One hard boiled mystery, comin' up! Things look pretty bleak for private eye, Sam Cassell, when his gun turns up beside the corpse du jour! Can he clear his name before the cops close in...or will he be the final victim of...
Green Gun Murders
By R.D. Wheadon
About the author
I bent over the body to get a better look. There were burn marks around the entry wounds and the wounds were close together. Looked like it had been a big caliber gun, too. Someone Glenda thought was a friend had come in and shot her from close range. You can always count on your friends.
I went over to the desk. There was only one center drawer. I pulled it open and shuffled through the assorted paper clips, scraps of paper and matchbooks. There was also a worn passbook from First Century Bank. I flipped it open and it was filled with the lady's deposits, meticulously written in a small hand. Small deposits of $20 and $30 ran down the columns. The last entry was what caught my eye, though.
Two days ago Glenda had made a deposit of $500. It was the biggest entry by far, much more than a cleaning lady could've earned. I wiped my prints off what I had touched and tipped my hat to the body on my way out.
"Police Headquarters, Sgt. Klarkowski."
"Sergeant, this is Honest Joe Citizen. I'm calling to alert you to a murder at the Adalia Arms, apartment A."
The sergeant sputtered, "A murder! Who is this? Where are you calling from? How do you…"
I interrupted, "Apartment A, Adalia Arms, got that?" More sputtering. I hung up on him. No need to point Detective Grant in my direction. He'd have a cozy cell just waiting for me if he knew I was around here. I walked out to my car and headed east.
On the east side is where the big money lives. I went up 8th Street, past the zoo and into the hills. The houses got bigger, more exclusive, and with higher fences. I finally pulled into a bricked drive that wound up to a large white mansion done in early Spanish Colonial style. Plenty of white stucco and red tile roofing. There was also plenty of black ornamental iron on the doors and windows. This was the residence of Beverly Crandon, the gal who gave me that jade gat in the first place. The front door was a huge expanse of timbers with heavy black metal supports. The entrance did not exude a feeling of welcome, to say the least. I knocked anyway.
The door swung open to reveal Adolphus, butler, German youth poster boy, and who knows what else.
"Ja?" he inquired.
"Adolphus, do you remember me? Sam Cassell."
"Is Mrs. Crandon here?" I said.
I tried the direct approach.
"How 'bout letting me in, Adolphus?"
Adolphus was a great conversationalist, if nothing else. At least now I was getting somewhere. Adolphus beckoned me inside. I stepped into lush carpeting the shade of a ripe plum. There was a parlor off to the left with a couch, a couple of chairs and a bookcase. To the right was a staircase. Adolphus led me back through the dining room, out back to the pool area. The pool was violin shaped with a diving board at the far end and a scattering of chaise lounges with matching umbrellas at this end.
In one of the chaise lounges was Mrs. Beverly Crandon. Probably in her early 30's, she was adorned in a pink one-piece bathing suit. It showed off the long, tanned legs and matching curves and the mass of golden blond hair. She wore a pair of pink cat-eye sunglasses, as well. At the sound of the door opening , she turned and lowered her sunglasses. When she saw me, a small smile appeared, like a cat seeing its supper.
"Why, what a surprise! If it isn't Sam Cassell," she purred. She had a low, breathy voice that made her sound younger than she was.
"Hello, Mrs. Crandon." I put on a smile. "It's been a long time."
"Now why so formal, Sam? You know you can call me Beverly. After all the help over that dreadful affair with my husband, I feel like you're an old friend. Come sit down. How are you?"
She was still smiling coyly at me, and normally I like coy. However, Mrs. Crandon's smile stopped at her mouth. Her eyes were cold and dead and reminded me of a hungry reptile. And I never was fond of being a menu item for anybody. I smiled again, and chose a white wrought iron chair next to her.
I said, "I'm fine, thanks. Looks like life is treating you well, Beverly."
"Oh, you know. After Mr. Crandon died, he left me a little money. I didn't know what to do, so I decided to just spend it." She suppressed a giggle. Her definition of a little money would have floated me for several lifetimes.
I continued, "I hope you don't mind me dropping by, Beverly. I had a little time on my hands, so I thought I'd drive up and see how things were going. I imagine you don't get much in the way of visitors up here?"
She smiled and said, "No, Sam. It's quiet up here. No press, no lawyers. Just me, the staff, and now you. It's nice after that whole ordeal." She sighed dramatically for effect and looked to make sure I had the appropriate sympathetic look on my face. I did. She continued:
"Oh, I did have a visitor earlier, though. You remember Detective Grant, I'm sure." I nodded.
"He drove up here asking me about that awful gun I gave you as a souvenir. I couldn't stand having it here after shooting my husband with it. He said he came by because some attorney had been found dead in the valley with that gun in the car. He even brought it along, so I could identify it."
"And what did you say to the good detective?" I inquired.
"Why, I said I recognized it right off, of course. I assured him there must be some mistake, though. I knew you wouldn't be mixed up in anything like that. He was funny, though. He wanted to make sure the grips of my gun weren't white. Of course, I straightened him out right away."
I just stared at her. My face felt like a block of granite with human features on it. She had sunk me deep. Grant would be tearing the city apart looking for me. He had motive, the murder weapon and my lying to him. The only defense would be that I must've killed Bert Fagan in a drunken rage, a temporary lack of sobriety. I would fry like an egg in a pan. Only I hadn't shot him, and I certainly didn't feel inclined to pay society's debt for whoever did. Beverly broke my trance.
"Sam, are you all right? You look ill."
"I’m fine, Beverly. Just fine," I croaked.
"Something wrong?" she asked innocently.
I cleared my throat. "No, everything's fine. But I've got to get back to the city."
She protested. "But Sam, you just arrived. Don't go quite yet," she purred. "Have a drink with me before you leave."
"Thanks for the invite, Beverly. I just came by to see how things were. Give my best to Detective Grant if you see him."
I started to get up, but she grabbed the lapels of my jacket and pulled my face to hers and planted a kiss on me that would have turned any other guy into a pile of quivering gelatin. For me, it had all the warmth of smooching a snake. I like kissing a beautiful woman just as much as the next bozo, but this lady was all looks and no soul. When she relaxed her grip on my jacket she said, "I have never really thanked you, Sam, for all you've done for me."
I smiled, wiped the pink lipstick from my mouth, and said, "Ma'am, I now consider myself well thanked." And with that I left her to her pool, her servants, and her solitude.
Bert had his office on the third floor of the Steele Building, next to the courthouse. He said he liked to be close to the action. That is until the action got too close and pumped some lead into his chest. I parked around the corner and hotfooted it over to the lobby door. I checked my watch. Six o'clock. I walked over to the elevators where a gap-toothed kid of eighteen or so was running the elevators. He had a look on his face like his shoes pinched his feet.
"Hey kid," I said. "That elevator running?" He scrambled off the stool he was sitting on and winced. His shoes did pinch.
"Yes, sir. Which floor?" This kid had a gap in his front teeth you could run a freight train through.
"Fourth floor. Seen any fun today?" I asked.
"Yeah. The cops have been around all day about that lawyer that got killed." I commiserated with him.
"They probably had you running this thing all over today and not a tipper among them. Any of 'em still around?" The kid grinned, showing me his toothy rendition of the Grand Canyon.
"You're right about no tips, mister. I've been running this monkey cage all day for the cops and no one even flipped me a nickel. They all left except for a beat cop guarding the lawyer's office." The elevator clanged to the fourth floor. The kid opened the cage door and held it for me.
"Thanks, kid," I said. "Have a ball." I flipped two bits at him and walked down the hall.
Frosted glass doors lined the hall. My attention was on the door at the end of the hall marked "Fire Stairs." I gently opened the door and stepped into the stairwell. It smelled like dust. I slowly went down the steps till I got to the third floor. I cracked the door a quarter of an inch, just enough to see the form of a local flatfoot in a wooden chair leaned against the wall. Through the crack in the door I could see him scratch his head, look at his watch, and let out an occasional deep sigh.
Ten minutes went by and finally I got what I wanted. The cop yawned, tipped the chair down, and gave each end of the hall a judicious survey before walking towards the door marked "MEN." When he disappeared behind that door I swung open the fire stairs door and stepped into the hall.
Bert Fagan's office was half way down the hall on the right. I stopped in front of the office just before Fagan's and turned the knob. The door opened easily and I went in and quickly shut the door behind me. I was in an empty office. To the left, on the wall adjoining Fagan's office, was a large empty bookcase that stood a good eight feet tall. I strode over to it and looked down. At the back of the bookcase a small hook connected to the wall. I slipped the hook off of the catch and pulled the bookcase towards me. It glided silently on oiled hinges.
It revealed a wood panel about four feet high and as wide as the bookcase. I slowly pushed on the panel. It swung in to reveal the office of the now defunct Bert Fagan. I poked my head in to make sure no one was inside. All clear. I knew about this little back door Bert had rigged while I was working on a divorce case. Bert would slip female clients through the back way when a difficult soon-to-be ex-husband was pounding on the front door.
The panel opened right behind Fagan's desk. He had a couple of old, cracking leather chairs in front of his desk and a couple of filing cabinets against the far wall. I went over and quietly opened the file drawer marked "C" on a hunch. Sure enough, there it was with its neatly typed file label, dated three months ago. I replaced the file and went out the way I came in. I ran down the fire stairs and out to the street. Night was starting to wrap its dark fingers around the buildings and down the alleys. A couple hurried by heading for a nearby diner. I headed in another direction.
As I pulled the car up to the curb I noticed the lights still burning in Tate's office. The fat man was working late. I sat there for a minute, listening to the night sounds trying to get a handle on this. I finally clambered out of the car. I walked into the building and down the hall to Tate's office. The light cast a yellow pallor on the floor. I opened the door and stepped inside.
Not much had changed since my earlier visit. The fan still made its tired rotations, dead flies still lay on the windowsill. William B. Tate still sat behind the large desk. We didn't exchange pleasantries this time, though. We just stared at each other. I stared at Mr. Tate. Mr. Tate stared with a look of faint surprise on his face. He had taken four large caliber slugs to his expansive chest. That explained the surprised look.
I crossed in front of the desk to where the Rolodex sat. Mr. Tate had been very organized in life and I saw he had each employee indexed with the different properties they cleaned. I found Glenda's card and saw my name there, plus the other name I was looking for.
I picked up the phone and dialed the proper authorities to alert them on where to pick up Mr. William B. Tate, and to bring some extra help for the job. I then left Mr. Tate to the eternities.
There were lights on downstairs glowing through the filmy draperies. I got out, put my .38 in my jacket pocket and banged on the door. After a minute it swung open to reveal Adolphus, his face in shadow. I moved in quickly, gave his solar plexus a hearty tap with my right, and then while he was bent over I came back with a left across his poster boy chin. Adolphus' head snapped back with the precision of a fine German watch. He then crumpled to the floor.
I stepped inside to be greeted by applause. I looked up the stairs to see Beverly Crandon standing on the top landing. She was now in tan slacks and a cream shirt.
"Why, Sam, what a splendid entrance! I didn't realize you were so anxious to see me. You naughty boy, playing hard to get this afternoon." She said all this as she glided down the stairs.
"This is not a social call, Beverly. I just came from Budget Cleaning where I found Mr. Tate in a state of demise." She paused in mid-step. The corners of her mouth tightened slightly. I continued, "I know how sad this is to hear, seeing how Mr. Tate was a beneficiary in your will and all."
She paused again and said: "I didn't realize what a well-informed man you are, Sam, especially in my personal affairs." I could feel the tension starting to rise in the room, spring-loaded, ready to go.
"It's my job, especially when someone tries to pin a murder on me. All the pieces keep pointing back here."
"Well, lover, you are tenacious, aren't you?" cooed Beverly. I forged on.
"It's kind of funny how the gun that iced Fagan was the one you gave me and how you and I both shared the same cleaning service. In fact, we both had the same person cleaning for us, Glenda. It's funny how she ended up flat on her back dead the day after Fagan did."
Beverly just murmured, "Yes, isn't it." I played some more cards.
"It makes me wonder about the $500 Glenda recently put in the bank. That's quite a wad of dough for a cleaning lady. Maybe not so much, though, if Glenda had been paid to swipe that jade roscoe from my desk drawer by the person who shot up Fagan and then left the gun there at his side. If that wasn't interesting enough, now Mr. Tate ends up ventilated and he was up to get ten grand in your will." Beverly's eyes glittered with a reptilian gleam.
She hissed, "My, my, Sam. That is more than I ever thought you could dig up. Especially all by yourself."
I cut in, "Let's cut the crap here, Beverly. You paid Glenda $500 to lift the gun from my desk so you could snuff Fagan. You offered Tate, who knew about Glenda cleaning my place, his own piece of jack to keep his mouth shut after he put it together and offered to blackmail you. You then waxed those two to keep their mouths shut. It's just one long trail of blood back to your door."
She crossed in front of me and entered the front room. She sat on the sofa and lit up a cigarette from a case on the coffee table. The smoke drifted languidly up past her face, partially obscuring her eyes. I continued:
"The only thing that doesn't figure is why? Why kill Fagan? Admittedly, he was a cockroach, but why you? And why try to give me the sucker rap?"
She continued to look at me for a minute, sitting there
in the semi-darkness with the cigarette smoke swirling around her.
She looked like an ethereal Medusa with dusky vipers entwined about her
She murmured, "Mr. Fagan was like my husband. He was a cheating, lying, whoring bastard who didn't deserve to live. My husband went around with that floozy you helped the cops nab." She smiled. "I'm sure she professed her innocence all the way to the electric chair. And she was innocent. You see, I had Mr. Tate procure and plant the incriminating bottle of poison at her apartment. That was, of course, after I had administered enough of it into my husband's martini."
"So, you poisoned your husband and then shot his dead body?" I said.
Her eyelashes fluttered. "Oh, he wasn't dead from the poison, darling. The poison just paralyzed him. He could still hear and see and feel everything when I shot him," she said with a delicious ooze in her voice.
"So you then framed his lover and she went to the chair instead of you," I concluded. She smiled a look of contentment.
"How did Fagan fit into this? You must have been consoling yourself in his arms as the grieving widow." She didn't appreciate the sarcasm.
"And why not! He was good for some laughs. He was for a while, anyway. Then I discovered he was sharing his affections elsewhere." She barked out a coarse laugh. "It was Bert Fagan's betrayal that made me think of you, Sam. You see, it was your ex-wife that he was dallying with." She gazed at my face intently, watching her words hit iron cold in my gut.
"Oh, I see you still hold a torch for her," she smirked. "That made things perfect. I could get revenge on Bert for his peccadilloes. And when the police found the gun that I had Glenda steal from your office all the attention would be directed at you. I would be free to keep on spending my dead husband's money while you fried in the electric chair."
I still had one question on my mind, one that still puzzled me.
"What did you use for a gun on Glenda and Tate? The cops already had the jade piece you planted with Fagan." The corners of her mouth raised ever so slightly revealing the sliver of glittering teeth.
"Oh, didn't you know, Sam? That gun had a twin!" From behind a pillow on the couch she whipped out a black, jade-gripped automatic and brought it to bear on me. I had that acid taste in the back of my throat. Her eyes spat hate at me and I knew she would be squeezing my death warrant out of that piece any second.
Her finger started to tighten on the trigger when the bang of a Police Special shattered the air. Beverly jerked with the impact of the slug slamming into her. I dove behind a chair as she yanked the trigger, sending .44 slugs careening crazily into the ceiling. I heard the crack of the Police Special again and then it was lights out for Beverly Crandon.
I peeked out from behind the chair and saw Detective Harry Grant peering through the smoke that hung in the air. His revolver was tightly clenched in his fist. He looked over at me and said, "Get up, you sorry piece of citizenry. She won't be trying to ventilate your dumb carcass anymore."
I grinned. "Well, hey, Harry. What brings you here?"
He growled, "We finally got the gun registration records from City Hall and learned the fact that there were two identical automatics registered in Crandon's name. I came up here to question Mrs. Crandon about it. I saw your jalopy out front, so I came in through the back doors and heard the witty and charming conversation you two were having. When she made her move, I figured it'd be easier nailing her then if she nailed you. You know how I hate funerals."
Right then the boys in blue came busting in and took charge. They took Adolphus into custody and got a statement from me. After that I figured I was all finished there. I tipped my topper to Detective Grant in appreciation for saving my skin and went outside to my car. The stars shone down and winked at me like they were in on some cosmic joke. I got in the car and headed back to the city. Dino crooned on the radio and the lights of the city twinkled down below.
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The Green Gun Murders is copyright 11/97, R.D. Wheadon. It may not be copied
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