I walked across the reception room of COOL & LAM, INVESTIGATORS, opened the door of my private office. Elsie Brand, my secretary, looked up with an expression I had come to know.

"What is it, Elsie?" I asked. "Good or bad?"


"What you wanted to tell me."

"How did you know I had something to tell you?"

"The expression on your face."

"Don’t I have any secrets from you?" she asked.

I smiled at her. She became flustered and said, "If you had time, Donald, to step down the hall with me, I...I wanted to show you something."

"I have the time," I said. "Let’s go."

We left my office, walked across the reception room, down the hall, and Elsie led the way to the storage closets, took a key, unlocked the door of closet number eight and switched on the light.

These storage closets were in a dead windowless space in the building, and our closet had been used as a catchall for old junk that should have been thrown away. Now it had been neatly segregated into shelves, and the shelves were lined with scrapbooks.

"What the heck!" I said.

Elsie was looking at me, her eyes filled with pride. "I’ve been wanting to surprise you," she said.

"You’ve surprised me. Now tell me about it."

"Well," she said, "you’ve been having me cut out all of those crime clippings and it’s been a job trying to find some way of filing them."

"I didn’t want you to file them," I said, "just to keep them handy so I could put my hand on the more recent ones."

"Well," she said, "you can always find anything you want now. For instance, here’s Volume A. That is crimes of violence. Numbers one to one hundred are murders for motives of jealousy. Numbers one hundred to two hundred are murders committed in connection with armed robberies. There are ten divisions in all.

"Now I’ve got a cross-index system over here of weapons. Murders with guns, murders with knives, murders with poison.

"Then this next volume, Volume B, is the robbery book. Volume C is larceny. D is—"

Bertha Cool’s harsh, rasping voice behind us said, "What in hell goes on here?"

Elsie Brand gave a little gasp.

I turned to face my indignant partner, her eyes diamond-hard, glittering, her face dark with anger.

"My reference library," I said.

"What in hell do you want with a reference library?"

"I want to refer to it."

Bertha snorted. "They told me you and Elsie were lolligagging down the hall. I wondered what you two were up to...."

Bertha grabbed one of the volumes, looked through it and said to Elsie, "So that’s what you’ve been doing with all of your time!"

Elsie started to say something but I moved in between her and Bertha Cool. "That’s what she’s been doing with her spare time," I said. "And in case you’ve forgotten it, having the information available on outstanding, unsolved crimes has enabled us to cooperate with the police and get us out of a couple of rather tight spots."

"You’re always getting in tight spots," Bertha flared. "Then you squeak out by the skin of your eyeteeth and—"

"And leave our bank account in better shape than it was when we started," I told her, getting mad. "Now if you have any complaints, go back to your office, make them in the form of a written memo and hand them to Elsie. We’ll file them in our complaint department, which, in case you are interested, is the wastebasket."

"Now Donald," Bertha said, "don’t be like that."

"Like what?"

"You’re getting mad."

"Getting mad!" I said. "I am mad."

"Now Donald, don’t be difficult. I was looking for you for a particular reason and I was impatient when no one answered the phone in your office."

"Well, Elsie was showing me the new filing system."

Bertha said, "It looks like hell when I have a client in my office and want to bring in my partner to introduce him and can’t get an answer on the telephone. No secretary, no partner, no nothing—so I come to hunt you up. Here’s a client sitting in the office, impatient as hell, and you folks smooching down here in the storage closet."

"We weren’t smooching," I said.

"You could have been," Bertha said, "for all I knew. The way you two look at each other—"

"Now look," I told Bertha, "if you have a client who’s impatiently waiting in your office, we’d better go take care of him. If you want to comment about our personal relations, you can put that in the form of a memo which—"

"All right, all right," Bertha said irritably. "Come on....Elsie, you close up this damned closet. Donald, let’s go talk with our client. This is the kind of work we want. This is respectable work."

Bertha turned and started waddling down the corridor, a hundred and sixty-five pounds of bulldog tenacity, hair-trigger temper, greediness and shrewd observation; an explosive combination of characteristics that were rendered somewhat less obnoxious by an underlying loyalty when the chips were down.

At that, our partnership would probably have split up long ago if it hadn’t been so profitable. Money in the bank represented the most persuasive argument in Bertha’s life, and when it came to a showdown where the dissolution of the partnership was threatened, Bertha could always manage to control her irascible temper.

As I caught up with Bertha she said, "This is an insurance company. They’ve had their eye on us for a while. It’s the kind of business that there’s money in, Donald, not this wild-eyed sharpshooting you’ve been doing."

"We’ve made money out of sharpshooting," I reminded her. "Lots of it."

"Too damned much," Bertha said. "It scares me. We take too many risks. This job Hawley has for us is just the first of many."

"All right," I said. "Who’s Hawley?"

Bertha paused in front of the door to the outer office, briefing me momentarily before she turned the knob.

"Lamont Hawley," she said, "is head of the Claims Department of Consolidated Interinsurance. He’ll tell you all about it. Now Donald, be nice to him. This is the sort of stuff we need."

"What’s in it for us?" I asked.

"A hundred a day and expenses, with a guarantee of ten days as a minimum, and we furnish whatever operatives are required to cover the job."

"How many operatives can we furnish at that price?"

"One," she said, her eyes boring into mine. "You. And be damned certain that that’s all we need!"

Bertha jerked the door open and barged across the reception room and opened the door of her private office.

The man who got up as we entered was tall, spare-built, shrewd-eyed and long-featured. He was a typical detail man in the higher brackets. He could coordinate facts, figures and people and come up with the answers.

"My partner, Donald Lam," Bertha Cool said. "Donald, this is Lamont Hawley, Consolidated Interinsurance."

Hawley shook hands. His long fingers wrapped around my hand. His lip smile was a meaningless concession to the conventions. His eyes didn’t smile.

"I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Lam," he said.

"Good, bad or indifferent?"

"Good. Very good, indeed. You have created quite an impression. I had expected a...a larger man."

"Don’t bother to beat around the bush," Bertha Cool said, heaving her bulk into the squeaky swivel chair behind her desk. "Everybody gets fooled by Donald. He’s young and little but the bastard has brains.

"Now, I’ve told Donald what the deal is and it’s okay. I handle the financial end of the business. He supervises the outdoor work. You go ahead and tell Donald about the case."

Hawley kept looking me over as though a little reluctant to accept me at face value, but at length seated himself, took a filing jacket from his briefcase, put the filing jacket on his knee and then didn’t refer to it but rattled off the facts and figures from memory.

"Carter J. Holgate, a real estate sharpshooter," he said. "A money-maker with a horror of being stuck for damages in an accident, carries unlimited public liability insurance with us. On August thirteenth, was driving north in the city of Colinda, when he came to a traffic signal.

"He has admitted to us that he was tired and that he may have been inattentive. He had been following a light car through the city. They approached a traffic intersection at Seventh and Main Streets. The signal light changed to red, the car ahead of Holgate stopped, Holgate says very abruptly, but we can’t establish this by any other evidence.

"Holgate smashed into the rear of the car ahead. That car was driven by Vivian Deshler, Apartment six-nineteen Miramar Apartments, Colinda, California; age, twenty-six, blond, five feet four; weight, a hundred and twelve; apparently a divorcee living on a lump-sum property alimony settlement that is about used up. Her car was a fast sports job, but low and light.

"She claims a whiplash injury to the neck.

"Of course you know a whiplash injury is an insurance company’s nightmare. There’s no question on earth but what they can be exceedingly serious and that the symptoms can be delayed for some time. On the other hand, there’s virtually no way of checking. A person says, I’ve got a headache, how are you going to prove she doesn’t have a headache? You can’t do it.

"There’s no question at all about the liability of our insured. He was road-weary and tells us confidentially he’d hoped he could get around the string of traffic ahead. He’d speeded up to make it around, found out he couldn’t, had swung back into line going much faster than the traffic and just failed to see the red light at the intersection ahead. His reaction time was slowed down so that he crashed into the rear end of the car in front of him, and of course it would have to be a light car."

"All right," I said, "where do we come in on this?"

"In injuries of this sort," Hawley said, "we try to find out something about the background of the injured person. We like to find out who they are, where they came from, what they’re doing, and we are particularly concerned with trying to find out how their day-to-day activities fit into the picture of serious injuries.

"In other words, a young, attractive woman gets on the stand and shows lots of nylon to the jury. She smiles at them and then begins to describe her symptoms. Her voice shows that she’s suffering, her smile indicates she’s bravely bearing up as she faces the prospects of ruined life. She tells about the headaches, about the periods of sleeplessness, about her increasing nervousness, and all the rest of it.

"Now, quite obviously, if we can take her on cross-examination and say, ‘Well now, let’s take a typical day in your life, Miss Deshler. Let’s take September nineteenth of the present year, for instance. You complain of sleeplessness, yet you didn’t bring in the newspaper and milk on your doorstep until ten-fifteen. Then at eleven-ten you left your apartment and went to the beach. You were surf swimming during the afternoon. In the evening you and your escort went to a dance. You drove from the dance up on the ocean highway, parked where you could look out over the ocean and were there for two hours and a half. Then your escort drove you home, went into your apartment and was there for an hour and forty minutes.’

"Then we show motion pictures of her in a tight-fitting bathing suit running along the beach, turning her head and laughing invitingly at her escort. We show her in the surf. We show her on the beach displaying her figure to advantage.

"By the time we get done showing the motion pictures and cross-examining the young woman, the jurors feel her life hasn’t been unduly circumscribed. Her activities haven’t been interfered with too greatly."

"Now, wait a minute," I said, "do you want me to start dogging this girl around, getting motion pictures of her when she goes to the beach, finding out what time she opens the apartment door to get the newspaper, watching her boyfriend—"

"No, no," Hawley interrupted. "That’s highly specialized work. We have our own methods of getting that information and we have our own trick cameras with telephoto lenses. Also, Mr. Lam, you want to remember the way I approached the subject.

"Notice that I say that on cross-examination we say, ‘Now, Miss Deshler, let’s take a typical day of your life,’ and then we pull out the list of things that happened on that particular day.

"Now, note that we don’t ask her if that was a typical day in her life. Instead, our attorney says, ‘Let’s take a typical day in your life,’ and then he starts listing all of the things that happened on this particular day. He gives the impression that we’ve been covering her activities in minute detail from the time the suit was filed until the case came to trial. Actually we may only have a couple of days of coverage and those days may have been days of unusual activity, but we lead up to it by saying, ‘Let’s take a typical day in your life,’ and then start bringing out motion picture films and voluminous records. We convey the impression we want and at the same time frighten the witness, because she doesn’t know just how much we know. In other words, she probably feels that we have been covering her activities day by day, minute by minute, and night by night."

"I see," I said.

"Now, don’t act as though we were stealing candy from babies, Lam," Hawley said with a magnetic, keen-eyed smile. "We’re dealing with a racket. This whole thing has become highly specialized.

"Take, for instance, this Vivian Deshler. She may be the isolated individual we’re working on at the moment but remember that she isn’t really isolated. She has a whole organization behind her. She has an attorney at law who—"

"Who is her attorney?" I interrupted.

"We don’t know," Hawley said. "She hasn’t filed suit as yet. She’s made a claim, and of course we’d like to settle the claim without having suit filed. The point I’m trying to make is that she has an attorney, even if we don’t know who he is as yet. The attorney is one who has specialized in representing plaintiffs in automobile accident cases. He’s a member of an organization that gives mutual aid.

"In other words, any time one attorney finds out some little trick that gets a bigger verdict out of a jury, he passes that on to all the members in the association. Any time someone gets a whopping big verdict for a broken leg, that information is flashed around to all the members of the organization and right away that establishes a new standard for a broken leg. And so it goes."

"So you’re fighting the devil with fire?" I asked.

"Well, we don’t look at it in exactly that way," Hawley said. "We simply have to protect ourselves. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any automobile driving or any automobile insurance. Premiums would go up to such a point that people simply couldn’t afford to carry insurance."

"Let’s get back to what you want me to do," I said.

"We want you to locate Vivian Deshler."

"But I thought you said she lived—"

"We know where she did live, but we don’t know where she is now. She made a claim. She was very helpful. She agreed to let our doctor examine her. She permitted us to take X rays. She was most cooperative and friendly and she said she didn’t want to fix the amount of her claim just at present, that she had plenty of time before the statute of limitations would cause the suit to outlaw, and that she wanted to see how her injuries responded to treatment and all that."

"She sounds very levelheaded," I said.

"Very levelheaded indeed. In fact she has a smooth touch—almost a professional touch. She did state that she would be willing to accept a thirty-thousand-dollar settlement and let it go at that—and then she simply moved out of the picture. We don’t know where she went.

"Now, we’d like very much to find her. It bothers us when something of this sort happens. This claim, you understand, Mr. Lam, is one where we’re going to have to admit liability. It’s simply a question of how much we’re going to have to pay in order to get a settlement.

"Now then, we want your agency to find Vivian Deshler."

"You have a pretty good investigative department," I said. "Why don’t you use it?"

"We’re busy with other things and...well, frankly, Lam, we tried all the usual procedures and they didn’t work. We don’t know where she is. We can’t find her. We want her."

I said, "Look, this is your business. You’re specialists. How do you expect us to find this girl if your organization is unable to get a clue?"

Hawley said, "We think that you’re just that much better than we are."

Bertha beamed.

I said, "Come again."

"I beg your pardon?" Hawley said.

I said, "Express that in terms that I can understand."

Hawley said, "Well, I’ll put it this way. We have one clue to Vivian Deshler. She has one friend in Colinda and that friend, as it happens, lives in the same apartment house, the Miramar Apartments. Her name is Doris Ashley. She is twenty-eight, a brunette, with a very good figure, and no apparent source of income that we have been able to ascertain.

"Doris Ashley is very friendly with Dudley H. Bedford, a man of about thirty-five, who is reputed to have made money buying and selling real estate and apparently has been rather good at it.

"Now, our organization is one where the personnel is advanced upon merit in terms of seniority, and since the position of an investigator requires a great deal of experience and tact, the positions are not filled by the younger men.

"All routine contacts with Doris Ashley have failed and...well, we had a staff meeting, and decided that a younger, more personable operative who had no known connection with our company might get the desired information."

Hawley beamed at me.

Bertha Cool said, "My God, what Donald does to women! They cry on his shoulder; they unburden themselves completely. If you want a girl turned inside out, that’s the brainy little bastard that can do it."

"I’m satisfied he can," Hawley said.

"I don’t think I’m going to like this," I said.

"Oh, you’ll love it!" Bertha exclaimed. "It’s a challenge, Donald."

I kept my eyes on Hawley. "Look," I said, "if I go at this, I’m going at it in my own way. You want to locate Vivian Deshler, is that right?"

"That’s right."

"You don’t care how it’s done, just so it’s done."

"We have exhausted the obvious ways," he reminded me.

"I understand all that, but the object of our employment is to locate Vivian Deshler, right?"


"All right, here’s the only way I’ll work on it. I’ll give it a once-over at a hundred a day and expenses. At any time I don’t want to go ahead we’re free to quit."

"We wouldn’t like it that way, Lam."

"We wouldn’t like it any other way," I told him.

Bertha started to say something. My glance warned her to a reluctant silence.

Hawley sighed. "Okay, it’s a deal."

"Okay, now tell me about Doris Ashley," I said.

For the first time, Hawley looked at his notes. "She drives an Oldsmobile, last year’s model, license number RTD nine-thirteen. It’s a wide-door club coupe. She shops at the Colinda Supermarket, does her own cooking in the apartment except when she’s invited out at night and that’s mostly every night."

"Dudley Bedford?" I asked.

Hawley nodded.

"What about the Miramar Apartments?" I asked. "Does it have a garage?"

"No, there’s a vacant lot to the north of the apartment house and they use that as a parking lot on a catch-as-catch-can basis. There are usually parking facilities available on the street in front of the apartment house."

"Doris Ashley a late sleeper?" I asked.

"Very late," he said. "She gets up a little before noon each day, goes shopping about two-thirty in the afternoon, apparently right after breakfast. We haven’t been able to find out too much about her. There’s an atmosphere of secretiveness, of mystery, about the whole setup that bothers us. Frankly, Mr. Lam, we’re willing to spend a little more than we expect to save on the settlement because we don’t like these things. We don’t like cases that don’t follow a pattern. We have to run our business on a basis of averages. That’s the way we figure our premiums. That’s the way we like to pay off our losses."

"I see," I said.

Hawley got up and shook hands. "I’ve left my private unlisted telephone number with Mrs. Cool," he said. "You can count on cooperation from our organization on anything you want, but of course I must warn you against having any visible contact with us. As the insurance carrier, we assume we have been spotted and anything we might try to do would be anticipated."

"I see," I told him. "Well, thanks a lot. We’ll get busy."

He bowed to Bertha, started out, paused in the doorway.

"I may as well tell you, Lam, we think there’s an element of danger involved."



"How do you figure that?"

He smiled. "We have had an interesting and anonymous tip-off on the telephone," he said. "You’d better be careful."

He stepped out and closed the door behind him.

Bertha Cool’s face was wreathed in smiles.

"Isn’t it wonderful, Donald?" she said. "Here’s a big insurance organization with its own investigative staff and when it gets to a really difficult case they turn to us."

I said nothing.

"And of course," Bertha said, "we’re not dumb enough to fall for all this line of chatter about why they’re willing to spend money to get the information they want. Something in the case is worrying them. They’ve made a pass at this jane, got a jolt, and they’re scared."

"That’s for certain," I told her. "Well, I’ll get going and look the ground over."

"Keep me posted," Bertha said. "This is an important case. And don’t frighten the client with those whopping big expense accounts you usually turn in. You can cut down..."

I closed the door behind me, cutting off the rest of what she was saying.

Copyright © 1961 by Erle Stanley Gardner

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