Photo by Scott Anderson
Parlor City was coming alive after its overnight slumber as I pulled my 1935 Ford coupe into a parking spot on Court Street. It was early in the morning, but the Planters Peanuts store had been roasting since dawn. I could never pass by without grabbing a bag and saying hi to Saul.
The newspaper boy on the corner near Fowler’s department store called out to me. He handed me a paper, and I gave him a nickel with a dime tip. I went up the stairs to my second-floor office and unlocked the door as the phone started ringing.
“Michael Brady, Private Investigator,” I answered into the mouthpiece. “How long has he been missing? Kroehler manufacturing on the Eastside? Come down to my office, Mrs. Schmidt at noon. We will talk over the details. Yes, good day, Mrs. Schmidt.”
I loosened my tie and opened the window to let some air in. July mornings in the city can choke a person in these closed up brick buildings after a night of summer heat. Even the shade of the Dutch Elms didn’t help.
Across the street, the Fair Store and Royal Shoes were just opening up and extending their awnings. A few customers were already waiting.
I went back to my desk, put my feet up on it, lit up a Chesterfield and read the Morning Sun. President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull warned that a war in Europe was imminent. There was a crisis in Danzig, wherever the hell that was, and the summer of ’39 looked to be one of turmoil with strikes breaking out across the country. The good news? The Triplets beat Hartford 6 to 4.
A little after nine my secretary Carol Dabrowski came in.
I scowled over the paper at her. “Late night at the Pavilion?”
“Sorry I’m late, Mr. Brady, and no, we were at Yonda’s.”
“Close enough so you could stagger your way up Glenwood Ave to Polish Heaven?”
She gave me a look that could kill.
I chuckled, laid the paper down, put my fedora back on and threw my coat over my shoulder.
“Hold the fort, Carol, I am going out for a walk.”
I strolled over to Water Street to catch a breeze off the river. The Susquehanna had swelled overnight from a rainstorm, but the breeze was missing. I went to Kresge’s and had a cup of coffee with a side of cheesecake instead.
On the way back to my office, I ran into Jimmy Cronin. I hadn’t seen him for a while. We grew up together in “the Patch”, a neighborhood of Irish on Liberty Street. Like me, he fought his way up through the slums, stayed in school and became educated. He was commonly referred to as Red not just because of his fiery curly red hair because politically he stood to the left. Jimmy spent some time in Spain a few years ago fighting Franco’s fascists and their German and Italian helpers when parts of the Spanish Army revolted against the leftist Spanish government. He came back hardened. But he’s been a friend since we played in the dirt around our tenement building when we were four.
He saw me and his face lit up. You couldn’t help but notice the eye patch and scar that ran down his face, courtesy of a fascist grenade. In his hands were copies of the Daily Worker.
“Hasn’t the Red Squad picked you up yet?”, I joked.
“Always one step ahead, boyo, one step ahead. I see your pug ugly face hasn’t changed.”
It’s true my face was a little beat up from boxing and a few hits from my dad when he drank. He stopped doing that when I reached 17. He took a swing at me one night; I ducked and connected with a right hook. Damned near killed him. He left me alone after that, but the drink finally done him in.
“Still hawking your paper, I see.”
His face grew serious. “Things are getting dark, Mike. Those bastards I fought in Spain? Their kind is here too. You got to pay attention. That Bund meeting with 20,000 American Nazis strutting around Madison Square Garden last February was no joke.”
“I know that, Jimmy. I read the papers. But this is America, they won’t get a foothold here.”
“You better hope not my friend. They probably have a Fifth Column here just like in Spain.”
He caught my bewildered look.
“Jaysus, Mike, do I have to teach you everything? In Spain, during Franco’s siege of Madrid, he boasted he had four columns surrounding the city and one inside. Those inside were the saboteurs, the provocateurs, and his sympathizers. All ready to do his dirty work.”
He sighed, figuring he went over my head. And to be honest, what happened in Spain didn’t interest me.
“OK, Mike, lesson over. Anyway, got to be moving on. Here’s a paper on the house. We should meet at Reardon’s some time and have a few beers for old time’s sake.”
“Sure, Jimmy, anytime.”
I walked back to my office to wait for Mrs. Schmidt. I stashed the Daily Worker in a cabinet. Don’t want to scare off the clients.
At noon, Carol knocked on my office door and showed Mrs. Schmidt in.
I stood to welcome her and motioned to the chair in front of my desk.
“Please sit down, Mrs. Schmidt,”
She was probably in her late 40s but life hadn’t been good to her. The past few years of the depression took its toll on many. Her black dress was careworn, but her brown hair was neatly styled and she had lipstick and makeup on. She clutched her handbag tightly, her knuckles white. Her face showed worry.
I took out the form I used for missing persons, grabbed a pencil, and started asking questions.
“Your husband’s name?”
“William Frederick Schmidt. Although it was originally Wilhelm. He started calling himself William during the Great War when people were against us Germans, even though we were living here in America.”
“Date of birth?”
“September 5th, 1890.”
“Where do you live?”
“47 Moeller Street on the East Side. We rent the second floor.”
“Lots of Germans living there,” I said.
“Yes, it makes us feel safe.”
“I understand, Mrs. Schmidt. My Irish relatives had it tough here for a while too.”
I smiled at her to keep her from getting uneasy and continued the questions.
“Hair and eye color? Height and weight? Any facial characteristics, scars?”
“Brown hair, brown eyes. No scars. He is about your size, Mr. Brady.”
“About 5’ 10”. I weigh in at 190 pounds. Sound right, Mrs. Schmidt?”
“Does your husband have a car?”
“No, we can’t afford one. He walks to Kroehler to work. It is only a few minutes.”
“How long has he been gone?”
“Three days.” There was anguish in her voice and she clutched her handbag tighter.
“Has he ever done this before?”
“No.” She dipped her head and tears welled up.
“Have you talked to any of his friends?”
“We don’t have many friends. We moved here from Cohocton last year.”
“Do you have a picture of him?”
She handed me a wedding picture.
“Thanks. I need to hang on to this for a bit. I’ll get it back to you.”
“Another thing, has he acted strange recently? Anything bothering him?”
She reached into her handbag and pulled out some papers.
“Last week I found these pamphlets on the bedroom floor. They must have fallen out of his work clothes. When I asked him about it he got angry and said not to worry and that he won’t bring anything home like that again.”
She gave me the pamphlets, and my heart stopped.
They were pamphlets from the German-American Bund. At the top was a black Swastika. Jimmy was right. They are here, in my hometown.
I read through the pamphlet. All the glories of the New Germany and Adolph Hitler, with appeals to German Americans to join the cause of National Socialism. A lot of nasty stuff about Jews and the “mongrelization” of America. I wondered how many of my friends these people thought were mongrels.
“Did you say anything else to him about the pamphlets?”
“I told him he should turn them and the people that gave him that filth over to the government. We are good Americans, Mr. Brady.”
“Do you know if he has been going to any meetings of this group?”
“He told me he was meeting some friends for a few beers at the Bavarian Inn, but they wouldn’t stay long and would go over to some fella’s house. William said the fella that stayed at the house wasn’t an American but came over here from Germany a few months ago. He said I would be surprised at some of the people he would see there.”
“How did your husband get mixed up with these people?”
“My William sometimes shoots off his mouth about politics. He probably said something good about the new Germany and somebody who knew somebody recommended him to these people. Please help me, Mr. Brady. The police think he ran away. I say no, not my William. So I come to you.”
“Ok, Mrs. Schmidt, I will see what I can find out. My secretary will take care of my retainer.”
With that, I opened the door, and Carol took care of the rest.
A short time later, I got into my coupe and drove out of downtown to the East Side. I figured I would start at a few haunts that might know something about William Schmidt or had seen him the past couple days before I hit the Bavarian Inn. I didn’t figure he ran out on his wife. Something else was going on here, and it smelled.
My first stop was at Slick’s Tavern. The owner was Edvardas Slikta, a Lithuanian. But like a lot of immigrants, he Americanized his name. Everyone knew him as Eddie Slick or just Slick. Had a nice American ring to it.
The place wasn’t very crowded. A smell of boiled bratwurst and sauerkraut was coming from the small kitchen in the back. On the bar, a big ceramic container of pickled pig’s feet stood in the corner. Slick stood behind the bar talking to a couple guys when I walked in.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in.” Slick’s booming voice reverberated in the small bar. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was rugged from spending time at the rail yards before he bought the bar. His blonde hair was cut short and his blue eyes twinkled until someone made him mad. Then they turned ice blue, and you knew a storm was coming.
“What brings you over to this side of town, Brady?”
“I need an excuse to see a friend?”
He laughed. “I better hang on to my wallet.”
A drunk at the end of the bar yelled, “Hey, Slicky. You let Paddies in this place?”.
Slick just looked at me. Those eyes.
He slapped a blackjack on the bar. It sounded like a crack on a skull. He turned to the drunk.
“Listen, last I knew, I held the deed to this place, not youse! I’ll serve whoever I want and NOT serve who I want. You get the picture?”
Slick stared at him. The man cowered over his beer, not wanting to look back at him.
“Thought so,” growled Slick.
“So where were we, Brady?” He smiled. The tempest had passed.
“Working a missing person case. Guy name of William Schmidt. Works at Kroehler. Ever see him?” I showed him the wedding picture.
Slick stared at it.
“Not a regular. Can’t be sure, Brady. Sorry. Hey, you ate yet today? Bratwurst and ‘kraut on the house.”
My stomach grumbling told me I had missed lunch and my morning cheesecake was long gone.
“Sure, Slick. Thanks.”
After leaving Slick’s with a full belly, I headed to the Bavarian Inn. I had a feeling I was headed into the lion’s den.
The Bavarian Inn was a small bar off of Ely Street on the East side that catered to the Germans living in that part of town. Not much different from the Irish bars I hang out at except my bars had ham and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s day, songs of rebellion and shouts of “down with the Brits”. In the First Ward, where my secretary lives, the neighborhood was filled with Russian, Slovak and Polish bars. We Irish didn’t go there, and they didn’t come to ours. Guaranteed a fight would break out if anyone did.
I stepped out of the sunshine into darkness. When my eyes adjusted, I could see the layout. It was a clean bar. Pictures of the German countryside hung on the walls. No sawdust on the floor, and the spittoons were clean. The liquor shelves well stocked, the mahogany bar highly polished, and the brass rail gleamed.
I sat on a stool as the bartender walked over.
“What will ya have?”
He poured a Rheingold and set it in front of me.
I pushed a nickel across the bar for the beer, followed by two dollar bills and the wedding picture of William Schmidt.
“Seen this guy?”
He looked at me and then around the bar. There were only a few guys in a booth, but they were busy talking about the Dodgers game.
He turned back at me and said in a low voice, “Who wants to know?”
I showed him my PI license.
“Wife said he has been missing a few days, and she is worried. She also said he would come here to meet some friends at night.”
“Listen, pal, I don’t want to lose my job here. It doesn’t look good talking about the customers to a shamus.”
I added one more bill to the two and slid them closer to him.
He palmed them and quickly put the bills in his pocket.
“But yea, I seen him here before, but not the past few days. He would come in about 7 on Monday nights. Him and three other guys would sit in a booth, have one beer and leave. That’s all I know.”
“Was he here this past Monday?”
“Yea, but that’s all I know.”
“You said that before, Mac. Here’s my card if anything else comes to mind.”
I could feel his eyes on me as I left.
My next stop was Police Headquarters, and a visit with my Uncle, Chief Detective Francis Hanrahan.
I walked through the front door to a chorus of good-natured ribbing.
“Hey, it’s the gumshoe!”
“Coming back to work a real job?”
Tom Sweeney picked his face up from some paperwork and called out to me. “Hey, Dick Tracy! Where you been hiding?”
“Hi fellas. I missed you too, Sweeney.” I kept walking to the second floor and Uncle Francis.
I spent three years with these guys, walked the downtown beat with most of them, then got tired of the regimentation and struck out on my own.
When I walked into the Detective’s office, Uncle Francis was sitting at his desk on the phone. He saw me and waved me over.
“Sure, sure, we’ll look into. I’ll call you if we find out anything.”
He stood up, his full frame stretching the limits of his white shirt, tie loose at the neck. Uncle Francis came out of the Patch too and nobody would mess with him in his younger days. He was the one got me into boxing. He was my mom’s brother and looked after us after dad died.
“Michael, my boy. Good to see you. Come back to do an honest day’s work?”
He was half-joking. I knew I disappointed him when I left the force, but he also knew I had an independent streak in me.
I laughed. “Not on your life.”
“Sit down, son. Is this a social call or work?”
“Work, but it is always good to see you.”
“Ok, shoot. What’s your case?”
Now most cops and especially detectives don’t want private investigators sticking their noses where they don’t belong. Crime is their business, they say, and people like me should just stick to trailing cheating spouses, or the dirty work as they call it.
“A woman named Schmidt came to my office. Husband has been missing for three days. Says she talked to you guys here.”
“We talked to her, Mike. You know as well as I do that most of these missing husbands are runaways. Fed up with the wifey and split town to places out west.”
“I think this might be different.”
I told him about the pamphlets from the German-American Bund and Mrs. Schmidt’s worries.
Uncle Francis leaned back in his chair.
“We know they are here, Mike, but they ain’t breaking the law, as far as we know, so we can’t touch them. As far as this guy from Germany, if he commits a crime then we can snag him.”
“By then it might be too late.”
Uncle Francis held his hands up and shrugged. “Sorry, Michael. If I hear anything I will let you know, but you do the same, right?”
I drove back to my office and barely got settled in when my phone rang. When I answered, it was Uncle Francis. I had no sooner left his office when he got a call that some boys playing along the river near Rockbottom dam saw a body caught in the undertow. It was flipping over and over like a tin can caught in the grip of its turbulence. Just in case it was my missing person, I should meet him there.
I drove over to Conklin Road, pulled up next to Crowley’s milk plant, and parked. There already was a patrol car there, a covered body on the river bank and Uncle Francis standing over it.
I thought maybe he was a jumper who drowned after he took a dive off the Exchange Street Bridge and said so to Uncle Francis.
“He didn’t drown, Michael, not unless the water poured into his lungs through the bullet hole in the back of his head.”
He pulled the cover off.
I recognized him immediately, even with the damage to his head.
“That’s my guy, Uncle Francis.”
“Ok, Michael, this is now officially our case.”
He pulled me away.
“We will notify Mrs. Schmidt. You work your case but keep me informed of anything you find. And for God’s sake, be careful. I don’t want to be taking any bad news to my sister. Now get out of here.”
I got back to the office just as Carol was locking up.
“In the morning, order some flowers from Dillenbeck’s and get a sympathy card. Send them to Mrs. Schmidt.”
“Oh no, Mr. Brady. That poor woman. What happened?”
I filled her in on the details, told her to go home…I was staying for a while.
A slow burn was building up in me. I had a good guess who killed Schmidt. But the motive? I pulled out a drawer in my desk and grabbed the bourbon. Classic cure for a PI at a loss.
The next day I called Kevane’s rooming house for Jimmy Cronin. He wasn’t there, but I told Mary Kevane that when he came back to tell him to meet me at Reardon’s at 3 pm.
Reardon’s is the oldest Irish bar in the city. When Ma Reardon told her sons to tear down their large chicken coop, they had another idea. After a couple coats of green paint, all the feathers and debris cleared out, they moved it near the tracks and set up a speakeasy during prohibition to give the Irish rail workers a place to quench their thirst after a long day. Now, prohibition having been repealed, it was a thriving bar catering to the local Irish.
I went in and greeted the bartender.
“Hi, Ace, a cold one please.”
“Sure thing, Mike.”
I sat sipping my beer, waiting for Jimmy.
We would be in friendly territory. We all knew each other here. Lots of history. Me from my boxing and cop days, Jimmy with his work with the rail workers’ union. And of course, being Irish. Sure we would see some arguments break out, that was our way, but they passed quickly. Not so with the idiot who came in here one time and yelled: “fuck the Irish”. He was either crazy or had a death wish. But we had to save face. He left by the back door, bruised and beaten.
Jimmy walked in and sat next to me at the bar.
I nodded at him.
“I need to know some things, Jimmy.”
I told him about the Schmidt case, the body being found and the pamphlets from the German-American Bund.
He fidgeted and adjusted his eye patch. I could tell I disturbed him.
“You lead a quiet life here, Mike. You’re street smart in this town of ours, but you ain’t seen the fights going on in other places, especially down in New York City. Big brawls between our guys and those Nazi bastards from the Yorkville area in Manhattan. And you haven’t been paying enough attention to what is happening in Germany. Rounding up people, shutting down the unions and killing people like me. I hate those brown shirt bastards.” He dropped his voice. “You tell me who this German fella is and I will personally take care of him.”
I calmed him down.
“They will just send another one here, Jimmy. We need to bring the whole lot down. Especially the local guys.”
“I can just imagine who the local ones are. Those fat cats that hate FDR, unions, and anybody that don’t look like them. And they have a bunch of working-class slobs with a lot of prejudice in them doing their dirty work.”
Jimmy downed his beer.
“Hell, Mike, I need something stronger to get through these days anymore. Buy us some shots, will you.”
I called Ace over to help bliss out my friend.
It didn’t work. He started talking about Spain.
I didn’t realize how bad it had been for him. When he volunteered to go to Spain to fight for the leftist government, I wished him well. It wasn’t my fight or America’s fight, I had told him. I remembered him saying… “Not yet.”
Jimmy wrapped both hands around his beer glass and stared into the beyond. “I lost my eye the same day I lost a bunch of my friends. We got pinned down pretty bad in the Jarama Valley after retreating from an area we had captured from the Nationalists. We went through a small town, hell we didn’t even know its name and saw what the Nationalists did to those that supported us and the republic. The bastards shot the Mayor and his family because they were socialists. All the local union members were automatically shot. They were all dumped in a mass grave. Hell, Mike, there was a dead woman clutching a baby rattle. We never found the baby. They burned the new library built by the government with all the books and the librarian inside.”
Jimmy paused, anguish on his face, painful memories always just below the surface.
“But then the Nationalists started their counterattack. Fucking German planes of the Condor Legion came in and started bombing and strafing us. We hightailed out of the town quick, but we got caught out in the open. Then it got really bad. Between mortars and grenades from their soldiers, we were cut down. Sammy Cohen, a kid from Brooklyn, and Frankie Costello from Albany were right next to me then… boom. Some fascist bastard had lobbed a grenade. Sammy and Frankie were dead. When I came out of my daze, a medic was standing over me as bullets whizzed by. Brave son of a bitch. He patched up my face and hauled my ass out of there. It wasn’t until a few days later when they took the bandages off…well, I knew I had lost my eye.”
He gave a twisted smile. “And before you now is my pretty face.”
I didn’t know what to say to him, so I ordered some more beers and we sat in silence for a while. Me, thinking about my case, Jimmy thinking about his dead friends.
“Ack, enough of me feeling sorry for myself. Should have stayed away from the whiskey, right, Mike? So what is the plan? What do you need to know?”
So I told him my idea. I would work the above-ground route, shaking the trees to see what would fall out. Jimmy would use his contacts. Between us, I figured we would find out who was in this local Bund, who the leaders were, and who the German was. Above all, I wanted the shooter.
“Do I still get to shoot the German? I don’t care if he was the triggerman or not. Guaranteed he has blood on his hands.” He had a wicked smile that told me he would be glad to do it.
“No, Jimmy, we bring him to justice.”
We left Reardon’s a bit the worse for wear. I dropped Jimmy off at Kevane’s and headed to my apartment at the Gilmore on Oak Street. It was going to be an early night.
The next morning I downed a couple cups of java, shook off my hangover and headed to my office.
I called Mrs. Schmidt and offered my condolences. She wanted me to remain on the case and find out who killed her William. She seemed relieved when I told her between me and the local cops we would bring his murderer to justice. I hoped that was true. Jimmy’s laugh still rang in my ears.
I pulled out the drawer in my desk where the bourbon bottle rested, pushed it aside and took out the .38 special that was nestled next to it. I grabbed the shoulder holster that hooked on my coat rack and headed back to the Bavarian Inn.
The place wasn’t crowded at this time of the day. I liked it that way. Less prying eyes. It was the same bartender as before. I walked up to the bar and sat down.
He came over to me.
“What will you…Christ, you again? What do you want now? Did you find that guy you were looking for?”
“Yea, I found him or I should say some kids found him. He was swimming along the Rockbottom Dam with a bullet hole in the back of his head.”
“Jesus, you don’t say.”
The look on his face said he wasn’t surprised.
“Ok, pal, I was nice last time I was here. Not anymore.”
I pulled my coat back so he could see my holstered .38.
He whispered to me. “No need for that brother, I just work here.”
I scowled at him. “But you have eyes and ears, right? I want to know all about the guys that come in here on Monday nights, the ones Schmidt met.”
“One guy is a regular, name of Karl Gunther, been in the neighborhood for years. The other two I don’t know.”
“Where does Gunther work?”
“Thanks, Mac. When I come in here Monday night you don’t know me, right?”
“Huh? Oh yea, right.”
The next day I cornered Jimmy on Exchange Street selling his paper.
“Want to come with me to the Bavarian Inn to check some guys out?”
“Are you sure you want to take me? I kinda stand out in a crowd.”
“I want you to get a good look at them. Besides, I ‘ll be right next to you.”
On Monday night, I picked up Jimmy at Kevane’s. I had ditched my suit and wore denim, a cotton work shirt, cap and brass knuckles in my pocket. We walked into the Bavarian Inn. Nighttime was very different. It was a full house, and the talk was loud and boozy.
We went up to the bar.
The bartender put on a good act of not knowing me. But it wasn’t an act.
“I didn’t recognize you without your suit.”
“Give us two beers,”
He brought them over. The foam oozed over the tops of the glasses.
“Are they here?”
He looked over.
“Don’t look over at them, just say yes and which booth.”
“Last one, near the men’s room.”
“Gunther there too?”
“Casual now, Jimmy. Look around and just glance their way.”
As he did, one looked back at him and said something to the others in the booth.
The three of them got up and walked towards us.
“Shit, Mike, I told you this wasn’t a good idea.”
The biggest one came up behind us while the other two lugs stood behind him.
“Well, if it ain’t the Red pirate. We don’t allow commies in this bar,” he snarled.
Jimmy turned towards him.
“It’s a free country. I can drink where I want.”
“Not here you don’t, and in a few years your kind and the kikes you hang out with will be no more, right fellas?” He turned to his friends behind him.
“We just came in for a couple beers. No need for a fight.” I reached into my pocket for the brass knuckles, just in case.
The bartender came over.
“Simmer down, Karl. You know the boss doesn’t like fights here. Go sit down and I will bring some beer over.”
Karl hesitated and stared at me, dark eyes glassy and sweat on his brow.
“Sure, Gus, whatever you say.”
He bumped his elbow into my head and walked away with his two goons.
“So that’s Karl,” I said to the bartender.
“That’s him, and you’re lucky to get out of here in one piece.”
Jimmy and I left after our drink. Our work done.
“I wonder who the boss is,” said Jimmy.
“Wondered that myself,” I answered, looking back to see if we were being followed.
We weren’t but in the shadows of the doorway, someone lit a match to a cigarette. The flash lit up his face. Karl Gunther grinned as he watched us go to my car.
Now I am pretty good at following wayward husbands or wives. I can track them without being seen. But they usually aren’t expecting it, so that makes my job easier. Karl Gunther might be warier, and he traveled with muscle. Those two guys that were with him at the bar weren’t slouches. I can give a punch and take one, but three against one? The odds go down and me with them.
I told Jimmy to work his contacts to see what they knew about any local Bund members and if any of them had any run-ins with them.
The next day Jimmy called me at the office and asked if I was going to be there for a while. He had someone I should talk to.
An hour later he showed up with a little scrawny guy who looked a bit haggard. The bruises on his face didn’t help his appearance much.
“Hey, Mike. This here is David Bronski. Works in the yards near the Viaduct.”
“Sit, Mr. Bronski. You got something for me?”
He sat, let out a small moan and clutched his side.
“You ok, Mr. Bronski?”
“A little sore, Mr. Brady.”
I reached into my desk, pulled out the bourbon, poured a small amount in a glass and handed it to him. I motioned to Jimmy to see if he wanted one. He shook his head no.
“Tell him what happened the other night, David.”
Bronski took a gulp of the bourbon.
“It was late on Monday night and I was walking home from seeing my sister Sarah over on Broad Ave and these three guys walked by me. I knew them from the neighborhood. I could hear them mumble something. Pretty soon they turned around towards me. The big one yelled, “Hey, kike!” Well, I kept going, hoping to get away from them. Another one yelled, “Hey, Jew bastard, we’re talking to you.” Before I knew it, they were pushing and punching me. They said I should walk in the street, not on the sidewalk with white men. My family came here from Russia. I thought I was white. Guess no more.”
“Do you know who they are, Mr. Bronski?”
“I never knew their names. When they had me on the ground, the big guy kicked me in the ribs. One yelled, “Give him another one, Karl.” That Karl guy told me my days and all Jews’ days were numbered. Then they all laughed and walked away. I went back to my sister’s place, and she patched me up and wrapped my ribs. These are evil men, Mr. Brady.”
“Thank you for coming here and telling me this.”
I shook his hand and had Carol walk him to the outside door to the street.
“Jesus, Jimmy, are there any more like him?”
“A few. Mostly Jews, a few coloreds. Although I don’t think it’s just Karl and his goons. Other parts of town are seeing the same. Of course, none of it gets reported. We are looking at ways of settling our own scores, Mike. You don’t want to know about that. Some old local Klan members seem to have hooked up with these Bund fucks, though. A ‘who’s who’ of racists and fascists. By the way, did you find out who owns the Bavarian Inn?”
“Uncle Francis had the scoop on that. A guy name of Heinrich Braun. Came up from Yorkville a few years ago, bought the old Chenango Inn and renamed it the Bavarian Inn.”
Jimmy shook his head. “Fucking Yorkville. Home of the German-American Bund. I smell a rat boyo, I surely do. Where’s this Kraut live?”
“A house on Division Street, but you stay away. Don’t gum up the works, Jimmy. This is my case. Here is a ten-spot, you are officially on retainer and answer to me. Got it?”
“Sure, Mike, I got it.”
I hoped that was true.
The following Monday I drove over to Division Street, parked a few houses down from the address Uncle Francis gave me, and waited. If I was right, Karl and his goons would show up a little after 7pm.
A car came up the street and I slouched down so as not to be seen. It pulled in front of Heinrich Braun’s house behind another car. Four men got out and walked to the front door. Karl was there with his two goons, but the driver was someone I wasn’t expecting. It was Tom Sweeney from the station house. Instead of his police uniform, he had a suit on. Braun was waiting for them with the door open. He was a short bull of a man. His cigar puffed away as he greeted the others. Behind him stood another man, tall with short-cropped black hair. His dark blue double-breasted suit stood out among the others. I gave them all a few minutes to settle down before I moved.
I had to remember what Uncle Francis told me. That the German-American Bund had every right to meet and American Nazis had freedom of speech. After all, we weren’t at war with Germany. And again Jimmy’s words echoed in my head…”Not yet”. But my client’s husband was murdered and I would bet my last dollar it was done by someone inside this house.
The house was surrounded by high bushes to keep people like me from snooping around. I wasn’t deterred. I found an opening and slid through towards a cellar window that was opened a crack. They furnished the cellar like a meeting hall. Chairs had been set up and a small bar in the corner had beer steins and bottles of Rheingold.
It was the walls that really drew my attention. A picture of Adolph Hitler, posters for a Bund summer camp called Camp Nordland in New Jersey with smiling children, arms raised doing their Sieg Heil thing, and to top it all off a blood-red flag with a black Swastika in a white circle.
I wished it was dark so I wouldn’t feel so exposed, but the bushes gave me some protection from nosey neighbors, I hoped.
Lights in the cellar turned on and I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. I leaned back from the cellar window and sat along the foundation.
An argument seemed to have erupted.
“Well, I think it was fucking stupid to kill Schmidt and throw his body in the river. What the hell, this ain’t Berlin!”
“Calm down, Sweeney. It ain’t like you pulled the trigger.”
That voice was familiar. It was Karl.
“Besides, you want him blowing this up? You know the people he saw here.”
“I didn’t sign up for murder. I’m a cop for crying out loud.”
“Gentlemen, gentleman, things must be done that we might not like, but to further the cause of National Socialism and the aims of the Reich we must all do our duty.”
His thick accent told me who he was. The German.
“Please sit. Let us get down to business.”
What I heard over the next half hour chilled me to the bone.
These guys had people everywhere. In industry, the police force, even in local government. Some of them were America Firsters who followed that so-called hero of the air, Charles Lindbergh. He was suspect in my book since he started singing the praises of Hitler. Our little local group didn’t seem like they were trying just to influence Americans. There was something more ominous. They talked about power plants and what industries could convert to wartime production. This didn’t sound kosher to me. Most Americans wanted to stay out of Europe’s troubles, so why was this German here? How many other cities had people like this sneaking around? This case got more dangerous the more I heard. It was Jimmy’s Fifth Column.
To top it off, they knew I was on the Schmidt case. Sweeney told them.
The meeting seemed to be over, so I crawled away from the cellar window and went out the way I came in. I got back to my car and drove to my apartment.
A little past ten, as I was dozing off after listening to The News with Elmer Davis on the radio, there were a couple of knocks on my door. I got up warily, grabbed my .38 out of my holster and opened the door.
“Hell, Uncle Francis, you scared the shit out of me.”
“Sorry, Michael, but I figured I should come by. Got some bad news for you. Jimmy Cronin is in General Hospital, he’s hurt pretty bad. A cop found him in an alley off of Chenango Street.”
I fell back into the door.
“Easy now, Michael.” He held my arm.
“Did he tell you who did it?”
“He’s still unconscious the last I knew, and hell, Michael, the way the country is going it could be anyone. Jimmy certainly had his views. You got an idea who might have done it?”
“I think I do.” The anger was building.
“Now don’t be doing anything stupid, lad. Let us handle this.”
I wanted to tell him about the Bund meeting and that one of his own Tom Sweeney was there, but I held back.
“Thanks for coming by Uncle Francis. I’m going over to General and sit with him. Can you make a call to clear it for me?”
“Sure thing. If he says anything, let me know. Got it?”
I nodded my head.
When I got to Jimmy’s floor at the hospital, I told the nurse who I was and she showed me to his room.
“Is he still unconscious?”
“Yes. He’s sedated too.”
“Is he going to pull through?”
“The doctors will know more in the morning, but I think he will. Nothing vital was damaged.”
Jimmy’s room was dimly lit, but I could see his small body with sheets and blankets up to his battered face. His good eye was swollen shut and his lips puffy. He laid perfectly still. I thought he was dead.
“Jimmy,” I whispered in his ear. “It’s Mike. Rest easy. I’m right here.”
I sat in a chair, adjusted my holster and watched over my friend. The hours passed by and I fell into a fitful sleep.
The morning sun was breaking through the window when I heard a moan from Jimmy’s bed.
I went to his bedside. “You ok, Jimmy?”
His eye was still swollen shut.
“That you, Mike?”
“Yeah, pal, I’m here. What the hell happened?”
“Karl and his goons jumped me,” he rasped. “Told me to give you a message to stay away from their business or next time you’ll find me in the river too.”
“Christ, brazen ain’t they.”
Jimmy tried to sit up.
“Don’t, Jimmy. Just rest here. I’ll take care of Karl.”
“How did they figure us out so quickly, Mike?”
‘It seems they have more connections than we thought.” I immediately thought of Sweeney.
I was sleepwalking by the time I got to my apartment. I needed a shower, a shave, and a clean shirt. I also need a break. I was one step behind these Bund goons and my friend got hurt because of it. That was going to change. As far as telling Uncle Francis what Jimmy said about Karl…well, I held that close to my vest for now.
I called the office and told Carol about Jimmy, that I needed some sleep and wouldn’t be in.
After dozing for a few hours, I drove back to General to see if Jimmy had improved.
He had visitors when I got there. David Bronski the rail worker, a couple guys who worked in the cigar factories and some guys from his political group. They were being shooed out by the day nurse. Too many visitors, she warned. Mr. Cronin needed his rest, and I should leave too and come back tomorrow. I asked about his condition and she said he was stable and should recover ok.
Jimmy’s friends were waiting outside the main entrance.
“He told us who did this to him, Mr. Brady. The same ones that beat me up,” said Bronski. “He said to ask you what was going on.”
We walked to a local café, and I spent the next hour telling them what I knew about the guys that beat Jimmy up, the local Bund, the German and what I heard at the house on Division Street.
Bronski spoke up. “Mike, you’re not political like Jimmy and us. There’s a lot you don’t know. The Party keeps us up to date on what is happening not only in the US but around the world.”
When he said “Party” I knew he was talking about the Communist Party. The Party grew in numbers and influence during the depression when capitalism bit the dust and workers were starving. They offered a new vision of a better world. I heard those promises my whole life. I was skeptical. But they fought for the little guy. They also knew the threat of fascism when most of America, and me, wanted to just keep out of another European war.
“I know Jimmy and you guys are a bunch of Bolshies. Me? I am a card-carrying Democrat. FDR is my guy. Not Stalin, and especially not Adolph. But let me tell you. I am on a case and because of it, my friend got the crap kicked out of him. So I suggest we work together to bring this Bund down and find William Schmidt’s killer. Agreed?”
They all nodded their heads in agreement. Did that mean I trusted them? Not one bit.
I went to my office where I gave Carol an envelope addressed to Uncle Francis in case of my demise. It detailed what I heard at the meeting and Sweeney’s involvement. She got really upset, but I calmed her, saying that the chances of that happening were slim. I hoped that was true. Then a stroll along Chenango Street where I planned to meet up with a certain cop walking his beat.
The crowd was just coming out of the Riviera Theater when I saw him standing off to the side. I needed a lot of people around for what I was about to say to him.
He stepped into the middle of the sidewalk. “Hey, Dick Tracey, looking to see the new Tyrone Power movie?”
“No, Sweeney, it’s you I am looking to see.”
He tapped his billy club nervously against his leg, looked around, then back at me.
“What can I do for you, Mike?”
“I know you ratted me out to Karl and your new friend from Germany.”
I moved in closer to him and whispered.
“Now don’t do anything stupid. It is not just me that knows. The wrong move on your part and you’re going down as an accessory to murder. Got it.” I poked my finger into his chest for added emphasis.
He was squirming now.
I ran through what I heard at Heinrich Braun’s house and their Nazi meeting, complete with the picture of Uncle Adolph. I also repeated his conversation with Karl.
“I didn’t kill Schmidt.” He was pleading now. I always pegged him as a worm. He was proving it now.
“So who did, Sweeney?”
“It was Karl, but the German guy, we only know him as Herr Fischer, told Karl he had to do it because Schmidt was getting unreliable and might talk to the feds. Schmidt saw too many people at the meetings that are part of the city’s elite.”
“Which elites, Sweeney?”
“Jesus, Mike. You want me to end up like Schmidt?”
I gave him an icy stare. “Wouldn’t bother me at all.”
“OK, Sweeney, let’s leave the high mucky-mucks out of it…for now. You are going to turn Karl over. It’s my case and I want to clean this up for Mrs. Schmidt.”
I told him my plan. A look of relief coursed across Sweeney’s face.
“Don’t get comfortable, asshole. It wouldn’t bother me at all to see you wrapped up and given to Uncle Francis as an added package. As it is, I have to talk to him to work all this out. I want Karl, but I want your little fascist buddies too,” I snarled.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into, Mike,” he whined.
“Fuck off, Sweeney.”
I walked away, leaving him to think of his future or lack of it as I headed to the police station and Uncle Francis.
“Hi ya, Michael. This getting to be a regular occurrence. Your mother, though, says you haven’t been to see her,” he admonished.
“This Sunday, Uncle. I promise.”
He smiled. “See that you do. Sit, son.”
“Got some hard news for you, Uncle Francis.”
I went through my stakeout of Braun’s house. The meeting in the cellar and the conversation between Kurt and Sweeney.
“Son of a bitch!” He slammed his palm down on his desk. Luckily, the room was empty with detectives out on cases.
“He always was a brainless idiot. Likes to rough people up a bit too. Figures he would fall in with that lot. They are roughing up people all over. Well, that piece of dung is going to be walking the unemployment line instead of his beat if I have any say in the matter.”
Now, Uncle Francis is usually pretty calm but when he gets his Irish up stand back.
“Right now we need him,” I cautioned.
“Tell me your plan, Michael, and we’ll see where this goes, but I am ready to haul Sweeney’s ass in and throw him in the slammer.”
I told him my scheme and asked for a few days to get everything in line.
The good news was that Jimmy was recuperating and would be released from the hospital the next day. He would be sore for a while, but his eye was open and he could walk.
Three nights later at 10pm Uncle Francis, a couple beat cops and I were parked behind the Bavarian Inn. Nobody could see us from the front.
A car pulled in to the parking lot in front of the Inn. Sweeney got out just as planned and right on time. He loitered at the front door as we got out of our cars and quietly made our move to the side of the bar. Uncle Francis and the cops stayed alongside the bar as I stepped out, and lit a cigarette so Sweeney could see me. Then I stepped back into the darkness.
A few minutes later, a drunk Karl stepped out and faced Sweeney.
“A little late to be calling me here, what do you want?”
“Brady is on to us. He says he knows you killed Schmidt.”
“How the fuck did he find out I killed him? Did you talk, you weasel?”
Karl grabbed Sweeney by the lapels of his coat and shook him.
“Let go of me, Karl. It wasn’t me. I don’t know how he found out.”
Karl calmed down.
“No matter, I can fix him like I fixed Schmidt. But this time they ain’t finding the body,” Karl slurred.
Uncle Francis and the two cops come around the corner and into the light with guns drawn.
“Karl Gunther, you are under arrest for the murder of William Schmidt,” said Uncle Francis.
Karl lunged towards Sweeney. “You louse! I’m going to break you in half.”
I stepped between them. Karl raised his arm to take a swing at me. The old boxing reflexes came back. I blocked his arm and landed a right hook on his jaw. He fell down like a sack of potatoes.
Uncle Francis grinned. “Nice punch, Michael. You still got it in you. OK, you two, let’s grab this guy and put him in the patrol car.”
“Sweeney, you got some people to talk to tomorrow at the station. You better hope tonight saved your ass,” said Uncle Francis. “Now get out of here.”
When Sweeney left, Uncle Francis turned to me.
“I’m going to do what I can to get him bumped off the force, Michael. He helped us tonight, but he covered up a murder. You going home now?”
“Got another stop first to see some friends, then home.”
He looked at me. Doubt in his eyes.
“You packing, Michael?”
“Lately, I have been. The world seems to be getting a bit more dangerous. Some undertows to be careful of.” I shook his hand. “I’ll be alright.”
The drive over to Division Street gave me time to think. Jimmy and his friends knew more about what was going on in the world than me. Maybe I needed to get beyond the headlines and find out where the fuck Danzig really is and why people were so nervous. Maybe I should be more concerned that Nazis were here from Germany trying to mess with Ol’ Uncle Sam. They were willing to kill too. What do you do with people like that?
The lights were on at Heinrich Braun’s house. I walked up the sidewalk. All I was going to do was tell him and Herr Fischer that their boy Karl was in a cell and getting ready to spill the beans on this Bund group. He was also going to tell the cops that Herr Fischer ordered the death of William Schmidt. I wanted to stir things up and see what fell.
Light was shining from the cellar windows. I took a look, expecting to see another meeting.
I went in through the unlocked front door and down to the cellar.
Heinrich Braun was tied up in a chair with a gag in his mouth. Bronski and another of Jimmy’s friends stood around him. Both had pistols.
Jimmy had Herr Fischer up against a wall. His face bruised and his lip cut.
“Hi, Mike.” Jimmy had a hard look I had never seen before. “Did you get Karl?”
“Uncle Francis and some boys arrested him after our little trick with Sweeney.”
“Good, Mike. You got your killer, and you got justice for Mrs. Schmidt. You should leave now. This is Party business.”
“Don’t do this, Jimmy. We can bring them to justice too.”
That same laugh, calling out my naivete.
“Here’s your ten spot back, Mike. We are officially off your case.”
The hard look came back “This will be justice, Mike. Justice for all our comrades killed or in concentration camps in Germany. Justice for Sammy and Frankie. Justice for that young mother clutching the baby rattle. Justice for Spain.”
My friend who had seen so much in his young life looked back at Herr Fischer.
But Herr Fischer still had some defiance in him.
He spat at Jimmy. “Communist swine. We will wipe you off the face of the earth along with the Jews and all the other mongrel races. This degenerate country filled with niggers will be cleansed and we will rule it!”
I knew then I would walk out of Heinrich Braun’s house, get in my car and drive away.
As I turned to leave, Fischer called out to me.
“Brady, you’re a former police officer. You surely see the crime that is to be committed here.”
“I don’t see anything, Fischer, but I remember something I heard in this cellar, ‘Things must be done that we do not like. It is our duty’.”
Fischer’s words came back to him like a slap.
I left the house on Division Street and walked to my car. A cool summer breeze washed over me, cleansing me of any doubts. I drove home.
The next day I pulled up to my parking spot and grabbed some peanuts from Saul. I called over to the newsboy for a paper and went to my office.
My secretary Carol was already there. I looked at my watch. 8:50 am.
“You’re in early, Carol. Quiet night?”
“Yes, Mr. Brady. How was yours?”
“Quiet,” I said with a smirk.
The headline on the morning paper had the arrest of Karl Gunther for the murder of William Schmidt. No motive mentioned so far.
The second page had me sit up.
The story ran:
FIRE ON DIVISION STREET. A fire broke out at the Division Street home of Heinrich Braun at one in the morning. Mr. Braun, also the proprietor of the Bavarian Inn, was found dead in his upstairs bedroom. A guest of Mr. Braun, as yet unidentified, was also found deceased. It is believed Mr. Braun fell asleep with a lit cigar. The house was a total loss. Detective Francis Hanrahan stated that there was no foul play, “just an unfortunate tragedy”.
I set the paper down on my desk and called out to my secretary.
“Carol, lets you and me go out for breakfast. My treat. Today is a good day.”