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Crime Gets A Head

By Milton T. Lamb

Private Detective Smith found more than he'd expected when he investigated the Droyster suicide. For Smith found that though the ex-millionaire had lost his only face in that shotgun blast, he'd gained a second torso.

CHAPTER I

Percival Smith, my boss, was reading a book written by some guy named Freud when the phone rang. He didn't look up from the book. He said, with a nod, "Answer it, Willie."

I was glad to, glad of the chance to do something. Percival Smith has long periods of silence when's he not very good company. I'd been twiddling my thumbs and trying to doze for the last hour.

I got out of my chair, walked to his desk, and picked the phone up. I said, "Yeah?" A torchy voice asked, "The Smith Agency?"

"None other," I said, thinking that the female who owned the voice must be plenty easy on the eyes.

"Is Mr. Smith in?"

The boss kept reading. I nudged him with my elbow and pointed to the phone. He frowned at me, shook his head, and looked back at his book.

I said, "I'm sorry, but he's not here. Can I help you? This is Aberstein. I'm his assistant."

"I'm Alicia Droyster," the voice said. "I..."

I covered the mouthpiece with my hand. "The Droyster dame, boss!"

He sat up at that, closed his book with a pop. He reached out a hand which the little blonde dish at Central Barber Shop manicures twice every week.

The Droyster dame was saying something about a calling card and a Great Dane dog, when I broke in. "Just a minute. The boss has just blew in."

I handed him the phone, stepped back to watch him. He began asking Alicia Droyster a lot of questions. His eyes sort of got warm- looking and I could see his hand get tight on the phone. Well, I been with him long enough to know the signs. I wondered what in hell it would be this time.

Smith can get into more messes in five minutes than you or me could in ten years. He began to smile and it made my stomach nearly do a flip over. I wished he would tell the Droyster dame good-by and hang up. But I knew from the way he was grinning that he wouldn't do that. Smith is a private shamus because he wants to be. And that kind of guy always hunts trouble.

I moved around the desk and sat down. I was already betting myself three to one that Smith would find what he was hunting—if Alicia Droyster hired him.

Two days ago, Mark Droyster, Alicia's loving hubby, had gone home late in the afternoon, gone in his bedroom, and rigged up a contraption with coat hangers and a sawed- off shotgun. I thought it was a very messy way for a guy to kill himself. When they found Droyster there hadn't been anything left of his head.

The bulls had marked it up as suicide without thinking about it much, and Droyster had been put six feet under late yesterday. It had been a very private funeral. Alicia Droyster, a sawbones named Lawrence Jordan, the preacher and pallbearers were all the people the Droyster dame would let come into the cemetery.

As usual, the boys on the news sheets made a big splash with it. This Mark Droyster had been as tough as a bulldog. He'd started as a kid selling papers, muscled his way up in a rough and ready style until he was a big shot. But when he cashed in his chips, the newshounds hinted that he was busted. It was odds around town that losing his dough had put him in such a funk that he killed himself.

But I didn't see it that way. Like the boss says, I may be sort of dumb, but I couldn't get it in my head that Droyster was the kind of guy to bump himself off. It didn't jibe with the way he had come up. You don't beat your way to the top like he did only to kick off. If you lose your dough, you go after it again.

The whole thing smelled to me like a red herring, and now to have Alicia Droyster calling Smith. . . .

THE boss put the phone down, leaned back in his chair. "Perhaps I don't give you enough credit, Willie."

"Yeah?"

"Droyster—the remarks you made about his death might be nearer right than I thought."

The boss was usually blessing me out. He didn't say things to make me feel good and I wanted to make the most of it. "Well, boss, now that you realize just how smart I can be sometimes. . . ."

He laughed. "Oh, Willie, climb down. Alicia Droyster might simply be running a case of nerves—or greed." He frowned, and it didn't fit his face much. He looked back at me.

"Droyster was really broke, Willie, as flat as a tramp. Even the house he bought for his wife is mortgaged to the hilt. She said nothing to the police about his suicide, yet now she tells me she thinks it was murder. It doesn't add up nicely."

I didn't get what he was driving at. I said, "Uh huh."

He began sort of talking to himself. "All Droyster had left was insurance. And they do not pay off for suicide."

I sat up straight. "Yeah! I get it! Nerves— or greed. If it was really suicide, the insurance isn't worth the ink it took to print it, But if it was murder . . ."

He laughed softly, "I must give you a raise, Willie."

"Honest?"

He looked at me a minute, then waved his hands, shook his head. He pushed his chair back from his desk. "Come along, Einstein, we'll see the widow." He crossed the thick carpet of his office to get his hat.

I heard him muttering, "A raise—honest?" Then he laughed a little, but, cripes, I didn't mean nothing.

The big house that Droyster had bought for his wife gave me the creeps. It was a huge chunk of stone in the middle of a lot big enough for a park.

The boss paid the hackie who had brought us down and the cab pulled away. I tagged along as the boss opened an iron gate and started up the walk.

He didn't talk any when we reached the door. He punched the bell and in a few seconds a big-bellied guy in a butler's get-up opened the door.

"Mr. Smith to see Mrs. Droyster," the boss said. "She's expecting me."

The butler led us in. The inside of the house knocked my eyes out. There were pictures on the walls, rich drapes, and the furniture smelled of the good old mazuma. I went to my ankles in a rug that covered the whole floor. I thought it was no wonder Droyster had gone busted.

The butler tugged a couple of doors open. "You may wait in the library," he said, giving me a look that made me wonder if my hair— what there is of it—was combed.

I followed the boss and the butler waddled off to find the Droyster dame.

The boss began looking over the books that the walls seemed to be made of. I looked and spotted a big chair. But I didn't get to sit down. Somebody said. "Hello, Mr. Smith. I'm glad you came right down."

I turned and got set back on my heels. This was my first close-up of her and it was plenty all right. She had more than enough to go with the voice: a figure that could model bathing suits, a face that would drive a guy to drink, and long hair that was as black as the spots on the ten of spades.

She looked at me, then at the boss. Then she frowned. But everybody does that when they first see me and Smith together. And maybe we are sort of odd. He's the guy they invented all fancy words like elegant to coin. He's got his own tailor and his shoes cost twenty-five bucks. To top it off, he's got a sort of air about him that makes you think of Park Avenue.

And me—well, I'm just Willie Aberstein. It don't do much good to send my clothes to the cleaners. I guess I'm too short and too broad; a kid once screamed when he ran around a dark corner, smacked into me, and got a gander at my face. But I can't help that. I was never a daisy and having every pug in the east punch the face hasn't helped it any.

The boss said, "Mr. Aberstein, my assistant."

I nodded. "Pleased to meet you."

She came on in the room, waved us to a chair. I beat Smith to the big chair. She walked back and forth a little. Then she said, "You know why I called you here, Mr. Smith. I'm almost positive poor Mark was murdered." She tried to make her chin quiver, but it didn't go off. I marked her down a notch in my book.

"The calling card I mentioned," she went on after a minute. She reached into the pocket of her green dress and pulled out a white card.

"I found this under the bed in my husband's room this morning." She held out the card to Smith.

ME AND THE BOSS both got up and I got a squint at the card over his shoulder. It was a very loud-talking card. It said:

A. H. Newell, Investments.

Right then and there I patted myself on the back. If Al Newell was mixed up in this, the whole business of Droyster killing himself by blowing off his kink was the bunk. I'd guessed right when I read the papers.

Al Newell owned part of a dog track that Droyster had promoted. I had wondered why the coppers had let the thing slide without so much as a how-do-you-do to Droyster's corpse. Maybe I knew why now.

Newell sort of had his way in City Hall. He was a slick-haired young guy who could tell people what to do. He had the dames, the dough, and the wrong kind of boys working for him.

The boss slipped the card into his pocket. "The card doesn't mean much, Mrs. Droyster. Simply that Al Newell was in the room where your husb...

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