Thursday, May 3, 2012

55. nolan cogitates

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

crack editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

click here for previous episode, here to begin at the beginning

nolan returned to a chair in the lobby. not his usual one by the front door , but one in front of the coffee shop, that gave him a better view of the elevator. he was still curious about miss wilde's gentleman caller, although jake's reappearance and bernstein's acceptance of his story gave him no reason to pursue the matter. less than no reason, as miss wilde was just about the hotel's most "valued" and pampered guest. the gentleman caller was almost certainly long gone, but you never knew. some likely looking character might pop out of the elevator and it would be something he could scratch off his mental list.

nolan was irritated. he was irritated by being irritated. it wasn't just miss wilde, it wasn't just jake, there was something else in the back of his mind ... what? he took out a cigar and lit it. he almost wished farmer brown would appear, to provide a little distraction with his blather.

that was it! thinking of farmer brown reminded him of the farmer's and miss charlton's concerns about the escaped jewel thief, stanley slade. concerns nolan had brushed aside. assuring them slade would never come back to new york, let alone to his old haunt. of course they had answered with their detective novel stuff about the least likely thing being the most likely, because nobody would ever expect, etc.

and yet... maybe slade might have a particular reason to come back. a particular person to see? who or what could be worth the risk? jake? jake was an ex-con, but it was hard to believe slade would be connected to such a loser, let alone trust him. but... his little "accident" had happened in the same twenty-four period... coincidence?

he had heard there was a connection between slade and the actress, but he might have had a "connection" to every woman in the place. not to mention how many "connections" she had. still ... the mysterious caller had shown up on the very night... coincidence?

nolan sighed. he had a sudden vivid memory of mcclanahan, his first supervisor when he made detective. "every lead, nolan, every lead. don't think about the leads, follow them. that's what you get that paycheck for. if we wanted you to think about the leads instead of following them, we'd be issuing you a nice pair of slippers like sherlock holmes, wouldn't we, instead of those stout brogans you have on your feet."

of course, he wasn't working for the city of new york any more, he was working for the hotel. and he wasn't being supervised by mcclanahan, he was his own supervisor. he wished now he had asked a few more questions when he got the call about slade, but he had considered it a courtesy call and had not wanted to be a pest.

every lead... so was some poor slob, probably a rookie, out watching the hotel now? could there be someone out there both front and back? not that it was a bad night, anything but. he wondered what the stakeouts, if there were any, had thought of the big fight earlier. he decided to go out and take a walk around. after he finished his cigar.

and when he came back? it still wouldn't be worth his while to pester miss wilde. she might have even gone to bed.

but if miss wilde was off limits, jake was anything but.

nolan didn't like jake.

nolan could detect guilt like a dog could detect dead bodies , but guys like jake gave off such a powerful emanation of guilt at all times that unless they actually started sweating and stammering it was impossible to tell if they were up to anything special or if it was just business as usual.

he heard roland say something he couldn't make out to jake, who had seated himself between the front door and the desk. then jake got up and said, " (something) roland, you're a white man."

thanks? so roland was letting him go? well, it was getting pretty late. all the "excitement" had made the night go by quickly. then jake walked across the lobby toward nolan, but avoiding his gaze. jake looked around, back at roland and then at the elevator and stairs, furtively (of course). look out, jake, wyatt earp and j edgar hoover are about to jump out and grab you. then he heads for the stairs. no, he stops at the elevator and presses the button. to go down one flight of stairs to the employee dressing rooms? on an ordinary night nolan probably would not have noticed any of this. he took a puff of his cigar. of course, he thought, the great detective always notices everything.

the elevator opened and jake got on it, with just a nod to an uncharacteristically silent mortimer.

nolan finished his cigar, then hesitated. was there really any point to going outside? well, it might wake him up a little. he had almost fallen asleep there.

but before he could rouse himself, the elevator opened again. and who should step out but miss hyacinth wilde, in a fur coat and red beret, and accompanied by a young woman in a cheap orange overcoat, with a wide brimmed hat pulled down over the map of ireland. nolan thought she looked familiar.

the pair started to cross the lobby. the young woman saw nolan, hesitated, then walked over to him. miss wilde looked a little annoyed, but didn't say anything.

"do i know you from somehere? you look familiar."

"that could very well be, miss, though i can't say for sure. you are - ?"

"i'm flossie flanagan, from the federal-democrat. and you - are with the police? i think i recognize you from some case."

"well, miss, some might recognize me as a police officer - actually a retired police officer - without ever actually ever having met me."

"he's the house detective," hyacinth told flossie, a little impatiently.

"but to answer your question, yes, i do remember you now. the green dahlia case, in chinatown, just after pearl harbor."

"that's right. nolan, right? how could i forget? it was one of my first assignments for the world-dispatch."

"and i remember you now. you looked about twelve years old, and i remember thinking - what's a nice irish girl doing covering tong doings in chinatown, instead of going to the novena after helping her mother with the dishes."

"ha, ha! okay, bing crosby. say, maybe i could come by here sometime -"

"when you've got nothing else to do."

"yeah. for a human interest story. the ebb and flow of the big city, and all that. or how much the city's changed, in just a few years. "

"i will probably be here."

"yes, he will be here," added hyacinth.

"all right then. a pleasure to see you. until we meet again."

nolan just nodded. he watched then cross the lobby. miss wilde was saying something, but he couldn't make it out. he didn't want to go out the door right after them, and have miss wilde think he was following her. he might go out the back door.

or he might have another cigar.

to be continued

56. "the visitors"

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