Saturday, August 9th, 1947
I suppose it would have begun on this day. I know it will seem odd to those innocent passersby who were simply enjoying a peaceful afternoon on this particular day, to think that events of such consequence could have been occurring less than a few yards away from them. Yet it's true. And this is how the whole ordeal started. It was a Saturday afternoon, I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday...
I'm sure you know who I am...for my name will soon become synonymous with this case with which I have undertaken...the case that has forever altered the course of lives untold, myself the least of them. Raymond Allison, private investigator. But folks just call me Ray. At any rate, I do not wish to drag on longer than need be, for the longer I dwell upon this episode, the more vividly my melancholy memories return.
It was the ninth of August, nineteen forty seven, it was, as I have said before, a Saturday afternoon. The sun was out...a good day to take off work and spend time with your loved ones. I was the exception. I wasn't married, I had no family of my own. This job
Saturday, August 9th, 1947
Office of Ray Allison, private investigator
Manhattan, New York
I sighed as I leaned back in my chair. This was an unusual feeling for me, to be alone in my office, no clients to assist, no projects to work on. Perhaps it was for the best that business was slow today. For I had been working nonstop on a slew of cases for my clients over the past few weeks. Now for the first time in months, my slate was absolutely clean. Such is the fickle nature of the life of a PI. Some days, you're drowning in work, others, you're begging someone to let you take their case. It wasn't great for business to experience such low poimts, yet it could still turn out to be a net positive for me. For in this raging cesspool of corruption and greed we call home, there was always a new stone to be unturned, a new gang to be brought down, another shady character of underworld. Yes, there would soon be more cases to work on. And so perhaps this was a sign from the fates, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to just leave the office for a little while and take a walk through the bustling streets, pick up lunch, swing by Central Park, take it easy for the first time in a long while.
I swiveled about and took a look through the window of my office, which was situationed high enough to provide a decent view of the wondrous cityscape. It was a rare sunny day in Manhattan, which bathed the skyline in a golden glow. The summer was in its final swoon, and it wouldn't be long before we were plunged back into the customary frigid winter. Yes, I thought to myself, it must be a sign. Today was my day to let my guard down and shake loose my burdens for a time. To leave work behind for just a few hours. And now that I thought of it, Sundays weren't usually much better for business. It was certainly conceivable that I could take the whole weekend off...I found this thought strangely satisfying.
I smiled as I pictured the plan coming together in my head. I could instruct my secretary to simply tell anyone who came in to come back on Monday. I was only human after all, I couldn't solve every crime in this city, as much as I would have liked to. I had just about talked myself into this idea when the startling ring of the telephone at my desk interrupted my thoughts. I quickly picked up the phone receiver and placed it to my ear.
That was the voice of my secretary, Miss Mosely. I heaved an internal sigh. And perhals deep within I knew although I didn't want to confess it. It seemed that the fates had, as they so often did, changed their minds on a whim. There would be no rest today.
"Yes, Ms. Mosely?"
"You have a visitor."
"All right, send them in please."
"Very well." And the phone call ended. I straightened out some papers and other items on my desk to neaten it up. I took a sip of my afternoon coffee, sat up in my chair and focused my vision on the door, wondering who would be walking in this time. Would it be like the man who claimed he had been framed by an infamous gang for a series of armed robberies? Or the wife who was concerned that her husband might be more involved in a murder case than he was letting on? I'd seen both of those and so many more. The depths of human depravity had seemingly no bounds, and that I'd something you must quickly grow accustomed to in this business. Yes, I'd seen some terrible things in this line of work. I thought I was ready for anything.
What I wasn't ready for was for the young woman who came walking through the door a few moments later. At once, several thoughts occurred to me simultaneously, and all of them seemed jumbled and contradictory: the first, as she quietly closed the door behind her and walked towards me, was that she could have been any one of my previous female clients, plainly clothed as she was, with a simple dress and hat. The second, that in spite of this, she held a certain beauty that even this humble appearance could not contain. Her dark red curls, tucked beneath a hat, highlighted her emerald green eyes, which at the moment were reflections of unfathomable loss and grief. Their sorrowful gaze captivated me, and I instantly found myself wanting to know who this oddly enchanting woman was. To know her story, why she had come to me. But it was then that the third thought hit me, I did know this woman. Even before we'd spoken a word to each other, I recognized her at once, although her initial appearance had caught me off-guard. She was normally seen in far more elegant attire than this, but then again, considering the occasion of her visit, I could not blame her. The only trapping of her wealth was a Rolex watch, and even this she seemed reluctant to show. Yes, I did know her. It was difficult not to when she was a member of arguably the most famous family in New York aside from the Rockefellers. It was the only daughter of one Stephen Sanford, Gwen Sanford.
I'm sure you, as everyone else, know who Stephen Sanford was. The founder and President of Sanford Munition Co., one of the most powerful manufacturers and suppliers of arms to the military during the second world war. Sanford's wife had passed away some years ago, but this did not quash his ambitions by any scope. If anything, it only made him more of a workaholic. During the war, if you saw a tank, a gun, an aircraft, even a battleship, there was a good chance Sanford Munition Co. had either built it or played some role in commissioning it. They were the toast of the town in a time when patriotism reigned supreme. The Sanfords were heroes. Along with his young daughter Gwen and their contingent of servants and maids, they lived out a comfortable existence in the Sanford Estate in the wealthiest stretch Long Island. After the war ended, Sanford Munition Co. made the mistake of continuing to go on as if it were business as usual. But of course, that wasn't the case. The war was over, the hot one anyways. And the cold one had begun. The military didn't have as many demands as before. Sanford Munition Co. was experiencing some financial trouble, but that was the least of their worries, as we were all soon to find out...
"Miss Sanford? To what do I owe your presence this fine afternoon?"
Given her appearance and demeanor, I wasn't surprised to find that Miss Sanford looked deeply distressed. In fact, it looked as though she'd been crying. I knew why. Like everyone else, I had heard and read about the incident. The tragic car accident that killed her father, one of the most renowned millionaires in New York, maybe in the whole country, Stephen Sanford. This was a man who was held up by many as a true patriot and American hero. It was no surprise that the media had given his untimely passing a massive amount of coverage. They wanted answers, and soon they got them. The police had quickly concluded their investigation with the finding of suicide. Mr. Sanford was depressed because his company was losing business, so he got in the car and took his own life. There were others in the car, a business partner, a chauffeur, they'd been lucky enough to survive. At the time I hadn't thought much of it. But now, with the heiress to the Sanford fortune standing before me trembling like a leaf, now I took notice. It was so shocking to see a woman in such a position of power, a woman barely into adulthood being asked to step up and deal with this awful tragedy, a wealthy socialite with no need for a plain guy like me, to see her like this, so vulnerable and afraid, it haunted me. Right then I just wanted to get up and put my arms around her and make everything all right, but of course I couldn't. So I stayed put and tried to keep my demeanor calm. After all, when the client is distressed, it's my job to be strong for them.
"You've heard about what happened to my father, haven't you Mr. Allison?"
"Yes I have, and I'm terribly sorry for your loss, Miss Sanford."
"That's the reason I wanted to speak with you today, I was hoping you could help me."
My eyes couldn't help but take her in. Her elegant dress was illuminated brilliantly in the afternoon sun. That same illumination was present in her eyes, but this time It was of a natural cause. It was mesmerizing.
"You would like to hire me? I thought the police had declared the matter closed?" I recalled the headlines in which the NYPD had issued an official statement closing their involvement and declaring the death of the mighty Stephen Sanford to be a suicide.
Gwen shook her head. "The truth is, Mr. Allison, I don't believe the police have done enough to find out what really happened."
I looked up. Now this was interesting. Was Miss Sanford implying that there was something more to this story than simple suicide? As if to answer my question, she continued speaking.
"I don't believe he committed suicide at all. I think the police are just plain wrong. My father isn't the kind of man to do that."
I stroked my chin thoughtfully. "Well if he didn't commit suicide, then what do you suppose happened? An accident?"
"No sir, I think he was murdered."
"Murdered?" I asked. This was a serious allegation. "Have you got any evidence to support this?"
Miss Sanford gave me a defeated look. "No sir, it's only an intuition, a hunch, I suppose."
I gestured for Miss Sanford to sit down, and she did so. It seemed we were going to have a serious conversation about this. Now I have been called upon many times to investigate incidents that family members had deemed suspicious. They would often come to me as Miss Sanford had done and tell me about how wonderful their relative is, how they would never take their own life. It is difficult to accept, true. It is easier in a way to suppose that it is murder because that takes control out of the victim's hands. It means they did not willingly abandon their family. But in the vast majority of these cases, I had the unfortunate, yet necessary, responsibility of informing these clients of the terrible reality. Ssometimes suicide was the best and only explanation. I hated it as much as anyone, but it was my job to tell these hard truths. For I had already learned by now that ninety nine percent of the time, these things were exactly as they seemed.
It was that rare one percent that kept me on my toes, that made me feel a pang of sympathy for Miss Sanford. Maybe she was right. Maybe old man Sanford finally crossed the wrong fellow. He didn't exactly have the cleanest reputation in this town. He was your typical business tycoon, a man with a big bank account and an ego to match. He had no shortage of potential enemies. The communists for one, would have been happy to see this major weapons manufacturer out of the picture for the US. His domestic enemies might have been even more worrisome. Mr. Sanford was known to deal underhanded and do anything to either merge with competitors or drive them out of business. So was it at least plausible that Miss Sanford's claims held water? Certainly. But it was just as, if not more, likely that this would be another case where the simplest explanation was the actual one.
"Tell me, Miss Sanford, when did you begin to have these suspicions that your father's death may not have been as it was portrayed?"
"It was just about right away, to be perfectly frank. The police already had their theory, they told me nothing could be done, but I felt something telling me it was wrong. That was when I had the idea to get a second opinion of sorts. And that's how I ended up here."
I found myself avoiding eye contact with her as we spoke. This is not typical for me, nor is it for your average PI. The goal of the investigator is to get to know your client as well as possible, to show them that you are invested in their plight. But in this case, I knew that her startlingly melancholy emerald green eyes would have only distracted me further, would have increased the sense of . So I made myself look at anything else, at my stacks of files, at the clock hanging on the wall. I watched those clock hands slowly move, ticking and tocking methodically, and tried to ignore the odd sensation that was washing over me. Miss Sanford would not be just another client for me, I needed to be wary of accepting her offer. At the same time, I also had to be attentive to her story, so I took out a notepad and started jotting down notes.
"All right, you've got my attention. Why don't you start from the beginning, Miss Sanford?"
Miss Sanford shuddered as she sighed. She seemed lost, without any direction whatsoever. "Well...where do I begin?"
"Just tell me everything that happened starting with the day your father died leading up to where we are now."
So she told me. It was the 20th of July, just a few weeks earlier. She'd been asleep especially late that morning for whatever reason, but when she awoke she found that her father, the chauffeur, a Mr. Graham Godwin, and the car were gone. A note had been left on the kitchen table: "Gone for drive with Burton, will be back by two." But of course, he never came back. And later that day, the police showed up with the awful news, there'd been an accident. Stephen Sanford was dead. The accident happened in a secluded area, no one had witnessed it. It seemed Mr. Sanford had fought Mr. Godwin for control of the car, and ended up crashing it into a tree. Miraculously, Mr. Godwin and Sanford's business partner, Alistair Burton, survived. Possibly by throwing themselves out at the last possible moment. It all seemed to line up with the police version of events, but Miss Sanford still had the terrible feeling that something was amiss...
"And you believe that this was no accident or suicide, but intentional murder?"
"Yes, Mr. Allison, that is what I believe," Gwen repeated to me. "In fact I know. Don't ask me how, I just do. Could you please look into it further? I know you must take cases that are far less speculative, with better prospects of resolution. I'll pay you extra, if you'd like-"
"That won't be necessary, Miss," I cut her off.
"Compensation is but one comsideration to be taken, and it is always secondary to seeing that justice is done. And anyhow I reckon you've suffered enough with the loss of your father. I'll gladly look into your case."
"You will?" Gwen asked with renewed hope in her eyes. In that moment I knew I never wanted to see that hope burn out. Now that I had accepted her case, she was my client, and her cause was my own. Certainly, I could change my mind and say no, I could tell her that the greater likelihood pointed towards suicide or accidental death before murder, that I appreciated her coming to see me, but I had to recommend that she simply try to accept the police verdict and move on with her life. I might even have suggested she try to find another investigator. I could have said any of those things. But I didn't. After all, cases like these are the reason I took the job. For people who's stories weren't believed. Who were ignored by the police. If I didn't take this case, there was good chance nobody would.
"Yes, Miss Sanford. I'll take your case."
A thin smile widened across Miss Sanford's face as she wiped a year from her eye. "How can I ever repay you, Mr. Allison? Do you know that I went to just about every private investigating firm in this town, and not one of them would take this case, no matter how much I pleaded. They all pointed me to you. And now I understand why. I have faith in you, Mr. Allison."
This time I did allow myself to gaze into her eyes, and too late, I realized they had drawn me in. Their hold on me, her hold...was magnetic. It was such that my overwhelming desire was to promise to find the killer. Of course, I could make no such promises, not yet. Not when I didn't know for a fact yet that there had even been a crime...
"The first thing I will need to do is to determine whether a crime has been committed. I'll need to examine your estate as well as photos of the scene of the incident to make a determination on how we should go forward. I can obtain the latter from the police department. Would you be willing to let me search your home?"
"Yes, of course. Would you like to drop by tomorrow?"
"As early as possible. We have got a long day ahead of us."
"Whenever is best for you. I'll have the servants tidy up in preparation for your arrival."
"Just to the contrary, perhaps it would be best that my presence not immediately be announced."
"Do you suspect something?"
I sighed. This was never an easy subject to discuss with a client. "If it is as you say, Miss Sanford, then at this stage, I must suspect everybody and everything. What I can assure you is that I will do my utmost to uncover the truth, whatever it may be."
"Until tomorrow then, Mr. Aliison," Miss Sanford said with s nod as she stood to leave.
I extended my hand to shake hers. Her skin was soft and cool against mine. Yet again, I found myself entranced by her eyes, their tragic melancholy. I was struck by the thought that I might be the only one she had left in this godforsaken world. If that was the case, then I would see to it that justice was done, so that her soul might at last be at peace.
"Don't lose heart, Miss Sanford. Remember, those in pursuit of justice must never despair."
She smiled sadly at me. "I fear what hope I once had has been extinguished by inaction...however, you may just be able to restore it."
And with that we shook hands and I bid her a polite farewell. I didn't realize it then, but in my mind, the Sanford case had already begun to take precedence above all else. It would become my sole pursuit for however long it took until I had found the truth. I cannot explain what brought this on. Perhaps it was the image of Miss Sanford, a broken young woman, adrift and alone, yet still bravely pursuing justice for her father. Perhaps it was the man who had been murdered, the enigma that was Stephen Sanford. For one of the most prominent families in the state, very little was known of this man and his private dealings. Perhaps then, it was mere curiosity. Or maybe it was the thought that there might indeed be a killer out there. A killer willing and cunning enough to pull off a crime of this magnitude and get away with it. Maybe it was my desire to see this killer put away for the immeasurable pain he had wrought. Whatever the reason was, I could not deny the odd sense of anticipation that grabbed hold me when I contemplated the tine I would see the mysterious Miss Sanford next...
Sunday, August 10th, 1947
By the next day, the rare sunshine that had blessed our town had regrettably reverted to the usual grey overcast and the steady fall of summer rain. Perhaps, had I been a man of greater superstition, I would have perceived the gathering storm, portending of what was to come, and moved on. It was too late, however. You see, I hadn’t been able to stop thinking of Miss Sanford or the case of her father, I’d tossed and turned all through the night. Now I had my goal, and I was determined to see it through. So the first thing that morning, I hurried along to the office and ensured that my entire schedule was cleared. Then, leaving Ms. Mosely with instructions to tell all potential clients that my time was currently occupied, I began the long trip to the police station with only one aim, to acquire the file the police had on Sanford’s death.
Yes, I was giving up an awful lot for this case, and in such a competitive industry, a less zealous man might not have done it, but I did. I suppose I couldn’t deny that the case had captured my imagination, as had the doleful heroine at its center. It was a mystery which needed solving, and by the heavens above, I would be the one to solve it.
You may wonder why I was so inclined to this way of thinking, and if I could pinpoint an exact reason, I would have said so. Some may think it was the desire for fame, to be known as the man who solved the "Murder of the Century", a dubious honor given to just about any high profile murder these days, although the murder, if indeed it had been a murder, of Stephen Sanford would have surely been in the running. Perhaps it was the look of utter despair I saw in Miss Stanford's eyes yesterday. The fear that she would never have closure, that her father's death would remain a shadow hanging over her forever, dragging her down to the grave. For a woman so young and beautiful with her whole life ahead of her, it was a cruel injustice. Perhaps it was this thought that animated me. For then that I knew I had to find the truth at any cost.
And so, on that cold, dreary day, I had set out on foot, walking for hours at a pace that was neither a stroll nor a jog so as to not raise suspicion. For one could never be sure when you might be watched or followed in this city, and one never knew who might be lurking within the shadows. Crime was abundant as ever, and the organised variety in particular was booming with the post-war surpluses making prime targets for anyone daring enough to try. The police were a fifty-fifty shot at best to be on my side in this matter, given the rumors of rampant corruption in the department, yet they were my only chance to get crucial information needed to get a solid footing.
I kept my head down just enough to hide my face beneath the brim of my hat. I can only venture to guess what the people who walked by me must have thought, if indeed they had noticed my somber presence at all. The innocent parents rushing with their children to get indoors out of the chilling rain, the men and women spending a lazy Sunday browsing the shops in spite of the weather, the couples enjoying a romantic moment in the soft downpour. In a city full of life, I pursued Death’s victims. I hunted the men in the shadows. These folks would never understand why I did it, and I don’t blame them. They couldn't have known of the tragic nature of my mission on this day. And it was better that way. While some in our trade do inevitably grab the headlines, I had always preferred my work to be done out of the spotlight. My mandate is simple, I do what the client wants, nothing more. I don’t attract attention to myself. To do so can only invite the worst. These instincts allowed me to survive many times when I probably shouldn’t have, they were all I had to fall back upon. This time it wasn’t just for me, it was for Miss Sanford’s sake as well. And so, when several minutes later, I walked into the police station, I made absolutely sure I hadn't been followed...
Sunday, August 10th, 1947
The office of the New York Police Department
"I recognize you...you're Raymond Allison, aren't you?" The woman at the desk inquired of me with a skeptical gaze. "The investigator."
I really should have expected someone would recognize me sooner rather than later, in spite of my attempts to downplay my appearance. It was the golden age of the private eye in New York, with the crime rate as high as it had been since the turn of the century. and the police proving to be inadequate at best and downright phony at worst. We were minor celebrities, but unlike Marilyn Monroe or Joe DiMaggio, we weren't likely to get a rousing cheer from anyone. Certainly not from the cops, whom we were making look even worse. I had been hoping to avoid undue attention here, I suppose that was just a fool's dream. The only way I was getting an audience with the Chief of the NYPD was by revealing my identity.
"Yes, I am. If it's not too much to ask, however, I would prefer to keep my visit as confidential as possible," I responded in a low voice so as to not arouse any further attention.
The waiting area was modestly full for a weekend, and it was not unheard of for crooks to stake out police stations.
Timesthat called it the Crime of the Century. The
Post went a step further and said it was the worst day in New York City since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. All the papers agreed that one of the great heroes of the war had been taken far too soon. Then, just as quickly as the press had grabbed ahold of the story, it vanished, leaving a startled public to twist in the wind.
What did I know? I knew that Stephen Sanford has been in his late fifties, had been wildly successful since inheriting the Sanford Munition Company from his own father, who had, through sheer tenacity and ambition, made the company a household name during the Great War. The time soon came when Sanford the elder decided it was time to pass the torch to his heir, and the son picked up right where the father left off. Although the country was at peace, Sanford sure didn't act like it, as he continued to make cutting edge tools or war and, with the blessing of the government, send them to our allies overseas. It was no secret that Sanford was a major supporter of military intervention, whether it had popular support or not. And if it did have support, it was usually in no small part thanks to lobbyists with deep connections to Sanford and his business. The way I saw it now, assuming it was a murder, and not an accidental or suicidal death, there were three major avenues of criminal theory that Mr. Sanford’s case could fall into. The first being that it was completely random. This seemed the least likely to me because of the circumstances of Mr. Stanford’s death. I was able to practically exclude it from the outset. The second possibility was that of a business motivated crime. Perhaps it had to do with technically legal, but unethical conduct, which Mr. Sanford was known for. Or perhaps it was of a more sinister nature altogether. In any massive corporation, there would always be the risk of corruption and greed eating away until only a rotted core remained. What lengths would Mr. Sanford have been willing go to?
If this had indeed been a business related killing, it would leave plenty of suspects. Everything from the fantastical to the mundane had to be considered within the realm of possibility Communist sympathizers, anti-war groups, anarchists, business rivals, disgruntled clients or employees, gang related violence. On the other hand, there was the third possibility, the one I knew as an investigator I could not simply dismiss. The most basic theory of murder is that the least majority are perpetrated by a person or persons close to the victim. It was certainly just as plausible that one of Mr. Sanford's servants could have been the culprit. Not even Miss Sanford could be ruled out at this point, and I intended to pursue every angle with due diligence. For this case was highly unusual no matter how one looked at it. and I knew I had to be prepared for layers upon layers of investigative work to get to the bottom of it.
The reason I was here was quite simple. I needed something to go on if I was going to determine whether Miss Sanford's murder angle held any truth to it. This meant I would need eyewitness testimony regarding the movements of all on the day of the incident, as well as photos of the scene of the accident. Having these photographs would assist my investigation greatly, as would any statements that had been made by witnesses regarding them. If the police had determined that there was nothing further to go on, then the photos would show what they had seen, and it would become clear whether it was as they said, or if it was all a sham investigation, as I suspected it might be. Finally, it would be a good idea to have a look at their documentation, to see if anything had been overlooked, accidentally or otherwise.
"Mr. Allison? The Chief will see you now."
I glanced up at the sound of my name coming from the woman at the desk and promptly folded my newspaper. It was time for me to take the first steps towards uncovering the truth, whatever it may be.
If you've never had the good fortune of meeting our
chief of police, you ought to consider yourself truly fortunate. Even before I walked in that office, I could smell the thick, overpowering smoke hanging like a lead curtain in the hallway In more ways than one, smoke was a good metaphor for Chief Pirelli, a squat, surly man in his sixties with a dour face, a volatile temperament and a reputation for unpredictability. Or perhaps he was predictable, in that the only moral principle to which he steadfastly clung was to take the advice of the only man in the world whom he trusted, that being himself. The Chief's detractors claimed he would strike a deal with anyone who would do his bidding. It was certainly a dangerous quality to have when just about every shady figure in this town had a motive to bribe him, and sometimes it didn't seem like he put up much of a fight.
Did that necessarily mean the rumours of corruption were true? The truth was, people couldn't decide if the Chief was simply incompetent or a cunning crook operating right under everybody's noses. It helped the Chief that he had a strong relationship with the attorney general of New York, meaning he really was practically untouchable even if he had been crooked. Whether he was strong or weak, Chief Pirelli styled himself as a man who ruled with an absolute iron fist. He was the silent influencer, the man behind the curtain. No arrest of great consequence in a murder investigation was made in this city until it had his stamp of approval. But I had no grand illusions of recieiving more than mininal cooperation from the Chief, nor from the department.
Known as much in recent years for questionable practices and allegations of rampant corruption as for their legendary crime fighting exploits, I knew better than to simply trust the findings of the NYPD, especially with this man at the helm. The only thing that bothered me was this: if Miss Sanford was right, and it was a cover up, then why? Why would the police have closed the case so quickly and declared it a suicide? If anything, it seemed there would be a greater motive to say it was murder, apprehend a suspect, and win the public's trust. By finding death by suicide, the department had essentially shoved the case under the rug, inviting further suspicion. And it doesn't take a private investigator to know that the death of someone like Stephen Sanford doesn't get shoved under the rug unless it's for a good reason. I just didn't know what that reason was. The question hung over me, frustratingly just out of reach. I could only hope my conversation with the Chief would provide me some sort of answer.
"Raymond Allison, I seem to recall you from somewhere...you worked the Wilson girl's case last year; didn't you? Yeah, that's the one." The Chief went on before I could confirm this. He
spoke to me in an accent so thick I could hardly decipher it.
"So they tell me you have an interest in the Sanford case? What can I do you for, pal?"
His demeanor seemed casual as he took a long puff of his cigar. I had to figure out his angle before he figured out mine. He held all the cards right now. And perhaps he believed that through sheer force of personality, he could deter me from my aim. But I had made a promise to Miss Sanford that I would at least attempt to conduct this investigation, and I intended to keep that promise with or without the help of the police.
"Yes, sir," I answered coolly, content to play his game for now. "I've been hired by a certain family member of the deceased to investigate the death of Mr. Sanford. It seems she was ill-satisfied with the work I'd the department."
Chief Pirelli gave me a sleazy grin that made me all at once uncomfortable and angry. "Well now, Mr. Allison, you know that we here at the department do our utmost to ensure justice is delivered in every case. We also have to consider the realities of the situation, however. We cannot afford to waste resources on these...frivolities. That, we leave to your ilk, and as you stand before me, you are living proof that the determination of a PI to get his way at any cost knows no bounds."
I grimaced at his haughty tone. The police often derided us private investigators as little better than vigilantes, so I was accustomed to this sort of backhanded language. All I could do was keep my cool and continue to allow the Chief to direct the conversation.
"I suppose you're right about that,” I conceded grudgingly.
Chief Pirelli smirked as he removed his cigar in order to speak. "Of course I am. I am curious, though. This particular case was closed in rather routine fashion. A clear finding of suicide. What interest does it hold for you?"
I leaned forward, anything that would help me fill the room and put me on something approaching equal footing. For this was the point where I needed to make my case to the Chief for why I needed as many documents from the case file as possible. I might not get another chance.
"That's just it, sir. Truth be told, I'm not so certain that suicide makes sense here."
The chief tossed his old cigar in the ashtray and lit up a new one. "What makes you say that, kiddo? You know I've been working in this department for over twenty years. I think I'd know a suicide when I see one."
He offered me a cigar, which I nonchalantly accepted, and allowed him to light it for me. Socializing with the Chief was the way to earn his trust, this much I had discerned. He liked to hear himself talk, to be seen as in control. I needed to present myself as the humble investigator seeking help from the mighty NYPD, and yet...I could not appear weak, for then the Chief might simply run me over. I went ahead and presented my patchwork case.
"Here's my working theory of the case sir. And keep in mind that I haven't seen any of the evidence yet. Only what's been reported in the papers. We know that Mr. Stephen Sanford, his co-chair Mr. Alistair Burton, and Sanford's chauffeur, Graham Godwin, left the estate for a drive at about eleven in the morning. The destination wasn’t known. An hour later, the vehicle crashes into a tree and bursts into flames. Somehow, both Mr. Burton and Mr. Godwin managed to escape the car in time, leaving Mr. Sanford to his fiery demise."
"Yes, that's about how it went," the Chief concurred coolly, taking another drag of the cigar. “I commend you for the ability to read, Mr. Allison, but I’m afraid I’m not following your argument.”
I brushed aside his derisive remarks and charged on. "Yet by the papers' own admission, the only firsthand account of the incident is that of Mr. Burton. The chauffeur hasn't spoken a word. We are to take Burton's word, and his word alone, for the entire account of this incident?"
"We can only make judgments based upon what is
real, Mr. Allison. If Burton is lying, then the evidence would reveal that. Yet you come here with nothing but a hare-brained theory. We demand a higher standard to re-open a case, Mr. Allison.”
"Then don’t re-open it, sir. Allow me to investigate. The police had their theory, and they closed the case. Surely there’s no harm in letting me have a go at it now.”
The Chief settled into his chair and blew another noxious gust of smoke. “All right, pal, I’m listening. What’s your theory?”
“My theory, Chief Pirelli, is that Stephen Sanford did not in fact commit suicide that day. Something else occurred, something so vile that had the public known of it, they would have rioted in the streets until justice was done."
"All right, suppose you’re right, and it wasn’t suicide. Tell me this, what do you suppose it was then? An accident? Murder?" He accentuated the word in such a way that told me that he wasn’t taking my claims seriously in the slightest. I wasn’t ready to give up, however. The thought of Miss Sanford’s downcast figure prodded me onwards.
"I have a reasonable belief that it was murder, sir. And I think that one of the other men in that car is responsible."
The Chief seemed to size me up with his eyes, they were hot with the fire of a man who was not used to being crossed in this manner. Perhaps now he was beginning to realize that I would not give up on my inquiry so easily. Of course, we both knew he was in the ultimate position of power. He alone had the ability to grant me access to the case file, and he might just do it for the right price. And yet I was decidedly not going to participate in any acts of bribery, as many must have been tempted to do. I would depend only on my own wits to get what I needed.
"That's an awful bold theory, buddy. You know I usually don't bother giving out police resources to any Average Joe with a law degree who partakes in such brazen levels of speculation."
"With all respect, sir-"
"I wasn't finished," Chief Pirelli said with another drag of his cigar. "I like you Ray, can I call you Ray?" Just as before, he didn't wait for me to answer, and simply continued to talk. "Truth be told, I do like you, pal. You’ve got moxie. That underdog spirit that keeps you pursuing a hopeless cause, always believing things will turn out all right in the end. You know, you even remind me of my younger self in some ways. That's why even though I think you're completely deluded, I'll let you review the case file."
He'd completely disarmed me. I couldn’t believe the Chief had folded that easily, when he’d held all the cards of a winning hand. It seemed unreal...the one eventuality I had not prepared for.
"Pardon?" I asked, incredulous. It must have seemed to be one of those comedy sketches you see in a cartoon, where the clueless villain realizes his hare-brained scheme has actually succeeded, only now he has no idea what to do next, thinking to himself, I never thought I'd get this far.
The Chief waved his hand wildly through the smoke. "Hell, take it all, we don't need it anymore. Far as I'm concerned, this case is closed. I see no harm in lettin' you poke around if it'll make you feel better."
And that was it. Within a few minutes, with the Chief's blessing, I had the entire case file loaded into my car and was all set for the next part of my journey. It had all been so remarkably easy, almost too easy...
In fact I suspected right away that it had been too easy, I'd certainly been expecting more of a fight from the chief than that. For him to suddenly give in to my request aroused a great suspicion in me almost as bad as if he would have turned me down. Perhaps worse. I'd walked into the station under the impression that the police might have covered the Sanford case up. Now here was Chief Pirelli essentially giving me the keys to the kingdom. It didn't make any sense. This case was getting more peculiar all the time. But I had quickly put these thoughts out of my mind at the time. My first task had apparently been a resounding success. I had access to everything the police had uncovered about Sanford's death. Photos, reports, witness testimony, if any. Now that my business with the police was over for the foreseeable future, it was time to pay my first visit to the Sanford estate...
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