Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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He Wore a Fuzzy Yellow Coat and a Shiny Topper; the
Crimes He Committed Seemed as Crazy as His Clothing.
TRADE STREET was a narrow, grim slot cutting through a jumble of warehouses, small factories, cluttered little stores, and gauntly ugly tenement buildings. It was dark now, and deserted, and the fog from the river was sliding along the blackness of the building fronts in slow silver threads that moved gently and softly. The street lights, widely spaced, were fuzzy balls with the pavement black and slick and shiny under them.
Harley Dennis' footsteps made a muffled clatter of echoes that followed him along the street. He was a big man, wide-shouldered and tall in a long blue overcoat. He had long legs and a long springy stride that moved him along quickly with a minimum of effort. His broad face was deeply tanned, with high cheekbones and a heavy jaw. It was a good-humored, tolerant face with laugh wrinkles cut deep around widely spaced blue eyes.
He was smiling to himself now in the darkness, thinking back to the time when he had walked this street alone every night. That had been when he was a policeman. Trade Street had been at the tail end of his beat in those days. How many years ago? Three, almost four. The time had gone fast. It had brought no changes that he could see to Trade Street.
A thin, eerie wail sounded faint and far off and incredibly lonely in the wet darkness. Dennis stopped instantly, swinging around. He knew that sound of old. It was a siren on a police prowl car. Long training enabled him to place its direction and distance.
It was on Stone Street, which crossed Trade at the next intersection a half block ahead. It was about six squares away, coming very fast. Dennis started on a run for the corner.
He had gone about twenty paces when he heard the sound of the other car. It was a powerful roar that swelled out into sudden thunder as the car slammed into the intersection ahead. It was a roadster with a low, narrow body and a high hood that gleamed with nickel. It was traveling at incredible speed, and Dennis suddenly dug his heels in and stopped short, with an incoherent cry of warning as he saw that the driver meant to try to make the corner.
The big tires screamed on the pavement. The top was down, and the driver was a hunched dark figure bent over the big steering wheel. The car skidded wildly, heeling far over, straightened out for a second, then the spinning wheels hit a slick spot in the pavement. The big hood shot glinting reflections of light as the car spun clear around twice. It bounced up over the high curb, half-turned, and smashed sideways into a lamp post.
There was a rending, echoing crash. The lamp post teetered over drunkenly, jangled on the pavement. The roadster stopped with its nose jammed against the solid brick wall of a building.
Dennis ran forward. He could see the figure of the driver struggling out from under the steering wheel. It was a man, and Dennis caught the glossy gleam of a top hat that was tilted crazily down over his eyes.
"Wait!" Dennis shouted. "I'll help—"
THE driver didn't need any help.
He was out from under the steering wheel now, half kneeling in the low seat. He jerked around to face Dennis, and his arm swung up and down in a short chopping motion.
Dennis had seen that motion before, and he knew what it meant. Without a second's hesitation he threw himself flat on the wet pavement. There was a cracking report, and a thin red pencil of flame spat out of the driver's hand. The bullet whipped over Dennis' head, and he rolled frantically sideways into the scanty shelter of the curb.
The driver vaulted over the low door of the roadster. He was small and thin, wirily quick. His face was a black blur under the dented top hat. He wore a long yellow camel's hair overcoat that billowed around his legs in flapping folds as he ran for the slit-like mouth of an alley across the street.
Dennis rose to his knees. In that second the driver of the roadster reached the alley opening, spun around in a billowing swirl of the yellow overcoat, and fired again at him. Then he jumped backwards, and the blackness of the passageway swallowed him.
Dennis got up slowly and brushed at his coat. He was breathing hard, and his eyes were narrowed, glinting with anger.
The sound of the siren was a sudden driving howl in his ears. The police prowl car roared across the intersection. One of its occupants must have seen the yellow roadster smashed against the building wall, because instantly after it passed, tires screeched on the pavement. Gears grated noisily, and then the engine began to roar again.
The prowl car swung into the intersection, screaming in reverse. It whirled around, lights flicking over the roadster, the tall form of Dennis, then jarred to a halt against the curb.
"That way!" Dennis shouted. "The alley!"
Two uniformed figures popped out of the prowl car, legged it for the alley mouth. Revolvers swinging in their hands caught the light and glittered thinly cold. A third figure slid out from under the steering wheel, walked heavily toward Dennis.
"Now, you," he said. "Did you see this roadster crack up?"
"I did," said Dennis. "What's the matter, MacCarthy? Are you too stuck up with your new stripes to recognize an old friend when you see him?"
MacCarthy poked his head forward, squinting. "Why, it's Harley Dennis! And him all dressed up like a banker, too!" His big red paw engulfed Dennis' hand and clamped down hard. "It's good to see you, boy! And so now you're sneaking down of a dark night to sniff the air on your old beat, eh?"
Dennis chuckled. "Not the reason this time. I came down to see a client."
"So!" said MacCarthy. "It's clients you're getting now, is it? Losh, Harley, you've been climbing in the world these days. I never thought I'd see the time when you'd be a dressed-up lawyer, in spite of all the books you were always studyin' when you should've been loafin' like an honest cop."
"I did my share of loafing with the rest."
"That you did," said MacCarthy. "Many's the time I caught you. But you were a good cop, Harley, and there's damned few these days. You should have stuck with it. But now you've got clients."
"Not too many," Dennis said. "And this isn't really a client I'm seeing tonight. At least, not a paying one. Just an old friend who wants some advice. You know the Swensons who live over on Hill Street?"
"SURE," said MacCarthy. "Losh, yes! Know them well. The old lady and her two sons—Oscar and Ole. They've lived in this district ever since I can remember. I often drop in and see the old lady now that the boys have moved away. She likes to gossip with me, though I don't know why, since I can't understand more than half she says, her being a Scandahoovian."
"She's a grand person," Dennis stated. "She always sat up late on cold nights with a pot of coffee boiling on the stove waiting for me to go past on my last round, and I'd sit and talk over my law lessons with her and Oscar. Neither one of them understood a thing about it, but they'd always listen very politely."
"So that's where you used to hide out."
Dennis nodded, grinning. "Lots of times. And don't tell me you didn't know it. You used to hide out there yourself when you walked this beat. Oscar called me up tonight and told me he had a problem he wanted to talk over with me. I told him I'd come down. I wanted to see his mother again. But what's this you've got here? What about this roadster?"
MacCarthy turned toward the smashed car, his broad face darkening with anger. "The murdering young devil! He's in for it this time whether the boys corner him up in that alley or not! He'll not buy his way out of this!"
"You know who he was?" Dennis asked, surprised.
"Hah! You're right we do? Every cop in town knows that roadster and that crazy get-up of his! Him and his top hat and his yellow overcoat."
"Who is he?"
"Dick Roberts," said MacCarthy bitterly. "Young Dick Roberts, the millionaire playboy. He's since your time, I guess. There were still a couple of colleges that would take him in when you were a cop. But no longer. They've all fired him out."
"Dick Roberts," Dennis repeated. "You mean he's the son of old Mathew Roberts, the banker?"
MacCarthy nodded. "He is, and it's a lucky thing for him, too. If it wasn't for his father's money and influence, he'd be in jail long since. Him and his tricks and his practical jokes. He won't think it's funny this time when we get him."
"What were you after him for—speeding?"
"Worse than that," said MacCarthy. "We were over on Stone Street, cruisin' along when he went by us goin' the other way like a bat out of hell. We turned around and took out after him. We saw him throw this poor devil out of his car, and he must have been goin' better than sixty, too!"
"He threw someone out of the car?" Dennis queried.
"He did. We saw him do it. We saw him plain, and he won't buy his way around it. The poor devil hit the pavement like a bundle of rags. Drunk he was, no doubt. But that didn't save him from breakin' his neck. We stopped just long enough to see that, and then we took out after him again. He'd have slipped us if he hadn't cracked up here. That roadster is faster than lightning. But that was murder, Harley."
"It was," Dennis agreed. "And it explains a few things that had been bothering me. When he cracked up here, I ran forward to help him. I thought certainly he'd be hurt—and badly. But he wasn't. He shot at me."
"WHAT?" MacCarthy exclaimed incredulously. "Are you sure, man? Why, he's not the kind to carry a gun!"
"Look," Dennis answered. He pointed down at the sidewalk near his feet. There was a bright leaden smear the size of a silver dollar on the cement. "That was his second try. It didn't miss me more than a foot."
"Losh!" MacCarthy said blankly. "Why, the young fool must be mad! Did you get a good look at him?"
Dennis shook his head. "I wasn't close enough, and it's too dark here. I saw the top hat and the yellow overcoat."
"That's enough," said MacCarthy. "That's better than seein' his face. Nobody else would wear such a crazy getup."
The other two policemen came out of the alley mouth, Walking now and talking together in low tones. They came across the street toward Dennis and MacCarthy.
"Well?" MacCarthy queried impatiently.
One of the policemen shook his head. "Not a sight of him. Not even a sniff."
He looked at Dennis. "Sure you saw him duck in that alley, mister?"
"Yes," said Dennis.
MacCarthy said angrily: "Of course, he's sure! He's not a dumb head such as some young sprouts I could mention who haven't worn the shine off their uniforms yet! He was a cop while you two were still playing marbles. Did you go clear through the alley, or did you sit down as soon as you were out of my sight and talk it over?"
"We went clear through," the second policeman said.
"He had too much of a start," Dennis told MacCarthy. "I could have chased him, only I didn't want him to try any more shooting practice on me. He's too good."
"I'd like the chance to have him try it on me!" MacCarthy snarled. "I've taken care of tougher ones than him in my day. Come on, we'll go back and see about the poor devil he dropped out. The ambulance should be there by this time. You'd best come along with us, Harley. It's on your way, anyhow."
THE ambulance was backed in against the curb, and its spotlight made a blood-red streak across the slick pavement. There was a crowd close around it that swayed and pushed and muttered in low, stifled tones. MacCarthy shouldered his way roughly through into the little cleared space directly behind the ambulance. Dennis followed him.
There was a stretcher lying on the sidewalk, and two men in white uniforms knelt beside it. They were arranging a white sheet carefully around a limp, still form. A third man, standing beside them, turned slowly when MacCarthy appeared. He nodded a wordless greeting.
Dennis recognized the third man instantly. It was Lieutenant Meegan of the Homicide Squad—thin, tall and stick-like in a long overcoat with a high collar pulled tight around his throat. His hat was down over his eyes, shading his thin, prematurely lined face. His lips were thin and bloodless, twisted bitterly down at the corners. He stood with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders hunched uncomfortably. He listened to MacCarthy's report, nodding silently now and then, showing no surprise, no emotion at all. When MacCarthy mentioned Dennis' name, Meegan turned to look at him, spoke for the first time:
"Hello, Harley. Good to see you again. This is a nasty business we've got here."
"Dead?" Dennis asked, nodding toward the still form on the stretcher.
Meegan nodded. "Yes. Stabbed."
"Stabbed?" Dennis repeated. "I thought Mac said his neck was broken when he fell from the car."
"It was," Meegan said. "But he was dead before that. Quite a while. Been stabbed in the back."
"Have you identified him?" Dennis inquired.
Meegan nodded again, then jerked his head sideways. Dennis looked in that direction and saw the two figures huddled close against the side of the ambulance. He stared for a second in incredulous dismay, then stepped forward quickly.
She was a small, pathetic figure bent and withered with age. She wore a black shawl over her head, and she was holding both work-worn hands in front of her face, weeping in silent misery. Her son, Ole Swenson, was standing beside her, holding her close against him. He had a gaunt, thin face that was twisted with incoherent anguish now.
"Ole," said Dennis numbly. "What is it? What's the matter with your mother?"
OLE Swenson swallowed audibly.
"That—that's Oscar there." His voice broke on the last word. "They—they come and told us, and—he was lyin' there—on the sidewalk." He sobbed once, catching his breath with a sudden gasp.
Dennis reached out his hand and touched Mrs. Swenson gently on her thin, bowed shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice thickened with the ache in his throat. "Sorry, Mother Swenson."
Her wrinkled hand, wet with her tears, fumbled for his, pressed it.
"You take her home," Dennis said softly to Ole. "I'll take care of everything that's to be done here."
"Thank you," Ole said in a dull voice. He turned slowly, whispering to his mother.
MacCarthy went past Dennis to fend a way through the crowd for the two of them. Dennis watched the three of them go until the crowd closed behind them and hid them. Meegan spoke softly from behind.
"You know him, huh?"
Dennis nodded. "Yes. His name is—was Oscar Swenson. I was coming down here tonight to see him."
Meegan looked at him sideways. "So? What about?"
"I don't know. He didn't say. Just wanted to see me about something that was troubling him."
"He'll have no more troubles," Meegan said softly. "Know where he lived?"
"Yes," Dennis said "He didn't live at home. He was married. He was resident janitor at the Raleigh Court Apartments. He lived there."
Meegan stood very still for a second, then turned his head slowly. "Raleigh Court? You sure about that?"
"Yes," said Dennis. "Why?"
"Lola Lorraine lives at Raleigh Court," Meegan answered.
"Who's she?" Dennis asked.
Meegan moved his gaunt shoulders. "She's a night club entertainer—and a good one. What they call a torch singer. And young Dick Roberts is carrying the torch for her. He's crazy for her. Follows her around like a sick puppy."
"I see," said Dennis.
"Now there's your motive," said Meegan. "Tied up in that connection somewhere. That's what was bothering me. Why should young Dick Roberts want to murder a poor, harmless devil like Oscar Swenson? But if that girl is mixed up in it some place..."
"Yes," said Dennis thoughtfully.
THE man was standing at the end of the long hall in front of the door of Harley Dennis' office. Harley Dennis saw him as he stepped out of the elevator, and he knew who the man must be although he had never before seen him.
He was a thick-set man, past middle age, and even standing there now, he had the air of a person who is used to giving orders and having them obeyed. He had a square, ruddy face, and his hair above his temples was thick, silvery grey. His eyes were blue, wary and hard. There was courage and the will to fight in the set of his shoulders, in the way he held his head.
"Harley Dennis?" he asked, as Dennis approached him.
Dennis nodded. "Yes."
"I'm Mathew Roberts," he said.
"Ah," said Dennis. "I thought so. You were waiting for me?"
"I have been," said Mathew Roberts. "For half an hour."
Dennis smiled. "I'm sorry. I'm a little late this morning. I had a good many things to do last night, and I didn't get time for much sleeping. Won't you come into my office?" He stepped to the door.
"Yes," said Mathew Roberts.
Dennis unlocked the frosted glass door. His offices were two small rooms. As yet he could not afford to hire a full time secretary. When he needed one he used the services of the public stenographer in the building. He led the way across the small waiting room, opened the door of his private office.
Mathew Roberts went in the room and seated himself in the chair beside Dennis' cluttered desk. He sat solidly erect, unmoving, and watched Dennis take off his coat and hat, hang them on the stand beside the door.
"You know why I'm here," he said flatly. "I don't need to tell you that, do I?"
"No," said Dennis, sitting down behind the desk. "You're here because of what happened last night."
Mathew Roberts studied Dennis for a long moment in a calculating way; his hard blue eyes narrowed.
"You know what I am, too, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Dennis easily. "I know you're one of the richest men in this city—in this state. I know you own every kind of property a man could think of—and then some."
Mathew Roberts said: "Right! I've got plenty behind me. I'm not afraid to fight. I've done a lot of it."
"I know," said Dennis.
"I make a bad enemy for any man to have."
"So?" said Dennis politely.
Mathew Roberts leaned forward. "I want you to work for me. All the time. You can draw up your own contract and name your own figure. I've got plenty of work for a lawyer to handle."
Dennis shook his head. "No, thanks."
"Why not?" Mathew Roberts demanded bluntly.
"I'd like the job, of course. There's no lawyer in town who wouldn't. But not the rest that goes with it."
DENNIS smiled. "I don't need to tell you that, do I?"
"No." Mathew Roberts' thin lips clamped tight after he had said the word. "The rest is that I want you to forget what you told the police you saw last night. All right, then, how much do you want to do that?"
"Nothing," said Dennis. "Because I'm not going to forget."
"Ah!" said Mathew Roberts, and he sat back straight in his chair. "So that's the way it is! You think you can buck me, do you? You think that whoever is behind you is bigger than I am."
"I haven't anyone behind me, and I'm not trying to buck you. All I want is to protect the interests of my clients."
"Clients?" Mathew Roberts repeated, raising his eyebrows. "Ah, I see. And just who would they be?"
"Oscar Swenson, and his mother, and his brother."
"Them!" Mathew Roberts exploded contemptuously.
"Yes," said Dennis.
"Bah! Do you take me for a fool? You're not interested in them. You nor any of the rest of them. You don't care a snap of your fingers for those poor devils. It's me you're after! Me! You and all the rest of the pack of yapping hounds that run with you. Oh, I know! You're clever and you're hard. I knew when I saw your name in the paper that you were the one to deal with. You thought this business up, didn't you?"
"I did not," said Dennis.
"Oh, you're clever!" Mathew Roberts continued, ignoring him. "How you arranged this, I don't know. Or how you even thought it up. But someone paid you to do it, I know that. Some of my enemies. I've got plenty of them. No man in my position could help but have them. But I've always fought them fair and square with no underhand monkey work about it. They're afraid to fight me that way. So they strike at me through my son!"
"Your son has caused you a great deal of sorrow, hasn't he?" Dennis asked softly.
Mathew Roberts' face seemed to relax for a second, and he suddenly looked older and beaten. "Yes. I don't know. I've tried. His mother died when he was very young. I tried to do everything for him—give him what he wanted...
"Perhaps you gave him too much," Dennis said.
Mathew Roberts moved his thick shoulders. "It's easy to say that, looking back. But at the time—how did I know? He's always been wild and hard to handle. But he never did anything bad, not really bad. Just foolish, senseless things. Now this..."
"I'm sorry," said Dennis
Mathew Roberts looked at him. "Are you? I think maybe you are. I think maybe you know a little of how I feel now."
"I think I do," said Dennis.
"Then do as I ask. Tell the police that you have forgotten what you saw last night. Nobody will ever touch you for it, I promise you that. And you'll never regret helping me."
"No," said Dennis.
Mathew Roberts' big hands clenched into lumpy fists. "Then save your sorrow for yourself! You'll need it!" He stood up. "Oh, you'll need it! I'll smash you, do you hear? I'll smash you!" He strode across the office, and the door slammed thunderously after him.
Dennis sat still in his chair for a long moment, watching the door. He shook his head slowly, sighing. Then he opened the drawer of the desk. There was a bolstered police revolver lying in it. Dennis took the revolver out of the holster, slid it into the waistband of his trousers, pulled his vest down to hide it. He stood up and walked over to the stand and got his hat and overcoat.
THE Raleigh Court Apartments was a tall, graceful brick building with four towers on its top that needled up thinly, black and small against the blueness of the sky. Dennis pulled his battered coupe in at the curb across the street, got out. As he started away from the coupe, the brass-trimmed doors under the striped canvas canopy of the apartment building swung back, and Mathew Roberts came out.
He didn't see Dennis. He was staring blindly at the ground in front of his feet, his head bent forward. He looked like a man whose world had smashed to bits around him. His face was a haggard mask, and his greyish lips moved in little twitching motions, without sound. His big shoulders were slumped, and he walked with his knees bent weakly under him, stumbling.
Another man came out of the doors behind him and walked close to him. He was a short, fat little man with a strangely dished-in face. He waddled along clumsily. He was talking emphatically to Mathew Roberts, gesturing with both hands to illustrate what he was saying.
While Dennis stood there, watching them curiously, the two got into a sleek black limousine that was parked farther down the block, and it drove slowly away. Dennis didn't move for a moment, staring thoughtfully after the limousine. Then he turned, walked on past the front of the apartment house, and went down the little alley that ran along the south side of it. He walked the length of the building, around to the back.
There were two narrow little cement steps leading up to a back door, and a man was sitting on them, lounging lazily in the sun with his legs stretched out in front of him and his eyes closed. He opened his eyes when he heard Dennis' footsteps and watched him, silent and tensely wary.
"The Swenson apartment is in the back here, isn't it?" Dennis asked him.
The man nodded once. "Right there." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the windows over his head. "There ain't nobody home."
He shifted nervously on the steps.
"Isn't Mrs. Oscar Swenson there?"
"No." The man straightened up. He was thin and small with a white, pallid face that was sprinkled with brown freckles. His clothes were a poor fit, made of cheap rough material, but they were pressed and clean. His colorless hair was short, roughly cut.
"Are you sure she isn't home?" Dennis said.
"Yeah. I been waitin' here for her for an hour."
"I'll wait, too," Dennis said. He sat down on the steps.
The man watched him uneasily. He moved nervously on the steps. Finally he cleared his throat with a nervous little cough and stood up.
"WELL," he said uncomfortably. "Well—I guess I better trot along. I can't be waitin' here all day. I guess she musta gone to some friend's house." He started to sidle away, watching Dennis out of the corners of his eyes.
"Sit down again," said Dennis.
The man stopped tensely. "Huh?"
"Sit down," said Dennis.
"Say! What do you think—"
Dennis put his right hand inside the front of his coat. "Come back here and sit down."
The man swallowed with an audible gulp. "Say, now. Listen here, mister. I ain't done nothing. You ain't got no right to go threatenin' me." His voice was a thin whine. He moved slowly and reluctantly back and sat down on the edge of the lower step, as far from Dennis as he could get.
Dennis watched him narrowly. "How long ago did you get out?"
"Huh? I don't know what you're talkin'—"
Dennis moved his shoulders impatiently. "You don't have to lie to me. I'm not going to arrest you. I'm not a cop. But I know a prison haircut and prison clothes when I see them."
The man swallowed again. "You ain't—a cop?"
The man moistened his lips. "You got a copper look to you."
"I used to be one, but I'm not now. I'm a lawyer—the Swensons' lawyer."
The man blew out his breath in a long sigh. "Oh! Well, whyn't you say so, then? You had me goin' there for a minute. Sure, I got out just three days ago. Just come into town this mornin'—ridin' a freight."
"State penitentiary?" Dennis asked.
"Are you out on parole?"
"Nope. No, sir! I done all of my bit."
"Why were you waiting for Mrs. Swenson?"
"She's my sister. My name's Tracy, same as hers was before she married Oscar."
"You knew he was murdered last night?"
Tracy nodded, his pallid face drawn and frightened. "Yeah. Yeah, I read about it in a paper I picked up this morning. That puts me in a nice spot, don't it? The cops are gonna be tough when they find out I'm an ex-con. They'll claim I did for Oscar. Now, hell's bells, wouldn't that be a screwy play on my part? I'd know damned well if I done it I'd be the first guy they'd suspect. But you can't tell a cop anything like that. Besides, I liked Oscar. He was a stiff-necked cuss, so honest he wouldn't pinch a penny if you cut off his right arm, and he sort of disapproved of me bein' a jail bird, but he'd 'a put me up on account of Florence—Mrs. Swenson."
"I see," Dennis said slowly.
Tracy swallowed hard. "I almost did a fade when I seen that paper. But hell, I ain't got no place to go and no dough to get there with! And then—I figured maybe Florence would sort of need somebody around—even if it was only me."
There was a muffled rapping sound somewhere above and behind them. A voice called: "Mrs. Swenson! Mrs. Swenson!" and then the rap was repeated.
Tracy straightened up with a jerk. "What's that?"
"SOMEONE knocking on the door of the Swenson apartment," Dennis said. "Come on. We'll take a look."
"Well, no," Tracy said uneasily. "I gotta be gettin' along now. I got some things to do—"
Dennis jerked his head. "Come on. Ahead of me. Didn't you hear me say that we'll look."
Tracy sidled up the steps, pushed the door open hesitantly. There was a short back hall that ran in front of the door of the Swenson apartment, gloomy and dark now, heavy with the stale odor of old cooking. Lieutenant Meegan was a thin, stick-like shadow standing in front of the apartment door, his hand raised to knock on it again. He turned quickly when he heard them.
"What—Oh, hello, Harley! What are you doing here?"
"Same thing you are," Dennis said. "Looking for Mrs. Swenson."
Meegan's eyes were narrowed on Tracy. "Where'd you pick up this stir bug?"
Tracy was on the defensive instantly. "You got no right to say that about me! I served my time—all of it! I got just as much right as anybody to be here! I got more right!"
"He's Mrs. Swenson's brother," Dennis explained. "He just got out of the state pen. Only arrived in town this morning. I found him outside waiting for Mrs. Swenson. He says she hasn't been around since he's been here."
"Sure of that?" Meegan asked Tracy.
"Yes, I'm sure! And you ain't got no right to go talkin' to me like that! I'm just as good as—"
"Give it a rest," Meegan interrupted irritably. "I don't know who you're as good as." He looked at Dennis. "This is a hell of a note. I want to get hold of Mrs. Swenson. I haven't had a chance to talk to her yet. I've been looking all over town for that damned Roberts kid."
"Did you locate him?" Dennis asked.
Meegan shook his head. "No. Not A trace. I've got plenty of men on it, though. They'll turn him up sooner or later. He's too well known to keep under cover for long. I wonder where Mrs. Swenson went. The desk clerk said he thought she was in her apartment. Hadn't seen her go out, anyway."
"She could have gone out the back door," Dennis suggested.
Meegan nodded absently. "Yeah. I suppose she did. Probably went to some friend's house to dodge the reporters. Well, I've got to get hold of her. I'll open it up and see if she left any addresses or telephone numbers around." He produced a ring of weirdly shaped keys from his pocket, began to try them in the lock of the door.
"Here!" Tracy protested. "You ain't got no right—"
"Shut up!" Meegan said. He went on trying the skeleton keys, one after the other. The fourth one turned the lock, and he pushed the door back. Dennis and Tracy were close behind him.
He took a step forward and then stopped short, half way through the door. His thin back stiffened. After a second he relaxed and said very quietly:
"All right. Come on in. Be careful and don't touch anything."
Tracy and Dennis pushed through the doorway. There was another door diagonally across the room from them. Through it they could see a bed and the woman lying across it, face down, so very still and quiet and limp.
HER hair was a thick, ash blonde, and it was tumbled down loosely over her face. One rounded white arm hung over the side of the bed, lax fingers just touching the floor. She had been pretty in a plump, mature way. She was quite dead now. She had been stabbed in the back, and her blood made a red, jagged stain like an outspread hand on the bed cover beside her. Tracy stared dumbly at the figure.
"It's Florence!" Tracy mumbled. "It's Florence, and—and she's dead." He swallowed and then repeated numbly: "She's dead."
There was a small round object on the carpet beside the lax fingers. It glittered a little, catching the light. Meegan knelt down slowly, examined it without touching it. He looked up at Dennis after a second.
"See what it is?"
"A button," said Dennis. "A big pearl button."
Meegan nodded once. "Yeah. Exactly the kind young Roberts wears on that camel's hair overcoat of his. She grabbed it when she fell. Then, when her fingers relaxed, it dropped on the floor." He stood up slowly. "That damned young maniac."
"My—sister," Tracy said. The freckles stood out like brown splotches against the pallid whiteness of his face.
Meegan coughed. "Come on! I'll have to go and report this."
Tracy looked at him. "Could I—just stand outside the door in the hall? You can lock it. I won't come in. I just want—want to sort of stay there. So there'll be somebody—so she won't be all alone..."
Meegan nodded. "But see that you stay there. I'll want to talk to you later."
"I—haven't any place to go," Tracy whispered. "No place at all. She—was the only relative I had."
DENNIS waited in the tightly ornate little lobby while Meegan made his telephone call to headquarters.
"I'd like to talk to you a minute," he said, when Meegan had hung up the receiver.
"Right," said Meegan. He jerked his head, and they moved out of earshot of the avidly curious desk clerk. "And what about, Harley?"
"Mathew Roberts came to see me this morning."
"Ah," said Meegan. "Did he, now?"
"Yes. He thinks this whole business is a scheme his enemies have cooked up to strike at him through his son. He thinks the whole thing is a frame-up."
"So?" said Meegan. "And do you think so, too, Harley? Do you think anybody could buy MacCarthy or me?"
"I do not," said Dennis. "I know they couldn't, but Mathew Roberts thinks I'm part and parcel of the scheme. He thinks that, and he means to strike back at me. He can make plenty of trouble for any man."
"I know that," Meegan agreed. "He's making plenty for me right now. He's pulling every string he can lay hand to."
"So I'm in this," Dennis told him. "I was in it before, on account of the Swensons. But now I'm in it on account of myself. So I want to know what's going on."
"Fair enough," said Meegan. "And I'd like your help. I'll need all I can get before I'm through with this. You know just about all I know. Like I said, young Roberts is crazy for this Lola Lorraine. She lives here. Mathew Roberts owns this apartment building."
"He does?" Dennis asked, surprised.
MEEGAN nodded. "One of his banks held a first and second mortgage on the place. They foreclosed and took it over. Do you begin to see the connection, Harley? It all works in so nicely. Mathew Roberts didn't like his son going with Lola Lorraine. The boy meant to marry her, and that was an idea Mathew Roberts wouldn't stand for at all. He tried to buy her off. I know that. But it didn't work. I think she loves the young fool. He'd straightened himself up considerably since he had been going with her—until this last business."
"And still Mathew Roberts wouldn't consent to their marriage?" Dennis inquired.
"Not he," said Meegan. "He's a stiff-necked one. Proud of his name and all that. He couldn't see Lola Lorraine coming into the family, although I don't know why he should be so particular. Certainly that son of his is no prize, and if the girl could handle him she could do more than Mathew Roberts could. But anyway, he didn't want it. I think he hired the Swensons to spy on the girl. And I think they must have done something that annoyed or frightened her, and she told young Roberts about it. I think he went crazy mad at the thought. Probably he didn't think of his father being behind it."
"It could have happened that way," Dennis said slowly.
Meegan moved his bony shoulders. "No matter. He did it—we're sure of that as we can be of anything." He hesitated thoughtfully. "I'm going up now to talk to Lola Lorraine. Would you like to come along, Harley?"
"Yes," Dennis said. "I would."
"Have you ever seen her, Harley?" Dennis shook his head. "No."
"You won't forget her for a while," Meegan said slowly. "I've seen her and heard her sing. I'm not a very romantic man—but she does something to you. It's no wonder a crackpot like young Roberts would go mad over her." He shrugged. "Well, you'll see for yourself. Come on!"
THEY got out of the elevator and went down a long hall with bright painted walls and ceiling and a green rug that was soft and thick and springy under their feet.
"This is it," Meegan said, stopping in front of a cream colored door. He rapped sharply with the bronze knocker.
There was a long wait, and Meegan was reaching up toward the knocker again when they heard the quick, hurried tap of high heels from inside the apartment, and the door opened very slowly.
"Miss Lorraine," Meegan said. "I'm Lieutenant Meegan from the police. I'd like to speak to you."
She was small. She would come no higher than Dennis' shoulder. Her hair was a gleaming blue black pulled tightly over the delicately rounded outline of her head, knotted at the back of her neck. Her small features were perfectly shaped, and yet they had more than the blank beauty of perfection. There was flame and feeling and force back of them. Her eyes were liquidly black, and they were wide now, with the glaze of terror in them.
"Please—" she said. Her voice was throatily low and soft. "Please—a little later... I can't talk—now—"
"I'm sorry," Meegan said. "The police wouldn't get far if they waited until people felt like talking to them." He pushed the door back with the pressure of his knee.
She tried to hold it. "Please!" she said, and her soft voice was thickly choked. "Please, you must—"
It was a long, low room with a cream colored ceiling and expensively heavy drapes. Dennis stepped inside behind Meegan, and then he saw the door across the room from them closing slowly.
There was just a slight movement—a ripple of fuzzy yellow cloth and then the thin blued gleam of a gun barrel.
"Look out!" Dennis shouted, and threw himself headlong at Meegan.
There was a whip-like report, the smacking thud of a bullet hitting the wall, a thin drizzle of blue vapor. Dennis and Meegan landed on the floor in a tangled sprawl. Another report cracked out, and Dennis felt the rug twitch gently under him. Then the door across the room slammed shut, and Lola Lorraine screamed in a sharply hysterical voice.
Dennis rolled free of Meegan, got to his feet. He jerked the police revolver out of his waistband, made for the door.
"No!" Lola Lorraine shrieked at him. She threw herself in front of him, tried to snatch the revolver from his hand.
Dennis thrust her aside, jerked the door open. It was a bedroom, and directly across from him there was a window. The curtains were pulled back a little, and through the open space between them Dennis saw the glossy gleam of a top hat, saw two eyes narrowed darkly, glaring.
HE threw himself sideways, against the wall. The curtains at the window billowed in with the blast of the gun. Dennis felt the bullet flick a loose fold of his coat.
He fired back, but there was nothing at the window then. He lunged forward, leaned recklessly out. He was looking down a fire escape, and he was just in time to see the skirts of the fuzzy yellow top coat drag across the platform below and disappear through the window of the apartment underneath.
He swung out on the fire escape, and he heard Meegan yell an incoherent warning behind him. Dennis' feet pounded on the slippery iron rungs. From the apartment below there was the thundering bang of a door slamming.
Dennis reached the platform, kicked the curtains aside, slid through into the apartment. He was in a bedroom, and he ran across it, through an open door, reached the outside door of the apartment. It was closed. The knob slipped in Dennis' sweaty fingers, then caught and turned. He jumped out into the hall.
It was empty. There was no one in sight either way. Dennis started toward the front of the building, heading for the stairs, and then there was a quiet little snick behind him. He whirled, around. The door through which he had just come had closed very softly, and now the bolt clicked.
Dennis jumped for the door, slammed his shoulder against the panel. The door was thick, and it didn't give in the slightest against his thrusting heave.
Footsteps hammered on the stairs behind him, and Meegan came running down the hall.
"What—" he said breathlessly. "Where'd he go?"
"He tricked me," Dennis said bitterly. "He slammed this door, and I thought he'd gone out through it, but he hadn't. He was hiding in the apartment." He thrust again at the unyielding door with his shoulder.
"Wait," Meegan said, taking his ring of skeleton keys out of his pocket. "I'll get it open." He worked the keys in the lock. One of them grated, caught suddenly, turned the bolt.
Meegan kicked the door open and ducking low, jumped inside the apartment with Dennis close behind him.
IT was empty. The two of them ran across the living room, through the bedroom to the open window. Leaning out, they stared down the fire escape. The bottom flight of the stairs was in the form of a counterweighted suspension ladder that swung up out of the reach of stray prowlers when it was not in use. It was swaying gently now. It had been used in the last few seconds, but there was no sign of the top-hatted killer anywhere.
"Slipped us again," Meegan said. "He was hiding out in Lola Lorraine's apartment. Somebody will walk a beat in the fog belt for this! I sent two of my men to search that apartment this morning. The young fool, he's still running around in that crazy getup of his, and yet we can't lay hands on him! I'll be back in uniform myself if I don't land him pretty soon."
He was silent for a moment, breathing hard, his dark face flushed with anger. "I know. I'll jail that girl as an accessory. Maybe that'll bring him around."
"I don't think it will," Dennis said. "And I don't like the thought of the girl suffering any more."
"Do you think I like it?" Meegan demanded. "She's not to blame for that young maniac's actions. But what else can I do? She was hiding him while the police turn the town upside down looking for him. Do you think I can let that pass?"
Dennis shook his head slowly. "No. I guess you'll have to do it."
"Faugh!" Meegan exploded. "This police business! It's a lousy job! You're lucky you're out of it. You see so much misery and heartache and sorrow that a man begins to think there's nothing else in this world."
HALSTEAD and Main was the city's busiest intersection, and now, at the rush hour late in the afternoon, it was a prolonged seething bedlam. Pedestrians and autos surged this way and that, guided by the clang of traffic signals, the shrill piping of a policeman's whistle. Motors made a battering sustained roar, and the air was heavy with gasoline fumes.
Dennis came down Halstead slowly toward the corner. He kept against the building fronts, out of the rush of hurrying office workers on their way home. He reached the corner, stopped and lounged there lazily with his back against the smooth granite wall of a towering office building.
There was a man about a yard away from him. He was only half a man, actually. He had no legs, and his torso rested on a little wooden platform that had small wheels under it. He could propel himself along on the platform, if he wished, by pushing with his hands on the sidewalk.
He was not moving now. He was sitting quietly. He looked forlorn and cold and lonely. He wore an old coat that was much too large for him, patched at the elbows, with a safety pin holding the collar up around his throat. He was bare-headed. His battered hat, half filled with lead pencils, rested beside him. The moving legs of the people passing in front of him made black scissor-like shadows across his face. Often a pair of the legs would stop, and a coin would flip down into the hat. The man never looked up when that happened. He merely ducked his head, muttered a wordless thanks.
Dennis stood where he was for a long while, watching him. He didn't speak, made no move to come any closer. Finally the legless man's head turned slowly, a little at a time, until he could see Dennis' legs.
"Hello, Dropper," said Dennis.
The legless man raised his head slowly until he was looking up at Dennis' face. His upper lip lifted in a soundless snarl that showed a yellow stubble of broken teeth.
"You," he said, and swore nastily.
Dennis smiled. "Always ready with a cheery greeting, aren't you, Dropper? Haven't you missed me?"
The man Dropper had a welt-like purple scar that ran down one bloated, red veined cheek in a diagonal streak. His face was a puffy vicious mask, and it was plain why he did not look up at the people who gave him charity. His eyes, red shot and protruding, held a blank, cold cruelty.
He said: "You're not a cop, any longer. You leave me alone!"
"You've got such a fine personality," Dennis said. "I was just wondering how you were getting on. What are you making now, Dropper? Two hundred a week?"
"No!" Dropper snarled. "I'm a poor cripple, and I can't—"
"Don't come that on me," Dennis said shortly. "I believed it once—before I found out how many bank accounts you have and how many generous fools pass a corner like this in the course of a day. You never did a day's work in your life, Dropper, except when you were in prison. You even lost your legs when you were trying to blow a post office safe and the charge went off too soon."
"IT'S a lie!" Dropper said thickly. "I'm a poor cripple with never kith nor kin to take me in and care for me, and I have to sit here in the cold and wet all day long to get a few pennies to buy food and clothes—"
"Save that," Dennis ordered. "Save it for some sucker who'll believe you. I won't. I want some information."
The wooden platform creaked as Dropper moved his stumpy body. "You'll get none from me! You're not a copper now!"
"No," said Dennis. "But I know a lot of them. I know a few that would be interested in you and your bank accounts."
Dropper swore again, vehemently.
"All right then," Dennis said. "Listen to this! I'm looking for a crook in this town. He's a short, dumpy man with a dished-in face. He waddles like a duck when he walks, and when he talks he uses his hands all the time, making gestures. Who is that man, Dropper?"
"I don't know."
"Yes, you do," Dennis contradicted. "You know, all right, or you'd have taken a little time to think it over. Who is he? Tell me, or I'll have you run out of this town in twenty-four hours. I would have long since, if you want the truth, except that you'd just go somewhere else and keep up your begging."
Dropper's lumpy face was purple with rage, and the words came reluctantly in a strangled gasp. "His name is Harold Rose. That's the one he uses the most."
"Harold Rose," Dennis repeated, "now we're getting somewhere. You could just as well have said that in the first place and saved both of us some time."
"He's bad," Dropper said. "He's a killer. And I hope—I hope..."
"You hope he gets me," Dennis finished, grinning. "Keep on hoping, Dropper. You never can tell. Where can I find him?"
"Seaside Hotel, I think."
Dennis straightened up. "Thank you, Dropper. You're very efficient these days. I'll recommend your services to some of my friends, if I think about it. Now, good-by."
Dropper glared up at him with reddish eyes.
Dennis took two steps away and then turned and came back. "Dropper," he said softly, "it would be very unfortunate if Harold Rose learned I was looking for him before I got around to telling him myself. There is only one person who could tell him that."
Dropper was silent, staring at him.
"You," said Dennis. "Don't do it, Dropper! Don't tell him. Do you remember Carlie Ray? He cracked a bank safe once, and you're the one that told the police about it. Carlie Ray is getting out of the pen pretty soon, and there's a letter in my safe addressed to him. I mentioned your name in it, Dropper. It'll be delivered to Carlie Ray if anything happens to me."
Dropper's face sagged whitely, and he made a sick noise in his throat.
Dennis smiled. "Yes, Dropper. Good-by, again."
IT was dusk now, and the lights in the building where Dennis had his office stretched in yellow sparkling rows, zig-zagging upwards. He parked down the street a short way, and as he walked toward the front of the building he noticed the police squad car standing in the loading zone directly before the entrance. Lieutenant Meegan came out of the building at the same instant and saw him.
"Hello, Harley," he said in his toneless voice. "I was looking for you. I want some help."
"What can I do for you?" Dennis asked.
Meegan's face was drawn and weary. "We haven't turned up young Roberts yet. Haven't found a trace of him since we saw him this morning at Lola Lorraine's apartment. I'm pretty sure some of his friends are hiding him out, but that doesn't do me much good. He has plenty of friends."
"How about Lola Lorraine?" Dennis asked. "Did you arrest her?"
Meegan nodded gloomily. "I had to, man! But it didn't take. Mathew Roberts has some friends in this town, too. I'm finding that out. His lawyer got the girl out as soon as I got her in."
"Mathew Roberts' lawyer?" Dennis asked.
"Yeah. This case has put me in a bad pocket, Harley. It's open and shut murder against that boy, and yet I haven't made a yard's progress on the case. You can see the nice spot I stand on. If I get the boy, then Mathew Roberts will be after me the rest of my life! He's one man that never forgets. If I don't get him, the newspapers are going to start hinting about rich man's son, and I'm going to lose my job."
"Maybe it'll work out all right," Dennis comforted him.
"I don't think so," Meegan said gloomily. "But all a man can do is go forward as best he knows how. That's what I'm doing. This business can't go on like it has been. It's too much. I'm sure Mathew Roberts knows where his son is hiding. I'd like you to go out to his house with me and talk to him. Maybe we can talk him into surrendering the boy. It's the only thing for him to do."
"It's a good idea," Dennis agreed. "And I'll go with you, of course. Although I don't think it'll do much good."
"We can try," Meegan said. "Come on! We'll ride in the squad car."
They went across the sidewalk to the police car. There were two plainclothes men in the rear seat. They had a collapsible checker board on their knees, and they were leaning over it in silent concentration. The uniformed driver peered interestedly at the game from the front seat.
"In front, Horgan," Meegan said, opening the door.
The two detectives folded up their game, and one of them got in the front seat with the driver. Dennis and Meegan squeezed in the back seat with the other one.
"Mathew Roberts' place," Meegan said, and the big car pulled away from the curb, threaded its way into the traffic.
Meegan shook his head slowly. "It's a nasty business, any way you look at it. You take young Roberts, with his top hat and his yellow overcoat. I've met him—sort of liked him. I always figured he was heavy on money and light on brains, but harmless. And now look at what he's done. Look at the lives he's spoiled. The Swensons, that poor stir bug of a Tracy, his own father, Lola Lorraine. Tragedy and death and heartbreak for all of them. It's not a nice thing to think about."
MATHEW ROBERTS lived on Crocker Drive in the exclusively old and aristocratic section of the city. It was an immense house with steeply angular gables set back from the street, shielded from contact with the ordinary public by a ten-foot iron picket fence and high, thick shrubbery.
There was a private policeman in a natty brown uniform on guard duty at the big bronze gate. He squinted suspiciously against the glare of the headlights on the squad car, trying to see its occupants.
"Police," Meegan called to him. "Open it up!"
The guard grumbled to himself, finally opened the gate slowly and grudgingly. The squad car rolled through, and gravel tapped under the fenders as it swung around the curve of the drive, stopped under the overhang of a porte-cochère.
Meegan got out and jerked his head at Dennis. "Come on. Bishop and Horgan, come on too."
The two detectives got out and followed Dennis and Meegan up on the narrow vine-shaded porch. Meegan pressed the bell that made a soft, long chime somewhere inside the house. A uniformed butler opened the door.
"I'm sorry," he said pompously. "Mr. Roberts left instructions that he was not to be disturbed—"
"Police," Meegan said bluntly. He nodded to Bishop and Horgan, and those two, working together with practiced ease, shouldered the door open, thrusting the butler back.
They went into a long, high-ceilinged hall with dark paneled walls that stretched up gracefully into the shadowed curve of the ceiling.
The butler barred their way. "Mr. Roberts gave me definite instructions that he was not to be disturbed! You can't see him! If you'll wait, I'll ask—"
"We'll ask him ourselves!" Meegan said.
Bishop and Horgan shunted the butler gently to one side, and Meegan walked along the shadowed dimness of the hall toward an open door that shot a yellow rectangle of light out across the deep richness of the rug. He stopped in the doorway, and Dennis looked over his shoulder. Bishop and Horgan crowded behind.
The room was a study with book-lined walls and big chairs made of soft, sleekly shining leather. There was a big stone fireplace at the far end with a gaily colored screen beside it. Mathew Roberts was standing before the squatly massive center table with his back to the door. His face stared whitely at them over his shoulder, and all the time his hands, concealed in front of him, were working frantically with a brief-case on the table.
"Mr. Roberts," Meegan said. "Sorry to break in on you unexpectedly this way, but Dennis and myself want to have a little talk with you."
Mathew Roberts' voice was thickened with rage. "I can't see you now! Wait outside, an—"
The brief-case slipped out of his hands, fell on the floor. Its flap was only half fastened, and it snapped open. Two tightly wrapped packets of yellow bills fluttered on the rug. There were more yellow packets in the brief case. It was full of them.
"Money," Meegan said unbelievingly.
MATHEW ROBERTS stared at them, and his colorless lips twitched a little.
Dennis spoke softly to Meegan. "Arrest him."
Meegan's head jerked around.
Meegan stared at him incredulously. Dennis nodded. Meegan drew a deep breath, then, and his dark face seemed to tighten, grow thinner and more determined.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Roberts," he said in an even voice. "I'll have to ask you to accompany me to the station."
"What!" Mathew Roberts exploded. "Why, you—you—"
Meegan nodded to Horgan and Bishop. "Take him!"
Mathew Roberts' voice choked in his throat. "You—you don't dare do that!"
"Yes!" said Meegan. "I do dare."
Bishop and Horgan came forward and caught Mathew Roberts by both arms. He struggled futilely in their expert grasp.
"Meegan!" he said breathlessly. "I'll break you for this! I'll hound you out of this country! You can't—"
Meegan watched him steadily, unmoving. "Take him away, boys," he said at last.
Horgan and Bishop took Mathew Roberts out of the room, and his voice resounded in long echoes in the hall, shouting incoherent threats. The sound faded suddenly as the front door closed with a hollow slam.
Meegan looked at Dennis. "I went a long way with you that time, Harley! He'll do what he said. He'll break me."
"I don't think so," Dennis said.
"I've got no charges against him," Meegan said. "I've got nothing to arrest him for. It's no crime to put money in a brief-case."
"I know," Dennis told him. "Come on." He stepped toward the door into the hall.
"Wait," Meegan followed him out into the hall. A little away from the door Dennis stopped and put his hand on Meegan's gaunt shoulder and nodded for him to be quiet. There was no sound for a moment, and then leather creaked faintly in the room they just left, and there was a sharp metallic click.
Meegan's thin body jerked, and he started for the door. Dennis held him back, shaking his head silently. Meegan halted, breathing hard. A window slid open inside the study. There was a little scrambling sound, and then silence.
Dennis let go of Meegan's shoulder. Meegan made the door into the study in two long strides, halted there, staring. The brief-case and the two fallen packets of yellow bills were gone now, and the heavy drapes in front of one of the windows moved and stirred slightly in the light breeze.
"Now follow her," Dennis said softly.
Meegan swung around. "Her?"
"Lola Lorraine. She was hiding behind the screen. I saw her foot move under it. That's why I wanted you to arrest Roberts. They were getting ready to deliver the money. I knew Mathew Roberts was too clever to let anyone follow him, but she'll be flustered and nervous now and won't notice you."
Meegan drew a deep breath. "I get it. The money is for young Roberts! She's going to take it to him, and if I follow her now she'll take me to him!" He ran across the room, jerked the drape aside.
"Watch out," Dennis warned. "He's a killer."
Meegan turned to look over his shoulder. "So am I," he said softly, and vaulted through the window.
THE Seaside Hotel was a narrow building of faded red brick, squeezed in between a beer parlor with a glaringly bright neon sign and a pool hall where young men in suits with pinch-waisted coats and padded shoulders lounged lazily watching passers-by with furtively curious eyes. It was not a pleasant place nor a pleasant hotel, and Dennis kept his right hand in his coat pocket, grasping the square butt of the police revolver as he pushed through the double doors.
There was a narrow entry hall, strong with the smell of old tobacco and moldering umbrellas, that widened out into a small lobby. A big desk slanted across the corner opposite the doorway, and a bespectacled clerk in a green eye shade was bent nearly double over it, adding up accounts in a leather-bound ledger.
"Harold Rose," Dennis said.
"Room one-twenty-eight," the clerk answered without looking up. He jerked his head to indicate a door near the end of the desk.
Dennis went through the door and down a long narrow hall. The lights were brighter here, and they showed stained wall paper that had bubbled away from the rough plaster underneath it in long, greyish ugly streaks. Dennis located the door numbered 128 and knocked on it softly. There was a faint stir of movement inside the room, and then a muffled voice said:
"Yeah? What do you want?"
"Jack sent me," Dennis said, and his thumb curled around the hammer of the police revolver in his coat pocket.
The door opened a crack, and the dish-faced man that Dennis had seen with Mathew Roberts peered out suspiciously. His eyes were small and glittering, brightly cruel under the bulge of his brow.
"Huh? Who'd you say sent—?"
Dennis let the muzzle of the police revolver poke into sight over the top of his pocket. "Back up," he said. He shouldered the door open, pushed inside the room.
"Here!" said the dish-faced man. "Here! What the—"
"Is your name Rose?" Dennis asked.
The small cruel eyes blinked at him. "Well—yeah. That's me. Harold Rose. So what?"
Dennis closed the door softly behind him. "I'm looking for a friend of mine. He's a young fellow, and he always wears a top hat and a yellow camel's hair overcoat. His name is Roberts."
He watched Rose closely as he spoke.
This was one of the Seaside Hotel's "apartments"—actually just two ordinary rooms with a connecting door between them. That door, on Dennis' right, was half open now, and as Dennis spoke, Rose swung half towards it and then back again. He had started to smile, but only the muscles around his mouth moved. His eyes were squeezed up into small calculating slits.
"Why, sure!" he said in a casually amiable voice. "That makes it different. I didn't know what the hell, you pushin' in that way, but any friend of Dick Roberts is a friend of mine, and if you'll just wait—"
He had been backing up slowly as he talked, and now suddenly he whirled and dove for the dresser at the side of the room. He knocked a picture on it aside, came swinging around catlike with a short-barreled automatic in his hand. His white face was a coldly snarling mask.
DENNIS jumped forward at the same instant Rose moved, jerking the police revolver free of his pocket. He swung it in a swishing half circle, and the heavy barrel caught Rose squarely in the temple just as he got his automatic up level with Dennis' chest.
Rose's bulging head flipped sideways under the force of the blow, smashed with sickening force into the edge of the dresser. His glittering eyes were suddenly wide and blank and surprised. He fell straight forward, hit a chair, and half turned in the air. He landed flat on his back, sprawled full length. The automatic skittered out of his hand.
Dennis stepped on it, watching Rose alertly, the police revolver half raised to strike again. Rose didn't move. After a moment, Dennis knelt down beside him. The blow from the police revolver had broken the skin over Rose's cheekbone, and blood made a dark shining streak across the paleness of his face. He was breathing faintly.
Dennis stood up and walked to the door of the other room. He pushed it open and looked inside, and then he sensed motion behind him. He spun around.
There was a figure blackly outlined against the window, peering in at him. Dennis caught the sleek, dim gleam of a top hat, the sheen of a gun barrel pointing through the glass at him.
A big china water pitcher sat in a cracked china basin on the stand beside the door. All in one hurriedly awkward motion, Dennis picked it up with his left hand and hurled it straight at the window.
The top-hatted figure's gun smashed out, and the bullet hit the wall just over Dennis' head and showered him with a thin mist of plaster dust. In the same split second, the big pitcher crashed through the glass of the window, thudded into the chest of the man in the top hat. He gave a strangled scream and toppled backwards out of sight.
Dennis jumped for the window. He was looking out into an alley with black windowless walls that was like some dimly lighted trench. There was a street lamp at the end, and its feeble glow showed the gleaming top hat rolling slowly in the mud, showed the man who had worn it, awkwardly bulky in the folds of the camel's hair overcoat, running headlong toward the alley mouth. A shining brief-case dangled from his left hand.
A thin, flat voice called: "Stop!"
It was Meegan. He was standing in the entrance of the alley, thin and gaunt, blackly outlined by the light behind him. He was bent forward a little bit, his heavy revolver leveled waist high.
"Stop, Roberts!" he said again.
The man in the yellow overcoat swung sideways, ducking close to the black wall, and the short automatic in his right hand jerked up, cracked sharply.
Meegan fired twice, slowly and deliberately. The boom of the heavy revolver echoed hollowly, and the man in the yellow overcoat spun away from the wall, tripped, smashed down limply in the mud on his face.
Meegan came walking cautiously into the alley, revolver leveled in front of him. He was watching the window through which Dennis was looking.
"Don't shoot," Dennis said.
MEEGAN stopped short. "Well," he said. "You! I had a feeling when I saw that water pitcher come sailing through the window. I had a feeling you'd be on the other end of it."
Dennis slid through the window, dropped into the alley. "Is he dead?" he asked, bending over the still figure flattened in the mud.
"He is," said Meegan. "Unless his heart can beat with an ounce of lead in it. I gave him his chance, but he wanted it this way. I followed Lola Lorraine. She met him and gave him the money in a vacant lot on Treadwell Street. Before I could get close enough to lay hands on him, he saw me. The rat held the girl in front of him and took a couple of shots at me. Look!" He took off his hat, poked his forefinger through a hole low in the crown. "Then he beat it. I chased him half way across town before I holed him up in this alley."
"I was pretty certain this would be the other end of the trail," Dennis said, "but I wasn't sure enough to take the chance."
"How'd you find this place?"
"I traced it through his partner—a man named Harold Rose."
"Rose?" Meegan repeated. "Where'd he come from? How'd he get into this?"
Dennis nodded toward the limp, flattened figure in the mud. "Rose was his cell mate. In the pen."
"Pen," Meegan repeated blankly. "What're you talking about? Young Roberts never served a day in jail in his life."
"This isn't young Roberts. Didn't you know that?"
Meegan drew a deep breath. "No," he said slowly. "No, I didn't know that."
Dennis leaned down and turned the limp figure on the ground over on its back. The white mud-stained face of Tracy stared lifelessly up at them.
"It's Tracy," Meegan said in a dull, incredulous voice.
"Yes," said Dennis. "He was behind it all. He killed both the Swensons' and he shot at us in Lola Lorraine's apartment. He was very clever about the whole business. He knew he would be under suspicion because he was an ex-convict, so he appeared on the scene right at the first, apparently in a very innocent way. He had just killed Mrs. Swenson when I found him waiting for her, as he said, in back of her apartment. When we left him there with her body, he slipped down to the basement where he had hidden the top hat and coat and took the express elevator up to Lola Lorraine's apartment and was waiting when we came in. He wanted to scare her into keeping quiet when we talked to her."
"She tried to protect him."
Dennis nodded. "Surely. On account of young Roberts. She knew that if Tracy were captured, Rose would kill young Roberts before he skipped."
"Where is young Roberts?"
"In Rose's hotel room, there. He's lying on the bed—doped. That's where he's been all the time."
MEEGAN swallowed. "You mean to tell me the fellow that has been running around wild in the top hat and overcoat has been Tracy and not young Roberts?"
"That's right," Dennis said. "You see, Tracy didn't just get out of prison. He's been in town for quite awhile. That's what made me suspicious of him first. He said he'd ridden the rods in this same morning. I knew he hadn't. He was too clean—too rested. I looked up and found there'd been no prisoners released from the state penitentiary when he said he'd been released. Actually he had been hanging around for some time, living with Rose and looking for some easy money. He used to go around and see the Swensons once in a while, probably to try to borrow money. They were afraid of him, and they had good reason to be. He heard about young Roberts and Lola Lorraine and figured that would be a good spot to try a little blackmail."
"I see," said Meegan thoughtfully. "He tried to put the buzz on Lola Lorraine; is that it?"
"Yes. She told young Roberts. He's a crazy kid, and he went and hunted up Rose and Tracy himself instead of telling the police, meaning to have it out with the two of them. They were too much for him. They beat him up, doped him, and hid him here. The Swensons knew something about Tracy's attempt to blackmail Lola Lorraine, and he killed them to prevent them from squealing. He probably knew that Oscar Swenson was going to consult me about the mess."
"The money?" Meegan inquired, touching the brief-case with his foot.
"Ransom for young Roberts," Dennis said. "Tracy had old Mathew Roberts between the pincers. He told Mathew Roberts that if he didn't pay up, the son would be killed and it would be made to look like suicide. Tracy had framed the Swensons' deaths on young Roberts so thoroughly that everyone would think young Roberts had murdered them and committed suicide in remorse. Mathew Roberts was frantic with fear for his son. He didn't even have a chance to clear the boy's name until he got him free of Rose and Tracy."
Meegan looked down at Tracy's body. "I'm glad I shot straight." He shook his head slowly. "I can't get over—killing his own sister."
"She wasn't his real sister," Dennis said. "I found that out by looking up the records of birth and marriage licenses. Tracy's father married Mrs. Swenson's mother when both Tracy and Mrs. Swenson were about twelve years old. Tracy's father is in prison now, serving a life term for killing Mrs. Swenson's mother, altogether a nice family."
"Not a nice thing to think about," said Dennis.
"It'll be hard to prove," Meegan said slowly.
Dennis shook his head. "No. Rose is lying back in the room there with a dent in his skull. He'll live, though, and he'll talk. Tracy was the brains of the combination."
There was a pressing, muttering little crowd of onlookers gathered at the mouth of the alley. They stared curiously, but none ventured out of the comforting circle of light from the street lamp.
Dennis smiled faintly at Meegan. "There's one nice thing to be thinking about when it's all over, after all. From the way Lola Lorraine and Mathew Roberts have been working hand in glove together to save young Roberts, I don't think there'll be any more objections made to their marriage. And I'll bet we're invited to the wedding. Perhaps as the guests of honor."
"Do you think so, now?" asked Meegan, pleased. "Then I'll get a chance to wear my dress suit!
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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