Last week my four-prompt private eyes, White and Wong, were in the thick of things once more when the city housing inspector, Percy Kilbride, pestered the duo about their delinquent certificate of occupancy, then called back hours later with problems of his own. It seems Percy got schnockered and shared time with a dame he didn’t know. Next morning, her blue shoe was in Percy’s bedroom. Then there was the blood in his bathtub that led Kilbride to suspect his drunken rendezvous had had an unsavory outcome. The live tuna on his doorstep prompted him to believe his unexpected tryst had also offended the wrong people. It’s up to White and Wong to set things straight in the conclusion of: Something Fishy.
Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.
Something Fishy: Part II
I sat up straight. “You what?”
“I found blood in the bathtub,” Kilbride reiterated. “Geez, White, what if I hurt that woman, or killed her?”
Wong leaped from his chair and waved his arms in distress.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. “Not sounding too good, Percy. Anything else we should know?”
Heavy, uneven breaths vibrated my phone’s earpiece. “Percy? You still there?”
More uneasy breathing.
I glanced up at my partner, who was standing beside my desk, motioning for me to hang up. Though Kilbride was never a real pal, I couldn’t leave him in a lurch. Besides, like it or not, with what we’d heard so far, Wong and I were involved. “Look, Percy, if you want our help, you’ve gotta level with us about everything. And I mean everything.”
The heavy breathing took a recess. “Her last name was Santini.”
Wong was back on his extension. “What? Any relation to Marco Santini, the mob boss?”
Kilbride sighed. “His daughter. Honest, I didn’t know who she was until I talked to one of my friends.”
Wong held a gun made from his thumb and forefinger against his forehead and pulled the trigger.
I deeply inhaled, then slowly exhaled. “The woman give you her phone number?”
“Not that I recall, but––”
“What about numbers for your pals in the mayor’s office?”
“Sure, but I don’t wanna drag them into––”
“I’ll be discreet.”
Kilbride failed to reply.
“Look, Percy, you either cough up that info, or we’re hangin’ up, and you’re on your own.”
Wong added, “And if Santini should happen to drop by askin’ about you, I’m not gonna play dumb.”
Following more hesitation, Kilbride told Wong to buzz off. Once Wong disconnected, Percy gave me his friends’ names and phone numbers. If it became necessary, Wong and I already knew where to find Marco Santini.
“Anywhere you can lay low for a bit, Percy?” I said.
“Manager at the Fairmont hotel owes me a favor.”
“Good. Settle in there under the name Moronis, then ––”
“Just do it. Then give us a few hours and call back here. Hopefully we’ll have some answers.”
“What about work––and the damned fish?”
“Call your boss, tell him you’re pukin’ your guts out and you’ll get back with him, then skedaddle. We’ll take care of the tuna.”
Wong’s brows arched above bugged almond eyes.
“I got a freezer,” Kilbride said.
Dry ice or freezer, what did it matter, the tuna was likely on its last leg––fin––anyway.
“Fine,” I replied. “Stick the friggin’ fish in the freezer, then scram.” I hung up, hoping Kilbride would follow my orders. With the mob possibly playing a role, I also hoped that I hadn’t suckered Wong and myself into our final case.
“What now?” Wong asked. “You really want to chance going toe-to-toe with Marco Santini?”
“With any luck, we won’t have to. Need to talk with Percy’s pals first.”
“What if Kilbride’s right? What if he murdered Santini’s daughter?”
“Then, I suppose occupancy certificates will be the least of his worries.”
“Great. What about us?”
“Occupancy certificates could be the least of our worries, too.”
Wong felt a sudden urge to visit the john again.
I lip-shrugged toward my partner, then glanced at the names and numbers I’d scribbled on my blotter and dialed City Hall.
“Yes, ma’am, I’d like to speak to Arnold Perth with the mayor’s office… Yes, I’ll hold.”
The line clicked and buzzed. A man with a husky voice picked up, and I got the ball rolling.
“Hello, Mr. Perth, my name is Barnabus White, with White and Wong… Yes, that’s right. The stolen artwork from the museum… I’m certain he was. You can remind the mayor we were just glad to help out… Uh-huh. Well, I was calling about a mutual friend of ours––Percy Kilbride… A few years, how about you?… Uh-huh. I see… Actually, last weekend is what I was calling about. Seems Percy can’t remember much after climbing into a cab and thinks he may have gotten in trouble with… You knew?… Uh-huh… Oh, really?… Uh-huh… He was involved, too?… What about the cops?… Uh-huh. Oh, you bet we will. See you there.”
Arnold Perth had enlightened me about a few particulars that Percy Kilbride either couldn’t recall or deliberately overlooked. Either way, Perth had added one other tidbit but insisted that further elaboration about the night in question over the phone was not possible. If Wong and I wanted to help, we were to meet with him and his cohort. Then they’d reveal all the gruesome details. But the meeting was not without conditions. Percy Kilbride was one of the conditions.
I agreed to the terms, then briefed Wong about the meet during the drive to the Fairmont Hotel. Along the way, we stopped to pick up the second condition Perth had insisted upon.
At The Fairmont Hotel, I knocked on the six-paneled wooden access to Room 213. “Percy, it’s Barnabus White and Peter Wong.”
A few moments later, the deadbolt thunked and the doorknob turned. Percy Kilbride peered through the gap between the door and the jamb. After sliding the chain lock from its track, he let Wong and me in.
“Thought you wanted me to call,” Percy said.
“Change of plans,” I replied. “Talked with your friend, Perth, who said we have to meet.”
“What for? Already told you, he didn’t know any more than me.”
I shrugged. “Guess something or someone refreshed his memory. Let’s go.”
Kilbride frowned. “Something’s fishy.”
“More than you know. Now let’s––”
“No, I ain’t going.”
Wong slipped his .38 from beneath his jacket. “C’mon, Kilbride, don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”
Percy eyeballed the revolver, then me. “I killed that woman, didn’t I?”
I motioned toward the entry. “What we’ll soon find out, I suppose. Better grab you jacket.”
Wong draped his sport coat over the revolver, then the three of us headed to my sedan.
Slumped in the back seat, Kilbride sat like a kid outside the principal’s office the entire drive to our destination. Were it me in his shoes, I’d have been a bit more chatty, while planning a move to save my hide. After all, with his girth bettering Wong and me combined, he held a definite advantage. Guess Percy conceded that he’d screwed up and it was time to pay the piper or that size alone wouldn’t stop slugs from a.38.
I killed the engine in front of the meeting place.
Percy straightened. “Hey, this is my house.”
“Right you are,” Wong said. “Now ease out of the car. Your pals should be waiting inside.”
Kilbride stared through the windshield. “What’s that limo doing here?”
“Maybe you friends borrowed the mayor’s Caddy,” I said, then winked at Wong. “I’ll grab the stuff from the trunk.”
A charred odor clung to the late-afternoon air as the three of us marched to the front door. I rang the bell.
A tall, redheaded man that resembled a toothpick on fire opened up after the second ring.
“What the hell you doin’ here, Arnold?” Kilbride said.
Arnold Perth responded by hurriedly ushering us inside. He scanned the neighborhood and closed the door. “Notice anyone following you?”
“Not a soul,” I replied. “All clear.”
Kilbride’s brow wrinkled above doubtful eyes. “What’s goin’ on, Arnie? Why are you––”
Wong jabbed Kilbride in the ribs with his Smith & Wesson. “Keep moving, Percy. There’s somebody waiting to talk.”
More blued-steel poked into his backside encouraged Kilbride to shuffle toward the rear of the house. His jaw slackened and he stopped short as he passed through an arched portico leading into the dining room.
Marco Santini was sitting at the head of the dining table, his hands folded across his lap. A man I didn’t recognize stood behind the well-clad, silver-haired mobster. Both of them displayed cold stares.
Kilbride tried to speak but found no words.
Santini smirked. “What, not so talkative now, Mr. Kilbride?”
Color drained from Percy’s face.
Santini continued, “I hear you were with my daughter Saturday night.” His eyes narrowed as he slowly shook his head. He motioned toward the dark-haired, olive-skinned man behind him. “You should have listened to my great-nephew’s advice when he told you she could lead to trouble.”
Kilbride focused on the dark-haired man. “Bobby? Bobby Bernici. You… You’re related to this––”
“Careful, Mr. Kilbride,” Santini said.
“I…I’m sorry, Mr. Santini. I just…I just really don’t know what happened that night. Your daughter and me were havin’ a good time talkin’, then it got late. After Bobby and Arnie got us a cab, I…I really don’t remember anything. Next morning I found her shoe, then the blood in the bathtub. Honest, the last thing I’d wanna do––”
Santini jerked his right hand from his lap, his index finger pointed toward the ceiling. “You receive the tuna I sent you?”
“Do you know what that sort of gift means?”
Kilbride swallowed hard.
A woman’s tra-la-la-ing from the kitchen interrupted the conversation. A voluptuous blond sashayed into the dining room, twirling a blue shoe by its spikey heel. “Hi, sugar.”
Roberta Santini winked. “How do you like your tuna steaks grilled, Percy?” She smiled at her daddy, then looked at me. “Did you remember the garnish?”
I grinned. “Six lemons and two sprigs of parsley.”
“What the…?” Kilbride stammered. “What about all the blood?”
Bobby Bernici could no longer restrain himself. Except for Kilbride, Bernici’s chortling spread throughout the room. As it waned Bobby said, “Uncle Marco got it from the slaughter house he deals with––for his restaurant. Arnie, Roberta, Uncle Marco, and I staged the whole thing. Arnie and I know how you like horror flicks––”
“Yeah, but Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, and Bela Legosi were busy,” Perth said, then laughed once more. “We thought it would be fun to give you a starring role. Happy Halloween, Percy.”
“Happy Halloween,” we all chorused.
Kilbride heaved a momentous sigh, then laughed at himself. He turned to me and my partner. “And you two?”
“Hey,” I said. “You’re the one dragged us into this charade. Once we knew it was a gag, we just played along.”
Percy, laughed again. “Guess it’s not so bad to know about White and Wong.”
I smiled. “Does that mean we can forget about the occupancy certificate?”
He scowled. “Not a chance.”