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Authors: Vera Caspary

Laura (Femmes Fatales)

BOOK: Laura (Femmes Fatales)
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Femmes Fatales Series

Femmes Fatales restores to print the best of women’s writing in the classic pulp genres of the mid-twentieth century. From mysteries to hard-boiled noir to taboo lesbian romance, these rediscovered queens of pulp offer subversive perspectives on a turbulent era.

Faith Baldwin
SKYSCRAPER

Vera Caspary
BEDELIA
LAURA
THE MAN WHO LOVED HIS WIFE

Gypsy Rose Lee
THE G-STRING MURDERS
MOTHER FINDS A BODY

Evelyn Piper
BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING

Olive Higgins Prouty
NOW, VOYAGER

Valerie Taylor
THE GIRLS IN 3-B
STRANGER ON LESBOS
RETURN TO LESBOS

Tereska Torrès
WOMEN’S BARRACKS
BY CECILE

Laura

Vera Caspary

Afterword by A. B. Emrys

Published by the Feminist Press

at the City University of New York

The Graduate Center

365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5406

New York, NY 10016

feministpress.org

First Feminist Press Edition, 2005

Copyright © 1942, 1943 by Vera Caspary

Afterword copyright 2005 by A.B. Emrys

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, used, or stored in any information retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission from the Feminist Press at the City University of New York, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Originally published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., with special arragnement with Houghton Mifflin Company.

Cover and text design by Drew Stevens

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Caspary, Vera 1904-1987.

Laura / by Vera Caspary ; afterword by A.B. Emrys.

p. cm. — (Femmes fatales : women write pulp)

ISBN 978-1-55861-505-2

eISBN 978-1-55861-883-1

1. Police—New York (State)—New York—Fiction. 2. Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction. 3. Mistaken identity—Fiction. 4. Single women—Fiction. I. Title. II. Series.

PS3503.A84L28 2006

813

.52dc22

2005029369

Contents

Cover

Femmes Fatales Series

Title Page

Copyright

Contents

PART ONE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

PART TWO

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

PART THREE

Chapter 1

PART FOUR

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

PART FIVE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Afterword

Acknowledgments

Works Cited

About the Author

Also Available

About the Feminist Press

PART ONE

Chapter 1

The city that Sunday morning was quiet. Those millions of New Yorkers who, by need or preference, remain in town over a summer weekend had been crushed spiritless by humidity. Over the island hung a fog that smelled and felt like water in which too many sodawater glasses have been washed. Sitting at my desk, pen in hand, I treasured the sense that, among those millions, only I, Waldo Lydecker, was up and doing. The day just past, devoted to shock and misery, had stripped me of sorrow. Now I had gathered strength for the writing of Laura’s epitaph. My grief at her sudden and violent death found consolation in the thought that my friend, had she lived to a ripe old age, would have passed into oblivion, whereas the violence of her passing and the genius of her admirer gave her a fair chance at immortality.

My doorbell rang. Its electric vibrations had barely ceased when Roberto, my Filipino manservant, came to tell me that Mr. McPherson had asked to see me.

“Mark McPherson!” I exclaimed, and then, assuming the air of one who might meet Mussolini without trepidation, I bade Roberto ask Mr. McPherson to wait. Muhammad had not rushed out to meet the mountain.

This visit of a not unimportant member of the Police Department—although I am still uncertain of his title or office—conferred a certain honor. Lesser folk are unceremoniously questioned at Headquarters. But what had young McPherson to do with the murder? His triumphs were concerned with political rather than civil crime. In the case of
The People of New York v. Associated Dairymen
his findings had been responsible—or so the editorial writers said—for bringing down the price of milk a penny a quart. A senatorial committee had borrowed him for an investigation of labor rackets, and only recently his name had been offered by a group of progressives as a leader of a national inquiry into defense profits.

Screened by the half-open door of my study, I watched him move restlessly about my drawing room. He was the sort of man, I saw at once, who affects to scorn affectation; a veritable Cassius who emphasized the lean and hungry look by clothing himself darkly in blue, double-breasted, worsted, unadorned white shirt and dull tie. His hands were long and tense, his face slender, his eyes watchful, his nose a direct inheritance from those dour ancestors who had sniffed sin with such constancy that their very nostrils had become aggressive. He carried his shoulders high and walked with a taut erectness as if he were careful of being watched. My drawing room irritated him; to a man of his fiercely virile temperament, the delicate perfection must be cloying. It was audacious, I admit, to expect appreciation. Was it not slightly optimistic of me to imagine that good taste was responsible for the concentration with which he studied my not unworthy collection of British and American glassware?

I noted that his scowl was fixed upon a shining object, one of my peculiar treasures. Habit, then, had made him alert to detail. On the mantel of Laura’s living-room he had, no doubt, observed the partner to my globe-and-pedestal vase of mercury glass. He stretched his hand toward the shelf.

I leaped like a mother leopard.

“Careful, young man. That stuff’s priceless.”

He turned so sharply that the small rug slid along the polished floor. As he steadied himself against the cabinet, porcelain and glass danced upon the shelves.

“A bull in the china shop,” I remarked. The pun restored my humor. I extended my hand.

He smiled mechanically. “I’m here to talk about the Laura Hunt case, Mr. Lydecker.”

“Naturally. Have a seat.”

He settled his long frame carefully upon a frail chair. I offered cigarettes from a Haviland casket, but he pulled out a pipe.

“You’re supposed to be quite an authority on crime, yourself, Mr. Lydecker. What do you think about this business?”

I warmed. No writer, however popular, disdains a reader, however humble. “I am honored to know that you read
And More Anon
.”

“Only when my paper happens to open the page.”

The affront was not displeasing. In the world I frequent, where personality is generously exposed and friendship offered without reticence, his aloofness struck an uncommon note. I offered my charm. “You may not be a Lydecker fan, Mr. McPherson, but I confess that I’ve followed your career with breathless excitement.”

“You ought to know enough not to believe everything you read in the papers,” he said dryly.

I was not to be discouraged. “Isn’t criminal investigation a bit out of your line? A trifle unimportant for a man of your achievements?”

“I’ve been assigned to the case.”

“Office politics?”

Except for the purp-purp of his pipe, the room was silent.

“The month is August,” I mused. “The Commissioner is off on his holiday, the Deputy Commissioner has always been resentful of your success, and since retail murder is somewhat out of fashion these days and usually, after the first sensation, relegated to page two or worse, he has found a convenient way of diminishing your importance.”

“The plain truth, if you want to know it”—he was obviously annoyed with himself for bothering to give an excuse—“is that he knew I wanted to see the Dodgers play Boston yesterday afternoon.”

I was enchanted. “From trifling enmities do great adventures grow.”

“Great adventures! A two-timing dame gets murdered in her flat. So what? A man did it. Find the man. Believe me, Mr. Lydecker, I’m seeing the game this afternoon. The killer himself couldn’t stop me.”

Pained by his vulgar estimate of my beloved Laura, I spoke mockingly. “Baseball, eh? No wonder your profession has fallen upon evil days. The Great Detectives neither rested nor relaxed until they had relentlessly tracked down their quarry.”

“I’m a workingman, I’ve got hours like everyone else. And if you expect me to work overtime on this third-class mystery, you’re thinking of a couple of other fellows.”

“Crime doesn’t stop because it’s Sunday.”

“From what I’ve seen of your late girlfriend, Mr. Lydecker, I’d bet my bottom dollar that whoever did that job takes his Sunday off like the rest of us. Probably sleeping until noon and waking himself up with three brandies. Besides, I’ve got a couple of men working on detail.”

“To a man of your achievement, Mr. McPherson, the investigation of a simple murder is probably as interesting as a column of figures to a public accountant who started as a bookkeeper.”

This time he laughed. The shell of toughness was wearing thin. He shifted in his chair.

“The sofa,” I urged gently, “might be easier on that leg.”

He scowled. “Observant, aren’t you?”

“You walk carefully, McPherson. Most members of your profession tread like elephants. But since you’re sensitive, let me assure you that it’s not conspicuous. Extreme astigmatism gives me greater power in the observation of other people’s handicaps.”

“It’s no handicap,” he retorted.

“Souvenir of service?” I inquired.

He nodded. “Babylon.”

I bounced out of my chair. “The Siege of Babylon, Long Island! Have you read my piece? Wait a minute . . . don’t tell me you’re the one with the silver fibula.”

“Tibia.”

“How magnificently exciting! Mattie Grayson! There was a man. Killers aren’t what they used to be.”

“That’s okay with me.”

“How many detectives did he get?”

“Three of us with the machine-gun at his mother-in-law’s house. Then a couple of us went after him down the alley. Three died and another guy—he got it in the lungs—is still up in Saranac.”

“Honorable wounds. You shouldn’t be sensitive. How brave it was of you to go back!”

“I was lucky to get back. There was a time, Mr. Lydecker, when I saw a great future as a night watchman. Bravery’s got nothing to do with it. A job’s a job. Hell, I’m as gunshy as a traveling salesman that’s known too many farmers’ daughters.”

I laughed aloud. “For a few minutes there, McPherson, I was afraid you had all the Scotch virtues except humor and a taste for good whiskey. How about the whiskey, man?”

“Don’t care if I do.”

I poured him a stiff one. He took it like the pure waters of Loch Lomond and returned the empty glass for another.

“I hope you don’t mind the crack I made about your column, Mr. Lydecker. To tell the truth, I do read it once in a while.”

“Why don’t you like it?”

Without hesitancy he answered, “You’re smooth all right, but you’ve got nothing to say.”

“McPherson, you’re a snob. And what’s worse, a Scotch snob, than which—as no less an authority than Thackeray has remarked—the world contains no more offensive creature.”

He poured his own whiskey this time.

“What is your idea of good literature, Mr. McPherson?”

When he laughed he looked like a Scotch boy who has just learned to accept pleasure without fear of sin. “Yesterday morning, after the body was discovered and we learned that Laura Hunt had stood you up for dinner on Friday night, Sergeant Schultz was sent up here to question you. So he asks you what you did all evening . . .”

“And I told him,” I interrupted, “that I had eaten a lonely dinner, reviling the woman for her desertion, and read Gibbon in a tepid tub.”

“Yeh, and you know what Schultz says? He says this writer guy, Gibbon, must be pretty hot for you to have read him in a cold bath.” After a brief pause, he continued, “I’ve read Gibbon myself, the whole set, and Prescott and Motley and Josephus’
History of the Jews
.” There was exuberance in the ’fession.

“At college or
pour le sport
?” I asked.

“When does a dick get a chance to go to college? But being laid up in the hospital fourteen months, what can you do but read books?”

“That, I take it, is when you became interested in the social backgrounds of crime.”

“Up to the time I was a cluck,” he confessed modestly.

“Mattie Grayson’s machine-gun wasn’t such a tragedy, then. You’d probably still be a cluck on the Homicide Squad.”

“You like a man better if he’s not hundred percent, don’t you, Mr. Lydecker?”

“I’ve always doubted the sensibilities of Apollo Belvedere.”

Roberto announced breakfast. With his natural good manners, he had set a second place at the table. Mark protested at my invitation since he had come here, not as a guest, but in pursuit of duty which must be as onerous to me as to himself.

I laughed away his embarrassment. “This is in the line of duty. We haven’t even started talking about the murder and I don’t propose to starve while we do.”

Twenty-four hours earlier a cynical but not unkindly police officer had come into my dining room with the news that Laura’s body had been discovered in her apartment. No morsel of food had passed my lips since that moment when Sergeant Schultz had interrupted a peaceful breakfast with the news that Laura Hunt, after failing to keep her dinner engagement with me, had been shot and killed. Now, in the attempt to restore my failing appetite, Roberto had stewed kidneys and mushrooms in claret. While we ate, Mark described the scene at the morgue where Laura’s body had been identified by Bessie, her maid, and her aunt, Susan Treadwell.

In spite of deep suffering, I could not but enjoy the contrast between the young man’s appreciation of the meal and the morbid quality of his talk. “When they were shown the body”—he paused to lift a morsel on his fork—“both women collapsed. It was hard to take even if you didn’t know her. A lot of blood”—he soaked a bit of toast in the sauce. “With BB shot . . . You can imagine . . .”

I closed my eyes as if she lay there on the Aubusson rug, as Bessie had discovered her, naked except for a blue silk taffeta robe and a pair of silver slippers.

“Fired at close range”—he spooned relish on his plate. “Mrs. Treadwell passed out, but the servant took it like a veteran. She’s a queer duck, that Bessie.”

“She’s been more than maid to Laura. Guide, philosopher, and worst enemy of all of Laura’s best friends. Cooks like an angel, but serves bitter herbs with the choicest roasts. No man that entered the apartment was, in Bessie’s opinion, good enough for Laura.”

“She was cool as a cucumber when the boys got there. Opened the door and pointed to the body so calmly you’d have thought it was an everyday thing for her to find her boss murdered.”

“That’s Bessie,” I commented. “But wait till you get her roused.”

Roberto brought in the coffee. Eighteen stories below a motorist blew his siren. Through open windows we heard the rhythms of a Sunday morning radio concert.

“No! No! No!” I cried as Roberto handed Mark my Napoleon cup. I reached across the table and took it myself, leaving the Empress Josephine for my guest.

He drank his coffee in silent disapproval, watching as I unscrewed the carnelian cap of the silver box in which I keep my saccharine tablets. Although I spread butter lavishly on my brioches, I cling religiously to the belief that the substitution of saccharine for sugar in coffee will make me slender and fascinating. His scorn robbed my attitudes of character.

“I must say you go about your work in a leisurely way,” I remarked petulantly. “Why don’t you go out and take some fingerprints?”

“There are times in the investigation of a crime when it’s more important to look at faces.”

I turned to the mirror. “How singularly innocent I seem this morning! Tell me, McPherson, have you ever seen such candid eyes?” I took off my glasses and presented my face, round and pink as a cherub’s. “But speaking of faces, McPherson, have you met the bridegroom?”

“Shelby Carpenter. I’m seeing him at twelve. He’s staying with Mrs. Treadwell.”

I seized the fact avidly. “Shelby staying there! Wouldn’t he just?”

“He finds the Hotel Framingham too public. Crowds wait in the lobby to see the fellow who was going to marry a murder victim.”

“What do you think of Shelby’s alibi?”

“What do I think of yours?” he retorted.

“But you’ve agreed that it’s quite normal for a man to spend an evening at home with Gibbon.”

“What’s wrong about a man going to a Stadium concert?” Puritan nostrils quivered. “Among a lot of music-lovers and art collectors, that seems a pretty natural way to spend an evening.”

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