THE SECRET WHISPERS OF EACH OTHER’S WATCH
as transcribed from Ramsey Long’s notes by Derrick Ferguson
as published in
PRO SE PRESENTS
Peculiar Adventures #1
BUY YOURS TODAY AT
New York City, 1929
The clack-clack-clack of high heels upon the black and white marble floor got the attention of every male ear in the City Room of The New York Paladin and every male head swiveled to cast at least one eye upon the person making said clacks. These being newspapermen and rather a direct and somewhat coarse bunch, the sounds of appreciative wolf-whistles were not a surprise. The secretaries who worked in The City Room were used to hearing this masculine din and grinned good-naturedly, but the current recipient of this crude praise threw a furiously angry glare around the room. She searched nameplates on each and every desk until she found the one she wanted, walking up and down the rows of desks occupied either by gum-cracking secretaries or cigar-smoking men barking into telephones or pounding away at their battered black Underwood typewriters. The large circular windows looked out on the New York skyline, bright early morning sunshine streaming in, cutting though the cigar and cigarette smoke that seemed to inhabit the spacious room like a permanent fog, despite the best efforts of the perpetually turning ceiling fans.
The nameplate read Archibald Bodine and the man who sat with his feet up on the desk and talking into the phone looked more like a boxer or soldier than a reporter. A two-day stubble of beard covered his cheeks and chin. His tan double-breasted suit was well-cut and of good style but looked as if he’d slept in it for a week. A fedora pushed back his close-cropped auburn hair.
“Look, Gummy, how long y’know me? Six years, about, right? In all that time, I ever stiff you on a wager?“ Archibald Bodine grew quiet, listening to the angry torrent of words that gobbled out of the receiver. “Okay, okay, that was just the one time! An’ you know why I hadda stiff you that time. The missus was-”
‘so you are Archie Bodine?“
Archibald looked up and his face brightened. The slim beauty standing in front of his desk was one of the most exquisite examples of femininity he’d seen in quite a while. He muttered into the receiver, “Hold the phone a sec, wouldja, Gummy?“ He looked up at the willowy blond knockout with the flashing electric blue eyes and removed his feet from the desk. “Actually, I prefer Archibald.”
The blond blinked. “You do? I knew an Archibald once, back in grade school and he hated his name.”
“Well, if it was good enough for my mother, it’s good enough for me. I don’t like nicknames, Miss-?”
“Hamilton. Bernice Hamilton. I’d like to talk to you about The Shipman.”
Archibald nodded and gestured with the phone to a battered wooden chair. “Just have a seat, doll, and I’ll be right with you.” He lifted the receiver back to his ear and spoke rapidly into the mouthpiece. “Look, Gummy, I ain’t got all day to debate the matter of a chiselin’ few hundred. You gonna cover me on the fourth and fifth races or what? Yeah, yeah, I’ll have $400 for you by tomorrow morning at the latest, okay? So just take care a’ me on this.” Archibald hung up the phone and turned to grin at Bernice Hamilton. ‘so what can I do for you, Miss Hamilton? Or is it Mrs.?”
Bernice ignored that last bit and flung a copy of last Tuesday’s Paladin on the desk. The front page was emblazoned with a bold headline: The Shipman Strikes Again! Bold Adventurer Rescues Millionaire Party Yacht! And underneath was a story written by one Archibald Bodine.
“Ah. One of my better pieces!” Archibald sighed fondly as he leaned on the desk and began reading the story. He loved reading his own work. Always had since he was a kid. His father worked at sea on various merchant and tramp steamers and since it was just the two of them after Archibald’s mother died when he was ten, he took Archibald along with him on a lot of trips when a willing relative couldn’t be found to take care of the boy. Archibald had written stories mainly to entertain himself and his father since he didn’t have any real playmates to speak of.
“I’m interested in the part at the end where you say that you will soon have an exclusive interview with The Shipman himself. The last three stories you’ve written about The Shipman have made that same claim. I’d like to know just how you can make good on that.”
The clatter of nearly fifty typewriters all going at the same time made the room sound like a bunch of Capone’s boys were trying out new tommy guns they’d gotten for Christmas. This clearly flutered Bernice Hamilton, so much so that she felt compelled to say, “How can you think with all that noise?”
“You get used to it. Kinda like listening to a wife’s nagging alla time. You learn how to tune that out, too.” Archibald looked up, his professional curiosity hooked. “What’s your interest in The Shipman, doll?” A looker like you doesn”t have to chase after mysterious masked men to catch a tumble, I figger.”
Bernice tossed a business card on the desk and Archibald picked it up and read out loud, “Bernice Hamilton, Insurance Investigator.” Archibald looked up at Bernice, frowning slightly. “You gotta be kiddin’ me, doll.”
“If you’d put your skepticism in your back pocket and look a little closer at that card you’ll see that I work for Hamilton Insurance.”
Understanding brightened Archibald’s face. “Let me guess. Your old man’s firm. He didn”t have a son to carry on so he’s training you to take over, right?”
“Close enough. He has two sons, but one of them doesn’t care about the business and the other is just plain stupid, so it’s up to me.” Bernice leaned forward in her chair and said insistently, “So are you going to tell me how you’re going to get that interview with The Shipman or not?”
“And just why should I?”
“Because I want to be there is why. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the theory that he’s some kind of hero trying to make the world safer for damsels-in-distress and lost puppy dogs.”
Archibald chuckled mildly. ‘Well, what is it you think he’s up to then?”
The blonde firecracker snapped her hands onto her hips. “I think he’s in cahoots with the new gangs that have been raiding gambling and private yachts up and down the coast. How else does he manage to be so johnny-on-the-spot?” Bernice leaned forward, withdrawing a crumpled piece of paper from her small black purse. “Look, I’ve figured it out. There have been six attacks and in all six instances, The Shipman was right there to stop each and every one. And he wasn’t the only one.”
“Oh, no?” Archibald took off his hat and dropped it on the desk. He leaned back easily in his chair, fingers laced on top of his head. He smiled pleasantly enough with just enough arrogance in that smile to slightly irritate Bernice. “Who else was there?”
“You. You showed up not more than thirty minutes after The Shipman had beat the gangs senseless and then vanished. Sometimes he flew away in an autogyro. There are witnesses who swear that twice he departed in some kind of submarine.”
Bodine chuckled. “Talk sense, lady. I’m a newspaperman. Where would I get the moolah to pay for that kinda equipment?”
“I never said you were The Shipman, just that you always manage to show up shortly after he’s done his job and vanished. I figure that you and he have an arrangement: he tips you off as to when he’s going into action and he gets good press and you get exclusive stories.”
Archibald shrugged. “It’s a good idea and I wish I’d thought of it, doll, but you’re way off base.” Archibald waved a hand at the City Room. “Look around. The Paladin isn’t exactly one of New York’s bigger and better newspapers. Fact of the matter is, we’re barely getting by. Once I started writing those Shipman pieces, circulation went up by 4% and when I started sayin’ that I was gonna have an exclusive interview, well, my editor loved the response so much that he told me to keep the gag goin’ as long as I could.”
Bernice eyed Archibald with the scrutiny of a dentist readying to extract a really bad tooth. “I’ve done some checking on you, Bodine. Lots of people say that you’re too good to be working for this rag, yet here you are. And you always seem to have plenty of money to play the ponies and sit in on some high money poker games that newspapermen have no business being in.”
Archibald shrugged carelessly. “I got money stashed I inherited from a beloved uncle. What’s it to you?”
“Just pointing out that your extra money could be coming from The Shipman himself.” Bernice stood up. “You’ll be seeing me again, Archibald. Uncovering the true identity of The Shipman would put my father’s company on the top rung of insurance investigative firms and I don’t intend to give up on this. I’m going to find out who The Shipman is and if you throw in with me there could be a sizeable profit in it for you.”
Archibald chuckled and turned back to the telephone. “Blow, doll. Go peddle your fairy tales somewhere else. Some of us gotta work for a livin’.”
Bernice threw him an insolent smile and left the City Room while Archibald dialed a number that was answered on the first ring.
His voice lost the jovial rascally tone of just moment before, gaining a razor’s edge. “It’s Bodine. I need everything you can find out about a Bernice Hamilton who works for Hamilton Insurance Investigations. No, her father owns the firm. No, I can’t use the resources here at the paper because she was here in regards to The Shipman and I wouldn’t want it to get around that she was here fishing for information. No, I don’t think we have to worry about her just yet, but I’ll keep an eye on her. You just dig up that dope. I want to know everything about her from the day she was conceived in her mamma’s womb up to now.” Archibald listened for a minute as the voice on the other end of the phone asked a question. “Well, now that you mention it, I could use four or five hundred by tonight. Yes, it’s for business, trust me. I gotta spread myself in as many hot spots as possible to get the straight dope, don’t I? Okay. Just leave the moolah in the usual place and I’ll pick it up after five. And get me everything you can on that girl and get it soon.”