The Woman in Yellow
A swiftly moving mystery story which proves once again that things are not always what they seem
by DOROTHY WALWORTH CARMAN
WHEN Jimmy McDermott came to the office of Atcheson and Lang, Architects, that broiling August Monday, he had no idea that destiny was about to thump him between his perspiring shoulder blades. To him that morning was just another scorcher. His desk looked the same as ever. “Is it hot enough for you?” the cashier said.
It was three years since Jimmy had come to the city and Atcheson and Lang, sizzling to be an architect. Then he was tanned and narrow-eyed from peering into the Western sun. His tan had gone long ago and he wasn’t an architect, not yet. Only a minor draughtsman. Atcheson and Lang still looked at him the way Western folks look at a prairie dog.
The day passed like other summer days, the office as hot as a boiler, the crowd tramping up and down to the water cooler. At a quarter to five, Mr. Atcheson said there was a blueprint job to finish and McDermott was elected. Well, working overtime didn’t matter so much to Jimmy. He had nowhere to go except his rooming-house bedroom under the blistering skylight.
By ten after five, the office was empty. Jimmy was alone with the clock and the waste baskets damp with wilted paper cups. He sat down at the table facing the open door into the hall. It was still plenty light enough to work without a lamp. The table was heaped with blueprints. Jimmy had never seen so much blue as at Atcheson and Lang’s. Sometimes he dreamed of it at night. Slowly, doggedly, wiping his wet forehead on his sleeve, he went through the pile.
It was around six o’clock when he heard a sound like a car backfiring. He didn’t even raise his eyes from his work. It was easy to hear backfiring in an office only three stories above the street.
There was someone running down the hall. Jimmy wondered dully how anyone could run in this weather. He never thought of connecting this sound with the other. But he looked up just as the runner passed the door. It was a woman. Jimmy had a moment’s glimpse of a yellow dress. That was all. He went back to the blueprints, unaware that destiny had thumped. About seven o’clock he went out of the office, locking the door behind him.
The night air was like damp wool in Jimmy’s bedroom. He didn’t fall asleep until near morning, and then he overslept and had to hurry down to the office without shave, breakfast or morning paper. When he arrived, steaming, the hall was alive with policemen. Then Jimmy learned it was not backfiring he had heard. It was murder. Down at the end of the hall, five offices away, Harold .Starke had been shot. Harold Starke of Matchless Oil Burners. The office scrub woman had found him a little past midnight, six hours dead, a bullet hole in his chest, and no gun.
THE POLICE were combing the offices to see if anyone had heard the shot. They drew blank until they reached Atcheson and Lang’s. All the other offices had closed promptly at five, or even earlier, on account of the heat. When the police found Jimmy, they took him over to Starke’s office pronto. Starke’s body had been taken away. There were chalk marks on the rug where the corpse had been.
Jimmy sat down gingerly in a chair by Starke’s paintedsteel desk. Behind the desk sat the chief of police, a man with a ruddy pockmarked face, a toothbrush mustache, and
huge pink hands. Jimmy had never been this close to a police chief. There were other men who looked like detectives, leaning against the wall and smoking.
“Did you know Harold Starke?” the chief asked.
“By sight,” Jimmy answered solemnly. “I guess a lot of people knew him by sight.”
“What you guess is not important,” the chief said, sending a chill down Jimmy's spine. “How did you happen co know him by sight?”
“He came in our office one day and wanted to borrow an electric fan.”
“Did you know him any other way?”
“I never spoke to him in my life.”
The chief wanted to know everything that Jimmy had been doing since the day of his birth. He said he was twenty years old and his parents were dead and he had a sister out West. He even told about the six months he spent at art school out there, and how he decided to be an architect instead of an artist. The chief took notes.
“Now you say you saw someone here last night?”
“Heard and saw,” Jimmy nodded.
Jimmy told about the shot and the woman in the yellow dress. The chief leaned forward, his pink hands folded over his notes.
“You’re positive about the yellow dress? You couldn’t have been mistaken?”
“Sure I’m positive. She went so fast I couldn’t see her face, but I know it was a yellow dress.”
The chief leaned back in his chair.
“Bring the girl in,” he said to somebody at the door.
When the door opened, a girl came in with a policeman holding her arm. She couldn’t be a day over eighteen, Jimmy thought. She was dressed in the kind of black that isn’t expensive, with a white frill around her neck. Her eyes were blue and scared. Her hair was yellow under a round black hat. As soon as he saw her, Jimmy felt queer all over. What was a nice girl like her doing here with a lot of cops? She sat down in a chair near Jimmy and took off her black cotton gloves. Her hands were thin with long blue veins.
“Have you ever seen this girl before, McDermott?” the chief asked.
“Never,” Jimmy answered, putting his heart into his voice. He wanted the girl to know he was her friend anyhow.
“Sure I’m sure.”
The girl folded and unfolded her hands. She didn’t look at Jimmy.
“What’s your name?” the chief barked.
“But I told—I told those other policemen everything,” — her voice was almost a whisper.
“Tell me,” the chief ordered. “I’m interested.”
Her name was Abby Myers. She was a waitress in the Bon Ton restaurant, just two blocks away. She had been born in a small town and had come to the city a year ago because somebody in her family had to get out and earn money. Her father was a public school teacher.
“You were engaged to Mr. Starke, weren’t you?”
The girl nodded. Jimmy’s heart curdled in his chest. Things weren’t adding up as they should. How did she ever, get in with a fast guy like .Starke? Jimmy had heard office gossip about Starke changing girls as often as he changed neckties.
“How did you meet Mr. Starke?”
The girl flushed. Deep color went clear down to the curve of her throat.
“I—I met him in the restaurant. He always came to lunch and sat at my table. One of the other waitresses was a friend of his and he got her to introduce me. After that he used to talk to me every noon. He asked about my family. He was awfully nice about my family. I was—I was lonely and it seemed like my home town to have somebody ask—”
“Well, he asked me to go out with him. He took me to a lot of places I’d never been. Three months ago he asked me to marry him.”
“Did you love him?”
Her hands clenched suddenly over her knee.
“I don’t see what that matters.”
“Miss Myers, we are trying to find Mr. Starke’s murderer.”
At the word “murderer” the girl looked at Jimmy for the first time. He felt her eyes, blue as Indian turquoise.
“I thought I loved him,” she quavered. “It’s hard to tell. I was so lonely, and being lonely can make you think all sorts of things. It makes you so glad for a friend. Too glad, I guess. But I haven’t been so sure I loved him, not since a week ago.”
The chief mopped his forehead with a huge square of handkerchief. His eyes were hot beads in his face.
“What happened a week ago?”
“He told me he didn’t love me any more. It wasn’t anything I’d done, he said. He just changed his mind.”
JIMMY gritted his teeth. Now he was darned glad that Starke was dead and not trying any more of his little games. The chief scratched his mustache.
“Did—was there—anything out of the way?”
“Out of the way?”
“Don’t play dumb. You know what I mean.”
Jimmy gripped the sides of his chair, so he wouldn’t get up and push the chief’s face in. The girl’s voice was like little pieces of ice.
“Never. We were going to be married.”
“How did you feel when he broke your engagement?” Jimmy couldn’t keep still any longer.
“Say, chief, it’s her own business,” he began.
“I’m not asking you, McDermott,” the chief snapped. “Go on, Miss Myers. You resented it, didn’t you?”
“I wasn’t angry, if that’s what you mean.”
The chief fumbled with some papers on the desk.
“Now, Miss Myers, you gave your statement to the police early this morning. You say you left the Bon Ton Restaurant at four o’clock yesterday afternoon.”
“I’m off between four and seven.”
“Did you come to Starke’s office?”
Wearily the girl shook her head.
“I told and told the police I didn’t. Why should I come
to his office? He—he said we weren’t to see each other again.”
“You might try to change his mind.”
She went very pale and put her hand to her eyes. One of the detectives brought her a glass of water.
“If I had come,” she whispered, “the people in his office would have seen me.”
“Not after five. Everybody except Starke went home at five.”
"But 1 didn’t come.”
“What did you do between four and seven?”
"1 walked around. 1 got some things in the ten-cent
"A yard of lace and some needles. Then I sat in the park.”
The chief smiled, reached for his handkerchief.
“What color dress did you say you were wearing?”
“It was yellow.”
Jimmy’s heart squeezed together as if someone had wrapped barbed wire around it. Now he understood why the chief had let him stay here. How neatly the trap had sprung! He’d give anything in the world not to have told about the yellow dress, but he’d been caught, slick as a prairie rabbit. Now the chief was turning to him with a smile curving wide under his toothbrush mustache.
“You say that you saw a woman in a yellow dress, McDermott?”
Cold perspiration broke out on Jimmy’s hands. In all the heat he shivered and felt giddy.
“Well—yes, sir. But it wasn’t Miss Myers, sir.”
“You can’t be sure, McDermott. After all, you told us that you couldn’t see the face. Only the dress.”
“But Miss Myers couldn’t—”
"All 1 want is facts, my lad.”
Jimmy brought his cold perspiring fist down on his knee.
"But isn’t it a fact—the kind of girl she is? You can tell she wouldn’t murder anybody just for looking at her.”
The chief sighed and rubbed his pockmarked nose.
BACK AT Atcheson and Lang’s, the crowd wanted to know all the inside story. Some wise guy filled a paper cup with water and poured it over Jimmy’s head to cool him down. Nobody could make head or tail of what he said. Over and over again, he told the crowd that the chief had big pink hands. They began razzing, and Mr. Atcheson heard the noise and asked Jimmy to step into his private office.
Mr. Atcheson’s private office was all thick rug and walnut desk and shelves of books on architecture. Mr. Atcheson was a pale round man with gold-rimmed glasses and a horror of publicity. Newspaper notoriety was beneath the standards of this firm, he said. Of course, it wasn’t McDermott’s fault that he stayed late and heard the shot, but it was really too bad. All the papers would carry the story.
“I’m sorry I heard the shot myself,” Jimmy said earnestly.
“I do hope,” Mr. Atcheson continued, his glasses trembling, “that you won’t go around—er—having your picture taken.” “No, indeed, sir.”
“A very proper spirit, McDermott. You understand—I wouldn’t feel that we could keep in our office anyone who courted publicity.”
“Of course not, sir.”
“I must caution you, too, about associating with anyone connected with the case. Just you keep out of it from now on.”
“I’ll keep out all I can, sir.”
Jimmy went back to his chair at the
“I wish police work were as simple as
that. McDermott. I don’t possess your
clairvoyant gift. That will be all for now. Miss Myers.”
For a long minute the girl looked dazed, as if she didn’t hear. Then she left the room without saying a word. Jimmy tried to tell the chief how he felt, stumbling over the words. It sounded fiat.
“Say, you don’t know this Myers girl, do you, McDermott?”
“I never saw her before but—”
“Now you run along, sonny. I don’t put much stock in this character reading at first sight. Neither would you, if you’d been thirty years on the force. I knew an axe murderess once, with a face like a baby, who was scared of mice. Think it over.”
Continued on page 20
The Woman in Yellow
Continued from page 19—Starts on page 18 -
draughtsman’s table and sat with his head in clammy hands. He listened to the parade of feet going to the water cooler and went hot and cold by turns. The clock hands dragged on to the lunch hour. A couple of guys wanted to have lunch with him, but he got away somehow. He moseyed down two city blocks, so hot the pavement was having the jitters, to the Bon Ton restaurant. He was going to see Miss Myers and he didn’t care what Atcheson said. He felt kind of hollow inside at the thought of losing his job, but that didn’t stop him.
The place was jammed. People were waiting for tables behind a little velvet rope, buzzing and craning their necks. Jimmy couldn’t see Miss Myers anywhere. As soon as he got a table, he didn’t waste any time before he spoke to the fat auburnhaired waitress who put ice in his glass. “Where’s Miss Myers?” he said.
“You’re just like all the rest,” she trilled archly. “Abby ain’t here.”
“Where is she?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Jimmy wanted to throttle the waitress. But he only smiled and laid a dollar of next month’s rent money beside his plate. “Have a heart. 1 ’m a friend of hers.” “Sez you.”
“Sure. I’m Jimmy McDermott.”
The waitress put pudgy hands on her hips.
"You’re the smarty that told the cops you seen her.”
“I didn’t. I only said—”
“Run along and peddle your papers.” Jimmy’s eyes burned. His voice shook. “Better tell me.”
The waitress picked up the dollar.
“She’s in the manager’s office. Downstairs.”
Jimmy left the ice melting in his glass and bolted downstairs. He didn’t even knock on the manager’s door. He walked right in. Miss Myers was in a chair by the grimy window, crying into a small wet handkerchief. The manager wasn’t anywhere around. Jimmy wanted to go kneel down by Miss Myers and say a lot of crazy things. But he only went over and took her hand.
“M—miss Myers.” he stammered and couldn’t say anything more. His chest was beginning to hurt with how he felt about her.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, trying to smile. He had expected she might speak as if he was some kind of a rattlesnake. Any other girl, he guessed, would have blamed him. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said.
“It’s all right. You had to say what you saw.”
“Gee—you’re grand. I was hoping you wouldn’t be sore.”
She looked right through him then. “You don't think I was the girl in the yellow dress, do you?”
“Of course not ! Why, I bet Starke knew twenty. I—I meap—”
“Say, can’t we go somewhere and talk? Have you got to work?”
She shook her head.
“I’m out of a job. The manager said a lot of people were coming to the Bon Ton just to have a look at me, on account of the Starke case being in the papers. He doesn’t want that kind of trade.”
Awkwardly Jimmy patted her shoulder. “Some day we’ll come back and sneer at the manager, huh?”
THEY WENT to a little fumed-oak restaurant around the corner, where they had a table in a booth. Jimmy had a feeling there was somebody from the police in the next booth, but he didn’t tell Abby.
“My boss is mad at me, too,” he said. “It’s the papers.”
She took off her hat and laid it on the seat beside her. Yellow hair curled damply about her small tear-streaked face.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t go anywhere with me, Mr. McDermott. If your boss finds out, you’ll lose your job, maybe.” “What do I care?”
“You care a lot. Anybody does who isn’t crazy.”
“How are you going to get along?” “Find a new job, I guess.”
“I hopeI hope you aren’t feeling too bad about Mr. Starke. Gosh, I shouldn’t have said that. I mean—about your engagement.”
The waiter brought them lukewarm fruit cup, fresh from the can. She moved her spoon around in it, as if she were blind.
“You’ve heard so much, you might as well hear it all. When Mr. Starke told me our engagement was over, I was terribly hurt. My pride, I guess. But one of the girls at the restaurant—she came to me and told me a few things she’d heard about Harold—Mr. Starke. It made me feel I was kind of lucky.”
“People will do funny things when they’re lonely.”
“How did you know?”
“Well, I’ve been lonely, too.”
They talked about what a coincidence it was that they should both have been lonely. Jimmy tried to tell Her what the West was like. He wanted to keep the talk away from the murder, but there were two or three times when they stopped still and remembered. He asked her if she oughtn’t to get in touch with her family, and she said no, they didn’t have the money to come this distance.
Soon it was more than time for him to be back at the office. She gave him her address, and he asked her if she was doing anything special that evening. She went kind of white at that. Neither of them knew very much about the law, but they had a feeling she might be arrested any minute.
“If you aren’t at your boarding house, I’ll go to the police station,” Jimmy said, gulping.
But he didn’t see Abby that evening, after all. Her boarding-house landlady told him that Miss Myers wasn’t feeling very well. Her picture in the evening paper had struck Miss Myers all of a heap. Jimmy went back to his room and lay flat on his bed under the skylight and wished bitterly that he was somebody important, like the mayor, so he could make the whole world leave Abby alone. If he could only find a brand-new clue that would show she was innocent! But he didn’t know the first thing about being a detective. He wouldn’t know a clue if one stared him in the face.
Next morning the police had him down at headquarters. This time they brought in another woman. Her name was Helen Merrick. Jimmy wanted to swear she was the woman in yellow, but he couldn’t. This girl was Starke’s kind all right. Coppery and shiny: It was hard to tell what she was thinking under all the powder. She looked at Jimmy through her beaded lashes as if she dared him to recognize her.
“You called on Mr. Starke at four o’clock on the day of his death,” the chief said, pouring himself some ice water.
“Right you are,” Miss Merrick answered in her metallic voice.
“How long did you stay?”
“I didn’t pull a watch on myself. Half an hour, maybe.”
“Starke’s secretary says you left at four-thirty.”
“Then why ask me?”
“Cut it. What did you do then?”
“I walked up and down the Avenue, window shopping. I didn’t buy anything. I got back to my apartment about halfpast six.”
The chief put the tips of his pink fingers together.
“I have been going over times and distances, Miss Merrick. Your apartment is not very far from Starke’s office. It would have been possible for you, say, to visit Mr. Starke at six and reach your apartment by half-past.”
She shrugged, apparently indifferent. “I suppose it would, chief, but don’t forget I was wearing a white dress. I see by the papers you want a woman in yellow.”
The chief grunted, purged his lips. “That’s very fortunate for you, Miss Merrick. Your maid and your doorman both say you went out in a white dress and came back in a white dress. You don’t even own a yellow dress. Am I right?”
“Right as rain.”
“But you quarrelled with Starke at four o’clock.”
Miss Merrick’s hand that glittered with an emerald and a diamond moved uneasily in her lap.
“What if I did?”
“You were engaged to Mr. Starke?” “Sure I was. I was engaged to him a month before he broke off with that little waitress pal of his. He told me she was plenty sore.”
“What did you quarrel about?”
Again the hand moved in her lap. Jimmy watched, fascinated.
“It was nothing to do with the murder.” “Let me settle that.”
“I—I told him he was drinking too much.”
Jimmy’s heart turned over like a prairie rabbit. Miss Merrick didn’t look as if she would mind how much anyone drank. She was lying. The chief opened and shut his eyes like a weary turtle.
“You are not being quite frank with us, Miss Merrick. The secretary heard your voice through the door.”
She went an ugly color that showed through the powder. For a minute Jimmy thought she was going to break, but she didn’t. When she spoke, she whined.
“I didn’t want to tell you, chief, because I’m not the kind that throws dirt at a dead man.”
“All right. You’d better start throwing now.”
“Well, he told me he had a wife living in California and he couldn’t marry anybody. She wouldn’t give him a divorce.”
“What did that mean to you?”
“I was wild, at first. I figured he’d made a fool out of me. But when I left him, I said it was all right by me. I forgave him.”
AGAIN Jimmy was sure that she lied, but there wasn’t any way to shake the truth out of her. He went away while she was still whining. But that afternoon, when he was through at the office, he went back to headquarters and bluffed his way into the chief’s office. The chief was leaning back in his chair, chewing a cigar.
“Next time you come in here, I’ll have you thrown out.”
“But, chief, that Miss Merrick was lying!”
“Maybe—but that don’t mean she killed him. Starke’s secretary heard her forgive him. Everything was okay when ‘she left at four-thirty.”
“But she could have been faking and come back—”
“Either of those two women could have got to Starke’s office after five. The murderess entered the building through that side entrance on the alley. She could have gone right up the stairs without anybody being the wiser. Only two flights to climb.”
“She’d have had to pass my door to reach Starke’s office.”
“Not on your life. That stair entrance is between your office and Starke’s. But those stairs are locked at five-thirty. So she had to pass your office to get away after the shot was fired. The stairs at the other end of the corridor aren’t locked until six-thirty.”
“But where did she hide between five and six?”
“I figure she got there about quarter
Maclean's Magazine, August 15, 1936
past five, when the hall was empty. Maybe she went into Starke’s office right away and they had a free-for-all until six, when she shot him. Maybe she waited until she was sure the coast was clear and went in around six.”
“There’s a closet just around the comer from Starke’s office where she could have waited.”
Jimmy put his hand to his forehead, found it was trembling.
“Isn’t there a chance that somebody else might have shot Starke? Not the woman in yellow at all?”
The chief shook his head, reached for ice water.
“The woman in yellow must have done it. There was no way to get out of the building except by passing your door. You didn’t leave until seven, when all the stairs had been locked. Nobody would have jumped out of Starke’s window, three stories down. After you left, anyone getting out of the building would have had to leave by the night elevator. The night elevator didn’t take anybody down, male or female, after you left. That building was as bare as the Sahara.”
“But couldn’t somebody have hid in the building all night?”
The chief smiled indulgently.
“Nobody did. Take my word for it.” “But Abby—Miss Myers—wouldn’t—” “See here, son. I don’t know why I take all the trouble to talk to you at all, except I know you’ve been hit pretty hard and I was young once myself. I admit I’d like it better to find Miss Merrick guilty. But that don’t alter the facts. If you’ve picked the wrong girl, you’ve got to take it on the chin. We all have to cut our eye-teeth some time.”
The inquest was only five days away. The chief had already postponed it once, in order to get more evidence. No mistake, he wanted the coroner’s jury to bring a murder charge against the woman in yellow. Jimmy moved around in a kind of delirium. Three days before the inquest, Abby and he were having lunch together when a camera man came to their table with a flashlight. The picture appeared in the paper along with the new evidence about the gun. The police had found out that Abby used to own a pistol of the same calibre that killed Starke. She said that she brought it down from home, but she got scared of having it around and threw it in a trash barrel six months ago. Nobody but Jimmy believed her.
It never occurred to Jimmy to doubt Abby or to take any stock in what the chief said about cutting eye-teeth. The night before the inquest, Abby and he sat in the park, and he held her hand, and they didn’t say very much. Both knew where Abby might be tomorrow night at this time. Sitting there as if they were helpless at the bottom of a black well, listening to the city’s noises, Jimmy wondered if it would be a good idea for him to leave town or commit suicide, rather than tell the jury about the woman in yellow. But even that would not help Abby. The police had his testimony down in writing.
“You’re just wonderful,” Abby sighed, her face half-hidden in the dark.
“Gee —if you only knew—”
“I’ll always remember how good you’ve been.”
“Remember. Say, you mustn’t talk about remembering. We’re just beginning.”
THE INQUEST was set for eleven o’clock in the morning. At ten o’clock Jimmy went into Mr. Atcheson’s office to get leave to be away. He stood by Mr. Atcheson’s desk, feeling a little seasick. Mr. Atcheson looked up through his goldrimmed spectacles.
“You’ve been away a great deal lately, McDermott.”
“Well—yes, sir. It was the police, sir.” “I suppose it was the police who forced you to have lunch with that Myers girl and have your picture in the paper.”
Continued on page 22
Continued from page 20
“That—that was my own idea, sir. The lunch, I mean.”
“Do you remember that I asked you to stay away from anyone connected with this case and keep our firm out of the papers?”
Jimmy couldn’t help it. He beat with the flat of his hand on Mr. Atcheson’s desk.
“See here, haven’t you any blood in your body? Don’t you feel sorry for anybody in a tough spot? Don’t you—”
Mr. Atcheson took hold of Jimmy’s arm and held it until Jimmy wilted.
“You’re a very dramatic young man, McDermott. You needn’t come back here after the inquest. See the cashier.”
Jimmy didn’t seem to hear Mr. Atcheson, not far down inside. It was going to be too bad, losing his job, especially when Abby was fiat broke, too. Now he wouldn’t be able to help her, not in any way at all. But even that didn’t matter as much as what was going to happen in the next couple of hours. He waved a vague hand at Mr. Atcheson and didn’t even speak to the cashier. All of a sudden, there he was, out in the baking airless street.
The inquest was held in the courthouse, up a flight of marble stairs, in a room that smelled like varnish. Jimmy shoved through the crowd until he found Abby. She was dead-white with black circles under her eyes. Helen Merrick was all flowered chiffon, bracelets, and a beaded handbag. There sat the chief, still wiping his forehead. The coroner was a sallow hairy man with a big nose. There was such a crush that the coroner’s jury could hardly find room. The place was packed to the doors. Not a breath of air stirred.
When Jimmy’s name was called, he went up to the witness chair and told his story, the whole miserable length of it. There was a queer edgy feeling in the room, like the feeling before thunder. Even Helen Merrick kept pulling at the beads on her bag. Abby kept her eyes in her lap. And there was Mr. Atcheson, way back in the crowd, looking as if he’d swallowed a chokecherry. When Jimmy was through, the coroner began on Abby. The jury could scarcely hear her answers.
It was different with Helen Merrick. She was loud in the witness chair, a real relief to the jury after Abby being so tense and whispering. But Jimmy wondered if she wasn’t being too loud. He had heard men out in the West say that a shrill woman always broke sooner than a quiet woman when the going got tough. This steaming heat was enough to make anyone lose his nerve. What could make Helen Merrick lose her nerve? These few minutes, when she was in the witness chair, were Jimmy’s last hope. He shut his eyes in a last desperate effort to remember every detail of that night at the office, to force himself back through time. He had heard someone running and lifted his eyes from the blueprints . . .
Jimmy was on his feet, calling out in a queer croaking voice.
“Stop!” he said. “I’ve just remembered !”
The coroner was angry and pounded on his desk. The chief told Jimmy to sit down and wait until Miss Merrick left the witness chair. Now she was even louder than ever and she kept licking her lips. With a disgusted grunt, the coroner called Jimmy up to the chair again and said to be careful and not waste the jury’s time.
“But—you see—I just remembered,” Jimmy explained. “I used to go to art school and I learned something—”
“Make it snappy.”
“I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. It’s so darned simple. I learned in art school that when you look at something blue for a long time and you lift your eyes and look at something white, you see it as yellow. That’s because yellow is the complementary color for blue. Any time you look hard at any color, and then look away at something white, you always see the complementary color, not white at all. Now I was looking hard at those blueprints when I heard the steps down the hall. I raised my eyes and saw yellow, but I was really looking at a white dress.”
nPIIE CROWD surged forward like a wave. Helen Merrick was on her feet. Her face didn’t look human any more. It was cracked wide open. She kept screaming “That’s a lie! You framed me!” over and over, in a voice that sounded like wires twanging. Then she crumpled. Two policemen had her by the arms. She began sobbing that Harold Starke couldn’t get away with it, not on this earth. She’d do it again, if she had the chance. The chief came up and patted Jimmy’s shoulder and said he better take Abby away now. He was a smart lad, take the chief’s word for it.
Everybody was shaking Abby’s hand. The tears were rolling down her cheeks. Jimmy took her arm and they stepped out of the noisy room into the marble hall.
“You saved my life. I don’t know what to say, Jimmy.”
“Sure. I want it to be my life. Our life. I wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble for anybody else. Gee—I just thought—I haven’t got a job.”
“A—hum!” somebody said at Jimmy’s elbow.
Jimmy turned. It was Mr. Atcheson and his face was hideously creased in what he probably meant to be a smile.
“Good work, McDermott,” he said. “I didn’t know you had that much brains. Forget what I said about seeing the cashier. I have so many dumb draughtsmen in my office that I guess I get shorttempered. I could use a man with a little grey matter. Urn—you come back and we’ll talk it over.”
For the second time that day, Jimmy hardly heard what the boss was saying. There was something more important on hand. As Mr. Atcheson went on down the marble stairs, Jimmy took Abby in his arms.