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MURDER AT BRIDGE

A Mystery Novel

by

ANNE AUSTIN

Author of "Murder Backstairs"







Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York
Set up and electrotyped. Published February, 1931. Reprinted March,
April, 1931; February, 1932.
Printed in the United States of America




For ARLINE AND F. HUGH HERBERT




[Illustration: Ground-floor plan of Nita Selim's house in Primrose
Meadows, showing the bedroom in which the murder was committed.]




CHAPTER ONE


Bonnie Dundee stretched out a long and rather fine pair of legs,
regarding the pattern of his dark-blue socks with distinct satisfaction;
then he rested his black head against the rich upholstery of an armchair
not at all intended for his use.

His cheerful blue eyes turned at last - but not too long a last - to the
small, upright figure seated at a typewriter desk in the corner of the
office.

"Good morning, Penny," he called out lazily, and good-humoredly waited
for the storm to break.

"Miss Crain - to _you_!" The flying fingers did not stop an instant, but
Dundee noticed with glee that the slim back stiffened even more rigidly
and that there was a decided toss of the brown bobbed head.

"But Penny is so much more like you," Dundee protested, unruffled. "And
why should I be forced always to think of you as a long-legged bird,
when even our mutual boss, District Attorney William S. Sanderson, has
the privilege of calling you what you are - a bright and shining new
penny?"

"I've known Bill Sanderson since I was born," the unseen lips informed
him truculently, even as the unseen fingers continued their fiercely
staccato typing.

"Ah! That explains a lot!" Dundee conceded handsomely. "I just wondered,
amidst all this bonhommie of 'Bill' and 'Penny,' why I - "

"I only call Mr. Sanderson 'Bill' when I forget!" the small creature
defended herself sharply. "Goodness knows I _try_ to be an efficient
private secretary! And I could be a lot more efficient if lazy strangers
didn't plump themselves down in our best visitors' chair, and try to
flirt with me. I don't flirt! Do you hear? - _I don't flirt with
anybody!_"

"Flirt with you, you funny little Penny?" Dundee's voice was a little
sad, the voice of a man who finds himself grievously misunderstood. "I
only want you to like me, if you can, and be a little nice to me, for
after all I - "

"Oh, I know!" Penny Crain jerked the finished letter from her typewriter
and spun about on her narrow-backed swivel chair to face him. "I know
you are 'Mr. James F. Dundee, Special Investigator attached to the
office of the District Attorney,' and that you have a right to drive me
crazy if you want to."

"_Crazy?_" Dundee was genuinely amazed, contrite. "I beg your pardon
most humbly, Miss Crain. I'll go back to my cell - "

"Your office is almost as big and nice as this one," Penny retorted, but
her sharp, bright brown eyes - really almost the color of a new
penny - softened until they took on a velvety depth.

Dundee did not fail to notice the softening, nor did the little
heart-shaped face, with its low widow's-peak, its straight, short nose,
and its pointed little chin, made almost childish by the deep cleft
which cut through its obvious effort to look mature and determined, fail
to please him any more acutely than on the other days of the one short
week he had been privileged at intervals to gaze upon it.

"But the files, and - other things - are in this office," he told her, his
blue eyes twinkling happily once more.

"Don't you _dare_ touch my files again!" Penny cried, springing to her
feet and running toward the wall which was completely concealed by
drawers, cabinets and shelves, filled with the records of which she was
the proud custodian. "That's why I said just now that you were driving
me crazy. Thursday you took a whole folder of correspondence out of the
letter files and put it back under the wrong initial. I had to hunt for
it for two hours, with Bill - I mean, Mr. Sanderson - gnawing his nails
with impatience. He thought I had filed it wrong, and you might have
made me lose my job."

Unconsciously her slightly husky contralto voice had sunk lower and
trembled audibly.

"I'm awfully sorry. I shan't touch your files again, Miss Crain."

"Oh - go on and call me Penny," she conceded impatiently. "What do you
want now?... And you can get anything you need out of the files if
you'll just put the folder in the bottom drawer of my desk, so that I
can file it myself - correctly!"

"Thank you, Penny," Bonnie Dundee said gravely. "I'd like awfully to
have the complete transcript of 'The State versus Maginty.' Mr.
Sanderson is determined to get a conviction where our former district
attorney most ingloriously failed. The new trial comes up in two weeks,
and he wants me to try to uncover a missing link of evidence."

"I know," she nodded, and stretched her short, slender body to pull down
the two heavy volumes he required.

Without a by-your-leave, Special Investigator Dundee resumed his
comfortable seat, and laid the first of the volumes open upon his knees.
But he did not seem to take a great deal of interest in the impanelling
of jurors in the case of one Rufus Maginty, who had won the temporary
triumph of a "hung jury" under the handling of the state's case by
District Attorney Sherwood, deposed in November's election.

Rather, his eyes followed the small, brisk figure of Miss Penelope
Crain, as it moved about the room, and his ears listened to the somehow
charming though emphatic tapping of her French heels.... French heels!
Hadn't she been wearing sensible, Cuban-heeled Oxfords all other days of
this first week of his "attachment" to the district attorney's
office?... Cunning little thing, for all her thorniness and her
sharpness with him, which he now saw that he had deserved.... Pretty,
too.... Damned pretty!... What color was that dress of hers?... Ummm,
let's see ... Chartreuse, didn't they call it? Chartreuse with big brown
dots in it. Bet it was sleeveless under that short little jacket of
golden-brown chiffon velvet.... By Jove - and Dundee lapsed into one of
the Englishisms he had picked up during his six months' work in England
as a tyro in the records department of Scotland Yard, before he had come
to Hamilton to make a humble beginning as a cub detective on the
Homicide Squad - yes, by Jove, she was all dressed up, for some reason or
other.

"Of course! Because it's Saturday and you have the afternoon off!"
Dundee finished his reverie aloud, to the astonishment of the small
person trying to reach a file drawer just a little too high for her. "I
mean," he hastened to explain, "that I've just noticed how beautiful
your costume is, and found a reason for it."

There was sudden color in the creamy face. The French heels tapped an
angry progress across the big office, and Penny sat down abruptly in her
swivel chair, reached across the immaculate desk, snatched up a morning
paper and tossed it, without a glance, in the general direction of her
tormentor.

"Page three, column two, first item," she informed him ungraciously, and
then began to search with a funny sort of desperation for more work to
consume her extraordinary energy.

Bonnie Dundee grinned indulgently as he opened _The Hamilton Morning
News_ and turned to the specified page and column.

"Ah! My old friend, the 'society editress,' in her very best style," he
commented as he began to read aloud:

"'Mrs. Juanita Selim, new and charming member, is entertaining the
Forsyte Alumnae Bridge Club this afternoon, luncheon to be served at the
exclusive new Breakaway Inn on Sheridan Road - '"

"I've read it - and I'm busy, so shut up!" Penny commanded, as she
gathered up pencils to sharpen.

Quite meekly, Bonnie Dundee subsided into silent perusal of an item he
was sure could have no possible interest for himself, in either a
personal or professional capacity, unless Penny's name was in it
somewhere:

" - after which the jolly party of young matrons and maids will adjourn
to Mrs. Selim's delightful home in the Primrose Meadows Addition." He
chuckled, and dared to interrupt the high importance of pointing-up
pencils. "I say, that's funny, isn't it?... 'Primrose Meadows
Addition'!"

"I don't think it's funny," Penny retorted coldly. "It so happens that
my mother named it, that my father went into bankruptcy trying to make a
go of it, and that 'Mrs. Selim's delightful home' was built to be our
home, and in which we were fortunate enough to live only two months
before the crash came."

"Oh!" Dundee groaned. "Penny, Penny! I'm dreadfully sorry."

"Shut up!" she ordered, but her voice was huskier than ever with tears.

Dundee's now thoroughly interested eyes raced down the absurdly written
paragraphs:

"Although not an alumna of that famous and select school for girls,
Forsyte-on-the-Hudson, graduation from which places any Hamilton girl in
the very inner circle of Hamilton society, Mrs. Selim has been closely
identified with the school, having for the past two years directed and
staged Forsyte's annual play which ushers in the Easter vacation.

"Indeed it was Mrs. Selim's remarkable success with this year's play
which caused Mrs. Peter Dunlap, long interested in a Little Theater for
Hamilton, to induce the beautiful and charming young directress to come
to Hamilton with her. Plans for the Little Theater are growing apace,
and it is safe to conjecture that not all the conversation flying thick
and fast about 'Nita's' bridge tables this afternoon will be concerned
with contract 'conventions,' scores, and finesses which failed.

"Lovely 'Nita' was elected to membership a fortnight ago, when a vacancy
occurred, due to the resignation of Miss Alice Humphrey, who has gone
abroad for a year's study in the Sorbonne. The two-table club now
includes: Mesdames Hugo Marshall, Tracey A. Miles, Peter Dunlap, John C.
Drake, Juanita Selim, and Misses Polly Beale, Janet Raymond, and
Penelope Crain."

Dundee lowered the paper and stared at the profile of District Attorney
Sanderson's private secretary. So she was a "society girl," a "Forsyte"
girl! Was that the reason, perhaps, why she had been so thorny with him,
a mere "dick"? Well, he wasn't just a dick any longer. He was a Special
Investigator ... A society girl, playing at work....

But there was more, and he read on: "As is well known, the 'girls' have
their 'hen-fight' bridge-luncheon every Saturday afternoon from the
first of October to the first of June, and a bridge-dinner, in which
mere men are graciously included, every other Wednesday evening during
the season. Mr. and Mrs. Tracey A. Miles are scheduled as next
Wednesday's host and hostess."

"I take off my hat to your 'society editress'," Dundee commented with
false cheerfulness, when he had laid the paper back upon Penny's desk.
"She makes half a column of this one item in what must be a meager
Saturday bunch of 'Society Notes,' then writes it all over again, in the
past tense, for an equally meager Monday column.... Like bridge, Miss
Crain?"

Penny snatched up the paper and crushed it into her wastebasket. "I do!
And I like my old friends, even if I am not able, financially, to keep
up with them.... If that's why you've suddenly decided to stop
being - comrades - "

"Please forgive me again, Penny," he begged gently.

"I was born into that crowd, and I still belong to it, because all of
them are my real friends, but get this into your thick Scotch-Irish
head, Mr. Dundee - I'm working because I have to, and - and because I love
it, too, and because I want to earn enough before I'm many years older
to give Mother some of the things she's missing so dreadfully
since - since my father failed and - and ran away."

"Ran away?" Dundee echoed incredulously. How could any man desert a
daughter like this!

"Yes! Ran away!" she repeated fiercely. "I might as well tell you
myself. Plenty of others will be willing to, as soon as they know you
are - my friend.... As I told you, my father" - her voice broke - "my
father went bankrupt, but before the courts knew it he had sent some
securities to a - to a _woman_ in New York, and when he - left us, he went
to her, because he left Mother a note saying so. His defrauded creditors
here have tried to - to catch him, but they haven't - yet - "

Very gently Bonnie Dundee took the small hand that was distractedly
rumpling the brown waves which swept back from the widow's-peak. It lay
fluttering in his bigger palm for a moment, then snatched itself away.

"I won't have you feeling sorry for me!" she cried angrily.

"Who owns your - the Primrose Meadows house now? - Mrs. Selim?" he asked.

"The 'lovely Nita'?" Her voice was scornful. "No. She rents it from
Judge Hugo Marshall - or is supposed to pay him rent," she added with a
trace of malice. "Hugo is an old darling, but he is fearfully weak where
pretty women are concerned. Nita Selim had known Hugo in New
York - somehow - and as soon as Lois - Mrs. Dunlap, I mean - had got Nita
off the train, the stranger in our midst hied herself to Hugo's office
and he's been tagging after her ever since.... Though most of the men in
our crowd are as bad as or worse than poor old Hugo. How Karen keeps on
looking so blissfully happy - "

"Karen?" Dundee interrupted.

"Mrs. Hugo Marshall," she explained impatiently. "Karen Plummer made her
debut a year ago this last winter - a darling of a girl. Judge
Marshall - retired judge, you know - had been proposing to the prettiest
girl in each season's crop of debs for the last twenty years, and Hugo
must have been the most nonplussed 'perennial bachelor' who ever led a
grand march when Karen snapped him up.... Loved him - actually! And it
seems to have worked out marvelously.... A baby boy three months old,"
she concluded in her laconic style. Then, ashamed; "I don't know why I'm
gossiping like this!"

"Because you can't find another blessed scrap of work to do, you little
efficiency fiend," Dundee laughed, "Come on! Gossip some more. My
Maginty case will wait till afternoon, to be mulled over while you're
losing your hard-earned salary at bridge with rich women."

"We don't play for high stakes," she corrected him. "Just a twentieth of
a cent a point, though contract can run into money even at that. The
winnings all go to the Forsyte Scholarship Fund. On Wednesday evenings
the crowd plays for higher stakes - a tenth - and winners keepers.
Therefore I can't afford to go, unless I sink so low as to let my escort
pay my losses - which I sometimes do," she confessed, her brown head low
for a moment.

"Is this Mrs. Peter Dunlap a deep-bosomed club woman, who starts
Movements?" he asked, more to bring her out of her depression than
anything else. "Bigger and Better Babies Movements, and Homes for Fallen
Girls, and Little Theater Movements?"

The brown head flung itself up sharply, and the brown eyes hardened into
bright pennies again. "Lois Dunlap is the sweetest, finest, most
_comfortable_ woman in Hamilton, and I adore her - as does everyone else,
Peter Dunlap hardly more than the rest of us. She _is_ interested in a
Little Theater for Hamilton, but she won't manage it. That's why she got
hold of Nita Selim. Lois will simply put up barrels of money, without
missing them, and give a grand job to a little Broadway gold-digger.
Funny thing is, she really delights in Nita. Thinks she's sweet and has
never had a real chance."

"And what do you think?" Dundee asked softly.

"Oh - I suppose I'm a cat, but I can see through her so clearly. Not that
she's bad; she's simply an opportunist. She's awfully sweet and
deferential and 'frank' with women, but with men - well, she simply tucks
her head so that her shoulder-length black curls fall forward
enchantingly, gives them one wistful smile out of her big eyes that are
like black pansies and - the clink of slave chains!... Now go on and
think I'm catty, which I suppose I am!"

Bonnie Dundee grinned at her reassuringly. Not for him to explain that
practically all women and many men found themselves "gossiping" when he
led them on adroitly, for reasons of his own. Which of course helped
make him the excellent detective he was.

"So all the men in your crowd have fallen for Nita Selim, have they?"

"Practically all, in varying degrees, except Peter Dunlap, who has never
looked at another woman since he was lucky enough to get Lois, and Clive
Hammond, who's engaged to Polly Beale," Penny answered reluctantly, her
color high.

"Including _your_ young man?"

"I haven't a 'young man,' in the sense of being engaged," Penny
retorted, then added honestly: "I _have_ been letting Ralph
Hammond - that's Clive's brother, you know - take me about a good
deal.... Ralph and Clive have plenty of money," she defended herself
hastily. "They are architects, Clive being the head of the firm and
Ralph, who hasn't been out of college so very long, a junior partner.
It was the Hammond firm that drew up the plans for Dad's - I mean, my
father's - Primrose Meadows Addition houses. He had our house built as a
sort of show-place, you know, so that prospective builders out there
could see how artistic a home could be put up for a moderate sum of
money. But he didn't quite finish even that - left half the gabled top
story unfinished, and Nita has been teasing Hugo to finish it up for
her. It looks," she added with a shrug, "as if Nita will get what she
wants - as usual."

"And Ralph has acquired a set of slave chains?" Dundee suggested, with
just the slightest note of sympathy.

"_And how!_" Penny assured him, grimly. "A simile as out-of-date as my
clothes are going to be if I don't get some new ones soon. Not that the
crowd minds what I wear," she added loyally. "I could dress up in a
window drape - "

"And be just as charming as you are in that grand new party dress you
have on now," Dundee finished for her gallantly.

"_New!_" Penny snorted and turned back to her desk in a futile effort to
find something left undone.

Dundee ignored the rebuff. "How many suckers - I mean, how many gentlemen
with moderate incomes actually built in Primrose Meadows?"

"You are inquisitive, aren't you?... None! Our house, or rather the one
Nita Selim is living in now, is the only house on what used to be a big
farm.... Why?"

"I was just wondering," Dundee said softly, almost absent-mindedly,
"why the 'lovely Nita' chose so isolated a place in which to live,
when Hamilton has rather a large number of 'For Rent' signs out just
now.... By the way, know what time it is now?... Twenty to one! Get your
hat on, young woman. I'm going to drive you out to Breakaway Inn."

"You're not! I'm going to take a bus. One runs from the Square right
past the Inn," she told him firmly.

And just as firmly Dundee escorted her out of the almost deserted,
rather dirty old courthouse to where his brand-new sports
roadster - bought "on time" - was awaiting them in the parking space
devoted to the motors of those who officially served Hamilton County.

"I know why you want to drive me out to the Inn," Penny told him
suddenly, as the proud owner maneuvered his car through Saturday noon
traffic. "You want to see Nita Selim. Clank! Clank! I can hear the
padlocks snapping on the slave chains right now."

"Meow!" Dundee retorted, then grinned down at her with as much comradely
affection as if they had been friends for years instead of for a couple
of hours. "Is Nita very small?" he added.

"Little enough to tuck herself under the arm of a man a lot shorter than
you," Penny assured him with curious vehemence. "And if Penelope Crain
is no mean prophet, that's exactly what she'll do within five minutes
after she meets you - just as she is wistfully inviting you to join the
other men for the cocktail party which is scheduled to break up the
bridge game at 5:30. Then, of course, you'll be urged to join us all at
the dinner-dance at the Country Club tonight."

"Will she?" Dundee pretended to be vastly intrigued, which caused the
remainder of the drive to be a rather silent one, due to Penny's
unresponsiveness.

Breakaway Inn was intensely Spanish in architecture and transplanted
shrubbery, but its stucco walls were of a rather more violent raspberry
color than is considered quite esthetic in Spain or Mexico.

"There's Lois Dunlap's car just driving up," Penny cried, her face
softening with the adoration she had freely professed for her friend.
But it clouded again almost instantly. "And Nita Selim. I suppose Nita
was a little ashamed to drive up in her own Ford coupe."

As Dundee helped his new friend to alight his eyes were upon the two
women being assisted by a uniformed chauffeur from Lois Dunlap's
limousine.

In a moment the four were a laughing, exclamatory group.

"Oh, what a tall, grand man you've got yourself, Penny darling!" the
tiny, beautiful creature who could only be Mrs. Selim cried out happily.
"_May_ I meet him?"

"I shouldn't let you," Penny answered frankly, "but I will.... Mrs.
Selim, Mr. Dundee.... And Mrs. Dunlap, Mr. Dundee.... How are you, Lois?
And Peter and the brats?"

"All well, Penny. Petey's off on a week-end fishing trip, and not one of
the brats has measles, scarlet fever or hay fever, thank God," Dundee
heard Mrs. Dunlap say in the comfortable, affectionate voice that went
with her comfortable, pleasant face and body.... Nice woman!

But his eyes were of necessity upon Nita Selim, for that miniature Venus
was, as Penny had predicted, almost tucked under his arm by this time,
her black-pansy eyes wide and wistful, her soft black curls falling
forward as she coaxed:

"You'll come to the cocktail party at my house at 5:30, won't you, Mr.
Dundee?"

"Afraid I can't make it," Dundee smiled down at her. "I'm a busy man,
Mrs. Selim.... You see, I'm Special Investigator attached to the
District Attorney's office," he explained very deliberately.

"O-o-oh!" Nita Selim breathed. Than, step by step, she withdrew, so that
he was no longer submitted to the temptation to put his arm about her
too intriguing little body. And as she retreated, Dundee's keen eyes
noted a hardening of the black-pansy eyes, the sudden throbbing of a
pulse in her very white neck....

"No, don't mind about calling for me," Penny protested a moment later.
"Ralph has already volunteered.... Thanks awfully!"

As Dundee backed out of the driveway his last glance was for a very
small figure in a brown silk summer coat and palest yellow chiffon
frock, slowly rejoining Penelope Crain and Lois Dunlap. What the devil
had frightened her so? For she had been almost terrified.... Of course
she might be one of those silly women who shudder at the sight of a
detective, because they've smuggled in a diamond from Paris or a bottle
of Bacardi from Havana....

But long before his car made the distance back to the city Dundee had
shrugged off the riddle and was concentrating on all the facts he knew
regarding the Maginty case. It was his first real assignment from
Sanderson, and he was determined to make good.

Four hours later he was interrupted in his careful reading of the trial
of Rufus Maginty by the ringing of the telephone bell. That made four
times he had had to snap out the fact that District Attorney Sanderson
was playing some well-earned golf on the Country Club links, Dundee
reflected angrily, as he picked up the receiver.

But the call was for Dundee himself, and the voice on the other end of
the wire was Penny Crain's, although almost unrecognizable.

"Speak more slowly, Penny!" Dundee urged. "What's that again.... Good
Lord! You say that Nita Selim...."

After a minute of listening, and a promise of instant obedience, Dundee
hung up the receiver.

"My God!" he said slowly, blankly. "Of all things - _murder at bridge_!"




CHAPTER TWO


As Special Investigator Dundee drove through the city of Hamilton at a
speed of sixty miles an hour, his way being cleared by traffic policemen
warned by the shrill official siren which served him as a horn, he had
little time to think connectedly of the fact that Nita Selim had been
murdered during a bridge game in her rented home in Primrose Meadows.

Even after the broad sleekness of Sheridan Road stretched before him he


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Online LibraryAnne AustinMurder at Bridge → online text (page 1 of 21)