THIS WEEK ON MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION-
Moonstone Books and ALL PULP are proud to present a two fisted detective pulp tale from MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION featuring the radio icon YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR ! This is a pulse pounder from Pulp author Eric Fein! This tale can be found in the SEX, LIES, AND PRIVATE EYES collection available from Moonstone at http://www.moonstonebooks.com/
THE PRETTY CORPSE MATTER
by Eric Fein
When the phone rang, I was in the middle of totaling up my expenses for my most recent case, the Upjohn Matter.
“Johnny Dollar,” I said.
“Johnny, it’s Pat McCracken from the Universal Adjustment Bureau.”
“I’ve got something that needs to be handled with great care,” he said.
“I’m all ears.”
“A 22-year-old woman has been murdered and her $25,000 diamond necklace, which we insured, is missing.”
“That’s a lot of ice for a girl her age.”
“Not when she’s Alice Allard,” Pat said.
“Of Allard’s Department Store fame?”
“The one and the same,” he said. “I just got the call from her father, Stephen Allard. It happened this morning at her apartment in Manhattan. He’s there now with the police. The homicide detective in charge of the investigation is Ed Lundy of the Fifth Precinct.”
He gave me the apartment’s address. As he did, I slid my gun into its holster.
“I’m on my way.”
* * *
September 23, 1954
Expense account, submitted by special investigator Johnny Dollar. To Pat McCracken, Universal Adjustment Bureau. The following is an itemized account of expenses incurred during my investigation of the Pretty Corpse Matter. And what a case it was.
* * *
Expense account item one: $13.95, train from Hartford, Connecticut to NYC.
Expense account item two: $2.15, cab fare from train station to East 89th street.
The crime scene was a two-bedroom apartment in a luxury building. The apartment was on the fourth floor. There were a lot of people packed into it: plainclothes detectives, the coroner’s men, and crime lab technicians.
A detective stood by the couch where a young woman sat, hugging a teddy bear to her chest.
Two other men stood nearby watching. Both wore well-tailored clothes. I recognized Allard from seeing his picture in the papers on several occasions. I didn’t know the other man.
“You must be Dollar,” a man said.
I turned to face the speaker.
“That’s right,” I said. “Lundy?”
“Yes. McCracken called to tell me you were coming.”
We shook hands.
Lundy introduced me to Allard and the other man, who turned out to be Allard’s lawyer, Thomas Cotton. Allard appeared calm. Like this was a corporate board meeting and not an investigation into his daughter’s homicide. The one thing that gave away his grief was his red-rimmed eyes.
“Any leads?” I said.
“Not much to tell,” Lundy said. “The roommate, Marie Davies, says she came home after work at about 4 a.m. and found the door unlocked and Alice dead on the floor.”
“Her story check out?”
“So far. If she’s not telling the truth now, she will be by the time I get done with her.”
“That young lady has had an awful shock,” Allard said. “She doesn’t need your abuse.”
“And she won’t get any as long as she answers my questions,” Lundy said.
“Can I see the body?” I said.
“Is that really necessary, to trample on my daughter’s dignity?”
“Mr. Allard,” Lundy said. “With all due respect, you have been on my back since we arrived. If you were anyone else, you’d have been tossed out of here hours ago.”
“Stephen,” Cotton said. “The detective is right. Why don’t we get some air and let them do their work?”
Allard looked like he wanted to slug Lundy. But, he thought better of it. His mental defenses were starting to crumble. He hadn’t been there to protect his daughter so now he would supervise the manhunt for her killer. Only, the police didn’t want his help. It was a cold slap in the face for him.
“Yes, Thomas,” he said.
We waited until they were out of the apartment before continuing.
Lundy motioned to a technician, “Hogan, lift the sheet.”
The technician did as he was told, doing it in such away that it blocked Marie’s view of the body.
Alice Allard had been a beautiful blue-eyed blonde. That was apparent even in death’s cold grip. She wore a see-through negligee that revealed a body that would have made Bette Page jealous. There were ugly, dark purple bruises on her neck.
“That’s enough,” I said.
Hogan let the sheet fall back over the body.
“You done here?” Lundy said to him.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “The coroner can have the body.”
Lundy motioned to the coroner’s men. They set about their business.
“She was a good person,” Marie Davies said. “Why would anyone want to hurt Alice?”
We turned to her. Marie was young and beautiful. Her black hair hung down to her shoulders. Her brown eyes were almost too large for her face. It gave her a vulnerable quality.
“Maybe you can help us figure that out,” Lundy said.
“I don’t know what else I could tell you that I haven’t already told you and Detective Clancy.”
“Humor me,” Lundy said. “By the way, this is Mr. Dollar. He’s an insurance investigator. He’s looking for Alice’s diamond necklace.”
“How did you meet?” I said.
“The Grove Club. We were both hostesses there and became friends when the club put us up in this apartment.”
I exchanged a glance with Lundy. The Grove Club is a mob run joint that fronts an illegal gambling parlor and prostitution ring. They didn’t put up just anyone in a fancy apartment.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Marie said.
“Like what?” I said.
“Just because the club has a bad reputation you think that Alice and I were hip deep in trouble. Well you’re wrong, just like her father.”
“They had a falling out?” I said.
“Yes,” Marie said. “Her father threatened to disown her because she was dating, Ed Crowley, the club’s manager.”
I wanted to say that I agreed with him. Instead I just said, “Okay.”
“Alice was working there because Mr. Crowley, promised to help her become a singer,” she said. “She was good, too. She could have been a star.”
Her voice cracked, she sobbed.
“Okay, Clancy,” Lundy said. “Take her down to the precinct so she can make a formal statement.”
When Clancy led her out, she was still clinging to the bear.
“Well, I think I’ve seen all there is to see here, Lundy,” I said. “I’ll be in touch.”
* * *
Allard was waiting for me on the street. He looked almost contrite.
“I wanted you to know that you have my complete backing,” he said. “Anything you need let me know. I have friends in high places and I am not afraid to use them.”
“Do you have a picture of the necklace?” I said.
He took out a photograph from his wallet of Alice, in a stunning gown, at a party. The diamond rested between her breasts, glittering like the morning sun.
“It’s a family heirloom,” he said. “My mother gave it to her for her Sweet Sixteen.”
Expense account item three: $3.65, cab fare to the Grove Club.
* * *
It took a promise to return with the police for me to get in to see Crowley. We met in his office while he devoured a steak. He didn’t bother to look up from it when I introduced myself. I sat in the chair opposite his desk.
“Poor, Alice. It’s a tragedy,” he said. “I’m all torn up over it.”
“Yeah, I see the way you’re crying into your steak.”
“I’m a busy man, Dollar, so ask your questions.”
“How long had you been dating Alice?”
“About a year. I was even thinking of proposing to her.”
“Yeah. I figured marrying into her family would be a good way to boost my respectability.”
“Sure. Of course, not being a gangster and a pimp would help, too.”
“You’re a funny guy, Dollar.”
“I hate funny guys. You think you’re better than me just because you work with the law? You’re a snoop. You crawl through other people’s garbage to make your living.”
“And yet, you’re the one who stinks.”
When he didn’t shoot me, I continued.
“You paid for Alice’s apartment. Was she turning tricks for you?” I said.
“No. She was my girl. I’d never do that to her. Besides, she loved me. If I had asked her to, she would have. Just to make me happy.”
I wanted to shoot him in the face. Instead, I said, “What about Marie Davies?”
“Yeah. I’d have her take a customer home from time to time but only when Alice was spending the night with me.”
“You have any customers who got a little too attached to Marie or Alice.”
“There was one guy,” he said. “About a month ago, he got too rough with Marie. Gave her a black eye. I had someone talk to him.”
“You mean beat the crap out of him?” I said.
“Yeah,” Crowley said. “And it worked. He never came back.”
“Until last night,” I said. “What’s this guy’s name?”
“Frank Brody” Crowley said. “A crazy son of a bitch.”
“You have an address for him?” I said.
“Better,” Crowley said. “I have his wallet. My guy took it, thought it might come in handy one day.”
“Today’s the day,” I said.
Crowley took the wallet from the top draw of his desk and tossed it at me.
“Thanks,” I said.
“We’re done. Get out.”
Expense account item four: $2.25, cab fare to West 57th Street and 10th Avenue.
* * *
Brody lived in a furnished studio apartment not far from the club. The lobby stank of booze and stale cigarette smoke and unwashed old men. I took the metal cage deathtrap they called the elevator up to the eighth floor. The stench from the lobby rode up with me.
Brody’s apartment was at the far end of the hall. I knocked and called his name. He responded by shooting at me through the door just missing me. I dived to the side. The door swung open and Brody charged out, into the stairwell.
I drew my gun and followed. I could hear Brody scramble down the stairs two flights below me. I took a chance and leaned over the railing. I could see him reach a landing. I took aim and shouted, “Freeze, Brody.”
He took another shot at me. He missed. I didn’t. I hit him in the foot. He screamed and crumpled to the floor. He raised his gun again and opened fire. I stepped back. When he was out of bullets, he threw the gun up at me, but it missed.
A man came out of his apartment to see what all the commotion was about. I gave him Lundy’s phone number and told him to call it.
* * *
Tune in next week for the conclusion to THE PRETTY CORPISE MATTER! And check out http://www.moonstonebooks.com/ for this and other collections and tales!