The thief struts toward Broadway, confident his luck has finally begun to turn. Just a few hours earlier, he had been as scared as a trapped rat, cowering in a bathroom, hoping the homeowners would go to bed without finding him. He got lucky, and he got away with his mark: a flimsy little piece of plastic that’s worth more money than he’s ever had at one time. But before he reaches his destination, he’ll be left for dead on the sidewalk. As his last act, he drops his loot in the mail.
The package is marked for Pamela North, the slightly daffy amateur sleuth who always nabs the killer, even if she never quite gets to the point. One man has already died for this mysterious item, and as soon as it lands in her mailbox, she’ll be in danger of joining him.
Death Has a Small Voice is the 18th book in the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Death Has a Small Voice
A Mr. and Mrs. North Mystery
By Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1961 Frances and Richard Lockridge
All rights reserved.
Sunday, October 26: 9:15 P.M. to 9:21 P.M.
He was a small, quick man, walking an unfamiliar street. He was pleased with himself. As he walked toward the subway, he hooked his thumb in the right hand pocket of his suit jacket and, with patting movements of his fingers, reassured himself that nothing had happened to the stiff, square envelope. Tomorrow evening, that envelope was going to be worth five thousand dollars. And there was no real reason things should stop with that.
They caved in when you really had it on them. Big shots and little shots, if you really had it on them, they caved in. All you needed was a break and he had had his. It had been a good while coming. Twenty-four hours ago — less than twenty-four hours ago — the break had seemed as far away as it had in all the thirty-odd years of his life. Now it was in his pocket, as good as money. He walked jauntily along the unfamiliar street — the quiet street, the dull street. A man could walk along it for blocks and not find a single bar.
Not that he particularly wanted a bar. He owed himself one, maybe two; he had something to celebrate. But there was no hurry. Perhaps he'd come across a bar when he got to Broadway; maybe he would wait until he got downtown again, and have a couple at Julio's. He'd run into somebody at Julio's. He might even stand a drink, although he wouldn't — you could lay odds he wouldn't — give anything away. This one wasn't going to be cut up.
Tall, dignified buildings were only a couple of blocks away as he walked toward Broadway. He could see them above the lower buildings. The smart guys hung out in them, the bright boys. That was what they thought. What they thought gave you a laugh. He did laugh, briefly. Big shots and little shots and bright boys, they caved in when you had it on them. Or even — and this was funnier even than that — when you made them think you had it on them.
That was the best thing about the whole unexpected deal. When he had started out the night before he had had no idea what he was going to happen on, and when he had made the telephone call this evening he wasn't really sure what he had. He had something that looked like being something — that was what it came to. A really bright boy might have talked him out of it.
And anybody could have talked him out of getting into the little house in the first place. He had almost talked himself out of it, because what would anybody who lived in a house like that have that would be worth the trouble? He had had to remind himself that people who have even tiny houses in the city of New York are likely to leave lying around things worth picking up. He had had to point out to himself how easy it was, with a rear window not quite closed. Of course, he was usually like that; jobs did make him nervous. Well, it would be a good long time, now, before he would have to work again. Maybe he'd never have to. Maybe he could quit with his luck good.
Even now, when it had turned out so well, thinking of last night made him feel jumpy. It had been a close one; there had been a couple of times when the best thing he could hope for had seemed to be that he would get out in one piece. That was the trouble with the racket; he could admit that now that he was getting out of it. You either got excited, like Sammy said he always did, or you just got nervous. He got nervous.
All the same, he would like to see Sammy in the spot he had been in last night when they came home at just the wrong time. He'd like to see Sammy running up and down those narrow stairs and hiding in the bathroom — and finding there wasn't any fire escape; a violation that was, if he'd ever heard of one — and then, when things looked like settling down, having this other one show up — the one she had greeted, in a funny voice, by name. Sammy would have been nervous all right; hell, Sammy would have been scared. Anybody would have been. He had been. If he had had a chance, he'd have cut the whole thing. If they hadn't been where they could see the door, and reach it in a couple of steps, he'd have run like — well, like a scared rabbit. Instead of which, he had had to get back to the bathroom, and hope neither of them would want to use it.
Even now, walking through the warm night, along the quiet street, he shivered involuntarily when he thought how close it had been — and what being caught would have meant. He breathed again the warm dampness of the bathroom; listened again for sounds which would mean he had a chance to get out of the little house. He heard again the raised voices from below, tried again — and failed again — to overhear words which would give him some inkling of what was planned. He heard the voices raised again, as if they were arguing, and then, once more, that long silence. The silence had been worse than anything.
What the silence meant he could guess at now; had guessed at. But then it could have meant anything, and it told nothing. He had been forced merely to sweat it out-very literally to sweat it out, since the bathroom was hot, the air dripping. It had been odd to sweat and still be cold with nervousness; to sweat and shiver at the same moment. It had seemed an hour before he heard the outside door close.
And even then he had had to wait, of course. He'd like to see Sammy, cocky Sammy, sweating that out, waiting for someone to come up the stairs on the way to bed — and waiting. And waiting. And knowing that a bathroom is an almost inevitable stop-over on the way to bed. (Of course, Sammy wasn't a three-time loser; that made a difference, made it easier to be cocky.)
Well — it was over, now. He wasn't waiting there any longer, listening to nothing, waiting for a lead. He was walking down a quiet street with a six-inch-square envelope, five grand worth of envelope, in his right hand jacket pocket, his fingers tapping it. Nothing now to nerve himself up to, as he had nerved himself to leave the bathroom and have a shot at getting out. That had been the last tough thing; the rest-was velvet. It was velvet that they were both gone, leaving the little house empty except for him. It was velvet that, finding nothing much else he wanted, he had taken the shiny little plastic machine, which was new looking and obviously worth a buck or two and, in its case, portable. It hadn't looked like velvet, merely like a buck or two — which proved that you couldn't tell. As soon as he heard —
He was midway of the last long, quiet block; the next street was Broadway. Even this far uptown you could tell it, the broad, bright street. The subway station was at the corner; trains ran through it toward the familiarity of downtown.
The station wagon passed him slowly, drew in to the curb ahead of him indifferently, without menace. But he knew, all the same. He knew before he saw who got out of the car, unmistakable even in the dim light.
The small man was quick. He turned back quickly, and thought quickly. He had just passed a mail box. That would fix it. He walked, then he ran, toward the box, and as he ran he tugged to get the envelope out of his jacket pocket. He heard running steps behind him.
All he had to do was to make the box. The box was sanctuary; if he reached the box he was safe on base, untouchable. He held out his left hand toward the iron box as he ran the last few steps; his fingers clutched at the iron tongue of the box, and pulled it toward him, pulled it down. His right hand with the envelope in it came up to the slot and then —
Then he was safe. He started to turn.
But then there was a great clanging — that was the mouth of the box clanging shut. That was —
His fingers had relaxed, by then. Then the noise stopped. There was no sound, then.
He did not really hear the clanging as the box closed on the six-by-six envelope. But the sound was heard.CHAPTER 2
Monday, October 27: 8:30 P.M. to 10:40 P.M.
She wasn't coming home to an empty apartment; that was one of the many things about having cats. Pamela North, trim in a fall coat, hatless, week-end bag in her left hand, could hear Gin through the door. One could hear Gin through almost anything. Pam put her key in the lock and all three spoke as the door opened. Gin spoke from the radio; Martini from the arm of a sofa; Sherry from the floor. They spoke with indignation, and Martini was the most indignant.
"Th' Martini," Pam said, closing the door behind her, putting her bag down beside Sherry on the floor. "Th' nice Martini."
Martini said, "Yah!"
"The Gin!" Pam North said. "The Sherry."
"Yah!" said Gin. "Yah-ah!" said Sherry.
The three of them regarded her through blue eyes, Sherry with head on one side, since her eyes had never tracked. They continued to speak. Martini, who set the pace in all feline matters, was the angriest. She was very angry. Pam reached out to touch the little, violent Siamese and Martini produced a "Yah!" which was at least half snarl and went off, swishing her tail.
"I'm very sorry," Pam North said, formally. "I really planned to come home last night. But the timetable was wrong because it wasn't daylight saving any longer, and this morning it was too nice. Didn't Martha feed you?"
The cats, with one voice, assured Pamela North that they had not been fed; that they were never fed; that at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Gerald North, cats were abandoned to starvation. Pam did not believe a word of this, and told them so. Nevertheless, she went first of all to the kitchen, moving in a swarm of cats. At dinner time, three cats were twenty cats; if Siamese, twenty desperate tigers crying out. They screamed up at Pam as they moved around her feet, creating, with long bodies and dark tails, patterns of infinite anxiety. Sherry reared to snag claws in the wool of fall coat, and to receive the sharpest of "No's!" for her trouble. Gin leaped to the counter to assist in the opening of cans. They fell on "junior beef," three lifted tails quivering with enthusiasm. One didn't, certainly, come home to an empty apartment.
The morning's mail was waiting; a note from Martha also was waiting, on top of the mail.
"Mr. Mutton called," Martha had written. At least, it looked like "Mutton." "Said you'd be back after dinner. Gin threw up breakfast. Out of steel wool."
It was all clear enough, except for Mr. Mutton, who was utterly unlikely. Gin had eaten too fast, as she was inclined to. Steel wool did run out. But Mr. Mutton did not telephone. Mr. Mutton did not exist. Martha's fidelity was great, her cooking excellent. But as a passer-on of such trifles as telephone messages Martha was open to improvement, although she remained beyond it. Mr. Mutton had called to say (or be told?) that Pamela North would return after dinner. Pam shook her head. She laid the note aside. Time might clarify Mr. Mutton; on the other hand, this might be the last she ever heard of him. There was precedent for either outcome.
There was no letter from Jerry. Bergdorf and Saks and Lord & Taylor were having sales. Jerry's club had something to say to Jerry. Who's Who in America also sought communication with him; it would be wanting him to bring his biography up to date, which he had not done for almost a month. Pam put these aside, pending his return. It occurred to Pam that even three cats did not actually fill an apartment, however they animated it. "Why," Pam asked Martini, who then returned from the kitchen, her mood improved — "why do so many authors seem to live in San Francisco?" Martini jumped to Pam's lap and settled down to distribute cat hairs. It was fortunate, Pam thought, not for the first time, that she was not particularly fond of dark clothing; it was remarkable how nearly white a Siamese cat's fur turned out to be when it had left a Siamese cat.
Pam picked up the morning papers, which were under the mail, and which she had read on the train from her week end in the country. Under the papers there was a square, stiff envelope. It bore a printed caution: "Do Not Bend." It bore a printed explanation: "Voice-Scriber Record." It was addressed, in pencil, scrawlingly, to Mr. Gerald North.
Pam turned it over in her hands, seeking a return address and finding none. She tried to decipher the postmark and failed. The envelope had not, she realized, been sent through the canceling machine, for reasons no doubt having to do with not bending. It had been postmarked by hand, and hurriedly. It might, so far as she could tell, have come from almost anywhere in the world — no, from anywhere in the United States.
She knew the machine called a Voice-Scriber; Jerry used one at his office. It was a compact recording phonograph, in essence. Into it — or half of it, the recording half — Jerry dictated. From the other half of it, the transcriber, Jerry's secretary typed what Jerry had said. Now and then, Jerry brought home his half, which fitted neatly into a carrying case and weighed only about fifteen pounds, and spent an evening talking into it — while the cats, frantic to discover to whom he talked, with Pam elsewhere, yammered at his study door. One of the advantages of the Voice-Scriber was that its small records could be mailed conveniently from dictator to typist.
This one, it appeared, was for some reason retracing its steps. Well, it, too, would have to wait until Jerry — She lifted the envelope to lay it on top of the communication from Who's Who and stopped. Was it really Mr. Gerald North? Or was it Mrs. Gerald North? She studied the scrawl. She couldn't, she slowly realized, be certain either way. But if to her —?
It has never been said of Pamela North — at least not said by anyone who knows her — that she is sluggish of imagination. Out of the most minor of inconsistencies, Pamela North has been known to create the most unlikely of melodramas. Charged with this, she has an answer ready: It has been her experience that unlikely melodrama is the likeliest to happen of anything in the world. "Particularly," she adds, "to people who know Bill Weigand." Not even Acting Captain William Weigand, Homicide Squad, Manhattan West, New York Police Department, denies this, although sometimes speculating on the relationship in time between chicken and egg.
What now occurred to Pam North, as she turned the Voice-Scriber record over in her hands, was that something had happened to Jerry, far away and alone in San Francisco. Momentarily, she considered the possibility that he was, for reasons she might come to later, held a prisoner in Chinatown, but this she rejected. She had seen San Francisco's Chinatown and been unimpressed. New York's was smaller, to be sure, but, to Pam, beyond comparison more devious. But elsewhere, in that most gayly exciting of smaller cities, anything, she thought, might happen. Since Jerry was there, and without her, anything might happen to him.
Suppose — well, suppose something had. Suppose that (for reasons she would come to later) he was in a position where he could not communicate with her more simply, but had access to a Voice-Scriber. Suppose he had got somebody to mail this record to her. (He had not mailed it himself, or, at any rate, not addressed it.) Suppose his safety somehow depended on her hearing his recorded message.
But on the other hand, suppose that Jerry had merely wanted to talk to her, and taken this way. Suppose he had been lonely on the other edge of the continent and had wished to say — well, put it, to say, "Hello, Pam. How are you, lady? How are the little cats?" Jerry did not often do such things; on the other hand, he had sometimes done them.
She looked once more at the address. The more she looked at it, the more sure she was that it read "Mrs." not "Mr." Gerald North.
"It isn't just curiosity," she told Martini. Martini said, "Yah" in a tone combining irritation and skepticism. "Well, it isn't," Pam said. "I've got to go see."
She went. The cats had never been more put out in their lives, but Pam went all the same. She carried the record in her hand, since there was no room in her bag.
Excerpted from Death Has a Small Voice by Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge. Copyright © 1961 Frances and Richard Lockridge. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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