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ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT

BODIES FOR THE WAX FACTORY

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First published in Strange Detective Mysteries, Nov/Dec 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-10-29
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Strange Detective Mysteries, Nov/Dec 1938,
with "Bodies for the Wax Factory"



TABLE OF CONTENTS



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Two dead men sprawled at the top of a darkened stairway—and a bodiless head lay at the bottom... What was the incredible killer that Danny Deever hunted, on the fantastic night when the cold waxen figure of a gorgeous girl came to life—and Death left its footprints in its victims' bashed-in skulls?




I. — THE SKULL-CRUSHER

THE man in the derby hat nodded to the policeman, stopped, and lighted a cigarette. "This district gives you the creeps at night," he said casually.

He held the yellow flame in the cup of his hand a few seconds, giving Officer 728 a good look at his blunt-jawed, knobbed, almost brutal countenance. His high cheekbones threw shadows that hid his eyes.

"Yeah," said the patrolman. "Couple hours ago you had to battle the mobs on the sidewalks if you was going anywheres. You couldn't hear yourself think, for the noise of the trucks. Now it's only a little after eight, and if I was to drop this nightstick you'd think a blast went off."

The man in the derby sucked flame into the cigarette he held between his thin lips. He was watching the officer's expression with close attention.

"You're new on this post," he remarked. He flicked out the match, and against the glow of the street lamp at the Eighth Avenue corner, his gray-suited body bulked chunky and powerful. "This is your first night, isn't it?"

"What's that to you?" The officer's grizzled face tightened into suspicion. He'd been tipped off that a lot of phonies cruised the Twenties. The dingy silent loft buildings around here held millions of dollars worth of furs, and there were plenty of crooks who would like to tap the vaults that held them—crooks with brains, not like the dime-a-dozen flat workers in the Bronx. "What difference does it make to you?"

The man's teeth showed in a tight smile. "No difference at all," he said softly. "Except that I like to know the cops working the neighborhood." He let smoke drift out of his wide nostrils. "And I like them to know me."

"Why?" the patrolman demanded, muscles knotting across the back of his shoulders. His face, the color and texture of old leather, became bleakly expressionless. "What kind of trouble would knowing cops be liable to save you from?"

The man shrugged wide shoulders. "I'm around here all hours. Sometimes I do queer things."

Officer 728's uneasiness deepened. The quiet and gloom had been getting under his skin ever since the subway's iron mouths had swallowed the home-going crowds and the roaring traffic had spilled out of the streets. He was used to a Bronx beat where things began getting lively at this hour, instead of going hushed and dead.

"What kind of queer things?" he asked, his fingers tightening on the hard roundness of his stick.

"I couldn't tell—beforehand." The end of the man's cigarette got bright as he inhaled, and then his gloved hand took it away from his lips. "But that isn't what you want to know." There was covert amusement in his voice. "You're wondering who I am—and what."

"Yeah," the patrolman growled. "Who are you?"

"The name's Deever—Danny Deever. Don't bother to make up a crack about hanging in the morning. I've heard them all and they aren't funny any more."

"All right. You're Danny Deever. What's your game?"

"This."

The officer hadn't seen Deever's hand go to his pocket, but it was shoving a little white oblong at him. The cop took the card and held it up so the light from the corner would fall on it. He read:


DANIEL DEEVER
Investigator
FEDERAL INDEMNITY COMPANY


"Investigator?"

"Polite for shamus," Deever smiled. "I've got a private dick's license. I've got a permit to carry a gun, too, but I never do. Federal Indemnity's got something like half a billion in robbery insurance placed within ten blocks or so of here. It's my job to see not too much of it is collected. Which means keeping things from starting to happen rather than going after the lugs who've made them happen. Get it, Ed Corbin?"

The cop blinked. "You—you know me?"

"You've been on the force twenty-two years, and you've never taken more than a banana from a fruit stand. You're a widower and have two children, a son at City College and a daughter at Walton High School. You are active in the Men's Club of the Church of the Mediator on Kingsbridge Road. You own a two family house on Briggs Avenue, half of which you live in. You made the down-payment out of your savings, and the rent for the other half of the house takes care of the interest on the mortgage and the taxes. You never tried a promotion exam because you can't figure yourself giving orders, but you know how to obey them. All of which is why I asked to have you brought down here."

"Huh?"

"Figure it out, Corbin. And keep your eyes and ears open while you do the figuring. So long. I'll be seeing you."

Deever turned on his heel and went away from there. For all his size, his feet made no sound on the sidewalk. He was a derby-hatted shadow drifting down the block, towards Ninth, merging almost at once with the other shadows.

"I'll be damned." Patrolman Ed Corbin scratched his head with the end of his locust. "I'll be everlastingly damned." He stared into the lonely night.


FOOTFALLS thudded in the hush.

Corbin turned to the sounds. A grotesque object turned the far corner at Eighth Avenue and moved west along the shuttered store fronts and dark doorways across the street. The cop studied the object and separated it into a thin man and a large bundle, much longer than it was thick, that was balanced across the man's shoulder.

In the Bronx it would be routine to investigate anyone carrying a bundle late at night. But this wasn't late at night, Corbin reminded himself, though it felt like it. And this wasn't the Bronx. This was a business district. Here and there in the grey-black walls of the street a few windows were still yellow with light. It was perfectly reasonable that some late delivery was being made.

But in Corbin's first glimpse of that package he had noticed something queer about it, something that was tightening the skin along his jaw. He couldn't see it distinctly now. The fellow was keeping close to the inner edge of the sidewalk, where the shadows were thickest. Maybe he was looking for a number.

He came into the luminance of a street lamp a hundred feet down the block, and again the cop could see the bundle distinctly. It was wrapped, but its outlines were unmistakable. It had the shape, exactly the shape, of a human body!

"Hey!" Corbin yelled, starting across the gutter. "Hey, you!"

The bundle carrier ducked into a dark space between two projecting store-window frames. A door slammed.

The officer put on speed. He reached the curb and went across the sidewalk fast, dragging his gun out with his right hand, nightstick clutched in the other. His feet found three iron steps, carried him up them and into a vestibule. He came against a closed door, but the door moved inward a little as he shouldered it.

A younger cop might have barged right in—not stopping to think he'd be a perfect target silhouetted against whatever light there was in the street. Ed Corbin was too old a hand for that. Flattening himself against a side wall of the vestibule, he hung his stick on his belt and fumbled a flashlight from his pocket. He kicked open the door.

"Reach!" he shouted.

Nothing happened. There was no sound from the blackness inside the door—no hint of movement, of any living presence.

Corbin thumbed his flash. A vertical row of faded signs showed on the streaked marble of the vestibule wall opposite that against which he was flattened. The light spray swept inward, and the cop cautiously poked his head out past the door frame. A narrow hall was lit by the torch. The doors of a small elevator were open, but a chain padlocked the control lever inside the cage. Further back, dirt-grey, worn wooden steps went up into obscurity. No one was in sight.

The cop went into that dusty lobby, cautiously. The man who'd been carrying a bundle that looked too much like a rigid body wrapped in heavy paper had probably gone up the stairs. But he might be hiding under them, waiting for a chance to slip out. Better look there first.


CORBIN got only as far as the foot of the stairs. A bumping sound, as of something hard dropped on wood, stopped him, pulled his eyes upward. Bump. Bump. Bump. Something was rolling down the steps. The cop's flash-beam found it, halfway down. It was irregularly round, the size of a head. Bump. Bump. It was a head, a woman's head! Corbin saw the rouged face, the red lips. Bump. He saw a cluster of brown ringlets. Bump. The head reached the bottom step.

The cop grabbed for it with his gun hand, to stop it, to keep it from rolling on out into the street. The flesh was hard, cold, against the side of his hand... A laugh rasped the cords in his throat.

It wasn't flesh that was hard and cold, but wax! The hazel eyes that peered up at him were painted glass. The head was the head of a display dummy!

What a jackass he'd made of himself! The thing he had thought was a wrapped body, murdered and being carried down to watery burial in the Hudson, was a papier mâché figure with a head of wax. The messenger had probably knocked the head off turning a landing above, and hadn't noticed it.

Corbin hesitated. He ought to call to the fellow, call him down to get the head. But that would be giving away what a fool he'd been. If—

A groan came down from the darkness above. It came again, muffled, quivering with pain. Then there was a sound like that of a breaking eggshell. And silence.

Patrolman Corbin clicked off his flashlight and leaped up the stairs. No time for caution now! Someone was in trouble up there!

Old wood creaked with his weight. He felt a landing underfoot. He kicked something soft. Something yielding. Something that sent an icy prickle racing along his spine. No question about what it was. No question at all.

He couldn't blunder ahead in this tarry blackness—he'd step on the body. He chanced flicking the torch switch an instant. It brought a sprawled, blood-masked form out of the murk. Above him he saw stairs angling up from the landing. His thumb lifted from the torch switch, blanking it all out.

Corbin stepped high, to clear the corpse.

Something, sensed rather than heard or seen, swooped down on him! He fired a shot, blindly, aimlessly...

Ed Corbin's skull smashed in—with a sound like a breaking eggshell!


II. — MURDER CAN'T WAIT

DRIFTING down the long block, Danny Deever laughed quietly to himself, recalling how flabbergasted Corbin had looked when he'd sprung that—"All of which is why I asked to have you brought down here." And the tight suspicion in his leathery face during the talk before that.

It had been a wormy stunt, at that, kidding the old boy. But Deever had wanted to see how he'd react to a hint of graft. He hadn't had to go far with it. The look in Corbin's faded grey eyes had told him enough. He was just as his records had pictured him, the salt of the earth. Not for the value of all the furs in the district would he conveniently be busy elsewhere just when a job was coming off, as his predecessor had been.

A muscle twitched in Deever's cheek. It still hurt him to think of a cop turning rat. He knew the force better than anyone could who had not fought beside the men in blue, who had not spent sleepless weeks working with them. He knew the courage, the devotion to duty, the fundamental honesty of nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of them. When the one out of a thousand showed up as rotten, it was almost as if a friend had double-crossed him.

Deever reached Ninth Avenue, halted, undecided as to whether to go up or down. He always took a stroll through the district after closing, his pores open for the feel of things. Often an instinct he could never explain warned him when anything off-color was brewing. Possibly it was not instinct at all, but his intimate knowledge of the vicinity, an attunement to the pulse of its life that was jarred by any irregularity in that pulse. He had an invariable routine for his wanderings, but that routine had been disturbed tonight by his visit to Corbin, hence the hesitation.

It must be kind of tough on the veteran cop to be pulled down here, out of the bailiwick that through the years had become comfortable as—

A faint thud blanked thought inside Danny Deever's skull. It brought him around, his nostrils flaring, to face up the block down which he'd just come. It might have been a backfire from some car on Eighth Avenue, but -

A dim form darted out of a doorway, about opposite where he'd talked with Ed Corbin. It flitted toward Eighth Avenue. Some urgency in the way it moved started Deever into motion. He ran silently, devouring space with amazing swiftness, but the handicap was too great. Before he covered half the distance to the point where the figure had first appeared, it vanished around the distant corner.

Almost at once there was the burr of a starter. The roar of an auto engine crescendoed and then faded. Deever slowed, knowing that whoever the man had been, whatever the reason for his flight, he was beyond pursuit.

The insurance dick angled across the street toward the doorway out of which the man had come. There was a single row of lighted windows, high up over it. The fourth floor. That would be the office of the Blue Star. It was a chain of retail shops, and carried no stock here. They had only a hold-up policy in Federal. A hold-up—better go up there and check on that shot. Deever was sure now it had been a shot.

Where was Corbin? He must have been near enough to hear the sound.


DANNY DEEVER went up the three iron steps and through the door into the dusty lobby. He listened for sounds of a disturbance, heard none. He got out his flash. Its light showed him the locked elevator.

The beam veered to the stairs. A wax dummy head lay against the bottom step. The molded face was pert, intriguing.

The corners of Deever's mouth lifted with a brief smile. "If the gals were all as close-mouthed as you, my dear," he murmured, "I wouldn't be scared of them."

He went up the stairs with the silent, effortless swiftness that was characteristic of him. Because the one who'd fired the shot was blocks away by this time, Deever kept his torch on.

The white beam slid up the rutted steps ahead of him. Abruptly it spotlighted a crumpled corpse, another beyond it. Deever knew the nearer body was Corbin's—by the soggy blue uniform, by the number, 728, on the smeared badge, by the Police Positive in the outstretched hand. If he'd had to depend on the face to identify it he couldn't have done so. There was no face.

Danny Deever's teeth showed in a smile as he stood straddle-legged, looking down at what had been done to the cop's skull. There was something horrible about that smile. There was something horrible in the grey depths of Deever's eyes.

"I did this to you," he murmured. "If I'd let you stay up there in the Bronx you would have had an easy time of it for three more years and then you would have been retired on pension. But I had you brought down here. For this!" His hand curled into a sledge-like fist at his side. "I can't send you back to the Bronx, Ed Corbin. But I can get the lug who did that to you. I promise you I'll get him."

Danny Deever's eyes, hard now and expressionless, moved to the other corpse. The body was weazened, clothed in shabby grey. There was more of its face left than there was of the cop's, enough at least to show that it had been a face. A bruise was dark on the left temple, somehow left uncovered by the red film, but the top of the head was bashed in as a spoon crushes the tip of a hard-boiled breakfast egg.

There was another body where the stair flight to the next floor began! No, not a body. It was a papier mâché torso with flesh colored arms and legs and no head. It was the dummy the head downstairs belonged to. It was smashed open down the middle, viciously, as if the killer hadn't had enough with bashing in the skulls of the two men, as if his kill-lust had made him keep on hammering away at everything in sight.

On the stairs above the dummy was the paper in which it had been wrapped. The paper was whole. It hadn't been torn from the dummy but carefully unwound. Deever's brow wrinkled. There was something grotesque about all this, something wholly mad.


THE dingy hall walls, beyond the stair railings, were broken by an iron-faced door with a name painted on it: ACME FUR CO. The firm was a Federal policy-holder. Wall plaster was pitted where Corbin's slug had hit, but the door was tight shut, its big lock intact. There were no marks of jimmying along its edges.

The untorn paper bothered Danny Deever. His light came back to it. Words were scrawled across it in black crayon: BLUE STAR. That's where the dummy had been going then.

The insurance detective picked his way carefully past the two murdered men. He went up the stairs, one flight, two. At each landing he swept the halls with his torch beam, found nothing out of order. When he reached the fourth floor a shadow moved on lighted ground glass set into a door. The glass had a blue star painted on it and the name of the chain organization lettered in a circle around the star: BLUE STAR DEPARTMENT STORES, INC. Deever doused his light and put it away. He got to that door, pushed it open.

A balustraded railing cut off a narrow space inside the entrance. Beyond it there were rows of desks, bare-topped or holding hooded typewriters. To one side, just the other side of the railing, was a telephone switchboard. A girl's coat lay over the chair in front of the switchboard and her hat was on top of it. The girl herself was standing beside the switchboard and she was lipsticking her mouth, looking at it in her compact mirror.

Halfway down the room a thin young man, spectacled, was taking his coat from a clothes tree. He already had his hat on.

Deever stepped in and closed the door behind him. The girl looked up. "Hello," she exclaimed. "We've got a visitor. Don't you know it's a quarter to nine, mister? Come around tomorrow."

Even with the cerise rouge on her lips she wasn't pretty, and she certainly looked too dumb to be putting on an act. The young fellow with the glasses appeared a lot smarter.

"That's right," he said, starting to come forward. "This office closes at six. You'll have to take up your business tomorrow morning, sir."

Neither of the two seemed to have a thought in their heads for anything except getting home.

"Sorry," Danny Deever said, "My business can't wait. Murder has to be attended to right away."

"Mur—"

The girl's mouth stayed open, but no more of the word came out of it. Her face went a light green, except where the rouge she'd put on splashed it with red. The man gulped, grabbed for an inkwell on a desk.

"Wait a minute," Deever said. "It's not either of you who's going to be murdered. There's a dead man on the stairs below. You got any idea who he is?"

The young man's mouth opened, closed, opened again.

"No!" came out in a thin, strained voice. "No."

"You?" The detective looked at the girl.

She shook her head in the negative, her mouth still open.

"Anybody go out of here in the last twenty minutes? Expect anybody?" Deever snapped the questions at them, watching their eyes and their hands, hoping for some sign of betrayal while the shock of his announcement still lasted. "Did you hear a shot about fifteen minutes ago?"

"We've been alone here since a little after six," the male answered. "We certainly didn't expect anyone. We heard nothing, but we've been working too hard, trying to get through and get out, to hear anything."

"Working is right," the female put in. "Believe it or not."

Deever believed it. But he was playing his cards close to his shirt, what there were of them. "Whom do you buy your display dummies from?" he demanded.

"What's this? A new kind of salesman's gag?" The girl had made a quick recovery. "It's a good one if it is, but it won't work, because Mister James buys the display stuff and he paraded out at five-fifteen, on the dot. It's only poor bookkeepers like Henry and me that's gotta stay late."

"I'm not a salesman. I'm a detective. I want to know where your dummies come from."

"I wouldn't know," answered the young man, whose name evidently was Henry. "But I can look it up."

"Do that," Deever instructed him. "Right away. And you, miss, get me the Tenth Precinct. Watkins 9-8242. Tell the desk sergeant Danny Deever wants to talk to Lieutenant Bannion."

"Danny Deever!" Inspiration gleamed in the girl's eyes. "No wonder you don't like doing business in the morning. That's when they—"

"Are hanging me," the dick put in, grinning humorlessly. "I've heard that one before. Get me the number quick."

The girl leaned over the switchboard chair, stuck a plug into its hole, rattled the dial. The other Blue Star bookkeeper was flipping the pages of a big ledger he'd hauled out from somewhere. Deever went through the gate in the railing and picked a telephone instrument out of its cradle on a desk.

"I'll take that call here," he said.

"I've got it," Henry looked up, his finger on a sheet. "The Trutulife Figure Corporation, 72 East 28th Street."

"Here's your Lieutenant Bannion," the girl said.

"Hello, Frank," Deever said into the transmitter end of the phone.

"Hi, Danny," he heard. "What's new?"

"Plenty. Listen. I'm at—" Deever gave him the address. "That new cop of yours, Corbin, is on the stairs here, bumped. There's another corpse with him. Corbin fired one shot, but the killer got away. Good—"

"Hey," Bannion yelled in his ear. "Wait. You're holding out something on me. What is it?"

"I'm holding out nothing except a hunch. When it's more than a hunch I'll let you know. Goodbye." Deever chopped the phone down into its prongs, whipped around. "You two keep your eyes away from what's on the stairs if you want to hold on to your lunches." Their mouths were open, gaping. "When the cops come, talk straight and you'll be all right."

He was through the gate, clipped out the last of that with his hand on the doorknob. He went out and down the steps two at a time, his torch working again.

The mess on the second floor landing was no easier to look at. Danny Deever got past it without touching anything. He negotiated the last flight faster, if anything, than he had the others. He halted, a stride away from its bottom, whipped around.

His light hit the upright base of the lowest step and the floor in front of it. The beam held on a jumble of wax fragments, of matted brown curls. That had been the dummy head—and it was smashed now to smithereens!

Deever's eyes were like grey agate marbles. "Yes," he whispered. "That's it. Ten to one my hunch is right."

A muffled siren howl came in from the street. Danny Deever wheeled, crossed the lobby floor, shouldered the door open and plunged out through it.


III. — THE FACE IN THE WINDOW

MURDER hadn't made the dingy street canyon any the less desolate, but the siren wail imparted to the hush a quality of quivering apprehension. It came from the direction of Eighth Avenue, so Danny Deever turned towards Ninth. He loped soundlessly, hugging the dimness along the building fronts.

He'd gone more than half a block when the police car's motor-roar surged into the street and its horn hoot howled behind him. The squeal of brakes, the thump of feet pounding across a sidewalk, the slam of the door through which he had just lunged, told the detective he'd not been sighted.

He got to the avenue corner and went around it, slowing to a fast walk. This thoroughfare was blackly roofed by the trestle of the "El" but there was more life here, more movement. A lunchroom window laid yellow light over the grimy sidewalk. A cerise neon sign flicked on and off, proclaiming the availability of cut-rate drugs. A behemothean truck juggernauted between the steel railroad columns and in its wake a cruising taxi loafed.

Deever jumped into the gutter, flinging his arm out in signal to the cab. It rocked with the slam-on of its brakes.

"Seven Twenty-six—Twenty-eighth!" Deever barked at the driver, snatching the car door open and piling inside. "In a hurry."

The taxi started so quick the detective was thrown into its seat. It just missed hitting a cop who chose that instant to pop out from behind an "El" pillar. The driver braked again and the cop jumped on the running board.

"Let's see yuhr license," he growled. "Yuh wild-eyed cowboy."

The taxi man handed over a mica envelope. Deever disentangled himself from his topcoat, stuck his head out of the door window.

"Skip it, Jim," he said. "I'm in a rush."

The policeman twisted to him. "Hello, Danny," he grinned. "Yuh takin' tun clippin' the buttons off uniforms?"

"That's a good idea," Deever smiled back, "but I'm too busy just now to play games. Don't hold me up, old man. And don't hold yourself up. You're needed up the block. Better step on it. Bannion's there, and you know how he is."

"Yeah," Jim Tully grunted. "I heard his siren and was on my way." He dropped off the running board and ducked across in front of the taxi's hood.

"Get going," Deever snapped. "And don't worry about traffic lights."

The cab jumped into motion. "Gees," the driver exclaimed. "He forgot to gimme back me ticket."

"You can go back and get it when you've delivered me," Deever responded. "He'll be there a long time." He told the driver the number of the building where the cops would be. Then he said, "You haven't turned down your flag, but that's all right with me. I'm not working out of the Hack Bureau."

Doubly assured by this time that he was carrying a police dick, the man took full advantage of the chance to get all the speed he could out of his engine. The spaced steel columns became a blurred wall whirring past the windows. Before Deever could settle back they'd caught up with the gigantic freight truck, were shooting to its left, were pivoting on shrieking rubber and arrowing riverward on Twenty-eighth Street.

The stop almost catapulted Deever's head through the oblong window behind the cabbie's head. He flipped a bill through the aperture, shot out of the car. "On your way," he rasped, and got himself to the sidewalk.

The salt smell of the Hudson was in his nostrils. To his left a swift procession of headlights traveled the high black band of the Express Highway. Gear clash and motor chatter behind him said that the taxi was on its way.


THIS block was as dim and as hushed as the one he'd left, but there was something slinking and ominous in its quiet. The buildings were lower, their ground floors not store-windowed but dark with truck-high wooden doors or edged with loading platforms. The one before him, 726, had no platform, but there was a smaller door cut into the big one fronting it. A bright glazed diamond in the upper part of the smaller door showed that there was light inside.

Deever tried the knob, got no results. He rapped on the panel, waited. Abruptly a face showed behind the diamond-shaped glass pane, which was just big enough to frame it. Deever gasped.

Ruby lips, pert, tip-tilted nose, hazel eyes and cluster of soft brown ringlets all complete, hanging there before Danny Deever was the face of the head that had lain at the bottom of the staircase on which Ed Corbin had died.

A lock clicked. The knob rattled. The door started to open. Deever pushed his foot over the threshold as soon as the slit was big enough to admit it, but there wasn't any need of that. The door kept swinging inward.

The face was alive. It belonged to a girl whose cornflower blue smock did nothing to conceal her slim young curves.

"Good evening?" She gave the greeting an inquiring inflection.

Her voice was a throaty contralto. No wax could possibly have reproduced the wistful quality of her smile. Garish light beat down on her from an unshaded three hundred watt bulb, but it was softened by the girl's hair, by the texture of her skin. That skin wasn't pink and white, it was a transparent-seeming, glowing ochre.

"What can I do for you, sir?"

A tinge of impatience in her question made Deever realize he was staring at her like a schoolboy.

"Is this the Trutulife Company?" he asked, trying to match her smile with his own, but making a poor job of it.

"Yes."

Half of Deever was still occupied with the girl. The other half saw that to one side scabrous wooden partitions were propped in a square by scantlings slanting down from the ceiling to make what must be an office, that beyond this, row upon row of paper-wrapped life-size forms receded into distant dimness.

"May I come in?" he asked, feeling thick-tongued, awkward.

Anger at himself started to smolder behind his eyes. He should have shoved in, grim and domineering, the technique he'd always found brought results. What the devil was the matter with him?

"Certainly." The girl stepped aside to make way.

The door shut behind the detective, apparently of its own volition. The girl's eyebrows lifted questioningly.

"My name's Deever. Danny Deever." He caught a flash in the hazel eyes, waited for the usual wisecrack. It didn't come. This lass had sense.

"May I ask yours?" he said.

"Leila Towne." Amusement quirked the corners of her lips. "But...?"

"I'm a detective, Miss Towne."

"A—detective?" There was no fear in her face, only the mild bewilderment to be expected. For some reason Deever was inordinately glad of that. "Why?" Her voice trailed off.

"You sent a delivery to the Blue Star Department Stores office a little while ago?"

"Why, yes. How—how did you know?" Her pupils dilated as she guessed at the implication of the question. "Nothing... nothing's happened to Jimmy?" she stammered, her hand going to her breast, pressing against it. It was a long-fingered sensitive hand. But it was dirty! Bluish grime streaked it. "He—he hasn't been run over?"

"No," Deever dissembled. "Jimmy hasn't been run over. What's the rest of it? Jimmy what?"

"I—There isn't any rest. He's just Jimmy. He—he isn't quite right mentally. He does the porter work around here. And Ralph—Mr. Harding—lets him sleep on a couch in the office... Jimmy wouldn't do anything wrong, Mr. Deever. He's simple and sweet and—"

"Who else is here? Now, I mean."

"No—nobody. I was working late, and Jimmy—"

"Then it was you sent him to Blue Star."

"Yes." Puzzlement was replacing the worry in her face. "Mr. Harding called up from their office. He'd dropped in there on a social call and they said they needed a dummy in a hurry, were glad to find out they could get one tonight. I sent Jimmy right out with it."


DANNY DEEVER was conscious of a dull pain at the pit of his stomach. She was lying. She was looking right into his eyes, herself all dewy-eyed innocence, and she was lying by the book. The late-working clerks in the Blue Star office had told him they'd been alone since six and he was certain they had told the truth. Therefore Leila Towne was a brassy liar. The anger behind his brow grew hotter, but his face stayed blank.

"What was special about that dummy?" he murmured, watching the hazel eyes.

She's going to say "Nothing," he thought. A girl who could knowingly dispatch a poor half-wit to his death would not be caught by as simple a trap as this.

"Nothing," she said. "It was just one of that shipment—" she gestured toward the rear "—that was ready to go out to their warehouse in the morning. What makes you think—"

The shrill ring of the 'phone bell cut across her speech.

"Answer it," Deever directed. "But don't say anything about me."

Leila Towne's lips parted at his sudden gruffness. She went to the office door, stopped with her hand on the knob as Deever followed.

"You can't come in here," she protested, her voice clear and high above the bell's clamor.

"Says you!" the detective grinned mirthlessly. "But I've got a different idea."

White teeth gripped the edge of her lower lips and flame flared into her eyes, but she opened the door, went through.

Danny Deever, close behind her, saw boards laid across wooden horses. On the rough table thus formed was a lump of clay, out of whose shapeless mass grew a beautifully modeled head. Deever understood now what the girl had been working at so late, dirtying her hands. A sculptress of no mean ability, she was creating the master-form for more dummy faces, to be duplicated a hundred fold...

The insistent telephone was on a desk in the shadows. Right-angled to it, the head of a leather couch showed from behind a screen.

Leila Towne took the receiver from its hook. The bell cut off. She bent to the mouthpiece of the upright instrument and said, "Hello."

Deever stooped too. He put his head against hers and tipped the receiver so he also could hear.

"Leila!" a man's voice exclaimed, excitement in it. "Where the hell's Jimmy with that figure? I've been waiting here an hour and he hasn't shown up."

The girl's free hand pushed at Deever, with as little effect as if it were pushing at a wall. Tears of vexation wet her long lashes.

"But, Ralph!" Danny Deever's cheek tingled electrically with the feel of the girl's cheek against it. "I sent him out as soon as you got through talking." The fragrance of her hair was in Deever's nostrils, and his pulses were throbbing madly. "Why, he should have been there long ago."

"Are you sure you gave him the right address?" the voice in the 'phone asked. "Did you write it down for him?"

"You know he can't read, Ralph. I made him say it over, three times. 'Blue Star Department Stores.' Two—"

"Wait!" the receiver blared. "Blue Star Department! You damned little fool! It was the Blue Star Specialty Company I said."

"No, Ralph, no." There was consternation on Leila's face. "All you said was Blue Star and there was a shipment on the floor all ready to—"

"Leila! Was it one of those you sent out? Great Jupiter, girl, was it one of those and not the one I told Jimmy I'd want?"

"Jimmy didn't say anything. He must have forgot... Ralph!" Sudden puzzlement thinned the girl's voice. "If you told Jimmy earlier, you must have known you were going to want one. How did you know—"

Something hard crashed the top of Danny Deever's skull, and flame exploded within it. Darkness, oblivion, engulfed him.


IV. — IN THE CORPSE'S LAP

DANNY DEEVER was swimming beneath the surface of a sea of inky molasses. Pain swelled his head to the size of a balloon. It burst, and started to swell again. Slowly, sluggishly, he fought up out of the thick black stuff. A glug, and he was free of it—

His skull still throbbed, but it wasn't expanding any longer. Blurredly Deever became aware that he was lying on a hard surface.

"Leila," he moaned. "Lei—" Where the hell did he get that name? Memory, lagging after consciousness, returned, and he knew what had happened to him.

While the sweet-faced girl had kept him absorbed in the telephone talk, someone had sneaked up behind and conked him! How long ago was that? How long had he been out?

"Well," Deever muttered, getting a hand to the egg-shaped bump that had pushed up his scalp. "I sure fell for her, hook, line and sinker."

In spite of the pain hammering his head he could still feel the satin touch of her skin on his cheek, could still smell her fresh, clean fragrance. There was a dull pain inside his chest that couldn't be accounted for by the blow.

He tugged reluctant eyelids open. He was on the floor of the Trutulife office. Straight ahead, his crushed derby explained why he had escaped the fate of Ed Corbin. Those hard felts can break the force of a blackjack even in the hands of an expert, which was precisely why Deever wore them.

The room was empty, the door closed. "Skipped," the dick groaned. "Left me for dead, and skipped. But why?" He pushed hands against the floor, boosting himself up to a sitting posture, dizziness whirling within his head. "What her boss said, showed she'd made a mistake. It cleared her." Deever's lids slitted.

"Did she skip?" he whispered. "Or—"

He heaved to his feet, his knobbed countenance hard once more, grim. Little lights crawled in his eyes. He scanned the room as if the inanimate objects it contained could tell him the answer to the questions pounding at his brain.

Everything was as it had been. No, not quite everything. Two parallel streaks of smudge, about a quarter-inch wide, ran across the floor from near the desk to the doorway.

Danny Deever bent to look at them closer, stooping carefully because he felt as if a sudden movement would drop his head off his shoulders. He could make nothing of the streaks, but the act brought his eyes near his battered derby and he saw that the felt was impressed with the outlines of the club that had downed him.

The short hairs at the back of his neck bristled. It wasn't the mark of a club. It was a footprint, the print of a human shoe! He'd been kicked! But that was impossible. That kick had come down on the hat from above, and there was no high vantage point from which it could have been launched.

The sense of weirdness that had affected him at his first sight of the smashed and headless dummy on the stairs came back to him in this place to which the trail of that dummy had led him. There was something not right about all this, something quite mad.

There was no dirt, no mud, in the indentation at which he stared. It was clean. And that, too, was not as it should be.

Deever straightened, got moving toward the door in the partition. He opened it, halted in the doorway, nostrils flaring, eyes sultry.

The three hundred watt lamp was still on. There was no one in the front of the big loft, no evidence of anyone having been there since he'd followed Leila Towne into the office. But he sensed someone's presence nearby.

His head turned slowly, his biceps tautening. His slow look came to the front of the massed figures, traveled along them.

Waist-high to the figures, malignant eyes stared at him out of a pallid countenance!

Deever leaped back, pulled the door across between him and the ambusher. He darted a look around the office, searching for a weapon. There was no sound from outside, no hint of movement. Something in that silence fascinated him. He pushed the door open again, slowly.

A mirthless laugh twisted his larynx.

The man, seated on the floor among the dummies, was quite harmless. He was as dead as Caesar. A slash in the breast of his brown suit coat, a dark stain spreading in the cloth about the gaping cut, showed how he had died.

Danny Deever stepped out, going toward the body for a closer look. Abruptly his stocky frame was sheathed with ice.

In the corpse's lap lay the headless face of Leila Towne!


DANNY DEEVER kept going toward that grisly thing, robbed by horror even of the power to stop the automatic movement of his legs. He got a different angle of sight on that which rested on the dead man's knees, and he saw that it was only a mask, the front half of a dummy's head.

The other half of the head lay on the floor, a hollow shell from the bottom of which protruded the dowel-stick that had held it to its pressed-pulp torso.

The murdered man leaned back against flesh-like wax legs. They were artfully modeled, somehow more lifelike than the dead man's face. Narrow-boned, sharp-featured, this was filmed over with a waxy sheen on whose pallor a crisp mustache blackly accented rapacious shrewdness.

The half-head on his lap had been cleanly sliced by a knife. By the knife that had just done murder, for the edge of the cut was smeared with crimson.

"That ties it," Danny Deever muttered. "Just as I figured, something was hid in one of the dummies and it was worth enough to kill for. Three men killed now—first Jimmy, then Ed Corbin, and now you. What was it?" he asked the man who could not answer him.

He did not ask the corpse the other question. He did not ask it of himself. He knew the answer.

It does not require a man's strength to slip a knife between two ribs and into a heart! A girl can do that—a girl whose ochre skin is transparent and glowing and whose ruby mouth is wistful, a girl at whose touch a man's pulse pounds...

"Get them up," someone husked hoarsely. "Get them high up before I let you have it."

There was threat of death in the voice. Deever's hands went above his head.

"Turn around. Slow."

Danny Deever obeyed... The man just inside the closed street door was short, effeminately slender, but his swarthy Latin countenance was a mask of hate. The reptilian type of killer this was, malevolent, without conscience, and his fang was in his gloved hand, raised shoulder high and flatly angled back from a supple wrist.

That fang was a long-bladed heavy-hilted knife. It lay point fingertipwards along the first finger. That is how knives are held by throwers who do not miss. This one had not missed the last time, for the knife's steel was still visibly smeared.

Queer that seeing that, Deever's first emotion was one of relief.

"Well," the man with the knife said. "Did you get it?"

Deever's stiff lips made words. "Get what?"

"What we're both after." The fellow's shoe-button eyes moved between lid-slits, flicking over the pageant of wax figures. "Didn't have time yet, huh? What did you do, shuffle the dolls so Harding couldn't find the right one and then get mixed up yourself?"

"I still don't know what you're chattering about," the insurance dick said wearily—which was no lie. But the question had told Deever a lot he wanted to know.

The dead man was the one whose voice he'd heard on the telephone. He'd come here in a hurry after that conversation had ended, and had been stabbed the instant he'd fingered what he thought was the dummy over which all the killing was going on. The slayer had sliced open the wax head and found—nothing.


WAS it Leila Towne who'd lured Ralph Harding to his murder, keeping on with her talk while Deever lay unconscious at her feet?

"Come on," the dick heard. "Get wise to yourself. If I can save ripping all them dolls apart it's worth something to me. Spill where you've got the right one cached and you get a quarter split. Keep on playing dumb and you'll get—this." A small movement of the upraised arm, like the little sway of a coiled mocassin's head before it strikes, indicated what 'this' would be.

The pattern had become very plain. The Towne girl and the Latin were in cahoots, planning to hijack whatever was hidden in one of the figures. Harding's call had given them their chance, but they'd figured that waylaying the halfwit messenger at his destination would leave Leila in the clear. The knifer had beaten Jimmy to the dark stairs, had ambushed him and bumped off both the errand boy and Ed Corbin. But search of the figure had drawn a blank, and the fellow had returned here for another try.

Deever's arrival had interrupted him. While the girl stalled Deever, the olive-faced killer had been in the office behind the screen. Harding's call had given them the chance both to put the detective out of the way and to get Harding to point out the right dummy.

The girl had skipped after the third kill and the second failure to find what they wanted. Her accomplice had returned, and come upon Deever.

"Well?" that accomplice mouthed. "I ain't got all night. What's the answer?"

Danny Deever licked his lips. "I'd like to oblige," he said very calmly. "But you're on the wrong track. I—"

Muscles exploded in his calves, flung him across toward the swarthy killer in a dive so flashingly swift that the knife wrist would not come into action before the dick had grabbed it. Deever's other hand, balled into a fist, drove at the olive-tinted jaw.

It missed its mark as the Latin jerked his snarling head to one side. Deever's feet found floor-purchase again, and at once the two were gripped in a death struggle.

Whipcord sinew, muscles of steel, belied the knifer's feminine slimness. Danny Deever was aware that the outcome of this scrap was by no means foregone. As he hung onto the hand that held his antagonist's knife, the killer clutched the wrist of his other hand, so that it could not launch a finishing blow. Taut and silent, the two men strained, their backs bent in quivering arcs, their lips teeth-bitten, their eyes glaring hatred.

Curiously silent that fierce fight was, and curiously static. The only sound was that of their labored breathing, the only movement the almost imperceptible shifting of feet on dust-grey flooring.

From the corner of his eyes Danny Deever could just see the silver gleam of the long narrow blade and the red smear of blood upon it. If it tore free there would be more blood on it—his own blood. It must not get free. It—must not...

The Latin broke back, abruptly. Agony sliced up Danny Deever's thigh from his left knee as a sharp heel drove against the kneecap. The kick numbed his leg and it folded under him. His opponent surged forward and he went down.

The Latin's wrist tore free from Deever's clutch, and the sallow face was following him down as he fell. A knee dug into the dick's chest, pinning him to the floor. The knife flailed downward, a silver gleaming arc of death...



V. — KILLER AT LARGE

THE knife clattered from nerveless fingers! Gun bark pounded belatedly against Danny Deever's ears and the weight toppled from his chest. His sight blurred, and cleared again, and where the hate-contorted countenance of the killer had been, a heavy-jowled florid face hung above the gasping detective.

"You all right, Danny?" a familiar hoarse voice demanded. "Did he get you?"

"Frank," Deever gasped. "Frank Bannion! How—how—"

"Easy, lad, easy," the police lieutenant warned him. "You're damn well shaken up. I pulled open the door, saw you going down under the guy, clip-shot him."

"Thanks, Frank," Danny Deever grunted, pulling his torso up from the floor. "You did me a favor and I won't forget it." His late antagonist was sprawled on the floor beside him, and a gaping hole in, the back of his head was guarantee he'd do no more knifing. "But you'll do me another if you'll tell me how on earth you got here." He let Bannion help him to his feet.

"You close-mouthed lummox," the officer growled. "Your hackman came around for his license. Jim Phelan had told me about stopping you, to explain why he wasn't on the job, and I got this address out of the cabbie. We're stumped. That's why I came looking for you as soon as I could get free of the Homicide Squad. I want to know what line you've got on the cop-killer."

"There he is." Deever nodded to the body on the floor. Another cop was crowding in from the street, gat in his fist. "There's the lug that got Ed Corbin."

His columnar legs straddled, Frank Bannion glowered down at his victim. "Too bad," he rumbled, "I had to shoot so quick and put him out. The boys would have liked to have had a session with him in the back room." His mouth tightened to a cruel slash across his face and his hands opened and closed, opened and closed at his sides as though their banana-like fingers were throttling someone.

Danny Deever had a momentary vision of an ochre-tinted; pulsing throat in the grip of those fingers, and he shuddered.

"Gees, lieutenant," the cop in the doorway exclaimed, "There's another stiff over there." He jabbed a thumb past the group, pointing to that which had been Ralph Harding.

Bannion wheeled, took a look, and twisted to Deever. "What's been coming off here?" he blurted. "What took you here, and what happened?... You, Ginsburg, find a 'phone and call the house to send Homicide over here."

"There's one in that office," Deever said, pointing. The policeman went into it, and the insurance dick turned to Bannion. "I came here to find out the reason for murder—and I found more murder."

"Yeah," the lieutenant growled. "Damn near for yourself. But stop beating around the bush and spill what you know."

"All right." Deever told of hearing the shot from Ninth Avenue, of seeing the shadowy figure flit towards Eighth and vanish, of his discovery on the stairs. "It was evident that Corbin saw or heard something, investigated, was killed for his pains. It was the motive for the killing of the other man that would give the clue to the murderer.

"My first thought was that he had accidentally come upon someone chiseling into a fur loft and been slugged to keep him silent. But none of the doors in the building showed any evidence of being worked on, and I couldn't see any explanation for the way the dummy was smashed.

"That might have been the work of a mad killer, but somehow I thought not. A lunatic would not have bothered to unwrap the paper from the figure so neatly. I had a notion that somehow the murder revolved around that dummy, so I went up to the Blue Star offices to see what I could find out about it.

"The couple there hadn't ordered it, knew nothing about it. Not only their saying so made me sure of that, but the fact I found them getting ready to go home in a perfectly calm and normal manner. I decided to trace the figure back to where it came from. Ten to one it was the establishment that regularly supplied the store organization, and I asked for the name.

"My notion about the figure was confirmed when I found that the killer had taken a chance on returning to smash the head, that it evidently had rolled down the stairs when he attacked the messenger. It was clear then that something was hidden in the dummy, or in some dummy, so valuable a man would commit murder to get hold of it. I hustled over there hell-bent on finding out what it was.

"When I got here—"

Deever broke off. He was looking at Frank Bannion's hands. They were big and they were strong and they could be very cruel on occasion. They could be cruelest when they had a cop-killer in their clutches, or one through whose complicity a cop had been killed.

"Go on," the lieutenant grunted. "You got here, and then what?"

The detective pulled a shaking hand across his forehead. "Sorry, Frank. Guess that scrap took more out of me than I realized." He came to a decision—he'd say nothing about the girl, Leila. "The door wasn't locked. I barged in. The place was empty." There was time, a lot of time, that had to be accounted for. "I yelled and got no answer. I went in the office there, found nobody, decided to look around for papers, for something that might give me a clue to what it was all about. I was very careful to leave no trace of my search, so it took me quite a while, but I found nothing. Just as I got through I heard someone come in, and right after that heard a groan.

"I jumped out, saw this lug standing over the corpse he'd just made, calmly slicing open a dummy-head as if it were an apple. Like a damn fool I forgot all about my automatic, tried to take him barehanded. He turned out to be more than I could handle and—and the rest you know."


BREATH whistled from between Bannion's teeth. "All of which ought to teach you not to try and be a police force all by yourself. But you did damn well, at that. I'll admit the case had me winging, what with the busted up dummy and the way it looked like the two stiffs had been kicked to death."

"Like they'd been what?" Deever exclaimed sharply.

"Yeah," the lieutenant said. "When we started making measurements to reconstruct what they'd been cracked with it turned out to be exactly the shape and size of a shoe. But how the hell this bozo had power enough to crumple skulls with a shoe I can't make out."

A pulse pounded in Deever's temple.

"They're on the way over, Lieutenant," Officer Ginsburg reported. "They'll be here any minute."

"When they get here you might have some of the boys rip apart all the dummies," Danny Deever said. "Whatever this bird was after is still in one of them. In the meantime I'm going in there and sit down. My knee is giving me hell."

"Go ahead."

Deever's legs were rubbery under him as he limped into the partitioned-off room, but it was his brain that was giving him the most trouble. He got to the swivel chair at the desk, put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

Jimmy and Corbin had been kicked to death. The attack on Deever himself had been made with a strangely lethal shoe. But the Latin had used a knife on both Harding and himself. Killers stick to a single weapon, unless there is some reason to make them change. Was the man Bannion had shot to death the murderer on the stairs? Or was there someone else?

Thought broke off. Deever was looking down at the knee the olive-skinned knifer had kicked.

The truth pounded Danny Deever's skull. He felt certain now that Leila Towne had not run out of here, with an accomplice in crime. She had been dragged out, by a murderer who kicked his victims to death, crushing their skulls. She had been carried off, God alone knew where, by a slayer who was not, who could not be, the knifer who lay stark and harmless out there by the street door!


DANNY DEEVER jumped up—and the name he'd been about to shout was choked in his throat. He couldn't tell Bannion about the girl now, after he'd withheld all mention of her. He couldn't say, "While I thought she was mixed up in these killings I shielded her; now that I know she's not, I'm asking your help to find her." He'd be through with Frank Bannion, with the police. He'd be through with his job.

But while he kept silent, what would happen to Leila Towne, captive of an evasive, shadowy someone who kicked his victims to death? ... He had no right to keep silent. He lurched to the door.

"Hey, lieutenant," he heard as he jerked it open. "Looka this." It was Patrolman Ginsburg's voice and it came from far back in the loft. "Here's the way the killer got in."

There were bulbs lit now, and the place was ablaze with light. What could Ginsburg mean? Deever knew the Latin knife-wielder had entered through the front door.

"What you find?" Frank Bannion called back.

The thud of his heavy-soled feet sounded, somewhere among the ranked dummies. The dick couldn't yell what he had to say. Deever started towards the back too, to get hold of the lieutenant and make his confession.

The rows of completed figures occupied only the middle third of the loft. In the space beyond were dummies in various stages of assembly, stacked arms and torsos. A half dozen legs stood in a row before a long table, weirdly without apparent support. Huge cases, broken open, revealed dozens of wax heads, blonde, red-headed, brown curled. Each of the latter had the face of Leila Towne.

Dozens of hazel eyes stared reproachfully at Danny Deever, and momentarily he seemed caught up in some surrealist nightmare. Letters in black paint splashed on the yellow wood of the cases said: "Fragil! Défense d'Échauffer! Produit de France." One of them showed the name of a line of ocean freighters.

The two cops were at one of the windows in the rear wall. "See there!" Ginsburg was pointing to rusted iron bars covering the window. "He filed them through here, and bent them back. He must of been strong as a bull for all he was so little."

"Any lug that could lick Danny in a scrap is powerful," Bannion said, and turned to the clutch of Deever's hand on his elbow. "How about it, Danny?"

"Listen," Danny mouthed. "Listen, Frank, I—" Speech froze on his lips.

Turning, Bannion had uncovered the filed iron stumps jutting up from the sill. A bit of cloth was caught on one of them. A bit of cornflower-blue cloth that could only have been torn from Leila Towne's smock!

"What's bothering you, Danny?"

"I—I just got an idea," Deever answered, regaining his dead pan. "The guy who was knifed must be Ralph Harding, boss of this outfit. Maybe he's got papers in his pocket will tell what all the manslaughter's about."

"Maybe he has," Bannion grunted. "We'll find out when Homicide and the m.e. get here. You know we can't touch the body till then."

"That's right. I should have thought of that." Deever pulled the back of his hand across his forehead. "I'm—I'm feeling kind of sickish. I need air." He shouldered Ginsburg aside, knuckled the window sill and pushed his head out through the opening.

"Take it easy, Danny," he heard behind him, but he was trying to pierce the gloom outside.

In the luminance from the loft windows, he made out a street-level backyard cluttered with debris. A decrepit wooden fence running toward an alley mouth was dimly outlined a hundred feet to his right. Beyond the fence rose the rears of another set of buildings, ominously black and lifeless.

"Maybe you got knifed somewhere you don't know about," Bannion said.

"No," Deever answered. "No. But I guess I did get kicked where it isn't doing me any good."

The corner of his mouth twitched. Not all life was absent from those structures the other side of the fence. A yellow hairline, horizontal and perhaps a yard long, threaded the Stygian wall of one of them, a little to his left...

Siren howl hooted through the night, and there was the purr of a powerful racing motor. "Your Homicide Squad's coming, Frank," Deever said. "You better go let them in. I'll be all right in a minute."

"Sure?"

"Sure."

He heard the thump of the cops' footfalls going away. The melancholy hoot of the police auto was nearer. Danny Deever turned sidewise and stepped over the sill into the backyard.


VI. — THE FOOT THAT KILLS

HE went to the left, noiselessly swift, crouching low so as not to be silhouetted against the glaring windows. His fingertips brushed a pile of rubbish and he let his hand trail it, hoping to find something that might serve him as a weapon. He felt something fairly large and round, picked it up.

He almost laughed aloud when he saw, at the edge of the beam of radiance from the last window, that it was a dummy's head he clutched. Its back was bashed in, accounting for its having been thrown out, but its face was unmarred and it was the face of Leila Towne. It would make a poor club, but for default of a better he kept hold of it.

The fence wasn't high, and Deever got over it easily. It was only a step to the fouled brick wall in which that thread of light showed.

It came through under the black oblong of a corrugated iron sheet that ran in grooves, shuttering a warehouse window, and it was head-high to him. Deever straightened, got his eyes to the slit. He saw a small room, walled by whitewashed boards. He saw the thighs and middle back of a man, hulking, black-clothed. Beyond the man was a rude cot and a slim blue-smocked form lying on it, ropes binding hands and slender ankles.

A voice came faintly to Danny Deever. "The last chance I give. Where is it?"

"I tell you I don't know." Leila Towne's eyes were big with pain and dread, her lips not red but grey. "If I knew I would have told you long ago, but I don't even know what you're after."

"So you no believe Boris Bornov," the first voice grunted. "Two already have die in his search for the big doll, and now you—"

There was movement alongside the half-torso Deever could see, and then slowly, threateningly, a foot came up into the range of his sight, was lifted above it.

It was no human foot. Poised now above Leila Towne's curly head for a crushing blow, it was a heavy piece of metal, a foot-shaped club that would crush a skull by it own weight. The picture of how Ed Corbin's skull had last looked lightninged across Danny Deever's aghast brain.

His free hand pushed upward at the window slide. It moved an inch, and stuck. It was jammed.

"Wait!" Leila cried. "Wait. I'll tell you. It's the fourth one in the third row from the back."

"The fourth in the t'ird row," the guttural voice grunted. "I go look."

"Yes. Go look." The terror was still in the girl's eyes. "You'll find it there. But untie me first. These cords are hurting me."

"No," Bornov grated. "Not till I see if you lie."

The black-clothed figure moved out of Deever's vision. The dick crouched. He'd come out of the window and—

BUT the heavy footfalls moved away from the window, and there was the sound of rusted hinges creaking. Deever cursed softly with disappointment. This Boris Bornov was Ed Corbin's killer. He was going out into the street. He would come around through the avenue. Seeing the squad's car in front of the Trutulife establishment, he would make his getaway. A warning to the cops wouldn't help.

There was the sound of hinges again, and movement in the blackness. A door opened, closed. Against pale sky-glow a hulking, simian figure showed, a big-thewed giant. Clutched in one great paw, Deever could make out the terrible foot that had already taken two men's lives.

"She fool me!" Bornov grunted, and was motionless, gazing at the lighted rear windows of the loft that was his objective. "She make trap for me."

He would be a formidable opponent unarmed. With that metal club, he was unconquerable. Deever could not even hope to hold him long enough for aid from the cops to come. The killer of Ed Corbin, warned by those blazing windows, was about to duck into the black rabbit warren back here and escape.

"The hell you will!" Danny Deever muttered.

A humorless grin bisected his face. Shifting his hold on the dummy head to the dowel stick projecting from its neck, he lifted it into the bar of light seeping out of the window.

"Police!" he cried in a high, piping voice. "Help! Police!"

Bornov whirled, saw what appeared to be the face of the girl stuck out of the window and calling for the police. His arm swept up and he hurled the heavy foot at that face.

It struck squarely, with a sound like breaking eggshells. In the same instant Deever let go of the mask and lunged for the giant who had hurled the club. His hard fists were swinging.

Thud! Thud! Those fists landed, one on a craggy jaw, the other in a muscled abdomen. The unexpected onslaught staggered its hulking victim. Then, instantly, Danny Deever was involved in a furious maelstrom of combat. That initial advantage, though, had given him time to let out a shout for help, and it enabled him to hold his own till dark forms piling out of the loft's back window and pouring over the fence rescued him from Boris Bornov's pounding, pile-driver blows.

Battered and bleeding, Deever reeled back against the wall. "Hold on to this boy, Frank," he gasped to Lieutenant Bannion. "He's the guy who did for Ed Corbin, not the other one. You'll find the foot he did it with up the alley here."

"A foot?" Bannion goggled at him in the illumination provided by the Homicide Squad's flashlights.

"A metal foot," Danny Deever responded, "like those you'll find weighting the legs of all those dummies in there so they'll stand by themselves. And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got someone to see, inside here." He turned and vanished through the door out of which the killer had come.


BORIS BORNOV was on his way to the Tenth Precinct Station House, his guards wondering whether they dared disobey Lieutenant Frank Bannion's injunction to wait with their "questioning" of him till said lieutenant's return. The Homicide Squad was busy with its camera shots and its dusting for fingerprints and the rest of its variegated activities. Danny Deever and Leila Towne and Frank Bannion were closeted in the office of the Trutulife Figure Corporation.

"When I sat down in here to rest," Danny Deever was saying, "I got thinking and I saw there was something screwy about the set-up. In the first place this place was all lighted up when I came in. 'There must have been someone here just before that,' says I to myself, 'and since they haven't come back yet, maybe they didn't go out of their own free will.'" He winked at Leila, and from that point reverted to the truth.

"I noticed those streaks on the floor there, and I got a hunch they'd been made by shoe polish. I looked closer and sure enough there were little shreds of leather—see—there and there. I was sure by that time someone had been dragged out of here, the back of their heels scraping along the floor.

"But it wasn't enough to get you all hopped about. You see, I—"

"Kind of wanted to make the kill yourself, huh," Bannion cut in. "Feeling that Corbin's popping off was your fault for talking me into having him transferred."

"Right," Deever said, and went on with what he'd heard in the backyard.

"The fourth dummy in the third row," Bannion exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell us that before? Here the boys are breaking in the heads of all them dummies, and all the time you know which one—"

"But I don't," the girl said demurely. "I didn't even know it was a dummy that awful man wanted me to tell him about till he let it slip, with that foot hanging over me. I said anything then, to stop him, to gain a little time. I said the first thing that came into my head. I hoped if he went looking something would happen."

"And it did," Deever said. "That was about the quickest thinking, and the smartest, I ever heard from a gal." He beamed proudly.

"It wasn't anything," Leila demurred. "Not in comparison to the way you worked out the whole thing. That's positively brill—"

"Listen, you two," the police officer protested. "You can postpone this mutual admiration business till I'm not around. Just what's the result of this positively brilliant thinking you've done, Dan?"

"Well," Deever grinned, "the way I figure things is this: The fellow with the knife's been identified as Ramon Gonzales, one of the partners of the Blue Star Specialty Company, dealers in all kinds of novelties, including jewelry that they sell at surprisingly low rates."

"Right. We've always figured them as fences, but we've never been able to get anything on them."

"They weren't fences, but outlets for a smuggling ring. Something in very small compass but exceedingly valuable was sent over hidden in one of the dummy heads, which Leila has told us are made in France from the master models she sculpts. Harding kept all his workers here in ignorance of what he was doing, would send Jimmy out at night with the figures he was specially interested in.

"A delivery was due tonight, but Leila was working late, so Harding 'phoned her to send the figure over. She got her signals twisted and sent the wrong dummy to the wrong place. Bornov had gotten wind of all this somehow, overheard her drilling Jimmy in the address, hijacked the errand boy, killing poor Corbin in the process. Finding out he was fooled, Bornov came back here and kidnapped Leila, figuring on getting the secret of the real dummy out of her.

"Meantime Harding came back here with Gonzales, who saw a chance to double-cross his partners and Harding by sheathing his knife in the latter. But he was a little too previous with his killing, because Harding had somehow gotten mixed up on the figures, and the one he pointed out wasn't the one in which the—whatever it is—is hidden."

"I think I can explain that," Leila interrupted. "After Ralph went out I told Jimmy to dust off the dummies. He must have gotten them all disarranged."

"That's probably it," Deever agreed. "Well, that's about all of it, Frank."

"Except that we still don't know what it's been all about," Bannion explained. "It sure must be something to—" A knock at the door cut him off. "Well?" he called. "Come on in."

The office door opened and Captain Ryan, of the Homicide Squad, entered. "I thought you'd like to see this, Frank," he purred, and opened his big hand.

An iridescent sun lay in the calloused palm, or so it seemed.

"Pretty, isn't it?" Ryan achieved a masterpiece of understatement. "You know what it is?"

"What?" Bannion gasped.

"The Tourjanevsky diamond! Down at Headquarters we've got a circular on it from the Paris Sûreté. It was originally one of the Imperial Russian Crown Jewels, disappeared at the time of the Revolution, showed up in Paris, was stolen about a month ago from its owner. It's worth—oh—somewhere around three or four hundred thousand. A pretty good bait for murder, I'd say."

"Gug," Danny Deever choked. "Gug."

"Hey," Bannion exclaimed. "What's the matter with you?"

"Matter enough," Deever spluttered. "That—that diamond was insured by Federal's Paris office."

"Well, I'll be damned," Bannion blinked. "Three men get killed and a fourth is booked for the hot squat, and you get credit for saving your bosses something like half a million, all on account of a hunch."

"Right," Danny Deever grinned. "And I've got another hunch, right now."

"What is it?"

"That I've got something more than that out of tonight's work," Danny Deever answered. "Something that's worth a damn sight more than half a million to me." He was looking right into Leila Towne's eyes when he said that. And, curiously enough, there seemed to be understanding, and assent, in those long-lashed hazel orbs.


THE END


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