I knew she was trouble the moment she entered my office, tripping over the door sill, careening off the potted palm, stepping into the wastebasket, then sliding across my desk knocking everything off, landing legs spread onto my lap, facing me, her fox head stole biting my neck.
"Hi, I'm Wilma Trubble." She said with a snap of her gum.
All American girl, blue eyes, white platinum curled hair, ruby red lips, warm queen size pillows.
"I saw your name in the dictionary..."
"Phone directory." I corrected, easing the fox off.
"Yeah, anyways I need you to find a guy. Hans."
"He's my boyfriend. And I love the big galoof. And he ain't been home in four nights, I'm getting kinda worried you see."
She got up and started making quick trips around the office, ignoring my secretary, Tess Truechest, who stood in the doorway glaring at the wiggling rear in the sequined dress. Thin Tess could have filled that dress and still had room for a seven course thanksgiving dinner. Still there was something sweet about Wilma.
"He used to be a boxer, maybe you heard of him, Bruiser Brinker?"
I hadn't but Tess was big on boxing. "Went fourteen rounds with Dempsey."
"Yeah, held his own until Dempsey landed that last punch." She slowed down to look out the window behind me, heaving a big sigh. Four stories up overlooking the rug warehouse and the rail cars in the center of the street below.
"He retired after that, didn't he?" Tess softened, offering Wilma the only other chair in the room, then put her own nice bottom on the corner of my desk.
Wilma finally let the fox slide off those pearly white shoulders. "He did a couple more three rounders in Cicero and Joliet, then I finally got him to quit. We use to go ice skating out on Lake Michigan when it froze. He was so gentle. Pick me up and we'd do a full axel." I tried to imagine that but the outline of those pillows was making it difficult.
She continued on with her tale of life beating down the good guys in this world. "His old manager, Joe Cartwright, came by last Wednesday, wanted Hans to get back in the ring. I said no. Hans said he'd think about it. And he went out for a walk and that was the last I seen of him. I think that crumb manager got him up in Calumet working out for another fight. He take a hit like Dempsey's, that could kill him."
Tess looked at me. I couldn't say no to her sympathetic blue eyes. "Okay," I said. "Fifty dollars in advance, hundred a day, plus expenses. You got that kind of dough."
"You kidding? My daddy's the owner of the Calumet Canal Toll Bridge. Here's a hundred tokens for the bridge." And she tossed a silk purse from her big hand bag. I usually avoided the toll roads but since she wasn't going to pay cash I took it anyway, informing her that payment would have to be in cash when I found Bruiser.
"Better not call him that now. He don't take kindly to it. I call him Muffin."
That was even more difficult to imagine. Then she got up, shook hands with Tess, and departed, tripping on the door sill as she went.
"From Bruiser to Muffin. No wonder the guy went for a walk and didn't come back." Tess said.
"Better dig out the phone 'dictionary' for this guy Cartwright. Try Calumet first and all the gyms."
She went off into the outer office and began her search. Took two minutes but she found him. I drove for a half hour, got to use a token on the toll bridge. Found the run down gym along the canal by the beach. Cartwright was just five feet two with a chip on his shoulder for anyone who called him little. But a fiver made him down right sociable.
"Bruiser weren't interested in the fight game. Naw, not mister high-n-mighty, now that he's sparking that rich dame. He came in here and told me what his big idea was and I laughed in his belly. And told him to get out. Now you can get out."
"Know where he went?"
He hesitated just long enough to realize I wasn't going to fork over any more dough. "Don't know." Two of his trainees stopped punching the bags and came over to introduce me to their best haymakers. I woke up in the alley way. I came back in and folded a chair over one and introduced the other one's face to the ring bell. Ring-a-ding-ding. Then I hung Little Joe over the top rope by his ankle and let him see how far it was to the concrete floor.
"He's got relatives up in Michigan. I got an address in my office."
I drove my Nash up to an area called little Holland. Flower fields and Dutch sounding names on all the signs. Found Brinker's Bean and Flower Seeds.
"Hans?" The cheerful lady at the counter thought for a moment. "Oh, you mean Hoss. Yes, he stopped by. We're cousins. We use to go ice dancing out on the reservoir when it froze over, back when we were kids. I think he said he was staying out at the old inn by the reservoir road."
Found the inn, not much, a converted old barn, doing little business even in good weather and the clouds were coming in for a storm. He wasn't in, his key out, and no one had seen him in two days. They didn't know him well enough to call the police since he said he wanted some time alone to think things out. They let me check his room. Bag still unpacked. His Packard Six gone. So as the first snow began I drove around, checking bars, anything that might be construed as a gym. Nothing. I decided to go back to the Inn and stay the night, maybe the big galoof would show.
As I drove by the reservoir dam I saw a car parked off at the other end. His car. I walked out in the freezing cold. The dam wasn't very high, maybe twelve feet. But about a football field across. About three quarters the way across I looked down and there was a big man, over 6-5", staring up at me. Cursing. Or at least in Dutch so it may not have been profane.
I went down and found him with his right arm stuck halfway into the brick and rock dam. "I'm stuck." He said. "Afraid if I take my hand out the damn will create a leak and break open."
"You know a lot about dams do you?"
"Worked on this when I was a kid. That's how I got my muscles. Thanks for helping me. I did this late last night right around dusk, spent the cold night out here, and all day been waiting for someone to drive by. You're the first."
I told him I was looking for him. How Wilma had hired me. And he told me he had gone to Little Joe's gym and offered to buy him out and wanted to turn the gym into an ice rink. Little Joe said people had the lake for that. He said "but not in summer" and he could get a cheap loan from his soon to be father in law. But Little Joe had thrown him out like he was scum. He hadn't gone back in and settled the score as I had, no, he had driven here, gone for a walk, and angry at himself had punched his hand into the dam.
It took some doing but we got his arm released, hand broke in several ways, never good for fighting again. And we wedged some free rocks in place. We'd call the town water people to go out and check it when we got back to the Inn. Storms clouds were forming on the lake and moving in fast.
I drove him back in my car, he was holding his arm out the window to let the cold numb the pain in his hand. When we got back there was a big Lasalle parked out front. I recognized the Illinois license plate as Calumet area.
Inside was a heavy set gray haired man. Mister Toll Bridge himself, Ben N. Trubble. Along with the two goons I'd dealt with back in the gym and Little Joe too.
"Did you really think I was going to give you my daughter so she could run the concession stand at an ice rink?" The man in the tuxedo said as we entered. The two
goons quickly took hold of me and dragged me over to a table where the inn owners were tied and gagged. I got a punch in the stomach and a cheap shot to my jaw, good enough for me to be softened up enough to be tied up too but not knocked out.
Hans "Hoss" "Bruiser" "Muffin" Brinker stood by and let it happened. All the fight in him had gone out the moment Dempsey had put him on the ring mat. Besides, the warm room was awakening every nerve in his hand.
Wilma's daddy smoothed his tuxedo. "Well, I'm sorry to get these innocent people involved." He waved a hand at the owners. He made a different gesture to me. "And people like you should get what you deserve when you go around meddling. But then, following you was so easy." He made a third gesture. And Little Joe brought out his gun. "Make it quick, and then put the gun in the boxing chump's hand. That will break his spell on my princess."
Little Joe came over and spit in my face. "I'm going to enjoy doing this."
But just as he raised the gun to my face, the front door opened and a rush of cold snow blew in, along with Wilma Trubble, tripping over the door sill to careen off Brinker's good arm, spin, her elbow mowing Little Joe down and knocking the gun across the room. She was followed by Tess holding a notched handle Tommy Gun.
"Damn easy following you too, asshole." She said to Wilma's dad, but with a wink to me. I'd never knew this side of Tess before and was duly impressed.
Every thing worked out for the best. The cops came and took the bad guys away. Brinker got his hand fixed, though he's learning to be a lefty now. Married Wilma, got the gym, and they have a string of ice rinks now. And every Friday night they teach ice dancing.
Oh, and the boxer's powerful blow actually helped saved the dam from collapse, hitting it at the precise spot to stop an interior crack. The State of Illinois used Trubble's arrest to take over the bridge. I didn't get paid cash for any of this. Nope, free ice dancing lessons but that's allowing me to get to know Tess better.
So, anyone interested in 99 worthless tokens?