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FROM outside the park there came to me the rush of home-bound traffic, impatient horns, a doorman's shrill whistle for a cab. Around my bench, the spring twilight spread gray shadows in an ominous hush. Shabby, unshaven, shoes scuffed and broken and a stained hat pulled low over my face, I seemed a hobo dreaming away empty and meaningless time. Actually I was strung as taut as any man would be who is waiting to kill or be killed.
Martin Hartley, the unsuspecting bait in the trap, would not fight. He hadn't four years ago, when an insurance company dick assigned to a swank wedding in the Hotel Stratford had followed him into a washroom and put the cuffs on him. He'd taken no part in the prison brawls, up-river, and last week had been given a good conduct discharge after serving only the minimum term of his sentence.
Hartley was a jewel thief who relied on his twisted brain and deft hands. Violence was not in him. It was the other who would blast loose if given half a chance, the unknown to whom he'd tossed Mrs. Granby's pearl necklace through the washroom window the instant before the dick got to him.
That one had got clean away. The policeman who'd spotted him coming out of the side-street alley on which that window opened had not. He'd been left behind on the sidewalk. Not dead. The bullet had missed vital organs but had lodged in his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down for life. That's worse.
I ought to know. For three years and eight months I've lifted Patrolman Dan Page into his wheelchair in the morning and back into his bed. My name is Dan Page too. Detective third grade Daniel Page, Jr.
The Acme Indemnity Company wanted the necklace for whose loss they'd paid Laura Granby eighty-five thousand dollars. The police wanted the necklace and the man who'd vanished with it. The rest of the police. Me, I just wanted the man.
Which was why I'd claimed and been granted the right to be here at the point of greatest danger, on this bench.
In the darkening sky overhead a covey of starlings flew southward. My eyes followed them to where the bench-lined walk and the auto road it bordered curved into the park from the Laurel Street entrance. I stiffened, then relaxed. It was not Hartley who'd appeared around that curve. It was a woman, hatless, in a dark suit.
I fumbled my wristwatch to the edge of my ragged jacket pocket, glanced furtively down at it. Six-thirteen. It was all right. At the brisk pace she walked, she'd be well past here before the man I hunted was due to appear.
The whole Detective Division had hunted him ever since that night and we still had no notion who he was, let alone where. Acme's private investigators, with all close contacts in the trade, had failed to find the least trace of the pearls. To break up the necklace it had taken Cartier two years to assemble would destroy nine-tenths of its value. We concluded that it was being held till Hartley was free to negotiate its sale as a unit, and so we'd put a close tail on him from the prison gate.
Last night listeners on a tapped phone wire had heard two sentences, in an obviously disguised voice. "The West Drive, right opposite Oak Street, at six-twenty P.M. sharp. I'll pick you up in a black Buick sedan."
THE voice's owner had picked his time and place shrewdly. The nearing woman—about twenty-three or four, long-limbed, chestnut hair unruly about the oddly pale oval of her face— was besides myself the only person in sight. The wide meadow behind me had emptied of the youngsters who'd shouted there all afternoon and the sitters were gone from the wooden benches facing the walk.
Only an occasional car seethed north on the one-way drive and across it a grass lawn sloped upward, bare of cover fifty feet to the yellow thicket of forsythia bushes at the base of the park's high retaining wall.
A half-hour earlier, scores of detectives might have mingled with the crowds in here. A half-hour later, darkness would have hidden them. Right now the sedan's driver, coming in from Laurel Street, would have a clear view ahead for more than a quarter-mile. If he spotted anyone trailing Hartley, all he had to do was keep going and we'd never know he'd passed.
We had to take the chance that he'd disregard a single hobo half asleep on a bench.
The girl's heels clicked sharply on the pavement, and neck muscles squeezed my windpipe. Far down in the other direction, two hundred yards along the walk's straightaway, a man was strolling toward me.
Martin Hartley. I recognized his tall, heavy-set figure, the tweed topcoat and dark gray homburg hat I'd watched him buy the day after his release. He was walking very slowly. He still had four minutes to reach his rendezvous and he didn't want to stand around. He—"Do you mind if I sit here?" Before I could answer, the chestnut-haired girl sank down beside me.
No, I groaned inwardly. Oh, no. "I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you," she said nervously. "But I have a good reason for wanting to sit just here."
I stared at her. Faint freckles sprayed the bridge of her small, pert nose and high cheekbones thrust against the white transparency of her skin. She was lovely, and why was she apologizing to a bum? I saw the answer instantly: she was afraid.
She was holding onto her fear with all her strength, but it was in her eyes, gray eyes flecked with silver. "Look, Miss." I got out. "Look. I—"
"Tell me something," she interrupted in that hard, frightened voice. "Is it very awful to die?"
Oh, Lord! "How should I know? I ain't never been dead."
"Of course." A pathetic attempt at a smile. "It isn't being dead that's bad." Fingers gouged dents into the blue leather of the pocketbook they held in her lap.
Movement glimpsed out of the corner of my eye pulled my head to the left and I saw a black sedan nosing around the curve. It seemed to hesitate, then picked up speed. Hartley was now only about twenty paces from us.
I must get her out of here and I had no time to argue or explain.
I turned and leered at her. I said, "Why fuss about dyin', girlie, when the two of us kin have fun together?" I put my hand on her thigh.
Her palm flashed to my cheek in a stinging slap and she jumped up, darted across the walk and into the roadway. The sedan's horn blared. She glanced at it, and halted in its path—rigid, her mouth open on a soundless scream, terror in her eyes.
"Look out!" I yelled, leaping up, but the car still was yards from her, had time to veer around her. It didn't. It burst into speed and hurtled straight at her. I left the curb in a diving tackle, clamped an arm around her knees, hurled her forward and down.
She screamed and motor thunder battered me, roared away. A whistle shrilled, another engine roared. Rolling free of the girl I saw a motorcycle surge out of the forsythia bushes at the park wall, rocket diagonally across grass into the drive.
I shoved my hands down on a spill of small stuff from the girl's bag, gathered my knees under me and watched the cop crouch low over his handlebars as he sped after the fleeing hit-and-run driver. A head, then an arm, thrust out of the sedan's left front window. Metal glinted, sparked.
The motorcycle careened, threw wheel over wheel in a bounding somersault. The sharp crack of shots reached me. A blue form hit concrete, skidded sickeningly along it, smashed into the high curb at the lawn's edge and was still.
I WAS up and running towards it. Two other men were running too, from the forsythia hideout. My boss, Lieutenant Chester, and his right-hand man, Sig Abrams. They had farther to go than I had and by the time they reached Tom Bradburn I already knew there was nothing any of us could do for him.
I straightened up, my stomach knotting. I made myself look at them and read in their faces what they were thinking.
Leather-faced, iron-gray at the temples, Chester shoved his slouch hat to the back of his head and asked, tonelessly, "Did you see what he looks like? Did you at least get the license number?"
"No, sir." I swallowed a lump. "Neither. I was busy trying to get rid of that girl."
Abrams made a hawking sound. "Looked like you was tryin' hard to get rid of her." His look slid past me. "Who you got rid of was Hartley."
Brakes screeched as a cream convertible halted near us, faces gawking from it. The top of the park wall was knobbing with heads and men and boys were starting to clamber down its rough stones.
"They sure played you for a sucker," Abrams added.
I was empty inside. I was sick, but I still had to protest, "How do you mean that?"
"Our bird cased the set-up from the Avenue, spotted you and wasn't takin' any chances on your bein' a cop. He sent in his moll to—"
"The hell she's his moll," I flared. "If she was, he wouldn't have deliberately tried to run her down. She—Hold it!" A sudden inspiration pounded at my skull. "Hold everything!" I wheeled, started away.
I was stopped by Chester's arm, bar-strong across my chest. "Where do you think you're going, Page?"
"Back there to get hold of her. To find out who he is." Did I have to stop and draw a picture for him? "He's the one she was scared of. That means she knows him and she's our lead."
"Was," the lieutenant grunted. "Might have been, but she's gone. I saw her pick up her bag and run off." His arm dropped but I stayed there, listening to his dry voice. "If it isn't too much to ask you to take us into your confidence, Mr. Page, you might tell us what you're driving at."
I told him. I told him what the girl had said and what I'd done and how, as she'd stared at the oncoming windshield stark fear had flared into her eyes. "She recognized him," I said again, "and that's why he tried to kill her. To keep her from telling us who he is."
A muscle twitched in Chester's leathery cheek. "Brilliant, Page. A brilliant piece of police work, especially your letting her get away when you knew all this. Suppose you explain it to the commissioner, at a departmental trial. In the meantime," he said, "you're suspended from duty." He held out his hand. "I'll take your badge and gun."
I put my shield in his hand. I slipped my .38 Special from my shoulder holster and gave it to him. He stowed them in his pocket and turned to Sig Abrams. "You'd better get to a box and put in a call for the m. e. and the morgue wagon," he said to Abrams.
I pushed through the crowd that had closed around us, babbling. This was tough to take. It would be tougher telling Dad about it.
The lamps along the drive came on and made bright holes in the deepening dark. I twisted my wrist to see the time, remembered my watch was in my coat pocket. But it wasn't. It must have dropped out when I made that flying tackle. Maybe it was still there.
An ochre smudge on the concrete, the lid half of a lipstick case, marked the spot for me. Nearer the curb I saw the watch, miraculously undamaged, and beside it a white paper, heel-marked but too fresh-looking to have been lying here long.
A faint smell of violets trailed across my nostrils as I unfolded it. It was a page from a receipt book, the kind you buy for a nickel. Today's date was written in, in an oddly crabbed, angular hand, but the line after the printed Received from was blank. On the next line was written, "One Hundred Fifty Dollars," and beneath this, "For one grave, Row L, Plot 46, No. 7."
The signature was a rubber-stamped Heavenly Rest Cemetery, and a scrawled "N. Hart, Supt."
I wondered if the chestnut-haired girl had bought that grave for herself.
THE smart thing for me to do would have been to take the receipt back to Lieutenant Chester and let him turn the Division loose on it. I'd already proved that I'm not smart, and I was beginning to boil over the raw deal he was handing me.
Maybe he or Sig Abrams would have taken time to read the Buick's license plate while they were jolting the girl out from under its wheels. Maybe they would have thought quickly enough to hang onto her. Maybe. But they'd seen me sprinting to Tom Bradburn and it had been up to one of the two of them to cover Hartley.
The mess-up was as much their fault as mine, but they were big wheels in the Department and I was only a third-grade dick. So I was elected to be the goat. I was suspended from duty. I was booked to appear before the commissioner to answer charges.
The perfect answer would be to bring in, single-handed, the man Chester and Abrams and the whole Detective Division hadn't been able to put a finger on for four years.
I strapped the watch on my wrist I folded the receipt and put it in my wallet. I went out of the park and west on Laurel Street to a drugstore. In the drugstore I looked up the number of the Heavenly Rest Cemetery and put a nickel in the slot of a booth phone and dialed O.
A voice said, "Operator." I told the voice the number. My nickel dropped out and the voice said, "Deposit fifteen cents, please." I deposited the nickel and a dime and listened to the burr of the ringing signal.
I listened to it a long time.
The cemetery office was closed for the night. I would have to wait till morning to ask N. Hart, Supt., the name of the girl who'd bought grave 7 in plot 46, row L, and her address.
I hung up. I collected my fifteen cents out of the little metal cubby into which the coins rattled, but I didn't leave the booth. It had come to me that someone else must be anxious to get hold of the chestnut-haired girl. The man who'd tried to kill her. The man who less than an hour ago had added another reason to whatever one he'd already had for wanting her dead.
If I waited till morning to ask N. Hart her name and address, it might be too late.
I dropped the nickel back in the slot and dialed again. The burr cut off almost before it started, so I knew Dad had been sitting beside the phone in his wheel-chair, gnarled hands on the blanket that covered his useless legs, waiting to hear what had happened in the park.
"It's Dan," I told him. "I won't be home till late, Dad. Knock on the wall for Mrs. Ginsberg to come in and give you your supper, and ask her to send in Abe to help you get to bed."
It was like him not to ask the question I knew was tearing at him. He said only, "Keep your nose clean, son."
"I will." My nose was plenty dirty already. "Good night, Dad."
"Good night, Dan," his throaty voice rumbled. "And good hunting."
Outside the booth I took another look at the phone book, hoping there might be a night call listed. There was none. I had no choice but to travel 'way out to Thibault Road, just inside the city limits, on the chance that a sign on the door of the cemetery office, or maybe a watchman, would tell me where N. Hart kept himself when he wasn't superintending.
As I passed the soda fountain the crisp aroma of grilling bacon, the tang of coffee, reminded me of the yawning cavern in the region of my midriff. I didn't stop to fill it. I went on out and to the curb and signalled a taxi.
The hackie might have been blind for all the notice he paid my outflung arm. The next one slid by just as fast. The scared look the driver of the third threw at me as he stepped on the gas tipped me what was wrong.
I'm not by any means built small. Tie-less, in a ragged gray coat and shapeless blue pants, with twenty hours' growth of red stubble darkening my jaw, I was a tough-looking guy. No cabbie in his senses would pick up a passenger who looked like me.
I compromised on a bus. It wandered all over the city and stopped a million times but it eventually got me to the end of the line. Then I had to walk a mile along a rutted road in darkness that seemed to be made only blacker by the dim bulbs with fluted tin shades bracketed to leaning telephone poles.
The few rattletrap shacks I passed at first petered out after the first hundred yards. On either side of the road was empty flatness out of which came swamp stench and the peeping of frogs. Something pale ahead, on my left, became piles of tombstones in a monument cutter's yard. I passed it, was plodding wearily along an eight-foot iron fence through whose bars I made out the glimmer of gravestones and now and then the bulkier shape of a mausoleum.
The peep—peep—peep of the frogs was beginning to get me. I started whistling loudly to drown it out if I could. A square brick pillar broke the line of bars. One leaf of an iron gate higher than the fence was hinged to the other side of it, the other leaf to the corner of a low, stone building that resembled the mausoleums except that it was somewhat larger.
It was, however, just as dark.
In the face of this cheery edifice that faced the road were a door and then two windows. A bronze plaque was screwed to the door. Bringing my face close to it, I spelled out the verdigris-streaked raised letters:
HEAVENLY REST CEMETERY OFFICE
That was all.
I RATTLED the doorknob, rapped wood with my knuckles. No soap. Wherever the watchman was, he wasn't asleep inside. I returned to the gate, made out the padlocked chain that joined its halves, peered through into darkness relieved only by the pallid glimmer of a cindered driveway and, farther in, of grave markers. I cupped my hands around my mouth and called, "Hallo-o-o. Anybody there?"
All the answer I got was the infernal shrill peep of the frogs behind me. Either there was no watchman or he was too far off to hear me. I turned away, dreading the long trek back to the end of the bus line. Then I stiffened.
Maybe it came from some wreath on a grave. Maybe I just imagined the faint, sweet smell of violets. At any rate, it brought back to me a pathetic attempt at a smile, fear-filled gray eyes, a musical low voice asking, "Is it very awful to die?"
If she didn't already know the answer, she soon would. If I'd taken the receipt to Lieutenant Chester, the Department would have located the cemetery superintendent, but fast. I'd wasted hours that might mean the difference between life and death to the girl, and to call Headquarters now would be to make dead certain I'd be fired from the Force.
And break Dad's heart.
The nearest phone was a mile away. The devil it was! It was only feet away, inside the graveyard office.
I was back at the door, working on its lock with the jackknife blade Dad had taught me how to grind to shape and how to use. The lock gave. I pulled open the door and stepped through, groped along the wall at the edge of the jamb for the switch button that ought to be there.
The darkness in here was not quite complete. It was cut, straight ahead, by an inch-wide, vertical bar of something that could not be called light but at least was lighter than the surrounding murk. My fingers found the switch, pressed, and in sudden glare I saw that the bar was a slit of space between the frame and edge of a door facing the one by which I'd entered.
The exit, undoubtedly, to the cemetery, it was at the other end of an aisle between the wall and a waist-high counter painted dark mahogany. Beyond the counter was the larger part of the office's single room. Against the farther wall stood a big black safe and some green filing cases, and in the space out in front of them a couple of paper-cluttered flat-top desks.
On one of these was the telephone I was after.
I went through an opening in the counter, made for it. I didn't get there. I stopped short, just around the corner of the desk on which it stood and stared down at the floor, the skin at the back of my neck puckering.
I had been wrong about the watchman, partly. He was here in the office, but he wasn't asleep. He was dead.
He lay sprawled face down, his white hair curling over the edge of his uniform's collar, his scrawny frame hunched up by the leather-covered watchman's clock on which he'd fallen. A swivel chair was tipped over on him. One arm was buckled under; the other was flung out. What had been done to that wrinkled hand told me that whoever had done it hadn't meant to kill the old man. Not, at any rate, just yet.
And from the bright scarlet of the blood on it I knew agony had stopped the aged heart not many minutes ago. Not longer ago, most likely, than when I'd come along the road, whistling to drown out the frogs' peeping.
That whistle had warned someone of my approach, had sent him out of the back door into the cemetery, afraid to slam it shut because the sound would have betrayed him to me. He'd had plenty of time to climb the fence somewhere out of sight, there was no use my trying to track him.
What I must do now was call this in to the nearest precinct house and wait for the prowl cars and the Homicide Squad to get here.
I tore my horrified gaze from the corpse, turned to the desk and reached across it for the phone. The handwriting on a loose-leaf ledger sheet that lay on the blotter beside it caught my eye—the same angular, crabbed script I'd seen on the receipt in my wallet. The words "Daily Cash" were written at the top of the paper, and today's date. The second of the three entries below it fairly leaped out at me:
1 grv., Helen Blaine, 201 Winthrop 150.00
This was it. This was what I'd come here for. I could get protection to the girl now, to Helen Blaine, and pray it would reach her in time.
My fingers closed on the phone. A voice behind me growled, "Get 'em up and freeze, Mister."
I got my hands up beside my ears. I froze and listened to the thud of heavy footfalls coming up behind me.
THE chug in my ears wasn't heart-pound but the sound of an idling motor. My eyes slid sidewise to the nearest window, and breath sighed from my lungs.
The car outside that window was a white-topped roadster and the man at its wheel wore a blue uniform. The one thudding up behind me was his partner on their patrol of this lonely road, come in to investigate the unusual light in the cemetery office.
His footfalls halted. A choked gasp, almost a sob, told me he'd spied the corpse on the floor. Then I heard a smoking oath. "You—! I ought to put a slug in you."
"Easy," I said. "Take it easy, pal. I'm a cop myself. A dick."
"Yeah. You look like one." To him, as to the taxi men, I looked like a crumb-bum who'd commit murder for a shot of rotgut. "An' you're due to look a lot worse. We thought a lot of Pop Jackson in this precinct." A hard hand prodded my flanks, my buttocks, frisking me. "Okay. You can turn around."
I did. The patrolman was a burly customer and the .44 he held on me looked the size of a young cannon. "What were you tryin' to get out of Pop?" he asked thickly, white pits of rage denting the skin at either wing of his broken-bridged nose. "The safe combo? There's no money in it, only papers and books."
I licked dry lips. "I wasn't trying to get anything out of him. I found him like that—" The gun licked out to barrel-whip my face and I ducked under it, butted a granite jaw with my skull, got a heel behind an ankle and hammered fists into a muscle-armored midriff.
The cop fell, bellowing, and as I leaped past him an answering shout from the road made it clear that a shot would greet me at the door. I vaulted the counter, was through the rear door and had slapped it shut. Cinders crunched under my soles as I angled off the walkway, pelted across the grass into darkness.
Another shout was wall-muffled behind me. Hinges creaked and light laid my shadow on an angel-topped monument a few feet ahead. A shot pounded the night, a chip flew from the angel's wing and I'd reached the stone, had whirled around behind it. Bent low, I kept going on a line that kept it between me and the bellowed commands to halt, hurdled a black hedge, ducked into the covert of a tomb, chanced a backward glance.
Two flashlight beams lanced the blackness, probing for me. I was running between rows of gravestones dimly visible in the murk, my feet soundless on the soft sod. I angled and angled again and breath rasped my throat. Pain was an iron belt compressing my chest. I couldn't run any longer; I had to stop.
I'd lost the men who hunted me, but I'd lost myself too. I was deep inside the cemetery and I had no notion at all which way was out.
Those harness bulls must be back in the office by now, phoning to have a cordon thrown around the graveyard. The one who'd started to pistol-whip me was a sample of the kind of cop that manned an outlying precinct like this, bad eggs exiled to the goats, or panicky rookies, the kind that if they spied me would shoot first and ask questions later.
Maybe I should have taken the thrashing the broken-nosed bull had been about to deal me. He would eventually have tired of it and called the house, and even if none of the dicks who showed up knew me, I'd at least have been able to tell my story to someone who'd have the brains to do something about it.
As my panting eased, the infernal chorus of frogs returned to plague me, but it wasn't as shrill as it had been. It was farther off, and it came to me from only one direction. That, of course, was the direction of the swamp and the road, the road along which any moment now the squad cars would be rolling to cut me off.
I might still have time to beat them to it.
ONCE more I was running through the necropolis, toward the shrilling of the frogs. I breathed more easily now but my leg tendons ached unbearably. I slowed, struggled to the brow of the climb. "Got yuh!" a harsh voice growled.
Struck motionless, I stared into the tombstone-serrated darkness, saw no one. "Don't shoot," someone begged. "Don't shoot. I'm coming out."
"Damned right you're coming out," the first speaker growled, below me. "And you're not getting a chance to try any more of your tricks."
A monument on the slope's crest offered me cover from which I peered down to where a flashlight beam swathed through the blackness and struck out of it the slant-sided replica of an Egyptian tomb. Out of this, from the deep door embrasure, a man moved into the light, arms lifted.
"Hey!" the cop holding the torch exclaimed. "Who the hell are you?"
I could have told him. The man who stared into the flashlight glare, at the revolver snouting from beside its lens, gulped and said, "My name's Hartley. Martin Hartley."
The watchman's death, then, just before I got here was no coincidence. It was tied in somehow with what had brought me here.
"Hartley." Repeating the name, the patrolman's tone made it evident it meant nothing to him. "Okay, Hartley. Where's your pal?"
"The guy in the office back there." I could make out the faint reflection of the light from its open door, off to the right. "The son that was standin' over Pop Jackson's corpse."
"Corpse!" The face under Hartley's homburg went black. "He—he murdered the watchman?"
"You damn well know he did. You was in there with him. You helped him work on Pop's hands. Who is he? What's his name?"
"He worked on—No! Oh, no-o-o!" Hartley seemed to shrink inside his gray topcoat, to grow shorter. "I wasn't—I was waiting here for him." He looked sick now, he talked as if he was about to be very sick. "He told me that if he talked to the old man alone, he could buy a look at the book for a twenty-dollar bill. He—" His voice broke, came again, thin and jittering with hysteria. "He promised me there'd be no more killing." It cut like a knife the eerie graveyard silence. "I've protected him for four years, but I'm through. All through. I'll—"
The sharp crack that cut him short came from my left. His arms dropped and he was crumpling down and I was circling swiftly toward the flat-topped grave marker, somewhat below mine, from which I'd seen the spurting flash of the shot.
A shadow flitted from behind that stone, darted silently down the slope. The tomb hid it from the cop. He'd doused the beam that had made a target of Martin Hartley, would have done the same for him. Below me I made out the fence and, blackly outlined against the pale strip of road beyond, a sedan.
I heard a shout from the direction of the office and from the same direction but infinitely farther off, the moan of a siren. The killer was almost to the fence, seemed still to be unaware of me, but I was beginning to doubt whether I could overtake him before he reached the bars.
I reached for my gun, touched empty leather where it should be. The cop had one, but my yell would only bring lead flying my way. Feet thudded to the left of me and someone yelled, "Joe! What the hell, Joe?" I pulled in a sobbing breath, spurted, was caught across the ankles by some low barrier and went flying, hit the ground hard.
There was more than one siren now and they were nearer, but not near enough. Below, as I fought to my feet, the killer was atop the fence and was dropping down on the other side.
I got going again, reached the iron pickets, starter burr greeting me as I gathered myself and sprang for the top rail. My desperate grip caught it and I flexed my arms, swung a leg up and over as the motor caught. The cops shouted and the sirens howled and I had the other leg over and thudded down into the road.
Too late! The black car leaped away and was thundering hell for leather away from the nearing moans of the squad cars.
Their headlights, coming fast, still were a half-mile distant. They couldn't possibly overtake the killer's sedan, but there must be a two-way radio in one that could flash a call for road blocks.
I started running to meet them. Inside the cemetery someone yelled, "There he is!” and a bullet gonged on a fence bar.
The next one whined through but I wasn't there. I dived across the road and down into bulrushes higher than my head, crouched on a quaking surface just enough stiffer than mud to hold my weight.
Brakes squealed, behind and above me, and motors hammered "In the swamp, captain," the broken-nosed cop yammered "He's down in there somewhere and he's got a gun he don't make no bones about usin'."
"Okay, men," a deeper-chested bellow commanded. "Spread out along the road fast and cover the bog. If you spot anyone in there, shoot first and shoot to kill."
THE hard-edged white beams of flashlights, headlights, searchlights, cut the night into ribbons. From all along the road they slanted into the morass, probing for me, but the reeds grew so thickly they could not penetrate. Police lined the edge of the swamp, fingers on the triggers of revolvers, riot guns, Browning automatics, but the little frogs shrilled so loudly they could not hear the suck of the bog at my feet, the rustle of the rushes as I slipped through them.
They didn't dare come down into the swamp after me. They'd be blinded by the head-high reeds and would have to hold their fire till they were sure of their targets while I'd be free to fire at every hint of movement.
They didn't know I had no gun. They didn't know I was one of them.
The lights were not quite so bright, striking through the reeds. Working away from the road, I was nearing friendlier darkness, and the question was flogging my weary brain: What had brought Hartley and his accomplice to the cemetery? What had they needed to know so badly that they'd taken the risk, that they'd tortured the old watchman to force him to tell them?
Not Helen Blaine's address. That had been right there on the desk for them to read.
What then? The combination to the safe? The tough cop with the broken nose had said it contained only papers and books. Books! Hadn't Hartley said just before he was shot down, that the killer had told him they could buy a look at "the book" for a twenty-dollar bill? What kind of book? Accounts? A register of the plot holders? That was it!
For some reason they'd needed to locate, tonight, some particular grave. The grave, it seemed clear, that Helen Blaine had bought today. This was the link between the park and the cemetery, the chain that had brought Hartley to his death and me to dodge death in this stinking swamp.
If I died, the road would be open for the killer to return, still unknown, and silence the only person who could tie him to his three murders.
If I died, Helen Blaine too would die, and the man whose bullet was lodged in my father's spine would forever be safe from capture.
I'd outdistanced the lights. I was enveloped by black darkness, could pause to orient myself. For some time, I realized, the ground had been growing firmer under my feet. The reeds, too, were here less lush, more thinly spaced. Peering through them I discerned not far ahead the lift of an embankment and, set back from its edge, a line of low buildings that, though unlighted, dimly reflected sky-glow in their plate-glass fronts.
Stores. I'd crossed the bog, diagonally, to the block of taxpayers that waited at the end of Castleridge Avenue for the city to grow out to them.
South along that avenue, a half-mile or so, was Castle Square, taxis, perhaps an all-night diner with a phone I could use.
I started forward to climb up there—stopped again, my throat squeezing. Just in time I'd glimpsed a dark shape motionless at the railing that guarded the embankment. Now I spotted another some twenty feet farther along, and now a third about the same distance this side of the first.
Radio from the cemetery road had brought them here. I remembered the order I'd heard bellowed along the road. "Shoot first, and shoot to kill."
I've taken my share of knocking around, and have handed out as good as I've gotten. I think I'm pretty thick-skinned, but at that moment I was as near to tears as I've been since the day I came home from school and Dad told me my mother was dead.
How could I get it across to those men up there that I was a cop too without drawing a shot that would cut me off before I got it out?
How? There must be some way. There had to be, but I couldn't think of one. The shrill of the frogs was rasping my nerves once more, but under it was another sound, a liquid glug. I shifted my stance a little and made out a circular dark splotch on the embankment's dark slope. At its base, I caught a glint of water just there.
It was the mouth of a culvert that bored under the street, draining the swamp. It was big enough for me to crawl into, if I could get to it unheard and unseen. But just above it, a cop leaned on the railing.
I dropped flat, and slid, rather than crawled, towards it. Foot by foot, belly down in the mud, I neared it and squirmed into eye-thumbing darkness, into the concentrated stench of the morass. I crawled through the culvert, legs and forearms immersed in icy scum, knees and hands slithering on slime-sheathed metal.
I pulled out of the endless tunnel and sank down, exhausted and shivering, on a mess of broken bricks and the other debris of new construction through which the little stream of drainage gurgled away into the night
I'd broken through the cordon. The stores, whose rear walls rose darkly above me, were between me and the cops. But I was not yet in the clear. My description undoubtedly had been put on the air within minutes after I'd dived into the bog. Every beat patrolman in the city, every traffic cop, every prowl car had it by now, and the instant I was seen anywhere, I'd be blasted down as the cop-killer, the torture-murderer, they'd been told I was.
I dared not show myself in the streets. I dared not stay here waiting for daylight to reveal me to the first storekeeper who opened his back door. I dared not stay here, even till daylight. I was sopping wet and chilled through. The night breeze was striking through to my bones. I had to get out of it. At all costs, I had to get where it was warm.
I pushed up and staggered to the door that broke the brick back wall of the nearest store. Its lock yielded to my knife blade as easily as had that of the cemetery office. But I opened it more cautiously, tautly aware that the merest hinge-squeal would bring the men who leaned on the rail out there, with guns blazing.
The opening was wide enough to admit me. I slipped inside and eased the door shut as silently as I'd opened it. I stared into gratefully warm darkness that held the odors of cloth under a hot iron, of cleaning fluid.
And now I heard a gasp, a whimper of voiceless terror.
MY hard luck still held. I'd let myself into a tailor shop whose owner slept in its backroom. "Okay," I murmured, low-toned, into the dark. "Don't make a fuss and you won't get hurt." Breath hissed beside me, and I made out, under a barred window in the rear wall, the pale shape of a bed and a dark head lifted from its pillow. "Keep mum and you'll be okay," I said.
And an idea came to me, a way to get myself out of the jam I was in, at last. "All I want is a chance to use your phone."
The cot creaked. "N-no phone," I heard. "Th-they didn't connect it yet."
Of course not. My luck was holding true to form. "What's that ahead of me?" Something, a black mass, cut off the sky-glow that should be filtering in here from out front. "A partition?"
It was ceiling high. "Get up," I directed, "and give us some light."
The bed creaked more loudly. Bare feet padded the floor, and a switch clicked. Yellow glare spilled down from a naked bulb on the bald pate, bulging eyes and gaping mouth of a stooped little man in a pink-striped flannel nightshirt whose hem fluttered against his knobbed knees. "Easy," I murmured. "Take it easy. I'm not Boris Karloff, even if I do look like him."
I must look like Dracula and Frankenstein's monster rolled into one. I'd looked bad enough when I started out, now I was mucked with the mud of the swamp and the slime of the culvert. I could well understand the paralyzing horror with which he stared at me.
Behind him was the rough, unpainted back of the partition I'd guessed at, its door shut. To one side was a steam pressing machine, and beyond it was a rack of iron piping on which hung a half-dozen or so men's suits and a couple of women's cloth coats. Along the other sidewall were a battered chifforobe and a wooden icebox, on top of which was a two-burner gas stove. In the corner, at the head of the bed, was an enameled washbasin.
A shelf over this held a comb and hairbrush, a Gillette razor, a tube of Burma-Shave.
"Look," I said. "I'm hungry. How about getting me some chow out of that icebox?"
The tailor's retreating chin quivered as though he was trying to say something, but nothing came out. He turned toward the icebox and I stepped forward and thudded my fist against the base of his skull.
I caught him in my arms, lifted him and laid him gently back on his cot. I covered him with the tumbled blankets and started towards the sink. By the time I reached it, I'd ripped off my coat and shirt, and was unknotting the rope that served me for a belt.
Fifteen minutes later, washed and shaved, I felt like a human being again. To get into the shirt I found in a drawer of the chifforobe, I had to rip it up the back, but a big knot in the tie I'd taken from the same drawer covered the space where the ends of its collar failed to meet. A brown, pinstripe suit from the rack might have been made for me, but all I could do about shoes was sponge the muck from the ones I had on and hope no one would notice the cracks in their uppers.
I could get along without a hat, but I needed one thing more. The keys to the store. I found them in a pocket of the tailor's own pants, folded neatly over the back of a chair. I held them in my hand as I pulled the dangling cord that switched off the light.
I went out through the front of the shop. My heart hammered ribs as I unlocked the street door and closed it again from outside. I put the key back in the lock. In the door's plate-glass panel, I saw, mirrored, a uniformed figure that was coming across the gutter to me.
I turned to face the cop, wondering if this was his regular beat, wondering if he knew the little tailor by sight.
HE wasn't a beat cop. The gold badge of a sergeant was pinned to his cap. He said, "I thought all you guys along here had closed up and gone home long ago."
Twenty minutes ago I'd have sold my soul for this chance to tell him who I was without getting a slug in my brain first. Maybe the professors can figure out why I didn't, why I stretched my mouth in a yawn and mumbled, "Wish I had, but I was stuck. There's a big neighborhood shindig on tomorrow and all my customers bring in their good suits to be pressed at the last minute, so I turn out the lights in front and work on them in the backroom."
I couldn't tell by his expression how well this was getting over. "The worst of it is," I grinned ruefully, "my phone ain't connected yet and I can't let the little woman know I'm going to be late. I've got a hell of a long ride home and she'll probably be throwing cat-fits by the time I get there. I better be getting started to where I can grab a cab if I've got luck."
I turned away—The sergeant's hand closed on my arm and my stomach knotted. "Hold it, bud." He was urging me toward a white-topped roadster parked near the corner. "I've got to run down to the Square to report, so I can give you a lift that far."
"Gee, thanks," I breathed, more grateful than he could have any idea. "That's white of you." It was time, and long past, that I got a break, but this one was a honey. "Damn decent."
"Hell," he grunted. "I'm married too."
Maybe his real purpose was to get me away from there before I noticed what was going on, for some reason. Anyway, he said nothing about the manhunt as we climbed into the prowl car and started off. "Cripes," I sighed, "I'm sure plugged," slumping down on my spine in the seat alongside him. "I could sleep on a picket fence."
I let my eyes close, and conscience started jabbing me. I'd gotten myself off the spot I'd put myself on, but I was giving the killer more time for his getaway. No, I wasn't. He knew his car had been seen at the scenes of two killings, and would have ditched it by now, and that was all I knew about him, all I could tell the police about him.
But what about this girl, this Helen Blaine? Even if she couldn't tell us his name, she could describe him, and once that was put on the teletype, the police of seven states would be on the lookout for him. Okay. There was no longer any rush to protect her and I could get that description from her as well as a whole squad of dicks could. I couldn't bring him in single-handed, but this would be enough to make Lieutenant Chester look cheap if he pressed those blasted charges against me.
I certainly owed myself that much after all the grief I'd been through.
I could also get out of her how the grave fitted in— "You're in luck, tailor," the sergeant grunted. "There's a cab right here, waiting for you." The car skidded to a halt, cantwise, to the curb, and I thanked him again when I got into the cab and slammed its door shut.
I couldn't repress a "Whew!" of relief, but the hackie took it to be because I'd found a taxi out in this neck of the woods at this hour. "I just rode a couple of reporters out here," he exclaimed, as gear clashed and the cab lurched into motion, "The bulls are battlin' a gang uh commies that was holdin' a secret meetin' in the cemetery. Four cops've been killed already and no tellin' how many's got lead in 'em."
"You don't say," I mumbled. "What do you know about that." Then fatigue hit me like a padded hammer and the next thing I knew, the taxi had stopped and the cabbie was shaking me awake.
The stainless-steel entrance doors of number 201 were framed in rose-pink glass blocks, illuminated from within. The vestibule's inner door was all glass, etched with a design that looked to me like doodling. It was locked. To one side of it a row of crimson plastic pushbuttons were sunk into pink marble with name-plates above them. I spotted the one that said BLAINE 3C, and noticed that another name had been scratched out. But as I reached to thumb the button, the door opened, and a Pekinese scuttered out, pulling after it on a leash an unhappy looking fat man.
"Good evening," he rumbled, holding the door open for me.
I went across the mirror-walled lobby inside and into an automatic elevator, and pressed the button marked 3.
THE cage door slid shut. The elevator rose slowly, stopped, and the door slid open. I stepped out into a hall with a green-tiled floor and walls of terra-cotta colored rough plaster, studded with dark-green metal doors. The one with "3C" painted on it was next to the elevator. A blue eye stared out at me from its center, head-high, startling me for a second, till it dawned on me that it was the reflection of my own eye in the one-way glass of a patent peephole.
I thumbed the bell button in the door frame and heard a chime inside.
The girl might be asleep. She might be out. She might be inside and unable to come to the door because the killer had come here before he went to the cemetery. She—"Yes," the door said, with a man's voice. "What do you want?"
I goggled, and realized that the voice had come through a tiny slit in the peephole's brass frame. I said, "I want to see Helen Blaine."
"She isn't here," the door said. "She's still at the funeral parlor."
First a graveyard, now a funeral parlor. "Okay, I'll go there, then. Where is it?"
The man inside waited. When he did speak, he didn't answer me. He said, "It's late and Miss Blaine has had a hard day. Whatever you want to see her about can wait till tomorrow."
"Wrong. It can't wait till tomorrow. I want to talk with her tonight."
"You do, do you?" The voice was annoyed. "Who the devil do you think you are?"
"Detective Dan Page," I told the man on the other side of the door. "City Police."
Another moment of startled silence. Then, "What's it all about? What do you want from my sister?"
I couldn't yell in a public hall that I wanted to ask her about a murderer, but I still was too fogged with fatigue to think of any better answer than, "I've got something she lost this afternoon. A receipt for a grave."
"Oh, yes," the voice said, "Helen's quite upset over having lost it." The doorknob rattled. "But there's no need for you to go looking for her, you can leave it with me."
The door was opening. It stopped with the space less than a foot wide, but the shoulder I laid against it got it moving again. I shoved into a small foyer and grinned at the man who'd been only a voice till now. "You don't mind if I come in?" I said.
"Of course not," he lied. He was only a little shorter than me, slim in a maroon house robe, beneath which he was coat-less and without a tie, but otherwise fully dressed. He had black, slicked-down hair, a narrow, bony face and black eyes that glittered in the light from a fluorescent tube in the foyer's ceiling. "It's good of you to bring that receipt around, Mr.—er—Page." He let the door slam shut and held his hand out for it. "My sister will be very thankful."
I made no attempt to bring out my wallet and give it to him. I said, "She isn't staying at that funeral parlor all night, is she?"
"No," Blaine admitted.
"In that case," I said, "she's probably starting home about now, and if I go looking for her I'll miss her."
Ignoring the grunt of protest in his throat, I went past him and into the living room. I switched on a lamp and sank down on the sofa where the coffee table would hide my broken shoes. Blaine came in after me and stopped in the middle of the floor.
All he could think of was to say again, "There's no need of waiting for Helen. You can leave the receipt with me."
"I can," I agreed pleasantly, "but I'm not going to. You see, Mr. Blaine, what I really came for was to ask your sister about the man who tried to kill her in the park this afternoon."
His cheeks sucked in, cupping shadows. "I don't understand."
"Didn't she tell you about it?" I asked.
"Why, no," he answered. "She didn't have a chance to." Veins thickened in his forehead, netting it. "I've been out of town all day and when I got home, only about a half-hour ago, Helen wasn't here."
He must have seen something in my expression, because he went on smoothly, "I called the parlor and they told me she was there, but I didn't ask to speak with her."
It was a good try but it still didn't explain how he knew she was upset about losing the grave receipt. "On second thought," I yawned, "I guess there isn't too much sense in my waiting around here. I'll come back in the morning to talk to your sister."
Blaine's right hand had come out of the robe's pocket and there was a gun in it, a flat, dull-black automatic.
"No, Mr. Page," he said. His voice was thin abruptly. Wire- edged. "You're not going anywhere. You're not talking with Helen. Not in the morning, or tonight, or ever."
Maybe my sudden decision not to stay had tipped him that I'd guessed he was the man in the black sedan, the man in the graveyard. Maybe I hadn't kept my face mask-like, as I'd thought I had when suddenly the whole pattern had come clear to me. At any rate, he'd stymied my plan to get near enough to him to jump him. "I made a mistake letting you in here," he was saying. "I'm not making another one by letting you get out."
He pulled in breath. "Here it comes, Page." But he didn't shoot. The hall door's lock had clicked, and now it was opening. He was rigid, but standing side-wise to the door, he could watch it and keep me covered.
The door slammed shut and Helen Blaine was across the foyer, and in the archway, before she stopped short.
"Carl," she husked. "Carl Engstrom. How did you get in this apartment?"
"I used my key," he answered, his smile tight, mocking. "I didn't throw it away when I left and you moved in here with Mary."
He wasn't her brother, then. He didn't live here, and so my corpse here would not point at him but only at the slender girl motionless in the archway, her fingers denting the slow heave of her breast.
"Mary's dead," said Helen. Her voice was flat, lifeless. "She took those pills, and she's dead and you can't hurt her any more. You can't terrorize her any more, so why did you come here?"
"To wait for you, Helen," said Engstrom, coldly. "To ask you where the grave is that you bought this afternoon."
And to kill her, I added silently, when she'd told him. After she'd told him. That's why he didn't shoot her as soon as she'd closed the door, because he isn't sure the receipt will tell him.
Her throat worked. She was going to tell him, and then he'd finish us. "If you know that much," she said, "you must have followed me there."
"No, I didn't follow you there," he said. "I was up at Norwalk, in the bank, opening the safe deposit box Mary rented in both our names. It had only that blasted letter of hers in it. So I drove back to town like a bat out of hell, but you'd already left the funeral parlor. I knew what you were up to when the people there told me you'd insisted on picking out the grave yourself, and that you'd asked if you could have it opened right away, but it was too late then."
He didn't say why, but I knew. He'd had his rendezvous with Martin Hartley to keep, and he couldn't drive to Thibault Road and back in time to keep it. What I didn't yet understand was what had brought Helen pat to the time and place of that rendezvous.
Engstrom's next words explained, "I thought I had a break when I saw you getting up from the bench where you used to sit with Mary, waiting for me to come and pick her up.
"I figured I'd knock you down, put you in my car, as if I was rushing you to a hospital, and take you where I could make you talk, but that damned hobo knocked you out from under my wheels, and then all hell blasted loose and I lost you."
"I was that hobo, Engstrom," I said. "That's how I come to have the receipt in my wallet." His automatic snouted at my head. "Too bad you couldn't stop to pick it up, because it's got the lot and plot number of that grave on it."
"It has, has it?" he snarled. She just stared at me, her throat-pulse fluttering, as Engstrom demanded, "What is it?"
I lifted a hand as if to slip it under my coat's flap to an inside breast pocket. "No you don't," he snapped, his gun jabbing.
"Okay, Mister," I said, "Suppose you get it out for yourself then."
"Not me," he grinned. "I'm not getting near enough for you to pull any judo trick on me. You, Helen. Get his wallet out and hand it to me. From the far side."
She was moving. She was coming into the room, step after slow step, like a sleepwalker.
She was almost to Engstrom. She was passing me. Suddenly, she twisted and snatched at his gun! He jerked it away and my feet thumped the coffee table's underside, hurled it at him. It struck his shins, staggering him, and I was up, diving across the space between us. A shot pounded and my fist chunked on his jaw. I tried to throw my other fist, but pain screamed in its shoulder.
Engstrom had his balance again. He pulled the trigger point- blank at me. The shot parted my hair and my skull butted into his midriff and the two of us were flying across the room.
We thudded into a chair and hit the floor. I saw metal skitter away. I lifted to my knees and smashed my good fist into the face I'd hated for four years before I'd ever seen it, smashed it again and again.
Carl Engstrom lay crumpled against the nubbly, dark-green fabric of the chair.
I climbed onto my feet and my left arm dangled like so much wood. The pain in my shoulder was hot metal burning. Blood dripped down my fingers. Helen Blaine was coming toward me.
"You're hurt," she said. Her husky voice quivered, but the fear was gone out of her gray eyes. "Let me see what I can do for your arm."
"That can wait," I grinned happily. "I've got a call to make. Where's your phone?"
She pointed to it. I got to it, dialed a number, and looked at a snapshot that lay on the table.
It showed the bench in the park, two girls on it. One was Helen, the other a shorter girl, blonde and high-breasted. She was pretty in an insipid way. "Mary Roan?" I asked.
"You loved her a lot, didn't you?" I said. "So much that you'd even break the law to carry out her dying wish..." Then Sergeant Toland, in the Detective Division squadroom at Headquarters, came on the phone. "This is Dan Page," I told him. "Is Lieutenant Chester around?"
"He's here, but he's busy." Toland said.
"Busy or not, put him on," I snapped.
THE room was starting to swing around me in great, dizzy arcs. I said, "Helen, please fish my wallet out of my breast pocket and get that receipt out of it."
She had to come close to do it, and the scent of violets was very sweet.
"What the hell do you want?" Chester's voice growled in my ear.
"Nothing," I told him, "except to tell you to come around here and pick up the guy we tried to trap in the park. Two-oh-one Winthrop. Apartment three C."
His gurgling gasp was music to me. "Oh, another thing, Lieutenant," I added. "You'll find that pearl necklace in a fresh grave in the Heavenly Rest Cemetery. In grave number seven, plot four-six, row L."
I fumbled the receiver back into its cradle and turned to the chestnut-haired girl, and said, "Mary beat Engstrom to the safe deposit box in Norwalk and got the necklace out of it. She must have read in the papers that Hartley was being released, and guessed that the lover who'd deserted her soon would be taking it from the place where she'd hidden it for him. He found only a letter telling him she was going to kill herself and that it would be buried with her."
Helen nodded. "He'd hurt her so much that she wanted to hurt him," she said, "and it was the only way she could."
Somewhere outside a police siren was moaning. "She made you promise that you'd bury it with her," I said. "You figured he'd get it out of her coffin, somehow, before the funeral, so you thought of getting it into the grave beforehand."
The room was filling with a gray mist and the floor was heaving under me. "I've got to make another call," I muttered. "Got to call Dad and tell him—tell him—"
The mists were swirling into my skull. I was sliding down into them, but an arm was around me, holding me up, and the door chime was welling into the blur. I slid down and down into the gray mists and the sweet scent of violets followed me down into a nothingness where, at last, I could rest.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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