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Thrilling Detective, August, 1948
OME PEOPLE make a hobby of
collecting things. Not me. Canceled
stamps bore me, antique furniture gives
me a pain in the neck, and foreign coinage
leaves me cold. Any time some wild-eyed
enthusiast buttonholes me and starts spouting
about his valuable files of punched street car
transfers, my interest rapidly ripens to apathy,
and I take a powder just as fast as I can
politely wriggle off the conversational hook.
That’s why I didn’t feel too happy when I
jabbed my thumb at Kitty Culpepper’s
doorbell that evening. Kitty was the kind of
collector who rode her hobby with spurs and a
buggy whip; who rammed her specialty down
your throat until you begged for mercy. Which
meant that I would presently be knee deep in
dolls—big dolls and little dolls, bisque dolls
and china dolls, rag dolls and Dresden dolls,
dolls that said “Mammy” and blinked their
eyes and wet their pants and, for all I knew,
ate limburger cheese sandwiches on rye. With
The thought was mildly repulsive. I
dismissed it and gave the bell button another
helping of thumb.
A tall blond butler with the profile of a
Greek god opened the portal to my second
ring, regarded me haughtily down the length
of his patrician nose and then changed his
arrogance to dismay.
“For heaven’s sake!” he said. “Another
one with a broken head!”
“Who, me?” I demanded, and touched the
top of my noggin indignantly, finding no
fractures. “You must be goofy.”
Then I realized he wasn’t looking at me;
he was looking past me, staring down beyond
my brogans at something on the floor of the
portico which I hadn’t noticed in the darkness
when I first ankled up to the premises. Light
from the open doorway now revealed it, and
the butler scurried around me to pick it up.
It was a doll with its conk caved in, as if
somebody had slugged it with a niblick. The
flunky breathed noisily through his matineeidol schnozzle as he inspected the damage.
Then he looked at me with suspicion if not
actual accusation.
“Did you do this?”
“Don’t be foolish,” I said. “I quit playing
with toys when I was a mere lad of thirty, just
around the time I swore off corn-silk
cigarettes and began smoking opium.” In a
more serious tone I added, “Speaking of dolls,
if Miss Culpepper is adorning the tepee you
might tell her Nick Ransom has arrived. It’s
okay. I’m no autograph pest. I’m a private pry
with an appointment. I was sent for.”
E GRUDGINGLY ushered me into a
rectangular reception hall not quite so
vast as the Pasadena Rose Bowl, but much
more impressive. Hand-hewn oak beams
supported a high arched Gothic ceiling, faded
antique tapestries draped the walls like a
museum display, and an array of carved
comfortless chairs stood at spaced intervals in
a sort of military precision that made your
spine ache just to look at them.
The floor was of hardwood parquetry,
waxed to the gloss of an ice skating rink and
just as treacherous to walk on unless you had
cleats in your shoes. The butler didn’t have
cleats. He started toward the rear, skidded,
almost fell on his asterisk and righted himself
by a mighty contortion.
“Opium!” he snarled, limping off. “A wise
Time passed. I set fire to a gasper, smoked
it down to a half-inch butt and peered around
for an ash-tray where I could snub out the
ember. No ash-tray. Then I noticed some
purple velvet portieres covering a doorway on
the left; decided they might mask a place for
me to douse my tobacco. I shoved the drapes
aside, stepped through and gave vent to a
“What the devil?”
I was at a funeral.
A multiple funeral—for dolls.
The room was small and dimly lighted by
candles. It was not much more than an alcove,
really. Six little silk-covered shoe boxes were
arranged on card tables in a semi-circle, each
shoe box lined with white satin and containing
a broken doll. No two of the dolls were alike
as to dress or appearance, but they all had one
thing in common. They were smashed. Some
had arms or legs missing and some had busted
heads like the one on the front porch, but all
were beyond repair and ready for the trash
The way things looked, though, they were
going to be given a complete burial service
instead of being consigned to the nearest city
dump. There were even some miniature floral
wreaths and some tiny sprays on easels
scattered around to make the funeral
atmosphere complete: For a long moment I
stood there bemused, wondering if I might be
having hallucination. Then the cigarette
scorched my fingers and I dropped it, stepped
on it. The movement helped to snap me out of
my flabbergasted trance.
I gulped a couple of times, got my
composure back, and started figuring the
answers. Here in Hollywood you run into
plenty of eccentric characters and screwball
capers. The picture industry is like a magnet
that draws crackpots from all over the country.
But a mass funeral for six busted dolls—well,
that copped the Academy award for downright
wackiness. Unless you happened to know
Kitty Culpepper as well as I did.
Kitty was the screen’s mystery woman.
Nobody seemed to recall just how she’d got to
the West Coast five years ago, although
several of her rival shemale stars on the
Perfection lot maintained she had ridden in on
a broom. Which merely went to show she
wasn’t too popular with her own gender. But
then quails like Kitty rarely are. My own
guess was that she had hitch-hiked. At least I
knew she had arrived without a nickel,
because I was the guy who paid her first
week’s room rent.
In those days I was operating a cinema
stunt outfit entitled Risks, Incorporated—
movie thrills furnished at fifty bucks per
broken neck. I doubled in the danger
sequences for some of the biggest names in
the galloping snapshots; had a trained staff of
professional daredevils to handle any overflow
assignments I couldn’t take care of personally.
One morning the Culpepper cutie had
barged into my office looking for work. She
had a Southern drawl thicker than cornmeal
mush, a figure like a bachelor’s dream, a
ridiculous rag doll under her arm, and
steadfast determination in her dark, enigmatic
“I want a job, Mr. Ransom,” she had
firmly announced. “I want any kind of work
you’ve got to offer. I’ll climb mountains,
charm snakes, jump off bridges or dive into
saucers of boiling oil—for money. I’m
Desperate, my adenoids. She was hungry.
I knew the signs, because I’ve been hungry
myself. I slipped her a sawbuck for coffee and
bagels, got her a room in a run-down fleabag,
and jawed a casting director pal of mine into
hiring her as an extra in a mob scene. She was
too beautiful to waste on the stunting racket;
too fragile, too daintily exotic. Making her
hang off cliffs by her toenails would have
been as incongruous as cutting up dill pickles
in your champagne.
O MAKE a long story interesting, she
photographed like some Oriental goddess.
Within two or three months she was playing
bit roles; inside a year, leads. By the time I
folded Risks, Incorporated, and opened my
private investigation agency, Kitty Culpepper
was a top star in Perfection Pix and had come
to be known as Hollywood’s mystery woman.
The mystery woman angle started as a
press agent’s pipe dream. Kitty didn’t mind
giving publicity interviews, but she wouldn’t
go for any mention of her past, or her real
name, or where she had come from. Her life
before she hit California was strictly her own
business. She even got rid of her Southern
drawl so phonetic experts wouldn’t be able to
spot her origin.
This, of course, was a natural for the fan
mags and gossip columnists. Then when she
began to collect dolls, the story was perfect.
Kitty the glamorous; Kitty and her intriguing
hobby. Kitty Culpepper, who spent great gobs
of geetus on miniature wardrobes for her
collection, and then gave exhibits of the dolls
for charity. Kitty Culpepper, who kept the
movie wolves at a distance, who confined her
romancing exclusively to the make-believe
world of celluloid, and declared she wouldn’t
marry the handsomest man on earth. Kitty the
gorgeous, living in spinsterish splendor with a
mansion full of dolls. The public ate it up.
Until now, though, I had never taken the
doll routine seriously. I knew her stash was
infested with them, but I thought it was all
part of the act. Yet here were these six busted
figurines reposing in their improvised shoe
box coffins, patently indicating that the
Culpepper cookie had gone overboard on the
Well, I mused, sometimes it’s a mighty
narrow line of demarcation between a hobby
and a mania. As to how the toys had got
broken, I wasn’t even trying to guess.
From behind me a slithery sound intruded
as somebody gave the portieres a nudge on
their pole rings. I jumped. “I beg pardon, sir,”
a voice said, and I jumped again, but higher.
The voice belonged to the matinee-idol
butler. He had sneaked in on me while my
attention was elsewhere, and if he had been an
assassin he could have slit my weasand before
I knew what hit me. I gave him my ferocious
scowl, the one I intimidate babies with.
“Jeeves,” I yodeled, “don’t do that!”
“The name is Smedley, sir. Sorry, sir.” He
leered. “I didn’t mean to frighten you, sir.”
“Not frightened,” I said truculently.
“Startled. A private detective is always on the
dodge. Enemies, you know. Besides, a guy
gets edgy at a funeral for smashed dolls.”
“Quite so, sir. Weird, is it not? Sometimes
I wonder if Miss Culpepper mightn’t be going
a trifle off her rocker the past few days. Not
that you’d blame her, considering.” He didn’t
amplify this curious remark. “Incidentally, sir,
she will see you now. In the music room, if
you will follow me.”
“Fine. By the way, have you any idea why
she phoned me to come over here in such a
“I have several ideas, sir, but perhaps
you’d better ask her yourself.”
I trailed him from the alcove and across
the reception hall’s glossy expanse, walking
carefully so I wouldn’t go skidding neck over
tincup. My acrobatic days are past; I’m
growing brittle.
“Do you think it’s about the dolls?” I
He looked back at me, started to answer.
But he never got the words out, because just
then a scream shrilled from somewhere in the
rear, high and harsh as a bandsaw ripping into
a hardwood knot.
HE instant I heard that marrow-curdling
yeep I lit a shuck toward the source of the
sound. As I ran I unpacked the .32 automatic I
always tote in an armpit rig for emergencies.
Something told me this might very well be an
emergency, senior grade.
Fast as I moved, Smedley was faster. He
churned along ahead of me with his hip
pockets dipping lint, scuttled through an
archway under forced draft. I tried the same
maneuver and a throw rug threw me and sent
me sailing south while my gat sailed north. I
landed with a jar that nearly dislocated my
I floundered around a while, trying to
shake the bees out of my bonnet. And then
somebody said:
“Get up, you fiend! But make no false
moves or I will shoot you like a dog. I have
your gun.”
Gradually the fog drifted from my glims
and I glued the flabbergasted glimpse on a
giantess. She had hair the yellow of ripe
Minnesota wheat and the clear Scandinavian
complexion that goes with it. At a guess, she
must have weighed two hundred pounds—not
an ounce of it fat. And sure enough, she had
my roscoe. She was aiming it at my gizzard.
I staggered to my full height of six feet
plus, and the Amazon topped me by at least
four inches. For all her heft, she was
gorgeously proportioned. She wore a sort of
nurse’s outfit, white and starchy, but no
amount of starch and stiffness could conceal
the curves under the cloth. She had everything
it takes to make a man pucker up and whistle
like a freight engine, only hers came in the
large economy size.
“So at last you show yourself,” she
declaimed in a resonant chest tone. She had
the chest for it, too, along with a trace of
accent. “I have caught you red-handed!”
“Now wait a minute, Tutz,” I said mildly.
“Better stop seeing so many B pix. They’re
corning up your dialogue. What’s with this
red-handed fiend sheep dip?”
“What is it but red-handed when I hear a
scream and run from my room to find you
here with a gun by your side?” she answered,
with an elaborate sneer that showed the even
whiteness of her teeth. “And who but a fiend
would destroy as you have destroyed?”
Just then the butler came blipping through
the archway, drawing her attention.
“Smedley!” she widened her big blue
peepers at him. “What is it? What is wrong?”
“It’s Miss Culpepper. She’s fainted in the
music room, and—there’s another smashed
“She needs me!” the big jane squalled.
“Here, take this!”
Planking my fowling piece into the
flunky’s fist, she raced away in a cloud of
waffle batter.
Smedley evidently didn’t like guns. He
juggled mine as if he had been presented with
a live cobra. I reached out, relieved him of it.
“Thanks,” I said. “Now let’s go see about
Miss Culpepper and the smashed doll.” I
nudged him into motion. “Lead the way and
make it hasty. It’s high time somebody gave
with the explanations around here.” Then, as
an afterthought, “Just who the devil is that
hefty tomato in white?”
“Hulda? She’s—she’s Miss Culpepper’s
personal masseuse. Figure conditioner, she
calls herself.”
Nervously he piloted me along a hallway,
then down two steps into a combined
conservatory and library. Shelves on three
sides of the room were stacked with books and
record albums. The fourth side was largely
glass, a good deal of it French windows. A
radio phonograph, a grand piano, a couple of
divans, some easy chairs and a few floor
lamps made up the furnishings.
Recumbent on one of the sofas lay Kitty
Culpepper, slender and alluring in yellow silk
lounging pajamas that clung to her contours
like melted honey.
Hulda hulked massively over her, stroking
her temples and massaging her wrists and
murmuring what sounded like Swedish
incantations. Then, copping a gander at me,
the blond Amazon did a fast double-take.
Alarm spread over her broad map as she piped
the gat dangling in my duke. Then she planted
herself firmly in front of the divan like a
“You will have to kill me before you touch
Miss Kitty!” she announced. “I will protect
her with my life!”
“More of that B picture dialogue,” I said.
“You really ought to cut it out before it gets
habit-forming. Now just what goes on here?”
“As if you did not know, you—you dollbreaker!”
“Good lord, woman,” Smedley bleated,
“so that’s why you were aiming a gun at him.
You thought—” He made a disgusted gesture.
“Why, this is Nick Ransom. He’s the private
detective Miss Culpepper sent for.”
“P-private detective?” Hulda reddened to
the roots of her taffy hair. “Are you sure?”
STARTED to show her my badge and
credentials, but it wasn’t necessary. The
Culpepper quail chose that moment to open
her dark optics and snap out of her swoon. She
saw me and moaned:
“Nick! Oh-h-h, Nick, I’m so glad you’re
here! Nick, save me! I—don’t w-want to
die—like that!” And she stared over toward
one of the French windows.
I stared, too and felt goose pimples as big
as persimmons growing on my brisket. And
no wonder. In the darkness just outside the
window there was a French doll dangling from
a length of cord lashed around its broken neck
like a hangman’s noose.
Even as I glommed a swivel at this
macabre sight, Hulda bleated like an enraged
banshee and barreled toward the window. She
opened it and hurled herself out into the night,
screaming her intention to catch somebody
and rend him limb from limb. It was a noble
sentiment indeed, but I don’t take much stock
in noble sentiment.
In fact, I’m pretty cynical about human
nature. I tapped Smedley on the shoulder.
“After her, pal. Grab her and fetch her
back. See that she stays on deck until I find
out what’s behind this dizzy rhubarb. That
applies for any other servants in the joint, too.
Including yourself, if you get what I mean.”
“Yes, sir. You distrust us.” He put his
kisser up close to my ear. “Confidentially I
don’t blame you. But at least there’s only
Hulda and me to worry about. The maid, the
cook and the chauffeur left this afternoon
without notice.”
He sprinted over to the window and raced
in pursuit of the masseuse.
Meanwhile Kitty Culpepper seized my
hand, pulled me alongside her on the divan.
Her hair was bluish black and page-boy
bobbed, her skin had a clear creamy purity
that brunettes seldom possess, and her features
were symmetrically perfect, like sculpture.
The slight Oriental slant of her eyes added a
touch of exotic mystery that made you think
of harems and Circassian slave girls and the
perfumed pages of the Arabian Nights.
When I found myself harboring thoughts
like that I decided I must be getting soft in the
steeple. I looked at Kitty and wondered if she
realized I was making mental passes at her.
She shivered delicately. “Nick, somebody
wants to murder me,” she said in a tremulous
“Hunh?” I said, forgetting about the
mental passes.
“It’s true. It started a few nights ago when
someone b-broke in and pulled the arms and
legs off one of my prize bisque dolls. It was an
antique I’d bought in London. I paid a
fabulous price for it, and . . . Nick, I was
heartbroken. Dolls mean more to me than they
do to most people. They’re like—well, almost
like a family. The family I’ve never really
had. I guess the psychologists would call it a
frustration complex or something. You know,
because I’ve never married, or had children.”
“Sublimation is the word.”
She nodded. “That’s it. Anyhow, I—I
thought the doll should have a—funeral. Was
that silly of me, Nick?”
“Yeah,” I said frankly.
Her lower lip quivered. “Next night I
found two more, broken. Their heads
shattered. As long as I had fixed a funeral for
the first one, I didn’t like to discriminate. And
Nick, I—I accused the servants of smashing
“Whereupon everybody ups and walks out
except Smedley and Hulda, huh?”
“That’s right. Then, this evening, I found
another three more dolls destroyed. That made
“Which you put in shoe box coffins,” I
said. “And this one outside the window is
seven.” I indicated the hanging figurine. “Plus
the one Smedley found on the front porch
when I came in. Or didn’t he tell you about
She shrank back. “No. No, he—he didn’t.”
Her voice was barely above a whisper. “Eight
broken dolls! Now do you see why I asked
you to come, Nick? Can you understand it’s a
series of warnings telling me I may be next?”
“Pet,” I said, “this is preposterous. Who
would want to rub you out? And for what
“I can’t answer that. I don’t d-dare.”
“Are you trying to hint it’s something out
of your past? Some time, some place, you
pulled something on somebody who’s now
turning up for a slice of revenge? Is that it?”
“Please don’t ask me, Nick. Just protect
me. Don’t—let me be killed!”
ALMOST bought it. I came within an inch
of swallowing everything she had told me,
hook, line and bait. Then I happened to tab the
sidewise glance she gave me, the studied,
calculating glitter that came into her glims and
went away again. It was only a brief flash, a
flicker that vanished instantly like a
magician’s rabbit. But it put me hep to the
setup. A sudden hunch told me I had been on a
sleigh ride. Nick Ransom, sap. Nick Ransom,
prime patsy for a publicity pitch.
Without saying anything I stood up,
ankled across the room to a phone and dialed a
number out of my mental card index file. At
the other end of the connection, Stuart
Froelich came on the wire. In a town overrun
with press agents, Froelich was one of the
best. For years he had been head of the press
relations department on the Perfection lot at a
fabulous salary—and he was worth every
nickel of it. He could manufacture headlines
faster than Kaiser makes Frazers, and if you
laid all his publicity stories end to end you’d
go blind reading them.
“That you, Stu?” I said. “Nick Ransom
here. Here, being Kitty Culpepper’s tepee.
Could you dash over for a conference, kid? I’d
like to check with you on the details of this
busted-doll gimmick before you release it to
the reporters.”
He chuckled. “So Kitty broke down and
told you, eh? Okay, coming right over. See
you in a jiffy.”
Since he lived just a couple of streets
away, that would be a promise easily kept.
Quietly I cradled the phone, turned to the
Culpepper muffin.
“I’m ashamed of you, hon, trying to run
that kind of whizzer on a pal. I’ll stand hitched
for a lot of things, but not a press agent
shenanigan. And don’t deny it, because I just
jockeyed Froelich into a confession. He’ll be
here presently to confirm it.”
“ ‘Star Has Funeral For Smashed Toys.
Hires Famed Detective To Hunt DollDestroyer.’ Yeah, babe. I admit the headlines
would be terrific. But you can include me
She came off the divan in a fluent flurry of
motion, while a sudden gush of brine brimmed
from her peepers and ran down her
complexion in little rivulets of melted
“I hate you!” she said, and pelted out of
the room.
Sure she hated me. Nobody likes to be
exposed in something ignoble. When you get
caught you naturally dislike the guy that
uncovers your deceitfulness. As for those
shamed tears—well, phooey. Any actress as
competent as Kitty can cry on cue. I was not
Off in another room, she screamed.
Still I wasn’t impressed. I’d heard her do it
before, a while ago when she had pretended to
faint here in the music room. She had fooled
me then, along with Smedley and the massive
Hulda; but not any more. I was through being
a sucker. All I wanted was to stick around
until Stu Froelich showed up, so I could let
him know what I thought of him.
Then I intended to go home and soak up a
jorum of Scotch—kill the bad taste in my
“Nick!” Kitty said.
HE was at the doorway, quaking like jello
on a dining car table, and her face was as
pale as a kalsomined wall.
“Nice makeup, hon,” I said. “You applied
it fast, too. Very effective, that pallor. And
those shakes look almost genuine. What’s the
weenie this time? If it’s sympathy you’re
fishing for, I’m fresh out.”
“Nick, I—I want to show you something.”
“Tonight I’ve seen everything,” I said
“Please, Nick. Come with me. Please!”
“Come with you where?”
“My—my boudoir.”
I cocked an eyebrow and tried to look
raffish. “Aren’t you forgetting the censors?”
“Nick!” she said, and her voice sounded as
if it were haunted. “Nick, don’t be like that!
There’s a dead girl in my room!”
O NOW it wasn’t a broken doll, it was a
dead girl. I stopped being raffish and said
“If this is another one of your antics,
watch out. I can take just so much malarkey,
then I blow my wig.”
I went with her along the hallway to a door
that stood ajar. She pointed to this and gulped.
I edged her aside, pushed the door all the
way open, and barged into a room as opulent
as a movie set and twice as fantastic. Two of
the walls were done in quilted white satin
from floor to ceiling, with crimson buttons
between the tufts like drops of gore in
whipping cream.
Along the third wall ran a lengthy dressing
table flanked by French windows. The fourth
wall was a mammoth mirror, the biggest
single installation of looking glass I’ve ever
gandered. Smooth and flawless, this
overwhelming monstrosity had a pale greenish
tint which caused your reflection to resemble
an overripe cadaver. It gave me the jim-jams.
The boudoir carpeting was of cream-tinted
velour with a furry nap that foamed up around
your ankles like the froth on an acre of freshly
spilled beer, only instead of smelling like beer
it had a definite fragrance of Chanel Number
Five. And in all this scented implausibility
there was just one piece of furniture—a
canopied four poster bedstead the size of
Rhode Island, equipped with scarlet pillows
and a black silk counterpane.
When I copped a slant at the bed I saw that
Kitty Culpepper hadn’t lied, after all. There
was a corpse on that black counterpane—a
cute little brown-haired filly as diminutive as
one of Kitty’s dolls and just as lifeless. Some
dirty disciple had pistoled her through the
ticker, thereby rendering her defunct.
I pinned the glimpse on the Culpepper
cupcake. “Okay, who was this frail?”
“I—I don’t know.” She was lying. It
showed in her eyes, tinctured the tone of her
voice. “I walked in and found her there. It was
horrible, Nick!”
“It will get worse before it gets better if
you persist in doing what you’re doing,” I said
grimly. “The cops won’t be as easy on you as
I am. Now tell me the truth before I make my
“Call? Nick, do you have to bring the
police in on this? I—I mean—”
“Don’t ask foolish questions. I’m
stretching a point by giving you a chance to
speak your piece before the bulls get here.
Better take advantage of it while you can.”
She came close to me, gave me a long
searching look. Then her shoulders sagged.
“All right. The girl is—is Deborah
Smedley. My butler’s wife. His former wife.
They were divorced just two weeks ago. She
had started—well, going around with other
men, and—”
“Well, for Pete’s sake!” I made a
disgusted gesture. “Why in the name of your
Aunt Maria would you lie about that? Why
tell me you didn’t know her?”
“Because I—I’d had a quarrel with her
before she and Smedley separated. Smedley’s
a nice guy, Nick. He works hard, and he loved
her, and—and she was rotten to him. She
broke his heart. I meddled. I thought maybe I
could do him a favor by bringing her to her
senses. I asked her to come see me, and I—I
told her off. She got sore and said ugly things
to me. She even accused me of being—well,
interested in Smedley. If you can imagine
anything so absurd. Me in love with a
“He’s a mighty handsome hunk of stuff.”
“To me he’s merely a butler. When his
wife pulled that on me I lost my temper. I said
things I shouldn’t have said.”
“Threats, for instance?”
“Yes, Nick. And the servants overheard.
Now she’s d-dead. Murdered. On my bed? I’ll
be suspected. Oh-h-h, Nick, what am I going
to do?”
“Tell the truth and take your chances,” I
said unfeelingly.
I was still pretty annoyed by the publicity
routine she had tried to horse me into, and
while I didn’t actually suspect her of having
anything to do with the croaking of Smedley’s
doll-like wife, the thing was strictly a case for
the Homicide cops. I turned, stalked from the
boudoir and went back to the sunken
conservatory, headed for the telephone.
GUY was standing in front of it, over by
the grand piano; a dapper little character
in brown tweed slacks and a hound’s-tooth
sport jacket as quiet and unobtrusive as a riot
in a boiler factory. His face was sharp enough
to slice salami and his curly black hair had a
white blaze from widow’s-peak to crown, as if
it had been parted with a paint brush. He had
one blue eye and one gray one, giving him a
humorously lopsided look that went well with
his wide-mouthed crooked grin. He was Stu
Froelich, the Perfection publicity chief, and he
tossed me an airy greeting.
“Hi, Hawkshaw. What’s new in
“Murder,” I said, and started around him.
He blinked his mismatched glims at me.
“Hey, what gives? You look like a man
that just found a bug in his Wheaties.”
“No, I look like a man that just found a
corpse in a boudoir. Step aside while I phone
He blocked me. “Now wait a minute.
Fun’s fun, but leave us not carry it to
extremes. After all, a broken doll—”
“This doll’s real,” Kitty Culpepper said
from the doorway, and came down the two
steps into the music room. She faced Froelich,
a harried grimace twisting her kisser. “It’s
Deborah Smedley. My butler’s ex-wife. You
remember her.”
“Sure I do. What about her?”
“She’s dead. Murdered. On my b-bed.”
He closed his gray eye, stared at her with
the blue one. “I’m being kidded, of course,”
he said uncertainly. When she didn’t answer,
he turned to me. “It’s a rib. Right, Nick?”
“Wrong. It’s a kill.”
“But—but when you phoned me to come
over here you didn’t say anything about a
“Nobody knew about it then. Except the
He was starting to sweat. “Good grief! So
that’s why Smedley wasn’t here to let me in
when I rang the bell. That’s why I found the
front door unlatched and walked in.”
Momentarily he lost his voice, then it came
back. “You mean he shot her and got away?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “If Smedley did
it, he used a gat with a silencer. There was no
report. I don’t even know what the jane was
doing in Kitty’s bedroom. It’s plain she must
have burgled one of the French windows, but
don’t ask me why.”
“Maybe I can guess the answer to that,”
Kitty said.
“Yeah?” I peered at her. “Okay, give.”
“Well, I told you how she accused me
of—of being interested in Smedley. Maybe
she sneaked in my room hoping to catch us
together.” She blushed furiously.
Froelich combed a finger along the white
blaze bisecting his curly black hair.
“And then Smedley saw her from outdoors
and let her have a silent bullet! That I’ll buy.”
“Don’t be too swift,” I said. “I’m not
defending the guy, but isn’t it an odd
coincidence he’d be toting a noiseless roscoe
at that particular moment? Besides, what
about his motive? The quail wasn’t his wife
any more; they’d been divorced. So what valid
reason would he have for knocking her off?”
“There you’ve got me, Sherlock.”
I turned again to the Culpepper cutie.
“Let’s try a new angle. You admit the
smashed-doll story was publicity hokum.”
“And when you tried to sell me the idea
that somebody out of your mysterious past
was gunning for you, was that hokum, too?”
“Yes. Yes, it was.”
“But where did you get the notion?” I
went on. “Did you dream it up, or did it have a
secret basis of truth?”
“I don’t think I understand you, Nick.”
“You’ve always kept your past covered
up,” I said. “Is it possible you really did do
something to somebody, some time,
somewhere? Someone who would have reason
to hate you and crave revenge? And, knowing
this, did you subconsciously make it part of
the story you fed me?”
Her color was bleaching out. “If you mean
did I have enemies, the answer is no. I made
that up.”
“Don’t lie to me, hon,” I warned her. “This
is murder, remember. Suppose there actually
was somebody gunning for you. Suppose he
showed up tonight, just when you were
pulling your publicity caper on me. Suppose
Deborah Smedley chose this same night to go
snooping through your boudoir. The lights
were low and the killer came to your window,
saw her, mistook her for you. He fired, and the
girl died in your place. Make sense?”
“No, Nick. It doesn’t, because—”
“Better not say that to the cops,” I
growled. “They’ll demand full cooperation.
You’ll have to tell about your past, name the
party who hated you enough to want to kill
you. You’re the only person who can furnish a
line on the guilty guy. Refuse to play ball and
you’ll be in a jackpot, hon.”
HE shivered under the clinging yellow
“But I don’t know anybody who’d want to
m-murder me. And my past has n-nothing to
do with it. I’ve kept it a secret, yes. But only
because it’s not glamorous enough. I was poor
white trash in the deep South. I grew up in an
orphanage, never knew my parents. I worked
in the cotton fields and then as a—a servant, a
kitchen slavey. I’d be laughed out of pictures
if the public knew my real background. I’d go
back to being a nobody again. I don’t want
that to happen, Nick. It mustn’t happen!”
Stu Froelich moved casually to the two
steps into the hallway. He beckoned me, then
drew me out of Kitty’s earshot.
“Let’s make a deal, gumshoe. What’s your
price for keeping Kitty out of this hassle?
She’s worth millions to Perfection Pix. And
Perfection’s investment in her has to be
“You wouldn’t try to bribe me, would
He smirked. “Don’t go ethical on me, pal.
I’m Froelich, remember? You and I have
known each other for years. We’ve been
swacked together, made passes at the same
squabs, traded the phone numbers in our
address books. You love cash like Scotch
loves soda. Here’s your chance to collect.”
The worst of it was, he was right. I’m
always on the make for a buck. I’m trying to
save up a retirement fund so I can fold up and
live on my fat before some sharp apple writes
my name and address on a bullet. By the same
token, I won’t cover up a murder; not for
money, marbles or beefstake.
“Get away from me, Buster,” I said.
“Look, I’m only suggesting we move the
corpse out of here and put it somewhere else
for the cops to find.”
“Sorry. No dice.”
His narrow mush darkened. “My studio
drags a lot of weight in this man’s town. There
are ways of getting a snoop’s license jerked,
you know.”
“First bribery, now threats,” I said.
“Threats I take from nobody.”
I made a fist, looked at it. Then I hit him
with my other hand, the one he wasn’t
watching. He landed on his back; stayed there.
I strode back to the phone, called Police
Headquarters. Kitty didn’t try to stop me.
Presently I got my friend Ole Brunvig of the
Homicide Squad.
“Nick Ransom this end,” I snapped. “Dust
your diapers out here to Kitty Culpepper’s
igloo with a meat wagon. I seem to have
discovered a murder.” Then I mentioned the
missing servants, Hulda and Smedley
described them and suggested a radio pickup
order on them. “I don’t know where Hulda fits
in, but Smedley is the dead doll’s former
hubby. Got it?”
“Got it,” Brunvig said, and rang off.
I started to hang up but never got around
to it. Something descended on my noggin with
the impact of a piledriver. A bank of Klieg
lights blazed in my skull; went out. I went out,
AIN on the roof was drumming the thin
shingles like a demented jazz musician
full of marijuana. Somebody said, “I pass,”
and somebody else said, “Raise you five,” and
another voice chuckled, “Your five and five
more. How many cards, Ransom?”
Ransom didn’t answer. I squeezed my
glims shut and wondered if Ransom was
holding a pat hand. I wondered who Ransom
was. A quiet guy, obviously. The strong, silent
type. Played his cards close to the vest. Very
admirable. I liked Ransom. I decided I must
get to know him better.
Not right away, though. I was too drowsy.
Rain on the roof puts a man to sleep. But it
was funny how my head ached. Pretty heavy
rain, to raise a lump on your dome. I stirred in
a hard chair and smelled whisky.
I smelled nothing but whisky. Rye, from
the pungency of it. I don’t care for rye. Scotch
is my dish, preferably Vat 69. I had a flavor of
rye in my mouth just the same. Somebody
must have poured it into me with a funnel. Or
maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was raining
“Ransom wins another pot,” somebody
said enviously. “He clipped us for five C’s
that time. He must be close to seven grand
ahead. Lucky heel.”
“Drunk’s luck,” another voice came in.
“Look at him. He’s bottled to the nostrils.
Ransom, the lush.”
“Hey, I’m Ransom!” I said suddenly, and
opened my eyes.
I was in a sort of rustic cabin, seated at a
plain deal table with three guys, two of them
strangers. The third was Stu Froelich. Stu had
a mocking grin on his kisser, a sardonic look
in his mismatched peepers and a stack of
currency in front of him.
“Welcome back to life, Sherlock,” he said.
“It’s your deal.”
“You slugged me,” I said, slowly and
“Sure. I’ve been slugging you with rye all
night. Shuffle the cards and deal. You’re
delaying the game.”
“You slugged me with a blackjack or
something, and there’s no game to delay.”
“No game, the man says. What do you call
draw poker, a parlor trick?”
“I haven’t been playing poker. I’ve been
He looked at the other two guys. “The
unconscious part we buy, eh, boys? But when
he says he hasn’t been playing poker—” He
aimed a finger toward the table before me.
“How do you think you won that seven
thousand dollars? I should be able to do as
well while unconscious. I’d be a millionaire.”
Sure enough there was greenery in front of
me; piles of it.
“Oh,” I said. “A new way to pay bribes.
Makes it look legal.” I stood up. “You slugged
me after I phoned the Homicide Bureau.”
His pals joined Froelich in a gush of
guffaws. “That was some rib you pulled on
your friend Lieutenant Brunvig,” one of them
cackled. “Man, will he be sore when he finds
you sent him out to Miss Culpepper’s house
on a wild goose chase.”
“Wild goose chase?” I said. The situation
was filtering into my gray matter, now. “So
that’s how it is.”
“You really shouldn’t have done it, Nick,”
Froelich said. “Suppose Brunvig can’t take a
joke? I tried to talk you out of it.” He added
piously, “But you were so plastered—”
I kicked my chair backward. “That’s
enough! I get the picture. You conked me and
carted the murdered wren out of Kitty’s joint
so the cops wouldn’t find her. You hid the
body some place and then brought me here,
wherever here is, and got two of your studio
stooges to sit in on this counterfeit card game.
A pint of whisky down my gullet kept me
blotto until everything was fixed, then you let
me come to. Meanwhile, Kitty will be telling
Brunvig and his Homicide minions there
never was a corpse on her bed.”
“Which there wasn’t,” Froelich said,
perfectly deadpan. “Kitty will explain to
Brunvig about the broken dolls.”
“Ah! So you’re letting that story stand.”
He lifted a shoulder. “Why waste a good
publicity break? Sure we’ll let the doll story
stand. Kitty will tell how she called you in on
the deal and you arrived drunk and she threw
you out because she wouldn’t hire an
intoxicated detective. She’ll be astounded to
learn that you subsequently phoned
Headquarters and reported a murder in her
home. She’ll deny it, naturally. She’ll be
indignant. She’ll suggest you may have done
it in a drunken attempt to annoy her.”
He had it all figured out.
OW nice,” I grated. “That certainly
cooks me at Headquarters. That fixes
me up just fine.”
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “The boys and I
will front for you. Won’t we?” he asked his
two stooges, and they nodded amiably.
“We’ll say that you joined us right after
Kitty gave you the bum’s rush,” he went on,
“and that we’ve all been together ever since.
And that you phoned the murder report from
here as a practical joke.”
“Which also furnishes you with an alibi
covering the time you were disposing of the
corpse, eh?”
“What corpse?” He grinned. “There was
no corpse. You imagined it. You’ve been
playing poker the whole evening and you’ve
taken seven thousand bucks away from us.
What more do you want? You’re feeling no
“But you will,” I said, and dived at him.
I’m not as brittle as I thought. I sailed
through the air and the table overturned under
me, scattering cards and folding money and
smashing Froelich backward. His chair tipped
on its hind legs, dumped him on his shoulder
blades. I landed on top of him, caught him by
the throat.
“Now tell me where you hid the dead
“Hey, boys!” he yeeped.
His two pals were already leaping at me.
One jumped spang on my kidneys and the
other aimed a kick at my short ribs which
luckily didn’t land. I’ve still got a stunt
expert’s rapid reflexes, and learned years ago
how to take punishment without permanent
injury. When the first guy romped on my back
I relaxed, permitted myself to go pudgy at the
exact instant his weight struck.
That’s a shock-absorbing principle. You
ride with the blow and smother a lot of its
force. And when the second bozo kicked, I
twisted sidewards. This threw the first one off
me, sent him toppling. It also caused Froelich
to take the kick intended for me.
He let out an agonized yell and bucked
convulsively, sending me rolling across the
floor to carom against the punk who had
leaped on my kidneys an instant before. We
locked together like two embattled pretzels
and started wrestling, no fouls barred.
I can more than hold my own in that kind
of a brawl, but I was unprotected from
Froelich and his remaining stooge. They
converged on me from two angles, and in
desperation I put my thumbs under the eye
sockets of the ginzo I was grappling with and
announced that I planned to pop them out like
The guy gave up the hold he had on me,
tried to claw my hands away. Freed of his
clutches, I lurched upright and dragged him
with me, hurled him full at Froelich and the
other lad. He crashed into them and they all
went down.
While they were righting themselves, I
reached under my coat and felt a very
satisfying object indeed. It was my .32
cannon. I whisked it out.
“You made a mistake, Stu,” I said
maliciously. “You forgot to dehorn me while I
was unconscious.” Then I added, “The first
one who moves wins a hole in the head.”
“Which includes you, Ransom,” a new
voice rasped as the cabin door was shoved
Then Ole Brunvig of the Homicide Squad
barged over the threshold with his service .38
drawn and cocked. Tall and cadaverous, in a
soaking wet suit of funereal black, he looked
like an underfed mortician with dyspepsia, as
somber a cop as ever harbored stomach ulcers.
He squinted around the room at the scattered
geetus and cards, the over-dumped furniture,
the two stooges and Froelich standing
motionless under the menace of my rod.
“Break up the tableau,” he rasped. “Who
the devil d’you think you’re fooling?”
“Fooling?” I said. “Now look, Ole—”
“Don’t you Ole me, you heel. From now
on, to you I’m Lieutenant Brunvig and forget
this personal-friendship hogwash. Sending me
out to Miss Culpepper’s house on a fake
homicide call!” Suddenly he called out
through the doorway, “Turn off that rain!”
And to me, “Drop your gun, wise guy.”
I dropped it, concluding that I was dealing
with a maniac. Nobody but a maniac would
command a rainstorm to stop; not even a cop
with the authority of Ole Brunvig.
But oddly enough, outside the cabin the
rain stopped.
HILE I was trying to digest this
astonishing occurrence, Stu Froelich
started talking fast.
“I can explain everything, Officer.
Ransom and the rest of us were having a little
game, see, when all at once he accused me of
dealing off the bottom. He was drunk.”
“That I can believe.”
“It’s a lie!” I yelled. Nobody paid any
“Then the fight started,” Froelich
continued, “and I don’t know how it might
have ended if you hadn’t come in. Imagine
Ransom having the crust to pull a gun on his
“Pals, my elbow!” I caterwauled. “You
conked me, kidnaped me to this cabin out here
in the great open spaces!”
Froelich gave Brunvig a significant smile.
“Great open spaces. That proves he’s
drunk when he can’t even remember we came
here to the studio for a quiet little poker
session.” He spread his hands. “Too bad you
had to walk under the rain machine to find us.
I had turned it on and lit the red lamp outside
the sound stage to look like a scene was being
shot, so we wouldn’t be disturbed.”
Resentment flooded me as I realized how
I’d been hornswoggled. This was no
backwoods cabin; it was a movie set on the
Perfection lot.
“Curse you!” I exploded. “I see the real
reason you brought me here. It was to keep me
away from Brunvig until tomorrow. You
probably figured to slip me a doped drink
before taking me home, then by morning I’d
be so confused I’d think the kill caper at
Kitty’s was a figment of my boozy
imagination.” I turned to Ole. “Get it?
Tomorrow you could question me until Hades
froze solid, but my answers would sound like
“They sound like double-talk now.”
“There was no double-talk about the brawl
I was having when you walked in!” I railed. “I
was fighting to get out of here and contact
you.” A thought struck me. “How did you
trace me here?”
“That was easy. You’d mentioned a
missing butler and masseuse, but they were
both there when I got to the Culpepper house.
Neither of them knew anything about a kill,
though. Smedley was plenty upset when I said
his ex-wife was the alleged murder victim.
Then Miss Culpepper explained how it must
have been your fool idea of a practical joke.
That soothed him.”
“Kitty’s clever at making folks believe
what she wants them to believe,” I sneered.
“Evidently she sold you a bill of goods, too. I
don’t suppose you found a corpse in the
“No corpse. Only some smashed dolls.”
He looked a little baffled. “That’s something I
don’t quite get.”
“A publicity gag,” I said. “Skip it. You
were telling me how you traced me here to the
studio. That was shrewd work.”
“Yeah.” He preened himself. “Miss
Culpepper said you had been there about the
dolls but she’d sent you packing because you
were plastered. Then the masseuse mentioned
that just as she and Smedley got back to the
house she noticed somebody helping you into
a Packard convertible and driving you away.
She thought the car was Froelich’s, as far as
she could recognize it in the dark. I did a little
checking, got its plate numbers from Motor
Vehicle and put out a radio reader. Pretty soon
a motorbike cop reported the Packard parked
outside the Perfection lot.”
“Police organization, it’s wonderful,” I
Ole’s surly mush darkened. “You’ll think
so when you inhabit a cell for turning in a
false murder alarm. And when you get out you
won’t be a private dick any more. That I
“Not even if I show you the dead wren’s
“It’s all in his head, Brunvig,” Froelich
said, “and it came out of a bottle.”
“Still trying to blow down the beef for
your studio’s sake, eh, Stu?” I said. “Hoping
to keep Kitty out of a homicide mess by
calling me a liar.” I turned to Brunvig. “Look,
Ole. You were plenty smart, locating me so
fast. I’m not so stupid myself. From what
you’ve told me I know where to find that
“From what I’ve told you?”
“Sure. Hulda saw Froelich stowing me in
his car. That must’ve been immediately after
he slugged me. He had to get me out of the
Culpepper house before you arrived.
Therefore he didn’t have time to dispose of
the murdered muffin. The most he could have
done was hide her somewhere right there in
the igloo. It’s obvious he didn’t put her in the
Packard or Hulda would have noticed.”
“Well, yes, but—”
“Did you frisk the place thoroughly when
you were there?”
“I didn’t frisk it at all,” Brunvig said
uneasily. “I merely took Miss Culpepper’s
word for it that your report was phony.”
“You’re too trusting,” I said. “We’d better
get over there in a hurry, before the corpse can
be removed. And while Hulda and Smedley
are still on tap.”
“Hulda and Smedley? You think maybe
“I think we’d better get moving.”
“Listen!” Froelich yeeped. “I’m not going
to take any part in an idiotic search for a body
that doesn’t exist. Come on, boys!” He
beckoned his stooges. “We’re leaving.”
“Stop them, Ole!” I said. “Bring them it
along or Froelich will phone Kitty and warn
her we’re on our way.”
Brunvig rubbed his chin stubble. It made a
scratchy, sandpapery noise. “Maybe you’re
right. But heaven protect you if you’re
running a swift one on me, pal.” He stooped,
got my dropped heater, pocketed it. He waved
his own roscoe at Froelich and the two studio
yes-men. “Let’s all take a ride.”
I didn’t like the way he said it. He sounded
as if it might be the last ride I would take in a
long, long time.
OTHING had changed in the Culpepper
stash, seemingly. Those busted dolls
were still in their funeral alcove and two more
had been added—the one Smedley had found
on the porch and the other one I’d seen
hanging by the neck outside the music room
Smedley himself looked a trifle pallid,
which was natural for a guy who recently had
heard a denied report that his ex-wife was
defunct. Hulda’s statuesque blonde
proportions had not diminished in the past
hour, nor had she discontinued her protective
attitude toward Kitty Culpepper, who was still
languorously embellished in that clinging
yellow lounging pajama outfit.
When Kitty lamped me trooping in with
Brunvig, Froelich and the two stooges, she
recoiled as if she had been slapped with a wet
herring. The sudden fear in her dark glims
mutely proclaimed that she knew the jig was
just about up.
“Hi, hon,” I said. “Want to lead us to the
body and save time? Or must we search for
“Body? What b-body?”
“Okay, play innocent. See what it buys
you.” Then I said to Ole, “According to the
time-table we worked out, Froelich didn’t
have a chance to move the corpse out of the
house. And Kitty isn’t sturdy enough for that
kind of work. She wouldn’t risk it anyhow,
with Hulda and Smedley around. Smedley
especially. If he saw his wife’s body he’d
blow the lid off. Therefore—”
The butler grabbed my arm. “Are you still
claiming Deborah is d-dead? Murdered?”
I shook him off, and he put a hand to his
glims as if trying to brush away a nightmare.
Then he darted a spiteful glare at Froelich and
the Culpepper quail, a glare almost
Froelich licked his lips nervously. “This
whole thing is fantastic! Ransom saw a broken
doll and was so drunk he thought it was a dead
girl. Isn’t that so, Kitty?”
“Y-yes. Yes, of course.”
Brunvig gave me a speculative look. “I
believe you were about to make a point when
you were interrupted. All right, make it.”
“Thanks,” I said. “It’s this: I don’t think
Kitty dared move the body. Consequently it’s
probably still in her boudoir. That’s the logical
temporary hiding place. My guess is that
Froelich figured to come back later and take it
away where it would never be found. Then I
would never be able to prove my contention
that a murder had been committed. My
testimony would be laughed off as the ravings
of an alcoholic.” I started walking. “Let’s
prowl the bedroom, get this settled once and
for all. Mind the floor,” I added. “It’s
Presently, I led the parade into Kitty
Culpepper’s sumptuous sleeping quarters.
Brunvig looked somewhat sandbagged by the
white padded walls with their crimson buttons,
and when he nabbed a slant at himself in the
green tinted mirror he instinctively felt his
pulse to make certain he was alive. Having
assured himself of this, he made straight for
the mammoth four-poster, kneeled down, and
peered under it.
“No corpse,” he announced.
“Then try the closets.”
Kitty flinched. “There aren’t any c-closets.
Anybody can see that.”
“You mean you haven’t got a place to
keep your Sunday clothes?” I said. “Oh, come
now.” When she refused to answer, 1 turned
to the statuesque Hulda. “You tell us, Tutz.”
“Of closets I know nothing,” the masseuse
said stolidly.
“Loyalty is admirable in its place,” I said.
“But when killery is involved, everybody that
lies is under suspicion.” I looked at the
handsome but haggard Smedley. “How about
you, bub?”
His face worked. “I’ve always had the
highest regard for Miss Culpepper,” he said
thickly. “She’s been very good to me. But—I
loved my wife. I kept right on loving her even
after she fell for someone else and divorced
me. If she’s dead, I—I want to know it. I want
to be sure.”
He ankled to one of the satin walls, studied
it, pressed a red button. A panel swung open
on hidden hinges, disclosing a wide closet that
ran the full length of the room. The closet was
crammed with costly she-male attire, but that
wasn’t all it contained.
I beckoned Brunvig. “Here’s the murdered
doll, Ole.”
MEDLEY moaned and sagged against the
wall, staring incredulously at his defunct
wife. Brunvig bugged his eyes at the corpse
and then whirled, waving his roscoe like a
symphony conductor’s baton.
“Who croaked her?” he caterwauled.
“Come on, sing!” He approached Kitty
Culpepper. “Well?”
“Believe me, I don’t know anything,
except I found her on my bed, and—”
He turned on Smedley. “You knew exactly
where to look. If you pulled this kill, say so
now and save yourself a session with the
rubber hose.”
“I’ve told you I loved her, sir. You don’t
kill the one you love, even though you’ve lost
her to somebody else. Why not question Mr.
Froelich? He’s the man Deborah fell for.”
That was the last link in the chain, the one
missing piece I had been hoping to find.
“Okay, Stu,” I said. “Tag—you’re it.”
The Perfection press agent tensed. “Just a
minute, gum-shoe. I admit I hid that corpse to
keep Kitty out of trouble. But you’ve got no
grounds for accusing me of murder.”
“You’re guilty,” I said. “That’s plenty of
grounds. I started suspecting you when I first
talked to you in the music room; when I first
told you about the kill. You said, ‘You mean
Smedley shot her and got away?’ That was a
bad slip, pal, because I hadn’t mentioned the
murder method. How could you know she’d
been shot?”
“Why, I—I assumed she had been.”
I sneered. “It was guilty knowledge. But I
had no evidence against you—only my
suspicions. I could see how you’d worked the
stunt, of course. There was no silenced gat
involved. You live just a couple of blocks
away. You could have drilled the girl in your
own stash, then lugged her over here and
sneaked through the boudoir window and
planted her on the bed and gone home again in
plenty of time to get my phone call. Then you
drove back here in your car, full of spurious
“You’re insane!”
“No, just foolish. I made a mistake when I
failed to pinch you at the start. Instead, I
thought I’d string you along until the cops
arrived and then turn you in. That gave you a
chance to swat me senseless. I was a dope to
turn my back on you. But nobody can be
perfect all the time.”
His mismated glims held the glitter of fear.
“You can’t prove a word of this!”
“Give me time,” I said. “Let’s look at the
devious scenario you chose. You had a good
reason for that. Murdering the jane in a
commonplace way might have involved you
in the investigations, but by planting her on
Kitty’s bed you had a plausible excuse to step
and dispose of the body—with my help, you
hoped. Your every move was supposedly for
the studio’s benefit, ostensibly to protect
Perfection’s investment in Kitty. She was your
fall guy. You knew she’d have to clam up in
self defense. You invented the busted-doll
publicity gag in advance, as window dressing
for the murder, but the routine came unstuck
when I refused to play ball. Then you had to
improvise a plant to discredit me.”
He ran a hand through the blaze in his
hair. “Ridiculous! Why would I go to all that
trouble to kill a girl I hardly knew?”
“Smedley just furnished the answer,” I
said. “You’re the bozo his wife fell for.
Maybe you promised to marry her, a promise
you didn’t intend to keep. You’re not the
marrying kind. I know. I’ve been on too many
parties with you. Maybe she started putting
the pressure on. A lot of dames have been
knocked off by boy friends who got tired of
them. And I’ll lay six, two and even we’ll find
a roscoe somewhere among your effects, a
gun that will match with the slug in Deborah
Smedley’s heart.”
I was bluffing on that. I was firing blind,
shooting in the dark. But I got results from an
unexpected quarter. Smedley apparently
bought my theory, and with a sudden unbutlerish oath he hurled himself at Froelich.
The press agent’s shell of bluster dissolved in
visible panic. He pivoted, catapulted toward
one of the boudoir’s French windows.
HE butler nailed him around the gams
with a flying tackle and he pitched
headlong through the glass, his unprotected
face smashing the square panes. He screamed
like a calliope as the splintered shards razored
his complexion to tatters. Then I moved in,
batted the butler aside, dragged Froelich back
to the middle of the room. He was leaking
gravy from eleventeen punctures, all of them
painful but none fatal.
“Hey, his jugular is sliced!” I lied like a
gas meter. “He won’t live five minutes!” Then
I said, “Why not confess, Stu? Make a clean
breast of it and clear your conscience before
you mingle with your ancestors.”
“All right,” he moaned. “I killed Deborah.
She was—threatening to tell—about a trip
we’d made—across a State line. She was—
blackmailing me.”
Ole Brunvig stepped forward, yanked him
to his feet.
“That’s all we wanted to know. You’re on
your way to the cyanide chamber at San
For once in his life, Brunvig was right.

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