Never Say Die
by Norbert Davis
Les Free had an account to square with a lady, but first came murder plus a beautiful lie to make the columns come out even.
Les Free had a long, darkly serious face and gray eyes that were soberly thoughtful under thick, black brows. He stood a little inside the door and said slowly:
"Well, Pete, you'd been looking for it for a long time."
Pete Anderson was chunkily fat with a bald head that was sprinkled with red freckles and edged with a reddish-gray fringe of scanty hair. He was lying flat on his face in the middle of the floor, his back toward the door, both hands stretched out in front of him, still reaching vainly and hopelessly for the holstered automatic lying on top of the bureau. He had been shot twice in the back.
Naylor, the third person in the room, made a noise swallowing. He was a small, slick youth with a sharply pointed face, looking very natty in the dark blue, silver-trimmed uniform the Vista Mar furnished its bellboys and elevator operators.
"Gee," he said in an awed murmur. "It sure happened quick. I was comin' down from ten. I just took old lady Dugan—the fat one with the Peke that wheezes—up and I was comin' down empty. I just happened to be lookin' through the grille when I went past this floor. I seen a fella standin' in the door here, lookin' in, kinda humped over, and he looked funny."
"Funny?" Free repeated.
"Well, sort of peculiar. I dunno why. Then just as I went past the floor I heard the shots. Two of 'em. So I stopped and pulled back up to this floor and opened up the grille. The fella that was standin' in the door was gone, but the door was still open. I poked my head out and looked around, and then I smelled the powder—sort of like sulphur—so I raced down this way and looked in and seen this guy lyin' here, and then I beat it right down to the lobby."
Free nodded again absently, looking around the room. It was luxurious, as were all the rooms in the Vista Mar, the dark wood of its furnishings gleaming lustrously. Casement windows filled up the far wall, and through them Free could see the incredible flat blue of the ocean and the long semi-circle of white sand beach.
"How long do you think it was between the time you heard the shots and the time you got the elevator back up to this floor again?"
"Not long," said Naylor. "Minute, maybe."
"Long enough," said Free. "The guy who shot Pete could easily have beat it around the curve in the corridor by that time and then gone on up or down the stairs—if he didn't go into some room close to this one. The sheriff's on his way. I'm going down to the lobby. You stay here."
THE lobby was an enormous room that stretched across the whole front of the hotel, so high-ceilinged that echoes held a constant whispered conversation close under its domed roof. The usual older contingent—fat ladies in awning-striped linen dresses and fat men in double-breasted blue coats and white flannel trousers—were sitting in the long rows of divans in back of the sweep of glittering plate glass that closed off the sea-side terrace.
The desk was a discreet black semicircle in the far corner, and as Free approached it he saw that Mercer, the desk clerk, was having another argument with the hotel's problem child, Mr. Boris. Mr. Boris had his bill crumpled in one fist and was leaning over the desk with that gleam in his eye, hissing fiercely at Mercer.
"Wrong!" said Mr. Boris gutturally, shaking the bill at Mercer. "Wrong! It is an outrage!"
"I'm sure it is," Mercer said quickly.
"One dollar wrong! Look! Add it up! See for yourself!"
"Yes, yes. I'll refer it to the bookkeeper."
Mr. Boris insisted on wearing a long, greenish-black overcoat that looked like a cut-down sleeping bag. He never appeared without it even on the warmest days. He wore an old fedora of the same general age and color, and he always wore it exactly dead center on his head with the brim snapped up in front. His face was wizened, like scratchy-looking parchment.
Seeing Free beside him now, he shook the bill at him and said: "I am cheated. I am overcharged. I demand justice!"
Mercer captured the bill. "Yes, yes, I'll reprimand the bookkeeper, Mr. Boris. I'll do it immediately."
"Hah!" said Mr. Boris. He blew out his sunken cheeks until they looked like twin balloons and suddenly popped the air out of them. "Hah! An outrage!" He stalked away toward the elevators.
Mercer took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead, watching Free with a sickly smile.
"Was—was Mr. Anderson...?"
Free nodded. "Dead, all right. Somebody blipped him twice from behind. Did you know he was a private detective when he registered?"
"Well, I—I surmised...."
"Who did he ask about?"
Mercer wiped his forehead again. "You—you said?"
"I said, who did he ask about? I know he was after somebody. He wouldn't stay in a place like this unless it was going on an expense account."
Mercer swallowed. "Well... He did mention—a woman. He described her, and I recognized the description. She had registered just before he came in."
"Right—right across the hall from him."
"That's nice," said Free. "So you gave him the room right across the hall from her. That's really very nice. We'll have to start advertising it as a special feature. A private detective with every room. Our clients will love it."
Mercer spread his hands in an agony of embarrassment. "Mr. Free, please be reasonable. He promised me—on his word of honor—that there would be no scandal that would touch the hotel. He was just watching this woman for her husband. I had no idea anything terrible like this would happen! I assure you...." Mercer wiped his forehead again. "Oh, my!"
Free shrugged. "Well, it can't be helped now. It's too damned bad I can't be on duty twenty-four hours a day. If I had been here when he came in, I'd have shoved him out fast. He always carried trouble with him. How much did he give you?"
"Well... Twenty dollars."
"Not enough," said Free. "Remember it next time. A deal like that in a hotel like this is worth fifty."
"Mr. Free, I assure you there will be no next time. I will never—never...."
Free said: "I know, I know. Let me see the woman's card."
Mercer found it in the rack and slid it across the desk. She had registered simply as: "Mrs. J. Carter, San Francisco." The writing was small, angular and slanted, and Free recognized it instantly. It carried some unpleasant memories with it, and his lips tightened slightly.
He looked at Mercer. "Tall—about five-nine—with dark red hair and lots of lipstick and a snooty look?"
"Yes," said Mercer miserably.
Free stared at the card for a long time, remembering, and then handed it slowly and carefully back to Mercer.
"Who is the man?"
Mercer looked pained. "Well, of course I cant be sure.... He registered as Ronald Lipsky, Seattle. He has the room down the hall from hers. She came in a taxi. He came in his car about an hour later. He's short and blond—heavy-set. His car is a Packard coupe—a maroon one."
"All right," Free said. "I'll go down and look it over. The sheriff will be here in a moment. He'll come in the side door. Watch for him and tell him what you told me."
"Oh, my," Mercer said, taking out his handkerchief again,
THE hotel garage was a long, dark cavern, heavy with the smell of gas and oil and exhaust smoke, with the sunlight coming in sharp blue streaks through its barred windows. The cars were parked in sleek double rows on either side of the wide center aisle.
George, the attendant, was down at the far end, carefully pushing a little mound of reddish cleaning-compound along the cement with a wide brush. He looked up when he heard Free coming, his teeth gleaming jauntily white against the black sweaty shine of his face.
"Hi-yuh, Mr. Free."
Free said: "Hello, George. I'm looking for a maroon Packard coupe that came in last night."
"Right over there," George directed, pointing. "Mighty pretty car, that is. I'd like me one—only with a little more red in it."
"Were you on duty when it came in?" Free asked.
"All right. I'm going to look it over. If the owner comes down while I'm at it, give me a whistle."
George pushed his compound on down toward the entrance of the lobby elevator. "You bet. I'm watchin'."
The car was a new one, polished until it glistened like a jewel. It carried Washington plates. Free looked inside and found that there was no registration card on the steering post. The dashboard compartment was locked, and there was nothing in the door pockets but an owner's manual and several road maps. The shelf in back of the seat was empty.
Free pulled the seat up and looked under it. He found several hairpins, a couple of battered cigarettes, and seven cents in change. He was still looking when George began to whistle shrilly and merrily from the front of the garage.
Free put the seat back, knocked it into place with two quick slaps of his open palm.
"Yes, suh," said George. "Right down there. Thank you most kindly, suh."
Free shut the door of the car quietly and stepped around the broad front fenders out into the aisle.
The man who was coming slowed a step when he saw him and then came on again. He was a little more than medium height with wide, squared shoulders. He looked fit and well trained, as though he made a specialty of looking that way, and he carried himself with a self-assured erectness. In his hand, he was carrying an expensive looking pigskin bag.
"Mr.—ah—Lipsky?" Free inquired.
The man had blue eyes that looked startlingly light in contrast to the deep tan of his face. He stopped and settled back on his heels as though he were bracing himself.
"Yes." He said the one word and waited.
"Are you leaving us?" Free asked politely
"Did you—ah—check out at the desk?"
"No. I'm in a hurry. I left twenty dollars on my bureau, I thought that would cover everything satisfactorily."
"Certainly," said Free. "It's more than enough. However, it's a rule of the hotel that the guests must check out at the desk. It's a formality, of course, but since I'm the house detective it's up to me to see that it is enforced. Would you mind taking a moment to step upstairs with me?"
The stocky man's eyes narrowed slightly. "I would, I'm in a hurry. Get out of my way."
Free said: "I'm very sorry, Mr.—ah—Lipsky, but I'll have to insist that you return to the lobby with me."
THE stocky man took one solid step forward and swung the pigskin bag he was carrying in his right hand in a flat, swishing arc. Free raised his arm quickly enough to deflect the bag from his face, but the force of the blow knocked him sideways into the radiator grille of the Packard.
He bounced away from it again in a quick, practiced shuffle, circling a little.
The other man came forward two solid steps and swung the bag again. Free let it swish past in front of his face and then stepped in expertly and struck with the lunging force of his body behind the blow. His fist cracked sharply on the stocky man's square jaw, and he turned, off-balance now and clumsy, and fell across the fender and hood of the black sedan next to his Packard.
The sound of his fall made a dull ring of metal that echoed along the low rafters.
George's scared voice said: "You—you want I should do something Mr. Free?"
"No," said Free.
The stocky man pulled himself upright slowly. His face, except for the white spot on his jaw where Free's blow had landed, was livid with fury. He started toward Free, his heavy shoulders hunched forward.
"Now, now," said a wheezily amiable voice. "Now, now. What's this here ruckus?"
Sheriff Yates was standing ten feet away, his fat thumbs tucked comfortably into the armholes of his linen vest. He had corn-colored hair and a rosily pink complexion and an expression so amiably stupid that it couldn't be true—and wasn't. He teetered back and forth, watching Free and the stocky man, and the soles of his enormous shoes squeaked eerily.
"Sheriff," he said to the stocky man, explaining himself. He turned back the lapel of his coat and exhibited an enormous, gold-plated badge attached to a sweat-stained suspender, "Sheriff of this here county. Yates, by name. Havin' some trouble?"
The stocky man said flatly: "This man attacked me and tried to prevent me from leaving the hotel."
"My, my," said Yates blandly. "He's a fella that's always exceedin' his authority. Can't do a thing with him. You got a name?"
"Can you prove it, maybe?"
"I don't have to."
Yates blinked. "Lawyer, huh?"
"That's my affair. I'm leaving this hotel—now."
"No," said Yates judicially, "—not just now. Lucius!"
Lucius, Yates' chief deputy, ambled forlornly out of the shadows. He was tall and gangling and tired-looking, and he was searching wearily through his pockets.
"Lucius," said Yates, "Pay attention. You and Mr. Lipsky is gonna sit here for about fifteen minutes and then come up to room 460 together."
"Uh," said Lucius.
The stocky man burst out angrily: "You can't do this! You can't detain me against my will! You have no right...."
Lucius found what he was looking for. It was a clasp-knife, and when he opened it, it proved to have a blade all of five inches long—thin and glittering and deadly.
"Lucius," said Yates, "You're gonna cut yourself some time, I swear you are. Sit down now and talk to Mr. Lipsky and act like you had some brains. Come on, Les."
The stocky man started after them. "You can't...."
"Sit," said Lucius. "Just sit down and rest yourself, mister."
Yates and Free went down the aisle toward the lobby elevator. George was waiting in it, grinning with a sort of breathless excitement.
Yates nodded to him. "Gonna give you some practice, George. You can run us right up to four. Now, Les, suppose you start tellin' me what we got us here."
Free said: "Pete Anderson—the murdered man—was a private detective—on the shady side. He came here following a woman who registered as Mrs. J. Carter. Her real name is Mrs. Carlyle Dean. Her husband has a lot of money and more influence and a nasty disposition."
"Ummm," said Yates, watching him shrewdly. "Go on."
"Mrs. Dean evidently planned to meet this man, Lipsky, here. She came in a taxi from town, and he came in later. They got adjacent rooms. Anderson came in still later and got Mercer, the clerk, to assign him a room across the hall. He said he was working for her husband. That's probably true."
"Ummm," said Yates.
"I talked to Mercer and Naylor, the elevator boy. I figure somebody just looked in the door and popped Anderson and went away. Got nothin' else to go on, so I guess we just got to fish around and see what we haul up."
"This here's four," said George, opening the elevator door.
SHE hadn't changed. She was just as Free remembered her—tall and very slim with hair that reflected reddish, rippling lights and eyes that were long and green and slanted slightly at the corners. Her face and her manner and her bearing all reflected the one thing that was her dominant characteristic—an air of arrogant, well-bred insolence.
She hadn't recognized Free as yet, and she was staring at Yates with a sort of incredulous disdain.
"A sheriff?" she said. "This is really too rustic."
"Yup," said Yates amiably, "But still I got to ask you some questions because it ain't legal to register at a hotel under a phoney name, and you did, Your name ain't J. Carter. It's Mrs. Carlyle Dean."
"How did you know that?"
Yates nodded toward Free, "He told me."
She looked at Free, really seeing him for the first time, and her greenish eyes widened until the pupils looked round and cat-like and glistening.
"You! So it's your idea to embarrass me! I suppose that's the sort of petty revenge you would think of!" She whirled on Yates. "Do you know who this man is?"
"Sure," said Yates. "Les Free."
Her teeth looked white and sharp behind the red of her lips. "He's a discredited police officer from the city! I had the pleasure of getting him fired off the force after he had brutally beaten my brother!"
"So?" said Yates, mildly interested. "What was her brother doin', Les?"
"Driving while he was drunk," said Free indifferently. "He ran over a kid in a safety zone and then tried to beat it. I caught him a couple blocks away."
"That's a lie!" she said fiercely. "He was not drunk! He was sick! The doctor had given him some heart medicine."
Free nodded. "He had it with him. A quart of it in a whisky bottle."
"You lie! And I had you fired off the police force for acting like the brute you are!" She turned back to Yates. "Oh, I've plenty of influence, and you'd best remember it!"
"I'll try hard," said Yates. "Know a fella by the name of Anderson?"
"No! I never heard of him!"
"He's in the room across the hall. Coroner's scrapin' him up off the carpet now. He's kinda dead."
The color drained out of her cheeks and left the red of her mouth like a slash across her face.
Yates went on casually: "He was followin' you—watchin' you. Didn't happen to see him and get mad about it, did you?"
"Are you—do you dare to suggest that I—I—"
She laughed with a sort of brittle breathlessness. "Why, you fat fool! Don't you think I could deal with a clumsy oaf like Anderson without murdering him? I certainly had nothing to fear from him. I caught him shadowing me long ago and paid him off. He was on my side! He was just going through the motions to fool my husband."
Yates looked at Free, and Free nodded,
"Anderson always played both ends against the middle."
"Like how?" asked Yates.
"Well, suppose you hired him to watch your wife. He'd shadow her for a while, and she wouldn't see him. He was good—if he wanted to be. He'd find out if your wife was up to anything. If she wasn't, he'd keep out of her sight and keep sending you phoney reports that hinted she was, until you got sick of paying him. If she was up to something, he'd let her see him shadowing her and when she braced him, shake her down for all he could get and then report back to you anyway."
"Nice business," said Yates.
Mrs. Carlyle Dean drew a deep, quivering breath, "That slimy crook! Oh, you're all crooks!"
"Sure," said Yates. "All cops are. We might even forget this little business of murder if you was to offer us a bribe—a big enough one. Know a man named Lipsky?"
"No. No, I don't."
There was a tap on the door, and Yates said:
"Come on in, Lucius."
THE door opened, and the stocky man came into the room. Lucius ambled in behind him, thoughtfully picking his teeth with the point of his deadly knife blade.
Mrs. Dean said: "Don!" in a breathless gasp.
The stocky man shook his head at her in a short, sharp jerk. His lips were flat and hard against his teeth, and his eyes were narrowed into glittering slits.
"His name's Donald Phillips," Lucius said. "Had a driver's license in his wallet."
"Your man searched me!" Phillips said in a sudden bitter rush of words. "You'll regret this! I'm warning you now! I'll make you regret...."
"Sure, sure," said Yates. "I'll start right away. But first I want to tell you something, so you better listen. This is how it looks to me. This Anderson party had been shadowin' Mrs. Dean. She thought she'd bought him off, but she hadn't. Now in comes a third party—Phillips. Anderson tries his shake-down on him. But Phillips is smart. He knows payin' Anderson won't do any good, that Anderson'll report to Mr. Dean anyway, so he says: 'Sure, Anderson, old pal I'll be glad to pay you a small bribe, but first I got to cash a check or something.' So he goes and gets a gun and comes back and taps on Anderson's door and says who he is, and when Anderson opens up, this Phillips shoots him and beats it back into his own room and packs up and tries to run out."
Phillips' face looked yellowish under its tan. "It's fantastic!" He glared at Mrs. Dean. "You never told me...."
Her face twisted, "But, Don, I...."
Phillips cut her short with a sudden chopping motion of his hand. "No," he said in a voice thick with the effort of control. "I forgot myself for a second. Don't say anything. Not anything at all."
Yates looked from one to the other calculatingly and then shrugged his bulgy shoulders. "Okay. I guess you two better come along and sit in a cell and think it over. Les, you got any reporter friends you want call so we can have a reception at the jail?"
Mrs. Dean said: "Reporters!" and put her hand up over the sharp red of her lips. Her eyes were so dilated they looked black, and her throat moved, as she tried to swallow.
Free watched her for a long moment. "No." he said at last. "No. Take them in quietly."
FREE was sitting in his usual station—a niche at the northeast corner of the lobby where he could keep his eye on the front doors and the elevators and the desk and see out at a slant through the plate glass to the sea-side terrace. The concealed buzzer on the wall beside turn sizzled softly. Free looked up at the desk. Mercer was signaling him with a sort of agonized impatience. Free got up and walked over quickly but not fast enough to attract attention.
Mercer said: "It's Naylor—on the phone—he—"
Free took the telephone from him. "Yes, Naylor."
Naylor was breathless with excitement. "Look! Look, Mr. Free. Remember I told you there was something funny about that bird I seen in Anderson's door? Remember? I couldn't think what it was when you and the sheriff was askin', but I know now. He was wearin' an overcoat! Get it? An overcoat in weather like this! That was what I noticed was funny!"
"Yes," said Free softly. "What about it?"
"I knew who it was! It was Mr. Boris! He always wears that old green overcoat of his! I just hauled him up here to eleven, and he was jitterin' and shakin'—and it was him I seen! I know it was! He's got scared now, and he's gonna run out! I followed him down to his room and listened, and I could hear him packin'. I'm callin' from the service phone down the hall, and—"
His voice chopped off with a sudden whistling gasp.
"Naylor," Free murmured in an undertone. "Naylor."
Naylor's voice came again, but it was further away from the telephone now and quick and shaky with a sort of false geniality.
"Oh, Hello there, Mr. Boris, I was just... No! No! Don't shoot! I wasn't...."
There was a heavily sodden thud, and then the line clicked very quietly and softly and was dead.
"Oh," said Mercer, who had been listening in with his ear close to the receiver. "Oh, my."
Free put the telephone down and turned around. Naylor's elevator was third in the bank. The arrow on the indicator above it pointed to eleven. As Free watched, the arrow jiggled a little and then came down to ten, on down to nine.
Free reached in his coat and loosened the police revolver in his shoulder holster, taking one quick, calculating look around the lobby.
"Oh, no!" said Mercer in a shaky, pleading whisper. "Oh, no! Not in the lobby—with all these people! Not in the lobby!"
The indicator arrow swung around—down to six, five, four. It stopped at three and stayed there.
Free started away from the desk. "He's going down the back stairs. Watch it here."
Regardless of the attention he attracted now, he went at a run across the lobby, past the elevator bank, around a turn to the left. He opened a door and went, still running silently, down the narrow, empty length of the service hall There was another door around the turn at the end, and he jerked it open. The stairs were narrow and dark, twisting sharply upward.
Free climbed three steps noiselessly and then stopped short when he noticed that his shadow, cast by the light coming through the open door behind him, made a black smudge that extended out beyond the first turn. He swore in a mutter and started to back up, but he heard the slight creak of the stairs beyond the turn and stopped, waiting. He had drawn his gun now, and was holding it balanced in his right hand.
The silence was so heavy it began to hum in his ears. Finally be cocked the police revolver, and the sound was a dull, metallic snick. Free waited for another endless moment and then said:
"Come on down, Mr. Boris."
Feet thudded loudly on the stairs. Free dove forward, poking his head and shoulders around the curve, and saw in that instant that be had made a mistake. Mr. Boris hadn't run back up the stairs. He was standing just three steps above the turn. He had merely kicked his heels against the stair lift behind him, simulating the sound of retreat.
He had a shiny little revolver in his hand. It was pointed straight down at Free, and now it made a sudden whipping blast of sound. The bullet came so close that Free could feel it pluck at the air it went past his cheek. He fell forward loosely, and as he fell he fired once, upward.
The echoes beat like sullen drums in the small space. Mr. Boris' shiny little revolver dropped and skidded down one step and then another.
Mr. Boris said: "Oh," in a small, unbelieving voice, and then he doubled up and came sliding down the steps head first.
FREE was waiting in the hall on eleven in front of Mr. Boris' room when the elevator stopped and Sheriff Yates and Naylor got out of it and came toward him. Naylor's head was bandaged until it looked like be was wearing a white, thick skull-cap, and his voice still sounded breathlessly scared.
"Right there," he said to Yates, pointing. "That's the service phone, I was usin' it, watching his door, when he came out real quick and pulled a gun on me. I tried to talk to him, but he just pasted me one and knocked me colder than a wedge."
"Yeah," said Yates. "Hello, Les. You sure shook things up quick. That fella Boris ain't gonna die, but he thought he was when he got to the hospital, and he was all ready to talk to me. Know what? His name is Green, and he skipped out of a cashier's job in Georgia takin' about seventy thousand of the bank's cash with him. Why, I got a poster for him hangin' up in my office, but I sure never would've recognized him. He got all his teeth pulled and used some dope that killed his hair and treated his face with a chemical wash to make it look old and shriveled. He ain't only about thirty-five, but he looks sixty, I swear he does."
Free nodded, opening Boris' door. "I suppose I should say I suspected him, but I didn't. I thought he was just a hotel pest, and I kept away from him as much as possible."
"That's what he figured," said Yates. "Durned smart fella. 'Stead of hidin' from people, he makes himself such a nuisance people hide from him. He had about sixty of that seventy thousand he stole on him. Let's see if we can find some more. Naylor, don't stand there holdin' the door open. Come in and shut it."
Naylor came in the room, and Yates commenced pawing through the drawers in the bureau.
"Sure lucky we got him," he said to Free. "Had to turn them other two loose. They was on the up-and-up. That Phillips in an old friend of hers. He's a lawyer, and they been tryin' to arrange a divorce for her, but her old man don't like it. He musta had wind of somethin'—on account of havin' Anderson follow her—and that's why Phillip was so anxious to get out of here and not to do no talkin'. Hey! Look at this!"
He had been tearing the bed to pieces and now be stood up holding a leather wallet.
"That cinches it. Got Anderson's name on it. That Boris bird swore up and down he'd never even seen Anderson, but this'll fix him. Ain't got no dough in it. Boris musta glommed on to that."
"No," said Free casually. "If you search Naylor, I think you'll find it—along with the missing part of Boris' seventy thousand."
"What?" said Yates blankly.
Naylor's pointed face was as white as the bandage on his head. "Aw," he said uneasily. "Aw—you're foolin'." A muscle in his cheek twitched uncontrollably, and then his hand slipped up under the front of his jacket and came out again holding an automatic no longer than a package of cigarettes.
"Stand still," he said in a whisper. "Both of you."
He slid along, keeping his back flat against the wall until he reached the door. He groped behind him until he found the knob, turned it, and opened the door.
"Damn you, stay in here until I...."
A HAND, holding a knife with a long, cruelly shimmering blade came over his shoulder and dipped down. The point of the blade touched the back of Naylor's right hand.
He screamed suddenly. The automatic dropped on the rug, and Naylor whirled around. Lucius hit him with his free hand. Naylor went straight backwards, falling full length, and his head hit the end of the bed with a solid crack. He lay still on the floor.
"Whooo!" Yates said breathlessly. "Lucius, I told you that you was gonna cut somebody with that damned thing if you didn't watch out. Les, don't never do things like that without givin' me warnin'. I got a bad heart."
Free said: "I didn't think he'd be carrying a gun under that skin-tight uniform."
"Pea-shooter," said Lucius, kicking it contemptuously.
"Big enough when you're lookin' at the wrong end," said Yates, nodding at him. "Les, what goes on here, anyway?"
Free said: "There was something funny about all this from the start—and Naylor was it. You try looking through one of those elevator grilles when the elevator passes a floor. It's about as effective as looking through the shutter of a camera when you click it. Yet Naylor saw down the length of a hall and spotted a guy standing in an open door. In the second place, the elevator shaft is sound-proof when the doors are closed. Yet Naylor heard two shots that no one else heard. And then, he smelled powder smoke in the hall a hundred feet from the room where the shots were fired. On top of that, he stood outside the door of this room, telephoning and presumably watching the door, and then let Mr. Boris walk out and catch him at it. Any one of these things didn't mean much, but all of them began to have a peculiar odor."
"You figure out why he did it?"
Free nodded. "I think so. Anderson had a hobby. He studied reward posters in his spare time. He was really good at spotting wanted crooks. When he did, he'd shake them down and then turn them in for the reward. Naylor must be wanted. Anderson spotted him and threatened him.
"Naylor had been prowling around the rooms here and had already spotted Mr. Boris. He didn't intend to share that with Anderson. The rest was easy. He watched, going up and down in his elevator, until the hall was empty. Then he stopped and went down to Anderson's room, unlocked it with a master key, which he undoubtedly has, and shot him and then beat it down to the lobby and told me his story. Later he decided to shove the whole works off on Boris. So he told Boris that I suspected him, got all the money he could from Boris, planted Anderson's wallet here, put on his phoney act with the telephone, and knocked himself over the head to make it look convincing."
Lucius was kneeling down beside Naylor. "Wearin' a money-belt with a lot in it."
FREE was sitting in one of the huge white leather divans in the lower cocktail lounge. It was cool here and shadowed, and he had his eyes closed. He opened them slowly when someone sat down in the divan opposite his and looked into the face of Mrs. Carlyle Dean. He waited, watching her, not giving any sign of recognition, until she said breathlessly:
"I—I don't know what to say to you, Mr. Free. The—the mess you could have made for me—over this thing.... You would have been justified, too, after what I did. You've made me feel very small. I'd like to express my appreciation...."
"Just pay your bill," said Free.
Free nodded, "Perhaps you didn't know. I own the hotel."
"But—but you—a common policeman...."
"Oh, that," said Free. "Kid stuff. I was always crazy about criminology. I wanted to try the practical end of it for a couple of years."
"Oh!" She was silent for a long moment. "You—I must have appeared very ridiculous to you."
"It was rather amusing," Free admitted.
Free smiled. "I own the hotel. I don't want any scandal touching it. And, in that regard, I'm sorry, Mrs. Dean, but I must ask you not to visit here again. We cater to a very—ah—respectable class of people."
"Oh!" Her face was as white as though he had struck her. She sat staring blindly at him for a moment and then left.
Free watched her go, and then Sheriff Yates came up and tapped him on the shoulder.
"You, Les. I heard every word you said to her. What you mean by lyin' like that? You don't no more own this hotel than I do. You couldn't even buy that chair you're sittin' in."
"Did you see her face?" Free asked. "I've been waiting for that chance for a long, long time."
Yates said: "And here I thought you was playin' meek and mild and turn the other cheek! Hell's fire, you angled things the way you did just on purpose to catch her behind the eight ball like you did."
Free sighed dreamily. "It's been a very satisfactory day. Will you join me in a beer?"
End of Never Say Die by Norbert Davis