Hanover Milkbone knew the jig was up. He'd seen doom roll past the end of his muzzle in the form of a car containing his supposedly-dead wife, free from the custody of his henchmen. It was enough to tell him that his carefully woven plans had come all the way unraveled. His reaction - to turn around and dash back into the funeral home - had been enough to show Captain Arthur Sinclair of the city police force that I was on the level in my accusations of Milkbone. I was sure that the captain was at this moment bursting through the front door of the funeral home, shouting orders to clear the building and apprehend the fleeing Milkbone.
I had run the other way, and was now finishing my mad dash to the back door of the building. If I was right, Milkbone was either trying to flee out the back entrance, or get to the detonator of his bomb. Either way, I had to go back the way I came. I'd left two helpless men in the basement of the building, and I knew I'd never get another good night's sleep if I didn't at least try to get them out before Milkbone turned the home into a fireball.
I reached the ramp at the back of the building and bolted down it, heaving the door open and sprinting past the rows of coffins stacked on either side of the storage room I'd entered. I burst through the door at the far end of the room and skidded to a stop. There, in the small storage room where I'd left Lou Furo and his flunky, was Hanover Milkbone. He was standing with his back to me, and he slowly turned around. In his hands he held a medium-sized box; I recognized it as the old radio I'd seen on the shelf earlier.
He peered at me from under his shaggy brows. "I assume you are the fellow who's been causing me all this trouble," he said.
I looked him dead in the eye. "Just doing my job, Mr. Milkbone - just what I was paid to do." I glanced at the box in his hands. "Nice radio you've got there."
He kept his gaze fixed on me. "Yes, it's something of an oddity. Not much in the way of reception, but it's got a good, strong signal. By the way, no sudden movements with you hands, Mr. Spaniel. I know you are armed. Now this switch..." he pressed and released a button on the front of the radio. The sharp click-click it made seemed to echo off the walls of the room in the momentary silence. Two voltage meters and a few lights glowed to life on the top of the box, and a soft humming became audible. "This turns the unit on and it begins transmitting. A special receiver immediately detects the signal and makes an irreversible change to an electrical circuit. If the transmission is interrupted for any reason, the special receiver causes an event to occur. I trust you know what event I'm speaking of."
"Milkbone," I said, "look, no good can come of this. If you..."
He cut me off. "Mr. Spaniel, I'll thank you to wait until I have finished speaking. Now then, the transmitter uses multiple frequencies to ensure a clear signal, and these meters indicate the strength of that signal. If both drop to zero, the connection has been broken. The range of the device is not very great - perhaps a thousand feet or so. It is powered by dry cells that hold approximately three hours worth of charge. Of course, I can turn it off at any time by using the power button." He placed his finger on the button and pressed it down; it clicked once. "Now, I'm going to leave this place. Any attempt to molest me or impede my progress might cause my finger to slip off of this button, and I think we can both agree that that would be very bad."
Bad was right. The cops might show up here guns blazing at any minute. If they pegged the big dog it was curtains for everybody in the building, and probably anybody who happened to be in the neighborhood. I couldn't make a move on him as long as he held that button down. But despite his words, Milkbone wasn't moving. He just watched me expectantly, as if waiting for me to make sense of what he'd said, as if I was too dumb to figure it out right away.
I'd been in too many bad scrapes in too short a time because of this dog, and from what I'd learned about him, I knew he was no good. But now that I was finally standing in the same room with him, I realized I genuinely didn't like him. I bared my teeth. "What do you want, Milkbone?" I growled.
"You are going to assist me, Mr. Spaniel. That is what I originally paid you to do, and so far you've given me a very poor return on my money. You are going to make that up to me now. You are going to escort me out of this building."
My mind raced over the possibilities, but I just couldn't see how any of them would go my way if I did as he said. Milkbone had worked awfully hard to save his own neck, and his own self-interest was the only thing I had over him. I'd told the captain he might be willing to blow himself up. In my life I'd never wanted to be wrong as much as I did right now. This wasn't how I wanted the game to end, but if this was the hand I was dealt, I'd just have to play it. I wasn't out of cards yet, though.
"And take a few slugs for you?" I sneered at him. "Maybe gun down a few cops? Forget it, Milkbone. I'm not going anywhere. As for your money - if you and your clowns hadn't made a lot of amateur mistakes, you'd have seen plenty of return on it. You may have connections in your world, but my world has the connections you need. Even now, I could get you out of this scrape, if the price was right. But if you want to be a damn fool and blow us both to kingdom come, go ahead. I'm through playing your patsy." I turned around and walked out of the storage room.
"Where do you think you're going?!" thundered Milkbone. He followed me into the larger room. I walked over to the door that led to the upstairs, shut it and twisted the lock. When I turned around, he still had his finger on the button, and I had my gun drawn. When he saw the luger in my paw, his eyes went as wide as saucers. "You really are insane" he said.
"Maybe," I replied, "or maybe not. Whaddya say, Milkbone? Time's running out. Do we have a deal?"
He squinted at me, but I could see the uncertainty in his eyes. "Do you really expect me to believe that you can somehow help me even at this point? Or that you would agree to do so?"
I held his gaze. "Believe it or don't. It's the only offer you're gonna get. It'll cost you plenty, even for a guy like you, but deal with me and I guarantee you that you'll walk out of here. That's more than you'll do if you let up on that button."
He hesitated for only a moment. "Name your price," he said.
I cracked a grin. "Ha! Not so fast. You can just write a check for your ticket out of this one. I'll decide the amount after we're clear of this, and that's part of the deal. Take it or leave it."
Hanover's desperation had finally caught up with him. Maybe I had fibbed a little to the captain, or maybe I just hadn't connected the final dot yet. Either way, it was obvious to me now. Milkbone wanted to live. That's what this had all been about. And now, I was the last straw he had to grasp at, and grasp he did.
"I'll take it," he growled. "Now, how do we proceed?"
"First," I said, "you give up that gizmo. That's your down payment."
Milkbone released his finger from the button. It was all I could do to keep from flinching when I heard that click, but just as quickly he had pressed the button again. I saw the dials waver and the lights dim a bit from the momentary power interruption, but then they went back up to full. Hanover put the radio on the floor and stepped back. I kept my gun trained on him, moved over and picked up the radio. I circled around him, gun level, until I could back into the storage room. I placed the radio just inside the door out of harm's way, then stepped out into the big room and pulled the door shut. Milkbone looked at me expectantly.
"What now?" he said.
"Now we wait," I replied.
"Wait?! But the police will be here any minute!"
"That's who we're waiting for." As if on cue, a pounding came at the door I had locked.
He glowered at me, panic and anger competing for control of his face. "You said you'd get me out of here!" he exploded.
"I said you'd walk out of here," I answered, "and you will - in the comfortable embrace of the long arm of the law. Unless you're stupid enough to try and charge a man with a loaded gun pointed at your gut."
The pounding at the door became a loud thumping as the men on the other side tried to force it open.
Milkbone looked at the door in terror, then back at me. "We had a deal!" He was practically screeching.
"The deal was that I'd decide the price. Let's see - you've had a hand in two murders, one particularly brutal, kidnapping, conspiracy - I'd say you've run up quite a tab. My price is that you pay your debt to society. The courts'll determine how you can settle that note, but I don't think they'll take a check either."
The door frame began to splinter under the repeated pounding. Hanover gave it one last look, turned back to look at my gun, then up into my eyes. Then he turned and fled into the coffin room. I fired a shot at his legs, but in my haste it went a bit wide. Then the door finally gave way. Two uniformed cops burst into the room, glanced around wildly then trained their guns on me.
"Drop the gun - hands in the air!" one of them yelled.
Arthur Sinclair emerged directly behind them. He looked over at me, then scanned the room. "Lower your weapons!" he said to the two patrolmen. "Spaniel, where is he?" The two cops let their revolvers drop, and I made a break for the coffin room.
"He went out the back way, Art," I called over my shoulder, "the bomb trigger's in the storeroom."
I was running between the rows of coffins. I heard Sinclair call out "Go with him" to the two cops. Up ahead, the door to the outside was open. I ran straight out, up the ramp and into another pair of cops who were coming around from the front of the building.
"Milkbone!" I yelled. "Did you see him come by here?" The two cops from inside came up behind us.
"No,' said one of the officers, "We just got here - you're the only one we saw come out."
Suddenly, there was the roar of an engine and a hearse careened around the corner from the back side of the building. Everyone dove for cover as it roared towards us. One of the cops didn't make it out of the way in time, and I saw him bounce off the hood of the vehicle then go down. The rest of us leapt up and began firing at the fleeing vehicle. The bullets shot out the back window and scored the rear door, but the hearse kept moving, lurching over the edge of the driveway and down across the front lawn of the funeral home, making a beeline for the road. While the cops went over to their fallen comrade, I took off after it on foot. It looked like there was no way I would catch it, but luck threw me a bone. The hearse found its way blocked by limousines that were parked at the edge of the street, and as it turned to avoid them, it skidded sideways on the turf of the funeral home's lawn. I watched as the back end of the long vehicle fishtailed around and slammed hard into the side of one of the parked limos.
I ran even faster as Milkbone climbed out of the hearse, shook his head and looked around. He caught sight of me and turned tail, leaping over the hood of the limo. I glanced across the street - I had been so focused on my pursuit of the big dog that I hadn't even noticed the car parked across the street. It was mine! Sonya was in the driver's seat, but her head was turned away, looking at Marlene in the back. I had just about reached the curb. Milkbone yanked the door of my car open and grabbed the back of Sonya's dress. He pulled her out from behind the wheel like a rag doll, dumping her on the ground. He leapt into the driver's seat, and as Sonya jumped up he was pulling the door shut. With a squeal of tires, he pulled away from the curb, and Sonya had to jump back to avoid being run over. I reached the spot seconds too late.
I looked back across the street. Three limo drivers stood around the wrecked limo and the hearse, assessing the damage. The limo behind the damaged one was empty - its driver must have been one of the ones looking. I grabbed Sonya by the elbow and gestured towards the empty car. We ran over to it and pulled the passenger side door open. I dove in and slid behind the wheel. The driver had noticed us, and was coming over to the car. I locked the door on my side and heard Sonya pull the passenger door shut. The keys were in the ignition; I started the car, twisted the wheel, and hit the gas, keeping my eyes on Milkbone's fleeing taillights. Another car suddenly lurched into the street, its headlights off. I blared my horn and just avoided hitting it as I sped past. I glanced in my rear view mirror. The other car was pulling into traffic, still without any lights, and the police were finally starting to get a couple of cars down the drive from the funeral home. It looked like the cops were too far back to make up the distance; Milkbone was giving it all he had, and it was all I could do to keep up with him.
We were coming around a large curve when Milkbone took a sudden left. I turned hard and followed him, the limo fishtailing as I made the turn. We barreled down the narrow road, his taillights weaving in and out of visibility. I caught sight of my car up ahead taking another sharp corner onto a different back road. I glanced in my rearview mirror. No lights, no sign of the police. As I took the turn, struggling to keep control of the long vehicle, I realized that we'd lost them - it was just Milkbone and me.
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