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NORBERT DAVIS

CHARITY BEGINS AT HOMICIDE

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First published in Dime Detective Magazine, Oct 1943

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-01-22
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Dime Detective Magazine, Oct 1943, with "Charity Begins at Homicide"


TABLE OF CONTENTS



1. — CHARITY BEGINS AT CHANNEL ISLAND

GUITERREZ was waiting. He was not waiting patiently, but then he never did anything very patiently. He was walking up and down on the sidewalk in front of his restaurant with his tall chef's hat pushed down over one eye, his hands clasped behind him and his long, slightly soiled apron swishing snakily around his ankles. . In the dimmed lights that came through the restaurant windows he looked like a shadowy Satan with the stomach-ache.

"Hello," said Max Latin.

Guiterrez jumped a foot. "You!" he yelled. "Haven't you got any regard for my health? Do you want to scare me to death? Would you like to see me drop dead here in the gutter?"

"It's not a bad idea," said Latin. "Why don't you?"

"Just to please you?" Guiterrez sneered. "Hah! I can see myself. Listen, you crook. I've been waiting for you. I want to ask you a question—and no lies. Did you get to England while you were in the Army?"

Latin was wearing a tailored blue topcoat and a dark blue rolled brim hat, and he blended into the shadows as though he belonged to them. He was thin and a little above medium height, and he had a blandly confidential smile that didn't mean any more than the ones they paint on kewpie dolls. His eyes were greenish and tipped a little at the corners, and they never smiled at all.

"No," he answered. "I told you I never got further than the basic training camp. They found out there I was as color blind as Grant's Tomb and shipped me home."

"Were you ever in England before you got in the Army, then?"

"No."

"Latin, did you commit any crimes in New Zealand or Australia or South Africa?"

"No," said Latin, "but I recall a little matter of some jewels smuggled across from Canada if that will help you any."

Guiterrez slapped himself on the forehead. "Oh-oh!"

"It was all a mistake," Latin soothed. "The customs authorities made an error."

"Well, the error has caught up with you."

"So?" said Latin. "How do you figure?"

Guiterrez tapped him on the chest impressively. "Sherlock Holmes' younger brother is sitting in your booth right this minute. I didn't like the looks of this baby when he came in, and when he asked for you, both Dick and I tried to give him the brush-off. Latin, you couldn't brush this number off with an anti-tank gun. He just sits. I think you better take a powder."

"Let's see what he wants first."

"Latin," said Guiterrez, "I don't think you're gonna like English jails. They're damp, and you catch cold easy."

"I'll take a chance. Come on."


HE opened the door, and the noise rolled out like the overflow from a jam session in a boiler factory. Guiterrez' place was never noted for its air of quiet refinement. The customers were hardy souls who took what came and thrived on it as long as it included substantial portions of Guiterrez' cooking, which was really almost as good as he thought it was.

Latin and Guiterrez worked their way expertly through the uproar and the writhing, close-packed tables to the last of the row of booths that ran along the side wall.

"Well, I found him for you," said Guiterrez. "The service you get in this dump is amazing. Even crooks we serve for supper."

"I'm Max Latin. Did you want to see me?" Latin said.

The man in the booth was so typically upper-class British that he looked faintly unreal. He had a long bony face burned brick- red by the sun and a close-clipped gray, military-style mustache and gray shaggy eyebrows. His eyes were a light blue, and he looked pained when he smiled.

"Ah, yes," he said. He got up, awkward and bony in the narrow booth, and extended his hand. "Carter-Heason, here. Will you sit down?"

Latin slid into the seat across the table. A small and wizened waiter in an apron so big that it could have, and apparently had, been used for a tent, skidded to a stop beside the booth and said: "You want to give him the good brandy, Latin?"

"Certainly," said Latin.

The waiter produced a bottle from under his apron.

Latin looked at Guiterrez. "Is there anything keeping you here?"

"I just wanted one last look at you before you got that prison pallor," Guiterrez told him. "Good-by, Latin, you louse. It was nice knowing you." He slammed through the swing door into the steamy bedlam of the kitchen.


CARTER-HEASON raised his shaggy eyebrows at Latin. "Were you planning on going somewhere?"

"Guiterrez thinks you're going to arrest me."

"Arrest you?" Carter-Heason said blankly. "But why?"

Latin shrugged. "Lots of people do."

Carter-Heason looked vague. "Oh, I see. No, I assure you the thought hadn't entered my mind. I came here to do business with you. I was told that this was your office. That was some of your American humor, I imagine."

"No. It is my office."

Carter-Heason made a little flustered gesture. "I meant no offense, really. Entirely your affair where you conduct your business, of course. But this establishment is rather—ah—confusing..."

"Sometimes that helps in my business," Latin said. "Now what can I do for you?"

"Oh, yes. Now I've heard that you have a reputation for engaging in certain—all—sharp practices. Please don't be offended, old chap. My information might be entirely wrong."

"It's not wrong," Latin said.

"I see. And I've heard, on very good authority, that you have been remarkably successful at engaging in these practices."

"Yes," said Latin.

"I've been told that although you've been arrested innumerable times, you've never been convicted."

"That's right."

"Well," said Carter-Heason. He sipped his brandy, smiled weakly. "Well..."

Latin chuckled. "Come right out with it. Do you want to hire me?"

"Ah!" said Carter-Heason, relieved. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. You see, it's not exactly..."

"Honest," Latin finished.

"Well..."

"Is it, or isn't it?" Latin asked. "After all, you should know."

"That's just the trouble, old chap. I don't."

"I'll soon tell you," Latin said. "Just tell me all about it."

"That would be best, wouldn't it? Right. Have you ever heard of the Channel Islands?"

"Channel Islands," Latin repeated. "They're small islands in the English Channel, aren't they? Close to the French coast?"

"Right. They were occupied by the Germans in the early part of the war."

"What about them?"

"There's a chap by the name of Fortwyn going about here and there in America collecting funds for the relief and rehabilitation and re-establishment of the interned residents of these islands after the war. Very good thing. Very admirable. The people of the islands have a cultural background that is their own and unique and well worth preserving, and there's no doubt but what they've been battered about considerably by the German occupying forces."

"What's the beef, then?"

"Eh? Oh, I see. Fortwyn is a British citizen." Carter-Heason added as an afterthought: "So am I, you know."

"Never would have guessed it," Latin said. "I gather you don't like this Fortwyn character."

"No," said Carter-Heason judicially. "I don't. In fact, I don't completely trust him."

"Ah," said Latin. "Now we're coming to pay-dirt."

"Yes. As you say. Now the funds that Fortwyn is collecting are to be administered after the war."

"Maybe," Latin suggested.

"That's the crux of the matter," Carter-Heason admitted. "He has a small group of his own. He is not connected with any other organized charity or war relief society. That does not, of course, mean that his methods or motives are in any way questionable."

"Does he keep books?" Latin asked.

"Yes. Very excellent ones. I've inspected them. Several times."

"Did he squawk?"

"Eh? Object, you mean? Well, in a way. I mean, the first time he seemed cordial enough, but he grew distinctly cooler when I came back."

Latin nodded. "Yeah. Did the books seem to be on the square?"

"Oh, yes. Administrative expenses were very small—investments excellent. The idea is that the funds are to be kept in trust for use on the islands after the conclusion of the war."

"In whose trust?" Latin asked.

Carter-Heason sighed. "An incorporated trust company, of which Fortwyn is the president of the board of directors. There are two other directors. One is his secretary, the other is the accompanist of his singer—a piano player."

"Oh-oh," said Latin.

"That was my impression," Carter-Heason said ruefully. "There's nothing obviously wrong with the arrangement. Fortwyn makes no effort to conceal it It has the advantage of keeping down administrative expenses."

"It also has the advantage," Latin observed, "of allowing Fortwyn to vote to do any damned thing he pleases with those funds any time he pleases. His two stooges would naturally back him up. He could walk off with the treasury the day peace was declared or any day before that he happened to think was convenient. And then you could have fun chasing him."

"Right," said Carter-Heason.

"How about the F.B.I.?"

Carter-Heason shook his head gently. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with Fortwyn. He is not committing any crime. On the contrary, he is engaged in a very praiseworthy task. He is a valid British citizen, and he has no record whatsoever of any business chicanery. There can be no question here of any governmental interference. There are no grounds for official action."

"So you came to me."

"Right," said Carter-Heason.

"Here I am."


2. — TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND—FRAUD

CARTER-HEASON grunted uncomfortably. "Well, I'd like you to—ah—chisel at him. Is that the correct word?"

"Close enough," Latin said absently. "You mean you want me to put the bite on Fortwyn in a heavy way. If he pays off rather than risk a beef with me and the authorities in opposite corners, then you'll know there's something smelly about his charity deal. Is that it?"

"Yes. I think that covers the ground very succinctly."

Latin frowned down at his brandy. "This could be a little dangerous. You picked me because I've got a reputation that Fortwyn could check on easily. The cops and people like that keep an eye on me for the same reason, you know."

Carter-Heason nodded. "Frankly, old chap, I think it's damned dangerous. I don't see how you're going to avoid being jailed for one reason or another. I wouldn't have asked you to do it if I could have thought of any other plan. Of course, I can offer you a considerable financial remuneration."

Latin looked up. "Who's paying?"

"I am."

"I can easily find out."

"I know it. You are welcome to make any inquiries you wish. I really am paying."

"Why?" Latin asked.

Carter-Heason looked embarrassed. "Well, you see they won't accept me for service—not any service anywhere. Had a little trouble with fever years ago. Bad heart and that sort of silly stuff. So I've been doing my best to promote friendly feeling between this country and Britain. Not connected with any official organization or any of that. Just bungle around in my clumsy fashion and try to act amiable."

"I see," said Latin.

"This chap Fortwyn may be all right, but if he's not it's a very nasty thing he's doing. Cheating Americans who are generous enough to give to his charity is bad enough in itself, but if he should turn out to be a crook it would certainly not make the Americans involved feel very friendly toward the British in general. Sort of biting the hand that feeds you and all that."

"I see," Latin repeated. "How heavy can you go with the cash?"

"I have two hundred pounds on hand. That surely will do for a retainer, won't it? I don't mean that to be all, of course, but it will take me a little time to raise the remainder, whatever that is."

"How will you raise it?"

"I was going to mortgage my pension."

"Pension?" Latin said.

"Yes. For Colonial Service."

"Skip it," said Latin. "I'll handle it. Maybe I can pick up a penny or two as I go along, and anyway I'm not very busy at this point."

"Well, old chap, I can't really—"

"You can send me cigarettes while I'm in jail. Tell me more about Fortwyn. How does he operate?"

"Very cleverly. I mean that whether he's honest or not he's quite efficient. He has this small group which travels with him from one city to the next. It consists of the secretary I spoke of—Isabel Grey—and the accompanist who is her fellow director, named Perwinkle, and Maxine Lufor, who is a singer. Fortwyn's idea is to contact some top-drawer social clique in each city and make them the more-or-less exclusive sponsors of his island charity."

Latin nodded. "You have to have a top hat and tails before you can contribute, eh?"

"Well, yes. In a manner of speaking. Fortwyn doesn't solicit gifts from the general public. In fact, he hardly solicits at all in the general understanding of the word. Things are so arranged that people are very glad to contribute for the social prestige as well as for the future of the Channel Islanders. He puts on a dinner at the home of some socially prominent person. The socially prominent person invites the guests he—or usually she—selects. They make such contributions as they wish. The expenses of the dinner and what-not are deducted, and the charity gets what remains."

"Sounds good," Latin commented.

"It is. Fortwyn does the thing up well. Aside from the dinner, he furnishes entertainment. Maxine Lufor sings folk songs indigent to the islands and some early English folk songs. She's very good. Perwinkle plays their folk dances and, of course, accompanies Maxine Lufor. Isabel Grey exhibits handiwork and other goods produced on the islands. She is a native of the islands and can answer any questions as to how the inhabitants live and work. Fortwyn gives a little lecture illustrated with some first-rate lantern slides."

"Where have they landed in this town?"

"With a Mr. and Mrs. Jeffers Hayes. I understand that his is an old and rich banking family, and that they are very prominent socially among the older and more conservative people. The dinner and entertainment is scheduled for their Manxton Park estate tomorrow night. I'm really sorry not to give you more warning than that, but I hesitated a long time before I could nerve myself up to come at all."

"I'll make out," said Latin. "Is the Fortwyn party staying out at Manxton Park?"

"No. At the Hanford-Plaza Hotel. I'm staying there too, incidentally."

"Are you haunting them?" Latin inquired.

Carter-Heason chuckled. "As a matter of fact, I imagine that is their impression. I'm even going to the entertainment at the Hayes' tomorrow night. They didn't wish to invite me, or rather, Fortwyn didn't wish to have them. But I have—ah—social connections myself."

"I'll see you there."

Carter-Heason looked surprised. "You mean... I mean... Well, is that all?"

"For now. Unless you want another brandy."

"No, thanks, really. I do wish I could offer you something for your time and trouble, not to mention the risk. After all, you don't even know that I'm telling you the truth about all his."

"I'll find out," said Latin. "Won't I?"

"Well, yes. I imagine so." Carter-Heason stood up. "This has really been most interesting. I had no idea—"

Dick, the waiter, popped up beside the booth. "You want something, chum?"

"Eh?" said Carter-Heason, startled. "Oh, no, thanks. I was just leaving.

"Cheer-o," said Dick. "Toodle-oo."

"Yes," said Carter-Heason. "Good night, all."


VERY stiff, very straight, withdrawn into his own dignity and ignoring all the uproar, he made his way to the front door and went out.

Guiterrez came through the swing door and leaned over the back of the booth, wiping the sweat off his face with the end of a towel he had wrapped muffler-style around his neck.

"Well?" he demanded. "What kind of a down-payment did you shake him for?"

"Nothing," said Latin.

"A fine businessman you are," said Guiterrez. "If he didn't come to pinch you, he must have come to hire you. There sure as hell ain't anybody silly enough to pay social calls on a sharpy like you. So why'd you let him waltz out of here just on a promise to pay?"

"I didn't. He didn't promise."

"I don't like the sound of that," Guiterrez stated.

"Me, neither," Dick seconded. "Hold it up and let us see it, Latin."

"This is a charity job."

"Charity!" Guiterrez shouted. "Charity begins at home, don't you know that? What about us? Look at poor Dick, here. He's hungry, he's sick, and he ain't got no soles on his shoes!"

Latin nodded at Dick. "Run over on your bare feet and get me the telephone." He nodded at Guiterrez. "You go out and get me something to eat."

"I wonder why I put up with this," said Guiterrez, slamming back into the kitchen.

Dick came back with the portable telephone, and Latin plugged it in at the concealed switch behind the drapes against the back wall of the booth.

"Want anything else?" Dick asked.

"Yes. I want to be alone."

"Swish," said Dick. "That was the noise I made disappearing."

Latin thought for a moment and then lifted the hand-set and dialed a number. The telephone at the other end didn't have time to complete its first ring before there was a snap on the line, and a voice said breathlessly: "Yes? Yes? Yes?"

Latin said: "Is Toots Carr there?"

"Oh, yes! Hold the wire, he's right here. Toots—Toots! It's for you... This is it! Hurry!"

Latin looked mildly surprised. Through the receiver he could hear a faint banging and then the crash of some furniture overturning and then the hurried stamp of footsteps. A hoarse masculine voice said eagerly: "Yes, sir! Yes, your honor! This is him—I mean, me. I mean, this is Toots Carr."

"This is Latin, Toots. What's all the business?"

"Who—Latin? Oh! Get off the wire, Latin. I'm expecting a vital call. Quick! Good-by."

"Hold it," said Latin. "Who's going to call you?"

"The President of the United States, that's who! Now go away, Latin. This is serious!"

"Why is the President going to call you?"

"Because I sent him a telegram and asked him to. Now, Latin, please. He might be tryin' to get me this very minute. Hang up!"

"Why did you send him a telegram, Toots?"

"Because I'm gonna have him burn the ears off of my damned draft board, that's why! I'll show them guys! I got no time to talk, Latin. Good-by."

"Wait now, Toots. Be reasonable. It's after one o'clock in Washington. Do you think the President works all night as well as all day?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. That's right. I guess he'll call me up first thing in the morning, then."

"No doubt," said Latin. "What's the matter with your draft board?"

"Why, them guys is criminals, that's what. They're a set of fifth columnists! You know me. You know who I am. I am positively the best safe-puffer in the business, that's who. I can take a vault door off and lay it down as gentle as a baby in a cradle. You know that yourself, Latin. Am I right?"

"Sure," said Latin.

"O.K., O. K. So that's what I tell them dim bulbs on the draft board. I tell them I see some of these Nazi tanks in the newsreel. You think if I can open up a Class A bank vault I can't top off them tin cans? I say to these dopes: 'Let me in, and I will strew the insides of them zinc tubs from here to Calcutta.' That's what I say."

"What did they say?" Latin asked.

"Them criminals! They say I am 4F, and that I can't get in."

"You look pretty healthy," Latin observed. "Why the 4F—are you sick?"

"I ain't no sicker than Superman! They got that on me, them rats, because they claim I am morally unfit for duty. How do you like that? So maybe the cops do claim I done a few tricks here and there. So maybe I was in Leavenworth and Alcatraz and a couple other boffs. So what? How about that guy they're fightin', huh? How about Hitler? I suppose he was never in jail!"

"You've got something there," Latin admitted.

"Wait until I tell the President what them guys is doin' to me! He'll fix them babies. Oh, just wait! I'd like to see their faces when he gets through."

"Sure," said Latin. "In the meantime, can you tell me where Tatsy Stevens is?"

"He's stashed away in some cow country tank for fifty years or more."

"Where's Bill Lutz?"

"He got himself hung, the dope."

"How about Clarence Carlson?"

"Aw now there's a sad case, Latin. You know how he used to worry about the Feds always steppin' around behind him and givin' him dirty looks if they even caught him at a dime store jewelry counter? I say to him: 'Clarence, you should out to turn honest like me and get yourself right with all them laws.' But, no. Clarence just when on worryin' until he caught himself stomach ulcers and croaked. Why are you asking about these characters, Latin?"

"Well, Toots," said Latin, "this is confidential."

"Oh, sure. Absolute. You know me, Latin."

"Yes. Well, there's some big stuff being buzzed off lately. Jewelry mostly. All strictly hush-hush. The guy doesn't fence it. He goes around behind and sells it back for a percentage. He's smarter than fire. I've got a tip he's on the loose and close. I want to put out a wire to let me negotiate for him, but I don't know who he is."

"Gee," said Toots.

"It would be money in the bank. He's a fancy man at his business. I checked all the high-flyers, and it's not one of them if your dope on Tatsy and Bill Lutz and Clarence is straight."

"It sure is, Latin. Gee. I wonder who it is?"

"The only one I can think of is Maurice Peters."

"Who was that, Latin?"

"Maurice Peters. You've heard of him. He's from across."

"Oh," said Toots vaguely. "Yeah."

"He's been doing damned well in London. You know, when there were a lot of bombs dropping sometimes there'd be an extra bang—only that one wouldn't be a bomb. It would be Maurice knocking a safe around."

"Gee!" said Toots. "Yeah, I remember him now. Sure! He's something. You think he's over here now, Latin? Do you really?"

"Must be, I guess. Listen around, will you?"

"Sure. You bet!"

"And don't cough any of this. It's strictly under the bed. That Maurice Peters is quick and nasty. I don't want a guy like him thinking I'm trying to smear him."

"I won't breathe it, Latin. No, sir! Anything I hear. I'll give you a ring."

"Good night," said Latin. "Give my regards to the President."


3. — S.O.S. FROM 18R

HE hung up and poured himself another brandy. He looked just slightly amused.

Dick stopped beside the booth. "You ready to eat yet, or do you figure on drinkin' yourself into a stupor first?"

"Get me the telephone directory."

Dick went out into the kitchen and came back with the directory.

Latin looked up a number and dialed it. The telephone at the other end rang several times, and then a nasal, insolently superior voice said: "This is the Jeffers Hayes' residence."

Latin said: "Let me speak to Mr. Hayes, please."

"Who's calling?"

"This is Max Latin."

"One moment."

Latin waited. After awhile the superior voice came back and said: "Mr. Hayes doesn't know any Max Latin. May I ask what your business is with Mr. Hayes?"

"Tell him it's a matter of some stolen jewelry and that he'd better come to the phone because I'm much easier to talk to than the police."

"Stolen jewelry?" the superior voice said, startled. "Police? One moment, please."

Latin waited some more, and then a wheezily impatient voice said suddenly: "What? What, what? What's this?"

"This is Max Latin. Have you ever heard of me?"

"No!"

"You should read the crime news. I specialize in—ah—recovering stolen jewelry for people. For a suitable reward, of course."

"What nonsense! I haven't had any jewelry stolen."

"No," Latin agreed. "Not yet."

"Eh? What, what? What do you mean, sir?"

"You're having a party tomorrow night," Latin said. "There'll be quite a lot of important people there, wearing important jewelry. If their jewelry was stolen at your home, you'd feel pretty mortified, wouldn't you? You'd want to do everything you could to ensure its return, isn't that right?"

"Stolen... My home... What? No one would dare! Just what are you talking about?"

"I'm putting in my bid ahead of time," Latin explained. "After the jewelry is stolen, just give me a buzz, and I'll see what I can do."

"After..." the wheezy voice said, stunned. "After the jewelry is stolen... Here! The insolence! Why, I'll have you arrested. I'll have you put in jail. Calling me up and telling me... Why, why, this is fantastic! I'm going to inform the police at once. I'll have you prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

"You do that," Latin said. "I'll be looking forward to it."

He broke the connection before the wheezy voice could work up another head of steam.


GUITERREZ opened the kitchen door.

"Are you gonna eat this stuff, or am I gonna throw it away?"

"Bring it on," said Latin.

Dick appeared with an armful of napkins, silverware, plates, coffee, salad and soup and dumped them all helter-skelter on the table-top. Latin arranged them in the proper sequence and started eating.

The telephone buzzed softly, and Latin picked it up and said: "Yes?"

The voice was a faint, broken murmur. "Is this—is this Max Latin?"

"Yes," said Latin.

"Did you talk to a man named Carter-Heason?"

"Yes. Can you speak a little louder? I can't hear."

"No. I'm afraid. If they heard... Oh, you've got to help me! Please, please!"

"Sure," said Latin. "Who are you, and where are you?"

"Isabel Grey. At the Hanford-Plaza."

"I remember. You're Fortwyn's secretary. What's the matter?"

"I spoke—I spoke about the funds... The money we're collecting ... I didn't know—didn't realize... Oh, I'm so afraid! Oh, please come! I can't talk any more."

There was a click, and the line went dead. Latin listened for a moment more and then put the telephone back on its stand slowly. Absently he pushed away the remains of his soup and salad and picked up his glass of brandy.. He looked at it thoughtfully and then put it down untouched and picked up the cup of coffee instead.

"Trouble?" Guiterrez asked.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised," said Latin. He finished the coffee and stood up. "Keep the home fires burning."


IN its brief but bawdy history the Hanford-Plaza Hotel had seen some spectacular goings-on. It had been in receivership since the day it opened, and it had never failed to default on its bonds. But this present crisis was something no one could possibly have foreseen. The place was making money.

The lobby was stacked three-deep with people who had rooms and people who didn't have rooms but wanted them and people who didn't have rooms but had given up hope and gone to sleep any handy place. The clerk huddled behind his desk and watched it all with awed and helpless dismay.

"Hey," said Latin. "Have you a party by the name of Fortwyn staying here?"

"I don't know," said the clerk.

"How's for looking it up?"

"Oh, yes," said the clerk numbly. "Yes, I could do that, couldn't I?" He consulted the file of registry cards. "There's a Reginald Fortwyn and party in Suite 18R. That's on the eighteenth floor."

"O.K. How about a party named Carter-Heason?"

The clerk looked again. "In 1751. That's the seventeenth floor. You—you don't live here, do you?"

"No."

"Oh, you're lucky! You can't imagine."

Latin left him and went over to the elevator bank. He eased himself inside, and the cage ground wearily upward.

"Eighteen," he said, when the operator looked at him out of bleary red-rimmed eyes.

"I'll take you up," said the operator, "but you may have to walk down. I'm gonna quit any minute now."

"Having trouble?" Latin asked.

"Hah!" said the operator. "I don't mind 'em swearin' at me and stickin' their elbows in my back and their fingers in my eyes, but I'm gettin' damned sick of having to run this thing with people sittin' in my lap. Here's your floor."

"Happy landings," said Latin.


HE walked along on silent deep blue carpeting until he came to the door numbered 18R. Latin rapped a small bronze knocker sharply. There was no answer. He rapped again and then tried the knob. It turned easily and smoothly under his hand, and the door opened quietly in front of him.

Latin stepped through it into a small, formal foyer. He went on through an arched doorway into a combination reception and living room. The Fortwyn party evidently did themselves well. The lights were on, and everything was bright and clean and glistening, but the room was empty.

There were closed doors to Latin's right and to his left. He picked the left and walked over and opened that door. "Oh," he said. "Pardon me."

It was a small room, hardly larger than a hall closet, and it had been fixed up as a temporary office with a tall steel filing case and a small desk-table with a typewriter on it. There was a woman sitting behind the desk. Her head was down, resting on her folded arms beside the typewriter. She was a small woman, dressed in a black tailored suit, and her gray hair had been clipped short.

"Pardon me," said Latin, more loudly. The woman's body sagged dejectedly, and her shoulders slumped as though-she were crying. In spite of the gray hair she looked remarkably like a school girl who had just been scolded by teacher. She didn't move or raise her head.

Latin took a silent step closer and touched her gently on the shoulder. He stood rigidly still then, looking down, for about five seconds. After that he let out his breath in a long sigh and slid his hand under the woman's chin and lifted her head. Her eyes were gray and glassily dilated. She wasn't breathing, and the blood had soaked through and made a glossy purplish sheen on the front of her dress.

Latin let her head fall back on her arms again. He glanced carefully around the little office and then stepped quietly backward out into the reception room and closed the door. He took out his handkerchief and polished the knob carefully. Just as carefully and quietly he went back across the reception room, through the foyer, and out into the hall.

He considered for a moment. The door had an automatic night- latch on it. Latin snapped that into the lock position and then closed the door, staying outside. Then he hammered loudly with the knocker.

"Fortwyn!" he shouted.

He waited for a moment and then pounded on the door panels with both fists and threw in a couple of kicks for good measure and then waited again. The door opened suddenly and violently.

"What's the meaning of this?"

"Well," said Latin mildly. "Goodness me. Hello."


4. — LIFE—AND DEATH AT THE HANFORD-PLAZA

SHE was sultry and sensational. She was wearing a greenish padded housecoat that matched her eyes, and golden strap slippers that matched her hair. She was just about the right height, and there was nothing wrong with the rest of her proportions. She couldn't have been more than twenty-two or - three at the best, and her best was something.

"What's the idea of making all the noise?" she demanded.

"I wanted to get in," said Latin.

"Well, where's Miss Grey? She's supposed to answer the door. Miss Grey!"

"Never mind," said Latin. "I'd rather talk to you, anyway. I bet you're Maxine Lufor, aren't you?"

"How did you know? Who are you?"

"I guessed," said Latin, "and I'm Max Latin. Let's you and I call each other Maxie, shall we?"

"No! What do you want, anyway?"

"Just business," Latin said. "But it's not important at all. It can wait if you'd like to invite me in to have a dish of tea or something."

"I wouldn't invite you to have a dish of dog food. Go away!" She tried to slam the door. "Take your foot out of that door. Go away!"

"Maxine!" another voice said. "Maxine, dear! What on earth is the matter?"

The door opened wider, and a man looked out over Maxine Lufor's shoulder. He had a face as round and flat as a pie tin and a rosy red complexion and popped eyes that were blue and wide and bloodshot. He was dressed in a tuxedo, and his chest ballooned out pouter-pigeon style under a glistening expanse of starched white shirt-front. His voice boomed and raised modulated oratorical echoes.

"Eh! What is this?"

"He was beating on the door," Maxine Lufor explained. "So I came to see what he wanted."

"Well, what does he want?"

"To get funny," said Maxine Lufor.

"Now, fellow," said the fat man. "I'm Reginald Fortwyn. Who are you, eh?"

"I'm Max Latin."

"Well, what is it that you want?"

"I want to see you."

"Why?"

"Business," said Latin.

"Oh," said Fortwyn. "Well, you'll have to make an appointment with my secretary. Where is she? Miss Grey! Oh, Miss Grey!"

"Maybe she went to the little girl's room," Maxine Lufor suggested.

Fortwyn said: "Miss Grey never... I mean, I told her specifically to stay here and see that I wasn't disturbed. I'm sorry, my man, but I'm frightfully busy now and—"

"It won't take long," Latin said. "I hear there's going to be a robbery at the Hayes' place tomorrow night."

"You hear... What?"

Latin nodded. "Robbery. Jewel robbery. You know, that'd be bad. I mean, people might not think it was just a coincidence. You know how people are when they get robbed. Unreasonable. Since the party is being given for your benefit, they might dream up some sort of connection between you and the robbery."

Fortwyn stared with his mouth open. "Do I understand you to say... Are you from the police?"

"On the contrary," said Latin.

"Well, how do you know there's going to be a robbery?"

"I don't," said Latin. "I've just got a hunch, but my hunches are generally pretty accurate. I'd count on this one if I were you."


FORTWYN goggled at him incredulously. "I believe you are insinuating that you have some secret information. If you know anything about a proposed robbery and don't inform the police, you are an accessory!"

"Oh, sure," said Latin. "Being an accessory is one of my hobbies, but I don't think you'd enjoy it."

"Eh?"

"I'm trying to explain that if a robbery took place the rumor might get around that you were an accessory. That would have a bad effect on your reputation—and your receipts the next time you put on a shindig."

"What—what are you suggesting I do?" Fortwyn asked groggily.

"Pay me," said Latin.

"Pay you?"

"Sure. For a reasonable fee I will guarantee that there won't be a robbery."

"Won't be...? See here! Why, that's nothing more than blackmail!"

"No," Latin denied. "Insurance."

"Oh, no!" Fortwyn shouted. "Oh, no, indeed! You are threatening to arrange a robbery and implicate me in it unless I pay you money not to. Why, I've never heard of such monstrous insolence: I'll have you arrested. Maxine! You heard his proposal. Look at him closely so you can identify him. I want another witness. Find Miss Grey! Hurry up. Look for her!"

Maxine Lufor stepped back inside the suite. "I'll see if she left a note in the office."

Fortwyn pointed a pudgy finger at Latin. "Don't you try to get away, fellow! I'm going to see that you answer to the authorities—"

Maxine Lufor screamed horribly. Fortwyn swung around, the rosy red of his complexion fading suddenly. "What is it? Maxine! What—"

She screamed again.

"Good-by, now," Latin said pleasantly. Fortwyn ignored him. He lumbered back inside the suite, calling anxiously: "Maxine! What is it? What did you see?"

Latin turned a corner in the corridor and walked out along to the stairs and went down them to the seventeenth floor. He was whistling softly and thoughtfully to himself. He went along the hall on the seventeenth floor until he came to the room numbered 1751. He rapped with the bronze knocker.


THE door opened at once, and Carter-Heason said: "Well, old chap. This is a surprise. Come right in."

The room was small and narrow, and it had none of the shiny luxury of the Fortwyn suite. There was a man sitting in the chair that was crowded in between the bed and the one window. He was a thin man with narrow shoulders and hair that looked startlingly black in contrast to the smooth pallor of his face. He wore thick horn-rimmed glasses and a blue suit that was shiny at the seams.

"This is Mr. Perwinkle," Carter-Heason said. "He is employed by Fortwyn. If you'll remember, I spoke to you about him. This is Max Latin, Perwinkle. He is helping me investigate Fortwyn."

"You're the accompanist," Latin said.

Perwinkle looked up gloomily. "Piano player," he corrected. "General all-around stooge and patsy."

"Mr. Perwinkle is—ah—dissatisfied with his job and his employer," Carter-Heason explained. "He shares my suspicions of Fortwyn's honesty."

"The guy is a crook," said Perwinkle. "He is also a rat, if that matters."

"Can you prove it?" Latin asked.

"No."

"We were having a conference on that matter," Carter-Heason said. "Mr. Perwinkle indicated that he would cooperate with me in investigating Fortwyn, but we are in a quandary as to just where to start."

"That old blow-belly is as smooth as they come," Perwinkle stated. "I know he's crooked, but he never makes a misstep, and he carries more oil than a tanker. He can explain anything."

"I was just up talking to him," Latin said. "We didn't get anywhere. That's quite a nifty number he has singing for him."

"You should try to play the piano for her," Perwinkle said. "The last time she got off the beat she crowned me with a vase and claimed it was my fault. Of course, the old boy took her part."

"Is he that way about her?"

"Yeah, man. She snaps her fingers, and he hops. It's the only thing he is silly about, but if I were she I'd take it pretty easy. I bet the old guy would really blow his top if he thought she was taking him for a ride, and believe me he can be rough and tough when he gets a mad on."

"Do you think he's a crook because you don't like him," Latin asked, "or have you got any good reasons?"

Perwinkle moved his narrow shoulders disconsolately. "I just know. He's not doin' this for fun. He's taken in plenty. It's all nicely invested now, but I'm damned sure it isn't going to stay there. I could quit, but if I do, I automatically get myself fired from the board of directors of that phony trust company of his, and then I never would find out what goes on."

"How about Isabel Grey? Is she in it with Fortwyn?"

"Aw, no. Izzy's straight. She's got all kinds of relatives hanging out in those islands, and besides that she's a nice old gal. She's smoothed old Fortwyn down lots of times when he's been on my tail. She's kind of dumb, though. She thinks Fortwyn is the greatest man alive—on account of him claiming to collect all this money to help her relatives and friends and all. I've tried to talk to her about this and that, but she won't hear a word against him. She just looks shocked that I could even think—"


THE door in back of Latin opened suddenly, bumping him forward.

"Here, now!" said Carter-Heason indignantly. "This is a private room! What do you mean, breaking in this way? Who are you?"

"I'm Detective Inspector Walters," said the man in the doorway. "Homicide. And if you keep people like Latin in your room, you've got to expect people like me to come in after them."

"Hello, Walters," said Latin. "You're not looking very well these days."

"I'm not feeling well, either," said Walters. He was a tall, thin, gauntly bitter man with the sourly disillusioned air of a person who has been disappointed in human nature so regularly that he has become insulated. "So just tell me what you know about that murder on the eighteenth floor and don't waste my time trying to act innocent."

"Murder?" Latin repeated. "On the eighteenth floor? This is very surprising, Walters. Are you absolutely sure of your facts?"

"I can generally tell a corpse when I see one. Start talking, Latin."

"Who was murdered?" Latin asked.

"A dame named Isabel Grey, as if you didn't know."

"What?" Perwinkle gasped. "Did you say Isabel Grey? Izzy?"

Walters looked at him. "Yes. Who are you?"

"Perwinkle," he said numbly. "I play the piano... Izzy—dead? Murdered? Who—who would do a thing like that?"

"If you'll shut up," Walters told him, "I'll go ahead trying to find out. What did the dame want when she called you on the telephone, Latin?"

"Called me?" Latin said blandly.

Walters eyes narrowed dangerously. "Are you denying that she did?"

"Oh, no," Latin answered. "Come to think of it, she did. It slipped my mind. She just asked me to drop around and see her sometime."

"Why?"

"Oh, I expect she wanted me to make a slight contribution to the Channel Island charity."

"And you were so anxious to do it that you whipped right up there in the middle of the night?"

Latin nodded. "I'm hell-bent on charity."

"Ha-ha," Walters said sourly. "Now, look here. That wasn't any ordinary call she made to you. How do I know? Because she didn't want to take a chance on making it from the suite upstairs. Instead, she went down to the lobby and called from one of the booths. The clerk noticed it. Now what did she have to say that was so important?"

"That's all," said Latin. "Just asked me to drop around."

"You liar. You were right outside the door when her body was discovered."

"Yes," Latin agreed, and repeated with emphasis: "Outside."

Walters pounced. "How did you know when the body was discovered?"

"Deduction," Latin said. "Maxine Lufor let loose with a loud halloo while I was standing in the hall talking to Fortwyn. I mean, people scream for no end of reasons, but when you mentioned a murder, I sort of tied it up with that. But just remember I was outside in the hall the whole time I was there, and incidentally the door was locked."

"I don't think it was incidentally," said Walters. "I think it was on purpose—your purpose."

"Oh, now, Walters," Latin said. "You're just being silly. You know you couldn't prove a thing like that."

Walters leaned forward. "You were inside that suite!"

"Shame," said Latin. "Do you think I'm the sort of person who would enter people's rooms uninvited?"

"I know damned well you are!"

"Let's not bicker," said Latin. "You'll get all excited and give yourself indigestion. Let's talk about something pleasant for a change."

"Blaah!" said Walters explosively. "Who is this skinny bird here?"

"This is Carter-Heason. He's British."

"What are you doing in his room?"

"He's a stranger to the city, and I just thought I'd drop in with a word of welcome. Make him feel at home and all that."

"Is that true?" Waiters demanded.

"Certainly," said Carter-Heason. "Look here, old chap. I don't know a great about your legal procedure in this country, but I think you're going a little too far when you barge into my room in this impolite manner and treat my guests as though they were some sort of criminals."

"Criminals!" Walters echoed. "Some sort! Latin is all sorts of a criminal! If there's any crime in the books that he hasn't committed its just because he's been too busy to get around to it. Hey, wait a minute. You with the cheaters. What'd you say your name was?"

"Perwinkle."

"You belong to the outfit upstairs, don't you? Aren't you the guy that plays the piano for the dame with the streamlines?"

"Yes," Perwinkle admitted.

"What are you doing here?"

"Just visiting Carter-Heason."

"What for?"

"We were just talking about music."

Walters looked at Carter-Heason. "What do you play?"

"I don't. I'm a student of the Art."

"Nuts," said Walters. He turned back to Perwinkle. "Where were you for the last hour?"

"Right here," said Perwinkle. His eyes bulged suddenly behind the glasses. "You don't think I—I..."

"I don't know," Walters answered grimly, "but don't think I won't find out. Now, Latin. Get a grip on this and remember it. I just got on this case. Not five minutes after I arrive, I hear your name. So I checked up with the desk clerk and came here to find you. I don't know what it's all about yet, but if you're in it, it's bound to be sour. You stick around where I can find you." He pointed a finger at Carter-Heason. "As for you, you're in bad company. People that play with Latin end up behind the eight ball if not in a coffin. Four-Eyes, you trot along with me."

"Me?" Perwinkle wailed. "But I don't know anything about... I haven't seen Izzy since dinner! I went to the picture show and came right up here and stayed here. I can prove—"

"Less noise," Walters ordered. "Out. Get going back upstairs. We've got lots to talk about."

He grabbed Perwinkle's skinny arm and shoved him through the door. He turned back to nod grimly at Latin and Carter- Heason.

"I'll see both of you—later."

He slammed the door.

"Extraordinarily unpleasant character," Carter-Heason commented. "I don't believe I approve of the American police."

"They get in my hair, too," said Latin.

Carter-Heason frowned in a worried way. "I'm confused. In America, violence happens so—so violently. This murder, so unexpected... I fear I might have some responsibility. You see, I've spoken several times to Miss Grey as well as Perwinkle. She couldn't help but know that I was suspicious of Fortwyn and have been for some time. She wouldn't, as Perwinkle said, hear a word against Fortwyn, but do you suppose she found out something or said something to him?"

"Maybe," said Latin. "I've got to run along."

"Where are you going?"

"Home," said Latin. "To get some sleep. I have an idea we'll have a big night tomorrow. I'll see you then."


5. — MURDER GOES HIGH CLASS

YOU don't see the really big limousines very much any more—the Cunningham and the Rolls and the Mercedes-Benz—all glitter and weight, with an insatiable thirst for gas. Their owners save them for special occasions. But this was one, and here they were, parked in a sleek gleaming line up the curve of the long drive. Latin walked along, admiring them, until a man stepped suddenly out of the shadow and said: "That's far enough."

"Hello, Walters," Latin said. "How's murder?"

"Looking up," said Walters, "now that you've arrived. What are you doing here?"

"I'm expected at the party."

"Let me see your invitation."

"I didn't say I was invited," Latin told him. "Just expected. What have you found out about Isabel Grey's death?"

"Plenty. Where is Maurice Peters?"

"Who?" Latin asked.

"Don't act dumb," Walters ordered. "I want to know where Maurice Peters is."

"Don't know him," said Latin.

Walters breathed deeply. "Look, smarty. You're not the only one who gets around. I know all about Maurice Peters. He's a hot- shot from London, and you've got a tip that he's going to pick off some jewelry at this party. This Carter-Heason with his dopey suspicions of Fortwyn gave you just the chance you needed to poke your nose in. You put the bell on Jeffers Hayes so that if Maurice Peters walks off with something you'd get the chance to negotiate to get it back. Then you turned right around and put the shake on Fortwyn, so if Maurice Peters should change his mind then you'd take credit for preventing a robbery and get some dough on that angle. Both ends against the middle. That's you all over, Latin."

"I never heard such nonsense in all my life," said Latin. "I don't believe there is any such person as Maurice Peters."

"Well, I believe there is. And what's more, I believe you're going to point him out to me. Because if you don't, you know what's going to happen."

"What?" Latin inquired.

"I'm going to personally escort you to jail. And you won't slide out with any accessory charge this time. You laid yourself wide open. If any jewelry is missing from this party tonight, you're going to be charged with stealing it. You're a principal, and I can prove it by the testimony of Hayes and Fortwyn."

"In that case," said Latin, "I'd be only too glad to help you in any way I can, but I don't really think I can point out Maurice Peters to you."

"I really think you'd better," Walters said, taking a firm grip on his arm. "Come on."


THE house was white and austere and imposing, spread majestically across the top of its private knoll. The curtains were drawn tight across its many windows, and only a few stray gleams of light escaped, but the place was alive with the shadowy, busy bustle of people. As Latin and Walters came up the drive and up the wide front steps to the veranda, they could hear the faintly nasal whine of a string orchestra and the muffled bumble-bumble-bumble of many mixed conversations. There were about eighteen resentful-looking chauffeurs standing in a row beside the front door in the custody of an even more resentful-looking uniformed policeman. Walters marched Latin up and down in front of the row.

"Well?" he said inquiringly.

"Well, what?" Latin asked.

Walters gave his arm a jerk. "I told you to drop that stupid act! Is any of these birds Maurice Peters or any relation to him?"

"Not that I know of," said Latin. "Come on inside, then."

Walters opened the front door and hauled Latin into a big, spectacularly shiny hall. A tall, darkly sinister butler bowed to them in icy greeting.

"How about this number?" Walters demanded. "Is he Maurice Peters?"

"Nope," said Latin.

"The name," said the butler, "is Hoggins, in case the information remotely concerns you. May I have your invitations, if you please?"

"No," said Walters. "We'll blow our own horn."

He pulled Latin on down the hall and through a wide, curtained archway. The drawing room and dining room and reception room extended before them like a luxurious movie set in triplicate crowded with fat women under full sail in evening dresses and fat men in tails and with well-bred hauteur clustered around so thickly you could spread it with a putty knife.

"Just take your time," Walters ordered.

Latin looked. "That bloated bird in the corner is a crook if I ever saw one."

"I know it," said Walters. "But his name is not Maurice Peters, and he's not here to steal jewelry. He's the president of the Chamber of Commerce. Look again."

"There's a bar over there—"

"I know that, too, but you're not going to get any closer to it. Quit stalling."

A tall, lath-like man with a sun-reddened bald head and fishy gray eyes moved out of the crowd and said: "Ah, Inspector. Glad to see you paying such close attention to your duties. Anything I can do for you?"

"No, thanks," Walters said. "Mr. Jeffers Hayes, I'd like you to meet Max Latin."

Hayes said absently: "Pleasure, I'm sure—" His voice deepened to a croak. "What? What, what? Who?"

"Max Latin," said Latin. "Hi."

Hayes recoiled. "You—here! In my house... Inspector Walters! What do you mean by bringing this—this person here? What, what? Explain yourself, sir!"

"He's looking over the people," Walters said. "He's going to point out Maurice Peters to me. Peters is the thief we expect is here."

Hayes swallowed hard. "Looking over... Expect... What? Thief! Inspector, these people are my guests. My guests! Do you think I'd invite a thief to my home? What utter nonsense! Take this man away from the premises."

Carter-Heason came up to them and said: "What-o? Having trouble?"

"No!" Hayes snarled. He glared haughtily at Carter-Heason and then spun on his heel and stalked rigidly away.


CARTER-HEASON smiled pleasantly.

"Sour sort of a chap, isn't he? Very resentful that he had to issue me an invitation to this affair. Boring, isn't it?"

"Why did he have to issue you an invitation?" Walters asked suspiciously.

Carter-Heason shrugged. "Oh, I imagine the British Consul put in a word for me. Charming fellow, Rodney. Known him for years. Have a spot to drink?"

"Yes," said Latin.

"No," said Walters. "And I'm keeping an eye on you, Carter- Heason. Ever hear of a man named Maurice Peters?"

"Don't believe so," said Carter-Heason. "Is he a friend of yours?"

"No!"

"I see. Aren't you a homicide detective, by the way? Expecting a murder?"

"It could happen," Walters answered grimly. "Come on, Latin."

They went back into the hall and down the length of it and through another door into the gleaming, narrow butler's pantry and the restaurant-size kitchen beyond. There was a policeman sitting and eating an apple in front of the kitchen door.

"Stand here," Walters said. "Just watch them as they go back and forth. Everybody here, Kelly?"

"Yup," said Kelly, eating more apple.

"I don't see any familiar faces," Latin said.

"O.K.," said Walters. "Upstairs, next."

They went back through the butler's pantry and up the servants' stairs to the second floor. There was a wide hall that branched back both ways from the main stairway, and Walters chose one of the doors along it and knocked.

"This is the ladies' dressing room."

A cute, pert blond maid looked out at them. "You can't come in here!"

"I don't want to," said Walters. "I just want Latin to look at you."

"And am I glad to," said Latin. "My name is Latin, and if you should drop into Guiterrez' restaurant some night—"

"Come on!" Walters snarled. "I've got better things to do than clown around with you. This is the gent's dressing room. Take a look at the valet and—"

There was a shrill, throbbing scream. "I know that voice," Latin said. "It belongs to Maxine Lufor."

"Stay here!" Walters snapped.


HE pounded on down the hall, and Latin ran right after him. They turned a corner, and the hall ended ahead of them in a glass-paneled door that gave out on to a sun deck with a high white plaster wall. There was a second door to the right of the glass door, and it snapped open now, and two struggling figures caromed out of it and bounced against the wall opposite.

"Here!" Walters yelled. "Stop that! What's going on here?"

The larger of the two figures swung two awkwardly chopping blows at the smaller and knocked him back across the hall. This one was Perwinkle, and he tripped and went down in a sprawl.

"Get him!" the larger man shouted. "He murdered Maxine! I saw him! I saw him!" He pointed a rigid, shaking finger. "He murdered her—stabbed her!"

"Here you!" Walters barked. "Fortwyn! Hold it, now! What's all this?"

Fortwyn's round face was reddishly bloated. He made choking sounds in his throat and then ripped away the starched collar of his dress shirt. His eyes bulged.

"Look at him!" Perwinkle shrieked. "Look! Her blood is on his shirt!"

There was a dark smear across the white front of Fortwyn's shirt. He looked down at it, still making those animal choking sounds in his throat, and then kicked savagely at Perwinkle. Perwinkle got him by the leg, and the two of them slammed back into the glass door and knocked it open with a thunderous clatter of broken glass.

"Fortwyn!" Walters bawled. "Stop that! Put up your hands!"

The two men rolled out on the porch floor over the crunching glass, and Walters dove through the shattered door after them.

Latin stopped to peer through the door in which they had first appeared. Beyond it was a dressing room, evidently half of a bedroom suite. There was a small piano in the corner, and the chair in front of it had been tipped over on its back. Maxine Lufor was lying face down half-way between the piano and the door. Her hands, with their long predatory-red nails, were reached out ahead of her clutching the carpet like agonized claws. Her face was hidden in the sleekly tumbled gold of her hair, but nothing could conceal the deep and ugly wounds between her smooth, bare shoulder-blades. Blood was smeared wet and thick in the silk of her evening gown and more of it clotted the blade of the slim hunting knife lying on the rug by her feet.


6. — CHARITY REMAINS AT HOME

HERE was a rumbling thump from the sun deck and the rattle and slap of a chair going over. Latin ducked back into the hall and through the glass door in time to stumble over Walters.

"Knocked me down!" Walters panted thickly. "Smacked me. Why, the guy's nuttier than a fruit-cake! Get him, Latin. Down those stairs!"

Latin ran the length of the sun deck. Stairs went down steeply here into the pattered formality of a small, closed garden. Fortwyn was running headlong across it toward the thick, iron- studded door in the wall at the far side. Perwinkle was right behind him.

Latin was half way down the stairs when Fortwyn reached the big door. He grabbed the wrought iron catch and wrenched at it, but the door didn't open. Fortwyn swung around, his face shiny and twisted with desperation, and Perwinkle tried to tackle him.

Fortwyn picked him up and threw him a good ten feet into a close-trimmed privet hedge and then followed it up, trying to kick him. Perwinkle rolled frantically to get out of the way and came up to his knees grasping one of the border stones in both his hands. It was a smooth, white-painted boulder half the size of a man's head. Perwinkle swung it up at full arm's length, squarely into the middle of Fortwyn's face.

It made an ugly chucking sound like the blade of an axe cutting into hard wood. Fortwyn bounced back and hit the wooden door with the length of his body. He bounced forward again and went down flat on the rolled white gravel of the path. He squirmed a little there and then was still.

Perwinkle had lost his balance when he swung with the boulder. He hitched frantically backward now, half-sitting, half on his knees.

"Look out!" he panted. "He—he's crazy as a mad dog! He'll get up and—and..."

"He won't get up," said Latin.

Perwinkle began to shake all over. "I didn't—I didn't mean... I rolled on that stone, and when he came for me, I just—just—"

"You just gave him what he ought to have had," said Walters grimly, coming up to them. "Now just what the hell started him off, anyway? What's this about a murder?"

Perwinkle fought for control. "We—Maxine and I—were practicing a new number. They put a piano in that room up there for us. He, Fortwyn, came in all of a sudden. He looked funny, but I didn't pay a lot of attention. He was always griping about something. He said he wanted to talk to Maxine alone, so they went into the bedroom that's attached to the room where the piano is. I could hear them yelling at each other in there."

"Yelling about what?" Walters asked.

"Same thing as usual. Money. Some things she had charged to Fortwyn's account. I didn't get all they were saying, because I wasn't paying much attention. I just figured it was another of their rows. They kept shouting louder and louder, and then all of a sudden she yelled for me. I jumped up, and then she ran out of the bedroom with him right after her."

"Well?" Walters said sharply. Perwinkle gulped. "It was like a—a nightmare. He had a knife in his hand, and he stabbed—and stabbed..." Perwinkle's face was greenish, and he shook his head mutely, unable to finish.

"Why would he kill her for charging stuff to his account?" Walters inquired. "You should ask me," Latin told him.

"I should," Walters agreed dangerously, "and I am. Why?"

"It's simple," said Latin. "Carter-Heason thought Fortwyn was a crook. Carter-Heason was right. He doesn't know how to investigate things like that, and all he could do was poke around, but that was plenty to make Fortwyn nervous. He didn't know when Carter-Heason might accidentally stumble across something. Fortwyn was doing his dirty work with some fancy double bookkeeping. He had sold Isabel Grey on the idea that what he was doing was the right thing to do. I don't know what line he gave her, but from all accounts she was a sort of believing soul and he was a smooth talker.

"That was O.K. until Carter-Heason let them know that he was hiring me. Isabel Grey thought that the thing to do was to explain to me just why the double bookkeeping was necessary. I'd understand, since I had nothing against Fortwyn personally, and everything would be smooth. When Fortwyn found out she meant to do that he went into one of his tantrums and stabbed her."

"Fine," said Walters. "But what about Maxine Lufor, or have you forgotten that?"

"No. Carter-Heason had scared Fortwyn. Fortwyn didn't dare take a chance on stealing a penny of that charity fund while Carter-Heason was watching him. He didn't have any money to give Maxine Lufor. They fought about it, and finally she got mad and up and charged stuff that he couldn't pay for without dipping into the charity fund. That really set him off. I imagine she added to it tonight by refusing to return the stuff she had charged."

"Yes," said Perwinkle. "Yes. She did say she wouldn't take anything back. I didn't know what she was talking about then."

"O.K.," said Walters. "Just one more thing. Let's hear you talk your way around this. Where is Maurice Peters?"

"In your imagination."

"Huh?" said Walters blankly.

Latin said: "I know Toots Carr is not only stir-crazy but punch-drunk from having too many safes drop on his head. I also know he's a stool-pigeon. I knew that if I called him up and talked about Maurice Peters, the terrific safe artist from London, Toots would talk himself into believing there actually was such a person and that Toots knew him. Then he would run around and tell you."

Walters made a strangling sound. "Why, you—you—What in hell did you do that for?"

"I wanted to have some sort of a proposition to talk to Hayes and Fortwyn about. I wanted to get in here tonight. I did. And thanks a lot for your personally conducted tour of the premises. I'll make out alone from now on. I know where the bar is."


IT was nine o'clock the next night when Latin threaded his way through the close-packed tables in the restaurant and stopped beside his personal booth.

"Sorry if I'm late," he said. He slid into the seat next to Carter-Heason. "How do you feel now?" he asked Perwinkle.

"Oh, all right," Perwinkle answered glumly. "I was just bruised a little. But I can't get the whole damned dirty business out of my head."

"No wonder," Carter-Heason told him. "Ghastly affair. Fortwyn never recovered consciousness. Died on the way to the hospital. Good thing."

Perwinkle shivered. "Not for me to think about."

"Don't let it worry you," Carter-Heason said. "Only thing you could possibly have done. Good job."

"What have you decided to do about Fortwyn's Channel Island charity?" Latin asked.

Carter-Heason said: "I can settle it up with Perwinkle's help. We'll turn the funds over to some British or United Nations charity and let them administer the thing."

"I don't know what I'm going to do after that," Perwinkle said.

Latin said pleasantly: "I think you'll hang."


THE noise in the restaurant seemed to ebb and flow around the sudden silence in the booth.

"What was that?" Carter-Heason said slowly.

"Perwinkle killed Isabel Grey and Maxine Lufor as well as Fortwyn," Latin said. "Perwinkle saw a good thing, and he edged in on the party. Hasn't it occurred to you that he was a director of Fortwyn's trust company—the only one left? When you and he added up the funds, you'd have found about ninety per cent of them missing. You'd have blamed that on Fortwyn. Actually Perwinkle would have had the dough in his pocket. That's exactly what he meant to do the whole time."

"You're a damned liar," said Perwinkle evenly.

"Not this time," said Latin. "Fortwyn was just what he appeared to be—a big fat blow-hard. You played him like you play your piano. Maybe he meant to run out with those funds and maybe he didn't. Anyway, you got there first. Isabel Grey suspected you. She was afraid of you, too. It was you she meant to tell me about, not Fortwyn. You were in the lobby when Isabel Grey made her call to me. She saw you. That's why she was afraid to say any more. She beat it back upstairs, but you got there ahead of her. You stabbed her and ran down to see Carter- Heason."

"You make me laugh," said Perwinkle contemptuously.

"O.K. Go ahead. You stabbed Maxine Lufor because you knew you'd never get away with a dime without giving her a big part of it. Then you called in that poor boob of a Fortwyn and accused him of doing it. You even wiped some blood from the knife blade on his shirt front. You had evidence that he and Maxine had quarreled violently. Naturally the shock and the accusation and the evidence against him scared Fortwyn green. All he could think of was to shut you up and run. You saw that he didn't run far. I think you had a gun on you all the time. I think you'd have shot him if you hadn't been able to nail him with that rock."

"I had a gun on me all the time," Perwinkle said. "I have one now. It's under the table. If either one of you makes a move. I'll kill you. You can't prove any of this stuff, but you could get me held for investigation. I wouldn't like that because those funds have already been transferred to a place when I can get hold of them. All I need is the time to do that. You're going to give me that."

Latin shrugged indifferently. "I pass."

"Well, you can't do this, you know," said Carter-Heason.

"I thought I might have trouble with you," said Perwinkle. "I have a small bottle of a private preparation of my own in my pocket. I think you're going to drink it and become violently ill and go to the hospital. That would be a good reason for you mot attending to settling up the charity funds. I'll do it for you. I'll take care of Latin in some other manner."

"Do you want that poison served with a glass of water?" Guiterrez asked, leaning over the back of Perwinkle's seat.

Perwinkle's breath hissed through his teeth. He jerked his head back, looking up and over his shoulder. In the same split- second Dick stepped around the end of the booth and swung expertly with the bottle he was holding by the neck.

The bottle hit Perwinkle on the temple and shattered in a wet, glittering spray. Perwinkle's thin body uncoiled slowly, and he rolled out of his seat and collapsed full-length on the floor.

Latin nodded at Carter-Heason. "There's a dictaphone behind the drape at the end of the booth. They could hear everything he said in the kitchen. Get the telephone, Dick. I'll call up Walters and give him a thrill."

"Oh, no!" Guiterrez snarled. "Just wait a minute, now. Dick, you search this bird on the floor first. He ain't gonna get out of this dive without payin' for the bottle of brandy you smashed over his dome. Latin can take jobs for charity, but I'm a businessman!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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