A Fish Williams Free Mystery

Chris Lowry
41 min readFeb 15, 2024

Fish Williams parked the rented station wagon in the graveled driveway, his lip curling slightly at the sign on the gatepost that read Shady Acres, H. V. Farrington.

The sign had a certain dignity, a class pronounced as “closs,” and the large stone house at the end of the drive lived up to it, Fish noted as he stopped under the porte-cochere.

Observing the black wreath on the door, he muttered, “Well, Herb found himself a nice nest to die in. I’ll hand him that much.”

The widow, a tall woman in her mid-thirties with red, teary eyes and a downturned mouth, answered Fish’s knock. She didn’t know him as he and Herb had ended their business partnership before Herb met her.

“I’m Fish Williams, Mrs. Farrington.”

“Oh, yes, Herb’s old partner. How do you do, Mr. Fish? Do come in, won’t you? I feel as if I already know you. Herb spoke of you often.”

Fish entered, and she offered tea. “Well — yes, thank you,” Fish replied, although he despised tea. He smiled, considering saying, “Thought I’d kill two birds with one stone on this visit,” but changed it to “ — combine my errands.”

“Combine your errands?” she said blankly.

“That chair,” he nodded.

The chair had once adorned the offices of Farrington and Fish, Inc., Importers. While appearing as a wool import business, they were primarily interested in diamonds. The wool import setup served as a cover for smuggling diamonds into the country over five years.

Fish reminisced about a close call when a plainclothesman suspected them. They had a special chair with a secret compartment full of diamonds. Herb, fearing exposure, suggested killing the detective. They staged the cop’s demise and continued their operations until Herb’s marriage to a wealthy woman led him to quit the business.

With Herb now dead, the will stated that the special chair would go to Fish as a memento.

“I thought I’d take it with me this afternoon, Mrs. Farrington. If that’s all right with you.”

“Yes,” she said, biting her lip. “Yes, of course, Mr. Fish.”

In her den, where Herb spent much of his time, Fish saw the cherished leather-upholstered guest chair. He praised Herb’s thoughtfulness.

“I thought I’d take it along with me this afternoon, Mrs. Farrington. If that’s all right with you.”

“Yes,” she said, biting her lip. “Yes, of course, Mr. Fish.”

Fish took the chair, and after leaving the premises, he stopped to inspect it. Attempting to twist a foot plate, he found it resistant. Using a screwdriver, he discovered it was a reproduction. Perturbed, he spent a couple of hours before returning to confront the widow.

“Mrs. Farrington, I was very fond of Herb. He was a very good friend. He wanted me to have that chair, as you undoubtedly realize, for sentimental reasons.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” she replied, feigning innocence.

“When I got it home, I took a better look at it. I knew that chair very well, Mrs. Farrington. The reproduction you turned over to me was a fairly professional job. Unfortunately, from your standpoint, it was not quite good enough to fool me.”

Blushing, she admitted, “A man named Dunbar, on Walnut Street, in the city.”

Fish, unfazed, continued, “You’ve smoked me out, Mrs. Farrington. I guess I should be ashamed of myself. I’m not, though. He loved that chair. He sat in it more than in any other. I wanted it, as a memento of him. I didn’t see the harm in giving you an identical chair, provided you didn’t guess at my little deception.”

“I did,” she smiled wanly.

“Yes. The original chair, as Herb wished it to be mine, Mrs. Farrington. I intend to insist on my rights, given the circumstances.”

She didn’t resist. She was defeated, and aware of it. The authentic chair, the original, was already in the den, Fish discovered, as she ordered the butler to assist him with it. He grimly appreciated the speed with which she had made that rearrangement. His grim amusement turned to sick rage minutes later when, once again stopping by the road, he examined his new acquisition.

The footplate twisted off as anticipated. Unscrewing the screw underneath, he held his hand under the leg, smiling in anticipation. Nothing happened. The secret compartment in the leg was empty. This second disappointment caused him to grind his teeth in cold fury. Lighting a cigarette with a trembling hand, he sat in the station wagon, trying to think.

Herb wouldn’t have played with his expectations this way. When Herb died, that chair had contained a small fortune in diamonds. Fish considered the possibility that the widow had discovered the hiding place and removed the diamonds. But that didn’t seem likely. He gasped, gripping the wheel, trying to recall the name of the man she had mentioned, the one who reproduced Herbert’s chair for her.

“Dunbar,” he whispered softly. “A guy named Dunbar. On Walnut Street, in the city.”

Fish hired a private investigator to look into Dunbar, who reported back two days later. F. Lytton Dunbar 3rd came with a crest, specializing in fine furniture repair and refinishing. He was a widower, around forty, recently moving to the Glenmore Arms after a financial boost. Fish grinned and paid off the investigator with a bonus.

He visited F. Lytton Dunbar 3rd’s business the next morning with another rented station wagon. Dunbar’s small shop on Walnut exuded luxury. Dunbar, a tall, pale man with glasses and a cultivated accent, inquired, “Yes, sir?”

“Got a station wagon parked out back there in the alley,” said Fish. “With a chair in it.”

“Ah… yes?” Dunbar raised an eyebrow.

“Wondered if you’d care to try doing a reproduction,” Fish suggested.

Dunbar hesitated, “Why, the truth is, sir, I don’t do that kind of work. Might just have a look at it.”

“Yes — yes, of course I might,” Dunbar conceded. They inspected the chair, and Fish noticed Dunbar was paler than usual. “I’m afraid that’s too big a job for me,” Dunbar faltered.

“I’ll meet Mrs. Farrington’s price on it, Dunbar,” Fish proposed. Dunbar, taking off his glasses, rubbed them carefully and suggested going inside to talk it over.

“Now,” Dunbar said in a little office at the back of the shop, “just who are you, sir? And precisely what was it you wanted of me?”

“Straight answers,” Fish demanded. “Farrington willed that chair to me, Dunbar. I was his very good friend. The diamonds were supposed to go with the chair, if you follow my meaning.”

“Diamonds?” Dunbar tilted his head.

“What dia — “ Fish laughed. “Let’s just say the diamonds that enabled you to trade your Chevvy in for a new Caddy. And move to a fancy apartment. Now come out from in back of that funny-face and quit playing games. How much of that stuff have you unloaded so far?”

“I don’t like your manner,” Dunbar said huffily but showing cracks around the edges. “I’m deeply hurt. Now get this, Dunbar, and get it right. My name is Fish Fish. I’m Herbert V. Farrington’s former partner in the wool import business. When he died, he willed me a chair which contained a cache of diamonds. I’m here to — “

“Oh?” Dunbar interrupted. “Isn’t that slightly illegal, Mr. Fish? I mean, the Department of Internal Revenue — “

“It’s not half as illegal as stealing those diamonds out of that chair while you were making Mrs. Farrington a replica of it,” Fish retorted.

“Tsk, tsk,” Dunbar said maddeningly. “I could sue you for libel.”

“Do you deny — “ Fish started.

“I certainly do,” Dunbar interrupted.

“I’ll put the police on you,” Fish threatened.

“Will you?” Something in Fish deflated. Calling the cops wasn’t an option. The diamonds were still hot. They could implicate him. “We’ve reached a stalemate, Dunbar. Let’s be realistic.”

“Yes?” Dunbar raised an eyebrow.

“We’re both slightly soiled. No use getting at loggerheads, is there? We might hurt each other.”

“How?” Dunbar inquired.

Fish considered and then blurted, “That stuff is hot. I don’t know who’s taking it off your hands. Whoever is, you’re playing with fire. Now I know the history of that stuff. I can get rid of it safely, and — “

“You missed your calling, Mr. Fish. You should join our State Department. We need a man like you, with imagination, to deal with the Russians. It’s very kind of you, but I think I can struggle along without your assistance.”

“Listen, you fool,” Fish burst out, “I’m trying to tell you something for your own good. That stuff is red hot. You keep unloading it, and you’ll find yourself down at Headquarters being grilled about a dead cop.”

Dunbar paled, “D-did you say a dead cop?”

“I said a dead cop,” Fish told him grimly. “And if you think I’m going to let you keep unloading that stuff and eventually tie me in on that killing, you don’t know me.”

“Y-you killed a cop,” Dunbar stammered, looking at Fish with fear and loathing.

“I killed a cop, and I’m not above killing you, Dunbar, if you don’t quit this horsing around and hand over the stuff.” Fish pulled a small automatic from his pocket, displayed it to Dunbar, then thrust it back out of sight, but still kept his grip on it under the fabric. “Let’s have some action,” he said curtly.

“Yes, let’s,” said Dunbar, and he spoke without the carefully cultivated accent. He stood up, and as Fish stood with him, made a whiplike side-arm blow, striking Fish at the elbow. Fish tried to raise the gun, but Dunbar, now a fast-moving target, evaded the shot with dancing feet. Dunbar then gripped Fish’s elbow, twisting his wrist and causing Fish to feel as if his arm was about to be wrenched off. Fish did an instinctive front somersault, landing clumsily in a half-reupholstered Morris chair, still holding the gun. Cursing, he tried to bring it up, but Dunbar, wielding a sap, struck Fish’s wrist. The bone crunched, Fish screamed in pain, and the gun clattered to the floor. Dunbar picked it up, put it in his pocket, and produced a larger gun from a shoulder holster.

“It’s a nice little gun,

“ he said conversationally,

“but I like my Betsy better.

“You’re a cop,

“ Fish said dully.

“You’re a plant.

“How did you like my accent, Fish?

“ He grinned, and showed his badge.

“My name’s Meehan.

“That was my brother you and Farrington chucked in the East River.

“I asked for this duty.

“Dunbar found the ice in the chair, and brought it down to Headquarters.

“That new Caddy, and the change of apartments was window dressing.

“Incidentally, we had the fix in with that private investigator you hired.

“ His face turned brittle.

“You’re not really smart enough to go around killing cops, Fish.

“The dame?

“ Fish croaked.

“Our innocent pawn.

“She still thinks her dead hubby was a great guy.

“She’ll have to find out different when you come to trial, you crummy rat.

“She’ll lose some of her illusions, but she can afford to.

“She’ll be better off for it.

“ More cops came.

“They took him out through the back, where the Maria waited.

“The station wagon was still out there, and as he was jostled along between two big bulls, Fish had one final glimpse of sitting inside there.

“As he looked at it, appeared to lose its form, to grow taller, and he could almost see himself strapped into it, his head shaved, his trouser legs cut off up to the knees.

“He let out a hysterical shudder and sobbed uncontrollably as the cops shoved him into the Maria.

“Cjuide to the <J3edt in Iflfjydtery! T HE space in which Jeff Sawyer now lay gasping for breath was as narrow as a grave and no higher than a coffin.

“The space was blind dark and noisome with the stench of garbage and animal droppings.

“Yet a wild elation throbbed in Jeff’s veins.

“He peered slantwise out at the feet that had thudded in the dark alley behind him.

“He grinned at the way they shifted uncertainly on the strip of sidewalk that was all Jeff could see from his hiding place.

“In the pallid dawn, trouser cuffs wrinkled blue over the insteps of shoes that were blunt of toe, thick soled and clumsy, so clumsy that the sound they’d made had warned Jeff to duck into the alley.

“They were policeman’s shoes.

“But he had not ducked quite quickly enough.

“The polieeman had seen him and had plunged in after him shouting,

“Come out of there.

“I’ve got you covered.

“ As Jeff had sprung into panic flight the alley’s black dark hid him at once but it could not hide the pound of his feet.

“Pounding after him the cop yelled,

“Halt or I’ll shoot,

“ but the passage angled sharply and Jeff was shielded from his gun.

“Only momentarily, dawn grayed the alley’s mouth toward which he hurtled and the instant the cop got past that angle, Jeff would be silhouetted, an unmissable target.

“He dropped to the base of an unseen wall and thrust against it in desperate hope that his pursuer would plunge past him in the dark.

“A thudding heel missed his elbow by a quarter inch and his convulsive recoil slid him into an unexpected space large enough to accept his whole lank frame.

“He heard the officer’s footfalls stop short just beyond, followed by a startled oath.

“A flashlight beam brought sharply into being alley cobbles a foot from Jeff’s staring eyes.

“He watched the light glide toward the alley’s other end, then pull back past the opening and lay a bright disk around the cop’d feet before it blinked out.

“The brief sweep of rays had shown Jeff what had saved him.

“Decades ago this house had had a porch.

“When Orange Street was cut through and its tenements built, the porch had been sheared away to make room for a sidewalk and a cobbled alley.

“Planks had been nailed over the yawning gap thus left between the ground and the horizontal joist on which the frame wall footed.

“Years later in all probability, some urchin had tom away the rotting bottom board for a bonfire and thus made the opening into the space in which Jeff now lay.

“I T WAS quite plain that the remnant of the ancient porch jutted out above him some ten inches to form an eave that cut off upward sight.

“He could see out only on his own level along a yard of cobbles, along a strip of cracked sidewalk to its curb and out to gutter asphalt beyond the curb.

“They, however, could not see him.

“On the sidewalk the policeman’s feet shifted uncertainly, betraying their owner’s bewilderment.

“It must seem to the cop, Jeff realized, that his quarry had reached the alley mouth and then vanished into thin air.

“The feet started toward the left as though it had occurred to the cop that the fugitive had dived into some doorway and crouched there.

“The feet stopped, turned the other way.

“Maybe he’d gone to the right.

“To search in the wrong direction would give Jeff his chance to pop out of his hiding place and escape.

“Jeff Sawyer grinned bleakly, recalling Professor Turner’s paradox in psychology class dim years ago.

“Put a donkey between two equal haystacks equidistant from him, on a windless day, and the beast will be unable to decide to which one to go, so will starve to death.

“ The policeman was no donkey.

“His whistle shrilled in the brightening dawn, calling others to help him in his search.

“When they came and found the doorways empty, they’d search the alley.

“They’d find this hole and Jeff would be trapped in it like the hunted rat he’d become.

“He must find a way out of the hole before they came.

“His inward shoulder was jammed against immovable wood.

“Inches forward of his head, he made out the vertical cornerpost of the building’s frame.

“He stretched his legs back as far as they would reach and found nothing.

“Backward then.

“Jeff bridged his body between elbows and toes, was in cautious motion.

“The whistle went silent, but the gray hush held a distant shout and faint, rapid footfalls.

“Jeff’s head pulled inward from the inner end of the opening.

“The footfalls became louder, com- 78 ning fast, but Jeff had worked half an arm’s length into his black burrow, would be out and gone before the new cop arrived.

“His right foot struck a solid barrier back there, then his left.

“It was a beam.

“The old porch had run only this far along the side of the house.

“Jeff Sawyer now knew the limits of his prison.

“It was narrow as a grave, low as a coffin and some ten feet long.

“The only escape from it was through the gap outside of which a policeman’s gun waited.

“The guns of two policemen.

“The new footfalls halted and a breathless voice gasped,

“What’ve you got, Murtry?

“A killer, Collins.

“Saw him smash in some bird’s skull back through on Cherry Street.

“It was a mess!

“ Jeff’s mouth twisted.

“He hadn’t been quite sure he’d finished Stan Corbett.

“The scrape of shoe leather on pavement behind him had sent him into the alley while the blow’s shock still jarred up his arm from this pipe-length clenched in its fist.

“He wondered if Corbett had recognized him in that last split second.

“It would be too bad if he had not.

“I was right back of him,

“ Murtry was saying,

“when he busted out into Orange Street here but when I got here there wasn’t sound or sight of him.

“He must of ducked in one of them doorways.

“Not the side I come past, he didn’t.

“There’s only the pawnshop an’ the Elite Liquors an’ both of ‘em’s got iron gratings locked across their fronts.

“I’ll take a look this other side while you cover me from here.

“Don’t worry,

“ Collins grunted, his voice moving away,

“we’ve got the son penned.

“We’ll get him, sooner or later.

“ P ROBABLY they would.

“Jeff almost didn’t care, now he was certain he had killed Corbett.

“He would not care at all if it were not for Mary.

“He should have killed Mary when he had the chance, an hour ago.

“He should have stepped into her bedroom from the ledge to which he’d climbed in the dark and killed Mary in her sleep, but that wasn’t the way he’d planned it.

“Those sleepless nights in his cell, he had planned to kill Corbett first so that Mary would know Corbett was dead.

“He wanted her to know who had done the deed before she herself died.

“Jeff had not, in fact, been sure that he would kill her at all.

“Hating her as he did, he somehow had hated even more the thought of marring her silken body whose every curve was a song to tear out a man’s heart — of matting with blood her midnight hair.

“He hated, too, the thought of quenching forever the fires in her gray eyes.

“Tonight, on that ledge, he had decided it would be far better to let her live in terror, knowing Jeff Sawyer was free and on the prowl.

“He wanted her to see him in every shadow, hear him in every whisper of wind at her windows and in every rattle of plaster inside the walls of the house he, poor fool, had bought for her! That had been a mistake.

“If he was taken now, he would himself be dead in a little while and Mary would know herself safe from him.

“He must not be taken before he could get to Garden Avenue and put his hands on her white throat.

“.

“.

“.

“Outside his hole, there was the thud of the returning Collins’ feet.

“No soap, Murtry,

“ he said.

“He must of slipped inside somewheres.

“We got to get help to look for him, but fast.

“ Jeff heard his harsh breathing.

“Yeh, hop down to the box on the corner an’ call this in to the precinct.

“You can keep an eye this block from there while I go through an’ cover Cherry Street.

“Okay!

“ From where Jeff was now, he couldn’t see all the way out.

“But he could hear Murtry’s footfalls going away and he could hear Collins’ feet come into the alley.

“He could see their shadows move across the lighted slash into the side of his black burrow.

“D, 79 Abruptly the shadows were motionless, blotching the light.

“Jeff’s skin was clammy with chill sweat.

“He pictured Collins peering down at the gap in the wall at its base.

“He pictured Collins’ hand easing a revolver from its holster.

“The shadows of Collins’ feet moved a little and then merged into the single, wider shadow of a stooping form.

“Jeff’s heart stalled, suddenly was racing.

“This wasn’t disaster, it was an almost unbelievable break.

“He pressed against the inward joist, giving his arm room to crawl past his ear and free the bloody ten inches of lead pipe that had crushed Stan Corbett’s skull.

“When Collins’ head poked in here, a deft blow would stu- him.

“With Murtry at the corner phoning, the alley would be clear for a dash to Cherry Street and from there to Garden Avenue — and Mary.

“B ITS of debris sifted down as the officer balanced himself with a hand above the opening.

“A cry, Jeff thought, even a moan might be heard at the phone box.

“He dared not worry about striking only hard enough to stun.

“He must use all his strength.

“The pipe lifted.

“The visor of a uniform cap poked into the hole, now the nose beneath the visor, boldly aquiline.

“Now! The cop’s nostrils flared.

“Phew,

“ he grunted.

“What an awful stink,

“ and his head pulled back out of the opening.

“Debris sifted down.

“The shadow split into two separate shadows that flitted away, thudding.

“Jeff slumped, the strength draining from him.

“He was tired.

“He was as bone-tired as he used to be when Mary would drive him home from the hospital after a long day of operating.

“She would sit behind the wheel proudly, driving her husband home.

“Driving home Dr.

“Jefferson Sawyer.

“She was very beautiful in her pride.

“You should be wearing sables instead of that old cloth coat,

“ Jeff would say.

“Instead of cooking and cleaning a musty furnished room, and doing our washing in the sink, you should have your own house and a dozen servants to wait on you.

“A dozen! Oh, Jeff.

“ Her laugh would tinkle like little silver bells.

“Silly.

“ But then she’d touch his hand with a caress light as a whisper.

“You’ll give me all of it, darling.

“When you’ve finished your residency at the hospital.

“When you’ve built your practise.

“ To build that sort of a practise would take years.

“Jeff wanted Mary to have all those things-, and more, while she still was young, while her body still was slender and her stride still jaunty and her slim hands still white and smooth.

“So it came about that when Stanley Corbett came to Jeff and told him how he could begin earning them for Mary far sooner than he’d thought possible, he’d listened eagerly.

“.

“.

“.

“Into the gravelike burrow where Jeff lay came a moan that rose and fell and rose again, the heartstopping wail of a police car’s siren.

“He hitched forward to where he could again peer out to the sidewalk, bright now with the morning.

“Murtry’s feet were out there again and many other feet.

“Now there were men’s feet in scuffed shoes, a woman’s feet in bedroom slippers, the frayed hem of her wrapper fluttering against bare ankles.

“Out there was a babble of excited questioning and the siren louder now and nearer and farther off the wail of another siren nearing fast.

“From the alley’s other end a third siren’s howling came faintly.

“There was no escape now.

“Here on Orange Street the siren screamed in crescendo, moaned to silence.

“The crowd’s feet split apart like a curtain and revealed green painted car wheels at the curb.

“Heavy soled feet came down on the curb and a pair in thinner soled, dressier shoes.

“Murtry’s feet joined these but the crowd’s babble and the second siren, arriving, made it impossible for Jeff to hear what he said.

“80 The siren cut off.

“A new voice reached Jeff, gruff, authoritative.

“ — seal the block.

“Sergeant Luccio, take five men and start combing the cellars and backyards.

“The hallways and roofs are your job, Abrams.

“ A single pair of shoes came past Jeff’s hole from the direction of Cherry Street, brown shoes patterned with tiny holes, the trouser cuffs above them gray tweed.

“Murtry,

“ the voice of authority was saying,

“you and Officer Ericsen stay here and keep these people out of the alley, we don’t want them in our hair.

“ The brown shoes paused near the shoes that belonged to the voice of authority.

“Well, Barstow,

“ it snapped.

“What’s on your mind?

“We’ve identified the body, captain.

“It’s Stanley Corbett.

“Corbett, eh.

“Our friends on the Narcotics Squad will want to give the killer a medal.

“Yeah.

“They’ve figured for years he was the big wheel of a dope ring but they’ve never been able to get the goods on him.

“ J EFF SAWYER recalled that was how it had begun.

“Stanley Corbett telling him how much he could make writing narcotic prescriptions for rich addicts.

“Friends of mine, Doc.

“They’re getting cut stuff and paying through the nose for it.

“With your prescriptions, they could buy it pure from a few druggists I’ve got lined up.

“And,

“ Corbett added, lips barely moving in his sharp, shrewd face,

“you’ll be pulling down a hundred to a hundred and fifty a week without taking any chances.

“I’d have to have an office to make it look right,

“ Jeff demurred.

“I haven’t the cash to set one up.

“Nonsense! I’m rattling around in this old house I own down on Cherry Street.

“Your old neighborhood.

“You can have the whole ground floor for the rent you and Mary pay now.

“I’ll stake you to the equipment and you can take your sweet time paying me off.

“ So Jeff resigned his residency at the hospital and they moved into the house at the other end of this alley.

“Mary had been like a child with a new toy, fixing up the two front rooms as waiting room and office and the two in the rear for their living.

“It was only natural that they should see a lot of their upstairs neighbor, their landlord and benefactor.

“In little more than a year Jeff already had paid off the money Corbett had loaned him.

“Mary could buy nice clothes now, and a sealskin coat, and have a woman in to do the heavy housework, but Jeff wanted much more for her.

“Corbett told him how he could get it….

“Look,

“ Detective Barstow was saying now.

“Look, skipper.

“Remember this doctor we sent up the river six years ago.

“Doctor Jefferson Sawyer.

“Remember the tip that fingered him for us came from Corbett.

“ That was no news to Jeff.

“It was what had brought him to the alley to wait in its black maw for Stan Corbett to come home.

“Well,

“ Barstow went on,

“Sawyer was let out of the State pen yesterday noon.

“ The captain’s feet jerked.

“Good man, You’ve named the killer.

“Now all we’ve got to do is catch him.

“Which,

“ Barstow said,

“ain’t going to be easy.

“He grew up right here on Orange Street.

“He knows every hiding hole in these tenements like I know my pockets.

“What’s more, if these people around here can help him get away, they will.

“There ain’t many of them don’t owe Sawyer for the life of someone in the family, or maybe that one of their kids ain’t growing up paralyzed or crippled.

“He sure used to sweat blood over any kid that was sick or hurt.

“ Why shouldn’t Jeff have sweated over the children? Wasn’t it because of a child that he’d made up his mind when he was thirteen that he was going to be a doctor and scraped and starved and studied till he’d made that come true? Because of his little sister Jen.

“It was because of what had happened to Jen when she was six and Jeff thir- D, 81 teen that he’d appraised Corbett’s new proposal by no other test than what it would mean to him and so to Mary.

“He had no obligation to his profession or to society; the debt ran the other way.

“Nevertheless, he’d said.

“No, Stan.

“It would not trouble my conscience to patch up a gunshot wound and not report it to the police, nor have I any ethical objection to remodelling the faces of men wanted by the law.

“But even the fees you mention would not compensate me for the consequences of being caught.

“I’ll stay content with what I have now.

“I’ll take no chance with a prison term.

“You’re taking that chance now.

“Not as recklessly.

“I have an adequate defense.

“I am merely following my judgment in the proper treatment of patients for drug addiction.

“ Corbett’s blond brows had arced and there had been mockery in his pale eyes.

“Suppose they’re proved not to be really patients? Suppose at my suggestion one of them got himself picked up as a dope peddler and made a deal for a light sen- terice by turning you in as his source of supply?

“ Jeff was trapped.

“He’d been as hopelessly trapped then as he was now, lying here in this stinking hole and listening to the police captain say,

“Okay, Bar- stow.

“It’s going to be a tough job digging him out but we’ll stay at it till we do.

“Come on.

“I want to get the squads on Cherry Street started.

“ lVTOW the thud of their feet went past Jeff’s hiding place and faded.

“The semicircle of feet on the sidewalk broke up, there was no more excitement here and there were breakfasts to be prepared and eaten, work to go to.

“The strip of sidewalk emptied, but Jeff could hear a murmur of talk from where the two cops left to watch the alley mouth were hidden by the wall comer of the house across the alley.

“Jeff Sawyer lay very still in the dark and the stench, thinking.

“Mary would be waking up now.

“She would be throwing the sheet from her and swinging her bare feet to the floor.

“She’d be up by now and going to the window to close it.

“Jeff remembered how he used to lie in the bed that had been warm from her body, sweet with the scent of her midnight hair, and of her breath.

“He would watch the sunlight strike through filmy silk and etch for him her singing curves.

“Lying like that one morning he had said her name and she had turned to him.

“Her smile tore the heart out of him.

“Go back to sleep, darling,

“ she had murmured.

“You must be dreadfully tired.

“You were out so late on that night call.

“ Where were you, Mary? The silent question had cried out within him.

“You weren’t in the flat when I came back to get the instruments I needed to patch up Corbett’s man.

“You weren’t in the house and neither was Stanley Corbett.

“Lest she read the question in them, he had closed his eyes and like a dark flood his weariness and his despair had welled up into his brain and he’d found escape from them in tortured sleep.

“In the filth and stink of his burrow Jeff Sawyer, ex-convict and murderer, found escape from exhaustion and despair in death-like slumber….

“Thirst woke him, the rasp of thirst in his throat, and the gnaw of hunger.

“Feet shambled past on the sidewalk, the broken shoes of the slums.

“A truck’s enormous tires thundered by in the gutter.

“The shadows that slid, out there, beside the feet were small.

“The sun must be almost directly overhead.

“The green car wheels no longer were at the curb! Jeff’s pulse was a muffled drumbeat in his ears.

“The police had given up while he slept.

“They were gone.

“He was free.

“A thick-soled shoe appeared from behind the wall corner that edged Jeff’s view, its trouser cuffs bright blue.

“The mate appeared and the two halted, and another pair of blunt-toed shoes came from the other side of the alley mouth and stopped.

“The shadows of two bodies merged in a black pool.

“Si

“This is a hell of a note,

“ Murtry’s voice rumbled to Jeff,

“the skipper’s keeping us here on twenty-four hour duty till they dig up this Sawyer.

“If they do, pal.

“If they do.

“They will.

“They’re going through the block the way my old lady used to go through my pockets Saturday nights, looking for small change.

“I don’t see ’em goin’ through this alley here.

“Why the blazes should they, you dumb cluck? Didn’t Bart Collins poke his nose in every hole in there right after I lost sight of the son?

“So what. I’ll bet he’s out of the city by now. What I mean is, he wasn’t alone in this thing. Look at how he knew this Corbett would be coming past where he laid for him, an’ just when.

“Easy now! He didn’t need anybody to tell him Corbett’s habits. Didn’t he live right there in Corbett’s house till he turned the back rooms into a kind of hospital and bought that house over on Garden Avenue to live in?” The infirmary had been an excuse. Jeff had moved Mary to Garden Avenue hoping to break the growing bond between her and Corbett. He had been certain that, to Mary, Corbett was only a friend, someone pleasant to spend time with when her husband was too busy. How could he think otherwise when she said in wistful tones that brought an ache to his chest, “You’ve given me the sables, Jeff, and the house and the servants. You’ve given me everything you promised, but it’s not worth anything because I haven’t got you anymore.

“So I’m off my trolley,” Ericsen was saying. “So how much longer do you figure we’re going to have to hang around here?

“Well, Sarge Abrams just told me in the Coffee Pot around the corner, he told me they won’t be through till maybe nine, ten tonight so maybe you ought to quit stalling and take your lunch break.

“Twenty minutes,” Ericsen grumbled. “Big-hearted the skipper is. Twenty-minute break after we been on our feet twelve hours. Okay, I’ll be seein’ you.” His feet went out of sight in the direction Murtry’s had come, and then Murtry’s were hidden by the wall corner on the alley mouth’s other side. “Only his feet. His shadow lay on the sidewalk at the wall’s edge, and Jeff knew he’d gone only far enough to lean his back against the wall. Let him stay. He and the rest of the police would be gone by ten, and it would be dark then. Jeff could endure the stench, hunger, and thirst for another ten hours now he knew that when they had passed, he would be free to find Mary and kill her.

“Mary must have heard about Corbett by now. Fear must be alive in her as it had lived in Jeff those last days, the growing fear of Stanley Corbett that overshadowed even his hate of Corbett. The men whose wounds he tended behind drawn shades, with lookouts at the door, had told him about Corbett. The hard and ruthless man who lay in the back room of the house on Cherry Street, breath whistling through tiny tubes jutting out of a head faceless with bandages, had told Jeff what Corbett was. The woman to whom Corbett sent him one night told him what Corbett could do to a woman when he tired of her. It was fear for Mary that clawed him when he stumbled into the foyer of the Garden Avenue house the dawn after the woman died and he saw Corbett’s glove on the floor just inside the door. The glove was gone when he came down to the meal that was his breakfast and Mary’s lunch. Over coffee, he had said, “I’ve made a decision, my dear. I’m going to close up the office and my practice. We’ll sell this house and buy one in the country somewhere. I’ll take care of the farmers’ wives and their children, and I’ll have the time to be a husband again to you.” The gray fire sprang into Mary’s eyes, shining. “That’s wonderful, Jeff! It’s the most Fishelous gift you’ve ever given me or ever could.

“Before Jeff could nerve himself to tell Corbett of his decision, the police had walked in on him and caught him removing bandages from the head of a man wanted by the law in seven states.

“The shadows were a little longer on the cracked sidewalk. Somewhere out there, tiny bells tinkled. The thirst was fire now in Jeff Sawyer’s throat, fire running through his veins. A vise squeezed his skull as it had when they brought the assistant district attorney to him in his cell. The lawyer had merely smiled at Jeff’s denunciation of Stanley Corbett. “It doesn’t make sense, doctor. If what you say is the truth, why should Mr. Corbett have gone to the police with his suspicions of what you were up to in that little private infirmary?” Why unless Corbett already knew of Jeff’s decision to break with him and take Mary out of his reach? Jeff had told no one of that decision save Mary herself. The tinkle of bells that came into Jeff’s gravelike burrow was like Mary’s silvery laugh. How she must have laughed at him, how she and Stan Corbett must have laughed at him all those dreary nights when he’d been about Corbett’s business. She would not laugh tonight when Jeff came to her. Small feet scampered past on the sidewalk, the feet of children running to the ice cream wagon’s tinkling bells, pennies clasped in their sweaty little hands. Jeff had pennies in his pocket. He had ten dollars in his pocket. Ten dollars would buy a lot of ice cream to ease his burning thirst, to cool his fever, and still his hunger. On the sidewalk, Patrolman Murtry’s shadow lay, waiting for Jeff Sawyer to show himself.

“Long ago when Jeff was thirteen, he’d had five pennies earned running an errand. The ice cream wagon had come tinkling its bells all up and down Orange Street, but Jeff hadn’t bought ice cream with his pennies. He’d bought a ball for Jen, for his gray-eyed, black-haired little sister, and Jen had bounced the ball along the sidewalk, counting the bounces with some childish chant. The ball took a bad bounce out into the gutter, and Jen darted out into the gutter after it. Jeff remembered Jen’s scream when the truck hit her. And her dreadful silence afterward. They let Jeff ride on the ambulance, and when they got to the hospital, they told him Jen still was alive. Jeff waited. He waited hours, years, in the hard whiteness, the stomach-turning smells of the hospital, and at last, an intern came to him and had said: “She’s pretty badly smashed up, son. There’s one surgeon in the city who might be able to save her, but,” the young doctor in white told Jeff bitterly, “he’s not on our staff.

“What’s the difference? Get him to come here and save Jen.”

“We can’t, sonny. It’s against the rules for a surgeon to operate in a hospital if he isn’t on its staff.” Then, the intern’s realization that he was speaking out of turn obvious even to the tortured boy. “We’ve got good surgeons on our staff too, and they’re doing their best. Maybe they’ll be able to save your sister.” The surgeons had done their best, but Jen had died. That was when Jeff had decided that he was going to be a doctor when he grew up. A children’s doctor and the best one there ever was, so much the best that he’d be able to insist on changing the rule which, he was to learn, is enforced in almost every first-class hospital the country over. He was to learn the good and sufficient reasons for that rule

“B,” a piping treble came to him, “my name is Bertha. That was it! “My husband’s name is Bobby.” That was what Jen had chanted as she bounced the ball Jeff bought for her.

“We come from Boston,” he heard as the little girl’s voice came nearer, “and we sell baked beans.” They never change, the children’s games and what the children chant as they play them.

“C.” He could hear the ball’s thump on the sidewalk now.

“My name is Celia.” Thump. “The idea was to go all through the alphabet without missing.

“My husband’s name is Charley.” Jeff saw the ball thump the sidewalk just this side of the wall corner and flash up again.

“We come from Carolina.” He saw small red slippers come into sight, their heels slant worn.

“And we sell cherries.” Thump. The ball bounced up, and the little feet took another step.

“D.” Thump.

“My name is — “ The ball hit a small red toe and glanced off toward the curb, and beyond the curb, there was the thunder of an oncoming truck.

Jeff’s throat locked on breath as the ball went over the curb and the little feet turned to dart after it. A yell broke through Jeff Sawyer’s throat lock, “No!” He shoved out of his hole yelling, “The truck, Jen. The truck!” and a blue shape lurched into the alley mouth. Jeff was on his feet, his cry caught in his larynx as he saw the little girl stock-still at the curb, her shining curls golden in the sun, not midnight black like Jen’s. Like Mary’s. His hand flung out, pointing the blood-crusted pipe length at the huge truck that thundered harmlessly past. The truck’s thunder blotted out the bing of Patrolman Murtry’s gun!

NEXT ISSUE’S BIG NOVELETS:

1. “At the Kill” by Wilbur S. Peacock

2. “The Time Will Come” by Frances Beck

3. “The Murderous Deb” by Benton Braden

4. “No Man Walks Alone” by George Armin Shaftel

5. By B. J. Benson

Although Max Pebble was no tree-climber, he could see through the foliage that obscured the Hayden killing.

“I’m glad you’re back, Chief Hinkey said as I sat down. “You know why, don’t you, Max? A whole week’s gone by, and we’ve got nothing.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The Hayden case?”

“Yes. So you’ve heard about it, too.”

“I read about it on my vacation,” I told him.

“Sure, you read about it,” he growled. “The papers are giving it plenty of coverage. ‘Having a field day. The city council is issuing statements denying a crime wave. Everybody wants to get into the act.”

“Yes, that usually happens.”

“What do you think, Max?” He sounded worried.

“Only what I read in the papers,” I said. “This Hayden’s house gets robbed. His wife gets killed, and Hayden himself gets shot and almost dies. The killer drops the loot on the getaway. Seems to me it was all for nothing.”

“Yes. And it looks like we’ve got nothing, too.” He reached short, stubby fingers into the top drawer of his big desk, and taking out a couple of cigars, handed one to me. “I sniffed at it and lighted it with the desk lighter. I took a slow drag. It was a good cigar, the kind I couldn’t afford.

“I want you to take over, of course,” the chief said, rolling his cigar in his fingers. “I want it cleaned up quick, Max. This thing happened over in the Park Ridge section. You know how those folks are. They pay a lot of taxes and they have a lot of friends over there.” He jerked his thumb at the window, to the City Hall across the street.

“The mayor was just in and he laid it on the line.”

“That Park Ridge precinct is a good station,” I said.

“Cannavo working on it?”

“Yes. I’ve called him and told him you were coming over.”

“All right,” I said, getting up. “I’ll go right to work on it.”

“Good,” he said. “Good. Say, I didn’t even ask you yet. Have a good vacation?”

“Fine.”

“How’s Ellie?”

“Fine. Still complaining about my late hours and cold suppers.”

“Still doing it.” He sighed. “She knew that twenty years ago when she married a cop.”

“Yes,” I said. “But that was twenty years ago. You know women.”

THEN I left the chief’s office and went out to the back of Police Headquarters where the garage was. I got myself a black radio coupe and drove out to Park Ridge. It was half past nine in the morning. The Park Ridge precinct station was on Vista Boulevard and across from the new limestone district courthouse. I pulled up at the curb and went in between the twin blue lamps. The sergeant at the desk was a guy named Peabody. He waved his hand, and I waved back. I went up the wooden stairs to the detectives’ office. Cannavo was waiting for me, a big grin on his lean, tanned face. He was a tall, good-looking kid and had come up fast in the department because he had an uncanny eye for details and was the kind of cop who went out and worked when he had a job to do.

“The Chief can’t get me mad, Lieutenant,” he said as he put out his hand. “I’m one fellow who needs some help. The newspapers haven’t been kind.”

“So I’ve been reading, Lieutenant.” I grinned back as I shook his hand.

“Look, Max, this thing has so many angles it’ll take months to get on the fairway. Then we’ll both need a vacation.”

“There’s a lot of noise downtown, Tony. You know how it is with a new administration. They want fast action. Suppose you tell me about it on the way to the Hayden house. I’ve got a car outside.” He slapped a hat on his black wavy hair and put on his trenchcoat. I looked at his tall frame and big shoulders.

“The only guy on the force who looks like a detective,” I said.

“Sure,” he said, swinging at me playfully. “Look at you. The only cop in the city who looks like the president of the First National Bank.”

“That’s on account of my white hair,” I said. “I’ve got worries.”

“Don’t give me that stuff,” he said as we went out. “It’s all got to do with your pigment. You’re getting old, Max.” He gave me the address, and I headed the car into a small stream of traffic. The day was warm, and the bright sun glinted off the car hood. Cannavo slouched down beside me and stretched his long legs.

“The call,” he said, “came into the station last Thursday night at ten o’clock. Ten-three to be exact. Somebody driving by heard the shooting and pulled in the police box at the corner of Charlesgate and Terrace. When the radio car got to the Hayden house, it was ten-eight. They stayed there and radioed in for the works. That’s when I showed up.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hayden were both in the living room. She was lying across the sofa with a bullet through the temple. Killed instantly. Hayden had crawled all over, and the place was slippery with blood. He was lying halfway in the living room and halfway in the hallway. He was almost dead. I guess he passed out before he had a chance to use the telephone in the hall.”

“How’s he now?”

“He’ll live. He was lucky. Got it in the chest. An inch more, and it would have been all over for him. He’s at the Southridge Memorial Hospital. We can talk to him whenever you want.”

“Later,” I said. “What else did you find?”

“There were two long, narrow, twisted nails half embedded in the wood.

“What do you make of those?” Cannavo asked, coming over.

“Hayden told me they were from an old radio aerial they had.”

“They look fresh,” I said.

“Let’s go.”

We went outside. I turned and walked along outside the living room windows and past the broken flower bed. There was a dogwood tree whose branches scraped the window glass. I stood under the tree and looked into the living room. Then I turned to Cannavo.

“Where was the loot?”

“About ten feet from the window. The stuff was scattered all over the grass.”

“Anything missing?”

“Hayden doesn’t know for sure.”

“Okay, let’s go see Hayden.”

The Southridge Memorial Hospital was on a high hill overlooking the river. Modern. All glass and stainless steel. We rose up noiselessly in the elevator and walked noiselessly down a corridor to the nurse’s desk. The nurse was young and pretty, and she had a full red mouth. When she saw Cannavo approaching, she straightened her white starched cap and smoothed her lipstick.

“Lieutenant Cannavo,” she said severely, “haven’t you anything better to do than come around and bother poor Mr. Hayden?”

“Miss Doyle,” he said, sweeping off his hat. “You’re as beautiful as ever. Don’t you know I really came to see you? There’s no other way. You won’t go out with me.”

“Why, you never asked me,” she pouted.

“I will,” he said solemnly, “as soon as I get a night off.” He nodded his head to me.

“Now I have to take my grandfather in to see Mr. Hayden. My grandfather is just down from his farm. He’s never been to the city before. He almost jumped out of the elevator.”

I snorted as she giggled. We went by her and into Hayden’s room.

Frederick Hayden was propped up on two pillows. He’d been a handsome man in his younger days. Now his face was flabby and pale with large sacs of flesh pouching on either side of his chin. He had small ears and thin steel-gray hair. He looked to be in his middle fifties. He was holding a book with one hand. The other was bound up inside his pajama coat. He put the book down as we came in.

“How are you feeling, Mr. Hayden?” asked Cannavo.

“A little better. Lieutenant,” Hayden said. “Thank goodness they’re through with the transfusions.”

“That’s good,” Cannavo said. “This is Lieutenant Max Pebble from the Homicide Bureau.”

“I’ve heard of Lieutenant Pebble,” said Hayden.

“I’ve gotten on this kind of late,” I said. “I was wondering if you’d go over things again with me.”

“Fire away,” Hayden said. “I’m very anxious to see that my wife’s murderer is brought to justice.”

“You can tell me what you remember about last Thursday night.”

“As I remember,” he said, “Grace and I were sitting in the living room. I know it was just after ten because the radio program had just changed. I heard a step in the hall and looked up. There was a man standing in the entrance to the living room. He was wearing a black stocking over his head with two slits where the eyes were. Grace screamed, and I started to get up. The man had a revolver in his hand, and as I started toward him, he fired at me. I felt the impact of the bullet, and I remember falling forward as I blacked out.

“When I came to, probably seconds later, the first thing I did was look over to the divan. Grace was slumped over — shot — dead. I was bleeding badly, but I managed to crawl to the window to call for help. But my voice was only a weak croak. I crawled across the rug to the hall where the telephone was. I blacked out again before I made it. I woke up here in the hospital.”

“Is your memory any better as far as a description of the man is concerned?” Cannavo asked.

“No. I told you before. It happened so fast I couldn’t get a definite impression. All I know is that he wasn’t abnormally tall or short or fat or thin.”

“That’s something,” Cannavo grinned. “At least the guy wasn’t a monstrosity.”

“This is no time for levity,” Hayden said angrily. “My wife’s killer is running around loose. What have you done about it, Lieutenant? Or do I have to call the mayor for satisfaction?”

“With what Lieutenant Cannavo has had to work with,” I said, “he’s done a lot. Thank you, Mr. Hayden.” I nodded to Cannavo, and we got out of there.

The Maison d’Or was a swank women’s shop. The doorman frowned as he held the door open for us to enter. We walked across the deep pile of the broadloom carpeting, with me looking uncomfortably at my wide black police brogans. A tall hatchet-faced woman in a long black gown came over to us. Cannavo spoke to her as we both took off our hats. She took us to a small office. There was a white circular desk and three stiff spindle-legged chairs. We sat down. She went out and closed the door with a bang. Cannavo looked around at the expensive furnishings and whistled softly. We waited. The door opened, and a girl came in. She was wearing a blue silk robe, and her blond hair was cut short. She was slim and pretty, with a small tilted nose, a pert, rounded face, and large brown, animated eyes. But her mouth was just a trifle too thin and too hard. She looked at Cannavo, and her mouth tightened. We both stood up. She tightened the robe around her.

“Cannavo motioned to his chair. “Please, sit down, Miss Calvert,” he said.

“Lieutenant Pebble is from the Homicide Bureau and he’d like to ask some questions.” Her eyes flamed at us as she stamped her small foot.

“I’m sick of these questions and I’m sick of you coming here where I work. If there is any continuance of it, my employer is going to call City Hall.”

“Everybody is calling City Hall,” I said wearily.

“You can’t come barging in here to ask me a lot of silly questions,” she said.

“I won’t have it.”

“A woman has been murdered,” I said mildly.

“A woman has been murdered. The price of rice in China is going up. The wool buyers in Afghanistan have a market slump on their hands. What has it got to do with me?”

“You were friendly with Mr. Hayden,” I said.

“Mr. Hayden was a married man.”

“So what? Do you have to persecute me because of it? What has all that got to do with an armed robbery?”

“It might not have been an armed robbery.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean in a case like this we have to dig pretty deep. Mr. Cannavo has been doing some digging. He’s found some unpleasant things. He’s found that Hayden was cheating on his wife. That you frequented certain hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs with him. That he gave you presents. We also found out from Mrs.

Hayden’s relatives that he’d discussed divorce with her. She refused to hear of it. Do you know what we’re thinking now?”

“The starch went out of her, and she sagged forward in the chair.

“Yes,” she whispered, burying her face in her hands.

“Did you promise to marry him if he got rid of his wife?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said brokenly. “I might have said it. He was so persistent, so lavish with his gifts and entertainment. I was dazzled.

“How did you meet him?”

“He came here to the shop with his wife about six months ago. I modeled a gown for Mrs. Hayden. He came back alone the next day. We went to lunch. That’s the way it started.

“Did Andrew Carlisle know about it?” Cannavo asked.

Her eyes widened as she looked up.

“How did you know about him?”

“We know,” Cannavo said.

“Andrew doesn’t know a thing about this,” she said earnestly. “I swear. He doesn’t even know I was seeing Hayden.”

“You were engaged to Carlisle,” I said. “You ran around with Hayden. You were playing both ends of it.”

“A girl likes a good time,” she said defiantly. “Andy Carlisle isn’t making any kind of money yet. He’s only a young architect.”

“Yet you’re engaged to marry him. Doesn’t that mean anything anymore?”

“Yes,” she said. “We love each other.”

“And if Carlisle found out what you were doing,” I said, “he’d get pretty mad. Mad enough to kill somebody.”

“He couldn’t know. Not Andy. I was so careful. You can’t think Andy had anything to do with it.”

“We haven’t talked to him yet,” I said.

“You’re not going to him? You’re not going to tell him everything?”

“There’s no choice,” I said. “It will ruin everything,” she whimpered.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s funny you didn’t think of how you were ruining things for Mrs. Hayden. She seems to have been a pretty nice person. By the way, where were you that night?”

“Thursday night? Why — I was home. I told that to Lieutenant Cannavo when he was here before.”

“There’s no proof,” I said. “Your roommate was out.”

“I was there,” she said, half-crying. “You must believe me.”

“Why should we?” I said. I turned to Cannavo.

“Let’s go, Tony.”

ON THE Mercantile Building, where we went next, was a sign that said Archibald and Archibald, Architects. The offices were on the fifth floor. When we got up there, we pushed open the frosted glass door and went in. I waited while Cannavo went over to the desk and spoke to the black-haired receptionist. He came back and nodded. We sat down on the leather settee.

The man who came out to see us was big and young and clean-cut. He had a dent across the bridge of his nose and looked like he had seen some line work in college football. He wore a short crew haircut and a blue, pencil-striped suit. Cannavo got up and showed him his leather folder. Carlisle looked at him and then at me. His brows knitted together. I got up and went over to him.

“Ever hear of Frederick Hayden?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “In the papers. He’s the man whose wife was killed in that robbery, wasn’t he?”

“Yes. Never heard of him before?”

“I don’t think so,” he said slowly. “It doesn’t ring any bells.”

“You’re engaged to Miss Calvert? Miss Audrey Calvert?” I asked.

“Sure. What’s that got to do with it?”

“Did you know that Miss Calvert was friendly with Hayden?” He took a step closer to me and flexed his fingers.

“What do you mean by friendly?” he growled.

“You know what I mean,” I said. He reached up and grabbed me by my coat lapels.

“I don’t care how many badges you carry, mister,” he said. “You’ll take that back.” I chopped his wrist hard with the side of my hand. His arm dropped away quickly, and he began to massage it vigorously.

“I don’t like to have people put their hands on me,” I said gently. “I don’t do it myself.”

“Sorry,” he said wryly. “I guess I lost my head for a moment. You can see how I feel about Audrey. But it’s not true. She wouldn’t be like that with a married man. Not her.”

“She was,” I said. “You can take it up with her later. All I’m interested in is whether you knew about it.”

“No. I didn’t.”

“Then I’m sorry you had to hear about it this way. Where were you the night of the robbery?”

“What night was that?” he asked, still rubbing his wrist.

“Last Thursday.”

“I — I don’t recall offhand.”

“Think about it.”

“Let’s see. Friday night I saw Audrey. Now I remember. She was upset about something. The night before that I went to a movie.”

“Alone?”

“Alone.”

“Anybody you know that saw you?”

“I don’t know,” he said dazedly.

“Thanks,” I said. “That’s all for now, Mr. Carlisle.” He didn’t hear me. He was looking off into space.

“She was upset,” he said slowly to himself.

The sun was deep in the west when we drove back to Park Ridge and pulled up before the front door of the Hayden house.

“There’s no other way, Tony,” I said.

“Well, I agree with you,” he said. “You know that, Max. But we checked the house from top to bottom.”

“It’s got to be around the living room or the hall,” I said. He opened the front door, and we went into the hallway. I picked up the telephone table and examined it.

“We checked that last week,” Cannavo said. I went into the living room and looked around for a moment. Going over to the fireplace, I began tapping the bricks.

“We went over the whole place with a detector,” Cannavo said.

“The furniture? Floor? Walls? Molding? Windows?”

“Everything.”

“It’s got to be here,” I said stubbornly. I went over to the window, unlatched and opened it. I poked my head out.

“Did you check the flower bed?” I asked.

“Every inch of it,” he said. I looked at the dogwood tree in front of me. My eyes started at the base of the trunk and went slowly up over the long sinuous branches. Cannavo came over to me. I squinted up among the leaves. Then I pointed.

“We’ve found it,” I said.

“Where?” Cannavo leaned out and looked up.

“Up there. See that green canvas sack tied to a branch near the top?”

“I see it,” he said.

HE HOPPED out of the window and started to climb the tree. When he reached the branch, he took out his jackknife and hacked it off. I was climbing out the window after him as he threw the branch down, and it thudded to the ground at my feet. I loosened the drawstring of the canvas bag and looked inside. Cannavo came down and wiped the bark from his hands.

“Well?” he said.

“Take a look.” He peered in.

“That’s it,” he said.

“A thirty-eight caliber pistol.”

“That’s what we’ve been looking for,” I said.

“You’re a stubborn old coot, Max,” he grinned.

“It had to figure,” I said.

“The gun had to be here.”

They were wheeling the supper trays away from the rooms on the fourth floor of the Southridge Memorial Hospital. We went into Hayden’s room. He was smoking a cigarette.

“Come in,” he said cheerfully.

“I hope you have news.”

“We have,” I said.

“Good. Did you track the man down?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. Where is he?”

“Right here, Hayden.”

“Here?”

“That’s right, Hayden. We found your gun and know how you did it.”

“Why — why that’s preposterous.”

“I know,” I said.

“You’re going to call City Hall and raise a ruckus. We’ve saved you the trouble. The D. A. will be in to see you personally.” He stared at the tip of his cigarette, and the color flushed up over his puffy face.

“You’re making a stupid mistake,” he finally said.

“No. No mistake,” I said.

“It’s shut and closed. You were cheating on your wife. Yes, we found out about that.”

The END

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Chris Lowry

Author at https://payhip.com/ChrisLowryBooks Runner writing books both fiction and non fiction, crypto investor, real estate and urban renewal.