Brett Halliday

Armed… Dangerous…


The taxi pulled up in front of a big, blank-faced apartment complex on New York’s upper West Side. The single passenger, a striking blond girl named Michele Guerin, leaned forward, puzzled by the reading on the meter.

She was wearing a beige suit, a good copy of an original from one of the Parisian dress houses, not much jewelry and little makeup. She was in her middle or late twenties. Her eyes were smoky blue and humorous, as if she considered her good looks and elegance a lucky accident which might just as well have happened to someone else.

“One dollar thirty,” she said, too precisely. “I must give you one seventy-five. No?”

“OK,” the driver said with a smile. “I’ll let you get away with one seventy-five.”

He took the two singles she handed him, made change, and leaned across to unlatch the door, a service New York taxi drivers don’t do for everybody. He had been wondering about her. He couldn’t quite fit her into any pigeonhole. Her accent was French, and her slowness in reading the meter probably meant that she hadn’t been long in this country. Nevertheless, she had none of the earmarks of a tourist. He had checked her for rings. She was unmarried. Maybe a professional model, he thought, except that those girls tend to be skinny, and in her case there was no question at all that there was a real woman inside the expensive clothes. Another thing he had noticed about models-their expression was often vaguely dissatisfied and sulky, as though they didn’t like having to show off clothes they couldn’t afford to own. And there was nothing sulky about this girl’s expression. An actress, he thought? But no, that didn’t seem to fit either.

He watched her click up to the big glass double doors. She was just as attractive going as coming. He sighed heavily, a reasonably contented married man with three small children, put the cab in gear and drove away.

Michele could have stayed at a much sleeker apartment, at a more fashionable address on the other side of the Park, but she had liked the anonymity of this place, with no doorman or concierge to notice when she came in or went out. One drawback was that she had to unlock the door herself, and after two weeks in New York she still didn’t have the knack. While she was struggling, a man came in behind her and pressed one of the doorbells in the long double column.

“Hey,” he said good-naturedly after watching her for a moment, “you’ve got it in upside down.”

“I haven’t!”

“Sure you have. Let an expert.”

A voice spoke from the mouthpiece beside the bells. “Yes?”

“Jake Melnick,” the man replied. “I’ve got a couple of stones I’d like to show you, Mr. Evans, if it’s all right to come up.”

“Why not?”

The buzzer unlocked the door. Melnick pushed it open with his foot, then took the girl’s key, turned it right side up and slid it into the lock.

“The trick is, don’t force it.”

She smiled gratefully. “I am absolutely no good at machinery of any kind.”

He gave her a speculative look. It was a familiar look to Michele, though she hadn’t received it as often in this country as she did in her own. The men in New York, many of them, seemed to have other things on their minds. She measured Melnick with a quick appraising glance. He was carelessly, almost sloppily, dressed, which she knew by experience didn’t mean he couldn’t afford anything better. He was thin to the point of emaciation. A lighted cigarette dangled from his lips. There were amused lines around his eyes, cynical lines around his mouth, a combination that always interested Michele. Not that she had time to do anything about it now.

They skirted a sofa and a low ornamental barrier of rubber plants. The lobby was empty except for a man opening an envelope at the end of a bank of mailboxes. Smooth, characterless music came from hidden outlets in the walls. Michele was sure that no one ever actually heard this music, just as she hadn’t ever seen anyone actually sitting on the lobby furniture.

An empty elevator was waiting. She pressed the button for the twelfth floor.

“I hear they give you a two-month concession when you sign a lease here,” Melnick said. “The wife and I have been thinking about it. How is it, not too noisy?”

Before she could reply, the man at the mailboxes turned and entered the elevator with them. He captured her attention instantly, and the thought jumped into her mind that under the pretense of reading his mail, he had actually been waiting for them to appear. That was impossible, of course. He was tall and broad-shouldered. His rumpled gabardine jacket was unbuttoned and the knot of his necktie was loose. The tiny button of a hearing-aid showed in one ear. He was dark-haired and ruggedly built, and he moved with the lounging grace of a professional athlete in top condition.

“Aren’t you in the diamond business?” he asked Melnick.

“Yeah,” Melnick said, surprised.

“Jake Melnick, sure. Melnick and Melnick.”

The door of the elevator closed, shutting them in. The big man glanced at the signal panel. There were eighteen floors in the building. A red light burned beside 12, Michele’s floor.

“Which for you, Jake? Eight?”

“Listen,” Melnick said, “I don’t know you and I don’t know what this is all about, but whoever you are-”

The car had barely got underway when the big man threw the emergency switch. The brakes grabbed with a sudden violence that sent Michele back against the wall.

“Sure you know what it’s all about,” the big man said easily. “Larry Evans in 8-C wants to give a dame a diamond. If you waited till tomorrow somebody else might beat you to the sale.”

“Let me out,” Michele said urgently. “Please let me out.”

“Keep in that corner, kid,” the big man told her quietly, without taking his eyes off Melnick. “Nobody’s going to get hurt but the insurance company. Now I show him the gun so he knows it’s serious.”

His big hand snaked under his left arm and came back with a heavy automatic. Michele’s hands were pressed to her mouth. Please, no resistance, she begged Melnick silently. Do what he says. She was carrying quite a bit of money herself-he could have it and welcome. And when he was gone she would have to persuade Melnick to leave her out of it. She couldn’t afford to be questioned by police. There might be photographers. This was fantastic! It couldn’t be real.

The cigarette still dangled from Melnick’s lower lip. It was trembling as his jaw trembled. He tried to say something.


The big man gave a sudden barking laugh and looked at Michele for the first time. His eyes were hard and dangerous. A tiny reckless spark burned in each.

“I was calling somebody and they gave me a crossed line. How do you like that? The best tip I ever had, and it didn’t cost me a cent.”

Getting down to business abruptly, he let the ugly muzzle of the automatic give Melnick his orders. The frightened diamond dealer raised his arms and the big man touched his pockets from the outside. The wallet was in an inside jacket pocket, attached by a short length of fine chain to a heavier chain around Melnick’s body. The big man jerked at it angrily, bringing Melnick up on his toes.

“Cautious bastard.”

He took up hard on the chain, twisting the diamond dealer against the wall. He laid the taut chain across the

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