Read an Excerpt
Take a Murder, Darling
A Shell Scott Mystery
By Richard S. Prather
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1958 Richard S. Prather
All rights reserved.
She had a seventy-eight-inch bust, forty-six-inch waist, and seventy-two-inch hips—measurements that were exactly right, I thought, for her height of eleven feet, four inches.
The scarlet bikini which had covered a minimum of those eye-popping curves lay crumpled on the floor at her feet, and my eyes focussed on her as glassily as did the dead man's. He was dead, all right. He had been shot, poisoned, stabbed, and strangled.
Either somebody had really had it in for him or four people had killed him. Or else it was the cleverest suicide I'd ever heard of.
Sounds of wild and happy revelry floated up from the grounds below, shouts and shrieks and whoops and laughter. A woman laughed, cried, "Stop it, Charlie, stop it. Stop it ..." and laughed delightedly some more. If Charlie really stopped it, he was a boy who would stay out in the rain. I turned away from the dead man, walked to a window and looked down two stories to the long oval pool in which twenty or thirty muscular guys and nearly naked dolls cavorted, and it seemed strange indeed to see so much life down there, while up here with me was so much death.
Me? I'm Shell Scott. I'm a private detective, and about two minutes ago I'd been down there at the pool.
I stood at the window for a few seconds more, looking at the rainbow of color, the swirl of movement and activity below. Television cameras were already set up, and TV stars, movie stars and starlets, reporters and commentators and other guests milled and splashed about.
Several miles away were visible some of the buildings of Hollywood, U.S.A., Land of Let's Pretend. This was one of our clearest days in weeks, a Sunday almost completely free of smog, and farther away to my right I could see the blue splash of the Pacific Ocean. The sun was bright and hot, bouncing off green foliage and trees massed on the acres of junglelike estate surrounding the house and pool, glancing from the water, glinting from flesh, from the smoothly swelling curves on several of the lovelies from Mamzel's. Even from up here in the window I could recognize little bright and bouncing Didi; soft, sweet April; luscious Elaine; Corky and Pepper and several other beauties, all of whom looked like products of a fevered imagination. Actually, they were products of Mamzel's.
Mamzel's—that's what this festive affair was all about The name was known to a good chunk of the U.S. already, but this afternoon was to be the kickoff on a high-powered publicity campaign that would make Mamzel's as well known as Mickey Mouse. The name identified the biggest and already best known chain of body contouring, or "figure artistry" salons for women in the country. Seven of them, in seven cities, were already turning flabby Twentieth-century women into firm neatly-curved gals with a Twenty-first-century Look. Tomorrow, Monday, three more of Mamzel's salons were to open in three more cities.
The name was also applied to the owner-founder of the chain. She was beautiful and sexy, but speaking of her in those general terms was similar to saying the world is big and round. The gal called Mamzel was the flesh-and-blood original of whom an exactly twice-life-size statue had been fashioned, duplicates of which—made from flesh-colored plastic—would, beginning tomorrow, stand atop all ten of the salons in the growing Mamzel chain. And a duplicate of which was now here in the room with the dead man and me.
I turned and looked at the eleven-foot, four-inch plastic beauty again. It was overpowering. I pulled my eyes from the swelling hips, sharply indented waist, and enormous, thrusting breasts, and looked at the dead man again. This was the second really big one, the second murder that would have national—and even international—repercussions. This one was really going to rip it apart.
I walked over and knelt by him. A white cord had been knotted around his neck, but it looked almost like an afterthought. A large pair of scissors protruded from his back, and the small bullet hole in his forehead had bled very little. A bubbly froth had dried on his lips.
I blinked at the corpse, wondering why anybody in his right mind would commit such a complicated murder. Possibly there was an answer; maybe the killer had been in his wrong mind. I stood up, took a last look around the room, then went out. There was a phone downstairs, I remembered. I found it and put in a call to the Police Building in Los Angeles, got through to Homicide and Captain Phil Samson.
In addition to being Captain of Homicide, Sam is my best friend in L.A. He's hard, competent, honest, with a tough surface over a much more gentle interior, and he is the best cop I've ever met, and I've met plenty. It was ten to one that he was chewing on a long black cigar when he spoke into the phone's mouthpiece, and it was highly probable that he bit through the cigar when I told him where I was and why I was calling.
"Oh, no!" he groaned. "He's dead?"
"It seems a reasonable assumption."
"I wish you'd call up just once to say hello, or with good news," he growled at me. Sam spoke to somebody in the squadroom, then said to me, "You know what killed him?"
"Everything except diphtheria." I told him about the peculiar circumstances connected with this latest murder.
For several seconds he was quiet. Finally he spoke dully, "Well, that's a new m.o. , at least. If he kills anybody else, we ought to be able to pin the job on him without any trouble at all."
"Cheer up, Sam. I'll see your boys when they get here."
"You'd better. For all I know, you're guilty. This sounds like the kind of screwy thing you'd pull."
"Not a chance. This guy was killed by a pessimist."
"Funny. Is that where the fancy party's going on?"
"How many people out there?"
"About two hundred suspects. Plus gate crashers."
"Anything that might tie this one to the others?"
This wasn't the only murder Sam and I had discussed in the last twenty-four hours. For a while it had appeared that Sam might wind up discussing my murder with somebody else. I fingered the raw furrow on my neck, where a .45 slug had sliced open the skin. We traded unpleasantries and I told him that I would try, from here on, to mingle only with live ones, hung up, and left to do just that.
As soon as I walked out the front door I could hear a flock of people gabbling. They were all out in back, near the pool I'd looked down on from the Tower Room window, so I headed in that direction.
This was the estate of Horatio Adair, the haughty king of haute couture, designer of the Adair Line of feminine "garments." He was the number-one male in the field of fashion design, though not so male that it would frighten you, in fact, some unkind characters called this isolated and lushly overgrown estate of his Shangri-La-La! However, he had made millions of dollars by leading the change in feminine styles each year, and by convincing women that if they didn't have the Adair Flair, or at least a reasonable facsimile, they just weren't there, weren't with it at all.
Somewhere off in the bushes that happy gal was squealing gleefully again that Charlie should stop it—and it didn't seem likely that he would now—and there were numerous other sounds of the kind made by people enjoying themselves. I walked on past a thirty-foot table loaded with cold lobster, crab, shrimp, oysters, anchovies and maybe even octopus, for all I knew, and on out to the swimming pool, where all twelve of the Mamzel girls—counting Mamzel herself and Didi, the receptionist—were gathered. I spotted the whole round dozen of them in and near the pool, and a round dozen it was, too.
Mamzel's was a symbol of the ultimate in feminine beauty. Rather ordinary gals were supposed to go in, and glamorous sirens come out. The women who were a part of Mamzel's, who worked there and served not only as guides but as examples and inspiration to the customers, were chosen for their outstanding beauty of face and form and then given the Mamzel treatment, the course, the gamut from Ahh-h to Z. Consequently, while all women are different from men, these gals were more different.
One of the most different swam easily across the pool, pulled herself smoothly over the side and waved at me. This one was Didi, a honey-haired honey in her early twenties and shaped like a gal with the best parts of several people. Under normal circumstances I would have stopped for a long conversation, but right now I had other things to do before all hell broke loose here. I asked Didi where Lita Korrel was and she pointed toward the end of the pool.
At the pool's far end was another of the sensational pink plastic statues identical with the one I'd just been gandering upstairs. Identical except that this one was draped with white canvas, to keep it hidden until the upcoming unveiling, and under the white cloth the statue was supposed to be wearing a pink bikini, securely fastened on. The unveiling was scheduled to be televised, and a bikini-less Mamzel could well blow out a great number of 21-inch tubes during the moment before countless censors flipped into shock and delirium.
At first I didn't see Lita. Then I caught a flash of pink, which I soon identified as the pink cloth of Lita's bikini bra. That was nearly all I could see at first, because she was practically out of sight behind the statue, but then she turned and the pink grew. And grew. There was not so much of the bra, but there was a good deal of Lita.
She saw me, waved and smiled.
I walked toward Lita Korrel, and the closer I got, the better she got.
You would think—surrounded by all this flesh, this beauty, this gorgeous and superlative femininity—that I would be well prepared to resist one more assault upon my eyeballs. You would think that—after having just gazed upon Didi's hour-glass figure in forty seconds of swimsuit—I would be relatively immune to a further abundance of charms. You would think that, by this time—what with Cecile and Yama and Misty and Yvonne and all the rest—I would give only a passing glance to another woman unless she had two fannies or something equally diverting.
You would think so, maybe; but you would be wrong.
Because Lita Korrel in a pink bikini was the eighth wonder of the world. She was a pink explosion, a three-dimensional shock, a flesh bomb, an undulating Garden of Eden.
Lita Korrel was—Mamzel.
She was the original model for that eleven-foot, six-inch, 78-46-72, plastic symbol of sex and health and beauty, which was twice life size, exactly. In every direction and dimension. Any way you look at it, that body still comes out like the one she might have chosen herself.
She was smiling as I walked toward her. It was the kind of smile that goes with extended arms and clutching fingers, though her arms were at her sides, and it was almost the same kind of bright, captivating smile she'd given me when we'd met.
That had been only yesterday morning, though so much had happened in the hours since then that it seemed at least a week had passed. It had been at the figure-fashioning salon itself, at Mamzel's, and Lita had been wearing—not a bikini—but a white leotard.
And I remembered now that even in the moment when I had seen her for the first time, I had thought that Lita Korrel was a gal so female that she made most other females seem male.CHAPTER 2
The way the thing started, I was feeding some fresh shrimp to the guppies I keep in a ten-gallon aquarium in my office downtown. That's downtown L.A., on Broadway between Third and Fourth. It's up one flight, and lettered on the frosted glass door is the legend, Sheldon Scott, Investigations. Not that I'm a legend; that's just what's painted on the glass. Anyway, the little brightly colored fish were tearing at the shrimp when the phone rang.
The guy on the other end of the line was Arthur James Lawrance, known to all of show business and much other business as Fabulous Lawrance. That's about all he was ever called, even in print, which he was in often. That was his business—getting himself and his clients into print. He was a press agent, publicity consultant, career engineer. Whatever you called him, he was good. In fact, he was Fabulous.
Fabulous Lawrance is the guy, in case you didn't already know, who originated, instead of the Grand Opening, the Grand Closing. That was many years ago for Walton's Supermarket, and it was so successful that Walton made a lot of money on the deal, and a week later had a Grand Opening. He originated the Miss-America-of-the-Month Contest, the flexible plastic Celebrity Mask, balloon banners for advertising which floated over cities carrying slogans lauding Nekrub for sore necks, the Martini Break, and too many other firsts to mention. He had represented movie stars, TV personalities, politicians, and even other press agents. He was Fabulous Lawrance, the guy who would try anything twice, the man who could make a mountain out of any molehill.
Now Lawrance was representing Mamzel's.
After the first few seconds of mutual identification, he said rapidly, in a sharp, staccato voice, "You did the job for John Randolph, didn't you?"
"That's right." John Randolph was the nation's Number-One TV and radio news commentator. I had spent one interesting day working for him during the past month, and picked up a quick check for five-hundred dollars, a nice day's work.
"Good. You're the man I want. You free to take a job now? For me, and Mamzel's?"
"What kind of job?"
"Well, here I am alone, surrounded by all these gorgeous babes. They all look like they got caught in the bust-developing machines and couldn't get out until it was almost too late. And we're in trouble. Mamzel's is in trouble. All those beautiful babes are in trouble. They may all be thrown out of work and be destitute on the streets of Hollywood, prey of producers, directors, even actors."
"I'll come right out."
"How soon can you make it?"
"With no accidents on the Freeway, twenty minutes."
"Good. See you here, Scott."
We hung up. I was downstairs and climbing into my Cadillac before it occurred to me that Lawrance had not told me anything about the case. As I pulled out of the lot I thought about that. Maybe I was getting an inkling of why Lawrance was called Fabulous.
I made it to Mamzel's in a couple minutes under twenty. It was on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, a few blocks south of the Palladium, and nearly as big as that super-sized dance hall. It was a low, white building, modern, with the front unbroken except for massive glass-and-chrome doors at the far right over which was the one word, Mamzel's, in foot-high red letters, done in a flowing feminine script. I parked in the lot at the building's side, walked to the big entrance doors, and through them.
I was in some kind of reception room. Against the wall on my right were a pale green divan, two chairs in glowing gold, and a small gilt table. The carpet was an off-white, the color of rich cream with a little coffee in it, and the other three walls were all mirror from floor to ceiling. In the center of the room was the only other piece of furniture, a white desk so delicate and airy that it looked like an hors d'oeuvre for two termites. And seated behind the desk fluttering her lashes at me was a blonde beauty in mint green who apparently served as receptionist here.
It had taken a little while for my eyes to become accustomed to the dimness of the room, but it was going to take a lot longer for my eyes to become accustomed to the blonde tomato. Here was one of those gals Lawrance had told me about, the gals who had got stuck in the bust-developing machines.
As I stopped inside the door and looked at her, she smiled brightly. "Hello," she said. And then she stood up and stepped quickly toward me.
Well, it was almost too much. With the wall of mirror behind her reflecting every move that side of her made, and me watching every move this side of her made, she seemed to be advancing from me and retreating toward me while trying to get away sideways. She looked as if a breath would bruise her, but at the same time like a gal who could climb to the top of Everest without stopping. She looked, that is, one-hundred-percent healthy, vital in every cell and jiggle, but still soft and tender and completely feminine.
As she stopped in front of me she said, "You're Shell Scott, aren't you?"
"Yes, and you must be Mamzel."
"Oh, goodness no." She laughed delightedly. "But thanks for the compliment. I'm Didi, Mr. Scott."
Excerpted from Take a Murder, Darling by Richard S. Prather. Copyright © 1958 Richard S. Prather. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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