Friday, November 9, 2012

83. "girl friday"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

let us return to the collinson residence on east 86th st, where the private detective francis fortescue has been conferring with cosima collinson about the scheduled exhibition of pete palomine's works at her uptown art gallery.

"well, miss collinson, i am certainly amenable to taking the assignment, since you seem to think there might be legitimate reason for concern." 

"excellent. shall we talk price - get that out of the way?" 

fortescue hesitated. he put his coffee cup down.

"let us first get straight exactly what you want me to do. you want me to in effect provide security for the exhibition?"

"you can assist in that when the time comes. but i have a security service that i use from time to time. i intend to have them provide a little more than usual in this case." 

"i see. so what you must want from me is the discovery of the source of the threats - or supposed threats - to mr palomine." 


"you realize it is still possible that mr palomine himself is the source."

cosima shrugged. "of course it is possible. i just don't think that it is."

"but you accept it as a possible outcome."

"yes, yes," cosima answered a little impatiently. 

"and you say the exhibition is in about two weeks?'" 

"yes. let me see - two weeks from tomorrow night." 

fortescue leaned back in his chair and thought briefly.

"in that case, i can commit myself to working full time on it from now until the date. and to assist in security for the first couple of days of the exhibition." 

cosima nodded. 

"for three hundred a day - including expenses." 

"well, that is certainly reasonable. including expenses - are you sure?"

"oh, i always include expenses up front - saves any skepticism or unpleasantness later."

"very good. why don't i give you a check for the first week when you leave?" 

"yes. that's settled then. now, unless you have something else to show me, perhaps i should get on to talking to mr palomine. does he know you are talking to me? "

"oh, yes. well, not you particularly, but we discussed hiring someone." 

"you must have his address and phone number." fortescue turned and looked out the window. "it is a little late, isn't it? i will give him a call tomorrow." he looked back at cosima. "does he keep late hours, do you know? perhaps not so late as this, but i probably shouldn't call him too early."

"i really don't know. i get the impression he keeps 'all hours'. he spends a lot of time in times square - i don't suppose you want to search times square for him."

"no, that doesn't sound very practical."

  i can give you his phone number, and his agent's. that might be the best way to contact him."

"then i guess we are all set."

"i will get you the phone numbers and a check. and i will have williams get you a cab."


"road work ... very important .... we can start on that.... even if we can't line up a trainer right away..... left jabs..... right hooks.... work on that .... work on that...."

johnny and conrad went on and on, completely ignoring her. carol was suddenly very tired.

she got up again and looked out the window. she had a headache. she didn't even want another drink. or another cigarette, if she had any left. she just wanted to get out of there, and get some sleep, even if it meant going back to michael. she would have go back to peter and estelle's and hope they were still awake - and listen to estelle!

and all that about finding stan slade.... what had she been thinking? she tried to laugh, but couldn't. maybe some day.

i am the world's biggest idiot, she thought.

"excuse me," she said aloud. conrad and johnny ignored her.

"excuse me!" she said again, louder. conrad looked up, startled. "i think i will be going, " carol told him. "thank you for a lovely evening. it was a pleasure meeting you, talking to you."

"uh, sure. you want a nightcap? williams will get you one."

"no thank you, i've had quite enough."

"well, have him get you a cab then." conrad hesitated. "i will get him."

"no, i am sure i can find him."

great, carol thought, a cab. i hope he pays for it too. she was afraid to look in her purse.

conrad was staring at her blankly, as if trying to place her.

"good night, then. it was a pleasure meeting you. if you can't find williams, come back here and i will find him."

"thank you."

carol nodded and left the room. she could hear conrad and johnny resuming their conversation as she closed the door behind her. she saw williams right away, at the end of the hall. he showed no surprise when she asked about a cab.

"of course, miss. i just called a cab for the detective. perhaps you and he could share it. he is headed downtown."


"yes, i am going downtown myself. around washington square."

"here he is now. sir, this young lady is heading downtown also. might she share your cab?"

"of course." fortescue nodded politely to carol.

"it should be here shortly," williams informed them.

"why don't we wait outside?" fortescue looked at carol. "it's not a bad night."

"yes, i could use some fresh air."

williams smiled.

"let me get your coat then, miss."


"a pleasant night indeed," fortescue observed when they were out on the street. "one might almost walk."

yeah, sure, thought carol.

"uh, listen, mister ..."

"fortescue. my name is fortescue. how rude of me not to introduce myself. and you are..."

"carol. my name is carol."

"pleased to meet you, carol."

"likewise. look, mister fortescue, i just looked in my purse and i noticed i am a little short...."

"oh no problem, i was not expecting a passenger. you can just hitch on."

"to washington square?"

"i am going a little further than that."

"thanks, i really appreciate it."

"you're welcome."

"you're a detective, huh?"

fortescue turned from looking down the street.

"yes, yes i am."

"must be pretty exciting."


fortescue smiled absently at her.

"more exciting than what most people do, anyway."


"i bet you have a girl friday who does all the boring stuff for you. so you can concentrate on exciting things."

"a girl friday? oh, you mean a secretary?"


"i'm still not completely attuned to all american idioms. i'm british, as you may have noticed."

"i thought you talked - i noticed you had an accent."

"but, to answer your question, no i can't afford a secretary." he laughed. "i sometimes wish i could, i'll grant you that."

"suppose you could find someone who would work cheap enough."


"like for nothing. like for a place to sleep."

fortescue smiled politely.

"and you know such a person?"

"yeah, me. listen, mister fortescue, i'm desperate. i need a place to sleep tonight. do you have an office?"

"of course. though not much of one. but one must keep up some appearances."

"does it have a sofa?"

"it has a rather ragged divan."

"then let me sleep on it tonight. we can talk about me being your girl friday tomorrow."

fortescue laughed again.

"it all sounds rather irregular."

"come on, just give me a chance! it's the american way!"

"ah, here is our cab now."

"so you'll let me sleep in your office tonight? on your di-van?"

"oh, i hardly think that will be necessary. but here is the cab. we can discuss all this as we ride."

84. "20 C-notes"

No comments: