originally appeared in the november-december 1948 issue of strangely thrilling tales
part one of three
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
private detective vince moran, who had seen and done things too terrible to be described, had deep sad eyes that inspired confidence in most people. he fixed them on his client , who was sitting in vince's best chair, on the other side of his scarred and unpolished desk, in his crummy office on the third floor of a rundown building on broadway and powell street in san francisco.
"our investigation , mr parvis," he said, "has uncovered absolutely nothing. we have not found the slightest indication that your wife is seeing another man." he was not sure if mr parvis would welcome this information or not - he suspected not - and he kept his voice neutral.
chester parvis sighed, and his little mustache twitched. he was not a man who was easily inspired to confidence, or easily convinced of anything.
"but she is keeping something from me - i know it. i can feel it, every minute i spend in her company."
"that may very well be, mr parvis. but we have nothing to show it involves another man - or even another person. as far as we can tell, she just stays at home all day, and never goes anywhere at all. "
"really? not anywhere at all?"
"well, in a month, the only times she went out were twice to her hairdresser and twice to the rialto movie theater on larkin and post street. my operative followed her into the theater both times and did not see her meet anyone inside."
"i know she might not go out much, but she has things delivered. that's how she doesn't get out much."
"i know that. we never saw any of the delivery people enter the house, except -"
"yes? except - "
"the delivery boys from the grocers, and they never stayed more than a few minutes."
"really?" chester stared hard at vince, not quite glaring. "what about - johnny martin?"
vince cleared his throat. "we looked into johnny martin, based on your stated suspicions. besides the fact that he never stayed more than a few minutes, during which he was going back and forth to the delivery truck, all indications are that johnny martin is a young man of unimpeachable character, a straight "a" student, the kind of young man any man would be proud to have as a son, the kind of young man this country -"
chester held up his hand. "all right, i get it. what about the movies? did she go to the ladies room when she was there? if she did, i don't suppose your operative followed her."
"as a matter of fact, my operative was a woman, and on the first occasion your wife went to the movies she did indeed follow her into the ladies room."
"and found nothing amiss."
"hmph. how well do you trust this 'operative' of yours?"
"mr parvis," vince responded patiently, "there is only so much we can do. i can have a person follow your wife - sometimes even follow her myself. i could also have another person follow the person following your wife, in which case i would have to charge you double. and i could have a third person follow the second person, and charge you triple.
but even with all that, how can you be absolutely sure you can trust me? do you get my drift?"
"yes, mr moran, " chester sighed. "i get your drift." he turned and looked out the one window of the office. night had fallen. a few cars hissed by on broadway, in a light rain.
vince lit a camel, and put the match in his ashtray. "do you want to know the names of the movies she went to see at the rialto?"
"they will be in the report. here it is." vince took a thin folder out of the top desk drawer and pushed it across the desk. "do you want me continue for another month?"
"oh, i suppose so, one more month, anyway." chester turned back and faced vince. "you know, i still think she might be in contact with the spirit world."
the subject had come up before, and vince was ready for it. "yes, you mentioned that before. well, i can't help you out there, but there are people who claim they can."
chester's eyes behind his glasses did not exactly light up, but showed a flicker of life. "and you know any such people?"
"i know of such people. i can tell you who some of them are, if you are interested. "
"i am interested."
"let's get this straight, then. i don't work for or with them. and i do not vouch for them in any way, or take any responsibility for how effective you find them. i can just tell you who they are."
"fair enough," chester replied. he didn't believe for a moment that vince wasn't getting something from anybody he was recommending, but he didn't care.
"there's a woman over on powell street, a russian, a madame gogol."
"and she is in contact with the spirit world?"
"she claims to be."
"she sounds good enough to start with. whereabouts on powell street? can i walk down there?"
"actually up there. you have to walk up, almost to fisherman's wharf. here, i'll write her address down."
"is it a tea shop or something?"
"i don't know, i don't think so. i'm sorry, i don't have a phone number. she might not even have a phone."
"maybe she doesn't need one, being able to communicate through the ether and all."
vince smiled politely as he wrote the address down on the inside of a matchbook. he handed the matchbook to chester who glanced at it and put it in his vest pocket. the matchbook was for stan's bar on jefferson street.
"are you going over to see her now?"
vince looked out the window. the rain was falling a little harder. "do you want me to call a cab? or i could give you a lift."
"no thank you."
"all right then. i'll keep following your wife for another month. do you want me to send you a bill - "
"no, i can give you a check now, it's not a problem." chester took out a billfold. "do you have a pen?"
chester walked up powell street, under a large black umbrella that almost completely protected him from the steady but gentle rain. there were no other pedestrians. he had started at a brisk pace, but the steepness of the street forced him to slow down.
a cable car, almost empty, passed him.
madame gogol's establishment was almost at the bay, and was indeed a shop of some kind, with her name on the glass. there was no light showing within, but there was one lit over the low door.
chester stood almost a minute to catch his breath after his steep climb, and then knocked.
he was a bit startled when the door opened immediately - well, he had been standing at the door for a while - and he almost didn't see the woman standing in front of him, who was very wide and very short.
"that's me." she didn't sound russian, or anything but american, but chester didn't really know what a russian sounded like, although there were plenty of them in san francisco.
"may i come in?"
"sure." she stepped aside to let him in, and as she did she switched on a powerful overhead light which blinded him. "have a seat. here, let me take that umbrella, and your coat."
"thank you." chester's sight returned and he saw he was in a little parlor with a small round table with two large padded wicker chairs on opposite sides of it.. a large, unlit oil lamp sat in the center of the table.
"would you like some tea?"
chester was not a tea drinker but he answered "yes, thank you" as he sat down in one of the chairs.
he looked around as she went off to get the tea. there was nothing much to see. just the bare room - there was nothing on the walls - the window, and the rain outside in the dark street.
"so," madame gogol asked when she returned and put a teapot and two cups with saucers on the table, "did someone send you to me? eh? or did you just walk in?"
"mister moran - vince moran, a private detective - recommended you." chester watched as she poured two cups of tea. it was very dark, and looked very hot. no milk, cream or sugar were in evidence and he didn't mention them.
madame gogol sat down. "moran, yes - a very nice gentleman, very polite - but perhaps not a man to cross, eh?'
chester, who had no idea of "crossing" moran, just nodded at this. "he said you could contact the spirit world."
"yes, that's what i do." she took a sip of her tea. "who did you want to contact? your wife, perhaps?"
"well, it's about my wife - but i don't want to contact her."
madame gogol just looked at chester. she didn't seem surprised at his statement.
"i think she might be in contact with spirits herself."
madame gogol took another sip of tea. "ah, yes, of course. mister moran has sent people over before like - uh - who want my expertise, right?"
"exactly." chester finally took a sip of tea. it burned his tongue and he almost cried out.
"so - did you bring anything from your wife?"
"some hair, nail clippings? a scarf or article of clothing?"
"oh no - i - i just came from moran's office, i didn't know i needed anything like that."
"how about a photograph?"
"oh, i have several."
"good. may i see them please."
chester took his wallet out and carefully extracted a photo from it and handed it across the teapot to madame gogol.
she looked at it and gave a slight start. "this is your wife?"
"yes, my wife. her name is joanna,"
madame gogol stared at the picture. chester heard the rain on the window.
he took another small sip of tea. it was still very hot.
after a while madame gogol said, "i don't think i will need any hair or clothing."
"i can tell from this picture what this woman is."