The last thing Flash Casey needs is an apprentice. Turned down by the army because of a bum knee, he agrees to teach a twice-weekly photography class for the American Women’s Voluntary Services. One of his students, whose father just happens to have a lot of money invested in Casey’s paper, asks to tag along on an assignment. Flash can’t say no.
An engineer named John Perry has come to beg for help from one of Casey’s friends at the paper, crusading news columnist Rosalind Taylor. A few years back, Perry invented an industrial lubricant that should have made him a fortune, but his partner stole his idea and kept the profits for himself. Taylor has agreed to mediate for them, and asks Casey along to document the meeting. When Flash arrives, the apartment is ransacked and Taylor is dead. Casey will find her killers, as long as his little apprentice doesn’t get in the way.
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.
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Murder for Two
By George Harmon Coxe
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1943 George Harmon Coxe
All rights reserved.
Casey Takes on a Dame
Casey was burning. He had half expected that the Navy and Marines might turn him down because he knew these two services were still pretty fussy about their recruits. But the Army. In 1943 the Army took guys with glasses and bad ears and half their teeth gone; and just because he was a little over thirty-five and had a trick knee that had been operated on three times they told him he'd better wait a while.
He had brought the burn all the way from the recruiting station and now, coming into the studio anteroom on the fourth floor of the Express building, he ignored Wade and Finell, who were arguing over the respective merits of the Sox and the Braves, kicked his chair away from his desk and sat down hard, answering the flip greetings with a surly noise that was half grunt, half growl.
Tom Wade looked at Finell and winked. He looked at Casey. "So they turned you down," he said.
Casey pushed back his hat and stared moodily at nothing. Wade, still grinning, measured the distance from his chair to the door and got ready to run for it.
"I told you," he said. "I told you you were too old."
Casey turned his head slowly, glaring. With a tremendous effort he kept from shouting.
"It's the knee," he said.
Finell, speculating as he watched the big photographer, found this a little hard to believe; for Casey stood six-feet-one, and weighed two-fifteen, all of it bone and muscle. He was never sick, rarely tired. His chest was deep, his thighs and shoulders powerful; yet for all of this there was a suppleness to him that told you his reflexes were right and that he was never clumsy.
"They've got a million rules and regulations," Finell said. "They took young Ryan and he was only a foot higher than a midget, but you—well, they're nuts, I guess."
"Maybe next year, they told me," Casey said. "Maybe in '44 they'll need us all, but this year they brush me off."
"One thing," Wade said, still needling. "Now you can teach those dames every night in the week if you want."
That didn't help Casey's burn any. For Wade referred to a class in defense photography that the American Women's Voluntary Services was putting on. In a weak and patriotic moment Casey had agreed to instruct the advanced class in practical photography, and it was a decision he had regretted with each passing day. Now he looked at Wade, started to get out of the chair and go for him; then gave it up, opened a drawer, and reached for his bottle of rye. He looked at it against the light, judging its contents expertly.
"One of these days," he said, "I'm going to put formaldehyde in this and maybe that'll teach you guys to leave it alone."
"After some of the bar rye I've had, I'll never know the difference," Wade said, and then the phone rang and Casey put aside the bottle and scooped it up. It was MacGrath, the managing editor.
"Can you come up a minute?"
Casey said he could. He put the bottle away and went out, climbing slowly to the floor above and then trudging through the city room, his rugged face morose and dark eyes fixed straight ahead.
The managing editor had a corner office and Casey went in without knocking. MacGrath, signing some letters, took one look at his number one photographer's face and kept on signing; for MacGrath was a keen judge of men and he knew better than anyone else how to handle Casey.
"Sit down," he said, and swiveled his cigar to the opposite corner of his mouth.
Casey sat down and lit a cigarette. MacGrath kept busy for a full two minutes; then he put down the pen and leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his neck.
"How'd it go?"
Casey told him with much disgust and some profanity. "And all on account I got this trick knee," he said finally. He held out his leg and flexed the knee.
If Casey had an Achilles Heel, this knee was it. Years ago it had caught a bootlegger's bullet when he had got too close to a gun battle, and following his recovery he had it badly twisted in a labor riot. There had been some operations in later years, and though occasionally it bothered him, he wasn't thinking of these occasions now.
"It's okay to walk myself bow-legged six or seven days a week slugging a plate case and chasing ambulances and accidents and visiting firemen, but the knee isn't good enough for the Army. I even told the major down there."
"I'll bet you did. What did he say?"
"No dice." Casey sank lower in his chair. "He said he thought I was doing more good where I am."
"And he's right. Newspapers have a real job to do these days, Flash, and they can't do it right without men like you. Let the Army train its youngsters the way it wants and you stay where you are. If you're still worried, why don't you take on another A.W.V.S. class?"
Casey opened his mouth, closed it, and then just looked. MacGrath grinned at the big man's disgust and waved his cigar. "Okay," he said. "Forget it.... Here's why I asked you to come up. Go see Rosalind Taylor sometime this afternoon, will you?"
"Taylor?" Casey said, thinking of the Express's prima donna who now did a syndicated column and articles for the women's magazines. "What's she want?"
MacGrath said he didn't know. "She asked for you and she never does that if she doesn't have a story, does she?"
"She generally has a story but not always the pictures," Casey said. He sighed and stood up. "Okay."
"And one thing else." MacGrath leaned forward. "I want you to do something for me. There's a girl outside. She's in your A.W.V.S. class. Karen Harding. I wish you'd take her around with you today, show her our layout, give her an insight—"
Casey didn't hear the rest of it. Reaching back in his memory he recalled Karen Harding. One of the good-looking ones. But that didn't make any difference now.
"Wait a minute," he said, choking a little. "You want me to take this dame around with me?" He tapped his chest with his index finger, his voice incredulous. "On assignments and things? Oh, no."
"Just for today."
"Not for today or any other day."
"She's a nice kid. She promises not to get in your way."
"No. I got troubles enough. Get Wade or Finell or Madden. Get anybody. It's bad enough teaching 'em two nights a week."
MacGrath was unmoved. He said, very casually, "Maybe you've forgotten that a guy named Harding is a fairly important stockholder in the Express. This is the Harding." He flipped a switch on the inter-office communicator.
"Wait, will you?" Casey pleaded, but by then it was too late. MacGrath was saying:
"Tell Miss Harding to come in."
Karen Harding was young and blond and eager, with just enough curves to keep her out of the boyish figure class, and slim sweet legs. Even under the smart green uniform you could detect those curves and beneath the jaunty angle of her cap her hair was two-toned from the bleaching of the sun. She wasn't exactly beautiful, but when she smiled it did something to her face and the angles of her hazel eyes that made her altogether lovely. She gave Casey that smile when she came in.
"Hello, Mr. Casey," she said. And then to MacGrath: "Is it all right?"
Casey said hello. He was outraged at MacGrath's treachery but he could not look at that smile without some response. He colored and grinned—weakly.
"I told him you wouldn't get in his way," MacGrath said.
"Oh, I won't," the girl said. "Really, I won't. And I do appreciate it, Mr. Casey. I just want to learn all I can and I thought if I could actually see just how you do all those things"—she turned the smile on MacGrath —"well, I mean I know it will be useful."
MacGrath cleared his throat and wiped the grin from the corners of his mouth when he caught Casey's look of dismay. "Yes," he said, "I'm sure it will." He reached for the telephone and silenced its sudden ringing. "Yes, he's here.... All right. The Park Square Building? I'll tell him.... Blaine," he said, referring to the city editor, "wants you to go over to Matt Lawson's office."
"That crook?" Casey said.
"Ex-crook. He has some new process he wants to talk about. Ed Wright will go with you for the story. He's waiting at the desk." MacGrath rose, rubbing his palms crisply. "Take good care of her, Flash. Good-by, Miss Harding. Casey'll show you the ropes."
"Oh, sure," Casey said, giving MacGrath the sultry eye again. "Anything at all," he said as he went out and then, before he closed the door, he stuck his head back in the room and said: "Anything for a pal—you rat."
Matt Lawson's inner office was designed to impress. As large as two ordinary rooms, it was furnished with an enormous carved walnut desk, an overall rug in dark blue, and heavy leather chairs, There were drinks and cigars on the table beneath the windows and after Casey poured one down he got out his camera and twisted a bulb in his synchronized flashgun.
Besides Karen Harding, Ed Wright, and himself there were three other reporters and two cameras—Ingram from the Standard and Levy from the News. Lawson, a thickset man in his middle forties with thinning black hair and a thick, blunt-jawed face, was explaining some plastic objects on his desk, Casey moved up and focused. Lawson stopped talking and beamed at the camera. Casey let the bulb go, reversed his film holder, and put in a fresh bulb, stepping back and hearing Lawson's hoarse rasping voice but vaguely.
"Is he an inventor?" Karen Harding whispered in Casey's ear.
"A promoter," Casey said, and reflecting on Lawson's rise, decided that the war had done many things to many people.
Lawson had got his start as a bootlegger and hi-jacker. After that there had been the numbers game, and pinball machines and labor rackets, He had been nearly convicted on a labor extortion charge a year ago—and by Rosalind Taylor at that, Casey realized—but that hadn't stopped him from investing in more legitimate enterprises, and in the past two years he had been running down war contracts and peddling them on a percentage basis to some of the smaller factories in near-by communities.
"What makes these plastics any better than some of the others, Matt?" somebody said.
"They aren't any better," Lawson put down the object he was holding. "It's merely a matter of filler. The formula that I have can be combined with phenolic resins—"
"Get a load of him, guys," someone said. "Spell it, Matt."
Lawson frowned at the interruption and looked at a slip of paper. "P-h-e-n-o-l-i-c. And as I was saying, this material uses three parts filler and one part resin, whereas the usual method is one part filler and one part resin. This filler is made of non-essentials—sawdust, plant fibers, scrap wood, and other things. So you see the present limited supplies of phenolic resins can be made to go twice as far—or more phenol and formaldehyde can be saved for the munitions program."
"Think of that," said Arnold of the Standard. "Don't tell us you invented it."
Lawson smiled patiently. "That, I am not at liberty to disclose at the moment. As a matter of fact, this is a refugee formula. Things like this are coming in from the occupied countries all the time. How they leak through I don't know, but in this case I was lucky enough to meet the inventor of the process and make a deal whereby—"
Lawson never finished the sentence. Casey had heard the sound of a door opening behind him and now a tight, savage voice said:
"Whereby you can gyp him out of his share just like you did to me."
Suddenly the room was very still. Lawson's pink face got stiff and white and his little eyes blazed. Casey saw this as he turned and then he saw the slim, bespectacled youth in the doorway, bareheaded, pale, his fingers trembling at his sides. He wasn't through yet either.
"Why don't you admit it?" he said. "Why don't you say you're stealing this like you stole mine?"
And then Casey heard something at his side. A voice, an anguished whisper, faint, yet clear to him because it was so close. "John," the whisper said. "Oh, John."
It did not seem possible that the youth could have heard this. Yet something made him shift his hot, bright gaze and his eyes touched the girl at Casey's side and widened, and a flush rose in his cheeks.
By that time other things were happening. Lawson had started around the desk. A blond husky with a mean, hard mouth, who had been sitting off to one side out of the way, jumped up and started for the intruder. Two steps brought him close and there wasn't any doubt about what he intended to do. His fist tightened and his arm drew back and if the youth noticed this he gave no sign, for his tortured gaze was still on Karen Harding.
Casey couldn't have done anything had he tried. He was too far away to come between the two, so he automatically threw his camera to his shoulder. What happened he saw through the finder. The husky was swinging when little Levy, who weighed maybe one-twenty with a camera in his hand, stuck out his foot.
The big blond went down. Casey pressed the shutter release, catching him practically full face, yet getting the youth as well. The other hit on his knees, and the burst of light made him look first in the direction of Casey's flashbulb.
That gave the fellow in the doorway a chance to see what the score was and he spun and hurried back through the outer office, and as the big man jumped up the others—reporters and photographers—got in his way and crowded about, blocking off the door. They didn't know what it was all about, but to a man they seemed to resent the big blond and made sure he stayed where he was.
"All right, all right." Lawson bustled up. "Never mind," he said to the blond and gestured him to one side.
"Who was that?" someone said.
"He looked sort of familiar to me," a reporter said.
Lawson ignored this. "I guess that's all," he said hurriedly. "I guess you fellows got the story. Thanks for coming in."
"I know now," the reporter said. "That was John Perry, wasn't it? I didn't know he was out." He looked up at Lawson, squinting one eye. "Has he been around before, Matt? How about a statement?"
"Nothing to say," Lawson replied. "The record speaks for itself. As far as I'm concerned the matter is closed. Now if you don't mind—I'm rather rushed this afternoon."
Casey heard all this but he was still watching Karen Harding and digging back into his mind. John Perry. The name was vaguely familiar but that was all. And Karen Harding still stared at the open door, the paleness clinging to her face. He had to jog her arm to get her started and before he could say anything Levy sidled up and said:
"That ought to be a good shot, Flash."
"Yeah," Casey said. "That was nice footwork."
Levy grinned. "He went down good, huh? Could you slip me a print?"
Casey said he could and would. They were in the outer office now, and with Levy gone, the last of the group to leave. They had started down the hall when a door opened behind them and the blond husky hailed Casey. He stopped, Karen Harding at his side.
"About that picture," the man said. Casey just looked at him, wondering who he was, noting the coldness of the pale, almost colorless eyes, the crooked teeth that showed as he spoke. "I'd like to get the film of that, Mac. I'll pay you what it's worth."
Casey shook his head, his dislike of the man mounting. "I don't sell pictures."
"I wouldn't want it in the paper," the other said. "I wouldn't want it printed."
"I don't have anything to do with that part," Casey said. "I only take 'em."
The lashes narrowed. For a silent second the man looked at Casey and then at Karen Harding. "I wouldn't want it in the paper," he said again.
"Tell the city editor," Casey said. "The name is Blaine."
He turned and moved down the hall with the girl, leaving the other standing there. And he found a curious uneasiness upon him now. Not about the man who wanted the film but about John Perry, and this girl who had seemed so shocked and hurt by what had happened. He still could not place the name, but he had the hunch that at some time these two had been close, and he wondered why.CHAPTER 2
A Broken Appointment
Rosalind Taylor had an apartment in a gray brick building not far from Beacon Street and when Casey and Karen Harding arrived just after five, Rosalind opened the door and waved them inside.
"Hello, Flash," she said. "I'm glad you could come."
"This is Miss Harding," Casey said. "Miss Taylor."
Rosalind said hello, eyed the girl's uniform, and then glanced at Casey.
"She's trying to find out what makes press photographers tick," he told her. "I've got a whole class of them. Twice a week I snarl at them."
Excerpted from Murder for Two by George Harmon Coxe. Copyright © 1943 George Harmon Coxe. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter One: CASEY TAKES ON A DAME,
Chapter Two: A BROKEN APPOINTMENT,
Chapter Three: THAT WOULD BE MURDER,
Chapter Four: LOGAN ASKS QUESTIONS,
Chapter Five: A LADY TAKES A PICTURE,
Chapter Six: AT CLUB 17,
Chapter Seven: KAREN HAS A VISITOR,
Chapter Eight: A MINOR SHAMBLES,
Chapter Nine: THE MANILA FOLDER,
Chapter Ten: A LONG WALK HOME,
Chapter Eleven: DYNAMITE ON FILE,
Chapter Twelve: A HALF HOUR WELL SPENT,
Chapter Thirteen: IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD,
Chapter Fourteen: A ROOM WITH A CORPSE,
Chapter Fifteen: NOTHING STOPPED ROSALIND,
Chapter Sixteen: MODIFIED MAYH9EM,
Chapter Seventeen: NOT QUITE DEAD,
Chapter Eighteen: A FANCY BIT OF NEEDLING,
Chapter Nineteen: LOGAN GETS A BREAK,
Chapter Twenty: WAITING FOR THE MAILMAN,
Chapter Twenty-One: MAYHEM UNMODIFIED,
Chapter Twenty-Two: JUST BECAUSE IT'S EASY,
Chapter Twenty-Three: DEATH STARES AT CASEY,
Chapter Twenty-Four: A DEAL IN REWARDS,