the Wilberforce case

by dm gillis

Vancouver
December, 1950

She stepped out of the car, and handed the keys to the valet. The young man handed her a claim check.

The brand new 1950 Buick Roadmaster convertible really wasn’t a practical car for the city. It was more for burning up a deserted desert interstate with the top down. But Elinor Warkentin liked the chrome, the Dynaflow straight-eight and the elbow room. Besides, it was a Christmas gift from an unaware, soon to be very grateful client. Why should she leave it parked in a garage, unappreciated?

“Treat it nice,” she told the valet. “You don’t want me tracking you down so you can explain a scratch in the paint.”

The comment was only half true, and half good humour. Most people on the street knew she was a tough detective. She tipped her fedora back a bit, to make herself seem less serious in the dim evening light. She didn’t go in for spooking the little people. The valet smiled nervously, nonetheless, as he got into the long elegant automobile and drove away.

The light was low in the Hotel Vancouver cocktail lounge, but it was handsomely decked out for Christmas Eve. And it was a good crowd. Dal Richards sat at the bar, waiting to go upstairs to the Panorama Roof Ballroom with his big band. Elinor checked her hat and trench coat with the hatcheck girl, and scanned the tables for a familiar face.

Trudy Parr sat at a table near the back with a glass of Glenlivet, reading a Margery Allingham novel. Elinor sat down and signaled for a waiter. Trudy Parr turned a page.

Elinor ordered another single malt for Trudy, when the waiter arrived, and tequila for herself, neat.

Trudy Parr looked up from her book, and said, “You still drinking that paint thinner?”

“It’s mother’s milk,” Elinor said, smiling.

“Hmm.” Trudy Parr wasn’t convinced. She put her novel down, and lit a cigarette.

“So, why’d you call?” she said. “What’s this all about?”

“It’s that Wilberforce caper,” said Elinor. “The one the cops gave up on. Remember? It happened last year, a little before Christmas. Twenty thousand dollars missing from the Wilberforce family bank account. The Federated Acceptance Insurance Company asked me to poke it with a stick. I think it just bit back.”

“Yeah,” said Trudy Parr. “I remember. Twenty grand shouldn’t be so hard to find. But this bundle sure has been. So far anyway. Any leads?”

“A couple,” said Elinor. “One that’s pretty solid. But I wanted to run it by you first, to see how it sounds. Cops say bank fraud’s out. They say they pulled the string on that one. Even got the feds involved. Nothing came out of it, though. Bank staff’s a little flaky, but mostly clean.”

A waiter arrived with drinks.

“Mostly?” said Trudy Parr, taking a sip. “Let’s face it, bank fraud’s never out.”

“I think you’re right, in this case.”

“What’s so flaky about the bank staff?”

“A few bottle-blonde tellers,” Elinor said, belting back half her drink. “And a couple of despotic assistant managers. One of whom’s a crossdresser. Pretty boring stuff, actually. The General Manager’s real interesting, on the other hand.”

“What about him?” said a dapper gentleman, stepping up to their table.

Crispin Dench, of Dench and Parr Investigations, sat down and dropped his copy of the daily racing form onto the table. He had a Bacardi and Coke in his hand. Trudy Parr reached across and brushed a dusting of cigarette ash off of the lapel of his Dunhill suit. Then she discreetly adjusted his jacket, to hide the slim nickel .38 in his shoulder holster.

“Think it’ll snow?” he said, with a grin.

Elinor and Trudy Parr looked at him.

“Wow, it’s kinda Dickensian at this table.”

“We’re talking about that Wilberforce thing,” said Trudy Parr.

“Happened a year ago,” said Dench.

“That’s right,” Elinor said.

“What about the bank manager?” said Dench. “His name is Falkner, no?”

“Norman Falkner,” said Trudy Parr.

“And he likes to play Santa Clause every Christmas,” Elinor said.

“So?”

“Well, it’s how he does it. He likes to give away some pretty high end swag.”

“Like jewelry?” said Dench

“No,” said Elinor. “Like iron lungs and x-ray machines, to hospitals. Playgrounds to orphanages. Says the dough comes from his family fortune.”

“Sounds great,” Dench said, flagging a waiter. “Another round.”

“Except there is no family fortune,” Elinor said. “Just some dodgy numbers on a page in a book of ledgers. He lost most of it going after some dame from Brazil. She took him to the cleaners, and then flew home.”

Now Trudy Parr watched as a tall man in a tuxedo took a seat at the grand piano in the centre of the lounge. He began his set by playing Gershwin’s How Long Has This Been Going On?

“How’d you find all that out about the manager?” said Trudy Parr.

“Remember the crossdresser?”

“Crossdresser?” said Dench. “I missed something.”

“Never mind,” said Trudy Parr.

“Well he’s a talkative one,” said Elinor. “Especially after a belt or two of cheap rye whiskey. I took him out, plied him with drink and he spilled the beans. Cried a lot, too. Turns out he’s a real weepy fella when he puts on a dress.”

“So?” said Dench. “Give.”

“So,” said Elinor Warkentin. “Seems this crossdressing assistant manager, let’s call him Albert because that’s his name, found out what was going on and tried to blackmail Falkner. But Falkner told him to bugger off. He was even going to fire Albert on the spot. But then he realised Albert had him in a corner. So Falkner negotiated a deal, downward. He let Albert keep his job and raised his weekly income. Unfortunately for Falkner, he didn’t raise Albert’s income enough. So when I grilled him, he sang like a badly decorated Christmas tree.”

“Why didn’t he tell this to the cops?” said Dench.

“He’s was already guilty of extortion, himself.  And, he said the cops were rude.”

“And the twenty grand?”

“Five went to St Joseph’s Hospital and five went to the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement.”

“Hold on!” said Crispin Dench. “He gave five grand to the Franciscan Sisters?”

“To help feed elderly indigent fishermen and loggers.”

“That’s one hell of a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

“The man’s a real Saint Nick, sort of.”

“But that still leaves ten grand,” said Trudy Parr.

“I know,” said Elinor. “Turns out, that’s just about enough for a one way fare on the Pan Am Clipper. And to set a guy up nicely in Rio de Janeiro, where his lost love resides.”

“Isn’t she in for a surprise,” said Trudy Parr. She lit another cigarette.

“You mean the Clipper that left this afternoon?” Dench said.

“That’s the one. My source in the Pan Am office said he bought the ticket in November.”

“Well Merry Christmas to all,” said Crispin Dench, holding up his drink. “And to all a good flight.”

“Sounds like you cracked it,” Trudy Parr said. “And, what’s the Federated Acceptance Insurance Company going to pay for this epiphany?”

“I’m not sure,” said Elinor Warkentin, holding up the parking valet claim check, “But I think it’s parked just round the corner.”

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