Authors: James Hadley Chase
Table of Contents
The Way the Cookie Crumbles
James Hadley Chase
he wall clock showed 03.50 hours as the bell of the telephone on Sergeant Beigler’s desk rang briefly. Beigler, a powerfully built, freckle-faced man in his late thirties, scowled at the telephone, glanced at the wall clock, then dropped a large, hairy hand on the receiver, scooped it up and snapped, ‘Beigler. Yeah?’
‘I’ve got Harry Browning on the line,’ the Desk Sergeant told him. ‘He wants you. Sounds like he’s ready to flip his wig.’
Beigler’s scowl deepened. Harry Browning was the owner of La Coquille Restaurant, one of the three top ranking restaurants in Paradise City. He was a personal friend of the Mayor and the Chief of Police, Captain Terrell. That put him in the Velvet Glove category so far as Beigler was concerned.
‘Let’s have him, Charley,’ Beigler said and reached for a cigarette. He looked regretfully at the empty carton on his desk. He had drunk the last of the coffee half an hour ago. Beigler had two vices: coffee drinking and cigarette smoking. ‘And send someone for coffee, Charley. I’m all dried out.’
‘Okay.’ The Desk Sergeant, Charley Tanner, sounded smugly resigned. He was always sending someone out for coffee for Beigler. ‘Here’s Browning.’
There was a click on the line, then a deep voice barked, ‘That you, Beigler?’
‘That’s right, Mr. Browning. Anything I can do?’
‘This is a hell of a thing! I have a dead woman in the restaurant. I want you to come out here fast and get rid of her. Now listen, Beigler, this may be just police routine to you, but to me, it’s goddamn serious. I don’t want any publicity. And when I say I don’t want any publicity that’s just what I mean. You understand? If the Press get onto this I’ll have someone’s skin and when I say I’ll have someone’s skin, I don’t give a goddamn who he is, I’ll have his skin. Do I make myself clear?’
Beigler was sitting bolt upright now, the heat in the big, dimly lit room forgotten.
‘That’s all right, Mr. Browning. You’ve got nothing to worry about. I’ll be right over.’
‘The only thing I’m worrying about is to get this thing handled right! You handle it right, Beigler and I won’t worry . . . nor will you!’ and Browning hung up.
Beigler grimaced, then jiggled the cross piece of the telephone. When the Desk Sergeant answered, Beigler said, ‘Any reporters downstairs, Charley?’
‘Hamilton of the Sun. He’s asleep, half drunk. Why? What’s cooking?’
‘I don’t know yet, but something. Listen Charley, I’ve got to go out. If Hamilton wants to know where I’ve gone tell him I’ve gone home with the toothache. Who’s on duty?’
‘You got the toothache?’ Tanner asked, his voice concerned. ‘I’m sorry, Joe. I . . .’
‘Never mind being sorry,’ Beigler snapped. ‘Who’s on duty?’
‘Mandrake’s gone out for your coffee,’ Tanner said, disapproval in his voice. ‘There’s Jackson here, growing corns on his arse.’
‘Send him up to relieve me. Hess still around?’
‘He’s just leaving.’
‘Stop him! Tell him to wait for me. I’m coming down right now.’
Beigler struggled into his jacket, patted his hip pocket to assure himself he was wearing his gun, then snatching up a pack of cigarettes, he left the Detectives’ room and ran down to the Muster room.
Fred Hess, in charge of Homicide, was leaning against the wall, a resigned expression on his fat, round face.
‘Two minutes and I would have been out of this chicken coop,’ he said bitterly as Beigler joined him.
Beigler strode down the steps to the parked police car.
He got in and started the engine. Hess scrambled in beside him.
‘Dead woman at La Coquille. Browning is laying an egg.’ Beigler sent the car roaring down the deserted Main Street.
‘He didn’t say. I didn’t ask. We’ll start it moving when we get there. He didn’t sound in the mood to answer questions.’
‘I bet.’ Hess gave a loud guffaw. ‘From what I’ve heard of that joint, the last thing they would want is a stiff. You ever been inside, Joe?’
‘On my pay?’ Beigler was driving along the Promenade now. Only a few cars were parked by the beach. There was no traffic. ‘We’ll have to watch it, Fred. Browning draws a lot of water in this City.’
‘If it’s murder, it doesn’t matter a damn how much water he draws. It’s news.’
‘Yeah but we don’t know if it’s murder yet. Let me handle it. Browning has lots of influential friends.’
‘It’s all yours, pal. I know when to keep my chin tucked in.’
La Coquille Restaurant stood at the far end of the Promenade, surrounded by lawns, flowerbeds and illuminated palm trees. Three marble steps led up to the imposing entrance. The restaurant closed at 02.30 hours and now the lighting consisted of a solitary chandelier in the lobby and a few concealed wall lights that cast long dark shadows across the heavy pile of the claret-coloured carpet.
Beigler and Hess got out of the car and walked up the steps, pushed their way through the revolving door and into the elegant lobby where Louis, the tall aristocratic maître d’hôtel, was waiting for them. Louis, haughty and dignified, was seldom shaken, but Beigler could see he was certainly shaken now.
‘This way,’ Louis said, and moving with long, stiff strides, he led the two detectives into a second lobby and then up the stairs into a big bar.
Here, Harry Browning waited. He sat on the stool by the bar, a glass of brandy in his hand, a cigar clenched between his teeth.
Browning was fifty-five, heavily built and balding. His clean-shaven face was tanned dark by the sun. He wore a tartan tuxedo and a white carnation in his buttonhole. He looked what he was: smart, rich, powerful and arrogant.
‘She’s there,’ he said and waved to the end of the room.
Along one side of the room was a number of banquettes in dark, heavily carved oak. Each banquette was screened by a red velvet curtain. ‘The end box.’
Beigler and Hess walked to the end of the room and peered into the banquette.
In the dim light, they could make out the figure of a blonde woman sprawled across the table. She was wearing a white, backless evening dress. Her blonde hair made a puddle of gold against the dark oak of the table.
Beigler looked back at Browning.
‘Could we have a little more light down here, Mr. Browning?’
Louis went behind the bar and snapped down some switches. The end of the bar where the two detectives were standing suddenly became illuminated by strong overhead lights that made them blink.
Beigler nodded his thanks and then moved into the banquette. He touched the woman’s shoulder. The chilling flesh confirmed Browning’s statement that she was dead, but to make absolutely sure, he pressed his fingers against the side of her neck, but there was no pulse beat.
‘Better not touch her until we get some photos,’ Hess said.
Browning came down the room, savagely chewing on his cigar.
‘I want her out of here right away, boys! Get moving! You can have all your fun and games at the morgue. If the press get hold of this, it’ll kill business for the season. Get her out of here!’
‘Can’t move her until we’ve photographed her,’ Hess said shortly. ‘This could be murder.’
Browning glared at him.
‘Who are you?’
Beigler silently cursed Hess for opening his mouth. He said hurriedly, ‘He’s in charge of Homicide, Mr. Browning. He’s right of course. This could be murder. I. . .’
‘This is suicide!’ Browning said, his face like granite. ‘There’s a hypo on the floor and her face is blue. I don’t have to be a goddamn dick to know she died of an overdose of heroin. Now, get her out of here!’
Beigler peered under the table. He saw an empty hypodermic syringe lying on the carpet. Straightening, he put his hands either side of the woman’s head and gently lifted her head to peer at her dead face. The blue colour of her skin and her pupilless wide eyes made him grunt. He lowered the head back on to the table.
‘Could still be murder, Mr. Browning,’ he said quietly. ‘She could have been given a shot.’
‘No one’s been near her since she came here,’ Browning said impatiently. ‘Now, get her out of here!’
‘All cases of suicide have to be treated as homicide until we prove it suicide. I’m sorry, Mr. Browning, but this can’t be an exception.’
Browning’s eyes gleamed angrily.
‘I don’t like uncooperative cops, Beigler. I have a long memory.’ He turned to Louis. ‘Get me Captain Terrell.’
As Louis hurried back to the bar, Beigler said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Browning, but that’s the way it is unless the Chief says otherwise. Is there another phone here I can use?’
‘You don’t use any goddamn phone until you’ve talked to Terrell!’ Browning snapped and walked back to the bar.
Beigler and Hess exchanged glances. Hess grinned. He knew if a chopper was to fall it wouldn’t be on his neck. He moved around Beigler and into the banquette. By the dead woman was a white and gold brocaded evening bag. He picked it up, opened it and glanced inside. He fished out an envelope, looked at it, then offered it to Beigler.
‘You’d better look at this, Joe. It’s for us.’
Beigler took the envelope. He could hear Browning talking in a low voice on the telephone. He glanced at the sprawling writing on the envelope which read: Police Department. He carefully slit open the envelope, using his penknife and drew out a folded sheet of paper. He spread it flat, and with Hess breathing down the back of his neck, read the note written in the same sprawling hand:
You’d better go to 247, Seaview Boulevard. He had it coming. I did it. To save trouble, I’m taking the quick way out. Muriel Marsh Devon. P.S. The key is under the mat
‘Hey, Beigler,’ Browning called. ‘Terrell wants you.’
Holding the note, Beigler moved to the bar and took the telephone receiver from Browning who walked away a few paces.
‘That you, Chief?’ Beigler asked.
‘Yes,’ Terrell said. ‘What’s going on, Joe?’
‘Mr. Browning reported a dead woman in the restaurant. I’ve just arrived. Looks like suicide: overdose of heroin. There’s an empty hypo and the woman’s face is blue. I found a suicide note in her bag. I’ll read it to you.’ Beigler flicked open the note and read it, keeping his voice low so Browning couldn’t hear what he was saying. ‘Sounds as if she’s knocked a guy off. Mr. Browning wants us to shift the body. I don’t see we can do that, do you, Chief? We should get the Squad down here.’
There was a pause, then Terrell said, ‘Who’s with you, Joe?’
‘Leave him with the body. You go to Seaview Boulevard and check. I’ll call Lepski to join you there. I’ll be at the restaurant in twenty minutes. Tell Hess to call the squad.’
‘Browning isn’t going to like this,’ Beigler said, glancing at Browning who was pacing up and down.
‘I’ll talk to him. You get off, Joe.’
‘I’m on my way’, Beigler said. He laid down the receiver and crossed to Browning who stopped pacing and swung around. ‘The Chief wants to talk to you, Mr. Browning.’
As Browning hurried to the telephone, Beigler went over to Hess.
‘Get the squad down here, Fred. This is the full treatment. The Chief’s on his way.’ He grinned. ‘I’m going over to Seaview Boulevard. So long, and watch your step with Browning.’
‘Maybe he won’t watch his step with me,’ Hess said uneasily.
As Beigler ran down the stairs, he heard Browning say in a loud, choking voice, ‘You can’t do this to me, Frank. You . . .’
His voice faded as Beigler hurried out into the hot night air. As he crossed to his car, a tall lanky figure came out of the darkness. It was Bert Hamilton of the Paradise Sun.
‘How’s the toothache, Joe?’ he asked, planting himself in front of Beigler. ‘I didn’t think you had any teeth left to ache.’
Beigler stepped around him.
‘Take my advice, Bert, and keep out of there,’ he said. ‘You’re likely to get your nuts chewed off.’
‘What makes you think I’ve got nuts?’ Hamilton asked.
As he walked up the steps to the restaurant’s entrance, Beigler sent his car racing down the driveway and headed for Seaview Boulevard.
* * *
Ticky Edris had a large globular shaped head, stumpy legs and arms and stood about three and a half feet high. He was what is known to the medical profession as an achondroplastic dwarf. Edris had worked as a waiter and stillroom assistant at La Coquille restaurant for the past eight years. Browning’s swank customers were contemptuously amused by the little man’s apparent good nature, his sad eyes and his quick, bustling walk. They found an offbeat pleasure in being waited on by the dwarf, and over the years, Edris had become a kind of court jester, greeting the customers with a familiarity that even Browning would have hesitated to use.