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Death's Playgirl

By Lawrence Treat
Author of "A Half Holiday on Homicide," etc.

When a detective plays bellhop on the fugitive trail,
he expects to be the guests' stooge. But this agency man found he'd
been sent on a doom-marked errand—with a coffin check for a tip
.

PROBABLY everybody in the bar heard her. I wouldn't know. All I can say is that I was ten or fifteen feet away when she called out in that radio voice of hers that could carry across the continent.

"Boy!" she said, and I stopped and looked at her. I'd just come back from the main building with some cards for the drunks at the corner table. "Boy, will you go over to my bungalow and fetch my bag? It's on my bureau and I left my money in it."

"In just a minute, ma'am," I said.

Me saying "ma'am" to Diana Garvin! The last time I spoke to her I was threatening her with a ten-year rap and she was pleading for a break. And though she didn't get that particular ten-year stretch, she came close and she was trying to get even with me now.

Whenever she saw me she had an errand. Get her bathing cap. Get her a towel, some cigarettes, see if she had any mail. And tips? She might give me two cents when she left the place, as a sort of gag to show what she thought of me.

I'm an N.D.A. man—National Detective Agency—and I'd taken this bellhop job at Forest Castles to try to get a line on one Barelli. He'd been mixed up in a big jewel robbery down in Miami, and now he was lying low. I could expect to find him on a hotel staff somewhere, so I took this summer job and kept my ears open.

Forest Castles consists of a number of small buildings and cottages. Even the bar is a separate structure. So Diana wanted me to go from the bar over to her bungalow and get a pocketbook with an unknown amount of money in it. I should have known right off that there was something fishy, but I never thought she'd tangle with the N. D. A. She should have had enough of that.

When I'd delivered the cards I walked over to Diana's table. She was sitting with a couple of the Talbot brothers.

"If you give me your key," I said, "I'll get that for you."

"But my key's in the bag," she answered.

"So you want me to get a pass key from the office?"

Grant Talbot said, "Never mind. You can use mine."

Diana and a widow from Kansas and the Talbots were all in the same bungalow, which was one of the larger ones. The front door has a snap lock, but you have to lock the individual rooms by key, so that was all right. Either she had her room key or the door was open.

I took the key from Talbot and went out.

THE houses are tucked away among the pines, and at night the paths are marked with colored lights. The pine grove was dark now and a storm was coming up.

As I stepped out of the bar the wind hit me and almost tore the door out of my hand. I looked up. There wasn't a star to be seen and the sky had a murky blackness and the smell of storm. A flash of lightning ripped from the east and thunder began growling, long and ugly.

I could sniff rain. I followed the colored lights to the bungalow. The door was locked and I opened it and went into Diana's room. It was messy with stuff she'd tossed around when she'd dressed for dinner. There was no bag on the bureau.

I opened a couple of drawers and moved some clothes and looked in the closet, but there was no pocketbook, so I went back to the bar. The wind had dropped and the thunder sounded nearer, but the rain hadn't started yet. It was going to be a whopper when it came.

Just before I opened the door, I heard Diana singing. She'd always had a good voice, and ever since she'd almost been put away in jail it had kept her straight. Radio work. She wasn't one of the topnotchers, but she acted as if she was. And now, as I opened the door, she was just finishing a request number. The applause banged out the slam of the door, but she saw me, and as soon as the noise died down she said: "Well?"

Naturally, everybody looked. I began to get a sick feeling. Here was I, just a bellhop, and she was a guest at a swell hotel and something of a celebrity besides. "Well?" she demanded, and everybody stared as if I was standing in the glare of a spotlight.

"Sorry," I said. "I couldn't fin...

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