The Dead Seed - William Campbell Gault - ebook

The Dead Seed ebook

William Campbell Gault

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Brock's boyhood idol moves in next door before vanishing and leaving a body in his wake. In Hollywood's golden age, there was no finer swashbuckler than Fortney Grange. Decades after he last swung on a chandelier, Grange is nearly forgotten, his legacy surviving only in fuzzy black-and-white on the late-late movie channel. But to Brock Callahan, Grange remains a hero. When his idol shacks up with the aged widow next door, the ex-private investigator is starstruck. It takes a murder for the celluloid sheen to begin to fade. A strange pair of Arizona blackmailers takes up residence in a van outside Grange's house. Grange and his new lady friend disappear, and a few days later, his agent is found dead. Though it breaks his heart, Callahan is forced to investigate the man who has given him so much joy. And it will take more than swordplay for this aging daredevil to escape the chair.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

Brock’s boyhood idol moves in next door before vanishing and leaving a body in his wake.

In Hollywood’s golden age, there was no finer swashbuckler than Fortney Grange. Decades after he last swung on a chandelier, Grange is nearly forgotten, his legacy surviving only in fuzzy black-and-white on the late-late movie channel. But to Brock Callahan, Grange remains a hero. When his idol shacks up with the aged widow next door, the ex-private investigator is starstruck. It takes a murder for the celluloid sheen to begin to fade.

A strange pair of Arizona blackmailers takes up residence in a van outside Grange’s house. Grange and his new lady friend disappear, and a few days later, his agent is found dead. Though it breaks his heart, Callahan is forced to investigate the man who has given him so much joy. And it will take more than swordplay for this aging daredevil to escape the chair.

About the Author

William Campbell Gault (1910–1995) was a critically acclaimed pulp novelist. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he took seven years to graduate from high school. Though he was part of a juvenile gang, he wrote poetry in his spare time, signing it with a girl’s name lest one of his friends find it. He sold his first story in 1936, and built a great career writing for pulps like Paris Nights, Scarlet Adventures, and the infamous Black Mask. In 1939, Gault quit his job and started writing fulltime.

The Dead Seed

A Brock Callahan Mystery

William Campbell Gault

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2012 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1985 by William Campbell Gault

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Jason Gabbert

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-338-1

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

FOR SARA ANN FREED

ONE

JAN’S TASTES ARE MORE sophisticated than mine. Jan favors Paul Klee; Norman Rockwell is my kind of painter. War and Peace is her idea of a great novel; Bang the Drum Slowly is mine. On the boob tube, Jan rarely deserts the PBS channel. My television diet is confined mostly to old movies on the independent stations.

So that Tuesday morning when I came in from waxing my aged Mustang and told her, “I just saw Fortney Grange next door,” she looked at me blankly for a couple of seconds.

Then she shrugged. “Who is Fortney Grange?”

“Come on! Everybody knows who Fortney Grange is. He was—”

“Wait!” she interrupted. She tapped her forehead. “I remember now. My father used to talk about him. He was a football player. Wasn’t he called ‘the galloping ghost’?”

I shook my head. “That was Red Grange.”

“Wait,” she said again. “The gray ghost of Gonzaga—?”

“That,” I informed her patiently, “was Tony Canadeo of the Green Bay Packers. For your sadly thin information, Fortney Grange was probably the greatest actor of his time and possibly of all time.”

“Maybe to you,” she said. “I never heard of him.”

“He starred in some big pictures. There was The Sword of Destiny and Desert Fury and—”

“Oh,” she said. “That kind of actor, your kind. What was he doing next door, trimming the hedge with his sabre?”

“You’re so smart!” I said.

She nodded. “And pretty, too. Let’s not argue. Kiss me. I have to run. I have an eleven o’clock appointment in Solvang.”

Ten minutes later, her little Mercedes was chattering out the driveway and Mrs. Casey, our housekeeper, came into the breakfast room. “Guess who is living next door?” she asked me.

“Fortney Grange.”

“Imagine!” she said.

“Right,” I agreed. “He didn’t buy the place, did he? The Medfords have been living there for three generations.”

“Buy? Him? With what? He was the biggest Hollywood spender of all time. The way I heard it, he’s an old friend of Miss Medford’s and living in that coach house they converted.”

“I’d sure like to meet him,” I said.

She nodded. “Maybe we will. Let’s hold our thumbs. I’ll never forget his pictures, not one of them. Fresh coffee?”

“No, thanks. I think I’ll go out to see if the backyard needs watering.”

She smiled knowingly. “Call me if you get a glimpse of him.”

Mrs. Casey and I share a lot of tastes, including the culinary. No fancy French chef who ever lived could come close to the subtle flavors in her Irish stew.

Still, even I had to admit it was adolescent of me to stand out there like an overaged groupie watering the lawn with a hose just to catch a glimpse of my hero. The yard was equipped with a clock-controlled sprinkling system.

Quiescent. I guess that’s the word for the next half hour. Though not soundless; soothing Mantovani music from a local FM station was drifting out from the ancient Medford home.

Was something going on in there? Fortney Grange had been not only one of the great Hollywood spenders; he had also been one of its famous studs. And Carol Medford, the last of her line, had been that distinguished family’s only free-soul advocate.

She had never married. She was around seventy now but nobody thought of her as a spinster. Legend had it that she had left a litter of broken hearts in all the fashionable capitals of Europe.

I turned off the hose and was about to splash my way back to the house when they came down the steps of the side porch next door, hand in hand. They stood there, staring at me across the low hedge.

“Is that he?” I heard him ask. “It is!”

“That’s your hero,” she agreed. “Come on—I’ll introduce you to him.”

Crazy world, isn’t it?

“My all-time favorite Ram,” he said, as we were introduced. “I thought you were working as a private investigator in Los Angeles now.”

“I was, until a year ago. I’m retired. Sir, I have been standing here pretending to water a lawn that doesn’t need it just so I could get a look at you.”

“You can’t remember me,” he protested. “You’re not that old.”

“You name the picture,” I said, “and I’ll tell you the plot.”

And then Mrs. Casey was hurrying across the lawn toward us, undoubtedly dreaming up an excuse on the way. “Mr. Callahan,” she called, “I was wondering what you wanted for lunch.”

“Something light,” I told her. “Mrs. Casey, shake the hand that held the sword of destiny.”

She stood there, staring at him, a true Irish ham. “It can’t be,” she said. “Fortney Grange? That I should live to see this day!”

He smiled at her. “You two are embarrassing me. But keep it up. It’s been a long time since I last met any admirers.”

It was a few minutes of chitchat after that when Carol explained that they were due in town in twenty minutes, but were Jan and I free to come over for dinner tonight?

“Even if we aren’t,” I assured her, “I’ll see that we are.”

“Cocktails at six-thirty, then,” she said. I had a diet lunch, cottage cheese and fruit, and faced another empty afternoon. Retirement was not the blessing I had imagined it would be. That grimy existence in Los Angeles, riding the rim of solvency, had not seemed as attractive then as it seemed in retrospect.

I put on my running clothes and went out for a six-miler. As a Ram, I had been forced to stay in condition. As a private investigator, my income had kept me from overeating. I enjoyed being solvent, but I did not intend to become a solvent slob.

I came home bushed and spent half an hour in the Jacuzzi. I was working with the barbells on the patio when Jan came home around three o’clock. She looked grumpy.

“Another wasted trip?” I guessed.

“I think so. I will never understand why people hire decorators because they mistrust their own taste and then constantly argue with them.”

Jan had gone back to her pre-marriage vocation six months ago. She, too, had found retirement boring.

I told her, “Carol Medford invited us to dinner tonight and I accepted. You will finally meet the great Fortney Grange.”

“You might have waited until I came home to accept any invitations.”

“Sorry, ma’am.”

She sighed, and slumped onto a chaise longue. “That was bitchy of me, wasn’t it?”

I smiled and nodded.

“Is he living with her?”

“I guess.”

“At her age? He’s old, too, isn’t he?”

“Even old people have to live somewhere, Jan.”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“Not me. I’m just a dumb virgin jock. Think of the dinner this way, you’ll get a chance to talk Carol into selling you some of her precious antiques.”

She nodded. “True. Is it too early for a drink?”

“A light one wouldn’t hurt. I’ll get them. Vodka and tonic?”

She nodded again. “And not too light.”

I brought the drinks and we sat in silence. The soothing, syrupy music went on again next door. Jan said, “I wish Carol’s taste in music matched her taste in food and furniture.”

“She’s a sentimentalist,” I explained. “That can affect one’s taste.”

Another silence. Then she said, “I hate to sound bitchy twice in one afternoon, but aren’t you tired of loafing?”

I nodded.

“You can’t sit around waiting for your friend Bernie to call you in on another murder case.”

Bernie had never “called me in”; he always warned me to stay out. It didn’t seem like the right time to mention that. I said, “Maybe I’ll go out to Goleta and work with the Little Leaguers again this summer.”

She finished her drink and stood up. “I’m through complaining. I’m going to take a shower.”

I sat there, not looking forward as a solid citizen should to a summer of social service with the kids. Little League kids are fun; it’s their parents who make the job unpleasant, their strident, overly competitive parents.

Jan had told Lieutenant Vogel about my father being killed by a hoodlum down in San Diego. I had been nine years old at the time; Mom and I had moved to Long Beach two months later.

My father had been a cop. His killer had never been found. My friend Bernie has this dopey theory that I was still hunting for my father’s killer.

Who doesn’t hate killers? Killers of people, killers of the dream. Unless you don’t like people, or despise their dreams….

The music stopped next door, replaced by the clack of mallets striking croquet balls on the side lawn. That was a game to match her house and her furniture. But sadly out of time and tune with her three face-lifts.

The sun went down, the cold moved in. We had been having ridiculous weather, eighty during the day, down to forty at night. I took my shower and dressed. I wore a tie. I knew it was not obligatory, but I felt I owed it to tradition to wear a tie at dinner in the Medford home.

Her house was dimly lit, her dining table illuminated only by candles. That, too, could be tradition. And also cosmetic. Old people look younger by candlelight.

In any light they were a handsome pair, both of them tall, slim and elegant. At dinner, we were the triple interlocutors, he was the single-end man.

He told us about the Gish sisters and the Barrymores, both Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. He told us about his first picture, made right here in San Valdesto at the old Gramercy Studios. That was when he had met Carol.

After dinner, over cognac in the sun-room, he and I talked football, Jan and Carol discussed antiques.

As we walked back to our house, Jan said, “He’s a real charmer, isn’t he? Do you know whom he reminds me of? John Barrymore.”

“John Barrymore? He was about four feet tall. Fortney Grange, lady, did his own stunts. He never used a stuntman.”

“I can’t always decipher your nonsequiturs. What does that one mean?”

“I mean Grange is—oh hell, you know, all man!”

“Now I get it. Macho, macho. Dear God!”

“Aagh,” I said. “You!”

“Aagh, yourself,” she said.

We had been squabbling too much lately. I held my tongue. At home, she went to the bedroom; I went to the den to watch the late news on the tube.

The news was over and I was turning to another channel to catch an old Errol Flynn picture when Jan appeared in the doorway in her dressing gown.

“Are you going to watch that idiot box all night, Mr. Macho?” she asked. “Or would you rather have some fun?”

TWO

MRS. CASEY DOESN’T MAKE BREAKFAST when Jan is home, but she was in the kitchen before we got there next morning.

“That truck is out there again,” she said.

“What truck?” Jan asked.

Mrs. Casey pointed to the breakfast-room window. I looked out to see a weather-beaten Volkswagen van parked on the street between our house and Carol’s.

Mrs. Casey said, “I saw them drive into Miss Medford’s driveway after she and Mr. Grange left yesterday morning. And then they came out again and parked right across the street from where they are now.”

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!