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Dan Marlowe

Doorway to Death

Johnny had a passkey to all the hotel rooms. He wasn't looking for murder, but he found it-and worse!

On the streets of a big city people smile and the fights are bright. But there is an altey world of darkness, double-dealing and death; in this world you need muscles and brains to take a step-and only the lucky ones live long. These two worlds meet in Hotel Duarte. Johnny Killain had a fistful of experience with both worlds-and with Hotel Duarte:

The girl in 1109 was a schoolmarm from a small western town; but when she visited the city she left her morals at home, stripped off the drab veneer and became an armful of seething hell.

The “salesman” in 1938 peddled death on the side-until he turned up cold.. very cold… on a hook in the hotel icebox.

Johnny had the keys to all the doors-to lust, love, greed … and murder!

Chapter I

Johnny Killain straightened impatiently in the big wing chair and attempted to force the topmost brass button on his blue-gray uniform through its reluctant buttonhole; he released it to make a silencing grab at the phone which rang shrilly upon the table at his elbow. “Yeah?” His heavy voice was a basso burr. “Yeah, Paul; Mr. Martin will be right down. Throw his bag in the rack.” He replaced the receiver and looked over at the slender man carefully knotting an expensive looking tie at the bureau mirror. “Airport limousine's here, Willie.”

“I heard you. Plenty of time.” The flying fingers directing the swirling course of the tie stilled momentarily, and Willie Martin turned in the direction of the phone, only the silvered temples belying the youth of the lean, aristocratic face. “I could still get you a seat?”

Johnny shook his head. “I'm geared down from that country jumping ratio nowadays. I wouldn't know what to do with myself over there.” His right hand returned absently to the stubborn button as he appreciatively watched the slim figure at the mirror slip into the jacket of a conservative sharkskin suit. “That set of threads set you back much?”

“Tell you when I get the bill.” In the mirror Willie Martin studied Johnny's renewed struggle with the button. He was smiling when he turned. “Here, let me do that. You always were all thumbs. Stand up.”

Johnny stood up; he was barely a quarter inch over six 7 feet, but he towered a head over the slender man who in two deft motions slipped the recalcitrant button into place. Johnny had thick, unruly blond hair, and the prominent cheekbones on the deeply tanned face emphasized heavy matching brows and an aquiline nose. The rugged features tapered to a square jawline on which healthy skin fit his bones so snugly as to give an impression of leanness, an impression belied by the breadth of shoulders in the uniform. The lean mouth, abrupt facial angles, and the frostily pale eyes all contributed to a hard-bitten ensemble. “I must be gettin' fat. Thanks, Willie.”

“Pas de quoit.

You haven't gained six ounces in fifteen years; it's just your ice age twenty and a half inch neck. Sure you won't come along? I could keep you amused. Busy, even.”

“Busy doin' what? Holdin' your coat while you horse around with some madame concierge about the price of a hundred cases of Calvados? You're not handlin' my brand of action these days, Willie.”

The slim man smiled, a flashing, good-humored smile. “Who is? Well, I'll be back in two weeks. Approximately. We'll have a party.”

“I'm still feelin' the last one. That Shirley girl of yours has at least one hollow leg.”

Willie Martin's smile was still there, but it had changed, “Kind of keep an eye on her for me, Johnny? Discreetly?”

Johnny stared, then looked away. “Sure, Willie. If you say so. You ready? I'll take you down in the service elevator.”

“Place is like a damn morgue,” Willie declared as they walked down the silent corridor. “If it wasn't for the school kids on tour we'd have a washtub full of red ink this season.” He looked at Johnny appraisingly as he swung open the flanged door of the anchored elevator cab. “How's my new manager doing?”

Johnny shrugged as the cab started down. “You should know better'n me; I never see him hardly on this shift Don't your pencil pushers tell you?”

“Too soon for an accurate appraisal. Well, boy, can I depend on you to keep the baling wire tight on this old arc while I'm gone?”

“This mausoleum'll still be here when we're all dead an' gone, Willie. Nothing ever happens around here.” He flung open the door at the lobby level, and grimaced at the persistent ringing of the phone in the semi-darkened lobby. He nodded at the recessed niche between the elevators. “That's me. Take care, Willie. Keep those wings flappin'.” He moved in behind the desk and picked up the phone, his eyes still thoughtfully on the trim, erect figure which turned in the foyer and waved before passing through the outer door. Johnny returned the wave as he spoke into the phone. “Bell captain.” He listened, and scribbled a note on the scratch pad on the desk. “Yes, ma'am. Right away.”

He moved out from behind the desk into the main lobby as the elevator doors on his left clashed noisily, and he spoke without looking. “Paul?”

“Yes?” The middle-aged “boy” in the bellhop uniform looked out inquiringly from the passenger elevator.

“Icewater to 1618.”

“Right.”

Johnny crumpled the slip of paper in his hand; across the lobby Sally Fontaine caught his eye from behind her little cubicle to the right of the reservation desk, and beckoned imperiously with her head. Johnny sighed, but shuffled toward her in the swaying, bearlike stride created by the excess of weight in chest and shoulders. “Yes, ma?” he inquired, passing through the little gate which separated her switchboard from the lobby proper.

“Wait till I get this board clear-”

He watched the nimble fingers on the big board; Sally was dark, and almost painfully thin, but with a facial vitality which eased the sharpness of her features. Brown eyes studied him as she turned from the switchboard. “Did you get his lordship off safely?”

“Why'nt you lay off on the spurs, ma?”

She sniffed. “Can I help it if he makes me feel I'm supposed to genuflect every time he walks through here?”

“Willie's not like that,” Johnny said patiently. “He's not like that at all. Willie's-”

“Here's a message I have for you,” Sally interrupted him, and he looked at the note in her hand without offering to take it.

“Same message?”

She nodded. “Same message. Three times since midnight.”

“Tear it up.”

“He insists that you call him, Johnny.”

“An' who the hell is he to insist? Tear it up.”

The brown eyes measured him. “What's with you and Max Armistead, Johnny?”

“Now you're gettin' nosy, baby.”

“So I'm nosy. How else do you find out things? And you haven't answered me.”

“You thought I was goin' to?”

“Listen to me, Johnny.” The thin face was anxious. “He's… he's very unpleasant. He sounded… mean.”

His grin was mirthless. “He's not all that mean.”

“You'd better call him. Here's the number.”

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