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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN

THE SOUND OF DEATH

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RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

First published in Mammoth Mystery, June 1946

First e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-08-06

Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Mammoth Mystery, June 1946, with "The Sound of Death"



Illustration

The kid took to his heels, and the cop
took out after him with his gun drawn.



Over and over in his mind the phrase ran: "You'll never get
home, you'll never get home"—that is, as a living man!



TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER I

ALL the way the wheels of the train had clicked rhythmically, incessantly, "You'll never get home... you'll never get home... you'll never get home." And yet, here we were, rolling into the big, smudgy depot that meant Chicago. And this was home. Africa was very far away. Tunis and the smell of death. The white antiseptic hospitals and the smiling nurses. But the sound of death was near. The sound of death was in my ears and deep in my mind and I wondered if I'd ever lose it completely.

There was a taxi, and the spoken name of a familiar hotel, and Michigan Boulevard, and the sparkling clean parks with bright lawns and the lake beyond.

There was sleep, a shower, privacy, the freedom of a hotel room where no one watched and no one cared what you did. A few drinks.

And then the grim business to be started, with the sound of death coming again to my ears, even in the 'crowded Loop. A familiar building, a familiar room. A girl behind a counter. A smile. Then the big, ledger-like volume that contained half a month's history of a city, indexed in the pages of the back-issue newspapers it held.

I took the back-copy file to a quiet corner.

"April 1st to 15th," it said on the cover.

Pages turned. Scanning. Then the issue. The one I'd wanted to see. The story, page 3, April 6th.


YOUTHFUL BANDIT SLAIN
FLEEING STORE HOLD-UP

The body of a young gunman, slain in a West Side alley, late last night, while fleeing the scene of a grocery store robbery, was today identified as Thomas Christopher, 18, of the Buena Vera Apartments, 3443 West Norg Street.

Young Christopher, brother of a former prominent city attorney now serving in the armed forces overseas, was shot by Police Officer Henry Boyko, when the latter was summoned to the scene of the robbery by cries from the owner of the victimized shop.

Officer Boyko saw the youth dashing across the street as the storekeeper stood in his doorway shouting and gesticulating. He drew his gun, pursuing the young bandit into a nearby alley. When the youth refused to heed the policeman's commands to halt, Boyko fired four times, the last two shots felling Christopher.

George Propupolus, owner of the store at 2467 Marlin Avenue, said the youth entered the shop as it was closing. He drew a gun and...


I read the news story half a dozen times, and by then I was sure I had the details—as they'd been recounted —thoroughly memorized.

Shutting the big file book of back-issue newspapers, I took it over to the girl at the counter.

She smiled. "Find what you wanted?"

"Yes. Thanks."

I turned away from the counter and almost ran headlong into a dapper, handsome, swarthy little guy in a pearl-gray fedora.

"Well I'm damned. Christopher-Johnny Christopher!" the natty little guy exclaimed.


IT took half an instant for me to get him into focus, then I was able to say: "Hello, Nick. How are you?"

Nick Alex had grabbed my hand and was pumping my arm up and down like a slot machine handle.

"Brother," he said, "you look like a million bucks. When did you blow into town?"

Alex had very white, very even teeth. They made a beautiful smile against his olive skin. I told him I'd gotten into town the night before.

"Where you staying?" he demanded.

I gave him the name of my hotel.

"Look, why don't you shed that flea house? We got room at my place. We'd sure as hell like to have you stay a while with us."

"Thanks," I said. "But I couldn't, Nick."

He looked tremendously disappointed, but I knew he was relieved. He kept grinning and shaking his head in a polite facsimile of happy surprise. Then his expression sobered to sincere concern.

"You had it rough, eh Johnny?"

"Not as rough as a lot of other guys," I said. "The ones who didn't come back."

"Long in the hospital?"

"Pretty long," I said. "Had to learn how to use my new leg."

He looked even more soberly concerned. "I heard about that. Too damn bad. Could have been worse, though. And you're back, for good."

"Yeah," I said. "I'm back."

"Look," said Alex, "you come out to the house, huh? The missus will fix you a big spread. My address is still the same. You give me a ring anytime, see?"

"Sure," I said. "I'll do that. Still in the same business?"

Nick Alex smiled his white, handsome smile.

"Believe it or not, Johnny, I'm strictly legit now."

"Say that slowly," I said.

"No fooling," Alex protested. "Oh, I still have a few of the books, and a couple of gambling clubs out in the suburbs. But otherwise I'm clean. Politics is my speed, now."

"You always had a hand in politics," I said, "when it was to your advantage."

"But not in the open, like now," he said. "I'm even thinking of running for state senator next primary," he added proudly. "But to hell with that. What about you? What're your plans? Going back into the shyster business?"

I shrugged. "I don't know yet," I said. "I have to look around. I have to get adjusted."

Nick Alex nodded vigorously. "Sure, sure. See what you mean." He glanced at his watch. "Say, Johnny. Excuse me. I'm in a rush. You remember that invite out to the house, huh? Call me, anytime."

"Sure," I said, "you count on it."

We both smiled, and he moved away, each of us knowing neither meant the words and actions we'd gone through. I watched him go out through the same door by which I'd entered five or ten minutes before.

I walked over to the big counter where a girl was getting out the big, bound, back-issue volumes of papers for people.

I caught her attention.

"That gentleman who just left," I began.

She looked surprised.

"Could you tell me what back-issue file he was looking through?"

She looked doubtful, then suspicious.

"Really," she began, "I—uh—"

"It's very important," I said earnestly. And surprisingly enough, that did it.

She pointed to a bound file copy lying at the far end of the counter on the right.

"He was looking through that one," she said quickly. Then she moved off, as if washing her hands of any further complication with the matter.

I went down to the end of the counter and glanced at the file copy. It was closed, so I couldn't tell what particular copy he'd been scanning, or what page. But it was for the same half month period as the back-issue book I'd been paging through, April 1st to 15th.

A glance at my watch told me I'd best be getting on. I'd found out all I needed from this source, and there were other rounds to make.

I went out through the door Alex had used as an exit. He wasn't in sight by the time I'd reached the street. A cab pulled up at the curb to let out passengers, and I went over to it and piled in.

I gave the driver my address and sat back, lighting a cigarette.

There was a funny tingling in my spine, and I sat there wondering what it was going to be like to see home again....


CHAPTER II

I WENT up the steps of the tired old brownstone two-flat and pushed the buzzer on the doorbell to the right. While I was waiting I stared at the name scrawled in the card beneath the bell of the other door. It seemed funny to see a different name beneath that bell.

Then the door on the right opened, and I heard Mrs. Spiros say:

"Hello, what do you—"

She saw me, then, and recognition lopped her sentence off in the middle. She gasped sharply.

"Hello, Mrs. Spiros," I said.

"Why, why it's Johnny—Johnny Christopher!" she exclaimed. She sounded as pleased as she was surprised, and I wondered if she really was. "Come in, come in right away, Johnny," she said.

In the living room I took a seat on a comfortable horsehair sofa and stared at Mrs. Spiros. She didn't seem changed much. Maybe a little older, maybe a little more tired—just a little bit more of everything she'd been before.

She had a towel wrapped around her gray hair. She'd just washed it. A big quilted housecoat was wrapped comfortably around her expansive bulk, and her bare feet had been hastily shoved into blue slippers that were considerably frayed.

I could smell spaghetti cooking in the kitchen, and the sunlight was warm as it filtered through the worn lace curtains. Everything was suddenly familiar again.

Mrs. Spiros took a seat in an over stuffed armchair across from me and said:

"Tell me everything, Johnny. Tell me when you got into town and how you feel now, and what you plan on doing."

I smiled a little.

"I just got in this morning," I told her. "I'm staying at a hotel down in the Loop. I'm feeling pretty good. I don't exactly know what I'm going to do, yet."

"You look just swell, Johnny," Mrs.

Spiros lied. "You look better than when you went away. How long were you in the hospital, or would you rather not talk about that?"

"I don't mind talking about it," I said. "I was in the hospital about a year. Ten months in the army in the States, six months in action, and about a year in the hospital. Guess I've been away some time." Then I hesitated a minute, before saying what I'd come to say. I guess she saw what was coming, for her expression changed.

"Look," I blurted, "I want to find out about my Mother. Did she have everything she needed, all the attention, good doctors? Was she comfortable when she died?"

Mrs. Spiros wasn't happy discussing it. I could see that in her eyes. But she was telling the truth.

"She had everything she needed, Johnny," she said. "There was nothing that could be done that wasn't done. I don't think she suffered a great deal. She died three days after the truck hit her. Your brother Tommy was with her all the time—but you know that, I suppose."

"I don't know much about it at all, Mrs. Spiros," I said. "You see, I wasn't notified of It when it happened. They'd just brought me back to the states, to the hospital. I guess they figured that I wasn't in shape to take news like that at the time. They didn't tell me until almost four months later. I was able to read letters, then, and wondered why I wasn't hearing from Mom or Tommy."

Mrs. Spiros looked shocked.

"I—I didn't know that, Johnny. And about Tommy, well, I hope you don't think that—I mean, he was a good boy."

"Yes," I said. "He was a good kid. A little too bright, maybe, but he was a good kid. He was killed three months after Mom died, eh?"

Mrs. Spiros nodded. She didn't say anything. She twisted a handkerchief around in her big red-knuckled hands.

"One thing more," I said. "Tommy and Mom both had money enough, comforts enough, while I was gone?"

Mrs. Spiros nodded vigorously, as though happy to have something good to say.

"They didn't want for a thing," she said earnestly.


I FELT better, at least about that part of it. The money I'd left in the bank should have been plenty to get them by, but I'd wanted to know for sure. I stood up, a little stiffly, and Mrs. Spiros glanced sharply at my leg.

"I'm still a little awkward with it," I said, "but I'm getting better and better. At the hospital they made me learn how to dance with it. You'd be surprised how swell they are. Almost like real ones."

"You don't have to go yet, Johnny," Mrs. Spiros said.

I glanced at my watch. "I have to," I told her. "I have some things to do. I'll be back sometime and we'll have a long talk about old times."

"You must, Johnny. Promise you will."

I promised, and Mrs. Spiros showed me to the door. She was still at the door as I went down the steps. I turned and waved to her and she waved back.

When I got about four houses away, I turned and looked back at the old brownstone. I stood there a minute in the warm summer sun. I tried to remember all the years Mom and Tommy and I had lived there. A good fifteen of them. We'd moved into the place after Pop had died. It seemed centuries ago.

Down the street another block was the old drug store I'd hung around as a kid. Almost three years had marked a change in it. The sign in front was new, and bore the name of a well-known drug chain. The front had been remodeled.

I went into the drug store and bought a pack of cigarettes and went to the rear. Beside the telephone booths I looked up Floyd Hendricks in the book. I wasn't sure that his number had changed. It had. I mentally recorded the number and stepped into the booth.

The voice that answered after I dialed Hendricks' number was probably a secretary's. At any rate it was unfamiliar. Mr. Hendricks was not in, she said. He would be back in half an hour. He was in court at the moment. Was there any message.

"No," I said. "No message. I'll call again."


CHAPTER III

I LOOKED at my watch. It was a little after one. Hendricks' new office was in the Loop. I had time to have a drink before catching a cab downtown. I decided I'd have a Tom Collins at Dinty Kerrigan's. Kerrigan's was right next door to the old Sixtieth Ward Political Club, and Dinty might be able to give me some information.

He was polishing glasses behind the bar when I walked in. There was no one else around. He was just as fat and bald and red-faced as ever.

"Hello, Dinty," I said.

He did a double take. Then he put down his glass carefully, leaned over the bar with outstretched hand and said:

"Johnny, you old goat!"

He asked all the expected questions for a few minutes, and I gave him all the expected answers. And all the time I knew he was damned sure what I was after. When he finally got around to mixing me a Collins, I put it to him bluntly.

"Tell me the truth about Tommy," I said. "Who killed the kid?"

Dinty's sigh was as soft as silk running against silk. He brought my drink over and put it before me. The look he gave me was sad, despairing.

"I knew that would be what you'd be after the minute you came back, Johnny."

"That's what I'm after," I said. "Who killed Tommy?"

Dinty looked even more sad. "It was in all the papers, Johnny."

"I spent all this morning reading back issues of those papers," I told him. "I know what the papers say. But what's the truth?"

"Tommy was shot in an alley just off Madison Street," he said. "A policeman named Boyko shot him. The kid was running away from the scene of a robbery."

"That's what I read in the paper, Dinty," I said flatly. "I told you I don't give a damn about the official account. Tommy wasn't a thief. He never pulled any stick-up stuff. I'm trying to get the truth."

Dinty looked embarrassed.

"I know, Johnny. I know how you feel. I was surprised as hell myself. I couldn't believe it. But the kid was identified as the stick-up operator right after the cop shot him."

I knocked off half my drink in a long swallow.

"Tommy wasn't the sort," I said.

"You didn't see him after your Mom died, Johnny," Dinty said slowly. "It did something to the kid. You were in the hospital, back from Africa. He couldn't get in touch with you—guess you were in pretty bad shape, then. Besides, he'd brooded a lot about having been turned down by all the branches of the service. He wanted into the war so bad he could taste it, you know. But his weak ticker—" I cut in.

"I know about his bum heart," I said. "I knew they'd never let him into the service. And I know how badly he must have felt about being left out, being only 18, and with all his pals in it. But all that, plus Mom's death, couldn't have changed the kid's character to the point where he'd go bad. That wouldn't be Tommy."

"All I know," Dinty shrugged, "is the way everybody figured it out. I don't like it any better than you, Johnny."

"What about Hendricks?" I demanded. I was getting tired of being subtle.

Dinty's eyebrows went up a notch. He picked up his bar rag, flicked it at a fly.

"What about Hendricks, Johnny?" he asked. "What do you mean?"

"I hear Tommy was working for him in the ward," I said. "I hear Hendricks gave him a small fry job in the organization shortly after Mom died."

"The boss," said Dinty, after a moment's hesitation, "wanted to do the kid a favor, especially when it was obvious that he was in such a state over your mother's death and him not being able to get into the army."

I finished off the rest of my drink, put the glass down.

"Why would Hendricks want to do any relative of mine a favor?" I demanded. "Why would Hendricks want to give Tommy a job in the ward political organization when he and I never got along together before I went into the army?"

Dinty picked up my glass. "This one's on me," he said. He went over to the sink and began to fix another Collins. "You got Hendricks wrong, Johnny," he said, bringing out some confectioner's sugar. "He don't hold no grudges. Besides, he never thought you were a bum guy. He always kinda liked you, even though you and him didn't get along in political matters."

I sighed. "Forget that drink, Dinty, I have to run along. I'm sorry that I didn't stop to think this place is owned by Hendricks—like most of the places in the ward."

Dinty put the sugar down.

"Take it easy, Johnny," he said. "It's been swell seeing you again. Drop in whenever you can, will you?"

"Sure," I said, opening the door.

"And don't forget," Dinty repeated, "take it easy, kid."

"I've gotten out of the habit, Dinty," I told him, closing the door behind me. "Way out of the habit."


CHAPTER IV

I CAUGHT a cab outside of Dinty's place, and fifteen minutes later the driver dropped me off in front of a shabby, yellow brick two-flat apartment building in one of the West Side's seedier residential sections.

In the hallway, which smelled strongly of sweat and stale cabbage, I looked at the letter-box markers, punched the bell under the one that read, "Collinski." In a few moments a thin, yellow-faced, straggly-haired little girl of about twelve opened the door.

She was chewing gum, and had a copy of a tattered screen magazine clutched in her hands.

"Whatcha want?" she demanded suspiciously.

"Does Henry Boyko live here?" I asked.

She blinked at me from deep sunken gray eyes.

"The policeman," I said. "Patrolman Boyko."

"Oh, Uncle Henry," she said.

"Does he live here?"

"He ain't a cop any more. Uncle Henry retired. He quit the force about three month ago, maybe longer. He don't live with Mom and us anymore, neither."

"Oh. Do you know where he moved?"

"He owns a house. Out in the suburbs, he does. He made a lotta money. Maw got mad he wouldn't live here no more with us when he got rich. Uppity, she says he got."

I nodded understandingly. "I don't blame your Ma," I said.

"Pa said good riddance," said the girl. "He said money or no money, he was sick of having Maw's brother living in our house."

"Is your Ma home?" I asked. "I'd like to find out your Uncle Henry's new address."

"Maw ain't home. Nobody's home but me and the other kids. I'm the oldest. I'm minding the house. I kin look in Maw's dresser, though. She's gotta book with addresses in it. She's got Uncle Henry's in it. I seen her read it out to Pa, once, when he wanted to write Uncle Henry."

"That'll sure be swell," I said. "That kind of service is worth a dollar." I pulled out my wallet, removed a bill from it.

The little girl hurried off, after giving the bill a bug-eyed glance. She was back in about three minutes, holding a scrap of paper and a pencil in her hand.

"I copied it off the book," she said, handing me the scrap of paper.

I handed her the bill.

"Gee, thanks!" She said

The address of ex-copper Boyko, when I glanced at it out in the street a moment later, proved to be located in a fairly prosperous suburb about forty minute's drive from the city. I folded the scrap of paper and placed it carefully into my wallet. Then I started looking around for another cab.

My watch told me that I'd be able to catch Floyd Hendricks at his office, if I got back to the Loop without any further delay....


CHAPTER V

FLOYD HENDRICKS had his new offices on LaSalle Street, in one of the newest skyscrapers there. Twenty-fourth floor, ten-room suite. I entered a thick carpeted reception room done in the most modern manner, and told a Varga-girl switchboard operator my name. She bade me have a seat.

Hendricks came out of a white paneled side door less than three minutes later. He looked exactly the same as he had when I'd left. Except considerably more prosperous, considerably better tailored.

He was a short man, with unusually broad shoulders and almost no neck. His features were regular, which, for a politician, meant handsome, and he had practically no neck. He gave the same impression of hulking power that he always had.

His black, perfectly combed hair shone as brightly as his flashing smile, as he crossed the waiting room to greet me, hand extended.

"Johnny, boy. Johnny, you don't know how damned glad I am to see you."

I shook his hand briefly, looking him over more thoroughly at close range, and marveling at the success with which he held back his age. I knew that he was over fifty, still he didn't look a day older than thirty-five.

"I've been anxious to see you," I said truthfully.

He went through the patented routine. How fine I was looking, how swell it was to shake my hand and know I was home for good. All the expected stuff done by a master politician.

"You got in this morning, eh?" he concluded.

"That's right. How did you know?"

"I've been waiting for you, Johnny," he said. "I've been waiting ever since you got back from Africa. I had them let me know at the hospital the day you were released."

That caught me off balance.

"I don't get it," I began. Hendricks cut me off.

"Come on into my office. We can talk there. I'll explain everything to you, Johnny. Damn, I'm glad to see you, boy."

Hendricks' office was a smaller, equally plush edition of the ultra-modern waiting room. He waved me to a chair, seated himself behind his gleaming glass-topped desk, brought out a box of cigars. I took one, and so did he. He lighted both of them with an elaborate Ronson.

"You've got quite a layout here," I said, after a moment.

"All the good lawyers have gone into the army, Johnny." He laughed depreciatively. "I get lots of business these days."

"And I don't suppose politics has slipped any," I said.

He grinned. "Just as frank as ever, Johnny."

"I haven't lost a thing," I said wryly, "except a leg."

His expression changed to serious understanding. Clever guy, Hendricks. He knew I'd resent sympathy, so he picked just the right expression of concern.

"I know about it, Johnny. You're doing damned fine with the new one, though."

"Thanks."

"What do you plan on doing, now that you're home?" he asked.

I shrugged. "I haven't thought much about it yet."

"Going back to your law practice?"

I shrugged again. "Maybe. I'm not sure. Don't imagine there's much left."

"You mean generally, or for you?"

I shrugged noncommittally. "I don't know. Maybe both ways."

Hendricks smiled. "The law business isn't too red hot right now generally," he agreed. "But specifically, as far as Floyd Hendricks is concerned, it's a damn good deal."

"Plus politics," I said.

"Plus or minus it's still a good deal, Johnny. You know how much I've expanded since you left. It hasn't all been on politics. Just look around you," he waved his hand at his office, "and you'll know that I'm operating at about twice the cost before."

"I suppose you are," I granted.

"And I'm making about four times as much."

"Congratulations," I said dryly.


HENDRICKS brushed this irony away casually. "Don't get me wrong," he said. "I'm not bragging. I'm just trying to show you what a good deal you can get into."

"I don't get that," I said. And I didn't.

"What I'm getting at is this—why don't you come into my practice with me? I can offer you a good deal."

It knocked the breath out of me. Hendricks shrewdly and immediately evaluated my reaction and pressed on in with his offer.

"How about it, Johnny? You can practically write your own ticket. Hendricks and Christopher will be a team to set this town on end."

I shook my head. "Uh, uh," I said.

Hendricks looked unbelieving. "How's that? You kidding?"

"No," I said. "No dice. Thanks just the same. I'm not ready to go back to law yet, and if I were, I don't think we'd jell, Hendricks. We'd be oil and water. No."

Hendricks looked sore, and he looked even more angry at the realization that he wasn't hiding this reaction too well.

"That's the way you want it, eh?"

"That's the way I see it," I said.

Hendricks had regained his composure. He was bland again. He shrugged casually.

"All right, Johnny. Anything you say." He flashed a sudden grin. "You might find it hard to believe, but I rather counted on your joining me."

"It just doesn't jibe," I said. "We've never been anything but at odds, I've fought you in politics, I've fought you in court. When we were kids on the West Side, we fought in the streets."

"I know that, Johnny," he said. "But you'll remember that we both were always the leaders. Even in those kids fights it was your gang against mine. Had we been adult, Johnny, had we been able to figure it out sensibly, we'd have realized that we could have gotten together and run the entire show. But that's what I've realized since you've been away."

"Sensible," I said. "But very much unlike you. What brought you to such an about-face?"

"I didn't arrive at the brilliant idea all alone, Johnny," Hendricks said. "My wife was highly instrumental in figuring it out for me."

I was a little surprised. "Your wife? You've gotten married, then, since I left. Do I know the girl?"

Hendricks reached over and turned a leather photograph frame on his desk so that it faced me. I hadn't paid any attention to it until now.

The girl in the picture was familiar. Brown hair, gray eyes, lovely, delicately shaped features, an unforgettable smile.

"Congratulations," I said flatly. "Madge is a lovely girl. When did the wedding take place?"

Hendricks was smiling now, and I didn't like his smile.

"A year ago, Johnny," he said. "We were married a year ago last week. She's a great kid."

I nodded. "Just a year ago last week I was coming back from Africa, via transport plane, headed for a hospital here in the States. I didn't know about it, afterwards. They had a good reason, I can see now, for not letting me get Madge's letters."

"Madge wrote you the week before we decided to marry," Johnny said. "That must have been one of the letters you didn't get. She explained it all. Don't feel bad towards her. After all, you were a long ways off. It didn't look as if you'd come back for a long time, if at all. And we were in love. When she learned what had happened to you we were already married. There was nothing we could do, then. We decided that it would be best to wait it out until you came home and learned what had happened."


I SCARCELY heard him. I was talking half aloud, and to myself. Making swift, stabbing adjustments, trying to rationalize.

"Now it's very clear why her letters stopped. I had never figured that something like this was the reason. I attributed it to something else. Well, now I know, and as I said before, congratulations, Hendricks."

Hendricks looked suddenly embarrassed. I couldn't tell if it was real or phony.

"I know you were in love with her," he said. "I know you two were engaged when you went away. But some things happen in funny ways. They even happen for the best, more often than not."

"Sure," I said. "I suppose they do. So it was Madge who wanted you to take me into your firm? It was Madge who talked you into forgetting our feud, and who figured it would be just ducky if we teamed up."

"It was Madge who put the idea before me, Johnny. But I was able to see what a sensible thing it was, myself."

I sighed. "Thank Madge, and tell her what I told you. Uh, uh. No. If I go back into practice I'll be on my own."

"Think it over, anyway, Johnny," Hendricks said. "I'm not trying to rush you. There's plenty of time, and the offer will still hold until you decide what you're going to do."

I nodded.

"Well, that's all, I guess. All but the one important thing I came here to find out about."

"What's that?"

"Tommy," I said. "What happened to Tommy doesn't ring straight. He wasn't that kind of a kid. He was working for you when he was killed, Hendricks. I don't know why you persuaded the kid to work for you, but that's incidental. What I want to know, what I came here to find out, is some grain of truth about Tommy's death."

Hendricks' expression was somber. He picked up a paper knife on the edge of his desk, and began to toy with it.

"You heard how it happened," he said.

"I heard."

"That's all there was to it," he said. "You heard the straight goods. Tommy was shot by a cop, running away from the scene of a robbery. His body was identified positively by the victim of the robbery. I—I hate to have to tell you this, but Tommy went a little screwy before he was killed. He was a problem. Frankly, that's why I gave the kid a job, to try to straighten him out. I guess I didn't do it well enough."

I found a cigarette and lighted it. I looked at Hendricks in silence for a moment. His face was registering polite sorrow, restrained embarrassment. His face could register whatever he wanted it to.

"I didn't think you'd tell me anything else," I said. "I just wanted to let you know I'm going to get to the bottom of it, however. I'm going to find out what really caused Tommy's death."

Hendricks looked hurt, and sad.

"I don't quite get you, Johnny," he said. "I'm sorry that it happened to your kid brother the way it did. I'm even more sorry that it's going to cause you such a wild goose chase. You won't find anything but what's official, what you know already. There's nothing else to find out."

I stood up, nodding.

"So they say. But maybe you can tell me something else."

"Anything you want to know, Johnny," Hendricks said easily.

"Is Nick Alex working for your organization these days?"

His eyebrows went up slightly.

"Why do you ask that?"

"I want to know," I said. "Is he?"

Hendricks shrugged elaborately. "You might call it that, Johnny. Although he isn't on any payroll. He's influential with a certain voting element, and handy to have around. His past reputation wasn't exactly savory, but lots of things can change. And in politics you have to—"

"Close your eyes to certain unwholesome bedfellows, is that it?" I asked.

Hendricks smiled a trifle stiffly.

"You might put it that way, Johnny. One has to be realistic in politics."

"So Alex is working for you now, eh?" I said reflectively. "And not on the payroll. Where's he get his cut? He's never been interested in peanuts."

Hendricks was holding back his temper.

"You're thinking yourself into a dizzy series of circles, Johnny," he said.

I turned toward the door.

"Maybe," I said. "But I'm not quitting until I know the truth. You can pass that along to whom it may concern."

Hendricks rose to escort me to the door.

"Don't bother," I told him. I closed the door, leaving him standing there beside his desk, looking hurt, and sad. . .


CHAPTER VI

I WALKED the four loop blocks to my hotel. But I didn't go up to my room right away. I stepped into the bar just off the lobby and ordered a Tom Collins.

I sat there smoking and thinking and trying to plan my next move. A piano was tinkling in the far corner of the bar, a talented colored boy making those eighty-eight keys cry nostalgia with an old tune called, "Will You Still Be Mine?"

It had been a tune Madge and I danced to many times in the hours just before the war. The associations it carried were bittersweet, and I tried to shake them out of my mind.

I could remember her the day I'd left, standing at the station, cute and blonde and sad eyed, waving and running along side the car until the train was moving so fast she couldn't keep up with it any longer. I'd thought then that she'd never let me down.

I had another Collins, to try to wash away the picture of Madge as Hendricks' wife. It helped a little, but not completely, for the pianist drifted lazily into another nostalgic tune that hurt. I gulped the rest of my drink and got out in a hurry.

I was passing through the lobby, headed toward the desk to pick up my key, when a voice called from the cigar counter to my left:

"My God! Johnny Christopher!"

I stopped, turned, and saw a tall, emaciated young man in a badly un-pressed suit of white linens coming my way. He'd been standing at the counter, evidently gabbing with the cigarette girl, and now as he advanced toward me his hand was outstretched and his lopsided grin was as enormous and as friendly as a puppy's.

That happy-go-ear-split ting grin, that abused panama hat and the lank black hair beneath it, those twinkling eyes that were shrewd as hell and didn't miss anything—they all added up to Paul Tobin.

"Paul, you triple profane horse's something or other!" I said.

Then Paul Tobin was pumping my hand and slapping me on the back and wondering with beautifully couched obscenities how long I'd been back, where I'd been hiding, why I hadn't gotten in touch with him.

I answered his machine-gun-like questions as quickly as he popped them.

"Still working for the Journal? I was finally able to ask him. Johnny had been one of the city's crack police reporters for some six years. It was during these years that I'd gotten to know him. He was a familiar figure around the Criminal Courts building, and not at all popular with the shyster-type lawyers who were more than occasional visitors there. For the honest, hard-working, somewhat simple law practitioners like myself, however, Paul had always been a Godsend. For every shyster Paul had taken a poke at in his news stories, there were always several hardworking young lawyers to whom lie gave a boost when he could.

"Same old stand, Johnny," he said. "You'd think I'd be City Editor by now. But I'm still legging it between 11th and State and 26th and California. Come on," he took my arm, "I'm buying you a drink, bud. And then you're buying me two back for it."


HE led me into the off-the-lobby bar, we found stools, and he ordered two double-scotches.

"You going back to work? he demanded, eyeing me closely, when the drinks came.

"I don't know," I told him truthfully. "I had an offer today."

"Damn fine," he said enthusiastically. "Sound good?"

"Floyd Hendricks," I said flatly.

Paul almost choked on his drink. He put the glass slowly back on the bar. Then he whistled incredulously.

"Hendricks!"

I nodded. "Of course," I said, "I dropped gratefully to my knees and said thank-you-sir-when-do-I-start."

Paul grinned. "I'd have spit in his eye."

"I felt like it," I said. "But I was politely chilling in my no-thanks."

Paul finished off his double scotch in a gulp, raised two fingers to the bartender. "The son of a dog!" he said. "He's rolling in dough, now, you know."

"His office looked like it. Where's he getting it all?"

"Politics, mostly. The old organization shake-down and pay-off plan. But there are rumors that he's coining more than a mere ward organization could net him."

"From what sources?" I asked.

"There are a few people who'd be curious to know," Paul said. "I'm one of them. There's also some talk of his taking a crack at running for State's Attorney next primaries."

I whistled. "He's really moving along!"

Paul nodded. "The weight he throws now makes the weight he used to throw seem like feathers. He's smart. He's ambitious and highly unscrupulous, and has a beautiful wife to—" Paul broke off short in sudden embarrassment. "I—I'm sorry, Johnny. I wasn't thinking," he said.

"That's all right, Paul," I told him. "Forget it. I have."

We lapsed into a silence that lasted perhaps a minute. Then I looked at my watch.

"Listen," I said, "I'll call you at your place. Still there?"

He nodded. "This evening," I said. "There are some things I want to talk to you about very privately, Paul. I've got to run now. I just remembered things to do."

Paul grinned. "It's a date. Bring some scotch and I'll be putty in your hands, Johnny. See you then."


MY room was on the tenth floor, and when I opened my door I caught the sharp stink of cordite instantly. Even though I hadn't had a whiff of it since Africa, there was no mistaking the smell.

I closed the door quickly and moved into the room.

Then I saw the gun on the dresser, It was mine, the .45 Army automatic I'd been able to keep as a souvenir of Africa. I'd carried it with me through every day spent in that campaign.

I picked it up, sniffed the barrel. I ejected the clip from the magazine, removing the remaining rounds and counting them as I did so. Four left. Then I noticed my suitcase on the bed. It was open, and lying beside it was the small box of ammunition I'd carried. I had never had the box open, had never loaded the clip.

I put the automatic back on the dresser, dropped the rounds in my pocket, tossed the empty magazine clip onto the bed. I looked around the room slowly, trying to remember how I'd left it, what was changed, what was here that hadn't been here when I'd stepped out of it earlier in the day.

It wasn't much use. I couldn't see anything out of order save the opened suitcase, the box of ammo, and the gun. Then I noticed that the bathroom door was closed. I stepped across the room and opened it.

The smell of cordite came much more strongly to my nostrils now. The bathroom reeked of it. And I could see why. The shots from the .45 had been fired in the bathroom—and the result of those shots, huddled grotesquely in the bathtub, was the fully clothed corpse of what had been a bald-headed middle-aged man.

I didn't have to see the face to recognize Dinty Kerrigan, and I didn't have to lift that queerly slumped-forward head to see that the death bullets had caught Dinty on the left side of his cheek and jaw.

I wasn't sick. I wasn't particularly alarmed. There'd been too much death in North Africa to make the sight of another body effect me one way or the other.

I stepped over to the tub and drew the shower curtains around it, screening off the corpse. Then I stepped out of the bathroom and closed the door carefully.

I found a cigarette and sat down on the bed, staring at the telephone on the night table. I lighted the cigarette, thinking things over slowly, fairly calmly, trying to decide what I was going to do.

I realized, of course, that it was my gun that had killed Dinty. It was reasonable to believe that my .45 had been deliberately selected for the job, just as deliberately left in evidence.

For another instant I hesitated. Then I reached for the telephone.

The telephone rang.

For a moment I stared at it in surprise. I picked it out of the cradle and held it to my ear without saying anything.

"Hello?"

A feminine voice came to my ears. A soft, somewhat throaty feminine voice that I recognized instantly.

"Hello," I said. "Christopher talking."

"Johnny!" the voice was tremulous, suddenly.

"How are you, Madge?" I said.

"Floyd told me you were home, Johnny," Madge said. "I—I had to call you."

"Yes," I said, "I'm home, Madge. It's nice of you to call. I understand my belated congratulations are in order."


THERE was half a minute of embarrassed silence.

"Johnny—" Madge faltered finally, "you—you never got my letter."

"Not that one," I said.

"Oh, Johnny. Please, I mean—listen, Johnny." Her voice became distraught, urgent.

"I'm listening."

"Can you come out here? Now? Right away?"

"Where are you calling from?

"I'm home—we're living in Beverly Hills. The address is in the telephone book."

"Your husband knows you're calling me, Madge?"

Another moment of hesitation. "No. No, Johnny. Floyd doesn't know. He isn't here. He's golfing this afternoon. He won't be home until later in the evening."

"You're very discreet, Mrs. Hendricks."

"Johnny, please," she begged, "Can you come out? If not I'll meet you downtown, anywhere you say. Yes, that might be best, Johnny. Please say you will."

I looked at the bathroom door.

"I have company," I said. "I don't know how long I'll be tied up here with it."

"I'll be in the Petite Cafe," Madge said quickly. "I'll wait there as long as necessary, Johnny. I'll be down town in an hour. Please try to make it. It's dreadfully important."

"What does it concern?"

"I can't tell you here. Not over the phone. I'll start right now for the Loop. Don't fail me, Johnny. I'll wait."

"You said that once before, a long time ago," I began. But Madge didn't hear. She had hung up.

I put the telephone back in the cradle, lighted a fresh cigarette from the stub of the one I'd just finished. I got up and walked to the window. Down in the streets of the Loop crowds were milling along in typical ant-hill pattern.

I turned to the bathroom door.

"It's not polite, Dinty," I said, "but I think it might be best if I leave you alone a bit. I don't think you'll be noticed until I call attention to you."

It was good, I reflected, that I'd kept my key and hadn't had to pick it up at the desk before going to my room. I was reasonably certain that I hadn't been noticed going up to the room in the elevator. I could see to it that I wasn't noticed leaving the place. It wouldn't make for easy explaining to the police why I'd decided not to report the body in my room until later. And, as it was, there were many things about Dinty's death that I was going to have difficulty in explaining to the police.

I walked down two floors, took an elevator in a different corridor to the lobby, emerged less than thirty feet from the side entrance to the hotel. It was a simple matter to reach the street unnoticed.

Once outside, I walked east to Dearborn Street, turned left after a block or so more and cut onto State. I glanced again at my watch. From the time Madge had called the hotel, she'd have had just about time to make her appointment with me. I didn't want to arrive late. Whatever it was that she had to say was something I'd have to clear up in a hurry. After all, I still had the matter of a corpse in my bathtub to clean up eventually. Every minute I stalled in calling the police made it just a little more difficult to explain when the time came.


CHAPTER VII

I TOOK a small table in the cocktail lounge of the Petite Cafe, ordered a scotch and sat there watching the lights on the walls change colors every few minutes.

The place wasn't crowded yet, and I had an excellent view of the door. If Madge came in I'd be able to spot her instantly. I wondered idly, through my first drink, if she'd changed at all, and if she had, what changes there'd be.

Several drinks after that I took another look at my watch. It was after four. She'd already had more than enough time, even if she had been unhurried, to get from Beverly Hills to the Loop. I wondered what was keeping her.

I used some of my waiting time to scrape up an explanation—to be used later on the police—for the presence of Dinty Kerrigan's body in my bathtub, and for the presence of slugs from my gun in his head. This wasn't easy. I didn't know what sort of an explanation would be needed. I didn't know, really, that any explanation would be wise. The simple truth, undoctored, that I didn't know a thing about it, would possibly serve me best.

However, I was beginning to feel a little bit like a damned fool for not having announced the discovery of the body as soon as I'd found it. My idea of leaving the hotel quietly, deciding to claim I hadn't been in my room earlier, might have been a good one. But there was no way of being sure that I'd not been noticed.

There wasn't anything I could do about it, however. If someone were to testify that I'd been coming out of the elevator into the hotel lobby—obviously from my room—around three o'clock, there'd be a mortar crater half a mile wide shot into my idea of "discovering" Dinty's corpse later in the day. Even a simple-minded coroner would be able to set a fair approximation of the time of Dinty's death.

It was ten minutes after five, now, and I was spending most of my time glancing up at the entrance of the cafe, watching the people who were now beginning to come in in far greater numbers than before.

I'd had about half a scotch more than I'd needed, and so I called off the next one and told the waiter to bring me a dinner menu instead. A little food between drinks wouldn't hurt.

I ate the dinner alone. I had another drink after that. It was six-thirty. Madge had obviously left me high and dry. I called for my check, paid it, and left, cursing mad—sore at her, and sore at myself for having been such a damned fool.

Out on the corner of Adams and Wabash I lighted a cigarette and looked around for a cab. It was then that a nasty thought caught me right between the eyes. Madge had called me at the hotel. I had said I had company. She could well establish the time she'd called me, prove beyond a doubt that I was in my room at that time. My idea of "discovering" Dinty's body was now completely shattered.

A newsboy on the corner was shouting "Wuxtra" and waving a copy of the tabloid Daily Times. "Big murder!" was the way the kid phrased the reason for the extra.

I bought a copy of the sheet instanter, stepped into the doorway of a closed store to look it over.

BARKEEP SLAIN IN LOOP HOTEL, was the streamer headline.

In smaller caps, the sub-head proclaimed, WAR-HERO SOUGHT IN MURDER MYSTERY.


I turned the page, found the story and got the details. Notified by a mysterious telephone call, police had gone to my hotel room at four-fifteen and discovered the body of Dinty Kerrigan in my bathtub. They had also picked up the murder weapon, the .45, and had spent the rest of the time tying together a number of links that confirmed me as a killer.

There was no mention of a telephone call, Madge's, having come to my room around three. But I knew that they'd have that information, even though they might not have handed it out to the newspapers. Neither was there any mention of my having been seen leaving the hotel around three-thirty.

On the following page there was a small story concerning my days as a criminal lawyer, pre-Pearl Harbor, my military record, and a few other biographical items. A picture, gleaned from their photography morgue, showed me as I was in my up-and-coming days of 1938.


I FOLDED the paper carefully, stuffed it into my pocket, flicked my cigarette away. There was a Walgreen's down at the end of the block, and I went there.

In the telephone booth, I looked up the home number of Floyd Hendricks. I remembered Madge had said that Hendricks would not be home until late, due to his golfing date. I was counting on this, and hoping that she'd be at home.

The number didn't seem to answer, and I. was about to hang up, when I heard the faint click that indicated someone on the other end of the wire had picked up the receiver.

I waited a minute, hoping that the party would speak first, giving me a chance to find out who was answering.

But there wasn't a word spoken, and I had to say:

"Hello? Hello?"

There was another click then, and I knew that the connection had been broken. Whoever had answered had hung up without saying a word. I cursed, left the booth, and looked up Paul Tobin's number in the directory.

After half a minute, Paul answered the telephone.

"Tobin speaking," he said typically. "Spill it."

"This is Johnny, Paul."

There was a moment of silence, then Paul whistled.

"Well, well, chum. You've been a busy little beaver today, eh?"

"So it seems," I said.

"You calling from Headquarters, Johnny?" Paul asked. "You want me to come down there and—"

I cut him off. "Uh-uh, Paul. I'm still at large. I'm calling from a Walgreen's in the Loop. I just read the papers. Guess I'm a bit of a celebrity."

"Damn, Johnny," Tobin said, "I heard about it only fifteen minutes ago, over the radio. Listen, kid, where are you again?"

I repeated where I was.

"Jump in a cab, Johnny," Paul said. "Right away. There's no one here at my place but me. Come right over. We'll put our heads together on this thing and see what we can work out. Incidentally, skip the scotch. I've plenty right here, and it might not be smart for you to play customer in liquor stores right now."

I hesitated an instant.

"What's wrong?" Paul demanded.

"I'm thinking about the nice mess I'll make if I drag you into this," I said. "It isn't fair. You'll be an accessory after the fact if I come over there, and—"

"Go to hell," Paul chuckled. Then he added an obscene estimate of my IQ. "This is the time a fella needs a friend, Johnny. I'm it. Get in that cab and come over."

I thanked him, hung up, and went out onto the corner of Adams and Wabash to hail a cab....


CHAPTER VIII

PAUL TOBIN'S place was a comfortable apartment on Lincoln Park West. It was in an old remodeled-to-swank building, and comprised four spacious rooms, each with an open fireplace—an unnecessary luxury at this time of year.

Tobin's place was typically bachelor quarters in tone. He had the usual book-crammed living room, bursting with overstuffed chairs and masculine doodads.

He met me at the door with a glass of scotch, pushed it into my hand and ordered me to sit down and relax.

I sat down and tried to do so.

Paul, wearing a battered robe of once austere satin, his feet pushed into decrepit gray slippers, looked like a gaunt Ichabod Crane. His lean, hollow-checked face, his long, straight black hair, his sardonic slash of a mouth, gave him an additional touch somewhat Sherlock-Holmesian.

"So you keep your bodies in the bathtub these hot days, eh, Johnny?" he said as I sat down. "A thoughtfully considerate gesture that proves you aren't the murdering kind."

"It was all I could do to keep from calling room service for ice," I agreed. "Really, though, Paul, I don't know what in the hell to do. I'm in as tough a spot as I ever was in my life—African service included."

"Dinty Kerrigan, eh?" Paul said.

I nodded.

"He wasn't a bad old guy," Paul continued. "He knew a hell of a lot more than he ever said."

"I guess he did," I agreed. I was about to tell him of my talk with Kerrigan early in the afternoon, but he was talking on.

"I want you to tell me something very frankly, Johnny," Paul was saying, looking at his glass. "I want you to know that your answer won't make a damned bit of difference as far as my sticking by you goes. Understand that part. Okay, did you kill Kerrigan?"

The question jolted me. I looked up at Paul quickly, saw that he was deadly serious.

"Good God, no!" I said.

"Okay, okay. That suits me fine," Paul declared quickly. "I just wanted a straight answer, Johnny. I didn't think you did it, but you hadn't said directly that you didn't."

"Well I didn't," I said, still a little nettled.

"What was Kerrigan doing in your room, Johnny?"

"That's what I'd like to know."

"You haven't any idea? Did you see him since you were back here?"

I nodded. "Yes. I saw him, Paul. I saw him early this afternoon."

"Accidentally, or on purpose?"

"On purpose, Paul. I wanted to ask him some questions. He couldn't or wouldn't give me any answers. I left. Maybe you'd better let me tell you the whole thing, then you'll understand better, Paul. It all begins with my finding out what happened to Tommy."

Paul nodded somberly. "I was wondering about Tommy, Johnny. You didn't ask me anything about it. I figured maybe you wanted to try to forget it. But I sort of had a hunch you weren't thinking of doing anything of the sort. Okay, tell it to me from the beginning."


I LET him have it, straight from the beginning. I didn't omit a thing, from my visit to Mrs. Spiros right on through. I made it brief, but slow and clear, and Paul nodded from time to time but didn't interrupt. When I had finished he stood up, took my glass, and said:

"I'll mix us another drink, Johnny."

When he came back with a pair of fresh scotches, he handed me mine, took his armchair again, and said:

"I kind of figured all along you'd be sure to dig into the truth about Tommy's death, when you came home. I agree with you on one thing, Johnny. The kid wasn't a hoodlum. Something was fishy in the way he died."

"What do you know about it, Paul? Other than what the papers printed, I mean."

Paul Tobin shook his head. "Not a damn thing, Johnny. I was out of town on a story the week Tommy was killed. I'd have gone into the story tooth and nail had I been on hand. When I came back to town it was all history, cut and dried, closed tight. I—I'm sorry I never carried on from the one fact I knew—that Tommy wasn't a bad kid."

"I'm not blaming you for that, Paul," I said. "Don't think I am. All I wanted to know was what you knew about it."

Paul's slash of a mouth was tightly disappointed.

"Not a thing, Johnny. Not a damned thing. But, if you'll forgive me for digressing, I'm sure that what happened to Kerrigan today must have some bearing on the questions you asked him. Maybe, as you figure, he knew something about the real story on Tommy's death. Maybe that's why he went to your room."

"But how would he know where I was staying?" I demanded. "I don't remember telling him."

Paul shrugged. "That wouldn't be hard to find out. A few telephone calls to Loop hotels. Six would practically insure his finding you registered at one of them."

"And Madge," I said. "She knew where I was staying. She couldn't have found out from Hendricks. I didn't tell him. Yet she called me."

"That's a little tougher," Tobin agreed. "But it could be explained the same way. What's important now is this—who killed Dinty Kerrigan? Why was he in your room? Did Kerrigan have something to tell you? If he did, why did he wait? What did he have to say?"

"Very neat," I said. "Very compact. All the questions. We might add, why did Madge call me? What did she want to tell me? Why did she stand me up? And why the funny business on the telephone when I called her home just before I called you?"

Paul nodded. "And, more immediately, chum, what in the hell are you going to do? You're wanted right now for a murder—at least for heavy questioning that you won't have any snap getting out of. You can count on my not saying anything about having seen you in the lobby right after you discovered the body. But you don't know if Madge is going to mention her telephone conversation with you."

"Thanks," I said gratefully. "No. I don't know what Madge's reaction will be."

"I personally am willing to bet that she won't say a word," Paul said.

"Why not?"

"I don't think her husband knew she was calling. I don't think she wanted anyone to know she was calling, save yourself. I think that she'll keep mum for that reason, if for none other."

"Look," I said, "maybe this doesn't have anything to do with it, maybe it does. But I ran into Nick Alex today, in the back-copy office of the Journal. He's connected with Hendricks in some fashion these days. Looks like he's doing well. What's his angle?"

Paul rubbed his chin.

"I know he's been messing up to his dirty ears in politics lately," Paul said. "He's quieted down on his old rackets as far as is known. Runs his handbooks, and so on, and is a pretty important lad in some phase of the Hendricks organization. He's able to wield some influence with the Greek vote in Hendricks' ward."

I sat up straight.

"The hell he is!" I protested. "They've never listened to or respected Alex. I know that for sure, Paul. They're my people. They wouldn't let a rat like Nick Alex sell them a bill of goods any day in the week."

Paul shrugged. "There have been a lot of changes since you left for the wars, Johnny. A hell of a lot of changes. Somehow Nick Alex has regained the confidence of many of your people in your old neighborhood. He's pretty popular now. Don't ask me how he's done it, but he has."

T WAS shocked and disgusted. T couldn't believe it, but I knew Paul wouldn't misinform me on that angle.

"He was looking through a back copy file that was identical to the one I'd gone to the Journal office to look up," I said.

"And you were looking up the news story on—"

"—Tommy's death," I broke in. "I had hoped that there might be something in it that would give me a lead of some sort. There wasn't."

Paul nodded soberly. "Of course there wasn't. The entire thing was pretty well covered up in no time at all. I was out of town, as I've said, and by the time I got back the story was cold and closed."

I lighted a cigarette.

"What the hell do you suppose Alex was doing in the back-copy office of the Journal? What the hell do you imagine he wanted from the same back-issue book I was reading?"

Paul shrugged, a characteristic gesture of his lean shoulders.

"He'd of course know what happened to Tommy," he said. "He wouldn't have to re-read a newspaper account in an old newspaper to find out. The average back-copy book contains half a month's issues of the Journal. The Journal carries a hell of a lot of news stories in half a month. He could have wanted anything; he could have been looking up any one of a thousand news items."

I nodded.

"You're right. It was just a long shot hunch. Only Alex as now in the Hendricks organization. Hendricks had Tommy working for him at the time the kid was killed. I can't overlook any connection."

"I don't blame you," Paul said. "We'll file that bit of info with the rest of the dope. Maybe it'll spell something later. But now we've something more immediate to think of. You're in a little bit of a spot. We've got to get you out of it."

"Then you think I ought to visit the cops?" I demanded.

"I think," said Paul, "that we ought to climb into my car right now and go over to Central Station. I think you ought to pretend complete amazement at the whole thing. Don't mention having found him. Let the coppers think they were first to discover the body. You've got my promise of silence, and we can bank—I'm sure—on Madge not saying anything. I think you hadn't better mention the angle about Tommy. Just play it close. Admit you stopped in at Dinty's bar and had a drink. Tell 'em you talked to Hendricks. Don't tell em what you said at either place."

I thought this over. "And then?"

"And then I think you'll get a break," Paul said. "In fact, I can assure you of a break if they aren't willing to release you until the inquest. I'll just tell 'em that 111 flay their hides in a morning feature story dealing with their persecution of a war hero. You'll have reported in legitimately, you'll be freed in an hour or more, and we'll be able to get to work on this thing properly."

Paul Tobin crushed out his cigarette, finished off his scotch, looked at me somberly, then suddenly grinned.

"What do you think, Johnny?"

"I think you're a smart boy, Paul. And a damned fine guy. Let's go! I'm turning myself in."

"Wait'll I change," said Paul, "and we'll get right down there."


CHAPTER IX

WE were in Lieutenant Lassar's office in Central Headquarters at Eleventh and State. Lassar was a short, thin, wiry little guy who wore pinstriped suits and two-toned shirts and black patent leather shoes. His ears were cauliflowered, his nose badly in need of reshaping as a result of a hundred odd fights he'd had growing up on Chicago's old West Side. He was a smart boy. Smart as hell, and as slick as his tonic-gleaming shiny black hair. Lassar and I weren't strangers. I'd always liked the little guy, and he'd passed out a number of favors to me back in the old days at the criminal courts.

He had just finished reading a typewritten statement I'd made before his stenographers. He put it down and wiped his forehead with an immaculate white handkerchief.

"That's all you have to say, eh, Johnny?"

I nodded. "That's all."

"You don't know what Kerrigan was doing in your room?"

"No," I said.

"You don't know who'd know you had that gun in your bag?"

"No. I don't."

"Haven't any idea of who'd try to pin a murder charge on you?"

"Not the slightest," I said.

Lassar sighed. He looked out the window down into the dusty darkness of South State Street. Faintly, the noise of a street car rattling by came floating to us. He turned abruptly.

"I could hold you, easily enough. You know that, don't you, Johnny?"

I didn't say anything.

"Yes, I could hold you for further questioning. Plenty of it. But I think I'll wait until the inquest for that. I think I'll release you on your word. You'll be watched, even if your word doesn't pan out, and we'll always be able to get you when we want to."

I got up. "Then I can leave?"

Lassar nodded. "Yeah. You're free to go, Johnny."

"Thanks," I said.

Lassar smiled. His teeth were jagged where they'd been broken in front, but they were very, very white.

"Don't mention it," he said. He turned to Tobin, the stenographers, and several homicide squad men who were present. "If you people will step outside a moment, I'd like to have a word with Johnny."

We were left alone, and Lassar sat down on the edge of his desk, lighting a kitchen match with his thumb nail. He watched it burn out, then threw it away. He'd never smoked, but he had always had this habit of striking matches just to see the fire.

"You don't have anything you want to add to your statement, do you, Johnny?" he demanded.

I frowned. "I don't get you."

He shrugged, elaborately casual. "I thought there might be something that you'd forgotten, or something you'd rather have for my ears only. I suppose you know I'm playing this with every legitimate break I can give you, Johnny."

I nodded.

"Even in my thinking, Johnny," he said, "I'm giving you a break. So far, I've approached this thing from the angle that you aren't a killer. That's because I like you, and feel I know you pretty well."

"Thanks," I said simply.

"Nothing to add?" Lassar asked.

"No," I said.

Lassar sighed. "Okay, Johnny. Just wanted to make sure. I'll keep in touch with you. Be good. Be smart. So long."


I LEFT the office. In the hallway, Tobin was waiting for me. He grinned happily, slapped my back.

"Didn't I tell you, Johnny?"

I nodded. "You were right as rain, Paul. Lassar was pretty white about it."

"Lassar is a good guy," Paul said. "A square, smart cop. Lucky he's on this case."

"Yeah," I said. "I guess I am."

"You look worn out, kid," Paul declared. "You've had a busy day."

I admitted that I was pretty done in.

"Look ..." Paul took out some keys, slid one off a ring, pressed it into my hand. "You don't want to go back to that hotel. You'd get no rest there. I've gotta work tonight, you know. We publish a morning sheet, same as ever. What do you say to catch a cab and go over to my place. The sheets are fresh, the place is comfortable, and I'll be home in the morning to play Jeeves with a good breakfast of gin and fried eggs. What say?"

"You're a damned angel, chum, that's what I say," I told him, taking the key.

"Hell no," Paul grinned, "I'm a smart reporter keeping close to the source of hot news. Just think of the inside stuff I'll be able to hand the readers in tomorrow morning's developments on Dinty's murder."

I sighed. "Damned ghoul. But I'm all in. I've got your key, and I can't keep my eyes open."


CHAPTER X

PAUL TOBIN'S apartment had been a fine suggestion. It was comfortable, and beyond reach of anyone who might want to bother me. I set his rusty alarm for five o'clock, allowing myself the luxury of eight hours, telephoned a rent-a-car joint and made arrangements for them to have one of their hacks outside Tobin's apartment by a quarter after.

Then I climbed into bed, and went off into dreamless exhaustion with the smooth spinning purr of a top.

I woke to the alarm eight hours later, feeling a hundred percent refreshed. Paul's icebox yielded eggs and bacon, and I worked them into a breakfast topped off with tomato juice in less than fifteen minutes.

I was dressed in another five minutes, and at the door when I remembered that I'd forgotten to let Paul in on my morning plans. I found some paper and an envelope, wrote him a brief note, slipped the key into the envelope, addressed it and sealed it, and left the apartment. In the hallway I stuffed the envelope into his mailbox, leaving enough of it sticking out to be visible to him when he came home.

Outside, it was still dark. But dawn was coming up faintly out over the lake, and the birds in the park were raising a wonderfully pleasant racket.

I stood on the curb, lighted a cigarette, and watched my rented car pull up less than four minutes later.

Filling out the blanks the rent-a-car attendant gave me, a moment later, I gave him money for my deposit, added a tip, and climbed in behind the wheel.

"Where's your garage?" I said.

"About three blocks over," he said.

I grinned. "Then you won't mind walking back. It's a nice morning for it."

I threw the car into gear and whirred off, heading north. At North Avenue I turned west, glanced at my watch. In about forty-five minutes I should be rolling up in front of the suburban home of ex-copper Henry Boyko.

It would be an early hour for him, no doubt, in his gentleman-of-leisure status. But it might leave him a little bit too confused and sleepy to do any really skillful lying in answering the questions I had to ask him.

I remembered, then, that not only had I forgotten to tell Paul of my plan to see Boyko this morning, but that I'd also failed to mention to him what I'd learned about the ex-cop's sudden change of financial and social status. But the note, I reasoned, would bring Tobin up to date on those accidental omissions.

I was in the west side sectors of the city, now, and I remembered Sam Lassar's promise that he'd have one of his homicide boys on my tail at all times—just in case I tried to run out on the law.

I slowed down a little, looking back over my shoulder. The street behind me was deserted, save for a rocking streetcar far in the distance. Lassar's shadow might well have knocked off for a few hours and not been on hand when I'd made my early exit from the apartment.

The residential sectors began to fade away, and I was driving through open subdivision sections, relics of a long past real estate boom which had never gotten past the lots-for-sale stage.

Then I passed a sign that said, "Longwood, five miles."

Longwood was the suburb where I'd find Boyko.

Less than ten minutes later I passed another sign: "Entering Longwood, Pop. 2200."


I SLOWED down and began to look around for Burton Street. The houses in this suburb were comparatively new, obviously upper middle income bracket dwellings. Spacious, well-tended lawns, clean streets and a plentiful supply of trees to shade them, gave the suburban section an air of smugly respectable pleasantness.

Finding Burton Street, I tore my attention from the scenery and began to look at street numbers. The houses on Burton were smaller than some of the others I'd seen already, four and five room bungalows, heavily shaded by thick poplar trees.

After five blocks of Burton Street I found Boyko's house. It was a bungalow, brick, large enough to contain four or five rooms. The lawn, which wasn't as visible as its neighbors—due to an excess of the big poplar trees around the place—was not at all as well tended as the other lawns in the neighborhood. The shrubbery, too, was ragged and undipped.

I parked the car, climbed out, and started up the walk to the house. On either side of me, the thick, unkempt shrubbery came almost shoulder high. It ran to the porch, shielding the doorway from view beyond a short L-turn.

I was halfway up the walk when the shot cracked out sharply in the morning air.

Something zzzzzinged past my head at the same moment that I hurled myself instinctively to the walk and rolled over into the dirt beside the shrubs.

I heard a door slam, then, but I didn't move. I held my breath and kept my head down. The slamming door might be a trick to make me expose myself to a second shot.

I said a silent prayer that my sniper wouldn't realize I was unarmed. All he'd have to do under those circumstances would be to step down the walk into view, take more careful aim—and that would be the last of Johnny Christopher.

A minute passed, maybe more. I still didn't move. And then I heard the motor starting in the back of the house.

Gears clashed, and I realized that my assailant was making a getaway down the back alley.

I got up and moved as quickly as my one false leg would permit. I got to the car, started it up, killed the motor, cursed, got it started again.

Then I relaxed, shut off the ignition. The sound of the sniper's motor was no longer audible. He'd be beyond chase, and there was no use in my setting out to catch him now.

I got out of the car, brushing some of the shrubbery dirt from my clothes, and went back up the walk. I wasn't particularly cautious. I was certain that the sniper wasn't behind the porch shrubs any longer.

At the door, I hesitated a moment. It would be ridiculous to ring. I tried the knob. The door wasn't locked. I pushed it open quickly, flattening myself back out of view as I did so. I wasn't taking any chances.

Nothing happened, so I. stepped away from the wall and into the house.

"Hello!" I said loudly.

There wasn't any answer.

I looked around the living room. Ordinary, comfortable, fairly expensive furnishings. Gone a little to seed through lack of attention or cleaning. The place looked like bachelor quarters. Quarters, that is, of a rather sloppy and careless bachelor.

In the hallway leading to the bedroom, I saw the handkerchief on the floor.

It was a man's handkerchief. Silk, expensive. I picked it up. In one corner were embroidered initials: "F/H."

I put the handkerchief in my pocket, moved on into the bedroom, which was darkened due to the fact that the shades had been pulled to window sill level.

It took a moment for me to accustom my eyes to the half light. And then I was able to make out the body in the bed.

His throat had been slit. Between his chin and chest there was a thick, sickening river of red that had already stained much of the bed-clothing.

I didn't need intuition to tell me that I was staring at the corpse of the man I had come here to question. Henry Boyko, ex-copper, ex-kid-killer, lay dead in a puddle of his own blood.

I wasn't going to get the answers to my questions from him. I was certain of that much....


LEAVING the bungalow, I was fairly certain that no one in the neighborhood had yet been roused. At least, from what I could see of the houses in the vicinity, no lights were on, no faces peered whitely through windows. It occurred to me then that the sound of the shot had probably not been as loud as it had seemed to me, and that Boyko's murder, committed soundlessly, could scarcely be expected to rouse a neighborhood.

Nevertheless, I didn't waste time getting away from there, and I didn't do any deep breathing until I was leaving the Longwood township limits.

I was cursing myself, by now, for my caution in following up the sniper after the door had slammed. However, I could still realize that it could well have been a trick, and, had I blundered into a trap, there wouldn't have been any further following of anyone....


CHAPTER XI

THE envelope I'd left in the mailbox for Paul Tobin was gone when I got back to the apartment. I rang the bell, and after a moment or two, the buzzer sounded, admitting me to the hall.

Paul met me at the door. His lank black hair was rumpled, and his eyes were sleepy. He was wearing his lounging robe over his pajamas, and hadn't bothered to put on his frayed slippers.

"Well, well," he mumbled sleepily, "fine thing. Out prowling around before the worms rise to be gotten by the birds. You must have made a hit with that copper, waking him up before the roosters."

I followed him into the living room, tossed my hat onto a chair, sat down on the couch and lighted a smoke.

"I didn't get to talk to Boyko," I said.

Paul's eyebrows rose. "He throw you out?"

I shook my head. "By the time I got there, someone had slit his throat. Probably while he slept. The body was in his bed."

Paul's reaction was a low whistle.

"Wow!" he said.

"Strike two on somebody's hit parade," I agreed.

"You notify the law?" he asked.

"That would be all I'd need," I said. "No. There didn't seem to be any indication that my visit was noticed by the neighbors, so I got out of there as fast as I could."

"Would you mind explaining it a little more?" Paul said. "I still can't get it all straight. You just walked into the house, and there was the body?"

"Not quite as easily as that. I met his killer," I said.

"What!" Paul sat up on the edge of his chair.

"Not formally," I said, "it was just a shooting acquaintance." And then I told him everything that had happened, from the sniper's shot to my departure. When I'd finished, he fished a cigarette out of the pocket of his robe, lighted it, exhaled noisily.

"You did go calling," he grunted. "Why in hell didn't you wait until I came home? I'd have gone there with you."

"It never occurred to me," I said. "Maybe it's just as well, though. You might have gotten in the way of the shot that missed me."

Paul shrugged. "I'm too skinny. Grapeshot couldn't hit me. At any rate, that's neither here nor there. The pertinent thing, at the moment, is the handkerchief you picked up. Let me see it, will you?"

I banded him the silk handkerchief with the "F/H" monogram on it. He looked it over carefully.

"There are some small stains in the corner," he said, after a moment. "They could damn well be Boyko's blood. Has it occurred to you yet whose initials these might be?" He tossed the handkerchief back to me.

"Yes," I admitted. "You're damned right it has. That 'F/H' could easily mean Floyd Hendricks."

Paul nodded. "It certainly could. But we'll have to fit it in a little better than that. You're merely supposing, you know, and so am I." He reached over to the coffee table and picked up a folded newspaper. He flipped it open and handed it to me. "However, we've something to start thinking about for a tie-in with this latest news break."

The paper was Paul's Journal. The headline was big and black and socked the breath right out of me.


LAWYER'S WIFE FOUND SLAIN IN STONE QUARRY


Right there on the front page, next to the story of the crime, was a picture similar to the one I'd seen on Hendricks desk the previous afternoon. A picture of Madge!

"VICTIM OF MYSTERY KILLING," proclaimed the caption above it.


MY hands were shaking badly, and I put the paper on my knees while I fumbled through my pockets for a cigarette.

"You don't have to read it," Paul said quietly. "I can give you the facts. Madge's body was found in a stone quarry, beside her club coupe, on the northwest side of town. A watchman, making his rounds at midnight, wondered what the car was doing there. He found the body. Madge had been strangled by what the cops believe to be a piece of wire. The coroner claims she'd been dead eight to ten hours before his examination. That puts the death at anywhere between five and seven p.m. yesterday."

It was suddenly horribly clear to me why Madge had failed to keep her appointment at the Petite Cafe.

"What about her husband?" I managed to ask. "What about Hendricks? What has he to say?"

"That," said Paul, "is the point I was emphasizing in our tie-in with the handkerchief found on the scene of Boyko's murder."

"How do you mean?"

"As of two hours ago," Paul said, "before I went to bed, the cops haven't been able to locate Floyd Hendricks."

"But surely they must have him by now," I protested.

"If he was out at Boyko's," Paul reminded me, "he wasn't in their hands as of an hour ago. You heard him drive off then."

I stood up and walked to the window, the sun was rising over the lake and beginning to send smoky shafts through the trees in the park. It seemed pathetically incongruous standing there enshrouded by murder and violence and staring at such beauty. In Africa the killing and violence had at least been properly stage-managed by mud and ruins and desolation as background.

I turned to Paul.

"I was a fool not to call copper when I found Boyko's body," I said. "That's the second time I've played damned fool. Maybe it's force of habit. Over there, when you ran into a corpse you stepped around it and got on with the job you were doing. That's not a bright policy here, however."

Paul shrugged. His brow was wrinkled in thoughts. His hands were deep in the pockets of his robe.

"I don't know, John," he said. "When you found Boyko you didn't know anything about Madge's being killed. I can't blame you for keeping mum on the Boyko job, knowing the little you did. But what Lassar and his homicide boys are going to think if they learn you were around Boyko's this morning..." He shrugged, letting the sentence trail off into implication.

"Any new cop announcements on the Kerrigan killing?" I asked.

Paul shook his head. "Nothing but rehashes and the usual police-promising-sensational-developments padding our rewrite men think up."

"What's your idea," I asked, "for my next move?"

"I can see only one move. Play pat. Stay right here until they pick up Hendricks," Paul said.

"That might be wise," I agreed.

"And safe," Paul said.

I frowned. "Safe?"

"Hendricks is on a rampage," Paul said. "It isn't wild presumption to figure he might be gunning for you."

"In that event," I said, "I'd like to meet him. Don't forget, Paul, that there's another killing which has finally been laid, at least by inference, at Hendricks door. He had something to do with Boyko's killing of Tommy. I'd swear to that."

"It ticks off logically enough," Paul admitted.


THE telephone rang, then, and Paul frowned.

"Dammit," he said. "Just a minute." I waited while he went into the hall. I could hear his voice, a moment later.

"What the hell," he protested. "I still haven't gotten enough sleep to last an owl. You can get someone else. Oh, hell. All right. Yeah, I'll be right down. All right. Goodbye."

He came back in to the living room cursing roundly.

"The paper," he explained. "Can't get along without Paul Tobin. Good old Paul doesn't need any sleep. Good old Paul'll work twenty-four hours a day. Damn their hides!"

"Special stuff?" I asked.

He nodded. "Industrial tycoon just arrived in town. I'm the guy who interviewed him last time, scored a beat. He wouldn't talk to any of the other newsboys. The Journal thinks the old guy must love me, so I've gotta get an exclusive gab-fest with him again."

"The price of charm," I said.

He made a face and said an impolite four-letter word.

"I won't be long," he promised. "You amuse yourself until I get back. Then maybe we'll have a few ideas to kick around."

Tobin dressed quickly, and a little later waved briefly to me as he stepped out the door.

"Hang on," he said, "I won't be so very long."

For a little while after Paul had gone, I tried to do as he'd suggested. But I wound up walking aimlessly around the apartment, chain-smoking cigarettes and trying to keep my mind from racing in the viciously circled grooves that got me nowhere.

I turned on the radio, I picked up ash trays and put them down, I fiddled with paper knives, I read all the titles on all the books in Paul's shelves. Then I wandered into his work den—a small alcove off the living room where he had a desk, a couple of comfortable chairs, a typewriter and a mess of newspapers and magazines.

It was then that I saw his clipping file cabinet and, for want of something better to do, started poking through it.

The file cabinet proved to be a miniature newspaper morgue. It contained what seemed to be most of the stories Paul had written during his half dozen and more years as a reporter for the Journal.

It provided plenty of interesting reading, and a lot of dull stuff such as the tycoon interviewing type of thing he was out on at the moment. What was somewhat surprising to me was that Paul should keep such a file as meticulously as this one. Each story was carefully clipped, pasted to a card, and the date and edition of the paper in which it had appeared typed directly above it. It didn't seem that Paul's easy-going, affable, almost sloppy characteristics fitted the sort of a business-like man who'd keep such a personal record system. But, of course, Paul was a hell of a lot smarter than his outward characteristics indicated, and the ultimate sense in having such a thorough record for himself might very reasonably occur to him. He was the sort who'd very often be too impatient to turn to the more extensive files of his own paper's morgue when he was in a hurry on something. And all of this could, some day, be conceivably worked into books or magazine articles. It provided an excellent record of the history of a working newspaperman in a big town.

There were lead stories. Big, important yarns, some full of drama prominently splashed into type. And there were the obscure little yarns without by-lines and comparatively insignificant.

There were two stories, dated April sixth, one with Paul's by-line and the other without it, but both obviously written by him. The by-lined yarn concerned the arrival of a prominent English diplomat in town. It had been given a two column spread, and Paul had interviewed the dignitary. The other was a small squib concerning the body of an unidentified man, obviously a suicide, who'd been found in the Chicago river that day.

What had caught my attention about them was, of course, the dates on which they'd been written. Tommy Christopher had been killed on the sixth. And I was shoving the clippings back in the file, trying not to think of the kid bleeding out his life in an alley, when the apartment bell-buzzer sounded.

For a moment it startled me. And then I shut the file and left the alcove, moving slowly to the answering buzzer in the hallway.

I hesitated only a moment before pressing the buzzer that would admit the ringer downstairs. After all, it wasn't my apartment, and I didn't like to take the responsibility.

It was most probable that it was merely Paul, back from his assignment and finding himself without his key, which I'd noticed he'd forgetfully left on the mantel of the fireplace. What a memory!

I waited at the door, after I'd pressed the buzzer. The footsteps moving up the stairs sounded like Paul's light tread. But the person who appeared on the landing a moment later wasn't Paul Tobin.

It was Nick Alex, the sleek, well-tailored little hoodlum.

He had a gun in his hand, a .45 Army automatic. He was smiling very happily, and the pupils of his eyes were pin-points, the way only an overdose of dope can make them.

He paused and sucked in his breath, still smiling.

"Hello, Johnny Christopher," he said.


CHAPTER XII

THERE was a moment that was like eternity while I stared at the hopped-up little hoodlum. The gun in his hand was exceptionally steady. There's something about hop that gives a steady sort of madness to the man who's filled with it. Not like the wobbles that hooch hands out.

"Hello Alex," I said slowly. "You've really gotten stuffed with the snow."

His smile didn't disappear at all. But something flickered in his eyes. Something you see flickeringly in the eyes of a snake as it whirrs in the brush.

"You don't talk nice, Johnny Christopher," he said.

He moved toward me slowly, and I backed away from the door at the same rate, keeping my eyes fixed on that gun. Then he was standing inside the door and softly closing it behind him, one hand on the knob behind his back, the other still clutching the gun.

"I hear you've been snooping around," he said quietly.

I tried to brass it out.

"Put that thing away," I said, nodding at the .45. "It makes too much noise."

He giggled. "It's gonna make plenty noise in just a minute."

"Put it away," I repeated, inching a step toward him.

"Uh-uh!" He brought the gun up sharply. "No funny stuff. Nicky Alex doesn't like funny stuff." Then he giggled again. "Funny how your own rod should give you the sweats."

"My own rod, Nick?"

"Yeah," he was still smiling. "Yeah. Your own rod. Government stuff."

"The police have the .45 I owned," I said. "It was used to kill Dinty Kerrigan. How'd you know Dinty was killed with a .45, or that I owned one?"

"I've listened to too many questions already," Alex said. "Put those paws high and turn around."

I hesitated, then turned slowly, raising my arms above my head.

"Okay," Alex declared. "March your way to the bathroom."

I hesitated, and the .45 was suddenly sharp and nudging in my back.

"The bathroom," Alex repeated. "Guns don't make so much noise in the bathroom. You get all the faucets going, and maybe the shower. And it don't make near so much noise because there's tile walls, usually, too."

"I found Dinty Kerrigan in my bathroom in the hotel, Alex," I said. "Maybe you had something to do with that."

"Maybe you talk too loud," Alex said, driving the gun more sharply into my back. "Get moving."

I started toward the bathroom, and the pressure of the gun in my back was suddenly lessened. But I could practically feel Alex's breath on my neck as he followed behind me.

"Maybe you also know a guy named Boyko," I said.

"Maybe I'm ignorant and don't know a thing," he giggled. "Keep moving."

We turned down a short hallway. The bathroom was at the end. The door was shut. I hesitated.

"Okay—" Alex began.

"All right, Alex!" a voice behind us said sharply.

I couldn't see Alex in the instant after the voice spoke, but I could hear him suddenly shift weight, suddenly start to turn.

I threw myself to the floor and to one side half an instant later. And in that instant the gun roared.


IT wasn't a .45. It wasn't the gun Alex carried. It was a weapon of a smaller caliber; and as I lifted my head I saw Paul Tobin standing at the end of the hallway, holding a compact little revolver in his hand and staring down at the still twitching body of Nick Alex.

"Paul!" I yelled, scrambling to my feet. "Good God, fellow! Talk about timing!"

Tobin was staring at Alex. There was a crimson splash where his right eye had been, and he was now lying motionless, his blood slowly staining the green and white carpet.

"Talk about damned fools," Tobin said sardonically, "who answer doorbells for strangers." He was still staring at Alex. "Especially strangers who come bearing guns."

My hands were shaking, and I was reaching for a cigarette.

Tobin slowly put the revolver into his pocket.

"I think I need a scotch, triple," he said. "I'll fix you one, too. I'll be in the living room."

Then he turned and left the hallway entrance.

I'd found my cigarette, and had it lighted. I stopped a moment beside Alex's body. Then I bent down and turned him fully face up. I did a quick, expert job, then, of frisking him.

It took just a minute, then I put his wallet and change and usual incidentals back where I'd found them. In my hand was his .45, a small box of slugs for the gun, and a torn half-page of newspaper.

A quick glance at the half page, once I'd unfolded it, showed me it was from the Journal, April 6th bulldog edition. It was the half page on which the story of Tommy's death was columned. Down in the right hand corner, circled in pencil, was a story I'd seen just ten or fifteen minutes previously, when I'd been going through Paul Tobin's clipping file. It was the agate type yarn on the discovery of an unidentified body floating in the Chicago river.

I straightened up, and something clicked in my mind.

I folded the torn half page quickly, stuffed it in my pocket. Then I looked at the automatic in my hand.

From the .45 I ejected the cartridge clip, quickly sliding the rounds of ammunition into my palm. There were six rounds, each a dud. I snapped back the slide, ejecting a seventh round from the chamber. It, too, was a dud.

I examined the rounds in the cartridge box I'd taken from the body. They were good ammunition. I filled the clip with half a dozen rounds, chambered a seventh, dropped the cartridge box and the bad rounds into my pocket.

"What're you doing in there," I heard Paul's voice call out, "holding a post mortem?"

I dropped the .45 in my pocket, stepped around Nick Alex's body.

"Coming," I shouted. "You have that drink ready?"

Paul was standing by the mantel of the fireplace, a glass in his hand, a cigarette drooping from his mouth, when I entered the living room.

"There's your drink." He pointed to a coffee table.

I took my drink, sat down on the couch.

"This'll help," I said. "Now that this thing has come to a neat little climax, I'm ashamed of my nerves."

"Well get a grip on them, chum," said Paul. "It's not quite over yet."

I took a deep drink. "What's it figure out to?"

"Hendricks," Paul said. "I've located him. I told you I was going out on an interview. That was the bunk. I didn't want you to get worked up, too hopeful. I had information. Now it's paid off and I've located Hendricks."

"But Nick Alex—" I began.

"Now you know where he fits into Hendricks' organization," Tobin said simply. "Trigger man. Handled Hendricks' dirty stuff—such as the job he was about to do on you."

"Then Hendricks sent him here?"

Paul Tobin grinned wryly. "What do you think?"

I finished off the rest of my drink in a gulp.

"Where is Hendricks now?"

"Nick Alex owned a country cabin a few miles out of town. Hendricks is holed up there now, probably waiting for Alex to arrive," Tobin said. He finished off his drink, put the glass on the mantel. "You and I, chum, are going to give him a little surprise."

I stood up.

"Will Hendricks be alone?"

Tobin gave a characteristic loose-shouldered shrug.

"Alex had buddies, rough buddies. Maybe they're on hand."

"I took Nick's .45 from him," I said. "He won't mind."

Paul grinned. "Good. I was just going to suggest that. I've got my little lady"—he patted the small revolver in his pocket—"all set to help again."

I stood up. "We'd better get going."

"I looked into Alex's coupe," Paul said. "He had it parked outside—which tipped me to hurry like hell up here—with the keys still in the ignition. We can use his gas to get to Hendricks."

I gestured toward the hall. "What about the body?"

"One corpse, more or less," he said. "We'll have the bluecoats remove it later."

I followed Tobin out of the apartment. As he closed the door behind us he paused a moment, stuck his head back inside, and murmured:

"Make yourself comfortable, Nicky."


THE shiny red coupe that had been Nick Alex's was parked almost directly in front of Paul Tobin's apartment building. It wasn't locked, of course, and as Paul had said, the keys were still in the ignition.

"Looks like Nicky didn't plan on staying long," I remarked.

"It wasn't a very social call," Tobin said, sliding in behind the wheel.

I got in the other side.

"Alex's country cabin is northwest," Tobin said. "It shouldn't take us long."

We were out on the Outer Drive a few minutes later, Tobin driving with graceful, casual breakneck speed.

"We can follow through to Evans-ton, then take the Skokie Road," he observed. "Quickest route I can think of."

"If you don't mind, I'm curious to know how the hell you got the lead on this."

Tobin laughed. "Little Paul has ears all over town. The ears can tell him lots when he wants to ask questions around. I told you that Alex had a definite tie-in of some sort with Hendricks."

"Hendricks told me that himself, but he made it sound purely political."

"It was in a way," Paul said. "Remember how astonished you were when I told you Nick Alex had been taken back into favor with the people of your nationality in Hendricks' ward?"

"Yes, and I still can't believe it."

Tobin smiled. "It isn't so hard to figure out when you start from the beginning. Some time ago I covered a routine police case in which the body of a middle aged, unidentified man, was found floating around in the waters of the Chicago River's west bend."

I thought suddenly of the torn half page from the Journal in my pocket.

"Sure," I said quietly. "One of those routine suicide things, eh?"

"As far as anybody knew," Tobin answered. "In cases like that, when a body's been soaking for days, recognition is pretty well impossible. Of course, no one stepped up to claim the corpse. There was the usual potter's burial, and that was that. No one ever gave a tumble as to who the guy was."

"And did you?" I asked.

Tobin slowed the coupe as we made the turn at Foster.

"Not immediately," he said. "Not for a hell of a long time. But one thing made me curious. I was in the morgue the morning after the corpse was found. I saw Nick Alex there."

"Alex?"

"Looking over the body," Tobin said. "He was very casual about it, said he wanted to make sure it wasn't a cousin of his who had disappeared a month or two back. And then he left. Of course he said it wasn't his cousin."

"I still don't get it," I said.

"Give me time," Paul grinned. "Well, after this body was found—"

"When was that?" I broke in.

"March, I think," he said casually. "Yeah, latter part of March, it was."

I lighted a cigarette. "Yeah, go on."

"After this body was found," he continued, "I did a little looking into Alex. Not much, for I didn't have a hell of a lot of reason to be suspicious. But that's what led me to finding out that Nick Alex had been unreasonably back in the good graces of the respectable citizens of his nationality. Like you, I was quietly astonished. It just didn't jibe. I wondered why. It didn't take a hell of a long time to find out."


HE paused to light a cigarette.

We passed Howard Street and entered Evanston.

"You've heard of the Greek underground movement, of course," he said.

"Of course."

"It isn't an official movement in the States here, not like Greek War Relief and some of the other agencies," Tobin said. "Its representatives, what few there are, have to work quietly in collecting money to further the work of the movement in Greece. It has to be quiet because no one can afford to let the Axis know who its agents are. It might result in trouble for the agents still working in Greece."

"But what would Alex have to do with any patriotic, decent—" I began.

Paul cut me off.

"The Greek underground agents circulate quietly among the affluent and patriotic Greek Americans," he went on. "They carry credentials that make their identification unquestionable. All your people, particularly those who still have relatives over there, do their damnedest to contribute what they can. Even many of the not so affluent give their little bit to the fund. The collections are more than enormous at times. But the collectors, of course, never touch a penny of it. They carry it back to put it to use in the cause. Think, however, what a hell of a good racket a thing like that would look to be to a rat of Nick Alex's caliber."

"But you said that credentials are—" I started.

We were moving west through suburban Evanston. Paul had slowed considerably and we were now moving at something less than breakneck speed.

"I said the credentials they carry make identification quite unquestionable," he broke in. "Anyone who carries the proper credentials is accepted as genuine. Even Nick Alex."

"He got them?" I demanded.

"From the guy he dumped in the river. From the guy he bumped off, the unidentified body in the morgue. That fellow was an accredited agent. Alex didn't give him time to begin; he got to him, killed him, took the credentials from his body, stripped all other identfication from him and dumped the body in the river."

"But the name on the credentials," I said, "would—"

Paul cut in once more.

"Would have to be altered, and was," he said. "So Nick Alex went among your people with the phony credentials, making enormous collections."

"But where does Hendricks fit in?" I demanded.

"I'm coming to that. Hendricks is no fool. He knows what goes on in his political reservation better than the people who live there. He did a little looking around, strictly on his own. He found out Alex's angle. Naturally, he wanted to be cut in."

"And Alex let him?"

"What could he do? Hendricks had enough on him to fry him. He threatened to turn him in. Hendricks was bigger stuff than Nick Alex. Nick had to throw in with him. And with Alex's new-born popularity among a certain group of the voters, Hendricks found him valuable as hell politically, as well."

"And how did that lead to my brother Tommy's getting it?"

Paul looked serious. "Tommy got wind of it all," he said, "somehow."

"But—" I began.


WE were on the Skokie Road, now, and Tobin turned north.

"Tommy was working for Hendricks. He might have overheard the deal being discussed at one time or another between Alex and Hendricks. He went to Hendricks—"

"Tommy did?" I interrupted.

Paul nodded. "Tommy went to Hendricks crazy mad. The kid said that Hendricks was going to restore the money to his people, or turn it over to the actual representatives of the underground, or he'd blow everything wide open."

"And what did Hendricks do?"

"Laughed him out of his office, told him he was reading too many penny-dreadfuls. Told him to run home and be a good boy. Then the kid went to Dinty Kerrigan."

"Why to Dinty?"

"The kid worshipped Dinty. Dinty was like a father to him after you left, Johnny. He saw to it that the kid kept clean of any political dirty stuff, helped him out in a thousand ways. He knew that Dinty was the only one he had left to turn to."

"But why," I began, "didn't Kerrigan-"

"Dinty was an older, wiser head than Tommy. But he was cautious, too cautious. And he had a wife and kids to support. He didn't know what could be done without positive proof. And then, that night, Tommy was killed."

I flicked my cigarette out of the window.

"Murdered," I corrected him.

"That's right," Paul nodded. "Murdered. Alex hired a young hobo who looked a lot like Tommy to stick up a store. He timed things so that he sent Tommy on an errand which would take him through that alley where he was killed a few moments after the young hobo ran from the scene of the crime. The hobo took off in one direction, the cop, Boyko, ran into the alley, where he'd been told Tommy would be. He shot the kid dead. The frightened grocery store owner, not having had a good look at the young bum who resembled Tommy vaguely, was willing to agree—on seeing Tommy's body—that Tommy had done the stick-up job."

"And shortly afterward Boyko retired in comfort," I said.

"On dough supplied him by Hendricks and Alex," Tobin said. He grimaced. "You can see what happened to poor old Dinty's nerve when he learned what happened to Tommy. It was all so slick he didn't dare to open his mouth. He knew it was far too big for him to buck. He didn't want to have any 'accidents' happen to him. He had a family to think of, and he clammed up shut."

"He was that way when I talked to him," I agreed.

"He was surprised as hell at your return," Tobin said. "He stalled you off. But after you'd gone, he found courage in the fact that he now wasn't alone against the thing. He felt he could tell you what he knew, and at the same time rid himself of some of the shame he undoubtedly felt at having played possum so long. When he went to your hotel he found Alex there, waiting for you. Alex knew what Kerrigan was going to do. He eliminated him then and there, left him in your tub."

"But why was Alex waiting for me?"

"He was worried. He wanted to find out what you were after. You'd been all over the old neighborhood all morning, talking to everyone. You were looking up back newspaper stories. You were getting on the trail. Kerrigan's arrival told him what you were after. He couldn't afford to let Kerrigan talk. He was under orders from Hendricks to do what was necessary. Hendricks was clever. He was letting Alex handle all the trigger-work."

I nodded. We were in the country, now, woods on either side of us, an occasional clearing, an occasional road-house.

"And Alex had used my gun to do the job, eh?" Paul nodded. "He'd probably been frisking your room, just to make sure of things, when he found your gun. When it came time to eliminate Kerrigan it seemed very bright to him, I suppose, to use your .45 for the job. Maybe he thought it would snarl you up in the murder to the point where you have to drop the trail leading to Hendricks and him."

"And then there was Boyko. How do you figure that?"

Paul shrugged.

"Hendricks undoubtedly knew you'd get to Boyko. Maybe he even knew you'd been inquiring around for his address. Boyko was a strictly weak link. A quarrelsome, inveterate drunkard ever since he shot Tommy. Soft, sloppy, maybe getting harder and harder to keep in line. Maybe Boyko was bleating for more money. He was running through what he'd been given plenty fast. Races, booze, women."

"Yeah," I nodded, "plenty of possible reasons, all of them good. But our chronology is a little out of order. What about Madge? Why did she call me? Why was she killed?"

Paul looked thoughtful. "I'd say that Hendricks told her you were in town, Johnny. I'd be guessing at this part, but she was a smart girl. Maybe she'd found out about Tommy's murder—that it had really been murder. Her life with Hendricks was hell, from what I hear. Maybe she suspected all along, and wanted to tell you what she suspected. Hendricks never let her get to you, at any rate. She never told what she knew, or suspected to anyone."


WE slowed down, now, to almost a complete stop. Then I saw the rutted road leading off the highway into the woods.

"This is it," Tobin said. "The cabin is back about half a mile, maybe farther, in the woods."

"And Hendricks is there?"

"He's there," Tobin said positively.

"Your ears, as you call them, gathered a lot of information for you, Paul."

Tobin nodded abstractedly.

"We'll park in the clearing behind the cabin," he said. "I'll go in first. For God's sake, sit tight until I give you the word. Stay right in the car."

The road was turning, now, and I could see a small cabin-type cottage a few hundred yards away. It was set back in the trees, darkened and apparently deserted.

"You want me to sit tight, eh?"

Paul nodded. "By all means. I'll signal you. We've got to play this smart."

The road turned, and we lost sight of the cabin. Then it was again in view, only this time we were behind it, moving off the road into a tiny clearing half a hundred yards away.

We stopped, and Tobin turned off the ignition with a decisive gesture of his wrist.

"This is it," he said, his voice almost a whisper. "Now don't forget. I know what I'm doing. I'll go in. Then you follow."

"How about my going first?" I asked quietly.

"Don't be a damned fool," he snapped irritably. "You want to wave a red flag at them? There might be others than Hendricks, you know." He opened the door. "They won't know what in the hell to make of my walking in on 'em."

He got out of the car, shutting the door.

"Keep put," he said. "I'll signal." I watched him move off toward the cabin, walking easily, noiselessly. He headed for the rear of the cabin. There was a back door, which he evidently intended to use for entrance.


HE was at the door. I took a deep breath, put my hand on the handle of the car door. He had not yet drawn his revolver, but now I saw him remove it smoothly from his pocket, holding it ready with one hand while he opened the door with the other.

I said a silent prayer that I hadn't waited to long, as I saw him step into the cabin. When the door closed behind him, I opened the car door and leaped out.

For a moment, due to the slow reaction of my game leg, I almost stumbled headlong. Then I'd regained my balance and was moving as quickly as I could toward the cabin.

The .45 was cool and smooth and comforting in my hand. I couldn't hear any voices from inside the cabin, but I hadn't expected to.

Then, suddenly, I heard Tobin's voice cry out:

"Okay, Johnny. Come on!"

I was less than twenty feet from the cabin, then, and the door opened suddenly to reveal Tobin standing there, revolver in hand.

Then I was up the steps, and he stood aside to let me pass. As I entered the room I saw it was a rude sort of kitchen, semi-darkened because the tattered shades had been drawn. There was a table, several chairs, a pump sink.

I was several feet into the room before I saw Hendricks. The door closed behind us, then, and Tobin suddenly threw the light switch, illuminating the room with almost blindingly sudden brilliance.

Hendricks was in the far corner, by the pump sink. He was gagged, and bound to one of the rude wooden chairs. His hair was unkempt, his head bruised and bloodied at the temple. The gag bit deep into his mouth, and he stared at me with eyes that were wild.

"Here he is Johnny," Tobin said quietly. "He's been waiting for some time for you. I told him you were coming here to complete the scene."

I turned, then, very slowly, to face Paul Tobin.

He was smiling in that happy, crooked, boyish grin of his, and his revolver was not trained on Hendricks, but on me.

"It's going to be very simple, Johnny," he said. "The police will find your body here, with Hendricks. It will look grand. The war veteran, still psycho-neurotic, comes home to find his hated rival had married the girl he loves. His twisted mind—that's you, Johnny—plots revenge. He runs rampage. He kills two of his rival's employees, Nick Alex and Dinty Kerrigan. He kills the girl who married his rival, then he kills a policeman who shot his brother in the line of duty. The twisted mind, Johnny, your mind, Johnny, thinks Boyko was a murderer in killing Tommy. He gets revenge on him, too. Then he kills his rival, maybe after torturing him here—and finally turns the gun on himself, after writing a full confession."

I still had the .45 in my hand. Instinctively, I raised it.

Paul Tobin laughed briefly.

"Don't be funny, Johnny Christopher. That gun isn't worth a damn. I loaded it, personally, before I gave it to Alex. The rounds in the magazine are duds. Think of some prayers, Johnny. Maybe some prayers you learned in battle. And say 'em fast, Johnny."


CHAPTER XIII

MY eyes were still fixed on the gun in Tobin's hand. And when I spoke, I kept my eyes there. "This isn't a surprise, Paul," I said slowly. "Not the least bit of a small one. I knew from the moments that followed Nick Alex's death that your hands were bloody. You remember telling me you weren't in town when Tommy was killed?"

"Sounds fascinating,'" Tobin said dryly, still smiling. "Do go on."

"You weren't in town, or so you claimed, but your by-line was on a story in the same edition as the one that carried the story of Tommy's death. A local interview, remember? And you admitted to covering a suicide story that also appeared in the Journal the same day that the story of Tommy's killing appeared there. You had to be in town. Yet you deliberately lied on that score, not figuring such a simple thing would trip you up."

Tobin bowed faintly in mock apology.

"A detail I overlooked," he said. "But I can't see that it makes any difference now."

"You also did a hell of a lot of glib talking coming out here, Tobin," I said. "You had 'sources' of information that filled out the entire pattern of the murders perfectly for you. They must have been damned fine sources. Sources that came from your own knowledge, since you, and not Hendricks, were the killer and consequently knew the pattern perfectly. You're smart, Paul, but not that clever. No one but the killer could tie them all together that neatly."

Again Tobin made a mock half bow. "Sorry I couldn't leave the impression with you that I'm a hell of a smart guy."

"And when you figured out this final frame-up," I said, "'you sent Alex up to your apartment, coked-up to kill me, but knowing that he wouldn't, because you'd loaded his gun. It was easy, then, to time it so you could step in and 'rescue' me from Alex. And it made it easy to eliminate Alex so what he knew as your confederate wouldn't ever come to light."

Tobin nodded. "Bright boy, Johnny. That 'rescue' from Alex was to give you confidence—as it evidently did—in my completely boyish innocence. I could get you out here without your ever suspecting what I had in store. After all, you'd naturally think the killer wouldn't save your life so dramatically.'"

"It's a damned safe bet, too, that the story you told me coming out here was basically correct, except that you were the one who went to Alex for the cut-in on his graft. You became the brains of his outfit after you discovered his racket. You and not Hendricks. Substituting your name for Hendricks in that story, it's substantially correct."

"Not only substantially—positively," Tobin smirked.

I was still watching the gun in his hand as I spoke.

"Why did you have to kill Madge?" I demanded.

"Ah yes. That's a loose end I neglected to mention, isn't it? I couldn't very well have mentioned it, and kept Hendricks the villain of the piece. You see, poor Hendricks over there has been contributing heavily to me for several years—ever since I learned that his father died in a penitentiary some ten years ago. He'd kept his jail-bird father's past completely secret for a long time. It would have been suicidal, politically, if it were to be brought up. A man of poor Hendricks' political stature cannot afford to have the voters know that his father was a criminal. When I discovered it, he paid well. There was nothing else he could do. He paid well and eventually gave Nick Alex a nominal job in his organization, on my orders. Getting Alex in with Hendricks helped our—ah—collection business."

"And Madge found out?"

"Eventually she did. Madge, as I remarked once, was smart. She was bound to discover, sooner or later, that her husband was paying out heavy blackmail. When she called you in your room at the hotel the day Kerrigan was killed there, it was on an anonymous tip I telephoned to her. But, of course, she was told that you were threatening to kill Hendricks. That's why she said she had to see you. She wanted to reason with you."


TOBIN had paused to glance at Hendricks, then he smiled faintly and continued.

"I called Madge after I knew she'd have time to telephone you. I wanted her call to you at the hotel to go on record. Then I told her that I had to see her immediately, that it was about Hendricks. She'd come to see me several weeks before, saying that she knew of the blackmail and begging me to agree on a final settlement so that I wouldn't as she put it, bleed him to death.

"She met me, instead of you. We went for a drive. From the end of that ride, at the stone quarry, she was no longer any trouble."

"And you think now, that it's all tied up neatly, and that you're clear?" I asked.

"I'm tired of this chit-chat," Tobin said. The smile left his face. He took several steps toward me. "I'm clear, you're damned right. And this is the end of the road, Johnny. I don't like this job, for, believe it or not, I always rather liked you. You can close your eyes, if you like, for you're going to get it now, at close range. It's too damned bad that it has to be like this—but I like myself better than anyone else."

"Drop that gun, Paul," I told him. "I can use one of these better than you."

"Don't be a sap," he said, "that popgun's useless."

"I reloaded it," I said, and for a moment shifted my gaze from the gun to his eyes. There was a moment in which frightened doubt flickered there, then convulsive conviction.

I didn't wait. I threw myself to one side, firing from almost point blank range, from the hip, foxhole combat style.

One shot echoed from his gun on the heels of the three that barked from the .45 in my hand. And then I was on the floor, my shoulder aching from the impact, rolling over to avoid any after-convulsion of his trigger finger.

But there wasn't any after convulsion.

The gun fell slowly from his fingers as they spread open helplessly. His eyes were very wide and filled with a wonderment that was quickly turning to a glassy sheen. On his mouth there was an expression of strangely sardonic surprise.

His knees began to crumple. Slowly at first, then more rapidly until he was kneeling on the floor for half an instant, his open fingers clutching helplessly at his stomach. Then he fell forward to his face.

I climbed to my feet and, standing there above him, knew that I was looking down at death. I turned away, curiously conscious that the sound of death was somehow gone at last.

Gone at last, for good....


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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