ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
MR LENNOX BALLISTER, stave-cutter by profession and constable by will of the people, was finishing his breakfast by the light of a smoky oil lamp. It had been a hearty meal, despite the fact that trouble hovered over his crinkly head like a blue halo. Den had wondered often how murderers could eat hearty breakfasts on the morning fixed for their execution, but he knew now. Virtually, they were simply onlookers. They had, as it were, ceased to be. That body mechanically performing its functions was a thing apart.
Lennox Ballister, chocolate-coated constable extraordinary, teaches the too suave Mr. Cupidore that punitive persuasion cuts both ways.
Confronted by his wife and asked to explain his conduct, Len had been too astounded to make any coherent statement of denial, consequently his manner had been construed to mean one of shameless guilt.
As a result he was now feeling his way on very thin ice indeed. With his friends and wife turned against him and enemies lying in wait for him at every turn, the possibility of his weathering through another day seemed very remote.
“Gord knows I got a-plenty troubles,” he told himself commiseratingly. “I is a lone black crow wif my wing feathers singed an’ fires ragin’ all about me. Cayn’t nohow fly, an’ nowheres ter fly to even if so I could. Dat’s me.”
Janeann unclasped her hroidered handkerchief.
“When a man’s as good as dead, him is dead."
Len whispered this assertion to Orinocco, the hound, who sat rigid in the woodbox beside the stove, his melancholy eyes fixed speculatively on his master. He had met Len at the bedroom door, taken one look at his face and had promptly dived back into his sanctuary. It had been the last straw to swamp hope in the negro’s harassed soul. To him that dog was the one unfailing barometer to bespeak him fair weather or foul. A droop of Orinocco’s tail or one roll of his brown eyes predicted gales and rough sailing, while a wag, a sniff and a lick meant always a day’s fair weather ahead.
Len realized that he was in a tight box, a box that fairly hugged him with the rigid tightness of a coffin and choked his breath. Not only, figuratively speaking, was he between the King of all Evil and the yeasty deep, but he was standing, as it were, on a volcano which at any instant was liable to erupt.
Added to his already overflowing bowl of bitter domestic brew, an insidious menace to hismental and physical well-being in the shape of an anonymous letter had been received by Janeann, in which the writer hinted darkly at strange “goin’s-on” between her husband and a certain unnamed person of her own sex. This letter advised the recipient to promptly place her heel on the neck of the viper which threatened to poison her domestic happiness, and was signed “Wellwisher.”
ND now more trouble threatened. Last night in Bridgetown a prize fight had been staged between Homer Hudson, champion of Kent County, and a boxer from Detroit, named the Yellow Tiger.
Len had learned that the Tiger had his friend Homer hopelessly outclassed, and that the Detroit sports were out to make an easy killing. Accordingly he had accepted $1,000 of Homer’s money without demur, with orders to place it on the owner to win the bout.
Len had followed these orders up to a certain point Instead, however, of betting on Homer to win, he had bet that the fight would not go three rounds. One Cupidore, a late acquisition to Chatville East, but in fact the real stager of the fight, had been the taker.
The police had stopped the fight at the end of the second round, and Len had won his bet. Of course, it looked to Cupidore and his bunch that he, Len, had tipped off the police. But such was not the case. It might have been the case had necessity so willed, but necessity had not so decreed. Another had done the tipping and Len had ridden in on the crest of the storm-wave which followed, pockets bulging.
During the second round of the bout, Officer Dezeel and a bunch of strong-arms had raided the building and had filled the cells of Greater Chatville lockup with grist of black humanity. Homer Hudson and the Tiger were included in the haul, also Cupidore and his gang.
Len had not attended the fight. He had not been gathered in with the bunch. He was free. He was still a respected citizen, still a servant of law, an upholder of peace and order. But—
“De dead ain’t all ob ’em buried, Orinocco,” he sighed, as he pushed back his chair. “Lots ob people am dead an’ don’ know it—dat’s ter say jes’ as good as dead. I’s dead an’ I knows it . I’s froo wif life an’ joy. What dat Homer says ter me when las’ night I pay him a brudderly visit of condolence at de pen, intendin’ ter explain how I had made him a heap of money, done convince me my spark ob existence has flickered its las’ flick.”
Orinocco crouched lower in his retreat and eyed his master with unblinking eyes.
“An’ den,” Len resumed, “as dough trubbles nebber come in singleness, happens this.”
From his pocket he drew a legal looking paper and tapped it with a trembling finger.
“Gor’ only knows what dis am, Orinocco. It may be a summons an’ it may be a suppeny. All I knows is it was delibered to me on my way hum las’ night by a ossifer in unifo’m. Wif my glasses plum broke I ain’t able ter read what it am, an’ I dassen’ let Janeann have her optics on it. No sah. Trubble’s only trubble, but dat wummin—”
Orinocco whined warningly. Len ceased speaking and stood transfixed, rolling orbs on the bedroom doorway.
In that doorway stood Janeann, her ample body enfolded in a flowered kimona, her ample face frowning like a storm-cloud above it.
“Dere heart,” she addressed her husband huskily, “did I or did I not hear yo’ mention de name wummin?”
She was advancing ponderously, smoothly, like a welloiled engine of destruction.
Len quickly put the table between him and the advancing force.
“I was simply speakin’ to de dawg, Janeann,” he explained quickly. “ ’Bout yor own se’f, it was. Dey ain’t an’ nebber was an’ nebber will be no udder wuman, Janeann.”
“Den how come sech incriminating evidence as dis?” Janeann unclasped her hands, disclosing a pair of wilted gloves and an embroidered handkerchief. “An’ when, might I enquire an’ ast, has de great criminal-taker, Constable Ballister, took to wearin’ Jocker Club parfume? When, yo’ ape-faced bag ob deceipt and wickedness? Ans’er up dat!”
Len licked his dry lips.
“And one more question, sweet lil’ lubber ob wil’ wimin. Since when, might I ast, has yo’ took ter visitin’ yore affinition in sech a garb as dis?” Janeann stepped back into the bedroom and returned with a parcel wrapped in paper. She ripped off the string, disclosing a long, grey dressing-gown.
“Why, Janeann—” Len commenced, then suddenly checked himself. How could he explain that this garment of questionable ownership belonged to Homer, who had been forced to leave it and several other articles behind when the police gathered him in? Len had visited the skating rink after the raid, gathered up Homer’s belongings and taken them to the latter’s cottage. Purposely he had not left the dressing gown. Its wonderful perfume and fleecy touch had prompted him to carry it home. And the irony of it was he had carried it home for the woman who was now accusing him of perfidy and infidelity.
“Yo’ deceiber, yo’ libertine snatcher ob women’s reputations, yo’—”
Janeann’s voice choked up. She leaned against the bedroom door and sobbed as if her heart was breaking.
Len looked about him for his hat. He would straightway proceed to get away from there.
But half way across the room, something stayed him. There was a certain plaint in those long sobs that made his throat muscles tighten, made him curse beneath his breath. He loved Janeann. He didn’t mind so much her breaking her heart over real tribulations; that was what a wife was supposed to do; but to sorrow over something that possessed no substance or truth seemed to Len to be a foolish waste of tears. He shuffled back and stood before her.
“Lis’en, Janeann,” he addressed her. “There ain’t no call fer yo’ ter take on this way over nuffin’ atall. Befo’ de sun sets dis day I aims ter prove ter yo’all dat de one who writ dat synomious letter is a liar, an’ I furder puposes ter make him own as much. I don’t know why I tell yo’ dis, kase any wife dat fails ter stan’ by her man in a pinch don’ deserbe go be tole nuffin’ atall. Dis writer says cerain statements defamaitory ter me an’ my reputation, an’ widout knowin’ him, widout so much as eher seein' him, yo’ take his word fer it. You didn’ eben ast me if what he said was troo. Consequence, I have let yo tramp on yo’r own soul. Dat ain’t goin' to hurt yo’ er any udder wife who lacks faith. But I reckon yo’se suffered aplenty, an’ I’ll tell yo’ now who I fink is behind dis letter-business. It’s dat yaller buzzard Martin Cupidore, dat‘s been
a-swaggerin’ roun’ dis town in his city clothes fer more’n a month.”
Janeann had ceased sobbing, and now she turned with flashing eyes on Len.
“Ch, yo’ fool!” she cried, “yo’ pore delusioned fool! Why, Nigger, if so yo’ knowed dat saint Misto Cuspidor as 1 knows him yo’d get down on yo’re marrer-bones befo’ him an' beg his pardon fer so malieyin’ him.”
“Lis’en, Janeann,” Len said calmly, “I reckon I knows dat yaller trubble-maker aplenty. An’ I knows also a few fings yo’ don’t dream I knows.”
From his vest pocket he drew a slip of typewritten paper, at sight of which Janeann’s eyes widened perceptibly and she gave a quick gasp.
“Len,” she cr:ed, “dat’s my letter!”
“Excuse me,” Len said, “it was yourn. It’s mine now ” “But yo’ stole it from me, thief and robber!”
“No, Janeann, I jes’ discober it in yo’r stockin’ when I was negotatin’ a small loan ob two dollars af’er yo’d gone ter sleep, t’other night. No, I haven’ read it käse I done broke my specs; but I don’ need ter read it ter know what it says. I knows plenty udder wimin in dis town dat receibe de same letter from Cupidore.”
Len stood back. He was thoroughly enjoying the change of situations.
“I knows dat letter off by heart,” he resumed. “It say dis:”
“ ‘Dere Madam:
“ ‘In every home-closet is a skeleton. Perhaps in your home is a canker worm that is eatin’ at de heart ob domestic happiness. Is yore husband true to you? If not, see me. I am the great promoter of home joy. I have patched up differences in thousands of families. I make no charge for my services. I have devoted my life to doin’ good If you need me, please call on me.’
“Sech,” finished Len, “am de message dat Misto Cupidore sent ter yo.”
Janeann was silent.
Len proceeded. “Ob cou’se, Cupidore writ dat firs’ synomious letter accusin’ me of unfidelity. Dat was to get yore feelin’s all rumpled up, harryin’ de soil fer de plantin’ so's ter say. Den he comes along wif dis signed letter. ‘Come an’ see me,’ he says, ‘an’ I’ll make dat man ob yo’rn see de error ob his feetsteps. I’ll show him dat one good woman is worf a carload of wil’ ones.’ ”
Len lit his pipe and stood watching the now subdued partner of his joys and sorrows.
“So yo’ goes an’ visits Mr. Cupidore in his fine office, an’ he tells yo’ he’ll bring yo’r ole man ter time right speedy, an’ not to worry atall. An’ he don’ charge yo’ nuffin—cept jest a mere pittance ob firty dollars!”
“Len,” whispered Janeann, “how come yo’ ter know he done dat?”
“Kase dat what he done charge Bill Jones’ wife, an’ Dan Stover’s an’ seberal udders,” Lén replied. “Dat’s how I know yo’ kissed firty good iron men good-bye ter Mr. Cupidore.”
“An’ den what?” Janeann’s voice was a mere whisper.
“Why, den, Mr. Cupidore he waylays me.” Len smiled reminiscently. “He says ter me: ‘Look yo’ here, Ballister, yo’ gotter watch yo’r step. Yo’r wife came ter me an’ wants ter institoot di-vorse perseedings agin yo’all.
“ ‘Mr. Ballister,’ he goes on, ‘as yo’all probably knows, my life am devoted to doin’ good. In a sense I betray a confidence in sayin’ what I intend ter say, but it must be. Yo’r wife info’ms me dat yo’r domestic relations am strained, dat she received a letter purported to be from a well-wisher accusin’ yo’ ob certain fings. Now Misto Ballister,’ Mr. Cupidore says, T’s a seventh son ob a seventh son, an’ was born under a cowl. I have de gift ob second sight. I’s a clarvoinant, nonboyant, intellectual gianC I is. All I needs ter do is ter go inter a trance an’ I kin locate de writer ob dat synomious letter. Den I proceed straight ter de blackmailer an’ I fo’ce him ter write anudder one contradictin’ de fust, an’ offerin’ an apalogy.’
“ ‘An’ how much cash money,’ I asts, ‘am dis trance an’ locatin’ goin’ ter cost, Misto Cupidore?’
“ ‘Not a cent,’ he says. ‘No sah, not a thin dime,’ he declares, ‘ ’cept mebee a lil’ expenses money I use in huntin’ de blackmailer down. Firty dollars, say, fer de job.’ ”
“An’ yo’,” burst out Janeann, “gib him dat money, like de fool yo’ was. Oh, fer two cents I’d take de stove poker—”
“Wait,” Len held up a hand.
“I didn’ fall fer Misto Cupidore’s proposition, not what yo’d notice,” he said. “Instead. I advised dat gent to get inter his trance an’ locationize dat blackmailer right speedy—free ob charge—udderwise I’d hit him so hard in de eye his gran’chillen ’ud all be born wif shutters fer eye-brows.”
“Liar!” cried his wife scornfully.
Len looked sheepish. “Anyhow, I didn’t gib him de
firty,” he declared. “I rec’on I made him a real enemy, Janeann.”
“Oh, Len,” Janeann cried, “I’s plum afreed fer yo’. If dat Cuspidor am as bad as he seems, he’s liable ter make way wif yo’r life. Don’ yo’ dare go out, Len.”
“Pshaw!” Len drew her over to him and patted her shoulder. “Dat nigger ain’t able ter do nobody any harm. He’s in jail, an’ so am Homer Hudson an’ Abe White. I’s goin’ down now ter hab a little chin wif dat Cupidore, an’ I’m goin’ ter force him to sign a confession.”
He turned away, but Janeann followed and threw her arms about his neck. “I’s plum sorry I was sech a fool,” she sobbed. “Yo’ll be keerful, Len, won’ you?”
“Shure, Janeann,” Len replied. “A constable-detective needs ter be dat allars. See you later.”
He kissed her wet cheek and went out into the still dark morning.
“It’s jest like old dame Luck ter steer pain an’ sorrer straight in my path when I needs most solace an’ happiness,” Len muttered with a shiver.
Something bulky and sinister loomed up in the mist. A menacing voice spoke Len’s name even as the gatelatch clicked behind him.
“Goamitty,” Len gasped, “it’s Homer!”
HE STOOD staring at the dishevelled form before him.
He had expected Luck to hand him something of a jolt, but he had not anticipated anything like this. Only last night he had talked to the pugilist through the bars of the lockup, or rather he had listened while Hudson talked. Homer had accused him of putting the police on to the fight, of receiving one thousand dollars from him, Homer, under false pretenses, and had told him a lot of things that would happen to him when he, Homer, was free again. Len was to be boiled in oil, hung and quartered. He had to die a death of lingering torture. So much he had told Len, and Len had listened, unable to edge in a word of explanation.
And now Homer was out of jail, standing in the flesh and blood before Len’s astonished gaze. It just couldn’t be so.
Homer’s strong hand was grasping his wrist. Homer’s deep voice was saying in his ear: “Dis am sweeter den heben ter me. All night long, I have crouched at dis gate waitin’ fer my big momen’.
“And now, snake on its belly, viper dat strikes frum behin’, lemme tell yo yo’s hissed yo’r last hiss ter de police Continued on page 57
Continued from page 25
I’s free, out on my own pussonal bail, an’ when I gets froo de task I aims ter perfo’m yo’ all is goin’ ter be iest nuffin’ but a string ob inanimate threads ob quiberin’ flesh.”
“Why, Homer.” Len managed to gasp, “yo’ sholey can’t think it was me tipped off Dezeel an’ de udder p’lice? Fer why should I want de fight stopped9”
“I’ll tell yo’ why.” Homer growled, as he led Len down the deserted street, “kase you had yo’r own money up wif Martin Cupidore dat de fight wouldn’ las’ free roun’s. Now den, deny dat, yo’ snake in de stubble.”
“I does deny it,” Len protested, “an’ furdermore 1 denies any implication in dat p’lice raid whatsoebber.”
“Us’ll see how much yo’ denies it when us puts yo’ froo de fird degree,” Homer •sneered. “Wait t’ll us gets yo’ on de rack! See what sorter a spout yo’ll spout when yo’ hears yo’r bones crackin’!”
He tw’sted Len suddenly aside into a bank of alders wherein rested a closed car.
“Get in dat auto, an’ keep yo’r basoo shet,” Homer commanded. “If so yo’ utter one peep-o-day, yo’r lips’ll grow silent sudden, an’ forebber.”
Two other men were in the car, Len noted. Both had their hats drawn down well over their eyes, but he knew from the scent of lavender that the immaculately clad one was no other than Martin Cupidore. The other man was Abe White, proprietor of the Chatville pool room, who was to have received fifty dollars for refereeing the fight and had got the “clink” instead.
Homer took the wheel. “Gaze fo’th, snake,” he spoke to Len, as he threw in the clutch. “Take yo’ las’ gulp ob movin’ scenery. Where yo’s bound am no movement ob any kin’.”
“Yo’ knows dat what yo’s am doin’ constitutions de criminal offence of abduction, which means twenty years imprisinment an’ hangin’ ” Len managed to say.
Martin Cupidore laughed “We am simply goin’ to mete a wolf out its jest deserts,” he informed Lennox. “Yo’ deserbes what’s cornin’ ter yo’.”
“I reckons us best blin’fold de adder,” Homer said, from a hip pocket producing a bandana handkerchief.
Len submitted meekly to having his eyes bound.
“Now,” Homer announced, “us’ll git goin’ an’ git it ober.”
Silence fell as the car sped away through the desolate country.
Len’s thoughts were anything but pleasant. He was innocent of the charge preferred against him, innocent as a baby; and still what good is innocence when it cannot be proven? He hadn’t the slightest idea what his abductors intended to do with him. All he could do was to conjure up the worst and multiply it by ten.
IT MAY have been an hour later—it may have been longer—that the car left the main road and entered broken ground. Len, sitting silent and fearful, guessed that the objective of his abductors was some isolated spot surrounded by woods. He caught the tang of pines, heard the murmur of a brook. Bird-voices sounded all about. The car finally drew up with a lurch and screech of brakes.
Homer’s hand fell heavily on the prisoner’s drooping shoulders.
“Here we is, snake in de grass,” he said, grasping Len’s arm and hauling him from the car. “I will take de bandage frum yo’r eyes so’s you kin hab a las’ glimpse ob blue skies an’ sunshine.”
“What yo’ gen’lemen aim ter do wif
me7” Len asked, blinking his eyes to accustom them to the sudden light.
Cupidore chuckled. “Why. us aims ter put you away, my dere feller,” he sneered.
He pointed to a lone tree, from a lower branch of which dangled a rope.
Len eyed the sinister signs of his promised demise. He was not greatly frightened. The abductors had overplayed their hand a little. They would hardly go so far as to hang him, he knew, and as a last resource he could state the true facts of the case and so win Homer’s good will. But he had planned to break the good news in a manner that would ensure him a fat “hand out” for services rendered. This wasn’t just the time or the place to do it. So he felt he might as well prepare himself for a severe choking. His Adam’s apple seemed nervous. It shot up and town h;s long throat with the spasmodic movement of a frightened bird.
It was Cupidore who suggested that the prisoner be searched before sentence was carried out. Perhaps he hoped Len’s pockets might produce the thousand he had foolishly wagered.
Abe White’s long fingers did the searching.
They brought forth two dollars in small change, a pair of rusty handcuffs, and lastly a long, unopened envelope bearing on the upper left hand corner the ominous words “Police Headquarters.”
“Open dat,” Homer spoke. “Le’s see what it am.”
Abe tore open the envelope. A photograph dropped to the grass. Homer picked it up, looked at it, then fastened his bulging eyes on Mr. Cupidore’s face.
“What dat document say, Abe7” he asked. “Am it a summons7”
White was staring at the paper in his hands.
“Good Lor’,” he exclaimed, “it’s a warrantie, Homer, a warrantie, for his arrest!” He pointed at Cupidore.
That gentleman promptly made a dive for freedom but Len’s long leg shot out and he went sprawling on the sward. Homer promptly descended upon him. Held in the pugilist’s strong grasp, Cupidore ceased to struggle.
“Here am a note from Dezeel, addressed to Constable Ballister,” Abe was saying. “It say dis:
“ ‘You will proceed immediately and serve this warrant on one. David Graham, alias Frank Cooper, who is wanted in five States for blackmail. He is at present masquerading under the name of Cupidore, in Chatville East. Enclosed is a photograph of the wanted man. You will need to proceed with caution, because we are advised that he has friends and confederates who will resist his arrest.’ ”
White folded the letter and warrant and handed them to Len. The latter bowed, and taking the handcuffs from Abe’s nerveless fingers, went over and snapped them on Cupidore’s wrists.
“Now den.” he addressed the shivering Homer, “yo’ kin git up.”
Homer promptly obeyed. “Len, ’ he commenced pleadingly.
“Shet up!” Len snapped. “Go ober dere an’ stan’ beside yo’r feller-abducter.” He pointed to White and followed the bewildered Homer to where Abe waited.
“Len.” White spoke fearfully, “yo’ ain’t finkin’ dat me an’ Homer am mixed up wif dat—” He pointed toward the sullen and utterly subdued Cupidore.
Len shook his head. “An or’inary detective-constable might so fink,” he answered, “but I ain’t seeh Bofe yo’ an’ Homer lack de nerve an’ de guts ter be anyfing den jes’ what yo’ bofe am—plain fools!
“You’se bofe free ter go yoT way as far as I’m concerned.”
It was on their way back to town that Homer took heart of grace to voice a question which had been bothering both him and Abe.
“Len,” he asked, as the car drew up before the police station, “Len, would yo’ mind tellin’ me an’ Abe why yo’ didn’t arrest dat Cupidore when yo’ fust met up wif us dis mawnin’, instead ob allowin' us ter spirit yo’ oft like us did7”
“Homer,” Len answered, “a detectiveconstable must be fust an’ allars a detective-constable. He mus’ look ahead. 1 o’ r’member what dat note from brudder Dezeel say ’bout dat Cupidore havin' confederates dat would likely resist his arres’? Well, dere’s yo’r ans’er. I aims ter get dat gent off by hisself an’ make my job a sure one.”
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