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Murder and the Married Virgin
Brett Halliday Murder and the Married Virgin
It was mid-morning when Michael Shayne walked into the small reception hall of his recently acquired offices on the fourth floor of the International Building in New Orleans. He scowled at the white light illuminating the room and accentuating the drabness of the furnishings. When he rented the two-room suite a month previously, the walls and ceilings were mellow with a smooth accumulation of dust and the residue from smoke, and he had zestfully searched through second-hand stores for suitable equipment. He liked old things. He had liked the walls and ceilings as they were, but before he could move his prized purchases into the suite an ambitious building manager had the ceilings painted white, installed long tubes of fluorescent lights, and redecorated the walls with creamy tints.
The oak railing in the reception room which partitioned off a space for a typewriter desk had been sandpapered and freshly varnished. Lucy Hamilton sat at the desk tapping her pencil impatiently.
She stopped tapping the pencil when her employer came toward the railing. Her brown eyes were bright with excitement. “It’s high time you-”
“What’s up?” Shayne shrugged out of his damp trench coat, dropped it on the railing, pulled off his hat and let a little stream of water trickle from the brim to the faded rug.
The telephone rang and she reached for it, saying, “The darned thing has been ringing all morning,” and into the mouthpiece, “Michael Shayne. Investigations.”
“I’ll take it in the inner office,” Shayne said, turning toward the door in the center of the reception room.
Lucy quickly covered the instrument with her hand. “You’ll take it here-you’ve a client waiting in there. A Mr. Teton of some insurance company is on the phone. This is the third time he’s called.”
Shayne frowned and reached out a long arm to take the receiver. He said, “Shayne speaking.”
A worried voice answered, “Mr. Shayne? This is Teton of Mutual Indemnity.”
Shayne waited for him to go on. After a moment the worried voice asked, “Did you hear me?”
“Perfectly.” Shayne fished out a cigarette with his free hand and stuck it between his lips, looked at Lucy and pointed to the end of the cigarette.
“I understand you did some work for our company in Miami,” Mr. Teton continued, “and since you’ve opened an office in New Orleans I wondered if you’d care to discuss an annual retainer with me.”
Lucy struck a light to his cigarette. He drew in a deep draft of smoke, nodded his thanks, exhaled slowly and said, “No. I don’t want to get tied up on another of those retainer deals. Any time you have anything hot I’ll be glad to discuss the individual case with you.” He hung up and said to Lucy, “A client, eh? Does he look like office rent?”
“I don’t know. He’s a young lieutenant named Drinkley. He’s been waiting half an hour.”
“A lieutenant?” he snorted. “Do you know the kind of salary our democracy pays lieutenants?”
“No. But he’s nice, and he’s terribly worried. You’ve got to talk to him.”
“Nice worried clients drawing a lieutenant’s pay won’t add up to your weekly salary,” Shayne told her.
The telephone rang again. “You’re awfully mercenary this morning,” she said and lifted the receiver. “Michael Shayne. Investigations.” She listened for a moment, said, “Yes, he’s right here,” and handed the instrument to him. Wrinkling her small straight nose she whispered, “It’s Mr. Teton again.”
Shayne growled, “Yeh?” into the mouthpiece.
“I guess we were cut off a moment ago, Mr. Shayne.” Mr. Teton was now both worried and apologetic.
“I hung up.”
“I see,” Mr. Teton said vaguely, evidencing that he didn’t see at all. “We were discussing the possibility of retaining you to do some work for us.”
“I’ll discuss it, but not on an annual basis. Your company stuck me on one of those deals two years ago. I got called in every time a butler lifted a silver salt shaker. No soap.”
“Yes-well-” Mr. Teton laughed nervously. “I quite understand your point of view, Mr. Shayne. The fact is, I have a particular case in mind. We’ve sustained quite a loss and we’d like to have you look into it.”
“Keep talking,” Shayne said. He settled one hip on the desk, winked at Lucy’s alert, interested face, then scowled at the clean wall.
“An emerald necklace belonging to a Mrs. Lomax has been stolen. Our coverage is quite large.”
“Ah-a hundred and twenty-five thousand, to be exact,” Mr. Teton moaned.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Shayne said with satisfaction. “I can be had for ten per cent.”
“Ten per cent? That’s pretty stiff.”
“Wire whoozit in your New York office,” Shayne said curtly. “Tell him Mike Shayne has wised up and has gone out of business recovering a million dollars worth of junk for a five grand retainer. Call me back when you’re ready to draw up a ten per cent contract.” He hung up again.
Lucy was leaning forward, elbows resting on the desk, her chin cupped in her hands. An amused smile tilted the corners of her mouth. “You are mercenary this morning,” she repeated. “I could hear every word he said. Whew! Ten per cent of a hundred and twenty-five-”
“It’s your fault,” he said bitterly. “I pay you eighty bucks a week and-well, hell, what do you suppose I thought-”
“Not having a lewd mind,” she told him sweetly, “I wouldn’t know.” She turned her face to hide a smile and the dimple quivered in her left cheek. “You have a client waiting, remember?”
Shayne gave a grunt of disgust and strode to the closed door, jerked it open and went in.
The inner office was spacious with large double windows on the east. Rain misted the glass, but bright light from overhanging tubes gleamed upon the fresh walls and ceilings. A large oak desk stood in the center of an old rug, with a swivel chair behind it. Two steel filing cabinets occupied one corner, and three new chairs upholstered in bright red leather were arranged in a semicircle in front of the desk.
A young man in an officer’s uniform jumped up from the center chair as Shayne entered. His blond hair was tousled as though his fingers had nervously trenched it. There were lines of strain or fatigue on his high forehead and around his mouth. His eyes were a smoldering blue in the dark hollows surrounding them. He stood very straight and asked, “Mr. Shayne?”
Shayne took three long strides forward, towering above the slight officer as he held out his hand. The hand he gripped was hot and moist. Shayne said, “Lieutenant Drinkley?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve just finished officer’s training at Miami Beach. I heard about you there, Mr. Shayne. That’s the reason I’ve come to see you this morning.” His voice was thin and reedy with emotion. He kept his lips clamped together when he wasn’t speaking, as though he feared he might scream.
Shayne shoved one of the red chairs closer to his desk on his way to the swivel chair. He said, “Sit down,” and went on around the desk and sat down. He studied his potential client through half-closed eyes, then said, “You couldn’t have heard anything very good about me in Miami.” He pulled out the top right-hand drawer and set out a bottle of cognac and two six-ounce glasses.
“Quite the contrary,” Drinkley said. “I met a reporter there, Timothy Rourke. He talked about you a lot.”
“Oh-Tim.” Shayne’s rugged face broke into a wide grin. He poured both glasses half full of cognac and shoved one across the desk. “We’ll drink to Tim, the lug.”
Drinkley didn’t look at the glass. He wet his lips and kept his gaze on Shayne’s face. With desperate intensity he said, “I want you to help me. Timothy told me about some of your big cases-the fees you charge. I can’t-I’m afraid I can’t-”
“Take a drink,” Shayne interrupted, “but take it slow. You’ll be needing a doctor instead of a detective if you don’t get hold of yourself. I never discuss a fee until I know what the case is. That is, hardly ever,” he added reflectively. He sank back in his chair, lifted his glass and said, “Skoal.”
For an instant the officer’s face brightened. He repeated, “Skoal. Katrin and I were to use that very word today-to toast our wedding.”
Utter dejection followed his words. His hand shook as he lifted the glass to his lips and drank until it was empty.
Shayne spun a pack of cigarettes across the table. “Light up. There’ll be a refill in a minute, but this stuff is ninety proof.” He sipped from his glass while his client lighted a cigarette.
“Katrin is-was my fiancee,” the lieutenant began in a low voice. He bit his lower lip and blinked his eyes rapidly, forcing a film of moisture on his lashes. “She committed suicide last night.”
There was silence in the office. His words lay there on the desk between them, hideous and awful.
Shayne let out his breath slowly, his gaze steady on the lieutenant’s agonized face. He muttered, “It’s time for that refill,” reaching for the empty glass.
“I’m all right now,” Drinkley protested. “I’m not much of a drinker.” The brandy swallowed so hastily made his voice thick. “It’s strange,” he continued, “but saying it out loud makes it real for the first time. I think I can face it better now. Katrin is gone.” He looked suddenly older, and his bowed head moved slowly from side to side. “I’ve been going around in a daze pitying myself.”
Shayne said quietly, “Tell me about it-if you want to.”
“I do. That’s why I’m here. I have only seven days’ leave, and we had planned to be married today. That’s why I can’t-” He broke off, drew in a deep breath and gave Shayne a shaky smile. “But that’s not what you want to know, of course.”
Shayne waited, sipping from his glass, when the younger man paused thoughtfully.
“Her name was Katrin Moe,” he said. “Norwegian. I met her six months ago while I was stationed here. We fell in love.” He made a helpless gesture and whispered, “Our love was fine and clean-like wonderful music. Like a day in the spring with the sunlight on clover and a breeze in the trees. It was like-oh, God!” he ended in a moan and covered his face with his hands.
Shayne finished his drink. His eyes were bleak as they brooded upon the young man’s bowed head.
Lieutenant Drinkley took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. He straightened his body and jerked his head back. Controlling his voice with an effort, he continued, “Katrin was working as a maid in a wealthy home here in New Orleans. She wasn’t ashamed of that. It was decent work, and they treated her well. She was studying hard for her citizenship examination. She passed it about a month ago and was so proud.”
Shayne poured himself another drink and motioned to the officer’s glass again. Drinkley made a firm, negative gesture. His eyes were clear and bright, lucent with a light that Shayne envied as he went on with his story:
“We corresponded regularly. I’m sure she was quite happy. There was never anything in her letters-absolutely nothing to indicate that anything was wrong. When she didn’t meet me at the station this morning I was disappointed, of course, but I thought she was just delayed. I waited around for a while and then called the Lomax residence. You can imagine the shock-when they told me Katrin was-was dead.”
Shayne frowned. “The Lomax residence?”
“Nathan Lomax, Katrin’s employer. Katrin had a room on the third floor. She and the housekeeper and another maid each had a room. They found Katrin this morning-locked in her room. The gas grate was turned on but wasn’t lit. She didn’t leave a note-no word for me. Nothing,” he ended with the hollow calm of utter despair.
Shayne sat tipped back in his swivel chair, shoulders hunched forward, staring morosely at the bare desk. Lieutenant Drinkley got up and walked to one of the windows and stood gazing out. He turned abruptly and said, “I know what comes to your mind. It’s only natural, but I swear to you as God is my judge I can’t accept the natural explanation, Mr. Shayne. I knew Katrin. I knew her mind and her soul, and both were as virginal as her body. Nothing can make me believe differently. I’m not being young and naive. You’ve got to believe me.” As he finished speaking he reached the desk, gripped the edge of it with both hands and leaned toward the detective with the blue fire smoldering in his eyes.
Shayne said, “I do believe you.” He had to say it.
“Then why, Mr. Shayne? Why?”
“You can’t be certain she didn’t leave a note for you.”
“But there was no note found, and her room was searched thoroughly,” Drinkley argued. “She knew I was on the train from Miami. She was in good health and happy-and young-with everything to live for. No one at the Lomax place-people who saw her every day-can ascribe any motive whatever for suicide.”
“And they’re sure it was suicide?” Shayne asked.
The officer dropped into his chair and interlocked his thin fingers. “What else can it be? She was locked in her room on the third floor and there was no other entrance. The key was on the inside, and there was no mark of violence on her body.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Find out why she did it. Don’t you see? I can’t stand not knowing. I’ll always think it may have been something I did or said, but I know it wasn’t. It was something else-something outside of our love.” He sat for a moment staring down at his clenched hands, a deep frown between his eyes, then he faced Shayne and said harshly, “I have a little money-the money we planned to use on our honeymoon. It isn’t much. A little over a thousand dollars.”
Shayne sprung his chair forward and rested his arms on the desk. He said, “Tim Rourke gave you the wrong idea about me, Lieutenant. He told you about the big cases where I was lucky and knocked off a pile. A private detective’s business is made up of little cases that keep the pot boiling. Give my secretary your local and permanent address and a check for fifty dollars as a retainer. If there’s any other expense I’ll send you a bill later.”
Drinkley stood up and combed his hair with his fingers, took his cap from a chair and put it on, said, “Thank you, sir. Are you sure that’ll be enough?”
“That’s my usual charge.” Shayne got up and put his hand on the officer’s shoulder. “Call me this afternoon after I’ve done some routine checking. There may be some questions I’ll want to ask.”
“Certainly-and thanks again.”
Shayne hunched his big shoulders in a shrug. “You may have done me a favor.”
Drinkley shot him a quick, questioning glance. His thin mouth opened in surprise, and he started to speak, but Shayne waved his hand in dismissal and went back to his chair. He pulled out an empty drawer and fumbled in it as the officer went out and closed the door.
Shayne was frowning at the misty windows and gently massaging his ear lobe when his desk telephone rang.
He picked up the receiver and said, “Shayne speaking.”
“This is Teton again, of Mutual Indemnity. I’ve been in touch with our New York office by telephone, and I’m authorized to proceed with you on your basis.”
“Ten per cent of the face of the policy if the jewels are recovered in thirty days? Only my actual expenses if recovery isn’t made.”
“Correct,” Mr. Teton answered.
“I’ll be right in to see you,” Shayne said briskly. “What’s the address?”
“We’re in the same building with you. Ten-four-teen.”
Shayne said, “Good enough,” and hung up.
In the reception hall he was greeted by a bright smile from Lucy Hamilton. “So fifty dollars is your usual retainer?” she mocked.
“I may owe the lieutenant a retainer before it’s over,” Shayne said gravely.
He picked up his damp trench coat and folded it over his arm, then lowered one hip to the low railing and scowled at her.
“Why does a young girl commit suicide on the eve of her marriage to a man with whom she’s very much in love?” he demanded.
Lucy leaned back and her brown eyes widened. “Why-let me think-” A frown of contemplation creased her smooth brow. “Well, if she’s gone and-”
“Nope.” Shayne shook his red head decisively. “I’m talking about a girl who’s a virgin in mind, soul and body.”
Lucy’s frown deepened.
“How old is this paragon?”
“She was twenty. Norwegian. Maybe that explains it.”
“Maybe,” said Lucy doubtfully. “I don’t know much about Norwegian girls. How do you know-?”
“Her fiance just told me so,” Shayne interposed thoughtfully, “and somehow I trust the man’s intuition in the matter. If you’d heard him-that is, I believed him when he said his Katrin wasn’t the kind to two-time him.” He paused, rubbed his angular jawbone with his palm, then resumed, “But here’s something else, Lucy. Suppose she’d had an affair before she met her lieutenant? Does a thing like that leave a scar on a girl’s mind any more? I thought the idea of pre-nuptial chastity went out with hoopskirts.”
“Perhaps the Norwegians have preserved that quaint old custom,” Lucy offered solemnly.
“I’ll have to look into that angle,” Shayne said. “If Katrin Moe had a secret past she might have been ashamed to marry a man she truly loved-” and after a moment’s thought added-“but that would ruin another perfectly good theory.”
He mashed his soggy hat down over his bristling red hair and went out to the elevator.
“It seems to me,” fretted Mr. Teton as he signed the memorandum agreement retaining Shayne in the Lomax necklace case, “that ten per cent is an exorbitant fee, but Mr. Marguilies in New York-”
“Knows which side his company’s bread is buttered on,” Shayne finished for him dryly. He blotted Mr. Teton’s signature and folded the paper carefully and slid it into his inside coat pocket.
They were seated in a long, pleasant office ten stories above Melpomene Street just off St. Charles. Mr. Teton was a fussy little man with pale, far-sighted eyes. He wore his nose-glasses on a black ribbon appended to the lapel of a gray tweed suit, and continually placed them astride his nose to scan the documents, and took them off to argue with Shayne.
“Paying me twelve and a half grand to save a hundred and twenty-five isn’t a bad deal,” Shayne stated flatly. He leaned back in the comfortable chair and lit a cigarette. “Now that the mundane details are settled, give me the dope.”
“Of course.” Mr. Teton hooked his glasses on his lapel and clasped his hands on the desk. “The necklace was stolen night before last.”
“Wait a minute,” Shayne interrupted. “First, what about the necklace itself.”
Mr. Teton sighed and put his glasses on again to study the data spread out before him. “It was purchased about five years ago from Levric and Corbin, jewel manufacturers here in the city. It was made up on special order by Lomax for a gift to his wife. The necklace was an unusually fine one, built around the twenty-five carat Ghorshki emerald as a centerpiece. Our appraisal upon insuring it was a hundred and fifty-five thousand-twenty per cent over the face of the policy.”
Shayne whistled shrilly. “A hundred and fifty grand for a necklace isn’t peanuts. Lomax must have had plenty of stuff to toss around.”
“He was retired at that time, and converted bonds into what he considered a good investment. And quite correctly, too. In the present gem market the necklace would easily bring two hundred thousand.”
Shayne nodded absently, said, “But not if it has to be fenced while it’s hot. Broken up into individual stones it wouldn’t bring more than a tenth of that.”
“Quite true,” said Mr. Teton, hooking his glasses on his lapel. “Particularly since the Ghorshki stone is too well known to permit it to be sold in one piece.”
“So the thief will be pretty anxious to get rid of it,” Shayne mused. “How will the company feel about buying it back if worst comes to worst?”
Mr. Teton looked distressed. “I thought you were being retained as a detective-not as a go-between.”
Shayne tapped the folded paper in his pocket. “My ten per cent is contingent on recovery without loss to you. If you have to pay out more than twelve and a half grand for it, I lose. How’s Lomax fixed financially?” he asked abruptly.
“Quite well, I believe. His credit rating is good. His firm is active in instruments production-making gadgets for submarines.”
“But what about cash? Any chance that he’s caught short right at this time? For plant expansion, perhaps?”
“I’m having that investigated. There should be a complete report on his financial status as of this date in my hands by tonight.”
“Good enough. Now sketch in the actual theft.”
“The necklace was kept with other valuables in a small safe of approved design and the combination known only to Mr. and Mrs. Lomax. The house was burglarized night before last, but no one missed the necklace until this morning. And, there seems to be a plausible reason. Two reasons, in fact, that the discovery was not made at once. First, the necklace was supposed to be in the safe in Mr. Lomax’s bedroom and he was in the room reading in bed when he heard the burglar in Mrs. Lomax’s dressing-room. He got up and chased the thief through the hall and down the stairs. He knew, of course, that the safe hadn’t been touched. Secondly, Mrs. Lomax didn’t remember until this morning that she hadn’t returned the necklace to the safe after wearing it.”
Shayne asked, “Where was Mrs. Lomax at the time of the burglary?”
“She was out of the city and didn’t return until yesterday afternoon. Evidently it did not occur to her that no one had checked up, and we have to remember that Mr. Lomax was in the room with the safe which he supposed held the necklace.”
Shayne nodded and asked, “How about other members of the family? Any children?”
“A boy and a girl,” Teton answered. “The boy, Eddie, is about twenty-one and Clarice is about nineteen.”
After a moment of thoughtful contemplation Shayne asked, “Do you see any tie-up with the suicide out there last night?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Mr. Teton. “The girl was Mrs. Lomax’s personal maid and had access to the jewel case when it was left outside the safe. I presume the police are working on the suicide angle.”
Shayne ground out his cigarette on a metal ash tray and said, “All right. I’ll get the rest from the cops. Let me know if anyone contacts you.”
He swung into his trench coat when he reached the outer lobby of the International Building. Raindrops made a gay patter on the striped awning as he pushed through the door to the sidewalk. He turned the collar of his coat up around his neck and pulled his hat brim lower over his face as he made his way to his car.
Chief of Police McCracken leaned back in his chair and smiled when Shayne barged into his private office at headquarters.
“I hear you’ve settled yourself in a luxurious suite of offices with a beautiful secretary to mix drinks for you,” he boomed good-naturedly.
Shayne waved a big hand and said, “I’ve got a hovel in the International Building with a girl who sits in a chair when she takes dictation. Who’s handling the Lomax thing?”
“H-m-m. I thought you’d be nosing into that.”
“I represent Mutual Indemnity. You got anything on it, Mac?”
“Better see Inspector Quinlan. He’s in charge.”
Shayne had one arm out of his coat sleeve. He slid the arm in again. “Where’ll I find Quinlan?”
“Down the hall to the right. Hell, you ought to know where his office is. You practically lived in it while you were cracking the Margo Macon thing.”
Shayne grinned. “I thought maybe he’d got a promotion and a new office out of that. He didn’t fail to grab the headlines.”
“That was your own fault. If you’d-”
“Sure it was. An investment. Now I’ll see if it’ll pay dividends.” He went out and down the hallway.
Inspector Quinlan greeted him cordially. “Some of the boys said you were located here, Shayne. I’ve meant to look you up and buy a drink.” He half stood and reached across the desk to shake hands.
Shayne dragged a straight chair up to the desk with the toe of his shoe and sat down. “I’m in the International Building,” he said.
“There’s something I’ve wondered about, in connection with the Margo Macon case. What became of the Hamilton girl?”
“Lucy?” Shayne looked at him in surprise.
“Yes. I heard she’s lost her position because of her connection with the case. I’ve thought I should look her up and see if there was something I could do.”
Shayne waggled his head gravely. “And you a married man, Inspector.”
“It isn’t that at all,” Quinlan said hastily. “She seemed a pleasant and capable girl.”
“Yeh.” Shayne frowned at the floor. “It was really a pity the way they batted her around. She took to drink-and worse, I’m afraid.” His voice was sad.
The inspector cleared his throat. His cold blue eyes softened when he said, “That’s really too bad.”
“Tragic,” muttered Shayne.
Inspector Quinlan’s eyes narrowed. “Damn you, Shayne, you’re pulling my leg. You wouldn’t be that sad if your own grandmother-”
Shayne chuckled. “She’s my secretary if you have to know. But hands off. Lucy’s a good girl-damn it.”
Quinlan resumed his impersonal normalcy. He was a slender man who appeared taller than his height, which was average. His thick iron-gray hair was cut short and stood up, accentuating his high forehead. There was a practiced stoicism in his expression from long association with the criminal world, but Shayne knew him to be a man who would work tirelessly for justice.
“Are you working?” the inspector asked.
“Just started-on the Lomax necklace. Mac told me you were handling it.”
“I was out there this morning checking on the Katrin Moe suicide.”
“Does it add up?”
“I don’t see how, but it’s a coincidence if it doesn’t. The girl was engaged to an army lieutenant and was to have been married today.” Quinlan picked up a fountain pen and rolled it slowly between his palms.
“Yes.” He nodded slightly. “He just came in on the morning train. I was at the Lomax residence when he arrived and was shown the body of the girl.”
“Did he take it very hard?” Shayne asked casually.
“He was still dazed from the shock, of course,” Quinlan said slowly. “He didn’t show much emotion. He doesn’t think she committed suicide.”
“What do you think?” he asked, surprised. “Her room was locked on the inside and the gas was turned on. She had retired early and Mattson’s first guess on time of death was between two or three this morning.”
“She could have been given something,” Shayne suggested. “A slow-acting poison.”
“So she got up and turned on the gas when she knew she was dying of a slow-acting poison,” Quinlan scoffed.
“Couldn’t it have been turned on afterward? As a blind?”
“Mr. Lomax and the chauffeur broke down the door to get to her. They went up together when the housekeeper became alarmed, and both testified that the gas was stifling in the room and the grate was on.”
“Just the same,” Shayne insisted, “I think it’d be smart to pull a P.M.”
“As a matter of fact, we are. It was requested by her fiance who seems to be responsible since she had no relatives here. Some mention has been made of the girl having a brother, but no one knows his name or whereabouts. What do you know about it? Have you got an angle?”
“Only a love that was like wonderful music-or like a day in spring with sunlight on the clover,” Shayne said somberly.
Quinlan stared at him with curiosity and consternation. He said curtly, “You must have had several snorts this morning.”
“All right,” Shayne said angrily, “maybe you don’t know what that stuff means. I knew a girl once-” He caught up his anger and explained, “I talked to Lieutenant Drinkley this morning. He sold me.”
The inspector looked relieved. “I see. I’m not surprised. He came damned near selling me, too. He doesn’t know about the missing necklace.”
“I wondered. He didn’t mention it to me,” Shayne admitted.
“Nor to me. He assumed that we were out there on the death call, which we were. No one mentioned the necklace to him, nor the obvious implication.”
“What is the obvious implication?” Shayne asked.
Again Quinlan showed surprise. He said, “A necklace worth a hundred and fifty grand is missing and the maid commits suicide-with no obvious motive. Don’t tell me you’re going in for coincidence.”
“Do you think she stole it?” Shayne asked sharply.
“I don’t know-yet. Which are you interested in-the necklace or the girl?”
Quinlan laid the fountain pen aside and folded his hands. “Fair enough. Without the suicide, I’d say the necklace business was pretty open and shut. We investigated a burglary there yesterday. Flink and Brand handled it.” He picked up a report from his desk and read excerpts from it:
“A library window downstairs was forced open from the outside. A neat, professional job. The whole house, except the servants quarters on the third floor, was prowled and a lot of small things were stolen. The necklace wasn’t reported until this morning because Mrs. Lomax was in Baton Rouge and everyone supposed she was either wearing it or had put it back in the safe. The safe hadn’t been touched. Mr. Lomax was in the room where the safe is when he heard the burglar in Mrs. Lomax’s dressing-room next door. It seems he chased the thief, but never got close enough to see him”
“Who had a chance to know that Mrs. Lomax hadn’t put the necklace in the safe?”
“No one will admit knowing anything about it,” the inspector told him. “If the case had been left on the dresser, Mr. Lomax could have seen it, but according to Mrs. Lomax, the case was in the dresser drawer. Katrin Moe tidied up the room after she had helped her mistress get off on her trip.”
“And snatched an emerald necklace,” Shayne said harshly, “then went to bed and turned on the gas. It doesn’t make sense.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Quinlan said quietly. “But who knows what goes on inside a girl’s mind? Her lover was due in town this morning. If she was in some kind of a scrape-and with a couple of guys around like Eddie Lomax and that chauffeur, God knows what was going on.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Shayne hunched forward and his gray eyes were very bright. “Give out.”
“You know what I mean.” Inspector Quinlan lifted one shoulder and waved a hand in a gesture of derision. “Eddie Lomax isn’t any bargain, but he lived right there in the house where the girl was. She was young-a foreigner. Stranger things have happened.”
“Katrin Moe was in love,” Shayne said evenly. “Is this Eddie quite a playboy?”
“As much as he can be, I suppose, on what the old man lets him have. Liquor and women and dice, perhaps. I understand that Lomax is pretty tight with the boy.”
“What about Clarice?”
“She impresses me as being much bored with life. Flippant and hard-boiled. And then there’s the chauffeur-”
“Yeh. There’s the chauffeur,” Shayne prompted when the inspector paused for a moment.
“He’s what a lot of girls dream about when they’re married to guys like us,” Quinlan mused. “Not bad either. That’s the hell of it. Good-looking enough to be a movie actor or a matinee idol, but not that type. He’s quiet and unassuming and looks you squarely in the eye and you wonder why the devil he’s a chauffeur. Apparently well educated, too.”
“H-m-m,” Shayne muttered, “but Katrin Moe was in-”
“Sure, Katrin’s in love with her second looey,” the inspector interrupted. “But he’s stationed in Miami Beach and here’s God’s gift to women and a little weasel like Eddie Lomax with money right close at hand. I don’t know what went on, but there’s the picture as I see it.”
“Yeh.” Shayne’s eyes were morose. “A missing necklace worth a hundred and fifty grand-and a dead girl.” He flung his cigarette to the floor and ground it out with the toe of a big shoe.
“And here’s something else for you to chew on, Shayne,” Quinlan told him, a sardonic smile twitching his mouth. “Katrin Moe had a plain gold wedding ring in her handbag and it had been worn. It fitted the third finger of her left hand.”
Shayne shot a startled look of surprise at the inspector. He started to say something, but instead he came to his feet and went toward the door. Turning his head he asked, “Has Doc Mattson got her?”
“Over at the lab. You want a note or something?”
“Thanks. I don’t need it with Doc. If you get anything else let me know.”
“I won’t forget you. I’m glad you’re working on it, Shayne. Looks like another one that may call for your special brand of rabbits out of a hat.”
Shayne’s jaw was set, deepening the hollows in his cheeks, as he stalked into the police laboratory.
Doctor Mattson chuckled. “Look who’s come howling.” A stout little man with a round head as bare as a billiard ball, he wore a Vandyke and thick-lensed glasses through which he peered at the world with a sort of puckish glee. He was attired in a white surgeon’s gown and smelled of formaldehyde.
“Quinlan said you were doing a P.M. on the suicide case,” Shayne told him as he advanced toward a straight chair filled with old magazines.
“She’s a lovely girl,” Doctor Mattson said, waving his soft, well-kept hands enthusiastically. “Why can’t I ever meet one like that while she’s still warm? They all come to me in the end-the port of dead desire. Sit down, Michael. Got a drink on you?”
Shayne tilted the chair and let the magazines fall to the floor, toed it around to face the police surgeon and sat down. He grinned broadly but there was no mirth in the grin. He said, “You stay sober till you finish with Katrin Moe. Then I’ll fix you up. Still lean toward bourbon?”
“Anything with an alcoholic content, Michael.” He shook his head. His eyes, which were like two black peas behind the thick lenses, were sad. “It was different when I used to have live patients and tried to save them.”
“What about her?” Shayne said impatiently.
“Katrin Moe,” he murmured, rolling the name over his fat, pouched lips. “She died with a smile on her young mouth, Michael. Put this down-a slim, unsullied body, clean-limbed and full-breasted. Like a young sapling in the spring when the sap begins to run.” He smacked his lips and sat down on a corner of the scarred oak desk.
“Wait a minute,” Shayne said hastily. “This is a medical report, not a flight into poetic fancy. Is unsullied a figure of speech? Or a fact?”
“A fact, Michael. She has never been touched by man.”
“How much farther have you gone?”
“I wish you’d hurry up with the rest of it.”
“What’s the need of a post-mortem?” Doctor Matt-son demanded. “It’s a desecration to carve up that body. The girl committed suicide, didn’t she?”
“That’s what I want you to tell me.”
The doctor squinted at him for a long moment, then said:
“What are you looking for?”
“Positive evidence that she died as a direct result of breathing gas. If that evidence isn’t present, some slow-acting poison, I’d say.”
“That won’t take long,” Mattson told him cheerfully. “But you can put it down without a post-mortem that she didn’t mind dying. She welcomed death. She greeted it with outflung arms and a smile. A girl like that!” He waggled his bald head again, and his eyes were sad.
“Today was to have been her wedding day,” Shayne told him gravely.
“All I can give you is the direct cause of death. I can dissect a brain but I can’t read the thoughts that precede death.”
“I’ll work on that end,” said Shayne, “after you’ve assured me it was suicide. That’s the one thing I’ve got to have.”
“There’s a simple test to determine whether or not death was caused by the inhalation of gas fumes. Whether it was self-administered is beyond my province.”
“Sure,” Shayne said impatiently. “The physical setup takes care of that. She was inside a locked room all night with the gas grate turned on. If she wasn’t drugged and was in full possession of all her faculties, she wouldn’t have turned on the gas and gone to bed with any expectation of getting up on her wedding day. And I don’t think she would have welcomed death with a smile and outflung arms,” he ended harshly. He got up and paced the length of the small office, stopped to ask, “How long, Doc?”
“Couple of hours.”
Shayne tugged his hat brim lower on his forehead, said, “I’ll call you or drop in-and there’s a bottle of Ancient Age waiting for you,” and went out.
A heavy drizzle of rain swirled with a chilling wind as Shayne turned in the driveway of the Lomax residence on Mirabeau Avenue and drove between double rows of clipped hibiscus hedge to the front of the imposing three-storied house with dormer windows set in the gabled roof. A more recent construction than the plantation dwellings in the suburban section, the house had been designed to conform with the traditional style of the nineteenth century, with embrasured French windows and round wooden columns rising majestically to support the wide, second-floor gallery with its ornamental iron railing of intricate design.
Shayne parked near the stone steps leading up to the veranda and got out. There was an ancient iron knocker on the heavy double doors, but an electric button had been installed in the framework on the right. He pressed the button and waited, hugging his coat close against the wet chill of New Orleans in December.
The left-hand door opened about a foot and a rosy-cheeked, round-eyed maid peered out at him. She said, “Yes, sir?”
“Is Mr. Nathan Lomax in?”
The maid was hesitant and an expression of mingled terror and awe was in her dark eyes as she held the door firmly and regarded the towering figure before her.
“I’m from the insurance company-about the necklace,” Shayne said gently.
“Yes-sir. I guess he’s in,” she stammered. “I’ll go ask him.”
She started to close the door. Shayne grinned and gave it a shove and followed her into a wide hallway covered from wall to wall with lush mauve carpeting and running the length of the house to other double doors at the rear. A wide stairway of polished mahogany curved upward to a landing and doubled back to the second floor.
“If you’ll wait here, I’ll tell Mr. Lomax,” the girl said.
Shayne waited until she was a few steps away, then followed her. He stopped to hang his coat and hat on the hall rack and continued toward the sliding double doors through which the girl disappeared. He met her as she re-entered the hall, and she said, “It’s all right, sir. Mr. Lomax said you was to come in.”
He entered a spacious library, the high ceilings paneled with wide boards riven from the hearts of cypress logs. The inner wall was lined with bookshelves, and deep chairs with accommodating end tables were informally arranged around a long table in the center.
A thin man of average height arose from one of two fireside chairs near a cheery gas log set in an ornate fireplace at the farther end of the room. He had the appearance of a man who had died in his late forties and had, by some miracle, been reanimated without the restoration of organic function. A fringe of white hair decorated his bony scalp from ear to ear. His sharp jaw and long nose gave him a dish-mouthed look, and his lips were bloodless. His eyes were a mild, murky blue beneath bristling white brows, and he wore a velvet jacket over a vest and white shirt.
Nathan Lomax’s step was agile as he advanced to meet Shayne. He said in a deep, resonant voice, “So you’re from the insurance company.”
“Shayne,” the detective said. “I’ve been retained to recover the emerald necklace.” He grasped his host’s extended hand. The flesh was soft and lifeless, but his grip was firm and strong.
“I see,” said Lomax, and urged Shayne toward the fireplace. “Warm yourself, Mr. Shayne, and if you’d like a drink-”
“Too near lunch. Thanks.” Shayne’s nostrils flared in an unconscious sniff for the smell of gas. He turned his back to the fire and spread out his hands to its warmth. There was no odor of gas in the room, only a pleasant warmth and fresh, washed air which was apparently forced through the units of a modern air-conditioning plant.
Mr. Lomax stood directly in front of him and said without preamble, “I’ve been expecting someone from your office. I realize that my wife’s negligence puts me in an odd position to press a claim. I wish you’d tell me frankly how your company feels about the matter.”
Shayne’s rugged features gave no hint of his surprise. This was the first time he had ever had a client bring up that touchy subject. He fished a cigarette from his breast pocket and lit it before saying, “I don’t believe there’s going to be any trouble on that score. It’s up to our legal department, of course, but Mutual Indemnity has a reputation for paying off the face of a policy promptly in a case like this.”
Mr. Lomax looked relieved. He said, “I hope there won’t be any difficulty. It’s really my wife’s claim, as you probably know. And you know how women are about business matters.” He gestured with a white and purple-veined hand toward one of the fireside chairs.
Shayne sat down.
Lomax seated himself in the other chair. “Mrs. Lomax,” he continued, “can’t perceive that her negligence enters into the matter at all.” His murky blue eyes were harassed as he looked levelly at Shayne.
“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” Shayne assured him. “Frankly, we’re not worried about the claim. We intend to recover the necklace.”
“Indeed? That’s splendid. You have a clue, I presume.”
“Lots of them.” Shayne grinned wryly. “At the moment I’m following up the suicide of your maid this morning.”
“You think that she-that Katrin could have taken it? Oh, no, Mr. Shayne. I’m certain that Katrin is-was wholly innocent.”
“Why did she commit suicide?”
There was a long silence. Mr. Lomax sighed deeply into the silence.
Presently he said, “I’m afraid we’ll never know. I presume you are acquainted with the-ah-tragic facts surrounding her death.”
“Her engagement to the young lieutenant?” Shayne asked sharply.
“Yes. A very sad case. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it at all, Mr. Shayne.” He interlaced his fingers and the veins throbbed like long purple worms in the milky whiteness of his hands.
“That’s just it,” Shayne said. “It doesn’t make sense. I want to look over the death room, and I want to talk to everyone who knew her.”
“Certainly.” His host arose with stiff dignity and preceded Shayne briskly through the door leading into the hallway and up the curving stairway to a hall architecturally similar on the second floor. Here the feminine touch was evidenced in carpeting of dull rose blending with pastel walls and mirror panels that reflected Shayne’s long body and grim, angular face as his host led the way to a less pretentious stairway to the gabled third story.
The hall was small, and the door straight ahead was closed as was the one to the left. The right-hand door sagged open and the upper pine panel had been shattered. Mr. Lomax turned to it, explaining, “Neal, our chauffeur, smashed the panel when no one could get an answer from Katrin this morning. I reached through the opening myself and turned the key in the lock to open the door.”
Shayne stood on the threshold studying every detail of the small, clean bedroom. There was one gabled window overgrown with ivy. A single iron bedstead painted white stood in one corner, and near the foot of the bed was a hot air inlet. The floor was spotless around a square rug bright with color, and crisp curtains were looped back from the window. A highboy stood against one wall, its empty drawers carelessly pulled out. A small, doorless closet was empty, the cretonne curtain drawn aside and flung over the extension rod on which it hung. A hatbox and two new suitcases lay open on the floor, and feminine garments lay in little heaps around them. On Shayne’s left, set in a small recess of the wall, was a gas grate. An out-of-date dressing-table with triple mirrors held a few toilet articles which had evidently been left unpacked for use on Katrin’s wedding morning. A straight chair covered with chintz of a delicate pattern had a ruffled skirt that touched the floor all around, reminding Shayne of a demure little old lady, and completed the furnishings in the room.
Shayne drew in deep breaths of air faintly tinged with the odor of gas. The sweet, cloying odor of death. He said, “It’s odd-I didn’t catch any smell of gas coming up the stairs. I should think it would have filled the house when you opened the door.”
“A certain amount did escape into the rest of the house,” Mr. Lomax said, “but it was carried off by the air-conditioner. The plant is very efficient, carrying the stale air out of the house entirely and bringing in fresh air that is washed by the humidifier before it goes into the furnace.”
“I see,” said Shayne absently, “but it didn’t clear the room of the gas from the grate fast enough.”
“The police think she must have turned it on immediately after retiring, though they believe that her death did not occur until early this morning.” Mr. Lomax wandered idly around the room as he spoke.
From his position on the threshold, Shayne said, “If you have a furnace and the house is air-conditioned, why do you have these gas grates?”
“They were installed when the house was built-before the new plant was installed. They are still used on chilly spring and early fall mornings and evenings.”
Shayne moved into the room and looked around with a baffled expression. “I suppose the police searched thoroughly for a death message.”
“They went over everything-and found nothing.” Mr. Lomax sighed and compressed his white lips. “I believe they were searching for the necklace also, though I assured them that a girl like Katrin could not possibly have stolen it.”
“Is there any chance that a note could have been picked up before the police got here?”
“None at all,” his host said firmly. “Neal and I entered the room together, as I’ve told you. As soon as we opened the door and smelled the gas and saw Katrin lying there, we knew what had happened. Neal ran in and turned off the grate. We stood out in the hall for a while until the fumes were less stifling. I had the housekeeper phone the doctor and the police. Neal and I were on guard until they arrived, and I was right here when they searched the room. There was no written message of any kind. Quite naturally, that was the first thing we all looked for.”
Shayne crossed over and made a cursory examination of the ivy-thatched window. It was solid in the casement, and not a leaf of the vine had been disturbed. He looked up at the ceiling of plywood nailed snugly against the rafters.
He asked abruptly, “Did she have everything packed-except the toilet articles on the dresser?”
“Everything-except one outfit. I tell you, I can’t understand it, Mr. Shayne. There is every evidence that she planned to carry out her wedding plans today. Something that probably none of us can ever guess must have happened.”
“Perhaps,” Shayne said harshly. He was staring at the bed trying to picture a young girl lying there in her nightgown with a smile on her lips and her arms outflung to welcome the insidious death flowing soundlessly from a gas grate which must have been opened by her own hands.
He shook his head emphatically, stalked over to the grate and turned on the gas. There was a hissing sound. He tried turning it low, but the slightest turn gave out the same hissing sound. He snapped the jet off and asked, “Was Miss Moe deaf?”
“Not in the slightest degree. She was very alert,” Mr. Lomax told him.
Shayne’s eyes were bleak. “And you didn’t notice anything peculiar about her last night,” Shayne persisted. “None of you had any intimation that she planned to take her own life?”
“None of us, Mr. Shayne. While Katrin was very reserved, she was quite happy in her own quiet way. It was all arranged that she would come back to us after their honeymoon until we could get someone to replace her. She retired earlier than usual last night. Said she wanted to get a good night’s sleep so she could meet her fiance at the station.”
“One thing more, “ Shayne said. “When was the theft of the necklace actually discovered? Before or after Katrin’s body was found?”
“At about the same time, I believe. My wife and I were having coffee in our upstairs sitting-room when Mrs. Brown, the housekeeper, came in to say that she was worried about Katrin. It was past time for her to get up, and Mrs. Brown could get no response by knocking on her locked door.”
“Wait a minute,” Shayne said hastily, “did Miss Moe always lock her door at night?”
“Always, I believe.” Mr. Lomax smiled. “I’ve heard Rose-that’s the other maid-teasing her about it.”
Shayne nodded. “Go on. Mrs. Brown was worried-”
“I asked her to call Neal, and I came up to Katrin’s room.”
“Were you worried?” Shayne asked sharply.
“No-I don’t believe so. At first I thought she had risen early and slipped out to meet her lieutenant. But her locked door argued against that. According to Mrs. Brown, Katrin never locked her door except when she was inside.”
“And you knocked?”
“I knocked and I called to her. Then I realized that there was a smell of gas close to her door. Neal came hurrying up just then and I asked him to see if he could break the door down. It took him only a moment to break through the panel. I’ve told you the rest.”
“And the necklace?” Shayne prompted him.
“There was a lot of excitement,” Lomax said. “When I came out of the room I heard my wife screaming that her necklace was gone. I thought she meant from the safe, of course, never dreaming she’d left it out so carelessly. I believe,” he added grimly, “that she had forgotten it until that moment when I hurried up to Katrin’s room to see if the girl was there. It was almost as though my wife was immediately struck with the absurd idea that Katrin had stolen her necklace and disappeared, and she went to look for her jewel case when I came upstairs.”
“Did Mrs. Lomax distrust Katrin?”
“Not at all,” Nathan Lomax said hastily, then qualified his statement immediately. “Not that I know of. There was a reason for my wife connecting the two incidents, however. Several times she has given the necklace to Katrin to bring to me-to be locked in the safe.”
Shayne listened attentively, punishing his ear lobe between thumb and forefinger. He said, “I see,” and sauntered over to the trash basket beside the dresser. “I suppose the cops looked through this for discarded death notes-some she might have torn up after writings”
“I’m positive they did,” said Lomax.
Shayne got down on his knees, turned the basket over and dumped the contents on the floor. There wasn’t much; the crumpled wrapper of a candy bar and a wadded piece of brown wrapping paper. He pawed over them, picked out a short strip of grayish paper and studied it. The slip was about four inches long and less than an inch wide, about the width of the outer margin of a newspaper and of the same quality.
He said, “I wonder if Katrin had yesterday’s paper up here?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” Mr. Lomax said stiffly and with a hint of impatience. “I would hardly check on the personal habits of the servants.”
Someone was coming up the stairs.
Mr. Lomax walked over to the door and looked out. He said, “You might ask Mrs. Brown. She’s coming up now.”
“I will.” Shayne slipped the short strip of paper in his pocket with one hand and continued to stir the contents of the basket with the other.
Tucked into the crumpled piece of wrapping paper he found a small white square from a memo pad with the figures $29.43 and $2.94 written for adding, and underneath the line the total, $32.37. He slipped the square into his pocket and stood up as Mrs. Brown’s footsteps neared the door.
He saw a broad, red-faced woman of middle age wearing a crisp white apron over a blue uniform. Iron-gray hair was coiled in two neat braids about her head, and her Irish blue eyes were sad. She placed her arms akimbo and looked around the room.
Mr. Lomax introduced Shayne to her and said, “The detective would like to talk to you, Mrs. Brown. He’s investigating the stolen necklace.”
Mrs. Brown’s massive bosom rose and fell as she panted to catch her breath after climbing the stairs, Her eyes were narrowed and hostile upon Shayne. “If he thinks he’ll be finding the jools in this poor girl’s room it’s mistaken he is. Katrin was a pure and good girl.”
Shayne said gently, “You can help to clear her by answering a few questions, Mrs. Brown.” He glanced at his host. “May I take a few minutes?”
“Certainly.” Nathan Lomax looked very tired. “I’ll wait for you in the second-floor living-room with my wife.”
He sighed audibly and went out into the hall and down the stairs.
Shayne suggested, “May we go into your room where you can be more comfortable?”
She nodded and went across the hall to open the door. Her room was an exact duplicate of Katrin’s in design, but the touch of a home-maker was in evidence everywhere. Cretonne and chintz, once bright, were mellowed with age and laundering. Two comfortable chairs stood before the gas grate, and a space beside the dormer window was filled with pictures of uniformed boys and young girls and smiling children. Above the grate hung a gray enlargement of the photograph of a stiffly posed young man with a sweeping mustache.
Mrs. Brown seated herself in one of the chairs and invited Shayne to take the other. She placed a work-roughened hand on each knee, held her stout body stiffly erect, and said, “A furriner she may have been, but a sweeter girl I’ve never known, and that’s the Lord’s truth,” in a tone of undisguised hostility. She crossed herself and settled back in the chair.
Shayne said, “I’m trying to get at the bottom of this-find out the truth. Why did Katrin Moe kill herself?”
“I’m not believin’ she did. Didn’t I sit with her while she finished packin’, and wasn’t she the happiest girl in the world waitin’ for this day to come? Sure, and she said nothin’ to me when I went out and she locked her door for the night.”
“You’re sure the gas wasn’t on while you were with her?”
She gave him a look of withering scorn. “And would I be sittin’ there breathin’ the poison stuff and not know it?”
“But you did hear her lock her door-and it was still locked this morning when she was found.”
Mrs. Brown shook her head obstinately. “I’m not sayin’ that’s not a fact, but you mark my words, mister, that girl was a pure darlin’, and when the truth comes out it’ll not be her to blame.”
“Did she always lock her door at night?” Shayne asked.
“And why wouldn’t she?” She drew her full mouth into a tight, straight line.
“You tell me,” Shayne coaxed.
“With that Eddie traipsin’ in drunk and creepin’ up the stairs at all hours. Though I get my walkin’ papers for the tellin’ of it, I’ll not hold back the truth. A wild one he is, pawin’ at Katrin and Rose even when he’s far gone in drink.” She was sitting up straight again, her hands on her knees, one foot shoved forward like a sprinter getting on his mark for the race.
Shayne hunched forward and asked, “What about the chauffeur?”
“Now there’s a different kind. A gentleman if ever I saw one with his polite manners and always more than willin’ to give a hand. And he keeps to his place like a proper gentleman should. Into the kitchen for his meals and back to his room over the garage or down to his workshop in the cellar. And it’s not that he mightn’t do different, mind you,” she added darkly, and smacked her lips.
“How different?” Shayne asked bluntly.
She stiffened her jaw and shook her head. “It’s not for me to be spreadin’ gossip around.”
Shayne lowered his head and looked at the floor, said, “The only way I can find out things is for people to tell me,” then looked up quickly to see an odd eagerness in her eyes. “You ought to tell me what you can. We’ve got to clear Katrin’s name in this mess.”
“Sure and you’re right.”
Shayne sat back in his chair. “You were saying that the chauffeur-”
“Neal Jordan,” she said, and left her mouth lax.
“You say he could do differently-”
“Sure. What with that Clarice makin’ her eyes at him. Ay, and her mother, too, I’ll be bound, only she was more sly about it. Humph! Pulling the wool over the old man’s eyes like she tries to.”
“Nothing you say to me will go any further,” Shayne said with gentle assurance. “There’s one other thing, Mrs. Brown. Do you know where yesterday’s paper is?”
“Sure and it’s right here in my room. Katrin gave it to me yesterday mornin’ when she finished readin’ it. I don’t read much but the front page.” She pushed down on her knees and pulled her body up, went to the table and got the paper and handed it to him.
Shayne turned the first three pages and nodded. A small item had been clipped from the right-hand column near the center of the page. He refolded the paper and got up to replace it on the table. He started out the door, then turned to ask, “Do you know anything about Katrin’s brother?”
“Brother? No. Katrin wasn’t one to blab about herself and her family. I didn’t know she had a brother.” Her tone was full of curiosity.
“Did you know Katrin had been married? Ever see her wear a wedding ring?”
Mrs. Brown’s mouth hung open for an instant before she gasped, “Married-weddin’ ring,” and snapped her mouth shut.
Again she was on the defensive, glaring defiance at Shayne.
“Did you ever see the ring?” Shayne persisted.
“Can’t a girl have a weddin’ ring all ready when she’s goin’ to get married? Can’t she put it on her finger and look at it and dream about the happiness she’s goin’ to have in just a little while? What if the poor girl did have a weddin’ ring? Sure, I saw her wearin’ it once. ’Twas on one of her days off, and she must’ve forgot about puttin’ it on.”
“Did you ask her about the ring when you saw it?” Shayne’s gray eyes were cold and demanding.
Mrs. Brown backed away from him and some of the red went out of her face. She stammered, “I was goin’-to tease her about it. But-” She took another step backward and contacted her chair. Sinking into it she continued, “-But she turned so white and looked so scared-I–I didn’t. I remember now. But I didn’t think anything more about it-then.”
Shayne saw her cross herself again before he turned to go out the door.
The second-floor living-room was richly furnished and the feminine motif prevailed throughout. Shayne had walked quietly down the stairway and the sound of his footsteps was deadened by the deep carpet in the hallway.
He stood for a moment in the open doorway, unnoticed by the three silent occupants of the room.
A young girl with dark brown hair cut short and curled upward in soft ringlets lolled in a deep chair of apple-green satin that brightened the dull gold of her skirt and blouse. Her red lips were set in a smile of ironical amusement. An odd fleshy bump on her chin was centered with a cleft which gave her an impish look in spite of the boredom in her dark eyes.
An older woman with too-black hair was stretched out on a chaise longue of gold satin, her head resting on a rose cushion. A powder-blue robe softened her sharp features; her cheeks were pale and her thin mouth was made to look generous by an over-application of dark rouge. Her eyes were closed and a fringe of black lashes curled up from her cheek.
Mr. Lomax sat in a blue mohair chair across from the girl, his feet resting on the matching ottoman, and the gas grate burned with a blue flame before them.
In spite of the relaxed appearance of the family, Shayne felt the tension of the silence. He cleared his throat and Mr. Lomax turned to see him, then quickly arose to say, “Come right in, Mr. Shayne. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Mr. Lomax first introduced his wife, who blinked long lashes at Shayne and asked in a low, pleasant voice, “Are you going to make trouble with me over what my husband calls my negligence with the necklace?”
“I hope not,” Shayne said. “I expect to recover it for you.”
She said, “Oh?” and Shayne couldn’t tell whether his reply pleased her or not. His gray eyes looked over the length of her slender body. She looked under forty but was probably nearer fifty.
Mr. Lomax coughed discreetly and said, “Mr. Shayne, this is our daughter Clarice.”
Shayne looked at her gravely. She quirked her lips and said, “It was an inside job, wasn’t it? Whom are you going to arrest?”
Shayne fished a cigarette from his pack. Clarice extended her hand and said, “Thanks.” He gave it to her and took out another, lit them both from the same match. He judged her to be about eighteen, pampered, and the kind of a girl who took a perverse delight in shocking her parents. She slanted her eyes up at him and insisted, “Well, wasn’t it?”
“Clarice!” Mr. Lomax expostulated mildly.
Ignoring her father, Clarice went on, “That’s my theory. I don’t believe the necklace was stolen in that robbery. I think somebody in this house snatched it yesterday thinking it would be laid to the burglar. Why, it might have even been someone in the house working hand in hand with the burglar,” she added, as though the idea had suddenly come to her.
“Clarice!” her father repeated sharply.
“Isn’t it a good theory?” she demanded of Shayne.
“It makes sense,” he agreed. “Who’s your candidate?”
“Katrin,” she said viciously. “She was always snooping around. She helped mother change that night and must have known it wasn’t locked up in the safe. And she cleaned up mother’s room afterward.”
Mrs. Lomax said languidly, “That’ll do, Clarice. What do you think, Mr. Shayne? Why did the poor girl commit suicide on the eve of her wedding?”
“I had hoped some of you could help me figure that out,” Shayne told her.
“Katrin stole the necklace, I tell you,” Clarice said sullenly. “She was in love with some poor man and was frantic to marry him before Lieutenant Drinkley got here. Then she had an attack of conscience after doing it.”
“What makes you think she wasn’t in love with the lieutenant?” Shayne’s voice was harsh.
Clarice frowned. “Are you going to give us the third degree or something? Maybe she was in love with him, but I think she knew their marriage wouldn’t work out. Ted Drinkley didn’t really love her, you know,” she ended smugly.
“That’s what you think,” an ironic voice interrupted. “After all the passes you made at him, you keep kidding yourself he’s in love with you.”
“Eddie!” Mr. Lomax chided warningly.
Shayne jerked himself around to face a young man of medium height with pudgy features and a pimpled, unhealthy complexion. A mop of ash-blond hair grew low on his forehead and his eyes were pale blue like his father’s. He wore dark blue trousers and a shirt emblazoned with big red poppies, the short tail of which hung outside his trousers. He looked like a college boy who wanted desperately to be tough. His shoulders sloped forward and he swaggered as he advanced to join the group around the fireplace.
“Mr. Shayne,” said Nathan Lomax, “this is our son, Eddie.”
“You’re the detective? You got any clues yet?” The boy flopped into a chair and let his knees fall wide apart and put the toes of his shoes together. His mouth stayed open after asking the questions. He looked up at Shayne and his blond lashes touched his thick, overhanging brows.
“I’m gathering a few clues,” Shayne told him. “Where were you last night?”
“You.” Shayne took a step toward him and his voice was hard as he continued, “You folks act as if none of this touches you. A necklace worth a hundred and fifty thousand dollars has been stolen and a girl has been murdered…”
Shayne turned quickly to see Mrs. Lomax sitting up. There was a look of terror, or of horror, in her black eyes. She sank back immediately, saying, “Oh-no. Katrin committed suicide,” and her eyes grew languorous again.
“You seem to be very certain of suicide, Mrs. Lomax,” Shayne said, “perhaps you can tell me the reason.” He looked steadily down at her.
Mrs. Lomax avoided his gaze. “I don’t know the reason,” she answered, “but anyone can see that it couldn’t have been murder.”
The muscles in Shayne’s cheeks quivered and a frown trenched his brow. He wondered whether the fleeting terror in her eyes was intended to distract his attention from Eddie, or shock at his announcement that Katrin had been murdered. Her lowered lashes made her eyes inscrutable.
He turned again to Eddie and repeated, “Where were you last night?”
Mr. Lomax had been politely standing while Shayne stood. He sank into his chair and ran a trembling hand over his bony scalp.
Eddie shifted his eyes to his father and murmured, “Murdered,” in a stricken tone.
Shayne made a savage gesture. “Katrin Moe may have turned on the gas with her own hand, but she was forced into it by something-or someone. Where were you last night?”
Eddie dragged his gaze from his father and along the carpet to his pointed-in toes. “It’s none of your business,” he burst out. “I didn’t-”
“If you’ve nothing to hide you’d better tell him, son,” his father advised.
“And for heaven’s sake close your mouth,” Clarice said scornfully. “You’re drooling.”
“Keep your own trap shut,” Eddie snapped. “What is this? A pinch? What right has he got to know where I was last night?”
“I think this is what they call routine,” Mrs. Lomax said in the short silence that followed.
“You didn’t come home to dinner last night, Eddie,” Mr. Lomax reminded him.
“I didn’t get home until two o’clock,” Eddie admitted sullenly. “The cops say Katrin was dead by that time, so what does it matter where I was?”
“How old are you?” Shayne asked.
Shayne stood on wide-spread legs before him. “For the last time, where were you last night?”
Eddie cowered away from him. “Different places just bumming around,” he mumbled, “from ten till two. I was at the Laurel Club most of the time,”
Mr. Lomax said, “Eddie!” reproachfully.
“Well, that’s about the only place in town where I’m welcome with the money I get to spend,” he snapped. “Dan Trueman’s a good egg.”
“Anybody see you at the Laurel Club?” Shayne interposed.
“Sure. Lots of people. Dan saw me leave just before two o’clock. Sis knows he did.” He glanced angrily at Clarice.
Clarice glared back.
“Clarice-at the Laurel Club?” Mr. Lomax frowned, “You know that’s not true. Clarice was at the Country Club dance.”
“Maybe she started out at the Country Club,” Eddie told him, ignoring his sister’s warning look, “but at two o’clock she was at the Laurel Club. The sedan was parked in the driveway and Neal was waiting for her. That’s how I came to see Dan. He was talking with Neal when I came out.”
Shayne stepped back nearer the grate and watched the trio narrowly.
Mr. Lomax’s white hands lolled on his emaciated legs, but there was anger in his murky eyes. He asked, “Is this true, Clarice?”
Clarice’s eyes flashed. She said, “You act as if I should be kept wrapped up in cellophane. Sure, I dropped by there. I was bored at the dance. There wasn’t anybody to dance with, so I asked Neal to drive me some place where there was a little excitement.”
Mrs. Lomax’s face was passive. She lay inert on the chaise longue with her eyes half closed.
“I’ll have a talk with Neal,” Mr. Lomax said after a short silence. There was a harsh implication in his voice that caused Shayne to glance hastily at him. He looked white and shaken, and blood pulsed in the raised purple veins on his chalky hands.
“I’m sure it wasn’t Neal’s fault, Nathan,” Mrs. Lomax said calmly. “He’s just the chauffeur and has to drive where he’s told.”
“When Neal takes Clarice out I expect him to look after her,” her husband stated flatly.
“You sound so dreadfully Victorian, Dad.” Clarice laughed shrilly and got up. She smoothed her skirt over her slim hips and stretched her torso upward, accentuating her small pointed breasts. Glancing at Shayne, she said, “I’m sure you find this discussion just too, too interesting.”
“I’m learning a lot.” Shayne’s mouth was grim. “Did you see your brother at the Laurel Club?”
“No. I didn’t go back to the gambling room. I just had a cocktail and came on home.” She gave a sniff of disdain and added, “The Laurel Club was pretty tame, too.”
When Shayne again turned to Nathan Lomax his chin was resting on his chest and he was gently pressing the veins in his hand. Mrs. Lomax had arranged her pillows so that she sat up. Her hands were laxly folded in her lap and she appeared unperturbed by her daughter’s comments.
Shayne asked, “You and Mrs. Lomax were both at home last night?”
“Why, yes. We retired early. Mrs. Lomax was weary after her trip, and I read for a time.”
“I’ve wondered about that trip.” Shayne turned to Mrs. Lomax. “Why did you drive to Baton Rouge?”
She opened her eyes wide and tried to wither him with a look.
“It’s really quite simple. I’m district chairman of the Garden Club. We met in Baton Rouge. I trust you don’t disapprove,” she ended icily.
Shayne asked Lomax, “May I see the place from which the necklace was stolen?”
“Certainly.” He arose with agility and led the way across the room to one of three doors, opened it and waited for Shayne to go in, then closed it. He said, “This is my wife’s dressing-room. The door to the left leads to my bedroom and the one on the right to Mrs. Lomax’s.”
The modernistic motif of the dressing-room was startling in comparison to the conventional library and the soft pastel shades of the upstairs living-room. Shayne’s reflection stared back at him from the long chromium and black mirror of the magnificent dressing-table set between two French windows hung with black and silver-striped drapes. On either side a full-length mirror reflected his tall, gaunt frame as he stepped forward. The low table was equipped with three drawers on each side and a long narrow center drawer. A couch of silver satin was decorated with silver and black cushions, and around a grayish furry rug the floor was inset with black and white tile. The top of the dressing-table was bare.
“As you see,” Mr. Lomax said, “all of the toilet articles were stolen. They were valuable, of course. Mrs. Lomax has exquisite taste in such things, and I have humored her.”
“Yeh,” Shayne muttered, absently studying the modernistic murals around the walls, the most intriguing of which was a writhing octopus powdering its nose while ogling into a fantastic mirror.
Mr. Lomax opened the top left-hand drawer. “Mrs. Lomax remembers distinctly putting the jewel box containing the necklace in this drawer before she left for Baton Rouge. Katrin, of course, tidied the room afterward. I can’t understand why Katrin didn’t bring it to me to be put in the safe.”
“Mrs. Lomax usually puts it away herself?”
“Yes. She treasured the necklace. But, like myself, she trusted Katrin implicitly.”
“The safe is in your room, I understand.” Shayne was perfunctorily pulling out the drawers and examining them. He slammed the last one shut.
“Yes. The burglar could not possibly have touched it,” Lomax was saying. “I was in bed at the time, reading. I’m certain the sneak-thief was a professional, Mr. Shayne. I heard only the faintest sound when I got up to investigate. At first I thought it was Mrs. Lomax, but I knew that couldn’t be unless something had interfered with her trip. So, I put on a robe and came in here, but the burglar must have heard me getting up. He had disappeared through the living-room and into the hall before I got even a glimpse of him. I chased him down the stairs as fast as I could, but he was too quick for me. He ran out the front door and disappeared altogether. I called the police at once.”
Shayne nodded absently, but his eyes were very bright. “And your wife didn’t think about having left the necklace in the drawer until this morning?”
“No. Habit is a strong thing, Mr. Shayne. But I know from my own experience that lapses are likely to occur. One is always astounded when one deviates from a set routine, but it is only human. Evalyn-Mrs. Lomax-was frantic at first. She couldn’t believe it, and I might add that she has not been her usual self since the discovery. She appears to be calm and disinterested, but I know her too well. She is brooding over her loss.”
“Does Mrs. Lomax believe that Katrin discovered the jewel box in the drawer and stole it?”
Mr. Lomax didn’t answer at once. A frown drew his white bushy brows together. He said finally, “She doesn’t know. She was in a hurry that night. She’s inclined to be charitable and believe that Katrin didn’t notice that she put the jewel case in the drawer. I, too, am inclined to be charitable.” He sighed dismally and his gray-fringed head moved slowly from side to side. “It’s a bad business, Mr. Shayne,” he went on. “I’d prefer to drop the entire matter, absolve your company of all liability in the matter, if I thought-” His words trailed off and he looked deeply troubled.
“If you thought you could stop the investigation that way?” Shayne said harshly. “In other words, it’s worth a hundred and twenty-five grand to you for me to drop the matter.”
“So many things come up,” he answered, his hands trembling in a helpless gesture. “So many things are much better left unsaid.”
“You’re not the first man,” Shayne told him harshly, “to find that an investigation like this generally drags out a lot of dirty linen. But this is a private investigation. I may do a lot of digging, but I’m only interested in results.”
Mr. Lomax nodded unhappily. “There’ll be an inquest into Katrin’s death, I presume.”
“Sure. But it’ll be rather perfunctory as long as we don’t turn up anything to upset the suicide theory.”
“I don’t know what you think. It’s hard to understand young people nowadays.”
Shayne repeated, “I’m only interested in results. I’ll take a look at that safe now, if you don’t mind.”
“By all means,” he replied. He opened the door on the left and Shayne followed him into a spacious bedroom.
A wainscoting of unvarnished knotty pine some five feet high ran all around the room with white-painted walls above it. One huge painting hung directly across from the door, depicting a buck and a doe and a fawn against a background of snow and spruce. The furnishings were massive antiques, and a delightful piney smell filled the room.
Lomax turned to a miniature painting on the wall to the right as they went in. Removing it, he showed Shayne the small barrel safe and began turning the dial to open it.
An electric light came on when the door opened. Shayne looked into the cylinder and saw several small jewel boxes and a long metal box such as valuable papers are kept in.
He waited while Lomax opened each of the boxes for his inspection, then said, “I guess that’s all,” and started toward the door.
Mr. Lomax detained him by saying, “If I should decide to waive all claim against your company, is there any way you could arrange to have the money paid to my wife so she’d think it came from the company?”
Shayne frowned down at his bony, bloodless face. “You mean if you paid us the money-for us to pay over to her?”
“That’s what I mean-yes. I’m sure she would not agree to dropping the matter without payment.”
“That would take some thinking over,” Shayne answered. “And”-his voice hardened-“there’s still the Katrin Moe angle. You can’t buy that investigation off.”
Mr. Lomax’s body stiffened with dignity. “I hardly meant-to buy you off.” He moved toward a door with a thin veneer of knotty pine on the inside, saying, “We’ll go out this way.”
Shayne went ahead of him and jerked the door open. He walked into a moment of utter silence in the living-room; a strained silence that comes when a group has been discussing persons who appear unexpectedly.
Eddie Lomax was leaning over his mother as though he had been arguing with her. Clarice was leaning against the mantel with an expression of cold disdain on her young face.
Shayne turned to Mr. Lomax and said, “I’ll have a talk with your chauffeur before I go.”
“Yes. I’ll ring for him.”
“I’d prefer to talk to him in his own quarters,” said Shayne.
“I think he’s down in his workshop,” Eddie told them.
“Then you show Mr. Shayne the way down, Eddie,” his father said.
Shayne nodded to the ladies and thanked them for their co-operation. He said to Lomax, “I’ll get in touch with you later,” and followed Eddie out.
Shayne picked up his coat and hat from the hallway and went with Eddie toward the rear of the house. Away from his parents, the boy’s sneering defiance departed. Twice he looked at Shayne with his mouth open as though he was about to say something, but went on silently.
They passed a large dining-room and Eddie turned through a butler’s pantry off the kitchen into a passageway leading to a side entrance. He stopped beside a solid wooden door on the right and indicated it with a shrug.
“That’s a stairway going down to the basement where Neal has his shop. But we can’t use it. We have to go out the side door and around.”
Something in his tone made Shayne look at him sharply.
“Why can’t we use the stairs?” he asked.
“Locked.” Eddie pointed to the heavy Yale lock. “Dad or Mom has the only key.” He grinned and assumed an air of sophistication as he continued, “Dad didn’t think it was safe for Neal to be able to get into the house at night, I guess. That old devil sex rearing its ugly head again.” His voice crackled with an odd note of bravado, sneered at his father’s old-fashioned ideas of propriety, yet strove to imply that they might have been justified.
They went through a side door onto the wide veranda that completely circled the house and down concrete steps to a concrete walk, turned to the rear until they reached a point where it was intersected by another walk leading from the garage to the house.
Indicating the right-hand walk, Eddie said, “That goes out to Neal’s apartment over the garage, and the other to the kitchen entrance.”
Shayne got a glimpse of a narrower concrete walk leading to the garden and circling flower beds where hardly perennials were darkly green and fresh in the mist of rain still falling before Eddie started down the basement steps. A door was set flush with the concrete floor. He pushed it open and went in.
The hallway was lighted by a large bulb in the room beyond. As they passed a door on the right, Eddie said, “That’s the furnace room,” and a few steps farther pointed out the inside basement stairway. The steps were covered with dust, and cobwebs hung from the slanting ceiling.
In the large lighted room a man in a short-sleeved polo shirt was working at a long bench. He wore soiled duck trousers and canvas sneakers. His back was turned toward the entrance and he gave no sign that he heard his visitors come in.
Shayne walked slowly to the work bench, his gaze steady upon the broad shoulders and clean-muscled arms of the man working there. The smooth line of his body flowed down to narrow hips and long legs. His head was finely shaped and covered with thick hair that gleamed like copper in the bright light.
Eddie said, “Here’s a man to see you, Neal.”
Neal turned his head and nodded. “Just a minute while I mark this off.”
Ordinarily Shayne would have scorned the regular features and gleaming hair which would have been merely pretty on many men. But there was also an instant impression of ruthless strength and an air of quiet assurance that compelled Shayne’s interest.
He said, “Go right ahead,” and moved nearer the bench.
Eddie asked, “Is that the insulating stuff?” with genuine interest. “Gosh, you’ve got a big job cut out for you-wrapping all those pipes.”
“It’s not so bad. Something to keep me busy, and it’ll cut fuel bills down.”
Shayne noted the deep vibrance of his voice and decided that it could also become very tender, and persuasive.
After carefully ruling the asbestos, the chauffeur laid his pencil and rule down, picked up a short-stemmed pipe and a can of tobacco, turned to Shayne and asked, “What do you want to see me about?”
“This is Mr. Shayne,” Eddie said quickly, “and he’s a detective.” His tone warned the chauffeur. “Come to see about the necklace,” he added.
“I’m Neal Jordan, Mr. Shayne.” He snapped the tobacco can shut, set it on the bench and took a step forward to shake hands. His movements were slow and deliberate with no hint of insolence.
Shayne looked into a pair of dark blue intelligent eyes as he shook hands. Neal’s brows and lashes were black, and there was more strength than masculine beauty in the clean-cut features.
Shayne said, “You’d better run along, Eddie. I’ll talk to Jordan alone.”
Eddie hesitated, his face sullen. He muttered, “Okay. I suppose you want to check on my alibi.” Before he swaggered out he added, “Watch him, Neal. He’ll try to hang something on you.”
Neither man spoke until the outer door was closed. Neal Jordan lighted his pipe and said, “Unpleasant youngster, isn’t he?”
“I meet all kinds in my business.”
“There are a couple of boxes we can sit on,” Neal suggested, “or if you’d rather go to my rooms over the garage-”
“This is all right.” They moved back to a couple of packing cases and sat down facing each other.
Neal contemplated the glowing bowl of his pipe, looked up with a whimsical smile and said, “I suppose we’re all suspects, in a way.”
“In a way,” Shayne agreed. “How intimate were you with Katrin Moe?”
Neal moved his head slightly. “I don’t think any man was intimate with her. I couldn’t get to first base.” He smiled a wry smile of defeat.
“But you tried?”
“She was pretty,” he admitted. “But I never push in where I’m not wanted.”
“What is your opinion of her?”
“She was one of the most thoroughly nice girls I’ve ever known.”
“Did she ever mention suicide to you?”
“I don’t believe she ever discussed much of anything with anybody. She was quite reticent. The Nordic type.”
Shayne said, “You’re damned well educated for a chauffeur.”
Neal smiled. “Chauffeurs don’t necessarily have to be illiterate. I had two years of college.”
“Did you drive for Mrs. Lomax night before last?”
“Yes. To the meeting at the club and then to Baton Rouge afterward.”
“What time did you return home?”
“I mean that night. I understand Mrs. Lomax came home to change.”
“Yes. And to pack a bag. The Baton Rouge trip came up unexpectedly, you see.” Neal considered for a moment. “It was shortly before midnight when we left. I suppose it took her half an hour to get ready. We were here between eleven and twelve that night.”
“And you didn’t know about the robbery until you came back yesterday?”
“No. Mr. Lomax didn’t bother to notify her because he thought nothing of great value had been taken, I suppose.”
“Did you know she left her necklace out of the safe?”
Neal looked at him in cool surprise. “How would I know? I’m just the chauffeur here.”
“But you did know she wore her necklace earlier that night?”
“Of course. That is, I didn’t think much about it. She often wore it when she would have shown better taste not to.”
“Did you talk to Katrin yesterday afternoon?”
“Yes. I drove her downtown.”
“And you didn’t see her after that?”
“Not until dinner time. This load of material had arrived and I was busy with it in the afternoon.” He indicated several rolls of insulating material on the bench. “Soon after dinner I drove Miss Clarice to the dance.”
“How long did she stay at the dance?”
“Why don’t you ask her?”
“Then I don’t see-”
Shayne made an impatient gesture.
“You can refuse to answer if you want. But the police will ask you later.”
Neal said, “I don’t want any trouble. Miss Clarice didn’t stay at the dance late. She wanted to find some excitement and she had me drive her to the Laurel Club.”
“Was that a customary procedure?”
“I’m willing to answer any pertinent questions,” Neal answered with cool deliberation, “but I don’t see that gossiping about my employer’s family will help you recover the necklace.”
“Did Clarice gamble? Lose much?”
“I don’t know. You forget I’m just the chauffeur. I don’t go in with her.”
“Then she had been to the Laurel Club before?”
“Did you see anyone else there at the Club?”
“I suppose you mean Eddie. That must be what he meant when he said you were checking up on his alibi. Yes. I saw him leave about two-thirty. Miss Clarice came out immediately afterward and I drove her home.”
“And?” Shayne prompted.
“I went to bed,” Jordan said evenly. He tapped out his pipe on the side of the box.
“And this morning?”
“I was eating breakfast when I heard Mr. Lomax calling me. I knew Mrs. Brown had gone up to awaken Katrin. He was at the door of her room when I got there-and he asked if I could break it in. I smashed the upper panel and he reached in and turned the key.”
“Did you see the key on the inside before he reached in?”
“I don’t know that I actually saw the key in the lock. I know the door was locked. I know Mr. Lomax reached through the broken panel and unlocked it. Is that enough?”
“But he could have had the key in his hand-reached through and pretend to unlock it, and-”
Neal Jordan stood up abruptly. There was a dangerous glint in his clear blue eyes. “I don’t know what your game is, but I don’t like the hints you’re dropping. Sure, I suppose he could have done all that. But he didn’t. I was there and saw him.”
“You went into the room together,” Shayne went on.
“I ran in first and turned off the gas,” Neal corrected, “while Mr. Lomax waited just outside the doorway. I came back and waited until the room was cleared enough so we could breathe. Then we both went to the bed. We knew it was useless. She was dead.”
“And you didn’t see any suicide note?”
“Could one possibly have been taken from the room before the police arrived?”
Again he got a curt “No,” for an answer. Then Neal burst out, “What in hell are you trying to prove, Shayne? That Katrin Moe didn’t commit suicide?”
“Do you think she did?”
“Of course. What else could it be?” The chauffeur took a short turn up and down the room. He stopped close to Shayne, faced the red-headed detective squarely. “Sure. I know what you’re thinking. She was a sweet girl with everything in the world to live for. But there was some secret gnawing at Katrin Moe. Find out that secret and you’ll know why she killed herself.”
Shayne said, “You’re the first person around here who has hinted at anything like that.”
Neal snorted derisively. “What do you expect? These people don’t-” He checked himself, took time to choose his words. “They didn’t understand Katrin. To them, she was efficient, tireless-the perfect servant. But servants are also people. I don’t say that I understood Katrin. I do say she lived in a world of her own, and it wasn’t necessarily a pleasant one.” He paused again, then added quietly, “Find out what Katrin did with her Wednesdays off and I think you’ll find out why she committed suicide.”
Shayne said, “Yesterday was Wednesday.”
Neal nodded. “But she didn’t employ it as usual. Every other Wednesday she left the house soon after lunch and returned shortly after dinner.”
Shayne considered this in silence, tugging at the lobe of his left ear. “Did she ever tell anyone where she went?”
“Not that I know of. It caused some speculation at first, but it became a habit and ceased to be a novelty. She was always upset when she returned on Wednesday nights.”
“A little more withdrawn, and under a tension.” He thought for a moment, then said dryly, “I think she had a lover.”
“What was unusual about yesterday?” Shayne asked.
Neal clasped his strong fingers around one knee, “I’ve been thinking about it. I guess it isn’t my secret any more.”
Shayne waited for him to continue.
“You see, she asked me not to say anything about it. I wouldn’t, except that-well, it might help clear up the mystery of her suicide. Shortly after Mrs. Lomax and I returned from Baton Rouge I had to drive to town on an errand. Katrin asked if I would take her down. She rode with me in the front seat, as silent and reserved as usual. She asked me if I’d stop by her bank a minute. It was right on the way, so I did.”
“What bank?” Shayne asked.
“I didn’t notice the name, but it’s a savings and loan bank on the corner of Broad and Canal. She was in there a few minutes, and then she asked if I was going near the Union Station. So I took her there.”
Shayne’s eyes were alert with interest. “Did she say what she wanted there?”
“No. I was going to drop her there but she asked me to wait for her. She acted rather peculiar. She wasn’t in the station more than ten minutes, and when she came back to the car she asked me-right out of a clear sky-” Neal paused dramatically, gesturing with his pipe. “She asked me if I knew my way around in Storyville.”
Shayne frowned. “The old red-light district?”
“It knocked me for a loop,” said Neal. “I still don’t believe she knew what the district actually was. She was quite naive about things like that.” He paused again and Shayne had to prompt him.
“When I recovered from my surprise,” he continued, “I told her I had been there a few times. Then she asked if I’d mind driving her there. I tried to argue with her, Mr. Shayne. I hinted that it was no place for a decent girl even in daylight, but she just compressed her lips and said she had to go and if I didn’t drive her she’d take a cab. So I drove her.”
“Where-what address?” Shayne asked.
“She had an address written on a piece of paper that looked as though it had been torn from the telephone pad here at the house. She referred to it and told me she wanted to go down along Iberville. She kept watching numbers as I drove, and finally told me to stop at the next corner.
“I tried to get her to let me go with her, but she wouldn’t, and she wouldn’t tell me the address. She insisted that I let her out on a corner and drive on. Well, I let her out and turned around the corner while she started back along the street. I found a parking place and swung into it and hurried back on foot to see where she went.”
Neal smiled wryly. “It was spying on her, but it really wasn’t mere spying. At least I convinced myself that I was worried about her. I was in time to see her go up the walk and enter an old building.
“I waited fifteen or twenty minutes and she finally came out. I dodged back around the corner before she saw me, and drove back to town to do my errand. I didn’t mention it to her later.”
Shayne got out a pencil and pad and jotted down the Iberville address Neal gave him. He said, “You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks.”
Shayne went out to his car and drove slowly through the business section until he found a barber shop with all the chairs filled and men waiting. He parked and went in. Before sitting down he picked up a newspaper from a table, looked at the date, and began turning the pages.
The item which Katrin Moe had evidently clipped was a brief account of a prison break from the State penitentiary the preceding morning. Two convicts, Anton Hodge and Raymond Gillis, had made their escape early Tuesday morning by the simple ruse of getting inside a laundry truck and concealing themselves under a pile of dirty clothes. Once outside, they had conked the driver and made their getaway toward New Orleans in the truck, abandoning it near the city.
Anton Hodge was described as twenty-eight, blond and slender, of medium height, serving a seven-year term for burglary. Gillis was twenty-three, also blond, weight one hundred and seventy-five pounds, height five-feet seven inches, serving a ten-year term for aggravated assault. Both were described as dangerous.
Shayne laid the paper down after reading the item. He yawned and looked at his watch, got up and went out to his car and drove to Iberville. He parked near the corner Neal had mentioned.
The house Katrin Moe had visited the afternoon before she died was a decrepit old frame structure with a faded sign over the door that read: Rooms 50?.
He opened the door and entered a dark hallway thick with the stench of half a century of accumulated odors. A sign over an open doorway said Office. The room was foggy with smoke from half a dozen cigarettes roiling up to cloud a lone light bulb over a table where six men were playing cards.
A hulking man got up and came toward Shayne. His eyes were wary, and he grunted, “Watcha want?”
“Some information,” Shayne answered.
“What kind of info?”
“About a girl who came here yesterday.”
The man began to shake his head. Shayne got out his billfold, took a bill from it and walked over to the far corner of the room.
The big man followed him, moving around to face Shayne who stood with his back to the men at the table. Shayne held the bill, folded the long way, close enough for the man to see the figure.
After a moment’s hesitation the proprietor said, “Yeh. I know the one you mean. She wasn’t like most that come here. She was young and pretty with gold hair and blue eyes. Right?” He squinted at the banknote and wet his lips.
“Right. Who did she come to see?” asked Shayne.
The big man’s eyes flashed over to the table of card players and he said in a loud voice, “I ain’t no stoolie. A man comes here and signs the book John Smith and that’s all right with me.” He lowered his voice to a whisper to ask, “You the cops?”
“Hell, no. I don’t like the cops any more than you do. What did the man look like and what’s his name?” Shayne pushed the bill toward the man.
“Waal-he was sort of skinny and had light hair cut mighty short,” he told Shayne in a low tone. “But he dusted off early this mornin’. I dunno where he went.”
“How long was he here?”
“One day. Paid in advance.”
Shayne eased the bill into his hand, turned away and said angrily, “Well, if you won’t tell his name I’ll find out some other way,” and stalked from the room.
The big man laughed raucously and shuffled back to the table.
Lucy Hamilton was powdering her nose at her desk when Shayne walked into the office. She smiled at her image in the mirror and asked, “How’s sleuthing?”
Shayne tossed his soggy hat aside. “Not so hot. All I’ve been doing is asking questions and getting answers.”
“Isn’t that the way to solve cases?”
“Not my way,” he answered morosely. “Philo Vance might be able to sort out the truth from the lies, but I’ll be damned if I can.”
She carefully rouged her upper lip, asked casually, “Want to buy an emerald necklace?” and applied rouge to her lower lip.
“I said, do you want to buy an emerald necklace?” She ran a powder puff around her smooth chin and throat. “A man has a necklace for sale and he’s been calling you.”
“That seems to be a secret,” she told him, and patted her brown curls. “He won’t tell who he is. If you’d ever let me know what to tell people who want to sell you emerald neck-”
“He’ll call again,” Shayne interrupted. His eyes glistened. “It’s pretty fast for the fix, so they must know I’m ready to light a fire.”
The telephone rang and Shayne said, “If it’s him I’ll take it in the other room. You have the call traced.”
Lucy was saying, “Mr. Shayne has just this minute returned. I’ll connect you.” She nodded, covered the mouthpiece and whispered, “It’s the man with the necklace.”
Shayne reached his desk phone in six long strides. He said, “Hello, Shayne speaking.” He heard Lucy flip the switch and frantically call the operator to trace the call.
A softly modulated voice said to Shayne, “I talked to a Mr. Teton at Mutual Indemnity this morning. He told me you were handling the Lomax matter.”
“That’s right. Who’s speaking?”
His caller chuckled urbanely. “Let’s waive introductions. And if you’re having this call traced, don’t bother. I’m in a public booth and I’ll be here only a minute. The necklace is for sale.”
Shayne sent a derisive laugh over the wire. “You’ll be lucky to get rid of it for half that amount.”
“Maybe.” His caller remained unruffled. “I’ll call every day or so until you’re ready to talk business.” He hung up.
Lucy came in swiftly, her eyes glowing with the pride of success. “I had the call traced,” she announced. “It’s a public phone in a drugstore on the corner of St. Charles and Poydras.”
“Skip it.” Shayne went around the desk and sat down, pulled out the top right-hand drawer and brought out a bottle and two glasses.
Lucy’s bright eyes dimmed with disappointment, “And I thought I was doing something. Wasn’t that the man?”
Shayne poured a drink of cognac into a glass and offered it to Lucy. She shook her head and said, “I have to stay sober and earn my eighty a week.”
Shayne grinned. “You stay so damned sober you’ll never earn it.” He drank the cognac and poured another moderate drink. He said, “It seems our young lieutenant was right about his fiancee,” and sipped his second drink while he told his secretary the salient facts concerning Katrin Moe’s death, ending with, “What do you make of it? Give me the woman’s angle.”
Lucy answered helplessly, “It just doesn’t make sense, Michael.”
He finished his drink, put the glass and depleted bottle back in the drawer and closed it. “I’ll see Teton, and then I’ll see Doc Mattson. And I’ll get some more answers that don’t add up. Then I’ll go out and get drunk…”
“Be sure to call Lieutenant Drinkley first,” Lucy said hastily. “He called just before lunch and begged me to have you call him this afternoon. I promised you would, without fail.”
Shayne regarded her balefully. “That’s a nice assignment. More poetic maundering about the sweetness of undefiled love.”
“Sometimes,” said Lucy angrily, “I could slap you, Mike Shayne,” and went back to her desk.
Shayne sighed, got up and followed her into the outer office. He jammed his hat down over his bushy hair and asked, “Where is our knight in shining armor staying?”
“If you are referring to Lieutenant Drinkley,” she answered stiffly, “The Dragoon Hotel on-”
“I know where it is,” He picked up his coat from the railing and went out, took the elevator up to the tenth floor and strode down the corridor to the offices of the Mutual Indemnity Insurance Company.
Mr. Teton showed no surprise when Shayne entered. He said, “A man called here this morning, Shayne, and hinted that he might be able to recover the Lomax necklace. I told him-”
“Yeh. He just called me,” Shayne interposed. “Have you got that financial statement on Lomax yet?”
“Called you, did he?” Mr. Teton took off his glasses and dangled them on the black ribbon. “What did he-ah-”
“He wanted forty grand.”
“Forty thousand! Why that’s-”
“I told him it was too early to start dickering, and he hung up. If you have that statement-”
“Was that wise, Mr. Shayne? Wouldn’t it have been smarter to pretend to be eager to deal with him? Then, after you’ve learned his identity we could have him arrested.”
Shayne slammed his fist down on Teton’s desk and growled, “I don’t run my business that way. People like that come to me because I’ve always played straight with them. If I ever pulled a fast one I’d never be able to put over another deal.”
“But when one is dealing with crooks,” Mr. Teton protested, “I think one is justified in using any means to an end.”
Shayne said, “No. I’ll run this my way. If you haven’t got that dope on Lomax, I’ll be on my way.”
“It’s right here,” Teton said hastily. “I was just going over it when you came in.” He nervously adjusted his glasses on his nose, picked up several bound sheets of legal paper. “All assets are listed and segregated as to-”
“Give it to me this way,” Shayne interrupted. “Is Lomax hard up for cash?”
“Definitely not,” Teton snapped, as though it were Shayne’s fault that he wasn’t. “Six months ago it might have been a different matter. He was organizing this new company on a shoestring, but now his profits are simply prodigious, Mr. Shayne.” His round eyes ogled solemnly. “Mr. Shayne, you-”
Shayne was on his way out. He said, “Write me a letter about it,” and closed the door behind him.
He glowered at the mist of rain drifting with the wind when he stepped outside the building. The fog of mystery surrounding the stolen necklace and the death of Katrin Moe was no more penetrable than the lowering clouds and the rain mist. He turned the collar of his trench coat up and stood beside his car for a moment with the key in his hand.
He put the key back in his pocket and went halfway down the block to a liquor store. Inside, he studied the labels on the shelves, stepped behind the counter and took down a bottle that proclaimed Ancient Age in big letters. Handing it to the clerk, he said, “Wrap it up.”
The drive to the police station was short. He found the police surgeon sitting in a straight chair cocked back against the edge of a battered desk. He was reading a pulp magazine with a picture of a nude girl on the cover. The girl was cowering away from a slant-eyed yellow man who brandished a blacksnake whip.
Doctor Mattson looked up when Shayne entered. His eyes twinkled happily behind round, thick lenses. “You’ve come at a good time, Michael. I need a drink to dispel the horrors of the occult I’m delving into.”
Shayne grinned and thumped the wrapped package on the desk.
“Is it potable?” Mattson asked, holding the bottle up to the light and squinting at its contents. “Ah, there’s a delightful word, Michael. Potable! One hears it too seldom nowadays.”
Shayne took the bottle from him and uncorked it, saying, “This is a bribe, you know.”
“So be it. I’m easily bribed these days. There was a time when I wouldn’t sell my soul for less than a case of Dewar’s finest.”
Shayne tilted the bottle and took a long drink, rolled some of it around in his mouth, swallowed and nodded his head with approval. Handing it back to the doctor, he said, “Go ahead and guzzle.”
Mattson sighed. “I’d best have a small nip first. You may change your mind and take it back, for you’ll not like what I’ve got to tell you.”
“Let’s have it,” Shayne said.
The police surgeon took a nip from the bottle, replaced the cork and set it on the table. “You asked me for two things on the girl. Here they are in simple terms. She died from inhalation of gas fumes. She was not drugged and there is no evidence of poison. She didn’t fight death. I told you that this morning. A quarter of a century of intimate association with stiffs has taught me to read the facial distortions of death.”
Shayne was absently rubbing his angular jaw, his gray eyes staring thoughtfully into space.
“You don’t like it, do you, Michael?”
“No. I’d hoped you’d find something else. Thanks just the same.”
Before driving away from the police building, Shayne sat sprawled in the driver’s seat, his big hands gripping the steering wheel. Abruptly he raced the engine and lurched into a stream of traffic.
The Dragoon was a small, modern hotel on Race Street. The time was a quarter past four when he went into the lobby and asked the clerk for Lieutenant Drinkley. The young man consulted a card-index file and said, “Four-twelve, sir. There’s a house phone if you wish to call,” pushing the instrument forward.
Shayne lifted the receiver and asked for 412. The phone rang four times before Lieutenant Drinkley answered.
“Shayne speaking,” he said, and when no further answer came immediately, he added, “the detective.”
“I know,” the lieutenant said. “I’ve been hoping you’d call.”
“I’m coming up to see you.” Shayne started to hang up, but the lieutenant said quickly, “Let me come to your office. In about half an hour.”
“I’m downstairs in the hotel now,” Shayne told him. He hung up and went to the elevator. It took him to the fourth floor at once. He stepped from the elevator into a corridor, glanced at the numbers, and turned right to 412 and knocked.
He knocked again after waiting a few seconds, glanced up to see that the transom was tightly closed. No sound came from the room. He tried the knob, but the door was locked, and he rapped again.
The door opened with a rush. Lieutenant Drinkley faced him with a strange expression of anxiety. His khaki shirt was rumpled and his blond hair was tousled as it had been that morning, and the lines of strain had deepened at the corners of his thin mouth.
He said, “I’m sorry. I was-I couldn’t come to the door at once.” He appeared nervous and confused, like a man wakened suddenly from deep sleep, but he didn’t look sleepy. The bed in the center of the room was neatly made.
Shayne heeled the door shut and brushed past Drinkley. The room was quite small, with a single window at one end and an upholstered chair turned to face a small, straight chair beside a writing table.
A bottle half filled with scotch and a bottle of white soda stood on the desk and a glass of the mixture floating with ice cubes made a wet ring on the blotter.
Shayne looked sharply at Drinkley. His cheeks were highly flushed, but he didn’t act or talk drunk. Shayne crossed over to the armchair and sat down, shook his head negatively when the officer invited him to have a drink.
“I never drink at this time in the afternoon,” he lied, and fished out a cigarette.
An open book of matches lay beside a glass ash tray on the desk. He struck one to light his cigarette and noticed that the folder had the picture of a bubbling glass of champagne on the front and the printed words, The Laurel Club.
The ash tray was full of half-smoked stubs. One of them still smoldered. It had a streak of lipstick on the end, as did two others in the ash tray.
Shayne slid the match folder into his pocket. He said, “I’m afraid I’m not getting very far on your case, Lieutenant.”
Drinkley sat on the foot of the bed resting his elbows on his knees. He said gloomily, “I suppose it was foolish to hope you could do anything. You think that Katrin did”-he paused to wet his lips with his tongue and looked up at Shayne doggedly-“commit suicide?”
“That’s the way it stands now.” Shayne drew in a deep breath, his nostrils flaring when he smelled the faint odor of perfume. He glanced around and noted that a clothes closet stood partially open. Another door, evidently leading to the bathroom, was closed.
“And I still can’t turn up any motive,” Shayne went on gravely. “Nor any indication that she made any attempt to leave you a message.”
In a bitter tone, Drinkley asked, “Do you suppose the jewel robbery out there has anything to do with it? I’ve been reading about it in the papers. An emerald necklace. I didn’t know anything about it this morning when I talked to you.”
Shayne hunched forward and asked, “Does the stolen necklace mean anything to you?” Then added harshly, “Some of the family seem to think Katrin stole it-and gave it to somebody who was working with her-on the outside.”
Drinkley drew back as though to evade a physical blow. “That’s a lie,” he shouted. “Katrin wouldn’t steal-and she wouldn’t be working with a criminal.” He got up and went to the writing table, took the mixed drink and carried it back to the bed after taking a large swallow. He set the glass on the floor and bowed his head in his hands and moaned, “I’ve been trying to think all day. I don’t know-I simply don’t know.”
Shayne said casually, “For a man who doesn’t drink, Lieutenant, you seem to be doing pretty well for yourself,”
“Yeh. I’m beginning to feel sort of numb.” He raised his head and glanced at the closed bathroom door, shifted his gaze to Shayne.
Shayne was looking at the door and his mouth was set in a grim line.
Drinkley came to his feet. “I’ve been trying to find out a few things for myself,” he said thickly. He walked up and down the room, hands thrust in his pockets, his head bowed. “I had a fantastic idea that perhaps someone might have been gossiping about me to Katrin. You know how those things are, and she was so idealistic. If someone who wanted to break up our marriage had lied to her-oh, God!” He sank down on the bed and moaned, “I still can’t realize this has happened to me-and to Katrin. It’s like I was seeing it happen to someone else. I guess I was just about out of my mind when I went to see you this morning.”
Shayne watched him with eyes that were like gray steel. He said harshly, “Whom do you suspect of gossiping to Katrin?”
“It was just-an idea-that came to me when I racked my brain for a motive. You haven’t-you didn’t learn anything that might make you think that’s what happened?”
“Not yet,” Shayne said softly. Then without warning he demanded, “Was Clarice Lomax in love with you?”
“Clarice? Of course-not,” he stammered.
“Did you ever encourage her? Go out with her?”
“Never. I saw her and talked with her a few times when I went to the house.”
“I just wondered,” Shayne mused. He got up and walked to the window. His back was turned to the officer when he asked, “Do you know what Katrin did on her day off-on Wednesdays?”
Drinkley didn’t answer immediately. Shayne pivoted to look at him. Drinkley was frowning as though he tried to remember. “When I was here,” he said, “we spent Wednesdays together. After I left, I-don’t-know. She never mentioned anything special in her letters. Is it important?”
“I don’t know.” Shayne took a step toward the bathroom door, asked, “May I go in here before I go?”
Drinkley came up from the bed abruptly, restrained himself with a palpable effort and sank back. Shayne was twisting the knob of the door and pushing.
“I’m sorry,” the lieutenant said. “It must be locked. You see, it’s a connecting bathroom and the other occupants must be using it-or forgot to unlock it.”
Shayne arched one eyebrow. “It doesn’t matter.” He strode to the door saying, “Take it easy and don’t drink too much. I’m working on several angles.”
Drinkley followed him to the door and opened it. He said, “I might be able to find out something-”
“Why don’t you have dinner with me this evening?” Shayne interrupted. “I’ll drop by for you-say in an hour or so,” and went out without waiting for a reply.
He walked swiftly down the narrow corridor past the elevator to a turn. Stepping around the corner he took up a position where he could hear the door of 412 open.
The vigil was short. Less than five minutes later the door opened. Peering around the corner he saw a girl come out. She paused to say something to the lieutenant and Shayne ducked out of sight, turned his coat collar up and pulled his hat brim low. When he heard the elevator stop he sauntered around the corner and hurried when he saw the girl stepping into it. The operator waited for him.
She was the only occupant besides himself. A tall, shapely girl wearing a severely tailored suit of tan with green trimmings and a green hat with a jaunty feather tucked into the band. Her tawny hair blended with the tan of her suit and her eyes were a shade darker than her hair. Her mouth was very red and drooped sullenly at the corners. After one quick, wide-eyed look at Shayne her long curling lashes veiled her eyes and she appeared preoccupied with unpleasant thoughts.
Shayne moved to a corner in the elevator and rested his elbows on the rail. When it stopped at the main floor he waited for her to exit, then followed her slowly across the lobby. She was getting into a taxi when he came out the door. There was no other cab in sight. He jotted down the number of the taxicab, noted the company’s name, and went to his car and drove away.
The rain had stopped but clouds lowered threateningly. The wind was damp and cold. The street lights were on. Shayne looked at his watch and was surprised to find that it was after five o’clock. Something tugged at his memory as he drove.
Suddenly he recalled that Lucy was angry when he left his office. He pressed his big foot on the accelerator and exceeded the speed limit until he reached the International Building.
Lucy had on her cellophane raincoat and looked like a slim, lovely wraith with the hood covering her brown curls when Shayne rushed into the reception room of his suite. She took a step backward when she saw the hard-set lines of his jaws and the bleak look in his eyes. “What on earth has happened, Michael?” she cried.
“I hate a hypocrite,” he growled. “God in heaven how I hate a mealy-mouthed hypocrite.”
She ran to him and reached up to grasp his broad shoulders. “Who-what are you talking about?”
He looked over the pointed cellophane peak of her hood, his big hands hanging loosely against his body. “And more than that, I hate to be a sucker. But I am.” He laughed mirthlessly. “Just pile on the old hokum thick enough and I’ll fall for it. And all because I thought I knew what the real thing was.”
Lucy shook him with all the strength of her hands. “Don’t look like that,” she pleaded. “You-frighten me when you’re like this.”
Shayne looked down at her upturned face as though he realized for the first time that she was digging her fingers into his shoulders. He put one arm around her and patted her back. Some of the harshness went away from his face and he said quietly, “Don’t ever let me down, Lucy. You’re a good kid.”
She took her hands from his shoulders and stepped back. “Why, of course I won’t,” she said. “Now tell me what’s wrong.”
“You won’t like it,” he warned her. “I’m a heel, Lucy. I come in here and prey on your sympathy.” He got out a cigarette and lit it, dragged smoke deep into his lungs and let two thin streams roil through his nostrils.
Lucy said, “I don’t think you’re a heel.” She slid out of her gossamer raincoat, turning her back as she laid it on the railing.
“Are you busy tonight?” Shayne asked.
She turned, putting her hands behind her to grip the railing. “No,” she said, looking up at him expectantly.
Shayne’s preoccupied gaze swept over her neat gray suit of clinging wool and the white collar of her blouse frilling around her throat. “How do you manage to look as fresh when you’re leaving as you do in the mornings?” he asked.
Lucy chuckled. “Why, Detective Shayne-didn’t you know? I use Ivorlux for my complexion-and things.” Her tone was light and there was laughter in her eyes, but it went away before the brooding intensity of his face.
“That’s swell,” he said. “You could go right to dinner, couldn’t you-without changing?”
“If it isn’t too formal,” she said eagerly. “Where are we going?”
“Take a cab to the Dragoon Hotel,” he instructed, “and call Lieutenant Drinkley in four-twelve. Express my regrets-tell him something came up suddenly that’ll keep me busy on the case. Explain that we planned to make it a threesome, but I can’t make it.”
“What are you talking about,” she exclaimed. “He wouldn’t want to take me to dinner. He’d consider it a sacrilege-”
“Take him to some quiet place like Madame Martin’s where the drinks are good and the lights aren’t too bright,” Shayne went on, his voice tense and a scowl between his eyes. “Turn on your charm and see what happens. Lead him on a little, if you get what I mean.” He paused to look at her as if he saw her for the first time since he started talking. “This,” he ended harshly, “is a business assignment.”
“But-Michael,” she breathed, “you don’t think he was just pretending this morning! He seemed so heartbroken. He was heartbroken,” she amended defiantly. “I could tell. I’ll bet he won’t go to dinner with me.”
Shayne said grimly, “Don’t worry. He’ll jump at the chance.”
“I don’t believe it,” she said passionately. “I don’t know what’s happened, but you’re wrong-if you really want a woman’s viewpoint. You see, he told me about Katrin when he was waiting for you this morning.”
Shayne nodded gloomily. “I know. He put on a good act.”
“It wasn’t an act. You can’t make me believe it. You’re so darned cynical sometimes I’d like to-to kick you.” She was still clutching the low railing behind her and her chin jutted defiantly.
Shayne said, “I deserve to be kicked for swallowing every cock-and-bull story that’s handed me. Go along and see for yourself. But don’t get too damned maudlin with pity,” he added as he turned toward his inner office. “I want an objective report on what happens.”
“That’s just what you’ll get,” she retorted as he disappeared and slammed the door behind him.
Shayne poured a drink, set it on the desk and called the Orange Cab Company. He explained what he wanted, gave the number of the cab that had taken the girl from the Dragoon Hotel, and was told, “We’ll have the driver call you as soon as he calls in, Mr. Shayne.”
He hung up and took a drink of cognac, relaxed in his chair and stared somberly at the wall. He wasn’t getting anywhere. A whole day shot and he wasn’t any closer to collecting a fee than he’d been that morning. He had stopped feeling sorry for Lieutenant Drinkley, but that was about all he had accomplished. He frowned and tried to switch his thoughts away from the young officer.
There was a loud knock on the outer door of the office. Shayne waited for Lucy to answer it. The knock came again, louder and more insistent. He suddenly realized that Lucy had gone to keep her engagement with Lieutenant Drinkley, and yelled, “Come in.”
The door opened. Shayne called out, “Come on in here,” and listened while hesitant footsteps came nearer.
The door opened and a husky young man came in holding a cabbie’s cap in his hand. He said, “Mr. Shayne?”
“Who are you?”
“Bud Stanley from the Orange Taxi Company. I had a call from the office sayin’ you wanted to see me.”
“Yeh. About a fare you picked up about a half an hour ago at the Dragoon. Remember?”
“Sure thing. A dame-and plenty classy.”
“Where’d you take her?”
“Armentiers Apartments on Chartres-just beyond Bienville.” The driver twisted his cap around his finger, then asked awkwardly, “What’s this for, boss? Police?”
“Hell, no. Private stuff. Your office told you I was all right, didn’t they?”
“Sure. I’ve heard about you, Mr. Shayne, but look-I don’t wanta get mixed up in nothin’. You know what I mean.”
Shayne said impatiently, “You’ll just help me cut a corner if you’ve got anything. Know anything else about the girl? Her name-which apartment?”
“It ain’t much, but I’ve seen that dame before.”
Shayne reached in his pocket and brought out a handful of coins and selected three half-dollars. He stacked them on the desk and asked. “Where?”
“She hangs out at the Laurel Club,” Stanley told him. “Makes a pick-up once in a while, maybe.”
“A hustler?” Shayne asked with interest.
“N-o-o. Not that way, I don’t think. But I drove her once when she was pretty tight. Quite a while ago,” he amended.
Shayne pulled the silver pieces back. Putting them in his pocket he said, “That’s worth a five-spot,” and took out his wallet.
“Thanks.” Bud reached out a grimy hand for the bill.
“Was she alone when you drove her-when she was tight?” Shayne held the bill in his hand.
“No, sir. She had a soldier with her.”
Shayne tossed the bill across the table. The cabbie took it and went out.
Shayne finished his drink, tugging absently at his ear lobe. A pattern was beginning to emerge-if he could only see it clearly. The Laurel Club figured in it somehow. There were too many signposts.
He called headquarters and asked for Chief McCracken and was informed that the chief had gone home. He called the chief’s house and got him there.
“What do you know about the Laurel Club, Mac?” he asked.
“Off the record?” McCracken chuckled.
“It’s on Chartres between St. Louis and Toulouse. Dan Trueman runs it and there’s never any trouble. He keeps his shows clean enough to avoid the vice squad, and if there’s any gambling in the back room we’ve never had a squawk to base a raid on.”
Shayne said, “Fair enough,” and added reflectively, “Dan Trueman?”
“He’s after your time,” McCracken told him. “No record, and he’s built the club up from a shoestring to a nice take. That’s all I can give you, Mike. Still hunting for emeralds?”
Shayne grunted. “And no luck. Thanks, Mac.” He hung up and ran his hand over a bristly growth of red whiskers. He got up and turned off the lights in both offices at a switch in the reception room.
It was a short drive down to St. Charles and up to Carondelet where he had a three-room walk-up apartment in an old two-story residence that had been remodeled and modernized. He parked his car at the curb and went up the path and wooden steps to the veranda. Stairs led directly up from the double entrance doors, and the pleasant smell of highly seasoned food pervaded the house as he climbed them at a brisk pace.
He entered a high-ceilinged corner room with freshly papered walls and a new rug on the floor. An antique chandelier gave light from a dozen small bulbs when he flipped the switch.
It was unpleasantly warm in the apartment and he opened a double window before going into the bedroom where he took off his coat and tie.
He picked up the evening paper which had been pushed under his door and settled himself comfortably, glanced over the headlines, then carefully read the newspaper account of the death of Katrin Moe and the theft of the Lomax necklace.
There was nothing new in the newspaper account. Katrin’s death was treated as suicide, though the motive was an admitted mystery. A sob writer had got hold of the wedding-day angle and played it up heavily, with pictures of Lieutenant Drinkley and his bride-to-be. Nowhere in the story was there any suggestion that there might be a connection between the girl’s death and the loss of the necklace; and Mrs. Lomax’s negligence in leaving the necklace out of the safe was glossed over.
Shayne studied the newspaper picture of Katrin Moe, wondering whether it had been taken recently. Her face was round and full-cheeked with a firm, pointed chin. Her eyes were big and solemn, and there was no hint of a smile in her expression. Her hair was plaited in two braids and coiled around her head. Soft curls of short-cut hair or new growth made a halo around her face.
He folded the newspaper and sailed it across the room, went into the bedroom, stripping off his shirt as he went. He shaved and took a tepid shower, then dressed swiftly and carefully. He selected a pin-striped suit of dark blue that made him look younger, and a solid blue shirt with a lighter blue tie slashed across with bars of white. A gray topcoat and a snap-brim felt of a lighter shade finished the transformation from the man who’d ridden down in the elevator at the Dragoon Hotel that afternoon into a person whom he hoped Lieutenant Drinkley’s visitor wouldn’t recognize.
When he went outside a high wind was rapidly dispersing the clouds. He hesitated for a moment beside his car, then swung off briskly to Canal and down to Chartres and the French Quarter. He stopped under a canopied entrance where three steps led down from the sidewalk and a neon sign above read, The Laurel Club.
Inside a small foyer there was a red neon arrow pointing left and blue light above it flowed through the words Cocktail Lounge.
He checked his hat and topcoat and went into a large room softly lighted by concealed fluorescent tubes around the low ceiling. A bar ran the length of the room at one end, accommodated by leather-upholstered stools and a rail. Horseshoe seats hugged the tables set against the other three walls. Strolling past the booths, he glanced into the few that were occupied. He went on to the bar and studied the faces reflected in the mirror. None of the faces were familiar.
Shayne cut across to a center booth from which he could see both the main entrance and a door at the rear of the cocktail lounge. A waiter was coming toward him when he saw her come in. She had changed to a silvery green evening gown that clung to her slender figure and left bare her firm-fleshed shoulders and arms.
The girl who had visited Lieutenant Drinkley’s hotel room stopped and looked around at the booths, then went slowly to the bar.
When the waiter approached Shayne to take his order, Shayne asked, “Can I get quicker service at the bar?”
“Yes, sir. It’s a little early for the booths to be filled and all the waiters haven’t come on yet.”
Shayne said, “Okay,” and went to the bar. He sat down beside the girl with the tawny hair and ordered cognac.
Shayne was watching the girl’s reflection while he spoke. She gave him a swift, low-lidded glance, fumbled in a glittering evening bag and brought out a cigarette case. She snapped the case open. It was empty. Shayne took out his pack and shook one out.
The girl said, “Thanks,” and dug into her bag for a match.
Shayne took a cigarette for himself, struck a match to both, and said, “Those little bags aren’t good for much, are they?”
She looked levelly at him as she lit her cigarette. She chuckled and said, “I never seem to have anything but the habit, anyway.”
The bartender set a sidecar before Shayne. He said, “Make it two,” lifting one bushy red brow to query the girl.
She nodded and asked, “How come you’re on the loose?”
“I’m new in town.” He appraised her with a frank, steady gaze and added, “A girl like you shouldn’t be here alone-accepting drinks from a strange man.”
“I work here,” she told him, and turned to pick up the sidecar the waiter set on the bar.
Shayne lifted his glass and touched hers. He said, “So that’s it. Well, here’s to bigger and better percentages.” He shoved a five-dollar bill toward the bartender. “Let me know when that’s used up.”
“You seem to know all the answers,” she said, and there was a fleeting return of the sullenness around her mouth that he had noticed in the elevator.
“I’ve been around,” he told her, then asked abruptly, “What’s your name?”
“Lana Moore.” She turned to him as she spoke and added, “You’ll only give me a phony if I ask yours, so I’ll call you Red.”
“Make it Mike.” He shoved the two empty glasses aside and held up two fingers when he caught the bartender’s eye.
She laughed and said, “Five dollars’ worth of these ought to fix things up between us, Red. You see, I kind of go for red hair. But you’ll be thinking it’s a line,” she ended seriously, as the bartender set two sidecars before them.
“It’s a good one if it is.” He drained his glass, pushed it aside and folded his arms on the bar. “What’s your racket? Tell me about it.”
She sipped reflectively, said, “I get a percentage here and at other places. If I can entice you back to the gambling room I get a rakeoff on your losses.” She laughed deep in her throat.
Except for her first low-lidded glance, the girl gave no indication that she recognized him as the man who had ridden down in the elevator with her at the Dragoon Hotel.
After they had drunk four sidecars Shayne suggested, “Let’s find something to eat.”
“There’s a nice dining-room here,” she told him, “with a fair floor show. But it isn’t the hottest one in the Quarter.”
Lana Moore eased herself from the stool, tucked her arm in his and they went out and through the corridor into the dining-room. The head waiter met them with a deferential bow and seated them at a table for two near the velvet rope separating a small stage from the diners. The large room was less than half filled, but the first floor show was already in progress. The acts were risque without being indecent, and Shayne was beginning to understand why Dan Trueman never had any trouble with the law.
When a waiter brought the menus Shayne laid his aside and said, “You know the joint, Lana. Order for both of us.”
“I’d love to,” she answered with a pleased smile. “We’ll start with a Sazerac cocktail,” she went on, looking up at the waiter, “shrimp salad with Arnaud’s dressing and oysters Rockefeller.”
Shayne made a wry face. “That’s not much food for a hungry man.”
She laughed delightedly. “You evidently haven’t eaten oysters Rockefeller. We’ll have a Petit Brule and coffee later.”
“I’ll trust your judgment,” he said. “Now tell me what the hell are you doing in this racket.”
The waiter was coming with the cocktails. When he went away she took a long drink from her glass, set it down and looked across the table at Shayne. Her tawny eyes were cold and her mouth sullen again. “It’s a good racket,” she said huskily. “I make enough money and I get back at men.”
Shayne tasted the Sazerac and puckered his mouth in distaste. “Somebody has ruined good bourbon and vermouth and absinthe by mixing them,” he complained. “So you’re getting back at men?” He raised one brow quizzically.
Lana’s laugh was mirthless. She was getting drunk and her voice was thick and halting when she said, “Once upon a time I sowed one teeny little oat-on a plain in Montana. It was a tame little oat, Red-not the least bit wild, but it came a cropper. I went through hell-you know, little mid-west town, ashamed to go home to my parents-”
Shayne grunted. “And I’d pick you for a smart one.”
“I was smart,” she blazed. “I’m still smart. I’d had two years at the University before-it happened. I was just nineteen,” she ended, and finished her cocktail.
The waiter brought their dinner, and they sat in moody silence while he arranged it on the table. He asked, “Will there be something else, madam?”
“Petit Brule with our coffee,” Lana ordered, and he went away.
The moody silence continued as they ate. Lana sobered a little, and when the last oyster was gone from her plate she said, “Brain food, Red. I should have eaten before I talked. Maybe I would have lied instead of telling the truth.”
“I usually sift out the truth in the long run,” he told her.
She shrugged her bare shoulders. Her eyes were troubled and she leaned toward him with both elbows on the table, her chin resting on her clasped fingers. “I wouldn’t have lied to you, Red,” she said softly. “You know how it is sometimes. I find a man I can really go for.”
“Meaning me?” Shayne grinned. “Your eyes are green.”
“Meaning you,” she drawled. “They’re yellow-cat eyes, Red. It’s the green-dress influence.” She smiled.
“It’s a nice influence. Let’s get started.” Shayne pushed his chair back.
“Not yet.” She reached across the narrow table and laid her hand on his. “We have to perform the rites over a Petit Brule first.”
A third tray arrived and the waiter set dishes containing cups made from half an orange peeling before them, a small flask of brandy, a decorative container filled with cinnamon and two pots of coffee.
Shayne said, “Just leave the check, and that’ll be all.”
Lana poured brandy into the orange cups, dropped two lumps of sugar in each and sprinkled cinnamon over the brandy. She struck a match to each and a blue flame glowed. “Isn’t it beautiful,” she breathed, her full lips smiling.
“Looks pretty,” Shayne agreed, “but I don’t like my liquor messed up that way.”
She laughed and blew the flames out, waited a moment, then began drinking with relish. Shayne took one sip from his orange cup and set it aside. “Here-you can have mine,” he said, and poured a cup of coffee.
“I’ll have to take you in hand, Red,” Lana said, “and teach you the wonders of the French Quarter.”
“Let’s start with the game room,” he suggested.
Lana finished both the drinks, drank half a cup of coffee, and got up. Shayne paid the bill and she slipped her hand into the crook of his arm, pressed it hard, and led him to the rear of the dining-room and on a circuitous route not easily discovered by the uninitiated, to the gaming room.
A tall man with wide shoulders bulging his dinner coat smiled and said, “Good evening, Miss Moore.”
The room evidenced the same discreet good taste which characterized the rest of the Laurel Club. There was a crap table and a roulette wheel, three green baize card tables and a 4-5-6 game was in progress at the table nearest the door. All the games were getting a fair play from a quiet and well-mannered group of men and a few women.
Lana stopped Shayne by squeezing his arm and holding him back just inside the door. “You don’t have to play heavy,” she said in a low, husky voice. “Just enough to keep me in right.”
Shayne grinned at her upturned face.
“If I’ve got money to throw away, why not throw it at you instead of the wolves? Is that it, Lana?”
She shrugged and smiled. “Figure it out any way you want to.”
He said, “By God, Lana, you’re a wonder,” and meant it. “Let’s try our luck at four-five-six.”
He drew her to the table and changed a fifty-dollar bill into chips, divided them into two piles and pushed one toward her. Lana pressed close to him and moved the chips back into one pile. “I never gamble that way, darling,” she whispered.
A fat man had the bank. A couple of hundred dollars in chips were stacked in front of him and he was perspiring freely. Shayne took ten of it and watched while the rest of the chips were covered. The fat man threw a pair of fives and a trey, then passed the three dice to the first player on his left who had faded part of the money.
Shayne was next in line. His first throw was a natural: a 4-5-6 which brought the dice and the bank to him after the play was ended. He added another hundred to the sixty and said to Lana, “I have been hot in this game a couple of times.”
When the dice came to him he rattled them in the cup while the houseman called the size of the bank and checked the bets against him. When he was completely faded, Shayne rolled the dice against the backboard and crapped out with a pair and an ace,
Shayne grimaced at Lana and got two more hundreds from his wallet. He rattled the dice gently while the other players covered his money, then bounced them out again. He got a five for his point, and passed the dice on.
By the time the dice returned to him, his bank had increased to three hundred and twenty dollars. He waited impassively until it was all faded, then rolled a six with a pair of deuces-a natural.
As he watched the chips come in he heard a smooth and softly modulated voice say to Lana “Good evening, Miss Moore. Is everything all right?”
The voice was so distinctive that Shayne instantly recognized it as the one that had offered to sell him the emerald necklace over the telephone. He turned his head enough to see the speaker as Lana replied, “Everything is fine, Mr. Trueman.”
The proprietor of the Laurel Club was a tall, spare man with sharp features and elongated eyes that drooped slightly at the outer corners. Shayne judged him to be in his early forties, and he looked more like a successful lawyer than a gambler. He nodded pleasantly to Lana and passed on to another table.
With six hundred and forty dollars in front of him, Shayne got only a little more than four hundred of it faded. He watched Dan Trueman’s spare frame going out of the room through a side door as he rolled the dice. They stopped on a straight 4-5-6.
He waited until his winnings were gathered in, then calmly handed the dice to the player on his left, announcing, “The bank passes.” He paid no attention to the low murmurs of protest around the table, turned his back and waited while the houseman cashed in his chips for bills. There was slightly more than eleven hundred dollars in the roll he received.
He grinned down into Lana’s flushed face and said, “This isn’t going to make you very popular with your boss.”
She laughed with more animation than she had shown all evening. “I won’t worry about that. You’re wonderful, Red. First man I ever saw quit a winner.”
Shayne glanced around the room and muttered, “Wait for me in the cocktail lounge-and order a couple of drinks. We’ve got some celebrating to do.”
She squeezed his arm and said, “I’ll like that.”
“Right through that side door. Men to the left,” she anticipated him with an amused smile, and they separated.
Shayne opened the door into a narrow hallway, closed it, and opened another door straight in front of it. The room was small with a bar at one end and a few square tables lighted by low-hanging bulbs. Most of the stools were filled by men who slouched against the bar drinking straight whisky. Two of the tables were occupied by sober-faced men squinting at poker hands through thick smoke.
A door to the right had Private painted white on the dark upper panel. A big man with a pockmarked face leaned against the door sill. Bulky muscles swelled a jersey sweater and he was built solid all the way to the floor. As Shayne came close, he asked in a surly tone, “Lost somethin’?”
Shayne said, “I want to see the boss. Is this his office?”
The big man nodded. “He’s busy. You’ll hafta wait.”
Shayne said, “I haven’t got time,” impatiently, and made a forward move to shoulder the man out of his way.
The man’s eyes glittered. He shoved Shayne back with his left hand and brought his other hand out of his pocket gripping a pair of brass knucks.
Shayne shifted quickly to the left and landed a blow on the bottom of the man’s chin. The man staggered backward, his eyes bewildered, and swung a ponderous right with the knucks.
Shayne stepped aside and hit him on the side of the jaw. His weight helped carry the man to the floor. Shayne turned the knob and swung the Private sign inward.
Four men looked at him as he closed the door. Two were seated at a desk and the other two were leaning forward with their hands on the desk as though they had been listening intently.
Dan Trueman sat facing the door. He took a cigar from his mouth and looked at the intruder with mild surprise. The man who sat across from him had to turn in his chair to see Shayne. He was a big man who had no eyebrows or lashes, and his mouth was very small. He looked smart and cruel. The other two men were young and slender and looked like cokies.
Trueman said, “I guess you’ve made a mistake. This is a private office.” He enunciated his words carefully as one speaks to a dimwit or a drunkard.
Shayne said, “If you’re the boss here I’d like to speak to you a minute.”
“If you’ve got a beef,” said Trueman, “it’ll have to wait. How did you talk Tige into letting you in?”
“I persuaded him.” Shayne blew on his bruised knuckles. “This’ll only take a minute, Trueman.”
Dan Trueman said, “He must be tough, boys. Take him out and keep him out till I’m through with Nolan.”
The two gunmen straightened up and turned toward him. Shayne didn’t look at them. He was watching Trueman as he said, “I’m Shayne.”
Trueman’s eyes narrowed. Then he smiled faintly. “Mike Shayne?”
Trueman said, “Skip it, boys. Go out and see about Tige. Tell him to throw those knucks away or learn to use them.” He waited until the two young men had gone out. He blew a smoke ring toward the ceiling and gazed at it, saying softly, “I’ve heard of you, Shayne. What’s on your mind?”
Shayne glanced at the big man sitting in front of Trueman. The proprietor of the Laurel Club said, “Don’t mind Jim Nolan. He’s my attorney and knows more about my business than I do.” He smiled disarmingly.
Shayne said, “I’ve got emeralds on my mind.”
“Is it a disease?” asked Trueman.
“You phoned me this afternoon offering to sell a necklace.”
Trueman shook his head. “Come again. I’m no jeweler.”
“These emeralds are hot. So damned hot they’re going to burn somebody.”
“Nor a fence,” Trueman told him quietly.
Shayne rubbed his jaw, then his mouth spread in a grin but his eyes were cold. “I don’t make mistakes. Maybe you’re handling it for another party.”
“If I were, what would you want me to tell him?”
“Just this. He’d better get out from under because I’m after that necklace. There’ll be no buy from the insurance company.”
“No?” Trueman crossed his legs and sat up straight in his chair, his elongated eyes considering-Shayne. “If you’re talking about the Lomax thing-I was reading about it in the papers.”
“Let’s say I am talking about the Lomax emeralds.”
“I hear it was insured for a hundred and twenty-five thousand,” Trueman purred. “A company hates to put out that kind of money if it can be bought back for, say, forty. No-if I knew the party who had it I’d advise him to hang on for a time.”
Shayne’s laugh was sour. “And you’d be right nine times out of ten. But wrong this once. My company’s got a legal out if it comes to that.”
“So?” Trueman seemed only mildly interested.
“We don’t want to take it. We’d rather recover the stuff and I expect to. But I want you to get this straight-there’ll be no buy.”
Trueman looked inquiringly across the desk at his lawyer.
“Does this talk make sense, Jim?”
“What sort of legal out?” Nolan spoke for the first time since Shayne had entered, and he kept his back turned. The sounds emitting from his small mouth were thin and high, almost a falsetto.
“Negligence of the insured,” Shayne told the lawyer’s fat back. “It’s open and shut. So much so that Lomax admitted it to me privately this afternoon. But his wife is stubborn. To avoid losing a lawsuit Lomax even offered to advance the money himself to cover the loss. That’s how much we’re in the clear.”
“Why bring this story to me?” Trueman asked.
Shayne stepped up to the desk and looked down into Trueman’s eyes and said quietly, “Just so you’ll know where you stand. I don’t like misunderstandings about a thing like this. I’ve been in the middle of some fixes and I hope to be in the middle of a lot more. But not this time. And I don’t want any howl of a double-cross going up. I’m beginning to light a fire and somebody’s going to get burned.”
“Are you all through talking?” Dan Trueman bared his teeth.
“That’s all I’ve got to say.” Shayne turned and the outer door opened.
Tige filled the doorway and the pair of youthful torpedoes were behind him. Tige licked his thick lips hungrily. He had taken the knucks off but both big fists were doubled.
Trueman made a quick motion and said sharply, “Let the boys handle this, Tige.”
Tige looked disappointed, but he stepped aside. Trueman got up and followed as Shayne went to the door. The two gunmen stayed outside.
Trueman said, “Take him all the way out to the sidewalk, boys.” Then raised his voice, “Don’t be rough with him if you can help it, but I’m tired of listening to the beefs of a bum loser. Don’t come here to play, Shayne, unless you can afford to lose your three dollars and fifty cents.”
Shayne stopped on the threshold. The two gunsels waited for him on each side of the doorway, gun-hands bulging in their coat pockets. The three were targets for amused glances from the patrons in the rear barroom.
Shayne said, “All right, Trueman. I’ll go out this time without making any trouble. Next time I come back it’ll be different.”
He went out and through the room, sauntering along with the two lads keeping pace a little to each side and slightly behind him. He went straight through the foyer and out the front door, stopped and took a quick backward step as he reached the threshold. He swung both arms back and brought them up in a wide circle that slapped an open palm on the outside of each gunsel’s head. He brought the heads together in front of him with enough force to knock them dizzy, then slid his hands downward and wrested their gun-hands from their pockets.
Twisting a. 32 automatic from the lad on his left, he tripped the one on his right and he fell sprawling. Shayne pocketed one gun and shoved the owner forward, stooped and picked up the other from the floor, saying, “Tell Dan Trueman to give you some more toys to play with,” and strode back to the cocktail lounge.
Lana was waiting for him in a booth near the door wearing a long black velvet coat with a platinum fox collar over her dinner gown. She got up and came toward him fastening her wrap.
Shayne frowned and said, “I thought we were going to celebrate.”
Lana’s tawny eyes held a brooding look and her full mouth drooped sullenly at the corners, as though she had grown impatient, almost angry, waiting for him. Her expression changed as she slid a gloved hand under his arm. “If we’re going to do any real celebrating, Red, I’d rather do it at home,” she said softly, smiling up at him with her eyes wide and candid.
Shayne’s frown deepened. He still hadn’t figured out the self-possessed, moody girl beside him. She was either very simple or very, very smart. He asked, “What about your job here? Your percentage is in the red so far tonight.”
She urged him toward the door. “I don’t let it happen often. You’re the first to quit on me in the gaming room.”
Shayne said, “I don’t gamble to lose.” She regarded him obliquely as they walked to the main exit and said, “Remember what I said? Who cares whether you gamble or not. A girl likes to have some fun-sometimes.”
“Yeh. I know what you mean.” His tone was gruff.
They went out and up the three steps to the sidewalk. Shayne waved to a taxi driver who pulled up to the curb between two no-parking signs and they got in. Lana gave her address and they drove away.
In the middle of the first block Lana squirmed around, put her palms on Shayne’s cheeks and placed her moist lips against Shayne’s mouth. Her body went limp against him. He put his arm around her and held her tight.
“You can’t leave me now, Red,” she said in a throaty voice.
When Lana quit kissing him he relaxed and angled his long legs out to a comfortable position. They rode the short distance in silence. Lana cuddled against him, and in the dark tonneau of the car Shayne worried the lobe of his left ear with his thumb and forefinger, his bushy brows bridging a deep scowl between them.
The driver stopped in front of a four-story apartment house.
Lana roused and said, “Well, here we are, Red,” gaily.
Shayne freed his arm from her waist and ducked out the door when the driver opened it. He took Lana’s hand and held it while she gathered her long coat around her and stepped out.
“Look, it’s late-and I-” Shayne began.
“You can’t leave me now,” Lana said again. She pressed his fingers hard.
Shayne’s free hand brought out coins from his pocket. He paid the driver, and at the front door of the apartment building he hesitated.
Lana faced him and said mockingly, “So it’s late and you have to do what?”
“Nothing-nothing at all.” He grinned and they went inside.
“Then, let’s get drunk,” she suggested.
“Suits,” said Shayne, “if you can work it. I don’t get drunk easy.”
They went up in a self-service elevator to the fourth floor and down a green-carpeted hall. Lana fumbled in her evening bag all the way and had the key in her hand as they reached the door.
The living-room of her apartment spread out to the left and right of the door, and straight ahead was an alcove into a hallway. On the left an open door disclosed a bedroom. She took his hat and topcoat and draped them on a chair, then went across to a large combination radio-phonograph. With her back turned to him she said, “I’ll get some soft music,” and turned the dials until the music came.
Shayne watched her back with narrowed eyes. She picked up something from the top of the cabinet and thrust it under her coat.
Lana turned around and started hurriedly into the bedroom, smiling at him over her shoulder. “I’ll just be a minute.”
Shayne got in front of her before she could go through the doorway. “Let me see what you’ve got hidden under your coat.”
She recoiled from him, biting at her full underlip. “What are you talking about?”
“What you just picked up from the top of the cabinet and slipped under your coat.” He held out a big hand and waited grimly.
She said, “All right. If you’re going to be fussy about it,” and laughed shakily. She handed him a small framed photograph of Lieutenant Drinkley in a sergeant’s uniform. An inscription on the right-hand side read: To my darling Lana.
“I-just didn’t want you to see it and be jealous,” she said quickly. “It doesn’t mean anything now, but some men are funny that way.”
Shayne handed the picture back to her, folded his arms and said, “Let’s quit stalling. You know that I know all about your lieutenant.”
“What makes you think- what lieutenant?”
“Don’t be naive,” Shayne snapped, “it doesn’t suit you. Lieutenant Drinkley. Hell,” he went on angrily, “you begged to be picked up there in the Laurel Club when you recognized my voice after hearing it through Drinkley’s bathroom door.”
Her eyes were cold and very yellow. Her shoulders stiffened and her husky voice was calm when she said, “Of course I knew it was you, Mike Shayne.”
“What did Drinkley tell you about me this afternoon?”
“Not much. He said you were a detective. He didn’t want you to find out about-us.”
Shayne scowled and stepped aside to let her go into the bedroom. He said, “Go ahead and mix those drinks. Then we’ll have a cozy chat.”
Lana went into the bedroom and put her coat and bag on the bed. She came back after a short time with heightened color on her cheeks and lips, and went through the hallway to the kitchen.
Shayne went over to look at a tape recorder. There was a stack of tapes, several of which had been used but were not labeled or dated. He was staring somberly at the small framed photograph of Drinkley when Lana returned with a tray of drinks.
She said, “Come on, Red. We were going to get drunk. Remember?” She set the tray on a low glass-topped table between two chairs arranged to face each other.
Shayne sat down and took a drink from one of the glasses. He asked, “How long have you known Lieutenant Drinkley?”
“For about a year. That is, I first met him about a year ago. What’s he worried about, Red? Suppose that silly girl did commit suicide? I don’t think he really loved her.”
“Did he love you?”
“He did-a year ago.”
“Before he met Katrin Moe?”
“Yes.” Lana met his gaze levelly. Her eyes were green again, now that she had removed the black coat.
“And you think he still loves you?”
“I think he will again.” Her voice had a vicious sound. “With Katrin out of the way-”
“So you wanted her out of the way,” Shayne said softly. “You’re nuts about him, aren’t you?”
“That’s a hell of a question to ask,” she blazed, “after the way I’ve carried on with you tonight.” She softened her tone and added, “We were going to celebrate, Red-get drunk.”
Shayne made an impatient gesture. “You admitted you were just leading me on-to find out how much I knew about Drinkley.”
“It started out that way.” Lana lowered her eyes and she sounded honest. She took a long drink and continued, “I wondered what was up this afternoon when Ted made me hide in the bathroom and then rushed me out as soon as you left. But you got under my skin.” She emptied her glass and reached for his hand, pushing the table aside with her foot.
Shayne felt a cold draft of air on the back of his neck. He was leaning forward looking intently into Lana’s tawny eyes. He asked gravely, “Did you murder Katrin Moe?”
She gasped, “Murder?” and her fingers tightened convulsively on his. “I thought she killed herself.”
“A lot of people think so. But Lieutenant Drinkley knows it wasn’t suicide. That’s why he’s worried, Lana. This love affair with you provides a motive-”
Shayne sensed rather than heard movement behind him He turned in time to see a man’s arm descending toward his head.
Lana screamed and lurched toward him, burying her head hard against his stomach as the blow struck the side of his head just above the right ear.
He doubled forward over her and then fell sideways on the floor.
A bar of sunlight lay athwart Shayne’s face when he opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor, his lids and lashes crusted with dried blood. He turned his head slightly and was aware of soggy, matted blood on the rug beneath it. He looked at the tape recorder and saw that the stack of tapes was gone.
Pain closed his eyes involuntarily. He wasn’t sure he could get up if he tried, and began slowly flexing his muscles, beginning with his fingers and toes. When he opened his eyes again he managed to move his head out of the matted blood and away from the glaring streak of light coming through the window. The chair in which he had been sitting last night was overturned, as was the table. The entire room was in disorder, and Shayne tried hard to remember whether he had fought the intruder who had slugged him.
Pain throbbed in his head when he jerked himself to a sitting position and forced his eyes to stay open.
Then he saw Lana lying just inside the bedroom door. Her feet and legs were bare and a blue silk nightgown was twisted around her body from the knees up.
From where he sat, she looked dead.
He tried to get up but sank back when his head reeled and the room grew black. He inched himself toward the girl and felt her legs. They were warm. The nightgown partially covered her face and he pulled it away. The smell of stale liquor rose to his nostrils from her regular breathing. He muttered, “Drunk, by God, and passed out.”
Lana gave no sign of consciousness when he spoke. Shayne dragged himself to his feet and caught the foot of the bed, hung on until the dizziness passed. The room was cold. He looked around to see the rear door in the bedroom open. Staggering to the door he discovered a stairway leading down to the alley from the tiny balcony outside.
His assailant must have come in that way.
He came unsteadily back to the bed, took a blanket from it and spread it over Lana. His eyes were bleak and his mouth set in grim lines as he stood looking down at her for a moment, then he went out to find the bathroom.
He found it a few steps down the hallway, on the right. A door on the left, he realized, opened into the bedroom.
Turning on the cold water tap, he let it run a while and examined his head in the mirror. There was a big lump above his right ear. He stripped off his shirt and stuck his head in the basin of cold water, carefully fingering the hair around the lump until the dried blood was gone. He drained the water out and filled the basin again, found a washrag and scrubbed the stains from his face.
The throbbing pain subsided to a steady aching. He combed his hair as best he could, put on his shirt and went to the kitchen. There was a quart bottle of gin overturned on the sink and a fifth of brandy was uncorked. He held it up to the light and saw that it was half full, tilted it to his lips and took a long drink.
Back in the living-room Shayne stood for a moment creasing his brow in deep thought and scowling at the tape recorder.
Abruptly he strode to the bedroom and began quietly opening the drawers of a high chest. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but knew he would recognize it if he found it. In the wide bottom drawer he found several purses. The third one he searched yielded a folded telegram tucked behind a tiny mirror in its container.
The message was from Miami, Florida, dated the preceding Monday. It read: Letter received. Will see you Wednesday night. It was signed Ted.
Stuffing the telegram in his pocket he went out, got his coat and hat, and left the apartment. As the elevator took him down he remembered the guns he had taken from Trueman’s punks the night before, and knew before he felt in his pockets that they were gone.
Outside, the air was cold and bracing. He decided against putting his hat on after trying for a comfortable position. He swung away with long strides, and twenty minutes later he was climbing the stairway to his apartment on Carondelet.
A man was waiting for him at the top of the stairs; a florid man with a good-natured face and sleepy eyes.
Intercepting him, the man asked, “Are you Shayne?”
“That’s right.” Shayne put his key in the lock and opened the door.
“Sorry bud, you’re wanted at headquarters.”
Shayne turned slowly and the man flashed a city detective’s badge.
“Is this a pinch?” Shayne growled.
“Make it easy on yourself. It’ll be one if that’s the way you want it.”
“Damned if I know. My name’s Greetin. I’ve been waiting for you to come home since four o’clock. Inspector Quinlan wants you.”
Shayne considered for a moment, then nodded. “I’ll go along. I’ve had a tough night.” He tenderly touched the lump on his head.
Greetin grinned. “It must’ve been. No hard feelings, you understand.”
“Hell, no. You’ve got a job.” Shayne stepped inside and the city detective followed him.
“I’ve heard about you,” Greetin told him. “I been wondering how’s it for a private eye. Big money?”
“Better stay on a regular payroll,” Shayne advised. “How about a cup of coffee before we go?”
Greetin looked uncertain and somewhat uneasy. He said, “Well-don’t mind if I do,” and went with Shayne to the kitchen. He sat down on the only chair and studied the redhead curiously while the coffee brewed.
When it was ready to pour Shayne took down a bottle of brandy and asked, “How about a coffee royal?” He poured his mug a third full of brandy and filled it with hot coffee.
Greetin sniffed the aroma and said, “Don’t care if I do, but make it light.”
They took the mugs to the living-room and sat down. Shayne asked, “You’re sure you don’t know what’s up at headquarters?”
Greetin relaxed after a noisy swig of coffee royal. “Not a damned thing. Say, this coffee is all right. I hear you drink a lot when you’re on a case.”
Shayne grinned. “A snort of brandy puts me in touch with the cosmic forces.”
Greetin looked puzzled. “What you mean by that?” Shayne hid another grin of amusement behind the rim of his mug. “It’s this way. When things get to happening fast you have to give the subconscious time to put things it already knows together-figure them out-so you can tie it all in with what happens next.” Greetin nodded slightly, his eyes still puzzled. “I don’t get it. You’re not going to try to pull a fast one on me? I’ve heard about that, too.”
“Hell, no. We’d better get going. I want to know what’s cooking.”
“Yeh. We’d better.” Greetin finished his coffee. “Quinlan’s liable to send somebody to check on me.”
Shayne swung into his top coat, carefully arranged his hat at a cocky angle to keep pressure from the lump on his head, and they went out to his car.
Inspector Quinlan was alone in his office twiddling a fountain pen and there was impatience in his cold blue eyes. He looked up at Greetin and said, “It took you long enough,” when they walked in.
“This bird just got home,” Greetin told him. “He’ll tell you himself.”
Shayne said, “That’s right, Inspector.”
“Better beat it, then, and get some sleep, Greetin,” the inspector snapped.
Shayne sat down across the desk and lit a cigarette. “How official is this?” he asked.
“Homicide,” Quinlan said curtly. “You can talk it over with me alone, or you can have a transcript made for the record. Or you can refuse to answer questions without the advice of counsel.”
“Who’s been bumped off?” Shayne blew a smoke cloud and looked up at it.
Shayne met Quinlan’s stony eyes. He reached up and eased his hat from his head and said bluntly, “I’ll talk for the record.”
“Good enough.” The inspector pressed a button on his desk and presently a gray-haired man limped into the room carrying a notebook. He sat down beside the desk and took a pencil from behind his ear.
Shayne grinned at Quinlan and droned, “Michael Shayne-thirty-nine-occupation, private detective. Now, ask me some questions, Inspector.”
“Just this. Where were you last night and what did you do?”
“From when on?”
“Take it from dinner.”
Shayne studied another spiral of smoke, then began an easy recital of picking Lana Moore up at the Laurel Club.
“I walked into something, but I don’t know what,” he ended after several minutes. “I got socked and kicked around and I passed out without seeing the guy. I woke up half an hour ago in her apartment. Lana was passed out on the floor. I left her like that and went home.”
Quinlan had watched him closely during the recital but he picked up the fountain pen again and twiddled it. Shayne could tell nothing of his thoughts when he said, “You’ll take an oath-swear that’s the truth?”
“I’ll sign it when it’s typed.”
“All the truth?” Quinlan asked warningly. “You’ve nothing to add to it.”
Shayne’s fingertips ran around his injury. “Well-there was a little trouble at the club early in the evening. It ties in with a job I’m on and I’ll have to hold it out.”
“The Lomax job?” Quinlan asked too casually.
“That’s all for the record,” Shayne said, glancing at the man with the notebook. “Let’s just say one of my cases.”
Quinlan dismissed the court reporter and leaned back.
“Would you by any chance be referring to the little matter of getting thrown out of Dan Trueman’s office?”
“I walked out.”
“And threatened to come back while two of his boys hustled you away?”
“Maybe I said something like that. I was sore.”
Inspector Quinlan consulted a sheaf of data before him, then read from it: “‘Next time I come back there’ll be trouble.’ Did you tell Trueman that?”
“I might have. I was sore.”
Shayne shook his red head stubbornly. “I’ll have to protect my client.”
“Witnesses heard Trueman tell you to get out and quit beefing about your losses.”
“Trueman was covering up. Hell, I’d just won over a grand with Laurel dice. I’ve got it in my pocket. If you know so damned much you ought to know that, too.”
“I do. That’s what I couldn’t figure. I’ve been wondering why you went back and beat Dan Trueman to death.”
“So that’s the lay. I beat him to death.”
“You took the guns off the two bouncers when they threw you out. They were not armed when you came back later and you didn’t have much trouble. All I need is your motive, Shayne, and I think I’ve got that.”
“You’re forgetting my alibi,” Shayne ground out his cigarette and lit another.
Quinlan flipped a switch on his desk and picked up a telephone. Into the mouthpiece he gave Lana Moore’s address and said, “Bring her in. Don’t tell her anything, and look over her apartment carefully while you’re there.”
Shayne took a deep drag on his cigarette, exhaled slowly and said, “You know I didn’t kill Trueman.”
“I’ve practically got you sewed up on it.”
“But you know I didn’t kill him,” Shayne said curtly.
Inspector Quinlan considered for a moment, then said, “I’m going to be honest with you. It looks like the kind of job you might do, Shayne. This isn’t girl-murder like the Margo Macon case. Trueman was killed in a rough-and-tumble fight. He wasn’t a coward and he fought back. Maybe it wasn’t murder. Maybe you had a hell of a good reason for going back and tangling with him. If you give it to me straight, I’ll swing you all the breaks I can. If you can turn it into self-defense-” He shrugged and took a cigar from his breast pocket.
“I didn’t go back. The girl will alibi me.”
“I’ll still have to hold you,” Quinlan told him. “Look at it yourself, Shayne. You threatened him. You took his boys’ pistols-and they were legal, by the way. They had permits for those guns. Night watchmen. After pulling their teeth you waited until the joint was closed and went back. Why?”
“Sure. Plenty. And you admitted it.”
“Any witnesses to the killing? Anyone say I went back there later?”
“You know damned well you took care of that. When you went in the side entrance and knocked both the boys out.”
“I didn’t know there was a side entrance,” Shayne said patiently.
Quinlan had his cigar lit. He sat back, shaking his iron-gray head and puffing meditatively.
Shayne did a lot of fast thinking. He knew Quinlan to be honest and square, but he was a cop. He’d send his best friend to the chair if he believed justice would thus be done. Everything depended on Lana. If she hadn’t passed out too soon after he’d been slugged, her alibi would make it almost impossible to hold him. Quinlan might disbelieve her story; he might believe she was lying, but he couldn’t disregard it. He’d have to let him have time to crack Lana’s story concerning Katrin Moe and Lieutenant Drinkley. And in the meantime-
Shayne drew in a deep breath. It sounded loud in the silence that had come between the two men. He had an idea that all he needed was a few hours now. Dan Trueman’s death threw a new angle on the case. He was wasting time…
He was astounded at the length of time that had passed when a trim young detective came into the office and said, “We have Miss Lana Moore outside, sir.”
Quinlan took the cigar from between his teeth and said, “Bring her in.”
Shayne jerked himself to a straight position and his head throbbed with the sudden movement. He looked at Lana and was amazed at the transformation of a girl whom he had seen only a short time ago lying sprawled in a drunken stupor on her bedroom floor. Or-was she pretending to be in a stupor?
His bushy red brows drew together as she came toward Quinlan’s desk with the young officer beside her. She wore a plain sports dress of tan and a green hat with a soft, wide brim that reflected green in her eyes and accentuated the pallor of her unrouged cheeks. A green sports coat was around her shoulders, the sleeves falling empty against her sides. She clutched a tan bag in both hands.
She appeared entirely self-possessed, but Shayne watched her eyes. When she attempted to widen them in surprise they looked out of focus, and there was a slumbrous gaze in them, as though she had taken a strong sedative.
She asked slowly and carefully, “What’s this-all about?”
Quinlan arose and the young officer brought a chair to the desk and seated her with a gallant air.
“Do you know Mr. Shayne?” Quinlan asked.
“Oh-hello, Red. Sure I know him-” Her full lips curled in disdain. “What do you want to know?”
“Just a minute,” the inspector said. He pressed a button and the court reporter dragged himself in again, sat down and took his pencil from his ear and poised it over his notebook.
“Where,” Quinlan asked, “was Michael Shayne last night?”
“What time last night?” Lana countered.
“Between two and four this morning.”
Lana Moore’s eyes widened again in badly focused surprise. She lifted her long lashes and lowered them demurely, “I don’t know what kind of a girl you think I am, Inspector,” she said in her deep, husky voice. “I had a date with him last night, sure. But it wasn’t that kind of a date. He went home before midnight.”
Inspector Quinlan’s cold blue gaze had not left her face for an instant. He said, quietly, “Will you swear to that, Miss Moore?”
“On a stack of Bibles,” she answered promptly.
She didn’t look at Shayne.
Inspector Quinlan waved Shayne back into his chair as he started up with a muttered curse. To Lana, Quinlan said, “Tell me about last evening. All about it.”
She pouted prettily.
“All of it?”
“Everything.” The inspector’s voice was grim and demanding. “This is a homicide investigation, Miss Moore.”
She said, “Oh-you mean murder? Who-”
“You’re not being questioned about the murder, Miss Moore. Tell me about you and Shayne last night.”
She glanced at Shayne and the court reporter, then faced the inspector. “I haven’t anything to hide,” she said defiantly. “I was in a cocktail bar having a drink all by myself when he-Red here-came in and sat down by me and offered to buy me one. I didn’t see any harm in that, and then we had dinner together and he-” She hesitated, looking doubtfully at Quinlan and moistening her red lips with the tip of her tongue.
“Don’t hold back anything,” he advised. “You won’t be giving out any information if you tell about the gambling.”
Lana looked relieved. “He wanted to gamble, so I went back with him and watched while he played and won a lot of money. Then I wanted to go home so we got a taxi and-”
“Wait a minute,” Quinlan interrupted. “Didn’t anything else happen at the Laurel Club?”
She wrinkled her forehead and said dubiously, “Not that I know of. Nothing important anyway.”
“Were you with him all the time?”
“Every minute. That is”-she managed to look embarrassed-“except for a few minutes when he-well, he excused himself.”
“To go to the men’s room?”
“I guess so. He said for me to wait for him in the lounge. So I did, and when he came back we got a taxi-”
“How long was he away from you?” Quinlan demanded.
Lana considered this with a serious pucker between her eyes. “It might have been five or ten minutes. I’m not positive.”
“Proceed. You got in a taxi and went home,” Quinlan prompted.
“We went straight to my apartment-the Armentieres. He wanted to come up for a minute and I thought it would be all right because he had acted like a perfect gentleman up until then, so I told him he could come up for just one drink.” She paused and shrugged eloquently. “I should have known better, I guess. A man seems to think that because a girl lives alone and gets lonely and accepts a drink and dinner from a man that she’s inviting him to make a pass at her. He quit being a gentleman as soon as we were in the apartment. He was horrid-and I got rid of him as last as I could. That was a little before midnight, because I was in bed by twelve.” Her tawny eyes looked guilelessly at Quinlan.
The inspector turned cold wary eyes on Shayne. “What does this do to your story?”
“Knocks it all to hell,” Shayne said bitterly. “If you’re going to listen to a chippie-”
“You-!” Lana started up with her eyes blazing at Shayne.
Quinlan said, “Sit down.” It was a command.
She sank back in her chair biting her underlip and murmuring something about being insulted.
The inspector didn’t look at Lana. He was watching Shayne closely.
“I can prove my story,” Shayne said. “Get the man in here who picked her up. Ask him what condition he found her in-what the apartment looks like this morning.”
Quinlan picked up the telephone of an intercommunication service and said, “Send Handley in.” The trim young detective entered promptly and the inspector asked, “What condition was Miss Moore’s apartment in-and what condition was she in?”
“What condition, sir?”
“Did you have to wake her up? Was she dressed? How did she look?”
“She opened the door promptly after I knocked,” Handley told him. “She was wearing one of those-thingamajigs…”
“A hostess gown,” Lana interpolated sweetly.
“That’s right,” Handley agreed. “Blue silk. She was drinking a cup of coffee and reading the morning paper in the living-room. She seemed quite astonished when I told her she’d have to come to headquarters, but she didn’t make any fuss about it.”
“Women!” said Shayne bitterly. “I tell you she was lying flat on the floor with a blue nightgown on and passed out as cold as a turkey when I left that apartment not more than an hour ago.”
Lana Moore drew in an audible and outraged breath and looked bewildered. “Of all the nerve! That’s the biggest lie I ever heard.”
Handley set his jaw and his eyes were scornful; Quinlan shook his head sadly as though he regretted the necessity of embarrassing the girl.
“What condition was the apartment in, Handley?”
“I didn’t see anything out of the way, sir,” Handley answered. “I went in the kitchen while Miss Moore was dressing, and I managed a look in the bedroom after she came out of it. Everything looked all right.”
Quinlan looked at Shayne again, and again moved his head from side to side.
“I’m not nuts,” Shayne said with angry emphasis. “It’s a damned frame, and if you can’t see it you’re blind as hell.” He appealed to the inspector: “Get your chemist over there and I swear he’ll find evidence of blood on the rug where I was lying when I woke up this morning. She may have washed it off, but it’ll be in the nap.”
Lana shuddered delicately and asked the inspector, “What’s he trying to prove? I don’t know what any of this is about, but he certainly sounds crazy to me.”
“What about Lieutenant Drinkley and you?” Quinlan asked abruptly, and watched her closely.
“Lieutenant-Drinkley?” She repeated it slowly and gave the impression of trying to recall the name. “I don’t recall ever having met him. I meet a lot of soldiers.”
Shayne’s eyes glittered. He started to speak through hard set lips, but the inspector gestured for silence.
“Shayne is trying to talk himself out of a murder rap,” Quinlan told Lana. “You can’t blame him for trying. You’ve been very helpful, Miss Moore. If you’ll wait in the outer office I’ll have your testimony transcribed and ask you to sign it.”
“Make it under oath,” Shayne snapped angrily, “and you’ll have a goddamned perjury on your hands.” He hunched forward, staring at the tips of his shoes. His right thumb and forefinger pulled at the lobe of his left ear.
When Handley took the girl out and closed the door, Quinlan said calmly, “Looks as though you haven’t got a leg to stand on.”
Shayne nodded. “She did a good job. It takes a woman to think up a deal like that.” He spoke with grudging admiration.
“What’s the angle, Shayne? You talked before about her luring you there to get you beaten up. Now you’re trying to make me believe she pulled this frame. There has to be a reason for a thing like that.”
“There is. A good one.”
Shayne shrugged. “Another damned case.” His tone was depressed. “I was beginning to crack down-that’s all.”
“Anything to do with the Lomax emeralds?”
“Sort of,” Shayne admitted cautiously. “They tie together, though I’m damned if I know how.”
“Are you trying to make me believe that girl had something to do with Trueman’s death? That the whole thing was a gag to be sure you didn’t have any alibi for it?”
Shayne straightened up and stopped tugging at his ear. “Damned if I know. It’s hard to believe the whole thing was prearranged. No one knew I was going to have an argument with Dan Trueman and lay myself open to a murder accusation. What kind of a story did the morning paper run?”
“A full account of the whole thing. Your argument with Trueman was played up, and it was made clear that we were hunting you-for questioning at least.”
Shayne glared at him angrily. “Now, by God, that’s sweet publicity. You had to run to the newspaper with it-try me there before I had a chance to tell my story.”
Inspector Quinlan compressed his lips. “I don’t hand out that sort of stuff. A reporter happened to be in the barroom last night and saw the whole thing. He recognized you and brought the story to me as soon as the murder broke. Hell, I couldn’t tell him not to print it.”
“Could be it wasn’t a cold frame,” Shayne muttered. “If Lana woke up right after I left and read the paper-she’s smart enough to have seen I was going to need her to alibi me. So she fixed things to make a liar out of me as soon as the checkup came.”
“Could be.” Quinlan was noncommittal. “But you still lack any proof, and you haven’t given me any reason to think she’s lying instead of you. Can you prove her connection with Drinkley?”
“I doubt it. She’s probably disposed of his photograph, and the clerk at the Dragoon would probably deny that she went to Drinkley’s room if she asked for him at the desk. Which she probably didn’t.”
“Dragoon Hotel?” Quinlan asked.
“I told you I was on a case,” Shayne said. He got up, wincing slightly, flexed his body and thrust his hands deep in his pockets. “So?”
“Unless you want to give out more than you have-I’m holding you on suspicion of murder.”
Shayne nodded. He hunched his head forward and prowled the length of the office and back, stopped beside the inspector’s desk and asked hoarsely, “Have you got a drink?”
The inspector went to a filing cabinet and from one of the drawers took a pint bottle with only a couple of drinks gone from it. Shayne pulled the cork with his teeth, tilted it and gurgled. It was half empty when he handed it back to Quinlan and said, “Thanks.”
His eyes were brighter. He started his restless prowling again while Quinlan sat down and waited in silence.
After a time Shayne muttered, “You’re putting the pressure on, aren’t you?”
Quinlan didn’t reply. He appeared to be preoccupied with the ease with which he ran a fountain pen through his folded hand.
“You’ve got me over a barrel,” Shayne stated with anger and disgust. “You and Lana Moore. You know me too well to believe I’d be crazy enough to hand you an alibi I knew couldn’t stick.”
“It is out of character,” he admitted. “But there it is.”
“Yeh. There it is. It’s fallen in your lap and who are you to question a gift from the gods? That the way you feel about it?”
“You’re my only suspect thus far.”
“You’re after something,” Shayne reasoned bitterly. “You’re using this thing as a lever to pry it out of me.”
“I’m still waiting to hear the truth about your argument with Dan Trueman.”
Shayne sat down and said, “Look, I’m trying to make a living. Recovery of the Lomax necklace means over twelve grand in my pocket-if I do the recovering. Where’d I be in my business if I came to you cops with all my dope?”
“Then you’re admitting that Trueman was tied in with the stolen necklace?”
“Sure. I’ll admit that much.”
“I’ve been waiting to hear you say that,” Quinlan said quietly, “because I’ve been wondering-” He laid the fountain pen aside and got an envelope from a desk drawer. He opened it and carefully emptied a single small emerald on the desk blotter. “This was found on the floor of Trueman’s office.”
The green gem blinked malignantly up at them.
Shayne’s eyes blazed. He leaned forward and poked the emerald with his forefinger. “One of the Lomax beads?”
Quinlan eased his stoic face with a slight smile. “It’s an emerald,” he corrected, “torn out of its setting.”
Shayne picked it up between thumb and forefinger and dropped it into the palm of his left hand. His eyes were fiercely questioning between shaggy red brows. He rolled it around in his cupped palm, held it up to the light and squinted at it as though fascinated by its polished green facets.
After a time he handed it back to Quinlan without comment.
Quinlan put the gem in the envelope and returned it to the drawer.
Shayne said with heavy meditation, “So the sonofabitch had it there in his office all the time,” and stared fixedly across the room.
The inspector cleared his throat and said, “That’s one thing that didn’t get in the paper. Don’t you think it’s time for you to start talking?”
“Sure. I’ll talk. I knew Trueman had the necklace-or was acting as go-between for somebody who had it. He telephoned me yesterday and offered to sell it back to the company for forty thousand. He didn’t tell me who he was, but I recognized his voice when I heard it in the Laurel Club last night. I went to his office to put it up to him straight that there’d be no fix on this one. He denied knowing anything about it, of course. The act he put on about me coming with a gambling beef was for the benefit of anyone listening in.”
“I guessed that much as soon as I learned the dice had been good to you.”
“You’ve got it,” Shayne said. “That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? I didn’t see Trueman again. I spent the rest of the night unconscious in Lana Moore’s apartment.”
“Which she denies.”
“But I told you she had it in for me.”
“You haven’t told me why.”
Shayne drew in a long breath and made a gesture of exasperation. The lines in his hollow cheeks deepened. “What are you going to do?”
“Hold you for Dan Trueman’s murder.”
Shayne said savagely, “And Trueman’s murderer will be laughing at you while you’ve got me locked up.”
“Maybe. I’ll take a chance on that.”
“Sure. You’re a cop.”
“That’s right,” Quinlan agreed amiably.
His insouciance drove the detective to snarl, “If you lock me up now you’ll end up with two unsolved murders on your hands.”
“Count ’em.” Shayne held up two long bony fingers and folded them down. “Dan Trueman and Katrin Moe.”
“The Moe girl committed suicide.”
“Sure,” he jeered, “you’re a cop. Close up a case and keep the public satisfied no matter how many murderers walk your damned streets unhung.”
“I’ve been over all the evidence on that-and the coroner’s report. It can’t be anything but suicide.”
“It was murder,” Shayne insisted shortly.
“What the hell makes you think so?”
“All the evidence that’s worth a damn,” Shayne said slowly. “She was a virgin and in love with a guy she was going to marry the next day. Where’s the motive for suicide?”
“Where’s the motive for murder?”
Shayne was silent for a long time. Then he said quietly, “Will you make a deal with me, Quinlan?”
“I don’t know. Give it to me.”
“If I can give you a motive for Katrin Moe’s murder-if I can show you how she must have been murdered-and then show you that her killer is also the logical candidate for the Trueman job, will you forget this stuff you’ve got against me and give me a chance to prove I’m right?”
Inspector Quinlan studied him with a cold blue gaze as he silently considered the proposition.
“Hell, you’ve always got your case against me,” Shayne went on rapidly. “You’ve got the affidavits. I’m not going to run out on you. If I fail, you can slap me in jail so fast it’ll make my head swim.”
“I’ll still have you,” Quinlan agreed thoughtfully.
“What have you got to lose? I don’t want any of the credit on either of the killings. I’m after a fee.”
The inspector nodded slowly. “You’re on. But you’ll have to sell me.”
Shayne said, “I will,” with greater confidence than he felt. He lit a cigarette and settled back to a complete recital of all the pertinent facts he had unearthed since the beginning of his investigation, telling the story in sequence from Lieutenant Drinkley’s impassioned plea in his office to the moment when the inspector’s man picked him up at his apartment that morning.
Quinlan listened with concentrated attention. When Shayne finished he said, “Looks to me like you’ve dug up a lot of stuff that points to a motive for Katrin Moe’s suicide. What’s her connection with the escaped convict whom she visited day before yesterday? Did he steal the damned necklace? One of the pair was riding out a term for burglary and they both seem to have been in New Orleans the night it was stolen. She might have fingered the necklace for them, either intentionally or inadvertently, and later got an attack of conscience and killed herself in a fit of remorse.”
Shayne said, “She might have-but she didn’t,” emphatically.
“And the relationship between her and Drinkley and Lana suggests that he may not have been as true to her as he wanted you to believe. She might have discovered that and turned on the gas as a way out. Or he might even have told her he was calling the wedding off-written her a letter that we know nothing about. So, she goes to bed the night before her wedding and quietly ends it all. You’ve really fixed up the suicide theory, Shayne. I wish my men were as thorough.”
“You’ve got suicide on the brain,” Shayne charged, “and you can’t see anything else. Hell, doesn’t all that suggest something else?”
“I still don’t see how it could be murder unless her killer turned himself into a gremlin and slipped in through the keyhole. Are you asking me to believe that?”
Shayne said grimly, “Here’s how. And here’s why.” He outlined the nebulous theory he had been laboriously building ever since his first visit to the Lomax house. He gave it a lot more solidity in the telling than it possessed, and spoke with a lot more assurance than the facts warranted.
“After that, the necklace had to be gotten back from Trueman,” he ended persuasively, “and Trueman’s murder resulted. I don’t know yet how the killer learned that Trueman was dickering to sell the stuff to the insurance company. That’s the only kink-outside of getting the actual proof to support some things that have got to be true.”
Inspector Quinlan said, “I’ll be damned if you don’t make it sound plausible, Shayne. But how? That’s still the rub. You can’t get away from that locked door and Doc Mattson’s findings.”
Shayne slumped wearily. “I think I can. I think we’ve walked into one of the damndest murder plans you or I have ever met. I accept the locked door and I agree she died as a direct result of inhaling gas fumes from an open gas grate-one that she must have opened herself. But it’s still murder.” He closed his eyes and felt the lump on his head tenderly.
The inspector said dispiritedly, “You’re only contradicting yourself.”
Shayne’s eyes popped open. They were very bright “No. I’m not. Think this over.” He sat up straight and leaned toward the inspector. “Katrin locks her door and gets ready for bed. It was a cold night and maybe she likes it a little warmer than the warm air system keeps it. Or a burning gas grate is cheerful. So she lights it and lies down to dream about her lieutenant and whatever else a young girl dreams about on the eve of her wedding. Anyhow, she falls asleep with the grate still burning.”
He paused dramatically. Quinlan was slowly rolling a pencil in his palms and listening attentively, a judicious frown between his eyes.
Shayne went on, talking fast. “Sometime during the night her grate goes out. She’s sleeping soundly. When the flow of gas starts again it mixes slowly with the washed air coming in from the furnace. The bulk of the gas is carried off by the cold air outlet so that the air in her room becomes tainted very gradually. So gradually that she doesn’t waken after the first numbing effect. She sleeps right on-with a smile on her lips as Doc Mattson said-and drifts from dreams to death.”
Quinlan struck the desk with his fist. “By God!” And again, more emphatically, “By God! Shayne. Maybe you’ve got something.”
“At least you’ll have to admit it’s a theory that meets every angle. And it’s the only theory that does.”
“Could be accidental,” Quinlan said. “Something might have happened to interrupt service for a short time.”
“That’s out,” Shayne said firmly. “Nothing happens to interrupt gas service these days. There’s always an emergency plant. If service was interrupted from the plant you’d have hundreds of casualties-not just one.”
Quinlan got up and paced excitedly up and down the room. “If the gas in the Lomax house was tampered with,” he offered, “all the other gas appliances inside the house would go out at the same time. They’d all have to be relit after the valve was opened again.”
“All right. I’ll check on it. And I’ll find out if Katrin made a habit of leaving her grate burning all night-and how many people knew about that habit. The killer must have had some way of being sure that she, and she alone, would have her gas burning.”
“That narrows it down to someone who knew her very well,” the inspector said, staring steadily at Shayne. “Someone who had access to the basement and knew the location of the gas lines and valves.”
Shayne nodded. “That fits three people-and the same motive can fit them all. And that’s the hell of it. That’s why I’ve been moving so slowly and why I need more time and freedom to investigate. If we jump into it and frighten them now we’ll end up with three suspects and not enough evidence to convict any of them. Are you sold? And will you keep hands off until I’ve had a chance to use my own methods? I’m not hampered by official regulations, you know,” he ended sourly.
Quinlan went back to his desk and sat down. “I’m sold, Shayne. Don’t tell me what you’re going to do. I’d rather not know.”
“That’s the way I like it,” Shayne said with satisfaction. “I’ve wasted too much time here already.” He got up and hurried out.
Lucy Hamilton stared at Shayne when he walked into the office a short time later. Her brown eyes shone with deep concern and her generous mouth tightened in disapproval of the lump on his head and the patch of purplish skin on his right cheek.
Shayne’s grin faded to a frown. “This is a hell of a greeting,” he growled.
“I’ve been terribly worried about you-and frightened. You could at least let me know-about things.” Her lips trembled and she tightened them again.
“Everything’s all right-I hope,” Shayne told her in a tone that carried no conviction.
“Everything’s just fine and dandy,” she retorted, “except that you’ve got yourself all beaten up again and the police have a dragnet out all over New Orleans for you.” A film of tears misted her eyes.
Shayne leaned over and caught her chin, tilted her face up. His grin came back and he said with more assurance, “It’s all right. But you’ll have to get used to seeing my face like this-and maybe worse. And having the police looking for me, too.”
“You just go around barging into trouble,” she accused, “and getting your name in the headlines-for murder.”
“Yeh. This is one of my busy days.” He gave her chin a pinch and said, “By the way, remind me to make love to you sometime when you’re like this. What’s Drinkley’s first name?”
“Oh-you-” She pushed his hand away. “His name is Theodore.”
“How did he act last night?”
“A fine spot you put me in,” she charged. “He didn’t want to go with me. And you’re dead wrong if you think he wasn’t head over heels in love with the Moe girl. He talked about her all the time and hardly ate a thing. I believe he’ll go crazy wondering if you don’t find out why she did it.”
“I’m finding out,” he said. “Did you try to help him forget her?”
He arched a bushy red brow at her and lowered his right hip to the desk.
Lucy nodded. “But it wasn’t any use. He doesn’t even see another girl. He’s really a poet at heart, Michael. He spoke of their love in the most beautiful terms.” She sighed.
“I know. Their love was fine and clean-like wonderful music.” He made a sardonic gesture. “How long were you out with him?”
“He took me home about nine o’clock. I suggested doing something else, thinking it might cheer him up, but I think he wanted to be alone with his grief.” She looked up at him, the mist still in her eyes, saw the cynical smile on his mouth and burst out, “And I hate you when you’re cynical, Michael Shayne. There is that kind of love in the world. But you wouldn’t know about that.” She jammed a sheet of paper in the typewriter and turned it viciously.
With a far-away look in his gray eyes, Shayne said, “No, I wouldn’t know about that. Put a call through to the warden of the state penitentiary. While you’re waiting for it look in the directory and see if you can find a man by the name of Lane listed under private detectives. Alex Lane,” he added after a moment’s thought.
She typed the instructions as he gave them, looked up at the knot on his head and said, “Before I do anything you’re going to tell me what happened to you. Why do you always forget to duck?”
Shayne said gravely, “I made a pass at the wrong girl.”
“No girl did that to you.”
“Her boy friend came in at the wrong time.” He got up from the desk and said, “Shake it up on those calls,” and went into the inner office.
He was somberly contemplating the bare clean walls, when Lucy came in and perched herself on the corner of his desk. “Your call to the warden is in,” she said, “but the operator said the lines were all busy and it would be at least an hour before they’d be ready on it. And there’s a Lane and McGregor Detective Agency listed. Will that be the one?”
“Might be. Gabby Lane was on his own when I knew him. Try them.”
Lucy referred to a number on a paper in her hand, pulled his desk phone toward her and dialed. She said, “One moment, please,” and handed the receiver to Shayne.
He asked, “Is Alex Lane connected with your firm?”
A girl said, “Yes. I’ll put him on.”
Shayne waited until a heavy voice said, “Yeah?”
He grinned at Lucy and said, “Gabby?” into the mouthpiece.
He got a “Yep” this time.
“This is Mike Shayne, Gabby, and I wish you wouldn’t be so damned garrulous.”
Gabby Lane said, “What’s that mean? Read about you this morning. Trouble, huh?”
“Plenty,” Shayne told him. “I need some help from a man who’s kept up his contacts here.”
Gabby Lane didn’t say anything.
“On your regular basis,” Shayne told him impatiently. “I’ll pay the bill.”
“Twenty-five and expenses for an op?”
“I don’t want any damned op,” Shayne shouted. “I want you.”
“Fifty. Part days count full rate.”
Shayne said, “That Scotch partner of yours has got you trained. Fifty’s all right. Can you come to my office in about an hour?”
“See you,” said Gabby, and hung up.
“Some day,” Shayne told Lucy, “Gabby is going to choke himself trying to find one word that’ll do the job of two.”
Lucy was excited. “What’s the rush about, Michael? Is it the necklace?”
He nodded absently.
“What about Trueman’s murder? Did you threaten him last night over gambling-or something?”
“Don’t ever read the papers,” he advised slowly. “I didn’t kill Trueman and Quinlan knows I didn’t. I just came from his office.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” she breathed. “When I saw you come in looking all beaten up-all I could think of was the newspaper story.”
He touched his bruised and swollen head and asked, “How does it look? Feels like the lump’s getting smaller.”
Lucy chuckled and cocked her head sideways, “Looks as if you were trying to grow another head-or a blunt horn.” She leaned toward him and ran the tip of her finger over a portion of his face and added, “There’re three purplish streaks on your face.”
“I must have fallen on my face when the guy bopped me. It’s nothing.”
“Why do you always have to get so rough solving a case?” she asked, annoyed. “Isn’t there some other way?”
Shayne chortled. “Not that I’ve learned. Some people do it by sitting around and adding up the answers, but I’m not smart that way.” He patted her hand and added in a lighter tone, “Don’t worry about me, Lucy. Lots of jobs nowadays and you can always get another one.”
Lucy swung from the desk. “I hate you,” she said succinctly, “and I hope the girl’s boy friend has a gun next time he comes in unexpectedly.”
Shayne grinned at her stiff straight back as she walked out and slammed the door. He went to the window and stared out for a long moment, then turned abruptly and strode out to Lucy’s desk.
“Call up the Dragoon Hotel and get Drinkley on the phone,” he directed. “When he answers make your voice husky and talk fast. Tell him it’s Lana and to come to your apartment quick. The back way-same as he used last night. Hang up as soon as you’ve told him that.”
“Lana? Who’s she?” Her brown eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What are you up to now?”
“I’m going to check on a hunch and have a showdown with Drinkley. Go ahead and make that call.” Shayne put his coat over his arm and picked up his hat.
Lucy was mumbling some words. She wrinkled her nose and rehearsed aloud, looking at Shayne for approval before dialing.
“That’s it-and call him Ted,” Shayne said, standing on widespread legs while he waited.
When she finished the call her hand shook when she replaced the receiver, and her face was pale. “I-did it-”
“Swell job,” Shayne said. “I’ll get you a Hollywood contract. If Gabby Lane comes have him wait here for me.”
“All right… But I still don’t believe-”
Shayne didn’t wait to hear what she didn’t believe. He went down to his car, drove to the Armentieres Apartments and parked near the alley at a point where he could watch the outside stairway leading up to the rear entrance of Lana’s fourth-floor apartment.
He sat hunched behind the wheel dragging on a cigarette while he waited. Maybe it wouldn’t work. Maybe it hadn’t been Drinkley who had socked him last night. His head ached with a steady, dull pain, and he was tired of too much thinking.
He threw the cigarette away when he saw a figure coming furtively down the alley wearing a khaki overcoat and a cap pulled low down over his forehead. The figure went hurriedly up the stairs and stopped at the fourth floor.
Shayne waited until he went in the door, then followed. The door leading from the balcony into the bedroom was open and he stepped inside to hear angry voices in the front room.
“I didn’t telephone you,” Lana was declaring vehemently. “You’re acting crazy, Ted. I covered up for you this morning-”
“That’s right-and in a big way,” Shayne said pleasantly, strolling forward to stand in the doorway.
Lieutenant Drinkley let go of Lana’s wrists and whirled to face him. His thin face was pinched and white and his eyes were hot with fear. He took a wavering step backward and muttered, “Shayne.”
Shayne said, “Don’t blame Lana for this. She even committed a neat bit of perjury this morning to keep you in the clear.” To Lana he said, “Sit down. We’ll all talk this over.”
Lana tossed her head angrily. “Nothing would suit me better.” She pushed a chair close to the couch and sat down.
Shayne sat on the couch and Drinkley brought a light occasional chair and placed it to form a semicircle.
“You’re both in this pretty deep,” Shayne warned them. “It wasn’t smart to bop me last night, Drinkley. What were you afraid I was going to learn?”
Drinkley’s hands trembled and he bit his bloodless bottom lip. “I didn’t-I don’t know-what you mean,” he stammered.
Shayne said mildly, “I don’t mind the beating so much, but I hate being framed for murder. That’s what your perjured denial of my alibi did this morning, Lana.”
Lana gave Drinkley a quick calculating glance, shook her tawny head from side to side and said, “If you mean that crazy story you dreamed up about getting attacked here, you’re nuts.”
Shayne touched his injury lightly. “For a dream, it hurts like hell.” He shrugged and said, “All right. This is off the record. I talked myself out of the murder frame for the time being. Now I want to get some things straight.”
He eyed Drinkley angrily. “How deeply are you involved with Lana?”
“I’m not. It’s all over. I swear it is. It’s been over since I met Katrin. Ask Lana. She’ll tell you.” Drinkley jerked in a breath between each statement and wet his dry lips when he finished.
Lana’s smile was contemptuous. “She’s dead now, Ted. You don’t have to keep on pretending you loved her.”
“But I did. You know I did. I told you I loved Katrin. My God, Lana, if I thought-”
“You do think it,” Shayne said harshly. “That’s what’s eating your guts, isn’t it, Drinkley? You think Lana told Katrin about you two. You’re afraid that’s why Katrin committed suicide.”
Drinkley winced as though a sharp whip struck him, but he said nothing.
“What kind of evidence did Lana have on you? A tape recording or something?” Shayne’s words lashed at the young lieutenant.
“Yes-that damned recording.” Drinkley cowered back. “She got me drunk up here once and I made a recording with her. And she wouldn’t give it back to me.”
“So you destroyed all the recordings last night?”
“I guess so,” he said wearily. “I destroyed all I could find. Katrin was terribly sensitive, Mr. Shayne. If she ever heard that awful recording-knew I’d been drunk-there’s no telling how she’d take it.” He covered his face with his hands.
Lana’s hands were folded in her lap and her tawny eyes were full of contempt for Drinkley. She said quietly to Shayne, “I didn’t believe he’d go through with it. I still don’t believe he would have. He was just infatuated with her.”
“You lied about getting in Thursday morning,” Shayne said to Drinkley. “You spent the night with Lana, didn’t you?”
Drinkley jerked himself from his slumped position and exclaimed, “No! That’s a lie! I was up here, all right-early in the evening. She wrote me that I had to see her before Thursday. I came to beg her to let Katrin and me have our happiness. I begged her to return the recording to me. She refused.”
“So you were here-in New Orleans-while Katrin was dying alone in her locked room,” said Shayne thoughtfully.
“Yes. That’s why it’s so terrible. I believe Lana did it to her, Mr. Shayne. And that makes it my fault. I believe Lana called her after I left here that night…”
“You fool!” Lana burst out. “I told you I wouldn’t lift a finger to keep you if you insisted on going through with it. I think your conscience is hurting you. Didn’t you call Katrin that night? Didn’t you finally realize you couldn’t live without me?”
Drinkley jumped up, his face livid and his fists doubled.
Shayne hastily intercepted him and pushed him back in his chair. “Stop accusing each other,” he growled. “None of this stuff can turn murder into suicide.”
Both of them stared at him fixedly.
“Don’t try to look shocked or surprised,” Shayne snapped. “I said last night Katrin was murdered. That’s when you couldn’t stand any more and hit me,” he told Drinkley. “Were you afraid of what I was going to find out?”
“I-don’t know,” he answered meekly. “I guess I went crazy when I heard you say Katrin-was murdered. Lana had called me from the Laurel Club and said she was going to bring you up here. I didn’t know what she would tell you.”
“And you didn’t want me to find out you had lied about the time you reached New Orleans.” Shayne’s angular jaw was set, his tone grim.
“I didn’t know what to think. I was-scared.”
“And you left me knocked out cold on the floor. Thought I was dead.”
“No. I knew you were all right. I was panic-stricken after I hit you. And then Lana kept on drinking until she passed out. She wouldn’t tell me anything.” Drinkley paused in his weak-voiced recital, then whispered, “It’s all like a terrible nightmare. I don’t know what to do.”
Shayne asked abruptly, “Did you know Katrin had been married before?”
The lieutenant was too stricken to look startled. He said, “She hadn’t been-of course.”
“She had a wedding ring,” Shayne told him curtly. “It fitted her finger and it had been worn quite a lot.”
Drinkley shuddered violently. “I don’t believe it. Not Katrin. She was pure-and innocent.”
Lana made a loud disparaging noise with pursed lips.
Shayne got up. He said dispassionately, “You’ve been a damned fool, Drinkley. You shouldn’t have come to me with half-truths. Katrin Moe was murdered. I don’t think you did it because I don’t see how you could have-yet. But if I can pin it on you I’m going to.”
He went out the front door and down to his car, drove directly to the Lomax mansion.
Going past the curve in the driveway leading to the front of the house Shayne drove on toward the double garage and parked on the solid concrete foundation in front of one of the closed garage doors.
Perfect quiet pervaded the Lomax house and grounds. He wondered, suddenly remembering the early hour of the morning which had started hours ago for him, whether the family would be up and around.
He sat for a long moment in thoughtful contemplation, then got out and walked to the rear basement door through which Eddie had taken him yesterday.
As he hesitated with his hand on the knob he heard the sound of pounding inside and went in and down the steps.
The basement was dark except for daylight coming through the windows of the workroom, and the other doors were closed. He sauntered toward the door which Eddie had pointed out as the furnace room. The pounding had stopped for the moment. He opened the door quietly, went in and closed it.
Stopping on the threshold, he looked around. A big squatty furnace occupied the center of the square room. It had just received a new suit of the asbestos insulating material Neal was working with the previous day. Behind it was a large boxlike structure of galvanized iron housing the electric fan and filters of the air-conditioning plant. A dozen or more big pipes rose like grotesque arms from the top of the furnace, twisting along the ceiling and disappearing upward to carry warm, washed air to each room. Some of these pipes wore the new insulating wrapping, while others were dingy and in their original uncovered state.
Neal Jordan was standing near the end of the room fitting a strip of insulation around one of the pipes over his head. He was stripped to the waist and his naked torso glistened with sweat in the warm room. Back and shoulder muscles writhed beneath the smooth skin as he stretched on tiptoe. He worked slowly and carefully, and was apparently absorbed in his work.
Shayne said, “Still dressing them up?” He walked toward Jordan.
Neal turned lithely on the balls of his feet, smiled recognition and said, “Just a minute until I get this wire fastened.”
He twisted a length of wire around the wrapping, pounded the twist flat with a hammer and turned to Shayne with a grimace. “I didn’t hire out to be a man-of-all-work, but it’s so hard to get anything done nowadays. I’m pinch-hitting,” he explained. “I hope you won’t report me to the union,” he added, smiling.
“I suppose you have a lot of time on your hands.” Shayne gave Neal a cigarette and lit one for himself at the same time, watching the chauffeur’s gaze flicker curiously over his face, but he didn’t mention the lump on Shayne’s head.
Shayne dragged smoke deep into his lungs and said, “I’ve thought of a couple of things. You’re the man to clear them up for me.”
Neal nodded, but said nothing.
“I’ve been wondering about the gas system in a house like this. I’m still thinking about Katrin Moe-trying to get away from the suicide theory. I’ve started wondering what happens if all the gas is turned off.”
The chauffeur listened attentively, shook his head and said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”
“Suppose her grate had been burning in the night,” Shayne explained, “after she dropped off to sleep. I know the damned thing couldn’t blow out accidentally, but if something happened to the gas supply-if it went off long enough for the grate to go out, and then came back on again.” He paused thoughtfully, then asked, “As the room gradually filled with gas, might a sleeping person not wake up-at all?”
Neal frowned and looked thoughtfully at the furnace and up at the pipes, saying slowly, “I see what you mean. It’s a good theory but I’m afraid it wouldn’t work. Not in this house at least. Here’s what I mean.” He led Shayne under a maze of overhead pipes to the two-inch gas main entering through the wall. He pointed to a gadget bolted between two joints.
“That’s a safety cut-off to take care of just such a case,” he explained. “It closes automatically if the supply fails and no gas will flow again until this seal has been broken and it’s been turned on by hand.” He touched the metallic seal on the cut-off.
Shayne said, “That knocks the accidental theory to hell and gone.” His eyes followed the gas main along the wall. “I suppose there’s a main valve this side of the cut-off.”
“It’s right here.” Neal went before Shayne along the pipe to a point where one lead branched off to the furnace and the other went up through the ceiling, showed him a big brass valve in front of the tee connection.
Shayne studied it dubiously, rubbing his chin. “That cuts off everything,” he reasoned. “The furnace and all. I suppose a pilot light burns in the furnace all the time.”
Neal said it did, and added, “There are pilot lights in the kitchen range and the water heater, also. If this valve was ever shut they’d all go out and have to be relit as soon as the valve was opened again. That is, if you’re wondering whether this valve might have been closed some time during the night while Katrin’s grate was burning-and then turned on again-which would mean someone had murdered her,” he ended quietly.
Shayne’s eyes were bleak and a puzzled frown trenched his forehead. “I was thinking that,” he said. “I know it’s a simple matter to relight the pilot lights on a range or a hot water heater, but I don’t know anything about gas furnaces. Isn’t it more complicated to relight a furnace pilot light?”
“Not at all. It’s very simple, but dangerous if you don’t follow instructions.” Neal went around to the front of the furnace, leaned down and opened a narrow door and pointed to a flicker of light. “That’s the pilot light. The furnace is controlled by a thermostat upstairs that automatically kicks it on when the temperature drops below a certain setting. All you ever light by hand is the pilot light, and the only thing you have to be careful about is having the main valve shut off when you light it.”
Shayne said, “Show me,” in a preoccupied tone.
Neal showed him a large valve in the one-inch pipe leading into the furnace. “That’s the main valve. This small line down here feeds the pilot light and has its own valve. If I shut it the pilot goes out.” He demonstrated by closing the small valve. The flicker of light vanished.
“Now it’s all out,” Neal explained, “as it would be if that big main valve by the wall had been closed. To relight it you first shut off this large valve here.” He closed the one-inch line and reached down to pick up a length of flexible tube with a metal tip, connected to the small pilot feed-line with a valve of its own above the pilot shut-off.
“This is just a convenient torch for reaching inside and lighting the pilot,” Neal explained. “You could do the same thing with a stick or a twist of paper.” He turned gas into the flexible tube and struck a match to it. A flame flared and burned steadily. Thrusting the flame through the furnace door, he opened the pilot valve. The pilot light flared and he withdrew the tube and turned off its flow of gas. He then opened the main valve feeding gas to the furnace and turned to Shayne with a smile. “It isn’t nearly as complicated as most people think,” he said.
Shayne had watched every movement with tense concentration. He said slowly, “N-o-o. But I wonder how many people in this house know how to relight it if it ever goes out.
“Mr. Lomax does. And Eddie, I presume.” Neal shrugged his bare broad shoulders. “Women seldom bother to learn about gas furnaces unless they have to.”
“I suppose not,” said Shayne absently. “Thanks for the demonstration. It cleared up one or two things I’ve been wondering about.”
“Glad to be of any assistance I can,” Neal Jordan said, and went back to his work when Shayne went out.
At the front door Shayne rang and Rosie answered, widening her black eyes in recognition and shaking her head. “I don’t think Mr. Lomax-”
“How about the others?” Shayne interrupted.
“Mrs. Lomax is upstairs, and Miss Clarice and Mr. Eddie-”
“You needn’t bother to tell them I’m here.” Shayne pushed past the maid and went directly up the stairway. The door to the sitting-room was open and he walked into what appeared to be a family squabble.
Eddie was sprawled in a chair with his hands thrust deep in his pants pockets and a heavy scowl on his face. Mrs. Lomax sat erect in a straight chair across from him, and anger or weariness made her look older than she appeared when Shayne first saw her. Clarice was striding back and forth in front of the fireplace with her arms folded and her lips compressed.
It was she who first saw Shayne standing in the doorway. She stopped to glare at him and said angrily, “What are you snooping around here for?”
Mrs. Lomax and Eddie looked around with a start. Eddie’s scowl deepened and his mother’s thin features stiffened. She said, “Well, Mr. Shayne-do you make a practice of sneaking in like this?”
Shayne lounged forward, saying pleasantly, “I don’t like formalities,” but his eyes were coldly appraising as he glanced from one to another of the trio. “Did I interrupt an argument?”
Clarice started to answer. Mrs. Lomax interrupted her: “I’m sure our private conversations are no affair of yours.”
Shayne said, “I’m not so sure of that.”
“Are you still dodging the police?” Eddie asked, leaving his mouth open and drawing his overhanging brows farther over his pale blue eyes. “The paper said you had a fight with Dan Trueman last night.”
Shayne ignored him. He asked Mrs. Lomax, “Did Katrin Moe have any telephone conversations the evening before she died?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. You might ask Mrs. Brown.”
“Or Clarice,” Eddie growled. “She dashes to the phone every time it rings.”
Shayne’s gaze went to Clarice. “Well?”
“I didn’t see or hear her at the phone,” Clarice said airily.
“Did you have any phone calls?” Shayne asked.
“No.” She added angrily, “If it’s any of your business.”
“I wondered,” said Shayne gravely, “whether Lieutenant Drinkley called you that evening.”
“Lieutenant Drinkley? Why should-” She stopped suddenly, her cheeks suddenly flaming.
“But he didn’t arrive in New Orleans until the next morning,” Mrs. Lomax said sharply.
Shayne disregarded her and advanced toward Clarice, his eyes boring into hers. “Your brother made some remarks about you and the lieutenant yesterday. Did he ever make love to you?”
Eddie snickered. “That’s what burned her up. He didn’t fall for her line.”
“He arrived on the morning train,” Mrs. Lomax stated flatly. “He telephoned directly from the station while the police were here.”
Shayne turned to her. “Did any of you have your gas burning during that night?”
“I’m sure we didn’t. I retired early.” Her tone was irascible.
“And Mr. Lomax?”
Her eyes were evasive. “He stayed up for a time after I retired. But the grate wasn’t lit in his room-nor in mine.”
“How about you two?” Shayne swung on Clarice and Eddie.
“No,” Eddie muttered.
Clarice’s brown eyes were speculative. “I didn’t either. Why does it matter? Is it a clue?”
“It might be. Do any of you happen to know if Katrin was in the habit of letting her grate burn all night?”
Silence greeted his question. Clarice and Eddie were looking at their mother.
Mrs. Lomax appeared to make up her mind and she told him decisively, “Katrin never used the grate in her room-I’m sure. She often found the house temperature too warm, and she disliked the odor of burning gas.”
“Wait a minute.” Shayne’s shaggy brows came down in a fierce frown. “Do you mean it was never lit?”
“I mean exactly that.” Mrs. Lomax’s tone was acid. “The girl often became faint when she stayed too long in a room where gas was burning.”
Shayne drew in a long breath. This knocked hell out of the elaborate murder theory he had sold Quinlan on. He shook his head doggedly. It couldn’t be true.
“There’s no need to lie about a thing like that,” he warned gruffly. “I’ll find out the truth.”
“You’re insulting,” Mrs. Lomax said, her eyes flashing. “I don’t know why it matters, but anyone who knew Katrin will tell you that.”
“We all know that’s the truth,” said Clarice, nodding her head, and Eddie put in a curt, “Sure.”
Shayne caught his left ear lobe and massaged it gently between thumb and forefinger. The family watched him interestedly and there was perfect quiet in the room.
Abruptly Shayne asked, “How old is Neal Jordan?”
His question lashed into the silence, and the silence continued. Again Clarice and Eddie looked at their mother. Mrs. Lomax only stared at Shayne, an angry gleam in her black eyes.
Clarice burst out, “You wouldn’t believe it, but he’s thirty-three.”
Mrs. Lomax said quietly, “Neal is almost thirty-four.”
Shayne turned toward the door. Halfway across the room he stopped, turned to Mrs. Lomax and asked casually, “What hotel do you prefer in Baton Rouge?”
“Why-” Anger at his audacity overcame her. She clamped her lips and refused to answer.
“The Victoria, Mother,” Clarice said. “I’ve heard you say it’s the only really decent hotel there.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Lomax said firmly. “Of course, Clarice. The Victoria.”
“Is that where you stayed Tuesday night?”
“You’re taking advantage of us in Mr. Lomax’s absence,” Mrs. Lomax said, outraged. She arose from her chair with stiff dignity and faced him with blazing eyes. “It isn’t any of your-”
“Is it?” Shayne interrupted with quiet insistence.
Shayne nodded and left the room. In the hall he swore under his breath. He’d bought a few hours of freedom and all he’d found out was that he had a theory without any solid facts under it. If Quinlan knew-but he couldn’t tell Quinlan.
He shrugged off the thought on his way to the kitchen where he found Mrs. Brown cleaning out the enormous electric refrigerator.
The housekeeper faced him with arms akimbo and belligerent eyes. Her attitude changed quickly when she recognized Shayne. She smiled and said, “Why, it’s the detective again. And have you detected yet how the lass came to die?”
“Not quite,” Shayne confessed. “But I think you can help me. Who gets up first in the morning around here?”
“And who would that be but me?”
“How about Neal? Does he ever come in to make himself an early cup of coffee-or something?”
“In my kitchen?” She shook her head emphatically. “He’d never dare. And besides there’s no way for him to get in if he’d a mind to.”
Shayne murmured, “I thought perhaps he had an extra key to the back door.”
“Not him. And the door from the basement is always locked, too, it being Mr. Lomax’s idea it’s not seemly for a bachelor man to have the run of the house at night.” She sniffed with disdain and added, “Though he’d do better to lock his own son out, I’m thinkin’.”
Shayne passed over that angle. “Try to think back to the morning Katrin was found dead. Did you have any trouble with your gas range that morning?”
She thought for a moment, then shook her head decidedly.
“Are you certain the pilot light wasn’t out? There wasn’t any odor of escaping gas in the kitchen?”
She shook her head more vigorously than before. “Lord, no. I’d remember a thing like that.”
“All right,” Shayne said. “There’s just one more thing. Did Katrin Moe have her gas grate burning when you said good night that last night?”
He waited tensely for her reply.
Again he got a decided shake of her gray head, “That she didn’t, you may be sure. To my knowing she never had it lit. She hated the smell of burning gas, she did. Like poison it was to her. She’d complain of a headache, poor lass, if she stayed in my room long with it burning.”
Shayne said, “Hell!” He studied Mrs. Brown’s kindly, good-natured face for a long time, muttered, “You, too, eh?” Then he grinned ruefully and started to the door growling, “There goes a hell of a good theory. Thank God Quinlan isn’t here.”
All his plans seemed futile now, and he had been so sure in his own mind when he left Quinlan’s office. However, he thought he might as well push on with what he had planned. He might think of something. He wasn’t ready to accept Katrin Moe’s death as suicide.
Standing beside his car he looked cautiously around before going quietly up the steps to Neal Jordan’s apartment. He opened the door and stepped into a small well-ordered living-room with a well-filled bookcase and an easy chair and writing desk.
There was a lavatory and shower in a small bathroom and a bedroom beyond.
Shayne darted an inclusive glance around the living-room, and not finding what he wanted, went on to the bedroom.
There was a photograph in a cardboard frame on the dresser, a picture of Neal standing beside an elderly woman. Shayne judged the woman to be his mother. The likeness of Neal was extraordinarily good and was evidently taken only a couple of years previously.
Shayne slid it under his coat and went back to his car, shifting his eyes around the house and grounds as he went. He could hear Neal hammering in the basement. Apparently no one had noticed his foray. He got in and drove back to his office.
Lucy Hamilton looked up at her employer with an expression of petulant boredom when he strode briskly through the door. An amused smile started on her lips when she saw the ridiculous angle at which he wore his hat to protect the sore lump on his head.
The smile faded and she rolled a sheet of paper into the typewriter as he stalked toward her with his jaw set in a grim line and his eyes preoccupied.
Shayne said, “Put in a call to the Victoria Hotel in Baton Rouge and find out whether Mrs. Nathan Lomax spent the night there last Tuesday night.”
She looked at him with sparkling interest as her fingers rapidly typed. “Have you learned something new?” she asked when the notes were finished.
“Nothing but dead-ends in this business,” he grumbled; and seeing the anxious look in her eyes he added, with a broad grin, “But I’ve always wanted to drive on through one of the damned things.”
“Mr. Lane is waiting for you,” she told him, and picked up the receiver to dial long distance.
Gabby Lane was waiting with his feet on Shayne’s desk. A wizened little man with big ears, he looked like a gnome. He wore an old, ill-fitting suit that enhanced the illusion. Shayne had known him well ten years before, and knew him to be one of the cleverest tails in the business.
Apparently feeling that a special greeting was in order after ten years, Lane said, “Hi,” as Shayne walked in.
Shayne grinned. “You’re as long-winded as ever, I see,” and held out his hand to grip Gabby Lane’s limp fingers. “How’s tricks?”
Lane’s feet remained on the desk. He lifted his thin shoulders and dropped them in answer to the question.
“Glad to hear it,” Shayne said. He sat down in his swivel chair and leaned forward. “Did you read the paper this morning?”
Gabby stifled a yawn and nodded.
Shayne said, “I need the man who killed Dan Trueman. You got any ideas?”
“Have you any contacts around the Laurel Club? Anybody to help me pull a fast one-a frame?”
Gabby considered this for a moment. He finally nodded and said, “It’ll cost.”
“You know the side entrance to the club?”
“I need a couple of bozos who saw a certain man in that vicinity about the time Trueman got his. That’s all. Just place him there. They don’t have to swear they saw him go in or anything complicated like that.”
Shayne answered honestly, “I don’t know. Up until fifteen minutes or so ago I was sure of it. Now, I’ll be damned if I know what makes. But I’m way out on a limb and I’ve got to play it straight.”
“Cost more if he wasn’t. How many in the know?”
“You and I. It’s got to look legitimate. I want the cops to pick him up and your men to point him out in a line-up.”
“Bad business if it’s a bust.”
Shayne shrugged. “Mistaken identity. They can’t hang a man for making a mistake.”
“Hurt their reps,” Gabby pointed out. He studied his fingertips for a moment, then said, “Five C’s on the line. If it busts, another five C’s.”
Shayne said bitterly, “And fifty for you, I suppose.”
“Perjury has gone up since I was here.”
Shayne said, “All right.” He took out his wallet and counted out five of the bills he had won at the Laurel Club. He pulled the photograph of Neal and his mother from his vest and handed it to Lane. “That’s the guy. It’s a good likeness. Here’s the easy part of it. His picture was in yesterday’s paper in connection with the Moe girl’s suicide. He had driven her several places the afternoon before. Now when your boys turn in the tip, they say they spotted him from that. Keep this photo out of it but have them study it so there won’t be any slip-ups in the identification at headquarters.”
Gabby studied the photograph. He said, “Lomax-chauffeur,” pocketed the bills Shayne gave him and got up.
“When can I expect to hear from you?” Shayne asked.
“Couple hours,” said Gabby, and ambled out.
Shayne followed him to the outer door. When he closed it and turned around he was surprised to see an expression of violent aversion on Lucy’s face.
He asked, “What the hell?”
“I thought you were a detective,” she said bitterly. “I didn’t know you went around framing people.” She yanked a desk drawer open and took out her purse, opened it, and began stuffing it with small personal belongings from the drawer.
“You eavesdropped,” Shayne said.
“I couldn’t help it. The door was open. You made it plain enough. You’re paying five hundred dollars to have some men perjure themselves by swearing the Lomax chauffeur was at the Laurel Club last night while a murder was being committed.” She sprang up and jammed an absurd little hat down on her brown hair.
Shayne covered an amused smile by pretending to rub his jaw.
“And I thought you were decent,” Lucy went on, averting her eyes. “I thought, by golly, I was in love with you this morning.” She started toward the door with her head high.
Shayne stopped her with a big hand on her wrist. “Don’t walk out on me, Lucy.”
“Get out of my way, Michael Shayne. I certainly am walking out. You think you can buy anything, but you can’t buy me. Not for a hundred times eighty dollars a week.” She laughed hysterically, and her fingernails scratched at Shayne’s hand on her wrist.
Shayne held her wrist tighter and slowly moved her toward one of two chairs in the small reception room. He said, “Sit down.”
She sat down and he let her wrist go. She massaged the angry red spot his tight hold had made and did not look at him when he drew the other chair up in front of her.
He said, “You’re going to listen to me and then you can suit yourself about walking out. I’m in a tight spot with a murder frame around my neck. I fast-talked Inspector Quinlan into a few hours of grace to give him another suspect. If I don’t produce, he’ll slap me in jail and two murders will never be solved.”
“Two murders!” she gasped.
“Two,” he told her implacably. “Katrin Moe and Dan Trueman.
“Do you think the chauffeur-is guilty?”
Shayne hesitated, tugging at the lobe of his left ear. “This is the God’s truth, Lucy,” he said finally. “I should lie to you but I’ll be damned if I will. I don’t know. I thought I did. I had a beautiful theory all built up and I sold the inspector on it. I thought the chauffeur was our man, and Quinlan thinks so. He’s waiting for me to prove it. He doesn’t know my theory has been blown sky-high.”
Lucy’s interest was gaining over her anger. “But if you haven’t any evidence against the chauffeur-”
“I’ve got to go on the way I started. I can’t stop now. I’ve got to give the inspector somebody to work on while I build up another theory.”
Lucy shuddered. “And they’ll beat him with hoses and things until he confesses, whether he’s guilty or not,” she argued, anger flaring again.
Shayne said, “All right. So maybe they’ll beat him.” His eyes were bleak. “Maybe he’s guilty. Even if he isn’t I’ll be gaining time to find out who is. I’ve got to keep going now,” he went on earnestly. “If Quinlan ever suspected how uncertain I am he’d throw me in the can and let me rot there.”
Lucy said in a subdued tone, “But there is such a thing as playing square.”
“Not in homicide work. Not if you stay on top. Scruples are something the boys write about in detective novels.”
She shuddered again and looked away from him. “You sound so ruthless. I don’t think you care about anything-or anybody.”
“I’m working for a fee,” he said. “Twelve and a half grand is riding on this case.” He considered her averted face for a moment, and a look of humility erased the harshness of his features. He started to say something else, but turned abruptly and said over his shoulder, “If you walk out now don’t come back. I’ll send a check for two weeks’ salary.” He went into his office and closed the door.
At his desk he sat with his heavy shoulders hunched forward easing his fingertips around the wound on his head. He felt old and tired and he wondered if he ought to get out of the business. It was no place for a man when he got soft. Once you started wondering whether an end justified a means, you were lost.
He sat like that for a long time without moving. His eyes brooded across the room, unseeing. Subconsciously, he was listening for some movement from the outer office-the scrape of a chair or the slam of the outer door that would tell him Lucy was walking out. No sound came to him. The silence grew oppressive. There had been another girl once who had walked out on him in a different way. Death was one thing you couldn’t beat. For the first time in months he hungered acutely for Phyllis. He had thought that pain was whipped after leaving Miami and its memories behind him. Lucy was helping him to whip it. She was a lot like Phyllis. If Lucy left him too-His telephone rang.
He stiffened and held a long breath waiting for it to ring again.
It didn’t ring again. He relaxed and didn’t feel as old or as tired as he had a moment before. A driving tension took hold of him when he heard Lucy’s vibrant voice speaking into the outside phone.
He lit a cigarette and covertly watched the door. It swung open and Lucy came in. “It was the Victoria Hotel in Baton Rouge. They say Mrs. Lomax wasn’t registered there Tuesday night.”
Shayne nodded, his gray eyes bright. “Anything on the call to the state pen?”
“They haven’t reported. Shall I check on it?”
“Please do,” said Shayne.
Lucy turned to go.
Shayne said, “Wait a minute. I’m sorry I hurt your wrist.”
“I suppose I deserved it,” she said. “I was acting like a fool.” She smiled and added, “I guess I’ll just have to get used to being in the detective business.” She went back to her desk and called long distance.
After a brief interchange over the phone she called in to Shayne, “They’re ready to connect you now.”
He picked up the receiver and waited. Presently a voice said, “Hello-ready on your call, Mr. Shayne.”
“Hello. Warden’s office?”
“Who do you want to talk to?”
“It’s about those two escaped convicts. I think I have a line on one of them. This is Mike Shayne in New Orleans.”
“What kind of a line, Mr. Shayne?”
“I need a little dope from you to make certain. I’d like to know whether either of them had any visitors. Regular visitors. Your visiting day is still Wednesday afternoon, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Just a moment and I’ll connect you with Purcell, the supervisor.”
Shayne waited until a new voice said, “Purcell speaking.”
“I’m checking on visitors to the pair of escaped convicts. Did either of them have a regular weekly visitor? Anton Hodge would be my pick.”
“Just a minute.” The minute stretched to three before Purcell reported, “Hodge did have a regular visitor. His wife. She came every Wednesday afternoon.”
Shayne sucked in his breath with sharp disappointment. “I’m afraid that won’t help much. No one else?”
“No record of anyone else. Gillis had only one visitor while he was here.”
Shayne said, “This thing gets worse by the minute.” He paused, then asked sharply, “Could you give me a description of Mrs. Hodge?”
“You bet. She was the kind of girl a man remembers. You know how it is. You wonder how a girl like that can get herself mixed up with-”
“This is costing me money,” Shayne cut in. “Describe her.”
The supervisor gave him a detailed description of the convict’s wife.
Shayne knew he was listening to a careful and minute description of Katrin Moe. He broke the connection as soon as the supervisor finished, and went out to the reception room shaking his red head. “Those damned Norwegians,” he said helplessly. Lucy looked up at him with a gleam of amusement in her eyes.
“What’s wrong with the Norwegians now?”
“Married virgins,” Shayne told her. “Of all the goddamned-” He stopped abruptly and grabbed his hat “Be back in half an hour if anyone calls,” he tossed at her and hurried out before she began the question framing on her lips.
He had a little trouble in the Federal Building with government clerks who weren’t greatly impressed by his private detective’s badge and who were jealous of their small authorities over minor affairs.
Finally reaching a departmental head who could be bullied, he was allowed to see the records pertaining to recent naturalization proceedings.
There was quite a dossier on Katrin Moe, and he studied it carefully, making several notations before hurrying out and getting in his car again.
His next stop was at the bank where Neal Jordan told him Katrin transacted her business. It was a small savings and loan association with only two tellers. The first one he approached replied that he knew Miss Moe quite well, and deeply regretted her untimely demise.
Shayne asked, “Do you remember her last visit here?”
“I do, indeed. It was the day before she died. Day before yesterday afternoon, to be exact. Wednesday. She always came on Wednesdays. Just after lunch. To deposit her check, you know, so I didn’t think anything about it when she came in that day, though I believe it was a little later than usual.” He caught the lap of flesh under his chin and blinked his eyes thoughtfully. “Yes. It was decidedly later. At least an hour later than her regular time, though I must confess I didn’t notice anything else. Nothing peculiar, you know,” he went on regretfully, “and I’ve thought about it a lot since. It does seem that one should be able to tell, and I thought that if I’d just-”
“Did she deposit her check as usual?”
“Yes, indeed. She always withheld a certain amount in cash, but this time she deposited the check and withdrew fifty dollars in cash. I remember asking her, in a joking way, of course, what she was going to do with so much. She smiled in that slow way, and very attractively too, and said she was getting married and might need it for a honeymoon. Can you imagine that? Getting married the next day and-”
“I certainly can’t,” Shayne said. He broke away and trotted out to drive back to his office without wasting any more time.
Lucy Hamilton’s interest in her job had undoubtedly risen to a high pitch of enthusiasm. The moment Shayne opened the outer door she called excitedly, “Inspector Quinlan called a few minutes ago. He’s hot on your trail and said for you to call him the instant you returned. I’m sure he must have something that’ll clear you of-”
“Get him,” Shayne said, stalking through to his office. He picked up the receiver and listened while Quinlan’s phone rang, said, “Quinlan?” when a voice answered.
“That you, Shayne? It looks like you were right and things are breaking faster than we expected. My men dug up a couple of witnesses who saw Neal Jordan, the Lomax chauffeur, sneaking around to the side entrance of the Laurel Club about the time Trueman got his.”
“Good work, Inspector,” Shayne said heartily. “They’ve identified him?”
“Conditionally. Jordan’s mug was in the papers yesterday, you know. They say the man they saw looks like him. I’ve sent a couple of men out to pick him up, and I’ll put him in a line-up. If they pick him, we’ll really have something to go to work on.”
“You bet,” Shayne said. “I’ll be right over to see what goes.”
He hung up and went slowly back to the outer office. “The wheels have started to turn,” he said grimly. “Neal Jordan has been fingered for the Trueman killing and Quinlan is bringing him in.” He watched closely for her reaction.
She said, “It’ll be all right, Michael. I know it will. But”-she turned her eyes away-“I hope they don’t-beat him-too hard.”
Shayne grinned. “Don’t worry too much about that. They don’t beat a man except as a last resort. You see, they try sweating it out of them first, and they’re pretty good judges of whether a man is actually guilty or not.”
“Oh,” she breathed, “then it will be all right.”
“Sure,” said Shayne. He took out the notes he had made at the Federal Building and studied them. “Call the depot, Lucy, and get the arrivals and departures of trains to Craigville, Wisconsin. Also the exact fare; coach, first-class, and Pullman. And call me at Quinlan’s office in about half an hour with the dope.”
Lucy grabbed a pencil and notebook and asked, “Craigville, Wisconsin?”
“That’s right,” Shayne said, and closed the door on his way out.
Six men stood in line under a bright white light at one end of a big basement room at headquarters. From left to right they were a city detective in mufti, a police reporter, a derelict from the bull-pen, another detective, Neal Jordan, and a second vagrant.
The detectives stood erect and unsmiling under the glaring light. The reporter grimaced into the semi-darkness of the big room where some of his colleagues were watching him. The two vagrants shuffled their feet nervously.
Neal Jordan faced the two groups of men with folded arms and a faint smile of contempt twitching his mobile lips. He had been picked up at the Lomax residence and brought to headquarters to stand in the line-up without any explanation whatever.
The two groups of men in the big room viewed the scene from widely separated vantage points. Each group was composed of a couple of officers and a reporter, and one of the two men who were there to identify the suspect. Each was being forced to make a separate identification in order to prevent any possible backfire when the case came to court.
Shayne and Inspector Quinlan were in one of the groups. Their witness was a fat Italian with bulging eyes and very white teeth. He surveyed the row of men under the light for a long moment, then flashed his teeth at the inspector and declared, “Next one to the end-that-a-way.” He swung his arm to indicate Neal Jordan. “That’s him for sure.”
“You want to be very sure,” the inspector warned. “You may have to testify in court.”
“Sure I’m sure. Didn’ I see ’im last night?”
“All right.” Inspector Quinlan raised his voice to call, “Any luck over there?”
“We’ve got a positive identification,” a voice called back. “Are you ready for it?”
Quinlan nodded his satisfaction when the voice said, “Next to the end on the left-the chauffeur.”
“Bring him back to the boudoir,” Quinlan said. Then warned the reporters, “There’s nothing to print yet. This is hot, but we need a confession. You’ll all be treated alike.”
Shayne hung back a little as the inspector hurried forward to intercept the officers escorting Neal back to the bare little room reserved for the questioning of recalcitrant suspects.
Quinlan stopped in front of them and confronted the chauffeur. “Why did you murder Dan Trueman?” His cold blue eyes bored into Neal’s.
Neal glared back and said quietly, “So that’s what this is all about.”
“You’ve just been identified as the man seen sneaking in the side entrance about the time Trueman got it. Might as well give us the whole story, Jordan, and save yourself a lot of trouble.”
“Why,” asked Neal in a wondering tone, “would I kill Mr. Trueman?”
“We know that, too,” Quinlan told him. “You left a little memento behind in your haste to get away.”
“Did I?” Neal Jordan’s unruffled manner was a match for Quinlan’s stoicism.
“We’ve got you dead to rights,” the inspector warned evenly. “The boys won’t be too easy when they start asking the questions. Better give it to me.”
Neal shrugged his handsome shoulders. “There has been a mistake. I can’t tell you what I don’t know.”
Quinlan stepped back, nodded, and said, “All right Take him, boys. But get a before-and-after photo. We won’t want any plea of strong-arm stuff after he confesses.”
He was scowling when he rejoined Shayne and asked, “What do you think?”
“I think he’ll be a tough one to crack,” said Shayne.
“I’d better warn the boys,” Quinlan said. “They know a couple of tricks to make him talk.” He left Shayne and went to the room where Jordan had been taken for questioning.
He returned presently and suggested, “Let’s go up to my office while they soften him up.”
“Of course,” said Shayne as they walked along.
In his office Inspector Quinlan took the bottle of brandy from the filing cabinet and set it on the desk before Shayne, saying, “Here it is-help yourself,” and permitted himself the rare luxury of becoming jubilant.
“We’ve got him, all right,” he went on, seating himself comfortably in his desk chair. “Funny, too, the way my men pulled him in right after you’d showed me why it might be him. Just goes to show that two of us can reach the same objective by taking different forks in the path. Plain police work is what finally turned up the two witnesses, and we’d have got him anyway if you hadn’t cleared up a couple of things for me.
“On the Trueman killing, that is,” he amended hastily. “I’m not saying we’d have hung the Moe thing around his neck without your help. I suppose you’ve checked that angle and found she did have her gas grate burning when she went to bed.”
“I checked on it.” Shayne nodded and tilted the bottle to take a long drink. “And it’s still murder,” he added, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.
“Good. He fits the bill right enough. No one knew more about the valves and such.”
“That’s right. I hope your boys get it out of him.”
“They will.” Quinlan took a box of cigars from his desk drawer and offered Shayne one. Shayne declined, and Quinlan lit one for himself, settled back in his chair and said, “Yes. We’ve got Jordan and we’ll get a confession.”
Shayne lit a cigarette and asked, “How did your boys run onto the two witnesses that fingered Jordan?”
“Just routine police work. You know how it is in a case like that. We cover every angle-even when it looks like we’ve already got the case sewed up.” He blew a smoke ring toward the ceiling and added, “I’m sorry about this morning. But hell-”
“Skip it.” Shayne took another drink. If the New Orleans basement boudoir was like a lot of others he had seen in action he didn’t like to think what Neal Jordan might be enduring. He said, “When that Moore dame sprung her denial of my alibi I didn’t blame you for deciding to hold me.”
Quinlan flipped ashes from his cigar and asked, “What about her-and the lieutenant?”
“I’ve verified the fact that he was in New Orleans the night before he was supposed to arrive,” Shayne said gloomily. “He went to see Lana. Hell of a thing for a prospective bridegroom to do, but some men are funny. I think he was on the level about being in love with Katrin,” he added reflectively. “From what I could find out, he’d been playing around with Lana before he met Katrin and she’d dragged him in pretty deep. She had threatened to make trouble, and the poor devil came here ahead of time to try to talk her out of it. Lana’s a hard to handle bitch,” he ended with disgust. “Look at the way she threw the hooks into me as soon as she saw I was in a tight spot.”
Quinlan indulged in a hearty laugh. He was in high good humor. With Neal Jordan identified for the Trueman murder and with the prospect of springing a big surprise by turning a supposed suicide into a solved murder, there was a step upward for him. He said, “They’re all alike-every one of them.”
The phone rang and he answered it, handed the receiver to Shayne, saying, “It sounds like the girl in your office.”
It was Lucy. She said, “Michael?”
“Oh, hello, Lucy, what goes?”
“I’ve got the information on the trains. You can leave New Orleans at noon or early in the morning and make connections to Craigville.”
“Give me the morning train.”
“It’s the Flyer. It reaches Craigville the following day at eleven-forty a.m.”
Shayne said, “Fine. What’s the fare?”
“One-way coach is twenty-nine forty-three. First-class is-”
“Hold it,” Shayne said. He laid the receiver on the desk and got out his wallet and the slip of paper he had found in Katrin Moe’s wastebasket. After checking the figures he picked up the instrument and asked, “What’s the tax on that ticket?”
“Two ninety-four,” Lucy said, and added anxiously, “You’re not going to take a long trip like that by coach, are you?”
Shayne laughed. “I’m not going anywhere. Be seeing you later.” He hung up, took a long drink from Quinlan’s bottle of brandy and looked at his watch. It was 10:25.
Quinlan had been puffing on his cigar and listening to Shayne’s side of the conversation with interest. He asked, “What’s all this about a trip?”
Shayne settled back and lit a fresh cigarette from the end of his stub. He mashed the stub out in an ash tray and asked, “Do you want to take another long shot on my say-so?”
“After the one you’ve just pulled out of the hat I’ll ride to hell and back with you,” the inspector assured him.
Shayne winced. “I can be wrong,” he warned.
“I’ll take a chance on you.”
“All right. Wire Craigville, Wisconsin, and have the cops meet the Flyer at eleven-forty this morning and arrest Anton Moe, brother of the late Katrin Moe.”
Inspector Quinlan’s exultant mood vanished before Shayne’s eyes and he became the cold-eyed officer of the law. He said curtly, “Say that again.”
Shayne repeated his request, slowly and doggedly.
“Arrest him for what? I thought they couldn’t locate her brother-or any relatives.”
“Just arrest him and charge him with being an escaped convict named Hodge, for one thing,” Shayne told him.
Quinlan picked up his fountain pen and slowly drew it through one cupped hand. His finely molded features were set, his eyes incredulous. “Holding out again,” he said.
“Holding out hell!” Shayne said. “I’m telling you.”
“One of the men who escaped from the pen is Katrin Moe’s brother? Are you positive?” he asked.
Shayne said wearily, “Hell, no, I’m not positive. It’s another hunch. Suit yourself about playing it.” He emptied the pint bottle and tossed it across at a waste-basket. He was getting damned tired of guessing, and he wasn’t too sure that any of his guesses were right.
Quinlan stared at him for a long moment before saying, “All right. I’ll do it on your say-so.”
Shayne didn’t say anything more. He let it lie like that. A feeling of lassitude possessed him. Always before, when it came to winding up a tough case, he was a mass of nerves. He was on edge and driven by a sharp certitude that demanded action. He felt none of this now. It didn’t help any when the inspector called over the intercommunication system and sent the telegram to Craigville. Shayne felt only a mild pity for any man who was so easily led to act on a Shayne hunch.
After Quinlan hung up the receiver Shayne arose abruptly. He didn’t want to answer any more questions. He said, “Let’s go down and see what Jordan is giving out.”
“Let’s,” said Quinlan, and they went silently down the steps.
The boudoir was a small square room in the basement. A heavy backless chair was bolted to the floor in the exact center of the room.
Neal Jordan sat on the chair with a wide leather band about each thigh to keep him from rising. He was completely naked. A single light was suspended just above his head with a cone reflector throwing the rays directly downward, making one circle of glaring radiance and leaving the rest of the room in shadow. Four men were loosely grouped around him. They were questioning him calmly and persuasively about the murder of Dan Trueman.
He didn’t answer them. He didn’t look at them. He sat forward with his elbows on his knees, his forehead resting on his interlaced hands. Great beads of sweat ran together and formed rivulets running down from his magnificent body, but he remained relaxed and immobile.
Shayne looked sharply for any sign of physical weakening. There was nothing more than a healthy redness and sweat from the heat of the glaring light.
He knew that Jordan was waiting them out. There were no signs of a struggle on his body to show that he had fought with Dan Trueman, but he already knew that, having seen him stripped to the waist in the Lomax basement.
The men who were questioning him had grown hoarse and less persuasive. Inspector Quinlan drew Shayne aside and whispered worriedly, “Are you sure he’s the one? It’s a miracle if the man who killed Trueman got off without a scratch.”
Shayne said, “Your men picked him up. I gave you three to play with-the only three men in the house.”
“I don’t like it,” Quinlan said stonily. “They’re not getting anywhere with him.”
Before answering Shayne again studied the nude form in the chair. He said, “It’s pretty gentle treatment for a suspected murderer.”
“We have to be damned careful,” Quinlan complained. “A boy almost died down here a few years ago and he was later proved innocent. This generally wears them down.”
“If you can get them started talking,” said Shayne. “As long as he dumbs up like this he’s safe.” Worms began eating at the lining of his belly. He recognized the feeling. He had to get going. He couldn’t stand around and wait it out. “I’m going to try my luck,” he said, and walked inside.
Shayne shouldered one of the detectives aside and reached out to brush aside Neal’s clasped hands. He laughed and said, “You should stay at home when murders are being committed.”
Neal’s muscular body tautened. He said, “You bastard.”
Shayne laughed again. “You’re outsmarted and you might as well admit it.”
“Outsmarted hell! I’ve just been figuring this out. It’s one of your frames. You needed somebody to take the rap and you picked on me.”
Shayne laughed with genuine amusement. He jeered, “You’re perfect for it. You’ll have to admit I pick a good sucker.”
“I see it all now.” Neal was excited. “That picture you stole from my dresser. That is what you stole it for-to be sure your phony witnesses would recognize me in a line-up. You know it was too dark there last night for-” He stopped suddenly and breathed hard through set teeth as he realized what he had said.
Shayne exhaled a long sigh and turned to Quinlan. “Is that what you wanted, Inspector?”
“It’s plenty,” Quinlan said, “to hang him.”
Neal said, “You’re crazy. This whole thing is crazy.”
“So you think it was too dark on the street last night for you to be recognized,” Quinlan said. “I don’t know what picture you’re talking about, but the identification was authentic and Shayne had nothing to do with it.”
“I didn’t say anything about the street last night,” Neal said with controlled fury. “I just said it was too dark last night for anyone to recognize anybody.”
The inspector spoke to a policeman behind Jordan: “Read that line back.”
The policeman read from his notes: “You know it was too dark there last night for-”
“Why did you stop so suddenly? Why didn’t you finish the sentence?” Quinlan demanded.
“Because I realized how it sounded. I didn’t mean to say there. I didn’t mean any particular place. Why do you think I would have killed Trueman? He’s never harmed me. I scarcely knew him.”
“What did you do with the necklace?”
“The emerald necklace you passed to him. The one you fought over in his office.”
“You’re crazy,” Neal said again, and there was more conviction in his voice.
“We’ve got you dead to rights,” Quinlan told him in a cold, even tone. “We’ve got the motive and we’ve got an identification from eye-witnesses.”
Neal had recovered his normal composure. He shrugged and replied with deliberation, “You’re doing the talking.” He put his face down against his hands again to shield it from the awful brightness.
The inspector stepped back, shook his head at Shayne, and admitted in a low, worried tone, “You’re right. He’s plenty tough.”
Shayne grinned. His eyes were very bright and his expression was one of certitude. One word from Neal Jordan had given him assurance. He said confidently, “I can make him talk.”
“Go to it.”
Shayne moved forward to face Neal. He said harshly, “I’m going to give it to you straight. You’re too smart to scare into talking, and it was pretty dark last night outside the Laurel Club for a witness to recognize anybody.”
Neal lifted his head and looked at him with a caustic smile.
“You’re admitting it now?”
“It isn’t going to help you. You might beat the Trueman rap before a jury. But I can prove to any jury that the same man who killed Katrin Moe killed Trueman. Fingered for one, you’re dead set for the other.”
“Katrin Moe committed suicide,” Neal growled.
“You hoped we’d think so. But I can prove it was murder-without any phony witnesses on dark nights; You might get a hung jury on Trueman if you keep your mouth shut, but I’ll hang you for the Moe job.” Neal was sweating freely and his voice was strained when he asked, “How could it be murder? I don’t see how you figure it.”
Shayne laughed softly. “It wasn’t so hard to dope out how and why she was murdered. But you and Lomax and Eddie all had about the same motive and opportunity. Until we got something else on one of you we couldn’t make the pinch. Now, we’ve got what we needed.”
He turned as though to walk away. “Wait a minute.” Neal was breathing fast and audibly. “If you’re telling the truth-”
“I’ve no reason to lie about it,” said Shayne, turning back. “You know Katrin was murdered.”
“I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t.” His protest was high-pitched and anguished. “I thought a lot of her. If I had even suspected-” He stopped abruptly and his labored breathing was loud in the silent room.
Neal Jordan clenched his fists and stared down at them, then lifted them over his head and said evenly. “That old bastard. So that’s what he did. All right. I won’t protect him any longer. Trueman was different. That was a clean struggle and a lucky blow. But coldblooded, premeditated murder of an innocent girl is different.” He shuddered as if with revulsion. “And I never even suspected it.”
Shayne said, “Keep talking.”
“I certainly will.” Neal’s voice was firm with righteous anger. “I was at the Laurel Club last night. I still think it was too dark for anyone to recognize me, but I’ll pass that. Sure I was there-waiting for Mr. Lomax while he was fighting with Dan Trueman. Though I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know it until I read the paper this morning.”
He paused and curled his lips in a snarl. “And he offered me five hundred dollars to keep my mouth shut about driving him down.”
“Do you mean he confessed killing Trueman to you?”
“No. He swore to me that he didn’t do it. But he realized that it would look bad if he admitted going there, and he didn’t want to answer any questions about the necklace, so he asked me to keep still. I would have, too,” he admitted sullenly, “as long as it was just Trueman. But if he murdered Katrin, I won’t lift a finger to save him.”
Shayne said, “You’d better give us the whole story.”
“I will. He buzzed me a little after midnight last night. I’d already turned in, but I dressed and went down to the garage. He was waiting for me and he was nervous. I guess I looked surprised when he told me to drive to the Laurel Club, and I told him it would just about be closing when we got there.
“He said that didn’t matter-that he just wanted to see Trueman on a private matter. As we drove along he told me in confidence that he’d just had a call from Trueman offering to sell the necklace back to him. He seemed awfully anxious to get it-instead of having the insurance company get it back. I got the impression that he was afraid Clarice or Eddie had stolen it and given it to Trueman on a gambling debt, and I felt sorry for him.” He paused to shrug his naked sweating shoulders. “I’ve always felt sorry for him for having to put up with those two.”
Shayne said, “Go on,” impatiently when Neal put his face in his hands again.
“That’s about all there is. I parked outside and he went in that side entrance. He was gone about half an hour, and I walked up and down smoking my pipe. He came out in a hurry and seemed excited, but when we drove away he told me it was all right and he’d arranged to buy the necklace back the next morning as soon as he could get the money from his bank. I promised him I’d keep still about it.
“But he didn’t say anything about any fight. This morning he came down to the basement after breakfast and asked me if I’d read the paper and said it was terrible about what had happened to Trueman after he left, and he seemed pretty sure you had killed Trueman and got the necklace. He offered me the money to keep quiet. I thought he was telling the truth, so I promised.”
Neal stopped, lifted his head and squared his shoulders. He licked his lips and admitted, “I feel better now. I guess I’m not a very good conspirator. May I have a drink of water-and my pipe?”
“Give him anything he wants,” Quinlan ordered. “Get that statement typed and have him sign it while it’s hot. Gleason, you and Barnes get out to the Lomax house and pick up the old man. Bring him to my office and don’t tell him anything.” He motioned to Shayne, and they went back to his office.
Quinlan leaned back in his desk chair and smiled whimsically. “Doesn’t it beat hell, Shayne, how things work out sometimes? We think we’ve got a case sewed up with a square knot and blooie! it turns out to be a granny.”
Shayne scowled thoughtfully. He agreed that it did beat hell how things turned out sometimes.
“Don’t look so downhearted,” Quinlan chuckled. “You’ve got nothing to apologize for. Good God, you said it might have been Lomax from the beginning. Putting the screws on Jordan is what cleared it up, no matter how you look at it.”
Shayne nodded and cleared his throat. “It cleared up one angle that’s been bothering me: how the killer found out that Trueman was dickering with me to buy the necklace.”
“Why was the old man so anxious to get it back? If he grabbed it in the first place to collect insurance, why did he turn it over to Trueman and then kill him to get it back?”
Shayne asked, “Have you still got that bead?”
“Right here.” Inspector Quinlan took the envelope from his desk drawer and dumped the gem on the blotter.
Shayne held it up to the light, asking, “Have you examined it carefully?”
“I don’t know. It’s an emerald. That’s all I know.”
Shayne shook his head as he squinted. “It’s a phony. Synthetic. A damned good job, but still a phony. I’ve worked too many insurance rackets not to recognize the real article.”
Quinlan said, “I’ll be damned-a phony.” He passed his hand across his eyes. “But the Lomax necklace was genuine. Your company insured it for a hundred and twenty-five thousand. They wouldn’t do that without checking up.”
“The Lomax necklace was real, all right.” Shayne rolled the glittering gem back and forth in his palm reflectively.
“What’s this, then? Was Trueman pulling a fast one? Did he have a reproduction made up to sell back to Lomax?”
“Let’s let Lomax tell about it,” Shayne suggested. He got up and walked across the room with his hands thrust deep in his pants pockets, a moody scowl on his rugged face.
“I can’t help wondering about one thing, Shayne. That identification of Neal Jordan. Those two witnesses-how dark was it last night?”
Shayne said, “Pretty dark.”
“Jordan said something about a picture being stolen from his room,” Quinlan went on hesitantly.
Shayne didn’t say anything.
“Was that one of your deals? Did you frame the identification as he charged?”
Shayne said angrily, “When I went out of here a few hours ago you told me you didn’t want to know what I was going to do. All right. Leave it that way. You don’t know.”
“That’s fair enough,” Quinlan agreed unhappily. He picked up his fountain pen and rolled it between his palms, his eyes filled with curiosity.
Shayne smoked a cigarette while they waited for Lomax. When he heard a commotion outside the door he drew a chair aside and sat down.
Mr. Lomax looked worried but determined when two detectives ushered him into the office. “I thought a private citizen had some constitutional rights,” he said irritably to the inspector. “These men dragged me here-”
“A murder suspect,” Quinlan interrupted harshly, “has no rights.”
Lomax looked suddenly deflated. He sank into a chair and nodded helplessly. “I was afraid that was it. After they arrested Neal. He couldn’t take your third degree, I suppose.”
“He sang like a canary when he found he was in it up to his neck,” Quinlan told him.
Lomax’s face was more like a death mask than Shayne had seen it. He said sadly, “I think I knew it wouldn’t work out. Ever since I read this morning’s paper. In a way, I’m glad. It’ll be a relief to tell my story.”
“Anything you say may be used against you,” Quinlan warned. “You can refuse to testify if you wish.”
“No… No. I want to get it off my chest,” said Lomax earnestly.
Quinlan rang for a stenographer and said, “Go ahead,” when the elderly court reporter came in.
“It was shortly after midnight when Mr. Trueman telephoned. He told me the necklace was in his possession and that Mr. Shayne had offered him forty thousand dollars for it in behalf of the insurance company.” He paused to turn his murky blue eyes reproachfully upon Shayne. “You had promised to keep me informed of developments.”
Shayne said, “You fell for a gag. Actually, I’d refused to deal with Trueman.”
Mr. Lomax sighed. “I didn’t know, of course. I was anxious to avoid any loss to the insurance company because I felt the whole affair was due solely to my wife’s negligence. So I told Trueman I’d come down and discuss the matter with him. I had Neal get the car ready, and I explained the elements of the situation to him as I drove down.
“I remember that he thought it extremely foolish for me to take that attitude, but I felt duty-bound to pay for my wife’s negligence.
“The Club had just closed when I arrived-some time after midnight. I found Mr. Trueman in his office and it was not difficult to reach an agreement with him. Though he refused to tell me how he had obtained the necklace and insisted he was acting for a third party, he agreed to turn it over to me for fifty thousand dollars. But he insisted on cash, naturally, and I arranged to withdraw it from the bank this morning and complete the transaction at noon today. Mr. Trueman was in perfect health when I left him, and it wasn’t until I read this morning’s paper that I knew what happened afterward.”
“Can you prove your story?” Quinlan asked.
“Neal will tell you-”
Quinlan chortled mirthlessly.
“Your chauffeur saw you go in and saw you come out. Can anyone testify that Trueman was alive when you left his office?”
Lomax moved his skull-like head dispiritedly. “No. He was alone in his office. I’m afraid no one saw me leave. But surely you gentlemen don’t think I caused that havoc in his office, that I bested him in a deadly struggle. I haven’t the strength nor the will for a thing like that.”
“The damage may not have been as extensive as the papers made it sound,” said Quinlan. “They’re apt to exaggerate a thing like that. At the time we suspected another person who would fit into such a rough and tumble.” He looked at Shayne quickly and cleared his throat, shook his head decidedly. “No. Trueman was killed by a single blow on the head,” Quinlan went on to Lomax, “with some sort of an iron bar. A weakling could have delivered the blow-or even a woman.”
“But why would I do it? I was willing to pay his price.” Mr. Lomax spread out his pasty white hands nervously.
“That’s your story. Fifty grand is a lot of money. Or he may have demanded a hundred. That’s a good enough motive for a jury.”
“I’m a wealthy man,” Lomax told him with quiet dignity.
“Maybe. We’ll check on that. In the meantime, here’s another motive that’s going to sound good to a jury. You made him show you the necklace. As soon as you saw it you realized he was trying to palm off an imitation on you. In your justifiable fury you killed him.”
“Oh,” said Lomax faintly, “you know about the necklace being only an imitation?”
“Certainly. In the struggle the necklace was broken and the stones scattered all over the floor. You left one behind when you gathered them up. As soon as we saw it we recognized it as synthetic.”
Shayne lounged forward and said, “That’s why you were so anxious to get the necklace back, wasn’t it, Lomax? Because if it reached the insurance company your fraud would be discovered.”
“Yes. But I tried to do the honest thing. You know I told you I’d prefer not to collect any insurance-that I’d rather pay it out of my own pocket than have your company lose.”
Shayne nodded. “I smelled a nigger in the woodpile right then. I’ve known a lot of wealthy men, but never one with a conscience before. And when I learned you were hard up for cash six months ago, I guessed you’d cashed in the necklace and substituted an imitation. Your wife didn’t know about it, did she?”
“No.” Lomax shuddered. “It was in her name, you know.”
“Wait a minute there, Shayne,” Quinlan protested angrily. “You’re breaking down your own case. If Lomax had substituted an imitation, why would he steal it in the first place-if he didn’t want to collect insurance?”
“I didn’t steal it,” Lomax protested.
“The hell you didn’t.” Quinlan pointed his cigar at Lomax. “You wouldn’t have had to murder Katrin Moe if you hadn’t stolen it. She was the only person in the house who knew it was in the safe in your bedroom at the time the house was burglarized.”
Lomax threw up one arm as though to fend off the accusation.
“Murdered? Katrin? No. She committed suicide. It must have been suicide. I saw the locked door myself-and the gas turned on in her grate.”
“Sure you did,” Quinlan said in a cold even tone. “You were even careful to have someone else break down her door-to have a witness to the fact that it must be suicide. But we know how you did it. And it was smart. I concede that. Damned near perfect. A mere twist of the wrist to shut her gas off after she’d gone to sleep with it burning. Then another twist of the wrist to send gas pouring into her room while she slept.”
Mr. Lomax looked from Quinlan to Shayne in consternation.
“You’re demented,” he panted. “It couldn’t have happened that way. Katrin never burned her gas. We all knew of her aversion to a gas fire.”
Quinlan remained leaning forward. He stopped poking his cigar at Lomax and held it perfectly still in mid-air.
He didn’t move a muscle for a full thirty seconds. Then he twisted his head to look at Shayne in mute appeal.
Shayne drew in a long breath and exhaled noisily. “I didn’t tell you because I figured you’d lock me up the moment you found out that theory had blown up on us. Lomax is right. Katrin Moe never turned her gas on. She wouldn’t stay long in a room where gas was burning.”
Quinlan slowly sank back in his chair and put his cigar in his mouth. He said, “Now, by God-” in a low, stifled voice.
“There’s just one question I want to ask you, Lomax,” Shayne interrupted. “Whose idea was it to put that insulating material around the hot-air pipes in the basement?”
Lomax looked up at Shayne, completely surprised. “That was Neal’s idea. He suggested it Wednesday afternoon, and explained that fuel would be greatly conserved. I thought it was fine of him to offer to do the work himself-”
“That’s all I want,” Shayne cut in.
He turned to Quinlan and said grimly, “Bring Neal Jordan in here.”
Lomax looked at Shayne quizzically.
Quinlan hesitated and started to expostulate angrily, but the look on Shayne’s face checked him. He flipped a button and said into the mouthpiece, “Bring Jordan in here.”
Neal Jordan’s face was flushed from sweating and the heat from the bright lights. He smiled pleasantly when he stepped inside the doorway. His smile faded when he saw his employer sitting there with a stricken look on his ashen face.
He said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Lomax. I wasn’t going to tell them until-” He paused, and in loud ringing voice continued, “Until they told me about Katrin. I couldn’t stomach that.”
Lomax’s eyes were weary and confused. He drew a hand across his forehead and said, “I don’t know. I simply don’t know.”
“The hell you don’t,” Shayne burst out. “You’ve known all along but you wouldn’t let yourself believe it.”
Lomax tightened his bloodless lips and gave him a hurt look.
“I don’t know whether you realized how the murder of Katrin Moe was accomplished or not,” Shayne said quietly. “But you must have known it was murder and you kept your mouth shut. You were sitting on top of a volcano, weren’t you? You knew what was going on between your wife and Neal Jordan, and you closed your eyes to it. You were careful to keep any money out of her hands because you were afraid she might run off with him-and as soon as the necklace vanished you knew she’d stolen it to collect the insurance.”
“No.” Lomax forced the word out. “The necklace was hers. Why would she steal it to collect the insurance? She could have sold it if she wanted money.”
“You’re forgetting it was synthetic. Not worth more than a few grand.”
“But she didn’t know that,” Lomax protested. “I’m sure she didn’t. If she’d tried to sell it secretly and found out about the substitution I would have heard about it-and in no uncertain terms.”
Shayne nodded. “That’s one of the angles that’s had me stopped all the time,” he admitted. “Knowing that gems have gone up in value since you bought the necklace. Why would anybody be anxious to collect a hundred and twenty-five thousand insurance when the necklace itself would bring so much more today in the legitimate market?”
“It’s still got me stopped,” Quinlan said harshly. “Unless Lomax stole it-”
“Lomax didn’t steal it. Don’t forget that he was willing to pay the insurance money himself. And again, that’s why I couldn’t see anyone else killing Trueman to get it back after Trueman tried to pull a double-cross by turning it back to me.”
Turning slowly to Neal, Shayne went on, “But I think I’ve got an answer that fits both those facts. A synthetic stone chips much more easily than the genuine. The only reason you and Mrs. Lomax could have preferred an insurance swindle to a legitimate sale was because the Ghorshki emerald had been damaged. Wasn’t that it?”
Jordan smiled and said quietly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The hell you don’t. Why else did you have to get it back from Trueman after you’d passed it to him?”
“Did I?” Jordan’s deliberate manner bordered on insolence.
Shayne turned to Quinlan and explained, “In a necklace like this, built around one large faultless stone, the value depends largely on that stone. A tiny chip marring it would cut the value in half. Mrs. Lomax and Neal Jordan knew that. They knew the insurance company wouldn’t pay off in full if the damage became known. That’s why Neal had to kill Trueman to prevent him from selling it to me.”
“If you take Mr. Lomax’s story at face value,” said Jordan, “it busts that theory all to hell. If he had planned to buy it back from Trueman-”
“That,” Shayne cut in harshly, “was just as bad from your angle. You’d still be stuck with a damaged necklace and Katrin’s murder would have been for nothing.”
“Fairy tales,” Jordan scoffed.
Shayne snorted and picked up a sheaf of papers from Quinlan’s desk. “Two witnesses saw you there between two and three o’clock this morning. But you and Lomax both agree he was there between twelve and one.” To Lomax, he said, “What did you think when you heard Neal drive out again after you got home from the Laurel Club?”
“Nuts,” said Jordan loudly. “I didn’t-”
Shayne said, “Shut up. Didn’t he, Lomax?”
The aged manufacturer nodded slowly.
“I heard the car go out the drive. When I read about Trueman’s death this morning, I wondered-I didn’t know what to do.”
“I know it was tough on you with your wife mixed up in it,” Shayne said in a kindly tone. “You knew all the time it was she who stole the necklace, didn’t you?”
“No,” Lomax cried out.
“The hell you didn’t,” Shayne said angrily. “Why else did you think Katrin Moe was murdered?”
“She wasn’t. That is, I didn’t know-”
“You must have suspected the truth. You knew your wife was having an affair with Jordan-that the trip to Baton Rouge was a phony and they went somewhere else to spend the night together.”
Lomax came out of the chair with a smothered oath, his hands doubled into fists.
Quinlan said, “Sit down, Lomax,” in a cold voice that sent him back to his seat.
“Sure, he knew about that,” Jordan sneered. “He had detectives on us months ago. But I don’t know what all this stuff is about the necklace-and Katrin being murdered.”
“You know more about it than anybody,” Shayne told him. “You planned it all when you and Mrs. Lomax got back from Baton Rouge and heard about the burglary in your absence. That burglary was made to order if you could make it appear the necklace had been left out of the safe Tuesday night. The only one who could disprove that was Katrin. So she had to die before the loss of the necklace was announced.”
“I suppose you think I persuaded her to go to bed and turn on the gas?” Neal Jordan sneered.
“No,” Shayne said. “It was the new insulation on the hot-air pipes that put me wise. That, and the flexible tube you used when you demonstrated how to relight the pilot light in the furnace.”
Neal Jordan’s expression changed. He darted one glance around the room, then lunged forward toward the door. Shayne laughed harshly and tripped him. A policeman was on top of his sprawling body as he went flat, and when he got slowly to his feet he wore a pair of handcuffs.
His eyes were murderous as he turned on Shayne and snarled, “So you did catch on? I was afraid you were wise when you asked for that demonstration.”
“I don’t understand it,” said Lomax helplessly. “I don’t understand it at all. My wife may have been indiscreet but I can’t believe that she would-murder.” He covered his face with his thin white hands and rocked back and forth.
“I don’t believe she knew what Neal planned,” Shayne told him. “Although I don’t know how he got her to hold back on her announcement of the loss of the necklace until after Katrin’s death if she didn’t know.”
“I wouldn’t trust a woman with anything like that,” Neal said scornfully. He had regained his self-possession and faced them calmly with a sneer on his lips. “I made her think we were going to wait until Katrin had gone on her honeymoon before we sprung the loss. She’s still fool enough to think the girl just conveniently committed suicide and I certainly wasn’t going to tell her differently.”
“Wait a minute,” said Inspector Quinlan wearily. “What sort of demonstration were you talking about a while ago?”
Shayne laughed and told him. “Neal was good enough to show me how the murder was managed. Funny thing is, I was working on another theory altogether at the time. The one that went to hell when I learned Katrin couldn’t stand the smell of gas so couldn’t have gone to sleep with it burning.”
The inspector was savagely chewing on his cigar, trying to keep abreast of events. “Sure,” he said thickly. “That one.”
Shayne said, “I was a fool not to think of the hot-air pipe running up to her room sooner. A stream of gas sent into that pipe on a cold night while the furnace was running-” He shrugged his shoulders. “It was as nearly painless as death can be.”
“I don’t understand,” Lomax whimpered. “What had the new insulation to do with it? He didn’t start putting it on the pipes until after she died.”
“The insulation was to effectively cover up the hole in the hot-air pipe near the furnace in case anyone ever came snooping around,” Shayne explained. “You see, there’s a flexible tube on the front of the furnace used to light the pilot light. By inserting the end of that tube into the hot-air pipe leading to Katrin’s room, Neal was able to send a flow of hot gaseous air into her locked room on the third floor all night. He naturally didn’t start the flow until he was certain she was asleep, trusting it would enter so gradually and insidiously that she would never waken.”
“But how about the gas grate in her room?” Quinlan put in, unable to hold his curiosity any longer. “How did it get turned on?”
“It simply wasn’t,” Shayne told him. “The gas didn’t enter her room through the grate, but from the furnace pipe.”
“It was on when we broke into her room,” Lomax reminded him. “I saw Neal run over and shut it off.”
“The power of suggestion,” Shayne grunted. “The room was full of gas and you saw Neal heroically dash in and reach down and pretend to turn the valve on the grate. Actually, he didn’t turn anything. The valve was closed all the time. He’d pulled his tube out of the furnace pipe just before he came up, so the gas began to clear out of the room immediately after you saw him pretend to shut off the grate and you were convinced he had shut it off.”
“That’s right.” Neal Jordan laughed in the old man’s face. “You made a swell witness for me. I had it all planned that way-knowing her door would be locked in the morning and you’d have to call on me to break it down.”
Mr. Lomax shrank back from him in horror. “To think that you-that my wife could have-”
Neal laughed boastfully and sneered, “She was a push-over. Why do you think I stayed on at your house all these months, doing your odd jobs and being the model servant? For the lousy salary you paid me? An old man married to a wife with young ideas! You knew what was going on. I’ve just been waiting for her to get hold of a wad of dough. But you were so damned tight about doling out the cash. And after she dropped that damned necklace and chipped the center emerald I had to figure out this insurance stunt.”
The old man sprang to his feet and swung back a gnarled fist to strike the jeering face, but Shayne got between them, shaking his red head.
Quinlan ordered Jordan taken out, and advised Lomax in a kindly tone, “You’d better go home and think things over. I don’t know what the charges will be against you or your wife, but I’ll do the best I can for you.”
His buzzer sounded just as Nathan Lomax went out the door, thanking him in a shaky voice. He opened the connection and listened, then turned to Shayne and announced, “Looks like you’ve pulled another one out of the hat. That was a report from Craigville. They grabbed Anton Moe off the train. He admits escaping from the pen under the name of Hodge and that his sister Katrin gave him the ticket home. Now how in the hell did you figure that?”
“I added up some things,” Shayne said wearily. “Such as the price of a railroad ticket plus ten per cent tax, and it came out Craigville-which is where Katrin and her brother Anton once lived, according to the dope on her citizenship papers.”
He tugged his hat down over his eyes and moved toward the door. “That’s about everything-except the little matter of a twelve and a half grand fee. And I suppose the insurance company will try to hold out on a technicality after they learn the stolen necklace was synthetic.”
“That’ll be tough,” said Quinlan sympathetically, “after all the work you’ve done.”
Shayne said, “Don’t worry too much about it. I have a little document in my pocket that even an insurance company will have a hard time wiggling out of.”
Back at his office, Lucy greeted Shayne with a worried look and the announcement: “Lieutenant Drinkley called a few minutes ago. He’s suddenly decided to leave town and he wondered if you’d made any progress.”
Shayne said, “He can read about it in tonight’s paper.” Lucy looked up with eager surprise, and he nodded with a wide grin. “It’s ended. Wrapped up and put to bed.”
She said impulsively, “I’m so glad, Michael. I’ve been worried.”
“You needn’t waste any more sympathy over Neal Jordan being framed,” he told her. “He confessed both murders fifteen minutes ago.”
She bit her underlip and looked away from him. Then she stood up slowly and lifted her wrist to him. It was still red where he had twisted it that afternoon to bring her back from the edge of hysterics.
In an oddly tight tone, she said, “Kiss it and it’ll be well.”
Shayne bent his head and kissed the mark on her wrist with lingering tenderness. She was laughing when she drew back from him, and her brown eyes were starry.
“I’m still wondering about the Norwegians-the married virgins and all.”
Shayne shook his head and grinned. “It ain’t so. Not even Norwegians, I guess. Katrin’s brother was in the penitentiary under an alias and the only way she could get in to see him was to pretend a relationship that would fit his alias. So she called herself Mrs. Hodge when she visited him, and bought a wedding ring which she put on every Wednesday afternoon to strengthen the pretense.”
Lucy said, “You’ve still got a thousand things to tell me. Who stole the necklace, and-”
Shayne put a big hand firmly over her mouth. “To explain everything thoroughly I’ll have to relax with about six fingers of cognac in a washtub. Let’s close up the office for the day and-”
“Relax,” she finished for him, twisting away. “All right. Let’s. I know just the place. There’s even a bottle of cognac left in my apartment from the last time you were there.”
Shayne asked wryly, “Sure you haven’t any boy friends likely to slip in from the fire escape with a blunt instrument in their hands and lethal intent in their hearts?”
“No boy friends,” Lucy promised him gaily.
He said, “What are we waiting for then?”
She linked her arm in his and they went out of the office together.