All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Three
Brand and the Frame-Up Part Two (continuing The Case Of Mistaken Identity)
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Breck and Prell both jumped several feet. Then they got a look at each other’s mug and laughed. No reason to worry! It was just Manny Mayhew, the nephew of the late crime boss and universally regarded as a nitwit, come by to throw his weight around and act important.
‘Hello, boys!’ he blustered.
‘Hey, Manny,’ said Breck. ‘What’s goin’ on?’
‘Are you guys takin’ it on the lam, or what?’
Prell never failed to get a kick out of the way Manny fancied himself a tough yegg and talked like a B-movie gangster. ‘Or what,’ he said.
‘Huh?’ said Manny. Prell sighed and said, ‘No, Manny, I don’t want to be on the run, with appeals and whatnot we can drag this out for a long time.’
‘Just wanted to warn you that you might lose your appeal after tomorrow’s paper comes out.’
That made Breck sit bolt upright. ‘Why? What do you mean?’
‘Some nosy reporter found that uncle Mort and Chief Vollmer had a history!’
‘So they were enemies. Everyone knows that.’
‘Enemies? Not hardly. They had a business partnership that goes all the way back to Prohibition!’
This was news to Breck and Prell, and likely to just about everyone who would be reading the paper in the morning. For all his nitwittery, Manny did have good contacts at the news office.
Avery stared at the article in disbelief. Who would have guessed that the revered Chief of Police was in cahoots with the city’s most notorious gangster? It seems that they had been rivals back in the 1930s for the hand of the local beauty, a woman named Wallace, but had found that they both loved money more than the lady and had gone into business together. The most fraught allegation was that Clapton Vollmer had ordered his men to stand down and allow Mayhew’s trucks full of smuggled whiskey to maintain their delivery routes unhindered. But something was nagging at Avery--what was it?
‘If you were married to the Chief, ma’am, why do you call yourself Wallace?’
‘I went back to my maiden name when he dumped me for his secretary. That’s not uncommon, is it? And my, what a silly expression! Maiden name! Even in my day, most women were not maidens when they married!’
‘I hear that Mr. Vollmer and Mr. Mayhew were rivals for your affections some time ago.’
‘Some time ago! That’s an understatement! But yes, Mort and Clapton were both keen for my hand. And neither one got it!’
‘They went into business for themselves instead, as I heard it.’
‘Glad to hear you read the paper, sonny! So many young people today can scarcely read.’
‘Now, about the situation in the pet store…’
‘That man was looking suspiciously at the cats!’
‘Was it this man?’ and Avery held up a photograph of Brand.
‘Yes it was, and not only that, I could swear I’ve seen him somewhere else. Now where was it?’
‘In a lineup, most likely!’
‘Now let me think. While I’m thinking, would you like some tea, young man?’
‘Why, thank you, ma’am.’
While Mrs. Wallace was bustling around getting the tea, Avery moseyed into the kitchen, his keen detective’s eye observing all and missing nothing.
‘Would you be so kind as to reach up there and get the sugar, young man? I’m getting so I can’t reach the high shelves so well.’
‘Certainly. There we are.’
They sipped their tea and made some small talk. Mrs. Wallace couldn’t remember where she’d seen Brand before, but promised to let Avery know if she had a brainstorm. Avery bade her farewell and hastened back to the office. Something he’d seen in the kitchen piqued his interest!
The phone rang and the call was put through to Avery’s office while the Scientific Investigation Division scrounged up the info that he’d requested.
Mrs. Wallace had said, ‘Young man, I remembered where I saw that man before. It was at the drug store. He was buying some toxic poison, for weeding his garden---he said!’
After spending half the evening hip-deep in the SID files, he’d found what he was looking for. The same chemical that Mrs. Wallace accused Brand of buying was--what do you know?--the same one that he’d spotted in the old lady’s kitchen. It was effective indeed on garden weeds, poisonous to people...and especially dangerous to cats. A quick phone call to the hospital and the vet showed that the attempts on the lives of Costello and Cinnamon were carried out with that very poison!
‘Sure I got the stuff. My gardeners said to.’
‘Your gardeners, eh? What is the name of the company?’
‘Let’s see. I’ve got their card here somewhere. Here it is! Panteen Landscaping over on Southern Boulevard.’
‘Let me see that.’ Avery perused the card and said, ‘You said ‘gardeners,’ were there more than one?’
‘Yeah, there were two guys, a short one and a tall one. You know, they looked like those guys in the paper the other day.’
‘I thought so. Stick around town awhile, will you? I might need you.’
‘Mrs. Wallace, have you ever seen this before?’ Avery was holding a small can of the noxious substance he’d gotten from Brand.
‘Why, no, I haven’t.’
‘Tell me, did you have gardeners in recently?’
‘Yes, I’m just getting too old to putter in the garden like I used to. My neighbor recommended a new company, and my land! They only charged me fifty cents!’
‘Didn’t that make you suspicious?’
‘I like to save a penny when I can, young man. I’m on a fixed income, you know.’
‘Tell me, did you offer them tea?’
‘I certainly did! Proper manners aren’t dead yet, young man!’
‘Besides, those poor men worked so hard, and for so little money too!’
Avery took his leave and rushed back to the office with both cans of weed death, from Brand and Mrs. Wallace. Thank goodness he’d thought to wear gloves! If Breck and Prell’s fingerprints were on them...
Prell opened the door and there stood Detective Avery, twirling two sets of handcuffs on his middle finger.
‘Boys, next time you go to frame someone, make sure it’s not the ex-wife of the Chief of Police!’
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