Broadway Beat, Chapter 2
 
  

I got into the office just after eleven. Lola was typing something. She stopped when I came in and swiveled her chair around, picking up a half-dozen envelopes from the desk. “These need looking at,” she said.

I took the envelopes from her. Bills. The electric company, a phone bill, some others. Nothing urgent, but I’d have to write some checks. The bank account was in decent shape after a couple of high-priced jobs over the last month. Con Edison wouldn’t be a problem.

“I’ll be in the darkroom for a while,” I told her.

“It went well last night, then?”

“Caught him in the act.”

Lola nodded. “Good.”

I went into my office, closed the door behind me, and walked over to the coat-rack. I put my jacket on the hanger, and stuck my hat on the top of the post. Crossing to my desk, I dropped the bills in the middle of the blotter. 

The ceiling fan was shifting the heated air, but did nothing to alleviate the heat. I opened the window, then went back to the door and cracked the transom. Maybe I could get a little circulation going. 

The camera was still in my jacket pocket. I took it out, rewound the film, and popped out the little cassette. I left the camera on my desk. 

Taking the film, I went into the bathroom and closed the door behind me. I pulled the black velvet curtain over the door and started arranging the photo developing stuff. Once I had everything where I wanted it, I switched off the light. With the curtain over the door, it was black as hell in there. 

I opened the film cassette, removed the film, and fed it into the reel of the daylight tank. I put the reel into the tank and replaced the lid. Now I could turn the lights back on. Putting the tank on the shelf, I found the bottle of developer, measured out enough to fill the tank, and poured it into the tank. The openings on these tanks are designed so that liquids can flow in and out freely, but light can’t get in.

Starting the timer, I put the tank on the shelf. Every minute or so, I picked it up and agitated it for a few seconds. You had to make sure the developer covered everything, and you wanted to keep fresh solution in contact with the film.

The timer buzzed. I dumped out the developer and poured in the stop bath. This does just what it sounds like. It stops the development process. If you leave film in the developer too long it eventually removes the silver nitrate grains you want to keep along with the ones you don’t. The stop bath stayed in the tank for three minutes, again with me agitating the tank at regular intervals.

When the timer buzzed again, I dumped out the stop bath and poured in the fixer. This was the last step. After about ten minutes, the images were fixed on the film. I poured out the fixer and opened the tank. The tank went into the sink under the faucet. I’d let the water run for twenty minutes to rinse off any chemicals left over from developing it. 

While the film was rinsing, I pulled the checkbook from the center drawer of my desk and got the bills paid. I took the envelopes out to Lola. She keeps a roll of 3¢ stamps in her desk. She’d put the stamps on them and then drop them down the chute to the collection box in the lobby. 

Lola started working for me just over a year ago. Before that, there was a lot of turnover behind the desk in the front office. In the first three years I was in business I had eleven secretaries. They were decorative, but they weren’t always that efficient. The third, Bobbi—as in Roberta—was a bubbly blond hunt-and-peck typist who always looked like she belonged in a night club chorus. She lasted a little over three weeks. Most of the others weren’t much better. Either they were gorgeous but couldn’t type and took dictation about as fast as I could write longhand, or they had all manner of personal problems. 

Number ten, the infamous Debbie, was the champion in all departments. She made the office look good, but she could only type about ten-words-a-minute, couldn’t take shorthand at all, and was apparently dating a lunatic. 

Lola could type 108-words-a-minute, and take dictation at twice that speed. She never forgot anything. At 45, she was a good twenty years older than any of the others, but she still looked damned good. Her black hair was always done up in a tight bun at the back of her head. I had no idea how long it actually was, but I had a suspicion it would hang well below her shoulders if she ever decided to let it down. Her eyes were green, usually hidden behind a pair of tortoiseshell-framed glasses. She had a great figure. At least, I always presumed she did. She kept herself well covered up, but there was no hiding those curves.

She’d worn a gray serge suit today. She usually wore suits. The jacket was hanging on the outer office coat-rack, and the sheath skirt came to a couple inches below the knee. She wore a white silk, long-sleeved blouse, with a high collar and a pale-blue silk stock held in place by a cameo stickpin. There was a grey hat, very businesslike, on the coat-rack. 

Now, I’ve never hit on her, despite having wanted to from the day she turned up with the Times classifieds and a resume in her hand. It’s not that she’s older. Seven years isn’t that much when you look like Lola. It’s more a fear that, if I ever hit on her, she’d quit and I’d be back to the previous string of beautiful incompetents. 

Also, to be honest, there’s something about the way she talks that makes you wonder if she might be hiding something. Such as a leisure wardrobe running heavily to form-fitting black leather. 

Yeah, maybe I should just stay away from those Stanton cartoons.

I was just about to go back into my office when a girl came through the hallway door. She was tiny, maybe 5′ 2″, wearing a navy dress and a broad-brimmed hat with artificial flowers making a wild display around the front.

She had a big, alligator-leather purse on a strap over her right shoulder, and she was carrying a manila envelope in her left hand. It took me a minute to recognize her as the night club photographer from last night. In the club, she’d been this cute blond with lots of leg and lots of cleavage. Now she looked like a younger version of a lady running a millinery shop on Fifth Avenue.

She held out the envelop. “I’ve got your print,” she said. She looked around the outer office. “So, you really are a detective, huh?”

“That I am.”

There was a buzzing sound coming from my office. “Come on in,” I said. “I need to go shut off the rinse water.”

She followed me into my office, but left the door open. I went into the bathroom and turned off the tap.

“Nice setup,” she said, as I pulled the developed film out of the reel and clipped it up to dry.

“It works for me.”

I sat down at my desk and took the envelope from her. There were five copies of the photo inside. She’d caught my client’s husband and his girlfriend snuggling in the booth. He looked nervous. She looked like a pretty girl confronted by a camera. I was more than ever convinced she was a model.

“Nice shot,” I said. “This will help a lot.”

“What are you developing in there?” she asked, gesturing toward the bathroom.

“I got a couple more pictures of those two last night,” I replied. “I’d show you, but anywhere outside a courtroom they’re probably illegal.”

“So, dirty pictures, huh?”

“Evidence.”

She smiled wickedly. “My ex-husband had a shoebox full of dirty pictures before I got rid of him. My lawyer found them very useful. Especially the ones the moron took of himself with his girlfriend.”

I’ve spent a lot of time following cheating husbands. They all tend to be idiots. It makes me glad I’ve never got married. 

“You know,” she said, “I don’t necessarily have any problem with dirty pictures. As long as they’re tasteful.”

I shook my head. “I don’t have any,” I said. “Any evidence goes to the lawyers.” I had to smile. “If you want to see big collections of dirty pictures, you should hang out with divorce lawyers. They’ve probably got file cabinets full.”

She had a pretty smile. Sitting on the edge of my desk, she looked out the window. “Not much of a view,” she said.

Sometimes it’s better than others, I thought. There was a girl in the apartment building next door who liked to come up on the roof and sunbath. The apartment was your standard seven-story New York tenement, built sometime in the late 19th century. Seven was the magic number if you were putting up any sort of apartment building. If you went eight or more, you had to put in an elevator. Seven or less you just needed stairs.

And tenants with good legs. Figure two flights of stairs between each floor—those old tenements generally had ten or twelve-foot ceilings—or a dozen flights to get to the seventh floor. That’s a good trek carrying several bags of groceries.

I looked out the window. No one on the roof.

“Were you planning to ask me out?” the girl inquired. “I’ve been hinting, but you seem kind of dense.”

“I don’t have much of a social life,” I said. “Never know when I’ll be working.”

“Are you working tonight? I’ve got the evening off. You could buy me dinner.”

“Before I decide,” I said, “it might be nice if I knew who you were. Other than just the camera girl from the Five Spot, I mean.”

She had a good laugh. “I suppose you’re right,” she said. “I know who you are from your card, but I never introduced myself, did I?”

I shook my head.

“My name’s Emmie,” she said. “Emmie Zeller. I’m 27-years-old, grew up in Brooklyn, used to be married to a putz named Abe, and I’ve got no kids and no current boyfriend. Does that about cover it?”

I nodded. “I suppose so. And I do have to eat. You want to come back here at six o’clock?”

“Love to.”

“Okay. I’ll see you at six. I know a place on Eighth Avenue down around 38th Street. The food’s pretty good.”

“Sounds nice. See you then.”

Emmie walked slowly out of my office. A few seconds later I heard the hallway door open and close. 

I got up and stuck my head into the reception room. Lola had finished what work there was and was occupying herself with a movie magazine. 

“Anything on the schedule today?” I asked.

Lola looked up from her magazine. “Not a thing. You just need to get those pictures and your report over to Wallingham and Jones.”

“Okay. The film’s drying. I should be able to make the prints in another hour. Not much to the report. I’ll write it up and let you have it to type. I think we can get everything over to the client this afternoon.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

An hour later I had to report done. Lola was typing it up, in triplicate. We’d keep the first carbon, the client got the original and the second carbon. 

I was back in the darkroom, with the safelight on, making 8x10 prints from the 35mm negatives. This is why I have my own darkroom, I thought, when I looked at the first picture. You couldn’t take something like that to the drugstore to be developed. Not unless you wanted to explain what was going on to a cop. Like I said, common as it was, what she was doing to him was illegal. It’s a stupid law, like a lot of them, but they still enforce it when they feel like it.

I made three copies of each picture, two for the client, and one for my file—I’m afraid I may have fibbed to Emmie—and after washing them thoroughly, pressed them onto the ferrotype plates to dry. The plates have a mirror-smooth finish, and when the prints come off they have a glossy finish. If you let them dry without using the plates you get semi-gloss.

I was just sticking the last picture onto the plate when someone knocked on the bathroom door. “What is it?” I yelled.

“Someone to see you,” Lola yelled back.

I opened the door, flipping off the warning light switch as I did. The red light above the door went out, indicating that it was again safe to open the door. If the light was on, you were supposed to presume there was unexposed photo paper lying about inside and it wasn’t safe to open the door and let any light in. The amber safe light I worked by was fine. The paper wasn’t sensitive to it. 

“The pictures are drying,” I said. “Who wants to see me?”

“Another young lady,” Lola said. “This one wants to hire you.”

“Send her in.”

I took off the chemical-proof apron I was wearing and hung it up inside the door, closed the bathroom door, and walked over to my desk, sitting down behind it. I didn’t bother to put on my jacket. I figured I looked more typically private eye-like in shirtsleeves, with my Colt tucked into its leather holster under my left arm.

The office door opened again, and Lola ushered in a tall, slender young woman. I had the vague feeling that I’d seen her somewhere before. Remembering what my mother had taught me, I stood up as she entered.

“Mr. Manley?” she asked.

I nodded, and gestured for her to take one of the chairs in front of my desk. Once she’d settled in it, I resumed my seat, leaning forward.

“I’m Penny Collier,” she said. She paused a moment, as if expecting me to recognize her name. When I didn’t, she continued, “I live on Central Park West, with my brother, Phil Collier. He’s why I’m here. He didn’t come home last night.”

“Is that unusual?” I didn’t come home every night. A lot of men didn’t.

“It’s very unusual. And when I checked with the stage manager, he didn’t show up at rehearsal today, either. I could buy him maybe staying out overnight, but not missing a rehearsal. Certainly not a first rehearsal.”

“Your brother’s Phil Collier, the actor? The one playing the lead in Losers Win?

“That’s right, Mr. Manley. They were supposed to have their first rehearsal today, but he never showed up. That’s just not like him. He’s got his bad habits, but being late, or being missing, isn’t one of them. You don’t get to be a star on Broadway if you’re not reliable.”

No, I thought, you certainly don’t. With an office just off Times Square, I naturally follow the goings on in the Broadway theatre. Losers Win was the new Thomas Morten-Arnold Huffnaker musical scheduled to open in late September, after tryouts in Boston, New Haven, and Philadelphia. 

Like most Broadway musicals, it had a silly plot about a compulsive gambler who sold shoes, and secretly dreamed of being an opera star. Morten wrote the music, and Huffnaker wrote the lyrics and the book. With Collier playing the gambler cum opera singer, I expected to hear a lot of powerful singing—the guy had trained to be an actual opera singer, but it turned out he was a lot better at what they did on Broadway. I also expected some dancing, and had hopes that one or two of the songs would have something to do with the story.

I didn’t have very high hopes on that. The songs were usually just slotted in whenever the writer thought the audience was likely to be getting bored.

Huffnaker, the writer, was also directing. He usually did, mostly his own shows, but sometimes other people’s. As directors go, he was spectacularly average.

“Do you have any idea what might have happened to your brother?” I asked.

“I’m a little afraid he may have got in too deep with a bookie.”

“Your brother likes to gamble?”

“Unfortunately. I keep telling him, if he wants to bet on horse races, go to the track. You can’t bet more than you have there.”

That was true enough. The pari-mutuel windows at Yonkers don’t extend credit. Your average New York bookie does. Bookies probably take more bets on credit than for cash. It’s the nature of the business. Bets are mostly phoned in. If you win, the bookie takes the bet out of your winnings and you get the rest. If you lose, then you have to go see him in person and give him the money. 

“Is he in deep with any particular bookie, Miss Collier?”

She nodded. “It seems he is. He told me a couple days ago he owes nearly five hundred dollars to Carson Colorado.”

“I know the guy. He does like to be paid.”

“Would he kidnap my brother?”

I had to think about that. “My gut says he wouldn’t,” I said, after a while. I decided not to mention that things he might do. Broken legs, beatings, maybe even murder. I figured he’d avoid kidnapping, though, because all that other mayhem was a matter of state law. Kidnapping was a Federal rap. You didn’t intentionally get the FBI interested in you.

“I’ll have a word with Mr. Colorado,” I said. “Now, is there anybody else who could be involved. Did your brother have any enemies?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Anyone benefit if he disappears?”

“No. Well, maybe Chuck Wallah.”

“And that would be… who, exactly?” The only chuckwalla I was familiar with was a lizard.

“He’s a dancer with the show. He’s also Phil’s understudy.”

“Do you think he’d do anything to your brother?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I don’t think so.” She was looking over my shoulder, where I had a framed picture of George Washington. “Although,” she said, “I heard Arnold really wanted Chuck for the part, and the producer made him go with Phil.”

A producer would. Phil Collier was likely to sell out the first six weeks just by being in the show. “Any particular reason? Is Huffnaker spending his own money on the show or something?”

“No,” Penny laughed. “No, I think it’s just Arnold likes Chuck more than he likes Phil.”

“Ah.” Huffnaker did have that reputation. Of course, he claimed that he was still madly in love with his wife after nearly thirty years of marriage. It was just an artistic quirk that saw all of his shows featuring at least one big dance number populated with muscular, shirtless chorus boys. And you obviously couldn’t make anything of his wife’s lifelong best friendship with Mona Elaine, the racy lady writer whose general demeanor made the average Marine gunnery sergeant look like a fairy by comparison.

I discounted all that at once. Huffnaker might be on the make for the understudy, but he wouldn’t do anything to risk the show. Directors who let their libidos get in the way tended to find themselves relegated to directing summer stock in a barn in Pennsylvania. 

“Oh, you naughty girl,” Penny said, laughing.

I’d been writing on a notepad. I looked up, curious. “What?”

“Sorry. I was looking out your window.”

I turned around. My anonymous friend was getting some sun on her rooftop. As usual, she was as naked as the day she was born.

“I can pull the shade down,” I said. “She does that sometimes.”

“No, I was just surprised, that’s all.” She smiled broadly. “I always wondered how she managed that perfect tan.”

How she… what? “Wait. You know her?”

“Sure. That’s Betsy Baron. I worked with her at Club Superior until about six weeks ago, when she got a chorus gig in a new musical.”

“Okay. I’ll get on it. I’ll go talk to Colorado first.” I shoved my notepad across the desk. “Write your phone number here. Just in case I need to get hold of you.”how. 

“You’re in the line, aren’t you?” I said.

“I am. You’ve seen the show?”

“About a month ago. Honestly, I was following a guy, but that’s where he ended up.”

“Well, I hope you enjoyed the show.”

“As much of it as I saw before he left.”

She was fiddling with the catch on her purse. “How much is this going to cost me?” she asked. “Finding my brother, I mean.”

Back to safe territory. The Club Superior chorines didn’t wear a lot, and the thought of this girl in one of those skimpy outfits was getting in the way of business.

“I get twenty-five dollars a day, plus expenses. And there’s a two-day minimum, so that’s fifty bucks up front.”

She opened her purse and took out a checkbook. “You take checks?”

“As long as they’re good.”

She wrote a check for fifty dollars and passed it across the desk. “Just try to find him quick,” she said. “That’s a hefty piece of change.”

“I’ll do what I can,” I said, sticking the check into the center desk drawer. “But you know, the odds are still pretty good that he’s just got himself lost somewhere.”

“He’s my brother. I worry.”

“Okay. I’ll get on it. I’ll go talk to Colorado first.” I shoved my notepad across the desk. “Write your phone number here. Just in case I need to get ahold of you.”

Penny scribbled some numbers on the pad. “That’s Phil’s number, too,” she said, “so if no one is home the service will pick up. I’ll make sure I check in at least once an hour.”