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Authors: Brad Latham

Corpses in the Cellar

BOOK: Corpses in the Cellar
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“Coup de grace,” Lockwood explained, and then whipped in the famed left hook that had given him his nickname.


Griese went down, all the furniture in the room jumping an inch as he hit. Once on the floor, he looked as if he’d been planted
there permanently.


Lockwood looked at Tawny, and she looked back at him.


She stood by the door, watching Lockwood haul the hood away. “You know,” she said, “you
fight as well as you can….” She paused a moment, then concluded, eyelids lowered suggestively:


Books by Brad Latham

Hook #1: The Gilded Canary

Hook #2: Sight Unseen

Hook #3: Hate Is Thicker Than Blood

Hook #4: The Death of Lorenzo Jones

Hook #5: Corpses In The Cellar




Published by




Copyright © 1982 by Warner Books, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at

First eBook Edition: September 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-56606-3



Books by Brad Latham


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter One

Whoever she was, she was certainly dressed for the weather.

She was holding the apartment door halfway open, staring out at him, her bare right breast glistening as it reflected the
harsh light of the steaming hallway.

“Yes?” she asked.

“My name is Bill Lockwood. I’m with the Transatlantic Underwriters Company. I’m looking for Mr. Grand.”

“He’s… indisposed.”

“It’s important,” he told her. “My company insured his night club. I’m their investigator.”

She stared up at him, saying nothing.

“I have to find out all I can about the fire. I thought I’d begin with Mr. Grand.”

Her blue eyes flashed. “How do I know you’re who you say you are?”

He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a wallet. “Here’s my ID,” he told her.

She opened the door wider and he now saw her left breast was naked too. She stood there for a moment checking out his credentials,
while he responded in kind.

“Come in,” she said, finally. “I can tell you all there is to know.”

They went through a small foyer into a living room the size of most people’s houses. Everything in it was strictly up to the
minute; all shining steel and glass.

Halfway in, she turned to him and motioned toward the couch. “Have a seat,” she said.

He nodded, sat, and looked her over. She was small, about five foot four inches, her looks a perfect representation of the
all-American girl, which made the contrast between that aspect of her and the lusciously round, generously endowed mounds
of flesh that stood out in their unashamed glory even more jarring than it would normally have been in this rigid, repressed
year of 1938.

She caught the direction of his glance and stiffened. “Now don’t get any ideas, Mr. Lockwood,” she told him, her voice girlish.
“I’m from Cape Cod. There’s a lake we all swim in in weather like this. No one wears anything, and there’s no funny business,
either. It’s what I’m used to, but it doesn’t mean anything, no matter what it looks like. I’m just cooler this way.”

Lockwood nodded, impassively, and asked, “Are you related to Mack Grand?”

“I’m his wife,” she said, offhandedly, then asked, “Would you like a cold drink?”

“No thanks.”

“I’ll have one myself then,” she said, gracefully picking up a pair of silver tongs, removing three ice cubes from a gleaming
steel bucket, and dropping them into a crystal glass. He watched as she sprayed the glass full of soda. He’d heard Mack Grand
had a young wife. He hadn’t been aware she was this young. Nineteen at the most, alive, vital, her skin radiant and firm,
blooming. Grand was somewhere in his mid-sixties.

She sat down at the other end of the couch, and looked at him directly. Her stare was frank and open. Nothing shy or recessive
about this one. “Well, what do you want to find out?”

“First, I’d like to know if I can speak to your husband.”

“Not now. Oh, gee, the fire last night was a big shock to him. He’s not a strong man as it is, anyway. I’ve made him lie down.”

“I see,” Lockwood said, and pulled out a pack of Camels. “Would you like one?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Oh, golly, no. Not me. But, gee, feel free to smoke yourself.”

As he drew out the black and silver Dunhill lighter and applied the flame to the tip of the cigarette, her eyes never left
him. Nothing suggestive about it, nothing seductive. She simply had the directness of the unafraid. One of the appeals of
the all-American girl next door, Lockwood reflected. Everything about that kind was positive, all rah-rah and push straight-ahead.
And this one was the quintessential type, if you discounted those riveting circles with the smaller rings of pink flush in
the center of them. Hard thing to do, though, just on the pull of aesthetics alone.

With an effort, he fixed a gaze on her face. “All right, then, perhaps you can tell me what you know about the fire. What
your husband told you.”

“Okay. Well, I was there when he got the call. They said it started around three-thirty this morning. It must have been very
quick.” She twisted her mouth wryly, in the humorously attractive way a Queen of the Campus might do. “If he hadn’t called
the place The Palms, it probably never would have happened.”

Lockwood nodded. “You mean the fake palm leaves that covered the walls and ceilings?”

She nodded. “Yes. The man who originally sold them to Mack told him they were flameproof, or he’d never have put them in.
From what the police said, they were like tinder.”

“I suppose your husband can sue the company who installed them.”

She shrugged. “Mack says they went out of business a month after they did the job. Another casualty of the Depression. One
of the better ones, I guess.”

“I’ve been told eight people died.”

“Yes.” She looked away. “I knew some of them. Boy, when it happens to someone you actually know…” She shivered.

He took a puff on the cigarette, and waited a moment, giving her time. “Can you tell me who they were?”

She shrugged. He had a job to do, and she’d help him with it. That was the American way. “Sure. There was a waiter—I think
his name was Charlie, and the head bartender, Beechie McMahon. Two of the girls in the chorus line—Wanda Winninger, she was
new, I didn’t really know her, and then Joy Mellon. She was a great kid, really great. We’d danced together.”

“That’s right, you’d been in a Broadway show, hadn’t you, Mrs. Grand?”

“Call me Debbie. Right. My first audition, my first show. That’s where I met Mack. Isn’t that something? He knew the show
would be closing—it was a big flop—and he came to look it over for dancers he might be able to use at the club. But when he
found me”—she shrugged, and grimaced, clownishly—“instead of hiring me, he married me.”

Lockwood nodded. “And the other four?”

“Oh. Right. Well, I guess the worst—the other three were tourists, all from out of town from what they tell me, the worst
was Nettie, the bookkeeper. She was Mack’s sister. Phew. I still can’t believe it,” she said in her cheerleader accent.

Isn’t that a little late for a bookkeeper?”

“No. Oh, gosh no. She and Mack always checked over the books about then—” she stopped short, realizing she’d let it slip.

“You’re saying Mack was there every night at three-thirty?”

She stared at him in some confusion, eyes almost imploring, and then shrugged. “Most nights.”

“I take it he wasn’t there last night.”

She got up and shot some more soda into the glass, then swished it around, the ice cubes tinkling as they cooled the liquid.

Finally, she looked at him. “No.”

“Was he home with you?”

She looked at him for a long time. “No,” she said finally, “I don’t know where he was.”

Lockwood crushed out the cigarette.

“Do you think the fire was an accident?”

She hadn’t returned to the couch, instead had moved near the window, and was looking out. “I—gee, I don’t know. I just don’t
know,” she said, quietly.

“What about your husband? What did he have to say?”

“Just—’My God’, when they told him. Just ‘My God’, over and over, over and over.”

His eyes ran down her bare back, over her firm behind, along the well-shaped thighs outlined in the white linen skirt that
sheathed them, and down the symmetrical curves of her legs. Nothing like combining business with pleasure, he reflected. If
there was anything imperfect about her, he had yet to find it. “And after?” he asked. “After he got off the phone?”

She swung back toward him, still unself-conscious and direct, still half-clothed. “He just told me what had happened. That
was all.”

“No theories.”

“No—no theories.”

“I see.” Lockwood rose, rebuttoning the Brooks Brothers lightweight flannel suit jacket that framed his slender, athletic
body. “I’m sorry to have bothered you at a time like this, Debbie, but you see, it’s my job to investigate any claims which
appear to have a suspicious origin.”

She stared hard at him. “Suspicious—the police say the fire was suspicious?”

“No. Sorry. In lay terms, I may have overstated it a bit. But in the insurance business—well, if you’re going to pay out thousands
of dollars on a claim, you have to get the reputation for checking carefully into that claim. It helps dissuade people from
trying to make a quick, easy buck.” He shrugged. “And then, sometimes of course, when you investigate, there are those occasions
when you find people who haven’t been stopped.”

The sun was behind her now, and he found it hard to see her, to read her expression. “I can’t believe anyone could have done
anything that horrible on purpose,” she said, a shudder in her voice.

hard to believe,” he agreed. “It’s always hard to believe—even when the evidence is in front of your eyes.” He picked his
hat off the table in the foyer. “Thank you for your time. I’ll undoubtedly come by again to see your husband. But for the
moment, I’ve got to move on.”

“Where are you going?” she asked, as he opened the door.

He turned back for one last look. Luscious. Cheerleader luscious. “To The Palms. To search for evidence.”

Chapter Two

The Palms was a cellar club in the West Forties. It wasn’t surprising that the three customers who’d died in the fire were
from out of town. It was that kind of place, shrieking its New Yorkness so loudly that the real New Yorker, the Manhattanite,
at any rate, generally shunned the place, with its loud, brassy music, loud, brassy comedians, and loud, brassy chorines.
The odd thing was that Mack Grand was nothing like that himself. A quiet man, maybe even a little shy, intelligent, probably
sensitive. Go try to figure people. Somewhere along the line, if you stayed with them long enough, they’d trip you up. That’s
what made this business so fascinating. And so tough.

An officer he’d seen around was standing at the door, stolidly urging the curious along as they paused to rubberneck.

The cop obviously recognized him, too. “Hello, Hook.”

Lockwood nodded, acknowledging the nickname. “You have someone around in charge?”

The cop bobbed his head in turn. “Down there,” he said, pointing into the blackened entrance. “Brannigan.”

Lockwood wasn’t surprised, but he was pleased. Lieutenant Jimbo Brannigan of the Midtown Precinct was a longtime friend, professionally
speaking. One of the best in the business, though better perhaps as an enforcer than as an investigator. It would be good
to see him again.

The cop stood aside as Lockwood went down through the doors, their small glass windows smoked, their black-streaked backs
stark evidence of the destruction that the untouched front surfaces belied.

The stairs were steep and damp and musty, the carpeted treads squishing as he descended, still choked with the water that
had spewed from the firemen’s hoses a few hours before. Here and there a blackened fragment of an artificial palm frond could
be seen on the wall or the ceiling, a fragile reminder of the holocaust that had destroyed most of its brothers.

BOOK: Corpses in the Cellar
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