Joe Devlin had inherited the Transcontinental Detective Institute, a correspondence school, from an uncle he didn’t get along with upon the man’s death in an automobile accident. He arrives In Chicago to take control of it and finds that it’s really little more than a con job. The course consists of a tin badge, cheap handcuffs, a certificate ascertaining graduation, and a small booklet of lessons. The secretary says all that costs seventeen cents(1942 money) and the buyer pays twelve-fifty. After newspaper advertising costs, the school clears about eight dollars a sucker.
Old uncle had lived well though, a fancy apartment full of expensive suits and shoes, the shoes too small, the suits too big, and was a skirt chaser. The rent on the apartment was past due. The advertisers wanted their money. Because of the uncle’s death, they’d carried a month’s advertising without pay. Now they wanted that and the next month in advance, as Joe wasn’t a known commodity like his uncle.
So when the well dressed gentleman barges into the office and wants to hire Devlin to find a canary yellow camels hair overcoat stolen from him, it sounds screwy, but he’s paying well. The man admits the coat is cheap, but he’s willing to pay four hundred to get it back, “the principal of the thing.” The Institute had been recommended by the police chief of his home town, a graduate.
Joe immediately gets hold of the detective who’d written the booklet and hires him to help. After all, Joe doesn’t know Chicago. The man is unreliable though, being one who can’t pass a saloon without stopping in. Shortly, Joe gets another surprise. The cop friend drops in and wants him to find his best friend, the first client, who’s disappeared, and is offering a nice piece of change for that job.
The search led from a swanky hotel to a loop flophouse, from clothing stores to a mining town gambling den. Going to visit the first client, Joe walks into something strange. A man he’d never seen throws something at him and his head explodes. Coming to, he finds himself lying beside a dead body, a chunk of iron ore lying between them. He grabs the rock and runs.
The dead man turns out to be the coat thief.
Things get worse after that. Another body turns up, a man hired by Joe to keep his first detective on the straight and narrow, shot in the back.
It had become obvious that there was more to it than a cheap yellow overcoat. But what? Two lives and the cops are interested in Joe for both, even though there’s not enough evidence to arrest him yet. But they are digging.
A nice little mystery by the pulp and television author.
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