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A. A. Fair
Up For Grabs
Cast of characters
ELSIE BRAND — A mouse who can keep her trap shut
DONALD LAM — When he’s in the saddle, the women feel he’s irresistible, but the men know he earns his beans and bacon
BERTHA COOL — A female bulldozing detective who wakes up when it come to the pinch
HOMER BRECKINRIDGE — The distinguished president of an insurance company who didn’t provide complete coverage for his sexy swim partner — so he gets in over his head
BUCK KRAMER — With this dude-rancher, a horse never gets its head, and all the women lose theirs
DOLORES FERROS — An obliging hostess who will toss off a stirrup cup with any rider
FAITH CALLISON — This painter’s films were more pornographic than artistic, but they pay off
MELITA DOON — A body-snatching nurse whose creed was: “If you can’t heal ’em, steal ’em!”
HELMANN BRUNO — He stuck his neck out to collect on a whiplash injury, but did a rope dance due to the backlash
FOLEY CHESTER — Foley’s folly was playing it double or nothing, and it burns his wife up
SGT. FRANK SELLERS — He draws his own conclusions more than his gun and often frames his handiwork
MARTY LASSEN — TV repairman who could service boob-tube breakdowns, but not his fiancée’s crackup
JOSEPHINE EDGAR — Her gay deceivers were authentic, but her identity was false
ALEXIS BOTT MELVIN — A sharp attorney who believed
Elsie Brand, my secretary, jumped up from her chair as I opened the door.
“Donald,” she said, “Bertha’s having kittens!”
“She’s really running a temperature this time.”
“What’s the trouble?”
“A new contact. The man is a big executive and won’t wait. They have to talk with you.”
“Give her a ring,” I said. “Tell her I’m here.”
“No, no, you’re to go in just as soon as you come. She’s given me instructions.”
“Who is this executive? Do you know?”
“He’s very distinguished looking,” she said. “Looks like a banker or a very rich broker.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll go take a look.”
I walked out of my office, crossed the main reception room to the door which said: B. COOL — PRIVATE.
The “B” stood for Bertha, and Bertha stood for 165 pounds of belligerency, diamond-hard eyes, a figure that had sagged into a cylinder, bulldog jaw, and a face that ran somewhat to jowls unless she held her chin up and sucked her cheeks in, which she did whenever she wanted to look really impressive.
Bertha Cool’s eyes glittered at me. “Well, it’s about time you got here! Where have you been?”
“Working on a case,” I said.
“Shake hands with Mr. Breckinridge,” she said. “He’s been waiting nearly twenty minutes.”
“How are you, Mr. Breckinridge?” I said.
The guy stood up. He was tall, slim-waisted, grizzled, forty-five or so, with a close-cropped gray mustache and quizzical gray eyes. He was a little over six feet, which put him a good six inches above me, and from the tan on his face, running uniformly up his forehead, it was a cinch he was a golf addict.
Bertha said, “Mr. Breckinridge is the head of the All Purpose Insurance Company. He’s looking for a private detective who can do a highly specialized job. He thinks you are the man for the job.”
Breckinridge smiled a toothy flash of instant cordiality. “I had a pretty good lead on you before I came over here, Lam. I’ve looked you up rather carefully.”
I didn’t say anything.
Bertha Cool’s chair creaked under her weight. She said to Breckinridge, “You want to tell him or shall I?”
“I’ll tell him,” Breckinridge said.
“Okay,” Bertha said in a voice which indicated she thought she could do it better but was yielding to an important client as a matter of courtesy.
Breckinridge said, “Have one of my cards, Lam.”
He gave me a handsomely embossed card which showed that his first name was Homer; that he was the president and general manager of the All Purpose Insurance Company.
Breckinridge said, “We need someone who differs from the average for our work. Most clients want a private detective who is on the beefy side. We need someone who is young, alert, and accustomed to using brains instead of brawn. We have steady, lucrative work for such a man.”
“Donald’s your man,” Bertha said, the chair creaking again as she turned toward Breckinridge.
“I think so,” Breckinridge said.
“Now, wait a minute,” Bertha said, suddenly suspicious, “you aren’t trying to hire him away from the partnership?”
“No, no,” Breckinridge said, “that’s precisely why I’m here, but I am convinced we’re going to have quite a bit of work for Mr. Lam.”
“Fifty bucks a day and expenses — take all you want,” Bertha said. “Those are our rates.”
“Fair enough,” Breckinridge said. “We’ll pay sixty.”
“What’s the pitch?” I asked.
Breckinridge said, somewhat unctuously, “Standards of honesty in this country seem to be undergoing a steady deterioration, a progressive disintegration.”
No one said anything to that.
“In the insurance business,” Breckinridge went on, “we find we are dealing more and more frequently with chiselers, malingerers, people who magnify their injuries beyond all reason.
“And,” he went on, warming to his subject, “we find an increasing number of attorneys who have made a careful study of how to influence susceptible jurors so that physical pain and suffering have now been distorted out of all proportion to reality.
“Let a man have a simple backache, and an attorney stands up in front of the jurors and tells them there are twenty-four hours in a day, that there are sixty minutes in each hour, and sixty seconds in each minute, that his client is suffering agonizing pain every second of every minute of every hour.”
Bertha said dryly, “We know all the rackets up here — and have worked out procedures to cope with most of them.”
“Pardon me,” Breckinridge apologized. “I forgot for the moment that I was dealing with professionals and not amateurs.
“Very well, here’s the situation in a nutshell. We are now dealing with a man whom we are satisfied is a malingerer. He was involved in an automobile accident and, confidentially, we are going to have to admit liability. Our client has told us he was in the wrong and the evidence will so show.
“The malingerer, a man named Helmann Bruno, resides in Dallas, Texas. He claims a whiplash injury and he has sufficient knowledge to report all the symptoms that go with a whiplash injury of the cervical vertebrae.
“Now, of course, I don’t need to explain to you that this is one of the most prolific fields of malingering we have. You can’t take an X-ray of a headache. You can’t deny that, in genuine cases of whiplash injury, the pain may be severe and the injury may be deep-seated and long-lasting.