Read an Excerpt
By Paul Cain
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
By Paul Cain
A high society wife's life is on the line, her priceless rubies are stolen, and only the elegant and mysterious Druse, retired judge, and the smoothest operator in crime fiction, can save her.
THE WOMAN WAS bent far forward over the steering-wheel of the open roadster. Her eyes, narrowed to long black-fringed slits, moved regularly down and up, from the glistening road ahead, to the small rear-view mirror above the windshield. The two circles of white light in the mirror grew steadily larger. She pressed the throttle slowly, steadily downward; there was no sound but the roar of the wind and the deep purr of the powerful engine.
There was a sudden sharp crack; a little frosted circle appeared on the windshield. The woman pressed the throttle to the floor. She was pale; her eyes were suddenly large and dark and afraid, her lips were pressed tightly together. The tires screeched on the wet pavement as the car roared around a long, shallow curve. The headlights of the pursuing car grew larger.
The second and third shots were wild, or buried themselves harmlessly in the body of the car; the fourth struck the left rear tire and the car swerved crazily, skidded halfway across the road. Very suddenly there was bright yellow light right ahead, at the side of the road. The woman jammed on the brakes, jerked the wheel hard over; the tires slid, screamed raggedly over the gravel in front of the gas station, the car stopped. The other car went by at seventy-five miles an hour. One last shot thudded into the back of the seat beside the woman and then the other car had disappeared into the darkness.
Two men ran out of the gas station. Another man stood in the doorway. The woman was leaning back straight in the seat and her eyes were very wide; she was breathing hard, unevenly.
One of the men put his hand on her shoulder, asked: "Are you all right, lady?"
The other man asked: "Hold-ups?" He was a short, middle-aged man and his eyes were bright, interested.
The woman opened her bag and took out a cigarette. She said shakily: "I guess so." She pulled out the dashboard lighter, waited until it glowed red and held it to her cigarette.
The younger man was inspecting the back of the car. He said: "They punctured the tank. It's a good thing you stopped—you couldn't have gone much farther."
"Yes—I guess it's a very good thing I stopped," she said, mechanically. She took a deep drag of her cigarette.
The other man said: "That's the third hold-up out here this week."
The woman spoke to the younger man. "Can you get me a cab?"
He said: "Sure." Then he knelt beside the blown-out tire, said: "Look, Ed—they almost cut it in two."
The man in the doorway called to her: "You want a cab, lady?"
She smiled, nodded, and the man disappeared into the gas station; he came back to the doorway in a minute, over to the car. "There'll be a cab here in a little while, lady," he said.
She thanked him.
"This is one of the worst stretches of road on Long Island—for highwaymen." He leaned on the door of the car. "Did they try to nudge you off the road—or did they just start shooting?
"They just started shooting."
He said: "We got a repair service here—do you want us to fix up your car?"
She nodded. "How long will it take?"
"Couple days. We'll have to get a new windshield from the branch factory in Queens—an' take off that tank ..."
She took a card out of her bag and gave it to him, said: "Call me up when it's finished."
After a little while, a cab came out of the darkness of a side street, turned into the station. The woman got out of the car and went over to the cab, spoke to the driver: "Do you know any shortcuts into Manhattan? Somebody tried to hold me up on the main road a little while ago, and maybe they're still laying for me. I don't want any more of it—I want to go home." She was very emphatic.
The driver was a big red-faced Irishman. He grinned, said: "Lady—I know a million of 'em. You'll be as safe with me as you'd be in your own home."
She raised her hand in a gesture of farewell to the three men around her car and got into the cab. After the cab had disappeared, the man to whom she had given the card took it out of his pocket and squinted at it, read aloud: "Mrs. Dale Hanan—Five-eighty Park Avenue."
The short, middle-aged man bobbed his head knowingly. "Sure," he said—"I knew she was class. She's Hanan's wife—the millionaire. Made his dough in oil—Oklahoma. His chauffeur told me how he got his start—didn't have a shoestring or a place to put it, so he shot off his big toe and collected ten grand on an accident policy—grubstake on his first well. Bright boy. He's got a big estate down at Roslyn."
The man with the card nodded. He said: "That's swell. We can soak him plenty." He put the card back into his pocket.
When the cab stopped near the corner of Sixty-third and Park Avenue the woman got out, paid the driver and hurried into the apartment house. In her apartment, she put in a long-distance call to Roslyn, Long Island; when the connection had been made, she said: "Dale—it's in the open, now. I was followed, driving back to town—shot at—the car was nearly wrecked ... I don't know what to do. Even if I call Crandall, now, and tell him I won't go through with it—won't go to the police—he'll probably have me killed, just to make sure ... Yes, I'm going to stay in—I'm scared ... All right, dear. 'Bye."
She hung up, went to a wide center table and poured whiskey into a tall glass, sat down and stared vacantly at the glass—her hand was shaking a little. She smiled suddenly, crookedly, lifted the glass to her mouth and drained it. Then she put the glass on the floor and leaned back and glanced at the tiny watch at her wrist. It was ten minutes after nine.
At a few minutes after ten a black Packard town-car stopped in front of a narrow building of gray stone on East Fifty-fourth Street; a tall man got out, crossed the sidewalk and rang the bell. The car went on. When the door swung open, the tall man went into a long, brightly lighted hallway, gave his hat and stick to the checkroom attendant, went swiftly up two flights of narrow stairs to the third floor. He glanced around the big, crowded room, then crossed to one corner near a window on the Fifty-fourth Street side and sat down at a small table, smiled wanly at the man across from him, said: "Mister Druse, I believe."
The other man was about fifty, well set up, well-groomed in the way of good living. His thick gray hair was combed sharply, evenly back. He lowered his folded newspaper to the table, stared thoughtfully at the tall man.
He said: "Mister Hanan," and his voice was very deep, metallic.
The tall man nodded shortly, leaned back and folded his arms across his narrow chest. He was ageless, perhaps thirty-five, forty-five; his thin, colorless hair was close-clipped, his long, bony face deeply tanned, a sharp and angular setting for large seal-brown eyes. His mouth was curved, mobile.
He asked: "Do you know Jeffrey Crandall?"
Druse regarded him evenly, expressionlessly for a moment, raised his head and beckoned a waiter. Hanan ordered a whiskey sour.
Druse said: "I know Mister Crandall casually. Why?"
"A little more than an hour ago Crandall, or Crandall's men, tried to murder Mrs. Hanan, as she was driving back from my place at Roslyn." Hanan leaned forward: his eyes were wide, worried.
The waiter served Hanan's whiskey sour, set a small bottle of Perrier and a small glass on the table in front of Druse.
Druse poured the water into the glass slowly. "So what?"
Hanan tasted his drink. He said: "This is not a matter for the police, Mister Druse. I understand that you interest yourself in things of this nature, so I took the liberty of calling you and making this appointment. Is that right?" He was nervous, obviously ill at ease.
Druse shrugged. "What nature? I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm sorry—I guess I'm a little upset." Hanan smiled.
"What I mean is that I can rely on your discretion?"
Druse frowned. "I think so," he said slowly. He drank half of the Perrier, squinted down at the glass as if it tasted very badly.
Hanan smiled vacantly. "You do not know Mrs. Hanan?"
Druse shook his head slowly, turned his glass around and around on the table.
"We have been living apart for several years," Hanan went on. "We are still very fond of one another, we are very good friends, but we do not get along—together. Do you understand?"
Hanan sipped his drink, went on swiftly: "Catherine has—has always had—a decided weakness for gambling. She went through most of her own inheritance—a considerable inheritance—before we were married. Since our separation she has lost somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred and fifteen thousand dollars. I have, of course, taken care of her debts." Hanan coughed slightly. "Early this evening she called me at Roslyn, said she had to see me immediately—that it was very important. I offered to come into town but she said she'd rather come out. She came out about seven."
Hanan paused, closed his eyes and rubbed two fingers of one hand slowly up and down his forehead. "She's in a very bad jam with Crandall." He opened his eyes and put his hand down on the table.
Druse finished his Perrier, put down the glass and regarded Hanan attentively.
"About three weeks ago," Hanan went on, "Catherine's debt to Crandall amounted to sixty-eight thousand dollars—she had been playing very heavily under the usual gambler's delusion of getting even. She was afraid to come to me—she knew I'd taken several bad beatings on the market—she kept putting it off and trying to make good her losses, until Crandall demanded the money. She told him she couldn't pay—together, they hatched out a scheme to get it. Catherine had a set of rubies—pigeon blood—been in her family five or six generations. They're worth, perhaps, a hundred and seventy-five thousand—her father insured them for a hundred and thirty-five, forty years ago and the insurance premiums have always been paid ..."
Hanan finished his whiskey sour, leaned back in his chair.
Druse said: "I assume the idea was that the rubies disappear; that Mrs. Hanan claim the insurance, pay off Crandall, have sixty-seven thousand left and live happily forever after."
Hanan coughed; his face was faintly flushed. "Exactly."
"I assume further," Druse went on, "that the insurance company did not question the integrity of the claim; that they paid, and that Mrs. Hanan, in turn, paid Crandall."
Hanan nodded. He took a tortoise-shell case out of his pocket, offered Druse a cigarette.
Druse shook his head, asked: "Are the insurance company detectives warm—are they making Crandall or whoever he had do the actual job, uncomfortable?"
"No. The theft was well engineered. I don't think Crandall is worrying about that." Hanan lighted a cigarette. "But Catherine wanted her rubies back—as had, of course, been agreed upon." He leaned forward, put his elbows on the table. "Crandall returned paste imitations to her—she only discovered they weren't genuine a few days ago."
Druse smiled, said slowly: "In that case, I should think it was Crandall who was in a jam with Mrs. Hanan, instead of Mrs. Hanan who was in a jam with Crandall."
Hanan wagged his long chin back and forth. "This is New York. Men like Crandall do as they please. Catherine went to him and he laughed at her; said the rubies he had returned were the rubies that had been stolen. She had no recourse, other than to admit her complicity in defrauding the insurance company. That's the trouble—she threatened to do exactly that."
Druse widened his eyes, stared at Hanan.
"Catherine is a very impulsive woman," Hanan went on. "She was so angry at losing the rubies and being made so completely a fool, that she threatened Crandall. She told him that if the rubies were not returned within three days she would tell what he had done; that he had stolen the rubies—take her chances on her part in it coming out. Of course she wouldn't do it, but she was desperate and she thought that was her only chance of scaring Crandall into returning the rubies—and she made him believe it. Since she talked to him, Wednesday, she has been followed. Tomorrow is Saturday, the third day. Tonight, driving back to town, she was followed, shot at—almost killed."
"Has she tried to get in touch with Crandall again?"
Hanan shook his head. "She's been stubbornly waiting for him to give the rubies back— until this business tonight. Now she's frightened—says it wouldn't do any good for her to talk to Crandall now because he wouldn't believe her—and it's too easy for him to put her out of the way."
Druse beckoned the waiter, asked him to bring the check. "Where is she now?"
"At her apartment—Sixty-third and Park."
"What do you intend doing about it?"
Hanan shrugged. "That's what I came to you for. I don't know what to do. I've heard of you and your work from friends ..."
Druse hesitated, said slowly: "I must make my position clear."
Hanan nodded, lighted a fresh cigarette.
"I am one of the few people left," Druse went on, "who actually believes that honesty is the best policy. Honesty is my business—I am primarily a business man—I've made it pay—"
Hanan smiled broadly.
Druse leaned forward. "I am not a fixer," he said. "My acquaintance is wide and varied—I am fortunate in being able to wield certain influences. But above all I seek to further justice—I mean real justice as opposed to book justice—I was on the Bench for many years and I realize the distinction keenly." His big face wrinkled to an expansive grin. "And I get paid for it—well paid." Hanan said: "Does my case interest you?"
"Will five thousand be satisfactory—as a retaining fee?"
Druse moved his broad shoulders in something like a shrug. "You value the rubies at a hundred and seventy-five thousand," he said. "I am undertaking to get the rubies back, and protect Mrs. Hanan's life." He stared at Hanan intently. "What value do you put on Mrs. Hanan's life?"
Hanan frowned self-consciously, twisted his mouth down at the corners. "That is, of course, impossible to—"
"Say another hundred and seventy-five." Druse smiled easily. "That makes three hundred and fifty thousand. I work on a ten per cent basis—thirty-five thousand—one-third in advance." He leaned back, still smiling easily. "Ten thousand will be sufficient as a retainer."
Hanan was still frowning self-consciously. He said: "Done," took a checkbook and fountain pen out of his pocket.
Druse went on: "If I fail in either purpose, I shall, of course, return your check."
Hanan bobbed his head, made out the check in a minute, illegible scrawl and handed it across the table. Druse paid for the drinks, jotted down Hanan's telephone number and the address of Mrs. Hanan's apartment. They got up and went downstairs and out of the place; Druse told Hanan he would call him within an hour, got into a cab. Hanan watched the cab disappear in east-bound traffic, lighted a cigarette nervously and walked towards Madison Avenue.
Druse said: "Tell her I've come from Mister Hanan."
The telephone operator spoke into the transmitter, turned to Druse. "You may go up— Apartment Three D"
When, in answer to a drawled, "Come in," he pushed open the door and went into the apartment, Catherine Hanan was standing near the center table, with one hand on the table to steady herself, the other in the pocket of her long blue robe. She was beautiful in the mature way that women who have lived too hard, too swiftly, are sometimes beautiful. She was very dark; her eyes were large, liquid, black and dominated her rather small, sharply sculptured face. Her mouth was large, deeply red, not particularly strong.
Druse bowed slightly, said: "How do you do."
She smiled, and her eyes were heavy, nearly closed. "Swell—and you?"
He came slowly into the room, put his hat on the table, asked: "May we sit down?"
"Sure." She jerked her head towards a chair, stayed where she was.
Druse said: "You're drunk."
Excerpted from Pigeon Blood by Paul Cain. Copyright © 2013 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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