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ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT

LOCKED IN WITH MURDER

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RGL e-Book Cover 2017



First published in The Octopus, Feb/Mar 1939

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Octopus, Feb/Mar 1939, with "Locked in with Murder"



IN that locked place of darkness and death, Bolton Blair—who always swore he'd give up his job as private detective next day—knew at last that threat would come true! For what chance had he to live, when he heard the sinister scratch heralding the Throat-Slitter—which no bullet could harm, no mortal man defeat?



TABLE OF CONTENTS



I. — BLOOD ON HER THROAT!

AT that first shrill squeal of suddenly jammed brake-bands, Bolton Blair flung himself against the door of the speeding taxi, hurled himself outward, and the forty-mile-an-hour momentum catapulted him off his feet. The back of his shoulders hit asphalt first, his head tucked under by the tight curve of his body. His legs swept up and over, arcing through midair on the pivot of his shoulders and his soles slapped the pavement. He lurched dazedly erect, to complete as perfect a front flip as ever executed by an acrobat.

Glass crashed behind him. Riven metal shrieked. The hacky screamed in sudden agony as the huge ten-ton truck continued to grind on through the twisted wreck of the cab Blair had leaped from.

Blair, shaking his head, his body numbed from the shock, stumbled to the curb and threw a single swift glance backward. The brute-faced truck driver, safe at the wheel behind the steel battering-ram of his juggernaut's nose, was fighting his brakes and trying to look stunned by the accident. His acting was good, but it couldn't fool Blair, who'd seen the looming truck slew deliberately at the hack.

The collision was an attempt at murder. It had failed only because of its intended victim's split-second response to glimpsed peril.

Blair darted around a corner, and forced himself not to limp. He slowed to a fast walk less likely to attract the attention he wanted to avoid. Thanks to the crowd, running pell-mell toward the still-echoing crash, he was successful. A topcoat sleeve half-torn from its moorings, a raw bullet-furrow across a man's cheek, do not tend to make a man inconspicuous.

Blair was short and wiry, his dark face narrow and sharp featured. A little dab of black mustache on his upper lip, a bitter twist to his mouth-corners, somehow combined to give him an expression of perpetual contempt for everyone and everything with which he came in contact.

Midway of the third block he ducked into the dingy doorway of a low drab building squeezed between the towering facades of two towering skyscrapers.

There was no elevator in the dim hall, and Blair started up the bare dusty stairway. On the second landing, faded lettering on a frosted door-glass spelled:


BOLTON BLAIR
Confidential Investigations


Blair unlocked this door and went through it into a tiny anteroom, closed off by blank painted steel walls.

A lank, bony-faced young man jumped up, leaving the dog-eared book he was reading on the battered desk.

"Oh," he gasped. "Oh, Mr. Blair. You're hurt. You're wounded."

"Congratulations, Adelbert. Your deductions are entirely accurate. You'll make a detective yet!"

"Do you think so, sir?" Adelbert Ninial looked pleased. "Do you really think so? But let me fix you up." His big-knuckled hands, their lumpy wrists projecting nakedly out of shabby, too- short sleeves, fumbled open a drawer of the desk. "I have peroxide, iodine—"

"Splints, adhesive tape," Blair went past Ninial, was fingering the apparently seamless front of the partition. "Bandages, tourniquets, hemostats." A vertical line slitted the steel and widened noiselessly to become a doorway. "All as set forth in the latest edition of the Red Cross First Aid Manual. May I, however, interfere with your demonstration of preparedness long enough to trouble you to accompany me into my sanctum sanctorum?"

"No trouble at all, Mr. Blair," Ninial acquiesced, trotting after his employer into the big, wide-windowed room. He liberally strewed the top of the enormous mahogany desk with scarlet- labeled bottles and blue packages.

Blair shrugged out of his coat and winced with pain.

The room was carpeted from wall to wall in pebble-twisted, mulberry broad-loom. A massive leather chair stood behind the desk, flanked by two others. A couch that stood against one wall, while a beautifully carved lowboy decorated another.

As Blair slid out of his topcoat he kept on going straight to this last, opened its top to reveal a glittering collection of glasses and bottles.

"Send that coat to the tailor to be repaired," he threw over his shoulder. "But first take the package out of the breast pocket."

He uncorked a bottle of King's Ransom Scotch, poured himself a generous portion.

"You've got them?" the lanky youth spluttered eagerly. "You did get the letters, Mr. Blair?"

Blair downed his drink. "Of course," he murmured. "Getting them was easy, but bringing them back here was the tough part." His sultry look rested on the ribbon-tied packet in Adelbert's hand and he made a grimace of distaste. "Greg Stanton would risk death to get them back—my death! Put them in the safe and telephone Mrs. Van Courtney to come down for them. Remind her that the fee we agreed upon was five thousand dollars, and tell her to make the check out to—let me see—to the Estate of Francis X. Magoorty."

Ninial's pale eyes blinked. "Ma—Magoorty, Mr. Blair?"

Blair sighed, a long-suffering sound. "Yes, Magoorty, Mr. Ninial—a taxi-driver who has steered his last fare to a clip-joint. He probably had an unfaithful wife and fourteen anemic brats stowed away somewhere. You will find them by tracing Hackman's License number X6893, unless the card he had in his cab was a forgery... Now, what the hell are you up to?"

Adelbert had deposited the ribboned packet of letters in a gleaming, spherical safe, the topcoat on the back of a chair, and was now advancing with a brown bottle in one hand and a wad of gauze in the other. "I'm going to clean out your wound, sir, before infection sets in. If you'll just sit down..."

"I'm quitting this business, Adelbert," Blair growled, sinking into his desk chair. "Today. Right now."

"Oh, no," Ninial whinnied. "You can't do that, Mr. Blair. You just can't. What will they do, the poor people in trouble—"

"People on the prowl, you mean," his employer snarled. "Using me as a monkey to pull their chestnuts off the fire. Haven't I gotten it through your thick skull yet that everyone's got his racket, that everybody's trying to make a sucker out of everybody else?"

Ninial plastered a neat dressing over Blair's wound. "Oh, sir!" There were tears in his voice. "You don't really mean that. You can't, not right after you've seen how much Mrs. Van Courtney has done for her son—"

"—because the jam he was in threatened her social position," Blair sneered. "That's—" he cut off suddenly, his head jerking down to the desk top, on which an illuminated square foot suddenly glowed with a picture of the dingy lobby below.


A TINY, but clear-cut figure was starting to mount the imaged stairs. "Hell!" Blair exclaimed. "It's a girl, and she looks scared to death. Another fool trying to put something over and caught in a mess. All right, Adelbert, get out there. She'll be the first one to learn that Bolton Blair's quit being a sucker."

The partition panel slid shut behind the protesting Ninial. Blair's sum, frail appearing hand reached under the desk's edge. The luminous screen faded out and the top seemed solid mahogany once more. The detective touched another of the battery of buttons at his fingertips. Softly, through the microphone he'd turned came the creak of Ninial's swivel chair, the rustle of his book, and—a timid rap on the office door.

"Come in," Adelbert said, static-burr telling that he'd released the electric latch.

Hinges rasped. Feminine heels clicked on the floor and stopped. "Oh... You can't be Mr. Blair!" The voice from outside was soft-toned, cultured, with a husky throb in it of nerves drawn taut to the snapping point.

"I am his assistant. And you are—? If you'll tell me your name—? And also what you wish to consult Mr. Blair about..."

"I'm Miss Meade—Barbara Meade, and I—" The girl's voice broke. Then, "I can't—I daren't—speak to anyone else." She was frightened, desperate with terror. "Oh please, please tell me when I may see him."

"Mr. Blair will see you at once."

"Damn Ninial!" Blair swore softly. A pretty face and tears could always make him forget his orders.

"If you will leave your bag here with me." A muscle twitched in Blair's cheek. That request meant...

"My bag! Why—?"

"Because there is a gun in it," Ninial said calmly. This stunt was always impressive. The "search-ray," one such as they used at Alcatraz Prison, had detected bulky metal in the girl's pocketbook.

But why should she have a gun? Was this some new trick of Stanton's?

No. She was yielding too readily.

"Very well," she said. "I—I suppose I'm safe enough here." The bag thudded on Ninial's desk, and then the slit in the partition was widening to admit Barbara Meade.

She was small-boned, small featured, trimly suited. Chestnut ringlets curled from under the edge of her tiny, pert hat, but beneath artfully applied cosmetic, her face was pallid. No amount of powder could conceal the semi-circles of shadow under her eyes that were wide-pupiled, shimmering with long-endured fear.

Blair rose as she came toward him across the carpet, but she didn't give him time to say anything. "You've got to help me, Mr. Blair," she rushed, and Blair caught the repressed tones of hysteria in her words. "You've got to save me!"

"I've got to, have I?" The wall behind her was whole once more, but the audio-phone system worked both ways and Ninial was taking down in shorthand every word. "From what?"

A shudder ran through her slim body. "From the grey thing that's watching me, waiting to get at me. It—it snuffles in the shadows, scratches at my bedroom door..." Her knuckles whitened on the back of the chair.

"Good Lord!" Blair exclaimed abruptly. "What a... Listen, young lady. I've just ducked a knife, been shot at, had a ten-ton truck try to crush me. I'm lucky to be alive this minute and then you come in here with that kind of poppycock. What you need is a psychiatrist, not a detective."

"Mr. Blair," Barbara Meade straightened. "I'm not crazy—I tell you I'm not! Helen has sensed the thing, too, and Bill. They're frightened—"

"Whoever they are—they're humoring you," the detective cut in. "But I don't have to, thank God. I don't have to take your money to protect you against the vaporings of your imagination. Now get out of here—fast. Scat!"


A SOB throbbed in the girl's white throat, and she made a little, helpless gesture with her hand. Then she turned and was going back to where the panel was opening for her in the partition. She was walking erect and straight-backed, yet somehow blindly, across the bare floor of the—little anteroom. Then she was fumbling with the outer door to open it... It shut behind her.

"Oh, Mr. Blair," the thin voice of Adelbert Ninial said from the aperture in the partition. "How could you have treated her so? She's in trouble, and—"

"—and crazy as a loon!" Blair snarled, dropping into his seat. "But crazy or not, I've told you I'm through. Through, do you understand, with all this damned—" He stopped suddenly, for a scream cut him off, a muffled scream from beyond the door that had shut on Barbara Meade.

Blair's finger jabbed the third button under his desk edge, as he leaped from his seat. For an instant the illuminated desk-top glowed with a sinister image... The scream had ended by the time he was through the door Ninial had snatched open. But the pound of his feet on the stairs, and of Ninial's behind him, did not quite cover the soft thud-thud from below.

They caught up with the thing that had thudded, and it was a body, which had bumped down those grimy stairs.

The slim young body of Barbara Meade was huddled on the grimy first-floor landing, sprawling there, limp and lifeless. The throat which had sobbed its despair and terror was now forever silent, excepting for one last crimson air bubble that slowly grew and burst...


II. — THE INVISIBLE PROWLER

A BLUNT-NOSED automatic had leaped into Bolton Blair's hand. Eyes narrowed, sharp face feral, he peered down the final flight of dilapidated stairs. Low-voiced words came from the straight, grim line of his mouth.

"I jabbed the button that locks the street door the instant she screamed. But there's no one down there."

"He—he's somewhere up there, then," Ninial moaned. "Watching us!" There was a gun in his bony fingers, too; an old- fashioned, heavy-calibered weapon that seemed to dwarf the snugly efficient pistol in his employer's slender fingers. Ninial breathed, "He—he's just waiting for a chance to jump us." He stared fearfully into the dimness above them.

"Exactly," Blair agreed, brushing past. "Stay here with her and don't let that cannon off around me." He flitted up the stairs, crouched and noiseless, a human leopard stalking its prey in the shadows.

The killer must be trapped in this dim stairwell. The detective owned the four-story building and had made of it a sanctuary against the enemies his work created for him. His office door had locked automatically when he and his assistant had leaped out of it. The other doors giving on the staircase, and the roof-hatch above, could not be opened unless released from the button-battery at his desk. Nowhere, he knew, was there a nook or cranny big enough to hide a man.

And yet, when Blair had finally prowled to the landing under the roof, he found no one to dispute his passage.

"Damned queer!" he muttered, straightening. "No human being could possibly have gotten down those two stair flights and out before—"

A shot blasted below and Blair whirled, plunging down...

"Mr. Blair," Ninial yelled. "Mister—" There was no second shot, nor was there further sound from the lank youth.

But Ninial, when Blair reached him, was on his feet, his pale eyes bulging out of a color-drained face.

"What happened, you fool?" Blair rasped. "What—?"

"I couldn't have missed it," Adelbert gibbered. "I couldn't—but it vanished!" He was staring at the paint- peeled wooden wainscoting of the landing wall. "The bullet—went right through it. Look!"

He jabbed the quivering muzzle of his huge gun at a splintered, raw gash in the wood, low down. "It was right there, and it isn't there any more!"

"What isn't there?" Blair snarled. "Talk sense, man!"

Ninial's Adam's apple worked up and down in his long neck. "The thing," he whispered. "The grey thing she was afraid of. I felt its eyes on my back, its terrible eyes. I twisted around, saw it and shot... And it was gone!"

"What did you see?"

"Just—greyness, right there, like a shadow—"

"Bah!" Blair exploded. "That's all it was, your own shadow! If you don't look out you'll be slicing your own throat, the way she did."

"With what? There's nothing in her hand or on the stairs. How could she—?"

"A nail file. She dropped it and it went into one of those rat-holes—"

"What's that?" Ninial yelped, whirling to the wall his bullet had gashed.

Blair heard it too. Rikikikich! The sound had the same quality of virulent menace a rattlesnake's warning buzz possesses. Rikikikich! But it wasn't the noise of a rattler. It was like nothing he'd ever heard before. Rrrr—ikikikich! A prickling chill stroked his spine.

"Oh, God!" Ninial breathed. "God in heaven! What is it?"


BLAIR jerked free of the bruising fingers. "Probably the ghost of your grandfather," he spat, "chattering about what a yellow-belly his daughter's son turned out to be." But his anger was really with himself, that some mortar falling inside the crumbling wall, settling of ancient timbers, should so have shaken him.

"Come on back to the office. While you're phoning the police to come and take this cadaver away, I'll start cleaning my files. I've got a lot of records to destroy before I hang a For Sale on this old barn."

"The—the police...?" Ninial's colorless eyes were wide and unbelieving, as a child's, when he first discovered his father is not a demigod. "You—you're not going to do anything about this? When it's your fault she's lying there dead!" The gangling youth gulped, seeming amazed at his own temerity. "If you hadn't thrown her out of your office—"

"She would still have ripped her throat open!"

"She didn't, Mr. Blair... She had nothing to do it with. The search-ray showed nothing metallic on her after she handed me the bag, and that's still on my desk. I was just going to tell you that, and run after her with it, when she screamed!"

Bolton Blair stared down at the pathetic heap at his feet. "So it's my fault, is it?" he muttered, kneeling down. His face was hidden from Ninial, standing above him, and there was both pity and anger in it. "I threw her out of my office and—she died!" In his black eyes glimmered something bleak and dangerous. "Adelbert! She was right-handed, wasn't she?"

"Yes, sir. She handed me her bag with her right hand. She used her right hand to open the door when she went out."

"Look here. This gash in her throat is the same depth all the way across. If she'd made it, no matter how, it would be much deeper on the left, lessening to barely a scratch on the right, because by the time her hand got that far most of her strength would be gone. She didn't kill herself, Adelbert. Someone else did—"

"Or something, sir. I—"

"Someone!" Blair snapped. "You blithering nincompoop! A human being who got out of here, in spite of all I could do to prevent it." He heaved erect. "Come on. Let's see what the contents of the bag will tell us. Nobody's going to make a sucker out of me and get away with it."

They made a pitiful heap on Adelbert Ninial's desk; the cracked enamel compact, the purse that held a single ragged dollar bill, and thirty-seven cents in change. There was a sheer, lacy handkerchief with a tiny darn at one corner, two latchkeys, two theater-ticket stubs for balcony seats, a lipstick worn to a wafer, a little leather memorandum book, and—a tiny, pearl handled revolver!

"This wouldn't have done her much good, Mr. Blair," Ninial touched the last, cocked it. "Even if she had it with her. Look here—the firing pin is broken off."

Blair's black eyebrows lifted. "She evidently didn't know enough about firearms to notice that. Rust on the stump shows it was done long ago." He had the memorandum book in his hand. "Hmmm. 'Please return to Barbara Meade.' She didn't lie about who she was, at any rate. 'Care of Myron Strane, 464 Crown Road' ...!' " He riffled the pages. "Just some addresses... No—here's something—"

The corner of his mouth twitched as he read aloud a penciled entry, " 'If anything happens to me I want Helen to have the locket with mother's picture, and my wrist watch. Unless she wants any of my clothes, give them to the Salvation Army, for the poor. And I want Uncle Myron to know how deeply grateful I am for all that he's done for both of us. Barbara.' "

"Her possessions were evidently very sparse. Which is rather strange, considering the high financial and social status of Crown Road residents."

"Her uncle, Myron Strane, is by no means poor." Ninial looked up from the thick, red-covered volume of "Who's Who" he was consulting. "Here's the entry, Mr. Blair: 'Strane, Myron; A. B., M. A., Ph. D.' The address, as you've just given it. Then, 'Born 1881. Inventor of the Strane Nonshrinking Process for woolens. Retired. Author of: The Sanskrit Roots of the Germanic Languages. The Etymology of Certain Derivatives from Primitive Egyptian.' There's a half-dozen titles listed here, and the books were all privately printed. He's also a trustee of the Institute for Philological Research, a life member of the Society for the Study of Primeval Cultures, and so on. All that takes money, and plenty of it. He has a son, sir. 'Strane, Edgar, Born 1909,' for whom no occupation is noted."

"Edgar," Blair mused. "She didn't say anything about him. It was someone called Bill she mentioned. 'Helen and Bill,' she said, 'have sensed it too, and they're fright—' "

A whistle checked him, coming through the open door from the stairs. It was thin and piercing, and so faint that its source must be at a distance or perhaps—such was its heart stopping quality of terror, its weird pitch—from beyond the mysterious Gulf that intervenes between the Known and the Unknown. It stopped, abruptly, then a new sound—

Rrrr-ikikikicht!

Blair gasped, whirled to the nape-prickling chatter, his automatic in his fingers. The door was blank. Had he glimpsed a grey shadow flitting across the orifice in that split-second, or—Another sound was in his ears—the soft buzz from his desk that warned of an intruder in the stairwell! The detective slammed the stair door shut, spun again and darted to the telltale screen on the desktop, Ninial panting behind him.

As they reached it, the buzz ended—the luminous square showed the first-floor landing, with Barbara Meade's still corpse sprawled on it, the down-dipping flight of splintered steps, the entrance hall and the street door. Nothing moving there, nothing that had any life.

But the invisible rays of infra-red light that guarded Bolton's bailiwick could not lie. A shadow would disturb the delicate balance of the device and set off its buzz. A grey impalpable shadow, perhaps, that had entered this building, and ripped a girl's throat, and now had left it, though every exit was barred and impregnable

" 'They're frightened too,' " Blair resumed his quotation of the dead girl's words, even-toned and musing as though there had been no interruption. "I wonder if they have as good reason to be frightened as she had?"

The dangerous bleak frown had deepened between his narrowed lids. "I think, Adelbert, I shall try to find out."


III. — THE HOUSE WHERE DEATH DWELLS

THE house at 464 Crown Road was a three-story structure of dark brown stone, standing well back from the thoroughfare and screened from it by a tall hedge of gloomy hemlock. Bolton Blair noticed that there was shrubbery on the grounds, but no flowers, so that in the gathering dusk the whole effect was oddly foreboding. There was no porch. The huge door of carved dark oak was closed.

It opened readily enough, however, when Blair used the wrought-iron knocker fastened to it.

The woman who opened it was middle-aged, but she had on the neat black frock and white apron of a maid. She made no effort to keep Blair from walking into the beam-ceiled, oak-paneled foyer.

"Is Mr. Strane in?" he inquired.

The servant glanced up broad stairs that rose out of the lighted entrance hall to obscurity above, before she replied. "Doctor Strane is in his study and cannot be disturbed." It seemed to Blair that there was a rustle of movement at the head of those stairs, though he could see no one. "His secretary is not in at the moment. May I take a message?"

"You may," the detective clipped. "Tell Dr. Strane that my business is with him, not with his secretary. And that it concerns his niece, Barbara."

The woman hesitated, but the command in Blair's eyes, had its usual effect "If you'll wait, sir," she murmured, "I'll find out if he'll see you."

She went past the side of the stairs and from beyond them Blair heard the tap of her knuckles, the whisper of an opening door. He slid his hand into the side pocket of his jacket, to make sure that Barbara Meade's bag was still there, and looked about him.

Sliding doors were shut in a wide wall-opening to his right, but those in a matching frame to his left were open and beyond was a huge parlor furnished in the stiffly formal manner of the 1880's. The carpet, the ornately carved walnut chairs and sofas, the paintings on the turkey-red papered walls, were museum pieces. A massive crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and the mantel of an enormous fireplace at the other end was cluttered with bric-a-brac. The room was spotlessly clean, but it gave no impression of being lived in.

Blair shrugged, uneasy with the feel of unseen eyes upon him. He would be the first to scoff at any suggestion that he was possessed of any psychic power, but the last to deny that the constant succession of dangers among which he moved, had endowed him with an acuteness of perception amounting almost to a sixth sense. He was certain that a concealed onlooker was watching him.

He turned to peer up the staircase, but the maid was returning. "Will you step this way, please," she murmured, and led him back in the direction she had come.

She shut the door behind Blair. He was in a room completely walled with books, except where the dying day filtered through drapes over two tall windows, and where the panoply of shelves was broken by a fireplace smaller than the one in the parlor, but also evidently never used.

Down the center of the room ran a long table, covered with a chaos of open books, closed books, pamphlets, yellowed papers and grimy manuscripts. At the other end of this table, the bright light-cone of a reading lamp illuminated a man writing on a long, foolscap sheet.

A dressing gown enveloped Dr. Myron Strane's gaunt frame. His hair was silvery in the lamp's glare, his wrinkled countenance fuzzy with an unkempt beard. He had a strong, aquiline nose and the high forehead of a scholar. He seemed entirely oblivious to Blair's presence.

The latter cleared his throat noisily. Strane looked up. His thin, almost transparent eyelids' blinked over blue, dazed eyes.

"Ah—er—you're—ah, yes... You're the gentleman Jennie said wished to see me." His voice was low, his smile vague. "About—about—" His hands fluttered helplessly.

"About your niece," Blair said brusquely. "Barbara Meade."

"Yes. Yes, I remember. About Barbara. A lovely girl. She reminds me of my sister Ellen, when she was Barbara's age. That was just before—before—But I mustn't commence reminiscing." Again that vague, apologetic smile. "My son Edgar says that I run on like a babbling brook when I get started. Now what was it that you wished to tell me about Barbara?"

"This is her bag, isn't it?" Blair jerked it out of his pocket and held it up.

Strane blinked at the russet leather. "Is it? I wouldn't—really, I wouldn't know. But I suppose it is, if you say so, Mr.—er—?"

"Blair—Bolton Blair." There was as little reaction to the name in the old man's face as there had been to sight of the pocketbook. He didn't know, then, of his niece's intention to visit the detective.

"The only reason I think it is hers is that her name is in it, and this address. I found it and took the liberty of inspecting its contents in order to determine whose it was."

"Indeed? You found it—You are very kind to take the trouble to return it in person. Very kind."

"Not at all, Dr. Strane," Blair smiled. "On the contrary, I consider myself fortunate. I have been anxious to secure an introduction to you for some time, and this is a real break for me. You see, my business is life insurance, sir, and I can secure you very good terms on a policy in favor of your son, Edgar. You are, if you will pardon me for reminding you, no longer a young man, and—"

"And I have not long to live. Quite so. But you see, my son Edgar will be amply provided for when I pass on, and my needs are simple. He will receive my estate almost intact, Mr.—er—Bear."

"Blair. Why not altogether intact, Dr. Strane? By taking out policies in their favor you can take care of your nieces, and still leave Edgar your entire estate. I can quote—"

"My dear sir," Strane interrupted once more. "I have given Barbara and Helen a home since their mother passed on, have fed them and clothed them, and will continue to do so until they marry, or until I die. I consider that quite sufficient recompense for the injury I did my sister when I—"

"Father!" Blair's head jerked around. "You're talking too much." The speaker strode stiff-kneed into the room, his sallow, dissipated-looking face dark with anger. "Who is this man?"

"A. Mr. Lare, Edgar. He was talking to me about life insurance, and I was explaining—"

"Insurance!" Edgar Strane whipped around to Blair. "How dare you force your way in here to try to high-pressure an old man? Get out!" He pointed to the door, his emaciated body quivering with rage. "Before I throw you out!"

Blair's little black mustache lifted in a sneering smile. "I doubt your ability to do that," he said, low- toned. "But since my services do not seem to be required here—" he shrugged. "Good afternoon, Dr. Strane, and thank you for your courtesy."

He went slowly towards the door, conscious that the younger Strane was following.

"Look here, you," the latter's growl stopped him when they had reached the entrance hall. "I want to tell you something."

The detective turned. "Yes?" Edgar Strane was about thirty, but fast living had added ten years more than that to his appearance.

"I don't believe that it was to sell my father insurance that you came here."

"And suppose it were not?"

"Then I warn you that you might find it very unhealthy if you' persist in com—"


BUT Blair didn't hear the rest. A thin, piercing whistle, weird and unearthly, had reached him, from behind the door out of which they had just come.

He darted past Strane, past the staircase, to that door. Momentarily it resisted his thrust at its knob, and in that moment Blair heard through the panel, not the whistle—but the same menacing rrrikiki-kich, rrrikikikich that had come out of the wall near which had lain the body of Barbara Meade with the red, ripped throat.

Rrrikikikich! A strangled yell came from the old man.

Then the door was open and Blair was plunging into the book- lined room, hurtling down it just as he saw Myron Strane toppled backwards with his chair and crash on the floor.

The next instant Blair was kneeling by the emaciated, prostrate figure, and Dr. Strane was struggling with the tangle of his robe, the blue eyes that had been so vague and so kindly, were now blind with terror.

Shaking, gnarled hands thumped against the detective's chin, and Dr. Strane's eyes cleared. "What was it?—What—?"

Blair sighed with relief to hear him speak, to see that the pendulous grey flesh of his neck was unmarred.

"Father!" Edgar Strane cried above Blair as he helped the prostrate man to his feet. "What's the matter? What's happened?"

"I—I don't know." Strane blinked at his son. "I—I heard a peculiar chattering noise. And then something seemed to be at my throat, clinging there. I batted at it, fell backward. The door opened and the thing was gone. I thought I saw a grey shadow—"

"A grey—" Edgar gurgled. "Oh God!" Was it fright that had struck all the color from his face, dilated his pupils—or superb acting? "It's after you, now."

"What's after him?" Blair demanded. "What do you know about this thing?"

"It's the grey—" The younger Strane checked himself. "What business is it of yours?"

"I'm making it my business," Blair cut in, tight-lipped. "I want to know—"

"Mr. Lare." The old man's trembling fingers were on his arm. "Please. You'll forgive me if I ask that you leave us. I—I am an old man, and I am very much shaken by this—this misadventure. I should like to be left alone with my son. After all, there has been no damage done. No one has been harmed."

No one? Blair thought, behind his expressionless mask. What of the frightened girl who had come to him for help, and because that help was refused, had died? But it was not yet time to speak of that, and unless he did, he could demonstrate no right to insist on remaining.

"Please, Mr. Lare," Myron Strane pleaded.

"My name is Blair," the detective said, his eyes on Edgar. "Bolton Blair." There was a strange musty smell in the air that he had not noticed here before. "If you're wise, you'll remember that." Was there something reminiscent about the odor? "Good- night."


THIS time nothing intervened to prevent his exit from the house. But, as he strode through the rustling night, Blair again had that disquieting sense of being watched from some covert. Too, the eerie odor he'd noticed in Myron Strane's study seemed to follow him, and there was that about it that made gooseflesh crawl across the back of his shoulders.

The smell seemed the aura of the death that prowled the Strane dwelling, of the weird slayer that announced itself with a whistle and that chatter like no sounds Blair had ever heard before. What was the thing that manifested itself as a flitting grey shadow, and killed with an apparently aimless malevolence?

The glow of a street lamp etched a gate in a gap of the hemlock hedge. Blair reached this, opened it, and then slammed it shut. But he had not gone out through it. He had sprung aside into the black shadow that lay within the hedge, and crouched there, peering back at the structure he had just left.

The gabled facade rose and lost itself against the blackness of an overcast sky, marked only by the fitful streaks of yellow light seeping through the draperies of tall windows. Somewhere behind those curtains lurked a grey menace of death that had struck once, and surely would strike again.

Blair would not yet admit that the thing could be anything but human, or a least controlled by some human agency. Yet what motive could the killer have? True, Myron Strane had been attacked, and the old man's death would make his son independently wealthy. But Barbara Meade had been slain first, and from Strane's own statement the detective had learned that Edgar had nothing at all to gain by doing away with his cousin.

Nor could Helen Meade hope to win something from the death of either her uncle or her sister. What about the as-yet- unidentified Bill? Who—?

But Bolton Blair suddenly stopped his speculations. For a hot stifling palm was clamped over his mouth and bruising fingers dug into his biceps!


IV. — A SUCKER FOR MURDER

A WHISPERED voice sounded in the detective's ear before even his hair-trigger muscles could lash out. "It's all right, Mr. Blair. I only want to talk to you." The muffling hand slipped away. "And I was afraid you'd make some sound that might be heard from the house. What's happened to Barbara?" Abruptly, the whisper became a moan of overpowering emotion. "What's happened to her?"

Blair turned and the wan glow of the street lamp over the hedge showed him a slender girlish form wrapped in some sort of dark cloak.

"How do you know my name?" he demanded. "And what makes you think I can tell you about your sister?" This girl was more slightly built, younger than Barbara, her hair a gleaming gold in the pale luminance. But her tiny features left no doubt that this was Helen, her resemblance to the dead girl heightened by the same tautness of long fear.

"When you knocked I thought it was Barbara, and looked down from upstairs. I saw the edge of her bag in your pocket. She'd told me she was going to you, and I've seen your picture... Why hasn't she come home? Why have you got her bag?"

"Take it easy," Blair murmured. "I used the pocketbook to give me an excuse to secure an interview with your uncle. From what came out during Barbara's call on me, I didn't think it advisable for her to return here." Quivering on the edge of hysteria as she was, telling Helen of her sister's death would be certain to wrench a betraying scream from her. Others beside this girl were in danger, and he must get back into the house, unobserved, to forestall it. "She's safe enough where she is." And that was no lie.

"Oh, thank God!" Helen's exclamation of relief seemed utterly genuine. "We tried to talk her out of going to you, but now I'm glad we didn't succeed."

"We? Who beside yourself knew where she went this afternoon?"

"Only Bill—Bill Thorn. He's Uncle Myron's secretary, and my—" She stopped, her fingers going to her lips, her grey irises shrinking.

"Your what?" the detective demanded. "Nothing. My—oh, no one knows, not even Barbara. Must I tell you?"

"Unless you want me to wash my hands of this whole business. What is it?"

"No! I'll tell. Bill and I are married. Secretly."


A DARK pattern was starting to form in Blair's mind. "Ah, he lives here, of course, with you and the Stranes. Who else?"

"No one except the servants. Jennie, the maid who let you in, and—"

"Never mind that, just now. Who are the other members of the family, other than your sister, your uncle and your cousin Edgar?"

"No one, except—" she checked again, her teeth catching up her under lip, agony in her eyes.

"Except whom?" the detective demanded, inexorably.

"Except our father, Barbara's and mine."

"Your father! I thought that you were fully orphaned."

"We might as well be. When—when mother died, Uncle Myron said that he'd take care of us, provided that my father gave us up to him, and promised never to get in touch with us. Myron Strane always hated father, would have nothing to do with mother as long as they were together. I—was only eight then, but I remember how desperately poor we were." Bitterness was in her tone. "And so Ralph Meade gave us up and vanished. We don't know where he is, or whether or not he is still alive."

One thing, Blair thought, that Myron Strane said is explained. 'I consider that quite sufficient recompense for the injury I did my sister...' But he asked, "When did this—fear—Barbara told me about, start?"

Helen's lips twitched. "A—about a week ago. I'd been out all day. When I came home she seemed upset. She told me that she'd gotten a letter during the afternoon, took me up to her room to show it to me. It wasn't in the dresser drawer where she'd put it. It wasn't anywhere in the room. And her locket was missing, too—mother's locket."

"What was in the letter? Who sent it?"

"I don't know. Finding it gone seemed to frighten Barbara. She told me that it was better, safer, that I should not know. That night she screamed, and when I ran in, she gibbered something about seeing the door open and a grey thing starting to creep in. She insisted that she'd locked the door, but it wasn't locked then. I quieted her, spent the rest of the night with her. Nothing more happened. In the morning Bill put a bolt on her bedroom door. And the next night it was I who saw the grey shadow, on my windowsill. Since then Barbara and I have slept together, and always kept together, but we both keep feeling something watching us, waiting for a chance to get at one of us alone. It's been—"

"Who have you told about this?" Blair cut in.

"Only Bill. He advised us to keep quiet about it, but he gave us each a little gun to carry."

A pulse throbbed in the detective's wrist. "Where's Bill now?"

"Downtown. He left right after Barbara did, on some errand for Uncle Myron. I'm worried about him, too."

"You needn't be," Blair said dryly. "Look, Helen. You've got to get back before you're missed. But you must tell me one thing more: I want to get into that house without anyone but you knowing about it. How can I manage it?"

The girl half turned toward the building, pointed at a corner of its foundation. "There's a basement window there. It's locked, but if you can open it, you can get into the cellar. But you must be careful not to make any noise."

"Good girl," Blair whispered. "And don't worry. I'll see nothing happens to you."


HE darted across the open lawn, and in seconds had gained the shelter of a bank of bushes. But he did not at once take advantage of it to attain the window she'd indicated. For the thrum slowing of a motor had caught his attention. Then came the squeal of its brakes, and he stopped where he was, ears straining, listening intently.

Helen had halted too, yards from the house door, and turned eagerly. She was not too far away from Blair for him to hear her hurried breathing. The gate creaked, and a young man came through, his long legs striding up the path. In the dimness, Blair discerned a hatless black head, a broad, blunt-jawed countenance. Then:

"Bill!" the girl gasped. "You're all right?"

"Of course, honey." His arm was around her and he was holding her close. "How about Barbara? What did Blair say?"

"Barbara hasn't come back, Bill. But Blair's here. I told him how to get into the cellar, and..." They moved out of earshot.

Blair cursed to himself as he slid noiselessly away. That was just like a woman, to spill everything the first chance she got!

Bill Thorn was her husband, and that was why she had done it. But he was also the man who had given Barbara Meade a useless revolver with which to defend herself. He was the man whose wife, through the deaths of the three, Dr. Strane, Edgar and Barbara, would become heir to a fortune.

Bolton Blair recalled Adelbert Ninial's terror at being left alone in a building whose only occupant was a girl with her throat torn. He smiled grimly, in sober reminiscence.

"If I wasn't the world's prize sucker," he muttered, "I'd get away from this place as fast as I can scoot!"

Then, cautiously, he made his way toward the basement window...


THE darkness down there was absolute. Crouching beneath the window whose lock his deft fingers had picked, Blair listened.

There was only unbroken silence; the floor above blotted out any sound of movement from the occupied part of the house. There was no hint that he was not alone in this basement space. And yet he was aware of a subtle warning, an inexplicable inner sense of imminent peril.

Before he moved an inch, he must determine what gave rise to it. Certainly it was nothing he could see or hear; nothing he touched. Perhaps it was some smell—That was it! The fusty, unfamiliar odor that had tainted the air in Myron Strane's study, and that had seemed to follow Blair out into the open, was in his nostrils now stronger than ever.

Was there some connection between this exotic aroma and the grey thing that killed? Was its lair here? Was it from somewhere in this blackness that it set out to stalk its human prey?

Blair shrugged. The small electric cylinder in his hand shot out a pencil-thin ray of light and the end of the probing beam flicked along a concrete floor, touched the black metal of a furnace, the galvanized tin of a hot-water tank, and ladder like stairs that rose up to a closed, vertical door. The light-spot hesitated here a moment, then slid along a floor remarkably free from clutter, onto another wall, then the inset with the iron lids to the flues from which the fireplaces above could be cleaned... Beyond were the high plank partitions of a coal-bin, built out from this front foundation.

The light flicked out. There was only one possible hiding place in the basement—the coal-bin. Blair moved soundlessly along it, and a thin steel instrument in his hand found the padlock that held its door closed. A faint click, then the detective pulled the coal-bin door toward him—

Rrrikikich! Rrrrrikikikich!

The dreadful chatter came not from within the bin, but from behind him, to one side!

Blair whirled, his flashlight stabbing toward the weird sound of death, his automatic out. Nothing there, only that menacing vibration. Was it out of the solid wall that it came, or was the thing that made it invisible?

Rrrrikikich!

If he could only see it! If he could see even a flitting grey shadow! But there was nothing.

Cold sweat wet the detective's palms. The damned grey thing had his throat marked for ripping, and he could not see it!

Rrrrikikich!

Blair was not a coward, but he was afraid of the thing that made that sound, because he did not know what it was, because he did not know how it would strike, or how to defend himself against it.

He clicked out his light, stepped backward into the bin, and pulled the door shut in front of him. The rrrikikich came again, but it was muffled now. The killer was outside the door, but would this wood bar it? Would anything keep out that shadow- killer?

Anger at himself for having been fool enough to fall for the blonde girl, Helen, helped him get a grip on himself. It was she who had sent him in here, and that husband of hers had loosed the throat-tearing menace upon him. No one was going to interfere with their murderous plot—not if they could help it!

Then abruptly the black wall before him was streaked with yellow light slithering through slits in the planks. Blair got his eyes to one of these and peered out.

The light came from the door at the head of the steps, open now. It was blotched by Bill Thorn's wide-shouldered silhouette, which at once was blotted out by blackness as he pulled the door shut behind him. Cautious footfalls descended.

Rrrikikich! A single blubbed scream, not loud, was followed by the thud of a falling body, and by a bestial snarling. Blair pounded at the bin door with a frantic fist, but it had caught and would not open. High and piercing, a whistle came through it, the eerie, heart-stopping whistle he'd heard from outside his own office, and again within Myron Strane's study.

Then there was silence out there except for a soft flopping, followed by a gurgling moan. Blair's shoulder butted open the door of the coal bin. He half-fell out through it, his finger on the automatic's trigger, his torch beam sweeping the cellar. There was nothing. No grey shadow; no chattering menace. And the darting pencil-ray of light focused on a face on the floor, a blunt-jawed face, blood-spattered and contorted with agony...


BILL THORN'S blood-covered hands clutched the side of his own neck, his desperate fingers clenched on the ripped jugular. But they were not clenched tightly enough to restrain the fine crimson spray jetting between the fingers.

Blair dropped beside him. "Easy," he said. "Easy boy. You'll be all right." But he knew that no power on earth could save the wounded man.

Thorn's lips writhed. "Felt—it," came from the dying man. "Blair. It's—Ich—"

"The what?"

"Ichneu... Rikkitiki—Save Helen... Save—the others..."

Bill Thorn's fingers fell from the ripped artery in his neck, but no spurting blood followed them...


V. — THE ODOR OF FEAR

BOLTON BLAIR'S flashlight clicked off and the dark swept in on him. "I'm sorry," he murmured to those ears that would never hear again. "I was wrong about you." He lifted to his feet, jaw grimly set. "You didn't know what it was all about till just now, and you found out too late."

A shudder ran through him. If Thorn hadn't come down into the basement to talk to him, he'd be lying there, gory and lifeless. The grey death did not care whose life it took. It struck, and fled, leaving behind only the recollection of its menacing chatter, its weird whistle, and the fusty, other-worldly taint of its aura.

That odor was still strong here—the odor of fear. "I wish you'd had time to tell me more before you passed out," he muttered. All the dead man had told him was a meaningless syllable.

The detective's eyes strayed to the high, pale oblong that was the window by which he could leave. Outside was the clean cool night, and safety. He owed nothing to the Stranes, nor to Helen Meade. They had not even hired him to protect them. He'd be a sucker if he stayed to fall prey to the grey death lurking in this house.

Blair shrugged and turned toward the stairs down which Bill Thorn had come to meet death. The thing to do was to get them all out of here—Helen, the Stranes, and the servants. To get them to a place of safety...

Was there any place of safety? Barbara Meade had not been safe from it on the staircase of Blair's own building, guarded by every ingenious device known to science.

Blair reached the top of the stairs, holstered his gun, and his groping hand found the doorknob. The hinges made no sound as Blair pressed outward, and the light, coming through, dazzled his eyes. Then he saw against the white plaster wall, Helen Thorn's contorted face... A man's hand muffled her mouth, his other hand pinning her wrists to the wall!

The girl saw Blair in that same split second, and her eyes must have warned her attacker, for he released her, whirled, and sprang at the detective in a single motion, his fists flailing.

Blair met the charge with his own swift knuckles, but he took a stinging blow on his brow that half-stunned him.

"I thought I got rid of you!" Edgar Strane snarled, tugging at his jacket pocket. A gun came out of that pocket.

Blair leaped, connected a bone-jarring uppercut to Edgar's jaw.

It straightened Strane up, his eyes glazing. His gun thudded from his fingers, his body crumpling.


BLAIR bent to the sprawled figure. There was a jingle of metal, and Edgar's wrists were linked by the gleaming chain of handcuffs that circled them. "Ohhh," the girl moaned, but the detective didn't look up at her till he'd clipped another pair of manacles on Strane's ankles.

Then he saw her, her arms out-flung from her sides, their palms flattened against the wall, the red mark of vicious fingers across her mouth.

"What happened?" he demanded. "Quick!"

"Bill went down to talk to you. I couldn't stand waiting, and sneaked down to join you. Just as I got my hands on the knob, Edgar grabbed me from behind, and shoved me against the wall. Then you came. Where's Bill?"

Her pupils dilated again with the realization that Blair was alone, and hysteria edged her voice. "Where...? Oh, there's blood on you! Oh, God!"

"Pull yourself together and listen to me," Blair snapped. "Don't worry about your husband, he's taken care of."

It was plain now that Edgar was the human agency behind the grey killer. Edgar himself was helpless, but the grey thing was still loose, somewhere within these walls. "It's you who are in danger—you and your uncle. I've got to get you both out of here, and quick! Where's Myron Strane?"

"I—I don't know. Dressing for dinner, I guess. But—"

"Never mind. You get out of this house while I... No!"

For the mysterious death struck, he remembered, only when its victim was alone. She'd be safer with him.

"Take me to your uncle's room. Hurry!"

She was running beside him, out to the front of the house, up the broad stairs that lifted from its paneled entrance foyer, and along a dim lit corridor.

"There!" she said, pointing.

Blair stepped past her, knocked on it, and jerked it open without waiting for a reply. There was no light in the room, except what little glimmered in from the hall. It was a big bedchamber, and it was unoccupied.

Or was it? Beneath the window bulked a long dark shadow. The detective tensed. The musty odor was here too, the smell which the grey killer left behind it. He went stiff-kneed across the room to the shape that lay under the window. He bent down... And a relieved breath hissed from his lungs. It was only the dressing gown he'd seen Myron Strane wear, dropped carelessly on the floor. Blair straightened. "He's not here," he told Helen, turning. "Where—?"

But the girl wasn't in the doorway. The door was closed, and she was on the other side of it.

Blair darted back, grabbed for the knob. It turned, but the door wouldn't open. It was locked! Helen had closed the door, had locked him in here! And there was only a dead, deathly silence outside.

Bolton Blair shifted his automatic to his left hand, plucked his lock-pick out of his vest pocket with his right. He slid the thin bit of steel into the keyhole...

Then suddenly twisted around to the rrrrrikikikkh behind him.

Rrrrrikikikich! His automatic jetted orange red fire at the sound.

But that deadly threnody came again, and his free hand snapped out as he fired again, and slashed down a switch tumbler. Light flooded the room. A grey shadow arched through the air, straight for Blair's throat.

His third shot caught it in midair, smashed it to the floor. It was a grey-furred little animal the size of a cat, but it was no cat. The tail was too bushy for any cat, the sharp face too evil, the teeth, from which bloody lips were curled back in a death snarl, too long and pointed.

Rrrrrikikikich! The menacing chatter of the grey killer sounded again in that bedchamber! Blair vented a gurgling scream, and hit the floor with a thud. He lay very still, atop the grey thing he had shot.

From somewhere came that piercing, eerie whistle. It threaded the silence, then ended.

A key grated in the lock of Myron Strane's bedchamber.

The door opened very slowly. A hand crept in past its edge. Then a man stepped inside.

"Reach," Bolton Blair said quietly, "before I put a bullet into you."


DOCTOR MYRON STRANE froze, his shirt-sleeved arms lifting. He spluttered, blinking at Blair, who kept his automatic on the man as he came erect without use of his hands. "What is the meaning of this?"

Blair raised his brows. "Perhaps you're asking why your pet didn't come when you whistled for it," he said. "It couldn't come—it was dead. You heard it chatter after my last shot, and then you heard me scream and fall—but it was I who had made that last sound! I rather thought that its owner would be coming in to see why it didn't answer his summons..,. So I waited."

Strane looked dazed and helpless. "I—I don't understand."

Blair's lips widened in a cold smile. "You're rather slow on the uptake for one who conceived the brilliant scheme of smearing a decoction of snake oil on the throats of people he wanted killed, then loosing a mongoose at them. The little animal's harmless enough to men, but, when it smelled its mortal enemy, snake, it went wild. And I must say I can't blame it. I've been carrying that smell around on my own throat, since you managed to smear the essence there while I helped you up, after you faked the attack in your study. Frankly, I don't like the odor... What have you done with Helen Thorn?"

"Helen—I—"

"Come now. You haven't killed her. But you probably would have, if you knew the mongoose was no longer alive to do it for you. And that, my dear philologist, is another reason why I pretended to have fallen victim to your little scheme. She was the only one who knew you'd locked me in here, and if I come out of this room alive, you would have had to silence her. That would have left me with suspicions, but no proof, against you. But you preferred to let her die as her sister and her husband did, and as you thought I had—our throats ripped by a mysterious grey shadow flitting in the dusk. And so, Dr. Myron Strane, Helen Thorn is not dead. Where is she?"

Strane was staring at the dead body of the weasel-like creature which he'd changed into a man killer, and abruptly he was a defeated old man.

"In—in her room," he muttered. "Gagged and tied..."


LATER, in his office Blair explained to his gangling assistant. "I figured it out, while I lay there, waiting for the killer to come in. I realized that the musty odor didn't come from the little beast at all, but from my own neck. And then I remembered Thorne's saying 'Rikkitikki,' and breaking off. It was simple enough, Adelbert. I realized he hadn't been trying to imitate its sound at all, but its name—the name Kipling gave the mongoose in his famous story, Rikki-tikki-tavi. And when he tried to say ichneumon, I forgot that was another name for the mongoose. But I recalled how its hatred of snakes had been described, and the dexterity with which it could kill the biggest cobra. I also recalled that it could be easily trained to come to its master's call."

"Did you know Myron Strane was its master, then?"

"Of course. It occurred to me that only in the single instance of the attack on him had the whistle come after the rrrikikikich, and not before it. He'd kept the thing in the flue of the unused fireplace in his study, called it out so that I would see it as it got the door open—"

"Was it he or Edgar who whistled it out of this building after it got Barbara?"

"The father. Edgar had nothing to do with the whole thing, except that the old man had let him glimpse the grey shadow once or twice, so that he could be a witness to the existence of the mysterious thing that killed. Edgar, in fact, tried to stop Helen from going into the cellar because he'd heard faint sounds of a struggle down there and wanted to protect her. It was Myron Strane who followed Barbara Meade here, who sent the little beast in after her, through some rat-hole in the wall we'd never bothered about, because a man couldn't get in through it. And it was the old man who watched my meeting with Helen through the drapes of his study, and saw me come back to sneak into the cellar, and sent the mongoose down after me. Thorn's being killed down there was accidental, although the boy had been marked for death."

"But why," Ninial asked. "Why should Strane have wanted to kill his nieces and Thorn?"

"I found the letter he'd stolen from Barbara in his room. That told us the whole story. It was from the girls' father. Ralph Meade was dying in a hospital charity ward, he wrote, and he had but one legacy to leave to his daughters.

"He was the real inventor of the process for non-shrinkable wool that was the foundation of Myron Strane's fortune, and the latter had stolen it from him. There were papers extant to prove this, but his wife Ellen had never let him use them against her brother. When she died, Strane had forestalled this by promising to see that Barbara and Helen would never know want.

"Ralph Meade knew himself for a ne'er-do-well and had yielded to Dr. Strane's offer, but now that he was dying he wanted to make sure that the girls should always have something to hold over their uncle's head in case Strane tried to break his agreement.

"The papers that would expose Myron Strane's duplicity and strip him of his wealth were in a safe-deposit box, the number of which was on a slip of paper in the back of a locket Ellen Meade had given to Barbara. You recall the mention of that locket in the girl's pathetic will. You see now, why it was essential for Strane to kill the two girls, and Helen's husband, to protect himself against their being used against him."

"No, Mr. Blair, I don't."

"Well," Blair sighed. "I suppose it's too much to expect from you. Listen: as long as they existed, the girls could use them to take every nickel he had. He probably could have handled them, but he had somehow learned of Helen's marriage, and he knew that Thorn would be a harder nut to crack. The only way he could get entry to the vault and destroy them, would be by proving himself his sister's only heir. He set out to make himself that by killing off her daughters, and the husband of one of them. And he damn near succeeded."

"He was a scoundrel, Mr. Blair, wasn't he?" Ninial clucked. "It's a good thing there aren't many like him in this world."

"Hell," Bolton Blair sneered. "Most of the world's like that. Half of it out to make suckers of the other half. Dammit, Adelbert, I'm quitting this business today. Right now. I'm through, you understand? Through!... Say!" His eyes focused on the open appointment book on the desk, where Ninial kept track of Blair's clients.

"Who's this? Hampton—at ten o'clock tomorrow morning? You ivory-headed goon! Don't you think I'm entitled to any sleep at all?"


THE END


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