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The Murderers
The Murderers
The Murderers
Электронная книга189 страниц3 часа

The Murderers

Автор Fredric Brown

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Lust plus greed equals murder in this classic Hollywood noir novel by “a real pro” (The New York Times Book Review).
 
A struggling actor, Willy Griff keeps himself entertained with the wife of a business mogul, but he wants more: He also wants the business mogul’s money. The mistress, Doris, likes the idea even more than Willy does, and figures if she helps plan the murder, she can ditch the husband and keep the cash.
 
It’s a dangerous scheme for two low-level, aspiring criminals. But Willy comes up with an ingenious, foolproof plot for pulling it off. At least, he better hope it’s foolproof . . .
 
The Murderers is a gritty tale of crime and passion from Fredric Brown, a master of noir and mystery and winner of the prestigious Edgar Award.
ЯзыкEnglish
Дата выпуска14 дек. 2021 г.
ISBN9781504068666
The Murderers
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    The Murderers - Fredric Brown

    CHAPTER ONE

    I woke to darkness, with the shreds of a ridiculous dream keeping me from knowing what had awakened me or even who I was. Then I remembered; it was the automatic alarm clock in my mind which had awakened me; I’d set it for this time because of an appointment. I even knew who and where I was.

    I was Willy Griff, waking from a nap in my basement room, and the room was in Mrs. Whelan’s rooming house—better known as the Zoo because of the strange characters that it housed. And the Zoo was in Hollywood, the mecca of actors like myself. Correction: other actors; there is none exactly like unto me. Better, perhaps, but never like.

    I thought, let there be light; and turned one on. The clock on the night stand under the lamp told me that it was eight o’clock. I had to get up now because of my appointment to meet Lennie, my agent, at the Wilshire Derby at nine. It could be important. Lennie had told me he thought he could bring a television producer along, one who was starting to shoot a new crime series on the Warner lot. Lennie had told me it ought to be good for at least a bit part; the series characters were set but the show would need a full complement of fresh faces every program for the hoods who would not survive the show.

    I threw my feet over the edge of the bed, stretched and yawned.

    I, Willy Griff, twenty-seven, born of farmer parents in the Imperial Valley, sufferer under Pasadena Playhouse, crucified most of the time since in my efforts to get a foothold above occasional bit parts, but not yet dead or buried. Move over, Brando, I’m on my way.

    I walked across to the sink and put cold water on my face, wiped it and studied myself in the mirror to decide whether or not to shave again. The verdict: negative. Just a touch of shadow on my face, as now, made me look more mature and more plausible as a potential crime-show hood. The face I studied was neither rugged nor handsome but somewhere in between; sometimes I wished it were more definitely one or the other, but one works with what one has. And I can think of it as a versatile face; I smiled at myself boyishly, lowering my eyes and then raising them again in the manner of Jack Lescoulie charming housewives with a soft-sell commercial, then I tightened the corner muscles of my mouth and scowled through flat hard eyes, a torpedo with finger itching on a trigger. Yes, a versatile face. I let it revert to its usual expression of slight arrogance-or partially concealed great arrogance—and looked at it again, and approved. I ran a comb through the black hair above it, making it sleek again.

    Yes, a versatile and satisfactory face. And why shouldn’t I face the world with arrogance, seeing that it’s a lousy world I never made. I could have done a better job.

    I lighted a cigarette, put on my robe, and went down the hall to the bathroom, deciding I might as well get that trip over with before I dressed.

    The door was locked so I stood leaning against the wall opposite until the toilet flushed and in a minute the door opened and Doll came out. Hi, Willy, she said. And, with a glance at the robe, Getting up late or going to bed early?

    Doll was a slightly gorgeous redhead, the most attractive female inmate of the Zoo. But she belonged to Solly and was hands-off stuff for that reason. Solly was an ex-wrestler who now managed other wrestlers. He was fifty if he was a day bur he was a giant of a man who could still tie any ordinary man into pretzel knots.

    But Solly wasn’t in hearing and I let my voice go dulcet—sexy instead of arrogant—when I answered her question. Hi, Doll. Haven’t decided yet. Any suggestions?

    I stood watching while she walked away from me down the hall. I knew that she knew I was watching by the way she rolled her hips a little more than she usually did. Provocative, but she was a commodity that’s never in short supply in Hollywood.

    Back in my room I dressed carefully, but quickly; if I didn’t dawdle I’d have time to walk down to Wilshire and save myself a cab fare. The rooming house is on Rondo just off Sunset, not too far a walk. 1515 Rondo is a fleabag and a poor address, but it has the advantage of being central.

    I went out, and paused on the top of the two cement steps that led down to the sidewalk; the air felt damp, as though rain might be coming, and I was wondering whether to go back to my room and get a har and trench coat. A car door slammed, quite close, and I glanced in the direction of the sound. A gray 57 Fairlane was parked at the curb and a man had just left it. He was coming across the sidewalk toward me and since I hadn’t yet made up my mind about the coat-and-hat bit, I stepped a little aside to let him pass and enter. I’d never seen him before.

    He was big, almost as big as Solly, and like Solly he looked like something from TV wrestling, but in clothes. He wasn’t tall, maybe five-ten to my six feet even, but he had shoulders, and a neck like a rhinoceros.

    He came up to me, but didn’t pass. He said, Hi, actor-boy. Let’s go back to your room. His voice sounded tired, as though he’d been waiting a long time to say that.

    I wasn’t afraid, not yet, but my mind made like a detective’s on a series show, with deductions. He’d been waiting in that car till I came out, so he didn’t know my room number. Rather, which room was mine; they don’t have numbers on the doors. But he knew something about me since he knew that I was an actor. My name? Probably, since he knew my profession.

    I temporized. I don’t dig you, I said. I’ve got an important appointment—

    Look, Griff, he said. (He did know my name and that made it seem less dangerous; at least it wasn’t a heist; if he knew my name and profession he’d know I wasn’t worth heisting.) Don’t get scared; I’m not going to hurt you—if you play along. I’m a licensed private investigator and I’ve got a client who wants to talk to you. Now, as soon as I phone him to come around.

    Oh, I said. And Oh, I thought. I saw it now. Doris Seaton. I’d been with her this afternoon. Fun and games at a motel.

    And John Seaton, her husband, had suspected fun and games and had put a pee-eye on her and he’d been with us when she’d dropped me here at the Zoo at a little before five o’clock. He’d been waiting since for me to come out, since he didn’t know my room. But he must have described me and asked some questions somewhere, since he had my name, rank, and serial number.

    Well, it had been a nice thing with Doris, while it lasted. She had money and a swank car and I had what I contributed to the relationship. Two months, we’d been making the scene.

    But still—why did Seaton want to talk to me? Just the fun of reading a riot act to me and telling me, with a hunk of paid muscle for protection, what would happen to me if I saw his wife again?

    But maybe I could stall it, on account of my appointment with Lennie. Listen, I said, "I’m willing to talk to your client, but does it have to be right now? I wasn’t just putting you on about the appointment. It could be important."

    So’s seeing my client, kid. He wants me around when the confab happens so if it’s tomorrow it’ll cost him an extra day. I give value for a client’s money.

    He reached around me and opened the door, gave me a push—a gentle one but it carried me across the sill. He took my arm and headed for the phone half a dozen paces down the hall. He let go to reach in his pocket for a dime. But he said, You can probably outrun me if you want to try. But if we have to go through this again tomorrow, it’ll be tougher.

    Okay, I said. Might as well get it over with now. Maybe, I thought, I could still keep my date if I took a taxi.

    When he dialed EX for the exchange I knew I’d been right. Exbrook is the exchange of the Seaton home, in Santa Monica. And a moment later he was saying, Seaton? All set here. His name is Griff, with a double-f—1515 Rondo, in Hollywood. That’s a few blocks west of Highland, and the number is just north of Sunset … Okay, just a minute. He spoke over his shoulder to me. What’s the room number?

    No number. First door to the left after you’ve gone down the front steps to the basement floor.

    He relayed that and then said we’d be waiting in the room.

    I led the way down and we went in the room and I closed the door.

    Okay, I said. Chair or the bed, your choice. And since it’s going to take him at least twenty minutes to get here, we might as well not make faces at each other. Do you dig musky? I got a jug of it. Or don’t you drink on the job?

    It’s better than nothing. And I’m not on the job any more, exactly. I got the jug and poured us each a glass to drink. He sat down on the chair with his and I took the edge of the bed. Very chummy. I’m just to stick around till he’s through talking with you.

    And take a poke at me if he gets mad and tells you to?

    He grinned. My license doesn’t cover that. Unless in defense of my client. So don’t lose your temper, kid. I’ll be right outside the door while he’s talking and if a rumpus starts I’ll be right in. Dig me?

    I dig you, I said. How long have you been following us? Or is that a professional secret?

    He shrugged. Don’t see how it matters. Her, for a week. You were with her three times. Same motel each time.

    None of this mattered but I was curious. This was the first private eye I’d ever happened to talk to. I asked, How come you didn’t blow the gaff on us the first time?

    Client didn’t want a bust-in. Just wanted to find out who she was cheating with. And the two times before today she dropped you off up on Hollywood Boulevard at a crowded time. I was in my car behind her, but couldn’t park in time to pick you up on foot. That’s the hell of a tail job in a car. Just dropping you off, she didn’t have to park but I would have.

    I nodded. And today she dropped me off here and you stuck outside until I showed. Neat.

    My private eye looked at his wrist watch and then downed the final sip of his wine. He walked over to the sink and rinsed out the glass and put it down. Off duty or not, he didn’t want his client to find him drinking. The timing was perfect; there was a knock at the door just as he put down the glass. He was closer so I let him open it.

    Through it came—well, the best I can do for a first impression is a pear-shaped object. I’d never seen him before, but he could be no one else but Doris’ husband. Seat Cover Seaton, he advertised himself, the Santa Monica seat cover king.

    Seat Cover Seaton. Pear-shaped, fortyish, or maybe a little more, balding, getting dewlaps prematurely. Dorrie had told me quite a bit about him, but this was worse than I’d been prepared to see. The only nice thing about him didn’t show. He had money; he made money.

    Thank you, Mr. Weston, he said, and now I knew the detective’s name. Mr. Weston went out.

    I was standing now and I didn’t ask Seat Cover to sit down; I wasn’t going to until he broke the ice and I knew what line he was going to take. I just stared at him calmly, waiting.

    And then I almost did a double take, because the silly bastard was crying. Actual tears. It put me down for a moment; what can you do against anything as square as that?

    I’m sorry, Mr. Griff, he said.

    The meaning of that cluded me, for a moment. I’d been screwing his wife, in various hotels and motels on his money (vicariously, of course) and he was sorry. And he hadn’t used it in the southern sense of the word, that he was a sorry object; he hadn’t inflected it that way. Then I dug what he’d meant, that he was sorry he was crying and making an exhibition of himself.

    But he went on and I didn’t have to answer. Mr. Griff, I love my wife. Very deeply. Before I say what I’m going to say I want to be sure you understand that.

    What in hell was he leading up to? I’d imagined that, whatever he was going to say or threaten to do, it would mean the end of my seeing Doris and I’d reconciled myself to that while I’d been waiting. Now I began to wonder. What was he building?

    He struggled to make sense. What I’m trying to say is, I understand. Dorrie is young and I suppose she—well, I mean I understand. But it can’t go on, her seeing you. I love her and I don’t want to divorce her. I won’t if I don’t have to. If she—

    I decided to speed things by helping him untangle himself. I said, Have you talked to her about this, Mr. Seaton?

    Yes. And she is willing to give you up and give me another chance. But I wanted to talk to you too, so you’d understand and not try to get in touch with her.

    Of course I’d get in touch with her. She was too passionate a bitch to lose without trying. And too much in love with me (whatever she’d told him, she couldn’t have meant it; it must have been under duress) and too handy to borrow bread money from when I was between engagements. But I’d be a fool to say so and put him on guard. As it was, we’d have to be a damn sight more careful than we’d been, which hadn’t been very.

    I understand, I told him. And, if Doris agrees, I haven’t any choice. Besides, I can’t afford to support her—at least not the way you can. So—what can I say except okay?

    He nodded slowly. "The only thing is, do you mean it, Mr. Griff? I don’t like to make threats, but I want to make sure you won’t see her again—even if—even if she didn’t fully mean what she told me and calls

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