Authors: Robert Bruce Sinclair
“Thanks,” said Conway, genuinely surprised at this consideration. “I’d be very grateful if I could duck them.”
Bauer crossed to a door at the other side of the office, and Conway stopped and held out his hand to the captain.
“I certainly hope you can find him, whoever it was, and quickly,” he said. “I’ll do anything I can to help — you know that.”
“I’m sure of it,” Ramsden said, and then shook hands. “We’ll do our best.”
As he followed Bauer down the corridor to the fingerprint division, Conway was sanguine. He had been treated with more consideration than he had dared hope for; obviously they did not consider him a suspect, although he was, undoubtedly, at least under technical suspicion until they had had time to check his story. When his fingerprints had been taken, they made their way to the car which was waiting, with Larkin at the wheel. As he got into the back seat with the sergeant, Conway decided it would be wise to try to make friends with him, to pump him for whatever information the detective might be able to supply. But Bauer saved him the trouble.
“Wiseguy,” he murmured.
“How’s that?” Conway asked.
“That comic captain. With his jokes.”
Conway was genuinely curious, and, in addition, this seemed too good an opening to be missed. “What did he mean, ‘The R stands for Right’?”
“Some of the boys started calling me that because I’m practically always right about everything.” He said it as a simple statement of fact. “Only he thinks it’s funny or something.”
For the first time Conway looked carefully at the young man whose unimpressive facade concealed this rather staggering ego. His first impression had been justified; Sergeant Bauer did look like one of those ineffectual, already defeated salesmen who plod from door to door, endlessly and aimlessly, all their lives. He was of somewhat less than medium height, with a chin and forehead which receded almost equally; the forehead seemed to have a slight edge, but that may have been because his hairline had reached a point just above the ears. His cheeks were full and his nose broad and flat so that, from a three-quarter angle, his face looked rather like the blunt end of an egg. In his pale eyes there was nothing that remotely resembled alertness or intelligence; rather, there were placidity and self-satisfaction to an unusual degree. Conway decided that in all the world, Sergeant Bauer was the one man he would most like to have assigned to this case. And it shouldn’t be too hard to get on a friendly footing with him.
“The captain must have a pretty good opinion of you, to put you on a case like this.”
“He’s got a good opinion of me all right. But that’s not the reason he stuck me with this one.”
“He figures I’m getting ahead too fast, so this will slow me down. There’s not a chance in a million of cracking this one, and he knows it. This was some sex maniac, or plain maniac, and there’s nothing at all to go on. There’s no reason it should have been your wife; might just as well of been any woman who was at that theatre that night, and was left alone a few minutes. It didn’t even have to be that theatre — coulda been any theatre, or any parking lot in town. But I have to go through all the motions, and waste a lot of time and energy and make up a thousand reports, but it keeps me off a case where I might really do something, and maybe get a promotion out of it, and the papers would start asking why Bauer ain’t head of the Homicide Bureau.” It was said without a trace of rancor.
Conway realized that with Bauer, at least, he was not even under technical suspicion. Here was certainly an ally to be cultivated. “If anyone can clear up this case,” he said, “you’re the man to do it.”
“Oh, sure,” the sergeant conceded. “Remember that case the papers called. ‘The White Rose Murder,’ about a year ago?” Conway did. “Well, I cracked that one single-handed. I got promoted to sergeant, and for six months he practically had me investigating overtime parking.” Conway made a sound which he hoped would be interpreted as sympathy.
“At least there’ll be some publicity out of this,” Bauer said. “My girl likes to see my name in the papers,” he added — an explanation which Conway found singularly unconvincing.
“What about the reporters?” he asked. “I suppose I’ll have to see them sooner or later.”
“Did you get to ’em, Larkin?”
“Yeah. They said they’d be there.”
“They’ll be waiting for us at your house,” the sergeant informed Conway.
Bauer’s tone was conciliatory. “Like you just said, you got to see them sooner or later. Well, better now than having ’em wake you up all hours of the night. This way you see ’em all together, they get the pictures, and it’s over with.”
“Yes, but not now — after Captain Ramsden went to the trouble of keeping them away from me—”
“Oh, you thought he did that to make it easy on
?” Bauer’s surprise was that of an adult who finds that a child is not quite so bright as he had been led to believe, but there was still no resentment in his voice as he went on. “Oh, no — he got us out of the way so’s he could see ’em alone, and the evening papers won’t have anything but ‘Captain Ramsden said—’ and ‘According to Captain Ramsden—’ and all like that. They won’t have any pictures, so they might even have to use his. Then in a week, when we’ve hauled in a couple dozen suspects and turned ’em all loose, and the papers are yelling ‘Why ain’t something being done?’ he can say ‘See Sergeant Bauer — he’s in charge of the case.’ Oh, well, the man’s gotta protect his job.”
“I must say you take a philosophical view of the matter.”
“He’ll only make the late editions of the evening papers. We’ll get the mornings — they’re better anyway.” Conway could think of no suitable comment. A moment later Bauer saw the theatre marquee ahead.
“Tell Larkin where you left your car,” he said. “The exact place — just the way you were parked.”
Conway complied, and Larkin pulled the car into the space at the end of the lot.
“Let’s start at the theatre,” Bauer said as they got out of the car. “Did you get hold of the manager?”
“He said he’d be here,” Larkin answered.
The theatre did not open until late afternoon, but the manager was waiting for them. “Hello there,” he said when he saw Conway.
“You know each other, eh?” said Bauer.
“Always try to remember the customers’ faces. What’s it all about?”
Bauer explained briefly, and the manager’s face took on a genuinely shocked expression. “All I want to do now,” Bauer continued, “is try to figure out, as close as I can, the time the car was taken. You said you left at the end of the picture, is that right?”
“No, we left a little before the end.” Conway turned to the manager. “We left right after that musical number, when Tommy Miller comes backstage and says something about ‘How could I ever have doubted you?’”
“That’s practically the finish,” the manager corroborated. “There’s not more than a minute after that. I could have the projectionist look at the film and tell you exactly.”
“That’s close enough,” Bauer said. “What time was the picture over?”
“I’ll have to look at my time sheet for — night before last, was it?” Bauer nodded and the manager disappeared into his office.
Was it only night before last?
The manager was back in a moment. “Feature finished at nine twenty-eight exactly.” Bauer made an entry in his notebook, and then wound his wrist watch once or twice. Conway noticed it was also a stopwatch.
“I guess we’ll have to what they call re-enact the crime,” Bauer said. Conway started, but the detective went on, unheeding. “You do just exactly what you did from the time you left the theatre, and try to take the same amount of time doing it, so we can see where we’re at.”
Conway warned himself.
This is the one spot that can be dangerous.
There were four minutes he could not account for: the four minutes when he had been twisting the scarf around Helen’s throat and parking the car behind the plumbing shop. But he had said that they had stayed in the theater until the end of the number; there was, therefore, only a little over a minute of that time which he now had to fill with fictitious action. He knew
he was going to do; he hoped he could time it properly.
He walked at the pace they had taken: it seemed ridiculously slow to him, but the detective seemed to find it normal enough. He stopped as they had when the car had almost hit Helen. He went through the motions of unlocking the door for her and helping her in.
“I asked her to slam the door and she did,” he said. “I got her coat off the back seat and she put it around her shoulders. I started the motor and was about to back out when she discovered she couldn’t find her other glove. She rummaged through her bag,” — he pantomimed it — “and then she looked on the seat and on the floor, and then she thought it might have dropped out on the ground when she slammed the door. I got out and walked around and looked and it wasn’t there, so I got back in the car. Then she asked me if I’d go back to the theatre because she was sure she’d lost it there, and if there was anything in the world she hated it was losing one glove and having the other around to remind her of it. So I cut the motor, left the keys in the switch, and started back.”
“Just a minute.” Bauer clicked the stopwatch. “Time out. What about other people here? Did you notice?”
“I didn’t see anybody when we got here — I think we were the first ones. By the time I started back to the theatre, there were people here — a couple of cars drove out ahead of me as I was walking back to the street.”
The beautiful thing,
Conway reflected for the hundredth time,
is that there’s no way of proving I’m lying. No one can say that I positively did not walk the length of this parking lot at nine-thirty-one Monday night, even if they round up the entire audience.
Bauer finished writing in his notebook. “Okay, let’s go on from here.”
The rest was velvet: Conway did exactly what he had done two nights before. He conversed with the absent ticketseller and doorman, and waited for their unspoken replies. He looked in the theatre himself, and then he and the manager did a very fair approximation of their conversation and search. He went through the motions of buying the popcorn, and returned to the parking lot.
“You left her for exactly ten minutes and forty seconds,” Bauer announced. “That cinches it.”
“That it was a maniac.” Bauer’s tone implied that it must be obvious to anyone. “Had to be, to do it in that time. Some guy hanging around here, maybe sitting in one of the cars — maybe even his own. You wouldn’t notice him, but he sees you leave, waits for the other cars to get out, goes over, probably knocks her out, and away he goes. Right?” Bauer needed no confirmation, nor did he wait for any. “Right!” he affirmed.
“Yes — yes. Must be,” Conway said, readily bowing to this superior wisdom. “Shall I go on with the rest of it?”
“The rest of what?”
“What I did after that.”
“What difference does it make what you did? She was gone, wasn’t she?” The detective paused, and then said, in what seemed to Conway a slightly different tone, “Yeah, maybe you better tell me, at that — as long as we’re here.”
Conway silently cursed himself. He had prepared his story to cover every moment until he got to the police station; he had gone through the motions to cover himself if they checked on it. But Bauer was so lacking in suspicion that he had not thought to question anything Conway had told him. Now, by volunteering more than had been asked, he might have given the detective the idea that he had a prepared alibi; that his story was a little too perfect. He vowed that from here on, he would speak when spoken to, and no more.
But he had let himself in for this, and he had to carry it through. He led the detective to the entrance to the parking lot and from there pointed out the course he had taken from the time he discovered the car to be missing, until the police car arrived. “After they left,” he said, “I went on looking around — in the alley back here, the parking lot next to the theatre, up and down these side streets. It doesn’t make sense, I know, and I realized it didn’t make sense then. So when I saw this trolley coming along, I hopped on it and went down to the station.”
“Um-m.” Bauer had seemed somewhat bored by the whole recital, and now he led the way back to the car. “Might as well go now. I’ll drop you home.”
“Thanks a lot.”
Conway climbed into the car and they started off. One point remained to be got on the record; he had omitted it previously because he had feared it might make his story overprecise. He leaned back in the seat.
“I do appreciate the lift,” he said. “When you’re used to a car out here, you’re lost without it. I don’t even know how to get around. Why, the night of — the night it happened, after the police car left, I thought I’d go crazy waiting for that trolley. When I got on it, the trip took forever. Then when we got there, I didn’t even see Wilcox Avenue till we were going across it, so I had to ride an extra block. That was the last straw.”
Conway was satisfied that the statement sounded simply like the garrulity of a man under a nervous strain, and that the sergeant attached no importance to it. Nevertheless, it was on the record.
A half-dozen cars were parked in front of the house when they drove up, and eight or ten men and two women were dispersed among the cars, the porch, and the front lawn. Bauer said, “I’ll help you handle ’em,” which came as no surprise at all to Conway.
Bauer herded the group into the living room and took charge. The police, he said, were anxious to know if any private citizen had seen, or given a ride to, a suspicious character in the neighborhood where the car had been found. “Be sure to print that, and tell ’em to call the Homicide Bureau — right? Right.”
Conway told his story then; he answered questions and posed for photographs, and was photographed un-posed. The flashlights went off without warning, but Bauer was never caught off guard; he was at Conway’s elbow for every picture.
The only photograph Conway had of Helen was the one on his desk; the reporters agreed to pool it, and one photographer took it with solemn promises to the others that they would have their cuts in time for their deadlines, and an even more solemn promise to Conway that the original would be returned.
And if it’s not returned,
I suppose I’ll have to keep after them for it, because
it might seem strange that I never want to set eyes on her again,
The departure of the press was the signal for the neighbors to begin calling, and the Burkes, who lived next door, arrived as Conway was standing at the door with Bauer.
“I’ll let you know if anything happens,” the detective said as he left. “Stay close to the phone.”
A little after six the last of the callers departed. Conway locked the door, drew the shades, and retired to the kitchen; he drew the shades there also before turning on the light. He had no notion that this would convince anyone that he was not at home; it would, however — particularly if he did not go to the door — persuade any further callers that he wished to be alone with his grief. This idea was followed by the thought that he should have something to be alone with: he put together the components of a Martini, and decided that he could wish for no more pleasant companion for such a moment.
He sipped the Martini while he composed a wire to Betty, Helen’s half-sister. He judged she would have scant interest in the news, for they had not communicated for almost four years; their mother’s death had precipitated a feud over the estate, and they had been bitter enemies ever since. But as she was Helen’s only living relative — a fact which had influenced his decision to kill Helen, since it meant that there would be no one to take a vital interest in the case — he thought it wise to observe the amenities.
When he had sent the telegram he made another Martini, broiled a steak, and had the most thoroughly enjoyable meal in many months. He found a little brandy in an almost forgotten bottle, and savored it with his coffee. He dined in the kitchen; nevertheless he dined, and with a sense of well-being that could not have been greater had he been in the finest restaurant in California. He was at peace with the world.
After his third cup of coffee he stacked the dishes in the sink, slipped out the kitchen door, and walked to the nearest newsstand. There he got the evening newspapers without being recognized, hurried home, and retired to his room.
The story was all over page one, under gigantic headlines. There appeared to be no question that the murder was the work of a sex maniac, although in some of the stories there seemed to be an underlying disappointment that the murderer had not left one of the unprintable symbols which had distinguished some of the juicier crimes of this ilk.
Bauer certainly called it,
Conway thought as he skimmed through the stories, in which Captain Ramsden’s name seemed to appear in every other paragraph.
He found, finally, the sentence for which he was searching: “Captain Ramsden stated that although police are checking the story of Arthur Conway, husband of the victim, he is not under suspicion, and therefore is not being held.”
Three cheers for Captain Ramsden,
A gentleman and a scholar. I ought to remember him in my will — for assigning Sergeant Bauer, if nothing else.
He went downstairs and made himself a nightcap.
Conway slept the sleep of the just for nine hours, and was awakened by the distant tinkle of the telephone downstairs. He padded down and answered it sleepily.
“Mr. Conway? Detective Sergeant Bauer.” The title was pronounced with great impressiveness. “How you feeling?”
“All right. I just woke up.” Then, hastily, “I didn’t get to sleep till daylight. I guess I was dozing just now.”
“U-um — too bad. I’ll tell you what to do for that when I see you. Never had a sleepless night in my life.”
“No — just common sense. Remind me to tell you. But look — what I called you about — they picked up a bunch of suspects last night. The captain thinks you ought to come down and take a look at ’em — he thinks you might recognize somebody you saw hanging around the parking lot or the theatre or someplace.” It was clear that the detective regarded all this as utter nonsense. “I’m sending a car for you — be ready in half an hour. Right?”
Conway was relieved to find that there was no one he had ever seen in his life among the miserable crew who were herded into the line-up. Bauer, who sat beside him, occupied himself with a crossword puzzle and barely glanced up when each new group was paraded forth under the lights. When it was over, the detective did not wait for Conway’s corroboration of his own ear her judgment. “I’ll tell Ramsden you never laid eyes on any of ’em,” he said. “Wait here for me — I’ll give you a lift.”
He was back in a few minutes and they went out to the car. “Had to send Larkin out to check some things for me,” Bauer said as he got behind the wheel.
“Will I have to come down to these line-ups every day?” Conway asked.
“Prob’ly — for a while, anyhow. Ramsden’s got to go through the motions, so he can have something to tell the newspapers. How’d you like the spread you got this morning?”
“I haven’t seen the morning papers yet.”
“You haven’t?” There was a definite note of incredulity in the sergeant’s voice. “We’ll stop somewhere and you can get ’em. The pictures of you came out swell. Mine were terrible — only one decent one in the lot.”
“That’s too bad.” A pause. “Have you any idea how long Ramsden will want me to go through the motions?”
“Hard to say. Maybe till something else pops up to take peoples’ minds off this. But this is the third one of these cases in two months. Like I told you yesterday, on one of these things, there’s no place to start. And the women’s clubs will start passing resolutions, and the papers’ll be printing editorials saying it ain’t safe for a woman to be out after dark, and the department’ll get it from high, low and the middle. The captain’s not very bright, but you can see he’s in a tough spot.”
“Yes. Yes, I can.”
“So he has to cover up the best way he can. Like having you look at the bums and winos they round up every night, and saying it was a squad car found the stolen car, and—”
“But didn’t they? That’s what he told me yesterday—”
“Naw. A woman calls up and says this car’s been parked there for a couple days, and how about hauling it away? So a squad car goes over, finds out it’s stolen, sees it’s locked, and sends for a tow truck. They start to hoist it with the derrick, and that’s when somebody looks inside and sees the — well, no point going into the details. But you see what I mean. It sounds better to say the police found the stolen car. As long as the dame that phoned in don’t squawk too loud to one of the papers. That’s another little thing I got to try to take care of.”
“They certainly keep you busy.”
“I got to see her anyway. The dame that phoned in is this Elsie Daniels — the same one that was on her porch and saw the guy park the car. Ramsden should of gave her a better shake in the story he gave the papers yesterday. As long as he was going to take credit for finding the car, he should of done something for her — make her out a hero, or extra smart, or something. Anyhow, I want to see her and the boy friend together, and see if there’s anything they might of forgotten to tell me yesterday. And at the same time try to keep her from blabbing about reporting the car. Hey, you can get the papers there.”
The detective double-parked near the newsstand at the corner, and Conway got out and bought the papers, reflecting that police transportation had its advantages. When he got back in the car, Bauer snatched one of the papers and turned to an inside picture page, which was devoted entirely to the murder.
“Look at that,” he said, pointing to a picture of Conway and himself. “That’s the only one of me in the lot that’s even halfway decent. And seeing it again now, even that isn’t any too good.”
How does he shave?
How can he do it without looking in a mirror?
Conway turned to the news story in the other paper, but the detective continued looking at the picture.
“Wait till you see the ones they got in there,” he said, indicating the paper in Conway’s hand. “My girl says I ought to raise a row, but what good would it do? The damage is done now.”
“It’s a shame,” Conway said. Some of the cars stalled behind them, unaware that a police car was causing the tie-up, began honking. Bauer handed the paper to Conway and started up.
“Next time, though, I’m going to speak to those camera monkeys — tell ’em to use a little discretion with the pictures they print. After all, it’s my career.”
Conway decided that some interest in that career would not seem amiss.
“Tell me,” he said, “how did you happen to become a detective? You didn’t start out pounding a beat, did you?”
“I should say not,” Bauer said emphatically. “I was an M. P. in the army.” The instinct of the combat soldier, even though four years in the past, made Conway gag slightly. “Made quite a record for myself, so naturally they were tickled to death to get me here in L. A. Reason I came out here was because Greta was here.”
He’s not going to tell me—
“Greta?” he asked.
“My girl. Works in a drive-in over on Pico. She was overseas with a USO show — that’s when I met her. She was a movie actress. Gave it up though. Couldn’t stand all them guys making passes at her.”
“I know. I’ve heard.” Conway made a mental note that the detective’s love life would be a fascinating subject for a future conversation. But at the moment some research into his methods of professional operation seemed more practical.
“I’ve written a few detective stories,” he said. “Tell me, how do you operate? Do you go in much for scientific stuff? Or do you specialize in criminal psychology? Or what?”
“Na-ah,” said Bauer. “When I get around to it I’m going to write some real detective stories. That scientific stuff — nuts. Even fingerprints. Know what they found on the steering wheel of your car? Your fingerprints and a lot of clear spots with nothing — where the killer’s gloves had wiped off yours and left none of his own. I didn’t even bother checking the fingerprint lab — I knew that’s what they’d find. The only good this fingerprint racket does is for the guys in the glove business — they must sell millions of ’em to crooks. Nowadays anybody dumb enough to leave a fingerprint where he don’t want it, shouldn’t be arrested — he oughta be in the booby hatch.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Conway said. “So what do you do?”
“I just use common sense, that’s all. Get all the facts, put ’em together the right way, and that’s all there is to it. Naturally, you got to get some facts — that’s the trouble with a case like this, you can’t get enough of ’em. Then the trick is to put ’em together right, and that’s the difference between me and the rest of these lugs. Like I told you, that’s why they call me ‘Right’ Bauer — because I practically always am.”
And that, Conway thought, covers that subject. He looked down at the paper and thought he might bring up a more important one.
“I notice it says here that I’m not under suspicion, but my story’s being checked,” he said. “How’s the checking coming along? Or shouldn’t I ask?”
“It’s done,” Bauer said. “You’re in the clear. I told you yesterday it was a sex maniac, but naturally I had to cover all the angles.”
“Naturally. And thanks for telling me.”
“Of course we want you to be where we can get hold of you for a while — as long as there’s a chance of something turning up.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be here.”
Conway, like any artist, had pride in the perfection of his work. He longed to ask the detective what he had checked; what detail, or combination of them, had been the convincing proof of his innocence. He would have enjoyed dwelling on each particular of his actions, and appraising the importance of each. But he had to console himself with the thought that not all artists are destined for public recognition; in his case, he would have to be content with anonymity.
“While I think of it,” Bauer said, “yesterday in Ramsden’s office, you said you and your wife only knew about a half-dozen people out here, is that right?”
“I got the list of the people you mentioned here.” He tapped his pocket. “I’ll probably have to check ’em in the next couple days.”
“Check them? What for?”
“Chiefly so’s I’ll have something to put in those reports I got to make out; I can’t just sit around Headquarters when a case like this is still hot. And there’s always the chance that I’ll turn up something — you know, that she told one of her friends about some guy making a pass at her, or something like that. It won’t happen, but then again, it just might. Anyhow, I got to cover myself.”
“I see. Sort of routine investigation?”
“Yeah. But here’s what I wanted to ask you. You must of known more people than just the ones you said yesterday. Naturally, at a time like that, you wouldn’t think of all of ’em.”
“As a matter of fact, I think I did.” Conway’s mind searched quickly, trying to discover if some trap lay behind the detective’s words. “We’d met very few people since we came out here. Let me look at the list and I’ll see if I forgot anyone.”