Death with Music

by C. S. Montanye

CHAPTER I. SWELL NIGHT FOR MURDER

CHAPTER II. FOR THE LAW

CHAPTER III. NIGHT RIDE

CHAPTER IV. FROM HEADQUARTERS

CHAPTER V. THE COAT

 

Johnny Castle steps into a puzzling maze of criminal intrigue when he sets out to probe a grim hot spot murder mystery!

CHAPTER I. SWELL NIGHT FOR MURDER

BROADWAY had all the flash, sparkle and brilliance of a backwoods town buried deep in the sticks. Under the dimout regulations Dream Street looked like the main thoroughfare in Podunk. And to make it worse the sky was conspiring with the War Department.

There wasn't a moon or the glimmer of a star anywhere. The whole set-up was dark as the Cotton Club's beauty chorus.

I cut from the main boulevard, east through Fifty-first Street, heading for that resort of pleasure known to all and sundry as the Tallyho. This was a popular night-spot. One of the better columnists often referred to it as a “concentration camp with a floor show.”

The Tallyho was owned and operated by Alf Linkhart, a smart hustler who knew all the angles and most of the answers.

As first string sports writer on the Orbit I had been tipped off that afternoon that Silk McCall, a fight manager of some prominence, was about to make a deal with Andy Best to purchase Patsy Keegan, a promising young welterweight. As Keegan was right in line for a crack at the title— and figured to have a better than even chance to wrap it up—the thing was news.

I knew McCall usually hung out at the Tallyho. In fact, a phone call to the Orient Athletic Club, where Silk's sockers trained, brought the information that McCall was at his favorite dive.

The Tallyho graced the center of the street. It was on the north side. Its big Neon sign had been turned off.

HEAVY draperies muffled all the windows. Only “Seven,” the colored doorman on duty, was the same. Seven, in his gold-braided uniform, with teeth that lighted up the gloom like hundred- watt Mazdas, flashed them at me as I cantered up.

“It's Mistuh Castle, sho' enuf,” he greeted me. “Yo' ain't been around fo' quite a while.”

“Sho' enuf,” I said. “How's the ivory stock market?”

“Fair to middlin', suh.”

“Silk McCall inside?” I asked.

“Yes, suh.”

Seven opened the door and I exchanged darkness for light.

Sunburst Alley might have changed on the exterior but inwardly the Tallyho was just the same. The same rococo and cheap gilt decorations. The same tables, stamp-size dance floor, hot band and smoke haze.

Also, noise.

I had just finished trading my ten-dollar felt for a brass check when Alf Linkhart, owner of the Tallyho and ex-pug, came down a flight of stairs that emptied into the right side of the foyer. He was a worried-looking fat guy, with a broken nose and twisted ears. His complexion, strictly Ossining, N. Y., was a hangover from a six-year vacation he had once taken there at the Government's expense.

Linkhart saw me and headed over. “Well, if it ain't Johnny Castle. You haven't been around in a long time. How's tricks, kid?”

I got to the point. “I understand Silk McCall's here.”

Linkhart's small, slatted eyes retreated under their creepy lids.

“Could be. I ain't noticed him. You sure he's around, Johnny?”

“I was told that,” I said. “By your own doorman.”

“Stick around and I'll ask Ben.”

Ben was Benny Grant, a small, dapper little man with false teeth and a smile to match. He managed the Tallyho for Alf Linkhart and also doubled in the role of headwaiter. Linkhart went between the heavy draperies and into the main part of the place. He had hardly left before the door of a phone booth, on the south side of the foyer, opened and a red-headed girl stepped out.

She was in a costume that marked her as being part of the floor show's dancing line, consisting of some glittering green-blue spangles and net. A little here, a little there. The gal was a looker. Her profile was swell—all the way down.

Yet I could see there was something on her mind, something that made her delicately arched brows draw together and stay that way. She stood there, looking at nothing, while she nervously chewed her lower lip. Just then Linkhart came back.

“Hello, Putzi. What are you doing around front?”

“I had to make a phone call.”

“Better watch the time,” Linkhart said. “You go on in a couple of minutes.” He shifted his cigar. “By the way, meet Johnny Castle. He writes pieces for the paper. Johnny, this is Putzi Russell.”

“Hello.” I nodded to the girl. “Glad to know you.”

She looked at me without much interest and nodded back.

The shaded lights fell on her red-gold hair, pointing it up with gleams of fire. They made the green-blue spangles shimmer. I noticed her skin was like smooth satin and her eyes a deep, lovely shade of blue.

THE girl said something about having to duck and vanished through a door which I happened to know led down to the basement dressing rooms.

“I can't find Ben Grant,” Linkhart said to me.

“He's probably downstairs. I left word for him to come up here.”

I hardly heard what Linkhart said. “Putzi Russell?” I stared at the door the green-blue spangles had faded through. “New, isn't she?”

Linkhart nodded, clearing his throat. “I grabbed her out of one of these dance dens. You know, thumbs in six lessons. South American stuff—like bananas. She was one of the lady teachers. Imagine! A fancy babe like her pushing Bronx bookkeepers around at so much a tangle!”

He laughed and went in between the coatroom counter and the cigar stand where the door of his office backed up.

I pushed the draperies aside. The restaurant was fairly well crowded and the floor show was about to commence. I recognized Cary Blynn, one of Tin Pan Alley's dime-a-dozen pianists as he sidled out and took his place in front of a baby grand.

Blynn was a nice-looking boy, tall and smooth. He wore his blond hair long and brushed back. A white dinner coat and blue trousers set him off to perfection. I'd overheard that Blynn was terrific with the ladies. He couldn't have had more dames flocking around him if he had been a basement bargain sale.

Blynn rippled the vamp of some new tune. An orange spotlight hissed down from the battery of balcony lights and a girl stepped out and into its glare.

She was very dark, very sleek, with blazing black eyes and a mouth as red as a Connecticut barn.

It didn't take much Broadway knowledge to peg her as Lolita Diaz, a recent import from Rio.

Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around. Ben Grant showed me his phony choppers in a broad grin.

“Silk's upstairs in Room Two-A, Mr. Castle.”

“Thanks,” I said.

It was a cute song. Lolita knew how to put it over. She gave it all she had and a little more, smiling at her accompanist while he smiled back at her. I hung around until it ended. Four babes with bare stems breezed out for a rhythm grind and I started up the stairs.

I couldn't explain it, but a funny feeling began to grow in the pit of my stomach.

Twice before, in the past, I'd had it. Once, the night a couple of expert targeteers from Toledo wandered into a Second Avenue drinkery and just for fun shot the joint up.

And once on an icy morning when a taxi I rode went into a skid and headed for an E1 pillar. It missed but stopped halfway through the front window of a delicatessen store.

I remembered picking salami out of my hair and brushing off potato salad until the medico, on the rear of an ambulance that clanged up, told me I was all right.

My scalp crawled and for no reason at all, the palms of my hands began to get damp. Downstairs, the beat of the band died to a thin, monotonous note—a continual thumping like the pounding of my heart.

The corridor was dimly lighted. On either side of it were private supper rooms. Sometimes speculators used them for card games. Occasionally, suckers were lured into them and clipped. Now, I saw most of the rooms were empty, with the doors standing half ajar.

LOOKED at the numbers as I went along and found that 2A was at the end of the hall.

There was a light over the transom, a sliver of gold along the sill. I expected to hear Silk McCall's high, whining voice on the other side of the door. McCall was a great talker.

Over at Jacobs Beach they had a saying that McCall could talk a cripple out of his crutches.

I remember what had brought me to the Tallyho. I had known McCall for quite a while. I'd always given him a break in my sheet and he appreciated it. So much so that when anything important came up he let me have it exclusive. If he were angling for Keegan I'd know about it.

I tapped on the door.

Ben Grant hadn't mentioned who was with Silk McCall, but it was a cinch it would be “Red” Herrin, one of McCall's ex-heavyweights. For some time Herrin had been all through as a leather dispenser. Lately, he had been playing bodyguard to his boss. Why Silk McCall, a friendly guy, needed a strongarm everywhere he went, was one for the book.

There was no answer to my knock. I gave the panels another rap. Still no answer. I dropped a hand to the knob and turned it.

The door opened and I walked in on murder! Silk McCall, on his back, sprawled on the carpet, half under a table, half out in the open. He was dead, all right. What made him that way was the knife with the ebony handle protruding from almost the exact center of his chest.

All around McCall was an ooze of crimson. From the look of the blood I figured he hadn't been knocked out very long.

I shut the door with a foot and took in the details of the room. Nothing was disturbed to indicate brawling. An eight-ounce bar glass stood on the table, the ice still melting in it. It was my guess that McCall's death was as much a complete surprise to him as it was to me.

I stood looking down at him. The music drifted faintly up. So far as I knew McCall wasn't the kind who had a lot of enemies on his tail.

Who and why? I must have stood there another minute before something caught my eye.

I followed the glitter of it along the floor and found it a foot away from where Silk lay, under the table.

It was a green-blue spangle that glinted and sparkled like a diamond in the room's light.

I held it in the palm of my hand, thinking hard.

Then I put the spangle in my handkerchief, opened the door and went downstairs.

CHAPTER II. FOR THE LAW

ALF LINKHART took the news hard. He mumbled two words around the cigar in his mouth.

“Silk—killed!” he exclaimed. “If he isn't,” I said, “he's giving a pretty good imitation of a stiff with a shiv in him.”

Linkhart pawed at me. “Wait a minute, Johnny! What are you going to do?”

“Give the police something to worry about,” I said, and ducked into the phone booth.

I watched Linkhart through the glass door while I eased the call through to Centre Street and the proper parties. McCall's demise had shaken Linkhart down to his reclaimed rubber heels. He looked flabby and flattened. The Sing-Sing pallor turned from a rich cream to skimmed milk. His hands were shaking like a line of wash on a windy Monday.

“This'll ruin me,” he bleated, when I hung up and stepped out of the booth. “They'll snatch my license! What with gas and rationing, I'm having a tough time getting by. This'll wash me up and wipe me off.”

“That was Captain Fred Mullin, of the Homicide Squad, on the wire. He'll be up here before you can say 'What's the motive?' He passed out some advance official instructions. The law says nobody is to go in that room or touch anything until he arrives.”

Linkhart shivered. “Ruined! Closed up! I might as well find a dock and jump in!”

The floor show chorus was warbling a hot number. I pushed the curtains aside and stared. Twelve not-so-bad-looking girls were cavorting in the cleared space beyond the tables. It wasn't hard to pick out Putzi Russell. I saw her red-gold head on the right end of the dancing line.

All the costumes, if you wanted to call them that, were alike except for the color of the spangles. And Putzi's, I noticed, was the only one that matched up with the spangle wrapped in my handkerchief.

The girls danced off and sirens wailed out on Fifty-first Street. The front door of the Tallyho opened. Captain Mullin with two plainclothesmen in tow loomed up in the doorway.

Over their assorted shoulders I caught a brief glimpse of Seven's dusky face. The eyes of the dice expert resembled a pair of hard-boiled eggs looking for two slices of bread.

“Shut that door and lock it,” Mullin directed briskly. “Stay and cover it, Larry.” He turned to Linkhart. “I've got a squad around the building. Nobody gets out of here until I give the okay. Where's the body?”

“Upstairs,” Linkhart choked.

“Who found it? Who phoned me?”

“I did—both items,” I said. Captain Mullin stabbed me with a couple of pale, suspicious eyes. He was a short, stocky man, hard as nails all over. A typical old-time, club- swinging, knock-down-drag-out copper, Mullin had come up the tough way—from a beat on Staten Island to the captaincy of the Homicide Squad.

Mullin didn't go in for fancy detecting, but he usually got plenty of results by his own methods.

“You,” he said shortly, and there was a universe of meaning in the one word.

Mullin and I didn't sing any close harmony duets. Once, early in his career as Lieutenant, he had tried to close up a certain night club, claiming it was a gambling dive. It happened that a couple of floaters, entirely unrelated to the place, had drifted in and staged a card game. The close was so unfair that I had written about it in the Orbit, slapping on plenty of indignation.

THE charges had been squashed, and Broadway had enjoyed a laugh at Mullin's expense.

Like elephants, the captain had a good memory. I knew he had had it in for me, trying to even off. I had hit him in his vanity, the worst possible place, for Mullin had no sense of humor. He didn't like folks snickering at him.

We went upstairs.

I opened the door of Room 2A, and Mullin walked in slowly. His gaze shifted from the late Mr. McCall to the furnishings of the room and then back to me.

“When did you find him?”

“A few minutes before I buzzed Headquarters.”

“What did you bump him for?” Mullin growled. “What did he ever do to you?”

“Not a thing,” I said. “That's why I didn't kill him.”

Mullin's colorless eyes focused on the disturbed Alf Linkhart. “You kill him?”

“Not me.” Alf shook his head violently. “Silk was a pal of mine. One of my best customers. Would I be crazy enough to murder customers who come in here and spend money?”

Mullin knelt beside the corpse. He threw a handkerchief over the handle of the knife and drew it out slowly, inch by inch. In the light the long blade glittered wetly.

Mullin studied the murder weapon for a moment, put it on the table and shrugged.

“That shiv was in for keeps. He must have gone out in a hurry. How long has he been here? What time did he come in?” Mullin fired the questions fast at Linkhart. “Come on, speak up.”

Alf Linkhart did.

McCall, alone, had entered the Tallyho at twenty-five minutes after nine. He had told Linkhart he expected a friend. He asked for an upstairs room and Linkhart sent a waiter up to 2A with him.

“He ordered a single Scotch. That's all I know about him until Castle, here, came down and told me Silk was all through.”

I raised an ear and an eye at Linkhart's new version of McCall's presence. A while ago Alf Linkhart had pretended he didn't know if Silk was on the premises.

“So you were the party he expected?” Mullin said to me.

“Wrong,” I answered. “He didn't expect me. He was to meet Andy Best here. Silk wanted to proposition Best and take over Patsy Keegan's contract.”

“Where's Best?” “Apparently he didn't show up, Captain,” I said.

“Get the waiter who served McCall,” Mullin ordered.

The waiter appeared a few minutes later. The sight of the object on the floor did things to his complexion and digestion. He turned a delicate pea-green and began to burp.

“What do you know about this?” Mullin asked.

“Not much, sir. The boss told me to take the gentleman up here. He said, 'Scotch' and I went down to the bar to get it. When I brought it up he was sitting in that chair, with a lot of papers on the table beside him, sort of reading through them.”

“You didn't come in again after you served his drink?”

“No, sir.”

“That's all.” Mullin rubbed his chin. “Lot of papers, eh?” he said, after the waiter blew.

MULLIN knelt again and began searching through McCall's clothes. He pulled out a couple of letters, a wallet well-lined with dough, a bunch of keys, two packs of cigarettes and matches.

But there were no papers.

Mullin skimmed through the sheaf of money in Silk's poke.

“Almost four Gs. That's a lot of coin.”

“I told you he was angling to buy Keegan's contract,” I put in. “That would take a lot of dough.”

Mullin made a routine inspection of the room. He raised the window and looked out. When he closed it Ed Wheeler, one of his plainclothesmen, came in with a wine card that had a lot of writing on the back.

“I jotted down a quick list of the guys in the main room that you might want to talk to.”

Mullin nodded. “Send them up one at a time. Who've you got first?”

“Coffin, the bookie.”

“Fine.” Mullin smacked his lips. “It'll be a pleasure to rake that sharpshooter. Go get him.” Then the cold eyes flickered in my direction.

“That's all, Castle. If I want you I'll call you. But don't go traveling for a few days and don't tell me you couldn't get to the Battery because you've got an A card.”

I hesitated.

After all, it wasn't my affair. Why not hand Mullin the green-blue spangle and let him take it from there? Something checked me. I couldn't figure what it was. Maybe two lovely blue eyes. Maybe highlighted hair, soft and shiny—or two tempting red lips.

I wanted to stick around and listen in on Putzi Russell's answer to the captain's questions, but Mullin had other ideas.

“What are you waiting for, Castle—a goodby kiss?” he asked me.

Larry Hartley stepped aside when I went downstairs. I walked out into the dark of Fifty- first Street, continued on as far as Sixth Avenue and turned into a beer stube.

Propped up at the end of the bar I toyed with a beaker of brew, my mind working hard.

The spangle sparkled in my handkerchief when I opened it up. I frowned at it. The girl with the blue eyes had been in Room 2A that evening. Why? What for? I remembered her troubled look when she stepped out of the phone booth in the foyer. Slowly, I folded the handkerchief in half and put it back in my pocket.

After thinking things over I had decided to horn in on the McCall killing. I believed I had three good reasons. I chalked them up in order of importance.

My main reason was that first, last, and in the middle, I was a newspaperman, with the best interests of my sheet at heart. If I could find and put the digit on Silk McCall's killer, and give it to the Orbit, so much the better.

My next reason was, it would be a pleasure to tangle with Captain Mullin again, and find out if the stuff above my eyebrows was still as good as his—or better.

My final reason concerned what might be classified as a sudden cardiac disturbance. It was cockeyed, building up a split-second interest in a dame whose nod to me had been as cold as a polar bear's paw. But there it was and I didn't argue.

SUMMED up, I saw I could toss out Reasons One and Two and still be half-witted enough to go ahead on my own.

My first stop was the Orient Athletic Club across town. That was the gym where Silk McCall's boys trained. It was late and I didn't expect to find anyone on deck. I didn't—except for a night watchman.

“All locked?” “Tight as a drum.” “Where does Herrin hang out after hours?” I lined the question with a dollar bill. The watchman palmed it, pondered and let go with some tobacco juice.

“Red? He lives with Mr. McCall. At the Hotel Reginald.”

Of course. Being Silk's strongarm, Herrin would be camped in at the fight manager's home address.

A clock-ark buzzed me across town and uptown again to the Reginald. It was in the Forties, a rock's heave from Lexington Avenue. There was no one around except the night clerk doing a crossword puzzle at the desk.

He listened, then spoke. “Mr. Herrin isn't in. I know that. Somebody called the suite twice in the last hour.” He glanced at the rack back of him. “There's McCall's key.”

“Much obliged,” I said, and laid leather on the sidewalk, outside, again.

Captain Mullin had evidently finished quizzing the customers at the Tallyho and had let them go. They were filing out singly and in pairs when I gave Fifty-first Street a playback. I noticed the medical examiner's car standing behind one of the prowls. The morgue wagon came around the comer and Silk McCall went away in a basket.

I camped in the vestibule of a furnished rooming house on the south side of the street and watched.

The girls of the floor show came out and hurried away. I looked for Putzi Russell, but didn't recognize her. I didn't think I would—with her clothes on, in the dark. More time passed and then Mullin, Hartley and some plainies tumbled out and the prowl car whined off.

I figured Mullin had left a cop on duty; that didn't check me. I hadn't been an old-time patron of the Tallyho for nothing. There was an alley on the east side of the building. In the Prohibition era, when the spot had been a speak, the beverages used to be delivered down that alley.

I followed it along until I came to the door at its end.

It was locked, but didn't take a lot of trouble to open. The blade of my penknife moved the catch back and a shoulder did the rest. I walked into smelly darkness.

A lighted match showed me a flight of stairs. These led from the cellar to the dressing rooms. At the far end of the hall a couple of dim lights had been left burning. I padded along the cement until I reached the same door Putzi Russell had used earlier that evening to fade through.

Now I had to be careful. Mullin's watchdog, in all likelihood, was planted in the foyer. Or was he? I inched the door open and gave the foyer a gander. Luck was good. It was deserted.

A light seeped out of Linkhart's office. Someone was moving around in there. I tossed a quick look at the stairs and tiptoed fast to the door between the cigar counter and the coatroom wicket.

ALF LINKHART, at his desk, jerked his head up when I slid in and quietly shut the door behind me.

He still looked like a lump of putty. But his slatted eyes were bright and dangerous when they fastened on me. He opened the top drawer of the desk and—reached.

So did I!

My fingers wound over his wrist. I put on the pressure and helped myself to the blue-black automatic Linkhart had grabbed for. He quieted down when I let him look into the muzzle.

“Where's Mullin's man?” I asked.

“Upstairs.”

“No capers, Linkhart,” I warned. “You were as phony as the Bell System tonight. I want a clean bill. If I don't get it I'll spill plenty to the captain. You know what I mean. You were upstairs with McCall just before I came in.”

Linkhart's shapeless mouth twisted. I kept watching his hands. I didn't want any more drawers opening, guns popping out. Alf Linkhart had a swell excuse for drilling me. He could blow me open and tell Mullin I was Silk McCall's murderer.

The cops would love it that way. A quick crack for what looked like a tough nut and no questions asked or answered!

“What do you want?” Linkhart growled. “How far are you in on this?” I leaned across the desk. “For my dough you're the party who jabbed Silk with the steel,”

Linkhart shook his head. “You're wrong, Johnny. Murder ain't up my alley.”

“What did Mullin find out?”

Linkhart relaxed a trifle. I put his gun in my pocket and a hand over it. His slatted eyes kept watching the pocket.

“Nothing—much.” “Was Andy Best here tonight?”

“Not that I know of.”

“You've got an angle,” I insisted. For the first time he smiled. “Mebbe yes, mebbe no. Why all the interest, Johnny? You ain't a copper—what business is this of yours?”

“I've declared myself in. Just because and for instance. Who killed McCall—if you didn't, Alf?”

“You figure it. I'm not talking.”

I moved in closer. He sat there, his chins pushed up by his collar, looking like a creamy balloon that would ssst out at the prick of a pin.

“No gab?”

“I'll tell you this much,” he said earnestly. “This is one for the law to handle, Johnny. Look, you take my advice and leave it alone. Otherwise, you might get your good-looking pan bent out of shape. See what I mean?”

“For the law?” I said. “Okay. Now tell me where I can find Putzi Russell. Or don't you know that one, either?”

“Putzi? Easy to answer. She has a room at the Burgoyne.”

“I'll take this up with you later, pal,” I said and backed toward the door.

Linkhart didn't move. He kept his gaze on the pocket while I opened the door and went through it.

The foyer outside was still empty as any last year's love nest. I drifted rapidly out of the Tallyho by the same way I had come in.

Ten minutes later a cab dropped me at the Burgoyne.

CHAPTER III. NIGHT RIDE

THE hotel was medium class.

Perhaps a notch lower. It got most of its play from the theater crowd, the Times Square element, so callers there at any time of the day or night weren't unusual.

The elevator hoisted me to the second floor. There was only one corridor which split the building in the middle. Two long straight lines of numbered rooms lined the hall on either side.

As I got out of the lift a door opened and a tall, good-looking guy came walking down the hall. He didn't wear a hat. His blond hair was brushed back and half a glance tabbed him as Cary Blynn, the piano player at the Tallyho.

“Down!” Blynn called out, when he saw the descending elevator.

When he had gone I went on to the door he had come from. The girl with the blue eyes and the red-gold hair opened at my first knock. It was Putzi Russell.

Maybe she thought it was Blynn stopping back for something.

“Oh!”

I walked into a good-sized bedroom-living room. There was a lot of furniture around. The only thing of interest around there for me was Putzi in a glamorous velvet robe that fit like her skin. At close range, with the make-up off, she was even more attractive—younger and cuter— than she had been at the night-spot.

“Remember me, Miss Russell?”

She drew the broad sash a little tighter about her curved figure. I looked deep into her eyes. A girl with eyes like hers couldn't be guilty—of anything! Anything, that is, outside of possessing deadly weapons. And what I gazed into were twice as dangerous as the gat in my pocket.

“You're Mr. Castle.”

She had perfume on her hair. When she came closer I breathed it in. I wondered what business had brought Cary Blynn to see her here. Business concerning McCall and Room 2A?

It looked that way to me. “I want to talk to you,” I began. “About what?” “Silk McCall's sudden death.” A pulse throbbed in her throat. The lamplight turned her hair to burnished gold. Slender fingers played with the tassels of the sash, making them swing, pendulum-like.

“You're a copper?” “Wrong. Newspaper. I want to help you. Maybe you don't know it but you're in a spot—if Mullin finds out—things.”

Her eyes widened. “What kind of—things?” “Information. That you were in Room 2A tonight at the Tallyho. That you were with McCall—when he was dead or when he was alive. You didn't tell Mullin that when he questioned you.”

The red lips parted. In the room adjoining, a card game was going on, and the grumble of voices and the clink of chips crept in through the transoms.

I noticed she had stopped swinging the sash ends.

“What makes you think I was in that room, Mr. Castle?”

“You left something. Luckily, I found it before the police did.”

I opened the handkerchief and. showed her the green-blue spangle. The same troubled look she had worn out of the telephone booth came back to shadow her pretty face.

“What do you want me to tell?” Her voice was low and strained.

“Who finished Silk?”

“I don't know!” I heard the quick breath she drew. “Really, I don't know.”

“You were in that room, You saw him.”

SHE didn't hesitate. “Yes, I saw him. He was alive then. I slipped upstairs because I wanted to talk to Silk.”

“What about?”

I felt like a Centre Street bully, putting on the clamp, but I had to play it through. Mullin was nobody's fool. Somebody else at the Tallyho might know about Putzi Russell's visit to 2A. I had to help her. And to do it I had to be tough.

“I can't tell you.” Her look was tragic. She was either putting on a good act or I was wringing her out. “I swear I had nothing to do with his murder! I swear I don't know who did it! He was alive when I left him.”

I believed her. “Did you see anyone else up there? Anyone in the room, or the corridor? Anybody pass you?”

She shook her head. “Nobody.”

“What about Blynn? I saw him a few minutes ago, outside. What was he doing here?”

She was standing, facing me. My back was to the door. I saw her eyes switch from my face and shift swiftly to a point over my left shoulder. That should have been enough warning.

But it wasn't. Neither was the draft I felt blowing against my ankles or the steps on the carpet—behind me.

Quick, gliding, catlike steps that stopped abruptly.

Then Putzi Russell, the room, the lights and everything else—including myself—went out . . . .

I must have been away for quite a while. When I finally broke through, I woke up lying on a blanket on a stone floor.

The first thing I saw—when objects took shape out of the nebulous haze—were feet. Two pairs of feet in shoes that had been purchased a long time before you needed a coupon to get them.

They belonged to a couple of shabby roughs who were sitting at a table playing cards. I had a worm's-eye view of them, an earful of their moronic chatter.

From the repartee I gathered that one was Sam and the other Steve.

Steve was big, built like a bridge, with a lantern jaw. That probably explained why his face lighted up every so often. Sam was shorter, but no less husky. Neither was familiar.

I looked at my surroundings. They certainly didn't resemble the Burgoyne. All concrete. Floor, walls and ceiling of the small room were stone. I had never seen this place before. The light came from a dangling, shaded bulb suspended over the table where they played with the pasteboards.

I felt like something that had stepped out of an electric fan. My head ached dully and my mouth tasted like a musty cellar smells.

“Ten of twelve.” Sam slapped the last card down and yawned.

“That's three bucks fifty you owe me,” said Steve.

“I know. We move at twelve. Let's kick the sucker awake.”

Steve turned to drop his cigarette and grind a heel on it. He saw me looking at him and grinned.

“He's out of it.” “Yeah?”

Sam came over and they both looked down at me. From my position on the blanket they seemed about seven or eight feet tall.

“On your pins, punk!” Steve ordered.

I DODGED his brogan and got up. The stone room rocked a little. So did I. Sam shoved me up against a wall. He reached out and picked up a piece of thin rope hanging over the back of a chair.

“Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

He knotted the rope around my wrists. I used the old Hegeman trick at throwing out the joints so, when the final knot was tied, there was slack when I pulled them in.

“What's the idea?” I inquired mildly. Neither bothered to answer. Sam, meanwhile, had whipped out a dirty bandanna. He folded it into a hood and tied it over my eyes.

Then somebody stuck a gun in my back.

“Start walkin'.”

I did.

Damp cold hit me in the face. The gun urged me forward, I stumbled down some steps and across a stone floor. From the sharp smell of gasoline and the slip of oil under my soles I figured I was in a garage.

“Climb in!”

I was pushed through a door and onto the rear seat of a car. Another man was sitting there— waiting for me. I floundered around. He grabbed my arm and jerked me forward.

He slammed me back against the upholstery. Then an overhead steel door thundered up and the car rolled out.

I hadn't any idea where I was. A few minutes later I imagined we were on an express highway. There were no lights to slow us down or stop us. Not much traffic, either. Only occasionally I heard the whirr of a car going by.

My head began to clear. I began to think better. I didn't like it. The car and the guys in it bore too much of a resemblance to the good old carefree gang days when you were taken out for a ride and seldom brought home.

My mind went back to the room at the Burgoyne.

I was sure Putzi had no part in the snatch. She had been just as surprised as I was at the intrusion. Then—who had sent the huskies around to pick me up?

After a while I thought I had the answer. What was the matter with Linkhart for an angle? Alf, and no one else, knew I was on my way to the Russell girl's address.

I was confident I hadn't been tailed at any stage of the short trip from the Tallyho to the Burgoyne.

So it must be Linkhart. Okay. What about it? A lot about it! Since he wanted me dealt with, it looked like Alf Linkhart was nervous. Nervous about the things I'd told him I was going to do. Nervous enough to want me out of the picture.

“Fair enough, Mr. Linkhart,” I said to myself. “There's no harm in trying!”

A half-hour must have passed. The car began to slow. It went off the smooth cement and bumped over car tracks.

“About a mile. Take the first turn to your left,” the voice of Sam said.

A mile. The last mile, maybe. The final mile for John Castle. It was all or nothing!

I had worked the thin rope off my wrists, keeping my hand behind my back to make it look good. Now I pulled them out into full view. I had to show them, to pull off the bandanna. Jerking it away, I staked everything on speed. Speed and the element of surprise. I nailed the man on the cushions beside me with a short left that had everything I owned behind it. It tipped him back and dropped him, head down, on the floor.

STRANGELY, as he slid off the seat, my fingers brushed the coat he was wearing. The material of it felt like warm moss, soft and spongy. Funny material to make a coat of, but I wasn't thinking of that then.

I got the door beside me open with my right hand before the two monkeys in the front were aware of what had been going on.

Sam turned, just as I got the door unlatched. I hit him so hard with my left fist that I thought I'd broken it. He yelped, but I didn't wait to hear Steve's reply. I fell out on the road, the car going on a short way before the brakes thudded.

In the pale moonlight I saw a fringe of woods close by.

Picking myself up, and paying no attention to the blast of fire and the slug that whistled past, I headed for the trees.

I'm sure that Alsab, in his match with Whirlaway, never turned it on the way I did. More slugs sizzled by, but all they did was to make me go faster—toward the woods—toward safety.

CHAPTER IV. FROM HEADQUARTERS

GENERALLY speaking, Bill Jamison had handled the McCall demise pretty well for the Orbit. I read the details at breakfast the next morning. There were a few items I hadn't known about.

One, Andy Best, when questioned by Mullin, stated he had been headed off from his appointment with McCall at the Tallyho by a nine o'clock telephone call. Some guy, whose voice Best said he didn't recognize, canceled the meeting.

Then, Mullin claimed he had a hot angle he was working on. He promised the press a break within twenty-four hours. A large order, but it made good reading.

Mullin was in his office at Headquarters when I stopped around to see him shortly after ten. The hard-hitting copper didn't look too happy. He dug up one of his best sneers when I sat down opposite his desk.

“What's yours, Castle?” “Maybe you won't believe me, but I want to report a near-snatch. Also, the theft of my wallet with sixty bucks in it and an automatic.”

“You've got a license to carry firearms?” Mullin growled. I let that go and he leaned forward. “Who's the dame that called in late last night and said you'd been picked up by a couple of gunmen and lifted out of her apartment?”

I sat up straighter. So Putzi Russell had buzzed the law! That meant she hadn't been tied in with the two hoodlums who had lugged me off to the garage. More than ever, now, I was convinced Alf Linkhart was back of the incident.

“I haven't the slightest idea—who called you, Captain.”

Mullin gave me a dirty look. He reached for a pad and pencil.

“What are the particulars? Who heisted you?”

I told him. Mullin's expression was bored when he jotted the facts down. That is, until I mentioned the garage.

Then his colorless eyes gave me a fishy stare. “Know where you were?”

“I haven't the slightest idea.”

Mullin sighed. “Okay, Castle. I'll put a man on it. I'll let you know if anything develops.”

I could imagine how much work he'd have the department do for me. Instead of taking the brush-off and ducking, I sat further back in the chair.

“While I'm here, Captain, how about a slice out of the McCall pie? I've been wondering about the knife that decorated him.”

“You don't have to. No prints. The killer wiped it clean.”

“You didn't happen to find out where it came from?”

Mullin grinned. “Sure, I did. Right out of the Tallyho's kitchen. So what?”

“So you must have an idea.”

“Several.” He screwed his mouth up and looked at me quickly. “I think Linkhart did it. What do you think?”

I shrugged. “My thoughts aren't worth a thin dime. But why Linkhart?”

“Mebbe,” Mullin said slowly, “Alf and McCall were doing business together. Mebbe Linkhart didn't like his cut, and decided to do something about it.”

“Could be.” I got to my feet. “Only I don't think so.”

I LEFT him to mull that over, and hit uptown for the Reginald.

I was careful nobody tailed me. Nobody did. The day clerk at the hotel told me that Red Herrin was upstairs. I got out of the elevator on the ninth floor. Red, in a worn dressing gown, opened the door.

“Well, Johnny. Come on in.”

I entered a room lined with framed photographs of past and present maulers. Red, in characteristic fighting crouch, faced the wall over Silk's flattop desk. The photo of him had been snapped a long time ago.

Even in his prime Herrin hadn't been any world shaker. Just a third-rate heavyweight with a piece of bric-a-brac under his lower lip. He was tall, redheaded, with a pair of shoulders custom- made for piano moving and a pot under his belt that had swelled out in the last few months.

“Condolences, Red. Too bad about Silk.”

“Terrible, Johnny.” Herrin's voice was dull. “I keep blamin' myself. If I'da been with him it wouldn'ta happened.”

“How is it you weren't?”

“I had to go over to Jersey to see my brother- in-law. He got hit by a taxi. One stem broke below the knee. I heard the news about Silk on the radio and come right back.”

“Any ideas?” “Not one, Johnny! I couldn't sleep, tryin' to dope it. All I know is Silk says he's goin' to the Tallyho to rumble with Andy Best. Where's the poison in that? So I let him go.”

We talked about McCall for a few minutes more. Then I went back to the office.

“Message for you, Mr. Castle.”

Beth Wheaten, one of the switchboard operators, saw me when I went in and shoved a memo in my face. It was from Putzi Russell. It said she wanted to see me as soon as possible.

“'Putzi'?” Beth laughed. “If I had a name like that I'd take something for it.”

“Yeah, what?” “Probably gas.”

I didn't bother to answer. Turning on my heel I started uptown.

When I arrived at the Burgoyne, the girl with the blue eyes was dressed in a neat skirt and white blouse, and she looked younger and less sophisticated than at any time I had seen her. But this time I took no chances of intruders. I closed the hall door of the bedchamber-living room and turned the key in the lock. Then I turned around and faced her.

“You're all right?” Putzi led off. “All in one piece—so far.” She slipped her fingers into mine and I hung on for a long minute.

“The boys who took me away from here, treated me to a drive up around Yonkers,” I said. “Somebody ought to tell them about the rubber situation. To make a short story shorter, after a couple of them were unexpectedly taken unconscious, I hopped out of the car, hid in some friendly woods and got a lift as far as a subway. A New Lots train brought me back okay.”

“You don't think I invited those crashers in, Mr. Castle?” Her tone was worried. “They must have followed you. I couldn't even warn you, they came in so fast.”

I sat down beside her on a four-foot divan. I could smell the perfume on her hair. It was something the angels themselves must have distilled. When she moved her shoulder brushed mine. I didn't feel much like talking. It was enough to just sit there and admire her. Nevertheless I made a try.

“Let's see. Last night before we were so rudely interrupted we were speaking about Blynn. Cary Blynn. I asked you what he was doing here. Remember?”

SHE turned her head. She didn't say anything for a minute. The red lips swam before me like a couple of hothouse roses. The fifty-dollar-a- dozen kind.

“Yes, Cary was here. He left just before you came in.” She dropped her voice to a husky note. “I've thought it over. I do want you to help me— in case the police find out I saw McCall. So I'm going to go clean on it.”

My heart picked up a faster beat. She pushed her shoulders back against the wall. As she crossed one trim ankle over the other, I caught a glimpse of symmetrically filled silk hosiery. Or maybe it was rayon. Gorgeous in either case.

“It was about Cary that I went to see McCall,” she said.

I absorbed that. “You're—in love—with Blynn?”

She smiled faintly. The lashes came down over the blue stars she used for eyes. She shook her head slightly.

“I like him—I have reason to. Cary Blynn's my brother. Blynn's my right name. Putzi Russell's my stage name.”

“Oh!” was all I could manage. “How much do you know about Silk McCall?” she went on, quickening her words. “You're a sports writer. Outside of his ring activities, how much do you really know about McCall's private life?”

“Nothing.” “Then I'll tell you something.” She glanced at the door as if to make sure it was still locked. Her fingers tightened over my arm. “Silk McCall and Alf Linkhart went into business together. Black market business. To sell meat. You must have read about the illegal meat-peddlers in the papers. What they do and how they do it—like the old bootlegging trade—only safer!”

That was news. I digested it. I recalled what Mullin had let drop about Alf Linkhart and McCall being in business together. The captain had already stuck his nose in it.

“Where does your brother fit in?”

I could see the pulse in her throat again, where the collar of the white blouse opened. She parted her lips.

“Silk wanted him to give up piano playing and deal in meat. Cary didn't tell me. He told Lolita Diaz—he's engaged to her. She got scared and came to me.”

“And you went to McCall? That's why you slipped up to Room Two-A last night?”

Putzi nodded. She twined her fingers together nervously.

“I told Silk McCall that if he took Cary in with him I'd report him to the F.B.I. He laughed at me. I didn't stay in the room more than a minute or two. Just long enough to warn him. He was still laughing when I left him.”

“Then you came downstairs and popped into the telephone booth. Who were you calling?”

“I phoned Red Herrin at the Reginald. I know Red quite well. I know he had a lot of influence with McCall. I thought maybe he'd do something for me. But he wasn't in. I called him twice within an hour. Both times there was no answer.”

“Who do you think killed Silk?”

She didn't say anything for a minute. A warm flush tinted the velvet skin. She looked straight at me.

“I'm not sure, but if I had to lay any bets I'd put them on Linkhart as being the one. I think Silk was trying to chisel. That's just a guess. This black market stuff is bound to cause trouble.”

A knock on the door stopped her. Putzi got up. She looked at me and from me to the door. The knock sounded again, sharper, more insistent.

“Open it,” I told her.

She did and Detective Hartley, Captain Mullin's stooge, walked in. He saw me and raised an eyebrow, smiling with the corner of his mouth. I didn't like anything about it—his being there, or the smile, or the way he looked at Putzi.

“You're Miss Russell?”

Putzi stared at him. I walked in between them.

“What's this about, Larry?” “Police business.” Hartley's smile broadened. “Mullin wants to re-question this dame. Any arguments?” He waited a minute or two and looked past me at the girl. “C'mon, sister. Get your hat and we'll travel downtown together.”

CHAPTER V. THE COAT

D WHEELER was playing watchdog at the Tallyho. Wheeler let me in some twenty minutes later when I knocked on the door. He was so glad to see anybody that he beamed.

“Look, Castle. One of the best bars on the street and double padlocked. Tie that.”

“Tough,” I commented; “Where's Linkhart?” “Downtown. Mullin wanted to ask him some more questions. Between the two of us, I think Alf's guilty.”

“Who's around?” “Ben Grant. A porter and a cook. Why?”

“Mind if I snoop? I was here last night, as you know. I've got an interest in the thing.”

Wheeler laughed. “Burn this dump down and see if I care.”

I went upstairs. I checked on the private rooms along the corridor. I passed 2A and turned the corner of the hall. A gents' washroom was on one side. On the other, an iron ladder led up to a roof scuttle.

A regulation fire department red light was beside the ladder. The word EXIT was painted beneath it. I climbed the ladder and looked hard at the handle of the scuttle before I turned it. I wondered if Mullin had checked it for prints.

The scuttle tipped back on well-oiled hinges and I stuck my head out of the opening. That gave me a view of the flat expanse of the night club's tarred and graveled roof. Toward the rear of the roof, on the east side, another iron ladder, acting as a fire-escape, hugged the brick wall all the way down to the alley below.

I went down to the kitchen. Benny Grant and the cook were checking the stuff in one of the huge iceboxes.

“All this meat and no potatoes.” Grant pulled a face. “The boss said we might never open again. What do you think, Castle?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Benny Grant left the cook to put the meat away and walked to the door with me.

“That stuff's going to spoil if we have to keep it here.”

“Send it to a hospital,” I suggested. “Leave the floor show out and they'll appreciate it. Linkhart can get all the meat he wants, I understand. What are you worried about?”

“Me—not a thing.” Grant's double row of porcelain choppers glimmered when he laughed. “I told that to Herrin last night.”

I pulled open the kitchen door. “What did Red say?”

Grant laughed again. “Nothing much. I hear they've got the boss downtown now. He'd better make it good.”

“He will,” I said, and went upstairs to the foyer.

Ed Wheeler had a tabloid spread and was lapping up the gory details of the crime.

“Find anything, Castle?”

“A lot of meat. Need any?”

“Me? Nix, I'm strictly a vegetarian these days. How are you off for lettuce?”

The minute I left the Tallyho, I knew a tail had picked me up.

Down Sixth Avenue and across town. It was a swell day for walking. The only trouble was I kept thinking about Mullin and Putzi Russell. What he might dig up, what she might spill and the mess he might get her into.

IT DIDN'T look good. The last thing I wanted was a splash of publicity for the girl with the blue eyes. And she'd get plenty if Mullin thought she was holding out on him.

The tail was a little guy in a gray suit with a snap brim, lightweight felt jauntily perched on one side of his head. He didn't look dangerous, but I remembered the old gag about the book and its jacket. Mullin's man? Or an agent of the people who had motored me up to Yonkers last night?

The thing began to tie together. Captain Mullin had shown interest when I mentioned being confined in a garage. Garages were places where they kept trucks. Trucks could be used to move meat. Meat had been McCall's racket— illegal meat. One and one added up to two and left me mentally confronting Linkhart again.

The ex-con was afraid of me. Afraid of what I might know and how I might use it. The old power of the press again! I reached the Hotel Reginald and cut into it while the little bird in the gray suit was turning the corner.

This time I didn't pause at the clerk's desk. Trying to look like a resident who knew where he was going, I stepped into the nearest elevator and said, “Ninth, please.”

There was no answer to my knock. Red had gone out. That suited me fine. Only the door was locked. I didn't know what to do about that until I spotted a maid coming down the hall with an armful of towels.

“I'm terribly sorry,” I told her. “I've forgotten my key.”

She was either dumb or I looked more respectable than I imagined. Without a word she reached into her apron pocket and fished out a passkey.

“You're welcome,” she said, taking my quarter with a smirk.

I shut the door behind me, breathing a little faster.

The framed photos of the leather pushers on the wall glowered suspiciously down at me. I let them look for a minute or two. Then I began to prowl around.

There were three rooms in all, not counting a bath. One was the late Mr. McCall's chambre a coucher. It connected with another bedroom— Herrin's. I crossed the threshold and pulled the shade up a little. I spied a closet.

That was what I wanted, principally. Just an ordinary closet full of clothes. Clothes, perhaps, that might contain a coat made of queer moss-like material, soft and spongy. A coat worn by the silent man, with the glass chin, on my night ride north so few hours ago. The party I had socked, head down, on the floor of the sedan.

If it had been Red Herrin, I had something to toss to Mullin. Herrin hadn't been with McCall, but he had been in the kitchen of the Tallyho. The knife with the ebony handle had come out of that same kitchen. The knife that stuck out of Silk's chest.

There were four suits and three sports jackets. Loud, flamboyant garments, befitting a former pug whose taste was all in his gloves. My hand touched a familiar spongy sleeve. I lifted out a checked, tan jacket. The material was unusual, to say the least. It looked like terry cloth only it was wool.

Then I had a surprise.

Somewhere in the other room a door opened and closed. I dodged back of the closet door. That gave me a bias view through the bedroom to the living room. Red had come in and was throwing down a sheaf of mail.

My one idea was to get out—quick!

THAT was wishful thinking on my part. The way Herrin took off his hat, sat down, lighted a cigarette and began opening the letters seemed to indicate that he intended to stick around a while. I gave the window in the room a gander. Nothing below the sill except nine stories of painted brick. I couldn't get out of the suite without going through the living room. For five minutes, maybe ten, I stood there sweating, holding on to the jacket.

Herrin got up finally. He walked out of view. I heard him unhook a receiver, give a number to the girl on the switchboard in the lobby.

“That's right, sister,” he said. “Give me a ring when you get it. Thanks.”

He hung up and the next minute his footsteps sounded on the wood of the floor beyond the bedroom door.

He saw me before I dropped the coat. His hand slid in under his vest. I made a straight lunge for the door. Herrin whipped out a gun. I crashed into him before he could aim, much less fire it.

The jaw that had stood me in good stead last night beckoned like a lighthouse. I swung a left at it. But he was too fast. He let it flick harmlessly by with a jerk of his head. His arm went around me and the nose of the gun dug into my belly.

“Smelling around, Johnny? Tck-tck! You're old enough to know what happens to guys who do that. Start reachin' if you know what's good for you.”

I did.

He shoved me up against the bedroom wall, drawing away a pace and keeping his gun on a heart line—my heart. The weapon looked as big as a Russian siege gun. It was probably a Luger. How he carried it around without it bulging him out of shape was a mystery.

“So you were the host who took me buggy riding last night?” I said.

He grinned crookedly. “That's right, Johnny. If you hadn't caught me by surprise you'd be three feet under some wet ground right now.”

“You mean if those two gorillas had brushed up on their target practice. Herrin, I'm a little sorry about all this.”

“What do you mean?”

“They'll dust the chair off for you and have it waiting. You bumped Silk. How do you think you're going to get away with it?”

A laugh shook him. A deep, silent laugh that wasn't nice to listen to.

“Sure, I bumped him and I'll bump you just as easy. I knifed McCall because he wouldn't give me an in on the new gravy.” He nodded. “Mebbe you're interested, Johnny. What do the cops call it—motive? That's what my favorite tab printed this mornin'. 'What was the motive behind the McCall slayin'?' You've got it now—you know more than the cops and the papers put together!”

“He wouldn't give you an in?”

The laugh shook Herrin again. “The toad! After all I done for him. Okay. I figured it out careful. What's to keep me from takin' over Linkhart? That load of baloney? Once I have Silk's customers, prices and accounts, I can make Linkhart get down and clean my shoes. Okay. So I stick the boss and now I've got to blow you up to make it even. Say your prayers, Johnny.”

There was a quiet tap on the door. Red Herrin's strained eyes flickered in the direction of the living room. A sidelong, hasty glance, but it was all I wanted, all I needed.

HERRIN'S Luger roared like a cannon. Something scorched my face as I hung a stiff one on his glass jaw. That dazed him, so I played rough. Anything went. I stuck a knee in his abdomen and socked his face with the same amount of power I had put behind last night's clout.

I heard the Luger bang to the floor. There was a haze in front of my eyes. Herrin's arms were around me. He put on the pressure and I remembered Alf Linkhart saying something about keeping clear or running the chance of having my pan bent out of shape.

A body blow rocked me down to my ankle bones. Herrin slugged and I slugged back, aiming for his crockery chin. He was pounds heavier, but the pot under his belt had slowed him some, and he couldn't take it in the face. I made a grab for his throat and got it. I hung on—like a terrier— digging my thumbs into the vulnerable spots on either side of his windpipe. Sweat rolled, down into my eyes. My breath was like a furnace in my lungs.

But I stayed with it and that did it!

We hit the floor together—I on top. There was still some fight left in him. The big gun was only inches away. I picked it up and tapped him on the head.

Then the living-room door burst open and the little guy in the gray suit with a cop in uniform, and another lug I recognized as running with Mullin's pack, came in . . . .

PUTZI RUSSELL nee Blynn looked at me through the shaded table light. We were at the fashionable Spinnaker on East Fifty-fifth Street, listening to high class music and eating plenty of expensive chow.

It was the same night.

Putzi was temporarily unemployed. I had finished a busy afternoon at the Orbit, collaborating with Bill Jamison on the windup of the McCall opus. Herrin and Linkhart occupied a pair of cells, separately, and Putzi had just gotten through asking me if I'd like to be her brother's best man Thursday morning at the Little Church Around the Corner.

I told her I'd love that.

“Why not make it a double-header?” I suggested. “Maybe they'll give us a discount.”

She looked at me. The blue eyes were certainly heavenly. Bluer than ever with the table light in them and laughter crinkling the corners.

“You're a guy in a hurry, Johnny. And I hardly know you. I don't know you.”

“Well, I'm taking the same chance,” I said. “That's life—chances.”

“Come on, stop being silly and let's dance. You know, not hoofing tonight makes me feel funny.”

We got up and went out on the floor.

“I hardly ever dance and I feel funny. Look, is it a deal? I'll give you a blueprint on my career, past and present. What else do you want?”

She smiled up at me. The satin skin was like ivory. She wore a sort of coral colored dress, cut low all around.

“Six months—to get used to you, Johnny. Fair enough?”

Maybe the customers were watching. I didn't know. I didn't care. I stood still and my hands slid up her arms until they came to her powdered shoulders. It might have been imagination, but I had the impression the red lips were waiting for the business I gave them.

“It's a deal!” I said.