© R.Chandler, The Man Who Liked Dogs, 1936
Source: R.Chandler. Trouble Is My Business (collection)
E-Text: Greylib .
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There was a brand-new aluminum-gray DeSoto sedan in front of the door. I walked around that and went up three white steps, through a glass door and up three more carpeted steps. I rang a bell on the wall.
Instantly a dozen dog voices began to shake the roof. While they bayed and howled and yapped I looked at a small alcove office with a rolltop desk and a waiting room with mission leather chairs and three diplomas on the wall, at a mission table scattered with copies of the Dog Fancier's Gazette.
Somebody quieted the dogs out back, then an inner door opened and a small pretty-faced man in a tan smock came in on rubber soles, with a solicitous smile under a pencil-line mustache. He looked around and under me, didn't see a dog. His smile got more casual.
He said: "I'd like to break them of that, but I can't. Every time they hear a buzzer they start up. They get bored and they know the buzzer means visitors."
I said: "Yeah," and gave him my card. He read it, turned it over and looked at the back, turned it back and read the front again.
"A private detective," he said softly, licking his moist lips. "Well-I'm Dr. Sharp. What can I do for you?"
"I'm looking for a stolen dog."
His eyes flicked at me. His soft little mouth tightened. Very slowly his whole face flushed. I said: "I'm not suggesting you stole the dog, Doc. Almost anybody could plant an animal in a place like this and you wouldn't think about that chance they didn't own it, would you?"
"One doesn't just like the idea," he said stiffly. "What kind of dog?"
He scuffed a toe on the thin carpet, looked at a corner of the ceiling. The flush went off his face, leaving it with a sort of shiny whiteness. After a long moment he said: "I have only one police dog here, and I know the people he belongs to. So I'm afraid-"
"Then you won't mind my looking at him," I cut in, and started towards the inner door.
Dr. Sharp didn't move. He scuffed some more. "I'm not sure that's convenient," he said softly. "Perhaps later in the day."
"Now would be better for me," I said, and reached for the knob.
He scuttled across the waiting room to his little rolltop desk. His small hand went around the telephone there.
"I'll-I'll just call the police if you want to get tough," he said hurriedly.
"That's jake," I said. "Ask for Chief Fulwider. Tell him Carmady's here. I just came from his office."
Dr. Sharp took his hand away from the phone. I grinned at him and rolled a cigarette around in my fingers.
"Come on, Doc," I said. "Shake the hair out of your eyes and let's go. Be nice and maybe I'll tell you the story."
He chewed both his lips in turn, stared at the brown blotter on his desk, fiddled with a corner of it, stood up and crossed the room in his white bucks, opened the door in front of me and we went along a narrow gray hallway. An operating table showed through an open door. We went through a door farther along, into a bare room with a concrete floor, a gas heater in the corner with a bowl of water beside it, and all along one wall two tiers of stalls with heavy wire mesh doors.
Dogs and cats stared at us silently, expectantly, behind the mesh. A tiny chihuahua snuffled under a big red Persian with a wide sheep-skin collar around its neck. There was a sourfaced Scottie and a mutt with all the skin off one leg and a silky-gray Angora and a Sealyham and two more mutts and a razor-sharp fox terrier with a barrel snout and just the right droop to the last two inches of it.
Their noses were wet and their eyes were bright and they wanted to know whose visitor I was.
I looked them over. "These are toys, Doe," I growled. "I'm talking police dog. Gray and black, no brown. A male. Nine years old. Swell points all around except that his tail is too short. Do I bore you?"
He stared at me, made an unhappy gesture. "Yes, but-" he mumbled. "Well, this way."
We went back out of the room. The animals looked disappointed, especially the chihuahua, which tried to climb through the wire mesh and almost made it. We went back out of a rear door into a cement yard with two garages fronting on it. One of them was empty. The other, with its door open a foot, was a box of gloom at the back of which a big dog clanked a chain and put his jaw down flat on the old comforter that was his bed.
"Be careful," Sharp said. "He's pretty savage at times. I had him inside, but he scared the others."
I went into the garage. The dog growled. I went towards him and he hit the end of his chain with a bang. I said: "Hello there, Voss. Shake hands."
He put his head back down on the comforter. His ears came forward halfway. He was very still. His eyes were wolfish, black-rimmed. Then the curved, too-short tail began to thump the floor slowly. I said: "Shake hands, boy," and put mine out. In the doorway behind me the little vet was telling me to be careful. The dog came up slowly on his big rough paws, swung his ears back to normal and lifted his left paw. I shook it.
The little vet complained: "This is a great surprise to me, Mr-Mr.-"
"Carmady," I said. "Yeah, it would be."
I patted the dog's head and went back out of the garage.
We went into the house, into the waiting room. I pushed magazines out of the way and sat on a corner of the mission table, looked the pretty little man over.
"Okay," I said. "Give. What's the name of his folks and where do they live?"
He thought it over sullenly. "Their name is Voss. They've moved East and they are to send for the dog when they're settled."
"Cute at that," I said. "The dog's named Voss after a German war flier. The folks are named after the dog."
"You think I'm lying," the little man said hotly.
"Uh-uh. You scare too easy for a crook. I think somebody wanted to ditch the dog. Here's my story. A girl named Isobel Snare disappeared from her home in San Angelo, two weeks ago. She lives with her great-aunt, a nice old lady in gray silk who isn't anybody's fool. The girl had been stepping out with some pretty shady company in the night spots and gambling joints. So the old lady smelled a scandal and didn't go to the law. She didn't get anywhere until a girl friend of the Snare girl happened to see the dog in your joint. She told the aunt. The aunt hired me-because when the niece drove off in her roadster and didn't come back she had the dog with her."
I mashed out my cigarette on my heel and lit another. Dr. Sharp's little face was as white as dough. Perspiration twinkled in his cute little mustache.
I added gently: "It's not a police job yet. I was kidding you about Chief Fulwider. How's for you and me to keep it under the hat?"
"What-what do you want me to do?" the little man stammered.
"Think you'll hear anything more about the dog?"
"Yes," he said quickly. "The man seemed very fond of him. A genuine dog lover. The dog was gentle with him."
"Then you'll hear from him," I said. "When you do I want to know. What's the guy look like?"
"He was tall and thin with very sharp black eyes. His wife is tall and thin like him. Well-dressed, quiet people."
"The Snare girl is a little runt," I said. "What made it so hush-hush?"
He stared at his foot and didn't say anything.
"Okay," I said. "Business is business. Play ball with me and you won't get any adverse publicity. Is it a deal?" I held my hand out.
"I'll play with you," he said softly, and put a moist fishy little paw in mine. I shook it carefully, so as not to bend it.
I told him where I was staying and went back out to the sunny street and walked a block down to where I had left my Chrysler. I got into it and poked it forward from around the corner, far enough so that I could see the DeSoto and the front of Sharp's place.
I sat like that for half an hour. Then Dr. Sharp came out of his place in street clothes and got into the DeSoto. He drove it off around the corner and swung into the alley that ran behind his yard.
I got the Chrysler going and shot up the block the other way, took a plant at the other end of the alley.
A third of the way down the block I heard growling, barking, snarling. This went on for some time. Then the DeSoto backed out of the concrete yard and came towards me. I ran away from it to the next corner.
The DeSoto went south to Arguello Boulevard, then east on that. A big police dog with a muzzle on his head was chained in the back of the sedan. I could just see his head straining at the chain.
I trailed the DeSoto.
Carolina Street was away off at the edge of the little beach city. The end of it ran into a disused interurban right of way, beyond which stretched a waste of Japanese truck farms. There were just two houses in the last block, so I hid behind the first, which was on the corner, with a weedy grass plot and a high dusty red and yellow lantana fighting with a honeysuckle vine against the front wall.
Beyond that two or three burned over lots with a few weed stalks sticking up out of the charred grass and then a ramshackle mud-colored bungalow with a wire fence. The DeSoto stopped in front of that.
Its door slammed open and Dr. Sharp dragged the muzzled dog out of the back and fought him through a gate and up the walk. A big barrel-shaped palm tree kept me from seeing him at the front door of the house. I backed my Chrysler and turned it in the shelter of the corner house, went three blocks over and turned along a street parallel to Carolina. This street also ended at the right of way. The rails were rusted in a forest of weeds, came down the other side on to a dirt road, and started back towards Carolina.
The dirt road dropped until I couldn't see over the embankment. When I had gone what felt like three blocks I pulled up and got out, went up the side of the bank and sneaked a look over it.
The house with the wire gate was half a block from me. The DeSoto was still in front of it. Boomingly on the afternoon air came the deep-toned woof-woofing of the police dog. I put my stomach down in the weeds and sighted on the bungalow and waited.
Nothing happened for about fifteen minutes except that the dog kept right on barking. Then the barking suddenly got harder and harsher. Then somebody shouted. Then a man screamed.
I picked myself up out of the weeds and sprinted across the right of way, down the other side to the street end. As I got near the house I heard the low, furious growling of the dog worrying something, and behind it the staccato rattle of a woman's voice in anger, more than in fear.
Behind the wire gate was a patch of lawn mostly dandelions and devil grass. There was a shred of cardboard hanging from the barrel-shaped palm, the remains of a sign. The roots of the tree had wrecked the walk, cracked it wide open and lifted the rough edges into steps.
I went through the gate and thumped up wooden steps to a sagging porch. I banged on the door.
The growling was still going on inside, but the scolding voice had stopped. Nobody came to the door.
I tried the knob, opened the door and went in. There was a heavy smell of chloroform.
In the middle of the floor, on a twisted rug, Dr. Sharp lay spread-eagled on his back, with blood pumping out of the side of his neck. The blood had made a thick glossy pool around his head. The dog leaned away from it, crouched on his forelegs, his ears flat to his head, fragments of a torn muzzle hanging about his neck. His throat bristled and the hair on his spine stood up and there was a low pulsing growl deep in his throat.
Behind the dog a closet door was smashed back against the wall and on the floor of the closet a big wad of cotton-wool sent sickening waves of chloroform out on the air.
A dark handsome woman in a print house dress held a big automatic pointed at the dog and didn't fire it.
She threw a quick glance at me over her shoulder, started to turn. The dog watched her, with narrow, black-rimmed eyes. I took my Luger out and held it down at my side.
Something creaked and a tall black-eyed man in faded blue overalls and a blue work shirt came through the swing door at the back with a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun in his hands. He pointed it at me.
"Hey, you! Drop that gat!" he said angrily.
I moved my jaw with the idea of saying something. The man's finger tightened on the front trigger. My gun went off-without my having much to do with it. The slug hit the stock of the shotgun, knocked it clean out of the man's hands. It pounded on the floor and the dog jumped sideways about seven feet and crouched again.
With an utterly incredulous look on his face the man put his hands up in the air.
I couldn't lose. I said: "Down yours too, lady."
She worked her tongue along her lips and lowered the automatic to her side and walked away from the body on the floor.
The man said: "Hell, don't shoot him. I can handle him."
I blinked, then I got the idea. He had been afraid I was going to shoot the dog. He hadn't been worrying about himself.
I lowered the Luger a little. "What happened?"
"That-tried to chloroform-him, a fighting dog!"
I said: 'Yeah. If you've got a phone, you'd better call an ambulance. Sharp won't last long with that tear in his neck."
The woman said tonelessly: "I thought you were law."
I didn't say anything. She went along the wall to a window seat full of crumpled newspapers, reached down for a phone at one end of it.
I looked down at the little vet. The blood had stopped coming out of his neck. His face was the whitest face I had ever seen.
"Never mind the ambulance," I told the woman. "Just call Police Headquarters."
The man in the overalls put his hands down and dropped on one knee, began to pat the floor and talk soothingly to the dog.
'Steady, old-timer. Steady. We're all friends now-all friends. Steady, Voss."
The dog growled and swung his hind end a little. The man kept on talking to him. The dog stopped growling and the hackles on his back went down. The man in overalls kept on crooning to him.
The woman on the window seat put the phone aside and said: "On the way. Think you can handle it, Jerry?"
"Sure," the man said, without taking his eyes off the dog.
The dog let his belly touch the floor now and opened his mouth and let his tongue hang out. The tongue dripped saliva, pink saliva with blood mixed in it. The hair at the side of the dog's mouth was stained with blood.
The man called Jerry said: "Hey, Voss. Hey, Voss old kid. You're fine now. You're fine."
The dog panted, didn't move. The man straightened up and went close to him, pulled one of the dog's ears. The dog turned his head sideways and let his ear be pulled. The man stroked his head, unbuckled the chewed muzzle and got it off.
He stood up with the end of the broken chain and the dog came up on his feet obediently, went out through the swing door into the back part of the house, at the man's side.
I moved a little, out of line with the swing door. Jerry might have more shotguns. There was something about Jerry's face that worried me. As if I had seen him before, but not very lately, or in a newspaper photo.
I looked at the woman. She was a handsome brunette in her early thirties. Her print house dress didn't seem to belong with her finely arched eyebrows and her long soft hands.
"How did it happen?" I asked casually, as if it didn't matter very much.
Her voice snapped at me, as if she was aching to turn it loose. "We've been in the house about a week. Rented it furnished, I was in the kitchen, Jerry in the yard. The car stopped out front and the little guy marched in just as if he lived here. The door didn't happen to be locked, I guess. I opened the swing door a crack and saw him pushing the dog into the closet. Then I smelled the chloroform. Then things began to happen all at once and I went for a gun and called Jerry out of the window. I got back in here about the time you crashed in. Who are you?"
"It was all over then?" I said. "He had Sharp chewed up on the floor?"
"Yes-if Sharp is his name."
"You and Jerry didn't know him?"
"Never saw him before. Or the dog. But Jerry loves dogs."
"Better change a little of that," I said. "Jerry knew the dog's name. Voss."
Her eyes got tight and her mouth got stubborn. "I think you must be mistaken," she said in a sultry voice. "I asked you who you were, mister."
"Who's Jerry?" I asked. "I've seen him somewhere. Maybe on a reader. Where'd he get the sawed-off? You going to let the cops see that?"
She bit her lip, then stood up suddenly, went towards the fallen shotgun. I let her pick it up, saw she kept her hand away from the triggers. She went back to the window seat and pushed it under the pile of newspapers.
She faced me. "Okay, what's the pay-off?" she asked grimly.
I said slowly: "The dog is stolen. His owner, a girl, happens to be missing. I'm hired to find her. The people Sharp said he got the dog from sounded like you and Jerry. Their name was Voss. They moved East. Ever heard of a lady called Isobel Snare?"
The woman said "No," tonelessly, and stared at the end of my chin.
The man in overalls came back through the swing door wiping his face on the sleeve of his blue work shirt. He didn't have any fresh guns with him. He looked me over without much concern.
I said: "I could do you a lot of good with the law, if you had any ideas about this Snare girl."
The woman stared at me, curled her lips. The man smiled, rather softly, as if he held all the cards. Tires squealed, taking a distant corner in a hurry.
"Aw, loosen up," I said quickly. "Sharp was scared. He brought the dog back to where he got him. He must have thought the house was empty. The chloroform idea wasn't so good, but the little guy was all rattled."
They didn't make a sound, either of them. They just stared at me.
"Okay," I said, and stepped over to the corner of the room. "I think you're a couple of lamsters. If whoever's coming isn't law, I'll start shooting. Don't ever think I won't."
The woman said very calmly: "Suit yourself, kibitzer." Then a car rushed along the block and ground to a harsh stop before the house. I sneaked a quick glance out, saw the red spotlight on the windshield, the P.D. on the side. Two big bruisers in plain clothes tumbled out and slammed through the gate, up the steps.
A fist pounded the door. "It's open," I shouted.
The door swung wide and the two dicks charged in, with drawn guns.
They stopped dead, stared at what lay on the floor. Their guns jerked at Jerry and me. The one who covered me was a big red-faced man in a baggy gray suit.
"Reach-and reach empty!" he yelled in a large tough voice.
I reached, but held on to my Luger. "Easy," I said. "A dog killed him, not a gun. I'm a private dick from San Angelo. I'm on a case here."
"Yeah?" He closed in on me heavily, bored his gun into my stomach. "Maybe so, bud. We'll know all that later on."
He reached up and jerked my gun loose from my hand, sniffed at it, leaning his gun into me.
"Fired, huh? Sweet! Turn around."
"Turn around, bud."
I turned slowly. Even as I turned he was dropping his gun into a side pocket and reaching for his hip.
That should have warned me, but it didn't. I may have heard the swish of the blackjack. Certainly I must have felt it. There was a sudden pool of darkness at my feet. I dived into it and dropped. . . and dropped. . . and dropped.
When I came to the room was full of smoke. The smoke hung in the air, in thin lines straight up and down, like a bead curtain. Two windows seemed to be open in an end wall, but the smoke didn't move. I had never seen the room before.
I lay a little while thinking, then I opened my mouth and yelled: "Fire!" at the top of my lungs.
Then I fell back on the bed and started laughing. I didn't like the sound I made laughing. It had a goofy ring, even to me.
Steps ran along somewhere and a key turned in the door and the door opened. A man in a short white coat looked in at me, hard-eyed. I turned my head a little and said: "Don't count that one, Jack. It slipped out."
He scowled sharply. He had a hard small face, beady eyes. I didn't know him.
"Maybe you want some more strait jacket," he sneered.
"I'm fine, Jack," I said. "Just fine, I'm going to have me a short nap now."
"Better be just that," he snarled.
The door shut, the key turned, the steps went away.
I lay still and looked at the smoke. I knew now that there wasn't any smoke there really. It must have been night because a porcelain bowl hanging from the ceiling on three chains had light behind it. It had little colored lumps around the edge, orange and blue alternating. While I watched them they opened like tiny portholes and heads stuck out of them, tiny heads like the heads on dolls, but alive heads. There was a man in a yachting cap and a large fluffy blonde and a thin man with a crooked bow tie who kept saying: "Would you like your steak rare or medium, sir?"
I took hold of the corner of the rough sheet and wiped the sweat off my face. I sat up, put my feet down on the floor. They were bare. I was wearing canton flannel pajamas. There was no feeling in my feet when I put them down. After a while they began to tingle and then got full of pins and needles.
Then I could feel the floor. I took hold of the side of the bed and stood up and walked.
A voice that was probably my own was saying to me: "You have the D.T.s . . . you have the D.T.s . . . you have the D.T.s..
I saw a bottle of whisky on a small white table between the two windows. I started towards it. It was a Johnnie Walker bottle, half full. I got it up, took a long drink from the neck. I put the bottle down again.
The whisky had a funny taste. While I was realizing that it had a funny taste I saw a washbowl in the corner. I just made it to the washbowl before I vomited.
I got back to the bed and lay there, The vomiting had made me very weak, but the room seemed a little more real, a little less fantastic. I could see bars on the two windows, a heavy wooden chair, no other furniture but the white table with the doped whisky on it. There was a closet door, shut, probably locked.
The bed was a hospital bed and there were two leather straps attached to the sides, about where a man's wrists would be. I knew I was in some kind of prison ward.
My left arm suddenly began to feel sore. I rolled up the loose sleeve, looked at half a dozen pinpricks on the upper arm, and a black and blue circle around each one.
I had been shot so full of dope to keep me quiet that I was having the French fits coming out of it. That accounted for the smoke and the little heads on the ceiling light. The doped whisky was probably part of somebody else's cure.
I got up again and walked, kept on walking. After a while I drank a little water from the tap, kept it down, drank more. Half an hour or more of that and! was ready to talk to somebody.
The closet door was locked and the chair was too heavy for me. I stripped the bed, slid the mattress to one side. There was a mesh spring underneath, fastened at the top and bottom by heavy coil springs about nine inches long. It took me half an hour and much misery to work one of these loose.
I rested a little and drank a little more cold water and went over to the hinge side of the door.
I yelled "Fire!" at the top of my voice, several times.
I waited, but not long. Steps ran along the hallway outside. The key jabbed into the door, the lock clicked. The hard-eyed little man in the short white coat dodged in furiously, his eyes on the bed.
I laid the coil spring on the angle of his jaw, then on the back of his head as he went down. I got him by the throat. He struggled a good deal. I used a knee on his face. It hurt my knee.
He didn't say how his face felt. I got a blackjack out of his right hip pocket and reversed the key in the door and locked it from the inside. There were other keys on the ring. One of them unlocked my closet. I looked in at my clothes.
I put them on slowly, with fumbling fingers. I yawned a great deal. The man on the floor didn't move.
I locked him in and left him.
From a wide silent hallway, with a parquetry floor and a narrow carpet down its middle, flat white oak banisters swept down in long curves to the entrance hall. There were closed doors, big, heavy, old-fashioned. No sounds behind them. I went down the carpet runner, walking on the balls of my feet.
There were stained glass inner doors to a vestibule from which the front door opened. A telephone rang as I got that far. A man's voice answered it, from behind a half-open door through which light came out into the dim hall.
I went back, sneaked a glance around the edge of the open door, saw a man at a desk, talking into the phone. I waited until he hung up. Then I went in.
He had a pale, bony, high-crowned head, across which a thin wave of brown hair curled and was plastered to his skull. He had a long, pale, joyless face. His eyes jumped at me. His hand jumped towards a button on his desk.
I grinned, growled at him: "Don't. I'm a desperate man, warden." I showed him the blackjack.
His smile was as stiff as a frozen fish. His long pale hands made gestures like sick butterflies over the top of his desk. One of them began to drift towards a side drawer of the desk.
He worked his tongue loose-You've been a very sick man, sir. A very sick man. I wouldn't advise-"
I flicked the blackjack at his wandering hand. It drew into itself like a slug on a hot stone. I said: "Not sick, warden, just doped within an inch of my reason. Out is what I want, and some clean whisky. Give."
He made vague motions with his fingers. "I'm Dr. Sundstrand," he said. "This is a private hospital-not a jail."
"Whisky," I croaked. "I get all the rest. Private funny house. A lovely racket. Whisky."
"In the medicine cabinet," he said with a drifting, spent breath.
"Put your hands behind your head."
"I'm afraid you'll regret this." He put his hands behind his head.
I got to the far side of the desk, opened the drawer his hand had wanted to reach, took an automatic out of it. I put the blackjack away, went back round the desk to the medicine cabinet on the wall. There was a pint bottle of bond bourbon in it, three glasses. I took two of them.
I poured two drinks. "You first, warden."
"I-I don't drink. I'm a total abstainer," he muttered, his hands still behind his head.
I took the blackjack out again. He put a hand down quickly, gulped from one of the glasses. I watched him. It didn't seem to hurt him. I smelled my dose, then put it down my throat. It worked, and I had another, then slipped the bottle into my coat pocket.
"Okay," I said. "Who put me in here? Shake it up. I'm in a hurry."
"The-the police, of course."
He hunched his shoulders down in the chair. He looked sick. "A man named Galbraith signed as complaining witness. Strictly legal, I assure you. He is an officer." -
I said: "Since when can a cop sign as complaining witness on a psycho case?"
He didn't say anything.
"Who gave me the dope in the first place?"
"I wouldn't know that. I presume it has been going on a long time."
I felt my chin. "All of two days," I said. "They ought to have gunned me. Less kickback in the long run. So long, warden."
"If you go out of here," he said thinly, "you will be arrested at once."
"Not just for going out," I said softly.
As I went out he still had his hands behind his head.
There was a chain and a bolt on the front door, beside the lock. But nobody tried to stop me from opening it. I crossed a big old-fashioned porch, went down a wide path fringed with flowers. A mockingbird sang in a dark tree. There was a white picket fence on the street. It was a corner house, on Twentyninth and Descanso.
I walked four blocks east to a bus line and waited for a bus. There was no alarm, no cruising car looking for me. The bus came and I rode downtown, went to a Turkish Bath establishment, had a steam bath, a needle shower, a rub-down, a shave, and the rest of the whisky.
I could eat then. I ate and went to a strange hotel, registered under a fake name. It was half past eleven. The local paper, which I read over more whisky and water, informed me that one Dr. Richard Sharp, who had been found dead in a vacant furnished house on Carolina Street, was still causing the police much headache. They had no clue to the murderer as yet.
The date on the paper informed me that over forty-eight hours had been abstracted from my life without my knowledge or consent.
I went to bed and to sleep, had nightmares and woke up out of them covered with cold sweat. That was the last of the withdrawal symptoms. In the morning I was a well man.
Chief of police Fulwider was a hammered down, fattish heavyweight, with restless eyes and that shade of red hair that is almost pink. It was cut very short and his pink scalp glistened among the pink hairs. He wore a fawn-colored flannel suit with patch pockets and lapped seams, cut as every tailor can't cut flannel.
He shook hands with me and turned his chair sideways and crossed his legs. That showed me French lisle socks at three or four dollars a pair, and hand-made English walnut brogues at fifteen to eighteen, depression prices.
I figured that probably his wife had money.
"Ah, Carmady," he said, chasing my card over the glass top of his desk, "with two a's, eh? Down here on a job?"
"A little trouble," I said. "You can straighten it out, if you will."
He stuck his chest out, waved a pink hand and lowered his voice a couple of notches.
"Trouble," he said, "is something our little town don't have a lot of. Our little city is small, but very, very clean. I look out of my west window and I see the Pacific Ocean. Nothing cleaner than that. On the north Arguello Boulevard and the foothills. On the east the finest little business section you would want to see and beyond it a paradise of well-kept homes and gardens. On the south-if I had a south window, which I don't have-I would see the finest little yacht harbor in the world, for a small yacht harbor."
"I brought my trouble with me," I said. "That is, some of it. The rest went on ahead. A girl named Isobel Snare ran off from home in the big city and her dog was seen here. I found the dog, but the people who had the dog went to a lot of trouble to sew me up."
"Is that so?" the chief asked absently. His eyebrows crawled around on his forehead. I wasn't sure whether I was kidding him or he was kidding me.
"Just turn the key in the door, will you?" he said. "You're a younger man than I am."
I got up and turned the key and sat down again and got a cigarette out. By that time the chief had a right-looking bottle and two pony glasses on the desk, and a handful of cardamom seeds.
We had a drink and he cracked three or four of the cardamom seeds and we chewed them and looked at one another.
"Just tell me about it," he said then. "I can take it now."
"Did you ever hear of a guy called Farmer Saint?"
"Did I?" He banged his desk and the cardamom seeds jumped. "Why there's a thousand berries on that bimbo. A bank stickup, ain't he?"
I nodded, trying to look behind his eyes without seeming to. "He and his sister work together. Diana is her name. They dress up like country folks and smack down small-town banks, state banks. That's why he's called Farmer Saint. There's a grand on the sister too."
"I would certainly like to put the sleeves on that pair," the chief said firmly.
"Then why the hell didn't you?" I asked him.
He didn't quite hit the ceiling, but he opened his mouth so wide I was afraid his lower jaw was going to fall in his lap. His eyes stuck out like peeled eggs. A thin trickle of saliva showed in the fat crease at the corner. He shut his mouth with all the deliberation of a steam shovel.
It was a great act, if it was an act.
"Say that again," he whispered.
I opened a folded newspaper I had with me and pointed to a column.
"Look at this Sharp killing. Your local paper didn't do so good on it. It says some unknown rang the department and the boys ran out and found a dead man in an empty house. That's a lot of noodles. I was there. Farmer Saint and his sister were there. Your cops were there when we were there."
"Treachery!" he shouted suddenly. "Traitors in the department." His face was now as gray as arsenic flypaper. He poured two more drinks, with a shaking hand.
It was my turn to crack the cardamom seeds.
He put his drink down in one piece and lunged for a mahogany call box on his desk. I caught the name Galbraith. I went over and unlocked the door.
We didn't wait very long, but long enough for the chief to have two more drinks. His face got a better color.
Then the door opened and the big red-faced dick who had sapped me loafed through it, with a bulldog pipe clamped in his teeth and his hands in his pockets. He shouldered the door shut, leaned against it casually.
I said: "Hello, Sarge."
He looked at me as if he would like to kick me in the face and not have to hurry about it.
"Badge!" the fat chief yelled. "Badge! Put it on the desk. You're fired!"
Gaibraith went over to the desk slowly and put an elbow down on it, put his face about a foot from the chief's nose,
"What was that crack?" he asked thickly.
"You had Farmer Saint under your hand and let him go," the chief yelled. "You and that saphead Duncan. You let him stick a shotgun in your belly and get away. You're through. Fired. You ain't got no more job than a canned oyster. Gimme your badge!"
"Who the hell is Farmer Saint?" Galbraith asked, unimpressed, and blew pipe smoke in the chief's face.
"He don't know," the chief whined at me. "He don't know. That's the kind of material I got to work with."
"What do you mean, work?" Galbraith inquired loosely.
The fat chief jumped as though a bee had stung the end of his nose. Then he doubled a meaty fist and hit Galbraith's jaw with what looked like a lot of power. Galbraith's head moved about half an inch.
"Don't do that," he said. "You'll bust a gut and then where would the department be?" He shot a look at me, looked back at Fulwider. "Should I tell him?"
Fulwider looked at me, to see how the show was going over. I had my mouth open and a blank expression on my face, like a farm boy at a Latin lesson.
"Yeah, tell him," he growled, shaking his knuckles back and forth.
Gaibraith stuck a thick leg over a corner of the desk and knocked his pipe out, reached for the whisky and poured himself a drink in the chief's glass. He wiped his lips, grinned. When he grinned he opened his mouth wide, and he had a mouth a dentist could have got both hands in, up to the elbows.
He said calmly: "When me and Dunc crash the joint you was cold on the floor and the lanky guy was over you with a sap. The broad was on a window seat, with a lot of newspapers around her. okay. The lanky guy starts to tell us some yarn when a dog begins to howl out back and we look that way and the broad slips a sawed-off 12-gauge out of the newspapers and shows it to us. Well, what could we do except be nice? She couldn't have missed and we could. So the guy gets more guns out of his pants and they tie knots around us and stick us in a closet that has enough chloroform in it to make us quiet, without the ropes. After a while we hear 'em leave, in two cars. When we get loose the stiff has the place to hisself. So we fudge it a bit for the papers. We don't get no new line yet. How's it tie to yours?"
"Not bad," I told him. "As I remember the woman phoned for some law herself. But I could be mistaken. The rest of it ties in with me being sapped on the floor and not knowing anything about it."
Galbraith gave me a nasty look. The chief looked at his thumb.
"When I came to," I said, "I was in a private dope and hooch cure out on Twenty-ninth. Run by a man named Sundstrand. I was shot so full of hop myself I could have been Rockefeller's pet dime trying to spin myself."
"That Sundstrand," Galbraith said heavily. "That guy's been a flea in our pants for a long time. Should we go out and push him in the face, Chief?"
"It's a cinch Farmer Saint put Carmady in there," Fulwider said solemnly. "So there must be some tie-up. I'd say yes, and take Carmady with you. Want to go?" he asked me.
"Do I?" I said heartily.
Gaibraith looked at the whisky bottle. He said carefully: "There's a grand each on this Saint and his sister. If we gather them in, how do we cut it?"
"You cut me out," I said. "I'm on a straight salary and expenses."
Gaibraith grinned again. He teetered on his heels, grinning with thick amiability.
"Okydoke. We got your car in the garage downstairs. Some Jap phoned in about it. We'll use that to go in-just you and me."
"Maybe you ought to have more help, Gal," the chief said doubtfully.
"Uh-uh. Just me and him's plenty. He's a tough baby or he wouldn't be walkin' around."
"Well, all right," the chief said brightly. "And we'll just have a little drink on it."
But he was still rattled. He forgot the cardamom seeds.
It was a cheerful spot by daylight. Tea-rose begonias made a solid mass under the front windows and pansies were a round carpet about the base of an acacia. A scarlet climbing rose covered a trellis to one side of the house, and a bronze-green hummingbird was prodding delicately in a mass of sweet peas that grew up the garage wall.
It looked like the home of a well-fixed elderly couple who had come to the ocean to get as much sun as possible in their old age.
Galbraith spat on my runningboard and shook his pipe out and tickled the gate open, stamped up the path and flattened his thumb against a neat copper bell.
We waited. A grill opened in the door and a long sallow-face looked out at us under a starched nurse's cap.
"Open up. It's the law," the big cop growled.
A chain rattled and a bolt slid back. The door opened. The nurse was a six-footer with long arms and big hands, an ideal torturer's assistant. Something happened to her face and I saw she was smiling.
"Why, it's Mr. Galbraith," she chirped, in a voice that was high-pitched and throaty at the same time. "How are you, Mr. Galbraith? Did you want to see Doctor?"
"Yeah, and sudden," Galbraith growled, pushing past her.
We went along the hall. The door of the office was shut. Galbraith kicked it open, with me at his heels and the big nurse chirping at mine.
Dr. Sundtrand, the total abstainer, was having a morning bracer out of a fresh quart bottle. His thin hair was stuck in wicks with perspiration and his bony mask of a face seemed to have a lot of lines in it that hadn't been there the night before.
He took his hand off the bottle hurriedly and gave us his frozen-fish smile. He said fussily: "What's this? What's this? I thought I gave orders-"
"Aw, pull your belly in," Galbraith said, and yanked a chair near the desk. "Dangle, sister."
The nurse chirped something more and went back through the door. The door was shut. Dr. Sundstrand worked his eyes up and down my face and looked unhappy.
Galbraith put both his elbows on the desk and took hold of his bulging jowls with his fists. He stared fixedly, venomously, at the squirming doctor.
After what seemed a very long time he said, almost softly: "Where's Farmer Saint?"
The doctor's eyes popped wide. His Adam's apple bobbled above the neck of his smock. His greenish eyes began to look bilious.
"Don't stall!" Galbraith roared. "We know all about your private hospital racket, the crook hideout you're runnin', the dope and women on the side. You made one slip too many when you hung a snatch on this shamus from the big town. Your big city protection ain't going to do you no good on this one. Come on, where is Saint? And where's that girl?"
I remembered, quite casually, that I had not said anything about Isobel Snare in front of Galbraith-if that was the girl he meant.
Dr. Sundstrand's hand flopped about on his desk. Sheer astonishment seemed to be adding a final touch of paralysis to his uneasiness.
"Where are they?" Galbraith yelled again.
The big door opened and the big nurse fussed in again. "Now, Mr. Galbraith, the patients. Please remember the patients, Mr. Galbraith."
"Go climb up your thumb," Galbraith told her, over his shoulder.
She hovered by the door. Sundstrand found his voice at last. It was a mere wisp of a voice. It said wearily: "As if you didn't know."
Then his darting hand swept into his smock, and out again, with a gun glistening in it. Galbraith threw himself sideways, clean out of the chair. The doctor shot at him twice, missed twice. My hand touched a gun, but didn't draw it. Galbraith laughed on the floor and his big right hand snatched at his armpit, came up with a Lugar. It looked like my Lugar. It went off, just once.
Nothing changed in the doctor's long face. I didn't see where the bullet hit him. His head came down and hit the desk and his gun made thud on the floor. He lay with his face on the desk, motionless.
Galbraith pointed his gun at me, and got up off the floor. I looked at the gun again. I was sure it was my gun.
"That's a swell way to get information," I said aimlessly.
"Hands down, shamus. You don't want to play."
I put my hands down. "Cute," I said. "I suppose this whole scene was framed just to put the chill on Doc."
"He shot first, didn't he?"
"Yeah," I said thinly. "He shot first."
The nurse was sidling along the wall towards me. No sound had come from her since Sundstrand pulled his act. She was almost at my side. Suddenly, much too late, I saw the flash of knuckles on her good right hand, and hair on the back of the hand.
I dodged, but not enough. A crunching blow seemed to split my head wide open. I brought up against the wall, my knees full of water and my brain working hard to keep my right hand from snatching at a gun.
I straightened. Galbraith leered at me.
"Not so very smart," I said. "You're still holding my Luger. That sort of spoils the plan, doesn't it?"
"I see you get the idea, shamus."
The chirpy-voiced nurse said, in a blank pause: "Jeeze, the guy's got a jaw like a elephant's foot. Damn if I didn't split a knuck on him."
Galbraith's little eyes had death in them. "How about upstairs?" he asked the nurse.
"All out last night. Should I try one more swing?"
"What for? He didn't go for his gat, and he's too tough for you, baby. Lead is his meat."
I said: "You ought to shave baby twice a day on this job."
The nurse grinned, pushed the starched cap and the stringy blond wig askew on a bullet head. She-or more properly he-reached a gun from under the white nurse's uniform.
Galbraith said: "It was self-defense, see? You tangled with Doe, but he shot first. Be nice and me and Dune will try to remember it that way."
I rubbed my jaw with my left hand. "Listen, Sarge. I can take a joke as well as the next fellow. You sapped me in that house on Carolina Street and didn't tell about it. Neither did I. I figured you had reasons and you'd let me in on them at the right time. Maybe I can guess what the reasons are. I think you know where Saint is, or can find out. Saint knows where the Snare girl is, because he had her dog. Let's put a little more into this deal, something for both of us."
"We've got ours, sappo. I promised Doe I'd bring you back and let him play with you. I put Dune in here in the nurse's rig to handle you for him. But he was the one we really wanted to handle."
"All right," I said. "What do I get out of it?"
"Maybe a little more living."
I said: "Yeah. Don't think I'm kidding you-but look at that little window in the wall behind you."
Galbraith didn't move, didn't take his eyes off me. A thick sneer curved his lips.
Duncan, the female impersonator, looked-and yelled.
A small, square, tinted glass window high up in the corner of the back wall had swung open quite silently. I was looking straight at it, past Galbraith's ear, straight at the black snout of a tommy gun, on the sill, at the two hard black eyes behind the gun.
A voice I had last heard soothing a dog said: "How's to drop the rod, sister? And you at the desk-grab a cloud."
The big cop's mouth sucked for air. Then his whole face lightened and he jerked around and the Luger gave one hard, sharp cough.
I dropped to the floor as the tommy gun cut loose in a short burst. Galbraith crumpled beside the desk, fell on his back with his legs twisted. Blood came out of his nose and mouth.
The cop in nurse's uniform turned as white as the starched cap. His gun bounced. His hands tried to claw at the ceiling.
There was a queer, stunned silence. Powder smoke reeked. Farmer Saint spoke downward from his perch at the window, to somebody outside the house.
A door opened and shut distinctly and running steps came along the hail. The door of our room was pushed wide. Diana Saint came in with a brace of automatics in her hands. A tall, handsome woman, neat and dark, with a rakish black hat, and two gloved hands holding guns.
I got up off the floor, keeping my hands in sight. She tossed her voice calmly at the window, without looking towards it.
"Okay, Jerry. I can hold them."
Saint's head and shoulders and his submachine gun went away from the frame of the window, leaving blue sky and the thin, distant branches of a tall tree.
There was a thud, as if feet dropped off a ladder to a wooden porch. In the room we were five statues, two fallen.
Somebody had to move. The situation called for two more killings. From Saint's angle I couldn't see it any other way. There had to be a cleanup.
The gag hadn't worked when it wasn't a gag. I tried it again when it was. I looked past the woman's shoulder, kicked a hard grin on to my face, said hoarsely:
"Hello, Mike. Just in time."
It didn't fool her, of course, but it made her mad. She stiffened her body and snapped a shot at me from the right-hand gun.- It was a big gun for a woman and it jumped. The other gun jumped with it. I didn't see where the shot went. I went in under the guns.
My shoulder hit her thigh and she tipped back and hit her head against the jamb of the door. I wasn't too nice about knocking the guns out of her hands. I kicked the door shut, reached up and yanked the key around, then scrambled back from a high-heeled shoe that was doing its best to smash my nose for me.
Duncan said: Keeno," and dived for his gun on the floor.
"Watch that little window, if you want to live," I snarled at him.
Then I was behind the desk, dragging the phone away from Dr. Sundstrand's dead body, dragging it as far from the line of the door as the cord would let me. I lay down on the floor with it and started to dial, on my stomach.
Diana's eyes came alive on the phone. She screeched: "They've got me, Jerry! They've got me!"
The machine gun began to tear the door apart as I bawled into the ear of a bored desk sergeant,
Pieces of plaster and wood flew like fists at an Irish wedding. Slugs jerked the body of Dr. Sundstrand as though a chill was shaking him back to life. I threw the phone away from me and grabbed Diana's guns and started in on the door for our side. Through a wide crack I could see cloth. I shot at that.
I couldn't see what Duncan was doing. Then I knew. A shot that couldn't have come through the door smacked Diana Saint square on the end of her chin. She went down again, stayed down.
Another shot that didn't come through the door lifted my hat. I rolled and yelled at Duncan. His gun moved in a stiff arc, following me. His mouth was an animal snarl. I yelled again.
Four round patches of red appeared in a diagonal line across the nurse uniform, chest high. They spread even in the short time it took Duncan to fall.
There was a siren somewhere. It was my siren, coming my way, getting louder.
The tommy gun stopped and a foot kicked at the door. It shivered, but held at the lock. I put four more slugs into it, well away from the lock.
The siren got louder. Saint had to go. I heard his step running away down the hall. A door slammed. A car started out back in an alley. The sound of its going got less as the approaching siren screeched into a crescendo.
I crawled over to the woman and looked at blood on her face and hair and soft soggy places on the front of her coat. I touched her face. She opened her eyes slowly, as if the lids were very heavy.
"Jerry-" she whispered.
"Dead," I lied grimly. "Where's Isobel Snare, Diana?"
The eyes closed. Tears glistened, the tears of the dying.
"Where's Isobel, Diana?" I pleaded. "Be regular and tell me. I'm no cop. I'm her friend. Tell me, Diana."
I put tenderness and wistfulness into it, everything I had.
The eyes half opened. The whisper came again:. "Jerry-" then it trailed off and the eyes shut. Then the lips moved once more, breathed a word that sounded like "Monty."
That was all. She died.
I stood up slowly and listened to the sirens.
It was getting late and lights were going on here and there in a tall office building across the street. I had been in Fulwider's office all the afternoon. I had told my story twenty times. It was all true-what I told.
Cops had been in and out, ballistics and print men, record men, reporters, half a dozen city officials, even an A.P. correspondent. The correspondent didn't like his handout and said so.
The fat chief was sweaty and suspicious. His coat was off and his armpits were black and his short red hair curled as if it had been singed. Not knowing how much or little I knew he didn't dare lead me. All he could do was yell at me and whine at me by turns, and try to get me drunk in between.
I was getting drunk and liking it.
"Didn't nobody say anything at all!" he wailed at me for the hundredth time.
I took another drink, flopped my hand around, looked silly. "Not a word, Chief," I said owlishly. "I'm the boy that would tell you. They died too sudden."
He took hold of his jaw and cranked it. "Damn funny," he sneered. "Four dead ones on the floor and you not even nicked."
"I was the only one," I said, "that lay down on the floor while still healthy."
He took hold of his right ear and worried that. "You been here three days," he howled. "In them three days we got more crime than in three years before you come. It ain't human. I must be having a nightmare."
"You can't blame me, Chief," I grumbled. "I came down here to look for a girl. I'm still looking for her. I didn't tell Saint and his sister to hide out in your town. When I spotted him I tipped you off, though your own cops didn't. I didn't shoot Doc Sundstrand before anything could be got out of him. I still haven't any idea why the phony nurse was planted there."
"Nor me," Fulwider yelled. "But it's my job that's shot full of holes. For all the chance I got to get out of this I might as well go fishin' right now."
I took another drink, hiccupped cheerfully. "Don't say that, Chief," I pleaded. "You cleaned the town up once and you can do it again. This one was just a hot grounder that took a bad bounce."
He took a turn around the office and tried to punch a hole in the end wall, then slammed himself back in his chair. He eyed me savagely, grabbed for the whisky bottle, then didn't touch it-as though it might do him more good in my stomach.
"I'll make a deal with you," he growled. "You run on back to San Angelo and I'll forget it was your gun croaked Sundstrand."
"That's not a nice thing to say to a man that's trying to earn his living, Chief. You know how it happened to be my gun."
His face looked gray again, for a moment. He measured me for a coffin. Then the mood passed and he smacked his desk, said heartily:
"You're right, Carmady. I couldn't do that, could I? You still got to find that girl, ain't you? Okay, you run on back to the hotel and get some rest. I'll work on it tonight and see you in the A.M."
I took another short drink, which was all there was left in the bottle. I felt fine. I shook hands with him twice and staggered out of his office. Flash bulbs exploded all over the corridor.
I went down the City Hall steps and around the side of the building to the police garage. My blue Chrysler was home again. I dropped the drunk act and went on down the side streets to the ocean front, walked along the wide cement walk towards the two amusement piers and the Grand Hotel.
It was getting dusk now. Lights on the piers came out. Masthead lights were lit on the small yachts riding at anchor behind the yacht harbor breakwater. In a white barbecue stand a man tickled wienies with a long fork and droned: "Get hungry, folks. Nice hot doggies here. Get hungry, folks."
I lit a cigarette and stood there looking out to sea. Very suddenly, far out, lights shone from a big ship. I watched them, but they didn't move. I went over to the hot dog man.
"Anchored?" I asked him, pointing.
He looked around the end of his booth, wrinkled his nose with contempt.
"Hell, that's the gambling boat. The Cruise to Nowhere, they call the act, because it don't go no place. If Tango ain't crooked enough, try that. Yes, sir, that's the good ship Montecito. How about a nice warm puppy?"
I put a quarter on his counter. "Have one yourself," I said softly. "Where do the taxis leave from.?"
I had no gun. I went on back to the hotel to get my spare.
The dying Diana Saint had said "Monty."
Perhaps she just hadn't lived long enough to say "Montecito."
At the hotel I lay down and fell asleep as though I had been anaesthetized. It was eight o'clock when I woke up, and I was hungry.
I was tailed from the hotel, but not very far. Of course the clean little city didn't have enough crime for the dicks to be very good shadows.
It was a long ride for forty cents. The water taxi, an old speedboat without trimmings, slid through the anchored yachts and rounded the breakwater. The swell hit us. All the company I had besides the tough-looking citizen at the wheel was two spooning couples who began to peck at each other's faces as soon as the darkness folded down.
I stared back at the lights of the city and tried not to bear down too hard on my dinner. Scattered diamond points at first, the lights drew together and became a jeweled wristlet laid out in the show window of the night. Then they were a soft orange yellow blur above the top of the swell. The taxi smacked in the invisible waves and bounced like a surf boat. There was cold fog in the air.
The portholes of the Montecito got large and the taxi swept out in a wide turn, tipped to an angle of forty-five degrees and careened neatly to the side of a brightly lit stage. The taxi engine idled down and backfired in the fog.
A sloe-eyed boy in a tight blue mess jacket and a gangster mouth handed the girls out, swept their escorts with a keen glance, sent them on up. The look he gave me told me something about him. The way he bumped into my gun holster told me more.
"Nix," he said softly. "Nix."
He jerked his chin at the taxi man. The taxi man dropped a short noose over a bitt, turned his wheel a little and climbed on the stage. He got behind me.
"Nix," the one in the mess jacket purred. "No gats on this boat, mister. Sorry."
"Part of my clothes," I told him. "I'm a private dick. I'll check it."
"Sorry, bo. No checkroom for gats. On your way."
The taxi man hooked a wrist through my right arm. I shrugged.
"Back in the boat," the taxi man growled behind me. "I owe you forty cents, mister. Come on."
I got back into the boat.
"Okay," I sputtered at Mess Jacket. "If you don't want my money, you don't want it. This is a hell of a way to treat a visitor. This is-"
His sleek, silent smile was the last thing I saw as the taxi cast off and hit the swell on the way back. I hated to leave that smile.
The way back seemed longer. I didn't speak to the taxi man and he didn't speak to me. As I got out on to the float at the pier he sneered at my back: "Some other night when we ain't so busy, shamus."
Half a dozen customers waiting to go out stared at me. I went past them, past the door of the waiting room on the float, towards the steps at the landward end.
A big redheaded roughneck in dirty sneakers and tarry pants and a torn blue jersey straightened from the railing and bumped into me casually.
I stopped, got set. He said softly: " 's matter, dick? No soap on the hell ship?"
"Do I have to tell you?"
"I'm a guy that can listen."
"Who are you?"
"Just call me Red."
"Out of the way, Red. I'm busy."
He smiled sadly, touched my left side. "The gat's kind of bulgy under the light suit," he said. "Want to get on board? It can be done, if you got a reason."
"How much is the reason?" I asked him.
"Fifty bucks. Ten more if you bleed in my boat."
I started away. "Twenty-five out," he said quickly. "Maybe you come back with friends, huh?"
I went four steps away from him before I half turned, said: "Sold," and went on.
At the foot of the bright amusement pier there was a flaring Tango Parlor, jammed full even at that still early hour. I went into it, leaned against a wall and watched a couple of numbers go up on the electric indicator, watched a house player with an inside straight give the high sign under the counter with his knee.
A large blueness took form beside me and I smelled tar. A soft, deep, sad voice said: "Need help out there?"
"I'm looking for a girl, but I'll look alone. What's your racket?" I didn't look at him.
"A dollar here, a dollar there. I like to eat. I was on the cops but they bounced the."
I liked his telling me that. "You must have been leveling," I said, and watched the house player slip his card across with his thumb over the wrong number, watched the counter man get his own thumb in the same spot and hold the card up.
I could feel Red's grin. "I see you been around our little city. Here's how it works. I got a boat with an underwater bypass. I know a loading port I can open. I take a load out for a guy once in a while. There ain't many guys below decks. That suit you?"
I got my wallet out and slipped a twenty and a five from it, passed them over in a wad. They went into a tarry pocket.
Red said: "Thanks," softly, and walked away. I gave him a small start and went after him. He was easy to follow by his size, even in a crowd.
We went past the yacht harbor and the second amusement pier and beyond that the lights got fewer and the crowd thinned to nothing. A short black pier stuck out into the water with boats moored all along it. My man turned out that.
He stopped almost at the end, at the head of a wooden ladder. "I'll bring her down to here," he said. "Got to make noise warmin' up."
"Listen," I said urgently. "I have to phone a man. I forgot."
"Can do. Come on."
He led the way farther along the pier, knelt, rattled keys on a chain, and opened a padlock. He lifted a small trap and took a phone out, listened to it.
"Still working," he said with a grin in his voice. "Must belong to some crooks. Don't forget to snap the lock back on."
He slipped away silently into the darkness. For ten minutes I listened to water slapping the piles of the pier, the occasional whirr of a seagull in the gloom. Then far off a motor roared and kept on roaring for minutes. Then the noise stopped abruptly. More minutes passed. Something thudded at the foot of the ladder and a low voice called up to me: "All set."
I hurried back to the phone, dialed a number, asked for Chief Fulwider. He had gone home. I dialed another number, got a woman, asked her for the chief, said I was headquarters.
I waited again. Then I heard the fat chiefs voice. It sounded full of baked potato.
"Yeah? Can't a guy even eat? Who is it?"
"Carmady, Chief. Saint is on the Montecito. Too bad that's over your line."
He began to yell like a wild man. I hung up in his face, put the phone back in its zinc-lined cubbyhole and snapped the padlock. I went down the ladder to Red.
His big black speedboat slid out over the oily water. There was no sound from its exhaust but a steady bubbling along the side of the shell.
The city lights again became a yellow blur low on the black water and the ports of the good ship Montecito again got large and bright and round out to sea.
There were no floodlights on the seaward side of the ship. Red cut his motor to half of nothing and curved in under the overhang of the stern, sidled up to the greasy plates as coyly as a clubman in a hotel lobby.
Double iron doors loomed high over us, forward a little from the slimy links of a chain cable. The speedboat scuffed the Montecito's ancient plates and the sea water slapped loosely at the bottom of the speedboat under our feet. The shadow of the big ex-cop rose over me. A coiled rope flicked against the dark, caught on something, and fell back into the boat. Red pulled it tight, made a turn around something on the engine cowling.
He said softly: "She rides as high as a steeplechaser. We gotta climb them plates."
I took the wheel and held the nose of the speedboat against the slippery hull, and Red reached for an iron ladder flat to the side of the ship, hauled himself up into the darkness, grunting, his big body braced at right angles, his sneakers slipping on the wet metal rungs.
After a while something creaked up above and feeble yellow light trickled out into the foggy air. The outline of a heavy door showed, and Red's crouched head against the light.
I went up the ladder after him. It was hard work. It landed me panting in a sour, littered hold full of cases and barrels. Rats skittered out of sight in the dark corners. The big man put his lips to my ear: "From here we got an easy way to the boiler-room catwalk. They'll have steam up in one auxiliary, for hot water and the generators. That means one guy. I'll handle him. The crew doubles in brass upstairs. From the boiler room I'll show you a ventilator with no grating in it. Goes to the boat deck. Then it's all yours."
"You must have relatives on board," I said.
"Never no mind. A guy gets to know things when he's on the beach. Maybe I'm close to a bunch that's set to knock the tub over. Will you come back fast?"
"I ought to make a good splash from the boat deck," I said. "Here."
I fished more bills out of my wallet, pushed them at him.
He shook his red head. "Uh-uh. That's for the trip back."
"I'm buying it now," I said. "Even if I don't use it. Take the dough before I bust out crying."
"Well-thanks, pal. You're a right guy."
We went among the cases and barrels. The yellow light came from a passage beyond, and we went along the passage to a narrow iron door. That led to the catwalk. We sneaked along it, down an oily steel ladder, heard the slow hiss of oil burners and went among mountains of iron towards the sound.
Around a corner we looked at a short, dirty Italian in a purple silk shirt who sat in a wired-together office chair, under a naked bulb, and read the paper with the aid of steel-rimmed spectacles and a black forefinger.
Red said gently: "Hi, Shorty. How's all the little bambinos?" The Italian opened his mouth and reached swiftly. Red hit him. We put him down on the floor and tore his purple shirt into shreds for ties and a gag.
"You ain't supposed to hit a guy with glasses on," Red said. "But the idea is you make a hell of a racket goin' up a ventilator-to a guy down here. Upstairs they won't hear nothing."
I said that was the way I would like it, and we left the Italian bound up on the floor and found the ventilator that had no grating in it. I shook hands with Red, said I hoped to see him again, and started up the ladder inside the ventilator.
It was cold and black and the foggy air rushed down it and the way up seemed a long way. After three minutes that felt like an hour I reached the top and poked my head out cautiously. Canvas-sheeted boats loomed near by on the boat-deck davits. There was a soft whispering in the dark between a pair of them. The heavy throb of music pulsed up from below. Overhead a masthead light, and through the thin, high layers of the mist a few bitter stars stared down.
I listened, but didn't hear any police-boat sirens. I got out of the ventilator, lowered myself to the deck.
The whispering came from a necking couple huddled under a boat. They didn't pay any attention to me. I went along the deck past the closed doors of three or four cabins. There was a little light behind the shutters of two of them. I listened, didn't hear anything but the merrymaking of the customers down below on the main deck.
I dropped into a dark shadow, took a lungful of air and let it out in a howl-the snarling howl of a gray timber wolf, lonely and hungry and far from home, and mean enough for seven kinds of trouble.
The deep-toned woof-woofing of a police dog answered me. A girl squealed along the dark deck and a man's voice said: "I thought all the shellac drinkers was dead."
I straightened and unshipped my gun and ran towards the barking. The noise came from a cabin on the other side of the deck.
I put an ear to the door, listened to a man's voice soothing the dog. The dog stopped barking and growled once or twice, then was silent. A key turned in the door I was touching.
I dropped away from it, down on one knee. The door opened a foot and a sleek head came forward past its edge. Light from a hooded deck lamp made a shine on the black hair.
I stood up and slammed the head with my gun barrel. The man fell softly out of the doorway into my arms. I dragged him back into the cabin, pushed him down on a made-up berth.
I shut the door again, locked it. A small, wide-eyed girl crouched on the other berth. I said: "Hello, Miss Snare. I've had a lot of trouble finding you. Want to go home?"
Farmer Saint rolled over and sat up, holding his head. Then he was very still, staring at me with his sharp black eyes. His mouth had a strained smile, almost good-humored.
I ranged the cabin with a glance, didn't see where the dog was, but saw an inner door behind which he could be. I looked at the girl again.
She was not much to look at, like most of the people that make most of the trouble. She was crouched on the berth with her knees drawn up and hair falling over one eye. She wore a knitted dress and golf socks and sport shoes with wide tongues that fell down over the instep. Her knees were bare and bony under the hem of the dress. She looked like a schoolgirl.
I went over Saint for a gun, didn't find one. He grinned at me.
The girl lifted her hand and threw her hair back. She looked at me as if I was a couple of blocks away. Then her breath caught and she began to cry.
"We're married," Saint said softly. "She thinks you're set to blow holes in me. That was a smart trick with the wolf howl."
I didn't say anything. I listened. No noises outside.
"How'd you know where to come?" Saint asked.
"Diana told me-before she died," I said brutally.
His eyes looked hurt. "I don't believe it, shamus."
"You ran out and left her in the ditch. What would you expect?"
"I figured the cops wouldn't bump a woman and I could make some kind of a deal on the outside. Who got her?"
"One of Fulwider's cops. You got him."
His head jerked back and a wild look came over his face, then went away. He smiled sideways at the weeping girl.
"Hello, sugar. I'll get you clear." He looked back at me. "Suppose I come in without a scrap. Is there a way for her to get loose?"
"What do you mean, scrap?" I sneered.
"I got plenty friends on this boat, shamus. You ain't even started yet."
"You got her into it," I said. "You can't get her out. That's part of the pay-off."
He nodded slowly, looked down at the floor between his feet. The girl stopped crying long enough to mop at her cheeks, then started in again.
"Fulwider know I'm here?" Saint asked me slowly.
"You give him the office?"
He shrugged. "That's okay from your end. Sure. Only I'll never get to talk, if Fulwider pinches me. If I could get to talk to a D.A. I could maybe convince him she's not hep to my stuff."
"You could have thought of that, too," I said heavily. "You didn't have to go back to Sundstrand's and cut loose with your stutter gun."
He threw his head back and laughed. "No? Suppose you paid a guy ten grand for protection and he crossed you up by grabbing your wife and sticking her in a crooked dope hospital and telling you to run along far away and be good, or the tide would wash her up on the beach? What would you do-smile, or trot over with some heavy iron to talk to the guy?"
"She wasn't there then," I said. "You were just kill-screwy. And if you hadn't hung on to that dog until he killed a man, the protection wouldn't have been scared into selling you out."
"I like dogs," Saint said quietly. "I'm a nice guy when I'm not workin', but I can get shoved around just so much."
I listened. Still no noises on deck outside.
"Listen," I said quickly. "If you want to play ball with me, I've got a boat at the back door and I'll try to get the girl home before they want her. What happens to you is past me. I wouldn't lift a finger for you, even if you do like dogs."
The girl said suddenly, in a shrill, little-girl voice: "I don't want to go home! I won't go home!"
"A year from now you'll thank me," I snapped at her.
"He's right, sugar," Saint said. "Better beat it with him."
"I won't," the girl shrilled angrily. "I just won't. That's all."
Out of the silence on the deck something hard slammed the outside of the door. A grim voice shouted: "Open up! It's the law!"
I backed swiftly to the door, keeping my eyes on Saint. I spoke back over my shoulder: "Fulwider there?"
"Yeah," the chiefs fat voice growled. "Carmady?"
"Listen, Chief. Saint's in here and he's ready to surrender. There's a girl here with him, the one I told you about. So come in easy, will you?"
"Right," the chief said. "Open the door."
I twisted the key, jumped across the cabin and put my back against the inner partition, beside the door behind which the dog was moving around now, growling a little.
The outer door whipped open. Two men I hadn't seen before charged in with drawn guns. The fat chief was behind them. Briefly, before he shut the door, I caught a glimpse of ship's uniforms.
The two dicks jumped on Saint, slammed him around, put cuffs on him. Then they stepped back beside the chief. Saint grinned at them, with blood trickling down his lower lip.
Fulwider looked at me reprovingly and moved a cigar around in his mouth. Nobody seemed to take an interest in the girl.
"You're a hell of a guy, Carmady. You didn't give me no idea where to come," he growled.
"I didn't know," I said. "I thought it was outside your jurisdiction, too."
"Hell with that. We tipped the Feds. They'll be out."
One of the dicks laughed. "But not too soon," he said roughly. "Put the heater away, shamus."
"Try and make me," I told him.
He started forward, but the chief waved him back. The other dick watched Saint, looked at nothing else.
"How'd you find him then?" Fulwider wanted to know.
"Not by taking his money to hide him out," I said.
Nothing changed in Fulwider's face. His voice became almost lazy. "Oh, oh, you've been peekin'," he said very gently.
I said disgustedly. "Just what kind of a sap did you and your gang take me for? Your clean little town stinks. It's the wellknown whited sepulcher. A crook sanctuary where the hot rods can lie low-if they pay off nice and don't pull any local capers-and where they can jump off for Mexico in a fast boat, if the finger waves towards them."
The chief said very carefully: "Any more?"
"Yeah," I shouted. "I've saved it for you too damn long. You had me doped until I was half goofy and stuck me in a private jail. When that didn't hold me you worked a plant up with Galbraith and Duncan to have my gun kill Sundstrand, your helper, and then have me killed resisting some arrest. Saint spoiled that party for you and saved my life. Not intending to, perhaps, but he did it. You knew all along where the little Snare girl was. She was Saint's wife and you were holding her yourself to make him stay in line. Hell, why do you suppose I tipped you he was out here? That was something you didn't know!"
The dick who had tried to make me put up my gun said: "Now, Chief. We better make it fast. Those Feds-"
Fulwider's jaw shook. His face was gray and his ears were far back in his head. The cigar twitched in his fat mouth.
"Wait a minute," he said thickly, to the man beside. Then to me: "Well-why did you tip me?"
"To get you where you're no more law than Billy the Kid," I said, "and see if you have the guts to go through with murder on the high seas."
Saint laughed. He shot a low, snarling whistle between his teeth. A tearing animal growl answered him. The door beside me crashed open as though a mule had kicked it. The big police dog came through the opening in a looping spring that carried him clear across the cabin. The gray body twisted in mid-air. A gun banged harmlessly.
"Eat 'em up, Voss!" Saint yelled. "Eat 'em alive, boy!"
The cabin filled with gunfire. The snarling of the dog blended with a thick, choked scream. Fulwider and one of the dicks were down on the floor and the dog was at Fulwider's throat.
The girl screamed and plunged her face into a pillow. Saint slid softly down from the bunk and lay on the floor with blood running slowly down his neck in a thick wave.
The dick who hadn't gone down jumped to one side, almost fell headlong on the girl's berth, then caught his balance and pumped bullets into the dog's long gray body-wildly without pretense of aim.
The dick on the floor pushed at the dog. The dog almost bit his hand off. The man yelled. Feet pounded on the deck. Yelling outside, Something was running down my face that tickled. My head felt funny, but I didn't know what had hit me.
The gun in my hand felt large and hot. I shot the dog, hating to do it. The dog rolled off Fulwider and I saw where a stray bullet had drilled the chiefs forehead between the eyes, with the delicate exactness of pure chance.
The standing dick's gun hammer clicked on a discharged shell. He cursed, started to reload frantically.
I touched the blood on my face and looked at it. It seemed very black. The light in the cabin seemed to be failing.
The bright corner of an axe blade suddenly split the cabin door, which was wedged shut by the chiefs body, and that of the groaning man beside him. I stared at the bright metal, watched it go away and reappear in another place.
Then all the lights went out very slowly, as in a theater just as the curtain goes up. Just as it got quite dark my head hurt me, but I didn't know then that a bullet had fractured my skull.
I woke up two days later in the hospital. I was there three weeks. Saint didn't live long enough to hang, but he lived long enough to tell his story. He must have told it well, because they let Mrs. Jerry (Farmer) Saint go home to her aunt.
By that time the County Grand Jury had indicted half the police force of the little beach city. There were a lot of new faces around the City Hall, I heard. One of them was a big redheaded detective-sergeant named Norgard who said he owed me twenty-five dollars but had had to use it to buy a new suit when he got his job back. He said he would pay me out of his first check. I said I would try to wait.
© Aerius, 2004