Zachary closed the door behind him and locked it again.
"Where did you learn to do that?" asked Loyle.
Zachary closed the knife blade and slipped it back into his trouser pocket. "Europe, years ago. A mad Scotsman showed me how to do it. Now, let's take a look around this dump."
Zachary flicked on the light and whistled appreciatively. A large circular oak table with six chairs was closest to the door, with a roll top writing bureau in the corner behind that. Over near the window, a plush floral-patterned sofa and a pair of matching armchairs were arranged around an open fireplace; the coals were still glowing faintly.
"Isn't this a flash dive," said Zachary. "I'll bet you haven't seen anything like this for a while."
"Thanks for reminding me," Loyle replied, tossing Zachary a dark look. "Why don't you make yourself useful and check the bedroom? I'll poke around out here."
Zachary chuckled and moved off, as Loyle slid open the writing desk and looked around. Most of the pigeonholes in the desk were filled with writing paper with the Imperial Towers letterhead. A dark green blotter covered most of the desktop, and a pair of ebony pens with gold tips sat in an ornate holder in the back. Everything was perfectly arranged.
Loyle glanced around to see Zachary standing near the corner to the bedroom with a solemn look on his face.
"You'd better come look at this."
"Why?" asked Loyle. "What have you found?"
"Just come look."
Loyle followed him through the door and past the bathroom. As soon as he rounded the corner into the bedroom, he stopped as though someone had punched him in the stomach.
Lying sprawled on the bed was Marlene Beckmann.
Her clothes were in a state of disarray, as though she had been in a struggle. Her nylon stockings were wrapped tightly around her neck, cutting into the skin of her throat. Her face was a pale blue color and her eyes were wide open in terror.
"Is she...?" stammered Loyle.
"Dead?" asked Zachary. "Yes, I'm afraid so."
Loyle checked the girl's wrist, hoping to find a pulse. "She's barely warm," he said, "so this was done a while ago."
He reached down and gently closed her eyes.
Zachary went out into the living room and came back with a tumbler of bourbon. "Here, drink this. I don't know about you, but I could sure use a belt." Loyle took the glass and downed the contents in one long gulp, Zachary following suit.
"Isn't there something we can"
Zachary shook his head. "No, Loyle, there isn't. She's beyond help. She's probably been dead for well over an hour."
"I'd better get the hell out of here, Zachary," Crawford said grimly. "If the cops twig to this, I'm a dead man."
"Hold on, hold on," said Zachary, looking Loyle in the eye. "You're not thinking straight. There's no way they can pin this one on us. We were seen arriving downstairs not twenty minutes ago, and she was long dead by the time we got here. If they'll pin this on anyone, it will be Taggart."
"You think so? Do you really think that?" Loyle face was pale with rage. "Even money says that when the cops find out that the 'infamous' Loyle Crawford was even in this rooma room we broke intothey'll forget that Taggart even exists! The ISA would like nothing better than to pin this rap on me. They'll probably sell tickets to my hanging."
"You've got a point, Loyle," Zachary said quietly. "But let's take our time and think this through. I've been in tougher scrapes than this before."
Loyle went out into the lounge room and slumped into the sofa, fighting the anger and despair that threatened to overwhelm him. "I just want one damn thing to go right," he muttered. "Just one thing."
Zachary started pacing. "Let's think this through...this was obviously more than a case of bad timing."
"You think so?"
"Of course." He paused, sipping his drink. "Think about it for a minute. Chicago's a pretty tight town; people talk. You've been sniffing around for a while now, trying to track down the dame. Someone gets a bit spooked, so they need to stop her from talking."
Loyle shook his head. "That's drawing a pretty long bow, Zachary."
Zachary took another drag on his cigarette. "Really? She was supposed to play the Castanet Club tonight. That's a ritzy gig. She must have had quite an offer to throw that in and come here.
"So, what we have to do is track down her killer." Zachary concluded.
"We'll have to find out where Taggart went" Crawford stopped and bent down to retrieve a folded newspaper from the firewood basket. "Well, I'll be damned," he muttered, tossing the paper across to Zachary. "What do you make of that?"
Zachary looked at the paper; it was just a racing form guide. "Taggart liked to bet on the horses. So what?"
Crawford's eyes lit up. "Take a closer look."
Nathan unfolded the paper and looked at it. The masthead read "Empire Daily."
He looked up at Crawford, impressed. "Sharp eyes, flyboy."
Crawford chuckled ruefully. "It wasn't that hard to spot. How many copies of an Empire State newspaper have you seen in Chicago?"
Crawford nodded, tossing his glass into the fireplace. "Someone from New York was in this room earlier, and they're probably mixed up this mess...somehow."
Loyle turned the paper over. The paper caught the light in a strange way, and Loyle could make out the impression of writing at the top of the page. He raced across to the writing bureau and started fishing through the drawers.
Zachary came across. "What have you found?"
Loyle found a pencil in the bottom drawer and sat up again. "Somebody wrote something while leaning on it." He started gently rubbing the pencil back and forth across the impression, highlighting the writing. "I want to see what it says."
A few moments later, Loyle started down at the pencil-smeared page:
Midnight, Friday. Room 202, the Great Northern Hotel.
Zachary looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. "Midnight tonight. That's only an hour and a half from now. The Great Northern's a sleazepit on the other side of town." He looked at the puzzled look on Loyle's face. "What's up with you?"
Loyle knocked back the rest of his bourbon. "The handwriting. For some reason, it looks familiar...but I can't place it." He let out a deep sigh. "But it sure looks like I was right: someone I knowand trustis setting me up, even now. I guess the only thing left for me to do is head over to the Great Northern and find out who's behind this."
He rose and extended his hand to Zachary. "Thanks for all your help. I guess I'll see you round sometime."
Zachary chuckled. "You think you're getting rid of me that easily?"
"You don't have to come with me, you know."
Zachary finished his drink and set the empty glass down on the table. "Without me, you'll just go and get yourself killed." He flashed Loyle a grin. "Besides, I'm enjoying this caper too much to call it quits now."
"Then let's go," Crawford replied. "We've got a killer to catch."