Four novelettes about life on the home front during World War II including sabotage, refugees, fraud, espionage, treason and murder.
Murder Calls The Tune (1943) – Special Investigator Don Payne barges into a grim game of espionage and intrigue played for high stakes when he tackles the baffling mystery that surrounds the Nevada war town of Desert!
Chapter I – War Center
Chapter II – Into the Trap
Chapter III – Beyond the Law
Chapter IV – Wanted for Murder
Chapter V – Magnesium Burns
Death Before Defense (1944) – A killer may make use of card sharps and mobsters in carrying out his grim murder plans —but what chance has he against an impromptu sleuth who has magic in his bag of tricks?
Chapter I – No Rough Stuff
Chapter II – A Torn Notebook
Chapter III – The Local Bad Man
Chapter IV – Disappearing Redhead
Chapter V – A Shrewd Little Guy
The Countess and the Killer (1943) – The blonde asked Bill French to call up a man and say she’d be late. But it was the Grim Reaper that kept her appointment on time. And it was Bill that looked like he was going to be late—the late Bill French.
A four chapter novelette.
Murder’s Mandate (1945) – Private Sleuth Sam Boyd plays for high stakes in a Western gambling town when he puts his chips on a scheme to prove his own innocence of crime—and solve a grim death riddle!
Chapter I – Blond Menace
Chapter II – In Custody
Chapter III – Deal For Half A Million
Chapter IV – Laura Springs A Surprise
Chapter V – Finger of Suspicion
Willis Todhunter Ballard (1903-1980) born in Cleveland Ohio, was known for his western and detective fiction. Ballard wrote thousands of magazine stories and over fifty TV and film scripts. He was one of the classic writers for Black Mask magazine in the 1930s when the hard-boiled detective was being invented. Ballard was one of Black Mask’s most popular authors, along with Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Earle Stanley Gardiner. His first cousin was author Rex Stout.
IT SHOULD have snowed the day Ted Austin died. It was cold enough. But I had hardly noticed the weather. I had had a busy day.
Austin, who was the head of the Desert bank, was no friend of mine, and his death should not have caused me any grief, but it did. It caused me more trouble than I’ve had in years. In fact, it almost got me hanged.
And that was not the worst. You think there’s nothing worse than hanging? Well, pull up a chair and listen.
It started that morning in the office of the Desert News. Old Pete Regan ran the sheet and he had been giving me a lot of help. In fact, Pete was the only one in town who knew why I was there, and who I worked for.
I had been posing as a mining engineer, helping the little prospectors search for strategic metals, and by so doing, I had made a lot of enemies among the big mining interests. But that was not my real job.
Actually I’m an investigator for the Alien Property Custodian’s office.
Maybe you never heard of it. A lot of people haven’t, but it’s a mighty important part of our war effort.
The enemy didn’t wait to start fighting us until the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor. He was smarter than that. He started a long time ago, worming his way into our business, getting control of various patents and properties.
As soon as the war started, the alien custodian got busy. He seized enemy-owned plants and patents, he transferred these plants to loyal American management, or ran them himself.
But it was not always as easy as it sounds. The boys we are fighting were smart. They concealed their ownership in a hundred ways, through neutral countries, through holding companies and by using agents who had been in this country for a long time.
The last was where I came in. I had been sent to Desert, Nevada, to investigate the Products Consolidated Metal and Mining Company.
It was a big outfit, not as big as Basic, but big enough so that it was important for us to be certain about the loyalty of the management And I hadn’t been in town twenty-four hours before I ran into trouble.
THE place was a typical war center. Five years ago it had been a sleepy desert railroad town, dragging in a few thousand tourists a year because of the legal gambling. Now there were better than a hundred thousand workers, living in shacks, trailers, auto courts, barracks and even tents.
The Main Street saloons and gambling clubs never closed, and money flowed across their scarred counters in rivers. Not even at the turn of the century when this was the biggest gold producing region in the world had there been anything like this.
And the wolves who live on easy money had moved in. They always do. The first man I had met coming into town was Frank Curtis. Curtis was big time. He had run gambling boats off the Pacific Coast, a club at Palm Springs, and a joint on Sunset Strip which had gathered in thirty or forty thousand movie dollars a week.
I was surprised to see him, and said so. He was a fat man, so fat that his eyes which were blue and round seemed to be buried in the pink mountains which served as his cheeks.
He slapped me with a pudgy hand.
“Don, my boy,” he said, “Christmas has come. It’s raining twenty-dollar bills and little Frankie is getting his cistern full. You want a job?”
I said that I didn’t, and his expression changed.
“Look, pal. I’m mayor of this burg.” He saw my surprise, but did not smile. “It was a cinch. They’ve got a law in this state that after three months’ residence, you can vote and run for office. So I spent a little dough, and got myself elected, and if you think I’m going to let a private detective operate unless he’s working for me, you can think again.”
“I’m not a detective any more,” I said. “I’m a mining engineer. That’s what I started out to be in the first place, Frankie. The depression sent me into man-hunting because there wasn’t any profit in mining then.”
He thought this over. I could tell from the way he half closed his small eyes that he didn’t know whether I was kidding him or not. He finally decided that I wasn’t, and smiled again.
“In that case, maybe I can do you some good,” he said. “I know all the big shots. Look me up.”
I didn’t look him up. I didn’t want to. He couldn’t have been honest if he had tried, and he never tried. Instead I got in touch with Pete Regan because our office in Los Angeles said he was a safe man.
And then old Pete got sick and his niece, Patricia, tried to run the sheet. The first time I saw her in the Desert News office, the place was dirty and littered and confused as only the office of a small town newspaper can get. She stood in the middle of the litter but she did not look as if she belonged.
Her eyes were dark and shadowed until they looked almost violet, her nose was little and cute and had a tendency to turn up at the end. She was cute, and for me the prettiest girl in the world, and at the moment, she was one of the maddest.
“You’re crazy,” she said. “I’ve only known you a month and you come around, giving orders as if you were my grandfather.”
I didn’t want to be her grandfather, and I wasn’t trying to give orders. I was only trying to tell her that it wasn’t safe for a girl to carry on the fight her uncle had been waging against Frank Curtis and his gang.
“You don’t know much about girls,” she said, “and less about Regans. We’ve been here for forty years and if you think I’m going to run from a two-bit gambler—”
She broke off, and I saw her dark eyes widen.
I heard the door behind me swing open and turned to look. The first man I saw coming in was “Dollar” Hammond. He got the name because he was once rumored to have killed a man in a Tia Juana bar for a silver dollar. The second man was “Blackie” Drew. His hair was as dark as the girl’s and was stuck down close to his small head with a heavy oily coating that made it look like a skull cap.
They were surprised to see me, and I could tell from their expression that they didn’t like me being there.
“Keep out of this,” said Hammond.
Excerpt From: W.T. Ballard. “Murder Calls The Tune.”
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