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Authors: James Hadley Chase

1954 - Safer Dead

BOOK: 1954 - Safer Dead
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Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE

I
II
III

CHAPTER TWO

I
II
III

CHAPTER THREE

I
II
III

CHAPTER FOUR

I
II
III

CHAPTER FIVE

I
II
III

CHAPTER SIX

I
II

CHAPTER SEVEN

I
II

CHAPTER EIGHT

I
II
III

CHAPTER NINE

I
II
III

CHAPTER TEN

I
II
III

CHAPTER ELEVEN

I
II
III

CHAPTER TWELVE

I
II
III

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

I
II
III

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

I
II
III

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

I
II
III

Safer Dead

James Hadley Chase

1954

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

I

 

E
dwin Fayette, editor of Crime Facts, sat behind his desk in his luxurious office, a cigar between his teeth and an unfriendly gleam in his eyes.

‘Sit down,’ he said, waving impatiently. ‘What are you two guys working on?’

I folded myself down in the most comfortable armchair in the room while Bernie Low sat as far from Fayette as he could and began to bite his nails.

Bernie and I had been collaborating for the past two years, writing stories for Crime Facts, a monthly magazine of crime and detection stories with the biggest circulation of any of its rivals. I did the thinking and Bernie did the writing. The arrangement suited us both. I never could work up enough energy to commit ideas to paper, and Bernie never had any ideas.

An ex-Hollywood scriptwriter, Bernie was short, plump and impressive looking. He had a dome-shaped head, a massive forehead and his heavy horn spectacles made him look brainier than he was. He had once confided to me that it was entirely due to the shape of his head that he had remained in the movie business as long as he had.

Bernie had a horror of losing his job. Whenever he was called to Fayette’s office, he imagined he was going to get the gate. Saddled with an expensive, luxury-loving wife, an enormous house and a flock of debts, his life was one continual battle to keep the wolf from the door.

‘Right at this moment,’ I said, ‘we’re tossing an idea around in our minds and building up atmosphere. We’ll have something for you in a week or so and it’ll knock your eye out.’

‘Well, shelve it,’ Fayette said. ‘I’ve got something I want you two to work on. Will your story wait?’

‘Oh sure, it’ll wait. What have you got for us?’

Fayette produced a file from his desk.

‘I want a series of articles done on missing people,’ he said. ‘Do you realize thirty or more people walk out of their homes every day in this country and disappear? I’ve got Carson to dig up few of the more interesting cases, and I’ve a good one here for you. I want you to get moving on it right away.’

Bernie and I exchanged glances. We had been bogged down for the past week on a story idea and Fayette’s suggestion was welcome.

‘What’s the story then?’ I asked.

‘During August of last year, a girl named Fay Benson disappeared,’ Fayette said. ‘She was a song and dance artist, working at the Florian nightclub in Welden. Welden, if you don’t know, is sixty miles southeast of San Francisco. This girl had been a success. The manager of the club told her he would extend her contract so she had no reason to disappear as she did. On August 17th she came as usual to the club and went to her dressing room. At nine o’clock, the callboy warned her she had five minutes before her act began. He saw she was wearing her stage getup which consisted of a bra, a pair of spangled shorts, a top hat and some feathers. She said she was ready, and he left her. He was the last person to see her. When she didn’t appear on the stage he was sent to fetch her, but her dressing room was empty. The clothes she had arrived in were there, and more important still, her purse containing twenty dollars was on her dressing table, but she had vanished.

‘The manager asked the stage door man if he had seen her, but he hadn’t. The only other exit, apart from the customers’ exit which was through the restaurant, was in the basement. The man in charge down there hadn’t seen her either. Bearing in mind she was still wearing her stage getup, no one could have failed to have seen her if she had used the delivery exit, the stage door exit or if she had gone through the restaurant to the main exit. The manager decided she must still be in the club. The building was searched but they didn’t find her. The police were called in. They didn’t find her either. They learned that she had got the job at the club through an agency, but the agency didn’t know anything about her except she had told them she had worked at the

Swallow Club in San Francisco. When the police checked, the Swallow Club had never heard of her. She didn’t appear to have any friends. She stayed at the Shad Hotel, a moderate joint near the club, and the reception clerk said she never had any visitors nor any mail. The police kept at it for a couple of weeks, then as they didn’t get a lead or find her body, they dropped the case.’

Fayette closed the file and looked at me. ‘Doesn’t that sound like the makings of a good story?’

I thought it did, but I had learned not to show too much enthusiasm for Fayette’s ideas. They had a habit of blowing up in one’s face.

‘It sounds all right, but if the police couldn’t get a lead on her, how can we?’

‘Most people don’t like talking to the police. Besides, I like this story, and I’m willing to spend some money on it. People will talk if they think they’re going to get something out of it. I’m sure we’ve got something hot here, and I want you two to get after it.’

‘Okay,’ I said and held out my hand for the file. ‘All the dope here?’

‘There’s not much more than I’ve already told you: a few names and a photograph of the girl, but that’s all. You’ll have start from scratch.’

‘How about expenses?’ Bernie asked a shade too eagerly.

Fayette scowled at him.

‘Within reason, and I mean my reason and not yours. I want an account kept of every dime you part with - understand?’

Bernie smiled happily. He hadn’t been in the movie business for four years without learning how to pad an expense sheet.

‘You’ll get an account okay, Mr. Fayette,’ he said.

I was looking at the picture of Fay Benson I had found in the file. The glossy photograph was of a girl of about twenty-four in a spangled brassiere, spangled pants and a top hat. Her lovely face, framed by fair, silky hair was to my thinking as sensational as her figure was seductive. I handed the picture to Bernie.

‘Take a look at this,’ I said.

Bernie’s eyes popped and he pursed his lips in an appreciative whistle.

‘Well, come on, let’s go,’ he said, getting to his feet. ‘If she’s as good as she looks, she’s worth finding.’

 

II

 

I
t was growing dark as we drove into Welden in the Roadmaster Buick I had hired in San Francisco. At first sight, Welden appeared to be a compact, well laid out town, prosperous and clean, with broad streets and crowded sidewalks.

‘For a hick town, this doesn’t look so bad,’ Bernie said, screwing his head around to catch a last glimpse of a tall, willowy blonde who was waiting at the traffic signals to cross the street and who had given him a long, bold stare as we passed. ‘Anyway, the women don’t appear to be repressed, and that’s always a good sign.’

‘Will you shut up?’ I said impatiently. ‘That’s all you think about - women. For a married man you should be ashamed of yourself.’

‘If you were married to Clair, you’d act the same way,’ Bernie said. ‘That girl drives me nuts. She’s always yelling for something. If I didn’t circulate among other women now and then I’d begin to imagine they were all like her.’

‘You shouldn’t have married her.’

Bernie laughed bitterly.

‘Do you think I’m that crazy? I didn’t marry her; she married me.’

I slowed down and pulled to the sidewalk to ask a patrolman where the Shad Hotel was. He directed me, and after about five minutes driving, we came to the hotel.

It didn’t look much. It was a tall building sandwiched between a block of offices and a hardware store. Opposite was the hotel garage, and when we had parked the car, we carried our bags across the street and entered the hotel.

Potted palms, basket chairs and tarnished spittoons gave the lobby a seedy, down-at-the-heel look, and the reception clerk, a shabby, elderly man with a network of fine red veins decorating his over large nose, didn’t do anything to raise the tone of the place.

‘What a dump,’ Bernie said, ‘I’ll bet there are beetles in the bedrooms.’

‘What do you expect? Silkworms?’ I said and crossed over to the desk.

The clerk seemed surprised when I asked for two rooms and told him we were likely to stay a week.

‘I have two rooms on the first floor,’ he said. ‘Would they do?’

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Have these bags taken up. Where’s the bar?’

‘Through there; second on your right.’

The bar was a long, narrow room with more potted palms, tarnished spittoons and basket chairs. There was no one in it except the barman who was reading the evening paper which he folded with a resigned air when he saw us.

‘Good evening, gentlemen,’ he said. He was big and tough with a brick red face and the bright blue eyes of a drinker.

I ordered two highballs.

‘Looks festive enough to hold a funeral in,’ Bernie said looking around. ‘Don’t the folks in this hotel ever drink?’

‘It’s early yet,’ the barman said as if accusing us of disturbing his peace. ‘You staying here?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Ever read Crime Facts?’

He showed his surprise.

‘Why sure, it’s my favourite reading.’

I finished my highball at a swallow and pushed the glass back to him. Bernie, who believed in keeping pace with me, hurriedly downed his too.

‘Fill them up,’ I said. ‘We work for Crime Facts. We’re covering the Fay Benson case. Remember her?’

The barman had picked up my glass. It suddenly slipped out of his hand and smashed on the floor. He swore as he bent to kick the bits of glass under the counter. When he straightened up I had an idea he had lost some of his colour.

‘What was that again?’ he asked.

‘Fay Benson. Remember her?’

‘Why, sure.’ He turned to fix another drink. ‘You mean you’re writing up the case?’

‘That’s the idea if we can get a new angle.’

He put two more drinks before us and then leaned against the counter while he began to arrange some glasses in a more orderly group.

‘What sort of angle would that be?’ he asked without looking at me.

‘Search me. We’re just looking around and seeing what we can pick up. It’s an interesting case. A girl, wearing only pants and bra, suddenly vanishes. Where did she go? Why did she go? Have you any ideas?’

‘Me?’ the barman scowled. ‘Why should I have any ideas?’

‘You knew her?’

He hesitated, then as he began to polish another glass, he said, ‘I didn’t know her. She came in for a drink now and then.’

‘Was she alone?’

‘She was always alone. I guess she came in here for company.’

‘Didn’t she have a boyfriend?’ I asked, aware that the barman wasn’t at ease. I sensed his tension rather than saw it, but I was pretty sure it was there.

‘She didn’t seem to know anyone. She kept to herself.’

‘But you don’t know for certain she didn’t have a boyfriend,’ Bernie put in. ‘She might have without you knowing about it.’

The barman scowled at him.

‘Maybe. What’s the idea of writing up the case again?’

‘We won’t write it up unless we can find out why she disappeared,’ I said.

BOOK: 1954 - Safer Dead
6.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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