Authors: Richard S. Prather
Hawkins looked back at me. "This Carter, this William Carter. He's murdered, you say?"
"Well, I don't know. I just guessed."
"You guessed it. Well, you know what? That was a very good guess."
"He's dead, huh?"
Hawkins made it easy on the girl. He said not a word.
I started in saying words. I rattled them at him faster than he'd snapped them at me. I told him how I was hired, what had happened then. I just blocked it in sketchily, without any details such as my leaving the Infernoâand I sure as hell didn't tell him about my two-goon ruckus at the airportâbut I let him know why I figured Dante was my boy.
We went round and round and the air got blue, but finally it cleared a little. Because apparently Hawkins didn't know I was the airport "fugitive" and also because I could account for all of my time in Los Angeles from May eighth till I'd left L.A., and sometime in there, as I learned from Hawkins, Carter had been murdered with three little .38-caliber slugs in his back. And, actually, all I'd said was that I thought William Carter was dead.
After half an hour I said, "And, Lieutenant, I walked in here pleasantly of my own free will for two reasons: to see if you had anything on Isabel Ellis, whose picture I've shown you, which you say you don't; and to see if you could tell me anything about Carter, which you have. And Carter was on this same job just before me, Hawkins. Grant me that my nerves might be a little on edge."
"You got up here last night?"
"You didn't rush right down here for help."
"No, I didn't. Actually I was, well, on another phase of my investigation. And sometimes I'm not happy wandering around in the dark. I was supposed to be in that Cadillac, and whether you believe it or not, there's a good chance I'll wind up like Carter."
He sucked on his teeth and looked at me.
"One thing," I said. "Do me the courtesy of phoning Los Angeles. Captain Phil Samson, Central Detective Bureau, Homicide Division, in the City Hall."
He looked at the girl. "All right, Sarah." Sarah closed her notebook and went out. Hawkins leaned back in his chair and pulled the phone over to him. "I'll do that. Let me tell you something, Mr. Scott. I already have a pretty good report on you. And I, personally, would like very much to hang something on Victor Dante, believe me. But he is a man with much power and many friends, and there seems to be nothing. . . wrong with him. You give me something solid and I'll talk to Dante. I'm not going to look at him just because you have some wild ideas."
"Not that I mean to contradict you flatly," I said, "but they don't seem wild to me." I gave him a very slight grin. "It's just that he seems bound and determined to kill me. And, Hawkins, speaking of killing, isn't there something about Dante and a guy named Big Jim White?"
He frowned at me for a long time. "Nothing that holds water," he said finally. "I talked to Dante himself when he was questioned down here. Officially that was an accident. Where'd you pick that up?"
"Just heard somebody mention it. Does seem like something's screwy there, though, doesn't it?"
"Well," he said, "could be." He made the call to L.A. He spent five minutes on the line, without giving the phone to me, then hung up. I knew he'd talked to Samson, but he didn't pass on any of the conversation except to inform me that Sam had said to tell me he'd just sent me a telegram. That was something I wanted to see.
Hawkins told me about the telegram and added, "About Danteâor anyone else, Mr. Scottâyou can't put a man in jail simply because one or two citizens get an idea into their heads that he should be there. Just as, for example, we're not holding you." He gave me a little speech then, beginning, "The laws are designed primarily to protect the innocentâ" and I was ready to leave.
There was one last thing. The body of William Carter was in the Gruman Funeral Home, there being no morgue in Las Vegas, and Hawkins went over there with me. It was the same guy, all right. The same red hair and red mustache, and the jagged scar over the left eye. I looked at him stretched out in the funeral home, remembering that sweet voice back in L.A. trying to talk above the sound of the squalling baby, and I couldn't help wondering if I'd wind up like this: on a slab in a morgue or funeral parlor somewhere, with bullets in my back. Or maybe face down in the desert with blood and dirt on my mouth, as they'd found him.
Before I left I talked to Hawkins a little more. I assured him I'd take care of my wrecked Cadillac. He was a nice enough guy; he just didn't quite believe me.
He said again, "Give me something solid, Scott."
I said, "All right, Hawkins, maybe I haven't got anything good enough. But I'll tell you what I think now: Dante murdered Carter; he was responsible for killing Freddy Powell; he's after me; and I've got a fat hunch he killed one Isabel Ellis."
Hawkins sucked on his teeth.
I turned around and beat it. If they hauled me in on a stretcher, he was sure going to feel put out.
At the desk of the Desert Inn I picked up the telegram from Samson. This would be the info on Harvey Ellis I'd asked Sam for. And I was lucky another way at the desk; my money might have helped, but at least they had a room for me. It was 213, on the same floor as Freddy's room.
I explained to the clerk about my spending the night in Freddy's room and started to go on, but he broke in.
"Say, I'm sorry, sir, but if you have anything in the room you'll have to get it out pretty quick. They'll be cleaning it up soon. We have a reservation for four p.m."
How do you like that? Rented already. It was good sense and good business, but it griped me a little, anyway. I scribbled "Shell Scott" on the registration card, thinking I was the boy who'd decided to be callous, then got my stuff from Freddy's room, took it to my own room, and flopped on the bed.
Then I read the telegram. It said:
HARVEY ELLIS CONVICTED SECOND DEGREE BURGLARY AND SENTENCED ONE TO LIFE IN APRIL 1950 PAROLED QUENTIN JANUARY 1951 PAROLE ADDRESS 1644 FLOWER STREET LOS ANGELES IF NOT KILLED SEND CIGARS
I read the telegram again, then a third time, wondering what this meant, if anything. It was more than I'd bargained for, so I picked up the phone and called Samson.
When he came on I said, "Hi, Sam. This is Shell. Thanks for the assist with Hawkins a while ago."
"Get lost," he growled, and I knew by the sound of his voice that he was trying to keep the inevitable cigar out of the mouthpiece. He said, "I told him you escaped from the bughouse. Must have scared him."
"Yeah. Say, I got your wire. What's with Ellis? Can you fill me in some more? What was the caper? And I see he pulled the minimum, so it was his first fall, huh?"
"First time he got caught," Sam growled. "But that's not why he got out after only nine months."
"O.K. Give, Sam."
"The Burglary boys had an idea about four other big jobs with pretty much the same m. o. as the one Ellis got caught on. Somebody picked up a pile of cash and some negotiable paper. All in about six months before this Ellis caper, and they thought there was a chance he was the one pulled them."
"Still just an idea. Ellis said they were nuts, this was the first time he tried anything like that."
"Uh-huh. He'd hardly say anything else."
"Yeah. Burglary wasn't too convinced, either. That's part of the reason for the nine months, Shell. If he had the stuff stashed away somewhere, they thought he might head for it when he got out. It's probably a pipe dream. Ellis just settled down and got a job."
"Uh-huh. These four big ones, Sam. How big?"
"Plenty. All told, close to a quarter million."
"Jesus H. Christ," I said. "I'm in the wrong racket."
"You're not in jail, either. But you can see why the boys were willing to take the long chance it was Ellis. A quarter of a million bucks is quite a pile."
"Buy a lot of bourbon," I said. "How'd they get him?"
"You know the old Springer mansion off Figueroa?" I told him I did and he said, "That was the place. Daylight job again, nobody home, and no gun, so it was second degree. The old boy's supposed to keep heavy sugar in the house but Ellis didn't get any."
"Stop bragging for Burglary, Sam; you're a Homicide man. I know you're hot stuff."
He chuckled. "This time the hot stuff was very old stuff. Anonymous phone call to Burglary. Some babe spotted him busting in the back way and spent a nickel."
"Such efficiency," I said. "Suchâhey! Sam, I just thought of something. You said a woman called."
"No!" he interrupted me. "Don't say it."
"But, Sam, Ellis' wife is a woman. Don't youâ"
"Well whaddayaknow," he growled. "His wife is a woman. I know, I know," he went on, "she's nowhere around and that's who you're looking forâand it was even hinted by some of the boys that it could have been his wife. You and your feeble brain are gonna be the death of me. It could also have been any one of about two million people." He paused. "Well, that's it."
I laughed. "O.K., Sam. Good enough. I'll call you."
"Hey," he yelled. "What about my cigars?"
He'd get his Coronas, but just for hell I asked him, "What did you say?" and hung up. I wondered some more, then dug into my bag and got out the photostats and some of my scribbled notes and went over them. Isabel had used her maiden name, of course, and Isabel Mary Bing and Harvey Colin Ellis had applied for a marriage license in L.A. on January 14, 1939, and been married by Horace Mansfield, Minister of the Gospel, on January 18, 1939. Isabel had been only seventeen to Harvey's thirty-seven, which checked with the birth dates I'd noted: Harvey, February 2, 1901; Isabel, October 14, 1921. Both were natives of Los Angeles. Her mother, who was dead, was Mary Elizabeth Green before she'd married Isabel's father, Jonathan Harrison Bing. There was more stuff, name and address of witness, address of the minister, and signatures of both Isabel and Harvey.
Then I remembered something and picked up the telegram from Sam again. Isabel had sold her house on December 6; and J. Harrison Bing had told me he hadn't received any letters all this year, which would seem to put the last letters back in December. And I'd just learned from Sam that Harvey Ellis had been released on parole in January. It was something else to add to the little things that were accumulating.
I looked at the eight-by-ten of Isabel. In the picture she was smiling prettily, looking quite a lovely and mature woman with well-shaped lips and big eyes. Regular features, and dark hair worn in an upsweep. She'd have been a pleasant fixture at the Pelicanâand that reminded me that I wanted to see Lorraine again. I'd seen quite a bit of her last night, true, but I hadn't learned any more from herânot about the case.
I put in a call to the Inferno, did
say who was calling, and asked if Lorraineâthe floor-show Lorraineâwas staying at the hotel. All I learned was that she had a room, wasn't in it, and couldn't be reached. I hung up thinking I could try again later.
So I tucked my eight-by-ten photo under my arm and went down to the lobby. I didn't have to wonder about Carter's disappearance any more; now I could concentrate better on Isabel. And I realized then that I'd been guilty of a cardinal fault in any kind of investigation: jumping to conclusions. I hadn't really been thinking about looking for Isabel, but for Isabel's body.
I stopped at the desk and showed the picture to the clerk and asked the right questions. This was as good a place to start as any.
He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'm new here, sir. I don't know many of the people yet."
I thanked him and went to the bar. I ordered a drink and went through the picture routine before I realized this was a new guy too. He'd replaced Freddy. When a man dies he leaves only a very small vacuum where he was, and that fills up quickly.
I played with my drink and looked around. The casino was getting a good play. There were already half a dozen smartly groomed women around the near table.
I noticed one in particular, in tailored brown slacks, low-heeled shoes, and a black sweater. I noticed her because she was leaning with her left arm on the wide leaning rail
her right side toward me and her face turned toward the action on the green felt, and she stood out.
She was only an inch or so over five feet tall, but she was trim and firm and looked compact, with a little extra spilling out fore and aft. Maybe part of it was her position, and another part the angle from which I was looking at her, but that couldn't have accounted for more than 10 per cent of the beautiful picture I got. Standing like that, she reminded me of what Hogarth called the "Line of Beauty," which is a serpentine or S curve, and standing there at the table, she had it. It started high in front and looped out and then in at her waist, and then reversed itself and flowed down in an eye-straining curve and neatly tucked itself in. Honest to God, she must have had the most delightful bottom in all of Las Vegas.
I had work to do, and duty never called more faintly, but I pulled my eyes away from those curves and finished my drink. I got up and walked down the bar toward another bartender. I looked back over my shoulder once, though, and I couldn't help thinking of Hogarth again. That sure was a cute little S.
I climbed onto a stool and the bartender came up. I showed him the photo. "Ever see her around?" I asked him.
He glanced down at the portrait and shook his head. "Don't think so. Why?" Then he bent closer to the photo and picked it up. "Well," he said, "how about that?"
I sat up. That's what I wanted to know. "You know her?"
"Well, I'm not sure," he said. He squinted. "Does look a little like her, though, doesn't it?"
This guy was driving me nuts. "Like
Whom? Who? Looks like what?"
He blinked at me. "Oh, I thought you knew. You were falling off your stool leering at her." He grinned as if that were the funniest remark of the day.
He must have noticed something peculiar happen to my face, but he beamed at me and kept chattering away. "She comes in most every day. Always drinks stingers and leaves me a buck. Not bad, huh? Wish I was Dante."