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The Guilty Party
There are days when you feel euphoric for no particular reason; and there are babes who make you feel euphoric for particular reasons. Put them both together and anything can happen.
Maybe that's why it happened. Who cares why it happened?
She came into my office like a gal out in the woods in one of those sexy movies, smiled at me, flowed across the room with the fluidity of hot molasses, sank into the big leather chair opposite my desk, and crossed her legs slowly, gracefully, gently, as though taking care not to bruise any smooth, tender flesh.
I rose to my feet, walked clear around the desk and sat down again.
"Lady," I said, "whatever it is, it's eight to five I'll do it."
She smiled, but still didn't say anything. Maybe she couldn't talk. Maybe she was an idiot. I didn't care. But if curves were convolutions, she had an IQ of at least 37-23-36, or somewhere in that neighborhood, and that's the high-rent district.
Moreover, if some faces can stop a clock, hers would have made Big Ben gain at least forty minutes an hour. A lot of black hair, somewhat tangled, as if a horny Apache dancer had just wound his hands in it, preparatory to flinging her across the room. Narrow dark brows curving hotly -- yeah, whether you think so or not, they curved hotly -- over tawny brown eyes the indefinable shade of autumn. Lips that would burn holes in asbestos. And then that genius body. Man, whatever she had, it should be contagious.
She was looking me over, still silently. I leaned forward, waiting. And I started hoping she wasn't really, truly an idiot.
Finally she said, "So you're Shell Scott?"
"That's me. And you?You?"
She didn't tell me, darn her hide. Instead she cocked her head on one side and said, "I almost hate to take up your time with this little difficulty of mine. I mean it's nothing big and exciting like murders or gangsters --"
"Now, don't you worry, it's big and exciting enough already, and I don't care how little --"
"I mean, I've heard stories about the big cases you've handled and all. I hardly believed them. But I do now. You certainly look capable."
"Yeah? Of ... what?"
"Anything. You really do." She smiled. "You look as if you just got back from an African safari. After shooting lions and tigers and things."
Well, it was a new approach. So to hell with the old approaches. Maybe she was serious. Or maybe she was pulling my leg. But I'll go along with a gag. Besides, I was feeling pretty wild.
"That's me," I said. "Just got back from darkest Zuluongo, where the pygmies are nine feet tall. Braved the poison swamps, the burning heat, the creeping goo --"
"Goodness! It sounds dangerous."
"Dangerous? Why, it's not even in the UN. But nothing daunts me when I'm on a trek." I shrugged. "Killed a couple elephants this trek."
She chuckled. "With your bare hands, of course."
"Of course not. I ... used a rock. But enough about me. You said something about a -- a little difficulty?"
"Yes. It's a bit embarrassing. And I wanted to get to know you a little first."
"OK by me. In fact, you can get to know --"
"You see, there's a thing under my bed, Mr. Scott."
"Shell. A what?"
"A thing under my bed."
"A thing? I don't -- is it alive? Hell, I'll kill it. You came to the right place --"
"No, nothing like that, Mr. Scott."
"It's a little funny metal thing. I thought it was a bomb at first. But probably it isn't. When I got out of bed this morning I heard it fall from the springs or somewhere -- that's how I found it -- and it didn't go off. It's sort of square, about three or four inches long, and has a small doodad on it. Can you guess what it is?"
"I couldn't guess. What is it?"
"I don't know. That's why I came here. I told you it wasn't anything important." She sighed. "I knew you wouldn't be interested."
"But I am! It's just that your description ... Could you sort of narrow it down a little more? I mean, I can think of a million things it isn't. But if we're going to pin this thing down, we've -- we've got to pin it down."
I stopped. This wasn't me. Or wasn't I. It wasn't either of us. This gal had me thinking with a stutter. I shook my head, remained silent, waiting.
She described the thing again, in more detail this time. Finally her description rang a bell.
"Ah-ha," I said. "I think I've got it. I think your bed has been bugged."
"It's a bedbug?"
"No -- look, a 'bug' is a term for a microphone, or listening device. The item in question sounds like a small radio transmitter. Though why in the world anybody would put a portable transmitter under your ..."
I let it trickle off, as suspicion trickled in. The same trickle got to her at about the same moment.
"No!" she cried.
"You're wrong, I'm afraid," I said. "I'm afraid the answer is Yes!"
"Well, possibly somebody --" I started over. It was kind of delicate. "Do you talk in your sleep?"
"How would I know?"
"How indeed? Well, that's out." I paused. "OK, let's be logical, what? Usually people plant them to hear or record conversations -- for blackmail purposes, to catch crooks, get inside information, business secrets and so on. Now, who might benefit in some way by hearing your conversations?"
"In the bedroom?"
"Well ..." She had a point. And it stimulated my thinking.
I said, "We've been going at this all wrong. We have assumed the bedroom bug is the only one. The place may be lousy with them. They may be all over the joint -- living room, dining room, attic, everywhere. Where do you live, anyway?"
"I've a suite in the Montclair." The Montclair was a swank hotel only three or four blocks away.
We attacked the problem from all angles for a few minutes. She was a lingerie model -- it figured -- and thus didn't have any big business secrets to discuss in her suite. She didn't dictate important letters or help plan union strikes, didn't know any criminals, and so on. She didn't even entertain anybody in her suite, although she did mention one name, which obviously I heard incorrectly.
All in all, there seemed no reason whatsoever for anybody to bug her rooms. It was a puzzler.
Finally I said, "OK, you live in the Montclair. And your phone number?"
"Will that help?"
"It'll help me."
She smiled. "Oxford 4-8096, that's the Montclair's number. And I'm in number Twenty."
"And your name?" I said, all business.
"Lydia Brindley. At least until next week."
"It won't be Lydia next week?"
"It won't be Brindley. It will be Fish."
"I don't believe it."
"Oh, you do too. Stop joshing me. That's the name of my fiancé."
"Your -- oh."
I got a sharp shooting pain, in an area which it is impolite to mention. An area, in fact, which it is ghastly to mention.
Copyright © 1969 by Richard S. Prather