Read 1945 - Blonde's Requiem Online

Authors: James Hadley Chase

1945 - Blonde's Requiem

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chapter one

 

O
ne look at Cranville was enough.

As I drove down Main Street a smell of dirt and decay drifted in through the open windows of the Packard. In the far distance I could see the high brick stacks of the smelters stuck up against the skyline. They belched black smoke that had, in the course of time, yellow-smoked everything into uniform dinginess.

There was a sordid, undisciplined feeling about the town I didn

t like. The first policeman I saw needed a shave, and two buttons from his uniform were missing. The second, directing traffic, had a cigar in his mouth.

The sidewalk, littered with papers and trash, was crowded. Groups of men stood around at street corners. Some of them read newspapers, while others tried to read over their shoulders. Women slouched past like they had something on their minds. Shops seemed empty; even the bartenders were standing outside in the sunshine. I didn

t have to be told that Cranville was coiled up like a spring with suppressed anger and excitement. I could see it just by looking at the people.

I stopped at a drugstore and, using one of the phones, called Lewes Wolf. I told him I had arrived.


Well, come on out.

He sounded like a man used to getting his own way.

His voice was harsh and impatient.

You go through the town and turn right at the traffic lights. It

s a mile or so further on.

I said I

d be right over and left the drugstore.

There was a small crowd of loafers around my car. I didn

t cotton on at first.

As I started to ease my way through the crowd, I heard someone say:

That

s the dick from New York.

I looked quickly over my shoulder, but I didn

t stop. They were a sick, seedy-looking bunch, dirty, tired and angry. A guy with a big Adam

s apple said:

If you know what

s good for you, you

ll get the hell outa here.

I was startled to see he was talking to me.

There was a murmur from the other guys. They edged closer and they looked like they wanted to take a poke at me.

I got the car door open quickly and slid under the steering wheel.

The guy with the Adam

s apple shoved his lean unshaven face through the window.

Beat it, Gum-shoe,

he said in a gritty voice.

We don

t like your kind around here.

I had the engine running.

Take it easy,

I said, wanting to hang one on his jaw, and I drove off. In the driving mirror I could see them staring after me.

I felt damp under my arms, but I wasn

t here to fight bums. I had other things to do.

I found Wolf

s house without difficulty. It was so big I couldn

t miss it.

From the front wall a half-acre or so of fine green lawn spread in a gentle slope down to the street. The sidewalk and the parkway were both very wide and in the parkway the flowering bushes were worth seeing.

I left my car on the street, walked across the lawn and rang the bell in the brick portico under a peaked roof.

The manservant—a noiseless, sharp-eyed man of fifty—took me into Wolf

s study. It was some place. There was tapestry on the blank roughened stucco walls, iron grilles imitating balconies outside high windows, heavy carved chairs and a marble-topped table with carved legs. Thirty years ago it could have been quite a room.

Wolf was sitting by the window waiting for me. He was big and fat. His head was almost perfectly round under the close-cropped white hair. He reminded me of an octopus with his beaky little nose and thin, cruel mouth.

His small, watery eyes crawled over me, but he didn

t say anything.


I called you five minutes ago,

I said.

I

m an International Investigations operative, New York branch. You asked for a man to do some work.


That

s what you say,

Wolf growled, peering at me suspiciously.

But how do I know who you

re from?

I gave him my identity card. It had been designed by Colonel Forsberg, my chief, especially for suspicious, irritable clients like Wolf. It was a neat job. On the outside it had the silver shield of the International Investigations and inside it had my photograph and everything about me, including my thumbprint. It was countersigned by the New York District Attorney.

Wolf stared at the card longer than necessary. Maybe he enjoyed keeping me standing there.

I suppose it

s all right,

he grunted at last and tossed the card back to me.

Know why you

re here?

I said I didn

t.

He fidgeted with his gold watch-chain, then he waved to a chair.

Sit down.

I picked the most comfortable chair in the room, pulled it close to him and took the weight off my feet.

He stared out of the window for some minutes without saying anything. I don

t know whether he was trying to get my goat, but if he was, he didn

t succeed. I watched him, knowing that time was on my side.


See that?

he suddenly barked, pointing out of the window.

I followed his finger. I had to lean forward before I caught a glimpse of the distant smokestacks.


They were mine.

I didn

t know whether to console him or congratulate him, so I didn

t say anything.


I ran that mine for twenty years. I owned it, heart, stun and guts. I quit last month.

His fat face sagged as he said it, I grunted.

That seemed to annoy him.

A pup like you wouldn

t understand,

he snapped, his watery eyes gleaming.

I worked there twelve hours a day for twenty years and I miss it.

I said I guessed he did.

Ile thumped on the arm of the chair.

Three days away from that mine and I was crazy with boredom. Do you know what I

m going to do now?

He leaned forward, his face congested with excitement.

I

m going to be mayor of this damn town and I

m going to put it on its feet.

It wouldn

t have surprised me if he

d gone for the White House.


There are two other candidates,

he went on, a grim note in his voice.

The election

s in a month

s time. That gives you three weeks to find the missing girls.

I didn

t know what he was talking about.

What missing girls?

He waved his hands impatiently.

I forget their names. My secretary will give you details. Three girls are missing. Esslinger and Macey are using the disappearances to get votes. That

ll show you the kind of heels they are, but three can play at that game. Your job

s to find the girls before either Esslinger or Macey fund

em. I

ve paid Forsberg plenty, and God help you if you don

t get results.

This was all Chinese to me. I saw he wasn

t the kind of guy to bother with details. It was a waste of time to sit and listen to him.


Maybe I

d better talk to your secretary,

I said, getting up.


She

ll tell you.

He nodded his round head vigorously.

Only remember, I

m going to be mayor of this town. When I want something, I get it. Understand?

I said I did.

He rang a bell. A girl of nineteen or twenty, small, pale and scared, came in.

She wore glasses and she looked as if she could have used a meal.


This is a detective,

Wolf harked at her.

Take him away and tell him what he wants to know.

She looked at me curiously and moved to the door.

I stood up.

Wolf said:

Remember what I said . . . results. Don

t come here until you

ve something to tell me.

I said I

d have something for him before long and followed the girl out of the room. She took me across the lobby into a smaller room, equipped as an office.


I

m Marc Spewack,

I said, as she closed the door.

I hope I

m not fording up your work.

She again looked at me curiously. Maybe she had never seen a detective before.

What did you want to know?

she asked, moving round behind her desk.

I sat down on a hard chair. There was no comfort in this little room.


Mr. Wolf wrote my chief, Colonel Forsberg, sent him a cheque and asked him to handle a case for him. He didn

t say what the case was. I

m doing the work, so I want to know what it

s all about.

She sat down.

Then I

d best give you a brief account of what

s been happening,

she said.

I said that

d be fine.


About a month ago,

she began, in a low, monotonous voice,

a girl named Luce McArthur disappeared. Her father works in a drugstore on the corner of Sydney and Murray. A couple of days later another girl disappeared. She was the daughter of a janitor named Dengate. A week after that a third girl, named Joy Kunz, disappeared. Mr. Wolf went to Chief of Police Macey to find out what was being

done about the missing girls. You see, there was a great deal of unrest in town. Parents were naturally anxious and the local press were hinting that there was a mass killer at large.


As a result of Mr. Wolf

s visit, the police started a search. They went to all the empty houses in Cranville and in one of them they found a shoe that belonged to Joy Kunz. They didn

t find anything else, nor have they any clues even now. The finding of the shoe started a panic in Cranville. Mr. Wolf thought he

d get experts in and that

s why he

s sent for you.

She stopped talking and made a row of fingerprints along the polished edge of her desk.


That clears the air,

I said, admiring the way she had given me the story.


Who

s Esslinger?


He

s the local mortician.

She didn

t look at me while she talked.

He

s running for the election too.


A mortician?

I was startled.

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