About the Author
George Harmon Coxe (1901–1984) was an early star of hard-boiled crime fiction, best known for characters he created in the seminal pulp magazine Black Mask. Born in upstate New York, he attended Purdue and Cornell Universities before moving to the West Coast to work in newspapers. In 1922 he began publishing short stories in pulp magazines across various genres, including romance and sports. He would find his greatest success, however, writing crime fiction. In 1934 Coxe, relying on his background in journalism, created his most enduring character: Jack “Flashgun” Casey, a crime photographer. First appearing in “Return Engagement,” a Black Mask short, Casey found success on every platform, including radio, television, and film. Coxe’s other well-known characters include Kent Murdock, another photographer, and Jack Fenner, a PI. Always more interested in character development than a clever plot twist, Coxe was at home in novel-writing, producing sixty-three books in his lifetime. Made a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1964, Coxe died in 1984.
Read an Excerpt
By George Harmon Coxe
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1964 George Harmon Coxe
All rights reserved.
The fact that Jack Casey knew a great many people from nearly all walks of life had been a contributing factor in maintaining his position as the number one photographer at the Daily Express. Such contacts meant tips that often got him to the scene of a worthwhile spot-news picture a few jumps ahead of the competition, and he cultivated his sources by means that ranged from the judicious use of hard-to-get tickets to sporting events, and ten-dollar bills not always entered as expenses, to nothing more than a friendly drink and a word of thanks.
But such acquaintanceship was not entirely a one-way street. Knowing people occasionally meant a personal entanglement in their problems and unexpected trouble. If, on this particular night, coincidence had decreed that he get his on-the-way-home drink at some other bar he would have avoided a situation that involved him in a tragic sequence of events he could not control. Actually it was nothing more than the simple desire to have a bit of music with his drink that prompted him to stop at the Melody Lounge, which featured Ralph Jackson's six-piece group and a colored man named Duke Baker, who played a very easy, full-chord piano during the intervals between sets.
The Melody Lounge offered no other entertainment and no dancing. There was a sizable, semicircular bar near the front, with the remaining area a congestion of chairs, banquettes, and tables too small for dining, though food was available. Jackson was no Ruby Braff or Al Hirt or Bobby Hackett, but he played a sound horn and his lower register work was commendable. His side men were experienced and competent, and as a group they played everything from Dixie to current ballads, depending on the requests. The regular patrons had approved of the combination for some months now and about three quarters of the tables were occupied when Casey took a stool at the bar and was greeted by the head barman, a bald and moon-faced giant named Quigley.
"Evening, Mr. Casey."
"Good evening, Tom," Casey said and grinned at the Mister, a word he seldom heard. "Bourbon, please. A little water."
He glanced about as Quigley reached for the bottle, calling the roll at the bar and noting a familiar face here and there. A blonde in a black dress, who filled it very well and looked interesting in the subdued lighting, sat alone at the end of the bar, but she seemed intent on the glass in front of her and her young face held a slack and bored expression. A private detective named Earl Geiger was nursing a beer on the side nearest the entrance, and a precinct politician was romancing a shapely redhead a few stools away. When he saw Casey he winked and gave him a small one-fingered salute. Casey winked back and sipped his bourbon as he glanced at the bandstand.
Jackson and ensemble were just winding up their version of Tea for Two and they all finished together. The applause was rewarding, and as requests were offered from the floor Jackson smiled back, a slender, thin-faced man with sleek black hair and a mustache. Known in the trade as a sharp dresser, he wore gray slacks and a double-breasted blue flannel jacket with silver buttons. A heavy silver identification bracelet was visible now and then below one cuff when he took a solo. He wore a gold ring on the little finger of his left hand, and he was reasonably tall, which made Casey ask himself again why the hell it was that so many good trumpet men he'd heard and seen—Braff, Hackett, Kaminsky, Eldridge—were not only short but in many cases downright small.
Mac the Knife won out among the requests and as Jackson tapped the group into the opening bars Casey's glance flicked past a table near the front, came back, and focused. Because of the angle he had a better look at the woman, who had a pretty face, an exceptional figure, and natural medium-blonde hair. The man with her had every right to be there, since he was her husband, but the sight of them surprised Casey, not only because this was not the sort of place one would expect to find Donald Farrington but also because he looked as if he'd had a bit more to drink than he could handle.
Although they did not run in the same social circles, Casey had known Farrington since he had been a hard-running halfback at Harvard a dozen years earlier. Strictly first-family, Farrington was a conservative, conventional, and proper man, polite and well mannered but essentially humorless. As a partner in the family brokerage business of Farrington and Coe, he personally handled Casey's modest account, and Casey had been with him enough to know that while Farrington respected the rights of others to drink, he almost always limited himself to one. Now, because of the lighting and because he was not quite sure, he sought confirmation.
"Tom," he said to Quigley when he saw the barman wasn't busy. "Isn't that Mr. and Mrs. Farrington at that table down front?"
"Do they come here often?"
"Not often. At least not Farrington. She looks in now and then."
Quigley tipped one big hand and his answer came reluctantly, as though he had no right to talk about his customers and did so only because Casey rated certain privileges denied to others.
"Sometimes. For a drink. She likes the band, I guess. Sometimes with her brother-in-law. I'm not sure of the name."
"Mayfield," Casey said. "Arthur Mayfield ... Tom," he added as Quigley started to withdraw, "how many has Farrington had?"
Quigley offered a slow smile that was as reproving as the shake of his head.
"My job is to listen, Mr. Casey."
Casey grinned. "Okay, Tom. But more than one."
"All right, more than one."
Casey was still wondering about Farrington when there was a bustling beside him as someone climbed up on the stool on his left, bumped his shoulder, and leaned close. "Casey," the newcomer said before Casey could turn his head. "Boy, am I glad to see you."
Casey was at once aware of Marty Bates's quick and breathless manner, the note of relief in his voice. He watched Bates put a small Graphic on the bar, saw the thirty-five-millimeter camera hanging over one shoulder. Before he could offer more than a surprised and cautious—cautious because Marty already owed him money—"Hi, Marty," Bates called to Quigley:
"A double bourbon, Tom, and another whatever-it-is-he's-drinking for my friend here."
For a silent second or two they sat there shoulder to shoulder, two press photographers who, except for their experience and their proficiency in their trade, had very little in common. For Casey could be called a big man in almost any company. He stood a couple of inches over six feet, his weight averaging year in and year out around two twenty; a deep-chested man with no noticeable pod, thick graying hair and dark, humorous eyes that gave a reasonably handsome look to his rugged face. His clothes were expensive but worn carelessly so that only the initiate could tell the difference, and his job at the Express had a certain status that few challenged.
In contrast, Marty Bates was a small, quick-moving man in his early thirties with an angular face and quick, darting eyes. He had few equals in his use of photographic equipment, and an almost uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time when pictures were available. Nervy, brash, but lacking self-discipline, he was a likable maverick who had been fired from three local papers for missing assignments, or just being missing, and the fourth wanted no part of him. His clothes had neither style nor distinction, he usually needed a haircut and often a shave. His wife, in Casey's opinion a wonderful girl, had left him two years earlier and he existed now on freelance work—public-relations jobs, assignments for small businessmen, the usual weddings and parties. Also, working with infrared film, he sometimes managed more intangible shots in certain night spots he was not already barred from, for the purpose, so rumor had it, of a bit of petty blackmail here and there.
Now, with his drink in his hand, he said: "Cheers, kid. I'm glad I ran into you. You could do me a little favor. Maybe one for yourself."
Casey swallowed some drink, sighed inwardly, and, making a mental tabulation of his cash resources, decided he could let Marty have another ten.
"How much what?" Marty said, brows climbing over innocent eyes.
"How much do you need?"
"Hey. Cut it out." Marty chuckled and put down his glass. "I'm buying. I figure I can pay you off in a day or so. Don't think I forget what I owe. It's all down in the book. Seventy bucks, isn't it? ... No, what I mean is this," he said and put a filmholder on the bar between them. "It's hot. I just got it a few minutes ago."
Casey glanced at the filmholder and then frowned at Bates with some suspicion.
"What's the rest of it?"
"Develop it and print it. Give me what you think it's worth."
"I don't buy pix."
"The Express does."
"Sometimes. So take it in yourself. Make your own deal. What makes you think it's worth anything?"
"You'll see when you process it."
"Un-unh." Casey shook his head. "I've had a hard day," he added, even as he realized that the statement was something less than the truth. He'd had a dull day. An uneventful morning had been followed by an assignment to cover a luncheon at one of the hotels and get some shots of the guest of honor and certain dignitaries. The business office had taken care of most of the afternoon by setting up two dates to keep an important advertiser happy, assignments viewed without enthusiasm by all press photographers and called: "B.O. musts." In addition, he had hung around the office after dinner, hoping for something interesting to break. "I'm tired, Marty. When I finish this I'm going home. Take it in yourself."
Bates thought it over and swallowed some bourbon. "Who's on the desk now?"
"Ho! He wouldn't give me a dime if I offered him a shot of the state-house dome blowing off ... Okay," he added. "Take it anyway. It'll be almost as good tomorrow as it is now. Process it in the morning and I'll be in touch. You don't like it, you don't pay."
More to end the discussion than because he believed Bates, Casey slipped the filmholder into his pocket, aware now that Duke Baker was at the piano with his relaxed style and nice left hand. The unknown blonde was no longer at the end of the bar, but he found her presently, sitting, of all places, at the Farrington table along with Ralph Jackson. That Jackson should have a blonde was expected, since Casey had seen them before, sitting at obscure, haf-hidden tables, waiting for the orchestra leader to join them; that Don Farrington should accept the pair at his table was more astonishing and indicated what Casey had suspected—Farrington was getting loaded.
He was still watching the man and speculating on the reason for the apparent out-of-character performance when he realized Shirley Farrington had seen him. Now she rose and said something to the others. She leaned dawn to pat her husband's shoulder. Then she was swinging between the tables toward the bar, tall and striking-looking and completely unaware of the heads, both male and female, that followed her progress and the graceful movements of her body.
She was looking right at him as she approached and when he saw the smile start and was sure she intended to join him he slid from his stool and waited, feeling very pleased with the attention, even though he did not understand it. She was wearing a well-cut dress of sheer navy wool that did nice things for her figure, the blonde hair was softly waved and rather long, and he knew that the smiling eyes were green. A coat that matched the dress was transferred to her left arm and the hand she offered was soft but strong-fingered.
"Hello, Jack," she said, her hand lingering in his. "Have you done your good deed for the day?"
"I've been saving it."
"Well, how nice for me."
"Would you like a drink?"
"I've had a drink, thanks. No, what I had in mind was transportation."
"Oh," Casey nodded. "Sure," he said, frowning now, still hesitating as he glanced again at the table down front where Don Farrington, chin propped on one hand, was staring at the blonde. "Is it okay with Don? I mean, what's with him anyway?"
"He hasn't said. He doesn't want to leave. I do. I thought about taking the car and then I thought: 'Come on, Shirley. Be big about it. The poor man enjoys himself so seldom, let him have his fun.' I was going to get a cab and then"—she gave him her smile again, her eyes challenging—"I saw you."
"And you said to yourself," Casey added, "'there's that nice Jack Casey. I just know he'd love to take me home.'"
"Yes," she said, her quick laugh barely audible. "That's exactly what I said."
"Okay." Casey took her coat and held it. "Let's go."
Behind him, Marty Bates, who must have overheard much of the conversation, had a parting word. "Don't forget, Casey. Check with you in the morning, hunh? ..."
Shirley Farrington was silent as Casey got his car under way and he did some thinking before he spoke. The nice warm glow that the girl's attention had brought to him evaporated slowly as his thoughts progressed, and in the end his curiosity overcame his reluctance to pry into personal matters. On the face of it, the whole affair was beyond his comprehension. Because, while he and Farrington were not close friends, he admired the younger man for what he was and thought he understood what made him tick.
"I thought Don was strictly a one-drink man."
"Oh, he is," Shirley said. "A weak Scotch-and-soda before dinner. At parties, to be sociable and avoid awkward questions, he will nurse a drink for hours. Vodka and ginger ale, because he says he doesn't even like the taste of liquor."
She found a cigarette in her bag and he pressed the dashboard lighter. She accepted the light and settled back in the corner of the seat.
"I get a little bored with the Louisburg Square—Farrington Country Club Society routine at times. I like Ralph Jackson's music. Did you know I wanted to sing with a band once? I tried it some when I was living in Florida. I don't think I was too bad but—" She made a soft throaty sound. "Can you imagine old Mrs. Farrington having a female singer for a daughter-in-law? Sometimes I'll get up and do a couple of choruses at a private party, just to jar Donald and my cold and proper sister-in-law, Louise."
She sighed and said: "Well, it's usually a chore to get Donald to go any place like the Melody Lounge. I don't know what happened tonight. Maybe it was psychological. You know, like something special happened to him today—either very good or very bad. Of course his mother is a very sick woman. She'll never get well and they know it. But it was as if a wave of euphoria hit him tonight. He had two drinks and insisted on a third and he's not equipped to handle liquor in such quantities. And he saw Ralph talking to this chemical blonde and wanted to meet her and Ralph brought her over."
She went on, elaborating on the same theme, and Casey reviewed the things he knew about her. She had been born Shirley Duncan, the only child of a prominent lawyer who had died when she was quite young. Her mother, having four—or was it five?—husbands, had not been much help, but Shirley had gone to an excellent girls' school with Farrington's younger sister, who now lived in California. There had been some years in Florida that Casey knew nothing about, and the first time he had met her as a woman was as a receptionist at Farrington and Coe.
He did not know at the time that Donald Farrington had met her in Florida and made the job for her; he did not know that Farrington was in love with her but had not yet got around to asking her to marry him. All he knew was that this was one of the most attractive girls he had ever seen and there was no reluctance on her part when he first asked her out to dinner.
Yet even then he was aware that other men looked at her with more than passing interest, that she looked back at them in her humorous, mildly insolent way as though to say: You can look all you want to but it isn't going to do you any good.
He was also aware that even when sitting with him at a bar or across the table she was, in her way, looking for something beyond him. She was a good listener, and she would nod and smile and let him hold her hand. She had an extraordinary talent for unspoken flattery that made him proud and pleased to be with her, but there was always a secret something in her eyes that he could not seem to reach. Later he decided that what she was looking for was security and wealth and social position, which was exactly what she eventually got in Donald Farrington....
Excerpted from Deadly Image by George Harmon Coxe. Copyright © 1964 George Harmon Coxe. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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