Case Pending

Dell Shannon


When Gunn came down the hall to his office at half-past eight, he found Curtis waiting. Curtis was holding up the wall beside the door; he opened his eyes at Gunn's step. He looked tired and rather dirty. 'And a good, good morning to you too, chief,' he said. Gunn didn't like to be called chief.

'What'd you draw?' Gunn unlocked the door.

'Just what we expected. I won't come in-I'm going home to bed-I can give it to you in ten words. Williams showed up about eight, you'll get that on Henry's report. Went in, about twenty minutes later came out with our Williams, and they went down to the Redbird bar on Third. Ten-forty, shifted to the Palace. Henry called me from there and I took over at midnight. They drifted home about half an hour later and stayed. His car's still outside.'

'Well, now,' said Gunn, pleased. 'Fancy that.'

'And for your further information,' said Curtis, 'I damn near froze to death sitting it out in my car. Next time I'll take along another blanket and a portable radio.'

Gunn grinned benignly and told him to go home. He went on through the stenos' room to the center of three partitioned-off rooms at the rear, hung up his hat and coat, and sat at the desk. Henry's report was neatly centered, waiting for him there; Henry never missed getting in a written report immediately, however late his duty. Williams in 7.57, it announced laconically, and the rest of what Curtis had said. Very nice, thought Gunn.

So now they knew that Mr. John Williams hadn't deserted his wife and four children. The county had been passing over sixty-three dollars and fifty cents per month to Mrs. John Williams for four months, on her claim of desertion and failure to provide. The kids had to be fed, had to be sheltered and clothed-after a fashion-by somebody. It appeared that once again the county had been rooked. Williams was a skiffed carpenter, probably making good money on an out-of-town job.

Gunn made a notation on the report, Morgan to see, and sighed. Naughty, naughty, Mr. and Mrs. Williams, collusion to defraud the state-and maybe next time they'd think up something slicker. He got out his file of current investigations, wrote a brief summary of the conclusions in the Williams case, and set the file page aside for refiling among cases completed. He flicked over the rest. He heard the girl stenos begin to drift into the outer office.

Rossiter. Brankin. Peabody. Prinn. Fraty. Kling. A new one, Lindstrom. There were follow-up reports to be typed in on six or seven of them; he took those out to the stenos. 'Morning, girls.' Morgan and Stack came in together.

'I want to see you about that Mrs. Gold,' said Stack.

'What about her?'

Stack followed him back into his office. 'I told you I finally caught up to the guy-the Reno D.A.'s office found him, he's working in some joint there as a waiter. I had it all set up to crack down on him, see. Reno says he ought to be good for seventy-five a month, and I went round to give the glad news to the misses. And then the rabbi puts the kibosh on it.'

'What rabbi?'

'Mrs. Gold's rabbi. He was there. He says please will we just drop the whole thing and leave it to him-I guess he figures it'll be less of a disgrace or something if he can handle it-'

'Oh,' said Gunn. 'Well, he might have something there. If he can get it without any fuss, so much the better. Man'd feel better about it if he's persuaded instead of forced, the money'll come easier-less chance we'd have more trouble. It works out with ministers sometimes, but we can't let 'em stall forever. You tell him we'll give him a couple of weeks to try it his way before we crack down.' Gunn went out with Stack and looked into the room next his own; Morgan was sitting there at one of four desks, looking at some papers. 'Oh, Dick.'

Morgan looked up. 'Yes, sir?' he responded dully.

'Little job. Henry and Curtis have tied up the Williams case. Another collusion, way you figured. Williams is weekending-they were at a bar until midnight and it's a good chance you'll catch him still in bed with her if you make it snappy. Here's the report.'

Morgan got up. 'All right. Williams-yes.'

Gunn looked at him more closely. 'You look a bit off-color.'

'I'm all right,' said Morgan. He did not look it. As he took his topcoat from the peg behind the door, Gunn saw his hand shaking. He was the thin, sandy type that doesn't change much between boyhood and old age, doesn't look much different sick or well. But there were lines around his mouth now that Gunn hadn't seen before, and his eyes looked tired, as if he hadn't slept. He had a little trouble folding the paper Gunn handed him, putting it away in his pocket.

'How's Sue?' asked Gunn casually. 'And Jan?'

'Fine,' said Morgan, buttoning his coat carefully. 'Just fine, thanks.'

'Must get together again soon, Christy was saying just last night she'd like to kidnap that Janny of yours, kind of lonesome with our three grown and off.'

'Oh-yes, sure. I guess so. We'll do that, thanks.'

Gunn stood in the door of his office, absently jingling the coins in his pocket, and watched the other man out to the corridor. What was wrong with Morgan? He felt some responsibility for Morgan, unreasonably, for it had been his doing that Morgan got this job. Dick Morgan was the son of an old friend of Gunn's, and he'd known the boy most of his life.

Boy, well, Dick was thirty-eight, but it depended where you sat: Kenneth Gunn was sixty-two. And good as held ever been too, once he'd got out of the hospital after that business last year; but the doctors wouldn't pass him for active duty again. Nearly forty years' service, and then a home-made bullet out of a punk's zip-gun retired him. And Bill Andrews got the promotion to head of Homicide instead. Way the cards fell, and Bill was a good man; but Gunn hadn't known what to do with himself that six months. He'd jumped at this minor post in the D.A.'s office; and he could say now, a year later, he'd given Kelleher something to talk about at the next election, by God.

It was a new department, this little corps of investigators-the husband-chasers, inevitably they were called; and if Gunn couldn't claim their job was as important as the one he'd done for forty years in and out of uniform, at least the Scot in him took pride in reckoning how much they saved the taxpayers. He's set up the organization himself, and it served as a model for those some other counties were building, here and in other states. He and his crew had tracked down over two thousand runaway husbands so far, to pry minimum child-support funds out of them anyway. Authorities in other states had cooperated, of course, but it came out even: they'd picked up deserters for other D.A.'s offices from Maine to Oregon, too. Gunn had the exact figure whenever Kelleher wanted it; to date it was upward of half a million dollars this office had saved the county in support of deserted wives and children. There'd been a time a man could walk out and it was nobody's job to locate him, make him provide for a deserted family. These days, no. He couldn't go across the Arizona or Nevada line and thumb his nose at the California taxpayers.

Gunn himself hadn't had any idea what a staggering sum casual desertions cost the state, until he saw the figures last year. And he could have doubled the amount saved by now if he could have another dozen men, another dozen office clerks. This was the hell of a big town, and it attracted the hell of a lot of indigents and transients, as well as the usual shiftless ones any city had.

But he wasn't thinking about that as he looked after Dick Morgan. He stood there passing a hand over his jaw in a habitual gesture, a big hefty man with a round, amiable face and thinning hair, and for a minute he worried about Morgan. Dick had had some rough breaks: just out of college when the war came along, and he was married and had a child by the time it was over so he never did go back to finish his law course, but like so many others went into a big-company job. Then they lost the child, one of those unnecessary accidents, a drunk in a car, turning down their street just at random. That had nearly finished Sue, because she couldn't have another… Sure, they put the drunk in jail for manslaughter, but what good did that do a six-year-old girl, or Sue and Dick?

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