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Dead Man's Guilt

By Robert Leslie Bellem

Everybody knew Kilgore had been killed trying to escape from San Quentin. Yet now this girl, who knew all the facts in the case, pleads with Dan to save her from the dead man!

IT WAS raining gophers, golliwogs, and gremlins as I ankled through the midnight with a dripping slicker on my framework, a damp gasper in my kisser, and a maniac problem on my mind. After killing nearly a fifth of Vat 69 in my apartment stash during the course of the evening, it had suddenly struck me that maybe a stroll in the storm might help me solve the puzzle that pestered me; but the farther I walked, the more I realized I wasn't getting anywhere. I still couldn't figure how a cadaver could come back to life and peter a private wall-safe to the tune of fifty grand in sparklers.

Sloshing along, I cursed myself for being a professional ferret when there were so many easier ways of making a living—such as punching rivets at Lockheed or running a welding outfit for a shipyard. While I was at it, I also cursed Lew Blake, the Paravox producer, for losing that fortune in diamonds; damned my own stupidity in accepting him as a client.

Most of all, though, I swore at the fingerprints which had been found on the steel door of Lew Blake's looted vault in the library of his sumptuous Beverly Hills wigwam. They were the dabs of a hood named Jerky Kilgore, a three-time loser who'd got blasted to his ancestors up at San Quentin a couple of months before while trying to pull a crush-out. Being deceased, how could this Kilgore character have returned from the grave to glom a hatful of Hollywood rocks?

The mystery was about to drive me off my chump; and instead of helping me to think, my walk in the rain was only putting me on the verge of pneumonia. I turned, headed back toward my bachelor igloo; and then, suddenly, I froze in my tracks. From the dark block ahead of me came a she-male shriek, high pitched, penetrating, full of terror and surprise.

I SAID: "What the—?" and reached for the .32 automatic I always carry in a shoulder holster; started hurtling toward the source of that ugly bleat. I've been a private snoop for a long enough time to tab trouble a mile away; and this screech had all the earmarks of dirty doings at the crossroads. Some jane was in a jackpot; and I'm a sucker for damsels in distress.

Sprinting, I gained the far corner and went blipping around the turn; piped a night-owl cab parked at the curb. Its driver was on the sidewalk, leaning over a sprawled form.

The form belonged to a young brunette cupcake with more curves than a streamlined pretzel. At the moment, however, her piquant puss was as pale as watered milk and her glims were walled back until the whites showed. She was wearing a shoddy topcoat and a threadbare frock, and in her general appearance she resembled a quail who'd just been rendered defunct via the murder route.

I waved my roscoe at the cabby. "Did you cream this chick?" I snarled.

He turned green around the fringes. "For the luvva Mike, nix! Don't say things like that, pal! I never done nothin' to her. I never even laid a finger on her!"

"Somebody did."

He moaned: "That's where you're wrong. Look. I just lugged a drunk into his flat across the street, see? So I'm comin' back to my hack when I pass this cutie. She's starin' over her shoulder at somethin' or somebody, y'unnerstand, when all of a sudden she makes with the big yodel and folds like a paper bag. Passes out cold right under my eyes!"

While he was giving me this routine, I stooped to inspect the brunette filly at closer range; jammed a palm against her soaked coat and felt her heart beating, slowly, irregularly. There weren't any visible bruises or contusions on her conk, so maybe the jehu was leveling.

"Looks as if she swooned," I said.

"Hunh? Is that all?" he let out his breath in a sigh of relief. "Gosh, Cap, you had me scared spitless for a minute, wavin' that gat and accusin' me of—"

I said: "Stow the chatter, bub," and hefted the unconscious doll in my arms. She was light, fragile, dainty; a delishful dish in spite of her rain-drenched condition. "Open up your chariot so I can take her where it's warm and dry."

"Yeah, sure." He jumped obediently. "You want I should haul you to a hospital or somewhere?"

"My apartment joint is just three blocks ahead," I said. "Put some ethyl in the works and show me some speed."


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