Read Homicide at Yuletide Online

Authors: Henry Kane

Homicide at Yuletide

T’was the night before Christmas

And all through the jail

Not a creature was stirring

Excepting one frail

“Her name was Gene Tiny, but she wasn’t small. She was built in luscious bunches, beautiful spaced, marvelously hyphenated. She was unusual.”

And she was also a private eye. In trouble. But then, who
wasn’t
hanging by a thread: Stella Talbot, the super-salivating eighteen-year-old who wouldn’t take no for an answer … her three “mothers,” all available: Terry Talbot, with her white-frosted finesse (Stella, a few years from now?); Gay Cochrane, just a little too lively for her husband, cremation king Noah Cochrane; and Evelyn Dru, whose very presence separated the men from the boys.

And then there was PETER CHAMBERS who seemed to fall over bodies of all kinds. Not that he didn’t appreciate everything that came to him. But how
do
you solve a murder when you’re intimately involved with over half the suspects????

Homicide at Yuletide
Henry Kane

a division of F+W Media, Inc.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Also Available

Copyright

1

‘T
WAS THE NIGHT
before Christmas.

‘Twas the day before Christmas.

‘Twas Yuletide in New York.

Who knows day from night?

‘Twas the twenty-fourth of December of a glum afternoon with rain.

The phone rang.

The voice was an aching sound at my ear.

But it wasn’t the voice.

It was the ear.

It was the man attached to the ear.

The man attached to the ear was superbly fit for a long-drawn steambath, a rugged rubdown, and slumber. Heavy slumber, like when you get hit in the head with a soft lead pipe, or a hard lead pipe, or a sandbag—maybe even knuckles at the chin.

I grappled with the phone-piece. I registered a rigid hip against a resisting desk. I brought up a cigarette and pushed smoke at my lungs. I tried, vainly, to dissipate the luminous antics of the flickering spots spelling out nothing before me in large and unreadable letters.

Who said hangover?

Close the book. Go turn your face to the wall.

“I’ve got an eye,” the voice said, “that wants an eye.”

The voice was Detective-Lieutenant Parker of Homicide.

My throat felt like parchment with wrinkles. My tongue felt like chopped fuzz imbedded in tobacco. My head felt like a sponge blowzy with prickles. It had been a large evening.

That was yesterday.

This was tomorrow afternoon.

I was in my office for a fast handshake with my conscience. One shake. I was ready to go home and go to bed. I was ready to pull the covers over my leathery lethargy and hope for evening. Humor out of Homicide frisked over the wire with all the piquancy of an emetic.

“Listen,” I said. “Hang up. Go work that one over on another boy. Merry Christmas, and all that—”

“Now, look, brother—”

“Today I’m not a brother.”

“Look, you—”

“Not today. Today I’m not looking. For nobody.”

I hung up.

The phone rang.

“Down here,” he said, in capital letters like a telegram, sadly, querulously, funereally, “down here, louse of a shamus, I have got a private eye. Which wants another private eye. On a case. For pay. So I call you. So what do I get?”

“Me. In a very weak moment.”

“Abuse.”

“Pardon?”

“Abuse. That’s what I get.”

“Sorry.”

“Better.”

“Very sorry.”

“Much better.”

“Down where, Lieutenant?”

“Traffic Court. Downtown Traffic Court.”

“You?”

“Me.”

“Not you.”

“Now, look, you poisonous son of a—”

“Uh uh, Lieutenant … Christmas …”

“Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” I said. “What I meant was—you, Homicide—what are you doing in Traffic Court? They break you?”

“What?”

“You been consorting with the wrong bookmakers? They got you writing tickets for a living?”

“Very funny. Excruciating. So—are you coming?”

“Is it dough?”

“Of course it’s dough.”

“Of course I’m coming.”

That’s the way it is. Money. I hate it.

I hastened out of the office into the buttress that is Miss Miranda Foxworth. Miss Miranda is secretary, amanuensis, wet-nurse. Miss Miranda is built like an old-fashioned icebox, but colder. She is also bulgy. Her marble-blue eyes behind her glasses are a display forever of disapproval unwinking. Miss Miranda rustled a paper.

“You’re supposed to sign this.”

“Later.”

“Now.”

I signed the paper. She watched me sign the paper.

“Go home,” she said. “Go to sleep.”

“I’m going out. On business.”

“Business,” she said.

“Miranda—” I began, in my sternest pre-Christmas, best New Year’s-resolution manner.

“Well, then, have a drink. A large one.”

From Miranda, that is not a skittish proposal for fun. It is the peremptory prescription from a doctor (who is your closest friend). Miranda frowned. Right up to the hairline. Then she waddled off like an emperor penguin. Have you ever seen an emperor penguin, white-shirted, dignified, shuffle-footed? Once, on a case, I went all the way to the Antarctic, yes, sir, and there, on the Ross ice shelf—

That was another case.

On this case, I trudged all the way to Trennem’s Dark Morning Tavern (across the street) and there I had me Miranda’s drink. Two of Miranda’s drinks (doubles). So, warmed in the stomach, and steadier in the hand, I reached over and patted Trennem’s expansive apron. I smiled with the teeth, and I paid, and I left. The rain had frizzled to a drizzle. The sky cried haphazardly.

Christmas.

I took a cab to Traffic Court, downtown.

Mahrone … what a way to begin a story.

• • •

Her name was Gene Tiny, but she wasn’t small. She was built in luscious bunches, beautifully spaced, marvelously hyphenated. It took you time to get to her face. She was unusual. She was wonderful upstairs, too. She had wide black eyes under high black eyebrows, a white forehead, and thick black curly hair, casual and long down the back. She was pert-nosed and red-lipped and her face was strongly shaped. Her teeth were white and level, and when she smiled, one eyebrow moved up and shadows gathered beneath her cheekbones and a full wicked curve grew on her mouth. The whole effect warmed you like a double at Trennem’s Dark Morning Tavern. Two doubles.

She was tall, and orectic. She wore a red off-the-shoulder blouse, a black skirt, champagne hose, and black Cuban-heeled sandals. She carried a black jacket over her arm, and a fur coat hung over one shoulder. No hat. She stopped me colder than a dowager’s glare, right there in front of the wire net of the detention pen, and, sort of, I leaned on Parker.

I’m impressionable.

“Lovely,” I managed. “You even look good in the pokey.”

Severe, she moved her eyes to Parker.

Severe, she was better than two shots at Trennem’s Dark Morning Tavern. There is a place downtown called Matty’s that fires up a special zombie he learned about on McCadden Street on the West Coast….

“A saucy one,” she said. “So this is Peter Chambers.”

“Yeah, saucy,” Parker said.

Her eyes came back to me.

“Merry Christmas,” I said.

Morosely she said, “You’re top man in our industry. You’re Number One. You’re the guy that can be trusted—”

I said, “Look, lady, my chum asks me down to meet a private eye. I go, because my chum asks me. So what do I get? I get pulchritude behind a fine mesh wire. What do you expect?”

She softened, smiling, eyebrow up.

“Boor,” I said.

“Who?” Parker said.

“Me,” I said.

The smile spread. The eyebrow hinged higher. The eyes slanted. Dimples came through in the cheeks. Throw away those two shots at the Dark Morning, forget the zombie at Matty’s….

Parker observed. He tightened his mouth and he rocked his shoulders. He turned and he waved at a turnkey. A turnkey is a turkey with a civil service job being uncivil to everyone, for which he has to pass a rigid test. Parker pointed at the lock. The turnkey turnkeyed.

“These two,” Parker said, “will want a private room.”

“Is he a lawyer?”

“No.”

“It ain’t allowed.”

“I’ll take the responsibility.”

The turnkey looked evil. “Private room. Okay with me if it’s okay with you, Lieutenant.”

“It is okay with me.”

So … we sat across from each other on bare chairs at a bare table in a small bare room. She draped the fur coat over the back of another chair and her jacket over that. Steam hissed from a radiator beneath a window with bars.

She stared at me. I stared at her.

I got more out of that than she did.

She sniffed. “Whisky?”

“Pardon?”

“You smell.”

“So do you.”

“Guilty,” she said. “Four Martinis and no lunch. I had a conference.”

“Scotch,” I said. “Two eye-openers at Trennem’s Dark Morning Tavern. No conference.”

“I like you. I’m sorry I was rude before. I’m Gene Tiny.”

“I know. Parker told me.”

“Trennem’s Dark Morning Tavern. I know that too. Fabulous.”

“Yeah. Nothing like a good saloon. It’s a retreat, a haven, a sanatorium, a revitalizer, and a pleasure. When do we get down to business?”

She took a handbag off her lap, an outsize leather knapsack. She brought out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, flicked at it, offered one to me. I pointed to the far wall. She whipped out a pair of gold-rimmed specs, held them up at her nose, squinted, said, “Yeah, I see, no smoking, I’m sorry,” and changed up the specs for a pigskin wallet. She dug into that, and came up with five bills, all centuries. “Fee,” she said, and handed them over.

“Fee for what?” I took the bills.

“Help. This business, this crazy business of being arrested. It cut right into a deal I’m working on. You know, I’m glad it was you that Parker chose. You have a wonderful reputation, you really have, despite your quirks.”

“Thanks. You really a lady dick?”

“Lady dick.” She brought out credentials. She was licensed by the State of New York as a private detective. “Do you remember McKennish Karken? Quite a boy that one was. You must remember Mac.”

“Sure. He was a grand operator in his time.”

“I used to be in his office. Before that, I was a model.”

“I could bet on that.”

“I met Karken while I was modeling. He used me on a couple of his deals. He liked the way I worked. He offered me a permanent job and I took it. He had me licensed. When he died, a couple of his accounts retained me, and I opened my own place. Okay for background?”

“What’s the five hundred for?”

“Ever hear of Barney Bernandino?”

I opened my eyes for her. “That’s a large firecracker.”

“It’s a large deal. Ever hear of Sheldon Talbot?”

I rummaged around in back of my head, and I remembered. I showed her how smart I was. “Sheldon Talbot was a scientist, a professor. Made a pile of dough out of an invention, and retired. Went to Chicago, where he tangled with a twelve-ton truck. He’s dead.”

“You’ll do, brother. You’re good.”

“Thanks.”

“Only he’s not dead.”

“How’s that?”

“Not dead.”

“But Sheldon Talbot—”

“Not dead. And he’s part of this deal. That’s why the five hundred.”

I didn’t say anything.

“This is a deal between Barney Bernandino, who is always very much alive, and Sheldon Talbot, who is not dead. I’m in the middle. The deal is all cooked. I was with Barney for a short while, rounding out the angles. That’s when the Martinis happened. I was on my way down to Sheldon, when I ran into this parked car. It was raining, and I suppose I was going pretty fast. I was excited. I had a deal hopping, and if it went through, there was an enormous fee. The light changed, I rammed on my brake, I skidded and bang. So I’m here, and Sheldon Talbot is waiting, probably jumping out of his pants.”

“That’s where I fit in.”

“Pardon?”

“Not in the pants. I mean—that’s where I fit in—as your assistant.”

“Correct. I want you to go down there and tell him everything is jake. Tell him what happened to me. Tell him to sit tight, till I get out of here, that I’ve got it all arranged. Do you know where you can reach Barney Bernandino?”

“Yes.”

“Fine. Call him, and tell him too. Right?”

“Not entirely.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“The five hundred, that’s wrong. Having Parker call someone, that’s wrong. A lot of money for nothing, that’s always wrong.”

“Patience, brother.”

“Don’t call me brother.”

“Listen, please. I operate alone. I don’t have a staff. When I need help on a case, I use Julie Latch or Max Carney. I don’t trust either one of them. Do you know them?”

“I knew Julie Latch before he had his license revoked. Strictly a strike-breaking hard guy, with a whole string of professional hoods behind him. Carney’s more peaceable, but they’re both alike.”

She nodded, smiling. “Right. They’ll do when it’s a straight job you have to throw them. But on a deal like this, if either one of them got their teeth into it, he’d start chewing. And that I don’t want. Which, I hope, explains why I wanted somebody with—well, integrity. That’s why I appealed to Parker.”

“That clears one point. Now clear the five hundred.”

She moved her chair closer to mine. “Talbot was supposed to have been killed in that accident in Chicago. Hit by a truck. He wasn’t. Somebody else, though, was, and that somebody else, who was practically demolished, carried Talbot’s papers. The whole top of the guy was smashed. Identification was made on the papers. Do you begin to see why the five hundred?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“The police don’t know that Sheldon Talbot is alive. The minute they do, they’ll start moving in on him, looking for explanations. I don’t want them to know, not till this deal is consummated, and I get paid. After that, I’m not interested in Sheldon Talbot, or Barney Bernandino, or the police, or anybody. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“I’m telling you because you’re Peter Chambers, because of your reputation in the business, and because Parker himself picked you. I left it up to him—I didn’t want to saddle myself with my own judgment—but I was very glad when it was your name he mentioned. You’ve been around, Mr. Chambers, you know how to operate—always along the knife-edge—but you’ve got the know-how, and I need that, plus the integrity department. That’s why I can tell you, and I don’t worry. You take it, or you leave it. At least I know you won’t hold me up, and if you don’t take it, I know you won’t talk.”

“Sold. You want me to hang around with him, Sheldon?”

“Anything he says. Just keep him happy.”

“Where do I find him?”

“Thirteen-b West Thirteenth. Second floor back. He’s under the name Fred Thompson.”

“And where do I find you?”

She held up the wallet and I looked through the Cellophane window. Seventeen East Seventy-Seventh. Apartment 2 C. “I’ll either join you, or I’ll be here, or I’ll be at Barney’s, or I’ll be home. I wanted to plead guilty, and pay my fine, and get out of here. But my lawyer insisted, that with all these silly charges against me, I might actually go to jail if I pleaded guilty. Seems the cop who arrested me is all steamed up.”

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