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Authors: Dell Shannon

Murder Most Strange

BOOK: Murder Most Strange
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Murder Most Strange

Dell Shannon
1981

This one is for
Martha
Webb
a real-life cop
who
likes my cops
 

Of all the ways of defining man, the
worst is
the one which makes him out to be a
rational
animal.
—Anatole
France

ONE

The elevator door slid back silently on the long
hospital corridor. Just opposite was the L-shaped desk in a bay of a
nurses' station, and a tall blond young fellow in white smock and
pants was lounging there casually talking to half a dozen nurses;
apparently he'd just gotten to the punch line of a joke, and they
were all laughing as Mendoza and Hackett came up. "Dr.
O'Laughlin," said Hackett, "called to say—"

"Me." He surveyed them; he looked too young
to be anything but an intern. "You'll be the fuzz."

"Lieutenant Mendoza, Sergeant Hackett."

"Yep," said O'Laughlin. "Down this
way. She was damned lucky, he just missed the heart with one blow,
and she'd lost a hell of a lot of blood. Yeah, she's been conscious
since about four A.M., but you can only see her for ten minutes or
so—she's still weak, so take it easy." He looked at them
interestedly, Mendoza as usual dapper in silver-gray herringbone,
Hackett looming bulkily over him. Halfway down the hall he stopped at
a door. This was the Intensive Care section of the huge sprawling
pile of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: beyond the window to their left
was a rather spectacular view, from five storeys up, out over
Hollywood.

In the two-bed room, the second bed had curtains
drawn around it, the occupant invisible; in the bed nearest the door,
Cindy Hamilton was half propped up against pillows, an I.V. tube in
one arm. Her dark hair was brushed lankly back from her pale face,
and she looked disappointed to see the three men; her mouth drooped.

"I thought—Mother'd be back."

"Later," said O'Laughlin easily. "You're
off the critical list now, darling, and visitors' hours haven't begun
yet. It's the police with some questions, Cindy—we do want to catch
the fellow who did this, don't we?"

"Oh," she said. "Oh, yes." She
looked at Mendoza and Hackett with faint interest. "Only I
haven't the least idea who he was, you know.”

"Can you give us a description of him?"
asked Hackett, getting out his notebook.

"Oh, my God," said Cindy Hamilton, and shut
her eyes briefly. They knew quite a bit about her now, and she was a
nice girl. She was twenty-five, and she had a job as a legal
secretary, one of three girls in the office of Daniel Frome on
Beverly Boulevard; she lived alone in an apartment on Hoover. Her
original home was Fallbrook, where she still had family; her parents
were here now. Three days ago, last Monday, she hadn't showed up at
work, and eventually one of the other girls had gone to the
apartment, as they couldn't raise her on the phone, and discovered
the door open and Cindy unconscious and bloody on the living-room
floor. She'd been beaten, stabbed and raped.

"My God," she said again now. "Yes, I
can do that all right." She was obviously still weak, but she
tried to pull herself up straighter in the bed and raised a hand to
smooth her hair. "Gah. I feel like death warmed over. Mother and
Dad want me to come home to Fallbrook, the big city so dangerous. You
know, I'm sort of thinking about it now. And you'll think I'm a
fool—but you just don't know—how-how damned plausible he was!
It—he—" She shook her head. "It was just like Jekyll
and Hyde."

"How do you mean, Miss Hamilton?" asked
Hackett.

"Funny isn't the right word. Naturally I'm not
idiot enough to let a strange man in—you know, the ordinary way.
I've lived in L.A. for three years, I know about the crime rate, for
heaven's sake. But he was so nice—so polite. He was—well, a
gentleman, you know?" She drew a long breath. "I'll tell
you—all I can, if it'll help to catch him. It was about four
o'clock on Sunday afternoon, the doorbell rang and there he was.
Never saw him before, but he looked—" She thought, and decided
on, "Nice. Nobody to be afraid of. He was about twenty-five or
thirty, tall, around six feet, dark hair, clean shaven, sort of
thin—and dressed real sharp, a gray suit, not just sports clothes,
a whole suit, white shirt and tie. I mean, he looked—oh, like a
professional man of some kind, certainly not a bum or a dopey—and
he was so polite." She swallowed. "That was why. Why I was
such a fool to let him in. Because—it sounded—he made it sound so
plausible."

"What, Miss Hamilton?" asked Hackett.

Her eyes moved over the three of them listening,
closed again. "Such a fool," she said. "He said—he
was looking for his sister. He thought she lived there, at my
apartment, I mean—he'd had a letter and they were supposed to have
moved there last week, his sister and her husband—he took out a
letter from his pocket to check the address. He said a name something
like Wayne or Raynes, I don't remember. And he'd just gotten to L.A.
from someplace back East, he couldn't understand why they weren't
here. He sounded—he looked so really upset and worried. And I said
I didn't know anything about it, of course, and he thanked me—he
seemed just terribly worried, and he apologized—and then he said
he'd sent his taxi away because he'd expected to find his sister
there, and he supposed he'd have to go to their old address and see
if they were there, and did I mind if he called another taxi—"

"
Ca
,"
said Mendoza interestedly.

"And like an absolute fool I let him in. Like
Jekyll and Hyde," said Cindy Hamilton weakly. "As soon as
the door was shut—he whipped out his knife, and he was on me—didn't
give me time to scream—all of a sudden, he looked just like a
fiend, this awful fixed grin, and he—and he—"

"Can you tell us anything more about his
appearance? Color of eyes? Any scars or tattoos‘?"

She shook her head. "It was all sort of fast,
after that. Feel like such a fool. But he was so plausible—"
Her eyes shut again.

"That'll do for now," said O'Laughlin. In
the corridor, he was disposed to ask curious questions, but Hackett
was curt and he shrugged and took himself off.

"And that's something a little different, isn't
it?" said Hackett. "She might be able to make a mug shot."

Mendoza was teetering back and forth, heel to toe,
ruminatively. "It rings a small bell in my head," he said.

"What‘? An offbeat sort of thing—"

"Mmh. Come on, Arturo, let's go back to base and
chase it up."

They had driven over in Hackett's garish Monte Carlo;
it was early afternoon and the traffic light. In twenty minutes they
were back at Parker Center downtown, and came into the
Robbery-Homicide office to find Landers and Palliser just leaving on
a new call.

"Probably not much," said Sergeant Lake
pithily. "Body over on Miramar. Patrolman said looked like a
typical old wino."

Mendoza swept off the inevitable black Homburg and
started for his office. "Get me Hollywood, Jimmy—Sergeant
Barth if he's in." He sat down at his desk and swiveled around
to stare out at the view toward the Hollywood hills over the urban
complex sprawl of downtown L.A. It was a clear view, this last day of
March; the winter months had been wet, and as yet there hadn't been
anything like a heat wave or high smog. So far it was a pleasant,
cool spring, and Robbery-Homicide was perking along with enough to
do, but not as heavy a caseload as they sometimes had to work. They
had, of course, the usual heist jobs, and three of those over the
last couple of weeks had apparently been pulled by the same pair;
they had a shapeless sort of homicide, a derelict wino stabbed to
death over on Skid Row, which would probably end up in Pending. There
was a still unidentified body which had turned up three days ago in a
cheap hotel room: an O.D. on heroin, the autopsy said, and it
wouldn't make much difference if they never found out who he'd been.
As the year advanced and the inevitable heat wave arrived, business
would pick up; at the moment they were out hunting heisters, and
cleaning up a rather messy but obvious homicide involving an addict
and his supplier—but more business was always coming along. The
phone shrilled on Mendoza's desk and he picked it up.

"What do you want?" asked Sergeant Barth of
the Hollywood precinct. "I'm busy."

"Just before Christmas," said Mendoza, "I
ran into you down in R. and I. with a witness to look at mug shots,
and you were telling me something about a gentlemanly rapist. Who
talked his way into victims' apartments all very polite and then
pulled a knife."

"Dapper Dan," said Barth instantly. "Yeah.
Don't tell me you've got something on that one? As far as we know, he
pulled seven rapes up here in the last six months, and one turned
into a homicide. What's your interest?"

"It's possible we've got another victim in our
territory. I'd like to hear what you turned up on it. Didn't you say
he had some plausible story about thinking his sister lived at this
address, and did the lady mind if he called a cab—"

"That's him," said Barth. "For God's
sake. The last we heard of him was in January."

"Come to Papa, please," said Mendoza
gently, "with everything you collected. It looks as if he's
branched out into new terrain."

"Damn it, I've got a couple of witnesses in to
make statements. I'll get down as soon as I can. And hell, Bosworth
worked that homicide mostly and it's his day off—I'll be down, I'll
be down," said Barth resignedly.

"An offbeat one, all right," said Hackett.
"Just chance, you running into Barth like that." But of
course, as they went on to work it, NCIC would have pinned down the
M.O. and sent them to Hollywood precinct eventually.

Mendoza sat back, lit a cigarette and yawned. "I
think I'm coming down with spring fever. Offbeat—I don't know, Art,
nothing a rapist does should surprise us,
¿como
no?
"

There wasn't anyone else in the office. They were
short one man on day watch now; it was apparent that the brass wasn't
about to assign any new men to the bureau, and instead had
transferred Rich Conway to beef up the night watch. They were about
to lose Nick Galeano, if temporarily. After more than a year of
pussyfooting around his very proper and respectable young German
widow, Marta Fleming, he had finally screwed up the courage to
propose to her, and the formal wedding was scheduled for next Monday
afternoon. Galeano had six days of unused sick leave as well as his
vacation coming, and it was just to be hoped that the case load at
Robbery-Homicide didn't start to get hot and heavy before he got back
to them.

"I've got that report to finish," said
Hackett, and reluctantly went back to his desk in the communal
office. Most of the heists were, as usual, entirely anonymous with
few leads to offer, and he felt rather like coming down with spring
fever himself.

Before Barth showed up John Palliser and Tom Landers
came back, with the new one to start a report on.

"That old wino, Leo Marvin," said Palliser,
absently stroking his handsome straight nose. "About ten days
ago—in an alley over on Alameda. Stabbed. It looked a little funny,
because he didn't have much on him for anybody to steal, and for a
couple of days he'd been too broke even to buy the cheapest
stuff-panhandling up on Broadway, said a couple of his pals, and no
luck. Why the hell should anybody knife one like that?"

"Annoyed because he didn't have much on him,"
said Hackett. "What about him?"

"Well, this new body looks sort of like a
replay," said Palliser. "It's funny."

Landers tendered a quarter and tossed it. "Heads."
Palliser said "Tails" uninterestedly and they looked at it.
"Hell," said Landers, and took the cover off his
typewriter.

"What do you mean, a replay?" asked
Hackett. Mendoza had come wandering out of his office and perched a
hip on the corner of Higgins' desk.

"Well, in a way, just such another one,"
said Palliser. "Except that he wasn't a wino. One Joseph Kelly,
retired railroad man, lived on a little pension and Social Security,
an old apartment on Miramar. Harmless old widower, no family,
evidently not many friends. The man who lives across the hall found
him a couple of hours ago, in the hall right outside his apartment
door. Stabbed to death, it looks like. And not very long before, he
was still warm. And he had about nine bucks on him, so he wasn't
robbed either."

BOOK: Murder Most Strange
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