Too Many Crooks
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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.
TOO MANY CROOKS
A Shell Scott Mystery
Shell Scott. He's a guy with a pistol in his pocket and murder on his mind. The crime world's public enemy number one, this Casanova is a sucker for a damsel in distress. When a pair of lovely legs saunters into his office, he can't help but take the job, even when the case is a killer. Shell knows that every gun in California is pointed at him. He is a hot target for the cops and especially a pretty little lady with a mission and a .32. If every man's secret wish is to be wanted by somebody, Shell's wish came true long ago. He is wanted by so many people who wish for nothing more than to see him at the hot end of their gun barrel.
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, 1953
eBookwise Release Date: August 2001
18 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [236 KB]
Reading time: 165-231 min.
I awoke in darkness, dull pain throbbing in my head, my side aching with each breath, and I lay quietly for a minute trying to remember where I was. A faint, slightly sickening odor of ether and disinfectants recalled the white-uniformed nurse, the too cheerful doctor. Now I remembered: Manning Memorial Hospital in Seacliff. Room 48. Patient, me, Shell Scott, private detective, somewhat disabled.
The anger that had been growing when I went to sleep was still with me, even bigger and hotter than it had been then. I thought for a moment of the grinning face of the hoodlum who had been the last guy I'd seen before he and his chums worked me over, and I wondered if I'd wind up killing little Jim Norris, who had sicced them onto me. Then I reached for the bedside lamp, switched it on, and rang impatiently for the nurse.
Instead of a nurse I got the doctor, a laughing, black-haired sadist named Greeley. We had already met, Greeley and I, some time after I regained consciousness here, and he had poked me. And poked and poked. There is a bit less than six feet, two inches of me, and a bit more than two hundred pounds, but this guy couldn't locate a single pound or inch without a bruise. That seemed to please him.
Now he came in through the door, a big anticipatory smile on his face. "Well, well, how are we this evening, Mr. Scott?"
"I haven't the faintest idea how we are, but I'm terrible."
He laughed, the way some doctors laugh. "Heh, heh. Well, you're luckier than I first suspected. Just a simple concussion and one fractured rib." He chortled again. "We don't--heh, heh--count the bruises."
I said, "Well, don't go to pieces. Where are my clothes?"
He pursed his lips. "You won't need your clothes for another three or four days, Mr. Scott. You need rest."
"I need a lot of other things more. I'm getting out of here."
He was frowning. "I still don't quite understand the accident."
"I told you it wasn't an accident. Some hoodlums gave me a going over. They hit me with things, including a car."
"We don't have hoodlums in Seacliff."
"You'd be surprised how many you've got. As a matter of fact, you'll soon have a few in your hospital. Business is going to start booming. Incidentally, how long have I been in here? I'm hazy about the time."
"You were found unconscious in your car, right outside the hospital here, late Monday evening. This is Wednesday evening." He glanced at his watch. "7 p.m. Your car is in the hospital parking area now."
Two days. A lot could have happened while I'd been here. There might even have been another murder.
"I'd like my clothes, Doctor."
He rubbed his chin. "I can't force you to stay, Mr. Scott, but it is my professional duty to tell you that it would be exceedingly unwise for you to leave now. I've taped your chest, of course, but any severe blow on that rib might cause it to break and puncture your lung. You know what that would mean. For that matter, a blow on your skull, at the point where you suffered the concussion, could very easily kill you. We don't want that to happen, do we?"
"No, we certainly don't. I'd like my clothes, Doctor."
He shrugged. "Well--heh, heh--it's your funeral."
A few minutes later, I was dressed in my gray gabardine suit, with cordovans on my feet and a new white bandage, almost the same color as my light-blond hair, on my head, but I wasn't quite ready to go.
"Dr. Greeley," I said, "I seem to have everything, clothes, car keys, wallet, and so forth. But no gun."
"A thirty-eight Colt Special. And a holster."
"Ah ... yes. I had forgotten. We can pick up the firearm on your way past the cashier."
That was what we did. When I paid the bill, a young nurse brought me the box containing my gun and harness. I strapped the shoulder holster on, then checked the gun. Five cartridges still in it and an empty chamber under the hammer. There hadn't been time for me to use my gun on the thugs, but I figured we'd be meeting again. As a matter of fact, I knew we would.
I went through the hospital's front door and paused at the top of wide cement steps and looked out at Walnut Street for a while. Street lamps were on, and I could see a man leaning against one of the light posts halfway down the block. He wasn't reading a paper or anything, just leaning. A blue Chrysler was parked at the curb straight ahead of me, at the end of the cement path leading to the sidewalk. There was somebody inside it but I couldn't tell from here if it was a man or woman.
Probably he was only a guy waiting for somebody visiting a sick patient. Probably. But I loosened the .38 in my holster, then lit a cigarette and stood at the side of the hospital's door for a few minutes, looking around and thinking. I thought about the one very busy day I'd spent here in this seashore town; of the hard-faced men and women I'd met; of the soft face of Betty and the soft body of Lilith. I thought of Emmett Dane and Clyde Baron, and of how it had started...