Margo and the Yachting Party
by Terence Faherty
“In a past life, I must’ve been Jack the Ripper.” The speaker was Raymond Pedigo, producer of a weekly radio program, Gotham Goings On. “Or maybe the guy who shot President Garfield. It must’ve been something terrible for me to be punished like this.”
His assistant, Margo Banning, who was standing behind Pedigo in the little control booth of Studio A, was moved to pat her boss on the shoulder. She didn’t act on the impulse, having recently met the formidable Mrs. Pedigo, but she sympathized nonetheless.
As usual, Gotham Goings On, a panel discussion of New York City sports and show business and crime, was going off the rails. Mamie Gallagher, Gotham’s show business expert, had begun her last turn at the mike on a high note, describing a surprise visit to the 21 Club by Rita Hayworth, a minor movie star who was making 1941 her breakthrough year. But then Gallagher had segued into a blatant and unauthorized advertisement for a local jeweler, from whom, Margo was sure, she received a substantial kickback. Next, Sid Matthews, the usually reliable sports columnist for the Herald Tribune, had gotten the pages of his notes mixed up and had tried to give the results from Aqueduct Racetrack’s Fourth of July meeting as the score of the Yankees’ road game in Philadelphia. Flustered, he’d shuffled his papers noisily before repeating the very same mistake. To top that, Matthews had dropped his ever-present cigar. His subsequent attempt to field the Corona as it rolled across the table had started his microphone teetering and prompted Margo’s boss to speculate on reincarnation.
And the worst, she feared, was yet to come. Next up in the show’s closing segment was a radio criminologist named Philip St. Pierre. Locally famous as the amateur sleuth who had recovered the nationally famous Vanhooton diamonds, St. Pierre had been hired to comment on New York crimes, old and new. But several months back he’d suddenly announced on the air that he was going after Nazi spies in the New York area. Though the announcement—and a string of subsequent arrests—had caused a jump in Gotham’s listenership, it had also greatly increased Raymond Pedigo’s antacid consumption.
Now, as St. Pierre winked in the direction of the control room window, the producer said, “I think that pixie’s taunting me.”
Margo was certain that the wink had been for her, or at least as certain as she’d been about anything since agreeing to act as St. Pierre’s assistant spy catcher. She hadn’t told Pedigo of her second career, however, so she held her peace as the radio detective began to speak.
“Before we leave the airwaves this afternoon, I’d like to broadcast an appeal for help. A nefarious Nazi plot has come to my attention, one that threatens the neutrality and perhaps the security of our great nation.”
“Philip, darling, you don’t say. Are they cutting off our supply of kaiser rolls?”
“Far worse, Mamie. Certain German sympathizers here in our fair city have hatched a scheme to resupply the German U-boats operating off our coast. They are currently fitting out a pirate yacht that will carry both fresh and concentrated food as well as medical supplies and fuel oil to submarines waiting outside the twelve-mile limit. Not only is this a slap at President Roosevelt—”
Your cousin and sponsor, Margo thought, remembering one of St. Pierre’s wilder claims.
“—and his policy regarding the Axis powers, it threatens the flow of vital convoys to freedom-loving peoples.
“I’m calling on all concerned citizens in the greater New York area who live near the coast to be on the lookout for the pirate yacht. Her name is Spindrift, though that’s likely been changed. When last seen, she had a gray hull and white upper works and a single gray funnel with a red stripe, but she may have been repainted as well as rechristened. Two things that cannot be disguised are her length, one hundred and six feet, and her clipper bow.
“This is your big chance, Junior G-men. Scour every harbor, yacht basin, and marina and don’t overlook any lonely creek large enough to hold the Spindrift. I’m particularly interested in those portions of New Jersey and Staten Island bordering the Arthur Kill and the area of Brooklyn along Grass Hassock Channel. Don’t approach a suspicious vessel yourselves. Call this station and leave the rest to a professional.”
“A professional what?” Pedigo asked, speaking aloud the very question Margo had been asking herself.
“Sued,” Pedigo added as the announcer began the closing credits. “He’s going to get us all sued. Or maybe arrested.”
There was a tap on the control room door, and Jinx, one of the station’s receptionists, stuck in her curly head. “The FBI is here,” she said.
Jinx opened her mouth to add something. Margo was sure it would be “again.” Margo hadn’t told Pedigo of the FBI’s last visit, so she was relieved when the producer cut the receptionist off.
“That was fast service,” he said. “Somebody needs to face the music, I guess. Take care of it, Margo.”
Margo muttered the order over and over to herself on the walk to the station’s lobby. Jinx, at her elbow, interrupted the litany.
“He asked for Mr. St. Pierre too. Should I bring him?”
“Drag him by his swanlike neck.”
Margo could already see the “he” who had dispatched Jinx, an FBI agent she knew named Peter Mitchell. As usual, he reminded Margo of Henry Fonda’s slightly shorter, slightly sadder brother. His face brightened at the sight of her, however, so much so that Margo self-consciously reached up to touch her currently auburn hair.
“I’ve got bad news,” Mitchell said in greeting. “But first, I haven’t had a chance to thank you for saving my job.”
“That was his lordship’s doing,” Margo replied.
She was about to warn the G-man to beware of St. Pierre’s self-serving good deeds when Mitchell looked past her shoulder and said, “Speak of the devil.”
The spy smasher was entering the reception area, being led, not dragged, by Jinx, who immediately hurried back to her desk, well out of earshot.
Good career move, Margo thought.
St. Pierre looked ready to set out for a stroll in the park or perhaps attend a board meeting. His pinstriped double-breasted suit would have been fine for the latter and his homburg, gloves, and stick for the former. His fair and wavy hair was right for neither, in Margo’s opinion. She’d always distrusted fair-haired men, and her dealings with St. Pierre hadn’t undermined that prejudice. Nor did she like the detective’s current expression—arched eyebrows and lopsided grin—which suggested that he’d caught Margo and Mitchell in an illicit embrace.
To wipe it from his face, Margo said, “There’s bad news.”
“Right,” Mitchell said. “Very bad news, I’m afraid. . . .”
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Copyright © 2023. Margo and the Yachting Party by Terence Faherty