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Ten Detective Aces, April, 1940
Agent for Murder
AYBE,” Judy said acidly,
“you would rather be back
in the ring?”
“Maybe I would,” I said. “It wasn’t
any worse than hounding people for
overdue bills. Now—if you’d have let me
open a detective agency, like I wanted
She sniffed. “Detective agency! What
difference does it make what we call it?
All our cases start out as collections and
end up in murder. It’s just your perverse
nature. You’re—”
I held up a hand in surrender. “Okay.
What’s on the list for today?”
She started to riffle through the file.
Then she glanced up. “Mickey, we don’t
want to fight, do we? I mean, it’s your
money, after all. If you want—”
I said: “Just to show you I think you’re
right, I want you to pick out the tamest
account in there. Anything. You be the
She smiled smugly. She had a card in
her hand. “It’s a Mr. Enos Cragg of Milton
Grove. Mr. Cragg is an old meanie who
won’t pay for some pipe.”
“What kind of pipe? And where is
Milton Grove?”
“Six-inch pipe. And Milton Grove is
only about twenty miles out of town, due
The prospect of a twenty mile drive in
the flivver wasn’t too pleasant. But Judy
was pleading with her eyes. I took the
card, kissed her lightly, and went out.
As the flivver rattled westward, I
thought back to our argument. At Judy’s
insistence, I had quit the ring when I was
about two months from the welterweight
crown. That had been disappointing. But
then she’d picked this collection business.
I’d wanted a detective agency, being a
natural detective, more or less. I was now
a collector.
You may think I’m a little soft in the
head to let a girl dictate to me, but you’d
understand if you could see Judy. She
never won any beauty contests—but only

because she never entered any. And when
you understand that I’m only five feet
eight and not too handsome, you’ll realize
I’m a very lucky guy to land such a
By the time I’d pulled into this wide
place in the road called Milton Grove, my
natural good nature had returned. I stopped
at a filling station and asked the red-haired
attendant if he knew the whereabouts of a
Mr. Enos Cragg.
He pointed up a gravel side road. “It’s
about a half mile from here, on the right
side. You’ll see his mailbox.”
“He buy gas here?” I asked.
The fellow nodded. “Sometimes.”
“How’s his credit?”
The attendant hesitated, then shook his
flaming head. “He pays cash. The boss
won’t give him credit.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Not that he hasn’t got plenty,” the
fellow went on, “but he hates to dish it out.
He’s the slowest pay in the county.”
Which didn’t make my job any easier.
I thanked the redhead and pointed the
flivver up the road.
I didn’t need to look for any mailbox. I
saw the house a long way off. The way I
knew, the back yard was piled high with
pipe. By the back yard I mean the two or
more acres directly behind the house. I
turned in.
There was an ancient sedan parked on
one side of the white frame house. The old
man would be home then.
HERE was a handle in the middle of
the front door. I gave it a whirl and
the bell inside set up a clamor. No answer.
I worked it again. With the same result.
There was just a chance he might be in
the back, so I went around. There was a
shed attached to the rear of the house. It
looked like what they call a “summer
kitchen” and it was about three steps lower
than the rest of the house. I knocked on the
door—and it swung open.
I stood there and stared and I was sure
some one had put a piece of ice at the base
of my neck. My knees shook a little.
A lean, gray-haired man was sprawled
at the bottom of the steps leading from the
regular kitchen. His head was up against
the leg of the summer kitchen stove, and
there was blood at the base of that leg.
I put out a hand to turn him over, but
he was stiff as the pipe in his yard. He
must have been dead quite a while. The
way it looked, he had stumbled, coming
down the steps, and landed up against the
stove leg. He was over sixty, and a blow
like that could do it.
I went out in the yard again. It’s funny,
but I was thinking of Judy. I was thinking
of how she’d accused me of looking for
trouble, and I got the queerest feeling. Not
that I’m superstitious. I just felt queer.
I could see no telephone wires leading
to the house and I had no desire to go back
in there anyway. I sent the flivver
scurrying back to the filling station.
The redhead looked up in surprise as I
steamed into the drive. I said: “Call the
police—and the coroner.”
“What’s happened?” the kid asked. He
was pop-eyed.
“There’s a dead man up at Cragg’s
He stopped staring then, and went in to
phone. I sat in the car until he came out
“I suppose it’s Cragg, himself,” I said,
“a thin man, gray-haired?”
Red nodded. “That would be him.”
Then he said quietly: “Alice is going to
take it awful hard, poor kid.” He sounded
like he was kind of soft on her.
“His daughter?” I asked.
He nodded.
“An only child?”
He shook his head. “There’s a son,
too—Lenny. He and the old man had a
The local gendarme drove up then in a
flivver older than mine, and I gave him my
He was a fat, dumb-looking slob and
his suspicious little eyes were on my face
all the while. When I finished, he grunted:
“Sounds mighty strange to me. Old Cragg
was spry. It ain’t likely he’d stumble.”
“You don’t even know if it is Cragg,
yet,” I pointed out.
His broad face flushed, and he
muttered: “Well, you’d better come along
to the house, shorty.”
I had planned on doing just that. If the
constable thought as I did, I must have
been wrong, but there were some angles to
the case I didn’t like.
While he inspected the body, I
examined the pipe in the back yard. It
looked like casing to me, six-inch stuff.
The old man may have got a good price on
the load and figured to sell again at a
profit. But that didn’t sound logical.
The constable came out, wiping his
brow with a dirty bandanna. He went over
to the pump arid filled a tin cup of water.
He gulped it down gustily. Then a strange
look came over his beefy face.
His eyes darted to the pipe. “Is that the
stuff you came to collect for?”
I nodded.
“Who’s your client, shorty?”
I didn’t like that “shorty.” Five-eight
isn’t short. I took out my card. “A Mr.
Carl Lorg of Richfield.”
He wrote it down in a tattered
notebook. A black ambulance drove into
the yard then, the coroner’s. He was a
lanky towhead.
When he saw me he held out a hand.
“Mickey Dolan—or I’m crazy.”
“Right,” I said. I tried to place his face.
“You don’t know me,” he explained,
“but I’ve seen you fight—and it’s a
pleasure to shake a right hand like that.”
I said, “Thanks,” and tried not to look
E NODDED cheerfully to the
constable and they went back into the
house. I was glad the coroner had
recognized me. By the look on the
constable’s face, I had a hunch he meant to
hold me and I knew what Judy would say
if that happened.
When the coroner came out again, he
said: “He was hit with something heavy.
He never got that crack in the skull from
the fall.”
I wanted to ask a lot of questions, but I
remembered what I’d promised Judy.
From now on, I was strictly a collector.
I handed the constable my card. “If
you want me, you can reach me there any
week day.”
He sort of hesitated, but the coroner
said: “I’ll vouch for Mickey. If he wanted
to kill anybody, he wouldn’t need to use
anything but his right hand.” He laid a
hand on the law’s shoulder. “I’m going to
analyze that wound back at the morgue.
Maybe that will give you a lead, Sam.”
The constable said: “Somebody’ll have
to notify the kids. It ain’t a job I hanker
for.” He paused. “I guess Red, at the
filling station, has been writing to Alice.
Maybe he’d drive in with shorty, here, and
break the news to her.”
“I’d be glad to take him,” I said.
Red agreed and his face showed the
strain he was under. As the flivver rattled
toward town, he told me a little more
about the old man. How the old fellow had
broken up Red’s romance with Alice. How
he’d driven the son, Lenny, from the house
when the lad came home drunk one night
too often. He didn’t sound like a very
pleasant old chap.
I couldn’t find a motive though. Or
maybe I’m too mercenary. The only
motive I can think of in connection with a
murder was money, and that farm didn’t
look so prosperous to me.
I dropped Red at the office building
where Alice worked and told him I’d be
back in an hour. Then I went to the office.
I told Judy the whole story. When I’d
finished, she looked at me strangely. I
said: “I’m jinxed. But I won’t touch this
case. That’s a promise. But I told Red I’d
take him home again.”
“I’m going along,” she said. I knew
better than to argue.
Red looked like the last rose of
summer when we picked him up.
“How’d she take it?” I asked.
“First rate.” His eyes avoided mine.
“She’s on her way out there now—with
her fiancé.”
I knew now why Red looked so
downcast. “Who is he?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Some Romeo from out
West. She met him in town a few months
Judy made some typically feminine
crack about “pebbles on the beach” and we
rode the rest of the way in silence.
After we dropped Red off at the station
again, I said: “I suppose we’d better drive
over to Richfield and tell Mr. Lorg to put
in a claim on the estate.”
Judy looked over suspiciously. “We
could put in the claim.”
I shook my head stubbornly. “I want to
get his permission.”
Again Judy fell silent, but it wasn’t a
comfortable silence exactly.
This Lorg was a bleak-eyed Swede
who had one of the neatest farms I ever
saw. He had something else, too; a lot of
structural steel in his yard. “You in the
junk business?” I asked him.
He laughed. “Naw. I thought once I
had some oil here. But I was wrong.”
“Oil?” I said. “Then that pipe you sold
“Casing,” he finished for me. “Oil well
I said, “Oh,” and things began to click
in my mind. “What made you think you
had oil here?”
He laughed and looked embarrassed.
“Well, there was a boom in the next state.
You remember it, maybe, about ten years
ago? And I found some oil scum in the
“What caused it?” I asked.
He told me and I began to get a better
picture of Cragg’s death. I had the motive
now, and some suspects.
“I’ll put in a claim on the estate,” I told
him, “and let you know what develops.
And if the constable from Milton Grove
calls, don’t tell him I was here.”
As we chugged out of the yard, Judy
said: “That finishes the business, as far as
we’re concerned.”
I nodded agreement.
There was silence for about three
minutes. Then Judy said hesitantly:
“Have—have you any ideas on this case?”
I shrugged. “Sure.” Then I lied. “I
could name the murderer in twenty-four
She waited for me to go on, but I
We both sulked all the way back to
Milton Grove. I drove directly to the
police station. The constable was alone in
his office.
I explained that I was going to put in a
claim and asked if an executor had been
named for the estate.
He shook his head. “There’s only the
two kids. And Alice has always owned the
farm, inherited it from her mother. She
never bothered about it, let the old man
work it. Whatever else the old buzzard
owned will go to her. He and Lenny
weren’t so friendly.”
Y FRIEND the coroner came in at
that moment. He smiled at me and
Judy, a little longer at Judy. He said to the
law: “I found some Turkish tobacco dust
in the wound. This fellow must have
carried his blackjack in the same pocket
with his cigarettes. So look for a suspect
who smokes Turkish cigarettes, Sam, and
you’ll have a case.”
Judy said quickly: “Well, Mickey, I
guess our work is done.”
“Turkish cigarettes?” I asked. “And
you’re sure it was a blackjack?”
“Our work is done, Mickey,” Judy
“Okay,” I said, not looking at her.
I stopped at Red’s station for gas.
There was a car in there with Oklahoma
plates, a smooth roadster. A blond young
fellow was behind the wheel, and the girl
sitting next to him was red-eyed. I had a
hunch it was Alice Cragg and her fiancé.
When they drove away, Red confirmed
it. “His name’s Madison, Lee Madison.
He’s going to sell the farm for Alice. He
told me if I knew of any prospects to send
them in.”
“How about the son?” I asked. “Won’t
he be here for the funeral?”
Red shook his head. “Lenny’s working
on the coast. He can’t make it.”
I nodded. “Well, Red, I think the
constable might be a prospect. And—I’m
sorry about Alice, kid.”
He grinned, but only with his mouth.
“Yeah, I guess that’s life, or somethin’.”
I paid him and stepped on the starter. I
said casually: “When did Lenny get this
job on the coast?”
He scratched his head. “About a month
ago. I don’t see how he can keep it; he’s
an awful drinker.”
I nodded good-bye. Judy tried to
maintain her silence, but it wasn’t her
nature. “What was that crack about the
constable, Hawkshaw?” she asked.
“Why,” I said, “he’s a livewire
prospect. When he was out in the yard
talking to me, he took a drink of water
from the well. And I could tell by the face
he made that he tasted the oil in it. He’s
probably called Lorg by this time and
found out that pipe was oil well casing.”
In a whisper, Judy said: “You mean
that farm has oil on it?”
“The well has,” I said.
“But does oil ever come that close to
the surface?”
“In Tennessee it does,” I said. “And in
Lorg’s back yard it did at one time.”
She caught on then, and smiled.
“Cragg’s farm would be right in line,
wouldn’t it?”
“Hmm-hmm,” I said. “But I’m
worrying about Alice. I’d like to see her
get a good price for her farm.”
“Miss Cragg, you mean?”
“Okay—Miss Cragg. And I’d like to
see her sell it to simple Sam. I don’t like
that slob.”
Judy looked over at me, and she laid a
hand on my arm. She said slowly: “I
certainly spoil your fun, don’t I, Mickey?”
I shook my head.
“And before you met me, when you
were fighting, you were doing all right for
yourself, weren’t you?”
“I’m doing all right now,” I said.
“And you really can take care of
yourself,” she went on. “For a little fellow,
you’re very strong.”
“I’m five eight,” I said. “If that’s little,
Napoleon was a midget.”
“Mickey,” she said, “this is the last
time. After you solve this, you stick to
I smiled.
“If anything should happen to you,”
she said, “I’d die.”
I swallowed my smile and I could feel
it warming me as it went down.
ACK in town, I called a friend of
mine who worked for the morning
paper. He had a filing cabinet for a mind
and he gave me all the dope I wanted in
five minutes. Then I called the Atlas Oil
Company and they gave me the rest.
It was getting pretty late now, though,
so I decided to put the whole thing off
until the next day. Judy and I went out to
supper and then to a movie. But my mind
wasn’t on it. I was planning the next day’s
I drove over to the Sherford Arms. It
was a swanky apartment house and Lee
Madison had a suite on the second floor.
He opened the door, and I saw he was
alone. Which suited me.
“My name is Dolan,” I said, “Mickey
Dolan. I’m interested in that farm out at
Milton Grove.”
He was a broad-shouldered lad and he
looked plenty shrewd. He nodded to an
upholstered chair. “Sit down, Mr. Dolan.”
He was studying me closely. “Aren’t
you the collector, the man who found Mr.
“Mmm-hmm,” I said.
“Did you intend to farm the place
yourself, Mr. Dolan?”
“Well, yes,” I said. “It’s the kind of
life I’d like.” I looked him straight in the
eye. “The air is so fresh. And I like the
His gaze didn’t waver. “What were
you prepared to offer?”
The place was worth, at the outside,
about five thousand. “Eight thousand
dollars,” I said.
He shook his head. “The constable out
there called me and made a better offer
than that last night.”
“How much more?”
“He offered twelve thousand—cash.”
If I had any doubts as to the
constable’s honesty before, they were
doubled now. That was a lot of money for
a salaried man to have—in cash. “You
going to sell to him?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I’ve half promised
another man that I’d sell him a three
months’ option. I’m morally obligated to
accept it if he wants to close today.”
“I see,” I said. Then I took a shot in the
dark. “This other man wouldn’t be a
stooge, would he?”
His face tinged with color. “Just what
do you mean?”
“I mean he wouldn’t be a pal, some
one to help you hang onto the place until
you start drilling?”
“Look,” I said. “You’re from
Oklahoma. If anyone knew what oil casing
looked like, you would. And you’ve been
out to the farm with Miss Cragg often
enough. You probably drank from the
well. Let’s put our cards on the table,
His face was dead white. “Are you
suggesting I’d engage in something
“You’ve done it before,” I said. “And
you’d do it again. You might even commit
murder; you might send Lenny out to
California on a drunken holiday. As a
promoter, you’re known to be a very slick
His voice was deadly calm as he said:
“You’ve built up quite a case. I don’t
know whether to give you another drink or
call the police.”
“Call the police,” I told him. “And
we’ll search the room for Turkish
cigarettes. “ That really staggered him. For
the first time he looked frightened.
“Cigarettes—are you crazy? I smoke a
“There was Turkish tobacco dust in
that wound on Cragg’s head,” I said
quietly. “Are you going to call the
He sat and glared at me.
“Then I will,” I said. I reached for the
His voice was sharp. “Don’t!”
I sat back in my chair.
‘‘I’m innocent,” he said. “But you’ve
built up a case. I suppose it’s blackmail—
and I can’t afford that. I’ll sell you the
farm.” He rose wearily. “I’ll get the
He was in the bedroom before I could
stop him. But he was back in twenty
seconds, a sheaf of papers in his hand. He
laid them on the desk next to my chair—
and I saw what was under them.
It was an automatic. He had it pointed
at my chest. He didn’t say a word, but I
understood. He picked up the phone and
called a number. Then he said: “Joe Spad,
A few seconds, and he said: “Joe? This
is Lee Madison. I’ve got a little job for
you. How soon can you be here? About
twenty minutes? I’ll be waiting.”
As a pug, I’d known quite a few of the
town’s scum. And Joe Spad was a torpedo
with a very vicious reputation. I shivered a
little, though the room was warm.
ADISON turned to me and said: “I
don’t smoke cigarettes. But I blend
my own tobacco.” He pointed to three
large casks in the bookcase flanking the
fireplace. “One of those is full of Turkish
tobacco. It might be embarrassing to me to
have it analyzed.”
A cask like that, I thought, would be a
good place to hide a blackjack.
Madison still had the gun pointed at
my chest. “Why is it,” he said, “that little
fellows are always so nosey?”
I didn’t answer.
“You should have stuck to collecting,”
he said.
He was right about that. “Is the
blackjack still in the cask?” I asked him.
“No. It’s at the bottom of the river.”
He laughed dryly. “Maybe you’ll join it,
after Joe gets through with you.”
“At least seven people know I was
coming to see you,” I said. “You’ll have to
blow town in an awful hurry. Now, if
you’d use your head—”
His eyes narrowed, and I tensed. I had
my good right hand bunched.
“You’re lying,” he said.
But he lowered the gun and I saw
something. He had the automatic’s safety
on. I moved my feet imperceptibly. It
would have to be my Sunday punch.
I kept my voice to a whisper. “I could
give you five telephone numbers without
even trying.”
Automatically, he leaned closer—and I
let him have it. He slammed back and
went to his knees, the gun flying. I could
have finished him then, but I’d been in the
ring too long. I waited until he staggered
to his feet. Then I smacked him twice—
left and right. He crashed into the fireplace
and slumped to the floor.
I conked him with the automatic—just
for luck. Then I wrote a note. It read:
I had to leave. Meet me at Rico’s in an
I signed it “Lee” and tacked it to the
door outside. I knew that Joe Spad hung
out at Rico’s and I didn’t think Joe would
know Lee’s handwriting. Because when
Lee had called he used both his names.
They couldn’t have been too thick.
Then I called the office.
Judy sounded scared, but I said
quickly: “Get Alice Cragg. Tell her you’re
from Lee and he had to leave town. Tell
her he said she should accept the
constable’s offer immediately. In cash.
Sell him the pipe, too, if you can.”
“Okay,” Judy said, “but Mickey—
you’re safe, aren’t you?”
“As safe as in church,” I said.
Then I picked up the gun and sat down
to wait. Because if I tipped off the police
now, the constable would get the whole
story. In about ten minutes, I heard
footsteps outside. Then some one took the
note from the door.
If Madison came to now. . . But he was
sleeping soundly. The footsteps went
It was going to be funny, I thought,
when the constable discovered his new
farm had no oil on it. I’d suspected when
Lorg had told me that what he thought was
a well was nothing more than a leak in the
pipeline that the Atlas Company had
running through his property. Milton
Grove was on the same line and the Atlas
people told me they were preparing to dig
for a leak there right now. The oil seeped
down to the underground streams and
thence to Cragg’s well.
The deal went through all right, and I
turned Madison over to the city police.
With him out of the way, I knew that Red
would be back in there pitching.
Back at the office that afternoon, Judy
said: “It really doesn’t seem ethical selling
that farm to the constable.”
“He was trying to put over a fast one
on Alice,” I said.
“Miss Cragg, you mean?”
“Okay. Besides”—and this was
probably the real reason though I wouldn’t
admit it to Judy—“besides, he shouldn’t
have called me ‘shorty.’ ”

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