murder in manhattan
Sample taken from the above book
Welcome to the world of Aaron Baum: New York, post WWII. Murder Inc. no longer exists but the mobs still do – Italian, Jewish, Irish – and there is more than enough homicide, blackmail, corruption and racketeering for one city to handle; throw some good old-fashioned immorality into the pot too. There is menace on the streets but not everyone knows it. Perhaps the city that never sleeps has need of those who are aware of these things and will stand up straight against them.
And so, welcome to Aaron Baum, P.I. He will surely stiffen his spine when required – but he needs to pay the rent, of course. Naturally, he’s tough – you would expect that from an army veteran – but there is more. He is smarter than both his enemies and his few friends care to believe and, perhaps, his morals are higher than he believes himself. He lives alone, he enjoys jazz, he has a cat with no name, he… well, I suggest you get to know Aaron Baum yourself in this, his first Casebook.
Aaron first appeared in the short story The Lady in the Room from Light and Dark: 21 short stories; it is included in this book by way of introduction. I think he is worth knowing. I believe if I were in a tight corner I would want him on my side.
C.G. Harris, August 2022
THE ONE-AHEAD MURDERS
Infidelity provides me with an income. Without it, the cat and I might go hungry so I don’t look down on it as much as I should. Rabbi Jakob and his pals cornered me last week and we discussed the matter. They were interested in what I do and I still ain’t sure whether they disapprove or whether they see it as me upholding the Sixth Commandment; that is, if tailing nervous spouses, husbands mainly, and squealing on them counts. For P.I.s in New York, adultery provides the bread-and-butter work; there are a number of us who specialize in it. I wouldn’t call it a fraternity as such – we like to keep to ourselves generally – but I know most of them.
Sometimes, in the love game, things turn nasty – and dangerous; I don’t like that one bit. I hate it even more when I’m nearly puzzled to death first.
It’s easy to tail someone if their mind is on something else. This particular guy’s mind was on a ‘something else’ of the blonde, bored, married kind looking to jazz things up while her husband was at work. I knew where he was headed, it was the third time in a week; you could tell Spring had arrived. His car was bright red and just a year out of the factory, a ’49 Ford Custom sedan, and mine was grey and old, a Chevy that once had class and now slid by without a glance, which is how I like it.
Today the early week, midday traffic on the Queensboro’ Bridge to Long Island was light, and the road to the suburbs even lighter. Levittown was looking sunlit, crystal clear and clean.
The sedan pulled up fifty or sixty yards away from where I knew he would end up – a white and blue, decent-looking house that was just the same as all the others but on a corner plot. There were a few cars passing back and forth and others parked in front and behind me on the street. I hid mine among them.
Last week the guy walked from his car looking cagey; this time I wouldn’t say he swaggered but there was a bit more sway to his step. He looked like the salesman that he was and when you get away a few times with playing around you tend to forget that you have a wife who is more suspicious and less dumb than you think. I just needed another camera shot or two, lousy as they were, and he would be finding that out. If I thought too hard about it, I could end up feeling kind of sneaky but sometimes someone has to pay the price for indiscretion, and besides, I had two landlords who weren’t easy to satisfy on a regular basis. I’d recently upped my rate to thirty-five bucks a day plus expenses but an apartment and an office don’t come cheap.
I hoped the lady would step right outside the door. I needed a clear view of them both together as on previous days. He would find these shots hard to explain to his wife: there are only so many times you can sell someone cutlery, unless it’s a fork at a time. But I growled when he reached the door and didn’t knock; their arrangements must have moved forward because he just looked around, then leaned down and moved a solid looking planter-pot full of yellow flowers I didn’t know and couldn’t care about. He must have come up with a key because a second later he pushed open the door and was inside. I made a note of the time.
I settled down. Patience ain’t one of my virtues but it’s recommended for the job and I’m used to waiting and drinking cold coffee while not thinking about loaded, fat guys making out – it ruins my sandwich. When this particular guy came out only a few minutes later, I sat up quick and wondered whether she hadn’t bothered to put her make-up on and the wife was seeming more attractive after all. He was more nervous and shakier than when he went in; as a general rule, these guys take their time and come out looking like the cat that got the cream and with an ego as big as their belly. He started out fast towards his car with his head down. Then something hit him, and he patted his pants pocket and rumba’d on the spot before heading back to the house like he didn’t want to. I kept low down in the car but high enough up to see him take the key and replace it under the pot. Then I watched him hightail it in his snazzy car. He had the sense to ease off gently before getting up speed; a car like that would draw attention anywhere, but I had the feeling as soon as he was out of sight his foot would be down on the gas. If he was lucky, he might make it home in one piece if his hands stopped shaking and the sweat kept out of his eyes.
I let him go and wondered what reason I might find to knock on that door; something wasn’t right. I sighed, because I knew I should keep my klutz nose out, but I got out of the car and walked towards the house. People around ignored me; I can be a grey man in the brightest of sunshine when I want to be.
I decided to knock first and think on my feet when she answered the door; at least I would get a close look at her and see what the attraction was. The camera does sometime lie but from what I’d seen she looked like she was worth a salesman’s trip from the city. I knew she was blonde but didn’t know how close to nature that hair was, and I was kind of curious.
I noticed there were bells of the Chinese variety hanging by the side of the door and these, with the flowers and the still air, gave me the wrong idea I was really somewhere else and doing something peaceful, or even worthwhile. To shake the mood, I knocked at the door and chimed the bells but, don’t ask me why, I suddenly figured she wasn’t going to come running and I moved the pot with my foot and picked up the key, Yale and brass, and pushed it into the lock. The door opened straight onto a neat-looking room, done out with roses in vases on the shelves, fragrant cushions scattered artfully on the couch, two empty wine glasses and a bottle of rose champagne on a mahogany-looking coffee table. Say what you will, this was a lady who loved flowers and daytime romance.
She looked peaceful in her saffron, wingback chair; her eyes were closed, as if she were listening to the fading Chinese chimes. From where I was, her hair looked natural and she was prettier than in any of the photos I’d taken. She could have been an angel except for her lingerie and come-on lipstick and she could have been sleeping, except that she would never wake. The slash across her neck made sure of that. The blood that had flooded from it was redder than her lipstick and had ruined her decolletage.
Continued in Murder in Manhattan…