Turn Back the Clock
Janet Manly determines to learn why the man-who-grew-young met death— Then abruptly gun-fire tears away a charlatan's cloak of cunning
DR. JANET MANLY, clever and attractive young woman psychiatrist who is trying to establish a practice in the village of Milleron, saves her first patient, sixty-two-year-old
RANSOM PETERS, wealthy, retired businessman depressed by his loss of youth, when he locks himself in his library and threatens to shoot himself. Janet shocks him into a new interest in life when she shouts through the door that she is going to marry his son
PRESTON PETERS, a young artist. The invented engagement is not long continued and Janet realizes she must help her patient find some more lasting enthusiasm for life; but she is concerned when Ransom Reters becomes determined to try a rejuvenation treatment offered by an Austrian physician DR. KEDRIC MURLAIN. Janet knows that before moving to Milteron he treated several patients in another town, all of whom committed suicide after Dr. Mur Iain's “elixir of youth” had seemingly been successful. That there is some doubt these really were suicides, she learns from
PROFESSOR WAINRKîIIT, who asks her to help the Medical Association investigate Dr. Murlain, suspected of being a fraud and possibly a dangerous criminal. Ransom Peters' insistence on taking the treatment provides an opportunity for her to investigate Murlain. although she fears this may be at the risk of her patient's life. She takes him to the Austrian physician's home where Peters agrees to pay Dr. Murlain and his domineering wife $100,000 if the first stage of the “rejuvenation"—to restore him to an apparent age of forty-seven, is successful. Peters meets and is entranced by SONIA LORIAT, young and exceedingly beautiful niece of the Murlains.
The treatment consists simply of a small white pill which Ransom Peters swallows. Amazingly enough the “elixir” seems to work—Janet notes in the clinical record she keeps for Prof. Wainrighi that fifteen years slowly drop from the discouraged shoulders of her patient. Peters gives a dinner party at which he announces his engagement to Sonia. When the end of the first stage of the rejuvenation treatment is successfully reached Peters gives Dr. Murlain his cheque for $100,000 and is told he must wait a week before beginning the second part of the treatment which will make another fifteen years vanish.
Knowing that it was during this waiting period that violent death overtook earlier patients, Prof. Wainrighi plans to “kidnap'' Ransom Peters, and have him temporarily removed to a sanitarium across the state border. There he will be protected and studied, and perhaps the fate of the earlier patients solved. The “plot” collapses when Ransom Peters elopes with Sonia before his “kidnappers” arrive. Nothing further is heard from the honeymooners for some days until Janet receives an excited call from Preston Peters. She calls police and rushes to the Peters home to find that the couple have returned, that Sonia lies asleep upstairs, and that Ransom Peters has apparently shot himself while locked in the library. A sawed-off shotgun lies near the body, the face is horribly torn and unrecognizable.
(Third of Seven Parts)
RESTON reached to pick up the shotgun.
“Don’t do that,” said the trooi>er, sharply. “There was no key inside that door. Not a thing must be touched till I make a search.”
He found a key ring in the dead man’s pocket. Preston looked at it, said the key to the door was old fashioned, cumbersome, not one of these bright ones.
“What’s this about the wife upstairs? I’ll close this room,” said the officer, “and ask you to take me to her.” Servants were in the hall. They were told to go back to their quarters. Preston led the way to the bedroom formerly occupied by Janet. On the bed lay Sonia, fully dressed in a tweed suit, hands clasped behind her neck. She was exquisitely young and beautiful.
“Did you say his wife?” demanded the officer.
“Yes,” said Janet.
“And this is his son? Doctor, what is the matter with this child?”
Janet shook her, slapped her face, but could not wake her. Lieutenant Morris crossed to the dressing table. “Ah, a bottle of luminal pills—and what is this?”
He pushed an old iron key under Preston’s nose.
“I I think that is the library-door key. New doors and locks were put on other rooms in the house when I was a kid.”
“Humph, then the old guy may have been locked in after the shooting.”
Preston paled. “My father killed himself. He must have been alone, too.”
“Looks like funny business.” The trooper’s shoulders seemed to spread with importance.
A leather bag stood on a little stand near the head of the bed. The trooper opened the metal clasps, rummaged inside. He pulled out several silken things, dropped them as if touching fire. Then he grunted with satisfaction.
“Felt like it,” he said, and brought up a package of banknotes, wrapped and stamped.
Before he had finished diving in, lifting in a huge fist, ten packages were stacked upon the dressing table.
“This young lady is the wife of the deceased,” stated Janet, dryly.
“A little money to play with before the estate is settled, eh? This supposed sleeping while Peters was shot gets me. This luminal is a sedative, isn’t it?”
“It isn’t a sedative, but a hypnotic.”
“How long would it take to work?”
“Depends upon the dose and the individual. A normal dose --about an hour, I’d say.”
“Then she might be awake at the time of the shot, come up here and go to sleep?”
“It sounds very unlikely. Excitement would tend to stop the working of the hypnotic. I’m not an expert, but be careful about not treating this as anything but a straight case of suicide.”
“I’m not asking any advice.”
Janet turned to Preston. “Go down and call Sheriff Barton’s office, ask him to come out himself.” Then to the trooper: “You are not going to be allowed to run roughshod around here.”
“I’ll get my fingerprint and camera detail. You may have influence with the sheriff’s office. The county is politics ridden. You can’t bluff the state police.”
“You see yourself in headlines, Lieutenant. This girl shot her husband, locked him in—left the key in plain sight and a bale of bills in an open bag—then she dropped on a bed and let sleeping medicine take her away from it all. Sonia is beautiful but she isn’t quite that dumb.”
“The sleeping pills would make a dandy alibi,” said the trooper, stubbornly. “I’m going down and catch that phone.”
He swaggered out. Janet stood looking down at Sonia. The eyes closed she appeared waxen and innocent, but the trooper hadn’t been told a person could be mighty groggy while the hypnotic exerted its effect, and might forget to dispose of a key, or some equally important detail. But she hadn’t murdered Ransom Peters. He had killed himself, with a motive as mysterious as that of those other patients. She hoped the rejuvenation business could be kept hidden. Reporters would swarm to a coroner’s inquest. Sonia—whom she would save—was surely
photogenic. What food for the tabloids. She examined Sonia, caiefully.
Preston returned, puffing. “The sheriff will be right out, with his fingerprint man and camera shooter. He didn’t know dad was married.”
“The editor of the weekly paper is an A. P. correspondent for anything of importance locally. Barton will bring him along, sure. Pipe down on any mention of Dr. Murlain.”
“Trust me, but why—”
“That trooper will be back. He is the type who would be keen to overhear us talking.”
“The library key—this large sum of money?”
“Oh, Sonia will explain it all, when she awakens. I suppose I could bring her out of it, using extreme measures, but I’m not going to try. The sheriff’s authority and that of the state police will be opposed plenty. She will be lucky to sleep through it all.”
“She couldn’t possibly have taken a lethal overdose? She is so beautiful—”
“Not Sonia. Her breathing is quite normal and so is her pulse. Now—stop that, instantly.”
For Preston had begun to cry, long hard sobs shaking him violently. He drew his right arm over his eyes, as if ashamed.
“I felt . . . something dreadful . . . was going to happen. You can’t defy nature and get away with it. My father went mad ... I know it. The body responded — there was an explosion in the brain.”
Janet struck him on the back.
“Come out of it, and shut up. I hear that trooper on the stairs, you fool. Do you want all the story dripping in black headlines? Do you want a sob sister sobbing with you to get all you know?”
He jerked his arm away. I lis eyes w^ere reddened but dry.
“I can’t go back into that library,” he said, slowly.
“No reason for it. You need a couple of big shots of brandy. Go down and take them. I’ll go along, lock Sonia in, with the so-called evidence. A trooper like this one takes a lot of rights just because we allow him to take them.”
JANET locked the door on the outside. Lieutenant Morris was still at the phone in the hallway. He hung up as the two descended the stairs.
“I’ve locked Mrs. Peters in her room. She won’t awaken for hours. You have no warrant and she has some rights I’ll exert for her.”
Her tone was somewhat tart.
“You don’t like the law, lady.”
“Doctor Manly, if you please. I like it well enough but it takes too many liberties. I like it better with no arrests for cheap publicity, and more respect for citizens.”
“Sounds like a stump speech,” he growled. “We act fast but we get results. Incidentally I hope the sheriff brings along his croaker.”
“That’s subtle, I suppose. Why—”
From outside came the blare of horns.
“That’s the sheriff in his white car, as if coming to a fire.”
Janet went out to greet Sheriff Barton, whom she had met several times at the country club. He was a big man physically, shrewd, possessing a rustic drawl he had refused to lose, since it was ever an asset with voters. He introduced a Dr. Gurran, all red face and rum breath. Two assistants, with a stretcher, waited as if held back by a leash. Then Art Benson, editor of the local paper, came forward from a car of his own.
Lieutenant Morris took them inside. He led the way reluctantly toward the library, explaining what he had learned for the benefit of Sheriff Barton and the newspaper man. The latter drew Janet aside.
“Doctor Manly, they’ll look for fingerprints on that shotgun and every place else, get camera shots from all angles. I have enough of a story now to put on the wire to the A.P., only give me the woman angle. Who was this Sonia Peters—I don’t know of her here in the county.” “She is a beautiful Austrian, Sonia Loriat by name. She and Ransom Peters eloped a week ago, were married by a justice in Hammerville, but the press missed out on it, somehow. It had to come out sometime soonyou might better get it first than the tabloids.
“Thanks, I appreciate that, and I’ll do a favor for you when you ask it.”
“You can start now. Quote me as saying that I can explain the suicide of Mr. Peters at the proper time. I have been his personal physician.”
“O.K. I’ll have to hurry with this. And remember,
tomorrow, no one from the New York papers can be counted on not to palm photos. I’ll be standing by if you need help.”
“Thanks, Mr. Benson—I know they are hired for results—you can’t really blame them.”
But he was rushing to the telephone, where he would dictate directly to a telegraph operator.
She went down the hall to the library. Photos were being taken, with the new lamp devices used instead of flashlights. The body of Ransom Peters had been moved to a couch, a robe thrown over it.
“You got those fingerprints from the shotgun, sheriff,
but my boys will be along, and I demand a set of them
“Now don’t get riled. Lieutenant. Bob has made a camera study, as is, another for enlargement. You can have your turn.”
“It is tough,” said the trooper, “but my men have fifteen miles farther to come. I’m crazy to check up on my idea. I’m betting those prints are identical to those of that pretty gal sleeping through it all upstairs.”
Janet marched into the room, spoke to no one in particular.
"Mrs. Peters will sleep until morning—in a locked room
—unless someone has a warrant to arrest her—and take her out on a stretcher. And I wouldn’t advise that, Sheriff Barton, nor you. Lieutenant Morris.”
"I guess my authority holds here,” said Barton, mildly. “We will wait until she wakes. By the way, Doctor Manly, I wonder if you can get to the cook and see that we get something tasty in the way of a midnight lunch ” “I’ll make arrangements,” said Janet.
She walked through the dining room, leading to the kitchen and the servants quarters, located in a wing at the back.
Preston sat at the table, on which he had placed a
decanter and a glass. His face was flushed, and he had, now, something defiant in his manner.
"I said two drinks, not a hath,” Janet told him. ‘‘Don’t you know they’ll get around to long questioning of you before morning?”
“1 never thought of that.”
‘‘You wouldn’t, but put that bottled courage away.”
A banging came from the front of the house.
‘‘State troopers acting as if they still wore spurs. Go and let them in. And remember, mum on the Murlains.” I íe arose steadily enough to his feet, and Janet continued on to order food for the law men.
DY DAWN those left in the house were reduced to ■*-* principals, so to speak; Janet and Preston, Lieutenant Morris and Sheriff Barton, and Benson had stayed on. An hour before, the local A.P. representative told Janet, a U.P. man had arrived and two newspaper women from New York tabloids, with cameras, who wished to get pictures of Mrs. Peters unless she had a supply to distribute. Too, whether or not she was arrested, a life story and all about the courtship would be appreciated.
“These tabloid gals have the wanties they want this, and they want that, and they actually think it is their due,” Benson explained.
“I can’t stop Sonia from talking or posing, if she desires. Did they bring the morning papers?”
“Yes, like to see them?”
“Not now. I am sure you got everything straight and 1 desire that you represent the crowd when Sonia is awakened.”
“O.K. they’ll have to like it. Will you come to the dining room and tell them?”
Janet followed him, to be introduced to a man from the U.P. and two women reporters who acted normal enough except that one of t hem started a line of cross examinat ion. Who was Sonia Loriat? How long had she and Ransom Peters known one another? Where had they met? And what had Doctor Manly been beating him for?
“None of that is material to the suicide,” said Janet. “Ah, you claim it was a suicide. Woman doctor rejects possibility of murder.”
“So should you, unless your paper wants a libel suit.” “Alleged—alleged—alleged—” sang the other tab reporter. “Alleged has kept us all out of jail till now. Say alleged once, and then you can go right along with the story. That timing on the action of the sleeping drug is great stuff. And the key and the bundles of bills.”
“My paper wants pictures of the key and the bills,” said the other.
“Anything unusual is grist for your mill.”
“Only if sex rears its lovely head. Murder and sex are tops.”
Janet tried to see their point of view; direct and unadorned it was to get the kind of news their papers needed, no holds barred.
Sheriff Barton came to the door and called her Benson followed. Together with Lieutenant Morris they went upstairs. Janet unlocked the door to the room Sonia occupied. She was still asleep on the bed, but had turned upon one side.
The trooper shook her arm. Sonia sighed, yawned, and then opened her eyes. She shrank back with a little moan.
"Young lady you are in a bad spot.
“Sonia, you don't have to talk unless you wish to do so.” stated Janet. “Ransom shot and killed himself — ”
“None of that.” put in the sheriff, “let him go on. He is better on this stuff than I am.”
“You are in a bad spot young lady.
You — ”
But Sonia had fainted, and it was several minutes before Janet managed to bring her to consciousness.
Then Lieutenant Morris continued. He told Sonia that she had been in the library with her husband, when she had picked up the sawed-off shotgun and killed him. Then she had locked the door and gone to the bedroom. The sleeping medicine worked before she had expected, so she hadn’t got rid of the key. She knew sire would need ready money before the estate could be settled, so she had managed to make Peters cash a big check. There was no use of denial, for an examination of the shotgun had showed clear sets of fingerprints, and not those of Ransom Peters nor his son, nor of Dr. Manly. He had an ink pad and papers so it could be easily decided, if she insisted she hadn’t handled the shotgun.
Sonia started to cry and talk and her thought, in confused phrases, was that her husband must have decided to kill
himself and make it appear as if she had murdered him. “That is one for the book,” exclaimed Morris.
“We -we were only married a week, but we were desperately unhappy. He was too old in many waysand I too young. Let me tell you just what happened.” “That’s just what we want,” said Barton.
“After we married we went north for a few days, stopping here and stopping there I can’t remember just now but 1 became more nervous all the time and finally I couldn't get to sleep. 'Phis afternoon I bought those pills at a drug store. Ransom wanted to come home, to stay overnight, and in the morning start for Florida.”
She flashed Janet a meaningful look.
“We arrived here after nine, and after leaving our bags upstairs we went to the library. Before that I had taken some pills, thinking they would take several hours to work. That shotgun was standing beside the fireplace. Ransom asked me to hand it to him, or, rather, lay it on the table. He would clean it, later, and put it up on one of the gun racks. Then he told me he wanted absolute privacy for a couple of hours. As I went out he called after me to lock the door the key was on the outside - and come back before I went to bed. He had writing to do, and going over of accounts, and didn’t wish to be disturbed. I went upstairs and felt a bit drowsy, and thought I’d take a nap for an hour or so or just close my eyes and stay awake, I don’t know which and now you tell me this dreadful thing has happened, and I—”
“What is all the dough in your bag for?”
“Ransom thought it might be difficult to get checks cashed on the trip southward ”
“So he needed twenty thousand dollars for expenses? Of course you were asleep and didn’t hear the shot?”
She shook her head. Lieutenant Morris laughed. He said he had heard some good yarns in his time, but this was a prize alibi. It would be interesting to learn what his esteemed friend, the Sheriff of the County, intended to do about it?
“I’m arresting Mrs. Sonia Peters for nothing, Morris, but I’m going to hold her as a material witness until the Coroner’s meeting. Mrs. Peters, get your things together, and come come along with me. You can send for a lawyer at once, and live with my wife in her quarters at the county jail. As there are no charges against you, understand, you’ll be a prisoner in name only.”
"DENSON turned and left the room. Downstairs he divided the news, and warned the tabloid girls to be ready outside to get snaps of the prisoner who wasn’t a prisoner. Their personal questioning must go by the board unless they could get a hitchhike on the running board of the sheriff’s car or interview Mrs. Peters at the jail.
Both reporters said they’d get their cameras ready, and
try to see Sonia at the jug. She was, of course, already Sonia, to them, with the ready familiarity of the tabs.
Janet, upstairs, shooed the men out of the room. The sheriff took along the key, and the money, said he would be waiting outside.
Sonia sat before the mirror running a comb through her hair. Suddenly she had become very cool and composed, as if to say, I shall waste no histrionics on a mere feminine audience. Janet thought, youth and beauty armor her, and her heart is a centripetal and centrifugal pump. Yet men will naturally be on her side.
“Shall I get you a lawyer, Sonia?”
“No thanks, it would make it seem I felt uncertain. Ransom wished to make his suicide appear bad for me, I know. But I shall only be held a few days, until I get a chance to tell all my story. I kept lots back from those horrid officers.”
“I wished to warn you not to mention Dr. Murlain or his wife.”
Her laughter tinkled like ice.
“No fear. All that might make it seem the marriage was brought about by strange, undue influence.”
“But won’t Mrs. Murlain come rushing to the jail when she reads the papers?”
“Certainly not. She knows I can take care of myself.” Perhaps, thought Janet, the woman anticipated the course of affairs right along?
“You can keep Preston quiet?”
“I believe so.”
“Good. He likes me, you know. Where is he?”
“I told him to take two drinks of brandy, and he kept right on. Benson, the newspaper man, put him to bed several hours ago.”
“Only one thing, Janet, make arrangements with an undertaker. Ransom said if anything ever happened to him he wanted no autopsy; his wish was that he be cremated. And I forgot, order by telephone, at Ward & Ward, New York, several outfits of widow’s weeds. Fve a charge account there and they know my size. Have them sent care of the jail.”
So you haven’t forgotten anything, reflected Janet, including how stunning you will look at the funeral, and the inquest, in smart mourning. I bet you will even be able to squeeze a copious flow from the tear ducts.
“I know you don’t like me,” said Sonia, suddenly, “but I am used to dislike from women.”
“Why, I feel neither liking nor dislike. You are new to me, and that is interesting. Never before have I met anyone so young and so ruthless.”
“I am not a fool, if that’s what you mean.”
Sonia applied a bit of rouge on the cheek bones, used a lipstick.
“I’ll have pallor when I need it,” she said, laughing. “Now I am ready to go.”
“Well, pick up your bag till some man takes it.”
Janet opened the door. Sonia stepped forward, demurely, eyes downcast, hands clasped at the waist. Sheriff Barton saw that the bills and the key remained on the dressing table. He picked up the bag, passed it to Lieutenant Morris; then he pulled off a pillowcase and stuffed in the key and the money. The newspaper women were waiting outdoors with their cameras. Sonia posed for them, front face and profile, without being asked. Then she stepped into the first car, with the sheriff, and it drove off. All the others followed except Benson’s shabby runabout, and the A.P. man sat on the porch, legs dangling, smoking a cigarette.
“I thought I’d stay for breakfast,” he said, “and to see the body taken away.” “That was thoughtful of you.”
“Not entirely. Also I wanted a little talk with you. You’ve played fair with me and in return I have already done you a service—by silence.”
He spoke meaningly. Their steady glances met.
“Perhaps I had better explain. I used to be a New York newspaper man, and a good one, if I say so myself. But I was getting old for the game, and I liked the country, so I wandered up here and bought a decrepit weekly. Since the hunting crowd moved in I do O.K.—get quite a slice of nice national advertising handed out to the better weeklies. I earn a little as an A.P. man on the side. But getting a big exclusive story doesn’t make my blood boii as it once did.”
She nodded, standing before him, wondering toward what this was all leading.
“But I am still a newspaper man first and all the time. If I hold back it is because
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a premature break can spoil a really great story. I am not asking you to confess—nor am I telling you how I know Ransom Peters was mixed up in that Dr. Murlain’s rejuvenation put-back-the-clock-a-flockof-years stuff. But I do know something— and if I dropped a hint those tabloid gals would ferret out smear headlines. Nothing to prove, of course, since Peters blew his face into hamburg, but enough to make headlines scream. You’ve treated me square and I’ll make a deal with you, Doctor Manly. There is a big story going to crack wide open one of these days. Promise to give it to me first and I’ll even help smoke screen those big-city news sharks until then.”
“I give you my promise.”
She put out her hand and he jumped to his feet and they shook warmly.
‘‘Now take me inside,” he said, “where at every turn I expect to stumble over Queen Victoria. Give that Sonia gill two months and I bet all the old what-nots, and plush and lumber will go out in carloads. She is something, isn’t she?”
Janet refused to be quoted. Benson appeared sane and normal, but he was a man, and no man could be entirely immune to Sonia symptoms.
What did he really know, she wondered, and what was the big thing he expected like an explosion? Well, they had both promised, without any confession, so she mustn’t go feminine on him.
'“THE WEEKLY editor left after breakfast, a meal that would have been silent if it had not been for his jovial accounts of old adventures. He succeeded in arousing Janet from an unaccountable depression, but the black demons returned when she was left alone. She read a long obituary of Ransom Peters in a New York morning newspaper, the lead on his marriage, unknown to the public, and his unexplained .suicide, the rest an account of his career as a business executive and a sportsman, data taken from Who’s Who and the paper’s moigue. It all sounded flat and formal. The afternoon rags would have a more spicy story to tell.
A phone to the local undertaker, and a long distance to the city shop which promised Sonia her widow’s outfit by next morning, and Janet felt she would scream if she stayed in the house an instant longer.
Dr. Wainright had planned a night too late. He had failed—Janet had failed. What had the Murlains and Sonia planned? Dr. Murlain lost out on payment for the second stage of rejuvenation, but Sonia would claim her share of a large fortune, will or no will. Whatever happened from the plans of these three it was rich with loot.
Janet left the house without seeing Preston. She had no desire to help nurse him out of a hangover.
A long drive quieted her nerves. She finished it at the country club, where she went to a booth and long distanced Dr. Wainright. He was reached quickly, and said, soberly, that he had seen the morning papers. Tersely he was informed of the peculiar situation surrounding the suicide.
“We were forewarned, but too late,” said Janet, bitterly. “Of course it was suicide. If necessary I’ll be called tomorrow at the inquest, and inform the coroner it was a second attempt. That will obtain Sonia’s freedom, if she needs my aid, which I doubt. I think she goaded Ransom, in some way, to kill himself as he did, but that isn’t, technically murder.”
“Do you think Dr. Murlain and his rejuvenation can be kept out of the public eye?”
“The Murlains will not talk, very naturally, and everyone else has promised silence.”
She told of her compact with the A.P.
man who ran the local weekly.
“If there is a scandal bringing in Dr. Murlain he will leave here, and you’ll lose contact.”
“Oh, we acted too late. Ransom Peters would be alive today if only he might have reached a sanitarium, as we planned. What next? Let another victim come forward? Trust Sonia, her story alone will give an adequate explanation of her husband’s suicide. I could shriek with impotence.” Her voice sounded shrill, brittle, on the point of cracking.
“You are losing control, my dear. Why, I bet if you can become cool you can even find a name for it.”
“A guilt neurosis,” she replied, in a muffled voice, “but sometimes even a scientific label doesn’t help one’s feelings.” “I know, it is like a successful technic, and the patient dying. Since I saw you last I have been trying to make connections with a reliable source in Vienna. If we can dig up anything discreditable in Dr. Murlain’s foreign record we can put an end to his practicing. In the meantime go along with Tom Marshal if he isn’t scared off, and I have a separate course to pursue I’d better not tell you about at present.”
“I think of Tom Marshal as number two. I’m morbid, doctor.”
“You’ve been too close to this thing, but you must stick. However, try to divert your mind if you can.”
“That’s what I would tell someone else. You are awfully helpless when something strikes home to you.”
“Brace up, old girl. And now I must go to a stuffy meeting. Hold to the thought, we will get ’em yet.”
She said good-by and hung up, went to the switchboard and paid the toll call. Her set of clubs and irons were in the locker room, and she might get an odd player for a partner, but concentration on golf would be impossible.
In the library she picked up a magazine, found she wasn’t reading anything. Perhaps she should call on Dr. Murlain and his wife, tell them the news? Yes— perhaps—but this she simply refused to do today.
Eventually Janet lunched on a salad and had a pot of tea. Then she drove to Drummond, the county seat, ten miles south of Milteron. As often before she found the close attention of driving fine for the nerves. The jail was north of the court house. She parked her car and went into the outer office, where lounged a few deputies and the two newspaper women. One of them jumped up and grabbed her by the arm.
“I can’t get in to see her—and my city editor is wild. Will you get her to answer a few questions?”
Janet took the other’s hand and threw it off, not gently. “You are not using me.” “But my job, doctor?”
“Feeding sex to the masses. What do I care about your job? You are commencing to resemble a scavenger.”
The deputies roared.
“That is telling her off,” piped one, slapping his knees. “She has been scratching us plenty ’cause the sheriff won’t let her in. Want to send in your name, lady? This tab gal first said the prisoner’s sister and tried to give us the rush act. So come clean.”
IN TWO minutes Janet was brought to the sheriff’s private quarters, where she found Sonia and Mrs. Barton, thick as thieves, cleaning up luncheon dishes.
“Nice of you to call, my dear,” said Sonia, “but Mrs. Barton is just like a mother.”
“The poor little lamb,” put in that matron, “I’m only sorry she will leave tomorrow.”
Sonia twinkled a glance, as if to say, you
see, I can make a woman like me if I put my mind to it. She received with pleasure vord that her black outfit would arrive in the morning.
“I’ve refused to be interviewed by the reporters, also the district attorney. I’ll talk at the inquest and no place else. I vish, Janet, that you’d be here at eleven to go to it with me. Aside from Mrs. Barton—and I’ve only known her a few Lours—you are the only friend I have to call on.”
“I’ll go along as your doctor,” returned the other, curtly.
Friend was putting it on too thick, even if Mrs. Barton ate it up.
The following morning Janet was ready on time, and Sonia and she were conducted through an underground passage that ran to the court house. The inquest was held on the third floor, in a room used for the grand jury. The public had been admitted until the place was jammed, save for a space in front, where the coroner held court; at the right sat the jury; a row of seats in front had been reserved for witnesses, and was already half filled by representatives of the press.
A çleputy led the way. Sonia was in smart mourning, but she had pushed back the veil, and when she reached the front row she removed the black hat very slowly, held it in her hand as she faced the court. She was pale, now, and a slim and fragile figure.
“This is my friend—and physician—Dr. Janet Manly. May she stay by my side? I—I am trying hard to bear up under this sLock, but—”
Sonia raised a shred of cambric to her face, recovered, held her chin high, looked appealingly at Coroner Matthews.
“Be seated, Mrs. Peters, beside Dr. Manly, and I feel Sheriff Barton only held you overnight because of the very peculiar angles of this case. You see, young lady, there is a doubt about how the deceased came to his death. Now I see no reason for a cross-examination, considering your nervous condition, so I shall ask you to tell your story in your own way.”
The witness braced her shoulders.
“It will be hard for your honor to understand the love for the United States,” she began, in a low clear voice, “that mounts high in the heart of a refugee from the old world. I came here nearly six months ago on a six months visitor’s permit—and I feared that I would be sent back. My family has earned hatred in certain high quarters—it would mean the concentration camp for me—and worse: you cannot know the brutalities—the unspeakable — but that brings me to meeting Ransom Peters. As you know he was much older than I, but in Europe we are accustomed to what are called marriages of convenience —and they turn out happily, too. Here he brought maturity, peace, protection— and I my youth and my desire to make a happy home in America. We eloped a week ago yesterday. I found all too soon that I had made a mistake. Mr. Peters was harsh and jealous, and try as I might I could not please him. I did my best but I could not treat him as —what shall I say—a romantic lover. He had lost his sense of proportion. In time, with kindness and courtesy, real love might have blossomed, for I am young and eager to learn. In hotels—restaurants—he was ever accusing me of trying to snare the attention of young men. I finally tried to stay in my room, but then I grew afraid there, because he kept telling me how unhappy he was, and that he feared he was going mad—and might do something dreadful— perhaps kill me and himself.
“When I handed him the shotgun last night, at his request, I thought: Sonia, this is the end. But he ordered me out of the room, asked me to lock him in, release him in several hours. I had taken a sleeping medicine before this, and it affected me before I realized it, and I was asleep when he shot himself.
“Upon being informed my first reaction was that my husband had killed himself in such a way as to cast suspicion on me. I
believe, now, the emotional strain, at his age, perhaps turned his brain ; he asked to be locked in to protect me from his madness. I know, your honor, I did wrong in marrying him, but I never dreamed of the consequences—I only wanted to stay here in the land I have learned to love.”
There was a murmur that the coroner stilled with a bang of his gavel. A man, carrying papers, whispered in his ear.
“The district attorney,” said Matthews, “wishes—”
Janet arose to her feet.
“If I can have just two minutes, your honor, I believe the jury can come to a quick decision.”
“This is informal, but you may be heard, Doctor Manly.”
“Thank you. and I promise that I shall be brief. I became Mr. Ransom Peters’ personal physician, after being called by his son upon an afternoon when the father had locked himself in the library—fired a shot—and warned his son he would kill himself. I managed to talk him out, temporarily, of this suicidal mania, or neurosis, but the will-to-die struggled for dominance with the will-to-live, and finally the former triumphed.
“In an abnormal mental condition the fact that Mr. Peters asked to be locked in is merely as odd as other of his actions. Why he asked to be handed the shotgun would take long for me to explain—wouldbe suicides often ask to be given poisons, when they could readily procure them themselves; they seek a kind of shared responsibility. However when a man nearly kills himself on one occasion—and really slays himself on a second—I believe any peculiar details of the suicidal picture should be ignored.”
QHE SAT down, and there was a flurry ^ among the members of the jury. The foreman finally got the attention of the coroner. He had polled the jury and there was no need to retire for deliberation: they were agreed that Ransom Peters had come to his death at his own hands, a clear case of suicide.
Sonia clasped Janet, kissed her on the cheek.
“Forgive me,” she whispered, “I never expected you to help me this way.”
Janet was embarrassed—the girl thought she had lied.
Cameras clicked: “Beautiful Refugee
Then Sonia walked to the jury stand, turned a lovely profile for another shot, as she warmly thanked the foreman. He drew back as if expecting to be kissed, too, and his wife was in the court room. “Bride of Week and Jury Foreman.” She turned to Lieutenant Morris, seated played with his big grey Stetson, and her pose was like that of an angel of mercy. “Sonia Forgives Accuser.” The headlines kept shuttling in Janet’s brain. Tomorrow: “Refugee Bride Weeps at Grave.” Pictures and headlines, the tabloid tempo. It made naturalness unreal—but here she saw the studied looses of a fine actress and a swell little liar, and thus it all fitted better into place.
What widow, mourning a beloved husband after years of happiness together, could possibly appear so winsome and appealing? The first selfish impulse of any man would be to comfort and console her. The entire impression Sonia created was false as the devil. It made one cynical to see how easy people were taken in by visual reactions.
Rows of people had arisen but not yet moved out. Janet saw Mrs. Murlain, far back, as the woman turned and left the room. Lily dragging Tom Marshal by the arm to the now opened doors.
Sonia turned, a newspaper woman on either side of her, holding her by the arm, as if she were about to faint.
“Janet, help me,” she panted, “these creatures are tearing me to pieces. Each wants me to sign a paper to a life storyhut I don’t have to write it. This is an American aspect unknown to me.”
The other beckoned to Benson.
“Will you please help us out of here?”
But Sonia’s: “No! No! NO!” till she was screaming, and a desperate pull, threw her tormentors off. Two deputies elbowed near, helped them through to the sheriff’s private quarters.
“I wish I had a dog whip,” stormed Sonia, “I’d have used it on them. By what right - ”
“A kind of mob rule. Anyone sensational immediately belongs to them. You are just Sonia, now. Notoriety gives them the familiar use of a first name as a matter of course. If you had signed for a life story someone would have written it and a snappy one, too, all about your career in Austria as an actress, and how you nearly eloped with a Grand Duke. That sounds like ...”
“You mean you know something about my past? Tell me, I demand ...”
“I guessed the actress part, Sonia. You play across the footlights inevitably.” “Yes, I did act back home.”
“But tell me—my invented Grand Duke?”
“Ile was only a Baron, but you guess wonderfully.”
“Only along the romantic lines your beauty suggests. No, I’m not flattering you —but you have the beauty that gets away with murder. Now don’t start—not this time. Your husband killed himself, no mistake.”
“I am complimented, not hurt. You must like me somewhat or you would not have told that fine lie to save me.”
Janet shrugged her shoulders. Preston would probably one day tell her what she had said was true.
Sheriff Barton in person escorted them to Janet’s car. He placed on Sonia’s lap the pillowcase he had used.
“The key and the bank notes. Sorry, and good luck, young lady. As the warden said to the released convict—I don’t want to see you again.”
He laughed heavily at his own stock joke.
“Hold it!” a voice demanded, and the official edged into a picture: “Sheriff
Bids Prisoner Farewell.”
If she had headline jitters, thought Janet, at least it isn’t bothering Sonia; she gets stimuli from all this. To herself, no doubt, even when alone she plays to an imaginary audience. Quite ego gratifying, no doubt.
Without further regarding the desires of the photographer she stepped on the starter, pulled away from the curb, and drove out of the capital of the county.
Sonia began to hum a little gypsy tune. She could put on, and throw off, any mood as a model does clothes.
“Now, I suppose, you are luxuriating in the thought of being the widow of a wealthy American? That is better than being with your aunt?”
“Much better, I hope. I was poor. I am independent. No longer will I bewhat you call it —a bait.”
That made Janet laugh.
“The idea—I supposea patient to be rejuvenated sees you - and thinks—I’ll get something like that when I’m young again.”
“Yes, and I act as if I go along with the treatment. I want a man young as he was made. I play the helpless innocent, yes, but Sonia has been—what you say— around. I would rather be myself, a woman of the world.”
“Did Mrs. Murlain know your intentions?”
Sonia smiled mysteriously. “I am through with that one. Let her think what she pleases, and get another decoy. I have played my own hand.”
Oh. so that was why Mrs. Murlain had stayed in the background, quite aside from not wishing to bring her husband into a public light. The girl had acted on her own and caused a break Janet would have liked to ask what Sonia knew about suicides that followed the first stage of rejuvenation, but she couldn’t do that. The young widow might have known of her bereavement in advance, but she mustn’t be made suspicious. Just what
wouldn’t she give to have that elopement week filled in with reality ; but silence was as satisfactory as the lies, and more lies, any questioning would certainly bring forth.
SHE LIKED Sonia better when candid, a young woman out for herself at all costs. When playing the wide-eyed ingenue, too, too sweet and trustful and kittenish, you felt like slapping her, first, and then jeeriñg at the men rushing to the rescue. Such a little fraud brought out the worst in another woman. As the natural tigress, with sheathed claws, predatory and unmoral, you might disapprove of her, yet still respect her. Of course expecting a man to see Sonia out of a woman’s eyes, was ridiculous.
There was little more conversation until Janet dropped Sonia at what was now her own door, where the former refused an invitation to come in. Well, the time of the funeral would be given by telephone. Thanks again, and come around often. Sonia would need a woman friend during a quiet period of mourning. This she said with all evidences of sincerity. Perhaps she was sincere, if you were adept at translating from word to meaning.
Back at the old Blake place Janet ran her car into the garage. In her waiting room a surprise greeted her, for she had no expectation of seeing Mrs. Murlain there at this time. The woman smiled, then patted her on the shoulder.
“I want to thank you, my dear, for going to the defense of Sonia. You thought you were doing a fine deed for us.”
“Why, of course.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth. We loathe and detest the sly, traitorous little minx.”
“Mrs. Murlain ...”
“Yes, my own niece, a veritable snake in the grass if there ever was one.”
She was trembling with anger.
“When I think how I shielded and guided that motherless child, so indiscrete she must have landed in a concentration camp, I am shocked and bitterly resentful. The elopement was a surprise to us, but that was all right—why blame the child for getting an American husband and a wealthy one. We would have expected the couple back in a week, as was arranged, and tendered our congratulations. But four days after they left—what happened?’ “I bite, what did happen?”
Mrs. Murlain took a slip from her handbag
“This is Mr. Peters’ cheque. It came back from his New York bank. You see the notation—payment stopped! I went to that bank. There I was shown a telegram signed by Ransom Peters, from Hammerville, New York. I took a train there—made directly for the telegraph office. A male operator—and no man ever forgets Sonia. Yes, she had left the telegram, and paid for its delivery, the morning after the elopement. Can you imagine Mr. Peters asking his bride to do that kind of messenger service? Of course not. She wrote and sent that wire herself so that the $100,000 would remain in the estate after her husband’s suicide.”
“Then she must have known of it in advance?” blurted out the other, involuntarily.
“She believed she could goad him to it —true—or do the job herself. Oh, I’m not ranting. He was an honest man and went to his death never knowing what she had done to us. Too. she is aware of her safe position—we can’t sue the estate, his face was blown off —how produce evidences of services rendered? Even so with Peters dead we can’t prove he didn’t send that ‘stop payment’ telegram. Unwittingly you aid one who became our enemy, but you couldn’t know that.”
Janet shook her head.
Put down another score for Sonia.
“The difficulty is that we did what no one should ever do—promise before fulfillment. We were supposed to pay certain monies when we received the fee.
The slip up will never be believed by those who—what would you say—backed us.” “But why are you telling me this, Mrs. Murlain?”
“Because I wish to let you know that it will be—even dangerous for us—if we fail to make sure of Mr. Marshal as a patient.
I can hold no reward before you, but—” filer anguish, in a bad cause, was embarrassing to Janet. She even had a sneaking sympathy with the woman, pressed upon by fears and dreads. An old proverb became somewhat mixed, in her mind: after all you do become something of a bird of a feather if you flock together with those of black plumage—or was she thinking about touching pitch?
“Another disaster cannot take place, I assure you,” the woman was saying.
“I shall try to help avert it,” Janet said, simply, and knew that the words sounded as if she had meant them.
nPHERE WAS a fine turnout, so to -L speak, at the funeral of Ransom Peters, held in the old church at the north of the village. He had belonged to a family that had been important in affairs long before city i>eople had come in to buy farms and turn them into the estates of country squires, so a number of the descendants of original settlers attended. These people stayed separate from the new hunting crowd who had known Peters as a social equal, a sportsman, and a nice chap before he became something of a recluse. The coffin, below the pulpit, was banked with flowers. It would not be opened, as was usual, for a single line to pass for last respects; the result of that fatal shot had been too shocking.
The minister preached a short sermon, and then the coffin was carried to the cemetery behind the church. Sonia and Preston followed, with several distant relatives of the deceased, and a few close friends.
Janet found herself beside Benson, the local-weekly editor, and they trailed together to the grave, where the minister read a formal prayer. The widow was in the foreground, but very quiet, and there were no dramatics. After the coffin had been lowered Sonia walked over and said she would be pleased if Janetand the editor would come to the Peters house at four o’clock. The late Ransom Peters’ lawyer would be present from New York to disclose the contents of a will made there the day they had gone to the city on the honeymoon; it might interest them to see the book closed, and she would like an end to gossip and sly speculation. Then she passed on, and Preston walked on and caught up with her.
“He will be putty in her hands.” said the newspaper editor.
“I agree, Mr. Benson.”
“Call me Art—and I’ll scream if I have to keep pumping doctor this and doctor that.”
“Janet will do. You never hear anything save first names in the upper-upper sets. We are quite as important to ourselves, Art. Someone said people in society are addicted to their own affairs exclusively, as children on a merry-goround pay strict attention to the wooden horse ahead, to escape giddiness and preserve a notion of identity.”
“That notion of identity is good, my girl. Every little jerk-water town has a newspaper and a ‘Society fixage.’ There is always a society upper class, and folks to look down upon on the wrong side of the tracks. What’s all this I hear about a democracy? If we had a democracy people wouldn’t know how to live in it. Everyone is a snob to someone.”
“She wants an audience for her moment of triumph. I hope, however, the son is treated fairly. He hasn’t learned how to walk alone yet.”
“No, but I have had hopes for him.” “Didn’t I hear something about an engagement?”
Their cars were parked together, by
chance, and they stood there between them.
“That is a long story.”
“I’d like to hear it. I can afford a lunch at the country club. If you feel really part of the feminist movement you can reach for your pocketbook and pay your own.” “I’d rather be treated. No woman was ever complimented by a ‘Dutch-treat’ meal.”
“Oh, ho, so you are a bit feminine under the layers. Jump in my own bus and you can pick up yours on the way back. Yours is a better car, but I’ll feel better. It isn’t every day an old news hawk like me can take out an attractive woman.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Janet, but she was pleased.
Art Benson wasn’t good looking, and he dressed carelessly, hut he had an air with him. As to age he must be somewhere in the middle forties; he always talked as if he had reached at least ninety.
I le drove her to the country club. After luncheon they went out to the glassed-in porch. There he suggested a table by a big heater.
“I wish we could join hands, young lady.”
"In what way?”
“You know— what is undercover here in the country what I think of as the rejuvenation racket.”
“What do you suspect?”
“Ransom Peters was a patient of Dr. Murlain’s. Dr. Wainright, head man of the Medical Association was here in town one night—very hush-hush, 1 think. I happened to see him walking from the station. He went to your place. I’ve been putting two and two together. Ever hear of Ninety-Per-Cent Marsten?”
“He doesn’t know that an old newspaper lad from the metropolis is in town. Several times he has come through, stopped at the village. Once I tried to follow him—he was on the way back to New York. Ninety-Per-Cent Marsten is what might be called a criminal backer— he puts money out on things that look good for big profits—they say he wants ninety-per-cent profit, that’s how he got the monicker. I eliminate blackmail, not because he is above it, but he would use a front. He has come up here to see someone and—”
“Is this one of those warm, warm, warmer games?”
“Not exactly, but again I’m trying to add it up. I think you are in it, somewheie, as is Marsten. There is going to be an explosion. If I had your confidence I might help you, not now, but later.”
“You add very well, Art, but what I do know isn’t my secret. I am really sorry for I never met anyone I found myself more ready to trust.”
“Thanks. If more people only knew it a real newspaper man can always be trusted with anything off the record. So you aren’t a free agent? I was afraid so. That won’t stop me from aiding you if and when I can.”
Perhaps, thought Janet, Dr. Wainright and I are like an old man and a babe in the woods? Art Benson was obviously hinting at a connection between this New York crime backer and Dr. Murlain.
“I can’t confess but I will call for your help when I need it. And if a big news story does break
“—I don’t want you hurt in the explosion.”
“You will be told instanter,” Janet finished.
O.K.—AND now let us talk about you.” declared Art Benson.
“Ño you don’t. That is what I’d make my patients do—if I had any—transfer their phobias and repressions to me by confessions that are so good for the soul.” But she did tell him about her early life in California, before the death of her parents; how she had been brought up by an estate, and gone to Yassar and medical college, with post-graduate work at several great institutions. She never became very
personal, but he appeared entertained and, in turn, told of his varied newspaper experiences, and that he had just escaped being burned out by getting the little weekly up here.
“Only a Washington correspondent, or a by-lined columnist is safe after forty,” he told her.
She was interested. Every calling and profession brought forth one singular fear or another—and how often the fear of superannuation repeated itself. There was something wrong in a system that so readily stranded men with long training and ripened experience.
“You have that expression of putting me down on a tab as a numbered case, sister.”
Janet laughed, told her thoughts, and they talked along those lines. By the time he had driven her back to where her car was parked she was surprised to find it was time to go out to the Peters place.
She had enjoyed herself immensely. Often she had thought of certain professional women (and was afraid she was one of them) as barking violets. They really tried to be attractive, then acted shy and sullen when given masculine attention. It was nice she had been something of her natural self this afternoon.
“I feel just as if we have had a clandestine meeting. Now we separate, and go to the Peters—and meet there —just as if we hadn’t been together all afternoon.”
Art waved as she swung into her car.
“You mustn’t be seen with me too much, gal,” he warned, “I’m a desperate character.”
Off he went and she drove more slowly than his speed in his old bus, which was always just as fast as it would go.
At the Peters house the scene was very unlike the famed old picture where the heirs sit around waiting for the bill to be read. Mr. Thornton, the attorney, was a chipper businessman. Introduced to Art Benson and Janet Manly, in turn, he said that as the will only concerned Mrs. Peters and Preston Peters he could see no reason why they had been invited. This was really a family affair.
“Janet is my doctor,” said Sonia, “surely you saw her at the inquest—oh, of course; I keep thinking everybody was there. Mr. Benson runs our local gazette, with all the town news. There’s been enough mystery—I want none about poor Ransom’s will.”
“There is no law against friends of the family being present. Now I have a copy, to leave with you, Mrs. Peters, and another for you, Mr. Peters, but if you wish me to unravel the legal phraseology I can give what might be called the interesting high points.”
“You are very kind, Mr. Thornton,” said Sonia.
“I don’t know about that. Sometimes I’ve been blamed—when I only made the will. Well, to start with, the house and grounds, and contents, stay in the estate, for the use of future heirs, nothing to be sold or changed.
“Mrs. Sonia Peters is to be given a life interest in certain mentioned stocks and bonds, so that she may receive a yearly income that will pay for the taxes and upkeep on her home, and enable her to continue as mistress of it, with a proper income for herself. There is a proviso that she stay in the home at least ten months of the year.”
“There is a lot about the home—but what is my income a year?” snapped Sonia.
“That lies at the discretion of four executors, former business associates of Mr. Peters, who must all be in agreement. In the event, however, of the marriage of Mrs. Sonia Peters, she will forfeit all and any income from the Ransom Peters’ estate, and that income will revert to The Humanitarium Hospital of New 'Vork.”
“You mean—if I marry - Preston, even, doesn’t get it?”
Sonia’s eyes were stormy.
“No. Preston Peters will have a trust fund established for him and get S5,000
a year for life, unless he marries and has children, in which event a large fund will take care of their interests when they become of age.”
“Why, the old double crosser. I wondered why he wanted to go to New York after our marriage, and when he spoke of a will I thought he was —he was—” her eyes were bright with angry tears “leaving everything to me. Of course—of course, 1 would have taken care of Preston. And now I find I have been made a fool of. 1 am supposed to live in this mildewed old wreck of a barn, with four executors in their dotage doling me out expenses. It is for this I -I—”
She burst into tears, and the lawyer looked uncomfortable.
“This might have been managed with privacy,” he said, dryly.
“I haven’t heard anything,” put in Benson. “The will must be filed, for the government to get its ‘slice.’ ” The inspection is a routine matter in New York. I have no desire to be previous.” “The old double crosser,” again wailed Sonia.
T)ARDON me, but you are talking about my late client,” said Mr. Thornton, dnly. “if I mistake not, you married Ransom Peters while a poor refugee girl who might have been sent back to Europe when her visitor’s permit shortly ran out. I read that in the afternoon paper. At least that was your story, Mrs. Peters. If you were also seeking a fortune following your husband’s — er — unfortunately quick death, why I must say I am not sorry for you. I shall be pleased to report your comments to—er—the executors—friends of the deceased.”
Bravo, thought Janet, that is telling her. Sonia looked at the attorney piteously. “I’m not myself; the shock of the death and the funeral, not to speak of the trial —for it was like a trial -has unnerved me. I —I shall try to bear up under it all—and dear Preston will help me.”
Preston smiled, wryly.
“You’ll buck up quickly enough. As for me, soon as I can arrange for my allowance to start, I shall move out and leave you alone, for the time being, in this mildewed old wreck of a barn. One day I may return to it —for you will marry again, Sonia, never fear on that. I’m glad the old place can’t be changed. My father was thinking of me, thank goodness, and he was thinking of you, too, Sonia.”
“That almost sounds insulting.”
Her eyes blazed at him, but the young man did not quail.
“My dear stepmother,” he said, quietly, “you maybe do not realize it, but you are making something of an exhibition of yourself, and there is company present.” Sonia leaned over and slapped him across the cheek. She spat what sounded like curses in a foreign tongue.
He touched the red mark of her fingers. “This comes from grief, pure grief,” he said, as if to himself, “and it takes strange turns. After you folks go I’ll try to get her upstairs, and mix her a sleeping powder •—if she will trust me.”
Janet leaned toward Benson.
“He stands up to her swell,” she whispered, “but he has been drinking. Don’t you think it better if he goes down to the inn with us when we leave? They might —”
“Start throwing things? Oh, no, it will be all taken out in talk. I’d like to know what she called him —and us, perhaps —in that hissing gypsy patois?”
Benson arose to his feet.
“Children, Doctor Manly and I will be leaving you. Glad to have met you Mr. Thornton. And mum is the word, though if I worked for a tab I’d get a raise of salary.”
“I’m sorry—this is all very unusual,” said the lawyer.
“You’re telling me,” chuckled Benson. He took Janet’s arm and escorted her out. It was nice, she thought, to have someone else make up your mind for you. Janet was at home, listening to the radio,
when the brass knocker jxxmded on the front door. She glanced at the mantel clock. After ten was a bit late for a visitor. Answering the knock she saw Art Benson in the doorway, smiling, and not at all abashed.
‘‘This is not a social call. I thought you might welcome a little adventure—secret work in the night, mates: douse the glimmers and hold your breath. No, throw on a coat and a wool beret and I’ll tell you in the car.”
Turning off the radio Janet excused herself, returned shortly and followed him out. Under Art’s banter she knew was earnestness.
She slipped in beside him and he started the motor.
“You must get in on this. If my hunch is wrong I'll kick myself. Half an hour ago I was in the bar of ye old inn quenching a thirst. Who comes in for a gin and tonic? None other than our old friend Ninety-Per-Cent Marsten, thinking he was as incognito as if in disguise, this far from Times Square. He went out and 1 drove here to pick you up. We’re hot after that crime backer, and if he went where I’ve figured we can add the well-known two and two.”
“You do me the compliment—”
“Of not asking you to guess. I didn’t mention names, but I jxfinted impolitely enough. Marsten has a big long black sedan, one of those bullet-proof-window babies I bet. The place Dr. Murlain rents is near the highway, built when folks didn’t hide their houses from the vulgar gaze. We will go by and see if the car is parked there.”
"LJE DROVE on in silence. Janet was thinking of possible implications. The night was cloudy, only a few stars in the sky, and now and again a sliver of a moon. As the car approached Dr. Murlain’s home Art put on his dimmers, and slowed to a snail’s pace, passed the dark bulk of a long sedan, no rear light showing nor any small parking lights.
Benson kept right on going past the entrance. Lights glimmered from the lower floor of the brick building. He slowed down and stopped a hundred yards or so the other side, turned off all his lights.
“It might be another car,” he suggested. “Are you game to play Indians?”
“What’s your idea?”
“I sometimes notice little things. A window shade is seldom all pulled down. Most often at the bottom there’s a crack of light showing through. I’d like to peek and see if Marsten and Murlain are together. We’ll .get a thrill and learn something.”
She was out of the car at once, and he helped her over a low hedge. Then they dodged from behind one big blurr of shrubbery to another.
“If they catch us we were just coming to call,” whispered Benson. “I’ll think of something.”
“Peeking in, first, to see if folks are at home,” she murmured, feeling lightheaded.
Then they had to cross a stretch of lawn, and Janet could have giggled. Both were walking on tiptoe upon soft turf. Benson took her hand, pulled her toward the side of the brick house, where light gleamed inside two windows. A golden crackshowed where one shade hadn’t quite been pulled down.
They drooped to their knees, peered inside.
Dr. Murlain and his wife, Janet imagined
for she could only see level with the table—were seated there with a man. She could only see part of their bodies and their hands, gesturing furiously at one end of the table—that would be the Murlains -and at the other two white clenched fists. Beyond lay a derby hat. There came a murmur of voices raised in anger, words indistinguishable.
Dr. Murlain sat nearest to the window. The watchers saw his right hand slip slowly from the table and into his coat
pocket. Now a sharp bulge was at the corner of the pocket.
The argument, if such it was, went on. Chairs were pushed back, the derby hat left the table.
“I know that derby hat—and those white hands,” whispered Benson. “Looks as if Murlain was fondling a rod. Let’s move over behind that bush. The party is breaking up. There will be light when the door is open. I want to be certain it is Marsten.”
The two fled behind the framework of a shrub like a crisscross of wire.
At that instant the front door opened.
“You think you can give me the run
around, eh?” said the voice of a stranger, a tall man in black, who was backing out. “Better men than you have tried holding out. One is in the river in a cement tub. Another went into a concrete mixer, his bones and flesh now part of a highway. Both your numbers are up. By god, I’ll take you now.”
Ilis hand slipped into his coat. But Dr. Murlain, in the doorway, already had a revolver out, his left hand bracing his right wrist as he fired. Another shot, you couldn’t tell which came first, but the stranger was falling, still shooting. Dr. Murlain yelled, clutched at his arm.
To be Continued