Jan 04, 2024

New York City, 1935

My name is Roscoe Kemp, and I’m a private detective.

I drifted into it a couple of years back when I was cleaning swimming pools up-state; this rich old dame who’s pool I was cleaning asked me to find her lost cat. I was lucky I guess; a day or two later a cat answering the description strolled up to my door and demanded food, so I fed it a bit, then took it round to the old dame. She was so goddam pleased she insisted I take the kinda cash that woulda made Rockefeller blush, so I decided to put a down-payment on a small office on the top floor of a block in New York City and call myself a private detective.

The old dame went round singing my praises to all her rich friends, and soon I was tailing their love-rat husbands, serving papers and running in more of their lost cats. There were even some cases that had a kick to them of sorts, like the Hadleigh murder case, and the Zarevski diamond case. It was good work and it paid the rent – and even let me hire Aileen, my assistant – but the truth is, the cases weren’t giving me the kinda kick I was looking for. What I needed was a case that gets the blood pumping and makes you feel like you’ve made it – really made it – as a private eye.

Like the Hershenheimsbecker case for instance.

Now that was a case that had a kick to it – the kinda kick that Luigi’s home brew bourbon gives the first time you try it; hard and possibly lethal.

It all started one afternoon in January. I was lying back in my chair feeling kinda bored, wondering if I should go grab a pastrami at Luigi’s Bar and Diner, when the door opened and I saw the most sensational broad ever.

She was dressed to kill, with a low-cut white blouse, a tight red skirt and black stiletto heels. Her hair was long, blonde and had the kinda waves in it that would make the Niagara Falls jealous. All in, she was better built than the Empire State – only this one had curves in all the right places.

I said “Hi!”

She walked slowly over to me, her hips working independently of each other in a way that told the laws of physics to go take a hike. She looked me up and down.

“What can I do for ya, honey?” I asked.

“Are you Hemp, the detective?” She had an accent I couldn’t place. But it sure was cute.

“It’s Kemp,” I answered. “And yes I am.”

“You must help me.”

“Tell me what I can do,” I answered immediately.

“It is terrible. There is this man following me all day, I cannot get rid of him. I don’t know what to do. I saw your sign on the street, so I came up.”

“Sure.” I took my feet off the desk and pushed my hat to the back of my head. “Where ya from?”


“Paris, Idaho?”


“Paris, Kentucky?”


“Paris, Tennessee?”



“Non, non, Paris, France.”

Now I recognised the accent.

“I don’t come cheap, kid,” I pointed out.

She walked slowly to the dusty grey window and stood a moment, staring at the street below. Then she turned back.

“I ‘ave money.”

“Fifty bucks a day, plus expenses.” No harm in highballing and seeing where it took me.

She looked out of the window again. “Is no problem.”

Shucks. Shoulda highballed even higher.

She came over to the desk and leaned across it. Her face was inches from mine and her perfume was more intoxicating than a glass of Luigi’s bourbon.

She put her hand under my chin and forced my gaze up to her eyes. They were like large pools of clear blue spring water. “Please find out why I am followed,” she said.

She let go and stood back.

“Sure.” I reached down and rummaged a while in my desk drawer. “Gotta contract here, if you’ll just sign…”

I put the contract on the desk and looked up, then let out a shocked yelp. She had disappeared – with nothing but a $50 bill left on the desk…

Aileen, my young assistant, rushed in.

“You all right, boss?” she asked. “I heard you shout out.” She frowned, making her heavy eyebrows meet in the middle and become one.

“Sure,” I answered. “But the dame that was here just now – she left without giving a name.”

“I saw her, boss.” Aileen shook her head, making her plain mousy-brown pony-tail flick round her ears. “And by the look of her, I’d guess any name she gave you would be false.”

“Aileen, honey,” I said gently, “mighty good of you to suggest – but better leave the detecting to me.”

Suddenly Aileen bent down and picked up something off the floor. It was a small white object. “Gee, boss, she musta dropped this.” She turned it over in her hand, then gave it to me.

It was a book of matches. Could it be a clue as to who my mysterious guest was? On the front it said Maddison Hotel, Eighty Third Street, with a picture of the entrance of a hotel.

I flicked it open. There was something written on the inside. “Mademoiselle Monique Desjardins,” I read. “So now we know who she is, huh!” I flicked it shut and put it in my pocket. “Stay here and watch the place while I go over and take a look-see.”




So there I was, fifty bucks richer and none the wiser as to what this was all about. I had a mysterious dame who left cash lying around and a possible clue as to who she was. Perhaps it was a setup – a trap? I had no idea. Still, the only way to find out was to go to this hotel and see if anything happened. Some little voice told me that there were more fifty bucks where that one came from; I wasn’t about to let my chance of dough like that slip by if I could help it.

I caught a cab and told him to take me to Maddison Hotel on 83rd. It was a seedy looking joint, quieter than a church on Monday. I went inside and asked for Miss Desjardins.

The guy at the desk sent me up to room 12. I decided to go carefully; blundering about like a drunk at a party might get me no further than a gut fulla lead. The door was unlocked; I eased it open and went in, real cautious; my gun out and ready to fire at the first sign of trouble.

Didn’t have long to wait, neither. I was standing on the far side of the bed, having just looked in the drawer and found nothing more than a bible, when I saw the door handle start to turn.

I watched as the door opened slowly and a gun appeared, followed by a young, yellow-looking guy in a sharp suit and a badly-fitting hat.

“Freeze,” I barked. He froze. “Hands up,” I ordered. Slowly he raised his hands.

“Drop ya gun and kick it under the bed.” He bent down slowly, all the while looking at me like a snake looks at a bird, then he dropped the gun and kicked it. It skittered under the bed to where I was standing. I bent down and picked it up.

“Who are ya, and what are ya doin’ here?” I demanded.

“I could ask you the same question, pal.”

The guy was a smart-ass.

He had a gravelly voice that sounded way older than he looked – like he’d already smoked too many Luckies and probably got outside a heap too many bourbons as well.

“Ya could,” I countered, “but you is on the receiving end of this piece and I’m on the butt end – so talk.”

He stared at me some more. “I’m Henry J. Ziegler – Private Detective,” he said eventually. He took a card from his vest pocket and dropped it on the bed. I left it there.

“Sure, Mac – and what ya doin’, like I said?”

“I’m looking for a chick by the name of Lorna Martin. D’ya know her?”

“Should I?”

“Sure ya should.” He frowned. “You’re in her hotel room.”

“Like hell I am.” I took a bead on the guy’s head and held my gun rock steady. “This is a French broad’s room, by the name of Monique Desjardins.”

Like I suspected – a sharp character.

“Ya got it wrong, pal.” His eyes moved down to fix on my gun. “This room belongs to Lorna. She may be usin’ a false name. Is your Miss Desjardins tall, slim and blonde? Eyes like blue lagoons and curves to die for?”

“That’s her.”

“Then its also Lorna.” He shook his head, as if in grudging admiration. “Clever chick, huh? Disguising herself as a French broad.”

“Ya mean to say she’s been hoodwinking me?” I lowered the gun a little.

“Sure looks that way, pal. What did she say to ya?”

“Hey!” I raised the gun again. “I’m not so sure I’ll tell you that, buster.”

“Did she say someone was following her?” He smiled; a slimy, yellow smile. “Bet she did, hey pal? And she’s right, ‘cos it’s me that’s following her!”

“I’m paid to find out why.”

“How much?”

“You sure do ask questions don’t ya?” I answered. “Like I said, it’s me with the gun here.”

“Cut me in on half, and I’ll tell ya.”

The guy was clearly rolling the dice here. I decided to test him out. I lowered the gun an inch, and said: “OK, but no more than 20 percent.”

I saw him think about it, cocking his head left and right like he had a guardian angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both trying to direct him. I figured that if he was genuine, he’d push for more dough, but if he was a fraud, he’d take a low amount because he was only spinning me a line.

“Say 30 percent and you’re on,” he muttered. So maybe he was for real.

I thought I would test him some more. “OK,” I said. “But how do I know ya gonna tell it straight?”

“You got the gun, pal.”

I lowered it an inch more. “Let’s hear it, then.”

He thought a moment, staring down at the floor, then he cleared his throat and began.

“Well, like I said, she’s called Lorna Martin.” He looked up and fixed my eyes. “And fact is, she’s a crook.”

“Don’t say.”

“Yeah. See, I’ve been hired by retired General Franklin P. Hershenheimsbecker of Boston. Just recently he had some valuable gems stolen. See, he gave this massive party for his daughter’s birthday – you know; orchestra, cocktails, waiters; that sorta kaboodle. Musta cost a real load, but Mr Hershenheimsbecker, he didn’t bother none – he’s as rich as they come.” Ziegler cleared his throat again. “So anyway, he splashes out all this dough on a big party, but he also coughs up three grand on a set of geegaws for his little girl. Sorta diamonds and things. She was real pleased with them – for that kinda bread she damn well oughta be, if ya ask me – and she went around showing them off to everyone at this jamboree like a kid with a new doll. Lorna Martin was there, see, and she was a friend of little Kate Hershenheimsbecker, and the two of them went into the garden to talk. Then Kate came running in without the gems, crying that Lorna had grabbed them and made off. There was uproar, and the old man called out how he’d break Lorna’s neck if he ever found her.”

“Why didn’t he call the cops?” I asked.

“He didn’t want the publicity. He woulda looked kinda foolish for losing that sorta sparkle so easily. So he hired me to find her, and here I am. It’s taken me some time, but I reckon I’ve finally got her.”

“What are ya gonna do now?”

“Wait till she comes back,” he said, with a slimy smile.

The guy had it too off-pat. “Then what?” I demanded.

“Get her and the jewels back to the old man, like I was hired to do.”

I stared at him a moment, choosing my words. “D’ya know, Mac, I don’t think she ain’t never comin’ back here again.”

“Yeah?” He sniggered – a sound like a slow train crossing the railroad points.

“How long have ya been following her?” I asked.

“Coupla weeks. Why?”

I laughed. “Don’t seem ta be having no success, do ya?”

He shot me a look of pure disgust. “Like hell!” he snapped. “I’m here, ain’t I?”

“Sure Mac.” I paused for effect. “But is she?”

“Soon will be.” He looked so full of himself – I needed to take him back to reality.

“Sure enough,” I answered. “But where’s her baggage?”

He looked at the top of the closet, then under the bed. “Dammit!”

“Yeah – she’s checked out,” I said. “My suggestion to you, pal, is to give me a number where I can reach ya, and when she comes to me again, maybe I’ll let you know.”

Like hell I would…

“Yeah, OK,” he muttered. “My card’s on the bed.”

He turned to go.

“Hey!” I called, as he put his hand to the door. “You forgot this.” I opened his gun and let the slugs fall out onto the bed, then I tossed the empty piece over to him. He caught it, slipped it into his pocket, nodded in farewell and walked out.




I made my way back to the office, chewing over what Ziegler had told me. If Lorna was on the run with some hot gemstones, she would have known why she was being followed. So why hire me to find out? There seemed to be too many loose ends in this case. Still, I wasn’t a private detective for nothing; I oughta be able to figure something outa this.

I got back to the office. Aileen was behind her desk, working her nails with a sanding board.

“Any calls for me?” I asked.

“Only one; a Mrs…” she checked a slip of paper on her desk “…Glickman rang; she wants you to find her lost cat. She’s willing to pay.”

“How much?”

“20 bucks; half up front, half on completion.”

“I’ll get back to her.” I paused. “Say, Aileen, can ya get me Jack Marelli from Boston’s number? I wanna have a word with him.”

“Sure boss.”

“And you’d better get some more cat food. We’re out.”

“Sure boss.”

I went into my office and dropped into my chair. Aileen came in and put a card on my desk. “Jack Morelli, boss.”

Jack was an old friend of mine from a while back – we’d worked together on the Zarevski diamond case. I reckoned if anyone knew about the Boston scene and missing geegaws, it would be him.

I dialled the number and got through.

“Hi Jack, how are ya?”

“Hey, is that old Roscoe Kemp? How ya doin’, ol’ buddy?”

“Fine thanks, Jack. Good to hear your voice again.”

“And yours, Kemp. And how’s that little Aileen? Still making big eyes at ya?”

“Aileen? Yeah, she’s all right, I guess. How’s business in Boston, Jack?” I asked. “Going good?”

“OK, OK,” he shot back. “But still running in too many lost cats, I guess.”

“Yeah, you’re right there, buddy – these cats go and walk out without any thought for the poor suckers who’ve gotta find them…” I cleared my throat. “Look, Jack, I need some information.”

“Sure Kemp, fire away.”

“Can you tell me anything about Franklin P. Hershenheimsbecker, his daughter Kate, and some missing sparkle worth three grand?”


“The very same” I confirmed. “General Franklin P.”

“Missing sparkle?”

“Sure. Lifted by a dame by the name of Lorna Martin.”

“Listen, Kemp, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Old man Hershenheimsbecker hasn’t lost three Gs of sparkle, and there’s no such dame as Lorna Martin that I’ve heard of.”

“You sure, Jack?”

“Sure I’m sure. I would know if a sparrow farts here in Boston, and I ain’t never heard any part of this tale you’re telling me.” He paused. “I’m sorry, Kemp, but it looks like someone’s spinning you a real line.”

“But the dame I saw was real, Jack. Said she was French.”

“Tall, curvy and classy?” he asked. “Blonde hair like a film starlet?”

“That’s the one.”

“Sounds like the broad you met is Kate Hershenheimsbecker herself, Kemp.”

“OK, Jack,” I said thoughtfully. “Sure appreciate the information.”

“No problems, buddy. You take care.”

I put the phone down slowly, then called Aileen. She trotted in with her notebook.

“Yes, boss?”

“Listen, Aileen,” I said, “you know the dame who came in this morning?”

She scowled. “You mean the stick-thin streak with the cheap scent and the hooker hair-do?”

“If ya say so, although I thought she looked kinda classy…?”

“Sure boss. I think that was the idea.”

“Yeah, well, anyway, it seems she’s the daughter of a rich ol’ soldier from Boston by the name of Franklin P. Hershenheimsbecker.”

“She’s called Franklin?”

“No, she’s called Kate. Franklin P. Hershenheimsbecker is her ol’ man.” I paused while she nodded. “Only it seems she’s running under the name ‘Lorna Martin’.

“And the book of matches said ‘Monique Desjardins’,” said Aileen. “Gee, boss. It’s getting mighty complicated.”

“Sure.” I tapped my finger on the table a while to help me think. Seemed like the only person with all the answers would be Hershenheimsbecker himself. I decided to head on over to Boston, to see if I could get a word with him.

“I’m heading on over to Boston, Aileen,” I said. “I think I need to speak to this General Hershenheimsbecker myself.”

…Part 2 is here