'Miss Corliss.'

'She's his office nurse. She phoned me to ask why he wasn't there. She hadn't a key to the office, you see, and of course the front door was locked. Well, of course, as you can understand, I didn't care to have her know I didn't know where Frank was. I do hope all this won't have to come out in the papers.” Her flat, emotionless voice was beginning to raise the hairs on Hackett's neck. 'So I told her he wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be in, she might as well go home. But it did seem peculiar, because it wasn't like him. So I came straight here-'

'Why, Mrs. Nestor? Apparently he wasn't here, you knew that.'

'I knew that, of course. The thought that just crossed my mind was that he had possibly decided to leave me, or just gone away somewhere on a little trip, and he might have left a note here. I didn't know, but it was possible. But when I saw his car in the parking lot at the side, of course it looked even odder, and then I saw that the side door had been forced. I didn't like to go in alone. I thought-well, I don't quite know what I thought, but I walked up to the drugstore on the corner and called the police.'

Hackett looked at her reflectively. That, he thought, was quite a story. From quite a female. Her dull eyes were unreadable. Had she still loved him enough to feel jealousy? Had she got to hating him enough to kill him? A very peculiar menage that had been, to say the least. And did that ring quite true, about why she'd come to the office? Not a very natural thing to do, or was it? He thought he'd ask her to let the lab give her a cordite test, though that wasn't always conclusive.

'Were you at home all last evening?' he asked. 'Alone?'

'Oh yes.' She gave the address readily: Kenmore Avenue. 'Frank left after dinner, about seven-thirty. I watched TV a little while, and did some mending, and then I realized he probably wouldn't be in until late, so I went to bed. That was about ten-thirty. It wasn't until this morning that I realized he hadn't come home at all.'

Horne, thought Hackett. My God. 'Do you have separate rooms?'

'Oh no, but, you see, I went to sleep.'

He looked at her again. It was early to come to any conclusions; he wasn't sure exactly how he felt about her story. He said, 'May I have your full name, please?'

'Andrea Lilian Nestor. My maiden name was Wayne.'

He thanked her. 'I think that's all I'll ask of you right now, Mrs. Nestor. We'll be in touch with you. I suppose you'd like to go home. Have you a car, or-'

'Oh no,' she said. 'I don't drive.'

'I'll have a car come and pick you up.'

'That's very kind of you,' she said, sounding surprised. 'I don't mind the bus. Could you tell me-I expect you'll want to do an autopsy, but should I make any arrangements?'

'For the-' That stopped him, the flatly practical question. He said, 'Not until we officially release the body.'

'Oh. I see. Well, thank you. I think,' said Andrea Nestor meditatively, 'I'll have him cremated?

Hackett went back to the private office down the hall. He felt shaken. He asked Marx if the phone had been printed; it had, and he called in for a car to take Mrs. Nestor home. He thought now, before he swallowed the obvious break-in and impersonal assault, he'd take a long hard look at Andrea Nestor and at Frank Nestor's social life.

And there was that Slasher, roaming around loose. Four in ten days. God. He wished Luis was home. He said to Palliser, 'Picked up anything?'

'Not much. His files look a little interesting.'

'Oh? How?'

'Well, this all looks very much in the money, doesn't it?' Palliser gestured round the room. 'But, according to his files, he didn't really have many regular patients. Maybe I'm no judge, but I'd say a setup like this should indicate quite a large practice-maybe, what, at least eighty, a hundred, more regular patients. Files on just thirty- six, and only about twenty of those seem, by the appointment book, to have been coming at all regularly. He charged six bucks an office visit.'

'You don't say,' said Hackett.

'All right to take it away?' The ambulance had arrived; a couple of interns were looking in the door. Bainbridge had already left.

Hackett glanced down at the body and said absently, 'Yes,' and then, 'Wait a minute.' He squatted down beside it. The right hand, closed, lay across the chest; he lifted it, turned it over. There was something clutched between finger and thumb; with some difficulty he pried loose the dead man's grip. 'Now this I don't believe,' he said. 'The clue straight out of Edgar Wallace.'

Palliser bent to look, and said he'd be damned.

It was a button. A very ordinary-looking button, very dark gray or black, with four little holes, and a tiny strand of thread still caught in one. A button about half an inch in diameter.

Palliser straightened up. 'Are we supposed to read it that he made a grab at the killer and got this instead of the gun? Talk about too good to be true-'

'Well, it could happen,' said Hackett. 'Just because it looks obvious- You know as well as I do, it's usually just what it looks like.”

'Sure,' said Palliser. 'So it is. You want to take his files along?'

'I'll see them later, here.' Hackett looked at his watch, said to the interns. 'O.K., he's all yours,' and looked round the office. Nothing much more to do here right now. Irrelevantly he thought of Roberto Reyes. Such a good boy. The fine marks at school. The priest talking about God's will.

In Hackett's book, the ones like the Slasher hadn't one damn thing to do with God's will.

Right now, he thought, his money would go-tentatively-on Andrea Nestor, as the X who had taken Frank Nestor off. Or maybe a jealous husband. Some work to do on it. But the hell of a lot more to do on the Slasher-as yet so very damned anonymous.

There was also the train wreck.

He said to Palliser, 'Come on, let's go have lunch. I'll be concentrating on this thing for a while, and we'll let Bert or somebody take over the routine on that Daylight thing. Agree with you, probably come up with nothing definite in the end. But this Slasher-damn it, who made up that one, I wonder?-we'll be working but damn hard. You haven't seen all the statements-'

'No, I've really just seen the Times. You want me to take over the routine on that?'

'I don't know yet,' said Hackett. 'Look, let's drop by the office and get those statements, go up to Federico's, OK.? You'd better be briefed, just in case.' Yes, this Nestor business looked like being tricky, but on the other hand the press was howling about the Slasher-and that was indeed quite a thing. Four in ten days… The berserk killer, the lunatic killer, who killed for little or no reason? Looked like that. And as yet practically nothing on him.

He wished Luis were here. He might just have one of his hunches about the Slasher. Which was wishful thinking, because you didn't get anywhere on one like that with irrational hunches. If you got anywhere it was by the patient plodding routine.

That woman. I think I'll have him cremated.

Let Palliser take over the routine on the Slasher? That I was getting the hell of a lot of publicity, the sooner they cleared it up the better. If they didn't yet have City Terrified of Random Slasher, they soon would have, way the press boys were carrying on…


He drank sugarless coffee glumly and watched Palliser reading the statements.

The first one had been the Skid Row bum, found in a cheap room in a shabby hotel on Third Street. They didn't even know his last name; a bartender down on the Row had identified him as 'a guy named Mike,' familiar down there, a wino. He'd been savagely knifed, and the body slashed and mutilated after he was dead. The desk clerk couldn't give anything but a very vague description of the man who had rented the room. 'They come 'n' go, you know,' he said nervously. The scrawled signature in the register was almost illegible; it might be Fred Rankin or Frank Tomkin or in fact anything you could make of it. The clerk did say he hadn't any luggage. Naturally, the clerk was pressed, as were the people on that floor. Nobody was at all helpful; the man just hadn't been noticed, and he'd taken the room only twelve hours before. Naturally, too, he hadn't been back.

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