Sample L23 from J. W. Rose, "Try My Sample Murders," Trapped Detective Story Magazine, 6: 2 (November, 1961), 45-50. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,013 words 357 (17.7%) quotesL23

Used by permission of Trapped Detective Story Magazine. 0010-1680

J. W. Rose, "Try My Sample Murders," Trapped Detective Story Magazine, 6: 2 (November, 1961), 45-50.

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That's what the man had said . Haney peered doubtfully at his drinking companion through bleary , tear-filled eyes . He had no ready answer , as much from surprise as from the fit of coughing . Was the man drunk or crazy or both ? ? But his new-found buddy had matched him drink for drink until he lost count , and the man's eyes were still clear .

The guy is off his rocker , Haney thought to himself , and looked away from those eyes . Eyes that were clear , but also bright with a strange intensity , a sort of cold fire burning behind them . Why hadn't he noticed it before ? ? No , the man was not drunk

He wondered how he got tied up with this stranger . But , of course , he remembered now . It was blurred , after two hours of steady drinking , but the occasion of it came back to him . The stranger , his head seemingly sunk in thought , started to cross the street against the light just as a huge moving van roared through the intersection .

Brakes howled and a horn blared furiously , but the man would have been hit if Phil hadn't called out to him a second before . His shout had been involuntary , something anybody might have done without thinking , on the spur of the moment . As a matter of fact , he wouldn't have cared at all if the guy had been hit . Actually , he regretted having opened his mouth when the truck came to a stop and the angry driver jumped down from the cab and walked back toward them .

By then , the stranger was thanking Haney profusely and had one arm around his shoulders as if he were an old friend . So the driver started to curse at both of them as if they had been in a plot together to ruin his safe-driving record .

Then the man he saved turned and looked squarely into the truck driver's face , without saying a word . Very suddenly , the driver stopped swearing at them , turned on his heel and went back to his truck .

Haney hadn't given it much thought at the time . Now he recalled it very clearly , and wondered what the truck driver had seen in those eyes to make him back off . It must have been the sort of look that can call a bluff without saying a word .

When the light went their way , they went on across the street . And when the stranger found out that Phil was on the way to one of his favorite bars , he insisted on offering to buy drinks for both of them .

Phil usually went alone and kept to himself , sitting in a corner and passing the time by nursing his favorite grudges . But he decided he wouldn't mind company in return for free drinks , even though he made good money at his job . Phil was like that .

Now he wondered if it was worth it , having a screwball for company . He really didn't take the offer seriously , but he began to feel uneasy . When he finally got the coughing under control , he realized that Pete ( all he gave was his first name ) was still waiting for an answer -- he didn't even seem to wink as he continued to stare .

Haney managed a weak laugh . `` Guess I can't think of anyone , Pete . Thanks anyhow '' .

A faint crease appeared between the man's eyebrows . `` I think you aren't taking me seriously , Phil . I meant it . And everybody has some kind of grudge . I might have got hit by that truck if it wasn't for you . I believe in returning favors . I'll do anything for somebody I like . It won't cost you a cent , Phil . Go ahead and try me '' ! !

Phil rubbed his forehead wearily . He was beginning to feel woolly . Maybe it would be better to humor the guy and then make an exit . He really didn't expect anything to come of it , and there were a few people

`` All right '' , he conceded finally , `` if you must know , I don't get along with the landlord . He keeps riding me because I like to listen to the radio and sing while I'm taking a bath . He says the neighbors complain , but I don't believe it . Why don't they tell me themselves if it bothers them '' ? ?

The man closed his eyes and nodded . When he looked up again , he seemed almost contented . `` Fine . Give me your address . It will take a little time . I want to study your landlord's habits and movements first . You see , I always make it look like an accident . Maybe suicide , if it looks reasonable . In that way there's no trouble for the customer '' .

Haney's eyebrows flew up . `` Customer '' ? ?

Pete smiled modestly . `` It's my line of work '' , he said

Five minutes later , before Haney could make his break , the stranger stood up and nodded farewell . Haney watched the small but wiry man slip out the door quickly and silently , and felt relieved to see that nobody else seemed to notice his departure .

Phil decided to stay a little longer , and as time passed it seemed as if the strange little man had never been there , but for the other glass on the table . Some time before midnight he returned to his apartment and hit the sack , putting the whole incident out of mind before he fell asleep .

The next day , Sunday , the hangover reminded Haney where he had been the night before . The hangover in turn reminded him of his conversation with the weirdy , and he groaned . He went for more aspirin later in the day , and passed the surly landlord on the way -- he was still alive and scowling as usual , as if tenants were a burden in his life . Phil shrugged and ignored him .

He went back to work Monday . By Wednesday the landlord was still alive . Of course On Thursday , Haney mailed the monthly check for separate maintenance to his wife Lolly , and wished the stranger could do something about her

Coming home from work , he was startled to see a police car parked in front of the apartment building . Inside the lobby , people were standing around , talking excitedly . His spine crawled with a foreboding premonition as he asked one of his fellow tenants what had happened .

The landlord had died . Late that afternoon , it seemed , he had fallen off the roof while on some obscure errand or inspection . He had apparently been alone . Nobody witnessed the fall -- just the sickening impact when his body smashed on the pavement just outside the basement delivery entrance .

Haney hoped that nobody noticed his sudden pallor , as he felt the blood drain from his cheeks . He muttered something about how terrible it was , and walked with deliberate slowness to the elevator . Once inside his apartment , he poured a drink with trembling hands and flopped limply in a chair .

After a while he began to feel better about it , especially when no one bothered to ask any questions . But after all , why should they ? ? Still later , he finally convinced himself that it was an accident -- just a coincidence . The stranger really had nothing to do with it , of course

Haney went to bed , happy that at least he was rid of that lousy landlord . After all , the man had no family , so no one suffered , and everybody was better off for it . Really , he said to himself , nobody kills a man just as a favor ! !

So you thought I didn't mean what I said . The stranger's eyes were large and sad , as if Phil Haney had hurt his feelings . It was like a recurrent , annoying dream , but now the dream was beginning to take on overtones of a nightmare .

However , Haney knew it was not a dream . He might be very tight , but he knew where he was . It was the same bar , and it was two weeks later -- Saturday night , when he had an excuse to drink heavier than usual .

He had been sitting in the usual corner at the little table , as far as possible from any talkative , friendly lushes . He was enjoying the weekly ritual of washing down his pet grievance with bourbon slightly moistened with water . This favorite grievance was not the landlord . He had already quite forgotten about him . In fact , he had only mentioned him on the spur of the moment . His real grievance was Lolly .

Toward the end of his fourth hairy highball , while he was moodily making wet rings on the table-top with the bottom of the glass , he became aware that he was not alone . He looked up with bloodshot eyes and beheld the stranger sitting across the table , smiling a secret smile at him , as if they were fellow conspirators . He hadn't even noticed -- what was his name ? ? Pete ? ? -- he hadn't seen him sit down . The man was uncanny , like a shadow , and made as much noise as a shadow .

Haney felt like shrinking out of sight , but he was already trapped in the corner with the wiry , dark little man . He began to wish that he hadn't shouted that other evening when the truck bore down through the crossing . Was he going to be saddled from now on with a creep for a bar-buddy ? ? He'd have to start going to some of the other places again .

In a low voice , almost whispering , the man had asked Phil if he was happy with the way the landlord had been taken off his back . He made the mistake of answering in an offhand way , and instantly realized that his skepticism must have showed in his face or voice .

Pete frowned slightly , then became sad and moody . Haney didn't want to encourage his company , but felt he ought to buy him a drink anyhow , to prevent possible trouble . But there was no trouble . The guy sulked over his drink , obviously upset by Haney's lack of appreciation .

To break the uncomfortable silence , Haney began to talk . In time , and two drinks later , he was complaining bitterly about his wife , He was on the subject for ten minutes or so when he noticed the renewed interest in his listener -- it showed in the alert face and the suddenly bright eyes .

When he paused to moisten his throat , the stranger broke in . `` But why pay her bills ? ? If she runs around with other men , and if you hate her as you say , why not just divorce her '' ? ?

Haney scowled . `` That bitch would love a divorce '' , he growled . `` Then she'd get half of everything I have . Community property deal -- you know . I'd have to sell out my business to pay her off with her share . She can drop dead '' ! !

Pete nodded understandingly . `` Oh yes . Now I see . You must understand , I haven't been in this state too long . I came out here to retire . That's why I -- why I do a free job now and then . You should have told me about her before '' .

Haney felt a twinge of annoyance when he heard the now familiar line again . Then a wild thought ran circles through his clouded brain . Suppose -- just suppose this guy was really what he said he was ! ! A retired professional killer If he was just a nut , no harm was done . But if he was the real thing , he could do something about Lolly . He felt very cunning , very proud of himself as he played on the other man's soft spot .

`` No offense intended '' , he said gently . `` But it's just that -- well , you know . The cops didn't suspect a thing , and I thought it was a coincidence . After all , I didn't know you , Pete . It could have been an accident '' . He shrugged casually . `` But if you say you managed it '' The stranger was hooked . His eyes burned feverishly . `` Yes , yes '' , he muttered impatiently . `` Of course it looked like an accident . I always work it that way -- and always at a time when the customer has an alibi . Let me prove it , Phil . I think I can manage one more favor for you '' . He waited eagerly .

Haney swished the liquor in the bottom of his glass .