new-new-pine

Halo for Hire: The Paul Pine Mysteries

Edited by
Introduction by Richard A. Lupoff
Afterword by Melissa Flagstad
Cover Art by

ISBN-13 9781893887695
928-page Hardcover

$60.00
FREE SHIPPING IN THE USA
“Of all of Raymond Chandler’s followers, the most Chandlerish of them all might have been Howard Browne. His private eye hero, PAUL PINE, is simply one of the great eyes, no matter how inspired by (or derivative of ) Chandler’s Philip Marlowe he might have been. All the Pine books are well worth reading, and A Taste of Ashes (1957) in particular is just a flat-out, stone-cold private eye classic. Pine is a former investigator for the Illinois State attorney’s office in Chicago who works as a P.I. in Chicago. He’s got the obligatory cynicism, snappy similes and metaphors down pat, though he tends to be a bit more down to earth than Marlowe, and often mocks his own tendencies to moroseness and world-weariness. And let’s face it — Browne was a stronger plotter than Chandler. In 1985, almost thirty years after Pine’s last appearance, Dennis McMillan published a book The Paper Gun. That volume collected the only previously-published Pine story, “So Dark For April,” plus an incomplete Pine novel that Browne, in the foreword, called “a story complete in itself. But it is not the whole novel.” He states that he had lost interest in the private eye genre, and so the story is only 122 pages in length, too long for a short story, but too short for a novel.’ —adapted from “Paul Pine” by Kevin Burton Smith, www.thrillingdetective.com
HALO FOR HIRE contains all the Paul Pine stories.

"Howard Browne, Paul Pine, and the Halo Novels" by Richard A. Lupoff
Halo in Blood
Halo for Satan
Halo in Brass
“So Dark for April”
The Taste of Ashes
The Paper Gun
"Afterword" by Melissa Flagstad
Acknowledgments

Paul Pine and the Shelter Cats
   No, it's not the name of a cover-band -- it's how yer humble editor spends a bit of time chillaxin' at the Catfé Lounge tinkering on your future wares. The Catfé Lounge is part of the Ferndale Cat Shelter and all these beauties have been adopted! With hardly any coaxing at all (ahem!), we had a few of our favorite kittehs pose with the new HALO FOR HIRE book:

(l to r) Ascot, Jinxy, Shepard, Stormy, Artemis


What's Inside Your HALO?
   We have striven to pay homage to the design aesthetics of the first editions of the Paul Pine novels. The foil-stamp for the front board of the 1946 hardcover of HALO IN BLOOD is echoed in the omnibus HALO FOR HIRE and the title page for each novel takes inspiration from the Bobbs-Merrill first editions.

“Of all of Raymond Chandler’s followers, the most Chandlerish of them all might have been Howard Browne. His private eye hero, PAUL PINE, is simply one of the great eyes, no matter how inspired by (or derivative of ) Chandler’s Philip Marlowe he might have been. All the Pine books are well worth reading, and A Taste of Ashes (1957) in particular is just a flat-out, stone-cold private eye classic. Pine is a former investigator for the Illinois State attorney’s office in Chicago who works as a P.I. in Chicago. He’s got the obligatory cynicism, snappy similes and metaphors down pat, though he tends to be a bit more down to earth than Marlowe, and often mocks his own tendencies to moroseness and world-weariness. And let’s face it — Browne was a stronger plotter than Chandler. In 1985, almost thirty years after Pine’s last appearance, Dennis McMillan published a book The Paper Gun. That volume collected the only previously-published Pine story, “So Dark For April,” plus an incomplete Pine novel that Browne, in the foreword, called “a story complete in itself. But it is not the whole novel.” He states that he had lost interest in the private eye genre, and so the story is only 122 pages in length, too long for a short story, but too short for a novel.’ —adapted from “Paul Pine” by Kevin Burton Smith,www.thrillingdetective.com

HALO IN BLOOD

By Howard Browne

CHAPTER 1  

That was the afternoon I drove out to one of the colonial modern homes in the Lincolnwood district to talk a nineteen-year‑old named Sally Kurowski into giving up her job as housemaid and going home to mother.

I didn’t have any luck in convincing her, but I didn’t try very hard either. She had her own room, the work was light, the place was clean, and the man of the house didn’t make any passes at her. It didn’t take long for me to find out things were different in her own home.

As it turned out, we decided she should keep her job since she was of legal age and beyond the control of her folks. She agreed to drop her old lady a card to let her know the white slavers hadn’t got hold of her. And that was that. It meant I wasn’t going to get paid but it wouldn’t have amounted to much anyway.

She insisted on making me a glass of iced tea and I drank it to be polite and went out into the hot June sun to where the Plymouth waited under a giant cottonwood at the curb.

I lighted a cigarette to kill the taste of tea and looked at my wrist watch. One‑forty‑five. My appointment in Oak Park was for three o’clock and I was a long way from there.

I drove south and crossed Devon Avenue into Chicago proper. After a couple of blocks I found a diagonal street that would bring me out onto Crawford Avenue. From there on it would be just a matter of ignoring the speedometer.

After a mile or so I spotted a traffic light at a crossing up ahead. It was red, against me, but the yellow came on while I was forty or fifty feet away. I kept going, figuring the green would show with room to spare.

It showed, all right. But I was pretty well out into the intersection before I realized the northbound cross traffic hadn’t stopped for its red light. The lead car was a heavy Nash sedan, painted a nice genteel blue, and the driver was pouring it on to close the gap between him and the car he was following.

I said some words, hit my foot brake hard and cut sharply to the right. Tires screeched like cats on a fence, and I braced for the crash I knew was coming.

It didn’t come. I dug my fingers out of the steering wheel and looked to see why it hadn’t come. The sedan’s front bumper was stationary no more than six inches away.

I was going to enjoy this. I put my head out the open window and opened my mouth to say a few well‑chosen words . . . and right then I saw some things I should have seen before.

For one, the sedan’s headlights were burning—as were the headlights on the cars lined up behind it. And every windshield in the line had a purple‑and‑white sticker on it—a sticker that read: funeral.

There was more. On the west side of the intersection a park wheeler was getting off the seat of his motorcycle without any particular hurry. His black leather gauntlets were already tucked under his left arm and he was digging under his uniform coat for his book of traffic‑violation blanks. The city of Chicago makes a few bucks every time some fatheaded motorist gets caught bulling his way through a funeral procession.

I did what I could: I swung my wheel still more to the right and tramped on the gas and lit out after that part of the parade already past the corner and well down the street.

For a minute there I thought I was going to get away with it. The cars behind me closed up to keep the line in tight order, and I didn’t hear any siren to indicate the cop was going to make an issue out of it.

My idea was to swing out of line at the next corner and go on about my business. It was an idea to be proud of, particularly if there had been a next corner.

There wasn’t. I kept right on rolling, through an open pair of ornamental iron gates in a red brick wall and onto a narrow, winding, crushed‑rock roadway that cut a sweeping curve between rows of gravestones and monuments and mausoleums. There were trees all over the place: tall and heavy elms and cottonwoods and some oaks, and all kinds of bushes and vines. The grass was thick and it was green, and the trees and bushes had their June clothes on.

After a hundred yards or so, I eased on my brakes when the Buick coupé in front of me winked on its warning lights. The road wasn’t wide enough for me to pull out of line and go on. I was stuck—stuck in the middle of somebody’s funeral while the minutes ticked away and half a city stood between me and my three‑o’clock appointment.

I cut the motor and leaned back and fished for a cigarette. There was only one left in the pack; I took it and crumpled the pack and tossed it at a gravestone. While I was finding a match the door of the Buick slammed shut and a tall, slender man in a dark suit and gray hat was standing in the roadway. He stood there a moment and rubbed a hand over his smooth‑shaven face, then smoothed down the skirt of his coat and went over and prodded the right front tire with a shoe toe in an appraising way as if he was worried a little about the air pressure.

It wasn’t until then that I saw he was wearing the turned‑around collar of a clergyman.

Feet crunched against the crushed stone of the driveway and five or six men filed past the right side of my car on their way to the hearse. They were a good fifteen feet beyond me before it suddenly dawned on me that every one of them was a clergyman.

I said, “What the hell?” under my breath and finished lighting my cigarette. I slid over and put my head out the window and looked back at the cars lined up behind me. There were six, all different makes.

Except for the cars the roadway was deserted. I got a fresh pack of smokes from the glove compartment, dropped them into the side pocket of my coat and stepped out into the open.

The blue sedan was parked with its front bumper almost against my rear license plate. A man was behind the steering wheel. He sat slumped down in the seat with only a uniform cap and the upper part of his face showing. The eyes were watching me. They blinked a time or two, slow deliberate movements as though the brain behind them was tired.

Without hurrying I walked over to a rounded headstone in the grass bordering the far side of the driveway. Raised letters on the top read: father. Weather had softened the contours of the limestone edges. I flicked away some of the dust with my handkerchief and sat down, stretched out my legs and breathed in some smoke from my cigarette. It probably was bad taste to sit on somebody’s father, but no one yelled at me.

Up ahead maybe a hundred and fifty feet, things were going on. The hearse was drawn up near an open grave a few feet off the road where there were no trees or bushes. Twelve men were standing in a group off to one side and discussing something quietly among themselves. As near as I could make out, every man in the bunch was a preacher of one kind or another. Some carried Bibles or prayer books and there was a black robe or two among them.

The undertaker’s assistants were fishing the casket out of the hearse by this time. From where I sat, it wasn’t much of a casket: one of these cheap pine black boxes that run about fifty bucks and aren’t worth more than ten.

The assistants weren’t wasting any time building up the solemn atmosphere you find at a run‑of‑the‑mill planting. They hauled the coffin out quick and laid hold of the sides and ran it over the grave like a butcher bringing a beef haunch out to the block. They got it set up on the slings ready for lowering and stepped back and took off their hats and mopped their heads.

A car door slammed near me and I turned my head. The man behind the wheel of the Nash was out of the car and coming across the road toward me. He was a little man, not more than five feet four, with a small wise face full of shallow wrinkles in skin the color and texture of gray sand. His nose was bigger than it should have been and was set slightly off center. His mouth was about the size of the quarter slot in a juke box. He was wearing a chauffeur’s uniform of gray gabardine and the pushed‑back uniform cap showed reddish-brown hair pretty much thinned out at the temples.

He came over with a casual slowness and tipped a hand at me and showed stained teeth in what might have been a smile and said:

“You’re a hell of a driver, Mac. You got a extra smoke?”

I tossed him the fresh pack. He tore off the cellophane and one corner of the foil with quick nervous movements of his stubby fingers, took a cigarette, tossed back the pack and struck a kitchen match against a thumbnail. He blew smoke through his nose and flicked the matchstick into the roadway. He said:

“Yessir, Mac, you come prit near getting yourself smacked back there. Lucky I got good brakes, hunh?”

He wasn’t tall enough to make me uncomfortable by standing there. He wanted to talk and I had nothing else to do right then anyway, so I said: “From the looks of things, one of the Twelve Apostles must have died. Why all the preachers for just one funeral?”

His chuckle wasn’t loud enough to wake a cat. He put the sole of a polished boot against the headstone I was sitting on and ducked his head a little nearer to mine.

“You hit it there, Mac,” he rasped. “Yessir, you really picked a lulu to bust in on. I get in on a lot of these plantings—I drive for Reverend Clark of St. John’s Lutheran. But this one, by God, beats ’em all. Just kind of take a look at what goes on down there.”

I looked. One of the clergymen was standing at the edge of the grave with his head bowed, probably saying a prayer although he was too far away for me to hear his voice. The rest were standing back a ways and watching him, their heads bared. The undertaker’s boys were off to themselves by the hearse and one was sneaking a smoke. A couple of grave‑diggers in stained overalls leaned on their shovels a few yards behind the mound of tan clay at the opposite side of the open grave. The only sounds were from birds among the trees and the occasional scrape of a shoe against the crushed‑stone driveway.

“See what I mean, Mac?” the chauffeur said heavily. He took a long drag at his cigarette, the smoke coming out ahead of his words like Indian signals. “I ask you: what the hell kind of a funeral do you call that? In the first place, where’s the mourners? A guy’s got a right to expect his family to show up when the time comes to throw dirt in his face. All right, maybe he ain’t got no family. Then his friends ought to come. But say he’s fresh out of friends; then his neighbors or his landlord or the people he owes money to . . . somebody for Chrisakes!

“And that ain’t all. I been to a lot of these things, like I said. But I never—not once, Mac—been to one where they was more’n one psalm‑slinger to say the words over the stiff. Even two preachers would of been something to really talk about.

“But what we got here, Mac. I’ll tell you what we got here. We got twelve—you hear me?—twelve of the Bible boys. Now what the hell? I ask you, Mac, what the hell? No guy could of led the kind of life that needs twelve Holy Joes to get him past them Pearly Gates, could he?”

By this time he was around to the knee‑tapping stage. I put my cigarette under my heel and ground it into the grass and stood up and dusted off the seat of my pants. I said:

“It does seem a little overdone. But then some guys get funny ideas when it comes time to die. What’s this one’s name?”

He grinned like a marmoset. “John Doe.”

I stared at him. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

“That’s what the card on the chapel door said,” he insisted, still grinning. “How do you like that?”

“It’s a beaut, all right,” I said. We walked back over to my car and I opened the door.

He said wistfully, “You ain’t got a racing form on you, have you, Mac?”

I shook my head. “The horses don’t mean a thing to me, friend.”

He sighed. “I used to be a jockey up to when I got all this weight. I like to follow the gee‑gees but the reverend don’t like me to read the form. Hell, he don’t like me to swear or smoke or nothing. I’m getting old before my time.”

He plodded back to the Nash. I got back in my car and sat down to watch the rest of the funeral.

They finished up finally, just when my watch hit two-twenty. I was going to be late for my appointment, which is no way to treat a possible client, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. The twelve clergymen split up and went back to their individual cars, while the grave‑diggers started throwing clay back into the hole.

The hearse got under way and the line of cars was moving again. I held onto the heels of the Buick while we went sailing around the curve, through another iron gate in the cemetery wall and back out onto the street. At the next intersection the hearse and most of the cars turned off to the east; I swung west and lit out for Crawford Avenue. Out in the best section of Oak Park my client was probably wearing a path in his Oriental rug waiting for me to ring his doorbell.

Before I’d gone more than a block a siren went off behind me. It lasted only a second or two and then shut off, the way the cruiser boys do when they want your attention. I idled down and glanced at the rear‑view mirror and there was a gray prowl car right behind me. The driver was motioning for me to pull in at the curb.

This was turning into a trying day, all right. I cut over to the side of the street and switched off the motor and sat there taking the Lord’s name in vain but not out loud.

The prowl heap pulled in behind me and one of the three men in it got out and came over and put his head in at the open window opposite of where I was sitting. He was in plain clothes . . . about forty‑five, taller than average and beefy through the shoulders. His face was gray and thin and a little too long, with too much chin for any claim to handsomeness. His narrow blue eyes were cold and direct and slightly contemptuous, as eyes are apt to be when they’ve seen too much, and he showed about the same amount of expression as the sole of my foot.

His name was Zarr—George Zarr—and he was a police lieutenant attached to the Homicide Detail at Central Station. I had met him for the first time when I was working as an investigator for the State’s Attorney’s office. Zarr had been a sergeant attached to the Robbery Detail in those days, and even though we were technically on the same side of the fence we just hadn’t got along. He was given too much to slapping people around when it wasn’t necessary, a little too much in a hurry to go for a gun. Still, he was an honest cop, and that will always excuse a lot.

I said, “Hello, George. What’s on your mind?”

His eyes got even narrower and a scowl developed between them. “Pine, hunh? I might have known it. Who was your friend, shamus?”

“Friend?”

He put one of his big feet on the running board and pushed the gray snap‑brim felt hat back off his forehead, exposing the thick black hair with streaks of gray over his ears. “Friend is what I said. You were at that cold‑meat party. I spotted you coming out of the cemetery.”

“Okay,” I said. “You saw me. But the corpse was no friend of mine.”

Right there was where he was going to be cunning. He put out his jaw a little farther and said quickly, “Somebody you didn’t like?”

It seemed a shame for all that guile to go to waste. But I had no choice. I said, “Make it somebody I didn’t know, Lieutenant.”

He wasn’t going to cherish that one either. He took out a cigarette and turned it over and over between a thumb and forefinger and kept on looking at me. He said: “You make a habit of going to strangers’ funerals?”

I drummed my fingers lightly against the wheel. “What’s the belch, friend? Am I supposed to have bent a law?”

“All I want out of you is answers.”

I indicated that I was bewildered by all this.

“Who was he, Pine?”

“The stiff?”

“Yeah.”

“Name of John Doe,” I said. “But I don’t believe that either.”

“Who gave you his name?”

“A chauffeur to one of the preachers.”

“How come he knew?”

“It seems the name was on the chapel door.” I made a show out of looking at my wrist watch. Two‑thirty . . . and clients as scarce as German generals named Cohen. “Nice to have seen you again, Lieutenant. Now, if you’ll excuse me . . .”

“How’d you happen to be in there?”

He was going to stand there and ask questions until I ran out of answers and if I didn’t like it I could write to the newspapers. So I told him about getting into the procession by accident and why I had to stay there until the end. Minutes were important right then so I left out most of the details. I should have known better.

When I finished talking, he used up a minute or two more to finger his chin and spit in the gutter and put the cigarette he was twiddling into his mouth and get it burning.

Presently he said, “Notice anything peculiar about that burial, shamus?”

“Three things,” I said promptly. “Four, in fact. There were no mourners; there were twelve preachers instead of one; everybody was in a hurry to get it over with.”

He was staring at me curiously. “What’s the fourth one?”

“This business of you being in a lather about it.”

Red seeped up from under his collar. “Don’t get me mad at you, gumshoe.”

I lifted an eyebrow at him but didn’t say a word.

“You going some place, Pine?”

“Now that you mention it—yes.”

“Where?”

“To see a client.”

“What’s his name?”

“You wouldn’t know him, Lieutenant.”

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

“That question isn’t going to be answered.”

The two vertical lines between his eyes deepened. “What’s the matter? He somebody I shouldn’t know about?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You’re not saying anything.”

“I’m going to keep it that way.”

He tucked in a corner of his lower lip and looked at the ashes on the end of his cigarette. “I’m a nice guy to co-operate with, Pine. A private cop needs the police every once in a while. Like when it comes to getting a license renewed, say.”

I was sore enough by now to do a little sneering. “Don’t scare me, Zarr. I learned a lot in those two years with the State’s Attorney. Now kind of take your goddam hoof to hell off my fender. I’m tired of this.”

We stared at each other. He put the cigarette back in his mouth and took a deep drag, then took it out again and dropped it to the pavement and stepped on it with the foot that had been on my running board. He said:

“Last chance, hot‑shot. Who was the guy in that coffin?”

“John Doe. I told you that.”

Zarr took off his hat and looked at the sky. He scratched his half‑dollar‑sized bald spot and put his hat back on his head. “Okay . . . Maybe I’ll drop in at the office and see you one of these days.”

I said, “Any time, George,” and stepped on the starter and drove away from him.

Several times I looked back. But I didn’t see that gray prowl car again.

 

CHAPTER 2

Oak Park is a suburb of Chicago. It lies directly west of the Loop and is a nice place to raise your kids. Or so I’ve heard. The residential sections run from not‑so‑hot to very fine indeed, with less of the former than most towns its size. There are trees and grass and flowers all over the place. The streets are sleepy streets, with maids pushing perambulators along the sidewalks and sprinklers whirring on the lawns and neat delivery trucks courteously giving you the right of way.

The address I wanted was on Kenilworth Avenue, a block or two south of North Avenue in the exclusive Fair Oaks section. It was a neighborhood where more than three houses to one side of a block was rank overcrowding. Some of the residences went in for Old World charm; some were modern as sulfadiazine; some combined the worst features of both and still managed to look as though nice people lived in them.

Number 1424 narrowly missed being classified as an estate. There was a tall green box hedge, trimmed as carefully as a movie star’s toupee, fronting the grounds to keep out the stare of the vulgar passer‑by, and there was an ornamental bronze gate set in an opening that led to the grounds beyond. About fifty or sixty feet farther along, a glazed-concrete driveway cut through the hedge, but it too was sealed off from the street by a pair of bronze gates that would swing back for you if your car was custom‑built and had gold‑plated headlights.

I parked across the street and got out and straightened my tie and moved my gray felt hat straight on top of my head so the gardener would think I was too respectable to sick the dogs on. Then I crossed over to the smaller gate.

I turned the handle and passed through and along a curving walk of gray sandstone flags, lined with bearded irises that I could see was going to lead around to the north side of the house. There was enough lawn on either side of the walk to set up a golf course and the grass was thick and dark green and cut to the right length by somebody who knew his business.

There were no flower beds in the landscaped grounds at the front of the house to detract from the sprawling, two-storied gray‑stone residence of John Sandmark. The place had a weathered look that was as comfortable and unobtrusive as an old hat. Beyond the driveway was a row of Lombardy poplars, all of a uniform fifty or sixty feet, that probably marked the northern boundary of the property. On the south lawn were three very big yellow oaks that dwarfed the house.

The entrance was on the north side, all right. But where there should have been a comfortably big porch, with maybe a swing or two, were three stone steps and a two‑bit‑size platform and an ornamental bronze railing to hold onto in case you came home drunk. The driveway curved out of sight behind the house and I never did get a look at the garage.

The door was narrow, arched at the top like a cathedral window, with a circular sheet of glass behind a bronze grille about head‑high. I put my finger against a small pearl button in the pilaster on the right and heard three deep‑toned notes that would have delighted Johann Strauss.

My wrist watch put the time at three‑twenty.

A slip of a girl in a black cotton uniform under a frilly white apron opened the door. She had straight legs and black hair and black eyes and a face you’d call cute and forget about. I told her my name and she took my hat and put it on a hall table I could have reached myself and led me into a big square hall that went up two stories to a skylight. Twin staircases in redwood, with beige runners that matched the carpeting under my feet, curved gracefully to meet at the second floor. Between them, on the first floor, French doors led onto a terrace of gray tiles, beyond which a vast bed of scarlet peonies tugged at my eyes.

There were doorways leading off either side of the hall. The maid went over to one on the right and opened the door and said, “In here, Mr. Pine.” I said, “Thank you,” and walked through, and she closed the door behind me.

It wasn’t the kind of room you’d call cozy. They could have put Rhode Island in there by squeezing it a little. The south wall was mostly French windows, with white metal Venetian blinds turned against the sun, and maroon velvet drapes as contrast to the patternless gray carpeting tickling my ankles. The west wall was books to the ceiling, with a ladder on wheels and a trolley to bring them within reach. The north wall was covered with soft gray‑blue parchment, with three very good prints in blond‑wood frames spaced to break the monotony above the stone mantel of a fireplace you could have broiled a mastodon in. Two long chesterfields in dark‑blue leather stood back to back in front of the fireplace and there was a white bearskin rug near the polished copper screen.

Over near the French windows was a limed‑oak desk not much smaller than a tennis court. The man in the blue-leather swivel chair with his back to the windows stood up as I came in. He waited until I pulled my feet out of the rug enough times to reach him; then he put out his hand and gave me a medium handshake and said:

“How do you do, Mr. Pine. I’m John Sandmark. I think you are a little late.”

“I didn’t mean to be,” I said.

He indicated a chair next to the desk and waited until I was in it before returning to the swivel chair. He leaned back and put his elbows on the arms and laid the tips of his fingers gently together and looked at me over them.

Even sitting down he was a big man. Not fat, just big-boned and big‑chested and with a head like a lion. His hair was coarse and thick and black, combed straight back to fight a tendency to wave. His face was square, heavy in a massive way that had nothing to do with soft living. His eyes were dark blue and they looked at you without apology. His nose would have been at home on an Indian chief and the large mouth under it wasn’t much more than a straight line. You could have hung a lantern on his chin but not without his permission. He could have been forty and he could have been sixty. I figured fifty was about right.

When we finished sizing each other up, he said, “I appreciate your coming to see me, Mr. Pine. Would you care for a drink?”

“If you will join me,” I said, in my society voice.

He bent and swung open a door where desk drawers should have been and pulled up a portable bar that operated on levers like a typewriter shelf. There were three or four decanters and a soda bottle and an electrical freezing unit for cubes. All it lacked was a brass rail and a barfly.

“Will Scotch do, Mr. Pine?”

“It always has.”

He dug out a pair of highball glasses, poured respectable amounts of whisky from one of the decanters, added ice cubes and soda, put a swizzle in each and handed me one.

We murmured a polite word or two and drank. Mine tasted like something you could bribe angels with. There would have been no point in learning the brand; I couldn’t have afforded it anyway.

I refused a cigar and took one of my own cigarettes instead. He snapped on a gold lighter from one of his vest pockets and held it out to me with a hand that trembled about as much as the Cheops pyramid. After his cigar was burning right, he pushed a copper ash tray over where we both could reach it and leaned back and blew out a cloud of oily blue smoke and said:

“You are better than I expected, Mr. Pine. I don’t know much about private investigators, you see, and I had pictured some sort of beetle‑browed subhuman with flat feet, a derby hat, and given to talking from the side of his mouth.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say to that so I didn’t say anything.

“Tell me something about yourself, if you don’t mind. I’m not just being curious, I assure you.”

“It won’t take long,” I said. “I’m thirty‑one, five feet eleven, one hundred and seventy pounds. The dent in the bridge of my nose came from high‑school football. I was an investigator in the State’s Attorney’s office until a change in administration gave me a new boss. He had a nephew who needed a job. I went into business for myself about a year ago.”

His smile showed even white teeth that were probably his own. “I imagine it was a good thing for you, Mr. Pine. You impress me as a man who does not like to take orders.”

“I’ve had complaints about that,” I said. “Some of the complaints were probably justified.”

His smile broadened. “At least you’re frank about it.”

A gray squirrel darted along the ledge of the terrace outside the windows, startling a robin who had been minding his own business. The robin said about what a man would have said under similar circumstances and flew off somewhere. I cut down an impulse to yawn and sampled my drink again.

Sandmark nodded as though he had made up his mind. He put his smile away and his glass down and said crisply:

“Mr. Pine, I have a daughter—actually a stepdaughter—although I legally adopted her when she was hardly more than an infant. Now she’s grown into a very lovely and charming young woman and I love her very much. But . . . she has caused me some trouble and quite a bit of worry from time to time.”

He stopped abruptly and looked past the top of my head at nothing at all and his lips went back to a tight line.

I said, “Is she in trouble again?”

My abruptness surprised him into looking at me. “I think so, yes.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“A man, Mr. Pine.”

“I see. How old is your stepdaughter?”

“She’ll be twenty‑five in two months.”

“What form does the trouble take?”

He studied the ash on his cigar. “I think she intends to marry this man.”

“You would object to that?”

He glared at me. “I most certainly would! I told you my daughter is very dear to me. I do not propose to allow her to make a mess of her life the way her mother did.”

“I just asked,” I said mildly. “Of course you realize your stepdaughter is of age. If she’s hot to get married I don’t see what can be done to prevent it.”

He got a little chilly around the eyes. “I didn’t send for you to tell me that, Mr. Pine.”

“I’m sure you didn’t,” I said. “And while we’re on the subject, just what did you call me in to do?”

People didn’t talk to him that way. His face reddened and a vein began to throb in his temple and for a minute there I thought he was going to throw a thousand dollars’ worth of desk at me. He took three or four deep breaths before he figured he could open his mouth without having a roar jump out.

Finally he said, “I want this affair broken off once and for all. And I want it done quickly.”

“That sounds all right,” I said, “and it can probably be done. But I’ll have to find out whether I want to do it.”

I got sneered at for that. “You’re mighty independent for a workingman, I would say.”

“You’d be right,” I said. “There’s no point in getting mad at me, Mr. Sandmark. I make my living by working at a business that has more bad smells to it than most. I try to avoid them. I don’t know enough of the facts on this case to say anything one way or the other. If it’s okay with you I’ll ask some questions; if not, I’ll say good‑by and no harm done.”

“What do you want to know?”

“What is your stepdaughter’s name?”

“Leona.”

“Sandmark?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. What’s her boy friend’s name?”

“Marlin. Gerald Marlin, I think.”

“You think?”

“She refers to him as Jerry. I’ve never met him.”

“You mean she meets him only away from the house?”

“Leona isn’t living here, Mr. Pine.”

“Why not?”

His shoulders moved in the ghost of a shrug.

I said, “I’ll have to know where she’s staying.”

He took some of his drink and set the glass back on the desk but kept his fingers around it. “Of course. She has an apartment at 1317 Austin Boulevard in Chicago.”

“That isn’t far from here, is it?”

“About a mile.”

“How long has she been living away from home?”

“About two months.”

“Is she employed anywhere?”

“No. Certainly not.”

“Money of her own?”

“None to speak of. I give her an allowance.”

“Mind telling me how much of an allowance?”

“A thousand a month.”

“How long has she known this man Marlin?”

“Well . . . about three months.”

“She know you have no use for him?”

“I make no secret of my dislikes, Mr. Pine.”

“And she moved out because you didn’t like Marlin?” He sighed and his heavy shoulders sagged a little. “Leona is quite—well, headstrong. She is stubborn, willful, proud . . . and beautiful. She is very beautiful, Mr. Pine.” Lines deepened between his eyes. “I’ve tried to keep her from being hurt. I’m afraid I haven’t been successful. Her father’s blood, I suppose. There have been some unfortunate . . . incidents.”

I waited, but he set his jaw and said no more. If I wanted particulars I was going to have to blast for them.

“What were the incidents, Mr. Sandmark?”

“I don’t think we need to go into that.” He was polite about it, but it was a frosty politeness meant to chill me into dropping the subject. But I put on my earmuffs and mittens and dug into it anyway.

“I like to be thorough, Mr. Sandmark. You want me to go to work for you. From what you have said, I’ll be actually working for your daughter too—even though she doesn’t realize it. But I won’t be able to do a good job if things I should have known about keep popping up to confuse me.

“You say your daughter has had some trouble. A lot of nice people get into trouble. I don’t expect to be in charge on Judgment Day, so I don’t go around sentencing people for practice.

“The point is, your attorney gave you my name and, I suppose, recommended me as someone you could trust. Then go ahead and trust me, or ring the bell and tell the maid to fetch my hat.”

It was a long speech for me and left my throat parched. Sandmark sat there without moving, looking at me from behind a stone face. I took a long pull at my highball that about finished it and put down the glass and lighted another cigarette from the stub of the first and waited. . . .

He smiled. I’ve seen wider smiles on a cue ball, but there it was. He took his cigar from a groove in the ash tray and put it in his mouth. His hand was steady as ever. He said:

“You’ll do, Mr. Pine. . . . When Leona was sixteen, two years after her mother’s death, she ran off with a boy in her class at high school and lived with him alone for a week in his parents’ summer home in Wisconsin. Naturally I did not prefer charges. . . . When she was twenty she became involved with a married man twelve years her senior and was named as corespondent in the wife’s divorce suit. I managed to keep that out of the papers. . . . When Leona was almost twenty‑three she—I’ll be frank with you, Mr. Pine—she had an affair with a criminal . . . a handsome devil who had served time for armed robbery, counterfeiting, operating a confidence game—I don’t know what all. Fortunately no one ever found out about it because he pulled something shortly after he met Leona and was sent to prison for two years.”

He sighed. “That’s the worst of it. Although about three months ago I paid off six thousand dollars in IOU’s—gambling debts at a place called the Peacock Club. I could have refused to honor them, of course, but there were some especially nasty threats made.

“Another time, just recently in fact, I was called down to Central Station to arrange bail for her. She had been arrested in a gambling raid. It so happened she had a gun in her bag at the time. . . . And only three weeks ago she came to me for money—quite a considerable sum. She refused to tell me why she wanted it. Leona has quite a temper at times, and there was something of a scene.”

“Still,” I said, “you gave her the money?”

“Yes. Yes. I have never been able, really, to refuse her a thing.”

“How much did she want?”

“Five thousand dollars.”

“You’ve no idea why she wanted it?”

“It is not difficult to figure out. Gambling fascinates her.”

“It fascinates me too,” I said. “But not five thousand dollars’ worth.”

There was pain in his fine eyes—pain and a fierce pride. I finished my drink and sat there holding the glass, thinking about what he’d told me. Presently I said:

“It isn’t pretty, but I’ve heard worse. Much. What have you against this Jerry Marlin, Mr. Sandmark? Why shouldn’t your stepdaughter marry him—if that’s what he intends to do.”

His jaw stiffened and his thick black brows came together in an uncompromising line. “Because he is the same type of man that has hurt Leona before: a wavy‑haired, smooth-talking, flashily dressed young man with no visible means of support. Eventually I would have to buy an uncontested divorce for her, and you can be sure the price would be considerable.”

I said, “I understood you to say you’d never met him.”

“I was never introduced to him,” Sandmark said grimly. “I managed to avoid that. At first he called for Leona on several occasions and I caught glimpses of him. I didn’t need any more than that.”

“How old a man is he?”

“Hard to say. He might be twenty‑eight and he might be thirty‑five. Somewhere between those figures I’d say.”

“How would you describe him?”

He thought for a minute. “Around five feet ten, a hundred and sixty pounds, slender build, narrow face with small features and an olive skin, black eyes set close together, black hair with a wave in it, and I don’t like his taste in clothing. . . . I’m afraid that’s the best I can do.”

“You did fine,” I said. “I feel as though I went to school with him. Do you happen to know his address?”

“No.”

“Any of the places he might hang around?”

“No.”

“You don’t think he works for a living?”

“If he does it’s probably something outside the law.”

“All right,” I said. “I think I get the pitch; correct me if I’m wrong. You want me to dig into Marlin. You want something on him that will be strong enough to turn your stepdaughter against him. And if I can dig up something that will put him away for a few years, you’ll like that a lot.”

We stared into each other’s eyes. The fingers of his right hand tapped softly against the chair arm. Very slowly he said, “I see that we understand each other, Mr. Pine.”

“Maybe not too well,” I said. “There’s always the possibility Marlin is okay. Some people can’t help how they look.”

His smile was as bleak as the Siberian steppes. “I’m not engaging your services to prove Marlin is a suitable match for my daughter. I want this romance cut off at the roots and I don’t give a damn how it’s done.”

I looked at the empty glass in my hand and said, “I don’t go in for framing people, Mr. Sandmark.”

He didn’t say anything although I waited to give him the chance. I said, “I’ll look into it. It will cost you thirty bucks a day. That includes expenses; I don’t like to make out expense reports. Is that satisfactory?”

His eyes were still watching me and his smile was still cold. “There will be a thousand‑dollar bonus if you get the proper results. I would like you to remember that.”

I nodded and let him see a face as expressionless as his own. “That’s nice and I can use the money. I’ll work to earn it, too, but no harder than the original thirty a day would cover.”

He didn’t say anything to that. I put down the glass and took out another cigarette and turned it in my fingers. I said, “I gather that I’m to stay away from your daughter on this.”

“Unless it can’t be helped,” Sandmark said quietly. “Certainly she must not know what I’ve engaged you to do.”

“Have you a snapshot of her I can have? It might help.”

He pushed back the swivel chair and stood up easily and went over to the bookshelves on the west wall and took a dark leather album from one of the lower shelves. He leafed through the pages, found what he wanted, pulled it loose, put the album back and came over and tossed a small glossy print face up on the desk in front of me.

While he was getting into his chair, I picked up the snapshot. It showed a girl in shorts and a sweater against a background of bougainvillaea and pepper trees. She was fairly tall for a girl, I judged, and slender with a kind of curved slenderness. She had at least two excellent reasons for wearing a sweater and her legs were probably good for walking too.

I got around to her face finally. It was a little too angular for perfect beauty maybe, but I was satisfied. She was wearing a lot of hair in a shoulder‑length bob with a swirl on top. She had a good forehead and narrow eyes, wide‑spaced, and a thin aristocratic nose. Her mouth was small and nicely shaped, with the lower lip a little fuller than it might have been. It would be fun to nibble on that lip. She was looking sulky, so I couldn’t see her teeth; but I would have bet she didn’t have gingivitis.

I said, “It’s a nice picture. Too bad it isn’t in color.”

In a faraway voice he said, “Her eyes are gray‑blue, like her mother’s. Her hair is reddish‑brown—the kind they call chestnut, although you don’t hear that word much these days.”

I took out my billfold and tucked the snap into one of the pockets and put it away again. “All right, Mr. Sandmark. I have enough to start on. I’ll telephone in a report in a day or two. Unless you prefer me to make them in person.”

I stood up and so did he. “The telephone will do. Meanwhile you will want some money.”

He took a black pin‑seal wallet from an inner coat pocket, counted out three fifty‑dollar bills and handed them to me. It meant taking out my billfold again but it was worth it. I refused a second drink although it hurt me to do so and he pushed a button set in the desk’s edge. The same maid opened the door, waited while I shook Sandmark’s hand, and led me into the smaller hall and gave me back my hat.

She put me gently out on the small porch and closed the door. I walked slowly down the path between the irises, through the bronze gate and out into the street.

The Plymouth was still parked at the opposite curb. That surprised me a little. Considering the neighborhood someone might have had it hauled away to the dump.

 

CHAPTER 3

I was opening the car door when a big black custom-built Packard convertible coupé with its top down swung around the corner on two wheels and came down the street toward me with a soundless rush.

A girl was behind the wheel—a girl in a green‑linen tailored sport dress out of Vogue and a ribbon to match in her shoulder‑length reddish‑brown hair. There was a brown leather bag of golf clubs propped in the seat next to her. She came up even with me and swung the car’s nose into the Sandmark driveway entrance and applied the brakes.

It was none of my business. I slid in behind my own wheel and put the key in the ignition.

“Say. You there.”

As a voice it was probably all right—a little husky but clear and not too high‑pitched. If there was a queen-to-commoner quality to the tone the convertible probably justified it.

I ducked my head and looked out the window. The girl was swung partially around in the seat and staring over at me. “You,” she called. “In the Plymouth.”

“Okay,” I said. “I hear you.”

“Come over here a minute.”

There would have been no point in refusing. With that head of hair she wasn’t likely to be anybody other than Leona Sandmark. I had been told to stay away from her, more or less, but nothing was said about this kind of situation.

So I got out of the Plymouth and walked over to her. She had a cool, impersonal expression on her lovely face, the kind of expression installment collectors get used to. She flicked me with a glance and said:

“Pardon me, but did you just leave this place?”

I suppose I should have taken my hat off and stood there clutching the brim like a share cropper being interviewed by the mistress of the manor. You could see it was what she expected. Instead I pushed my hat back and hooked my shoe over the fender apron and gave her a leer and said:

“I hate to admit it, but I can’t quite place you. You’re not the Smiths’ second maid, are you?”

She straightened up as though I’d laid a cadaver in her lap and her face turned as red as a slaughterhouse floor. “Well, I beg your—”

“My mistake,” I said. “You don’t have to apologize.”

John Sandmark had been wrong about her eyes. They were green instead of gray‑blue and right now they were hot as twelve passes in a crap game. “I suppose you’re trying to be funny!”

I shook my head mournfully. “I guess I’m not very good at it.” I turned around and started back. “Well, it was nice seeing you.”

“Please don’t go. I’m—sorry.”

The lorgnette was gone from her voice. I came back and said, “Okay. Maybe I made a mistake. Is there something you wanted?”

She managed to push out a smile but it was the hardest work she had done all day. Her face seemed a little less angular than the snapshot indicated and the lower lip wasn’t quite as full. But there wasn’t any doubt that she was Leona Sandmark. Her dress was pulled up well above her knees and I could see two generous lengths of suntan nylons and a strip of skin the color and texture of new ivory.

I might have been looking at the radiator cap for all she cared. She said: “There’s no need for either of us to be rude. I only wanted to know if you just came out of 1424.”

I glanced over at the double gates of the driveway. “From the looks of the place it would be nice to come out of.”

She took a quick breath and her chin rose a degree or two. “Would you mind answering my question?”

“Is there any reason why I should?”

Her left hand jerked against the wheel as though she had been on the point of smacking me across the chops but managed to control herself at the last moment. She tried to stare me down but my conscience was clear and she was the first to look away.

She said, “All right. I’m Leona Sandmark, and I live here. I know my father is worried about something. When I saw you coming out I thought maybe you had something to do with—with—well, with what he is worried about.”

“What’s he worried about?”

“I don’t know.” She seemed to have cooled off some and her eyes were more blue than green. “I hoped you could tell me that.”

“You made a nice try,” I said. “It’s been swell meeting you, but I have to go now.”

I was on the point of turning away but she reached out and caught hold of my sleeve. “No . . . wait! You’re keeping something from me, I can tell. What did you want with my father?”

I looked down at her fingers. They were very pretty fingers: long and tapering and without the knobby knuckles you see on so many feminine hands. She wore no rings and the skin was tanned and clear. I let my eyes move slowly along the softly rounded bare arm to her shoulder, to the V of her neckline, to the poorly hidden panic in her face. Right then she looked older than twenty‑four has any right to look, older because she was scared to death. It flickered in her eyes, it pulled at the corners of her mouth, it beat in the pulse of her throat.

“Look at it this way, Miss Sandmark,” I said gently. “If I had anything to hide from you, I’d have given you some smooth little story about being an insurance man, or something, long before this. By looking at it that way, you’ll see that my business in the neighborhood must be something that couldn’t possibly be of any interest to you.”

Her hand slipped slowly from my sleeve as doubt began to replace fear. “Then you’re not—a police officer?”

I shook my head gravely. “No, ma’am.”

“But you did call on my father?”

“I give you my word, Miss Sandmark, so far as I know I’ve never laid my eyes on your father.”

“Then, damn you,” she snapped, “why didn’t you say so to begin with?”

She slammed the tip of her golf shoe against the starter and the hundred and twenty horses tried to kick the convertible’s hood over the hedge. It made me jump back. Not that Leona Sandmark noticed. The hell with me. I wasn’t important any more. Maybe I never had been.

She kept her eyes straight ahead and began to jab savagely at the horn button. But it was one of those musical horns and the sound matched her mood right then like pink ribbons on a prize fighter.

I could have hung around and pouted. Instead I went back across the street and climbed into my car. While I was stepping on the starter, the driveway gates folded back and the convertible roared through and out of sight ahead of a swirl of blue exhaust smoke.

I drove south and east until I was back over the line into Chicago, at Jackson Boulevard, then directly east to the Loop. It was getting well into five in the afternoon, but I had a job to do and now was as good a time as any.

By the time I parked the car and put away a sandwich and malted milk at a Walgreen drugstore, six o’clock had rolled around. I picked a red‑streak edition of the Daily News off the stand at Jackson and Wabash and went on to where I spent the sitting part of my days.

The Clawson Building was twelve stories of tired red brick between a couple of modern skyscrapers on the south side of Jackson Boulevard, just west of Michigan Avenue. It had been put together before the turn of the century by an architect who must have figured he wasn’t going to be paid. There were gargoyles on the cornices and one in the superintendent’s office. The halls were dark and forever smelled of lye and damp hay. The offices had businesses in them: one business to each office and the kind of business that made very little money or none at all. I fitted right in there.

I had a reception room and an inner office on the eighth floor, with a window in each. There wasn’t anyone sitting on the secondhand leather couch or in either of the two chairs, and the magazines on the reed table were just as the cleaning woman had left them the night before.

I unlocked the inner office door and went in and tossed my hat on one of the two brown metal filing cabinets in one corner. There were a couple of envelopes under the mail slot and I picked them up, put them on the desk and went over and opened the window a crack from the bottom. Two flies and a little air came in behind the sound of streetcars from Wabash Avenue. I pulled back the golden‑oak swivel chair and sat down behind the oak desk and snapped on the lamp and spread out the newspaper.

The article was under a heading on a three‑column box near the foot of the first page.

 

UNIDENTIFIED MURDER

VICTIM GIVEN UNIQUE

FUNERAL

 

It was my funeral, all right. Some rewrite man had really enjoyed himself putting that yarn together. It seemed that about thirty days earlier some floater had been sapped to death in a room at the Laycroft Hotel, a flea‑trap on West Madison Street in the heart of Chicago’s Bumville. Nobody could identify the corpse and the name on his registration card was illegible, so it ended up at the morgue and lay on ice for a month waiting for some relative to come along and claim it. Nobody showed, however; and about the time the coroner’s office was ready to bury the body in the Oak Forest potter’s field, an anonymous letter had come in. The letter instructed the coroner to turn the body over to any undertaker for interment after chapel and graveside services of a religious nature. Money accompanied the letter—enough money to pay for a cemetery lot and the cost of the funeral.

If there was any excitement over the letter, it wasn’t enough to get the story into the papers. Since the corpse had got that way by being murdered, the police probably kept the letter quiet, hoping the murderer, or at least the anonymous philanthropist, would show up at the funeral.

Nothing like that happened; but when twelve clergymen, each of a different denomination, arrived to officiate at the services . . . brother, there was a commotion! Each clergyman produced an unsigned letter engaging him to run the show, and each was going to run it, come drought or flood!

A few tempers got strained before the boys worked out a deal, but it was finally decided that each was to have a turn at officiating—both at the chapel and at the cemetery.

Anyway, they got John Doe planted, dusted off their hands and went back to their churches. Then somebody-—not necessarily one of the turned‑collar boys—tipped off at least one city editor and things started to buzz. You could bet your umbilicus the newshawks weren’t through digging into the puzzle. Circulations have been upped on stories that started on a tamer note than this one.

By the time I finished the article I knew why Lieutenant George Zarr of the Homicide Detail had asked so many questions. Well, he could ask somebody else. I had my own living to make.

I folded the paper and put it in the wastebasket and set about earning the money John Sandmark had paid me earlier in the afternoon. The envelopes from under the mail slot were just a couple of bills. I pawed them into the middle desk drawer, dug a Chicago telephone directory out of another drawer and flopped it down on the desk pad.

There were six listings under the name Marlin. None of them was Gerald or Jerry, and one was a company. That meant five numbers to call.

I pulled the phone over in front of me and, one by one, called all five. Among them was one Jerry Marlin, but he was nine years old and doing his homework, so I passed him up.

That was that. I put back the receiver and lighted another cigarette and twiddled my thumbs over some thinking. Then I reached for the phone again and dialed a number I didn’t have to look up. It belonged to an unlisted telephone in a six‑by‑eight cubbyhole at the Criminal Courts Building out on Twenty‑sixth and California.

“. . . H’lo.”

I said, “Harvey?”

“Yeah.”

“This is Paul Pine.”

“Yeah.”

“Still a one‑syllable guy,” I said. “How’ve you been, Harvey?”

“Okay.”

I gave it up. “How about a little help, pal?”

“Okay.”

“You ever hear of a gee named Marlin—Jerry Marlin?”

“No.”

“Check up on it, anyway, will you, Harvey? I’ll hold on.”

“Okay.”

I propped my feet up against the edge of the desk and leaned back and waited. A wilted breeze slipped in through the open window and riffled the leaves of the Varga calendar, and the brunette in the red bathing suit wiggled her hips at me. She was wasting her time. An elevated train screeched on the Van Buren Street curve two blocks away, a faint thin screech like the E string on a violin.

“Pine?” said the receiver against my ear.

“Yeah, Harvey. Anything?”

“Nothing on him.”

I sighed. “Okay. Thanks for trying.”

I reached out and pressed the cut‑off button and took the telephone standard on my lap and dialed police headquarters at Eleventh and State. It took another fifteen minutes of talking and waiting—mostly waiting—to get the same answer Harvey out at the State’s Attorney’s had given me. Mr. Gerald Marlin was as clean as a commencement-day neck. Under that name anyway.

I thought some more, a little sourly this time. If I was going to find out what kind of jamoke Marlin was, I had to start by finding him, where he lived and what he did for a living. There were three million people in town. Finding one of them who wasn’t in the phone book or on the records of the local law could get to be quite a job.

In my line of business I was used to being called on to find people. But my clients usually supplied former addresses, a list of friends, former jobs: information that made locating the missing person mostly a matter of leg work.

All John Sandmark had given was a name, a description that would fit a lot of guys, and orders to break up a romance. Of course, I could always pick up Marlin by tailing Leona Sandmark around until she met him someplace. But I had instructions to stay away from her, and in the circumstances, it was probably the better thing to do. She had spotted me outside her stepfather’s home; if she found me underfoot a second time I could get pressured off the case. I made my living by staying on cases.

I went back over my talk with Sandmark. By the time I finished there was an idea or two within reach. I blew on them and polished them up a bit and discovered they were pretty good ideas. So I took my hat off the filing case and locked the office door and went out to see a movie.

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