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Born To The Badge by Stuart Friedman
Brad dropped to one knee and fire …
F.B.I.

Born To The Badge

by Stuart Friedman

F.B.I. Detective Stories | Oct. 1950 | Vol. 3, No. 3 THE RED FILE | Aug. 26, 2018 | Vol. 12 No. 44

Yesterday he'd lost his job, his badge and his future because of the mockingly beautiful juror; today he had to risk his very life --- for the sake of her kidnapped child.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Juror No. 5

Brad walked leadenly, eyes lustreless below his hatbrim, head turtled in the upturned collar of his overcoat. He didn’t know what he was going to do from one aimless step to the next. He began looking in the windows of the bars he passed. He might get drunk. Even a hangover would be pain that a man could deal with, something to blot out the deeper pain.

One hour ago he had been suspended as a Special Agent of the FBI. He, Brad Keating, was the sort of man who created feelings of fear instead of respect for the Bureau. As a trial witness he had sounded vindictive, inhuman, the Federal Prosecutor had said. He had swung jury sympathy, despite irrefutable evidence, to transform a vicious, murdering rat into a martyr. So the jury had failed to reach a verdict and Brogan was out on bail.

Abruptly Brad stopped walking as he stared through the window of a bar. Sitting sideways on a front stool was the young woman who had been juror number five. She was looking across the shoulder of her caracul fur coat toward the window.

As at the trial, she wore her dark hair sleeked tight to one side of her head and massed loosely on the other side. It gave her a look of always carrying her head at a slight, mocking tilt. A beauty mark in the outer corner of one of her long, black eyes made that eye look longer. It accented the look of mockery, of secret knowledge, on her thin, pretty face.

The sight of her made Brad’s fists knot in his pockets. He was sure she was one of the jurors who had ignored all evidence and logic to side with a killer. Maudlin minds like hers, filled with muzzy ideas of criminal glamour, made a farce of the law. His face, with its strong upper breadth and sharp, decisive tapering below the cheekbones, came alive with anger.

The girl leaned forward slightly, her eyes slitting, the mass of hair along one side of her face swaying forward. She seemed to recognize him. Brad moved irritably away and stood against the wall, nerves and muscles locking against his raw fury.

He fought to distract himself. The walks surged with homebound office workers. Bright-faced girls hugging purses to their coats hurried along in groups, galoshes dumping the wet cement, their pent-up spirits spilling in exuberant chatter. Lights from cars, stores, marquees diffused softly through a lazy drift of fast-melting snow.

He looked and listened and still that mocking face was the only reality. He knew if he went near her his anger would whiplash. He forced himself to walk past the entrance door. But the tension held, relentless. He turned back and entered the bar.

Just inside the door he stopped himself again, probed under his coat and got cigarettes from his suit pocket. He looked at everything but the girl once he had lighted up. A man left a back bar stool for a telephone booth, a waitress slapped playfully at a man drinking with a party in a booth.

The prosecutor had exaggerated Brad’s conduct as a witness. But the defense lawyer had made him lose his temper. He saw with a sudden insight that it would be intimidation of a juror, terrorism, for him to approach that girl in anger. He would be really proving that he was unfit to represent the Department of Justice.

He went over to the comer of the bar, his features eased.

“Yours, sir?” a pleasant-faced bartender asked.

“Bourbon. Any brand. Make it double. Water on the side.”

He felt sober enough now that he had his perspective to trust himself with a good drink. He let his glance slide toward the girl. She was staring fixedly at him. He nodded in simple, impersonal recognition. She seemed to wince, and her eyes widened.

At the sound of a phone, its ring subdued under the pleasant blurr of talk through the bar, the girl’s head snapped around. She stared as the proprietor at the cash register halfway down the bar answered the phone. There was a brittle set to her clear profile.

“Is that call for me?” she called in a thin, almost shrill voice. “I’m Mrs. Mac-Nair. I told you I was expecting — “

As the proprietor nodded and came carrying the phone on an extension cord, the MacNair girl stood and reached for it. She grasped the handset before the proprietor had the instrument set on the bar in front of her. In her nervous haste she answered before the mouthpiece was near her face.

“Hello,” she repeated. Her voice was ragged with anxiety. Several people along the bar stopped talking to look at her.

There was an intent set to her profile as she listened. Brad saw that she was swallowing repeatedly.

“But I didn’t call them!” she blurted. “Wait. Please, wait. I swear I didn’t. I don’t know why. . . . Hello — hello — “ She began to jiggle the breaker bar. “Hello!” she said desperately.

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Chapter 2

The Kidnappers

A hush had fallen over the bar. She started to replace the handset when her thin hand began to shake violently. One end of the handset fell out of the cradle noisily.

“You all right?” the proprietor asked worriedly, cradling the handset, peering at her as she slumped back on the stool.

She nodded numbly. She turned her head and directed a glassy stare at Brad. Her features showed the pallor of shock. She kept looking at him, and although she seemed unable to speak he knew she was trying to communicate with him. He went to her.

“Why did you come here, Mr. Keating?” she said, barely aloud. “My little girl has been kidnapped. Now they may kill her. They think I called the FBI.”

Her anguish, somehow more terrible because of her effort to control it, made Brad’s throat constrict. He checked the flood of extraneous questions he wanted to ask.

“When they contact you again — “

“They won’t!” she cried.

“Tell them I was suspended. I’m not an FBI man. Tell them to check. It’s true. And I know they’ll contact you again.”

He spoke rapidly, then turned and edged through the little group that had crowded around. He moved rapidly back along the bar, his gaze trained narrowly on the phone booth. It was empty. He scanned booths and bar and failed to see the man who had gone to that phone booth just after he came in and just before the call to Mrs. MacNair.

Brad veered over to a vacant bar stool, beckoned the bartender who stood drawing a beer and peering toward the activity in the front.

“Do you remember a short, thick-set man in a light gray hat and dark blue overcoat who was sitting along the bar here?”

“Yeah. Ed Kromm. He went back to the phone. What happened to Mrs. MacNair up there? What’s she crying about? You a cop?”

“I’m not a cop. I’m just looking for this guy. He’s not in the phone booth. You don’t remember seeing him come out?”

“I didn’t even know he wasn’t still back there,” the bartender said, squinting toward the booth. “I guess he must be up front.”

A blonde with a Martini at the next stool motioned to Brad with her head. He moved near.

“That fellow he called Kromm went out the back way. He just left just before you came back here.”

“Thanks.”

Brad went through the back door into a deserted rectangular areaway at the foot of the building’s back stairs. He stood an instant listening for a footstep or a telltale creak from above. Hearing nothing, he moved silently across to the pair of double doors which he calculated would open into the alley. Then he looked down at the concrete floor. It was bone dry.

Brad depressed the latch-release crossbar of one of the doors, opened it experimentally. As he had anticipated, an inward draft brought the snow swirling inside. It lay a slanting wet strip on the concrete.

Brad went back into the bar, his eyes flicking at once to the place where his helpful blonde friend had sat. She was gone. He spotted her an instant later hurrying along in back of the short, stubby overcoated figure of Ed Kromm.

They were out the front door before Brad was halfway to the front. Following swiftly, he angled his glance toward Mrs. MacNair, who sat covering her face with her hands, the center of worried attention from a dozen people including the proprietor. A quick pang went through Brad’s chest. He would never forgive himself if anything happened to her little girl as a result of his coming in here, with hate in his heart.

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Chapter 3

Kromm and the Blonde

Outside, Brad saw Kromm and the blonde getting in a cab twenty feet to the right. When the blonde was in, Kromm paused to stare back at the bar. Even through the luminous snow curtain Brad knew Kromm saw him. If it had been Kromm who phoned Mrs. MacNair, he would figure Brad as one strand in a closing FBI net. His nerve might unravel to the point of killing the child under that pressure. Kromm ducked swiftly into the cab.

Brad set out at a driving, broken-field run, leaving a wake of startled pedestrians. The blonde’s face showed in a ghostly oval at the back window as Brad left the curb, his slamming feet splashing the gutter slush. The cab’s motor growled and an expanding vapor plume rose from the exhaust as the cab rolled away in first. Brad spurted and shot an arm ahead. He struck with the flat of his hand against the high rear fender several times.

The loud drumming alerted the driver, who locked brakes. The sharp red glare of brake lights leaped to life and smeared in a vivid pink cloud through the exhaust vapor. The cab rocked gently on its springs as Brad grabbed the back door handle and wrenched the door open.

On the seat beside the open door Kromm’s thick upper body leaned forward toward Brad like a tilted block. His head tilted back like a smaller counterbalance, green eyes looking up at Brad. The top button of Kromm’s dark overcoat was unbuttoned and his right hand was thrust in under the coat. He sat frozen in the middle of a draw from a shoulder holster.

Brad raised his hand very slowly and unbuttoned the top button of his overcoat. There was a deadly, nerveless control in the motion of his fingers. Threat lines formed about his eyes and hardened the sharp lower part of his face like a cutting wedge.

Kromm sat spellbound, his awe of an FBI man’s reputation for speed and accuracy turning him into a spectator watching a miracle. Brad slid his hand under his opened coat and then remained as motionless as Kromm. He didn’t have a gun. But Kromm didn’t know it.

Kromm blinked rapidly and some of the dark color of his square red face seeped away. He waited for Brad to break the stalemate. Brad did nothing for what seemed an eternity. He let the pressure build.

Then Kromm began to seem aware of the crowd gathered on the sidewalk, of the slack-mouthed blonde beside him, of the cabbie staring hypnotized back at them. He kept looking back at Brad, but it was clear he wanted distraction, escape; he couldn’t bear the tension. And that was just the advantage Brad wanted to make sure that that motionless gun ann of Kromm’s stayed harmless.

Brad said quietly, “Maybe you know that a special agent never draws a gun except as a final resort. Before an FBI man draws a gun he must be convinced that there is no other way out except by shooting to kill. I hope I never have to do that. Take your hand slowly out of your coat, mister. Bring it out in the open very, very slowly, and empty.”

The blonde shrilled, “Do like he said, Ed! He ain’t going to shoot unless you shoot. Do like he said!”

Kromm withdrew his hand, empty. Brad ducked into the cab, shutting the door to extinguish the interior lights. Crouching over Kromm in the semi-darkness, he reached in and withdrew the flat, heavy .45 automatic from the shoulder holster. Palming the gun, he pulled out a jump-seat with his other hand. He eased his weight onto the seat, facing back toward the pair, covering them with the gun. The crowd of curious onlookers on the walk was growing.

“Let’s get away from the crowd,” Brad told the driver. “Go around the block, then stop at the bar just back of us.”

“Suits me.” The cab pulled away. “You’re a Fed, huh?”

Brad sidestepped an answer. “This is a kidnap case. Did they tell you where to take them?”

“Kidnap!” The driver swore as they had to stop in a line waiting for a traffic signal and revved the motor with noisy impatience. “They give me an address. Fifteenth and Eastway. I’m knocking my brains to remember what’s special out there…. Hey — I got it! A girl’s boarding school is there in the old General Herschell home.”

As the cab moved and made the corner turn. Brad directed his gaze at the blonde. “That where the kid is?” he asked.

She regarded him in sullen silence. He could see only one of her hands, resting on the suede purse on the lap of her fur coat. Her other hand was in the purse. He reached out, locked his fingers around the forearm of the hand inside the purse. He jerked her arm straight up.

“What the hell!” she shrilled as the purse contents spilled onto her lap, the seat and floor. He could feel the steely set of her forearm muscles under her coat sleeve.

“Unclench the fist, honey,” Brad said smoothly, tightening the pressure of his fingers. He freed her arm suddenly as a shiny little nickel-plated revolver dropped from the purse. He caught the gun as it slid from her coat to the seat space between her and Kromm. He pocketed the gun.

“Now, what were you saying about Fifteenth and Eastway?”

“Nobody said nothing!” Kromm blustered.

“Have it your way,” Brad said. “But don’t tickle my trigger finger by finding more guns before I can frisk you.”

The crowd had dispersed when the cab completed circuit of the block. Brad spoke tersely to the driver.

“This is the bar,” Brad said. The cab parked. “The mother of the victim is inside. A Mrs. MacNair, a dark-haired pretty woman, about twenty-five. She’s at the front.”

“I’ll get her.” The driver crossed the walk at an aggressive swagger, head ducked forward. He opened the door of the bar, planted himself on the sill and bellowed.

“Where’s Mrs. MacNair? You her, lady? C’mon, follow me then. It’s important.”

The driver marched back to the cab, scowling. The MacNair girl followed, trim legs in fur-top galoshes in rapid motion, the strip of dark pleated skirt below the hem of her caracul fur coat jouncing. Flakes of snow caught briefly in the soft mass of hair along one side of her head. Brad swung the door open for her, pulled down the other jump seat.

“What is it, Mr. Keating?” she said, her voice low and vibrant. She blinked away a weightless flake of snow that settled in her eye lashes as she entered. She sat on the jump seat and swivelled her body around.

The driver shut the door and got in. “Fifteen and Eastway, chief?”

“Right,” Brad said.

The MacNair girl caught the back of the front seat and the back of the jump seat, balancing her taut body between her hands as the cab started with a jolt. Her dark eyes cast nervous, questioning’ glances at the pair on the back seat, at the gun Brad held, at Brad’s face.

“Do you know these people, Mrs. MacNair?”

“No I don’t,” she said, staring fixedly at Kromm and then at the blonde.

“Mr. Kromm is going to talk to you,” Brad said. “See if you know his voice.”

Kromm sagged lumpishly against the back cushion, directing a steady, baleful glare at Brad. His mouth tightened visibly.

“Mr. Kromm,” Brad repeated, leaving a threatening space between each word, “is going to talk to you. He will say: ‘Mrs. MacNair, you were warned not to call the FBI.’ “

The girl’s upper body stiffened. “That’s almost exactly the words the man used,” she breathed.

Kromm shifted irritably. One side of his face was illumined from store lights through the windows. Brad could see the quick pulselike bulging and relaxing of his jaw muscles.

“Why won’t he talk?” the MacNair girl cried angrily. “If he’s not the one then he’s not.”

Kromm’s voice exploded in profanity. Then he demanded. “Take me in and book me so I can get a mouthpiece, G-man. I know my rights. Book me. You got nothing on me.”

Mrs. MacNair spoke, and for a moment her voice shocked Brad. There was a coldness and a hollow quality to it as though it rose from a deep cavern.

“That’s the man who telephoned me, Mr. Keating. That is the voice. Where is Sandra, Mr. Kromm? Where is my child?”

“Look here, I never phoned this babe. I don’t know nothing, G-man. Take me in right now, see? I want a mouthpiece.”

“I am not a G-man, Mr. Kromm. I was fired this afternoon.”

“Then leave me out of here, damn you! You got no right to hold me.”

The MacNair girl said: “He’s the man, Mr. Keating.”

“I know it. Kromm, I told you I’ve been suspended as a special agent. I was suspended because 1 sounded like a terrorist at a murder trial. I’ve never had the pleasure of letting down the bars and acting like one, though. Nothing’s stopping me now! I’m free of obligation to treat you as though you were entitled to civilized judicial processes. And if you don’t lead me to that child I’m going to kill you.”

“Hell, what more you want, huh? You’re goin’ to the kid, ain’t you?”

The blonde cried: “Listen, that kid don’t even know she is kidnapped. All we done was take her and put her in the school. We just wanted Mrs. MacNair to think the kid was kidnapped, that’s all!”

“All!” Mrs. MacNair cried. “I’ve been crazy with it!”

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Chapter 4

The Note

She turned forward on the jump seat. Brad watched in puzzlement as she crossed a leg over her knee. She bent and tugged her furtop galosh off. The shoe came with it. She thrust a hand inside and maneuvered the high-heel black suede pump out. She began to gouge with her nails at an edge of the sole. She worked a finger into a gap and then pulled, ripping the stitching of the sole. She took a folded envelope out.

“I saved this,” she said tensely, turning sideways on the seat toward Brad, unfolding the envelope. She pulled out a sheet of paper.

“Read this.”

“I can’t, now. Read it to me.”

“It’s typed. It says: ‘We have Sandra. If you want to see her again do not report this. Vote for acquittal. It is up to you to be there to vote, so don’t try falling sick or in any way disqualifying yourself. Save his life, save her life. Bribe the bellboy to get you to a phone. Call your home to verify. Warn your sister and brother-in-law to remain as silent as you. Destroy this.’ It wasn’t addressed to me by name, and it wasn’t signed.”

“It mentions bellboy,” Brad said. “Did you get it while you were in the hotel where the jury was quartered?”

“Yes. The bellboy came with icewater that I hadn’t ordered. Last night. He gave me the note. He thought it was a message about my little girl from my family; he knew I missed the baby and he thought he was doing me a favor.

“I didn’t have to bribe him to get to a phone. He spirited me to a room that I could call from. We weren’t permitted outside phone service in the rooms assigned to us, you know. We weren’t supposed to talk to anybody. I phoned Sis. I live with her and her husband since my husband died two years ago. Sis told me it was true, the baby was gone. I swore her and my brother-in-law to secrecy. I said I’d stay on that jury and keep it from convicting.

“Mr. Keying, I knew he was a murderer, and a terrible man. The evidence you presented, and all your testimony showed it; it was so horribly clear just what sort Brogan was, that — that I was paralyzed. I had to vote as I did. I didn’t have any real choice.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Brad said, his voice soft. He turned to Kromm and said harshly: “How’d you get the child?”

The blonde answered.

“I had a phony policewoman’s badge and fake credentials. The credentials were all ready for me when me and Ed hit town yesterday. Brogan’s mouthpiece gave them to me.”

“You mean,” Brad asked incredulously, “that you were actually aided and abetted by an attorney in kidnapping for the purpose of intimidating a juror? And he provided the means for impersonation of an officer of the law for criminal purposes?”

“In English, hell yes.”

“And you two were imported for the job? Where from?”

“L.A. — Brogan’s mouthpiece phoned the boss out there, offering five Gs for imported talent. Things ain’t been goin’ so good for me in the acting business for a few years, and Ed here lost his private-eye license. We were into the boss for over a grand. We never knew what the setup was going to be when we hopped the plane. All we knew was it was a job.”

“In eager innocence you thought it would be a part in a show for the benefit of homeless crippled orphans!” Brad said bitingly.

“How’d you guess? Well, anyways, J. Brogan’s mouthpiece had everything set up. He’d had private eyes getting the lowdown on every juror. He knew all their family connections. The MacNair dame here had a setup that looked like she’d hurt easiest. So it wasn’t nothing personal with me. That’s how life Is, ain’t it? Find out the soft spot and hit there.

“So I went out to the MacNair dame’s sister and I had a typed note with a fake signature. I showed my badge and said I was attached to the court and I didn’t know what was in the note, but I knew the juror had received permission to have her little daughter spend the night in the hotel with her. I showed my gun and convinced her I intended to protect the court’s interests, and the child was the court’s interest. I gave a little line about being a mother myself — so anyway I got the kid.

“Ed and me brought her to the school. I posed as the kid’s aunt. I told the woman who runs the place that the kid had been promised she’d see her mother, so she might cry, but it was impossible for her mother to get back to town for another day, and I had to leave. The school wasn’t suspicious because nobody knew there was a kidnapping. Then Ed phoned the sister and told her it was a snatch and to keep her trap shut until she heard from the kid’s mother. By then Ed had figured the bellhop would have got the note to Mrs. MacNair.”

“Hell!” Brad said. “Brogan’s lawyer went through all that? For what? He couldn’t intimidate the whole jury. Brogan will be re-tried. He’ll never get acquittal!”

Kromm laughed coarsely. “Don’t bet on that, Fed!”

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Chapter 5

The School

Brad’s motion was so unplanned, so swift that it shocked him. He lashed out with the gun and clubbed Kromm over the eye. The MacNair girl gasped involuntarily beside him. The blonde merely stiffened, watching apprehensively. Kromm made a short, grunting sound and put his hand up to his head. The blow had cut the skin, and a little blood trickled down toward the corner of his eye.

Brad eased back, feeling the rapid pound of his heart. He had to keep a better grip than this on himself — at least until that child was safe.

The driver called back: “Next street’s Fifteenth, chief. The school’s around the corner on Fifteenth.”

“Good. Sooner we’re there the better. Soon as you drop us off call the police, will you?”

“Sure will, chief!”

Kromm hunched forward and spoke in a grating jeer.

“Brogan’s next trial will be another song, Fed! The government didn’t show all its hand to get the indictment. But it put every card on the table during that trial, pal. Including a couple of witnesses you had kept secret. Well, they ain’t secret now. And by the next round in court they won’t be worth a damn as witnesses. They got families, too! Like Mrs. MacNair! Get it? And furthermore that mouthpiece is smart enough to take every other point of evidence that you laid out on the table for him and knock the props out from under it. And if you blast me to hell, remember, Fed, I’ll be laughing at you down there — and waiting for you. And I won’t have to wait long!”

“He sure won’t,” the blonde said. “Because, tough-guy Fed, Brogan knows that you ain’t the kind of a witness that can be intimidated. He knows there’s only one way to stop you. Keep thinkin’ about it!”

The cab was turning the corner onto Fifteenth. Mrs. MacNair gave a final tug to her galosh, then sat biting her underlip, peering ahead. Suddenly she reached over and clutched the sleeve of his overcoat, as though she had to cling to something.

“I can’t stand it,” she whispered hoarsely. “They wouldn’t talk that way to you if they didn’t think you might kill them. And you wouldn’t kill them unless — unless — “

“Don’t lose your grip! The child will be there. And safe. I know that. I know!” He repeated, needing the emphasis to convince himself.

The cab slowed before the twin globes of light surmounted on pillars flanking the schoolgrounds entrance. Beyond the gates, which were closed, Brad could see the glow of lights from all the four floors of the converted mansion. The cab stopped, and he spotted an open walk alongside the driveway gates. Opposite the grounds was a big, blue sedan parked across the street.

Mrs. MacNair swung open the door, stepped out. Brad followed shortly, backing his way out, keeping Kromm and the blonde covered. Brad spoke rapidly over his shoulder, giving orders to the MacNair girl:

“Go on into the grounds, fast. Get inside the school. Get the police from there. Run!”

She didn’t answer in words, but streaked through the walk entrance and out of sight. Brad glanced again over the top of the cab at the sedan. It seemed to be unoccupied. Both the blonde and Kromm were looking transfixedly at that car, moving in slow-motion silence to get out of the cab. Then they were on the walk beside him. He shut the cab door and the driver pulled away fast, the cab tires kicking up a spray.

Brad said: “Even if that is Brogan’s car across there it won’t do you a damned bit of good. Get headed up the walk to the school.”

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Chapter 6

J. Brogan

There was a sharp crack of sound. Kromm coughed, a deep, choppy sound, and his mouth fell open and he stared and toppled toward Brad. Brad whipped around, dropped to one knee and fired across at the sedan. One of the windows was down, and the barrel of a rifle pointed toward them.

His first shot shattered a front wing window. The rifle fired again and he heard the bullet rip into Kromm’s body.

The blonde had started to run, shrieking in terror, along the sidewalk toward Eastway. She ran past the school entrance and the glow from the globes atop the entrance pillars outlined her clearly. Suddenly her arms leaped up and to the sides as though she had taken off into space flight. But the impact of the rifle bullet in her back drove her upper body too fast for her legs and she hit the wet cement walk face down, and she didn’t stir or make a sound.

The rifleman’s body had been clearly visible for seconds, but it dropped from view as the blonde fell. Brad held his fire and charged the car. The rifle barrel came out the window at an upslant, and started to lower as the rifleman’s body came up into view.

Brad didn’t give him a chance to take aim. He fired at close range through the window. He fired again and a third time. The rifle thumped onto the floor inside the car. Brad pulled open the door, and Brogan with his face half shot away fell out onto the street, dead.

Brad let him lie. He went into the school grounds and up onto the veranda of the old building. A group of elderly women and high school girls in starchy white-collared gray uniforms were clustered about the open door. They stared at him as if he were a ghost and opened a path for him.

The MacNair girl was in the office laughing hysterically, one arm convulsing and relaxing around the chunky little body of a solemnly pigtailed little moppet in a pinafore. The moppet squinted up at him suspiciously and suddenly asked indignantly :

“Did you get my Mommy drunk?”

“No, darling. No.” He crouched down before her. “I just told her funny stories.”

“Well, I don’t think I want you to do that any more.”

“He won’t, baby. He won’t.”

“Would you like it if it was you I told the funny stories to?” Brad asked, grinning.

“Yes.”

“All right, it’s a date. Tomorrow night.”

He got up and went over to a telephone on a rolltop desk. He started dialing the local FBI number, watching the two of them.

The MacNair woman looked across her daughter’s head at him. That look of mockery was illusory, he was sure. But whether or not, it was going to be decidedly worth while finding out.

THE END


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