FICTION

She Wrote FINIS

Startling revelations concerning the murdered Minna Lucas cause fear to haunt those who had been her guests

Q. PATRICK December 15 1940
FICTION

She Wrote FINIS

Startling revelations concerning the murdered Minna Lucas cause fear to haunt those who had been her guests

Q. PATRICK December 15 1940

She Wrote FINIS

FICTION

Startling revelations concerning the murdered Minna Lucas cause fear to haunt those who had been her guests

Q. PATRICK

Travelling by cab across New York to attend a house party,

LESLIE COLE, woman editor with a prominent book publishing house, and

ROBERT HOYER, author of a sensationally successful first novel, are puzzled by the fact of their being invited to the party which is being given by

MINNA LUCAS, author of an unpublished novel recently turned down by Leslie Cole. It is known to them that the failure of her novel has made Minna Lucas bitter, following closely as it has upon a motor accident in which she was badly scarred, an accident that, too, had been the cause of her engagement being broken.

They arrive at the house to find a surprising group assembled. There is GORDON KEATH, the literary agent who had handled Robert Boyer's successful book and Minna Lucas' unsuccessful erne:

JIMMY HARDING, who had dramatized Hover's novel, and

FAITH FELTON, now Harding's wife, who had achieved stardom in its leading stage role.

DAVE WALKER, formerly engaged to Minna Lucas, is there with

YVONNE PREVOST, Walker's present fiancée—everyone looking a bit uncomfortable. Thinking it odd that all the windows are open, and finding the house cold, Leslie Cole and Boyer go upstairs to the third-poor studio where there is a fireplace.

There they are shocked to find Minna Lucas lying dead upon the strewn pages of her book manuscript, in one hand a gun, in the other clutched a page of manuscript containing a suicide note.

It is plain to them then that, as a bizarre form of revenge, Minna Lucas has invited all her enemies, real and fancied, to be there for her suicide. The police are called and all guests are held in the house under orders from

LIEUTENANT TRANT. who. following an investigation, startles Leslie and Boyer with the blunt statement:

“Miss Lucas was deliberately and very cleverly murdered."

{This ¡s the Second of Four Parts)

SO THAT was Lieutenant Trant ’s trump card. An icy sensation invaded Leslie as she gazed at the detective’s impassive face. It melted, giving way to a stubborn incredulity. Minna murdered ! It was impossible, just some wild stratagem of Lieutenant Trant’s, intended in some way to jolt them. 11 couldn’t be true. It was mad—absurd.

And yet, very dim and remote, but terrifying now for its unconscious prescience, came

the memory of her own voice speaking to Robert less than an hour ago: She'd murder any of us cheerfully . . . unless, of course, someone murders her first . . .

She had said that . . . she, Leslie Cole . . .

Robert, too. was staring at the lieutenant with the stupefied look of a man who had been struck unexpectedly.

: Minna—murdered! You can’t mean that seriously, lieutenant.”

“Very seriously. I’m surprised you two hadn’t guessed it for yourselves. You have most of the facts in your possession.” Trant shifted long legs, showing neat, uupolicemanlike brogues. “When I first saw the body I thought.it unusual that she was lying on her back. In most cases when a suicide shoots himself in the head, the knees buckle under him and he falls either forward or sideways. There are no definite rules about that, though. Almost anything can happen after a bullet’s been fired into the brain.”

He looked at Leslie. “But there’s plenty of evidence without that. You saw the chipped hole where the bullet entered the wooden support of the mantel. It was less than two ieet from the floor. An examination of the head shows that the bullet went right through the skull, travelling in a slightly upward direction. Obviously, if Miss Lucas had been' standing, pressing the revolver to her temple, the bullet couldn’t conceivably have struck the mantel at a point only two feet above the floor.”

“But why should she have been standing up?” cut in Leslie. “She might easily have been sitting on the floor or lying down when she—pulled the trigger.”

Once again there was a faint smile in the detective’s grey eyes.

“It’s not customary to lie on the floor when you shoot yourself. Miss Cole. Besides. I believe you heard the medical examiner remark on the fact that there was a considerable swelling on the back of Miss Lucas’ head. She would have had to have fallen from a standing position to have caused a nasty lump like that. Since the bullet hole in the mantel proves she couldn’t have shot herself in a standing position, obviously she couldn’t have committed suicide.”

His grey eyes, behind the slightly closed lids, were smooth and expressionless as suede. “Besides, there’s another point. The medical examiner is almost certain that the blow on the head was delivered before death. The weapon used wras probably some sort of homemade blackjack or sandbag. It didn't draw blood or fracture the skull, but the blow was sufficiently strong to render Miss Lucas unconscious. How could she have shot her§elf when she was lying on the floor—unconscious?”

There was something inescapable about those few, casually indicated facts.

Robert started to say something, but Trant went on imperturbably: “In my examination of the room I happened to notice a slight stain on one of the couch cushions. I picked it up. It smelt distinctly of—gunpowder.”

He added: “I’m afraid there’s only one satisfactory

explanation to cover all the facts. Someone must have gone into that room, possibly engaged Miss Lucas in conversa-

tion and. when her back was turned, struck her over the head with sufficient force to render her unconscious. After that he shot her as she lay on the floor, with a revolver which we are tracing, but which probably he found on the premises—since one of the drawers in the desk has been broken open. In an attempt to deaden the sound of the shot, he must have used the cushion from the couch as a muffler.”

He paused. “Having done that, he proceeded very skilfully to stage a suicide. He arranged the body conveniently near the corner of the wood box to account for the bump on the head; he put the gun in Miss Lucas’ right hand; he spread the manuscript of her novel around the floor for local color; he took the last page with its appropriately suicidal Finis in red ink—and crumpled it into her left hand.”

He made an expressive gesture. “Apparently he fooled you two. He might have fooled everyone else if he hadn’t made those few elementary mistakes—if he hadn’t hit her just a little too hard on the head, if he had taken more care about the path of the bullet and the smell of gunpowder on the cushion.” His face was suddenly solemn. “Otherwise, he pulled off a very brilliant job indeed.”

T ESLIE struggled to co[x: with the implications of this fantastic thing he w-as saying.

The lieutenant’s voice sounded again. “Do either of you know what time this party was scheduled to begin?” “Minnaasked us for half-past five,” said Robert bleakly.

“And you rejx)rted the discovery at sixtwelve. When did you arrive at the house?” Robert glanced uncertainly at Leslie who said, “It must have been just after six, because Mr. Boyer picked me up at my office at quarter of six. I looked at my watch. And it takes about fifteen minutes to get here. We were the last to arrive. We stayed downstairs a couple of minutes. Then we went up to the studio and—and found her.”

Trant nodded gravely. “Then at least neither of you two had an opportunity to commit the crime.”

Leslie said stupidly, “But how do you know?”

“That’s simple. You told me Mr. Boyer picked you up at your office at quarter of six and you found the body almost as soon as you arrived here.” Trant smiled deprecatingly. “It’s very rare that the time of a murder can be established definitely. But in this case the medical examiner tells me that, even taking into consideration the fact that she was lying near the fire, the temperature of the body shows that Miss Lucas had been dead less than an hour, probably less than forty minutes when he saw her at six-thirty.” Robert was staring. “You’re trying to say Minna died at some time after half-past five, after the party was supposed to begin?” “Certainly.” The detective looked down again at his left thumbnail. Leslie w'as beginning to realize that as the most ominous of his mannerisms.

Stifling back her incredulity, she breathed, “Then you mean that one of the people . . . ” “Exactly,” cut in Trant, and his voice was almost sad. “It’s virtually certain Miss Lucas was murdered after the party began. The back door is bolted on the inside; no one could very well have got in and out through the front door without being seen by some of the guests. Since she was probably killed much nearer to six than to five-thirty, there’s only one reasonable hypothesis to draw.”

He glanced up, his grey eyes very steady. “It seems almost beyond question that Miss Lucas must have been shot by one of her—er —friends, one of her guests who are waiting for us at the moment—downstairs.”

VAGUELY Leslie had realized that the lieutenant was leading up to this. But it still did not make sense. It had been hard enough to realize that someone she knew had been murdered; it was infinitely harder to realize that one of her friends could be a murderer.

Trant was talking quietly as if nothing had been changed. Suddenly he rose and moved to the door.

“I’m ready to see the others now.”

Robert guided Leslie after him, a large, comforting hand on her elbow.

As they passed down the stairs, a confused argument sounded from the hall. Leslie recognized Faith Felton’s husky, dramatic voice.

“Darling Jimmy, you know you can be

clever if you try . . make the man understand we’ve got to get out of this place

Faith was swirling around an unimpressionable policeman, gesticulating with slender gloved hands, shedding an exjiensive wake of cyclamen perfume, while her husband stixxi watching sardonically.

They both turned when they saw Trant. The actress swept toward him. “That’s the one in charge! Make him let me go. Jimmy.”

Jim Harding’s dark, ironical gaze fixed the lieutenant. “My wife’s getting a little restive. She has to play tonight. Won’t you hand her an exit line? As her husband. I can give any information you may want ...”

“But only Miss Felton can play Sally McCreedy in ‘The Story of Mark,’ ” broke in Trant dryly. "I agree with you. I had the pleasure of seeing her last week. A real artist.”

“So divine of you!” Faith smiled the dazzling Sally McCreedy smile which had thrilled Broadway audiences nights and matinees for the past eighteen months. “Isn’t he a divine policeman, Jimmy? Then it’s all right? I can leave?”

Trant's eyes were very steady. “As I remember, you don’t appear until about halfway through the first act. I hope to be finished with you all in plenty of time. Miss Felton.”

I íe moved the few steps into the living room where Gordy Keath. Dave Walker and Yvonne Prévost were grouped awkwardly. The others followed him. Faith looked nonplussed and, Leslie thought, a little frightened too. as she gripped Trant’s arm.

“But I have to eat. I have to make up. I have to do a million things. Just because Minna killed herself, you can’t keep me here. It’s no concern of mine.”

“If Miss Lucas had killed herself, I agree it would have been no concern of yours.” Lieutenant Trant’s travelling gaze moved from one intent face to another. “But I’m afraid this thing must be of some concern to you all now, because it so happens that Miss Lucas was—murdered.” In the terrifying silence which followed that remark, he moved to the table and indicated a tray of glasses.

“Seven guests—eight glasses. You might have guessed for yourselves that Miss Lucas was intending to be at the party.”

Flash impressions of faces came to Leslie— Gord y’s jaw dropping, Jim Harding’s pupils narrowing to needle points. Faith’s hand frozen halfway to the throat of her silver fox cajx1. Dimly she was conscious too of Dave Walker’s hand gripping Yvonne’s in a gesture which seemed half protective. half warning.

But none of them spoke. It was as if none of them could shatter that impregnable wall of speechlessness. In a quiet, unemphatic voice, Lieutenant Trant explained the facts which had led to his conclusion of murder. He asked if any of them had seen Minna alive that afternoon, either before or after the party had started. No one replied. He asked if any of them had heard a shot.

Yvonne Prévost sjx>ke then. In a voice that had exaggerated harshness, she said:

“We wouldn't have heard a bomb explode—what with the windows open, the rush-hour traffic outside and the radio blaring.”

Flatly each of them admitted that he or she had arrived at the party separately and had gone up to one of the bedrooms to remove coat and hat.

Jimmy Harding said, with an attempt at lightness. "You’re surely not suggesting one of us could have removed a hat. a coat and Minna in the few minutes we were upstairs alone!”

“It d;x*sn’t take long to hit someone over the head and shoot them, Mr. Harding—if everything lias been planned out ahead of time.” Lieutenant Trant’s unyielding gaze once again moved around the taut circle of faces. “Even so, I would like to know which of you arrived here first.”

T ESLIE, perched on the arm of the couch, turned instinc■*-' tively to Gordy Keath, watching him with a queer, pinched feeling of apprehension.

He grinned weakly. "I got here quite a while before the rest of the bunch. 11 was Minna’s idea. She dropped a note in my mailbox this afternoon, asking me to get the party started.”

“You have the note?”

"Sure.” Gordy’s casualness was painfully on the surface as he produced a piece of paper from his pocket and handl'd it to the detective. “I live only a couple of blocks from here. I found the note in the mailbox when I got back from work about five-twenty. Minna’s dixir key was enclosed. Being a good-natured agent, I came right over without even washing up.”

Lieutenant Trant regarded the note gravely. It was typewTitten and read:

Gordy—

I have a very important business date this afternoon. Can’t interrupt it or cut it short. So may be a bit late for the party. Since the maid’s out, I’m going to be stuck unless you’ll be an angel and get things started. Everything’s put out. All you have to do is to

be your usual exuberant self. I’m keeping the windows open, by the way. because the room seemed kind of stuffy. Thanks frightfully. M. L.

P.S. You might turn the radio on. The party’s going to be sticky at first and there’s nothing like music to smooth things over. I'm enclosing the front door key.

Rather hesitantly Gordy explained how he had arrived at the house at about five-twenty, found everything ready and had gone into the kitchen. Soon the buzzer had rung and the first guest. Yvonne Prévost, had arrived. He told her where to put her things and asked her to let the other guests in. Trant listened in complete silence. At length he said:

“I presume you gathered from this note, Mr. Keath, that Miss Lucas had gone out for this imjxirtant business conference?”

“Sure.”

"Whereas, in fact, she must have been in this house, up in the studio, all the time—waiting for the important business date to come to her. Since Miss Lucas could not, on the medical evidence, have been dead before Mr. Keath arrived at five-twenty, it’s hard to see how that business date could have been anyone except one of you.” In the sudden sharpening of tension, he looked up. "I’d like to knowexactly why each of you was invited here this evening—and why you came.”

"There’s no mystery why Jimmy and I came.” Faith Felton fluttered a perfumed handkerchief and once again gave Lieutenant Trant a rather wilted sample of the Sally McCreedy smile. "I was a very old friend of poor Minna’s. In fact, we were brought up together by her aunt, a dear sweet person. And when I came to New York, I roomed with her and Leslie — Miss Cole. ()f course, |xx>r Minna was a queer kind of girl. It was awdully hard to warm to her.” She gestured at Leslie.

"Wasn’t it. darling? But I’ve always felt terribly grateful, because it was really through lier being Mr. Boyer’s secretary that I met Jimmy and—and got the Sally McCreedy role that gave me my break on Broadway.”

Leslie watched her. wondering if Faith’s theatrical imitation of composure were as transparent to Lieutenant Trant as it was to her.

"Recently Jimmy and I had a tiny difference of opinion with Minna. She was very eager for Jimmy to adapt her novel as a vehicle for me. She thought, ixxir darling, that just because Jimmy had made a hit dramatizing Robert’s lxx>k, that he could do the same for her. We’d love to have been able to help lier. of course, but it was quite imjxissible. A terrible novel—no stage jxissibilities. No role for nu—just one female character, a bitter, dreary, unappetizing spinster. Jimmy had to refuse.” She shrugged. "There was quite a little scene.”

She paused. l;x)kid around vaguely. "1 líate quarrels. Yesterday Minna called up and invited us to this party. I took it as a gesture of reconciliation, so of course I accepted. Poor Minna, she’d had so many bad breaks. It was a shame to be mean to her.”

TRANT had been watching the dramatic ebb and flow of her expressions in steady silence. Now he said: "So you and your husband came to the party out of sympathy?” “Yes. That’s it. Out of sympathy.”

“I see no reason not to be frank.” Jim Harding’s dark, caustic gaze moved over Faith’s beautiful face. "Maybe my wife came here for palliness; I came for policy. That girl was mad keen for me to adapt her novel. Although I’d refused, she kept on nagging. She could lx* pretty dangerous when she got mad. She ended up by hinting that if 1 didn’t do something about the book, she’d go all out to see I didn’t get a crack at the dramatization of Boyer’s next novel.”

Robert, who had been standing patiently by the window, stared at the playwright in surprise. "But that’s nonsense, Jimmy. You know I wouldn’t ask anyone else to dramatize it. How on earth could Minna have interfered?”

"Hadn’t any idea.” Jim Harding looked rather uneasy. “But I’d learned from experience that she was jjerfectly capable of—of digging up some imaginary dirt from my past if she’d wanted to be vindictive. I wasn’t taking any chances."

"I wasn’t either,” said Gordy. “That was why I came. Minna wasn’t a profitable client for me at the present time. But she had taken her manuscript away from me, and it’s against my policy as an agent to alienate any author.”

“Thank you.” Lieutenant Trant’s unqualified acceptance of all their stories was rather terrifying. After a moment’s pause, he added: “Certain facts seem to be

established now. When Mr. Keath arrived here, Miss Lucas was almost certainly upstairs in the studio waiting for someone to keep a business appointment. Almost certainly, too, that person did keep the appointment—and murdered her.”

Leslie stiffened as she saw him glance down at his left thumbnail. “According to what you have said, any one of you three might possibly have had business to discuss with Miss Lucas—Miss Felton and Mr. Harding about the adaptation of the novel, Mr. Keath about the novel itself.” His gaze moved to Dave Walker who stood, square and uncompromising, by his fiancée. "Now you. Mr. Walker. I’d be interested to know why you came to a party given by Miss Lucas.”

There had been a faintly challenging note in his voice which must have made it obvious even to Dave Walker

himself that the detective knew the circumstances which had surrounded the breaking off of his engagement with Minna. Leslie watched the young man as a flush spread over his handsome, rather ruthless face.

“Nothing simpler to explain,” he grunted. “I happened to have to telephone Miss Lucas yesterday. She told me she was giving a party to celebrate something about her book. She asked me to bring Miss Prévost along.”

"She wanted to be introduced to your new fiancée?”

Dave Walker’s dark blue eyes narrowed. "Heavens np, she’d known Yvonne quite a while.”

"She had? Then isn’t it rather odd that she invited you both? Maybe she wanted Miss Prévost to design the jacket for her novel.”

"Why should it be odd for her to invite us?” It was Yvonne Prévost who broke in, her thin, arresting face white with exasperation. "This isn’t the Victorian Age. People don’t avoid each other just because they used to be engaged.”

“Don’t they?” asked Trant naively.

"You’re just trying to be clever, trying to trick us.” The girl swung round to Dave. "There was every reason in the world why Dave and I should have come here today. We— we had to see Minna, both of us. We had to discuss a very imixirtant business ...”

Her voice stopped suddenly. And yet to Leslie it seemed as if Yvonne herself liad been the last person to realize the implications of what she had said. Dave Walker’s lips had tightened into a thin hard line. The others were staring in keyed-up fascination.

Lieutenant Trant smiled a faint smile. And Leslie knew then that somehow, in some obscurely planned w:ay of his own. he had been working around to make the girl say— just that.

"Thank you, Miss Prévost. That’s all I wanted to know. So you and Mr. Walker did come here on business too.”

In the electric silence that followed. Leslie w'aited for the lieutenant to say formally what could surely be kept back no longer—that suspicion for the murder of Minna

Lucas was entirely restricted to the seven of them in that room.

But once again Lieutenant Trant fooled her. Abruptly, it seemed, the interview had ceased to interest him. With a slight, almost casual gesture, he said:

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I think that’s all for the moment. When you pick up your hats and coats upstairs, I’d be grateful if you’d give the sergeant your fingerprints and the various addresses where I’ll be able to reach you if I need you again—tonight . . ”

NO OBJECTIONS were raised to the routine process of fingerprinting. Within a few minutes, Minna Lucas’ guests were going their several ways. Dave Walker and Yvonne Prévost drove off together. Faith and Jim Harding carried Robert away with them to the Vandolan Theatre where “The Story of Mark” was playing.

Leslie and Gordy Keath were the last to move out into the bleak February darkness.

Gordy squeezed her arm affectionately. "Well, beautiful, murder notwithstanding, I still seem to be stuck with you. I guess I’ll have to feed you.”

Leslie felt cold and exhausted and, to her faintly shocked surprise, very hungry. “Somewhere expensive, Gordy,” she said. “With glamour. I’m going to set you back three-fifty tonight.”

Through months of good-natured hostility, the dinner controversy had become a ritual to Leslie and Gordy. Invariably Leslie tried to chisel a dinner at some smart 52nd Street club, while almost invariably Gordy beat her down to a seventy-five-cent blue-plate special. That night, however, to Leslie’s distinct astonishment, be gave in without a struggle.

"Three-fifty. Four-fifty. Five-fifty. Anything, darling—just to help you forget. A cab? No, let’s walk awhile. Do you good.”

“Yes,” she agreed. "I^et’s. I feel stifled.”

At last some of that feeling of the world gone suddenly mad left Leslie. Gordy helped a lot. Just to have his comfortable male presence close to her restored a certain amount of proportion. And yet that horrible thing was still overpoweringly in her mind, looming like a black shadow.

Suddenly she asked, “Gordy, do you really believe it?”

“That Minna was murdered? Yes. She was rather that sort of a gal, wasn’t she?”

“But what I mean is—do you really think one of us did it?”

Gordy’s face went grim. “I’d think anything that policeman thinks. He’s supposed to be the smartest boy on the force. Having seen him in action, that seems kind of an understatement.”

"But who, Gordy?” Leslie’s blue, solemn eyes peered at him wonderingly.

“Not me.” He grinned and squeezed her hand. “If it makes you feel any chummier, I had no desire to kill her.” “But I don’t see how anyone ... I mean, it’s incredible to think of anyone you’re fond of being capable of murder.” "I’m fond of someone wbo’s capable of murder, someone who was at the party tonight.”

Leslie watched intensely. "Wbo’s—who’s that, Gordy?” “You, darling. It’s just the ponderous, conscientious sort of thing you’d do—to murder a bad novelist for the cause of Great Literature.”

"Gordy!” Leslie’s small face was horrified. “You don’t really think that !”

“Of course I do.” Gordy looked at her with extreme gravity. “Think how swell it would be to have you as an undetected murderess. I could blackmail you into buying all my unsaleable manuscripts.”

His mood helped her. Soon Leslie’s mind was pleasantly preoccupied balancing Lobster Newburg against Chateaubriand Steak. But, as Gordy hailed a taxi, a man hurried up to them.

"Miss Cole, Lieutenant Trant wants to see you straightaway.”

Leslie stared. “But I haven’t had dinner yet,” she said bleakly, the visions of Inbster Newburg fading.

“There’s a drugstore right across the street,” said the policeman helpfully. "There would be time for a sandwich.” Leslie turned to Gordy. He was grinning sheepishly, and a sudden suspicion dawned.

"A five-fifty dinner indeed!” she said. “You knew this would happen all along. You knew' we’d end up at a drugstore. You deliberately held us up with that walking

idea.”

“Lieutenant Trant did mention he might need you,” he admitted. Continued on page 32

Continued from page 20—Starts on page 18

Ignoring the plain-clothes man, he bent and kissed her on the left ear. But Leslie had become a five-foot pillar of quivering indignation.

"Rat,” she said.

nrWENTY MINUTES later she was hurrying back to Minna’s house with the policeman. She felt unreasonably nervous, and her nervousness increased as she was conducted upstairs to the studio where Lieutenant Trant was waiting for her.

The body had been removed, but everything else seemed untouched. The manuscript of Minna’s novel still lay scattered, as it had been, across the carpet. Leslie kept herself from looking at those stained pages.

Lieutenant Trant dismissed the plainclothes man and smiled at her. His grey eyes were as deceptively, as ominously, good-tempered as ever.

"It’s nice of you to come, Miss Cole.”

“On the contrary. I was dragged here by the ear.” Leslie registered hostility. “What do you want?”

“When a policeman gets entangled in feminine psychology, it takes a woman to unravel him.” He studied her face, a faint hint of admiration in his eyes. “An intelligent woman.”

Leslie was pretty enough to like being called intelligent. In spite of herself she felt somewhat mollified. “Just how can I help?”

“By getting me a little straight on Miss Lucas. The more I find out about her, the more complicated a young woman she seems to have been. In the first place. I’m rather puzzled by her taste in ink.” Lieutenant Trant's expression had a certain mock gravity which, Leslie felt, was part of his stock in trade for tête-à-têtes with Women in the Case. “From the manuscript of her novel it seems that she despised the humdrum blue-black. All the script corrections are put in with green ink, while she numbered the pages and wrote Finis at the end in—red ink.”

“That all went with her pose as an authoress,” explained Leslie caustically. “Lots of bad writers go arty with colored inks and smocks and things.”

“I see.” Lieutenant Trant picked up a cheque book from the desk and looked at her soberly. “I suppose it’s also arty to write cheques in red ink? Miss Lucas paid household bills today by cheque; all the stubs are filled in with red ink. And here’s where I become puzzled.” He indicated two quill pens which lay on the desk, resting on supports between two ornamental inkwells. He picked up one of the quills, holding it out for Leslie’s inspection. “As you see, the point of this pen is stained with red ink. And yet both the wells are filled with green ink. I haven’t been able to locate any red ink at all.”

“She probably wrote the cheques with a fountain pen.” •

“Ingenious. Miss Cole. But I’ve had the house searched. There’s no fountain pen.”

“Then she probably used all the red ink in the well today writing the cheques, found she hadn’t any more in the house, and filled up with green instead.”

“Even more ingenious, Miss Cole. I can see you don’t puzzle easily.” Lieutenant Trant’s admiring grin broadened. Then abruptly abandoning the subject of ink, he picked the cheque book up again, rapping with it on his knuckles. “Perhaps you can help me on another point. Miss Lucas’ cheque book shows a very comfortable bank balance. She obviously hadn’t made anything by her literary efforts. I’m wondering where that bank balance came from. Could she, do you think, have been interested in a refined form of—extortion?”

Leslie blinked. “Blackmail, you mean?”

“If you like to put it that way. After all, she has been murdered. And people seldom get murdered unless they’ve given someone a motive for wanting to murder them.” The detective was becoming more and more amiable. “Here’s where you could be so valuable, Miss Cole. You knew her. Was she the type of girl who could have indulged in that sort of thing?”

T ESLIE considered a moment. For her, judgments on character, like judgments on manuscripts, only came with weighty reflection.

“I suppose it’s possible. She was fairly unscrupulous. Certainly when she had her novel to sell, she exploited her friends just as much as she could—Gordy Heath, Mr. Boyer, me, and Faith Felton. She didn't threaten, of course, but she played on the heartstrings with all stops full out.” She paused. “But have you any evidence?” “I rather think so.” The detective crossed to a corner of the bookcase where a small open door revealed a miniature safe built into the wall. “Found this hidden behind books. Afraid we had to do a little blasting to get it open. A couple of items inside interest me.”

He took a thin cardboard folder from the safe. “For example, Miss Cole, I’d like you to tell me exactly what the relationship was between Miss Lucas and— Mr. Boyer.”

“Relationship!” Leslie stared. "There wasn’t any relationship. She was just his secretary, and a good one. He was kind to her; the way he’s kind to everyone. Certainly there was nothing else.”

“Mr. Boyer must have made quite a pile on that novel of his. She couldn’t have been putting the screws on him?”

“Good heavens! I’ve never heard anything so far-fetched.”

“Then what do you make of this?"

He handed Leslie the folder. She produced her horn-rimmed spectacles from her pocketbook, lodged them on the end of her nose and opened the file.

Inside were three separate papers clipped together. On top was a telegram sent to Miss Lucas from the police in Labrador. It stated that a Pierre Bernard had died of pneumonia at Fort Craig, giving a date two and a half years before, and added the address of the nearest living relative—Madame Héloise Bernard, his mother.

“It occurred to me.” said Lieutenant Trant, “that she might have been trying to dig up some dirt.”

“Oh, no. it was nothing like that. I know all about this.”

Leslie told him what the majority of America’s reading public already knew from the blurb on the jacket of “The Story of Mark,” the tale of the young French-Canadian assistant who had been cut off with Robert Boyer in the surveyor's hut and whose death and the subsequent loneliness had induced Robert to write the book.

“Mr. Boyer knew Bernard’s people were poor,” she concluded. “When the book was so successful, he wanted to do something to help them. He got Minna, as his secretary, to locate the boy’s mother through the police.”

“I see,” said Trant. "Then that explains the other two letters.”

Leslie looked at them. The first was a brief, touching note from Madame Bernard in French, thanking Robert for a substantial cheque and enclosing her son’s last letter to her as a —“memento of friendship.” Pierre Bernard’s letter itself was attached. Written in meticulous French longhand, it was a typical young man's letter to his mother, skirting around technical details, enthusing over Robert as a boss and complaining half-humorously of the cold.

Leslie handed the file back, thinking

how typical of Robert it was that, when telling her the story, he had considerably minimized the size of the cheque he had actually sent to his dead friend’s mother.

“There’s nothing for you there,” she said. “It only shows how Robert was as generous to the Bernards as he always was to Minna herself.”

“Miss Lucas seemed to have quite a knack for attracting generous male friends.” Lieutenant Trant’s gaze was slightly quizzical as he took another document from the safe and gave it to her. “Perhaps there’s something in this for me.” Leslie took it and looked at it. It was a five-year lease on the house Minna lived in. To her astonishment she saw that the owner’s signature at the foot showed as David Warren Walker.

A VERY generous young man,” murmured the detective, as Leslie still stared, “particularly considering the fact that his engagement to her must already have been broken at the time.”

He was indicating a paragraph in the middle of the closely typed, formal document. It stated that the rental on the house should be set at the nominal sum of one dollar a year.

Leslie glanced up, her forehead puckered in a frown. “So—so Dave owns this

house! He was letting Minna live here. And you think she railroaded him into it.” Struggling with her thoughts, she added, “I don’t see why. You know he was responsible for that automobile accident when her face was scarred. He—he probably just let her have the house free as a kind of reparation.”

The detective was smiling again. “You’re determined to look on the sunny side, aren’t you? I wonder just where you’d locate the sunny side of this little number.” The smile went suddenly as he took a third letter from the safe

and handed it to her. “Pollvanna this one off if you can.”

Leslie read :

State Parole Board, Poole City,

Poole County.

Miss Frances Fels. c/o Miss Minna Lucas.

New York City.

Miss Fels:

This Board has been informed that subsequent to your release on parole from the Women’s State Penitentiary, you have ceased to reside in Poole County and have established your domicile in the State of New York.

By a special interstate arrangement it is permissible for you to report to a local parole officer in New York City at the address given below. Reports must be made on the fifteenth of every month for the next twelve months.

Failure to make regular reports to the parole officer in question will be held as a serious violation of the Parole Code. And we shall be obliged to take immediate steps to effect your extradition and to return you to the State Penitentiary to finish the full term of your sentence.

Charles Ludwig,

Chief Parole Officer, Poole City.

For one moment after she had read that shockingly unexpected document, Leslie kept her eyes from meeting those of Lieutenant Trant. Her thoughts were swirling. Frances Fels . . . F. F. . . . Inevitably there rose up the image of Faith Felton’s white face when she heard the news of Minna’s death, the memory of the actress’s instinctive movement toward the stairs and of her voice, urgent and husky, saying: “Bid the police are coming . . . there’ll be papers, things that i should be destroyed ...”

To be Continued