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Duck Death

By Margaret Rice

 Joe Holliday, detective, had seen everything. But he got the surprise of his life when a character needed help to get a duck. A live duck—for a man who would soon be a dead pigeon 

JOE HOLLIDAY was climbing into his coupe when someone asked, "Can you help me?" Joe swung around to see a short, fat man. The little man was well dressed and prosperous-looking, but he was obviously very distressed.

"About what?" asked Joe. The guy in pin-stripes, frocktail coat and Homburg was strictly east of the Mississippi. Either that, or he ran one of Los Angeles' fancy funeral parlors.

"The pet shop across the street is closed," complained the guy, "and I must have a live duck right away. I don't know the city and wondered if you could direct me."

"Ducks are so important," replied Joe. "Especially in this day and age."

There was no malice in his lean hawk face. Joe was feeling good. A client had paid a fee. The detective business wasn't so bad after all. Anyway, he didn't have much malice.

The little man's round, placid face was unhappy. "I must have a duck," he stressed, "by three o'clock this afternoon."

"You have a half hour," pointed out Joe. Then he realized the other's very real anxiety. "Okay," he added, "hop in. I will get you a duck as obviously you need one."

The guy looked like he had been given candy. He climbed happily into the coupe and explained, "Being Sunday makes it difficult to get one. If I had known, I could have brought one from New York—I just flew in. I telephoned Cynthia when I arrived and she asked me to bring Uncle Ben a duck. He is rather eccentric. It seemed very vital to him."

Joe appraised his guest—the mild, well-bred moon face, neat clipped mustache and serious brown eyes. The gay was outfitted and mannered as if he ran banks for a living.

The coupe stopped at a swank chop suey joint that called itself Li Ting's Oriental Gardens. Li had an elegant setup with modernistic architecture, but he was strictly old-time San Francisco Chinese. Li kept live fowl in the basement since it was handier and cheaper that way.

As Joe parked, his little passenger protested, "A restaurant! Oh no, the duck must be alive."

"It will be," assured Joe. He went in the front door and asked the hatcheck girl, "Where's the boss?"

The old man was in a carefully appointed office that radiated decor. Li was gracious. He sold Joe a duck for only two dollars more than it would cost at the market.

"Thanks," said the detective. "I suppose this includes the blue-ribbon pedigree."

"It is good business," replied Li without anger.

"It sure is," agreed Joe. But he didn't worry. His little friend peeled bills off a giant-sized bankroll. The duck was hard to handle even with its feet tied. It had a pair of beady eyes and a mean, hissing tongue. Li made them take it out the back way.

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