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Title: Ice
Author: Bigsciencybrain
Fandom: Dragnet (radio) , Richard Diamond, P.I. (radio)
Series: N/A
Character(s): Sergeants Joe Friday and Ben Romero, Richard Diamond, P.I.
Prompt: #245 – Achilles’ Elbow
Rating: PG
Word Count: 4,582
Disclaimer: All characters, etc., are Public Domain. This is a new level of nerd, even for me. Who writes fic about old time radio shows?

Summary: Friday and Romero are on the trail of a jewel thief. The unexpected arrival of Richard Diamond, private detective, who is also in pursuit of the thief, gives them a lead, but not everything is as it seems.


It was Thursday, April 10. Los Angeles was unseasonably cold for April.

Detective Sergeant Joe Friday switched his coffee mug from hand to hand as he shrugged off his coat. “Any leads come in?” He’d gone home for a change of clothes and a few hours sleep.
His partner, Sergeant Romero was already seated at the desk, nose buried in a report. He nodded over the folder and reached for his own mug of coffee. “Private investigator from New York wants to know if he can meet us and ask us some questions.”

Friday paused a beat, the lip of the coffee mug almost to his lips, the aroma from his coffee tickling at his nose. “Usually, it’s detectives asking the questions.”

“Says he doesn’t want to get in the way of our investigation. Promised to hand over everything he finds.” Romero closed the folder and held it out. “I checked him out. He’s licensed. Seems to be pretty good at what he does too. Used to be a cop. NYPD.”

“What does the Captain think?” He only half listened for an answer. The Captain was getting heat from the Mayor’s office on this case. Newspapers couldn’t seem to get enough of it. A high class place like that getting robbed made people nervous; people with money and influence and access to the Mayor’s ear. A quick glance told him that the Captain was in. There was a sliver of butter yellow light under the closed door.

The robbery was clean enough to be an inside job, but investigating the owner and employees hadn’t turned up anything. They all had alibis and there was no evidence to point to a suspect, inside or not. None of the stolen goods had turned up at any of the local pawn shops yet. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings; the thief favored diamonds and big diamonds at that. Pieces like those would stand out. But if the thief was going to fence the jewels, the odds of finding a buyer for those kinds of diamonds were still better in the city than out of it.

It was going to be another long day and night of pounding the pavement. They made a point of expanding their circle every day they didn’t get any calls from pawn shops or other jewelry stores. That meant every day brought them a bigger chunk of Los Angeles to comb through.

“Anything from the crime lab?” he asked, postponing the inevitable long enough for him to finish his coffee.

“Nothing new,” Romero answered. He had both hands cupped around his mug and he hadn’t taken off his coat in an effort to ward off the unusual cold. “Power cut to disable the alarm, but they can’t give us more than it was done with wire cutters. Any old kind you could pick up at the hardware store. Not much to go on. No fingerprints, nothing left behind.”

Friday rested his coffee mug on the desk and flipped open the report. They were up against a wall and he knew it. Without a break or new information, this report would end up collecting dust in the filing cabinet. They’d only been able to stay on it this long because of the Mayor’s insistence. As soon as something more important came along, something that caught more headline, they’d be on to bigger and better and this case would be over.

That was the job. Sometimes they caught the bad guy, sometimes they didn’t.

“What’d you say this private detective’s name was?”

***

Romero made the call. The private detective wanted to meet at the jewelry store than had been robbed and that seemed as good a location as any. It was early; they were surrounded by sounds of the city getting on with the bustle of the day. The private detective was waiting outside the jewelry store. He had a fresh faced look to him, like a solid, Midwestern son, and light brown hair smoothed back with brylcreem. He had a light colored trench coat that looked rumpled, but his tie was a neat Windsor. Bright blue eyes had a twinkle to them that hinted at a liberal sense of humor.

He nodded a greeting as they approached. “Sergeant Romero, Sergeant Friday. Rick Diamond.”

“Joe Friday. Welcome to the city of Angels, Mister Diamond.” Friday shook Diamond’s outstretched hand.

“It’s a long way from New York City,” was Diamond’s only response.

“My partner says you have some questions.”

“Might be able to do you boys some good.” He gestured to the alley that ran along the length of the store. “When I read about this job in the paper and I knew I had to come. See, there were a few jobs just like this one in New York a few months back.”

Friday and Romero followed him down the alley to the spot where the power had been cut to shut off the security alarm. It was a state of the art system too, best on the market. Not that all the money the owner had spent had kept the goods inside. Friday was considering this new information. Jobs in another city put their thief in a different class than before. This wasn’t just a thief with a penchant for large diamonds. If they’d pulled jobs across the country, they could be professional. That meant they wouldn’t need to stay in the city to fence the gems and they might not be in any hurry to unload them either.

“Same MO as New York. Cut the power, jimmy the door.” Diamond waved his hand lightly between the severed cables and the back door. “Find any prints?”

“Not a one.”

“Any of the cases damaged?”

“Not a scratch.” That had bothered Friday since he’d seen the shop right after the robbery. There wasn’t a footprint in the carpet, not a handprint on the glass, not even a mark from the tool the thief had used to open up the display cases. As though the thief had drifted in like a ghost and left the same way.

“Took me awhile to work it out myself.” Diamond pulled a pack of Camels from his coat pocket. “One of the shops in New York, the thief got in through an air duct up on the ceiling. Came down on top of a set of shelves. Didn’t leave a mark.”

Friday didn’t follow.

Diamond, seeing the apparent confusion. “I’ll cut to the chase, boys. You’re looking for a woman. According to the few people who got a look at her, she’s pretty as a picture. And slippery as an eel.”

“A woman?” Romero asked, surprised.

“Regular femme fatale. Name she was going under in New York was Nancy Bellafonte, but I wouldn’t put stock in that being her real name.”

“How’d she choose the shops?” Friday squinted at the cut power cables with renewed interest.
“Didn’t figure that one out. And don’t bother waiting for her to unload the merchandise. She’s in the game for keeps. Not one diamond from the New York jobs ever turned up.”

Friday mulled that over for a few seconds. “Means she doesn’t need the money from the jewels. But can’t afford the diamonds outright.”

“Could be they go to private collectors.”

Romero was jotting down notes on a dirty notebook. “You said there were witnesses?”

“I tracked her to a boarding house. She’ll pick something nearby, in a good neighborhood. Nothing low class, just low profile. The landlady there thought she was blond and slender, but the woman always wore a scarf or hat over her hair. Kept to herself and claimed to be working as a stenographer.”

“There are a few places like that nearby.” Friday counted them out mentally. Knocking on those doors had been part of their canvassing the city looking for anyone who might have seen something the day of the robbery. He could think of two boarding houses within five miles that catered to young women come to work in the city. They were the perfect place for a woman to blend in and go about her business unnoticed.

“She robbed three stores in New York City. Can’t say for sure, but you might be looking at more jobs just like this one.”

“Appreciate the warning, Mr. Diamond.” Friday stuck his hands into his coat pockets to warm them. The alley was shaded by the neighboring building and without the warmth from the sun, the chill in the air was biting. “What information did you need from us?”

“I want to talk to her once you’ve brought her in. After you’ve questioned her, of course.”

“You’ll have to take that up with the Captain.”

Diamond nodded. “I wanted to give you what I know and stay out of the way. I’ve got a client paying me good money to try and track down those jewels. Figure I might have a chance if you catch her.” He hesitated for a moment, just enough for Friday to wonder what he was holding back. “Diamonds are like ice; they’re cold, sharp, and tend to melt away just when you get your hands on them. Takes a certain kind to go after diamonds.”

“What kind is that?”

“Cold, calculating. Every crook has a weakness. A way to catch them. But this kind? Hard to know when you’ve got it right. We’ve got a saying in the PI business. It ain’t always the heel you need to go for, sometimes it’s the elbow.”

Friday nodded, his mind already on to the nearby boarding houses and tracking down the thief. “Appreciate the help, Mr. Diamond. I’ll let the Chief know about your request.”

“If we catch her,” Romero added, tucking his notebook away.

“We’ll catch her,” Friday amended and gave Romero a nod. It was time to hit the pavement again. They had a lead and he wasn’t about to let one robbery turn into more.

***

It was the second boarding house that the landlady thought she recognized Diamond’s description. There was a petite young woman, new in town, with a job as a stenographer. The landlady couldn’t say much about the woman’s physical appearance; she’d always worn a hat or scarf. And she couldn’t say whether or not the young woman had been in her room the night when the robbery took place.

“The girls have their privacy. I don’t run this place like a prison, detectives.” Maude Perlmann gave them a stern look. “Miss Tess has gone out. Would you like to wait? What do you want to talk to her for anyway?”

“No, ma’am. Nothing serious. She might be a material witness, that’s all,” Friday said smoothly. “Does she keep a regular schedule? We can come back when you expect her.”

“Nine to five, same as most girls here. She usually eats meals at that little place around the corner. Italian place. A lot of the girls do. It’s close and the prices are reasonable.”

“We know the place.” Friday nodded and took a step back. “We’d appreciate if you didn’t mention we were asking about her to Miss Tess. Just in case we don’t need her testimony. We’d hate to cause heartache over a little thing.” Maude didn’t look convinced but she agreed and said her goodbyes before closing the door on them.

They headed down the sidewalk, turning left in the direction the landlady had indicated. There was something about this whole business that still nagged at Friday and kept him turning it over in his head. Coming all the way from New York City seemed a lot to track down a few pieces of stolen jewelry. Then again, a lot of money had disappeared with those stones and he could imagine the former owners would be anxious to get it back. Still, if Diamond had a solid lead on the identity of the thief, why not contact the NYPD? Why come to Los Angeles himself?

The Italian restaurant was a small, family place. It was clean and neat, with red and white checkered tablecloths over the tables and fresh daisies in miniature vases at the centers. The morning crowd had tapered off but the place was comfortably full and noisy. Enough people that they couldn’t stand in the doorway and get a good look around without standing out.

“You boys want a table?” a young woman in a simple waitress uniform asked.

“If you got one,” Friday answered. They followed her to one of the small tables along the back wall and took a seat. An order for two cups of coffee later, they could look around the place without drawing attention.

A few women in the restaurant could’ve fit the description. It was vague enough to cast a wide net. Petite, hair that might’ve been blond wrapped in a scarf or tucked into a hat, dressed in the smart tailored suit of a young working woman. A couple of them wore a piece or two of understated jewelry. Not that he’d expected the thief to advertise by wearing the stolen merchandise in public.

“What do you think, Joe?” Romero was eying the clock on the wall. It was past nine a.m.

“She’s probably not here, but we’ll ask around. A place like this, the waitresses know the regulars. One of them might be able to give us information. If our Tess Ivory really does have a paying job, might be able to get a name of the place.” He waited for the waitress to come with their coffee and asked her about their suspect and showing their badges.

“Tess? Oh sure. Quiet girl, neat as a pin.” The waitress shifted on her feet, pushing one hip out to balance the weight of the nearly full coffee pot in her hand. It seemed particularly large when she was holding it; even with the added height from the heels of her shoes, she was barely taller than the patrons seated behind her. “She comes in for breakfast and dinner near every day. Is she in trouble, detective?”

“Just need to ask her a few questions. Do you know where she works?”

“She does temp work for some of the offices around here. She’s always pouring over the classifieds though, like she’s looking for work.” She frowned, as though that had made her consider something new and unpleasant. “And you’re sure that she’s not in any trouble?”

“Any reason you think she might be?”

“Well…” her voice trailed off and she glanced around. “There’s a man came in here asking after her. A couple days ago. I saw them sitting at a table together once and, well, she looked right terrified of him to me.”

“You get a name? Of the man.”

“No, sir. But he said he was some sort of private eye. Tall, light brown hair. Blue eyes. I remember his eyes because they were so blue, like the sky.” She shuddered and pulled the coffee pot a little closer, as if for warmth. “Haven’t seen her around since then. Thought maybe he’d scared her away from the place. Poor girl.” With a shake of her head and a sad tsk, she moved away to refill coffee mugs at the nearby tables.
Friday waited until she was out of earshot. “Diamond?”

“Must’ve been. Think he’d already found out where she lived?”

“Jewelry store’s not too far from here, might’ve just been asking around.” Friday frowned. “Waitress said he asked for her by name though. If he knew what name she was using here, why didn’t he tell us?”

“Maybe he thought he scared her off, like the waitress said. Could’ve figured she’d change her name after that. She sounds the cautious type.”

“You would be too if you were a jewel thief wanted in at least two states.” Friday drummed his fingers on the wooden table a few times before picking up his coffee. “Something isn’t right about this case, Ben.”

It didn’t fit with Diamond’s description for her to be afraid of him. According to Diamond, she was cold and calculating. A criminal good enough to get away with this kind of job wouldn’t be ruffled by a private detective. But it could be that Diamond had tipped her off and sent her running. That might have prevented her from robbing another store, but it would make her harder to find.

“Ms. Perlmann said she’s still living at the boarding house.”

“So she probably thinks Diamond hasn’t tracked her that far yet.” He sipped at the bitter liquid. “Could be she just changed where she eats, trying to throw him off. We’ll try the nearby restaurants; see if we can find someone who’s seen her in the last couple of days.”

The waitress came back, asking if they needed a refill. When they turned her down, she smiled and left them the check for the coffees. “I sure hope Tess isn’t in any trouble, detectives.”

“If you see her again, you let us know.” Romero jotted down the station phone number on a napkin and handed it to her. “It’s important that we talk to her as soon as possible.”

“Will do.” She gave them a bright smile before disappearing back into the crowd. “Don’t be strangers.”

***

By the time the sun had started to dip down toward the ocean, their feet hurt from walking and Friday had lost track of the names of the restaurants they’d been in. Not one had a waitress, server, or busboy who knew anyone by the name of Tess Ivory and the description was vague enough that it could’ve been any number of the young women who came in to eat every day. The growing hope Friday had felt at having a new angle on the case had dimmed and he couldn’t help but wondering why Diamond had neglected to mention that he’d cornered Tess in the diner earlier that week.

They trudged back to the station house to fill out their daily report and go over any information that had come in while they were out on the streets. No sooner had they peeled off their coats and settled in to their wooden desk chairs, than Chief Backstrand’s door opened.

“Friday, Romero. My office,” he shouted brusquely.

Friday exchanged a look with Romero before pushing back onto his feet and starting toward the office. The Chief waited for them to close the door before speaking.

“I just got a call from a woman, said she’d talked to you this morning about someone you were looking for.”

“Yes, sir. Potential suspect on the jewelry store job. We have reason to believe it’s a woman operating under an assumed city,” Friday answered.

“And you think the information is solid?”

“Came from a private detective from New York. He was hired to try and get jewels back from previous robberies.”

Chief Backstrand nodded. “The woman said she’d seen the suspect again. I want you to follow up on this right away. Get this woman off the streets and close this case.”

Friday nodded. He followed Romero out of the office, his feet still aching from the walking they’d done that day. The last thing he wanted was to keep walking out the door and head back to the Italian place around the corner from Ms. Perlmann’s. They didn’t speak as they pulled their coats back on and headed out again.

The Italian place was busy with the dinner rush and Friday’s stomach growled at the smell of the rich sauces drenching the pasta. They didn’t see the waitress right away but finally caught sight of her, barely tall enough to be visible in the crowd, and she motioned for them to wait outside.

A cold wind had picked up with the fading light. Friday pulled his coat tighter around him as they moved to the side of the front door and waited. It was several more minutes before the waitress came out of the place, wringing her apron in her hands. Her forehead was lined, a worried expression on her face.

“Did you find out anything more about Tess?”

“No, ma’am. Hoping you can help us.”

“She came in. For dinner. It was busy so I didn’t get to say much to her.” She bit at her lower lip. “I didn’t say you were looking for her but I asked why she hadn’t been in. And I asked about that man who was asking after her. Oh, I don’t know if I should even be telling you what she said.”

Friday mentally reprimanded himself for not telling her to say nothing at all if she saw Tess Ivory again. “We just want the facts, ma’am.”

“She burst into tears right then and there, detectives. Said this man had followed her from New York and she was scared he was going to hurt her.” The waitress lowered her voice, waving them further away from the front door. “Back in New York, she said she’d worked at a jewelry store. Sales, nothing special. There was a robbery and this private detective suspected her. The police questioned her and let her go, said she wasn’t a suspect. But it didn’t matter that she was innocent, she lost her job and no one in New York would hire her, see? Everywhere she tried to get a new job, that detective would come snooping around and suddenly, there wasn’t an opening. So she came out here. She’s got an aunt who lives just outside town who offered to help her find a place in the city and a job.”

“And now that detective followed her here.” Friday kept his voice even, trying to juggle the conflicting stories and sort them out into the truth.

“She said she was terrified to go home, but didn’t want to go to her Aunt. On account that he might follow here there too.” She shook her head sadly and let out a heavy sigh. “Doesn’t seem right that she should be followed around like that for something she didn’t do.”

“Don’t worry, ma’am, we’ll get to the bottom of this. Thank you for calling.”

After the waitress returned to the restaurant, Friday and Romero headed for Ms. Perlmann’s boarding house. It was late and Maude was none too happy to see them standing on her doorstep once again.

“Yes, Tess is in for the night. She’s the third door on the right, second floor. Don’t you go waking up my girls!” She looked ready to follow them, peering over their shoulders, but stayed at the bottom of the stairs.

They didn’t meet anyone on the stairs or in the hallway. There was no answer when Friday knocked on the third door. He waited, listening intently, but heard nothing behind the wood. On a hunch, he grasped the doorknob. It turned easily and the door swung inward several inches. It was dark in the room.

“Miss Ivory? It’s the police,” he called into the darkness. Sliding his hand along the wall, he found the light switch and flipped it up.

The room had been torn apart. Clothes lay scattered over the floor and furniture. The bed had been turned up on its side, the covers strewn over the dislodged mattress. Drawers in the dresser were pulled out and their contents emptied onto the floor. Cautiously, Friday and Romero stepped into the room.

“What do you think happened here?” Romero asked softly.

“Someone looking for those diamonds.”

“Diamond?”

“He’s at the top of my list.” Friday stopped, looking down at the mess around his feet. “If Tess did come back here tonight, she’s gone now. We’ve lost her.”

Mollifying Ms. Perlmann was no small matter. Once she got a look at what had happened to the room, she all but called down the curses of heaven on whoever had done it and the detectives themselves. It was after ten o’clock before they managed to get out of the boarding house and return to the station.

They found Chief Backstrand waiting for them and it definitely looked like it was going to be another long night. Richard Diamond was waiting for them in the Chief’s office.

“Have you found her?” he asked.

“No. And no thanks to you,” Friday answered tersely. “Was it you who redecorated her room as Ms. Perlmann’s tonight? She’s long gone now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Romero and I tracked her to a boarding house. She was a regular at a diner around the corner and one of the waitresses remembers you coming in a few days back. Says you chased Miss Ivory from New York for nothing. That the NYPD cleared her of the robberies in New York.”

“That’s impossible!” Diamond seemed genuinely shocked. “I only arrived in Los Angeles yesterday evening.” He reached into his suit coat pocket and pulled out his airline ticket. “Here. See for yourself.”

The room got quiet. Chief Backstrand reached out and took the ticket, looking it over carefully. “Ticket confirms his story, Joe.”

“But the waitress,” Romero began.

Friday stopped him, a terrible thought dawning on him. “Chief, we need to get back to that restaurant. Right now. Diamond, you’re coming with us.”

They hurried from the station, all thoughts of sore feet forgotten, and used the sirens and the lights on their way back to the little Italian diner. Pulling up to the curb, Friday was out of the squad car almost before it came to a complete stop.

The restaurant was still busy with the dinner crowd. He scanned the crowd, searching for any sign of the waitress they’d spoken with before. When he found none, he pulled aside the next waitress he saw and asked about the girl who’d been working the day shift that day. An older woman, with graying hair and lines around her eyes, she seemed uncertain about whether or not to answer.

“Today was her last day. She had to go home, back East. To care for a sick grandmother,” the woman answered reluctantly. “It’s too bad, too, she was one of my best girls.”

“What was her name?”

The waitress frowned. “Tess. Tess Ivory.”

***

Late that night, back at the station, Friday and Romero sat at their desk and finished their report on the jewelry store robbery. They’d put out an APB on Tess Ivory and alerted the airport and train stations. If she tried to get out of the city, there was a good chance they’d find her.

Then again, she’d already proven more than of capable of staying several steps ahead of them.

“Guess we got suckered then,” Romero said gloomily.

Friday nodded. It wasn’t the first time that a criminal had gotten away, but it was one of the only times that it felt as though he’d been played a sucker. Tess Ivory had spun a yarn about a terrified girl to cast suspicion on Diamond and throw them off track. No doubt she had torn apart her own room at the boarding house, destroying any evidence and removing the jewels at the same time. If he’d paid more attention, he would’ve noticed that their helpful waitress also fit the description. He hadn’t thought to ask how long she’d worked at the diner. He’d been too busy looking for a jewel thief to see what was in front of him. To busy expecting their suspect to behave like every other jewel thief.

Diamond said there was a saying in the PI business. What had he called it? Achilles’ elbow.
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