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Death Wears a White Gardenia

by

Zelda Popkin


 

The strained atmosphere of a great New York department store is the setting for this brain-teasing mystery. Early one morning, Andrew McAndrew, credit manager of the store, is found dead -- murdered -- in an alcove just off the silk underwear department. A big man, McAndrew had been choked to death the evening before. Chris Whittaker, store detective, and pretty Mary Carner, one of his assistants, are the chief investigators. A good many persons had been working in the store during the time when McAndrew must have been murdered, and they are all under suspicion. A shop lifter who found the body, the murdered man's wife, his mistress who is also an employee of the store, are also among those whose activities are under investigation. Mary Carner finds that the murdered man's files have been tampered with; constant danger attends her search for evidence. Even though the murderer will come to the reader as a great surprise, there are clues leading to him, or her, fairly placed through the book. This is a mystery that will the most exacting reader.



CHAPTER I

At fifiteen minues before five o'clock on the evening of March fourteenth, Joseph Swayzey entered the department store of Jeremiah Blankfort and Company on Fifth Avenue, New York. In his left hand he carried a suitcase. It was a medium size bag of worn tan cowhide. He carried it as though it contained enough but not too much of a gentleman's wardrobe. It was a bag of apparent quality, harmonizing with his tweed overcoat which was smart and suggestive of British tailoring -- not however, too smart or too obviously English -- and with his dark felt hat and his tooth-brush mustache. A fresh white gardenia adorned his coat lapel. An acute observer might have noted that Mr. Swayzey glanced down at the gardenia occasionally and inhaled with evident pleasure.

The men's furnishings department, on the main floor at the right of the Fifth Avenue entrance, was Mr. Swayzey's immediate objective. He stopped there before a display rack, put down his suitcase and caressed a silk necktie with gloved fingers. Harry Rosenbloom, salesman of men's furnishings, who was clearing the counter preparatory to closing, looked up eagerly.

"May I assist you?" he asked.

Mr. Swayzey draped a necktie over the back of his hand, held it to the light, and contemplated it. "Have you a similar tie in blue?" he inquired. His voice was husky, his words carefully modulated, and vaguely English.

Mr. Rosenbloom shuffled his long thin boxes and flipped them open expertly. "We're all out of blue in that pattern," he replied. "We have it in green and brown and gray." He opened another box. "Here's a very handsome blue tie. It's an exclusive pattern."

Mr. Swayzey held the tie between his fingers, regarding it thoughtfully. "No," he decided. "The design is not quite suitable." His accents were as politely regretful as his first selection had been impeccable. "I shall take the other in brown." He tendered two single dollar bills from his leather wallet, picked up his bag and waited, tapping with genteel impatience on the glass counter for his change and for his package.

Mr. Rosenbloom handed it to him with a flourish and a "Thank you very much, sir." Mr. Swayzey tucked the package under his arm, and moved on leisurely.

"Dja get the accent? English," Mr. Rosenbloom smirked to Miss Fay Winter at the other end of the counter. "Just off the boat, I betcha."

Miss Winter gazed after the moving figure. "I like that type," she said. "It's so refined. I like them small mustaches. He looks like a movie actor. Somethin' like Clark Gable without the ears.

"Yeah," Mr. Rosenbloom retorted. "Dja see the suitcase? Ever see a movie actor carrying his own luggage?"

As he advanced through the store Mr. Swayzey's footsteps quickened and his preoccupation increased. To men's shirts and gloves he gave not even a passing glance; he hurried by the glass cases that reflected the glitter of costume jewelry. He strode, without as much as a twitch of nostrils or turn of head to show that he knew they were there, past counters laden with the perfumes of Worth and Chanel, of Coty and Matchabelli, in flacons exotic and costly. It took a great deal of will power to pass those by. Perfumes were a weakness of Joseph Swayzey. But Harris had ruled, "No more perfume. We got all we can handle of that junk." Some day, when he was rid of Harris and on his own, he'd specialize in perfumes. That was the way to combine business with pleasure. For the moment, the white gardenia was consolation.

Singularly, Mr. Swayzey's promenade came to an end in the silk underwear department, in, to be specific, that section of the department devoted to handmade lingerie designed in France, and executed by the sight-destroying labor of underpaid Chinese and Porto Ricans. The tables in the center of the section drew his discerning eye. One was heaped with nightgowns, pink, peach, orchid and white, looking like old fashioned valentines with blobs of lace and fine spun cobwebs of embroidery; another with panties; a third slips. He looked at a price tag, speculatively, saw "$19.75" in red ink, below the crossed-out typed figure of "$24.50."

"That's the idea," he told himself. "Mark it down and out it goes." It was more than a statement. It was a joke and he smiled to himself over it. To the clerk who came over hopefully, he apologized. "Just looking," he said. "Wife's birthday."

"These are excellent values, sir. All our French imports have been marked down for the anniversary sale tomorrow. There may never be another opportunity like this."

"Right you are," Mr. Swayzey agreed. "Just looking," he repeated, and moved reluctantly on.

At the distant end of the silk underwear department, where negligees of sheerest chiffon and lace, draped tantalizingly over full busted dummies, seduced the eyes and common sense of frustrated housewives and sensuous stenographers and turned their thoughts to pent-house infidelity, Joe Swayzey passed a bank of elevators and a row of dressing rooms.

In front of one of the dressing rooms Mr. Swayzey ran into a woman in a mink coat. Ran into is the word. There was a thump. The woman was on her way out of the dressing room, and as women sometimes do, she was walking forward and looking backward, and carrying on a conversation as well. "You'll send these three -- the black chiffon, the cream lace, the orchid satin -- to my apartment. You know the charge," she was saying to the clerk who followed her with the armful of satin and chiffon, at the moment when she bumped into Mr. Swayzey and his suitcase. Mr. Swayzey lifted his hat and his eyebrows. He saw that she was blonde, expensive looking and exceedingly beautiful.

"I beg your pardon," he said, bowing like Lord Vere de Vere. "Some doll!" he thought.

In the doll's eyes he caught a flicker of interest, and as he moved slowly on, he heard her saying to the clerk: "He's certainly not hard to look at." Though it flattered him, he, none the less, wished she hadn't. At this stage, he preferred to attract no female attention. He knew that the blonde had looked back, and the clerk as well, and he had arrived at a moment when all persons who looked at him twice were mortal enemies, and so he paused, simulating nonchalance, pretending to examine the silken fabric which swathed a dummy. Not for long, however -- not long enough to draw the solicitude of another clerk. Mr. Swayzey knew the importance of timing.

Beyond the row of dressing rooms, there was a solid door, connecting the main selling floor, apparently, with the stock rooms. As he approached this door, Mr. Swayzey's footsteps quickened and his manner changed. Abruptly, he ceased to be the casual gentleman shopper. He looked about furtively, sharply, and then, seeing no one, and being reasonably certain that no one saw him, opened the door and darted through. Beyond the door he found a long dim passage and a row of high narrow cubicles. At the distant end of the passage, a delivery truck was backed into an open street entrance. A watchman sat on a high stool beside a wooden counter, watching two uniformed figures moving busily, rhythmically, with arm loads of gray wrapped bundles. The watchman gave no indication that he saw or heard Joe Swayzey at the farther end of the corridor. A single bulb swung over the cubicles. It shed a feeble pinkish beam which produced shadows rather than light.

Mr. Swayzey knew department stores like a book; It was, as a matter of fact, his business to know them thus, to know both their show places and their hiding places. That at Jeremiah Blankfort's these high, dim cubicles had been erected just outside the lingerie department for the convenience of outside salesmen who brought in bundles of sample merchandise to show to the store's buyers, was a coincidence of which he had long been aware, a fact that had entered into certain plans he had made. One or two of the cubicles were occupied by cases a little larger than his own, but their owners, he was gratified to note, were not in sight. He was for the moment alone in the passage. The somnolent watchman was as good as no one.

The first of the cubicles had been put up behind the door through which he had entered, and into this one Joe Swayzey thrust his cowhide case. It was a dark cubicle -- too dark to be of much practical use, somewhat inconvenient of access because of the in-swinging door, and perfect for his purposes. Opposite it another narrow passage led to the stock rooms and packing tables. With quick assured steps, Swayzey started down this passage. A stock clerk, coatless and in shirt sleeves, barred his progress, regarding Mr. Swayzey and his good English clothes with frank curiosity. "I'm looking for a men's lavatory," Mr. Swayzey murmured. "I was told there was one back here."

"Down the end of this passage on the right, first door."

"Thank you." Mr. Swayzey moved off, found the men's room, entered a compartment, bolted it. He turned back his cuff so that he could more easily see the dial of his watch. Tense and alert he watched the crawling minute hand. A gong reverberated through the store; overhead, and in the passage alongside, feet pattered swiftly. The lavatory door opened and shut a few times. For a quarter of an hour Joe Swayzey held his watch and listened until the footfalls had all died away. Then he unlocked the compartment and scurried down the passage to the cubicle where his suitcase was hidden. He picked it up, snapping its lock open as he moved, and darted through the door to the lingerie department.

A dim night light burned in that corner of the main floor. Blue denim had been stretched over the tables. Mr. Swayzey lifted the shrouds. With lightning rapidity he picked out nightgowns, slips, chemises, and crammed them into his bag. Selection was easy. During his brief pause less than a half hour earlier, he had decided what he would take. A careless amateur might have grabbed at random and scattered, but not Joe Swayzey. He left the tables as neat as he had found them, piles of merchandise smaller, but otherwise not visibly disturbed. Swayzey had technique. When his suitcase would hold no more, he sighed regretfully. Then he scurried through the door again and dropped his burden into the dim empty cubicle at the beginning of the passage.

"Ta-ta," he said to his luggage and to himself. "Take care of yourself, kid. See you in the morning." He adjusted his coat, flicked his hat brim and strolled through the store again to the main entrance, confidently and without undue haste. The store was empty, its lights dimmed. The denim shrouds covered all its tables and glass counters. Only the windows were bright and alive. Behind drawn street shades, figures, feet muffled in paper bags and felt slippers, padded softly to and fro.

A uniformed watchman stood at the front door. The watchman took in Mr. Swayzey's good clothes, noted that he bore only a small, thin parcel correctly wrapped. "You're late, sir," he remarked casually. "I guess you're the last customer in the store."

"I'm sorry," Mr. Swayzey said, with cold politeness, and he added truthfully, "I was in a lavatory."

The watchman winked. He unlocked the door and let Joe Swayzey out.



CHAPTER II

When at fifteen minutes after nine o'clock next morning Joe Swayzey presented himself at the main entrance of Jeremiah Blankfort & Company, a policeman barred his way. The policeman pushed him back somewhat rudely, disdaining those good English clothes.

A thin shudder ran involuntarily down Joe Swayzey's spine at this fleeting contact with the blue cloth that covered the arm of the law. Yet, since he had no desire to draw attention to himself by too obvious irritation, he vouchsafed merely a faint and most polite: "What's going on?"

"You gotta wait," the policeman explained. "Customers can't come in till the store's officially open. Anniversary Sale. Or something. They're waiting for the Governor's wife. She's going to open the store with a gold key. She'll be along any minute now. Stand back. Wait over there."

The officer indicated a huddle of shivering pedestrians before the entrance. Mr. Swayzey moved toward it with growing discomfiture. Crowds like this gave him jitters. A crowd usually held one or two store detectives, or members of the police pickpocket squad who had a sharp eye for a familiar face and a rotten way of detecting a false mustache.

Joe decided to take a stroll around the block. He strolled leisurely, looking into the windows with a connoisseur's eye. It was Jeremiah Blankfort's block, with four sides of plate glass windows which screened dresses, furs, shoes, china and costly furniture. The windows were stunning, he noted with approval -- gold paint, hangings of gold brocade, flashes of metallic cloth, calling attention with persuasive subtlety to the store's golden jubilee celebration. His aesthetic pleasure gave way, however, to panic. Those handsome displays, he realized, had been set up over-night. Window trimmers had worked while he slept. The store had been full of people for many hours after he had gone. More than ever, he was impatient now to get to his precious suitcase.

At the bustling corner where Forty-sixth Street joined Fifth Avenue, a cadaverous elderly woman in a rusty black spring coat huddled against the store window, as if seeking protection from the cold March wind. A florist's green box rested on her outstretched hands, and as Swayzey passed she reminded him shrilly: "Gardenia. Buy a gardenia." He extracted a quarter from his pocket and pinned on a flower. As the flower's perfume reached his nostrils, his spirits rose.

When he had come around to the front entrance again, he found the ceremonies in full swing. The Governor's wife had arrived, a tall, stout woman, wearing orchids pinned to the fox collar of her black caracul coat. Newspaper cameras and sound reel machines formed a barricade between her and the passersby.

The Governor's wife had a tremendous gilded key. She giggled as she stabbed it futilely at the tiny keyhole. A harried looking man of medium height and sturdy build, in striped trousers and morning coat, with the bud of a talisman rose in his coat lapel, stood beside her. . . . ."We are very much honoured by your presence here, as representative of the Governor of the great commonwealth of New York . . ." the man stammered.

"That's Blankfort. John H. Blankfort. Grandson of Jeremiah. He owns the store," someone whispered. The cameras clicked. The crowd shifted its chilly feet. "I declare this store officially open for its fifty-first year," piped the Governor's lady. A man within the store threw back the latch. There was a patter of applause and the crowd surged in.

Mr. Swayzey tried to seem casual as he made his way across the main floor. He tossed a glance at initialed handkerchiefs and silk pajamas; he paused with a pretence of interest before the water carafes and cloisonne' ashtrays, but his steps, as he advanced toward the silk underwear department, were less assured than they had been the day before. He had been a fool, he realized now, to pick a morning like this. But the anniversary sale had been an important part of his calculations. The big crowds, the interest in the advertised visiting celebrities, the preoccupation of the store's personnel with bargain shoppers, would, he had anticipated, draw attention away from him and his suitcase. He was aware now that that might easily have been a mistake. An ordinary sale day would have been much better. There were too many cops around today. Too much delay. Too great an opportunity for someone else to pick up his carefully hidden luggage. Nevertheless, when he came eventually to the silk underwear department, he was inclined, once more, to think well of his judgment. The clerks were in a huddle as he passed through the department, their eyes riveted on the elevator doors, their interest on visitors rather than customers. "Did you see her?" they were asking one another. "There she goes, with Mr. Blankfort. Up to his office. Anniversary breakfast. Who're the cuties? Show girls?" No one at that moment had eyes for Mr. Swayzey. No one noticed him he opened the door beside the dressing rooms, stepped through and reached into the cubicle behind the door.

Swayzey's groping hand stopped and stiffened. A tingle of terror swept him from head to foot. He began to sweat. His avid fingers, awaiting the comforting contact of smooth cowhide, had met a cold, rigid human hand. He forced himself to look at that which his fingers had already perceived. He saw in the semi-darkness, dim but unmistakable, the wide open bulging eyes and swollen tongue of a dead man, the figure of a stout, middle aged person, standing upright, jammed tight within the narrow walls of the closet. His shoulders were slumped, as if with weariness, but the close confines of the little closet held the body erect, as if it had met death on its feet, had looked it fairly the eye, and had not gone down. Panic flooded Mr. Swayzey.

"My God," he whispered. "Oh my God. Jeez! I got to get out of here fast."

He turned to run. But even a moment's hesitation had been too long. A brisk young man carrying a bundle stopped beside him, stared for a second, dropped his burden and began to yell. "Hey, come here, quick. Something's wrong!"

"You bet," breathed Mr. Swayzey between chattering teeth. He tried to push the young man aside. "I got to get out damn fast," he told himself. The brisk young man put a detaining hand on his arm. "Oh, no you don't," he said. "You were here first. Here you stay till I get someone."

"Lemme go," Mr. Swayzey muttered. He writhed and wriggled. The young man clutched his overcoat. Mr. Swayzey tore himself loose and plunged headlong down the passage toward the lavatory. The breaks were against him. He ran smack into the arms of a tall, cadaverous, hawk-nosed man in a gray fedora hat. The tall man held him in a tight embrace, looked at him with brows wrinkled, and smiled grimly. "English Joe," he said. "Welcome. What in hell are you pulling off?"

Joe Swayzey gasped. Nervous sweat stood out in big beads on his forehead, trickled down his neck and thighs. It was Whittaker. Christopher Frederick Whittaker, chief detective of the Blankfort store. He was the very last guy in all the world that Joe Swayzey wanted to see. Three years had gone by since Joe had seen Chris Whittaker, and Chris Whittaker worked for Jumel's then and not for Blankfort's, but Swayzey's recollection of the last meeting was most distinct. You do not, after all, easily forget the face of the fellow who sent you to Sing Sing. Joe's expression grew sullen and his lips taut. "Lemme go," he growled, "I ain't got a thing."

The detective held Joe's wrist in a grip as tight and as and secure as a handcuff. "You have a nice new mustache, Joe," he said coldly, "and no business here in any case. Stick around till I find out what's happening."

A scream is a trumpet call. The yell of the brisk young salesman had brought stock clerks in shirt sleeves, porters, the watchman. The trumpeter was gesticulating and talking loudly to them:

"I got a date for half past nine with Miss Cassaway, the infants' wear buyer, and I come along here to leave my bundles and take out the line I want to show her, and whadda I see? That fella standing here and shivering like he was dying from cold, and this --"

"Cripes," said the watchman. "Y'a know who that is? That's McAndrew. That's Andrew McAndrew. Who coulda done him in like that?"

"He's dead, ain't he?" a stock boy piped.

"Cantcha see? Cold. Cold's a stone. Who ever done it shoved him in plenty tight. I betcha they have to take down the wall to get him out."

"Jeez, who coulda done that?"

The huddled group parted before the tall figure of the detective. Whittaker looked upon the dead man's protuberant eyes, on his dark, blotched, distorted face, his froth-flecked lips, from which a swollen tongue protruded. The man's necktie was gone, his collar was open, and on his throat were large round purple bruises. The plump body had been wedged into the cubicle so that it remained erect, like a mummy in a museum case. Joe Swayzey, forced by the compelling grip of the detective to look once more upon the dead, shivered so that his teeth clicked like castanets and his knees almost gave way.

"Nobody touch anything 'til the police get here," the detective said briefly. He turned to the watchman behind him. "Snap out of it, Tom. Get Williams and Mazur for me. Tell Mazur to bring a cop with him. He'll find somebody outside. Reilly's probably on the corner. None of you touch anything. Here you," he pointed to one of the stock clerks, "get a screen." He turned to his prisoner. "O.K., Joe. What's your angle?"

Joe Swayzey, growing momentarily more shaken, had dropped his accent summarily. He responded stubborn whimper. "I don't know nothing. I don't know who he is. I never seen him before. I don't know nothing."

"Yeah? That's your story. What were you doing back in here, anyway?"

"Wasn't doin' nothin'. Just walkin' through."

A coatless young man, with shirt sleeves rolled up, pushed through the crowd to the detective's side. "I bet he does know somethin' too," the young man shouted. "I saw him back in here last night, just around closing time. He said he was lookin' for a men's room."

Whittaker's quick glance darted back to Swayzey. "The old stuff, eh Joe? Just a little nice respectable prowlin'. Or were you stopping for a sniff? Just happened you were here last night. Just happened you were here this morning. And McAndrew got bumped off. Gonna come across now -- or do we have to go to work?"

English Joe's mouth shut like a trap. "I ain't sayin' nothin'," he repeated. "I wanta see a lawyer."

The crowd grew with each swift second, boys and girls from the stock room, packers, markers, salespeople, messengers. They looked, lingered, horror-fascinated, a moment, and then fled to spread the news. The shocking announcement traveled through the store with the speed of light. "McAndrew's been murdered....They found his body out back .... McAndrew... The credit manager ....Somebody killed McAndrew.... Choked him to death." Customers stood impatient and unnoticed while salesgirls whispered the message from mouth to ear. The Governor's lady was forgotten as page relayed it to elevator operator, elevator operator to section manager and sent it racing around the eight block-square floors of Blankfort's. "They caught a crook. He was the one did it." Each person telling the tale added the same exclamation...."What a thing to happen on a day like this!"



CHAPTER III

When Williams and Mazur, a pair of heavy-set commonplace looking gentlemen, who belonged to the detective force of the store, strode, with a uniformed policeman at their heels, at a gait that was almost a run, through the silk lingerie department, shoppers and salesgirls stared after them. Here and there a clerk, unable to restrain her curiosity, left her counter and followed. A section manager shooed her back. The detectives darted through the glass door at he end of the dressing rooms and shut it quickly.

"Hello, Reilly," Chris Whittaker addressed the police officer. "I haven't tried to move the body. I know what the Inspector wants. The man's McAndrew. Our credit manager. This lad at my right hand -- you know him, don't you, Mazur? -- our old pal, English Joe. Hang on to him for me, Mazur. He's oily. Don't let him slip away. He's got a bed-time story for us."

The police man took out his notebook.

"Andrew J. McAndrew," Whittaker dictated and the policeman wrote it down. "Age 40 (or thereabouts -- forty's close enough). Home address, New Rochelle. You'll get the street and number upstairs. Credit manager, Jeremiah Blankfort and Company. Worked here about seven years, I think. Well liked, respected. No trouble with the staff as far as I know. Body found at 9:32 by Joe Swayzey, alias English Joe. He's an old acquaintance of ours. Known him for years. Last time I saw him, it was in General Sessions. He had just picked up a one-way ticket to Ossining. Have an idea he's on parole right now. This man --what's your name, son?"

"Walter Ginsburg, Cohen and Weinawitz, Infant's Wear..."

"Came on the scene, saw Swayzey in front of the body. Others may have come through this passage before, but as you see, this corner's dark and the door swings in on it, and unless you were looking in this particular place you might easily miss it. Ginsburg saw Swayzey looking agitated about something. He yelled. I heard. Got here in time to keep the fellows from messing things up, and to get my hands on Joe. That's as far as I've gone. Now, suppose you call the Medical Examiner right away so we can get the body moved. And Reilly: this is important. We've got to handle this thing quietly. This is a big day in the store. It's the fiftieth anniversary. Big sale. The Governor's wife and a lot of big shots are upstairs. We got to keep it as quiet as we can. It would be a fine howdya-do to have the wagon drive up right now. Tell headquarters not to send the wagon 'til we know what's what, and not to say a word to the papers. I mean that, Reilly. Not a word to the papers until we know where we're at. Blankfort will be sore as hell if you galoots mess up his sale. We're trying to do business in this store today. Tell the boys to use the entrance back here" -- he pointed to the door beyond the passage -- "the Forty-seventh Street side, Sixth Avenue door. We got to be careful." He took off his fedora, mopped his brow and looked around at the gaping crowd. "All you guys get back to work, will you? Don't hang around here. And keep your mouths shut. Williams will stay here with the body while you phone, Reilly. Get it done as fast as you can. Mazur and I are going to take Joe downstairs. Tom," he turned to the watchman, "Get Mary Carner and tell her I want her in my office away. You'll find me there, Reilly. You know where it is, don't you? In the basement. Down this passage to the left you'll find the steps. That's right, next to the little stock room." He turned again to the reluctant crowd. "Go on, all of you, get back to your work. Ginsburg, you come downstairs with us too."

The door marked "C. F. Whittaker, Private," opening upon a small, dismal, gray walled room in the basement of the store, had scarcely closed behind the chief detective and his companions when Mary Carner opened it again.

Mary Carner was a pretty girl, trim, slender, poised and well mannered. Whittaker had hired her chiefly because she looked like a lady, rather than like a detective. All the Fifth Avenue stores had gone in for ladies -- ladies with Ph.D.'s and M.A.'s and sorority pins and the Park Avenue manner, who snapped up the jobs behind shop counters, under the delusion that these might eventually lead to careers. The sorority girls impressed the bargain hunters, and actually sold merchandise.

Mary Carner had no college degree, but decidedly she had the manner. Chris Whittaker had found her a first-rate detective as well as a gracious lady. Five years of sleuthing in hotels, department stores and for private agencies had left no coarsening mark upon her. A bright, sophisticated looking person, she dressed impeccably, resembling the better class of the store's clientele. Her dark suit was of good quality and line, perfectly fitted, her fur neckpiece was in the best of taste, her hat smart and inconspicuous. All this made her invaluable to Blankfort's. Even the experienced shoplifters never spotted her, never dreamed that the bland, attractive young woman, looking carefully and with absorption at jewelry or silk lingerie, or standing beside them, in apparent abstraction, as though she couldn't quite decide whether to go upstairs next for Eloise's spring ensemble, or take a turn in the blouse department, was in fact watching their fingers, recording in her alert mind every visible detail of their physical personality, and checking it with the two hundred or more photographs of well known store thieves which hung on an open rack in Whittaker's office.

Mary's eyes and her mind were clear and quick. She looked Joe Swayzey and Walter Ginsburg over with a single flicker of her eyelashes before she addressed her chief.

"Tom told me," she said quietly to Whittaker.

"Come here." She came around to the back of his desk. "We're in a hell of a jam," he whispered to her. "There's no doubt that McAndrew was murdered. And you know what that's going to mean. The place will be overrun with cops. There'll be all kinds of excitement. We've got to do our damnedest to get this thing handled quietly. If they let us handle this our way, the store'll be O.K. But they won't. We'll start anyway, and we'll get as much together as we can. Here's what you're to do. Go upstairs first, Mary. Get word quietly to J. B. I don't want any story on this to leak out before he has control of the situation. If we can keep the story from breaking until tomorrow or have the murder angle played down -- apoplexy -- heart attack -- you know --that's something. It's worth trying for, anyway. After you've seen Blankfort go up to McAndrew's office, pick up anything that's loose and have a new lock put on McAndrew's door. Bring the key to me and nobody else. See that nobody touches McAndrew's desk or his files. Or his waste-paper basket. 'Fact, you'd better take care of McAndrew's office before you even see Blankfort. Make it snappy. After that I want you, as you go through the store, to keep your ears open. Don't miss any gossip, no matter how trivial it seems. Offhand, now, I can't think of one person who might have wanted to choke our friend, but I see I've got a lot to learn. Of course, there's English Joe. I picked him up alongside the body. He'd been snooping around that passage-way last night. Maybe he did it and maybe he didn't. Now, scram."

The main floor was jammed when Mary Carner hurried through it to the elevators. A mob of women fought for sheer silk stockings at fifty-two cents a pair; they pounded one another's ribs, lacerated each other's skin, knocked off hats to get to house dresses at sixty-seven cents, to gloves at two pairs for a dollar. Mary Carner strode by them with a twinge of conscience. Plenty of merchandise would march out of the store, unpaid for, today. Of all days! There certainly was enough routine crime in the store without adding a murder.

"Take me right up," she ordered the operator of the employees' elevator. "Eighth floor. Don't stop for signals."

"Gee, you're in a hurry, Miss Carner." The young man was silent a second. Then he whispered, "Is it true about McAndrew?"

"Yes," she answered briefly. "Were you on last night?"

"Nope."

"Who was on?"

"None of the regular men. Who do you think coulda done it, Miss Carner?"

"Haven't any idea."

"Think it was somebody in the store?" he persisted.

"The store has a thousand employees, Dan."

"And God knows how many customers," he amplified. "And I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of them had a reason for being sore at McAndrew."

"Why, Dan?"

"He was credit manager, wasn't he? Charge accounts and things like that. Supposing they wasn't paying. Trying to get away with something. Rubber checks and such. That's something, ain't it?"

"That's a good angle, Dan. You ought to be a detective."

"Say, I'd like to. I wish I was a detective." He beamed. "If I get any clues, I'll tell you. How's that?"

"Thanks. And Dan, if you want to do this right, keep your mouth shut and your ears and eyes open. That's lesson number one."

He winked. "O.K. Here's your floor, Miss Carner. I'll be seeing ya."


 

END OF SAMPLE



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