~ FREE SAMPLE ~
- Three Men and a Queen
- Cinderella Girl
- Storm Signal
- Enter the Law
- Some Call It Murder
- Five Million ... and Ann
Three Men and a Queen
I lay quietly beneath the blankets, my eyes wide open, and stared at the gray dawn light beyond the open window. I felt the chill caress of the morning air on my face. I didn’t know what had awakened me. Maybe it was the quiet. The wind had died down, and the room of the cabin was filled with a creeping cold stillness.
Music drifted in the window. I thought I had dreamed it. Music faint and far away. The ghastly, lilting strains of the Blue Danube.
I flung back the blankets and moved to the window. The moon was almost gone, and the surface of the lake was covered with a thin mist. On the far shore the solid mass of black woods was broken by a tiny waving light close to the water’s edge. I rubbed my eyes, and tried to stare through the mist.
From close by a bird called shrilly, a lonesome sound in the morning stillness. The music was clear and sweet.
Tra-ra, tra-ra, TRA-TRA ….
The mist cleared a little in a soft gust of breeze, and the tiny moving light on the far shore became brighter. I remembered what I had said to Ann the night before: if you want me, just hang a lantern in the old belfry ….
I dressed quickly, ran down to the dock, and untied the rowboat. The surface of the lake was now smooth and glassy, and the rowing was easy. In a few minutes I approached the opposite shore, and looking over my shoulder I saw a small figure standing on the dock waving a light.
I guided the boat against the dock and looked up into Ann’s pale face. She had a flashlight in her hand, and she was wearing a heavy red woolen jacket over her slacks and sweater. I stepped to the dock, tied up the boat, and turned to face her.
“L-ee,” she said, “Lee … “
She began to tremble violently.
I grasped her shoulders and shook her a little.
“What’s the matter?” I asked sharply.
“I – I can’t wake him up,” he said in a choked voice. “He he’s so still.
A cold feeling started at the hack of my neck and crept down my spine. I took her arm, and started for tile big cabin at the edge of the woods.
She held back.
“I — I can’t, Lee. I don’t want to see him. I’ll wait here.”
I stared at her silently. Then I turned quickly, walked up the slope, and entered the cabin.
He lay in his bed where I had dumped him — flat on his back with the blanket pulled up to his chin. He hadn’t moved. I stooped down beside the bed and peered at him. There was a small bruised spot just behind his left ear where I had hit him. His eyes were half-open, and glazed. I didn’t have to feel for a heart-beat.
He was as dead as he would ever be ….
I said good-by to Ann Stark on a rainy afternoon in April of that same year. She was nice about it, and she tried to make it light and gay. The rain beat on the windshield of my car, and the traffic hummed past on the wet street as we sat parked before Ann’s apartment house.
“You’re too nice a guy, Lee,” she said. “I’d lead you a hell of a life.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Don’t look like that. There are a million other girls.”
“Sure,” I said.
She leaned over and kissed me lightly on the cheek.
“Good-by, honey. Be good.”
Then the car door slammed, and only the sweet scent of her was left.
I watched her as she ran across the rain-spattered sidewalk, a small slender girl with trim ankles and short curly black hair. A bright plaid rain cape was thrown over her square little shoulders, and her high heels went click-click-click over the cement. She disappeared into the building without a backward glance.
I lit a cigarette and stared at the passing cars.
A private dick had no business falling in love.
Keep it light and gay, Lee, old boy!
There were a million girls. Just pick out one, and forget about Ann Stark, a cute little number with wide blue eyes who was giving you the pitch for a beefy college football star.
Not that Ann adored college football stars, but it just happened that Jack Pitt had inherited the entire estate of the Pitt Tobacco Company. Golden Glow Cigarettes.
I drove up town. By the time I’d parked my car and was entering Guido’s Cafe the rain had stopped, and a yellow afternoon sun was slanting over the city.
Guido was a fat Italian with a big nose and a drooping 1908 mustache.
“You are early, Meester Fiske,” he said gravely. “I did not expect you until six, but everything is arranged.”
He held up a pudgy hand and began to count on his fingers.
“Martini cocktails, very dry; shrimp with tobasco sauce; spaghetti with meatballs Guido; Palermo cheese, toasted crackers; coffee.”
He looked at me with bright eyes.
I laid a bill on the bar.
“Give it to the help — except the martinis. I’ll take those.”
He shoved the bill toward me.
“You do not have to pay, if you do not eat.” He sighed heavily. “I am very sorry, Meester Fiske.”
“Don’t be,” I told him. “I am probably lucky.”
He made me a double martini, and I drank it while Guido pretended to be busy at the far end of the bar. After a while I went out. The sun was gone, and the rain had started again. The traffic lights looked murky in the softly falling rain. I got into my car, and I drove slowly through the wet streets.
I didn’t want to, but I thought about Ann Stark. I thought about how I had met her the previous summer at a weekend party at a friends’ house on the bay. She was a secretary to an old pappy who was president of a mattress factory, and she hated her job.
We had walked out on the beach, and I had kissed her, and she had laughed and said, “Are you really a detective, Lee? I thought they were only in books and movies.”
“I’m not the kind you see in the movies,” I told her, “but that’s how I make my living — if anybody can call it a living.”
“Tell me about it, Lee.”
I told her as best I could. How the work of a private dick is mostly leg work, and asking questions, and snooping, and checking court records for maybe twenty bucks a day, if you’re lucky; a little excitement once in a while, but not much, and mostly just deadly routine for different people with different private worries.
I didn’t tell her much, because I wanted to kiss her again, and I did. While I held her somebody inside the house put the Blue Danube on the record player, and the music drifted out to us and blended with the night and the sweet, clean scent of Ann Stark. After a while we walked to the house to be greeted by friendly shouts and whistles.
I saw her often after that, that summer and all through the winter. We drank together, and ate together, saw hockey games and movies and plays, and. of course, the Blue Danube became our favorite song. I was happy — except for the times when I would see a glitter in her blue eyes when she saw a twelve-cylinder convertible, or a woman in a mink coat.
Once she said seriously, “Why don’t you make more money, Lee?”
I grinned at her.
She patted my hand.
“You’re not dumb, and I like you.”
~ End of Sample ~