FICTION

She Wrote Finis

Death wrote the climax to Minna Lucas' novel. But why? Start now to read this thrilling new mystery story

Q. PATRICK December 1 1940
FICTION

She Wrote Finis

Death wrote the climax to Minna Lucas' novel. But why? Start now to read this thrilling new mystery story

Q. PATRICK December 1 1940

AS THE door of her office opened. Leslie Cole looked up from the manuscript she had been reading and blinked at her visitor over impressive hornrimmed spectacles. She blinked partly because she was short-sighted, but largely because there was something about Robert Boyer that dazed her slightly every time she saw him. He was so breath-takingly big, so masculine, so windswept, so exactly what he should be as a successful author of the great Canadian outdoors.

“Hi, bookworm.” He grinned at her, showing enviable teeth. “Ready for Minna’s party?”

The thought of Minna Lucas, which had been buried under manuscripts all afternoon, rose up unpleasantly. Leslie consulted her wrist watch.

“Quarter of six. I didn’t know it was so late.”

She disappeared through a door and returned almost immediately minus the spectacles and plus a tricky hat and a Persian lamb coat. She looked like a little girl masquerading as a grownup—a very pretty, rather helpless little girl who would inevitably gravitate toward a male shoulder in a crisis. No one would have guessed she was Morton and Bidlake’s toughest and shrewdest editor, the Leslie P.  Cole who had discovered Robert Boyer’s “The Story of Mark” and boosted it into the biggest selling and most important first novel of a decade.

In the taxi Robert Boyer engulfed her small hand in his large one. The pressure of his strong fingers was warm and rather exciting, She wasn’t in love with him, of course. As a hard-boiled career girl, Leslie was far too proud of her impersonal business efficiency to do anything so weak and feminine as fall for her most important author. Particularly since she had a strong suspicion that he was still devoted to Faith Felton, the actress.

Nevertheless even career girls with independent spirits like having their hands held by men as attractive as Robert Boyer.

And Robert was one of the most attractive men Leslie knew, and he was not a complete egoist like most successful writers. It was typical that alone of them all he should have gone out of his way to help Minna Lucas place her thoroughly bad first novel—just because she had at one time been his secretary.

Leslie knew that she should be sorry for Minna too—sorry for her because a terrible car accident had scarred her face and broken her only romance, sorry too that she herself only last week had been obliged to turn down “Weeds,” the book which Minna had dreamed of as the first step toward a brilliant career as an intellectual authoress.

And yet, in spite of everything, it was impossible to feel sympathy with Minna. Even in the old days when she had been Robert’s secretary and had shared an apartment with Leslie and Faith Felton, there had been something calculating and spiteful about her. Now, her bitterness increased by her disfigurement and her failure as a novelist, that vindictive streak had become exaggerated.

Robert was still holding her hand. He said reflectively, “Probably the party will be pretty grim, Leslie. But try to be nice to Minna. She’s had all the turn-downs and we’ve had all the breaks.”

That was only too true. On the strength of her “Mark” promotion, Leslie herself had been swept from an obscure subeditorship to an office of her own and a place on the company’s letterhead. Gordon Keath, the literary agent who had sold her the book, had the biggest percentage earner in history on his hands. Jim Harding had been an utterly unknown playwright until his adaptation of the Boyer novel had smashed Broadway between the eyes; and no one had heard of his young wife, Faith Felton, until her playing of Sally McCreedy in “The Story of Mark” had skyrocketed her overnight into the spotlight as the theatre’s ranking dramatic actress.

All of them who had been connected with Robert's astounding first novel, had jumped onto the bandwagon of his success. Only poor Minna, whose burning ambition was stronger than that of the rest of them put together, had been left behind with nothing but a scarred face and a broken romance.

Reflectively Leslie said, “Maybe you’re right in being nice to Minna, Robert. But I doubt it.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s not grateful. She grudges us all every break we ever had. She’d murder any of us cheerfully to get something she really wanted.”

Slightly startled by her own vehemence. Leslie concluded, “Unless, of course, somebody murders her first... ”

SURPRISINGLY, it was Gordon Keath who opened the door for them at Minna’s house. Perennially young and cheerful, Gordy was one of the soundest literary agents in town and Leslie’s oldest crony and sparring partner in the book racket. He closed the door behind them, shutting out some of the chilly February night.

“Minna’s gone Eskimo,” he said. “All the windows in the living room are jammed wide open and the temperature's sub-Arctic.” He grinned at Boyer. “Probably a tribute to the great author of the frozen north.”

He crowded them into a narrow hallway. “Our hostess is out on important business. I got a sweet little note to come early and do the honors.” The agent's attractively unobtrusive face crinkled around the eyes. “Gordon Keath, Inc. Manuscripts Sold and Free Maid-Service."

They had emerged now into a long living room where several people were standing around chattering. Leslie shivered. Gordy was right about the cold. The room was glacial. It was noisy too. Traffic sounds blared through the open windows, and from somewhere in an adjoining room a radio was churning out dance music.

"Leslie, darling... Robert, angel!"

The exotic figure of Faith Felton disentangled itself from the knot of guests and swooped down on Boyer, smothering him in silver fox and affection.

“Heaven to see you! Jimmy!”—the actress tossed the word over her shoulder to her husband—“here’s Robert.”

Jimmy Harding, sardonically handsome young dramatist, joined his wife, and the two of them whirled Boyer away. Gordy navigated Leslie to a table.

Leslie said: “How tactful of Minna to delay her entrance. I'm rather dreading seeing her now I've turned ‘Weeds’ down. Why do you suppose she insisted on Robert’s bringing me, anyway?”

“Don’t ask me. Don't ask me why I’m here either. Didn’t you know Minna grabbed her priceless manuscript away from me when I couldn’t sell it? Terrible tantrum, there was. I thought I was out on my ear as Minna’s agent. But here I am.” Gordy Keath shrugged useful, man-sized shoulders. “It’s cuckoo having Faith and Jimmy here too. Minna tried to interest Jimmy in a stage adaptation of 'Weeds’ as a follow-up vehicle for Faith after ‘The Story of Mark.’ They both turned her down flat too. Looks like this is a turn-down party.”

“But what’s its point?”

“Heaven knows. She was mysterious. Just said she was celebrating ‘Weeds.’ ”

“Celebrating!" Leslie’s blue, fascinating eyes blinked. “I bet I know. She’s found some sucker who’s willing to publish her, and she’s got us all here to flaunt it in our faces. It’s exactly the nasty sort of thing she’d do." Leslie flushed. "Sorry to be a cat, but... ”

“Miaow away, darling. You don’t know the half of it.” Gordy nodded past Boyer, Faith Felton and Jimmy Harding to a square, rather sulky young man who stood by the couch with a dark, thin girl. “See who’s here?”

Leslie peered myopically. "It isn't—it can’t be Dave Walker and Yvonne Prevost!"

“No other.” Gordy grinned satirically. "Sweet, charitable Minna’s giving a little party just for the boys and gals who done her dirt.”

Leslie sighed. The whole thing was crazier and crazier. Dave Walker had been engaged to Minna in the days when she had still been rooming with Leslie and Faith; Dave Walker had been driving when the car had smashed up; Dave Walker had broken the engagement after Minna had come, scarred and embittered, out of hospital; and Dave Walker was now in love with Yvonne Prevost, the young artist who designed the jacket for “The Story of Mark.”

Dave and Yvonne were here as Minna’s guests.

There was something distinctly wrong about this party.

Faith Felton descended upon them like a perfumed blizzard, sweeping Robert and Jimmy Harding after her.

“Gordon, darling, couldn’t we migrate upstairs to Minna’s studio? There’s usually a fire there and maybe the windows will shut.”

“Seems like a superior idea.”

“Fine.” Robert Boyer took Leslie’s arm. “Leslie and I’ll prospect. Where do we dump hats, et cetera, by the way?”

“Second floor. Men on the left, girls on the right.”

LESLIE followed Robert through the small dining room where the radio was blaring and up the stairs. “The temperature must make you homesick for Labrador,” she said.

She knew, of course, how “The Story of Mark” had been written; knew how the sudden northern winter had cut off Robert Boyer, then a government land surveyor, in a lonely hut with only a young French Canadian as companion. After the first month the boy had died of pneumonia and, to save himself from going mad with loneliness, Robert had written night and day on the manuscript which later had swept the country.

The circumstances were tragic and yet romantic. Leslie had often wondered whether those terrible months accounted for some of the stark poignancy of the book; had wondered too whether Boyer’s next novel, unseen but reportedly nearing completion, would show the enervating influence of the civilization in which he now lived.

“I guess Minna won’t mind our invading her sanctum,” said Robert doubtfully. “I’ll light the fire and you can tidy up.”

At the second floor, he stopped off in the bedroom to leave his hat and coat. Leslie was too cold to shed hers, and started up alone to the third floor where Minna had converted a large attic into an elaborately arty studio.

Only her intimates were allowed there and that at strictly scheduled times, so as not to interrupt the routine of her work. For Minna, ever since she had given up private secretaryship for great literature, had adopted all the fancy trimmings of a lady authoress.

Reaching the small landing, Leslie pushed open the door of the studio. There was a single shaded light on the desk and a brisk fire burning at the far end of the long, low-ceilinged room.

It should all have been very comfortable and pleasant, but from the moment she crossed the threshold, Leslie knew that something was wrong. Although it took her short-sighted eyes some seconds to focus properly, she could not miss the confusion of the floor. It was carpeted with pages of manuscript, scattered haphazard as if by the force of some sudden tornado.

Nor was that all. In the light from the fire, Leslie could make out something else. Something—someone—was lying at the far end of the room. Someone was lying there in the very centre of that chaos of manuscript.

A woman...

Leslie Cole took a step nearer, then stood frozen, the blood in her veins turned to ice.

It was a woman, a young woman, lying there on the floor with a white, scarred face staring unseeingly up at the raftered ceiling. Across her right cheek and over the scattered heap of manuscript close to her head was a long, sprawling stain of red. In her right hand gleamed the blue steel of a revolver. Her left hand, flung grotesquely above her head, clutched a crumpled piece of paper.

Leslie tried to move, but she couldn’t. It was as if her limbs were locked in a sudden paralysis. Desperately she fought to check that awful welling-up of nausea. She had to keep calm. Whatever happened, she had to keep calm.

Dimly she was conscious of footsteps on the stairs behind her—outside the room. Robert... Robert was coming. With a supreme effort, she turned her back on that thing lying there on the floor. Robert Boyer stood on the threshold. She saw his lean, handsome face, unconcerned in the first second, and then gone suddenly grey and pinched.

At last her voice sounded, dry, edged, not her own voice at all.

“Robert, it’s Minna. I found her—there... It’s— Minna... ”

ROBERT BOYER pushed past her, striding toward that twisted heap on the carpet. When Leslie turned again to face it, his large figure was mercifully blotting it from her view. He had dropped on one knee and was bending over Minna Lucas. For an interminable moment, when every sensation was suspended, Leslie stood there watching. Robert had taken something from his pocket—a silver cigarette case. He was holding it in front of the prostrate woman’s lips in an attempt to detect any faint stirring of breath.

And then his voice came, saying the words that were drumming in Leslie’s mind.

“She’s dead, Leslie.”

Leslie clenched her small hands into fists. She mustn’t think. It was no good thinking—yet... Robert was stooping forward. With cautious deliberation, he was removing the crumpled piece of paper from Minna’s fingers.

Then he was back at Leslie’s side. Dazed and haggard, he was holding out a piece of paper, smoothing it.

Like a person in a dream, Leslie stood at his elbow, reading the words neatly typed on that sheet of manuscript.

“It’s no good going on. You’ve all hated me; you’ve all tried to drive me insane. You won’t weep when I’m dead. But I don’t care. Why should I? There’s only one thing more for me to say. And I’ll say it now. I’ll say—to the devil with you... ”

Underneath, written in red ink in Minna’s large sloping handwriting, was the one word:

FINIS

Leslie stopped reading. Her eyes, staring without object, noticed dimly that Robert's large hands were trembling.

“It’s the last page of her novel, isn’t it?” His low voice brought her thoughts back. “Poor kid! She couldn’t get her book published, so she killed herself. She threw the manuscript all over the room and used the last page as a—suicide note.”

“Suicide!” Leslie’s glance flashed from the revolver in Minna’s hand to the spreading red stain on the pile of manuscript by her head. “So that’s why she invited us to the party. We’d all turned her down and she wanted us to see... Robert, what are we going to do? The others’ll all be coming up any minute."

“We better not let them know yet. Heaven knows how many people may have arrived by now. There’ll be a stampede if they find out. Leslie, you go and call the police. I’ll see this place is locked up.”

"But the telephone’s right there in the dining room, next to where the party is. They'll hear me.”

“Not if you turn the radio louder. Just tell the operator. She’ll report it. Say it’s urgent.”

As if some of his control had steadied her, Leslie hurried downstairs. Vaguely above the insistent drumming of the radio, she could hear the chatter of the others in the living room. She reached the dining room. Clumsily she jerked the radio dial, spinning the music into a raucous crescendo; then she slipped to the telephone and hurriedly called the operator.

“Get the police... quick... a woman’s killed herself... ”

She gave the address and rang off. She took a step forward and then stopped dead as the door from the living room opened and a man came in.

“Who’s trying to deafen us with the radio? Why, Leslie... ”

Gordon Keath stared blankly at her white, frozen face. “What’s gone wrong? Is it okay to move the party upstairs?”

Leslie gripped his hand. “Gordy, Minna’s shot herself.” 

“She’s—what?”

“Robert and I found her. We... ”

She stopped as Robert Boyer came hurrying down the stairs. Gordon Keath ’s incredulous gaze shifted to the author.

"Boyer, this is crazy. It’s not true?”

“It’s true all right.” Robert looked at Leslie. "I’ve locked the door. No one can get in. Did you call the police?”

She nodded.

Gordy Keath ran a distracted hand through his thick black hair. “Suicide! Lord, so that's why she asked us all and had me play host. That’s why she jammed the windows open, to be sure we’d get cold, move upstairs and find her.”

“Gordy, what are you saying?”

The three of them spun round as a hoarse voice sounded behind them. Faith Felton had come through the half-open door. The actress was standing staring at them, her exotic face taut and white beneath the little silver fox turban.

Robert Boyer moistened his lips. “It’s true, Faith. Minna’s shot herself. She’s in the studio.”

FOR ONE moment Faith Felton stood absolutely still. Then she made a sudden move forward and started up the stairs.

Robert called: “No one’s to go up there, Faith.”

“I’ve got to.” The actress swung round, supporting herself with a hand on the stair rail in a pose which even then was instinctive theatre. "The police will be coming. Don’t you realize? There are bound to be papers, things that shouldn’t be seen, things that we—that Minna would have wanted destroyed.”

“What things?” The question came edged with curiosity from Gordy.

Faith Felton stared at him blankly. “It’s just that I thought... ” As the door from the living room opened for the third time and Jimmy Harding appeared, she swept precipitously down the stairs to her husband, clutching his arm. “Darling, the most appalling thing. Minna’s killed herself.” Her hands fluttered. “And with all of us here in the house!”

The playwright’s dark face registered neither surprise nor shock. In his cool, slightly affected voice, he drawled, “Exactly the untidy sort of thing Minna would do.” He turned to Robert. “You’ve notified the police?”

“They’ll be right here.”

“Then there's nothing to do but keep our shirts on and wait.” He patted his wife’s hand. “Pull yourself together, darling. There’s no need to get Hollywood about it.” 

Gordy Keath grimaced. “You certainly seem to be bearing up okay, Jimmy.”

“Why not?” The playwright's eyebrows tilted upward. “We were none of us exactly in love with Minna. She’s probably better off dead anyway, poor girl.” He jerked a thumb toward the living room. “How about the party’s romantic element? Hadn’t we better tell Walker and Yvonne?”

“I guess so.”

In the living room the two remaining guests were sitting on the couch, looking uneasy and rather hostile. Dave Walker, the man who had been Minna's fiancé, rose as they entered, but Yvonne Prevost remained seated, watching them from very black, guarded eyes.

While Robert told them what had happened, Dave Walker’s strong, rather brutal face, beneath the cropped blond hair, went blank. But all attention shifted to Yvonne Prevost who rose to her feet, her thin face passionately intense.

“Minna's killed herself!” she exclaimed. “That’s funny. That’s too funny to be true.” She spun round to her fiancé, gripping his arm, laughing a shrill, uncontrolled laugh. “Don’t you realize, Dave? That’s what she meant over the phone. There’s nothing more to worry about. She’s dead. She... ”

Her words were lost as the harsh laughter took full possession of her. Dave Walker, his mouth a thin line, lifted his hand and with lightning swiftness brought the palm down flat on her cheek.

“Stop it, you fool! What do you suppose they’ll—?”

He broke off. All of them had swung round to face the door as a shrill buzzer sounded from the hall.

It was Leslie who spoke. In a small choked voice, she said:

"The police!”

THE HOUSE had become full of policemen. Someone was calling Leslie’s name and she found herself face to face with a tall, pleasant-looking young man in a grey suit. His eyes were grey, too—a cool, level grey.

"I'm Lieutenant Trant,” he said. “In charge.”

Vaguely the editor in Leslie thought: A policeman shouldn’t look like that at all. He’s too amiable, too unconcerned—too poised.

He asked quietly about her discovery of the body, a flicker of interest showing in his eyes when she mentioned Robert Boyer, which hinted that, he had read or at least heard of “The Story of Mark.”

“I'm afraid I'll have to ask you and Mr. Boyer to come with me upstairs.”

Leslie shuddered away from the thought of having to revisit the studio, but there was something about Lieutenant Trant that commanded unquestioning obedience. With a little clutch at Robert’s arm, she moved toward the door. The lieutenant signalled one of his men to stay in the living room and ordered the others to follow.

"Isn't that girl with the silver fox cape Faith Felton, the actress?" he asked as they went up the stairs.

Robert Boyer nodded.

“Quite a few celebrities present, aren’t there?”

From the way he talked, he might almost have been just another guest arriving at the party.

His unruffled manner brought her a little composure. She, Leslie Cole, had I known Minna Lucas, known her as an embittered, pathetic girl with a scarred face and a burning ambition to be a novelist in spite of her absence of talent. Minna had been her roommate. Minna had been alive and now was—dead. To her, this was something shocking that slashed straight across her own personal existence.

But to the police this was just another case of a neurotic girl who had shot herself in a morbid, neurotic manner. Just part of the regular police routine...

At the studio door she felt an overwhelming desire to turn and run back down the narrow stairs. But the policemen behind her seemed to hem her in. Robert was handing the key of the studio to Lieutenant Trant. The detective had opened the door.

The macabre tableau looked exactly the same as her memory of it. Minna lay stretched there close to the wood box, the pages of manuscript by her head gleaming red in the light from the fire.

In the brief moment while she looked at the body, Leslie felt a queer stab of guilt. It was partly her fault this terrible thing had happened. She had refused “Weeds” in a report that was brutally frank. If only she had let Minna down a little more gently!

Poor Minna!

Robert’s arm was still steadying her.

“You haven’t touching anything, Miss Cole?” Lieutenant Trant’s quiet, voice seemed to come from miles away.

“N-no. Nothing.”

The detective’s gaze moved to Robert. “And you?”

“I went over to her. Had to find out if there was anything we could do.”

“Of course.”

“And I took this out of her hand.” Robert passed the detective the crumpled sheet of manuscript with its red “Finis.” “It's the last page of a novel she’d been writing.”

The young detective’s grey eyes glanced over the sheet. “And all the paper on the floor, that’s her novel too? You’re both literary people, aren’t you? Had someone rejected the manuscript?”

Leslie said, “Yes, I—that is, Morton and Bidlake refused it. I’m one of the editors. I’m afraid she just couldn’t write and... ”

“And you think that she took her life in a fit of depression consequent upon her disappointment?”

“I—I suppose so.”

The lieutenant had moved toward the fireplace. He was not looking at the body. Suddenly he stooped to examine a splintered abrasion on one of the oak supports of the mantel about two feet from the ground.

“That’s where the bullet struck,” he murmured. “Must have passed right through her head.”

“Doc’s arrived,” announced one of the policemen by the door.

Almost immediately a short, grey-haired man carrying a black bag hurried into the room. He nodded to Trant and went straight to the body, bending over it with impersonal interest.

“Hm, gave herself quite a bang on the head when she fell, Trant. Guess she must have hit this sharp corner of the wood box.”

Somehow that flat, disinterested comment from the medical examiner seemed more shocking to Leslie than any of the ghastly things that had come before. The floor seemed to shift under her feet; her hand found Robert’s arm again.

As if he sensed how she was feeling. Lieutenant Trant said, “Would you and Mr. Boyer mind joining the others now, Miss Cole? I'll want to talk to you again when the medical examiner is through.”

WHEN they returned to the living room, the other guests had split up into tense little groups. Faith Felton and Jimmy Harding, conscious of their position as important, busy people in the theatre, stood by the door, impatient to be gone. Yvonne Prevost and Dave Walker sat together on the couch. All vestiges of the girl’s hysterical outburst had been obliterated. Her dark eyes stared flat and enigmatic from a white, scarlet-lipped face.

Robert and Leslie joined Gordy Keath, who sat perched on the radiator. With an attempt at frivolity, he said, “This has turned out to be a nice little item for your mystery list, Leslie.”

Someone had cut the radio off, but the windows were still wide open, bringing a bluster of night air and street noises into the room. The policeman who had been left on guard stood large and impersonal by the front door, a constant reminder that this was a party no longer.

To Leslie, sitting there in the unbroken silence, it seemed hours before anything happened. At some stage she glanced at her watch. It was past seven. And for the first time she remembered that Gordy Keath had invited her to a première that evening.

By all that was reasonable, she and Gordy should be snatching dinner somewhere now, manoeuvring like affectionate fencers around the subject of some manuscript he had to sell. Dinner and a show with Gordy! The fascinating game of getting the really good manuscript you wanted, like “The Story of Mark,” and not being talked into buying the unsaleable “Weeds” of contemporary fiction... all that was the very fibre of life as Leslie loved it. And yet now it seemed utterly remote. Something that couldn’t possibly happen. All because Minna had done this ghastly thing.

At last one of Trant’s officers appeared and beckoned to Robert and Leslie. They were conducted to Minna’s bedroom where Lieutenant Trant, tall and masculine and distinctly out of place in that frilly feminine room, was sitting on the edge of the bed beside the coats of the female members of the party. As they entered, he nodded the officer away and indicated two chairs.

The detective’s manner was as sympathetic and casual as before. And yet it seemed to Leslie that some obscure change had come over him. It was as if the casualness were deceptively on the surface now. And the grey eyes which had been reassuring, almost respectful when he first arrived, were scrutinizing them a little too intently.

He listened in unrevealing silence while Robert described their arrival at the house, the suggestion that the party should be moved upstairs and their subsequent discovery in the studio.

“Thank you, Mr. Boyer.” His voice was very polite. “You don’t happen to know if the deceased has any near relatives?”

Leslie broke in: “Not in New York. I roomed with her for a while. She came from some small town in the West. Miss Felton would know about her people. She’s from the same place and they were brought up together.”

“I see.” Lieutenant Trant’s interest seemed abruptly to have waned. He was lost in a minute examination of his own left thumbnail. “Mr. Boyer, I’ve been glancing through Miss Lucas’ papers, and I gather she worked for you as secretary.”

“Yes. But she left me about ten months ago to get married.”

Robert told him the pathetic story of the automobile accident which had scarred Minna’s face and led to her broken engagement. He explained how her stubborn determination to write a novel had made her refuse his subsequent offer to return to him as secretary.

“It was a pretty tough time for her, but the girl had plenty of courage. She must have been living on a shoestring when she wrote that book. I’d helped a bit with the hospital bills, but I know she had practically no money of her own.”

“For someone living on a shoestring, this is quite a nice house.” Lieutenant Trant still seemed more interested by his thumbnail than the conversation. “How about the man she was engaged to?”

“He’s a young lawyer—David Walker.” Robert looked rather embarrassed. “He’s here at the party.”

Lieutenant Trant did glance up then. “You mean there’s been a reconciliation?” 

“No, no. He’s engaged to another girl now, Yvonne Prevost who designed the jacket for my book. She’s downstairs, too.”

IF THIS information had importance for Lieutenant Trant he gave no outward sign of it.

“Tell me about Miss Lucas’ novel.” 

Robert explained how Minna had brought him the finished manuscript and begged him to try to help her place it. He had read it without enthusiasm, but had handed it over to his own literary agent, Gordon Keath, with a request to do his best for it.

“I didn’t hear any more about it until Minna called me yesterday to invite me to this party.”

“Did she hint in any way that the party was going to be—well, unusual?”

“No. She just said she was celebrating some news on the book. I imagined she’d found a publisher. She especially asked me to bring Miss Cole as a representative of Morton and Bidlake.”

“One of the publishers who had turned the book down.” Trant’s grey eyes suddenly dropped their pose of indifference. “You’re assuming that, in fact, she had given up all hope of finding a publisher and had decided to shoot herself. And you think she deliberately invited to her house the people she felt had not appreciated her—simply to embarrass them by involving them in her suicide?”

Robert’s gaze fell to his strong, unauthorlike hands. “Something of that sort, I suppose.”

“I see.” Once again that flat, uncommunicative I see. “I know, of course, that women kill themselves for queer reasons. But lots of young authors must have first novels turned down without putting bullets through their heads. It doesn’t seem... ”

He stopped the sentence as if the difficulty of completing it had been too much for him.

Impulsively Leslie said, “Of course thousands of young writers get disappointments and can still take it on the chin. But Minna was different. You must remember she’d been in on the biggest literary success of a decade, Mr. Boyer’s ‘Story of Mark.’ And she became obsessed with the idea that she could hit the bull’s-eye with a novel too. Lots of secretaries to famous people go that way. She banked everything on the acceptance of ‘Weeds.’ And we all turned her down flat. That was the last straw. She’d been pretty once, and that car accident had put her out of the running so far as men were concerned. She’d lost her looks and her man and now she was a failure as a writer too.”

Leslie’s small face had taken on a rapt, owl-like intensity. “Minna was beaten on all counts. She was through. She had every reason to say the devil with it all and—finis.”

Trant had been watching her soberly. Suddenly he smiled a vivid smile which was more frightening even than his former composure.

“As a matter of fact, Miss Cole, I agree with you. Miss Lucas had very good reason to commit suicide. That’s why I’m so interested in this case.” He paused. “Simply because she didn’t commit suicide.”

Leslie stared. “You—you can’t mean... ”

“Yes, Miss Cole, I mean that Miss Lucas was deliberately and very cleverly—murdered.”

To be Continued