Sunday, February 21, 2010

Murder In the Family - Leigh Brackett

Murder In the Family


DANNY THAYER WALKED THROUGH the La Brea Tar Pits that night because he was looking for a place to sleep, free. He wasn't thinking about anything in particular. His brain had grown rather numb these last few days.
He was hungry. So hungry it felt like rats chewing inside of him. Maybe he could forget that, if he went to sleep. Have to watch out for a cop, though. The signs at the park entrance said, CLOSED TO PUBLIC AFTER SUNDOWN.
The Pits stretched out before him, a great barren sweep of weeds and scrub and baked earth dotted with clumps of dark I trees and the pits themselves where scientists had dug up fossils, and white scattered glints where stone sculptures of I prehistoric beasts loomed in the cloudy moonlight.
Danny Thayer shivered. He was nineteen, homeless, jobless, and hungry, but he could feel the loneliness of the place. It was more than just empty. It was—ancient.
Wilshire Boulevard was just beyond the wall of eucalyptus trees and ornamental shrubs. The lights of Hollywood painted the clouds off to his left. But they seemed a million miles away.
He walked on. Just walking, a tall lanky kid trying to forget how hungry he was. Past asphalt funnels bubbling stickily behind low protective walls. Past the statue of a short-faced bear, and two ground-sloths, and across a choked and stagnant creek.
The path led between pits choked with reeds higher than his head, over a low stone bridge. There was a thick clump of trees up ahead. The place had a sullen, biting smell. It seemed to be waiting, somehow. Waiting, and hungry.
Then, sharp and sudden in the dead silence, a woman's voice cried out.
"What are you doing? No! Oh God, don't. . . !"
And she screamed. It was a short scream, choked off abruptly in a sort of gurgle, like thick muddy water between stones.
Danny stopped. Something like a strong cold hand held him, still and not breathing. Then he started to run, toward the clump of trees ahead, his feet ringing hollow on the stone bridge.
He stumbled out of the path between the trees. The moon was playing hide-and-seek in drifting clouds. And someone was running, fast, toward the Wilshire entrance.
Someone in a dark suit, with a dark head bent. Running doubled over, so that in that light you couldn't see size and shape.
Danny Thayer yelled, almost as though his throat had done it alone.
The someone stopped, jerked around like a puppet on wires, already shadowed by the barrier trees. The moon broke out, clear and bright. For an instant they stood, the figure in the shadows, the boy clear in the cold brilliance. Then the dirt path was empty.
Danny stood stiff, his body needled with sweat, choking on his own heartbeats. The sullen pungence of the pits seemed suddenly triumphant, as though what they'd waited for had come.
He turned toward where the scream had come from.
There was a stone group under the trees, showing a bison mired in a pit and two sabre-tooth cats fighting over the carcass. One of them reared up over four feet, his head thrown back, fangs bared impotently while the other tore his throat.
Only now his fangs weren't bared. They were buried deep in a woman's throat.
A woman's throat, wedged with savage strength into the gaping mouth. The cat's fangs were metal, because they were too long for crumbly stone.
Metal. Not very sharp. But sharp enough.
Clouds nagged at the moon. Danny's heart beat full and slow and very loud. He shivered, and the veins in his neck hurt.
She was small and slender, bent backward and hanging from the cat's mouth. She wore an evening gown of some pale, shining stuff, tight across her small curved breasts. The blood had made a dark, glinting pool between them.
She must have been pretty, without her face so twisted and her eyes empty and staring. Her hair was dull gold against the stone.
It was very still and lonely there, and the pits smelt of death.
Danny put out his hands and tried to get her loose. But the curving fangs were hooked hard against her jaw. She was dead, anyway. Apart from the bleeding, the jerk of her body downward had snapped her neck.
He drew back. He wanted to be sick, but the retching was agony to the emptiness in him. And then he saw her purse, a little scrap of satin and seed-pearls, dropped in the dust beside one small foot.
He stood quite still, looking at it. His bony hands opened and closed. He could still feel her flesh against his palms.
Warm, but already cooling. Warm, but dead.
Just a dime, for a hamburger. It was stealing. But she wouldn't need it any more. Maybe it wasn't wrong to rob a person when he didn't need money any more.
Danny's jaw was long and jutting, covered with a dark soft stubble of beard. It set suddenly, hard, and his blue eyes narrowed.
"The hell with right or wrong! She's dead. And I'm hungry."
He stooped and caught up the purse and opened it. A roll of bills fell out into his hands. A thick, fat, solid roll of bills.
Not the sort a girl carries in case of taxi fare.
Danny stood there, staring at it. And suddenly there was light in his face that wasn't moonlight, and a man's voice yelling.
Danny Thayer reacted from sheer brute instinct. He dropped the purse and lurched back into the shadow of the trees, and ran.
A whistle shrilled. Heavy boots pounded on the baked earth.
A voice yelled, "Stop or I'll fire!" A prowl car must have slopped out on Curson Street, too far away for him to hear.
Me regular patrolman, clearing bums and lovers out of the park.
Danny ran. Fear lent him strength. Stumbling, staggering, doubled over with his back-muscles tight for the rip of a bullet, lie raced around the pit where the bridge was, sheltered by the reeds.
He ducked in among the low walls. Something cracked like a dry branch behind him and there was a nasty whining sound over his head.
There were two sets of boots pounding, now. But the second ccop, summoned by the whistle, was way behind.
The gun cracked again. Dust and splinters exploded from the wall beside him. It was hard to breathe, and his feet weren't sure.
He broke suddenly around a big pit with a sort of pump-house built over it, doubling back under the shelter of the tall cattails that choked the creek. The creek ran back almost to the Sixth Street side of the Pits. If he could make it. . . .
The first policeman went into the tangle of low walls, carefully, lest Danny have a gun. Danny tried to go quietly, but he couldn't control his feet. His breath was hot and it had a saw-edge to it.
The second policeman, way behind the first, saw him.
He let out a whoop and pelted across the shortened distance. He must have thought the boy was wounded, the way he was running, for he held his fire. Danny moaned and struck out for the shrubbery bordering Sixth Street.
The first man vaulted a wall and came running. Danny could hear their boots hitting the ground. They were going to run him down, because they were strong and not hungry. They were going to take him. They were going to arrest him for murder, because he'd been standing by a body with a purse in his hands.
Murder for robbery. Twelve men, and the gas chamber. And he didn't have even a description of the killer.
He was suddenly furious, the fury of an animal cornered and in pain. He grabbed up a big clod of earth and whirled around and threw it. His thin young lips were snarling, and his eyes were queer.
The leading policeman reached the creek. There was a gap in the reeds there, and he jumped. The clod took him, then, in the face. He lost his footing and crashed down, his head going under in strangling, acrid stuff, half water, half pure asphalt.
Danny ran on.
The other man yelled at him, and fired. Bullets kicked the dust, but he was weaving from sheer weakness, and the light was bad. They missed. He staggered into the shelter of the trees and looked back.
The cop had had to stop and pull his mate out of the creek. And now there were people coming into the pits from the Wilshire entrances, drawn by the whistles and the shots. He'd have to stay there, to guard the body and whatever clues there might be.
Danny Thayer stumbled on. No one was walking on Sixth Street at that hour, and the few cars went by fast. Nobody saw him, in the shadows. He went across into the grounds of a swank nursery, and then down on his knees in a dark corner, his breath knifing his lungs, his heart slamming his ribs like a hammer.
Far away a siren began to wail.
He had to get on. There'd be a cordon. He'd been a fool to run away. But his body did it without asking his mind, and I hen he'd been afraid to stop. Now nobody'd believe him.
But would they have believed him anyhow? A kid, broke and starving, standing beside a dead girl with his fists full of money?
Money. Bills, a thick roll of them, clenched in his sweating hand. He'd taken it, then. Now they'd never believe him. Never.
Money. Something he'd prayed for, with his belly crying for food. Blood money, to buy him the gas chamber. He got up, whimpering, and raised his hand, as if to throw it away.
he couldn't throw it away. It meant bus fare, to get away from here, quick. It might save his life. And it meant food. Just one full meal, before they caught him.
He began to rip feverishly at the bills. Got to hurry. Sirens. God, let them be small. Fives, tens, twenties. A lot of money. Why was she carrying it? A fiver. He pulled it out, and a scrap of paper fell at his feet.
He scooped it up and began to run again.
Out onto Wilshire Boulevard. Slowly, so as not to attract attention. Sirens, coming fast, Fairfax Avenue. There was a bus coming, heading toward Hollywood. People were beginning to stop and look for the sirens.
He sprinted across the intersection against the lights and caught the bus. The driver grumbled about changing the five, digging for dollar bills. The sirens screamed closer. Danny forced his hands to be steady, taking the change and dropping a dime in the box.
They started, jamming through on the caution light, the driver still sore about the change. They were in the last batch of cars through before the cordon closed around Wilshire and Fairfax.
The bus was half empty. Danny sat by himself, trying not to sob when he breathed, trying to look peaceful. The roll fitted into his hand in his pocket, hard and accusing.
When they got as far north as Santa Monica Boulevard he began to relax a little. He got off there and went into a Log Cabin and ate. Then he took a red car and caught another bus on La Brea and went on to Hollywood. He went to three more drive-ins before he'd had enough to eat. He didn't dare have it all in one place, for fear of drawing notice.
Then he went out onto Sunset Boulevard, not knowing where to go next, or what to do. And for the first time he was really afraid.
He'd been afraid back at the Pits, with the hot animal fear of death. But this was different, this was being lost in a dark, cold place, where there was nothing but silence and waiting.
The night fog was coming in, chilly and smelling of the sea. It made little halos around the glare of Earl Carroll's. He could see people inside and hear music. The two big radio buildings across the street and the Palladium Ballroom radiated life and energy.
People, eating and drinking and having fun. Working. Fighting, maybe. not afraid. Not behind a wall, like he was.
He sat down on a bench, shivering. The roll of bills made a lump against his thigh.
The policeman had seen him pretty clearly by his flashlight. There'd be a description in the morning papers.
They'd get him. They always got you.
The cop he'd hit wasn't dead, anyway. He'd moved and tried to get up when the other guy helped him.
If he could have caught the killer, or even seen his face. That girl, so little and golden-haired, with her throat ripped and jammed against those snarling fangs–and they thought Danny Thayer had done it!
How the killer must have hated her, to take her living throat in his hands and force it down. . . . What could a girl like that do to make anyone hate her so?
Surely, if he gave himself up, they'd know he couldn't have (lone a thing like that. But somebody might say, "You hated her because she had money and you were hungry, so you killed her."
Now he had money. Sure. Money. Money to buy the gas chamber.
It wasn't till then that he remembered the bit of paper.
It was still in his pocket. He spread it out under the lights from Earl Carroll's. Pencilled in a hasty, angry scrawl were he words, "This is all I can give you, ever, no matter what you do. Damn you, damn you, damn you!"
Danny turned the paper over. It was a strip torn from a department store sales slip. There was a name and address on it. Miss Cicely Rieff, who lived on Fountain Avenue.
The dead girl. She'd been taking that money to someone. Blackmail, sure as shooting. She must have been pretty desperate when she rolled the money up, to grab the nearest paper and scribble a note like that and wrap it in the heart of the wad.
Was the murderer the blackmailer? Maybe. The girl must have known him, to go into the Pits alone with him after dark. But why did he go off without his money, then? Had Danny scared him?
Danny Thayer, who was a fugitive from justice, with a roll of bills he couldn't spend. Danny, who was going to die in the gas chamber, unless. . . .
Unless he could catch the murderer before the police caught him.


IT WAS ALMOST AS THOUGH his brain took hold and began to click without him, like a machine. He had clues–the note, the money, and the girl's name and address. He knew he wasn't the killer. That was more than the police had.
There hadn't been anything else in the girl's purse. Maybe it would take the police a little while to identify her. Until the morning papers came out, maybe, and somebody saw her picture.
It had been nearly ten when he found the body. It was nearly midnight now. Four or five hours he might hope for. Four or five hours to break into something from the outside and catch a killer.
It was hopeless, and he knew it. But it was better than just waiting, crouching in the dark with fear lying cold in his belly. He'd still be in trouble, of course, even if a miracle happened and he did find the murderer. He'd do time for stealing and hitting a cop. But he could face that all right. It was the terrible fear of dying, for something he didn't do, that froze him.
He got up, thinking of the description the cop would give. There was a service station across the street. Nobody saw him go into the men's room and lock the door. He still had his cheap razor. Nothing for that in a hock shop.
He managed to scrape his face pretty clean, using just soap and water. Then he used the blade to chop his hair shorter. It looked ragged, but at least it was short. Then he did what he could to make his clothes look decent.
When he came out he looked different enough so that cops hunting for a shag-haired, unshaven kid wouldn't grab him straight off. He forced himself to walk with jaunty casualness, trying to keep in shadow without being too obvious about it.
It was well after midnight when he found the Fountain Avenue house.
It was one of those big old frame places–two stories and a half–left over from better days. A porch overgrown with bougainvillea ran around two sides. It was on a corner and there was a sign in the front bay window–ROOMS FOR RENT.
There were only one or two lights upstairs. That meant the police hadn't identified the body yet. If they had, the place would be blazing and full of people. He went around to the driveway. It led between high lattice fences, grown heavy with morning glory vines, back to an old stable that was a garage now, with an apartment over it.
There were no lights in the back. Danny went softly down the drive. His heart was jumping like something trying to break loose.
The fog was heavier, but there was still moonlight. Everything was overgrown with vines and shrubs. It smelt musty and secret, and the lattice-covered back porch was a black hole with the garbage cans like ogre's eyes looking dully from under it.
He stood still by the corner of the house, then. He was here, but what next? He couldn't break into the house, yelling, "Who killed her?" The sharp chill of the air got inside him, and he felt the terrible, helpless weakness of an animal in a trap.
He went on, aimlessly, around the house. Noises came suddenly down to him from the garage apartment, so that he jumped and crouched trembling under a bush. A man's low thick laughter and a scuffling sound, and one sharp high titter in a woman's voice, and silence.
Danny crept on, still sweating with shock. He went along a dirt path between straggling flower beds, looking up at the dark house, wishing he were like Superman and could look right through walls.
Probably the killer wasn't here at all. If he was, there was no way to get at him. He might as well go and give himself up, now.
He didn't see the summer house until he almost ran into it. It was lattice like the fence, at the end of a pergola leading to a side porch. It was all choked with vines, smelling dusty and rotten in the damp night air.
And there were people inside.
A man's voice spoke, right at Danny's shoulder, just beyond the vines. A low voice, smooth and drawling and soft, and somehow worse than if it hadn't been.
"I just want to know where she is, Frieda."
"I tell you I don't know!" It was a woman this time, breathless, frightened, almost crying. "I haven't any control over Cicely."
"Very well, Frieda," said the man pleasantly. "I'm in no hurry."
"I don't understand." The tone of the woman's whisper did something to Danny's insides. "Teddy, if you've harmed her. . . . "
"Why should I harm Cicely? Just because Mother doesn't love her darling niece?" There was a rustle of swift movement and a sharply indrawn breath.
"Don't, Teddy! It hurts!"
The man said silkily, "Does it? I'm glad. Just remember it, in case. . . . What's that? There's someone outside!"
Danny got up and ran. A big moth had blundered suddenly into his face, so that he jerked his head and struck the vines and rustled them. He dodged into the shadows of a big tree and around it to the garage, where steps came down from the apartment.
Feet were running close behind him.
He knew he'd have nightmares about running feet all the rest of his life. He'd slip behind the garage to the street, and then. . . .
There was no way behind the garage, and the fence was too high to get over in time. He was caught.
He turned, then, his bony young face snarling, his fists balled. Scared, and angry because he was scared, and furious suddenly with fate for picking on him. A tall slender man in slacks and a sport coat was almost on him, running gracefully, like a dancer.
Danny lashed out at a smooth blond head, missed because the head moved aside a fraction, and felt something crash below his left ear.
He went sprawling, the breath knocked out of him against hard ground. A hand gripped his collar, dragged him upward, strangling, and then knuckles slashed him twice across the mouth.
The darkness turned suddenly red. Danny made an animal noise and doubled his feet up and kicked. The blond man grunted and lurched back, his handsome face twisted like a fiend's in the moonlight.
The girl cried out sharply, then. She'd been a long way behind the man. Now she got between him and Danny, and said rapidly, "Wait, Teddy! Don't! It's my friend Dick Taylor, from back home."
Teddy scowled down at her, his fists clenched and showing blood on the knuckles. "You're lying," he said.
"I'm not, I swear it! Dick, you tell him I'm not. Dicky!"
Danny's brain was numbed with anger and pain and wondering if the girl was crazy. Almost without thinking, he mumbled, "Sure I'm her friend. Who'd you think I was–Hitler? Hi, Frieda."
Lucky he'd heard her name. Teddy stood irresolute, swinging his fists in little tight arcs, like a cat swings its paws. And then the door opened, up above at the head of the stairs.
A man came out. He was wearing a big coat and carrying his hat, and his feet stumbled on the wooden platform. He said thickly, "G'nigh', Princess. Thursday, huh?" He chuckled and turned, and then he saw the group at the foot of the stairs.
Danny saw his face for one stricken moment. Then the man slammed his hat on and pulled it hard over his face and ran down the stairs, hanging onto the rail and stumbling until
Danny thought he'd fall. He shoved past with his head down and went lurching down the drive.
Danny knew who the man was. He made a lot of money, kissing pretty women for the movies.
A woman came out of the door upstairs. She wore a thin silk robe, and she was a looker. She leaned over the rail, with her dark hair hanging over her shoulders, and blew a long plume of smoke. Her voice was tired and bored.
"What goes on?"
"Nothing," said Frieda. "Just a friend of mine from back home. He hitch-hiked all the way out here, and then Teddy. . . ."
Teddy's voice was sullen, but still smooth. "What's he doing prowling in the yard at this time of night?"
Danny's brain had been churning furiously. The girl must have her reason for this. And it gave him his chance to get inside. The least he could do was play up to her.
He got up, wiping the blood off his chin, and said, "Trying to get hold of Frieda. I'm broke, and I didn't think the landlady would let me in, the way I look. Sure quick with your fists, aren't you?"
"Quick," said Teddy softly, "and accurate."
The woman in the silk robe came down the stairs, her slipper heels clicking. Her legs showed white against the darkness.
"Spoils," she said bitterly, and let something glitter in her hand. "Now I'll go find the old highbinder."
"The intricate pattern of crime," said Teddy, almost absently. "So much more fascinating than a jigsaw puzzle. Isn't it, Frieda?"
Frieda didn't say anything. Danny had his first real look at her. She wore something plain and dark, and she wasn't very tall. Her hair was the color of wheat, falling loose on her shoulders.
He thought her eyes were blue, but in that light all he knew was that they had hate in them. Hate, and fear, looking at Teddy.
"Come on, Dick," she said. "I'll get you a room."
He followed her. Out in the street a motor roared and coughed, as though someone were in an awful hurry to get away. And a light went on in the second story, as though the motor was a signal.
Teddy laughed behind them, a soft nasty little sound. The woman in the silk robe plodded up into the black hole of the porch. And Frieda shrank suddenly against Danny and cried, "What's that?"
There was something sprawled in the shadows of a clump of hydrangeas. Danny hadn't seen it before. But the moonlight had shifted a bit, and one white hand showed up against the grass.
A man's hand, lying across the dull metal of a gun.
They went to it, not speaking at first. Teddy knelt down and rolled the body partly over by the shoulder. The woman in the silk robe made a little choked scream and came back, her heels scuffing.
"It's Halstead," said Teddy. "Somebody's knocked him on the head."
Frieda said, in a queer flat whisper, "My God. Who would want to kill poor Mr. Halstead?"
Teddy's eyes were slanted like a cat's, glinting in the moonlight. He pointed to the gun. "Who did poor Mr. Halstead want to kill? Can't guess, can you, Frieda?"
Frieda pressed tight against Danny, so tight he could feel the roll of bills in his pocket digging into her. She shivered and said wearily, "Haven't you any heart at all?"
The woman gripped her thin robe together at the throat. "I'm getting out of here. The other I'm used to, but murder. . . !"
Teddy got up, dusting his knees. "No use, Princess. The police don't like the contestants running out on their quiz shows."
Policemen. Policemen coming from one murder to another and finding Danny Thayer. There wouldn't be any time, now. They'd recognize him. Frieda would admit her lie. And if he ran away. . . .
He was scared. Cold inside, and scared, and kind of dazed, like an animal when it finds the steel jaws in its leg are there to stay.
The porch door opened. A woman's harsh whisper said, "Get in here, you fools! Want everybody. . . . My God, what's that!"
"A corpse, Mother," said Teddy. "Your late boarder, Mr. Halstead." There was a malicious, concealed amusement in his easy voice.
The porch door shut. A woman scuffed heavily out from under the shrouding vines and down the steps as fast as her heavy bulk could make it. Her frizzed white hair stuck out, quilled here and there with curlers. When she came across the wet grass she pulled up the straggling skirts of her nightgown and flannel wrapper, and Danny saw her ankles, thick and white and bunchy with veins.
"He must have had a heart attack," she said. "A heart attack. His heart was weak, you know." Then she saw the gun and slopped, her breath wheezing in her thick throat. "Suicide?"
"He hasn't been shot. And I don't think he cracked his own skull." Danny saw the cat-glitter of his eyes, studying the woman, laughing.
"We'll have to call the police," said Frieda. Teddy shot her a bright, hard look, and smiled. He was handsome, like a blond Satan.
The fat woman said rapidly, "No, wait. Maybe he cut himself falling. Let's get him inside–" Then she saw Danny. Her voice went suddenly ugly. "Who's this?"
"I'm a pal of Frieda's, from back home." Her eyes were like small hard pebbles, staring right through Danny. They made him tighten inside. But she was scared, too. She didn't want the police. If he could bluff this through, hang onto his chance. . . .
Her face was like a coarse, evil mask of stone in the moonlight. Danny could sense her thoughts running like rats behind it. Then she said, "All right. Grab hold of his feet and help Mr. Rieff."
Teddy Rieff. The dead girl had been his cousin, then. Danny got the corpse around the knees. Everything was quiet. The people in the front hadn't heard. The dead man was heavy, and his clothes were damp. Teddy pocketed the gun.
They went in through the dark porch, to a stale-smelling kitchen. A night light burned in the hall beyond. They went toward it, as quietly as they could, across a bare, creaky wooden floor.
They were almost there. And then a door opened suddenly, right at Danny's shoulder, so that he almost dropped the body. Dim light from the hallway outlined a woman's head against the darkness.
Hair flattened in wet curls under a net, with a face the shape of a pear sagging out from under it, a wide weak mouth and eyes that popped a little. Eyes that were wide open and staring, fixed on the dead man's bloody face, lolling back against Teddy's stomach.


SHE DIDN'T SPEAK. Danny didn't know how long they stood there. Then Mrs. Rieff said sharply, "Go to your room. Princess. I'll see you later."
Princess went out, holding her silk robe away as she passed the corpse. And Mrs. Rieff moved, very quickly for a heavy woman.
Her right hand clamped just above the staring woman's elbow. Her left smothered the whimpering cry of pain. She whispered savagely, "You know about this, Millie, don't you?" Her fingers tightened. The woman strained away, her pale eyes stretched with fear.
"Tell me," said Mrs. Rieff softly, "or you'll get no nights off for six months."
The woman made a strangled whining sound and tried to nod. Mrs. Rieff took her hand away. Millie started to speak, her mouth open as though once started the stream of words wouldn't stop.
"Not here!" snapped Mrs. Rieff, and shook her viciously. "Upstairs, and be quiet!"
Down a dingy hall and up back stairs that must have been worked on lately, because they didn't creak, Mrs. Rieff opened a door and motioned them in, listened a minute, and then came after them.
Lamps made a subdued purplish light. Danny guessed it was Mrs. Rieff's room. There were photographs and expensive knicknacks all over the mantel and the tables. It was all crowded and choked and overdone.
He helped Teddy Rieff put the body down on a couch. Mr. Halstead had been a kindly-looking man, grey-haired and tired. There was a bruise and a big cut on his face.
Danny straightened up, waiting. He put his hands in his pockets to steady them, and the roll felt big and hard, like a judge's hammer when he passes sentence.
He saw Frieda looking at him. A queer, desperate look. And then Mrs. Rieff's pebble eyes were fixed on him.
Her face was coarse and puffed, with red broken veins under the skin. Danny was afraid of her, suddenly. She said sharply, "So you're a friend of Frieda's, eh?"
"Sure. My name's Dick Taylor. I hitch-hiked out here, and landed broke. I wanted to get hold of Frieda first. I didn't think you'd let me in, the way I look. I. . . . "
"Well, you're in now." There was something terrible in the slow, reflective way she said it. "Frieda, where's Cicely?"
"I don't know." She was pretty, now that you could see her face. She looked tired and sort of stony. Danny felt suddenly protective.
Mrs. Rieff smiled. It was like Teddy's smile, catlike, malicious and secret. She turned suddenly on the staring, pale-eyed woman.
"All right, you, Millie. What about this?"
Millie licked her lips. She seemed drugged and dazed with fear. She stood utterly still, her big rough hands hanging, staring at the sprawling corpse. She wore bright green silk pajamas and a pink wrapper and pink slippers of quilted satin.
Her mouth worked for a long time before the words came, ragged and tumbling.
"'I was coming back from the trashpile. I saw him, hiding in the bushes. He was waiting. . . . "
"What were you doing at the trashpile at that hour?"
"I–please, Mrs. Rieff, I only took two slices. Don't!"
Mrs. Rieff did, with relish. "Stealing bacon again, and trying to hide the grease. Well, stop rubbing your stupid face. Go on."
Millie's pale, protruding eyes swung again to the body.
"He had a gun," she whispered. "He looked sick. He told me to go away, but I knew what he was doing. He was waiting to kill Miss Cicely. I heard him tell her he would, if she didn't let him alone."
Her big rough hands knotted together suddenly. "He wouldn't stop. So I hit him with the skillet, on the head. He–he made a funny choking noise and fell down. I was scared. I ran inside. . . ."
Millie crumpled slowly down to her knees, staring straight ahead of her, her hands loose in her lap.
"I didn't mean to kill him," she said dully. "I only didn't want him to hurt Miss Cicely. She's kind to me. She's the only person that ever was kind to me. She gives me pretty things, and money enough to go to two movies on my night off."
She looked up then, with something bright and burning in her eyes.
"You all hate her," she said. "You all wish she was dead. But she's kind to me. And no one's going to hurt her, if I can help it!"
She relaxed, as though there was nothing left in her, and just sat there, tears running silently down her flabby cheeks. Teddy had been bending over the body. He spoke now, rapidly.
"I don't think this whack was hard enough to kill him, Mother. Stunned him, probably, and he raked his face on the bushes, falling. The old boy had a weak heart. Probably the strain of planning the murder, and getting caught, and the Mow, ow, brought on a fatal attack."
Mrs. Rieff looked down at the body with hard, narrow eyes.
"So Cicely was blackmailing him, eh? Clever girl. Let that be a lesson to you, my son. Only a genius would have looked for profit in that dried-up old priss!"
She laughed suddenly, a startling wheeze of private mirth, and settled heavily into an overstuffed chair.
"Get up, Millie. Go to bed. And if you open your mouth about this, I'll swear you killed him. Just forget Mr. Halstead, Millie. And you can forget your night off this week, too, so you'll remember the bacon."
Millie said, "Then I didn't really kill him?"
"No. But I can swear you did. Now go and dream of Clark Gable."
Millie got up. She looked at Mrs. Rieff with dumb, weary hate, like a beaten animal, and went. Mrs. Rieff said briskly, "That's that. We'll forget about the gun. Halstead had a heart attack and hurt his head falling. We brought him in, but it was too late. Teddy, you and the kid carry him to his room and then call a doctor. Make all the noise you want to. We want witnesses."
She got up and took the gun out of Teddy's pocket and wiped it carefully. Then she pressed Halstead's stiffening fingers on it, in several places, wrapped it in a handkerchief, and gave it back.
"Stick it in one of his drawers. If he had a license they'll look for it. If he hasn't, well, we don't know anything about it."
She looked at Danny, with her hard, flat pebble eyes, and said, "Then you can have Number Eight, here in the rear. Any friend of my niece's—we don't want you to get away too soon."
Teddy smiled. "Welcome to our happy home. Grab his feet again."
Danny did. Frieda started out with them, but Mrs. Rieff said, "Stay here, dear. Two of them is enough."
Frieda shot him a veiled, urgent look and stopped, reluctantly. They went on with the body, through a door that closed he back part of the hall off from the front. They made a lot of noise. Presently there were people swarming around, talking, questioning, staring.
They got Halstead into his room. Teddy palmed the gun somehow and got somebody busy calling a doctor and went out again with Danny. Danny was only vaguely conscious of what went on. His brain was spinning like a squirrel in a cage, and making about as much progress.
The things he had found out, instead of simplifying the problem, had only made it harder. Cicely Rieff had been a blackmailer. The servant said everybody hated her. Halstead had been driven to murder.
Who else in this house was Cicely blackmailing? And who I tad been blackmailing her? And what about?
Frieda, who must be Cicely's sister, was afraid of Teddy Rieff. Why? And was there really some pleased and secret knowledge in Mrs. Rieff's eyes, or had he just imagined it? The girl Frieda was the pivot. If he could be alone with
Teddy Rieff closed the hall door behind them. "The Great Divide," he chuckled. "The back is strictly family territory. The boarders even have to garage their cars elsewhere, and here are no keys to the back door given out."
His slanting cat-eyes were fixed sharply on Danny. "Therefore you are the first outsider to see what you have seen."
He meant about the apartment over the garage. Danny grinned. "I know how to keep quiet. Say, I'd like to see Frieda before I turn in. Been a long time, and we were pretty chummy."
"Sure," said Teddy. "Four years is a long time. How are things back in Kansas?"
"About the same," said Danny warily. Teddy stopped before a door and opened it, snapping the light on inside. "This is your room, kid. Suit you?"
"Sure, anything." He wanted to see Frieda, alone–and quick. A siren wailed suddenly over on Sunset, and his guts knotted tight inside him. But it went by. He started off down the hall.
He didn't even have time to turn. The swift movement behind him melted right into the chopping blow on the side of his neck. His heart seemed to close up on him, and his body just folded, heavily.
He didn't quite go out. He felt Teddy's arms like lean steel cables around him, and knew dimly that he was dragged and lifted and stretched on something. He began to struggle then, glaring up at Teddy in a sort of dazed fury.
But it was too late. He was spread-eagled on the bed, tied wrist and ankle to the brass posts. Teddy smiled down at him. "Frieda's only been out here two years," he said gently, "and she came from Michigan. Better start talking, kid."
The blood thundered in Danny's head. It hurt, and he couldn't think. He whispered, "You go to hell."
"Inevitably. But not just yet." Teddy's long fingers twisted cruelly in Danny's hair, lifting his head. "What's between you and Frieda? Something about Cicely?"
Danny wasn't afraid now. Just mad. He thrashed his head about and tried to bite Teddy's wrist. Teddy laughed and slapped him, just hard enough to make his ears ring.
"Okay. We'll do it the hard way." He whipped his handkerchief tight around Danny's jaws to keep him from yelling, and went through his pockets.
Then he stood silent for a long minute, looking at the roll of bills and the crumpled paper with the note and the address on it.
He pocketed them at last, slowly, and bent over Danny again. His handsome face had deep, cruel lines in it. "She's dead, then."
Danny nodded. No use trying to hide that any longer. Teddy ripped off the gag.
"What do you know about this?"
Danny burst out, "Nothing! I was just walking through the Tar Pits, looking for a place to sleep. I heard a woman scream, and saw someone running away. Then I found the body, and the money–and then the cops found me. They think I did it."
"They do!" said Teddy softly. His hand closed on Danny's shirt collar, pulled him up ruthlessly to the reach of his bound arms. Teddy's cat-eyes were pale and cold and yet somehow blazing. He said, "Did you see the killer?"
"Only someone running."
"Man or woman?"
"Someone in pants. Dark hair."
"Dark hair. You're sure of that?"
Danny looked at the light shining on Teddy's smooth blond head. "You could have worn a cap," he said grimly. Shot in the dark. He shivered, looking at Teddy's face. Teddy laughed. A soft, secret little laugh. "Yes. I could, couldn't I?" He let Danny down again and replaced the gag. "Just lie still, little one. Daddy has business to attend to. Oh, yes. Big, important business. And I need you!"
The lights went out. Teddy opened the door and closed it softly behind him, and Danny Thayer was alone.
He lay there with the blood pounding in his bruised neck, his legs and arms beginning to ache where they were tied, and thought, "He did it. He did it, and he's going to pin it on me."
His brain began to click over again, like a well-oiled engine. What motive could Teddy Rieff have for killing his cousin Cicely? Well, Cicely was blackmailing at least one other person so that he was willing to murder her. Why not Teddy, too? Or Teddy's mother?
Teddy's mother. That apartment over the garage, Princess, and the prominent actor. Mrs. Rieff was prosperous. Boardinghouse keepers don't get that way solely from the boarders, and women who run small apartments over garages don't get that way splitting diamond bracelets with the girls. There's another, quicker way. . . .
Blackmail. You always came to blackmail in this house. Ten to one Mrs. Rieff blackmailed the men who came to the rear apartment. She'd want to keep her skirts clean, though, in case of trouble. She took plenty of precautions. It wouldn't be easy to get anything on her.
But suppose somebody did. Wouldn't she rather split her profits than be exposed or give the whole thing up? All right. Say Cicely Rieff, her niece and therefore admitted into the family circle, had proof of Mrs. Rieff's business and blackmailed her with it. Remembering Mrs. Rieff's heavy face and hard pebble eyes, Danny didn't think she'd take it too long. She'd get busy figuring out a way to rid herself of the blackmailer.
She wouldn't do it herself. She'd delegate someone else. And who better than her son, Teddy? Just like, a few minutes ago, she had said, "We don't want you to get away too soon," and Teddy had smiled. . . .
Perhaps Frieda Rieff knew too much. Perhaps that was why Teddy had threatened her in the summer house.
Danny groaned. Just guessing wouldn't do him any good. He had to have proof. Time, the little time he had, was rushing by. And here he was, trussed up and waiting.
Waiting. Remembering Teddy's long sinewy hands, Danny shuddered. And then, very softly, somebody opened the door.


DANNY LAY QUITE STILL, hardly breathing. His nails dug into his palms, but he didn't feel them. He watched the dark huddled bulk come in, saw the door swing shut again, and listened to feet scuffing stealthily across the carpet.
A match flared and sputtered startlingly, close to his face. And Millie's voice, hushed to a hoarse whisper, asked, "Are you all right?"
All the strength poured out of Danny's rigid body. He said shakily, "Sure. Untie me, quick. What are you doing here?" The match went out. He could feel her rough fingers fumbling at his wrists. Her voice came raggedly, as though some great pent-up emotion in her forced it out against a barrier of fear.
"Miss Frieda sent me. She upset a vase on her dress, so she could get away from the old woman for a minute to change it, and she sent me up here. She thought they were going to do something to you. She needs your help. That's why she lied about knowing you."
Millie's voice broke in a dry sob. "I heard through the wall, waiting in the next room for Teddy to go away. Poor Miss Cicely! She knew they wanted to kill her. She was afraid. I know she wasn't bad! She was kind to me, and I loved her.She had one wrist free and started on the other. Teddy had tied hard knots in the handkerchiefs he used. Her voice stumbled on.
"I heard Mr. Halstead threaten her yesterday, and the old woman was in a black fury all day. I know Cicely was asking for more money, and I know she was in trouble. She hasn't been herself ever since Frieda had to go back to Michigan on business, four months ago. "I wanted to help her." But she'd never tell me what was wrong. Anyway, there was nothing I could do. There–never has been."
Wrists free, and both of them working on ankles lashed tight with leather belts, Millie's shaken voice went on again. "She was frightened, I tell you. She gave me three dollars this morning, and then she said, 'This may be the last money
I'll ever give you, Millie. If anything happens to me, Frieda will–' And then Mrs. Rieff came into the kitchen and she stopped.
"I think she was going to say that Miss Frieda would give me things. I don't think so. She's a nice girl, but she lives inside herself so much. But I don't care about that. I loved Miss Cicely. She's the only person I ever had to love."
Danny was glad it was dark. He hated to see women cry. He said, "Why haven't you left this place, or called the police?"
"I didn't have anything the all the police about. The old woman's careful about that. I'd only have gotten Princess and Miss Cicely in trouble. Besides–" She helped him off the bed, and he could hear her throat working, trying to keep the terror and the tears in check.
"Besides, I didn't have anyplace else to go. I'm not young. It isn't easy to find a place these days. Mrs. Rieff knows that, and she knows I'm too dumb and too scared to fight her."
Her voice dropped suddenly to a strange tight whisper. "Only this time I'm not. They've killed Cicely, she and her wicked son. They've killed her. And I'm not going to let them get away with it!"
Danny said awkwardly, "Come on, then. We'll get Frieda." His hand was on the knob when Millie's fingers closed
sharply on his wrist. He heard them, then. Slow, heavy foot-steps, coming closer.
The old woman," whispered Millie. "Maybe she's coming to make sure. "They waited. No time, no place to hide or get away. There was sweat on Danny's temples. The footsteps stopped outside the door. He could hear her heavy breathing beyond the thin panel.
The knob turned in his fingers.
The barrier door down the hall opened, and a voice said, rather timidly, "The doctor's here, Mrs. Rieff."
She said, "All right," and let go of the knob and went on.
Danny's knees sagged. He waited until the outside door closed, and went out.
There was nothing in the hall but silence and the dim glow of the night light, until they reached the door of Mrs. Rieff's room. There were voices behind that, low but not very guarded, as though they were sure of not being overheard. Frieda's voice, tight and shaken, saying, "What a filthy trick! You were blackmailing your own mother."
"Naturally. Lucrative work, if you can get it. Of course, I knew it wouldn't last forever. That's why I kept asking for more, and Cissy had to shake more out of the victims in order to meet all her–er–obligations. Naturally, the victims began to kick. The last raise was just the final spur."
He laughed. "This will be a shock to Mother. She trusts my filial devotion so completely!"
"And that boy?"
"That boy," said Teddy softly, "is going to be a scapegoat. I'm going to tie all his little curiosities to his horns and run him straight back to the police–dead."
There was a queer sharp edge to Frieda's voice, a stillness. "And what about me?"
"Now that this game is played out, I'm thinking of taking over Mother's business and enlarging it. I want. . . . " He seemed to move closer to the girl, and his voice dropped so that Danny couldn't hear.
Frieda's voice came suddenly, sharp and harsh. "No! You devil, I won't do it! Teddy, you . . . oh!"
Danny said quietly, "Millie, go phone the police. I'm going in there."
He still had no direct, incriminating evidence. Teddy's implied confession wouldn't be enough to condemn him. But Danny figured he'd have at least a chance this way. And he couldn't let Teddy just go on. Cicely had already died. Frieda might be next.
Millie gripped his arm tight. "Be careful–and I hope this'll mean the rope for both of 'em!"
She went off down the hall, almost running, her bright green pajamas flapping around her thin legs. Danny, very quietly, opened the door.
They didn't see him come in, for a moment. Teddy had his back to Danny, his hands on Frieda's arms below the shoulders. She had changed into a dark blue wrapper with a long gold arrow on the collar. She was straining away from him, her eyes blazing out of a face white and hard as scraped bone.
Teddy murmured, "You'd be a pretty woman, Frieda, if you weren't such a blasted martinet!"
She said something, so low and hissing that Danny couldn't get it. Then she saw him, coming up behind Teddy. Her blue eyes widened.
Teddy turned swiftly, his handsome face startled and wicked as a blond Satan. Frieda cried out, "Help me! Please help me!"
Danny said evenly, "I'm just waiting for the chance."
It was the first time in his short life he'd ever felt real hate. He went in on Teddy Rieff, watching the poise of his blond head, the swing of his fists and shoulders. His first blow just grazed Teddy's jaw. He twisted to take the counterblow on his shoulder, crouched, and slashed upward.
His fist smashed into a belly tight and hard as board. It jolted both of them. Then a roundhouse swing connected, with Danny's ear. He went down, grabbing at Teddy's knees, pulling him off balance and into a table loaded with china and glass.
It went over with a crash. Frieda had closed the hall door and was standing flat against it, watching with wide, bright eyes. Teddy cut his hand on a broken vase, and there began to be red splashes over the rug and Danny Thayer.
There wasn't much science to it. Danny just hung on, punching, kicking, grappling. Teddy was heavier and experienced. Danny's long rangy frame hadn't reached its real strength yet. But Danny had made up his mind to one thing. This time he wasn't going to be licked.
Teddy's knee ground agonizingly into his belly. Hard knuckles slashed and pounded at his face. His mouth was full of blood and his ears roared. He set his teeth and twisted like an eel, grabbing out blindly.
He got Teddy by the shirt collar. The cloth was stout. Danny's arm was long, and his position gave him leverage. He dragged Teddy over, heaving his body underneath to break his balance. His eyes were swelling and full of blood, but he could feel.
He twisted the collar tight, working his fingers like a bulldog's jaws, in and in, his head sunk and his back humped to take Teddy's blows.
Teddy swore, viciously, between his teeth. He was dragging at Danny's wrist now, but Danny's long bony fingers were tangled in the cloth, twisting, twisting. Teddy lurched back and up, shaking himself.
Danny kicked at his ankles and brought him down again, hard. He got his other hand on the collar and his knee on Teddy's right arm. Teddy's left hand raged at his face, clawing. Danny put his head deep between his shoulders to save his eyes, and then Teddy found his ear.
Danny screamed, and Teddy laughed, a sort of strangled gurgle. Danny flung himself downward suddenly. Teddy's nails slipped out of his ear. His right arm came free as Danny's knee moved with his body.
Danny lay flat on top of Teddy, grinding his fingers in, twisting the cloth tighter and tighter. He could feel the hard, straining cords of Teddy's throat, the softer spot beneath the Adam's apple. He began to get scared. He didn't want to kill.
Teddy's nails were ripping his shirt and the flesh under it, He tore away suddenly and loosed one hand from Teddy's throat and brought it crashing down against his temple.
Teddy's hands faltered. Danny flailed his fist down twice more. Teddy Rieff lay still, breathing hoarsely through his mouth.
Danny got up. Very slowly, waiting for the pain to break through the numbness. Through a wavering red curtain he saw Frieda.
"Tie him up," he said thickly. "Keep him. Police. . . . " The golden arrow on her collar flashed at him. "Police?"
"Coming. Millie sent for them. Teddy killed your sister–"
"Yes," she said. "Yes. I know that. Are you all right?"
"I guess so." He wiped the blood out of his eyes and swallowed what was in his mouth. Teddy was groaning on the floor. Danny said, "We'll have to take care of his mother somehow. Lock the door, maybe. Keep her out till the police come."
Frieda nodded and turned the key. Teddy looked awful, bloody and choking on his breath. It scared Danny. What if Teddy died?
He was Danny's only proof of innocence. There was no direct evidence against him. But the police would at least investigate, might find some, might even force him to confess. But with Teddy dead, at Danny's hands. . . .
He wasn't dead. He was tough. A little blood didn't mean much. Danny pulled himself together and helped Frieda tie him with curtain cords.
Then he just sat, looking across at Frieda. Her hair looked even paler against the dark blue robe, gold and shining like the arrow on her collar. Her eyes were very blue. She smiled tremulously, and said, "This is what I prayed you'd do. I've been so frightened. My sister wasn't good to me, and Teddy . . . I didn't know anyone to ask help from, and when you came, I–you might have been killed. Can you ever forgive me?"
He waved a bruised hand awkwardly. "You gave me my chance. The cops think I killed your sister."
"Teddy told me about that."
"How did the old woman let herself get blackmailed?" Frieda shrugged wearily. "Cicely's been working on it ever since we came out here to live with Aunt Grace. Our parents died, you see. Cicely never told me much, but I think she got a candid camera shot of Aunt Grace–Mrs. Rieff–taking a necklace from Princess. It didn't mean much by itself. But Cicely had a case all built up in her mind, enough so that my aunt didn't want to risk an investigation."
She caught her breath suddenly, looking toward the door. "She's coming back."
Danny got up and went to the door. Fear began to knot his insides again, he didn't know why. She was a woman, and locked out. But there was something about her, about her eyes. . . .
Her heavy footsteps came up, and stopped outside, and for the second time that night the knob turned under Danny's fingers. He said, "The door's locked, Mrs. Rieff. It's going to stay locked until the police get here."
There was a startled intake of breath, and a silence. Then her voice came, ominously quiet.
"Have you hurt Teddy?"
"He'll be all right. Only he's staying here, for the police." And then, sharp and taut behind him, Frieda screamed. Danny whirled around. Frieda was half crouched over
Teddy, her hands pressed over her heart. She looked up at him, slowly.
"He's dead," she whispered. "You've killed him."
Danny went forward, three wavering, leaden steps. Teddy lay utterly still, not groaning, not breathing. His lips were blue. Mrs. Rieff called from beyond the door, but Danny hardly heard her.
He stood staring down at the body. His bony hands opened and closed slowly, still feeling Teddy's living throat against them.
Teddy's throat. Cicely's throat. They'd never believe him now. "Frieda. Frieda!"
The girl looked at him, dazed.
"Frieda, you'll tell them how it happened. You'll tell them. . . ."
She crumpled down gently at his feet, lying like a tired child with her cheek on her hand, the arrow glinting on her breast. It was then that Mrs. Rieff came in. There must have been another door into the hall. She came slowly through the bedroom door to Danny's right. She carried a snub-nosed automatic, with a silencer on it.


HER EYES WERE LIKE SMALL polished bits of steel, sunk deep under heavy lids, seeing everything. Teddy's battered body. Blood splashed over the carpet. Danny standing on wide-braced feet, beaten and torn and half stripped, wild with numb terror. And Frieda, lying quiet, her wheat-gold hair burning against the rug.
Without speaking or letting the automatic waver a fraction of an inch, Mrs. Rieff bent down and put her free hand on Teddy's throat, feeling for the pulse under the jaw. Then she pilled back an eyelid and gave one swift, keen look.
She got up. Her heavy face was almost expressionless, but Danny's heart twisted in him like a scared animal. She whispered, "I didn't mean to kill him."
"That's too bad." Her voice, held tight to a level, throaty whisper, betrayed what she was feeling. "That's too bad!" 'lime, the room, the universe, shrank in on Danny Thayer so lie could hardly breathe. The focal point of the whole cosmos was Mrs. Rieff's finger, tightening on the trigger.
He said, stupidly, "Teddy killed the girl. He was going to kill me. I had to. . . . "
"I know, I sent him to do both."
Danny backed off a step. She followed, Death in a nightgown and a flannel wrapper, with curlers in its hair. She said softly, "I want to kill you. I want to kill you myself, for killing my son. And even if I didn't, do you think I could let you leave this house alive after all you've learned this night?"
"They'll get you for killing me. They'll be here soon."
She laughed, softly. "Look at this room, and you, and Teddy. Who'll blame me for shooting a crazy killer, already wanted?"
"Frieda. Millie. They'll tell. . . . "
"I'll take care of Frieda and Millie."
The automatic came up, steadied, rock-like in her thick hand. Danny said, "Wait. Did you know Teddy was blackmailing Cicely and keeping the money? Your money?"
Her hard pebble eyes blinked. "You're lying."
"Why do you think she was demanding more and more money? Just yesterday, so that you and Halstead both wanted to kill her on the same night. Look in Teddy's pockets. You'll find the bills I stole from the body, and a note."
"You're a fool. Teddy wouldn't have left money on her body, even if he had been lying to me."
"I frightened him away, running across that stone bridge."
Her eyes were ugly with pain and hate. She was only listening with the top of her mind, watching him, thinking how he was going to die.
"What stone bridge?"
"In the La Brea Pits, where he killed her."
"You're crazy," said Mrs. Rieff dreamily. "He drove her car off the road into Coldwater Canyon."
The round black eye of the automatic was staring at Danny's heart.
He dropped, twisting sideways back of a chair. The bullet sang just over his head and thunked into the plaster.
He cried out, "I tell you he killed her in the Pits! He jammed her throat down into the mouth of that sabre-tooth cat. For God's sake, look!"
Perhaps missing her shot had shaken her a little, or perhaps the truth was naked in Danny's voice. She bent, slowly, never taking her eyes from the chair where the boy crouched, and felt Teddy's pockets.
Danny could see part of her, under the chair. He saw her hand draw the bills out and hold them for a minute, and he listened for a siren, praying. But there was only silence.
Mrs. Rieff whispered, "You did. You lied to me, Teddy. You said you couldn't get anything on her to make her stop. That's why we had to kill her."
Then her hand dropped the bills and lay for a moment tenderly on Teddy's face. "It doesn't matter now." She got up. "It doesn't matter now, does it, you there behind the chair? They're both dead now, and it doesn't matter!" Danny, under the chair, watched her thick white ankles come slowly toward him. Beyond them was Frieda, lying still, the golden arrow glittering softly as she breathed. Frieda knew what Teddy had on Cicely. She could tell the whole story of Teddy's double-cross. But she was out. And it didn't matter, anyway. They were both dead, and he was going to be.
The ankles stopped beyond the chair. He could see the veins up on them, blue and bunchy. His long jaw stiffened. If he got up suddenly, and pushed the chair over into her. . . . Frieda stirred, just the faintest contraction of the muscles, the golden arrow shot a wicked barb of light into his eyes.
Danny's muscles tightened. There were fragments of glass and china on the floor from the table he and Teddy had knocked over. He got a handful, caught a deep breath, and surged up.
The chair crashed over, almost into Mrs. Rieff's knees, so that she had to move back. And the handful of fragments shot out like shrapnel from Danny's hand.
They struck Frieda Rieff full in the face and neck. She cried out and sprang up, startled and furious, her face twisted into a devil's mask frighteningly like Teddy's.
Danny shouted, "Don't shoot. I didn't kill your son. She did!"
For a long moment there was silence. Then Frieda began to cry softly, the look on her face gone so swiftly that it might have been imagination. Mrs. Rieff said, almost soundlessly, "What are you trying to do?"
"Save my neck," said Danny. She had her balance again. She could shoot, any time. Frieda was standing with her face in her hands, her wheat-gold hair falling over them, shaking a little.
Danny said, "Frieda was faking. She was waiting for you to kill me. That way I'd take the blame for both murders."
"That's not true." Frieda's voice was a broken, childish sob. "I did faint. When I came to I was scared. I just lay there. How can you say I killed my own cousin?"
For an instant Danny was shaken. She was so soft, so lovely, so miserable. Mrs. Rieff saw his hesitation. She said, "You're stalling."
Faintly, then, there was a siren wailing. Far away, but coming. Sweat needled Danny's face.
Frieda burst out, "How could I have killed Teddy? You were right with me all the time. And there's no mark on him you didn't put there!"
"Frieda," he said quietly, "where does that golden arrow belong?"
Her hand flew to her collar, slid down slowly to her breast. "No place in particular. Anywhere. Anywhere I want to put it.
Mrs. Rieff said slowly, "It's always on the collar. It was on the collar half an hour ago. Why did you move it?"
"I don't know. What difference does it make. Why do you want to treat me this way?"
She crumpled into a chair, crying. Mrs. Rieff was staring at her with hard pebble eyes. Danny took a chance. He walked over to her and pulled her head back by the wheat-gold hair and said, "When I was standing at the door with my back turned you took the gold arrow off your robe. What did you do with it, Frieda?"
"I—nothing. I didn't know I did it. Aunt Grace!"
Mrs. Rieff stood still, watching. Danny reached down suddenly and unfastened the pin and held it up.
There was blood, just a tiny smear of it, in the joint of the pin. A brass pin, five inches long, and sharp at the tip.
She sat there, quite still, her face hardening like soft clay glazing in the kiln. Danny said slowly, "You couldn't stab him to the heart with that. You didn't open a vein. But. . . . "He knelt suddenly by the body, looking down into the haltered, bloodstained face. He found what he was looking for, and felt sick.
"Through the eye," he said. "Into the brain. She thought a little prick like that would never be noticed, in the corner of the eye."
Mrs. Rieff looked down, and then up again, at Frieda. She shrank back, her eyes wide.
"I tell you I didn't! He's lying. Why should I kill Teddy?" "Because," said Danny, "you killed Cicely, too, and he knew it."
He felt suddenly weary. He didn't even get up from the corpse. He just squatted there, and heard his voice run on. "You've had bad luck tonight, haven't you, Frieda? You lost your temper and killed Cicely. I saw her body, and I know you lost your temper. Then I scared you away from the money, and you weren't sure I hadn't seen you.
"You saw me. I forgot that. When I turned up here you were scared. Maybe I'd recognize you. I had the money, too, and you wanted that. You felt it in my pocket when you leaned against me out there in the yard, when we found Halstead.
"Only there was Teddy. You wanted to use me against Teddy, and you succeeded. But Teddy got the money first. He knew then that Cicely was dead, that he hadn't killed her, and that left only you.
"Because he knew all about you, Frieda. He tried to force you to come in with him. Then I knocked him out and tried to keep him for the police, and you knew he'd have to tell the truth in order to save his own neck. So you killed him, with the only weapon you had–that pin.
"You aren't very used to murder, though. You got flustered, between doing it and putting on an act for me, and you got the pin back in the wrong place. You'd have been all right, if it hadn't been for that. But I saw it was wrong, and I wondered why, and all of a sudden a lot of things lined right up and made sense."
Mrs. Rieff said, "You don't make sense, kid." But she wasn't going to shoot. She was looking at the gold arrow.
"I didn't," said Danny wearily. "I'm a hell of a detective. I was fooled, like everybody else, into thinking Cicely was a hard-boiled blackmailer. I went on from there and built up a perfect case against Teddy, just like everybody else. I was almost right, too.
"But I was an awful dope. I swallowed that picture of Cicely you all had, and didn't pay any attention to the Cicely that Millie knew. A gentle, kindly girl who was scared out of her wits and knew something was going to happen to her.
"Would a hard-boiled criminal show all that to a servant? Wouldn't she do something about it? She'd apparently done enough before. And what could Teddy have on her, to make her pay blackmail?
"I didn't think much about that, either. I guess I thought he was threatening to expose her to the police. But he couldn't have done that. He was in too deep himself. So it had to be something else–someone else that Cicely was afraid of.
"I'd never have guessed who, if Frieda hadn't been forced to kill Teddy."
Mrs. Rieff still hadn't moved, but her hard little eyes were intent. Frieda hid her face in her hands. Her voice came small died soft and piteous, "You're mad! Cicely's always dominated me. I don't know what was between her and Teddy, but I didn't kill her! I wouldn't have the strength. And you said yourself the killer was a man."
"I thought so. I'm used to thinking of pants as masculine. But Cicely was awfully small, and you're no weakling, Frieda. What did you do with your dark slack suit, Frieda, and the thing that goes around your head and covers up that blonde hair?"
She didn't answer, and Mrs. Rieff said, "Yes. Where is it?"
"I gave it away. Yesterday. The War Relief people."
"The police," said Danny, "can trace it, then. Especially with all that blood on it."
"All right!" Frieda was standing suddenly, her face white and hard, her eyes startingly like Teddy's, narrow and cat-like. "I changed my clothes in my car. I wrapped the slack suit around a big rock and threw it in the sump of an abandoned oil well.
"Sure, I killed her. I didn't mean to. I've used Cicely since we were kids, making her do my dirty work and take the blame. She was useful to me. But she went soft tonight. She said she was going to the police, that she couldn't go on this way. I lost my temper. . . .
"I was mad anyway. I found out about Teddy. He made love to her while I was gone, and the fool fell for it. He found out all about me, and used Cicely's fear of me to blackmail her. Pretty little set-up, wasn't it, Aunt Grace? Me behind Cicely, Cicely blackmailing you and Halstead and a couple of others, and Teddy milking the lot of us.
"Cicely couldn't keep it up. There just wasn't enough money for both Teddy and me. She had to confess. And by that time, Teddy was dangerous to me. And the rest–well, you're pretty clever, kid."
She turned on her aunt. There wasn't any fear or softness in her. Just tough flexible realism, seeing, weighing, acting.
"What do we do now, Aunt Grace? If you go ahead and shoot the boy, we're both in the clear on those murders. If you shoot me, the police will get you. If you don't shoot either of us, I'll spill all I know about Rieff Blackmail, Incorporated, before I die."
"But if I shoot both of you," said Mrs. Rieff gently, "the boy will be saddled with three murders, and I'll be clear."
Danny hurled himself just as the silenced gun plopped softly. The bullet snarled past his ear, biting a little chunk of flesh from the cartilage. Then he had smashed into Mrs. Rieff.
She was too heavy to move fast enough. The gun spoke once more, harmlessly. Then Danny's fingers had crushed it out of her hand.
He sat down, then, holding the gun on two women who looked more like trapped wolves than women. The sirens screamed up outside the house, and stopped, and presently there were feet tramping through the house.
Big, heavy feet. And for the first time, Danny Thayer was glad to hear them.

4 out of 5

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