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Have Gat--Will Travel [MultiFormat]
eBook by Richard Prather

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: "As far as I'm concerned, Richard S. Prather was the King of the paperback P.I writers of the 60s. Shell Scott should be in the Top Ten of any readers list of favorite private eyes." --Robert J. Randisi For four decades, Richard S. Prather published over 40 works of detective fiction, most featuring his clever, cad-about-town hero, Shell Scott. Known for their arched humor, punchy dialogue, and sunny Southern California locale, the Shell Scott books represent one of the greatest private eye collections ever produced. HAVE GAT--WILL TRAVEL A Shell Scott Mystery Shell Scott'll slay you...with leers, tears and pistol packin' dears. Meet Shell Scott and his entourage of hoodlums, beauties, and dangerous killers. It doesn't take much for this ferocious fireball to pack a punch to all corners of the underworld, but he sure does it. Even if it means sacrificing a pretty little love interest along the way. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do...and if he run's out of bullets doing it, Shell will just scare them to death! Honored with the Life Achievement Award by the Private Eye Writers of America! "(Shell Scott is) as amusingly blithe a figure as the field has seen since the Saint." --Anthony Boucher

eBook Publisher: E-Reads, Published: 1957
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2001


11 Reader Ratings:
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SINNER'S ALLEY

The morgue in Los Angeles is downstairs in the Hall of Justice. It was seven o'clock at night, dark now, and Mr. Franklin stopped me when we reached the building's entrance. "You go ahead," he said.

"Aren't you coming in with me?"

"No, Mr. Scott, I'm not going to look at her again. I couldn't. I'm not even going to look at her when the funeral..." His voice stopped suddenly, choked off, as if it had become almost impossible for him to speak.

But, then, he was her father, and last night she had been alive. She had left the house laughing, shouting back over her shoulder that she'd be home by ten. And Mr. Franklin hadn't seen his daughter again until he saw her on a slab here in the Los Angeles County Morgue.

She was only eighteen.

Last night, some time, somewhere, she had been raped. And some man's hands had closed about her soft throat and squeezed until there was no life left in her young body.

"No," Mr. Franklin repeated, "I won't ever see her again."

I left him standing on the street and went inside. Emil, the morgue attendant, was expecting me. He nodded without speaking, and turned. I followed him. He had her ready for me and I stopped by the table on which she lay. He reached for the top of the cloth covering her body. I had never seen the girl, Pam, alive. Yet, this wouldn't be like looking at the dead body of a stranger.

Mr. Franklin had come to my office, "Sheldon Scott, Investigations," in the afternoon and had asked me to take the case--for $500. I was spending all my time trying to recover two diamond necklaces, and there was $10,000 for me if I got the stones. I was close to them, so I'd told Mr. Franklin I couldn't help him. But he'd seemed about to go to pieces, and I'd finally agreed to come to his house, let him show me some things, and then come with him to the morgue.

At his home he'd taken me to Pam's room, shown me her clothes and school books, scuffed saddle shoes and high-school album. Then he'd left me alone with a big black photograph album. In the album was a photo record of each year of Pam's life. As a baby a few days old, growing up and walking, going to school; a picture taken every year on her birthday; snapshots of Pam alone and with friends, with the date and little notes that she had penned in white ink beneath each picture.

And slowly, without my even being conscious of it at first, I kind of got to know Pam. For one thing, in most of the pictures she was smiling; from the goofy, slobbery smile of a year-old baby girl to the sweet soft smile of a young lady of eighteen. In less than an hour I saw her grow up, pass through awkward adolescence, mature and bloom. I looked once more at the clothes she'd worn, the books she'd read, and they seemed different than they had at first. Mr. Franklin had mentioned he was a widower with one child--Pamela--and that knowledge seemed different, too, than it had at first.

Emil pulled the sheet from her body.

I don't know how long I looked at her. Then Emil said, "Ain't a very pretty looking deceased, is she?"

I answered finally, "She was, Emil. She was beautiful."

She wasn't now. Death never is very pretty--but this wasn't the quiet sleep you usually think of when death is mentioned. I had a snapshot of Pam in my pocket, but the dead girl didn't look like the picture at all. Her lips still were puffed, the lower one split in its center; her left eye was swollen and there were deep, pale scratches on one small breast. An ugly blue-yellow bruise stained the waxy whiteness of her thigh. And, of course, her throat and face were puffed, bruised and obscenely ugly.

"You can cover her now, Emil."

He pulled the sheet up over her body and her face. I got a morgue photo of her from Emil, then walked outside. I understood fully now why Mr. Franklin hadn't wanted to look at her.

When I stopped in front of him he didn't speak, just waited to see what I'd say.

"All right, Mr. Franklin," was all I could manage.

He sighed softly, then nodded.

"You go on home," I told him. "I'll get started."

Los Angeles Homicide is in Room 42 on the Temple Street floor of City Hall, and while it's not the cheeriest place in the world, it's a big improvement over the morgue. And Sam brightens the place up, at least for me. Sam is Captain Phil Samson of Homicide, big, gruff, with iron-gray hair and a clean-shaven pink face. He's my best friend in L.A., and we'd worked together often. I'd been talking to him for ten minutes and had read his reports. Pamela Franklin had kept a diary and that was on Sam's desk, too. I'd gone through it, looking particularly at the entries for the past few days, but hadn't learned anything from it. Nor had Homicide. It was the usual girl-stuff, full of underlined words and exclamation points, with everybody referred to either by nicknames or initials, as if to keep the diary more secret.

Pam had gone out with Orin West, a boy her age, at 6:30 last night. About 9:30, another couple driving in Elysian Park had seen someone lying a little way off the road. They'd stopped and the man had gone over the prostrate figure--that of a youth, who had mumbled a word or two then passed out. The couple called the police, who learned the unconscious kid was Orin West. He'd been beaten over the head; apparently later he'd regained consciousness and crawled almost to the road. Fifty feet away, hidden by the trees, Pam's body had been found, her clothing torn, her flesh still warm. From blurred footprints and trampled grass it appeared that more than one man had been involved in the attack.

I said to Samson, "The kid with Pam. What's this 'blagan' or 'blaging' he was trying to say before he passed out?"

Sam scratched his gray hair. "What the kid probably said was 'Black Gang.' Mean anything to you?"

It meant quite a bit. We'd been having trouble in L.A., with kid gangs, teen-age hoodlums. They'd been mixed up in robberies, beatings, and a case or two of gang-rape. There was a Red Gang, and the King's men, the Dukesters--and, among others, a Black Gang. From what I'd heard, the Black Gang was the toughest, nastiest group of hoodlums in the city.

I stood up. "Thanks, Sam. That sort of fingers the punks, doesn't it? I think I'll have a talk with some of them."

"Wait a minute," he said. "It fingers one, probably more out of maybe forty guys in the club. What the hell you think you're going to do? Beat them up one at a time? You'll get into plenty of trouble if you start slapping kids around."

I sat down as Sam added, "Besides, you lift a finger at one of them there'll be ten on your back." He frowned. "What you so steamed up for?"

I told him about Mr. Franklin and the trip to the morgue, showed him the snapshot and the morgue photo of Pam. I told him I was going to have a showdown with the kids tonight, despite his lecture. He could tell I was wound up, and he gave me a funny look. Then he said, "We had our eye on the Black Gang before this came up. Not Homicide. Robbery has been casing them for three weeks. They're as sure as they can be, without evidence to convict, that this Black Gang pulled a couple gas-station heists and knocked over a liquor store. And now we've got this rape-kill. All of our work has been under cover, so the gang doesn't know they've been fingered.

"The kid, Orin West, fingered them when he said 'Black Gang,' but he hasn't said a word since. He's in the hospital now, unconscious, and in a bad way. With his parents' consent, we released a story to the papers, saying both the boy and the girl died. So whoever clubbed him and raped the girl probably think they're clear." He paused. "If the boy comes out of it, maybe we'll get the right answer. But he might not make it, so we've got to go ahead." He gave me that funny look again. "Shell," he said slowly, "as long as you've already made up your mind to stick your neck out, go down to the gang's clubhouse and throw your weight around. Stir them up--particularly the head of the gang."

"Just give me the address."

He wrote it down for me, then said, "I told you we were working on this. In our own way. But it's all under cover and the kids can't know we're interested in them. That's the way we want it. If you can throw a scare into them it might help us a lot. But this bunch is nasty; you might get your head bashed in. Another thing, these gangs are usually all teen-agers--but the top in this one is a twenty-two-year-old tough named Chuck Dorr." He paused. "Dorr can't account for his time between eight and ten last night. And he was up on a sex rap here a few months back. Messing with a fourteen-year-old-girl, slapped her around a little."

"He's loose?"

Sam looked disgusted. "Naturally; fined fifty dollars and put on probation."

I got up. "I'll keep in touch, Sam."

"Stir them up--but don't overdo it. There's still a chance the West kid can tell us something. And for Pete's sake don't let them know you've even talked to a cop. We want them to keep on thinking the police never heard of them. That's important. I'll know what you're doing, but you're pretty much on your own. And watch this Dorr bastard. He's a grown man, and tough--bigger than you are."

I'm a shade under six two, barefoot, and weigh 206. "What is he?" I asked, "A monster?"

"You'll see him." Sam walked to the door with me and added, "Shell, I--uh--always leveled with you, so I'll tell you. I'm holding out a little on you."

"What does that mean?"

"Nothing. Just wanted to keep it level. Well, watch yourself. Some of those kids, at least one of them, thinks he's already committed two murders--Pam Franklin and Orin West. The next one will be easy. From the record, Chuck Dorr isn't quite right. And whoever pulled the deal last night, whether it was Dorr or somebody else, is definitely psycho."

I grinned. "I won't let anybody kill me, Sam." I left, but I didn't feel quite as flippant as I tried to sound.

I parked my Cad convertible around the corner from the Black Gang's clubhouse, then walked around the corner, down the street past a narrow alley, and stopped before the place. Two motorcycles and three jalopies that looked like hopped-up jobs were parked in front. The club itself was an ordinary house, a big one-story frame building set back twenty feet from the street. A cracked cement walk led through a dirt yard to the door. I walked over it and up onto a warped wooden porch.

There was a lot of noise inside--squeals and laughter and shouts and the thumping of feet as somebody danced heavily. It sounded like a big crowd. I didn't yet know quite how I'd handle this, but I figured I'd let the kids take the lead at first. If they were subdued and pleasant, I'd be the same--as much as possible, with the memory of Pam still fresh in my mind. I didn't expect a cordial reception, though; I'd been up against a couple of teen-age gangs before, and I long ago got over my initial erroneous impression that a criminal had to be an adult. A fifteen-year-old kid once clubbed me with a professionally made sap, and an eighteen-year-old shot at me with a zip gun. He missed by a couple of yards--but he tried not to. My .38 Colt Special was in its shoulder harness, but I hoped the kids would be nice and polite.

They weren't.

I rang the bell, and noise simmered down inside. A tall, skinny, rat-faced guy about seventeen opened the door and squinted out at me. "Yeah?"

"I'm looking for Chuck Dorr."

"Who's askin'?"

"Shell Scott. I'm a private detective."

"Never heard of you." He started to shut the door in my face, but my foot got in the way.

"I guess you didn't hear what I said."

"I heard you. He ain't here. Beat it. You ain't invited. Get it, Mr. Detective?"

This little punk was what I'd expected to find here, and he was making me mad, which I'd also expected. "You'll do," I said. "I'd just as soon talk to you."

He mumbled a couple of filthy words, then said, "The foot. The big foot. Move it."

I moved it. I lifted it up and kicked the door with it. Ratface staggered back a step and the door swung in and slammed against the wall. I walked inside, brushing past Ratface as the room got completely quiet. Three or four guys stood up, glaring at me. There were maybe a couple dozen kids in the big front room, about half of them girls, and all teen-agers. None of them was near my size, so Chuck Dorr wasn't in here.

There had obviously been some heavy petting going on. There was plenty of liquor in sight. Probably they were all half plastered, and there was a heavy sweet smell that indicated there were a few marijuana smokers scattered around. Liquor and marijuana make the punks bigger, smarter, tougher.

I stood inside the room for only a few seconds as hostile eyes stared at me, then the door slammed behind me and the silence ended. Three of the guys who'd stood up when I barged inside walked toward me, and the one in front, a short, stocky youngster with the sweet face of a child who spends his evenings looking at filthy postcards, said "Beat it, mister. This is a private racket." Another, with a thin, pimpled face and bright red lips, said. "Get lost; vamoose; disappear."

There were several other remarks, all equally clever. The girls present made it worse, because male punks, like those around me, always get tougher and more "clever" in front of their women--like guys kicking sand at the beach. And the women looked like the type who'd love it. Half a dozen were in jeans or slacks, others in tight dresses.

They didn't like having their party interrupted. I couldn't help thinking that Pam and her boy friend must not have liked it either, last night. I looked at the hard young faces of the three kids standing a yard away, glanced around at the other male faces and they were as vicious and ugly a collection as I'd ever seen in one room. Each time I looked at one of them I wondered if maybe he had beaten Pam, wrapped his fingers around her throat. Any one of them looked capable of it--and one or more of them had probably done it.

The short chunky kid and the red-lipped one on his left put their hands flat on my chest and shoved me toward the door. I could feel my face getting hot. It's simply part of the way I'm made; nothing in the world gripes me more than for a man to push me, shove me around--and now these brats were trying it.

"Keep your hands off me," I said.

Ratface was on my left. "Who do you think you are, Lumphead?"

I looked at Ratface and reached for the wallet in my inside coat pocket. "I already told you," I said.

Maybe he thought I was reaching for something else, maybe he just hoped to scare me; he was standing with his hands behind his back over his hip pockets, and he brought his right hand halfway from behind as I pulled the wallet out. When he spotted the wallet he put his hand behind him again, but not before I saw the reflection of light on the long-bladed knife he must have carried in a hip-pocket sheath. He was a sweet little underprivileged kid. I sure felt sorry for him.

I flipped the wallet open and showed him the photostat of my private detective's license, then showed it to the three other kids near me. They weren't impressed. "Yah, a fake cop," Ratface said, and one of the others made a yak-yak-yak sound. There was a little harsh laughter. I looked at Ratface.

"Let's start with you," I said. I pulled the snapshot of Pam I'd taken from Mr. Franklin's album out of my pocket and handed it to him. I didn't say anything, but waited to see what he'd do.

He looked at it. He kept looking at it. Finally he licked his lips, squinted up at me. "So what's this for?"

"You know her?"

"Nah. Should I, Lumphead?"

"Pass it around," I told him. "Give everybody a look."

He kept squinting at me, and for a few moments I didn't think he was going to do it. Then he shrugged. "So why not?" He showed the snap to the three punks alongside me and they shook their heads silently, then Ratface walked to the nearest chair, gave a young couple there the picture and mumbled something. The short chunky kid near me walked over to Ratface and they started whispering together, glancing occasionally at me. The other two joined them in a few seconds. I walked to the rear wall and leaned against it while the photo made the rounds. I wanted to be where I could watch all the faces--but mainly I wanted that wall at my back; I didn't like the way this was going.

There was a steady rumble of conversation; a lot of lips curled at me when the kids looked my way. The boys started moving around, gathering together; in half a minute all the girls were grouped around one of the couches and the guys were in two groups at the far side of the room. They talked softly, looking at me and then laughing, as if they were building up to something, working themselves up. Most of the male punks had drinks in their hands.

I didn't like the rumbling at all, because these were simply young hoodlums--just as bad as old hoodlums only younger. If they felt like it they could gang up on me and maybe split me open, but I had to be polite. They were products of their environment. No more so, oddly enough, than everybody else, including me, so I couldn't work up much sympathy for them.

Ninety-nine out of a hundred teen-agers--or grown-ups--you run into are fine people, but there's still the one per cent or less that doesn't belong. There are good kids and bad kids, good men and bad men, but when they shoot you in the head, you're just as dead whether they were born in a mansion or a slum, use a Magnum or a zip gun. And I guess I'm the kind of guy who looks at the finished product of our civilized jungle instead of the manufacturing process. I'm not the kind of guy who says to the cannibal gnawing on my leg, "Bless you, my son; I realize you're a product of your environment."

Finally all the little cannibals had seen Pam's photo, but nobody had seen her before. That was odd, because a picture of her had been in today's papers. And if the ones who had raped Pam, murdered her, were here--I wondered what was going on in their minds now.

Ratface left his pals, picked up the snapshot and walked over to me. He handed me the photo and then put his hands into his hip pockets again. "You satisfied?" he asked.

"Uh-uh. I still want to see Chuck."

He took the knife out of his pocket, making it obvious this time, and pared a tiny sliver from one of his thumbnails.

All the other male punks stood across the room looking at me. One of them tossed something shiny from one hand to another. At first I couldn't tell what it was, but then I saw it was a set of homemade knuckles probably made from a garbage can handle, with sharp pieces of steel projecting from it, steel slivers that could slice a man's face into shreds. A few other kids, including Ratface's short chunky friend, had their hands in their pockets.

"Beat it," Ratface said. "Now, Lumphead. I mean it."

I was getting awfully tired of this little punk telling me what I was going to do. "Listen, you pint-sized hood," I said, "quit flapping that nasty tongue of yours at me or--"

He interrupted, "Or what? Hey"--he turned and looked at the guys behind him--"he don't wanna leave." He motioned with his hand and the whole bunch of them walked toward me. They came slowly; the one kid had his knucks on his right fist, others still had hands in their pockets.

I put my hand under my coat, but hesitated; I didn't pull the gun out. You can shoot an Al Capone when he's big Al, but it's not considered proper when he's still Little Al. I remembered Sampson warning me that I'd be in plenty of trouble if I started slapping "kids" around. I was reaching the point, though, where I soon wouldn't give a damn; and if any kid came at me with a knife or knucks, it was quite likely I'd shoot him in the head.

I wrapped my fingers around the gun butt and pressed my back against the wall. "Hold it right there," I said. My voice had tightened up on me a little. "So help me, you punks get any closer I'll forget that you're children."

They kept coming. I started to slide the gun out--and right then I heard a car outside screech around the corner with its horn blaring. The car slid to a stop in front, still honking. The atmosphere in the room changed. The dozen or so punks stopped a couple of yards from me, some grinning and poking each other. Ratface trotted toward the door and was joined on the way by Shorty, the chunky kid who seemed to be his pal. They both hurried out. It seemed the boss had arrived.

In a minute the kids came back in, cocky expressions on their faces. Ratface winked at the others. Chuck was here; he'd fix me. I heard footsteps coming up the walk; that would be Chuck, but there was the fast tap-tap of high heels, too. Chuck came through the door first, and if there was a woman behind him, I couldn't see her. If there had been a diesel locomotive behind him I wouldn't have seen it.

As Samson had said, the guy was big.

The group of punks near me started milling around, paying less attention to me now, and as Chuck waved at everybody he got a chorus of "Hi, Chuck," and "Where ya' been, Chuck?" And "Hey, Chuck, this big lug's givin' us a hard time."

He looked at the knucks on the kid's hand, and at another kid with something metallic half out of his pocket. "Put that hardware away," he said. Then he walked across the room and stopped in front of me.

"What's the trouble?" he asked.

He was about half an inch taller than I, but he was so broad-shouldered and slim-waisted that he'd looked even taller in the doorway. His shoulders must have been three or four inches wider than mine, and his arms were long, too long. Wiry black hairs stuck up from the back of his hands and wrists and sprouted over the neck of the white T-shirt he wore under a brown coat. He wasn't a bad-looking guy--not what I'd expected at all.

"No trouble," I told him. "Not yet. Just asking questions."

He grinned. His voice was soft, pleasant, as he said, "Who asked you to ask questions?"

"Mr. Franklin."

"Franklin?" he said steadily. "Don't know him. So you better go right out the front door, and right back where you came from." The voice was still pleasant, but the grin was a little tight. Something was bothering me, about this guy; I thought I knew him from somewhere, but I couldn't place him.

"We ever meet before?" I asked him.

"Nope. We probably don't run in the same crowd."

I looked around at the kids and I said, "Apparently not."

And because I looked around I saw the girl--or rather the woman, because by no stretch of imagination could she be classed as a teen-ager. Looking at her suddenly like that was almost the same as getting kicked in the head.

She was a tall, platinum-haired dish with a hard, brassy-but-pretty face that seemed to have half a pound of paint on it, and she had no modesty at all. She could have lost half of her curves and still have been shapely, and I knew the curves were hers because she was wearing a pale blue off-the-shoulder blouse and a tight skirt. She walked across the room toward us. The strap of a big, brown leather bag was looped over her right shoulder, pulling the blouse out of line.

She stopped alongside Chuck, looking at me. Seeing her this close, hazel eyes with thickly mascaraed lashes, and all the rest, I was starting to think that if she'd scrape off most of the gooky paint, relax a little, and wear another shoulder bag on the other side she might not be half bad--but then she opened her mouth and spoiled any favorable impression I might have been getting.

"Chuckie," she said, "who's the creep?"

All she needed was chewing gum she could pull out of her mouth between thumb and index finger. It was that kind of a voice. High, scratchy, twangy, and if a voice all by itself can be stupid, that voice was stupid.

"Yeah," said Chuck. "Before you leave, who are you?"

I went through the wallet routine, pulling my coat open so he couldn't help seeing the .38. The license photostat didn't impress him any more than it had impressed the kids. He spotted the gun, raised an eyebrow and said, "Detective Special, huh? Real big man's gun." He glanced again at my license. "Well, what do you know? A slewfoot. An April-fool copper."

The platinum blonde giggled nasally. "Oh, Chuckie!" He was slaying her.

And I guess he got carried away by her stupid admiration, because he said, "Let's see the heater," and reached toward my shoulder for it. I let his finger touch the gun before I swung my open right hand and chopped him just under the bicep with its edge. I knew it hurt him and almost paralyzed his arm. He got so mad I thought his eyes were going to pop out.

That was okay. I wanted him mad. I wanted him boiling. I said, "I don't show the gun to people unless I mean to shoot them." I reached into my pocket and pulled out a picture of Pam and handed it to him before he could slug me. "I just dropped in to see if you know this girl," I said. "Do you?"

His jaw muscles were jumping and he was trying to work the fingers of his right hand, but he took the picture. He didn't look at it immediately, though. He stared at me, wiggling his jaw muscles till he'd worked the anger out of his face. He said huskily, sarcastically, "Glad to cooperate with a slewfoot."

He got his face nice and composed, glanced at the picture, and his face uncomposed all over again. He sort of jerked and his lips twisted, then he looked at me with anger flushing his face. "You rat," he said. "What you showing me her mugg for? I read the papers, Slewfoot. What you been doing, bothering those kids about it? So that's the Franklin who told you to snoop, huh?" He tossed the picture away, angrily. "I think I'll bust you one. What you come here for?"

"You don't know her, huh?"

"No, you--"

"Never saw her?"

"No."

"Go ahead," the brassy blonde said. "Hit the snooper, Chuckie."

Too bad, I thought; I could have liked her. Chuck had his fists balled up, and when they were balled they were lethal weapons.

"Listen, Slewfoot," he said. "I'll count up to ten. Be out of here when I finish or you'll get carried out."

I almost gave him an argument, but when I looked around I saw the dozen or so young cannibals ready to eat me alive. I'm pretty big, and I'm an ex-Marine crammed full of judo and the gamut of unarmed defense, but it was small consolation to know that if they all ganged up on me, I might get half a dozen before they massacred me. Maybe Chuck alone could massacre me.

He started counting. What the hell, I thought, I'd stirred them up. I shrugged and took a step toward the door. That brought me up right alongside the blonde.

"Some moxie," she said in the twangy voice. "Some tough muzzler you are."

"Oh, shut up," I said.

Wham! She had less control than Chuck. She brought a hand up and really clobbered me with it. She actually knocked me backward, but it might have been all right even then except that my foot banged into something. I landed on the end of my spine with a crash that jarred the whole house.

Then I saw what had tripped me. Or rather, the two things. Somehow, Ratface's short pal had got behind me and was down on all fours, and Chuck still had his leg poked out and was laughing fit to kill. For a second I sprawled on the floor with a big hot gripe growing bigger, then I planted my foot on Shorty's behind and shoved. He skidded forward and his face banged the carpet as I jumped to my feet, burning. The blonde and all the kids were laughing right along with Chuck, and as I got to my feet the laughter subsided slightly.

But Shorty rolled over and stood up, rubbed his face--and then laughed loudly at me, a noise with no mirth or merriment in it, just a rhythmic ha-ha-ha at the top of his lungs. Other kids caught on, picked it up. In seconds they were all looking at me, chanting their laughter in unison. It was strange, frightening, to look at the now unsmiling faces, hear the perversion of laughter from twenty throats. It was a savage sound, like the grunting of animals; a twisted, stupid exhibition that sent a shiver up my spine.

The blonde was still getting a large charge out of me. I was good for lots of laughs. But only her laughter seemed to have honest merriment in it. I suppose I did look a bit quaint standing there slobbering at them. She bent over and laughed so hard that the bag slipped from her shoulder and hit the floor, making as loud a noise when it landed as I had. She either carried a chunk of lead in there or a gun. Chuck had sweet playmates.

Chuck tapped me on the shoulder. I looked at him, and he wasn't smiling. "Eight," he said.

I started to crack wise, but when he got to nine I walked toward the door. The punks were massed in front of me, and if they hadn't moved I was mad enough to throw a few of them through the ceiling, even if it wouldn't have been wise. But they stepped slowly aside, still going ha-ha, and I walked past them trying to look everywhere at once. I thought I was going to make it to the door without any trouble, but suddenly somebody planted a foot on my behind and shoved hard.

It sent me stumbling up against the door and I spun around as I reached it. It had been Shorty, naturally, getting even. He didn't know it, but we were a long way from being even. I stared at the kids as the laughter slowed and stopped, and it took all my self-control and what little sense I had left to keep from jumping them and making pulp out of a few of them. I had already taken more from these little hoodlums than I'd have taken from an equal number of big thugs, and the longer I stared at them the bigger they looked. Just before they looked big enough for me to pull out my gun and shoot five of them, I made myself open the door and go outside.

A crescent moon was hidden behind scudding clouds and it looked like rain, but the chill air did little to cool me off. I tried to calm myself, thinking, as I walked back to the Cad. I hadn't actually learned a hell of a lot--except that the kids weren't just punks, but dangerous punks. Chuck's face had jumped around when I showed him Pam's picture, but he could hardly be blamed for looking a bit sick. I'd wanted to push him off balance, so I'd played a dirty trick on him; I'd handed him the morgue shot.

And right then I remembered where I'd seen him before. Maybe it was because I was thinking about him and Pam at the same time, but I remembered seeing him in a picture in the album Mr. Franklin had shown me. It had been on one of the last pages of the book; a group snapshot taken when Pam had gone to a picnic--in Elysian Park. Half a block up the street past my car was a small cocktail lounge. I went inside, found a phone booth in back and dialed Mr. Franklin's number. He answered.

"Mr. Franklin, this is Shell Scott. Do you know the names of the fellows your daughter went out with?"

"Why ... yes, most all of them. Have you learned anything?"

"Not for sure. Did Pam ever mention a Chuck Dorr?"

"No. I've never heard the name."

"Look in the back of the photograph album for a snap taken at Elysian Park on a picnic. What's the date under it?"

He was gone for half a minute, then he said, "That was on the sixteenth of last month. She--" His voice broke.

I said quickly. "She know all these people?"

"She went there with her boy friend and another couple; they were to meet some others. She didn't know them all."

I told him I was just guessing, stabbing around, but I'd let him know if anything came up. Then I called Samson.

"Sam, the Franklin girl's diary still on your desk?"

"Yeah. What you want? And how's it going?"

I gave him a rundown on the party. "They're a mean bunch all right. That diary--what does it say for the night of the sixteenth, last month?"

In a minute he had read two or three lines that didn't interest me, the words Pam had written sounding strange in his gruff voice, then, "Divine time at the park. Both OW and JM asked me to the Junior-Senior Prom. Who'll I go with? OW, I think. He's a dream! But I don't think I'd even have gone to the picnic if I'd known anybody like CD would be there. I finally had to just ignore him, he was so fresh. I don't like older men anyway--and he's so hairy. Tomorrow I'll see OW and tell him I'll go with him." Sam paused. "That's all of it."

"The OW must be Orin West. CD is Chuck Dorr."

He said slowly, "You sure?"

"Positive." I told him about the photo in the album.

He said, "We haven't gone over it that close yet. It's getting tighter around Dorr, isn't it? How'd he impress you?"

"He's a rough baby. Doesn't seem like a dim brain, though. If he's psycho, he acts pretty normal."

"So did the mad killers Heirens and Robert Irwin. Looks as if we'll have to keep after the bunch, Shell. Do it the hard way."

"What do you mean?"

"Orin West just died. Never opened his mouth."

It wasn't just Pam now, I was thinking; it was two nice kids. Sam interrupted my thoughts by saying almost the same thing, then, "Nobody knows yet if there were others before this. And there'll be more if we don't get him. This one worries me."

That was the worst part, the frightening part. Even worse than the thought of Pam in the morgue was the thought of her killer, and others like him, walking the streets, meeting more Pams. They look like anybody else when they sit across from you in a restaurant or next to you in a darkened theater; they look like anybody else when they pass you on the street. You can't look behind their normal eyes into their abnormal minds to see the twisted desires, the strange, savage hungers.

"We've got to get this one," Samson said. "And we haven't got enough. You know the rules of evidence, Shell. We've got to get him good or they dismiss the case."

He talked a little longer. I knew what he wanted; he just didn't want to ask me, I could feel the hair move at the back of my neck, and my throat was a little drier when I said, "I like Dorr for it, too, Sam. He's either in it or knows about it. I'll try it again. I'll work on Dorr, and this time I'll really let him have it."

"Well ... go ahead, Shell. Tell him anything. If he's the one, he'll be like jelly inside by now. But it's got to be right, boy. He's got to bust wide open or we lose him--and he won't bust easy."

"Yeah, Sam." My throat was good and dry. "I'll tell you the truth, pal. I'd like about a dozen big cops along."

He chuckled softly. "You'll be all right, Shell."

"Yeah," I said. "Sure." I hung up and walked back to the clubhouse.

I really didn't want to go back in there at all. I stopped in front of the door, put the .38 into my coat pocket, and kept my hand on it as I rang the bell.

Ratface looked out at me; I brushed past him and stopped just inside the room. Heads jerked around, eyes narrowed and I heard voices, "Well, he's askin' for it." Ratface started the ha-ha and the others took it up automatically.

I grabbed Ratface and yanked him to me, damn near lifting him off his feet. I put my face close to his. "Listen, you little fleeper, bag your head. Chop it! I've had all of you I can take."

His face got red and he put his hand on his hip.

"Go ahead," I said. "I'll lay you over my knee and let your punk friends laugh at that."

The door of the side room opened and Chuck was glaring at me. Even from where I stood I could see his jaw muscles bouncing around. The room got quiet. I shoved Ratface away from me hard enough to send him halfway across the room, then walked to Chuck, stopped near him where I could watch him and the kids at the same time.

He said coldly, slowly, "I told you to blow, Slewfoot."

"You told me a lot of things, friend."

His eyes narrowed. Lipstick stained his mouth. In the room behind him I could see the blonde sitting on a divan. I'd half expected a naked woman running around in there, but she was fully clothed--as fully clothed as she could be in that dress. Her lipstick was smeared, that was all.

Most of the kids were on their feet now, near me. They looked at me, then watched Chuck, waiting for the word. Chuck stepped toward me with his hand curling into a fist.

"I wouldn't," I said. My hand was still on the gun in my coat pocket, and with the other hand I flipped back the lapel of my coat, let him see the empty holster.

He stopped fast, glanced at my pocket, then at the kids. Finally he jerked his head toward the room behind him and said to me, "Get in here." He backed into the room and I followed him, slamming the door shut behind me.

He asked me, "What's this chatter?"

"You know what it is. The Franklin girl--Pam. You said you didn't know her. I know you did."

He looked at the blonde, "Beat it, Lucille."

"Chuckie! Well, I like that. I sure like that! Ain't I your girl? Huh, Chuckie?" This gal made me slightly ill, but a jealous blonde might help. She kept going, "You got nothin' you don't want me to hear, do you?"

"I told you to beat it," he said.

"What's the matter, Chuck?" I asked him. "She right? Maybe you don't want her to hear this."

He shrugged, staring at me.

"Elysian Park," I said. He just kept looking at me. "Picnic on the sixteenth. That's one time."

"So I saw her. So what? You think I'm about to say so to a lousy slewfoot when there's so much heat in the papers? I got my reasons, and they're not your business."

"I know your reasons. You read the papers, Chuck, so you know about the young guy that got killed." I grinned. "Only he didn't get killed. He's in the hospital. Talking."

All that happened was that he paused a moment, then seemed to get angrier. "I don't know what you're driving at."

The blonde, Lucille, stood near us now. "You stupid man," she twanged. "You're talking about the girl that got raped." She said it like two words: rape-ed. "My golly, why you askin' Chuckie for? Why'n't you ask me already?"

Her hands were on her hips, and if she had still been wearing her shoulder bag, she'd have been quite a sight; but the bag was on the couch. Even so, she was something to see.

"What does that mean?" I said.

"I'm not so dumb; you're bullyin' Chuckie about it, ain't you? Well, Chuckie and me, we was together last night. Ain't that right, honey?"

He hesitated, then said, "That's right, sweetheart." He looked at me. "You satisfied? Or do you want to land on your butt again?" Lucille giggled.

If Lucille were telling the truth, Chuck had a tasty alibi--but I was almost sure she was lying. For one thing, Samson had told me Chuck couldn't account for his time between eight and ten.

I said, "How, about, say, from eight to ten last night?"

"Oh, stop it, snooper. I'm gonna--"

He didn't get to tell me what he was going to do, because Lucille said, "Eight to ten? Six to twelve, you mean." She squeezed Chuck's arm and said, "Chuckie was with me, I told ya." She glared at me with a very unpleasant look on her painted face. "You want details already?"

Chuck opened the door and jerked his head. Half a dozen of the young guys walked over and stood in the doorway. I suddenly felt hemmed in, even with the gun in my pocket. I had a hunch I was leaving, one way or another--but I wanted to talk to the blonde. Alone. I wanted to ask her more about last night, and a fat roll of dollars might help her tell the truth. She acted like a gal you could buy almost anything from.

Chuck said, "Out, Slewfoot." Then he turned and spoke to the kids, "You want to take him, pallies?" The nasty rumble from them meant they'd like that very much.

While Chuck's back was to me, I caught the platinum blonde's eye, jerked my head toward the front of the house. Her eyes got puzzled. I turned as Chuck grabbed my arm and yanked me toward the door, toward the kids waiting for me.

They were waiting--and ready. I saw a couple of knives, some brass knucks, and one kid, my pal Shorty, held a chunk of pipe. I slammed a foot on the floor, stumbled, but caught my balance and jerked out the .38. When I'd first come into this place I'd been leery about pulling a gun on a bunch of kids; I wasn't any longer.

The nearest punk was only a couple of feet away and I pointed the gun at his belly, ready to use if I had to. He must have realized it, because he backed up in a hurry, banging into the kids behind him. "All of you, back--and fast," I said. I looked at Chuck. "Tell them to move, Chuckie."

He looked from me to the kids and I pointed the gun at him. It was quiet enough now so that he heard me cock the hammer, and when he still hesitated, I lifted the gun barrel over his head and fired a shot into the ceiling. The roar was a violent sound in the small room and the smell of burned powder hung in the air. The kids moved back from the doorway.

"Go on, Chuck," I said. "I'll put the next one lower if I have to. Out ahead of me."

He glared for half a second, face dark, then jerked his head and went through the door into the front room, followed by the blonde. I went after them and kept the gun pointed at Chuck. "One funny move, Chuck--from anybody--and you get it first. After you, your pals get it. And, believe me, I'll enjoy it."

I tried to watch them all as I walked to the door. When I reached it I said to Chuck, "Maybe you've got more sense than these punk kids. So maybe you'd better make sure none of your pals stick a head out after me."

He glared some more but didn't speak. I went out, waited a minute to make sure nobody followed me, then walked away from the house. The street was dark; three of the streetlights had been broken and for half a block there was only dim illumination. I walked to the sidewalk and twenty feet toward the corner waited a few feet this side of the alley. Five minutes passed. Three times cars drove down the street, lights splashing on me as I waited. I began to think the blonde either didn't get it when I jerked my head, or else she hadn't wanted to get it. Then I saw movement at the side of the house and she was walking toward me, her platinum hair visible in the dimness.

She stopped near me. "What is it?"

I was blunt. "What's your price to tell me the truth about last night?"

For a moment she didn't speak; then she said, "Damn!"

Light flashed in front of the house as the door opened. Chuck came through it fast and sprinted toward us. I thought he was going to keep coming and slam into me when he spotted us, and I got ready to give him the edge of my palm across his throat, but he stopped a yard away, his chest heaving.

He spoke to the blonde. "You didn't tell me you wanted some air," he said. He added, "Sweetheart." His voice sounded funny, tight. "You forgot your bag, sweetheart."

I noticed then that he had one hand in his coat pocket, but her brown leather bag was in his other hand. She reached for it quickly but he pulled it away. "I'll carry it for you. Back to the house, sweetheart."

I thought he'd come out here to bust me one, but surprisingly he paid no attention to me. He stuck the bag under his arm, then grabbed her wrist and they started back. But before they turned I got a good look at her face. It was almost as white as her hair. She was scared silly.

They went inside the club while I wondered what was screwy. I could understand Chuck's concern, and her fright, if she'd been lying about being with him last night. But something about it was peculiar; that talk about her bag, for one thing. And she'd been too scared. I turned and started walking toward the corner. At the alley I angled out to the curb, playing it safe. There was something wrong that I hadn't tumbled to yet. I almost had it; it was taking shape in my mind when I heard a shout behind me.

"Hey, Slewfoot!"

I stopped. Chuck walked rapidly up to me. "Tell you something," he said, lips tight against his teeth. He looked nasty, not normal. I put my hand on the Colt in my pocket as he moved around me until the street was behind him. "I'm gonna have to fix you, man," he said. "Gonna fix you good now, man."

He sounded crazy, and I started to take the gun from my pocket, wondering why he'd circled around me. Suddenly I realized that now the alley was at my back. I started to turn--and heard the scrape and rustle of movement in the darkness behind me. I spun around, yanking up the .38, and I saw the rat-faced kid and his pal almost upon me, the short one with something in his hand, raised above his head.

His hand swung down toward me and I started to jerk away, but Chuck's big fist slammed against my head from behind and shoved me forward. Just enough. The descending club hit my head a glancing blow and I fell to my knees, stunned. It seemed to take a long time for me to fall; I barely felt the jar as my knees hit the cement. I tried to move, raise the gun, and couldn't. Something jerked me over and hurled me onto my back; a foot kicked the gun from my hand. I saw Chuck's savage, contorted face above me as his fist slammed against my chin and my head cracked into the cement beneath me. In the moment before blackness swept over me, the coldness of sudden fear slid into my brain as I saw the insane and bestial features above mine, and thought of that inhuman face above Pam's face, and knew the man was crazy enough to kill....

Someone was shaking me. At first my eyes wouldn't focus; pain throbbed in my skull. Then I saw the face of a patrolman bending over me. "You all right?" he was saying over and over.

I sat up slowly, looked around. "What happened?" I said.

"I came around the corner in my prowl car, saw these guys in my lights. I yelled at them as I stopped my car. They ran down the alley here. I chased them, but they got away. I came back to see if you were all right."

"I think I'm okay." I managed to get to my feet, leaned against the alley's brick wall, nauseated. "How long was I out?"

"Couple of minutes." Then he asked me to accompany him to headquarters to register a complaint. I showed him my credentials and explained that I was working with Captain Samson on a murder case. He wanted to stay around to help, but I dismissed that. I was mad enough at Chuck and his pals to want to bust them wide open by myself.

I leaned against the brick wall at the alley's mouth, swallowed the sickness in my throat, reached for my gun. Then I remembered the foot kicking it away from me. I couldn't find it, in or near the alley. They must have taken it, perhaps had intended to use it on me when the police car lights had fallen on them.

Nothing but my gun had been taken; my car keys were still in my pocket. I walked back to the Cad, unlocked the trunk. The car is like a traveling office, and in the trunk I keep most of the portable equipment I've used at one time or another and wish to have handy. There were a couple of infra-red gadgets; an optophone, its receiver and tripod; and the snooperscope, a kind of small infra-red telescope; a watch camera and some other gadgets--but not what I wanted: a gun.

I pawed through the stuff and found a hammer. It wouldn't be much good against a gun, but it would crush a man's skull and sink into his brain if he got close enough. I knew I couldn't go back into the clubhouse again; all those little monsters were potential killers--or killers already. But the hammer would be comforting in my hand while my brain cleared a little and the sickness died--and while I got my anger enough under control so that I wouldn't go and do something crazy.

I heard the popping of a motor from near the clubhouse. Then another joined it and roared. I walked rapidly to the building on the corner, looked around the edge. The first motorcycle raced away, followed closely by the second. A car crammed with teen-agers pulled away from the curb. There was a regular exodus from the club. Soon only one car was left: Chuck Dorr's.

Then the lights went out in the house. In the dimness four figures, bunched closely together, walked to the car. I recognized Chuck by his size: the blonde by her shape. The two others were smaller. All four got into the car and it pulled away from the curb, swung around in a U-turn and headed down the dimly lighted street away from me.

I ran to my Cad, started it up and followed them. Chuck's car didn't have a taillight burning, but I could see a car three blocks ahead. I hoped that it was Chuck's, that they hadn't already turned into a side street; I had to make sure in a hurry and I had to take the chance that they didn't know my Cad. I caught them, passed them fast. It was the right car. Chuck was at the wheel, but he was alone in the front seat; the three others were in back. Remembering the bosomy brassy blonde, I had half an idea what they were doing back there.

I got two blocks ahead of them and stayed there, watching in the rearview mirror. They'd be less likely to suspect a tail when I was ahead of them. They stayed behind for nearly two miles, and as I drove I tried to remember what I'd almost had back at the alley before I'd been slugged. I remembered Chuck's contorted face ... and something crept into my thoughts so slowly then that I almost missed it. But I caught it--and shivered.

I didn't just suspect him now, just feel sure; I knew!

I was thinking of how Chuck's face had twitched and flooded with anger when I'd shown him Pam's photo. The morgue photo. I'd given him that one only to shock him, but when he looked at it his expression and words had told me he'd killed her. I had seen Pam's battered face in the morgue and in the morgue photo--and it wasn't Pam at all. Chuck hadn't looked at the photo until he'd got himself under control, but his first quick glance had told him it was Pam. He could have known only if he was the one who had made her face look like that, had carried the ugly picture in his twisted mind all day.

Suddenly the car behind me turned left. I slammed on the brakes, wrestled the Cad around and roared back to the turnoff, wheeled in a few hundred yards behind them. I couldn't figure where they'd be going, because the road led into desolate countryside. We were already far from the lights of town, and the moon was hidden behind clouds again.

I was worried about being spotted now, arousing their suspicions with lights following their car. I neared an isolated service station and I realized this might be my last chance to get in touch with Samson, get help out here. There were three guys against me, at least one of them with a gun--my gun. And I remembered the girl might have had a gun in her bag. Something flickered in my brain--but the station was on my right. If I stopped I might lose Chuck, but I had to chance it.

I swung in and ran to the station phone, shoved in a coin and dialed Homicide. Samson answered.

"Sam? Shell. Chuck Dorr's our man." I gave him a fast rundown on what I had, then said, "I tailed them out here--four of them. Chuck, his babe, and two young toughs. They're heading out into the sagebrush and I can't take them alone. Get some men--"

"What babe?" Samson interrupted.

"Some tough platinum-blonde tomato of Dorr's. They had some kind of beef, but I guess it's okay now. Who cares? They're out--"

"Where are you?"

He'd yelled it to me, startling me. I blurted out the location, telling him the direction they were heading.

He said, his voice higher, taut, "My God, Shell! She's a policewoman!"

Every bit of my skin tingled, got cold. I heard him drop the phone and shout. Maybe it shouldn't have surprised me, but it did; it stunned me. Sam was gone only a few seconds, but in that time I remembered words he had said to me: "Robbery has been casing them ... I'll know what you're doing--" and a lot of other things that might have prepared me for this.

Then he was back. "Listen fast, Shell. I told you I was holding out on you, and that was it. I couldn't spill, because even you might have given something away when you saw her, and I couldn't take a chance with her in the spot she was in. She knew you were coming down to the club, that's why I let you go. She carries a gun, is a better shot than you are, and could cover you. Shell, is there any chance Dorr knows she's a cop?"

In the moment before I answered, I remembered the puzzled look in her hazel eyes when I'd jerked my head; she'd known who I was, maybe she'd thought I had some word from Samson. Now I understood how Sam had known Chuck wasn't alibied for last night; she'd told Sam, and even knowing Chuck might be Pam's killer, she'd taken the big chance and had come outside, worried, forgetting her bag. And then Dorr had come out with the bag that held her gun and must have held her shield or identification. Right after that I'd been beaten, probably was to have been killed--and they'd all left the club and brought her to this desolate spot.

"Sam," I said, "he knows."

He was cursing when I hung up. I sprinted to the car. The speedometer needle crept to ninety. After five or six miles I passed an intersection, a narrow road that extended both to my right and left. I swore, kept on going straight ahead. But no car showed up in my headlights, and finally I turned around and went back to the intersection. There wasn't time to wonder which branch they might have taken; I swung left onto the bumpy road and stopped, switched off the lights and got out of the car, opened the trunk. I found the infra-red scope and got behind the wheel again. If they saw me coming on this dark and little-traveled road I wouldn't have a chance--nor would she. I drove forward slowly, lights out, looking into the blackness ahead through the small scope.

It's now called the snooperscope, though it was the sniperscope in World War II when it was used by snipers, and by Army drivers driving without lights on dark nights. With the scope to my eyes I could see the outline of any otherwise invisible objects as much as two-hundred to three-hundred feet from me. As I drove I remembered Chuck's face when he'd hit me, Pam's face in the morgue--and Lucille's face. I remembered thinking Lucille might be pretty without the mass of paint and that brassy air.

I was almost ready to give up, turn around and try the other direction, when I saw the clear outline of a car in the scope. It was parked off the road on my right, and I stopped a hundred feet away, and went forward on foot, carrying the hammer. It was Chuck's car, empty.

The night was black, still, sky overcast and moon hidden behind the scudding clouds, but looking through the small tube I could see outlines of scattered trees and shrubs. I didn't see the four of them. They had parked on the road's right, so I walked to the right of the car.

And then I saw them: four sharp outlines visible through the tube, fifty yards away. I couldn't make out what they were doing. I ran toward them, trying not to make noise that would startle the men. Then I stopped running and walked slowly, carefully, until I could hear Chuck's voice. I still couldn't see them without the scope, but through it I saw Chuck's long arm reach to the front of Lucille's blouse and rip it savagely. The two others were behind her, holding her. I moved closer, gripping the hammer in my fist.

And now I could see them with my naked eyes. I heard Chuck's tense voice as he spoke viciously, savagely, filthily to Lucille, giving her an intimate description of what he and the other two with him now had done to Pam the night before. Then he told Lucille what they were going to do to her.

I was almost near enough to jump them, and I had been so intent on Chuck's words that I hadn't noticed the clouds overhead slipping away from the moon. But moonlight grew without my noticing it, and bathed us all in soft but bright silver--and at the same moment I recognized the two kids holding Lucille as Ratface and his pal, Shorty. Ratface saw me.

Before he shouted I saw the gun in Chuck's hand, saw him raise his arm and slam the gun against Lucille's head, saw her crumple as the kid yelled, "Look out! Chuck, it's--" Then I was sprinting toward them, raising the heavy hammer.

Chuck whirled and flame spat from his gun; I saw the two others spin around and jump toward me. Chuck's gun was pointing toward me, ready to fire again, and I hurled the hammer at him, heard it thud against his body as I slammed my left foot into the ground, pivoted and leaped at the two others. I jarred into one of them before he could move out of the way, and my left fist went into his stomach almost to his backbone. As he fell away from me, my hand sliced his neck and he went down. The other one, the short kid, was two yards away, a gun in his hand. I left the ground and leaped feet first through the air toward him, twisting my body to the left. The gun fired, sending a slug past my head, and then I kicked at his leg with my right foot as I hit the ground, sliding. He fell hard onto his back, and I raised my leg and pounded my heel into his groin with all my strength.

In the moonlight I could see Chuck Dorr bent over, fumbling on the ground. I got to my feet as he straightened up, hands empty. The hammer must have hit his arm and at least made him lose the gun. He bent over slightly, long powerful arms held out at his sides, and came toward me. I waited for him.

But as he reached me he dropped suddenly and dived at my feet with his hands reaching for my ankles. I brought up my knee and felt it scrape his cheek, and then he grabbed my legs and twisted them out from under me. I landed heavily on my side. He was grunting, harsh, explosive noises ripping from his throat, and his fist jarred into my back, cracking against my spine as I rolled away from him. He landed on top of me, fists smashing at my head and the side of my face. I slammed a fist against his jaw and rolled onto my back, kicked at his face as he scuttled toward me on all fours and reached for my throat.

My foot grazed his chin and thudded against his shoulder, twisting him, and I got my feet under me, started up as he caught his balance and lunged at me. His hands slapped against my throat, wrapped around it, thumbs digging deep into my throat's hollow as those same thumbs had pressed Pam's neck. His arms were high, his belly exposed, and as spots spun before my eyes and the blood congested in my face, distending the veins, I pulled my right arm back, the hand stretched open and my fingertips pointed stiffly at his solar plexus. His thumbs pressed deep into my flesh and blackness swelled before my eyes as I drove my open hand toward his belly.

But my blow was high, and I hit solid rib. I felt bone snap beneath my fingers. A gasp of pain ripped from his mouth and his hands loosened on my throat. I balled both hands into fists, jerked them upward hard, slamming my wrists against his arms. His fingers tore from my throat, and with my arms above my head I spread my hands open, sliced their edges down hard on the muscles at each side of his neck.

His arms dropped to his sides, and when he discovered he couldn't lift them, it was too late. I had plenty of time and I set myself, leaned forward as I swung, pivoting, getting the weight of my shoulder and body behind the blow, and smashed my fist against his mouth. As he staggered back I jumped forward and grabbed him, pulled him to me as I swung my fist against his mouth again. He'd had it all, then, but I sliced my palm's edge against the back of his jaw to make sure, then let him fall.

The short kid I'd kicked in the groin was vomiting. I hunted till I found the hammer and my gun, then I walked to Shorty and hit him on the head with the hammer. He rolled over. Ratface was moaning softly, so I gave him a tap, too. Then I walked to Chuck, hoping he'd wiggle so I could clobber him. He lay quietly. What the hell! I thought, and I clobbered him anyway. Maybe I put a bit too much pleasure into the blow, but I was thinking about Pam, and the small satisfaction Mr. Franklin would get when I told him who had raped and killed his daughter. Chuck would come out of it eventually. He'd make the gas chamber. Lucille and I had heard enough to send him to the cyanide cell.

Lucille!

I turned around. She lay unconscious. Her blouse was in ribbons. I knelt by her and felt for her pulse. It was strong. There was a lump alongside her head, but her hair had kept the skin from being broken. This was the first time I'd seen her face relaxed, composed; and without her act, the hard, brash manner to confuse the impression, I had to alter my original opinion of the girl. With most of the paint off her face and the thick mascara thinned, she'd be choice. She was the first cop I'd ever thought of as sexy.

In three or four minutes she moaned and came slowly out of it. Her eyes focused and she sat up fast, reaching for my face, long fingers curling into hooks.

"Whoa! Hey!" I yelped. "It's me. It's me."

She stopped reaching, sat up straight and blinked at me wonderingly. I remembered then that she had been sapped before I charged. "Oh," she said. "Mr. Scott. What..."

She was still bewildered. I gave her a quick explanation, told her everything was all right.

She looked around her. "Did you do all that?"

For a minute I didn't answer her, because I'd got another shock. It was her voice. It didn't twang. It was honey and warm wine, a lovely lilting sound that caressed my ears, sent a pleasant shiver up my back. I should have known. All the rest had been an act; the voice was just another part of it.

Finally I found my own voice. "I did it," I said. I almost added, "With my little hammer."

She winced then. "Ooh. My head hurts."

"Wait till these kids wake up." I had to chuckle. Seemed like everybody I knew had been hit on the head. Lucille and I talked for two or three minutes, and not once in all that time did it occur to me how silly this was: a shapely next-to-naked doll and me sitting here in the wilderness surrounded by virtual corpses.

I found out that she was from Robbery and had been casing the Black Gang for three weeks. She'd got just about enough information about four robberies the kids had pulled under Chuck's leadership--including where some of the loot was stashed--to put Chuck, Ratface, and Shorty, plus half a dozen more of the gang, out of circulation. Then the Franklin case had come up--and it fingered the Black Gang. She'd been in a perfect spot, close to Chuck, and she'd volunteered to stay with the gang a while longer.

She said, "I'm sorry I had to slap you, Mr. Scott--"

"Shell."

"--but the whole idea was that if Chuck got rattled he might spill something to me--if he was sure I was on his side. I had to make him think so, Mr. Scott, and--"

"Shell."

"--and I had to laugh. You did look funny, Mr. Scott."

"Shell."

She honestly didn't seem to realize how much was showing. Of course, she wasn't sitting where I was.

"If I made an arrest I'd need both my tin and gun, and Chuck spotted them," she continued. "He ran out of cigarettes and went looking in my bag for some. That's when he found out. He had my gun in his pocket when he ran into us outside the club. But I had him fooled till then." She made a face. "I even had to let him kiss me, but he never--" She stopped. "My God!" she gasped. "Just now, before he hit me, he said he was going to ... going to..." She couldn't seem to get it out, and at first I didn't know what she was driving at.

"Going to ... maybe he..."

Then I got it. "No, no. I saw him sap you. Two seconds later I came charging in like Thor. He didn't ... he didn't ... uh, well, anyway he didn't."

A big expression of relief flooded her face and she sighed heavily; oh man, she sighed heavily, and my mouth dropped open, and perhaps because of the turn the conversation had taken, perhaps because of the nearness of my mouth, she suddenly realized that Chuck had ripped her blouse wide open.

Softly she said, "Ah!" Then she reached up and covered herself with her hands, blushing as she breathed, "Oh, my goodness!"

I grinned. "Yes, indeed."

I had taken a couple of big chances tonight, so I figured I might as well take a little one. It worked out all right.

"Oh..." she said. "Oh, Shell."

Nothing else happened for almost a minute. I was close enough to touch her and we were staring at each other, our faces a foot apart. It built up slowly. There weren't any electric sparks, and the earth didn't shake or split apart; it just started getting hotter than hell where we were. Her face softened, slackened as I put my arm around her shoulders, pulled her toward me. Her lower lip drooped, her warm breath brushed my lips, and I felt as if I were going to melt and seep into the ground.

And then her face was closer, her lips parted, and her mouth touched mine and pressed and clung, and she wasn't covering herself any more, she didn't have to, and she was so warm and wonderful in my arms that we were both practically radioactive, and this went on until I figured I'd have to make the rounds with my hammer again pretty quick.

Just when things were getting interesting I heard sirens, and headlights slithered through the trees.

I sat up and looked around and my breathing was almost wiggling the shrubbery, and I said, "Well, they sure as hell picked a fine time for it."

In a matter of seconds, Sam and a couple of the boys from his squad were with us. They made short work of hauling Chuck and his pals into the police cars.

Sam took off his jacket and handed it to Lucille. She looked good to me even in the loose-fitting coat. Then Sam held out his hand to me while Lucille stood by, smiling. "We both owe you a lot, Shell. So does Mr. Franklin. Those kids are finished for sure now."

I couldn't say much; my pulse was still racing and I couldn't keep my eyes away from Lucille as she squeezed into the crowded front seat of Sam's car. Then she spoke. "It's been a pleasure, Shell."

"Yeah," I managed to reply. "I'd sure like to see more of you, some time. Tomorrow night, maybe?"

I was close enough to her now to notice that she blushed at what I'd said and she tugged Sam's coat more tightly around herself. I hastily added, "I mean let's get together for dinner. We can forget all about the young and the damned."

What she answered was drowned out by Sam's laughter as he shot the police car into high gear. Back to my Cad I went. God, she was lovely. I did want to see her again.


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