Authors: Leslie Ford
Tags: #Crime, #OCR-Editing
“One of the best mysteries of the year.”
When an innocent young woman finds herself knee-deep in gambling— and up to her beautiful neck in debts— there’s apt to be trouble… And trouble is what Janey Blake had plenty of.
She had written a pile of bad checks. And she was fighting to keep her husband from the arms of another woman…
But other people had trouble too. Doc Wernitz, for example. He was afraid of something. And apparently he had reason— for one night someone bashed in his skull…
That was the same night that Janey hit her first jackpot in months— and found a gilded coin that a desperate killer would stop at nothing to retrieve.
DELL PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC.
261 Fifth Avenue
New York 16, New York
Copyright,. MCMLI, by Leslie Ford.
by The Curtis Publishing Company.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by arrangement with
Charles Scribner’s Sons,
New York, N. Y.
Designed and produced by
Western Printing Gr Lithographing Company
Cover painting by Carl Bobertz
Printed in U. S. A.
Murder is the Pay-Off
Connie Maynard stopped
a moment at the foot of the stairs and returned the critical, unsmiling survey of the girl standing there in the looking glass across the bank of great tawny-bronze chrysanthemums. The girl was tawny-bronze herself, like the chrysanthemums—her hair and her smooth sun-tanned skin—except that her eyes were yellow-green and her green taffeta off-the-shoulder dress clothed her with infinitely more art than chrysanthemum leaves ever have in mind. Constance Maynard regarded herself coolly there for a moment, then turned and crossed the hall into the library, the green taffeta swishing softly and with complete confidence as she moved. It was the least flattering mirror in the house, old, critical, and prejudiced—like some of the people, Smithville’s Finest, who would come swarming into the house in a few minutes now, eating and drinking their heads off—and covertly shaking them. The Prodigal Daughter— How long did you stay a returned prodigal in Smithville? It was six months now, going on seven, that Connie Maynard had been back home.
“Hi, Pops. All set?” She waited expectantly just inside the door for her father to turn and look at her. “What are you doing? Locking up the drinking whisky?”
John Maynard, born in Kentucky, was big and slow and had never had occasion to hurry all parts of his body at the same time. He finished locking the cellaret and slipped the key into the pocket of his shabby dinner jacket.
“Now, I wouldn’t talk thataway, honey, if I was you.” He drawled it amiably as he turned, smiling at his daughter. Women, horses, cards, guns, or whisky, none of them had ever surprised John Maynard out of his ordinary tempo or changed the slow smile on his extraordinary face. “Good God, Connie,” he said equably, “you’re nekkid as a jaybird. Is that green rig a dress?”
“A dress? You mean
a dress, Daddy. Isn’t it wonderful?”
She lifted her bare arms and whirled in a gay swishing circle for him to see. “This dress, Daddy, has design and purpose.”
“Then I’d go take it off, Connie,” John Maynard said. “He’s not coming, for one thing.”
Connie Maynard stopped abruptly, the laughter wiped instantly from her red lips and greenish eyes. “What do you mean, he’s not coming?” she demanded sharply.
“Gus Blake,” her father drawled. He went over to the big mahogany desk cleared of everything except the green blotter and the silver inkstand, and sat down on a corner of it. “Janey called up. They couldn’t find a sitter.”
“Oh, stuff!” She cut him off with a flippant swish of her taffeta bustle. “He’ll come. So will Janey. Her mother always stays with the baby. It’s just Janey’s broken-wing tactics. They never work.”
She was smiling and confident again. “Have we got a cigarette?” She took one from the box on the table beside her. “Janey’s pretty stupid, Daddy. She just hasn’t got any brains.”
“And you have got ’em, honey?”
She looked at him quickly. His gentle drawl and the slow smile, easy and charming, that disguised the rugged lines of his massive face were snares she knew all about. She knew there was more she didn’t know about him, but she did know that the slight stoop of his heavy shoulders was as conscious as the homely shabbiness of his dinner coat, and the black tie just enough askew to make men think he didn’t much bother and women think he needed somebody to take care of him. A great big friendly brown dog, everybody’s friend; John Maynard, slow and easy, simple as corn bread and pot likker, comfortable and unassuming and genial, with Smithville and Smith County and almost everybody in each all neatly tied hand and foot securely in his inside vest pocket. “We ain’t got much money, but we have a lot of fun—” John Maynard who had more than plenty of money. The fullback with the Phi Beta Kappa key in the back of his desk drawer there. John Maynard who’d drawled, “Communists? Well, I ain’t much afraid of communists. When the ruckus died down I reckon I’d be Commissar of Smith County.”
She looked at him intently. “What do you mean, Dad? Of course I’ve got brains. You’ve told me so yourself.”
“Then maybe you’re not usin’ ’em as well as you might,” John Maynard said. “Been wantin’ to talk to you about this. The purpose of brains, now, is to get you what you want out of life. You think it’s Gus Blake you want.”
The green eyes smoldered with sudden fire. “I know it’s Gus Blake I want. He belongs to me. If I hadn’t gone away he’d never have married!”
“Let’s stick to facts, Connie. If you hadn’t gone off and married that no-good—”
“That was a mistake.”
“I’m not criticizing you.” He patted her shoulder gently. “You’ve had your fling. You’ve got your divorce and your own name back and the slate’s clean. But Janey’s got Gus. Now, wait a minute, Connie.”
Connie Maynard stood rigidly beside the table, the color burning in her cheeks. “I’m waiting, Father.”
“You came back home. You said you’d made a mistake. All right, honey, we all make mistakes. You said you’d found out it was Gus all the time and it was still Gus. You wanted him. You said if I’d give you a job on Gus’s paper-let’s just call it my paper—you’d get him back. And he didn’t want you on the paper, but I sold him that one. I said you needed something to take your mind off yourself.” Connie Maynard moved impatiently. “Is this a cramming course in Ancient History One, Professor? I’m letter-perfect already. You sound like Mother to me, Dad. She’s on Janey’s side, too.”
“I’m not on Janey’s side. I’m on your side—right or wrong. I’ve always been on your side, honey. I don’t say I approve, but you never asked me. I don’t know as it’s up to me to approve or disapprove. I expect there’s a lot of things I do you don’t approve of. But you’re still on my side. Your mother’s different. Your mother believes in ethics.”
“What’s ethics, Daddy?”
They both laughed. John Maynard’s face sobered a little as he said, “It mightn’t hurt either of us to try to find out what they are, sometime, honey.”
“Sometime. Not right now, Daddy.”
“Sometime when maybe somebody’ll be tryin’ to get Gus away from you? But that’s not what I’m talkin’ about, Connie. I’m sayin’ I made Gus take you on the paper. And you’ve done well. I ain’t sure but you could run the paper and me let Gus go. But that’s not the point. The point is, Janey’s still got Gus—and maybe you’re bein’ a little too obvious about what you want. That’s not usin’ your brains, Connie. That’s what I don’t like about that dress, for one thing. Gus ain’t likely to fall for a nekkid woman—”
“I’m not naked, Daddy. And I’m tweed and high neck six days a week and this is relief. You can call it comic relief, but it’s not.”
“All right, all right. I’m just tryin’ to help. I’m just tryin’ to make you see maybe there’s other ways of goin’ about these things.”
Her father’s voice was mollifying and gentle.
“And I’m not saying I don’t like Janey, either. I do. I feel mighty sorry for Janey. She’s a sweet little thing. She’s just runnin’ out of her class, is all. Gus is away out there, and so are you. Together the two of you can go places—big places. That’s the sort of thing I like to see. Now wait, honey. Don’t be impatient. Half of brains is the patience that comes along with ’em. You say Janey’s stupid. You say she was off pickin’ wild flowers the day brains were up for sale, and maybe you’re right. But that’s not the way to go about it, Connie. If you’re dealin’ with somebody stupid, honey, the thing to do is sit tight till they really do somethin’ stupid. And I expect Janey’s done it.”
The bored detachment dropped from Connie Maynard like a drab shade falling from a naked light. She should have known her father better than to think he was lecturing her about a dress.
“What is it, Daddy? What’s she done?”
“Got herself out on a limb,” John Maynard said. His voice was soft and regretful. “Or I’m mighty afraid that’s what she’s gone and done. A mighty rickety limb at that. At least that’s what it looks to me.”
He reached back, unlocked the desk drawer, and pulled it open. He took out a small oblong sheaf of papers and handed them over to his daughter.
“There’s quite a pile of these things.”
“Why, they’re checks,” Connie said. She turned them over in her hand. “ ‘Payable to the Smith County Recreation Company, Inc.,’ ” she read. It was stamped on the back of each of them. She looked up at her father and back at the packet of checks. “Smith County Recreation Company,” she repeated. “Isn’t that your friend Doc Wernitz?” She had a vague picture in her mind of the inconspicuous little man in a straight gray overcoat who’d come to the house a couple of times when his mechanics were all busy and reset the slot machine they had down in their playroom in the basement. It was an old one he’d given her father on Christmas, that had to be readjusted when the jack pot fell. She’d only noticed him because there was such a startling incongruity between his unobtrusive and self-effacing manner and the noisy clamor of the juke boxes and slot machines, labeled:
Property of Smith County Recreation Company, Inc.,
that he operated around the town.
“That’s right. It’s Doc Wernitz.”
Her face was still blank as she turned the checks over and riffled through them. “They’re all made out to the Sailing Club.”
“And the Country Club. Ten dollars, mostly. A few twenties. That’s the limit the clubs will cash.”
“But that—that means
Her father nodded. She looked from him to the checks, still puzzled. One of them came loose from the staple that held them and floated down to the floor. She put her hand out to catch it.
“Don’t worry, honey,” John Maynard drawled. “It’ll bounce.”
Then Connie Maynard understood.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh. They’re rubber. They’re all rubber.”
“They’re all rubber,” her father said equably. “Three hundred and twenty dollars’ worth. Not counting the bank’s cleared something under a thousand dollars the last few months. Jim Ferguson gave these to me today at the directors’ meeting. He don’t know what to do about ’em. He likes Janey, and I expect he don’t much like the idea of going to Gus about ’em.”