The Ace of Spades - Dell Shannon

The Ace of Spades

Dell Shannon
1960

ONE

"Oh, damn," said Alison Weir. "Was it
the next block? I could have sworn— "

"You left the car right here," said
Patricia Moore firmly. "I remember noticing that particular bed
of begonias. Especially line ones."

Pat's British raising, as it affected gardens and the
King's English at least, was incorrigibly untranslated to
citizenship.

"I'm not sure. All these little streets look so
much alike. Damn. I don't know why I wore these shoes, my feet are
killing me.
¡Qué incomodidad!— ¡es el
colmo!
I thought it was along here— "

"I notice you revert to Spanish a bit oftener
these days," remarked Pat, sitting down placidly on the low
brick wall flanking the sidewalk and fanning herself with the program
of the exhibit they'd been looking at. "The car's been stolen,
obviously."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Alison crossly.
"Who on earth would want it?" She sat down beside Pat and
lit a cigarette. "It's Luis' fault," she added. "After
Dad died and I came back north, I didn't have much reason to use
Spanish, you know, except for an occasional girl coming in to school.
But there is one thing about it, it does give vent to one's feelings
better than English sometimes .... It must have been the next b1ock."

"You and your policeman. It was here. I remember
distinctly. It's been stolen. Did you leave the keys in it?"

"If you think," said Alison, "that I
have attained the age of thirty without acquiring a little sense—
of course I didn't. And really I must say I should think I could
visit a respectable place like the County Museum in broad daylight
without having my car stolen. If we'd been in a bar down on Skid Row
it'd be different."

"Wickedness flourishes everywhere," said
Miss Moore philosophically.

"And I can't say the exhibition was worth it.
Personally I think Renoir was overrated."

"That's your photographic eye. You're inclined
to be over-realistic yourself. Too much detail. And such strong
color— of course I suppose it's only to be expected from a
red-haired Scots-Irishwoman."

"I refuse," said Alison, "to discuss
painting techniques sitting on bricks with the thermometer at a
hundred. It's ridiculous. I want to go home and take off my clothes
and have a large cold drink. Can it have been stolen?"

"It happens every day," said Miss Moore.
"You'd better call the police. You've got an in with them,
they'll probably produce it for you in no time."

"Luis isn't Traffic, he's Homicide. I suppose I
had. Oh, damn!" said Alison. "And I don't suppose there's a
public phone nearer than the central building. No rest for the
wicked. And I cannot imagine why anybody should take the thing— of
course they might not have got far, that's one comfort, if you don't
know just how to manipulate that handchoke, it dies on you every
fifty feet . . . I wonder if I'd look very odd if I took off my
shoes? You see teen-agers going barefoot— "

"Really, Alison! " Miss Moore, who was
dumpy, dowdy, and without an iota of personal vanity, but with strong
notions of respectability, regarded her severely. "I'1l walk
back with you, and you shouldn't delay reporting it."

"I suppose not." Alison got up with a
grimace, and they started back to the building they'd just left. The
one public phone, of course, was at the very end of a long marble
hall, and when they got there neither of them had a dime. Under Pat's
disapproving eye, Alison accosted a passer-by and got change, and
eventually was put through to Traffic.

"Yes, ma'am," said an efficient, reassuring
voice there. "The exact location, please .... If you'll just
remain on the spot, there'll be an officer there directly to take
particulars."

Alison thanked the voice gloomily. "And now we
have to walk all the way back there again, and after they've taken
down all the details they'll drive away in their nice new patrol car,
and we'll have to come back here to call a cab."

"A cab?" said Miss Moore. "Sheer
extravagance! There's a bus goes right down Exposition Boulevard— "

"Yes, I know, you can take it if you like,"
said Alison. They went back and sat on the wall. In about five
minutes a black and white patrol car came along and a uniformed
officer got out of it and projected courteous efficiency at them.
Description of car, please— when was it parked here, when was the
loss discovered?

"It was about two-thirty, wasn't it, when we got
here? And if you can tell me why anybody should deliberately— I
remember there was a brand-new Buick right ahead. It's a Ford, almost
thirteen years old, light gray, a two-door sedan. I've got the
license number on a thing on my key chain."

"Oh, that's very helpful, ma'am. You didn't
leave the keys in it, then?"

"Certainly not, I don't know why you always
automatically assume women drivers are all fools— "


Now don't take it out on the officer," said
Pat. "Don't they have ways of starting it going somehow without
a key?— I've read— "

"That's so," said the patrolman, who'd
taken another look at Alison and doubled his gallantry. "And
some of these kids, you know, the hot-rodders, they want old stuff
like that, to strip down and rebuild."

"That makes me believe the stories about the
younger generation having no sense," said Alison.

He laughed, handing back her key ring. "Chances
are we'll pick it up within a few days, Miss Weir. You'll be
notified, of course. Damn inconvenient, but there it is— it happens
every day to a lot of people. Don't worry, it'll go on the hot list
right away."

"Thanks very much .... And now back to the phone
to call a cab, what did I tell you? I've heard there are some people
in L.A. who don't own cars. How do you suppose they exist?"

"The lesser breeds
without the law. We manage to get about on the two feet Providence
provided," said Miss Moore. "Much healthier. Also better
for the figure, although— " She compared her dumpiness to
Alison's excellent distribution of poundage, and laughed.

* * *

The Los Angeles Police Department is a large one, and
not all the men in it are acquainted with one another. In the
ordinary way, Sergeant Edward Rhodes of Traffic would not have had
any contact with the Homicide division, but as it happened one of his
personal friends was Sergeant Landers of that office. Through
Landers, Rhodes had heard this and that about Landers' superior,
Lieutenant Luis Rodolfo Vicente Mendoza, and over a period of time he
had caught some of Landers' hero worship for this personage. Both of
them were young unmarried men, and over their coffee breaks and
shared dinners in cheap restaurants, they talked shop.

Rhodes, in fact, cherished a secret ambition toward
some day getting into Homicide himself, and Mendoza had not only a
professional reputation any man might envy, but other kinds. Mendoza
was, by all accounts, quite the hell of a fellow in three ways— at
his job, at a poker table, and with the girls— and thereby hung a
number of tales, which Landers had passed on at length.

So Rhodes, from a distance as it were, had set
Mendoza up as a model. Not that he could ever hope to attain some of
Mendoza's attributes: for one thing, there was all the money. Mendoza
had come into a sizable fortune from a miserly grandfather and didn't
stint himself enjoying it. Landers guessed that he didn't pay a dime
less than two hundred bucks for any of his suits; he dressed to the
nines, dapper and elegant, never a hair out of place, the precise
line of black moustache always trimmed even and neat, the long narrow
hands manicured— but nothing flashy, everything quiet, good taste.
And he'd just taken delivery of a new car, which both of them had
admired in the lot— it had cost the equivalent of Rhodes' salary
for three years. It was a long, low, custom-built gunmental-colored
Facel-Vega, a two-door hardtop sports coupé, and Landers reported
with awe that it was said to be capable of acceleration from a stand
to a hundred m.p.h. in eighteen seconds, only Lieutenant Mendoza
never drove that way, he was real careful with a car and had never
got a moving-violation ticket at all, ever.

It wasn't to be supposed either that Sergeant Rhodes
could ever attain the talent— as per Mendoza's reputation— for
uncanny hunches and brilliant deductions. But he could admire— from
a distance— and that he did.

As it further happened, Landers had casually heard
from Sergeant Lake, who was desk man in Mendoza's office and now and
then had to track him down out of hours, the name of Mendoza's
current girlfriend, or at least one of them. Landers had even met her
once, when he was relaying some urgent information to Mendoza, and
reported her to be evidence of Mendoza's excellent taste— a real
redhead, and quite something, he said. Funny sort of name for a girl,
Alison: but for that reason it had stayed in Rhodes' mind.

Which was why he noticed it on the list of hot cars,
and read the meager information with interest. A thirteen-year-old
Ford: he thought instantly, respectfully, a nice girl, not a
gold-digger, taking Mendoza for his money. Of course, that kind
Mendoza wouldn't be such a fool to take up with in the first place.
Landers said she ran one of these charm schools, and painted pictures
on the side— kind of an artist. Couldn't have much money, driving a
car like this .... His chivalrous instincts were aroused, and also he
had a vague vision of Mendoza dropping into Traffic— say some time
when Captain Edgely was around to hear— and thanking him for such
an efficient, excellent performance of his job in the matter.

He exerted himself, therefore, with dispatch, to find
Alison Weir's car for her; he sent out a special bulletin about it,
and each morning eagerly scanned the list of stolen cars located.

But it wasn't until Thursday— it had been stolen on
Sunday afternoon— that it turned up, on a routine check of
overparked cars. Out in a rather lonely section of Compton, left
along a new residential street. It was brought in and Rhodes looked
it over. Awful old piece of junk, he thought. These kids!— no
discipline, no principles at all these days. Anything sitting around
loose, if they wanted it for half an hour—

That was about half past four on Thursday afternoon,
and he succumbed to temptation, called Miss Weir, reported the
finding of the car, and said it wasn't any trouble at all, he'd
deliver it himself, bring her the formal papers to sign acknowledging
its recovery.

Not exactly according to Hoyle, but he went down to
the garage and got one of the boys to start the Ford for him and
trail him in a patrol car to bring him back, and drove up to
Hollywood to Miss Weir's apartment.

 
"We'll have to ask you to look it over,
Miss Weir— you know, say what damage's been done, if any."
Landers had been quite right: nothing cheap, a plain sort of tan
summer dress, not too much jewelry, but a looker, in a ladylike way:
you didn't often see real red hair that wasn't carroty, and she had
the complexion to go with it, milk-white, and hazel-green eyes.

"Oh, certainly," said Alison, "but I
don't suppose there's much they could have done to it. It's seen
quite a lot of life already." She came downstairs with him
obligingly. "It's never really got used to the good roads up
here— you see, it was the last car my father bought, he was a
construction engineer and worked a good deal in Mexico, it passed its
adolescence mostly down in Coahuila, negotiating burro trails, and I
really think it's suspicious of anything else .... Well, I can't see
that it looks any different." She opened the door and peered in.
"The seat covers have had that rip for months, and that dent in
the dashboard, that was Ferdinando Gomez the time he got the D.T.'s
and Dad drove him down to the missionary hospital. No, it's all just
the way it was. Nothing missing from the glove compartment as far as
I can tell— heavens, what a lot of junk one does accumulate."

"You want to be sure, Miss Weir, before you sign
the receipt— on account of the insurance, you know. If you put in a
claim— "

"Oh, lord, I'm just thankful to have it back,
and still running— I don't see any need to do that. There doesn't
seem to be anything wrong mechanically?"

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