”

“I’ll bet that took a while. Narcotics, prostitution, numbers running, the protection racket — “

Max put the brakes on Jack’s list of sins. “Stop showing off for the lady, O’Hart.”

Veronica’s tone was decidedly frosty when she said, “I know the list better than he does.” Jack took the hint and closed his mouth while he studied the worn wooden floor. Veronica propped Max to continue. “So, what was the total damage.”

“One million eight-hundred thousands. And not a clue as to how he did it or where it’s stashed. Eddie Fortune might have been lying bastard, but he was no dummy. My guys have searched that apartment of his from top to bottom. We’ve looked in all six of his safety deposit boxes. We’ve even questioned his family members in Jersey to see if he mailed any packages to them that he told ‘em not to open if they wanted to live past Christmas. We came up with exactly nothin’”.

Both Jack and Veronica wore the same glassy-eyed look of total concentration as they roamed through imaginary places the loot could be hidden. Max smiled as he watched them both wrestle with the same problem that had kept him awake nights since he found out how much Eddie Fortune had stolen.

Finally he spoke quietly to the two mesmerized sleuths. “Well, well . . . I think you guys are slightly fascinated by this interesting dilemma. Yes?”

“Oh yes . . . “ Veronica said in a barely audible voice. “We’re interested.” She looked up at Jack, still standing next to her wearing the same glassy-eyed look. He shifted his gaze over to Veronica, smiled faintly, and nodded.

Veronica focused on Max for a long moment and saw something in his expression and posture that told her the man had more to share with them. She let a faintly flirtatious smile encourage him to tell her what else he had that she needed to know. But Max wanted to feel like he was in control of the situation, so he was waiting for one of the two PI’s to ask him a question.

When neither Jack nor Veronica said a word, Max’s faced clouded over with anger and he blurted out, “Well? Don’t you want to know what else I found out?”

Veronica leaned back in her chair and placed her elbows all the way back on the armrest, both of which did wonderful things to demonstrate just how generous mother nature had been with her figure.

Standing next to her, Jack had to struggle to keep his attention on Max, but the effort was worth it. Max was caught between his need to be the most imposing person in the room and his knowledge that he was being outgunned and outflanked. He finally surrendered silently and made himself continue speaking.

“Okay, okay . . . here’s the mystery in all this.”

Both Jack and Veronica unconsciously leaned forward, eager to hear what Max was about to say. Max was pleased by the fact that he was back in control.

“During the time Eddie Fortune was fleecing his own organization, he got real chummy with a guy name Professor Zahi Hawass.” Max smiled and nodded when he saw his audiences puzzled faces. “Yeah, what a name, eh? He’s the world’s most famous Egyptologist.”

The two puzzled faces were frozen with disbelief. Max’s smile widened. “I’m not makin’ this up, boys and girls. Accord to Eddie’s mistress, Miss Lillie Sinclair — your former client, Miss Sloan — Eddie Fortune met with Professor Hawass several times over a period of six months while he was embezzling money from his own organization.”

Max paused and just smiled while his audience of two waited silently to be told what a famous Egyptologist had to do with loot stolen from a mob of ruthless gangsters.

________________________________________________

To Be Continued . . .



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It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we “know” that ain't so. ~ Mark Twain
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