Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.

PETER CHEYNEY

MURDER WITH A TWIST

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2017



First published in Illustrated, Odham's, London, 28 Oct 1939
Published under syndication in, e.g.,
The Sydney Sportsman, Australia, 23 February 1942 (this version)
Collected in Mister Caution—Mister Callaghan
William Collins, London, England 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-05-30
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author



SOMEWHERE a clock struck ten. A gust of rain swept against the office window with a staccato patter. Callaghan, apparently immersed in the business of lighting a cigarette, swept a quick look over the woman who sat on the other side of his desk, noted the fear in her eyes, saw in the oblique slant of light from his tilted desk lamp that her hands were trembling.

'Take it easy,' he said with a reassuring grin. 'Nothing's going to happen to you in here. We don't allow murder in the office.' He blew a smoke ring.

She laughed a little harshly. Callaghan pushed his cigarette-case towards her, lit her cigarette. She drew a breath of smoke down into her lungs.

'She'll get me,' she, said. 'If I don't do something quick, she'll get me. What's the good of my pretendin' I'm not scared? I'm scared stiff. You've got to look after me, Mr. Callaghan. We've got to get her first, otherwise'—she shrugged—'well, it's curtains for me.'

Callaghan said:—'How long has this been going on? You must be pretty tired of it.'

She smiled cynically. 'Tired! Don't make me laugh. I'm so tired of it that I've thought of jumpin' in the river before now just to get a rest.' She stubbed out her cigarette and leaned towards him. A breath of the expensive perfume she used came to his nostrils.

'It was a year ago,' she said. 'The district attorney in Kansas City had me picked up by the Homicide Squad one night when I was goin' home from a dance. He told me they'd pinched Floyd Merrin that afternoon, that I was the girl who could send him to the electric chair if I talked. The D.A. said he'd hold me as a material witness for six months if necessary until I came across. Well—I was the mug. I went on the witness stand. I said my piece and they sent Floyd to the death-house. Two days before they gave him the hot squat he wrote me a little note. Here it is.'

Illustration

She fumbled with her handbag, produced a piece of typed notepaper, pushed it across the desk. Callaghan read:—


Jenny will look after you, sweetheart. And I've told her to take her time. She'll be seeing you. So long, squealer.—Floyd.


'Was I scared?' the woman went on. 'Plenty scared. If you knew anything about Floyd Merrin's wife—Jenny, the Blonde, they call her—you'd understand. She's poison. I thought I'd get away from her, that if I got about enough I'd shake her off. I flew down to Oklahoma. Within two days she telephoned me at the roomin' house where I was stayin' and told me sort of casually that one day when she'd time she'd get around to me and shoot some of the good looks off my face. She told me that she an' Floyd had had a meetin' about me in the death-house in the Kansas City gaol the day before they burned him. That they'd arranged that after he was electrocuted sh'ed tail along after me for quite a bit until I was good an' frightened, an' then, then—when I couldn't stand any more of it—she'd get me. She can shoot, too—Floyd taught her.'

Callaghan lit another cigarette.

'Go on,' he said.

'From Oklahoma I doubled back to Greensburg in Kansas. She came after me. I had a note from her there. I went down to New Mexico, an' she telephoned me there. Then I went to Chicago, then on to New York. But although I dyed my hair black, she was still with me. I got a letter in Chicago, and a note with some lilies, tied with black ribbon, in New York.

'By this time I wasn't feelin' so good. I made up my mind to come over here. I checked in here two days ago. I'm stayin' at the Maybury Apartments off Baker Street under the name of Mary Elvaston. Only one person knew where I was goin' to stay in London. An old pal of mine—a man I trust—Parelli. I got a cable from him this morning. Read it.'

She brought a cable form out of her handbag, pushed it across to Callaghan. She moved nervously as another gust of rain swept against the window. Callaghan read the cable:—


MISS DALE MONTANA, CARE OF AMERICAN EXPRESS CO., HAYMARKET, LONDON, ENGLAND. JENNY IS WISE. SHE HAD SOMEBODY ON THE BOAT TAILING YOU. SHE HAS LEFT FOR ENGLAND. SAYS SHE'S GOING TO FINISH THE JOB THERE. GRAPEVINE SAYS SHE IS GOING TO STAY AT THE CARDROSS HOTEL, LONDON. WATCH YOUR STEP, KID, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE. JAKE.


Callaghan folded the cable and put it in his waistcoat pocket. He tilted the lamp a little so that the light fell fairly on her face. He looked at her. He was thinking that she was too beautiful to be scared to death. Her eyes were restless. She poised herself nervously on the edge of the chair. Her beautifully cut suit, tailored hat and smart coiffure could not hide the stark fear that showed in her face. He said:—

'We can go to the police. They're pretty good over here. They don't like gun-girls running around shooting at a pretty lady just because her evidence sent a husband to the death house'

She gave a short, sarcastic laugh. 'Don't be funny,' she said. 'Supposin' we go to these English cops. Well, what happens? They give me police protection, don't they? They put some guy on to keep an eye on me, and another to keep an eye on her. She'll soon find that out. An' she'll lay off. She just won't do a thing. She'll wait. She knows I can't stay here forever.'

She leaned towards him. 'I heard about you,' she said softly. 'I heard you were the smartest private dick in this country. That you'd got something. They said there was nothin' you couldn't do if you wanted to. They said you were smart.'

She fumbled in her bag, produced a thick packet of notes—ten-pound notes. She put them on the desk.

'That's for you, Mr. Callaghan,' she said. 'You get me out of this. There's two thousand in your money says you can do it. Well ?'

Callaghan grinned. The grin illuminated his face, showed the white, strong teeth. 'Have you got an idea?' he asked.

"Yes,' she said. 'My idea is to have the showdown. Give me a cigarette."

He gave her a cigarette and lit it. She inhaled two or three lungfuls of smoke. Then:—

'The law here says that a person can shoot in self-defence, doesn't it? There's only one way out of this. We've got to have a showdown.'

Callaghan grinned again. He liked nerve.

'You mean,' he said, slowly, 'that you'd let her bring this vendetta to a head. Let her have a shot at you, and then―'

'And then you get her,' she said softly. 'You or one of your boys. But they'd have to be good—an' quick. She's a crack shot with a hand-gun.'

Callaghan leaned back in his chair. He smoked silently for a while, then he said:—

'What does she look like?'

'She's of medium height, she's got a good figure. She's got platinum blonde hair, an' it's always snappily done, with lots of curls an' bits. She never wears a hat. She wears glasses, tortoiseshell rims. She always dresses in black― ever since they electrocuted Floyd. She carries a .32 Colt automatic an' she's poison with it.'

He grinned at her. 'You couldn't help recognising a woman like that if you saw her. Have you got a gun?'

She shook her head.

'No,' she said. 'I had one an' your clever Customs guys took it off me at Southampton. So I haven't a chance if she gets at me.'

Callaghan stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. All the time she was watching him, waiting for his reply. After a bit he put out his hand and swept the pile of banknotes towards him. He counted them and put them in his breast pocket.

Then he said:—

'All right, Miss Montana, I'm working for you. Here's the way we've got to do it. I'm having my secretary take a statement from you now. You'll tell her exactly what you've told me. You'll sign the statement and we'll file it. Understand?'

She nodded. She was beginning to relax. His grim smile seemed to give her courage.

'That statement is for Scotland Yard to read after the show's over. It's to cover me. My duty is to go to the Yard now and advise them of what you've told me. My excuse for not doing that is that if I did do it she'd probably find a way of getting behind police protection or else wait until you were on your way back to America and then kill you.

'We're being paid to protect you, and if somebody tries to shoot our client we say we're entitled to shoot first. Scotland Yard may not like it, but what can they do—afterwards?'

She nodded. A little smile began to play about ner mouth.

'Your friend, Parelli, says Jenny the Blonde is going to stay at the Cardross Hotel. I'm going to put one of my best men on there. Directly we know that she's arrived there, I'll take him off. We won't give her a chance to suspect that we know she's here. Then I'm going to put some first-class men on observation at the Maybury Apartments. The Maybury is directly opposite the Glenfurze Private Hotel. We'll take a room on the first floor and check everybody who goes into the Maybury. I'll take an apartment at the Maybury, and put another operative inside. If Jenny the Blonde wants gun-play well give her as good as she gives.'

'You're pretty swell," she said. "I'm beginning to breathe easily for the first time for months.'

Callaghan pressed his bell button. Effie Thompson, cool, efficient and pretty, came in, notebook and pencil in hand.

'Get through to MacOliver,' said Callaghan. 'Tell him to get down to the Cardross Hotel and report directly a woman of medium height, good figure, blonde tortoiseshell rimmed glasses, platinum blonde hair, probably wearing no hat, arrives there. She may register in the name of Mrs. Floyd Merrin, or Mrs. Merrin. Jones can relieve MacOliver every four hours. Directly that woman arrives I'm to be telephoned, either here or at my flat. Understand?'

Effie Thompson nodded.

'When you've done that come back and take a statement from Miss Montana here. She'll dictate it and sign it. Put it in the safe. When that's done get through to O'Brien, Kells, Harvey, Watson and Vining. Tell O'Brien to go to the Glenfurze Hotel in Hailham Street off Baker Street and take a double suite on the first or second floor, opposite the Maybury Appartments. O'Brien and Kells are to live there until further notice. I'll give them their instructions personally. Harvey, Watson, and Vining are to stand by. Have you got that?'

Effie Thompson said she'd got it and went back to her own office.

Dale Montana said:—

'You don't waste any time—Slim—'

Callaghan grinned and lit another cigarette. After a while Effie Thompson came in and said:—

'MacOliver's on his way to the Cardross now by cab. I've told O'Brien what to do. He's ringing the others.'

She flipped open her notebook.

'Right, said' Callaghan. 'Now we'll take that statement.'


IT was midnight. Callaghan, smoking cigarettes at his desk, grabbed the receiver off the hook as the telephone jangled. It was MacOliver.

'She's just checked in at the Cardross,' he said. 'She's come from Southampton. She was wearing a black fur coat, no hat—and hornrims. She's a platinum blonde all right. She's registered as Mrs. Jenny Merrin. What do I do?'

'Get into a cab and go straight to the Maybury Apartments in Hallham Street, off Baker Street,' said Callaghan. 'I've taken a suite for you on the floor underneath Miss Montana's suite. You'll find Harvey there already. One of you is to keep an eye on the Montana staircase all the time. I don't suppose Jenny will try anything tonight. But keep your eyes skinned.'

He hung up the receiver, walked to the window, and stood looking out into the dark street beneath.

Fifteen minutes later the telephone jangled again. Over the line came the panic-stricken voice of Dale Montana.

'Listen,' she said, hoarsely. 'I've just seen her. Ten minutes ago I went out for a breath of air. I walked round the block. I was just turning back into Hallham Street when she came out of a doorway. She took me by the shoulders and she said: "You mug—don't think you can ditch me. I'm going to get you within the next day or two. Go home and think about it—" Then she slapped me across the face.'

Callaghan said: 'Take it easy. Don't start jittering. It won't get you anywhere. I've got people in the Maybury who'll look after you. Just stay indoors. I'm coming round now.'

'Please come right away,' she said. 'And for the love of Pete bring me a gun. I can't stand this. I'm goin' mad—please bring me a gun—I'll feel safer.'

'All right,' said Callaghan, 'I'll bring you a gun. And don't worry, Youll be all right.' He snapped the receiver back on its hook, unlocked a drawer, took out a Luger automatic and put it in his pocket. Five minutes later his cab stopped before the Maybury Apartments. Callaghan stood in front of the fireplace looking down at Dale Montana.

She was huddled up in her armchair. She looked like a trapped rabbit.'

'I can't stand it—,' she muttered. 'I can't stand any more of this. She was awful—she looked like a fiend. Her fingers felt like steel. She'll find a way to get in here and get me.'

Callaghan said: 'No, she won't. We'll look after her. Take your coat off and relax.'

She got up unsteadily. Callaghan helped her take off her coat. On one sleeve were two long, platinum-blonde hairs. He stood holding them in his fingers, his face grim. She saw them and shuddered.

'They must have come off on, my coat when I was trying to get away from her,' she said. 'I'll never wear that coat again.'

'Don't be silly,' said Callaghan, twisting the blonde hairs round his finger. 'You're being childish. Turn in and have a good night's rest. Don't go out tomorrow. She can't get at you. I've three men on the floor below. They're watching the stairs. The lift won't work any more tonight. I've seen to that. Nobody can get up to this floor without our seeing them. Take it easy.'

She pulled herself together.

'All right,' she said. 'But leave me a gun. I'll feel better.' He shrugged his shoulders, took his Luger automatic out of his pocket and put It on the mantelpiece.

'If that'll help you to feel better you keep it,' he said. 'Good-night. Go to bed and don't worry. You're quite safe. And lock the door after me."

She tried to smile. 'You bet,' she said. She walked with him to the door. He waited until he heard her turn the key in the lock. Then he walked along the passage, twisting and untwisting the long platinum-blonde hairs in his fingers.

Under the electric light at the end of the corridor he drew them out to their full length, admiring their sheen. Then he sat down on the stairs and called softly to O'Brien, who was watching in the corridor below.


IT was three o'clock.

Callaghan stood in the dark corridor, waiting. He heard the click as Dale Montana's door opened. His fingers went up to the electric light switch. He snapped it on, and stepped in front of her as she moved out of the room into the passage. She saw the pistol m his hand.

'It's no good, Jenny,' he said. 'The game's up. You won't get Dale Montana—the real Dale Montana― tonight or any other night. I've two men outside the door of her room down the corridor. And you can hand over those guns. You won't need them.'

She leaned against the passage way, her eyes glittering evilly. He put out his hand for the pistols.

'It was a nice scheme," said Callaghan evenly, 'a scheme worthy of Mrs. Floyd Merrin. You've been after Dale Montana for along time. You swore to kill her because her evidence sent your husband to the chair. She's been running away from you for months.

'You knew she was arriving here tonight and that she'd taken rooms here. You came to my office and told me that you were Dale Montana, and showed me that faked note and cable so that I could be the stooge who was going to prove you'd shot her in self defence.

'You told me she was arriving at the Cardross tonight. Just before twelve o'clock you put on that platinum-blonde wig and the horn-rimmed spectacles and registered in the Cardross as Mrs. Jenny Merrin, so that my operative would check the arrival of the killer. Then you took off your wig and horn-rims and came back here.

'You telephoned me that story about having met her just so that I'd think she was in the neighborhood, waiting to strike. You got me to bring that gun so that you could have two guns—one to put in her hand after you'd fired a shot out of it after you'd killed her, and the other—my gun—that you were going to shoot her with.

'Everybody in the apartments would have heard the two shots. Then you would have taken her passport and left your own in its place. The description almost tallies—you were blonde yourself originally. And that statement at my office and my evidence would have got you off. It would have been self-defence.'

She began to laugh softly—horribly—

'How did you get wise to me?' she said hoarsely.

'The two platinum-blonde hairs I took off your coat tonight,' said Callaghan evenly. 'They felt rather funny when I fingered them. I looked at them carefully after I left you. They weren't human hair. They were artificial. They came out of a wig. Then I got suspicious. I checked through the list of people staying here. I found that Miss Dale Montana—the real one—arrived here tonight at eight o'clock. Then I got it."

She shrugged her shoulders. -

'They were right,' she said; 'You are smart. Well—what are we waiting for?'

'The police,' said Callaghan. 'They'll be here in a minute.'


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.