A MANHUNT CHILLER
MAID IN THE MORGUE
by Gardner F. Fox
Originally written for MANHUNT #6 (1948) and published by Magazine Enterprises
THE BLACKNESS pressed in, dark and forbidding, beyond her closed eyes. She was awake. She knew her wrists were fastened by tight cords, tight against her side. And her ankles, too, were fastened by ropes, cruel ropes that cut.
She could not call out. Her vocal cords seemed frozen. Now she remembered the drink she had taken at the party; it had tasted peculiar. But when Jim Brennan had coaxed her into finishing it, she had gulped it down swiftly. After that the darkness had descended.
The girl stirred. She thought, "My name is Myra Hallowell. I'm a reporter. Nobody hates me enough to drug me, then tie me up like this.”
Nobody? What about ...?
* * *
Jim Brennan closed the door of his apartment and switched on the light. He went to his desk and sat down. From his pocket he took a gold ring with a large, flat oval top. With a fingernail, Brennan flipped the oval top back. There was a thin square of paper Inside, in the little hollow formed by the bottom of the oval plate.
Brennan lifted the paper, spread it out. His eyes widened, reading: Two bullet marks in the Morany living room. Suicide—or Murder?
Brennan whistled softly. "So this is what Myra meant when she slipped her ring to me. Just before she left the party with Billy Morany! With—Morany!"
Billy Morany was the ace reporter on the Bugler staff. His wife had committed suicide three weeks ago. She had shot herself in the left temple with a pearl-handled revolver. There were powder marks on her forehead, and her fingerprints had been on the pearl handle of the gun.
Brennan said, "If there were two bullet marks then Mrs. Morany was murdered! No suicide would miss while shooting at her own forehead!”
If Myra knew that, and had left the party with Morany, what might have happened to her?
Brennan raced for his door, ran out and slammed it behind him. He went down the stairs three at a time. He just had time to make his car before the garage closed.
* * *
The door of the city morgue opened. A man entered with his hat brim pulled down across his forehead. He closed the door softly and smiled in the darkness.
"A ten buck bill will work wonders," he chuckled. "I got free access to this morgue and I sure know what to do with it."
Morany crossed the tiled floor. He flipped on a green-shaded light. Bending, he studied the name-plates on the faces of the sliding drawers. Nodding, he put a hand to a handle. The drawer slid out on oiled bearings. A girl lay there, bound and gagged.
Morany smiled down into Myra Hallowell's wide eyes. "Too bad about that tape across your lips, Myra. You can't scream or yell. Or tell anyone how I shot my wife."
Morany put a hand in his pocket and lifted out a long-bladed knife. He ran his thumb across the blade.
"You're just a little too clever, my dear. But I'm a bit smarter. It was I who dropped the drug in your drink. But everybody heard Jim Brennan coax you to drink! And this is—Jim Brennan's knife!
"How did I get you into the morgue? So easily. I have a regular pass as a reporter. I had a friend engage the guard in conversation and slip him a ten dollar bill for past favors. I slipped you in when they were busy. I put you in that drawer, then made sure my friend would get away, and that the guard would see him leave. I'll wait a little while before we put the knife to your throat—to make sure my friend will have an iron-clad alibi when the coroner announces the time of your death!"
Myra stared into the hard, cold eyes above her. She stared at the knife glimmering in his hand. That cold blade would be plunging down at her ... ripping out her life ... and no one could help her ...!
* * *
Jim Brennan stepped back into the shadows. A man was coming from the elevator, toward the Morany apartment. He walked easily, whistling softly. Jim Brennan stepped out into the light. "Morany—oh, it's you, Chuck."
The man halted, laughing. "Hi, Jim. Looking for Billy? He's pulling some trick on the morgue attendant. Yeah. I had to keep the guy busy while Morany was going to pull one of his stunts."
A cold hand tightened on Jim Brennan's heart.
"You idiot! Do you know what that 'trick' is? It's murder! He has Myra Hallowell in that morgue! Come on!"
Morany wiped at the knife with his pocket handkerchief, smiling down at the girl who stared up at him with bulging eyes. He said softly, "Can't afford to let them find my prints on Jim's knife, can I?”
He pulled on gloves, wriggling his fingers into a tight fit. Then he picked the knife up, stepped closer to the girl. His dark eyes burned, maniacally. The lust for blood was like a fever in their dark depths.
Myra Hallowell writhed. The knife was coming down, closer and closer. There was no way to avoid it. The point was touching her throat now, pressing deeper and deeper. The blood would come bubbling up, and—
The door banged open. Footsteps pounded on the concrete flooring. The knife went away, and Morany whispered curses under his breath.
Safe! She was safe!
That was Jim Brennan leaping past, fist driving at Morany's jaw. Jim wouldn't let Morany hurt her. She began to sob, hysterically. She heard them fighting, heard the muted sobbing, the desperate thud-crump of fist on flesh.
"You fiend! First your wife ... now Myra!" Morany clanged back against the big morgue drawers as Brennan went in with swinging fists. Myra saw the red bruises on his face where Jim's fists had landed.
Morany opened his mouth; shrieked, "Help! Help!"
He held up his hands, tried to punch Jim Brennan away from him—
The door clanged open. Feet pounded on the floor. A hoarse voice called out, "What's going on here? Stop that fighting. Stop it, I say!" Morany cried out, “Brennan and this girl trying to frame me ... for murder! You hear me, officer? They're both trying to frame me!”
Hands lifted Myra, held her as her weak knees, buckled. A gentle hand was removing the tape on her mouth as a knife slit the ropes that held her.
Jim Brennan was smiling grimly at her. "Listen to him crawl! He'll never get away with a story like that!”
But Morany was taking a letter out of his pocket, shaking it in the face of a policeman.
Just read it. Go ahead. It's a letter from the dame. Blackmailing me! Go on—read it!"
The policeman read haltingly, “ 'Dear Billy—Just a few lines to tip you off to the fact that I know you killed your wife. If you don't come across with ten grand, the police will hear from me.' This isn't signed, Mr. Morany."
"Of course it isn't signed. She's too smart to put her name to the paper. But if you get a handwriting expert—he'll tell you that she wrote it!!
Jim was staring at her. Myra could feel his dark eyes blazing into hers. He whispered thickly, “That isn't true, is it, Myra? You didn't write that note?"
She hung her head. Her throat was so dry, she couldn't talk. As in a dream, Morany went on, "She was at a party with me tonight. We came down here to look at an accident victim. She pulled a gun on me, told me if I didn't fork that money over, she'd finish me here."
The policeman shook his head, puzzled. He took off his cap and scratched his head. "Beats me," he said. "I'll take you all to a judge and let him decide who did what and why!"
* * *
Judge Andrews peered down over his glasses at the people grouped before his desk. He sighed and said, "I don't see why you came to me. The District Attorney should handle these matters!”
Jim Brennan smiled, "True enough, judge. But I can prove that Morany's lying when he accused Myra of —"
"It's no use, Jim," Myra said softly. "I did write that letter to him. I admit it."
"Maybe you did," Brennan cut in. “But you didn't lure him down to the morgue or threaten him with a gun—because there wasn't any gun in the morgue!"
Myra pushed a lock of hair back, "That's right. And when I wrote that letter, it wasn't blackmail I had in mind. You see, I discovered that bullet mark in the Morany living room. I puzzled over it. I didn't see how a suicide could miss at such a close distance!
"The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Mrs. Morany had been murdered, When Morany threatened her, she probably struggled for the gun. That was when the first shot was fired. It went wild. Then Morany thrust the gun against her and pulled the trigger. That left powder marks on her flesh. He rubbed the gun free of his prints, wrapped the fingers of her left hand around it before rigor mortis set in.
“To test my theory, I wrote that letter to Morany. He fell for it—lured me to the morgue—was going to kill me. Then Jim Brennan came along."
Morany shrugged. “Okay, okay. She wins. It happened as she said. But I still don't know how she stumbled on that bullet mark in the living room. I hid it with the radio cabinet! She must have looked for it. What tipped her off?”
Myra said softly: "You forget I knew your wife quite well—and I happened to remember that she was right-handed. She couldn't do a thing with her left hand. Yet the gun was found in her left hand—because you had to put it there after your murderous struggle—had resulted in a bullet-hole in her left temple! The left-handed business made me suspicious, so I started to look around ..."