About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Crimson Clue
By George Harmon Coxe
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1955 George Harmon Coxe
All rights reserved.
Among the employees of the Courier the Studio was the term used to designate the photographic department on the third floor. In physical layout it consisted of the printing and enlarging room, a corridor leading to a dim alleyway from which the darkroom cubicles opened, and a bare-looking anteroom with three windows and calcimined walls that were chipped and scarred, and further defaced with countless pencilled telephone numbers.
There were three or four odd chairs, a pipe-rack coat hanger, and two desks, one of which was Kent Murdock's by right of authority as picture chief, the other a community possession in which each member of the staff had a one-drawer interest. On this particular Monday afternoon, an unusually quiet one picture-wise, Murdock was relaxing behind his desk trying to think up assignments for Lyman and Bush, who sat in one corner running down the list of next Saturday's football games and trying to line up a series of bets.
Patricia Canning changed all this. She came in unannounced. She said: 'Is this the Studio?' advancing slowly while they stared at her, Murdock, who knew her, as surprised as the others, who did not.
'Hello, Mr. Murdock', she said.
Later, in describing her visit, Lyman said it was the day Society came to the Studio. At the time he said nothing, nor did Bush. They watched, bug-eyed and ears flapping, as Murdock got out of his chair and greeted her.
'Pat', he said, still momentarily inarticulate. 'Well ... Yes,' he said as he took her offered hand, 'this is the Studio.'
She was slim and poised and neatly made, with chestnut hair and hazel eyes that were forthright and friendly. She wore a tailored suit of soft green Shetland, a leather bag under one arm, gloves in hand. She moved with grace, like a model but without a model's stilted manner, the difference coming not from her unaffected loveliness but from a combination of things less easy to describe: the soft, modulated phrasing of her voice that had come from long usage, the intangibles of background and breeding that were her birthright.
Now she glanced at the two in the corner, still friendly. She seated herself in the chair, at Murdock's insistence; then smiled up at him, tipping her head slightly.
'Is it all right to talk business?'
Murdock nodded, still uncomprehending.
'You know I'm getting married tomorrow.'
Murdock grinned. He said he'd heard the rumour.
'When a girl marries,' she said, 'she has arguments with the family, most of which she loses. I won on three counts. I'm getting married on Tuesday instead of Saturday because that was my mother's wedding date. There'll be dancing at the reception. A small orchestra with Sydney French.'
'That's what he said ... Also,' she added, ticking off the third count of her victory, 'I want pictures.'
Murdock heard her distinctly. She was still smiling in the same friendly way and her phrasing was sincere. That he could not so easily accept the statement was probably due to his own thoughts of the girl and her family, and of the man—Roger Armington—she was marrying.
Among social arbiters there was some argument as to exactly where the Canning family stood in the city's social structure; a consensus might have placed it in the first ten. There was less argument about the Armingtons. It was generally agreed that they stood a cut or two above the Cannings, the difference in rating due not so much to birth, background, and achievement as to the fact that, in the matter of a family balance sheet, the Armingtons had considerably more net worth.
In past generations there had been educators, scholars, and statesmen who bore the Canning name; currently about all that remained in a material way was the Canning textile mills, no longer quite so prosperous and needing, so rumour had it, the sort of monetary transfusion that Roger Armington could supply. There were many who suggested that the marriage was a fine opportunity for the Cannings; Murdock took the opposite view. As he saw it, Roger Armington was the lucky one, but what bothered him at the moment was something quite different.
For there was one other standard common to both families: they were, and had been as long as Murdock could remember, camera shy. They avoided publicity of any sort as they would a plague. Such pictures as had been reproduced in public print were almost always informal group shots taken at some society function. In these the Canning or Armington in question was usually snapped before he or she knew it. Remembering all this, Murdock chuckled.
'You said pictures?'
'Photographs? Like with a camera?'
'That must have been quite an argument. I mean with the family.'
'It was', she said, and laughed with him.
Murdock said she intrigued him. He said he understood the reception was to be small, select, with even society reporters barred from the house and grounds.
'Yes,' she said, 'but I want pictures just the same. Not bridal pictures, the candid sort. You know, the bride cutting the cake with the groom, dancing with her father, talking to the ushers and bridesmaids, maybe throwing the bouquet. I want lots of pictures, in albums, so I can give them to the bridal party and have one for myself.' She paused, a trace of anxiety in her glance. 'You can, can't you? The paper will allow you to, won't it?'
Murdock said he guessed it would be all right with the paper, and she said: 'And will you?'
'Does the family agree to let me in?'
'I'm sorry. I just wondered if you told them you were asking me to do the job.'
'Certainly I told them.'
'Didn't they object?'
'They said if you took the job how could I be sure you wouldn't supply copies to the paper. They said how could it be ethical for you to work for a newspaper and then withhold pictures the paper might want.'
'What did you tell them?'
'Just what you told me three years ago.'
Murdock nodded his approval, understanding that this was a fine compliment and recalling in detail the occasion she referred to. For some years his arrangement with the Courier had allowed him to take outside assignments when they did not interfere with his job, and on this particular night he had been hired to take some publicity shots of a jazz concert put on by a travelling combination of name musicians who had banded together to tour New England.
The concert was well advertised and the hall, hired from some fraternal organization, was packed. There were tables and chairs, and drinks were served to augment the receipts so that the interior had the atmosphere of a cheap and tawdry night club. Murdock took a dozen pictures of the group in action and he was about ready to leave when two girls caught up with him near the entrance.
He did not know either of them but the dark-haired girl's face seemed familiar. With the furious beat of 'That's a Plenty' rocking the floor, he could not understand all that was said but he did understand that these girls were something more than ordinary devotees of Dixieland. It was apparent in their clothes, in their manner, in the modulated accents of the dark-haired girl's voice. They accepted the fact that he was a newspaper photographer and out in the corridor they asked if they could have a certain picture he had taken. They said they were not supposed to be there. They said if their picture appeared in the paper they would not only be kidded by their friends but be placed in the parental doghouse for their disobedience.
The approach was a new one to Murdock. He listened politely, approving greatly of his petitioners, but not understanding the importance of the picture in question until he asked who they were and heard the name Canning. It would have been a simple matter then to have promised to destroy the negative, since the picture was of no importance, but because he was both curious and intrigued he made them a proposition.
'Why don't you come over to the paper with me while I develop these? Then we can see what we have. Maybe you're not in any of them.'
They went willingly, sitting in the anteroom while he developed his shots and discovered that they were right. Under the enlarger the two girls stood out clearly in the foreground of one picture, and he called them in and showed them what he had.
'Yes', they said. 'That's the one. Could we have it?'
In Murdock's mind the answer was yes but for some reason he was reluctant to make it so easy. Perhaps it was because they were young and attractive; perhaps it was because he enjoyed talking with them while he had the chance. Whatever the reason he told them that when he was working for the Courier he was morally obligated to turn in the pictures he took, that the question of what was to be done with them was up to the city editor.
'However,' he said, 'I'm allowed to take outside jobs and then I can do what I like with the pictures. This,' he added with a grin, 'happens to be one of those assignments.'
He watched the relief flood their faces. 'Then—we can have the negative?' Pat Canning asked.
'How much?' the other girl said.
Murdock glanced at her, disapproving of her assumption that money could take care of everything. She was small and blonde and he did not even remember her name; at the point of handing over the negative with his good wishes he said, on impulse:
'Fifteen minutes of your time.'
'I beg your pardon', they said.
'We will go downstairs and around the corner to a tavern I know—a respectable establishment where no one will recognize you—and we will have one small drink and discuss Dixieland for fifteen minutes. When we leave you can take the negative with you.'
That was how Murdock met Pat Canning and he had seen her many times since then, at parties and charity affairs and selected sporting events. Sometimes he was there as a photographer, sometimes as a guest, but to Pat it made no difference. She stopped to talk, to introduce him to her friends, always making it quite clear that he was a good friend of hers.
During that time he had learned many things about her, some of them founded on fact, others based on rumour. He knew that she lived with her father and two cousins—the Elliott twins; that her mother had died when Pat was fifteen, and that for a few years after that she had been a wilful, headstrong girl, indifferent to criticism and intent only on having her own way. She had gone to some girls' school in California and at seventeen had run away with an itinerant musician for a few brief hours before she had been caught and brought back. Some said that there had been a marriage which had been quickly annulled; others that there had been no time for marriage. But all that was in the past. The ensuing six years had brought maturity and dignity, plus a loveliness that few could match.
Now he rose from his perch on the corner of the desk, a lean, straight-standing man, taller than most, with thick dark hair that was at times unruly, and an angular, well-boned face. He took the girl's hand, turning her toward the hallway so that Lyman and Bush could no longer be spectators. Sensing this, she waited until they were outside before she spoke.
'Did I tell the family right?' she asked.
'You told them right.'
'And you'll do it?'
He inspected the fine modelling of her face, the spots of colour in the smooth, unblemished skin. He saw the warm glow in her eyes that love had put there. He nodded, wanting to say he'd be proud to take the pictures but finding the words hard to phrase. When she started to thank him he cut her off.
'You know I'm expensive', he said.
'I know you are.'
'On account I do quality work.'
'Maybe three hundred, maybe five. Depends on how many prints you want, how many albums.' He watched her open her bag and take out a gold pen and a folded cheque book. 'Not now', he said quickly.
'Certainly now. A retainer.' She started to write. 'I want scads of prints. And—oh, say twelve albums. I'll pick out those I want mounted when we get back. We're going to Europe.'
She tore out the cheque, blew on it. When she put the pen and cheque book away she glanced up, half closing one eye. 'Should I tell you a secret? ... On the seven-thirty plan tomorrow night', she said.
Glancing at the cheque without meaning to, he saw it was for four hundred dollars. He started to protest but she was already chattering on, telling him the wedding was at four, that she'd like him to be at the house in time to photograph her leaving for the church.
He said he'd be there. 'Just be sure you tell the butler and gateman. Should I wear a white carnation or something so——'
'Oh, stop it. I'll send a car for you if you like. Anyway, the twins will be looking for you.'
She offered her hand, smiling up at him as he took it, then sobering at something she saw in his glance. She waited, her hand still in his, and he said: 'Is it all right to wish you all of the best?'
'Thank you, Kent', she said. 'Will you—wish me the same thing tomorrow afternoon when I'm Mrs. Armington?'
He nodded, moved by her simple request and having no further need for words. He went with her to the elevator, and they stood there silently until the car stopped and the door clanged behind her.CHAPTER 2
Trip 84 of the Trans-Eastern Bus Line, Chicago to Boston, was running a half hour late. Well filled but not crowded, it was rolling smoothly on its last lap, and with Worcester behind, the passengers began to sit up and give attention to personal appearances, the women busy with their compacts and the men buttoning collars and readjusting ties.
In the window-seat three rows back on the right-hand side, Audrey Wayne felt her companion stir beside her and, without really looking at him, knew that he was sitting up and yawning. She had already examined herself in her compact mirror and was satisfied with what she had seen; now she sat relaxed and at ease, a tallish woman in a brown tweed suit, the jacket of which had been neatly folded and placed on the luggage rack to keep it from wrinkling. She had medium-blonde hair, softly waved and marked at one side with a still blonder streak which gave it a striking two-toned effect. Her face was on the narrow side, with high cheekbones, a full mouth, and dark lashes that gave a mysterious promise to her green eyes. She was twenty-six and sometimes looked older, and she was thinking now of the wonders of coincidence.
A week ago when she decided to leave California it had been her intention to save what she could on transportation by taking an air coach to Chicago, and the bus from there to New York. She would then have enough money left to live three or four months in some small apartment hotel with a reasonably good address while she looked for work in the television studios. Now, because of the man beside her, and more particularly a small newspaper clipping he carried, she was going to New York by way of Boston.
The air coach out of Los Angeles had been crowded, and at first she had paid no attention to her companion. When he spoke she replied without actually looking at him, but as the plane droned on she told herself it would be stuffy to sit beside a man all the way to Chicago without making some effort to be pleasant.
He had a bottle which he nipped on occasionally, but he was never fresh and seemed content to sit back and talk. He told her his name was Neil Garvin, that he was a piano player by profession, and that he was on his way to Boston. She asked if he had a job there and he said not exactly.
'I'm going to see a couple of guys', he said. 'And do some collecting.'
'Yeah. For past favours. Also, I think I might take a look at a wedding.'
She saw then that he had a small clipping in his hand, and when he passed it to her she decided the paragraph had been cut from some syndicated column. All it said was that with the marriage Tuesday of Patricia Canning and Roger Armington, two of Boston's oldest families would be united. She handed it back, oddly disturbed as her mind slid back across the years and memory sharpened.
'Just happened to see it the day before yesterday', he said.
She watched him take a swallow from the bottle and sit back. After about five minutes he spoke again, his voice remote.
'You see, I was married to that girl once, a long time ago.'
She heard him distinctly but the statement was so preposterous that her mind rejected it as some misunderstanding on her part.
'That girl', he said. 'We were married.'
She looked at him then, one part of her mind rejecting what he said, the other held by something in the cadence of his voice. Slender, dark-haired, about thirty, she thought, with a superficial handsomeness in spite of the angles of weakness about the mouth and chin. There was an unusual pallor in the hollow cheeks too, and somehow his suit seemed too big for him, suggesting that some illness had left him weakened and underweight.
'More than six years ago', she heard him say. 'She was at one of those snooty finishing schools not far from Santa Barbara and I was playing in a small combo, working wherever we could pick up a date.'
Excerpted from The Crimson Clue by George Harmon Coxe. Copyright © 1955 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.