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NORBERT DAVIS

WATCH ME KILL YOU

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Ex Libris

First published in Dime Detective Magazine, July 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, July 1941, with "Watch Me Kill You"



Illustration

The man in the overcoat shot without the slightest warning.


TABLE OF CONTENTS



1. — LATIN IN ART

GUITERREZ came out of the kitchen in a cloud of steam and slapped the heavy metal swing door violently shut behind him. He was a tall man with a dark, bitterly disillusioned face. He was wearing a white jacket and a white apron, and he had a chef's hat crushed down over his right ear. There was a towel wrapped around his neck, and he wiped his forehead with its frayed end, glaring at Latin.

The man in the overcoat fired without the slightest warning.

"What was the matter with it?" he demanded.

Latin was sitting in the last one of the row of narrow high- backed booths.

"Matter with what?" he asked.

"My spaghetti à la crème à la Guiterrez. "

"Nothing that I know of," said Latin.

"Then what did you send half of it back for? I suppose it ain't good enough for you? I suppose they feed you better in the county jail, cell three, north tier?"

"No," Latin said judiciously. "As a matter of fact, they don't. You just served me too much. I'm full."

A waiter wearing a baggy grease-stained coat that was at least three sizes too large for him and an apron that would have served for a circus tent came up and poked Guiterrez in the ribs with his elbow.

"Out of the way, boss." He was carrying a bottle of brandy and a glass, and he planked them down on the linoleum table-top in front of Latin and went away.

Latin poured himself some brandy. He was a thin man with wide, high shoulders. His features were narrow and carefully expressionless, and his greenish eyes tipped a little, cat-like, at the corners. He had a casual air that was as smooth and polished as an expensive gem.

Guiterrez turned around suddenly and said: "Well, what do you want?"

The pudgy little man who had been trying to edge past him stepped back, startled.

"They—they told me at the door that I'd find Mr. Max Latin in the last booth—"

"That's him," said Guiterrez.

The pudgy man ducked his head in an embarrassed nod. "How do you do. Mr. Latin. My name is Bernard Hastings."

Guiterrez tapped him on the shoulder. "Did you know that Latin is nothing but a crook? Did you know he just today got out of the county jail, cell three, north tier?"

Hastings swallowed. "Why—why, no. I—I thought he was a private inquiry agent."

"Also a crook," said Guiterrez. "But probably you are too, and if you want to talk to him sit down in his booth. I don't allow people to stand in the aisle around here."

Hastings slid gingerly into the seat opposite Latin.

The waiter in the baggy coat came up and looked over Guiterrez' shoulder.

"You wanta eat, chum?"

Hastings said: "No, thanks. I don't—"

"So my food's not good enough for you?" Guiterrez interrupted.

Hastings was looking scared now. "Oh, no! I mean, it isn't that. I've just eaten and—"

"So I suppose you think you're gonna sit here and dead-head and take up my table space while you chat with this crook?"

"Why—why, no," said Hastings quickly. "If I could have a—a drink—"

The waiter produced a glass from under his voluminous apron, reached around Guiterrez and planked it down on the table.

"Drink some of Latin's brandy," Guiterrez ordered.

"But—but I don't like... If I could have a wine list..." Hastings stopped, staring incredulously at the label on the brandy bottle. "Why! That—that brandy is priceless! You can't buy it any more!"

"If you don't like it, get out," said Guiterrez. "I didn't ask you to come here."

"But I do like it! I was just startled at seeing it! It's the best—the very best—"

"Phooey," said Guiterrez, and went on up the aisle toward the front of the restaurant.


LATIN poured some of the brandy in Hastings' glass. Hastings watched him, wide-eyed, and then cleared his throat with a nervous little cough before he spoke.

"Did—did I offend that—ah—gentleman in some manner? I'm sure I had no intention—"

"Guiterrez?" Latin asked. "Oh, he's always offended. Pay no attention to him. He's frustrated."

"Frustrated?" Hastings repeated.

Latin sipped his brandy appreciatively. "Yes. You see, Guiterrez is a very good chef. For twenty years he worked in the topnotch restaurants and hotels, but he didn't like it. All the time he was saving his money so he could start a small quiet, dignified place of his own where he could serve the absolute best in food cooked just the way he wanted it to a select little group of customers who would appreciate his efforts."

"Why, that's very laudable. I can't see why—"

Latin waved his arm. "Look at this place. "

It was one long dingy room with dark-stained walls and beams crossing close against the sooty ceiling. High-backed booths were lined along one side and the rest of the floor space was packed with spindly wire-legged tables. It was still early for dinner, but every seat in the place was taken.

The confusion was unbelievable. Crockery clashed and clattered, a juke box howled boogie-woogie from the corner, and the cash register clanged with maddening irregularity. Cigarette smoke floated in eye-smarting layers, and Guiterrez was denouncing a table-full of customers in a bitterly despairing voice while they ignored him and kept right on eating. An incredibly shabby army of waiters dipped and swerved between tables with the breath-taking skill of slack-wire walkers, in the meantime shouting orders, threats, and demands for the right-of- way. Conversational babble throbbed in the thick air like the beat of an immense drum.

Hastings said: "I noticed the atmosphere seemed rather—But certainly Mr. Guiterrez can't complain about the amount of business—"

"Oh, yes he can. That's what's the matter. There's too much business. Guiterrez insults his customers, gives them terrible service, makes them stand in line outside whenever it's raining, but he still can't get rid of them. The food he serves is too good. The customers don't mind putting up with a few discomforts if they are allowed to eat it."

Hastings shook his head. "It seems very strange. But if he really wanted to get rid of some of his excess customers, he could just stop serving such good food for awhile."

"He can't help making it good. He's an artist."

"Oh," said Hastings, nodding as though that explained everything. "An artist. Yes, I see. Artists are indeed incredible people. I can't understand... But, Mr. Latin, I wanted to talk to you about my wife."

"Yes," said Latin. "Five hundred."

Hastings stared at him. "Eh?"

Latin elaborated: "Yes, I will get evidence that will enable you to divorce her, and it will cost you five hundred dollars unless I have to fake the evidence and then the price is seven- fifty."

"But—but it isn't that at all! I mean, I'm very happy. I mean, I don't want a divorce!"

Latin poured himself more brandy. "Oh. Well then, what do you want?"


HASTINGS took a deep breath and started over again. "Mr. Latin, you were recommended to me by Walker and Crenshaw, my attorneys. They told me that you were very clever and absolutely—ah—unscrupulous."

"Right on both counts," said Latin complacently.

"Yes, I see," said Hastings in an uncertain tone. "Well, anyway, my wife is Patricia Wentworth Craig."

Latin put his glass down carefully.

"Who?"

"Patricia Wentworth Craig."

"The girl with the money bags?"

"My wife is the possessor of an extremely large fortune," Hastings admitted with dignity.

"Yes, indeed," Latin agreed. "Fifty million dollars. I thought you said your name was Hastings."

"I did, and it is. Due to her enormous business interests and to the legal complications in which they result, she thought it best to retain her maiden name after we were married. It is less confusing."

"Yeah," Latin said absently. "I heard she had a husband kicking around somewhere. How'd you do it, anyway?"

Hastings' lips tightened. "I beg your pardon?"

"How'd you hook her? I've always wanted a wife with fifty million dollars. How do you go about getting one?"

Hastings' round face was red with indignation. "Mr. Latin, if you please! My wife married me because she loved me and I loved her. Her fortune had nothing whatsoever to do with it. I assure you that I am myself by no means a pauper. I have never touched a cent of my wife's money and never will!"

"Them that has gets," Latin said gloomily. "All right, what did you want to tell me about your wife?"

"If you'll let me talk without these constant interruptions. My wife's father had a brother who, instead of being as honest and energetic and astute as my wife's father, was nothing but a bum and a loafer all his life. He died years ago of acute alcoholism. He had one son."

"I'm right with you so far," Latin said.

"This son's name is Winston Wentworth Craig. He's an artist. I mean, a real one. He paints pictures."

"All right," said Latin.

"My wife collects pictures—modern paintings in particular. She has a most extensive collection—very valuable."

"It would be," said Latin. "Go on."

"It seems," Hastings admitted reluctantly, "that Winston Wentworth Craig is a very good painter. He's had many exhibits, and his pictures are in all the most famous museums and art galleries and collections. My wife wants some of them in her collection."

"Why doesn't she buy some then?"

"Because Winston Wentworth Craig won't sell her any."

Latin blinked. "Why won't he?"

Hastings wiggled on the hard bench.

"Well, you see, Winston Wentworth Craig's father spent most of his time trying to sponge money off my wife's father. When he managed to get any he dissipated it in riotous living. Winston Wentworth Craig came to my wife several years ago and asked her to finance him while he studied in Paris. She refused to give him any money, and I'm afraid she—ah—laughed rather rudely at his ambition to be an artist."

"I'm beginning to get the idea," said Latin.

Hastings made a harassed gesture. "How could she know he was going to turn out to be good? He has many of his father's—ah—less desirable characteristics, and she thought naturally that this art study business was just an excuse to get enough money from her to loaf a year or two. But her refusal made him angry, and he's a very vindictive sort of a person. Now he refuses to sell her any of his pictures."

"So what?" Latin asked.


HASTINGS leaned forward earnestly. "Don't you see? My wife, over a space of years, has built up a reputation as an authority on modern paintings and as a sponsor of it. Now this uncouth person, Winston Wentworth Craig, goes around telling everyone who will listen that she is merely a rich ignoramus who knows so little about art that she can't recognize talent even in her own relations. It's horribly humiliating. People laugh at her!"

"How too bad," said Latin.

"Also," said Hastings, ignoring the comment, "he tells people that she can never acquire any of his work, even with all the money she has, and naturally other collectors—who are envious of her—ridicule her for that reason. It is vital, Mr. Latin—vital—that she acquire some of Winston Wentworth Craig's pictures!"

"I can see that," Latin said gravely.

"I want you to get some of those pictures for her."

"Steal them?" Latin asked in a bland voice.

"No!" Hastings said emphatically. "Of course not! My wife will pay any price he asks. I want you to get him to consent to sell some to her."

"I hate to do myself out of a job," Latin said, "but this seems pretty silly to me. All your wife has to do is to buy one of Craig's pictures from some other collector or dealer or museum. With her money, that shouldn't be very difficult to accomplish."

"Please, Mr. Latin!" Hastings snapped. "Do you think my wife is such a fool she didn't think of that long ago? Craig won't permit anyone to sell her one of his pictures."

"After he once sells a picture to someone, the picture belongs to the buyer. The buyer can re-sell it to whom he pleases. Craig couldn't prevent that."

"Oh, yes he can!" Hastings said angrily. "You don't know how maliciously clever he is. He claims that he has a reversionary creative interest in every picture he paints."

"A what?" Latin asked.

"A reversionary creative interest. There is no such thing. I think he just made it up himself. But he says that the mere thought of one of his pictures being in my wife's possession would be such a mental torture to him that he couldn't paint any more and that he would sue her for a million dollars on the grounds that she was robbing him of his talent and means of livelihood."

"He wouldn't get very far."

Hastings tapped the linoleum tabletop. "Far enough, Mr. Latin! Far enough! He couldn't win any such fantastic suit, of course. But he certainly would file it. He's just the type. And if he did file it, the newspapers would get hold of it and put it all over the front pages. Can you think of the dreadful humiliation that would mean for my wife? The whole country would laugh at her!"

"Oh," said Latin.

"So," Hastings said earnestly, "Winston Wentworth Craig must consent to sell her some of his pictures! Her reputation as an art patron and her peace of mind are at stake! And she must obtain those pictures at once! At once!"

"Why?" Latin asked.

"Because she is having an exhibition of her collection at the Keever Art Gallery in just three days. That exhibition would not be complete without some of Craig's pictures. All of her enemies will laugh at her if she doesn't have some of her own cousin's paintings in her collection. If she doesn't, they'll know why. Craig has seen to that."

"I see," said Latin.


HASTINGS said impressively: "My wife is willing to pay up to five thousand dollars for each Craig picture you can get him to consent to sell her."

Latin sat very still. "I thought you said five thousand dollars per picture."

"I did. They are selling currently for about a thousand dollars apiece."

"One thousand," Latin said dreamily. "Five thousand. Mr. Hastings, you've made yourself a deal. I'll get Craig's consent to sell her some pictures if I have to kill him doing it."

"Oh, no!" Hastings said, horrified. "Mr. Latin! Please! Nothing like that!"

"Half-kill him, then," Latin compromised.

Hastings looked very doubtful. "Mr.—ah—Guiterrez said you had just gotten out of jail. He was—ah—joking, no doubt?"

"He never jokes. I did just get out."

"Oh," said Hastings uneasily. "And—ah—what were you charged with?"

"Compounding a felony."

"I'm not familiar with legal terms—"

Latin said: "I was charged with paying some gentlemen to return some jewellery they stole from a client of mine and forgetting to ask the gentlemen what their names were or where the police could find them."

"Did you—ah—do that?"

"Certainly not," said Latin. "I merely paid a reward for the return of some jewellery that had been inadvertently lost."

"Lost," Hastings repeated vaguely. "Stolen. Reward. Buying back. It doesn't seem to me there is very much difference..."

Latin smiled. "Just the difference between sitting here and sitting in the county jail, cell three, north tier, that's all."

"Oh," said Hastings. "Well—please look into this matter at once, Mr. Latin. Time is of the very essence. I can't overemphasize the importance—"

"I'll get right on my horse."

"Winston Wentworth Craig lives at 345 B, Greene Street. You'd best go there now. He works at night, and he's never there in the daytime. I haven't mentioned it, but he has an—ah—unpleasant disposition. He can be most insulting—"

"So can I."

"Then I'll leave you—"

"Not without paying for that brandy, you won't," said Guiterrez, suddenly appearing beside the booth. "And I know how much you drank, too, because I marked the bottle. It'll cost you just three bucks."

"Three dollars!" Hastings exclaimed. "But I only had one very small—"

"So you want an argument, do you?" said Guiterrez. He called to one of the waiters: "Dick, go out in the kitchen and get me my cleaver. The sharp one."

Hastings swallowed. "Well, on the other hand, rather than make an issue—"

"Three bucks," said Guiterrez. "Count it out on the table and no back-chat."


2. — MURDER FOR ART'S SAKE

GREENE STREET had once been a cow-path, and the city fathers had never taken the time or trouble to straighten it out and brush it off and make a modern thoroughfare out of it. Now, as it always had, it wandered in draggling loops between the river and the sullenly massive factories of the industrial section, crossing more conventional streets at any old careless angle, making blocks as weirdly shaped as the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. It was old and lazy and tattered and nobody cared, least of all the people who lived on it.

The cement blocks that made up the narrow sidewalk had risen in some places and sunk in others, and Latin had the impression of climbing up and down a flatly elongated stairway. The dusk hid the soot streaks, and the houses were all the same depressed gray color, squatting close together and silent, down a little from the street level.

Latin found 345 by the process of counting from the corner. It was a thin, starved-looking building with brilliantly artificial light gleaming through the tall windows on its second floor. There were no lights downstairs, and Latin groped his way down three cement steps and along a narrow brick walk to the front porch.

A cigarette tip made a sudden bright red dot in the black shadow of the front door, and a woman's hoarsely pleasant voice said: "What do you want, sonny?"

Latin tapped the brim of his hat politely. "Looking for Winston Wentworth Craig."

"He doesn't live here."

"I'm still looking for him."

A light switch snapped, and a bulb in the porch ceiling glowed with weary brilliance, revealing the woman who was standing in the doorway. She had brown hair that was cropped carelessly short and tousled like a boy's. There were blue shadows under her eyes, and her lips were twisted into a cynical half-smile. Her cigarette was in a long ivory holder, and her long fingernails were stained a dark blood-red. She was wearing a cotton hostess coat and open-toed sandals. She regarded Latin with a detached, disinterested air.

"Shall I advance three paces and give the password?" he asked.

"Try it, and I'll stick this cigarette right in your eye."

"Which eye?" Latin asked curiously.

"The left one, I think."

"That's O.K., then. The left one's my glass eye."

Latin came up the steps and on the porch. The woman was lounging against the edge of the door, and she didn't move, but she did smile a little.

"Hello," said Latin.

She nodded her cropped head. "Hello. What's your name?"

"Max Latin."

"Latin," she repeated thoughtfully. "There was a Latin in the papers the other day—also in jail."

"I'm that one."

"I thought so. Private detective on the shady side, eh?"

"Not shady," Latin denied. "Black as night. Got any minor crimes you'd like committed? I'm cutting prices these days because I owe my lawyer some money."

"I'll think it over. Why do you want to see Craig?"

"Who's asking?"

The woman smiled more broadly.

"Nan Carter. You can call me Nan if you want to be formal. The reason I'm curious is that I'm holding off process servers and bill collectors and such vermin until I can pry some back rent out of my distinguished tenant, Mr. Winston Wentworth Craig."

"You wrong me," Latin told her. "I'm an earnest student of the arts, and I am here to purchase paintings in large quantities."

"Who sent you?"

"Remind me to tell you all about it sometime when I'm not busy."

Nan Carter blew a long plume of smoke at him. "In other words, Patricia Wentworth Craig."

"That would be about it."

Nan Carter said: "Craig won't sell her any of his pictures nor let her buy any. Don't you know the setup? He's a genius, or so he claims. Temperamental and like that. He wouldn't touch any of her money. He scorns it. He'd rather borrow from all his friends and forget to pay them back or let me put his rent on the cuff for six months straight."

"I'll change his mind for him."

"How?" she asked.

"I've got a wonderfully persuasive personality and also a pretty fair left hook."

Nan Carter watched him thoughtfully. "Rough stuff, huh? I sort of figured you for that sort of a gent."

"If people get between me and a nice juicy fee, is it my fault if they get trampled in the rush?" Latin asked reasonably.

"No," Nan Carter admitted, "and I think perhaps our dough- heavy friend has finally figured the right way to approach her dear cousin. He's nasty, but he's yellow as a daisy. The stairs are right there. There's no lock on the studio door. Don't bother to knock. Just go in and make yourself at home."

Latin went through the door and along the short length of hall and up the steep, shadowy slant of the narrow stairway. At the top there was another and shorter hall with the black well of back stairs at the far end of it. There was a door midway along the hall, and Latin went to it, turned the knob quietly and pushed it open.

The bright light from inside the studio jumped at him, blinding him momentarily, and then he caught the whole scene in one flashing split-second and stepped quietly into the studio and pushed the door shut behind him.

The partitions had been knocked out and the whole upper story of the house was one enormous room with its ceiling the high, peaked slant of the roof. There was an easel against the far wall with powerful daylight floor lamps set in front of it, their reflectors focused so there would be no slightest shadow on the canvas it held.

The man was lying in front of the easel, crumpled up there, with his blue painter's smock making a bright pile of color against the dull black of the floor. His face was turned toward Latin, and his eyes were wide and bulging and glassy. There was no blood, but the man was dead.


LATIN stood against the door apparently relaxed, while he turned his head slowly a little at a time, searching the shadows that clung in the corners of the big room. On the other side of the easel there was an open window, and through it Latin could hear the far-away hum of traffic and see the faint glow of lights from the uptown district.

There was no sound and no movement in the studio. After a moment Latin walked quietly across to the limp form in the blue smock and knelt down beside it. He felt one of the man's bony wrists, and it was warm in his hand, but there was no faintest pulse.

Latin pursed his lips and began to whistle soundlessly to himself. He started to get up and then stopped, staring at an object under the easel.

It was a woman's shoe. A dancing pump delicately made of thin strips of crisscrossing red leather with a high, stilt-like heel. Latin took a handkerchief from his pocket and, using it to cover his hand, carefully picked the slipper up.

It was an expensive one, hand-made for a short high-arched foot, and Latin was looking inside it for the maker's name when he heard the hinge on the door squeak softly.

Latin moved with instant, cat-like coordination. He flipped the slipper out the open window, came up to his feet and pivoted, crouching warily.

"Hold it right there," the man in the doorway whispered.

Latin stayed rigidly immovable.

The man in the doorway was small and slight, and the overcoat he wore made him seem more so. The overcoat was enormous. It looked as though it had been made for someone three feet taller and two feet wider. It hung in shapeless heavy folds, the skirts brushing the floor. The high collar was turned up and fastened with a strap across the front, hiding everything of the man's face but a pasty white triangle from his chin to the bottoms of the huge dark-lensed glasses he wore. He had a black flop-brimmed hat pulled down low over his forehead.

In his right hand he was holding a thick stubby-barrelled automatic. He moved it warningly and then reached behind him with his left hand and carefully closed the door, holding the knob so the latch wouldn't click.

"What did you throw out of the window?"

"You guess," Latin invited.

The man watched him in silence for a second, the lenses of the glasses like shiny blacked-out portholes. "Move over to your right a little," he ordered in the same soft whisper.

Latin moved one step sideways and then another. The other man began to move too, following the opposite rim of the invisible circle that separated them. He moved in light, mincing steps, as gracefully as a dancer.

"Stand still now."

Latin obeyed. The other man had reached the easel. He stood with one foot on either side of the blue-smocked body on the floor. Still watching Latin, he leaned down and began to grope behind the easel with his left hand.

There was a little scraping clatter, and he brought his hand out holding three small, square canvases.

"Don't move," he whispered, and he began to travel sideways on his mincing circle toward the door.

Latin suddenly realized what was getting away from him. "Oh, no," he said. "No, you don't. I've got first call on those pictures. Put them down."

The man in the overcoat stopped, and his tongue flicked over the thin red of his lips.

"I mean it," Latin said. "You're not walking out of here with those pictures."


THE man in the overcoat fired at him without the slightest warning. Latin flopped flat on his face on the floor, kicked himself over and rolled frantically for the wall. The automatic whacked three times more, and the bullets dug into the floor on both sides of Latin with sinister little snaps.

Latin banged into the wall and sat up, flipping his own stubby.38 out of the waist-band of his trousers. He was just in time to see the studio door close and hear the latch snap with quiet finality.

Latin heaved himself up and charged across the studio. He was blind, fighting mad, and he jerked the door open again heedlessly and jumped out into the hall.

He could see down the front stairs into the empty front hall, and he whirled around and headed for the rear stairs. He had reached the top when the little man in the overcoat materialized out of the shadow against the banister and extended a leg deftly in front of him.

Latin tried to hurdle it and didn't quite get over. He caught his ankle, and he went head-first down into the blackness of the stair-well. He managed to half turn while he was still in the air, and his back smashed against the banister with breath- taking, force.

He hit the stairs, sprawled full length, did two complete forward somersaults, and landed at the bottom of the stairway in an awkward heap. For a while he couldn't get up and he couldn't breathe, and red-streaked blackness whirled around inside his head like a pinwheel.

From the front hall the automatic whacked sharply again, and Nan Carter screamed. A door slammed shut.

Latin got up and fell down on the stairs. He started to crawl upward, still clutching his revolver. His legs wouldn't work properly, and he slipped back two steps for every three he climbed. He kept right on going, clawing himself along by main force and clumsiness.

Finally he poked his head above the last step. Looking at him from the same level on the front stairs was the face of Nan Carter. Her cropped hair was even more tousled now, and her blue shadowed eyes were wide.

"My God!" she said hoarsely. "What—what—"

Latin got up the rest of the steps and leaned against the wall for support. He made three attempts and finally managed to gulp air into his lungs.

"Where'd he go?"

"You're asking me, are you?" Nan Carter said, also drawing a deep breath. "I don't know, and I don't care, and I hope he stays there from now on. I heard the shots up here, and I opened my door to take a look. He was right in front of me. He shot once. That was all the hint I needed. I slammed the door and ducked."

"Did he—have pictures?"

She stared at him incredulously. "Pictures! Are you punch- drunk? He might have been carrying battleships on both shoulders for all I know. I just saw that gun. What in the devil were you two doing up here?"

"Call the police," said Latin. "Craig's dead."

Nan Carter gasped. "Dead!"

"Yes. Got a telephone here?"

She was still staring incredulously. "Dead? Telephone? Yes. Downstairs in my apartment."


LATIN felt his way along the hall and went rubbery-legged down the front stairs. There was a neat round bullet hole in the panel of Nan Carter's apartment door. She opened it, and Latin went into a small cluttered living-room and plopped himself down on the divan with a sigh of relief.

"The telephone is over there," Nan Carter told him, pointing to it.

"You call," Latin said. "I'm out of wind. The number is Madison fifty-fifty. Tell them that Craig's dead and somebody just tried to use me to make it two of a kind."

She dialed the number while Latin held his head in his hands, both palms tight against his temples, trying by main force to dispel the fog that seemed to shroud his brain.

"They're coming," Nan Carter said, hanging up the receiver.

Latin looked up, wincing when the light from the floor lamp hit his eyes. "This Craig—did he have an agent? Anyone who sold his pictures for him?"

She nodded blankly. "Yes. Name of Haggerty. You need a drink or a doctor or something."

"Drink," said Latin.

She opened a wooden-doored corner cabinet and brought out a flat pint bottle that was half-full of cheap whiskey. Holding it in both hands, Latin upended it and took three big swigs. The whiskey was as fast as it was rough. It went down his throat like a powder train and started a raging fire in his stomach, but it took the shroud off his brain instantly.

"Whew!" he said, catching his breath again.

Nan Carter took the bottle away from him and had a drink out of it herself.

Latin said: "Have you got a directory? I want to look up this Haggerty's number."

"Two of them are written on the wall, there above the telephone. Craig was always calling Haggerty, trying to get advances. One is his office and the other is his home. I don't know which is which."

Latin found the pencil scrawled numbers and deciphered them. He called the first, and he could hear the buzz of the phone ringing at the other end, but there was no answer. He tried the other, and after the second ring a weary feminine voice answered.

"Hello?"

"Can I speak to Mr. Haggerty, please?" Latin asked.

"He isn't home."

"Can you tell me where I can get him?"

"Hah!" said the feminine voice. "That I certainly cannot. He's out drinking somewhere with his ratty artist clients."

"When he comes in, please tell him that one of his clients—Winston Wentworth Craig—just died, and that he'd better scamper down to Craig's studio just as fast as he can."

"I'll tell him if he ever comes home and he's not too drunk to understand when he does."

A siren began its eery song somewhere close as Latin hung up the receiver.


3. — LATIN EXPLAINS

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR WALTERS, Homicide, was a tall, gauntly somber man with a face that was long and lined and cynical. He stood now with his arms folded across the hollow of his chest, gloomily watching the medical examiner work on the sprawled body in the blue smock.

The medical examiner stood up at last and nodded at his two assistants. "O.K., boys. Haul it off."

"Well, what?" Walters asked, as the assistants rolled the body on a stretcher and covered it with a sheet.

"He's dead," said the medical examiner, "or did you know? The reason he's dead is because someone was unkind enough to break his neck for him by giving him a very nifty rabbit-punch with some instrument with a protuberance on it about so square."

He held his thumb and forefinger about three-quarters of an inch apart to illustrate.

"A hammer?" Walters hazarded.

The medical examiner scratched his head. "No ... I don't think so. Maybe a very light tack hammer. It was a very sharp blow with something that wasn't very heavy. The murderer knew just exactly where to hit to snap a spine. I couldn't have done a neater job myself."

"How about that?" Walters asked, pointing to a rusty hammer the fingerprint men had left on a chair.

"No. It's too big and too heavy."

"Hell," said Walters, disappointed. "The boys didn't find anything else around here... How long has he been dead?"

The medical examiner didn't even bother to reply. He simply looked disgusted.

Walters sighed. "Well—anything else?"

"He was a junkie."

"Can you tell what brand?"

"Either morphine or heroin, with the odds on morphine. Call me up after the autopsy and I'll tell you more."

Walters nodded, and the medical examiner went out after his assistants and their loaded stretcher. Walters stood in front of the easel staring at the picture it held, rocking back and forth gently. The uniformed patrolman on guard at the door lounged lazily against the wall, exploring his teeth with a sharpened match. The studio was silent except for the gentle squeak- squeak of Walters' shoe soles.

Finally he turned around and said: "How do you feel now?"

Latin was sitting on the edge of the models' platform holding his head in his hands. "To be frank," he said, looking up, "not so hot. I've got bees buzzing in my belfry."

Walters turned back to the picture.

"What do you think of this here?" He tilted the picture so Latin could see it.

"Pretty good," Latin said.

It was a portrait, almost completed. It was unmistakably a likeness of the man who had been lying dead in front of it, and it was a startlingly good one. It had a vigor and a sweep that was lifelike. The eyes were half-closed, and the mouth was twisted into a cynical little smile.

Walters observed: "He looks like he was amused because somebody popped him, and I wish he could speak up and tell me who it was, because if the bird that did it sneaked up behind Craig while he was painting, then this Craig in the picture was certainly watching him do it. Kind of a funny thing for a detective to think of, isn't it? I mean, a guy in a picture watching the guy he's the picture of get the old socko."

"Very funny," said Latin sourly.

"A little confusing," Walters admitted. He shrugged. "Oh, well. Off to work we go. Suppose you start talking, Latin. Don't lie any more than is absolutely necessary."

"He," Latin said, pointing at the picture, "is and was Winston Wentworth Craig, and he's the first cousin of Patricia Wentworth Craig."

Walters opened his mouth and shut it.

"Oh-oh! The one with the heavy dough?"

"That one."


WALTERS sighed. "Then it's up to me to walk soft and talk small, I suppose. Why do I always have to get stuck with the hot ones? It seems like they could put me out to pasture or something in my old age. So what were you doing up here?"

Latin said: "Patricia Wentworth Craig hired me to buy some of Winston Wentworth Craig's pictures—or rather, her husband did."

Walters looked skeptical. "Come, come. You'll have to get a little more speedy than that, Latin."

"Fact," said Latin. "Winston hated his dear cousin Patricia because Patricia had refused to lend him dough so he could study art, so he studied it anyway and got to be good. Then he refused to sell her any of his pictures and needled her by telling everyone that the reason he wouldn't was because she was too dumb to appreciate them."

Walters looked more skeptical. "I'm listening, but not for much longer."

"Patricia collects modern art, and she's giving an exhibit of her collection in a couple of days. She had to have some of cousin Winston's pictures in the exhibit, because if she didn't everybody would boob her. She hired me to come down here and talk Winston into selling her some."

"Nuts," said Walters. "The crunchy kind. Why didn't she just—"

"Yes, yes," Latin interrupted. "She couldn't buy any of Craig's pictures from anyone else, because he said that would cause him great mental agony and he'd sue her."

"He couldn't—"

"He could start suit, and if he did the newspapers would blow it up big, and that would mean that the general populace would give Patricia the horse laugh along with all the artists and art collectors who were already doing it."

"Ummm," said Walters. "This all sounds very much on the corny side to me."

"Not necessarily. Get the setup. Here's a dame that has probably always been able to buy anything she wanted in the world and in addition is very proud of herself for being an expert on modern art. This Craig cousin of hers was attacking her on both fronts, and people were giving her the old snicker because of it. People aren't supposed to laugh at you when you have fifty million dollars."

"I ain't laughing at her," said Walters. "So maybe this is true, and they hired you to get the pictures. But why? You don't claim to be an art expert, now, do you?"

"I'm crooked. They figured I'd chisel the pictures out of Craig with one of my snide tricks. I would have, too."

Walters rubbed the lobe of his ear, squinting. "You know, when I was a kid back in Iowa there used to be a banker in town who called himself Honest John. One fine day he went south with about thirty thousand dollars worth of deposits."

"Very interesting," Latin commented.

"Yeah. Ever since then I've doubted people who go around claiming how honest they are. I think maybe that works backwards sometimes, too."

"Such as how?" Latin asked.

"You. You talk about bein' crooked so much, I doubt if you are. I think that's just your front. I think maybe you're honest."

"That's slander," Latin said indignantly. "I'll sue you. I'm as crooked as a swastika."

"Uh-huh. You may be a trifle speedy on the turns, but I think that's as far as it goes. But let me tell you that if the boys in the district attorney's office ever catch you in a corner they're going to tear your ears off. They're pretty griped about you slipping out of that compounding a felony rap. So you came up here to buy pictures—then what happened?"

"Craig was lying dead on the floor."

"See any deadly weapons around?"

"No," Latin said.

"All right. Go on."

"Here's where the story really gets ripe. I'd no more than found out the guy was dead, when in comes a little gent in dark glasses and a big overcoat and sticks me up and grabs some of Craig's pictures. I tried to argue with him, and he started blowing at me. I know that sounds—"


WALTERS' eyes looked narrow and shiny. "Little gent in a big overcoat and dark glasses. Did he have a pan that looked like it had just been pushed in a flour barrel and a flop-brimmed hat and sport a Spanish mail order automatic?"

Latin stared at him. "Why, yes."

"McTeague!" Walters snarled. He paced back and forth across the studio, muttering profanity.

The policeman on guard at the door had straightened up alertly and was watching Latin.

"What's what?" Latin asked.

"We're not funning now," said Walters. "I want that little weasel, and I want him bad. You heard that a cop named Gardner got killed a couple of months ago?"

Latin frowned. "I remember something about it. Trying to stop a store hold-up, wasn't he?"

"No. That was just for the papers. He was on guard at a school cross-walk on the north side. There'd been reports coming in from that school and others that some of the kids were acting funny. The doctors thought maybe it was dope of some kind, although we couldn't shake anything loose from any of the kids. So the cops were keeping an eye open. Gardner spotted this funny looking guy with a candy wagon prowling around the school grounds, so he strolls over to take a look. He didn't even have a chance to say hello. The guy just started shooting. Five times he let go, and the fifth one got Gardner in the stomach. The guy was this McTeague you saw."

"Five times," Latin said. "And only one hit. How close was he to Gardner?"

"About ten feet."

"That's lousy shooting. I figured that it was a miracle he missed me, but now I'm not so sure."

"He killed a cop," said Walters coldly. "A damned good cop. We want that baby. Can you tell me any more about him?"

"No. Except that he talked in a whisper. He did know his way around this studio, though. Probably he was the one who was furnishing Craig with dope. Why don't you ask the doll downstairs if she knows anything about him?"

Walters nodded at the policeman in the doorway. "Go get her."

They waited for a moment, and then Nan Carter came in the studio ahead of the policeman. She still wore her cotton house- coat, and she was smoking another cigarette in her long ivory holder. She looked quite cheerful and a little bit intoxicated, and she nodded her cropped head casually at Latin and said: "Hi. Are you pinched?"

"Not yet," Latin said. "This is Inspector Walters. This is Nan Carter, Walters."

Walters said: "I'd like to ask you about what happened here tonight."

"Plenty, ain't it so?" Nan Carter inquired. "Well, let's see. Latin came along and asked for Craig, and I stalled him a bit because I figured that girl might have sent him over to put the bite on Craig, and I wanted first chance at any money he might have for his back rent."

Walters asked: "What girl?"

"She used to model for Craig. She got into trouble, and she claimed Craig was the cause of it all. I don't doubt that he was. He was a trifle on the rat side. She pestered him for weeks, trying to get him to marry her or give, her money. I used to ring his door bell when I saw her coming, and he'd dodge out the back way."

"She been around lately?"

"No. Not for the last week or so."

"What's her name?"

"Mona something or other. She didn't kill him if that's what's worrying you. She was crazy about him, and besides she wouldn't have nerve enough."

"I'll just look her up, anyway," said Walters. "O.K. Go on with your story."

"Well, Latin came up here, and he hadn't been here a minute before the war broke out. I'd gone in to powder my nose, and I heard people stamping around and shots and the house falling down in general, so I opened my door to see what was going on. That little rat of a McTeague was right in front of the door. He shot and I ducked—but fast."

"McTeague," Walters repeated casually. "So you know his name?"

Nan Carter looked surprised. "Of course. He came around here every week."

"Good friend of Craig's, eh?"

She shrugged. "I guess so. He seems slimy enough to qualify. Anyway, he paid me some of Craig's back rent once."

Walters was watching her narrowly. "How did that happen?"

"I just asked him for it, and he paid."

"You're a liar," said Walters.

"Tut, tut," said Nan Carter amiably.

"You knew Craig was on the dope, and you also knew McTeague was selling it to him. You shook him down."

"Did I, now?" Nan Carter said.

"Yes. Instead of reporting McTeague to the police."

"Shame on me," said Nan Carter, and blew a long plume of smoke in Walters' face.

Walters reached out and slapped her hand. The ivory holder and its cigarette flipped through the air. The holder snapped in two when it hit the floor. The policeman stepped forward casually to put his foot on the cigarette.

Walters said: "Don't get smart with me."

Nan Carter's eyes looked heavy-lidded and sleepy. "Just for that I'm not answering any more questions."

"You will," Walters promised grimly. "Keenan, take her down to the station."

The policeman came forward and put his hand on Nan Carter's arm. "Come on along, now."

She fell into him. She did it very neatly and so quickly that she slid down to a sitting position on the floor before he could catch her. She sat there and beamed placidly up at Walters.

"Carry her," he ordered quietly.

Keenan bent down and picked her up without the slightest effort. He carried her across the studio, and as she went out the door she flipped her hand at Latin in a casual farewell salute.

Latin cleared his throat. "I wouldn't, if I were you."

Walters' face was set grimly. "I want McTeague."

"You haven't got anything to hold her on. She'll hang a suit for false arrest on you."

Walters jerked his shoulders irritably.

"I suppose so. Oh, hell!" He went to the door and whistled shrilly. "Keenan! Bring her back up here."


4. — A LADY GETS A LIFT

KEENAN'S feet thudded on the stairs, and he carried Nan Carter back into the studio and stood there holding her.

Latin said: "Nan, Walters is a little on the edgy side. McTeague's a cop shooter, and Walters is very anxious to get a good grip on him."

Nan Carter looked at Walters inquiringly.

"All right," said Walters. "I apologize, and I'll buy you another holder."

She smiled. "Never mind. I've got a dozen. I just don't like being slapped around. You can put me down now, mister. Thanks for the lift."

Keenan stood her on her feet and went indifferently back to his station at the door.

"Well?" said Nan Carter. "Ask me more. I honestly didn't know Craig was a dope fiend. I thought there was something wrong with him, but that never occurred to me. I really did shake McTeague down, though. Craig used to throw parties all the time, and they were really dillies. I came to one once, and I left fast. I'm not easy to shock, either.

"Craig used to show dirty motion pictures to his lovely guests. I had McTeague tagged for that racket, although I wasn't sure. I thought it was worth a throw, though. I was broke. So I put it up to him. I sort of leered like they do in the movies and told him I wanted some of Craig's rent."

"What happened?" Walters asked.

She shivered. "He paid. Fifty dollars. Didn't say a word. He just stood there and looked at me for about five minutes, as though he was measuring me for a coffin. I was good and scared. I kept out of his way after that. I got the idea he could be a very nasty proposition if he wanted to be."

"He is," said Walters. "You don't know how lucky you were that he didn't do more than look."

"Oh yes, I do," said Nan Carter. "I'm getting the chills all over again."

"Did Patricia Wentworth Craig or her husband, Bernard Hastings, ever come up here?" Latin asked.

"She did—once. She and Craig had a whopper of a row. He threw her out finally. I mean—threw. Hastings came around a dozen times or so. He and Craig got very, very chummy."

"Chummy?" Latin repeated, puzzled.

"For awhile. It was easy to figure out. Hastings thought he could butter up Craig and get on the good side of him and persuade him to sell some pictures to Patricia. Craig knew that was the idea. He just played Hastings along—drinking his liquor and borrowing money from him and letting him pay for the parties, and then when he got tired, he gave Hastings the razzberry and kicked him out. That Hastings is soft-brained, if you ask me. He should have known Craig would see right through him. Craig was no fool. What killed him, anyway?"

"Someone hit him on the back of the neck and broke his spine," Walters answered absently.

Nan Carter looked at Latin with raised eyebrows.

Latin shook his head. "Not guilty. He was laid out like a rug when I arrived."

"Was the back door locked?" Walters asked.

"Never," said Nan Carter.

Walters nodded. "I want that McTeague. Anything more you can tell me about him?"

"No," she said. "After the rent incident I didn't want any part of him. Latin said he was a cop shooter. You mean he killed a policeman?"

"Yeah. I want him."

"What else do you know about him?" Latin asked curiously. "You just said he downed Gardner."

Walters was frowning. "He had his reasons. The doctors were right. The kids were getting dope—morphine—and he was selling it to them. He had it fixed up in candy. Very clever fellow. The kids talked fast afterward, because Gardner was very popular with them. McTeague had told them that the candy contained caffeine and that it would pep them up for examinations and stuff but that they shouldn't let on to anyone because even if the stuff was perfectly harmless, parents would be apt to be sticky about it. You know how kids go for secrets like that, and so did McTeague."

Nan Carter looked a little sick. "Morphine—to kids—"

"Yes," said Walters. "Very, very little of it. Not enough to make them goofy—but enough to give them a lift and enough to put them on the habit if they kept at it."


THEY were silent for a second, and then Walters nodded at Nan Carter.

"If you ever see him again, get behind something solid and start screaming. But be sure what you're behind will stop a bullet, because he'll shoot."

She shivered. "Right-o."

Someone shouted something from the lower floor, and Keenan, the policeman on guard at the door, put his head out into the hall.

"What?"

The voice below shouted something else and Keenan turned back to Walters.

"There's a guy down below who says his name is Haggerty. He wants in."

"He's Craig's agent," Latin explained.

"Send him up," Walters ordered. Keenan relayed the order, and feet thumped raggedly on the stairs. A fat little man with a red, round face came puffing through the door. He was carrying a cane, and he braced the rubber tip of it on the floor in front of him and leaned the soft bulge of his stomach against it for a support, regarding us all.

"Hah!" he said explosively. "I told him a good many times he was such a louse he ought to go and kill himself, but I never thought he'd do it."

"He didn't," said Walters. "Somebody broke his neck for him. Is this actually Haggerty, and is he actually Winston Wentworth Craig's manager, Miss Carter?"

"Yes," she said. "Hello, you greasy blood-sucker."

Haggerty took off his hat, revealing close-cropped red hair. "Miss Carter. It is delighted I am to see you, even in such sad circumstances."

"You and your phoney Irish dialect. Will you kindly go to hell with my best regards?"

Haggerty beamed at her. "Your wish is my command, and indeed it surely is, my dear."

Nan Carter turned to Walters.

"Through with me now? Being in the same room with this fat rat makes me queasy."

"All through," said Walters, "for the moment. Stick around down below."

She sauntered out of the door.

Walters waited until her footsteps had gone down the stairs and then said to Haggerty: "She doesn't seem to like you."

"A pity," said Haggerty. "Indeed, it saddens the heart of me to the point of breaking."

"Why doesn't she like you?"

Haggerty smiled benignly. "And your name, sir?"

"Inspector Walters. Homicide. Why doesn't she like you?"

"It is indeed a great pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir. She does not like me because I won't act as her agent."

"Why won't you?"

Haggerty waggled a fat forefinger at him. "Indeed, my dear Inspector, for the one best reason of all, of course. Her stuff won't sell, and it won't sell because it is no good."

"What does she do—paint?"

"No, no. She's a sculptress—she says. All impressionistic and very, very lousy."

"Why did you come here tonight?"

"Someone called me and asked me to."

"I did," said Latin.

"What for?" Walters demanded. "Business," said Latin. "Can I talk to him alone?"

"Ha-ha," said Walters.

Latin shrugged. "Haggerty, my name is Latin."


HAGGERTY blinked eyes that were a bright steely blue in spite of being slightly blood-shot at the corners. "Indeed? The gentleman who had some slight—difficulty over some stolen jewels recently?"

"Yes."

"Well, well," said Haggerty thoughtfully.

"Do you have any of Craig's pictures now—on sale?"

Haggerty rubbed his chin. "In a manner of speaking, yes. That is, he had three finished that he was going to deliver to me tomorrow."

"Deliver to you to sell as his agent?"

"Right, sir."

"You can't be an agent for a dead."

Haggerty grinned. "Ah, yes. The deal was completed before his death. I advanced him money and the title of the pictures passed to me then. I have contracts to prove it. He was just holding the picture temporarily because he wanted to put some finishing touches on them."

Latin pointed to the easel. "Is that one of them?"

"No. It isn't completed, and wouldn't be worth much if it was, as I told him. Who wants to look at an artist's face? But Craig liked himself, even if no one else did."

"I want to make a deal with you," Latin said. "I want you to sell me those three completed pictures for a thousand apiece. That's the current market value for them."

"Ah, no," said Haggerty merrily. "They'll double in value, now there's to be no more of them. If you'd like to bid—"

"No. Take my offer or get nothing."

"Nothing?" Haggerty inquired. "Now I think not, indeed. I'll take the pictures, and there's a strong market—"

"Where are the pictures?" Latin asked.

Haggerty pointed with his cane. "Right over—" He turned around to look at Latin. His smile was strained at the corners now. "They're supposed to be under that easel. He always kept the completed ones there."

Latin shrugged complacently. He said nothing.

Haggerty's smile was completely gone. "And what is this now, please?"

"I'll be fair about it," said Latin. "Fifteen hundred apiece and five hundred to you for acting as my agent on the resale. Take it or leave it."

Haggerty's blue eyes opened wide. "Indeed, now. But the pictures are really mine, sir. I took title as security for the money I advanced to Craig."

"All right," Latin said. "Hunt for the pictures."

Haggerty puffed out his fat cheeks and sucked them in again. He looked calculatingly from Latin to Walters and back to Latin again.

"They're not here?"

"No," said Latin.

"Are they in your possession?"

"No."

"I warn you that I can identify them."

"Go ahead," Latin invited indifferently.

"And you, sir," said Haggerty to Walters. "A police officer, do nothing but stand there—"

"I'm doing more than standing," said Walters, watching Latin narrowly. "I'm listening, and what I hear I don't like so very well. Where are those pictures, Latin?"

"McTeague took them, like I told you."

"Yes. And where they are, McTeague will be. I want that McTeague. Where, Latin?"

"I don't know."

"Latin," said Walters very softly, "don't get in between me and McTeague or I'll run you down. I mean it. Do you know where he is?"

"No."

Haggerty cleared his throat. "On due consideration, Mr. Latin, I think I'll take your kind offer and thank you."

"Right," said Latin.

"Latin—" Walters said warningly.

The voice shouted from the hall below, and Keenan put his head out the door again.

"What?" He listened and relayed the information to Walters. "There's a guy and a dame downstairs. Say they're related to the stiff."

Walters groaned. "Send them up—politely, Keenan, very politely. In fact, you may go down and escort them, Keenan. Remember to salute."

"And remember you're my agent," Latin said to Haggerty.

Haggerty put his smile on again. "Ah, yes. And I think matters become slightly clearer."

"Do you?" Walters asked sourly. "I don't."

Bernard Hastings and a woman came in the studio ahead of a suddenly deferential Keenan. Hastings looked really scared now. His plump face was a yellowish white, and he stared right and left with fearful bulging eyes, as though he expected a gory body to leap at him out of any corner. When he saw Latin, his eyes bulged even more, and he flicked a tongue across lips that were suddenly dry and colorless.

The woman with him said in a harsh, high voice: "Who is in charge here?"

Walters stepped forward. "Inspector Walters, ma'am. Homicide."

"I am Patricia Wentworth Craig."

She wouldn't have needed to identify herself. Her thin, arrogant features were pictured in the papers as often as the most popular movie star's. She was blond and tall and very erect, high-shouldered, and she walked and talked and looked as though she was sure she was better than anyone else and that everyone knew it.

She was wearing a long chinchilla coat with a black formal dress under it. She had a diamond bracelet a good two inches wide on her left wrist. It was the only jewelry she wore.

"Yes, ma'am," said Walters.

She looked at Haggerty. "What are you doing here?"

Haggerty bowed. "Endeavoring to help in my humble way, dear lady."

She shrugged in disgust and pointed at Latin. "Who is he?"

Hastings said in a croak. "That—that is the man—

"What man?" she said impatiently.

Hastings swallowed. "The one—Latin."

She looked Latin up and down. "I see. Then you've apprehended him already, and there's no need for us to stay. My husband is a fool, Inspector, and you'll have to excuse him."

Hastings winced but made no effort to deny the accusation.

"Yes, ma'am?" Walters said cautiously.

"Yes. This man Latin is a criminal. He just got out of jail, as you probably know. My husband, in his stupid way, decided for some reason to hire Latin to purchase some pictures from my cousin. My cousin refused, for reasons that are none of your affair, and Latin killed him, intending to steal some pictures from him, I have no doubt. You will see to it that he is hung, of course. Good evening."

Walters cleared his throat. "Well, ma'am, we're not so sure Latin killed your cousin."

She swung back toward him. "What? Nonsense! If he didn't, who did?"

"Well, we don't know yet."

She stared icily. "Don't be a fool. Of course Latin killed him, and naturally he'd deny it. You police have what you call a third degree, haven't you? Well, use it. Make him confess. No matter what methods you use, I'll see to it that no one ever objects to them."

Latin looked at Haggerty. Haggerty was grinning. Latin's greenish eyes began to glow slightly.

Patricia Wentworth Craig was examining the portrait on the easel. "I'll take that one, and Haggerty, you will deliver any other pictures you have to me at once."

"Indeed?" said Haggerty politely.

"He hasn't any," said Latin.

She looked at him. "Did you speak?"

"Yes, Your Majesty. I said Haggerty hasn't any of Craig's pictures. He did own three of them, but he sold them to me. I'll sell them to you for five thousand apiece, in accordance with my agreement with your husband."

She laughed mockingly. "Five thousand! What utter and complete absurdity!"

Hastings said: "But, my dear, I—I did—"

"Be quiet!"

Hastings swallowed hard and remained silent.

"Five thousand," Latin said blandly.

"You must be a fool as well as a murderer," said Patricia Wentworth Craig coldly. "You have nothing to show in writing, and in this state a contract involving a sum of more than five hundred dollars is not enforceable unless it is in writing. I can buy all of my cousin's pictures I want now for a quarter of five thousand dollars."

"On the other hand, no," said Latin blandly.


SHE really looked at him, as though she were seeing him as a person for the first time. "Why can't I?"

"Well, you could. But I'd have to sue you if you did."

"Sue me for what?"

Latin smiled. "Well, you see Craig's pictures are unique. They are pictures that Patricia Wentworth Craig—the richest girl in the world—can't buy. That gives them a special value, which was why I invested in them. Now if you should buy some of his pictures—from someone else—then that would reduce the value of the pictures I have, because they wouldn't be unique any more. So I'd have to sue you for what I'd lose, and if I did I'd have to explain in my complaint just why you couldn't buy any of Craig's pictures while he was alive."

Haggerty blew out his breath in a long sigh, and Walters began to whistle softly to himself.

Patricia Wentworth Craig hissed at her husband: "You stupid oaf! Did you have to tell him everything you knew?"

"I—I—" Hastings said miserably.

"Five thousand," Latin repeated.

She was biting her under lip. "All right. When and where will you deliver them?"

"I won't. You'll come and get them when and where I tell you."

Patricia Wentworth Craig's thin face was white now, and the rouge showed up in ragged red patches on her cheekbones.

"All right," she whispered. "But you—you—" She drew in her breath, turning to Walters. "Is he under arrest?"

"Latin?" Walters asked. "Well—"

"If he is, release him at once."

"Yes, ma'am," said Walters meekly. "Have you—changed your mind about him killing your cousin?"

"Of course, you fool. Release him."

Walters nodded at Latin. "You're released."

"Thanks a lot," Latin said mockingly.

Patricia Wentworth Craig turned on her husband. "Well, what are you waiting for? Take me out of here, you blundering numbskull."

"Yes, my dear," said Hastings quickly.

He escorted her to the door as carefully as though she were made of spun glass.

Walters waited until they were gone and then took off his hat and wiped his brow with the palm of his hand. "Whee! Join the police and have more fun! It's lucky I didn't have you under arrest, Latin. I wouldn't want to cross that dame. She's really as neat a dose of pure poison as I've ever seen, and she could probably get me thrown off the force before I could light a cigar. I think you're going to be a sorry man, Latin, if you play any of your cute tricks on her."

"Five thousand dollars a picture," Haggerty said in a dreamy voice.

"Don't get any ideas," Latin warned.

"Ah, no," said Haggerty, beaming. "No, indeed."

"Do you know a guy by the name of McTeague?" Walters demanded. "Friend of Craig's?"

"No," said Haggerty.

"Well, I guess I'll be running along," said Latin.

"I wish you would," Walters informed him. "You're certainly not much help to me."


5. — MCTEAGUE MEETS HIS MAKER

IT was an hour later when Latin came into Guiterrez' restaurant again. The crowd had thinned now, and the place wasn't quite so noisy or confused, but almost. Latin sat down in his favorite booth, and he hadn't been there more than five seconds when Guiterrez came through the metal swinging door that led to the kitchen and glowered at him.

"I was hopin' maybe they tossed you in the jail again," he said. "I bet you they got cell three, north tier all cleaned and ready for you by this time."

Latin nodded absently. "Is Pete here?"

"Washin' dishes."

"Tell him to go down to 345 Greene Street and wait outside until the police leave. Tell him to telephone you here when they go and also to find out whether they leave anyone on guard. Tell him to keep out of sight."

"Tell—tell—tell," said Guiterrez sourly. "Suppose you tell me who's gonna wash the dishes."

"You."

Guiterrez swelled up. "Me! I'll have you know that I was the master chef—"

"All right. Throw the dishes away and buy new ones. In the meantime, bring me a telephone."

The little waiter in the baggy, grease-stained coat came up with a bottle of brandy and a glass and put them down on the table in front of Latin.

"Get him the telephone, Dick." Guiterrez ordered. "He's pretending like he's important again."

Guiterrez stamped back through the swinging door into the kitchen, muttering to himself. Dick brought Latin a portable telephone, and Latin plugged in on a concealed connection behind the chintz curtain at the rear of the booth.

He sat for several moments, staring absently upward at the smoke layers that floated under the stained ceiling. Finally he nodded once to himself and dialed the number of Haggerty's home.

The phone rang several times, and then the same weary feminine voice said crossly: "Well, hello?"

"Has Mr. Haggerty come home yet?" Latin asked.

"Hah! Twice, no less! You'd think this was the Grand Central Station, the way he comes and goes. He isn't here now, if that's what you want to know."

"Can you tell me where he is?"

"Hah! Your guess is as good as mine. He said he was going to his office, but if you want him you might as well start looking in the nearest gutter."

"Thanks," Latin said.

He pressed down on the breaker bar to cut the connection and then dialed Haggerty's office. The repeated buzz in his ear indicated the phone was ringing at the other end of the line, but there was no answer. After about the tenth ring, there was a click and then, instantly, another. The buzzing ceased, and the line hummed emptily.

Latin pursed his lips thoughtfully. He dialed a third number, and instantly a voice bellowed cheerfully in his ear:

"Hello there! Happy's All Night Garage!"

"This is Latin, Happy."

"Ah, now! Hooray! You're out, eh? I knew you'd do it! I told my wife they couldn't keep Latin in their flea-trap jail on a bum rap like that. Murder or arson or bank robbery or something decent, I said, why sure. That would be all right, I told her. But this compounding a felony stuff, I said, why that's chicken feed for Latin. He'll spit right in their eye, I told her. Hooray! I'm glad you're out!"

"Thanks, Happy. Send the black coupe around."

"Coming up!"


HAGGERTY'S place was on Claghorn Street, right in the middle of the city's financial district, and it looked as out of place there as a hobo jungle camp would have. The office buildings and stores around it were pale and austere and dignified, but the whole front of Haggerty's store was one gaudy splash of blood-red enamel that glistened sinisterly even in the dim light of the street lamps.

There was a wide bronze door in the middle of the enamel. On one side of the door, futuristically cockeyed letters spelled the word Haggerty, and on the other the one word Art.

Latin, drifting past in the black coupe, decided that Haggerty was probably a pretty good salesman. At least, he knew enough to come where the money was and how to advertise himself and his wares in a spectacular manner when he got there.

Latin parked the black coupe midway in the next block and walked back. He stood in front of the brass door for a moment, looking both ways. The street was deserted. There was a bell beside the door, but Latin didn't ring it. He tried the catch on the bronze door, and it opened with a smooth, soft click.

He pushed the door open and looked into the dim, narrow length of the store. At the back there was the faint glow of light coming through a partially closed door, but there was no slightest sound. Latin stepped inside and closed the door noiselessly behind him.

The darkness was thick now, and soft, heavy with the smell of turpentine. Latin drifted toward the light, his feet soundless on the thick carpeting. There was still no sound, no sound at all.

Latin felt a queer prickling sensation between his shoulder blades, and he stopped and stood still for a full minute, listening. He was frowning in a worried way, and finally he drew his stubby .38 from the waistband of his trousers and balanced it casually in his right hand.

He went forward step by step. The door was just in front of him, and he reached out his left hand, fingers rigid, and pushed it slightly.

It moved on oiled hinges. It moved back like the slow unrolling of a stage curtain and revealed a square, small office with white plaster walls and two narrow blue rugs slantwise in the shape of a lopsided T on the black polished floor and thick blue drapes that covered windows in the far wall.

It revealed Haggerty sitting behind a square desk in the corner. Haggerty's fat face was like a white, strained moon with the bristly red halo of his hair gleaming above it. He was staring at the door with his bloodshot eyes popped impossibly wide.

"Hello," Latin said, and stepped inside the office.

Haggerty heaved in his chair. "Gaah!" he screeched in one wordless, breathless sound and fell over backwards into the corner, chair and all.

Latin dropped flat on his face on the blue rug. The drapes blew out as though a gust of wind had caught them, and the smack of the first report blended with the crash of Haggerty's chair going down.

The bullet hit the door on the near edge and slammed it shut.

McTeague slid out from behind the drapes, as deadly and quick as a cobra. He fired three times more in a blasting stutter of sound. Two of the bullets went wide to Latin's left and the third tapped his hat and tipped it neatly on the back of his head.

Latin fired once, and the report was a solid bump of sound after the chattering racket of McTeague's automatic. McTeague made a shrill little sobbing noise. He came one step and then two toward Latin, as mincing and neat as ever, and then he collapsed, and the thick folds of his overcoat seemed to settle and blend into the blue of the rug under him, and he lay very flat and small and motionless there.


THE echoes rang deafeningly in Latin's ears. He was sitting up now, breathing in short gasps through his mouth.

Very slowly the white moon of Haggerty's face rose above the horizon of the black desk. His eyes, like jiggling coordinated marbles, moved from Latin to McTeague and back to Latin.

"Oh," said Haggerty in a thin, sick voice.

Latin leveled his revolver. "Don't try to duck behind that desk again. I'll shoot through it."

Haggerty's voice went up to a hysterical squeak. "No, man! Don't!"

"How did you know I was coming in here?"

Haggerty gulped. "Bell. Rings in here when the front door opens. He—he heard. He had his gun on me. Said—said he'd shoot if I warned..."

Latin stared at him silently.

There were big beads of perspiration on Haggerty's forehead. "Man! You—don't think that I—I would—"

"I guess not," said Latin.

He got up, and Haggerty did, too. Haggerty moved like a man in the last stages of some wasting disease. He fumbled his chair upright and sat down in it with a thump.

"Is he—is he—"

"Dead," said Latin.

Haggerty found a big silk handkerchief and began to mop at his brow with it. "And a good thing it is, indeed! I was sitting in here, you understand, as peaceful and innocent as a new-born babe, when in he came like a snake out of the weeds with that gun of his leveled at my head..."

Latin was looking at him, and Haggerty's voice died away to an unintelligible mumble.

"Liar," said Latin.

"Now indeed, sir!" Haggerty protested hastily. "Indeed and I may slip slightly from the strict path of truth on occasion but I swear—"

"You were trying to gyp me."

Haggerty gasped in horror. "I? Haggerty? Gyp you?"

"Yes. McTeague called you up and told you he had three pictures of Craig's. He described the pictures, and you knew which ones they were. You knew they were the ones you had agreed to sell me. But you thought you could void the sale because it wasn't in writing and then go and sell them to Patricia Wentworth Craig on the deal I worked out with her and leave me holding the bag."

Haggerty looked sick. "Oh, my dear sir! Oh, please! That would be unethical, not to say dishonest, and I can assure you indeed that the name of Haggerty is no less than the definition of honesty its very self!"

"Got anything else to say before I shoot you?"

"Shoot?" said Haggerty, gaping. "Me?"

"Yes." Latin gestured toward McTeague's still form. "Someone's got to take the rap for this, and I can't afford to. I'm hotter than a firecracker in this town. I think maybe he shot you and you shot him with my gun."

"Gaah!" said Haggerty, suddenly becoming incoherent again.

"Well?" said Latin.

Haggerty gulped. "Please, my dear good kind sir! If you will only allow me to speak for one short second. I assure you I would never think—No! Wait, wait! I admit it! The very thought of fifteen thousand dollars for three pictures was like a worm crawling in my miserable brain, and when this—this called and said he had the three pictures and would sell them for a thousand apiece—"

"You couldn't resist trying a double-cross.

"Right," said Haggerty miserably. "But please forgive me, my dear sir. Don't shoot me in cold blood and leave my poor wife bereaved and destitute—"

"Did McTeague bring the pictures?"

"No!" said Haggerty explosively. "Indeed, and I think the scum had every intention of cheating me by taking my money forcibly and refusing delivery!"

"My, my," said Latin. "It's surprising how dishonest people are. I suppose it never occurred to you to turn him over to the cops and get your money back—after you got the pictures."

"Certainly!" said Haggerty. "It would have been my duty as a citizen, no less! The return of the money I paid, of course, would have been incidental."

"I can imagine."

Haggerty moistened his lips and grinned in a sickeningly shaky way. "What—what—"

"I want to use your telephone."

Haggerty pushed the desk set gingerly toward him. Latin dialed a number, using the stubby barrel of the revolver. Guiterrez' voice answered explosively:

"No! I don't make no reservations over the telephone!"

"Did Pete call in?" Latin asked.

"Oh, it's you!" Guiterrez snarled. "Where are you calling from—cell three, north tier, county jail?"

"None of your business. Did Pete call

"Yes. He said the joint was crawling with cops, but they all went away and didn't leave nobody on guard. Who was the poor fella you knocked off?"

"Good-bye," said Latin. He hung up and nodded at Haggerty. "You're a rat, but you're still my agent."

Haggerty grinned more confidently.

"Indeed, it will give me the greatest pleasure—"

"Write out a bill of sale for those three pictures. Describe them, and be sure you describe the right ones."

"But, my dear sir, I haven't got—"

"I know where they are. Is there a back door to this place?"

"Yes. On the alley... What—what do you intend..."

"I'm going to wrap McTeague up in your rug and take him away from here."

"But, my dear man! Suppose the police stop you or—or find out?"

"Then I'll tell them that you shot him and hired me to hide the body."

"Huh!" said Haggerty, losing all his breath in one gasp.

"It would be easy," Latin told him calmly. "Your rug, your office. And this gun isn't registered. I could probably scare up a couple of people who would swear it was yours, too. Just remember all that before you start throwing any more curves around here."

Haggerty's moonlike face was as white as a sheet, and he stared at Latin with a sort of horrified fascination.


6. — A CORPSE GOES HOME

DARKNESS had fallen over Greene Street and left it as shadowy and deserted as it must have been in its earlier days. There were no cars on the street and no pedestrians, and the house at Number 345 looked as somber and black as though it were in mourning for the death that had occurred within it.

Latin parked in front and stayed in the car for several moments, watching the houses nearby. There were no signs of life from any of them, and finally he got out. He maneuvered the slim, light body of McTeague out of the front seat and carried it up the narrow walk and up the steps. He used the keys he had found in McTeague's pocket to open the front door and used them again to open the door of the lower apartment.

He went through the living-room where he had telephoned Haggerty such a short, violent time ago, along a dark hallway. He tried two other doors and found a bedroom.

He put McTeague down on the bed and carefully folded one side of the high, thick collar of McTeague's overcoat so that it hid the features.

He stood in the darkness quite awhile, looking down at the bed. Then he shook his head once with a little shivering jerk of his shoulders. He could feel the perspiration wet and cold on his face, and his eyes burned dryly. He drew the shades down carefully, turned on the light. He didn't look at McTeague again. He began to search the bedroom.

He found the hand-made red dancing pump in the closet, mixed in with a confusing jumble of other shoes. He left the bedroom and went on searching patiently. He found the three Craig paintings tacked to the under-side of the kitchen table.

Carrying the pictures, he went back in the living-room and dialed Madison 5050 on the telephone, and when a voice answered, said: "Tell Inspector Walters that he will find Mr. McTeague in the lower apartment at 345 Greene Street."

He hung up at once and went hurriedly out of the house, shivering a little.

It took him less than ten minutes to get back to the restaurant. He parked the black coupe in the alley and came in the rear door.

Guiterrez was standing in the middle of the big low-ceilinged kitchen. He opened his mouth, preparing himself for a blast of sarcasm, and then shut it again when he saw Latin's face.

"Well?" he said mildly.

"Pete," Latin said.

Pete was a bald, bandy-legged little man with a long drooping mustache. He had been presiding at a long sink piled high with dishes, and he came forward wiping his huge, reddened hands on his apron.

"Yus, Mr. Latin."

"The black coupe is in the alley. Take it over to Happy's and tell him to pull off the wheels and start relining the brakes. If anyone asks, it hasn't been out of the place all day."

"Yus, sir."

Guiterrez glared at Pete, said dangerously: "Get it right, dope, or I'll bounce a cleaver off your thick skull."

Latin was carrying Haggerty's blue rug bundled up under his arm. He handed it to Guiterrez and also gave him the stubby .38 revolver.

"Ditch these."

"O.K.," said Guiterrez.

"I've been here for an hour. When I went out a while ago, I came right back."

Guiterrez went to the kitchen door, opened it slightly and yelled: "Dick. Come here!"

The little waiter in the grease-stained coat slid in through the door. "Yeah?"

"Latin's been here for over an hour."

"Absolutely," said Dick.

"Fix it so he can get in his booth."

"Yup."


DICK went out into the main dining-room again. Latin waited next to the swing door. In about ten seconds there was the jangling crash of a tray of crockery breaking. Instantly afterwards two voices began screeching frantically.

Latin pushed the door open. Dick and a tall, bald waiter were face to face at the front end of the restaurant, howling insults at each other. Broken crockery lay in windrows around them. Every patron remaining in the place was staring at the disturbance in open-mouthed amazement, and Latin slipped unseen into the end booth.

The argument stopped as suddenly as it had started. Dick came back to the booth, carrying an ashtray full of snubbed out cigarettes. He put it down in front of Latin and put the clean one that was on the table in his pocket. From under his huge apron he produced a bottle half-full of brandy and a glass. He spilled some brandy on the linoleum table-top, smeared it expertly with the palm of his hand, and made overlapping concentric rings in it with the bottom of the bottle and the bottom of the glass.

He went away without a word. Latin sat quietly, smoking and sipping brandy.

It took Walters about fifteen minutes to get there. His face was tight and hard and savagely strained. He knew where to go. He came hard-heeled down the aisle and stopped in front of the last booth, glowering down at Latin, his shoulders hunched dangerously, his hands pushed deep in his pockets.

"Hello, Walters," Latin said casually.

Guiterrez came out of the kitchen and said: "I don't like cops around here. They stink up the place. You gonna pinch Latin again, I hope?"

"Shut up," said Walters. He was looking at the ashtray and the wet rings the brandy bottle had made. "How long has Latin been here?"

"Too long," said Guiterrez. "Over an hour."

Walters jerked around. "An hour!"

"Sure," said Guiterrez.

"Where's his waiter?"

"Dick," said Guiterrez.

Dick came up and squinted insolently at Walters. "Huh! So it's flat-feet now. Latin sure pals around with crummy characters. What do you want, chum?" he asked.

Walters was breathing noisily through his nose. "Did you serve Latin?"

"Yeah. Me and the other slaves drew lots for him, and I lost. Who wants to know?"

"I do. Let me see your tag."

Dick produced one. "There. See, there's his name and the number of the booth and my number. He had the special dinner with the double broiled steak à la Guiterrez and soup and salad—"

"All right." Walters handed the slip back to him. He nodded to Latin. "Let me see your gun."

"I left it at home," Latin said. "If you want to go look, it's in the top drawer of the desk in the living-room along with my license to carry it."

"Damn you," said Walters. "You know you've got four or five guns with licenses to fit."

"Oh, no. I lost all but the one."

Walters drew a deep breath. "And I suppose you're having the valves ground on your car?"

"No. I'm getting the brakes relined."

Walters glared at Guiterrez and Dick.

"Beat it, you two."

Guiterrez went back into the kitchen, and Dick sauntered toward the front of the restaurant.


WALTERS slid into the seat opposite Latin. He looked both tired and resigned now.

"All right. You win. I wanted to get that McTeague myself, but I should have known I'd trip over you before I got through. I can't prove anything, and I don't know what good it would do me if I did. Just tell me—off the record—how you spotted her."

"McTeague was a very peculiar looking gent," Latin said absently. "You see a lot of peculiar looking gents here and there, but you seldom see one that paints his finger-nails dark red."

"Damn!" Walters snarled. "Why didn't you tell me that?"

"Listen, I'd been shot at point-blank and fallen down stairs on my head. I didn't notice it at first myself. I just knew there was something wrong with his hands. I didn't realize what until I saw Nan Carter dialing the telephone when she called the police. Her nails were the same color, but that was no sure sign she was McTeague. That color is popular with women now."

"Go on," said Walters gloomily.

"I got to thinking about it, after what you told me, and the whole setup pointed to a woman. I mean, cooking up dope in candy. Would a guy think of that, or know how if he did? She was on her own. She made trips to Mexico, looking for stuff to make statues of, and she probably smuggled the stuff in herself. She didn't want to risk selling it to regular addicts who might lead the police to her.

"And then the shooting. You know, the ordinary woman thinks all you have to do to kill a guy is point a pistol at his general direction and start blazing away. That's just what she did. She was lucky with Gardner, but not so lucky with me. Any man as quick on the shoot as all that would have practiced up a little bit. And the costume was a give-away. It covered up too much."

"Ummm," said Walters.

"And she could have pulled the job off tonight very easily. She wasn't wearing anything under that house-coat. All she had to do, after I went upstairs, was to shuck it off, put on the overcoat and hat and some men's shoes and the glasses, pat some powder on her face, and hike upstairs. She grabbed the pictures, shot at me, and tripped me up on the stairs. Then she ran down the front steps, took a shot at her own door, screamed, and ditched the clothes in the closet. She was back in the house-coat and part way back up the stairs before I could pull myself together."

"Why?" said Walters.

"The best reason of all. She was broke. Killing Gardner put the kibosh on the dope business. She couldn't sell any of her work, couldn't even collect rent or money for the dope from Craig. She knew I'd spot that Craig was on the habit, and she knew if I did, I'd get the pictures away from him. She wanted them, because she knew just as well as I did where she could cash in with them. She figured that I was a crook, and that if she had the pictures she could make a deal with me to split what I got from Patricia Wentworth Craig. She figured I was tough enough to make Craig consent to the sale."

Walters sat up straight. "What?"

Latin went on casually: "That's why I made a deal with Haggerty. I figured that McTeague—whether it was Nan Carter or who—would try to deal through him because he had the best excuse for having those pictures. I figured right."

"Wait a minute," said Walters. "Are you telling me that McTeague—Nan Carter—didn't kill Craig?"

"No. She didn't know he was dead until I told her. She thought I'd just smacked him one."

"And—who did kill him?"

"I wouldn't know," Latin said amiably. "I think maybe I'll find out pretty quick, though. How about this Mona party?"

Walters' mouth was open slightly. He shut it and swallowed hard and said: "That was straight stuff. She was Craig's model, and she did get into trouble. She kept after him until just about a week ago. Then apparently she got a lot of dough somewhere. Her landlady told me Mona was sporting a whopper of a roll. Then she just up and disappeared."

Latin's eyes were narrowed thoughtfully. "A big roll. And Craig was broke. Well, well."

"Well what?"

"Nothing," said Latin. He chewed on his lower lip. "Sorry about McTeague, Walters. But she had eight setup shots at me, and that's about all I believe in giving anybody—man, woman or child. She was bound to get lucky again if she kept it up long enough, and she didn't give me much of a chance to sit down and discuss it calmly. I should have told you sooner what I guessed, maybe, but—I wanted those pictures. If they had gotten sucked into Craig's estate I would never have been able to prove ownership over his other creditors. Fifteen thousand dollars ain't hay, Walters."

"No," said Walters woodenly, watching him.

Latin snubbed out his cigarette. "I'm going to be busy for awhile. Have dinner on me tomorrow night?"

"What time?"

"About eight, I think."

"All right," said Walters. "I'm getting a little tired of you, my friend. You better make it good, Latin. Damned good."

"The dinner, you mean?"

"No, I don't mean the dinner."


7. — REVENGE IS SWEET

PATRICIA WENTWORTH CRAIG said: "Why, it's dirty! It's a horrible place, really!"

"You're telling me, lady," said Dick, the waiter, confidentially. "You should work here for a while. Rats in the stew, cockroaches in the salad, and the second cook has a slight case of leprosy. If we didn't pay off every week, the health department would've closed us long ago."

Patricia Wentworth Craig stared at him in a sort of disbelieving dismay. She and Hastings were sitting in Latin's booth. It was the dinner hour, and the bedlam was in full swing again.

"You waitin' for Latin?" Dick inquired, leaning over the back of the booth.

"Yes," said Hastings. His round face was shiny with nervous prostration, and he tugged at his collar. "He told us to come here tonight..." He hesitated.

"Where is he?" Patricia Wentworth Craig demanded.

Dick took a water glass from under his apron, polished it carefully on the greasy edge of his coat, and set it down in front of her. "Latin? Oh, he's probably off on a bat. He gets drunk every night that he don't load himself up on marihuana. A very low character, that Latin."

"This is absurd!" Patricia Wentworth Craig snapped at her husband. "Why did he ask us to meet him here? Why can't we see him at his office?"

Hastings shook his head apologetically. "But, my dear, he hasn't got an office."

Latin came down the aisle and nodded to them. "Good evening. Sorry to keep you waiting." He slid into the opposite seat of the booth. "I've had quite a lot of running around to do today." He was carrying a paper-wrapped parcel, and he put it down on the table in front of him.

"This is an impossible place!" Patricia Wentworth Craig snapped. "Mr. Latin, if it is your idea that you can safely humiliate me, I will soon disabuse—"

"No, no," said Latin, smiling. "It was quite important that I should see you here for several reasons."

"With this uproar and confusion, no one can talk—"

"You'll get used to it," Latin assured her. "Have you the money—in cash?"

Her thin lips tightened savagely. "Let me tell you, Mr. Latin, that this is nothing more nor less than the most brazen sort of blackmail, and if my husband hadn't been such a stupid fool as to tell you—"

Hastings said uncomfortably: "But, my dear, how could I possibly know?"

"Water under the bridge," said Latin. "Have you got the money?"

Patricia Wentworth Craig took some bills out of her purse, wadded them carelessly together and threw them on the table in front of him.

Latin straightened them out and counted them. "Thanks. Give her the pictures, Dick."

Dick produced the three canvases from under his apron and slid them across the table. "Lousy stuff, if you ask me," he said judicially. "Now I go for these dames in bathing suits like they put on calendars. Guiterrez has got one in the kitchen that really knocks your eye out."

Patricia Wentworth Craig looked up from the pictures. "Is it really necessary for this—this greasy person to stand here and gape at us?"

"Oh, I can take a hint," Dick said. He strolled back into the kitchen.


PATRICIA WENTWORTH CRAIG examined each of the pictures carefully. "These are Winston's work. All right, Mr. Latin. We'll leave now. You may think that you have put over something very clever, but you'll find that I make a bad enemy."

"Don't hurry," Latin said amiably. "I've got some things I'd like to show you."

He unwrapped the package on the table and revealed two red leather dancing pumps with stilt-like heels and a small square of three-quarter inch soft pine board. The piece of wood had a black circle painted in the center of it, and the circle and the wood surrounding it was pockmarked with dozens of sharp little depressions.

Latin pointed at the pumps. "Your shoes," he said to Patricia Wentworth Craig. "This one I found on the floor beside your cousin's body. This one was in your shoe rack in your bedroom closet."

Her thin face was chalk-white. "You—dared to search in my—"

"Sure," said Latin. "This board was on the top shelf of the same closet. Look at it. Know what I think it is? A target. Somebody has been using it to practice up whacking people with the heel of a slipper. It's quite a trick. I tried it myself. A slipper is light, you know, and you'd think it was sort of harmless. But if you practice up on your aim a bit and take a real full-arm swing, you can hit damned hard. Hard enough to snap a spine—providing you were an art student before you became an art collector and had studied anatomy and knew just where to hit."

Patricia Wentworth Craig said: "Why, you—you—"

"It wouldn't be the first time you and your cousin had come to blows. He threw you out of his studio bodily once and you've handed him a few off-hand slaps at art meetings. You told him a couple of times you'd kill him if he didn't stop telling people you were a dummy about art."

"You fool," said Patricia Wentworth Craig.

Hastings stuttered: "Now see here, Mr. Latin. I can't have—I won't stand—"

"How did you find out Craig was dead last night?" Latin asked casually.

"Ah?" said Hastings. "Why—why, a person who said he was a reporter called to ask if—if he were Patricia's cousin, and I thought you—you might..."

Latin nodded at Patricia Wentworth Craig. "You should learn to manage your temper."

"Do you dare to insinuate—"

A muscle in Hastings' round face twitched spasmodically, but he had control of his voice. "My dear, please don't say anything more. He—he is actually accusing you of murdering Winston. Mr. Latin, I warn you solemnly that this has gone too far for any attempts at evasion on your part. You will find yourself in serious trouble unless you can explain just what you mean clearly and at once."

"You explain," Latin invited.

Hastings stared incredulously. "Eh?"

"You explain. You cooked it up."


THE booth seemed like a quiet, still pocket in the midst of the clatter and racket of the restaurant.

Latin nodded at Patricia Wentworth Craig. "You should learn to control your temper and brush up on your manners a bit, too. Things like this are liable to happen if you don't. Hastings killed Craig, and he had every intention of framing the murder on you. He hates you."

"Slander!" Hastings gasped. "You can't... Lies!"

"Why, no," said Latin. "You hate her because you once loved her and you married her because you did. But everyone thought you married her for her money—even she did. Everyone made fun of you—and she despised you. She thought you were a nincompoop and a milksop and a dimwit, and she never hesitated to tell you so. She wouldn't even take your name. You were Mr. Patricia Wentworth Craig."

"Lies," Hastings whispered hoarsely. "I won't listen—"

"Yes, you will. You made your own money, and you had a lot of pride in your ability. You didn't like being her stooge. But you never had a chance to show what you could do. She wouldn't trust you to buy a postage stamp, let alone consider your advice on any of her business affairs. But this Craig layout gave you a chance. You decided to show her what a smooth worker you were. You would get on the good side of Craig and get him to sell her some of his pictures. Isn't that true?"

Hastings said: "Well, I—I did."

"Yes. But Craig was away out of your class. You'd never dealt with anyone like him before. If he had just pretended to be taken in and then given you the horse laugh, you could probably have stood it. You were used to being laughed at, but he did a lot more than that, didn't he?"

"I—I don't know what—"

"Mona," said Latin. "She was in trouble and pestering Craig, and he got one of his nasty ideas. At one of those parties of his, he dipped a little morphine in one of your drinks. You passed out. Later he sent Mona around to see you. She told you that you were responsible. You were horrified. You couldn't remember what happened. You couldn't prove you weren't. You didn't dare risk the scandal. You paid her off. And then the worst thing of all happened. You went to see Craig again, and he told you the whole dirty scheme and laughed in your face. Not only that, but he threatened to tell his cousin."

Hastings' lips moved stiffly and soundlessly.

"So," said Latin casually, "you killed him. You had read about me in the papers, and you thought I was just smart enough and crooked enough to do a Charlie McCarthy for you. After you left me here, you waited until I started to go to Craig's, beat it there ahead of me, sneaked in the back and socked him with your wife's dancing pump."

Patricia Wentworth Craig laughed suddenly and shrilly. "Why, you poor fool! You're not seriously trying to tell me that silly, stupid Bernard would have either the nerve or the brains to plan anything as elaborate—"

That did it. Hastings' round face was livid with rage suddenly, and he seemed to swell up until the booth was too small for him.

"Damn you," he whispered. "You and your money and your supercilious air and your smirking rat of a cousin. Yes! I killed him! But you can't prove it—you can never prove it! I'm stupid, am I? We'll see. We'll see what you think about that when you face a jury. You think it will make any difference what Latin knows? He's a jailbird and a crook. His testimony is worth nothing. I framed you, and you're still framed! I've got letters, evidence, witnesses—everything!"

"Bernard," said Patricia Wentworth Craig in a choked, horrified voice.

Hastings laughed on a cracked, high note. "I'm leaving you—"

"Yeah," said Inspector Walters, coming out of the kitchen. "With me."

Hastings gasped and choked. "You—you can't prove it—"

He stopped, watching with dazed fascination as Latin reached out slowly and pulled the chintz curtain at the back of the booth aside and revealed the round gleam of a microphone.

"Walters and Guiterrez and three or four waiters heard everything you said."

Hastings seemed to melt inside his clothes until he was a fat pasty-faced little man with stiff lips that moved and made no sound.

Patricia Wentworth Craig said: "I see—now. You don't have an office because—this is your office. This is your restaurant. You own it. And all these men—they work for you and help you..."

Latin was smiling slightly. "Yes, madam. We have a very nice dinner tonight. Would you like to try it?"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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