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Shakedown for Murder
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This is a novel, entirely a work of fiction. All characters, names, incidents, and places—including the village of 'End Harbor'—are completely imaginary and not intended to represent any persons, living or dead.
Copyright, 1958, by Ed Lacy. Published by arrangement with the author. Printed in the U.S.A. A shortened version of this novel appeared in the August 1958 issue of the
Mercury Mystery Magazine
under the titles “Listen to the Night.”
“.... of course I got here as soon as possible, but I was too late
he must have died within seconds after phoning me. I found him over the hall table. You and I, we're more than merely old friends, so believe me when I tell you that in a case like this, there isn't anything a doctor can do. At his age, the heart grows very tired.” Doctor Edward Barnes placed a hand on the other's damp, trembling shoulder; a hand both firm and gentle.
understand, Edward.” The voice was dazed, sullen with mounting hysteria.
“What?” the doctor asked, cupping an ear, brushing the rain from his face with his other hand. “What did you say?”
“I said... I'm okay. It's just... I'll miss him so. You know how close we were.”
The doctor pulled his old felt hat down as he said, “Come now, no weeping. There isn't much one can say about death, especially the death of an old friend. Yet I always find myself groping for the meaningless phrases. Our only consolation is to remember he lived a long and useful life. And he died without pain. Remember the old Indian saying you once told me.... Death is but the opening of a new trail. Do you recall telling me that?”
“Yes. I suppose I knew this would happen
some day. But... oh God! Ed, it's all so sudden!”
“Let yourself go, weep.” Barnes reached into the car for his bag. “Naturally you're in shock. I'll give you something to calm your nerves, make you forget.”
“I don't need any drugs.”
“Listen to me. It's late, there isn't anything either of us can do till morning. Standing out here in the rain will only give you a chill. If you like, I'll spend the night here.”
“Come now, at a time like this... I can stay the night with you.”
“No, Ed, I'm... fine.”
“Then take this pill and you'll sleep for...
The doctor's wet and wrinkled face expanded with astonishment for a very brief part of a second as he was viciously kneed in the groin. Gasping, Barnes bent over
arms out like a racing swimmer ready to dive
then he stumbled back against his car, hands now pressed hard to his middle.
The killer clamped a hand over the doctor's open mouth, another over the sharp nose. The old man's watery eyes bulged
pain still mixed with surprise. He started to claw the air, then slumped to the wet ground.
Opening the door of the doctor's heavy Buick, the murderer dragged the old man across the front seat, yanked a woolen muffler from around Barnes' thin neck, then savagely jammed it over the doctor's pink face. For a moment the doctor's legs jerked and thrashed as the muffler cut off all air.
Certain Barnes was dead, with great effort the body was picked up and slowly lowered to the floor of the rear of the car. Placing the medical bag on the front seat, the killer slid behind the wheel
and drove off, driving along the dark roads of the village.
Reaching Bay Street the murderer stepped out and listened long and carefully, sweating face almost touching the wet pavement. Certain no cars were coming, the doctor's corpse was quickly pulled to the middle of the road. Then backing the Buick up, the killer shifted gears and pressed the gas pedal to the floor.
The big car jumped as it ran over the dead body.
The murderer stepped out and stared down at the rain striking the crushed face, then picked up a pebble. The Buick was aimed at a large tree off the road, the ignition turned off, and the pebble wedged under the accelerator—forcing it as far down as the pedal could go. Then reaching in and turning on the ignition, the killer awkwardly jumped back as the Buick leaped forward, crossed the road and smashed into the tree. The thick rain slightly muffled the crashing sound.
Standing perfectly still and hidden in the nearby woods, the killer waited to see if the noise brought anybody, then ran over to the wreck. The pebble was removed, the front and rear seats carefully examined. The doctor's woolen scarf was on the floor beneath the crumpled steering wheel. Grabbing the scarf, the murderer pulled a thin, pencil flashlight from Barnes' bag, quickly played it over the tires. Nothing of the doctor's flesh or clothing had stuck to the new tires. The killer rubbed the scarf over a red spot on a tire wall, then realized it was merely red paint.
Dropping the flash back into the bag, the killer went home, walking and running through unlit streets and woods wherever possible. At the gate of the house the killer was still clutching the doctor's scarf, and with a moan of utter dismay and horror, dropped the muffler with a frantic motion, ran sobbing into the house.
Minutes later, the murderer returned, picked up the scarf and went back into the warm house.
My “vacation” started off as I expected—by giving me a hard time.
The railroad station at Hampton was full of sleek cars and people standing around as nude as they could get, without being arrested. I never saw so many scrimpy shorts and stuffed halters in my life. The young people showed off their trim thighs and bosoms, while even the old duffers walked around without shame, holding their sloppy stomachs in. I stepped off the train with my battered bag in one hand and Matty in his wicker basket in the other. I was sure a standout: I was the only person not sporting a tan. Also, I had on a tie and a shirt, not to mention my old blue serge suit. Everybody looked at me as though I were an escapee from a museum.
I was sweaty and in a bad mood. I didn't want to coma out here and a three-hour ride on the Long Island Railroad isn't exactly any laughs for me. Matty was evil too, cooped up in his basket all that time. On the train he'd been wailing and making a small racket When I poked my finger in to quiet him, he'd showed his feelings by biting it. I'd snapped my finger in his gut and he had hissed like a snake, then shut up.
As I was looking around the station, sorry I hadn't told Danny to meet me, a fat little man in worn slacks, high shoes, an outrageous sport shirt and an ancient sweaty straw hat hustled over to me and made a pass at my bag.
As I snatched it to me, he asked, “Hey, mista, you wants the taxi, huh?”
I nodded and followed him to an old Dodge. I sat on the front seat, Matty's basket on my lap. The car was hot as a Turkish bath. The driver went up and down the platform trying to drum up trade, finally got in and started the car with a jerk. “Mista, where yeu go?”.
“Gooda summer, now. That my town. Cost you one dolla. You visit some-abody?”
“Know where the Lund cottage is, on Beach Road?” I never found dialect funny, even on TV.
“You bet I know. Vera nice people. You a friend?”
“I hope so. Dan Lund is my son.”
A real smile flitted across his weather-beaten face as he turned into a main highway. The Dodge kept edging toward the road shoulder. “Your Danny is a lucky man, his Bessie is a wonderful wife. The second I first saw her I knew she was a Greek, like me. She has all the warm beauty of the....”
I didn't have time to wonder what happened to the dialect. I shouted, “You're going off the road!”
He turned the wheel too hard. The car went into a shimmy dance, finally got squared away as Matty growled savagely. This joker stuck a fat hand in my face, told me, “I'm Jerry Sparelous, a true friend of your daughter-in-law. Will you stay in the Harbor long?”
“A week,” I said, shaking hands fast so he could pat the paw back on the wheel. “Then I visit my daughter in the mountains for a week.” Matty seemed to sigh. Or maybe it was me.
I had a month off and Dan insisted I spend the first week with him. The second would be with Signe and her basketball team of noisy kids. Then maybe I could get some real rest in my flat on Washington Heights, sitting in my underwear next to the big window fan, watching TV or doping the nags.
“End Harbor is nice—I've lived here for thirty-five years,” this Jerry said, the car starting off on a tangent again. “What you do, Mr. Lund?”
“I'm a cop. Look, Mr.... Jerry... side of the road again.”
“Don't worry,” he said, jerking the car around. “In twenty years I never had an accident—that was my fault. Yes, yes, Bessie has told me about you. They want you to retire. You and me. I sold my store and some land a few years ago. I have enough money. But people ask why I drive a taxi. They think a man of sixty-four is fit for nothing but dying....”
We went around a turn and made directly for some bushes on the side of the road. I tried to put my foot through the floorboard before he headed down the highway again. I said weakly, “Perhaps you need glasses.”
“I have two pair—at home. Hot in New York?”
“Big city is all rush, crazy. I haven't been back to New York in thirty-two years. Who wants to rush?”
I didn't answer. Three hours away and he hadn't been to the big apple in a third of a century! They couldn't drag me away from New York.
We drove in silence for awhile, except when I told him he was going off the road. It was starting to grow dark and we seemed to be driving through a lonely, wooded section. But on reaching End Harbor we passed a lot of new ranch-type houses. With a scream of tires he turned into a wide road that went by a pond the size of the Central Park skating rink. “Plenty big bass in there, and they bite on a plug. You a fisherman?”
“I can take it or leave it.”
“Me, too. Funny, you don't look like a policeman—you're too thin. Me, I wish I was thin. Every day I'm getting more like a squash. Too much beer. Doctor gives me plenty of hell. But I say, what difference does it make if I'm fat, I'm not making a show for the girls. How old are you, Mr. Lund?”
“Your wife is dead, too. Bessie told me. Jesus, I almost went crazy when my Helen died eight years ago, God rest her soul. I got three boys. Two of them run a garage in Chicago, the other is a tinsmith out in Los Angeles. My boys all leave the Harbor fast.” He shrugged, waved both hands. “But everybody has to live their own life.”
The Dodge went over the only bump in the road and Matty whined.
He turned to smile at the basket. “You have a cat, I have a dog—when he comes home. Strange, isn't it, how in our old age we turn to the companionship of animals?”
“I always had a....”
“Now we don't talk, Mr. Lund. I have to cross a busy highway on which people race toward Montauk like they are going to St. Peter's gates.”
He brought the car to a complete and jerky stop, screwing up his eyes as he peered up and down the road. Cars were going by doing at least seventy. A motorcycle cop stationed here could keep a town tax-free. Jerry kept looking up and down the road, waiting for a break, and talking all the time. Some junk about the days when End Harbor was a whaling port, the houses that still had shell marks, or something, from the days of 1776 when, according to Jerry, the British Navy bombarded the village.
He suddenly stepped on the gas and I banged my forehead against the windshield as the car leaped across the road. Then he stopped abruptly to ask if I was hurt, shaking me up again. I had a hell of a headache but told him, “I'm okay. How much farther to the house?”
“Just down this street,” Jerry said, starting the car before I could get out. He drove past a few houses and I could smell the salt in the air. Then he stopped, said proudly, “Here we are, Mr. Lund.”
I wanted to say I wouldn't have given even money we'd get here, but I paid him a dollar as the cottage door opened and Andy yelled, “Grandpa is here!”
It always gives me a start to hear myself called grandpa.
Andy came leaping at me and almost knocked me down with a hug. He's big for his age but still lardy. When my Danny had been ten, he was already muscular, and coming down the porch steps now, in shorts, he still looked in good shape. Maybe Andy got his softness from Bessie— she had an apron around her bathing suit. She wasn't fat but all a kind of sensuous softness that went with her creamy skin, dark hair, and flashing eyes. Sometimes I thought Bessie was too much woman for Danny—or any one man.
They were all over me, pumping my hand, everybody talking at once. Matty was yelling to get out of his basket, and Bessie and Jerry were rattling off Greek. The noise didn't help my headache any. Somehow we finally got into the cottage and I put my bag in the room I was to share with Andy. I wanted to take a hot bath but Andy was trying to show me a spinning reel he'd just bought and Matty was screaming. I opened the basket and the cat immediately made a quick sniffing tour of the cottage. I asked Bessie for an empty box and began filling it with torn newspapers. She said, “Oh, for—can't that beast do its business outside?”