Duncan Hadley Lord seems too happy to kill himself. But then, he has no reason to sleep around, either. For three months the history professor has carried on an affair with a call girl, and for the last few weeks Chester Drum and his partner, rookie PI Jerry Trowbridge, have watched him do it. When Lord steps onto a fourth-story window ledge on Homecoming night, Drum gets through the police cordon just in time to watch the professor fall to earth. An embittered local sheriff, convinced that Drum and his partner were blackmailing the professor, has their license revoked. To salvage his business, Drum must find the real reason for Lord’s suicide. He has tangled with politicians, thieves, and spies, but no detective can truly know treachery until he steps into the hallowed halls of a college campus.
About the Author
Stephen Marlowe (1928–2008) was the author of more than fifty novels, including nearly two dozen featuring globe-trotting private eye Chester Drum. Born Milton Lesser, Marlowe was raised in Brooklyn and attended the College of William and Mary. After several years writing science fiction under his given name, he legally adopted his pen name, and began focusing on Chester Drum, the Washington-based detective who first appeared in The Second Longest Night (1955). Although a private detective akin to Raymond Chandler’s characters, Drum was distinguished by his jet-setting lifestyle, which carried him to various exotic locales from Mecca to South America. These espionage-tinged stories won Marlowe acclaim, and he produced more than one a year before ending the series in 1968. After spending the 1970s writing suspense novels like The Summit (1970) and The Cawthorn Journals (1975), Marlowe turned to scholarly historical fiction. He lived much of his life abroad, in Switzerland, Spain, and France, and died in Virginia in 2008.
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Violence Is My Business
A Chester Drum Mystery
By Stephen Marlowe
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1958 Fawcett Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
WHEN I got there the man hadn't yet made up his mind about jumping. I tried to drive through to where the state police were unloading big floodlights from a truck, but a burly deputy stood in front of the car with his hands on his hips. I braked and he came around to stick a red face in through the window.
"End of the line, Mac," he said. He had peered through the dusk at my District of Columbia plates, not liking them. "You can't park around here. Any place around here. We got enough trouble with the college crowd."
I took out the photostat of my license and showed it to him. He wasn't impressed. "Now tell me the guy up there is your client."
I shook my head. "No, but he's involved in a case my agency's on."
"Besides, this ain't D.C."
I pointed to the small print at the bottom of the license, where it says I'm bonded in Virginia too. Before the deputy could make up his mind about that, one of the floodlights came on. The crowd buzzed and hummed with excitement as the beam swung and probed up through the gloomy twilight of the cold autumn sky.
"There he is!" someone shouted.
"Well, park over there anyhow," the deputy said, waving vaguely toward the fringe of the crowd. He shouldered his way back from the car. I couldn't move it now: the crowd had closed in on both sides and behind me. I even had trouble opening the door and getting out.
Shouldering my way through college boys in tuxedos and girls in evening gowns, I walked across the wet grass toward the floodlights. One of the boys brought a hip flask down from his lips, breathed raw whisky in my face and said: "So let the s.o.b. jump if he's gonna. He flunked me in History 202 last year."
"Harry, honestly," his date said.
"Chrissake, keep back!" the red-faced deputy bawled as the state police tried to wheel one of the portable floodlights through the crowd. The light had not been turned on. Only the one mounted on the truck was lit. I lit a cigarette and followed the beam up with my eyes to where it pinned the small dark figure of a man against a wall of red Georgian brick. He stood with his hands flat, palms backward, against the wall. The ledge which supported his feet probably wasn't more than a foot wide. He was a good fifteen feet from the nearest window and four stories from the hard cold autumn ground. He didn't move. He looked as if he had been impaled by the light. Then suddenly he turned sideways and took two steps along the ledge away from the lighted window. The light lost him. It swung and probed. A sound half collective sigh and half collective scream rushed like wind through the crowd.
"There he is."
The light caught him again. This time he was standing in a half crouch. There was nothing stiff about him up there on the ledge which circled the top floor of the Social Sciences building of William of Orange College. From this distance he seemed relaxed and almost nonchalant. He had been on the ledge for four hours now, and had learned to ignore the people who pleaded with him from the lighted window. His two steps had taken him quite close to another, darkened, window. In the dusk, and with the light to one side of the man on the ledge, you could just make out a face in there.
"Holy smoke, that sheriff," one of the deputies near the floodlight truck said.
"I hope to hell he knows what he's doing," said a state policeman with sergeant's stripes on his sleeve. "You scare a guy up there like that, he'll jump."
"You think maybe he's up there for some fresh air?"
"Sometimes they just go through the motions," the state policeman persisted. "They want sympathy. What I mean, if he sees the sheriff in there, waiting to grab him, he could be scared into jumping." He looked at me. "What the hell do you want?"
"I'm looking for a private detective named Jerry Trowbridge."
"Yeah? What for?"
"He works for me, Sergeant."
"Hey, Bill! You seen that private dick around?"
"Up front with the captain."
The sergeant jerked a thumb toward the front of the truck. He told the deputy, "All this and Homecoming Weekend too." He looked up at the floodlit ledge sixty feet off the ground. It was now too dark up there to see the sheriff waiting inside the open window. He was just outside the circle of light, though, doing the only thing he could, which was wait. If the man on the ledge decided to take another two steps, there was a chance. Not much of a chance, but a chance. Then maybe the sheriff could grab him and haul him inside. Balanced against that sum hope high above us was the long, quick drop to death.
I WENT around to the front of the truck. The state police captain was drinking coffee from a cardboard container as he leaned against a fender of the truck. He was a surprisingly small man with dark eyes punched in under a beetling brow. He was saying: "All right, it's dark enough. You can set up the fire net under him."
"He threatened to jump if we didn't take the net away this afternoon, Captain."
"It's dark enough, I said."
"Yes, sir." Several figures drifted off into the darkness with title round canvas fire-net. If you could see it through the gloom from the ledge up there, it would look about the size of a half-dollar. You'd have to be very good to hit it. You could be very bad and still miss it.
"Here I am, Chet," Jerry Trowbridge called.
The captain's grin spread over a tired face. "This bucko belong to you?" he asked.
"I'm Chester Drum of the Drum Agency in Washington. He's the rest of the agency."
Jerry Trowbridge was lounging against the radiator of the truck drinking coffee. He was leaning down and over to one side awkwardly, like a ship taking in water. Then I realized his left wrist was handcuffed to the radiator of the truck. He gave me a sheepish smile.
The captain was still grinning, so I said, "What'd he do, try to steal one of your floodlights?"
"I couldn't spare a man to escort him out of here, so I figured the nippers would at least keep him down on the ground where he belonged. We caught him trying to go up there where the sheriff is."
Jerry's sheepish grin became a cocky one. "Well hell, it was my idea."
"For which we're grateful," the captain said. "But that's what the sheriff gets paid for." You could see he wasn't mad at Jerry, but just doing his job as he saw it. Jerry has that effect on people: he's young, clean-cut and crew-cut, and lounging there in front of the truck with his dark hair and pale face he looked more like one of the college boys than a private detective.
"I'll be a good boy now," Jerry promised.
The captain looked at me. I nodded and winked. The captain unlocked the handcuffs and Jerry set the coffee container down on the hood of the truck, massaged his wrist and lit a cigarette. Then he told me: "The poor slob's been up there better than four hours now."
"Where's Mrs. Lord?"
"They had to take her away. She got hysterical."
"And the daughter?"
Jerry brushed off the left sleeve of his tuxedo jacket. "That's how I happened to be down here. I was taking Laurie to the Homecoming dance. The poor kid, it really rocked her. Mrs. Lord suffers from asthma, though, and they thought she was going to get an attack. So Laurie went away with her."
"They hadn't seen your report on Dr. Lord yet?"
"No, of course not. I put it on tape in the office, Chet, but it hasn't been typed yet That Laurie's a sweet kid."
"You should have brought the report down. Weren't they expecting it?"
"I know, but Laurie ..."
"Okay, it doesn't matter now. And whatever happens, I'll take care of delivering the report. It isn't pretty?"
"No, it isn't. And thanks, Chet. Don't think I'm not grateful. Thanks a lot."
It was completely dark now. The spotlight stabbed up at the night, trapping a small segment of it. Dr. Lord hadn't moved. He stood crouching on the ledge sixty feet off the ground and six inches from death. He had the rapt attention of the crowd gathered on the campus of the college for the big weekend of the year. A lecture audience had never been so intent on him. His studious books had never aroused such interest. Even the work he had done and was doing for the government, hard work and important work, had never brought him the headlines he would get if be moved his feet six inches and took the long fall. I wondered if he was thinking any of that now. You never know what goes through a suicide's mind if he's successful. If he fails they give him drugs so he'll forget.
I felt helpless and frustrated. There was very little I could do. The cops must have felt the same. They had pinned what little hope they had on the unseen figure of the sheriff waiting in a dark window. A man was going to die tonight, a healthy man involved in no accident more fatal than the accident of being who he was and involved in the web of Me he had spun around himself. I felt small, lonely and insecure. I recognized the feeling for empathy, something a private detective must avoid unless he wants to take down the shingle and sell real estate or shower curtains. In my mood, the ebb and flow of sound from the crowd was the wail of disembodied spirits urging the man sixty feet above us to jump.
"He's going to jump!" someone cried.
The man up there had moved out of the light again. He took another two steps along the ledge, and that brought him in front of the dark window. The beam of the floodlight followed him.
"God damn it," the captain roared, "cut that light!"
But it was too late. The beam swept slowly across the ledge. The outer edge of the circle of light silhouetted the sheriff suddenly. He was almost in position to reach Dr. Lord with his outstretched arms. He froze that way, leaning out the window. Maybe he said something in a soft soothing voice. He must have made that one last desperate try. We didn't hear him. Dr. Lord stood frozen in his tracks too.
Someone near me coughed. After that there wasn't a sound.
Then the light blinked out.
"Not now, you idiot," the state police captain hissed. "He already saw the sheriff."
The light came on again. For another moment the tableau up there remained unchanged.
Then Dr. Lord took a step. He didn't jump. He didn't have to jump. He simply took one step to get off the ledge.
His body falling was seen tumbling slowly head over heels before the light lost it. Tumbling like that during the few instants of life he had left, he was still Dr. Duncan Hadley Lord, historian, teacher, human being. He missed the fire-net. After that he was only a body—a badly broken body—waiting for the death wagon.
ONCE the body came down, there wasn't much to keep the crowd. The state police and sheriff's deputies formed an efficient cordon, the floodlight bunked out and the red Georgian brick façade of the building became part of the darkness. Also, it was a moonless night with a stiff wind blowing the first really cold weather of autumn across the tidewater flats.
"That poor slob," Jerry said, calling Dr. Lord that for the second time as we headed for my car. "Why'd he have to go and kill himself? Isn't there enough trouble in the world without a guy taking his own life?"
We got into the car. Jerry had taken the train down to William of Orange College early this afternoon, so he needed a lift. "Where to?" I said. "You want to go over to the Lord house and stay with Laurie, or are you coming back to D.C.?"
"Maybe I better check in at the inn and see Laurie tomorrow."
I kicked the engine over and put the car in reverse. Before I could get her rolling a voice called: "Hey, you guys! Just a minute." The state police captain came over and said, "I think the sheriff will want a word with you."
I looked at Jerry. Jerry looked at me. I turned off the ignition key and said, "It figures." I didn't say it happily. The captain grunted something and we got out of the car.
The sheriff was waiting in the lobby of the Social Sciences Building. He wasn't alone. He sat in a huddle with three of his deputies, including the one who had halted my car. He looked up.
"This them, Matt?"
The captain nodded. No one asked us to sit down, so we remained standing. The sheriff got up and did some pacing. He had a big, powerful torso and the thick, muscular, slightly bowed legs of a dwarf. He was a bitter-faced man with a perpetual squint in one eye, as if there was some damage to the lid. Failure lines had etched themselves deeply into his face between his nostrils and narrow-lipped mouth. He had a weak chin and a heavy beard which he would have to shave twice a day. He had not shaved twice today. There was a small patch on his chin where no beard grew. He kept scratching at it, when he wasn't rubbing his hands together.
Christ, Matt," he said suddenly, "who was the joker on the floodlight? I'd of had the doc in another minute if he didn't put the freakin' light on me."
"It was a natural mistake, Sheriff. He was trying to follow Dr. Lord with the light. Those were his orders."
The sheriff chewed on that for a minute, dry-washing his hands. Finally he shrugged and nodded, accepting the fact as irrevocable, but not liking it. "Well, thanks for your help out there today, Matt. I reckon an honest mistake's an honest mistake." In almost the same breath he added: "Now about these two."
He waited, but no one spoke. He said, "You're private dicks? From D.C.?"
I said we were.
"Then what the hell you doing in my territory?"
I showed him my photostat, pointing out the bonded-in-the-state-of-Virginia part.
"What about him?"
"He's licensed in D.C. and bonded to me."
"What did you have on Lord?" He looked up and changed that almost immediately to: "What brought you down here today?"
"I had a date with Laurie Lord," Jerry said.
"But you were working on Lord?"
Jerry glanced at me. I said, "You better make that clearer, Sheriff. What does working on him mean?"
"George!" the sheriff barked irritably.
One of the deputies got off a bench and came over. He was the deputy who had stopped my car. "Yes, sir, Sheriff Lonegran?"
"Tell them, George."
The red-faced deputy said, "This guy—" indicating Jerry with a jerk of his thumb—"has been staked out on Dr. Lord three weeks now. If you want the detailed report, I can—"
"Later," Lonegran said.
I muttered, "Quis custodiat...."
"What was that?" Lonegran snapped.
"Later," I said. Jerry grinned. The state police captain almost let himself grin. Lonegran scowled and made himself look morose and sleepy. He had a way of doing that. It was supposed to get you off your guard. This time when his head snapped up he said:
"Now you gonna come clean?"
"Dr. Lord was the subject of an investigation conducted by our agency," I admitted.
"Aha! Conducted for who?"
I shook my head.
"I said conducted for who, God damn you."
I got a cigarette out and went through the elaborately slow motions of lighting it. There aren't many law officers left like Lonegran, just as there aren't many private detectives left who make law officers like Lonegran a necessity. But both halves of that statement would have been meaningless to Lonegran. I said slowly, "I don't have to answer that and I'm not going to answer it."
Instead of barking Lonegran purred, "Why not?"
"For one thing it's against the law. That would be violating a client's confidence. I could lose my license."
"Damn it, Drum, a man's been killed."
"Wrong. He killed himself."
"You're quibbling. I want an answer. I want it now."
HE CAME very close to me. His stunted legs made him look up at me and he didn't like it. Blood darkened his face. He was breathing hard. At first I thought he was going to hit me. I tensed myself, ready to move either way. I think the only thing that stopped him was the presence of the state police captain. Sheriff Lonegran flicked imaginary dust off the shoulder of my jacket with a thick forefinger the way you flick a used cigarette butt away.
"What kind of investigation?" he demanded.
"A private investigation."
This time the captain did smile, and Lonegran saw it. A vein stood out on his low forehead under the uncombed, no-particular-color hair. He balled his right fist. The shoulder dropped. I decided to let him hit me once. A law officer can get away with that much, especially with three of his deputies around to say I started it. But only once. If he did it a second time one of us would wind up on the floor. But all he did was say:
"About your license, Drum. You can forget about that. As of now it's all washed up in this state."
Excerpted from Violence Is My Business by Stephen Marlowe. Copyright © 1958 Fawcett Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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