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Authors: Ellery Queen

Dead Man's Tale

BOOK: Dead Man's Tale
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Dead Man's Tale

Ellery Queen

MYSTERIOUSPRESS.COM

CONTENTS

I Barney

II Old Joost

III Interlude—Vierwaldstaettersee

IV Mueller

V Milo Hacha

VI Andy

PART I

BARNEY

1

Steve Longacre wheeled his convertible out of Neck Road and into the long driveway delicately.

Here goes nobody.

And, this is where I came in.

He glanced up at the sky and to his surprise it was purely blue, with the spring sun blazing. He shivered.

He drove the several hundred yards to the gate with great care. He braced himself and touched his horn.

Right away he heard the reception committee. Pete Taurasi appeared beyond the high cyclone fence with the damn Dobermans, a brace of black-and-buff killers lunging against their heavy steel leashes.

“If it ain't Mr. Longacre,” Pete said warmly.

“How's by you, Petey?” Steve said, watching the dogs.

“Like as usual,” Petey said, setting the Dobermans back on their haunches. They sat there, watching Steve. “You look in the pink.”

“You know me, Petey. A real cool cat.”

Petey Taurasi laughed, showing his brown fangs. Good old Petey, Steve thought. Dog manure on his shoes and a hearty case of halitosis. “Don't say cat around here, Mr. Longacre,” Petey said. “These pups take it personal.” He unlocked the gate and yanked the dogs away. “Go right on up. She's expecting you.”

The convertible spewed gravel as Steve swung around the circular driveway. Behind him he could hear Taurasi, still laughing.

He brought his car to a jarring stop before Barney Street's proudest possession but one. The monstrosity of a Tudor mansion was even uglier than Steve remembered it. He got out and turned around and there she was, draped in the doorway.

Barney Street's proudest possession but none.

“Steve,” she said. She held out her hand.

“Hello, Estelle.”

“My, aren't we formal,” the woman said, smiling. “Come on in.”

Steve followed her into the enormous house, his eyes on the exposed V of her tanned velvet back. He had to hand it to Estelle. She was still built. And the way she walked. No twitching her hips in your face. Girly-girly, like a teenager. She must be thirty-five, Steve thought. Maybe more.

She went straight to the bar at the far end of the long, cool living room.

The high ceiling was open-beamed, the walls oak-panelled. The rosewood concert grand stood in the bulging bay window overlooking the Sound. There were a few new paintings on the walls—crazy stuff, all blots and drips, as if an army of bugs had got into some paint pots and tried to wipe their feet off on the canvas. The field-stone fireplace had a hearth almost as broad as the piano.

“What are you drinking these days, Stevie?” Estelle asked, still turned away from him.

Steve said he was drinking bourbon. Ice tinkled. He watched Estelle's bare brown arms, firm-fleshed and young-looking. He felt a sudden trickle of sweat leave an icy trail down his side.

When she swung about there was the old gamin smile on her lips. Fixed, as if she had had some trouble putting it on. Her eyes, more darkly smudged than he remembered, told a different story. They were cautious and excited at the same time.

She walked over and handed Steve a glass. “The least I expected from my old playmate was a little kiss,” she said. She leaned forward, parting her lips. Her summer frock, low-cut, co-operated. “Steve? Stevie?”

“What do you want, Estelle?” Steve said. “Real grief?”

“Don't tell me you're scared of Barney, darlin',” she said, moving closer.

Steve stepped back. “You're damn right I am.” He raised his glass, telling himself he was going to sip like a little gentleman. “I don't know why I came,” he complained. “I ought to have my head examined.”

That did it. She straightened up, her lips hardening. “What head?” she said. Steve watched the big freeze settle over her, solving his problem, and he gratefully downed the bourbon. She stalked over to the sofa and flung herself back on it, tucked one leg under her and started swinging the other. They were short vicious swings. “You came because I told you to. You had no choice at all. Now did you, Steve?”

He couldn't think of an answer. He turned to the big picture window and looked out at the Sound, studying the little white scraps of sail bobbing around on it.

“Turn around you ape, when I'm talking to you.”

Steve turned around.

“They're going to kill him,” Estelle said.

“What?”

“You're dumb, but you're not that dumb. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it.”

Steve went over to the bar and poured himself an unhealthy slug. “So what?” he said casually. “Let Barney put his running shoes on.”

“He couldn't run that far,” Estelle said. It was really remarkable how cold that girly voice could get. “And neither could you.”

“Me?” Steve said. “I don't have to run.”

“Not now you don't,” Estelle said. “But that could change, Stevie.”

“Thanks for reminding me.”

“Besides,” Estelle said, looking into her glass, “he couldn't run away if he tried.”

“What's to stop him?”

Estelle smiled. She set her glass down on the floor and said, “Steve, I want you to do something for me.”

“Damn it, Estelle. You're poison to me!”

She got up and came over, very close. “Don't shout, lover. You're in no position to shout at me.”

“Okay! Okay.…”

“Barney found out about us,” Estelle said.

“My God!” Steve said.

“Oh, it's all right—”

“All
right
!”

“I tell you, it's all right. The important thing is, they've got their hands on Barney's deposition.”

Steve stared at her. “How in hell did they manage to do that?”

“Hurley sold it to them.”

“Hurley?”

“His own lawyer.” Estelle laughed. “Pretty, isn't it?”

“I don't get it,” Steve said. “Why doesn't Barney just put it down on paper again?”

“Because,” Estelle said, “he can't.”

Steve wondered why Barney Street couldn't put it down on paper again, but he didn't press it. “Anyway, what could I do to help Barney?”

“I didn't say anything about helping Barney. You weren't listening. I said he found out how it used to be between us. I want you to help me.”

“But that's—” Steve groped for a word “—ancient history.”

“Not to Barney it wasn't. I don't know how he found out. He found out. Maybe Taurasi told him. What difference does it make? He knew he was going to die and he found out about us. He beat me up.” Estelle shrugged; then she added, “The son of a bitch changed his will.”

Steve didn't say anything.

“He cut me out of it, Steve. Me, his wife. Out in the cold. Do you like what you've got?”

Steve didn't know what he was supposed to say. “I guess so.”

“Well, I like what I've got. Barney's estate is worth two million dollars. Steve. Two … million … bucks. I want it. I want to keep it. Here, I'll show you his will.”

Steve watched her leave the room, surprised that she had access to Barney's will. She returned in a few moments with a document bound in pale-blue paper. Steve unfolded it.

I, BARNEY STREET, residing at 14 Neck Road, The Neck, Long Island, New York, being of sound and disposing mind, memory and understanding, do hereby make, publish and declare this to be my Last Will and Testament, hereby revoking any and all codicils by me at any time heretofore made.

FIRST: I direct that all my just debts and funeral expenses be paid as soon after my decease as may be practicable.

SECOND: I give, devise and bequeath all the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, both real and personal of every nature, wherever situated and whenever acquired, of which I may die seized or possessed, to Milo Hacha, whose last known residence was Oosterdijk, the Netherlands.…

There was more, but Steve stopped reading. “Who the hell,” he asked, “is Milo Hacha?”

“Late in 1943,” Estelle murmured, “Barney bailed out of a crippled B-17 over the Dutch countryside.”

“That was eighteen years ago,” Steve protested.

“A man named Milo Hacha, an N.C.O. with the German army of occupation in Holland, saved Barney's life. In eighteen years he hasn't stopped talking about it.”

“A German?” Steve was confused. He hadn't expected this. He hadn't expected anything like it. “Besides, Milo Hacha's no German name.”

“He was a Czech. In the German army. He turned on the Nazis,” Estelle said, “helping Allied airmen, working in the Dutch underground. The way Barney told it, Hacha practically liberated Holland singlehanded. Every time Barney got mellow over a few drinks, he talked about Hacha. After the war, he even sent the guy CARE packages every month. That went on for a year and a half, maybe two years. Hacha had stayed on in Holland, you see. Then, all of a sudden, CARE said they couldn't locate Hacha. He'd just dropped out of sight.”

“Still on his uppers?”

“I don't know. Barney even had a British private dick try to find Hacha. He took Barney's cabled retainer and never sent a report. Barney cabled him a couple of times, then forgot about it.” Estelle went over to the piano and ran a finger down the keys, ending with a thud in the bass. “CARE packages!” She looked at Steve. “Two million bucks. My money, Steve. I want it.”

“Barney isn't even dead yet.”

Estelle ignored him. “You didn't read far enough. It's all spelled out. How Barney wants his executor to spend any amount of money and time to find Hacha.”

“Will it stand up in court?”

“Hurley says …”

“Hurley?” It was barely a question. Nothing surprised him now.

“Go ahead, try to make something out of it. I said I want that money.”

Then Steve made a mistake. “You'd go to Hurley, after what he did?”

Estelle slapped his face, hard. “There's another deposition—which I could sign. Don't forget it!”

“Barney was my friend,” Steve said, touching his cheek. He wondered why he was speaking of Barney, as Estelle was, in the past tense.

“Why didn't you think of that when you were making love to me while Barney was off fighting for dear old Uncle Sam?” Estelle asked, smiling sweetly. “Where I get my help is my business. Now I'm getting it from you.”

“What do you want from me?” Steve asked, well remembering that smile.

“I just want you to go to Europe for me,” she said. “Find Hacha and come back to tell me he's dead.”

“What if he isn't dead?”

BOOK: Dead Man's Tale
11.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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