This one was for keeps. It started the night private eye Ed Rivers went to the rescue of a damsel in distress and almost ended up at the bottom of Tampa Bay. Ed knew who was lurking behind him. His name was Russ Leppert. Russ liked to kill people. Not for any real reason - just because he liked it. Then there was the man who had once been the business of hustling pornographic stag movies. He wanted to get back into the racket again, in a big way.
My name is Ed Rivers. I live in Tampa, Florida, where I work as a private cop. I’m six feet tall, weigh in at about one ninety, and am forty years old. When I look in the mirror I see a heavy, bearish face, dark-tanned and creased, the thick lids giving the brown eyes a lazy look. Women either get a charge from that face or want to run from it. Men fear it or trust it to the hilt. It isn’t a face that ever meets a neutral reaction. I’m not always happy about that, but it’s my face and I have to do the best I can with it.
More than an hour had passed since Jean Putnam’s voice had promised on the phone that she would be there. As I started back to my office I gave a final look down the corridor, and suddenly she was there, framed in the stairwell. She was dressed in a very fetching pirate costume, the purposely ragged bottoms of her scarlet pants reaching to just below the hips. Her legs were bare from there on down to black oilcloth boots. She hadn’t moved, and a new sensation blew cold across the back of my neck.
Her real name was Vicky Hustin, but to the people of Big Hominy she would always be ''that uppity mountain gal, that piece of hill trash who thinks she’s so high and mighty.'' And when her ex-husband was found brutally murdered, they had still another name for her: Man-killer! They also had a name for someone like Wade Calhoun, who dared to believe in Vicky’s innocence. Crazy, that’s what he was. Shell-shocked from the war, probably. Just ignore him till the trial’s over and that no-good gal’s had her comeuppance.
A telephone rang - and Steve Griffin recognized the distant, terrified voice of his wife. ''He’s trying to run me down with a car. He’s trying to smash the life out of me, Steve.'' But who her pursuer was Maureen never lived to tell.What would drive an unknown man to kill Maureen, to smash out her life with an automobile which was the twin of Steve’s own? Steve Griffin could think of nothing that would explain this nightmare.
The dirtiest killer of the year was the man private investigator Ed Rivers had to save from the chair. Wally Tulman, Florida socialite, had been convicted of molesting and murdering a young girl. Tulman’s lovely wife begged Rivers to take his case - to prove him innocent. Rivers wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Then somebody tapped him over the head, just to make sure. Ed Rivers got the message. Somebody didn’t want him on the case. So he waded into it - with both fists flying.
Three people were dead, their heads bashed in, their bodies hacked with a samurai sword. All three victims were Japanese. The murder weapon was traced to Nick Martin, a veteran of Iwo Jima. Nick had spent 15 pain-ridden years in and out of Army hospitals. He tried to drown his memories of the horror, but whisky only put him right back in the middle of that fierce battle. Nick drank a fifth the night of the killing.