A Short Story by Ernie Whitenack
Copyright © Ernest N. Whitenack 2018
All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored
in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form,
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It was a quick trip directly to Twenty-sixth street. Mitchell tipped the
driver five dollars and walked East on 26th to a warehouse with gold-on-black
signage indicating “European
Consolidated Imports.” He tried the door and found it locked so pushed
the doorbell button and waited. Shortly the door latch buzzed allowing him
to enter. There was nowhere to go from the small entryway but up a flight
of stairs. A pair of very large men in suits greeted him at the top of the
stairs, “What do you want here, Mitchell?” one asked in a rather menacing
“I want to talk to Mr. Ryan. Tell him it is about a very old pipe for sale.”
One of the big men pointed to the floor directly in front of Mitchell and, with a very stern look and his menacing way, said, “wait right here.”
“I won’t move an inch, you ugly gorilla,” Mitchell thought to himself.
Upon returning, one of the men searched Mitchell in an overly rough manner and told him to go in.
Lucky Ryan stood looking out the window with a drink in his hand while, a on a huge ornate desk, a large cigar smoldered in a crystal ashtray. A cabinet, holding a hundred or so pipes of all description, stands against the wall to his left. The rest of the large office, lavishly furnished, compliments the desk perfectly. Ryan turned as Mitchell entered the room and sat behind the desk.
“Hi Mic,” he said in a friendly way; it’s been a long time. What brings you here, oh yea, a pipe? Have a seat and tell me about it. Frankie, get Mic a Scotch,” Ryan ordered the big man standing with his back against the door.”
That same morning, in Boston, the Telex at the FBI office clinked away receiving reports of Smyth being in Albany and Mitchell’s meeting with him. Director Malison immediately called Wadsworth, Jodh Singh and Interpol’s detective, Von Ropp. And brought them up to date.
Von Ropp became very excited and asked, “Have they arrested him in Albany?”
Answering, Malison said, “No, not yet. They realize others are involved with Smyth, and possible complicity in the murder of Baron Alfred Kunz in Austria. There are several teams of agents, both in Albany and New York City, keeping a tight rein on Smyth and those he has contacted or seen. You will have to trust us with this, and believe me Smyth, or any accomplices, will not get away from them.”
Another Telex came in an hour later relating Mitchell’s trip to Albert Ryan’s office, and a brief outline of Ryan’s suspected illegal activities. With this news, Malison called Scott Wadsworth and relayed the information, and asked, “When are you meeting with Harlan Abby and do you think he will object if I am there? I want to get more information about Ryan from him, and send it to the New York office. It might help them build a case when the time comes.”
“All we can do is try,” Scott replied. “I have an appointment at two o’clock tomorrow. Is that OK for you?”
“That’s fine. I’ll pick you up at your office at noon and we can grab a quick lunch somewhere on the way.”
Immediately after Scott hung up, the phone rang again. “Scott, It’s Abe. I just got home from Germany. When can we get together? Presents I have for the kinder and I’m anxious to see them; and you and Nancy, of course.”
“Well, Abe, that’s hard to say right now. I’m working on a case with Harry Malison, and a detective from Interpol, about an ancient stolen pipe and murder. I’ll get back to you soon, I must go to Springfield tomorrow. We’ll have you for dinner and you can tell us about your trip. How’s that?”
“Is that the pipe stolen from the college in India? It was in all the papers in Europe. Can I help in any way? A good team we made against those Nazi bums.”
“Thanks Abe, but nothing I can think of right now.”
Scott walked out the door of his building just as Harry pulled up in a big black car with a driver. The driver got out and hurried around to open the rear door for Scott.
“Some kind of elegance. A far cry from that ‘36 Ford you had to drive yourself during the war” Scott said with a huge grin.
“Don’t rub it in buddy, or are you jealous? It’s protocol for this job.” Harry barked back.
Meanwhile, Mic Mitchell had a bunch of phone books spread put on a table and calling tobacco shops. He had promised Smyth a couple of names who are collectors and was determined to satisfy him. The fact is, Mitchell was deathly afraid of both Smyth and Ryan. Although Ryan used him several times to run important errands and paid him well, he knew if he messed-up it could mean a bad beating or a bullet. As for Smyth in the old country, he never knew him to be very violent and never had a gang. That murder associated with the pipe he wanted to sell, made him change his view and wish he had never gone to Albany to meet him.
After several hours on the phone, he collected two names from the many pipes shops called; Alfredo Costa in the Bronx and Harlan J. Abby in South Hancock, Massachusetts. With this, he called Smyth at his hotel in Albany.
“Mic, good to hear your voice. What do you have for me?”
Mitchell gave him the information on the two names plus Ryan and added, “Ryan is no one to fool with. He will just as soon kill you and take the pipe. I advise you to meet him on neutral ground somewhere with lots of people, and in daylight. He will have a couple of goons with him. As for Abby, he is a well-known artist and can afford the pipe. Now this ends this for me. I want nothing more to do with it, and please forget you know me.”
“Now Mic my boy, I’m sorry to hear you talk that way. I’ll owe you if either of these contacts work out. Don’t you want what you’ve earned?”
“Not on your life. Don’t ever contact me again.” Mitchell hung up and wiped the sweat from his face, sat back in the chair, lit a cigarette and realized his heart was beating rapidly.
About half way to Springfield, the Motorola communication system in the FBI car came to life. “Give the microphone to the director,” a voice said.
“Malison here,” Harry said.
“Jodh Singh called the office with some news that might be helpful to you. Hyderabad University posted a reward to anyone instrumental in apprehending Smyth and the return of the pipe; twenty thousand dollars.”
“That’s good news,” Malison replied. “It might be a lever to pry information out of someone, perhaps this Mitchell guy.”
Harry and Scott entered the Brier and Smoke and Bill Clauson greeted them whileputting stock on the shelves of his attractive and neat shop. After exchanging greetings and Malison introduced, Bill Clauson invited them to his office. Scott sat and retrieved his pipe from a jacket pocket.
“Here, Scott, try some of this. It’s a new Virginia – Perique blend, with something special added. I’ve been working on it for about a month; interested to know how you like it.”
“Thanks, I will,” Scott said enthusiastically. “Where is Harlan Abby?”
“He called this morning telling me he’ll be a little late. He had to make a stop on the way here; something to do with the sale of a painting.”
It took about twenty minutes for Scott and Bill Clauson to catch up on things since they had last talked. Harry sat silently shifting in his chair and getting more nervous waiting for Abby to appear. Shortly, a buzzer sounded indicating the shop door opening.
“Hope that’s Abby,” Harry said.
“Or a customer,” Clauson came back, and went to see which. He returned preceded by a stocky man over six feet tall in a Harris Tweed suit. A neatly trimmed graying beard adorned his jaw, and a super-sized Meerschaum pipe, with an Amber stem, topped it all off. More introductions and nerve-grating chatting brought Harry to his feet.
“OK, he said, “Let’s get down to business.” He brought Abby up to date, stressing the reward, with Scott interjecting thoughts throughout. Abby listened attentively.
“That is not an appealing picture you present,” Abby said finally. “As much as I would like that pipe for my collection, I certainly don’t want to do business with a thief and murderer. And, there will be some broken heads or limbs if Lucky Ryan is anywhere in the picture. Perhaps a bullet or two fired. He is a ruthless man who has been trying to get his hands on my collection for a couple of years. He hasn’t directly threatened me into selling, but made comments that can be taken as such. I’m afraid I can’t help you. However, should this Smyth person contact me, I will certainly let you know. I read the account of the murder in Austria which included the earlier theft of the pipe in India. It is certainly a grand artifact and I can imagine how the university museum must feel at its loss. If I could do anything, I would, but I just can’t put myself in jeopardy to do so. I hope you understand.”.
“We certainly can,” Harry responded, as Scott agreed by nodding his head. “You have a lot to lose being a noted artist and sculptor. No one can fault you for protecting your position. Just keep in mind that lives might be at risk and Smyth is at the center of it all. Should he contact you, and you inform us of particulars of the call, the FBI will protect you until this case is closed.”
“Thank you, that’s assuring,” Abby said after re-lighting his large Meerschaum. “I must be going now; have much to do today.” He turned abruptly and walked out of the store.
I guess we should get going too, Bill. Thanks so much for helping us out. Say! how about putting up a half-pound of your Number Eight for me. You are still blending it, aren’t you?”
“That I am,” Clauson replied. “Happy to accommodate you. Number Eight is Abby’s favorite. I calculate he smokes a pound a month along with a couple of two-ounce English imports I carry.”
“Keep in touch, Scott – good to meet you, Harry.” Clauson yelled out as the two men entered the car.
On the way back to Boston, Scott and Harry discussed Abby and their disappointment over his unwillingness to cooperate with the FBI, despite the reward.
Scott turned to Harry and asked, “Do we know anything about this Mitchell guy other that we suspect he is a small-time hood?”
“I don’t think so, other than he knows Smyth and Ryan. Why do you ask?”
“I was thinking that Mitchell seems to be in the middle of this case, and probably scared to death considering who he is dealing with. I’ll bet he will be interested in Twenty-Thousand dollars.”
“You could be right, especially if getting Ryan and Smyth put away will give him some peace of mind. I’ll get someone at the office to do a thorough check on him. If what we find warrants it, we’ll bring him in.”
In the office of European Consolidated Imports, Ryan is thinking about the pipe and who his competition might be. He instructs his two enforcers to find Mitchell and ask him if anyone else has been contacted about the pipe. They find him, a Scotch in his hand, leaning on his usual spot at the bar on 41st Street. The men, positioned on either side of Mitchell, squeeze in on him and asked the question.
“Honestly, I don’t know. All I have done is find the collectors by calling tobacco shops and give the names to Smyth. I don’t know who Smyth has contacted, if any. I haven’t talked about the pipe to anyone other than Mr. Ryan. Here, give me some room and I’ll write the names down for you.”
Mitchell hurriedly fished a pencil and pad from his pocket and wrote down the names and where they live.
“Thanks Mic. Now, that’s the kind of cooperation Mr. Ryan likes, and it saved you from a good thumping”
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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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