THE TRAFFIC STOPPERS CASE
After meeting the distraught father of a missing teen-aged girl, Private eye Tony Donohoo takes on the case to help a man who once shared the experience of jumping out of an airplane over France on D-Day. The daughter, Rhoda Woodleigh, was a true beauty who people would stop and gaze at as she walked by. It was up to Tony to discover where she had gone and whether or not she had been abducted.
Tony makes inquiries with multiple police departments hoping to find similar missing person cases. Most efforts are rebuffed or ignored, but gradually he discovers over two dozen girls - all knockouts - have disappeared from New Jersey or neighboring states.
Following the leads, Tony enlists the aid of his sarcastic but beautiful red-haired girlfriend - Mindy, and sends her undercover to try and discover just what was happening to these girls. With illegal wire taps, the involvement of a Mafia capo, and a growing conspiracy swirling around sex and corruption, Tony and Mindy follow the clues to solve the case. The Traffic Stoppers Case is an old-fashioned gum shoe story faithful to the period, and with a sense of authenticity that will appeal to mystery and detective fans.
Friday, July 5th
“Hey, Tony! Quit stuffing your face and get off your ass. You got a live one out front.” The speaker was my sister-in-law, Dolly. She was standing, hands on hips, in the bookcase door that connected my private office to the barroom. The bookcase door was left over from prohibition days and provided access from our real estate office into the barroom. The more people who knew about the secret door during prohibition, the more booze got sold. It was the worst kept secret in Hackensack.
I had a half-eaten burger and a bottle of Schlitz in front of me. “Tell whoever is out there that I’m on the phone to the FBI. I’ll be finished in a couple of minutes.”
“You got it, big boy,” Dolly laughed. Name a little girl Dolly and she will never see five feet three but will be shaped like a Coca Cola bottle. My brother Frankie’s wife was no exception. On the other side of the bookcase door was my private office in the back of the real estate agency. It was there I ran my private investigator business but I shared waiting room, receptionist, research materials and other stuff with the real estate agency. The bar, real estate agency and my detective business were family-owned. Frankie owned the saloon, and we each owned a third of the real estate agency. Dolly had the other third and was managing broker.
Five minutes later, I went through the door and out to the waiting room of the real estate office. A woman was sitting with her legs crossed, reading a magazine. She was about thirty and had once been pretty. When I was a kid and crossed my eyes, my mother would yell: “Don’t do that! Your face will stay that way forever!” Well, this once-pretty woman had undoubtedly walked around with this pissed off expression on her kisser for the last fifteen years and it had sucked the pretty right out of her.
“I’m Tony Donohoo. How can I help you?”
“Can we talk somewhere or do we have to do it with these real estate salesmen listening? I don’t really need an audience.”
“Come with me, please.”
After we settled into chairs in my office, I asked again how I could help her.
“I’m trying to get a divorce. My husband has been screwing some little tramp-cocktail waitress. I want you to get the goods on him so I can get rid of the loser once and for all. Do you do divorce cases or are you one of these guys who claim to be above it?”
“Yeah, I’m above it. But I do them anyway. The guys in my racket who don’t do divorce cases are mostly on relief. Now how about you tell me your name.”
“Freda Bolser. I live in River Edge. You want my address and phone number?”
I indicated it would be helpful and she gave it to me.
“How do you know he’s screwing the cocktail waitress?”
“I’ve been following him when he’s supposedly bowling. A couple of months ago, I took his keys to get something out of the trunk of his car and there was the bowling bowl I gave him for his birthday three years ago. He still hadn’t had it drilled for his fingers.”
“You know the cocktail waitress’s name and address?”
“So what do you want me for?” I knew where she was going.
“To testify on my behalf. Didn’t you ever do this before?”
“You got kids?”
“What’s your husband’s name?”
“Eddie — Edward Bolser.”
“What’s he do for a living?”
“Not much. What difference does that make to you anyway?”
“Mrs. Bolser, this works best when I ask the questions.”
“Yeah, so you say. I gotta a couple of questions myself. Like how much do you charge?”
“I’ll get to that. First tell me what he drives and what the license plate number on his car is.”
“He’s got a two-tone blue ‘54 Olds. He bought it new three years ago when he still had a good job at the coffee plant in Edgewater. He was the foreman of the night shift. The number is BS 80 T.”
“BS 80 T,” I repeated as I got up and moved to a bank of card file drawers. I thumbed through the drawer marked “B” and removed seven cards, each bearing the legend BS 80 T in the upper left hand corner. In the movies, the private eye tails somebody right into a bar. That only works if you’re never going to come in contact with the guy again. The second time the suspect looked up and saw you in a different bar or bank or gas station, he would become suspicious. The third time he’s made you. In real life, you wait outside in the parking lot. While you’re there, you write down all the other license plates in the lot on a yellow-lined pad. Add the date, time and location and turn it in to the girl in the office the next day. She makes a rubber stamp out of one of those kits with the tweezers which might read:
Fred’s Fireside Lounge
42 W Kearny Ave
Little Ferry NJ
10 PM Oct 5, 1956
She stamps out the same number of cards as license plate numbers and then writes the number in the upper left hand corner of each card and files them away alpha-numerically. When you’ve been around for a while, you put up quite a collection of cards. As an added benefit, after the subject has been to three or four locations, a search for any other license plate that appears on two or more lists will often reveal who it is the subject is meeting. That is especially true for different types of places, such as a bar and a library.
I sat back down with the seven 3 by 5 cards and wrote out a note. I excused myself and went out and handed the note to Alice, the receptionist, and returned to my office. Four of the cards were at a place called the Oasis in Englewood Cliffs. And three more were at the Fly In Motel out by Teterboro Airport.
I knew both places well. About a year ago, Dolly had a lead that the motel owner wanted to sell but she doesn’t like to deal with commercial real estate. Both Frankie and I hold broker licenses. Dolly asked me to go for the listing. While I was there, I asked the guy what his occupancy rate was. If a place has thirty rooms and his occupancy rate is sixty percent, that means that, on average, he fills eighteen rooms per night. This guy tells me his occupancy rate is 150%.
“How do you get that? 100% is as high as you can go.”
“Bullshit!” he says. “At least half of the rooms go twice every night.”
I decided to hold back the cards from the motel. “I see your husband hangs out at the Oasis. On Thursday nights, it seems.”
“How do you know that?” she asked leaning forward in her chair. For the first time I’ve made an impression on her. “That little slut he’s banging works there.”
“I have my methods in knowing things. Did you bring a picture of him?”
“Yeah, in my purse. But what about my question? How much?”
The intercom buzzed and I picked up the receiver. “You were right,” said Alice. “There’s a ‘54 two-tone blue Olds parked up the street with license number BS 80 T. Some guy is sitting at the wheel smoking a cigarette.”
“I get eight bucks an hour,” I said, turning back to Mrs. Bolser. “If I have to leave the area, it’s $75 a day. In that case I charge you an additional $20 for a hotel and meals. If I have to use my car and leave the area, it’s 5 cents a mile.”
“I suppose eight bucks an hour isn’t too bad. You’re not going to have to go anyplace so I don’t have to even know all that other crap.”
“Okay, I have a standard agreement for you to sign and it comes with a retainer of $500, non-refundable.”
“Are you crazy? You can knock this off in one night. I’ll give you a hundred bucks. That’s it.”
“Aren’t you going to want me to testify so you get the divorce?”
“What’s that, a couple of hours? 25 Bucks. That’s $125 total. Take it or leave it.”
“I’ll leave it. Nice meeting you Mrs. Bolser.”
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’ll tell you who I am. I’m a guy that doesn’t like to be set up. I’m not going into court and testify to a set-up. So here’s my advice. Invest in two round-trip plane tickets to Reno, Nevada. The two of you go out there where, unlike New Jersey, they don’t give a rat’s ass why you want a divorce. You pay your money and they give it to you. Then you don’t have to go into court and perjure yourself and neither does your husband. No charge for the advice. Oh yeah, next time you try this, don’t bring your husband with you. Good bye, Mrs. Bolser.”
“Big phony sonuvabitch!” She slammed the door so hard that some of my pewter figurines fell over on the shelf.
Under New Jersey Law, irreconcilable differences are not grounds for divorce. Her husband was screwing around all right, but if I checked out her license plate number I probably would have come up with a handful of cards as well. The two of them wanted to end it as cheaply as possible to go their separate ways, but I wasn’t going to fall for a set-up. The judge would see right through this and that’s the end of my credibility with him.
I had about half a dozen open cases. There was nothing I could do on any of them that day so I started to bring my paperwork up to date. Thirty minutes later, I was deep into preparing bills and writing reports when Alice buzzed me.
“There’s a gentleman to see you.” Gentleman was Alice-ese for ‘He looks okay to me.’
“Send him in.”
A big guy in his late thirties walked in, wearing a dark green work uniform, with two patches. One said “Towne Motors Lincoln-Mercury” and the other said “Jim.” His rolled up sleeves revealed a paratrooper wings tattoo. He wasn’t what you call a regular but I had seen him in Frankie’s saloon a couple of times.
“I’m Tony Donohoo,” I extended my hand.
“Jim Woodleigh. How are ya?” He had a shy smile and one hell of a grip.
“Did you jump on D-Day?” I asked.
“Yeah, I did. With the 82nd Airborne.”
“I was with the 101st Airborne. We probably trekked over the same God damned mud,” I said while rolling up my own sleeve to reveal the identical tattoo.
He grinned ear to ear and shook my hand again.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Woodleigh?”
“Call me Jim. Mr. Woodleigh is my dad.”
“All right, Jim. What’s the problem?” He started to speak, stopped and his face screwed up. It reminded me of something, but it was so out of place on his mug, it didn’t hit me for a few seconds. Oh, yeah, it was the expression six-year olds wore when they were holding back the tears. And then he did what they did. He broke down and sobbed openly.
When a big, tough guy who had the balls to jump into a black void over France back in June of ‘44 starts crying, you can’t just say “There, there, now.” I reached into my bottom desk drawer and took out a bottle of cognac, poured him three fingers in a scarred, decades-old water glass and shoved it across the desk. He threw it down in one swig and struggled to control himself.
“Thanks,” he said. “I feel like such a horse’s ass.”
“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
“I wasn’t planning on coming here. I was just gonna stop for a beer at the Yellow Front Saloon but saw your sign out front. My little girl is missing.”
“How old is she?”
“Seventeen. She’s not so little, really, but that’s how I think of her. She’s been gone two weeks. Two weeks yesterday.”
“Have you notified the cops?”
“Oh, yeah. The first day, when she didn’t show up for dinner.”
“And what happened?”
“Well, they’ve put out a bulletin and listed her as missing, but they think she just ran away. That didn’t happen. I know my girl. They’re just going through the motions. I gotta do something. Can you help?”
“I hope so. What’s her name?”
“You’ve got pictures, I guess?”
“Yeah, but not with me. I didn’t know I was coming here.”
“She’s about five-six and weighs maybe 130 pounds. Light brown hair. Very pretty.” He was tearing up again and struggled to control himself.
“When did you see her last?”
“Monday morning, June 20th. We saw her and my other two kids at breakfast. She was still in her pajamas when my wife and I left for work. Her best dress and high-heeled shoes are missing. I think that’s why the cops figured she ran off. But I know different. I don’t know why she got dressed up but I know it wasn’t to run away or elope or anything like that.”
“Did she have a boyfriend?”
“Yeah, lots of them. But none she was serious about. She’s a pretty girl and attracted lots of boys. But she’s a good girl and would never run off and worry her mother and me like this. I can’t figure it out, but I know what I know.”
“Okay. I’ll have to come out to your house. I want to look over her bedroom, talk to your wife and the other kids. That sort of thing.”
“Look, I don’t have a lot of money. I can scrape up about $300 right now. I can borrow more from family and maybe on my car. I can probably re-finance the house, but that will take time.”
“Let’s not worry about the money right now. But I won’t stick it up your ass. You get the special paratrooper’s discount,” I said, hoping to get a smile from him. It worked and the same shy smile reappeared. “By the way, I see you work over at Towne Motors.”
“Yeah, I’m service manager. Been there since ‘48.”
“And you said your wife works?”
“She’s a receptionist at MacDougall Insurance Agency. She went back to work a couple of years ago when our youngest got old enough to carry a latch key.”
“Suppose I come over at seven tonight? Will that give you time to tell your family I’ll be involved?”
“Seven’s good. I’ll talk to them all at dinner.” Jim wrote his address out for me, we shook hands again and he left.
At six fifty-five, I pulled up in front of a neat little Cape Cod cottage in the adjoining town of Maywood. Two Mercurys were in the driveway: a forest green ‘51 two-door and a red and white ‘53 four-door. I wrote down the license plates out of habit. The yard and shrubs were freshly manicured. The house had a recent coat of cream-colored paint with stars-and-stripes blue shutters and trim. A home-made bench in matching cream encircled an oak tree in the yard.
The woman who answered the door was instantly likable, and would be to anyone else of either sex.
“I’m Mary Woodleigh, and you must be Mr. Donohoo.”
“Tony, please. And may I call you Mary?”
She gave me a nod and a smile that could make your day, any day. She was of medium height with bright blue eyes and a short, chestnut, Mamie-Eisenhower hairdo, bangs and all.
The inside of the house matched the outside: clean and tidy. The living room was furnished in Sears-Roebuck colonial. Mary brought me into the kitchen where Jim and the other two kids were sitting at the table.
“This is our daughter, Nancy, and our son, George. Please sit down. How do you take your coffee?” Both kids gave me a smile and a nod. George, at about fifteen, was the image of Jim. Nancy was a slender girl of thirteen or so, and had the raw material to become a beautiful woman.
“Black, please and thank you.” Mary poured out a steaming mug and placed it before me.
“What can we do to help you?” asked Jim.
“I’d like to see her bedroom. I’ve also got to speak to Nancy and George to get their impressions and ideas, but let’s talk for a minute about what the police have done so far.”
“A detective named McGuirl came,” Jim said. “When he found out she was wearing her best dress and heels, we think he concluded Rhoda ran away. They’ve listed her as missing and sent out bulletins to other police departments, but as far as I can see, that’s all they’ve done.”
“And Rhoda did not run away,” Mary added and both kids nodded in agreement. “You can’t know that, but you can know that we know she didn’t run away.”
“Describe what she wore.”
“A navy-blue dress with white pleats and collar. White pumps and a matching blue and white pill-box hat,” Mary supplied.
“All right. Nancy and George, could each of you take a piece of paper and write down the names and addresses of all Rhoda’s friends, both boys and girls? But please don’t give any of them a heads up. I want to see their initial reaction when I talk to them, if possible. Okay?” Both kids agreed. “Meanwhile, Mary, could you show me Rhoda’s bedroom?”
“Rhoda and Nancy share a room,” said Mary as we climbed the stairs to the second floor. The living area on the second story of a Cape Cod cottage is about half that of the first because the ceiling is the underside of the roof, there being no attic. The slant of the ceiling limits living space. So Jim and Mary had blown out the rear roof into a full dormer across two-thirds of the second floor to accommodate a large room for the two girls and a full bath for all three kids. George’s bedroom, on the opposite side, had the original sloped ceiling.
A twin bed was at each end of the girls’ room, with typical feminine flourishes in pink and pale blue. A closet about ten feet long stretched across the front side of the house and because of the slant, the hanger rod was no more than four feet off the floor. A plywood division in the middle separated Nancy’s clothes from Rhoda’s. Magazine photos of Robert Wagner, Tab Hunter, and Pat Boone adorned the walls.
“So the only missing items are one dress and one pair of high heels? Is that about it?”
“Yes, that’s all.”
“Did you find anything suspicious that she might have left behind?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“What about makeup and toilet articles?”
“Yes, a makeup kit is also missing, but she always takes that with her. But no toilet articles that I am aware of.”
In the bathroom, I noticed three toothbrushes in the ceramic holder above the sink. One green, one blue and one red.
“What color toothbrush does Rhoda use?”
“I can’t say. I’ll call down to the kids and ask. Nancy! George! What color toothbrush is Rhoda’s?!”
“Hers is the red one!” responded Nancy from the first floor.
“Mary, I’d like to talk to each of the kids alone, if you don’t mind. It’s a nice night, so maybe I could sit on the front porch with each of them. My experience is that kids can be more forthcoming without the parents listening.”
“I don’t think they’ll be able to tell you something they haven’t told us, but I want to give you a free hand to find our baby. So does Jim.” Her eyes teared up and a couple of big drops rolled down her cheeks. “We are relying on you.”
“I can’t promise anything except that I will do my best.”
Downstairs, George and Nancy presented me with the lists of names.
“Are you going to talk to all these kids?” asked Nancy.
“Probably. Most of them, anyway. I’ll know better after I’ve talked to you and George. So let’s get started. Nancy, come out to the porch and we’ll talk.”
As soon as we were settled, I calmly said: “When we’re finished, I want you to go upstairs, get Rhoda’s diary out of its hiding place, and bring it down without your parents seeing you and put it in my car, the blue Ford on the curb.”
“She would be furious with me if I did that. And I don’t have the key,” Nancy blurted out. “Rhoda wears it around her neck.”
“Don’t worry about the key. Nancy, you want me to find your sister, don’t you?” She nodded. “I would be a poor detective if I didn’t look at her diary where there may be a clue, wouldn’t I?” Again, she nodded. “This way, after I have a chance to read it, you can put it back and no one will ever know.
But, if you don’t want to help me, I’ll understand. But then I’ll ask your dad and he and I will go up and toss the room until we find it.”
“I’ll do it if you promise never to tell her.”
“Cross my heart and hope to die. Now, about your list, is there anybody in particular that you think is more likely to know something of Rhoda’s whereabouts?”
“Her three best friends are Angie Timpanero, Ruth Bolling, and Katie Sutter.” I ticked off the three names.
“What about boys?”
“Well, there’s always a bunch of boys drooling over Rhoda. There seems to be no end to them but I put down a couple of them on the list.”
“From the family picture I saw in the living room, you two look a lot alike. So you must have a stable of boys chasing you as well.”
“You haven’t seen Rhoda.”
“Well, let’s hope I get a chance to do so. Put that diary in the car and it will be our secret.”
George’s list was shorter than Nancy’s but offered no different names.
“Have you ever noticed anyone watching Rhoda?” I asked.
“Yeah, all the time. People always watch her. She’s really good looking. Last month, she and I were waiting on the corner for a bus to go to the library. Rhoda was in shorts. The light turned green and none of the cars moved. These guys were just staring at Rhoda.”
“Do you miss her a lot?”
“We fight like cats and dogs once in a while. But 98% of the time, she’s great. A lot of kids I know have older brothers or sisters that ignore them. Rhoda isn’t like that. She always makes time for Nancy and me. If I see her at school, she leaves her friends and comes over and talks to me for a minute. She helps Nancy and me with homework if we ask. She cooks dinner when my mom is late. I do miss her. So does Nancy.
“Thank you, George. You’ll tell me if anything else comes to mind, won’t you?”
“Yeah, sure. You will find her, right?”
“I’ll do all I can, George.”
Jim and Mary were sitting at the kitchen table when I came back in the house. “ I agree with you. I don’t believe Rhoda ran away. I’m going to interview a bunch of those kids on the list and I’ll report back to you in a few days. Did you get me the pictures?”
Mary handed me an envelope with a half-dozen photographs taken within the last year. Most were small black and white photos, one was a studio-type in color of the whole family.
“You’ll get these back to me?”
“I’ll have copies made and return the originals to you in a few days. Wow, Rhoda is a beauty,” I said, looking at a picture of her in a drum majorette’s short skirt showing off a heavenly female form.
“When Jim told me in the office that Rhoda was a pretty girl, I thought he meant ‘daddy pretty’ but this girl belongs in the movies. And when Nancy fills out a little, you’ll have another one on your hands. You and Jim have some genes and real nice kids.”
“Thank you. And here is what we can give you right now.” The check was for $315. The extra fifteen bucks convinced me that no signed agreement was needed.
“Thanks. I’ll talk to you soon. Try to think positive,” I said as I left. Rhoda’s diary was on the front seat of my car. My Diary For 1957 was embossed in gold lettering on the red leather cover. A small strap with a tiny built-in lock kept it sealed. A folded up note was under the strap:
How did you know Rhoda kept a diary if you didn’t know where it was? - Nancy
Reviewer: Megha Saraf, Makeup and Beauty Treasure
Reviewer: Kirk Lucas, KLucasspot
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