Lady Killer Ed McBainLady Killer

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partnership set-up.'
'Then if George kicks off, his partner inherits the diner, right? You said
George was all alone in the world, didn't you? No relatives to make claims?'
'That's right,' Hawes said. 'What are you thinking?'
'Maybe Jo is getting itchy for George to drop dead. Maybe he's going to help him
along tonight at eight.'
Mention of the time caused each of the men to look up at the clock. It was 7.42
'Well, that's a nice theory, Steve,' Hawes said. 'Except for a couple of items.'
'Like… does George sound like a lady?'
'Mmm,' Carella said.
'And most important, we showed that picture to both George and the girl-friend
of Cort. Neither of them recognized it. Our killer ain't Jo Cort.'
'What made you think George was a lady, Steve?' Meyer asked. 'The heat getting
'Is he a queer or something?' Carella asked, refusing to drop it. 'This George
'Nope. I'd recognize it, Steve. He was legit.'
'I was thinking… you know… some tie-in with The Lady.' He tapped the letter.
'But if he's not… well…' He shrugged.
'No, no,' Hawes said, 'you're on the wrong track.'
'Yeah, you're right,' Carella said. 'I just thought… well, the motive looked
damn good.'
'It's too bad it doesn't fit with the other facts,' Meyer said, smiling. 'Maybe
we can change them to fit your theory, huh, Steve?'
Carella grinned. 'I'm getting weak. This has been a busy day.'
'You coming for a beer?' Hawes asked. 'When this is all over?'
'He had the right idea, George did,' Hawes said. 'As soon as his place cleared
out, he was heading for this.' Unconsciously his finger tapped the Ballantine
sign that had been used to form the figure 8 in the letter. And then his finger
'Hey!' he said.
'The eight,' Carella said. 'You think…?'
'I don't know.'
'Is the killer telling us? Is he telling us where?'
'A bar? At eight? Is that it?'
'Holy Jesus, Cotton, do you think so?'
'I don't know. Steve…'
'Hold it, Cotton. Now hold it.'
The men were sitting on the edge of their chairs. The clock on the wall read
7.44 p.m.
'If it's a bar… could it be The Pub?'
'It could. But who?'
'The Lady. It said The Lady. But if this damn eight had a hidden meaning… The
Lady. The Lady. Who?'
The men were silent for a moment. Meyer took another cough drop and threw the
box on to the desk.
'George may be headed for The Pub,' Carella said. 'He said a bar down the
street, didn't he? And that's where Samalson lost the glasses. Maybe George is
the victim. Cotton, I can't see it any other way.'
'The Lady? How the hell can George Laddona be The Lady?'
'I don't know. But I think we—'
'What?' Carella stood up. 'What?'
'Oh, Jesus. Translate it! You're Italian, Steve. Translate Laddona. The Lady!
The Lady!'
'La donna!' Carella said. 'Oh, my aching… then he wants to be stopped.
Goddamnit, Cotton, the killer wants to be stopped! He's told us who and where.
The killer—'
'But who's the killer?' Hawes asked, rising. And then his eye fell on the
cough-drop box on the desk, and he shouted 'Smith! Smith!'
And then they ran like hell out of the squad-room because the clock on the wall
read 7.47 p.m.
Standing on top of the garbage can in the alley alongside The Pub, the man could
see into the small window directly to the table where George Laddona was
He had not been wrong, then. He had known George's habits well enough to realize
that he would stop at The Pub again tonight on the way home from the diner,
would sit at his regular table, and would order a large schooner of beer. And
when that was consumed, he would order another… except that tonight he would not
order another, he would never order another glass of beer again because at eight
o'clock he would die.
The man looked at the luminous dial of his watch. It was 7.52.
In eight minutes, George Laddona would die.
He felt a sudden sadness. It was a thing he had to do, of course. It was the
only way he could see. And he had planned it very well, had planned it so that
he would be in the clear, so that even if he was suspected of motive, the facts
would never tie in with him, the facts would never tie in with the man who'd be
seen running down the street after the shooting.
And then to his own apartment. And then, tomorrow morning, back to work,
unchanged, seemingly the same. Except that he would have committed a murder.
Would they stop him?
Had his letter been too subtle? Well, of course, he could not tell them, could
he have come right out and told them? But hadn't there been enough hints, hadn't
he cleverly indicated what was going to happen, and shouldn't they have figured
it out?
They had certainly figured out the rest. They hadn't been laggard about that, by
God. He thought of the apartment he'd rented on Twelfth Street, the sleazy dump
where he'd planned to spend the night, a place within walking distance of the
shooting. He could no longer do that. They had found the apartment, had almost
captured him. He could still remember shooting it out with the red-headed cop.
That had been exciting, exhilarating. But now he couldn't use the apartment;
he'd have to return to his own apartment. Was that wise? Suppose someone saw
him? Should he simply wander the streets tonight? Should he put on the—
He stopped his thoughts abruptly and looked at his watch again.
He reached into his pocket, felt something soft and warm, was surprised for an
instant, and then remembered. And then his hand closed on something cold and
hard, and he pulled it from his pocket, and the dim moon in the already dark sky
illuminated the Luger with a deadly glitter.
He checked the magazine. It was a full clip.
Those magazines he had left in the apartment. Could they be traced? It didn't
matter. He didn't have a licence for the gun. Would they trace it to the man
from whom he'd bought it? No, that was unlikely. He'd bought it in the
neighbourhood, and he was sure it was a stolen gun. The man he'd bought it from
had had all sorts of things to sell. This was some neighbourhood, all right,
some neighbourhood, and still it had been good to him. It would be even better
to him. After tonight it would be better.
He clicked off the safety.
It was 7.57.
He rested the Luger on the window sill, and carefully took aim at the back of
George Laddona's head. On his left wrist, the second hand of his wrist watch
moved, and moved, and moved. The minute hand suddenly lurched. He saw it move,
actually saw it move. It was 7.58. Would they stop him? He doubted it. The
fools. The stupid fools.
Carefully he kept his hand steady, and waited.
At 8 o'clock, just as he was going to fire, Cotton Hawes burst into the alley
'Hey!' he shouted. 'You!'
The gun went off, but the killer's hand had yanked back an instant before he'd
fired. Hawes lunged at him. The man turned, the Luger in his fist. Hawes leaped.
The gun went off again, and then the garbage can and the man rolled down
clatteringly on to the alley floor. The gun was coming up again, turning to
point at Hawes, a graceful weapon with a lethal discharge. Hawes swung. The gun
went off wide. He swung again. He felt his fist collide with the man's face, and
again he struck. And now the day's punishment, the heat, and the chase, and the
seeming futility of the senseless desperation welled up in Hawes, exploded into
his fists so that he battered the man until he was senseless.
And then, sighing heavily, he dragged him out of the alley mouth.
Inside The Pub, George Laddona was still trembling. The bullet had whacked into
the tabletop, missing his head by perhaps two inches. He sat with a puzzled
expression on his face, and his hands shook, and his lips shook as Hawes tried
to explain.
'It was your partner,' he said. 'Jo Cort. It was your partner who shot at you,
Mr Laddona.'
'I don't believe it,' George said. 'I just don't believe it. Not Jo. Jo wouldn't
try to kill me.'
'He would if he had a money-hungry girl-friend,' Hawes said.
'You mean… you mean she was behind this?'
'Not actually,' Hawes said. 'At least, I don't think so. She didn't tell him to
kill you, if that's what you mean. Felicia Pannet isn't the kind of girl who'd
spend the rest of her life with a murderer. But she let him know what she
wanted, and this probably seemed to him the only way he could get it for her.'
'No,' George said. 'Not Jo,' and he seemed ready to weep.
'Remember that picture I showed you today?' Hawes asked.
'Yes! That wasn't Jo! That was someone else. That's the man—'
'Wasn't it?' Hawes asked. He took the picture and a pencil from his pocket, and
hastily went to work on it. 'Wasn't it Jo Cort?' he asked George, and he showed
him the changed picture.
'Yes,' George said. 'Yes, that's Jo.'
'Believe me,' Hawes said. 'He tried to kill you.'
George brushed at his eyes. 'He succeeded,' he said.
In the police sedan, with the prisoner between Meyer and Carella on the back
seat, Hawes drove leisurely back toward the precinct.
'Why'd you shout "Smith!" when we were leaving?' Carella asked.
'Because I was looking at Meyer's damn box of cough drops, and all of a sudden I
'What'd you remember?'
'I remembered a landlady saying, "That's the way he looked this morning." It
didn't make sense at the time, but actually it meant he looked different this
morning than he had looked on other mornings. And then this girl who lived
across the hall from him. She said he'd reminded her of a Russian spy. All he
needed was a bomb. And she thought it was funny that his name was Smith. When I
asked her why, she said, "Well, the cough drops and all, you know." I thought
she was nuts at the time. But tonight, when I saw Meyer's box of Smith Brothers
Cough Drops, it all clicked into place. Cort had shaved in the apartment the
night before, that's what the scissors and straight razor were doing in that
medicine cabinet.'
'It figures,' Carella said. 'He's had that beard since he was eighteen. He
thought he wouldn't be recognized without it.'
'And he wasn't,' Hawes said. He stopped for a traffic light. 'But what I don't
understand is how he planned to go back to the diner tomorrow morning? He'd be
identified immediately.'
'Maybe this'll help you,' Carella said. 'I found it in bis pocket.'
He nipped a soft furry object on to the front seat. Hawes picked it up. 'A false
moustache and beard!' he said. 'I'll be a son of a bitch!'
'I guess he planned to wear that until the real McCoy grew back,' Carella said.
'He can grow a real long beard where he's going,' Meyer said. 'Anybody want a
cough drop?'
Carella and Hawes burst out laughing.
'Man, I'm weary,' Carella said.
'I guess O'Brien gets to see his ball game, huh?'
The traffic light changed. On the back seat Cort stirred into consciousness. He
blinked and then mumbled, 'You stopped me, didn't you?'
'Yeah,' Carella said. 'We stopped you.'
'You've got the light, Cotton,' Meyer said. 'Let's go.'
'What's the hurry?' Hawes asked. 'We've got all the time in the world.'

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