Chapter FOURTEEN

THE police captain was a guy named Summers. I knew him pretty well and he wasn’t a bad guy if he felt like it. Otherwise, he had a temper like a flea on a hot stove and was liable to fly off the handle without warning.

They kept me waiting nearly four hours before they took me to his office and the wait nearly drove me crazy.

“Hullo, Millan,” he said when Clancy pushed me into the room. “I’m sorry we had to keep you. Sit down.”

Clancy stood behind Summers and gnawed dismally at his dead cigar.

I sat down after shaking hands. “That’s all right,” I said, trying to look as if I hadn’t a care in the world. “It’s just one of those things.”

“Yep, I guess so,” he studied me for a long minute, then took out a box of cigars and pushed them over, “Help yourself,” he said.

When we had lit up he said, “Not like you to be mixed up in murder. I thought you were too smart for that.”

“I’m not mixed up in anything,” I said firmly. “Don’t go making any mistake about that. I just found the poor little guy.”

“Yeah, you just found him. Why did this girl leave a note telling you she had knocked him off?”

“This is a tough story to tell,” I said slowly. “But, she didn’t kill him and she didn’t write that note. The other girl did both those things.”

“The other girl?” He hid behind a cloud of oily smoke. “Oh that! Man into sausage, talking dog and floating woman. Yeah, Clancy was telling me.”

Clancy shifted from one foot to the other and then a silence fell so that I could hear the watch on my wrist like it was an alarm clock.

“You’ve got to do better than that,” Summers said at last. “I wouldn’t want you telling me a whopper like that. Maybe, it amused you to kid Clancy, but it wouldn’t amuse you for long to kid me.”

We eyed each other and I decided that I bad to think up something else.

“Okay,” I said. “Why not ask the girl? Why ask me?”

“We will when we’ve found her,” Summers returned. “We’ll ask her a lot of things, then we’ll sit her on a nice hot seat and fry her.”

Well, anyway, they hadn’t found her yet. That was something.

“She was your girl, wasn’t she, Millan?” he went on casually. I shook my head.

“No, I liked her. She was good fun, but that’s all.”

“This guy Bogle says different.”

“You don’t want to believe what he says,” I returned. “You see, he was the little guy’s pal. He thinks Myra killed him and he’ll say anything to get her convicted. He’s prejudiced.”

“Don’t you think she killed him?”

“I’ve told you already,” I said sharply. “Of course she didn’t.”

“I guess you’re the only guy who thinks so. Why, she even says she killed him herself,” and he tapped a sheet of notepaper which I recognized as the note Bogle had taken.

“Well,” I said, uncrossing my legs. “You’ve got what looks like a confession and you’ve got the stained dress. There isn’t much I can do about it.”

“The knife had her finger-prints on it,” Summers said, caressing the back of his head gently. “We found a strand of her hair in the old guy’s coat. Nope, it’s a cinch, Millan, so you’d better be careful.”

“I shrugged. “Well, I can’t help you. I would if I could, but If my story’s too much for you to swallow, I give up.”

He eyed me thoughtfully. “Okay,” he said. “Give. I’ve known you a long time, Millan, and

I don’t think you’re a liar. So tell me. I’ll listen anyway.” Clancy groaned, but neither of us took any notice of him.

So I told him what I’d told Clancy, only I gave him a lot more details.

Summers listened, caressing the back of his head the whole time. His cold, blank eyes never left my face, and when I was through he nodded.

“Well, I have to hand it to you, Millan. It’s some yarn.”

“Yeah, it’s some yarn, like you say.”

“So the dog talks, huh? A real honest to gawd dog—talking. Where’s the dog now?”

“He’s in a dog hospital some place. Bogle took him. Ask Bogle. He’ll tell you.”

“We’ve already asked Bogle about the dog. He says it never talked.”

“Then telephone the dog hospitals. The nearest one to Mulberry Park ought to find him.” Summers brightened a little. “Do it,” he said to Clancy. “I’d like to hear a dog talk.”

Then, with a sudden feeling of sickness, I remembered. “Wait,” I said. “He doesn’t talk any more. Someone hit him on the head and he just barks now.”

There was a long, painful silence and Summers’ beefy face grew dark. “Oh, so he just barks now,” he repeated, then seeing Clancy hesitate, he snapped. “Get after him all the same. I want to know if an injured dog’s been picked up recently.”

Clancy went out.

“I’m sorry Summers,” I said. “This sounds phoney, but he did talk yesterday. I swear he did.”

“So the dog doesn’t talk any more and maybe the woman’s given up floating,” Siunmers said, his eyes glinted with anger. “If I didn’t know you, Millan, you might be in for a bad time. I might even get some of the boys to give you a shellacking.”

I shifted restlessly. “Give me a chance to prove it,” I said suddenly. I remembered that Summers used to stake all his pay on a single cut of the cards. I’ve even seen him gamble with his next month’s salary. He was far more likely to play along if I appealed to his sporting instinct. “Look, Summers, if I bring these two girls to this office and let you see them, will that convince you?”

“How would you do that?” he asked, but the glint went out of his eyes.

“Give me a couple of weeks. I’ve got to find them first and that’ll take some digging around. But I’ll find them all right if you call off your bloodhounds and give me a free hand.”

“What do you think the newspapers’ll say if I don’t get action in the next day or so?” he asked, pulling at his short thick nose and looking at me old fashioned. “You’re in the business. You know what a ride I’ll get.”

“I’ve been in the game long enough to know that if you want to stall the newspapers you can do it,” I returned, feeling that I had the thin end in the crack and it only needed one good smack to drive it home. “There’s something much bigger than murder behind all this. It’s going to be a whale of a story and it’ll do you a hell of a lot of good to be tied up in it on the right side. I tell you, if you grab Myra Shumway and try to pin the murder on her, you’ll be passing up something that someone on top is trying to cover up. Let me handle it for a couple of weeks and I’ll give it to you on a plate.”

“What someone on top?” he asked, interested.

“That’s my affair, Summers,” I said. “I may be wrong, but I don’t think so. I’ll tell you when I’m ready.”

“I suppose you realize that I could hold you as an accessory after the fact on that statement,” Summers said, his voice suddenly cold.

“Where are your witnesses? I didn’t say anything.”

He tried to get mad, but then grinned. “I’ll give you a week,” he said. “You’ve got a week from now to bring the two girls to this office. If you don’t, then I’ll issue a warrant for your arrest as an accessory and we’ll see if we can’t persuade you to talk. How’s that?”

I didn’t hesitate. “Suits me,” I said and put out my hand.

He shook it casually. “Okay, Millan,” he said. “You can beat it. Remember, I want you here this time next week with the two girls. You’re not to leave the City unless you tell me where you’re going. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said, and made for the door.

“I don’t think you’re going to be very lucky,” he said as I was going out. “I don’t think there are two girls.”

“We’ll talk about that when next we meet,” I said, and closed the door behind me.

Clancy was coming along the passage and he stared at me.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he demanded.

“Summers doesn’t want me until next week,” I said cheerfully. “Any news of my dog?”

“Yeah,” he said. “There was a wolfhound at the Eastern Dog Hospital with a bang on his dome, but he took it on the lam before anyone could take care of him. Maybe that was your dog.”

“Maybe it was,” I said. “Now, will you have a talk with Bogle about that? It looks like I’m not the only guy who can tell stories.”

Clancy’s face became grim. “I’ll talk to him,” he said sourly.

“And Clancy, if you can keep him on ice for a week, you’ll be doing me a favour.”

“I will, will I?” he looked at me hard. “What are you up to?”

“Never mind that,” I said. “You ask Summers, he’ll tell you. But Bogle’s got the wrong idea and he’ll be better off out of the way. Do what you can for me, will you? I’ll give you a good write-up if I handle the story.”

“That reminds me,” Clancy said, snapping his thick fingers. “Maddox ‘phoned through a couple of hours back. He wanted you to go around to his office right away.”

This startled me. “Maddox?” I repeated. “Wants to see me?”

“Yeah,” Clancy said.

“Okay, thanks, Clancy. Be seeing you. So long,” and I beat it out of Headquarters as fast as I could travel.

As I got into the street a cruising taxi slowed down and the driver looked at me hopefully. I nodded and he stopped.

“Recorder office,” I said, and jerked open the door. Then I paused.

There was a girl sitting in the far corner.

“What’s the idea?” I demanded, turning on the driver. “You’ve got a customer, you pudden-headed monkey.”

“Get in, Mr. Millan,” the girl said. “I want to talk to you.” The voice was familiar and I looked back into the cab. Lydia Brandt was sitting there and in her hand she held a small, businesslike automatic. Its snub nose was pointed at my waistcoat.

“Why, hello,” I said, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Get in,” she repeated. “Unless you want another belly button.”

“Not outside police headquarters,” I said hastily. “It’d be bad for their nerves,” and I got in and sat down gingerly beside her.

The driver shot the cab away from the curb and took off down the street.

Lydia Brandt was dressed in a smart olive green dress, and cerise turban, gloves, handbag and shoes. She looked like Fifth Avenue.

“Didn’t I tell you I was susceptible to your feminine lure, you beautiful butterfly? I don’t need kidnapping at the point of a gun,” I said, watching her closely because I didn’t like the efficient, almost careless way she handled the automatic. From that range a slug from that pop-gun could make me awfully unhappy.

“Mr. Kruger wants to see you,” she said indifferently. “I thought you might not be anxious to come.”

“What, not see Peppi?” I said. “You don’t know me. He’s a guy I dream about. I want his autograph and I’ll wear his old clothes.”

“Very funny,” she said, .her eyes darkening. “You’ll laugh the other side of your face before long.”

“Don’t threaten me,” I returned, smiling at her. “Peppi wants to give me a job. I was going to call him anyway.”

She put the automatic on top of her bag and folded her long, slim fingers over it. Its barrel still pointed at me, but she had taken her finger off the trigger and that gave me more confidence. “You want to be sure to pick someone smaller than yourself next time you start fighting,” she said, eyeing my bruises.

“Never mind that,” I said, relaxing. “You know it was a dumb trick to pick me up outside police headquarters. Both from Peppi’s and my own point of view. It’s not the smartest thing to let the cops know that we are interested in each other.”

“What do you mean?” She looked searchingly at me.

“I’ve been turned loose, but I’m willing to bet my last pair of socks that I’ve got a load of law tailing me and I’ll be tailed from now on.”

I’d hit the right note. She looked alarmed.

“Tailing you?” she repeated and looked hastily through the little rear window.

There was a lot of traffic on the road and she didn’t see any particular car that attracted attention.

But the movement was enough for me. I had her gun before she knew what I was doing. I put it in my pocket. “You’ll excuse me,” I said. “But that heater made me nervous.”

She sat glowering at me.

“And now,” I went on. “Let’s be sensible. Tell the driver to take us to my apartment. I want to talk to you.”

“You can talk here,” she said, her voice off key.

“Don’t be a dope,” I said sharply. “You’ve had your fun. I’m going to have mine.” I leaned forward and told the driver my address. “And make it snappy, Happy,” I added.

He made no move to change direction, but kept on towards Fifth Avenue.

“One of your boys?” I said, looking at her.

She didn’t say anything, but I could see I was right. I took her automatic out of my pocket and rammed it into the driver’s neck. “Maybe you didn’t hear me the first time,” I said.

He swung off the main street and I sat back.

“You’ll pay for this,” she said angrily.

“Be smart,” I returned. “Look back now,” and I indicated a large black car sitting on our tail. “That’s the law, and let me tell you something: I’m tied up in a murder case. If they think Peppi’s in on this, they’ll take him apart just for the fun of it.”

I could see she didn’t know what to think.

“You don’t have to get your girdle twisted,” I went on. “I just want to have a little talk with you, then I’ll go over and see Peppi. But, before I do, I’ve got to shake these coppers.”

Neither of us said anything until we reached my apartment, then as she got out of the taxi I cautioned her, “Don’t make a fuss,” I said, “just go straight in.”

The driver, a thin, weedy youth looked at her enquiringly but she crossed the sidewalk without saying anything to him and entered my apartment. I gave him a half a buck. “Tell Peppi I’ll be along in a little while,” I said, and left him staring after me.

As Lydia and I entered the apartment house the big black car swept by. I caught a glimpse of Clancy, looking back through the window then I shut the front door quietly.

“Sit down and make yourself at home,” I said, waving to the armchair.

She faced me. “What do you want?” she demanded angrily. Her cobalt blue eyes were dark and the lines of her mouth hard.

I took her arm and shoved her gently into the chair. “I want to talk to you,” I said and stood over her. “Ansell was murdered this afternoon. He was killed by a girl who’s impersonating Myra Shumway.”

“He was killed by Myra Shumway,” Lydia said softly. “Well, anyway that told me where we stood.

“Where is she?” I asked.

“With Mr. Kruger.”

“The other one’s with him too?”

“There’s no other one.”

“Oh yes there is,” I said grimly. “This talk’s off the record. Neither of us have witnesses and I want to get things clear.”

“There’s no other one,” she repeated.

“Okay, there’s no other one. What is Kruger going to do with her?”

“He’ll tell you when he sees you.”

“That’s what he wants to see me about?”

“Why did she kill Doc. Ansell?”

“You’d better ask her that yourself.”

“You tell me.”

She didn’t say anything.

I pushed myself off the table and wandered to the window. There was a guy on the opposite side of the street, hiding behind a newspaper. He had copper written all over him from his hard hat to his fiat feet. I turned back to Lydia.

“Where does Andasca come into all this?”

“You’d better let me go,” she said suddenly, gathering up her bag and gloves. “This has gone on long enough.”

“So it has,” I said. “So it has.”

I didn’t like doing it, but the idea only occurred to me as she stood up. It was one of those ideas that come like a bolt from the blue and are so good that you’ve just got to play them without thinking.

I hit her on the point of her chin with a short tight. I’ll swear she never felt it and she was on the floor before I had regained my balance.

I knelt beside her, lifted her eyelid. She was out for a long count. Well, if Peppi had Myra, I certainly had Lydia. In playing with a rat like Peppi it was just as good to have one of his toys if he had one of yours.

I took a quick gander out of the window. The copper was still there. That was going to make things difficult but not impossible.

I went into the bathroom and found a long roll of adhesive tape. Then I came back into the sitting room and taped Lydia’s hands and ankles. I gagged her with my best silk handkerchief and put her on the sofa.

Then I lit a cigarette and did some thinking. The moment Peppi knew I had her .he’d send a bunch of strongarrns to my apartment. So she’d have to be moved from here. The question was where could I put her? And when I’d found the right place, how was I going to get her out with that copper nesting on my doorstep?

This certainly called for a little thought.

There was the back way out of the apartment block. But, I guessed there’d be a copper watching that too. I went into the kitchen and looked out into the alley. I was right. A big beefy man loitered at the entrance of the alley.

How I was to get out of this building with Lydia and not be seen baffled me. I couldn’t imagine her going with me willingly, now that I had dipped her. And to carry her out with the law looking on just wouldn’t do.

I had to work fast. I had to get her out of the place before the taxi driver could wise Peppi up that I’d taken her gun and forced her into my apartment. In a way, the cops guarding both entrances prevented Peppi sending a bunch of toughs to beat me up. That was about the only consolation I had.

I wandered upstairs, trying to think of a way out. I went into my room, saw nothing to give me an idea and wandered out into Myra’s room.

It was lucky I did. Propped up in a corner was a life-size dummy of a girl, modelled along Myra’s lines. It was a prop she used as a magician and it gave me an idea.

The dummy was in an evening dress and was made so that it could stand up or sit down. I went over to it and lifted it. It wasn’t heavy.

I carried it down into the sitting room and laid it by Lydia’s side.

Then I had another look at the copper standing out in front. I’d never seen him before and that meant he wouldn’t be familiar with my looks.

Then I went into my room and selected a light suit in contrast to the one I had been wearing, dug out a slouch hat which I jammed over my eyes. Then I went over to the bed and stripped off the two sheets and went downstairs again.

In the room there was a small, round table, the top of which measured about a foot and a half in diameter. This would just suit my purpose. I got a screwdriver and took it apart.

Then I sat on the floor and swapped a table leg behind each of Lydia’s knees with adhesive tape. I strapped the other two legs to her body.

I stood her up. The wooden table legs kept her rigid and that was just what I wanted. Putting her back on the floor, I took off her shoes and went into the kitchen where I found some long screws. I screwed her shoes to the table top. Then with some difficulty I put the shoes on her feet again and laced them securely.

Then I stood her up again and stepped away from her. She looked like a wax dummy on its stand that you see in any dressmaker’s shop.

All this had taken about ten minutes and I had to hurry. I put some more adhesive tape round her mouth and fastened her arms to the table legs. I didn’t think, if she did come to the surface, she could move or attract attention.

Then I covered her with one of the sheets and tied the sheet round her waist with a length of string. I did exactly the same with the dummy.

Side by side, under the sheets, you couldn’t tell which was the dummy and which was Lydia.

Now the tricky part of the business began. The apartment house was divided into wings. We lived in the West wing and each wing was connected by a long corridor. There were four entrances all leading out to the same street, so the copper who was watching outside could see all entrances at once.

But I reasoned this way. He saw me go in with Lydia by the West entrance. He knew I was wearing a dark suit. I had to hope that if I came out of the North entrance with a light suit on he might not connect me with the guy he saw going in the West entrance. Anyway, that was how I had to play it.

I picked Lydia up under one arm and the dummy under the other. Together they were plenty heavy, but I managed. I walked out of my apartment down the corridor, until I came to the North hall. I left Lydia and the dummy there and giving my bat another jerk over my face, I walked out into the street.

I felt as if every eye in the police force were watching me. I glanced right and left. The cop, who’d parked himself outside the West entrance was moving slowly towards me. He wasn’t suspicious, but I guess he just wanted to make sure.

I turned and walked very slowly towards him. I saw him hesitate and then turn back to the West entrance. Who said that attack wasn’t the best form of defence?

I looked back over my shoulder and then paused on the curb. When a taxi passed, I yelled and the driver crammed on his brakes.

As he nailed the taxi beside me, a patrolman wandered past. He looked at me casually and I took a chance.

“Hey, officer!” I called, moving towards him, “I want some help and your protection.”

He looked puzzled, but his face brightened when he saw the five bucks I was folding carefully. That’s one language all cops understand.

“Sure,” he said. “Any little thing.”

I slipped him the dough. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the copper who had been watching the West wing suddenly show interest in what was going on. He began to move towards me.

I grabbed the patrolman’s arm, “Come in, officer,” I said, leading him into the lobby. “This is a gag. I’ve got a couple of dummies to put in my pal’s bed. I’ve been waiting to get even with him for some time and his wife’s a jealous woman.”

While I was speaking I’d got him up to Lydia and the dummy. I took the dummy and opened up the sheet so that he could see the papier m?ch? face. “Doesn’t she look like the real thing?” I asked.

He gaped at it. “You’re going to put that in some guy’s bed?” he said, astonished.

“I’m going to do a lot better than that,” I told him, “I’m going to put both of them in a guy’s bed.”

I thought he’d break a blood vessel. I haven’t seen a guy laugh so much in years. All the time he was smacking his leg and bellowing I had to stand by and pretend I enjoyed the joke. But I was losing weight every second wondering if Lydia was coming to the surface and whether if she moved he’d spot her.

“Give me a hand,” I urged, when he stopped laughing to mop his eyes, and I shoved the dummy into his arms. “Will you put her in the taxi? If the driver sees this without the law around he’ll think I’m kidnapping someone. And listen, don’t let your lack of chivalry take advantage of a lady who can’t protect herself.”

That set him off again. He gathered the dummy up in his arms. “Do you waltz, madam?” he asked, and then locking at me he said, “Her breath smelts of Scotch.”

“What of It?” I demanded, “you’d smell of something too it you were as stiff as she is.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and he staggered out into the Street, snorting with mirth.

I grabbed Lydia, who stirred as I picked her up. I felt the sweat running down my back, but I had to go through with it. Moving fast, I joined the patrolman by the taxi.

At that second, the copper drifted up and stood looking at us with a disapproving eye.

“What goes on?” he demanded, staring at the two shrouded figures and then at the patrolman.

“Well, if it ain’t O’Hara,” the patrolman said, losing his good humoured expression. “Holy Moses! Don’t I ever get any privacy on my beat?”

“I’m on a special job,” O’Hara said. “What have you got there?”

“You look after your special job,” the patrolman said shortly. “I’m just helping this guy kidnap a couple of dames,” and he began laughing again.

Both O’Hara and the taxi-driver were staring now with eyes like door-knobs.

I tried to edge round O’Hara and get into the taxi, but he was too near the door and I couldn’t quite make it. I was scared of attracting his attention. Up to now he hadn’t even looked at me.

“Kidnapping?” he repeated stupidly, “I don’t get it. That’s a Federal offence.”

The patrolman turned to me, “This guy started the rumour that dicks were dumb,” he said, and went off into another spluttering guffaw.

O’Hara began to get mad. He turned on me. “What the hell is this?” he demanded. “What have you got here?”

“Show him, officer,” I said, trying to smile. “We shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. He might run us in.”

“These are dummies, you big sap,” the patrolman said to O’Hara. “This guy’s going to put them into his pal’s bed. Ain’t that funny?”

“Dummies?” O’Hare repeated blankly. “How do you know they’re dummies?”

“What the hell else do you think they are… corpses?” The patrolman began to get heated,

“Are you nuts? Think I’d help get corpses in a cab?”

“You might do anything,” O’Hara said, darkly. “I’ve heard things about you.”

The patrolman thrust the dummy into my arms and clenched his fists. “Yeah?” he said, pushing his face into O’Hara’s. “What kind of things?”

“Never mind what kind of things,” O’Hara returned airily. “But I’ve heard enough to know you ain’t so hot.”

Lydia stirred in my arms and then she made a small grunting noise.

Both O’Hara and the patrolman stopped glaring at each other and turned to me.

“That was the cucumber I had for dinner,” I said hurriedly.

“Well, you cut out eating cucumber,” O’Hare said, “I don’t like that kind of noise.”

“Why shouldn’t the guy eat cucumber?” the patrolman demanded fiercely. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

O’Hara scowled, “I know who I am,” he said with a sneer, “that’s more than I can say for some people.”

By this time, the taxi-driver was losing patience. “Listen, you guys,” he said plaintively, “are you using this cab or ain’t you?”

Both O’Hara and the patrolman rounded on him.

“You stick around and like it,” the patrolman snarled. “We’ll tell you when we’re ready, see?”

The driver began to tremble with temper, “I ain’t scared of a couple of coppers,” he said. O’Hara turned his attention to me. “How do I know they’re dummies?” he demanded, fixing me with a cold eye.

I suddenly lost my own temper and shoved the dummy at him. “Look and see,” I said angrily, “I’m getting fed up with this. I ask this officer to give me a hand and the whole damned police force has to come along and shoot its mouth off.”

“Yeah,” the patrolman said, ranging himself on my side, “what he says is right.”

O’Hara felt the dummy gingerly, took a peep at its face and seemed satisfied. “Well, it’s a crazy trick, anyway,” he said, handing the dummy back to the patrolman.

“Who wants your opinion?” I said, opening the cab door.

As I began putting Lydia into the cab, she grunted again.

O’Hara said, “Cucumber, huh?”

I looked back over my shoulder, “You must be psychic,” I said and got into the cab.

“Just a minute,” O’Hara said, pushing forward, “I want to look at the other dummy.”

That nearly brought me out in a rash.

“If you think I’m going to unpack this just to satisfy your curiosity, you’re crazy,” I said, slamming the door.

“Leave him alone,” the patrolman said, “you pain in the neck.”

I could see O’Hara was determined. He yanked open the door again. “I’m seeing that other dummy,” he said between his teeth, “and if you start anything, I’ll take you to the station.”

I got out of the cab again. At least, it would give me a chance to run.

Then just as he was laying hands on Lydia, a guy came out of the West entrance of the apartment block and set off fast, walking away from us.

“Isn’t that the guy you’re watching?” I said, jerking O’Hara out of the cab and pointing excitedly.

He took one look, cursed under his breath and broke into a frantic run.

I turned to the patrolman, “Can I scram before he comes back?” I rustled another five-buck note because I didn’t think he could see it in the darkness.

“Sure,” he said, reaching out his hand, “you get off.”

“West Forty-fourth,” I said, saying the first thing that came into my mind. “And step on it.” As the cab shot away I sank back between Lydia and the dummy and drew a deep breath of relief. Even when Lydia began to wriggle violently and let off a few grunts I couldn’t care less.

“That’s some cucumber you’ve been eating,” the driver said chattily. “Yes, sir, your grocer sure must have an uneasy conscience.”

I put my hand over Lydia’s mouth.

“If you don’t shut up,” I said to her fiercely, “I’ll strangle you.”

The car lurched and the driver said, “Was you talking to me?”

“Don’t be a dope, I can talk to my stomach if I like, can’t I?” I returned, squeezing Lydia’s face between my fingers.

“I wish you wouldn’t, mister,” the driver pleaded. “It makes me kind of nervous. Besides, you don’t strangle stomachs, you kick ’em or you poison ’em, but you don’t strangle ’em.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I returned, wiping the sweat of my face with my free hand, “Thanks, pal, I’ll know next time.”

“You’re welcome,” the driver returned airily, “It’s guys who use their brains that get places.”

I agreed with him.

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