FICTION

The 7th Day

In which a shot in the dark goes wide and a blackmailer’s thrust strikes close to the mark

MAX BRAND February 1 1938
FICTION

The 7th Day

In which a shot in the dark goes wide and a blackmailer’s thrust strikes close to the mark

MAX BRAND February 1 1938

The 7th Day

FICTION

In which a shot in the dark goes wide and a blackmailer’s thrust strikes close to the mark

MAX BRAND

The story: In Italy, Thomas Decher—a rich, middle-aged, unmarried art collector—phones from his villa to Anthony Newcomen, whose huge fortune he manages, that he is in danger of death, and before Newcomen can learn more the wire goes dead. On reaching the villa, Newcomen finds that Thomas Decker has been slabbed to death.

Hugh Churchill, the dead man’s secretary, also an art collector in a small tvay, is apparently unaware of the fatality until Newcomen tells him; then Churchill phones Marchese Lucardo, a high-placed Italian who is interested in crime detection. When the latter arrives, Churchill tells him that the persons who last called on his employer at the villa were Nicholas Decker, an impoverished cousin of the dead man; Dinah Moore who lives near the villa and has been restoring frescoes; Nancy Ormonde who came from America to marry Tom Decker; an Italian, Aldo Bertelli, who is in love with Nancy Ormonde.

Alone with Lucardo, Churchill tries to throw suspicion on Newcomen; while the latter, suspecting Dinah Moore, engages all her time for one week to help him discover the murderer at a price of $5.000.

An ex-servant, named Emilio, arrested on suspicion, makes a bluff at committing suicide. Churchill reports to Newcomen that notes in the dead man's safe, showing thousands of dollars owing to him, are missing. Newcomen learns that Nicholas Decker and Aldo Bertelli arranged a false alibi for the night of the murder.

While driving with Dinah Moore, Newcomen is approached by a dangerous-looking stranger, who drives on when he sees that Newcomen has him covered by a gun. Returning to the villa with Dinah, Newcomen tries some food, intended for Dinah, on a cat, and the cat dies of poison.

MARCIIESE LUCARDO, on the afternoon of Thomas Decker's funeral, instead of returning to his own house stopped off at the Villa Oliviera and had Lorenzo, the butler, show him into the

big study. Lorenzo went off about his duties, while Lucardo sat down to a cigarette with full leisure, for he was the most unhurried man in the world. After a time he rose, put a chair in place beside the telephone on the desk, and stood back to regard it; finally he got down on his fat knees and commenced to search the floor.

The afternoon light left the tiles in thick watery shadow*, which he penetrated with a small pocket torch. He found nothing, and sat down cross-legged to contemplate his failure and another cigarette, but the preconception which brought him to the studio was so great that presently he began the search again, lying almost flat so that his eye could scan the floor at a more acute angle.

He saw something at last that got him to his knees.

It was a line a few inches long, ruled straight, and composed of very small dots, as of liquid drops which had dried. Lucardo moistened the tip of his forefinger and rubbed one of those tiny s¡«>ts away. It left on the skin a little streak of brownish red which he studied for a moment with the greatest interest. Afterward, he rubbed his finger clean on a scrap of paper, folded the paper, and slipped it into a vest pocket.

A warmth of tender geniality kept Lucardo smiling as he drove back into Florence and left at the office of the commissary of police that small fold of paper. “See if the streak on it is blood,” he said, "and identify the type of blood.”

The commissary showed the greatest interest. “What have you found. Franco?” he asked. "Where has that wise nose of yours been sniffing?”

“It’s the blood of Thomas Decker,” said Lucardo, “taken off the studio floor. If that’s true, he was stabbed in the house and only went into the garden to die.” “Stabbed in the house?” cried the commissary. “Stabbed in the studio through the heart, and then he walks calmly out into the garden?”

"Stabbed near the heart, not through it,” said Lucardo, "and one thin flicker of blood came off the stiletto and fell on the floor. The shock of the stroke might very well have dropped Decker as though he were clubbed over the head; and that would satisfy the murderer. Afterward, recovering his consciousness in part, Decker feels no pain. He only knows that he wants air. He hurries out into the open . .

“But if that is true,” said the commissary, “then Emilio’s confession ...”

“Is good enough to put the murderer at ease,” answered Lucardo. “When you find out the type of this blood, telephone to Decker’s doctor and find out the type of his blood. If the two are the same, it is almost certain that Decker was stabbed in the studio ; Emilio and the American, Newcomen, must be innocent; and several other people may be suspected.”

“Ah, Franco, what a happiness is in your face! Some day I am going to write a book and tell the world all the truth about you.”

“My dear friend,” said the márchese, “do you want to end all my usefulness at a stroke? Only a fool is able to walk through every door and be welcome.”

T-JUGH CHURCHILL, on the evening of that day, reached the villa of Marchese Lucardo while the sun was still in the sky and was told that the márchese could see no one.

“He is occupied in the podere, signore,” said the butler.

But privacy was not a thing that Churchill respected in the lives of others. He had a feeling that business at all costs came first, in all things; so he wandered down the paths of the Lucardo farm, among the olive trees and the grape vines until he found the márchese sitting on a stone with his hands folded over the top of a walking stick.

“Ah, Mr. Churchill,” said the márchese, rising. “It is a pleasure. Take this stone and sit down.”

“I have only a moment. It is warm,” said Churchill, wiping his face with a handkerchief.

“It is warm,” said the márchese, “but I’m in the habit of spending a time at the end of each day down here.”

“Every day?” asked Churchill, staring.

“No, only when I have large problems to solve.”

“I came to see you particularly about one thing, márchese.”

“Tell me, then,” said Lucardo.

"It is about Mr. Newcomen.”

"An interesting man.”

"Tony is quite a boy,” said Churchill carelessly. "And he is apt to make trouble for you.”

‘Tm sorry to hear that.”

"Unless he is prevented," said Churchill.

"Do tell me how to prevent him, then,” said Lucardo. He lifted his head and fixed his gentle eye upon the secretary.

"The thing is this,” said Churchill. "He has found out that the notes which you and Nicholas Decker and Aldo Bertelli left in the hands of Thomas Decker have disappeared from the safe.”

“Well, well !” murmured the márchese.

“But he has not yet discovered,” said Churchill, “the letter which Thomas Decker wrote to you the day before he died, demanding immediate payment of that note.”

SINCE THE letter was written to me,” said Lucardo, “is it strange that he has not found it?”

“The carbon copy is what I speak of,” said Churchill, stepping back a little to study the expression of the márchese more carefully. “To fill out his file, Mr. Decker always used to sign his carbons. He did so at my request. I feel that it makes the records more emphatic in a legal sense.”

“Oh, no doubt.”

“But if he finds the carbon of the letter and realizes the strength with which Mr. Decker expressed himself to you about the payment of the debt—the day before the murder —do you think that Mr. Newcomen might draw a few deductions?”

“Let me see. I wonder!” murmured Lucardo. “Do you think he would suspect me of having killed Tom Decker? Not that, Mr. Churchill !”

“How can I tell?” asked Churchill. “Another thing that I call to your attention—it is known that you were at the Villa Oliviera just before midnight of the fatal day, márchese.”

“It is known?” asked Lucardo, lifting his brows so that his whole face seemed to lengthen.

“It is known to one person,” said Churchill.

“You surprise me very much,” said the márchese. “I’m sure that if anyone knew, he would have started an ugly rumor circulating.”

“No doubt you would think so,” said Churchill. He stepped closer and said in a soft voice: “But some men are bom with discretion in their blood.”

“No doubt,” said Lucardo.

“A little money would put the carbon copy of the letter in your hand and silence the voice that might speak against you, márchese,” remarked Churchill.

“Would it?” asked Lucardo. “That would be worth while. How much would it cost, Mr. Churchill?”

“Just a few thousand dollars. Say five thousand?”

“Five thousand? It does not seem a very great deal. But puLit in lire.”

CTfurchill's lips twisted, so great was his scorn for a man without the ability to perform simple feats of arithmetic. “Say ninety thousand lire,” he suggested.

“Ninety thousand lire! But that is a fortune, Mr. Churchill. And, as you know, I am a poor man.”

“Bertelli is poor. So is Nicholas Decker. But among the three of you, you ought to be able to raise that much,” declared Churchill.

“Bertelli? Decker?” echoed the márchese, with a blank face.

“In short,” said Churchill, “I saw with my own eyes at different times all three of you at the Villa Oliviera just before midnight. Sneaking in a furtive way through the garden.”

The márchese stared at him.

“At this moment,” said Churchill, “there is a police

rumor out that Decker was stabbed at midnight in his studio.”

‘‘Is it possible?” cried Lucardo. “The three of you can raise that much money,” insisted Churchill. “I’ll make it a round sum. So that you can remember it. Say sixty thousand lire. You understand me?” “I try to,” said the márchese. Churchill drew from his pocket a fold qf paper and slapped his hand with it.

“Try harder,” he suggested in his dry voice. “Get the other two to help you think it out. Otherwise, the three of you go to jail! I can show the motives. I can prove that you were all at the Villa Oliviera at about the time of the crime.”

“Is it true?” asked Lucardo. “Do we have to pay all of this money? What you know about me is clear, but what do you know about the others? How shall I persuade them to help me raise the money?”

“Persuade them?’’ laughed Churchill. Pleasure made him strike his hands together. “Listen to me and I’ll give you guns to hold under their noses.”

THE Marchese Lucardo met Bertelli and Nicholas Decker at Doney’s, which stands on the Via Turnaboundi as a Gossip Exchange where elements of the foreign colony meet with Italians for cocktails and the interchange of news. The cellar is good, the drinks are not very expensive and an air of not too moldcring age clings to the place, so that even the best people are led easily into the conversational murders of casual talk.

“I have come to you for help,” said the márchese.

“For help? You?” asked Bertelli, lifting his handsome face suddenly from his thoughts. Then, as he studied the márchese, a smile pulled at a corner of his mouth but was mastered instantly.

“But you can’t need help,” said Nicholas Decker. “A man with your position with the police is able to make trouble for others. Who can touch you, Franco?”

The márchese sighed. Then he answered: “The truth is that I was seen late the other evening at the Villa Oliviera. It was the evening, you know, when Decker was murdered.”

“Evening?” exclaimed Bertelli. “Not at all. It was about dawn when Decker was stabbed in the back in the garden of the Oliviera.” “So we all thought,” nodded Lucardo. “But ah, the police are such clever devils! They have found on the floor of the study at the Oliviera a little streak a few inches long where drops of something sprayed on the tiles. A thing almost impossible to see, but those clever foxes see everything. What people, my dear friends, what dangerous wolves these police are!”

“But what was it?” demanded Nicholas Decker.

“It was blood of the same type as that of Thomas Decker. It proves that he was

stabbed while he was in the studio. Therefore, the blow was struck at about midnight,” explained Lucardo with a sigh. “And I, unfortunately, was seen near the villa at about that hour by Churchill.”

“That man is a buzzard,” said Nicholas Decker. “Whenever he appears, I think of dead things.”

“Suppose you were seen late at the Villa Oliviera,” said Bertelli. “Does that connect you with the killing of Decker, poor Franco?”

“ You would not believe such a thing of me, Aldo, I know,” said the gratified márchese.

Bertelli laughed.

“No, I would hardly believe that.” he answered.

“Motives — motives — motives,” said Nicholas Decker. “A good detective finds the motive first and afterward he does something alxnit the criminal. What earthly motive could you have. Franco?”

“Well,” murmured Lucardo. “it seems that 1 owed money to Decker. Not a great sum in dollars. But there is always the trouble when one translates dollars into lire. They become twenty times as much. And that is a pity !”

The simplicity of this remark caused the two guests of the márchese to look at one another and then to laugh.

Bertelli said: “If I were you, I would pay no attention to the matter.”

“The fact is, however,” continued Lucardo, “that only the day before poor Decker died, he sent me a very crisp letter demanding payment of the sum I owed him. A very stern letter. It troubled me so much that I went over my accounts; but I found no money in them. Then I went to my bank, and I found no money there, either.”

“You might have guessed that by looking at your bank book, perhaps,” suggested Bertelli, yawning a little.

“True.” said Lucardo. “But whenever I think of the bank and the amount of money locked up in it, it seems a pity if a man cannot talk a little of the gold out of its vaults. 1 always go in hope. 1t was so the other day, and I had to come away without a penny. So I went up late that evening on the chance t hat I might be able t,o see Decker. I did, as a matter of fact, see him.”

“Ah, you did?” exclaimed Nicholas Decker. “At what time?”

“Let me see. Was it eleven-thirty? Yes, it was about that hour. I talked very earnestly with Decker. I talked and told him the truth, and at. length he did a strange thing. A very strange thing.”

“Well?” queried Bertelli, who kept his head high and his dark eyes keenly attentive, now.

“Decker was a close-fisted man,” said Lucardo. “It seemed hard for him to let go of his money.”

Bertelli snapped : “He never gave a penny except when he expected a big return. Go on, Franco.”

“The amazing thing was that on that night Decker suddenly took from his pocket the very note which I had signed and gave it back to me,” said the márchese, shaking his head in such wonder that his fat cheeks quivered a little.

GAVE IT back to you?” echoed Bertelli, bewildered.

“He gave it back,” said Lucardo, “and he also shook me very warmly by the hand and told me to think no more about it. His words are still in my ears. They were warm, cordial words. He said: ‘What are old

friends for except to be useful to one another? What are we worth if we only give one another pain? Forget the letter I wrote to you. Only remember that bad humor grips all of us like gout, now and then, and causes us to do things which we regret.’ With those words, he gave me the note, as I say, and a moment later I left. It was an unusual act for Decker, I think.”

“Very unusual,” said Bertelli. “It never would have happened unless he had been in a pinch and thought he might need help.” “My help? But what could I do for such a rich man?” asked Lucardo, opening his innocent eyes.

“You have the whole of the police at your beck and call —though heaven knows how you manage it,’’ said Nicholas Decker.

“For services rendered,” commented Bertelli, making little effort to disguise his irony. “Franco gets no more from the police than he gives them.”

“You think,” said Lucardo, “that Decker expected to be in need of police help, even before he was killed?”

“It sounds that way.” answered Nicholas Decker. “But why do you need our help, now?”

“The added point.” said Lucardo, “is that it seems that there is a file of Decker’s correspondence, and Decker’s letter to me demanding payment was produced by the secretary-, Churchill, yesterday. He suggested that if he showed the letter to the police they would be interested. It supplied the motive for a crime, do you see? And Churchill himself sawme at the villa—at what you might call a guilty hour. The secretary wanted five thousand dollars for the letter. What do you think?”

“A great deal of money!” breathed Nicholas Decker with a broad, two-handed gesture.

But Bertelli, his face dark with thought, answered: “I’d find that money if I could, Franco. I’d find it and pay it, if I were you, and then burn that letter. Not that they could hang you on such evidence, but it would do your reputation more than five thousand dollars worth of harm.” "Hugh Churchill seemed to think so,” agreed the márchese sadly. “But I simply have not the money. When I told Churchill that, he suggested that I call on you two. He thought you would be interested in helping me to pay.” “We? Interested?” exclaimed Nicholas Decker, half rising from his chair. He looked wildly toward Bertelli, and was met by a terrible glance of disapproval that deflated him, as it were, and caused him to slip down into his chair again. "Why should we be interested?”

“As old friends, of course.” said Bertelli steadily. “What else did this Churchill have to say?”

"Nothing else of any great importance,” said Lucardo. “But now you know why I have called you together today. It was simply in wonder, my friends, whether or not you could help me."

"Impossible!” said Nicholas Decker.

“Absolutely impossible,” said Bertelli.

“This is your own affair, after all, and not ours. Even Churchill cannot connect us!”

“Ah, Aldo, and my dear Nicholas, it appears that there you are wrong.

Churchill has ugly things to report about you both.”

“Has he?” asked Bertelli. “Suppose r

you begin with me. For what earthly reason should there have been bad blood between me and the American?”

“It is a strange little story ” said Lucardo. "We know that Signor Decker went constantly through the country looking at pictures in little churches and in small private collections. He found some good things that way, and used to buy them in very cheaply, but when his name became known as a collector, people recognized him and doubled or quadrupled their asked prices. So he got in the habit of spotting what he wanted and then sending other people to bargain for him. So it appears that he found a picture in Prato, a picture with a dirty face which was nevertheless a real Gaddi and worth a fortune. It could be bought for a few hundred lire, but only by an unknown. So he sent you to buy the picture, Aldo. Isn’t that true?”

BERTELLI said nothing. He kept his

bright, grim eyes fixed on Lucardo, shifting the glance slowly up and down as though he were reading a page.

“But it seems you discovered that the great American house of Laubenheimer and Fitzroy were interested enormously in having a Gaddi picture and they would pay a very high price; so you managed to forget Thomas Decker and sold the Gaddi directly to--”

“That’s enough !” snapped Bertelli.

“But is it true?” said Nicholas Decker. He leaned back in his chair and laughed. “How Tom must have ground his teeth and cursed! A Gaddi? Tadeo?”

“Yes,” nodded Lucardo. “I’m afraid that it was, although it's still on the way to America and hasn’t been finally experted there.”

“Did Offner see it before it went?” asked Nicholas Decker.

"Yes,” nodded Lucardo. “He said it was real.”

“Then it was the real thing.” nodded Nicholas Decker. “And no wonder there was bad blood between Aldo and Tom. But all this has nothing to do with me, as you can see for yourself.

There’s no reason why Churchill should expect me to help you raise money, Franco.”

“There’s the pity of it.” said Lucardo. “He has dug up even worse evidence against you, Niccolo. He says that the very day before the killing of Decker you called at the villa and got into a terrible rage because he would not advance you any more money.”

“He lies!” said Nicholas Decker, but fear had choked his voice to a whisper.

"... and that you shouted at Thomas Decker that if he disgraced you and let you go bankrupt, you’d put a knife in him.”

“A knife?” said Bertelli, lifting his handsome narrow face.

“A lie!” said Nicholas Decker. He leaned back in his chair with a white face and trembling lips.

“No. We must put our heads together,” said Bertelli. “Something always can be done.”

“Do you think so?” asked Lucardo with gratitude.

Nicholas Decker was about to break in again, but a flick of the eye of Bertelli, sharp as the snap of a whiplash, silenced him.

“We ought first of all,” said Bertelli, “to find out what exactly is in the mind of Churchill.”

‘Tve told you as nearly as I can,” said Lucardo. “Money seems to be what he has in mind.”

“Exactly,” said Bertelli dryly. “But suppose we find out just where our friend Churchill was when he saw you come into the villa, that night?”

“Do you mean from what place he saw me?” asked Lucardo.

“I mean exactly that,” said Bertelli.

“He did not confide in me,” answered Lucardo.

“Perhaps not. Couldn’t you draw it from him?” snapped Bertelli.

“It didn’t occur to me to dwrell on the point,” said Lucardo. “Should I have done so?”

Bertelli drew a short, quick breath

“You failed to do so. That ends it,” he asserted.

An idea struck Nicholas Decker and made him swallow his cocktail suddenly.

“The sneaking ferret—he has a face like a ferret, that Churchill—he may have been hanging about in the garden of the place the entire evening.”

“Or looking out windows, perhaps,” suggested Lucardo. “Confound it, man,” snapped Decker, “there’s no window that looks down on the entrance to the studio at the Villa Obviera.”

“Isn’t there?” asked Lucardo innocently. “Ah, now that I think of it, I believe you’re right.”

“He believes that I’m right,” said Nicholas Decker with some sort of fierce irony in his voice. “This rat-hole peeker of a Churchill; this eavesdropper, this ...”

“Well?” said Bertelli, lifting his eyebrows a little.

“But the money?” asked Lucardo with a gentle insistence. “Are you going to be able to help me?”

IT WAS as a result of this conversation that Hugh Churchill, early in the afternoon, received a telephone call from Lucardo, who said: “Concerning the five

thousand dollars—”

“Not over the telephone, man!” cried Churchill.

“I saw Bertelli and Nicholas Decker and told them that you had suggested their names.”

“Told them that I had suggested their names?”

“Ah, but you did, didn’t you?”

“Signor Marchese, I’ll see you wherever you please, but don’t telephone about—”

“Unhappiiy, my news is all too brief,” said the márchese“They could not let me have a penny, to their own great regret, they said. And so I cannot possibly raise the money you require.”

Churchill slammed up the telephone.

He hardly dared look about him for a moment, until he realized that if the conversation had been overheard it could only have been through the wire and not by any casual eavesdropper in the room. As his fear left him, a more vital anger took its place.

He hurried to the small room where the complicated files of the villa were kept, and, taking a paper out of a drawer, he went straight to find Newcomen in the library.

Churchill came in with a militant air and a straight back.

He said: “I never mentioned having seen the Marchese Lucardo in the garden at nearly twelve o’clock on the night of the murder. It never occurred to me that his presence might be significant until I was running through the file, just now, and discovered this letter. It may interest you.”

He put it in the hand of Newcomen, unfolded. It read:

“My dear Franco,

I have let the note run overdue for a long time. Sixty-five hundred dollars is not a fortune. But we grow no younger and money is no easier to come by.

If your son keeps on spending at the present rate, you soon will have nothing left of your estate. I put in this claim before the moneylenders clean you out.

I have to insist on immediate payment. If merely writing you letters is no good, then I’ll have to go to law.

And perhaps you realize sufficiently well that the instant one suit against you commences, a dozen other claimants will rush to the courts.

Consult your own good sense, and make the payment to me at once.

Yours sincerely,

Thomas Decker.”

IN THE late afternoon of the third day after the murder of Thomas Decker, Newcomen smoked a pipe in the chapel and watched in silence while Dinah Moore worked at the restoration of the fresco. When she finished, he walked down the hill with her to the villino. In three hours she had not spoken three words. Sometimes she had taken her eyes from her work to look at him, but with no meaning in her face except the blank concentration which appears in those who are seeing only with the eye of the mind. Even when she went down the slope over the terraces with him, the preoccupation still held her until she came to the Hercules level. There she stopped, looked up and down the water-lily canal, and then continued down to the wall that fenced the place from the road. She went over the wall like a boy and jumped to the ground below. The dog sprang behind her, and Newcomen, from above, regarded them both with a keen attention before he followed. He landed with the lightness of an athlete in spite of his bulk.

“What have you just learned, Anthony?” she asked.

Continued on page 25

Continued from page 18--Starts on page 16

He merely smiled.

“I saw your eyes open and swallow quite a big fish,” she said.

Instead of answering he said: “Tell

me, Dinah; are you going to do nothing about that Roberto—that kitchen poisoner of yours?”

“Why should I do anything?” she asked. “You’re not even going to inform the police?”

“They’d only put him in prison for life,” she replied.

“Wouldn’t that be a gain?”

“Not for me. I’d like to know who hired him. That’s all.”

“Are you sure that he was paid to do it?” “Yes. Perhaps not in cash, but it was not his own idea. He’d been spying on me for a long time.”

“Why did you keep him, then? Do you like trouble for its own sake?”

“No, I’m not like you, Anthony. I thought that perhaps, sooner or later, I might be able to discover the person behind him, if I kept him in the house long enough. But I failed. That’s all.”

“What was the poison?”

“I don’t know.”

“I told you to have a post-mortem performed on the cat.”

“I know you told me,” she admitted. “You didn’t do it?”

“No.”

“Tell me where it is buried. I’ll attend to it,” said Newcomen.

She said nothing.

“Tell me, Dinah,” he insisted.

“No,” she said firmly, with the air of one who has thought a thing out to the end.

“If an investigation starts, are you afraid of what it might lead to?” he asked suddenly.

They had reached the front loggia of her house and she stopped short and stared at him. Then, silently, she went on to the door. He followed behind her.

With her hand on the door knob, without looking back at him, she said in a low, rapid voice: “I wish you would let me be alone this evening.”

“My last remark was a little thick, eh?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, and pushed the door open. “Good night, Anthony.”

But he walked in behind her. In the dimness of the hall they faced one another. He would have given a good deal for a dearer view of her, but after a moment, without speaking, she went on into the living room. It was never a very brilliant apartment. A climbing vine clouded one window with green, and a great oleander, now brilliant with pink bloom, stood close to the other.

He said: “If they find the cook, they’ll find out why you hired him. If you accuse him of attempted murder, of what will he accuse you?”

The telephone rang in the corner of the room. She went to it.

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll see.”

SHE COVERED the mouthpiece with the flat of her hand.

“Are you here?” she asked. “I think it’s Nancy Ormonde who wants to speak to you.”

He went over to the phone and took it from her.

“Hello,” he said.

“Oh, Tony,” said the weary voice of Nancy Ormonde. “When you weren’t at the villa, I guessed where I might find you, of course. You don’t mind me ringing you there, do you?”

“Not a bit,” he said.

“About this evening. I’m sick about not seeing you, but I have a really frightful

headache. I mean, when I try to sit up the room spins. You know?”

"Are you lying down?” he asked.

“Flat. Do forgive me, Tony.”

“Of course,” he said. "Have you heard the news?”

“What news? News Florentine or real news?”

“Real news. Dinah’s cook tried to poison her, last night.”

“Tony !”

“No wonder you wouldn’t keep Roberto to yourself. Did you know anything about his special talents?”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s true. I saw the cat die of the fish. Ugly thing to see.”

“How horrible!” cried Nancy. “I hope it’s a clear case! I hope that the police

“Dinah won’t have the police. Queer that she won’t, eh? But then she’s a strange girl. Ever notice that?”

“Of course I have. Almost . . . Well, I won’t say it. You mean that she hasn’t turned the case over to the police?”

“Not a bit.”

“She hasn’t even tried to find out where the cook’s gone?”

“She hasn't even lifted a finger.”

The clearness passed out of the voice of Nancy and left the mournful drone of the sick-bed.

“It sounds too preposterous,” she said. “You will forgive me for this evening, Tony?”

“Don’t think about it,” he answered. “So good of you. Will you try me another time?”

“Shall we make it tomorrow?”

“That would be perfect.”

"Good night, Nancy. I’ll be up for you in the evening.”

He rang off. When lie turned, he saw Dinah Moore in the act of sitting down again in the chair by the window.

“Is that how you tell the police?” she asked.

“It’s a good way, isn’t it?” said Newcomen.

“It’s a Florentine way,” she said. “Why not stay and have supper with me?”

“You have no cook now. Don’t forget that.”

"The maid cooks very well.” *

“Besides, you want to get rid of me, this evening.”

"Not now,” she said.

“Are you afraid to stay alone?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

"You hesitated before you said that,” remarked Newcomen.

“Please stay,” said the girl.

“Being persuaded is a charm, when you do the persuading, Dinah. It’s your outright manner that pleases me most. The good, free, ardent, hearty way in which you tell your stories. That’s the artist in you.”

“I'm not acting, really.”

“No? You simply want me here?”

She fell into one of her silences.

“Won’t you persuade any more, Dinah?” he asked.

“No. I see that you’re going,” she said.

WHEN HE was outside the front door, Newcomen stood for a moment breathing the night, with his eyes halfclosed because he wanted to go back into the house so much. Something made a scraping sound just before him, and he looked up as a man slithered down one of the pillars of the portico.

Continued on page 28

Continued from page 25

“Who’s that?” asked Newcomen, and jumped for the fellow as he spoke.

The tips of his fingers brushed a shoulder as the man dodged to the side and ran back along the wall of the house. He made a tali slender silhouette and he ran like an athlete, but Newcomen was overtaking him at every step when he whipped about and fired. The bullet went by the face of Newcomen like a trailing wing-tip over his cheek. The shock stopped him for an instant. When he started again, the fugitive was around the rear corner of the villa.

When Newcomen got there, he had no sight or sound of th; man to guide him. The brush came up c ose to the place at this point, and grass softened the ground.

Anger made Newcomen bigger as stood there, for a moment, straining his cars; then he went back to the front of the house. Dinah Moore stood under the portico.

“Anthony, are you hurt?” she asked.

He stood over her, panting. She lifted her face and kept looking at him ; her hands were held out toward him, an incompleted gesture.

“Who was it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I heard the shot,” she said.

“You don’t know? Ycu don’t know he was up there in your room? You didn’t have any special reason for wanting to keep me here tonight?”

“Anthony, what do you mean?” she asked. “In my room? Was someone . .

“You don’t know anything, of course. It’s best not to know anything,” said Newcomen slowly. "And you’d always do what’s best.”

He turned on his heel and left her.

After a while, he got hold of himself and took his automobile straight across the city and out to the hill of Nancy Ormonde. It stood up, by night, in a strange little black pattern of trees and roof against the stars.

He did not go directly to the villa but, instead, ran his car into the mouth of a lane below it and then went up by foot and scaled the garden wall rather than walk in through the driveway. After a good old Florentine custom, broken fragments of bottle-glass, embedded in the top cement of the wall to discourage thieves, made him work with care. He was in a sweat before he dropped to the deep, soft garden soil. He paused there to eradicate the impression made by his feet. Then he stepped out on the narrow of a path that wound up to the villa.

Part of what he came for met him on the way. The piano strings gave into the distance only a vague rapid thrumming without resonance, but the pure soprano of a woman’s voice, flawless and effortless, sang at his ear, made small but not obscure. When he reached the circle of the driveway in front of the entrance, he saw a small Italian car parked there; it was by no means the sort of an automobile that Nancy would keep for herself.

The singing came from the curtained salon, but a little V-shaped gap toward the top offered a view' of the interior and the window-bars to keep out robbers presented him with a ladder for climbing. He stood close to the wall for a moment to study the garden shadows, afterward he mounted the bars until he could look through the gap between the curtains.

He saw only the red of the tiles at first, with the watery images of furniture slipping over them, but when he looked to the side, the cone of his vision embraced the piano with Nancy at the keys. She was no longer singing, but she played a gay old Neapolitan song with such force that Newcomen could not make out the words which Aldo Bertelli was pouring out with great vehemence. Bertelli stood behind her, talking with voluble gestures to the back of her bright head. Although she could not see him, it was impossible for him to abandon gestures. Now and then he paused with his hands extended, still reaching after his thought. In these

intervals the girl, never turning, sometimes nodded, but as a rule she shook her head, and these denials increased the excitement of Bertelli.

He began to walk up and down the room with short turns, still exclaiming, until Nancy commenced to sing once more, her head back, smiling out the high notes with the care of an opera star. This flood of music reduced Bertelli to a silence in which he gripped his fists, ground his teeth, and stared impotently at the ceiling for a moment before he became more politely resigned.

XTEWCOMEN climbed down from his peren and retreated into the darkness of the garden. He was heading toward a big cypress when an obscure form moved straight at him out of the shadows. A ray of starlight glinted on something that might have been metal. Newcomen sprang with extended hands and gripped his man by the wrists.

They were rather fleshy wrists but w'ith big bone under the fat, and New'comen’s grasp was broken by a sudden powerful movement. Like a boxer he clinched, and then heard the voice of Marchese Lucardo say quietly : “Be still, Newcomen. We don’t want enough noise to bring out the servants, do we?”

Newcomen stepped back. When he had his breath under control, he said: “How long have you been here, márchese?”

“I? Why, I’ve just this moment arrived,” said Lucardo.

"Ycu penaraHy cut in through the garden L..:: way?” asked Newcomen. “Ext acrd'.'ury fellow. You can even see in the dark.

“IP e-claimed Lucardo, carefully keeping his voice low.

“Exactly. Otherwise, how could you know me in the dark?

“Why, I knew you by a certain bigness you have around the shoulders and head; and I saw ;cu against the glinting of a light from the house.”

“Ah, very well,” said Newcomen. “Also, you saw me against the light of that window, didn’t you?”

“Which window, my dear friend?” “Never mind,” answered Newcomen. “I love a man who never says more than he has to. I won’t ask you what else you have found at Nancy Ormonde’s villa besides the view?”

"I don’t understand,” said the márchese. “Naturally you wouldn’t . . . That’s Bertelli’s car, by the way.”

“Ah? Aldo Bertelli? Interesting.”

"Very. She had a sick headache for the rest of the world, but she has songs for Aldo Bertelli. Perhaps you can fit that into your jigsaw puzzle in some way?”

"Into my what?” asked the márchese politely.

“Into the picture of your jigsaw puzzle,” repeated Newcomen. “It may be one of the hard bits. Part of the blue of the sky, for instance . . . He’s arguing with her very hard, and she doesn’t agree with him entirely. In fact, he’s rather hot under the collar. That’s some more free information, which I hope that you can use.”

“I am afraid I do not understand.”

“Of course not,” said Newcomen. “Good night.”

“Good night, Mr. Newcomen.” Newcomen went out into the road by the same course he had used in entering, and, waiting for a moment in the shrubbery, he heard a motor and then a pair of headlights swept by him, and the body of Lucardo’s old-fashioned, high-shouldered car.

Still Newcomen waited by the road and at last another motor came whizzing by him, honking noisily for the sharp bends in the way. He recognized the tinny little car of Bertelli.

After that, he went back to his own automobile and drove straight up to the door of Nancy Ormonde’s villa.

The butler opened the door for him. “The signorina is indisposed,” he said.

“I know she is,” answered Newcomen. “Take up a note to her, will you?” He scribbled on the back of an envelope:

“Dear Nancy, I happened to be passing this way and wanted to find out how you are. Are you well enough to chat for a few moments? Anthony.”

The butler left him in the little salon with the garden view; without the view it was nothing but a high-shouldered vestibule.

The note which Nancy Ormonde sent back was in staggering handwriting:

“Thanks ... So kind . . . Simply dead . . . Forgive. N.”

He wrote under this sad message:

“Dear Nancy,

I just came up to enjoy the view by night and apparently someone was enjoying it before me. I saw his car leave. Don’t make me go with nothing but hills and distant city lights to remember. Anthony.”

The butler, returning after this message, announced: “The signorina descends at

once. Will you sit in the library, signore?” Newcomen walked up and down in the librar^', until Nancy Ormonde came down to him. She was wearing a flowing mist of white weighted down by a margin of embroidery in pastel shades.

“Of course I couldn’t be rude, Anthony,” she told him, “so here I am.”

“How is the head now?” he asked. “Dreadful,” she said, making a gesture with both hands to frame her face.

"But doesn’t getting up and walking help it a lot?” he asked.

She looked at him carefully.

“I wonder,” she said.

“I haven’t had dinner,” he told her. “I’ll ring for something,” she said.

“No, we’ll go to town and get something.”

“Where shall we dine?”

“We can go up to the Piazza Michelangelo.”

“I’ll go up and change . . . Shall I wear black?”

“You can’t make a mistake,” said Newcomen.

\\7HEN HE was alone, Newcomen * * looked farther about the room in the hope of finding tokens of Nancy Ormonde, and thought that he discovered a hint of her in the delicate blues and gold of the Chinese rug, and in the French mirror with its carved and gilded frame, and in three Chinese prints, unrolled against the wall. But something of significance, some vital key for which he was searching expectantly, avoided him. Then Nancy returned, dressed to go out. As they started off in the automobile, she said: “What you told me over the phone about poison and Dinah Moore—that wasn’t a joke?”

“It killed the cat, anyway,” he told her. She considered this in silence, for a moment, and then asked: “Why did you choose that moment to tell me that grisly bit?”

“I wondered if you really were lying fiat on your back in bed, as you said.”

“And so. . .?” she asked.

“So I supplied a shock. There was no rustling of bedclothes, and no crunching of pillows. I decided that you were sitting in a chair.”

“What does all that lead to, Tony?”

“It leads to an automobile and a Florentine night. You can see for yourself.”

She put her head back and looked at the stars, without smiling.

“I’ve thought of a place to go,” she said. “There’s a little restaurant off in the comer of the Piazza Signoria. It’s quiet there, at this time of night. And there’s the tower to look at. Will that suit you?” “When did you start going in for architecture, Nancy?”

“Florence has changed me,” she said. They slid down off the Arcetri hills and into the steaming bustle of the Florentine streets.

“You know Lucardo, don’t you?” asked the girl.

“I’ve had to know him. He takes an amateur-police interest in the case of Tom Decker, so I see him now and then.”

“Is'he a fool or just a fat fox?”

“He looks simple enough,” said Newcomen.

“He was questioning me. Only today. He wanted to know just what I had done on the night poor Tom was killed.”

“What did you do, Nancy?”

“I don’t see what in the world I had to do w'ith it,” she said. “I don’t see why anybody should want to know. Great heavens, Tony, are they suspecting me?” She laughed, but only a little. “I told the márchese just what I had done. I was in bed most of the evening but I couldn’t sleep. I don’t have insomnia often, but that was a bad attack. So I drove down into the town and then out through San Domenico. I suppose it was old habit that made me swing over past the Villa Obviera, and then I saw a light in the villino and thought of seeing Dinah Moore. So I stopped and went in. We had a chat and I came home again. ”

“When was it?” asked Newcomen.

“Oh, say twelve-thirty; around there. What could that mean to Lucardo? He listened with his fat smile all the while, but I could see that he was making notes of everything I said.”

“He’s an amateur detective. What can you expect? Nothing!” said Newcomen. “Perhaps that’s it,” she said.

“Of course that’s it.”

“You know what we ought to do, Anthony?” she asked.

“Well?”

“Stop this side and walk the rest of the way. Or can you find a couple of old alleys that wind up toward the Piazza?”

“I can find them,” he said.

“Let’s walk through. I was in them, once. And I’ve never forgotten.” “Romantic thrill, and all that?”

“Yes, all that.”

He looked for her smile and did not find it. The black of her dress made her seem pale, and the stone-cut beauty of her face was set with resolution. He stopped the car obediently, parked it, and went on beside her. They had to give the sidewalk to a young Italian and his girl moving slowly, locked together, she with her head back on his shoulder and her face frozen with ethereal joy, he with his head bowed, brooding over her.

“That’s the better way,” said Newcomen.

“Better than what?” asked Nancy Ormonde.

“Better than the ways of the coldblooded Nordics, who make it a battle of the wits. We conduct our love affairs somewhere between courtesy and sneering. Is this your alley, Nancy?”

She peered into the tall, narrow slot of darkness, and took his hand as though she were looking down from the brink of a perilous height.

“No, not this one. It’s the other,” she said. “There’s a sort of flying buttress that keeps the buildings from falling in against one another . . . This one . . . This is the place ...”

They moved down the alley.

“Jonah in the whale’s throat—he must have felt like this,” suggested Newcomen. “Why do you have to be so romantic, Nancy?”

E STOPPED, looking up at a narrow wedge of building that had a pair of lights high above, like two eyes set close together.

“They wouldn’t notice even a place like this,” said Newcomen. “Those lovers we just passed. They don’t know the moon is shining. The only stars they see are the ones they put in the sky . . . How do they begin?”

“I don’t know,” said Nancy Ormonde. “Let’s get on through this darkness. It’s not so pleasant after all.”

“I suppose they’ve grown up in the same block,” said Newcomen, without budging in spite of the urgency of her hand. “He’s a metal worker, by the soot in his skin. One day when a glass of wine has sharpened his eye, he sees the girl—her

whole soul— skyrocket !— it’s heaven. And ever since, they've been entranced . . . Did you ever skyrocket like that, Nancy?” “Not as far as heaven,” she answered. “What’s the matter with you, Tony?” “There was too much Nancy in the wine. You know what that does to a man?” “I don’t know at all.”

“I think you do. Even a small spot of Nancy makes the eye shine and the heart go faster. The brain spins and the tongue grows a little delirious. Haven’t you seen those symptoms?”

“Not in you, Tony.”

“You haven’t stopped to look, though.” “Shall I stop?”

“Not if you’re going to hurry on again.” She slowed almost to a halt.

“It’s Florence and moonshine, not me,’ she said.

They were walking on slowly toward the building with the narrow front. Far before them a light showed the rugged stones of an arch, but hardly touched the uneven pavement.

“Are you trying to make me a little dizzy?” she asked.

He put his arm around her.

“I can’t make you dizzy. I only make you shudder,” he told her.

“Because I’m trembling with disbelief,” she said. “Tony, aren’t you a dreadful liar?”

“Men of twenty-five never lie,” said he. “Do you think you have inside your arm something that could make you happy, Tony?”

“What’s that in the window?” exclaimed Newcomen, suddenly interrupting.

For they were by the narrow building now, and out of the black emptiness of a window he saw an obscure form emerging only three or four steps from him. The outline was so dark that it might have been man or woman, but the automatic, reaching out into the alley, was visible by its own light, as it were. It was hardly three steps from them.

Nancy cried out: “No! No, no!” and sprang straight between Newcomen and that levelled gun. The muzzle of it jerked up as it exploded. Something hit the wall behind Newcomen’s head like a fist smashing its bone. The figure in the window faded as he pushed Nancy aside and leafed in through the open square of blackness.

Landing on hands and knees, his shoulder struck a chair and sent it skidding and screeching across the floor. A lock turned in a door, the rusty metal groaning.

Then, as he stood up, he heard Nancy crying softly behind him. “Come out, Tony. Come out, or I’ll die of fear. Come out, or I’ll climb in after you!”

To be Continued