Louis "Spike" Finie had been missing from his accustomed haunts for several weeks. Not that Anyone really missed him, the police least of all. He was missed as the itch or a bad headache is missed when it's gone.
Nearly everyone who had ever heard of "Spike," especially the police, hoped that he would remain missing. The latter had a hunch that he would. Perhaps they had inside information . Anyway, they didn't make any effort to find him, but he was found.
A dredge, working in the harbour, brought up a large oblong mass of concrete about seven feet long and two or there feet in diametre. When it was dropped onto the barge it broke in two revealing the midsection of the naked torso of a man.
When the police had hacked away the concrete, out popped Louis "Spike" Finie like a chrysalis from a cocoon. Even in death "Spike" had come back to haunt and annoy them. It looked as though he might be going to be more of a nuisance dead than alive.
A yellow journal featured the story and razzed the police. It even dug up "Spike's " poor old mother (who hadn't seen him for five years, since the night he beat her up and robbed her) and sobered her up and put her on the front page.
It was a balmy June evening in the Year of Our Lord 1940 that Inspector Muldoon, knowing my morbid weakness for murderees, phoned me; and I went down with him to have a look at all that was mortal of Mr. Finie.
He had been garroted with a necktie, shot seven times with a .45. His hands had been tied behind him with a pair of suspenders. Alas, his head had been bashed in with a blunt instrument. Mr. Finie was a mess. Finally, he was quite dead; which is about the nicest thing that anyone could ever truthfully have said of Louis "Spike" Finie.
Muldoon is a combination of the old-time flat-foot cop and the modern, scientific criminologist, for both of whom there is a lot to say. His technique combined the best to be found in each.
To say that he went over "Spike" with a fine-tooth comb would be to state the case very mildly. When he was through he knew within a few hours of the time that "Spike" had been killed, what he had eaten at his last meal, and a number of other things. Under two of the fingernails of his right hand he found minute pieces of human cuticle and a few very short, red hairs.
He said to his assistants: "Go out an find who owned this necktie and those suspenders; get the two men whose .45's pumped those slugs into my good friend 'Spike'; bring in a man with a read beard whose face has been recently scratched. There may be only two men, or there may be five. My guess is that there are five. These rats wouldn't face even another rat like 'Spike' with much less than five to one odds in their favour. I think you should pick them all up in less than twenty-four hours. I could almost name them now."
"So could I," said Jarvis. "We'll bring 'em in all right. They ought to get medals, but I suppose they'll get the chair."
The next day Muldoon phoned me. "Want to come over?" he asked. "Jarvis and the boys have rounded up seven of the Mentoni gang. 'Spike' was trying to muscle in on their racket. I'm goin' to have a little chat with 'em presently."
"I'll be right over," I told him.
"I'll wait for you."
I don't know just why Muldoon always likes to have me around when he has an interesting case to solve. I never help him any, although I have learned a great deal from him an his methods. At least I have learned to keep my mouth shut. Perhaps it is just the crying need that every Johnson feels for a Boswell.
I found Muldoon in his office. Jarvis and a couple of other members of the homicide squad were with him. I have known them all for a number of years. We kid a lot. They call me "Watson." Their stock witticism, hoary and bearded with age, is to exclaim, "Quick, Watson, the needle!" whenever a line of questioning runs up a blind-alley.
"Sit down, said Muldoon, motioning to a chair at his right; then he turned to Cantoni. "Bring in Tony, Joe."
On Muldoon's desk were a sheaf of records, two .45 Cold automatics, a necktie, and a pair of suspenders. He indicated them with t wave of the hand. "We round up the hole gang," he said -- "seven of 'em. They all got records as long as the moral law but more exciting. Most of our clews petered out. The necktie and suspenders belonged to "Spike", one of the .45's he was plugged with was his, the other belongs to 'The Wop.' The two gats were found in an ash can in Harlem. They'd evidently ditched 'em in a hurry when they learned 'Spike' had been fished out of the harbour.
"It was easy to trace 'Spikes's' gun. He'd bought it in his own name and hadn't filed the numbers off. 'Spike' was pretty sure of himself and his drag. Anyway, he wasn't a killer. Other guys did his killing for him. He carried the gun for self-protection and had a permit.
"The other gun was not so easy. Jarvis traced it to a guy named Musso who went to The Chair last year for murder. He had used that gun, and it was duck-soup for the ballistician to trace four of the seven slugs in 'Spike' to it; the other three were from 'Spike's" gat.
"The only relative Musso had was a son, 'The Wop' and when Musso's belongings were turned over to this guy he got the gun too somehow, though it isn't regular.
"'The Wop' is one of Mentoni's gang. So this is the only real clew we've got, and it ain't as hot as it looks, because the autopsy surgeon says all seven shots ere fired into 'Spike' after he was killed. What we want to know is who did the actual killing."
He ceased speaking then as the door opened and Cantoni came in with a tough-looking guy handcuffed to an officer. The prisoner was Tony Mentoni, leader of the Mentoni Gang.
Mantoni is an ugly customer and looks it. The lid of one eye droops; he has a mouth like a steel trap, a scar down his left cheek, and his sallow countenance wears an habitually sullen expression.
"Well, Tony," said Muldoon, pleasantly, "this looks pretty bad for you -- we've got you this time."
"You ain't got nothin'," snarled Mentoni out of a corner of his mouth. "You ain't got nothin' on me."
"No? Well, what were you and your brother doin' the night of the eighth from ten o'clock to three o'clock the mornin' of the ninth?
"I aint got no brother."
"About eight o'clock on the eighth," continued Muldoon, "a Jane calls 'Spike' and makes a date with him. He'd been tryin' to make her for a long time. She was one of your molls. And, incidentally, she's disappeared. You don't happen to know anything about that, do you?
"I don't know what you're talkin' about," replied Mentoni, sullenly.
"And when 'Spike' went into this Jane's room," continued Muldoon, "someone standing behind the door bashed him over the head with a piece iron pipe." He opened a drawer and took out something wrapped in paper. "Very careless to leave the pipe there, Tony." He opened the paper, revealing a piece of galvanized iron pipe about ten inches long. "The guy that did this was a strong guy, for he picked 'Spike' up and carried him down the back stairs and put him in a car that was waiting in the alley."
As he talked, Muldoon watched Mentoni as a cat watches a mouse. I was watching him too, and saw his fingers twitch and that drooping eyelid flutter.
"So you see, Tony," continued Muldoon suavely, "we know all about it."
"Yea? Wise guy. If you know so damn much, you don't need to ask me no more questions."
"I'm not quite sure who killed 'Spike'," admitted Muldoon, candidly, "and you can't always believe stool pigeons. They might have something against the guy they were trying to hang a rap on. I don't always trust a guy that'll squeal. But we got the straight of how it was done, and the same guy says you did it."
"It's a damned lie," shouted Mentoni. "I never seen 'Spike' that night 'til after he was croaked." Then he turned pale and shut up like a clam. He knew he had said too much.
"TAke him out," ordered Muldoon, "and bring in Palooka."
As Mentoni was being led away, Muldoon stopped him. "By the way Ton," he said, '"This record says you were born in Sicily thirty-nine years ago. Is that right?"
You can't burn a guy for that." snarled Mentoni.
"It's right, then?"
"Sure, it's right."
They brought in "Palooka" Mentoni next. He was a fat, oily, soft-looking Italian.
Muldoon read from the man's record: "Mentoni, Giovanni, born, Jersey City, 1903; known as 'Palooka.' Is that right?"
"There's a lot more," said Muldoon, "but I won't bother to read it. I just wanted to make sure this was your record. You knew 'Spike' Finie, didn't you?"
"Sure, I knew him."
"Why did you want to kill him?"
"Who said I killed him?"
"You used to be a cement worker, didn't you, when you worked at all?"
"You did a little cement contracting a couple of years ago. You were making a pretty good thing of it -- had your own mixer and a Ford dump-truck."
"Sure," said "Palooka." "I'm a business man."
"You still got the truck and the mixer in your garage. At least they were there this morning.."
"Palooka's" eyes grew sullen, and he fidgeted.."
"You ain't had a cement job for a long while, have you?"
"No; not for more'n a year."
"The cement in the bottom of the mixer was still pretty green this morning." Muldoon spoke very softly. Suddenly he half rose, leaning on his desk toward the man. "You killed 'Spike' Finie," he shouted, "and you mixed the concrete in your mixer that you put his body in; and you hauled it to the harbour in your truck and dumped it. I've got you at last, you damned rat; and you're goin' to burn for this."
"I never done it!" screamed "Palooka." "I never killed 'Spike.'
"He tried to muscle in on your racket, didn't he?"
"And you warned him to quit?"
"And he didn't quit."
"You threatened to take him for a ride."
"That was just bluff -- tryin' to throw a scare into him."
They brought in "Shrimp" next. He was a young punk. Admitted he was nineteen years old. His height, six feet three, made him appear older. He wouldn't talk about the killing at all. He was true to the ethics of gangland.
When Gus was trotted in, I got a thrill. He had a reddish beard and the side of his face bore the red marks of partially healed scratches.
"Well," said Muldoon. "'Spike' scratched you up some, didn't he?" The man went white. "Did he get you before you hit him, or did he come to after?"
"Me moll done this," growled Gus.
"That's funny," said Muldoon, "because we found some of your skin and a few hairs of your beard under 'Spike's' fingernails."
Gus looked blank.
"Come clean," advised Muldoon; "it may go easier with you."
"If the ______ever washed you wouldn't of found nothin," said Gus.
"Then he did scratch you?"
"Sure he did. There ain't no law against gettin' scratched, is there? We had an argument two days before he was killed. He scratched me then. I can prove it. It was in Bellows' Cafe. A dozen people seen it."
"And so two days later you killed him."
"I didn't kill him."
"What's your last name, Gus? There seem to be several mentioned here in your record. It says you were born in Chicago in 1904. Let's see -- that would make you thirty-six. Is that right, too?"
"That part of it's right. I ain't never give my real name, and I aint never goin' to."
That wa all Muldoon got out of Gus.
He had "Kid" Meghan in next -- a nice looking kid. He said he was eighteen.
"I knew your old man, Meghan," said Muldoon. "He and I travelled beat together before you were born. He was a fine officer and an honourable man. He was killed by just such a bunch of rats as you are training with. He wouldn't be very proud of you, if he knew. Perhaps he does know."
"I'm not very proud of my self, Inspector," said the boy. "I'm afraid to get out. You know how it is. You can get into a mob like this easy enough; but if you try to get out, they kill you."
"Come clean, 'Kid.' and help us put this mob where they belong. We'll take care of you. Even if you killed 'Spike,' I'll help you all I can for your old man's sake.
"I didn't kill him, Inspector."
"Do you know who did?"
"Who was it?"
The boy shook his head. "A guy's got to have some honour," he said. "I couldn't peach on a pal."
"Will you tell us what you can?"
"Sure. One guy croaked the so-and-so. He ought to have been croaked long ago. Two of the guys was pretty sore at him and they pumped him lead two hours after he was croaked. Some of the rest of us helped to 'bury' him. You can't leave a guy lyin' around without a decent burial, you know." He smiled as he said this, and he had a nice smile.
"I wish you'd tell me who it was -otherwise you may all get the chair."
That was just bluff.
"Someone is going to squeal," continued Muldoon. "They're all scared. The one who tips me off needn't ever be known, but I'll promise him he won't get the chair."
"I'll tell you, you won't never get it out of 'em. All of 'em are afraid of the chief, and -- well, I'll tell you this much, but I won't mention no names. You can't get either a father or a son to send the other to the chair. You can't never say I told you, can you, Inspector?"
"Well, you haven't told me anything yet," said Muldoon.
"I'll say this much more, then, and see if you're as bright as they say. The father of the guy that croaked 'Spike' Finie is Tony's father's son."
"Thanks," said Muldoon.
He had "The Wop" in next. He was nineteen and a hop-head. He swore he didn't kill Finie, but you can't ever believe a hop-head. Muldoon knew all about him and didn't waste much time on him.
The last member of the gang to be grilled was a nasty little man called "The Rat." He said he was thirty-five years old and had spent ten years of his life in stir. He admitted having helped "bury" Finie, but denied having killed him.
When he was taken away Muldoon lighted a long black cigar.
Jarvis grinned, "Got your man, chief?" he asked.
"Sure," said Muldoon.
Who was the guilty man. How did Muldoon know?
GO TO THE MURDER SOLUTION
THE GANG MURDER SOLUTION
"Kid" Meghan said: "The father of the guy that croaked 'Spike' Finie is Tony's father's son." Therefore, the murderer muss be tony's son. Tony is thirty-nine. There are only three members of the gang young enough to be his son. "The Wop," whose father died in The Chair; Young Meghan, whose father was killed by gangsters; and "Shrimp" -- therefore the murderer must be "Shrimp."
ERB'S Murder Mystery Puzzles
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