Capt. M. L. Heimrich of the New York State Police may not have the flash of hard-boiled city detectives, but there’s no lead the intrepid investigator won’t follow until his every hunch is satisfied . . .
When Captain Heimrich and his ladylove, Susan Faye, stumble across the bodies of actress Peggy Belford and her former husband, it appears a dramatic murder-suicide has hit Van Brunt. But as Heimrich takes a good look at the crime scene, he starts to think it may have been staged.
Peggy was in town shooting a film, The Last Patroon, and with so many other Hollywood types swarming Westchester County, Heimrich has a long list of suspects auditioning for the role of her killer.
Jealous costars and moody directors all seem likely candidates, but when the murderer targets Susan, Captain Heimrich will have to figure out the twist ending before the woman he loves ends up on the cutting room floor.
Show Red for Danger is the 12th book in the Captain Heimrich Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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From where they sat they could see the Hudson. It was wide and quiet and far below them; there was haze to the west and the late sun, sinking into haze, was dimmed, so that there was a golden cast in the slanting light. The distant water of the river held the faintly golden hue.
They sat on a wide chaise on the terrace of a house which once had been a barn, and still somewhat resembled a bam. A big ash tree shaded them and Heimrich looked up into its branches. Pruned now. It had badly needed pruning when he had first seen it, noting its need casually, with the instinctively assaying eye of a countryman. A good many things had happened in the past two years or so — trees pruned and a driveway mended, so that it might be said that minor good had come of major evil. Murder is always evil, in Heimrich's view, even if the victim can be said to have asked for it. As, many in the town felt, Orville Phipps had asked. So — A long time ago. Over and done with, and he here.
He turned his head slightly and looked at Susan Faye — at the clear line of her thin face, at the widely set gray eyes, fixed now on the distant river. Thinking of what, he wondered. Of days even longer ago? Of a younger man long dead who once had shared this terrace with her, looked down with her at the great river? It was likely. Much too likely.
Her face had been far too thin when he had first seen it, and thought, absently, that she was not pretty — that nobody could really call her pretty — but that it was fun to look at her. Her face was still thin, the cheeks still faintly hollowed. But there was repose in her face now, he thought, and she did not, at any rate, look so tired — so tired and strained. An improvement, he thought, which could be credited to the late Mr. Phipps who had — Heimrich thought it must have been inadvertently — left a second cousin ten thousand dollars. Hence a fabric shop, hence a pruned ash tree, hence relaxation in a face. A face now very dear.
A long girl — long brown legs, wide shoulders, slender feet in sandals. A girl most delectable, pretty or not; a girl of lightness and grace compact. Heimrich sighed, silently, and regarded himself — looked down himself. Certainly not light; a length of great and evident solidity. Not fat — he would give himself that. Merely heavy. In all respects heavy, Heimrich thought of himself. Too heavy for such grace; his hands too square and hard to touch, to imprison, quicksilver.
Comfortable to be with, he thought, and gave himself that, could not deny himself that. She found him so. That much was evident; he was not wrong about that. Comfortable. Like — like an older brother. Or, possibly, an uncle. He checked his descent into melancholy; into, he had to admit, self-pity. He was older — older as well as heavier. But not that much older. Twelve years, or thereabouts.
She had kissed him when he came half an hour ago — came to sit on the terrace with her, have a drink with her; take her, in due time, to dinner. And it was by no means the first time. Once or twice he had thought, briefly — He turned the thought off. Young women kiss brothers.
He's in it again, Susan Faye thought, regarding the distant Hudson. Whatever will I do with him? It was in a way touching. It was also not a little exasperating. The trouble with them, Susan thought, is that they think too much. Or think they think. Take everything into account, including relative ages. As if one could, or as if there were any point to it. And there was nothing she could do or, at any rate, would do. Beyond what she had done, and if that had not been enough — well. The great oaf.
Does he think we break? Susan thought, and almost at once corrected the thought. She had no doubt, none whatever, that Merton Heimrich had learned from adequate experience that women are not especially breakable. What it comes to (she thought) is that for one reason and another he puts me in a special category. "Breakable. Handle With Care." Or do not handle at all. She supposed, in honesty, that she should find this flattering. Instead of damned annoying. The great oaf!
Different from others. Too special — all right, call it "precious" — for his clumsy hands. Which were not that, except in his mind. Damn, Susan Faye thought. A lovely, lazy afternoon and a man in the doldrums. And, to some degree, my fault. I should never have shown him that picture of big Michael. Things were going fine until I did that.
She could think now of big Michael, a husband killed in war, with no special pain, with only a kind of soft sadness — a sadness belonging to another life, almost to another woman; a brief sad poem, echoing gently in the mind; there to be recalled but there also to be forgotten. It wasn't bright of me, she thought — not bright at all to, having come on a photograph while in search of something else, have said, "This is a picture of Michael," and held it out to Merton Heimrich. (Why does he hate his own given name so much? Why isn't the great oaf simple and uncomplex, the way a big man — and a policeman to boot — ought to be?) Why was I that half-witted? It set us back almost to the beginning. Damn!
She could herself look now at a picture of big Michael and feel only the sad sweetness of the poem, written down, remembered. And Michael would not, of course, be now as young as he had been when the picture was taken — probably not so darkly handsome, so slimly tall. The great oaf might realize that.
"He was a very handsome man," Heimrich had said, those months ago, and handed the photograph back. And, of course, gone into "it" again. She knew the symptoms now; had known them for a long time. He had looked at the picture of Michael and seen her and Michael together, as they had been briefly, long ago — seen youth shared, and the long smooth bodies of youth and — damn the man!
He was looking at her now. She did not need to turn her head to know that. Looking at her and thinking he was too old for her and too heavy in mind and body. When all he had to do was to turn to her, and to lips that waited. And were, come to that, getting damn tired of waiting.
He knew they waited, she thought. That was the trouble. He knew but he didn't believe. What I should do, she thought, is to get sunburned, and peel. Very unbecomingly. Then he'd quit thinking — and you are a conceited filly, aren't you? For all you know —
In a few minutes, Susan Faye thought, we'll both be weeping into our beer. If we had beer to weep into. How can two perfectly normal people get so bollixed up about nothing? Or, as it turns out, about everything?
"What time is it getting to be?" Susan Faye asked.
Heimrich looked. It was getting to be on toward six. Six of a July afternoon, a Saturday afternoon.
Their voices were low, but were heard. There was a soft rubbing sound under the chaise, and a little scratching. A very large dog came out from under the chaise; came out in segments. It was inconceivable that he could have been under the chaise. There was evidently no room under any chaise for so much dog. He could not have got under it; the chaise must have been built over him.
He was a Great Dane, massive even for his breed. He stretched ponderously, he turned around and sat down — on his tail — and looked at them. He looked at them through tremendous brown eyes, and seemed to weep.
"He's gone to camp, Colonel," Susan Faye said. "You know that. You drove up with us."
Colonel put his tongue out, and wept with his tongue.
"Six weeks, Colonel," Heimrich said. "You can stand it for six weeks."
Colonel looked at Heimrich. He extended forelegs in front of him and collapsed, with a thud. That was his way of lying down. He put his great head on his enormous feet and a mammoth sigh ran through his body.
"You," Susan Faye said, "are a most depressing dog."
Colonel made no reply. All hope was evidently abandoned.
"He does," Susan said, more or less in defense, "have his enthusiasms. Whatever he looks like. The boy, of course — most of all the boy. But now and then, somebody else. Heaven knows how he picks but he can be very demonstrative. Almost like a puppy."
Colonel said nothing, but moaned slightly. Heimrich said, "Hm-mm."
Suppose, Susan Faye thought, I just said, "I love, you, you great oaf. I'll marry you tomorrow. And you're not clumsy and I won't break and we would have a fine time together and it would be very good for both of us. And as for a few years' difference in our ages — poof. Poof and phooey. And —"
"Why," Susan Faye said, "don't you make us another drink? We've time for a short one before — you don't mind stopping by Brian's, really? I told him you might be with me."
"Of course not," Heimrich said, and swung himself off the chaise, moving with great definition, great economy and thinking that he probably looked rather like a hippopotamus. He went across the terrace toward the house and she turned and watched him. A tall, solid man who nevertheless moved lightly. And hadn't the faintest idea he did.
"What shall I do about him?" Susan asked the big dog. The big dog sighed. "You're probably right," Susan said and lighted a cigarette.
Heimrich came out with short (presumably) gin-and-tonics on much ice. He sat on the side of the chaise, facing her. He held a drink out to her and she took it in a slim, brown hand. The hand which relinquished the glass to hers was brown, too, and rather square and evidently very strong. Didn't the great oaf know what to do with hands like —
"Michael mind leaving all the excitement?" Heimrich said, speaking quickly, matter-of-factly, and acutely conscious of the slender tanned legs within touch. He put his free hand in his jacket pocket.
All right, Susan thought. Any way you want it, for now. But don't think —
"It isn't," she said, "as if they were cowboys. I pointed Mr. Dale out to Michael in front of Hopkins' and said, 'That's Francis Dale, the movie actor' and you know what he said? He said, 'All right. Can I have a Coke?' It's the lack of horses, I suppose. And six-shooters. In civvies — just a man to Michael. And an old one."
And there, she thought, I go again. I deserve what I get — what I don't get.
"Dale was in the taproom when I came through," Heimrich said, and did not need to identify the taproom, since there was only one thereabouts which might be graced by Mr. Francis Dale. "Wearing a green velvet coat and an embroidered waistcoat and knee-breeches. And slippers with silver buckles. And drinking what looked like a Bloody Mary."
"And," Susan said, "handsome as hell. And — he must be in his fifties."
Heimrich supposed so. He said that he thought young Michael might have liked the green velvet coat.
"Makes a nice change," Susan Faye admitted, and sipped. "He was wearing a polo shirt and slacks when I showed him to Michael. So he was just a man with gray hair. And a beard, of course. I told Michael we had seen him a few weeks ago on the Early Show, only then he didn't have a beard, and Michael was very polite about it. He said, 'The one with the funny automobiles?' Which, as I recall, it was."
"They all are," Heimrich said. "Naturally enough."
"Actually," Susan said, "the men seem to stand up better than the women. It gives one pause. Accent on maturity."
And there she had gone again, harping on it. Damn the man. And there wasn't, really, anything to harp on. He wasn't ninety. He was a lot younger than Francis Dale, and look at Francis Dale. Drinking a Bloody Mary in a green velvet coat.
"La Belford?" she said, changing the subject slightly.
Peggy Belford had not been in the taproom of the Old Stone Inn of Van Brunt.
"They space it out," Heimrich said. "Seem to, anyway. To lessen the impact, naturally." He stopped. "I suppose," he said, in belated revision. Falling into speech habits is, of course (not "naturally") a sign of approaching senility. He must remember that, if he could.
"Of course," she said. "Two suns would dazzle the natives."
"And diminish each other," Heimrich said. "Na —"
She laughed then, softly, and in an instant, but for an instant only, they were close as sometimes (before the photograph) they had been close. He would take that damn hand out of that damn pocket and — Oh, the great oaf!
"They're all taking off in a few days," Heimrich said. "That's the word. Protective patrol to be recalled, which pleases them at the barracks. No longer a surging mob to be kept in check."
"Was there ever?"
There had been, as surging mobs go in western Putnam County, an area of tossed hills above a great river. But, for the first day only. After that there had been nothing much for state troopers to do. Heimrich chuckled suddenly. "Hear about the 'copter?" he asked Susan and Susan moved her head slowly from side to side, and smiled slowly. He was coming out of it.
"They were making long shots of the house," Heimrich said. "And a bright red 'copter came down at roof level, making a 'copter's racket. Anton Zersk practically went up to join it, they tell me. From a standing start."
"The director?" Susan said and, when Heimrich nodded, that one could see how he might have felt like rocketing, going into orbit. "An old Dutch mansion in" — she considered briefly — "the late seventeenth, with a helicopter on its roof. Why didn't they just build it on a set? And — it isn't that old anyway. The Van Brunt mansion, I mean."
It was not; not by fifty years at least. And the rear of it was in a state of collapse.
"I don't know," Heimrich said. "Oh, I suppose 'filmed in the historic Hudson Valley, where the patroons'— the patroons what?"
"'Held sway,'" Susan said, without hesitation. "A talking point."
"Yes," Heimrich said. "And — nobody can fake the river. Give it that." They both looked down at the river. Nobody could fake the river.
"Dale and Miss Belford and a man named Latham were the only principals they brought along," Heimrich said. "And a lot of bit players. The rest are technicians and — God knows what. God and, I suppose, Marley. The producer."
He seemed, Susan said, to know a good deal about the visitors from — "from another planet." Which Hollywood might as well be.
Allied Pictures had sought the co-operation of the state police with somewhat elaborate thoroughness. News had reached Heimrich, who was professionally unconcerned, by osmosis. Since Van Brunt was the nearest community providing suitable accommodations, at least for Francis Dale and Peggy Belford, for Paul Marley and others of suitable rank, Heimrich had seen most of them around. Since Heimrich lived, when he could, at the Old Stone Inn.
She smiled again, gently, at that. Eighteen months ago — wasn't it? — a solid captain of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation of the New York State Police, had decided that the Old Stone Inn at Van Brunt would be a "convenient" place to live. Convenient to what? she might have asked, and had not, knowing. To a fabric shop across Van Brunt Avenue, to a hilltop house which once had been a barn. And — had slowed to a walk. The — the bump on a log. As if there were all the time in the world, which there never was.
Nor, she thought, is there now and said, "What time is it, dear?" (She could allow herself the "dear." That would not alarm him. She had heard that La Belford called everyone "darling." La Faye could be allowed a trifle.)
It was a little after six. Heimrich had to take his hand out of his pocket to look at his watch. For a moment she thought he might not put the hand back in the pocket. He did.
"He said anytime after six-thirty," she said. "When he telephoned this morning. The show at the library closed this afternoon, you know, and Brian had to collect his pictures, because next week is arts and crafts."
"God," Heimrich said.
"In which," Susan said, with formality, "I am showing two or three carefully chosen designs, representing modern examples of the still-continuing artistry of the Hudson Valley. Unquote."
"All right," Heimrich said. "I'm sorry."
He needn't be. His remark was appropriate. It represented an attitude which she fully shared. One, nevertheless, played along.
"Since large dogs have large appetites," she added. "To say nothing of small boys. We don't need to stay more than a few minutes. Brian said the thing just came to him, and, since it was so far out of his field, would I have a look at it? It's flattering, in a way. Since he's very good in his own line. You know?"
Excerpted from "Show Red for Danger"
Copyright © 1960 Richard and Frances Lockridge.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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