Three's a Shroud
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by Richard Prather
Description: "As far as I'm concerned, Richard S. Prather was the King of the paperback P.I writers of the 60s. Shell Scott should be in the Top Ten of any readers list of favorite private eyes."
--Robert J. Randisi
For four decades, Richard S. Prather published over 40 works of detective fiction, most featuring his clever, cad-about-town hero, Shell Scott. Known for their arched humor, punchy dialogue, and sunny Southern California locale, the Shell Scott books represent one of the greatest private eye collections ever produced.
THREE'S A SHROUD
A Shell Scott Mystery
Three tales of murder and mystery from everyone's favorite dick. With a name like Shell Scott, you can imagine a lot of peculiar things creep up on me--even murder. Especially when there are minor--er, major--distractions that keep me from sleuthing properly--or in some cases help me to sleuth improperly. There was the steamy Martita whose sizzling seduction led me to the barrel of her pointed pistol and sent me sprinting from her singing bullets. And of course I can't forget to mention my Hungarian Hurricane Ilona whose stormy winds swept me so far off the ground only parts of me returned in one piece. It's no joke that I'm hanging on by thinning threads these days--but it's cozier than hanging on to delicious Diane's velvet noose. One frail's ferocious. Two's Double Trouble. And--pardon me if I croak--Three's a Shroud
Honored with the Life Achievement Award by the Private Eye Writers of America!
"(Shell Scott is) as amusingly blithe a figure as the field has seen since the Saint."
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 1957 e-reads
eBookwise Release Date: November 2002
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [235 KB]
Reading time: 162-228 min.
The evening started out in a horrible welter of confusion and for a while I didn't know what was coming off. To tell you the truth, I didn't care.
When a luscious, wild-looking, toothsomely-torsoed tomato starts running at you, and when she has very few clothes on indeed, and when this is in a night club on Beverly Boulevard in Hollywood and she is not part of the floor show, you do not stop to wonder what else is coming off. You leap to your feet and open your eyes wide. At least you do if your name is Shell Scott.
It happened soon after I hit the Starlight Room on Beverly, a small club of the type called "intimate." It was six p.m., too early for the dinner crowd, and only about a dozen customers were present. State Senator Paul Hershey, the guy I was supposed to meet here, wasn't one of them, so I got a ringside table, ordered a bourbon and water and waited, wondering what was up.
For two months Paul Hershey had been my client. He was finishing his first two-year term in the California State Legislature, running for re-election in the general elections now only three weeks off, but he had powerful opposition, most of it named Joe Blake. Blake wasn't on the ballot, but his hand-picked candidate was. Blake didn't run for office; he owned a lot of guys who did run, most of whom were elected.
Hershey, a man who took his job seriously, had consistently fought Blake's men in the legislature for two years, and as a result it looked as if his political goose were cooked. There'd been an increasingly vicious campaign against Hershey since he'd got his party's nomination in the primary, complete with smear and innuendo, most of the slimy barrage financed by Joe Blake. Which figured.
Because Blake was about as big a crook as L.A. had yet produced. Knowing it was one thing; proving it was another. Hershey wanted to prove it and put Blake out of circulation, not only because that would virtually guarantee his own re-election, but because he strongly felt Joe Blake should be in the clink. He was right. So Hershey had hired a private investigator, which was where I'd come in.
Working together we'd come up with quite a bit. The big item consisted of three signed statements citing Blake's bribery of public officials, subornation of perjury, even evidence that he'd profited from local narcotics pushing. One of the statements was from a lovely little Mexican tomato who told us she'd gone with Blake for several weeks and then had been unceremoniously dropped by him four months ago - - and you have never seen a "woman scorned" until you've seen a peppery little black-eyed Mexican doll who has been unceremoniously dropped. Even after four months she'd sizzled like frying tortillas while giving us her info.
The two other statements were from local hoods who'd been associated for a time with the big man. All three statements, plus other information we'd gathered, were at Hershey's home, but some supporting documents and copies of my reports to Hershey were at my hotel, the Spartan, where the desk clerk was holding them for me.
All of it, we thought, and hoped, was enough to present to a grand jury with a good chance of getting an indictment voted. Hershey and I had been careful to keep our investigation quiet, because crossing Joe Blake was usually Russian roulette with no empty chambers and you first, but we'd always known there was the chance of a leak. And twenty minutes ago Hershey had phoned me and said we were in trouble, and asked me to meet him here.
Halfway through my highball I glanced at the front door as it opened and a blonde babe wearing a strapless tan dress came inside. All I noticed about the guy behind her was that he was tall, because the woman demanded all a man's attention. She was in her middle twenties, maybe five-four, and shaped to drive women into hysterics.
I snatched a fast peek at her face when she gyrated past my table, and saw arched brows over soft eyes, red lips parted over sparkling white teeth, and the clear skin of face and neck and bare shoulders whiter than sea foam in sunlight. But soon, of course, I was looking elsewhere. The jersey dress swept down smoothly over the elsewhere.
She walked, with the tall guy still following her, naturally, across the dance floor and paused beside a small table as the headwaiter bent over and swept the "Reserved" sign away with a flourish like a matador doing a veronica. Had he really been a matador, however, and she a bull, he would have been gored in the chops for sure. I noted half a dozen other male heads turned to stare at the blonde, and at least twelve male eyes opened wide, and you would have thought every guy in this joint was named Shell Scott.
I waved at a waiter, drained my drink and ordered another. And then I noticed that the tall guy was Paul Hershey. This was trouble? Either he'd been so preoccupied with the blonde that he hadn't seen me, which was possible, or else he'd purposely refrained from stopping at my table. I stayed in my seat and tried to catch his eye. Catch his eye; that was a laugh.
The Starlight Room has a four-piece combo that plays nightly, and I heard a few toots and trills on my right where the musicians were in place and ready to play. As they swung into their theme, "Stardust," the waiter returned with my drink. At the same moment the blonde grabbed Hershey's hand and hauled him onto the dance floor. They started dancing and after eight bars I was ready to pour the highball, ice cubes and all, over my head.
The blonde wasn't dancing, she was surrendering; it was seduction to "Stardust," a five-foot-four-inch caress. She was molded to Paul like soft plastic. Paul's eyes fell on me with no recognition in them whatsoever. Then they apparently focused and he half-grinned and opened his mouth as if to say "Hi!" But his expression changed and I had a hunch his eyes were glazing.
I finished my drink, and just as if they knew what I was thinking the combo swung into a rumba. At that most crucial moment a pair of big shoulders blocked my view of all that movement. I knew what must be going on out there, but I wanted to see it, and I was just about to tell the guy to move or drop dead when I noticed how big those shoulders were.
The man was medium height, legs and hips normal, but the size of his chest and disturbingly wide shoulders made him look deformed. He was five or six feet from me and I could see only his back, but that was enough. The guy was Ed Garr, ex-pug, ex-stevedore, ex-con, and according to many reports, ex-human. He was a tough, dirty, stupid monster employed as gun and right arm -- of Joe Blake.
Copyright © 1985 by Richard S. Prather