This spoof is set during the third season, between "The New Actor" and "Happy Homecomings".
Disclaimer: The WENN characters (under any names) belong to Rupert Holmes, Howard Meltzer Productions, and that cable station whose name shall go unmentioned here. All original characters and the story itself belong to me.
Miss Betty Roberts sat in the office, listening to Mr. Rolleigh "Rollie" Pruitt (also known to those at radio station WENN as "The Satanic Santa") list his mandate for how WENN should be run. Well, half-listening. In reality, Miss Roberts' mind was elsewhere. One ear was on Pruitt, the other was on the episode of "Sam Dane, Private Eye" that was being performed in Studio A at that moment.
"...Oh, I have lots of plans for WENN, Miss Roberts," Pruitt claimed happily. "First thing we need to do is cut the budget. No more silly, frivolous, money-losing schemes like that disastrous all-news day and Miss Booth's botched attempt at a gossip show. What WENN needs is tighter control, financially and artistically..." He suddenly realized that the young writer wasn't paying the least bit of attention to his orders, and that annoyed him. In Boston, everyone listened to his orders, or else. "Miss Roberts, have you even noticed my lips moving?" He spoke louder. "Miss Roberts!"
Betty finally noticed him. "Oh," she muttered, "sorry, Mr. Pruitt. I was just monitoring the broadcast." She looked up at the irritated financier. "Where were we?"
Pruitt gritted his teeth. Why, oh why did his regular secretary Pricilla Cosgrave have to come down with a fever? At least she paid attention to what he was saying! Not to mention the fact that she always agreed with him about everything. "I was just saying, Miss Roberts, that WENN needs tighter control, both financially and artistically. Disasters like the recently-canceled late-night program..."
"The 'Agitato Alert'," Betty reminded him.
Pruitt went on as if she hadn't spoken "...and the frauds perpetuated on your musical show and your wedding show..."
Betty sighed. "'A Night on the Town' and 'Bridal Bouquet'," she corrected.
"...Have led me to go over the budget for this station. I'm going to say that there will be no more financing for ridiculous ideas as of right now." Pruitt smirked. "I, of course, advised Gloria Redmond to write this station off as a tax deduction last Christmas. She refused to hear of it after that bit of sentimentalism the old man read her."
"Mr. Eldridge," Betty told him. "He read that 'bit of sentimentalism' to me later and I found it to be quite moving."
He ignored her admonishment. "Actually, I advised Benjamin Redmond not to buy this station in the first place. I said right away that it was a waste of money and would be gone in a few years, if not a few minutes. He insisted on having a place that he and his wife could call home, in an artistic sense."
"Some people enjoy having homes away from home, Mr. Pruitt," Betty icily said. "It makes them secure to know that there's something they can always rely on to be there for them through thick and thin." She heard Hilary squawk and march down the hallway. "I'm sorry, Mr. Pruitt, but we seem to be having some technical difficulty. Please excuse me."
Pruitt narrowed his eyes as Betty hurriedly exited his office. He wasn't quite certain that she knew nothing about his real reason for coming back to WENN. Most of the others had no idea of what his plans for the station were. She was an intelligent girl. There was also that meddling Scott Sherwood to contend with. Sherwood was clever enough to catch on to his true intentions. Both would have to be heavily watched.
Betty met an angry Hilary in the hallway. "Betty, could you please tell Scott that he's merely filling in for my Jeff, not changing his roles? First he plays fast and loose with my starring soap operas, then he reads the wrong lines for 'Sam Dane' - on purpose!"
Betty calmed Hilary down. "Hilary, go back into the studio. I'll talk to Scott while you and Mackie do Julius Cesar for 'Pittsburgh Public Library Theater'. I'll even watch the broadcast to make sure that he doesn't try to cause trouble again."
Hilary brightened. "Thank you, dear." She then frowned. "But if he tries to do something funny one more time, the Professor won't be the only one who'll see that he's stuffed in cement shoes and sent to the bottom of the Monogehela! Or have I said too much?" She sashayed into Studio much to the surprise and delight of her fellow cast members. Betty joined C. J in the control room.
She watched carefully to make sure that Scott didn't annoy Hilary. "Sam Dane" was one of the shows that she co-created with the not-very-late Victor Comstock, and it remained one of her favorites. She loved to imagine what it would be like to work in dark alleys and capture criminals and kiss con men whom...
Betty tried to shove the last image out of her head. Scott Sherwood was one of the reasons WENN was in the spot that it was. His crazy ideas did cost the station money, but, despite what Pruitt wanted to believe, not all of them were bombs. The "Agitato Alert" was profitable for a time. Mr. Acton's two new crime shows were wildly popular with young men and their fathers, while "Calico Jones, Detective" had a growing fan base of women who admired the smart, sassy, mystery-solving feline. Hilary was, despite her complaints, growing rather fond of Calico herself. Playing a cat at least gave her a chance to hiss at Scott, who portrayed Calico's tomcat sweetheart.
Betty closed her eyes and listened intensely to her own words. I almost wish I were a detective. Then I could get the goods on Pruitt and get him out of WENN, or at least as far away from it as possible. Scott once said he was a detective. Maybe he could help me...
They call me Jones. Miss Betty Jones. You can just call me Betty, the first half of the Jones and Dane Detective Agency. When a semi-famous stage star came to my partner and I to ask for help in finding her missing husband, I thought it would be just a case of persuading an erring spouse to run home to his wife. Little did we know that the case would change our lives.
I was doing paperwork at my desk when...
"Miss Jones, there's a woman here to speak to you."
I frowned at my secretary. "Gertie, you're not supposed to interrupt my narrative!"
Gertie moved back. "Oops, sorry, Miss Jones." She swatted the fog out of her face. "What's with all the smoke? If we get any more smoke in here, the radio store next door may end up calling the fire department." She stared at me. "You and Mr. Dane said that you didn't smoke."
"We don't. The smoke is for atmosphere."
The befuddled secretary gazed around the office I shared with my partner, Scott Dane. "And why is everything suddenly in black-and-white? I thought this was a color program!"
I shrugged. "It's for a reverse-Wizard of Oz effect. Most mysteries and suspense thrillers are more effective in black-and-white."
"Oh, well, there's a woman in your lobby, Miss Jones. She says that she needs to see you urgently. Calls it life or death."
I raised my eyebrows. "Send her in, Miss Reece."
She was a tall, cool brunette whose dress and hat alone would cost my entire month's salary. The rock on her finger was the size of the German Army and the money from hocking it probably could have fed them for nearly a year. I vaguely recognized her as being a stage personality, but nothing more.
The woman gave me a strange look. "What was that about rocks?"
"Uh, nothing." Darn, how do people keep hearing my voice over? This never happens to James Cagney or George Raft.
She went on. "I'm Miss Hilary Booth, of course." She held out her hand and I firmly shook it. This seemed to take her aback a bit. She must have been expecting me to fall to my knees at her feet. "I'm here to speak to Mr. Jones or Mr. Dane about a most important case."
"My name is Miss Betty Jones," I said, emphasizing the miss. "My partner, Mr. Scott Dane, is out at the moment, searching for a bird of some kind."
"He gave me some crazy story about a fat man and Malta and some little gunman. He'll probably get tired of playing Bogart in about an hour or so, if he isn't arrested."
"Never mind about birds. Miss Jones, I need your assistance!" Miss Booth exclaimed melodramatically. "My husband Jeffery Singer has vanished into thin air. If you don't find him, we'll be ruined!"
I frowned. "Start at the beginning, Mrs. Singer."
"It's MISS Booth," she snapped. "We were approached by a wonderful new writer with a fabulous new drama...er, comedy...er, well, dramady, 'The Bell of Babylon' that was written especially for us. You might remember us from 'Razzle Dazzle', our lovely version of 'Romeo and Juliet', and of course, my work in 'The Rivals' that made me the toast of Broadway..."
I had no desire to hear Mrs...uh, Miss Booth's resume at that moment. "You were saying, Miss Booth?"
"Oh, yes, well, Jeffrey was supposed to arrive at the Rialto Theater here in Pittsburgh at noon for our first rehearsal. He never appeared there, and no one has seen him since. He hasn't been at home or at O'Malley's Bar in two weeks."
I frowned. "Have you reported this to the police?"
"Yes, and they're doing everything they can, but they have other cases to work on." She leaned over to me. "I want you to find him. Here's the most recent picture I have of him. I think he's either off with another woman, which wouldn't surprise me, or someone has kidnapped or," her voice broke a little, "killed him."
I took the photo from her. The man in the shot was young, much closer to my age than Miss Booth's. He was tall and handsome, with an arrogant expression in his face and manner. He and Miss Booth would be perfect for each other. I sighed. "Miss Booth, I'll take your case..."
Miss Booth was thrilled. "Thank you, Miss Jones! I'll pay for all expenses. All I want is my Jeffrey back before 'The Bell of Babylon' opens. The curtain goes up in two weeks and his understudy couldn't act his way out of a Vitaphone short, much less a play script!"
I sighed. "We'll see what we can do, Miss Booth."
She nodded. "Please do!"
She was getting up to leave just as my partner, Scott Dane, scrambled into the office. I indicated the large, black-haired man in the trenchcoat and fedora. "Miss Booth, this is my partner, Mr. Scott Dane."
Scott became my partner when my original associate, Victor Comstock, moved to London and died in the Blitz. The handsome lug was a former con artist who only became a private eye because he claimed to have run out of other businesses to join. He's a liar, a schemer, and not a favorite with the local cops. He gets us into jams and I get us out of jams. Still, he's a brilliant businessman, can de-code almost any message thrown at him, and isn't exactly hard on the eyes. He also wasn't very happy. "Darn bird," he muttered. "Shoulda know it wasn't the real thing."
I waved my hand at Miss Booth, ignoring Scott's complaints about his botched last case. "Scotty, meet our new client, Miss Hilary Booth."
Hilary held out her hand to Scott, who shook it firmly. She gave him a funny look. "Hi there, Miss…"
"Booth, Hilary Booth, of course."
"Oh, sure, Hildy." Miss Booth fumed and Scott turned to me. "So, what's new? Any cases?"
"Mr. Dane, I came to your detective agency to ask you to find my missing husband," Miss Booth snapped. "I can take my case elsewhere..."
That got Scott's attention. He joined me at my desk. "So, Miss Boot..."
"Where was your husband last seen?"
She closed her eyes. "We spent time at the Green Room Bar and Lounge together the night before he disappeared. He left early, claiming he had an appointment in the morning before our rehearsal. That was the last anyone ever saw of him." She arched her barely existing eyebrows. "I called all his usual girlfriends and they claimed to not have seen him, either."
Scott looked at his watch. "Oh, would you look at the time?" I rolled my eyes at Scott's ubiquitous trademark catchphrase. "Miss Booth, Miss Jones and I have a very important call coming through..." Scott grabbed the phone and barked a greeting into it. Miss Booth took the hint and left with the same flourish and trail of bittersweet perfume she'd entered with.
"All right, Scott Dame, what's going on in that busy little brain of yours? If it's anywhere near illegal, don't even bother saying it."
"Betty," he said with a grin, "I know the bartender at the Green Room and Lounge intimately, and one of my best friends has a torch act there. It'll be a good place to start."
The Green Room Bar and Lounge was a steamy joint in the heart of the city. The heat was so intense that I could have cut it with a knife and served it with cream and sugar. A small blond man mixed drinks at the bar, while a redheaded woman poured out dirges of heartache and love on stage. The atmospheric smoke from our office seemed to have followed us to the bar. It was pea soup thick and hard to see through. Scott led me past several appraising and very drunk men to a cracked leather-topped bar.
"I'll have the usual, CJ," Scott told the bartender. "What about you, Betty?"
"I'll have a root beer, light on the beer." CJ went to retrieve our orders. The dame was singing something slightly more upbeat now. A short, slender drummer and a plump, kind-looking blond woman accompanied her.
CJ came back with our drinks and Scott took a gulp. "Hey, CJ," he said after he finished the gold-colored liquid, "do you remember a fellow who came in here a few weeks ago? Tall, brown curly hair, liked to tell everyone what productions he's appeared in?"
"You mean Jeff Singer?" CJ nodded. "He used to hang out here. He was talking to some woman the last time I saw him. He came here with his wife, but she left early. The woman joined him after she took off."
"What kind of a woman?" I asked, sipping my root beer.
"Tall, blond, with sloping, foreign eyes. She sounded like she was reciting dialogue from a Marlene Dietrich movie. She was young, about 25 or 30 or so, and had a German or Eastern European accent, you know?" Scott nodded. CJ leaned over to us and whispered "Confidentially, they looked like they were discussing love - her hands were all over him - but his face was dead white, even though his voice was normal. I thought she was going to drag him off to be shot or something."
CJ left to attend to some customers at the other end of the bar and Scott turned to me. Scott jutted a finger at CJ and grinned. "He'd make a good cop." He gulped more of the gold drink. "I wonder what that was about? From what I gathered from Hildy, Jeff Singer isn't the type of guy who would mind chatting with a pretty lady or two."
I shrugged. "She might have been trying to get him to do something that he didn't want to do."
"Why would Singer cover it up and try to act like nothing's wrong, then?" Scott countered. "No, Betty, there's something going on here, and it's not adultery."
"He is an adult," I pointed out. "Mrs....Miss Booth mentioned that Jeff has a history of this sort of thing."
"Yeah, but remember what CJ said. Jeff and the foreign woman only looked like they were having an affair. He was scared to death."
The redhead finished her song and rushed over to the bar. She gave Scott a big, wide hug. "Scotty! What brings you to this head of the woods?"
Scott grinned. "Mabel, this is my partner, Miss Betty Jones. Betty, this is Mabel, one of my oldest and dearest friends."
Mabel grabbed my hand and shook it so hard she almost pinched me with her long, lacquered fingernails. "Hi, there, Miss Jones. I'm Mabel. I sing the songs here with the house band."
"Mabel, we need your help with a case," I explained after shooting Scott a dirty look. This isn't the first time he's gotten one or more of his many "friends" involved with our detecting. "We were wondering if you know anything about Jeff Singer."
Mabel shrugged and called to CJ for a drink. "He was a nice guy. Cute, funny, very sweet, good taste in clothes and in dames. His wife thought I was after him, but I told her straight off that while he's terrific, he's not my type. Of course, Hilary thinks that every woman is Jeff's type."
"I actually saw Jeff Singer that afternoon, while his wife was at the theater. He was having a chat with Rollie Pruitt, that big time accountant from Boston who has more mula than Errol Flynn, though I wouldn't recommend him in the same places that I would with Errol. He makes Ebneezer Scrooge look like Eleanor Roosevelt."
I noticed a small, blonde man enter the room at that moment. A tall, blond woman with a German-like accent accompanied him. I grabbed Scott by the arm and he motioned for CJ. "Would that be the woman who Jeff Singer talked to?" Scott asked the little bartender.
CJ nodded. "That's her, all right. Accent and everything."
I indicated her partner. "Who's she with?"
"Oh, that's Kurt Holstrom," CJ told us. "He's the head of a big construction firm. Wonder what he's doing here, slumming?"
"I'm going to find out," I told Scott. There was something about Holstrom and especially about the woman that I didn't like. Holstrom wore an expensive tux and the dame writhed around in a tight gown that showed off a body that had more curves than the Allegheny and the Mongehela put together. The three of us sat down at Kurt Holstrom's table. Her slanted eyes gave her an Asian look and her perfect long tresses brought Betty Grable to mind.
"Hello, Miss...." Holstrom's hearty voice somehow rang false in my ears.
"Jones," I told him coolly. "Betty Jones. This is my partner, Scott Dane, and the singer at this establishment, Miss Mabel."
The exotic blond looked very interested in Scott, but he paid no attention to her. "Actually, Holstrom, we'd like a word with your lovely companion. She seems to have been the last person to speak to a Mr. Jeff Singer. Singer vanished two weeks ago and his wife wants him to come home."
"Why don't you go peek in doors and take pictures, like most good little private eyes?" Holstrom complained. "Miss Pavlia Nellicova is my newest discovery. She's set to take the Pittsburgh stage and radio world by storm."
"I do not know who you are talking of, Miss Jones," Pavlia claimed. "I never heard of your Mr. Singer. I just came here a few weeks ago from London."
"Mr. Holstrom," I said, "we have witnesses who claimed to see Miss Nellicova speaking quite, um, forcefully, to Mr. Singer two weeks ago."
Pavlia laughed. "That is very funny. I was with the man who brought me here two weeks ago."
Mabel nodded at the stage. "I have to get back up there and finish my act." She shook Holstrom's hand but refused to take Pavlia's. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Holstrom." She glared at Pavlia and whispered to me "I know that dame is the biggest darn liar since Scotty went straight. You can't trust her any more than you'd trust a cola."
I think Mabel meant a cobra, but I got the gist. Pavlia ignored Mabel turned all her girlish charms on Scott. He seemed to enjoy her fawning. I clenched my teeth and turned to Holstrom to question him. "Do you know a Mr. Jeff Singer or a Miss Hilary Booth, Mr. Holstrom?"
"Call me Kurt, Miss Jones. No, I don't know them, but I saw Miss Booth three times in 'The Rivals'. She was excellent. Of course, she was also a lot younger then."
"I wouldn't tell her that unless you really like having black eyes," I reminded him. "She gives them out in lovely shades of heliotrope."
"Heliotrope?" Kurt asked. "What is heaven's name is heliotrope?" I felt Kurt's breath tickle my neck as he leaned over me and whispered in my ear. "I wouldn't pursue the Singer case if I were you, Miss Jones." I gulped when I felt his huge hand roughly grab my arm and squeeze it so hard I though I'd hear a few important bones crack. "It may be hazardous to your health, and my boss and I wouldn't want a pretty lady like you to suddenly have a terrible mishap, like, say, taking a sudden swim in the Mongehela in cement shoes." He pressed my arm even harder. I choked back a squeal. "Or maybe you'd like to see my boss harm your precious partner. You and Mr. Dane make a handsome couple. It would be a shame if he suddenly disappeared because his woman couldn't keep her trap shut."
"Don't think you're warning me or Scott off this case, buster," I muttered back. Scott had a funny look on his face and I thought I saw something silver and sharp in Pavlia's hand.
Holstrom stood and said in a louder, happier voice, "Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Jones, but I'm afraid that this club is rather dull. Don't you agree, Miss Nellicova?"
Pavlia nodded and stood. "This is not a fun place." She sidled up to Kurt. "I would like to go to somewhere fun. Maybe the boss knows of a fun place."
I stood and Holstrom pressed so close to me that I could smell his five-dollar after-shave. "Remember what I said, Miss Jones. Drop the case, or you and Mr. Dane will be the ones who end up dead."
"Ooh, I'm scared," I said mockingly, "I'm shaking." I gave him a rotten look. "Tell your boss that you can't get rid of us that easily. Either of us."
He let me go and the two of them sashayed out of the club and into what was probably Holstrom's private limo. I turned to Scott. "Did she threaten you, too?"
"She held a knife on me and basically said that she'd hurt me and kill you if we kept looking for Jeff Singer," Scott admitted.
"You wanna give up?" I asked.
"Of course not."
Scott grinned and put his arm around my shoulder. "Bettybettybetty, how's many words can you type in a minute?"
I frowned. I'm always on my guard when he calls me that. "Oh, so many kinds. Why?"
"Betty, dear, have you ever thought of working for the richest banker in town?"
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