Friday, 8 September 2017

Sam Corsair Investigates: Pushover

Sam Corsair investigates: Pushover

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Sam Corsair investigates: Pushover

A novel by Ken Johnson

This novel is intended only for readers above the age of 18 years. I still haven’t finished revising it, but you might enjoy it anyway.

Go to chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

1. Monday 4 April 1960

For a moment I thought I had woken up early. I had a vague memory of drinking several glasses of Glenkinchie at Grannies, the nude bar where my mom worked. I couldn't remember leaving the bar and coming back to the office, but here I was, in the bed in my office. I hoped that I hadn't taken the risk of driving home after all that good whisky. I looked at the bed. I had no recollection of getting into it, but I was definitely lying in the cheap metal bed that stood in my office. Yesterday evening I had been working late, poring over a letter that I needed to reply to, and eventually I heard the last street car clattering northwards and I realised that it was too late to go home, so I decided that the best thing I could do in the circumstances would be a bite to eat followed by a few late drinks at Grannies. I sat up in bed and looked around the office a little more. My name, Sam Corsair, and my occupation, Private Investigator, were printed in back to front writing on the door at the back of the office that led into the corridor. On the small table beside my bed, the hands of my alarm clock said it was twenty to seven. The sun was streaming in through the office window. I was just congratulating myself on having plenty of time before I needed to go over and sit at the desk and resume work on replying to that letter when I realised that the alarm clock was not ticking: an unintended consequence of leaving the office too preoccupied, and arriving back in the office too drunk, to think about winding the clock.

I stood up slowly and wandered over to the office window. I was naked, but nobody in the street could see me up here on the third floor. The street was full of traffic and there were people everywhere. The clock on the department store stood at a quarter to ten. Whatever was in the letter, and I seemed to remember that it was a client querying the account I'd sent him, it must have been extremely difficult to answer, because the letter, my pen, a blank sheet of writing paper and an envelope were all lying on the desk. I must have been seriously tired.

Yesterday's clothes were in a pile on the floor. I kept some clean clothes in the filing cabinet for these occasions. Every now and then Mom came over, made love to me if she wasn't in too much of a rush, collected my dirty clothes, which she put in with her own laundry back at the apartment, and brought a new clean pile of clothes for me. I picked up the clothes that I'd discarded last night and I slammed them into the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet and then I began to wash myself at the wash-stand in the corner of the office. I could go home and take a proper bath later, since clients only rarely came to the office. I took some clean clothes out of the filing cabinet and a knock on the office door interrupted me. Mom had arrived a bit early. I dropped the clothes on the bed and opened the door. There, standing in the corridor, was a lovely woman whom I had never seen before. She was maybe thirty years of age, five foot eight, red hair, cigarette in a holder. A white fur coat which she removed and hung on the peg. A red dress with a flower pattern. She must have been standing in the corridor, gazing at me through the glass of the door.

"Good morning," I said to her, and she looked at me quizzically. "Excuse my appearance. Come in and pull up a chair while I put my clothes on."
"I will excuse your appearance, and I will also pull up a chair, if you'll come and stand close to me," said the lady, "but I'd rather you didn't put your clothes on."
"I don't recognise you, ma'am," I said, "but I have a feeling that you and I are going to get on like a house on fire." I pulled the chair out from under the desk and turned it around for her to sit on. "May I ask your name?"
"Lydia MacCleod," she said, "Mrs. Call me Lydia."
"I will certainly call you," I said. "What's your number?"
"All in good time, Mr…"
"Corsair," I said, "Sam Corsair, private investigator."

Lydia MacCleod was on the heavy side, and beautifully dressed and made up. Taking off the coat that she was wearing, she revealed a tight bright red dress with a white pattern of small flowers. She drew delicately on a cigarette in a long pink holder.

"What brings you here?" I asked, sitting on the unmade bed so that we faced each other.
"Probably routine stuff by your standards," said Lydia.
"Routine is cheating boyfriends and unfaithful husbands," I said, "and you're not suffering either of those."
"You are so right," said Lydia, fluttering her long lashes. "I am not struggling with the infidelity of others. Some things have gone missing from my house. I want you to find them."
"I will, but before we get involved in discussions," I said, "I charge twenty dollars a day plus expenses."
"My friends tell me that you're worth it," said Lydia, with a deliberate drawl. "In fact one of them said you ought to charge double. And, you never know, you might get a bonus." The way she shifted in her seat, making her skirt rise to mid thigh height left me in no doubt about what sort of bonus she had in mind. "Especially if you find them."

I was still sitting admiring Lydia's legs, wondering whether the rest of her looked as inviting, when another knock came on the door.

"Sam?" Mom's voice came from the corridor.
"Come in, Mom." I motioned to Lydia to stay on her chair. She played with me, shifting forwards and raising the skirt another six inches.
Mom looked at Lydia open mouthed. "Sam, she is gorgeous," she breathed, in awe and a stage whisper. "You are the luckiest boy. Who is she?"
"Lydia MacCleod," said Lydia, "I am pleased to meet you."
"I'll be away in a moment," said Mom, "don't mind me. I see my son hasn't bothered to get dressed yet."
"Hang around, why don't you. Join in the fun," said Lydia, "Sam and I are about to begin a torrid affaire of the heart."
"I didn't know that," I said, "but it's welcome news. I can't wait to start."
"I'm sure that as his mother you can teach me a trick or two," Lydia continued.
"I'll be pleased to," said Mom, winking at me as suggestively as she knew how, "I know lots of tricks that Sam likes."
"Mayonnaise in the sandwiches, spare clean socks in the briefcase, that's the sort of thing she means," I lied.

Mom looked in the filing cabinet and picked up my used clothes.

"Maybe you'd best tell me what went missing," I said to Lydia. I noticed a faint fragrance of unforgettable Bourjois perfume.
"I made a list," she said, and she handed me a list written with a gold nibbed pen on a small sheet of expensive notepaper. I had expected a list of the most valuable and readily saleable possessions of a long established family with old money. Paintings, jewellery, statues, first editions, Lear jets, Mont Blanc pens, Rolex watches, Ming vases, Rolls Royce cars, that sort of thing. Instead it was a list of thirty or forty bits of junk. Bits of pipe, a Tilly lamp, a tin kettle, and so on, and so on. The list ran to two pages, yet there was nothing that anybody would want to buy at a charity auction, let alone risk stealing to sell under the counter somewhere.
"It's a strange list," I said. "Why would anyone except a junk dealer take this? Come to that, where would they take it?"
"I have no idea," said Lydia, and lowering her voice she added, "it's all junk. Worthless bits of bric a brac, gone missing from a house often unattended, not overlooked, and full to the eaves with antique furniture and oriental carpets."
"But since it's all junk, why don't you just fetch another pile of junk from the nearest garbage dump to replace it all?"
"Because I have this niggling feeling at the back of my head that the someone took it is a someone has a use for it. I want to know what he is up to and who is up to it."
"Yes," I said, "so do I, now you come to mention it. If anyone knows how to make explosives with this pile of bits and pieces, or how to steal military secrets from foreign embassies with it, it probably won't be his way of helping the war effort. Do you have any ideas?"
"Sam, why don't you come and see me in my native habitat?" Lydia smiled straight at me, and added, in a tone that suggested she thought it was a bright idea, "Take a long look around the estate."
"I think that's a good idea," I said. "Where is the estate?"

Mom picked up the last of my used clothes. She waved goodbye to us and left the office.

"The estate is in Ramsey."
"Ramsey… Oh, that Ramsey!" I was flattered that a resident in one of the richest towns on Earth would choose me for a private investigator.
"Sure. You could join my help," Lydia suggested, "just for a week or two, until you solve the case."
"You have staff?" I said, as though I had been expecting her to cope with maintaining a vast mansion all on her own.
"Six of them," she said, "and I call them all servants even though it's more fashionable to call them 'estate workers.' The only things we have to worry about are your job title and when you start. Do you know anything about horses?"
"No," I said, "I saw one in a field once, that's all."
"You had best become a chambermaid, then," she giggied, "and work in the bedroom."
"Whose bedroom would that be?"
"Mine, from about eleven at night until about seven in the morning."
"I'll keep you awake," I warned her.
"I should damned well hope you do," she replied. "The bedroom is a long way from anybody else's bedroom so you can make as much noise as you like. All night if you want to."
"These other rooms that your bedroom is a long way away from," I asked, "will I need to work in any of those?" I only asked in case she had a cute cook or butler.
"If you have enough energy left over after a night on duty to want to visit another woman's bedroom, then you haven't worked hard enough," she told me. "Besides, in daylight you have an investigation to investigate."
"Doesn't your husband share the bedroom with you?"
"Jiminy. His name is Jiminy and he's always away on business. The family firm fills his entire life. Buying, selling, shipping, he's always in the office or out at sea or in some God forsaken outpost of the British Empire, furthering the interests of MacLeod Trading Incorporated. I don't even know where he is at the moment. I haven't seen him for months."
"What does the family firm do?" I asked.
"Exotic furs, for coats," said Lydia, "the expensive variety. Nothing under six hundred dollars. Mink is the cheap end of the range. If it has fur and it isn't a cat then it's grist to the MacLeod Trading mill."
"Of course," I said, "we can't have multi-millionaires' wives looking shabby."
Lydia replied with exactly the words I wanted to hear. "Now, how about we spend a little time in your bed, over there, and get to know each other? I haven't had a good time with a good man for weeks."
"Putting me to work in the bedroom is a truly ingenious notion," I said. "Are you going to undress yourself or may I undress you?"
"Just take the shoes, blouse and skirt off. I'm wearing my best underwear. You give me a definite impression that you'll find the bra, pants and stockings quite absorbing. I certainly do, and besides, undressing completely only wastes time."

Lydia stood up. I knelt in front of her and helped her out of her bright red high heeled shoes. She turned her right hip towards me so as to show me the zipper on the skirt. I unzipped it and the skirt slid down to her ankles. She was wearing a black lace garter over very sweet black satin panties. She had long, slim legs. I cupped her crotch through the panties and she gasped slightly, parting her legs a little to allow me to reach a little more. In return she held my cock for a moment and gave me a long, cool kiss on the mouth.

Lydia's blouse unbuttoned down the back. She let me lift it off her body and then turned around to display the black brassiere to full advantage. This was definitely a lady that I wanted to cultivate.

Lydia sat down on the bed with her legs parted and slid the black panty to the side. She lay back and reassured me, "I'm ready when you are. I can tell that you haven't had a woman for a while."
"You're right," I said, although she wasn't right at all. I put my arms around Lydia and held her close. She gave me an expert prick-tease that made me desperate to get into her. A moment later I was lying on top of her and humping, until we both shared an orgasm.

"Pretty good for a first time," she said, "and we'll do it again in a moment so don't fret. Your cock feels as though it hasn't pumped a woman in years."

I didn't tell her what Mom and I had been doing to each other just a night or two ago. Mom had definitely given my cock some exercise and it had loved every minute. Instead, I said, "You're right. I'm single, virile, and I have to take all the opportunities that come my way."

"Ssh," said Lydia, placing her lips on mine, and taking hold of my cock in her cool right hand. "I need this a lot more than I need small talk."

When we woke up that afternoon, washed ourselves — washed each other, to be more exact — and put our clothes back on, we wandered out of the front entrance to find Lydia's chauffeur still sitting in the driving seat of her cabriolet, waiting patiently. "Home," she told him, and sat with me in the back seats of the car, holding my hand as one infatuated.
"Yes, ma'am," the chauffeur responded, mechanically.

Riding north in the convertible with the roof down we kissed, held hands, fondled each other very intimately indeed, and talked about everything but the case. Lydia said that the estate was a family home and some outhouses, which hardly prepared me for the estate that I saw. Lydia also said that she couldn't see any link between the family business and the pile of junk that had been stolen from the house, and I told her that I didn't see any link either.

The ride took an hour. The MacLeod estate was surrounded by a dilapidated and overgrown wall that might have been eight feet high. Outside the high metal gate of the estate, the chauffeur stopped the car and stepped out to open the gate. We entered the estate, passed a couple of out-buildings and approached a large house that might have been the country pile of an English Lord. The car entered a courtyard through a high coaching arch. Our chauffeur opened the car doors. Lydia walked around to my side of the car and took hold of my hand.

"We've arrived," she told me.
"How big is this place?" I asked.
"A bit over one square mile," said Lydia. "Grandfather knew what he was doing when he bought this land."
"Maybe you'd best tell me what all these buildings are," I suggested. There appeared to be several out-buildings. It would take a week just to look around all of them.
"You can see them all from my bedroom," she said, "which is another excellent reason to go there first."

Lydia turned to her chauffeur, who was still standing beside the convertible, and told him that he had now finished work for the night. As he drove the car to whichever building it lived in, Lydia steered me towards what looked like the main door. I found myself in a panelled hallway with a couple of large armchairs and an inlaid desk with some paperwork and what looked like a quill pen in an inkwell.

"We'll go upstairs," said Lydia. "I hope the long ride with the hood down has given you an appetite."
"Absolutely it did," I said. My lips were quite sore, where she had spent so long kissing me.

Lydia led me up the staircase and into her bedroom. Big bed, inlaid desk, matching wardrobe, a chest of drawers and a framed full length mirror. The walls were beechwood panelling, and hanging on them several portrait paintings in frames, and a poster from a century ago advertising Edison Electric, looked down at us. "Here," she said, "come over to the window and you'll see all the buildings." I stood beside her and wrapped my arm around her waist. She let me hold her close. She was slim and her body was hard, like carved wood.
"Is that gate the only entrance to the estate?" I began.
"There's that gate and one other, to the north."
"And are they the only entrances to the estate? I mean, could you climb into the estate from a field?"
"The only ways in are the North Gate and the South Gate. The wall is old and a bit cracked and rickety, but it would be hard to climb over it unless you had a ladder or something."
"And what are the buildings?"
"This is the house. I live here, so does Jiminy if he's ever in New York, and so do Trudy and Gareth, our children. The kids spend most of their time at university but they have rooms down the corridor here, in case they drop by. Jiminy shares this room with me."
"Does anyone else live in the house?" I said.
"The security guard on duty has a room downstairs."
"The guard on duty?" I was surprised that there were more than one, although given the size of the job it really needed more than one person. "You mean there's another guard who isn't on duty?"
"Yes," said Lydia, "I have two. It's a twenty four hour job. An electric fence can't talk to you when you're lonesome at midnight."

We looked out of the bedroom window. At this time of evening, all the buildings had lights burning and it was easy to see them.

"By the gate are three labourer's houses. The head gardener occupies one, the junior gardener occupies the next one and the chauffeur has the third one. The shed there houses the automobiles and the gardener's tools. There's a gamekeeper's cottage that Jiminy uses as an office and a workshop when he's working here. The housekeeper stays in the east wing of the house. Fanny, the cook, has the house over there near the kitchen garden and her husband doubles as butler and sommelier. There's also a maid and she lives in the outhouse there."
"Do all the staff live here, on the estate?"
"All except MacLeod Trading staff," Lydia told me. "There are two company staff who work in the office here but live in the village, a mile or two away. Skilled tailors and willing dogsbodies, both of them."
"Are there any more?" I wondered.
"There's an apprentice in the workshop," I said, "and an occasional professional golfer. He lives in the village and he charges a huge fee and comes in when anyone wants him."

I thought about all those people for a moment, and I asked Lydia, "Do you trust them all?"
"Yes! Yes," she said with no hesitation at all, "I have no doubt at all that they're good and honest people."
"But they're not allowed in the house."
"They don't need to come in here unless it's for work." Lydia paused for thought and added, "I don't keep them out, or anything. They all have keys. But the staff houses are all comfortable and warm. I know it makes me sound awfully mean to keep the big house to myself and billet the servants in outhouses, but the houses are really quite all right to live in. Running water, heating, electricity, all mod. cons. If you were a servant, would you prefer your own house, or sharing mine?"
"Sharing yours," I said.
"But you're exceptional," she replied. "You have a special privilege."
"Very special," I said.
"I keep it in my panties," said Lydia, "but you can exercise it any time."
I asked her, "Do the help all know that I'm here?"
"No," said Lydia, "they know about the theft, all of them, but you can tell them when you see them tomorrow."
"That would scare them off," I said. "I want the thief to carry on stealing things until I catch him doing it. I don't want him to stop yet."
"You are a clever man," said Lydia, "you need a false identity, obviously. Can I just tell them that you're my hottest and latest boyfriend?"
"If you want," I said, "but they'll take me for a gold digger."
"All right, this is what we will do. Sanders, the chambermaid, asked for a few days off," said Lydia, "so you could start your career here working as chambermaid. Nothing too strenuous and you could find excuses to visit all the workers."
"I had not realised how many people it takes to keep a mansion running smoothly," I observed. "Do you never get plain exhausted, keeping the estate going?"
"Not yet," said Lydia, gazing meaningfully into my eyes, "because there's always something exciting happening here."

There was a knock on the door. It was a young lady carrying a tray of hot food.

"Dinner," she said, "for two people, as you requested, Mrs MacLeod."

The young lady put the tray onto the inlaid desk, took two sets of cutlery and two napkins from the drawer and arranged it restaurant style. Then she poured two glasses of wine. I looked at her as she arranged everything to perfection. She was small, slim, with long black hair and an Asian appearance. She might have been seventeen or eighteen years old. Her skin was flawless. I noticed she was wearing shiny sky blue high heeled shoes and glossy tan coloured tights. She wore a uniform dress that clung tightly to her breasts. Despite Lydia's giving me such intense affection and satisfying my every need, I felt a pang of desire for the tray carrier. I would simply adore taking the dress off and looking closely at the brassiere that she was wearing beneath it.

"This is Sanders," Lydia told me, and then she turned to Sanders and told her, "This is Sam Corsair," she told her, "and he'll be doing your job while you're on holiday."
Sanders looked nonplussed. "I'm only going to be away until Saturday," she said.
"You're indispensable," said Lydia, "I need someone to help out while you're away."
"Is there anything I need to know?" I asked Sanders.
"Nothing that isn't in my daily schedule," she smiled. "It's pinned to the back of the door in my bedroom. Start early, work late, don't break anything that's older than you are and you'll be fine."
"I shall abide by that," I said.
"Goodnight, Mr Corsair. Goodnight, Mrs MacLeod," said Sanders. I think I actually saw her curtsey, although I'd never seen anybody perform the gesture before. I felt as though I had accidentally strayed into the wrong century. Sanders left the room, and Lydia said as though apologising for some gaffe, "This dinner is the best I could think of. I had to guess what you like to eat."
"This," I said, waving one hand at our dinner, "was an excellent guess. I eat anything that moos, baas, oinks or has a beak."

Lydia and I ate dinner from the tray. It was impressive food and the wine was more alcoholic than I had expected. I realised that I had not eaten anything all day and I polished my share off completely.

As we sat finishing off the powerful black coffee, we heard a clock strike midnight somewhere along the hallway. Lydia observed that it was well past both our bed times.

"That's easily fixed," I said.

I wrapped my arms around Lydia, picked her up, lay her as gently as I could on her extravagant bed, and removed her clothing. She wriggled so as to help me. I took my own clothes off as well, and I settled beside her. Lydia held herself close to me and kissed me.

"We have all night ahead of us," she said, "so let's take it slowly."
"Sure," I said.
"My panties are off so I feel very vulnerable," she went on.
"I won't rush you," I said, "until you're completely ready."
"I might not be completely ready for several minutes," she giggled.

I started giggling too, and I held her close at the same time.

2. Tuesday 5 April 1960

Morning came. I hate it when it creeps up on me like that.

Bathtime together was fun, but I declined Lydia's sweet offer of a four course breakfast because I wasn't hungry and I needed to get back to my office, sit at my desk and do some serious thinking about the case. I promised Lydia that I would be back soon. I realised how smitten I was by Lydia MacLeod although I did wonder whether there was any chance of spending some time alone with Sanders. I still had no idea even of her first name, and a girl used to the indulgences and comforts of a room in The House on the MacLeod estate was unlikely to rate a metal frame bed which I kept in my office in case I missed the last streetcar through being too busy, or too drunk, to go home.

At the foot of Lydia's stairs, the chauffeur appeared without apparently being summoned. Lydia addressed him as Burton, and Burton drove the convertible, with me in it, back to the Bronx and my office. I said thanks and gave him a dollar, which seemed to be sufficient. Writing helps me to think sometimes, like it once helped Shakespeare. I wrote down all I knew about the theft, and after six or seven minutes, I had five lines of pencil on a piece of letter paper. I needed to visit the public library. They weren't particularly good at solving crimes, but I reckoned we were quits because I wasn't particularly good at knowing everything that had happened in Ramsey for the last hundred years or so.

By the time I turned up in Grannies buying a salt beef and pickle sandwich and a double size mug of strong coffee from a naked woman barkeep called Nadine, I had a rather clearer idea of what MacLeod Trading Inc. had been doing during its long corporate life. It all began with a bear. In 1868, Francis MacLeod, a Scottish immigrant from Stonehaven, bought a simple trading post on a trail near where Ramsey is now. What does a bear have to do with it? Well, Francis bought the trading post from the family of Gander Johnson, who had put Gander's simple wooden shack on the market after Gander went out one day to get hold of a stock of animal skins and was mauled to death by a bear. Francis MacLeod, a crack shot with a rifle, had the idea of adding exotic skins and furs to the stock, and for that purpose he embarked on a series of voyages, each further afield than the last.

Mom wasn't at work in Grannies. I guessed she was taking time off. When I returned to the library and got my books and papers together again, Mom's voice startled me.

"I thought you'd be in here," said Mom.
"How did you know I was here?" I asked her.
"It's your second day on the case. You're always in the library on the second day."
"It's the best place to look for background information. By the way, Mom, when you're next at work in Grannies, do give my regards to Nadine."
"The new recruit?"
"Probably, since I have never seen her before," I said. "Not only does she make the meanest salt beef and pickle sandwich on this planet, but she looks great naked. Slim, long brunette hair and legs all the way down to the ground."
"Yeah," said Mom, "probably thanks to all the salt beef and pickle sandwiches she takes back-shop and eats when she doesn't think anybody's looking."
"These sandwiches: are they on malted wholemeal bread?" I asked.
"Yes," said Mom.
"With butter or margarine?"
"Butter," said Mom, you know we ain't cheapskates."
"That's what I've been doing wrong all these years," I said, shaking my head and full of regrets for my mis-spent past. "I shall switch to malted wholemeal and in a hundred years I shall look like a god," I said.
"I look forward to that," said Mom.

Mom looked at the faded newspapers that covered the table in front of me and she asked, "What did you find out?"
"Lots of stuff," I said. "Not as much as I would have liked, but all of it is useful. Local newspapers, trade catalogues, passenger manifests from ocean liners, a couple of maps and some corporate accounts."
"Anything useful?"
"Nothing that solves the case. Only that the MacLeod family has a skeleton in the cupboard. Francis MacLeod, born 1850, died 1895 at the tender age of forty-five. Constantly in the papers because of the beautiful women he'd made furs for, but he suddenly disappears from the news pages around 1885. I doubt that the papers would have been so reluctant to talk about his demise if he'd been gored by a lion while trying to gather raw materials for a beautiful lion-pelt coat for a world famous glamour queen. And even in the nineteenth century, forty-five was an early death."

Mom looked out of the window for a few seconds and asked me, "Do you want to spend the afternoon with me?" She raised her skirt to give me a quick flash of her pink panties, just in case I didn't know what she meant.
"Sure," I said, "why not? I'm not getting anywhere and I don't have to talk to Lydia again until this evening."
"Come with me, then. My car is outside."
"Do you think Nadine might be free?"
"Free?" Mom laughed briefly. "You couldn't afford her."
"Does she charge fees, then?" I asked.
"No," said Mom, "I was only bitching."

The apartment where we both lived was across town. Mom had been missing me. She drove faster than might have been wise, and she kept on reaching across to me in the passenger seat and caressing my cock through my pants. As soon as we were in the apartment with the door closed, she tore her outer clothes off and kissed me, wearing only the pair of neat pink pants with a heart appliqué that she'd shown off in the public library. I stroked her gently between her legs and she pushed down against my hand, tightening the panties so that I could feel every detail. I liked that. Mom had an extraordinary talent for knowing what I wanted her to do, and understanding exactly what my needs were. I was winging it: sometimes I got it right, other times I didn't guess right and she had to direct me to whatever she wanted me to do.

Mom pulled her pants to the side, then mone. "Go on," she said, "put it in and we'll do it standing up." It was fantastically difficult. We fell sideways and ended up doing it on the floor, me lying on my back and Mom kneeling cow-girl style.

Three hours or so later, after making love hard on the carpet, having a long and thrilling session in bed and sleeping a little, we were woken when the phone rang. I staggered to the thing and picked up the receiver. The voice was Lydia's. My home number was on my visiting card, so the phone shook me out of bed occasionally.

"Corsair? Where are you?" she asked.
"At my house, ma'am," I said, and I gave her the address.
"I shall send Burton to fetch you," she told me. "I hope that's all right. He'll be outside your house in three quarters an hour or so."
"Do you need anything in particular?" I asked.
"I just wondered if you were getting anywhere," Lydia told me, "and of course I'd prefer it if you spent the night with me. You're a pretty good lover. I don't want to waste my chance while I have one."
"I'll see you when I get there, then," I said, and to Mom I had to apologise. "I'll be working late."

I had just finished packing my tatty briefcase with a few clothes and the notes that I'd scribbled in the library when Mom came in wearing nothing but those unforgettable pink panties. I kissed Mom goodnight, hoped she had a good evening at the café and I promised to be back in the morning. The fact was, though, I needed to take a look around the estate, and a square mile is a big place to look around.

Burton whisked me to the McLeod estate. Lydia came out of the house and opened the door of the car for me. We walked together into the house and as she switched on the light, I quipped, "I didn't think you had electricity in houses as old as this one."
"Yes," Lydia smiled, "we have very special electricity. Four rooms of the house were cabled up by Edison and his workers in 1882, as a sort of demonstration effort. Francis had the house full of the paparazzi of the day, taking photographs of this miracle of modern technology. It still works, if you forget all the bits that don't."
"Why'd Edison come here?" I asked, "why not wire up a building near home? Didn't he live in California?"
"All I know is Thomas Edison met Francis MacLeod on vacation in south west somewhere, and they struck a deal about using the house for publicity. There's a letter somewhere from Edison thanking Francis for his help in getting the contract to build the Pearl Street generating station, adding 'We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.' He didn't forget Francis in his will, either."
"How much did he get?" I asked, always keen to learn how the rich come by their fortunes.
"Francis was long dead by then. The cheque went to Jiminy. Ten thousand dollars, in 1931 money."
"What did Jiminy spend that on?"
"A golf links," said Lydia, "complete with bar, club professional, eighteen holes and the Edison electric light."
"Which still works," I guessed.
"Perfectly. If you…" Lydia began, and we continued in unison, "…ignore the bits that don't."

We burst out laughing. This priceless relic of a long obsolete technology should have been attracting techno-geeks from all over the planet, and I had never heard of it until this day.

Lydia had ordered another magnificent dinner from her staff and this time she had a young man set it before me on the oak table in her dining room. He worked in silence and left, closing the door behind him. I took the couple of pages of notes out of the briefcase and lay them on the table between us. I explained between spoonfuls of haddock soup that in the public library I'd found several documents relating to MacLeod Trading and the MacLeod estate. There was a map of the estate and a family tree, although for every other background note I was going to have to rely on my memory.

I put the map onto the top of the pile. "Is this map still accurate?" I asked.
"Completely, I think. The wells have been capped. When piped drinking water came to Ramsey, the county decided that the wells were a safety hazard. The water from the well is just as clean as piped water and it tastes better too, so we waited until the county workers drove away home and we fitted an electric pump so The House still has well water."
"You are a deep well of information, Lydia," I said with genuine gratitude.
"Thanks. And I think the workshop was extended after this map was made."
"Sure. Anything else?"
Lydia shook her head and said, "If I think of anything, I'll tell you."

There was a small brass bell on the table. Lydia picked it up and tinkled it, and a young man appeared in the doorway. He took the remains of the soup course away and, returning, he served us with meat and vegetables.

"Thank you, Fielding," Lydia said to him. Then she turned back to me and said, "I hope you like this. I didn't think to ask, I just chose it because I like it. Fanny told me—"
"Fanny is the cook, right?"
"Yes. Fanny told me that she had some really nice beef in."

I had more sense than to ask what dish it was. It looked like steak and kidney pie, so it probably was.

"It's my favourite, too," I said.
"Take my advice," said Lydia, sounding a tinge more matriarchal than usual, "always pay over the odds for your kitchen staff."
"Oh, I do," I lied. My kitchen staff is a can opener.
"Never economise on food," Lydia continued, "because you'll be miserable all your life if you do."
In reality, I thought, the only time I ate a meal of this size and quality was when I ordered it in Grannies and, even then, only after a client had settled one of my larger invoices. Otherwise, a Marlboro with a side of salt beef and pickle on malted wholemeal was good enough.

It suddenly occurred to me that Lydia was a delightfully slender women, with a waist measurement that might have been twenty-seven inches or twenty-eight but which certainly wasn't more than that. She didn't eat like this every night, any more than I did. She was delicate, and so light that I could pick her up without difficulty and carry her around. Which was something I intended to do as soon as the opportunity came my way, to create that feeling of intimacy which does not come from sitting at dinner, chattering over a small heap of notes dashed off in bad handwriting.

"Could you have a look at this?" I asked Lydia, "just to see if you recognise it." I handed her a brochure about five inches by eight. It had eight pages. On the front cover was the name MacLeod Trading Incorporated.
"It's the MacLeod Trading catalogue. Pictures, descriptions and prices of all the coats they used to make." She looked at the front cover and said, "1955."

We leafed through the pictures of women in beautiful coats. "Are these his customers?" I asked.
"I don't think so," said Lydia. "I think they're models. But his customer list was pretty impressive. Grace Kelly, Janet Leigh, Betty Boothroyd… Barbara Castle came in once but she couldn't afford one."
"Did you ever meet Marilyn Monroe?" I asked, as if it mattered.
"No," said Lydia, "I quite wish I had."
"Have you any idea what happened to Francis MacLeod?"
"Attacked by a black leopard in Africa somewhere," said Lydia, "after running out of ammunition. It was a fearful loss but fortunately his children were able to carry on the business."
"And he left a huge estate, I imagine," I said.
"Enough for Mom and Dad to buy this land here," said Lydia. "This house was already built. It only needed repair. There were some outbuildings, but Mom and Dad put the new buildings up. Now," she continued, "look at me for a moment."

Lydia unfastened a couple of buttons just below her waist and slid her skirt off, revealing panties, garter belt and stockings. I was riveted by the view and the perfume, and I also noticed that she left the skirt on the carpet for her servants to find. This woman most emphatically did not strip and then pick up after herself. I gazed silently upon her beautiful form.

"Does this outfit inspire you to want anything in particular?" she asked after a few seconds of silence.
"Lydia," I said, "yes, there certainly is… I would be most gratified if you would allow me to spend the rest of the night in bed with you."
"I thought you'd never ask," said Lydia, "I don't usually have to resort to stripping."
"But I am most glad that you did, and if it's all right with you, tomorrow I want to take a look around the estate."
"Fine," she said, "as long as I'm still asleep at eight o'clock. I never get out of bed before eight o'clock. Getting out of bed earlier than that is bad for the constitution, makes you lazy and fat and flabby and spotty. Wake me before then and I might have to instruct the servants to spank you."
"Have they ever spanked anyone?" I asked.
"Me," said Lydia, "but only because I asked them nicely, and my butt hurt for hours afterwards."
"I'll be really, really quiet," I promised.

I gathered the papers off the table and put them back into the briefcase. Lydia and I climbed the stairs to her bedroom. She lay on the bed, arranged herself into an inviting pose and lay still — almost — as I unfastened her blouse and pulled it open. Naked she was, simply, gorgeous.

We kissed. I held her close to me. Lydia was, suddenly, everything to me. If I hadn't been so bitter and case hardened, I might have thought I'd fallen in love.

3. Wednesday 6 April 1960

In the early light I woke beside Lydia's sweet, hot body and I managed to find my wristwatch and look at it without either waking Lydia or getting out of her bed. I found my clothes and carried them to the bathroom, closing Lydia's bedroom door with exaggerated quietness in an effort to let her sleep. My wristwatch said it was just after six a. m., so the time was about right. I wanted to case the joint without being observed too closely by the small crowd who lived in and around the house.

I found the bathroom and took a bath without, so far as I noticed, waking anyone around. I carried my clothes downstairs and there, at the bottom of the stairs, was my briefcase. At this unnaturally early hour, I couldn't remember where I had left the suitcase, and I couldn't work out whether someone had rummaged through the briefcase in the night. Fortunately the clean underpants and socks that I'd thought to pack were still in the case. Wearing outdoor clothing at last, and distinctly tired after energetically making love to another man's very willing wife most of the night, I let myself out of the back door into the yard and then I set out through the coaching arch and along the estate road.

All I knew was I was looking for a thief who steals junk from the house of a gorgeous and loving lady. Which is bound to be pretty much of a wild goose chase, because nobody steals junk. What is the point of risking your liberty for a pile of worthless junk? There had to be more to it than that. Even if, say, I were to run into a man in a mask wearing a prison uniform and carrying a sack of Lydia's twisted and useless scrap metal, the story would have barely begun. The question was what the man in the prison uniform intended to do with it all. But at this moment there was no man, no mask and no motive. I had gained a hot broad for a girlfriend but done little to resolve her problems, let alone catch a crook and earn a living.

I looked around. On my right were four houses, all of which according to Lydia were occupied by estate staff, while behind me was the office of MacLeod Trading. There was one light burning in an upstairs window in house number 3, and that seemed all. The rest of the estate was quiet with nothing moving, and some stuttering bird song. Beyond the four houses, pretty much directly ahead of me, was a brick building of little architectural merit. Lydia had not mentioned this building so instinct told me to mosey up to it and take a look. From the building came the noise of a motor turning. The building had a door and a couple of small windows. Beside the door, fixed to the wall, was a metal sign saying Water Pumping Station, No Unauthorised Access and a phone number labelled 'Emergency Contact.' The motor noise was the machinery at work inside the building. I made a sketch in my notebook. This sketch wouldn't catch the thief but when I was back in the office and wondering what to do next, I could sit and stare at it while I tried to work out what was going on.

There was a perfectly serviceable lock on the door, but when I pushed the door I found that the lock was open. The door fell open easily. Inside the building the noise was louder, but it was too dark to see in any detail what was there. I waited for my eyes to accustom themselves to the darkness, and after a while I could make out a concrete floor strewn with various rubbish like straw, leaves, grass cuttings and a couple of pages of a newspaper. I moved carefully around the edge of the floor since, I thought, with this being a pumping station there could be moving machinery or even a sheer drop in the centre. As I walked around I became aware of a low hiss from somewhere on the far side. I walked further around, standing close to the wall. The hiss came from a low, blue flame. The flame was heating a small copper tank, from which the steam was being carried up a narrow copper pipe.

And Bingo!

This was a small private still, from which someone had been distilling moonshine. It looked old enough to have been built in anticipation of Prohibition and, obviously, someone was keeping it filled and fuelled. And someone had maintained it with spare parts, obviously the same sort of junk that Lydia had reported missing: a tilly lamp for the flame, pipework, tubing. So I guessed I had now done the job that Lydia had hired me to do. The stolen scrap metal had made its way here and now relieved the misery of some poor hobo's day to day existence by forming part of his illicit still and yielding up a rough snifter at the end of each day. There was even some other scrap lying around on the floor nearby, just to confirm my theory. Of course, finding this ironmongery lying around in a fifty year old brick shed asked more questions than it answered, chief among them who would drink this garbage when a perfectly good bottle of Scotch could be bought for less than it would cost in Scotland, but now I could go back to Lydia and tell her the answer to the peculiar petty theft that had been troubling her.

I opened the door to leave the pumping station and I looked around. I noticed a plastic cup on the floor and instinctively I picked it up and noticed how warm it was. Someone had been in the building recently, maybe half an hour ago. Outside in the fresh air I looked and listened, but there was nobody around. Couldn't see anybody. They had probably heard me coming and legged it.

I thought the best course of action was to let Lydia know what I'd found and ask her if I might continue to work on the case for a few days. After all, although I had now discovered the missing bits and pieces, I was still greatly puzzled about what was actually going on. I walked back to the house and let myself into the lobby. I looked up and the small clock on the wall told me it was twenty minutes past seven. I settled into the chair and waited for Lydia to come down the stairs. I told myself that I might have to wait a while for the woman who never rose before eight o'clock, but that her beauty and the prospect of fucking her again would make the wait worth the while.

Sanders, the maid, woke me. "Have you seen Lydia?" she asked me.
"Not since five this morning," I said, startled and hoping that I had not breached Lydia's privacy by disclosing where she and I had been at five in the morning.
"Were you drinking heavily?" she asked, "Because she's always out of bed by this time."
"Why, what is the time?" I asked her.
"Nearly eleven a. m.," said Sanders.
"No," I said, "We haven't been drinking. We are tired for a different reason altogether."

Sanders smirked at me. "She tires a lot of men out," she said.
"She's got experience, you mean? That never bothered me before."
"I can do everything that she can," Sandra smiled.
"Pleased to hear it. That's one hell of a talent you have there," I said, and she smirked again.
"I'll show you how well I can do it," she said, "and if we're going to do that sort of thing together then you really ought to call me Sandra."
"Is that a promise, Sandra?" I asked.
"Definitely," she said.

I had no idea it was so late in the morning. Lydia and I had enjoyed an energetic time together and obviously I'd been more tired afterwards than I had given myself credit for, and I'd been asleep in the chair for four hours. Lydia just knew, instinctively, a thousand ways of keeping a man enthralled, stiff and awake.

"I'll go and see if she's OK," said Sandra, "you can't be too careful."
"Is it OK if I just wait down here?"
"Sure."

Sandra sashayed up the stairs. I heard the click of Lydia's bedroom door opening, and then Sandra gasped.

"Sam!" she called.

I got out of the chair and I hrew myself up the stairs and into Lydia's bedroom. There was no sign of Lydia. A couple of things — a bedside lamp, a couple of books, her alarm clock and her pillow — lay on the floor. The things might have been signs of struggle, or just things kicked out in distress. The alarm clock had stopped, with the hands reading 7.50.

"Jesus Christ— she's not here," I yelled, looking around. "Does Lydia usually do anything in the early mornings?
"No," said Sandra, "she got up at eight or eight thirty, had a hot bath and came to the breakfast room for a bite to eat. with or without clothes."
"So this knocking over the furniture and disappearing isn't Lydia's usual style in the mornings," I asked.
"No. No," said Sandra, "she's pretty fastidious about having a tidy room. Lydia!"

Sandra suddenly called Lydia's name in a shout that could be heard on Mars. "Lydia! Are you there?" In the quiet afterwards we waited until our ears had stopped ringing and we shook our heads.

"Quick. Let's search the house," I said. "Do you have a flashlight?"
"I'll fetch it." Sandra dashed off and dashed back with a heavy metal flashlight. Turning it on, she told me, "It works."
"Good," I said, "because I don't have a gun. You lead the way."
"A detective without a gun?" said Sandra. "What use is that?"
"I was looking for a pile of missing ironmongery," I said, "and nobody's going to shoot us over that."
"But a missing heiress," said Sandra, correctly, "is another kettle of fish altogether."
"Yeah," I said, "things have moved up a gear."

Sandra and I toured the bedrooms, then picked our way down the stairs and around the various living rooms and drawing rooms on the ground floor, finding nothing out of the ordinary.

"Is there an attic?" I asked.

There was. We searched the roof space, then we went outside and looked and yelled in the grounds that surrounded the house. Still finding nothing, we went back into Lydia's room, sat on the bed, and thought about things.

I looked around the bedroom again. The windows were closed. I didn't see any blood, or any torn clothing. Either she walked out of the room with nobody noticing, or she was still in here and hidden from me.

"Do you want me to call the cops?" I asked Sandra.
"No." she replied, firmly, "Who knows what the neighbours will think when they see police and detectives crawling all over this reputable house."
"But there aren't any neighbours," I pointed out.
"We might be able to put off calling the poice in," said Sandra, "until we have some useful information to tell them."
"In that case," I said, "let's hope whoever did this is not still on the premises. I'm off to take a look-see. Give me ten minutes and if you don't hear from me it means I didn't find anything and you can call the police in."
"Ten minutes?" Sandra queried.
"I forgot how big the place is. Stop the clock, I'll get back to you."

I went out on the prowl again. After an hour of walking, opening doors, lifting anything that lay on the ground and looking under it, all the while keeping my eyes peeled, it was clear that if anyone had been in the house, they were long gone now. I thought I could see fresh tyre marks on the road that led from the house to the gate of the estate, and Lydia's car was still where Burton had left it, so maybe Lydia had been abducted in a car. Possible, but the car would have had to be silent, as any noise in such a quiet garden would surely have attracted some attention in the middle of the night. Or maybe Lydia had simply forgotten an appointment, remembered it some time around eight in the morning, called a taxi and left without saying goodbye. Although people who forget appointments don't usually trash the bedroom. Or maybe she had been neither abducted from the house nor expected at an appointment, and had simply got up and walked out. Some people do that, and of those, some are never seen again.

Back in the library, I searched newspapers and magazines from long ago for the advertisements with which Edison had sought to raise interest in his electricity generation company. I didn't imagine that these advertisements would lead me to any clear understanding of what was going on in the house. I was just curious to see the photographs. I skimmed through dozens of newspapers around those dates, and I found a dozen or so pictures. Recognisable as the entrance lobby, the dining room, the kitchen and the main bedroom, all lit by Edison's electric light, these were probably the photographs without which Ramsey would still be in darkness any time after sunset. Or to be more precise, Ramsey would have been in darkness until the arrival of Westinghouse lighting a few months later.

Any connections that Lydia, her family or her staff, had in the criminal underworld could have been the first clue as to what had happened. There were probably hundreds of court reports in the newspapers that lay on the desk in front of me, yet the only connection to anything that I found was the connection of the MacLeod estate to the Edison electric lighting company, and that connection was fifty years or so ago. The key to Lydia's disappearance lay elsewhere, if it lay anywhere at all.

I was still sitting at that desk in the library when I saw that the newspapers had somehow got hold of the story. The newsboy across the street was shouting "City News! Read all about it!" beside his stall, which bore a poster that read, "MacLeod Heiress Vanishes!" I guessed that Sandra Sanders had told her fellow workers and one or other of them had told the Press. I saw the library porter bring up a small heap of newspapers and lay them out on the tables in the reading room, a three times daily ritual. I picked up the City News and found the story on the front page.

MacLeod Heiress Vanishes!
Police, Top PI Baffled!

Lydia MacLeod, the story went on, the beautiful wife of Jiminy MacLeod and heiress of MacLeod Trading, New York's vendor of animal fur apparel to the rich and famous, disappeared early this morning from her luxurious mansion in Ramsey…

I felt very flattered. Here I was, barely able to afford a hamburger at lunch times, named in the Press as a top ranking private investigator. To illustrate the story there was a picture of Lydia at her last social engagement, where according to City News she wore one of her most indulgent sables and sat at table with millionaire socialites Stefen McCracken and Woodrow Edeson. The three of them were sitting at a table in a restaurant that would not even open its doors for the likes of me. This was one picture I wanted to cut out, frame and hang on the bedroom wall. I wondered for an instant what she saw in me. Still, she wanted a top private investigator to solve her petty crime, and I had immediately given her a much bigger problem, which is what always happens if you hire a private investigator for long enough.

I was still sitting, half an hour later, riffling through the same pile of newspapers from long ago and wishing fervently for some conclusion to assemble itself in my head when the porter, the same one who had brought the local papers up to the reading room, walked up to me and asked, "Sir, are you Sam Corsair?"
"The world's Number One private investigator, at your service," I said.
"Could you come to the telephone? A woman called for you and said it's urgent."
"Sure," I said. "How did you know it was for me?"
"She said," he paused to breathe in, "that you looked like a tramp in a homburg."
"In this profession," I said, "many lives may depend upon your ability to describe people succinctly and accurately. It is an essential. Lead on, sir."

"This is Norma, from Grannies," said the voice on the phone.
"Oh, God," I was flustered, "is this about Mom?"
"Not at all," said Norma, "it's her day off. No, I rang your Mom to find out where you would be, and she told me to try the reading room at the public library."
"Well done for finding me," I said, "and describing me in such immediately recognisable terms. I was planning to come down to the bar around half past midday."
"Maybe you should drop everything and come straight away. I've got a message for you. A man came in, asked if this was the place where you came in for lunch, and he gave it to me. He gave me a scrap of paper with a message on it. Can you come here as soon as possible to pick it up?"
"I'll be right over," I said. "What does it say?"
"I'm not wearing my glasses," said Norma, who was probably wearing nothing at all and looking glorious in it, "but I'll try. It says, Everything is all right. Don't come… she paused as though trying to figure out difficult handwriting, …looking for me. With love, Lydia." That's all of it."
"Anything else?"
"Nothing," said Norma, "except we have a new girl working in the bar, and her name's Ellie."
"In that case I'll definitely be right over," I said.

I thanked the porter, who smiled and told me, "Nice to meet you, Mr Corsair."

Many things that might have happened to Lydia went through my mind, all of them contributing to the generally anxious state I was in when I went into Grannies Bar and Norma caught sight of me. The note was behind the bar, and Norma picked it up and handed it to me with one hand while her other hand gave me a Glenkinchie.

"Is this all?" I asked, unnecessarily.
"Yeah… the man came in, picked me at random as far as I know, asked if you were known here and when I said yes, he gave it to me."
"Thanks, Norma, you may just have saved a woman's life. Do you know this guy?"
"No. He didn't introduce himself. I was the first woman he saw when he came in."
"He just appeared and gave a message to you… You never saw him before?"
"Never seen him in my life."
"I see," I said.
"I hope nobody's been hurt," she said, "I saw the newspapers."
"Probably they haven't. Not yet, anyway." I looked at Norma, taking in her sheer beauty, and I thought to ask, "What did the man look like?"
"Cute. White, beard, about five foot eight, black hair cut short. Rich… you know, the way they talk, I can tell, seriously rich."
"Wearing?"
"Well dressed. Suit and tie. I'd like to see him again."
"Why?"
"Because a man that cute and rich definitely shouldn't go home alone and spend a night by himself. What a waste."
"Anything else?"
"Not married. Expensive Bengal stripe shirt but not ironed," Norma counted on her fingers, "third button missing, shoes not cared for."
"That's beautiful. I'll make a police officer of you yet."
"Whatever people say," Norma smiled.
"By the way," I said, "thanks for describing me so accurately to the porter in the library."
"My pleasure," said Norma, "now go and sit somewhere and I'll send Ellie to you with a decent lunch."

I took a seat on the edge of the dance floor. There was nobody dancing. That would come later in the evening. I was still carring Lydia's note, so I looked closely at it in the hope that I'd notice that it had some odd, unaccountable feature about it which would lead to the capture of the criminals responsible. The message was written in blue biro on a sheet of notepaper torn from an eight by five inch writing pad, neatly cut along three sides but with a rough edge at the top. Everything is all right. Don't come looking for me. With love, Lydia. It might have been written in a hurry: no explanation, no location and no Dear at the beginning. I couldn't vouch for the handwriting. Although the message was signed Lydia and it looked like an adult woman's writing, it could have been anybody's. Besides, Lydia was not the sort of woman who wrote with a biro. It would have been beneath her. Lydia was cut out to use a real pen like a Parker or a Mont Blanc.

I held the paper up to the light. It said Basildon Bond backwards, meaning that Lydia had been writing on the reverse side of the paper. Nothing else of interest except a couple of ink marks where the tip of the pen had rested on the paper.

"Hi," came a woman's voice. "I'm Ellie. May I sit and chat?"
"Oh, hi, I'm Sam and I'd love that more than anything. I'm really pleased to meet you."
"I'm Ellie," she told me, "Ellie Corelli."

Ellie was beautiful. Despite the name of the bar, Ellie could never have been a granny. She might, just, have been thirty. She was naked apart from bright red high heeled shoes. She carried a tray in her left hand and from it she arranged some cutlery and a plate of lunch on the table in front of me.

"Is that your school uniform hanging on the hook behind the door?" I asked.
"I'm a teacher," she said, "and we don't have to wear uniforms."
"Funny that," I said, "When I was at school I always thought the teachers should wear uniforms, like prison guards."

I had a vision of myself dipping into my wallet, handing her a hundred bucks in unused bills and telling her confidentially that as a young, beautiful and innocent lady she really should not get involved with base old lechers like me. Sandly, such philanthropy was beyond me. Besides, honestly, I couldn't imagine anything more pleasurable than gazing upon Ellie's undressed form.

"A teacher?"
"I get paid more for spending two hours here than for an entire day teaching kids to read," she told me, "so if that's what they prefer to pay me for doing, I'll strip off and knuckle down."
"You'll be a big hit here," I said, "especially with me."
"I'm glad to be a big hit with the top private investigator in New York," she told me.
"Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers," I said.

Ellie turned and swayed off, showing her perfectly curved rear. Lunch was steak with vegetables, with a big glass of house red, totally delicious and I ate and drank every scrap. Then, perhaps inspired by Ellie's turning around and displaying a most memorable view, I turned Lydia's message over. The message was face down, but there were two ink dots where the biro had touched the back of the message. I stared at the paper. The message had been written with a retractable biro, probably belonging to her captors, or her new friends, who could tell? She had retracted the biro and dragged it around, leaving no ink behind, but a crease in the paper. Held at the right angle, the crease was just about legible. It read, City Hall St.

The message was, indeed, a cry for help. In police college, this was a steganograph: appearing to carry one message, in reality it carried another. I guessed that the bad guys had given Lydia a sheet of paper, and Lydia had scratched her secret message on one side while writing an anodyne reassurance, possibly dictated word for word by the criminal, visibly, in ink, on the other side of the paper.

I held the paper up to the light and I looked at the un-inked message again. City Hall St. It was now about six hours, maybe seven, since Lydia disappeared, so it seemed likely that she was still in New York. Then it hit me that this was not a ransom demand. Maybe the perp didn't want to make a demand yet, or else he would send the demand to someone else, or he didn't want to demand any money at all and had some other motive which I couldn't as yet guess.

I left two dollar bills for Ellie and Norma to argue over and I went out into the street. I had to wait about two minutes, which seemed an abominably long time, before I could stick out my arm and flag down a yellow cab.

"City Hall Street," I yelled, louder than necessary.
The driver was a middle aged black man with a moustache and sleek hair, wearing a jacket of a conservative chequered pattern. He regarded me with an air of incomprehension and told me, "Ain't no City Hall Street."
"There's no place called City Hall Street?"
"You got it," he nodded. "Hey, I got the City News in the glove compartment. You're Sam Corsair, New York's finest private investigator, right?"
"Yes," I said.
"I seen your photo on the front page. Fester Carr, New York's finest taxi driver, at your service, Mr Corsair. I am most honoured."

I was flattered and also a little panicked. Nothing ever seemed to be straightforward. My client and pro tempore lover Lydia was, as we spoke, apparently a prisoner in a cellar or an attic somewhere on a street that wasn't on the map.

"Are you sure you mean City Hall Street? City Hall exists. And nearby, there's an old subway station called City Hall," the driver told me. "It closed in forty-five. It was very ornate, definitely built to impress, ought to be a tourist attraction. I can take you to where it used to be, if you want."
"Sure," I said. I climbed in and the yellow cab moved off. "Take me to where City Hall Station used to be."

Of course! St meant Station, not Street. Lydia was telling me to come to the disused subway station at City Hall.

"All that's left of it, at street level, Mr Corsair, is a grubby metal shelter, and that's all locked and shuttered. The easiest way to get into City Hall Station," the driver told me, "is to go to Canal Street station and buy a ticket to Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn is the end of the line, but don't get off. Stay on the train. It runs through City Hall Station as it turns around."
"You ought to be a trainspotter," I said. "Take me to Canal Street Station."

On the journey, as the taxi headed for Canal Street, I realised how ill equipped I was to deal with bad guys holed out in a disused subway station. I had left my gun in the office, but I had long ago convinced myself that the only way to deal with armed criminals is to buy the best health insurance you can afford. I knew nothing of the layout of the building, while the criminal had probably spent hours poring over drawings and rehearsing the kidnap. Worse, I didn't have a flashlight, so unless by some happy co-incidence the person who boarded up and locked the disused station had accidentally left all the lights on, I would be a sitting duck.

"Canal Street Station," said the driver. I paid him. He fumbled in the glove compartment for a second and handed me a small flashlight. "Here," he said, "you gonna need one of these, Mr Corsair."
I took it with gratitude. "Fester," I said, "you probably just saved my life with that."
"Now you get in there an' give hell to them crooks," Fester called through the window of the taxi as he drove away.

On board the train from Canal Street, I chose a seat at the front of the first car and I tried to sit in a place where the motorman wouldn't see me if he opened the door and looked for occupants at the end of the line. I hoped that the motorman would fail to look for passengers travelling beyond Brooklyn. I was wrong, of course. When the train squealed to a stop at Brooklyn, everyone except me got off the train when the doors opened and the next thing that happened was that a uniformed official boarded the first carriage and walked straight up to me. He had a rasping Bronx accent.

"Hey, you," he called, pointing, "this is the end of the line. You have to get off the train."
"Can't you possibly let me ride through the City Hall platform?" I pleaded with him. "It's world famous and I won't get another chance to see it."
The motorman saw us and opened the cab door. "What's happening here?" he asked. "I got a schedule to keep to."
"I'm tellin' this fool to get off the train," said the uniform.
"Hey, you don't speak like that to Sam Corsair." He continued, looking at me, "'Scuse my friend. He's had a tough day throwin' out dozens of bag ladies."
"Who the fuck is Sam Corsair?" asked the guard.
"He is," said the motorman. "Don't you never read the papers? Here."

Somebody had left his creased and torn copy of City News on a seat ten feet away. The motorman went and picked it up, holding it so that the guard could see the front page.

"That's him, there."
"Well, I'll be…" said the guard, smiling broadly to me. "Sorry, Mr Corsair, you be my guest."
"Motorman John Luther Jones at your service, sir." said his colleague. "Why don't you come an' sit up front in the drivin' seat?"
"I'd be honoured," I said, truthfully, and just a trifle apprehensive that the bad guys might realise something was going on. When there are no trains coming, you can hear clearly for miles in the silence of a subway tunnel.

I took my seat up front and the John Luther ordered the guard off the train. He looked at his watch and said, "We can get under way whenever you're ready."
"What do I do?" I asked.
"Push this button here," he said, "then we can go some place."

I pushed it. It was stiff and old and corroded and I needed both hands to press it. John Luther laughed out loud as he watched me struggle with it. The doors closed and the train didn't move.

"Mr Corsair," John Luther addressed me as one explaining the blindingly obvious to an imbecile, "you're s'posed to put your foot on the pedal an' push the lever."
"Forgive me," I said, "I quite forgot. It's my first day on the job."
"That's OK," he said, obviously more nervous than I was.

I pushed the lever forward. The train let out a roar from the motors, and then I heard the bang from a circuit breaker. For a second the lights went out and the emergency lights went on.

"You're only supposed to do five miles an hour round here," said John Luther, and then after he had regained his composure he continued, "Maybe you better let me drive."

With relief, I let him take over. Being a celebrity engineer obviously was not for me.

"I'd really like to get off the train and take a walk around the old station," I said. "I gather it's very beautiful. An architectural gem of a subway station."
"All right," said John Luther, "it is certainly that. So be on the platform when I next come around the loop and I'll look out for you."
"That'll be when?"
He looked at his schedule. "In two and a quarter hours. There's only one platform, so don't get confused lookin' for the other one."

We ran very slowly into City Hall Station so that I could jump out of the cab and onto the platform. I landed on my feet. With the flashlight, I found the stairs leading up to the ticket office, because I didn't especially want the motorman of the next train to notice me and send for the police to catch a trespasser. I didn't realise how dark a subway station would be if someone turned all the lights off. The skylights and shafts which provided light to the station when it was open had all been blocked off and I had only Fester Carr's flashlight between me and falling down the stone steps and breaking my neck. There was some light in the hall at the top of the steps.

I picked my way up the steps from the platform. In the hall I saw a couple of shafts of daylight coming through a partly open door. Someone had forced open the door of the small shelter on the sidewalk. Before the War, passengers would have come in through that door, down a flight of stairs into the booking hall, bought a ticket and then filed down the second flight of stairs onto the platform. I looked around and listened. There was some traffic noise and the groans of a train in the distance.

"Police. Stand still. Who are you?"
They were two transit cops looking for trespassers.
"Sam Corsair," I said, "private investigator. Don't shoot, I'm unarmed."
"Sam! Fancy meeting you here." We all relaxed. This man was Phil Esterhouse, a former police colleague of mine. The other officer, Andy Renko, started work at Hill Street police station a few weeks before I left. "I haven't seen you since at least…"
"Nineteen forty nine," I said, "since when I've scraped a living as a private investigator. How are things going for you?"
"Lots of work," said Phil. "Being re-assigned to the transit force felt like a step down the ladder at first but it isn't a quiet life down here. Never two days the same."
"They needed guys with experience," said Andy. "and talking about experience, I gather you've been busy recently."
"I'm busy right now," I told them. "What brought you here?"
"Joe Public phoned to tell us someone had broken into the station. We thought we were looking for tramps."
"Well, it wasn't me," I said to them, "I took the line that keeps New Yorkers safe. If I'd known that somebody left the door open, I'd have come by taxi."
Andy was puzzled. "Are you looking for a tramp?"
"No, I'm looking for Lydia MacLeod. I'm reasonably sure she's in here somewhere."
"Well, if she's here to catch a train," said Andy, "she's in the wrong place."
"Believe me, if the engineer sees this babe, he won't leave her stranded on the platf—"

The noise of a heavy object crashing to the floor interrupted me. Phil pointed to the booking office.

"That came from over there," he said, pointing.

There was a wooden door leading into the small office behind the ticket window. Phil went over and yelled through it.

"Police! You're safe."
I thought I heard someone behind the door say, "No, I'm not," but I may have imagined it.

Phil tried the door and found it locked, so using all his experience of opening locked doors, he drew his gun and shot the lock at point blank range. There was a tremendous bang, the door fell open, and we walked inside. Our ears were ringing.

Lydia was alone in the office, tied to a metal office chair with steel wire and locks. Thank God, she was still breathing. There was nothing covering her mouth, and she seemed to be awake, but she was saying nothing.

"I think we'd best call an ambulance," said Andy, "we've got cutting gear in the car."

Andy and I were sitting inside Blair General Hospital, waiting for news. Dr Kildare came into the corridor and called us into the ward, where he led us to Lydia. She was asleep in bed.

"I examined her and she's had a severe shock," he said, "and she might take a day or two to recover from it. Some minor injuries, which we cleaned and dressed, but nothing that will keep her in the hospital."
"Can she talk to us?" said Andy, aware of the need to get as much information from her as possible urgently.
"Not yet," said Dr Kildare, "but the loss of speech is due to shock, not to any physical injury that I can see, so by tomorrow she might have recovered the power of speech."
"I'm pleased to hear that," I said. "I'll come back tomorrow morning and take her somewhere, maybe to a relative's house.
"Is it safe for her to go back to her own house?" asked Kildare.
"That depends on how well Phil is doing," said Andy, "waiting for the bad guys to come back to the subway station and fetch her. If he catches them, then she might be safe at home. If he doesn't, and we know neither who nor where the bad guys are, she shouldn't go home."

Dr Kildare asked Andy whether he should fetch discharge papers for Lydia, and Andy said that he would come back to Blair General and take her home.

"Sure," said Andy, "as soon as it's safe I'll come to fetch her."
"That won't be necessary," said Lydia, quite unexpectedly, "I'll call Burton and he'll come for me."
"Could I come back to City Hall Station with you?" I asked Andy.
"Lie back and rest," said Dr Kildare to Lydia, "you've had a severe shock"."
"This way," said Andy, "I'll give you a ride, but just keep out of the way."

Andy clambered into the shelter that had formed the street entrance to City Hall Station and rushed down to the booking hall while I followed at half his speed. Officer Esterhouse was still standing in the hall, waiting for something to happen.

"It's OK, Phil, it's just us," Andy yelled down to Phil as he came down the stairs.
"Thank God you're here," he yelled back to Andy.
"Why, what happened?" Andy asked.
"Nothing. But at least I'll have someone to talk to. Did you bring me a sandwich?"

I left by the main door, which was now wide open. Nothing was going to happen here or now. I guessed that whoever the bad guys were, they weren't stupid enough to wander into a defunct subway station with a police car parked outside. Tomorrow maybe Lydia would be in a fit state to tell me what happened. I saw a taxi coming down the street and I hailed it.

4. Thursday 7 April 1960

Just after midnight I arrived at Grannies and found the party in full swing. The joint was hot, crowded and smoky. Mom and Norma were on the bar. Both of them were completely naked. Mom sneaked me a large Glenkinchie on the house, knowing I needed it and knowing even better how empty my wallet was.

"Do you want to make love?" I asked Mom.

"Yes," said Mom, "but you really ought to talk to Norma a bit more. She'll feel neglected. She's a bit shy to ask. You and I will do it later."
"Will you do that thing where you..." I asked Mom.
"Ssh! Of course," said Mom, "if you can still manage it after Norma's done with you."
"Is she feeling energetic?"
"Constantly," said Mom.
"I heard that." Norma handed a fistful of change to a drinker at the bar and turned towards me. The drinker, understandably, stared after her. "Come on, let's get together on the dance floor. Hang your coat on the back of a chair and let's see what sort of music we make together."

I took the coat off. Now that she was out from behind the bar I could see that Norma had recently shaved her pubic hair. Norma threw her arms around me as though she really meant it, and she said softly and close to my ear, "I always wanted to do it with you."
"Why?" I asked. I couldn't think of any reason that such a beautiful, slender, athletic woman would want to make love to me. She could have had any man in the world.
"Because you're gorgeous, bright, sensual."
"Do you make love to all the men here?"
"Only the gorgeous ones," she told me, "unless I'm desperate."

I ran my hand over Norma's bare buttocks. She had firm, rounded curves and she seemed to love being fondled there. She put her right hand on the crotch of my pants and ran her finger slowly along my cock, from base to tip.

"What's your favourite position," she asked, "for sexual intercourse?" She whispered the phrase most seductively.

I kissed her on the mouth. It was the first time I had ever kissed beautiful Norma, despite having seen her in Grannies a hundred times. Her tongue flicked between my lips and her index finger ran along my cock again.

"See," said Norma very seductively, "you're getting stiff. Your cock understands how much I want you."
"Now, or in a few minutes when I can't take any more of your cock teasing?"
"Oh, honey, you haven't been given a cock tease yet."

In a deft movement, which she must have practised many times, Norma pulled my pants zipper down and slipped my underpants to the side, so that my cock was poking out, like a horizontal flagpole.

"Hey." I was startled and in a moment of foolishness I protested. Norma, I am pleased to tell you, did not stop for a second.
"It's OK," said Norma, "nobody's looking, and anyone who does look is willing you to fuck me." She took the word "fuck" slowly and sensuously. "Which you will," she said, taking the tip of the cock between thumb and second finger and teasing it, "when you're desperate."
"My favourite sex position," I said, "is out on the street, with you standing and leaning against the wall."
"Your wish is my command," said Norma, "do you mean facing each other or do you prefer to slide it up the bum?"
"Vaginal," I said, "but your backside is a delight to see."

There was a fire exit that led onto a back street. We were far enough from any lights that nobody was likely to see us. Outside in the cool air, Norma leaned back against a dilapidated wall and guided my cock into her love opening.

Oh! Oh, my … Yes. she gasped as I slid it inside. "You're perfect. You've not had any for a while, have you?"

Norma had judged my excitement exactly. As soon as I had slid my cock fully inside her body, she pulled her vaginal muscles tight. It was a rare trick performed with rare perfection. I couldn't hold on. I felt a hard squeeze and I pumped my milk into her.

"Oh, oh, that was so good," I said.
"For me too," said Norma.
"I thought girls who did it often stopped enjoying it," I said.
"Maybe," said Norma, "I wouldn't know. Want some more? When did you last fuck a woman?"
"Last night," I said, "Lydia MacLeod."
"The heiress. Was she wearing a fur coat?"
"The second time," I said.
"Do you love her?" asked Norma.
"She has a crush on me. The first woman to look at me and think how nice it would be to take me to bed. It's a shame to take advantage, but she has big breasts, so I expect you to forgive me."
Lydia wrapped hand around my cock and began to squeeze it lightly. "I have had a crush on you since I first saw you. Why do you fuck your mamma when you could be taking your pick of women like me?"
"She loves me," I said, "and she's good in bed."
"What can she do that's so special?" Norma asked me. Her hand had made my cock hard enough to want a second playtime in her magically tight vagina.
"She can spank," I said.
"My mom was a schoolmistress," said Norma. "Her paddle would make you scream with pain. It's designed to treat some very naughty boys indeed."
"Bring it in with you tomorrow," I said.
"I already brought it," said Norma. "Your Mom said you needed it."
"Tell me about it."
"It's a wooden paddle, made from oak, for making naughty boys repent their misdeeds, and it works."
"Do I have misdeeds to repent of?"
Norma adjusted her position and guided my cock to her vagina again. "Push it in … Oh! Oh, darling! You have two Oh! unrepented misdeeds to your name, honey."

I felt her tighten her muscles again and the trick worked instantly. I pumped a flood of milk. It was my turn to gasp "Oh! Oh, you darling," as the pleasure coursed through me.

"That was fantastic," I told her, "I really want to see you again."
"You're telling me this date is over?" she asked me.
"Can you do the same trick with your rear?" I asked.
"Sure," she smiled, "thanks to a lifetime spent under the paddle."
"So can we…"
"Sure," said Norma, "when you're ready, call me over."
"Can you come to my office? I have a bed there and Mom will never know."
Norma kissed me, really hard and affectionately on the mouth. "I'm here until six in the morning," she said, "so if you want more, you can just hang around." Norma saw me reaching down and starting to adjust my underpants and my zipper. "Leave those," she said, "I like to see it out on display."
"Just leave it out?"
"Well," she said, "look at me. I'm showing everything. You can show me six inches, surely."
Norma kissed me again. "I shall," I said, and we went back through the fire escape and into the bar. For an instant I was dazzled by the jazz, the cigarette smoke and the coloured low lights.

Norma held my hand and led me across the dance floor and, quite suddenly, stopped. "That's the man who brought a message for you yesterday," she hissed.
"How mad, bad and heavily armed did he appear to be?" I asked her.
"No worse than anyone else," she said, which was her way of subtly letting me know the guy was two Green Shield stamps short of a grand piano and probably packed more heat than a detachment of National Guard. If Judge Dredd appeared in here carrying ten tons of deadly weaponry, he would be outgunned by the other customers.
"Well, if he wants to talk to me, I suppose I'd best go within talking distance of him," I said.

I kissed Norma, and she kissed me back with real affection. When I told her that I hoped to spend more time with her, she said she would be very happy for me to see her any time.

"I'll go and talk to him," she said, "so you'll know which one he is."

For some reason I felt it necessary to tidy myself up and fasten my pants together so that I looked sane, if not actually normal. Norma walked between the tables and stood beside the fellow, asking what he wanted to drink. He was wearing a natty suit, six foot nothing, with black hair and a beard. But, useful though it was to know which diner appeared to have spent the day looking for me, it was not necessary for Norma to go to so much trouble to point him out. As soon as I took a seat, at an empty table surrounded by four chairs, he stood up and strode over to me.

He said, "Mr Corsair, I need to speak to you."
"Go ahead," I said, "as long as you don't interrupt my drinking."
"Don't worry. I won't. You spent today looking for Lydia MacLeod," he said, "and forgive my mentioning it but your dick's hanging out."
"I can get it into the girls faster," I said, "and yes, I did spend the day looking for Miss MacLeod, and I found her. Now, suppose you tell me who you are?"
"I'm Woodrow Edeson." He pronounced it Edison. "I work for Edeson Research."
"Did you hand deliver a note for me to the barkeeps here?"
"Yes," he said.
"Who wrote the note?" I asked, adding, "Where'd it come from?"
"Lydia, I think. I went to her house to give her some bad news and she was already missing. Her maid Sanders said that you had been talking to her. She guessed that if you weren't in your office, you might be in here."
"She knows me better than I thought she did, obviously. And the note was where, exactly?"
"On the floor in the lobby of the house. Could have blown there, been dropped, or put there on purpose, but it wasn't hidden. It was meant to be seen and read."
"A private eye sitting in an office is a private eye without a wage packet," I said, trying to sound profound. "And Sandra Sanders is not only beautiful, she's right about every point of detail. So. tell me, what does Edeson Research have in common with the world's greatest collector of fur coats?"
"Lydia is taking a greater risk in this business than she thinks. The main thing is that you need to look after her," said the guy, "and the other main thing is, don't take her back home."
"Supposing she just had a severe shock and she wants to go back home and rest?"
"Put her in a hotel. Give her a return ticket on an overnight train to Alaska or Uruguay. Get her on a slow boat to China. Get her a job in a bed factory and tell her to sleep in the job. Lock her up in Alcatraz if you have to. Anywhere but home."
"Why? Her home is probably, definitely the best home I ever saw. It's like a castle in the Alps, only it has more rooms and a walled estate and the nearest Alp is four thousand miles away. Why can't she go back there?"
"I could explain better if we were talking in your office. And put your dick away, I want to get another drink and I don't want to think about it."
"But what if I have a sudden and desperate need to piss?" I asked him.
"Then you'll wet your pants," he said, "if it goes off suddenly."

Thus it was that around two in the morning, I was breathing Glenkinchie fumes over Woodrow Edeson and doing my best to talk to him at the desk in my office. Edeson insisted on dragging a suitcase up from his car. He slammed it on the desk and opened it. It contained a selection of kitchen utensils: a saucepan, a kettle, a couple of things that I didn't recognise. Probably some sort of cookery stuff for posh food.

"Drink?" I said, as I grabbed the half empty bottle from the filing cabinet. "It's good Scotch."
"No thanks, I'm working." he said. "I am going to show you something that will astonish you."
"If it isn't David Nixon," I said without enthusiasm.
"Who's David Nixon?"
"British magician. I saw him pull a rabbit out of an empty hat once."
"An American magician," said Edeson, "could do it twice."

Edeson took the saucepan out of the suitcase and carried it over to the wash stand. He half filled it with water and stood it on the desk. It looked to me like an ordinary saucepan of the kind that costs a few cents in a hardware store, except for the electrical rocker switch on the handle.

"Put your hand in the water," he said, "and tell me whether the water is cold, warm or hot. Don't worry, you won't hurt yourself — it's switched off."
I tried it. "It's a miracle," I cried, failing to sound exultant because the little hand of the clock was pointing to the number two. "It's cold, as you would expect from the tap on the wash stand."
"Now take your hands off it. Further than that. A foot or so… you might get splashed."
"Has the No Crackpots sign fallen off the office door again? I must get that fixed."
"Now watch this," Edeson continued, obliviously.

He pushed the rocker switch. He began counting. "One, two, three…"
"If it's going to spin round and round like a helicopter blade and then fly around the room, shouldn't you be counting backwards?" I asked him.
"It will stay right where it is," he said. "Four."
"Don't tell me," I muttered, "let me guess. It's going to turn the water into wine."
"Sorry, five," said the amazing Mr Edeson, "that feature's in next year's, six, model. Seven…"

Bubbles began to form in the water. After that, steam rose from it. By the time Woodrow had counted all the way to twenty, the water was boiling, and the rocker switch clicked itself off.

"Wow," I said, trying to feign interest, "Can you pull a rabbit out of it?"
"This is the future of electricity in the home," he said. "Edeson Research has been working on this project for years."
"Electricity?" I waved my arms about. "I don't see any electricity. It's a saucepan full of boiling water. What's this got to do with electricity?"
"There are no wires," said Edeson unnecessarily. "Don't worry about how it works, because it's secret and even if it weren't, only a handful of physicists can understand the theory behind it, let alone see how it works. But it's electricity, all the same, that heats the water, flowing in a completely different way from the plugs and sockets and wires that you're used to."
"If a man build a better saucepan than his neighbour," I mused, rather cynically, "though he live in the middle of a forest of pylons, yet the world will make a beaten path unto his door."
"What does that mean?" asked Edeson.
"John Ruskin said it first," I said, "when somebody showed him a revolutionary saucepan. It means 'I'm tired, may I go to bed now?'"
"But it isn't just saucepans," Edeson put in.
"No," I said, "I'm sure it's frying pans as well. Look, it's two in the morning and if I don't get some shut-eye in the next five minutes, I don't know what I shall do in desperation."
"Mr Corsair, you have to stay awake just a bit longer than that."
I said, "Nothing doing. You got a gun you can loan me?" but he overlooked it.
"There is no trickery and no deception," Edeson assured me. "This is the power for the lamp of the future, the car of the future, the train of the future, the central heating boiler, the radio, the television…"
"The space rocket, the juke box, the clothes pin and maybe even the kitchen sink. I get it," I said, but actually I didn't get it at all. "So what has Lydia to do with this magical saucepan?" I was mystified.
"The MacLeod family received payments from the Edison Foundation in return for generously loaning their property to Thomas Edison back in the days before Pearl Street."
"Yeah," I said, trying not to sneer or sound too confused. "And?"
"The MacLeods let The Edison Foundation try out some prototypes in her house. The Foundation still funds small scale research to this day. I'm a descendant of Edison. I receive funds from the Foundation and this is my area of expertise."
"Your chosen specialist subject," I said, "being saucepans."
"Exactly. Although for some reason that I can't remember any more, I decided to change my name back to the original spelling."
"So that nobody would realise that you were a beneficiary of your wealthy relatives' trust fund, enabling you to hide from the Inland Revenue behind a screen of smoke and mirrors."
"So," Edeson went on, "these prototypes are all up and running in the MacLeods' house on the MacLeod Estate."
"So Lydia's life is in danger because her cook has a better saucepan than her neighbours' cook," I summarised.
"Pretty much. There's been a long development process and unless something bad happens, this technology goes into the stores in a few months."
"Well," I said, "I wish it well, although personally I'll stick to the gas burner and the box of matches."
"No, you won't," said Woodrow, "not when you see what how your electricity bill drops through floor when you buy Edeson. My ancestor, Thomas Edison, swore half a century ago that he would make electric light so cheap that only the rich would burn candles. Now, I've done it, in his name,"
"And with his money," I said, but my effort at interrupting him failed outright.
"…fifty years later. Edeson Research has fulfilled his vow. Look at this."

Woodrow lifted a cardboard carton from his suitcase and unwrapped a small glass bulb.

"This bulb," he said, "gives as much light as a hundred watt light bulb."
"That's because it is one," I put in.
"Yes, it is. But you could leave it running all year, day and night, and it would cost you forty cents a year."
"Unless it broke and you had to order a new one, wait six months in the dark for the factory to build it, queue outside from Tuesday to Friday and pay a hundred thousand dollars for it to a clerk who doesn't take cheques."
"Yeah," he said, "that's the weak spot. Reliability comes as a bolt-on at the moment. But imagine paying for all the fuel you need to drive from New York to San Francisco and having change from five dollars."
"Well," I told him, "it's your money, not mine. If I had any money, which I don't, I would invest it in your company. But, look, my job is to make sure Lydia doesn't get shot while I'm working for her. Who's planning to break in and steal all the prototypes? That is what's on your mind, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Edeson, "I expect an attack on the MacLeod's property. Lydia was carried off and hidden."
"Yeah, a routine kidnap attempt, which the Police foiled. Ransom note T. B. A. Or do you think Mr Westinghouse recruited and equipped an army with death-dealing saucepans and is planning an attack on the kitchen?"
"I don't think it," said Edeson, "I'm sure of it. Apart from who's behind it. Westinghouse isn't a suspect. It's someone else."
"I should damn well think it's someone else," I said, "I wasn't being serious. I play golf with Mr Westinghouse."
"Really?" asked Edeson.
"No, I don't. I couldn't afford to play golf with Westinghouse if I saved every penny I earned for the next million years. I was just lying. Who do you think is behind it?"
"I have a couple of theories," Edeson said, "maybe a Central American gang trying to hijack the invention, or the Russians…"
"I think you watch too much television," I said. "Those cathode rays, they fry your brain. Try wearing a tinfoil hat for a few years."
"You think I'm a crank, don't you?" he said, hurt.
"Sorry, kid," I said, really meaning it. "Yes."

There was a pause. Edeson stood up as if to start packing his props.

"Drink?" I said. "I should've offered you one before."
"You did. But no, thanks. You go ahead and have a nightcap. I have to find somewhere to sleep. I'll come back tomorrow."
"I'm kind of busy tomorrow," I lied, trying to look overworked. "How about Christmas?"
"Much can happen in few days," said Edeson, portentously.
"Yes," I said, "including me closing the case, sending Mrs MacLeod a bill for eighty dollars and going to bed with a Scotch in one hand and a Marlborough in the other. Talking of going to bed, if you need a place to sleep, try the Waldorf. It's on Park Avenue. You can't miss it."
"See you tomorrow, Mr Corsair," said Edeson.
"Don't forget your suitcase. You never know when you might want a cup of coffee and a boiled egg."

Sometimes the first thing you realise when you climb into bed and close your eyes is how tired you have become, and how many hours ago you ought to have been in bed. A drunk was singing I belong to Glasgow on the street outside, which kept me awake for, maybe, three minutes. I cursed him unto the seventh generation, and then I dozed off.

The clang and the screech of the streetcars woke me. I had an inadequate wash at the wash stand, trying to shave with cold water and get my feet clean at the same time, when I heard the news on the radio.

Two police officers have been found dead in a derelict subway station near Brooklyn Bridge, Mr Cronkite said. It had to be Esterhouse and Renko. I was horrified. I knew these guys.

I had not expected this. I was caught up in a private eye's nightmare. Nutcase though he might be, Edeson was not pitching as wide of the wicket as I thought. I had been hired to do a cushy number investigating the loss of a few dollars' worth of junk, and I found that I had been pitched into battle against a ruthless enemy who was quite happy to shoot two perfectly good police officers on sight. And all this for a saucepan. I bet that none of them could cook. I felt passably sober and my car was parked out front, so I made for Lydia MacLeod's house.

I parked in the courtyard, got the door open and followed the familiar corridor, listening for activity. I heard people in the lounge, where the staff seemed to have gathered in the aftermath of whatever math we were after. Sandra Sanders was there, so was Burton and so were the rest of the staff, all jostling for places on the comfy chairs and all very upset indeed. All of them looked at me, doubtless expecting me to recite a list of all possible suspects, reveal a couple of embarrassing secrets, and then name the murderer, but the fact is, I had no clue what crime had been committed, let alone who done it.

I stared back at them, frozen. Sandra noticed me first.

"Sam, can you tell us what happened?" she asked me.
All that came to mind was, "No, of course not. I only just came in here. Where's Lydia?"
Bert Burton joined the conversation, saying "I brought her here from Blair General at about nine o'clock at night. She went to bed. Early this morning something woke her and she came to me and asked me to take her away from this house. I took her somewhere safe."
I thought it unlikely that he would tell me where she was, so I asked him, "Do the police know where she is?"
"Yes," said Burton, "Out in the country."
"When did she leave?" I asked. "I was going to advise her to make herself scarce while the drama played itself out."
"Early this morning," said Burton. "Lydia woke me up and demanded that I drive her somewhere. She said she'd seen a face at the window."
"Why didn't she just call the cops?" I asked the assembled guests. "It was probably just kids mucking around."

Most people get pretty spooked if they see a face at the window, but few abandon their house for the duration.

"It must've been a very scary face," I said.
"She didn't describe it," said Burton.

I had the feeling that Lydia knew more than Burton said. Edeson obviously believed that Lydia's life was in danger, although you can't always believe what a mad man tells you.

"Which window?" I asked Burton.
"Her bedroom window," he said.
"How many windows does her bedroom have?" I asked.
"Three," chimed in someone I had never seen before.
"Thanks. Who are you?" I asked, feeling in my pocket for my notebook.
"Marshall Marsh," he said, "the head gardener."
"I'd like to look at the window from the outside," I said.

Marshall led me to the front of the house and showed me which windows gave onto Lydia's room. He looked up at the windows. I looked down. There were no obvious marks on the ground, no ladder marks, no footprints, and anyone who wanted to stare through Lydia's bedroom window would need to be ten feet tall or more, delightful though the prospect of seeing her in her see through, scantily cut negligée would have been.

"How do you get your face up to a second storey window like those?" I asked Marshall.
"Climb a drainpipe," he said, "that one there would get you close enough."
"Have you ever done it?" I asked.
"I don't think I'd risk climbing these drainpipes," he said, shaking his head. "They're old. They're made of cast iron, which is very brittle. They would never take my weight in a million years."
"A child mucking about?"
"At five in the morning? Unlikely in Ramsey. People take care of their kids."
"But possible," I said, "if the kid wasn't local?"
"Anything's possible," said Marshall.

Anything's possible, I thought, but what's specially possible is that Lydia dreamed the face. Maybe she knew that something was up, maybe she had received threats that someone would come to carry her off or worse, and the stress was giving her nightmares. In that state, she might have seen some ordinary thing and mistaken it for a face, or she might even have hallucinated the face at the window. Looking around, I certainly couldn't see anybody lurking in the grounds.

"Could that be footprints?" I asked, noticing a couple of depressions in the grass.
"Yes," said Marshall, "they could, but standing there you can hardly see into the bedroom window."
"You'd have to be ten feet tall," I said.
"Or more, and there are no marks of a ladder," said Marshall, "or a vaulting pole."
"Let's go back inside," I said to Marshall, "it's cold out here, and I can't see anyone around."
"I hoped you might say that," he replied.
"By any chance… Did you see anything unusual this morning?" I asked him.
"No," he said, which was what I expected.

I turned back to the house and asked a few more questions of the staff in the lounge. Not because I expected to hear anything new. These mass meetings of unlikely suspects don't throw much light on anything of importance. After all, even if the culprit were present, he is hardly likely to blurt out, "Sorry, Mr Corsair, I forgot to tell you. I did it." And if anyone had seen or heard anything out of the ordinary, they would have told me about it already.

Burton was willing to drive me back to my office, so I took advantage of his offer and sat in the back of the luxurious convertible. As we drove out of the estate and turned along the road towards the village, I looked back at the main gate of the estate. Driving through Ramsey, inspiration struck me. Call it instinct, hunch, or guesswork.

"Burton," I said, "would you please drop me here?"
"There's no way for you to get back to the city," he said. "You really don't want to be left here without a car."
"Is there a phone booth, where I can call a cab?"
"No," said Bert, "it hasn't been working for months."

I thought about that.

"Look, I want to do some detective work," I told Bert. "Standard procedure contaminated with an unlikely hunch that probably won't pay off. Do me a favour… here's ten dollars. Leave the car here. Get lost for two hours and be back here around," I looked at my watch, "three pm."
"What're you going to do?" Burton asked me.
"I am going to waste several hours of a perfectly good working day and make a complete fool of myself," I said, "if you want to know."
Bert retreated into his persona as chauffeur. "Very good, sir," he said.
I opened the door and let Bert out of the car and onto the mud at the roadside. "Thank you, and don't spend the day sinking double shots of naval rum in the Jolly Pirate," I said, "because you'll be driving me home."
"Have a pleasant afternoon, sir," said Bert by way of a farewell.

I watched Bert wander off in the general direction of the Jolly Pirate and jumped into the car. The first thing I wanted a closer look at was the South Gate of the estate. I parked out of sight of the house and walked the last few yards. Surrounding the estate there was a high wall of harled brick. The tarmacadam road ran into the estate through a gap in the wall. On either side of the gap there were gateposts, bearing heavy wrought iron gates, attached to the wall. The gates were designed to be locked, but the lock was so rusted that it would have been impossible to lock them without bringing in a locksmith and a blacksmith. Around the gateposts, on the ground, were a few small flowers. On the right hand gatepost I noticed a piece of dark cloth, hanging a few feet off the ground at about windshield height.

I grabbed hold of the cloth. It was about two inches square, with rough edges as though it had been raggedly torn from a longer strip or sheet of fabric. It was quite clean, unlike the gatepost and the gate, which were dusty and spattered with mud. I took it and pocketed it, and I noticed that it had been glued to the gatepost.

It's strange how police and detective inspectors don't always notice such little things, while my hunches and guesswork and shots in the dark occasionally sent me off in the right direction. This piece of cloth, small and dark and inconspicuous and intended not to attract unwanted attention, had been deliberately affixed to the open gate. Promising myself that I would put it back on the post before anyone realised it was missing, I took it and sat in the car for a while, thinking about what — if anything — it told me.

Now, I know nothing about fabric, but in that village I knew two men who did. I remembered Lydia telling me that the two tailors who worked in the MacLeod Trading building lived in the village. There was only one street, so I guessed that finding the tailors ought not to be fantastically difficult. Leaving the car at the end of the street, I walked along the road looking for any indication that one of the houses was occupied by a tailor. There were no brass plates or trade names painted over the doors. In any case, I didn't know the workers' names. Nothing for it, then, but to walk up a few garden paths and knock on doors. I chose the nearest path, which happened to lead to house number six.

A middle aged man whose most noticeable features were hair loss, wire rimmed spectacles, a dark blue cardigan and slippers, opened the door.

"Good afternoon," I said, "I'm trying to find Mr," I made a name up, "Peabody. He works as a tailor for MacLeod Trading on the big estate. I think he might live near here."
"Peabody," he said, his voice trailing off as he scratched his head and his memory, it seemed, failed to identify any of his neighbours. "I don't know any Peabody," he said at last in a sort of Texan drawl, "but you could ask Mr Villalobos." He pronounced it Vee-ya-low-boze. "He lives next door but one, number ten."
"That's really kind of you," I said to my helper.
"Who's that at the door, Winston?" came a woman's voice from inside the house.
"Someone lookin' for Calisto, Tricia" said Winston, turning towards the voice.
"He ain't in no sort of trouble, is he?" asked Tricia.
"What's the matter?" Winston repeated to me. "He ain't in no kind of trouble, is he?"
"He is now," I said.
"He wasn't," Winston called back to Tricia, who I guessed was his wife, "but he is now."

Mr Villalobos lived at number ten. I walked up the path and knocked on the door with my fist, and he opened it. He looked Latin American and spoke with an accent that might have been Mexican or Ecuadorian, or just central American. I wasn't sure.

"Hi," I began, "are you Calisto Villalobos?"
He laughed at my pronunciation, but he only said, "Sí."
"Nice to meet you," I said, and by way of an introduction I offered him a business card and I said, "Sam Corsair, private investigator."
"Is this about Mrs MacLeod?" he asked straight away.
"Yeah," I said.
"Is she OK?" he asked.
"She's badly shaken but she's all right. She's staying with," I guessed, "I mean staying in a hotel in Hazleton. Don't go after her."
"Thank God for that," said Calisto.
"How long have you worked for MacLeod Trading?" I asked him.
"Fourteen years," he said, "mostly cutting and stitching, making nice coats."

I took the piece of fabric out of my pocket and gave it to him.

"Is this the sort of cloth that your coats are made from?" I asked him.
He took it from me. "Cloth? Ah, vostros paño." He laughed and corrected me. "This is animal skin."
"Can you tell me anything about it? Do you recognise it?"
"I need to see it in daylight, Señor."

Castilio walked over to the window. From a desk beside the window, he took a magnifying glass, polished it with his handkerchief, and peered at the piece of fabric for several seconds.

"It's good fur," he said at last.
"Do you recognise it?"
"No," he said, "it's not been torn from anything in the workshop, because I'd recognise it by its colour and texture if it were. And it wasn't cut from an old coat, either. There's no coat of preservative on the inside. It would soon rot and stink."
"Can you tell me anything about it?"
"It's good fur." Calisto repeated, "It's from cougar, top quality, el mejor. If you had several skins just like this one, you could make a coat and sell it to a rich lady for la riqueza, a small fortune. A big sheaf," he mimed a tall pile, "of beautiful hundred dollar bills."
"Where's it come from?" I asked.
I wasn't sure whether Calisto could really sense where this scrap of fur had come from, or whether he was faking it, but he said without hesitation, "Guatemala."
"Sure?" I asked.
"Sí. Guatemala. It's the only place where you find this colour in enough abundance to trade. Besides," he added as though it were in afterthought, which it probably was, "what really convinces me is, that's where Jiminy MacLeod is working at the moment."
"Working?" I asked. "Doing what?"
"Buying fur from local traders. Shooting the occasional big cat. He is out there now."
"You must be mistaken," I said. "Lydia — I mean Mrs MacLeod — told me only yesterday that he's in Africa."
Calisto laughed heartily. "Africa, Central America, Europe, the North Pole, it's all the same to her. As long as he isn't in New York, she couldn't give a damn where he is. It's all the same to her."
I was puzzled. "You mean, she neither knows nor cares where her husband is?"
"You got it," said Calisto, "you got it in one, señor. As long as he isn't in New York, she's as happy as Larry. Even if he wrote to tell her where he was, she probably didn't read it."
"Is there something you're not telling me?" I asked.
"There sure is, buster. But you don't have to take it from me if you don't want to. You can take it from him."

Calisto picked up a couple of sheets of paper from his desk, revealing a post-card underneath. He showed me the Guatemalan stamp with its postmark of 26 March, and he read the card to me.

3/26/60
Dear Calisto and Manny,

"Who's Manny?" I asked.
"He's the other tailor in MacLeod's workshop. Manny Cohen. Great guy, barrel of laughs. Such a good tailor, he can cut a hair in half lengthwise and stitch it back together so you wouldn't notice."
"Really?"
"No." Calisto shook his head. "I exaggerate. He ain't as good as that, but he's pretty good at his work."

Calisto carried on reading from the card.

Decided to stay on in Flores for a while as the ranchers are dealing with a sudden spate of cat attacks in the north, so business is pretty good. Farmers are queueing up to invite me to remove the cougars from their fields. Staying at the Casa Antigua until at least 16th inst., phone number in case you need it…

"I believe you," I said, and Calisto put the postcard back onto the desk. I hoped that he might spill the beans about Lydia, but he didn't.

"What is Lydia doing that I don't know about?"
"Come on," he said, "you know what women are like."
"I wish I did," I said, "but I don't think the man is born that understands women."
"Keep looking and you'll find out. Look under your nose first. Do you want this back?"
"Yes, please," I said, taking back the scrap of what I now knew to be raw cougar skin of the highest quality.
Calisto had shown me as far as the door and then he asked, "Do you have a cat?"
"No," I said, "I eat the fish myself."
"Don't leave the skin lying about. It'll upset him."
"I'll be most careful not to get a cat while this case remains unsolved," I reassured him, "and after that I shall make this skin into a beautiful hat and my cat will live in it. Goodbye, and have a nice day."
"I'll be back at work tomorrow," he said, "so thank you for your good wishes. I'll have a nice day while I can."

I thought about these bits of information. Sooner or later they would surely fit together with the other pieces of the puzzle. Then, walking back the way I had come, I saw the Jolly Pirate in the distance. In the bar, Bert Burton was onto his fourth, fifth or sixth shot and talking loudly about baseball to everyone within earshot.

"Bert! You'd best order a large black coffee, double strength," I told him, "because you're going to drive me back to the office."

I sat in the back as the car staggered towards the office. I hoped there had been a massive smash on a freeway somewhere at the other end of town so that the traffic police didn't notice how Bert was driving. Five minutes into the ride I asked Bert, "What is it about Lydia that nobody wants to tell me?"
"I can't imagine," said Bert. He turned right around to talk to me, took his hands off the wheel and immediately the car drifted onto the grass to the left and narrowly missed a tree.
"I think you'd best concentrate on the driving," I said as he backed the car across the kerb and onto the road again.

When Bert Burton swerved off the road for the fiftieth time and banged the car into a phone booth, I felt it would be a good moment to get out of the car and preserve my own life. I said goodbye to him, stepped into the phone booth and called a cab. By the time I was standing outside the office with my key in my hand, it was dark. I opened the street door that led to a stairwell and then to my office. It was just light enough to avoid bumping into things. I took my clothes off, arranged them in a heap on the chair, and clambered into bed before I noticed that there was someone in the bed already. I put my arms around the someone and found it was a very shapely young woman wearing classic underwear: pure white lacy brassière, tight satin panties, garter belt and stockings.

"I love you," I said to her without knowing who she was.
"I love you too," she said in a Californian accent. "Kiss me."
I kissed her hard on her mouth. "Sandra," I said, "Sandra Sanders, from the MacLeod household."
"Correct," she purred. "How'd you guess that?"
"Because the first thing I thought when I saw you was, I wonder what she feels like in bed. And I intend to find out."
"And how do I live up to your expectations?" she asked, as though she needed reassurance.
"You fulfil my desires. All of them and more," I said.
"Don't take my clothes off yet," she said, holding me very close, "don't rush. Just enjoy this beautiful underwear."
"The bra feels sexy," I said, "it's very close fitting and it lifts your breasts perfectly."
"Don't take it off yet. Try kissing my nipples through the cups."
"You're kinky," I told her.
"Seriously kinky. You can't imagine what I will make you do before morning, sexy boy. Go on, kiss me through the brassière."

I kissed her nipples with my mouth open and she gasped. "I knew you'd be good in bed," she said.
"Can we make love?" I asked. I hooked my finger around her panty crotch and pulled it to the side, exposing her special opening.
"Not yet. Don't rush. I have to cool you down. Relax, this won't take long."

Sandra took hold of my cock in her fingertips and, suddenly, made me pump my load into her hand.
"Come now," she said, and I felt her press a sensitive patch on my balls with great expertise.
"Oh! Where'd you learn do that?"
"Angel school. I prefer it when you're too limp to fuck me. You'll be limp for a little while. Don't worry, I'll let you get into me later. Now, don't touch my panties for the moment or I shall make you wet the bed."

Sandra lay herself on top of me and kissed me again, hotly and gently.

I put my arms around her hard, slender body and ran my fingers over the taut brassière straps.

"Brassières are the most erotic garment ever invented, aren't they?" said Sandra.
"I think so," I said, "unless you compare them with high heeled pumps."
"Do you like them? What colour?"
"Shocking pink," I said, "Glossy leather and long, narrow heels."
"Buy me a pair. I'm size seven. I'll wear them in bed and you can pump your load over them."
"May I piss on them?"
"I'd love that."
"Do you wear stockings with the pink pumps?" I asked her, resting my hand on her swollen, curved bottom.
"Definitely," she said, "with lace tops and a real garter belt with thick rubber straps… Uh, uh, don't touch the panties yet."
I held her tighter, and she said, "Well, I warned you. Naughty boys must be punished."

I'm still not sure how she did the trick, but one hand went to my pubic bone and the other lifted my cock, and suddenly, painlessly and uncontrollably I was pissing copiously in the bed.

"See," she crowed, "I told you I was kinky. I can make you piss yourself any time, any place I want. So obey me. Imagine being out at dinner with Lydia and suddenly wetting yourself uncontrollably."
"Yes, Miss Sandra," I said, nodding, "I shall obey you."
"Or suffer the consequences. Any more monkey business and I shall spank you."
"Do you think you're as good at spanking as my Mommy is?"
Sandra smiled at me and said peacefully, "I shall paddle your ass clean off."
"I will enjoy that," I said, having been gently spanked a couple of times by loving and gentle young women.
"Uh, uh," she said, meaning 'No, you won't.' "I quite like the smell of urine" she went on. "Did you ever have sex with the help before?"
I wrapped my arms around her upper body and that brassière again. "Only if my mom counts as the help."
"Are you telling me that you fuck your mother?"
"Yes."
"Why? When any woman would gladly take you in any position you can imagine."
"Well, we're used to it, she hasn't got anyone else, she's good at it…"
"What do you mean," she asked, "saying she hasn't got anyone else? Doesn't she work at Grannies?"
"Yes, and any woman who wants good casual sex can go there, strip off and meet as many men as she can handle. And Mom picks up boyfriends like pigeons pick up seeds. Mom is always bringing men home, and I don't blame her. She likes our regular long term relationship, though."
Sandra thought for a moment. "If I married you, would you still fuck your mom?"
"Yes," I said, "of course. But at least I wouldn't have to live with her."
"Where? Our place, or Mom's place, or some sleazy hotel room in the Bronx?"
"Anywhere. Hotel rooms, beaches, bars, trains, fields, department stores, the back seats of cars, public rest rooms."
"How about your and my bedroom," Sandra painted a beautiful picture, "on our four poster bed with satin sheets and a big mirror on the ceiling?"
"That would be our favourite," I said. "Mom would wear our wedding dress and a gold band."
"Can Mom make you piss the bed?"
"All she has to do," I told her, "is tell me to piss the bed."
"Is that something she asks often?"
"Once a week or so," I said. "You notice there's a plastic sheet on the bed."
"I thought that was for a little problem that you had," Sandra said, and we both laughed.
"Here, stretch out and let me try something." Sandra turned herself over. She lay on top of me, face up, her head resting on my right shoulder, so that my cock pressed against the material of the panties just where they moulded themselves to her bum cleft. "You can take my bra off now."

With the clasp open, her bra fell away and I was able to feel her breasts. "Wow," she said, "you've done that before."
"I have," I said, "although I'd rather have done it with you."

Sandra reached down and slipped her panties off. "There," she said, "you can do what you want with me now, as often as you want."

So I did.

5. Friday 8 April 1960

We woke up naked, soaking wet and happy. I hadn't felt quite so much at peace with a girlfriend for many years.

"Don't fret," said Sandra, "we'll do this again soon. I have other tricks that you haven't dreamed about yet."
"Such as?"
"I told you. Don't forget like that." she smiled, "I need size seven pink high heel pumps. Tell me when you've bought them and I'll come round."
"Anything else you'd like?"
"Brassieres, panties, garter belts, stockings, whatever turns you on."
"How about those tight rubber belts that keep the little paper pad in place?"
Sandra smirked. "Do you have a soft spot for sanitary belts?"
"Yeah," I said, "doesn't everybody?"
"I have three. You can wear one too, kinky boy."

I kissed her, long and hard. She really had guessed my soft spots.

I sat up, found the pack of Marlboroughs and the lighter, and offered Sandra a cigarette. She took it and we breathed smoke together quietly for a while.

"I ought to ask," I said, "do you know where Lydia is?"
"Why, do you still have enough strength to fuck her after, what, two hand jobs and four loads delivered?"
"Well, if she were here I'd give it my best shot…"
"She's twice my age," put in Sandra.
"And half your bra size," I said, "but I was thinking more about where she is and what might happen if there really was some sort of raid on the estate."
"As far as I know, Bert Burton is the only person who knows where she is. She's somewhere inland. Do you really prefer Lydia to me?"
"Well, she's the client, so if she wants me to fuck her, I pretty much have to get it out and push it in. It's a dreadful yob, but somebody has to do it."
"How awful for you," said Sandra, "although if she's not actually stripped naked and holding your cock to her target area, I'll always make myself available."
"You are absolutely gorgeous," I said, "and I never want to part from you."
"That's nice but all I want you to do is fuck me."
"I want to fuck you all day and every day," I said.
"Marry me," she said.
"You know," I said, seriously considering her proposal for a few seconds before realising the idea was off the wall, "I will never get a better offer. A beautiful woman who is used to keeping house asking for my hand in marriage: that will never happen again."
"But?" she asked.
"A private investigator isn't really a job for a husband," I said, "I'd have to throw it in and become a cattle rancher or a warehouseman."
"Be a warehouseman, then, or a draughtsman, or an administrator, or a storekeeper, or become the first full time nude male barkeep in the United States."
"When I need a career change I shall ruminate upon all those possibilities."
"Are you sure that you don't want to marry me? Because I'm ready and absolutely willing."
"Will you let me fuck you if we're not married?"
"Sure."
"Then thanks for the offer and I'm flattered beyond description. When I'm rich and famous, I shall still be single and full of desire—"
"Full of shit," laughed Sandra, "all men are full of shit."

That seemed the end of the conversation for the time being. I had never been proposed to before, and I had no idea how to decline gracefully, but Sandra seemed willing to carry on dating.

I kissed Sandra goodbye for now, with a promise to see her again soon. She was, truly, not only beautiful and sexy but also the best night in bed I'd had with a woman for months.

I needed to sleep for a couple of hours after a night of Sandra's seriously energetic love making. My lips were actually sore from kissing. One day, I thought, I will learn how to make love without expending so much energy that I fall asleep afterwards. When I came to, I pondered my options and decided it was time for a visit to Edeson Research. I had no idea where their company could be found, but Directory Assistance gave me the number.

"Hello," said the voice at the far end, "Edeson Research."

The voice was that of a Black lady who had lived a long time in the middle of New York.

"Good morning," I said, instinctively checking the clock on the department store opposite to make sure it was still morning. "Can you tell me your street address?"
"Number two, right on the corner of Schiff Boulevard and Bowery," she told me. "Do you want to make an appointment?"
"Yes," I said. "Is Woodrow Edeson available? Can he come to the phone?"
"Who shall I say is calling?" asked the Black voice.
"I'm cold calling from a socket factory," I said. "We have a sale on."
"He's right here," said the Black lady, who in my imagination was already busty, cute and wearing glossy pantyhose and a microskirt.

There was a short pause while Edeson took the phone. I trusted that he wouldn't recognise my voice straight away.

"Edeson." He gave his own name.
"Good morning. Could I drop in and see you some time around one pm? Maybe we could grab lunch together."
"Sure," he said.

A hunch hit me like an anvil falling out of an aeroplane. Call it experience, guesswork or fantasy, I don't know what inspired me to ask the question that came next.

"Can you bring the ransom note?"
"Sure." Then a hesitation and, "Say, who are you? Which ransom note?"
"Why, is there more than just the one?" It sounded like I had guessed about right.
"Hey! Who is this?"
"Sam Corsair, private investigator. Sorry, I should have introduced myself by now. You met me on the MacLeod estate the other day and you spent half the night trying to sell me a saucepan."
"I mean," he faltered, "that should anyone give me a ransom note, I'll be sure tp bring it with me."
"Don't worry about people bringing ransom notes to you. Just bring the one you already have. Unless you already have two, of course. See you later."

I hung up. My watch said that if I wanted to have lunch at the corner of Schiff and Bowery, I should make myself spruce and tidy and get into the car straight away.

2 Schiff and Bowery was a three story block that looked as though it had been built in 1900 and spent most of its life as a munitions factory. There was an arched doorway facing the street, bearing the names of several companies that I had never heard of, and at the bottom, Edeson Research. I pushed the door open just on one o'clock, and Woodrow Edeson, good as his word, was standing in the tiled, echoing hallway. He opened the door to an office on the ground floor. He even shook my hand. It looked as though his office occupied most of the first and second storeys.

"I'm sorry, Mr Edeson," I said, "We have to talk. Now, I know there are a couple of fine dining restaurants less than a mile away, and I know you expect your business visitors to take you to at least one of them, but I owe the office rent and my expenses don't stretch to Michelin five star. Would it be OK if we just found a burger bar or something nearby?"
"Wimpy's Diner?" He pointed. "It's over there. You chose it but I'm buying. Have whatever you want. Extra cheese, extra ketchup, coffee, doughnut, you just name it."
"Great." We began to walk towards the Wimpy franchise down the street.

Inside the diner, where the staff knew him by name, I sat trying to eat a hamburger with a knife and fork while Edeson gave me the ransom note and the envelope it came in. He asked me how I knew he'd received a ransom note.

"I didn't know," I said truthfully, "It was a shot in the dark. Why didn't you tell me you'd had a ransom demand? Time is precious when someone has gone missing and you don't know who or where the bad guys are. Who gave it to you?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" A note of irritation worked itself into my voice.
"I came to work this morning and it was lying on the floor."
"Which floor Which room?" I asked through a mouthful of hamburger.
"The room with the receptionist's desk," said Edeson. "Someone had pushed it under the door."
"Now I remember how your office is laid out," I said, staring into the street, "whoever it was came in through the street door, walked across the hallway…"
"Where I was waiting to meet you this morning," Edison put in.
"And he pushed the note in its envelope under the door to your office."
"To the receptionist's office."
"Yeah, your office is nearby, I take it," I said.
"My office is at the back of the receptionist's office," said Edeson, "you have to go through the receptionist's office if you want to get into mine."
"How long would it take to get into the building, push a note under your receptionist's office door and leave the building, how long would that take, do you think?"
"A minute," said Edeson, "maybe two."
"Yeah," I said thoughfully, looking at the remaining half hamburger and trying to work out how to hold it. "A minute, two minutes maybe. That's what I was thinking."
"And you just knew about the note by gut instinct, Mr Corsair—" Edeson was incredulous.
"No, well, yes, but also by knowledge and experience. Lydia is a classic kidnap victim," I said, making a hash of cutting a piece of bread and patty off the burger. "A rich heiress in an unguarded house, not overlooked. And you found that ransom note on the office floor?"
"It had been pushed under the door, and it was on the floor in the doorway, near the receptionist's desk," Edeson said.
"Any idea what time that would've been?" I asked him
"Before eight in the morning," said Edeson. "I'm always here before eight. This morning, seven forty-five maybe. You can eat with your fingers, pick the burger up, by the way. Everybody else does."
"You've got something they want," I said, picking the burger up and biting a piece off. "The engineers' drawings of the next generation of electrical appliances. Sorry I'm talking with my mouth full but this really is a jolly decent hamburger. They might want to steal the designs and sell them to the competition, or they might realise that you're about to become very rich indeed and they might try to extort mone from you. Or they might have been hired by a present generation electric company to sabotage your new technology. On top of all that, you've known Lydia for years. I guessed that they got to Lydia because they want to get at you."
"And who are they, Mr Corsair?" Edeson asked, expecting me to know.
"I don't know." I shook my head. "I have a feeling that we shall shortly find out, and with a bit of luck someone at the county jail will work out who they are."
"Are they dangerous?"
"Well, Mr Edeson, look at it this way. They shot two police officers. Can you shoot straight?"
"I don't own a gun," he said.
"Get one," I advised him, "and carry it with you. Learn to point it at people and shout ‘Drop your weapon’ without it going off."
"Do you carry a gun?" he asked me.
"No," I said, "My hands shake and I can't risk shooting myself in the foot, so I have health insurance instead." I gave him my card. "Stay in touch. Oh, by the way, can I ask you about the fine dining restaurants near here?"
"There are two, Les Amis on White Cloud Avenue and The Crown on Foggy Quay."
"Say," I said, "I think I heard of Les Amis. Real Parisian cuisine, isn't that the one?"
"Yes," he said, "I know the maître d', Perrin Dubeau, and he says the kitchen doesn't have a can opener."
Yes, I think I've been there once. Is that where you take Lydia on dinner dates?"
"Yes. Perrin gets us a table in a dark corner— How did you know that?"
"Shot in the dark."
Edeson looked at his wristwatch. "Is that the time? My word, I'm expecting a phone call. I must dash."

Edeson paid the bill, true to his word, and left. I sat at the table and watched him walk back down the road to his office. I suppose this lunch had been a success, in that I knew more about Woodrow Edeson now than I did an hour ago.

I ordered a large coffee and drained it slowly. When I left Wimpy's Diner I visited the liquor store next door, where I bought a quarter bottle and filled my hip flask from it. The storekeeper, selling me a quarter bottle, thought I was a skinflint. After that, I felt that I had done enough investigating for the day and I needed some serious loving.

I drove to Mom's house. Mom was there, waving to me through the window while making the place beautiful endless housework fuelled by countless cups of coffee.

"Hi, son," she said, without turning around, as I walked in, "Where you been?"

Mom always talked as though I hadn't been out of the room for more than a couple of minutes, yet I'd been away for almost a week.

"I've been eating a hamburger and listening to a company director telling me so many lies that I thought his pants would catch fire."

"Liar, liar, pants on fire," Mom recited, "and talking of pants catching fire, I need some good sex. I haven't had it for days. Are you free to get your pants off just now?"
"How come you haven't had it for days? Don't you get plenty of offers at Grannies?"
"They don't count. That's all on the outside. Do you realise I don't even take money for them?"
"Yes, Mom," I said. "I knew that."
"That's how little it means to me, Sam. Deep inside my immortal soul, I'm saving myself for you."
"That's good," I said, "and just as soon as I've had another good look at Lydia's ransom note, I'll strip naked."
"You keep me waiting, and I'll paddle you until your ass bleeds. Coffee?" Mom always seemed to have a wooden punishment paddle and a flask of coffee standing around somewhere just so that she could use either of them on me if I turned up out of the blue. If I turned up unexpectedly at Mom's house in the middle of the night, saying I had to cut short my trip to the North Pole, and Mom was in bed asleep, Mom would still have a cup of hot coffee just sitting in the kitchen, waiting to make me feel properly at home, and a paddle in case I did anything she disapproved of. I guess that's how ten year old kids feel.
"Thanks, Mom. Want to stare at the ransom note and search for clues with me?"

The envelope was plain, clean and just said "Woodrow Edison" in block capitals: that's right, Edison with an i, not an e. The ransom note itself was, well, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The words had been cut out of a newspaper and stuck onto a sheet of plain foolscap paper. The family name wasn't the family name at all, but the company name. Somebody had been reading the Nursery Book of Serious Crime.

Give me the designs or Lydia dies.
At the bottom of the sheet was a drawing of an ear of maize.

"Who's it from?" asked Mom.
"Don't know," I said, "they have a curiously illegible signature."
"They know what a ransom note is supposed to look like," she said.
"Yes," I said, "but not what it's supposed to say. Who is Edeson supposed to give the designs to? When does he have to do it? And, just in case… the designs for what? Do they know about Edeson's new technology, or is it something different?"
"And why not just do a patent search?" asked Mom. "They could find everything they wanted to know."

Mom was right, of course. "I never thought of that," I admitted, "all this kidnap and mayhem is pointless, unless the purpose of kidnapping Lydia isn't to get the designs, but something else altogether."

"Sam, are you going to fuck me?" said Mom, losing patience, "or do I have to use that vibrating plastic thing?"
"Yes, I want to fuck you." I said, "I never wanted it more."
"That's good because I need it too, in case youhaven't noticed," said Mom, and she lay down on the bed for me.

I lifted her sweater off over her head, unzipped the skirt and slid it downwards, and I feasted my eyes on the sight of her in her red satin brassiere and panties. Mom was gorgeous. Without taking my eyes off her, I undressed and lay down beside her. She reached for my balls and held them, silently making my cock straighten and pulse gently.

"You put on the red outfit. You must've known I was coming," I said.
"I've been wearing nice underwear for a week now," Mom told me. "I just hoped you might turn up out of the blue. Besides, the outfit turns me on, too. I feel like," she lowered her voice to a stage whisper, "a sexy bitch."
"I truly love you," I said to her, "you sexy bitch."
Mom smirked. "I love you too. Just pull the panties to one side, I love it when you do that."
"You've shaved," I said as I umcovered Mom's hidden delights. "You know what that does to me."
"I am just so horny," she said. I kissed Mom's kitty and made her groan with pleasure. "Ooh! That's right," she said.

I turned, lay on top of her body and slid my cock into the place. I lasted less than a minute and I came hard.

"Thank you," said Mom, "I love you, too. You are just too good at it."

Mom was asleep in her bed, and I was in the public library. I thought I'd seen the ear of corn design somewhere before. Not wanting to take the ransom note anywhere where someone might find it and steal it, or — worse — tell the newspapers about it, I copied the note into my notebook and I came here to do a bit of searching and a lot more guesswork. I was looking for some connection between an ear of maize design and some of the electrical companies that were competing with Edeson Research. A couple of companies did, indeed, have similar designs in their advertising or on their accounts, but that begged the question of why such a company would, directly or by hiring intermediaries, kidnap the wife of a company director and demand information about their forthcoming products when, as Mom had realised, a visit to the patent office and a couple of dollars in fees would probably have told them everything they needed to know, including how the technology worked and who could license the right to develop a version of it.

I didn't come across any leads, but then leads rarely come from sitting at a desk. I thanked the librarian, settled my homburg back on my head and walked out onto the street looking as gritty and determined as I could manage.

There was a recreation ground about two hundred yards away. It was a small piece of land, a sort of exercise yard with grass and no cell blocks, nearly empty of people, and sitting on a bench in the middle of the tatty lawn I wasn't overlooked, I didn't have a greasy table and used crocks in front of me and I wasn't enduring the racket of traffic noise. It was quiet enough, I hoped, to hear anyone sneak up on me, which in view of the fates of Renko and Esterhouse seemed a medium strength possibility. I looked around. I was the only person in the park and nobody I saw on the street seemed interested in walking towards me and waving a gun in my face, so relaxed a little. I lit a Marlborough and drew on it. As happens in such moments, I looked at one of the trees and suddenly I felt that the world was a less troubled place, thanks to parks, trees and the astonishing invention of Mr Marlboro.

I mused on what reason a man would have to draw an ear of maize at the bottom of a ransom note. That he had not written instructions on how to pay the ransom — where to take the designs that he wanted, where to leave them, what they should illustrate, and the ubiquitous Don't call the Police! were all missing. This kidnapper was both ruthless enough to shoot two police officers dead and at the same time inexperienced, or dim witted, enough to send a ransom note without the vital instructions.

What did I know about the writer? He lived locally, or he had local contacts. Otherwise he — or she, perhaps — would have had to post the note, and the envelope would have borne a stamp and an address. I guessed too that he had hired a hit man, because the sheer violence, and competence, of the kidnapping was so completely at odds with the buffoon who thought you had to demand a ransom by sending a ransom note which you made by cutting and sticking letters from newspapers.

So, I concluded, I was looking for two kidnappers, one a bad guy, competent, and one a novice, who owned a piece of paper, a couple of newspapers, a pair of scissors and tube of glue. And, it dawned on me, the inexperienced one quite likely had a massive financial interest in acquiring Edeson's designs. I finished the cigarette and moseyed over to the car. We were going on a hunt for knowledge.

"Has Edeson Research filed any patent applications in the last five years?" I asked the clerk, whose badge told me his name was Thomas Jefferson and his parents were keen practical jokers.
"Take a seat, sir," he said, making a note of my query on a scrap of paper and handing me a salmon pink cloakroom ticket numbered 147.
"Number 105," I heard a woman call from a desk at the other end of the hall. I didn't see anybody get up and walk towards her, and I had a tough job not standing up and yelling, "He died of hunger." The woman repeated the call, "Number 105", and this time a young man stood up and went towards her. They engaged in conversation over a small sheaf of paper.

I was sitting in the New York patent office, wondering whether I dared light a Marlborough as I waited for someone to call my number. I felt that taking a draught of Glenkinchie from my hip flask might be a faux pas too. Had it really not occurred to me that in a place on which industrial commerce depends for its livelihood, there would be dozens of people consulting the records and I might have a long wait? I could just see out of a window and watch the traffic going past. It was going to be a long afternoon.

"Number 147." A long while had passed. Thomas Jefferson was standing at the back desk. "I'm sorry you had to wait so long, sir."

Mr Jefferson gave me three photocopied pages.

"These are all the patents that Edeson Research have filed since January nineteen fifty-five. The oldest one has been granted. The other two are still being examined."
"Since nineteen fifty-five?"
"Not quite. Since nineteen fifty-seven. See?" He pointed to a date stamp. "Both of them were first filed in nineteen fifty-seven…" he looked through the photocopies, "…March and July. It's a long process, I'm afraid."
"And is this the whole of the patent?"
"No," said Mr Jefferson, "the full patent can be as long as a book, but this sheet tells you its name, serial number, inventor, applicant, legal representative and a summary. It's enough for you to decide whether to spend the price of a family holiday in Paris on the complete patent."
"Do you keep records of who consults these patents?"
"After a fashion, yes, sir, You could go through our receipts because the patent serial numbers are on them. But there are three things you need to know before I hand you the copy receipts. First, there are thirteen thousand of them per year. Secondly, the visitor is free to pay cash and if he does, I can't stop him giving a false name. Thirdly, without breaking any confidences I can tell you, unofficially of course, that you're the first person who has consulted any of the patents filed by that company."
"Are you sure of that?"
"We keep track of who reads what. So we can't become a party to industrial espionage."
"And how many people pay by cash instead of by cheque?"
"Most of them," said Mr Jefferson. "That'll be thirty cents."

I gave him cash, signed the receipt 'Popeye the Sailor' and left the office, clutching my precious three sheets of photocopying. Outside, in the evening sunlight, I lit a long needed cigarette. In the car, ten minutes later, I leafed through the photocopied sheets, reading the titles.

55-234852. September 6, 1955. Wireless distribution of electric power. Summary. By exploiting stochastic symmetries we have demonstrated far-reaching and pervasive dichotomies in our understanding of excitatory disconnected transmission networks…

I didn't understand a word of it. I didn't even know any particle physicists who could maybe, in a million years, tell me what it meant, except that this gibberish was worth a fortune and had already cost the lives of two victims while a third had gone missing.

57-318214. March 18, 1957. Cost effective wireless relaying of high amperage electric power.

I skipped over the summary. I wouldn't have understood it anyway. The last sheet ran,

57-489338. July 22, 1957. The pan that boils: A means of supplying cordless appliance with cheap high current, low voltage electric power.

Anyone who had looked at these patents for one minute would have known the sort of work that Edeson Research were doing. It seemed that someone preferred to spend their money on a hit man rather than paying the cost of three family holidays in Paris to the Patent and Trade Mark office. I asked myself why anyone, anyone, however far removed from reality, would want to do that.

At the office desk, late at night, I sat staring at the ransom note and it stared right back at me. Lydia was abducted early on Wednesday 6th, so this note must have been pieced together on the same day, or just before. That was the day I had bought the local daily paper, City News, to read the story under the front page headline, MacLeod Heiress Vanishes. I hadn't emptied the trash since Wednesday. Remiss of me, I know, but there in the wicker waste paper basket was the City News that had my photograph and the accolade as New York's top Private Investigator on the front page. I should never have put it into the wastebasket. I should have had it framed.

With a sense of pride I opened the newspaper and there, right on the front page in the bottom right, was an advertisement for Givenchy, and the first four letters matched the cut-out word 'Give' on the ransom note.

Coincidence, probably, but next up was the word 'the,' which happened to match the type face in which City News had set the heading 'Other News.' Same size, same style. Then 'designs,' which came from the title of a story about an architecture student winning an award. I finished the job. The words on the ransom note had been cut from the City News dated April 6, apart from Lydia, half of which had been cut from 'easily' and the other half from 'sundial.'

The only thing I didn't know about the ransom note, then, was the meaning of the ear of maize which appeared at the end of its brief message, where the signature ought to be. I would have phoned a friend, except that I couldn't show the ear of maize to a friend over the phone. I had to go in person.

It was five in the evening now, that time of day when men all over the city put on their coats, turn off the lights, leave their offices and go home. I thought my friend Sherman Potter might be able to spare five minutes to identify a hit man, or at least to identify the organisation which was representing him. Sherman was a much travelled man whose soldiers had been fought in half the defeats that American forces had suffered since nineteen thirty nine. I drove to the Army Barracks on Fort Hamilton and asked the man on gatehouse duty whether I might speak to Colonel Potter. He made a phone call, let me park and walk across the drill yard to a door behind which, he told me, Sherman could be found in a room off the hallway.

After following my nose along several different corridors for a quarter of an hour or so, I caught up with Sherman where I knew I would find him, propping up the bar in the officers' mess. The first person I spoke to after I finished coughing in the cigarette fug was the barkeep, of course, who didn't have Glenkinchie but would happily pour me a Bells and hand me a book of matches for my Marlboro. I wasn't so sure about happily drinking a Bells, but this is the Army, Mr Corsair, and in this world civilians can't be choosers. Yes, he told me, Sherman Potter was back from Korea. For the last month or so he was often in of an evening. Wasn't that him, over there?

"Sherman," I said to him when I managed to elbow my way through the crowd, "I need your help. Some guy hired a hit man and I have only one thing to go on."
"That's one more than you usually have," said Sherman.
I let the gibe wash off me. "Sherman," I asked him, "if you wanted to hire a hit man to kidnap a rich heiress, who would you call?"
"I'd call myself," he said, "I'd take the money if the price was right."
"Next time a client doesn't pay the bill on time, I'll call you."
"Now," said Sherman, "is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Take a look at this."
Sherman stared at my attempted copy of that ear of maize for a full minute and concluded, "Your three year old's been drawing healthy vegetables. They do that sort of thing at school nowadays."
"If I had a three year old," I said, "I'd make sure he never ate maize except in the form of corn flakes."
"You're a wise father," he nodded.
"You don't recognise this symbol?" I asked.
"Not at all," he said, "sorry. I've been in Korea."

I bought us both a Scotch, sat with him drinking and putting the world to rights for a while, and suddenly it was ten o'clock.

"Sherman, thanks for your time," I said, "I have to get home or my Mom will wonder where I am."

I stood up to go.

"About the ear of corn," he shouted after me as I left and he went back to join his buddies, "try asking in a museum."
"I will," I said. "They're next on my list."

Even with my head spinning slightly &mdash, Bell's does that to me if I drink enough of it — I couldn't leave the car on an Army base, so I drove with especial care to Grannies. On the way I knocked someone's wing mirror off and ran a couple of red lights, but nobody noticed. I didn't need to eat any more, but at Grannies the drink was good and I had a chance to gaze upon the naked bodies of Norma and Ellie. In the circumstances, I was spending a happy evening.

6. Saturday 9 April 1960

I spent the night at home with Mom, slept more soundly than in recent nights, and in the morning I decided to go into the office. I felt as though I had the facts, or at least most of the facts. I needed to settle down in the quiet and mull things over. This, I felt, as a two Marlboro problem. It was as well I chose to spend today in the office, because barely had I closed the door and sat down with my notebook and pencil than a man came hammering on the door in a state of panic. So much for mulling things over in peace and quiet and solving the crime while getting through two Marlboros.

"Are you Sam Corsair? Thank the Lord it's you. Find my wife!" he hollered as soon as I had opened the door to him. "I'll pay you anything. Find my wife."

To be honest about it, this walking cliché of a client appeared to have just made a promise to pay a sum which, come the day the bill arrived, he might well be unable to fulfil.

"I shall," I said. "My fee is twenty dollars a day plus all expenses. Do you—"
"Yes. Yes." He was a male in great distress. "Do something. Don't just stand there."
"Well, I would be out on the trail already, but my sniffer dog Mukhtar's still having breakfast," I told him. "How about, while he's finishing off the hash browns and the fried egg and spreads marmalade on his toast, you tell me what happened."
"You actually let your dog eat hash browns?" The man obviously found the idea shocking.
"Sure. Provided he gets pickles and maple syrup with them, they're his favourite food."
"And he spreads marmalade on toast all by himself?" The guy was not only credulous, but outraged. This was the part of a wind-up that really made me laugh afterwards. "You don't help him when he needs it?"
"He's left footed," I told him, "so I got him a left handed jam knife."
"You'll make him ill! You shouldn't give that sort of food to a dog!"
"Keep your voice down," I said, "you don't want to make an enemy of an Alsatian dog that's twice your size."
"He needs, er…" the guy paused and thought for a moment and then added, "he needs proper dog food."
"By rights he shouldn't even be here because it's the week-end," I said, trying to calm him down and not succeeding very well. "He should be out in the countryside relaxing, chasing cats, stealing picnics and pissing up trees. Now, why don't you grab a chair and tell me what happened."

Quite by chance a woman was walking two dogs down the street outside the office window and one of them suddenly started barking wildly. I could see them, but my visitor couldn't: he could only hear a dog barking somewhere outside.

"He wants his cup of coffee," I said, "and after that he'll be fit to work."
"Your dog drinks coffee?"
"He's my partner," I said. "He wants to work with me, he eats, smokes and drinks the same as me. It keeps his investigative brain in first class working order. I ask you, how could any dog investigate a crime with nothing in his stomach but a lousy tin of dog food? Let's you and I sit down together and then I can collect all the facts. Cigarette?"
"No, thanks," said the fellow.
"I'd smoke it myself but it's my last one and I have to keep it for the dog."

We sat down at the office desk and I took up my notebook and pencil.

"Name?"
"Lisa," he said, "her name's Lisa."
"And your name is…?"
"Douglas. Oliver Douglas. Look, can we put the form filling aside for a moment while—"
"Sure." I put the notebook down and engaged my trusted memory instead. "What happened?"
"Two guys broke in and made us go with them."
"And?"

It was a long interview, as in his distress Oliver could scarcely form a grammatical sentence. Gradually I got the picture. Late Wednesday night two men, speaking Spanish, had knocked on the door of a farmhouse in bucolic Danbury, in which Oliver and Lisa Douglas lived. They had easily pushed their way inside, pointed handguns at the couple, who were in their sixties, put them into separate cars and had carted them off to separate destinations. Oliver had no idea where they had taken his wife Lisa. One of the bad guys stood guard over him but when the guard locked the door and went off to get cigarettes and beer, Oliver had managed to escape. I wasn't clear on the details, but the guard wasn't the brightest spark in the bonfire and he left a key somewhere that Oliver managed to take hold of. Once outside Oliver flagged down a car and, terrified, shrieked at the driver take him to New York, sixty miles away. Fortunately the driver of the car was going there anyway and after listening to his passenger's incoherent account of being held against his will, he dropped him outside the first police station he came to, saying, "Go in there and tell them."

"So why did you come here?" I asked him. "I mean, surely you thought that a police station would be a better place to start a search operation than an office on the East Side."
"Because the guy at the library said he knew you, and I can't go to the police," he said.
"I don't get it," I said, because I didn't get it. "What does the library and the guy in it have to do with anything?"
"The library was next door to the police station."

The surreal nature of the conversation was beginning to alarm me. Was I on drugs and hadn't noticed?

"Mr Douglas," I said, "I can investigate an event. I might be able to tell you where your wife is and who put her there. If there's nobody pointing a gun at me I might be able to free her. But, look, if you want to see the criminals caught and locked up, you have to talk to the police. They can do that sort of thing. They can shoot people if they really want to. But even if I find the crooks who did this, I can't put them away."
"What on earth do you mean, you can't put them away?"
"I can't put them away. I can't send them off to jail. For one thing, they could go to the police and complain. I'd never work again."
Oliver hesitated, and then repeated, "I can't talk to the police," in the tone of one admitting a grave crime.
"Why on earth not?" I asked. "Your wife is a victim of abduction, so they'll be on your side and besides, that's what you pay them for."
"Because we're…" It was obviously a great effort for Oliver to confess his criminal history. "Because we're squatters."
I was astonished. "Squatters? What do you mean?"
"We don't have any right to live in the farmhouse. Or to farm the land. When the war ended we were destitute like everyone else, and we found an overgrown farm with an empty farmhouse. We moved in, just to have a roof over our heads. We never stole anything, or took anything that didn't belong to us. Nobody ever came to the door and told us to move out, so we just stayed there, toiled on the land and sold what we could grow."
"Darndest thing I ever heard," I said. "You never registered to vote, or anything?"
"No," he said, "it wasn't worth the risk. Mr Corsair, you won't report us, will you?" Oliver clearly believed he could go to jail if anyone breathed a word of his story.
"No. You're safe. Your secret is safe in this office. I haven't even written it down. Do you have a place to stay for a few nights while Mukhtar and I sort this out?"
"If I can get to a bank I can draw some cash and stay in a hostel somewhere."
"Fine," I said, "do that, but tell me if you find yourself living on the streets. Keep your head down. Look," I gave him my business card, "here's my phone number. Find somewhere you can stay for a few days and don't tell anyone where you're staying. Except me, of course."
"What will you do first?" he asked me, obviously having a high estimate of my ability to plan ahead.
"I shall take Mukhtar his morning bowl of coffee," I said, "and a biscuit, before he gets too thirsty. Do you want some?"
"No thanks," said Oliver. "Your dog is probably thirstier than I am. What sort of biscuit?"
"A dog biscuit," I said, "of course."
"A proper dog biscuit, cooked specially by a dog in a chef's hat in the kitchen of a dog biscuit company for dogs to eat?"
"Of course," I said. "Do you think I'd risk giving the poor animal a chocolate digestive?"

The silence that followed was audible.

"Did you bring a picture of this lady? Photo or something?"
"Here."

Oliver handed me two black and white photographs of a cute middle aged lady with elaborately coiffed hair. Brown eyes and chestnut hair.

"How old is Lisa?" I asked Oliver.
"Forty five," he said.
"Do you two live together?" I asked.
"Of course. 1600 Pleasant Avenue, near the river," said Oliver, "we've been together for years."
"And can you write your address and phone number in big letters, just there?" I pointed to a spot near the bottom of the page. Oliver wrote the details down.
"I'll get back to you," I said. "She'll probably turn up within a day or two. Phone me straight away if she does."

Oliver Douglas left the office. I think he still believed that I had a tracker dog called Mukhtar who would know by canine instinct where his wife was. Unfortunately no such animal existed and the only people who knew where she was were probably the kidnappers.

The trouble was, and I was glad that Oliver Douglas hadn't worked this out for himself, that once the bandits found he was missing, they would try to torture information about his whereabouts from his wife. If Oliver's story was correct, then his wife didn't know where he was, and that might lead to any kind of unpleasantness.

I went to Ramsey first, to check whether anything untoward had happened on the MacLeod estate. I drove to The House.

"Any news?" I asked.
"I thought you might tell us something," said Bert Burton.
"Is Lydia all right?" I asked him.
"She'd prefer to be back here," he said.
"And has there been any attempt to steal the prototype electricals? The museum pieces, for instance?" I asked him.
"None," he said.
"None so far, at least," I said. "Have you any idea what those old appliances would be worth to a competent thief?"
"If you want a figure in dollars," he said, "then no, I don't, but if they get exclusive rights to the Edison Research patents, they could end up owning and running half the electric power industry of the United States. That's a lot of money."
"Many millions, I'm sure," I said, "but why resort to theft? See, I went to the Patents Office and they showed me full descriptions of how it all works. Why not just pay the guys at the Patent Office and take all the details home in a paper bag?"

Nobody suggested any reason so I went ahead and asked, "Has anything out of the ordinary happened?"
The staff looked at each other but couldn't think of anything.
"Where's Marshall Marsh?" I asked. "Has he noticed anything in the grounds? Footprints, guns, bullets, that sort of thing?"
"He's been out since early this morning, shooting rabbits," said Fanny, the cook.

I was still sure that I was missing something, maybe something right in front of me.

"Is Sandra here?" I asked nobody in particular.
"Hi," she said, from the back of the room.
"Sandra," I asked her, "what do you know about the old Edison Electric installation in the house?"
"Well, not much. This room, the lobby, the master bedroom and the kitchen had electric lights and a couple of power outlets supplied by Edison for demonstrations. They've been filmed and photographed a few times, but the last time it was all tested, checked and put in working order was in 1930 for the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Street. I can show you the fittings and things. You can see the lampshades and the bulb sockets on the ceiling in here and the odd looking brown knobs on the wall. They're the switches. If you go into the kitchen there are a couple of power outlets of Edison's design. Apart from that, the generator is in the basement and there are two lamp standards outside in the quad."
"You know all about it?" I was surprised at how detailed her knowledge was.
"Yes. Someone has to know their way around it, in case there's a repeat performance in front of the television cameras in 1982."
"Nineteen eighty two?"
"Hundredth anniversary," said Sandra. "I'm sure someone will want to celebrate the centenary, even though the company went bust and nobody recognises its products."
"Do you ever spin up the generator to see what happens?"
"I wouldn't chance that unless the fire brigade were standing by on site!" Sandra laughed. "This is hundred year old equipment we're talking about. You wouldn't even sit on a hundred year old chair, let alone turn on a dozen hundred year old electric lights."
"Just out of interest," I asked, "if I promise not to turn it on, what electrical equipment did the kitchen use the outlets for?"
"They had a cooker, a copper and a meat grinder. Coppers and grinders never made it through the War. But the stuff's a fire hazard now, and any of the pieces will probably electrocute you if you plug it in and touch it, so strictly no demonstrations."
"A copper? What's that?" I asked.
"A sort of heated barrel. You fill it with water, add soap and use it to do laundry. An ancestor of the washing machine."
"How about electric blankets in the bedroom?"
"There weren't any electric blankets in 1882," said Sandra, pretending to take my question seriously, "only manual ones."
"Right," I said, as though knowingly. "How valuable is all this stuff?"
"Worthless as far as I know," said Sandra, "a museum might give you two cents for the lot of it. A student of the public understanding of physics, if there is one—"
"Which, I suppose, sooner or later there will be," I put in, and Sandra ignored me.
"—would find it interesting to see how the first ever customers of an electricity company turned the lights on, and how they boiled water for laundry. But as for removing it all and sending it to the Peaceful Arts Museum, I doubt they'd be interested in clutter that they could buy for a few dollars from the bargain basement of any long established hardware store if they wanted it. And then we'd have to fix all the holes where the switches and the wires and the lamps and the outlets used to be."
"I can see that would be a lot of work," I said.
"I expect it will all stay in this house until the day it falls down," said Sandra, "and besides, nobody thought of preserving kerosene lamps and matches so that students could see what it was that Edison Electric superseded."
"But you have Tilly lamps," I said. "One of the Tilly lamps was stolen, along with a pile of other junk, which is how I got involved in all this."
"Do we?" Sandra asked. "I never knew we had Tilly lamps. I haven't seen one of them for… for ever, actually."

I heard the noise of a door opening behind me. I froze. It could have been anybody, and whoever it was could have evil intent and a large gun. I started to put my hands up.

"Son?" It was Mom. I turned around and she added unnecessarily, "I thought I'd find you here."
"Mom, I'm conducting an investigation."
"I've got needs that you can't imagine." Mom's needs were great, and I often imagined them with great interest. "Is there a room we can book?"
"Upstairs, Mom. Through here."

We went upstairs and back into the bedroom. She threw her coat onto the floor. I put my arm around Mom's shoulders and pulled her towards me. She kissed my mouth hard, and I felt her hand groping me and then opening the buttons on my pants. Mom took hold of my balls in one hand and squeezed so hard that it almost hurt. She massaged my balls until my cock was ready to pump its load, then took the tip of the cock between her thumb and forefinger.

"I need this," she told me breathily.
"You'll get it," I said, "full force."
"Don't you dare come straight away." She knew I was working hard to hold out until she let me enter her.
"I wouldn't dare to, Mom," I said, knowing how hard she would spank me if I did.

Mom lay on the bed, parted her legs and let me slip into her. She gasped and raised her hips towards me, murmuring "Come now, I love you." The incantation worked: I knew she meant it. Our lips joined and our tongues licked each others' mouths. I pumped my milk deep inside her. We were happier than any husband and wife could have known.

"Mom," I said, "I'll take you home in an hour or two but first, there's something I have to do. I just want you to ride along in the car while I talk to a couple of people. Is that OK with you?"
"Will I get shot?" said Mom.
"I don't think so," I said.

We came downstairs and back into the lounge trying to look respectable. "I don't need to keep you any longer," I said to everyone there, "but has anyone seen Castilio?"
"Try the MacLeod office," said Bert.

Mom and I climbed into the car and drove out to the MacLeod office. We didn't stay there for long.

Manny opened the door to us. He was in the MacLeod office working alone with a sewing machine and what looked like leopard pelt, and he hadn't seen Castilio. "He's probably at home," Manny guessed, "I haven't seen him today. He has his off days like anyone else."
"You're telling me that he just might have been on the fire-water," I said.
"I'd say that was a strong possibility, but he's a good worker and he makes damned fine clothes, so we don't complain too loudly."
"My Mom needs a new winter coat," I said, and immediately I wished I'd kept my mouth shut.
"Five hundred dollars," said Manny, "plus sales tax, and it'll be ready in a week."
"Cancel my order," I said, "it was a mistake."

We drove the car over the loose stones of the village main road to number ten and knocked. Calisto Villalobos came to the door looking bedraggled and wearing a bathrobe.

"Mr Corsair," he said in his Spanish accent. "Sorry, I look awful because I've been on the fire-water."
"It never did me any harm," I said, although mine was made in a distillery in Pencaitland, somewhere in Scotland, and Calisto's came from some unimaginable basement that had probably survived by selling lethal doses of fermented hogwash since Prohibition.
"Can I help you, Mr Corsair?" Calisto offered.
"Yes," I said, "it's only a small thing but it matters. Did you happen to see the story about me and Lydia MacLeod in City News?"
"Sí, señor," he said.
"You don't still happen to have it in the house, do you? I need to look at it for a moment."
"Señor," Calisto beamed, "the story that made you famous is in the bin here." He reached into the bin in the corner of the room and pulled out City News.
"Might I take this with me?"
"Of course, señor. Had I known you might want it, I would have had it framed. Now, señor Corsair, as you can imagine, I have to go and lie down in the dark."
"Sure. Adios. Stick to decent whisky next time you're on a night out. I recommend Scotch."
"Believe me, señor, if I survive this night I shall never touch bargain basement moonshine again. Estoy en el vagón."
"This bargain basement," I asked him. "Were you buying, selling or manufacturing, Calisto?"
Calisto laughed. "You are always making your little jokes, Señor. Buf√≥n."

He didn't mean a word of it, of course.

I brought the newspaper out of the house and lifted myself into the car. Sitting next to Mom, I unfolded the newspaper with a flourish. "I think we just solved a mystery," I told her. "It isn't the mystery at the top of the list, but it is a start."
"And what is so mysterious?" Mom asked.

I opened the front page. Half of the next inside page was torn out. "The mystery of who made the ransom note. That missing half page used to be an advertisement for Givenchy," I told her. "Calisto made the first word of the ransom note out of that page. First four letters of Givenchy, see?"
"How do you know? Maybe he just ran clean out of toilet paper."
"Maybe he did," I told Mom, "or maybe he needed to remind himself to buy a bottle of perfume, but I'm not done looking for evidence yet. I think I've guessed pretty well."
"I'm sure you have," said Mom.
"So we have one mystery down and several more to go."

As we drove out of Ramsey onto the Franklin Turnpike, I noticed the clock on the tower in the square was showing half past six. "We'll be home by eight," I told Mom.
"Don't step on it, son" she said, "I want to enjoy the ride. Take it easy."
"Sure," I said.

We were coasting along the turnpike at maybe twenty five miles an hour, which was slow enough for Mom to open the windows, feel the breeze and enjoy the view of suburban houses, shops, post offices and gas stations that lined the road on both sides. Mom was staring out at the mountains. "Son, I really ought to learn to ski one day," she let slip in an unguarded moment, and we both laughed.

"Will it be all right if I spend the night at your house?" I asked Mom.
"Sure, son. You know I prefer not to be alone."

An ambulance came from behind me, going full speed with its headlights flashing and its siren making a noise that could have woken the dead. "Gosh, Mom," I said as I pulled over, "If I ever have a heart attack, try to get that driver the job of picking me up and taking me to the hospital."

The ambulance overtook me as I stopped at the kerb, then suddenly braked and came to a stop was a few yards ahead of me. The back of the ambulance was fitted with heavy duty bull bars. It reversed at speed, deliberately crashing into my car, crumpling the hood, breaking the windscreen and the headlamps.

I leaned out of my window and I yelled, "Hey! Don't they have driving tests where you live?"
The driver of the ambulance opened the driver side door and yelled back at me, "Have you seen any Police cars around, señor?" He had a Latin accent and a gun.
"No," I yelled back, "but if I see one I'll sure as hell wave as they go by—"
"They're getting out of the passenger side," said Mom. "Oh, God help us!"
"How many of them?"
"Get out of the goddamned car!" shouted the ambulance driver. "Put your hands up. Get out of the car, gringos."
"Four," said Mom. "Looks like they've got guns, too."

A shot rang out. It shattered what was left of the windshield. A couple more gunmen walked around the front of the ambulance and stood in the road ahead of me.

"All right," I hollered, "we're getting out of the car."
"Keep your hands up," said a second man.

Behind me, getting out of the passenger seat, Mom screamed and burst into hysterics. "My God, preserve us, we're all going to die."

"Just keep your hands up," said gunman number two, "and you might live to an old age."
"I already did that ten years ago," said Mom.
"Shut up," said number two. "Get onto the sidewalk."

While one of the gang trained a gun in our direction, another searched us for weapons.

We went around the front of the ambulance, encountering half a dozen armed men.

"Oh my God, oh my God," Mom screamed, "they're an execution squad."
"No, we're not," said the nearest gang member. "We stop at grand theft auto, nothing lethal."
"They're going to kill us all," Mom cried.
"Shut up," the driver yelled at Mom, "give me some peace, you noisy ratbag. You're safe with us provided you do as we tell you. Get in the ambulance."

The nearest gunman opened the side door of the ambulance and Mom and I made a reasonable fist of keeping our hands up while climbing aboard.
"Why didn't you get a gun, Sam?" I heard Mom ask.
"Because," I said, "I wouldn't know how to shoot six armed felons without any of them shooting back."
"Isn't that what you have health insurance for?" she asked me.
"No, it fucking isn't—"
"Shut up!", yelled the driver.

We shut up, and the driver told us to hold on as he had one more job to do. Mom immediately started crying again. Through the rear window of the ambulance we watched as a bad guy took a jerry-can out of an outside locker and poured gasoline from it into our car — my car — through the open windows, then struck a match and threw it into the car. There was a rushing noise and the arsonist had to jump back to avoid being burned in the face as the car burst dramatically into flames and smoke.

"That's my car!" I yelled.
"I know," the guy yelled back. "I hope you're insured against fire and theft."
"Fire and theft?" I was astonished. "Are you telling me that after you've set fire to my car, you're going to steal it?"
"Yeah. What you going to do about it?"
"That's adding insult to injury," I said, shaking my head in despair.

I sat and watched the fire, breathing in the thickening smoke, and I said to Mom, "That reminds me, we ought to have a barbecue and invite the neighbours around."
"I hope this gringo lives on a street with a bus route," said Mr B, from his perch on the passenger seat, "or he'll never get to work!"
"Sam doesn't depend on the bus," said Mom. I couldn't tell whether her indignation was real or fake. "He goes on the street-car."

They all laughed.

Then with four of the crew standing around us in the back, one in the front passenger seat and one driving, the ambulance turned on its siren and continued on its path hell for leather towards the George Washington Bridge.

Mom and I were sitting side by side on a bench that was built for an injured patient to lie on. One of the gangsters stood directly in front of Mom and demanded, "Would you like me to have sex with you, señora?"
"I don't know. Are you any good at it? Who are you?" she replied immediately. I was amazed to see her show such confidence in dealing with him. These guys had guns. I would have thought she would dissolve into hysterics again.
"I am Mr," he looked around,"C. Mr A is driving, Mr B is in the front seat, and these are my colleagues D, E and F."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr C." Mom held her hand out and Mr C shook it. "How about you kiss me before you get my pants off? We aren't in any hurry, are we, you and I? And I absolutely love to kiss."

Mr C bent forwards and pressed his open mouth against Mom's lips. Mom made a noise — mmmmm! — indicative of genuine pleasure. As Mom kissed him, his colleagues burst into a round of applause. With her right hand Mom groped Mr C's upper thighs and felt for the cock.

"Might we be on first name terms?" said Mom, "All this Mr C formality is unbecoming of two lovers."
"Cristian. Soy Cristian, that's why my nickname is Mr C. C for Cristian."
"And you guys, Arturo, Benjamin, Diego, Efraim and Franco, look away, goddammit, this is private… Are they still watching us?"
"No, señora," said Cristian, and he hooked his big hands around the waistband of her trousers.
"Don't just pull them," said Mom, "unclip the belt and then the zip's at the side."

Cristian lifted Mom's shoes off her feet and unclipped her belt. It was a thick belt of polished leather.

"That reminds me. Have you ever spanked a naughty boy?" Mom asked him.
"My colleagues are never naughty," said Cristian.
"I mean Sam here," said Mom. "You can save me a job."
"Should I take my pants off yet?" I asked them.
"Yes," said Mom, and to Cristian, "Thrash Sam's backside with the belt."
"It will be a pleasure," Cristian said, "except for him."
"Spank him mercilessly," Mom confirmed, "'Whom I love, I spank.' Remember?"
"Is that a quotation? Un diche? Proverbio?"
"Sure. Shakespeare, probably. He said most things."

I slid my pants off, stood with my face to the side of the van and bent over the bench. Cristian doubled the belt up, held both ends of it, and cleared a space around him. He took a tremendous swing at my buttocks with the belt. It cracked loudly across my backside.

"Aah!" I cried. "Hey, that hurts— Aaah, ow!"
"Just a couple more," said Mom, "just to let him know how much I love him."
"Your mother—" he said, lashing my ass with the belt.
"Ow! Christ, that hurts!"
"— loves you," said Cristian.
"Oh! Oh, my God."

My backside was throbbing. I could feel it. Until you have been spanked hard, you have no idea how sore your butt is after four whacks with a heavy leather belt like Mom's. I stood up straight, gasping as an intense pang of pain shot out from the weals of the thrashing, and as I sat on the bench again, Mr D said "Well, done, Mr C," as Cristian unzipped Mom's skirt, pulled it over her ankles and gave me the skirt and belt to hold. Mr C rubbed Mom's crotch through her flower pattern panties and then slid them to the side. He unzipped his trousers and dropped them, revealing a long, level erection trying to burst out of his underpants.

"See that?" said Mom, pointing to the erection, "It's bigger than yours."
"Are you looking forward to this?" Cristian asked, surprised.
"I sure am. Come closer, darling."

Cristian held the tip of his cock against Mom's labia for a second and then pushed it home. It was a sudden, hard push.

"Ow!" Mom yelped. "Be gentle with me, for God's sake. I'm an old lady."

Cristian pumped his hips towards her a few times and then turned red, moaned and came.

"Ow!" Mom gasped. "That was a big load, Cristian, darling. You haven't had sex for a while, have you? There."

With what looked and sounded like genuine empathy, Mom wrapped her arms around Mr C, and his colleagues murmured their approval.

"Your wife doesn't take proper care of you," Mom said to him.

Cristian was leaning against Mom with his trousers around his ankles and his underpants hooked to the side around his limp cock. I held the cock in my fingers, stroked it a few times and teased the tip to make him harden and then come again. Mom was right, as she always was about men. Cristian hadn't had it for a long while. He pumped his milk all over my right hand.

"There," said Mom, "your wife never treats you as well as I do, does she?"
"No," said Cristian, "I should have married you instead of her."
"Ask your Mom," Mom suggested, "and she might help you out occasionally. She definitely knows what torment you suffer, with your wife never laying a finger on your dick. That dick is that size for a purpose. You should make friends with more women."

Mom looked around the ambulance and saw the other guys looking intently at her. "You guys can look now," she said to them, "the show's over."

I was still holding Mom's skirt, belt and panties. She took them, pulled the panties on, zipped the skirt over them and slid the belt around it. She asked Mr D to pick up her shoes and give them to her, and he helped her to put her feet into them.

"That was some performance," I said to her, with real admiration.
"It felt good," said Mom, "almost like being at work. Hey!" she continued, much louder, "Do any of you guys want to fuck my son up the ass?"
"Mom!" I said, a bit shocked. None of the guys seemed very excited at the idea. I didn't know whether I was relieved or insulted.

The ambulance driver had turned the siren off several miles back. I felt the vehicle bounce over a grade crossing, so fast that we were lucky the wheels stayed on. It swerved to the right and slowed down.

"How much longer are we going to be kept in this rattletrap?" Mom asked of Cristian.
"Non lo sé. I don't know. It took an hour and twenty minutes last time."
"They must have rehearsed—"
"Shhh! Shush, you idiot," Mom hissed at me. I realised what I might have given away, and I hoped that none of the gang had heard me. If I gave any hint that we knew who they were, or where we were, or that we had worked out some way to get them arrested, we were dead meat.

I felt that the ambulance was leaving the tarmacked road and bumping along across a ploughed field. It might have been going for half a mile before it came to a halt. The gang whistled and cheered. They must have been pleased to get here.

"Put these over your heads, you two," said Mr B, Benjamin as Mom had called him, yelled to us from the front passenger seat, holding out two paper carrier bags. "We don't want you guessing where we are."

In a scene from a B movie, the gang pushed the paper bags over our heads, led us out of the side door of the ambulance, across some slippery mud and into a building. "You can take them off as soon as you hear the door close."

Mom called out, "Is Cristian still here?"
"Sí," said his voice, "estoy aquí."
"Don't I get a goodbye kiss?"
"Sí. Forgive me. Lo olvidé. Close your eyes." I heard Cristian kiss Mom long and hard.
Then Mom said, in the quietest of whispers, "Leave the door unlocked so that you can come back and fuck me again."
"Of course," said Cristian, but when the gang left and we took the paper bags off our heads, I tried the obvious door. It was locked.

We had been put into a filthy brick shed, probably an outbuilding on a farm. All I knew about it was that it was fifteen minutes or so from a grade crossing, and there was no hard surfaced road nearby. I could hear an engine running and I could smell damp, and beneath the damp a sickly odour. When I stood up and explored a little, I found the source of the smell. It was an illegal still. This shed, or hut, or outbuilding was producing moonshine. I peered through the narrow crack where the door met the wall. I could see a diesel fuel tank and I guessed it was supplying the engine with fuel. The pump was in this building. I had been here before, under more auspicious circumstances. We were detained in the water pumping station on the MacLeod estate.

Getting out of the building was going to be tricky. Firstly, Cristian, or someone else, had put a lock on the door.

"Cristian broke his promise," I said to Mom.
"You surely didn't expect him to keep it," Mom asked me. "Anyway, we already have an edge over him, and he hasn't worked it out yet."
"How come?" I asked.
"His name is Miguel Ángel Figueroa," said Mom, with a well justified air of triumph.
"How did you know that?" I was staggered.
"He comes into Grannies. He's fucked me dozens of times, usually in the dark corner of the dance floor. He's a bit rough, but on the whole I've quite got to like him. He doesn't usually hurt me like he did in the van. Disappointing to find that he doesn't recognise me."
"He only doesn't recognise you with your clothes on," I said, and I breathed, "Well, I'll be darned."
"I even know where he lives."

I'd had a couple of minutes to get used to the darkness of the building so I had a look at the door. The hasp on the open side did not rise because someone outside had put a padlock on it. With effort I could have opened the door on the hinge side, I thought, if I had a hammer and a nail punch, I could knock the pins out of the old and rusted hinges. They would never withstand a determined assault, and there was so much junk in the shed that I felt certain that if somebody could build the machinery of a decent sized distillery out of it, there must be something I could use to improvise a hammer and a nail punch.

I heard a key click into the padlock on the outside. The man who came into the shed was wearing a stetson on his head and a knitted balaclava over his face, but I figured I knew who it was before he came inside.

"Calisto," I said, "you've come to our rescue."
"How did you know it was me?"
"'Cause I'm Sam Corsair," I said, "ace private investigator. You work for MacLeod, you take days off when you've been hitting the bottle, and this is where you fill the bottles up."
"You're too clever by half," said Calisto, shaking his head. "Now, I shoot you."
"Do you think that's what Miguel wants? He's trying to put pressure on Edeson and you come along and shoot his fox…"
"I'll be back. Here. Water." He gave us a couple of whisky bottles filled with tap water.
"Thanks," I said.
"See you later," Mom added.

Calisto padlocked the door again on his way out. I tried pressing the hasp and pushing the door, but no soap.

"How are we going to get out?" Mom asked me, and suddenly I knew.
"This will get us out," I said, raising the bottle of water.
"Show me," said Mom.

There pumping engine was a few feet from us, growling as low-rev diesel engines do. On its top surface was a screw cap, for the addition of fuel during testing, before the big fuel tank was connected. I managed to force the cap open, and I poured the water into the engine. There were a couple of loud back-fires and the pumping engine stalled and fell silent.

I waited a few seconds, long enough to be sure that it was dead, and I said, "Now all we have to do is wait until they come to us."
"Why would they come to us?" Mom asked me.
"Because all the tap water to the estate houses comes from here. The Water Authority will treat it as an emergency. If there were beds in here, we could relax now in the knowledge that we are certain to be rescued."
"Alive or dead," said Mom. "Look on the bright side."
"In the great city of Metropolis, Superman is shutting the door of a phone box behind himself, taking off Clark Kent's glasses and changing into his working clothes even as we speak," I said.
"Superman!" Mom shouted, "we're in here."

We sat side by side on the rubble strewn floor with our arms around each other, trying to keep warm. Mom fell asleep with her head on my shoulder. I kissed her on the mouth, but she pretended not to notice. I nodded off not long after.

7. Sunday 10 April 1960

The gang had locked us in here a few hours after the sun set, possibly around midnight. When the noise of a car driving towards the shed woke us, the sun had scarcely risen: it was around six in the morning. Someone put a key into the padlock: I could hear Sandra's voice and two male voices, Sandra saying how grateful she was to the men for turning out in the middle of the night, while the others told her how quaint and beautiful the estate was, how lucky the people were who lived there — mind you, they hadn't bumped into Mom and me yet — and how they would soon have the problem fixed. Things could have been worse. At least it wasn't Calisto coming back to silence us once for all time.

The wooden door creaked wide open and bright daylight shone into the shed. Mom and I were momentarily blinded by the brilliant sunlight while two men wearing overalls embroidered 'Ramsey Water Authority' and the names 'Carney' and 'Stokes' couldn't see much in the darkness.

Stokes nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw me. "Who are you?"
"Hi," I said. "I'm the guy who's trapped in the building with his Mother. Watch your step in here. There's rubbish everywhere."
"I shall," said Stokes. "But, I mean, what are you doing here?"
"We locked ourselves in," I told him. "I'm so glad you came along."
"It's just as well the pump broke down when it did, then," said Stokes, missing his opportunity to have me arrested for criminal damage. "You might have been stuck in here until Christmas."
"What the devil is that smell?" Carney asked in a Brooklyn Irish brogue.
"I haven't had a bath for a couple of days," I said.
"No, really," said Carney, "that odd, sweet smell."
"Someone's been distilling moonshine," said Mom, "a good old American tradition around these parts."
"You two had best be getting home, then," Carney observed.
"Yes," I said, "I guess we had. Is there any chance of you giving us a ride to the nearest train station?"
Carney looked at Stokes, who nodded, and then he looked at us. "You can't walk home from here and I have to get my hands on a replacement pump at the double. I can make a ten minute detour for you, if you're ready to leave now."
"We're readier to leave than you can imagine," I told him.
"We're both very grateful," said Mom.
"Yeah," I said. "Thanks for coming to get us."

He left us at Allendale station and said goodbye to us. We took the train and rode the streetcar back to Mom's apartment. At least we could take a hot bath together and get some shut-eye before figuring out where I was and what I ought to do next.

The phone rang and woke us both. Outside the weather was hot and bright sunshine. Mom's alarm clock said just after eleven in the morning.

"Hello?" I said into the receiver. "Corsair."
"Good morning! This is Officer LaRue from Hill Street Police Station."
"John!" I knew his voice immediately, even though I hadn't heard from him for years. "How did you know I'd be here?"
"You weren't in your office," LaRue explained. "People here remember you. They knew where you were likely to be."
"It's nice to be remembered," I said.
"Anyway, the reason I'm phoning is that your car was found burned out in a lay-by on the Franklin Turnpike. Did you realise it was gone?"
"Sure I realised it was gone. I realised it was gone as soon as the bad guys turned up, threw us both out of the car and set light to it."
"If you can call round to the Police station some time today, we'll give you the papers you need for your insurance claim," said Officer LaRue, "and we have a couple of bits of your property that we found in it."
"Thanks, John, I'll see you later."
"Try to make it today, will you?" John continued. "The cost of keeping pieces of incinerated property in the cells is so high that you just wouldn't believe it."
"I know," I said, "’cause it makes all those constant demands for food and exercise."

I said goodbye to John and I put the phone down.

"Does that mean I have to get up?" Mom asked, keeping her eyes closed.
"No," I said, "it means you have to stay in bed while I have to go and have a friendly chat with the Police about the charred remnants of my car."
"Are they going to put it back together for you?"
"Yes. I'm sure that's what they have in mind. Like a full sized Lego kit for the apprentices in the traffic division."
"How nice of them."

I scanned the kitchen for breakfast groceries and I put grapefruit, bacon, sunnyside up eggs and a sliced tomato on a tray and put it, with some cutlery, onto Mom's bedside table as Mom continued to lie under the covers with her eyes shut. "Here, Mom" I said, "after last night's mayhem you need to eat properly. Don't leave it too long or the orange juice will get cold."
"That'll do nicely," she said. I knew she'd leave most of it, but I didn't often have the chance to make breakfast for Mom and I felt good about making it and giving it to her. Usually I was exhausted and she was the one who took care of me.
"I'll go now, talk to the Police and then go to the office and see what horrors the postman brought."
"Don't forget about me," said Mom. "Give me a phone call."
"Mom, how could I forget about you? You're in my mind the whole time. I think constantly about giving you really hard anal sex."
"You'll get me excited if you talk dirty to me like that," said Mom.
"I'll fuck you senseless tonight," I said. "Keep warm, darling. Get some rest, now."
"I love it when you sweet talk me like that. Sure I'll keep warm," said Mom. "Kiss, kiss."

John LaRue had the folder on his desk when I arrived at the Police station and asked for him. He even stood up and shook hands with me. "First things first: this is the certificate of destruction. You give this to your insurance company when you make your claim." He gave me a couple of other printed pieces of paper that I was going to need, and then he asked me if I minded taking a look at something.

"Of course," I said.

He led me out of the building and into a kind of warehouse at the back. I knew the warehouse. I'd worked at Hill Street for years. It was the place where they kept all kinds of things that might just be needed in court one day.

"That's it, what's left of it." LaRue led me over to the charred wreck.
"Can you let the scrap yard come and get it? Forge my signature if you need to, it looks exactly like yours except it says ‘Samual Corsair.'"
"Yes. Sorry it happened, but by the time a patrol car noticed the fire, the car was already ruined. But they did salvage a couple of things."

Behind the car was a hessian sack, of the kind they store junk in until some dupe turns up and agrees to take it off their hands. LaRue lifted the sack with both hands and gave it to me. It was heavy, and by the feel of it, it contained three or four large objects like crates or cases. It reeked of burning. There was a ‘Found Property' label on it. I put it down on the asphalt.

"Are those things mine? I don't recall them."
"According to the patrol, the stuff in the sack is things that were in the car when they found it. Anyway, you haven't looked inside the sack yet."
"Why?" I asked. "What's in it?"
"Empty metal boxes, so far as we can see. Maybe you know what they are."
"I'd best get it to the office, then, and remind myself of what I had with me."
"Sure thing, Mr Corsair." LaRue looked at the heavy sack, and then he looked at his watch. "Tell me if they remind you of anything. You can't carry that pile of stuff home. I don't think there's anything valuable in it… I'm due a break. You could hop into a car with me and I'll drop you off."
"That's really kind. I'll certainly accept your kind offer."

In the car, John let fall that Hill Street Police station was short of a criminal investigator. I said I would have been interested but the uniform didn't fit me any more. Besides, how would I spend all that salary when all I ever needed was enough salt beef and pickled egg sandwiches, Marlboros and Glenkinchie to live on? I'd just waste it on food and a house. He didn't mention the subject again.

It was about mid-day. It was a hot and very sunny day. LaRue dropped me off on the sidewalk outside the office, leaving me to struggle up the stairs with a sackful of junk Now I was in my office and rummaging through the sack.

There were three metal boxes, all empty and all burned and charred on the outside. I had never seen any of them before. Two of them were lacquered metal cash boxes of the kind that administrators use for storing petty cash, keys and raffle tickets. The third was an aluminium attaché case of the kind that looks impressive and costs lots of money. All three boxes had been in the fire but none of them had soot inside, so I knew they had been emptied and then closed again before the fire reached them.

Someone had put the boxes into the car. I hadn't seen them being thrown in, so I guess they were thrown into the car after the inferno inside it was well alight. Which meant that someone wanted to get shot of the boxes after emptying them. Which meant that the bad guys had received the boxes, taken whatever was in them, and then tried to dispose of them. Maybe they thought that the boxes would melt and become unrecognisable, in which case their ruse had failed, or they thought that the fire would remove all identifiable markings and fingerprints, in which case they were exactly right.

Turning this puzzle over in my mind, I went outside to the deli along the street and grabbed a wholemeal salt beef and pickled egg sandwich: intensely sour and just the way I liked it. The way God intended it, too, I have no doubt.

Sitting at my desk drawing on a Marlboro and catching the sun as it streamed in through the window, I ruminated on why these empty, bent and scarred boxes had come my way. Two boxes that once contained money and one that had contained paperwork. I could think of only one purpose to which these boxes might have been put. I guessed they had been sent to the gang, who had removed the content of the boxes and then tried — and failed — to destroy them by adding them to the fire.

I had a hunch where these boxes had come from. I phoned Mom to make sure she was still OK, and she was, so I buckled down to the dreadful job of making an insurance claim for my now useless burned-out car. Allstate: you're in good hands. This job called for an excellent memory, punctilious attention to detail, well kept records and an uncanny ability to type. My skills as a typist had never been noteworthy, and the job took me an age, although to his great credit John LaRue had been careful to provide me with all the support that a Police officer could have given. I realised after putting all the enclosures together that I didn't have any stamps, so I had to go and stand in line at the Post Office, wasting another hour, or maybe two.

There are two good things about standing in line in a Post Office. Three, if you could getting some idea of the true meaning of eternity. Number one, I could light a Marlboro. Number two, it gave me a little more time to mull the case over. Two boxes that had probably contained money, and one box that had probably contained documents of some kind, in the possession of a gang of bad guys who had probably emptied the boxes and then wanted, or needed, to dispose of them or maybe just to render them unrecognisable.

When I reached the front of the queue, the counter hand told me to put my cigarette out, so I did, and then he charged me thirty cents for a registered letter to Illinois. He gave me a certificate of posting which I put in my pocket and immediately lost. I was pleased to get outside onto the street and light my cigarette again.

Back in the office I took a look at the bills and then carefully I ignored them instead of opening them. No point grieving over what you can't do anything about, I reasoned.

Unattracted to the prospect of travelling from my office to Edeson Research with no car, I picked up the phone, realised that I didn't know his phone number, put the phone down again and went looking for Woodrow Edison's business card. Half an hour later I dialled the number.

"Is Woodrow Edeson there?" I asked the receptionist.
"Who's calling?"
"Sam Corsair," I answered. "I'd really appreciate it if he could spare me an hour or two."
"There's nothing in his calendar. Is it urgent?"
"Yes," I said, "it is."
"Hold on."

There was a pause of a few seconds and then I heard someone pick up another phone.

"Woodrow Edeson," said Woodrow Edeson.
"Hi," I said, "I'm Sam Corsair. Can you spare a little time to help me?"
"Yes, I guess so," said Edeson. "Ask away."
"This isn't really a question and answer session," I said, "I have a couple of objects here that are relevant to my investigation into the theft of a pile of junk from the house on the MacLeod Estate."
"Oh, yeah," he said, "I remember that."
"I've been working on it. Can you come and cast an eye over these bits and pieces for me? Can you remember where my office is?"
"Well," Edeson lied, "I have a meeting with my senior researchers this afternoon…"
"Mr Edeson, I am trying to bring an end to the kidnap and illegal detention of the beautiful Miss Lydia MacLeod, and for all I know, you may be putting her life in danger by giving my investigation lower priority than a couple of guys that you see over the water cooler ten times a day. I can't carry these things to your office so you damned well get over to mine before the clock strikes five. I am not just trying to catch a petty burglar. I am trying to save a life, and I love my job and I intend to do it. Do you get my drift?"
"Sure thing, Sam."

I arranged the three scorched metal boxes on my desk and, on a whim, I stood the coffee pot beside them. I covered all four objects with a bath towel. I put some coffee on to brew. Then I turned my chair around so that I could see out of the office window, lit a Marlboro and blew a haze into the hot, still office air. I really hoped this was going to work. It was nevertheless a full hour and a half before the automobile bearing Mr Edeson rolled up outside my office. He was in no hurry to meet me.

"Morning, Sam," he said, strolling in through the office door.
"Morning, Mr Edeson," I said.
"So tell me," said Edeson, "why am I here?"
"This morning I had a phone call from Hill Street Police Station," I said, "telling me that some detritus that might be pertinent to my investigation had turned uMacGyvered after a fire. Can you take a look and tell me whether you recognise any of this stuff. It's an odd collection of stuff. Cigarette?"
"No thanks," said Edeson.

I lifted the bath towel and watched his face. I thought he might make an unguarded response when he saw the kettle, and I was right.

"What's that doing?"
"What?" I asked him.
"The kettle."
"Oh, that's mine," I said, "I wondered where it had got to. But you recognise everything else?"
"No!" he exclaimed, in the tone of panic, adding more calmly, "No, I'm afraid I don't recognise them at all. Sorry."
"I guess you mistook them for three completely different metal boxes," I said.
"Well… I'm afraid I did."
"Ah, well, I shall have to look elsewhere," I said. "Coffee?"
"Yes. Thanks."

I poured coffee. I gave it to Edeson.

I waited until he was three quarters through the coffee and then I asked him, "Oh, I knew there was something else troubling me and I clean forgot about it. Is Lydia MacLeod still staying on the top floor?"

The man, quite literally, choked on his coffee. I'd never seen anything like it. I lifted the cup out of his hands and tried to thump him centrally in the back so that he didn't actually drown. I handed him the bath towel so that he could mop the spillage off his flashy suit. It took a full ten minutes before he stopped spluttering and again became composed and calm and supped the rest of the coffee.

"Lydia is safe and well and living on the top floor of your office," I said, "so, if it's not too much trouble, of course, I'd appreciate a brief explanation."
"Sam, I would never have done anything like that if I hadn't been driven to desperation," he told me, almost in tears. "Calisto and his gang were blackmailing me."
"Why? What dirt could two estate workers, blue collars who can hardly read, have on a guy like you? For God's sake, you could stand for President and get elected nem con if you put your mind to it."
"That's just it," I said, "my company is built on an untruth. It's true, the technology works, the appliances don't need to be plugged in. They really do wash clothes and brew coffee and iron clothes without attaching them to the mains. The lie is, Edeson Research didn't invent the way they work. We just patented it and started refining the design a bit. We stole the technology from a doctoral student at the department of physics in Princeton. He left his final year dissertation behind—"
"And you pretended that you thought of the idea all by yourself."
"Yes," said Edeson, "yes, that's about it." He paused and added, "Will I go to jail?"
"I don't know," I said, "but I would definitely get a good lawyer, if I were you. Here, have a Marlboro to calm your nerves. My only job is to report on what happened to a pile of junk that went missing from the MacLeod mansion. The Police would neither know nor care, except that somebody shot two officers dead in City Hall subway station. So if either you or I can explain that away, you're home and dry, I guess."
"Oh, Sam…" Edeson's relief was obvious, if misplaced. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me because I can't help you, and quite honestly I think you need to trace that doctoral student whom you're preparing to defraud of millions of dollars. At least tell him you're sorry for robbing him."

I wasn't sorry to see Edeson leave and drive off. The case wasn't over by any means. Odd questions about the events of the last week were still ringing in my head. I still had people to meet and questions to ask. But for now, I could lock the office door and head a few blocks downtown and find a quiet diner. I knew just the place.

As I was leaving, I heard the phone in the office start to ring. I hesitated. I could just leave the phone and let the caller think, correctly, that I had gone home for the night after an exhausting day's work. Or I could… I found that I had already unlocked the office door and picked up the receiver, and a second later I was truly glad that I did. A voice I recognised was saying "Hello, hello," to me.

"Sandra? Sandra Sanders? Am I glad to hear from you."
"Sam! Me too. I thought for a moment you might be out of the office."
"Sandra, me being out of the office is like a camel being out of the desert. I can't remember the last time I was out of the office."
"Why, have you got the hump?"
"Invariably," I said, "but also, I've not had a decent meal for as long as I can remember."
"Have you had a hard day?" she asked me, full of sympathy.
"Quite a good day, actually," I told her. "You were there when it started. Do you want to hear about the rest of it?"
"Yes," she said, "but not yet. I have a free evening. Do you want to take me to dinner?"
"I'd love to," I said, "just don't dress up. Wear a long dress and the bouncer grabs you and throws you headlong onto the sidewalk. This place is strictly jeans and tee shirts."
"How about a mini skirt and heels?"
"I could try to bribe the guy to let you in," I said, "every man has his price."

It was a hot night and I walked down to East 170th and Third with my jacket unbuttoned in an effort to keep cool. I caught the streetcar by a few seconds. I got off at Linden Street, a hundred yards maybe from the Big Eat Burger Bar, my long time favourite place second after Grannies. The MacLeod cabriolet was parked outside. Sandra had obviously planned to travel in style. She was already sitting in a dark corner sipping from a glass of red wine and with a full stein of beer ready for me.

"You know how to appeal to me," I said, grabbing the beer. "Did they really sell you a pint of beer in that stein?"
"No, I brought the stein with me," she said, giggling. "I told them it was my boyfriend's favourite and they sold me a pint can of beer to go into it. It fitted exactly. Do you want the gourmet dining menu or the burger menu, Sam?"
"Definitely the burger menu," I said.
"That's good," said Sandra, "because it's the only menu they have this evening. I asked Pierre and he said, Je suis désolé, madame, mais c'est terminé"
"Who's Pierre?"
"The French maître d'," said Sandra, "I sent him home."
"I hope they don't have knives and forks," I said. "I'm so hopeless with them, I feel as though I'm trying to pick up ball bearings with two pieces of wet newspaper."
"How do you eat, in that case?"
"Like everyone else," I said, "I go to the deli and I buy a sandwich."
"We won't have a problem with knives and forks," said Sandra, and when our waitress glided over to take our order, she said "Double cheeseburger, please, Betty. Hold the cutlery."
"Same for me," I said, "with fried onion and bacon."
"Hungry guy," said Betty.

After she left for the kitchen, I asked Sandra, "How did you know her name?"
"It was on her name badge. Really, Sam, for the best P. I. in the state, you missed an important detail there."
"I must be tired out," I said.
"Here, you're not getting enough beer," said Sandra, pushing the stein towards me. I took a long drink. Ice cold and bitter without being sour. "Old Dutch," I said, "good choice."
"Wow. You're a connoisseur," Sandra smiled.
"How are things chez MacLeod?" I asked her.
"Worrying," she said, "we haven't heard anything from Lydia, and there's always the chance of another attack from somewhere."
"OK," I said, "stop worrying. Lydia is all right. She'll probably come back inside a day or two. Nothing to worry about."

Betty returned with two cheeseburgers and put them in front of us. This time, I didn't feel as though I had to perform magic tricks with cutlery, and I felt a lot more at ease. Neither of us left much.

"Dessert?" I asked Sandra.
"No, thanks, but you go ahead."
"I think we might have some more fun things to do together," I said. "and eating dessert would just waste time."
"Make the most of your opportunities," Sandra said, "you never know who I might meet tomorrow."
"I definitely don't want to fall asleep yet," I said. I went over to Betty at the counter, paid the bill and congratulated her on the house's taste in beer.
"We got a couple of dozen beers, all different," she said, "you should spend more time here, and you'd know."
"I will," I said.

Sandra and I stepped out into the warm evening.

"My place or yours?" Sandra asked as we left.
"Yours," I said. "All I have to offer is the office, and the mice would keep us awake."
"I know just the place. We'll go to the mansion, and make out."
"Sounds good," I said.
"Do you like oral or anal?" Sandra asked. "Because I have a really nice ass."
"That's provocation," I said, "but I love giving it to a woman in the rear,"
"Hey — what do you know," Sandra told me, smiling. "I like that too. Specially if I've recently been paddled."

We clambered into the convertible and we left the top open.

"People will be able to see us," said Sandra, "at least for the first couple of miles, where there are lights shining from the windows. I like that."
"I think you just earned a hot bottom," I said. "Naughty girl."
"Great. I love the idea," Sandra laughed. "I can feel that paddle smashing my bare bottom already. Now settle into the car, get your pants off and we'll have some fun and games. That's it, right off, I don't want to have to keep hooking your underpants out of the way."

It was dark. Sandra drove gently towards Ramsey and the MacLeod estate, talking amorously and reaching across at every opportunity touching and handling my cock and balls. After a few miles, the roads appeared almost deserted. We could do whatever we wanted without being overlooked, and she knew it.

Sandra reached across and tickled the tip of my cock lightly. I was becoming hard already.

"I'm the mistress of tease," she said, "and blue balls is my middle name."
"I've been warned," I said.
"Warned, yes," she said, lifting my penis and stroking the underside, "but your balls don't hurt yet."
"A ball buster," I said, "just my luck— Ow!"

Sandra's first finger and thumb squeezed my balls hard, suddenly.

"Remember," she told me, "I know exactly how sensitive your balls are, and exactly how to make you jump. And I know how to do this.""

Sandra held my cock near the tip and gave me a feeling of complete and absolute pleasure.

"Wow," I cooed, "that is really something."
"You're a big boy," she said, "I noticed that before. So be a good big boy and do as I ask you and your cock will be rewarded well and often."

Sandra drove left handed, quite slowly, quietly, her right hand giving me one little reason after another to enjoy the ride, never allowing me to come near the point of pumping my load, and never letting me think for an instant about anything except what her fingertips were doing and how I wanted to make love to her.

"What sort of panties do you like, big boy?" she asked me out of the blue, after she had been driving silently with her left hand for fully ten minutes.
"You don't like the conversation to stall, do you?" I asked. "Well, I love those tight ones that cling to the girl's body," I said, "you know, that tight white stretchy fabric, the ones that make a camel-toe shape."
"With elasticated leg openings and a waistband an inch deep," she said, her hand describing little circles. "Do you pull then down or slide them to one side?"
"They look sexiest when they're pulled down," I said.
Sandra slid two fingers onto my B spot and gave me a sudden shock of sweet pleasure in the balls. "Now, Sam, you can ask me something. Anything you want."
"Did you get spanked at school?" I asked her.
"Oh, yes," said Sandra, her hand keeping me rigid. "I was always being stood at the front of the class and being paddled. I had such a sore ass at the end of each school day, you can't imagine."
"Leather or wood?"
"This was the big wooden paddle. Mrs Worell really slammed it into my butt. And the pain—"
"Panties on or off?" I asked. "Because that really makes a difference."
"Off," she said, "tight white panties pulled down to the upper thighs, just the way you like them. And then she gave all the kids a chance to take a good long look, and then wham, wham, wham, she could really make me cry. But she couldn't make me sorry. I think that was what really made her mad."
"What did Mrs Worell paddle you for?"
"Oh," said Sandra, making me feel it, "I was a truly naughty girl. Smoking, swearing at other girls, drawing Mrs Worell on the blackboard, getting nought out of ten in arithmetic on purpose, talking to my friends, and you'll never guess what else."
"Setting fire to the school dog?" I hazarded.
"No, Sam." I felt a warning grip on my balls, "Use what you know about me. Don't just pull offences out of the hat at random. What would happen to a girl who could do this?"

An intense wave of pleasure passed through my cock. I felt as though it were glowing yellow or orange and filled with honey.

"You didn't!" I said, as she gave me a vision and I realised what it showed me.
"I did," she giggled at me.
"You fucked the boys."
"Only the cute ones. In the park on the way home, behind the band stand. I got twelve swats of the paddle and a letter to my mommy about that. But I did it every chance I had. There were some well developed ones and it would have been a dreadful shame to waste them. Which is what my mommy said when the letter arrived."

We arrived. I recognised the long wall by the side of the road. Sandra slewed the car off the road to the right and through the gate. We were coming in through the northern exit and driving across to the golf course, where she turned the ignition off. "Ssh! Let's keep the noise down because we don't want to wake the others. I don't want them joining in."
"No," I agreed, "that would spoil everything."

Sandra shrugged her way out of her blouse and brassiere, stood up and unzipped her skirt, and let it drop. Tossing her stuff into the convertible, she grabbed me and ripped my shirt off, leaving me standing on the golf course with her wearing only my shoes and underpants.

Sandra grabbed me and held me very tightly, kissing me with such force that I thought she might leave bruises. I held her close and ran my hands over her: the curves of her back, her buttocks, the long straight hair that cascaded over her shoulders.

"Now spank me, big boy," she said.

She reached into the back seat of the car and pulled out something I didn't recognise, leather, with straps.

"Gag me," she said, "or I'll howl the place down."
"How does this work?" I had to ask. It was dark and I couldn't quite see what I was doing.
"This goes over my mouth," she said, indicating the thick pad in the middle, "don't worry, it's clean, and the straps fasten around my head. Tight. Got it?"

I held the pad over Sandra's mouth and tried, several times, to slip the straps into the buckles. When she was satisfied that she was restrained enough, Sandra got my attention with another stroke on thte B spot, reached into the car again and gave me a heavy wooden paddle, the kind with holes in the blade to leave marks and make it hurt more.

"Bend over," I said.

Sandra supported her weight on the convertible and I stood behind her, imagining how much I could hurt her if I had a mind to.

At that moment the cloud in the sky parted and we were floodlit by the full, silver moon. It was the same full moon which had lit up the fields a hundred years ago so that the peasants could work overnight sowing the corn or harvesting the sheaves. The sheer, intense beauty of Sandra's naked body stunned me, the pure white light lending evocative brilliance to her curves. Her mouth effectively stoppered by the gag, Sandra nodded her head dramatically — ‘Get on with it!’ — urging me to use the paddle.

"Come to the front of the class, Sanders. Out here. You're a naughty, promiscuous, slutty girl," I said to her giving the best impression of a teacher that I could, "fucking all those innocent boys. You need to be punished."

I could see Sandra tensing her muscles ready to be thrashed in front of the class.

Wham!

I imagined the rest of the class gasping at the severity of the paddling. Sandra bucked with the sudden impact and nodded her head again. I swung it again with as much strength as I could muster.

Whaaam!

Another gasp from the little girls in the front row, and several throbbing cocks in the underpants of the bigger boys at the back. I heard a little whimper from Sandra, but no sign that she wanted the beating to stop. I felt her bottom with the palm of my hand: it was warm and probably already throbbing. I stepped back and smacked her ass again.

Whack!

This time Sandra cried out a little more loudly and clenched her fists, but since she remained bent over, I went on with the punishment.

WHACK!

That was enough for Sandra for the time being. She stood up, clutched her red hot backside and turned her back to me so that I could unfasten the gag. As soon as her mouth was uncovered she kissed me with intense passion and said, "You should be a teacher. The girls would love you. Here, get back in the car—"

We were standing beside the cabriolet with our arms around each other, holding one another close. A short way away, between us and the mansion, we saw and heard someone moving — someone running towards the coach yard.

"Who's that?" I hissed to Sandra.
"That is…" she replied, surprised, "Lydia."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely."
"The heiress has survived being kidnapped, then."
"Keep your head down," Sandra whispered, "as long as she doesn't see us, you have valuable information while I have a valuable job."

We waited while Lydia ran into the house and the door closed.

Sandra opened the door and let us into the car. We sat in the back of the car, Sandra found a bottle of baby lotion — "You're well prepared," I said to her — and she let me spread it over her bottom and make love to her from the rear.

Sandra snuggled against me, pushing her backside against me so that I slid effortlessly into her. She gasped and allowed me to come. My orgasm went right through me like a bolt of lightning, except that it seemed to go on for hours.

"We'd better sleep here," said Sandra, "since Lydia's awake and it might be best if she doesn't know that you saw her."
"Might give me a tactical advantage," I said, "I wouldn't know, I never had one before."

Sandra giggled in that entrancing way of hers. We wrapped our arms around one another and drifted off to sleep.

8. Monday 11 April 1960

Sandra awoke first and her stirrings woke me. I didn't recognise my surroundings for a moment. After a few seconds I recognised the leather seat, the folding top, and the beautiful woman who was lying naked, pressed against me. It was already another bright, hot, humid day.

"Hi, gorgeous. Glad you haven't run out on me," she said.
"How's your bottom?" I asked.
"Deliciously sore," Sandra breathed, "I can still feel it. You're in the wrong job."
"That's why they threw me off the Force," I said, shaking my head with the recollection. "Wrong job."
"You ought to be a class teacher, in a girls' school. Long hair, short skirts and tight blouses."
"You must introduce me to Mrs Worell some time," I said. "She can show me how it's done."
"Anything she can do, I can do better and harder," Sandra giggled. "I'll have you awash with tears, red faced, crying and rubbing your backside one day."
"It can't come soon enough," I said, "and neither can I."

I kissed Sandra. She put her arms around me and held me close. Then I felt her hand wandering to my cock and stroking it gently. Sandra knew exactly where to hold a cock and what moves to make. I wondered where she had learned it, or whether she just had real flair and an instinct for that sort of thing. Maybe it was that gift that earned her all those spankings at school. I released a load almost immediately.

"Can't have you going around all day with a horn that size," Sandra chirruped. "Come on, it's time for breakfast," Sandra chirruped.
"Breakfast?" I asked. "What is the time?"
"Breakfast time, of course." There was an elaborate jewelled watch on the carpet. She looked at it and said, "Quarter past seven. Stay here, I'll go and find something for us. What do you want?"
"Anything, as long as it's fried," I said. "Take care, and don't let Lydia know I'm here."
"Don't worry," said Sandra, "she's still asleep." Sandra wrapped herself in her blouse and skirt and clambered out of the car.

I realised Sandra had been wearing those shiny, sensual high heeled pumps all night and I hadn't even licked them. She clicked down the road, disappeared into the house and came out again a couple of minutes later with a big tray and Fanny, the cook, in whites and flat shoes strong enough that a saucepan would bounce off them.

Fanny handed the tray to us. Something healthy for Sandra, egg and bacon for me, and lots of coffee in big mugs. I couldn't remember last time I'd had as good a breakfast without paying a dollar for it.

I toyed with the idea of paying Calisto a call and asking him a few of the questions that were bothering me, but I decided to hold off for the time being. Just until I'd checked my health insurance.

"Tell Fanny I thought breakfast was really good," I told Sandra, when we'd finished breakfast. "Can I ask you one more favour?"
"Ask away," said Sandra, "I'll do most things."
"Can you drop me off at a railway station?"
"Sure, which one would you prefer?"

I toyed with the idea of saying ‘I've always been impressed by the magnificent architecture of Grand Central Terminal,’ but eventually I asked for Allendale. I knew it was nearby, and I also knew the way back from there to Mom's and to my office. Under my breath I cursed the scurvy knaves who had destroyed my car.

"Phone me if anything happens," I said. "I'll be at the office, and if I'm not at the office, I'm at my Mom's." I gave her a business card and I wrote Mom's number on the back.

The train to Penn Station took an hour and a half, and picking my way across New York City to my office was about another hour. Sandra must have worked out how long the journey would take, because the phone rang the moment I stepped into my office.

"It's Sandra. Lydia isn't here!" Sandra sounded anxious, but not at all panicky. I was grateful.
"Sandra… I'm not sure I'm with you. Lydia isn't where?"
"She's not in the house. We can't see her on the estate."
"Did you try standing on a chair?" Sandra ignored my gibe.
"She didn't leave in her own car. The car's not been touched since I left it in the courtyard."
"That's OK," I said. "She didn't arrive in it, either."
"So how did she manage to vanish out of sight?" Sandra asked.
"Well, she's probably in somebody else's car," I said, "or she's gone out and bought this year's model. I wouldn't worry too much. Look, my hands are full at the moment but you'll know what's going on as soon as I do. So will everyone else and so will the cops. Just keep your eyes peeled and…"
"Is there anything we can do?"
"Just be careful who you speak to. Don't give any personal information to anyone. You might regret giving your name, address, phone number, where you're going on holiday, anything like that to anybody. So relax, stare out of the window and remember, when the going gets tough, the tough smoke Marlboro."

Sandra was silent for a few seconds, so I added, "And find out whether Fanny—"

There was a clunk. Sandra had hung up the phone, and she didn't hear my instructions. Obviously Fanny had taken Lydia a snack or something and mentioned that I was hanging around. Lydia just didn't want to be found just yet. I poured myself a double Glenkinchie, as the moment seemed to call for one.

My mind wandered over the patchy To Do list that it did its best to keep, and I realised how little I'd done about Oliver Douglas and Lisa, his wife, who went missing. I expected, of course, that she had come home by now. Most missing persons come home within an hour or two of being reported absent without leave, but when they don't, the distress of the family left behind is terrible. I hoped that if I sat in my worn-out swivel chair and smoked enough Marlboros, I would realise the connection between Mrs Douglas and the case of the moonshine distillery and the MacLeod heiress, and the case would solve itself.

Two cigarettes later, the magic had not worked, so I picked up the photograph and the notes I had made at the time, and I took the subway to 125th. The weather was still bright, hot and sticky.

Pleasant Avenue was a long, straight road of expensive looking apartments but with occasional stores. I found number 1600 and visited the shops round about: a hairdresser, a greengrocer, a gasoline station — ‘Do you recognise this lady? Did she ever come in here?’ — but I didn't find anybody who recognised her. One Italian baker who had obviously worked on Pleasant Avenue for longer than I had been alive shook his head and told me the lady in the photograph definitely didn't live on Pleasant Avenue. He knew everybody who lived there, he told me, and this lady lived somewhere else.

After that, I found the address which Douglas Oliver had given me, and I tried the neighbours. Two apartments down the hallway, I knocked. I heard someone walk to the door and stand behind it, without actually opening it.

"Good afternoon," I shouted at the door,
A woman's voice with a grating Bronx accent yelled, "Go away, I'm taking drugs."
"What kind of drugs?" I asked. "If you'll excuse my curiosity."
"Cough mixture, what do you think?"
"Please talk to me," I said, "it's important."
"I am talking to you," said the woman. "I just want you to go away."
I'm looking for a missing person," I said.
"Well," came the voice through the closed door, "he ain't here, so now you can go away. Who are you, anyway?"
"Sam Corsair," I said, "private investigator."
"Wow!" The woman was overwhelmed, opened the door and leaned out towards me with disbelief written all over her face. I winced as the gin fumes in her breath hit me in the face. "Sam Corsair!" she continued, delighted. "The top private investigator in New York City!"
"Don't believe everything that you read in the papers," I said. "A routine missing persons enquiry, that's all."

The woman had wrapped her hair in a towel and the rest of her was wrapped in a red terry bathrobe and matching slippers. I showed her the picture of Lisa Douglas.

"Have you ever seen this person?" I asked. "She's missing from home. I think she might have been living here for a while."
"That's Bebe Lyon," said the woman.
"Who?" I didn't recognise the name.
"Movie actress. Lives in England. Probably hanging out somewhere in a movie studio there."
"What would Lisa Douglas — this woman here — be doing in a movie studio on the other side of the Atlantic?"
"Making a sequel to Life with the Lyons, I suppose."

I took a deep breath. I stared at the photo, then at the woman who was standing in the doorway, and finally I stared at the photograph again.

"Are you sure?"
"Sure as I am standing here. Look, her film's been on at the Victory Cinema down the street. You can go and see for yourself."
"Well," I said, "I've been hoodwinked."
"Looks like it." I must have looked disappointed, because she went on, "Sorry it didn't work out. But, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and take some more drugs."
"Sure," I said, resisting the urge to ask for some. "Be careful. Don't take more than the doctor—

The woman pushed the door closed.

I walked along the hallway to the neighbour on the other side of what I still thought of as the door to Lisa Douglas's apartment, and I knocked.

"Who is it?" It was the voice of an middle aged man. He opened the door and looked me up and down, obviously unimpressed. He was maybe fifty, wearing a lumberjack shirt and corduroys. He has a beard and well worn square glasses. Deep blue eyes of the kind that seemed to see things that hide from the rest of us.
"Good afternoon, sir," I said.
"You're that Sam Corsair," he said, "the greatest private investigator in the Union. I'd know you anywhere. In what way may I help you?"
"By telling me who this is." I showed him the photograph. "Do you recognise this woman? Have you seen her in the last few days?"
"Gone missing, has she?" He sighed breathily, shook his head slowly and looked along the hallway, over my shoulder.
"Why, yes, she has, sir," I said.
"Well, what is the world coming to. Bebe Lyon has gone AWOL. You know, she had everything to live for."
"With a bit of luck I shall find her," I said, "before her film crew notices that she's missing. Can you tell me something else?"
"Ask away, Mr Corsair."
"The family who live next door to you," I said, pointing to the door that I was beginning to believe did not lead into the apartment of Oliver and Lisa Douglas, "can you tell me anything about them?"
"Him? He's someone important," my new friend told me. "Some sort of high-up in the public works department. Earns a fortune, I can't think why he lives here with all us peasantry. He could afford an apartment like that one out of the petty cash."
"Well," I said, "that's a turn-up for the book. Do you know his name?"
"Oliver something." He stared along the hallway again, appearing to see the answer coming out of the elevator and walking towards him. "Wellard, that's it. Or Welland, or Wetsand… No, I think it's Wellard."
"Oliver Wellard," I repeated.
"Yes," he said, beaming as though congratulating me on divining the name by supernatural powers alone. "Yes. Oliver Wellard. That's him."
"Has he been living here long?"
"Three years, maybe four."
"Not longer than three years, I mean, I've been here ten years now, and the man who had the apartment before Wellard was a motorman on the subway with a beautiful wife and two lovely children. I knew them well. Can't say the same about Wellard. He never seems to have the time of day to give you. Walks past without speaking, without even looking in my direction. Cold, very quiet, lonely type, I would say."

There seemed little point in continuing trying to establish the name, occupation and recent movements of Mrs Lisa Douglas. I thanked the neighbour. Then I lit a Marlboro. I took a mouthful of Glenkinchie from the hip flask and, finding it less than sufficient fortification for the task in hand, I took another one. After that I felt more or less equal to the task of confronting Mr Wellard.

I banged on the door of Wellard's apartment. A metal plate stuck to the door fell off and clattered to the floor, but there was no reply, so I banged again. There was still no reply. I felt a great relief. A locked door could not shoot at me.

I picked up the metal plate that had fallen onto the floor. It was a name plate and it said Douglas. The landlords here usually put plates on the doors, with the occupants' names. There was still a plate screwed to the door. The new plate must have been stuck over the top of it. The plate underneath said Wellard.

So much, I figured, for a pleasant afternoon spent rescuing somebody's wife in distress. I had been duped. I had been made to look a fool in front of two people, and my afternoon pretty much wasted. There must have been a ball game somewhere that I could have been watching, instead of talking nonsense to two neighbours of a woman who didn't exist? Why would somebody — why would Wellard want to waste my time?

I considered my options carefully. One: I could go to City Hall and there engage in a duel of words with Mr Wellard, or Two: I could go to the public library and see what I could find about the wastrel of time Oliver Wellard, or Three: I could pick up a sporting paper from the nearest newsboy and find a ball game. Much though standing in the sunshine watching the cheerleaders and munching a foot long hot dog while drinking beer out of a can rather appealed to me, out of misplaced loyalty I felt that my paymasters probably expected me to be on the case at least during office hours. In my mind's eye I imagined writing an entry on Mr Wellard's invoice. 11 April. Entire day wasted. $20, and somewhere near the bottom of the page, Streetcar fares. 20¢.

Inside 1600 Pleasant Avenue the air had been cool. Outside on the street, the sun was blazing. The streetcar was hotter yet. I sat steaming, rather as dogs do on the sidewalk in the height of summer. I was pleased to reach the public library, fetch The Citizen's Guide To City Hall from the stacks, take it into the air conditioned reading room and leaf through it as I chilled.

I flipped to the chapter headed The Officials. Wellard was not Mayor nor an elected councillor, but he was some kind of senior paid official. There he was, complete with a small photograph, on page 23. Oliver Wellard, Clerk of Public Works, the paragraph read. ‘Office on second floor. Water supplies, gas piepwork, electricity supplies, road surfaces, public buildings…’ Which meant that Mr Wellard was the official whose work was most likely to be disrupted should any new technology overwhelm the electricity supply industry. Which meant that his appearance in the middle of my search for the missing MacLeod heiress might not have been wholly coincidental. Which in turn left only the question of why Wellard was pretending that his wife, if she existed at all, had been kidnapped when she hadn't been.

I was sure I remembered seeing a court case in the newspaper to do with the State Public Works Office. Had Wellard not been appointed, three or four years ago, after the previous Clerk of Public Works had left office under a cloud? I took a Marlboro out of the pack and looked across at the librarian, who happened to be walking across the room at the time.

"All right if I light up?" I asked.
"For you, Sam, anything," he smiled back. "Need a light?"
"I brought my own," I said, and then regretted it because I spent ten minutes going through my pockets trying to find my box of matches.

I smoked and thought and tried to recall. Three or four years ago would put the predecessor's court case into 1957 or 1958. That was when Beckswell was being planned. A new inner suburb largely comprising system built apartment blocks, it had become a disaster and turned into a low rent gang land on welfare. The Clerk of Public Works had taken bribes from various contractors in exchange for priority in the award of Public Works contracts. If only I could remember… There was a coinbox phone in the corridor. I could risk a dime on this. Phone call: 10¢ on Welland's invoice, I thought. I phoned the office of the county court and asked where the evidence in the case was held.

"Corruption case? Which one? We get a lot of those. One a month at least."
"I can remember that the Clerk of Public Works had been taking thousands of samoleans in exchange for irregulatiries in the—" I began.
"I'm new here." said the voice of a young woman.
"How new?"
"Monday of last week," she said, "I'm fresh out of law school. I have no idea how to do anything."
"Well, that's a coincidence," I said, "I don't, either. The first ten years are the worst. When I started this job—"
"Corsair?" said a man's voice on the phone. I could almost hear the bifocals and the club tie. I could even hear how much he hated his job and wished he had been a pro golfer or a glamour photographer instead of wasting all that money getting a Master's of business administration. "What do you want?"
"Hi," I said, "glad you remembered me. I'm looking for the records of evidence in a corruption case three or four years ago. Specifically, I need—"
"Specifically," the bifocals interrupted, "you need to come over here and look through the catalogue yourself, because I don't have enough labour to do somebody else's job. Come to the document store, two doors down from City Hall, fourth floor, and say Joe sent you."
"Sure thing, Mr, ah…" I said.
"Joe."
"Sure thing, Joe," I said as cheerfully as I could, and I signed off.

An hour later, maybe two, I was two doors down from City Hall. I found my way up to the fourth floor and rang a bell on the desk marked "Court Records." A charming blonde woman of about twenty came out of an office door and smiled at me. She was blonde with turquoise eyes, wearing a short greenish blue woolen dress and shoes to match.

"Mr Corsair?" she said. She had a cultured voice, more Oregon than Bronx.
"Hi," I said, "Joe sent me."
"I know," she said. "I answered the phone to you but, really, I don't know enough to help you find what you need. I'm still at the picking it up as you go along stage. Elaine Manse," she added, realising she had forgotten to tell me what her name was.
"But you're here to help me, I hope." I shook her hand. She had delicate, cool hands that looked as though she'd never picked up anything heavier than a crocodile skin bag in her entire life.
"Well, I'll do my best," she said. "To be honest, I'm flattered but actually Joe said that I could come down here and look for you because I might learn something."
"Well. Now it's my turn to be flattered."

There was a pause. I wondered whether Elaine was going to ask me what I was looking for. She didn't.

"I'm looking for the records of a trial that took place three or four years ago in which the then Clerk of Public Works was sent down for taking bribes from a company involved in the Beckswell greenfield building project."

"Hey," said Elaine with unmistakeable joy in her voice, "I was there! I watched that. I was in my first year of the JD course at law school and we had to go on some jaunts to the county courts and the like. If I'd known you were coming today, I'd have rummaged through my student haversack and brought the notes along."
"You'll remember more about it than I do, I'm sure."
"The Clerk of Public Works for New York City was arraigned for taking a bribe from an electrical contractor in exchange for placing contracts for electricity distribution equipment and labour."
"What was the guy's name?"
"Oh, I remember that most clearly," said Elaine, tossing her blonde hair back with a gesture that I was starting to enjoy watching. "It kind of stuck in my memory. His name was Miguel Ángel Figueroa."
"Now, there's a funny thing. I was talking to a crook by that name only the other day. What happened to him?"
"Nothing too bad. Two year suspended sentence and lifelong disqualification from office. I'd be surprised if he even remembers it now. Let's see if we can find the court records. I know you have to go through this door here."

The architect who designed this room obviously spent a lot of time in sheds full of battery chickens. There was a desk at the front, a couple of members of staff standing and sitting behind it, and then several rows benches where people sat reading from little ground glass screens.

"How does this work?" I asked.
"Microfiche," said Elaine. "The latest technology."
"Funny," I observed, "the courts don't care what the police want, or what the lawyers want, or what the judges want, but they're happy to do whatever Eastman Kodak asks of them."
"Joe said you had a wry sense of humour," Elaine told me. "Look, you start with the indexes, over there. Now, I started law school in January 1957 so that dates the trial, doesn't it."
"What are you looking for?" A middle aged woman, obviously knowledgeable in the ways of piles and piles of microfiches, got up from the desk and wandered over to us. She had black hair tied back, a brown blouse and long pleated skirt, and a red cardigan with big plastic buttons. She had a notebook and pencil, which made her appear terrifyingly competent.
"Court case in early 1957 in which a Mr Figueroa was found guilty of corruption."
"I recognise you from the newspapers, Mr Corsair," said the woman. "Pleased to see you."
"Pleased to meet you," I said, "and this is my intern, Elaine."

Elaine gave me a look that I didn't know the meaning of.
"So you're looking for The People vs. Figueroa," she said. She wrote something in her notepad and pointed to two empty seats at a bench. "Get some coffee and doughnutes, then go and sit over there, I'll bring the records to you."

Five minutes later the lady brought a couple of dark blue plastic rectangles across to us and said, "Here. Drop them in the box by the door when you leave."

I took them. As she left, she gave me a small piece of cardboard, like a business card but hand written on both sides. One side read "She's too young for you," and the other side read, "but I'm not." I slipped the card into my pocket in case I needed it later on.

Elaine and I had a couple of minutes of confusion and amusement getting the plastic rectangles into the fiche reader and working out how to read it, but in the end we found all the documents given in evidence, from which we could make out the name of the company involved: it was Penny Electric, or to give it its full title, the Pennsylvania and New York Electricity Supply Corporation. The amount they had paid him was staggering. No wonder he could afford an apartment on Pleasant Avenue just for a mail drop.

I scribbled my office phone number on the piece of cardboard and I dropped it into the box with the fiches. I hoped that maybe the lady who retrieved the fiches was the same person who picked the fiches up out of the box at the end of the day and put them where they could be found again.

Elaine said goodbye, smiled at me and tossed her blonde hair back in that special gesture, and went back up the road to City Hall, while I decided to return to my office and make myself ready for the next day.

In my office, at about eight at night, I was sitting half awake when the phone rang. It woke me with horrible suddenness and I realised I had dozed off in my chair, still wearing my coat and hat.

"Sam?" It was the woman from the evidence collection room.
"Wow," I said, "it's you! This is a surprise."
"Is it all right if I call you Sam?" she asked.
"Of course. But what do I call you?"
"Elise," she said. "Have you had dinner yet?"
"No," I said, "I got back to the office and I just dozed off. I haven't had so much as a cup of coffee."
"I'll come around and bring something for you," she said. "Try to stay awake."

Either Elise was a gourmet chef in her spare time, or she managed to order a take away dinner from a French restaurant in the city centre. Tomato soup, boeuf bourguignon, roast potatoes, all in the right serving dishes and even with proper cutlery that I still couldn't use properly. And wine, with real glasses.

"I'm most impressed," I said. "May I contribute to the immense cost?"
"Oh, no thanks, I appreciate the offer but I don't often get the chance of a meal out like this. Why don't you and I take the streetcar to Times Square and stand in the heat of the evening watching the lights?"

By the time we reached Times Square it was midnight.

"It's the witching hour," said Elise. "Kiss me."

I put my arms around her and kissed her. She used a lot of lipstick and perfume.

"You need something," she said, "I can tell."

I felt her hand on my dick, feeling me through my pants, making me hard and uncomfortable.

"Just relax," she said, "I'm going to stroke your cock on the bare and make you come, so just enjoy it."

Times Square was the most romantic place I could have wanted. Elise was overwhelmed by the bright lights, the chatter of voices, the sudden surges as the crowd left from one theatre or formed a queue outside another, and even the moving traffic. She grabbed my hand and held me tightly and close. We kissed a few times, straight on te mouth, and one time she gave me her finger to suck. I could feel the long fingernail and I let her put it all the way into my mouth. She was trying to make me gag, a fetish that came naturally to me. I sucked it hard. She went for the back of my tongue and laughed as I retched slightly.

I felt her groping my cock lightly and I whispered, "People can see us— Ow!" as a grenade explodid in my balls, making me lose my balance for a second and yelp. I pissed copiously into my pants.
"Never try to resist me," she whispered back. "God gave little boys balls so that little girls could make them obey instructions. At primary school every boy in the same class as me knew what a ball squeeze felt like. Even in first year. I could make them do anything to avoid the pain, the wet shorts and the piss running down those little straight, pale, downy legs. I squeezed every boy's balls. Don't you just love thinking about those hard, sore, red, bruised, aching, burning white balls? I do. Every day I picked a boy and I gave him a savage ball squeeze just before lessons started, so I knew he was sitting at his desk unable to think of anything except his sore balls and his wet pants. I loved to see them crying. And I love that hot piss, by the way. I love the way the soaking wet pants cling to the cock and balls underneath so everything is on show."
"I didn't know women were attracted to little boys like that."
"You'd be surprised," she said.

Elise made her ultimate move as we were standing kissing in the middle of the square, just by the statue of Chaplain Duffy, in the light of the hundreds of neon signs, but I thought Elise had chosen her spot fairly well. Unless you had been standing right up close to us, and nobody was, you wouldn't have seen what she was doing. And if we had stepped into a dark side street, we would have risked the local hoods. Elise ran her finger and thumb along my cock from base to tip a few times, then unzipped my pants, lifted my underpants to one side and held my dick gently, stimulating me slowly with little squeezes, wrapping her hand around it and gently sliding her hand to and fro. I knew I couldn't hold on, and when eventually I pumped a load she held my cock pointing it towards her pleated skirt, letting me pump my load onto the skirt, and then she kissed me on the mouth and slipped the cock back into my pants.

"Good boy," she said, "you're quite a size, aren't you?"
"I would like to think so," I said.
"Do something for me," she said. "Don't zip your pants. Leave the zipper open. It's late, nobody will know."
"All right," I said, "if you take your skirt off."
"OK," she said, and in a moment she had slid the side zipper right down, stepped out of the skirt, and given me the skirt to hold. Underneath she was wearing a tight garter belt, white lace crotchless panties, seamed tan stockings and heels like skyscrapers. "How do I look?"
"Perfect," I said, because she looked perfect. There was no other word.

With my pants zipper open all the way down and Elise wearing nothing below the waist but her lingerie, we caught the last streetcar back to the office. Elise was right: nobody said anything about us, even though everybody noticed. Throughout the ride she kept putting her hand into my open zipper, touching, stroking, squeezing and teasing my cock. When the streetcar stopped outside the office, we got off it and she came indoors with me. Without turning the light on, we fell onto the bed. Elise unfastened my pants and slid my underpants down, and we made love. It was a while since I had experienced the unmistakeable tickle of the lace around the opening in a pair of crotchless panties.

"Wow, that was quick," she said. "May I stay the night? I won't be any trouble."
"You can stay and be as much trouble as you like," I said. "All my life I've adored women who were as much trouble as you look as though you might be."
"Good," said Elise, "then take my panties right off and fuck me again. I really love it when you do that."

9. Tuesday 12 April 1960

In the morning I woke up under the blankets, naked and with a naked Elise embracing me. I held her close and I tried to say something romantic, but the only word that came out was "Breakfast?"

Under the covers, Elise's hand snaked out to my balls and took a gentle but firm hold of them, her middle finger right on the B spot, pressing and circling so as to make my cock very erect. "Make love to me first," she said languidly.
"I was only thinking that— Ow! Christ!"

My balls exploded with pain. I sprayed a stream of piss onto the bed. I was gasping for breath as the agony spread.

"Why rush?" she said languidly. "Your cock wants to stay close to me. And I want to spend some time with your cock. I love the way you piss. Have you ever been spanked?"
"My mother spanks me," I said.
"Ooh! For being naughty?"
"Yes. Or just when she's feeling horny."
"Ooh,", Elise breathed, "she's a sexy bitch, and she needs this big cock to push its way into her?"
"That's it," I said, "how can I resist?"
"Hand or paddle?" Elise chirped.
"Anything that comes to hand, but she bought a set of English school canes a while ago and believe me, they hurt."
"Your mom," Elise pumped my cock rhythmically as she spoke, "beats your ass black and blue with a school stick?"
"You'll make me come."
"Yes. I'm trying to. Talking about punishments gets you aroused, doesn't it?" The rhythmic, irresistible pumping continued. "Your mother slips your panties down and thrashes your bare ass until you're screaming with pain like a badly behaved schoolboy. Detention, lines and a hard, severe caning in front of the whole school. First on the palms of your hands and then when your hands are red and burning, she gives you twelve big doses of the big stick on your uncovered buttocks. Everyone in the school watches you being beaten hard and bursting into tears. Poor cry-baby sissy boy… There."

Gently she made me pump my load onto the wet mattress.

"Good boy." she said, seeming to really mean it. "Mommy's good boy needs sex with Elise but he came in her hands. What a waste of good milk. Does Mommy's good boy want to fuck me properly now?"

She lay on her back and let me lie on top of her and slip into her.

"Try to hold on for a moment this time," she said, "there's no rush."
"I would but you really know how to turn me on," I said. "You have a line in erotic talk that I've never heard the like of."
"Let's see what this does for you," Elise said.

Elise crossed her ankles above my legs, tilting her kitty so that I slipped deeper into her, and used her pelvic floor muscle to squeeze my penis firmly.

"Push!" she cried, "go on, do it hard."

I did, and she made me come instantly.

"There. Didn't you enjoy that?"
"Yes, I did," I said. "You are just too sensual."
"Just ask, any time," she said, "and you can have more."

We went to the Big Eat for breakfast. Elise ordered oatmeal and fresh fruit while I sent for the largest cup of coffee the world had ever seen and an ashtray. People looking through the window, not that there were any, would have thought we had so little in common that we were only sitting together because all the other tables were booked, but it was not so. Elise and I had a genuine special feeling for each other. Mainly sexual but there was a faint trace of love mixed in with it.

"Would you help me to gather a bit more information about the MacLeod business?" I asked Elise.
"Not if I'm likely to be shot at while I do it," she said.
"You probably won't," I said in an effort to reassure her. "You see, I need to break into an empty flat on Pleasant Avenue and look for evidence of a crime."
"Is it a big crime?" Elise asked, so transfixed by the thought that she was holding her coffee spoon steadily a foot above the table top.
"It might be," I said. "Honestly, I'm not sure."
"And how can I help?"
"If you're a locksmith, you can let me into the apartment. If you're not, you can drive me to the apartment block and park outside while I go in, break into the flat and get arrested."
"And after that?" Elise seemed reallykeen to know. She was still holding the coffee spoon aloft.
"After that you can come and visit me in jail," I said.

Elise put her coffee spoon into the sugar bowl and conveyed a small heap of sugar into her cup. I stubbed my third cigarette out, and we drove off for Pleasant Avenue.

"I hope you realise that I'm missing a day's work because of you," she said, when we were about half way to our destination.
"I realise that, ma'am," I said, "and I'm very grateful."
"I hope Elaine can cope," she said, "but if she can't, she can ask Joe for help, and he'll fire the pair of us."
"That's one way to avoid stress at work," I said.

From the car park at the back of 1600 Pleasant Avenue, Elise and I looked up at the fourth floor apartment that was probably rented out to Wellard but just might have been rented out to Douglas. We watched for fully ten minutes and didn't see a soul inside, so I felt it was safe to proceed, although not to proceed very far. I looked at the balconies of the apartments. Wellard's apartment, unless it was Douglas's, shared a balcony with the neighbour to the left — that would be the man in the lumberjack shirt — but the balcomy was divided by a partition so that clambering from the one apartment into the other, even if the opportunity presented itself, would be pretty risky.

"Coming?" I asked Elisa.
"Help the greatest private investigator on the planet to round the bad guys up and throw them in jail?" she asked. "You bet."

Elise and I listened outside the door of Welland's apartment. Hearing nothing, we tried to open it. To nobody's surprise, it was locked. It was a mortice lock, not the sort that you can open with a rubber wedge and ten minutes' practice.

I knocked on the door of the lumberjack shirt and he answered.

"Sorry to trouble you again," I said, "but we need to get into Wellard's apartment for a few minutes."
"What do you want to get in there for?" he asked.
"We have reason to—" I started, but Elise was struck by inspiration and interrupted, "We think his cat's been left without water. It's two days now. We're so worried."
Lumberjack Shirt looked warmly upon her and said, "Years ago, the guy who lived there, a motorman on the subway, I told you about him, gave me a key in case he ever lost his own. So if I can just find it, I can lend it to you, and you can push it back under the door when you're finished with it."
"Thanks," I said, "we'll be really grateful."
"And so will Figaro the cat," said Elise, "because he must be really thirsty by now."
"Wait here a moment," he said.

There were noises of him opening doors and opening drawers and rummaging around. I was beginning to regret putting him to so much trouble when he came back to the front door, beaming all over his face, and said, "You can try this key. No guarantees of course, but it might work. I hope the cat is all right."
"Oh, I hope we're not too late," said Elise. "That would be too awful to contemplate."

Mr Lumberjack Shirt closed his door and we walked one door along to try our luck.

The lock didn't appear to have been cleaned any time in the last hundred years, so I guessed it probably hadn't been changed either. The key went into the lock, turned a short way, and stopped dead. I pushed it harder, but it didn't move.

"Here, let me try," said Elise. "Let me try this."

Elise took a tiny glass jar of white cream out of her purse, dipped her finger into the cream and wiped it on the blade of the key. "Moisturiser," she said. "Old wives' trick that I just made up."

"Have a try, then," I said, and I stood back so that she could have a go at the lock.

Elise put the key in the lock, wiggled it to and fro, and suddenly she was able to turn it. The bolt slid back and the door fell open.

I was astonished. "You did that with moisturiser?"
Elise shook her head. "No, I did that with my left hand."
"What do you mean?" I asked, nonplussed.
"The moisturiser made the key turn easier but that wasn't what did it. I'm left handed. You were turning the key the wrong way. It's a Schlage lock. Some of them open left handed, including this one."
"That'll never stop anyone," I said.
To which Elise very reasonably replied, "It fooled you."

As I were expecting, there were letters on the mat, two addressed to Oliver Douglas, the other two to Oliver Welland. I picked up the letters, felt them both in an effort to divine their contents, and put them all into my pocket anyway.

We looked around the rooms and everything we saw suggested that nobody lived in this apartment. The bleakest of furniture, no clothes lying around, no soap or toothbrush in the bathroom, and a musty smell of desertion everywhere. This was was just a mail drop.

We were back in Elise's car. Elise would have started driving straight off, but she was busy kissing me and groping my pants, and I was enjoying what she was doing and I didn't want her to stop.


"You know," I said, as she raised a tentpole in my pants, "I'm really glad that I have you with me."
"How come, mister?" Elise asked.
"Well, firstly," I said, "you're gorgeous. Secondly, you have one hell of a sex urge. Thirdly, I'm truly fond of you, which is not a sensation I feel towards many of the women I meet, and fourthly, you have a car."
"That is some accolade," said Elise. "I thought I was just a nice body as far as you were concerned, but here I am, imbued with all the status and glamour of your girlfriend and your chauffeur as well. Where to, sir?"
"Edeson Research," I said, "I think we can go and rescue Lydia MacLeod now."
"Where is Edeson Research?" she asked.
"I'll point and you drive," I said, "we'll get there sooner or later."

I pointed along the cross streets to show which direction Elise should take, and after only a few misdirections, missing landmarks, circuits and detours we arrived at Edeson Research. Elise drove us around the building and we parked in the company car park at the back.

"Ready?"
"Yes, sir," said Elise.
"Do you want to come along?"
"Sure."

I found the letters in my pocket and held them ready as we walked around the building and rang the doorbell. The receptionist came out into the ground floor hallway and opened the door to us.

"Hi," I said. "It's good to see you again. We have to go upstairs."
"No," said the receptionist, "you can't go upstairs, it isn't permitted."
"It isn't your property," I said, "and you don't rent it." I pushed past her and hoped — rightly as it happened — that she wasn't armed.
"What're you doing?" she called after us as we dashed upstairs.
"Rescuing a cat," Elise called down. "We heard it miaouing so piteously, we thought it was dying of thirst."
"You come back down here, or I'll call the police."
"I welcome that kind offer of help," I said, "it will save me the trouble."

Edeson Research occupied the first and second floors, while the top floor was officially empty. We reached the top floor, and found our path blocked by a locked double door of two halves, each half made of a thick sheet of plate glass with a hardwood frame.

"Have you got a key that fits this door?" I asked Elise.
"No," she said, "should I have?"
"We'll have to improvise, then. Give me one of your shoes."

Elise took off one of those glossy leather shoes with the long stiletto heels. I swung it as hard as I could against the corner of the glass door. It shattered. I caught a shard of glass on the back of one hand and bled heavily.

"This is no time to need an ambulance ride to Accident and Emergency," said Lisa.
"Put your shoe back on," I said to her, handing her the shoe, which had now acquired several deep scratches and a blood stain the size and colour of a squashed tomato.
"What the hell is going on in my stairwell?" the receptionist yelled. "Can't I have some peace and quiet so I can call the Police?"
"I sure will, mister," said Elise, balancing awkwardly but successfully on one leg while slipping the remains of the shoe back on.
"Sorry," I yelled down to the receptionist. "And you, Elise, put a shoe on expenses."
"I get expenses? That's advancement."
"Only one, mind. The other one's in perfect working order."

I pulled my coat sleeve over my right hand and thumped the glass that remained in the door frame. When the opening was big enough and looked as though one could climb through it and survive, gingerly, I stepped through it. Elise, with courage bordering on idiocy, followed me through the smashed pane of glass and was still alive afterwards.

We were in an empty reception lobby with an office at the back, a layout exactly similar to that of Edeson's office two storeys down. Ahead of us, the door to the back office opened. A woman appeared, wearing what looked like a coat and mules and nothing else.

"Lydia," I said to her, "you tell us what the devil is going on."
"Get out," she said, "I didn't order you to come here. Get out."

The receptionist from downstairs climbed through the smashed door and joined us.

"I called the Police," she said, as though it had been difficult.
"Well," I said to Lydia, "I don't have long, the Police will be here in a couple of minutes, so if you don't want to tell me what is going on, how about I tell you?"

I was met by what I like to think was a stunned silence.

"Firstly," I said, "although I am no Walter Andrew Shewhart, even I can see that Edeson Research has a ground breaking product. The product was patented so anyone who wanted to manufacture it had only to apply to Woodrow… Where is he, by the way?"

Edeson's receptionist gulped. I looked at her as accusingly as I could manage.

"You phoned him and told him not to come here, didn't you," I said to her.

She gulped again.

"You didn't phone the Police, did you?" Again, a gulp. "Christ on a bike, do I have to do everything myself? Anyway, Penny Electric could see that if the Edeson product caught on, they would never get another job if they wrote a million tenders and offered on every one to do the job for free. They already had Figueroa on a retainer so they threatened and cajoled Wellard into staving off buying into Edeson. Meanwhile Figueroa had found a job with the MacLeod estate under a false name, since every newspaper in New York City had been printing his real name every day for weeks. How am I doing?"

Lydia MacLeod nodded the sort of nod that told me I was probably not too far short of getting a grade A in guesswork.

"So now Edeson does some research on his dad's company, Edison Electric, and finds, surprisingly, that Edison Electric installed a generator, electric light and various electrical gadgets as a demonstration effort at the stylish but not too far out of town MacLeod estate in up-market Ramsey. He takes a couple of his new products along as a sort of quid pro quo for being shown around the dusty and dangerous fibre-covered cables from the Edison era. Right again?
"Sure thing," said Lydia.
"Figueroa is a hopeless alcoholic. He realises that with Edeson's heating element and some junk he finds lying around — tubing, funnels, jerry cans, that sort of thing — he can build a still and hide it in a pumping station on the edge of the estate. Which is why a pile of odds and ends went missing. Since Figeroa didn't think of asking permission to remove the odds and ends—"

I heard the wail of a Police car in the distance but coming closer.

"Lydia here came and asked me to look into it. And apart from Mr Edeson faking a kidnapping during which two Police officers were shot and killed, and paying a gang of thugs to kidnap my mother and me, that's all there is to it."

The Police car stopped close to the front door of the building. There was a commotion at the foot of the stairs. Seconds later, a uniform stuck his gun arm through the smashed plate glass door and yelled, "Freeze!"

"Everything's fine here, Officer," I said, as his partner climbed the stairs and came into the lobby with the rest of us. "This caper's over."
"Hey," he said, "I recognise you. Have you solved that crime that was in the papers? The MacLeod heist?"
"Yes, I have," I said, "with the help of my friends here. It was a pushover."

Elise and I exchanged phone numbers, which is always a good sign when you want to see a lady again. She drove herself home. Without me to misdirect and confuse her, she probably reached home in half the time it had taken her to drive out here from the city. The cops wrote the stuff that they always do in their notebooks and then they gave me a ride to Hill Street.

My former colleague Joyce Davenport, bless her heart, treated me to coffee and a salt beef and pickled egg sandwich in the canteen.

"How are you getting on?" she asked.
"I'm doing all right," I said. "If I had a lot more money, my life would be a lot of fun."
"I know the feeling. Do you miss this place?"
"I'd forgotten how good the salt beef and pickled egg sandwich are. I wish they'd open the canteen to civilians. You'd have criminals walking in off the street begging to be allowed to stay, and the crime rate would fall off the Empire State Building, never to rise again."
"I followed the story as far as the moonshine still," said Joyce, "but what happened next?"
"I know the kidnapping was fake because Edeson told me he found the ransom note pushed under the door, but there wasn't a trace of dirt on the envelope. And Figuroa had the newspaper with holes cut in it, so he must've made the ransom note. So, Figuroa made the note and gave it to Edeson."
"And then?"
"Edeson wasn't in the MacLeod house that day. So Figuroa gave the note to Lydia, and I guess Lydia asked Burton to take her over to Edeson's office. She gave him the note and went and hid on the top storey, and we had a fake kidnapping."
"And why did they turn on you?"
"I don't know. Not yet, anyway. I guess Penny Electric wanted to delay my investigation and they paid Figuero and some of his friends to stop me. Edeson was paying Figuera cash in boxes… 'Scuse me, I just thought of something."

I got up out of the seat, said thanks to Joyce, and ran onto the street. I jumped in front of a yellow cab, so the driver had to stamp on the brake to avoid hitting me, and then I sat in the back and shouted, "Ramsey. The MacLeod estate!"
"That's a long way," said the driver.
"That's OK, it's on expenses," I said, "provided we're there in time."

One of the bad things about my line of work is that occasionally you have to get your hands dirty. The estate seemed busy with its own affairs, people visiting the trading store, turning up for rendez-vous on the golf course, or just doing their bit keeping the place going. I hoped nobody would notice me driving up to Bert Burton's cottage and surreptitiously searching through the content of his trash can. I was looking for receipts, and I found several. But I also found the brown paper bags, brightly labelled, in which Burton had carried a hamburger from the shop to the car, where he had eaten it at leisure while waiting for his mistress, Lydia, to come back from wherever he'd left her.

I studied the receipts carefully. This one was from a store in Ramsey, that one in New York City. But this one here, and that one, and all those labelled paper bags, didn't come from here. They were from across the state. From the gas station and the Wimpy bar on the same street as Edeson Research. From the dates on the receipts it looked as though Lydia had visited Edeson at least three times since the garbage men had last come by.

So Lydia MacLeod was having an affaire with Woodrow Edeson. Figuero, desperate for money as alcoholics always are, had been blackmailing Edeson, or trying to, with the threat of taking evidence of the affaire to her husband, or just possibly to the newspapers. I put the wrappers and the bills in the glove compartment and set off to find Figuroa.

I had a fair idea of where to look. I left the estate and trudged along the main road until I heard a car coming, and I thumbed a lift to the Jolly Pirate.

"Well, I never," said the barkeep. "It's Sam Corsair again. We must be doing something right."
"You will be," I said, "if you tell me you've seen Calisto Villalobos in here today."
"He hasn't come in yet, but he will do. He never misses a day."
"Is he late?"
"Only by half an hour."

So where might Figuero be?

"Give me a cold Old Dutch beer," I said, "and keep it cold for me. I'll be a few minutes." I put a couple of coins on the bar, enough to pay for the beer, and I went out into the street. The Post Office was a couple of doors down the street. I looked at the queue, and there was Figuero, two places away from the counter.

I walked up to him, trying to look nonchalant. "Calisto," I said.
"Sí."
"What have you got on Woodrow Edeson?"
"Qué?"
"What do you know about Woodrow Edeson that I don't?"
Figuero held up the envelope that he was carrying. It was a brown cardboard envelope and it looked as though there was quite a pile of papers in it. Maybe photographs or hotel bills, the sort of thing that blackmailers hoard. "Mr MacLeod is about to find out what I've got on Edeson," he said.

The clerk called Figuero forward.

"I want to send this packet to Guatemala."
The clerk put the packet on his scale, added and subtracted weights, and eventually demanded a dollar seventy-five.
"I ain't got it," said Figuero, rummaging in his pockets, "that's too damn expensive, I ain't got that much."

Figuero, still muttering, turned his back on the clerk and shuffled out of the Post Office.

"Sir! Sir!" The clerk called after Figuero, who either didn't hear him or ignored him. "Sir, you'll have to take it back with you. I can't store it here."
"It's OK," I said to the clerk, "I live near him. I can take it and give it to him."
"Thank you, sir," said the clerk, and handed the package to me.

After another journey on the train from Allendale to Penn Station, I took the package to my office and tried to examine it for explosives. It seemed harmless enough, so I opened it. There were a couple of photographs of Edeson sitting in a restaurant with Lydia, another of them drinking together in a bar, and another of them walking down a street in a place with palm trees, so it might have been Florida. Then there were a couple of hotel bills in Edeson's name, and a handwritten note on ruled paper saying 'I thought you might like to know what your wife is doing while you are at work.'

Nothing incriminating, but nothing pleasant either.

I left everything on the desk at the office and caught the streetcar to Grannies. I sent for a well done steak with a pickled egg and a double Glenkinchie. In this job, health is everything and you have to watch your diet carefully.

9. Wednesday 13 April 1960

I was in the office bright and early, at about nine o'clock. It was another baking hot day of bright sunshine and deep blue, cloudless sky.

I put two sheets of notepaper together with carbon paper and put them into the typewriter. I had an invoice to type at last. Man does not live by bread, salt beef and pickled eggs alone. Man lives by invoices. Ask Walter Shewhart if you don't believe me. One hundred and forty dollars, and some expenses added on.

The phone rang. It was the insurance company. "Just to let you know that we received your claim and the cheque is in the post." Great. What sort of car did I want, I asked myself. This time I'll definitely have another red one.

And then the phone rang again, and it was Elise. Could she take me out to that favourite restaurant, where she'd bought the extraordinary meal that she fetched me on Monday. Yes, I said, I'd like that, and this time I'm buying.

I told Elise about the corruption in City Hall, and the blackmail, and how by sheer good fortune I had stopped a blackmailer from carrying out his threat.

"And when Edeson didn't pay the blackmail," I said, "he and Lydia staged a kidnapping, so that the blackmailer would face more serious charges than demanding money with menaces. The ruse worked better than they thought it would. They scared Figuroa senseless. He went to the trouble of burning the containers that Edeson had put the money into."
"Edeson sent cash?" Elise was surprised.
"Used notes." I smiled at her. "Demand in words cut out of a newspaper, payment in used notes, a threat to send the husband a few over exposed photographs of the wife's boyfriend. Figuero just watches too much television."
"Still, you managed to crack the case before anyone came to harm."
"Oh," I said, "when you think about it, it was a pushover."