Normally, you'd expect photos to be posted here at Photo Journey, because.... well, after all - it is a photo blog. But, I like to keep things stirred up, so I thought I'd try something a little bit different and see if I get any response. I'm going to serialize one of my novels here for the first time anywhere. It's a detective novel, featuring my character, (who happens to be a detective of the old school), Steve Randall. It's one of eight novels I've written featuring this same character and the action takes place in New York City of the mid-1950's - back when things were "hardboiled."
So, without further ado, here is chapter one of "D Is For Doxy," by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson, (that would be me), and please let me know if you enjoy it and want more. (Like the second and subsequent chapters.)
The gleaming black Chrysler Imperial limousine rolled to a stop in front of the Plaza Hotel’s five-star restaurant, the Foxe’s Den. A chauffeur, dressed equally atramentously, stepped out into the night and walked around the car to the back passenger door. He noiselessly pulled on the door handle and held it open while the limo disgorged it’s sole passenger. The passenger, a man, stood upright and wrapped a white silk ascot tightly around his neck to lessen the chill of the late winter. When he had finished, he turned to his driver and said,
“Pontford, I won’t be needing the car again until midnight.”
The chauffeur inclined his head slightly in acquiescence and replied, “Very well, sir.”
The well-dressed man who had climbed out of the car was no less than the wealthy owner of one of the more famous and glitzier jewelry stores along Fifth Avenue. The establishment bore the same name as that of the man: Martine’s.
Leslie Arafid Martine, a second-generation Manhattanite, had grandparents who had been born in Zurich before the turn of the century. His family had always shaped precious and semi-precious stones out of the ground and it had went on to support Leslie in a manner to which he had easily become accustomed. Leslie Martine kept his careful distance from the “working classes,” so he turned away from his driver quickly and walked under the red and gold awning that welcomed people into the entrance of the Foxe’s Den. A doorman in a crisp, red and gold coat became the point of entry he was seeking, so he moved past him with an almost imperceptible nod of his head.
“Evening, Mr. Martine.”
“It’s such a pleasure to have you join us this evening.”
The doorman had done what was required of him, so he didn’t try for a third strike. ‘Some people,’ he thought, ‘act as though they owned the world.’ But of course, Leslie Martine was rich enough to own at least his share of it. Martine entered inside and was gone, so the doorman turned back to his post and waited on the next arrival in the chilly night. If the temperature didn’t keep them home tonight.
Once inside, the tall and slightly overweight Martine divested himself of the ascot and the heavy black floor-length overcoat. He placed his black Homberg on the counter and a girl placed it on a rack alongside several other hats. Then, with familiarity, he moved through the small foyer that divided the hatcheck room and the main dining area. The Maitre ‘d’ Hotel met him immediately.
“Ah, Mr. Martine, so good to see you tonight. Are you perhaps come to dine tonight, or can I show you...?”
He was cut off abruptly in midsentence.
“The back room, please,” said Martine, sotto voce.
“Ah, of course. The gentlemen you seek are already there and awaiting on you.”
Martine stood with a look of bored impatience showing clearly on his features so the Maitre’ d’ placed the menu he had held in his hands on a small, round table by the front of the room and spun in the direction of the back. As he walked along, Martine followed.
Once they had reached the back of the restaurant, there were two doorways; one was the well-travelled double swinging doors that led to the kitchen. The other was a smaller, single door and less used. But, not less important. Men like Leslie Martine used this door and it was here that many big deals, legal and otherwise, had been made. The fact that the room was used primarily for gambling was chief on the mind of men of Martine’s ilk. It was carefully through this second door that he finally emerged on the other side to a waiting conclave of four other men. They had already started a friendly hand of poker, but when they saw him, they threw their cards down.
“Ah, old boy, glad to see you made it.”
“How is the weather outside?”
“We’ve kept your seat warm, Leslie.”
Once inside the realm of his own company, the man seemed to alter his personality noticeably. He became
more at ease and spoke to the men as if they were old friends; which, indeed, they were.
“Wilson, you old devil, this week’s going to be different. I’ll win back some of the money you relieved me of last Wednesday night. How’s the wife, Johnson? I’m surprised she let you out. Jarvis, don’t let your recent killing on the market fool you into thinking we’ll be easy marks. What do you say, gentlemen? Andrews? Let’s get down to business.”
Business in this case was five-card draw poker, nothing wild and a fifty-dollar ante. The same as the previous Wednesday nights here in the back of the Foxe’s Den. The five upwardly mobile gentlemen had seats athwart a well-used round green felt-topped table and the man named Jarvis motioned to the young hostess hovering nearby. She came over.
“Hey, darling, we’re ready to get started now. How about breaking the seal on a new bottle of your best bourbon and bringing it in here along with five glasses? Bring an ice bucket and put some ice in the glasses, as well.”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
As she turned and walked off, the man named Johnson patted her on the rear. He turned back to the men around the table and smiled.
“You wouldn’t smile,” said Martine, “if your wife would have seen that.”
“My wife,” he answered back, “wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this.”
This brought loud guffaws from everyone in the group. When it had died down, the hostess came back with a tray in her hands loaded with a full bottle, ice and five glasses. She placed it squarely on the table between Jarvis and Johnson and Jarvis shooed her off.
“Thanks honey, we’ll pour.”
She scooted out of the room just inches away from Johnson’s hand, and having missed this time, the others teased him about it.
“The old eyes not what they used to be, eh?”
“You’re slowing down, Johnson. It’s age. It catches up to all of us, sooner or later.”
Johnson frowned and Martine said, “Gentlemen, are we going to talk all night or are we going to play cards?”
“We’re going to play cards.”
“Good. Then Jarvis, start emptying that bottle while I shuffle the cards. I feel a lucky streak coming on tonight.”
“Are you sure it’s not indigestion, Martine?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Martha’s out with her league tonight and I haven’t seen her all day.”
“I should be so lucky with my wife.”
“Speaking of lucky, Wilson, who was that young blonde goddess I saw hanging all over your arm uptown yesterday?”
“That was no goddess, she was my....uh.... niece.”
“How come all your nieces are blonde-haired, Wilson?”
“Just lucky, I guess.”
“You’d better hope your wife never catches you with that side of your family.”
“There’s no worry of that. I’ve got my ‘niece’ staying in a nice, comfortable little apartment overlooking Central Park. She’s perfectly content to do without the big family reunion.”
The bourbon was poured and passed around the table while the cards were dealt for the first hand. The play went pretty evenly for the first few hours, but after eleven o’clock and a second bottle was emptied, it looked like fortune was smiling mainly on just two souls – Jarvis and Martine. Their stack of bills consistently grew taller while everyone else’s shrank. Martine looked down at his watch and said aloud:
“It’s getting late, gentlemen. How about making this the last hand?”
“What, and let you walk out of here with most of my money?”
“And mine, too, Johnson.”
“We’ll be here next week. You’ll probably win it back then.”
“I hope so. I’ve been on a terrible streak lately. I’ve dropped almost ten grand in the last two months. Any more, and my wife is going to wonder who I’m spending it on. And then she’ll want a new fur jacket.”
“They’re not that expensive when you can get them wholesale.”
“She’s got a dozen of them now. What does she need another one for?”
“You know women, Johnson.”
“Don’t I ever.”
Jarvis interrupted the woman-haters mutual society long enough to ask for some cards.
“If you don’t mind, men, I’d like three new cards.”
“And three it is,” said Johnson as he peeled three cards from off the top of the deck.
“How about you, Andrews?”
“Better make it three, also.”
“Only two this time.”
“Look out for Wilson,” said the dealer, “and I’ll take three.”
Johnson finished placing the new cards in his hand with the old ones he’d kept and then he placed the deck on the table. Jarvis started the betting.
“I’ll say two hundred to stay and play.”
“See it, and raise two more.”
“Covered with an additional five hundred.”
Wilson folded immediately.
“Too rich for my blood.”
“So, it’s nine hundred at me, huh? I’ll see it and add three crisp hundreds on top of it.”
“Trying to win it all back in one hand, Johnson?”
“I would like to get a little of it back.”
“Well, here’s your chance. I’ll see your three hundred and raise it another five.”
“Good God, man, I was only joking.”
“It’s at this point that we separate the men from the boys,” intoned Johnson.
“You’ve got me figured out all right,” said Andrews. “This boy is going to fold.”
Martine looked at the two remaining players.
“Well, now it’s just us three. I’ll go as far as matching your five hundred, Jarvis, but no more. How about you, Johnson?”
“I’ll call. What do you have, Jarvis?”
“Full boat, ladies over.”
And as he spread out the three Queens and two tens, Johnson shook his head and threw his cards down on the table.
“You’ve got me. What about you, Martine?”
“I guess it must be my night, for the card gods are with me. A royal flush, in spades.”
And he laid them out carefully in front of him.
“I’ll say. Well, take it, then,” said Jarvis pointing at the pile of money in the middle of the table, “it’s yours, fair and square.”
Martine scooped up the hefty stack of bills and started organizing them.
“Gentlemen, I want to thank you tonight for so richly restocking my somewhat depleted coffers. I know it wouldn’t have been possible without you.”
“Yeah, yeah, wait until next week.”
“I’ll be right here.”
The five men pocketed their money and one by one began to leave. As Martine was putting on his overcoat, he rolled up his shirt sleeve a little and glanced at his watch: 12.15. Pontford would be out front waiting on him. Good. That meant the car would already be warm. He hated New York winters. If it wasn’t for the fact that his relatives had lived here since 1883, he might think of moving to a warmer climate. Maybe California or Miami. But, no, New York – Manhattan, was home. He’d just have to put up with the cold.
He stepped out past the doorman again and into the below-freezing flurries that had developed. His chauffeur saw him and was standing by his door when he reached the car. Saying nothing, he dipped his head and climbed into the large back seat. The door closed quickly behind him.
When the car was moving again, Pontford glanced at the rearview mirror and spoke.
“Yes.” He paused. “No....wait a minute. I want to go by the store for something.”
Pontford turned his gaze back to the road ahead and put his concentration to motoring toward Fifth Avenue. It wasn’t long until Martine’s jewelry store came into view.
“Just park in front, I’ll only be a few minutes.”
The car glided to a stop in front of an impressive building fronted entirely of glass. Martine got out by himself and pulled a small ring of keys out of his pocket. He found the right one, inserted it into the lock, twisted it and went inside. Pontford turned his eyes back to the road now that Martine was out of sight. He didn’t see what happened next.
Inside the building, Martine made his way to his office. He opened it’s door and went in, not noticing that, for a brief few seconds, the sounds of the city swelled and then subsided back to normal. He was too intent on what he was doing.
He finished his business in the small, concealed safe on the wall behind his desk, and having placed tonight’s winnings safely inside, closed it securely and turned around. As he straightened a few items on his desktop, he looked up. Up into the eyes of a young woman. A very beautiful young woman. Absentmindedly, he sat down at his desk.
“What are you doing here?” He watched her closely.
She stepped the rest of the way into the office and pulled the door to behind her without looking at it. She said nothing. He kept watching her.
“Look, if it’s about the money....”
“It’s not the money.”
Her voice was soft. It dawned on him that she must have come in just after he had. The door had opened, he’d heard it, but he hadn’t noticed it at the time. Had she been waiting outside for him? That didn’t seem likely; he always went home on Wednesday nights, but there she was. True, the woman before him was the mistress he “kept,” his doxy, but she had her place and this wasn’t it. Doxy. Now, where had that word come from? It was one his grandfather might have used. Her voice brought him out of his thoughts.
“Let the wicked forsake his ways....”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“And the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return unto the Lord.”
“Listen, I know I said I’d ask for the divorce. It just hasn’t been the right time, yet. You must believe me.”
“It’s too late for that, Leslie, dear. For the wicked must pay for their sins.”
As she spat out the word ‘sins,’ a gun was in her hands. A big, ugly black one. He hadn’t noticed it before, so it must have been in her purse.
“Stand up, Leslie.”
He stood up. The desk was between them, so he could use it to shield himself if she was stupid enough to try and use that thing. Inspiration dawned on him. He had a gun he kept inside his safe. If he could only convince her to take some money, maybe she’d go for it and leave him alone. He could always plead self-defense if he had to shoot her.
“Look, I’ve got some money in my safe. Quite a bit, actually.” He moved back toward it. “It’s yours, if you want it.”
“Okay. But, point that thing away. It might go off.”
She took one hand off the gun and pointed to a couch on the left side of the desk.
“Over there. On the couch.”
“Why, what do you want?”
“Now.” Her voice was starting to get louder now, but he doubted if anyone could hear it outside of the building.
“Okay, I’m going.” He sat down on the couch without taking his eyes off her. “Look, if you’ll just put down the gun, I know we can work it out. I’ll do anything you say.”
She came from in front of the desk toward the edge of the couch. Her eyes never left his, the gun never dropped it’s lone eye staring at his. It was becoming very unnerving to see her looking like this; in this frenzied emotional state. She had never been like this before. She was crazy. Yes! That was it exactly. But, how could he get the gun from her?
She bent over and with her left hand, picked up one of the small cushions from the end of the couch. As she lifted it in front of the barrel of the revolver, he realized what it was for. As his feet went into action, the pillow coughed out a wad of stuffing and duck down. It kept on exploding, even after the first bullet had hit him in the chest, knocking him back onto the couch. Five more times the gun went off. He watched as the pillow fell limp and depleted, and he died looking at it. His body ended up a crumpled heap, as desiccated as the pillow, on the black leather couch, which was now spattered with vivid red spots. The wall was stained the same color and there grew a big puddle on the floor in front of him. The woman threw the pillow back down on the couch and reloaded her gun. Then she placed it back in her purse.
Objective achieved, the beautiful young red-haired woman found a back exit and disappeared into the long, cold night.