Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Fantastic Adventures, December 1945

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2024-03-11

Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
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Fantastic Adventures, December 1945,
with "The Story Escapes Me"


Before his dazed eyes the room faded into a fog
from which emerged a man, a woman, and violence.

Every author wants characters that live. But those in Curt's
novel not only lived; they pulled him into their problems...

CURT REED pounded the typewriter at top speed. The novel was well under way and Reed forgot the small, smoke-filled room in which he worked. Joan Freemont was his most important and most vivid character. Ever since he titled the story, "Female Winchell," Joan Freemont had dominated the pages.

Reed closed the last of the sixth chapter, however, with a vague, uneasy feeling that every writer gets when his characters start to run away from him. To an outsider, that would sound odd. To Reed, it was pure logic.

Characters are like that, he thought, and rose impatiently to get a glass of water. He opened the window and watched the gray smoke drain downward and out the opening into the clear night.

He sat down once more at the typewriter. For a long time he stared at the keys. Then he ripped the final page out savagely and tore it to bits. His face turned a dull red.


He rolled a clean page into place and stared at it. Then he looked once more at the scribbled synopsis he had placed on the table. The whole job should write itself smoothly. He had planned all the angles. Every character did his part but Joan. She had turned into a stubborn, level-headed newspaper columnist with a mind of her own. Reed, in planning the story, wanted Joan Freemont to fall wildly in love with a certain handsome guy named Howard Dean. Dean, according to the plot, owned a string of night clubs and would, of course get Joan in the last chapter.

"Godammit;" Reed said again. "She's a stubborn wench. I ought to kill her and start all over again."

But he couldn't. He couldn't because he had fallen for Joan himself. He liked the way she got away from him, insulting the very people she was supposed to like.

That was what had happened in chapter six. Joan had gone to the "Romantic Adventure," a night club owned by Dean, insulted Dean by threatening to print his name in an unfriendly article and had been politely thrown out. As she left, she stuck her tongue out at Dean in a most unladylike manner. Dean, a gentleman who meant what he said, told her to go to hell.

That was the page Reed had torn out of the machine and destroyed.

How was he going to handle Joan Freemont now that the incident had occurred? He dreaded to go on. Once a character stepped out by herself Reed knew the story might double-cross him and come out with an ending that was unexpected, even to the author.

He started typing again, slowly, feeling his way:

Joan Freemont backed slowly to the door. She was pretending to listen to Dean, but her attention centered on the band practicing at the rear of the club.

"'Smug' Farley was mixed up in that affair," she said, "and I'm going to link his name with yours. Smug's your man. He wouldn't be seen near a robbery if you hadn't sent him."

"You write that," Howard Dean said in a low voice, "and I'll see you stuffed and roasted on the griddle of Hell." His eyes were pin points of....

THE typewriter stopped once more.

Reed pushed his chair back and got up. He closed the window and walked into the hall. It was no use. No matter what he meant to say, his characters were doing what they damned pleased. He looked at the clock. Ten after twelve. The street and the houses that bordered it were dark and silent.

"Nuts," he said aloud. "I give up."

He undressed and went to bed.

Sleep wouldn't come. That nagging uncertain feeling stuck with him. He had never had this sort of trouble before. A pulp yarn was a pulp yarn. You wrote it to fit the magazine and to fill a certain word limit. You wrote what you damned pleased.

But he couldn't do it.

Curt Reed lay very still, listening to the snow as it blew softly against the window and drifted along the street below. He tried to go back over the plot, reasoning out what was happening to him. Joan Freemont, he decided, was very lovely. He had made no mistake in creating a tall, queenly girl with ash-blonde hair and gray eyes. With her purse filled with pencils, notebooks and assorted junk she was ready to hold up the part of an ex-society girl gone newspaper columnist. Neither could Reed find any fault with Dean's character. Dean was a slim, but not silky, gentleman who chose to make a living peddling dance bands, liquor and pretty girls to a city of night-club goers. Dean looked good on paper, so why had something sinister crept into the story?

Joan should have fallen for Dean. As for Dean? Well, Reed decided, Joan Freemont was good enough for her author. She should be good enough for Dean. The worrying gave him nothing but a headache. Finally he fell into a fitful slumber.

CURT REED awakened some time around two in the morning. His head ached fiercely and the bed was torn apart where he had tossed and turned in his sleep. He got up, washed his face with cold water and sat down at the desk. He knew that before he could rest, he had to get "Female Winchell" plotted correctly and on the road to a climax. His work affected him that way. He couldn't leave it alone when things weren't going straight.

He started to type:

Joan left the club, hesitating at the curb, wondering if she should call a cab. The street was deserted. She turned north and started walking at a brisk pace.

She didn't see the shadow that detached itself from the door of the "Romantic Adventure." She knew nothing of the man who followed her, coat collar tight around his neck.

Reed stopped typing. He was about to shout a worried, "Godammit" again, but he knew it would save none of the trouble he'd made for himself.

Reed knew that his editor couldn't use a gangster yarn. This had been a strictly-plotted love story. Now it wanted to make a gang war out of itself, and he couldn't stop it.

He sat for some time, knowing he'd have to write it and hoping for the best. Then a wry smile touched his face. Why not? If he wrote himself into the story, perhaps he could be depended on to act normal. Perhaps he would make his own personality powerful enough to push the others back into line.

He leaned over the typewriter once more, and pecking with one finger, deliberately spelled out his name:

Curt Reed

He thought carefully, and then added:

stood under the pale light near the lamp post, watching the slim attractive blonde as she walked swiftly toward him.

Reed didn't touch the typewriter again. Up to now his headache had been a throbbing, unnecessary pain in the back of his head. Suddenly something seemed to hit him a terrific blow where the headache had been. The pain shot down his spine and made him stiffen in the chair. His head seemed to twirl around with great speed and the room tilted up and over, and into darkness.

Then the pain receded and he was all right once more.

He was standing on the very corner he had described. He found himself gasping for breath, as though he had been tossed end over end through the air and his wind had been knocked out of him. He held on to the lamp post to steady himself, and his eyes widened with amazement.

He had actually entered the story. He was staring straight at Joan Freemont as the girl approached him from the direction of the "Romantic Adventure."

REED wondered how it could happen. How could the author enter his own story and become a flesh-and-blood character? The immediate problem, however, gave him little time to think of anything but Joan Freemont.

She was opposite him now, looking straight ahead, her silken legs carrying her hurriedly away from him.

Then the little man tailing her reached the corner. As he came under the light, he reached into his pocket and drew out something that glinted in the light. Joan was twenty feet away. Reed was the only one who could save her because he had created the story himself, and he knew the thing in the man's hand was a gun. The man lifted the automatic swiftly and fired.

Not, however, before Reed pushed out his right foot and tripped him. With an oath, the man fell on his face and the gun exploded harmlessly in the air. Joan Freemont whirled around and a tight little cry came from her throat. She stood there, not knowing what to do next. Reed sprang forward and landed squarely on the gunman's back. He pinned him down securely, retrieved the gun and pushed it into his own pocket.

Joan Freemont ran toward him,

"You—you saved my life!"

Reed stood up. He kicked savagely at the figure on the sidewalk.

"Get up on your feet," he said. The little man stood up. His lips were curled into a silent snarl. He stood with his hands at his sides, looking for an avenue of escape. He didn't dare to run. The guy who had knocked him down had his gun.

Joan said:

"It's Smug Farley."

Reed turned to look at her, keeping one eye on Farley.

"I wouldn't know the gentleman," he said. "I hadn't put him in the story."

Joan Freemont's eyes widened. "The story?"

Reed grinned. It was all so damned silly standing here talking to his own characters.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I guess you wouldn't understand. My name is Curt Reed. You're Joan Freemont, aren't you?"

"Yes." Her lips opened slowly and seemed reluctant to close after the one word, was spoken. "But how...?"

Reed realized he was making a fine mess of things. These people were real flesh and blood creations. He had to treat them as such.

"I—I've read your column and seen your pictures," he lied.

Joan Freemont smiled. It was a frightened little smile.

"But—if you follow my stuff, surely you know of Smug Farley and his boss."

He had to think fast now. Smug had followed the girl from the "Romantic Adventure." He must be one of Dean's men.

"He carries a rod for Howard Dean," he said. "I've heard of him."

Smug Farley was getting impatient.

"Get this introduction over with," he said, "and decide what direction we're going in. Me, I don't like this night air."

Joan was still staring at Reed, trying to catalogue him in her memory.

Reed felt all that. He felt it because he knew just how Joan would react under most conditions.

"You can go," he said to Farley, "and don't try to pull a gun on the street again. A bad policeman might see you."

Farley faded away into the darkness. He had a break and he took advantage of it before Reed could change his mind.

"I suppose it's 1234 Arlington Avenue for you?" Reed said to the girl.

At once, he knew that he had opened his fool mouth again. That was the home address he had given Joan back in the first chapter.

"Yes," she said; "I've had enough...." She stiffened. "You know where I live? Say, mister, just where did you pick up all this information? That address isn't listed."

This time he was ready with the answer.

"I happen to know everything about you," he said. "I'm one of your most loyal fans. I even know the toothpaste you use—Dental Health."

He knew by the flashing eyes that she was pleased.

"Good," she said. "Then let's get a cab. I've had enough walking for one night—even with you for a bodyguard."

JOAN FREEMONT was every bit as lovely as Curt Reed had pictured her. In the dim light of the cab, she continued to stare at him with a great deal of admiration.

"You must follow me around like a shadow, to know so much of what is going on."

He admitted that he did and tried to hide the smile that kept coming to his lips.

"One thing I don't understand," he said frankly, "is what do you have against Dean?"

It was a normal question for any writer to ask after what had happened. At the mention of Dean her lips closed together in a firm line. She was silent for several blocks. Finally she turned to him once more and a friendly smile came over her face, making it lovelier than ever.

"I don't know why not," she said, as though thinking aloud. "Yes, I think I'll tell you."

Reed waited.

"Dean is mixed up in some manner with a gang of jewel thieves," she said. "His name is never linked with any of the robberies, but there has never been one robbery by this gang that took place outside of his clubs. My paper, for one, won't even touch him. The others don't dare say anything until they have the goods on him."

This was a plot twist that he had not anticipated. No wonder his intended hero and heroine couldn't get together.

"I had never thought of that," he said. "What makes you think—?"

She was eager now, ready to confide in him.

"For the past six months I've been working the Dutchess jewel case," she said. "Marie Weems—you know her, the old society hellion. She had fifty thousand dollars' worth of diamonds taken from her at the 'Romantic Adventure.' Dean was too darn nice about it. He offered a big reward for the thieves. He insisted on paying her half the value of the jewels, so that she wouldn't feel that his club had brought her bad luck. Of course it was a noble gesture and the Marie Weems case resulted in publicity that brought Dean three times that amount of cash during the following week. Dean asked the papers to leave the case alone, and they did. I couldn't ever mention it in my column."

Reed nodded sympathetically and waited for her to go on.

"I've tried to get something on Dean. Something that would put him behind bars. He repaid my efforts by sending Smug Farley out to get me. It's growing into something that I can't leave alone, even if I wanted to."

It certainly is, Reed thought. It's growing into a story that I'd a damn sight rather live than write. Too many angles.

"And that's where you came in," Joan finished. "And a darned good thing you did."

She leaned back against the seat and stared at him with partly closed eyes. "You know, I have the strange feeling that I've known you sometime or someplace. That we were very close friends."

Reed wanted to tell her that he was actually her father. At least, he thought, she's my brain child. A damned pretty one, too.

They reached Joan's apartment and Reed recognized it at once. He held the door for her and they went upstairs and down a long, well-lighted hall. He stopped before apartment 6 and pushed the door open.

While she stared at him, he said:

"You forgot to lock your door when you went out this morning."

Half way inside, she turned. There was no mistaking the fright in her eyes now.

"How did you know that? How did you know the number of the apartment?"

He shrugged.

"A close follower of your column, remember?"

He turned abruptly and walked down the hall toward the stairs. He felt her eyes staring at his back. He grinned, wondering what his favorite character would have done if he had tried to kiss her. She was pretty nice, but he had learned that Joan had a mind of her own. Probably he would have gotten his face slapped for his trouble.

CURT REED was thankful that he had made his own city the setting for "Female Winchell." Yet, being involved in the story himself, he didn't dare to return to his own apartment. If he did, would he find himself waiting at the door? He didn't want to take, any chances. Things were complicated enough now.

He directed the cab driver to a small hotel near Joan Freemont's apartment and paid for a room. Once in bed, he tried to plan his next move.

This much was clear. He had been thrown into his own fiction story. He had become one of the characters and was living the story.

As long as Joan was involved, he wanted to go on living the story. If he could walk back into his own apartment, he wasn't entirely sure that Joan would continue to exist.

Tomorrow he would make a test. He would find out just what sort of a mess he was in.

It's rather nerve-shaking to face yourself, or at least an image of yourself. Curt Reed slipped into the bath-room and locked the door. Every nerve in his body was taut. He had walked calmly into his own building, climbed the stairs to his apartment and entered it. The typewriter was filled with a half-covered sheet of "Female Winchell."

Either the story was writing itself or there were two Curt Reeds. Everything that had happened to Joan and himself was recorded on pages that had been blank last night.

He heard the door open and ducked into the bathroom, his heart pounding at a terrific rate. He knelt, after turning the safety catch, and stared through the keyhole. He saw himself come into the room, look around and sit down near the window. He saw himself pick up a book and make some notes in it. It was his diary.

Then he saw himself, the Curt Reed who had escaped the plot of "Female Winchell" leave the room again. Cautiously, he unlocked the door and slipped into the room. Sounds came from the kitchenette. He moved across the living room and into the hall. Once outside, he hurried to the street.

What would have happened if Curt Reed had met Curt Reed? He preferred to evade the question.

JOAN FREEMONT stood near the huge executive desk, arms akimbo, feet well apart on the deep rug. It was obvious that the small, well-groomed, bald-headed man behind the desk was at this moment taking more from her than he wanted to take. Yet, the fact that his mild blue eyes were bright and his hands clenched did not worry Joan.

"I've had good stories on Dean before," she insisted in a cold voice. "You refused to let me use them. Are you afraid of your perfect little reputation?"

Grant Owen owned the Journal. He didn't like to have his employees tell him how to run it. His face turned an off shade pink.

"I tell you, Joan," he said, "if any one else talked to me this way, I'd throw them out. Why do you take advantage of your sex to give me hell? I can't fight Dean unless you get the goods on him."

The girl laughed. It was a tight, unhappy little laugh.

"Position," she scoffed. "What position do I have around here? I get a chance to say what I wish in my column if it doesn't interfere with your sense of right and wrong."

Owen straightened in his chair. The pink glow that had moved upward from his collar grew brighter.

"Get something on Dean that will hold up," he said. "Then we'll smoke him out."

"Something we can prove," Joan repeated. "Dean pays the lawyers who defend his gang. He fixes it so they can operate in his clubs. He makes suckers out of us all. Let me use the column to smoke him out. Once he loses his temper, he'll start getting tough and make a mistake somewhere. The very fact that one of his gunman tried to murder me ought to be front page copy."

Grant Owen shrugged.

"Unfortunately, you can't prove that," he said. "That's the trouble, Joan. You guess a lot of things, but what do you really know? Get proof and we'll tie Dean up in knots! Until then...."

He shook his head and she knew she had been dismissed. She turned and walked slowly to the door. With her hand on the knob, she turned and faced him once more.

"If you find my body in the river some morning," she said, "for Heaven's sake don't run the story of my death. It might make Dean angry."

She went out quickly, closing the door with a quick twist of her wrist.

DIZZY DARROW was very unhappy. Dizzy was Joan Freemont's photographer and he had been hanging around the "Romantic Adventure" night club all night. It was eight in the morning and with his head placed carefully on the palms of his hands, he sat in a small booth of Pete's Breakfast Car. Every time the cook rang the call bell, or a dish rattled, Dizzy winced and scowled. His head was somehow connected to a stomach full of lousy whiskey and the connection brought nothing but short-circuited dizziness.

No camera, no story, no nothing. He wondered why he had ordered eggs and bacon. He couldn't eat them. Someone placed a hand on his shoulder. It was a small, warm hand. A very understanding hand. He looked up and saw a blurred vision of Joan Freemont dressed in tweeds with a little sport-hat to match, and a soft white blouse that gave the suit a feminine touch worth looking at.

"Did you get anything?" Joan's face was eager, and yet it was tired. She acted as though she didn't expect much from him. He was glad.

"Nothing," he said. "The place was dead all night. I had to hold on to myself to keep from poking Dean in the face when he threw you out."

She nodded.

"You did all right." She sat down. "I'm hungry. Guess I'll try a big helping of eggs and bacon."

Dizzy shuddered.

"Have mine," he offered. "I ordered the stuff without the slightest idea of what I'd do with it. Right now, a tall glass of rat poison would suit me perfectly."

Joan Freemont studied the slim, dilapidated Dizzy Darrow. Dizzy was an invaluable partner. He looked his part perfectly. Dizzy had that gaunt, my-God-how-I-suffer look on his face most of the time. He lived on a diet of mixed drinks, managed to keep his ears open and his mouth shut. Dizzy did the foot-work for her, and she kept him in money that allowed him to drink himself into one stupor after another. Dizzy wanted it that way, and in the five years he'd supplied Joan with material, he evidently hadn't moved any closer to death's door for all his transgressing. Dizzy Darrow had a shock of pure gray hair, red-rimmed eyes and an Adam's-apple that defied any attempt to imprison it.

His order of bacon and eggs came and he managed to escape it by pleading that he wasn't hungry. He ordered a small glass of tomato juice and stared at it balefully while Joan ate.

"I picked up a society note for you," he said wryly. "June, the hat check girl, says that Mrs. VanWry is entertaining at the 'Adventure' tonight."

Joan stopped eating. The fork, hovering in mid air, dropped to the plate.

"VanWry? The stout old gal who's throwing her ex-husband's money away in bushel baskets?"

Dizzy nodded.

"The same. June says Dean's having a private room prepared for them. Champagne by the bath-tub-full and all that kind of thing. It will net the club some nice publicity, not to mention a few hundred smackers."

JOAN had lost her appetite. She was thinking very hard. Thinking that whenever Mrs. VanWry threw a party there would be a lot of expensive gems wrapped around fat necks and thick wrists. There hadn't been a jewel robbery for six weeks. A private room at the "Romantic Adventure." A perfect setup.

She stared at Dizzy. "You're pretty good pals with June, aren't you?"

Dizzy blushed modestly.

"We get along," he said.

Joan smiled.

"Good," she said. "Could June talk one of Dean's waiters out of serving the VanWry party tonight?"

Dizzy looked puzzled.

"June could talk Tarzan into deserting the jungle," he said. "What's the score?"

"Nothing to worry about," Joan said. "You're going to act as a waiter at the VanWry party."

Dizzy Darrow recoiled slowly.

"Me? I ain't no stuffed shirt. How in hell could I do that?"

"Think you can serve wine without spilling it on the customers?"

Darrow stood up unsteadily, placing a hand on the edge of the table.

"In that case, I better start working on the idea."

Joan wasn't sure.

"You'd better get a few hours sleep first," she said. "You need it."

Darrow took three unsteady steps out into the room. He stopped short and turned, weaving back and forth on his feet.

"Yeah," he said. "I guess maybe I'd better."

CURT REED took a long walk. It didn't do much good. It didn't answer any questions. Was he living in a dream, or had he actually passed from one life to another? Curt Reed, the Curt who was writing "Female Winchell" still lived at his apartment and spent his time writing the novel. He, the Curt who had been thrown into Joan Freemont's life, was wandering around the city trying to figure out what it was all about.

Every move he made was going down on paper. Every bit of his story with Joan was being recorded back at the apartment. Written by the Curt Reed who he had watched through the key hole.

He wondered what would happen when the typewriter recorded his visit, and the fact that he had been hiding in the bathroom. A funny thing, this business of spying on yourself. Not entirely clear—but interesting.

He thought of Joan, and the little gunman, Smug Farley, who had taken a potshot at her only last night. The picture he conjured up in his mind of Joan and the danger she faced, sent him forward at a fast pace, toward the "Romantic Adventure" club.

He knew this much. Joan was trying to get something on Howard Dean. She was probably right when she said that Dean was a crook. He had no other reason for trying to get her out of the way.

Reed swore softly. This is what he got for trying to write a novel. It was his fault that the whole thing had started. Yet, looking at it from another angle, he had had very little to say about the actions of his characters.

For the present, it was necessary that he try to help Joan. He didn't want to go directly to her, because every time he was near her, he opened his big mouth and made her wonder how he knew so much. That crack about knowing the toothpaste she used was a honey. He chuckled. An author knows everything there is to know about his heroine. He wondered what Joan would think if she knew he, Curt Reed, had created her on a blank sheet of paper. How would she react if he told her that she slept with her blonde head cuddled in the curve of her right arm? If he admitted that he knew all about her pink nightgown, her black undies, and that little mole on her left side? He chuckled, experiencing the same protecting feeling that had brought him here to help her. It was very nice knowing all this about the person you loved. Dammit, how was he going to convince her that she should feel the same way toward him?

WITH Joan Freemont occupying his mind, Reed passed the night-club and had to retrace his footsteps to enter the lobby. Like most clubs, the lobby looked washed-out and seedy in the sunlight. The doors, three of them, bordered with polished brass, were unlocked. He went in quietly and stood at the top of the three carpeted steps that led to the main dining room. He stood there, watching the orchestra practice swing music in shirt sleeves. Finally a man detached himself from a little group near the orchestra and wandered toward him.

It was Smug Farley. An ugly smile lighted his pimply face as he recognized Reed. He kept coming, his right hand in his pocket, eyes frozen, an ugly grin on his face.

"Well, well," he said. "If it ain't the shining knight himself."

Reed stood his ground, wondering if Farley would pull a gun. He didn't. He stood before Reed and slowly folded his arms across his thin chest.

"I want to thank you for not turning me in last night." It was obvious that he didn't want to do any such thing. "It might have been embarrassing to sit in a cell all night. The boss gets mad at people who interfere with his business."

Reed grinned.

"He's the very man I came to see," he said. "Is he around?"

Smug Farley nodded his head and jerked it in the direction of several doors that were to the right of the dance floor.

"In his office," he said. "In fact he wanted to see you. I was just going out to look you up."

"Good," Reed said. "I saved you the trouble."

Farley moved away from him carefully, staying far enough to one side, watching every move Reed made. They reached a dark, polished door that led beyond the main dining-room. Farley knocked gently.

"Come in."

Farley pushed the door open and waited until Reed passed him and entered Dean's office.

The office wasn't strange to Curt Reed. He had created it. In fact, he had described the whole club in the first chapter of "Female Winchell." He advanced across the office and faced Howard Dean.

He knew that Dean always wore brown suits, with carefully matched socks, shirts and ties. He even knew Dean's personal touch of wearing tan underclothing of expensive silk. That part might have embarrassed Dean, but Reed had no intention of mentioning it.

One thing caught Reed unprepared. Dean was as he had been written into the book "Female Winchell," a tall, handsome man with jet-black hair and black, penetrating eyes. However, the friendly smile that Reed had given him in the book did not exist. This was a clean-cut face, but it never smiled. The corners of these eyes had never wrinkled with laughter. They were cold and expressionless.

Dean stood up and looked questioningly at Farley.

Farley grinned.

"This is the guy who spoiled the fun last night," he said. "He came in by himself. Wants to talk to you."

Dean nodded curtly.

"Wait outside," he said.

Farley went toward the door and Reed heard it click as he closed it. He couldn't take his eyes off Howard Dean.

"What kind of a cut are you getting out of this?" Dean asked.

"I don't think I understand," Reed said. He did, partly, but he didn't intend to show his hand. "I came here to tell you to lay off Joan Freemont. I didn't get very tough last night, but next time I'll break that little runt's arm if he tries to harm the girl."

The expression on Dean's face didn't change, but his eyes flashed angrily. They reminded Reed of two shiny lumps of hard coal.

"I didn't expect you to get tough," Dean said. "People who know me don't usually try."

REED stood very still. The room was quiet. No sounds drifted in from outside. He had nothing more to say.

"Just what is your interest in the female snooper?" Dean asked.

Reed kept his mouth shut.

Dean sat down. The continued silence was troubling him. He was accustomed to having his questions answered.

"I asked you why you were interested in Miss Freemont."

A slow smile touched Reed's face.

"I'm in love with her," he said coolly, "and I resent having people aim guns at her."

The eyes behind the desk softened slightly.

"That's all?"

"That's all," Reed said. "Except that if she thinks you're a crook, that's good enough for me. I'm staying pretty close to her from now on. If that two-bit gangster of yours wants her, he'll have to get me first."

He had said just a little too much. He knew that when Dean's finger touched the call button on his desk. Reed leaned forward slightly, his fingers touching the desk top. Dean stood up. The movement was quite casual. The door clicked softly behind Reed. His fingers touched the heavy inkwell. There were light footsteps behind him.

He heard the click of a safety-catch. Swiftly he picked up the inkwell, took a quick step to the right and pivoted. He let go of the heavy onyx base, sending it straight into Smug Farley's face. At the same time, the automatic in Smug's hand went off with a deafening explosion.

Farley didn't fire again. He stood there, tottering back and forth, the gun hanging in limp fingers. Then he pitched forward and lay on the carpet. He was very still.

His face was bashed in where the inkwell hit him. Blood spurted from the wound.

Reed dropped to his knees, grasped the gun and came up, turning on Dean.

"Drop the gun!"

He stopped, half way around, and let the automatic slide out of his hand. It hit the carpet beside Farley's body. Reed turned slowly, staring down the barrel of a thirty-two.

Dean was cool. His hand was steady and his index finger curled lightly around the trigger.

"Don't hurry, tough guy," Dean said softly.. "You're not going anywhere."

JOAN FREEMONT was worried.

Only last night a man had saved her life and walked calmly away without letting her know where he was going. Something more powerful than a casual friendship had grown out of those few minutes together.

The fact that he had saved her life meant a great deal to her. There was more to it than that, though. How had he learned so much about her? He seemed more like a life-long friend than a stranger who had met her under a street lamp.

All morning, she wondered when he would show up again. If he knew so much about her, why didn't he come down to the office?

She felt somehow that she would need him again. Dizzy had arranged to trade places with one of the waiters who would work at the VanWry party. Joan had called Mrs. VanWry and arranged to be present. That part was easy. Her column was widely read. Mrs. VanWry would get a nice write-up tomorrow morning. Mrs. VanWry knew the value of good publicity. She was a widow and rich. She didn't want to be a widow forever.

Now that everything was ready for a showdown, depending, of course, on what Howard Dean decided to do about the whole affair, where was the man who had saved her life?

Joan tried unsuccessfully that afternoon to write the column for the following day. For once, Reed's 'Female Winchell' couldn't find the right words. Finally she gave up. Gave up with that vague feeling that something terrible had happened. Something that might throw all her plans into the waste basket and leave her in the uncomfortable position of once more fighting alone.

Damn Grant Owen, owner of the Journal. Why couldn't he see what Dean was up to? Why couldn't he co-operate, at least to the extent of giving her a few tough boys from Circulation for a body-guard?

Remembering handsome, cool-headed Curt Reed, Joan felt more helpless than she ever had before. The dummy, she thought. Here I am in love with him and he doesn't even care to come around.

When she remembered how much he knew about her she blushed. He could learn more, if he'd only show her that he cared enough to help her out when she needed him most.

She stared at her typewriter for a long time, trying to pretend that she had the Howard Dean story on ice, and was going to write it up once and for all.

It was useless. She grew panicky and frightened.

He was an odd sort, the man who had given back her life and taken her home in a cab. He hadn't even asked for a kiss. She half wished that he had. At least that would have been something to remember. A worried frown wrinkled her forehead. She found her compact in her bag and opened it, staring at the mirror.

Was there anything wrong with her face? Usually men tried to kiss her and got their face slapped for the trouble. She shrugged.

"You've been working alone for a long time, Joan," she told herself aloud. "You can do it again, but somehow it isn't half so much fun."

DIZZY DARROW felt uncomfortable and nervous in the tight-fitting black jacket and bow tie. There were half-a-dozen waiters in the small, brightly-lighted dining-room. The room was one of a half dozen hidden behind spangled walls at the rear of the club. The table which he had helped set was hidden under an array of candles, expensive dishes and wine glasses.

Darrow was scared. No one had paid any attention to him. Winters, the guy who had changed places with him, was an agency man. He hadn't been able to come at the last minute, and Darrow was sent to take his place. That was Darrow's story and he was stuck with it.

The room felt very warm in spite of the ventilating system, and Darrow stepped out into the hall that led to the alley. He smoked half a cigarette, glanced at his watch. Nine o'clock. The guests were to arrive at nine-fifteen. Joan was already around. He saw her twice, wandering about with half-a-dozen barflies on her trail. Joan had discarded the gray suit and looked better than most of the crowd in a revealing, shimmery thing of pale blue satin.

Darrow shook his head in admiration. The boss was plenty cute, he decided. Damn shame some nice guy didn't do something about it. Darrow had three kids of his own, and a wife who made him account for his pay check every Friday. Otherwise, he might have made a play for the boss himself. Not that it would get him anywhere. He wasn't the type.

Darrow still felt warmish around the neck. He had walked slowly down the hall, pushed open the fire door that led to the alley and pinched out the cigarette. He tossed it into the darkness.

Starting back, he thought he heard a muffled sound behind one of the doors that led from the hall. He stopped short, leaning against the wall trying to act as though he was half asleep. It came again, very faintly, from the door nearest him.

He walked calmly to the door and tried the knob. It was locked. Someone was there. Someone who wanted help and needed it badly. Howard Dean had put someone on ice. Darrow wondered if the someone might be of value to Joan. The boss sure needed help..

He looked both ways along the hall. The sounds of synthetic laughter came from the dining room he had just left. Mrs. VanWry, bless the fat slob, was arriving. Under cover of the noise, Darrow tried the door again. He gave it a quick jerk. No results.

He was handy with locks. He had opened quite a few stubborn doors in his time. He reached for a small key-ring and selected a key after squinting long and hard at the key hole. He tried it, wrenching it at first gently, then with all the strength he could find in his thin, wiry fingers. The key twisted in the lock and turned reluctantly. The door was open.

He stepped in, closing it behind him. The place was black. He had entered a janitor's closet. His chin contacted the upper end of a mop-handle, making him swear under his breath:

He could feel something touch his ankle. Something that lashed out and kicked him. He went to his knees.

"For Crissake lay still," he said. "I'm not gonna murder you."

He felt around in the darkness. The figure on the door was a man. Ropes were lashed around his body, tied behind his back. Darrow struggled with them and two arms came free. Darrow said:

"Keep quiet. I'm getting the gag out of your mouth."

He fulfilled that promise, and wondering who he had rescued, opened the door a crack. The hall was still deserted. Dishes rattled in the VanWry dining room. They would be looking for him.

"I don't know who the hell you are," he said, "but if you're an enemy of Dean's your a pal of mine. I'm going. Stick here until I've been gone for five minutes. Get the hell out of here by the back door. If you get that grateful feeling, you can send the check to Dizzy Darrow care of the Journal or to Joan Freemont."

He thought he heard a quick gasp in the darkness, but he didn't wait for more. He opened the door wide enough to slip into the hall, adjusted his coat lapels and marched bravely toward the private dining room. The smile in his face looked as though it had been painted there by an amateur artist. It felt that way, too.

JOAN smiled at Mrs. VanWry and Mrs. VanWry smiled back. They were sitting opposite each other at the long table. Joan could feel Howard Dean's eyes on her back. Eyes that burned into her.

"Before your guests are seated," Joan said, "tell me, Mrs. VanWry, is that the VanWry diamond you're wearing tonight?"

The fat lady gurgled with delight She flashed the huge stone, folding the stubby fingers of her left hand over the right.

"The real thing," she said, pleased that it hadn't gone unnoticed. "I feel, with Harold dead, I should be brave. I should face the world and wear bright, happy things."

Harold VanWry was probably happy for the first time in years, Joan thought. Why shouldn't his widow be happy also. There were plenty of jewels in the room. Everyone seemed to be trying to display what treasure trove they had managed to hold on to through the crash. The dining room pulsated with not-very-clever wit, and the bright reflections of diamonds, rubies and pearls.

"I should say that the party was a tribute to the late Mr. VanWry," Joan said. "That the lavish display of diamonds was an expression of bravery on the part of his wife."

Mrs. VanWry tittered.

"That's very nice," she said.

Joan felt, somehow, that Howard Dean wasn't going to waste any time to-night. She knew from the look he had given her that the man was nervous. She hadn't seen Smug Farley around, although she had looked for him. There was something strange in the wind. Something that troubled Dean. She hoped that she was it. Hoped that he was at last showing that one emotion that make men equal—fright.

She continued her conversation with the fat lady, but her mind was on Dean, standing there at the door like a sentinel. She dreaded having to stand up and pass him on the way out.

CURT REED stood up. He was sore and his wrists and legs ached where the ropes had been tied tightly around them. The man who freed him had said:

"Dizzy Darrow, care of the Journal, or to Joan Freemont."

He stood close to the door, listening. Two minutes passed. He counted them under his breath. Three....

Something was going to happen. Something very unpleasant. Curt Reed had a score to settle. He intended to settle it before he left the club.

Outside, everything was silent. He opened the door. As he did so, the lights went out in the hall. Darkness closed over him, but because he had been in the closet for so long, his eyes were ready for it. He could see quite well even in the dark.

He heard the high-pitched scream of a woman. It ended in a frightened throaty rasp. He started to run toward the sound, sure of himself, seeing everything in that dim half light. Somewhere ahead a door slammed. He saw a man running swiftly toward the main room of the club. It was Dean.

He followed Dean, watched him cut across a corner of the dining-room and enter his office. Reed stood still where the hall entered the dining-room. Behind him, in the room from which Dean had emerged, an unholy uproar was going on.

The place was still in darkness. The orchestra continued to play madly. The customers were shouting for light. Dean's office door opened and the man came back along the hall, feeling his way in the darkness. He moved swiftly, sure of where he was going. He disappeared behind the door. The lights came on.

Everything went back to normal, everything, that is, but the frightened sobbing in the room Dean re-entered.

It had all taken place in less than three minutes. If it hadn't been for those long hours spent in the darkened closet, Reed would never have seen what had happened. No one could have seen. Only Dean, knowing every inch of the hall, could have made that trip so swiftly.

CURT REED, the sudden flash of light blinding him, stood still until he could see. Sounds of grief continued to come from the small dining room. He heard several men talking loud, with angry voices. Some one suggested that they telephone the police.

Reed entered the room. A long table had been set. A group of society people stood around it. Two men had helped a fat old dowager to her chair. She was babbling incoherently and holding one hand to her heart.

"It was a gift from my husband." She was very upset. "The thief grabbed my hand and pulled the ring off as the lights went out."

She looked around her at the flustered party.

"Somebody do something!" she screamed.

Howard Dean had been talking over a French phone in one corner of the room. He placed the receiver gently in the cradle and came to Mrs. VanWry's side.

"I've notified the police," he said. "It's quite obvious that the stone was stolen by someone in this room. We will remain here until the police arrive."

At once he was the center of unhappy attention. Scowls and angry words were shot at him.

Curt Reed wondered just how he should handle it. He felt pressure on his arm, turned and saw Joan Freemont staring up at him.

"Hello," she said in a low voice. "It seems that you arrived at the zero hour."

He nodded.

"I'm sure it was Dean," she said. "But, how can we prove it? Every time there is a robbery it happens this way. We were blinded in the dark. Dizzy, my partner, says someone knocked him down in the dark. He thinks it was a man."

Reed nodded grimly. A police siren sounded in the distance. Everyone was waiting. No one had anything to say.

"I—I feel so helpless," Joan said. "I'm glad you came."

Her hand was still on his arm. He squeezed it lightly and she returned the pressure. Two uniformed policemen broke into the room. They must have represented the thin and fat of the department. The fat one had a thick lower lip that hung down like washing on the line.

"What the hell's going on up here?" he said, and the thin one repeated the sentence, accenting it in a different place.

Howard Dean stepped forward.

"There's been a robbery, officer," he told the fat man with the hanging lip. "Mrs. VanWry's diamond was stolen. Taken from her hand when the electric power failed."

Droop-Lip stared hard at Dean. It was obvious that he had his own ideas of the night club owner.

"Seems like a lot of lights have been going out here lately," he said.

Dean stiffened.

"I'd be careful of what I said, if I were you."

Droop-Lip grinned. It wasn't pleasant.

"Until we get proof?"

Curt Reed moved forward and faced the pair. He was smiling.

"Did it occur to you to search Dean's safe, officer?"

Dean's face turned white, then color came back quickly.

"Why you—how in hell did—"

He paused, realizing that he had opened his mouth too soon. His lips tightened.

"The lights were off for no more than two minutes," he said. "We were all absolutely blinded."

Droop-Lip looked at Reed questioningly.

"That's right," he said. "Now what?"

Reed's smile remained set.

"Someone moved around freely in the dark," he said. "Dean knows the layout of the club better than anyone else. He's been mixed up in these messes before. Why not try Dean's safe."

Droop-Lip looked interested.

"How come the safe?" he asked suspiciously. "You wouldn't know nothing about that safe would you, Bud?"

Reed shrugged.

"I know that Dean left this room while the lights were out. He had me locked in a dark closet all afternoon and I came out with eyes like a cat. He spent a minute in the office and hurried. back to this room just as the lights went on."

He turned to Dean.

"Nice timing, Mister Dean."

JOAN FREEMONT sat at her desk in the Journal office. A smile made her face radiant. She stared at the headlines:


The Female Winchell idea was Curt Reed's. He insisted that she take all the credit.

She looked at him sitting on the edge of the desk, legs dangling, hair mussed down over one eye. His eyes were sparkling.

"Nice story," he said. "And now, Miss Freemont, I'll have to be excused for a few hours. I'll see you tonight. Prepare for that fatal question, because I'm going to ask it."

She wadded up a sheet of paper and threw it at him.

"You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"

Reed nodded.

"You don't know how sure," he said.

CURT REED climbed the stairs to his apartment and entered cautiously. It was empty. The other Reed would be away for some time. He had watched him go out five minutes ago and enter the restaurant across the street. The apartment looked very good. Stacked on one side of the desk was the almost completed story of "Female Winchell."

He had to finish the last chapter. He sat down and started to think.

There were two Curt Reeds. In the first place, he had to write himself out of the story and back here to the apartment where he belonged. He wasn't sure it would work, but it should. It had the first time.

He started to write slowly.

Curt Reed climbed the stairs to the apartment. It was empty, and he felt good, getting back to it.

"That," he announced to the four walls, "finishes the Adventure of the Wandering Author!"

He leaned back and sighed. Would this bring the two Curt Reeds back into one? He hoped so. He went to the window and started to watch the restaurant across the street. He watched for a full hour. At last he saw that it, was empty save for a man behind the counter and a lone waitress picking her teeth at a front table. He grinned. She was a good advertisement.

Most important of all, Curt Reed, the other Curt, didn't come out.

He returned to the typewriter and sat down again. A happy little smile played with his lips. He leaned forward and wrote:

"Joan, I know that I don't deserve anyone half as fine as you are, but will you—that—is—could you—?"

She smiled at him from half closed lids.

"Curt, you darn fool. Was there any doubt?"

Curt threw his arms about her.

He stopped typing and stood up. He went back to the window and looked down at the quiet, tree-lined street. This time there was no worry in his eyes. The smile refused to go away, and after a while it grew into a wide, pleased grin.

"That's the way to handle your characters," he announced. "Let them handle you."

He turned, went to the bathroom and turned on the shower. He started to undress while hot water filled the room with a fine, warm fog. He couldn't see himself in the mirror but he knew the grin wouldn't desert him for along time.

"Tonight," he said dreamily, "I'll pop the question, just as I wrote it into the novel. I won't have to work on 'Female Winchell' any more. The rest of the story will write itself."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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