Picking Up the Slack | Ian Harrison

Bread and butter stuff. 

Picking Up the Slack

Episode 6 of Noir is the Old Black

By Ian Harrison

The ‘To The Nines’ Award Part 6


We’re on good terms with Sergeant Kieron Parnell – a rookie, back when Jimmy and me called time on the force. Another import from the old country, but far fresher off of the boat. Kieron puts in plenty of elbow-grease, rubbing people the wrong way. Still a long ways short of catching us in that department, though.

Finding Margie MacHeath’s husband Garry shoulda been bread and butter stuff. Trouble was, three separate groups saw him that fateful Friday night. Two of ‘em claimed Saturday, too. Most serious was the patrolman what said he’d locked Garry up all night. Public intoxication. Here’s how that goes down, if’n it’s true.

If, that is : Garry celebrates his horse-race victory with some dirty copper. Who arrested him, soon as they finished drinking.

I don’t buy it.

Our secretary shows the wiry sergeant in, returns with three piping hot cups o’ joe.

“I know what you’re goin’ to ask.” Kieron spits words out like week-old milk.

“Goes roight up the flagpole. Suppose this one got hisself a grand vacation outta his attempted deception.”

Patrolman’s name weren’t familiar.

Jimmy frowns. “What you reckon?”

“Just need a moment with the booking sheets. We’ll be real discreet, Kieron. Nothin’ll come back to you.”


Hausfrau answers the bell. Mousy hair, mousy demeanour. Hides behind apron and security chain, afeard of two world-beaten private investigators flashing credentials.

“Afternoon, Miz Gold. Just need a minute of your time. I’m O’Dell, this here’s Sluff. Your husband’s a Police officer, right? Could you take a look at this here signature? I traced it off of his booking forms.” I hand her Patrolman Gold’s John Hancock.

Conversation don’t take long. Little technique I developed. Talk long ‘n’ loud enough onna door stoop. If’n they can’t shut you up, and gots nothing much to hide, they invite you in. Miz Gold says nothing of substance, but the house speaks for her. Good cook. Consummate hostess. Meticulous house-keeper. We depart on good terms.

“Synagogue?” Smiles Jimmy, once we’re cleared earshot.


Rabbi Fleischmann debunks Patrolman Gold’s boloney within three minutes. From good Jewish stock, Gold may benefit the Mob, falsifying official paperwork, but never misses temple on the Sabbath. He didn’t arrest or watch over Garry the Mac. Prob’ly never even met him.

One avenue of investigation, closed.

The Fellini’s (and Margie), Jane Borland and Patrolman Gold. All claim they saw Garry. Of the three, only Frankie Fellini seemed truly interested in seeing his cousin by marriage alive again. And wherever Garry’s being held, common sense says : so’s Frankie’s wife Gabriella.

Time to hit the racetrack. Doctor Anthony Vickers has some questions to answer.


“Is the Vet about?” I ask the course steward.

“O’Dell, Sluff. Good to see you. Sorry, he’s off today. Look around if you like – you know where everything is. Just can’t let you into Doc Vickers’ office if he ain’t here.”

“That’s a waste,” complains Jimmy, after.

Only so long can you re-tread the same ground. We’re stuck. Fast.

An old stone cottage with two chimneys sits on the outskirts, near the on-course stables.

‘Round back, a large chain fence lets horses in and heat out. Blacksmith’s shingle : twine, looped through a hand-made metal sign. No-one’s about. Combination lock secures the fence closed. Jimmy flicks it in disgust.

“Five levers, four settings apiece, that’s… many possibilities.”

“Thousand-twenty-four,” I say. “They prob’ly move each lever once they lock up, so there’s just three settings to choose from, each time. Two-forty-something, less the one they’re on. Easiest… here.”

Lock snaps open. I’ve made mental notes of each lever’s position, before fooling with it.

Blacksmith uses oak quenching barrels. Tea chests for storage. Same shipping company logo’s printed, every side.

“Lookie here, Jimmy.”

He whistles, eyes bulging at the gold-flecked horse-shoe molds I’m holding. “Some people prefer keeping loot safe underneath their mattresses.”

If’n smith and apprentice ain’t at their respective homes, I can only imagine two likely places. We lock up and go stake the second one out first.