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NORBERT DAVIS

COME UP AND KILL ME SOME TIME

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Ex Libris

First published in Dime Detective Magazine, Oct 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-01-22
Produced by Terry Walker, Paul Moulder, Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Cover Image

Dime Detective Magazine, Oct 1941, with "Come Up and Kill Me Some Time"



Illustration

Ludwig dropped clumsily on his knees beside Loretta.



Dodd has a doleful hangover but it's nothing to the headache the benighted bail-bondsman accumulates when he finds himself in the soak for 50 Gs bail. For Sadies kootch-show has just been raided and a cop drilled in the process! The killer may be a kootch-show comic but he's no joke to Dodd.



TABLE OF CONTENTS



1. — SADIE GETS SOCKED

DODD had both arms wound around his middle. He was sure that if he didn't keep a strangle-hold on his stomach it would fall out and bounce on the floor in front of him.

He came wavering down the hall toward his office, bent nearly double, wincing at each step. He was a tall man with wide shoulders and a long homely face. He wore horn-rimmed glasses patched on the bridge with a piece of white adhesive tape.

Reaching his office door, he fumbled back-handed for his keys, moaning in a minor tone to himself. He got the door unlocked finally, went headlong through the anteroom and plopped himself down in the chair behind his desk.

"Oh," he said. "Oh, oh, oh."

His head felt as big and unwieldy as a barrage balloon, and the mere thought of the taste in his mouth made him shudder. It was all the fault of a character by the name of Henry Rally. Rally was a bookmaker, and the night before he had celebrated his twenty-fifth arrest and acquittal on that charge. Dodd, being Rally's bondsman, had been included in the party that followed.

Rally's tastes ran to brandy with beer for a chaser and blondes with big breasts. Dodd moaned at the memory and put his head down on the desk and abandoned himself to despair and suffering.

The telephone on the desk rang shrilly. It felt exactly as though someone had slugged him on the ear with a sledge hammer. He yelped in agony and fumbled hastily to get the phone off its cradle before it could ring again.

"Dodd," he said feebly. "Bail bonds."

"Hart speaking. Take this down."

Dodd found a pencil. "Right, Lieutenant."

"Grass Shack on Dorado. Two for ten nineteen and one for ten twenty. Judge Mizner in Department 12. Vice squad from Central. Rolling now."

Dodd scribbled busily. "Thanks, Lieutenant." He put the telephone back on its cradle and touched his throbbing temples gingerly with his finger tips.

"Brandy," he muttered to himself. "Beer for a chaser. Ugh!"

He picked up the telephone again and dialed a number. After a moment a polite voice said into his ear: "Police department."

"Sergeant Henessey," Dodd requested. "Booking desk."

The line clicked, and another voice said: "Sergeant Henessey speaking."

"This is Dodd, Henessey. Is Meekins there?"

"Naw, Dodd. He went out to get a beer. Say, what about that drawing?"

"Drawing?" Dodd repeated.

"Sure. On the lottery."

"Lottery?" Dodd said vaguely.

"You know. That there Luxembourg lottery. I got three tickets. When they gonna have the drawing?"

Dodd's bloodshot eyes narrowed behind his glasses. "Any day now," he answered. "See you later."

He depressed the breaker bar on the phone, let it up and dialed another number. He waited quite awhile, and then a voice answered shortly: "Well, what?"

"This is Dodd. Is Meekins there?"

"Yeah, he's here. Hold it."


DODD waited again, and after a moment Meekins said: "Hello, boss. How you feel?"

"Lovely. Listen, you rat. Did you sell Henessey some of those Luxembourg lottery tickets you bummed off Pottsey Hanks the last time we bailed him out?"

"Well, not exactly. You see, I owed him some dough, and I give him three tickets, and he canceled—"

"You brainless louse!"

"Well, what's the matter with that?" Meekins demanded in an aggrieved tone. "Them tickets is genuine, and Henessey's got as good a chance to pull the grand prize—"

"Do you know where Luxembourg is?"

"It's in Africa, ain't it?"

"No!" Dodd said explosively. "It was between France and Germany."

"Oh!" said Meekins. "I see what... Say! You don't think that guy Hitler grabbed off the grand prize for himself, do you? Why hell, that's illegal! He can't do that!"

"Write him a letter," Dodd advised. "But in the meantime, you give Henessey his money. You know damned well we can't afford to get him griped at us. And there's something else for you to do. Do you know anything about a place called the Grass Shack?"

"Sure. That's the name of Sadie Wade's new kootch show down on Dorado Road at the beach."

"I thought that was it. The vice squad is going to pull the joint, and I want you—"

"Oh, no," Meekins interrupted.

"What?" Dodd said.

"They ain't gonna pull Sadie."

"And why not?"

"Because it ain't her turn yet."

"What do you mean, stupid?"

"She ain't supposed to be knocked over any more than once a season, and they got her once already."

"Never mind that. Lieutenant Hart just called and said the vice squad was on its way out there now."

"Sadie's gonna be mad," Meekins warned.

"I don't care whether she's mad or not. You get over to Judge Mizner's court and bail her out when they bring her in. She and her barker will be booked on violation of Section 1019. One dancer will be booked on violation of Section 1020. You know what the bail will be, so get the papers fixed up and give her some snappy service."

"All right. Say listen, boss. The last time I had a hangover a guy told me—"

"Shut up!"

Dodd slammed the phone back in its cradle. He put his head down on his desk again, and the smooth varnished wood felt luxuriously cool and soothing against his cheek. After a while he began to snore in muted little flutters.

The telephone went off and slammed him in the ear. Dodd jumped a foot in the air and came down so hard he cracked his neck. He sputtered profanity, grabbing for the instrument with both hands.

"Hello! Dodd speaking."

"This is Sadie Wade, Dodd. Have you got a sawed-off little monkey with a bald knob working for you?"

"Sure," Dodd said. "That's Meekins. He's my runner."

"Did you tell him to bail me out?"

"Certainly. I hope everything—"

"Well, why don't he do it? You think I've got nothing to do with my time but sit around in this damned rat-trap of a jail?"

"What?" said Dodd. "What's this? Didn't Meekins bail you out?"

"He did not. He won't do it."

"Well, why not? I told him to. Where is he?"

"Right here. Tell him again. And make it plain this time. I want bail, and I want it right now!"

Meekins' voice said: "Listen here, boss—"

"You scum! Didn't I tell you to bail Sadie out?"

"Sure you did. But listen—"

"I don't want to listen! Put—up—that—bail!"

There was a crash and a crackling sound from the other end of the line. Meekins protested incoherently: "Here! You can't—Quit shovin'!"

Sadie Wade's harsh voice snapped in Dodd's ear. "Did you tell him?"

"Yes," said Dodd. "And when I get hold of him I'll do more than tell him. I'm sorry, Sadie. He's a dope, and I guess he probably didn't understand. I'm always ready to give you service any time of the day or night—"

"All right, Dodd. I'm in a hurry now. See you later."


DODD hung up and sighed in a sad, dreary way. He put his elbows on his desk and braced his head in the palms of his hands. In a few moments he dozed off again.

The sun, slanting through the half-closed shutters on the window, woke him. He straightened up cautiously. His head felt better, and he grinned with relief. He went to the cooler and took a leisurely drink of water.

He was filling the glass for the second time when the telephone buzzed commandingly. Dodd picked it up and said cheerfully: "William Dodd speaking."

It was Meekins. "How do you feel now?" he asked.

"All right. Say listen, I want to tell you—"

"Wait a minute," Meekins interrupted. "Go in the front room and look under the leather lounge chair in the northeast corner. The one I usually sit in."

Dodd put the telephone down and obeyed. He felt around awkwardly under the low chair and finally brought his hand out holding a flat pint bottle half-full of bourbon. Carrying it, he went back to the telephone.

"What's the idea of this?"

"It's for you," Meekins told him.

"You're gonna need that pretty quick."

Dodd felt a queer chill of apprehension. He sat down carefully behind his desk.

"What, Meekins?"

"You're in soak for fifty thousand smackers."

"Fifty thousand..." Dodd said numbly. "What? What?"

"Yeah."

"But I haven't got fifty thousand!"

"You're telling me?" Meekins asked. "But that was the amount of Sadie Wade's bail, and you're signed up for it."

Dodd's face was gray. "Why—why—That can't be!"

"Yes, if can."

Dodd swallowed hard. "What—happened?"

"Sadie had a comedian named Tracy workin' for her. A little guy that wore big pants and big shoes and a clown makeup and went around slappin' the gals on the fanny between shakes. You know, anything for a laugh."

"Go on," Dodd said tensely.

"So when the boys rumbled the joint, this Tracy pulls a gun and cracks one of the detectives—Jake Holden—with a slug in the chest and scrams out the back way."

"Oh, oh!" Dodd said in a sick voice.

"Jake ain't dead—yet. But the boys are really mad. They were holding Sadie as a material witness and for aiding and abetting. That's the why of the heavy bail. We didn't do ourselves any good with the cops by puttin' it up."

Dodd exploded. "Why, you—you—What'd you do it for?"

"Ha!" said Meekins. "I tried to tell you, but you were too busy with your hangover and your snappy service. I couldn't argue while Sadie was pushin' me around. You told me to do it, and she knew you did. What was I supposed to answer to that?"

"O.K.," Dodd said slowly. "It's in my lap. I'm sorry I popped off to you."

"That's all right, boss. I know how you felt. But you bought yourself a baby. The cops are griped, and you've signed up for more bail than you can cover, and Sadie's actin' funny."

"What?" Dodd barked. "Funny how?"

"She's worth fifty thousand dollars to us, and I been walkin' around a step-and-a-half behind her. She's steamin' mad, just like I said. I tailed her down to her joint, and I'm across the street in a dog stand now. She's got the itch. I think she's gonna blow on us, boss."

"My God!" Dodd exclaimed. "If she does, and I can't cover that bail..."

"Maybe you'll like it in jail," Meekins said comfortingly.

"Stay right there!" Dodd ordered. "Wait for me! Don't let her get away from that joint of hers!"

He jumped up and started for the door. Halfway there he stopped short, turned around and went back for the whiskey. He slammed out of the office, fumbling with the metal cap on the bottle.


2. — SOCKED BY SADIE

THE bay was a great flat blue semicircle that cut into the smooth green of the hills beyond the beach. There was some wind, and the waves wore ruffled white collars of foam as they traveled up to roll themselves over in ponderous playfulness on the sand.

Automobiles shuttled back and forth in squawking lines on the speedway that was divided in the middle by a green parkway. Dodd wormed his battered coupe through the traffic lanes and parked it slantwise at the curb.

It was late Saturday afternoon now, and Dorado Road was winding up for its weekly hoopla. A ferris wheel, already lighted, traveled its endless futile way up and down again, and loudspeakers blared their hoarse invitations everywhere. The sidewalks were thronged with people with pink sunburned faces and peeling noses, and a car went by on the high lattice-work of the roller coaster with a sudden smack-bang and thin trailing whoops from its riders.

Dodd ignored it all. He elbowed his way along, hat crushed down on his head, spectacles balanced precariously on the end of his nose.

He found the Grass Shack without any trouble. It was a flat- roofed dingy building with colored life-size photographs of its entertainers plastered all over the front of it. The red curtains across the doorway were closed now, and the spangled ticket box was empty. The place looked battered and rundown and sorry for itself.

Dodd made a right turn and headed across the street toward a glistening white stand with an enormous red sign over it that said:


COME IN AND COOL YOUR DOGS
WHILE YOU EAT OURS—
ONE FOOT OF SUCCULENT
SAUSAGE FOR ONE DIME.


Dodd dodged around a vendor who was selling candy that looked like pink puffballs and ducked through the door of the stand.

Aside from the white-uniformed counterman, Meekins had the place all to himself. He was a nondescript little man with a tired, disillusioned air. He was sensitive about his baldness, and he never took his hat off unless the rules required it. He was sitting at the end of the long counter holding a raw pat of hamburg over his right eye. He turned and stared glumly at Dodd with the other.

"Where's Sadie?" Dodd demanded.

"Where's my whiskey?" Meekins countered.

Dodd produced the pint bottle. There was now only about an inch of liquor left in it.

"You must feel a lot better," Meekins said, eyeing it. He removed the cap and took care of the remaining whiskey in one big gulp.

"Where's Sadie?" Dodd demanded again. "Is she still over in her place?"

"No," said Meekins sourly.

"Well, where is she? What happened?"

Meekins removed the hamburg and showed the foundation for a beautiful black eye. The lid had already swollen shut.

"That happened," Meekins said, putting the hamburg back carefully. "Right after I phoned you, she came tearing out of her joint like the place was on fire. I was sitting here, so I hopped out and trailed along—but not far."

"Why not?"

"She turned into that alley down the road, and I put on a big spurt and turned in right after her. She was waitin' for me. She didn't even say hello. She just handed me this mouse."

"She hit you?" Dodd asked.

"And how! She tagged me with an overhand right and knocked me end-over end. When I picked myself up she was gone, so I came back here. I don't feel so good." Meekins sighed and then added casually: "She had a bag with her."

"A what?"

"A traveling bag. One of them dressing cases."

Dodd said: "She's blowing on us! Come on!"

"Where?" Meekins groaned.

"Over to the Grass Shack. We'll see what we can uncover."

Meekins put the hamburg down on the plate in front of him and signaled to the counterman. "Put this back in the icebox. Probably I'll need it again pretty soon."

"Hurry up!" Dodd ordered.


THEY went back across the crowded street and pushed through the faded red curtains that masked the entrance of the Grass Shack. There was a narrow wooden door behind the curtains, and Dodd led the way through it into the shadowed dusty dimness of the big room beyond. It was full of long rows of bare wooden benches that faced a small, low stage.

A man was sitting on the edge of the stage swinging his long thin legs dejectedly. He had a hugely swollen red-veined nose and watery-weak little eyes under fiercely bushy brows. He was wearing a checked suit and a double-breasted white vest that had an enormous gold watch chain stretched across it.

"That's Smedley," Meekins told Dodd. "He's Sadie's barker and ticket man. Smedley, this is Dodd. He's my boss."

"All right," said Smedley. "Go ahead."

"Go ahead and what?" Dodd asked.

"Curse me," Smedley said lifelessly. "Insult me. Call me names."

"Why?" Dodd asked blankly.

"Why not?" Smedley inquired. "You might as well. Everybody else does. Nobody has a kind word for me. Everything that happens in the world is my fault personally. I'm to blame no matter what it is."

A woman's voice said shrilly: "You dirty old whiskey-bum!"

Smedley closed his eyes with a martyred air. "Sure. That's right. Go ahead."

The woman came down the aisle between the benches, brushing past Dodd and Meekins as though they didn't exist. She was a big woman with wide, high shoulders and a thickly-set strong-looking body. Her hair was a brassy red and swung loose in a long bob.

"Are you blind?" she demanded of Smedley. "Can't you spot a copper before he shoves his buzzer in your pan?"

"It's my fault." Smedley said. "Sure. Everything is my fault

"You drooling rum-pot! Why didn't you signal us? You could at least have yelled when they put the arm on you. But, no! Not you!"

"Go ahead," Smedley invited drearily. "I'm to blame."

"You're damned right you are! So just because you didn't tip us off I have to get pinched and dragged through the streets in this outfit! Look at it! Just look!"

Smedley opened his eyes cautiously. She took off an old, stained slicker.

"Go ahead," Smedley said sadly. "Hit me. Knock me down."

"I'll do worse than that! Look at me!"

Smedley peered under one protective arm. She was wearing nothing but a very scanty gilt brassiere and an even scantier gilt G-string.

"What do you think of this for a street costume?" she demanded. "How do you like it for a court appearance? Maybe you think it's just the thing, but I don't!"

Expertly she hurled the slicker in Smedley's face.

"Now!" she said, doubling her fists on her wide hips and glaring at him. "I'm through! I'm through with this one-horse show and with this one-horse town and everybody in it!"

She opened a door at the side of the stage and slammed it violently shut behind her.

"Whee!" said Meekins, tugging at his collar.

Smedley sighed drearily. "That's the way it goes. Everybody kicks me around all the time."

"Who is she?" Dodd asked.

"That's Loretta. She's our star dancer. That is, she would be if she was working for us and we had a show for her to dance in. She's temperamental."

"Is that what you call it now?" Meekins inquired. "Say boss, I think I better take a look around backstage—"

"You stay here," Dodd ordered. "What's this about having no show to work in, Smedley?"


SMEDLEY gestured tragically at the empty benches. "We're closed. It'd be bad enough—just havin' Loretta walk out. She's something special. See, the yaps like big dolls, but most big dolls are fat and they sort of droop when you put 'em in a rig like that. But Loretta's solid. She don't sag."

"I noticed that," Meekins said dreamily.

"She's a great artist," said Smedley. "But now she's quit, and the cops are mad at us, and Sadie's gone wacky."

"What's the matter with Sadie?" Dodd inquired.

Smedley moved his thin shoulders. "I'd think she was gonna do the old dutch, except that she don't act to me like a person who is gonna do that."

"Kill herself?" Dodd said. "What do you mean? What did she say?"

"Nothing much," Smedley explained. "Except she was swearing a little bit more than usual. But she had a mean look in her eye, and I can't figure out what she wanted that gun for."

Dodd jumped. "Gun?"

"Yeah. The .45 Colt she kept in her dresser. It's a regular elephant gun. Got a barrel a foot long. So she comes in here and swears at me for awhile and puts that gun in her dressing case and sails out again."

"Where'd she go?" Dodd demanded tensely.

"I dunno. She said she was goin' snake huntin'."

Meekins said: "Boss, if she gets in any more trouble, she'll sure jump her bail."

Dodd chewed his under-lip. "You're telling me. Hell! I certainly did manage to hide myself right behind the eight ball! Fifty thousand dollars!" He shook his head sharply. "Listen, Smedley. What happened here, anyway?"

"I don't know much about it," Smedley said, "on account of the cops had me on a leash out front at the time. They rolled in just like it was a routine pinch. Sadie was griped because it was out of her turn to get it. She's been payin' off regular, and she ain't supposed to be pinched only once a season when she does that. So she beefed with them backstage. She wanted to call Captain Boris and squawk."

"Captain Boris?" Dodd repeated.

Meekins said: "Head of the beach precinct."

Dodd nodded. "O.K. Go ahead, Smedley."

"So Sadie says these payoffs are getting too damned complicated. Too many people got their hand out, and a person can't make an honest living with a hide show any more. But the cops wouldn't let her call, and she swung on this guy Holden, and he slapped her back, which was no more than right, and then this little bum of an Edgar Tracy popped out from behind the fire barrel where he'd been hidin' and let fly at Holden and bored him through the chest. There was hell to pay around here for awhile."

"Edgar Tracy is the comedian?" Dodd asked.

"That's what he claimed. He never made me laugh."

"Was he Sadie's boy-friend?" Dodd asked.

"He had notions in that direction, but when I showed him this he changed his mind." Smedley took a razor out of his coat pocket and snapped the long blade open and shut again. "I'm a patient man, and everybody picks on me, but there's limits to what I'll take."

"Tracy got away?" Dodd said.

"Yeah. He lammed out the back. The little rat."

"Who is he? Where'd he come from?"

"I got my own ideas about that," Smedley said darkly. "Guys like him ain't born. They crawl out from under stones. I don't know who he is—aside from his name. He ain't never worked the carny circuits or the fairs or the burleycue stands."

"What does he look like?"

"Nothin' much. Sort of fat and sort of middle-aged and sort of dopey. You can find guys who look just like him on any street corner."

"Where does Sadie live?" Dodd asked.

"At the Langley Apartments on Keener Street."


THERE was a sudden crash from back-stage. Loretta screamed and then screamed again. There was another crash, and the whole small stage shook.

A man ducked out under the curtains and jumped down off the stage into the aisle. He ran three lumbering steps and then stopped, peering cautiously back over his shoulder.

Loretta batted the curtains aside and came to the edge of the stage and pointed her finger at him warningly. She was dressed in a green street costume now.

"Scram, you bum!"

The man in the aisle wore a wrinkled blue suit and a black derby with a dent in the side. He had a beefy red face and enormously thick, heavy shoulders. He spoke protestingly to Loretta in a high, whining voice: "Now, honey-bee. Don't get mad like that..."

Loretta kicked Smedley hard. "And there's one thing more I'm through with around here! I'm through brushing off cow-footed fly-cops!"

Smedley winced. "Go ahead. He's my fault, too, I suppose."

"Now, honey-bee," said the beefy man.

"Shut up!" Loretta screeched. "Scram!"

She ducked back through the curtains. The beefy man cleared his throat with a belligerent cough and peered suspiciously at Dodd and Meekins.

"Who are these two guys, Smedley?"

"Who?" Smedley asked. "Oh, them. They're just a couple of would-be customers that dropped in."

"I'm Ludwig," said the beefy man to Dodd. "First class detective. Beach precinct. You got business here?"

"No," said Dodd. "We were just leaving."

"O.K.," said Ludwig. He turned importantly to Smedley. "You see anything of that guy Dodd yet?"

"Dodd?" Smedley repeated vaguely. "Oh, you mean the bail bond guy. No. Haven't seen him."

"Well, if you do, remember to tell him what I said."

"What was that?" Smedley asked, still vague.

"You dope! Can't you remember nothing? Captain Boris wants to see this bird Dodd, and he wants to see him right now."

"What for?" Smedley inquired.

"How should I know? But Captain Boris is plenty mad, and when he's mad he raises pure hell. He'll tear this guy Dodd to pieces and put him back together again wrong-side out. If he can't find Dodd he wants a guy by the name of Meekins. This Meekins is Dodd's stooge."

Meekins muttered under his breath. Dodd jabbed him warningly in the side with his elbow and said: "Well, we'll be moving along, Mr. Smedley. We're sure sorry your show is closed. Me and my cousin left our plowing and drove thirty miles just to see it."

"Come again, boys," Smedley said kindly. "Some other time."


3. — BORIS BURNS UP

THE Langley Apartments were housed in a thin, anemic-looking building covered in an off-shade of pink stucco that hadn't weathered the salt-sea air very successfully. Weeds grew high and rank in front of it, lapping over the curb into which Dodd cramped the wheels of the old coupe.

Here, up on the hillside, the wind had a sharper, colder tang. To the west the clouds were a rolled pile of red-gold that masked the setting sun, and shadows stretched long and thin ahead of Dodd and Meekins as they went up the chipped cement steps.

The front door was half ajar, and they went into the narrow, dark hallway that served as a lobby. Rows of mail boxes lined the left wall, and Dodd ran his finger down the name cards until he found Sadie Wade's.

"One twelve," he said. "That'll probably be in back—What was that?"

"What was what?" Meekins asked.

"Come on!" Dodd ordered.

Odors of meals long past swirled in the dim hallway, and the carpet was scuffed and ragged under Dodd's feet. Somewhere a radio and a baby squalled in off-key unison.

One twelve was the last door at the right at the end of the hall. It was closed, soiled-looking from the smears groping palms had left on it, and there was no sound from the apartment behind it.

Dodd stopped short about ten feet away, and Meekins ran into him from behind.

"Are you drunk again?" he complained. "What—"

"Shut up. I thought I heard a shot."

"I didn't hear—"

"It was muffled. Just a thud."

Dodd stepped cautiously up to the door and reached for the knob. He turned it very carefully and slowly, holding it so the latch wouldn't click. The door wasn't locked. Carefully Dodd pushed it open an inch and then another.

From behind him Meekins said: "There ain't no light. She ain't—"

Dodd flipped his arm back and hit Meekins hard in the chest, knocking him sideways. At the same second, he pivoted himself and swung flat against the wall.

The shots weren't muffled this time. They were sharp, whip- like cracks, and three little holes like splintered, sinister periods appeared magically in the door panel just above the knob.

From inside the apartment feet scuffled hurriedly on the floor. A screen door slammed flatly.

"The back way!" Dodd shouted. "Go around—"

Meekins was huddled against the wall, his face pasty-white. "Oh, no! Not if she feels that way about it. A black eye is bad enough. I got no desire to spend the summer pickin' lead out of my plumbing."

Dodd ran for the end of the hall, but there was no door or window there—no way to get out the back of the building. He started for the front of the hall and then stopped, realizing that whoever had shot would be blocks away before he could get around the building. He approached the bullet-scarred door with wary hesitant steps, keeping against the wall.

"Boss," said Meekins, "let's just fold our tents and steal silently away. This is gettin' kind of out of hand."

Dodd ignored him. He kicked the door suddenly, knocking it wide open. The apartment was a gloomy cave, and the sharp acrid smell of powder drifted into the hallway.

Dodd waited for a long, silent minute and then put his head cautiously around the door jamb. The furniture in the boxlike living-room resembled grotesque animals crouched and waiting in the shadows, and there was something else that moved and wavered and mumbled.

"Oh!" said Meekins in a choked gasp.


THE wavering thing took a sodden, slumping step toward the door and then folded down gently on itself into a lumpy pile that kept on mumbling.

Dodd reached a long arm around the door, found a light switch on the wall and flicked it. Light jumped brilliantly out of the brass chandelier that hung on a chain from the low ceiling.

"It's Sadie!" Meekins whispered.

She was a tall, heavily powerful woman of better than middle age. She was still wearing her street coat, and her flat pancake hat was tipped down drunkenly over one ear. Her face was a square-jawed stubborn mask, lined deeply with wrinkles, and the rouge stood out on her hard-muscled cheeks in raw patches.

She was sitting down on the floor, leaned back against a chair. She was holding a big .45 revolver in her lap. She had it in both hands, and she was trying to lift it. Her lips were drawn back rigidly from her square, white teeth with the effort she was making. Her eyes were wide and glassy.

"Take it easy, Sadie," Dodd said. "It's Dodd."

Sadie relaxed so suddenly her head jerked forward on the thick column of her neck. "Aw! Dodd!" She panted hoarsely, taking her breath in strangled gasps. "That—fat—smiling—little devil! I'll—kill him! You hear me, Dodd? I'll—kill—him..."

Dodd was kneeling beside her. "Sure, Sadie. Who?"

"Tracy. Wait 'til—I—get—my—hands..."

Her head slumped forward. Her hands relaxed, and the big revolver slid to the floor with a soft thump.

"Is she—dead?" Meekins asked uneasily.

"No," Dodd said. "She's hit in the left side—up high here. Call an ambulance. I'll go—"

"Nowhere," a voice finished for him. A man stepped through the door from the hall. He was short and thick-set, with a round darkly saturnine face, and he carried himself with an air of lazy confidence. He was holding a revolver casually in his right hand.

Dodd nodded. "Hello, Fesitti," he said calmly.

"Ta-da-ta-da!" Meekins said in a mock trumpet call. He had recovered himself completely. Policemen didn't frighten him a bit. "The cops arrive with a fanfare—late as usual. Where were you hiding, Fesitti? In the garbage can?"

"I wasn't hiding anywhere," said Fesitti. "I was staked out in front—watching the joint. I followed you two in here. Which one of you shot Sadie?"

"Pass the cocaine, Watson," Meekins commented. "The master- mind has just made a startling deduction."

"You'll talk too much one of these days," Fesitti said coldly.

Dodd said: "If you'd gone around in back you'd have nailed the guy that did this."

"That would have taken some brains," Meekins said. "Don't expect miracles, boss."

"How'd you like to fall down and hurt yourself?" Fesitti asked.

Dodd said shortly: "Stop fooling around and call an ambulance. Sadie's bleeding a lot."

"Too bad," Fesitti said. He walked leisurely over to the telephone stand and picked up the instrument. "Police department," he said into the mouthpiece. He nodded at Dodd. "Captain Boris wants to see you—but bad."

"I'll go down pretty quick."

"No," Fesitti corrected. "You'll go now. With me." He spoke into the mouthpiece. "Fesitti. Give me Captain Boris."

"Do you want Meekins too?" Dodd asked.

"I wouldn't take him as a gift."

Dodd nodded at Meekins. "You stay here with Sadie. When the ambulance comes, you go with her to the hospital. Stay there and watch her."

"O.K.," Meekins agreed.

"I got Dodd, Captain," Fesitti said into the telephone.


CAPTAIN BORIS looked exactly like the motion picture version of a Prussian army officer. He had a round, bullet-like head covered with a close-clipped blond stubble of hair and no neck at all. His eyes were sinister blood-shot slits almost hidden in pink rolls of fat.

He even had what would pass as a saber scar on his cheek. It wasn't. He had acquired it years ago when he had tried to stop a drunk from beating up his wife. The wife tagged him with a flatiron.

He looked up from the tangled mass of papers on his desk when Fesitti pushed Dodd into the cubbyhole office. He waggled one blunt finger, and Fesitti went out and shut the door carefully behind him.

"Sit," said Boris, pointing. He had a grin which was like something out of a nightmare.

Dodd lowered himself gingerly into the braced, straight-backed chair in front of the desk.

"Mr. William Dodd," said Boris. "The big shot from uptown. So you think you're going to play fun in my precinct, do you?"

"Am I pinched?" Dodd inquired. "Because if I am, I want to call—"

"Shut up. Do you know that Jake Holden died?"

Dodd's face lengthened. "No."

"Yeah. An hour ago. Jake was a friend of mine. He joined up with the cops the same year I did. He never did get past a first- class detective grade because he was honest, but I liked him in spite of that."

"So did I," Dodd said.

"Shut up. So Sadie Wade hired this guy Tracy, who popped Jake off. She didn't hire him on account he was a comedian, because he wasn't any funnier than a time-bomb. He was hidin' out, and he must have been hotter than a firecracker or he wouldn't have shot a cop just to keep from bein' dragged in on a routine vice raid. Sadie must know what he's hidin' from, but before I can question her you get her out on bail."

"That was a mistake."

Boris nodded grimly. "I'll bet you'll think so before I get through with you. But you ain't even satisfied with bailin' her out. You're afraid I'll pick her up again, so you take a bang at her to keep her quiet. Listen, sonny, let me tell you something. This precinct is a damned good thing, and I've held it for ten years. If you think you can push in with those row-de-dow tactics of yours, you're crazier than hell. And shut up!"

"Shut up yourself!" Dodd snarled. "I didn't shoot Sadie. Tracy did. She told me so. If that lunk-headed Fesitti had been a little smarter, he'd have nabbed Tracy when he was getting away. If you don't believe me, ask Sadie."

"I can't—yet," Boris said mildly. "I just called the hospital. She's still unconscious."

"Ask her when she comes out of it, then. She knew Tracy would be hiding out at her place—or had a good idea he would. She got her gun from the Grass Shack and headed right for home. She bopped my man, Meekins, when he tried to tail her. She spotted Fesitti and sneaked in the back way. She and Tracy must have had an accident. He had a gun wrapped up in a towel, and he let her have it and then blasted through the door at me."

"So you say," said Boris.

"And I can prove it!"

"Probably you can," Boris admitted. "I've heard tell that you're a guy who can prove the moon's made of limburger if you set your mind to it."

"Not only that," said Dodd, "but I told you the truth a minute ago. I bailed Sadie out by mistake, and if she runs out on me I can't cover her bail."


BORIS stared at him out of slitted eyes.

"You know you're sittin' there wide open for a felony charge?"

Dodd leaned forward. "Sure, I know it! That's what I'm yelling about!"

"Oh," said Boris. He rubbed the scar on his cheek with the back of his thumb contemplatively. "This sort of puts a different slant on things. Who tipped you off to the raid on the Grass Shack?"

"Lieutenant Hart at headquarters. He's a friend of mine, and he knew I'd been trying to get some business from this precinct."

"You sure it was Hart?"

"Call him up and ask him."

"Ummm," said Boris. "Did you know it wasn't a routine raid?"

"Meekins said it wasn't Sadie's turn, but I thought he was just blowing off as usual."

"He was right," Boris said. He sighed lengthily. "It's gettin' so I'm losing my faith in human nature. The mayor has got to make a speech before a women's club tomorrow, and he wanted something to talk about. So he wanted a vice raid. So I said they could raid down here if they were nice about it. I told 'em to take Sadie because she's a good pal of mine, and I figured I'd make it up to her later. But I come to find out she's hiding a red-hot in her show—and without even telling me! How do you like that?"

"It's not so good," Dodd commented.

Boris nodded gloomily. "You'd think she'd at least tip me off—her being a friend and all that. She knows I'm reasonable. I wouldn't have bothered the guy as long as he behaved, if there wasn't too big a reward on him. But the main thing is, I wouldn't have run the vice squad in on her if I'd known about this Tracy."

"Have you been shaking her down heavy?"

"Sadie?" Boris asked. "Why, no. I told you she was a pal of mine. A place like hers always makes extra trouble for the cops, and I expect her to pay for it, but that's all."

"Having any trouble in your precinct?"

Boris' lips moved in a gargoyle grin. "If I found any trouble around here, I'd shoot it and mount it and hang it on the wall. Just keep that in mind, pal."

The inter-office communicator buzzed, and Boris flipped the switch. "Yeah?"

The desk sergeant's voice said: "That guy Emil Poulson is here again. Says he's got to see you right now. Very important. He says if you don't see him he's going to see Kranz and get us all fired."

"Send him in," Boris ordered. He flipped the switch and looked at Dodd. "I hate lawyers—even worse than I do bail bondsmen. Do you know this guy Poulson?"

Dodd shook his head. "No. Never heard the name."

"You're lucky. He's a pest."


4. — RESPECTABILITY REARS UP

FESITTI opened the door and let in a small, plump man with a neatly pointed white goatee and a round, smiling, dough-like face. He wore thick-lensed nose-glasses attached to his coat lapel with a broad black ribbon.

"Captain Boris?" he inquired.

"That's right," Boris said.

"My name is Emil Poulson, as you are very well aware. I'm an attorney representing the Agatha Drinkwater Estate."

"O.K.," Boris said wearily.

Poulson cleared his throat with the air of a professional lecturer and said: "The Agatha Drinkwater Estate consists of a trust of a great number of miscellaneous pieces of property. The beneficiary is, of course, Agatha Drinkwater, who is a widowed lady of advanced years."

"So what?" Boris asked.

Poulson continued in his precise informative way: "One of the pieces of property owned by the Estate and leased by its accredited agents—of which I am one—consists of Blocks 12, 14, 18, and 19 of the southeast quarter of the north section of Silvester's addition to White's quarter section of the suburb—"

"Hold it," Boris requested. "If this is a tax beef, you've got the wrong party."

"It is not a tax—ah—beef. As I say, the Estate owns Block 19—"

"Yeah, I know. Go on from there."

"The third lot of Block 19 is occupied by an amusement concession known as the Grass Shack."

Boris pulled his beefy body upright. "Is that a fact?"

"It is. Now the rental agreement, or lease, between the Agatha Drinkwater Estate and the—ah—Grass Shack contains certain provisions and covenants to be fulfilled on the part of the lessee."

"The who?"

"The Grass Shack. The owners of said concession agreed that they would operate a lawful business on the property."

"Well, they are," said Boris. "It's a hide show."

Poulson took off his glasses and tapped them on his forefinger. "But not a lawful one—not according to the legal definition of such outlined in Brass Ring vs. Greeley, 113 General Sessions 304. According to my reports, the Grass Shack has twice been raided already this current season by the Vice and Morality Squad of the police department."

"Oh, those were just routine raids," Boris explained.

"Routine?" Poulson repeated, raising his eyebrows.

"Sure. Those guys on the vice squad have to do something to justify their existence. If the show wasn't lawful, I wouldn't let it run in my precinct."

"The proprietor of the show—one Sadie Wade—pleaded guilty to the charges of operating an indecent show the first time she was arrested."

"Oh, sure," said Boris. "That keeps the reformers happy, gives the papers something to print, and gets Sadie some free advertising. Just a matter of business."

"Not the kind of business the Agatha Drinkwater Estate prefers to be associated with," said Poulson. "It is my intention to cancel the lease held by the Grass Shack."

"I wouldn't do that."

Poulson nodded his head slowly and meaningly. "Ah. I suspected you had an—ah—interest in the place. That's why you've been trying to avoid seeing me."

"Let's get this straight, chum," said Boris. "If you mean, do I own a piece of the show—I don't. If you mean is Sadie paying me protection money—sure."

"Graft," said Poulson.

"Nuts," said Boris. "What do you think I live on—my salary?"

"Graft," Poulson said solemnly. "My suspicions—as trustee—have been justified. Good day." He made a smart about-face and headed for the door.

"Wait a minute," Dodd requested. He looked at Boris. "You going to let him throw Sadie out?"

"I fail to see how he could prevent it," said Poulson, frowning at Dodd in a dignified rebuke.

Boris shrugged. "Why not?" he said to Dodd. "Sadie crossed me up—hiding that Tracy."

"You haven't talked to her. Maybe she has an explanation. Give her a chance. Besides, she owes me dough for bail bond fees."


BORIS squinted thoughtfully. "O.K., Poulson, don't cancel that lease. If you do, I'll put the joint on the black list and nobody will dare rent it."

Poulson took off his glasses and stared at Boris incredulously. "Graft," he said in a dazed voice. "And now threats."

"That's right," Boris agreed.

"Why—why, I'll have your job, sir! I'll see the mayor—the police commissioner. You haven't heard the last of this!" He went out, slamming the door.

Boris shrugged amiably. "Acts screwy," he commented. "He oughta be in with the old lady."

"Old lady?" Dodd repeated.

"Yeah. This Agatha Drinkwater. She's in the state asylum. Cuckoo as they come. She chopped her old man up with a hand-axe and was tryin' to run the pieces through a meat-grinder when they nailed her."

Dodd stared at him unbelievingly.

"Fact," Boris said. "Oh, you meet all kinds of people in the police business. The guy I'd like to meet right now, though, is that Tracy."

"What do you know about him?" inquired Dodd.

"Nothing, damn it," said Boris. "We haven't got any pictures of him except in costume, and he put enough paint on his pan so he might be Hitler under it and nobody the wiser. His description fits one out of every three guys that go by the front door. Lived in a hotel. No papers or letters in his room. Had no friends. Nobody knows where he came from or why. We couldn't even get any prints that we were sure were his. Maybe he's a phantom for all I know. I guess I better call up the hospital and see if Sadie can talk yet."

He picked up the telephone from his desk. "Get me the receiving hospital," he said into the mouthpiece.

Outside in the hallway a voice said wearily: "Aw, why don't you go drown yourself, drip?"

Dodd's head jerked up, and he looked at the closed door of the office.

Captain Boris spoke into the telephone: "This is Captain Boris. About Sadie Wade, the patient—What? What?... Escaped? What the hell do you mean, escaped? You just got through telling me she was unconscious... Oh, you think she was faking, do you? When you make up your mind about it, let me know. And in the meantime, you find her! You hear me? You find her or I'll come down there and tear you up like confetti! And shut up!"

He slammed the telephone back on its stand. "She got away! Scrammed out of the joint! I'm gonna kill somebody! I feel it comin' on!"

Dodd got up and jerked the office door open. Meekins was leaning against the wall outside, while Fesitti glowered at him dangerously, blocking the way to the office. Meekins was holding an ice cube wrapped in a paper napkin. He was running the ice tenderly back and forth along the line of his jaw.

"You!" Dodd snapped. "I thought I told you to stay at the hospital and watch Sadie!"

"You did, and I did. Until she left."

"Come in here!" Dodd ordered.

Meekins slid past Fesitti. "All right. So this is how it was. I was sitting in the corridor not ten feet from the door of her room, talking to this cop by the name of Bromski."

"That's the guy I assigned to watch her," Captain Boris put in.

"Sure. So Bromski had to go to the john. He went to look for it. Sadie must have been watchin' through the keyhole, because right away she popped out of her room. The nurse just got through tellin' me she was unconscious, so I think maybe she is delirious or something. So I take hold of her nice and gentle and try to lead her back inside the room. She tagged me with that same overhand right. On the jaw this time. Knocked me cold. I'm telling you, I didn't hire out for a punching-bag—"

"Shut up," said Boris gloomily, holding his head. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to kill somebody now. Any minute."

"Was Sadie dressed?" Dodd asked.

"Nope," said Meekins. "She had on one of them long hospital nightgowns. Looked like a circus tent on the prowl."

"She can't get far in that outfit," Dodd said. "She'll be picked up right away."

"You don't know them guys I got working for me," Boris told him. "There ain't any of them could find his own mouth with a spoon. Why do things like this have to happen? As if I ain't got troubles enough—"


THE inter-office communicator buzzed, and Boris snapped the switch. "What now?"

The desk sergeant's voice said: "Ludwig is here."

"So he's here. So what?"

"He's got Smedley with him. Smedley's drunker than an owl. Ludwig says he can't watch him and the Grass Shack both at the same time and what should he do?"

"My God," Boris said, disgusted. "Tell the gravy-brain to throw Smedley in the drunk tank and to go back to the Grass Shack and stay there and to keep away from that ten-ton fanny shaker of a Loretta while he's at it."

Meekins nudged Dodd. Dodd looked at him inquiringly. Meekins had discarded his ice cube and now he made motions with his fingers as though he were counting money and jerked his head in the direction of the booking-room outside.

Dodd frowned. Meekins nodded his head in a positive emphatic manner.

Dodd said slowly to Boris: "I'll go Smedley's bail on the drunk charge."

"Sure," Meekins said quickly. "Smedley's our pal, and he's a good guy. He's probably just upset about all his troubles and about Sadie."

Boris said into the communicator: "Give Smedley to Dodd and Meekins." He nodded to Dodd. "You can have him without any bail, if you want him."

"Right!" said Meekins gratefully. "Thanks, Captain."

"Want us any more?" Dodd asked.

"I don't want anything but a long vacation," Boris answered. "Get out. Go away. Don't bother me. Wait a minute. I mean that last. Get the hell out of my precinct and stay out. I've had enough of you."

Dodd and Meekins went out into the hall. Meekins was all for heading right for the booking desk, but Dodd seized him by one thin arm and jerked him up short.

"If this is another of your crack-brained ideas—" he hissed dangerously. "What do you want to be pestered with a drunk for? Haven't we got enough trouble?"

"Smedley ain't drunk," Meekins whispered.

"How do you know?"

"He can't get drunk."

"Listen, stupid," Dodd said, "anybody can get drunk."

"Nope. Not Smedley."

"And why not, may I ask?"

Meekins said: "Look. I know he can't I know a guy who runs a cartoon in the papers about strange facts and odd characters and such. He told me about Smedley on account he wanted me to persuade Smedley to let the guy run a picture and some dope about him in his cartoon. Smedley's got something wrong with him. This guy give me a lot of big words on it—but the idea is that alcohol don't absorb into Smedley's blood. Liquor don't have any effect on him. It's a fact. Smedley wouldn't let the guy run his picture in the cartoon because Smedley picks up a lot of side money bettin' guys in bars he can drink a quart of whiskey down and then walk a straight line or stand on his head or whatnot. He can do it, too. A quart of whiskey don't mean any more to him than a quart of water would to you."

"Ummm," said Dodd, staring at him skeptically.

"It's true!" Meekins said. "And if he ain't drunk and is pretendin' he is, then he must have a reason for it. Come on."

Dodd followed him into the booking-room. Smedley was parked in a corner on the floor, legs and arms trailing limply rubber-like in all directions, head tilted forward on his chest. His eyes were closed, and he was muttering unintelligibly to himself.

Ludwig, the beefy detective with the dented derby, was standing at the booking desk.

"You can have him," he said. "You're sure welcome—Say! You're the two guys that was at the Grass Shack! Why didn't you tell me you was Dodd and Meekins?"

"We were incognito," Dodd answered absently.

Ludwig stared. "In what?"

"Disguise. We're so good at it we don't even recognize ourselves sometimes. Give a hand, Meekins."

They took hold of Smedley's limp arms.

"Upsy-daisy!" Meekins said, heaving.


SMEDLEY came up to his feet. He wavered back and forth loosely, eyes still tightly shut. Meekins and Dodd started him toward the door. He dragged his feet, but they hauled him along willy-nilly.

"You're gonna wish you hadn't," Ludwig warned. "He's out like a light. Don't go droppin' him in some gutter and leavin' him there, neither!"

"Oh, we wouldn't do that," Meekins answered. "Smedley's our pal."

"Sure," said Dodd. "We love Smedley dearly."

They half-carried Smedley down the cement steps and along the crowded sidewalk to the nearest corner. They turned on to a narrow residential street lined with slatternly little cottages. Scattered street lights made feeble blobs in the growing darkness, and halfway along the first block they came to a narrow alley-way that had high hedges on either side.

Dodd looked at Meekins over Smedley's drooping head. Meekins winked in answer and said conversationally: "Hold him up a minute, boss. I got to tie my shoe."

He let go of Smedley and crouched down. Dodd shoved Smedley hard. Smedley went headlong over Meekins and sprawled full length into the alley with a grunt of agonized surprise.

Meekins jumped on his chest, putting a knee on each of Smedley's arms.

"Get that razor!" he said breathlessly.

Dodd found it tucked neatly away in the cuff of Smedley's baggy trousers. He put it in his own pocket. Meekins got up, and the two of them stared thoughtfully down at Smedley. He was still playing his part. He lay sprawled out lifelessly limp.

"Come on, Smedley," Dodd said.

"It's a good act," Meekins added. "But we don't like it any more."

Smedley breathed in and then out again in a long, melancholy sigh. He sat up and poked at his chest experimentally, wincing.

"Why didn't you just kill me while you were at it?" he asked wearily. "Why didn't you drop me out of a ten-story window? What did I ever do to you two?"

"Nothing," said Dodd. "But you're going to. You're going to tell us what's the idea of this little song-and-dance."

"I wanted to get in jail, you dopes," said Smedley.

"Why?"

"I got an appointment with a guy that's in there."

Dodd crouched down beside him. "Who, Smedley? Come on and tell us all about it. We're your pals. We like you."

Smedley kneaded his biceps where Meekins had landed on them. "A guy by the name of Charley Blue. He's in the drunk tank. I want to see him about something."

"What, Smedley?"

"He was sellin' Sadie protection. I want to ask him why she didn't get it."

Dodd stood up and looked at Meekins. "Do you know this Charley Blue gent?"

Meekins nodded. "A drunk. A souse. He's a tout and a shill for floating crap games. Works uptown. I think maybe he pimps a little in his spare time. Strictly no good and a cheapie."

"Would he be working for Boris?"

"Hell, no. He was just shaking Sadie down a little on his own."

"Oh, no," Dodd denied. "Not Sadie. She wouldn't fall for any fake protection gag. She'd investigate. Who is he working for, Smedley?"

"I dunno," Smedley answered gloomily. "That's what I was gonna ask him. Sadie never told me. She don't pop off much about such matters. But I know he's workin' for somebody heavy. Sadie wouldn't pay out unless he was. She's gettin' a hell of a rough shake around here, and I think it's that little punk's fault. I'm gonna slice him up like balogna. Give me my razor."

Dodd handed it back to him. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "this sort of ties in with some other stuff. I think somebody is muscling in on Captain Boris. He accused me of it at first, and he was pretty anxious to find out who tipped me off to the raid on the Grass Shack. Of course, he wouldn't admit he was having any trouble, but I think he is."

"Somebody is nuts, then," Meekins observed. "Captain Boris is smart and tougher than hell, and he's got this district solidly behind him because he never gouges on anybody and he keeps things in line. Somebody is going to fall right on their face with an awful jangle."

"I think Smedley's got something," Dodd said. "I think maybe we better go talk to this Charley Blue. You sure he's in the drunk tank, Smedley?"

"Sure," Smedley said sadly.

"All right," said Dodd. "Be drunk again, and we'll pack you back to the jail."


5. — THE DRUNK TANK

WHEN Meekins and Dodd came back into the police station dragging Smedley between them, Ludwig was gone, and the sergeant was alone behind the booking desk.

"What's the matter now?" he demanded.

"Our playmate is a little too drunk for us to handle," Dodd explained. "Can we park him in the drunk tank?"

The sergeant tossed him a ring of keys. "Sure. There's nobody in there yet but Charley Blue. Lock the door when you come out."

Dodd and Meekins steered Smedley toward the door into the cell block. "Is Charley Blue in here often?" Dodd asked the sergeant.

"Every week. It takes him about five days to wind up, and then he falls flat on his face and stays there. The first cop that happens along totes him in to sleep it off. He's been out for about eighteen hours now. It's about time he should be waking up."

Dodd said in an undertone to Meekins: "Go get a pint of whiskey. He's going to need it."

Meekins went out the front door. Dodd half-carried the limp Smedley down the cement-floored aisle to the big cell at the back.

"All right," he said. "Stand up now. Nobody's looking."

He unlocked the cell door, and Smedley followed him inside. There were half a dozen narrow iron cots with bare mattresses placed side by side with about a foot of space between them. A man lay on his back on the one under the window. His face, pitilessly revealed by the glow of the unshaded bulb in the ceiling, was red and swollen and puffy. There was a ragged stubble of blond beard on his cheeks. His mouth was open, and he snored in a fluttering, choked way. His scanty hair stood up in a sweat-sticky clumps.

"Is this our party?" Dodd asked.

"That's Charley," said Smedley. "Don't he look pretty?"

"Like a week-old corpse," Dodd agreed.

He shook Charley Blue's slack shoulder. There was no resistance in the man at all. His head rolled a little bit. He mumbled brokenly, and a thread of saliva slid down over his chin and spread on the soiled collar of his shirt.

Meekins came in the cell with a pint bottle of whiskey in his hand. Watching Charley Blue thoughtfully, Dodd took the seal off the cap of the bottle and had a drink.

"I'm the guy that bought that whiskey, you know," Meekins hinted.

Dodd handed him the bottle. Meekins drank and offered it to Smedley.

"I never drink except for business reasons," Smedley said. "You wanta bet I can't drink all that pint and then—"

"No," said Dodd. "Give me your hat. You're not going to need it in here."

Smedley handed him the hat. Dodd punched out the crease in the crown, turned the hat upside down and held it under the tap in the water basin. When it was fall, he held it carefully over Charley Blue's head and tipped it.

The water splashed noisily, soaking into the mattress. Charley Blue spluttered. His head rolled violently, and he made mumbling protests.

Dodd and Meekins and Smedley sat down in a row on the nearest cot and watched him.


CHARLEY BLUE'S eyes opened.

They were red, burned holes in the puffiness of his face. He moaned as the light hit them. Slowly and cautiously he groped around him until he found the edge of the cot. He took hold of it and pulled himself up, hand over hand, to a sitting position.

He was facing Dodd, Meekins and Smedley now. He stared at them uncomprehendingly. They stared back. Charley Blue began to shake. He shook all over in spasmodic shuddering lunges that made the cot legs rattle like castanets against the cement floor. His eyes rolled glassily.

"Wow!" Meekins said softly. "This guy is one step away from the horrors."

"Hold his head," Dodd ordered. Meekins braced Charley Blue's head against his chest, tilting it back. Dodd tipped the whiskey bottle up to his chattering teeth and poured a little in his mouth. Charley Blue gulped and shuddered and gulped again in a raging fever of anxiety. He grabbed for the bottle, and Dodd batted his hands away.

"That's enough, now. Take it easy."

Charley Blue took deep, whistling breaths. Gradually the awful shuddering stopped and some faint shadow of intelligence came in his reddened eyes.

"More," he said hoarsely.

Dodd gave him another drink, keeping a firm hold on the whiskey bottle. He pulled it away after Charley Blue had gulped down two big slugs.

"More," Charley Blue begged.

"Nope," said Dodd.

"You'd better," Meekins warned. "He'll throw a fit."

"In a minute," Dodd answered. "Listen, Charley. We want to ask you some questions."

Charley Blue tore his fascinated gaze from the whiskey and really looked at his three visitors for the first time. He evidently didn't care for what he saw. He moved back on the cot uneasily.

"Who're you guys?" he demanded.

"I'm Dodd—bail bonds. This is Meekins. He works for me. You know Smedley, don't you?"

Charley Blue nodded reluctantly. "Yeah, I guess so. How are you, Smedley?"

"I'm alive," said Smedley gloomily. "I think."

"I don't want no bail," Charley Blue told Dodd. "Give me another drink."

"Not just now. First you give some answers. Smedley says you've been shaking down Sadie Wade."

"That's a lie!" said Charley Blue.

Smedley took out his razor and opened it. He moved the blade so that it shimmered dangerously in the light.

Charley Blue gulped. "Here, now! Get away from me with that, or I'll yell—"

"Not more than once, you won't," Smedley told him.

Charley Blue pulled his feet up and crawled to the head of the cot and huddled against the wall shaking.

"What you guys doin' here?"

"Asking you questions," Dodd informed him. "You want us to get mad and go away with our whiskey?"

"No!" Charley Blue said frantically.

"Keep your voice down. Who're you working for?"

"Nobody!"

"You're running a shakedown racket on your own?"

"Sure. What's it to you?"

"Nothing," said Dodd. "But suppose I tell Captain Boris about it?"

Charley Blue sneered shakily. "Go ahead. He don't dare lay a finger on me."


DODD looked at Meekins inquiringly.

Meekins said. "The guy is punch-drunk."

"You think so?" said Charley Blue. "I can close any joint at the beach, whether it's legitimate or what, and I don't care what Boris says about it. I can get anybody down here raided any time."

Smedley said softly. "Could you get Sadie raided?"

"Sure! And you better remember—Wh-what?"

Smedley was creeping up on him with the razor. "So you're the weasel that was responsible for her gettin' pulled today, huh? Just like I thought!"

"No!" Charley Blue said shrilly, losing all his bluster. "I am not! I never did! Get away from me!"

Dodd stood up. "Come on, Meekins. We're in the way here. Charley and Smedley want to be alone."

"Wait!" Charley Blue pleaded. "Wait, now! You guys will be sorry! I'm tellin' you! You deal in bail bonds, huh? All right, my brother-in-law will get your license—"

Dodd sat down again. "Now we're getting somewhere. Your brother-in-law, eh? Who's he?"

"Kranz," Charley Blue muttered sullenly.

Dodd looked at Meekins questioningly. Meekins was staring at Charley Blue in blank amazement.

"Kranz is the councilman for this district."

"You bet he is!" Charley Blue seconded emphatically. "And you better just watch your step how you treat me!"

"Kranz," Smedley muttered dangerously. "So he's the guy Sadie's been payin' off."

"I don't like this," Meekins said, worried. "We're getting in away over our heads."

"I know," Dodd agreed. He extended the whiskey bottle cordially. "Well, if you're Kranz's brother-in-law, Charley, why that makes everything look different. Yes, indeed. Have yourself a snort."

Charley Blue tipped up the bottle and drank greedily.

Dodd jerked his head. "Come on, Meekins. You, too, Smedley. You'll have to be sober again."

The three of them went out in the corridor, and Dodd locked the cell door.

"He'll put that whiskey down and pass himself out—I hope," Dodd told them. "I want him out of the picture until I can locate Sadie."

"I don't like this," Meekins repeated. "Something is screwy around here."

"Everything is," Dodd said.

"Yeah. But I mean with what Charley said. Kranz is honest."

"An honest councilman?"

"It's true," Meekins insisted. "He's got a good law practice—civil stuff. He don't chisel. If he did, I'd know about it. Something's wacky."

"He might skid a few corners for his brother-in-law."

"Not Kranz," Meekins said stubbornly. "I mean, the guy is really honest. He makes a point of it. He doesn't even handle legitimate graft."

Charley Blue's bubbling voice sounded behind them. "Don' believe, huh?" He was leaning forward with his head pressed against one of the bars on the door, peering at them owlishly cross-eyed around it. The pint bottle in his hand was half-empty. The liquor, on his empty stomach, had hit with the force of a ten-ton truck. He was slobberingly drunk again.

"Think I'm lyin', huh? All righ'. All righ'. Kranz my brother- in-law, see? Backs me up. Always. You wanna know? You wan' proof, huh? All righ'. All righ'. You phone. You phone yourself and see. You ask he don' back me up. Number's Ashway 6626, see? Private number, see? You phone. Go ahead. Dare you phone. All righ'."

He lost his grip on the bars and went staggering back and fell headlong on his cot.

"Come on, you two," Dodd said.


HE led the way down the corridor and out into the booking office again. The desk sergeant stared at them in amazement.

"Smedley decided he didn't like your jail," Dodd said, handing over the keys.

Captain Boris came out of the doorway of the hall that led to his office. He rolled himself to a halt, his bullet head thrust forward.

"I thought I told you two to get the hell out of this precinct and stay out," he growled.

"We're on our way," Dodd said hastily.

Emil Poulson stepped daintily through the front door. He blinked a moment through his thick-lensed spectacles, getting used to the bright lights, and then he pointed a plump, precise finger at Boris and said: "I have been in communication with Richard Kranz, the representative of this district on the city council. He informs me that you have no right whatsoever to blacklist any property belonging to the Agatha Drinkwater Estate, and that if you do so or attempt to do so he will take steps."

"What steps?" Boris asked, mildly curious.

"He did not inform me, sir. But, as I warned you, I allow neither graft nor threats to sway me in the slightest from my sworn duties as a trustee, and if I hear any more from you on either of those subjects, I shall appeal to even higher authorities than the members of the city council. I bid you good day."

Poulson made his abrupt, military about-face and whisked out the door.

"So long," said Boris. "Now listen, Dodd. I'm getting a little tired of talking—"

Detective Ludwig lumbered in the front door and said, "Hey, Captain," in his high complaining voice.

"What?" Boris inquired in a dangerously quiet tone.

"Well, listen, I'm gettin' tired of sittin' in that Grass Shack. There ain't nobody around there to talk to or look at, and I think I could do better if I—"

"So you've started to think now, have you?" Boris inquired. "What are you using for a brain?" Suddenly his voice rose to an outraged bull-like bellow. "Let me tell you something! I'm the guy who thinks in this precinct! I don't want any competition from numb-wits like you! Get the hell back there to the Grass Shack before I kill you right here in cold blood!"

"Yes, sir," said Ludwig, heading for the door so quickly he stumbled over his own feet.

"Wait a minute!" Boris yelled. "Take Dodd and Meekins with you and escort them out of this district—clear out! And if I see you two around here again..."

"We're leaving," Dodd said. "But what about this Poulson-Kranz business?"

"Nothing about it," Boris answered. "Like Poulson said, the Agatha Drinkwater Estate owns a lot of property around town—apartments, office buildings and such. Kranz can't brush off such a heavy taxpayer. He had to give Poulson some sort of a song-and-dance to quiet him."

"Kranz doesn't interfere with you?"

"Of course not," said Boris. "He realizes I know my business. He never bothers me. What's it to you?"

"Just wondering," said Dodd. "Did you know that you had Kranz's brother-in-law in the drunk tank?"

"Sure," Boris answered. "You don't think I let every drunk in town use my jail for a hotel, do you? Kranz is a good guy, and Charley Blue is a hell of a burden to him. Always in trouble. We lock him up whenever we find him crocked, and when we get tired of that we ship him off to the funny house for a cure. Now, scram."


SMEDLEY and Meekins and Dodd marched out of the station, with Ludwig lumbering along behind them like a clumsy shepherd dog. At the corner a half-block above the station, Dodd stopped short, frowning in a dramatically worried way at Meekins.

"I just thought of something," he said. Meekins picked up his cue instantly. "What, boss?" he asked in a gravely concerned tone.

"This guy Tracy is a killer."

"That's right," Meekins agreed. "A desperate character."

Dodd said: "Do you realize, Meekins, that he shot Sadie because he thought she could identify him?"

"It must be true."

"Certainly," Dodd told him. "And there's another poor defenseless girl who is in danger while this fiend is at large."

"Who?" Meekins asked breathlessly.

"Loretta. You remember Loretta?"

"I certainly do," Meekins said emphatically.

Ludwig jerked to attention. "Huh? What's that?"

"If I was a friend of Loretta's, I'd be pretty worried about her," Dodd stated.

"I would, too," Meekins seconded.

"Say!" Ludwig exclaimed shakily. "Do you think Tracy might—might harm Loretta, huh?"

"There's a chance," Dodd said.

"A big one," Meekins added.

"Maybe he's even found her already," Dodd said. "Maybe even now she's lying in a pool of blood..."

Meekins put his hands over his eyes. "Terrible, terrible! Don't even mention—"

"Here!" Ludwig said, alarmed. "Stop that! I—I never thought. I'm gonna call her and see if she's safe! You guys wait right here!"

"We won't move," Dodd promised.

Ludwig lumbered toward the drug store across the street.

Smedley stared at Dodd. "Say, what're you tryin' to pull off now? That rat of a Tracy didn't shoot Sadie because she could identify him. I could do that just as well as her. He shot her because she was going to toss him to the cops or beat his ears off or perhaps both. Sadie hates shooters."

"Smedley," Dodd said, "how'd you like to take a walk for yourself?"

"What?" Smedley asked blankly.

"Beat it," Meekins ordered. "Scram."

"All right," Smedley said in a martyred tone. "Use me and then discard me. That's the way I get treated. Nobody has any gratitude or any human feeling..."

He slouched away down the street, his narrow shoulders hunched over disconsolately.

"I hope he don't go too far," Meekins observed. "We're still on him for some bail. Now what?"

"I just got a hunch. Sadie needs some clothes—needs them bad and quick. She wouldn't dare go back to her own place and just anybody's clothes wouldn't half fit her. But Loretta is as big as she is, and Loretta is a pal of hers."

"Sure," Meekins said eagerly. "Let's go."

"No. Wait for Ludwig. We can tell by what Loretta tells him whether Sadie is there or not. If she is, Ludwig is the last guy Loretta would want hanging around right now."

Ludwig came back across the street, wringing his hands. "She don't answer. I rung and rung and rung. You don't think—think she might be..."

"No," said Dodd, chewing on his under-lip. "But I think I know where she went. And I think we'd better get there, too—and soon. This mess begins to make sense now, and I don't like the looks of it at all."

"You and me," said Meekins.


6. — TRACING TRACY

MEEKINS was pleading. "Dodd," said Meekins, "why do you want to act like this? As it is now, they'll probably only put you in prison for four or five years. If you keep it up, they're gonna hang you just as sure as hell, unless somebody murders you first."

Meekins was scrounged down in the center of the coupe's seat, packed between Dodd and Ludwig's beefy hulk. Dodd ignored him. He dropped the grumbling coupe into second gear, steered it up over the rise of the hill, and parked.

"Hey," said Ludwig. "This here is Councilman Kranz's joint. What would Loretta be doin' here, hey?"

"Tell me, too," Meekins put in. "If it ain't a state secret."

Dodd said: "I'm playing a hunch. Sadie's mad. The reason she's mad is because she thinks somebody crossed her up. She's looking for that person, and I think this is the place she'd look. I'm guessing that Loretta will be with her."

"Kranz is honest," said Meekins.

"Come on," Dodd ordered shortly.

The three of them got out of the car and walked between two square cement pillars, their feet crunching on the gravel of the drive. The lawn went up ahead of them in a long, easy sweep that ended against the brightly peering squares of the windows in the house at the top.

They were halfway up the hill when brilliant light seemed to jump at them from every direction. Arc-lamps hidden in stunted ornamental shrubs and in little clumps of flowers all over the lawn blazed in their eyes. They stood frozen rigidly in surprise, like three queer bugs pinned on a bright green carpet.

"Somebody turned on the lights," said Ludwig.

"That thought occurred to me, too," Meekins agreed shakily.

Dodd was marching steadily forward.

Some of the lights were turned to reflect on the house itself, and it was like a stage setting with its walls gleaming white and the blue of a drape moving slightly in an open window.

Dodd tried the latch, and the front door swung ponderously and silently back.

"Dodd!" Meekins wailed in protest.

Dodd walked into the hallway and looked around him. He nodded toward the wall at the right of the door.

"That must be the switch that controls the arc-lights on the lawn," he said.

Under the switch there was a long, broad smear of blood that glistened brightly against the immaculate white plaster.

"Oh, oh, oh," Meekins whispered.

Dodd walked toward the graceful sweep of the stairs. He touched the ornamental banister and then looked at his finger. There was blood on it.

Dodd climbed the stairs slowly and quietly. After a moment of uneasy hesitation, Meekins and Ludwig tiptoed after him. At the top, Dodd paused, staring at a red hand-print on the white wall.

"Somebody around here got hurt, I bet," said Ludwig.


DODD was looking down the hall toward an open door with a light showing through it. He went quietly in that direction, keeping against the wall, and Meekins and Ludwig followed after him, single-file.

From behind him, Meekins said, "Oh, my God," in an awed whisper.

It was a bedroom, furnished by and for a woman, all white and gold and blue.

Loretta lay doubled up on the floor under the windows on the far side of the room, one bloodied raw fist flung out in front of her, the other arm doubled under her twisted body.

Sadie Wade lay face down just inside the doorway, breathing in low labored groans, the muscles of her square jaw rigid and protruding, her eyes closed tightly.

A third woman was in a tumbled pile in the corner of the wall behind the bed. She had crouched there, trying to hide, and someone had beaten her until her features were a formless smear. She was dead.

Ludwig shoved Dodd and Meekins aside and dropped clumsily on his knees beside Loretta. He was breathing in little sobbing gasps, and he turned her over with infinite gentleness and cradled her head against his chest'.'

A siren began to wail in the distance.

"That's all we need," Meekins whispered.

Dodd swallowed against the cold, hard knot in his throat. "Sadie phoned for an ambulance. Then she went down and turned on the lawn lights to guide them. She just made it back and then fainted."

He stepped over her and leaned down toward the telephone lying on the floor. The little cardboard slip on it listed its number as Ashway 6626. It had a long cord on it, and he followed it with his eyes to the point where it disappeared into one of the spaces that had been occupied by a drawer in the bureau.

"That's it," he said to himself.

The siren was closer. Dodd picked up the telephone and dialed. "Captain Boris," he said when the sergeant at the beach precinct station answered him.

"Well?" Boris said.

"This is Dodd, Captain. I'm at Kranz's house. Kranz's wife has been murdered."

Boris didn't answer, but Dodd could hear him breathing noisily.

"Loretta's in a bad way," he went on slowly. "And Sadie Wade is here, too. She's fainted from loss of blood."

"Got anything more to report?" Boris asked thickly.

"Do you dare arrest Kranz?"

"I dare arrest anybody."

"Do it, then. And pick up Smedley. And see if you can sober up Charley Blue. I'll be down in a minute."

"You're damned right you will," said Boris. "And you're gonna grow a long gray beard before you get out again!"

Dodd depressed the breaker bar on the telephone, let it up again, and dialed long distance. When the operator answered, he said: "Give me the State Insane Asylum at Carterville."

"While you're at it, reserve a room there for me, too," Meekins requested shakily.


CAPTAIN BORIS was smiling his nightmare smile, and his eyes were narrowed down to menacing slits.

"Dodd," he said. "Don't worry about going to jail or any little thing like that. Don't let it cross your mind. Have you made any payments on your life insurance lately?"

Dodd was sitting glumly in the chair in front of the desk. He was not happy. Perspiration kept gathering on his forehead and rolling down his cheeks.

Meekins was sitting in a chair in the corner, trying to be inconspicuous.

Ludwig came in the office, his feet clumping heavily. "You want I should go back to the Grass Shack, Captain?"

"No," Boris said in a kindlier tone. "Go out and sit by Duffy at the desk. I left orders for the hospital to call as soon as they learn anything."

"Yes, sir," Ludwig said in a dazed, dull voice.

Dodd wiped some more sweat from his forehead.

"Aren't you feeling well, Dodd?" Boris asked. "That is very surprising to me." He flipped the switch on the inter-office communicator. "Duffy, what about Charley Blue?"

The desk sergeant's voice said: "Nope. The doc says he can't be brung around. He is due for another cure or maybe a coffin."

"How about Smedley?" Boris asked.

"No word. The boys can't locate him."

Through the communicator they could hear the telephone on the sergeant's desk ring. His voice answered it.

"Police, beach precinct... Oh, yeah... Yeah... Yeah."

Ludwig's voice begged hoarsely: "What about Loretta?"

The sergeant said: "And the other—the red-head?... Yeah... Yeah. I see. Thanks." The receiver of the telephone clunked. "Cheer up, Ludwig. Hey, Captain."

"Yes?" Boris answered.

"That was the hospital. They gave Sadie a transfusion and it looks like maybe she'll come around. Loretta's got two badly busted mitts. They figure she put her hands up over her head to prevent whoever it was from beatin' out her brains. She's got an even chance."

Boris looked at Dodd. "Two murders—Jake Holden and Mrs. Kranz. Two assaults with intent to commit murder—Sadie and Loretta. That's quite a score, Dodd."

"Here's Fesitti, Captain," said the sergeant's voice through the communicator.

"Send him in."

Fesitti ushered two men ahead of him into the office. "This guy was with Kranz," he said. "Right away he started to holler about the Constitution and stuff, so I brought him along."

Emil Poulson took his nose glasses off and waved them warningly under Boris' nose. "This is the most outrageous violation of civil-rights that I have ever encountered in all my years of practice! I warn you that I shall see to it that—"

"Shut up," said Boris.

"Never mind, Mr. Poulson," Kranz said wearily. He was a tall man, very thin, stoop-shouldered, and he looked unutterably tired. "Captain Boris is an old friend. He wouldn't have sent for me unless it was important."

"I'm sorry I had to, Councilman," Boris said uneasily. "This is bad—all around. I can't tell you how I sympathize..."


KRANZ made a wearily futile gesture. "Don't, please."

"All right," said Boris, drawing a deep breath. "The dope sitting in front of the desk is named Dodd. He's in this up to his ears, and he wants to say something now. Go right ahead, Dodd. We ain't waiting any longer—for Smedley or Napoleon. Speak your piece and make it good—awful good."

Dodd said: "I know who Tracy is. Up to about five years ago he toured through the sticks playing the leading man in tent shows. His name was mostly Shane—sometimes Shelley and sometimes Sands. He worked a racket along with his acting. Those tent shows stayed a week or so in each town they touched. He'd pick up some likely widow with a little dough and get her to invest some in him for one reason or another."

"Go ahead," Boris told him.

"He was pretty successful," Dodd said. "He had the line—being an actor and all. Very romantic. But this tent show stayed too long in one town, and the widow he picked was tougher than average. He got the dough, but she insisted that he marry her or she'd call copper on him. He wasn't having any. He shot her."

"Uh!" said Boris, startled.

Dodd went on: "He must have been a good actor, at that. He sold the jury on the idea that he was nuts. Instead of hanging him, they put him in the state asylum at Carterville. He escaped a couple of months back."

"Well, well," Boris said slowly. "He must have thought the vice squad was the boys from the booby hatch comin' to take him back."

Dodd nodded. "Probably. He knew it wasn't a regular raid because of Sadie squawking. He thought the cops had been tipped off to him."

"By who?" Boris demanded.

"The fellow that got him the job—Charley Blue. Charley has spent quite a lot of his spare time in the asylum—taking cures for chronic alcoholism—and this Shane got to know him there. Charley is a great one for running off at the mouth. He boasts about his brother-in-law—Kranz, here—being a councilman. Shane came to Charley and got Charley to hide him by making Sadie Wade give Shane a job."

"How?" Boris asked.

Dodd sighed. "Now we come to the tough part. I figured out what I just said as soon as I talked to the asylum. Now I'll have to do a little guessing. Charley Blue is a dope. I don't think it ever occurred to him to use his brother-in-law, Kranz, for anything but to get him out of jams now and again. Shane gave him a new idea. Shane told him how to threaten Sadie. Charley did, and Sadie gave Shane the job. That was easy, and Charley began to think he'd been passing up a good thing here. I'll bet it was right about then that he went to see Kranz."

Kranz nodded wearily. "Yes. He wanted to act as my agent. He wanted to shake down people in my district—call it collecting campaign funds or something like that—and split what he got with me."

"What did you say?" Dodd asked.

"I threw him out of my office."

"All right," Dodd answered. "But Charley didn't quit. He went to Mrs. Kranz—his sister. She did what he asked. She put in a private telephone—hid it in her bureau with the bell silenced to a buzz so Kranz wouldn't hear it if it rang while he was around.

"Charley went right ahead with his scheme. He shook people down in this district—protection, campaign funds, everything. Some of them wanted proof that he was fronting for Kranz. All right, says Charley. Call Ashway 6626. If the person did, Mrs. Kranz answered. She made an appointment to see the doubtful person. What more proof could he ask? After all, she was Kranz's wife."

Boris swore quietly. "And that souse used my drunk tank for an office!"

Dodd sighed again. "So that was the setup when this raid was pulled. Tracy-Shane got into a panic and shot Holden. Sadie was plenty mad at both him and Charley Blue. Tracy, having great confidence in his abilities as a woo-pitcher, hid in her apartment and thought he could talk her into keeping him under cover. No sale. Sadie was going to turn him up to the cops. He shot her.

"Then Sadie was really mad. She sent Smedley to get after Charley Blue in the drunk tank and started after Kranz herself. She figured Kranz was responsible for the jam she was in and it was up to him to get her out of it. She was pretty weak, and Loretta went along with her to help her.

"In the meantime, Tracy-Shane was in mighty warm water. He needed some protection—right now. He went to see Kranz on his own. There he found out that Kranz wasn't back of Charley Blue at all. It didn't take him long to pump the whole story out of Kranz's wife. He thought Mrs. Kranz must have some of the money Charley had been collecting. He tried to find it. He didn't. That enraged him and he beat her...."

Kranz made a little moaning noise.

"Sorry," Dodd murmured. "Loretta and Sadie walked in right afterwards, while he was still searching. Sadie, being weak, stayed downstairs. Loretta went up to look around. She ran into Tracy-Shane, and he smacked her down and got away."

"Where to?" Boris inquired.

"Right here," said Dodd. He turned around and took the small, pointed beard of Emil Poulson in his hand and jerked. The beard came away in his hand, and Emil Poulson's round, pink face looked nude and different suddenly.

"He's got a wig, too," Dodd said. "And false eyebrows and pads in his cheeks and plugs in his nose."

"Quite," said Emil Poulson, smiling pleasantly. "Good make-up job, eh? You didn't have to be so dramatically rude, Mr. Dodd. I would have admitted my identity, had you asked me."


THE room seemed small and tight and hot, and the breathing of the men in it was plainly audible.

Dodd said slowly: "You learned about Agatha Drinkwater in the asylum. One of her lawyers—a guy who lives in New York—is actually named Poulson. You figured you could prowl around and raise a little money for yourself by telling the people who were leasing property she owned that you were going to cancel their leases for this and that if they didn't pay off to you. It didn't work very well, because everyone hereabouts depends on Boris to see that things like that don't happen to them."

"Oh, quite," said Emil Poulson. "Very clever of you to figure it out."

"You admit—this?" Boris said. "The murders, too?"

"Surely. Why not?"

"Why not?" Boris repeated blankly.

Poulson was patient with him. "I have been adjudged insane. Legally insane. I cannot be held responsible for any of my actions. All you can do now is send me back to the asylum. I don't mind that much, really."

"Take him out," Boris said to Fesitti. Fesitti took Poulson's arm and led him toward the door. Poulson smiled over his shoulder at Dodd.

"You know, you're the only one who figured this out. You're solely responsible. I'll give you something to think about. If you're clever—as I am—it isn't very difficult to escape from the asylum. I will again. And I'll come and see you when I do. Remember that."

He nodded amiably and went out of the office, Fesitti fumbling along behind him.

"Oh," said Meekins in a sick voice. "Did you hear? And he means it! It don't make no difference to him, as long as he's legally goofy, if he murders everybody in the state!"

"Oh, no," said Boris. He jerked his thumb toward the inter- office communicator. "This thing was open all the time we were talking. They could hear us out at the desk—"

Ludwig's voice bellowed through the communicator: "Hey, he's tryin' to escape! Halt! Stop! I'll shoot!"

"No!" Poulson's voice screamed faintly. "I'm not! Don't—"

Shots sounded fuzzily ragged, echoing outside the walls and through the communicator at the same time.

"Ludwig is dumb," said Boris, snapping the switch on the communicator, "but he can take a hint. I'm afraid Mr. Poulson- Shane-Tracy tried to escape a little bit too soon."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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