TABLE OF CONTENTS
LUCK’S A FICKLE JADE
Corcoran threw snake-eyes. An audible gasp went up from the well-dressed crowd around the crap-table. They had seen Corcoran make six straight passes; watched him run a ten-spot up to six hundred and forty bucks.
Then, since there was no limit in Spot Shelton’s ultra-select gambling establishment, Corcoran had shot the works.
Loudly the girl alongside him said: “You were foolish, honey. You should have dragged down.”
Her name was Margie Zaine. She wore her blue-black hair sleekly coiffed; she had a Madonna face. Her figure was a poem of curves sheathed in a crimson satin evening gown. Men had a hard time keeping their eyes away from her.
She was a capper for Spot Shelton’s place. Sucker-bait. But Corcoran was no sucker. He was a private dick.
He grinned down into her dark eyes. She was playing her part to perfection. Nobody on Spot Shelton’s staff would possibly suspect her of disloyalty to Shelton tonight … .
Nor could anybody guess what Corcoran was really up to. Thus far he’d played his part of a reckless sap to the hilt.
But it had been a tough job trying to make the dice obey orders.
Luck’s a fickle jade; when a man wants to lose, he almost invariably wins. It had taken him more than ten minutes to go broke.
A TELLER AT MY BANK
The tuxedoed croupier said: “Still your dice if you want them, Mister.”
Margie Zaine pressed herself closer to Corcoran. She was trembling a little.
At the far end of the table a tall, nervous young man flashed a veiled glance at the private dick; flicked his eyebrows. Corcoran took his cue.
He said to the croupier: “I’d like to keep on shooting, but I’m cleaned.” He passed the cubes to the player on his right. Then he said: “Could I get a check cashed?”
Up at the end of the table, the tall young man was listening to a willowy blonde in daring décolletage. He seemed annoyed. The blonde looked sore. The croupier beckoned an attendant.
The attendant came up to Corcoran and said: “How large a check, sir?”
“Oh, about five hundred.” Corcoran drew a checkbook from his dinner jacket pocket. He didn’t produce the flat .25 automatic which also reposed in that pocket. The attendant frowned dubiously.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to let Mr. Shelton pass on that, sir. It’s more than I’m authorized to cash. I’ll take you to his office.”
Margie Zaine said: “Never mind. I’ll show the way.” She looked archly at Corcoran. “I know Spot Shelton. I’ll introduce you. Come along, honey.”
That was a chuckle, of course, Margie knew Shelton. She worked for him! But she wouldn’t be working for him after tonight. Corcoran slipped an arm around her waist. She led him out of the casino-room and down a long, carpeted corridor. She knocked on a closed door.
A voice said: “Come in.” It was Spot Shelton’s voice, sleek and purring.
They entered. Margie said: “Hello, Spot. This is my friend, Mr. Jones. He wants a check cashed.”
Shelton’s eyes were heavy-lidded and crafty to match the thin gash of his avaricious mouth.
“Glad to accommodate you,” he said affably. “How much will you need?”
Corcoran raised his ante. “A thousand will do.”
Like a light turned off, Shelton’s smile faded abruptly. “A thousand?” he said sharply.
“Sure,” Corcoran said, “I’ve got plenty in the bank. Want proof?”
“What kind of proof?” Shelton purred.
“Send for Harry Greer. He’s out at the dice-table. I just saw him. He’s a teller at my bank. He knows the balance I carry. Call him in. Ask him.”
Shelton spoke into a house-phone.
YOU MIGHT CALL IT A STICK-UP
In a moment the door opened. A tall, nervous young man came in, the one who had flicked his eyebrow at Corcoran a while ago.
He said: “Why, hello, Margie. Good evening, Mr. Jones,” he added politely to Corcoran. Then he looked at Shelton. “You want me?”
Corcoran said: “He wants to know how much money I’ve got on deposit in your bank, Harry. Tell him.”
Greer cleared his throat; it was his only sign of uneasiness. “Why, more than thirty thousand dollars, roughly speaking.”
“Ah,” Shelton smiled apologetically to Corcoran. “In that case I’ll be delighted to cash your check, Mr. Jones.”
He went to the wall behind his elaborate desk, shoved aside an etching, and toyed with the dial of a counter-sunk safe. A big yellow solitaire diamond glittered on the ring finger of his right hand as he opened the safe’s circular door.
Corcoran pulled out his .25 automatic and said: “Thanks, Shelton. Now step back and sit down before I blast you.”
The gambler whirled, his sallow cheeks pale. “What is this?”
“You might call it a stick-up,” Corcoran said. “But I’d sooner say it’s a bit of justice outside the law. I’m not a hood. Just a private shamus working for Harry Greer and Miss Zaine.”
“Why, you dirty — !”
Corcoran said: “Tie him to the chair, Harry. And Margie, you grab the dough out of the box. Just thirty grand.”
“Thirty grand — ?” Shelton snarled an oath at the girl. “You double-crossing vixen!”
Greer slugged him in the teeth. The gambler sagged into his chair.
Greer produced a skein of picture-wire, and bound Shelton’s wrists and ankles, saying: “Maybe Margie used to be a double-crosser. But not any more. She’s all through capping for you, Shelton.”
Margie was pulling packets of currency out of the safe, stuffing them into her beaded purse.
Greer went on: “She got me to play your crooked games, Shelton. But you didn’t count on her falling for me, did you? Well, that’s what happened.”
“Falling for you? That’s a laugh, you dirty — ”
Greer said: “I’m marrying Margie, see? That’s why I hired this detective to help me get back the thirty thousand dollars you took away from me with your loaded dice. Now I can put back what I took from the bank — before the auditors catch up with me. And from now on, Margie and I are going straight.”
The gambler squirmed helplessly.
To Margie he snarled: “Don’t be a sap, kid! Greer’s playing you for a sucker. He won’t marry you. Look what he did to Jackie Allan. Made her fall for him, too, then handed her the air. He’ll treat you the same way! Put that dough back, baby — and I’ll forget the whole thing.”
He added: “You can keep out five hundred if you want to. That’s all Greer ever lost to me, the lousy liar. He never dropped any thirty grand!”
“I don’t believe you, Spot,” Margie said quietly. She snapped her purse shut. It bulged with the currency.
Shelton raged: “You put that dough back in the safe or I’ll get you if it’s the last thing I ever do!”
Greer hit him on the jaw again. The gambler sagged against his bonds, unconscious. Greer went over to him to make sure the wires were tightly knotted.
He said: “Okay. He won’t get loose for a while.”
COULD I KISS THE BRIDE?
The door opened. A feminine voice said: “That’s what you think.”
It was the willowy blonde who had approached Greer at the crap-table.
Greer said: “Jackie Allan — !” in a scared whisper.
In spite of her heavy make-up she was gorgeous. Her hair was spun gold. She said: “I told you I’d get even with you for handing me the gate, Harry. I warned you I’d get something on you.”
Greer sputtered: “You — you — !”
“Take it easy, Harry,” she said frigidly. “And put that money back where it belongs. Spot Shelton was plenty decent to me after you walked out on me. This is my chance to make it up to him. You put that money back, or I’ll scream the place down.”
Corcoran went into action. He jumped at the blonde and slapped a muffling hand over her mouth. He looked at Greer.
“What about this, Harry?”
“A pack of lies!” the bank-teller said harshly, indignantly. “It’s true I was nuts about her for a while. She was the one who first got me into playing Shelton’s crooked games. When I found out she was one of his come-ons, I ditched her. Then I fell in love with Margie, here. Margie came clean with me; promised to help me get my money back from Shelton … ”
“Okay. Hand me that picture-wire,” Corcoran snapped. He took the skein, tripped Jackie Allan to the floor, tied her. When he got through, she was gagged with a handkerchief and trussed like a turkey.
Corcoran got up.
To Greer he said: “Get your coat and hat and go home. Margie and I will phone you from her apartment, later. We’ll leave shortly. It wouldn’t look good for all of us to be seen pulling out of this joint together.”
When Corcoran and Margie strolled casually back into the gaming-room a little later, Greer was gone. Corcoran stopped at the roulette-table long enough to lose the fifty that Margie had slipped him. That was to make everything look okay. After all, he was supposed to have cashed a check … .
After four wrong guesses at the wheel, he yawned.
“Let’s beat it, Margie. I’m tired,” he said loudly.
She fastened herself to his arm. They went out; found a taxi. They headed for her apartment.
“You were swell,” she said. “Now Harry and I can be married, and — ”
“Could I kiss the bride?”
She gave him her lips in gratitude.
AND FINALLY, SILENCE
The cab stopped in front of her apartment building.
They went into the lobby. It was deserted and dimly lighted at this late hour. They made for the automatic elevator.
From a curtained alcove to the left, a hand appeared. It was a white, soft-looking hand wearing a yellow diamond solitaire and holding a revolver.
As the gun crashed, Margie Zaine screamed and clutched at her breast. Blood spurted through her fingers. She dropped her handbag and fell.
Corcoran made a grab for his automatic. He fired at the drapes. He knew he must have missed, because there was no answering fire.
Bellowing, the private dick smashed toward the curtained alcove. As he hit the drapes, something thunked down on his head. He was stunned. Fireworks exploded inside his brain. He reeled drunkenly; pitched to his knees.
By the time he got up again, the alcove was empty. There was a doorway leading to the alley alongside the building. The door was open … .
Corcoran stared stupidly at Margie Zaine’s sprawled form. Death’s waxen mist was on her Madonna face. Her handbag was open and empty. The money she had taken from Spot Shelton’s office wall-safe was now gone.
Shelton, who had threatened her … Shelton, who had worn a yellow solitaire diamond on the ring finger of his white, effeminate hand … !
Corcoran snapped out of his daze. He was thinking of Harry Greer, now. Maybe the bank-teller would be next on Shelton’s list of victims. Maybe it was already too late —
Sprinting out into the night, Corcoran grabbed a passing owl cab. It zipped him to Greer’s apartment house, an unpretentious three-story structure with exterior fire- escapes marring its old-fashioned red brick façade.
Corcoran raced up to the second floor. He reached the bank-teller’s door and pounded on it.
“Greer — let me in! It’s me, Corcoran — and hell’s to pay!” A muffled pistol-shot answered him. Then a heavy thump, as of a body falling. And finally, silence.
Corcoran hit the door. It bruisingly rebuffed him. He backed away and smashed at it again, putting his full two hundred pounds behind the impact. This time the portal gave way. He stumbled into the room.
PINCHED FOR MURDER
An open window framed the iron fire-ladder just outside. In the room’s center lay Harry Greer, breathing heavily, with his eyes closed. Thick clotted blood wept from a raw hole in his left shoulder. A thin drift of gunpowder-smoke eddied in the dull light from a table-lamp.
Corcoran ran heavily to the window; stared outward, downward. He couldn’t see anybody. He returned to Greer and worked over him. At last the teller opened his eyes. “God … my shoulder … !” he groaned faintly. “Who drilled you? Was it Shelton?”
“I … don’t know! I was … getting ready to … start for Margie’s place … and a shot … came from … the window … .”
Greer sat up weakly. “What are you … doing here? My God … if Shelton shot me … he may go … gunning for Margie … You should have … stayed with her … .”
“I’m sorry, kid, but Margie — Margie’s dead.” Corcoran tried to break the news to him gently. “‘Take it easy while I try to do something to fix this shoulder of yours.”
“Margie … dead … ?”
The teller pushed Corcoran away. “Do something … .!” he cried hysterically. “Call the cops … trail that dirty rat … get him … kill him … !”
His lips twisted vengefully.
Corcoran said: “Yeah. Trail Shelton. That’s a large order. He’ll be on the lam for sure, now. He must’ve got loose in his office; reached Margie’s place ahead of us. Then he blasted.He killed her — and thought he killed me, too. So he came here to bump you. But just as he fired at you from the window, he heard my voice out in the hall. He realized he hadn’t croaked me. And now he knows he’s in the soup; knows my testimony will convict him. He’ll go into hiding.”
“You’ve got to find him!” Greer sobbed. “Get going! I’ll phone the cops. Move, blast you!”
Corcoran went out. It was going to be tough, trying to locate Spot Shelton. Corcoran didn’t know where to start. Then he got an idea. He found a drugstore and a phone book. He looked up Jackie Allan’s name and found it. He made a note of her address.
A taxi took him to a bungalow court. He rang her bell. When she opened the door, Corcoran drew his automatic and shoved the muzzle against her.
He said: “You’re pinched for murder, baby.”
She was wearing lounging pajamas. Her wrists were red and chafed from the wire with which she’d been trussed back in Shelton’s office. There were marks on her ankles, too. The ankles themselves were slender and dainty, to match the rest of her.
She said: “Pinched … for murder? What do you m-mean?”
He backed her into the little living room and kicked the door shut behind him. He pushed her onto the divan and stood over her, glowering.
“What happened after I left Shelton’s joint?”
“Why — why — I managed to spit that gag out of my mouth. I yelled for help. People came in and untied me and Shelton, too. Spot brought me home.”
Corcoran said: “Straight home?”
“Yes.” She seemed puzzled.
He said: “You’re a liar, baby. You hated Harry Greer’s guts because he ditched you. You hated Margie Zaine for taking him away from you. So you gunned the both of them, to get even.”
It was preposterous, of course. Corcoran knew that. But he wanted to throw a scare into Jackie Allan.
TO SAVE A GUY’S LIFE
All the color drained from her cheeks.
“I — I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she said.
“Margie’s dead. You killed her. You tried to kill me. And you put a bullet through Harry Greer’s shoulder.”
“I — I didn’t! My God, I wouldn’t — ” She reached up and grabbed his gun-arm. “D-don’t point that thing at me. And you can’t believe I’d — ”
He looked at her, steadily.
“There’s just one way you can buy yourself out of this mess, baby. I want you to tell me where I can find Shelton.”
From the hallway, a voice growled: “That’s easy, snoop. Here I am. And this thing in my hand isn’t a saxophone. It’s a rod. It shoots bullets.”
Corcoran said: “How did you get in here?”
“I’ve got a key,” Shelton said. “Why not?”
“You’ll be getting a key to the hot squat before long,” Corcoran said.
“I gathered that. I was home listening to the radio when I heard a bleat go out for me on a murder rap. That’s why I’m here now.” He looked at the blonde girl. “Why did you kill Margie, babe?”
“But I didn’t — I didn’t! That’s what I was trying to tell this copper — ”
“That’s okay. I understand the setup.” The gambler glared at Corcoran. “You’re not arresting her, snoop. I won’t let you.”
Shelton shifted his gun to his left hand, doubled his right. He hit Corcoran on the button.
Corcoran’s knees buckled. He took the count.
When he awoke, Shelton and Jackie were gone. The house was all upset, as if a hurried job of luggage packing had been accomplished during the private detective’s unconsciousness. Corcoran felt his bruised jaw. The flesh wasn’t cut.
He stumbled out of the cottage. He walked four blocks before he found a cab. He gave the driver Greer’s address.
“And step on it — to save a guy’s life!” he panted. Seven minutes later he burst into Greer’s apartment.
Greer had contrived to bandage his nicked shoulder. He stared at Corcoran.
“What — ?”
“Shelton’s still on the loose. He’s got a gun. He may be on his way here to finish you!” Corcoran said. “But we’ll trap him.”
“Have you got a roscoe? He took mine.”
Greer opened a desk drawer. He brought out a revolver. Corcoran snatched it and jammed it three inches into the bank-teller’s belly.
“The jig’s up,” he said grimly. “You bumped Margie. Where’s the dough?”
Greer turned a pasty yellow. “Are you crazy?”
“Like a fox,” Corcoran snapped. “Listen. Shelton told the truth tonight when he said you only lost five hundred to him. When he told Margie you never intended to marry her. You were a smart skunk, Greer. You’d never swiped any dough from your bank. That was just a stall to make Margie fall in with your schemes.
“You planned to rob Spot Shelton. He looked like an easy touch. And you did a lot of groundwork before you pulled the strings.
“You first tried to work through Jackie Allan; but when she wouldn’t work with you, you ditched her. You took up with Margie. Margie fell for your line. She really figured you loved her, wanted to marry her. And she believed you when you said Shelton had gypped you out of thirty grand. That was a lie. And besides, Shelton’s dice are straight … .
“Well, after Margie agreed to help you, you hired me. We pulled the heist; got the dough from Shelton’s safe. Shelton made threats. You saw a chance to get the money, be rid of Margie — and pin her murder on Shelton.”
Greer gulped noisily. “You’re all wrong — ”
“Nuts. You swiped Shelton’s diamond ring off his finger while he was tied to his chair, knocked out. Then you went ahead to Margie’s apartment house. You waited behind that drape.
“You wore Shelton’s ring when you shot Margie. All I saw was your gun-hand — and the ring.
“You didn’t drill me. You wanted me alive — so that I could testify it was Shelton’s hand I saw holding the murder-gun. You just conked me.
“When I came to and rushed here to your place, you fired a shot out your window, so I’d hear it. Then you fell on the floor and played possum. You wanted me to think Shelton had come here and drilled you.
“But the wound in your shoulder was from my bullet, Greer! I winged you when I shot through that drape after you drilled Margie!”
“No, Corcoran! You’re crazy!”
“Nuts! I should have guessed it right away, when I looked at your shoulder the first time. The blood had already started to clot. But I was dumb. I was dumb up to the time Spot Shelton slugged me on the jaw in Jackie Allan’s bungalow a little while ago. Then I saw the truth.”
“Wh-what do you mean?”
“Shelton poked me with his right — but it didn’t cut my cheek. He wasn’t wearing his ring!
“That was the tip-off. Maybe somebody else had the ring. Not Jackie Allan, because her hands were smaller than the one I saw through that drape. And why didn’t Shelton croak me in Jackie’s bungalow when he had the chance? If he’d been guilty, he’d have drilled me to keep me from spilling. Instead, all he did was biff me. He just wanted a chance to get Jackie away — because he thought she was the killer. He loves her; wanted to protect her.
“Okay. Jackie wasn’t guilty. But if Shelton thought she was, it meant he was innocent himself. Get it? So that cleared everybody but you, Greer.
“You had motive: greed. You had opportunity. And you had my bullet hole through your shoulder. You also had a roscoe — which I just tricked away from you. Got anything to say now?”
TURN ’EM LOOSE
Greer snarled: “You’ll never take me, Corcoran!” and swatted at the revolver in the private dick’s fist. Corcoran shot him through the other shoulder.
“So you’ll suffer a little before they burn you,” he said. He was thinking of poor little Margie Zaine lying dead because she had loved unwisely … .
A search disclosed the thirty thousand dollars that Greer had taken from Margie’s handbag. And Corcoran also found Shelton’s diamond ring, under Greer’s mattress. Corcoran phoned police headquarters.
“Come and get the guy that bumped Margie Zaine,” he said.
“We’ve already got him. Spot Shelton. Picked him up with a blonde a while ago.”
Corcoran said: “Turn ’em loose. They’re clean. And you might tell Shelton that a dumb cluck named Corcoran would like an invite to the wedding … .”
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