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Title: Married for Murder
Author: Emile C. Tepperman
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Language: English
Date first posted:  July 2006
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Married for Murder

by

Emile C. Tepperman

First published in Ten Detective Aces, February 1935



MARTY QUADE leaned forward in the cab and tapped on the pane. "This is it, Moe. Number forty-two. Pull up right here."

The driver nodded, braked before the aristocratic old brownstone house. He said over his shoulder, as Marty got out, "Looks like they got dough, Mr. Quade. How do you always manage to get clients that are filthy with dough?"

It was the kind of house that inspired one with the feeling that its owners had lived in it for generations, and could live in a palace if they were not tied to this place by reasons of sentiment and pleasant association. Set far back from the building line, it had a well-kept lawn which, in this section of high real estate values alone, represented the price of a dozen buildings in a poorer neighborhood. The house reminded Marty of an old bottle of Napoleon brandy that might look musty and cobwebby, but was priceless.

As Marty got out of the cab, he stopped for a moment at the curb, glanced down the street. Moe followed his gaze, peering in the rear vision mirror on the fender.

"There they come, Mr. Quade," he said, as a maroon sedan swung around the corner, and slowed up, crawling down the block toward them. "They stuck like leeches."

Marty nodded. He waved the driver away. "Drive around the corner and park the cab with the flag down—I'll pay the tariff. Then come back, and if the birds from that sedan have come in the house after me, you just ring the bell hard, and beat it back around the corner. Wait for me there and don't pay any attention if you hear shooting in there."

The driver said, "Okay, Mr. Quade. It sounds screwy to me, but I guess you know what you're doing."

Marty didn't bother to answer. As the cab pulled away, he walked up the short path flanked by tall umbrella trees, then up the short flight of stone steps, and rang the bell. He stood sideways to the door, with his hand halfway across the white bosom of his dinner jacket, close to the butt of the automatic in his armpit holster.

He kept his eye on the maroon sedan, which had slowed down to a snail-like pace, was still half a block away.

He waited what seemed a long time, but did not press the bell button again. At last he heard light, faltering steps in-side. The curtain behind the glass panel of the old-fashioned door was pulled aside and some one peered out at him from the murky darkness of the interior.

Then the door opened, and Marty stepped into the dark hallway. He still held his hand close to the automatic, his whole body tense, ready for action. The door closed, shutting out what little light the street lamp had thrown into the house. Some one moved quietly beside him.

Marty caught the faint rustling of a dress, the sweet scent of a woman's hair. A soft body brushed him, a light hand fell on his sleeve.

"Come this way, Mr. Quade," a girl's voice said to him. "Hold on to me. I —I'm afraid to make a light."

Her voice spoke of refinement. Also, it hinted of nameless fear.

Marty put out a hand, touched a soft, cool, bare arm. "All right, Mrs. Boynton," he said. "Take me where we can talk."

He followed her through the dark hall and up a flight of stairs. She walked with the sure step of one who knew the house well. It was Marty's left hand that held on to her; his right was still free.

Down at the middle of the upper hall she turned and led him through a doorway into a room that was just as dark as the rest of the house. She closed the door, and Marty heard a switch click. The room was bathed in soft light from a small lamp on a writing desk in the corner.

Marty's eyes swept the room. He saw that it was large, thickly carpeted, expensively furnished. Heavy drapes covered the two windows, permitting not a single streak of light to shine through.

The girl who had brought him here was tall, slim, with a slender throat and patrician features. She was somewhere between twenty-four and twenty-eight. Despite her slimness she had attractive curves; and Marty knew she was soft and pleasant to the touch.

"Well, Mrs. Boynton," he asked, "what makes you think you need a private detective?" Somehow, in that large room, his voice sounded hollow, almost unreal.

The girl was close to him. Her eyes sought his appealingly. She was breathing rapidly, shortly, almost in sobs. She spoke fast, tremulously, one hand clutching his sleeve.

"Were you followed here, Mr. Quade?" She didn't give him time to answer. "I'm sure they knew you were coming. I'm sure they've tapped my wire. They must have listened in when I called you."

Marty nodded slowly. "I was followed, all right; a maroon sedan. It's outside now." He took her arm, led her to a settee at the other end of the room, and sat down beside her. "Now, suppose you take a deep breath and tell me what's your trouble—and who they are."

She clasped her hands in her lap, looked around fearfully. "If they're outside, they'll come in, I'm sure, I'm sure!" Her voice rose, became slightly shrill. "I shouldn't have called you. I should have paid them. Now they'll come in and kill us—kill us both!"

Marty rose disgustedly. "Listen, lady, you and I will never get along like this. Now, do you talk sense, or do I go home?"

She bit her lower lip, controlled herself. She nodded. "I'm all right now," she said, low-voiced.

"Fine," said Marty. He sat down again. "Now spill it."

"It-it's my husband," she began. "Alan—he's a-a-bigamist!"

"Then he's crazy," Marty told her.

She smiled half-heartedly. Even in her state of fear, she was, womanlike, susceptible to a compliment from a man like Marty.

He grinned. "Now we're getting the situation under control. So tell me when you found out about this, and what the birds in the maroon sedan have to do with it. Also why you're all alone here in the house, shivering in your shoes."

She was a little calmer now. Marty did that to people. His broad shoulders and square face that reflected power and reliability, his imperturbable, easy manner, seemed to inspire men and women with confidence, with a sense of safety.

She unclasped her hands, started to twirl the diamond wedding band around her finger. "Alan told me himself. He—he hasn't been home for three days. He called me on the phone day before yesterday. They made him marry this woman before a justice of peace up in Connecticut. But he can't prove that he was forced. They just stood there as witnesses, but they had their hands in their pockets, with guns; and they would have—killed him if he hadn't gone through with it!"

Marty's eyes had a far-away look. "Sounds like a new kind of racket to me," he said reflectively. He swung on her bruskly. "Go on. What happened?"

She had forgotten some of her fear now, in the telling of the story. She went on eagerly, "They've got Alan somewhere. He went with them willingly, so it can't be called kidnaping; Alan told me that on the phone. Then yesterday, they came to see me, showed me a photostat copy of the marriage certificate. They want a hundred thousand dollars, or they'll have the woman they married him to prosecute him for bigamy!"

Marty whistled. "It took brains to figure that one out. Who's this they?"

"Two men," she told him, "named Cuvillier and Serrano."

Marty started, tensed. "Cuvillier! I might have known he's the only one in town with the brains for such a stunt." He turned to her grimly. "What did you do?"

"I—I was willing to pay it, if they'd give me the original marriage certificate and a release from the woman. But no—they wouldn't do that. Cuvillier told me, with that maddening smile of his, that the hundred thousand was only the first installment—they'd be back for more in a year or so. They're going to hold that over Alan's head for the rest of his life!"

"So you refused to pay up?"

"I did." Her mouth set in a stubborn little line. "I won't have Alan bled—and—bled forever!"

Marty looked at her admiringly. "So what did my pal, Culliver, do?"

"He-he only laughed. He said he was letting me off easy. If I don't pay by tonight, they'll kill me—and Alan. And the woman will inherit all of Alan's estate. They'll get all his money at once?"

Marty's eyes were bleak. "He'd do just that, too. Cuvillier's got away with murder more than once in this town."

The girl stirred. Impulsively, she put a hand on his knee. "That's why I called you, Mr. Quade. I can't go to the police. Alan is vice-chairman of the League of Decency. He could never prove he was forced to marry the woman. Can you imagine the scandal?"

"Yeah," said Marty. "I can imagine." He rose, carefully brushed off the lapel of his coat, upon which he had detected a slight speck. "Where were you supposed to get the hundred thousand? Could you put your hands on it?"

She nodded. "I could sell some securities. The property and securities are all registered in our joint names." She got up, clutched his coat at the shoulder. "Please, please, Mr. Quade, do something. They told me if I called in any one they wouldn't wait. They'd start killing."

Marty growled, "What the hell can I do? Cuvillier has you tied up in a knot."

Her eyes were large, trusting. "You can do something. Everybody talks about you. They say you never fail in any case you take."

"Yeah," said Marty. "But I haven't taken this yet. I've had it in for Cuvillier for a long time, but this doesn't look like a spot. He's been too clever. Of course, if he should go in for murder—" his eyes regarded her sombrely—"but that wouldn't do you any good. You'd be past enjoying it."

"Help me," she pleaded. "Help me. I—I'm so—alone. I'll pay you—whatever your bill is."

Marty shook his head. "I can't see it, Mrs. Boynton. You better do business with Cuvillier—and hope he slips some other time. It's—"

He stopped at the sound of stealthy movement from the hall door. He whirled, his hand streaking for the automatic; but he didn't touch it. For the door had been silently swung open, and out of the darkness of the hall a shadowy shape loomed, a hand with a revolver was thrust into the room. And the revolver was pointing at him.

"Don't do it, Quade," said a voice. The voice sounded a little worried. "Maybe we can talk this over."

Marty grinned, but kept his hand close to the butt of the automatic. "Okay, Cuvillier. I won't hurt you. Come on in."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mrs. Boynton, eyes distended and mouth open in terror; she was clutching his sleeve again, and would have made it a little difficult for him to draw and fire if he'd had to.

She said hoarsely, "He'll kill us both now!"

"Don't worry, lady," Marty reassured her. "Mr. Cuvillier won't do any shooting right this minute. If I thought he would, I'd have pulled my gun anyway."

The shadow from the hallway drew into the room, materialized as a large, paunchy man with a wide head and ears that stuck out at right angles. He wore a soft felt hat with a wide brim, which was intended to camouflage the large ears somewhat. There was a sharp cut to the hard chin, and a ruthless look in his eyes, which proclaimed Cuvillier to be a dangerous man. He was holding a revolver.

Behind Cuvillier there entered a small man with a shriveled face and black eyes set deep back under a high forehead. He was skinny and wizened, but the bony hand that held the automatic trained on Marty did not waver by so much as the sixteenth of an inch.

Marty laughed harshly. "Hello, Serrano. I see you got a new job now. You're a sap. Don't you know it's poison to be Cuvillier's bodyguard? He'll leave you holding the bag, the way he did the others."

Serrano scowled. His nose wrinkled into ugly shape from the grimace as he said to Cuvillier's back, "Lemme give it to him, boss! What's he buttin' in for anyway? It's his own funeral!"

Cuvillier jerked his shoulder impatiently, barked, "Lay off, Serrano. I'll do all the talking." He kept his eyes on Marty. "Look, Quade—I don't want any fuss with you. I know you can pull that gun of yours awful fast. You'd maybe get me, too, even with us having the drop on you. But you'd be dead as a herring, and you couldn't make any more dough."

Marty reached over with his left hand and gently disengaged the girl's clutch from his sleeve. He felt better now. His fingers, splayed like talons, hovered over the butt of the automatic, which was already partly showing under his coat.

"So don't take this here dame's case," said Cuvillier. "You can get out from under. She's got to pay. There's no out for her or for Boynton. I got them sewed up tight. And believe me, when I say tight, I mean tight!"

The girl said to Marty almost under her breath, "No, no. I won't pay—unless they give me the marriage certificate and a release."

Marty sighed. "To be frank with you, Cuvillier," he told the big man, "I wasn't going to take the case. But now—"

He stopped as the doorbell downstairs rang loud and long. Serrano jerked around at the clatter of the bell. Cuvillier ordered, "Go see who that is. Chase 'em away. We're busy."

Serrano backed out of the door. "It might be Boynton an' Luella, from the car," he said. "Maybe Luella thinks we're givin' her the cross."

"If it's them, bring them up. We'll have Boynton tell Quade with his own tongue that he don't want any dicks mixing in here!"

When Serrano was gone, Marty grinned and said, "That's not your pals from the car, Cuvillier. It's just a little alarm bell of my own that I arranged for, in case you followed me in the house—only it came a little late." He lowered his hand slowly from the region of the shoulder clip. "You won't do any shooting now, Cuvillier. You were seen to come in by the man who rang that bell. And he'd make a swell witness to pin a murder rap on you."

Cuvillier breathed a sigh of relief, lowered his revolver. "I'd rather not trade shots with you, anyway. Wait'll Boynton comes up an' tells this dame here to pay over."

Marty cast a glance at the stubborn set of the girl's mouth. She was standing tensely, her eyes lancing hate at Cuvillier.

Marty said to her, "What about it, Mrs. Boynton. You willing to pay, or should I take the case? I think that you can beat this frame of Cuvillier's. It's blackmail, and he can go up the river for ten years."

"If you prove it," Cuvillier pointed out. "I ain't said a word about blackmail. Why, it was her own husband that told her on the phone to turn over that hundred thousand."

"I can't understand it!" the girl ex-claimed. "That Alan should have let them force him to marry the woman—"

Marty patted her shoulder. "Don't worry, Mrs. Boynton. It was a good stunt, but they won't get away with it. No one would believe that a man like your husband would actually go through with a marriage ceremony—commit bigamy with his eyes open!"

They heard Serrano opening the downstairs door, heard loud voices—a woman's shrill one, and a man's troubled, subdued tones. Mrs. Boynton said:

"That's Alan!"

There were footsteps on the stairs. In a moment Serrano appeared in the doorway, and behind him a woman, no longer youthful, with bleached blonde hair and rings under her eyes. She was poorly dressed, and Marty noticed a run in her stocking.

After her came a man in his late thirties, dignified, but with a harried expression on his face. As he entered, Mrs. Boynton cried, "Alan!" in a choked sort of voice, and started to run to him; but stopped, with her hand to her mouth as she saw something in her husband's eyes.

Serrano grinned, waved his gun toward the frowzy woman, said, "Meet Luella Haines, ladies an' gents."

The woman brushed past him, put a hand on her hip, and stood as if flaunting herself before Boynton's wife. "The name," she said, "is Mrs. Luella H. Boynton—like it, or not."

Marty had been studying the husband, disregarding Cuvillier and Serrano. Now he turned to the woman, frowning at her. "You don't have to rub it in, Luella," he said. "In a racket like yours, you're supposed to treat the customers nice and gentle. All you want is the dough, isn't it?"

She sneered at him. "Wise dick, ain't you? That's how much you know about it. We're getting the dough, and I'm rubbing it in. What do you think of that?"

Marty looked at her reflectively for a moment, and then he started to grin slowly. He saw that Boynton was squirming uncomfortably, and that Cuvillier and Serrano were red in the face. Serrano was fingering his gun suggestively as if he wanted to rake it across the woman's face.

Marty goaded him. "What's the matter, Serrano? Is your lady-friend talking too much for everybody's good?" He glanced at Cuvillier. "Your hired help seems to be getting out of control. There's more to this than just a blackmail racket, Cuvillier. Why don't you open up to me. I might be able to straighten out the whole jam."

Cuvillier threw a nasty glance at Luella, then hastened to assure Marty, "There's nothing to it, Quade. This is just the way it lines up. Luella here's been married to Boynton, and there ought to be some kind of settlement. Luella'll take a hundred grand and forget she's his lawful wedded wife—for a while. Of course, there'll be more payments due in the future; a guy as rich as Boynton can't marry two women cheap nowadays."

Marty was laughing silently, in Cuvillier's face. He turned to the bleached-blonde woman. "Come on, Luella, open up. If you have any rights, they'll be taken care of—without Cuvillier's assistance." He pointed a finger at Boynton, who had become very pale. "What about it, Mr. Boynton—won't you take care of Luella?" He demanded it sharply, imperiously, as if the answer had to be yes.

Boynton fidgeted, looked at the woman, then at his wife, then at Cuvillier. "Why—why—I guess so—of course." He squared his shoulders. "See here, Mr. Quade. Why should you mix up in this? My wife acted hastily when she called you in. I'm perfectly willing to deal with these men; it's the only way out."

Cuvillier nodded, grinning broadly. "That's the stuff, Mr. Boynton! Nothing like settling these things friendly like. You're a reasonable man!" He held out his hand, palm outward, to Marty, in a gesture of satisfaction. "You see, Quade? Just as I told you—you're not wanted here. How about fading out and leaving us to settle this between ourselves?"

Marty shook his head slowly, still grinning. "Can't be done, Cuvillier." He took Mrs. Boynton's arm. "The lady, here, won't agree. She's not going to pay out this hundred thousand till she knows the inside of the deal." He pressed the girl's arm. "Am I right, Mrs. Boynton?"

The girl's eyes were wide, fixed on her husband, with mingled concern and fear. She hesitated. "Well, if Alan—"

Marty increased the pressure on her arm, squeezed hard. "Am I right, Mrs. Boynton?"

The pressure of Marty's hard fingers seemed to reassure her, to give her courage. Her little chin went up, she swept the others with a disdainful gaze.

"I won't pay!" she said. "Unless they give up their hold on Alan. I won't! I won't!"

Marty shrugged. "You see, Cuvillier? Your racket is swell, but it's no good with this lady. Too bad—"

Cuvillier's face had assumed an ugly expression. Serrano swung his gun to cover Marty, muttering, "Troublemaker!"

It was Boynton who interrupted Marty. He said hastily, "Never mind. I'll pay the money myself. As long as my wife knows—"

Marty stopped him. "You can't, Mr. Boynton. You need your wife's signature. It's no good." He spoke to the husband, but he had his eyes on the bleached blonde. "How come you let them marry you to this woman? You don't look like the kind of guy that could be intimidated. And a dame like her—"

Mrs. Boynton broke in. She was looking appealingly at her husband. "Oh, Alan! Why did you let them do it? Why? Why? You've put yourself in their hands!"

Boynton veiled his eyes. "I'm sorry, dear. This woman—"

The bleached blonde had been listening to the conversation avidly, seeming to gloat over Mrs. Boynton's misery. Marty was watching her carefully, noting her reactions.

Now he said to her, "See? You're nothing but a tool of Cuvillier's. Boynton hates you."

The woman's attitude seemed to change at Marty's words. Her mouth twisted into a vicious line. Her eyes snapped venom. "He hates me, does he! He calls me this woman! I'll show him about this woman!"

She whirled on Boynton. "You—you—" She seemed to choke up with rage and hate. But her hands moved swiftly. She snatched a small-calibered gun out of her handbag, backed away, and pumped four shots into Boynton.

Marty got to her before either Cuvillier or Serrano, slapped her gun-hand down. Another bullet plowed into the floor. Serrano raised his gun, fired a single shot into the woman's body.

"Damn you!" he screeched. "A hundred grand gone!" He swung his gun toward Marty. "You too, you—"

Marty's right hand, which was free of the woman, streaked to his armpit. At the same time he dropped Luella, and sidestepped. His hand flashed out with the automatic, and flame lanced from it just as Serrano fired. Serrano's aim was thrown off by having to follow Marty's moving body, and he missed. But Marty's slug caught him between the eyes. He was slammed backward into the hallway, his convulsive finger holding down the trigger. His automatic continued to spurt lead, described a wild arc. And in the radius of that arc stood Cuvillier.

Cuvillier dropped like a log, shot through the throat by his own bodyguard.

Marty, breathing hard, looked over the room. It was a shambles. Mrs. Boynton was standing stiff and frozen, shocked by the terrific explosions and the swift death that had come into the room.

Marty gripped her arm, led her to the settee. "Sit down and take it easy. It's all over."

Her eyes seemed to come to life, roved the room, and rested on her husband.

"Alan!" she moaned. "He's dead."

Marty patted her shoulder, went over and knelt by the bleached-blonde woman. Serrano's bullet had caught her over the heart. There was no life in her.

From outside came voices; a police siren.

Marty went swiftly through Cuvillier's pockets. He found what he sought—a long envelope, with two documents in it.

One was old and musty, the other brand new. Marty glanced only a moment at the old one, put it hastily in his pocket. The other he brought over to the settee, handed it to the girl.

She looked up at him with dull eyes. "It's the marriage certificate," he told her.

She shivered. "Alan's dead. What good is it now?"

"Don't you want to protect his name, and yours? You want this to get out?"

Heavy feet sounded on the stairs, commands in an authoritative voice.

She continued to look at him uncomprehendingly. "But-but how—"

"How to cover it up? You just follow my lead. Let me do the talking."

He turned to the door as a couple of uniformed figures burst in. They were the crew of a radio car. Behind them came Moe, Marty's taxi driver.

The uniformed men had their guns out, took one look at the place, and swung on Marty.

Moe shouted, "Hey, wait. That's Mr. Quade. He ain't one of the crooks!"

Marty said, "Thanks, Moe." To the cops he explained, "We had a little shooting scrape. Some people got killed."

"Yeah. So we see. How come?"

Just then another uniformed man, and one in plainclothes came in. Marty greeted the one in plainclothes, who was Detective Sergeant Sayre of homicide. "Hello, Dave. Late, as usual!"

Sayre scowled at the room in general, turned an inquiring glance on Marty. He grinned sourly. "I see you done your good deed for the day, Quade. Cuvillier, huh? I thought that bird was too slick to lay himself open to getting shot by you."

"He was," Marty grinned. "I didn't shoot him. Serrano did. Serrano also shot the woman, and the woman shot Mr. Boynton. I had to kill Serrano to keep him from doing further damage."

"Sounds screwy to me," Sayre growled.

"That's what I said," Moe interrupted eagerly, "when Mr. Quade—"

Marty froze him with a glance. "It's not screwy when you know the facts, Dave. Those three were a gang. They threatened to kill Mr. and Mrs. Boynton. So I was hired to protect them. Only I came just a minute or two late. The shooting had started, and they they found out they were double-crossing each other, so they kept on shooting—at each other."

Sayre glanced at him suspiciously, turned to Mrs. Boynton. "What about it, Mrs. Boynton? Let's hear your story."

Marty raised a hand, looked outraged. "Why, Sergeant Sayre! You wouldn't subject Mrs. Boynton to questioning after she's just gone through such an ordeal!"

Sayre glowered at Marty, but the girl rose from the settee. She said brokenly, "It's all right, Mr. Quade. I—I'll answer the officer's questions." She turned her large eyes on Sayre. "You want to know what happened?"

"That's right, madam."

"Well, you see, these people were a gang. They threatened to kill Mr. Boyn-ton and myself if we did not give them money. So we hired Mr. Quade, but he came too late. They had already started to—"

Sayre turned away from her disgustedly. "Yes, I know—they had already started shooting. The woman shot your husband—" He swung around and glared at Marty. "How did you manage to coach her so quick?"

Marty said sharply, "You're nuts, Dave! This is murder. Are you hinting that I'm not telling you just what happened?"

Sayre said wearily, "Oh, all right. I'll take your stories as they stand. But I hope the bullets in the right bodies belong in the right guns."

"You can depend on it, Dave, they will."

"I guess you're right," Sayre agreed reluctantly. "I've never known you to condone murder."

"You're damn right!" Marty growled. He took Mrs. Boynton's arm, led her out. "We'll be in the next room when the inspector comes," he called back. "There's no need to keep this lady here any longer."

The girl seemed to be holding her own. She said, "In here, Mr. Quade, please," indicating a door off the hall. This was a sitting room.

She seated herself before a writing desk, drew a folding check book out of a pigeon hole. Marty could see that she was exerting supreme control over herself. Perhaps in an hour or two she would yield to shock, perhaps not.

She picked up her pen, said, "About your fee, Mr. Quade?"

Marty shrugged. "I didn't do so much for you, Mrs. Boynton. I couldn't stop—"

She raised her hand. "I think you're doing more for me than you want to tell me. What was that worn-looking paper you took out of Cuvillier's wallet, and put in your pocket?"

Marty started.

She smiled wanly. "I saw you take it." She held out her hand. "You might as well show it to me. I can stand anything now."

Marty was reluctant. "What's the use—"

If you don't show it to me, I'll guess—and it couldn't be worse—than my guess."

Marty looked at her for a long minute; then he nodded. "Okay."

He reached into his pocket, took out the old, crinkled paper, spread it open on the desk. It was coming apart at the folds. He smoothed it out, and they both read it. Then they looked at each other silently.

It was a marriage certificate, dated the fourteenth day of February, 1920. It certified that on that day, one Alan Boynton had taken to wife one Luella Haines.

The girl read it through twice more before she raised her eyes, full of questioning pain. She said very low, "Alan was already married to her. He really became a bigamist when he married me!"

"That's right," Marty agreed. "Luella must have caught up with him, and then told her story to Cuvillier. Cuvillier probably made his play to your husband, hit him up for heavy dough. But your husband couldn't draw that much money without explaining to you, so he figured out the stunt of staging a second marriage to Luella Haines, and then telling you he'd been forced to marry her. See it?"

There was a tear in the corner of each of her eyes. "I see." She swallowed hard. "Poor woman. How she must have hated him for deserting her!"

She threw her head back, dabbed at the tears with a tiny handkerchief, and picked up the pen.

"This check, Mr. Quade," she said, "is going to be good."

As she wrote the check, Marty slowly tore the marriage certificate into small bits.


THE END

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