When popular cartoonist Lawrence Lariar decided to moonlight as a mystery writer, creating comic book artist turned amateur sleuth Homer Bull was a natural. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Lariar continued to switch from sketching caricatures to sketchy characters, writing hardboiled crime fiction under his own name as well as the pseudonyms Michael Stark, Adam Knight, Michael Lawrence, and Marston La France, and creating a series of memorable gumshoes. Now his classic whodunits are available as ebooks.
When wealthy and naïve American art student Judy Martin flees the states to find succès in Paris, she’s followed by a relentless paramour eager to marry into money. Now PI Steve Conacher’s been hired to tail both of them—and cut the shady romance short. But someone beats him to it. Lover boy’s been found cut to ribbons on the banks of the Seine. And Judy has vanished without a trace.
From scouring the backstreet bistros in Montmartre to tangling with unflics to playing in the pleasure-seeking circles of the missing girl’s private life, Conacher is running headlong into danger. Because one by one, his contacts are being picked off. Now Conacher isn’t sure if he’s searching for a terrified runaway—or a fetching fugitive with so much to hide it’s criminal.
Girl Running is the 7th book in the PI Steve Conacher Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Founard's — Avenue Marguerite
The sign over the Frenchman's head said: Hotel Founard.
Which was twice as much as the fat ox was saying himself.
He leaned on the hotel desk, a mountain of dumb beef. He sucked a toothpick and gave me his dead eye. The little lobby was as noisy as a deep freeze. Only a wandering fly buzzed over our heads. After a while, even the fly got bored and beat it. The Frenchman watched the fly, giving him all his attention.
Until I produced some folding money and slipped it across the desk. His pudgy hand covered it and swallowed it.
"Ah, yes, Monsieur," he said.
All of a sudden he saw me. All of a sudden he could talk.
"What was it you wanted, Monsieur?"
Now he knew English. I was too mad to laugh. For ten minutes he had been staring at me. For ten minutes he had given me the dumb act, half boredom, half disgust. It was something you found out about the French, a lesson you learned the hard way. Some frogs only move for money. For a few bucks this big ox would slaughter his mother for me.
I said: "I was asking about one of your tenants. A Mr. Douglas Folger."
"You are a friend of Monsieur Folger, no?"
"I am a friend of Monsieur Folger, yes. He lives here, doesn't he?"
He flipped open the hotel register. He thumbed the pages lazily.
"Monsieur Folger came here a week ago."
"What's his room number? I want to see him."
"But that is impossible, Monsieur." His face was bland and sleepy. He sucked at his toothpick in the pauses. "He is away. He has been away since late last night."
"He's coming back, isn't he?"
"I would think so." A small smile tried to curl his thick lips. It faded fast. "But Monsieur Folger was drunk when he left here. Very drunk. There was a party in his room. Much noise and drinking, you understand?" The slow wink was as clean as a bad word. "These parties happen often with the American tourists. A guest leaves late at night. He returns maybe the next day, maybe a week later."
"Folger left alone?"
"With his friend. Another American."
The shrug was weary. "I have met none of Monsieur Folger's friends. It is not the practice of the hotel —"
"I'd like to go up to his room," I interrupted. "He could have left the place for good."
"That is certainly his privilege, is it not?" Fat boy was studying me, adding me up. "Yet, Monsieur Folger took no luggage. He arrived with luggage, one bag. Since he did not take this with him last night, we can assume —"
"He took his key?"
"That is true."
"But you've got a master key?"
"La, la," said the big man, pursing his lips like a coy maiden. He waggled a finger at me. "It is most irregular to allow anyone to enter a guest's room."
"Here we go again," I said.
It would do no good to tell him I was a private investigator. He would shrug his larded shoulders at my passport, my name and my credentials. He would laugh down his thick nose at anything but folding money.
So I gave him some fresh francs.
"I'll only be a few minutes," I said.
"There is no hurry, Monsieur. Since you are a friend of his, you can wait if you choose." He reached into the key rack and handed me the master. "It is room 3F, in the rear."
Founard's had no elevator. It was a four-storey trap, built a thousand years ago. The narrow stairway led upstairs at a stiff angle. The boards creaked and complained all the way to Folger's floor. From somewhere in a distant room the smell of burned cooking floated into the hall. At this hour of the morning the stench made my gut bounce.
Folger's door needed no key.
The immediate darkness froze me. There were two tall windows on the street side, but both shades were drawn tight. The air was heavy with liquor smell. I crossed the room and pulled up one shade. The morning sun shot a square pattern of light over the red carpet and up to the bed.
A girl lay asleep there.
She moved only in the torso, breathing smoothly, her breasts tightening against the pink silk slip. She looked young enough for teenage brawls, a short doll who pouted in her deep sleep. The night table held two empty bottles, both of them a brand of American bourbon. There were three glasses on the chest of drawers, one of them smashed. Cigarette butts dotted the floor. The girl's clothes hung over the foot of the brass bed. She had been wearing a nice street outfit. Her shoes were neat and clean. She was still wearing her stockings. It was tough going to take my eyes off her legs.
So I tapped her on the shoulder.
"The party's all over," I said.
She wriggled and waved me away, not opening her eyes.
"Another drink," she said in a sleepy whisper. "Be a good boy and get me another one."
I tapped her again.
"You're ripe for coffee, sister."
She squirmed to a seated pose. She leaned back on her hands and half opened her eyes.
"Pull down the damned shade," she said. "I'm allergic to daylight."
I flipped up the other shade. Now the room burned with the bright sun.
"You're making Velma very angry," she said, pouting. She moved off the bed, unsteady on her pins. I let her pull the shades down again. She turned and squinted at me, not bothering to fuss with her slip. Nudity didn't bother her.
"Velma could use a Prairie Oyster," I said. "Another drink and you'll be crawling on the ceiling."
"I'll buy that."
She stood close to me, trying for one of the butts on the night table. I gave her a Chesterfield and lit it for her. She had dark, thankful eyes, lazy and quiet and full of sleepy wonder. Or was she still drunk? She sucked deep on the cigarette, letting it fill her lungs. She sat on the bed again.
"Where's your friend?" she asked. "Where's laughing boy?"
"You're still asleep, Velma. How about some coffee downstairs?"
"Easy, little man. Who the hell are you?"
I turned on the light. She reacted to the electric glow with the same annoyance. She ducked and rubbed her eyes and swore gently but firmly.
"Take another gander at me, Velma. It won't hurt."
"I can't stand the strain," she said, squinting at me and showing mild surprise. "You weren't with us last night. You're a new one."
"Right off the boat. And looking for Folger."
"He isn't here?"
She looked around the room, as though Folger might be hidden under the bed. She began to laugh at her gesture.
"Live and learn," she sighed. "This is the first time I've been stood up. And in bed yet."
"Folger must be out of his mind, walking out on you."
"You say the sweetest things."
"Who else was in the brawl?"
"Ask me the easy ones, will you?"
She yawned and stretched, moving to the bedpost to slip into her clothes. In any pose this babe was a picture. She had a body built for Italian movies. Her drowsy eyes stabbed at you, burning into you. Behind the pretty face, her brain never rested.
"I'm a forgetful drunk," she said. "Two bourbons give me amnesia. And I had a flock of them last night."
"There were three of you up here?"
"You're clever. You should be a detective."
"I am a detective."
She paused to study me. "I really believe you are. I've never met a detective, outside the little murder books. You don't look like a detective. You look like an overgrown jockey."
"Shall I tell you what you look like?"
"Flattery will get you nowhere."
"I'm not going anywhere. How about lunch?"
"Fast," she smiled. "You remind me of my lost youth, little man. What do I call you? We've hardly met."
"Steve," I said. "Steve Conacher."
"You're new to Paris." She studied me, pausing in her reverse strip tease. She was completely at ease. She would have radiated the same poise in Macy's window, a babe who seemed proud of her body, unafraid to show it. She slipped on her blouse and stood there, eyeing me like a doll on a French postcard, dressed from the hips up. "Ever expect to meet anything like me, Steve?"
"I might have dreamed about it."
"You think I'm nuts? A renegade from a psychiatrist's couch, I'll bet?"
"I'll tell you when I know you better."
"Optimist," she laughed. "You're not that good a detective. Some of the biggest brains in Freud's stable have failed with me. I'm a bad, bad girl, don't you see? That's why I make casual pickups."
"How'd you meet him?"
"Don't be naïve," she snickered. "In Paris you don't need the formalities. You sit in a public bar and talk English. You share a drink and then the small talk begins. I met Folger in a bar over on the Left Bank. You'll get to know the dump pretty soon. All Americans wind up there. It's called the Rotonde and it's built for dolls like me. The tourists come there and cry in their beers and get stiff and make crazy dates with other damned-fool Americans. Folger looked lonesome and he was lonesome and pretty soon we got a party started and went off around the town, drinking and laughing it up. I wound up here. It's as simple as that."
Now she was completely dressed and applying her make-up. Fixed for the street, she looked like an upper-class girl, a neat and willowy model, a target for wolf calls.
"Who was the third person?" I asked.
"I didn't catch his name. He wandered in."
"Sure you don't know him?"
"I've already told you. I'm forgetful. Liquor gives me amnesia."
"Squeeze a little, baby."
She turned her sleepy eyes my way. For a short pause, she speculated about me. Something was clouding her mind, a thought that irritated a little. She came closer, leaning into me and working her fingers on my tie.
"What are you thinking?" she asked seriously. "'That I might have called some hood in to roll Folger? Is that it, detective?"
"It's an angle. I'm glad you mentioned it, Velma."
"It's an obtuse angle, Steve. I'm not that bad."
"I didn't think so."
She didn't move when I touched her. She was sitting again, on the edge of the bed, looking up at me curiously. She had high-voltage eyes, loaded with intelligence. She added me up, not minding the total. This much came through to me: that she was levelling; that she was used to a man's touch; that she would be a bargain in bed. I began to wonder about Folger. He must have been out of his mind to leave this babe.
"Folger was crocked?" I asked.
"Loaded, but nice. A really nice kid."
"Why do you think he left?"
Velma shrugged. "It makes me sad to think about it. It's a blow to my pride." She looked around the room, squinting and frowning. "We could have run out of liquor," she said. "Maybe the other character took him out for more."
"A cheap excuse. Only a nut would have left you."
"Thanks. You're a sweet man."
"I'll still buy you a lunch."
"Can I take a rain check on it?" She looked at her watch and sighed. "I've got to skip, really I do. I have a heavy date with a legitimate customer — an artist friend who wants to immortalize my buttocks. Crazy?"
"A man of sound judgment."
"I wonder. He's a sculptor who plays the oboe. They say all oboists go crazy eventually."
"Like a fox he's crazy. When can I see you again?"
"Morni's," she smiled. "In Montmartre. But not before noon. I hate the mornings."
I watched her mobile tail go down the stairs. Then I closed the door and went to work on Folger's room. It was really two and a half rooms, sort of an old-fashioned suite. Beyond the bedroom lay a windowless section equipped with a round table, chairs and a highboy holding dishes and some relics of the hotel. In the corner, a rusted electric stove. The bathroom was a few steps to the right, through a small corridor.
Sometimes a john can yield important information to a studious eye. A man leaves signals of his personality here. Folger was neat and clean. The little cabinet contained an expensive comb and brush set, an electric razor, two botties of aftershave lotion, and a small box of Bisodol tablets, a popular antacid remedy.
I stood there, turning the Bisodol box in my hand. Folger was in his early twenties. Folger was young and healthy. Yet he used heartburn remedies. Nervous? Upset? I laughed in my throat at the cornball clue. Once, in the recent past, a small item like this had paid off for me on a skip-trace. A woman named Mrs. Fitz had hired me to track down her wandering husband. Harry Fitz had left his family one dark night, strolled out into the dusk of suburban Freeport in Long Island. Harry Fitz didn't come back. Harry's wife gave me the big clue to his personality. He was a snuff sniffer. Two months later I collared Harry after fixing him in a certain neighborhood in another small town far out on Long Island. Harry Fitz was shacking up with a plump blonde in a love dump on the dunes. But every once in a while Harry came into town to get his box of snuff. I grabbed him in the village tobacco shop.
That was why I stood in Folger's bathroom, meditating. That was why my mind blocked out the sound of little movements in the hall beyond the bedroom.
And that was why I had my head slammed in the next minute.
Somebody hit me as I meditated.
It was a flat clap, a behind-the-head shot that sent me down to my knees and grabbing at empty air. He hit me again, this time swinging low to my midsection. The gut-buckling panic of nausea swept over me. My body went dead, caught in the reflex of pain and shock. I was in a black room, yelling for breath. I was buckled and bent like a Moslem at prayer.
Then everything died for me.CHAPTER 2
La Rotonde — Boulevard Montparnasse
I got nowhere with the fat ox at the hotel desk.
"You appear sick," he said. "You wish a doctor, Monsieur?"
"Information is what I wish. I also wish I were in Dixie."
"You didn't see anybody come down?"
"I am sorry," he shrugged. "I take my breakfast late in the morning and for this reason the lobby is empty until eleven. There was nobody here to observe who may have arrived or departed. I will call the police and report it, perhaps?"
"You can call out the marines for all I care. You didn't see a man come down?"
"I saw nobody," he said, beginning to tire of me. He could spend a happy weekend all alone with his damned-fool toothpick. "If you will leave your address, I will give it to your friend when he returns here. Monsieur Folger will be back, of that I am sure. After all, there are his belongings —"
"There's nothing up there but the stuff in his john."
"His john, alors?"
"His bathroom. He left nothing but shaving paraphernalia."
"That is odd, no?"
"I'm at the Excelsior Hotel," I said, and gave him my card. I added a few more francs. "Let me know when Folger gets back."
I phoned Larry Frick but got no answer. He would be hustling for me, I hoped, trying to get me inside the Central Préfecture of the Paris police. I was beginning to regret my boyhood lapses as a student. The French language was a jungle for me. Hunting down a missing man is tough enough in the wilds of New Jersey or the back alleys of Brooklyn. The fact that Folger had skipped away from me in Paris added extra hammers to the dull knocking behind my ears.
I went to the Dome and ate a slow lunch. I watched the ebb and flow of the pedestrian tide. I drank too many cups of French coffee, a mixture of old cinders, chicory and ground bile. You can drink the black slop with brandy or Benedictine, beer or borsht, but the average Frenchman takes it straight and will call you gutter names if you criticize it.
I sipped my cup slowly. Somebody once said that Paris was a state of mind. Beautiful? Different? I struggled to keep alive the romance of its foreign flavor. But the pain in my head deadened the sights. I was caught up in the hunt for Folger, all the way now, in deep and already looking for the answers. My commercial eyes saw the passing Parisians as bugs on sticks. Habit forced me to scan their faces. Habit made me measure every profile against the two photos in my pocket — Douglas Folger and Judy Martin. I called myself a damned fool and tried to turn off the concentration. Only a miracle would carry either of these two along this boulevard.
Across the street at the Rotonde I spotted the dumpy frame of Larry Frick. He was taking his time, as usual, passing the time of day with two local characters. They spoke with animation. I could hear Larry's easy laugh above the traffic noises. A girl joined the group. Larry kissed her. Nobody bothered to watch. On a Paris street, anything short of murder goes unnoticed.
Finally, Larry piloted her across the street and up to my table. She was a big one, big all over. Her hair was as red as ketchup.
"Denise Marchand," Larry said. He kicked over a chair for her. He didn't bother to adjust it. She wriggled into it, still smiling. She had a bright smile and wore her hair long. Her earrings were small enough to use for horseshoe pitching. "You look sick, Steve," he said. "Off your feed?"
"Just sick and tired of squatting here, waiting for you."
"Patience, patience. Things move at a crawl in France. I phoned Denise to meet me here. Wanted you to talk to her. She's modeled at Zarchy's Art School. She knows a lot of American art students. But she talks little English."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Girl Running"
Copyright © 1956 Lawrence Lariar.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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