“The Agony Column, Part III” by Earl Derr Biggers

In the third and final part of this classic crime serial, Earl Derr Biggers concludes the winding mystery of a newspaper column and the curious stranger who haunts it. Biggers is most famous for his recurring fictional sleuth Charlie Chan as well as his popular novel Seven Keys to Baldplate, which was adapted into a Broadway stage play and later into multiple films.

Published on July 22, 1916


The fifth letter from the young man of the Agony Column arrived at the Carlton Hotel, as the reader may recall, on Monday morning, August the third. And it represented to the girl from Texas the climax of the excitement she had experienced in the matter of the murder in Ade1phi Terrace. The news that her pleasant young friend — whom she did not know — had been arrested as a suspect in the case, inevitable as it had seemed for days, came none the less as an unhappy shock. She wondered whether there was anything she could do to help. She even considered going to Scotland Yard and, on the ground that her father was a Congressman from Texas, demanding the immediate release of her strawberry man. Sensibly, however, she decided that Congressmen from Texas meant little in the life of the London police. Besides, she might have difficulty in explaining to that same Congressman how she happened to know all about a crime that was as yet unmentioned in the newspapers.

So she reread the latter portion of the fifth letter, which pictured her hero marched off ingloriously to Scotland Yard and, with a worried little sigh, went below to join her father.

In the course of the morning she made several mysterious inquiries of her parent regarding nice points of international law as it concerned murder, and it is probable that he would have been struck by the odd nature of these questions had he not been unduly excited about another matter.

“I tell you, we’ve got to get home!” he announced gloomily. “The German troops are ready at Aix-la-Chapelle for an assault on Liege. Yes, sir — they’re going to strike through Belgium! Know what that means? England in the war! Labor troubles; suffragette troubles; civil war in Ireland — these things will melt away as quickly as that snow we had last winter in Texas. They’ll go in. It would be national suicide if they didn’t.”

His daughter stared at him. She was unaware that it was the bootblack at the Carlton he was now quoting. She began to think he knew more about foreign affairs than she had given him credit for.

“Yes, sir,” he went on; “we’ve got to travel — fast. This won’t be a healthy neighborhood for noncombatants when the ruction starts. I’m going if I have to buy a liner!”

“Nonsense!” said the girl. “This is the chance of a lifetime. I won’t be cheated out of it by a silly old dad. Why, here we are, face to face with history!”

“American history is good enough for me,” he spread-eagled. “What are you looking at?”

“Provincial to the death!” she said thoughtfully. “You old dear — I love you so! Some of our statesmen over home are going to look pretty foolish now in the face of things they can’t understand. I hope you’re not going to be one of them.”

“Twaddle!” he cried. “I’m going to the steamship offices again today and argue as I never argued for a vote.” His daughter saw that he was determined; and, wise from long experience, she did not try to dissuade him. London that hot Monday was a city on the alert, a city of hearts heavy with dread. The rumors in one special edition of the papers were denied in the next and reaffirmed in the next. Men who could look into the future walked the streets with faces far from happy. Unrest ruled the town. And it found its echo in the heart of the girl from Texas as she thought of her young friend of the Agony Column “in durance vile” behind the frowning wall of Scotland Yard.

That afternoon her father appeared, with the beaming mien of the victor, and announced that for a stupendous sum he had bought the tickets of a man who was to have sailed on the steamship Saronia three days hence.

“The boat train leaves at ten Thursday morning,” he said. “Take your last look at Europe and be ready.” Three days! His daughter listened with sinking heart. Could she in three days’ time learn the end of that strange mystery, know the final fate of the man who had first addressed her so unconventionally in a public print? Why, at the end of three days he might still be in Scotland Yard, a prisoner! She could not leave if that were true — she simply could not. Almost she was on the point of telling her father the story of the whole affair, confident that she could soothe his anger and enlist his aid. She decided to wait until the next morning; and, if no letter came then —

But on Tuesday morning a letter did come and the beginning of it brought pleasant news. The beginning — yes. But the end! This was the letter:

Dear Anxious Lady: Is it too much for me to assume that you have been just that, knowing as you did that I was locked up for the murder of a captain in the Indian Army, with the evidence all against me and hope a very still small voice indeed?

Well, dear lady, be anxious no longer. I have just lived through the most astounding day of all the astounding days that have been my portion since last Thursday. And now, in the dusk, I sit again in my rooms, a free man, and write to you in what peace and quiet I can command after the startling adventure through which I have recently passed.

Suspicion no longer points to me; constables no longer eye me; Scotland Yard is not even slightly interested in me. For the murderer of Captain Fraser-Freer has been caught at last!

Sunday night I spent ingloriously in a cell in Scotland Yard. I could not sleep. I had so much to think of — you, for example, and at intervals how I might escape from the folds of the net that had closed so tightly about me. My friend at the consulate, Watson, called on me late in the evening; and he was very kind.

But there was a note lacking in his voice, and after he was gone the terrible certainty came into my mind — he believed that I was guilty after all.

The night passed, and a goodly portion of today went by — as the poets say — with lagging feet. I thought of London, yellow in the sun. I thought of the Carlton — I suppose there are no more strawberries by this time. And my waiter — that stiff-backed Prussian — is home in Deutschland now, I presume, marching with his regiment. I thought of you.

At three o’clock this afternoon they came for me and I was led back to the room belonging to Inspector Bray. When I entered, however, the inspector was not there — only Colonel Hughes, immaculate and self-possessed, as usual, gazing out the window into the cheerless stone court. He turned when I entered. I suppose I must have had a most woebegone appearance, for a look of regret crossed his face.

“My dear fellow,” he cried, “my most humble apologies! I intended to have you released last night. But, believe me, I have been frightfully busy.”

I said nothing. What could I say? The fact that he had been busy struck me as an extremely silly excuse. But the inference that my escape from the toils of the law was imminent set my heart to thumping.

“I fear you can never forgive me for throwing you over as I did yesterday,” he went on. “I can only say that it was absolutely necessary — as you shall shortly understand.”

I thawed a bit. After all, there was an unmistakable sincerity in his voice and manner.

“We are waiting for Inspector Bray,” continued the colonel. “I take it you wish to see this thing through?”

“To the end,” I answered.

“Naturally. The inspector was called away yesterday immediately after our interview with him. He had business on the Continent, I understand. But fortunately I managed to reach him at Dover and he has come back to London. I wanted him, you see, because I have found the murderer of Captain Fraser-Freer.”

I thrilled to hear that, for from my point of view it was certainly a consummation devoutly to be wished. The colonel did not speak again. In a few minutes the door opened and Bray came in. His clothes looked as though he had slept in them; his little eyes were bloodshot. But in those eyes there was a fire I shall never forget. Hughes bowed.

“Good afternoon, inspector,” he said. “I’m really sorry I had to interrupt you as I did; but I most awfully wanted you to come back. I wanted you to know that you owe me a Homburg hat.” He went closer to the detective. “You know, I have won that wager. I have found the man who murdered Captain Fraser-Freer.”

Curiously enough, Bray said nothing. He sat down at his desk and idly glanced through the pile of mail that lay upon it. Finally he looked up and said in a weary tone:

“You’re very clever, I’m sure, Colonel Hughes.”

“Oh — I wouldn’t say that,” replied Hughes. “Luck was with me — from the first. I am really very glad to have been of service in the matter, for I am convinced that if I had not taken part in the search it would have gone hard with some innocent man.”

Bray’s big, pudgy hands still played idly with the mail on his desk. Hughes went on: “Perhaps, as a clever detective, you will be interested in the series of events which enabled me to win that Homburg hat? You have heard, no doubt, that the man I have caught is Von der Herts — ten years ago the best secret service man in the employ of the Berlin Government, but for the past few years mysteriously missing from our line of vision. We have been wondering about him — at the War Office.” The colonel dropped into a chair, facing Bray. “You know Von der Herts, of course?” he remarked casually. “Of course,” said Bray, still in that dead, tired voice. “He is the head of that crowd in England,” went on Hughes.

“Rather a feather in my cap to get him — but I mustn’t boast. Poor Fraser-Freer would have got him if I hadn’t — only Von der Herta had the luck to get the captain first.”

Bray raised his eyes. “You said you were going to tell me — “ he began. “And so I am,” said Hughes. “Captain Fraser-Freer got into rather a mess in India and failed of promotion. It was suspected that he was discontented, soured on the Service; and the Countess Sophie de Graf was set to beguile him with her charms, to kill his loyalty and win him over to her crowd.

“It was thought she had succeeded — the Wilhelmstrasse thought so — we at the War Office thought so, as long as he stayed in India.

“But when the captain and the woman came on to London we discovered that we had done him a great injustice. He let us know, when the first chance offered, that he was trying to redeem himself, to round up a dangerous band of spies by pretending to be one of them. He said that it was his mission in London to meet Von der Herts, the messages. From that column the man from Rangoon learned that he was to wear a white aster in his buttonhole, a scarab pin in his tie, a Homburg hat on his head, and meet Von der Herts at Ye Old Gambrinus Restaurant, in Regent Street, last Thursday night at ten o’clock. As we know, he made all arrangements to comply with those directions. He made other arrangements as well. Since it was out of the question for him to come to Scotland Yard, by skillful maneuvering he managed to interview an inspector of police at the Hotel Cecil. It was agreed that on Thursday night Von der Herts would be placed under arrest the moment he made himself known to the captain.”

Hughes paused. Bray still idled with his pile of letters, while the colonel regarded him gravely.

“Poor Fraser-Freer!” Hughes went on. “Unfortunately for him, Von der Herts knew almost as soon as did the inspector that a plan was afoot to trap him. There was but one course open to him: He located the captain’s lodgings, went there at seven that night, and killed a loyal and brave Englishman where he stood.”

A tense silence filled the room. I sat on the edge of my chair, wondering just where all this unwinding of the tangle was leading us.

“I had little, indeed, to work on,” went on Hughes. “But I had this advantage: The spy thought the police, and the police alone, were seeking the murderer. He was at no pains to throw me off his track, because he did not suspect that I was on it. For weeks my men had been watching the countess. I had them continue to do so. I figured that sooner or later Von der Herts would get in touch with her. I was right. And when at last I saw with my own eyes the man who must, beyond all question, be Von der Herta, I was astounded, my dear inspector. I was overwhelmed.”

“Yes?” said Bray.

“I set to work then in earnest to connect him with that night in Adelphi Terrace. All the finger marks in the captain’s study were for some reason destroyed, but I found others outside, in the dust on that seldom-used gate which leads from the garden. Without his knowing, I secured from the man I suspected the imprint of his right thumb. A comparison was startling. Next I went down into Fleet Street and luckily managed to get hold of the typewritten copy sent to the Mail bearing those four messages. I noticed that in these the letter a was out of alignment. I maneuvered to get a letter written on a typewriter belonging to my man. The a was out of alignment. Then Archibald Enwright, a renegade and waster well known to us as serving other countries, came to England. My man and he met — at Ye Old Gambrinus, in Regent Street. And finally, on a visit to the lodgings of this man who, I was now certain, was Von der Herts, under the mattress of his bed I found this knife.”

And Colonel Hughes threw down upon the inspector’s desk the knife from India that I had last seen in the study of Captain Fraser-Freer.

“All these points of evidence were in my hands yesterday morning in this room,” Hughes went on. “Still, the answer they gave me was so unbelievable, so astounding, I was not satisfied; I wanted even stronger proof. That is why I directed suspicion to my American friend here. I was waiting. I knew that at last Von der Herts realized the danger he was in. I felt that if opportunity were offered he would attempt to escape from England; and then our proofs of his guilt would be unanswerable, despite his cleverness. True enough, in the afternoon he secured the release of the countess, and together they started for the Continent. I was lucky enough to get him at Dover — and glad to let the lady go on.”

And now, for the first time, the startling truth struck me full in the face as Hughes smiled down at his victim.

“Inspector Bray,” he said, “or Von der Herts, as you choose, I arrest you on two counts: First, as the head of the Wilhelmstrasse spy system in England; second, as the murderer of Captain Fraser-Freer. And, if you will allow me, I wish to compliment you on your efficiency.”

Bray did not reply for a moment. I sat numb in my chair. Finally the inspector looked up. He actually tried to smile.

“You win the hat,” he said, “but you must go to Homburg for it. I will gladly pay all expenses.”

“Thank you,” answered Hughes. “I hope to visit your country before long; but I shall not be occupied with hats. Again I congratulate you. You were a bit careless, but your position justified that. As head of the department at Scotland Yard given over to the hunt for spies, precaution doubtless struck you as unnecessary. How unlucky for poor Fraser-Freer that it was to you he went to arrange for your own arrest! I got that information from a clerk at the Cecil. You were quite right, from your point of view, to kill him. And, as I say, you could afford to be rather reckless. You had arranged that when the news of his murder came to Scotland Yard you yourself would be on hand to conduct the search for the guilty man. A happy situation, was it not?”

“It seemed so at the time,” admitted Bray; and at last I thought I detected a note of bitterness in his voice.

“I’m very sorry — really,” said Hughes. “Today, or tomorrow at the latest, England will enter the war. You know what that means, Von der Herts. The Tower of London — and a firing squad!”

Deliberately he walked away from the inspector, and stood facing the window. Von der Herts was fingering idly that Indian knife which lay on his desk. With a quick, hunted look about the room, he raised his hand; and before I could leap forward to stop him he had plunged the knife into his heart.

Colonel Hughes turned round at my cry, but even at what met his eyes now that Englishman was imperturbable.

“Too bad!” he said. “Really too bad! The man had courage and, beyond all doubt, brains. But — this is most considerate of him. He has saved me such a lot of trouble.”

The colonel effected my release at once; and he and I walked down Whitehall together in the bright sun that seemed so good to me after the bleak walls of the Yard. Again he apologized for turning suspicion my way the previous day; but I assured him I held no grudge for that.

“One or two things I do not understand,” I said. “That letter I brought from Interlaken

“Simple enough,” he replied. “Enwright — who, by the way, is now in the Tower — wanted to communicate with Fraser-Freer, who he supposed was a loyal member of the band. Letters sent by post seemed dangerous. With your kind assistance he informed the captain of his whereabouts and the date of his imminent arrival in London. Fraser-Freer, not wanting you entangled in his plans, eliminated you by denying the existence of this cousin — the truth, of course.”

“Why,” I asked, “did the countess call on me to demand that I alter my testimony?”

“Bray sent her. He had rifled Fraser-Freer’s desk and he held that letter from Enwright. He was most anxious to fix the guilt upon the young lieutenant’s head. You and your testimony as to the hour of the crime stood in the way. He sought to intimidate you with threats — ”

“But — ”

“I know — you are wondering why the countess confessed to me next day. I had the woman in rather a funk. In the meshes of my rapid-fire questioning she became hopelessly involved. This was because she was suddenly terrified; she realized I must have been watching her for weeks, and that perhaps Von der Herta was not so immune from suspicion as he supposed. At the proper moment I suggested that I might have to take her to Inspector Bray. This gave her an idea. She made her fake confession to reach his side; once there, she warned him of his danger and they fled together.”

We walked along a moment in silence. All about us the lurid special editions of the afternoon were flaunting their predictions of the horror to come. The face of the colonel was grave.

“How long had Von der Herts held his position at the Yard’?” I asked.

“For nearly five years,” Hughes answered. “It seems incredible,” I murmured.

“So it does,” he answered; “but it is only the first of many incredible things that this war will reveal. Two months from now we shall all have forgotten it in the face of new revelations far more unbelievable.” He sighed. “If these men about us realized the terrible ordeal that lies ahead! Misgoverned; unprepared — I shudder at the thought of the sacrifices we must make, many of them in vain. But I suppose that somehow, someday, we shall muddle through.”

He bade me good-by in Trafalgar Square, saying that he must at once seek out the father and brother of the late captain, and tell them the news — that their kinsman was really loyal to his country.

“It will come to them as a ray of light in the dark–Lmy news,” he said. “And now, thank you once again.”

We parted and I came back here to my lodgings. The mystery is finally solved, though in such a way it is difficult to believe that it was anything but a nightmare at any time. But solved none the less; and I should be at peace, except for one great black fact that haunts me, will not let me rest. I must tell you, dear lady — And yet I fear it means the end of everything. If only I can make you understand!

I have walked my floor, deep in thought, in puzzlement, in indecision. Now I have made up my mind.. There is no other way — I must tell you the truth.

Despite.the fact that Bray was Von der Herts; despite the fact that he killed himself at the discovery — despite this and that, and everything Bray did not kill Captain Fraser-Freer!,

On last Thursday evening, at a little after seven o’clock, I myself climbed the stairs, entered the captain’s rooms, picked up that knife from his desk, and stabbed him just above the heart!

What provocation I was under, what stern necessity moved me — all this you must wait until tomorrow to know. I shall spend another anxious day preparing my defense, hoping that through some miracle of mercy you may forgive me — understand that there was nothing else I could do.

Do not judge, dear lady, until you know everything — until all my evidence is in your lovely hands.


The first few paragraphs of this the sixth and next to the last letter from the Agony Column man had brought a smile of relief to the face of the girl who read. She was decidedly glad to learn that her friend no longer languished back of those gray walls on Victoria Embankment. With excitement that increased as she went along, she followed Colonel Hughes as — in the letter — he moved nearer and nearer his denouement, until finally his finger pointed to Inspector Bray sitting guilty in his chair. This was an eminently satisfactory solution, and it served the inspector right for locking up her friend. Then, with the suddenness of a bomb from a Zeppelin, came, at the end, her strawberry man’s confession of guilt. He was the murderer, after all! He admitted it! She could scarcely believe her eyes.

Yet there it was, in ink as violet as those eyes, on the note paper that had become so familiar to her during the thrilling week just past. She read it a second time, and yet a third. Her amazement gave way to anger; her cheeks flamed. Still — he had asked her not to judge until all his evidence was in. This was a reasonable request surely, and she could not in fairness refuse to grant it.

So began an anxious day, not only for the girl from Texas but for all London as well. Her father was bursting with new diplomatic secrets recently extracted from his bootblack adviser. Later, in Washington, he was destined to be a marked man because of his grasp of the situation abroad. No one suspected the bootblack, the power behind the throne; but the gentleman from Texas was destined to think of that able diplomat many times, and to wish that he still had him at his feet to advise him.

Man talking to a woman on a ship
“Before this voyage is ended I’ll prove to you that I care.”(Illustrated by Will Grefé / SEPS)

“War by midnight sure!” he proclaimed on the morning of this fateful Tuesday. “I tell you, Marian, we’re lucky to have our tickets on the Saronia. Five thousand dollars wouldn’t buy them from me today! I’ll be a happy man when we go aboard that liner day after tomorrow.”

Day after tomorrow! The girl wondered. At any rate, she would have that last letter then — the letter that was to contain whatever defense her young friend could offer to explain his dastardly act. She waited eagerly for that final epistle.

The day dragged on, bringing at its close England’s entrance into the war; and the Carlton bootblack was a prophet not without honor in a certain Texas heart. And on the following morning there arrived a letter which was torn open by eager, trembling fingers. The letter spoke:

Dear Lady Judge: This is by far the hardest to write of all the letters you have had from me. For twenty-four hours I have been planning it. Last night I walked on the Embankment while the hansoms jogged by and the lights of the tramcars danced on Westminster Bridge just as the fireflies used to in the garden back of our house in Kansas. While I walked I planned. Today, shut up in my rooms, I was also planning. And yet now, when I sit down to write, I am still confused; still at a loss where to begin and what to say, once I have begun.

At the close of my last letter I confessed to you that it was I who murdered Captain Fraser-Freer. That is the truth. Soften the blow as I may, it all comes down to that. The bitter truth!

Not a week ago — last Thursday night at seven — I climbed our dark stairs and plunged a knife into the heart of that defenseless gentleman. If only I could point out to you that he had offended me in some way; if I could prove to you that his death was necessary to me, as it really was to Inspector Bray — then there might be some hope of your ultimate pardon. But, alas! he had been most kind to me — kinder than I have allowed you to guess from my letters. There was no actual need to do away with him. Where shall I look for a defense?

At the moment the only defense I can think of is simply this — the captain knows I killed him!

Even as I write this, I hear his footsteps above me, as I heard them when I sat here composing my first letter to you. He is dressing for dinner. We are to dine together at Romano’s.

And there, my lady, you have finally the answer to the mystery that has — I hope — puzzled you. I killed my friend the captain in my second letter to you, and all the odd developments that followed lived only in my imagination as I sat here beside the green-shaded lamp in my study, plotting how I should write seven letters to you that would, as the novel advertisements say, grip your attention to the very end. Oh, I am guilty — there is no denying that! And, though I do not wish to ape old Adam and imply that I was tempted by a lovely woman, a strict regard for the truth forces me to add that there is also guilt upon your head. How so? Go back to that message you inserted in the Daily Mail: “The grapefruit lady’s great fondness for mystery and romance — ”

You did not know it, of course; but in those words you passed me a challenge I could not resist; for making plots is the business of life — more, the breath of life — to the. I have made many; and perhaps you have followed some of them, on Broadway. Perhaps you have seen a play of mine announced for early production in London. There was mention of it in the program at the Palace. That was the business which kept me in England. The project has been abandoned now and I am free to go back home.

Thus you see that when you granted me the privilege of those seven letters you played into my hands. So, said I, she longs for mystery and romance. Then, by the Lord Harry, she shall have them!

And it was the tramp of Captain Fraser-Freer’s boots above my head that showed me the way. A fine, stalwart, cordial fellow — the captain — who has been very kind to me since I presented my letter of introduction from his cousin, Archibald Enwright. Poor Archie! A meek, correct little soul, who would be horrified beyond expression if he knew that of him I had made a spy and a frequenter of Limehouse!

The dim beginnings of the plot were in my mind when I wrote that first letter, suggesting that all was not regular in the matter of Archie’s note of introduction. Before I wrote my second, I knew that nothing but the death of Fraser-Freer would do me. I recalled that Indian knife I had seen upon his desk, and from that moment he was doomed. At that time I had no idea how I should solve the mystery. But I had read and wondered at those four strange messages in the Mail, and I resolved that they must figure in the scheme of things.

The fourth letter presented difficulties until I returned from dinner that night and saw a taxi waiting before our quiet house. Hence the visit of the woman with the lilac perfume. I am afraid the Wilhelmstrasse would have little use for a lady spy who advertised herself in so foolish a manner. Time for writing the fifth letter arrived. I felt that I should now be placed under arrest. I had a faint little hope that you would be sorry about that. Oh, I’m a brute, I know! Early in the game I had told the captain of the cruel way in which I had disposed of him. He was much amused; but he insisted, absolutely, that he must be vindicated before the close of the series, and I was with him there. He had been so bully about it all! A chance remark of his gave me my solution. He said he had it on good authority that the chief of the Czar’s bureau for capturing spies in Russia was himself a spy. And so — why not a spy in Scotland Yard? I assure you, I am most contrite as I set all this down here. You must remember that when I began my story there was no idea of war. Now all Europe is aflame; and in the face of the great conflict, the awful suffering to come, I and my little plot begin to look — well, I fancy you know just how we look.

Forgive me. I am afraid I can never find the words to tell you how important it seemed to interest you in my letters — to make you feel that I am an entertaining person worthy of your notice. That morning when you entered the Carlton breakfast room was really the biggest in my life. I felt as though you had brought with you through that doorway — But I have no right to say it. I have the right to say nothing save that now — it is all left to you. If I have offended, then I shall never hear from you again.The captain will be here in a moment. It is near the hour set and he is never late. He is not to return to India, but expects to be drafted for the Expeditionary Force that will be sent to the Continent. I hope the German Army will be kinder to him than I was!My name is Geoffrey West. I live at 19 Adelphi Terrace — in rooms that look down on the most wonderful garden in London. That, at least, is real. It is very quiet there tonight, with the city and its continuous hum of war and terror seemingly a million miles away.Shall we meet at last? The answer rests entirely with you. But, believe me, I shall be anxiously waiting to know; and if you decide to give me a chance to explain — to denounce myself to you in person — then a happy man say good-by to this garden and these dim, dusty rooms and follow you to the ends of the earth — aye, to Texas itself!

Captain Fraser-Freer is coming down the stairs. Is this good-by forever, my lady? With all my soul, I hope not.


Words are futile things with which to attempt a description of the feelings of the girl at the Carlton as she read this, the last letter of seven written to her through the medium of her maid, Sadie Haight. Turning the pages of the dictionary casually, one might enlist a few — for example, amazement, anger, unbelief, wonder. Perhaps, to go back to the letter a, even amusement. We may leave her with the solution to the puzzle in her hand, the Saronia little more than a day away, and a weirdly mixed company of emotions struggling in her soul.

And leaving her thus, let us go back to Adelphi Terrace and a young man exceedingly worried.

Once he knew that his letter was delivered, Mr. Geoffrey West took his place most humbly on the anxious seat. There he writhed through the long hours of Wednesday morning. Not to prolong this painful picture, let us hasten to add that at three o’clock that same afternoon came a telegram that was to end suspense. He tore it open and read:

Strawberry Man: I shall never, never forgive you. But we are sailing tomorrow on the Saronia. Were you thinking of going home soon?


Thus it happened that, a few minutes later, to the crowd of troubled Americans in a certain steamship booking office there was added a wild-eyed young man who further upset all who saw him. To weary clerks he proclaimed in fiery tones that he must sail on the Saronia. There seemed to be no way of appeasing him. The offer of a private liner would not have interested him.

He raved and tore his hair. He ranted. All to no avail. There was, in plain American, “nothing doing!”

Damp but determined, he sought among the crowd for one who had bookings on the Saronia. He could find, at first, no one so lucky; but finally he ran across Tommy Gray. Gray, an old friend, admitted when pressed that he had passage on that most desirable boat. But the offer of all the king’s horses and all the king’s gold left him unmoved. Much, he said, as he would have liked to oblige, he and his wife were determined. They would sail.

It was then that Geoffrey West made a compact with his friend. He secured from him the necessary steamer labels and it was arranged that his baggage was to go aboard the Saronia as the property of Gray.

“But,” protested Gray, “even suppose you do put this through; suppose you do manage to sail without a ticket — where will you sleep? In chains somewhere below, I fancy.”

“No matter!” bubbled West. “I’ll sleep in the dining saloon, in a lifeboat, on the lee scuppers — whatever they are. I’ll sleep in the air, without any visible support! I’ll sleep anywhere — nowhere — but I’ll sail! And as for irons — they don’t make ’em strong enough to hold me.”

At five o’clock on Thursday afternoon the Saronia slipped smoothly away from a Liverpool dock. Twenty-five hundred Americans — about twice the number of people the boat could comfortably carry — stood on her decks and cheered. Some of those in that crowd who had millions of money were booked for the steerage. All. of them were destined to experience during that crossing hunger, annoyance, discomfort. They were to be stepped on, sat on, crowded and jostled. They suspected as much when the boat left the dock. Yet they cheered!

Gayest among them was Geoffrey West, triumphant amid the confusion. He was safely aboard; the boat was on its way! Little did it trouble him that he went as a stowaway, since he had no ticket; nothing but an overwhelming determination to be on the good ship Saronia.

That night, as the Saronia stole along with all deck lights out and every porthole curtained, West saw on the dim deck the slight figure of a girl who meant much to him. She was standing staring out over the black waters; and, with wildly beating heart, he approached her, not knowing what to say, but feeling that a start must be made somehow.

“Please pardon me for addressing you,” he began. “But I want to tell you — ”

She turned, startled; and then smiled an odd little smile, which he could not see in the dark.

“I beg your pardon,” she said. “I haven’t met you, that I recall

“I know,” he answered. “That’s going to be arranged tomorrow. Mrs. Tommy Gray says you crossed with them — ”

“Mere steamer acquaintances,” the girl replied coldly.

Of course! But Mrs. Gray is a darling — she’ll fix that all right. I just want to say, before tomorrow comes — ”

“Wouldn’t it be better to wait?”

“I can’t! I’m on this ship without a ticket. I’ve got to go down in a minute and tell the purser that. Maybe he’ll throw me overboard; maybe he’ll lock me up. I don’t know what they do with people like me. Maybe they’ll make a stoker of me. And then I shall have to stoke, with no chance of seeing you again. So that’s why I want to say now — I’m sorry I have such a keen imagination. It carried me away — really it did! I didn’t mean to deceive you with those letters; but, once I got started You know, don’t you, that I love you with all my heart? From the moment you came into the Carlton that morning I

“Really — Mr. — Mr. — ”

Men talking in an office
“You’ll win the hat, but you must go to Homburg for it.” (Illustrated by Will Grefé / SEPS)

“West — Geoffrey West. I adore you! What can I do to prove it? I’m going to prove it — before this ship docks in the North River. Perhaps I’d better talk to your father, and tell him about the Agony Column and those seven letters — ”

“You’d better not! He’s in a terribly bad humor. The dinner was awful, and the steward said we’d be looking back to it and calling it a banquet before the voyage ends. Then, too, poor dad says he simply cannot sleep in the stateroom they’ve given him — ”

“All the better! I’ll see him at once. If he stands for me now he’ll stand for me any time! And, before I go down and beard a harsh-looking purser in his den, won’t you believe me when I say I’m deeply in love — ”

“In love with mystery and romance! In love with your own remarkable powers of invention! Really, I can’t take you seriously — ”

“Before this voyage is ended you’ll have to. I’ll prove to you that I care. If the purser lets me go free — ”

“You have much to prove,” the girl smiled. “Tomorrow — when Mrs. Tommy Gray introduces us — I may accept you — as a builder of plots. I happen to know you are good. But as — as — It’s too silly! Better go and have it out with that purser.”

Reluctantly he went. In five minutes he was back. The girl was still standing by the rail.

“It’s all right!” West said. “I thought I was doing something original, but there were eleven other people in the same fix. One of them is a billionaire from Wall Street. The purser collected some money from us and told us to sleep on the deck — if we could find room.”

“I’m sorry,” said the girl. “I rather fancied you in the role of stoker.” She glanced about her at the dim deck. “Isn’t this exciting? I’m sure this voyage is going to be filled with mystery and romance.”

“I know it will be full of romance,” West answered. “And the mystery will be — can I convince you — ”

“Hush!” broke in the girl. “Here comes father! I shall be very happy to meet you — tomorrow. Poor dad! He’s looking for a place to sleep.”

Five days later poor dad, having slept each night on deck in his clothes while the ship plowed through a cold drizzle, and having starved in a sadly depleted dining saloon, was a sight to move the heart of a political opponent. Immediately after a dinner that had scarcely satisfied a healthy Texas appetite he lounged gloomily in the deck chair which was now his stateroom. Jauntily Geoffrey West came and sat at his side.

“Mr. Larned,” he said, “I’ve got something for you.”

And, with a kindly smile, he took from his pocket and handed over a large, warm baked potato. The Texan eagerly accepted the gift.

“Where’d you get it?” he demanded, breaking open his treasure.

“That’s a secret,” West answered. “But I can get as many as I want. Mr. Larned, I can say this — you will not go hungry any longer. And there’s something else I ought to speak of. I am sort of aiming to marry your daughter.”

Deep in his potato the Congressman spoke:

“What does she say about it?”

“Oh, she says there isn’t a chance. But”

“Then look out, my boy! She’s made up her mind to have you.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. I really ought to tell you who I am. Also, I want you to know that, before your daughter and I had met, I wrote her seven letters”

“One minute,” broke in the Texan. “Before you go into all that, won’t you be a good fellow and tell me where you got this potato?”

West nodded.

“Sure!” he said; and, leaning over, he whispered.

For the first time in days a smile appeared on the face of the older man.

“My boy,” he said, “I feel I’m going to like you. Never mind the rest. I heard all about you from your friend Gray; and as for those letters — they were the only thing that made the first part of this trip bearable. Marian gave them to me to read the night we came on board.”

Suddenly from out of the clouds a long lost moon appeared, and bathed that overcrowded ocean liner in a flood of silver. West left the old man to his potato and went to find the daughter.

She was standing in the moonlight by the rail of the forward deck, her eyes staring dreamily ahead toward the great country that had sent her forth light-heartedly for to adventure and to see. She turned as West came up.

“I have just been talking with your father,” he said. “He tells me he thinks you mean to take me, after all.”

She laughed.

“Tomorrow night,” she answered, “will be our last on board. I shall give you my final decision then.”

“But that is twenty-four hours away! Must I wait so long as that?”

“A little suspense won’t hurt you. I can’t forget those long days when I waited for your letters

“I know! But can’t you give me — just a little hint — here — tonight?”

“I am without mercy — absolutely without mercy!”

And then, as West’s fingers closed over her hand, she added softly: “Not even the suspicion of a hint, my dear — except to tell you that — my answer will be — yes.”

First page of the short story "The Agony Column - Part 3" as it appeared in the magazine.
Read “The Agony Column (Part 3)” by Earl Derr Biggers from the July 22, 1916, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: “Last night I walked on the embankment while the hansoms jogged by and the lights of the tramcars danced on Westminster Bridge.” Illustrated by Will Grefé / SEPS

“The Agony Column, Part II” by Earl Derr Biggers

In part two of this classic crime serial, Earl Derr Biggers continues to weave a story of intrigue and deceit centered around a mysterious newspaper column. Biggers is most famous for his recurring fictional sleuth Charlie Chan as well as his popular novel Seven Keys to Baldplate, which was adapted into a Broadway stage play and later into multiple films.

Published on July 15, 1916


The third letter from her correspondent of the Agony Column increased in the mind of the lovely young woman at the Carlton the excitement and tension the second had created. For a long time, on the Saturday morning of its receipt, she sat in her room puzzling over the mystery of the house in Adelphi Terrace. When first she had heard that Captain Fraser-Freer, of the Indian Army, was dead of a knife wound over the heart, the news had shocked her like that of the loss of some old and dear friend. She had desired passionately the apprehension of his murderer, and had turned over and over in her mind the possibilities of white asters, a scarab pin and a Homburg hat.

Perhaps the girl longed for the arrest of the guilty man thus keenly because this jaunty young friend of hers — a friend whose name she did not know — to whom, indeed, she had never spoken — was so dangerously entangled in the affair. For, from what she knew of Geoffrey West, from her casual glance in the restaurant and, far more, from his letters, she liked him extremely.

And now came his third letter, in which he related the connection of that hat, that pin and those asters with the column in the Mail which had first brought them together. As it happened, she, too, had copies of the paper for the first four days of the week. She went to her sitting room, unearthed these copies, and — gasped! For from the column in Monday’s paper stared up at her the cryptic words to Rangoon concerning asters in a garden at Canterbury. In the other three issues as well, she found the identical messages her strawberry man had quoted. She sat for a long time deep in thought; sat, in fact, until at her door came the enraged knocking of a hungry parent who had been waiting a full hour in the lobby below for her to join him at breakfast.

“Come, come!” boomed her father, entering at her invitation. “Don’t sit here all day mooning. I’m hungry if you’re not.”

With quick apologies she made ready to accompany him downstairs. Firmly, as she planned their campaign for the day, she resolved to put from her mind all thought of Adelphi Terrace. How well she succeeded may be judged from a speech made by her father that night just before dinner:

“Have you lost your tongue, Marian? You’re as uncommunicative as a newly elected officeholder. If you can’t get a little more life into these expeditions of ours we’ll pack up and head for home.”

She smiled, patted his shoulder, and promised to improve. But he appeared to be in a gloomy mood.

“I believe we ought to go, anyhow,” he went on. “In my opinion this war is going to spread like a prairie fire. The Kaiser got back to Berlin yesterday. He’ll sign the mobilization orders today as sure as fate. For the past week, on the Berlin Bourse, Canadian Pacific stock has been dropping. That means they expect England to come in.”

He gazed darkly into the future. It may seem that, for an American statesman, he had an unusual grasp of European politics. This is easily explained by the fact that he had been talking with the bootblack at the Carlton Hotel.

“Yes,” he said with sudden decision, “I’ll go down to the steamship offices early Monday morning — ”

His daughter heard these words with a sinking heart. She had a most unhappy picture of herself boarding a ship and sailing out of Liverpool or Southampton, leaving the mystery that so engrossed her thoughts forever unsolved. Wisely she diverted her father’s thoughts toward the question of food. She had heard, she said, that Simpson’s, in the Strand, was an excellent place to dine. They would go there, and walk. She suggested a short detour that would carry them through Adelphi Terrace. It seemed she had always wanted to see Adelphi Terrace.

As they passed through that silent street she sought to guess, from an inspection of the grim, forbidding house fronts, back of which lay the lovely garden, the romantic mystery. But the houses were so very much dike one another. Before one of them, she noted, a taxi waited.

After dinner her father pleaded for a music hall as against what he called “some highfaluting, teacup English play.” He won. Late that night, as they rode back to the Carlton, special editions were being proclaimed in the streets. Germany was mobilizing!

The girl from Texas retired, wondering what epistolary surprise the morning would bring forth. It brought forth this:

Dear Daughter of the Senate:

Or is it Congress? I could not quite decide. But surely in one or the other of those august bodies your father sits when he is not at home in Texas or viewing Europe through his daughter’s eyes. One look at him and I had gathered that.

But Washington is far from London, isn’t it? And it is London that interests us most — though father’s constituents must not know that. It is really a wonderful, an astounding city, once you have got the feel of the tourist out of your soul. I have been reading the most enthralling essays on it, written by a newspaper man who first fell desperately in love with it at seven — an age when the whole glittering town was symbolized for him by the fried fish shop at the corner of the High Street. With him I have been going through its gray and furtive thoroughfares in the dead of night, and sometimes we have kicked an ash barrel and sometimes a romance. Someday I might show that London to you — guarding you, of course, from the ash barrels, if you are that kind. On second thoughts, you aren’t.

But I know that it is of Adelphi Terrace and a late captain in the Indian Army that you want to hear now. Yesterday, after my discovery of those messages in the Mail and the call of Captain Hughes, passed without incident. Last night I mailed you my third letter, and after wandering for a time amid the alternate glare and gloom of the city, I went back to my rooms and smoked on my balcony while about me the inmates of six million homes sweltered in the heat.

Nothing happened. I felt a bit disappointed, a bit cheated, as one might feel on the first night spent at home after many successive visits to exciting plays. Today, the first of August, dawned, and still all was quiet. Indeed, it was not until this evening that further developments in the sudden death of Captain Fraser-Freer arrived to disturb me. These developments are strange ones surely, and I shall hasten to relate them.

I dined tonight at a little place in Soho. My waiter was Italian, and on him I amused myself with the Italian in Ten Lessons of which I am foolishly proud. We talked of Fiesole, where he had lived. Once I rode from Fiesole down the hill to Florence in the moonlight. I remember endless walls on which hung roses, fresh and blooming. I remember a gaunt nunnery and two gray-robed sisters clanging shut the gates. I remember the searchlight from the military encampment, playing constantly over the Arno and the roofs — the eye of Mars that, here in Europe, never closes. And always the flowers nodding above me, stooping now and then to brush my face. I came to think that at the end Paradise, and not a second-rate hotel, was waiting. One may still take that ride, I fancy. Some day — some day —

I dined in Soho. I came back to Adelphi Terrace in the hot, reeking August dusk, reflecting that the mystery in which I was involved was, after a fashion, standing still. In front of our house I noticed a taxi waiting. I thought nothing of it as I entered the murky hallway and climbed the familiar stairs. My door stood open. It was dark in my study, save for the reflection of the lights of London outside. As I crossed the threshold there came to my nostrils the faint, sweet perfume of lilacs. There are no lilacs in our garden, and if there were it is not the season. No, this perfume had been brought there by a woman — a woman who sat at my desk and raised her head as I entered.

“You will pardon this intrusion,” she said in the correct, careful English of one who has learned the speech from a book. “I have come for a brief word with you — then I shall go.”

I could think of nothing to say. I stood gaping like a schoolboy.

“My word,” the woman went on, “is in the nature of advice. We do not always like those who give us advice. None the less, I trust that you will listen.”

I found my tongue then.

“I am listening,” I said stupidly. “But first — light.” And I moved toward the matches on the mantelpiece.

Quickly the woman rose and faced me. I saw then that she wore a veil — not a heavy veil, but a fluffy, attractive thing that was yet sufficient to screen her features from me.

“I beg of you,” she cried, “no light!” And as I paused, undecided, she added, in a tone which suggested lips that pout: “It is such a little thing to ask — surely you will not refuse.”

I suppose I should have insisted. But her voice was charming, her manner perfect, and that odor of lilacs reminiscent of a garden I knew long ago, at home.

“Very well,” said I.

“Oh — I am grateful to you,” she answered. Her tone changed. “I understand that, shortly after seven o’clock last Thursday evening, you heard in the room above you the sounds of a struggle. Such has been your testimony to the police?”

“It has,” said I.

“Are you quite certain as to the hour?” I felt that she was smiling at me. “Might it not have been later — or earlier?”

“I am sure it was just after seven,” I replied. “I’ll tell you why: I had just returned from dinner and while I was unlocking the door Big Ben on the House of Parliament struck — “

She raised her hand.

“No matter,” she said, and there was a touch of irony in her voice. “You are no longer sure of that. Thinking it over, you have come to the conclusion that it may have been barely six-thirty when you heard the noise of a struggle.”

“Indeed?” said I. I tried to sound sarcastic, but I was really too astonished by her tone.

“Yes — indeed!” she replied. “That is what you will tell Inspector Bray when next you see him. ‘It may have been six-thirty,’ you will tell him. ‘I have thought it over and I am not certain.”

“Even for a very charming lady,” I said, “I cannot misrepresent the facts in a matter so important. It was after seven — ”

“I am not asking you to do a favor for a lady,” she replied. “I am asking you to do a favor for yourself. If you refuse the consequences may be most unpleasant.”

“I’m rather at a loss — ” I began.

She was silent for a moment. Then she turned and I felt her looking at me through the veil.

“Who was Archibald Enright?” she demanded. My heart sank. I recognized the weapon in her hands. “The police,” she went on, “do not yet know that the letter of introduction you brought to the captain was signed by a man who addressed Fraser-Freer as Dear Cousin, but who is completely unknown to the family. Once that information reaches Scotland Yard, your chance of escaping arrest is slim.

“They may not be able to fasten this crime upon you, but there will be complications most distasteful. One’s liberty is well worth keeping — and then, too, before the case ends, there will be wide publicity — ”

“Well?” said I.

“That is why you are going to suffer a lapse of memory in the matter of the hour at which you heard that struggle. As you think it over, it is going to occur to you that it may have been six-thirty, not seven. Otherwise — ”

“Go on.”

“Otherwise the letter of introduction you gave to the captain will be. sent anonymously to Inspector Bray.”

“You have that letter!” I cried.

“Not I,” she answered. “But it will be sent to Bray. It will be pointed out to him that you were posing under false colors. You could not escape!”

I was most uncomfortable. The net of suspicion seemed closing in about me. But I was resentful, too, of the confidence in this woman’s voice.

“Nonetheless,” said I, “I refuse to change my testimony. The truth is the truth — ”

The woman had moved to the door. She turned.

“Tomorrow,” she replied, “it is not unlikely you will see Inspector Bray. As I said, I came here to give you advice. You had better take it. What does it matter — a half hour this way or that? And the difference is prison for you. Good night.”

She was gone. I followed into the hall. Below, in the street, I heard the rattle of her taxi.

I went back into my room and sat down. I was upset, and no mistake. Outside my windows the continuous symphony of the city played on — the busses, the trams, the never-silent voices. I gazed out. What a tremendous acreage of dank brick houses and dank British souls! I felt horribly alone. I may add that I felt a bit frightened, as though that great city were slowly closing in on me.

Who was this woman of mystery? What place had she held in the life — and perhaps in the death — of Captain Fraser-Freer? Why should she come boldly to my rooms to make her impossible demand?

I resolved that, even at the risk of my own comfort, I would stick to the truth. And to that resolve I would have clung had I not shortly received another visit — this one far more inexplicable, far more surprising, than the first.

It was about nine o’clock when Walters tapped at my door and told me two gentlemen wished to see me. A moment later into my study walked Lieutenant Norman Fraser-Freer and a fine old gentleman with a face that suggested some faded portrait hanging on an aristocrat’s wall. I had never seen him before.

“I hope it is quite convenient for you to see us,” said young Fraser-Freer.

I assured him that it was. The boy’s face was drawn and haggard; there was terrible suffering in his eyes, yet about him hung, like a halo, the glory of a great resolution.

“May I present my father?” he said. “General Fraser-Freer, retired. We have come on a matter of supreme importance. The old man muttered something I could not catch.”

I could see that he had been hard hit by the loss of his elder son. I asked them to be seated; the general complied, but the boy walked the floor in a manner most distressing.

“I shall not be long,” he remarked. “Nor at a time like this is one in the mood to be diplomatic. I will only say, sir, that we have come to ask of you a great favor — a very great favor indeed. You may not see fit to grant it. If that is the case we cannot well reproach you. But if you can —”

Man and woman walking down a city street
She ought to guess the mystery from an inspection of the grim, forbidding house fronts. (Will Grefé / SEPS)

“It is a great favor, sir!” broke in the general. “And I am in the odd position where I do not know whether you will serve me best by granting it or by refusing to do so.”

“Father — please — if you, don’t mind — ” The boy’s voice was kindly but determined. He turned to me.

“Sir — you have testified to the police that it was a bit past seven when you heard in the room above the sounds of the struggle which — which — You understand.”

In view of the mission of the caller who had departed a scant hour previously, the boy’s question startled me.

“Such was my testimony,” I answered. “It was the truth.”

“Naturally,” said Lieutenant Fraser-Freer. “Buter — as a matter of fact, we are here to ask that you alter your testimony. Could you, as a favor to us who have suffered so cruel a loss — a favor we should never forget — could you not make the hour of that struggle half after six?”

I was quite overwhelmed. “Your — reasons?” I managed at last to ask.

“I am not able to give them to you in full,” the boy answered. “I can only say this: It happens that at seven o’clock last Thursday night I was dining with friends at the Savoy — friends who would not be likely to forget the occasion.”

The old general leaped to his feet.

“Norman,” he cried, “I cannot let you do this thing! I simply will not — ”

“Hush, father,” said the boy wearily. “We have threshed it all out. You have promised — ”

The old man sank back into the chair and buried his face in his hands.

“If you are willing to change your testimony,” young Fraser-Freer went on to me, “I shall at once confess to the police that it was I who — who murdered my brother. They suspect me. They know that late last Thursday afternoon I purchased a revolver, for which, they believe, at the last moment I substituted the knife. They know that I was in debt to him; that we had quarreled about money matters; that by his death I, and I alone, could profit.”

He broke off suddenly and came toward me, holding out his arms with a pleading gesture I can never forget.

“Do this for me!” he cried. “Let me confess! Let me end this whole horrible business here and now.”

Surely no man had ever to answer such an appeal before.

“Why?” I found myself saying, and over and over I repeated it — “Why? Why?”

The lieutenant faced me, and I hope never again to see such a look in a man’s eyes.

“I loved him!” he cried. “That is why. For his honor, for the honor of our family, I am making this request of you. Believe me, it is not easy. I can tell you no more than that. You knew my brother?”


“Then, for his sake — do this thing I ask.”

“But — murder — ”

“You heard the sounds of a struggle. I shall say that we quarreled — that I struck in self defense.” He turned to his father. “It will mean only a few years in prison — I can bear that!” he cried. “For the honor of our name!”

The old man groaned, but did not raise his head. The boy walked back and forth over my faded carpet like a lion caged. I stood wandering what answer I should make.

“I know what you are thinking,” said the lieutenant. “You cannot credit your ears. But you have heard correctly. And now — as you might put it — it is up to you. I have been in your country.” He smiled pitifully. “I think I know you Americans. You are not the sort to refuse a man when he is sore beset — as-I am.”

I looked from him to the general and back again.

“I must think this over,” I answered, my mind going at once to Colonel Hughes. “Later — say tomorrow — you shall have my decision.”

“Tomorrow,” said the boy, “we shall both be called before. Inspector Bray. I shall know your answer then — and I hope with all my heart it will be yes.”

There were a few mumbled words of farewell and he and the broken old man went out. As soon as the street door closed behind them I hurried to the telephone and called a number Colonel Hughes had given me. It was with a feeling of relief that I heard his voice come back over the wire. I told him I must see him at once. He replied that by a singular chance he had been on the point of starting for my rooms.

In the half hour that elapsed before the coming of the colonel I walked about like a man in a trance. He was barely inside my door when I began pouring out to him the story of those two remarkable visits. He made little comment on the woman’s call beyond asking me whether I could describe her; and he smiled when I mentioned lilac perfume. At mention of young Fraser-Freer’s preposterous request he whistled.

“By gad!” he said. “Interesting — most interesting! I am not surprised, however. That boy has the stuff in him.”

“But what shall I do?” I demanded.

Colonel Hughes smiled. “It makes little difference what you do,” he said.

“Norman Fraser-Freer did not kill his brother, and that will be proved in due time.”

He considered for a moment. “Bray no doubt would be glad to have you alter your testimony, since he is trying to fasten the crime on the young lieutenant. On the whole, if I were you, I think that when the opportunity comes tomorrow I should humor the inspector.”

“You mean — tell him I am no longer certain as to the hour of that struggle?”

“Precisely. I give you my word that young Fraser-Freer will not be permanently incriminated by such an act on your part. And incidentally you will be aiding me.”

“Very well,” said I. “But I don’t understand this at all.”

“No — of course not. I wish I could explain to you; but I cannot. I will say this — the death of Captain Fraser-Freer is regarded as a most significant thing by the War Office. Thus it happens that two distinct hunts for his assassin are underway — one conducted by Bray, the other by me. Bray does not suspect that I am working on the case and I want to keep him in the dark as long as possible.

You may choose which of these investigations you wish to be identified with.”

“I think,” said I, “that I prefer you to Bray.”

“Good boy!” he answered. You have not gone wrong. And you can do me a service this evening, which is why I was on the point of coming here, even before you telephoned me. I take it that you remember and could identify the chap who called himself Archibald Enwright — the man who gave you that letter to the captain.”

“I surely could,” said I. “Then, if you can spare me an hour, get your hat.”

And so it happens, lady of the Carlton, that I have just been to Limehouse. You do not know where Limehouse is and I trust you never will. It is picturesque; it is revolting; it is colorful and wicked. The weird odors of it still fill my nostrils; the sinister portrait of it is still before my eyes. It is the Chinatown of London — Limehouse. Down in the dregs of the town — with West India Dock Road for its spinal column — it lies, redolent of ways that are dark and tricks that are vain: Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffles through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth, of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jan, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia — these you may meet there — the outpourings of all the ships that sail the Seven Seas. There many drunken beasts, with their pay in their pockets, seek each his favorite sin; and for those who love most the opium, there is, at all too regular intervals, the Sign of the Open Lamp.

We went there, Colonel Hughes and I. Up and down the narrow Causeway, yellow at intervals with the light from gloomy shops, dark mostly because of-tightly closed shutters through which only thin jets found their way, we walked until we came and stood at last in shadow outside the black doorway of Harry San Li’s so-called restaurant. We waited ten -minutes, fifteen minutes, and then a man came down the Causeway and paused before that door. There was something familiar in his jaunty walk. Then the faint glow of the lamp that was the indication of Harry San’s real business lit his pale face, and P knew that I had seen him last-in the cool evening at Interlaken, Where Limehouse could not have lived a moment, with the Jungfrau frowning down upon it.

“Enwright?” whispered Hughes. “Not a doubt of it!” said I.

“Good” he replied with fervor. And now another man shuffled down the street and stood suddenly straight and waiting before the colonel. “Stay with him,” said Hughes softly. “Don’t let him get out of your sight.”

“Good, sir,” said the man; and, saluting, he passed on up the stairs and whistled softly at that black, depressing door.

The clock above the Millwall Docks was striking eleven as the colonel and I caught a bus that should carry us back to a brighter, happier London. Hughes spoke but seldom on that ride; and, repeating his advice that I humor Inspector Bray on the morrow, he left me in the Strand.

So, my lady, here I sit in my study, waiting for that most important day that is shortly to dawn. A full evening, you must admit. A woman with the perfume of lilacs about her has threatened that unless I lie I shall encounter consequences most unpleasant. A handsome young lieutenant has begged me to tell that same lie for the honor of his family, and thus condemn him to certain arrest and imprisonment. And I have been down into hell tonight and seen Archibald Enwright, of Interlaken, conniving with the devil.

I presume I should go to bed; but I know I cannot sleep. Tomorrow is to be, beyond all question, a red letter day in the matter of the captain’s murder. And once again, against my will, I am down to play a leading part.

The symphony of this great, gray, sad city is a mere hum in the distance now, for it is nearly midnight. I shall mail this letter to you — post it, I should say, since I am in London — and then I shall wait in my dim rooms for the dawn. And as I wait I shall be thinking not always of the captain, or his brother, or of Hughes, or Limehouse and Enwright, but often — oh, very often — of you.

In my last letter I scoffed at the idea of a great war. But when we came back from Limehouse tonight the papers told us that the Kaiser had signed the order to mobilize. Austria in; Serbia in; Germany, Russia and France in. Hughes tells me that England is shortly to follow, and I suppose there is no doubt of it. It is a frightful thing — this future that looms before us; and I pray that for you at least it may hold only happiness.

For, ray-lady, when I write good night, I speak it aloud as I write; and there is in my voice more than I dare tell you of now.


Not unwelcome to the violet eyes of the girl from Texas were the last words of this letter, read in her room that Sunday morning. But the lines predicting England’s early entrance into the war recalled to her mind a most undesirable contingency. On the previous night, when the war extras came out confirming the forecast of his favorite bootblack, her usually calm father had shown signs of panic. He was not a man slow to act. And she knew that, putty though he was in her hands in matters which he did not regard as important, he could also be firm where he thought firmness necessary. America looked even better to him than usual, and he had made-up his mind to go there immediately. There was no use in arguing with him.

At this point came a knock at her door and her father entered. One look at his face — red, perspiring and decidedly unhappy — served to cheer his daughter.

“Been down to the steamship offices,” he panted, mopping his bald head. “They’re open today, just like it was a weekday — but they might as well be closed. There’s nothing doing. Every boat’s booked up to the rails and we can’t get out of here for two weeks — maybe more.”

“I’m sorry,” said his daughter.

“No, you ain’t! You’re delighted. You think it’s romantic to get caught like this. Wish I had the enthusiasm of youth.” He fanned himself with a newspaper. “Lucky I went over to the express office yesterday and loaded up on gold. I reckon when the blow falls it’ll be tolerable hard to cash checks in this man’s town.”

“That was a good idea.”

“Ready for breakfast?” he inquired.

“Quite ready,” she smiled.

They went below, she humming a song from a revue, while he glared at her. She was very glad they were to be in London a little longer. She felt she could not go, with that mystery still unsolved.

The last peace Sunday London was to know in many weary months went by, a tense and anxious day. Early on Monday the fifth letter from the young man of the Agony Column arrived, and when the girl from Texas read it she knew that under no circumstances could she leave London now. It ran:

Dear Lady from Home:

I call you that because the word home has for me, this hot afternoon in London, about the sweetest sound word ever had. I can see, when I close my eyes, Broadway at midday; Fifth Avenue, gay and colorful, even with all the best people away; Washington Square, cool under the trees, lovely and desirable despite the presence everywhere of alien neighbors from the district to the South. I long for home with an ardent longing; never was London so cruel, so hopeless, so drab, in ink eyes. For, as I write this, a constable sits at my elbow, and he and I are shortly to start for Scotland Yard: I have been arrested as a suspect in the case of Captain Fraser-Freer’s murder!

Men talking in an office
“For his honor, for the honor of his family, I am making this request of you.” (Illustrated by Will Grefé, SEPS)

I predicted last night that this was to be a red letter day in the history of that case, and I also saw myself an unwilling actor in the drama. But little did I suspect the series of astonishing events that was to come with the morning; little did I dream that the net I have been dreading would today engulf me. I can scarcely blame Inspector Bray for holding me; what I cannot understand is why Colonel Hughes —

But you want, of course, the whole story from the beginning; and I shall give it to you. At eleven o’clock this morning a constable called on me at my rooms and informed me that I was wanted at once by the Chief Inspector at the Yard.

We climbed — the constable and I — a narrow stone stairway somewhere at the back of New Scotland Yard, and so came to the inspector’s room. Bray was waiting for us, smiling and confident. I remember — silly as the detail is — that he wore in his buttonhole a white rose. His manner of greeting me was more genial than usual. He began by informing me that the police had apprehended the man who, they believed, was guilty of the captain’s murder.

“There is one detail to be cleared up,” he said. “You told me the other night that it was shortly after seven o’clock when you heard the sounds of struggle in the room above you. You were somewhat excited at the time, and under similar circumstances men have been known to make mistakes. Have you considered the matter since? Is it not possible that you were in error in regard to the hour?”

I recalled Hughes’ advice to humor the inspector; and I said that; having thought it over, I was not quite sure. It might have been earlier than seven — say six-thirty.

“Exactly,” said Bray. He seemed rather pleased. “The natural stress of the moment — I understand. Wilkinson, bring in your prisoner.”

The constable addressed turned and left the room, coming back a moment later with Lieutenant Norman Fraser-Freer. The boy was pale; I could see at a glance that he had not slept for several nights.

“Lieutenant,” said Bray very sharply, “will you tell me — is it true that your brother, the late captain, had loaned you a large sum of money a year or so ago?”

“Quite true,” answered the lieutenant in a low voice.

“You and he had quarreled about the amount of money you spent? Yes!”

“By his death you became the sole heir of your father, the general. Your position with the money-lenders was quite altered. Am I right?”

“I fancy so.”

“Last Thursday afternoon you went to the Army and Navy Stores and-purchased a revolver. You already had your service weapon, but to shoot a man with a bullet from that would be to make the hunt of the police for the murderer absurdly simple.

The boy made no answer.

“Let us suppose,” Bray went on, “that last Thursday evening at half after six you called on your brother in his rooms at Adelphi Terrace. There was an argument about money. You became enraged. You saw him and him alone between you and the fortune you needed so badly. Then — 1 am only supposing — you noticed on his table an odd knife he had brought from India — safer — more silent — than a gun. You seized it — ”

“Why suppose?” the boy broke in. “I’m not trying to conceal anything. You’re right — I did it! I killed my brother! Now let us get the whole business over as soon as may be.”

Into the face of Inspector Bray there came at that moment a look that has been puzzling me ever since — a look that has recurred to my mind again and again, even in the stress and storm of this eventful day. It was only too evident that this confession came to him as a shock. I presume so easy a victory seemed hollow to him; he was wishing the boy had put up a fight. Policemen are probably that way.

“My boy,” he said, “I am sorry for you. My course is clear. If you will go with one of my men — ”

It was at this point that the door of the inspector’s room opened and Colonel Hughes, cool and smiling, walked in. Bray chuckled at the sight of the military man.

“Ah, colonel,” he cried, “you make a good entrance! This morning, when I discovered I had the honor of having you associated with me in the search for the captain’s murderer, you were foolish enough to make a little wager

“I remember,” Hughes answered. “A scarab pin against — a Homburg hat.”

“Precisely,” said Bray. “You wagered that you, and not I, would discover the guilty man. Well, colonel, you owe me a scarab. Lieutenant Norman Fraser-Freer has just told me that he killed his brother, and I was on the point of taking down his full confession.”,

“Indeed!” replied Hughes calmly. “Interesting — most interesting! But before we consider the wager lost — before you force. the lieutenant to confess in full — I should like the floor.”

“Certainly,” smiled Bray.

“When you were kind enough to let me have two of your men this morning,” said Hughes, “I told you I contemplated the arrest of a lady. I have brought that lady to Scotland Yard with me.” He stepped to the door, opened it and beckoned. A tall, blond, handsome woman of about thirty-five entered; and instantly to my nostrils came the pronounced odor of lilacs. “Allow me, inspector,” went on the colonel, “to introduce to you the Countess Sophie de Graf, late of Berlin, late of Delhi and Rangoon, now of 17 Leitrim Grove, Battersea Park Road.”

The woman faced Bray; and there was a terrified, hunted look in her eyes.

“You are the inspector?” she asked. “I am,” said Bray.

“And a man — I can see that,” she went on, her eyes flashing angrily at Hughes. “I appeal to you to protect me from the brutal questioning of this — this fiend.”

“You are hardly complimentary, countess,” Hughes smiled. “But I am willing to forgive you if you will tell the inspector the story that you have recently related to me.”

The woman shut her lips tightly and for a long moment gazed into the eyes of Inspector Bray.

“He” — she said at last, nodding in the direction of Colonel Hughes — “he got it out of me — how, I don’t know.”

“Got what out of you?” Bray’s little eyes were blinking.

“At six-thirty o’clock last Thursday evening,” said the woman, “I went to the rooms of Captain Fraser-Freer, in Adelphi Terrace. An argument arose. I seized from his table an Indian dagger that was lying there — I stabbed him just above the heart!”

In that room in Scotland Yard a tense silence fell. For the first time we were all conscious of the tiny clock on the inspector’s desk, for it ticked now with a loudness sudden and startling. I gazed at the faces about me. Bray’s showed a momentary surprise — then the mask fell again. Lieutenant Fraser-Freer was plainly amazed. On the face of Colonel Hughes I saw what struck me as an open sneer.

“Go on, countess,” he smiled.

She shrugged her shoulders and turned toward him a disdainful back. Her eyes were all for Bray.

“It’s very brief, the story,” she said hastily — I thought almost apologetically. “I had known the captain in Rangoon. My husband was in business there — an exporter of rice — and Captain Fraser-Freer came often to our house. We — he was a charming man, the captain — “

“Go on!” ordered Hughes.

“We fell desperately in love,” said the countess. “When he returned to England, though supposedly on a furlough, he told me he would never return to Rangoon. He expected a transfer to Egypt. So it was arranged that I should desert my husband and follow on the next boat. I did so — believing in the captain — thinking he really cared for me — I gave up everything for him. And then her voice broke and she took out a handkerchief. Again that odor of lilacs in the room.

“For a time I saw the captain often in London; and then I began to notice a change. Back among his own kind, with the lonely days in India a mere memory — he seemed no longer to — to care for me. Then — last Thursday morning — he called on me to tell me that he was through; that he would never see me again — in fact, that he was to marry a girl of his own people who had been waiting.

The woman looked piteously about at us.

“I was desperate,” she pleaded. “I had given up all that life held for me — given it up for a man who now looked at me coldly and spoke of marrying another. Can you wonder that I went in the evening to his rooms — went to plead with him — to beg, almost on my knees? It was no use. He was done with me — he said that over and over. Overwhelmed with blind rage and despair, I snatched up that knife from the table and plunged it into his heart. At once I was filled with remorse.

“One moment,” broke in Hughes. “You may keep the details of your subsequent actions until later. I should like to compliment you, countess. You tell it better each time.”

He came over and faced Bray. I thought there was a distinct note of hostility in his voice.

“Checkmate, inspector!” he said.

Bray made no reply. He sat there staring up at the colonel, his face turned to stone.

“The scarab pin,” went on Hughes, “is not yet forthcoming. We are tied for honors, my friend. You have your confession, but I have one to match it.”

“All this is beyond me,” snapped Bray.

“A bit beyond me, too,” the colonel answered. “Here are two people who wish us to believe that on the evening of Thursday last, at half after six of the clock, each sought out Captain Fraser-Freer in his rooms and murdered him.”

He walked to the window and then wheeled dramatically.

“The strangest part of it all is,” he added, “that at six-thirty o’clock last Thursday evening, at an obscure restaurant in Soho — Frigacci’s — these two people were having tea together!”

I must admit that, as the colonel calmly offered this information, I suddenly went limp all over at a realization of the endless maze of mystery in which we were involved. The woman gave a little cry and Lieutenant Fraser-Freer leaped to his feet.

“How the devil do you know that?” he cried.

“I know it,” said Colonel Hughes, “because one of my men happened to be having tea at a table nearby. He happened to be having tea there for the reason that ever since the arrival of this lady in London, at the request of her friends in India, I have been keeping track of her every move; just as I kept watch over your late brother, the captain.”

Without a word Lieutenant Fraser-Freer dropped into a chair and buried his face in his hands.

“I’m sorry, my son,” said Hughes. “Really, I am. You made a heroic effort to keep the facts from coming out — a man’s-size effort it was. But the War Office knew long before you did that your brother had succumbed to this woman’s lure — that he was serving her and Berlin, and not his own country, England.”

Fraser-Freer raised his head. When he spoke there was in his voice an emotion vastly more sincere than that which had moved him when he made his absurd confession.

“The game’s up,” he said. “I have done all I could. This will kill my father, I am afraid. Ours has been an honorable name, colonel; you know that — a long line of military men whose loyalty to their country has never before been in question. I thought my confession would end the whole nasty business, that the investigations would stop, and that I might be able to keep forever unknown this horrible thing about him — about my brother.”

Colonel Hughes laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and the latter went on:

“They reached me — those frightful insinuations about Stephen — in a roundabout way; and when he came home from India I resolved to watch him. I saw him go often to the house of this woman. I satisfied myself that she was the same one involved in the stories coming from Rangoon; then, under another name; I managed to meet her. I hinted to her that I myself was none too loyal; not completely, but to a limited extent, I won her confidence. Gradually I became convinced that my brother was indeed disloyal to his country, to his name, to us all. It was at that tea time you have mentioned when I finally made up my mind. I had already bought a revolver; and, with it in my pocket, I went to the Savoy for tea.”

He rose and paced the floor.

“After tea I went to Stephen’s rooms. I was resolved to have it out with him, to put the matter to him bluntly; and if he had no explanation to give me I intended to kill him then and there. So, you see, I was guilty in intention if not in reality. I entered his study. It was filled with strangers. On his sofa I saw my brother Stephen lying — stabbed above the heart — dead!” There was a moment’s silence. “That is all,” said Lieutenant Fraser-Freer.

“I take it,” said Hughes kindly, “that we have finished with the lieutenant. Eh, inspector?”

“Yes,” said Bray shortly. “You may go.”

“Thank you,” the boy answered. As he went out he said brokenly to Hughes: “I must find him — my father.”

Bray sat in his chair, staring hard ahead, his jaw thrust out angrily. Suddenly he turned on Hughes.

“You don’t play fair,” he said. “I wasn’t told anything of the status of the captain at the War Office. This is all news to me.”

“Very well,” smiled Hughes. “The bet is off if you like.”

“No, by heaven!” Bray cried. “It’s still on, and I’ll win it yet. A fine morning’s work I suppose you think you’ve done. But are we any nearer to finding the murderer? Tell me that.”

“Only a bit nearer, at any rate,” replied Hughes suavely. “This lady, of course, remains in custody.”

“Yes, yes,” answered the inspector. “Take her away!” he ordered.

A constable came forward for the countess and Colonel Hughes gallantly held open the door.

“You will have an opportunity, Sophie,” he said, “ to think up another story. You are clever — it will not be hard.”

She gave him a black look and went out. Bray got up from his desk. He and Colonel Hughes stood facing each other across a table, and to me there was something in the manner of each that suggested eternal conflict.

“Well?” sneered Bray.

“There is one possibility we have overlooked,” Hughes answered. He turned toward me and I was startled by the coldness in his eyes. “Do you know, inspector,” he went on, “that this American came to London with a letter of introduction to the captain — a letter from the captain’s cousin, one Archibald Enwright? And do you know that Fraser-Freer had no cousin of that name?”

“No!” said Bray.

“It happens to be the truth,” said Hughes. “The American has confessed as much to me.”

“Then,” said Bray to me, and his little blinking eyes were on me with a narrow calculating glance that sent the shivers up and down my spine, “you are under arrest. I have exempted_ so far because of your friend at the United States consulate. That exemption ends now.”

I was thunderstruck. I turned to the colonel, the man who had suggested that I seek him out if I needed a friend — the man I had looked to save me from just such a contingency as this. But his eyes were quite fishy and unsympathetic.

“Quite correct, inspector,” he said. “Lock him up!” And as I began to protest he passed very close to me and spoke in a low voice: “Say nothing. Wait!”

I pleaded to be allowed too back to my rooms, to communicate with my friends, and pay a visit to our consulate and to the Embassy; and at the colonel’s suggestion Bray agreed to this somewhat irregular course. So this afternoon I have been abroad with a constable, and while I wrote this long letter to you he has been fidgeting in my easy-chair. Now he informs me that his patience is exhausted and that I must go at once.

So there is no time to wonder; no time to speculate as to the future, as to the colonel’s sudden turn against me or the promise of his whisper in my ear. I shall, no doubt, spend the night behind those hideous, forbidding walls that your guide has pointed out to you as New Scotland Yard. And when I shall write again, when I shall end this series of letters so filled with

The constable will not wait. He is as impatient as a child. Surely he is lying when he says I have kept him here an hour.

Wherever I am, dear lady, whatever be the end of this amazing tangle, you may be sure the thought of you

Confound the man!



Magazine page
Read “The Agony Column (Part 2)” by Earl Derr Biggers from the July 15, 1916, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image:  “You will pardon this intrusion. I have come for a brief word with you.” (Illustrated by Will Grefé / SEPS)

The 10 Most Notorious Fugitives on the FBI’s Most Wanted List

One of America’s most exclusive clubs turns 60 this month. And none of its members even joined the club willingly.

They are the 523 fugitives who made it to the FBI’s Most Wanted list — criminals who fled from federal justice and are deemed particularly dangerous menaces to society.

Over 480 of the fugitives have been apprehended. A third were captured thanks to help from the public, which was alerted by the FBI’s Most Wanted posters. The rest — all but the current 10 — were dropped from the list because the FBI no longer considered them a threat to the public.

Prior to the Most Wanted list, the FBI applied the term “public enemy” to criminals like Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Baby Face Nelson. Then, in 1949, a reporter asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to list the nation’s most dangerous fugitives. The result became a program to ask the public’s help in apprehending some of the most desperate criminals of the last six decades.

“Most Wanted” bulletins were formerly a familiar sight to Americans when they visited post offices. Today, they appear less often; post offices reserve wall space to market their own products.

You can view the current line up at the FBI’s most wanted website; there’s also an app.

Incidentally, there has never been a ranking among the top ten. All are considered equally dangerous.

Looking back over its 60 years, these ten villains stand out.

1. Thomas James Holden was the first man to make the Most Wanted list. His long criminal career began in the 1920s with the robbery of a mail train. In 1930, he escaped from Leavenworth Penitentiary and was recaptured on a golf course in Kansas City. He was on parole in 1949 and drinking with his wife and her two brothers when an argument broke out. Holden shot and killed all three, then fled. The FBI caught him 13 months later, after receiving a tip from an Oregon man.

Thomas James Holden's mugshot
Thomas James Holden (FBI)
Photo of Ruth Eisemann-Schier
Ruth Eisemann-Shier (FBI)

2. Ruth Eisemann-Schier was the list’s first woman, added in 1968. Eisemann-Schier and her boyfriend were charged with a particularly cruel kidnapping. They abducted a 20-year-old woman, buried her underground in a box, then demanded a $500,000 ransom. The young woman was dug up after 83 hours. The kidnappers were arrested when police found their abandoned car with a photograph in the glove box of the victim holding up a sign reading “Kidnapped.”

Ten women, in total, have joined the men of the Most Wanted.

3. Leslie Isben Rogge became a fugitive when he escaped Leavenworth Penitentiary by bribing a guard. At liberty again, he graduated from auto theft to bank robbery. But he turned himself in to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala on May 19, 1996. Guatemalan authorities had been searching for him after he was identified by a person who recognized him on the FBI website. Rogge was the first Most Wanted fugitive captured with the help of the Internet.

Leslie Isben Rogge photo
Leslie Rogge (FBI)
James Earl Ray's photo
James Earl Ray (FBI)

4. James Earl Ray was the first man to join the Most Wanted list twice. He was first wanted for killing Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. He was captured two months later when a customs official at Heathrow Airport recognized his alias from a Canadian wanted list. In 1977, he escaped from a Tennessee penitentiary. Three days later, he was recaptured, and a year was added to his sentence, bringing it up to 100 years.

5. Victor Manuel Gerena has longest membership on the Most Wanted list. In 1984, he turned on two fellow workers

Victor Manuel Gerena's photo
Victor Manuel Gerenan (Victor Manuel Gerena (FBI))

in their Wells Fargo armored car. After tying them up, he fled with seven million dollars and was never seen again. The FBI is still offering a million-dollar reward for information leading to his arrest.

6. Billie Austin Bryant spent the least time on the list. Convicted of bank robbery, he escaped custody

Billie Austin Bryant's photo
Billie Austin Bryant (FBI)

and killed two FBI agents who were questioning him. While the FBI was adding him to the Most Wanted list, he fled to a nearby house and hid in the attic. But the attic’s trap door had jammed when closing, trapping him inside. The owner of the house heard noises in his attic, called the police, and Bryant was arrested after being on the list for just two hours.

7. Eugene Palmer is the oldest man to make the list. Suspected of killing his daughter-in-law, he has been a fugitive for seven years. Eugene will turn 81 in April.

Eugene Palmer's photo
Eugene Palmer (FBI)

8. William Bradford Bishop brutally beat his wife, mother, and children to death and disappeared in 1976. In the next few years, witnesses claimed to have seen him in several locations overseas. Yet, for some reason, he wasn’t added to the list until 2014, when the Bureau had produced an age-advanced image of him to aid in his capture. It failed to turn up any leads, and two years later, he was dropped from the list. He would now be 84 years old.

Illustrations and photos for federal fugitive William Bradford Bishop
William Bradford Bishop (FBI)

9. Ted Bundy, serial murderer, is on our list just for sheer nastiness. This two-time member committed his first known assault and murder in 1974. Twelve more killings followed until one of his victims escaped. Before he could be arrested in 1975, he committed five more murders. During his 1977 trial, he escaped from the courthouse and was Most Wanted for six days before recapture. He was back on the list later that year when he escaped again. He committed three more assaults and two murders before being stopped for driving a stolen car.


FBI poster for Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy (FBI)

10. Osama bin Laden was on the list well before masterminding the 9/11 tragedy. He became Most Wanted in 1993 for a bombing in Mogadishu that killed 18 Americans, and the first attack on the World Trade Center, which killed six people. He was also responsible for other attacks at U.S. military bases and embassies in the Middle East, resulting in the deaths of about 250 Americans. With his attacks of 2001, he is easily the most murderous fugitive to ever make the list.

Osama Bin Laden's FBI Most Wanted poster
Osama bin Laden (FBI)

While mentioning exceptional people, we should add the name of Scott Garriola. Now retired, Garriola was an FBI agent in Los Angeles who played a crucial role in capturing six Most Wanted fugitives.

In a 1953 article about the FBI’s Most Wanted List, the author observed that it was “hard to become a member of the ‘most wanted’ club. But even harder to remain one.”

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons / FBI)

The 5 Most Audacious Heists of the 20th Century

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Great Brink’s Robbery, regarded at its time as the “Crime of the Century.” To be fair, that appellation has been afforded to any number of high-profile crimes, but it does lead to the question: what really WAS the Crime of the 20th Century? Putting aside things like political assassinations and other frequently discussed murders to focus on heists and robberies, here are five contenders, either in monetary value or sheer audaciousness, that might be the big score.

1. The Great Brink’s Robbery (January 17, 1950)

A burlap sack full of money that was recovered by the FBI.
Burlap money bags recovered in a Boston junk yard from the Brink’s robbery. (FBI.gov)

The biggest robbery in the history of the United States (at the time), the hit on the Brink’s Company building in Boston was the work of an 11-member crew. The gang actually showed remarkable discipline, working together for two years ahead of the event. Their elaborate plan included sneaking into the building to duplicate keys, hours of observation, and even stealing the alarm plans. The group even assembled for the heist six times before they finally decided to pull it off.

On the day of the robbery, seven of the crew went inside, dressed to approximate Brink’s uniforms with the addition of gloves and rubber Halloween masks. They tied up the employees inside and took all the loot they could get their hands on. Upon their escape, they counted the loot, passed out some of the $2.775 million haul (which they agreed not to use for six years, which was the statute of limitations at the time), and went their separate ways with their various stories to cover possible questions about their whereabouts.

Eventually, the group began to splinter. After Joseph O’Keefe was pinched twice for other charges, he held fellow gang member Vincent Costa hostage, demanding that Anthony Pino cough up his share of the loot (Costa being Pino’s brother-in-law). Pino paid, but put out a hit on O’Keefe; O’Keefe survived a gunshot wound and flipped on the rest of the crew. Eight members of the gang eventually served time, but less than $60,000 of the score was ever recovered.

2. The Lufthansa Heist (December 11, 1978)

A Lufthansa jet on the tarmac at Frankfurt Airport
(EQRoy / Shutterstock)

If you’ve seen Goodfellas, this will be very familiar. Deutsche Lufthansa is the largest German airline, and they would carry currency into JFK International Airport in New York. Jimmy Burke (fictionalized as Jimmy Conway in the film) put together a crew to hit one of the currency deliveries. Half-a-dozen men entered the facility while two drivers waited; the break-in crew took employees hostage and loaded up 72 cartons of the untraceable money. It was a haul worth $5 million in cash with an additional $875,000 in jewels.

One of the drivers, Parnell “Stacks” Edwards, had been ordered to take the van he drove to Jersey so that it could be destroyed in an auto yard owned by John Gotti. He didn’t, instead leaving in parked in front of a hydrant by his girlfriend’s place, drawing police attention; members of the crew took out Edwards for not following orders, but by then the police were already gathering prints and evidence from the van. Over time, a number of other crew members and associates were murdered, allegedly on Burke’s orders. No case came together until Vincent Asaro was tried in 2014, but he was acquitted. To this day, the money and jewels have never been found.

3. Dunbar Armored Robbery (September 12, 1997)

If you’re judging by the biggest robberies, this is your winner. At a take of just under $19 million, it’s the largest cash robbery in U.S. history. It was masterminded by Dunbar safety inspector Allen Pace, who used his inside knowledge and observations of the Dunbar Armored facility to plan the job. Assembling a crew of five of his childhood friends, Dunbar led his team through routine that allowed them subdue the employees one by one and access a vault at a time that it was scheduled to be open. They exitedwith the largest bills and the recording devices that they boosted from the security cameras. The group almost got away with it until co-conspirator Eugene Hill paid someone with cash that was wrapped in the company’s straps; the person tipped police, and Hill flipped on the others. Pace got a 24-year sentence, but nearly $14 million remains missing today.

4. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist (March 18, 1990)

A portion of Johannes Vermeer's painting, The Concert.
The Concert, Johannes Vermeer [Public domain]
You could call this one a masterpiece, or maybe a group of masterpieces. That’s what’s still missing nearly 30 years later in a museum takedown that saw 13 artworks valued at around $500 million walk out the door. While the plan is seemingly simpler in conception than the other heists on the list, it’s notable for the lack of evidence that the thieves left and the fact that nothing has been recovered in nearly 30 years.

Taking advantage of the general St. Patrick’s Day chaos in Boston, two men dressed as police gained entry to the museum after hours, tied up the two guards, and stole a group of art that included a rare Vermeer and works by Rembrandt and Degas.

While the FBI investigated the guards closely, they quickly decided they weren’t involved. Suspicion then fell on the labyrinthine network of criminal gangs that pervade the city. Infamous crime boss Whitey Bulger was investigated; not only did Bulger protest his innocence, he was incensed that the job happened on his turf and had his own people investigate. By 2015, the FBI declared that they had a reasonable idea of who committed the crime, but that both suspects were, by then, deceased. Though other leads and stories have surfaced over time, the art was never found.

5. Miami International Airport Robbery (November 6, 2005)

This one plays like a crossover of other heists. Onelio Diaz, a Brink’s guard at the airport, took note of the lax security surrounding Lufthansa cash transports and told his buddy, Karls Monzon. Diaz didn’t want to rob his own workplace, but Monzon said he’d do it. Monzon planned for months, including renting hotel rooms that overlooked the area for observation and stealing cars out of Jacksonville and hiding them in a semi-trailer for the getaway. When it was time to move, the team hit the open area where the cash was being unloaded; with guns drawn, they grabbed bags loaded with $7.4 million in cash and split. No one was hurt.

Monzon tucked his cut away while he and his wife continued work their day jobs. However, in a twist out of Goodfellas, Monzon’s crewmate (and brother-in-law) Jeffrey Boatwright started spending. A Salon interview with Monzon recounted that “Boatwright’s lawyer said his client spent nearly all of his $1.4 million share on “utter decadence” — jewelry, drugs, alcohol, prostitutes and nights at strip clubs.” Boatwright’s spending attracted so much attention that he was kidnapped and held for ransom twice by other criminals that had their suspicions about Boatwright’s new source of income. Monzon paid for his brother-in-law’s release the first time, but wasn’t planning on doing it again. However, that’s when he got arrested by FBI agents that were onto him and Diaz. Monzon, Boatwright, and the rest of the crew pled guilty; they and the kidnappers are served time, although ironically Monzon’s sentence was reduced by six years for helping the police catch Boatwright’s kidnappers. He also directed the FBI to his personal stash of the loot, over a million dollars; the rest of the remaining money was never recovered.

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“The Thread of Truth, Conclusion” by Erle Stanley Gardner

When he died, in 1970, Erle Stanley Gardner was the best-selling American fiction author of the century. His detective stories sold all over the globe, especially those with his most famous defense attorney protagonist, Perry Mason. His no-nonsense prose and neat, satisfying endings delighted detective fans for decades. Gardner wrote several stories that were serialized in the Post. In Country Gentleman, his 1936 serial “The Thread of Truth” follows a fresh D.A. in a clergyman murder case that comes on his first day on the job.

Published on January 1, 1937



Selby awakened to find sun streaming into his room. He looked at the chair propped against the knob of the door and laughed outright at his fears of the night before.

A cold shower made him feel much better. He shaved, breakfasted at a restaurant, and was at the camera store by the time it opened. It was with a feeling of relief that he saw the clerk produce a roll of films from a drawer and slip them into an envelope.

“There was also a camera,” Selby said.

“We have it here,” the clerk nodded, and handed over the camera with its leather case.

Selby pocketed the camera. “I wonder,” he asked, “if there’s some place where I could look at these films?”

“Certainly,” the clerk said, and switched on a light back of a ground glass. Selby spread out the roll.

“Only fifteen of the negatives were exposed,” the clerk said.

Selby nodded, and stared in puzzled bewilderment at the negatives. Without exception, they were pictures of street scenes, and, as Selby studied them, he realized that the street scenes had all been taken in Madison City.

So this, then, was merely another blank wall!

“Would you wish a magnifying glass?” the clerk asked. He handed Selby a powerful magnifier on a stand which fitted over the strip of film.

Selby bent to the films and slid them through the magnifier one at a time. He recognized familiar street scenes.

Suddenly he paused to stare at the end picture on the roll. “Look here,” he said to the clerk, “was this the first picture?”

The clerk looked at it and nodded.

“And it was impossible for these others to have been exposed before this picture was taken?”

“That’s right.”

The picture showed a street scene, showed streetcar tracks, the Madison Hotel; showed, moreover, an ornamental lamppost in position at the corner.

That lamppost was being erected when Selby had gone to the hotel to inspect the body of the dead minister!

In other words, every picture in that camera had been taken long after the owner of the camera had died!

The clerk, seeing the expression on his face, said, “Was there something?”

Selby shook his head, slowly rolled up the films and put them in the metal container the clerk handed him.

“Rather nice exposures,” the clerk said. “Perfectly timed.”

Selby nodded, and sought the street.

Once more, what apparently had been a simple case had taken a baffling turn, and he was faced with a complete impossibility, dressed, however, in the garb of such everyday plausibility that it seemed as though his own senses must be at fault.



Having returned to Madison City, Selby left his car in the garage to be serviced and walked up to the courthouse. On the way he had an opportunity to realize how fickle is public opinion.

While Madison City had been divided into two hostile camps over the election of district attorney and sheriff, Selby had commanded the respect of his enemies as well as the admiration and loyal support of his friends. Now he found himself in an entirely different status.

The Blade had put out an extra. Selby had stopped at a newsstand near the city limits to pick one up. It had been worse than he had anticipated.

The photograph was damning. There was the table arranged for a tete-a-tete. The actress was slumped forward in an attitude of dejection. Selby’s outstretched arm seemed on the point of encircling her shoulders in a caressing gesture.

Worse than all, he had been made to appear ludicrous. When the photographer had called his name and he had looked up to experience the blinding glare of the flashlight, he had been both startled and surprised.

Photographs of human beings under the stress of motion almost invariably show strained, distorted expressions which appear as a gross caricature of the individual. The face of a runner breasting the tape in a hundred-yard dash, the face of a man behind the steering wheel of an automobile, making a frenzied attempt to avoid a collision, both show features which are recognizable, yet which are so twisted and distorted as to appear ludicrous.

Selby’s face in the photograph showed surprise, consternation and dismay.

The garage attendant, usually so genial, so proud of having supported Selby in the election, was very much engrossed in inspecting a cut in an automobile tire. Men who ordinarily would have insisted upon Selby stopping to chat for a moment, or who would have made some comment on the recent election, hurried by with scant nods, each engrossed with some suddenly urgent business which prevented him from being seen talking to the district attorney.

Selby, his jaw set grimly, strode down the flagged corridor of the big courthouse, pushed open the door of his offices and nodded to Amorette Standish.

“Sheriff Brandon called,” she told him, “and wanted me to be sure to tell you, as soon as you came in, that Mr. Cushing had hurriedly left town on business.”

Selby frowned, said, “Thanks,” and opened the door to his private office.

Sylvia Martin was seated in his swivel chair, her feet up on his desk, her skirts showing a generous expanse of very shapely calf.

At the sound of the opening door, she jerked her feet down and jumped from the chair with guilty consternation on her features.

“How did you get in here?” Selby asked, and his mood was sufficiently savage so that his voice lashed out at her bitterly.

She laughed, and said, “I sneaked in. I wanted to be the first to see you.”

“Wanted to say, ‘I told you so,’ I suppose?” he asked.

Her eyes showed her hurt. “Doug!” she said simply.

“Well, go ahead,” he told her, “get it over with. Go on, tell me I let myself get bamboozled by an actress. Tell me you warned me, but I wouldn’t listen. Tell me … ”

She came toward him, placed the tips of soft fingers against his lips. “Doug,” she said, “please!”

He saw then that her eyes were filling with tears.

“Don’t be silly,” she said, “and — and don’t doubt me.”

“I’m sorry, Sylvia,” he said. “I guess I’ve got my fighting clothes on and I’m just looking around for heads to crack.”

The dejection faded from her face. Her eyes brightened, smiled through the tears.

“Oh, swell!” she said.

“Meaning?” he asked.

“Meaning,” she said, “that that was just what I was hoping you’d do. That’s the only way to take it. Take it right on the chin and take it fighting.”

“At that,” he said, “I was an awful sap.”

“No, you weren’t,” she protested.

“Well,” he told her, “I’m in a mess now anyway.”

She nodded and said, “Let’s not kid ourselves. You’re in an awful mess, Doug. The Blade is clamoring for your recall, claiming that you’re absolutely incompetent to solve even an ordinary mystery.”

“Ordinary mystery!” he exclaimed. “This is the damnedest nightmare I ever heard of. Everything you touch flies up and hits you in the face. Even the most simple things have a way of turning themselves wrong side out to become something entirely different.”

“Nevertheless,” she told him, looking at her watch, “you have until four-fifteen to solve it.”

“Four-fifteen!” he echoed. “Why the ‘four-fifteen’?”

“Because that’s the deadline of our extra.”

“You’re putting out an extra?”

“Yes,” she said. “Want to see the headlines? I got the boss to set them up and I pulled a proof.” She opened her purse, pulled out a strip of newspaper flimsy, and stretched it across the desk. In huge black letters appeared the headline, “SELBY SOLVES MURDER.”

“What’s the idea?” he asked.

“The idea is,” she told him, “that if The Blade comes out with its regular issue tonight, following up the extra this morning, you’ll be finished. Public sentiment has swung definitely against you, Doug. If you once let it crystallize, it’s going to be almost impossible to change it. But we’ll have an extra on the street which will just about coincide with the evening edition of The Blade. The Blade will be damning you up one side and down the other. We’ll have the real solution of the murder printed. It’ll give the whole city a great laugh.”

“I’ll say it would. It would give me a great laugh.”


“Because,” he told her, “it’s absolutely impossible to solve it. Cushing is mixed up in it, and Cushing’s skipped out. The actress is mixed up in it, heaven knows how deeply, and she won’t talk. She’ll avoid service of a subpoena. Probably she’s taking a plane right now, flying to some seaport where she can take a trip for her health.

“Charles Brower probably knows something about her, but Sam Roper’s had him released on habeas corpus. We didn’t have enough to put a charge against him. He merely claimed the five thousand dollars belonged to him. For all we know, it does. In trying to secure possession of it, he may have been seeking to secure possession of his own property. He merely refuses to state where the money came from or how it happened to be in the possession of the dead man. He claims it’s a business matter which doesn’t concern us. That’s no crime. And as long as Sam Roper is his lawyer, he won’t talk. Eventually, we’ll get the low-down on him, but it’ll take lots of time. Even then, it’ll be guesswork. What we need is proof.

“If I try to link Shirley Arden with that murder, either directly or indirectly, I’ll be fighting the interests of some of the biggest bankers and financiers in the country. I’ll be bucking politicians who have not only a state but a national influence. And I’ll be advertising myself as a sucker. The thing’s got to be fought out by a slow, dogged, persistent campaign.”

She was standing close to him. Suddenly she reached up and shook him.

“Oh, you make me so darned mad!” she exclaimed.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Looking at it that way,” she told him, “by the time you’ve worked out a solution of the mystery no one will care anything about it. You probably won’t be in office. They’re going to start circulating a recall petition against you tomorrow morning. Everyone in the city feels you either sold out or were made a fool of. The minute you let it be known you’re trying to locate Shirley Arden, after having had that little dinner scene with her last night, and particularly when it becomes known that you can’t find her, you’re finished. It doesn’t make any difference how many murder mysteries you solve.

“And don’t ever underestimate this Carl Bittner. He’s clever. He’s a newspaper man who knows all of the angles. He knows how to use propaganda and sway public sentiment. While you’re patiently solving this mystery step by step, Bittner will take some shortcut and you’ll read the solution spread all over the front page of The Blade.”

“All right,” Selby said, grinning, “you win. We solve the murder by four-thirty.”

“Four-fifteen,” she said. “In fact, the solution has to be a little earlier, so I can get the highlights of the story telephoned over to the office.”

“When do we start?” he asked her, grinning.

“We start now.”

“All right,” he said, “here’s something for you to consider: Here’s the camera which the dead man had in his possession. For some reason or other, that camera seems to have a very peculiar significance. Someone tried to steal it from me in Hollywood last night.”

“Because of the films which were in the camera?” she asked, her eyes showing her excitement.

“I wouldn’t say so,” he said. “The films in the camera show a very fine assortment of street scenes. In fact, they show the main streets of Madison City.”

“But there may be something on them. There may be something significant we could catch, something which will show the purpose he had in coming here.”

“There is,” he told her grimly; “there’s something very significant on them.”

“What is it?”

“The new ornamental street-lighting pole at the corner in front of the Madison Hotel. That pole was being put up Tuesday morning when I drove down to the hotel after the body had been discovered. In other words, the pictures in that camera were taken anywhere from hours to days after the man was killed.”

“But how could that have happened?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“The camera was in the suitcase when you went to the hotel?”


“Then the films must have been substituted.”


“What happened to the camera?”

“The coroner took it and kept it in his safe.”

“But someone might have substituted films.”

He laughed and told her, “That’s pretty much of a job. It would take some time. You see, these films aren’t the ordinary type of roll films. They’re not backed with black paper and … ”

He broke off suddenly, to stare moodily at her and said, “So that’s it.”

“What?” she asked.

“Rogue being poisoned.”

“What about him?”

“That’s the coroner’s dog, a big police dog who watches the place. Someone poisoned him. The poison was cunningly concealed and placed in half a dozen different places.”

“Oh, yes, I remember. I didn’t know his name was Rogue.”

“That was yesterday. Shortly after we came back from Riverbend.”

“And the poisoning was successful?”

“I don’t know whether the dog died or not, but he had to be removed to the veterinary hospital.”

“Then that was done so someone could substitute the films.”

Selby said, “If that’s true, it was fast work, because I picked up the camera right afterwards.”

“But the coroner was very much attached to his dog, wasn’t he?”


“And he was down at the veterinary’s, trying to see whether the treatment would be successful?”


“Then that’s it,” she explained. “The films must have been substituted while he was down there. You can fix that time within very narrow limits. It probably won’t be over half an hour all together.”

Selby nodded and said, “That’s a thought. How does the sheriff stand on this thing?”

“You mean about the piece in The Blade?”


“I don’t know,” she said. “Of course, he has his own political future to think of.”

“I’m just wondering.” Selby said. “No, I’m not either. The mere fact that I think I’m wondering shows how warped my mental perspective is. Rex Brandon isn’t the type who would throw me over. He’ll stick.”

As though he had taken his cue from the words, Sheriff Brandon opened the door of Selby’s private office and said, “Hello, folks, I’m walking in unannounced.”

His big black sombrero was tipped back on his head. A homemade cigarette dangled from a corner of his mouth. His face showed the lines of character emphasized as he twisted his mouth in a one-sided grin.

“Well, old son,” he said, “it looks as though we’ve put our foot in it, doesn’t it?”

Selby said, “Where do you get that ‘we’ stuff? I’m the one that’s in bad. You’re sitting pretty. Go ahead and watch your own political fences, Rex; don’t get tied up with me. I’m a political leper.”

The sheriff’s face showed genuine surprise.

“I never expected to hear you talk that way,” he said.

“What way?”

“Turning against a partner.”

“You mean I’m turning against you,” Selby demanded incredulously, “because I won’t let you share in my disgrace?”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly put it that way,” the sheriff said, “but we’re in this thing together and, somehow, it don’t look right for you to … well, to figure there’s any question about where I stand.”

Sylvia Martin took down the telephone and said, “Get me the city editor of The Clarion … Hello, this is Sylvia; change that headline to read ‘SELBY AND BRANDON SOLVE MURDER.’ … Yes, I’m on the inside of the story now. It’s all ready to break. They’ve got the real murderer all tied up. They’re just perfecting their case now before they strike. The arrest will be about three-thirty or four o’clock this afternoon. We’ve got an exclusive on it. I’ll have the story all ready so I can telephone it in … No, I’m not going to give you the story now … No, it isn’t all bluff … Yes, I know I’m staking my job on it … All right; goodbye.” She slammed the receiver back into place.

Selby looked at her moodily and said, “So your job hangs on it too, does it?”

“Sure,” she said cheerfully.

Selby pulled the films from his pocket.

“Well, Sheriff,” he said, “here’s about all I’ve done. I’ve got a beautiful assortment of photographs of the main streets of Madison City.”

“Those were the films that were in the camera?”

“Yes. And those films were taken long after the man was dead.”


“It’s a fact.”

“We were discussing,” Sylvia said, “how the films could have been switched in the camera. We’ve about decided that when the coroner’s dog was poisoned, it was because someone wanted to switch films.”

“What time was the dog poisoned?” Brandon asked.

“Well,” Selby said, “we can soon find out about that.”

He reached for the telephone, but it was ringing before his fingers touched it.

He picked up the receiver, said, “Hello,” and heard Shirley Arden’s penitent voice.

“Douglas Sel — ” she asked; “I mean, Mr. Selby?”

“Yes,” he said, stiffening.

“I’m over at the hotel,” she told him. “Strictly incognito. The same room 515.”

“What kind of a run-around is this?” he demanded. “You certainly gave me enough of a double-cross last night. If you want to know the details, you can pick up a copy of The Blade.”

“Yes,” she said contritely, “I’ve already seen it. Please come over.”


“Right away.”

“All right,” Selby said grimly, “I’m coming. And I’m not going to be played for a sucker this time either.”

He slammed up the telephone.

Sylvia Martin was looking at him with wide, apprehensive eyes.

“Shirley Arden?” she asked.

He nodded.

“You’re going, Doug?”


“Please don’t.”


“I don’t know. I just don’t trust her. She’s clever. She’s an actress. She’s got glamour, and I’m afraid she’s going to hypnotize you.”

“She’s not going to hypnotize me this time,” Selby promised.

“Oh, please, Doug. You stay away. Have Sheriff Brandon serve a subpoena on her to appear before the grand jury. It’s your one chance to show that you weren’t bribed. This may be a trap, and, even if it isn’t, suppose Bittner finds out about her being there and about you going over? Can’t you see what we’re fighting for? We’re working against time and it means so much — so much to all of us.”

He shook his head doggedly and said, “I promised I was going, I’m going to go. I owe that much to my self-respect. She called me in confidence, and I’ll see what she has to say before I betray that confidence.”

Selby started for the door. He looked back, to see Sylvia Martin’s pleading eyes, then he closed the door.



Man and womanDoug Selby knocked at the door of 515; then, without waiting for an answer, pushed the door open.

Shirley Arden was coming toward him. She was alone in the room.

He closed the door behind him, stood staring at her.

She came close to him, put her hands on his shoulders. Eyes which had thrilled millions of picture fans stared into his with compelling power.

“Am I forgiven?” she asked.

“That depends,” he told her.

“Depends on what?”

“Depends on what you say and how you say it.”

“What do you want me to say?” she asked … “Oh, please, please! I don’t blame you for being angry with me, but, after all, it was such a shock, and Ben’s explanation sounded so logical.”

“That I’d done it as a publicity stunt?”

“Yes. And to drag me into it. He insisted that you were back of the leak to the newspapers. He warned me you’d string me along, but that you’d try to drag me into it so you could get the big news syndicates interested, focus a lot of publicity on yourself, and capitalize on it politically.”

“Yes,” he said bitingly, “you can see how much I’ve capitalized on it. Trying to play square with you is going to make me the laughingstock of the whole county.”

She nodded and said contritely, “I realized that when I heard about The Blade. I came here because I couldn’t go back on you. You’d been square and big and fine and genuine.”

“I presume,” he said, “Ben Trask sent you here and rehearsed you in what you were to say.”

“Ben Trask thinks I’m on an airplane headed for Mexico City to recuperate.”

“Trask was up here the day of the murder?” he asked.

She nodded.

“And the day before?”

Again she nodded.

“Do you suppose his interest in keeping things under cover is selfish?”

She shook her head.

“What’s your hold on George Cushing?” he asked.

She said simply, “He’s my father.”

Selby’s face showed his surprise. “Your what?” he asked.

“My father. He kicked me out to shift for myself when I was eleven. After I made fame and riches, he hunted me out.”

“And how about this preacher?” he asked.

She motioned him to a chair.

“I’m going to tell you the truth,” she I said. “I don’t care what happens. I don’t care what my father or Ben Trask think.”

“Go on,” he told her.

“No one knows very much about my past,” she said. “The fan magazines carry a synthetic story every once in a while about my having been raised in a convent, which is a lie. I was raised in the gutter.”

He stared at her in steady, watchful scrutiny.

“When I was seventeen,” she said, “I was sentenced to a reform school as an incorrigible. If I’d gone to the reform school, I’d have been incorrigible. But there was one man who had faith in me, one man who saw the reason for my waywardness.”

“You mean Larrabie?” Selby asked.

“Yes. He was a minister who was taking a great interest in human-welfare work. He interceded with the judge and managed to get me paroled for a year. He made me realize I should have some ambition, that I should try to do something for myself. At the time, I thought a lot of what he said was just the old hooey, but I was impressed enough by him and cared enough for him so I tried to make good. Four years later I was an extra in Hollywood. Those four years had been four years of fight. I’d never have stuck it out, if it hadn’t been for his letters; for his steady, persistent faith; for the genuine, wholehearted goodness of the man.”

“Go on,” he told her.

“You know what happened after that. I played extra parts for a year. Then I had a minor speaking part. A director thought I showed promise and saw that I had a lead in a picture.”

He nodded.

“Last week Larrabie telephoned me,” she said. “He said he had to see me right away, that he couldn’t come to Hollywood because of a matter which demanded his attention here. He told me he needed five thousand dollars — in fact, he told me that over the telephone.

“I went to the bank and drew out five thousand dollars in five one-thousand dollar bills. I came up here. He had a scenario he wanted to sell. It was entitled Lest Ye Be Judged. You know how hopeless it was. I explained to him that I didn’t have anything to do with the purchase of pictures. It was, of course, founded on my life story.”

“Then what?”

“Then he told me what he wanted with the five thousand dollars. A very close friend of his, a man by the name of Brower, was in a financial jam. Larrabie had promised to get him the money. He’d been working for months on that scenario. He thought it was a masterpiece. He felt that with me to give it a good word he could easily sell it for five thousand dollars. I told him to forget the scenario and gave him the five thousand dollars. I told him to consider it as a loan.”

“Did he tell you why he was registered here under the name of Brower?”

“He said he was working on some business deal and the man for whom he was working told him the thing must be kept undercover. He said he’d written the man from Riverbend, and the man had telephoned him; told him that it would be dangerous to come here and register under his right name; that the thing to do was to come here without anyone knowing he was here and register under a fictitious name.”

“Did he tell you any more about that?” Selby asked.

“He said the man asked him if he’d told anyone about having written. Larrabie said he hadn’t. Then the man said that was fine and to come here without letting a soul know — not even his wife. Poor Larrabie thought it would be less wicked to register under the name of someone else than it would to use a purely fictitious name. So he took Brower’s identity — borrowed his driving license and wallet. Brower was hiding. He’d cashed five thousand dollars in trust funds. He’d been robbed in Reno, then he’d gone on to Riverbend to ask Larrabie for help. Brower was waiting in Los Angeles to hear if Mr. Larrabie had sold the scenario for enough to make up the five thousand dollars.”

“Larrabie said he’d written a letter to the man he was to meet here?”


“He didn’t tell you who the man was?”


“Didn’t give you any idea?”


“Look here,” Selby told her, “every time I’ve talked with you, you’ve purported to tell me the truth. Every time it’s turned out to be something less than or radically different from the truth.”

She nodded mutely.

“What assurance have I that you’re telling me the truth this time?”

She came toward him.

“Can’t you see?” she said. “Can’t you see why I’m doing this? It’s because you’ve been so splendid. So absolutely genuine. Because you’ve made me respect you. I’m doing this — for you.”

Selby stared at her thoughtfully.

“Will you stay here,” he asked, “until I tell you you can go?”

“Yes, I’ll do anything you say — anything!”

“Who knows you’re here?”

“No one.”

“Where’s Cushing?”

“I don’t know. He’s undercover. He’s afraid the whole thing is going to come out.”

“Why should he be so afraid?”

She faced his eyes unflinchingly and said, “If my real identity is ever known, my picture career would be ruined.”

“Was it that bad?” he asked.

She said, “It was plenty bad. Very few people would understand. Looking back on it, I can’t understand myself. Larrabie always claimed it was because I had too much natural energy to ever knuckle down to routine.”

“You staked Cushing to the money to buy this hotel?” Selby asked.

“Yes. And I keep this room. It’s mine. It’s never rented. I come and go as I want. I use it for a hide-out when I want to rest.”

“Did Larrabie know that — about your room here?”

“No. No one except my father and Ben Trask knew of this room.”

“Then why did Larrabie meet you here?”

“He talked with me over the telephone and said he was coming here on business. I told him I’d meet him here. He thought I was just coming up to see him.”

“And his business here didn’t have anything to do with you?”


“Nor with your father?”


“Did Larrabie know your father?”

“No. He’d never seen dad — except that he may have met him as the owner of the hotel.”

“But he must have known generally of your father?”

“Yes. He knew about dad years ago — things that weren’t very nice.”

“What’s been Cushing’s past?” Selby asked.

She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Pretty bad. I presume there was a lot to be said on his side, but it’s one of those things people wouldn’t understand. But, after all, he’s my father, and he’s going straight now. Can’t you see what a spot I was in? I had to lie, had to do everything I could to throw you off the track. And now I’m sorry. I tried my best to give you a hint about the real identity of the body when I said that he was a ‘Larry’ somebody from a town that had the name ‘River’ in it. I figured you’d look through the map, find out the number of California towns that had ‘River’ in their names, and telephone in to see if a pastor was missing.”

“Yes,” he said slowly, “I could have done that, probably would have, if I hadn’t had another clue develop.”

He started pacing the floor. She watched him with anxious eyes.

“You understand?” she asked.


“I couldn’t have done any differently. You do see it from my standpoint, don’t you?”

“Yes, I see it from your standpoint.”

“‘But, you’re acting — so sort of — Tell me! This isn’t going to prevent us from being friends, is it? I admire and respect you. It’s meant a lot to me, just having met you. You’re sincere and genuine. There’s no pose about you, no false front. I don’t usually offer my friendship this way … I need friends like you. Do you understand? “

Selby stared steadily at her.

“Over there,” he said, waving his arm in the general direction of the courthouse, “there’s a girl waiting. She’s had faith in me and what I stand for. She’s staked her job on my ability to solve this mystery by four o’clock this afternoon, simply because she’s a wholehearted, loyal friend. She hasn’t any money, smart clothes, influential friends or fine houses.

“I don’t know whether I can tell you this so you’ll understand it, but I’ll try. If I give you my friendship, I’ll be running back and forth to Hollywood. I’ll gradually see the limitations of my friends here, limitations which aren’t deficiencies of character, but of environment. I’ll get so I unconsciously turn up my nose when I ride in rattling, dust-covered, cheap automobiles. I’ll adopt a patronizing attitude toward the things of this county and assume an urban sophistication.

“You asked me to understand why you lied to me. I do understand. From your viewpoint there was nothing else you could have done. Damn it, I can almost see your viewpoint clearly enough so it seems the logical thing for you to have done.

“To hell with it. Your life lies in the glitter and the glamour. Mine lies with the four-square friendships I’ve made in a community where everyone knows everyone else so intimately there’s no chance for a four-flusher to get by.”

He strode toward the door.

“Where are you going?” she asked, panic in her eyes.

“To solve that murder,” he said, “and to keep faith with a girl who would no more lie to me than she’d cut off her right hand.”

She stood staring at him, too proud to plead, too hurt to keep the tears from her eyes.

He stepped into the hallway, slowly closed the door behind him.



Selby pushed his way through the door of his private office to encounter the disapproving eyes of Sylvia Martin.

“Well?” she asked.

“She told me the truth, Sylvia,” he said, “the whole truth.”

“Again?” she inquired sarcastically.

He didn’t answer her directly, but said, “Sylvia, I want you to check my conclusions. I’m going to go over this thing with you step by step. First, I’m going to tell you what Shirley Arden told me. I’m going to ask you, of course, to regard it as a sacred confidence.”

He began at the beginning and told her everything the actress had told him. When he had finished she said slowly, “Then, if that story is true, Brower had no reason to murder Larrabie.”

Selby nodded.

“And Brower’s silence is because he’s trying to protect himself. If he ever admitted that he’d been robbed, lots of people would figure he’d simply squandered the money.”

Selby said, “Not only that, but Brower had assumed the responsibility of putting those funds into the form of cash. He was trying to outguess some claimant who didn’t have a leg to stand on, but who wanted to tie up the money, hoping he’d get some sort of a settlement. Brower would probably have killed himself rather than gone back and reported the loss of the money.

“The really significant thing about the whole business is that, despite the importance of getting that five thousand dollars, Larrabie wouldn’t leave Madison City. Now, then, Larrabie had written some man with whom he was to do business here. That man telephoned him, asked him particularly if anyone knew of the letter, and then asked Larrabie to come here and register under an assumed name, using the utmost secrecy.”

“Well?” she asked.

“The man who got the letter wasn’t the man to whom it was written,” Selby said.

“What are you talking about, Doug? You can’t know that.”

“So far,” he told her, “I am just indulging in theories. Now let’s start checking up on facts.”

She glanced at her wrist watch and said ironically, “Yes, my editor always likes facts. Particularly when the paper is going to accuse someone of murder.”

“The first thing to do,” Selby said, “is to study those photographs again.”


“To find out just when they were taken. Take a magnifying glass, Sylvia, and study every detail. See if you can find some time clue. While you’re doing that I’ll be doing some other stuff.”

He picked up the telephone and said, “Get me Sheriff Brandon.” A moment later he said, “Rex, I’ve got a lot of news and a lot of theory. The news isn’t worth a damn unless the theory checks with the facts, so I want to find out the facts.

“I’m going to give you the manufacturer’s number on that miniature camera. I want you to find out what dealer had such a camera in stock. Trace it through the wholesaler and retailer, get a description of the purchaser.”

He read off the numbers on the lens and body of the camera, and then said, “Just as soon as you get that information, let me know. But get it and get it at once, at all cost … And here’s something else Rex. Try to bring out any latent fingerprints on the space bar of that portable typewriter. Do it as soon as possible.”

“Okay,” the sheriff said.

Selby hung up the telephone and called the coroner.

“Harry,” he said, when he had the coroner on the line, “I want to know something about Larrabie’s suitcase.”

“All right, what about it?”

“You took it into your custody?”


“Kept it in your office?”

“Yes, in the back room.”

“And Rogue, your police dog, was always on the premises?”


“When was the dog poisoned?”

“Why, yesterday morning — you were there.”

“No, no; I mean when did you first find out he’d been poisoned?”

“It was sometime around twelve o’clock. I’d been out, and when I came back the dog seemed sick. He wagged his tail to show he was glad to see me, and then dropped down on the floor.”

“And where was the dog when you came back?”

“In my office; but there’s a narrow door leading to the backyard, so he could get out, if he’d wanted to.”

“But he was where he could guard the office?”

“Sure. No one could possibly have entered that office. Rogue would have torn them to pieces.”

“Thanks,” Selby said, “I just wanted to make certain. I think the poisoning of the dog is particularly important.”

“So do I,” Perkins said. “If I can find out who did it, you’ll have another homicide case on your hands.”

Selby hung up the telephone, to hear Sylvia exclaim eagerly, “Doug, these pictures were taken Wednesday noon.”

“How do you know?” he asked, his voice showing his excitement.

You can analyze the shadows, for the time of day. They show the picture was taken right around noon. Now the Rotary Club meets at the Madison Hotel every Wednesday. When it meets, there isn’t enough room for the members to park their cars on the main street and in the parking lot next to the hotel, so they spread down the side street and take every available parking space. At other times during the day it is very seldom the parking spaces on the side street are filled up.

“Now notice this picture. It shows the main street. Now here’s the next one; that’s looking down the side street. You see, there isn’t a single vacant parking space on the whole street. I’ll bet anything you want, these pictures were taken Wednesday noon, while the Club was having its meeting.”

Selby said slowly, “That’s darned good reasoning, Sylvia. I think I’ll have to put you on my staff.”

“You sure will,” she told him, “if we don’t have some facts for my city editor pretty quick. I can stall him just about so long, and then I’ll be finished. At that time I’ll be completely out of a job.”

“Well,” he told her, “you can’t get on up here, because I’ll be out of a job too.”

He picked up the camera, studied it carefully and put it back in its worn leather case.

“Why is the camera so important?” Sylvia asked. “And how could those pictures have been taken so long after Larabie’s death?”

“That,” he told her, “is the thing on which any real solution of this case must turn. It’s a fact which doesn’t coincide with any of the other facts, but really furnishes the key to the whole business, if it’s interpreted correctly.”

He picked up the telephone, called Doctor Perry, and when he had him on the phone, said, “Doctor, this is Doug Selby, the district attorney. For reasons which I won’t try to explain over the telephone, the poisoning of Perkins’ dog becomes a clue of greatest importance. How’s the dog coming along?”

“I’m going to pull him through,” Doctor Perry said. “I worked with him most of the night.”

“Can you tell me anything about the poison that was used?”

“I think,” Doctor Perry said, “that the poison was compounded by an expert. In other words, the man who did it was either a doctor or a chemist, a druggist or someone who knew a great deal about drugs, and probably something about animals.”

“I wonder if you can take time to run up to the office for a few minutes?” Selby asked. “I want to get some definite and detailed information. I’m expecting to bring this case to a head within the next couple of hours.”

“You mean you’re going to find out who put the poison there?”

“I think I’m going to go farther than that,” Selby told him, “and find out who murdered Larrabie. But keep that under your hat. I’m telling you because I want you to realize how important your cooperation may be.”

“I’m dropping everything and coming right up,” Perry promised.

“Thanks,” Selby told him.

He hung up the telephone, returned to a study of the strip of negatives; then he rang up the manager of the telephone company and said, “I’m particularly interested in tracing a call which was sent from Madison City sometime within the last week or ten days to William Larrabie at Riverbend, California. I wish you’d look back through your records and see what you can find out about that call, and let me know.”

Receiving a promise of assistance, Selby dropped the receiver back into place and then started pacing the floor, talking in the mechanical monotone of one who is thinking out loud. “A hotel,” he said, “is a peculiar place. It furnishes a temporary home for hundreds of people.

“Here in this hotel, on the night of the murder, we had a minister of the Gospel in one room, a young couple who saw fit to register under assumed names in an adjoining room. And, somewhere in the background, was another minister who was in a serious financial predicament. He had to have money and have it at once. It was an amount which was far beyond what he could hope to obtain by any legitimate means. And in that hotel we had a room kept by a prominent motion-picture actress. The hotel was operated by her father. No one knew of the relationship. No one knew of certain chapters in the life of this actress.”

“We happen to know these things about these few people. There were others about whom we don’t know, but who must have had their own family skeletons, their own fears and hopes. They were all sleeping under the one roof.”

“Brower wasn’t there,” she pointed out.

Selby smiled and said, “If you are going to be technical about it, there wasn’t any reason why Brower couldn’t have registered in the hotel in Los Angeles, left Los Angeles, gone to the Madison Hotel and taken a room under another name.”

Her face showed excitement. “Did he, Doug?” she said. “Did he? Oh, Doug, if we could only get something like that.”

He smiled and said, “Not yet, Sylvia, I’m simply mentioning possibilities.”

“But why point them out in just that way?”

“Because,” he said, “I want you to understand one fundamental thought, because it is of particular importance in the solution of this case.”

“What is it?” she asked. “I don’t see what you are getting at.”

“What I’m trying to establish is that people are, after all, very much alike. They have the same problems, the same complexities of life. Therefore, when we find what these problems and complexities are in the case of some of the people who were in the hotel, we shouldn’t make the mistake of considering that those problems must be interrelated merely because the people were temporarily thrown together in a physical environment.”

There was something ominous in her voice as she said, “Doug, are you starting out to prove that no matter what this actress did, she couldn’t have been … ”

Amorette Standish opened the door and said, “Doctor Perry’s here, all out of breath. Says he broke every speed record in town.”

“Show him in,” Selby said.

The door opened and Doctor Perry bustled into the room. He had quite evidently been hurrying, and was breathing through his mouth.

“Sit down there,” Selby told him, “and get your breath. I didn’t mean for you to run yourself to death getting here, and you’ll need some breath to answer questions … By the way, Amorette, I want to give you some instructions. And, Sylvia, you can help me, if you’ll step this way for a moment. You’ll pardon us for a minute, Doctor?”

“I’ll say!” Doctor Perry panted. “I could use a breathing spell very nicely.”

Selby stepped into the outer room, drew Amorette and Sylvia close to him.

“Now, listen,” he said; “a call may come in about that camera. I’m anxious to find out … ”

“Yes,” Amorette interrupted, “Sheriff Brandon telephoned. He said not to disturb you, but to tell you he’d talked with Mrs. Larrabie. She told him the minister got the camera through a retailer who sent to a dealer in Sacramento for it. The sheriff has a call in for the retailer in Riverbend. And he’s already talked with the wholesaler in Sacramento. They’re looking for the number and are going to call back. The sheriff said both calls would come to this office.”

“All right,” Selby said. “If the call comes in while I’m talking with Doctor Perry and you get the numbers, just come to the door and beckon to me. And, Sylvia, I think you’d better be where you can listen in on that telephone call, and be absolutely certain that the numbers are correct.”

“But, when you already have the camera,” Sylvia said, “why be so worried about the numbers?” …

Selby stepped back into the private office, closed the door and said, “Doctor, you know something of the facts about Larrabie’s death.”

“I’ve read the papers. What about it?”

“It’s my theory,” Selby said, “that the man who arranged things so Larrabie took that dose of poison was a man who must have known something of medicine, and who must not only have access to morphia but knew how to put it in a five-grain tablet.”

Doctor Perry nodded.

“Now, then, you say that the one who poisoned this dog showed a considerable knowledge of medicine. I want to know just what you mean by that?”

“I mean,” Doctor Perry said, “that as nearly as I can find out, the poisoned meat contained not one active ingredient, but two. Moreover, the poisoning had been very skillfully compounded and had been placed in food combinations which would be particularly attractive to a dog.”

“Now in order to plant that poison on the inside of the room, the poisoner must have had access to that room. Isn’t that right?”

Doctor Perry’s forehead twisted into a perplexed frown. “Why, of course,” he said, “that goes without saying.”

“Therefore the dog wouldn’t have been poisoned merely so the poisoner could have had a few minutes in that room.”

“Why?” Doctor Perry asked.

“Because he already must have had access to the room when he planted the poison.”

“That’s right … But wait a minute. How could he have planted the poison with the dog there?”

Selby said, “That’s exactly the point. You see, Doctor, we have more definite clues to work on when it comes to trapping the poisoner of the dog than we do in trapping the murderer of William Larrabie. Therefore, I want to be reasonably certain that one and the same man was guilty of both the dog poisoning and the murder. Then I want to concentrate on getting that dog poisoner.”

“I see what you’re getting at,” Doctor Perry said slowly, “and I think I can assure you, Mr. Selby, both the dog poisoning and Larrabie’s death had this much in common — they were the work of some man who knew something of drugs, who had an opportunity to compound a five-grain tablet containing a lethal dose of morphia, or who had access to such a tablet. Also, the man knew something about dogs.”

Selby stared steadily at Doctor Perry. “Is there,” he asked, “any chance that Harry Perkins might have poisoned his own dog?”

Doctor Perry’s face showed startled surprise. Then he said swiftly, “Why, Mr. Perkins was all worked up about it. He was going to kill the man who did it.”

“Nevertheless,” Selby said, “he might have poisoned the dog and then rushed him to you in order to counteract the effects of the poison.”

“But why would he have done that?”

“Because he would want to make it look like an outside job. Mind you, Doctor, I’m not accusing Perkins; I’m simply asking you a question.”

Doctor Perry said, “You mean that unless the dog had been absent from the premises — which he wasn’t — the person who dropped that poison inside of the room must have been someone the dog knew. A stranger might have tossed it over the fence, but a stranger couldn’t have planted it in that room.”

“That,” Selby told him, “is right. Now then, Perkins, I believe, is a registered pharmacist.”

“I believe he is, yes.”

“Isn’t it rather unusual that Perkins would have detected the symptoms of poisoning and brought the dog to you as soon as he did?”

“Well,” Doctor Perry said slowly, “it depends, of course; some people know their dogs so well they can tell the minute anything goes wrong. Still … ” He let his voice trail away into thoughtful silence.

At that moment Amorette Standish knocked on the door, opened it and beckoned to Selby.

“Excuse me for a moment,” Selby said. “Although, on second thought, Doctor, I guess that’s everything I wanted to get from you. I’d like very much to have you make some investigation along the theory I’ve outlined and see if you can find out anything.”

Doctor Perry clamped on his hat, strode purposefully toward the door.

“You can count on me,” he said, “and also on my absolute discretion. I’ll be at the coroner’s for a few minutes, if you want to reach me. I have some questions to ask him.”

“Thanks, Doctor,” Selby said.

When Doctor Perry had left the office, the district attorney turned to Amorette Standish. “We’ve got the numbers,” she said in a low voice.

The door of the other office opened as Sylvia Martin came from the extension line. She nodded and said, “I have them here. The sale was made to Mr. Larrabie shortly before Christmas of last year.”

“Well, let’s check the numbers,” Selby said.

He led the way to the private office, took the camera from the case, read out the numbers. Both girls nodded their heads. “That’s right,” they said.

At that moment the door of the outer office opened and Sheriff Brandon entered the room.

“Find any fingerprints on the space bar of the typewriter?” Selby asked.

“Yes, there are a couple of good ones we can use.”

“Were they those of the dead man?”


“By the way,” Selby said, “what number did I give you on that camera?”

The sheriff pulled a notebook from his pocket, read forth a string of figures.

Sylvia Martin exclaimed, “Why, those aren’t the figures that we have, and … Why, they aren’t the figures that are on the camera!”

Doug Selby grinned. “Rex,” he said, “while I’m outlining a damn good story to Sylvia, would you mind sprinting down the courthouse steps? You’ll find Doctor Perry just getting into his automobile. Arrest him for the murder of William Larrabie.”



Sylvia Martin stared at Selby with wide-open eyes. “You aren’t bluffing, Doug?”

“No,” he told her.

“Then give it to me,” she said, looking at her wrist watch, “and hit the high spots. I’ve got to get this story licked into shape. Give me the barest outline.”

“Let’s go back to what we know,” he told her. “We know that Larrabie had business here. It was business other than raising the five thousand dollars.”

“How do we know that?”

“Because he didn’t leave here after he got the five thousand dollars.”

“I see.”

“We know that he wrote someone here in Madison City, that this someone telephoned him and made arrangements for him to come to Madison City with the utmost secrecy. That was the person with whom Larrabie was doing business, and it’s reasonable to suppose that business was connected in some way with the Perry Estate, because Larrabie’s briefcase contained documents relating to two independent pieces of business: the Perry Estate and the scenario.

“Remember, I warned you that all people had problems; that we mustn’t make the mistake of feeling that all of these problems must be related merely because the people happened to be under the same hotel roof. As a matter of fact, the five thousand dollars, Brower’s troubles over losing the money, and Shirley Arden’s relationship with Larrabie, all were entirely independent of the business which actually brought Larrabie here.”

“Getting the five thousand was important, but there was something else which was unfinished and which had to do with someone here in Madison City.

“Now the man to whom Larrabie wrote his letter and with whom he had his business must have been someone Larrabie was aiding. He’d hardly have followed instructions from someone hostile to him.”

“Go on,” she said.

“There is a remarkable coincidence which has escaped everyone’s attention,” he said, “and probably furnishes the key to the entire situation, and that is that the initials of both claimants to the money in the Perry Estate are the same. Therefore, if Larrabie had written a letter addressed simply to ‘H.F. Perry’ at Madison City, that letter might have been delivered either to Herbert F. Perry or to Dr. H. Franklin Perry. And if the letter contained evidence relating to the marriage of the two decedents, and had fallen into the possession of Doctor Perry, naturally Doctor Perry would have realized his only hope to beat Herbert Perry’s claim was to suppress this evidence. Now in the newspaper clippings in Larrabie’s briefcase, the claimant to the estate was described simply as ‘H.F. Perry.’

“Of course, I can’t prove right now that Doctor Perry telephoned Larrabie, found out that Larrabie hadn’t let anyone know of the particular thing that he knew, therefore instructed Larrabie to come here and register under an assumed name; but I can surmise that.

“I can’t prove Doctor Perry was closeted in conference with Larrabie; that he managed to give Larrabie a lethal dose of morphine either in a drink or in some article of food, or perhaps persuaded him to have a tablet as a cure for a headache, claiming it was merely aspirin; but I can surmise that.”

“But you can’t convict him on surmises,” Sylvia pointed out.

He grinned at her and said, “I can further surmise that there’s one possibility in the Perry case the lawyers overlooked. While it’s a matter of law that marriage has to be solemnized with certain formalities, it is also the law that where two people appear before a regularly ordained minister of the Gospel, state they have been living together, and ask to be married, the minister has authority under those circumstances to make a note of such marriage on the church records in order to make the marriage legal.

“If that happened, it would explain everything in the case. And if Larrabie was a good photographer, which he was, he would have been very apt to have photographed that portion of the church records before leaving Riverbend. And if Doctor Perry had killed him and then started thinking things over and read in the newspapers about the camera having been found in Larrabie’s suitcase, he would have been certain to appreciate his danger if those films were developed.”

“So Doctor Perry decided he had to get possession of that camera. He had only one way of getting access to the place where Perkins kept the camera, and that was to poison the dog, because he knew Perkins would bring the dog to him for treatment; that then he would have a chance to go back to look the place over for poison. But he also knew he wouldn’t have time to take the films from Larrabie’s camera; but, if he played things right, he could switch cameras. So he purchased an identical camera. He needed some exposed films in the camera, because he’d learned that some of the films in Larrabie’s camera had been exposed.

“So he poisoned the dog and then, under the guise of looking for poison, returned to Perkins’ place. Unfortunately for him, Perkins had called me and I was, therefore, present. But, offsetting that bit of particular bad fortune, he had the good fortune to find the camera where he could make a quick substitution. In order to do this, he needed to divert our attention. And he did this very successfully by dropping additional poison along the wall on the far side of the room. While we were all looking for poison, Perry had a chance to switch cameras. He thought then that he was in the clear, until he realized that I was going to check the numbers on the camera. Then he realized he needed to make a second switch. So I played into his hand by giving him a chance to come to my office and, when he had arrived, leaving him alone with the substituted camera. So far I can’t prove anything. But, knowing the guilty person, I can start tracing telephone calls, looking up the church records at Riverbend for a record of that marriage. I can absolutely prove the substitution of those cameras, and I think the sheriff will find the camera we want in his possession.

“If we can reconstruct what must have happened, Perry lured Larrabie into a trap, ensured keeping the facts exclusively within Larrabie’s knowledge by impressing upon him the necessity for secrecy. He had an evening, conference in Larrabie’s room, gave the trusting minister a dose of morphia, probably claiming it was an aspirin. Then he continued to chat with his victim until the poison took effect. When Larrabie became unconscious, Perry undressed him and put him to bed, then left the box of sedatives where it would be discovered, and, when he was quite sure the man was dead, proceeded to write that letter and leave it in the typewriter.

“Perry was an old hand at traveling. When he undressed the minister, he automatically and unconsciously hung up the trousers by inserting the cuffs in the top drawer of the dresser. That showed that Larrabie hadn’t undressed himself.

“Perry had previously opened the door of room 319 with a passkey, and he had only to barricade the door of 321, unbolt the connecting door to 319, bolt it on the inside and leave through 319, locking the door behind him. If I hadn’t happened to notice the bolt wasn’t in position on the minister’s side of the door, the assumption would have been that no one could possibly have left the room. And that letter pointed to a natural death so cunningly that in the ordinary course of things the clues would have been pretty cold before an investigation was started.

“Perry overlooked just one thing, which was that when Larrabie registered under an assumed name, he hadn’t taken a fictitious name.

“If the name had been purely fictitious, we’d have tried to notify a Mrs. Charles Brower at Millbank, Nevada, of her husband’s death. Finding there was no such person, we’d have been baffled when it came to an identification of the corpse, but could have been expected to take the view death had been induced by an overdose of sleeping medicine.”

She studied him thoughtfully for a moment and said, “If that’s right, you’ve done a perfectly swell piece of detective work. If it isn’t right, we’re both … ”

The door opened and Sheriff Brandon pushed Doctor Perry into the room.

“Get the camera?” Selby asked.


“Take his fingerprints,” Selby said, “and check them with the fingerprints on the space bar of that typewriter.”



Madison City was shaken to its foundations as two newspapers made simultaneous appearance on the street. The Blade demanded the immediate recall of the district attorney upon the ground that he had been influenced by the moneyed interests of Hollywood, that his head had been turned by the wiles of a clever actress, and that he had proved himself utterly unfit to discharge even the routine duties of his office.

The Clarion, in an “extra” which had evidently been held in readiness to hit the streets at the same time as The Blade, carried great screaming headlines:


The newspaper carried complete details, even to a verbatim copy of the marriage record of the Riverbend Methodist Church, as the contents of that record had been transmitted over long-distance telephone at the request of the sheriff’s office. It contained an interview with the fingerprint expert of the sheriff’s office, stating there could be no doubt as to the identity of Doctor Perry’s fingerprints, which appeared on the space bar of the typewriter. And it contained a boxed-in paragraph giving a last-minute flash announcing that Doctor Perry had confessed.

Sylvia Martin sat in the district attorney’s office, reading the newspaper.

“A darned good story, Mr. District Attorney,” she said, “even if we did write it.”

“We had to save our jobs,” he said.

“Say, Doug, know something?”


“One of the big Los Angeles papers rang me up and offered me a swell job. Gee, Doug, the city editor was where he could hear my end of the conversation. Gosh, but he was worried!”

“Did you accept, Sylvia?”

“No,” she said, “I told them I liked the local environment … How about your Hollywood contacts, Doug? Going to play around with the movie crowd?”

“No,” he told her, “I did the same thing you did.”

“What’s that?”

“Told them I liked the local environment.”

She gave a quick intake of breath.

“Really, Doug?”


“Did — did you mean what I meant?”

“The question,” he told her, “is, did you mean what I meant?”

Page from the magazine
Read “The Thread of Truth” by Erle Stanley Gardner from the January 1937, issue of The Country Gentleman. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Illustrations by Dudley Gloyne Summers (SEPS)

“The Thread of Truth, Part IV” by Erle Stanley Gardner

When he died, in 1970, Erle Stanley Gardner was the best-selling American fiction author of the century. His detective stories sold all over the globe, especially those with his most famous defense attorney protagonist, Perry Mason. His no-nonsense prose and neat, satisfying endings delighted detective fans for decades. Gardner wrote several stories that were serialized in the Post. In Country Gentleman, his 1936 serial “The Thread of Truth” follows a fresh D.A. in a clergyman murder case that comes on his first day on the job.

Published on December 1, 1936


The shabby little man, registered as The Reverend Charles Brower, died in Room 321 of the Madison Hotel, murdered by a deadly sleeping tablet. District Attorney Douglas Selby of Madison City, elected on a reform ticket, must find the guilty person, for he knew that the Blade, newspaper of the ousted gang, awaited the chance for a vicious attack.

But Mrs. Brower, come from Nevada to the California town near Hollywood, declared the slain man was not her husband. Yet the few effects in Room 321 were all identified with Brower, all save an expensive camera, a movie scenario, newspaper clippings of the screen favorite, Shirley Arden, and more clippings relating to litigation over the local Perry estate.

Working desperately, Selby learned that Shirley Arden had been a guest of the Madison Hotel the night of the murder, that a man had called upon her, and that a perfumed envelope containing five $1,000 bills had been left in the hotel safe in Brower’s name.

The Blade screamed for action on the case. Selby questioned Shirley Arden, discovered that her distinctive perfume did not tally with that of the envelope, and that she could not remember clearly the name of the man who had called for her aid in selling his scenario. She convinced Selby of her innocence; she even won his reluctant admiration and his promise of protection against the harm that connection with a murder case would do her career.

Then the first break. Spectacles found in Room 321 belonged to a Reverend Larrabie of Riverbend, upstate California town. It was the name Shirley Arden had been trying to recall! Selby and his staunch ally, Sylvia Martin, girl reporter on the friendly Clarion, hastened to Riverbend to return with Mrs. Larrabie. The slain man was her husband, but his murderer was yet to be found.

Then Brower appeared at the hotel to demand the $5,000 envelope, but refused to talk when taken into custody. Next Selby discovered that young Herbert Perry, one of the Perry estate litigants, had knocked on the door of the minister’s room the night of the murder. And then, to Selby’s dismay, Sylvia Martin pointed out that Shirley Arden had suddenly changed the brand of perfume she used — and the change coincided with the time of the minister’s death.



Events during the next few minutes moved in a swift, kaleidoscopic fashion.

Frank Gordon entered the office very much excited. There had been a shooting scrape down on Washington Avenue. A divorced husband had vowed no one else should have his wife and had sought to make good his boast with five shots from a six-shooter, saving the sixth for himself. Four of the shots had gone wild. The woman had been wounded with the fifth. The man’s nerve had failed when it came to using the sixth. He’d turned to run and had been picked up by one of the officers.

Held in jail, he was filled with lachrymose repentance and was in the proper mood to make a complete confession. Later on he probably would repudiate the confession, claim the police had beaten him in order to obtain it, that he had shot in self-defense and was insane anyway. Therefore, the police were anxious to have the district attorney present to see that a confession was taken down properly.

“You’ll have to go, Gordon,” Selby said. “This will be a good chance for you to break in. Remember not to make him any promises. Don’t even go so far as to tell him it would be better for him to tell the truth. Take a shorthand reporter with you and take down everything that’s said; ask the man if he wants a lawyer.”

“Should I do that?”

“Sure. He won’t want a lawyer — not now, when he wants to confess. Later on he’ll want a lawyer, or perhaps some lawyer will want him in order to get the advertising. How bad is the woman wounded?”

“Not bad; a shot through the shoulder. It missed the lung, I understand.”

“If it isn’t fatal he’ll plead guilty,” Selby said. “If it kills her, he’ll fight to beat the noose. Get him tied up while he’s in the mood.”

Gordon went out, and Sylvia smiled across at Selby.

“If cases would only come singly,” she said, “but they don’t.”

“No,” he told her, “they don’t, and this Larrabie case is a humdinger.”

The telephone rang.

“That,” Selby said, squaring his jaw, “will be Ben Trask.”

But it wasn’t Ben Trask; it was Harry Perkins, the coroner, and for once his slow, drawling speech was keyed up to an almost hysterical pitch.

“I want you to come down here right away, Selby,” he said, “there’s hell to pay.”

Selby stiffened in his chair.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “A murder?”

“Murder nothing. It’s ten times worse than a murder,” he said, “it’s a dirty damn dog poisoner.”

For the moment Selby couldn’t believe his ears.

“Come on down to earth,” he said, “and tell me the facts.”

“My police dog, Rogue,” the coroner said; “somebody got him, with poison. He’s at the vet’s now. Doc’s working on him. It’ll be touch and go, with one chance in ten for the dog.”

He broke off with something which sounded very much as though he had choked back a sob.

“Any clues?” Selby asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t had time to look. I just found him and rushed him down to the veterinary’s. I’m down at Doctor Perry’s hospital now.”

“I’ll come down and see what can be done,” Selby said.

He hung up the telephone and turned to Sylvia Martin.

“That,” he said, “shows how callous we get about things which don’t concern us, and how worked up we get when things get close to home. That’s Harry Perkins, the coroner. He’s been out on murder cases, suicides, automobile accidents and all forms of violent death. He’s picked up people in all stages of dilapidation, and to him it’s been just one more corpse. Tears, entreaties and hysterics mean nothing to him. He’s grown accustomed to them. But somebody poisoned his dog, and damned if he isn’t crying.”

“And you’re going down to see about a poisoned dog?” Sylvia Martin asked.


“Good Lord, why?”

“In the first place, he feels so cut up about it and, in a way, he’s one of the official family. In the second place, he’s down at Doctor Perry’s Dog and Cat Hospital — you know, Dr. H. Franklin Perry, the brother who stands to inherit the money in the Perry Estate if young Herbert Perry loses out.”

“Well?” she asked.

“I’ve never talked with Doctor Perry,” Selby said. “The sheriff’s office found he didn’t know anything about the man who was killed, and let it go at that, but somehow I want to take a look at him.”

“Anything except a hunch?” she asked.

“It isn’t even that,” he said; “but if that morphine was deliberately mixed in with the sleeping tablets, it must have been done by someone who had access to morphine, and who could have fixed up a tablet. Doctor Perry runs a veterinary hospital and … ”

“Forget it,” she told him. “That whole thing was a plant, along with the letter. Larrabie never took that sleeping medicine. Not voluntarily, anyway. His wife said he never had any trouble sleeping. Don’t you remember?”

Selby nodded moodily.

“Moreover,” she pointed out, “when it comes to suspicions, you can find lots of people to suspect.”

“Meaning?” he asked.

“Meaning,” she said, “that I’ve never been satisfied with this man Cushing’s explanations.

“In the first place, the way he shields Shirley Arden means that in some way she’s more than just a transient customer who occasionally comes up from Los Angeles. In the second place, he didn’t disclose anything about that five thousand dollars in the safe until pretty late. In the third place, he was so blamed anxious to have it appear the death was accidental.

“Now, whoever wrote that letter and addressed the envelope was someone who didn’t know the man’s real identity. The only thing he knew was what he’d picked up from the hotel register.”

“Therefore, the murderer must have been someone who had access to the information on the hotel register. And, aside from what he could learn from that register, he didn’t know a thing about the man he killed. Therefore, he acted on the assumption that his victim was Charles Brower.

“He wanted to make the murder appear like suicide, so he wrote that letter and left it in the typewriter. If the man had really been Charles Brower, nothing would ever have been thought of it. The post-mortem wouldn’t have been continued to the extent of testing the vital organs for morphine. And, even if they had found some morphine, they’d have blamed it on the sleep medicine.

“Now, the person who would have been most apt to be misled by the registration would have been the manager of the hotel.”

“But what possible motive could Cushing have had for committing the murder?”

“You can’t tell until you find out what the bond is between Cushing and Shirley Arden. I can’t puzzle it all out, I’m just giving you a thought.”

His eyes were moody as he said slowly, “That’s the worst of messing around with one of these simple-appearing murder cases. If someone sneaked into the room and stabbed him, or had shot him, or something like that, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but … Oh, hang it, this case had to come along right at the start of my term of office.”

“Another thing,” she said, “to remember is that the person who wrote the letter, and probably the person who committed the murder, got in there from 319. Now, there wasn’t anyone registered in 319. That means the person must have had a passkey.”

“I’ve thought of all that,” Selby said. “The murderer could hardly have come in through the transom, couldn’t have come in through the door of 321, and he couldn’t have come in through the door of 323 — that is, what I really mean is, he couldn’t have gone out that way. He could have gotten in the room by a dozen different methods. He could have been hiding in the room, he could have walked in through the door of 321, he could have gone in through 323. After all, you know, we don’t know that the door wasn’t barricaded after the man had died. From what Herbert Perry says, someone must have been in the room some two or three hours after death took place.

“But when that man went out he had only one way to go, and that was through the door of 319. If he’d gone out through 323, he couldn’t have bolted the door from the inside. If he’d gone out through the door of 321, he couldn’t have barricaded the door with a chair. There was no chance he could have gone out through the window. Therefore, 319 represents the only way he could have gone out.”

“And he couldn’t have gone out that way,” she said, “unless he’d known the room was vacant, and had a passkey, and had previously left the communicating door unlocked.”

“That’s probably right.”

“Well,” she said, “it’s up to you, but personally I’d be inclined to look for an inside job around the hotel somewhere, and I think Cushing is tied up too deeply with this motion-picture actress to be above suspicion. It’s a cinch she was the one who furnished the five thousand dollars.”

“You might,” Selby told her, “do a little work along that line, Sylvia. I wouldn’t want to get hard-boiled with Cushing unless I had something to work on, because, after all, we haven’t the faintest semblance of a motive. We … ”

“How about robbery?”

“No, I’ve considered that. If it had been robbery, it would have been an easy matter for Cushing to have taken the envelope with the five thousand dollars out of the safe and substituted another one. He could have made a passable forgery of the signature. Since it wasn’t Brower’s signature in any event, there wouldn’t have been much opportunity to detect the forgery.”

She started for the door, turned to grin at him and said, “On my way. I’ll let you know if anything turns up.”

“The devil of it is,” he told her, “this isn’t like one of those detective stories, which you can solve by merely pointing the finger of suspicion at the guilty person. This is a real life, flesh-and-blood murder case, where we’ve got to produce actual evidence which can stand up in a court of justice. I’ve got to find that murderer and then prove he’s guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.”

“And if you don’t do it?” she asked.

“Wait until you see The Blade tonight,” he said gloomily. “I have an idea Sam Roper is going to make a statement.”

She laughed and said, “Afraid you can’t take it, Doug?”

“No,” he told her. “That’s not what’s worrying me. I know damn well I can take it. What’s worrying me is whether I can dish it out.”

She grinned, said “Go to it, big boy,” and closed the door behind her as she left his private office.

Ten seconds later the telephone rang.

To Selby’s surprise, it was Shirley Arden, herself, at the other end of the wire.

“I think,” he told her, “there are some things we need to have cleared up.”

She hesitated a moment, then said, “I’d be only too glad to talk with you. It’s going to be very difficult for me to come up to Madison City, and you know the position I’m in after the nasty insinuations the newspapers have made. If I showed up there now, they’d have me virtually accused of murder. Couldn’t you come down here?”




“You know where my house is in Beverly Hills?”

“Yes,” he told her, his voice still savagely official. “I once went on a rubberneck tour. Had an old-maid aunt out from the East. She wanted to see where all of the stars lived. Yours is the place that sits up on a hill, with the fountain in the front yard and the stone lions in front of the porch, isn’t it?”

“That’s the one. Could you be there tonight at eight?”


“We can have a quiet little dinner — just we two. Don’t say anything about it. In other words, don’t let anyone know you’re coming to see me.”

“Do you know what I want to see you about?” he asked.

“Haven’t the least idea,” she told him cheerfully, “but I’ll be glad to see you under more favorable circumstances than the last visit.”

“The circumstances,” he announced, “won’t be more favorable.”

Her laugh was a throaty ripple as she said, “My, you’re so grim you frighten me. Tonight, then, at eight. Good-by.” She put the receiver on the hook.

Selby grabbed for his hat and started for Doctor Perry’s Dog and Cat Hospital.

Doctor Perry looked up as Selby came in. He was in his fifties, a man whose manner radiated quiet determination. A police dog was held in a canvas sling in a long bathtub. His head had drooped forward. His tongue lolled from his mouth. His eyes were dazed.

Doctor Perry’s sleeves were rolled up, his smock was stained and splashed. In his right hand he held a long, flexible rubber tube connected with a glass tank. He slightly compressed the end of the tube and washed out the sides of the bathtub.

“That’s all that can be done,” he said. “I’ve got him thoroughly cleaned out and given him a heart stimulant. Now we’ll just have to keep him quiet and see what happens.”

He lifted the big dog as tenderly as though it had been a child, carried it to a warm, dry kennel on which a thick paper mattress had been spread.

Harry Perkins blew his nose explosively. “Think he’ll live?” he asked.

“I can tell you more in a couple of hours. He had an awful shock. You should have got him here sooner.”

“I got him here just as quickly as I could. Do you know what kind of poison it was?”

“No, it was plenty powerful, whatever it was. It doesn’t act like anything I’ve encountered before.”

“This is the district attorney,” Perkins said.

Doctor Perry nodded to Selby and said, “Glad to meet you.”

Perkins said, “Doug, I don’t care how much it costs, I want this thing run to the ground. I want to find the man who poisoned that dog. Rogue has the nicest disposition of any dog in the world. He’s friendly with everyone. Of course, he’s a good watchdog. That’s to be expected. If anyone tries to get in my place and touch anything, Rogue would tear him to pieces. He’s particularly friendly to children. There isn’t a kid in the block but what knows him and loves him.”

The veterinarian fitted the hose over one of the faucets in the bathtub, cleaned out the bathtub, washed off his hands and arms, took off the stained smock and said, “Well, let’s go out to your place and take a look around. I want to see whether it’s general poison which has been put around through the vicinity, or something which was tossed into your yard where your dog would get it.”

“But why should anyone toss anything in to Rogue in particular?”

The veterinarian shrugged his shoulders. “Primarily because he’s a big dog,” he said. “That means when he scratches up lawns, he digs deep into the grass. It’s not often people deliberately poison any particular dog unless he’s a big dog, or unless it’s a little dog who’s vicious. Small, friendly dogs are mostly poisoned from a general campaign. Big dogs are almost always the ones who get singled out for special attention.”

“Why do people poison dogs?” Selby asked.

“For the same reason some people rob and murder,” the veterinarian said. “People in the aggregate are all right, but there’s a big minority that have no regard for the rights of others.”

“To think of a man deliberately throwing a dog poisoned food,” Perkins declared, “makes my blood boil. I’d shoot a man who’d do it.”

“Well, let’s take a run over to your place and look around,” Doctor Perry suggested. “You say the dog hasn’t been out of the yard? We may find some of the poison left there and learn something from it.” “How about Rogue? Can we do him any good staying here?”

“Not a bit. To tell you the truth, Harry, I think he’ll pull through. I’m not making any promises, but I hope he’s over the worst of it. What he needs now is rest. My assistant will keep him under close observation. Have you got your car here?”


“Good. We’ll drive over with you.”

The three of them drove to the place where Perkins had his undertaking establishment, with living quarters over the mortuary. In back of the place was a fenced yard which led to an alley. There was a gate in the alley.

“The dog stayed in here?” Doctor Perry asked.

“Yes. He’s always in the building or here in the yard.”

A butler is about to escort a man out of the room, but a woman tells him that it won't be necessary because the man is going to leave anyway.
Shirley Arden pushed Jarvis back. “No,” she said, “there’s no necessity for any more violence. Mr. Selby is going to leave.” (Illustrated by Dudley Gloyne Summers; © SEPS)

Doctor Perry walked around the back yard, looking particularly along the line of the fence. Suddenly he stooped and picked up something which appeared to be a ball of earth. He broke it open and disclosed the red of raw meat.

“There you are,” he said; “another little deadly pellet. That’s been mixed by a skillful dog poisoner. He put the poison in raw hamburger, then he rolled the hamburger in the earth so it would be almost impossible to see. A dog’s nose would detect the raw meat through the coating of earth, but your eye would be fooled by the earth which had been placed around it. Let’s look around and see if we can find some more.”

A survey of the yard disclosed two more of the little rolls of poisoned meat.

“Notice the way these were placed along the sides of the fence,” Selby said to the coroner. “They weren’t just tossed over the fence, but were deliberately placed there. That means that someone must have walked through the gate and into the back yard.”

“By George, that’s so!” Perkins exclaimed.

“That’s undoubtedly true,” Doctor Perry agreed. “Now, then, if the dog were here in the yard, why didn’t he bark? Moreover, why didn’t the poisoner stand in the alley and just toss the rolls of meat in to the dog?”

Perkins turned to the district attorney and asked, “What can you do to a dog poisoner, Selby?”

“Not a great deal,” Selby admitted. “It’s hard to convict them, if they stand trial. And when they are convicted a judge usually gives them probation.”

“To my mind,” Perry said, “they should be hung. It’s a worse crime than murder.”

“That’s exactly the way I feel about it,” Perkins agreed emphatically.

They walked back through the yard into the back room of the mortuary.

“We’d better take a look around here, too,” Perry suggested. “This commences to look like an inside job to me. It looks as though someone you’d been talking to had casually strolled around here and planted this stuff. Can you remember having had anyone roaming around the place, Harry? It must have been someone who planted the poison right while you were talking with him.”

“Why, yes,” Perkins said, “there were several people in here. I had a coroner’s jury sitting on the inquest on the man who was murdered in the hotel.”

He turned to Selby and said, “That was yesterday, while you were gone. They returned a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown. I presume you knew that.”

“I gathered they would,” Selby remarked. “It seems the only possible verdict which could have been returned.”

He turned to Perry and said, “I’m wondering if you knew the dead man, Doctor.”

“No, I’d never seen him in my life — not that I know of.”

Selby took a photograph from his inside coat pocket, showed it to Doctor Perry.

“I wish you’d take a good look at that,” he said, “and see if it looks at all familiar.”

Doctor Perry studied it from several angles and slowly shook his head. “No,” he said. “The sheriff asked me about him, and showed me the same picture. I told the sheriff I’d never seen him, but now, looking at this photograph, I somehow get the impression I’ve seen him somewhere. You know, the face has a vaguely familiar look. Perhaps it’s just a type. I can’t place him, but there’s something about him that reminds me of someone.”

Selby was excited. “I wish you’d think carefully,” he said. “You know the man had some clippings in his briefcase about the litigation you’re interested in.”

“Yes, the sheriff told me that he did,” Perry said, “but lots of people are interested in that case. I’ve had lots of letters about it. You see, quite a few people got interlocutory decrees and then went into another state to get married. They’re worried about where they’d stand on inheritances and such. That’s probably why this man was interested … But he reminds me of someone; perhaps it’s a family resemblance. Let me see what clippings he cut out, and I may be able to tell you more about him. I must have had a hundred letters from people who sent clippings and asked for details.”

“Ever answer the letters?” Selby asked.

“No. I didn’t have time. It keeps me busy running my own business. Paying off the mortgage on this new hospital keeps my nose to the grindstone. I wish that lawsuit would get finished; but my lawyer says it’s about over now. I couldn’t pay him a regular fee, so he took it on a contingency. He’ll make almost as much out of it as I will.”

“Hope he does,” the coroner said. “He owes me a nice little sum on a note that’s overdue.”

The coroner took out the briefcase, suitcase and portable typewriter. “By the way,” he asked, “is it all right to deliver these to the widow? She was in to get them a while ago.”

“I think so,” Selby said, “but you’d better ask the sheriff and get his okay.”

“I did that already. He says it’s okay by him, if it is by you.”

“Go ahead and give them to her then. But be sure the inventory checks.”

The coroner opened the suitcase, also the briefcase.

“Well,” Selby said, “I’m going to be getting on back to the office. Perhaps Doctor Perry can tell us something after his examination of those poisoned scraps.”

“Wait a minute,” the veterinarian said, laying down the newspaper clippings the coroner had handed him. “What’s that over there in the corner?”

Perkins stared, then said, “Good Lord, it’s another one of the same things.”

They walked over and picked it up. Perry examined it, then dropped it into his pocket.

“That settles it,” he announced. “It was aimed directly at your dog and it’s an inside job, someone who’s been in here today. Can you remember who was in here?”

“The last man in here today,” Perkins said, “was George Cushing, manager of the Madison Hotel. It’s a cinch he wouldn’t have done anything like that.”

“No,” Selby said, “we’d hardly put Cushing in the category of a dog poisoner.”

“Who else?” the veterinarian asked.

“Mrs. Larrabie was in here, the dead man’s widow. She looked over the things in the suitcase and in the briefcase. And Fred Latteur, your lawyer. He came in to tell me he’d pay off my note when he had your case settled. He wouldn’t have any reason to poison the dog.”

“Let’s take a look around and see if we can find some more,” Doctor Perry said. “Each one of us take a room. Make a thorough search.”

They looked through the rooms and Selby found another of the peculiarly distinctive bits of poisoned meat.

“Anyone else been in here today?” Selby demanded. “Think carefully, Perkins. It’s important. There’s more to this than appears on the surface.”

“No … Wait a minute, Mrs. Brower was in. She’s on the warpath,” the coroner said. “She thought I had five thousand dollars that had been taken from the hotel. She insists that it’s her husband’s money.”

“Did she say where he got it?”

“She said Larrabie had Brower’s wallet, and that the five thousand-dollar bills had been in Brower’s wallet. Therefore, Brower was entitled to them.”

“What did she want you to do?”

“She wanted me to give her the money. When I told her I didn’t have it, she wanted to take a look at the wallet. She said she could tell whether it was her husband’s.”

“Did you show it to her?”

“The sheriff has it. I sent her up to the sheriff’s office.”

Selby said abruptly, “You can give the rest of the stuff back to Mrs. Larrabie, Harry. I’m going to take that camera. Tell her she can have the Camera in a day or two, but I want to see if there are any exposed films in it. They might furnish a clue. I’ve been too busy to give them any thought, but they may be important.”

“A darned good idea,” the coroner said. “That chap came down here from the northern part of the state. He probably took photographs en route. Those camera fiends are just the kind to put their friends on the front steps of the capitol building at Sacramento and take a bunch of snapshots. You may find something there that’ll be worthwhile.”

Selby nodded and pocketed the camera.

“You let me know about that dog,” Perkins said anxiously to the veterinarian. Then he turned to Selby: “I want something done about this poisoning. At least drag these people who’ve been in here for questioning. And I’d start with Mrs. Brower. She looks mean to me.”

“I’ll give you a ring in an hour or two,” Selby promised. “I’m pretty busy on that murder case, but I have a hunch this poisoning business may be connected somehow with that case. I’ll do everything I can.”

“It’s commencing to look,” Doctor Perry said, “as though this wasn’t any casual poisoning, but something that had been carefully planned to get Rogue out of the way. I’d guard this place day and night for a while, if I were you, Perkins.”

Selby said, “Good idea,” and left Perkins and the veterinarian talking as he started for his office.



Selby felt absurdly conspicuous as he parked his car in front of the actress’ residence. There was something about the quiet luxury of the place which made the stone Peiping lions on either side of the porch stairway seem as forbidding as vicious watchdogs.

Selby climbed the stairs. The vine-covered porch gave a hint of cool privacy for the hot days of summer.

A military-appearing butler, with broad, straight shoulders, thin waist and narrow hips, opened the door almost as soon as Selby’s finger touched the bell button. Looking past him to the ornate magnificence of the reception hallway and the living room which opened beyond, Selby felt once more that touch of awkward embarrassment, a vague feeling of being out of place.

That feeling was dissipated by the sight of Shirley Arden. She was wearing a cocktail gown, and he noticed with satisfaction that, while there was a touch of formality in her attire, it was only the semi-formality with which one would receive an intimate friend. When she came toward him she neither presumed too much on their previous acquaintance, nor was she distant. She gave him her hand and said, “So glad you could come, Mr. Selby. We’d probably have felt a little more businesslike if we’d dined in one of the cafes; but under the circumstances, it wouldn’t do for us to be seen together.

“The spaciousness of all of this is more or less a setting. I have to do quite a bit of entertaining, you know. Just the two of us will rattle around in here like two dry peas in a paper bag, so I’ve told Jarvis to set a table in the den.”

She slipped her arm through his and said, “Come on and look around. I’m really proud of this architecture.”

She showed him through the house, switching lights on as she walked. Selby had a confused, blurred recollection of spacious rooms, of a patio with a fountain, a private swimming pool with lights embedded in the bottom of the tank so that a tinted glow suffused the water, basement sport rooms with pool, billiard and ping pong tables, a cocktail room with a built-in bar, mirrors and oil paintings which were a burlesque on the barroom paintings of the nineties.

They finished their tour in a comfortable little book-lined den, with huge French doors opening out to a corner of a patio on one side, the other three sides lined with bookcases, the books leather-backed, deluxe editions.

Shirley Arden motioned him to a seat, flung herself into one of the chairs, and raised her feet to an ottoman with a carelessly intimate display of legs.

She stretched out her arms and said wearily, “Lord, but it was a trying day at the studio. How’s the district-attorney business going?”

“Not so good,” he told her, his voice uncompromisingly determined.

The butler brought them cocktails and a tray of appetizers, which he set on the coffee table between them. As they clicked the rims of their glasses, Selby noticed the butler placing the huge silver cocktail shaker, beaded with frosty moisture, upon the table.

“I don’t go in for much of this, you know. And, after all, this visit is official,” Selby said.

“Neither do I,” she told him, laughing, “but don’t get frightened at the size of the container. That’s just Hollywood hospitality. Don’t drink any more than you want. There’s an inner container in that cocktail shaker, so the drink will keep cold as ice without being diluted by melting ice. You can have just as much or as little as you want.

“You know, we who are actively working in pictures don’t dare to do much drinking. It’s the people who are slipping on the downward path toward oblivion who hit it heavy. And there are always a lot of hangers-on who can punish the liquor. Try some of those anchovy tarts with the cream cheese around them. It sounds like an awful combination, but I can assure you they’re really fine. Jarvis invented them, and there are a dozen hostesses in town who would scratch my eyes out to get the recipe for that cream cheese sauce.”

Selby began to feel more at home. The cocktail warmed him, and there was a delightful informality about Shirley Arden which made the spacious luxury of the house seem something which was reserved for mere formal occasions, while the warm intimacy of this little den gave the impression of having been created entirely for Selby’s visit. He found it impossible to believe her capable of deceit.

She put down her empty cocktail glass, smiled, and said unexpectedly, with the swift directness of a meteor shooting across a night sky, “So you wanted to see me about the perfume?”

“How did you know?” he asked.

“I knew perfume entered into the case somewhere,” she said, “because of the very apparent interest you took in the perfume I used.

“As a matter of fact, I changed my perfume either one or two days before, I’ve forgotten which, on the advice of an astrologer. You don’t believe in astrology, do you?”

He didn’t answer her question directly, but asked, “Why did you change your perfume? “

“Because I was informed that the stars threatened disaster, if I didn’t … Oh, I know it sounds so absolutely weird and uncanny when one says it that way, but there are lots of things which seem perfectly logical in the privacy of your own mind which look like the devil when you bring them out into public conversation. Don’t you think so?”

“Go on,” he told her. “I’m listening.”

She laughed and flexed her muscles as some cat might twist and stretch in warm sunlight; not the stretch of weariness, but that sinuous, twisting stretch of excess animal vitality seeking outlet through muscular activity.

“Do you know,” she said, “we are hopelessly ignorant about the most simple things of life. Take scent, for instance. A flower gives forth a scent. A man gives forth a scent. Every living thing has some odor associated with it. I can walk down this path” — and she made a sweeping, graceful gesture toward the patio beyond the French windows — “with my feet incased in leather. Each foot rests on the ground for only a fifth of a second, if I’m walking rapidly. Yet my life force throws off vibrations. The very ground I have walked on starts vibrating in harmony with the rhythm of my own vibrations. We can prove that by having a bloodhound start on my trail. His nose is attuned to the vibrations which we call odor, or scent. He can detect unerringly every place where I have put my foot.

“Women use scent to enhance their charm. It emphasizes, in some way, the vibration they are casting forth, vibrations which are emanating all the time. One scent will go fine with one personality, yet clash with another. Do you see what I mean?”

“I’m still listening,” Selby told her. “And the anchovy tarts are delicious.”

She laughed, glanced swiftly at him. There was almost a trace of fear in her eyes and more than a trace of nervousness in her laugh.

“There’s something about you,” she said, “which frightens me. You’re so … persistently direct.”

“Rude?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “it’s not rudeness. It’s a positive, vital something. You’re boring directly toward some definite objective in everything you do.”

“We were talking,” he told her, “about the reason you changed your perfume.”

“For some time,” she said, “I’ve known that I was — well, let us say, out of step with myself. Things haven’t been going just right. There were numerous little irritations which ordinarily I’d have paid no attention to. But recently they began to pile up. I began to lose that inner harmony, that sense of being in tune with the rhythm of existence — if you know what I mean?”

“I think I understand, yes.”

“I went to an astrologer. She told me that my personality was undergoing a change, and I can realize she’s correct. Now that I look back on it, I think every successful picture actress goes through at least two distinct phases of development. Very few of us are born to the purple. We’re usually recruited from all walks of life — stenographers, waitresses, artists’ models. We’re a peculiar lot. We nearly always have a wild streak, which makes us break loose into an unconventional form of life. I don’t mean immorality. I mean lacy of conventional routine.

“Then we get a tryout. We’re given minor parts. We are given a major part. If it’s a poor story with poor direction and poor support, that’s all there is to it. But occasionally it’s a good story with good direction, something outstanding. A new personality is flashed on the screen to the eyes of theatergoers, and the effect is instantaneous. Millions of people all over the world suddenly shower approval upon that new star.

“On the legitimate stage, if an actress is a success, she receives a thunder of applause from the five hundred to fifteen hundred people who compose an audience. The next night she may not be doing so well. The audience may not be quite so responsive. If she does achieve success, it will be through constant repetition before numerous audiences. But, in the picture business, one picture is made, the moods of an actress are captured, imprisoned in a permanent record. That record is flashed simultaneously before hundreds of thousands of audiences, comprising millions of people. That’s why acclaim is so rapid.”

He nodded.

“Let me fill up your cocktail glass.”

“No,” he told her, “one’s plenty.”

“Oh, come on,” she coaxed, “have half a one. I want one more and I don’t want to feel conspicuous.”

“Just half a one, then,” he said.

She didn’t try to take advantage of his acquiescence, but was scrupulously careful to pause when his glass was half full. She filled her own, raised it to her lips and sipped it appreciatively.

“I’m trying to tell you this in detail,” I she said, “because I’m so darned anxious to have you understand me, and to understand my problems.”

“And the reason for changing the perfume,” he reminded her.

“Don’t worry,” she remarked; “I won’t try to dodge the question — not with such a persistent cross-examiner.

“Well, anyway, an actress finds herself catapulted into fame, almost overnight. The public takes a terrific interest in her. If she goes out to a restaurant, she’s pointed out and stared at. On the street, people driving automobiles suddenly recognize her and crane their necks in complete disregard of traffic. The fan magazines have published article after article about the other stars. Now they’re crazy to satisfy reader demand for a new star. They have perfectly fresh material to work with. They want to know every little intimate detail about the past.

“Of course, lots of it’s hooey. Lots of it isn’t. People are interested. I’m not conceited enough to think they’re interested entirely in the star. They’re interested in the spectacle of some fellow mortal being shot up into wealth, fame and success.

“Every girl working as a stenographer, every saleslady standing with aching feet and smiling at cranky customers, every waitress listening to the fresh cracks of the wise-guys in some little jerkwater, greasy-spoon eating joint, realizes that only a few months ago this star who is now the toast of the world was one of them. It’s a story of success which they might duplicate. It’s Cinderella come true.

“No wonder a star’s personality changes. She emerges from complete obscurity, drab background and usually a very meager idea of the formalities, into the white light of publicity. Visiting notables want to lunch with her; money pours in on her; there’s pomp, glitter, the necessity of a complete readjustment. An actress either breaks under that, or she achieves poise. When she achieves poise, she’s become a different personality, in a way.”

“And why did you change your perfume?”

“Because I’ve passed through that stage and didn’t realize it. I’d been using the same perfume for months. And during those months I’ve been undergoing a transition of personality.”

She pressed an electric button. Almost instantly the butler appeared with a steaming tureen of soup.

“Let’s eat,” she said, smiling. “We’re having just a little informal dinner. No elaborate banquet.” He seated her at the table. The butler served the soup. When he had retired, she smiled across at Selby and said, “Now that that’s explained, what else do we talk about?”

Selby said slowly: “We talk about the brand of perfume you used before you made the change, and whether you were still using this same brand of perfume on last Monday, when you stayed at the Madison Hotel. And we once more talk about why you made the change.”

She slowly lowered her spoon to her plate. The elation had vanished from her manner.

“Go ahead and eat,” she said wearily; “we’ll talk it over after dinner — if we must.”

“You should have known,” he told her, “that we must.”

She sighed, picked up her spoon, tried to eat the soup, but her appetite had vanished. She was conscious of her obligations as hostess, but when the butler removed her soup dish it was more than two-thirds filled.

A salad, steak, vegetables and dessert were perfectly cooked and served. Selby was hungry, and ate. Shirley Arden was like some woman about to be led to the executioner and enduring the irony of that barbaric custom which decrees that one about to die shall be given an elaborate repast.

She tried to keep up conversation, but there was no spontaneity to her words.

At length, when the dessert had been finished and the butler served a liqueur, she raised her eyes to Selby and said with lips which seemed to be on the verge of trembling, “Go ahead.”

“What perfume did you use on Monday, the old or the new?”

“The old,” she said.

“Precisely what,” he asked her, shooting one question at her when she expected another, “is your hold on George Cushing?”

She remained smiling, but her nostrils slightly dilated. She was breathing heavily. “I didn’t know that I had any hold on him,” she said.

“Yes, you did,” Selby told her. “You have a hold on him and you use it. You go to Madison City and he protects your incognito.”

“Wouldn’t any wise hotel manager do that same thing?”

“I know Cushing,” Selby said. “I know there’s some reason for what he does.”

“All right,” she said wearily, “I have a hold on him. And the perfume which you smelled on the five thousand dollars was the perfume which I used. And Cushing telephoned to me in Los Angeles to warn me that you were suspicious; that you’d found out I’d been at the hotel; that you thought the five thousand-dollar bills had been given to Larrabie by me. So what?”

For a moment Selby thought she was going to faint. She swayed in her chair. Her head drooped forward.

“Shirley!” he exclaimed, unconscious that he was using her first name.

His hand had just touched her shoulder, when a pane of glass in the French window shattered. A voice called, “Selby! Look here!”

He looked up to see a vague, shadowy figure standing outside the door. He caught a glimpse of something which glittered, and then a blinding flash dazzled his eyes. Involuntarily he blinked and, when he opened his eyes, it seemed that the illumination in the room was merely a half darkness.

He closed his eyes, rubbed them. Gradually the details of the room swam back into his field of vision. He saw Shirley Arden, her arms on the table, her head drooped forward on her arm. He saw the shattered glass of the windowpane, the dark outline of the French doors.

Selby ran to the French door, jerked it open. His eyes, rapidly regaining their ability to see, strained themselves into the half-darkness.

He saw the outlines of the huge house, stretching in the form of an open U around the patio, the swimming pool with its colored lights, the fountain which splashed water down into a basin filled with water lilies, porch swings, tables shaded by umbrellas, reclining chairs — but he saw no sign of motion.

From the street, Selby heard the quick rasp of a starting motor, the roar of an automobile engine, and then the snarling sound of tires as the car shot away into the night.

Selby turned back toward the room. Shirley Arden was as he had left her. He went toward her, placed a hand on her shoulder. Her flesh quivered beneath his hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “it’s just one of those things. But you’ll have to go through with it now.”

He heard the pound of heavy, masculine steps, heard the excited voice of the butler, then the door of the den burst open and Ben Trask, his face twisting with emotion, stood glaring on the threshold.

“You cheap shyster!” he said. “You damned publicity-courting, doublecrossing … ”

Selby straightened, came toward him. “Who the devil are you talking to?” he asked.


Shirley Arden was on her feet with a quick, panther-like motion. She dashed between the two men, pushed against Trask’s chest with her hands. “No, no, Ben!” she exclaimed. “Stop it! You don’t understand. Can’t you see … ”

“The devil I don’t understand,” he said. “I understand everything.”

“I told him,” she said. “I had to tell him.”

‘Told him what?”

“Told him about Cushing, about . . .”

“Shut up, you little fool.”

Selby, stepping ominously forward, said, “Just a minute, Trask. While you may not realize it, this visit is in my official capacity and … ”

“You and your official capacity both be damned!” Trask told him. “You deliberately engineered a cheap publicity stunt. You wanted to drag Shirley Arden into that hick-town murder inquiry of yours so you’d get plenty of publicity. You deliberately imposed on her to set the stage, and then you arrange to have one of your local newshounds come on down to take a flashlight. “Can’t you see it, Shirley?” Trask pleaded. “He’s double-crossed you. He’s … ”

Selby heard his voice saying with a cold fury, “You, Trask, are a damned liar.”

Trask pushed Shirley Arden away from him with no more effort than if she had been some gossamer figure without weight or substance.

He was a big, powerful man, yet he moved with the swiftness of a heavyweight pugilist and, despite his rage, his advance was technically correct — left foot forward, right foot behind, fists doubled, right arm across his stomach, left elbow close to the body.

Something in the very nature of the man’s posture warned Selby of that which he might expect. He was dealing with a trained fighter.

Trask’s fist lashed out in a swift, piston-like blow for Selby’s jaw.

Selby remembered the days when he had won the conference boxing championship for his college. Automatically his rage chilled until it became a cold, deadly, driving purpose. He moved with swift, machinelike efficiency, pivoting his body away from the blow, and, at the same time, pushing out with his left hand just enough to catch Trask’s arm, throw Trask off balance and send the fist sliding over his shoulder.

Trask’s face twisted with surprise. He swung his right up in a vicious uppercut, but Selby, with the added advantage of being perfectly balanced, his weight shifted so that his powerful body muscles could be brought into play, smashed over a terrific right.

His primitive instincts were to slam his fist for Trask’s face, just as a person yielding to a blind rage wants to throw caution to the winds, neglect to guard, concentrate only on battering the face of his opponent. But Selby’s boxing training was controlling his mind. His right shot out straight for Trask’s solar plexus.

He felt his fist strike the soft, yielding torso, saw Trask bend forward and groan.

From the corner of his eye, Selby was conscious of Shirley Arden, her rigid forefinger pressed Against the electric push button which would summon the butler.

Trask staggered to one side, lashed out with a right which grazed the point of Selby’s jaw, throwing him momentarily off balance.

He heard Shirley Arden’s voice screaming, “Stop it, stop it! Both of you! Stop it! Do you hear?”

Selby sidestepped another blow, saw that Trask’s face was gray with pain, saw a rush of motion as the broad-shouldered butler came running into the room, saw Shirley Arden’s outstretched forefinger pointing at Trask. “Take him, Jarvis,” she said.

The big butler hardly changed his stride. He went forward into a football tackle.

Trask, swinging a terrific left, was caught around the waist and went down like a tenpin. A chair crashed into splintered kindling beneath the impact of the two men.

Selby was conscious of Shirley Arden’s blazing eyes.

“Go!” she commanded.

The butler scrambled to his feet. Trask dropped to the floor, his hands pressed against his stomach, his face utterly void of color.

“Just a minute,” Selby said to the actress, conscious that he was breathing heavily. “You have some questions to answer.”

“Never!” she blazed.

Trask’s voice, sounding flat and toneless, said, “Don’t be a damned fool, Shirley. He’s framed it all. Can’t you see?”

The butler turned hopefully toward Selby.

“Don’t try it, my man,” Selby said.

It was Shirley Arden who pushed Jarvis back.

“No,” she said, “there’s no necessity for any more violence. Mr. Selby is going to leave.”

She came toward him, stared up at him.

“To think,” she said scornfully, “that you’d resort to a trick like this. Ben warned me not to trust you. He said you’d deliberately planned to let the news leak out to the papers; that you were trying to put pressure on me until I’d break. I wouldn’t believe him. And now — this — this despicable trick.

“I respected you. Yes, if you want to know it, I admired you. Admired you so much I couldn’t be normal when I was with you. Ben told me I was losing my head like a little schoolgirl.

“You were so poised, so certain of yourself, so absolutely straightforward and wholeheartedly sincere that you seemed like pure gold against the fourteen-carat brass I’d been associating with in Hollywood. And now you turn out to be just as rotten and just as lousy as the rest of them. Get out!”

“Now, listen,” Selby said; “I’m … ”

The butler stepped forward. “You heard what she told you,” he said ominously. “Get out!”

Shirley Arden turned on her heel.

“He’ll get out, Jarvis,” she said wearily. “You won’t have to put him out — but see that he leaves.”

“Miss Arden, please,” Selby said, stepping forward, “you can’t … ”

The big butler tensed his muscles. “Going someplace,” he said ominously, “besides out?”

Shirley Arden, without once looking back over her shoulder, left the room. Ben Trask scrambled to his feet.

“Watch him, Jarvis,” Trask warned; “he’s dynamite. What the hell did you tackle me for?”

“She said to,” the butler remarked coolly, never taking his eyes off Selby.

“She’s gone nuts over him,” Trask said.

“Get out,” the butler remarked to Selby.

Selby knew when he was faced with hopeless odds.

“Miss Arden,” he said, “is going to be questioned. If she gives me an audience now, that questioning will take place here. If she doesn’t, it will take place before the grand jury in Madison City. You gentlemen pay your money and take your choice.”

“It’s already paid,” the butler said.

Selby started toward the front of the house. Trask came limping behind him.

“Don’t think you’re so much,” Trask said sneeringly. “You may be a big toad in a small puddle, but you’ve got a fight on your hands now. You’ll get no more cooperation out of us. And remember another thing: There’s a hell of a lot of money invested in Shirley Arden. That money buys advertising in the big metropolitan newspapers. They’re going to print our side of this thing, not yours.”

The butler said evenly, “Shut up, Trask; you’re making a damned fool of yourself.”

He handed Selby his hat and gloves; his manner became haughtily deferential as he said, “Shall I help you on with your coat, sir?”

“Yes,” Selby told him.

Selby permitted the man to adjust the coat about his neck. He leisurely drew on his gloves, and said, “The door, Jarvis.”

“Oh, certainly,” the butler remarked sarcastically, holding open the door, bowing slightly from the waist.

Selby marched across the spacious porch, down the front steps which led to the sloping walk.



Selby found that he couldn’t get the developed negatives from the miniature camera until the next morning at nine o’clock. He went to a hotel, telephoned Rex Brandon and said, “I’ve uncovered a lead down here, Rex, which puts an entirely new angle on the case. George Cushing is mixed in it some way, I don’t know just how much.

“Cushing knew that the five thousand dollars came from Shirley Arden. He’s the one who warned her to change her perfume after he knew I was going to try and identify the bills from the scent which was on them.”

“You mean the money actually did come from the actress?” Rex Brandon asked.

“Yes,” Selby said wearily.

“I thought you were certain it didn’t.”

“Well, it did.”

“You mean she lied to you?”

“That’s what it amounts to.”

“You aren’t going to take that sitting down, are you?”

“I am not.”

“What else did she say?”


“Well, make her say something.”

“Unfortunately,” Selby said, “that’s something which is easier said than done. As was pointed out to me in a conversation a short time ago, we’re fighting some very powerful interests.

“In the first place, Shirley Arden’s name means a lot to the motion-picture industry, and the motion-picture industry is financed by banks controlled by men who have a lot of political influence.

“I’m absolutely without authority down here. The only way we can get Shirley Arden where she has to answer questions is to have her subpoenaed before the grand jury.”

“You’re going to do that?”

“Yes. Get a subpoena issued and get it served.”

“Will she try to avoid service?”

“Sure. Moreover, they’ll throw every legal obstacle in our way that they can. Get Bob Kentley, my deputy, to be sure that subpoena is legally airtight.”

“How about the publicity angle?”

“I’m afraid,” Selby said, “the publicity angle is something that’s entirely beyond our control. The fat’s in the fire now. The worst of it is they think that I was responsible for it. Miss Arden thinks I was trying to get some advertisement.”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone — I suppose it was Bittner — took a flashlight photograph of me dining tete-a-tete with Shirley Arden in her home.”

“That sort of puts you on a spot,” the sheriff sympathized.

“Are you telling me?” Selby asked. “Anyway, it’s absolutely ruined any possibility of cooperation at this end.”

“How about Cushing? What’ll we do with him?”

“Put the screws down on him.”

“He’s been one of our staunchest supporters.”

“I don’t give a damn what he’s been. Get hold of him and give him the works. I’m going to get those pictures in the camera developed, and then I’ll be up in the morning. In the meantime I’m going out to a show and forget that murder case.”

“Better try a burlesque, son,” the sheriff advised. “You sound sort of disillusioned. You weren’t falling for that actress, were you?”

“Go to the devil,” Selby said. “ … Say, Rex!”


“Give Sylvia Martin the breaks on that Cushing end of the story. She’s the one who originally smelled a rat there.”

“What do you mean?”

“Talk with her. Get her ideas. They may not be so bad. I thought they were haywire when she first spilled them. Now I think she’s on the right track.”

Selby hung up the phone, took a hot bath, changed his clothes and felt better. He took in a comedy, but failed to respond to the humor of situations which sent the audience into paroxysms of mirth. There was a chilled, numb feeling in the back of his mind, the feeling of one who has had ideals shattered, who has lost confidence in a friend. Moreover, there was hanging over him that vague feeling which comes to one who wakes on a bright sunny morning, only to realize that the day holds some inevitable impending disaster.

After the show he aimlessly tramped the streets for more than an hour. Then he returned to his room.

As he opened the door and was groping for the light switch, he was filled with a vague sense of uneasiness. For a moment he couldn’t determine the source of that feeling of danger. Then he realized that the odor of cigar smoke was clinging to the room.

Selby didn’t smoke cigars. Someone who did smoke cigars was either in the room or had been in it.

Selby found the light switch, pressed it and braced himself against an attack.

There was no one in the room.

Selby entered the room, kicked the door shut behind him and made certain that it was bolted. He was on the point of barricading it with a chair, when he thought of the similar circumstances under which William Larrabie had met his death.

Feeling absurdly self-conscious, the district attorney got to his knees and peered under the bed. He saw nothing. He tried the doors to the connecting rooms and made certain they were both bolted on the inside. He opened the window and looked out. The fire escape was not near enough to furnish a means of ingress.

His baggage consisted of a single light handbag. It was on the floor where he had left it, but Selby noticed on the bedspread an oblong imprint with the dots of four round depressions in the corners.

He picked up his handbag, looked at the bottom. There were round brass studs in each corner. Carefully he fitted the bag to the impression on the bedspread. Beyond any doubt someone had placed the bag on the bed. Selby had not done so.

He opened the bag. It had been searched hurriedly. Apparently the contents had been dumped onto the bed, then thrown back helter-skelter.

Selby stood staring at it in puzzled scrutiny. Why should anyone have searched his handbag?

What object of value did he have? The search had been hasty and hurried, showing that the man who made it had been fighting against time, apparently afraid that Selby would return to the room in time to catch the caller at his task. But, not having found what he looked for, the man had overcome his fear of detection sufficiently to remain and make a thorough search of the room. That much was evident by the reek of cigar smoke.

The prowler had probably lit a cigar to steady his nerves. Then he had evidently made a thorough search, apparently looking for some object which had been concealed. Selby pulled back the bedspread.

The pillows had lost that appearance of starched symmetry which is the result of a chambermaid’s deft touch. Evidently they had been moved and replaced.

Suddenly the thought of the camera crashed home to Selby’s consciousness.

He had left the camera at the camera store, where the man had promised, in view of Selby’s explanation of his position and the possible significance of the films, to have the negatives ready by morning. Evidently that camera was, then, of far greater importance than he had originally assumed.

Selby opened the windows and transom in order to air out the cigar smoke. He undressed, got into bed and was unable to sleep. Finally, notwithstanding the fact that he felt utterly ludicrous in doing so, he arose, walked in bare feet across the carpet, picked up a straight-backed chair, dragged it to the door, and tilted it in such a way that the back was caught under the doorknob.

It was exactly similar to the manner in which the dead minister had barricaded his room on the night of the murder.




First page of the fourth part of the story, "The Thread of Truth," by Erle Stanley Gardner. This leads to the full story in the archive.
Read “The Thread of Truth, Part IV” by Erle Stanley Gardner from the December 1, 1936, issue of the The Country Gentleman. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Selby looked up to see a vague, shadowy figure standing outside the door. (Illustrated by Dudley Gloyne Summers; SEPS)

“The Thread of Truth, Part III” by Erle Stanley Gardner

When he died, in 1970, Erle Stanley Gardner was the best-selling American fiction author of the century. His detective stories sold all over the globe, especially those with his most famous defense attorney protagonist, Perry Mason. His no-nonsense prose and neat, satisfying endings delighted detective fans for decades. Gardner wrote several stories that were serialized in the Post. In Country Gentleman, his 1936 serial “The Thread of Truth” follows a fresh D.A. in a clergyman murder case that comes on his first day on the job.

Published on November 1, 1936


Who was the little minister found dead of poison in Room 321 of the Madison Hotel? He was registered as the Rev. Charles Brower, and in the portable typewriter on his desk was an unfinished letter to Mrs. Charles Brower, addressed, “My Dearest Wife” But Mrs. Brower, summoned from Nevada to Madison City to identify her husband, declared that she had never seen the man before.

Douglas Selby, district attorney of the small California city near Hollywood, knew that it was imperative for him to discover both the minister’s identity and his murderer. For The Blade, newspaper ally of Selby’s crooked predecessor, was eager to ruin the young newcomer if he failed in his first important case. The other newspaper, The Clarion, was friendly, particularly in the person of Sylvia Martin, lovely young reporter, but The Blade was powerful.

The mysterious preacher had scant possessions when he died, just a few threadbare clothes, an expensive camera, a pitiful movie scenario, clippings concerning the famous Shirley Arden of nearby Hollywood, and more clippings concerning litigation in Madison City courts over the Perry estate. With Rex Brandon, his faithful sheriff, Douglas Selby worked furiously on the meager clues. He discovered that Room 515 of the Madison Hotel, from which the minister had emerged the morning before the murder, was permanently reserved for the motion-picture star, Shirley Arden. George Cushing, hotel manager, was singularly reluctant to talk about his famous guest.

Selby forced an interview with Shirley Arden. She admitted having been visited by the minister, but flatly denied having given him the five one-thousand-dollar bills he had left in a rose-perfumed envelope in the hotel safe. She tried to remember the name the minister had given her, but could not recall it clearly. Then, turning on the full power of her trained emotions and perfect beauty, she pleaded with Selby for protection from harmful publicity. Selby, ascertaining that the perfume she used was not similar to that used in the five-thousand-dollar envelope, and suffused with her charm, was convinced of her innocence. He promised to shield her name.

Rumor spread through the town that the crack reporter of The Blade had uncovered some startling leads on the mystery and that The Blade was about to charge Selby with inefficiency in office. Then Rex Brandon telephoned that a San Francisco optician had identified the dead man’s spectacles as belonging to one of several people, among whom was a Reverend Larrabie of Riverbend. Selby tingled with excitement! That was the name Shirley Arden had been trying to remember! Hastily Selby prepared to take a plane to Riverbend. With him, flushed and delighted, went Sylvia Martin of The Clarion.



The plane, a small cabin ship, roared on through the darkness. The altimeter registered an elevation of six thousand feet. The clock on the dash showed the time as two-fifteen.

A cluster of lights showed vaguely ahead, looking as glimmeringly indistinct as a gaseous nebula seen through a telescope. Directly below, a beacon light flashed warning blinks of red, then white, as a long beam from its searchlight circled the country like some questing finger.

The pilot leaned toward Doug Selby, placed his lips close to the district attorney’s ear and shouted, “That’s Sacramento. I’ll land there. I won’t take chances on a night landing farther up. You’ll have to go on by car.”

“I’ve already arranged for the car,” Selby yelled.

Her face looking wan from the strain and excitement, Sylvia Martin slumped back in the cushioned seat, her eyes closed, her senses fatigued by the steady roar of the motor, which had beat a ceaseless pulsation upon her eardrums for more than two hours.

The lights of Sacramento steadily gained in brilliance, resolved themselves into myriad pin points of incandescence which winked and twinkled out of the darkness.

The plane swung slightly to the right as the pilot got his bearings. The streetlights came marching forward toward the plane in a steady procession. The pilot throttled down the motor, tilted the plane toward the ground.

As the steady pulsations gave way to a peculiar whining noise and the wind started to scream through the struts, Sylvia Martin woke up, smiled at Selby, leaned forward and shouted, “Where are we?”

The noise of the motor drowned out her words, but Selby guessed at her question, placed his lips close to her ear and yelled, “Sacramento.”

The plane tilted forward at a sharper angle, the lights rose up to meet them. An airport showed below. The pilot straightened out and gunned the motor. With the roar of sound, floodlights illuminated a landing runway. The pilot noted the direction of the wind from an illuminated wind sock, swung into position, once more cut down the motor, and came gliding toward the ground. The wheels struck the smooth runway. The plane gave a quick series of jolts, then rolled forward toward the buildings.

As the plane came to a stop, a man wearing an overcoat and a chauffeur’s cap came walking out toward it. The pilot opened the cabin door. Selby climbed stiffly to the ground, assisted Sylvia Martin to alight. The slip stream from the idling motor caught her skirts, blew them tightly about the shapely limbs, then whipped them upward. She gave a startled scream, grabbed at her skirts, and Selby swung her clear of the wind current.

She laughed nervously and, forgetting for the moment there was no longer need to shout against the roar of the motor, yelled at the top of her voice, “I didn’t know what to grab at first, my skirts or my hair.”

The man in the overcoat and chauffeur’s cap heard her, smiled, took off his cap and said, “Are you the parties who telephoned for the car — Mr. Selby?”

“Yes,” Selby said; “I want to go to Riverbend. How long will it take us to get there?”

“About three hours.”

Selby looked at his wrist watch and said, “All right, let’s go. Can we get some coffee here?”

“Sure, there’s a swell little restaurant where you can get almost anything you want.”

They had coffee and hamburger sandwiches at the lunch counter. Sylvia grinned across at the district attorney and said, “Adventure — eh, what?”

He nodded. His mood was as buoyant as her own. “Late hours for us country folk,” he told her.

“You know, there’s an exhilaration about riding in a plane,” she said, sighing.

“Your first time?” he asked.

“Yes. I was frightened to death, but I didn’t want to say so.”

“I thought so,” he told her.

“That bumpy air over the mountains made me think the plane had lost a wing and we were falling.”

“It was a bit rough for a minute. However, we’re here now. It won’t be long until we know the answer.”

Her eyes sparkled over the rim of her coffee cup at him.

“You know, Doug, I’m sorry I doubted you. It’s a swell break to give me. I can telephone in a story that will be a peach … I suppose he’s married … Oh, I shouldn’t be talking like this, but I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t. After all, he’s dead and nothing I can do can call him back. Of course, I’m sorry that we’ll have to be the ones to break the news to his wife, and all of that, but I’m just enough of a news-hound to appreciate what a swell story it’ll be. I can pack it full of human emotion. The Blade may or may not uncover something about the man’s identity, but they can’t get in on the ground floor, telling just how the news was received. They can’t give an accurate word picture of the man’s background, his home and … Oh, dear, Doug, you don’t suppose there are kiddies, do you?”

“We don’t know a thing in the world about it,” he said. “We’re not even definitely certain he’s the man.”

“Tell me, Doug, how did you know the name had a ‘Larry’ in it, and that he lived in a place that was a River something-or-other?”

He shook his head, looked at his wrist watch and said, “Finish up your sandwich. You can ask questions later.”

She wolfed down the rest of the sandwich, washed it down with coffee, wiped her finger tips on the napkin, grinned and said, “‘Rotten manners,’ says Emily Post, but ‘Swell stuff,’ says the city editor. Come on, Doug, let’s go.”

For several moments she was depressed; then, walking across toward the waiting automobile, she regained some measure of her spirits.

“Somehow,” she said, “from the description we have of him, I don’t think there are children. If there are, they’ll be pretty well grown. Do you know what the population of Riverbend is, Doug?”

“No. It’s just a pin point on the map. I suppose it’s little more than a crossroads, although it may be fifteen hundred or two thousand.”

“We’ll get there,” she said, “just about daylight. It’ll be on a river, with willow trees growing along the banks. The place will look drab, just as dawn commences to break. There’ll be a church which is in need of paint, a parsonage in back of the church, a poor little house trying to put up a brave front … Tell me, Doug, why can’t they incorporate religion?”

A man and a woman speak to a gentleman on an airport's tarmac.
“Are you the parties who telephoned for the car – Mr. Selby?” (Illustrated by Dudley Gloyne Summers; SEPS)

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Fix it so that the big-moneyed churches finance the little ones. You know as well as I do how hard it is to keep a minister going in a little town of five hundred to two thousand people. There are probably four or five denominations represented. Each of them wants its own church and its own minister.”

“You mean they should consolidate?”

“No, no, not the denominations, Doug, but I mean the big churches should support the little ones. For instance, suppose this man is a Methodist, and, say, in the big cities there are big, prosperous Methodist churches. Why couldn’t the big churches support the little ones?”

“Don’t they?” he asked. “Isn’t there an arrangement by which part of the man’s salary is paid? … ”

“Oh, I don’t mean that. I mean really support them. It seems a shame that the Methodists in Riverbend should support the Methodist Church in Riverbend, and the Methodists in San Francisco should support the Methodist Churches in San Francisco. Why can’t they all support churches everywhere?”

“You’ll have to take it up with the churches,” he told her. “Come on, get in.”

She laughed and said, “I think I’m getting sentimental, Doug.”

“You get over in that corner of the seat,” he ordered, “and go to sleep. You’re going to have a hard day.”

She pouted and said, “My head will jolt around on that corner of the seat.”

“Oh, all right,” he told her, laughing, and, sliding his arm about her shoulders, “come on over.”

She gave a sigh, snuggled down against his shoulder, and was asleep before the car had purred along the smooth ribbon of cement highway for more than a mile.

She wakened as the car slowed, rubbed her eyes and looked about her. The first streaks of dawn were shrinking the beams of the headlights into little insignificant threads of illumination. The stars had receded until they were barely visible. The tang of dawn was in the air. The countryside was taking on a gray, spectral appearance.

A few scattered houses gave place to a street fairly well built up with unpretentious residences. The car slowed almost to a stop, turned a corner, and Sylvia exclaimed, “Oh, goody, the main street! Look at The Emporium.”

“Where to?” the driver asked.

“I want to find the place where a Reverend Larrabie lived. I have a hunch he was a Methodist. Let’s see if we can find the Methodist Church. Or we may find some service station that’s open.”

“There’s one down the street,” the driver said.

They drove into the service station. A young man, his hair slightly tousled, emerged from the warm interior into the chill tang of the morning air. He fought against a yawn while he tried to smile.

Selby laughed, rolled down the window and said, “We’re looking for the Reverend Larrabie. Can you tell me where he lives?”

“Methodist parsonage, straight on down the road two blocks, turn to the left one block,” the young man said. “May I clean your windshield for you? And how’s the water in your radiator?”

The driver laughed and said, “You win, fill ’er up.”

They waited while the car was being serviced, then once more started on. By this time the sky was showing a bluish tint. Birds were timidly throating the first tentative notes of a new dawn. They rounded the corner to the left and saw a small white church building which, even in the dim light of early dawn, showed that it was sadly in need of paint. As the driver slid the car in close to the curb and stopped it, a dog began to bark. Aside from that, there was no sign of life in the street.

“Well,” the driver said, “here we are.”

He opened the door. Selby stepped out, gave his hand to Sylvia. They crossed a strip of unpaved sidewalk, opened a gate in a picket fence. The dog across the street began to bark hysterically.

Sylvia was looking about her, her eyes alight with interest, her cheeks flushed.

“Perfect!” she exclaimed. “Absolutely priceless!”

They walked up a little graveled walk, their heels crunching the pebbles, sounding absurdly loud in the hush of early morning. Doug Selby led the way up the wooden steps to the porch, crossed to the door and rang the bell. A faint jangling sound could be heard from the interior of the house. The district attorney opened the screen door and pounded with his knuckles on the panels of the door.

“Oh, there must be someone home. There simply has to be,” Sylvia said in a half whisper.

Once more Selby’s knuckles beat a tattoo on the panels of the door. Sylvia Martin pressed a gloved thumb against the bell button.

From within the house came the sounds of muffled footsteps.

Sylvia laughed nervously. “Doug,” she said, “I’m so excited I could burst!”

The footsteps approached the door. The knob turned, the door opened. A motherly woman, with hair which had just commenced to turn gray and was tousled about her head, a bathrobe wrapped about her, what was evidently a flannel nightgown showing through the opening in the neck of the robe, surveyed them with patient gray eyes.

All of the elation fled from Sylvia’s manner. “Oh, you poor thing,” she said in a half whisper which was vibrant with sympathy.

“What is it?” the woman asked.

“I’m looking for the Reverend Larrabie.”

“He isn’t here. I don’t expect him back for three or four days.”

“Are you Mrs. Larrabie?”


“May we come in?” Selby asked.

She studied him with puzzled eyes and said, “What is it you want, young man?”

“I wanted to talk with you about your husband.”

“What about him?”

“Have you,” Selby asked, “a picture of him that I could see — some informal snapshot, perhaps?”

For a moment the eyes faltered, then they stared bravely at him.

“Has something happened to Will?” she asked.

“I think,” Sylvia Martin said impulsively, “it would be a lot better, Mrs. Larrabie, if you could let us make certain before we talk with you. We could tell if we saw a photograph.”

Selby held the screen door open. Sylvia Martin slipped through and put her arm about the older woman’s waist.

“Please don’t worry, dear,” she said, “there may be nothing to it.” Her lips were tightly held in a firm line as Mrs. Larrabie led the way into a front parlor, a room which was warm with the intimacies of living. A magazine lay face down on the table. Several periodicals were thrust into a magazine rack in the arm of a mission-type chair, evidently the product of home carpentering.

The woman pointed to a framed picture. “That’s him,” she said simply.

Selby looked, and knew at once he had come to the end of his quest.

“May we sit down?” he asked. “I’m afraid we’re bringing bad news for you, Mrs. Larrabie.”

“What’s happened?” she asked.

“Do you know where your husband is?” he inquired.

“I think he’s in Hollywood.”

“Do you know what he went there for?”

“No. What’s happened?”

“I’m afraid that …”

“Sick?” she asked in a calm, level voice.

“No,” Selby said, “ … not sick.”


Selby nodded.

Not a muscle of her face quivered. Her mouth didn’t even twitch at the corners. But two tears welled into her motherly gray eyes, trickled unheeded down her cheeks.

“Tell me about it,” she requested, still in that calm, steady voice.

“I’m Douglas Selby, the district attorney of Madison City,” Selby explained. “That’s a city about sixty miles from Los Angeles.”

“Yes, I know where it is.”

“A minister came to the Madison Hotel and registered under the name of Charles Brower. He was found dead in his room. That was Tuesday morning. We’ve been trying to find out … ”

“Why, I know Charles Brower,” she said, her eyes widening. “If that’s the one who’s dead . . .”

“But it isn’t,” Selby explained, interrupting. “We thought that the man was Charles Brower because he registered as Charles Brower, of Millbank, Nevada.”

“That’s right, that’s where Mr. Brower lives.”

“We notified Millbank. Mrs. Brower came on and said that the body wasn’t that of her husband.”

“But it couldn’t be Will. Will wouldn’t register under an assumed name,” she said with quiet conviction. “And he isn’t in Madison City. He’s in Hollywood.”

“Do you know why he went to Hollywood?”

“I think he went there to sell a scenario.”

Selby took the photograph of the dead man from his inner pocket.

“I’m very sorry, Mrs. Larrabie,” he said, “but I’m afraid I’ll have to disillusion you. Please prepare yourself for a shock.”

He handed her the photograph. He noticed that her hand trembled as she took it. He saw her face grow gray.

This time her lips quivered.

“It’s Will,” she sobbed. “He’s dead.”

Mrs. Larrabie’s toil-worn fingers explored the pocket of the bathrobe. Sylvia, divining her intention, opened her purse and took from it a handkerchief, with which she dried the tears in Mrs. Larrabie’s eyes.

“Thank you, dear,” the woman said, “you’re very kind. Who are you?”

“I’m Sylvia Martin. I’m a newspaper reporter. Mr. Selby brought me with him. We’re trying to find out who … who … ”

Her voice trailed away into silence.

“Who what?” Mrs. Larrabie asked.

“The circumstances surrounding the death of your husband were very unusual,” Selby said. “We’re not entirely certain just what happened; but his death was directly due to an overdose of sleeping medicine; that is, what he thought was sleeping medicine.”

“Sleeping medicine?” Mrs. Larrabie said. “Why, Will didn’t take any sleeping medicine. He didn’t need to.”

“The circumstances,” Selby insisted, “are exceedingly unusual. In fact, we think that death was neither natural nor accidental.”

“You mean,” she asked, staring at him, her surprised incredulity for a moment overcoming the numbing effect of her grief, “Will was … murdered?”

“We’re making a complete investigation,” Selby said.

Mrs. Larrabie gave herself over to tears. She sobbed quietly into Sylvia Martin’s handkerchief. Selby sucked in a quick breath, about to say something, but Sylvia flashed him a warning glance and shook her head.

Outside, the first rays of sunlight gilded the spire of the church, filtered down through the leaves of a tree to make a shimmering pattern on the glass of the window.

Mrs. Larrabie continued to sob.

Finally, she said, “We were so close to each other. We’d been childhood sweethearts. Will had the most lovable, the most whimsical disposition … He had such a great faith in people … He was always going out of his way to aid people … Always looking for people in misfortune. He visited the jails, always wanted to help the unfortunate. That was going to cost him his position here. Mrs. Bannister thought he wasn’t devoting enough time to the members of the church. She was going to demand a change, and Will thought he could sell a scenario to the motion-picture people and make enough money to devote all of his time the unfortunate.”

Selby said very gently, “I’ve got to ask a lot of questions about your husband’s life. I must find out everything I can about the people with whom he came in contact, particularly about anyone who might have had any reason for wanting to harm him.”

She wiped her eyes, mechanically blew her nose on Sylvia’s handkerchief, then suddenly said apologetically, “Oh, you poor thing, I’ve ruined your handkerchief. Let me get you another and I’ll send this one back to you all freshly laundered.”

She got up from the chair and left the room.

Sylvia looked across at Selby, blinked her eyes and said, “Give me one of your h-h-h-handkerchiefs, D-D-Doug; I’m going to b-b-b-bawl myself.”

Selby came to her side, put his an around her shoulders, gave her his handkerchief.

“I’m a h-h-hell of a reporter,” she said, crying into the handkerchief. “I could have stood hysterics or wailing, but this quiet grief gets me. And right in the middle of it the poor thing had to think about my h-h-h-handkerchief. She’s always thought about others all her life.”

They heard her steps in the corridor and Sylvia said, “Here, quick, take back your handkerchief.”

Selby pocketed the handkerchief. Mrs Larrabie returned to the room, carrying with her a handkerchief from which came the faint odor of lavender.

“There, dear,” she said, smiling, “you take that, and I’ll be brave now. These things come to us. It’s all part of God’s plan.”

“You said you knew Charles Brower?” Selby asked.

“Yes. I met him Saturday.”

“You mean last Saturday?”

“Yes. My husband had known him it Denver. I don’t think he’s an ordained pastor. He preached on the streets. Many of the ministers wouldn’t cooperate with him, but Will said the man was doing as much good as any minister in town and became friendly with him, but he never brought him to the house. My husband had a church in Denver. That was about ten years ago.”

“And your husband had kept in touch with Mr. Brower ever since?”

“Yes, both of them were interested in helping unfortunate people, and I think they’d worked together on some case in Denver and the people they’d helped had become successful. Will was very mysterious about it. He said it was a sacred confidence.”

“And Mr. Brower was here Saturday?”

“Yes. That was the first time I’d met him.”

“You’re certain it was the same Charles Brower?”

“Why, my husband introduced him to me as the Reverend Charles Brower.”

“You have no children?”

“No, we had one baby, a girl, that died when it was two days old.”

“How did it happen that Mr. Brower came to visit your husband?”

“I don’t know. They’d been writing letters back and forth.”

“Where did Mr. Brower go when he left here?”

“Why, back to Millbank, I suppose.”

“How did he come? Did he drive, come on the train?”

“He drove. He has a little car, rather dilapidated, but it gets over the road.”

“And how did your husband go to Madison City?”

“I didn’t know he went to Madison City,” Mrs. Larrabie replied.

“You knew he went to Los Angeles?”

“Yes, to Hollywood.”

“How did he go?”

“On a bus, I think.”

“He has a car?”

She shook her head and said, “No, we haven’t needed one here. It’s rather a small town.”

“Did he have any hobbies?” Selby asked.

“Yes, helping people, hanging around the jails, and … ”

“No, I mean any hobbies aside from that. How about photography?”

For a moment her face underwent a change of expression. Then she said defiantly, “I think a man has to have some hobby in order to be normal. Will has been saving pennies for years. His camera gave him an outlet for his creative ability. He wrote a good deal, and that helped, but he wanted to do something. He didn’t have enough skill to paint, so he took up photography.”

“And a very good thing he did,” Selby agreed. “I certainly see no reason why he shouldn’t.”

“Well, Mrs. Bannister did,” Mrs. Larrabie said. “She said it was positively sinful for a man to squander his meager salary on things which weren’t necessary.”

“She was referring to your husband’s camera?”


“When did he buy it?”

“In December. We saved all our pennies — for years.”

“Did he do his own developing work?”

She nodded. “He has a little dark room fixed up in the basement. Some of his pictures were beautiful. Of course, he didn’t take many. The films aren’t particularly expensive, but, even so, we have to watch every cent, and Will was always patient about such things. He sent one of his prints to a photographic magazine and it was published with honorable mention. They said it showed rare skill in composition.”

“What did Mrs. Bannister say to that?” Selby asked.

“She didn’t know anything about it … Oh, Mrs. Bannister is all right. I’m more bitter than I should be because she bothered Will so much. She simply couldn’t understand his temperament and she didn’t have enough patience to try, but she’s a very wonderful woman, a wonderfully religious woman. If it weren’t for her, the church couldn’t stay here. She contributes almost as much as all the other members put together.”

“How long have you been here in this church?”

“Five years.”

“Has it been rather difficult for Mr. Larrabie — under the circumstances?”

“He’s had his difficulties, yes, but everyone likes him. Of course, we’ve had to pinch and scrape on finances; but then, everyone does; and, at that, we’re a lot better off than some of the poor people who lost everything they had in the depression. Our wants are simple, and I think we get more out of life that way.”

“How does it happen,” Selby asked, “that your husband decided to go to Hollywood?”

“That’s something I can’t tell you about,” she said. “Will liked to be just a little mysterious about some of his business affairs.”

“And you don’t know why he went to Madison City?”

“No, I didn’t have any idea he was going to Madison City.”

“Could you show me where he worked?” Selby asked apologetically. “He had a study, I suppose? Was it in the church or … ”

“No,” she said, “it was right here. It opens off of this room.”

She opened a drawer in the table, took out a key and unlocked a door which opened from the parlor into a little den.

There was a roll-top desk, a bookcase and a homemade vertical file. Everything about the room was scrupulously neat. On the walls were two enlarged photographs.

“Will took those,” she said with pride, as Selby looked up at the photographs. “He enlarged them himself and made the frames.”

Selby nodded and said slowly, “I want to go through his file of correspondence, Mrs. Larrabie. I’m very anxious to find carbon copies of some of the letters which your husband wrote before he made this trip.”

“He never kept carbon copies of his letters.”

“He didn’t?”

“No. He did a lot of typing, but I don’t think he made carbon copies of anything. You see, it adds to the expense, and, really, there’s no reason for it. Most of the stuff in that filing case is sermons he’s written and notes on sermons, also stories. He wrote stories and scenarios. Not very many of them, but a few.”

“Did he ever sell any?”

“No, they all came back.”

Selby said slowly, “We’re going back to Madison City, Mrs. Larrabie. I presume, under the circumstances, you’ll want to go back to — to take charge of things. I think perhaps it’ll be necessary for you to answer some questions before the grand jury, and I’m going to give you a subpoena. It’s just a formality, but it will enable you to get your traveling expenses.”

When she made no answer, Selby turned from his survey of the room to look at her. Her tear-filled eyes were fastened upon the vacant chair in front of the rolltop desk. Apparently its full significance was just dawning on her.

The district attorney caught Sylvia’s eyes and nodded. Without a backward glance they tiptoed from the room.



They returned to Madison City by train. As the rumbling Pullman clicked smoothly over the rails, nearing the familiar environs of the city, Sylvia Martin went forward to the vestibule, where Selby, standing braced against the motion of the car, was moodily regarding the scenery while he smoked a cigarette.

“Listen,” Sylvia said, “I know the wife of a Methodist minister here quite well. Don’t you think it would be a good plan, under the circumstances, to have her go there?”

Selby nodded.

“Why so pensive?” she asked him.

“I’m just thinking,” Selby said, “that I may have overlooked a bet.”


“About that Brower angle. I should have made arrangements to locate him and have him subpoenaed as a witness. He knows more about this thing than we do.”

“You think that he knew Larrabie was going to Madison City?”

“Of course he did. What’s more, he must have known that Larrabie was going to register under his name.”

“Why? What makes you think that?”

“Because Brower gave Larrabie his cards and his driving license.”

“Unless Larrabie … No, he wouldn’t have done that.”

The district attorney smiled and said, “No, I would hardly gather that Larrabie was one who would knock his friend on the head with a club in order to get possession of an automobile which was probably worth less than fifty dollars.”

“I wonder if they didn’t come here together.”

Selby shrugged his shoulders and said, “This is too deep for me, and I have a hunch it’s going to be a humdinger — one of those everyday sort of cases where everything seems to be so confoundedly simple that all you have to do is to pick up the pieces and put them together. But when you pick up the pieces you find they just don’t go together.”

The train whistled for Madison City, started to slow to a stop.

Selby finished his cigarette. The train ground slowly to a stop. The porter opened the vestibule door. Selby stepped to the platform, helped the two women to alight.

He took a cab to his apartment, realized that he’d need to go to Los Angeles to retrieve the automobile he’d left at the airport. He felt a swift thrill of anticipation and realized that it was due to the fact he’d remembered his promise to Shirley Arden.

He turned hot water into his bathtub, telephoned the courthouse and asked for the sheriff. When he heard Rex Brandon’s voice on the line he said, “Okay, Rex, we’re back.”

“You brought the woman with you?”

“Sylvia Martin has her in tow. Just between you and me, Sheriff, I think she’s worked out some deal with her for exclusive story privileges.”

“Okay by me,” Brandon said. “The Clarion stuck up for us during the election. You didn’t see last night’s Blade, did you, Doug?”


“Better take a look at it. They’ve got a pretty good roast in there. What’s this about the motion-picture actress you’re shielding having told you the man’s name?”

Selby gripped the receiver so tightly that his knuckles ached.

“What’s that? Something in The Blade about that?”

“Yes. They’ve put it up in rather a dirty way. They’ve intimated that you’ve been reached by money or influence, or both; that you’re throwing up a big smoke screen to protect some prominent motion-picture actress who’s involved in the murder; that you met her at a secret conference and she told you who the murdered man really was. The Blade threatens to publish her name.”

“Good heavens!” Selby said.

“Anything to it?” the sheriff asked.

“Yes, and no,” Selby told him. “I’m protecting Miss Arden … that is, I simply didn’t make her name public because I’m satisfied she had no connection with the case. I’d have told you about it if it hadn’t been necessary for me to rush up to Riverbend to make that identification absolute.”

“I was wondering,” the sheriff said slowly, “how it happened you were so certain that Larrabie of Riverbend was the man we wanted.”

“Let’s not talk about this thing over the telephone,” Selby said.

“I’m just going to the Madison Hotel,” the sheriff said. “I understand Cushing’s found a guest who heard some typing across in 321. Suppose you make it snappy and meet me there.”

“I’m all grimy from travel,” Selby said. “I’m just climbing into the bathtub, but I can make it in about fifteen or twenty minutes.”

He dropped the receiver back into place.

So The Blade knew about Shirley Arden, did they? And they’d turned the blast of dirty publicity on her. Damn them!

Selby tubbed hastily and met Sheriff Brandon in exactly twelve minutes from the time of the telephone call.

“Listen,” he said, “I’m getting fed up on this yellow journalism. I’m … ”

“Take it easy, son,” Rex Brandon advised, starting the car toward the Madison Hotel. “You’ve fought your way through a lot of stuff without losing your head. Don’t begin now.”

“I can take it, as far as I’m concerned,” Doug Selby went on, “but when it comes to dragging in a woman, jeopardizing the career of an actress and perpetrating the dastardly libel by insinuation I get all fed up.”

“The best way to win a fight,” the sheriff remarked, “is never to get mad; if you must get mad, never let the other fellow know it. Now, get a smile on your face. We’re going up and find out about that typewriting business. Maybe we’ll run onto Bittner and maybe we won’t. But, in any event, you’re going to walk into that hotel smiling.”

He swung his car in to the curb in front of the hotel. Together the two men entered the lobby.

George Cushing came toward them, his face twisted into a succession of grimaces. His head jerked with St. Vitus-dancelike regularity toward the counter, where a man in a blue serge business suit was engaged in a low-voiced conversation with the clerk. On the counter in front of the man was a letter.

“Step right this way, gentlemen, if you’re in search of rooms,” Cushing said, and, taking the surprised sheriff by the arm, led him over to the counter.

The clerk looked up at Brandon and the district attorney. Recognition flooded his features, then gave place to a look of puzzled bewilderment.

“They’re strangers in the city,” Cushing repeated. “They want rooms. Go ahead and dispose of your business with this man.”

The man in the blue suit was too engrossed in his own affairs to give any particular heed to the conversation.

“It’s my money,” he said, “and I’m entitled to it.”

Cushing bustled importantly behind the counter and said, “What seems to be the trouble, Johnson?”

“This man says that he’s entitled to an envelope containing five thousand dollars which Mr. Brower left on deposit in the safe.”

Brandon moved up on one side of the man at the counter. Selby moved to the other side and nodded to Cushing.

“I’m the manager here,” Cushing said. “What’s your name?”

“You heard what I had to say a few minutes ago. You were standing over there by the safe. You heard the whole thing,” the man said.

“I wasn’t paying any particular attention to it,” Cushing said. “I thought it was just some ordinary dispute. Mr. Brower is dead, you know. We can’t hand over the money without some definite assurance that it’s yours.”

“I don’t know what more you want than this letter,” the man said. “You can see for yourself it says the money is mine.”

Cushing picked up the typewritten letter, read it, then placed it back on the counter, turning it so that Selby and the sheriff could read it without difficulty.

The letter was addressed to George Claymore, at the Brentley Hotel in Los Angeles. It read:

My dear George: You’ll be glad to learn that I’ve been successful in my mission. I have your five thousand dollars in the form of five one-thousand-dollar bills. Naturally I’d like to have you come up as soon as possible to get the money. I don’t like to have that amount in my possession and, for obvious reasons, I can’t bank it. I’ve given it to the clerk to put in the safe here at the hotel.

I am signing this letter exactly the way I have signed my name on the envelope, so the clerk can compare the two signatures, if necessary.

With kindest fraternal regards, and assuring you that this little incident has served to increase my faith and that I hope it will strengthen yours, I am,



Down below the signature in the lower left-hand corner was typed “Room 321, Madison Hotel.”

“Perhaps I can be of some assistance to you,” Selby volunteered. “I happen to know something about Mr. Brower’s death. You’re Claymore, are you?”


“And that, of course, is your money?”

“You can read plainly enough what this letter says.”

“You were in Los Angeles at the Bentley Hotel when you received this letter?”


“Let’s see when it was mailed. It’s postmarked from here on Tuesday. When did you get it?”

“I didn’t get it until late last night.”

“That’s poor service,” Selby said.

The other man nodded. There seemed about him a curious lack of self-assertion.

“Well,” Claymore said, “it was like this. You see … ”

He broke off, stared at the elevator, then turned abruptly toward the door.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

Sheriff Brandon grabbed the man’s coattails, spun him around, flipped back his own coat lapel to show a gold-plated star.

“Buddy,” he said, “you’re back right now. What’s the game?”

“Let me alone! Let me go! You’ve got no right to hold me! You … ” He became abruptly silent, turned back toward the counter, stood with his shoulders hunched over, his head lowered.

Selby looked toward the elevator. Mrs. Charles Brower was marching sedately toward the street exit.

“She staying here?” he asked Cushing.

“Yes, temporarily. She’s insisting that someone pay her expenses. She’s hired Sam Roper.”

Selby said to Brandon, “Turn him around so he faces the lobby, Rex.”

The sheriff spun the man around. He continued to keep his head lowered.

Selby raised his voice and called, “Why, good morning, Mrs. Brower.”

The woman turned on her heel, stared at Selby, then, as recognition flooded her countenance, she bore down upon him with an ominous purpose.

“I’ve never been to law,” she said, “but I’ve got some rights in this matter, Mr. Selby. I just wanted you to know that I’ve consulted a lawyer and … ”

She broke off, to stare with wide, incredulous eyes.

“Charles!” she screamed. “What are you doing here?”

For a moment Selby thought that the man wasn’t going to raise his head. Then he looked up at her with a sickly smile, and said, “As far as that’s concerned, what are you doing here?”

“I came here to identify your body.”

He wet his lips with his tongue, said in a burst of wild desperation, “Well, you see, I — I read in the paper I was dead, so I came here to see about it.”

“What about this five thousand dollars?” Brandon asked.

The man whirled. The typewritten letter was still on the counter. His face held the expression of a drowning man, looking frantically about him, trying to find some straw at which he might clutch.

“What letter?” Mrs. Brower asked, moving curiously toward the counter.

Selby folded the letter and envelope and thrust it in his pocket. “This your husband?” he asked.


“Let’s let him tell about it.”

Brower clamped his lips together in a firm, straight line.

“Speak up, Charles! What’s the matter with you?” Mrs. Brower snapped. “You haven’t been doing something you’re ashamed of, have you?”

Brower continued to remain silent.

“Go on, speak up,” Mrs. Brower ordered.

There was something in the dominant eye of his wife which brought Brower out of his silence, to mumble, “I don’t think I’d better say anything right now, dear. It might make trouble for everyone, if I did.”

“Why, what’s the matter with you? You jellyfish!” she said. “Certainly you’re going to speak up. Go right ahead and tell your story. You’ve got to tell it sooner or later, and you might just as well tell it now.”

Brower shook his head. Mrs. Brower looked at the men helplessly.

“Well, of all things!” she said.

“I’m afraid,” Selby said, “that if you don’t speak up, we’re going to have to detain you for questioning, Mr. Brower.”

A little crowd had collected in the lobby, and the interested spectators served as a magnet to draw more curiosity seekers.

The sheriff said quietly, “I think I’d better take him along with me, Doug. You stay here and look into that other angle. Then come on up to the jail. Perhaps he’ll have changed his mind.”

Selby nodded.

“Make way, folks,” Brandon said cheerfully.

Mrs. Brower swung into step beside her husband and the sheriff. “Don’t think you’re going to take him where I can’t talk to him,” she said grimly. “He’s got an explanation to make to me … Out on a motor trip, huh? Resting his nerves, eh! The very idea!”

Selby caught Cushing’s eye, jerked his head toward Cushing’s office and said, “Let’s have a little chat.”

Selby followed the hotel man into the office and faced him.

“What about it?” the district attorney asked.

“This chap showed up out of a clear sky,” Cushing said; “came walking up to the desk big as life, and asked if Mr. Brower was in his room. The clerk was flabbergasted. I was over by the safe. I pretended not to be taking any great interest in the conversation. The clerk told him, no, Mr. Brower wasn’t in, and then the chap produced that letter and said Brower had left five thousand dollars in the safe for him. I signaled the clerk to stall him along, and I was just starting for the telephone booth to put in a call for you when you came walking in the door.”

Selby said, “Get out that envelope. Let’s check the signatures.”

“I haven’t it,” Cushing answered. “The sheriff took it up and locked it in his safe yesterday night.”

“All right, I’ll keep the letter,” Selby said. “Now, I understand there was someone who heard typewriting in 321.”

“Yes, a Miss Helen Marks.”

“What’s her story?”

“She heard typing in 321 when she came in Monday night. She says it was sometime around midnight.”

“I think I’ll talk with her,” Selby said. “Give her a ring and tell her I’m coming up.”

“Listen,” Cushing pleaded, “this thing keeps getting worse and worse. Guests are commencing to get frightened. Now, I’m entitled to some consideration from your office, Selby. I want you to catch that murderer.”

Selby grinned and said, “Perhaps if you hadn’t been so insistent that we hush it all up at the start, we might have got further.”

“Well, that looked like the best thing to do then. You can understand my position. I’m running a hotel, and … ”

Selby clapped him on the back and said, “Okay, George, we’ll do the best we can. What was that number — 372?”


Selby took the elevator to the third floor and knocked on the door of 372. It was opened almost immediately by a dark-complexioned young woman in the early twenties. Her eyes were very large and smoke-gray. She wore a checked black-and-white tailored suit. Make-up showed bright patches of color on her cheeks. Her lips were smeared with lipstick until they were a glossy red.

“You’re Mr. Selby,” she asked, “the district attorney?”


“I’m Helen Marks. Come in. They said you were coming up to see me.”

“You heard the typewriting in Room 321?” Selby asked.

“Yes. It was Monday night.”

“What do you do for a living? Do you work?”

“I’m not doing anything at present. I have been a secretary and a night club entertainer. I’ve clerked in a dry-goods store and have done modeling work in Los Angeles.”

“What time was it you heard the sounds of the typewriting?”

“I don’t know. It was when I came in. Sometime around midnight, I would say, but that’s just a guess.”

“What had you been doing?”

“I’d been out with a boyfriend.”

“Doing what?”

Resentment showed in her eyes. “Is that necessary?” she asked.


“We went to a picture show.”

“Not until midnight.”

“No, then we had some drinks and danced.”

“Then what?”

“Then he drove me to the hotel.”

“Straight to the hotel?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Did he see you as far as the elevator?”

“Well, yes,” she said, “he came to the elevator with me.”

“Could this have been before midnight?”

“No, I’m sure it wasn’t before midnight.”

“Probably after midnight, then?”


“How much after?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t look at my watch. I’m not accountable to anyone, and I don’t have to tell anyone just what time I came in.”

“You heard this typewriting distinctly?”


“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“I didn’t think it was important.”

“You’ve made a living by running a typewriter?”


“How did this typing sound to you? Was it the ragged touch of the hunt-and-peck system, or was it done by the touch system?”

“It was fast typing,” she said. “I don’t believe I could tell whether it was a touch system, but that typewriter was going like a machine gun.”

“How long did you hear it?”

“Just while I was walking past the door.”

Selby said casually, “And your boyfriend, I presume, can verify your statement?”

“Yes, certainly … Why, what do you mean?”

Selby smiled at her.

“Well,” she said, defiantly, “he came as far as my room.”

“Did he stay?”

“He did not.”

“Just went to the door of the room?”

“Well, he kissed me good night.”

“Once or more than once?”

“Listen,” she said, “get this straight: This is the reason I didn’t want to say anything about what I’d seen. I was afraid a lot of people would start asking questions that were none of their business. I’m straight. If I wasn’t, it’s no one’s business except my own. The boy I was out with is a nice chap. I’ll say that for him. He’s a perfect gentleman and he knows how to treat a woman. He came as far as the room. He was here perhaps five minutes. He kissed me good night and, believe it or not, he was darn nice and sweet about it.”

“Can’t you place that time a little more closely?” Selby asked.

“It was right around three o’clock in the morning,” she said sullenly.

“That’s better. Have you any way of fixing the time — definitely?”

“We danced until about a quarter to three. My boyfriend said he had to work in the morning and he couldn’t make too big a night of it. So we came directly to the hotel.”

“And you don’t think he was here more than five minutes?”


“You didn’t go as far as the elevator with him when he left?”

“Of course not. He saw me to my room and that was all. When he left, I locked the door, took my clothes off and tumbled into bed. I was a little weary myself.”

Selby nodded.

“What’s the name of your boyfriend?” he asked.

“It’s Herbert Perry,” she said. “He’s working at a service station in … ”

Selby stiffened to electrified attention.

“Herbert F. Perry?” he asked. “The young man who’s bringing a suit to determine heirship to the Perry Estate?”

She frowned for a moment and said, “I guess that’s right. He said something about some lawsuit he was in. I gathered from the way he talked he didn’t think he stood much chance of winning it. But he said if he could win it there’d be a big bunch of money in it for him.”

“And you don’t know where he went after he left this room?”

“Why, he went down in the elevator, of course.”

“But you didn’t see him go.”

“No, of course not.”

“How long have you known Herbert Perry?”

“To tell you the truth,” she said, “I just met him that night.”

“Who introduced you?”

She stared defiantly at the district attorney and said, “It was a pick-up, if you want to know.”

“On the street?”

“Certainly not! I stopped in at the bar at the Blue Lion for a drink. This boy was there. He was very nice. We got to talking.”

“Did he,” Selby asked, “seem to know anything about you?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Did he know where you lived?”

“Come to think of it,” she said, “he did say that he’d seen me a couple of times at the hotel and had inquired something about me. He knew my name. He said he’d been wanting to meet me for a week, but didn’t know just how to arrange it. He was an awfully nice chap.”

Selby smiled, and said as casually as possible, “Well, thanks very much for coming forward with the information. Don’t change your address without letting me know, because it may be important. It’s rather difficult to believe that this man was alive and writing on his typewriter at that hour in the morning. You don’t think there’s any possibility you could be mistaken in the room?”

“No, because I noticed there was a light coming through the transom. I wondered who could be writing at that hour in the morning.”

Selby smiled, thanked her again and sauntered casually out to the corridor. As soon as he heard the door close behind him, however, he raced for the elevator. In the lobby he crossed to the telephone booth, grabbed up the receiver and said to the operator in an excited voice, “Get me the sheriff’s office, quick!”

A man dressed as a pilot moves in front of a propellor aircraft on a tarmac.
(Illustrated by Dudley Gloyne Summers; SEPS)



Herbert Perry sat in the district attorney’s office, facing the light. The sheriff and Douglas Selby concentrated upon him steady stares of silent accusation.

“Now, listen,” he said, “this Marks girl is a nice kid, see? She’s on the up-and-up. Of course, it was a pickup, but that’s the way things go nowadays.”

Selby said coldly, “I still can’t see why you knocked on the door of 321.”

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to lead up to. She’s a good kid. She wanted to sleep. I’d had a couple of drinks and I was feeling chivalrous. This typewriter was making a racket like a machine gun. The transom was open. You could hear the thing clacking all up and down the corridor. I figured it’d be a swell thing to tell this guy it was bedtime, see?”

Perry twisted his neck around inside his collar, took a deep breath and went on: “It was the thing anyone would do under the circumstances. The kid was trying to sleep. Lots of people in the hotel were trying to sleep. I’d had four or five drinks. I was feeling pretty good — not jingled, you understand, but mellow and protective — so I took the girl home and dated her up for a night next week. Then, when I started toward the elevator, I felt kind of boy-scoutish, so I tapped on the door.”

“What happened?”

“The typewriter stopped.”

“Did you knock again?”


“Did you say anything?”

“No, not after he stopped typewriting. I figured there was no use doing anything else … ”

Perry seemed pathetically eager to have them believe his explanation.

Selby tapped the top of his desk with an impressive forefinger and said, “Now, listen, Perry, you and I might just as well understand each other now as later. You knew this man in 321.”

I knew him?” Perry exclaimed, his eyes wide.

“Yes, you knew him. He came here to see you in connection with that lawsuit.”

“You’re crazy!” Perry said; then, catching himself, said quickly, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Selby, I didn’t mean that. You know, I was just speaking hastily. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, but the idea’s all cuckoo. I never heard of the man in my life.”

Sheriff Brandon said slowly, “Look here, Perry, we know that this man was interested in your lawsuit. He’d made a collection of newspaper clippings about it.”

“Lots of people are interested in it,” Perry said sullenly.

“But this man had some particular reason to be interested in it.”

“Well, suppose he did?”

“We want to know what that interest was,” Selby said.

“You’ll have to ask someone else. I can’t tell you.”

Once more the officers exchanged glances.

“The typewriting stopped the first time you knocked on the door?”


“You don’t know how long the typewriting had been going on?”

“No, the man was typing when I got out of the elevator.”

“And you say it sounded like a machine gun?”

“I’ll say it did.”

“Were there any pauses?”

“Not a pause. The thing was being ripped off at high speed, by someone who knew what he was doing.”

“And you didn’t go into Helen Marks’ room?”

“No, I just saw her to the door.”

“How long did you stay there?”

“Just long enough to kiss her goodnight.”

“And you don’t know any reason why this man was interested in your lawsuit?”

“No,” Perry said; then, after a moment’s hesitation, added, “I wouldn’t want this repeated, but I’m afraid it isn’t much of a lawsuit, Mr. Selby. I’m willing to settle for anything I can get, but I don’t think I can even get an offer. I need money — need it bad.”

“As I see it,” Selby remarked, keeping his eyes fixed on the younger man, “the whole thing hinges on the question of whether a marriage ceremony had been performed. Now, here’s a man who’s a minister of the Gospel who’s taken an interest in the case. Naturally, the first thought which comes to my mind is that he must have known something about a marriage ceremony.”

Perry shook his head and said, “My lawyers have searched the records everywhere. It doesn’t make any difference if a marriage ceremony was performed, if it wasn’t a legal marriage ceremony; and the law says a marriage ceremony isn’t legal unless there’s been a license issued and a ceremony performed in the county where the license was issued; and then there has to be some registration made, some certificate that the marriage was performed. We’ve searched the records everywhere and find that the folks never even took out a license. They thought their marriage in Yuma was good.”

“They might have gone out of the state somewhere and married and this man might have known about it.”

Perry shook his head and said, “No, that’s out too. The folks made one trip up to Oregon. Aside from that, they stayed right there on the home place. You know, they were pretty much stay-at-home sort of people.”

“When did they go to Oregon?”

“About a year ago.”

“And you’re certain they didn’t get married in Oregon?”

“Yes, we’ve traced them everywhere. Of course, Mr. Selby, I’m telling you this in strict confidence. My lawyer’s putting up the best bluff he can and trying to get a settlement. He’ll get half if he does, so he’s working hard.”

Brandon said, not unkindly, “That’s all, Herbert. Go on back to the service station, and don’t tell anyone you’ve been questioned.”

When Perry had closed the door behind him, the sheriff and Doug Selby hitched their chairs closer together. “The kid’s telling the truth,” Brandon announced.

“I know it,” Selby said, “but it’s such a peculiar coincidence that he should have been the one to knock on the door.”

“Coincidences happen like that in real life all the time.”

Selby said slowly, “I’m wondering if there’s a reason that this Marks girl picked up this particular young man and brought him to the hotel at a certain particular time.”

Brandon shrugged his shoulders.

“And you can’t get anything out of Brower?” Selby asked.

“Not a thing,” Brandon said. “He’s close-mouthed as a clam. And his wife smells a rat somewhere. She wants him to talk — but to her, and not to us. She rushed out and got him a lawyer … Where do you suppose Larrabie got that five thousand dollars from?”

“That’s a problem,” Selby remarked. “Hang it, I never saw a case which looked so beautifully simple on the face of it. But everything we touch goes haywire. His wife says he never had five hundred dollars. If he had as much as fifty dollars ahead, he thought he was rich.”

I think the actress paid it,” Brandon insisted.

Selby laughed. “Don’t be silly. In the first place, why would she have paid it? In the second place, if she had, she isn’t the kind to have lied to me about it.”

“We can’t be too sure,” the sheriff said slowly. “People do funny things. There may have been blackmail mixed up in it.”

“Not with Larrabie,” Selby said. “He’s too absolutely genuine. He was busy making the world a better place to live in.”

“Maybe he was,” Brandon agreed, “but I’m not so sure about Brower. And remember Brower had raised five thousand bucks toward a church.”

“Yes,” Selby admitted, “and he had five thousand in life insurance, and Larrabie wrote Brower, who was registered under the name of Claymore, saying that he’d been successful in his mission and had the five thousand dollars, as though it had been money he’d raised for Brower. Try and figure that out.”

“Somehow, I think Brower’s our man,” Brandon said slowly. “He may have something on his mind besides the murder, but I think Brower either did it or knows who did it.”

“It’s funny he’d keep silent.”

“He won’t say a word, and his wife rushed right out and hired Roper to defend him.”

“What did Roper do?”

“Demanded to see his client. Told him to keep still and not say anything, to answer no questions whatever. And then he demanded we put a charge against him or turn him loose. He claims he’s going to get a writ of habeas corpus.”

“Let him get it,” Selby said, “and in the meantime we’ll trace every move Brower made from the time he left Millbank until he showed up here.”

The sheriff nodded. “The Los Angeles sheriff’s office is going to co-operate. By tomorrow I’ll know everything about Brower, whether he wants to talk or not. Well,” he went on as he rolled a cigarette, “I wonder what The Blade will have to say about it tonight.”

“Probably plenty,” Selby admitted, then went on to say, “You can gamble on this: Brower and Larrabie hatched up some sort of scheme. Larrabie came here as a part of that scheme.”

“Well, if Larrabie got the money, and that was all there was to it, why didn’t he go down to Los Angeles and join Brower or telephone for Brower to meet him back in Millbank?”

Selby nodded slowly.

“If you were a stranger in town, Doug, and wanted to get five thousand, how would you go about it?” the sheriff asked.

“I’d hold up a bank or something.”

“Or perhaps indulge in a little blackmail.”

“You’d have a sweet time getting five thousand bucks in blackmail out of anyone in this town,” the district attorney said. “And, even then, there wouldn’t be any excuse for sticking around afterward.”

And in five one-thousand-dollar bills,” the sheriff remarked significantly, starting for the door. He turned as he opened the door, to say, “I keep thinking about that actress angle. Those bills look like outside money to me.”

“Forget it,” Selby insisted. “I had a good heart-to-heart talk with her.”

“Yeah, you might have had a better perspective on the case if you’d talked over the telephone.”

He slammed the door as Selby jumped to his feet.

Selby was still scowling savagely when Amorette Standish tiptoed into the room and said, “Sylvia Martin’s out there.”

“Show her in,” Selby said.

Sylvia bustled into the office with a folded newspaper under her arm.

“How’s it coming?” she asked. “And what’s this about Brower?”

“Brower tried to claim the money at the hotel,” Selby said.

“What money?”

“Five thousand dollars that was left in an envelope by Larrabie.”

“You didn’t tell me about this.”

“I was keeping it a secret. I didn’t know about it myself until sometime after viewing the body. Cushing had the envelope in his safe. Of course, he didn’t know what was in it, so he didn’t consider it as being very important.”

“Where did Larrabie get the five thousand dollars?”

“That,” he told her, “is what we’re trying to find out.”

“And why did he take Brower’s name?”

Selby shrugged his shoulders and said shortly, “You guess for a while, I’m tired.”

Sylvia sat down on the edge of his desk and said, “Listen, Doug, how about that actress?”

“Oh, well,” Doug said, “I may as well tell you the whole truth. I guess you are right, after all. The Blade will publish the story, if you don’t, and it’s better for you to publish it the way it is than to let people read about it the way it wasn’t.”

He began at the beginning and told her the entire story of his meeting with Shirley Arden.

When he had finished, she said, “And there was the odor of perfume on that money?”


“What sort of perfume?”

“I can’t tell you,” he said, “but I’d know it if I smelled it again. It was rather a peculiar perfume, a delicate blend.”

“Did you,” Sylvia asked, watching him with narrowed eyes, “take the precaution to find out what sort of perfume she was using?”

Selby nodded wearily and said, “I regret to say that I did.”

“Why the regrets, Doug?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It was cheap. It was doubting her word, somehow.”

“And the perfumes weren’t the same?”

Her voice was like a cross-examiner getting ready to spring a trap.

Selby’s reply contained a note of triumph. “I can assure you,” he said, “that they were most certainly not the same.”

Sylvia whipped from under her arm the newspaper she was carrying. She jerked it open, spread it out on the desk and said, “I don’t suppose you bother to read the motion-picture gossip in the Los Angeles daily periodicals.”

“Good Lord, no,” Selby exclaimed.

Sylvia ran her finger down a syndicated column dealing with the daily doings of the motion picture stars.

“Here it is,” she said. “Read it.”

Selby bent forward and read:

It’s a well-known fact that people get tired of living in one house, of being surrounded by one environment. Stars feel this just the same as others. Perhaps the best illustration of that is the case of Shirley Arden’s perfume.

Miss Arden’s personality has never been associated with that impulsive temperament which has characterized most stars who have won the hearts of the picturegoers through the portrayal of romantic parts. Yet, upon occasion, Miss Arden can be as impulsively original in her reactions as even the most temperamental actress on the lot.

Witness that for years Miss Arden has been exceedingly partial to a particular brand of perfume, yet, overnight, she suddenly turned against that scent and gave away hundreds of dollars of it to her stand-in, Lucy Molten.

Moreover, Miss Arden would have nothing to do with garments which even bore the smell of that perfume. She sent some to be cleaned, gave others away. She ordered her perfumer to furnish her with an entirely new scent, which was immediately installed on her dressing table both at home and in the studio.

I trust that Miss Arden will forgive me for this intimate revelation, which, for some reason, she apparently tried to clothe in secrecy. But it’s merely one of those examples of outstanding individuality which mark the true artist.

Selby looked up into Sylvia Martin’s eyes, then reached for the telephone.

“I want to get Shirley Arden, the picture actress, in Hollywood,” he said to the operator. “If I can’t get her, I’ll talk with Ben Trask, her manager. Rush the call.”

He slammed the telephone speaker back into its pronged rest. His lips were clamped tightly shut.

Sylvia Martin looked at him for a moment, then crossed to his side and rested her hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Doug,” she said, and proved the extent of her understanding and sympathy by saying nothing more.




The first page of "The Thread of Truth, Part III" as it originally appeared in the Post. This image links to the full story in our archive.
Read “The Thread of Truth, Part III” by Erle Stanley Gardner from the November 1, 1936, issue of the The Country Gentleman. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.


Featured image: Illustrated by Dudley Gloyne Summers; SEPS.

Con Watch: Beware of Phony Shopping Sites

Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor, author, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft, and scams. See Steve’s other Con Watch articles.

Like just about every other aspect of our lives, retail shopping has moved online. According to a Pew Research study from 2016, 8 out of 10 Americans are shopping online.

While shopping online is certainly easy and convenient, it also can be dangerous. There is a good chance that you will end up at a bogus, counterfeit website rather than the real online retailer. A recent study done by cybersecurity company Proofpoint found that malicious fraudulent websites increased by 11 percent in 2018 and that scammers had created phony websites mimicking 85 percent of all retailers.

Many of these phony websites appear legitimate. It is relatively easy to set up a website that looks just like the website of a trusted retailer, and it takes little or no skill to include counterfeit logos of legitimate companies in the phony retail websites.

In many instances, these phony websites’ domain names appear exactly the same as the real retailers’. For example, while the domain name for the legitimate online retailer may end in the familiar “.com,” the fake website’s domain may end in “.net” or any of the other top level domains. As a consumer this can be easy to miss.

In other instances, the scammers may register a domain name that changes one or two letters in the legitimate name that can be easily overlooked, such as replacing the letter “m” with “r” and “n” which may not be noticed by the consumer.

The problem comes when you, as a consumer, go to one of these phony websites and provide your username, password and credit card to the scammers who set up the phony website.

Making things worse, one of the things we have always relied upon to distinguish legitimate from counterfeit websites is to look for websites whose names start with “https” instead of “http.” The “s” in “https” indicates that the website is encrypted and safe. However, according to Proofpoint, about 25 percent of the phony websites post bogus “https” security certificates and phony padlock icons to fool unsuspecting consumers. Sadly, it now appears that you can’t even rely on “https” anymore.

Many of these fraudulent websites lure customers through phishing emails in which a link to the phony website appears. Never click on links to websites contained in such emails. Always type in the name of the website independently yourself and make sure that you do not make any typographical errors that can lead you to a phony website. Always check the domain name of the website to be sure you are on the correct website before entering your username, password or credit card number.

So how do you keep yourself from being scammed?

If you have any concerns about a website, go to www.resellerRatings.com, where you can find reviews about particular merchants and see if they are legitimate. If a merchant is not even listed there, they probably are fraudulent. It generally is a good idea to buy only from established companies with whom you are familiar.

You can also go to www.whois.com/whois/ and find out who actually owns the website. If it doesn’t match who they say they are, you should stay away from it. For instance, while a website may appear to be a legitimate store such as Walmart or Target, whois may show that the particular website you are on is registered to someone in Nigeria, which would be a good indication that it is a scam.

Finally, some good advice whether you are shopping online or at a brick-and-mortar store is to always use your credit card rather than your debit card. Under Federal law, you cannot be assessed more than $50 for fraudulent purchases made by someone using your credit card, and most credit card companies charge nothing. However, the potential liability of a debit card has been compromised can reach the value of your entire bank account if you do not report the crime promptly. Even if you do report the theft promptly, your access to your bank account is frozen while the bank investigates the crime.

Featured image: Shutterstock.

The Tax that Criminalized Marijuana

The history of cannabis in America goes all the way back to Jamestown. The country’s first settlement grew the plant for hemp needed to make ropes. Cannabis continued to be grown in the 400 years since, though its purpose shifted over time.

Before 1937, cannabis and its products (marijuana being one) were perfectly legal. In fact, the drug was not yet used recreationally, but was commonly used in medicines in the early days of pharmacy, though not always included on the label. This all changed at the turn of the 20th century.

A medicine bottle labeled "Fluidextract Cannabis Indica"
Bottle of cannabis ethanol extract. (Wikimedia Commons)

Americans began discussing what had previously been viewed as a useful crop as a harmful substance. The association of marijuana used recreationally with the influx of Mexican immigrants during the Mexican Revolution and Great Depression encouraged public sentiment against “marihuana,” as it was spelled back then. A September 28, 1935, article in The Saturday Evening Post raised concerns about marijuana’s dangerous influence in the wake of Prohibition repeal:

There are many states in which the police have no authority whatever to arrest either an addict or a peddler; that must be done by the comparatively small force of Federal men. There are likewise states which have no protection whatever against the rapidly growing sale and use of cannabis sativa, commonly known as marijuana, or hashish, and which grows as a weed in every part of America, particularly in the West.

Pretty Boy Floyd was alleged to have been crazed on marijuana when he aided in what now is known as the Kansas City Massacre. Give a Mexican smuggler enough of it and he will wade the Rio Grande, shooting as he comes, and caring nothing for the fact that he may be outnumbered four to one by border patrolmen. The gangster killer of today rarely takes a shot of cocaine to strengthen his nerves, but smokes a few marijuana cigarettes instead; they have greater effect.

By 1945 this magazine described marijuana as a “menace to the public welfare” in “Sleeping Pills Aren’t Candy” on February 24.

In April of 1937, congressmen Harry Anslinger proposed The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This act would require marijuana users, growers, distributors, or anyone planning “to acquire or otherwise obtain any marihuana,” to purchase a tax stamp. The drug had been a staple in medicines at the time and had not been limited by any federal regulations before 1937 (although 29 states had outlawed its use by 1931). The original act states that “Any person subject to the tax imposed by this section shall, upon payment of such tax, register his name or style and his place or places of business with the collector of the district in which such place or places of business are located.” Essentially anyone wishing to purchase a marihuana tax stamp would have to submit all of their personal information for government records.

A tax stamp for marijuana; marked with a green dollar bill face and the words, "Marihuana Tax Act of 1937"
The 1937 marihuana review tax stamp (Wikimedia Commons, Department Internal Revenue; Smithsonian National Postal Museum)

The law taxed marijuana at around $1 per ounce, or $17.95 today. The price, in addition to the forced self-reporting of anyone with a connection to the drug, discouraged its sale and use. The law was enacted on August 2, 1937, marking the day when unstamped cannabis became illegal in the United States.

The Tax Act led to the arrest of two men on its very first day, resulting in the first imprisonments due to possession and sale of marijuana. The law dictated that guilty individuals “shall be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.” Samuel Caldwell was fined $1,000 and given four years’ hard labor for dealing. His client, Moses Baca, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 were ruled unconstitutional in 1969 after the Supreme Court found it in violation of citizens’ Fifth Amendment rights. Requiring all marijuana users to identify themselves, the amount of weed they had, and where they got it from amounted to self-incrimination. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 (under which the Controlled Substances Act was passed) was put into action soon afterward, ensuring marijuana remained illegal and ushering in the beginning of the war on drugs.

The modern debate on the evils of marijuana seems to have turned. Today, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 have legalized weed for recreational use. Each of those states has their own laws and regulations surrounding the drug, including modern taxes.

Modern marijuana taxes to not act as a registry for all drug users but do create profit for states’ governments. The taxes obtained from weed in states that have legalized recreational marijuana rival those states’ taxes on alcohol sales. In Colorado in 2018, where recreational marijuana is legal, an ounce of weed costs $199.89. This price does not include the 2.9 percent sales tax, 10 percent special marijuana tax, or the 1 percent local tax that would add $27.79 to the price (not too far from 1937’s $17.95).  Colorado generated $266,529,637 in revenue from marijuana taxes in 2018 alone.

A bar graph showing how revenue from marijuana taxes and licensing fees increased over time in the U.S. state of Colorado, over the years between 2014 to the beginning of 2019.
In 2018, Colorado generated $266,529,637 in revenue from marijuana taxes. (Colorado Department of Revenue)

The Tax Act of 1935 did not explicitly make weed illegal, but it did give cause to arrest anyone without proper registration. This act began a spiral of legislation that did criminalize the drug (in addition to many others) and resulted in many people’s imprisonment. Taxes on marijuana today are not intended for incrimination, as individual users do not have to self-identify, and the stigma surrounding the drug has lessened in the 82 years since the tax act was passed. While federal legislation still condemns the drug as illegal, today marijuana can be purchased legally in many states — no stamp required.

Featured image: The 1937 marihuana review tax stamp (Wikimedia Commons, Department Internal Revenue; Smithsonian National Postal Museum)

“The Thread of Truth, Part II” by Erle Stanley Gardner

When he died, in 1970, Erle Stanley Gardner was the best-selling American fiction author of the century. His detective stories sold all over the globe, especially those with his most famous defense attorney protagonist, Perry Mason. His no-nonsense prose and neat, satisfying endings delighted detective fans for decades. Gardner wrote several stories that were serialized in the Post. In Country Gentleman, his 1936 serial “The Thread of Truth” follows a fresh D.A. in a clergyman murder case that comes on his first day on the job.

Published on October 1, 1936


District Attorney Douglas Selby and Sheriff Rex Brandon, both newly elected in a bitter campaign which swept Sam Roper and his henchman out of authority in Madison City, agreed that they must not muff their first important case. For while The Clarion, and incidentally the lovely young reporter, Sylvia Martin, were loyally supporting Selby, the opposition newspaper, The Blade, was alert for a chance to blast the fighting young newcomer into disgrace.

The death of Rev. Charles Brower, apparently of an overdose of sleeping potion, in Room 321 of the Madison Hotel did not look like an important case. Sleek George Cushing, manager of the hotel, insisted that the little minister had died a natural death. Selby thought so, too, until Mrs. Charles Brower arrived to declare positively that the man was not her husband. Yet the minister’s effects included many things identifying him as Charles Brower, including an unfinished letter in his portable typewriter addressed to the wife, who was repudiating him.

There were also in the dead man’s belongings an expensive camera; a sheaf of clippings about Shirley Arden, famous actress of Hollywood, less than one hundred miles away; and another batch of clippings concerning litigation in the Madison City courts over the Perry estate.

Who was the little minister, if he were not Charles Brower? Douglas Selby set out to find the answer. He discovered that the impoverished minister had left, in the hotel safe, a rose-perfumed envelope containing five thousand dollars. He discovered that Shirley Arden, incognito, had occupied a fifth-floor room, from which Selby himself had seen the minister emerge on the day before his death. And then — the examining physician reported the cause of death — a murderous dose of morphine.



Selby rang Sheriff Brandon on the telephone and said, “Have you heard Trueman’s report on that Brower case?”

“Yes, I just talked with him. What do you think of it?”

“I think it’s murder.”

“Listen, Doug,” Rex said, “we’ve got to work fast on this thing. The Blade will start riding us.”

“That’s all right. We’ve got to expect to be roasted once in a while. But let’s chase down all the clues and see if we can’t keep one jump ahead of the knockers. Did you get in touch with the San Francisco optician?”

“Yes, I sent him a wire.”

“Better get him on the telephone and see if you can speed things up any. He may be able to give us some information. Now, here’s another thing. Room 323 had been rented to a Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Smith, of Hollywood. I told Cushing to get their address from the register. I wish you’d get that information; telephone the Hollywood police station and see if you can get a line on the couple. If you can’t, wire the motor-vehicle department and find out if a Leslie Smith, of Hollywood. owns an automobile, and get his residence from the registration certificate. Also, see if a Leslie Smith had a car stored in one of the garages near the hotel.”

“Of course,” the sheriff pointed out, “he might have been using a fictitious name.”

“Try it, anyway,” Selby said. “Let’s go through the facts in this case with a fine-tooth comb. They can’t expect us to be infallible, Rex. Lots of murders are never solved, even in cities where they have the most efficient police forces. What we have to guard against is slipping up on some little fact where a Blade reporter can give us the horselaugh. Figure the position we’ll be in if The Blade solves this murder while we’re still groping around in the dark.”

“I get you,” Brandon said grimly. “Leave it to me. I’ll turn things upside down and inside out.”

“One other thing,” Selby said. “When you get George Cushing in the sweatbox, he’ll probably give you some information about a certain picture actress who was in the hotel. You don’t need to bother about that. We don’t want any publicity on it right at the present time, and I’ve been in touch with her manager. They’re going to be up here at eight o’clock tonight at my office. I’ll find out if there’s anything to it and let you know. You’d better arrange to sit in on the conference.”

“Okay,” Brandon said, “I’ll get busy. You stick around and I’ll probably have something for you inside of half an hour.”

As the district attorney hung up the telephone his secretary brought him a telegram from the chief of police of Millbank, Nevada.

Selby read:


Man in suit with a camera
“He flattened himself in a doorway and stared back down the corridor.”

Selby looked at the wire, nodded and said, “There’s a man who knows his job.”

Amorette Standish let her curiosity show in her voice.

“Were you wondering if she really is Mrs. Brower?”

“I was,” he said.

“And the dead man?” she asked. “Was he Mr. Brower?”

“I don’t think so. The woman says he isn’t, and the description doesn’t fit. Ring up the coroner and ask him to look particularly for the small triangular scar mentioned in the wire. I don’t think he’ll find it, but we’ll look anyway.”

As his secretary took the telegram and left the room, Selby got to his feet and began a restless pacing of the office. At length he sat down at his desk and started scribbling a wire to the chief of police at Millbank, Nevada.

“Ascertain if possible,” he wrote, “if Brower had a friend, probably a minister, between forty-five and fifty-five, about five feet five inches, weight about hundred and twenty, small-boned, dark hair, gray at temples, small round bald spot top and back of head. Interested in photography. Probably had made several fruitless attempts to sell scenarios Hollywood studios. Interested in motion pictures. Last seen wearing black frock coat, well-worn and shiny black trousers, black high shoes. Eyes blue. Manner very self-effacing. Enunciation very precise, as though accustomed public speaking from pulpit. Owns Typco portable typewriter. Wire reply earliest available moment. Important. Thanks for co-operation.” Selby gave the telegram to Amorette Standish to be sent. His telephone was ringing before she had left the office. He took down the receiver and heard Sheriff Brandon’s voice.

“Have some news for you, Doug,” the sheriff said.

“Found out who he was?”

“No, not yet.”

“Talk with that optician in San Francisco?”

“Yes. He got my wire, but had been pretty busy and had just hit the high spots going over his records. He hadn’t found anything. I don’t think he’d been trying very hard. I put a bee in his bonnet, told him to check over every prescription he had in his files if necessary. He said the prescription wasn’t particularly unusual. I told him to make a list of every patient he had who had that prescription and send me a telegram.”

“What else?” Selby asked.

Brandon lowered his voice.

“Listen, Doug,” he said cautiously, “the opposition are going to try to put us on the spot.”

“Go ahead,” Selby said.

“Jerry Summerville, who runs The Blade, has imported a crack mystery man from Los Angeles, a fellow by the name of Carl Bittner. He’s been a star reporter for some of the Los Angeles dailies. I don’t know how much money it cost, or who’s putting it up, but Summerville put in the call this morning and Bittner is here in town now. He’s been asking questions of the coroner and trying to pump Cushing.”

“What did Cushing tell him, do you know?”

“No. He pulled a fast one with Cushing. He said he was a special investigator and sort of gave Cushing to understand he was from your office. Cushing talked a little bit. I don’t know how much … Suppose we could throw a scare into this bird for impersonating an officer?”

“Special investigator doesn’t mean anything,” Selby said slowly. “Let’s go slow on bothering about what the other people are doing, Rex, and solve the case ourselves. After all, we have all the official machinery at our disposal, and we’ve got a head start.”

“Not very much of a head start,” the sheriff said. “We collect the facts and the other fellows can use them.”

“We don’t need to tell them all we know,” Selby pointed out.

“That’s one of the things I wanted to ask you about. Suppose we clamp down the lid on information?”

“That’s okay by me.”

“All right, we’ll do it. Now here’s something else for you. Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Smith are phonies. They gave an address of 3350 Blair Drive. There isn’t any such number. There are about fifty automobiles registered to Leslie Smiths in various parts of the state.”

“Okay,” Selby said after a moment, “it’s up to you to run down all fifty of those car owners.”

“I was talking with Cushing,” Brandon went on, “and he says they were a couple of kids who might have been adventuring around a bit and used the first alias that came into their heads.”

“Cushing may be right,” Selby rejoined, “but we’re solving this case, he isn’t. It stands to reason,that someone got into the minister’s room through one of the adjoining rooms. That chair being propped under the doorknob would have kept the door of 321 from opening. Both doors were locked on 323. I’m inclined to favor 319.”

“But there wasn’t anyone in 319 at the time.”

Selby said, “Let’s make absolutely certain of that, Rex. I don’t like the way Cushing is acting in this thing. He’s not co-operating as well as he might. Suppose you get hold of him and throw a scare into him.

“And here’s something else,” Selby went on. “I noticed that the writing on the letter which had been left in the typewriter was nice neat typewriting, almost professional in appearance.”

“I hadn’t particularly noticed that,” the sheriff said, after a moment, “but I guess perhaps you’re right.”

“Now, then, on the scenario, which was in his briefcase,” Selby pointed out, “the typing was ragged, the letters in the words weren’t evenly spaced. There were lots of strike-overs and the punctuation was rotten. Suppose you check up and see if both the scenario and the letter were written on the same typewriter.”

“You mean two different people wrote them, but on the same machine?”

“Yes. It fits in with the theory of murder. By checking up on that typing we can find out a little more about it. Now, Rex, we should be able to find out more about this man. How about labels in his clothes?”

“I’m checking on that. The coat was sold by a firm in San Francisco. There weren’t any laundry marks on his clothes. But I’ll check up on this other stuff, Doug, and let you know. Keep your head, son, and don’t worry. We can handle it all right. G’by.”

Selby hung up the telephone as Amorette Standish slipped in through the door and said in a low voice, “There’s a man in the outer office who says he has to see you upon a matter of the greatest importance.”

“Won’t he see one of the deputies?”


“What’s his name?”

“Carl Bittner.”

Selby nodded slowly. “Show him in,” he said.

Carl Bittner was filled with bustling efficiency as he entered the room. Almost as tall as Selby, he was some fifteen years older. His face was thin, almost to the point of being gaunt; high cheekbones and thin lips gave him a peculiarly lantern-jawed appearance.

“I’m Bittner,” he said. “I’m with The Blade. I’m working on this murder case. What have you to say about it?”

“Nothing,” Selby said.

Bittner raised his eyebrows in surprise. “I’ve been working on some of the large dailies in Los Angeles,” he said. “Down there the district attorney co-operates with us and gives us any information he has.”

“It’s too bad you left there, then,” Selby said.

“The idea is,” Bittner went on, “that newspaper publicity will frequently clear up unexplained circumstances. Therefore, the district attorney feels it’s good business to co-operate with the newspapers.”

“I’m glad he does.”

“Don’t you feel that way?”


“There’s some chance we could identify the body, if you’d tell us everything you know.”

“Just what information did you want?”

“Everything you know,” Bittner said, dropping into a chair, lighting a cigarette and making himself thoroughly at ease.

“So far,” Selby said, “I have no information which would enable me to identify the dead man.”

“Don’t know anything about him, eh?”

“Virtually not a thing.”

“Wasn’t he mixed up with some Hollywood picture actress?”

“Was he?”

“I’m asking you.”

“And I’m asking you.”

“Don’t some of your investigations lead you to believe there’s a picture actress mixed up in the case?”

“I can’t very well answer that question.”


“As yet I haven’t correlated the various facts.”

“When do you expect to correlate them?”

“I don’t know.”

Bittner got to his feet, twisted his long mouth into a grin and said, “Thank you very much, Mr. Selby. The Blade will be on the street in about two hours. I’ll just about have time to get your antagonistic attitude written up against the deadline. Call me whenever you have anything new. Good-by.”

He slammed the door of Selby’s office triumphantly, as though he had succeeded in getting the district attorney to say exactly what he wanted said.



Selby switched on the lights in his office and read the terse telegram he had received from the chief of police at Millbank, Nevada:


He consulted his wrist watch. Shirley Arden and Trask should arrive to keep their appointment within fifteen minutes.


There followed a more or less garbled account of the crime, but that which made Selby’s jaw clench was a column of “Comment” under the by-line of Carl Bittner, written with the technique of a mud-slinging metropolitan newspaper reporter.

“When the district attorney, Selby, was interviewed at a late hour this afternoon,” the article stated, “he admitted he had no information whatever which would be of any value in solving the murder. This, in spite of the fact representatives of The Blade have been able to uncover several significant facts which will probably clear up the mystery, at least as to the identity of the murdered man.”

“For some time a rumor has been rife that a prominent Hollywood picture actress figures in the case, that for reasons best known to himself District Attorney Selby is endeavoring to shield this actress. Pressed for information upon this point, Selby flew into a rage and refused to answer any questions. When it was pointed out to him that an identification of the victim, perhaps a solution of the crime itself, depended upon enlisting the aid of the press, he obstinately refused to divulge any information whatever, despite his admission that he was groping entirely in the dark.

“It is, of course, well known that whenever the breath of scandal fastens itself upon any prominent actress great pressure is brought to bear upon all concerned to hush matters up. The Blade has, however, pledged itself to discover the facts and give the news to its readers. It is to be regretted that the district attorney cannot recognize he is not a ruler, but a public servant. He is employed by the taxpayers, paid from tax moneys, and has taken an oath to faithfully discharge the duties of his office. He is young, untried and, in matters of this sort, inexperienced. Citizens of this community may well anticipate a carnival of crime as the crooks realize the type of man who has charge of law enforcement.”

“During the campaign, Selby was ready enough with his criticisms of Roper’s methods of conducting the office; but now that he has tried to take over the reins, his groping, bewildered attempts to solve a case which Roper would have taken in his stride, show only too well the cost to the public of discharging a faithful and efficient servant merely because of the rantings of some youth whose only qualification for the position is that he wants the prestige which goes with the title.”

A bitter column on the editorial page dealt with the fact that, as had been predicted by The Blade, Rex Brandon and Douglas Selby, while they were perhaps well-meaning, were utterly incompetent to handle a murder case such as the mysterious death of the unidentified clergyman. Had the voters retained Sam Roper in office, the editorial said, there was little doubt but what that veteran prosecutor would have by this time learned the identity of the dead man and probably had the murderer behind bars. Certainly the community would have been spared the humiliation of having a sheriff and a district attorney engage in such a comedy of errors as had resulted in bringing to an unfortunate woman the false information that her husband was dead. Roper would undoubtedly have made an investigation before jumping at such a false and erroneous conclusion.

Selby squared his shoulders.

All right, they wanted to fight, did they? Very well, he’d fight it out with them.

He heard a knock on his door and called, “Come in.”

The door opened and Selby saw a man nearly six feet tall, weighing well over two hundred pounds, smiling at him from the doorway.

The visitor wore a checked coat. His well-manicured hands adjusted the knot of his scarf as he smiled and said, in a deep, dramatic voice, “Ah, Mr. Selby, I believe? It is a pleasure.”

“You’re Trask?” Selby asked.

The big man bowed and smiled.

“Come in,” Selby said, “and tell Miss Arden to come in.”

“Miss Arden — er — er — unfortunately is not able to be present, Mr. Selby. As you may or may not know, Miss Arden’s nerves have been bothering her somewhat of late. She has been working under a terrific strain and … ”

“Where is she?” Selby interrupted, getting to his feet.

“At the close of the shooting this afternoon,” Trask said, “Miss Arden was in an exceedingly nervous condition. Her personal physician advised her … ”

“Where is she?”

“She — er — went away.”


“To the seclusion of a mountain resort where she can get a change in elevation and scenery and complete rest.”


“I am afraid I am not at liberty to divulge her exact location. The orders of her physician were most explicit.”

“Who’s her physician?”

“Dr. Edward Cartwright.”

Selby scooped up the telephone. “You come in and sit down,” he said to Trask; and, into the telephone, “This is Douglas Selby, the district attorney, speaking. I want to talk with Dr. Edward Cartwright in Los Angeles. I’ll hold the wire.”

Standing with his feet spread apart, his jaw thrust forward, the receiver of the telephone held in his left hand, he said to Trask, “That’s what I get for giving a heel like you a chance to double-cross me. It won’t happen again.”

Trask strode toward him, his eyes glowering with indignation. “Are you referring to me?” he demanded in a loud, booming voice. “Are you calling me a heel? Are you intimating that I double-crossed you because Miss Arden’s health has been jeopardized by overwork?”

“You’re damned right I am,” Selby said. “I’ll tell you more about it when I’ve talked with this doctor on the telephone.”

Into the telephone he said, “Hello! Rush through that call.”

A woman’s voice said, “Doctor Cartwright’s residence.”

Selby listened while the long-distance operator said, “The district attorney’s office at Madison City is calling Doctor Cartwright.”

“I’m afraid Doctor Cartwright can’t come to the telephone,” the woman’s voice said.

Selby interrupted. “I’ll talk with whoever’s on the phone,” he said.

“Very well,” the operator told him.

“Who is this?” Selby asked.

“This is Mrs. Cartwright.”

“All right,” Selby said, “this is Douglas Selby. I’m the district attorney at Madison City. You put Doctor Cartwright on the telephone.”

“But Doctor Cartwright has given orders that he is not to be disturbed.”

“You tell Doctor Cartwright he can either talk on the telephone or I’ll have him brought up here and he can do his talking in front of a grand jury.”

“But — you couldn’t do that,” the woman protested.

“That,” Selby remarked, “is a matter of opinion. Please convey my message to Doctor Cartwright.”

“He’s very tired. He left orders that … ”

“Convey that message to Doctor Cartwright,” Selby said, “or I’ll get a statement from him which will be made at my convenience rather than at his.”

There was a moment’s pause and the woman’s voice said dubiously, “Very well, just hold the phone a moment.”

Trask interrupted to say, “You can’t do this, Selby. You’re getting off on the wrong foot. Now I want to be friendly with you.”

“You,” Selby told him, “shut up. You promised me to have Shirley Arden here at eight o’clock. I’m already being put on the pan for falling for this Hollywood hooey. I don’t propose to be made the goat.”

“If you’re going to be pasty about it,” Trask said with an air of injured dignity, “it happens that I know my legal rights in the premises and . . .”

A man’s voice said “Hello” on the telephone, and Selby said, “Shut up, Trask … Hello! Is this Doctor Cartwright?”


“You’re the Doctor Cartwright who attends Shirley Arden, the picture actress?”

“I have attended her on occasion, yes.”

“When did you last see her?”

“What’s the object of this inquiry?”

“Miss Arden was to have been in my office this evening. She isn’t here. I want to know why.”

“Miss Arden was in an exceedingly nervous condition.”

“When did you see her?”

“This afternoon.”

“What time?”

“About three o’clock.”

“What did you tell her?”

Doctor Cartwright’s voice became very professional. “I found that her pulse was irregular, that her blood pressure was higher than should have been the case. There was some evidence of halitosis, indicating a nervous indigestion. She complained of migraine and general lassitude. I advised a complete rest.”

“Did you advise her specifically not to keep her appointment with me?”

“I advised her not to engage in any activity which would cause undue excitement or nervousness.”

“Did you advise her not to keep her appointment with me?”

“I advised her to seek a secluded mountain resort where she could be quiet for a few days.”

“Did you advise her not to keep her appointment with me?”

“I told her that it would be unwise for her to … ”

“Never mind that,” Selby said, “did you tell her not to keep her appointment with me?”

“She asked me if it wouldn’t be inadvisable for her to subject herself to a grueling interrogation after taking an automobile ride of some hundred miles, and I told her that it would.”

“Specifically, what did you find wrong with her?”

“I’m afraid I can’t discuss my patient’s symptoms. A matter of professional privilege, you know, Mr. Selby. But I felt that her health would be benefited by a complete change of scenery.”

“For how long?”

“Until she feels relief from some of the symptoms.”

“And what are the symptoms?”

“General lassitude, nervousness, a severe migraine.”

“What’s migraine?” Selby asked.

“Well, er — a headache.”

“In other words, she had a headache and said she didn’t feel well, so you told her she didn’t need to keep her appointment with me, is that right?”

“That’s putting rather a blunt interpretation on it.”

“I’m cutting out all of the verbal foolishness,” Selby said, “and getting down to brass tacks. That’s the effect of what you told her, isn’t it?”

“Well, of course, it would have that effect and … ”

“Thank you, doctor,” Selby said tersely, “you’ll probably hear more from me about this.”

He dropped the telephone receiver down between the prongs of the desk phone, turned to Trask and said, “The more I see of this, the less I like it.”

Trask pulled down his waistcoat and became coldly dignified.

“Very well,” he said, “if you’re going to adopt that attitude, may I suggest, Mr. Selby, that in the elation of your campaign victory, you have, perhaps, emerged with a swollen concept of your own power and importance?

“As Miss Arden’s manager, I have received advice from the very best legal talent in Los Angeles as to our rights in the matter.

“Frankly, I considered it an arbitrary and high-handed procedure when you telephoned and stated that Miss Arden, a star whose salary per week amounts to more than yours for a year, drop everything and journey to your office. However, since it is her duty as a citizen to co-operate with the authorities, I made no vehement protest.

“The situation was different when it appeared that Miss Arden’s nerves were weakening under the strain, and that her earning capacity might be impaired if she complied with your unwarranted demands upon her time. I, therefore, employed counsel and was advised that, while you have a right to have a subpoena issued for her, compelling her attendance before the grand jury, you have no right to order her to appear for questioning in your office. Incidentally, it may interest you to know that a subpoena, in order to be valid, has to be served in person upon the witness named in the subpoena. I think I need only call to your attention the fact that Miss Arden has virtually unlimited resources at her command, to point out to you how difficult it would be for you to serve such a subpoena upon her. Moreover, she is under no obligation to obey such a subpoena, if to do so would jeopardize her health. You are not a physician. Doctor Cartwright is. His diagnosis of the condition of Miss Arden is entitled to far more weight than your hasty assumption that her headaches and nervous fits are unimportant.”

“I’m sorry to have to talk to you this way, but you asked for it. You’re a district attorney in a rather unimportant, outlying county. If you think you can pick up your telephone and summon high-priced picture stars, who are of international importance, to your city, quite regardless of their own health or personal convenience, you’re mistaken.”

Trask thrust out his jaw belligerently and said, “Have I made myself clear, Mr. Selby?”

Doug Selby stood with his long legs spread apart, hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets. His eyes burned steadily into those of Trask.

“You’re damned right you’ve made yourself clear,” he said. “Now I’ll make myself clear. “I have reason to believe that Miss Arden was in this city, registered in the Madison Hotel under an assumed name. I have reason to believe that a man who was murdered in that hotel called on Miss Arden in her room. I have reason to believe that Miss Arden paid him a large sum of money. Now you can force me to use a subpoena. You may be able to keep me from serving that subpoena. But, by heaven, you can’t keep me from giving out the facts to the press.

“You’re probably right in stating that Miss Arden’s salary per week is greater than mine for a year, but when it comes to a showdown, the ability to dish it out and to take it isn’t measured by salary contracts. I’m just as good a fighter as she is, just as good a fighter as you are — and probably a damned sight better. And you’re going to find it out.

“You’ve done a lot of talking about Miss Arden’s importance, about the fact that she’s an internationally known figure. You’re right in that. That’s the thing that gives you these resources you boast of, the money to hire bodyguards, to arrange for an isolated place of concealment where it would be hard to locate her with a subpoena.

“You overlook, however, that this very fact is also your greatest weakness. The minute the press associations get the idea Miss Arden may be mixed up in this case, they’ll have reporters pouring into town like flies coming to a honey jar. I didn’t want to make any public announcement until I’d given Miss Arden a chance to explain. If she doesn’t want to co-operate with me, that’s her lookout.”

Selby consulted his wrist watch. “It’s twelve minutes past eight. I don’t think Miss Arden’s got to any part of the state where she can’t get here within four hours’ fast driving. I’ll give you until midnight to produce her. If you don’t produce her, I’ll tell the press exactly why I want to talk with her.”

Trask’s face was a wooden mask, but his eyes showed a trace of panic.

“Young man,” he said, “if you did that, you’d be sued for criminal libel and defamation of character, you … ”

“You’re wasting time talking,” Selby said. “If you’re going to get Miss Arden here by midnight, you’d better get started.”

Trask took a deep breath, forced a smile to his face, came toward Selby.

“Now, listen, Mr. Selby,” he said in a conciliatory tone, “perhaps I was a little hasty. After all, you know, our nerves get worn thin in this picture business. Miss Arden’s trip to Madison City was highly confidential, but since you’re interested in it, I think I can explain to you just why she came and … ”

“I don’t want your explanation,” Selby interrupted coldly, “I want hers.”

Trask’s face flushed. “You mean to refuse to listen to what I have to say?”

“At times,” Selby said, “you’re rather good at interpreting the English language.”

Trask fumbled for a cigar in his waistcoat pocket.

“Surely,” he said, “there’s some way in which we can get together. After all … ”

“I’ll be available until midnight,” Selby interrupted. “In the meantime, Mr. Trask, I don’t think I need to detain you.”

“That’s final?” Trask asked, clamping his teeth down on the end of the cigar and giving it a vicious, wrenching motion with his wrist to tear off the end.

“That’s final,” Selby said.

Trask spat out the bit of tobacco as he reached for the doorknob.

“You’ll sing a different tune when we get done with you!” he said, and slammed the door behind him.

Selby called Cushing at the Madison Hotel.

“Cushing,” he said, “I want you to ask all of the regular roomers on the third floor if they heard any typewriting in 321 on Monday night or Tuesday morning. It’ll probably look better if you ask them.”

Cushing said, “This is giving the hotel an awful black eye, Doug. That publicity in The Blade was bad — very bad.”

“Perhaps if you’d kept your mouth shut,” Selby said, “the publicity wouldn’t be so bad.”

“What do you mean?”

“Some of the information must have come from you.”

“Impossible! I didn’t give out any information.”

“You talked to the chief of police,” Selby said. “You know where he stands with The Blade.”

“You mean the chief of police is double-crossing you?”

“I don’t mean anything except that some of the information in the newspaper didn’t come from the sheriff’s office, and didn’t come from mine. You can draw your own conclusions.”

“But he has the right to question me,” Cushing said, “just the same as you have, Doug.”

“All right, then, he’s the one to complain to, not to me.”

“But in your position, can’t you hush the thing up?”

Selby laughed and said, “You can gather just how much chance I have of hushing things up by reading the editorial page in The Blade.”

“Yes,” Cushing said dubiously, “still … ”

“Quit worrying about it,” Selby told him, “and get busy and question your guests on the third floor.”

“I don’t like to question the guests,” he protested.

“Perhaps,” Selby suggested, “you’d prefer to have the sheriff do it.”

“No, no, no; not that!”

“Then suppose you do it.”

Cushing sighed, said, “Very well,” in a tone which contained a complete lack of enthusiasm, and hung up the receiver.

Selby had hardly put the receiver back into place when the phone rang. He picked it up, said “Hello,” and heard a woman’s voice, a voice which was rich, throaty, and intimately cordial.

“Is this Mr. Douglas Selby, the district attorney?”


“I’m Miss Myrtle Cummings, of Los Angeles, and I have some information which I think you should have. It’s something in relation to the murder case which has been described in the evening newspaper.”

“Can you give it to me over the telephone?” Selby asked.


“Well, I’ll be here at my office until midnight,” he said.

There was something hauntingly familiar about the woman’s voice. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but it’s absolutely impossible for me to leave. For reasons which I’ll explain when I see you, I’m confined to my room, but if you could come and see me some time within the next half hour, I think it would be very advantageous for you to do so.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in room 515 at the Madison Hotel. Do you suppose you could manage to come to my room without attracting any attention?”

“I think so,” he said slowly.

“Could you come right away?”

“I’m waiting for several rather important calls,” he said.

“But I’m sure this is most important,” she insisted.

“Very well,” Selby told her, “I’ll be over within ten minutes.”

He dropped the receiver back into place, put on his overcoat and hat. He closed and locked the office door, but left the light on, so that Rex Brandon would know he expected to return, in case the sheriff should call at the office. He parked his car a couple of blocks from the Madison Hotel.

It was one of those clear, cold nights with a dry wind blowing in from the desert. The stars blazed down with steady brilliance. The northeast wind was surgingly insistent. Selby buttoned his coat, pushed his hands into the deep side pockets and walked with long, swinging strides toward the hotel.

Luck was with him when he entered the hotel. Cushing was not in the lobby. The night clerk was busy with a patron. The elevator operator apparently saw nothing unusual in Selby’s visit.

“Going up to campaign headquarters?” he asked.

Selby nodded.

“Gee, that sure was something, having a murder case right here in the hotel, wasn’t it?” the operator said, as he slid the door closed and started the elevator upward.

Again Selby nodded. “Know anything about it?”

“Just what I’ve heard around the hotel.”

“What did you hear?”

“Nothing, except this guy took the room and was found dead. Cushing says it couldn’t have been a murder. He says it was just a case of accidentally taking the wrong kind of dope and that The Blade is trying to make a big thing of it. The Blade’s had a reporter snooping around here.”

“Chap by the name of Carl Bittner?” Selby asked.

“That’s the one. He’s got the boss sore at him. Cushing thought he was one of your men … and there’s things about the dump that Cushing don’t want printed.”

“What things?” Selby asked.

“Oh, lots of things,” the boy said vaguely. “Take this guy, Trask, for one. Anyone would think he owned the joint. And there’s a room on the fifth floor they never rent. A dame comes and goes on the freight elevator.”

The elevator stopped at the fifth floor.

Selby handed the boy a half dollar. “Thanks for the information,” he said. “I don’t want to be interrupted. I came here because I wanted to get away from telephone calls and people who were trying to interview me. Do you suppose you could forget about taking me up here?”

“Sure,” the operator said, grinning. “I can forget anything for four bits.”

Selby nodded, waited until the cage had started downward before he made the turn in the corridor which took him toward the room at the end of the corridor which they had used as campaign headquarters. When he saw there was no one in the hallway, he tapped gently on the door of 515.

“Come in,” a woman’s voice said. Selby opened the door and stepped into the room.

He knew at once that Shirley Arden had arranged every detail of the meeting with the training which years as an actress had given her.

The door opened into a sitting room. Back of the sitting room was a bedroom. In the bedroom a rose-colored light shed a soft illumination which fell upon the actress’ face in such a way that it turned the dark depths of her eyes into mysterious pools of romance.

She was attired in a tailored suit of pearl gray. Its simplicity was so severe that it served to center attention upon her face and figure. Had she been ten years older, she would have worn a gown so gorgeously designed that a woman looking at her would have said, “How wonderfully she’s dressed!” But with that pearl gray tailored outfit, men, looking at Shirley Arden, would only have said, “What a beautiful figure she has! How wonderful her eyes are!”

She was seated on the arm of an overstuffed chair, one gray-stockinged leg thrust out at such an angle that the curves caught the eye. Her lips were parted in a smile.

And yet, perhaps as a result of her Hollywood training, she overdid it. Perfect actress that she was, she underestimated the intelligence of the man with whom she was dealing, so that the effect she strove for was lost. Had she remained seated on the arm of the chair just long enough to have given him a glimpse of her loveliness, and then got to her feet to come toward him, he would have been impressed. But her very immobility warned him that the effect had been carefully and studiously planned.

“So,” Selby said, vigorously kicking the door shut behind him, “you were here all the time.”

She didn’t move. Her face was held so that the lighting did not change by so much as a hairline of a shadow. It was as though she had been facing a battery of lights for a close-up.

“Yes,” she said, “I was here. I didn’t want to talk with you unless I had to. I’m afraid Ben Trask didn’t handle the situation very diplomatically.”

“He didn’t,” Selby said. “How about your nerves?”

“I really am very nervous.”

“And,” Selby said, “I suppose the idea was to send Ben Trask over to bluff me. If he’d reported success, then you’d have actually gone into hiding.”

“I didn’t want to take any chances,” she told him. “Can’t you understand? Think what it means to me. Think of my position, my public, my earning capacity. Gossip is a fatal thing to a picture star. I couldn’t afford to have it known I was questioned in connection with the case.

“Ben is a very strong man. He’s always been able to dominate any situation he’s tackled. He makes my contracts for me, and it’s an open secret they’re the best contracts in Hollywood. Then he met you — and failed.”

She waited for the full dramatic value of that statement to manifest itself. Then, with that slow, supple grace which characterizes a stage dancer, she straightened her leg, swung it slowly forward, came to the floor as lightly as thistledown and walked toward him to give him her hand.

“It’s delightful, Mr. Selby,” she said, “to find you so human.”

His fingers barely touched hers. “It depends,” he told her, “on what you mean by being human.”

“I’m certain you’ll listen to reason.”

“I’ll listen to the truth,” he said, “if that’s what you mean.”

“After all, aren’t they the same thing?”

“That depends,” Selby said. “Sit down, I want to talk with you.”

She smiled and said, “I know I’m in your city, Mr. Selby, under your jurisdiction, as it were, but please permit me to be the hostess and ask you to be seated.”

She swept her hand in a gracious gesture of invitation toward the overstuffed chair beneath the floor lamp.

“No,” Selby said, “thank you, I’ll stand.”

A slight frown of annoyance crossed her face, as though her plans were going astray.

Selby stood spread-legged, his overcoat unbuttoned and thrown back, his hands thrust deep into his trousers pockets, his eyes showing just a trace of sardonic humor beneath a grim determination.

“After all,” he said, “I’m doing the questioning. So if anyone is going to sit in that chair beneath the illumination of that light, it’s going to be you. You’re the one who’s being questioned.”

She said defiantly, “Meaning, I suppose, that you think I’m afraid to let you study my facial expressions.”

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m not wasting time thinking about it. Your facial expressions are going to be studied whether you like it or not.”

“Very well,” she said, and dropped into the overstuffed chair, carefully adjusting the light so that it beat down upon her face. Her smile was the smile of one who bravely faces injustice, nor was there any narrowing of the eyelids as her lips parted. “Go ahead, Mr. District Attorney,” she invited.

Selby stood staring at her steadily. “It happens,” he said, “that I saw that same expression in ‘Love Life.’ It was, I believe, the way you looked at your prospective father-in-law when he came to give you money never to see his boy again.”

She lost her fixed smile. For a moment there was blazing defiance in her eyes. Then her face became as a wooden mask.

“After all,” she said, “it’s the same face. And it would naturally hold the same expressions that you’ve seen in pictures.”

“Well,” he told her, “I’m not interested in your facial expressions. I’m interested in your answers to certain questions.”

“Go ahead and ask the questions.”

“You were here in the hotel Monday morning, were you not?”

“I was.”

“In this room?”


“Why did you come here?”

“On a matter of business.”

“What was the business?”

“I decline to answer that question. It’s a confidential matter.”

“With whom was your business to be transacted?”

“I also decline to answer that question.”

“Have you seen photographs of the man who was found dead in room 321?”


Selby pulled a photograph from his pocket, strode toward her and thrust it out in front of him.

“Look at it,” he said.

It was a moment before she lowered her eyes, as though schooling her face against showing any expression; then she glanced at the photograph, raised her eyes to his and nodded a slow, solemn nod.

“Know him?” Selby asked.

“I saw him.”


“In the hotel.”

“What part of the hotel?”

“In this room.”

Selby sighed and said, “Now that’s a lot better. When did you see him?”

“It was some time in the morning, shortly before ten o’clock, I think.”

“What was he doing?”

“He was talking with me.”

“What name did he give you? Was it the name under which he was registered, Charles Brower?”

She shook her head and said, “No, that wasn’t the name.”

“What name was it?”

She frowned thoughtfully for a moment or two and then said slowly, “No, I’m afraid I can’t remember what the name was, but I know it wasn’t Brower. It was something that sounded like Larry, or something of that sort. I think it had a ‘Larry’ in it.”

“In the last name?”


“You’re sure it wasn’t the first name?”

“No, it was the last name. I don’t think he told me his first name.”

“Why did he happen to come into the room here?”

“He knocked on the door. I went to the door to see who it was.”

“Had you ever seen him before?”

She hesitated once more for a moment, then very decisively shook her head and said, “No, I had never seen him before.”

“But you let him in?”


“Are you accustomed to admitting strangers to your room?”

“I want you to understand my position, Mr. Selby. You’re an educated man. You’re different from the rabble. You can appreciate the position of an actress. I’m really not my own boss. I’m owned by my public. One must, of course, use discretion, but, if you could have seen this man when he was alive, you’d have realized how harmless he was. And yet, harmless isn’t exactly the word I want. He was inoffensive, but it wasn’t merely a passive futility, if you understand what I mean, it was … well, he seemed to be at peace with the world and to be noncombative.”

“And so you let him in?”


“What reason did he give for knocking on the door?”

“He said that he’d seen me come in, that despite my attempt to avoid recognition he had realized who I was. He’d seen me get out of the automobile in front of the hotel and followed me to the freight elevator. In some way he’d discovered that I was in this room.”

“How long was it after you’d taken the room that he knocked on the door?”

“Less than half an hour. Perhaps fifteen minutes.”

“If he’d seen you taking the elevator, why didn’t he knock immediately?”

He told me that he realized it was an intrusion upon my privacy. He’d been trying to make up his mind to do it for several minutes. He said he’d stood outside of the door for several minutes before he knocked.”

“What time was this?”

“As nearly as I can place it, about a quarter to ten.”

“What did he want?”

“It was pathetic,” she said. “He wanted me to do a certain type of play which he said would be of great benefit to many people. He was so earnest that I couldn’t refuse to give him an audience. He said that he’d been one of my ardent admirers ever since I’d appeared on the screen. He’d seen me in every part I’d played.”

“Go on,” Selby said.

“He had a script which he’d written. He said that he’d been intending to come to Hollywood to present it to me personally.”

“Do you remember the title of this script?”


“What was it?”

“It was titled, ‘Lest Ye be Judged.’”

“Did you read it?”

“I glanced through it.”


“No, just casually.”

“Why didn’t you read it thoroughly?”

“In the first place, I knew that it would be no use. In the second place, I could tell from almost the first glance that it was hopeless.”

“Why was it hopeless?”

“The way it was written, the theme of it, everything about it.”

“What was wrong with it?”

“In the first place, it was propaganda. It wasn’t a play, it was a sermon. People go to churches to hear sermons; they go to theaters to be amused.”

“Did he want to sell you this?”

“No, he wanted to give it to me … Well, I don’t know whether he would have put a price on it or not … You see, the conversation didn’t get that far. He told me that he had consecrated his life to the service of humanity and he thought that this was a duty I owed to my fellow beings. The conversation was all on that plane, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes,” Selby told her, “I know what you mean.”

“Well, he showed me this script and asked me if I wouldn’t take it and use it as my next vehicle.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I explained to him that I was under contract to the studio; that I had absolutely nothing to say about plays; that the studio selected such plays as they thought would make good vehicles for me. They did that through a purchasing department which specialized upon that very thing. They didn’t allow me to even make suggestions, except minor suggestions at conferences where the continuity was being worked out.”

“Then what happened?”

“He tried to argue with me for a little while, but he soon realized that I was telling him the truth, that I had absolutely no power to select the plays in which I was to appear, that a recommendation from me would be virtually valueless.”

“And what did you tell him to do?”

“I told him he would have to submit it to the Hollywood office.”

“Did you tell him you thought the Hollywood office would turn thumbs down on it?”

“No. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He was so earnest, so wrapped up in his play, it was really pathetic.”

The face of the actress showed an expression of sympathy, her voice was vibrant with emotion.

Staring at her, Selby was gripped by conflicting emotions. He knew, on the one hand, that she was a skillful actress, fully capable of portraying any emotion she chose; on the other hand, he realized that it would be exceedingly difficult for anyone who was fabricating what had happened at that interview to simulate such an emotion. Her manner radiated complete sincerity and that warm, rich sympathy which a broad-minded woman of the world would have held for the pathetic little parson who had brought his hopeless scenario to her.

Moreover, everything she had said tallied with the facts as Selby knew them. He hesitated a moment, then said, “That’s a very beautiful purse you have, Miss Arden.”

“Yes, isn’t it?” she exclaimed at once. “It.was given to me by the director who handled my last picture. I’m proud of it.”

“Do you mind if I look at it?”

“Not at all.”

She handed it over to Selby, who studied it, apparently lost in admiration for its beauty.

“How does it open?” he asked.

“This catch,” she said, “on top.” She snapped open the catch.

Selby peered inside, saw bills, lipstick, coin purse, handkerchief and compact.

“If you don’t consider I’m taking too much of a liberty,” he said and, before she could stop him, pulled out the handkerchief. He could hear her gasp as he raised the handkerchief to his nostrils.

Selby couldn’t tell the brand of perfume, but he did have a sufficiently discriminating sense of smell to know that this perfume was entirely different from that which had scented the five one-thousand dollar bills which had been found in the envelope the dead man had left in the hotel office.

“What’s the matter?” she asked with cold enmity. “Were you looking for something?”

“I was,” he told her, “interested in perfumes. I think that perfumes are indicative of personality.”

“I’m so glad you feel free to be perfectly informal,” she said sarcastically.

There was an awkward silence as he restored the handkerchief to her purse and handed it back to her.

“Was there,” she asked at length, “anything else I could tell you about the man?”

“I don’t know. Is there?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“Did he tell you where he was from?”

“Some little town in the northern part of the state, I think, but I can’t remember that.”

Selby stiffened to attention and said, “You mean in Nevada?”

She raised her eyebrows, then shook her head and said quite definitely, “No, it wasn’t in Nevada, I’m certain of that. Some little town in California.”

“And you can’t remember the name of the place?”

“No, it was in Northern California somewhere — a Riverdale, or something like that.”

“Riverview?” he asked.

She shook her head and said, “No, that wasn’t it; but there was a river in it, I think.”

“Your memory seems to be rather faulty, doesn’t it?”

Her laugh was throaty and musical. “The first time a fan stopped me to tell me how much he enjoyed my acting and asked for my autograph, I could tell you everything about him — what he had on, what he looked like, where he came from and all about him.

“Gradually I came to accept it as a part of the profession, and now … well, I won’t say that I’m bored, because one is never bored by expressions of appreciation from the public, but put yourself in my position. I’m called on to use every ounce of my energy in keeping fit, in acting, in being spontaneous and vivacious whenever I’m seen in public. I have to remember literally hundreds of newspapermen, cameramen, directors, supervisors, film executives and agents. Then there are quite a few people I meet whom I never expect to see again. They’re like — like telegraph poles whizzing by when you’re traveling on a Pullman train, if you know what I mean.”

“I see,” he said.

“They tell me things about themselves and I smile at them sympathetically and work my eyes; but all the time I’m thinking about my last income-tax return, how long I’m apt to be working on this present picture, whether the director is going to listen to what I have to say about the way I should say ‘Farewell’ to my lover in the picture, or whether he’s going to insist on doing it according to some standards which don’t register with me.

“I give the fan my autograph and turn loose my best smile on him. I know I’m never going to see him again, and he’s in sort of a daze anyway, dazzled by the mental concept of celebrity which he’s conjured up to wrap around me as an aura.”

Selby watched her narrowly and said, “You have rather a neat trick of turning phrases.”

“Have I?” she asked, smiling dazzlingly. “Oh, thank you so much.”

“I presume now,” he told her grimly, “if I’d only ask for your autograph the interview would be complete, and I could pass out of your life with the mental classification of a human telegraph pole whizzing by your Pullman car.”

She pouted and said, “Don’t say that.”

“Isn’t it true?”

“Certainly not.”

“Why not?”

She lowered her eyes and said slowly, “I don’t think any woman who ever came in contact with your powerful personality would readily forget you.”

“Our contact,” he said dryly, “has been rather remote and somewhat difficult to obtain.”

“Which,” she countered swiftly, raising her eyes to his, “is the main reason I will never forget it. Ben Trask is a wonder when it comes to working things. He’s good at diplomacy and at fighting. He can be either high-hat, belligerent, or very suave. He turned loose everything he had on you and it never even dented your armor. When Trask came back and told me that I had to submit to questioning, he was licked. The man was all washed up. I was literally thunderstruck. It’s the only time I’ve ever known him to make a complete and ignominious failure. I’d have remembered you even if I’d never seen you. And this has been far from a pleasant experience, you know.”

“The meeting with me?” he asked, eyes studying hers.

“Not that,” she said, smiling; “you know I didn’t mean it that way. I meant the worry and the anxiety.”

“Why the worry, if you merely met this man in such a casual manner?”

“Because,” she said, “he was killed. That was a shock to me. Whenever you talk with anyone and then learn of his death, you’re shocked. And, I may as well confess, there was a purely selfish reason. Competition is so keen among the stars that we must have a one-hundred-percent potential audience in order to get by. In other words, it takes all sorts of people to make a world. There are reformers, crusaders, fundamentalists, profligates, intellectual people and dumbbells. Whenever we do anything which antagonizes any one particular class, we narrow our potential audience by just that much.

“For that reason, no matter how great a star’s success may be, she never dares to let people get to gossiping about her. Moreover, because, in the past, scandals have been hushed up by the use of money and influence, whenever an actress’ name is connected with anything out of the ordinary, the public always feels that the real facts were hushed up. No matter how complete the subsequent vindication may be, there are always the ‘wise’ ones who will smirk and wink to show that they weren’t fooled any.

“If my name is connected with that of a murdered man, the big majority of newspaper readers would always remember the one item of gossip and entirely discount everything that might be said by way of explanation. People all over the country would glance at each other across the dinner tables and say, ‘Well, I see Shirley Arden’s company managed to quash the investigation on the Madison City murder. I wonder how much it cost them?’”

Selby said slowly, “I see.”

“So,” she said, laughing, “you can understand my attitude and something of my anxiety.”

Selby nodded. “Well,” he said, “I guess that about covers everything.”

She got to her feet, gave him her hand and said, “Will you believe me when I say it was a real pleasure to have met you, Mr. Selby?”

“Thank you,”, he said. “And, by the way, where did you get the five one thousand-dollar bills which you gave this minister?”

He was watching her as a hawk watches a moving clump of grass in front of a rabbit burrow. Coming as it did, his question took her by surprise. He saw her shoulders heave as she gave a quick gasp, but her face didn’t change its expression by so much as the twitching of a muscle. She raised gravely questioning eyes to his and said in a low, level voice, “Five one thousand-dollar bills? Surely, Mr. Selby, you’re making some mistake.”

“I don’t think I am,” he told her. “I think you gave this man five one thousand-dollar bills.”

“Oh, but I didn’t.”

“You didn’t?”

“Why of course not! Why, whatever put any such idea as that into your head?”

“I had an idea that you might have done so.”

“Why, he was just a poor country minister. I’ll venture to say he’s working on a salary of less than a hundred dollars a month, and probably gets that paid partially in produce. That coat he was wearing was shiny, and worn quite thin at the elbows. Everything about him spoke of the pinch of insufficient finances. His collar was frayed, his shoes had been half-soled at least once, perhaps twice. His shirt had been mended around the neck, his tie was all frazzled at the edges.”

“You seem to remember a lot about him,” Selby said thoughtfully, “for one who has forgotten so much.”

She laughed and said, “Once more I must ask you to indulge in consideration for my psychological processes, Mr. Selby. Men who tell me how much they admire my acting are quite numerous, but it’s not very often one comes in contact with a man who’s so completely genuine, so whole-heartedly sincere as this man. Naturally, as a woman, I noticed his clothes.”

“And you didn’t give him any money?”

“Why certainly not. Good heavens, if you had only read that scenario.”

“I did read it,” he told her.

She laughed and said, “Well, that’s the answer to your question.”

Selby said slowly, “I may want to question you again. I’m not going to bother you to come up here, but I may come to see you. Where can I find you?”

“You can get me on the lot. Simply ask for Mr. Trask.”

“And get another run-around?” he asked.

She laughed and said, “Not from Ben. He knows when he’s licked.”

“And you’ll be where I can reach you through the studio?”

“At any time. I’ll leave word with the operator to connect you with Mr. Trask, and Benny will see that you get in touch with me … In fact, I’d really like to. You know, in our world of make-believe it’s not often one comes in contact with a personality which has no pretense.”

His eyes showed the question in his mind.

“You see,” she said, rushing into swift speech, “it isn’t that we’re four-flushers so much as we’re actors and actresses, and we deal in worlds of acting. Therefore, it becomes easy to simulate emotion. Therefore, frequently one finds it easier to pretend surprise or regret or interest, or perhaps anger, than to solve the situation by some other method. One unconsciously uses one’s natural weapons, just as a deer escapes danger by flight and a porcupine by thrusting out its quills.”

He laughed and said, “Well, Miss Philosopher, do you classify me as a deer or a porcupine?”

“As a very prickly porcupine,” she said. “When your quills are out, Mr. Selby, you’re exceedingly difficult to deal with.”

“Well,” he told her, “I’ll try and be more tractable in the future.”

“And if you’re in Hollywood, you will give me a ring?”

“If anything else turns up about which I want to question you, yes.”

“And must it be an official visit?”

“Surely,” he said, puzzled, “you didn’t mean otherwise?”

“Why not? I told you that I meet so few men who have no pretense in their make-up that it’s refreshing to meet someone who hits straight from the shoulder and never backs up.”

“Aren’t you depending a lot upon rather a hasty judgment of character?” he asked.

She laughed again and said, “If you could only have seen yourself standing with your legs spread apart, and your chin pushed forward! You looked like a man who expects to have to wade right through an avalanche and who is perfectly willing to do it.”

“Perhaps that,” he told her, “is just a pose.”

“No,” she said, “I know too much about poses. And you still haven’t answered my question. Must it be an official visit?”

“It’s rather unlikely that I’ll be in Hollywood,” he told her. “The duties of my office keep me chained down pretty well to this spot.”

“Very well,” she told him, with some indefinable expression in her dark eyes. “I won’t press the point. I’ve never had a legal training, but I can still tell when a witness is evading the question.”

She was standing close to him now, and, as she raised her eyes, he seemed to feel drawn as toward some powerful magnet. It was as though he had been staring into an inky pool which had suddenly widened and risen toward him.

He laughed uneasily and said, “As though you ever had to give an invitation twice.”

“Am I to take it that’s an acceptance?” she asked.

He bowed low over her hand and said, “Yes. Good night, Miss Arden.”

“Good night,” she said, and her voice held a rich, throaty timbre.

He left the room, gently closed the door behind him, and took two or three deep breaths before the matter-of-fact environment of the familiar hotel corridor recalled him to the duties of his everyday existence.

He walked to the elevator, and was just about to press the button when he sensed surreptitious motion behind him. He flattened himself in a doorway and stared back down the corridor.

Carl Bittner had climbed up the stairs. In his right hand he held a camera and a battery photo-flashlight. Slowly, cautiously, he tiptoed his way down the corridor.

Selby waited until the reporter had rounded the bend in the hallway, then he rang for the elevator. In the lobby he paused to telephone room 515.

“Be careful,” he warned, when he heard Shirley Arden’s voice on the wire; “a newspaper photographer is stalking the hallway.”

“Thanks,” she told him, “I’ve got my door locked.”

“Has anyone knocked?” he asked.

“Not even a tap,” she replied, “and thanks for calling.”

Puzzled, Selby left the hotel to fight his way into the windy night.



Sylvia Martin was waiting in front of the locked door of Selby’s office.

“Thought you were playing possum on me,” she said. “I’ve been knocking on the door. I even tried a kick or two.” And she glanced ruefully down at the toes of her shoes.

“No,” Selby said, “I was out on what might be described as an emergency call.”

“Anything new?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“Why is it,” she asked, “that a friendly paper doesn’t get any of the breaks, while the opposition scores all the scoops?”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning,” she said, “that there’s something going on at the Madison Hotel.”

“What makes you think so?”

“A little bird told me.”

“I’d like to know more about your little bird.”

“If you must know, it’s someone who advised me that Carl Bittner, the crack reporter whom The Blade has imported to scoop you on a solution of the murder case, received a mysterious telephone call and then went rushing over to the hotel, carrying a camera.”

“Well?” he asked.

She said, “Let’s go in and sit down where we can talk.”

Selby unlocked the door. She followed him into his private office, perched on the edge of his desk, kicking one foot in a swinging circle.

“Come on,” she said, “what’s the lowdown?”

“I’m sure I couldn’t tell you.”

“Have I got to wait until I read about it in The Blade tomorrow night?”

The Blade won’t publish anything about it.”

“Don’t ever think they won’t. You’re acting like an ostrich, Doug, sticking your head in the sand and kidding yourself you’re hidden from view.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but there’s nothing I could tell you, Sylvia.”


“In the first place, what makes you think there’s something to tell?”

“Don’t kid me, Doug, I know there is. I suppose I can go over to the hotel and dig it out myself, if I have to, but it does seem to me that … ”

She broke off the sentence, but her foot swung more rapidly and in a wider arc, until she seemed to be viciously kicking at the atmosphere.

Selby said, “I’d like to, Sylvia; I’d like to take you into my confidence, but you’ve got your job and I’ve got mine. You’re representing a newspaper. It’s your duty to gather publicity. Anything that you get will be spread on the front page of that paper. I have to take that into consideration.”

“We supported you during the election. Don’t we get anything in return for it?”

“Certainly you do. You get any of the breaks I can give you.”

“A lot that means,” she said bitterly. “The city editor put me on this murder case. I’ve known you for years. I’ve fought for you ever since you turned those twinkling blue eyes of yours on me and smiled. The newspaper I represent helped put you in office. What do we get in return for it? Not one damned thing!”

She blinked her eyes rapidly.

“Please don’t cry, Sylvia,” he begged. “You don’t appreciate my position.”

She jumped to her feet and said, “You make me so mad I could cry. Don’t you see the position you’re in? Don’t you see the position that I’m in? Don’t you see the position my paper’s in?”

“I think I do.”

“No you don’t. I’ve been assigned to cover the activities of the district attorney’s office in connection with this murder case. I’m making a lamentable failure of it. The things I’ve found out could have been put in my city editor’s eye without making him so much as blink. The opposition newspaper has imported a crack reporter. That means I’m being pitted against a trained investigator from one of the big metropolitan dailies. It’s an opportunity for me to do something big. It’s also an opportunity for me to become the laughingstock of everyone in the newspaper business. I need every advantage I can get. And about the only advantage I’m supposed to have is your friendship.”

“Sylvia, I’m going to do everything I can for you, but . . .”

“That stuff makes me sick,” she declared. “You know as well as I do that you’re concealing something. You’re good enough to conceal it from me because I’m fair enough to trust you; but you’re not smart enough to conceal it from The Blade because they’re fighting you and are out on their own, getting their information independently.”

“What makes you think that they’re going to get any particularly startling information?” he asked.

“Will you swear to me that your business at the Madison Hotel wasn’t connected with some angle of this case?”

“No,” he said frankly, “it was.”

“And you saw someone there?”


“Whom did you see?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I can’t.”


“It wouldn’t be fair.”

“To whom?”

He thought for a moment and then said lamely, “To the taxpayers, to the prosecution’s side of the case.”

“Bosh!” she told him. “You’re protecting someone. Who?”

“Suppose I should tell you,” he said, “that some person had become involved in this case who was entirely innocent of any connection with it except one brought about through casual coincidence? Suppose I should further tell you that the newspaper-reading public wouldn’t believe that such was the case if it were given any publicity? Suppose, because of my official position, I’d been able to get a complete and frank statement of facts, given to me in a sacred confidence? Would you want me to betray that confidence to the first newspaper reporter who asked me?”

She shook her head impatiently and said, “Now I’ll do some supposing. Suppose there’s an angle to this case which is going to be given inevitable publicity? Suppose the story is going to be published in a hostile newspaper tomorrow night? Suppose we’re going to be scooped on the thing? Don’t you think it would be more fair for you to give me the news than to withhold it?”

“But you wouldn’t want me to violate a confidence, would you?”

“Wouldn’t it be better for the person who gave you that confidence to have the facts correctly reported in a newspaper which didn’t deliberately try to distort them in order to belittle you?” Selby was thinking that over, when the telephone on his desk rang. He picked up the receiver and said “Hello.”

“Where the devil have you been?” Rex Brandon’s voice rasped over the wire. “I’ve been trying to call you at intervals for the last twenty minutes.”

“I took a quick run over to the Madison Hotel to investigate a development there.”

“Find anything?”

“Nothing that I can discuss with you now. It’s something we should talk over a little later. What have you got — anything?”

“Yes, I’ve got what may be a lead.”

“What is it?”

“I’ve been talking with that optician in San Francisco on the telephone. He’s got a long list of names who have that same prescription, or correction, or whatever it is you call it. Among them are two ministers. One of them’s a Reverend Hillyard, from some little church in San Francisco, and the other’s a Reverend William Larrabie, from Riverbend, California.”

Selby’s voice betrayed his excitement. “Hold everything,” he said. “That last name is the one we want.”

“How do you know?”

“From some checking up I’ve been doing. I know that the man’s name has the syllable ‘Larry’ in it and that he comes from a town in California that has a ‘River’ in its name.”

“Okay,” Brandon said. “What do we do next?”




Read “The Thread of Truth” by Erle Stanley Gardner from the October 1, 1936, issue of the The Country Gentleman. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.


Illustrations by Dudley Gloyne Summers

“The Thread of Truth” by Erle Stanley Gardner

When he died, in 1970, Erle Stanley Gardner was the best-selling American fiction author of the century. His detective stories sold all over the globe, especially those with his most famous defense attorney protagonist, Perry Mason. His no-nonsense prose and neat, satisfying endings delighted detective fans for decades. Gardner wrote several stories that were serialized in the Post. In Country Gentleman, his 1936 serial “The Thread of Truth” follows a fresh D.A. in a clergyman murder case that comes on his first day on the job.

Published on September 1, 1936


The room held a subtle atmosphere of burnt-out activity. Physically, it had the littered appearance of a vacant lot from which a carnival had moved away. The walls were decorated with posters. “ELECT DOUGLAS SELBY DISTRICT ATTORNEY” screamed one poster. Above the words appeared the likeness of a handsome young man with curly hair, a devil-may-care glint in his penetrating eyes, and a forceful, although shapely, mouth. Hanging beside it, a twin poster showed a man some twenty-five years older, wearing a big sombrero, his leathery face creased into a friendly smile. It required a close inspection to show the hard determination of the gray eyes. That poster bore the words, “VOTE FOR REX BRANDON FOR SHERIFF.”

Half a dozen small desks and tables had been crowded into the room. They were littered with envelopes, pamphlets, windshield stickers, and other campaign paraphernalia.

Douglas Selby, newly elected district attorney, grinned across the room at Sheriff Brandon. It had been a bitterly contested battle, involving an election contest, a recount of ballots, and an action in mandamus. The actual election had been history for weeks, but the political backers of the two men had kept the room in the Madison Hotel for post-election activities.

Selby, crossing his long legs, ran his hand through his thick shock of curly hair and said, “Well, Rex, in fifteen minutes we start for the courthouse to take charge. Personally, now that it’s all over, I’m going to miss the fight of the campaign.”

Rex Brandon fished a cloth sack from his pocket, shook flakes of tobacco into a brown cigarette paper. His thick fingers rolled the cigarette with an expert twist. He moistened the edge of the paper with his tongue, stroked the cigarette into a smooth cylinder and said, “You’ll have plenty of fighting, son. It ain’t all over — not by a long ways.”

Selby had the knack of completely relaxing his muscles when he was at ease. He seemed as completely untensed as a cat sprawled in the sunlight. “Not much they can do once we get in office,” he drawled.

Sheriff Brandon snapped a match into flame with a quick flip of his thumbnail. “Listen, Doug, I’m twenty-five years older than you are. I haven’t got as much book learnin’, but I know men. I’m proud of this county. I was born and raised here. I’ve seen it change from horse and buggy to automobile and tractor. I remember when you’d never walk down the street without stopping three or four times in a block to pass the time of day with friends. Now things are different. Everyone’s in a hurry.”

The sheriff paused to apply the match to the end of his cigarette.

“What’s that got to do with us?” Selby asked.

“Just this, son: People used to know pretty much what was going on in the county and officeholders used to get a square deal. Now people are too busy and too selfish to care. They’ve got too many worries of their own to bother very much about seeing that other people get a square deal.

“If it was just politics, it wouldn’t be so bad. But during the last four years the doors have been opened to all the scum from the big cities. Chaps who haven’t been big enough to work a racket in the Big Time have drifted in with a lot of little, vicious, chiseling, crooked stuff. Sam Roper, the old district attorney, either got a cut or should have had one. You know that as well as I do.

“Now, then, it’s up to you and me to clean up this mess.”

“It’s already cleaned up,” Selby pointed out. “The crooks read their death sentences in the election returns. They’ve been getting out. Little hole-in-the-wall joints have closed up, or turned honest.”

“Some of ’em have, and some of ’em haven’t,” Brandon said. “But the main thing is that we’ve got to watch our step, particularly at the start. If we make just one major mistake, they’ll hoot us out of office.”

Selby looked at his watch, got to his feet and said grimly, “It’s going to take a lot of hooting to get me out of office. Come on, Rex, let’s go.”

Campaign headquarters had been located on the top floor of the Madison Hotel. As the two men stepped through the door into the carpeted hotel corridor, a door opened midway down the hall on the right-hand side. An apologetic little man, attired in a black frock coat and wearing a ministerial collar, slipped out into the hallway. He seemed to be tiptoeing as he walked rapidly toward the elevator and pressed the button.

It was several seconds before the elevator cage rumbled up to the top floor, and Douglas Selby utilized the time studying the little minister. He was between forty-five and fifty-five, and fully a head shorter than the district attorney. The small-boned frame seemed almost fragile beneath the shiny cloth of the well-worn frock coat.

As the elevator operator opened the sliding door, the little clergyman stepped into the cage and said, in the precise tones of one accustomed to making announcements from a pulpit, “The third floor. Let me off at the third floor, please.”

Selby and the sheriff entered the elevator. Over the top of the minister’s unsuspecting head, Rex Brandon gave the tall young district attorney a solemn wink. When the elevator had discharged its passenger at the third floor, the sheriff grinned and said, “Bet there’s more funerals than weddings where he comes from.”

The district attorney, immersed in thoughtful silence, didn’t answer until they were halfway across the hotel lobby. Then he said, “If I were going to indulge in a little deductive reasoning, I’d say his parish was controlled by one very wealthy and very selfish individual. That minister’s learned to walk softly so as not to offend some selfish big shot.”

“Or maybe he’s that way because his wife has a natural talent for debate,” the sheriff grinned. “But, say, buddy, don’t forget that this speculating business ain’t just a game. Did it ever occur to you that during the next four years whenever a crime’s committed in this county it’s going to be up to us to solve it?”

Selby took the sheriff’s arm and headed toward the white marble courthouse.

“You solve the crimes, sheriff,” he said, grinning. “I simply prosecute the criminals you arrest.”

“You go to the devil, Doug Selby,” the sheriff rumbled.


Douglas Selby had been in office just twenty-four hours. He surveyed the littered material on his desk, reached a decision and summoned his three deputies.

Waving them to seats, he studied the three men. Frank Gordon, full of a black-eyed, youthful enthusiasm; Miles Deckner, tall, gangling, slow of speech, with straw-colored hair; Bob Kentley, a holdover from the other regime, a studious, rather innocuous individual, with a bulging forehead, horn-rimmed glasses, and eyes which had a habit of staring intently at the floor near the tip of his shoe.

“Boys,” Selby said, “I’m tackling a job I don’t know much about. You boys have got to carry most of the load. You, Gordon, are full of energy and enthusiasm, with a great capacity for work. You don’t know as much about this job as I do, and that’s next to nothing. You, Deckner, aren’t as fast a worker as Gordon, but you’ve a certain native caution, which gives you a pretty good perspective. You, Kentley, were loyal to Sam Roper, the former district attorney. Frankly, the only reason I kept you on was because you knew the routine of the office. I suppose you’re wondering what your future is going to be. Is that right?”

Kentley kept his eyes lowered and nodded.

“Go ahead,” Selby said, “speak up.”

“I figure,” Kentley remarked sullenly, “that you’ll let me go as soon as I’ve broken in these other two deputies.”

“All right,” Selby told him, “forget it, and snap out of it. Quit being sullen. You aren’t ready to go out and tackle private practice. You need the job. You fought me during the campaign, but I figure you know something about the office, and I think you’re honest. I figure you worked against me because you wanted to hold your job. Now I’m going to give you a chance to hold it.

“You play ball with me and I’ll play ball with you. It’s up to you to instruct these boys in the duties of the office. Among you, you’ve got to handle the routine. I’m going to hold myself in reserve for the big things.

“Here’s a bunch of stuff which has piled up on my desk. There’s everything here, from a complaint about a neighbor’s dog scratching up a front lawn to a tip that a next-door house is a speakeasy. You boys take this stuff into the law library and divide it up. Don’t write any more letters than you have to — telephone people, get them to come in, reason with them, straighten things out by diplomacy. Don’t fight unless you have to. When you once start to fight, never back up. Remember that The Clarion will give us a square deal and The Blade will be fighting us all the way. You’ll make mistakes, but don’t let the fear of making mistakes keep you from reaching decisions. Whatever happens, don’t let anyone bluff you. Whenever you … ”

The telephone rang. Selby said, “Just a minute until I see what this is.”

He held the receiver to his ear and said, “Hello.”

Rex Brandon’s voice, sounding rather strained, said, “Doug, drop whatever you’re doing and come down to the Madison Hotel right away. They’ve found a dead man in one of the rooms.”

“What is it,” Selby asked — “murder, suicide or natural death?”

“They don’t know. They say it’s a minister … I have an idea it’s the same chap who rode down in the elevator with us yesterday.”

“Where are you now?” Selby asked.

“I’m at the City Hall, picking up the chief of police. We’ll get to the hotel a few minutes before you do. The room is number 321. Go right on up. We’ll meet there.”

Selby said, “Okay, Rex,” hung up the telephone receiver and turned to his deputies. “You boys go to it,” he instructed.

“You’ll have to handle the routine business of the office.”

Grabbing his hat, Selby raced down the marble corridor of the courthouse, took the steps of the wide staircase two at a time, jumped into his car and drove to the Madison Hotel.

He noticed that Brandon was ahead of him. The sheriff’s car, equipped with red spotlight and siren, was parked in the red “no parking” zone in front of the hotel. Moreover, a portion of the street was closed off where a force of men were installing one of the new ornamental lighting fixtures the city had recently purchased. Selby found himself caught in a traffic jam and it took him nearly ten minutes to extricate himself, find a parking place for his car and return to the hotel.

George Cushing, owner of the hotel, and the one to whom Selby had been indebted for the room used as campaign headquarters, approached with smiling affability.

A man in his early fifties, Cushing tried to maintain an air of smart, urban sophistication. He wore a pin-striped blue serge suit, meticulously pressed, and cut on a style which obviously had been designed for men twenty years his junior.

His pale, filmed eyes had puffy circles beneath them. His wan skin looked as though it had never known the sting of a biting wind, nor the warm touch of outdoor sunlight.

But those pale, filmed eyes could be coldly insistent, and ten years of hotel management had taught him not to be backward in his demands.

“Now, listen, Doug,” he said, “this is just a natural death, see? It isn’t a suicide. The man took a dose of sleeping medicine, but that didn’t have anything to do with his death.”

“What’s his name?” the district attorney asked.

“The Reverend Charles Brower. He came from Millbank, Nevada. I don’t want it to be suicide. That gets unpleasant newspaper notoriety for the hotel.”

Walking toward the elevator Selby hoped that the man would at least have tact enough to refrain from referring to campaign obligations, but Cushing’s well-manicured, pudgy hand rested on the sleeve of Selby’s coat as the door of the elevator opened.

“You know,” Cushing said, “I did everything I could for you boys during the election, and I’d like to have you give me the breaks.”

Selby nodded.

Cushing said, “The number’s 321,” and waved to the elevator operator to close the door.

On the third floor, Selby found no difficulty in locating 321. He knocked on the panels, and Rex Brandon’s voice called, “Is that you, Doug?”


“Go over to 323, Doug, and come in that way. That door’s unlocked.”

Selby walked to the adjoining room. It was a typical hotel bedroom. He saw that the connecting door into 321 was ajar. A long sliver had been smashed from the side of the doorjamb. Rex Brandon called, “Come on in, Doug.” Selby entered the room.

The little minister seemed strangely wistful as he lay cold and motionless on the bed. The eyes were closed and the jaw had sagged, but there was a smiling lift to the corners of the lips. The mantle of death had invested him with a dignity which his clerical garments had failed to achieve. The door had been locked and a chair propped against it in such a way that the back of the chair was braced directly underneath the knob of the door.

The room seemed filled with silence.

Otto Larkin, big, heavy-voiced chief of police, made haste to greet the district attorney.

“Everything’s just as we found it,” he assured. “He’d left a call for ten o’clock. The switchboard operator rang and rang and didn’t get any answer. A bellboy knocked and heard nothing. He tried a passkey and found the door was bolted from the inside. He climbed up and looked through the transom. He could see the man lying on the bed. He called to him two or three times and then reached inside and pushed down the transom. Then he saw that a chair had been propped under the doorknob. He notified Cushing. Cushing busted in through 323. That’s why the lock’s smashed. The connecting door has a double bolt, one on each side.

“Now, listen, Selby, I was pretty friendly with Sam Roper, and I supported him in the campaign. But I want to work with you boys now you’re in office. This is the first case we’ve had, so let’s not have any hard feelings that’ll keep us from working in harmony.”

Selby said, “All right. What’s that paper in the typewriter? It isn’t a suicide note, is it?”

“No,” Brandon said, “it’s a letter to his wife, Doug.”

The district attorney leaned over the machine and read:

My dearest wife: Well, I’ve been in Madison City a couple of days now, and so far haven’t accomplished much. I may be here another week, perhaps longer.

The weather has been perfect. A fine warm sun blazing down from a deep blue sky, windless days and cool nights.

I’ll have a surprise for you when I come back. If I can contact just the right people, we’re going to have our financial troubles completely eliminated. And don’t think they won’t listen to me. They’ll have to listen. I wasn’t born yesterday, you know.

I didn’t sleep well on the train. I had some sleeping medicine to take, but it didn’t do much good, so tonight I took a double dose. I think I’m going to sleep fine. In fact, I’m sleepy right now.

This is a busy little city, with a streetcar line and several nice hotels. It’s less than a hundred miles from Hollywood, and I am going to go there before I get back, if I can spare the time. I’m sorry you can’t be here with me. I’m getting pretty sleepy now. I think I’ll go to bed and finish this in the morning. I’m awfully sleepy, dear. I’ll have a nice rest tonight. I’m going to leave a call for ten o’clock in the morning. Tomorrow I’ll look around some more … No use, I’m too sleepy to see the keyboard now.

There followed a word which had been crossed out by x’s.

On the table near the typewriter was an envelope addressed to “Mrs. Chas. Brower, 613 Center Street, Millbank, Nevada.”

“Looks as though he took an overdose of the sleeping medicine,” Rex Brandon said. “We’ve checked up on the hotel register. He filled out a card when he checked in. He’s Charles Brower and he comes from Millbank, Nevada. He lives at 613 Center Street, the address on the envelope. So everything checks okay. The poor chap wanted to sleep … Well, he’s sleeping all right.”

Selby nodded. “Why do you suppose he locked the door and then propped a chair against it?” he asked. “

“You can search me,” Brandon answered.

“Have you notified the coroner?” Selby asked.

“Yeah, sure. He’s out on a funeral right now. We expect him in any minute.”

“Look through his things?” Selby asked of Brandon.

“Not yet. We were sort of waiting for the coroner.”

“I’ve been on lots of cases with Harry Perkins, the coroner,” Larkin said. “He ain’t a bit fussy about red tape. If we want to save time by taking a look through things, it’ll be all right with Harry. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there’s anything to it. He probably had a bum ticker and taking a double dose of sleeping medicine put him out.”

“I was wondering,” Selby said, “if perhaps he had something very valuable he was trying to guard. I still can’t see why he should have gone to all that trouble to lock the door and then prop the chair against it.”

Walking over to the bed, Selby gently turned back the bedclothes and said, “No sign of any foul play. Well, I guess it’s just a routine matter. We’ll notify his wife.”

A hotel bellhop peeks through the glass of a transom, a small window above the door.
“They bellboy climbed up and looked through the transom. He could see the man lying on the bed.” (Dudley Gloyne Summers)

“I told George Cushing to send the wife a wire,” Sheriff Brandon said.

The chief of police frowned slightly. “I’m sorry you did that, Sheriff. That’s one of the things the coroner likes to do. You know, he’s an undertaker, and he usually mentions in his telegrams that he can prepare the body for burial,”

The sheriff drawled, “Harry was out on a funeral and I wanted to get some action. He can send her a wire when he comes in, if he wants to.”

Selby looked around the room.

The dead man’s coat and vest were in the closet, carefully placed on a hanger. The trousers had been caught by the cuffs in the top of the bureau drawer, and hung down almost to the floor. A single suitcase was on the chair, open.

“That his only baggage,” Selby asked — “a suitcase and a portable typewriter?”

“There’s an overcoat and a brief case in the closet,” Brandon said.

“What’s in the brief case?” Selby asked.

“Just some newspaper clippings and some typewritten stuff; either a sermon or a story or something — a lot of words slung together.”

The suitcase, Selby found, was packed with scrupulous care. The garments were neatly folded. He noticed two clean shirts, some light underwear, several starched collars, a leather-backed and worn Bible, a pair of spectacles in a case bearing the imprint of a San Francisco optician, and half a dozen pairs of plain black socks. He saw an oblong pasteboard medicine box with a label on which had been written in pen and ink, “For Restlessness.” There was also a leather case containing an expensive, foreign-made miniature camera.

“Hello,” Selby said, “this is a pretty good outfit for a small-town minister to be sporting. They cost about a hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Lots of people like this guy was are camera fiends,” the chief of police pointed out. “A man has to have some hobby, you know. Heaven knows, his clothes are shiny enough, and the overcoat’s badly worn at the elbows.”

“Where was his wallet?” Selby asked.

“In his coat pocket,” Brandon said.

“Any cards?”

“Yes, a few printed cards bearing the name, ‘Charles Brower, D.D., Millbank, Nevada,’ ninety-six dollars in cash, and about two dollars in small silver. There’s also a driving license.”

Selby looked once more at the still figure on the bed.

Somehow, a feeling of indecency gripped him. The man had been a human being; had had his hopes, fears, ambitions, disappointments, and now Selby was prying into his private life.

“All right,” he said, “I guess there’s nothing to it. Have the coroner take charge. He’ll probably want an inquest. By the way, George Cushing would appreciate it if there wasn’t any publicity and no talk of suicide.”

He turned away toward the door of 321, noticed the splintered casing where the bolt had been forced, and said casually, What’s the room on the other side, Rex?”

“I suppose the same as this,” the sheriff remarked.

“I think it has a bath,” the chief of police volunteered. “The way the hotel is laid out, there’s a bath in between rooms, and the room can be rented either with or without a bath. This room didn’t have the bath connected with it, so the bath’s probably connected with the other room.”

Selby idly inspected the knurled knob on the door which led to the shut-off bathroom. He twisted the knob and said, “Let’s see if this door’s open on the other side.”

Suddenly he frowned, and said, “Wait a minute. This door wasn’t bolted. Did someone twist this knob?”

“I don’t think so,” Larkin said. “The bellboy reported to Cushing, and Cushing told everyone nothing in the room was to be touched.”

“Then why didn’t Cushing get in through 319? He could have unlocked the door from the other side and wouldn’t have had to force the other one open.”

“I think that room’s occupied,” Larkin said. “Cushing told me 323 was vacant, but someone’s in 319.”

A knock sounded on the door of 321. Brandon called out, “Who is it?”

“Harry Perkins, the coroner.”

“Go around to 323, Harry, and come in that way.”

A moment later the tall figure of the bony-faced coroner came through the connecting door.

Larkin made explanations.

“We were just looking around a bit, Harry. You were out on a funeral, and we wanted to make sure what it was. It’s just a combination of an overdose of sleeping medicine and a bum pump. There won’t be enough of an estate to bother with. The sheriff wired his wife. Perhaps you’d better send her another wire and ask her if she wants you to take charge.”

The sheriff said, “I’m sorry, Harry, I didn’t know you liked to send those wires yourself.”

“That’s all right,” the coroner said. He walked over to the bed, looked down at the still form with a professional air and asked, “When do I move him?”

“Any time,” Larkin said. “Ain’t that right, Sheriff?”

Brandon nodded.

“I’m going back to the office,” Selby said.


Douglas Selby cleaned up the more urgent correspondence on his desk, went to a picture show, lay in bed and read a detective story. Reading the mystery yarn, he suddenly realized that it held a personal message for him.

Murder had ceased to be an impersonal matter of technique by which a writer used a corpse merely to serve as a peg on which to hang a mystery. Somehow, the quiet form of the wistful little minister lying in the hotel bedroom pushed its way into his mind, dominated his thoughts.

Selby closed the book with a slap. Why, he thought, was the little minister insidiously dominant in death? In life, the man, with his painfully precise habits, quiet, self-effacing, almost apologetic manner, would never have given Selby any mental reaction other than, perhaps, an amused curiosity.

Selby knew he had gone into the district-attorneyship battle primarily because of the fight involved. It had not been because he wanted to be district attorney. It was most certainly not because he wanted the salary. He had, of course, as a citizen, noticed certain signs of corruption in the preceding administration. Nothing had ever been proved against Sam Roper; but plenty had been surmised. There had been ugly rumors, which had been gradually magnified until the time had become ripe for someone to come forward and lead the fight. And the fact that Selby had been the one to lead that fight was caused more by a desire to do battle than by any wish to better the county administration.

Selby switched out the light, but the thought of what he had seen in that hotel bedroom persisted in his mind.

He tried to sleep and couldn’t, and even his futile attempt at slumber reminded him of the apologetic little man who had sought to woo sleep with a sedative. At twelve-thirty he put his pride to one side and called Rex Brandon on the telephone.

“Rex,” he said, “you’re probably going to laugh at me, but I can’t sleep.”

“What’s the matter, Doug?”

“I can’t get over that minister.”

“What about him, Doug; what’s the matter?”

“I can’t understand why he should have barricaded the door from the corridor, yet neglected to turn the knob in the door which communicated with the bathroom of 319.”

Brandon’s voice sounded incredulous. “For heaven’s sake, Doug, are you really worrying about that, or are you kidding me?”

“No, I’m serious.”

“Why, forget it. The man died from an overdose of sleeping medicine. The stuff he was taking was in that pasteboard box.”

“But why did he barricade his door as well as lock it?”

“He was nervous.”

“But that business of the pants being held in place in the bureau drawer,” Douglas persisted. “That’s an old trick of the veteran traveling salesman. No man who’d get nervous when he was away from home would do that.”

The sheriff said, “The man’s wife called up the coroner this afternoon. She’s coming on by plane. She told Perkins, Brower carried five thousand in insurance, and she seems to want to collect that in a hurry. She’s due here in the morning. She’s a second wife, married to him less than two years. His first wife died three or four years ago. Mrs. Brower said he’d had a nervous breakdown and the doctor advised a complete rest, so Brower took his flivver and started camping. He’d been raising money for a new church and had around five thousand dollars, but it had been too much of a strain on him. She thinks he must have had some mental trouble, to wind up here. So that shows everything’s okay. He took that sleeping medicine because he’d been nervous. There’s nothing to it.”

Selby laughed apologetically and said, “I guess it’s because we saw him in the hotel when he rode down in the elevator with us. Somehow, I couldn’t get over the feeling that if there had been … Well, you know what I mean, Rex — Oh, well, forget it. I’m sorry I bothered you.”

The sheriff laughed and said, “Better take two or three days and go fishing yourself, Doug. That campaign was pretty strenuous for a young chap like you.”

Selby laughed, dropped the receiver back on the hook and then fought with sleep for an hour. This sleep finally merged into a dead stupor, from which Selby emerged to grope mechanically for the jangling telephone.

It was broad daylight. Birds were singing in the trees. The sun was streaming through his windows, dazzling his sleep-swollen eyes. He put the receiver to his ear, said, “Hello,” and heard Rex Brandon’s voice, sounding curiously strained.

“Doug,” he said, “something’s gone wrong. I wonder if you can get over to your office right away?”

Selby flashed a glance at the electric clock in his bedroom. The hour was 8:30. He strove to keep the sleep out of his voice. “Certainly,” he said, making his tone crisply efficient.

“We’ll be waiting for you,” Brandon said, and hung up.

Selby reached his office on the stroke of nine.

Amorette Standish, his secretary, said, “The sheriff and a woman are in your private office.”

He nodded. Entering his private office, his eyes focused immediately upon a matronly, broad-hipped, ample-breasted woman of some fifty years, whose gloved hands were folded on her lap. Her eyes surveyed him with a certain quiet capability. There was the calm of cold determination about her.

Rex said, “This is Mary Brower, from Millbank, Nevada.”

Selby bowed and said, “It’s too bad about your husband, Mrs. Brower. It must have come as very much of a shock to you. I’m sorry there wasn’t any way we could have broken the news gently … ”

“But he wasn’t my husband,” the woman interrupted, with the simple finality of one announcing a very definite and self-evident fact.

“Then you have come here from Nevada because of a mistake?” Selby asked. “That certainly is … ”

He stopped mid-sentence. “Good Lord,” he said, and sat down in the swivel chair beside his desk to stare dazedly from the woman to Rex Brandon.

“You see,” the sheriff explained, “he had cards and a driving license in his wallet, and there was a letter he’d started to write to you, so we thought, of course, he was Charles Brower.”

“He isn’t my husband,” the woman insisted in the same tone of dogged finality. “I never saw him in my life.”

“But,” Selby pointed out, his mind groping through a sudden maze of contradictory facts, “why should he have written you if … How did he sign the register in the hotel, Rex?”

“As Reverend Charles Brower, 613 Center Street, Millbank, Nevada.”

Selby reached for his hat. “Come on, Rex,” he said. “We’re going down to get to the bottom of this thing.”

The woman in the faded brown suit with brown gloved hands still folded upon her lap, said, with dogged determination: “He is not my husband. Who’s going to pay my traveling expenses from Nevada here? Don’t think I’ll quietly turn around and go home without getting paid my carfare, because I won’t. I suppose I really could make serious trouble, you know. It was a great shock to me.”


A trimly efficient young woman clad in a serviceable tailored suit sat waiting in the outer office as Selby started out.

“Hello, Sylvia,” he said. “Did you want to see me?”


“I’m frightfully busy right now. I’ll see you sometime this afternoon.”

“Sometime this afternoon won’t do,” she told him.

“Why not?”

Her laughing, reddish-brown eyes smiled up at him, but there was a touch of determination about her jaw. “You are now talking,” she said, “to Miss Sylvia Martin, a reporter on The Clarion, who has been ordered to get an interview, or else.”

“But can’t it wait, Sylvia?”

“Not a chance,” she told him.

“But, hang it, it’ll have to wait.”

She turned resignedly toward the door and said, “Oh, all right, if that’s your attitude, of course I’m not running the paper. My boss sent me out to get this interview, and he said it was vitally important; that if you wouldn’t co-operate with us … Well, you know how he is. If you want to antagonize him, it’s all right with me.”

The sheriff frowned at Selby and said, “Of course, Doug, I could start investigating this thing and … ”

Selby turned back toward his office and said, “Okay, come on in, Sylvia.”

She laughed when the door of his private office had clicked shut behind them. “Forgive me for lying, Doug?” she asked.

“About what?”

“About being sent to get an interview.”

“Weren’t you?”

“No, I was just playing a hunch.”

His face showed swift annoyance.

“Now don’t be like that,” she told him, “because it isn’t nice. Don’t take the duties of your office too seriously.”

“Snap out of it, Sylvia,” he told her. “Just what are you trying to do? I’m working on an important case, and you’ve thrown me off my stride.”

She crossed her knees, smoothed her skirt, produced a notebook and pencil and started making intricate little patterns on the upper left-hand corner of the page. “You know, Doug,” she said, “The Clarion supported you in the campaign. The Blade fought you. We want the breaks.”

“You’ll get them as soon as there are any breaks.”

“How about this minister’s wife?” she asked. “I’ve heard she won’t identify the body.”

“Well,” he asked, “what of it?”

Her eyes rested steadily on his. “Doug,” she said slowly, “you know what an awful thing it would be, if some important case turned up right at the start and you muffed it.”

He nodded. “What makes you think I’m muffing it, Sylvia?”

“Call it womanly intuition, if you want. You know how hard I worked for you during the campaign, and how proud I am you’re elected. I … ”

He laughed, and said, “Okay, Sylvia, you win. Here’s the low-down. That woman was Mrs. Mary Brower, of Millbank, Nevada, and she says the body isn’t that of her husband. And she’s inclined to be peeved about everything.”

“Where does that leave you?” she asked.

“Frankly,” he told her, “I don’t know.”

“But didn’t the dead man have a letter in his typewriter plainly addressed to his dear wife? And wasn’t the envelope addressed to Mrs. Charles Brower at Millbank?”

“That’s right,” Doug admitted.

“And what does that mean?”

“It might mean either one of two things,” Selby said slowly. “If the man who registered as Brower wanted to impress some visitor that he really was Brower, it would have been quite natural for him to write this letter and leave it in the typewriter as a part of the deception. Then he might have left the room for a moment, figuring his visitor would read the letter while he was gone.”

Sylvia Martin nodded her head slowly and said, “Yes, that’s right. Let me see if I can guess the other alternative, Doug.”

She held up her hand for silence, frowned at him in thoughtful concentration for a moment, then suddenly exclaimed, “I’ve got it.”

“What is it?”

“If someone was in the room after the man had died and wanted to make it appear the cause of death was an overdose of sleeping medicine, he couldn’t have hit on a better scheme than to write a letter like that and leave it in the typewriter.”

“Exactly,” Selby interrupted. “Thank heavens, you agree with me on that. It seemed such a bizarre theory that I couldn’t even entertain it.”

“But, if that’s true,” she pointed out, “the man who wrote the letter must have known the wife. Otherwise, he couldn’t have known the street address.”

Selby said, “No, the man could have gotten the address from the hotel registrations. However, supposing he didn’t, let’s now take a look at Mary Brower, a matronly, capable woman who certainly wouldn’t be cavorting around with people who’d want to murder her husband. She’s obstinate, perhaps a bit selfish, but certainly no Cleopatra.”

Sylvia Martin was staring at him with wide, fascinated eyes. “But let’s suppose you’re wrong, Doug. Suppose someone did know her rather well and wanted her husband out of the way. Suppose this dead man sensed something of the situation and was a close friend of the husband. The husband didn’t know anything at all about what was going on, so this friend came to the hotel to take the part of the husband, and in order to do so masqueraded as Charles Brower.”

Selby said slowly, “That’s a nice theory, Sylvia, and if you publish any part of it, your newspaper will be defendant in about a dozen libel suits. This Mrs. Brower looks like a perfectly capable woman.”

Sylvia left her chair and came to stand by his desk.

“Listen, Doug,” she said, “my boss got a straight tip that The Blade is laying for you on this case. Don’t muff it, Doug. Keep your head and outsmart them.”

“You mean The Blade knows something?” Selby asked.

“I don’t know what they know, but we’ve got a tip they’re going to stir up some trouble about this case. You know Otto Larkin, the chief of police, is friendly with the managing editor. I think Larkin would double-cross you in a minute, if he had a chance. Any stuff The Blade has must have come from him.”

“Larkin isn’t any Sherlock Holmes,” Selby pointed out.

“Just the same,” she said, “I’ve given you the tip. Tell me, Doug, will you let me know if anything new develops?”

“I won’t release any information for publication until I’m satisfied it won’t hamper a solution of the case,” he said slowly.

“But can’t you just talk things over with me, not for publication, and let me have something to say about whether it’s safe to publish them?”

“Well,” Selby told her, “we might do that.”

She closed her notebook and said, “It’s definite, then, that this Mrs. Brower insists the man is not her husband?”

He nodded.

“And,” she asked him slowly, “how do you know that this woman is Mrs. Brower?”

He eyed her speculatively for a moment and said, “Now that’s a thought.”

“I think,” she told him, “we can find out from our Nevada correspondents.”

“And I,” he told her, “will also do a little investigating.”

He saw her to the door, then said to Amorette Standish, “Take a wire to the chief of police at Millbank, Nevada, asking him for a description of the Reverend Charles Brower and of Mary Brower his wife. Also find out if he knows where both of them are at present. Tell him to wire.”


Selby strode into the coroner’s office and said, “Harry, I want to go over everything you took from that minister’s room.”

“The stuff is sealed up and in this room over here,” the coroner told him. “Funny thing about putting a wrong tag on him, wasn’t it? What a sweet spot I’d have been in, if I’d sent the body by express to Nevada.”

Selby said, “Well, either he wasn’t Charles Brower, or she isn’t Mary Brower. She looks genuine. You get Doctor Trueman to make an examination. And I want a thorough examination made. Have the contents of the stomach analyzed and analyze all of the vital organs to find traces of poison.”

“You don’t think it’s anything like that, do you?” the coroner protested.

“I don’t know what I think. I’m going to find out when I’ve got something to think on.”

“Aw, shucks, it’s just a case of mistaken identity. It’ll be all straightened out within another twenty-four hours.”

“Nevertheless,” Selby said, “I want to know just how the man died.”

He took the suitcase, the portable typewriter and the brief case which the coroner handed him.

Selby said, “I think you’d better sit in here with me, Harry, and make a list of all this stuff.”

“I’ve already listed it,” the coroner replied.

“How did you describe it?”

“Personal papers, newspaper clippings, and such stuff.”

“I think we’d better make a more detailed list.”

He sat down in the chair, cut the sealed tape, opened the brief case and took out a number of papers from the leather pockets. He started sorting the newspaper clippings.

“Here’s one of Shirley Arden, the motion-picture star,” he said, “showing her in her new play, Mended Hearts. Here’s another one of her in a ‘still’ taken during the filming of that picture. Here’s one of her in Page the Groom. Here’s some publicity about her from one of the motion-picture fan magazines. Why all the crush on Shirley Arden, Harry?”

The coroner said, “That’s nothing. We see that every day. Almost everyone has some favorite motion-picture star. People collect all sorts of stuff. You remember this chap said in his letter that he might go on to Hollywood? I’ll bet you he’s gone on Shirley Arden, and was hoping he’d have a chance to meet her.”

The district attorney, forced to accept the logic of the remark, nodded, turned to the rest of the papers.

“Hello,” he said, “here’s some newspaper clippings about the Perry estate.”

“I was wondering about that, too,” the coroner said. “I just took a quick look through them. That’s the Perry estate that’s being fought over in our Superior Court, isn’t it? It says the man who’s trying to prove he’s the heir is H.F. Perry. That’ll be Herbert Perry, won’t it?”

Selby read through the clippings and nodded.

“They aren’t clippings from our papers, are they?”.

“No. They’re Associated Press dispatches, sent out to a number of papers which subscribe for that service.”

“Why do you suppose he saved them?”

“That’s one of the things we’re going to find out.”

“What are they fighting about in that case, anyway?”

“Charles Perry,” Selby said, “was married and got an interlocutory decree of divorce. Then, before the final decree was issued, he went over to Yuma, and married an Edith Fontaine. At the time of the marriage she had a son, Herbert. Herbert took the name of Perry, but Charles Perry wasn’t his father. The marriage, having been performed while an interlocutory decree was in effect, and before a final decree had been entered, was void. That was years ago. Apparently Perry never knew his marriage wasn’t legal. His first wife died, but he never had another marriage ceremony with Edith. He died without a will, and his brother, H. Franklin Perry, is contesting Herbert Perry’s share in the estate.”

“Isn’t there some law about marriage not being necessary where people live openly as man and wife?”

“That’s a common-law marriage.” Selby said. “It doesn’t apply in this state.”

“Well, Perry thought he was married to her all right. He died first, didn’t he?”

“Yes, they were in an automobile accident. He was killed instantly. She lived for a week with a fractured skull and died.”

“So the boy doesn’t get any of the money?” Perkins asked. “I know the brother. He’s a veterinary. He treated my dog once. He’s a good man.”

“Who gets the money is something for the courts to decide,” Selby said. “What I’m wondering about right now is what interested Charles Brower in that particular case.”

“Do you think he was Brower?”

“No, Harry, I don’t. I’m just calling him that because I don’t know anything else to call him.”

Selby looked through other clippings. One of them, from a fan magazine, listed the motion-picture actors and actresses in the order of their popularity. Another one gave what purported to be a tabulation of the gross earnings of the various stars during the preceding year.

A second pocket in the brief case contained a sheaf of typewritten papers. Evidently the typewriting had been done on the minister’s portable typewriter. It was a ragged job filled with crossed-out words and strike-overs. The district attorney noticed that at the top of page 1 appeared a title reading, “Lest Ye Be Judged.”

There followed a story written in a laborious, pedantic style. Selby started to wade through the story. It was the story of an old, irascible judge, entirely out of sympathy with the youth of the day, who had passed a harsh judgment upon a delinquent girl who had come before him. The judgment had been entirely without understanding and without mercy. The girl, declared to be an incorrigible, had been sentenced to a reformatory, but friends rallied to her support, led by a man whose status was not entirely clear. He was referred to as a lover of humanity.

The district attorney, searching the manuscript for some clue which would indicate this man’s love might have had a more personal focal point, became lost in a maze of pointless writing. He finally gathered that the man was much older; that his love was, in fact, really impersonal. The girl had taken up the study of medicine in the second chapter and had become a noted surgeon before the end of the chapter.

In chapter three the judge’s granddaughter, suffering with a brain tumor, was taken to the “greatest specialist in the world,” and when the judge, tears streaming down his face, called to plead with the surgeon to do his best, he found that the surgeon was none other than the girl he had sentenced as an incorrigible.

There were several pages of psychological explanations, the general purport of which was that the girl had been filled with a certain excess of vitality, a certain animal energy which required a definite ambition upon which to concentrate. The man who had saved her had been shrewd enough to place her in school and to dare her to accomplish the impossible. The very difficulty of the task had served to steady her.

“What’s it about?” the coroner asked, when the district attorney had turned over the last page.

“It’s a proof of the old axiom,” Selby said, grinning, “that there lives no man with soul so dead who hasn’t tried to write a picture scenario.”

“That what it is?”

“That’s what it was probably intended to be.”

“I’ll bet you he figured on going down to Hollywood to peddle that scenario.”

“If he did,” Selby pointed out, “he certainly made a peculiar detour. He was sneaking into Hollywood by the back way.”

There were no further papers in the brief case. The district attorney closed it and the coroner taped and sealed it.

Once more Selby went into the suitcase.

“There aren’t any laundry marks on any of those clothes,” the coroner said. “Not even on his starched collars. Ain’t that a little peculiar?”

Selby nodded.

“Probably the first trip he’d made with these clothes,” he said, “or he’d have had them laundered somewhere. And he couldn’t have been away from home very long. Also, he must have a very efficient wife who’s a hard-working housekeeper. That all indicates a ministerial background.”

Selby inspected the small pasteboard box containing a long roll of paper in which five-grain tablets had been folded.

“This the sedative?” he asked.


“And one of these tablets wouldn’t have brought about death?”

“Not a chance,” the coroner said. “I’ve known people to take four of them.”

“What did cause death then?”

“Probably a bad heart. A double dose of this stuff might have helped bring on the heart attack.”

“You have Doctor Trueman check carefully on that heart attack,” Selby instructed. “I want to know, absolutely, what caused this man’s death.”

The coroner fidgeted uneasily, finally said, “I wonder if you’d mind if I gave you a little advice, Douglas.”

“Go ahead, Harry, dish it out,” Selby said with a smile, “and I’ll try and take it.”

“This is your first case,” the coroner said. “You seem to be trying to make a murder case out of it. Now I wouldn’t go putting the cart before the horse. There’s a lot of sentiment against you in this county, and a lot of it for you. The people who are for you put you in office. The people who are against you hate to have you in office. You go along without attracting any great amount of attention for a month or two, and pretty quick people will forget all about the political end of things. Then those who hated you will be smiling and shaking hands when they see you on the street. But you get off on the wrong foot, and it’s going to hurt. Your enemies will be tickled to death and you’ll lose some of your friends.”

Selby said, “Harry, I don’t care how this thing looks to you. I’m not satisfied with it.”

“You get to looking at dead people through a microscope and you’ll never be satisfied with anything,” the coroner objected. “Things never do check out in real life. This guy was registered under a phony name. Nothing to get excited about in that — lots of people do it.”

Selby shook his head and laid down what was to be his primary code of conduct during his term of office.

“Harry,” he said, “facts fit. They’re like figures. If you get all the facts, your debit column adds up the same as your credit column. The facts balance with the result and the result balances with the facts. Any time they don’t, it’s because we haven’t all of the facts, and are trying to force a balance with the wrong figures. Now take that typewritten letter, for instance. It wasn’t written by the same man who wrote the scenario. The typing in the letter is perfect, evenly matched and free of strike-overs. The scenario is a hunt-and-peck affair, sloppy and ragged. Probably they were both written on the same machine, but they weren’t written by the same person. That’s an illustration of what I mean by saying that facts must balance, if they’re going to support theories.”

The coroner sighed. “Well, I told you, anyhow,” he remarked. “Go ahead and make a murder out of it, if you want to. You’ll find it’ll be a boomerang.”

Selby grinned, thanked him, left the mortuary and went at once to the Madison Hotel.

In the manager’s private office Selby had a showdown with George Cushing.

“Otto Larkin,” Cushing said reproachfully, “tells me you’re making a mountain out of a molehill on this Brower case, Selby. I didn’t think you’d do that to me.”

“I’m not doing it to you, George.”

“Well, you’re doing it to my business.”

“I’m not doing anything to your business. I’m going to find out the facts in this case, that’s all.”

“You’ve already got the facts.”

“No, I haven’t. The facts I’ve had have been wrong. The man isn’t Charles Brower.”

“Oh, that,” Cushing said, with a wave of his hand. “That frequently happens. Lots of people register under assumed names for one reason or another, and sometimes, if people happen to have a friend’s card in their pockets, they’ll register under the name of the friend, figuring they can produce the card, if anyone questions them.”

“Whom did this man know in the hotel?” the district attorney asked.

Cushing raised his eyebrows. “In the hotel?” he asked. “Why, I don’t suppose he knew anyone.” “Whom did he know in town?”

“I couldn’t tell you about that. No one that I know of. A man who hadn’t done much traveling and came here from Millbank, Nevada, wouldn’t be apt to know anyone here in the hotel or in the town either.”

“When Sheriff Brandon and I were coming out of campaign headquarters on the fifth floor the other morning,” Selby said, “this preacher was coming out of a room on the fifth floor. It was a room on the right-hand side of the corridor, and I’d say it was somewhere between 507 and 519.”

Cushing’s face showed emotion. He leaned forward. His breathing was distinctly audible.

“Now listen, Doug,” he said, “why not lay off of this thing? You’re not doing the hotel any good and you’re not doing yourself any good.”

“I’m going to find out who this man is and I’m going to find out how he died and why he died,” Selby said doggedly.

“He’s some bird from Millbank, Nevada, or some nearby place,” Cushing said. “He knows this man Brower in Millbank. He knew Brower was away on a fishing trip, so he figured it would be a good time to use Brower’s name.”

“Who occupied those rooms on the fifth floor?” Selby insisted.

“I’m sure I couldn’t tell you.”

“Get your register.”

“Now, listen, Doug, you’re carrying this thing too far.”

The district attorney said, “Get the register, George.”

Cushing got up, started for the door, hesitated for a moment, then came back and sat down.

“Well,” Selby said, “go ahead, get the register.”

“There’s something about this,” Cushing said slowly, “that I don’t want made public. It doesn’t concern this case in any way.”

“What is it?”

“It’s something that won’t be shown by the register, but you’ll probably find out about it, if you get to nosing around … And,” he added bitterly, “it looks like you’re going to nose around.”

“I am,” Selby promised.

“There was a guest here Monday who didn’t want her identity known.”

“What room was she in?”


“Who was she?”

“I can’t tell you that, Doug. It hasn’t anything to do with the case.”

“Why don’t you want to tell me then?”

“Because she came here on business. It was rather a confidential business. She was trying to keep it from becoming known. She signed a fictitious name on the register and made me agree I’d say nothing about her having been here. She only stayed a couple of hours and then went back. Her manager, I think, stayed on a little longer.”

“Who was she?”

“I can’t tell you. She’s famous and she didn’t want the newspapers making a lot of hullabaloo about her. I don’t want her to think I’ve broken my promise. She comes here sometimes when she wants to get away from everything, and always has the same room. I sort of keep it for her … and … well, that’s why I’m telling you all this. I don’t want you stirring up any publicity about room 515.”

A sudden realization crystallized in Selby’s mind, a realization of something so weirdly bizarre that it didn’t make sense, yet was entirely on a par with the other developments in the case.

“That woman,” he said with the calm finality of one who is absolutely certain of his statements, “was Shirley Arden, the motion-picture actress.”

George Cushing’s eyes widened. “How the devil did you know?”

Selby said, “Never mind that. Tell me all you know.”

“Ben Trask, her manager and publicity agent, was with her. Miss Arden went in by way of the freight elevator. Trask saw that the coast was clear.”

“Did anyone in the hotel call on her?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Did Trask have a room here?”


“What is this room, a bedroom?”

“It’s a suite; a bedroom, sitting room and bath.”

“Any outside telephone calls?” Selby asked.

“I wouldn’t know. I can find out by looking up the records.”

“Do that.”

Cushing fidgeted uneasily and said, “This preacher left an envelope in the safe. I had forgotten about it until this morning. Do you want me to get it?”

“What’s in it?”

“A letter or something.”

“Yes,” Selby said, “get it.”

“I’d like to have you sign for it.”

“All right, bring a receipt and I’ll sign.”

The hotel manager stepped from the office for a few moments, then returned with a sealed envelope, across the flap of which appeared a scrawled signature, “Charles Brower.”

“Wait here,” Selby told him, “while I open the envelope. We’ll list the contents.”

He slit the end of the envelope with a knife and pulled out several folded sheets of hotel stationery.

“Well,” he said, “this looks . . .”

His voice trailed into silence as his fingers unfolded the sheets of stationery. Five one-thousand-dollar bills had been folded between two sheets of hotel stationery.

“Good Lord!” Cushing exclaimed.

“You sure the minister put this envelope in the safe?” Selby asked.


“No chance for any mistake?”

“None whatever.”

Selby turned the bills over in his fingers. Then, as a delicate scent was wafted to his nostrils, he raised the bills to his nose; Pushed them across the table and said to Cushing, “Smell.”

Cushing sniffed of the bills. “Perfume,” he said.

Selby folded the bills back in the paper and slipped both paper and bills back in the envelope.

“Take a strip of gummed paper,” he said. “Seal up that envelope and put it back in the safe. That’ll keep the odor of the perfume from being dissipated. I’ll want to check it later. . . Now, then, who had room 319?”

“When the body was discovered, a man by the name of Block was in the room.”

“Where’s he from? What does he do, and how long have you known him?”

“He’s a traveling salesman who works out of Los Angeles for one of the hardware firms.”

“Has he checked out yet?”

“I don’t think so, but he’s just about due to check out.”

“I want to talk with him.”

“I’ll see if he’s in.”

“Who had the room before Block?”

“I’ve looked that up. The room hadn’t been rented for three days.”

“The room on the other side — 323?”

“That was vacant when the body was discovered, but had been rented the night before to a young couple from Hollywood, a Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Smith.”

“Get their street number from the register. See if this salesman is in his room. I want to talk with him. Seal that envelope and put it back in the safe.”

Cushing excused himself, and this time was gone some five minutes. He returned, accompanied by a well-dressed man in the early thirties, whose manner radiated smiling self-assurance.

“This is Mr. Block, the man who’s in Room 319,” he said.

Block wasted no time in preliminaries. His face wreathed in a welcoming smile, he gripped Selby’s hand cordially.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Selby. I understand you’re to be congratulated on winning one of the most bitterly contested elections ever held in the history of the county. I’ve been covering this territory several years, and I’ve heard everywhere about the splendid campaign you were putting up. My name’s Carl Block, and I’m with the Central Hardware Supplies Company. I come through here regularly once a month, making headquarters here for a couple of days, while I cover the outlying towns. Is there any way in which I can be of service to you?”

The man’s manner exuded a ready, rugged friendliness. Sizing him up, Selby knew why he held such a splendid sales record, knew also that it would be next to impossible to surprise any information from him.

“You got in yesterday morning, Mr. Block?”

“That’s right.”

“About what time?”

“Well, I got in pretty early. I find that these days the business comes to the man who goes after it.”

“Hear any unusual sounds from the adjoining room?”

“Not a sound.”

“Thank you,” Selby said, “that’s all.” He nodded to Cushing and said, “I’m going back to my office, George. Don’t give out any information.”

Cushing followed him to the door of the hotel. “Now, listen, Doug,” he said, “this thing was just a natural death. There’s no use getting worked up about it, and remember to keep that information about Miss Arden under your hat.”


Selby said to Frank Gordon, “Frank, I want you to find out everything you can about the litigation in the Perry Estate.”

“I think I can tell you all about it,” Gordon said. “I know John Baggs, the attorney for Herbert Perry. He’s discussed the case with me.”

“What are the facts?”

“Charles Perry married Edith Fontaine in Yuma. The marriage wasn’t legal because Perry only had an interlocutory decree. He had the mistaken idea he could leave the state and make a good marriage. Edith Fontaine had a son by a previous marriage — Herbert Fontaine. He changed his name to Perry. Perry and his wife were killed in an auto accident. If there wasn’t any marriage, the property goes to H. Franklin Perry, the veterinary, a brother of Charles. If the marriage was legal, the bulk of the property vested in Edith on the death of Charles, and Herbert is Edith’s sole heir. That’s the case in a nutshell.”

“Who’s representing H. Franklin Perry?”

“Fred Lattaur.”

“Get a picture of the dead minister. See if either of the litigants can identify him.”

He picked up the phone and said to the exchange operator,” I want Sheriff Brandon, please. Then I want Shirley Arden, the picture actress.” In a moment he heard Rex Brandon’s voice.

“Just had an idea,” Selby said. “There was a pair of reading spectacles in that suitcase. Get an oculist here to get the prescription. Get a photograph of the dead man. Rush the photograph and the prescription to the optician in San Francisco whose name is on the spectacle case. Have him look through his records and see if he can identify the spectacles.”

“Okay,” Brandon said cheerfully. “I’m running down a couple of other clues. I’ll see you later on.”

Selby’s secretary reported, “Miss Arden is working on the set. She can’t come to the telephone. A Mr. Trask says he’ll take the call. He says he’s her manager.”

“Very well,” Selby said, “put Trask on the line.”

He heard a click, then a masculine voice saying suavely, “Yes, Mr. Selby?”

Selby snapped words into the transmitter. “I don’t want to say anything over the telephone which would embarrass you or Miss Arden,” he said. “Perhaps you know who I am.”

“Yes, I do, Mr. Selby.”

“Day before yesterday,” Selby said, “Miss Arden made a trip. You were with her.”


“I want to question her about that trip.”

“But why?”

Selby said, “I think you’d prefer I didn’t answer that question over the telephone. I want to see both you and Miss Arden in my office sometime before nine o’clock tonight.”

“But, I say, that’s quite impossible,” Trask protested. “Miss Arden’s working on a picture and … ”

Selby interrupted. “I have ways,” he said, “of getting Miss Arden’s statement. There are hard ways and easy ways. This is the easy way — for you.”

There was a moment’s silence, then the voice said, “At ten o’clock tonight, Mr. Selby?”

“I’d prefer an earlier hour. How about seven or eight?”

“Eight o’clock would be the earliest time we could possibly make it. Miss Arden is under contract, and … ”

“Very well,” Selby said, “at eight o’clock tonight,” and hung up before the manager could think of additional excuse.

He had hardly hung up the telephone before it rang with shrill insistence. He took the receiver from the hook, said “Hello,” and heard the calmly professional voice of Dr. Ralph Trueman.

“You wanted information about that man who was found dead in the Madison Hotel,” Trueman said.

“Yes. What information have you?”

“I haven’t covered everything,” Doctor Trueman said, “but I’ve gone far enough to be morally certain of the cause of death.”

“What was it?”

“A lethal dose of morphine, taken internally.”

“Of morphine!” Selby exclaimed. “Why, the man had some sleeping tablets … ”

“Which hadn’t been taken at all, so far as I can ascertain,” Trueman interrupted. “But what he had taken was a terrific dose of morphine, which induced paralysis of the respiratory organs. Death probably took place between midnight and three o’clock yesterday morning.”

“And when was the morphine administered?”

“Any time from one to two hours prior to death.”


“Well, I’m not certain about that,” Trueman said, “but there’s some chance a tablet containing the deadly dose might have been inserted in the box of sedative which the man was carrying with him. In that event he’d have taken the morphia, thinking he was taking an ordinary sleeping tablet. The tablets were wrapped in paper so that they’d naturally be taken in a consecutive order. I’ve made a very delicate test with some of the paper remaining in the box and get a definite trace of morphia.”

“Could that have been a possible error on the part of the druggist filling the prescription?” Selby asked.

“In a tablet of that size, with that amount of morphia,” Doctor Trueman said, “the chance of honest error would be just about one in ten million.”

“Then … then it was deliberate, carefully planned murder!” Selby said.

Doctor Trueman’s voice retained its professional calm. “That,” he observed, “is a matter of law. I’m merely giving you the medical facts.”



Read “The Thread of Truth” by Erle Stanley Gardner from the September 1, 1936, issue of the The Country Gentleman. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Illustrated by Dudley Gloyne Summers.

“I’ll Get Even” by William Fay, Conclusion

William Fay was a short story writer for the Post in the mid-1900s. He specialized in stories about crime and the city, many of which he adapted for TV in the electronic era. His descriptions of seedy city life are detailed and the way he lays out tales of deception and violence make this serial story leave hints at what is to come. “I’ll Get Even” is a two-part story about a man who loses his wealth and the unlikely scenario that leads him back to the money.

Originally published on July 22, 1950


Danny Meade came back to New York after eight years’ absence and felt like Rip Van Winkle. La Guardia wasn’t mayor any more, the subway cost a dime instead of a nickel, and Danny was just a guy nobody knew.

Danny wondered if Caroline Shane remembered him, Caroline who was now the star of David Bowen’s new play. Danny had been the backer of Caroline’s first play in 1942 — the one that never got beyond a tryout in Philadelphia, when Danny lost all his money.

That was because, back in 1942, Danny had a hole in his head. Anyone fool enough to trust Allie Fargis had to have a hole in his head. To get the money to back the play, Danny had sold his bowling-alley club to Fargis, and Fargis had paid him $60,000 in cash — on Saturday afternoon. After the deal was done and witnessed, Danny was left with all that money on his hands, and no safe place to put it — except, of course, in Allie’s hospitable safe. Danny left the money in the safe. And on Tuesday the safe was empty. It was crude but effective: Danny couldn’t prove he’d ever left the money with Fargis.

The Army took Danny then, and he turned his back on Broadway for eight years. Now he was back. He automatically went to the bowling alley. It was nearly empty. No one noticed Danny — using his old key — enter Allie Fargis’ office.

It felt good to sit behind the luxurious desk. Suddenly the door opened and Allie came in with his hands full of money. He dropped it in shock when he saw Danny. It was a fantastic opportunity. Danny slugged Allie, counted out $60,000, wrapped the cash in a newspaper and walked out.

Now he was hot. Allie would send his muscle men after him. Danny first thought of getting out of New York as quickly as possible. But he was tired of being a rabbit. He put the money in a locker at the Pennsylvania Station, then took a cab. “Judson Theater,” he told the driver.

Caroline Shane was the star of the play at the Judson.


“Playbill, sir?”

“Thank you.”

He sat in the darkness, in the eighth row, just off center, and he let his back and shoulders come to welcome rest against the soft plush of the seat. The curtain rose. The set was charming if not elaborate: the living room of a suburban house, with wide doors opening on a garden only suggested, and with high-wattage sunshine flooding into the room. A young woman made her entrance from the garden, and knowing members of the audience acknowledged her entrance with brief, discreet applause, seeking to commend and still not disturb the business onstage.

“Hello, darling,” Danny whispered the words. The make-believe reached out to him, not mocking him, really, but saying to him calmly enough, “Danny, you aimed too high.” Because if this was the Caroline Shane he’d known, it was also a lady whom time and talent and the love of David Bowen had fashioned to a womanly loveliness in excess of all he remembered or could possibly merit now. He didn’t belong in this league, he told himself, and he had no right to try to join it again. But when the show was over, he made no attempt to leave the neighborhood. He was in a kind of trance, punch-drunk with old affections stronger than himself. He remained in the shadows of an alley, waiting, and around midnight he saw her leaving the theater with David — the two walking together — and he followed, for the moment asking no more than to be near.

They walked across town, east of Sixth, to a restaurant — quiet, fairly fancy and expensive. Looking in from the street, like a kid at jellied apples, he could see them seated in a booth, a waiter taking their order. Shamelessly, but beyond their range of vision, he entered, himself, and was able to find a booth separated from theirs by a latticed partition. Through the tight latticework he could see only the glow of the lamp on their table, and once, he believed, when Caroline moved, the glint of her hair. He could hear them talking of random things — unimportant things, perhaps, to anyone but him.

“I should be home helping pop soak his feet, the poor lamb. His corns are hurting again, but you couldn’t get pop off the job without bombing the bus terminal… These tickets, David? Oh, these are sweepstakes tickets he bought me.”

He could hear the scratch of a match and see its gleam as David held it to a cigarette. Cheap compensations were here for the gathering: the smoke of the cigarette, for instance, rising above the booth for him to see.

The waiter came around to him. “A glass of beer,” he said softly — very softly. “Nothing to eat, no, thank you; just the beer.”

And Caroline’s voice again, “… How’s the new project, David?”

“It’s got lumps like pancake batter all through the first two acts,” said David.

“I don’t believe you, but you look tired. Possibly that’s the —”

“Nice an’ cozy, ain’t it?” another voice said. Sugarboy Spartano had managed to slide into the booth beside him, and in an easy, almost comradely way was reclaiming Allie Fargis’ automatic from Danny’s jacket pocket.

Danny offered no resistance. Another man sat opposite — a shorter, square built man.

Danny considered them without marked interest. “Quiet,” he whispered, because Caroline was talking again. He repeated the emphatic whisper, “Quiet, please,” to the square built one and they looked at him as though he were crazy, and in the situation, as it was, they were not very wrong.

“The dough, Mac,” Sugarboy said softly. “The yardage. The long green. Get it up.”

Danny placed a restraining hand on Sugarboy’s powerful wrist.

Caroline’s voice came to them, “Perhaps if you tacked the whole thing together first, so you could look at it more objectively, David. Let the first draft be as lumpy as —”

“Two more beers,” Sugarboy told the waiter.

“We’re wastin’ time,” the other man said.

Sugarboy shook his head. “The guy’s broad-crazy; a lot of ’em go this way.”

The waiter returned with the two beers, and Sugarboy and his companion drained the glasses swiftly. Sugarboy pressed the automatic rather affectionately in Danny’s ribs. “This is for dessert,” he said. “We go now.”

There was no peaceful alternative. They rose. The squat man led him firmly, if not too obviously, toward the door. Only at the door itself, with the two men close upon him, did Danny for some reason turn and look at the other row of booths, and then find Caroline’s soft, level glance locked suddenly with his own. A fractional moment, but there it was, her mouth falling open, words forming at her lips, but not forthcoming, and her face gone pale as the tablecloth, and then he was gone, though he would never, never forget it.

“So blow a hole in me,” Danny said.

“We want the dough.”

“You want it. I’ve got it. So what?”

He sounded a little bigger and tougher than he felt. They stood on Sixth Avenue, in the half-lighted entrance of a locked liquor store. He had the fair compensation of knowing that with people still on the streets, this was not the time or the place for a heedless use of firearms, and he had the key to Penn Station Locker No. D-324 somewhat uncomfortably in his shoe.

They frisked him with passing thoroughness. Sugarboy looked at his driver’s license and the car registration. “Daniel E. Meade, t’ree twenty-six Pearson Avenue. You been holin’ out in Ohio, huh?” Sugarboy then examined the ticket from the parking lot near New York’s 23rd Street, the time punched on the ticket. He gave this to the shorter man, whose name was, incredibly, Hubert.

“The jerk could of blown like a blue bird,” Hubert said, “with sixty grand. Instead he has to hang around to see his valentine.”

Hubert hit him then, brutally in the stomach, to intimidate him. Danny sucked breath against the pain and kneed the short man in the groin in swift reprisal, and then a cop came by, and they were quiet there, all three, with Hubert wearing the sickest smile you ever saw. And Danny could easily have called to the cop, but he did not. He was gagged and almost hypnotically lured by the gathering, growing pride of self that told him, however irrationally, that he could deal with these bums himself. As a kid growing up on the streets of New York he’d never acquired the habit of yelling “Cop!” Nor was he without considering that a day spent in jail or in a D.A.’s office would outlast the brief lease he held on Locker No. D-324.

Hubert watched him, the pain written clearly on Hubert’s face. “You don’t want cops, either, do you, mister?” But Hubert, for the moment, didn’t attempt to hit him again. “I’m gonna fix your trolley but good,” said Hubert, as though to regain self-stature. “I’m gonna crawl on my belly to Allie. I’m gonna say, ‘Allie, Allie, save that love-sick slob for me!”

“Tell me more, please.”

Contempt was the only luxury that Danny could afford. They walked along Sixth Avenue.

“The dough,” said Sugarboy. “Where is it?”

“In the five-and-dime window,” Danny said.

“He’s smart,” Hubert said. “He studied up on books how he could become the smartest corpse in the whole morgue. Well, you can’t get out of town, you hear? You’ve got till twelve o’clock tomorrow to get the dough. Meantime you don’t eat or sleep. Where you go, we go.”

“Like Baby and Bogie,” Sugarboy said. “Like love and kisses. Everybody all together, Hubert means.”

Danny stopped in the middle of the street. He had an idea Broadway would be safer than Sixth Avenue at this hour. More populated, anyhow. “Suppose we go talk with Allie, boys? Maybe Allie and I can come to some agreement about the money.”

“You kiddin’? Him do business with a punk like you?”

But they walked west to Broadway, anyhow, then south from 54th along the big street, quiet now but for the newsboys and the taxicabs. At 48th they turned again and approached the bowling club. Danny went willingly enough. Sugarboy Spartano opened the door and Hubert went in with Danny. Sugarboy, proud of a mission well done, then took Danny’s other arm.

“Who is givin’ away the bride?” said Hubert. “I’ll toss ya.”

Then Danny moved, as had been his intention, with sudden violence. The back-thrust of his body drew him free from their custody, and then the forward pressure of his strong arms pitched the two men down the stairs, their bodies tumbling, falling, crashing.

Danny ran with a purpose, and with a destination in mind. And when Hubert and Sugarboy, limping and hauling themselves, attained the street, there was no sign of him. Minutes later a huge storage-bound bus left the coast-to-coast bus depot, but that meant nothing in particular to them.

The bus pulled into a storage lot west of Tenth Avenue where others of the fleet stood, big as houses, in the dark. A man with a flashlight guided the big job in, his light a little foolish in the great glare of the headlights. The driver worked the bus into its designated place, then snapped off the lights. He got out, joining the other man, and Danny stayed where he was.

He slept a little on the wide rear seat, pulling his jacket more closely about himself, for it was chill in the April morning. Mostly he did not sleep, but lay there in the quiet, thinking, and hugging to himself as he had not in years the warm compensation of undiluted self-respect.

Three things he knew. He would not run away. He’d run the last time, but then because he couldn’t face the people he had failed so miserably, and because the Army was beckoning anyhow. The job in Ohio, and the one before that in Nevada, had been joyless. He believed he would rather be dead than back in the desert — and the desert, to him, was any place, anywhere more than fifty miles from New York. The other things he knew were that, win, lose or draw in his own affair with Allie Fargis, he’d allow himself the earned award of seeing Caroline — this, plus a knowledge of where his money would go, should Allie or Mlie’s assistants of a sudden dispatch him toward his heavenly reward. And if he couldn’t lose his money, he could lose no more than his skin. He slipped out of the bus when hands on the dashboard said it was six o’clock.

At Penn Station the locker opened with one easy twitch of the key. The money lay, newspaper-wrapped, exactly as he had tossed it in there, like twenty cents’ worth of bananas. He put the entire sum in a brown paper bag he had salvaged from a refuse can at the station’s upper level. He took it with him to a cavernous room marked GENTLEMEN, where he was able to rent for sixty cents a dressing room with shower. He borrowed a razor and a daub of brushless shave cream from an attendant. He gave the attendant two dollars and the suit he had slept in, with instructions to have the suit sponged and pressed. When he emerged at 8:30 he looked quite pretty and the station swarmed with commuters. He didn’t linger. By grace of the New York subway system he had breakfast in Brooklyn and lunch in the borough of Queens. He came back to Manhattan when he was ready.

“Stop here,” he told the driver of the cab.

It was not quite eight P. M. He was not impressed with the prudence or brightness of what he planned to do, but whatever happened, he’d consider it worth the cost. He stood in front of the bus depot.

“Hello, pop,” Danny said.

Patrick Shane turned slowly around. “The Lord have mercy on us,” Patrick Shane said softly. “It’s the bridegroom.”

“Just about eight years too late,” Danny said. “Look, pop; don’t ask me a lot of questions, please. Not now. Do what I ask you?”

“What’s this you’re handin’ me?”

“From the looks of it, pop, it’s a brown paper bag. I want you to put it away, in your office, maybe, or someplace safe, but strictly under lock and key. And listen to me… No; don’t argue. Listen. Thank you. Now, if you don’t hear from me by tomorrow, pop, whatever you find in this bag is a present for Caroline. Tell her it’s mine and that it was always mine. From me to her. With love, say, pop. Especially with love.”

Then he was gone.

Two minutes after eight. Forty-fifth Street now, and Broadway. This much he was entitled to, he tried to persuade himself. One look at her, anyhow. One look up close. Nothing silly, understand, or saccharine sweet, or bubbling over at the emotions. Just one little visit with Caroline before telling Allie and his muscular friends where all of them could go.

He knew there’d be someone hovering close to the stage door of the Judson. That was foregone, simple as daylight, and it happened to be Hubert. He came up behind him and stepped on his heels. “I’ll be a few minutes, Hubert; don’t go away.” He opened a door marked PRIVATE. No ADMITTANCE. He went inside, and the doorman wasn’t there. He bluffed his way past other people to the designated door.

He knocked gently, then heard her voice: “David? One second, please.” Then, after a moment, “Come in.”

He walked in slowly, closing the door behind him. He saw her face through a kind of mist. “It ain’t Hamlet, lady,” Danny said. “It ain’t even Milton Berle.”

But it didn’t seem as though she could speak. She walked toward him with small, deliberate steps, her eyes too full of her feelings, reaching with one hand, as though to touch him.

“Danny.” That was all at first. “Last night I was sure,” she said then. “Last night I was positive I’d seen you — that it had to be you. But then I told David it must have been an illusion or wishfulness, and we blamed it on my tiredness or — well, something like that, Danny.”

And she kept looking at him, withdrawing the hand that had almost touched him. She stood uncertain of herself, as though she were going to cry, her mouth trembling just a little bit, her white teeth clamping her lip. She wore a modest, simple dressing gown. Her hair was tumbled long and he could see the soft inviting lines of her throat, count the measured breaths she took.

“Where, Danny? Where have you been? And why so long?”

No act at all, and she frightened him. Just the look of her told him he shouldn’t have come here. Certainly not with Allie’s ax still hanging over his head. Her reaction to seeing him told him more than he had come prepared to learn — that only a decent and restraining pride was keeping her out of his arms. And she was too smart not to know that he must know this too.

“Yes, Danny; I guess I’m shameless.”

He held her then, close to him, his hands in the soft folds of her hair, and he floated with the myriad things he felt and could not understand or express or toss away.

“Look, Caroline, look.”

But she couldn’t look, and he couldn’t, either. He could only stay close to her this way and speak to her, telling her enough, but not too much. Telling her of old shame and the convenience of the Army as a hole to fall into all those years ago, and of Nevada and Ohio after that, and all the dead time since he’d seen her last. But not about Hubert, waiting outside. Not about Allie or Sugarboy or the money in the old brown paper bag.

“I know I shouldn’t have come here now, and I probably knew it before I came. I tell the biggest, most convincing lies to myself; the way, I suppose, a lot of people do, but that doesn’t make it right. I thought possibly you and David would be getting married, you see? Because — well, because you’re out of my class. You’re better people than I am, Caroline.”

“Are we, Danny? You’re sure? So very sure?” Now she looked at him. Now she watched him. “I was never engaged to David, Danny. I never accepted a ring from him. I never accepted a ring from anyone but a boy in Philadelphia. Like I said, I’m shameless and, Danny, I still have the ring.”

He didn’t say anything much. The door opened and a maid came in. The clock on her dressing table said 8:25 — fifteen minutes to curtain time. Caroline stood apart from him and not too daintily blew her nose. Her eyes were red.

“Excuse me if I behaved like an ass,” she said. “We’re not a family that breaks down lightly or often, Danny, so there must have been a reason. You’ll be back?”

“I think I’ll be back,” he said. “I think I’ll be back or else you’ll read about it in the papers.”

Outside the theater, Hubert fell in stride with him. Theater traffic filled the street. They walked together, wordless, with Danny taking one look at the tight-lipped, bunchy-muscled fool that walked beside him. How tough do they get? How tough can they get? While they walked he looked at his own square hands. He’d been able to use them all his life and might be able to use them again.

Allie Fargis opened the office door himself. “Welcome home,” he said, but it was not a jovial statement. Another man sat there, and Danny remembered him from an afternoon eight years before — Allie’s lawyer. Delaney, his name was. He sat tapping one foot, his hands folded neatly in his lap. Allie Fargis closed the door. Sugarboy Spartano and Hubert, like drilled apes, stood one at each side of the door.

“The money?” said Allie.

“I ate it,” Danny said.

Hubert’s hands opened and clenched at Danny’s remark. Sugarboy, towering with his own bulk, merely looked blank, the smoke of his cigarette trailing slowly past the dumb expression on his face. They were caricatures more than they were men. Stock types, Danny thought, but blubberheads, and a respectable director would fire them from a stage for overplaying their parts. Then Danny’s glance went back to Allie Fargis and to Delaney, the lawyer, his polished shoe still tapping the carpet, waiting. Two kinds of crooks, like two sides of a coin — the smart crooks and the meatballs, with the brains, of course, controlling the muscle.

“Why don’t you turn the dogs loose, Allie?”

“I don’t want your smart remarks. I want sixty thousand dollars.”

“How badly do you want it, Allie? Not badly enough for a murder here, do you? Nothing vulgar or violent with Mr. Delaney present. It could be embarrassing for him and bad for your business. Too many difficult situations and the crook could get disbarred. Right, Hubert? Sugarboy?”

They only glared at him and looked to Allie, for there are hierarchies in all affairs, political or criminal, he was beginning to understand. The meatballs serve, but they don’t intrude. They work in the alleys, but rarely in the parlors.

“Hubert, for instance,” Danny said. “I wonder now why I’ve been afraid of people like Hubert. After all, I threw him down the stairs last night, and I could probably do it again. Couldn’t I, Hubert?”

His voice had been rising and rising, and the sound of it, and the need to do something, made a kind of heady wine, so that suddenly he grasped Hubert by the shirt and defiantly slapped his face. Hubert’s hand reached back to a rear pocket and Danny punched him in the mouth. Hubert fell, and in falling reached again for the gun in his pocket. Allie Fargis leaped from his chair and took the gun from Hubert’s hand.

“He wouldn’t have used it, anyhow,” Danny said. “Not here.” He looked at Delaney, who had paled, and at Sugarboy, who, without command, had done exactly nothing.

“You know something, Allie?” Danny said. He spoke on a note of triumphant discovery. “I’m the only tough guy in the room.” He pressed a thumb against his own chest. “Me!” He sat down facing them all.

Delaney said to Allie Fargis, “You’re doin’ fine, aren’t you?”

Fargis licked dry lips. He tried again. “Look, mister,” he said to Danny, “you’re alive for one reason. I don’t want your hide. I couldn’t sell it for a dime. I want the money. I need the money. I have to —”

Allie stopped. He’d talked too much. The sweat was on his head like dew on a melon. He looked again to Delaney, but Delaney only shrugged.

Delaney said calmly enough, “Call Sam. Tell him you need more time.”

“I don’t have to call him,” Allie said. He looked at the clock on his desk. “Sam’ll be here any minute.”

“This thing’s improving all the time,” Danny said. Who’s Sam?”

“Sam, if you’ve got to know,” said Allie, “only happens to be the party whose money you’ve got. It wasn’t mine. It was his. Think that over. Chew it a while. Put it on the record player so you can learn it real good. Sam … is … Sam Friede!”

“So I’m dead and buried?”

“Without that money, you fool, you’re the deadest duck in New York.”

Danny sought to look unimpressed. “I should jump through a window?”

“You’ll jump through more’n a window, you fresh punk!” Allie was screaming now, naked without the cloak of poise he always wore. “You’ll jump! I’ll jump! The whole damned town’ll jump! You hear me!”

And he wasn’t fooling, Danny could tell. Delaney said, “Easy; take it easy.” Delaney was tapping that foot again. Delaney was seeking to think calmly, as one who can afford to think calmly, as though his own neck would not be in the noose of Sam Friede’s disapproval.

When the door was opened, you could see that Sam Friede was a man built in proportion to his reputation. He was Gargantuan, with a cherubic face just a bit too wise. He looked like a blown-up angel who had swapped his halo for a bag of gold. Danny had never seen him before, but had many times heard of him: Sam Friede, the alleged lord of more rackets than a dollar has nickels or dimes. Sugarboy Spartano, after opening the door, had leaped out of the way, like a sore-covered beggar from the petal-strewn path of a king.

And now Danny had the feeling that he couldn’t win. It was like a hurdle race where they kept increasing the height of obstacles to be cleared until you finally fell on your nose. There was no sign of pity, fear or compromise in Sam Friede’s face. Just the small bright eyes in the swollen mass of his features, and the little ears clamped tightly against his head.

This enormous man looked carefully about — at Allie Fargis, at Delaney, at the abused and disarrayed spectacle of Hubert, then, most carefully, at Danny.

“You must have had the wrong boy on your carpet,” Sam Friede said finally to Allie. “You got that money?”

“Look, Sam,” Mile began. “It may take a little time. I told you about this lunatic, didn’t I?”

“You told me, Allie, but maybe you didn’t tell me enough.”

Sam Friede moved carefully around Danny, his small eyes appraising, yet revealing no clue to the final assessment. He resembled a reconnoitering tank. His massive hands, like baseball mitts, were playfully tapping his chest. You had a feeling this fabulous flesh could move with a speed not at first suspected, and that, if he chose, Sam Friede could break you like a dry stick. You stood there matching glances with this man, the while your hopes descended.

“Well?” Danny said.

The puffed face was inscrutable, but Danny thought he saw a glint appear in Sam Friede’s eyes. He didn’t know for sure. He merely stood his ground, ready to fold his fists and throw them if he had to. But Sam Friede merely shrugged. He sat down, choosing a straight-backed chair, so that his flesh, unimpeded, could overflow the sides of the chair. He looked once again at Hubert, then back to Allie.

“Let’s get this straight, you brain bomb,” Sam Friede said. “This boy took the money from you? A fresh nobody, a punk; he came in here, slapped you silly, then took it away? Now tell me more.”

Allie looked helpless. “Well, the guy … he won’t get it up!”

This did not impress Sam Friede. He regarded Allie with obvious contempt.

“You mean that this is no Boy Scout, as you thought? This is a grown man?”

“He’s crazy,” Allie said. “Like I was trying to tell you, Sam.”

“Well, please don’t bother telling me, because I’m going to tell you something. Whether this kid gets up the dough or not,” Sam Friede said, “isn’t my responsibility. He doesn’t owe me anything. You do.”

“But, Sam, look at it this way: I had the money in my hands. I was here last night — a little earlier than now, it was. And then, like I explained.”

“Shut up!” Sam Friede said.

That was really all he had to say, and Danny could understand the nature of their relationship. The big fish eats the middle-sized fish, and the middle-sized fish eats the sardines. It all seemed very clear to him now, except that Sugarboy Spartano, standing there, looked like the biggest sardine Danny had ever seen.

Sam Friede then voiced what seemed a simple and practical idea, “If you can’t handle this kid, Allie — you or the slobs that work for you — why don’t you sell him back the bowling alleys you beat him out of in the first place?”


Allie’s mouth fell open, and Danny was not, himself, quite sure that he had heard Sam Friede correctly.

“I talk very plain English,” Sam said, “like I went to a college maybe but not for too long. You been blabbin’ around town for years about how you stuck a dumb kid for that dough, an’ there’s not much of that kind of talk that don’t come back to me. You got great charm an’ a loose trap, Allie, an’ I kind of like this kid.”

“But, listen, Sam. Be reasonable.”

“You listen, you chickenhearted chump. Every time this kid bumps into you he belts your brains out, don’t he? Why, you can’t even pertect yourself.” Then Sam Friede turned to Danny. “For sixty thousand bucks, kid, I give you my personal guarantee you can buy this place as nice an’ legal as a box o’ chocolate candy. We got a lawyer here, already. He’s a crook, like you know, but it won’t show on the bill o’ sale.” Sam Friede seemed to find it highly amusing. He had the bold expansiveness of one who is bound to get paid one way or the other. “You can get a notary from the cigar store on the corner for half a buck, kid I’ll pay the half a buck — an’ we can all get on with our business. How about it?”

Danny sat there, gaping at the grinning ogre before him, realizing that the big man wasn’t fooling. The happiness rose and almost choked him.

“You can get the dough, can’t you?” Sam Friede said.

Danny said, “Gimme the phone book.” He picked it off Allie’s desk. He dialed the number swiftly. “Hello? … Hello? I’d like to speak with Mr. Patrick Shane.”

Then he sat back, looking with weird delight at Allie and Hubert and Sugarboy.

“Lo, pop?… No, pop; this is not Pretty Boy Floyd. It’s me; a friend of your daughter’s… Now, look…”

A few minutes later, Patrick Shane, flanked by two witnesses from the bus depot, and carrying in his hands with loving care an old brown paper bag, was a beautiful sight to see. The notary public came from the cigar store on the corner, and Sam Friede magnanimously shot the works; he gave the man a dollar.

“You know, I like you, kid,” Sam said to Danny. “Just like I said before. You an’ I could do business together. It would be a pleasure all around. You got nerve. You got class.”

“That’s right, Sam,” Danny said, “and I’ve got a wonderful chance of staying out of jail the way I am.”

“I don’t getcha, kid.”

Danny looked at the big man so there would be no misunderstanding. He pointed to the door leading into the “supply” room.

“First thing tomorrow,” he said pleasantly, “the crap game, or whatever they’ve got in there, goes out with the empty bottles. Do I make that clear? Otherwise, Sam, you’re a charming fellow, too, and you’re invited to dance with Allie at the wedding.”

It was later. It was midnight. And all about him the Broadway lights blazed in a manner not permitted in the wartime year of his departure. The lights that spelled the names of chewing gums and coffee brands and cigarettes and motorcars seemed all to be spelling out for Danny, “Welcome Home!”

“All right,” he said, “I’m a sentimental jerk,” because his eyes were misty with the scene.

But the pressure of the girl’s hand on his own hand told him that she didn’t mind too much. She walked with one arm linked in his — hatless, as on the night he had seen her for the first time, long ago.

“Sentiment’s a nice thing, Danny. Sometimes it sticks like a marshmallow sundae, but it’s hard to do without.”

An April moon hung like a jack-o’-lantern over the town. Caroline’s hand turned slowly on top of his and the solitaire blinked like a headlight.

“Of course, we may have to hock it someday,” Danny said.

“So maybe we will,” she said, and they went on together. “So maybe we will … and who cares?”


First page of the short story, "I'll Get Even" by William Fay. This image is a link to the story's flipbook archive.
Read “I’ll Get Even” by William Fay from the July 22, 1950, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Illustration by Geoffrey Biggs


“I’ll Get Even” by William Fay, Part One

William Fay was a short story writer for the Post in the mid-1900s. He specialized in stories about crime and the city, many of which he adapted for TV in the electronic era. His detailed descriptions of seedy city life in a tale of deception and violence couch some foreshadowing in this gritty serial. “I’ll Get Even” is a two-part story about a man who loses his wealth and the unlikely scenario that leads him back to the money.

Originally published on July 15, 1950

 He drove his car into the tunnel from the Jersey side and came into Manhattan as a pilgrim might come to Mecca, Jerusalem or Rome. The streets of home, he thought, with all the magic they once held for him, and they led him uptown until “No Parking” signs defeated him. He was obliged then to turn about and leave the car in a parking lot near 23rd Street.

“Ya’ll be long, Mac?” the attendant asked.

“A few hours, maybe; till the shows are out.”

He took a nickel from his pocket and went into the subway and wondered was the nickel too fat or the coin slot just too small. It took a moment to remember having heard the five-cent fare had left New York and that the new machine was hungry for a dime. He didn’t mind the extra nickel, but he subconsciously resented any changes inflicted on New York City in the time he’d been away. He wanted all the sights and sounds and things that he was able to recall, including the five-cent fare, and even, if it could be redeemed, La Guardia’s nine-gallon hat. Because New York was what he had come back to see — and foolishly, perhaps, as though the city were an album of pictures whose pages, merely glimpsed again, could yield to him a measure of the good things he had lost.

He put a penny in a gum machine and looked at himself in the machine’s grimed mirror without marked pain or approval. An express rolled by on a center track; the express came heaving and bang clattering its way, so that the station trembled, if possible, and without his knowing it, his hand touched the glass frame of the photo with a kind of reverence. This was the magnet, stronger than the rest, that had drawn him back to town — to see her once, if only from the dark anonymity of a paid-for seat, and that, he reasoned in good conscience, was not too much to ask.

Back on Broadway he paid a speculator twenty dollars for a single seat to the show. He put the ticket in his pocket and wondered about having dinner in some spot where it wasn’t likely that he would be recognized. But he didn’t have dinner anywhere. The strings of curiosity and all too bitter recollection tugged at him and drew him north, past 46th and 47th streets, the bitterness increasing as he walked, his mood becoming one of spit-in-your-eye defiance, his footsteps tapping out a kind of warning

“Trouble, trouble,” but he kept on walking, anyhow.

It was inevitable that he stop outside the Bowling Club, on a street just off Broadway, if only to make certain the place was still there. And it was there, all right. Arrows within a bold electric sign blinked off and on, making it clear to potential clients that the alleys were in the basement. 20 — MODERN ALLEYS — 20, the bright sign said. A man leaned idly against the entrance, scratching his back on the doorsill.

“They ain’t bad alleys,” the man said, “if you’re wonderin’.”

“I’m not wondering,” Danny said. He kept looking at the sign. “I ought to know. I used to own the joint.”

And because curiosity pressed stronger than mere prudence — though for no other reason clear to himself — he opened the door of the Club.

He stood at the head of the stairs. He could hear somebody’s laughter, big as a bomb burst, and wonder to himself what was so funny. He could hear the shuffle of soft shoes on the smooth and polished wood of the alleys, the long roll of the ball, and then the full blast of the pins in wild eruption.

He took a few steps down the stairs. Eight years, he thought. His left hand gripped the railing at his side, his other hand ‘swung free. He raised the free hand and looked at his strong, square knuckles — the armament of a fool, he warned himself. Eight years since he had swung the hand into the round and silken features of a man named Allie Fargis — a stupid reprisal, it had been, but all he could do at the time.

A few more steps. It had not been his conscious intention to come here, Danny was aware, though how much of each man’s time is spent in lying to himself, he could not say. His adult view that atonement via the muscles was the silliest and cheapest form of justice was something he still believed. Except that in this circumstance he didn’t trust himself. Don’t be a chump and land in jail, he thought, or in an alley with your head cracked like a dish. He was already at the bottom of the stairs.

This was not a crowded hour. A few men stood at the fairly distant bar, none of their forms familiar. A fat man and his companion were using Alley 6, the fat man sweating and merry, and the owner of the big laugh that had volleyed to the street. The fat man bowled with power and competence, his suspenders dangling from his pants.

Danny sat in a wide, newly upholstered chair in the spectator section. Only Alley 6 was now in use. A man swept cigarette stubs and scraps of paper into a catch-all pan at the end of a stick. Another man was placing empty pop bottles in cases, but Danny saw none of the boys who once had worked for him.

There’d been changes made in the bowling club, but none so radical, he supposed, as the changes time had wrought in the fabric of himself. Eight years ago? But how could it be that long, when it all kept playing over like a record in his head? No detail dimmed with time. No pages missing from the script.

“Hey, Danny!” someone had called. He’d been in a restaurant on Broadway — and occupied there with the cherry cheesecake, coffee and such strangely named places as Gasmata, New Britain, and Papua, New Guinea, where, according to the papers, the Japanese had landed to make a jolly time for no one but themselves.

He’d looked up, from the headlines and pictures. The headlines and the pictures and the world news tumbled into each man’s every day with such impact in 1942 that it was hard for a guy to keep straight in his head the name of the horse that won the second race at Hialeah.

“Danny, ol’ boy.”

“’Lo, Charlie.”

“Danny, ol’ kid,” said Charlie Binns, and Charlie, a theatrical agent, sat down. Charlie smiled broadly. He sighed. He patted the big envelope he placed on the table. He took a fork to Danny’s cherry cheesecake.

“Imagine runnin’ into you, ol’ boy.”

All right, imagine, Danny conceded; he had not seen Charlie in four hours, anyhow.

“And I could have waited another four hours.”

Charlie Binns collapsed. “You kill me, Danny.”

“Just hand me the fork, without my cheesecake on it, Charlie, and I will happily stab you to death.”

“Ol’ Danny,” said Charlie with commercial affection.

Old Danny in your hat, and that was the good thing about it. He was young. He was young and cocky and chesty as a robin that had stolen worms from eagles. He was twenty-four, and would have had the world in his pocket, if it didn’t seem at the moment to be in Hitler’s. He owned the bowling club and an uptown haberdashery shop; he owned half a race horse and one third of a fighter; he was such a helluva young man on the Broadway scene that he had once been worth nearly half the money that people imagined him to be worth.

“Runnin’ into you like this,” said Charlie, “when I have a perfect hot cake of a proposition — well, an opportunity, let’s say, kid — that only two real friends could sit down man to man an’ talk about… You listenin’, Danny?”

He had not been listening, really. He’d been looking around. Uniforms were blooming in the days of February, 1942 — not so plentifully as later, perhaps, but in conspicuous numbers, and khaki, in the scheduled stops of the town, had become more honored than mink. There was excitement, drama in the air; and fear there was, too, though the fear was dwarfed by the national muscle that all good people seemed willing to flex together. Danny waved to friends. He saw Georgie Jessel, seated with his mother; Georgie waved; Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle; band leaders he knew. He waved to a good-looking man named Allie Fargis, who sat at a table with a better-looking woman. An important fellow, this Allie Fargis — for reasons not very clear — but always pleasant; charming, even. And there was a little girl named Ruthie, a ballet dancer. She waved to him, and Danny waved to her. Show people. If not his kind of people yet, then the kind he wanted to know. Show people and show business — the soft spots in his heart and in his head.

“What’s that, Charlie? What are you trying to sell me?”

“I said this is it; the play you been lookin’ for, Danny. I say if a man wants to be an angel for a show, an’ make a medium-sized mint, let’s say, for puttin’ up a lousy fifty grand — an’ especially if he’s a sweet an’ personal friend — well, I wanna give ‘im the best kind of wings to start with, don’t I?”

“Do you?”

Charlie passed the bulging envelope. “Read it! I dare you!”

Danny grinned. He shook his head. He pressed the envelope back on its bestower.

“This angel escaped through his halo, Charlie. Sorry. I’m gonna outsmart my draft board any day now by enlisting. So that even if this bundle was a Camembert an honest man could take the lid off, Charlie, I wouldn’t be —”

That was when he saw Caroline Shane for the first time. She was standing with a soldier, not far from their table. She wore no mink. No Hollywood goggles. No conspicuous assistance from a drugstore. Nothin’. Just a girl in a camel’s hair coat buttoned high, with her hands in the slanting pockets of the coat and the color of the cold night in her cheeks. Her hair was soft and abundant and tumbled to her shoulders. She smiled at him then, a little nervously, but as though she knew who he was, and the soldier might have been a double-decker sandwich on a plate, for all that Danny noticed him in that first moment.

But Charlie Binns stood up. “Danny, I want you should meet the author of this play, this terrific piece of work Danny,” said Charlie, “this is David Bowen.”

“Well, hello.”

“And this,” Charlie said, presenting the girl, “is a friend, but high class, Danny — an intellectual friend, you might say, of the author.”

“On the level?” Danny looked at the two young people. “You’re always hearing something new these days,” he said. “What’s an intellectual friendship, Charlie?”

His tone might have been more cynical than he intended it to be, and David Bowen answered him. “I think Charlie’s trying to say that an intellectual friendship is his idea of the best arrangement that can be made with a girl whose family has raised her carefully, who is determined and absolutely certain to stay that way, and is also bright in the head. That help?”

“I think so,” Danny said. “In fact it cooks me like a blintze. And, incidentally, I wasn’t trying to be smart.”

Things improved then.

A woman in a mink coat walks by a restaurant table. Nearby men are staring at her, smiling.
Caroline Shane. (Illustrated by Geoffrey Biggs)

David Bowen and the girl sat down. Private Bowen, of the United States Army, was dark and slender — a tall, thoughtful boy, hardly older than Danny himself, and not entirely at home or beautiful to behold in the random tailoring provided by the Army.

“David’s at Camp Dix now,” Charlie said, “an’ it lets him get into town once in a while. He is doin’ a perfectly sensational job at Camp Dix… How about that, David?”

“I’m doing a sensational job dunking underwear in the laundry,” David said; “the Axis is worried.”

“Always modest, always modest,” Charlie said. “And Caroline here, this little girl, has consented to read a few bits from the script — the more sensational parts, that is — doin’ maybe four, five characterizations, like a one-man band, the darlin’, just to rough you in on what a quality piece o’ work we got here, Danny.”

“You’re an actress, Miss Shane?”

“From morning till night,” Caroline Shane said levelly, “I am acting, sir — like yeast.”

“Radio,” Charlie explained. “Aye-em an’ ef-em, from aye-em to pee-em. The best. An’ for dramatic experience —”

“A station you never heard of, in Long Island City,” Miss Shane said.

“Shut up,” Charlie said. “Excuse me… Well, Danny, look, I figured July 15, 1950 maybe we would all go up to your apartment an’ let you see for yourself why there’s a fortune in this thing.”

Danny said nothing for a moment. The reasonable, prudent thing to say to any Broadway party with a package was “Get lost.” But he was looking at the girl, and at the soldier, too; and quality of any kind had a way with him.

“What have I got to lose?” he said.

“My money?” He called for the check and enjoyed the role he was playing. They had walked out of the restaurant, the four of them, past all the celebrated people who knew his name and fattened his pride, past the cheesecake and the sturgeon and the pickles and the marinated herring — past Allie Fargis, even, who looked up and said to him brightly, “It’s nice to see you, kid.”

“It’s nice to see you, Allie,” Danny had said — a long time ago, when he was very young, and had that gaping hole in his head.

He lighted a cigarette and looked around the almost-empty bowling club. He knew very well that this was April, 1950, and that there was nothing he could do to make liars of clocks and calendars.

David Bowen’s first play was in rehearsal by April of that other spring. It was a topical drama, timely as a Wac’s hat, and challengingly called A Million Miles From Munich, and if it wasn’t so good as Danny thought at the time, it wasn’t a turkey, either. It had vitality and conviction and it reflected the thoughtful decency of the young man who wrote it. For Danny’s part, he tumbled dollars into the production without complaint or qualm, and for more elevated reasons than the one most quoted by Charlie Binns: “This ain’t a play, Danny; it’s a mint in three acts.”

His love for the theater was valid. He had been a star-eyed goon for its magic, and a starch-shirted regular at first nights, since, at the age of seventeen, he had run the hot dog, lemonade and popcorn concessions on a string of ferryboats and made more money than was necessarily good for a parentless, knock-about kid who, by the general standards, ought to have been in school.

“I suppose I always wanted to be a big shot,” he said one afternoon to Caroline Shane.

“But you are a big shot, Danny.”


“How big is big?”

“I’m a mug,” he said.

It was a half-pout, really, designed for drawing reassurances from her that he was perfectly wonderful. This was a fault in himself that he recognized. But he had made the statement with sincerity, too, and mainly because in the two months he had known Caroline and David he had come to consider his own bizarre and dollar-catching career as honest, perhaps, but not exactly edifying. It was certainly not the sum of things he once believed it to be. Too often they talked of matters he didn’t know about — not the theater, for here he was well read and almost too knowingly glib, but all the other things they had learned by studying when he was peddling popcorn, punching noses, hawking and promoting himself toward the dazzling goal of a wardrobe filled with $100 suits and, it seemed to him now, a half-filled head. He told her these things.

“You see what I mean?”

“I think so, Danny; yes. I think you’re studying to be a snob, instead of being yourself. But you’re you, and you’re growing, Danny, and you’re original and brave and generous and —”

“And what?” he said.

Well, she didn’t say just what. They were seated on the floor of his living room — Caroline, himself and Charlie Binns — at least supposedly occupied with various sketches that stage designers had submitted. But work had not progressed. David, with the crucial matter of Army underwear at Camp Dix, had not been able to attend. They listened for a while to the radio news. Charlie said it was too much to expect a man to think on a day like this. He said that what Hitler needed most was a rousing kick in his silly mustache, and then walked off to the ball game.

“Well,” Danny said, “we were talking.”

“About the sets,” she said.

“Not about the sets.”

She was very close to him, sitting on the floor, legs folded under her, a wisp of hair dangling in attractive disorder, a yellow pencil clamped in fine teeth, her fingers smudged a little from the sketches.

“Then let’s try to talk about the sets,” she said.

Just the two of them, and the springtime walked in through the wide and welcoming windows in a single stride. It hovered about them while the curtains moved at the windows and the light breeze touched her hair. And they couldn’t talk now. They were suddenly no good at it. Caroline looked away from him, the sketches crinkling when she shifted her legs. It wasn’t news to either of them that the moment had been building.

“Look at me,” Danny said. “Try it once, for laughs.”

Then she raised her gaze to his. Her large eyes were soft and full of him. He took the damp pencil from her mouth.

“Who’s laughing?” she said.

Then he kissed her, for the first time. Not very boldly, but lightly, almost experimentally, with reverent tenderness. Her breath was warm and her eyelashes touched his cheek. And after a little while she stood up and said to him, “This would be the right time, darling, for us to go for a walk, and for you to buy me a soda — pineapple, maybe, with vanilla cream.”

He ached all over. “You’re not fooling?”

“This is no time for fooling,” Caroline said.

A few nights later, David Bowen looked across a table at the two of them. Time had made him a better dressed soldier and his shirt was now only two sizes larger than it should have been around the collar. He wore the single chevron of a private, first class, and a fair imitation of a smile.

“So it’s love,” he said. “You can’t fight City Hall. Why tell me you’re sorry? And who’s surprised? Me?” David looked away. “I didn’t want to tell you this, kids, but I’m in love with a Wac at Camp Dix. You can send us a piece of the cake.”

It really hurt him no more than a swallowed bayonet. Caroline kissed him and Danny just sat there. There wasn’t much you could say to someone like David. The logical thing was to build a statue of the guy and have it placed in a public park.

Danny walked through 48th Street the following day and stopped at the bus depot. He had misgivings, but was determined to be direct. He walked up to Patrick Shane, who was on duty checking the outgoing busses, and said to Caroline’s father, “This is for your daughter.”

The three-carat stone in its solitaire setting gleamed like a torch in the daylight. Patrick Shane scratched the back of his head.

“Put a blinker on it,” he said, “or you’ll blind the girl. We’re not fancy people, son.”

“You don’t like it?”

“Yes, I like it well enough. Who wouldn’t? But the only thing about me that ever shone like that stone, Danny boy, is the seat of me pants. It’s yourself she’ll be getting, more than the ring.”

“She could do better,” Danny said.”

I suppose she could, at that, but she could do a lot worse, too, if she tried real hard.” Patrick Shane then gave his attention to Bus No. 14, bound for Cleveland. He came back in a few minutes. “When’s the big event, Dan?”

“After the show opens in New York, we think, and before the Army wins me.”

“A war bride? My little girl?”

“I know what you mean, but it’s one of those things,” Danny said. “It’s the way we feel about it, anyhow. I wanted to ask your permission. Your blessing, kind of. They tell me that’s the way nice families like to have it done.”

“You’re marrying each other,” Patrick Shane said, “and the blessing’s God’s business more than it’s mine. I hope He takes care of you both.”

Danny walked back to the bowling club, where Charlie Binns was sitting in the office. Charlie had things in his hands.

“These ain’t score cards,” Charlie said brightly. “These are bills. Accounts payable, angel, an’ like I always said, you gotta spend a few dollars to reap the golden whoilwind. Forty-four hundred an’ twenty-six bucks. We go into Philadelphia for the tryout this week end, kid. We’ll wake up Benjamin Franklin. You don’t have to do any of the hard work, kid; all you have to do is loosen up your arm an’ write a nice little check for these items.”

But Danny kept his hands in his pockets. “I can sign a check as well as a Rockefeller, Charlie. My only trouble is that I haven’t got any money.”

Charlie Binns looked like a kid around whose neck Santa Claus had suddenly bent the electric trains. Danny enjoyed his expression, but also chose to be merciful.

“I mean I haven’t got it at the moment, Charlie. Next week we’ll be all right, but there’s a little matter of converting assets.”

“Assets is different,” Charlie said. “Assets I am willing to discuss.” But he remained suspicious, wary. “How about that fighter you’ve got a piece of? That meatball — what’s-‘isname?”

“He’s fighting for the Army, Charlie, for thirty dollars a month. I can’t take a percentage of that, can I?”

“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “Did you try? And how ’bout your race horse?”

Danny shook his head. He put his feet on the desk. “Gotham Girl?” It hurt a bit, but it had to be faced. “She broke down at Pimlico a week ago, Charlie. She was the fastest three-legged horse in the race and I had a bundle on her too. There’s a nice bill from the trainer in the second drawer on the left.”

“Hell, I’m sorry, Danny. Honest. I’m not the worst ghoul in the world. I don’t always feel as commercial as I sound. How ’bout the haberdashery shop?”

“At the moment,” said Danny, “business stinks,” and he wasn’t fooling. “We don’t carry khaki.” And yet he saw no blackness of prospect that could not be brightened readily enough. He looked around his office. “I can always sell this place, can’t I?”

“But this is your living, kid. The alleys are bread and butter.”

“Where I’m going, Charlie, they feed you for free. You get a nice brown suit and new shoes when you need them. You know Allie Fargis, don’t you?”

“What about him?”

“Well, he’s a nice guy.”

“Is he?” Charlie, somehow, did not look convinced. “Why is he a nice guy?”

“Because he’s willing to buy this place for sixty thousand dollars, as is.”

“Allie? Did you talk this over with the district attorney?”

“Look, Charlie; that’s the way too many people are — suspicious all the time. Imagination has ruined more reputations than whisky. He’s been nice to me, so I say he’s a nice guy. I don’t want his pedigree; I want his dough, and ten days from now we’ll be using it to open the show in New York.”

It was, to be sure, a pleasure to do business with Allie Fargis. Good manners are a dividend in any relationship, and because a man took bets on horses, it didn’t necessarily mean he was a thief. Bookmakers, like undertakers, had essential services to offer.

“Any objection to cash?” said Allie.

Danny grinned. “Do I look queer?” There was a three-o’clock train to be made to Philadelphia. “Just count it out,” he said.

The nice crisp stuff. Mostly in hundreds. Green as lettuce; $60,000. The undebated asking price of the bowling club, lock, stock and long-term lease on the basement of the building. The landlord, satisfied, and the landlord’s wife, were witnesses.

Allie’s lawyer was a pleasant fellow too. They all had a drink. “You sign on the X’s, Mr. Meade; it’s simple as ticktacktoe.”

The landlord and his wife departed.

“Well, good luck with the show, kid,” Allie Fargis said.

“I think we’ll have good luck.”

“And, of course, it’s none of my business,” Allie said, “but if I were you, I wouldn’t just carry that money around like a loaf of bread. Do you have a safe-deposit box?”

But it was a Saturday afternoon and the banks were closed. Danny thought about this for a moment and there wasn’t much time for catching his train. Allie Fargis made no suggestions. It was Danny who looked up at the wall safe, no longer his own.

“Would you mind?” he said.

“Hell, no, kid; not if you don’t. Help yourself. My lawyer’s a crook,” he added disarmingly, “but you’re the only one who knows the combination. I think we can all relax.”

As Allie’s lawyer had said, everything was simple as ticktacktoe. Like spreading mustard on salami. Like shooting a duck in a tub. And the curtain went up at the Philadelphia tryout and a few hours later came down. Danny sat with David Stern, and between them, perhaps, they had seen the play a few too many times.

But the people liked it in Philadelphia. The distinguished critic from one of the Philadelphia newspapers did not stand up and whistle with glee. But he came seeking David, and shook his hand, and said to them both, with solemn approval, “I’m afraid you’ve got something pretty good here, boys. I think that with a little bit of fixing they’re going to like it in New York.”

They celebrated unwisely, the two of them, and Caroline put them to bed. The cast was threatened with eviction from one of the city’s best hotels. It was one of the gayest Sundays ever known… in Philadelphia.

Danny walked into the bowling club on Tuesday. He walked in a kind of personal cloud. He stopped at the head of the alleys and called to one of the pin boys, “Set ’em up!” for no particular reason. He was by his own admission the weirdest bowler New York had produced since Rip Van Winkle, but he let one go, for luck. The ball thumped on the boards and rolled erratically. Five pins were tumbled.

“Three more than my average,” Danny said.

“Who are you?” somebody inquired. The somebody was large, of obvious Broadway extraction, but as yet unknown to Danny.

“I’m a jack rabbit named George,” Danny said. “I’m the boy who owned this place till Saturday.”

“Today is Tuesday, Mac; don’t try t’ louse up the alleys.”

“And who are you?”

“They call me Sugarboy,” the big man said.

“You work here?”

“I work here. So?”

“So go sit on this thing till it hatches.” He placed the bowling ball in Sugarboy’s hands. He walked the length of the alleys and opened the office door.

“Hello, Allie.”

Allie Fargis sat at the desk. “Mr. Show Business, huh?” said Allie. “How’d everything go?”

“Like a B-Twenty-nine, Allie; we’re in, I think. Say, who’s that meatball outside?”


“I don’t mean Uncle Don.”

“Sugarboy,” Allie Fargis said, “is a kind of insurance policy I picked up cheap, if you know what I mean.”

“No, Allie; I don’t know what you mean.”

But misgivings were settling heavily inside him, like three dollars’ worth of gum drops. He stepped over to the small safe in the wall, seeing that the plaster has been disturbed around its edges and thus far hadn’t been replaced. His hand went to the dial and turned and turned and turned it in the formula he knew. But nothing happened.

“Allie,” he said. “Allie, boy.” He spoke with deliberate control, though his hand trembled on the dial.

“You mean the combination, kid? Well, naturally, I had it changed. You can’t afford to take chances these days, and I’ve got a pal with a reputable firm. Double time for working on Sunday, I had to pay the bum, just for a new combination.”

“Open it, Allie — open it!”

“What’s the use of getting excited?” Allie asked. He opened the safe very simply and the safe was very empty.

“The first of April was weeks ago,” Danny said. “Practical jokes are out of season, Allie. Where’s the sixty thousand dollars? Where’s the money I put in the safe?”

Allie looked at him with mock surprise.” You mean you’d be silly enough to put that kind of money in somebody else’s safe?” Allie’s smooth face was pitiless, his eyes amused. “How many witnesses did you have, kid?” As simple as that, and his expression told the rest. “Unofficially,” he added, “I’d say I bought the place pretty cheap.”

It added up, didn’t it? No witnesses, because the landlord and the landlord’s wife had only seen Danny with the money in his hands. They hadn’t seen him put the money in the safe. The other witness was Allie’s lawyer.

“It’s funny you should have these delusions,” Allie said, “when my own lawyer saw you walk out with the cash.”

Danny hit him then. Danny, more than a little bit crazy, swung his fist in a crushing arc that spun and staggered the smiling man before him, and sooner than Allie could topple to the floor, he hit him again, and again, the large body changing the direction of its fall and collapsing heavily, the left side of the blank face then colliding with the metal edging of the desk.

Allie Fargis lay as though dead, the side of his face opened wide as a hatcheted melon. Danny stood over him, his fist still throbbing with the contacts it had made.

I killed him, he thought; the guy is dead. And he almost didn’t care.

The office door opened and Sugarboy Spartano stepped inside. His long jaw hung loose in an imbecilic stare.

“Come near me, you meathead, and I’ll kill you,” Danny said softly. He walked toward Sugarboy with a paperweight clenched in his fist, and Sugarboy, his own hands empty, backed away. “You’d better call a doctor,” Danny said.

He kept on walking. He paused at the top of the stairs, close to the street. He clung to the railing there, remembering Allie Fargis’ face, and not knowing whether to run away or go directly to the police.

He went home and phoned Charlie Binns, “I want to see you, Charlie; come over.”

He sat for a while, seeking to assess the likely cost of his trust in Allie Fargis, and his sense of stupidity and personal shame became greater than his rage had been.

“Go to the cops?” said Charlie Binns. “Well, I dunno. First of all, you didn’t kill the guy; I checked on that. He’s in Polyclinic Hospital, and if you wait a bit, the cops’ll come to you. Allie’s no dope; he’ll use the law as far as he can, so why be in a hurry to get yourself locked up? Think again, Danny. You have no one to testify you put the money in the safe?”

“No one,” Danny said.

“Then you know something?” Charlie looked at him sadly, without rancor. “You’re a nice kid, Danny; I always liked you. And I hope the Army’s able to fit you to a brand-new set of brains.”

David Bowens play didn’t open in New York. Risk capital was rare around Broadway at the war’s beginning, and angels all too few. A topical drama, subject to changes in time and public appetite, A Million Miles From Munich never opened anywhere.

But Allie Fargis survived very well. Charlie Binns found out on the same afternoon that a warrant had been issued for Danny’s arrest. Life could prove sweeter in some other part of the country, Charlie suggested.

“I’ll speak to Caroline and David. Hell, I know how you feel. And thanks for the moonbeams,” Charlie said.

Danny took a train to Boston. He walked into a recruiting station there. And the Army wasn’t too fussy in 1942.

Yes, there’d been changes made, all right, in the bowling club. Danny could see that a fancier set of lights had been installed, and the price per game had been raised a dime. The bar, it occurred to him, if distant still from where he sat, had been moved about twenty feet forward from its original position. He wondered, naturally, what was currently in back of the bar, in the additional space that had to be there, and a man coming out of a door that had not existed eight years before gave him a pretty fair idea, even though the door itself bore the vaguely innocent lettering, SUPPLIES.

Other men left the supply room in the next ten minutes, but they left discreetly, in couples or singly, as though by mannerly schedule, and they were obliged to pass the place where Danny sat; some of them groomed a bit too perfectly, none of them shabby; attitudinal and poised men, these, walking with short steps, both the winners and the losers; wise guys, “I’ll-fade-the-other-five-C’s” kind of people. Danny kept staring into his lap, his back to them, himself in the shadows. He hoped he was not noticed as they passed.

After a little while he got up from the chair and casually walked the length of the place. Having no better, more sensible destination, he went into the men’s room and mechanically washed his hands. He tugged at a roller towel and was ashamed to find his fingers trembling. He did not think of himself as a brave man, nor as an especially resourceful one. But when he went outside again and looked around, he was convinced he had attracted no one’s close attention. Just in front of him was a door marked OFFICE; and it was a curious thing that by doing no more than putting a hand into a pocket he was able to produce a key that once had fitted this door — a kind of useless relic he had retained from the days when the alleys had been his. Any other thought about the door and this particular key would be preposterous. Well, wouldn’t it?

Don’t be a chucklehead, Danny boy. There’s not a chance.

But the temptation was strong at least to try, and curiosity stronger still. How could you tell if you didn’t try? He could hear only the fat man’s laughter, hah, hah, booming, and he could see nobody near. Very carefully then, very softly, he put the key in the lock; he turned the key and the door came open, not even squeaking, but yielding like a curtain to the pressure of a hand.

There was no one in Allie Fargis’ office. He closed the door behind him. He stood there. The room bore more of an executive look than it had possessed in the days of his own tenancy. But this was consistent with the man who occupied it now, since Allie Fargis had more style than a forty-dollar necktie. And the single photograph on the polished desk was of Allie himself. The wall safe was in the same position it had always occupied. A noiseless electric clock said: 7:34. A new door had been built into the wall he was facing, and this connected — because it had to connect — with the space so innocently labeled SUPPLIES.

He sat at Allie Fargis’ desk in fascinated muse. The tension mounted. Nobody here at all, he thought; just me, but with the quiet hanging heavy as a shroud. And what he would do when someone came into the room, he did not know. What if one or more of Allie’s personal and muscular monkeys came in? There was no answer to that one either.

So he sat facing the new door, waiting. He began to sweat, and knew that he was sweating. He opened the top drawer of the desk; just papers. Another drawer; about two dollars in change and a bottle of aspirin tablets. A third drawer then; an automatic pistol, stubby, polished, efficient-looking. It was not the kind of item that consoled him, but he put it in his pocket, preferring it to be in his possession, if possessed it had to be.

A key turned in the door and the door came open a little bit. He stood half out of the chair, then compelled himself to settle back. The key was; withdrawn from the lock; he could hear it being withdrawn. The door came open all the way, but slowly, before the pressure of Allie Fargis’ shoulder; and Allie came into the room, his large hands holding a square foot of money, and his eyes, understandably, on the money alone. Allie let the door swing closed behind him before his glance came up to meet the image of the man behind his desk.

“Hello, Allie.”

Allie Fargis dropped most of the money. It fell to the carpeted floor in tidy stacks, as lightly as tumbling kittens, and the big man’s loose mouth just stayed open in a kind of aching, stupid stare, as though the mouth would never close again or ever make a sound again. And it was this way with Danny, too, for there was a numbness in his head that made it feel like a squeezed squash, and when sound came out of it, it came as a surprise.

“When you get your breath, Allie, don’t scream. Drop the rest of the money, Allie; drop it.”

His own voice, but it was more as though he eavesdropped than participated, and there was not in him for the moment strength to rise; it was a moment so different from any conceived in the dreamed or fancied dialogues eight years of thinking- about a meeting with Allie Fargis had provided. The money was the difference. The money, the money, he realized; the money was, of course, the thing so fantastically unexpected. Because never had he been able to picture Allie standing before him like a two-legged Irish Sweepstakes.

“Drop it all, Allie. Now step away from it.”

He was able finally to stand up and to walk around the desk with some fair imitation of assurance, and with the gun in his hand like a prop in a play. He was able to walk on the fat rug, over the big fat money, with Allie backing away from him, with Allie trying so very hard to bring blood and life into the sick, dead smile on his face.

“You’re rollin’ yourself the wrong kind of hoop, boy,” Allie said. “There’ll be people in here in a minute. Maybe five or six of them.”

“I’ll take my chances, Allie. Why don’t you call them now?”

“You’re a laugh a minute.”

“Am I?”

They looked at each other and Allie didn’t think he was a laugh a minute. Old memories did more than stir; they spun like tops, and there was little comfort in the past. Allie Fargis was a large man in his forties — a handsome and even a pretty man. The scar that ran the length of his left cheek could have been made by tailor’s chalk, and it was surely not the disfigurement it once had promised to be. This was Allie Fargis, still the barber’s delight, and by weight of the information gathered by Danny in the years between this evening and the last time they had met, one of the feared, unjailed and important thieves of the town. Hit him, Danny told himself; hit him, hit him, hit him. It was the only thing to do. You either hit him or shot him, because you couldn’t ignore the money, and the money belonged to you.

“Look, kid,” Allie said. “Be smart.”

Then Danny hit him; not with the gun, but with a smashing right hand, once, twice, and then again, the last two punches piercing Allie’s raised hands in their not very knowing posture of defense. And he was very good at hitting Allie Fargis. He could put his heart into the work. The big man crumbled forward and Danny caught him, let the weight down easily. Allie Fargis wasn’t fooling. He was out.

Danny hit him with a smashing right hand. It was work he could put his heart into. (Illustrated by Geoffrey Biggs)

Danny gathered up the tumbled stacks of money, no doubt intended for deposit in the wall safe — tidy packages of odd denomination, with nice bank wrappings around them, their separate totals legibly marked: “$1000, $750, $2500” — convenient for rough addition of the whole amount. He did not think they would total $60,000, but they did. There was even a little left, and this he tossed on the desk. He took a newspaper from the seat of a chair and spread it wide, in triple thicknesses, and wrapped it up as well as haste would allow.

He opened the door through which he had entered, but saw no one. More frequently now than when he had come in, he could hear the crash of action on the alleys, the smash of the heavy ball, the clatter of the pins. Business was improving. He walked at a controlled and held-together pace the length of the bowling club, his nondescript package under one arm. He knew it was not yet eight o’clock, but customers were coming in as he was going out. He saw Sugarboy Spartano, but Sugarboy did not see him. The urge to spring was almost overwhelming, and restraint was a kind of physical pain.

He did not run. Logic told him to get away; he’d got the money back; it was his. He hadn’t dreamed that in ten thousand years he’d get it back. Leave the car where it happened to be, at Twenty-Third Street, in the parking lot. It was an old heap, anyhow, and if he were stopped and the money found on him, he couldn’t prove he hadn’t stolen it from Allie.

Was he thinking clearly on these things? Or was he muddleheaded now, as he had been eight years before?

Ahead of him on 48th, he saw the coast-to-coast bus depot, and the big jobs wheeling in and out of it, their destinations known to him: Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Denver — and a posted notice that said very clearly: “Once a bus crosses building line, it is not permitted to stop and pick up passengers.”

This, then, he thought, might be the way. He thought this because he did not at first see Patrick Shane, the traffic foreman of the depot, who emerged now in his uniform from behind one of the busses. A tall and weathered-looking man, was Patrick, straight as a stick at the age of sixty-five.

Danny saw him barely in time to avoid being recognized. Automatically, he got away from there, walking faster with his package, not knowing for the moment what means of escape from Allie Fargis and Allie’s dear boys ought to be employed. Two we ten got out of a taxi in front of a restaurant. Danny stepped into the cab. The driver looked at him.

“Where to?”

“Penn Station,” Danny said.

At Penn Station, for a dime dropped into a slot, he was able to acquire a twenty-four-hour lease on a squarefaced locker, No. D-324, the third row, seventh from the left, and into it he tossed, as one might heave a burdensome, newspaper-wrapped pair of overshoes, exactly sixty thousand dollars. He put the key in his pocket and heard it clink rather merrily against the key that had opened Allie’s office door. It was a pleasant feeling. It was good. But it didn’t wipe away the shame of running from Allie Fargis with money that was his own. Why had he come to New York, anyhow? To see one show? To gape, lovelorn, at Caroline? Yes, that was why, he admitted to himself; it was exactly why, but how much was it worth?

He had a glass of milk and a sandwich at a lunch counter in the station and tried to make up his mind. He walked outside the station and the big clock at the east end said it was 8:17 o’clock — twenty-three minutes to curtain time.

Run now, Danny? Get out of town? Live to see your old age, Danny? With money in the bank? Who, me? He felt the theater ticket in his pocket. He called another cab. “The Judson Theater,” Danny said.

First page of the short story, "I'll Get Even" by William Fay. This image is a link to the story's flipbook archive.
Read “I’ll Get Even” by William Fay from the July 15, 1950, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Illustrations by Geoffrey Biggs

“Special Service” by Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg

As a writing team, Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg collaborated on several detective stories in the early century, notably The Indian Drum and The Achievements of Luther Trant. In the years between the keystone mystery fiction of Poe and Christie, Balmer and MacHarg’s works filled the genre’s gap with clever and thrilling tales tinged with science and romance.

Published on June 26, 1926


An incident, trivial in itself but not at all trivial in its possible consequences, occurred at the Montview Hotel, Denver, during the first week of July. It so aroused the curiosity of Goebel, the resident manager, that he referred it to Steve Faraday, owner of the Montview and half a dozen other Faraday hotels, when Steve made his regular visit a few days later on his midsummer swing of inspection.

“Our register for March 15th, three years ago, has suddenly become mighty important to somebody,” Goebel reported.

“How important?” asked Steve.

“This is all I know now: Last week — Monday, it was — a good-looking, very attractive young fellow — English-looking and speaking like an Englishman — came in when I happened to be in the front office. He asked for our register for March, three years back; said he was an attorney for a party in a lawsuit and wanted to prove by our records that a Franklin Smith was in New York, and not in Denver, on March 13th. I sent to the file room and let him look at the register.”

“All right,” said Steve attentively.

“He appeared all right,” Goebel continued. “So I did not watch him. He looked over the book for a few minutes and turned it back to me, thanking me very politely. I remember I asked him, ‘Was your man here?’

“‘He wasn’t. That’s what I wanted to show,’ he said. Then he went out; and no one here saw him again; but on Wednesday night the book was taken.”

“How taken?”

“It was stolen from the file room. The clerk in charge reported to me a volume missing. It was that book for March, three years back.”

“You had returned it to the file room?”


“Nobody on the staff had taken it out again?” asked Steve. The loss of a register, three years old, would not have impressed him as important except for Goebel’s evident interest. Steve considered, however, that Goebel, though an excellent manager, was likely to exaggerate small incidents.

“No; nobody of the staff had it out,” replied Goebel positively. “The file-room clerk is sure it was taken outside the house. Naturally, I thought of the Englishman who’d asked for it Monday. It looked to me that, being interested in a lawsuit, he’d wanted some record destroyed. But the next night the book was back.”

“Who returned it?”

“We don’t know. There it was in its place again.”

“With all its pages?”

“Yes; nothing torn out.”

“What was done to it then?”

“I looked first on the pages for March thirteenth. My idea was that he’d taken it to change some entry about his Franklin Smith. There was no Smith on the pages for the thirteenth; but on the fifteenth was this”:

Goebel opened the big book, bulky in its permanent binding, and Steve ran his eye down the list of names in the different individual hands of the guests of three years and four months ago:

A.G. Sprague and wife … Pueblo.

H.E. Henty … St. Louis, Mo.

Arlo Kane, Mrs. Kane and maid … N.Y. City.

L.B. Hougham-Stearns and son and manservant … London.

“Fourth line,” Goebel directed, and he held for Steve a magnifying glass. “Now look at it.”

“Name looks all right.”

Two inspectors with a large box speak to a woman
“Those are just family letters — my father’s letters to mother and hers to him before they were married.” (Illustrated by Grant Reynard)

“But after it ‘and son and manservant.’ Isn’t the ‘and son’ crowded and the ink in those two words newer?”

“You mean you think this has been changed since the original entry, which was ‘L.B. Hougham-Stearns and’ — ”

“ — ‘and manservant,’“ said Goebel. “But originally I think there was a little blank space left between the name and ‘and manservant’; and somebody recently wrote in ‘and son.’ I’ve looked through the rest of the book since I saw that. There are other crowded entries and several erasures; they plainly were made in the regular course of business; but this one, I’m sure, is fresh.”

“What do you make of it?” asked Steve, still doubtful whether the entry had been changed.

“I make it mighty important for somebody to want to be able to prove that the son of L. B. Hougham-Stearns, of London, was here with him three years ago last March as well as the manservant. So he, or someone else for him, came in and had a look at the entry, saw how it might be changed, got the book, made the change and returned it to our possession so that he can prove by it, later, whatever it’s important to him to prove.”

“H’m — who’s L.B. Hougham-Stearns, of London?”

“I don’t remember him at all; but you can see from the register he had our best suite; and day before yesterday this was in a newspaper.” Goebel handed Steve a clipping from a Los Angeles newspaper and Steve read:

“Sussex House in Southern California, the home of L.B. Hougham-Stearns, who came to California from London about three years ago, is reported to be for sale. Mr. Hougham-Stearns came to California because of conditions of health and was so improved that he decided to settle and he made immense land purchases. Recently, his health has again failed; and though he finds California most delightful, sentimental ties recall him to England.”

“H’m!” said Steve, considering. If the entry in the register really had been changed, the appearance of such an item at this time suggested a design of importance. On the other hand, Steve wondered whether Goebel had been so certain that there had been a change in the entry after Hougham-Stearns’ name before he had discovered the newspaper item.

“What’d we better do?” asked Goebel.

“Nothing,” said Steve, “except keep this to ourselves. If this entry has been changed and the book is wanted, we’ll hear from it. By the way, did you by any chance take any action which would have informed the thief — I mean the borrower of the book — that you missed it?”


“That’s good,” said Steve. “Then whatever’s coming — if anything does come — is sure to come to us.”

Steve Faraday, who was twenty-six, had, you see, inherited his hotels. They had come to him from his father as going concerns, financially successful and with a perfected organization; so upon Steve had devolved their development along their newest and, to him, most interesting phase — the ministering to the tastes, individual needs and even fancies of his guests.

Sooner or later, Steve knew, nearly everybody in the civilized world stops at a hotel, and often at the most critical period of their lives. Steve found the strange, unexpected and unpredictable events constantly occurring among the ten thousand persons who nightly sought the shelter of his roofs the most fascinating feature of his business; and to the precepts left by his father to the organization, and repeated and quoted, he had added another of his own invention which he thought particularly applicable to such cases: “Service which exceeds the guest’s expectation is the most efficient, although silent, advertising.”

At his hotel in St. Louis, where he had been four days before his arrival in Denver, for instance, a guest — a woman — had attempted suicide. Revived and restored to herself in the hotel hospital, she had refused to give any reason for her act or any particulars about herself. The incident made a five-line paragraph in the newspapers. It had not become known outside the hotel that the initials on her hand baggage corresponded, not with the name she had signed upon the register, but with those of one of the characters in a famous divorce case.

On leaving Denver, Steve went to Chicago, where, at his house, the Tonty, the problem of procedure momentarily concerning the management was the question whether a huge black-bearded man who had registered as D. Cozene, of Belgrade, and who spoke no English, had liberty of movement or was in fact practically imprisoned in his room by the intimidation of his two attendants. This doubt Cozene himself cleared up, the day after Steve’s arrival, by going out alone. And leaving for Cleveland on the second evening later, Steve’s thoughts turned to his Cleveland house, the Commodore Perry, and to the counterfeit money which had caused its management so much annoyance.

Bills of twenty-dollar denomination, so excellently made as to make detection difficult, had appeared in circulation in the hotel just previous to Steve’s stopping there on his way west some two weeks previous. Numbers of them had appeared in the receipts of the various cashiers; some had been refused in the hotel’s deposit at the bank; and, what was more serious, many of them had found their way from the cashiers into the possession of guests. The money loss to the hotel had been only a few hundred dollars; the annoyance to his guests Steve could not regard so philosophically. Not less than a dozen letters had been received from departed guests, inclosing one or more of the bills which they had received in change at the hotel. Steve readily could put himself in the place of one who, leaving the hotel with perhaps eighty dollars in his pocket, found half of it bad. Then the bills had stopped.

Steve had left it to Claflin, his manager at the Commodore Perry, to determine their source and whether a guest or a member of the staff had put them in circulation; now he remembered that he had heard nothing from Claflin in regard to it.

Arriving at the Commodore Perry in the morning, Steve greeted his manager in the front office.

“Send Ebor a dollar,” Steve directed one of the clerks on duty. Ebor was the taxi starter. “He paid for my cab.”

Claflin drew him aside quietly. “Have you a big bill on you?” he asked in a low tone. “Fifty or a hundred? Change it yourself then at the front cashier’s window.”

Steve looked at him quickly. “You mean it has begun again?”

“Since yesterday.”

“The same bills as before?”

“Yes; twenties.”

“And you suspect one of the staff?”

“It looks like it.”

Steve moved to the front cashier’s window with curiosity as to whom he would find on duty.

“Why, Mr. Faraday!” a girl’s pleasant voice greeted him from behind the grating; and Steve faced, to his surprise, not a stranger, as he expected, but a girl well and most favorably known to him.

“How do you do, Clara?” he asked, reaching under the grating to shake hands with her. His feeling chiefly was irritation at Claflin, who, if he suspected this girl, must have made a mistake. She was a very good-looking girl, with large brown eyes, brown hair and a pretty skin; intelligent and with a nice manner. She was Steve’s own age and he had known her since she was sixteen, when she was a check girl in Chicago. Since then she had worked up to her present position as front office cashier.

Instinctively Steve recoiled from the test of her; but he went through with it, and after a few words he handed in a hundred-dollar bill.

“I need a dollar, please,” he said. He noticed, as she counted out the money, a small diamond on her left hand; then she returned him four twenties, a ten, a five and five ones.

Claflin led him thereupon into the private office, where two strangers — a shrewd-looking man of twenty-four and a portly gray-hair — were sitting. The young man arose, but the older one sat estimating Steve with his even gray eyes.

Steve had not yet put away his money. “You just got that at the front cashier’s window?” the gray-hair asked, after the door was closed.


“Keep it separate.”

“Mr. Faraday, this is Captain Norton, of the United States Secret Service,” Claflin somewhat nervously introduced the gray-hair. “Mr. Ashlander is on this case with him. They both know who you are.”

Steve pocketed his money. “I’ve heard of you often, of course,” he said to Norton. His irritation against Claflin was increasing, as his mind went back for the moment to the brown eyes and pleasant appearance of the girl in the cashier’s cage. “You asked the Government in on this matter then, Claflin?”

“No.” Claflin was a wiry, uneasy, spectacled man of forty. “No,” he repeated; “they came here of themselves this morning.”

“The cashier of the Guardian Trust, your bank, reported to us a number of counterfeits in your deposits of last night, which the bank refused,” Ashlander explained easily. “The same thing, according to him, occurred in larger number between two and three weeks ago.”

“Yes,” Steve admitted. He was not actually resenting the appearance of the government men in the case; his hotels, to be sure, usually handled their problems for themselves and called for outside help only after they knew what action would be necessary. It was their mistake regarding the front office cashier that he resented.

“Captain Norton and I came over this morning and did a little work,” Ashlander continued; and Claflin drew open a drawer of his desk and extracted a little packet of new bank notes which he spread out on the table before Norton and Ashlander.

“Twenty-dollar Federal Reserve notes on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; check letter A, plate number 121; Carter Glass, Secretary of the Treasury; John Burke, Treasurer of the United States; portrait of Cleveland,” Ashlander announced quietly.

“Counterfeits?” asked Steve, fingering one.

“Very good ones; excellent; unusually deceptive, and they all came out of your front office cashier’s cage this morning.”

“They’re the same, are they, as those you took up before?” Steve asked of Claflin; but it was Ashlander who answered him.

“Off the same plate, Mr. Faraday. We’ve examined the other ones. They’re from an engraved steel plate made by an expert, with very minor errors. The faults in the portrait of Cleveland are a slight narrowing of the chin and in the line of the temples. Compared with a government note of that series, you can scarcely see the difference; it’s almost microscopic.

“The seal and numbering also are very good; and the bills have been numbered serially. The paper is not quite so good. It is too stiff and brittle and the silk fiber is bunched more than in government paper. But it’s an extraordinarily good counterfeit. Only an expert could detect it.”

Steve glanced at Claflin; he drew from his pocket the crisp bank notes handed him a few minutes before by the brown-eyed girl at the cashier’s window of the front office. He sorted out the four twenties and compared them; then shook his head.

“What are mine?” He referred to Ashlander and laid the bills before him.

Ashlander bent and examined them carefully. “She gave the boss a fifty-fifty break, Mr. Claflin,” he reported to the manager. “These two are government engravings; these two are off that plate.” He gestured to the row of counterfeits.

“I know that girl.” Steve impulsively rallied to his cashier’s defense. “I’ve known her since I was in school. You’re accusing her of what, exactly?” he demanded of Ashlander, who glanced at Norton.

“We have traced, definitely, I should say,” observed the captain dryly, “this bad money to her hands. We are not saying that she is the source of supply of it; but she certainly seems in touch with it.”

“What does she say about it?”

“Say?” repeated Ashlander, smiling. “We haven’t put it to her personally yet. She’d be a cool one to shove you two queer notes out of four if she knew we were watching her.”

“She knows it was suspected before,” said Steve.

“But she was not suspected then, Mr. Faraday,” rejoined Norton. “We’re not accusing her yet. This case has certain extraordinary points of its own. Tell me what you know of the girl.”

“Where’s her card?” Steve asked Claflin.

“Of course I’ve seen her employment record,” said Norton, and referred to his notebook, reading: “‘First employed as coat-room girl in Hotel Tonty, Chicago, 1916; transferred to rear office; typist; assistant accountant. Sent to Denver, Montview, August, 1922; assistant cashier; May, 1923, transferred to Commodore Perry, Cleveland; cashier.’”

“Her record has been good; in fact excellent. Her family consists of her mother, whom she supports.” He closed his little book. “What can you add to that?”

“You must be able to read between the lines of her card,” Steve replied warmly. “From the time she was sixteen she’s supported herself and her mother. She went to night school. She’s kept herself bright, cheerful and attractive. She’s just the kind of girl we like to have. She makes it a pleasure to deal with her, and Claflin may have told you that we’ve been grooming her for even a better position, in the chief accountant’s office, where she would handle all the money that comes into this hotel. That’s what we think of her.”

“You know, I suppose,” asked Norton calmly, “that she’s got engaged recently?”

“No,” said Steve, but remembered the small diamond he had seen on her finger. “What’s that got to do with it?”

“Anyone who deals with women learns that a woman of herself and a woman in love may be two entirely different individuals. A girl, especially of a fond and affectionate nature, will do for a man she loves what she never would dream of doing for herself. We’re ready to talk to your girl.”

“Bring her in here,” Steve said to Claflin.

“Have her bring her bank with her,” warned Norton. “Don’t turn it over to her relief.”

“She wouldn’t do that in any case,” said Steve. “Each of our cashiers has a separate cash box, with a bank sufficient to handle the business of the watch. On going off duty the girl puts all vouchers, checks, receipts and money in an envelope which she turns over to the accounting department. When she goes on watch she has her own bank again.”

“Better send for her relief,” suggested Norton. “She’s not likely to go on watch again this morning.”

Steve waited with a warmth of confidence in his cashier which increased as she appeared with Claflin, the large brown envelope of her bank under her arm.

She was of good height and slender, with a straight frank bearing and a pleasant friendly manner of meeting one with her lovely soft eyes. As Claflin made the introductions she repeated Norton’s and Ashlander’s names, puzzled a little, but not obviously frightened. She glanced questioningly at Steve, who tried to smile reassuringly. She laid the large envelope of her bank upon the table.

“We’re of the Federal Secret Service,” Norton told her, “here on the business of counterfeit twenty-dollar bank notes which have been circulated in this hotel.”

“Yes?” she said, still unfrightened.

“We’ve been watching your window this morning.”

“Mine?” she repeated, and looked at Steve.

“What do you know about it, Clara?” he asked her.


“I mean, have you been aware that you were passing counterfeit money?”

“Was I doing that?” she asked, so unafraid and frankly that Steve clung to his confidence in her, though he said, “You gave two to me in my change.”

“Did I?”

“You did not know it?” Norton challenged her direct.

She flushed, but met his eyes. “Of course I did not know it. Why — why — ” She stopped.

“You’d better open her bank,” said Norton to Steve, who handed her the envelope.

“You open it, Clara,” he said.

She took up her envelope in her slender pretty hands, which quivered slightly as she broke the seal and spread the money, checks and vouchers upon the table. Ashlander sorted over the bank notes, taking out the twenties.

“She’s passed on all the bad ones,” he reported to Norton; and opening the drawer of the desk he took out the two bills which, half an hour earlier, she had given in change to Steve.

“You recognize these, Miss Ingram?” he asked her.


“You handed them to Mr. Faraday. They’re counterfeits.”

“I did not know it.”

“They could not have been in your bank, Clara,” said Steve, “when you got it from the accountant’s office this morning. They’ve come in since. You’d been warned against bills of this denomination and issue. Do you remember from whom you got them?”

“No,” she said; but now her frankness was gone. She seemed to catch herself together. She raised her eyes and threw back her head with a gesture, not of fearlessness but of defiance, which struck from Steve his confidence.

“We’d better go on with this,” observed Norton watchfully, “after we’ve searched her room. You will go with us and accede to a search?” he asked her. “Or shall we make the formal preliminaries?”

“I’ll go with you,” she said.

“I’ll go along,” Steve offered, trying to recover his confidence in her.

“Do,” urged Norton. “Take her with you. I’d prefer to have you go out with her as though on some ordinary errand. We’ll meet you at her rooms.”

“Get your hat, Clara,” said Steve. “Mr. Claflin will turn in your bank.”

During the minute he waited for her Steve hoped that upon her reappearance his faith in her would increase; the contrary occurred. She was very trim and neat-looking in her small hat, but more nervous than before and bearing herself more definitely with defiance. Steve, without speaking, accompanied her to the curb.

“Yes, cab,” he said to Ebor.

“It’s only a few blocks; I nearly always walk.”

“We’ll ride,” said Steve, and put her into the cab ahead of him.

She sat uneasily beside him, glancing out her window.

“You’ve become engaged recently, I hear,” he said, after he had asked and received from her the street number and had passed it to the driver. She was so intent at her window that he repeated his comment with something of a challenge before she replied, “Yes, I’m engaged.”

“To one of our people?” questioned Steve.


“To one of our people?”

“No, he’s not on the staff.”

“Who is he?” Steve persisted.

“I met him when he was staying at the Commodore Perry,” the girl replied, half turning to Steve and, it seemed to him, softening somewhat from her defiance. “He is Mr. Howard Jentnor.”

“I don’t know him,” said Steve.

“He is a very nice man.”

“What line is he in?”


“What company?”

“No special company,” she replied more stiffly. “He’s a broker.”

“He’s at our house now?”

“No, he moved about a week ago, after we became engaged. We want to save money now, you see,” she said, and seemed to realize how this increased the suspicion against her. “What are they looking for in my rooms?”

“I don’t know.” And talk between them lapsed.

He helped her out before an old but well-maintained building of large apartments, originally, which now were cut into little ones of one or two rooms apiece. Clara Ingram opened the entrance door with a key, and when she came upon Captain Norton and Ashlander in the entry she started, but said only, “I hope mother’s out.”

“No one is in your apartment,” Ashlander assured her, and with her latchkey she opened the inner door.

“We are going to be thorough,” Norton warned her, “so if you are hiding anything you had better give it to us at once.”

“I could give you nothing but my clothing and mother’s, and a few old keepsakes and letters,” she replied, so honestly that Steve was stirred again to believe in her; but Ashlander opened her dresser drawers, lifting and shaking out filmy folds of silky things. He examined a handkerchief box and undid a package of gloves. Nothing extraordinary rewarded him.

Norton attacked the closet wherein dresses and skirts were hung, and hats and boxes stood on an upper shelf. He brought down the boxes, searching them without objection and without result until he opened a pasteboard carton packed to the top with bundles of letters, tied with faded ribbons or neatly knotted string. For the first time Clara Ingram protested.

“Those are just family letters — my father’s letters to mother and hers to him before they were married.”

“Yes,” said Norton, but lifted out the top packets and continued imperturbably to empty the box. He came to the bottom and still was not satisfied. With the blade of his pocket knife he lifted a closely fitted square of pasteboard which lay as a false bottom and called his assistant from the search of the second room: “Here’s something, Ashlander.”

Steve stepped forward quickly to look.

The something consisted of a pair of identical parallelograms in white tissue paper lying flat on the true bottom of the box, and Steve saw they were exactly of the dimensions of a bank note. Norton picked up one, ripped off the white tissue and exposed a copper plate displaying in reverse “Federal Reserve Bank of New York” — twenty dollars.

“Check letter A, plate number 121; Carter Glass, Secretary of the Treasury,” Ashlander announced triumphantly. “John Burke, Treasurer of the United States; the portrait is of Cleveland.”

Steve straightened with a sickening stop of his heart and faced the girl for whom, an hour before, he so confidently had vouched. No longer was she defiant; she was trembling, white as death. The two secret service men never glanced up from the plates. Each had one in his hand which he examined with swift but close inspection. They looked at each other, exchanged plates and suddenly Norton laughed aloud.

Steve started forward with hot resentment. “That’s a great way to feel about it!” he rebuked Norton. “You’ve got the goods on her, but — don’t laugh!”

Norton turned to him and sobered. “Excuse me,” he begged. “I wasn’t laughing at her — at you, Miss Ingram. Sit down, young lady,” he invited her kindly. “Sit down and tell us what you really know about this. Of course we know now that you had nothing to do with these plates here. They were planted on you. Bring her that chair, Ashlander. That’s right; sit down. You didn’t know you were taking in and passing out counterfeits either; but you do know from whom you got the last two, at least. Ashlander, get her a glass of water.”

“I’ll get it,” offered Steve impulsively. However, he let Ashlander bring it, while he himself remained beside Clara, who had sunk upon the chair and with wide eyes was staring at Norton, at himself and at Norton again.

“These plates were planted on her, you said,” Steve reminded Norton, with a flush of faith in the girl again. Not complete faith. Something was very wrong, and her own prostration confessed it. But the thing that was wrong with her was not that which had been first suspected.

Norton nodded, with more regard to the girl than to Steve, and he waited until he was sure that she had collected herself sufficiently to attend him.

“Somebody has taken considerable time and more than the usual amount of trouble to plant counterfeit money so that it would pass through your hands, Miss Ingram,” he repeated to her quietly. “He has taken more trouble to be sure that it would be traced back to you — and no further than you. Then he took the extra trouble to plant these plates here. What made me laugh a minute ago was that after taking all that trouble he made one little slip which showed us at once that the whole affair was a plant, and was planned not for the purpose of passing counterfeits but for discrediting you for some more important purpose. Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” said the girl, staring.

“What was that slip?” Steve asked, helping her.

Norton picked up one of the plates. “A very simple and natural one to a man who was not, himself, an expert counterfeiter, but a very conclusive one. It’s this — the plates, planted here, never did and never could have printed the money which this girl has been passing.”

“How do you know that?” asked Steve.

“The bad money which has been passing through her hands was all in twenty-dollar denomination of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”

“But so are the plates.”

“The notes are excellent counterfeits, defying all but an expert; they were made from plates almost as good as the government plates — from engravings upon steel. It takes a good engraver weeks or months to make the plates that engrave money that good. These plates are not the originals; these are photo-engravings of money of the same denomination and issue which were made or could have been made in a few hours.

“We came to the hotel not only because of the report of the counterfeits, made by the Guardian Trust, but because we had received this tip anonymously early this morning.”

Norton took from his pocket and spread before Clara Ingram and Steve a slip of plain white paper on which was written with typewriter:

“If you want to find the plates which printed the counterfeit twenties passing in this city, look carefully in the rooms of Clara Ingram, who works at the Commodore Perry Hotel.”

“So we came here,” continued Norton, “expecting to hit on something peculiar and out of the ordinary line, because we already had the plates from which this very good bad money was printed. We seized them in Toledo two days ago. We knew then they couldn’t be here. What was here then? Some experimental plates engraved by the same gang or what? Nothing like that; but a plant — a plain plant on this girl. Someone wanted very much to frame her for some reason. She being a cashier, it evidently occurred to him to frame her by planting on her some of the counterfeit money which has been in circulation. To clinch the case against her, he decided to plant also the plates on her. But he didn’t have the plates. We had them, but he didn’t know it. He didn’t even know what sort of plates printed the money. He cannot be a counterfeiter himself. He did know that photo-engraving plates could easily be made, and supposed they would satisfy us. So he had these plates made, smeared them with green ink to make them look as if they’d been used, planted them here and typed us his little letter.”


Steve asked it, for Clara Ingram yet could not speak. As the captain’s account more and more exonerated her, only the more was she overcome.

“The reason for framing this girl, we don’t know,” Norton replied. “But she must — ask her.”

“I don’t know!” Clara cried.

“I am very sure you do know,” Norton charged her quietly.

“I don’t know!”

“I am sure you know, at least,” insisted Norton, “who gave you those two bad twenties before we came to the hotel this morning.”

“I don’t know!” cried Clara desperately. “I don’t know! I don’t! I didn’t know they were bad, I tell you! I didn’t know they were bad!”

“We can wait awhile,” said Norton considerately.

“I am quite sure I know who gave them to her,” Steve volunteered. “I am quite sure she is telling the truth when she says she didn’t know they were bad; but she does know who gave them to her. It was Jentnor.”

“It wasn’t!”

“There,” said Steve, touching her shoulder, “you’ve told us it was. I knew it anyway, Clara. After you had been warned, like the other cashiers, against notes of this denomination and issue, you would have accepted them without examination only from someone you trusted entirely; and there is no one you would have lied for, I think, but Jentnor. Jentnor is the man,” said Steve to Norton, “to whom she is engaged.”

“He’s not!” cried Clara.

“You’re not engaged to him?”

“He’s not the man who gave me those twenties.”

“Who did then?”

“Someone leaving the hotel; I don’t know who. I’ve forgotten. I’m always taking in money and paying it out. I forgot about the twenties for a few minutes. That’s all; that’s all, I tell you!”

“Did you receive any money or make change or otherwise handle money for Mr. Jentnor this morning?”

“No! No! I didn’t see him at all!”

“When did you last see him?”

“Yesterday — the day before yesterday.”

“Where is he now?”

“In his office, I suppose.”

“Where’s that?”

“I don’t know.”

Steve referred again to Norton, who quietly was watching her.

“Let us leave Mr. Jentnor out,” he said kindly to her. “Try not to think of him. Try to think of a reason why anyone — anyone in all the world — would want to discredit or disgrace you.”

She turned on Norton a face drawn with fright but honest again. “I can’t!”

“Calm yourself and try to think. Remember, no one now is accusing you — or Mr. Jentnor. Whom do you know, or with whom have you come in contact, who might have a motive for injuring you?”

“Why, no one!” she cried honestly. “I can’t think of a soul in the world.”

“You don’t,” suggested Norton slowly, “threaten anyone?”

“Threaten anyone? I?”

“I mean, you have not, either by accident or otherwise, recently come into possession of knowledge to someone’s detriment or which might be used to someone’s injury?”

“No, no!”

“Take a few minutes and try to think, Miss Ingram.”

“It’s no use trying. There’s never been anything like that.”

“You must realize that there might be such a thing,” said Norton patiently, “and you not be aware of it. This affair is surely a serious one, Miss Ingram. The time and trouble expended show that it is extremely important to someone to disgrace and injure you. Such pains are taken, usually, only by a person who is in the power — or who feels himself in the power — of another by reason of information to his discredit. You might possess such information without being aware of it, or without being aware of its power over another person. It is of such information, which may be in your possession, that I want you to think.”

“Why, I’ve never had any power over anyone!”

Norton nodded to Ashlander, who arose and went out, beckoning Steve to the door.

“We had better leave her with the captain,” Ashlander whispered. “She is very excited. Of course she is protecting someone; but for her own sake we must go ahead at once. He’ll handle her better alone.”

“All right,” acceded Steve, and went out.

On the street, where the Commodore Perry loomed in front of him, he thought of the girl’s employment in the big hotel and the bearing upon her, therein employed, of Norton’s words. Constantly, by reason of her employment, she was in contact with other employees and with guests who numbered, in total, thousands and tens of thousands; constantly, as a matter of mere routine to her — taking in money, paying it out, cashing credits and checks — she performed more or less intimate services for many people, and sometimes special services, of a particularly intimate and personal character, which from their mere frequency and repetition also passed into casual routine, making upon her memory no lasting mark. A thousand such transactions could be completed without extraordinary consequence; the thousand and first, though differing outwardly not at all from the others, might touch vitally the private concern of a guest sheltered in the hotel at a crisis of his life. Had the sequel of some such service, rendered by Clara Ingram as an employee of Stephen Faraday, precipitated upon her these events?

He hastened his steps to his hotel, his mind now on Jentnor and the girl who so defiantly and loyally had lied for him. Jentnor, Steve realized, must be a different type of individual from the man ordinarily met by a front office cashier. An attractive girl, constantly cast by her employment into contact with men away from home and traveling by themselves, learns quickly to adopt a defensive attitude of indifference; and experience often fixes this attitude within her. Steve had thought of Clara Ingram as having become indifferent to men; it was one of the reasons that he had slated her for promotion in the organization. In spite of her unusual attractiveness, Steve had thought of her as unlikely to leave the organization because of marriage. Jentnor, to have won her so completely, must be distinct from the ordinary men who lingered after paying their accounts in the hope of picking up acquaintance with the cashier.

Steve sought Claflin at once. “Do you remember this Jentnor who stayed here and got himself engaged to Clara Ingram?” Steve asked.

A man catches a woman as she faints.
Her defense broke; suddenly she was so weak that Steve caught her in his arms and half-caried her to a chair. “Oh, it is! It is.” (Illustrated by Grant Reynard)

“Very well. I know nothing about him, but he is very likable and good-looking. English sort of chap.”

“What?” said Steve.

“Englishman in this country a few years; everybody liked him.”

Where, Steve tried to recollect, had he heard almost exactly that description of a man about whom he had inquired? Oh, it had been in Denver, at the Montview, when Goebel mentioned the English-looking, likable young man who had asked to see the register for March, three years ago. For what reason? In order to steal the book, so Goebel had thought, to alter an entry after an Englishman’s name and add “and son” between the Englishman’s name and the addition “and manservant.” Steve could not recall the name except that it was hyphenated and not at all like Jentnor. Besides, what connection could the change in the Montview’s register, of three years ago, have with this attempt to frame a front office cashier in Cleveland today?

Yet another coincidence besides this similarity of the general description of the two men came into Steve’s mind. “Let’s see her card again,” he said to Claflin, and there was the record of her employment at the Montview in Denver. In March, three years ago, at the time when the rich Englishman and manservant — accompanied, possibly, by his son and also possibly not — had stopped at the Montview, Clara Ingram had been employed there.

In little less than an hour Norton returned to the hotel, bringing her with him. The girl was pale and very nervous; she stared at Steve, but scarcely spoke in reply to his words to her in Claflin’s office.

Norton nodded Steve aside. “Call your house nurse and have her keep this girl quiet. Keep her in a room here; I’ll see that her mother is sent here when she comes back to the flat.”

“What’s she told you?” asked Steve.

“Nothing. She stuck it out that Jentnor never gave her any money and couldn’t possibly be mixed up in the plant put on her. But what smashed her up is that she knows he is mixed in it — but she’ll die before she admits it.”

“Got any better line on the reason for it?”

Norton shook his head. “We haven’t a line that leads anywhere, and I think she tells the truth when she says she doesn’t know any reason. I’ve gone over her record week by week, asking her where she was and what she was doing recently, and I can’t dig a thing out of her which would explain why anybody would want to get her.”

“I’d like to ask her one question.”

“Go ahead. The best thing you can do for her is to clear this up quick as you can.”

“Clara,” said Steve, “can you remember doing anything special for an Englishman who was stopping at the Montview, in Denver, three years ago last March?”

“An Englishman?” repeated Clara, staring.

“An Englishman — middle-aged or more,” Steve ventured, “and with a manservant.”

The girl shook her head. “No, I can’t remember anything about an Englishman then.”

“Are you trying to?”

“Certainly, Mr. Faraday, I’m trying to.”

“I know you are, Clara,” said Steve, “and you know we’re trying to help you. Have you a picture of Mr. Jentnor?”

“He never gave me one, Mr. Faraday.”

“I asked her that,” said Norton. “He wasn’t handing out his photos.”

The nurse appeared and took Clara away.

“What was your idea about your Englishman in Denver, three years ago?” Norton then asked Steve.

“Nothing but a sort of hunch.”

“The nurse, or some attendant, must stay with that girl and she must be kept here,” Norton advised. “You understand that Jentnor and some others, probably, are trying to get her. They may try by rougher means; they’ve a reason that’s big to them. And she’s still sticking to Jentnor; she might even go to him if he sent for her. You’ll have to stop that.”

“If Jentnor sends for her,” Steve assured Norton, as he started away, “you’ll know it.”

Norton returned in the evening. “How’s your girl?” he asked Steve.

“She’s here, and being kept quiet.”

“You haven’t heard from Jentnor?”


“You won’t. Mr. Jentnor has got out, and so cleanly that he’s left — except on the soul of that girl — hardly a trace. We’ve had a busy afternoon; but Mr. Jentnor’s performance is now pretty plain, if the reasons behind his moves are not.

“He came here a month ago from nowhere. New York is after his name on your register; but that means nothing; and there is no Howard Jentnor in New York. He is completely untraceable before he took a room at this hotel. He told her, and also other people, that he was an insurance broker; but no insurance company knows him or has had in the last month any business whatever with Howard Jentnor. He had no office here. His business seems to have been making himself agreeable to your girl. He certainly succeeded at that. All the testimony is that he was an extremely charming gentleman, of fine bearing and excellent manners — not at all the type to pick a working girl to wear his engagement ring.

“The bottom of the trouble with her is that she knows he wasn’t the sort to want to marry her. He was, to her, the fine gentleman with his English-gentleman manners and good looks. He completely sold her; but she knew, in the back of her head, that there was something the matter with this wonderful romance. It was too good to be true. But she went into it; she was crazy about him.

“Then this struck, and she knows he handed it to her. She doesn’t know why — I believe that — but she knows that he made her love him, not loving her, but as some part of this plant of his to get her. And it’s knocked her out; but her pride, and the heart of her, won’t let her turn on him — yet.”

“No trace at all where he went?” asked Steve.

“He took rooms outside a couple of weeks ago, after he became engaged to your girl; he cleared this morning, not leaving a collar button behind him.”

“Was he in Cleveland all this last month?” asked Steve.

“No; last week he was away for five days.”

Later in the evening, with the Cleveland investigation of the affair thus at a standstill, Steve phoned Goebel in Denver.

“By the way,” he mentioned, after speaking of routine matters, “has anything new turned up on that alteration in the register you showed me?”

“Not a thing.”

“What was the name, Goebel?”

“Hougham-Stearns — L.B. Hougham-Stearns and son and manservant, London. We think the ‘and son’ was written in later.”

“I remember that,” said Steve. “What was the name of his place in Southern California? You had it in a clipping.”

“Sussex House. Why, have you got something on it?”

“No; just thinking it over,” Steve replied, and he thought over it several times that night.

In the morning Norton reported the rounding up of more members of the counterfeiting gang; he had developed no connection of the gang with Clara Ingram, beyond the fact that Jentnor had used some of the money made by the gang in the plant upon her.

Clara Ingram had no more to say; she still refused to accuse Jentnor; she could not supply any reason why he or anyone else would injure her.

Steve visited her again late in the morning. Her mother was with her and she had been crying.

“You know, Clara,” said Steve, “that whether Jentnor had anything to do with this trouble of yours or not, there must be something very wrong back of it. You want to clear that up, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. Faraday.”

“Try to think. Three years ago last March — it was the first March you were at the Montview, Clara — did you do anything special for an Englishman named Hougham-Stearns who was at the hotel?”

“No, Mr. Faraday.”

“He was rather an old man and sick,” continued Steve. “He had the suite on the fifth floor at the southeast corner. Were you ever called into that suite to do something special for an oldish Englishman who was sick?”

Clara’s eyes dulled with speculation; but finally she replied, “No, I don’t remember.”

“I remember something our first March in Denver, Clara,” put in her mother. “You brought home ten dollars for it. You told me about it; it was something you did for a man who was casting off his son.”

Clara’s eyes dulled and brightened. “I remember going to that room for an old man who was sick,” she said slowly to Steve. “I went there with Mr. Clover, the night clerk.”

“Why did you go there, Clara?”

“He wanted Mr. Clover and me to witness a paper for him.”

“What sort of a paper was it?”

“It was a will.”

Ten minutes later Steve phoned Norton: “I think we’ve got something now.” And when Norton came over, Steve told him what.

Two days later Steve received from Norton in New York a nine-word telegram:

“Can you come on here and bring Clara Ingram?”

Norton was awaiting them in the Grand Central Station when they arrived the following morning. He looked keenly at the pale and troubled girl, then drew Steve aside out of earshot.

“What have you?” Steve inquired.

“Not Jentnor yet,” Norton replied. “Since he passed counterfeits, among his other activities, the department wants him; that’s my excuse for staying in the case. Otherwise this case has become considerably more than a Federal matter. It’s going to be a bit hard on your girl.”

“I think she’s prepared,” said Steve.

“A woman’s never prepared for a thing like this,” returned Norton, and led them to a cab.

Twenty minutes later it stopped before a narrow-fronted house which, in spite of the incursion of business buildings in the neighboring block, still held a suggestion of the grandeur which once was the boast of lower Fifth Avenue.

Steve led Clara Ingram up the steps and Norton rang the bell. “Mr. Faraday and Miss Ingram,” he announced to the liveried servant, who admitted them and led the way up a handsome stair to the floor above, where a second servant showed them into a large room presided over by a huge old man with snow-white hair and mustache. He sat, as if on a dais, in a great chair among cushions. Steve would have recognized, if Norton had not told him, that Hougham-Stearns’ position in this household was that of a guest; he was one who, traveling, stopped more often in the homes of friends than in hotels.

“Mr. Faraday,” the Englishman greeted him, as one to whom the name meant nothing.

“And Miss Ingram,” Steve supplied, but could not see that Hougham-Stearns recollected either the girl or her name.

She in turn stared at him as at a stranger; she was shaking, Steve saw, and very white. He stood close to her.

The servant, who noiselessly had reclosed the door, came with soundless steps to stand behind his master’s chair. He also was quite plainly an Englishman, but dark-haired and with sallow skin. Norton had not entered the room.

“I agreed to see you,” said Hougham-Stearns to Steve, “on rather indefinite but authoritative information that you had something to communicate which is of great importance to myself. Recently I have received no one at all, in order to conserve my strength for my voyage home. I must ask you to be as brief as you can.”

“It concerns,” said Steve, “your son.”

“Nothing of any possible sort which concerns Ralph can be of the slightest interest to me.”

“This is a matter which you cannot very well put aside. Miss Ingram innocently has been in serious difficulties with the Federal authorities because of counterfeit money which, in our belief, your son put in her hands.”

Clara Ingram started. Steve grasped her arm, steadying her.

“I do not doubt it,” said Hougham-Stearns. “I mean I don’t doubt he did it.”

“He first became engaged to marry her.”

“I do not doubt it.”

“Apparently with no other purpose than to gain her confidence with the object of discrediting her.”

“I say, I do not doubt it. You are not the first, Miss Ingram, whom my son has involved in trouble and grief. You can accept his father’s word that, with women and men, he has been through his life a thoroughgoing rascal who has kept faith with no one. But anything he has done to you is less than he has done, more times than one, to me.”

“Miss Ingram has known him by the name of Jentnor,” said Steve. “She is not yet convinced that he has deceived her. May I ask if you have a picture of your son?”

Hougham-Stearns held his head stiffly. “I have always kept the one which his mother carried with her.” He nodded to his servant, who went out and returned with a picture in a little round jeweled frame. Hougham-Stearns ordered it given to Steve.

“Is that Jentnor?” Steve inquired of Clara, and he felt her shaking as she gazed at it.

“No,” she denied. “No; no, it isn’t.” Then her defense broke; suddenly she was so weak that Steve caught her in his arms and half carried her to a chair. “Oh, it is! It is!”

“Miss Ingram,” said Steve quietly to Hougham-Stearns, after the girl was calmer, “was one of the witnesses to your will.”

“I do not follow you.”

“You were in Denver at the Montview Hotel,” Steve continued, “with your son, and the will which Miss Ingram witnessed with George Clover, another employee of the hotel, if she remembers rightly, disinherited him.”

“That is correct,” said Hougham Stearns, “except that my son was not with me. I was there alone except for Charles.” Charles was the servant. “I had seen Ralph in New York and the latest disgraceful chapter of his doings decided me utterly to cut him off. In Denver, suddenly taken very ill, I made a will leaving my property to charities.”

“No doubt you sent the will to London, to your solicitors?”

“No. I wrote them that I had made a new will whose nature they would learn when I returned. I never returned. I still have it by me.”

“Would you mind showing it to me?” Steve inquired.

Hougham-Stearns, now intently interested, looked for his man, but the servant had left the room. He touched a bell beside him, waited, then touched it again. As the man did not appear Steve himself offered to get what was wanted; but Hougham-Stearns merely rang once more.

Clara Ingram was sitting up, wide-eyed and intent again.

“Someone is coming now,” said Steve, and opened the door, admitting Norton, who bore a light steel box, locked.

“Your man is below in the hands of two of the New York police,” Norton said to Hougham-Stearns. “However, they did not prevent his answer to your bell. They took him as he was leaving the house. Here is your box. I have also the key, taken from your servant. Shall I open it?”

“Please do.”

Norton did so, and placed the open box beside the Englishman, who immediately abstracted a folded document and a moment later another which was outwardly a duplicate of it.

“What’s this? What’s this?”

“You will find one, I imagine,” said Steve, “to be your will as drawn that night in Denver and witnessed by George Clover and Clara Ingram, disinheriting your son. The other, I believe, you will find somewhat different.”

“It is another will, signed with my name but not by me, which leaves my estate to my son.”

“H’m,” said Steve. “How is it witnessed?”

“One signature is the same as in the other — George Clover. The other name is Ida Delff.”

Steve turned to Clara. “Do you know Ida Delff?”

“She was a floor housekeeper at the Montview.”

Hougham-Stearns sank back upon his pillows. “My son has done this!”

“Unquestionably,” said Steve.

“I did not suppose I had left him power to deal me another blow.”

“You cut him off from millions,” Steve reminded him. “Undoubtedly you told him. He was not one to be passive. May I see those documents?”

Hougham-Stearns nodded and Steve examined them.

“It is quite clear now, Clara,” said Steve, putting them in her hands. He looked to Hougham-Stearns. “These must represent a very pretty bargain between your son and your manservant. About a month ago, to judge from your son’s movements, they prepared this forgery; and your son went to look up the witnesses of the original will to see if they could be bought. Evidently Clover was bought — if this signature is his. Your son went to Cleveland to investigate Clara Ingram and plainly gave up the idea of buying her. So he did not put her name on the forgery; he put the name of another employee of the Montview, who evidently was bought and would swear in court that she witnessed your will.

“Everything was then arranged for the substitution of the forgery for your original will in the event of your end, except the evidence of this girl here who had witnessed the original. Your son personally took care of her. He made love to her to get her confidence; for he schemed to put her out of the way for a time in a Federal prison and so discredit her that her testimony, if offered against the forged will, would be considered untrustworthy.”

“By counterfeit money, you say?” Hougham-Stearns gazed at Steve with gaunt eyes.

“He seems to have obtained some counterfeit money which was circulating in Cleveland and planted it upon the girl; he also manufactured other evidence,” Steve said. “A bit of poetic justice, of the sort which Captain Norton tells me is common in such cases, is that this was unnecessary. Miss Ingram had quite forgotten the incident; and if she had been reminded of it by reading that he had inherited your property, she would probably have thought merely that you had made another will.”

“But how,” asked Hougham-Stearns, “since you did not know his name, did you trace him to me?”

“He had manufactured still another bit of evidence to support his case. Knowing that he had been on bad terms with you, he wanted it to appear that, at the time of making your will, you were together; so he altered the register in Denver to insert ‘and son’ after your name. It was this which first called attention to him and brought you into the case.”

“That is exactly like Ralph,” Hougham-Stearns said, asking no more. “Especially his ingratiating himself, for ulterior purposes, with this young lady. I would like to do something for her. I would like to compensate — ”

Clara Ingram, with eyes filled with tears, shook her head.

“Yes; I will insist on something. To you, Mr. Faraday, I am grateful. You have gone to considerable expense and great personal inconvenience to do me a service.”

“Service?” Steve picked up the word. “You were a guest at the Montview three years ago, and the Faraday management aims to offer every possible service to its guests.”

First page of the short story "Special Service"
Read “Special Service” by Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg.