That was the situation when they found Florence Dahl. Or rather when the woman in the next room found her and made enough noise to bring the nearest traffic cop on the run. They knew most of what there was to know about Florence-she had a string of arrests and fines for soliciting and resorting-but that wasn't any help in finding who'd killed her. Florence had gone downhill in twenty years at the game and was taking any customers she could get. She'd been living in a sleazy rooming house on Grand Avenue, and a couple of women, the same types as Florence, who had rooms on the same floor, had told go them a little. From what they'd heard. Some man Florence had brought home that night, shouting and swearing something awful there in her room. Couldn't remember anything specific he'd shouted, except that one woman insisted he'd kept saying, 'Every ham's gaining on me,' which hardly made sense however you interpreted it. That had been about nine o'clock; only those two women and the landlady home, besides Florence. It hadn't gone on very long, or probably in due course the landlady-tolerant though she was-would at least have gone up and banged on the door. He'd stopped shouting, and maybe ten minutes later they'd heard the door of Florence's room slam, and heard him go downstairs and out.

None of them had laid eyes on him, of course.

And that was when he started to look more important, because Dr. Bainbridge and the lab had linked those two murders. On account of the knife, and the M.O. Florence too had been stabbed, slashed, and mutilated. 'It looks like a very unusual knife,' said Bainbridge. 'From what we can figure out, measuring the wounds and so on, about half the edge is serrated-like a bread knife, you know. It's not a standard size-I don't think it's a commercially made knife, though that's just a guess. The blade's about eleven inches long, give or take half an inch, and unusually wide-about two and a half inches.'

'Quite a snickersnee,' said Palliser now, reading statements over coffee.

Hackett agreed glumly. In deference to his diet he'd ordered only a large salad and coffee, and was still hungry.

He tried not to imagine what Angel had had for lunch. They were still taking statements on Florence when the body of Theodore Simms was found in an alley on Flower Street, close in to downtown. All his identification left on him, but his mother said he'd have had a little over five dollars in his wallet, and that was missing. Simms had just lost his job as wholesale salesman for a small local firm-no fault of his, the company had been laying off, having hit a slump-and was looking for another. He was Number Three all right, treated just like the first two-stabbed, slashed, and mutilated savagely.

Several people vaguely identified him as having been in a small bar on Flower Street about nine o'clock that night. The bartender was more definite; he said Simms had had two beers, and that the man sitting next to him had started talking to him. Said Simms hadn't done much of the talking, and he hadn't heard anything of what the other man said himself, but they'd left together. What had the second man looked like? 'Hell, sort of ordinary, I guess. I was busy, I just noticed out o' the tail of my eye, you know? About medium height, I guess, not very fat or very thin-hell, I wouldn't want to guess how old. Only thing I do remember, he had two straight whiskies and he paid me with a silver dollar and two dimes.'

End of the line on Simms. That alley would be pretty dark at night.

By then Hackett had reached the conclusion that this was a bad one, the kind that killed on impulse for no reason, or a lunatic reason. Fourteen-year-old Roberto Reyes just confirmed that.

Roberto's mother had called in last night, when he failed to come home after the Boy Scout meeting at the Y.M.C.A. 'Always he is so good, to come straight home, and it is only the few blocks he has to walk.?Dios me libre! God forbid it, but I think of the accident-he knows to be careful, but children-'

But they hadn't found Roberto until the middle of this morning. A couple of kids, taking a short cut through another alley facing on Second Street, had found Roberto. Number Four.

Eventually, with the priest soothing Mama's hysterics and the other kids standing around crying, Hackett had got a few pertinent facts out of Manuel Reyes. The boy was always prompt about coming home; he wasn't supposed to be out late. The meeting would have been over about eight o'clock, and the Y.M.C.A. was only four blocks away from the Reyes home on Witmer Street. Yes, Roberto would have walked down Second Street on his way home. But he would not have talked to a stranger, gone anywhere with a stranger… Well, perhaps, if some person had asked him for directions, something like that-he was a very polite boy, he would always want to be helpful. '?Ah, que atrocidad!?Para que? That this should happen to us-such a good boy always, such line marks at school-'

' Se combrende,' Hackett had said gently. ' Lo siento en la alma. We'll find whoever did it, Mr. Reyes, and he'll be punished.'

Which would mean a lot to Roberto, wouldn't it? he thought. And it was something to work, with practically no evidence on the killer. And no tie-up to any of the victims.

'A kid,' said Palliser now. 'No reason for it-you figure he just runs amok all of a sudden? And how the hell-'

'It's the only way you can figure it,' said Hackett. 'Come on, let's get back. And the hell of it is, no make on him at all. That damn bar so dark, nobody could say even what color he was. Though I suppose that desk clerk would have noticed whether he- Yes, the ones like Florence are used to funny customers, so nobody investigated right away. And Simms- Well, you can see there's practically no evidence on it, but we've got to work it. Because one like that-maybe those aren't the first people he's used that knife on, and they sure as hell won't be the last, unless we catch up to him.'

'So, you have any ideas where to start looking?' asked Palliser.

'Some,' said Hackett tersely. 'For one thing, these four kills all happened inside a fairly small area-all downtown. Roughly inside about a twelve-block square. All right. We know that our Slasher-damn it, might as well call him that-once took a hotel room, and in that area. At least it's practically certain that the man who rented that room is the one who left the body in it. The fellow called Mike would probably go anywhere with anybody who promised him a drink,?como no? Anybody could get taken to Florence's room. The indication seems to be, on Simms, that this fellow got talking to him at the bar, for some reason followed him out. And we can't guess on the Reyes boy, but I want to talk to some of the other kids at that meeting, find out if any of them took the same direction. Or I did want to. Now, with this Nestor thing in our laps, I think I'll let you do that. See the kids. And we're also going to set every man we've got free looking at every hotel inside that area, for a signature to match up to the one in that hotel register. We've got photographs of it. Have some more prints made up if you need them, and send out some men.'

'Hell of a job,' said Palliser. 'But, of course, the first thing to try, I see that. You're going to work the Nestor killing?'

'I think I'll go back and poke around his office some,' said Hackett thoughtfully. 'And it might be the obvious thing, just what it looks like, but on the other hand there are a couple of funny little things about it. And that woman- Yes, you get on with that, I'll probably be back about three anyway to see if they got any interesting prints… Everything always comes at once. I wish to God Luis was here… '


When Hackett turned into the parking lot beside Nestor's office he saw a second car there beside Nestor's. Nestor's white Buick convertible was parked in the slot nearest the side door, and the other car had been parked in the next slot, so the Buick's length partly hid it. There was movement there at its rear; a woman straightened and began to walk around the car, saw him turning in, and paused.

Hackett pulled his Ford in on the other side of the Buick and got out. He ought to have left a man here, he thought, angry at himself. He went up to the woman, who had waited for him. 'Detective Sergeant Hackett,' he said curtly. 'Are you one of Dr. Nestor's patients?' He wondered suddenly about that; if Nestor was doing so well, he'd scarcely have had a morning free of appointments, but nobody had shown up.

'Oh no, I'm his nurse. Margaret Corliss.' She was a woman about forty, and not trying to look younger. A little too plump, and careless make-up; she had short, straight dark hair and dark eyes behind plastic-rimmed glasses. She was in a white uniform and sensible flat-heeled white shoes. 'Mrs. Nestor called and told me the awful news, about Doctor. I couldn't believe it at first. It just doesn't seem possible. But then I thought I'd better come down and call all the patients who had appointments. I expected the police would be here, and it would be

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