Strictly speaking, I was not in bed when the persistent jangle of a telephone woke me from a dreamless sleep. I was lying fully-clothed on a comfy bed in a fancy hotel.
Maybe Pinkerton agents never sleep, but I do. Any chance I get. Even so, I can’t ever seem to get enough rest to make up for the long hours of alertness my job sometimes requires.
The phone continued to ring. I wiped some of the sleep from my eyes before I reached for the receiver.
“Murphy,” I said. My voice was more of a savage growl than intelligible human speech.
The man on the other end of the line wasn’t fooled for even a minute into thinking the switchboard operator had connected him with the zoo.
“It’s time, Séamus,” the hotel manager said. By the way, it’s pure coincidence my given name is pronounced the same as a slang term for my profession—shamus.
I cleared my throat. “Time for what?” I asked.
“You know what. Now, quit stalling. Get your keester up to the penthouse pronto.”
Propping myself up on one elbow, I fumbled the handset back into its cradle on the second try.
Still a bit groggy, I swung my legs off the bed and walked over to the hand basin. I splashed some cold water in my face and ran my wet fingers through my hair.
Fully awake, I was ready for work. I’d slept in my clothes to save time. All I had to do was slip into my trench coat and grab my hat. Lucky for me, I didn’t have far to go. My assignment was at the top of the building and I was only one floor below. Given my druthers, I’d go out of my way to avoid situations that are over my head, but this time I had no choice.
As soon as I stepped out of the room, I could hear the elevator ascending. I went to the stairwell and took the steps two at a time.
I was in place, leaning against the wall next to the main entrance to the penthouse suite when two men stepped into the hallway.
It was a mere formality, but the elevator operator stuck his head out of the iron cage long enough to see if anyone was waiting to go back down. He did a double take when he saw me. I waved my hand like I was shooing a fly, and the vertical trolley conductor withdrew his head fast enough to make a turtle jealous. He probably knew, or suspected, where I go, trouble follows, or vice versa.
The two gents approaching me were a study in contrasts. One had an obvious abundance of muscles and didn’t appear to have a care in the world. The other was pintsized, and—if I’m any judge of character—despite his wooden expression was about as nervous as a rocking chair in a room full of termites.
I opened the door with a passkey and ushered the disparate duo into the swanky interior.
I didn’t waste any time or words. With my footsteps muffled by a thick carpet, I led the way to an interior door. Looking back to see if the other two had followed, I lightly bumped by knuckles against the highly polished wood a couple of times before I got a firm grip on the silver-plated handle. I turned the knob and stepped aside as the door swung open.
With a quick intake of breath, the wiry fellow stepped right up to the threshold. I started to put out a restraining hand, but he just stood there staring.
There was plenty to see.
A big man, bent at the waist, was standing on the far side of a four-poster bed. Perhaps tipped off by my earlier clumsiness, he was aware he had company. The man straightened up slowly and gave us a disapproving look. He was holding a coil of rope. Almost as an afterthought, he switched the convoluted cord from one hand to the other and then held it behind his back. Out of sight, but not out of mind.
Even so, he was not the center of attention for long. That role was assumed by the shapely female form stretched out—motionless—on top of the chenille bedspread. Her long tresses obscured much of her face, but her neck was bare. There were angry red marks on her throat.
“What do you think?” I asked the short man.