watched with professional admiration as Benny, chatting genially with his companions, deftly got the innocent deck off the table and substituted his own-probably a deck of concave strippers. As another man cut the cards, Mendoza walked up and slapped Benny on the back.

'Well, fancy running into you, old pal, old pal!' he said heartily. 'Introduce me round, friend, and invite me to sit in, won't you? I'm just in the mood for a few hands of draw!'

Benny showed his teeth like a cornered rat, recognizing him with starting eyes, an arm of the law that ought to have been thirty-five hundred miles away. 'I-why, sure, old pal,' he said between his teeth. 'I-gennelmen, like you to meet-'

A prosperous-looking middle-aged man in too gay sports clothes said that any friend of Mr. Johnson's was welcome. Mendoza said that was fine, leaned over Benny's shoulder and as he added, 'Haven't run across this old pal in many a year,' rescued the honest deck from Benny's specially tailored coattail pocket. Benny felt it go and wriggled in helpless rage. Mendoza drew up another chair, sat down at the table, and casually swept the doctored deck into his left hand. 'New deal, gentlemen-first cut?' He laid the honest deck out, neatly stacked, before his neighbor, and smiled at Benny. The others looked as if they could afford to lose a little, and he'd enjoy taking some of Benny's ill-gotten gains.

It was better than walking the deck, feeling homesick for the homicide office and his real job. All the same, better tell the captain-and the Bermuda police-about Benny. Mendoza sighed. Duty. He never could get worked up about the Bennys, himself. Largely harmless; and any fool who sat down to play cards with a stranger was asking for it.

He looked at a fair-to-middling hand and wondered what was going on right now back home, at the office.


Hackett came into the office, set a cardboard carton on Sergeant Lake's desk, and said, 'Get that up to the lab pronto, will you? God, I wish Luis hadn't gone gallivanting off. He might have one of his famous hunches on this one.”

Lake looked at him and said, 'Don't tell me-'

'That's right,' said Hackett. 'Looks like the same boy. That's four in ten days. The press boys've got him named now, in the afternoon editions. The Slasher. City terrified, et cetera. It looks like the same knife, on this new one. See what Bainbridge says, but it looks the same to me.'

'I'll be damned,' said Lake. 'Another woman?'

Hackett shook his head, looking a little sick. 'Fourteen-year-old Mexican boy. Everybody says, a good boy. On his way home from a Boy Scout meeting at the Y.M.C.A.”

'Oh, my God,' said Lake, 'what a thing. And another one just came in.”

'Oh, damn,' said Hackett. By what they had on this Slasher-damn fool name to hang on him-that was going to be a tough one, a lot of plodding routine, using a lot of men. 'What?'

Lake shuffled papers on his desk. 'Call just came in, from the squad car. I was going to pass it to Palliser, he's the only one in, but- Man found dead in his office. A doctor, I think. Shot. They've just found him. Address over on Wilshire.'

Hackett wrote it down. 'You sent a doctor and so on?'

'Just finished that when you came in. Bainbridge, and Marx and Horder to do the printing, and Scarne.'

'O.K.' Hackett looked into the communal sergeants' office, which was occupied solely by Palliser at the moment. Palliser's desk was littered with papers and he was reading one, his long dark face looking gloomy. 'Take a little break,' invited Hackett. 'Come look at another corpse with me. I may have to turn it over to you, so you'd better be in from the start.'

Palliser didn't object. 'We'll never get anywhere on that train wrecking,' he predicted as they walked toward the elevators. 'Even when we've got prints off the switch.'

'Doesn't look promising? Where've you been looking, in general?”

'Everywhere there is to look,' said Palliser morosely. 'We've collected about a hundred and fifty prints from possible suspects, but none's matched up and all the possibles are just that-men fired by the S.P. or some other local railroad. Nothing really says-'

But it would be nice, thought Hackett, to drop on that X. That could have been one hell of a train wreck… Whoever had thrown that switch, just as the Daylight was past the Sun Valley intersection, had pretty evidently intended the train-traveling at a moderate clip there as its next stop wasn't until Glendale-to enter a short siding and plow into the rear of a chemical factory nearby. Owing to the quick eye of the engineer, who had spotted the switch standing wrong before they reached it and thrown on the brakes at once, the train had managed to stop before the end of the siding-four cars jack-knifed, the engine derailed, minor injuries. Not a major wreck, as had been intended.

Somebody who had once worked for a railroad and knew how to operate a switch… And the hell of it was, of course, he'd been right there on the scene, had to be, because the switch had been used twenty minutes before for a freight dropping off a few cars there. The signalman hadn't seen a thing; and in the confusion afterward…

They'd been plodding through the local railroads' records on past employees, concentrating on the Southern Pacific, but nothing said he was among those. He might just be somebody who liked to see train wrecks.

'You might know,' said Hackett, 'we'd get handed another one. July, after all. The rate always goes up in summer.' Which, oddly enough, was true of other crimes as well as homicide.

The new one was at an address on Wilshire, close in downtown, just the other side of the Harbor Freeway. When they got there, in Hackett's car, they saw a rather elegant small building, new-looking, of stucco and synthetic decorative stone. The stucco was painted gray and the trim white. There was a sign swinging from a fancy wrought-iron post at the sidewalk: Dr. Francis Nestor, Doctor of Chiropractic, it announced.

A squad car sat in front of the building, and Hackett recognized Dr. Bainbridge's old Chevy.

The white door was open; they went in. The waiting room was well furnished in very modern style: gray carpet, low turquoise sectional, black plastic chairs, one of those modern paintings that to Hackett looked like the product of a kindergarten.

A woman sat on the sectional; she looked dazed and a little frightened. 'But it just doesn't seem possible,' she was saying, shaking her head. 'Frank, dead. All of a sudden, like this.'

The big uniformed man standing beside her came over to Hackett, who introduced himself and Palliser. 'Glad to have you here, sir, I'm Bronson-I ought to be getting back on tour. That's the wife, by the way. See, what happened is, far as I can make it out, this guy-the chiropractor-had an evening appointment last night. He should've been in by at least midnight, only he wasn't. Naturally, I suppose, Mrs. Nestor sat up worrying, but maybe he used to step out on her once in a while, and she thought-well, anyway, it wasn't until about an hour ago she decided to do something about it and came down to his office. Found the front door locked, went round to the side, and saw that door'd been forced open-lock broken. She was afraid to go in alone, so she called in and I got chased over. And there he is, shot-and no gun, so I-'

'Well,' said Hackett. 'That about it? Wait a minute and show me that door, will you?' He went over to the woman. 'Mrs. Nestor?'

She looked up at him. 'Yes.'

'We're from headquarters. I'll want to ask you a few questions, but not right now. Will you stay here or would you rather go home?'

'Oh,' she said. 'Of course. No, that's all right, I'll wait. It just doesn't seem possible, that's all. So sudden.'

She was a woman in her early thirties, he judged, and ordinary-looking: not very attractive, what another woman might call mousy. Her hair was dun-colored, fluffed out around her thin sallow face in a too youthful style; she didn't have on much make-up, and she wore a plain, neat blue cotton dress, no stockings, a pair of saddle shoes with white ankle socks. Interestingly, she didn't seem to have been crying.

The patrolman led him out the single door at the rear of the room, to a short cross hall with several doors.

'Down here, sir.' The second outside entrance was on the right side of the building. The door had been forced: crudely forced, with something like a tire iron or, of course, a jemmy. This building sat between two much

Вы читаете Mark of Murder
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату