Sonya and I were in my car, winding our way back into town. With a pair of handcuffs Sonya had retrieved from the glove box of my jalopy, and what remained of our ropes, we had made sure Georgie wasn't going anywhere until his boss got back. I had recovered my luger and my knife from Georgie. His gun was resting under Sonya's seat, the knife was back at my ankle, and my luger was comfortably back in its holster.
We were discussing what to do next. Sonya hadn't understood much of what I'd said to Georgie in the building, and I quickly filled her in on what I'd deduced along the way.
"So the gangsters are after Hanover because they think he had a member of their family killed," she said. "You think that Georgie is the one who actually committed the murder, under orders from Lou?"
"You saw him in there," I replied. "He was plenty upset, and scared to death of the mob, but as many times as I accused him of being the trigger man, he never once denied it."
"So that was why the gangsters killed Marlene? To get even with Hanover?"
"They didn't kill Marlene, Sonya."
She looked puzzled. "So then who did?"
"If I'm right, nobody did. Marlene Milkbone is still alive." I glanced over at her. She was plainly astonished.
"Marlene's alive?! Are you sure?"
"No, I'm not, but it's beginning to look more and more like it."
"So who died in the car accident?"
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "A girl named Cassie Peters."
Sonya pursed her lips. "I've never heard of her."
"I'm not surprised, she didn't exactly travel in your social circle. Listen, maybe we oughta go over this from the top. I'll tell you what I think happened. If you hear anything that sounds wrong, let me know, but I've been over it six ways from Sunday and it's all just too neat." She nodded, and I began, "It all started when Milkbone found out the union organizer his men had killed was from a Mafia family. I don't know if they contacted him, or he found out about it some other way, but once he realized what had happened, he knew they'd come after him. The mob doesn't have a big presence out here on the west coast, but Hanover knew they'd send as many men as it would take to get the job done. He needed a way to keep himself safe."
Sonya interrupted me gently. "But Hanover has his own security staff - Lou, Georgie, maybe half a dozen other men."
I shook my head. "They couldn't have protected him. The mob could send twice that many men, and besides, he'd only be safe when he was at home with his guards. Hit men could wait for him anywhere in the city, and you know how much he likes to go out on the town, and how much publicity there is when he does. No, he figured his only shot at protecting himself was to have the police looking out for him. Only a force of that size could cover all the places he might want to go, and Hanover probably figured the cops might even be able to root out the gangsters and run them out of town. Besides, why waste his own men if it came down to a shooting match? As far as Hanover Milkbone is concerned, that's what cops get paid for. So he aimed to play the cops off against the mob, all to save his own fur."
Sonya was listening intently. "So he want to the police?"
"No, he couldn't just go to them. For one thing, the investigation of the murder was never officially closed. If he told them why the mob was after him, the cops might ask uncomfortable questions about his role in the death of the union guy. Besides, the city police force is a far cry from the local sheriff in one of Milkbone's mill towns - even Hanover Milkbone's money couldn't buy them off. And another thing, the police don't take any real action unless a crime has been committed. If you go to them and say some mug's trying to knock you off, they tell you to come back when he's done it. To get the kind of protection Milkbone needed, he knew there'd have to be some real mayhem done to whet the coppers' appetites, and not just a gunshot through a picture window."
Sonya sat for a moment, looking incredulous. "So he planned the bombing himself - and Marlene's death!"
"That's how I figure it. The gangsters told me they didn't kill Marlene. I'm not usually in the habit of taking guys like that at face value, but it just doesn't make sense for them to kill her as a warning to Hanover. For one thing, he already knew they were after him, he didn't need to be warned. For another thing, they're here to kill Milkbone, not scare him. They won't be satisfied until they have his blood on their paws. Maybe it's business as usual for the mob to kill off family members of their enemies, I don't know. But in this case killing Milkbone's wife would only have announced their presence in town and made hitting their real target all the more difficult. They may be crooks, but they're not dumb. The car accident served Milkbone's purpose, not theirs."
"So what about Marlene?" she asked. "Where is she? What's her part in all this?"
I sat for a moment staring out at the road. "I'm not sure, Sonya," I said. "I don't know what to make of her role in this scheme. She could be helping Hanover, but then why would she get me involved if that were the case?" I shook my head slowly.
"But you don't think she's dead? How do you know he didn't kill her?" she said.
"I found out that Georgie and Lou tracked down a look-alike for Marlene - that's who Cassie Peters is - I mean, was. They dressed her up in Marlene's clothes, put her in the car Marlene was driving, and sent her to her death." I glanced over at Sonya. "They set her on fire before they crashed the car," I said somberly, "They had to make sure her body would be too badly burned to be properly identified. They also had to make sure the police would know it was a murder and not a real accident. Lou and Georgie must have spent some time looking around the city for a woman who could pass for Marlene but who wouldn't be missed too badly when she disappeared. I suspect Lou did most of the hunting, or maybe that other fellow, Mack. I don't think Georgie would have had the stomach for it. But they did use him to reel the girl in, so he's in it just as deep as they are. Anyway, I doubt Milkbone would have gone to all that trouble if he had just planned to kill Marlene outright. It could have been her in that car just as easily as her look-alike."
Sonya turned to look out the passenger side window, slowly shaking her head. "I never liked Hanover Milkbone much," she said, "I even thought he might have killed his wife. But I'd never have believed he was capable of this."
I snorted. "Well, at least he didn't actually kill his wife." I looked over at her. "What I don't get is why they kidnapped you. Cassie Peters was rootless and had nobody who'd look for her after she was gone, but your disappearance would have been something else altogether." I paused, remembering the call to Sonya's house. "Why did you let them into your house in the first place?"
"I didn't know they were going to kidnap me. Hanover sent them over to drive me to the service. He called me earlier today and confided in me that the police thought Marlene had been murdered. He knew she had been with me before she died - I mean, before the accident - and he said he wanted to make sure I was safe. He said he'd send someone to pick me up. When Lou and Georgie arrived, I just let them in. It wasn't until Lou made the phone call to your office that I realized anything was amiss."
I glanced at her. "What service?"
She looked around at me. "Beg your pardon?"
"You said they were taking you to the service. What service are you talking about?"
"Oh," she said, "that's right, you wouldn't know. They're having a small memorial service for Marlene tonight. It's private - it's going to be at a funeral home in the north end of town. Only family and a few dozen of Hanover and Marlene's friends will be there. They wanted to avoid the publicity of a larger event."
I stared out at the road as this news registered. "That's where they were taking you," I said slowly.
"That's what I thought," she said, "but then they brought me up to the estate and tied me up in that garage."
"No," I said, "the garage was only a stop off, to wait for me. I think we were both headed there, to the service." I looked over, and she seemed puzzled. "That's how they were going to kill us - at the service. They were probably going to stage another attack of some kind to make it look like the mob had struck again. We'd have been among the dead."
Sonya looked horrified. "Among the dead? You think they'd kill others as well?"
"I don't know, Sonya. Maybe we'd just find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe only you would and I'd wind up in a shallow grave in the desert somewhere. Whatever, it makes no difference now. The important thing is, if they planned something for the service, they'll go ahead with it, whether we're there or not. They've got to make it look like the mob is attacking harder than ever so that the police will be forced to take action. And what better to get the cops hot on the case than the deaths of a few of the city's most prominent citizens? While attending a funeral no less?"
Sonya had ceased to look shocked. She just looked very, very angry. It was a look that made me glad that it wasn't me she was angry at. "What are we going to do, Sam?" she said.
"We're gonna stop 'em," I replied.
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