From a three-time Edgar Award–winning author: A private eye trails a blackmailer, a missing Florida widow, and a double-indemnity swindler.
Freelance private investigator Jake Dekker and his lovely assistant, Elinor, are kicking back in Biscayne Bay as they plan their next move on a new case: masquerading as newlyweds and insinuating themselves into the confidence of South Miami Beach’s highly respected Thoren family. Only weeks before, patriarch Walter Thoren died in a car accident after taking out a double-indemnity policy for a cool six figures, and the insurance company suspects fraud. They won’t have to pay if Jake can prove it was suicide.
Unfortunately for Jake, things don’t add up: Walter was healthy, sane, and prosperous. And given the particulars of the crash, it couldn’t have been murder. So what exactly are the Thorens concealing? To find out, Jake and Elinor will head down a twisting trail of blackmail, mob connections, kidnapping, family secrets, and sordid sexual indiscretions. But they, too, are being inveigled by a masquerade—and it’s hiding the most shocking scandal under the sun.
A dark masterpiece of crime fiction, The Bind was adapted for the 1979 film Sunburn, starring Farrah Fawcett, Charles Grodin, and Art Carney.
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About the Author
Stanley Ellin (1916–1986) was an American mystery writer known primarily for his short stories. After working a series of odd jobs including dairy farmer, salesman, steel worker, and teacher, and serving in the US Army, Ellin began writing full time in 1946. Two years later, his story “The Specialty of the House” won the Ellery Queen Award for Best First Story. He went on to win three Edgar Awards—two for short stories and one for his novel The Eighth Circle. In 1981, Ellin was honored with the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award. He died of a heart attack in Brooklyn in 1986.
Read an Excerpt
By Stanley Ellin
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1970 Stanley Ellin
All rights reserved.
The car was a gray Jaguar coupe, a low-slung, high-powered brute, its rear seats piled with luggage. When Jake swung it off the causeway in the direction of South Miami Beach the luggage shifted with a squeaking of expensive leather. He reached a hand behind him to shove it back into place.
He glanced at Elinor. "How long have we been married?" he asked abruptly.
She came out of her daydream with a start and considered the question. "Six months?"
"Wrong. If we were married on your birthday, which happens to be November tenth, and this is April fifth, it's not even five months yet. How long have we been married?"
"Not even five months yet."
"Right. And during this five months certain little flaws in your character have naturally come to light."
"Do you know which one bugs me the most?"
"Yes. I talk too much. I'm too confiding. I tell our private business to anybody who comes along."
"Look," Elinor said, "do we really have to go that deep into it?"
"All right then. Maybe it's because of you. I can't get through to you, so I talk my head off to anyone else who'll listen."
Jake turned down the visor over the windshield against the glare of the setting sun. "Why can't you get through to me?"
"Because you're a lot more interested in all that research and writing you do than me. And there's the age difference. You're thirty-five, I'm twenty-one. You think everything going on in my head is kid stuff. How does that sound to you?"
"Beautiful," Jake said. "Like soap opera in living color."
A narrow bridge spanned the twenty yards of Biscayne Bay which separated Daystar Island Number 1 from Miami Beach. A heavy chain across the far end of the bridge barred the way. Jake pulled up before it, and a private guard in dark blue uniform but without jacket strolled up to check his credentials. The man was gray-haired, potbellied, and sour-faced. His shirt was blotched with sweat.
Jake rolled down the window. The humid heat of the outside world was suffocating after the air-conditioned chill inside the car. "Mr. and Mrs. Dekker," he told the guard. "We've rented a place over on Island Number Two. The de Burgo house. I've got a letter here from Mr. McCloy about it."
The guard read the letter. "Jacob Dekker?" he said. He came down hard on the Jacob.
"That's right," Jake said sweetly. "Any objection?"
"No, sir," the guard said hastily. "Just asking." He pointed. "That's Seminole Drive. Just stay on it until you hit the bridge to Number Two. Nice to have you with us, Mr. Dekker. Mrs. Dekker."
Seminole Drive was as broad as a boulevard and bordered on each side by towering royal palms. The estates along the way were mostly of the hacienda type, but here and there were some places that looked like glass and chromium ranch houses.
"What was all that about?" Elinor asked. "That Jacob business?"
"He was wondering out loud if I put something over on McCloy. These Daystar Islands are a closed corporation. No Jews. McCloy is president of the works. The chief watch-dog."
"I wonder how they feel about Polacks."
"Fine, as long as they're married to rich Dutchmen like me."
There was no one on guard at the next bridgehead, just a small sign announcing that this was Daystar Island Number 2. The road here was Circular Drive, and aside from being bordered by coconut palms instead of royal palms, it could have been Seminole Drive all over again. Jake followed its circle halfway around the island, noting the house numbers painted on rustic boards which were planted at the foot of each lawn. All the numbers were written out in script: Twelve — Fourteen — Sixteen. At Eighteen, where the road looped north and he caught a glimpse of Biscayne Bay through the palms, he pulled the car over to the curb and got out. There was no other car on the road, not a soul in sight.
A flagstoned path led over a trim lawn to the portico of number 18. He briskly walked up the path to the house, dodging spray from revolving sprinklers on each side, and rang the doorbell. He waited a few seconds and rang again. While his finger was still on the button the door suddenly opened. A young man stood there, a napkin in his hand, a dark unwelcoming look on his face.
"Yes?" he said.
"My name is Dekker," Jake said. "Look, I'm sorry about getting you away from the table like this, but I can't seem to find out where the hell the house is I rented around here. The de Burgo house. It's number seventeen, but so far I haven't seen an odd number anywhere between the bridge and here."
"Because you drove the wrong way around. Even numbers this side of the island, odd numbers the other side. Anyhow, all you have to do is keep going along the road. Next place is nineteen. Seventeen is right around the bend."
In the middle of this, the young man's dark expression had suddenly brightened, the hard edge of impatience in his voice had softened. This had nothing to do with him, Jake knew. The young man was watching Elinor come full jiggle down the path toward them.
"Jake!" she wailed. "My ring!"
"My engagement ring. It's gone. And I know where I left it. On the washstand of the ladies' room at the airport. If anybody sees it lying there —!"
"Did you look in your pocketbook?"
Elinor hopelessly held up the open pocketbook. "I looked. It must be there in the washroom. Jake, if we called up the airport right away —"
"I don't know if the phone's connected at our place yet." Jake turned to the young man, who had been concentrating hard on Elinor. "I hate to impose on you, but would it be all right to use your phone?"
"Sure. Come right in. My name's Thoren, by the way. Kermit Thoren." His hand was against the small of Elinor's back as he ushered them in.
The phone was on a stand in the corner of the dining room. Five people were at the dining table — a gray-haired woman in dark glasses at its head, a middle-aged couple at one side, a youthful pair at the other — whom Kermit introduced with perfunctory waves of the hand as his mother; his uncle and aunt, Senator and Mrs. Harlan Sprague; his sister Joanna and Hal Freeman, a friend of the family.
Jake, leafing through the pages of the phone book, observed that Kermit was a fast worker, if not a subtle one. He insisted that the stricken Elinor take his seat at the table, had the Negro houseman bring her a whiskey, and hovered over her consolingly while she emotionally explained to the company what this was all about.
As he dialed the airline's number, Jake saw that everyone's eyes, with one exception, were now fixed sympathetically on Elinor. The exception was young Joanna Thoren. She was covertly watching him as he spoke to the woman at the airline desk in an undertone, describing the ring and asking that someone please check to see if it was still in the ladies' room. He'd wait, he said, until she reported back.
It looked as if Joanna was prepared to wait right along with him. Her head, the hair sheared into a childish-looking tight little cap of curls, was slightly cocked toward Elinor, but her eyes he knew without looking squarely at her, were steadily on him.
Elinor's voice was now a mixture of anguish and resentment. "And it's not only that the damn ring is worth about five thousand dollars, but it's one of those horrible family heirlooms you have to worry about all the time. My mother-in-law got it from her mother, and the fuss she made about it — !"
She fumbled for her handkerchief and pressed it to her nose, openly weeping. That did it, Jake saw. Joanna's attention was now entirely riveted on Elinor. Phone to his ear, he instantly turned away from the scene, the tiny transmitter and the sliver of metal which was his tool kit ready in his hand. It was the new universal transmitter, distortion-free and with room-wide range, and he had practiced installing it in his own phone until he had reduced the time needed for the job to the absolute minimum. The practice paid off now.
The job done, he faced the table again. "Elinor!" he said sharply, and her blubbering diminished to a series of sniffles. "You know I'm right," she told him accusingly. "You know what'll happen when your mother finds out about this."
"Nothing. And the ring isn't gone for good yet. So will you please, for God's sake, stop carrying on like an infant?"
They left the house ten minutes later — it had taken five minutes for the airline woman to report back that the ring was not in the washroom, then another five minutes was spent in making proper apologies and farewells to the company at the table — and Kermit Thoren accompanied them out to the portico.
He draped an arm around Elinor's shoulders and gave her a commiserating hug. "Just remember, lady, no ring is worth an ulcer." Then, arm still over her shoulder, he nodded toward the baggage-laden Jaguar. "How come the Florida plates?" he said to Jake. "Have you folks been down here before?"
"No," Jake said, "it's a rental." He bared his teeth in a polite smile. "But I have a news flash for you. My wife isn't."
Kermit returned the smile. "My bad luck," he said. He casually disengaged his arm from around Elinor. "Anyhow, welcome to the club, neighbor. This is mostly Caddie and Mercedes country, but I wouldn't drive anything but an XKE like that myself. Come on over when you're in the mood. I'd like to show you some cute adjustments I made on mine." He disappeared into the house only after they had run the gauntlet of lawn sprinklers and were seated in the car.
"Did you put that gimmick into the telephone?" Elinor asked Jake with concern.
"When? You couldn't have had enough time to. How did you do it?"
"Like this." Jake placed a quarter between his forefinger and middle finger and held out the hand toward her, fingers together. The coin slid smoothly in and out between each finger and then back again. He clenched his fist, opened it, and showed her the coin was gone. "Magic," he said as he got the car under way.
"It must have been," Elinor said. "So then I did all right. I kept the spotlight right where it had to be."
"I told you on the plane I would. And you weren't really sore about the way I let that horny character play octopus with me? That was just a put-on?"
"That's right. After all, we're supposed to be married. He might wonder about it if I let him feel you up in front of me without showing I didn't like it. Don't ever go by what you hear me say in front of company, Mrs. Majeski. I want you to be real good friends with Kermit."
"It looks like I already am," Elinor said. "And it's Miss Majeski."
"You told me you'd been married."
"I went back to my maiden name right after the divorce. Now you tell me something. Did you know Kermit drove this same kind of car before we even got down here? Is that why you had that agency deliver this one to the airport all the way from Palm Beach? So you could get to be sort of Jaguar buddies with him?"
"By golly, Miss Majeski," Jake said, "you sure do catch on quick."CHAPTER 2
The streetlights along Circular Drive went on as he pulled the car into the driveway of number 17 and parked before a garage. The lampposts were old-fashioned iron stands with translucent globes that produced a soothing golden glow.
He threw open the front door of the house and switched on the foyer light. He already knew the layout from the plan the agent had supplied. Beyond the foyer a vast living room extended to the French doors of the Florida room facing the bay. Through the French doors, he saw, redly reflected in the last of the sunset, a dining table and chairs, since the Florida room, actually a glassed-in terrace, doubled as dining room. To his right were the pantry and kitchen. To his left was a narrow hallway running the length of the house from front to back. The doors opening off the hallway were, in order, the entrances to a closet, bathroom, bedroom, and study.
The additional telephone under an unlisted number he had instructed the rental agent to have installed was there on the desk in the study. An ultrasonic whistle was warm in his pocket. Now he set the stem of the whistle between his teeth, dialed the Thorens' number, and the instant the last click of the dial sounded he blew a noiseless blast of the whistle into the mouthpiece of the phone.
"— disagree. It's utterly ridiculous, Mother."
"I said no, Joanna. I meant no."
The transmission was flawless. From the clarity and volume of the tones, Joanna and her mother could have been speaking directly into the mouthpiece of their phone. Only the almost equal volume of what should have been fainter sounds in the background — the clatter of cutlery on a plate, the squeak and thump of the swinging door between kitchen and dining room — might signal the trained ear that the phone still rested on its stand and that a highly sensitive transmitter was at work in it.
"But Milt and Bobby Webb" — that was Kermit protesting — "and the McCloys. Nobody could possibly say we're having an orgy with that collection at the table."
"What are you doing?" Elinor whispered from the doorway. "What's that whistle for?"
Jake removed it from his mouth. "It's sonic. A harmonica bug. You can't hear it, but after you've dialed whatever phone you bugged you blow on it and it activates the bug without ringing the phone. And you don't have to whisper. They can't hear you at the other end."
He handed her the phone, and she put it to her ear. "It's Kermit," she reported with surprise. "Now it's Mrs. Thoren. Hey, look," she said in alarm and thrust the receiver back into Jake's hand, "isn't it illegal, listening in like this?"
"Don't let it worry you. Just run out to the car and bring me that pigskin case on the back seat. The top one on the pile."
"But it is illegal, isn't it?"
Jake said coldly: "What kind of idiot question is that? Didn't Sherry tell you what this was all about before she handed you the deal? Didn't I tell you on the plane how we'd plant that bug? Why didn't you ask that question then?"
Elinor said stubbornly: "Because it didn't come through to me the same way. I mean, what it was like, listening in on a bugged phone. And all Sherry told me was that you were an insurance investigator and would pay me three thousand dollars to front as your wife for a month because of a case you're on. But she never —"
"And what she told me," Jake cut in, "was that she'd be sending me a girl friend in her place who had plenty of nerve and talent and needed the money in the worst way. You mean she was all wrong about you? Or are you just trying to make me raise the ante, now that you have me in a hole? Now that the Thorens marked you as my wife."
Elinor looked shocked. "I never had any such idea."
"I'm glad to hear it. And get this nailed down tight in that beautiful Polack skull. Bugging a phone to keep someone from swindling an insurance company is only illegal if you're caught at it. And we won't be. Now bring me that bag from the car."
When she still hesitated he gave her a shove to start her on her way. "And don't bang it against anything. Handle it like glass."
The case had the biggest of his tape recorders in it — he had brought along two minis and a Continental attaché case model besides this IBM Executary, the gem of his collection — and before he set up the phone's earpiece against the IBM's induction mike he checked to see if the table talk at the other end of the line was still going on. It was. He started the recorder and left the Thorens to it.CHAPTER 3
"Now what?" said Elinor.
"We bring the rest of the stuff in from the car and set up housekeeping."
"Well, would you please do me a favor first and tell me what I've gotten myself into? Any play I even had a walk-on in, they at least told me what it was all about before we started rehearsing."
Jake said: "For one thing, this is no rehearsal. For another thing, I expected to tell you what's going on as soon as we were settled in here tonight. You couldn't function efficiently if I didn't."
"Function efficiently," Elinor said. "You make me feel like the original mechanical woman. But just for openers, who's trying to swindle the insurance company? Kermit?"
"No," Jake said. "His father. Guy named Walter Thoren who got himself killed in an auto crash a month ago."
"Killed? But if he's dead, what good can you —?"
"I said I'll tell you later. The whole thing in one piece so it makes sense. Right now, let's get moved in."
The case with his papers and working equipment he put into the study. The rest of the luggage was lined up on the floor of the bedroom. The bedroom was furnished in colorless good taste and had its own dressing room and bathroom.
Sweating with his exertions, Jake sat down on the edge of the king-sized bed. "Feels good," he said. "Try it."
Elinor remained standing. "No, thanks. I'll take your word for it."
"I see. Miss Majeski, is it your impression that I am now making an unsubtle pass at you?"
"It's been known to happen."
"Didn't Sherry tell you that when it comes to the hired help my policy is strictly hands off?"
"Yes. Well —" Warily, Elinor seated herself on the bed an arm's-length away from him. "Look, all this is new to me. You can't blame me for being a little jumpy about it, can you?"
Excerpted from The Bind by Stanley Ellin. Copyright © 1970 Stanley Ellin. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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