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NORBERT DAVIS

DEATH SINGS A TORCH SONG

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Ex Libris

First published in Dime Detective Magazine, July 1937

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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Dime Detective Magazine, July 1937, with "Death Sings a Torch Song"



Illustration

He started to drag the man across to a dirty touring-car.



Out of the past floated the haunting voice of a girl who sang of a love that died. And as the chorus faded the blast of a pistol-shot took up the refrain, turning it into a murder-melody that ended only with the swan-song rattle in the white throat of the one who had begun it.




THE three of them were standing close together against the brick wall, blurred and vague in the blue of the neon sign. Dennis Lee paid no particular attention to them until he saw that one of them was Harvey Lake, that he was drunk and that he had a gun.

Lee closed the door of his roadster softly, then, and stood still, watching. The thick-set man was facing Harvey Lake. The set of his square shoulders told that he wasn't afraid of the gun and that he was angry. The thin little man was half behind Harvey Lake, holding on to his left arm. He was talking, and the words came only as a smooth, cajoling blur against the thickly sputtered incoherence of Harvey Lake's voice.

"Sister," said Harvey Lake, and his voice started rising to a shout. "Damned—"

The thick-set man hit him. He moved forward lightly one step and hit Harvey Lake on the jaw with his right fist.

Harvey Lake's long, smoothly muscled body bent a little in the middle, and his feet scraped on the gravel. He turned around and fell forward into the thin man's arms. The long-barreled "revolver went skittering along the ground. The thin little man sagged under Harvey Lake's weight.

"Take care of him," said the thick-set man. He was breathing hard and trying to make his voice sound casual. "Take him home, sober him up and tell him what a damned fool he is." He watched the white blur of the thin man's face. "I don't know just how you fit in this, Crail. I've got a feeling someone has been putting ideas in Harvey's head. I hope I don't find out that you're the one who's been doing it."

He waited a moment, but the thin little man didn't say anything. The thick-set man turned on his heel and walked along the wall toward the front of the building. The thin little man slowly lowered Harvey Lake's limp weight to the ground. He straightened up and brushed mechanically at the front of his dark coat. He stood there, motionless and watching, until the thick- set man turned the corner of the building and went out of sight. Then he leaned over and said, "Come on, Harvey."

Harvey Lake made a thick, muttering sound, but didn't move. The thin little man picked up the long-barreled revolver and put it in Harvey Lake's pocket. He put his hands under Lake's arms, lifted him and started to drag him across the lot toward a dusty touring-car. Lake's heels scraped laxly on the gravel. Dennis Lee watched until the thin little man Reached the touring-car, opened the door, and started to shove Harvey Lake into the front seat. Then he turned and walked in the direction the thick-set man had gone.


THE blue doors of the club had criss-crossed polo mallets painted on them in gilt. Lee went up the three steps, nodded to the doorman and went into the oblong entrance-hall. He gave his coat to the cloakroom girl, and then the woman standing at the entrance of the bar said one word, a little uncertainly. It made him step back.

"Dennis."

She was small, and still very slim. The ten years hadn't aged her face at all, and her eyes were clear, sparkling, youthful. She was smiling at him now, just as she used to smile, as if it came from pleasure deep inside her. Her hair was that ash blond that gleamed like sleek gold in a spotlight.

"Joan!" Lee said incredulously. He came forward and caught both her extended hands. He remembered again how her quick, vital smallness had always made him feel clumsily huge and awkward.

"I was afraid you wouldn't remember me."

"Remember you!" Lee said.

"It's been ten years, and you've gone a long way."

"Not far enough to forget you," Lee said. "No, not that far, Joan. And you—"

"Still married," she said. "And still happy. Very happy, Dennis."

"I'm glad," Dennis said, and meant it. "I've often wondered—"

There was a little cough, and the thickset man was standing beside them, looking at Joan in a way that was half apologetic and half inquiring.

"This is my husband, Dennis," she said. "Martin Field. Martin, this is an old and very dear friend of mine, Dennis Lee. He leads the band here. A long time ago I sang, and he played for the same orchestra."

Field's grip was quick and firmly hearty. "Hello, Lee. Anyone who is a friend of my wife is a friend of mine, whether they like it or not."

"Thanks," Lee said. He kept his grip on Field's hand and turned it a little until the cut across the square, hard knuckles was visible. "I saw you a moment ago, outside, talking to Harvey Lake."

Blood darkened the tan on Field's heavy-jowled face. "You know Lake?"

Lee nodded. "He comes here often. I've met him."

Joan Field was staring at the cut on her husband's knuckles, and her eyes were darkly worried. "Martin, you promised."

"I know," Field said uncomfortably. "I know I did, dear. And I meant it, too. But the damned young fool—"

"I'm sorry," Lee said.

Field smiled at his wife ruefully. "It doesn't make a bit of difference. She'd have found it out in five minutes. She always does. I think she reads my mind. But I'm glad you're here to vouch for my story. Really, my dear, I tried my best to pacify the young fool. I argued with him until I was tired. But then when he started waving a gun around—"

"That's true," said Lee.

"A gun?" Joan Field said, and put out her hand to touch her husband's arm.

"Oh, it didn't mean a thing," Field said hastily. "Honestly, it didn't. I don't think he even meant to threaten me with it. He was just feeling exuberant. He was a cowboy, you know, and uses a gun to express his feelings. But it put the top on things, as far as I was concerned. I wasn't going to have him waving a gun in my face. So I hit him. Only once, though. Honestly."

She shook her head. "I don't like it."


FIELD patted her on the shoulder.

"Come on, now. Don't let anything worry you. Young love, you know, and all the rest of it. He'll get over it. He'll come around tomorrow and apologize. You see if he doesn't. Harvey's a good kid. Lee, do you know this fellow Crail who was with Harvey?"

"No. I've seen him with Lake several times, but I've never met him anywhere."

"Know what he does?"

"No."

Field squinted his eyes slightly. "I don't, either. Can't figure out just why he wants to pal around with Harvey. They're not the same type. Harvey's a clean kid even if he is a little light on brains. Crail looks pretty slimy to me. I wish Patricia hadn't dropped Harvey in such a pile." He stopped and looked at his wife uneasily.

She smiled in a drawn, worried way. "You didn't let any secrets slip, dear. Everybody in the whole country knows the story, and besides Dennis has long been noted for his ability to keep his own counsel. You've always been a rather dark and somber person, haven't you, Dennis?"

"I don't mean to be," Lee said.

"I know, but don't change. It's nice, I think. I suppose you know, Patricia, Martin's sister?"

Lee nodded. "Yes. She and Lake used to come here often."

"They were engaged. They had a quarrel. We've been in Bermuda for the last three months, and we didn't know about it until we got home yesterday. It's a rather serious quarrel, I think, and I'm sorry we weren't here when if happened. There's a matter of money."

"Yes," Field said gloomily. "Patricia and I have a lot of it. We inherited it from our father. He stole it." He looked at his wife. "Well, you know he did, dear. He gyped people on stock- promotion deals. He was a big crook. Had a very charming personality, though. Too bad I didn't inherit that instead of his money. But Harvey's a young fool. Just because he hasn't much—as if anyone who can play polo like he can needs money—he stalks around and poses like a dictator and talks about husbands who are kept by their wives. No wonder Patricia finally got tired of it, although she hasn't very many brains, either." He shook his head over it.

"Now that you've settled the question of your family's mental and moral status," Joan Field said, "don't you suppose we could change the subject?"

"Oh, sure," said Field. "Sorry, Dennis. My sister and the Viscount Leslie Aubudon are dining with us. Won't you come and join us at our table?"

"Glad to," Lee said. "A little later. I'll have to start the band off, first. I'd like to ask a favor of you, Joan. You remember your old song—Love is Dead?"

"Of course, Dennis. I haven't heard it played for years."

"I've always kept an arrangement of it. I like it. Will you sing it with us sometime tonight?"

"Dennis, I can't! My voice—"

"Sure you can," Field said. "What's the matter with your voice? It's swell. It's marvelous. I love it. I want to hear you sing with Dennis Lee's band."

She was looking at Lee. "Do you mean it, Dennis?"

"Yes. I'd be very grateful if you would, Joan."


BINNIE had the band set up when Lee came across the dance floor, and he nodded absently, fingering one of the valves of his trumpet. Lee said: "Find the arrangement for Love is Dead. I've asked an old friend of mine to sing it with us."

Binnie plopped the trumpet-valve and looked at Lee out of the comers of his eyes.

"Her name used to be Joan Carr," Lee said. "She introduced the song at the Rose Garden."

"The hell!" said Binnie. "She here?"

"She's married to Martin Field."

"Oh," said Binnie. "Well, I saw his yacht come in yesterday, so I guess that's all right, too. She used to sing, that girl. I've heard her take that Love is Dead. Man, when she got through, you felt like the only thing left was to go home and turn on the gas. It was a honey of a song, anyway, but most of the gals couldn't hit it. I knew old 'Bugs' Blue when he wrote that. Know where he got it? He took the melody out of two funeral songs. That's a fact. He told me so, himself."

"Let's get started," Lee said.

Binnie played the trumpet-break just as Bugs Blue wrote it. He played it lovingly, and the notes were soft, round drops of sound that stirred ripples quietly in the corners of the room. Lee heard the rustling of movement, and knew they were crowding close in the doorway of the bar. The trumpet went up and up and stayed there. It came down in a dipping slur that muted itself to a lingering whisper, and then, when her voice came, it seemed that there was no sound anywhere else but that.

It was haunting and low, and left a thick ache in Lee's throat. The spotlight had cut away the last ten years, removed it as it removed the darkness of the rest of the room, and she was singing with him dim, shadowy and tall beside her. Lee was listening to nothing but her voice, yet instinctively he heard the accompaniment of the orchestra and knew they were not following the arrangement now. They were playing with her, for her—and it was something more than music. It was a long, slow dream full of sadness.

Somewhere in the darkness around the bright tunnel of the spotlight glass made a brittle slash of sound breaking, and then thunder seemed to blow in and hammer at the walls. There was nothing for a second but the rolling echo of that blast.

Lee saw Joan Field's slight body jerk, and her voice stopped in the middle of a bar. She turned to look at him. There was faint, incredulous horror on her face. She took one step toward him, put out her hand.

Lee caught her, held her close against him. He could feel her growing heavier in his arms. His voice was a harsh groan. "Play—play it loud!"

Binnie's trumpet shrieked in commanding sound, and the rest of the band caught it with a flare. Lee could feel her sliding down against him and swung her up in his arms as he stepped off the platform. He thrust his shoulder against the door and was in the narrow, gray-carpeted hall. Vague forms crowded in around him.

"Call a doctor!" he said. "Quick!"

He took her in through the open door of the dressing-room and put her down on the couch. There was light here, but he couldn't see the other people in the room or hear what they were saying. He could see the paleness of Joan Field's face against the flowered chintz of the couch-cover. He could see the shadowed blue of her eyelids, and the pinched white look around her mouth. He could see the bullet hole, ugly and blue-edged, just above the deep-cut line of her dress.

He made a pad of his handkerchief and pressed it over the hole to stop the welling red blood. But he knew from the touch of his fingers that he wouldn't have to stop it, that it would stop itself, that Joan Field was dead.

HE looked up into the tortured, twisted face of Martin Field. Martin Field knew, too, that she was dead. He was staring down at her, trying to realize the truth. He put his hand up to his lips. His fingers were trembling.

"Dead," he said. "Somebody shot her there while she was singing. They shot through the window of the bar that looks out on the parking-lot. I turned my head when I heard them smash out the glass, and I saw the gun flash. I saw it." He shook his head slowly. "Someone killed her. But that can't be true, can it, Dennis? No one would kill her. Not Joan. No one could do that."

Lee didn't answer, because there were no words that he could say. He watched Martin Field breaking right there before his eyes. Grayish pallor was working up under the tan of his square- cut face, and his thick body sagged a little as if he were crumbling inside.

A tall, thin man with smoothly white hair pushed through the people in the doorway and said, "Doctor," curtly. He knelt down beside Joan Field, moved Lee's folded handkerchief and touched her gently. He looked up at Lee, shook his head and made a little fatalistic movement with his shoulders.

Martin Field said, "I know she's dead." He moistened his lips. "That stops it for me, Dennis. That's all of me that meant anything lying there. There isn't anything left now. It's all gone—everything."

Lee's voice was low and thick. "She got me my first job. She didn't know me, but she saw me standing outside and persuaded the band leader to give me a try-out. I was hungry that day."

A voice was calling, "Martin! Martin!" frantically, and Patricia Field came in the room. The red on her lips stood out dark and vivid. Her hair was sleekly black, and she had the square-cut jaw of her brother. "We were just coming in, and I heard—they said—Oh, Joan—Joan!"

"Dead," said Martin Field.

She put her arms around him, but he didn't seem to see her or know who she was. He stood there swaying a little. "Dead," he said.

The Viscount Leslie Aubudon squeezed his high, wide shoulders through the press of people at the door saying, "Please, please," in a flustered, flatly nasal voice. His blue eyes were anxiously worried, and as soon as he got into the room he stood still uncertainly and said: "Now, Patricia. Don't. Some silly fool in the bar said—a beastly kind of a joke to play—Oh, good God, then it was true. I mean, you don't do—it isn't—"

"Dead," said Martin Field.

He turned out of his sister's arms, walked toward the door, and the people there backed away. He staggered slightly, and his shoulder hit the wall. Then he went through the door into the hall.

Patricia Field looked at the-Viscount Leslie Aubudon. "Go with him, please. Help him."

Aubudon said: "But, my dear, I can't! You here—I can't leave you—"

"I'll go," Lee said.


THE white gravel made the parking-lot a vague gray square in the darkness outlined by the shadowed loom of cars parked along its borders. Lee stopped in the doorway, looking out with his eyes squinted against the fizzing blue of the neon sign.

There was a close little group of figures under the bar window, and Lee could hear the doorman saying loudly: "I heard that glass break, and I started around this way. I tell you it wasn't two seconds after that shot was fired when I turned the comer, and there wasn't anybody around anywhere!"

Lee saw the stumbling figure of Martin Field at the far corner of the lot. Lee started to run toward him, and then he saw Field stop beside a long, shiny coupe and fumble with the door- catch.

"Field!" Lee called sharply.

Field had the door open, and he dragged himself inside the coupe. Lee was halfway across the lot when the engine caught with a sudden sputtering roar, and the coupe lurched straight forward, bounced off the curbing. It swung erratically into the road, straightened out, gathered speed.

Lee turned and started for his own roadster. Then he remembered that the keys were in his overcoat pocket, turned again and ran toward the entrance of the club. Splinters of glass caught his eye, lying on the gravel under the small window at the end of the bar, sparkling like slick bits of ice. Lee went through the doors and into the narrow hall. The cloak room girl was gone, and Lee went inside the narrow cubicle and fumbled along the row of coats until he found his own.

The keys were cold, grasped tight in his fingers, as he ran out the front door and back across the lot. The roadster's engine sounded a thin hum of power. He bumped down over the curb, turned to the left and then to the left again. Now, he was out on the North Post Road that lifted in a smooth, white sweep ahead of him.

The top was down, and the wind was like the push of a soft, cool hand against his face. His foot was flat against the floor- board, and the voice of the motor ascended to a scream. Far ahead, he caught the wink of double red lights. They disappeared. A moment later, he fought the wheel going around a curve, and the double lights were ahead again, but no closer.

Lee leaned forward, unconsciously trying to urge the roadster to greater speed with the strength of his own body. The double red lights pulled away from him. They grew fainter and fuzzy, and then they were gone again. Lee came up over the brow of a hill and down with a breathless rush. He didn't see the side-road, until he was past it. His foot came down hard on the brake. The tires screamed on the pavement, swaying the car back and forth in a long, whirling skid.

Lee backed and turned: The side-road was narrow. There was a thick green hedge bordering it on both sides that slid by like a smooth wall in the glare of the headlights. The road turned sharply back on itself, went up a steep little hill. Lee stopped the roadster with a jar just behind the shiny coupe that Martin Field had driven away from the club. Lee got out and noticed that the coupe had only one taillight. It was not the car he had been following.

The house was square and white, looming on the crest of the hill, and far below it was the flat, smooth sheen of Lost Bay. Harvey Lake came around from behind the shiny coupe. He was swaying, bent-kneed, and he held his head tilted to one side, staring at Lee.

"No, you don't, now," he said thickly. "You stand still."

"Put it down," said Lee.

Harvey Lake raised the long-barreled revolver, and his thumb was. curled familiarly around the big hammer. "I'm going to shoot—"

The hammer clicked, and Lee hit the barrel with the flat of his hand, knocking it away from his chest. The thundering report was an echo of the one he had heard in the club, and he smashed his fist into Harvey Lake's face. Harvey Lake fell straight backward, and his head hit dully against the fender of the coupe. He slid down, half sitting, crumpled over.

The headlights of a car swung in a great, bright arc and outlined Lee and Harvey Lake, as an engine made a throbbing gasp that choked off short. There was the sound of quick feet running. Patricia Field went blindly past Lee and knelt down on the gravel beside Harvey Lake, holding him close against her.

"Harvey!" she said in a moaning, breathless voice.


HE turned away from them and went slowly up the long steep flight of cement steps, and onto the long porch of the house. He walked slowly along the porch with his footsteps sounding hollow and cold under him and looked in through the open windows. The study was small and dimly lighted, and Martin Field was lying face down on the floor under the gleaming steel eye of a wall- safe. He was dead, and blood that was slow, red and deep was gathering into a pool beside him.

There were a pair of French doors diagonally across the room, standing ajar. Lee slid in through the window and walked toward the doors, going carefully around Martin Field's body. He looked out and down onto a flat garden court ghostly with the loom of graceful marble benches. A privet-hedge closed off the far end, and Lee saw the shadowy figure, black against a black background, run along the hedge and disappear through it with a faint snap of breaking twigs.

Lee ran that way, his feet noiseless on the springy, close- clipped turf. He worked through the hedge, and the ends of broken branches whipped at his face. On the other side was the curve of the white drive where it circled around in back of the house. There was a car, and now the shadowy figure was leaning inside it. The brake made a sudden series of sharp snaps, releasing. The shadowy figure started to push against the car, and then Lee's feet scraped lightly on the gravel.

The shadowy figure turned, and it was Crail. His black overcoat was buttoned up tightly around his throat, and he wore a derby hat. The black of the overcoat cloth made his face thinly pallid. He said something to himself in a whisper and whirled to run. Lee tackled him in a long, driving lunge, smashed his small body hard into the side of the car.


HE came down the steep flight of steps that led up to the front of the house. He was pushing Crail ahead of him, and had Crail's arm locked behind his back. Patricia Field was still kneeling beside Harvey Lake, holding his head in her lap and saying things to him in a soft, murmuring voice broken by sobs.

Feet thudded hard running in the drive, and then the Viscount Leslie Aubudon crossed the path of the headlights and leaned down over Patricia. He was breathing in long gasps. "My dear! I couldn't find the road—up here. Lost completely. No sense of direction at night. Had to park car—down by the bay and climb the hill on foot. Is that—is that the Lake fellow? What's the matter with him?"

Lee walked Crail forward. Patricia and Aubudon turned to look at them, and there was no sound for a long, tense moment, until Crail screamed suddenly: "He did it! He killed them both! He made me help him!"

"You filth," said Aubudon.

"He did it!" Crail screamed. "I gave him Harvey Lake's gun outside the club, and he went into the bar with this girl. Then, when the lights were out, he knocked the glass out of the window to make it look like someone outside did it, and then he shot Mrs. Field. We had it all figured out. There's a little alcove in front of the window, and you can't see anyone in it from either side. He was going to shoot Mrs. Field while she was sitting at her table, but she was singing, and the lights were all dimmed, so he did it then. After that, he came up here to get in the safe, and Mr. Field caught him at it. He killed Mr. Field."

Patricia made a sudden, agonized sound.

"It's a damned lie," said Aubudon.

"He made me help him! He was going to pay me for making it look like Harvey Lake did it. I'll tell you why he did it. Because he's married, that's why. He was married secretly to a girl that danced in the same club that Mrs. Field did a long time ago. I know because I'm the girl's manager. Mrs. Field told him to get out and stop going around with Patricia or she'd expose him and his marriage. She had letters from his wife. They were in the safe. That's why he killed her."

"The man's mad," said Aubudon. "You can see he's mad."

"He wanted to marry this girl. He had to have money. He owes everybody in England—even me!"

"I thought you did it," Lee said to Aubudon. "You drove here ahead of me. You found the road all right. I thought it must be you because your car is the only one around here that can go away from my roadster. Just now I found Crail trying to push your car down the road—the back one so he could park it down by the bay where you said you parked it. The proof will be those letters Crail spoke of. They'll be in your pocket. You shot both Martin and Joan Field with Harvey Lake's gun."

"I have another one," said Aubudon, and he drew a stubby automatic out of his coat pocket.

Harvey Lake moved very quietly on the ground. He hooked the toe of his left foot in front of one of Aubudon's ankles and kicked Aubudon just behind the knee with his right foot. Aubudon made a quick, gasping sound and fell, trying to turn himself in the air, almost on top of Harvey Lake. Harvey Lake sat up and hit him once as he was falling, Aubudon rolled over on his back and lay quite still.

"I've been wanting to do that," Lake said and put his arm around Patricia.

Lee watched them. He felt old now. It seemed that somewhere he could hear Joan Field's voice singing softly.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.