Dan Marlowe

Killer with a Key


Johnny Killain could see Jeff Landry's slender figure shiningly reflected from the bronzed walls of the service elevator, diminutive alongside his own bulk in its blue-gray uniform. He threw open the cab door and glanced out over the lobby before turning to look inquiringly at the blond man and nodding in the direction of the bar. “One for the road, Jeff? You might like Tommy's better.”

Jeff Landry shook his head apologetically. “I know I've been poor company, Johnny, but it wasn't your drinks.”

“So why rush off? You just got here. I don't see you all that often.”

“Restless, I guess.”

“Just what is it that's botherin' you, Jeff? An' in case you've forgotten I already asked you the same thing upstairs. You act like a man with something on his mind.”

“It'll keep,” the slender man said lightly. “When am I going to see you over at my place? We put the animals to bed any time after eight, you know.”

“I'll get over there, for sure. I know I keep sayin' that, but I will. Business bad, Jeff?”

Jeff Landry's lips tightened. “Business is… well, actually, business is fine, Johnny.”

“That's not what you started to say, though.”

“No third degree, now.” The blond man smiled. He turned left, toward the foyer. “Don't mind my bad manners-please? And thanks for the drinks.”

“I'll be over to lower the level on your bottle.”

“You do that.” Jeff Landry waved as he exited, and Johnny looked after him thoughtfully. He had known Jeff Landry for some time, and this abrupt departure after such a short visit was out of character. He should probably get over to Jeff's and try to find out… he should probably He shrugged, inched a cigarette free from the pack in his breast pocket and moved toward the foyer and the street. On the sidewalk he breathed in the warm summer night, then slumped in spine-to-shoulders recumbency against the polished granite buttress of the hotel entrance as he lit his cigarette. The street was quiet; at this hour the neighborhood was quiet. The Hotel Duarte was quiet, too, Johnny reflected; they could use a little business.

He half straightened from his drowsing introspection as a taxicab pulled into the curb in front of him. He flipped his cigarette out into the street and regretted it immediately when he saw that the cab was empty. He debated lighting another; it didn't seem worth the effort. “You. You, there, bellhop.”

Johnny focused reluctantly on the long visored baseball cap and the pointing finger extended in his direction from the cab. He grunted uncharitably but propelled himself from the supporting wall. He crossed the sidewalk in the swaying shuffle dictated by nature's over-endowment of chest and shoulders, and his voice was a burred growl. “I'm listenin', Mac.”

“You Johnny?” The baseball cap jerked a thumb back over its shoulder. “Woman wants to see you. Eight or ten doors up the street. She wouldn't let me bring her down here.”


The lean features under the cap squinted appraisingly. “I don't-she's anyhow walking. Not makin' a hell of a lot of sense, though, maybe you're right.”

“She pay you?”


“I'll take care of it.”

“It's all yours, chum.” The cab pulled away and rolled west down Forty-fifth, and Johnny turned right and walked in the opposite direction, toward Sixth Avenue. In the light of the liquor store window next door to the hotel his bronzed, high-cheekboned face, rough yellow hair and pale, thick brows, frosty gray eyes and a nose that hooked left and right unexpectedly from unset breaks contributed to a hard-bitten effect.

He walked purposefully. It wouldn't be the first time a female guest had gazed upon wine too freely flowing and requested anonymous re-entry to her room. Must be someone who knew him, though, since they'd used his name. It was pure hell handling a drunken woman; this would more than likely be a mess.

“Johnny!” He pulled up at the husky, low-voiced call; he'd passed her. Whoever it was had ducked in behind the wooden door to a sleazy upstairs rooming house. He tried to make out features in the pale blur that was all he could distinguish as he walked toward her; in the shadows of the doorway he had one lightning-like teasing tug from his subconscious, and then recognition burst upon him. It rocked him. “Ellen! What are you doing here?”

Her hand gripped his arm convulsively as he stared down at her. In the partial darkness he could see bare arms and shoulders shimmering above her dress; there was sudden movement in the crook of the arm held protectively across her body, and it took him a moment longer to identify the small, lightish blob silhouetted against her dress as a white kitten. He poked an inquiring finger at it, and the kitten hissed at him. “Who's the passenger, Ellen?”

She might never have heard him. “You've got to help me, Johnny!” She clung fiercely to his arm.

“Did I ever say no to that proposition, kid?” The huskiness in his voice surprised him; it hadn't come out sounding quite as flippant as he had intended. A long time ago-well, six or seven years ago-Ellen Saxon had been married to Johnny Killain. Temporarily. Two short years temporarily, he reminded himself. Yeah, and one of you has never gotten over it.

The hand on his arm tightened. “Hide me, Johnny. Please! Some place in the hotel. I've got to-think. Please, Johnny!”

“Hide you? What's spooked you, kid?”

He could hear the hysteria rising in her voice. “Please! Don't talk. Get me off the street. Please!”

He tried to see her face more clearly, but the shadows prevented it. He shrugged in the gloom; Ellen was really upset, and she wasn't the type to become upset easily. Well, one thing at a time. First get her settled down- he took her arm. “Let's go. I'll register you in and get-”

“No! No registering!” Panic soared in the so-well-remembered voice. “Please, Johnny! Just hide me!”

He didn't like it. There aren't too many crimes you can commit around a hotel more serious than slipping in an unregistered person. He opened his mouth, then closed it. She was scared to death. Of somebody or something. She was scared, and she'd come to him. He drew her toward the sidewalk. “I'll load you on the service elevator from the alley. Nobody'll see us.”

“You're sure?” With her first step she crowded up against him, and a little shiver ran through him. Cut it out, he told himself impatiently; all that was dead and buried five years ago. But the little shiver paid no attention to what he told himself.

“Sure I'm sure. Come on.” He could feel her reluctance to move from the shelter of the doorway, and he increased the pressure on her arm. “Let's go, kid.” He noticed at once in the slightly better light on the sidewalk that her hair was different. Hell, in five years she'd probably had it cut five different ways. He'd liked it better the old way, though. He wondered if she remembered how she'd worn it then. How He only half heard the light squeal of brakes in the street behind them. He didn't begin to react until she had jerked free from his hand and backed away from him with the ridiculous kitten still on her arm and her mouth a little round O. He could see her throat swell suddenly, and her voice was a bugle in the upper register.


The bugle blurted to a gargle as he slapped her firmly in the belly; she doubled and sat down like a well-oiled hinge. He was already on his way down to the sidewalk beside her when the four staccato reports went off behind him. Automatic, he told himself as he heard the splintering thud of the bullets in the rooming house's wooden door, and he rolled over to get his knees under him. He could see the dark sedan stopped right in the middle of the street. No sound from Ellen-no time to look. With thick rage a solid thing in his throat he surged up and charged the sedan.

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