FICTION

The 7th Day

In which a hunter sets a trap and a slender linen thread throws the shadow of a hangman's rope

MAX BRAND March 15 1938
FICTION

The 7th Day

In which a hunter sets a trap and a slender linen thread throws the shadow of a hangman's rope

MAX BRAND March 15 1938

The 7th Day

The story: In Italy, Thomas Decker manages Anthony Newcomen's huge fortune. He phones Newcomen that death threatens him, the wire goes dead, Newcomen rushes to Decker’s villa, finds the man murdered.

Hugh Churchill, the dead man’s secretary, tells Marchese Lucardo, a detective, that the last persons who called on Thomas Decker were:

Nicholas Decker, an impoverished cousin;

Dinah Moore, employed to restore the villa frescoes; Nancy Ormonde who came from America to marry the dead man; Aldo Bertelli who is courting Nancy.

Newcomen, suspecting Dinah Moore, engages all her time for (me week for $5.000 to help him discover the murderer. Churchill informs him that notes in the dead man’s safe which showed thousands of dollars owing to him, are missing.

Newcomen learns that Nicholas Decker and Aldo Be riel It arranged a false alibi fur the night of the murder. An apparent attempt by unknown persons to shoot Newcomen is frustrated. An attempt to poison Dinah Moore also fails. The dead man’s ex-butler, Emilio, is imprisoned on suspicion.

Churchill, failing in an attempt to blackmail Lucardo, shows to Newcomen evidence that the dead man demanded payment of money which Lucardo owed him.

Newcomen, leaving Dinah Moore’s place in the dark, is fired upon by an unknown man who escapes. looter, while with Nancy Ormonde, he is again assailed unsuccessfully. Churchill, sttll trying to blackmail Lucardo, receives 1,000 lire, with a promise of more in three days.

Dinah Moore wishes to withdraw from her bargain with Newcomen, but is persuaded not to. Bertelli offers for 250,000 Itre to tell Newcomen who murdered Tom Decker, and they arrange an appointment.

Neuromen, dining with Dinah Moore, chases a spy; the man falls over the garden wall and breaks his neck, and is revealed as Roberto, the cook; a strange motor car stops and picks up the body. Newcomen, returning to the villino, sees Dinah, apparently terror-stricken, at an upstairs window. He rushes to the room, and finds her lying on the floor, unconscious.

Recovering consciousness, Dinah declines to tell what scared her. Newcomen follows her dog to a grotto and there finds a stiletto which, as he learns later, has Oit spots of blood of the same type as Tom Decker’s.

Newcomen is about to pay Bertelli 250,000 lire for disclosing the name of Tom Decker’s murderer when Bertelli is murdered in the same mysterious manner that Decker was. Lucardo disappears and thus draws suspicion, but when Newcomen gires home he finds Lucardo there, waiting to talk to him.

Dinah Moore tells Newcomen she loves him but knows he will never marry her, because he thinks she killed Decker. Newcomen tells her to go to Merano. a place in the mountains, saying he'll follow her next day. She begs him to go with her, but he refuses and leaves her.

HUGH CHURCH ILL, since the coming of his new master, had formed the pleasant habit of lying late in bed. a privilege which he relished almost as much as he despised the carelessness of Newcomen which permitted such indolence in the people who served him. On this morning, the seventh since the death of Thomas Decker, the secretary took a good breakfast, propped on the pillows which the second butler assiduously piled for him. and when he came to his second cup of coffee he opened La Nazione, lighted a cigarette, and stared at the headlines, while the fumes from the cigarette rose in a wavering line, unregarded.

The smoldering fire in the tobacco touched and scorched his fingers before he dropped the cigarette. His coffee grew cold. Still he read, and anger gathered slowly in his breast as he realized that news had come from the Villa Obviera and passed into the world before a whisper of it had touched his sensitive ears.

La Nazione carried the news in a big way and in much detail. In brief, the story it told was that Signor Newcomen. the rich American who was the owner of the famous old Villa Obviera, did not believe that Marchese Lucardo, now hunted everywhere through the land for the murder of Aldo Bertelli. was guilty of the crime. Instead, he put his faith in a new clue which was in his hands and which he declared would turn out to be the trap which must inevitably cause the capture of the real criminal.

Hugh Churchill, wriggling his shoulders into perfect

comfort against the pillows, at last lighted a cigarette which he smoked in deep inhalations, while he reviewed the main points of the story with meticulous care, and all the while lights of malicious interest flickered in his eyes like small fish in dingy water.

“It lies in a little empty phial.” said the detailed report in the newspaper, ‘‘one of those small glass bottles of a well-known type which are used for aspirin. And the clue itself is simply a very fine linen thread, considerably frayed. There is significance in the thread, however; there is one touch of vital interest, and Signor Newcomen permitted us to stare at it through an enlarging glass. Seen in this manner, the texture of the thread is much enlarged, and at one end of it appears a red stain. The red stain is blood, and it is the blood of the murdered man, Aldo Bertelli!”

In which a hunter sets a trap and a slender linen thread throws the shadow of a hangman's rope

MAX BRAND

Of the finding of the thread, the newspaper said: “When Signor Newcomen, one of the first people to enter the room where the dead man sat bowed over the desk of Marchese Lucardo, picked up the blood-dripping stiletto which had been plunged into Bertelli’s back, he found on the hilt of it, stuck to the crevice where the handle joins its narrow guard, this tiny thread on which a human life may now depend. According to Signor Newcomen, a life does actually depend upon it and the murderer is now in the hands of the law, to all intents and purposes, as literally as though he stexxi on the trap, with the hangman’s rope knotted around his neck ! In brief, it is the theory of Signor Newcomen that the killer, unwilling to risk fingerprints on the hilt of the dagger, too hurried to put on a glove, wrapped a handkerchief around the handle of the knife before striking the fatal blow. But the single thread caught in the crevice, and the thread will be fatal to the criminal !”

The reason why it might be fatal, Newcomen had enlarged with much detailed clarity. In New York, not long before, there was a murder of singular brutality. A woman was found maltreated and strangled in the bathtub of her apartment. Every clue had been removed by the murderer with the possible exception of a small piece of twine which lay beneath her dead body. That piece of twine had been enough to lead the police to the killer.

“In this case, we have not a piece of twine but a meagre thread pulled from a bit of handkerchief linen,” Newcomen had told the reporter. “The smallness does not matter. The microscope makes up the difference; it turns a hairsbreadth into a handful. There is only needed an expert in the field with an expert’s experience and knowledge to interpret the facts for us; and already I have wired to Professor Emile Cardeaux. He is on his way to Florence from Paris. He will arrive here on the eleven o’clock train tonight. By eleventhirty the bit of evidence will be in his hands. It may take a day or two, or even a week, for him to arrange the facts. But soon everything will be made clear. The bit of thread

VJL7TIEN Churchill had finished his reading, he lay * V passive in the enjoyment of another cigarette, smiling to himself before he rose and commenced his bath. Afterward, he went to Newcomen and found him in the orangerie behind the villa. Where the sun slanted down on the gravel, it shone like marble, but all the shadows were blackened with dew.

Newcomen walked up and down among the great red pots and the twisted little deformities of the orange and lemon trees. The commissary of police himself was with him, walking back and forth. Now he stopped by the central fountain and stared at the water lilies which were wide open in the sun and still closed in the shadow.

Hugh Churchill, after the manner of one who enjoys himself with deliberation, took note of this as he walked slowly toward his employer, but it was the face of Newcomen himself that he studied with the greatest relish, for every day of the past week had cut itself into the flesh of Newcomen like a long year of life. The strain in his forehead and the underpainting of purple around his eyes made him look like an actor made up for a tragic part; and all was drawn so hard with tension that he looked brittle.

The conversation which passed between Newcomen and the commissary, the secretary would have given his soul to overhear, but he dared not come within earshot. He had to dally in the distance, while in fact the agent of the police was saying: “But although we appreciate the subtlety of your management in this affair, Signor Newcomen, the fact is that we must not allow private hands to take total charge of a case of this importance.”

Here it was that Newcomen stopped short in his pacing

becomes the executioner’s rope. By degrees it is learned who made the handkerchief; from that point, we easily discover what person present in the house of the márchese on the day of the murder had such a handkerchief in his possession. And after that, the end follows on quickly.”

and said, bluntly: “There is no Professor Emile Cardeaux of Paris. And he is not coming here. And the thread in the aspirin bottle is simply a bit of line thread cut off a spool. And nobody, so far as I know, can derive anything from it.” “But signore! The newspapers ...”

“The newspapers,” said Newcomen, “make fools of us so often that it’s only fair for us to make fools of them, now and again. Don’t you agree? They’ve printed the stuff I told them. And as a result. I’m angling a long line with a barbed hook on the end of it. Signor il Commissar io, I think that I have more than a ghost of a chance of catching the murderer tonight. Do you understand?”

The commissary thought once and jiarted his lips to speak; he thought again and decided not to waste his voice on opinions.

“If you succeed, signore,” he said, “you have my compliments. If you fail. I shall have to call on you in an unpleasant official manner. Good-by!"

And he went off with a quick, stiff, military step, like a man marching in a parade.

Churchill came up at once, and Newcomen said impatiently, with hardly an upward glance: “Yes, Churchill? Yes?”

“I wanted to talk to you for a few minutes,” said Churchill. “Sorry. One minute will have to do,” answered Newcomen. “What is it?”

“The Marchese Lucardo,” said Churchill. “What is he worth to you?”

“The poor devil is being hunted all over the country,” said

Newcomen.

"So I wondered,” said Churchill, “what it would be worth to the police if I told them that he was within a hundred feet of the place where I am now standing.”

"Meaning what?” asked Newcomen.

“In your house!” said Churchill. “I

wondered what that would be worth to the police?”

“Churchill, I’m going to shut your mouth,” said Newcomen. “How much money do 1 have to spend to choke you off?”

The scorn and disgust behind tiffs question left Churchill completely unmoved. He said: "If you consider buying

me off. we ought to talk about what it would mean to

me. Not simply letting Lucardo have your protection, but then there is the great loss to me in that I’ll have to leave your employment."

"Does that follow?” asked Newcomen. “Yes, 1 supjjose it does. What do you suggest?”

“Security, plus freedom," replied Churchill. “That I could secure at a low price. A thousand lire a month? That’s not much, surely. That works out at twelve thousand a year. Five |>er cent, supjx>se we say? That brings it to about two hundred and forty thousand as a capital sum. You see, when you divide that by the rate of exchange it’s not very much, is it? And for that. I walk out and leave you at peace, Tony.”

Newcomen rubbed a hand swiftly across his forehead. His mouth twitched. After a time he was able to say: “Have you atiy idea why I should spend a small fortune on account of Lucardo?”

“My dear Tony," said the secretary, with his smile, “all I know is that you’re willing to do the spending. I have no right to dip into possibilities and probabilities. What assistance you have given to Lucardo or why he is necessary to you—that is not my affair, unless you wish me to guess.”

“I don't wish you to guess,” said Newcomen. “Good morning.”

"Good morning,” said Churchill. "Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

And he went off with a light step, turning his head from side to side so that he would miss none of the beauty of the morning.

"D AIN COMES to Florence out of the southwest. This ^ day, shortly after noon, Monte Morelia was wearing the •cape'la, which means a storm, and then the clouds washed up out of the southwestern horizon and came in a long, smooth deluge over the Arno valley. San Domenico was covered in the middle of the afternoon by the cloud shadows, and in the early evening a fine rain began which increased in the early night to a trampling downpour. A pull of the wind toward the north interrupted the steady rain, which began to come in gusts with intervals during which patches of stars were visible. In one of those clearing moments Marchese Lucardo and Newcomen reached the front door of the vUlino.

Lucardo flashed a single ray from his pocket torch across the windows. They winked back with empty black eyes. Newcomen took the key from his pocket.

"Give it to me,” said Lucardo, so softly that Newcomen hardly could hear him.

"What's the matter?” asked Newcomen, still fingering the key.

“It’s better for me to have it,” answered Lucardo, and he took possession.

He did not fit it at once into the lock, but remained for a moment leaning his head close to the door as though he were listening.

Then he stepped back, saying: “You got no message today from her??

“From whom?” asked Newcomen.

"From Dinah Moore. No telegram? No telephone from long distance?”

“Nothing,” said Newcomen.

“Do you think you ever will see her face again?” asked the márchese.

“No,” said Newcomen.

"And so you are sick?”

“Lucardo, what I feel doesn’t matter.”

“Tell me one thing,” said the márchese. “If it is true that the lovely lady—ah, my friend, how lovely she is! — but if it is true that she has gone on out of your ken, would you help the law to recapture her?”

“I’ll help the law,” said Newcomen, "with every bit of money or brains that I have.”

“Good !” said Lucardo. "Then we can go inside.”

He began to fit the key into the lock, which took some time. He managed everything so carefully that not a sound was made in setting the door ajar.

“Wait till the wind dies a little,” whispered the márchese over his shoulder. “Then step in quickly behind me.”

But he remained waiting for the fall of the wind during several long minutes. At last the rain came down with a rush, and the wind no longer beat against the side of the house. At that moment Lucardo pushed the door ajar and stepped inside with one of those sudden, light movements of which he was capable.

Newcomen followed.

The door closed soundlessly. A mere whisper of the wind preceded them through the darkness like a scurrying of mice.

The márchese did not move at once. He remained for a considerable moment close to the door, and Newcomen spent the interval trying to penetrate the darkness with his ears and his eyes. The black interior came alive before his face, whirling into vague images, but nothing was real.

The sweet, stale odor that invades a closed house lived in the air, a ghost of cookery, of floor polish, of dead flowers, of perfumes.

Then Newcomen saw in fact a dim form drifting before him. He felt the shock first; then he realized that it was Lucardo, proceeding noiselessly across the hall. He followed.

One ray from the marchese's flashlight splintered on the mirror at the side of the hall.

It slashed across the lower stejw of the stairway. Pace by pace. Lucardo mounted through the blackness. Now and again he paused.

There was no whisper from his clothes and no creaking from his shoes. Newcomen found himself stifling as he held his breath.

They gained the upix-r level. The hand of Lucardo sounded faintly as he passed it over the stucco of the wall. Right through the wall he seemed to fade out; Newcomen followed through the open dtxir.

Then through the darkness Newcomen heard distinctly a sound of breathing incredibly quick, as a man breathes after he has been running hard; something scratched on the tiled floor; and then the torch of Lucardo plunged a broad cone of brilliance into the nx>m.

TT SHOWED the eyes of Hans first, red and * phosphorescent as he sUxxl on guard in front of the davenport. On the couch sat Dinah Moore with her hands interlaced in her lap. staring ailmly at them.

"S[X-ak to the dog, signorina," said Lucardo.

"I think the brute is about to rush at me.”

She said something which Newcomen did not hear, and the dog slipped down to a crouching position.

“Stand up,” said Lucardo. “If you please, stand up, without touching your handbag.”

She did, in fact, put out her hand to the purse, but after a moment she rose. She was wearing a light travelling dress with a white collar that framed and set off the youth in her face. It should have accented also the least pallor, but Newcomen could detect nothing pinched or drawn about her mouth. She seemed entirely calm and watchful.

“Open the purse, Signor Newcomen, if you please,” directed Lucardo.

Newcomen picked up the purse, hesitated, and then passed it unopened to the márchese.

"Will you keep an eye on her, closely?" asked Lucardo.

“Yes. Closely,” said Newcomen.

Lucardo gave his attention to the bag.

“Why?” asked Newcomen of the girl.

She smiled at him and shook her head.

“You didn’t leave Florence at all?” he insisted.

“Yes.”

“When did you return?”

“Very soon,” she answered.

Hans jumped on the davenport, and stood with his head as high as her shoulder, eyeing Newcomen.

“Down, Hans!” she commanded.

“Let him be,” said Newcomen. “He’s about all you have to take care of you in the w'orld.”

The dog had not moved.

“Do you know that?” insisted Newcomen.

As she had done so often before, she answered his question with something in her eyes, but her words were: “He obeys you a little now. Have you noticed that?”

He looked at the big dog, and saw the tail of Hans slowly wag as though he were making an involuntary concession to friendliness. Newcomen felt a strange shock of pleasure.

The márchese said : “My dear Signor Newcomen, will you be interested in the contents of this purse? We find our charming lady sitting alone in the dark with the dog—but no, not quite alone. She has a companion who can protect her better than any man. Do you see?”

He held upon the flat of his hand a small automatic. The stub nose of it showed a brutally large mouth.

"Loaded,” said the márchese, weighing it. “Loaded and ready. Dear signorina, for whom was the gun waiting here in the dark?”

Instead of answering, she looked at Newcomen.

“Well?” asked Newcomen.

"Do you think there’s any use in explanations—from me?” she asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. Lucardo remarked: “If

you’ll stay here with her. Signor Newcomen, and watch her carefully while I look a bit through the house ...”

Newcomen took out his own flashlight and snapped on a ray from it.

“I’ll stay here with her,” he answered. “But are you sure that you want to go through the house alone?”

"It will be better,” said Lucardo. "We old bird hunters know how to move silently even over dead leaves, you know.”

He turned at the door, saying this, and laughed back at Newcomen, whose flashlight glanced across the humid, shining face and the gleam of the eyes; then Lucardo disappeared, moving as softly as his promise. Newcomen turned the flashlight down toward the feet of the girl. The darkness swallowed the rest of her except a sort of breathing warmth and the thin, clean odor of the perfume which he had noticed before.

TNO YOU trust the márchese?” she asked. “He might be a ^ great brown fox. Did you see his eyes when he stood there in the doorway?”

“I saw his eyes,” said Newcomen. “And I trust him."

“But not rçe?” she asked.

He put his arms about her. The dog, still standing on the davenport, sniffed at their faces.

“Dinah,” he said, “are you guilty?”

She was silent. “Answer me!” commanded New'comen.

She strained up on tiptoe and kissed him. With her hands she bent his head and kissed his mouth. He trembled.

“Well,” he said, “in spite of Lucardo I won’t keep you

. . Stand aw'ay from me, Dinah.”

She kissed him again. He pulled down her arms and held both her wrists in his left hand. The weight of her body swayed in against his arm.

“Anthony!” she whispered.

“I love you,” said Newcomen. “I love you! That’s why I give you the chance to get out and away. But if I find you again, I swear that I ’ll turn you over to the law. They can jam you into prison and mug you and fingerprint you and then hang you at their pleasure. Now get away from me!”

He turned his back. It seemed to Newcomen that she remained there close to him, and that same sense of the inexpressible warm breath of life enveloped him. Then he heard a light scratching noise toward the door. When he turned, he knew that the girl and the dog had gone, and he was amazed by the shock this gave him.

Afterward he got hold of himself by degrees. The thought of Lucardo was the point at which his wits began to rally. It would be hard to explain to the márchese why he had allowed the girl to go.

He went to the window. Two or three stars were stuck in the upper pane of it like imprisoned fireflies. The cypresses outside stood up like slender, black candlefiames. Like things that were meant for the shedding of darkness, he thought.

Then someone in the room above shouted; footfalls raced; two gunshots banged against his eardrums.

He saw a picture in the black of his mind of Dinah Moore with two bullet wounds enlarging and ruining her mouth—the whole centre of her face smashed in. Somehow he thought of that picture as he raced out of the living room and up the stairs, and into the room above.

A pocket torch lying on the floor showed a glistening space of red tiles, the feet of the piano, a couch beyond, a big old oil jar filled with some sort of long-stemmed white flowers, and on the wall a painting of Judith walking with the head, swinging her sword in her stride. A dim, rather worthless old picture, but it had a special meaning to the first glance Newcomen gave that room.

With bis own torch he found something else, at once. Over by the feet of a comer console lay Lucardo, flat on his back, his arms outstretched and blood on his face ! A gun glimmered on the tiles not far from him. A stride away stood the house safe, with the door of it open and a stack of papers spilled out on the floor.

Newcomen jumped back into the hallway, groaning, and jerked his light down the stairs, down the hall. He made himself stop breathing, put a hand against the wall, and listened. As the uproar of his mind quieted, the steady downpouring of the rain beat gradually into his ears.

Instead of attempting some blind gesture of pursuit, he turned back into the room of Dinah to the fallen márchese. The wound was on the forehead above the left eye, a small tear of flesh that did not look in the least like a place where a bullet could have gone through; but bullets can do strange things. He slid his hand up under the coat of Lucardo. The belly muscles, instead of being relaxed, were tensed under the soft, thick sheathing of outer fat. Higher, he pressed his index finger down over the heart ; the throb of it answered him instantly !

Lucardo sat up an instant later. He got to his knees and to his feet. Then, with a handkerchief pressed against the wound above his eye, he leaned on Newcomen, saying: “Did I hit him, signore? There by the door—is there blood?”

Continued on page 30

Continued from page 22—Starts on page 20

NEWCOMEN flooded the tiles with the light from his torch.

“There’s no blood,” he said.

“You speak in your country of buck fever,” said the márchese. “But for an old hunter like me to start running at my target instead of standing still and hitting it—can you believe that, my friend?”

“It was a gun, Lucardo?” asked Newcomen, with a sudden, vast relief. “It wasn’t a woman?”

“I don’t know,” said the márchese. “When I came up to this room, I thought I saw a flicker, a ray of light under the edge of the door: but when I pushed the door open there was nothing inside it except the open door of that safe and the stuff spilling out on the floor. That was all. I came over here toward the safe and felt something move behind me. When I turned, before I’d centred the flashlight on it, the thing was slipping through the doorway. I shouted out a warning to halt. At the same time I started running. Ah, that is where I made myself a fool ! As I ran, I fired twice; and then knocked my stupid head against something—the comer of that wardrobe, I suppose.”

Newcomen looked at the sharply projecting upper comer of the wardrobe and found on it one small streak of blood.

“Are you badly done in?” he asked. “No, my head’s clearing. Even my forehead is padded with fat,” answered Lucardo. “You see that to eat well and to drink well is a sort of life insurance.” “Someone was going through the old safe,” said Newcomen. “Try to think again. I mean, the figure that slipped away through the door. Could that have been a woman, Lucardo?”

“It could have been. Let me think. A woman or a man of not too many inches— yes, or even a tall man bent over as he ran. You see that it’s no good. I can’t give you a description.”

“We have the job you interrupted, though,” said Newcomen. “Can we make something out of that?”

They stood in front of the safe as Lucardo picked up the stack of papers, big and small, that had slipped out of the open door. Newcomen, on one knee, studied the array of old silver that filled the rest of the space inside the safe, objects which Dinah, it appeared, had not wished to be responsible for when she rented the house. He recognized some of the minor treasures of Thomas Decker, particularly four old silver goblets, hammered into exquisite form.

Lucardo was saying: “Drawings,

signore. With the name of Dinah Moore on them.”

Newcomen stood up suddenly and stared over the shoulder of Lucardo. The márchese was shuffling the stack of drawings slowly. A podere scene of olives and vines, Hans laughing at the world with a very villainous look, oxen swaying at the plow, and then scenes that had nothing to do with Italy, harbor bits, bridge building, a romantic English garden.

“What’s it worth?” asked Newcomen. “It’s not worth a thief’s time,” said Lucardo.

"Are you sure?”

"I am sure. Good second-rate mechanics and some feeling, a good deal of feeling. But this cat in the sun is not feeling the heat of it, that hand on the scythe is holding no weight. Second rate, second rate. No Italian thief would steal this stuff.”

“I thought she had a gift,” said Newcomen slowly.

“She had a gift that Thomas Decker wanted.” said Lucardo. “She had her beauty, signore.”

The márchese stopped his talk, and his shuffling of the drawings at the same moment, staring at something he had found.

“But this,” he said softly, “is worth a thief’s time!”

“What is it?” asked Newcomen.

But the márchese had slapped the drawings together and tucked them under his arm. His eyes shone like the eyes of a great cat.

“Later, my friend; later!” he said. “But the first thing is to get these—drawings-back to the villa before someone murders us here.”

“Murder?” said Newcomen, peering at him. “On account of the drawings of Dinah Moore?”

“Murder,” said Lucardo, “on account of what I hold under my arm !”

'N^’EWCOMEN, at his telephone, reached Nicholas Decker first. To him Newcomen said: “You’ve read about it in the paper, of course. About the coming of Professor Emile Cardeaux, I mean. I wondered if you’d like to be on hand when he arrives, and see what a great detective looks like? He’ll be doing his stuff as soon as he sees the thread, I believe, and he might be able to tell us something important right away.”

Decker said: “It’s a late call, but I’ll be there, Tony. This Cardeaux—I’ve been trying to find out about him, and nobody knows.”

“He’s one of those under-cover fellows,” said Newcomen. “You never read about him in headlines—he leaves that for the heads of the police—but the devil will be to pay half an hour after he’s had a look at that thread. I’m certain.”

He got Nancy Ormonde.

“Of course I’d like to come,” she*said. “But all this about Professor Cardeaux— it doesn’t really seem possible that he can read the mind of a bit of thread, do you think?”

“I’ll tell you what,” answered Newcomen. “It’s said that he spotted one murderer through a pinch of dust that was shaken out of his pocket.”

“Tony !” cried the girl.

“It’s true, I believe,” lied Newcomen.

“Then I’m going to come down and have a look at the monster,” she declared.

He even rang Hugh Churchill at the hotel where the former secretary was staying for the night.

“You’ve seen a good deal of what’s gone on, Churchill,” said Newcomen. “Why not come up and see the great detective at work? You might even help him if he has questions to ask.”

“Delighted,” said Churchill. “Of course I’ll be there. But isn’t it a little odd to bring this French fellow down here when it’s admitted that Lucardo is the killer?” He laughed a bit as he rang off.

Newcomen went up to his rooms and passed into the small inner chamber where Lucardo waited for him, stretched in a comfortable chair with his hands folded behind his head and only the twist of the handkerchief around his brow to disturb the perfect peace in his huge face. His eyes were closed, and they did not open when Newcomen came into the room.

“People will begin to drift in in about half an hour,” said Newcomen. “We’ll have everybody you suspect except Dinah Moore.”

"How shall I see the party?” asked Lucardo.

“There are several flaws in the glazing of the studio window,” said Newcomen. “From the outside you can look in as you please.”

“That’s a wet business,” said Lucardo. “Do you think that anything really may come out of it?”

“I think something may.” answered Newcomen. “Otherwise it makes a fool out of Cardeaux and out of me.”

“This Cardeaux,” said Lucardo softly, “it’s strange that I haven’t heard a word about him.” Continued on page 32

Continued from page 30 "He works quietly,” said Newcomen. "Ah, and that’s true,” answered Lucardo, "but I’ve spent my life listening to whispers. However,” he went on, holding up his fat hand, “let’s see what we shall have when everyone is assembled, even including Dinah Moore.”

Newcomen wheeled on him.

"She won’t be there,” he declared. “She’s not fool enough to walk back into trouble after what she’s done tonight.” "You mean when she returned to the nillino? You think that she really was the Iverson I found at the safe in her room?” asked Lucardo.

"I think so,” nodded Newcomen. "But she’ll never appear here tonight.”

“I have a hundred lire to say that she will,” said Lucardo.

"I cover your hundred,” answered Newcomen.

TT WAS toward eleven-thirty when Nancy Ormonde arrived at the villa and was shown into the studio. Nicholas Decker and Hugh Churchill already were there with Newcomen. She was wearing a dress of dead white with crystal buckles (laming at the insteps of her slippers. The slippers had red heels and there was a brilliant red lining to one fold of the dress hanging down from the shoulders behind. She had a yellow cloak, too, a pale Venetian thing covered with an arabesquing of embroidery, and she kept this on because the rain had blown a cold damp breath through the great room. A small fire burned on the hearth, but that was a mere handful of warmth in so large a chamber.

Nancy said to Newcomen: “But this is the very room, isn’t it? Isn’t this the very room where Tom was stabbed? They proved that, didn’t they? I think poor Lucardo told me they had proved that.” “Yes, they proved that,” said Newcomen.

"You look frightful, Tony,” said the girl, still hardly more than whispering. "What have you been doing? Staying up all night and trying to catch the murderer with your mind?”

"I suppose the murderer is the márchese, after all,” said Newcomen. "They’re all after him.”

‘T don’t know,” said Nancy, searching his face. “I was fond of poor Lucardo, but you’re what I worry about now. Tony, you mustn’t do it ! Sit down and talk to me for five minutes by the fire, won’t you?” "Why haven’t I been seeing you?” asked Newcomen. “Tomorrow, you know what I'm going to do?”

“Something with me. Tony. That’s what I hope, at least,” she answered.

“I’m going to go up and sit on your terrace in the sun, if you’ll be somewhere about in the garden. Picking at things. Giving the gardeners reprimand^ about something. It won’t waken me if I can have the sun and the sound of your voice.”

“You know, Tony, you ought not to talk like this,” said Nancy Ormonde. “When you talk like this, a girl’s imagination picks up what you say and runs on with it. For instance. I’ve been expecting you every day. But it was Dinah, wasn’t it, who took up all your time?”

“Go on and talk, Nancy,” he said. “I don’t care what you say. But your voice runs through me like a river of peace. I mean to be poetic, just like that a river of peace, a sweet, small river of peace.” “Well, it tvas Dinah, of course,” she said. “That damn Dinah!” She laughed, and nodded at her idea. “She is so frightfully beautiful, Tony, isn’t she? Don’t say yes. Just be thoughtful and shrug your shoulders. That’s better.”

The butler came over and told him that someone wanted him in the outer room. He went into the big storage hall, and saw* a woman hooded from head to foot in a dripping, shining black cape. She turned a little and he saw the face of Dinah.

"I thought you wouldn’t show up,” said Newcomen.

“Anthony,” she said, “come back over

here a little, so that people can’t hear. Now*, will you listen?”

“I’ve always listened to you,” he said. “Out there between the young cypresses and the wall, beside the studio window, there’s a man standing in the rain,” she said.

“Is there?” answered Newcomen. “I’ll attend to that.”

“You know that he’s there?” she asked, searching his face to find something behind his words. "You know that it’s Marchese Lucardo?”

"Well?” said Newcomen.

“You trust him, Anthony,” breathed the girl, "but you mustn’t. You think that he’s a great-hearted man; but what you’ve discovered is just a brain. There’s no real kindness in him. There’s no real truth. He’s a sham throughout. I tell you I know what he is. And it makes me shudder to think !”

“Of course it does,” said Newcomen. “He’s the man who murdered Thomas Decker and poor Bertelli, isn’t he? Everybody knows that.”

“Tony,” she said, “for the sake of your own life ...”

"You’d better come in and get warm by the fire,” said Newcomen.

"I won’t stay,” she said.

“Yes, you’ll stay,” insisted Newcomen. He pulled the wet of the cloak from about her. She was wearing the same travelling suit, with the white collar rumpled a bit with moisture.

“You came up here to watch over me, didn’t you?” asked Newcomen. “That was sweet of you, dear.”

"Anthony-there’s murder in the air, in there. And Lucardo—”

"Be still about him, will you?” commanded Newcomen. “And do as you please. Come in or go away.”

"I’ll come in.” said Dinah Moore.

"I thought you would,” said Newcomen.

XJTUGH CHURCHILL called her atten-*• tion as she went in. okept his place near the desk of Thomas Decker. A small bottle such as aspirin is kept in, lay on the desk near the telephone.

Churchill was pointing it out to Nancy Ormonde.

“The thread inside is so small that you can barely make it out against the white of the label,” said Churchill. “It’s a small snake, but it’s going to sting someone to death. Someone in this room, I wonder?” Nicholas Decker had made himself at ease in one of the comfortable chairs. He was dressed in tails because he had just come from a dinner party, and the points of his collar pushed painfully up into his throat.

He said: “Is that where they found the blood. Churchill?”

“Yes. Just there,” said Churchill, pointing. “Just a few drops. But that was enough to show that he had been stabbed in this room. And that changed everything. All the earlier theories went out like lights when the blood was discovered.”

“Poor Tom falling in the midst of his career. You see the visible career all round you,” said Nicholas Decker. He waved his hand. “Ten thousand bits of rather spoiled paintings and bric-a-brac. But does anybody put any faith in this miracle of the thread?”

"You’ll see,” said Churchill. “That thread is going to grow into the hangman’s rope. It really is. And it will probably throttle somebody in this room.”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that.” remarked Decker with irritation. “But what nonsense, Churchill. My good fellow*, what rot !”

The thin face of Churchill twisted with a poison of malice.

“Do you think that Mr. Newcomen asked us here for nothing?” he demanded.

He pointed to the faces in the room one by one.

“Everybody here had a chance to commit the murder, and everybody had a motive!” he declared loudly.

Heads turned quickly.

Continued on page 34

Continued from page 32 No one sjx>ke until Newcomen said: “Begin with me. Churchill, won’t you? Point out my motives.”

Churchill rubbed his hands together and shrugged his shoulders and laughed like a woman, with a high squeal of excitement in his voice.

“That would be ingratitude to my former employer,” he said.

“Oh, carry on,” said Newcomen. “Be Nemesis, Churchill. That’s the sort of part you like.”

“He looks more like a starved Adam than a Nemesis,” said Nicholas Decker. “Adam with the apple stuck in his throat.” No one laughed except Churchill, who was shuddering with nervous delight. He darted a finger at Newcomen, like a bird picking something out of the air.

“Motives and facts together,” said Churchill. “Mr. Decker learns that Mr. Newcomen is returning to Italy in haste, and at once becomes very nervous. A doctor is called in. Sedatives. Brandies in the morning. When I speak of Mr. Newcomen’s approaching arrival, he shuts me up with a rude word or two.”

Churchill broke off to laugh and nod .again, and again he made the darting gesture toward Newcomen.

"Mr. Newcomen reaches Italy and can’t wait to reach Mr. Decker. He rushes by automobile from Venice at night and arrives in the dawn, at just about the hour when Mr. Decker died. Strange, isn't it? And as for motive, we know that Mr. Decker was mishandling the Newcomen millions. I handled some of the correspondence and I know.”

IN THE pause Nancy Ormonde said: “I don’t know why we should listen to this croaking.”

“Ah, you know,” said Nicholas Decker. “Skeleton at the feast. Let him rattle his bones a little.”

“I killed Tom Decker?” asked Newcomen calmly. “But what about Bertelli, who seems to have been killed by the same hand?”

“Motives?” said Churchill. “Why, Bertelli had seen the first crime and was blackmailing you. How do we know it was blackmail? Because in what other way would he have got hold of the money with which he was paying his debts recently? Who would have trusted Bertelli with a loan? What other way did he have of raising money? No—blackmail, and then murder!”

“I don’t know how the rest of you feel, but I simply won’t listen to any more,” said Nancy Ormonde. “Tony, what a patient dear you are!”

“The old hawk is free from the leash.” said Nicholas, “and I like the way he stoops and kills for himself. See him shiver with pleasure, won’t you? Eating malice like meat. And what about me, Churchill? Put your beak into me. won't you?” Churchill giggled like an old maid.

“Of course you couldn’t live except as your cousin helped you,” said Churchill, “and people who take charity always hate the hand that feeds them. You hated Thomas Decker, he despised you, and finally there was the affair of the picture; he cut off your income, and I heard you threaten to take his life. I heard you, in the library, that morning when—”

“You contemptible . . . ” Nicholas

Decker roared. But he controlled himself and drew himself back into the chair with the strength of his arms against his legs, as it were. “The king’s fool has to have license.” he said, “though sometimes the dog must get a beating as well as a crust of bread.”

Churchill went on: “Bertelli was your crony. He saw the crime. That’s why you killed him afterward.”

Nicholas Decker writhed in his chair, but he said: “Good! Very good! Logical, and all that. Now that we talk of suspects, what of our friend Churchill, here, who thinks his paintings are worth a fortune and who hated Tom because the big collector wouldn’t boost him into some

sales? Look at Churchill ! A man made for hate. See it in his narrow'face. The fool’s gold that the devil put in his eyes to keep shining there. Notice that nobody had such excellent opportunities to kill his master. And. as he says, Bertelli saw the crime, and because of that he murdered Bertelli, too. With a little feminine stiletto. Listen to his laugh. The scrawny animal ! But he was mentioned pretty liberally in Tom’s will, and of course if he killed his master before Tom had a chance to draw up a new document ...”

“Steady,” urged Newcomen. “Steady, please. This is getting a little out of hand.”

“Shall I go on to the ladies, then?” asked Churchill, though he still stared at Nicholas Decker with venomous hunger.

“No, we’ve had enough,” said Newcomen.

“Ah, but that’s really not fair,” said Nancy. “We’re all buzzard’s food, it seems. You don’t mind, Dinah, do you, dear?”,

CHURCHILL accepted this permission eagerly. He softened his voice, however. and made his manner more ingratiating.

“It’s just the game, Miss Ormonde,” he said, bowing over her, and vainly trying to rub warmth into his skinny hands. “In the game we try to make it as black as possible for everyone.' But to take up your case, Miss Ormonde—you permit me?” “Of course I permit you.” said Nancy, sitting up a little straighter and looking at him with a bright interest.

“Well,” said Churchill, “when one sees beauty, one thinks of childhood and innocence. Pretty, sweet things that can’t do much wrong. Their hands are too small to do much wrong, one thinks. But after all, there is passion. Rare souls feel rare passions. Common people—we break bread; the rare souls break hearts and eat ’em. Pardon me. Miss Ormonde.”

He bowed to her again and kept his head down a minute.

“Interesting.” said Nicholas Decker, pointing his mustaches with his soft fingers. “See how the wolf puts his teeth even in that game! See him bow to cover his grin. The devil has laid a hand on you, Nancy. Aren't you shuddering?”

“Not a bit,” she said, smiling on them all, and then looking back at Churchill.

“Motives—we come to motives,” said Churchill. “And there is the will of Thomas Decker that makes Miss Ormonde quite rich. Oh, very well off, indeed. But suppose he should change that will? And was he about to change it? Was he about to turn away from beautiful Miss Ormonde to beautiful Miss Moore?”

Churchill stiffened and thrust out his arm at Nancy.

“You know he was!” he cried out suddenly. “You know he’d gone mad about Miss Moore! I’ve seen him sit hours in the chapel to watch her hands at work on the frescoes, like a child, watching; smiling like a child also. You knew he was going mad about her. and you stabbed him. and let him die. And Bertelli saw you. and that was why you were so much with him after the death of Thomas Decker, until he began to cost you too much money, and then you murdered Bertelli. too, with the same slender little bright knife that fits your hand so well ...”

“Churchill!” called Newcomen.

The man stopped, panting; and the noise of evenindrawn breath was as though he drank.

“But I don’t mind. Tony; I really don’t.” said Nancy. “Foul things are bound to handle us. finally. Craves and worms and things. I don't mind. I only hope the poor monster will make a better Christian of me. Are you going to mind. Dinah?”

Dinah Moore looked not at Churchill but at Newcomen. “No,” she said. “I won’t mind.’ She looked at the wavering flame of the fire and shook her head, smiling a little. “No. I won’t mind.” she repeated. Continued on page 38

Continued from page 34 “Well,” said Churchill, settling gradually to a new theme from his last ecstasy, “we all see that Miss Ormonde is lovely; but Miss Moore is something still greater. People who have seen her once do not need pictures afterward. But motives—we come to motives—and there is the matter of the money which had to be sent away so constantly, and where would she get that money to send except from Thomas Decker? The money to send to America to —ah, well, the name doesn’t matter, because he’s not in the case, though he may be the cause behind everything. Money, then, from Thomas Decker, and how can she repay him? With herself? Given to an ageing, lecherous, evil man—ah, there would be strength in her hand to put an end to the bargain! If she wanted her path cleared, she would have the power to clear it. Do you doubt?”

She lifted her head and looked with unfathomable eyes at Newcomen, and he shuddered under the gaze.

“That’s enough, Churchill,” he said. “That’s quite enough.”

“A grim, graveyard effect, at that,” said Nicholas Decker. “The man should have been a preacher, or a seller of pardons. But when does the great detective arrive, Tony? When are we to watch him peer at

the thread in the bottle and point a finger at one of us?”

He leaned over the desk and cried out: “But hold on! There’s no thread in the bottle at all !”

“I thought so,” cried Newcomen. “I thought it would be changed. Stand fast everyone and don’t move. Keep in your places. I thought the sham might do well enough. Churchill was right. We’ve got a murderer here among us. In the room. One of you that I’m watching. No great detective is coming. His name was only a bait to draw you. And one poor, guilty devil has taken the hook. He’s changed the phial for an empty bottle. The one that the other bottle is found on is the certain killer.”

“Very melodramatic,” said Nicholas Decker. “I suppose we can sit down again, at least? Will there have to be a search, and all that?”

He followed his own suggestion by dropping back into the deep chair which he had been in before. Some of the others were moving when a great blow smashed in the whole lower section of the studio window. The glass fell with a long uproar across the floor, and through the gap the voice of Lucardo shouted: “Dinah Moore — stand off by yourself!”

To be Concluded