Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

An Old Story That Revives an Unpleasant Memory

I've been going over some old stories to make them ready for a collection. One I worked on today brought back memories from half a century ago when I was an operative for Pinkerton's National Detective Agency in Cleveland. In every detail the story related two actual cases I worked on but names were changed for obvious reasons.
They were sad cases in a way, as are most that end up at a detective agency. I still feel sorry that one had to end the way it did. I'll relate it as it appeared in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine exactly 24 years ago:

Foley had little heart for the insurance job. He thought about it as he drove east on Euclid. He had ripped the woman’s story apart so easily. A five minute walk from Wellington’s National Detective agency on Public Square to the office of the Clerk of Courts. Ten minutes more checking files and he had all he needed. The rest would be window dressing.
Marie Gettis was suing the transit company for $50,000. She had been a standee on a bus that pulled from the curb with a severe lurch. Her right arm was broken in two places when she was hurled to the floor. The suit contended that she had suffered permanent loss of the use of her arm.
Four years before the accident on the bus she had been involved in another suit. In a crowded nightclub on a Saturday night she had been standing near the swinging door to the kitchen. A waiter carrying a loaded tray hurried through the door. They collided and both crashed to the floor along with the tray. Marie Gettis broke her right arm and the suit claimed she had lost the use of it permanently. The case was settled out of court shortly before the trial date.
How many times, Foley wondered, could you permanently lose the use of the same arm?
Marie Gettis lived in an old apartment building three blocks from the nightclub. The neighborhood had been steadily decaying for thirty years or more. Spacious houses, formerly occupied by reasonably well-to-do families, had been converted to small efficiency units. Scattered among them were three- and four-story brick apartments that once, long ago, had been fashionable. Signs in front of shabby business places proclaimed that easy credit was available inside. The streets were littered and foul smelling. Mangy dogs and scrawny, mean-eyed cats prowled the alleys and back lots.
Foley had posed as a credit investigator while making the required check of the neighborhood. Statements from at least three persons had to be included in his report. From the brief interviews he formed a mental picture of Marie Gettis. A cheerful, friendly woman in her early forties. Always willing to help when someone was in need of it.
Deserted years ago, according to the neighbors, by a rodent of a husband.
She had been out the previous afternoon. Now Foley had to return, take a chance that she might be on guard because someone told her a man had been around checking on her. In this case it didn't really matter. In some it did and then he would have talked to the subject first. Seeing Marie Gettis was only a formality, something he was doing merely to satisfy one more requirement of the assignment.
Foley parked a block from her apartment. He put the raincoat and hat he had worn the day before in the trunk. He sorted through a box containing a variety of articles that could alter his appearance a little and picked out a pair of dimestore eyeglasses with lenses of clear glass. A sharp-eyed neighbor might recognize him as the credit investigator of the previous afternoon but he would go ahead and take his chances. The job didn't warrant sending out a second man to inter­view the subject.
Foley rigged a white sling that was in need of laundering so that it fit his right arm. A clipboard holding a stack of printed survey forms completed his props for the pretext. It was called roping and he was an expert at it.
He walked quietly along the dim hallway and knocked softly on the door of the woman's apartment, hoping the people he had talked to the day before wouldn't hear him, open their doors a crack and peek out.
Marie Gettis opened her own door no more than six inches. She stood behind it, peering around its edge in the defensive way that people do in such neighborhoods.
Foley fumbled with the clipboard and smiled. "Hello," he said. "I wonder if you could help me? I'm making a recreational survey of the area. It'll only take a minute." He smiled again, a pleading, little-boy smile.
She smiled back at him. "I'll try." She swung the door wide. "Come on in."
Foley looked around at the worn furnishings and faded wallpaper. "Nice place," he said. "Comfortable."
She wrinkled her nose. "It's not much but it's home." Then she laughed a little, patted her hair and waved him to a chair at a large, round table that was all that separated the living area from the kitchen­ette.
He struggled to get the clipboard in position, took a pen from his jacket pocket with his left hand and carefully placed it in his right one. He sighed as though the effort had tired him.
She nodded toward the sling. "What happened?''
Foley grinned sheepishly. “Fell off a ladder a month ago.''
"You act like it still hurts."
He shrugged. "Not much. Mainly it's the inconvenience. I'm begin­ning to wonder if it's ever going to heal right.''
She laughed again. "Don't worry, it will. Look at this one. It's been broken twice and it's as good as new." She maneuvered her right arm to show him it was.
Foley sighed, inwardly this time so she wasn't aware. Why did she have to be so cooperative? Why were people so quick to let their guard down with him? He almost wished the arm hung uselessly at her side or was stiff and contorted. He liked her. He would rather be able to report that she was deserving of a large settlement. Obviously life had dealt her some hard blows but still she managed to be pleasant. Optimistic, even. His job would be easier if she were belligerent.
''Care for a cup of coffee?''
He started to say no, saw the almost eager look on her face and instead said, "That would be good." She didn't receive many visitors, he decided. To her it was a special occasion.
He watched her put a spoonful of instant coffee in two cups and add hot water from a kettle. She set the cups on a tray and then took a carton of milk from the refrigerator, poured a little into a small pitcher with pale roses on its side and put it and a matching sugar bowl beside the cups. She placed several donuts taken from a plastic bag on a plate and then carried the tray to the table.
Foley drank his coffee black but he put a little cream and a little sugar in his cup. Why had he done that? he wondered. He wasn't hungry but he ate a donut anyway. They talked a while. When his cup was empty Foley picked up the pen again and filled in the question­naire. As he left she stood in the doorway and said, "Now don't worry, that arm will be fine.'' He smiled back at her.
Light rain fell from a low gray sky. Foley dropped the sling and eyeglasses in the trunk of his car, retrieved his raincoat and hat. The roping had left him with an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. Some insurance jobs affected him that way. Marie Gettis, he thought, would gladly have settled for her medical expenses and enough more to cover her time off work. An ambulance chaser had talked her into trying for the big score. The lawyer would keep half for himself, of course.
Fog began drifting in off the lake as he drove toward the central police station. Red, green and amber halos ringed the traffic lights and his tires sang a dismal tune on the wet pavement. Gloom settled over him as the gray mist enveloped the city. What would Marie Gettis receive after his report was filed? he wondered.


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