A Short Story by Ernie Whitenack
Copyright © Ernest N. Whitenack 2017
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“I’m not sure what my participation will be, other than talk to some pipe collectors. There is a meeting in the morning with Harry, and the others, to decide where to start and to work out a strategy. Please don’t worry. It is only one-man Interpol is after, not a whole gang. I doubt there will be any shoot-outs. Sneak-thieves and murderers are generally cowards, doing their dirty work from the shadows and behind their victim’s back.”
The next morning over breakfast, Nancy told Scott she was feeling better about him being involved in the FBI case and she hopes he will limit his activities to those he mentioned last night.
“I’ll do my best to do that,” Scott replied. “But, things change you know, and this case could swing in a different direction. I hope not and, I’m not expecting it to amount to anything but research.”
When Scott reached the end of Walnut Street, he hailed one of the many cabs that, for some reason, are on Beacon street at that time of the morning. The trip to FBI headquarters, through the narrow and winding Boston streets, was slower than expected due to rush hour traffic. He just made the nine-thirty meeting.
After Malison made introductions all around, Jodh Sing spoke first. “Along with the gourd pipe discovered in a grave in Northern India, a stone tablet was also in the grave. The language is very obscure and after years of study the message finally came to light last year. It is a warning of a curse associated with the pipe. It claims an ancient witch, for a better name, as there is no English translation, put a death curse on anyone owning the pipe. Naturally, I do not believe in such things and neither do my associates, although mystery and violence has followed its path to me since its discovery in 1894. I trust this will not deter any of your efforts during this investigation.”
“I think I can safely say there is no reason for you to fear that, Malison replied as Singh took his seat. “The course of this investigation, as it now stands in its first stage, is to distribute photographs, and particulars, of Smyth over the wire to major city police departments and FBI offices across the country. This stage has already been accomplished. Secondly, where Smyth hasn’t arrived in Boston, as Interpol suspected, it is anyone’s guess where he will enter the country. Therefore, we must take massive steps, and have high cooperation across the country to track him down. Local, state, and where applicable, sheriff’s departments, will cooperate. The team assembled here has worked together before with great success so let’s hear from them regarding any progress to this point.”
Frank Gray placed his smoldering pipe in an ashtray, stood, and said, “I was up very late last night contacting, by phone and telex, news services in Europe requesting all information concerning Gerald Smyth -- crimes, real and suspected, convictions, parole records if possible and associates in crime in Europe and the U.S.A. I hope to start receiving reports by tomorrow morning and sorting them according to relevance.”
As Gray sat and stuffed his pipe full of Cake Box, Scott interjected, “I can probably help you with that. How much depends on my research, which is not that extensive right now, and business issues that can’t wait.”
“Do you have anything pressing now?” Malison asked.
Scott replied, “Just an hour or two in court this afternoon. My clerk can handle anything else. Then, I hope to start making enquiries of some pipe club members across the state who probably know big collectors that might jump at a chance to have a pipe with such a colorful past. I can find time between these things to help Frank.” Scott sat and all eyes turned to Dick Taranto.
Taranto stood and said, “The Boston and Mass State Police departments are running extra shifts to enable them to cover all forms of public transportation letting off passengers in all large cities. I’m sure you will agree that it is nearly impossible to cover, let’s say, all stops busses might make across the state. But in that vein, every local police department in Massachusetts is keeping an eye on bus and train depots within their respective jurisdiction. That is all I have for now, but I’ll be in constant touch with FBI Director Malison and will assist him in any way the BPD is able.”
“Thanks dick, and you all,” Malison said. “I hope this thing can soon be ended.”
The telephone rang as everyone was about to leave the conference room and Malison held the receiver to his chest and loudly said, “Hold it every one. Washington on the line.” He listened for quite a while before speaking; “Thanks Al, at least it’s a start. Keep me posted please -- any time day or night.”
“Well, the pot is starting to perk,” Malison said as he hung up the phone. “The Rome Police contacted Washington stating they believe Smyth landed there by air. It is the first leg of a continuing flight on Espania Airlines to Bermuda via Lisbon. He’s dressed like a London Banker and used an assumed name and passport. A retired National Police Force man spotted him. After many years trying to catch Smyth, he recognized him immediately, and called the Rome Police. Now, we know there are only two ways to get out of Bermuda, by air and ship. I think there are only a couple of air and cruise lines in use so soon after the war that have service to East Coast cities. Massive concentration of forces will be focused in the ports and airports of Miami, Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Get to work, men. We need a destination for this bum SOON and, if possible, the identity of his contacts.”
Back at his office, Scott called all the prominent pipe and tobacco shops in Boston asking about any known pipe collectors who were willing to pay a huge sum, perhaps up to a million dollars, to acquire a one of a kind ancient pipe considered to be fifteen-hundred years old. Most didn’t have an answer, but a couple of names did surface from the inquires; Harlan J. Abby and Albert (Lucky) Ryan. Little was known about Ryan other than he was quite wealthy with his fingers in many pies and a member of a pipe club somewhere in eastern New York. The shops who told of Abby seemed to know all about him, his extensive collection and being a fine artist, and suggest Scott contact him as he probably knows Ryan. Scott tried several calls to Abby but could not get ahold of him and decided to try later in the evening. Scott had the phone numbers of a pipe shop in Springfield he buys from occasionally and called to see if they knew of Frank Ryan, lighting his pipe while the phone rang.
“Yea I know of him Scott. Enough that I never want to see him in my shop. I’ve been told he can be real trouble as far as his pipe collection goes. Harlan Abby secretly made a book about his extensive collection and published it under an assumed name. Somehow Ryan found this out and has been hounding Abby for a couple of years to show him the collection so he can evaluate it and come up with a price to buy it. Well, Abby has no intention of selling the collection and continually refuses. Abby told me that Ryan has made subtle threats, disguised in conversations, that harm might come to Abby if he continues to keep his collection in hiding. Abby is considering hiring some protection. He has connections to several galleries in New York city who, in turn, use a couple of very effective security agencies. One gallery offered to make security arrangements with them for Abby. Abby and I have been friends since he moved to the state and became a customer; fact is, I helped him catalog his collection and photograph it for his book.
“That is interesting,” Scott said. “I’ve been trying to contact Mr. Abby about a murder and pipe theft but can’t make contact. Is it asking too much for you to set up an appointment with him for me? We can meet at your shop.
“Not at all, Scott. I’ll call you when it is all set. Be good to see you again.”
At least it is a start, Scott thought as he dialed Harry Malison’s private number at the FBI “Scott here, Harry. I’ve made a couple of good contacts at finding ardent collectors. I’m waiting for an appointment to be set up with one of them by a pipe shop owner in Springfield. The other, Albert (Lucky) Ryan is in New York and appears to be somewhat shady. I’d like you to check on him for me and determine if he is a gangster or not. It seems he has made some veiled threats to another collector about buying his collection.”
“That’s great, Scott. You be careful, now. If you think you need help with any of these people’ let me know and I’ll assign an agent to you. No point in taking risks.”
"Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind, and I plan to be armed for any meetings with these people. I’m beginning to realize what a serious mater it is for some of them.”
Frank Gray was called next with the same request only regarding illegal activity about Ryan internationally.
“We’ll get right on it, Scott. I’m glad you are making progress. As I said this morning, Feelers are out to news agencies throughout Europe regarding Smyth. I’ll add this Ryan’s name to the request.”
“Thanks. That is all that one can ask.
In a plane approaching Miami, Smyth sat in a first-class seat wearing loud plaid shorts and a Hawaiian type sport shirt. He had donned a short goatee and mustache and black-rimmed glasses. On his lap rested a large brimmed, shaggy straw hat. The hostess approached and told him his radio call to New York is ready and to please follow her. She led him to a small antiroom just before the cockpit, removed a handset from its hook on the wall and handed it to him and disappeared.
New York City:
In a small seedy bar on 41st Street, Michael (Mic) Mitchell leaned with his back to the bar lighting a cigarette and watching his opponent throw his darts. He took a couple of quick puffs, picked his whisky up with one hand and his darts with the other and walked up to the toe line. He checked his score on the chalk board hanging next to the dartboard and put his drink on the narrow shelf hanging from the wall. He placed his right foot just touching the worn two-by-two wood strip, that was the toe line, placed at the correct distance from the dartboard. Mic raised his arm to throw the first dart.
“Yo Mic, there’s a phone call for you,” the bartender yelled. “Sounds important so take it in the back room.”
Mitchell tossed his darts on the shelf next to his whisky.
“A time-out OK by you, mate?” he asked the other player.
“Sure Mic, you go ahead if it’s important.”
He made his way to the office through the narrow walk-way separating rows of booths.
The voice on the phone said, “Mic, how the hell are you, old sock?”
“You had better want more than information about my health. I was about to take out a 132 and win me a twenty spot. Now, who’s the bastard to do that to me?
"It’s Smyth, you great clod. We need to meet. I’ve something big going down and can use you. I’m just about to land in Miami and will be taking a bus to Albany tomorrow. Can you get to Albany so we can discuss it? It could be very big money for you. I’ll be at the Regal Hotel”
Mitchell said, “Cryme, but it’s been a long time. I figured you had your head in the stocks for twenty years or dead by now. You sure about this big money? If so, call me when you get to Albany and I’ll be there as soon as I can.
“Mic, I have an item worth at least a million to the right person, and probably more. All we have to do is find that person.”
Mitchell whistled his way back to his game, finished off his whisky and without
hesitation, stepped to the toe line and threw a triple-twenty – triple-twenty
– double-sixteen. He tipped his Fedora to his opponent, picked up his
winnings and swaggered back to the bar.
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Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield,
Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean
War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is
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