The Car in the Mexican Quarter

by Jim Thompson

Part II

        The Lansing is practically in the center of town, which means that there are no suspicious dives within a radius of several blocks. Five minutes would not allow a man time to descend and ascend on the elevator and to run to the drug store on the corner. The drug store was closed at night anyway. That meant that Skippy Kahn was depending on delivery service and I believed that I knew just the place most likely to peddle dope.

        I got off at the mezzanine and found my way to the telephone room. The chief operator showed the night's records of outside calls willingly. I found the number I wanted in a short time.

        "Where did this call come from?" I asked.

        She laughed. "We're still trying to find out," she said. "The room it was supposed to come from was vacated at ten o'clock last night so there really shouldn't have been any call. Probably the girl who took it just made a mistake in the room number."

        "But isn't it possible," I asked, "for there to have been a call from this room after ten o'clock last night? Couldn't the man who checked out of it have gone back later and called?"

        She nodded. "He could have, but it isn't logical. A man who leaves his room at ten wouldn't be likely to go back at two in the morning to 'phone. He'd probably be picked up in the hall by the house detective if he tried it."

        I thought a minute. These telephone operators are pretty reliable girls, regardless of what you say about wrong numbers. Besides, I wasn't quite ready to give up my pet idea.

        "How does this sound," I asked. "This fellow that checks out of his room leaves his door open when he leaves. Someone passing by takes advantage of the opportunity to use the 'phone without spending anything. Possible or not?"

        "Now," she said, "that sounds like what actually happened; in fact, I'll bet it did happen that way."

        I thanked her and hurried out. In just two minutes (I timed myself) a taxi had taken me to the Owl Rent Car stand.

        Dago Red Ivers was inside at his desk. I have known Dago Red for several years, but he did not offer to get up or to shake hands. He merely stared at me out of his cold brown eyes.

        "Well," he said, finally, "what do you want?"

        "The man who killed Skippy Kahn," I replied, without hesitation.

        He sniffed. "So do the police."

        I grabbed him by the shoulder and whirled him around facing me.

        "None of your wisecracks," I snaled. "I've got you dead to the pin at last. I've known for years that you were peddling here but I couldn't prove it. I can now."

        "Listen. This morning between two and three Skippy Kahn called this place and gave you an order. You've had ti in for Skippy for a long time, he knew too much. But you didn't want to take a chance on bumping him where you might get caught. So you got him to go down into the Mexican quarter on some pretext and had him wait for the order. Then you ran him down.

        "You didn't have any license on your car and your lights were off but I recognized you and I saw the car sitting in the back when I came in. Flannagan was with me and he can testify about the car and you too. Now, do you want anything more or are you willing to own up?"

        Red look at me coldly. Then he broke out into a nasty laugh.

        "So you and Flannagan recognized me?" he said.


        "And the car too?"

        "I"m telling you," I repeated.

        Still laughing, Ivers picked up the telephone and called a number. He motioned for me to listen.

        "Give me the chief of federal revenue," he said to the voice at the other end of the wire. Then, "Hello, Chief. This is Red Ivers. One of our local detectives is here accusing me of a murder last night. Tell him something for me, will you?"

        He handed the 'phone across the desk and I took it. "Marshall speaking," I said.

        "Oh hello, Marshall," came the chief's voice. "Sorry but I'm afriad Red's got the laugh on you this time. We've had him padlocked for the last week pending investigation. Just unlocked his joint about an hour ago."

        Dago Red's laugh trailed me through the door as I went out. I felt my ears burning. What a fool I had been not to realize the fact Skippy Kahn's calling that number by no means meant that he had got it. But I didn't mind the personal humiliation so much as I did seeing the case go to smash. My detective work had been fine. It just hand't worked. Fault enough.

        Disappointed, I headed for the station. And for want of anything better to do I went over to the morgue from there and had a look at what was left of Skippy Kahn. He was pretty badly jammed up, but there were a number of scars that had never been made by a car.

        That gave me an idea too, but I couldn't do much with it. The fact that he had used dope himself only puzzled me. For if he had had a supply why had he not sold it instead of sending for more? Probably out I decided.

        I sat down on a bench and thought back through every angle of the affair Studying, I could see that I had beenwrong in trying to pin the crime onto Dago Red. In the first place, it was an amateur's job at murder and "Red could hardly qualify as an amateur. He might shoot, poison or knife a man, running over him would be too crude. Then, there was the matter of those missing license plates. A professional would have exchanged plates, realizing that their absence would be likely to bring down undesirable attention.

        Then, I thought of the way the car had approached Skippy. It had traveled very slowly until it was almost on top of him. What had been the idea? Had his death been the eact of a mind that worked upon the spur of the moment? Had it been unpremeditated? It looked that way.

        I had this much then. Skippy had called some friend. The friend had been afraid to make a downtown delivery so Skippy had met him in the Mexican quarter. There, the friend had suddenly decided to run him down. With this much, I called headquarters.

        "What friends did Skippy Kahn have?" I asked. "Who did he run around with most?"

        The answer came like a flash.

        "Skippy Kahn didn't have a friend in this town and no one would have run around with him for fear of being taken for a stool pigeon."

        I was desperate. "How about relatives?"

        "Only one. Wife. Here; I'll give you her address."

        I caught a car to the address given and knocked on the door. In the driveway was a neat, black car. It shone like glass from bumper to tail-light. There were thousands of others in the city just like it.

        I was pretty curious about the kind of woman that would marry a man like Skippy Kahn. Naturally, I didn't expect much. I was in for a surprise.

        The woman who answered the door was practically everything in a woman that Skippy was not in a man. Oh, of course you can't go through the mud without getting splashed but she had come as near to it as anyone might. Her brown hair was neatly combed and her eyes were large and matched her hair. I like her hands too, firm and well kept.

        She knew what I had come for, of course, and invited me in without delay. When we were both seated in the front room she spoke: "You don't need to tell me about Skippy. I heard about it and frankly I'm not very sorry. But I'll be glad to give you any clue in the matter that I can."

        I twisted my hat in my hand. I had not expected her to take things so calmly and it rather upset me.

        "Well, it's this way, Mrs. Kahn," I said, at last; "I really don't expect you to shed much light on the matter. It's more for the idea of leaving no stone unturned than anything else. You might tell me though whether anyoneelse used your car last night. To you knowledge, of course."

        She shood her head, looking me in the eye.

        "No one used that car last night. You can see for yourself that it's as clean and new as the day it was driven out of the shop."

        I nodded. "Yes, I noticed that." I studied her for a moment while she met my gaze. Then I looked at the carpet. It was a trifle muddy.

        "Well, Mrs. Kahn," I said. "There really isn't much use in questioning you further. You may get a call from the station, but that's just a matter of form. I wish you luck." I arose and extended my hand.

        She took it hesitantly, as if fearing some trick. Casually I stepped to the window and looking out at the car.

        "By the way," I said, "did you know that your front license plate was upside down?"

        I heard her gasp. Then she crowded past me and looked out at the car. The plate was in its proper position. She turned on me, fear mixed with courage on her face.

        "A trick? Well, you can't trick me. You haven't got a thing on mme and you know it. You may as well leave."

        "Afterwhile," I agreed. "In the meantime you might tell me what Skippy called you about between two and three in the morning. Also, why you washed and polished your car this morning."

        "He didn't--I didn't!" Her voice was almost a whisper.

        "Oh yes he did," I insisted. "The call is on record at the hotel. And it's pretty plain that you just got through dolling up the car. Now, spill it."

        "I won't!"

        It was hard of me but I had to do it. I walked over to the 'phone and removed the receiver. Police headquarters," I said, holding down the hook.

        She was across the room in a flurry, grabbing my arm. "I'll talk. Oh, give me a chance!"

        I put the receiver back on the hook. "All right. Go ahead."

        She cried as she talked, but they were the tears of nervousness more than remorse. So her story was fairly coherent.

        "Skippy kept a supply of the stuff here in the house. He was too much of a coward to keep it with him. I know that if it had ever been found he intended to shove the blane onto me. He didn't have much. Only enough for his own use; so I was very surprised last night when he called me and told me to bring it down.

        "My first idea was to refuse. Then I knew that I would have to pay in more ways than one if I turned against his wishes. But I was fraid of being caught and like a fool thought of taking off those plates would make me safer. I didn't realize that they would be almost sure to lead to my arrest.

        "I have never drive a car a great deal so that I was deathly afraid as I went along the dark streets of Mexican town. I had laid the package on the floor where I could crush it and scatter the contents in case anyone tried to stop me. But without lights I lost track of its position.

        "You saw the result. I did not know that I was so hear to my destination, but I knew that I would have to have that package ready when I arrived. Skippy would not stand while I hunted and fumbled. So for just a minute I risked turning on the dashlight. But I was unfamiliar with the switch and I turned on the headlights. That frightened me more than ever, especially when I saw that I was almost to Skippy. I tried to turn them off again, but was unsuccessful and being short on time I let them go and leaned over to look for the package. It was under my heel.

        "I had my elbow against the rear lever and my goot was over the accelerator. As I slid down in teh seat my toe naturally came down on the gas. The jerk threw my arm against the gear lever and clashed the gears. Thoroughtly frightened now, I jerked at the gear desperately bringing my foot down on the gas harder than ever. Then, I shut my eyes. I don't know how I got around the corner nor how I got home. But here I am, wanted for the muder of Skippy Kahn."

        "Will you tell me one thing more?" I asked. "Why you ever happened to marry Kahn?"

        She shrugged her shoulder and grimaced. "I don't know. People do foolish things. Then he wasn't always as bad as he got to be. After we were married I had to stick with it. He wouldn't listen to a divorce. I know he would have killed me if I'd ever tried to get one. He usually had a pull with the police, too, so it wasn't any use to go to them."

        "Well, he won't bother you any more," I said. "I've got to be going now."

        I started toward the door.

        Frightened, she stopped me.

        "Where are you going?"

        I grinned. "To look for the party who killed Skippy Kahn."

        "But I just told you--"

        "You didn't tell me anything," I interrupted. "Not a thing. That's the only thing you'll have to remember. Can you do it?"

        For the first time she really smiled. "You're square," she said.

        I went out the door.

Back to Part I