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Race Williams—Confidential Agent—is not a charitable institution, but the potential of cold, hard cash, not curiosity, will drive Williams to the brink. When a mysterious letter and hotel key from “A Real American” takes him to the twenty-seventh story of a New York skyscraper, Williams arrives early with his gun in-hand. Williams finds an empty room except for the dead corpse of a young Indian man, Race’s “Real American.” With only a corpse and a ticket to Oklahoma as clues, Williams must prowl the mean streets of New York City to find the killer and uncover the mystery as to why he was brought to Room 2740. Story #15 in the Race Williams series.Carroll John Daly (1889–1958) was the creator of the first hard-boiled private eye story, predating Dashiell Hammett's first Continental Op story by several months. Daly's classic character, Race Williams, was one of the most popular fiction characters of the pulps, and the direct inspiration for Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.
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Carroll John Daly
© 2017 Steeger Properties, LLC. Published by arrangement with Steeger Properties, LLC, agent for the Estate of Carroll John Daly.
“Half-Breed” originally appeared in the November 1926 issue of Black Mask magazine.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Race Williams” is a trademark of the Estate of Carroll John Daly. “Black Mask” is a trademark of Steeger Properties, LLC, and registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
I’ve made all kinds of calls—mysterious and secret, open and above board—but never one just like this. Here’s the trick, and, as they say in the best literature—the thing intrigued me.
The note—you’ll admit with me that it reads like a jarful of horse radish:—
“Some day, Mr. Race Williams, great money is perhaps placed in your hands. Some day perhaps the god you worship say that it is well done. Some day your patriartic chest will swell perhaps with pride of helping a real American which despite honored thought of you is not in the case.
“Come then, perhaps, to building and room number on card which is placed within this unfortunate envelope. Five o’clock you enter the building without trouble, go to room by key. Seven o’clock you leave room and wait so by door. After that you act for me or you do not act at all. As for me, I will kill him though I die for it, and what’s the good to her without you? But my blood calls that I do it, like the river racing over the mountain.
“Money perhaps, great goodness perhaps, death—more so for you maybe. I hear you are like mine of old, without fear. So I sign myself—
“A REAL AMERICAN.”
There’s the music—write your own words. Things weren’t in the habit of going so good with the lad who penned that masterpiece. Witness the often repeated “perhaps.” Life had taught him to have his doubts. And he was going to bump someone off. He didn’t make any bones about that. Some piece of lace needed a killing done for her. What if he did get kicked over? He was a “Real American,” and a frail needed some blood spilt. Good enough!
This wasn’t a trap. The key and card and letter fell out of the envelope, but not a check nor a nickel came to life. Anyone with the laudable ambition to slip a bit of lead in my back wouldn’t try to trap me into a bogus case unless a bit of change accompanied the offer. Race Williams—Confidential Agent—is not a charitable institution. Of course it wasn’t curiosity that drove me into it. Money stood out—and where there’s money I hook on.
We won’t hang any label on the building, but the number on the card called for the twenty-seventh floor of a New York skyscraper. I arrived shortly before five o’clock. It was a good time, for the elevators were crowded and if things went wrong I wouldn’t be remembered later.
Room 2740 was down a narrow corridor, and a left turn from the elevators. A plain wooden door with no transom—that was strange—the transom had been blocked out, I thought. But I shrugged my shoulders—I was ready for anything—always am. I met no one as I slipped to the door. George W. Woos—Engineer, the lettering said. George W. smacked of honesty of purpose, but the “Woos” sounded fishy. I stuck the key in the lock and threw open the door. My gun was tightly gripped in my right coat pocket—but nothing was stirring. I slammed the door, heard the lock snap, then took a look in the closet. It was empty.
The rest of the room only took one quick glance. A desk, a washstand, two chairs and a single row of books along a shelf. The floor was clean and there was no rug. I piped the books. They were mostly on engineering.
I grabbed myself a butt and looked out the window. Far down the bay the ships’ lights were already twinkling faintly in the fading day. Myriads of boats dotted the river. Like distant calls of night birds, the horns of automobiles drifted up to me. It grew darker but I did not switch on the electric light that hung in the center of the room. I tried it once, to make sure it was working; then snapped it off again. Darkness suited me—there was nothing to read. I’m not one to go in for engineering.
Clang! It jarred me back from the window and over to the door. Things had quieted down in the street now and the silence there above the great city was like the silence of the distant forests. I listened by the door. The clang was not repeated—no footsteps crossed the hall without. The elevator door had closed, that was all—and it had taken a passenger down, not brought one up.
I consulted my watch—the radium dial showed six-fifteen. There were forty-five minutes still to wait, and then I’d step out in the hall. Twice in the next fifteen minutes the clang of the elevator doors drew me close to the door again. The second one rewarded me—someone came out of the elevator. He didn’t move at once. I heard the whir of the car; about decided that it was a down passenger—when the footsteps crossed the hall, silently, cat-like; yet the tread of rubber on the tile floor was unmistakable.
I didn’t open the door and look out and there wasn’t any transom to look over. But I listened as the tread of feet paused before my door. Was this my “Real American,” a bit ahead of his time? I slipped back in the room, dropped into the chair by the desk, and, watching the door, waited. I heard the knob turn. I waited—and watched that door.
Not another sound—and the footsteps had paused a good five minutes ago. I could dimly see the outline of the door, for my eyes had become accustomed to the darkness. It hadn’t opened a crack. No matter how silent the man without, the light from the hall would shine through, the minute the door opened. What was the matter with the lad, anyway? Was he going to stand there until seven o’clock exactly, or—?
The dull jar of a closing door! I couldn’t be sure, but I thought that it came from down the hall. I pussyfooted across the room, reached the door and listened. No sound. This silent waiting did not smack of honesty of purpose. Was it, after all, some trap—was I to step out at seven o’clock and get stretched with a bit of lead? It was a good place for it—twenty-seven floors above the street.
I was a bit restless in the next twenty minutes; paced the room and killed butt after butt. The night outside was queer—the stars seemed bright enough and the clouds white and moving rapidly through the sky. But a mist enveloped the city; just a thin, vapory film which made the lights of the river boats look blurred and twinkle like the stars. Five minutes of seven, and I was ready. Eyes on my watch, right hand clutching the heavy gun in my pocket—I waited. Instinct has helped me more times than reason. There was nothing to tell me what was going to happen at seven o’clock, yet I expected something—felt the thrill of coming action, and waited.
One minute to seven—my hand closed about the knob. A dead silence outside there now—a silence which was suddenly broken by a piercing scream. Not one of fear, but more of anger and surprise, with a certain weird pain in it. I threw open the door—a dim light, a deadly quiet, and shapeless shadows across the hall and down toward the main foyer—before the elevators.
I was cautious now—that shriek that had died was one of rage as well as pain, and yet it had been cut off so quickly. As if life had snapped in an instant, stilling the throat forever.
I had a good look up and down that corridor and at the closed doors across and alongside of me. And wherever my eyes went so did the mouth of my gun. In my opinion murder had been committed on that floor. I gulped too—my client, the writer of that note, had spoken of a bit of killing. It was just seven o’clock. I waited for the explanation of that terrible, eerie shriek—waited for my “Real American” to slink to my door and plead for me to save him.
No footsteps, no opening and closing door, no light through the cracks of any of the doors. Seven o’clock had come and passed. I’d do a little investigating of my own. It was a cinch that no one had left that floor—I had the door opened before ever that scream had died away. Still, even now, while I waited, someone might be slipping across the main foyer and toward the stairs, for I thought that the scream had come from beyond the turn in the corridor.
Stepping into the hallway and keeping my back close against the walls, I slid along toward the elevators. My rubber soles made little noise. I reached the main hall—brighter lights there, great shadows, too, cast by the huge pillars of stone or imitation marble that stretched their shining round surfaces to the ceiling. Did they hide anything? I thought not. An elevator whirred. I lowered my gun, ready to slip it away if the car should stop. But it didn’t. The light flickered by.
I encircled that entire foyer, even taking a glance down the wide stairs. Nothing there. What was I to do? Wait for my client to show up, or slip down those stairs and seek the street—and safety? That was by far the safest place for me. But then, I’m never apt to be in the safest place. Of course, I might have been wrong about that scream and it might have come from the corridor on the other side of the foyer hall. It didn’t sound like it but it wouldn’t do any harm to listen at all those doors.
I slipped down the corridor, was half-way to the end of it—a straight hallway, leading from the main hall, this—when I swung around. There was the dull slam of a door, that jar that comes when the lock does not slip home; then the pounding of running feet that beat furiously across tile.
I saw the figure, too—just the dull outline of its shadowy form as it crossed the hall and tore for the stairs. I reached the main hallway as that figure swung around the stairs. I might have winged him. I thought of it, all right, and covered him—but I was too much in the dark. Then, I’m not entirely in this game for the sport of the thing. What would a shot gain me? Nothing. A dull report, a tumbling figure—and perhaps the police. I followed the figure to the stairs, heard the rapidly descending feet.
A thud behind me! And I forgot the running figure as I swung sharply. A light shone through a crack in a partly opened door near the beginning of that corridor leading to room 2740. The door swung again—and the light streaked broader. The running figure had come from that room and the door had not locked behind him. I wouldn’t give it a chance to lock now.
I reached the door in a moment—caught the gilt letters: Oklahoma Oil Company—and stepped inside. A man had run from that room—was there another in it? Probably—and I saw that other almost at once. He was braced against the open window, half upon the sill, his face toward me—a deep gash stretching over his forehead, from which the blood trickled slowly down to the sightless eyes that stared so steadily, yet so glassily, at me.
There was a closet in this room, too. I took a look in there. But the closet yielded nothing. Sure that I was alone with the dead man, I gave my attention again to the body. And I gasped; drew slightly back.
As the head was facing me, so was the back. A horrible murder this—and one committed by a man of enormous strength, for that dark head, with its popping, sightless eyes, had been twisted clean around on the body. When I get a shock out of anything, believe me, it’s something to be shocked about.
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