The Night Before Murder
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by Steve Fisher
Description: (Vintage Paperback Hardboiled Detective Pulp)
Dorothy was a talented young actress struggling for recognition and Rhea had the power to place her in a starring role in a Broadway play. When she arrived at Rhea's country home Dorothy found Rhea dying of a slow poison. And in the strange house there seemed to be sinister forces that pulled at Dorothy with a malevolent purpose. Then one night a prowler entered her room and, as Dorothy watched the menacing shadow approach, she knew the killer had come for her!
About Vintage Paperback Pulp Fiction
A new revolution was underway at the start of the 1940s in America--a paperback revolution that would change the way publishers would produce and distribute books and the reading public would consume them. In 1939 a new publishing company--Pocket Books--stormed onto the scene with the publication of its first paperbound book. Unlike hardback books, these pulp paperbacks were available in drugstores, newsstands, bus and train stations, and cigar shops. The American public could not get enough of them. The popular pulp genres reflected the tastes of Americans during the 1930s and 1940s--mysteries, thrillers, and "hardboiled detective" stories were all the rage.
In the early 1950s new pulp fiction sub-genres emerged--science fiction, lesbian fiction, juvenile delinquent and sleaze, for instance--that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before. Publishers had come to realize that sex sells. In a competitive frenzy for readers, they turned to alluring covers that often featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised sex and violence within. To this day, the pulp cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.
We are excited to make these wonderful pulp fiction stories available in ebook format to new generations of readers, as a new revolution--the ebook revolution--is in full swing. We hope you will enjoy this nostalgic look back at a period in American history when dames were dangerous, tough-guys were deadly and dolls were downright delicious.
eBook Publisher: SRS Internet Publishing/Digital Vintage Pulps,
eBookwise Release Date: March 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [175 KB]
Reading time: 111-155 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
If Mrs. Rhea Davis had not been sleepless and miserable it is entirely possible that the idea of committing a murder would never have occurred to her. She hated no one in particular; she possessed neither motive, nor even the least venal inclination toward mayhem. It was simply an inspiration born of a temporarily empty and angry mind.
For quite a long time she had considered her inability to sleep with a great deal of irritation, and she had placed the blame directly on the shoulders of the roaring midnight. It was what people called a silent night; but silence was a misinterpreted word whose only actual meaning was death. That was literal silence, and in the midnight there was none.
It was through the impatience of toying with such canny deductions about silence that she found the word death: and death became the sperm for its more violent cousin murder. The thought amused her, like the thought of a pretty girl amuses a man when he wakes up alone in bed and finds that he cannot sleep. She felt an electric and breathless thrill of horror, while she had imagined she was too old to experience such a pulsating emotion. She was somewhat delighted, but she did not at first consider murder with any degree of seriousness. It was just something to do in bed: like killing sheep instead of counting them.
Then, as thoughts will, this one slipped away from her, and left her empty again, and vaguely disturbed. She lay rigidly in the broad oak bed. It would amuse her to scream to indicate her rage at being robbed of her precious hours of rest. But a scream would bring people running: kowtowing little people who would ask pointless questions and who would insist on tea or a sedative: in which case she would only become more shrill and more hoarse and give away precious energy demanding that they leave her alone. One, at sixty, who possessed energy, did not give it away, unless the stupidity of the world aroused one's vitality to a pitch of uncontrollable frenzy. Her frenzy tonight was as yet controlled.
For an instant she stopped thinking and suffered the full force of the noise.
Nearest and loudest was the boat horn that came up from the Sound. There was no fog, but the horn blatted and bleated and squeezed out miserable little gasps that was like tin grating along her spine. Beneath this she faintly heard laughter and talking, the water amplifying the voices and throwing them into her bedroom window. Morose business men taking leave for the summer to indulge in yacht mania. Their noises on the Sound were incessant: their insipid drunken parties, their megaphoned shouts from one boat to another, their launches chugging to and from the yachts. Unending activity. Mrs. Rhea Davis hated them. She hated their noise and clamor and retching gaiety. They made her summers a madness. They robbed Mamaroneck of dignity and made a Coney out of Orienta Point which their bourgeois wives quietly confided to friends was "really too, too exclusive!"
But that was but the beginning. There were the trains. The roar of steel wheels a mile away, soundless in the daytime, a grinding thunder at night; trains that ran on fifteen minute schedules except when you were waiting for one. Freights with their rattling, empty cars; passenger coaches with sleepy-eyed clerks and stenographers returning from Westchester to a stifling Manhattan. Wheels, clashing and rumbling. Country quiet and rest. Mamaroneck by the Sound.
She suddenly put a stopgap on her mind. She closed out even the bullfrogs and crickets and the shade which each whisper of wind cracked against her window. Gradually, though sleep fled farther from her, her thoughts followed along a routine and returned to that notion of murder which had begun to formulate. It no longer seemed distant. She slowly opened and closed her hands. Her body relaxed. The haze of contemplation delighted her: it was warm and sweet and delicious.
If she made a mystery of it the stupid blunders of police falling over themselves would fascinate her for weeks. She very well knew all of the old cliches about the perfect crime, and she knew, too, the answer. A perfect crime is one which is never solved; or one in which the person guilty is not suspected. Murderers were caught almost solely on the logic of their motive. Therefore, if one had no motive, if one's position and esteem put them above suspicion, the police would be in a muddle. The resulting publicity would entertain her. The commission of the actual deed would be done in such a way that no clues would lead from it.
She threw back the sheet and sat up, putting her feet on the floor. She fumbled with her mules and put them on. When she rose she found that her limbs were refreshed and strong. She went to the closet and felt through the darkness for her scarlet satin robe which she put on. It was an elegant robe that swept the floor, and whose shape gave her figure. That was remarkable since she had no figure. On the stage she had the appearance of being tall, but that was the way she wore her hair, her clothes, and because she picked small people for her surrounding cast. Actually, she was five feet two inches, a trifle dumpy when she neglected wearing her girdle. Around Mamaroneck she was apt to be careless and wore her hair whipped back and knotted so that she looked very like a school teacher and more than once she had had her vanity wounded when she was mistaken for one. For sixty she felt physically strong except after a performance or a tirade against one of her servants; age had left her health at least so that none of her friends were aware that she had lost anything. Only she knew that the dynamic fire and punch that had made her famous in her youth were now flickering at low ebb. Aware of it, knowing that the world paid off on verve, she could cry and gnash her teeth, but for two solid years she had never once been able to experience any of her old time zest, and her old time temper.
She walked to the dresser now and took a cigarette from the silver case. She lit it, looking for the glowing image of her face as the match flung jagged yellow out against the darkness. The effect was dramatic and pleasing-She flicked the match out and left the room. She was horrified with herself, but at the same time she was exhilarated. She wanted to think the thing out.
When she wandered in the hall she moved with an easy grace for which she was famous. She started down the long, carpeted stairway and let her hand touch the banister. There were times when she was conscious of her own importance; and other occasions when she could not believe that she was a living person, for there was in her profession a make-believe, and she could not but feel it off-stage as well as on.
But this would be her greatest drama. Life itself would write it, and because it would happen in her own house, and because it would be she who was the guilty one, she would be the star. The whole play would swirl around her, and depend on her. Her leading man would be a Mamaroneck detective. News reporters from the city would be figments representing the page boys and heralds. And her supporting cast: ah, yes. She would fill the house with guests. Struggling young actors, worn-out producers, perhaps an embittered playwright who had penned a minor drama for her a decade ago.
The emotion in her rose to the heights which precede a second act curtain.
Perhaps it was foolish to think things so wildly: but life stifled her. Her play last season had run only a month which was a shock not only to herself but to her producers, who had lost money. The critics, of course, had lauded her ability; the author was blamed for everything. But that was thin salve for her vanity, and it did not cover the scar of her bitterness.
So out of fifty-two weeks she had worked four; and since her declaration concerning Hollywood had long ago become a legend in negative; and because the boiling pot of Europe no longer intrigued her, she had spent the year in Mamaroneck. Stolidly ... dully. To fill up her time she had read every book published. She had particularly read mysteries, and she knew hundreds of methods by which she could commit murder; but she would use none of them. She would devise one of her own.
She had ridden horseback. There had been teas and receptions. But she could not escape the fact that she was disintegrating. The inexorable passing of the years bleakly walled her in. She was frustrated with a futility that until now had found no outlet.
The preposterous plan of murder gradually became a real thing to her. She could not afford to stagnate. She yearned to shatter the platitudes of an incredibly dull life, and to fill her house with raving and stage-crazed youngsters would at least be a change from a routine which now stifled her.
She was at the bottom of the stairs and she moved down a long servants' hall and out onto a broad tiled porch. She could look from here, through the branches of trees, and see the Sound. The water was a moving reflection of the stars and the moon, and catching the moonlight, like a spot from the stage, she moved across the porch. But she drew up short. She thought she saw someone move swiftly past her, at a distance of not more than twenty feet. She stood rigidly, her eyes becoming more accustomed to the light, and then she saw a figure sitting on the broad cement banister. It was a tall male figure. Whoever had passed her had already gone into the house.
"Me. Mrs. Davis, Roy."