Margie Beck has always been a magnet for calamity. When she accidentally walks off with a $17,000 mink coat and the $90,000 bracelet contained within it, she finds herself again at the center of an exciting—and possibly deadly—criminal plot. As the city’s police search for Margie, its criminal class joins the hunt. With only the help of her boyfriend and a clever dress designer, Margie must outsmart her pursuers before it’s too late. This will be a thrilling day, but it could be Margie’s last. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Howard Fast including rare photos from the author’s estate.
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By Howard Fast
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1966 William Morrow and Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.
In which we meet District Attorney Cohen, Police Commissioner Comaday, and a mink coat and a diamond bracelet.
Larry Cohen, the Assistant District Attorney, explained it again, and again Commissioner John Comaday shook his head. It was of the simple, suspicious nature of Comaday that he believed almost nothing and thus had a practical shield against disillusionment. For twenty-six years he had been on the force, and for seven of these twenty-six years he had been Police Commissioner of New York City; and rather tiredly, he reminded Larry Cohen of this.
"I have been on the Force twenty-six years," he said almost pleadingly. "I have been Police Commissioner of this city for almost seven years. Who the hell are you to rock my faith in everything a man has faith in? My father was a Democrat and my grandfather was a Democrat."
"That demonstrates faith," Cohen agreed.
"Enrolled Democrats. You know I don't like you, Larry. You went to Harvard; you represent inherited wealth, and you are flighty about serious things. Wherever there is a millionaire, he just happens to be a friend of yours. You collect them. Why doesn't the Governor come here himself?"
"He's busy. He happens to be Governor of the state."
"He also happens to be a Republican. I happen to be a Democrat. I happen to be Police Commissioner. I also don't believe this cock-and-bull story."
"Look," Comaday whispered. "Leave me alone. You got a complaint? There is an officer at the desk outside. On his desk there is a wood and brass plaque that the taxpayers paid for. It says: COMPLAINTS. Tell it to him."
"Have a heart," Cohen pleaded. "This is the Governor. He does not want this in the papers."
"Because the mink coat cost seventeen thousand dollars."
"I don't believe that," Comaday said. "I have never liked the rich, and I do not believe that any mink coat cost seventeen thousand dollars."
"Maybe he overpaid. Why do you feed me the simple line, Commissioner? You are not simple. The bracelet cost ninety thousand dollars. The mink coat cost seventeen thousand dollars. Maybe he was overcharged. The simple facts remain what they are. He was making a speech on Thirty-seventh Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. The weather was warmer than he anticipated—which is by no means unusual in November. His wife was standing next to him—"
"I don't go along with that either," Comaday snapped. "You don't see my wife standing next to me every time I get up and open my yap. You know where my wife is?"
"Miami?" Cohen asked tentatively.
"She doesn't leave until after Christmas. You know where my wife is? I'll tell you where my wife is. My wife is at home—where a man's wife belongs."
"My wife met her at Saks Fifth Avenue yesterday—where poor people shop."
"You know, Larry," Comaday said. "I don't have to put up with you. Technically I don't even have to let you into this building. I can have you thrown—"
"I know, I know, I know," Cohen replied soothingly, "I know that. All I said was that the Governor's wife was standing next to him."
"All right. She was standing next to him. Why the hell was she wearing a ninety-thousand-dollar bracelet? Maybe she's no mental giant, but if her husband is maybe the richest man in the world and her husband is in politics, and if like what every American boy wants most, he would like to be president some day—then so help me she should have enough brains not to be wearing a ninety-thousand-dollar bracelet on the corner of Thirty-seventh Street and Sixth Avenue. You ever been on the corner of Thirty-seventh Street and Sixth?"
"I have been," Cohen nodded.
"Garment workers. All garment workers. The toughest-minded, coldest, most deliberate and enlightened voters in this country. President? How in hell does he expect to remain Governor with his wife coming up there dressed like that?"
"I couldn't agree with you more," Cohen said eagerly. "Absolutely. And his wife is a bright and charming and delightful woman, and she simply put on the coat and the bracelet without thinking—the way you throw on a topcoat when the weather nips a bit."
"The way I throw on a topcoat," The Police Commissioner said coldly.
"Exactly. You throw on something and rush out. You're in a hurry and you are late. That's all."
"So she threw on a seventeen-thousand mink coat and a ninety-thousand bracelet."
"John, put yourself in her place. To her it was a coat and a bracelet. She is like that. She cares about people, not money."
"Well, they have all the money they need. And she's not insensitive. She realized that the bracelet might attract attention. Not at first. But when she got to Thirty-seventh Street and the Governor met her there, she realized that it might be somewhat thoughtless to wear that kind of jewelry in the garment center. That's why she took off the bracelet and put it into the pocket of the fur coat."
"Just dropped it into the pocket of her coat. Just like that."
"My God, what do you think, John? Do you think we are trying to put you on—the Governor and me?"
"I don't know. I am only trying to understand what kind of dame drops such a bracelet into her coat pocket and then takes off the coat and gives it to someone she never saw before to hold for her."
"I told you the weather had turned warmer."
"Sure. You told me, Larry."
"And she realized that the mink was another error. So she got rid of it."
"By giving it to the nearest person to hold."
"Exactly," Cohen said. "It was only a coat. You never gave your coat to anyone to hold?"
"Sure," Comaday agreed. "Every day. When I get into a rumble, Larry, I look around and see who will hold my coat." Then, his voice loud and angry, he shouted, "What in hell do you take me for, Larry? Some kind of idiot?"
"No. Oh no," Cohen whispered.
"Well, who did she give the coat to—man, woman, child? Old? Young?"
"She doesn't remember. It was only a coat."
"Seventeen grand—only a coat. And the bracelet?"
"She had forgotten about the bracelet," Cohen sighed.
"Of course—naturally. Who can remember such minor items as ninety-grand bracelets? What does she have—a drawer full of them?"
"She is a damned nice person. You might even like her yourself."
"I might—if she didn't send you here to stand my office on its head. I am not a plain-clothes detective, Larry, not even a captain or an inspector," Comaday said sadly. "I am the Commissioner of Police in the largest city in the world. It is my duty to run a police force of some twenty-six thousand men, not to conduct a personal investigation into the loss of a mink coat and a diamond bracelet. It is also not a part of my duty to suppress news of a crime. Your friend, the Governor—who, as I recall every now and then, just happens to be a Republican—realizes that it might be very damaging to him, politically of course, for the news of this childish caper to get out. But as my grandmother used to say, he who dances must pay the piper—or something to that effect. You know, such things as mink coats and diamond bracelets are insured, and insurance companies are very fussy about police co-operation."
"In other words," Larry Cohen said, "you are going to blab this to one and all."
"That's one way of putting it. I prefer to look at it more simply. A crime has been committed. Some very valuable property has been stolen. I am aware of this crime, and it is my plain duty to report it to the proper authorities—namely, the officer in charge of the local precinct. Since his precinct will be adequately covered by members of the press, I see no way to keep it out of the papers."
"How do you know a crime has been committed?" Cohen demanded.
"I don't," Comaday shrugged. "No crime—then you are wasting my very valuable time."
"It's your Governor."
Comaday shook his head. "I didn't even vote for him. I am a party man, Larry—right down the line. I am responsible to the people of this city, not to the Governor." A thin smile crossed Comaday's bulldog face. "I would say that a part of that responsibility is to keep them informed of the criminal escapades of the man who sits up there in Albany—"
"What would you call suppressing information of a crime? And isn't that what you are asking me to do, Larry—in the name of your friendship for this man? For shame ..."
The telephone rang. Comaday picked it up and reminded the voice at the other end that he had asked not to be interrupted.
"It's Captain Bixbee, sir. He insists."
Cohen could hear the other voice, but not too clearly. He leaned forward and Comaday glared at him.
"All right. Put him on." Pause. Then, "What the devil is so important, Bixbee?"
"I am just walking on a little bit of glass. I'm very sorry, Commissioner. Does the Governor's wife have a mink coat that is missing?"
"A very fine mink coat. At least, that is the opinion of people who know more about mink coats than I do. I mean, on a captain's pay, you don't get to be a mavin on mink coats."
"A mavin? What in hell is a mavin?"
"It's Yiddish for expert."
"Since when are you Jewish, Bixbee? If you're an expert," Comaday growled, "say you're an expert."
"I mean I am not."
"Then what in hell are you talking about?"
"This mink coat. It is supposed to have had a diamond bracelet in the pocket, and the lady said the Governor's wife gave it to her to hold. Because it was hot. It is a hot morning, Commissioner. You got to admit that."
Comaday stopped glaring at the telephone and glared at Cohen instead. "Did you hear that?" he asked Cohen. Cohen nodded, and Captain Bixbee said, "I got no trouble hearing you, Commissioner. Have you got a bad connection?"
"Have I what?"
"Have you got a bad connection?"
"Listen, Bixbee," Comaday said. "I got someone in the office here and I want him to hear this, so I am switching on the speaker. You understand?"
"All right. Now suppose you tell me exactly what you have got."
Comaday switched on the speaker-receiver on his desk and then replaced the phone in its cradle. Bixbee's voice filled the room as he told about receiving a call from one Marvin Potnik.
"Potnik—who is Potnik?" Comaday said. "I want this whole picture."
"Yes, sir. Mr. Potnik owns a dress company called M.P. Creations. I checked it. A successful firm in the very high-priced bracket. They specialize in what you call ensembles—in between two and three hundred each. That's very high-class merchandise."
"Will you get to the point, Bixbee?"
The voice that filled the room was patient, official, and long-suffering. "You wanted the whole picture. All right. I am giving you Potnik's background. He has a model called Margie."
"Margie? You mean Marjorie."
"Just Margie. Well, she turned up here with the mink coat and the diamond bracelet about half an hour ago, and naturally Potnik is surprised with that kind of packaging—"
"Where is here?"
"You said 'here.' Well, where are you? At the station house?"
"I'm in Mr. Potnik's office using his telephone. Look, Commissioner, this is not a simple theft or assault. This kid—Margie—she says the Governor's wife gave her the coat to hold. It was not just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill political meeting. A group turns up from some South American country and they're sore at the Governor's family, and it took a little handling. Anyway, it was very warm for November, and I suppose the Governor's wife just forgot about the coat. So Margie comes into work with the coat over her arm, and then she puts it on for them to see, and there's a guy here used to work in the diamond exchange on Forty-seventh Street, and he says, according to what he knows, this bracelet is worth maybe seventy, eighty grand. That's a nice price for a bracelet you just forget about. But Potnik was smart enough to know that this isn't something you let out a howl about, and he called me, and I hotfooted it over here myself, because I don't think this is the kind of thing the Governor would want to see in the papers."
"No?" Comaday inquired. "You don't think so?"
"Are you a Republican, Captain?"
"The fact that I am a cop, sir, does riot mean—"
"Forget it, Bixbee. I'm sorry. I got a Neanderthal sense of humor."
Cohen nodded silently.
"Nothing. I said Neanderthal. I made a joke."
"I'm sorry, sir," Bixbee said, out on a limb, but holding his ground. "I think an official person in New York City's got no right to make any minority the butt of his humor. That's the way I feel about it."
"Yes," Comaday acknowledged softly. "I admire your ethnic sense, Captain. Suppose we forget about that now and suppose you send that mink coat and the bracelet down here with someone you can trust. Now."
"Then you don't propose pressing any charges against the girl?"
"You, my friend, Larry Cohen, and the Republican Party would like to keep this out of the papers. Therefore we will not press charges against this girl. Bixbee, just get the coat and the diamond bracelet down here. Now."
"Not right now, sir."
"What? Why not right now?"
"Because the girl—that is, Margie—she isn't here right now."
Cohen watched Comaday, who sat staring at the small black box, testimony to the engineering marvels of the twentieth century, and capable of magnifying the sound of a telephone conversation until all in the room were privy to it.
"I'm sure Captain Bixbee has a simple explanation," Cohen said.
"Sir?" Bixbee asked.
"Where is the girl, Captain Bixbee?"
"The girl," Bixbee repeated, not as a question, but as a matter of fact.
"The girl, Captain. Marjorie—what did you say her last name was?"
Comaday's fists clenched and unclenched and his jaw worked as he ground his teeth. Cohen had heard of people grinding their teeth, but the only one he had actually seen perform the act was Commissioner Comaday. Yet Comaday controlled himself and, all in all, Cohen thought he did a very commendable job of it.
"Margie's last name," he said very slowly.
"Beck. Margie Beck. And where did Margie Beck go?"
"She went out for coffee just before I got here, Commissioner."
"Then she'll be back from coffee soon?"
"Oh yes, sir."
"And when she went out for coffee she was wearing the mink coat and the diamond bracelet?"
"Of course—of course. Perfectly natural. Otherwise you would have sent the coat and bracelet down here. Bixbee, why was she wearing the coat and bracelet?"
"Well, the way Mr. Potnik figured, what harm could it do? Just for coffee."
"Of course. You know, Bixbee, you may have heard it here and around that I have an irascible nature. That's not true. I only want that coat and bracelet here in thirty minutes—no more. There's a new administration coming in and possibly a Republican mayor, so they may want another commissioner. That's why I am being considerate of a Republican Governor. Expediency. But I am still Commissioner—so get that coat here."
He clicked off the telephone and Cohen said to him, "You know, John, you have a much more interesting job than mine."
In which certain unusual happenings occur on Thirty-seventh Street, and Margie goes to breakfast with a buyer.
A time will probaby come when Margie Beck's open-eyed wonder at and delight in New York City will cease. She may become old, bitter, philosophic, or even petulant, but such possibilities are still far in the future. At the moment she was open-eyed and manifestly delighted with the sheer fact of existence, and she carried her black patent-leather hatbox with that precise combination of awareness and aplomb that proclaimed her to be not just a model but a working model. In a city where there were, by the smallest count, at least eighty-five thousand models, of whom no more than 10 per cent worked with any kind of regularity, this was by no means an unimportant fact.
But the plain truth of the matter was that Margie had no real or practical need for the hatbox. It was a badge of office, a shoulder patch, a proclamation of identity. She was five feet, six inches tall; she had blue eyes, and she was a perfect size six. She was perhaps a trifle short for high-fashion photography, but with her wide shoulders and dark hair, nearly perfect for Marvin Potnik's ensembles, nor did she require the hatbox for them or her make-up. Both resided in the Potnik dressing room.
Excerpted from Margie by Howard Fast. Copyright © 1966 William Morrow and Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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