The Kiss-and-Kill Murders can be found in






Popular Detective May 1953

The Kiss-and-Kill Murders

A Novel by STEWART STERLING

"Produce or else!" the store president told Detective Don Marko.
And so far, he had produced—the corpses of two girls!

Chapter I

THE car's headlights probed beyond the curve of the highway to the massed darkness of close-ranked hemlocks. From the safety fence guarding the curve where it crossed the brook a shadowy grotesqueness rose, flapping and floundering into the path of the Cadillac. The man at the wheel braked, cursed.

The girl beside him made a frightened movement to shield her face from the expected impact, but the great bird rose clumsily in time to escape more than a touch by the car.

"For God's sake," she murmured, "what was that?"

"Turkey buzzard." The driver swung back to his proper lane. "Carrion buzzard."

"Ugh!" She shuddered. In the dim, reflected glow from the instrument board her delicate features seemed suddenly pinched with terror. "It looked like a fugitive from a bad dream. Do they have many of those things down here on the Eastern Shore?"

"They're common as chickens." He allowed himself a tight, thin-lipped smile. "Matter of fact, they live on chickens. Dead ones the broiler farms throw out. That's all they eat—dead things."

"Brrr. They give me the heebies. This whole country does. Sooner we get out of here, the better it'll suit me." She pushed in the cigarette lighter. "How much further is it, to this God-forsaken place?"

"Few miles." He swung off the through route onto a dirt road. "Don't worry. I don't intend to stay long."

"I don't see why we had to come down here at all."

"So you won't make any dumb mistakes if somebody starts to ask questions about your Maryland estate, the way you did when that salesgirl jumped you about the farm up in Connecticut."

The girl shifted her position uneasily. "How could I have guessed she had been born right there in Whilton?"

"You couldn't. But you could have kept your head instead of getting panicky and telling her you'd been living there only a short time when your family was supposed to have owned the place since the Civil War." He slowed the car at massive brick gateposts, turned in between them to a winding lane guarded by high hedges of box. "Only thing that saved us was that the salesgirl was dumb, too. She thought you were a phony but she wasn't bright enough to follow through on her suspicion and notify one of the store detectives."

"You're always blaming me." she retorted bitterly. "Whatever goes wrong is always my fault."

HE BROUGHT the car to a stop before the low brick porch of a white-pillared Colonial mansion.

"No. It was my error. I don't intend to make the same mistake a second time. That's why I brought you down here to look over the ground."

She opened the car door on her side. In the wedge of brightness from the headlights red eyes glared from the shrubbery at the side of the porch. "Oh! Look!"

"Rabbit," he said. "Thick as fleas this time of year."

"I don't want to stay here! I'll bet there are a million snakes—"

He came around the hood of the car, swinging something that glinted a metallic blue-black. "There aren't any. But this'll take care of anything that shows up." He took her arm.

"No!" she cried. "I'm scared! I don't want to go any further!" She bit hard on the knuckle of her left index finger. "Please don't make me go where it's dark! I can see enough from here!"

He pushed her toward the porch. "Suppose you run up against someone who asks you if you've had the lovely old staircase fixed up? Don't be silly. Come on inside. Here, take the flashlight."

"There'll be rats!"

"Probably. They won't hurt you."

He used a huge, brass key. The white-paneled front door swung open to disclose a hallway full of shrouded chairs, a hooded grandfather's clock, cloth-covered paintings.

She hung back. "No, please, darling! You wouldn't make me go in there if you cared the least bit for me!"

He slid an arm around her waist. "Stop worrying, baby. I'm right here with you."

She stepped inside the musty-smelling hallway. The beam of her flashlight traveled around the hall, poked into a living room where a white and frightened face stared back at her from an enormous pier-glass—her own face.

The sound of the door closing behind her made her whirl, gasping.

"The wind." He smiled with his mouth; his eyes regarded her with somber calculation.

She found herself unable to do more than whisper, "There isn't any wind."

"Go on. Upstairs." The gun-barrel pointed.

"No!" she managed, stiff-lipped. "I'm not going up there. I—I'm not going to stay in this house one more minute. I—"

"Yes." The smile remained fixed, unreal. "You're staying."

She retreated from him, backing into the living room. "That's why you brought me here!"

He followed her, unhurried.

She screamed. "No, no! Don't! For God's sake! Wait!"

The gun roared, and she moaned. The flashlight wavered, fell to the floor, went out.

He waited until he heard her fall, until the labored panting ceased. Then he flicked on his cigarette lighter, found the flashlight.

It was an effort to lift the body, sling it over his shoulder. The difficulty of carrying it up the winding staircase to the second floor, up the straight, steep steps to the third floor, finally up the short, vertical ladder to the trap-door in the roof, left him with hammering heart and throbbing temples.

Once out on the square, railing-enclosed roof from which some pioneer builder of the mansion had once watched for sails inbound toward his creek, the man lit a cigar before stripping the clothing from the dead girl. He removed her rings, her wrist-watch.

Then he used the butt of the gun to disfigure the face, to smash the dental work in her mouth.

"Okay," he muttered after a long time. "Okay, you rats." He looked out across the wide lawn toward the locust trees and the fringing hemlocks. "Come and get it."

Chapter II

THE Chief of Store Protection scowled down on the umbrella-carrying throngs of New York and the turtling taxis of Fifth Avenue, inching along between red lights and around the high- backed green beetles of the busses. Rain slashed across the avenue in gusty swirls, driving against the third-floor windows of his office in "Nimbletts, The Great Store," puddling the pavements and sloshing small torrents into the gutters. The March morning suited his mood, which was unpleasantly glum.

The harassed frustration of vehicles and pedestrians down on the cram-jammed avenue was duplicated by the confused futility of his own mental processes. He transferred his brooding glance from the scene below to the curt memorandum on his desk blotter. The signature at the bottom was the same friendly scrawl that had terminated all the brief instructions from the general manager's office. But the tone was brusque and bleak.

Don:

The Board will meet at three tomorrow to take up the Deshla matter. I have notified them that you will have a report to make on it at that time. You will appreciate the urgency of the situation. We would not like to face the necessity of taking the investigation out of your hands.

Bob

That was plain and to the point. "Taking the investigation out of your hands" meant "Get to the bottom of the business within twenty-four hours or get a new job."

The trouble with that was that any other job, at least in the line of store protection, would be a comedown. Just as a demoted four-star general would find it hard to get command of an army, Don Marko would find it tough to try for a position at one of the city's lesser stores, after four years as head of the detective staff at Nimbletts.

Yet he understood the G.M.'s dilemma. The Deshla business had shaken the confidence of the front office, had put the whole top brass of the big store on edge.

When some crew of slickers could walk in and make off with seventeen thousand dollars' worth of merchandise, apparently without anyone knowing just what had happened to the stuff, then the petty thefts of shoplifters seemed insignificant. To make it worse, until the tangle could be unraveled, the same trick might be pulled over again—for an even larger amount—and the store protection sleuths wouldn't be able to prevent it.

He ran his fingers distractedly through his thick goose-feather-white hair. As of now, three days after the theft had accidentally come to light, all he could honestly report was that somebody must be lying like a trooper, because the thing simply couldn't have happened the way everybody insisted it had. What the Board of Directors would say to any such unsatisfactory report was obvious.

He'd done what he could to plug any possible holes in the store's defenses. But since he couldn't figure out just how the trick had been pulled, he was shooting absolutely blind.

There were a couple of Board members who always had been skeptical of him because they thought he was too young to handle Nimbletts' thirty floor detectives. Only his prematurely white hair, his close-cropped mustache and ascetic cast of features had convinced them that he looked old enough. Well, another twenty-four hours of this sort of pressure would age him, all right.

His phone rang.

"Mr. Marko? Miss Ennis, Draperies. Miss Bayard asked me to tell you she's bringing someone up to see you."

"Thank you, Miss Ennis."

That was store talk for "She's pinched a shoplifter and is on her way to your office with her prisoner." In his present puzzled frame of mind, he'd be inclined toward leniency to any of the light-fingered brotherhood or sisterhood who'd tried to get away with a five-dollar pen off the leather goods counter or a lighter from the giftwares section.

The red glass button on his intercom set glowed. He touched the switch. "Yes?"

"Miss Bayard, Mr. Marko."

"Come on in."

Mary Bayard was a gaunt, drab, horsy-faced woman with mild gray eyes which peered out from behind gold-rimmed spectacles with an expression of surprised bewilderment. In fact, she was seldom surprised at anything and never bewildered.

THE girl who preceded her into the office was in striking contrast to the plainclothes woman. She was in her early twenties and remarkably pretty in a thin, pinched fashion. A dainty face; it might have been puritanical except for the petulant fullness of her lips.

Her coat was the finest Shetland; the suit beneath it expensive hand-loomed homespun. If she had bought those shoes at Nimbletts, she'd paid around thirty-seven-fifty for them. She wore no jewelry, but her figure was enough to obtain for her the attention which some females try to attract by the display of precious stones.

Mary Bayard held out a flat bronze disc. "She claims her name is Betterson, Mr. Marko. Mrs. Clark F. Betterson. She ordered nearly twelve hundred dollars worth of upholstery fabrics, Brocaded damasks, cut velours, fancy materials. Wanted the section manager to have them shipped to the Betterson place in Old Westbury. Gave the salesgirl this token."

The girl cried indignantly, "You have no right to treat me like a criminal! I haven't taken one single thing out of your old store. You can't say I've stolen anything!"

Don thought there was an undertone of desperation in the soft voice. "Sit down, young lady. If there's been any mistake on Nimbletts' part, you can be sure we'll straighten it out to your satisfaction." He looked at the token. It was a genuine Nimbletts charge coin, beyond doubt. "Are you Mrs. Betterson?"

The girl hesitated, biting her upper lip. "No." She lifted her chin defiantly. "I found that coin in the lobby of a hotel and thought it would be fun to see how it felt to pretend I was rich, for once in my life."

Don tossed the charge token up and caught it on his palm. "Kind of expensive fun for us, wasn't it? Shipping all that merchandise out to somebody who didn't want it? So we'd have to bring it all back to the store?"

"I wasn't going through with it," she said sullenly. "I'd have told the clerk it was just a joke before I left. Only, this—person—" she gestured irritably toward Miss Bayard— "raised a rumpus before I had a chance to explain."

Don had heard that one so many times he didn't even trouble to smile at her lack of ingenuity. "What is your name?"

"I won't tell you." The chin went up again. "I don't have to tell you."

"If you don't tell me"—Don shrugged— "you'll have to tell the judge in court."

"You can't arrest me. I haven't done anything."

"Sure. It's a misdemeanor to try to obtain goods by using another person's name. Your case, it's a felony, because of the value of the stuff you tried to get away with."

"I didn't, I tell you! It was just a gag." She didn't act as if she expected him to believe it.

"Well, you can try to sell that to the judge, too." Don took a card out of his side drawer. "But I might point out that if you're anxious to avoid getting your real name in the newspapers, it might be easier to talk to me. Once they book you at the police station, I can't help you at all."

She flung out her hands in appeal. "If I do tell you—who I am—will you let me go?"

"I'll have to know a little more than your name."

Don began to fill in the descriptive blanks on the card. "White—Female—Blonde—Blue—"

"What, besides my name?"

"We can't have any Tom, Dick or Harriet coming in the store and ordering a thousand dollars' worth of merchandise charged to somebody else." He scribbled "5'5 ... and "125" on the card. "You claim you found Mrs. Betterson's token. But you didn't find her Old Westbury address on the coin."

"Oh"—she fluttered the fingers of one hand— "I knew where she lived, I've seen her out there at the polo matches—" She stopped as if fearful of having said more than she intended.

"How did you know the Bettersons were home?"

She stared at him, the color draining from her face. "I never thought about it, one way or the other. I meant it just for a practical joke. I don't see what difference it makes."

Don leaned over to speak to the intercom. "Phone the Clark Betterson estate out in Old Westbury, Long Island. I want to talk to Mrs. Betterson, if she's home."

"Y...

This is only a preview of this story. The site administrator is evaluating methods to bring it to you.