See You At The Morgue [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Lawrence Blochman
eBook Category: Mystery/Crime/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: When a gigolo is shot, to death in the bedroom of a beautiful girl, it raises some perplexing problems for Detective Kenny Kilkenny. Why, for example, would a man steal the license plates off his own car? Why should an innocent young professor come to the murder room ... and then conceal a key to the crime? Why was a "phantom secretary" hiding in the closet near the murdered man? Was there really money to be made selling glass eyes for stuffed ducks? Why would a beautiful girl ask her lover to kill her? As if these questions--and a hundred others--weren't enough to drive Kilkenny crazy--there were three exceedingly strange characters to plague him : a girl named Rux, a man named Vanizol, and the weirdest of all--Mr. Whisk! It was a tough case, but so are they all when the word goes out-- PARISIAN PLAYBOY SHOT IN N. Y. BEAUTY'S BOUDOIR ... "PHANTOM SECRETARY" SEEKS SUICIDE...MYSTERY REDHEAD FOUND... -- The papers shouted "SCANDAL!"--but the sirens shrieked "MURDER!"
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2010
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2 Reader Ratings:
The true New Yorker being proudly and stubbornly indifferent to his neighbor's business, none of the tenants of the Overlook Arms Apartments was aware of the character of the enterprise carried on in 8-K--none, that is, except the red-faced old gentleman in 8-F, who, seeing comely young women come and go at odd hours of the day and night, drew his own conclusions. As the red-faced old gentleman, besides being atypical and imaginative, was also lonely, he had three quick drinks of rye one night and set out to investigate. He was surprised and disappointed. Instead of saturnalian revels in lush surroundings, he found only quiet, businesslike efficiency in 8-K. There were comely young women there, all right, but they were seated in front of a four-panel switchboard which occupied what in other K apartments would have been the living-room. The young women were busy with signal lights that winked like fireflies in the thicket of crisscrossed drop cords. They were speaking quietly into chest phones or writing on pink slips of paper.
"I beg your pardon," said the crestfallen gentleman from 8-F, backing hurriedly out the door into a rear-end collision with Miss Vivian Sanderson, who was just arriving for duty from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.
"I beg your pardon," repeated the gentleman, as he caromed off into the door jamb and found himself confronted with smiling Miss Smith, the supervisor. "I didn't know the house switchboard had been moved up here."
"Oh, this isn't the house switchboard," said Miss Smith, as she nodded good evening to Vivian. "And these girls aren't merely telephone operators. We call them 'phantom secretaries.' This is Miss Sanderson, one of our phantom secretaries."
"How do you do?" said the old gentleman, becoming interested again.
Vivian Sanderson favored him with a pertly polite nod. She did not give the impression of being a phantom--unless it was a phantom completely and skillfully materialized by a lusty medium who liked his ectoplasm well-rounded, highly decorative, gray-eyed, and red-haired. Vivian was certainly not a large girl, but she did have a nicely proportioned solidity imbued with life and youth and a high-spirited breathlessness that was not at all spectral. And there was a pleasant, graceful earthliness about the girl's slim ankles, too, the old man remarked as Vivian moved with well-tailored briskness past the switchboard toward a door through which emerged the faint burping of a percolator and the aroma of coffee.
The old gentleman continued to watch the door while Miss Smith patiently explained that the switchboards in 8-K served the 400-odd Upper West Side subscribers of the Gotham Telephone-Answering Service, that those flashing lights represented ringing phones in homes from Central Park West to Grant's Tomb, that unanswered telephones and missed calls were things of the past for Gotham's subscribers, thanks to the twenty-four-hour vigil of these bright young ladies, and their colleagues in other parts of the city, who never let a telephone ring more than three times without giving it absent treatment by direct wire.
"Of course, many of our clients are doctors," explained Miss Smith, who had an eye on an imminent vacancy in the promotion department and was rehearsing her sales talk, "but you'd be surprised at the variety of people who want us to answer their telephones for them when they're out. We have plumbers, radio repairmen, ambulance people, exterminators, singers, decorators, undertakers--"
The man from 8-F had begun to fidget, but Miss Smith took no cognizance of the fact that he was backing toward the door again.
"The girls not only take messages," Miss Smith went on, "but they give out price quotations, take accident reports at night for insurance companies, accept orders. They really are phantom secretaries, you know."
Vivian Sanderson, having shed her things in the next room, hovered just beyond the doorway until the man from 8-F finally made his escape murmuring something about how interesting it all was. Then she came in, adjusted her headset, and prepared to relieve the outgoing girl.
"You'll take number-one board from Molly," said Miss Smith.
"Three cheers," said Vivian, with a lost-soul expression that was without even one cheer. "I'll be Cousin Penelope's little phantom again."
For the past week Vivian had been much amused by sitting at the panel containing her cousin's number, wondering what Penelope Dunne would say when she learned that Vivian had been transferred across town from the East Ninety-Sixth Street office. Probably try to get her moved somewhere else again, since Penelope had influence with Mr. Knight, the manager. It was Pen who got Vivian her job in the first place. Sooner or later, of course, Pen would recognize her voice. Only reason she hadn't done so yet was that Pen was usually engrossed in listening to her own voice. Vivian didn't blame her; it was a pleasant voice, rich in exciting grace notes and an insinuating, veiled quality that men mistook for the mating-call. Pen's voice was as provocative as her figure, which made men fall all over themselves for the privilege of doing things for her.
Yes, it was usually fun talking to Pen incognito--but not tonight. Nothing could amuse Vivian tonight. She had just said good-by forever to the man she had planned to marry. She supposed she could still marry Barney Weaver if she wanted to surrender unconditionally and go back to Academia with him. Trouble was she was just as stubborn as Barney. Well, that was all over now.
Vivian ran her finger along the tabs of the flat filing-index, looking for Pen's account. There was a green "special instructions" marker on the tab. There usually was. Pen liked being followed to restaurants and public places by her phone messages. Vivian flipped back the card, which read: Mrs. Penelope Dunne, 369 Riverside Drive, Apt. 14-A. Monument 2-9870. Answer with number only. A green slip said: Will not be home before midnight but will call for messages about ten-thirty or eleven.
A signal lamp flashed. Vivian plugged in a dummy jack to put it out. It flashed again. A phone was ringing on Central Park West. The third time the light flashed, Vivian plugged in with the cord.
"Doctor's office," she said. "No, Doctor Cox isn't here for the moment ... Yes, I can give you an appointment--" She reached for a handful of appointment books on top of the switchboard, opened one of them. "Tomorrow at eleven, Mr. Finlay."
The light flared briefly as she pulled at the cord, then went out. Another light gleamed--under Penelope Dunne's number. Vivian plugged in automatically--and realized she had made a mistake. Even though she knew Pen wasn't home, she should have let the phone ring its allotted three times, because someone might be there to answer, if only Tony Grove, Pen's brother who was living with her at the request of the parole board. Too late now.
"Monument two--nine eight seven oh."
There was a small, painful tightening around Vivian's heart. It was Barney calling Pen. Her Barney. She still thought of him as hers, even though she had no right to.
"I'm sorry, but Mrs. Dunne is not in right now. May I have her call you?"
There was a pause. Vivian wondered if Barney recognized her voice and was going to say something not quite so impersonal.
"Thanks, I'll call back later," was all he said. He hung up.
The bottom dropped out of the universe for the second time that day. There was no reason why it should. There was nothing more for Barney to say, unless he wanted to be reasonable and a little more patient, and Barney was neither. A reasonable man wouldn't come barging into a girl's room and drag her out of bed at ten in the morning when he knew she'd been working most of the night, and say, "Viv, we're getting married this afternoon. I'm leaving for Academia tonight or tomorrow and I want you to come along."
She had put Barney off for two years, but this morning she had offered to compromise. She said, "Barney, I'll marry you as soon as I can get a dress on, if you want--but I'm not going back to Academia. Not yet."
Barney had said, "It's both or nothing."
Vivian saw then that if Barney couldn't understand that it was impossible for her to leave New York for at least another year, he was hardly a man to be tied to for life. It was not so much that she dreaded the dull prospect of being a professor's wife at a small fresh-water college. Barney knew that. He also knew that she had sworn not to go home until she had achieved at least some success as an illustrator. Lord knows she had worked hard enough for it--by night at the switchboard, because art editors had never translated their polite appreciation into anything that could be traded for board and lodging; by day at her drawing-board and making the rounds of the magazine offices and book publishers. And now, just as she felt she was on the verge of victory, Barney wanted to drag her back to Academia where there were no art editors.
"I do want to marry you, Barney," she had said, "but--"
"It's both or nothing," he repeated. "I don't want a part-time wife."
"Then it's nothing, Barney."
And that was that. It had been a hard decision to make, but she had made it quickly because it was what she wanted most. She knew she would not change, yet the finality of it frightened her.
The signal lamp under Penelope Dunne's number was staring at her again. Vivian's heart started thumping against her chest phone. There was no reason for it. Barney wouldn't be calling back so soon.
"This is Roger Dunne," said a man's voice, when Vivian had reported that Mrs. Dunne was out. "Will you please tell my wife to get in touch with me first thing in the morning?"
"I certainly shall, Mr. Dunne."
Vivian reached for a pink slip and started writing. She wondered vaguely what Roger Dunne was calling for. He and Pen had been separated for nearly a year now, and although Pen pretended to everyone that he was still in love with her, Roger had dutifully kept out of her life. Perhaps he was calling to inquire why it was that Pen had never quite gotten around to divorcing him as she had promised.
"Hello, Amalgamated ... Yes, indeed. If you will give me the model and make of your refrigerator, I will send a repairman to you immediately ... Thank you."
Vivian had just located an Amalgamated mechanic and sent him to the aid of the ailing refrigerator when Pen's signal flashed again. She plugged it out with the dummy jack. The light flashed twice more, and Vivian took the call.
"This is Monument two--nine eight seven oh," she said.
"Listen, Pen," said a man's breathless voice, almost before she had stopped talking. "Don't try to answer me, and don't interrupt. If anyone is standing near the phone, say it was a wrong number--"
The words gushed out in a nervous torrent, without pause, without an interval for reply, even if Vivian had been able to interpose one. But she was so shocked and bewildered by what the man was saying that for an instant she could not even pronounce the conventional "I'm sorry, but Mrs. Dunne is not here just now."
"You'd better get out of town right away, Pen. Tonight, if you can. Connecticut, or anywhere you can hide out for a few days and watch the papers." The man's voice raced over the wires, his syllables tumbling over each other. His lips were very close to the transmitter, and he spoke in a low, resonant tone, making unpleasant vibrations in Vivian's ears. "Something pretty fatal is going to happen to that white-haired boy of yours in the next twenty-four hours or so," he gushed. "It's all set and there's nothing I can do to stop it. So you'd better clear out, because it won't look so good for you. Pen, protect yourself."
Vivian managed to say at last, "Mrs. Dunne is not here right now, but I will give her your message when she returns later this evening." She knew, however, that she was talking into a dead phone. She had heard the click that ended the connection the instant the man had finished talking, but she repeated the formula as though it were an exorcism against the evil he had cast into her ears. Her hand trembled as she jerked away the drop cord. It trembled so that she could scarcely pick up the pencil to record the message.
How could she record a message like that, anyhow? She couldn't--and yet she had to. Old Man Knight, boss of the Gotham Telephone-Answering Service, had a loudspeaker in his office on Fifty-Ninth Street which could be cut in on any of his fifty phantom secretaries through the city at any moment, to see how she was handling her calls. Besides, the supervisor was looking at Vivian strangely.
Quickly Vivian filled in the time at the top of the pink slip, 9:11 p. m., and wrote: Mrs. Dunne--gentleman called--would not leave name--suggested Mrs. Dunne retire to Connecticut or elsewhere for few days--watch newspapers--something "pretty fatal" will happen to white-haired boy in next twenty-four hours or so--all set and can't be stopped, he says.
Vivian scrawled her initials in the "message taken by" space, then went back and put quotation marks about white-haired boy, too. She put the slip into the index file with Penelope's card. When she looked up, the supervisor was still staring at her, but from closer range. Vivian wondered if she had read the message.
"You're pale, Miss Sanderson," said the supervisor. "Feeling ill?"
"Headache--just a dime's worth. It's all gone now."
"Get yourself some aspirin," ordered the supervisor. "I'll watch your board."
Vivian went into the bathroom but she did not take aspirin. She drank a glass of water, wondering if a bromide tablet would make her knees stop shaking, and she looked at herself in the mirror. She was pale, all right, and her auburn hair seemed to be standing on end. She fumbled in her bag for comb and compact, blew the loose powder at her own reflection in the mirror, then tried to bring a little cosmetic composure into her face. Rouge did no good; she still looked frightened.
She tried stretching out on the sofa for a few minutes but as soon as she closed her eyes she knew it was no use. She couldn't relax. She could only wonder if there was any connection between this strange warning and Barney Weaver's sudden decision to leave New York. Not that Vivian suspected that Barney really was Pen's "white-haired boy." She was fond of him, of course, and made no bones about it. Why shouldn't she, inasmuch as they had been friends from childhood? Unfortunately, though, Pen's manner of bestowing the most casual kiss of friendly greeting might well arouse in an onlooker--perhaps in the recipient, too--the thought that it was born of smoldering passion. And if one of Pen's suitors had jealously decided that Barney was the white-haired boy--
Vivian felt particularly helpless because there was nothing she could do but relay the warning message to Pen. If she had actual knowledge that a murder was about to be committed she could, of course, get the police. But the breathless man on the phone had merely spoken of a threat which might never be carried out, and there was no way of knowing who had threatened whom, why, or where.
Suppose Vivian did deliver the message according to routine. Pen would probably know who had phoned--the man who did not know she subscribed to the Gotham Telephone-Answering Service and who had mistaken Vivian's voice for Penelope's. Pen would certainly inform him of his little mistake in telling a third party of the white-haired boy's imminent demise, and he would just as certainly take steps to discover the identity of the third party. And then what? Vivian shuddered. When she went back to her switchboard, there was a cold, hard lump at the pit of her stomach.
A little before midnight Pen phoned for her messages.
Vivian read several routine messages first. "Miss Frye called and said she would call in the morning ... Mr. Laurence called and asked you to call him when you got home ... Mr. Dunne called."
"Any more?" asked Mrs. Dunne.
Vivian took a deep breath. "One more," she said, trying to sound casual. "A gentleman called, but didn't give his name. He suggested that Mrs. Dunne should retire to Connecticut or elsewhere out of town and read the newspapers for a few days--" She took another deep breath. She wondered if her voice sounded sufficiently matter-of fact, and whether Pen suspected that she was talking to her cousin. She continued. "He said that something pretty fatal was going to happen to the white-haired boy in the next twenty-four hours or so--and that it was all set and couldn't be stopped."
Vivian thought she heard a faint gasp at the other end of the wire. There was a brief, eloquent silence. Then Mrs. Dunne, having recovered both her voice and her composure, demanded in her most mellow tones, "Just who did you say was the author of this amazing rigmarole?"
"The gentleman would not leave his name. He hung up as soon as he finished speaking, without giving me a chance to say a word."
"Extraordinary! And did he actually say 'pretty fatal?' Were those his actual words?"
"Those were his exact words, yes."
"Most extraordinary!" said Penelope. "Probably had the wrong number."
"I made it quite plain that he was talking to Monument two--nine eight seven oh," Vivian said in her best secretarial voice. Then, impulsively, she dropped her impersonal manner and blurted, "There wasn't any mistake about it, Penelope. The man thought he was talking to you. He said, 'Listen, Pen.' He said--"
"Who is this, please?" Penelope interrupted peremptorily. "Isn't this the Gotham Phone-Answering Service?"
"It is. This is Vivian. Your cousin Vivian."
"Vivian Sanderson? What are you doing with my line? I thought you were on the East Side."
"I've been in the One Hundred Eighth Street office for several weeks, Pen."
"I see." There was an icy silence. Then, "And you say you took this bizarre message yourself, Vivian dear?"
"I did. It scared me to death, I don't mind telling you."
"Isn't that simply killing? Oh, it must be a joke, Vivian dear. Some of my friends have the most excruciating sense of humor, as you know." Penelope laughed, but there was no mirth in her laughter. She asked, "Is there anything else, dear?"
"Well. Thank you. And don't worry about that silly message, Vivian dear. There's surely nothing to be frightened of. Just don't mention it to anyone, that's all. It sounds so silly. Good night, dear."
"Good night, Pen."
Vivian stared at the board for almost a minute before she jerked out the plug. She hesitated, too, before dropping the pink slips into the box on top of the switchboard, where they would be picked up for filing. She considered destroying the message about the white-haired boy, but decided against it. For anyone really intent on finding out, it would be easy enough to discover who had taken any given message at a given time over a given number--even if Penelope said nothing. And the lack of pink slips would only pile up complications.
No, there was nothing to do but face the fact that she had been neatly, if inadvertently, placed on the spot. There was nothing to do but wait. There was nobody to turn to in the meantime. Unless--
At 2 a. m. Vivian went off duty, leaving a single operator for the solo trick during the quiet hours. She took a little longer than usual to make sure her hat was adjusted to the proper angle, her nose was powdered to the exact degree of veloute, her fur scarf wound tight beneath her small, pointed chin. She was about to exercise her feminine prerogative and change her mind.
As she left the apartment building, she lowered her head against the fine, cold drizzle that sifted down through the night, and started toward Broadway. The muted roar that was the song of the city had become a whisper in the darkness, and the distant cry of a taxi horn was a live, personal sound directed at her. The quiet of the early-morning hours always affected her like that--the small, distinct sounds seemed to belong to her. That was why her heart began to beat faster when she heard footsteps behind her.
She did not dare look around. She did not even turn her head, and was only vaguely aware, out of the corner of her eye, that a man had come out of a doorway across the street and was walking obliquely across the wet pavement toward her. There was no reason to be alarmed, she told herself. She was used to going home alone at odd hours of the night, and knew how to rid herself of annoying Lotharios. It was just the events of the evening, the strange warning call to Pen, had set her nerves on edge. She was foolish, she knew, but she couldn't help it. She was frightened.
She hurried her steps. The man was close behind her now. She could hear his firm, heavy tread beating a bass obbligato to the light patter of her hurrying, clicking heels. She thought she could even hear his breath. There was no chance of reaching the lighted safety of Broadway before he caught up with her. He was almost abreast of her now.
She slowed her step to let him pass. He did not pass. He seized her arm. She turned on him fiercely. Then she relapsed into a limp, relieved laughter.
"Barney!" she exclaimed. "You scared me pink."