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It's rare that Dan encounters dough so dirty that he won't touch it. Even this time, when the ante was boosted enough, he forgot his scruples. Besides there was a feminine angle. . . .

Dissolve Shot

By Robert Leslie Bellem

I WAS quaffing a midnight snort of Vat 69 in the Jungle Room of the Brown Stetson on Vine Street when Mike Michaelson sidled up to the bar alongside me, nudged my elbow. He was a tall, skinny citizen with a complexion like adobe mud and a jittery expression in his faded optics.

"Hi, Turner," he said. "How's the private sleuthing business these days?"

I said: "Fine. Good-bye, please." Then I gave him the frigid focus to let him know I didn't like him; brushed him off by turning my back to his sallow puss.

He refused to be insulted; wouldn't let my contempt get under his rind. Which was in keeping with his characteristics; he had as much crust as stale bread and more brass than a millionaire's yacht. In fact, nobody but a heel of his caliber would stoop to make a living the way he made his.

"Don't go upstage, Dan," he said. "I need you."

I faced him again; tried to freeze him with a sneer. He published a scurrilous weekly called the Hollywood Keyhole, a shady sheet that depended mainly on veiled blackmail for its revenue; and in less than three years he'd accumulated a Westwood mansion, a mahogany cruiser, and a fat stack of geetus from operating this tawdry tabloid.

Everybody from producers and directors down to stars, camera-men and scenario scribblers bought costly advertising in the Keyhole. They had to; otherwise Michaelson would have stunk them up with malicious—and frequently false—gossip in his personal columns. He was never more than a jump and a half ahead of the libel laws, and I had little love for him.

I said: "What do you mean, you need me?"

"I've got a job for you."

"Take it and give it to somebody else," I said. "I'm not interested."

"But I'll pay you a grand," he lipped desperately; clutched at my sleeve. His touch made me yearn to go home and take a bath in lysol.

"No dice, bub," I told him. "Your dough's too dirty, even for me."

He hauled out his wallet. "I'll make it two grand." Then he peeled ten C-notes off his stack, waved them at me. "A thousand in advance to bind the bargain. Another thousand when you do this little job I want done."

I HESITATED. After all, I'm in the snooping racket for all the lettuce I can collect. I'm trying to save up enough to retire on before some sharpshooter engraves my name and address on a bullet; and two thousand hermans wasn't exactly hay no matter where it came from.

"I'm a sucker," I said. I took the cash, shoved it in my pocket. "You've hired a ferret. What's gnawing on you?"

"Fear," he made a bitter mouth around the word. "The fear of death. Somebody's gunning for me."


"I wish I knew. Here, look." He tossed three scrawled, torn sheets of paper on the bar for me to read.

They were all alike: unsigned, written with a lead pencil. The orthography was childish, formless, as if a right-handed guy had done them with his left duke for purposes of disguise. Each note was a terse promise to burn Michaelson down before the current week was out.

I handed the warning back to him.

"You don't need me. Better notify the cops and have them give you a bodyguard."

"No!" his beady glime narrowed. "I don't want the police messing in this. And anyhow, a bodyguard isn't what I want. Strongarm guys are a dime a dozen. This calls for someone like you; someone with brains."

I said: "Much obliged. Suppose you make it clearer."

"Well, I just want you to find out who sent me these threats. After that I'll handle things my own way." His voice had a vindictive quality.

I kicked the matter around in my think- tank. There were plenty of people in Hollywood who might entertain a yen to render this Michaelson louse defunct; he'd put the shakedown bite on so many prominent guys and quails it was a wonder somebody hadn't bumped him long ago. Under the circumstances, trying to finger the author of the threatening notes would be about as easy as locating a speck of dust in a pound of pepper.

There was one possible angle, though. "Who've you been blackmailing recently?" I asked him.

He reddened; and then, before he could answer, hell spilled over.

A GORGEOUS blonde cupcake wearing too much makeup and too many sparklers came flurrying toward us like a case of hysteria wrapped in rage. She was caterwauling guttersnipe language at the top of her adenoids, directing the tirade at Mike Michaelson. There was a portly citizen with her, a blushing lump of suet with a conk as bald as a cue-ball and a look of embarrassment in his peepers. He was trying his best to restrain the wren, but not getting very far.

I tabbed the pair right away. The fat bozo was Louie Belmont, head cheese of Commonwealth Pictures—one of the most profitable independent studios on the coast. Success had filled him full of pompous arrogance to the point where nobody except his intimates dared to address him by his first name; but at the moment he looked so ashamed he could have slunk down the nearest rat-hole and pulled it in after him.

You couldn't blame him, considering the scene being created by the blonde jane he was escorting. Her name was Kathryn Todd; she was the highest-paid she-male ham on the Commonwealth roster; and she'd been a top flight star for a lot of years. Recently, though, she'd started to skid; her last three pix had been rank poison at the box office.

Not that three stinkers in a row made any difference to her, financially. She had an iron-clad contract with Commonwealth and kept right on drawing down her weekly scad of scratch whether the public liked it or lumped it. Moreover, according to the rumor mongers, she was Louie Belmont's secret sweetie—a setup which would naturally bolster her starring status regardless of acting ability.

Belmont was trying to reason with her as she yeeped a volley of cusswords. "Please, darling!" he begged. "Don't make a scandal!"

It didn't register on the blonde cookie. She jerked away from him and lurched forward as if trying to rake furrows in Mike Michaelson's sallow map with her sharp fingernails.

"You filthy blackmailing creep!" she blatted.

Then I caught wise. Apparently she was another of the skinny publisher's shakedown victims, one of the many stars he'd mulcted by means of his Keyhole tabloid. In which case it was no wonder she was calling him every dirty name in the book.

Michaelson turned as yellow as lemon meringue pie; scuttled around behind me for protection. "Sock her, Sherlock!" he whined. "Don't let her claw me!"

His bleat gave me a swift pain, but then I remembered he was my client by virtue of the thousand fish he had slipped me a moment ago. So I glued the clutch on the Todd twist; wrapped my arms around he and pinioned her helpless.

"Let go of me! Let me at that rat!"

"Ix-nay, sweet stuff. You're making a spectacle of yourself. You want to spend a night in the bastille for disturbing the peace?"

She blazed: "I'll kill the louse! I warned him I'd fix him if he kept on—"

A CLUSTER of customers started closing in on us, pressing nearer so they could scoop up an earful of the dirt. I barked a command over my shoulder to the Michaelson jerk. "Scram, chum. Take a powder. I'll see you later at your stash."

He obeyed, his lanky stems scissoring him to the exit. He was followed by Louie Belmont; the tubby Commonwealth mogul wasn't the type to hang around where trouble brewed. They both barged out into the midnight, moving fast.

And then I piped a newcomer entering the Jungle Room from the cafe proper. This latest arrival was a pert little brunette frail named Florrie Conroy, a Hollywood feature writer for the Evening Star-Record. She had a news-hound sparkle in her optics and a coffin nail dangling from one corner of her crimson kisser in the traditional manner of newspaper reporters.

"Hi, yokels," she remarked to all and sundry. "What's frying in these here parts?"

I pushed my grey matter into high gear; came up with the best lie I could think of on the spur of the moment. "Nothing newsworthy, hon. Miss Todd was just rehearsing the big emotional scene for her new opus for our benefit, is all."

The blonde Todd chick played it straight. She knew she was in a tight spot, and she had to back me up in order to keep her private affairs from landing in the headlines. "Yes," she purred as calmly as a kitten full of cream. "I thought I'd try out the dialogue on an audience. How did you like it?" she asked the group surrounding us.

Everybody started clapping as if they'd just heard a director's cue. They were all movie people, and they realized what could happen to any star whose filthy linen got aired in public print. Film folks are clannish that way; they usually stick together when one of them gets caught in a jackpot.

As a result, the diminutive Florrie Conroy got nixed out of her anticipated item. She flipped her gasper into the nearest spittoon, wrinkled her smeller and said: "Nuts! I thought I had something juicy. You wouldn't give me a bum steer, would you, Hawkshaw?"

"Not if I could help it," I kept a straight puss. Then I pulled Kathryn Todd toward the auto-entrance archway. "It's time we were hauling bunions, kiddo."

"Oke. Wait while I repair the ravages," she answered. And in a whisper she added: "Thanks for seeing me through, gumshoe. I must've been wacky."

I watched her as she ankled away. The more I saw of her, the less I blamed Louie Belmont for festooning her with twenty- carat chunks of ice and keeping her in starring roles even though her vogue was waning. She had what it takes.

Florrie Conroy darted me an enigmatic grin. "Getting ideas, Philo? Maybe there's an item for the Star-Record, after all. Private sleuth goes overboard for actress." And she trailed the Todd chicken into the little girls' room.

I barged to the bar, ordered a slug of Scotch broth to while away the time. And then, just as I was about to partake of this liquid lightning, hell frothed over again. This trip it was a roscoe roaring: Ka-Chow! Chow! from the rear of the joint, possibly from the other side of the door marked "Ladies." And on the heels of those twin reports, a dame started screaming blue murder.

I GASPED: "What the—?" and tossed my tonnage toward that closed portal; smacked it inward and went bouncing over the threshold into no man's land. As I catapulted inside, my brogan tripped on a sprawled feminine form and I came near falling on my features.

I righted myself, copped a startled gander at the prone doll. She was Florrie Conroy, and she was stretched out colder than a Siberian snowstorm. There was a lump on her forehead the size of a grapefruit, her lamps were shut tight, and her mush was colorless.

What really flabbergasted me, though, was the sight of Kathryn Todd standing over the fallen jessie. Kathryn's blue glimmers were wide with panic, her mouth hung as far open as the window behind her that gave access to the back parking lot, and she had a smoking .28 automatic in her mitt. When I piped the miniature cannon, I felt my goblets crinkling.

I strangled. "Did you cream this newspaper pigeon?"

"No. . . oh-h-h, n-no!" she dropped the gun as if it had suddenly sprouted fangs.

I picked it up by the muzzle, wrapped it in a handkerchief to preserve the fingerprints. "Talk fast, sis," I said. "And make it interesting.

"All I c-can tell you is the truth. I didn't d-do anything. I was over in the alcove, making up my f-face in the mirror. I heard two sh-shots. I ran out, saw Miss Conroy lying here with the p-pistol near her. I snatched it off the f-floor; screamed. . . and then you came in . . ."

While she was dishing me this screwy story, I got down on my prayer bones; felt for the brunette Conroy quail's pulse. Her ticker was beating steadily, rhythmically; and as far as a cursory inspection went, I couldn't find any signs of a bullet wound. Apparently there was nothing wrong with her except that bash on the forehead. It was what had rendered her unconscious.

I straightened up; whereupon I heard a low moan from immediately outside the window. There was agony in the sound; pain, plus terror. The instant the noise reached me I lunged at the sill, hurled my hundred and ninety pounds outward, landed on the gravel of the parking lot. Then I froze.

Mike Michaelson was leaning weakly against the side of the building like a telephone pole infested with termites. His muddy complexion was green around the fringes, his thin framework had a slanted sag, and he was hanging onto his left forearm. A trickle of ketchup was leaking from a hole just above the wrist, and another moan came wheezing out of his gullet as I fastened the stupefied swivel on him.

He pointed wordlessly to a limp blob at his feet. The blob was Louie Belmont, head rajah of Commonwealth Pix. Louie would never produce any more silverscreen sagas, though. A pair of pellets had drilled neat tunnels in his baldness. One squint told me he was deader than pork sausage.

I REACHED for the Hollywood Keyhole publisher, grabbed his lapels, yanked him from his leaning posture against the wall. "Okay, you skinny son," I said grimly. "Whistle the patter. Did you pull this bump?"

"Me?" he flinched as if I'd rammed him with a red hot bodkin. "Don't ever say a thing like that! Louie was my par-part- particular pal! He and I were standing here t-talking b-business when all of a sudden ttwo shots sounded. One drilled me through the arm and I dropped down. Then Louie f- fell on me . . . ug-g-gh . . ." He shivered. "I told you somebody was g-gunning for me!"

"And they almost succeeded," I said.

I felt like adding it was too bad they missed; but I kept it to myself. After all, I was working for Michaelson even though he was a blackmailing louse; had his thousand buck retainer in my pocket. He'd promised me another grand if I found out who wrote him those threatening notes; and I had a speaking hunch the warnings had been authored by the same party whose lousy marksmanship had just sent Louie Belmont to his ancestors.

Therefore, if I solved the mystery of the threats I might also clear up the Belmont bump—which would be a feather in my cap, not to mention the newspaper publicity I'd get out of the deal. At least it was worth a try.

While I was figuring the angles, a harness copper came pounding onto the parking lot. "What's the beef back there?"

I gave him a hinge at my special tin and said: "Croakery, cousin. Phone the bleat to Dave Donaldson of the homicide squad and tell him to bring a meat wagon. Also an ambulance for Mr. Michaelson, here. He's got a punctured flipper."

Then I dived back through the window of the ladies' room.

By this time a clot of patrons had crowded into the nose-powdering chamber, chattering and elbowing each other and stumbling around like a bunch of dopes. The only one with a lick of sense was a bartender who was leaning over Florrie Conroy's unconscious form, funneling a jolt of bourbon down her hatch.

She sputtered, blinked as the skee took hold. Abruptly she swayed to a sitting position. "Wh-what happened? Wh-who hit me? I want to phone my city editor at the Star-Record!"

I looked hither and yon for the blonde Kathryn Todd but she wasn't on the premises. She'd lammed. And at that instant I knew who had cooled Louie Belmont! But I wasn't hep to the motive— and I had no more proof than a turtle has feathers.

SEVERAL people helped the black- haired Conroy cutie upright; supported her until she got some starch back into her stems. As soon as I was sure the fog had cleared out of her mental machinery, I went to the window, called out to that uniformed bull.

"When Lieutenant Donaldson gets here, tell him to flag himself out to Kathryn Todd's igloo on Wilshire. I'll be there waiting for him. Miss Todd knows plenty about this mess," I announced loudly. Then I ankled out of the Brown Stetson, crawled into my jalopy, and headed down Vine Street.

Fifteen minutes later I dragged anchor behind a Yellow that was just stopping in front of the Todd wren's shanty. The yellow-haired actress herself was piling out of the cab, paying the tariff from her small beaded purse.

I sailed toward her, fastened the grasp on her wrist. "Hiya, Toots. What's your rush? Why did you scram from the scene of the crime?"

For an instant I thought she was going to swoon. Her makeup was splotchy on the pallor of her pan, her blinkers bulged like squeezed grapes and her knees started to buckle. "Y-you . . . ! she moaned.

I slid a supporting arm around her waist, steered her to the door of her ornate tepee. "Don't pass out," I said. "We've got some talking to do."

"Wh-what about?" she wailed as she keyed the portal.

I waited until we got settled on a comfortable divan in her living room. Then I said: "The way I dope it, you were planning a quick getaway to parts unknown. Too many people had heard you threatening Mike Michaelson, and you were scared you'd be accused of attempting to croak him—an attempt that missed and plugged Louie Belmont by mistake. Right?"

She squirmed around, faced me. "Y- yes. I was afraid they'd pin it on me. Oh-hh, please, Mr. Turner . . . Dan . . . let me leave Hollywood while there's still time. I'll pay you whatever you ask. I'll send you money . . . do anything you say. . . "

However I wasn't in the mood for bribery. What I craved was information. "Hold everything, hon. Use your skull. If you lam, it'll look like a confession of guilt."

"But I'm not g-guilty! I'm just afraid everybody will think so and p-put me in jail!"

I said: "That might not happen. There's a chance I can prove Michaelson wasn't the intended victim of the gunplay."

"You mean the shots were really aimed at Louie? And Michaelson's wound was an accident?"

"Yeah, something along that line."

Her eyes took on a new fear. "Then I'm worse off than before!"

This startled me. "How come you are?"

"Because my last few pictures lost m- money for Louie. He wanted me to tear tip my contract but I refused. All his studio staff know it."

"So what?" I said.

"Can't you see what it means? They'll claim I k-killed him in revenge because he was trying to get me off the payroll. I've got to leave town! I c-can't stand the thought of going to p-prison!"

"You won't go to prison if you play your cards right, hon."

SHE studied me. "Meaning you'll help me get away if I . . . if I'm nice to you?" And she leaned forward quickly, kissed me.

I hadn't asked for that kind of pay; wasn't expecting it. A thrill skittered through me. But presently I was normal again. "This isn't necessary," I said. "But I sure liked it."

"Isn't necessary—?"

"I'm going to put you in the clear," I told her. "Then we'll talk about my fee."

"How can you p-put me in the clear?" she ran nervous fingers through her golden coiffure.

"By proving you couldn't have shot Louie Belmont. You didn't have a roscoe."

"That's t-true: I didn't. But how do you know?"

I said: "Tch, babe, that's easy. Remember when I grabbed you and pinioned you in the Jungle Room to keep you from prying Mike Michaelson's optics out with your nails?"

"Y-yes. I remember."

"Well, you struggled; and I held you closer. I'd have noticed it if you had a gat concealed on your personality. And you couldn't have been packing a rod in your beaded purse. It's too small—as I noticed when you paid your cabby a moment ago."


I set fire to a gasper. "Moreover, it isn't plausible that you could have secreted a cannon in the ladies' room on the off chance of potting somebody through the window. How could you possibly be aware that Michaelson and Belmont would be on the parking lot at that particular moment? You'd need a crystal ball, an astrology book, and a pound of tea leaves; and even then you might guess wrong. So that's why I say you're in the clear."

"Th-thanks," she whispered wryly. "You've made me see how silly my f-fears are. I'll stay and face the music." Then she stared at me. "But wh-who did kill Louie?"

I said: "Somebody who tried to cover it up in a clever way. I'll know more about it when I've asked you a few questions. Tell me, was Michaelson chewing you for blackmail dough?"

"Y-yes, he w-was."

"On what basis?"

"He demanded a hundred thousand dollars from me—for advertising in his Keyhole paper. He'd f-found out about my being Louie Belmont's . . . sweetheart . . . and he threatened to expose it. That would have ruined me."

I said: "Did you pay him the hundred grand?"

"Not all of it. About half. In installments. I've been giving him seventy- five percent of my salary every week for the p-past several weeks. He wasn't satisfied. He kept badgering me for more. He's a leech, a blood-sucker!"

"Did Belmont know you were being bled?"

"Y-yes. I told him everything. There was nothing he could do about it, though. He advised me to pay whatever Michaelson demanded."

"Did you write Michaelson any threatening notes?"

"Notes?" she looked puzzled. "No, of course not." She sounded so sincere I couldn't help believing her.

I said: "Okay. So much for that. One more thing. Where'd Louie keep his private papers and so forth? At his studio office or in his penthouse?"

"His penthouse. He has a wall safe."

"Good," I growled. "Let's go. We've got a job to do." I helped her off the davenport, sneaked a gander while she adjusted her make-up.

As soon as she was ready to ramble I made her roust out one of her servants. I told the flunkey: "Look. If anybody comes here to see Dan Turner, inform them I've gone to Mr. Belmont's wigwam and Miss Todd is with me."

"Yes, sir."

ON THE way out to my bucket, Kathryn asked: "You're expecting someone?"

I nodded. "I left word at the Brown Stetson for my friend Dave Donaldson of the homicide bureau to contact me. You needn't worry about him, though." I boosted her into the coupe, slid under the wheel; and aimed for the Tower Manor over near Sunset. That's where the late lamented Commonwealth mogul had lived.

When we got there, the Todd cupcake produced a key to the fat guy's front door. But she didn't have to use it; the portal was already ajar. I saw chisel marks around the lock; realized there was something haywire. "Oh-oh!" I whispered.

I shoved the blonde wren behind me; dragged out the .32 automatic I always carry in a shoulder holster. Then I inched forward into the murdered producer's scrumptious penthouse layout.

There was a gleam of light in the library. Somebody was holding a flashlight in one hand, manipulating the dial of a wall safe with the other.

I fumbled for a switch, found it, clicked it. Then I snarled: "All right, Florrie. Freeze."

The diminutive brunette Conroy chick from the Star-Record stiffened, dropped her torch, stared at me. She looked sore. "You couldn't have waited just a few minutes longer, could you, Sherlock?"

"Maybe I waited too long. Or haven't you managed to get the safe open yet?"

She pointed to a sheaf of papers on the table. "I didn't have to open it. Belmont was careless enough to leave it unlocked. I was just closing it after getting what I wanted."

"And what were you after?"

"A scoop. Page One headlines before the cops even had an idea what the score was. You would horn in," she sniffed.

I said: "You're a wise frill, Florrie. You out-figured me. But the jig's up now. Hand me those papers."

She reached for them; and then she pulled an unexpected fast one. Instead of picking up the documents she grabbed a miniature bronze vase; pitched it at my profile. It slugged me on the dome before I could duck; packed enough authority to stagger me. While I was trying to shake the bells out of my ears, Florrie flurried at me and wrenched the roscoe from my mitt.

She covered me; included Kathryn Todd with a menacing wave of the muzzle. "This is one time the great Dan Turner eats at the second table," she grinned; backed toward the door.

I saw my pinch fading, my plans irising out. I rasped: "Better think twice, sis. You can't get away with this. You're fooling with a murder beef, remember."

"Don't I know it?" she lifted a lip.

"Yeah. But there are two things you don't know. One of them is this. Kathryn witnessed Louie Belmont being bumped."

"And the second?" I said: "It's even worse. There's somebody behind you!"

As I spoke, I made a sidewise lurch at the blonde Todd cutie; bowled her over. Simultaneously, Florrie Conroy gasped and pivoted. From the penthouse doorway a rod boomed Pow-Pow-Pow and three sizzling slugs zipped past the spot where Kathryn had been standing until I'd bashed her out of danger.

BOTH janes started screaming. Blonde or brunette, she-males are all alike when bullets begin flying around the premises. The statuesque screen star and the cuddly newspaper reporter crouched together, hugging each other for mutual protection.

At the same instant I dug in my coat pocket for the little .28 gat which I'd picked off the floor back in the little girls' room of the Brown Stetson. The Conroy quail had deprived me of my own heater, but this smaller rod made a good substitute. I cut loose at the doorway.

My very first shot smashed the lanky Mike Michaelson's left knee to strawberry jelly. My next one bashed his other gam out from under him and he went down like a collapsing telephone pole. I leaped at him, kicked away the gun with which he'd just tried to drill Kathryn Todd.

"Your number is up, louse," I said.

His narrow, sallow puss twisted, contorted. He no longer looked like the smooth, blackmailing publisher of a scandal tabloid. Instead of sleek villainy, all he could register was pain in carload lots. "My legs . . . you've crippled me . . ."

I torched a coffin nail, leaned over him, blew fumes in his kisser. "You croaked Louie Belmont tonight, bub. And you'd have plugged Florrie, Kathryn, and me right here and now if I hadn't been laying for you."

"You . . . knew I was . . . coming . . .?"

"Sure. I had the whole thing added up. In the first place, Louie Belmont was your secret backer on the Hollywood Keyhole. I should have realized that on the Brown Stetson parking lot when you almost let something slip. You started to call him your partner; then caught yourself and went into a stuttering act, changed the word to part-parti-particular pal."

"That doesn't . . . prove . . ."

I said: "Maybe not; but it was a partial tip-off when I got around to remembering it. Belmont took a fifty-fifty split on every blackmailing dime you collected. He financed his Commonwealth studio with the dough while you bought houses and a yacht with your share.

Then, in recent months, Louie's biggest star, Kathryn Todd, began to slip. He loved her; didn't want to break with her personally. Yet he was losing heavy geetus on every opus she made. She refused to tear up her contract, so he schemed up a plan to save the huge salary he was paying her; a plan that wouldn't alienate her affections. He put you hep to the relationship existing between himself and Kathryn; got you to blackmail her. That way, he'd be forking over her contract stipend with one hand and taking it back with the other—and she wouldn't know it."

MICHAELSON moaned over his wrecked stems. "God. . . I'll b-be lame for life. . . !"

"Why worry? Your life won't last very long in the gas chamber," I said. "You decided to double cross Belmont. If he kicked the bucket, you'd be sole owner of the Hollywood Keyhole. Every cent of shakedown dough would be entirely yours. His estate couldn't prove he ever had a half interest in the scandal sheet because you intended to glom the partnership papers.

"You rigged yourself an alibi in advance by writing a bunch of threatening notes; hiring me to protect you. When you chilled Louie on the restaurant parking lot, you fired through your own left forearm. That made it look as if somebody had aimed at you, creased you and drilled Louie by mistake."

"How did . . . you . . . guess . . . ?"

"The bruise on Florrie Conroy's forehead wised me up," I said. "When she came to, she asked who had bopped her. Then I knew Kathryn hadn't done it. You see, Florrie was hit from the front. If Kathryn had been the one who maced her, she'd have known it. You can't stand before a person and knock him cold without your victim seeing you.

"Therefore Kathryn was in the clear. Then how had Florrie got conked? The answer was plain. The murderer, after shooting Belmont outside, tossed his rod through the rest room window to get rid of it. And it was the gun that hit Florrie on the dome!"

He moaned: "God . . . I didn't intend to . . ."

"Sure you didn't. That part was accidental; and it put you in the grease up to your neck. You had to be the killer because nobody else was outside the window except you and Louie. Since he was defunct, you must have been the guy that tossed the gat. But I couldn't prove it; I didn't know your motive. All I had too work on was the fact that you'd called Belmont 'Louie'—and only his intimates did that. You must have been plenty close to him; maybe his partner.

"So I set a trap. In your hearing I left a message for Dave Donaldson to the effect that I was going after Kathryn Todd; that she knew all the answers. This scared you, just as I figured it would. You waited until an ambulance interne arrived to vulcanize your arm; then you tailed me to Kathryn's igloo. You thought maybe she'd witnessed you bumping Belmont.

"By the time you reached her stash, she and I had left. But a servant told you where we'd gone; so you followed us here to Louie's penthouse. You wanted to shut Kathryn up with a bullet; and you wanted these partnership papers." I picked the documents off the table and scanned them.

They were exactly what I'd expected. They proved my case all the way to the hilt.

Somebody remarked: "Nice work, Sherlock," and Dave Donaldson barged in. "I've been listening at the door; heard the whole story. How about it, Michaelson? Want to confess?"

"Yes . . . but get me to a doctor . . ." the publisher whimpered as he hugged his shattered stems. And that was how he convicted himself of dissolving partnership with Louie Belmont by the gunfire route— a dissolve shot, they'd call it in the movies.

I turned to Florrie Conroy. "You were plenty swift, babe," I said. "You doped it all out; came here to see if you could establish a connection between Belmont and Michaelson—some motive for murder. You wanted to accuse the skinny jerk in print, have the goods on him, plus a scoop in the Star-Record. You came near ruining my trap, but not quite. Now phone your city editor. But remember, you owe me something for bopping me with that miniature bronze vase."

She reached for the phone. "I'll make it up to you, Philo."

Which she did, later. But that's another story.