Murder Comes Calling by Logan Legare
Noir

Murder Comes Calling

by Logan Legare

Crime Fiction Stories | Dec. 1950 | Vol. 1, No. 1 THE RED FILE | Apr. 9, 2017 | Vol. 2 No. 8 Casefile No: 55ccf75fb3901011515aef87

She was an angel—with the heart of Satan. When she died, she left tragedy sown for many others.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Margot Graham

It’s not murder in itself that makes it so bad, it’s the after-effects. For when the victim dies, it’s usually just starting with the living. At least that’s the way I’ve come to feel about it, though I sure could be wrong, judging by the opinions of a few old cranks around Hoskinsville who say I’ve got too many funny ideas to be editor of the Hoskinsville Clarion. But the old cranks are very much in the minority in our town, and even if they weren’t, I started the paper eighteen years ago, come next spring, and I’m going to run it the way I been running it as long as I got ink and can find a linotype man.

Anyhow, I wasn’t thinking of all the hell and misery just one little murder can let loose in the world the night I stopped at Margot Graham’s cottage. I was too busy with my own thoughts, too afraid someone would see me come here.

Maybe you’re wondering why a waddling, wheezing, pink-fleshed fellow of fifty-five like me would be sneaking into Margot Graham’s cottage. Well, sometimes I wondered myself. My wife died five years ago, but I’ve got two fine kids who’d have been awful crushed to see their old man slinking along that walk toward the white cottage that gleamed faintly in the night. I felt like hell myself. I’d been to the cottage once before.

I’d known even while I was going there the first time that it was pure insanity. But, brother, you ain’t seen Margot Graham. Anyhow, tonight she’d commanded me to come there. That’s right—commanded. And I was going, remembering her phone call, her hard tinkling laugh.

In my pocket I carried a thousand dollars. It was a stiff price for a man of my meager means to pay for her silence about that other visit, but over the phone she’d given me to know that I had no choice.

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Chapter 2

Only Me And Margot Graham

My hand felt cold as I turned the knob, then I closed if the door behind me, feeling like a fish meshed in a heavy net.

A crack of light showed under a door to my left, and I knew she’d be in there in the living room, all the blinds drawn, the lighting soft. I knocked on the door, got no answer.

I tried the knob and the door swung open. She was there in the living room, waiting for me, all right. But she wouldn’t have waited all crumpled up on the floor like that.

I got inside the room and closed the door fast. I was in here with murder, I realized as I bent over her. And yet, even with that chilling thought going like lightning across my mind, my pulses raced, just looking at her.

I shook myself, swallowed some of the tightness out of my throat. The sultry light had left those violet eyes now and the midnight hair was streaked with crimson. She’d been hit once just over the temple. Once had been enough. Then I saw the cigar band lying on the floor and bent to pick it up. I looked at it, dropped it in my pocket. Then I gave the room the once-over. There was no cigar in any of the ashtrays, no sign of a murder weapon. Only me and Margot Graham, and the living room she’d furnished in square, pastel furniture and softly glowing lamps when she’d first come to Hoskinsville.

Enough of the paralysis left me for me to stagger back out of the room. In the hallway I waited awhile in the darkness, just shivering and trying not to think. Then I opened the front door.

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Chapter 3

Murder

The street was quiet, deserted. I crossed the small porch, ran across the lawn to keep my footsteps from echoing on the walk. I was running like hell, but two blocks away my mind began working again and I slowed to a walk. I took the cigar band I’d found beside Margot Graham from the side pocket of my coat. A little of her blood was on it and I shuddered. Then I crammed the band deep into the left pocket of my coat, headed for the Clarion office.

When I closed the door behind me, the smell of paper and ink washed pleasantly over me. My desk was over to one side, piled high. A stack of yellowed papers was in the corner, and it seemed you could never find anything in the cluttered office. In eighteen years you accumulate a lot of stuff and every time I thought of cleaning the place I couldn’t make up my mind what to throw away. So it just kept piling up.

I took off my coat, hung it on a nail over my desk. I heard a movement behind me and whirled around, jerking. It was Willie Lance, my reporter and associate editor. He’d just come through the short corridor from the composing room.

He looked at me and said, ‘‘What’s wrong, Cass? You look as if you’d seen a ghost.” He was a short, thin young fellow with big ears and a long nose. His parents had died several years ago and Matt O’Toole—who is Hoskinsville —had sort of taken Willie under his wing. Matt had sent Willie off to school, but Willie’d come back, gone to work for me.

I made some damfool reply to Willie about having indigestion. I washed my hands and put water on my head. I don’t really think I expected the cold water to drive the vision of Margot Graham’s lifeless body from my mind. I was just stalling, getting myself together.

Then I realized what I might be doing to myself. The longer I stalled, the worse it was going to look for me if it came out that I’d been in Margot Graham’s cottage. I wheezed back to the long, gloomy office. Willie had sat down at his desk, run a sheet of paper in his ramshackle typewriter, and was lighting a cigarette, preparatory to starting on the sports page. His chair scraped back sharply as I picked up the phone and gave the operator Sheriff Raymond Nord’s number.

Willie came over beside me. “What’s up, Cass? Why’re you calling the Sheriff?”

“Murder,” I said.

“What … !”

At the other end of the line, Nord said, “Hullo.”

“This is Cass Bailey, Raymond. Skedaddle right over here.”

Willie tugged at my arm, his eyes wide over his long nose. “Who?”

I shook his hand off my arm, said into the phone: “Raymond, you get the hell over here. I’ll guarantee to wake you up!”

“Can’t you tell me … ?”

“I’ll tell you when you get here!” I shouted.

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Chapter 4

A Man With A Public Trust

I replaced the phone, and Willie was fairly jumping in his pants. “Who got killed, Cass? And who did it? Are we going to run an extra? How … ”

“Just keep your shirttail in. We ain’t going any place until Raymond Nord gets here. Somebody murdered Margot Graham, but we ain’t running a scandal-sheet, Willie. You’ll get your chance to write up the facts that Nord finds.”

He shrugged helplessly, crestfallen, and sat down and chain-smoked until Raymond Nord slammed the office door rattlingly behind him.

Willie jumped about three feet off the floor. “It’s Margot Graham, sheriff! She’s been murdered!”

Raymond drew up stiffly, looked from Willie to me.

I nodded. “She’s at her cottage. I found her.”

“You!”

I sat down on the edge of my desk. “About a month ago, just a day or two after she’d got in town, Margot Graham came to the office to take a subscription to the paper. Willie was out and nobody was back in the composing room, and my stomach was bothering me. So when I took a little nip—strictly for my stomach, you know— she sort of invited herself to one, and …” Face burning, I couldn’t go on.

Raymond Nord leaned his grizzled length toward me, his slate-colored eyes as wide as they would go in their crinkles of wind-burned skin. “You’re trying to tell me, Cass, that you … .”

“All right,” I said hoarsely, “I played the part of an old fool. We had a drink or two and got sort of … well, chummy. It was like being drugged. She left the office and a day or two passed. I kept seeing her face every which way I’d look—even overhead in the darkness when I’d lay in bed and couldn’t sleep. So the third night after she was here … well, I didn’t have anything to do. I just sort of found myself going toward her house. I was crazy, I’ll admit. But I’m just a human, Raymond … .”

“And a damn weak one at that,” Raymond said.

“That’s right.” I guess I came close to moaning it. “I knocked on her door. Then I knew what a fool I was being. I guessed she’d laugh at me. But before I could turn and run, she opened the door, and she didn’t laugh at all. Well, she laughed, but not amused, mocking laughter like I thought she’d laugh. She invited me in, and I couldn’t have turned from that door if there’d been a million horses dragging me, helping me get away from there.”

Raymond didn’t snort derisively. He’d seen Margot Graham, like everybody else in town. He waited quietly.

“We just sat and talked,” I finished lamely. “So help me. She let me feel welcome, but at the same time she made me aware that I was old enough to be her pa. Then I left, and that’s all there was to it until this afternoon. She phoned me, and she wasn’t so nice. She was brittle and tough. She wanted a thousand dollars or she was going to start a storm of gossip and scandal that would ruin me. And in a town as small as Hoskinsville she could have done it.”

“And you a man with a public trust like a newspaper,” Raymond added sagely, “and with two kids you wanted to protect. Sure … she knew you’d pay off. What then?”

“I went to her house with the thousand dollars. It’s in my pocket now. She was dead. And that’s all, so help me.”

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Chapter 5

Incriminating Evidence

Raymond looked at me a long time and the hairs on the back of my neck and all along my arms were like pins. Then he said quietly, “I’ll call a deputy and the coroner and we’ll go over to her house.”

I rose heavily, my back sticky with sweat. While Nord phoned a deputy, Willie Lance stuck a pencil behind each one of his big ears, stuffed his coat pocket full of yellow paper; we left a small light burning, locked the office door, and got in Raymond Nord’s car.

Margot Graham lay just as I had left her, arm outflung, crimson nails biting into the carpet, the soft light somehow glaring and harsh with the presence of death. I sat down and kept my face turned away. Nord inspected the room, while Willie shivered and stared in horrified fascination at death.

Nord left the room and I heard his footsteps all around in the back part of the cottage. He came back in the living room. “Her bedroom’s been torn to pieces, drawers dumped on the floor, mattress ripped, even the carpet pulled off the floor in a pile. Somebody was sure hunting something.”

“Think they found it?” Willie said.

Nord bobbed his sandy-haired, shaggy head. “A picture has been torn off the wall. Behind it, Margot Graham had cut into the wall and inset a steel strongbox. Somebody was evidently hunting the key to the box and found it. The box was on the floor, open, the key in the lock, empty.”

He planted his feet wide before me. ‘‘You wouldn’t know anything about that, Cass?”

I shook my head vehemently. “Raymond, I told you the whole mess, so help me. Can’t you see? I’m not the only one Margot shook down. That was her racket, simple and profitable. But somebody kicked, killed her, and took whatever incriminating evidence she had against him from the strong box.”

There was a sound at the doorway and Raymond’s lank deputy came in. Raymond gave the deputy instructions to stick around until the coroner came, added that it was apparently a clean kill with no clues; then as we went out, Willie almost tripping on my heels, Nord added: “As I was saying, maybe she came here to shake a few of you old fools down. I’m inclined to believe it. But the day she came here I started checking on her, quietly. She had a double motive in coming here, Cass. She had her little racket—and this is the hometown of her former husband. It was made to order—a small town where they’d gossip about anything and a little gossip would ruin anybody and, in case she ran into difficulties and needed legal help, an ex-husband who is the finest legal brains in the state.”

I stopped in my tracks. “Not Gerald Winison!”

Raymond nodded, and even in the darkness I could almost see his face tightening, growing grey, haggard.

“Gerald Winison!” Willie breathed. “Golly, what a story!”

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Chapter 6

A Hypnotic Trance

We drove across the middle of Hoskinsville. It was Matt O’Toole’s town, who called its people his children, some of whom had gone out to win fame. One of whom had been married to Margot Graham. I wondered if they’d mention Gerald Winison for governor after tonight.

We drew up before Gerald’s small brick bungalow, got out. We waited, and I could feel Raymond Nord’s reluctance. Then with a sigh he started for the door.

Gerald’s young auburn-haired wife answered the door and Raymond twisted his hat in his hand. “I’d like to see Jerry, Mrs. Winison.”

She smiled, said hello to all of us, and added: “Come in please.”

“No,” Raymond said. “I can talk to Jerry out here.”

He came to the door after a moment, a tall, husky young man in his shirtsleeves. His dark, crinkly hair was mussed, his eyes sparkling. “Hello, fellows. Been upstairs in the kid’s room, wrestling with the little rascal. He … .”

“Come outside, Jerry,” Raymond said heavily, and Jerry’s words cut off in his throat. He stepped out, closed the door behind him.

“I didn’t want your wife to hear this, Jerry, but Margot Graham’s dead.”

“It was murder,” Willie, standing at my elbow, added.

Jerry finally said, “When?”

“Tonight,” Raymond said. “I want to talk to you, Jerry. Tell your wife you’ll be coming back later.”

Jerry turned stiffly, opened the door, poked his head in, and told his wife he would be back after awhile. We went down the walk to the sheriff’s car. I could sense the questions on Jerry’s lips, but he didn’t say anything.

The sheriff started the car, began cruising slowly down the dark street. “Want to tell me, Jerry? I know that you were married to her. I found that out not long after she got in town.”

“Yes,” Jerry said. “I was married to her. But I divorced her. Peg—my present wife—knows all about it.” Somehow he spoke too loudly.

“Yeah,” Raymond remarked almost sadly. “The day she came to town, for instance, I had a hunch Margot Graham was up to no good. So I went to the train station, checked the point of origin of her ticket. From there it wasn’t too hard, sending wires, making a couple phone calls. You better tell me the whole thing, Jerry.”

“Why not?” Jerry said with a faint, bitter laugh. “After this thing breaks I’ll be washed up anyway. I’ll have to leave Hoskinsville and all that I’ve built here and take my family some place else.

“I thought I’d got over Margot Graham when I came to Hoskinsville,” Jerry was saying softly. “I married Peg and pitched in to work. It’s been five years since then, short years. I knew they were over the moment I passed Margot on the street, a day or two after she’d come here. She’d seen my picture in a newspaper, she said, and had decided to take a look in my new hometown. She asked me to come to her house, and like a spineless rat … .”

“… In a hypnotic trance,” Raymond said heavily.

“Yes,” Jerry’s voice shook. “In a hypnotic trance I went to her house. I talked to her a few minutes, left. Somehow I was over it; I didn’t want to go back again. That night at home with Peg I knew I was cured of Margot Graham once and for all. Then she called me. And what could I do? Have the whole town know I’d slipped to my former wife’s house under cover of night? Try to convince them that it hadn’t meant anything, that I was cured of her?” His laugh, again, was bitter. “I might as well tried holding a hurricane in a fragile china teacup! If Margot said the things she said she would, I knew I was a ruined man.”

“So you went back,” Raymond said.

“Yes,” it was almost a whisper. “I went back. Again, and then again. And she told me she’d hit a gold mine, that she didn’t know so many yokels just waiting to be shaken down existed in one town. She was going to trim … the whole bunch of us. And I was going to be her legal aid if she needed it—or else. Her first collection, she said, was going to be fifty thousand dollars.”

“Fifty thousand!” Willie, I, and Sheriff Nord said it almost at once. Raymond added: “Who the hell in Hoskinsville would have that kind of money?”

“She didn’t say,” Jerry’s tortured voice went on.

“You didn’t know any of the men, Jerry?”

I squirmed in the back seat. Jerry didn’t answer for quite awhile, then he whispered, “The only one she ever named was Doctor Daniel Hastings.”

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Chapter 7

I Was Awfully Lonely

The house of Doctor Daniel Hastings was quiet with the chill calm of death. All the bright lights in the long quietly-furnished living room couldn’t dispel the cloud that hung perpetually over the place. Or maybe it was just because I knew that upstairs lay Dam’s wife. She hadn’t walked in almost ten years since her automobile accident, and Dan had operated seven times, each time knowing it would take one more operation to cure her. And through all the pain, she never lost her smile, the worship in her eyes, the expression on her wasted face telling the world that next time Dan would succeed … .

Dan invited us in. His eyes clouded a trifle as he looked from one to the other of us, saying hello, his strong, surgeon’s hands hanging stiffly at his sides. “Sit down, gentlemen.”

Raymond shook his head, and we remained standing, a little knot just inside the doorway. Raymond said, “Can your wife hear us?”

Dan Hastings frowned. “No. She’s fixed for the night, upstairs, with the nurse. But why … .”

“I just wanted to spare her listening to what we’ve got to say to each other,” Raymond said. “Margot Graham has been murdered. You’re not going to deny that you knew her?”

Dan looked from one to the other of us. “No. I’m not going to deny it.” He turned his bald head so that his face was tilted away from us. His voice was low, thick: “I knew—I suppose I knew even while I was seeing her that it would come to this sometime.”

Raymond said, “How many times did you see her Dan?”

“Twice.” He looked up slowly, his eyes burning with self-condemnation. “I’m not going to ask any of you to understand. Always in the past I’ve lost myself in my work. In the clinics. I’ve managed to crush the hopelessness and despair of watching my wife lie week after week, helpless and hurting, and being unable to help her, crush it just by working until I dropped.

“I’ll not ask you to understand,” he said again. “But I was tired of pain and hopelessness and despair. I … I guess I was awfully lonely. Then one day Margot Graham walked into my office. I lost my sense.”

“… In a hypnotized trance,” Raymond Nord remarked heavily. “Then she put the pressure on you for a shakedown, Dan?”

Again his blue eyes went over us. He nodded.

“How much did she want?” Nord asked.

“Fifty thousand dollars?”

Dan laughed grimly. “Where would I get that kind of money? Every dime I make has a place to go.” He could have added that it was because he got paid in dimes mostly.

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Chapter 7

All Our Names Were Coming Out

“There’s just one thing I want to ask, sheriff,” Dan Hastings said. “Don’t let my wife know. I’ll take what’s coming to me—but it would kill her.”

“I’ll not let her know,” Raymond said. But each of us knew it was a promise he couldn’t keep, possibly. There’d have to be a trial … . And no matter who finally got the noose around his neck, all our names were coming out.

Raymond said, “You go along upstairs and tell your wife you’ve got to be out a while, Dan. We’ll wait outside in my car.”

When Dan came back, he got in the back seat with Willie and me. Willie had turned on the overhead light in the car, was scribbling furiously on his yellow paper. He looked up, eyes shining with excitement, face flushed.

“What a story! What a story! Now I’ll drop the bombshell. The next stop, gents, is Matt O’Toole’s house!”

We almost went through the top of the car. “You’re crazy, Willie!”

“That’s a lie, Willie!”

“You’re letting your marbles spill, Willie!”

“No,” Willie said. “I ain’t crazy, and I ain’t lying. I … .”

“He’s not,” I said heavily. I ran my hands in the pockets of my coat, pulled the cigar band that I’d found beside Margot Graham from the right hand pocket. “I was hoping you’d get a confession maybe before now, Raymond. I wasn’t intending to hold out on you, but I didn’t want to show you this until I had to.”

I handed him the cigar band.

“Everybody around town knows that Matt O’Toole smokes that brand. I found it beside her body. That’s her … her blood on it.”

Raymond folded the band slowly, slipped it in his vest pocket. “She sure must have been some woman. Even after she’s dead, she’s tearing the foundations right out from under Hoskinsville—you, Cass, our honest, fighting newspaper man, Jerry, the lad with the playgrounds, teenage clubs, the fighter for civic betterment, Dan the crusading doctor, and now Matt O’Toole, who built the damn town in the first place!”

Raymond turned to Willie. “How come you to think of Matt?”

“I heard him couple days ago when I went up to his place for a story. He was talking over the phone to her. ’Sides, Matt O’Toole is the logical guy to be taken for as much as fifty thousand. He’s rich.”

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Chapter 8

Matt O’Toole

You’d never have known it by looking at him. Matt ushered us into his sweeping living room with its rustic furniture with a hearty hello. He was a strapping, freckled, red-headed Irishman, his hair flying like a wild flag. Some doctor had told Matt thirty years ago that he might live six more months by coming to the hills. Matt had come; he was still alive. He’d transformed the hill wilderness into a city bustling about the woolen homespun textile industry. O’Toole mountain homespuns were known the world over, the choice fabric of elite tailors in New York.

And in building his industry, which he’d started from hand looms in rough mountain cabins, and his city, Matt O’Toole had never lost sight of the human element. He believed in parks and churches and good schools. He believed in good working conditions and clean government. Jerry had built playgrounds, but Matt’s money had backed him. Dan had fought for the clinics, but Matt was really the general in the campaign.

Now he shook our hands warmly and invited us to drink his whiskey, but Raymond said awkwardly: “Some other time, Matt. We got important things on our minds. Margot Graham has been murdered.”

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Chapter 9

The Cigar Band

Matt sat down, squinting his blue eyes, running his hand through his shock of wild red hair. “You think I had something to do with it?”

Nord took a long, deep breath. I wished I was out of here, wished I’d never heard of Margot Graham. I knew Jerry and Dan felt the same way. Willie was all ears, literally and figuratively. Raymond Nord said finally: “I know you knew her, Matt. I know she was trying to shake you down for fifty thousand dollars.”

Matt looked from one to the other of us. His eyes were grave, even alarmed, but he managed a chuckle.

“A pack of old fools!” he said, shaking his head. “She wasn’t trying to shake me down. She did it! I guess I just love Irish whiskey too much. Hell, I even promised her in writing that I’d marry her!”

“And she got the fifty thousand?” Raymond asked.

“Got it two days ago,” Matt said.

“But you didn’t kill her?”

“No,” Matt said, “I didn’t kill her. I just looked things flat in the face, realized I’d been an old fool in a … .”

“… Hypnotic trance,” Raymond supplied dourly.

“That’s right,” Matt said. “She did sort of hypnotize me. You never knew her well, Raymond? She was an angel, with a core right out of Satan’s heart. She was a lady, and a black-hearted schemer. She was a princess, and a ruthless guttersnipe.”

Raymond looked at us and said, “None of you did anything wrong, actually. But, you know, one of you is a murderer.”

We looked at each other then, and the room grew cold. I sat down. Raymond walked over to the phone, called the coroner. He talked a few moments, then came back to face us. “She was killed between six and nine tonight. You, Jerry, where were you?”

“Home,” Jerry said. “I’d had a hard day at the office.”

“Can you prove it?”

“My wife was there, and the maid.”

Raymond turned to Dan. “And you?”

“I was at the hospital,” Dan said. “I called my house at five-thirty, then went directly up to my surgery. I left there at about eight, went down to consult with Dr. Lamb until after nine. I’d got home just before you came. Three or four doctors and half a dozen nurses can prove I never left the hospital between six and nine.”

“And you, Matt?”

“At the plant,” Matt said decisively, “having a little conference with a superintendent and a couple of foremen.”

Raymond turned to me and my mouth got dry and I felt empty right down to my toes. Between six and nine I’d been alone. Until I’d found her body right about nine o’clock.

I hunched down in my chair listening to the silence in the room, feeling their eyes on me. I pushed my hands down hard in my coat pockets; then I came out of the chair with a jump that startled them all.

“Where was Willie?” I demanded.

Willie jerked so hard the pencils fell from behind his ears. “What do you mean, Cass Bailey?” he shouted.

I grabbed him by the collar, shook him. “You killed her, you little rat. Matt O’Toole put you in college and you were too rotten to stay there. Tonight you slipped into her house and killed her! We’ve been thinking of the shakedown angle as a motive—but what about the fifty thousand Matt gave her? She knew you, maybe recognized in you a rat she could use! And you slunk around until you’d learned of the fifty thousand. You tore her bedroom to pieces hunting for it, found it in the strongbox hidden in the wall behind the picture! She came in, surprised you, and you caught her in the living room and killed her.

“If Matt wasn’t in her house tonight, the band from his cigar must have been planted. You took the band with you to plant, Willie. You intended to drop it in the bedroom where she’d find it. She’d recognize it as Matt’s, and since she and Matt were supposed to be the only ones who knew he had actually given her fifty thousand dollars, you were banking on her jumping to the conclusion that he’d been there, got his money back. But it didn’t work out that way. She came home earlier than you’d thought she would. And you killed her. Then you decided still to use the band, but for a different plant, a murder plant.” He jerked out of my grip, moved back. “You’re crazy, Cass Bailey. Any of you could have planted the cigar band!”

“Yes, Willie,” I said, “but you did. You knew she was mixed with important men. You wanted to get enough of the important men involved to make the investigation a hush-hush affair, so in a few days you could skip out with the money. To keep the affair as squelched as possible you wanted all of us in as bad a light as possible; that’s why you left the cigar band on me, in my pocket! Isn’t that the truth Willie?”

“You’re crazy!” Willie shouted again. “I didn’t touch the band!”

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Chapter 10

May She Rest In Peace

“I can prove you did, Willie. You were the only person who had access to my coat—while it was hanging over my desk when I went back to the washroom just after I’d come in the office. You went through my pockets, found the band. But you made the mistake of putting the band back in the wrong pocket. The band was in the left pocket of my coat when I entered the office, but it was in the right pocket of my coat when I reached for it to hand it to Sheriff Nord!

“If you’re in the clear, Willie, why did you go in my pockets in the first place? You were hoping the sheriff would find the band on me or that I’d have to hand it over. Every little item to make it look blacker played in your favor … but, Willie, you know some place in her house you must have left fingerprints. Even after she’s gone, she and her house will finger you and … .”

With a sharp cry Willie lunged back, his hand diving under his coat toward a gun. He brought the gun up, fired, hit the wall. He steadied himself in a split instant, while we were trying to get in motion. He’d not miss this time.

But another gun spoke, Raymond Nord’s, and a tiny black hole jumped into being in the bridge of Willie’s long nose. The hole disappeared in a flood of crimson, and somewhere in his short fall to the floor Willie Lance died.

We stood looking at his crumpled heap, wiping our faces and shivering a little. Nobody spoke for a few moments; then Raymond Nord said: “Funny how a man can think a million thoughts between two ticks of a watch, while Willie was getting set to pull the trigger again.”

He looked from one to the other of us dourly. “Thoughts about a nice town filled with swell people and the old fools who have made it. Thoughts about kids in playgrounds, people in white, airy clinic and modern hospital, about a newspaper that’s never let a city official get out of line, about the red-headed ruffian behind it all.”

He sighed heavily. “I even thought about Jerry’s wife and kid, Cass’ two offspring, Dan’s wife and her faith in him that he’ll justify one of these days. So …” he shrugged his lean shoulders. “If Willie hadn’t made the break he’d have got a trial. Trials bring to light a lot of things, innocent things, but things that would have enabled Margot Graham to drag everything I was thinking about right down into the grave with her. But since Willie did make the break …

Matt said, “It was your life or his.”

Matt turned then and began pouring whiskey. We needed it. Jerry looked at his jigger. “To Margot Graham,” he said.

Dan added: “May she rest in peace.”

“She won’t,” I said.

“No,” Matt O’Toole said, “she wasn’t that kind.”

“And,” Raymond Nord muttered, “neither was Willie.”

~ The End ~

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