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Harry Vince came into the outer office, and hurriedly shut the door behind him, cutting off the uproar of men's voices, each apparently trying to shout down the other, the sound of raucous laughter and the shuffling of many feet.
"Sounds like a zoo in there, doesn't it? And—phew!— it smells like one, too," he said, as he crossed the room, moving between the empty desks to where Lois Marshall sat at the telephone switchboard. He carried a bottle of champagne and two glasses which he set down carefully on a nearby desk. "You don't know what you're missing, staying out here. You couldn't cut the atmosphere in there with a hacksaw." He mopped his face with his handkerchief. "Mr. English says you are to have some champagne. So here it is."
"I don't think I want any, thank you," Lois said, smiling at him. She was a trim, good-looking girl around twenty-six or seven, dark, with severe eyebrows, steady brown eyes and the minimum of makeup. "I'm not mad about the stuff—are you?"
"Only when someone else pays for it," Vince returned as he expertly broke the wire cage and thumbed over the cork. "Besides, this is an occasion. We don't win the Light Heavyweight Championship every day of the week."
The cork sailed across the room with a resounding pop! and he hurriedly tipped the foaming wine into a glass.
"Thank goodness we don't," Lois said. "How long do you think they're going to stay in there?"
"Until they get chucked out. They haven't finished the whiskey yet." He handed her the glass. "Here's to Joe Ruthlin, the new Champ. May he continue to flatten them as he didtonight."
He poured champagne into the second glass.
"Here's to Mr. English," Lois said quietly, and raised her glass.
"Okay. Here's to Mr. English."
They drank, and Vince grimaced.
"Maybe you're right. Give me a straight Scotch any day." He put down his glass. "Why didn't you let Trixie look after the board? It's her job."
Lois lifted her elegant shoulders.
"Think of the company she would have to mix in. They know better than to bother me, but Trixie…"
"Trixie would have loved it. She likes a guy to pat her fanny occasionally. She thinks it proves she's desirable. Anyway, those apes in there are more or less harmless. Trixie would have taken care of herself if you had given her the chance."
"Maybe, but she's still a kid. Sitting around in an office until long past midnight isn't the sort of life she should live."
"You talk like a grandmother," Vince said, grinning. "If anyone has to stay late, it's always you."
"I don't mind."
Vince studied her.
"Doesn't your boyfriend mind?"
"Do we have to talk nonsense, Harry?"
Her steady brown eyes were suddenly cold.
Recognizing the danger signals, Vince said, "You were with Mr. English when he started this caper, weren't you?"
"Yes. We had only one small office, the typewriter was on hire and the furniture, what there was of it, wasn't paid for. Now we have this place—thirteen offices and a staff of forty. Good going in five years, isn't it?"
"I guess so." Vince lit a cigarette. "He has the magic touch all right. It doesn't seem to matter what he takes on. He has to make a success of it. Fight promotion this week, a circus last week, a musical show the week before that. What's he going to do next?"
"He'll find something." She looked up at Vince, seeing a square-shouldered man of medium height, around thirty-three, with a crew hair-cut, pale brown eyes that looked worried and uneasy, a good mouth and chin and a straight narrow nose. "You've done pretty well for yourself, too, Harry."
"Thanks to Mr. English. I'm not kidding myself. If he hadn't given me the chance I would have been still sweating my guts out as an accountant with no prospects. You know, sometimes, I just can't believe I'm his general manager. I can't make out why the devil he ever gave me the job."
"He has a good eye for talent," Lois said. "He didn't give you the job because he liked the way you wear your clothes, Harry. You earn your money."
"I guess I do," Vince said, running his fingers through his close-cut hair. "Look at the awful hours we keep." He glanced at his wrist-watch. "Eleven fifteen. This shindig's going on until two o'clock at least." He finished his champagne, waved the bottle at Lois. "Have some more?"
She shook her head.
"No, thank you. Does he seem to be enjoying himself?"
"You know what he's like. He's been standing around all evening watching the other guys drink. Every so often he puts in a word here and there. He acts like he has just dropped in on somebody else's party. Abe Mendelssohn has been trying to corner him for the past hour, but he's having no luck."
"He wants Mr. English to finance his women wrestlers."
"That's not a bad idea," Vince said. "I've seen some of those babes wrestle. I wouldn't mind getting a job as their trainer. I'd like to have the chance of showing them a few holds."
"Better talk to Mr. English. He might give you the job."
The telephone buzzer sounded.
Lois pushed in a plug and picked up the harness she had laid on the desk.
"English Promotions," she said. "Good evening."
She listened while Vince watched her. He saw one of her dark eyebrows lift in surprise.
"I'll ask him to speak to you, Lieutenant," she said, and laid down the harness. "Harry, would you tell Mr. English Lieutenant Morilli of the Homicide Bureau is calling? He wants a personal word."
"These coppers!" Vince said, grimacing. "Wants some favor, I'll bet. A couple of fight dockets or free seats for a show. You don't want me to disturb Mr. English to talk to that chiseller, do you?"
She nodded, her eyes serious.
"Please tell him it's urgent, Harry."
He gave her a quick look, then slid off the desk.
He went across the big room and pushed open the door that led into Nick English's private office. The uproar of voices surged past him as he went in.
Lois said, "I'm getting Mr. English now."
At the other end of the line Morilli grunted.
"Better get his car to the door, Miss Marshall," he said. "When he hears what I've got to tell him he'll want some fast action."
Lois thanked him, plugged in another line and told the garage attendant who answered to have Mr. English's car at the front entrance right away.
As she pulled out the plug, Nick English came out of his office, followed by Vince.
English was six foot three in his socks, and broad, giving the appearance of massiveness without fat. He was on the right side of forty, and his hair was jet-black, cut short and inclined to curl. There were white streaks on each side of his temples that helped to soften an otherwise hard and relentless face. He had a high broad forehead, a short blunt nose, a thin mouth and a square dimpled chin. His eyes were wide set, pale blue and piercing. He was arresting to look at without being handsome, and gave an immediate impression of granite-hard strength.
Lois moved away from the switch-board, indicating a telephone on a nearby desk.
"Lieutenant Morilli is on that line, Mr. English."
English lifted the receiver.
"What's on your mind, Lieutenant?"
Lois moved quickly over to Vince.
"Better get Chuck out here, Harry. I think he'll be needed."
Vince nodded and went into the inner office.
Lois heard English say, "When did it happen?"
She looked anxiously at the big man as he leaned over the desk, frowning into space, his long fingers tapping on the blotter.
She had known Nick English now for five years. She had first met him after he had thrown up an engineering job in South America and had opened a small office in Chicago to promote a gyroscope compass he had invented to be used in petroleum drilling operations. He had engaged her to run the office while he had walked the streets in search of the necessary capital to manufacture the compass.
There had been difficulties, but she had quickly learned that difficulties and disappointments only made English work harder. She discovered he had an undefeatable spirit. There had been times when she had gone without salary and he had gone without food. His optimism and determination had been infectious. She knew he must succeed. No one who worked as hard as he did could fail to succeed. But it had been a year of no rewards and constant setbacks and had forged a link between them that she had never forgotten, but at times, she wondered if he had forgotten. Finally the compass had been financed and had proved a success. English had sold his invention for two hundred thousand dollars plus a royalty on future sales that still brought him in a comfortable income.
He had then looked around for other inventions to promote, and during the next three years he built up a reputation for himself as a man who could get money out of a stone. With his newly acquired capital, he broadened his scope, and went into the entertainment business, promoting small shows and nightclub cabarets, and then branching out to bigger and more ambitious shows.
Money began to pour in, and he formed companies. More money poured in and he took over the lease of two theatres and a dozen night clubs. Later, when money became almost an embarrassment, he moved into the political field. It was his money that put Senator Henry Beaumont into power and was keeping him in office.
Looking at English now, Lois realized just how far he had come and what a power he had become, though she regretted his rise to a height where she could no longer be of real use to him, when she was just one of many who served him.
Vince came out of the inner office with Chuck Eagan, who drove English's car and did any job that English wanted done without argument or question.
He was a small, jockey-sized man in his late thirties. He had sandy-colored hair, a red, freckled face, stony eyes and quick, smooth movements. He was looking at his worst at the moment: a tuxedo didn't suit him.
"What's cooking?" he asked out of the side of his mouth, edging up to Lois. "I was enjoying myself."
She shook her head at him.
English said into the telephone mouthpiece: "I'll be right over. Leave things as they are until I get there. I'll be less than ten minutes."
Chuck stifled a groan.
"The car?" he asked, looking at Lois.
"At the door," she told him.
English hung up. As he turned the three stiffened slightly, their eyes on his, waiting for instructions. His solid sun-tanned face told them nothing, but his blue eyes were hard as he said, "Get the car, Chuck. I want to be away at once."
"It's waiting, boss," Chuck said. "I'll meet you downstairs," and he went out of the room.
"Let those jackals finish the case of Scotch, and then get rid of them," English said to Vince. "Tell them I've been called away."
"Yes, Mr. English," Vince said and went into the inner office. As he opened the door the noise of laughter and voices came into the silent outer office with a violence that made English scowl.
"Stick around, will you?" he said to Lois. "I may need you tonight. If you don't hear from me within an hour, go home."
"Yes." She looked searchingly at him. "Has something happened, Mr. English?"
He looked at her, then moving over to her, he put his hand on her hip and smiled.
"Did you ever meet my brother, Roy?"
She showed her surprise as she shook her head.
"You haven't missed anything." He gave her hip a little pat. "He's just shot himself."
She caught her breath sharply.
"Save it," he said, and moved toward the door. "He doesn't deserve your sympathy and he wouldn't want mine. This could be messy. Stick around for an hour. If the press get it, stall them. Tell them you don't know where I am."
He took his hat and coat from a cupboard.
"Did Harry give you some champagne?" he asked, putting the hat on his head and giving the brim an irritable jerk.
"Yes, Mr. English."
"Good. Well, so long for now. I may call you." He threw his coat over his arm and went out, closing the door behind him.
Chuck Eagan swung the big, glittering Cadillac into a downtown side street and reduced speed.
Halfway down the street on the right he saw two prowl cars parked outside a tall building that was in darkness, except for two lighted windows on the sixth floor.
He drew up behind the parked cars, cut the engine and got out as Nick English opened the rear door and untangled his long legs to the sidewalk.
Chuck looked enquiringly at him.
"Want me to come up, boss?"
"May as well. Keep in the background and keep your mouth shut."
English walked across the sidewalk to where two patrolmen stood on either side of the entrance to the building. They both recognized him, and saluted.
"The Lieutenant's waiting for you, Mr. English," one of them said. "There's an elevator that'll take you up. Sixth floor."
English nodded and walked into the dimly lit, stone-floored lobby. He moved through a smell of garbage, faulty plumbing and the acid reek of stale perspiration. Facing the entrance was an ancient elevator scarcely big enough to hold four people.
Chuck slid back the grill and followed English into the elevator. He thumbed the automatic button, and the cage started its jerky ascent.
English had left his overcoat in the car. He stood solidly on the balls of his feet, his hands thrust into the pockets of his tuxedo, a smouldering cigar between his teeth, his eyes brooding and cold.
Chuck glanced at him, then glanced away.
Eventually the elevator jerked to a standstill at the sixth floor and Chuck pulled back the grill.
English stepped into a dimly lit passage. Almost opposite him was an open door through which a light came, throwing a square of brightness on the dirty rubber floor of the passage. Further along the passage to the left was another door, showing a light through the frosted panel. To his right, at the end of the passage, was yet another door without glass. A light showed under the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor.
Lieutenant Morilli came through the open doorway. He was a thickset man in his late forties. His lean hatchet face was pallid, and his small moustache looked start-lingly black against his white complexion.
"Sorry to break up the party, Mr. English," he said, his voice pitched low. "But I thought you'd want to come down." He had the hushed, deferential manner of an undertaker dealing with a wealthy client. "A very sad business."
"Who found him?"
"The janitor. He was checking to see if all the offices were locked. He called me, and I called you. I haven't been here myself much more than twenty minutes."