Roy Glashan's Library
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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN
(WRITING AS DUNCAN FARNSWORTH)

THE MAN WHO MURDERED HIMSELF

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RGL e-Book Cover 2017

First published in Fantastic Adventures, May 1941
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-10-08
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Cover Image

Fantastic Adventures, May 1941, with "The Man Who Murdered Himself"



Illustration

The highlight of the party was the identity-switching machine.




"SOMETIMES," Interplanetary Inspector Carson told the silent room, "I wish I had myself a nice quiet sane job driving a space truck. This streamlined deduction is enough to drive a guy whacky."

Gloomily, he inspected the paper-weight in his hand. The thing was a curio, an antique—a small, fat little elephant encased in glassicade and bearing the legend "GOP CONVENTION, 1940". Carson turned it over in his hand, regarding it wistfully.

"Wish I was back five centuries," he mused. "The boys had it easy then, if they'd only known it. Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe, Nick Carter, yeah, even Sherlock Holmes—what a snap they had!"

He sighed heavily, and pushed a button on his desk. In an instant the light below his telaboard glowed crimson, and the cherubic face of Brisk Haynes, his assistant, appeared.

"Yeah, Chief," Haynes said cheerfully. "Ready to go?"

Carson sighed again. "Might as well. Haven't figured out a single angle, but we might as well." He rubbed the bald spot on the back of his head.

"Meet me on the roof runway." He flicked the button, and the face of his assistant disappeared....


"THE way I see it..." Brisk Haynes began, when he and Carson were comfortably seated on the space train headed for Los Angeles.

"There's only one way to see it," Carson cut in dourly. "We haven't got a thing on this bird. We can go to the house, yeah. We can make a check, yeah. We can ask questions, yeah. But we don't find out anything. And all on account of this damned streamlined world. A bunch of idle rich are having a party in this fellow Dole's home. They're drinking pretty heavy, sopping up an imported brand of planet punch, and someone gets the bright idea that they should play games."

Haynes remained expectantly wordless, although he knew the case as well as his Chief.

"This guy Dole," Carson continued, "is Corporate President of Spaceways Science Institute. He remembers that his company has developed a new wrinkle which they've been going to put on the market. It's built around that recent body-switching thing-a-ma-jig."

"Yeah," Haynes agreed. "It's been scientifically accepted for nearly a year."

"Scientifically accepted," Carson mimicked. "Damn, how I hate that phrase. It's so typical of this day an age. They develop a whosis that'll enable two people to switch bodies and no one even bats an eye over it. Just take it for granted—like that." He snapped his fingers.

"What's eating you, Chief?" Haynes asked bewilderedly.

Carson glowered at his assistant. He fished into his pocket and brought forth the tiny elephant curio.

"This thing," he said, "has made me sick. It's made me realize whatta snap the dicks had back then. Science, high-gear living. Bah, I'm getting sick of it."

Haynes remained silent, but grinned inwardly. His Chief was probably the keenest scientific Inspector in the Interplanetary Police. These periodic outbursts in which he longed for the return of "the good old days" were just a steam outlet for him.

"So," Carson went on, stuffing the curio back in his pocket. "This guy Dole—like I say—remembers that his company has made some pretty snappy strides in this body-switching stuff. A perfect party game for the idle rich, see? Give them a thrill. Let them fool around with something that's been only used scientifically up until now."

Haynes nodded. "Uhhuh."

"He calls his laboratories in New York," Carson continued. "In an hour they've got all the necessary equipment out in Los Angeles, so that Dole and his ritzy chums can switch their pie-eyed bodies around for an evening's entertainment." He grimaced. "Great stuff, letting stinkos like them fool around with that sort of thing."

"Must have been some brawl," Haynes mused. "I'd kind of like to try it myself. Think of me in another body."

"Skip it," Carson said caustically. "It's bad enough as it is." Then he added: "And, incidentally, there won't be any more of that sort of thing. Not after what happened. I got in touch with Earth Commissioner this morning and got him to put a ban on the body-switch business for any purposes other than science experimentation."

"Killjoy," Haynes growled.

"I was summing up the case," Carson said acidly. "So, to get on with it, they get this body-switch business going at the party. It's great stuff. Mrs. Rujerfitt has a swell time running around in the body of Mr. Muchdough. Hilarious and all that. Up to a certain point. And that point is when they come to switch back bodies."

"They all got their own bodies back," Haynes put in.

"Yeah, all but Dole and another guy —a fella named Sturgess. They're walking up on the roof garden part of the time. Both of them are tanked. Dole is in Sturgess' body, and Sturgess is in Dole's. That's when Sturgess, in Dole's body, decides to walk the ledge on the roof. Dole, in the body of Sturgess, bets him he can't."

"Well?" Haynes knew the answer, but he also knew he was supposed to ask.

"He can't," Carson remarked tersely. "While he's weaving along the edge, he falls off."

Haynes frowned. "Dammit, now I'm mixed up. Who falls off?"

"Sturgess falls off," Carson said. "Sturgess in Dole's body. And that's the end of Sturgess, and of Dole's body. That's how come Sturgess and Dole don't get a chance to switch back. That's how come Dole is stuck with his chum's body right now. That's how come we gotta run our legs off making an investigation—because Dole, in Sturgess' body, pulls wires with the Commissioner to have the thing certified and cleared."

Haynes sighed. "Now I'm twice as muddled."

"Then wait till we're there," Carson answered....


CARSON and Haynes entered the luxurious study of Martin Dole several hours later. They had been admitted by a squat Venusian house-boy who disappeared, leaving them alone in the room.

"Some joint," Haynes remarked. "Wish I was one of the idle rich. If I was, I'd retire, take me an interplanetary cruise ship and find some nice—"

"I've been here once before," Carson broke in. He was looking at the bookcases, at the trophies and knick-knacks along the tops of them. "Used to know Dole's old man before he died a few years back." He frowned. "Never thought his worthless son would get himself into this kind of a mess. But that's this str—"

"Streamlined world," Haynes finished for him, grinning.

Carson glowered, removing his coat and placing it along the back of a chair.

"Didn't see young Dole's wife around. She must be going a bit daffy over it all."

"Wouldn't blame her," Haynes began, "I know if I—"

He was interrupted by the sound of the door behind them being opened. They both wheeled, to see a tall, blond-moustached fellow standing there. He was dressed in an ill-fitting smoking robe.

"How do you do," he said. "You're Carson, I believe?" He spoke to Carson in a jerky fashion, and his face was strained.

"This is Haynes, my assistant," Carson replied. "And I take it that you're Martin Dole."

The tall blond nodded. "Yes, but looking a bit differently since the tragedy."

"You mean that the body you happen to be wearing at the moment happened to have once belonged to a fellow named Sturgess, eh?"

Dole nodded, and sat down gesturing Carson and Haynes to chairs across from him.

"Yeah," Carson's voice contained no sympathy. "I know all about it. Some party, eh?"

The lines on Dole's face—or, rather, on Sturgess'—grew tighter, and he gulped nervously. He looked like a man on the point of a complete breakdown.

"We were drinking heavily," he said. His voice was husky. "I never would have hit on such an idea if we hadn't been. I realize now how foolish, how horrible—"

"But it's too late now," Carson broke in calmly. "Perhaps you can tell us what happened on the roof."

Dole seemed to take a grip on himself.

"You'll excuse my state of nerves, gentlemen," he began. "This having a different body, plus the fact that your very best friend was killed through your own foolishness, can play hell with you." His hands trembled slightly. Then:

"It was after our switching of bodies. As I said, I'd been—we all had been— drinking heavily. Sturgess and I decided to take a breath of air up on the roof. He was in my body and I was in his."

Carson nodded. "Obviously. You still are."

"Well," Dole went on, "we were alone up there, kidding one another rather drunkenly about the deficiencies of our respective bodies. I told him that being in his body made me realize how, fine my own body was, and all that sort of thing. He said that my body couldn't stand liquor as well as his. He said he'd prove it by walking the ledge. We were drunk. I let him. He fell!" Dole's last words seemed to have been husked from him, and he put his head in his hands, shaking.

"He fell," Carson echoed, "in your body. You were left, trapped in the body of Sturgess, so to speak."

Dole nodded. "I have to have this thing cleared up. My wife and all my friends know, of course. And I don't see how we can keep from unfavorable publicity. But I must go on—even though I've a different body now. I had the Commissioner send you down here to give the accident as clean a bill of health as possible. You can talk to any other people who were at the party, if you'd like. But, somehow, things have to be regulated. I have to go on—" his words trailed off lamely.


CARSON rose.

"It won't be necessary to talk to any of them. Got in touch with six or seven by telaboard this morning. Their stories seem the same. Sturgess' death was undoubtedly an accident. You're right about the publicity, there'll be plenty of it. I'm sorry, for I knew your father. But you have it coming to you."

Dole nodded.

"I know I have." His voice was a half sob.

Carson had advanced to the bookcases, was reaching for his coat, which he'd thrown over a chair, when he paused. He picked a tiny knife off the shelf, turning it over in his hands.

"An odd piece," he remarked. "You must have been a collector, like your father."

Dole nodded.

"I got that on Titan," he acknowledged. "Picked up most of that stuff during my interplanetary travels."

Carson nodded, eyes searching the shelf until he reached out and brought down a tiny earthen mug. He held it out.

"This, too, I suppose?"

"Yes," Dole acknowledeged. "Picked up that piece while I was on a trip through Juno." He seemed suddenly impatient, and a little puzzled.

Carson picked up his coat, started to turn, then reached for the shelf once more.

"Say," he murmured, "this thing is really odd," he held out a piece to Dole. "Where did you get this?"

Haynes, who had been waiting at the door, started to say something, then clamped his jaws.

Dole had risen. He looked at the object Carson held in his hands.

"Oh that," he shrugged. "It has a little value. Got it on a trip through Venus. It was given to me by an old—"

But Dole got no farther. Carson had drawn an atomic pistol from inside his coat.

"Hold that so-and-so!" he snapped to Haynes. "We'll need him for the murder of Martin Dole! "

Haynes acted quickly, and after a brief scuffle, had the prisoner in handcuffs....


CARSON and Haynes were on the space train, heading home from Los Angeles. Now and then Carson's assistant looked at him with a sort of speculative awe.

"That was a neat trick, Chief," Haynes said at last. "But how in the hell did you dope it out?"

Carson finished lighting a rank Venusian cigar.

"Simple," he grunted. "When I got in touch with the rich rascals who'd been at Dole's party, I found out that there was a certain vagueness about the events during and after the body-switching. They were all so drunk that everything was hazy, and anything would have gone by them without their knowing it. Then, too, the accident on the roof seemed too pat."

Haynes nodded.

"So a little checking on the telaboard revealed that this Sturgess guy was nuts about Dole's wife, and vice-versa. Sturgess didn't have much dough, so he couldn't take Dole's wife and keep her in any style. She's expensive. The body-switch gave them their chance."

"Yeah, but—" Haynes began.

"As I was saying," Carson glared. "The body switch gave them their chance. Sturgess and Dole's wife had stayed pretty sober.

"Sturgess was clever. Clever enough to know that such a wild scheme might work. So he and Dole didn't switch bodies. While Dole was drunk, Sturgess—pretending that he'd switched with Dole—took Dole up on the roof and pushed him off.

"But they hadn't changed?"

"Of course not. Only the people at the party thought that they had. They thought that Dole was in the body of Sturgess. But he wasn't. It was Sturgess just as he'd always been. However, he pretended to be Dole, now."

"But how—" Haynes began.

"Willya listen?" Carson barked. "Sturgess was smart, he knew almost everything about Dole. Everything down to tiny personal habits. He must have suspected we were trying to trap him when I forced him to identify the knick-knacks on the mantel. Only Dole would be able to do so, and remember them rightly."

"But didn't Sturgess identify them?" Haynes asked. "Those first ones, I mean?"

Carson shrugged.

"How in the hell do I know? He was probably making it up as he went along. But when I showed him this," Carson dug into his pocket and pulled forth a tiny object, "and he pretended to remember where he'd gotten it, I knew it was Sturgess and not Dole."

Haynes looked at the little curio in Carson's palm. An antique, a little elephant encased in glassicade. It bore the legend, "GOP CONVENTION, 1940."

Carson sighed.

"They had it soft in those days—Nero Wolfe, Perry Mason, yeah, and even Sherlock Holmes!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.