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First published in The Phantom Detective, May 1937

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The Phantom Detective, May 1937, with "Underworld Reward"

Who knows what happened to the missing detective Abernathy?
The sum of five thousand dollars is offered for information!

MIMEOGRAPHED copies of the mysterious underworld reward were mailed at the New York Post Office at nine o'clock on Wednesday morning. Most went to recipients in the metropolitan area, though a few went west to Chicago. And the results of this sinister offer were apparent at once—though they probably were not at all what the writer of the notice had expected. The message was terse, short and to the point. It read:

Five G's reward will be paid for information concerning the present identity and place of residence of Glenn Abernathy, detective or private investigator. Formerly Chicago Homicide Squad. Later employed by Government in Legs Diamond case. Thought to have been instrumental in arresting and convicting four members of the Scarsella mob, and possibly now engaged in work connected with the Cedric Barber kidnap-murder.

Informer may simply leave left shoe unshined. This offer is sent only to a select list of men who may know. Whoever accepts will be approached secretly, and his information kept confidential forever. Reward will be paid in small bills immediately accuracy of information is checked.

DOMINIQUE SCARSELLA, last uncaptured member of the notorious jewel gang, emerged in daylight from his hideout on Avenue A. He purchased a tin of polish and a polishing kit, at a notions store on Second Avenue, then scurried back into cover.

"Think I'd tell anybody that, for five grand?" gritted the swarthy Sicilian to himself. "No, by damn!"

He smoothed out again the cigarette-paper message, smuggled out to him from the Women's Prison at Auburn. Then Dominique bowed his face in his hands and wept, but there were strange Sicilian oaths and vows mixed up with the frenzy of grief. All of young Mr. Scarsella's cunning and considerable education would be devoted to the case of Glenn Abernathy.

But $5,000 was no temptation at all, when it meant giving up sweet vengeance to another. When the twenty years of her sentence had expired Dominique's dark and lovely murderess-mistress would be just an old, dumpy and hideous Italian woman with a mustache.

OUT in Chicago, Lieutenant of Detectives Hermann Kriel, happened to glance down at his shoes after he splashed through a puddle at the curb. His face paled. He was in a hurry, but his business would have to wait. He went straight in to the shoeshine stand of the Sherman House, and took an empty seat.

"Quick shine!" he grunted. "And do that left shoe 'special good!"

AT Centre Street Police Headquarters, New York City, Joey Mangan of the Fingerprint Squad put aside the insufflator and looked sourly at the leather belt, the dress collar, and other exhibits in the Jackson murder case.

"No dice," spat Joey. "Must've had collodion on his fingertips, 'cause we know he wasn't wearing gloves."

The other man said something, but Joey did not hear. He had chanced to look down at his own shoes. The right one was mirror-shined. The left one was covered as far as the instep with a thick coating of aluminum dust.

His fingers jerking nervously. Joey yanked out the monogrammed silk handkerchief from his jacket pocket. Then when his assistant's back was turned, Joey reached down and dusted his left shoe furiously. The high polish was restored.

Four days passed. On each of these, a young man named Harvey Whittemore, who spent his afternoons at Belmont Park Racetrack, and his nights at the card tables of his favorite athletic and social club, treated himself to two shines a day.

THE fifth morning, broke, pale of face and desperate, he wore one shined shoe and one that looked as though it had been used by a man engaged in mixing cement.

Not until he was leaving the track after the seventh race, not having been able to bet at all, did anything happen. Then a prosperous-looking fellow in blue serge and Bangkok straw touched his elbow.

"If you have anything to tell me, that's my roadster parked over there," said the stranger pleasantly.

Whittemore shuddered, but got a grip on himself. He followed.

"I don't want a—a ride!" he whispered, stopping at the running board as the stranger took his place under the wheel. "But were you interested in—in my left shoe?"

"I am. Five G's—for the gee-gees," responded the driver. But he spoke the last phrase below his breath.

"All right!" whispered Whittemore. "For God's sake don't say I told! There's a man living in a second floor apartment in Forest Hills—plays tennis some. His name is Joseph Perkins. On the mailbox it is! He's just married a few months. He—"

"The hell you say!" broke in the stranger as the starter whirred. He drove away with a rush, leaving Whittemore shaky at the knees and feeling like more of an idiot than usual.

Next morning, he received, parcel post, a cigar box well wrapped. Inside were more ten, twenty and fifty dollar bills than the young gambler Judas had ever seen.

Four hours later, still trembling with anxiety to get far away from Long Island, he took his seat in a plane at the Newark airport. Crossing the Alleghenies the transport ran through a vivid electrical storm. And it got safely to Cleveland only ten minutes late.

Dominique Scarsella, ex-instructor in chemistry at the University of Milan, nearly died from the pint of castor oil Mussolini's punitive squad administered to purge him of certain treasonable doubts. So Dominique seized the first chance to leave Italy. In New York he quickly became the brains of a mob specializing in jewel robbery—but not dodging murder where that seemed necessary.

Now with three of the gang electrocuted at Sing Sing, lovely Maria Caldini serving twenty years at Auburn, and himself a wanted man, Dominique had just one ambition left in the world. Vengeance on the man who had balked the mob, capturing four members and seeing to it that all were convicted.

For some weeks he had known the name under which Glenn Abernathy was living with his bride, and the location of their little apartment in Forest Hills, Long Island. From a long distance, through binoculars, Dominique even had watched the agile, zestful detective forget himself in fast sets of tennis.

Just quick death would not be enough, naturally. Dominique had seen far too much of instant, violent death to fear it for himself. He granted Glenn Abernathy fully as much courage and intelligence. Killing him in some painful fashion would give the Sicilian final satisfaction, of course, but not until the detective had suffered agonies of mind and spirit similar to those which had made a frenzied madman out of the love-bereft Latin.

Abernathy was newly married. No doubt he loved his blond bride. Therefore, would it not be poetic justice to strike at him first through her murdered body?

"First he suffers sorrow as I suffer for Maria. Then he dies!" swore Dominique to himself in the privacy of his own squalid hideout room. He gripped his poniard, lifted it, and made two vicious cuts through the air in the sign of a cross.

The mimeographed reward offer from someone who knew his real identity, did not worry Dominique except in one way. It made him hurry along with plans he had been considering and perfecting. It sent him out to Forest Hills in a little car he bought secretly, just three days after receiving the offer.

He was immensely relieved when he spied Glenn Abernathy and his bride playing doubles at tennis that evening, against another couple. At least no one was going to beat the Sicilian to his human prey!

He drove right up to the garage belonging to an empty third floor apartment situated just above that of "Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Perkins," unlocked the garage with a key, and backed his car into it. He left the garage unlocked when he departed, since he might have to use that machine sometime in a tearing hurry.

Though tempestuous of temperament, Scarsella always had been able to subordinate his feelings while any job was in progress. So once he was inside the empty third-floor apartment, just above the nest of his quarry, Dominique took his time. No one else was on the ground. Probably no one but himself knew the actual identity of that devil of a detective. Or if others did know, they would not inform or come near the man on their own.

Entering the front door with a key, the Italian had brought with him a suitcase containing a quart bottle of wine, a thermos of iced coffee, two quart Mason jars containing cooked spaghetti with meat sauce and Parmesan cheese mixed in—with much garlic, of course—and four articles of necessary apparatus.

One was a folding kit of tools, which would let him into the place below. The second was a slender but strong ladder of silk, with grappling hooks and aluminum rungs. The third was a baking powder can with a number of holes punched in the top. It was quite heavy.

A last piece of apparatus, the joints of which had been a little too long to fit inside the suitcase, Dominique fished out from under his jacket, where they had been strapped against his spine.

Fitted together, these four pieces made a slender tube twelve feet long with a short elbow and eyepiece at the upper end. A small but beautifully finished optical instrument, a periscope. With it, as soon as darkness veiled the building, the Italian proceeded to study the interior of the lighted second floor apartment, from various windows.

THERE was almost no chance of being seen. The danger lay in having the detective-quarry or his blond wife come suddenly to the open window where the periscope was lowered, and notice the long thing dangling there, before it could be withdrawn.

Through the instrument, Dominique obtained a number of close looks at the tiny image of the man he hated. He already knew Glenn Abernathy as a trim, bounding, sunburned figure in shirt, shorts and tennis shoes, a man probably thirty-two or thirty-three years of age but appearing to be younger than that.

In spite of the fact that Abernathy now was much nearer to the grim avenger, the latter really learned little more about the detective's appearance, since the image in the periscope was even smaller than that furnished by the binoculars previously used.

However, Dominique saw Glenn Abernathy return from dinner with his bride, both of them still in day attire. Then it became evident that guests were expected. A card table was prepared, and from the apartment restaurant, refreshments were brought on a covered tray. Mrs. Abernathy took them to the tiny kitchenette.

Both the detective and his wife then dressed. The man donned a mess jacket as part of his hot weather costume. The girl, who looked to Dominique like a slender, tiny, animated doll with yellow-golden curls, put on a low-cut evening dress which was fluffy and pale blue in color.

Just two guests came, a young man and woman. Then ensued an evening of what would have been dull watching indeed, for anyone save the Italian. His black eyes, glued vengefully to the instrument, divided their time between gloating over what he would do to this unsuspecting pair and examining other parts of the little flat from other windows. The Italian liked to know everything possible about the floor plan of one of his jobs.

The game was duplicate contract, with sixteen boards being played and replayed. The game was finished at one-thirty in the morning. The two guests, after drinking a final highball, took their departure.

Dominique, with a grunt of grim satisfaction, drew up the periscope and put it away. That detective might possibly go to one of the windows. No use chancing discovery now, when everything was set.

Next day the Italian slept late, bothered not at all by the bare boards of his couch. The only discomfort he really suffered was from the heat. The third-floor apartment was next to the roof, and it was an oven. He dared not open any window more than a couple of inches in the daytime, lest it be noted from the street; someone might come to investigate.

Waking now and then to drink water or wine, Dominique waited until late afternoon before wolfing down a meal of the spaghetti. After that, he stayed awake, black eyes slitted, and lips occasionally framing Italian objurgations.

By now his plan was well in mind. He had seen Mrs. Abernathy open the childishly camouflaged wall safe in the bed chamber, take from it a purple velvet jewel case, and choose from this her ornaments for the evening of bridge.

Probably she alone used the safe, since a nationally known detective would not be childish enough to trust it for possessions more important than a few rings or trinkets. Dominique knew he could get into any wall safe of that pattern inside of ten minutes. All he had to have was a chance at entry, and then a little while undisturbed.

He would have to wait for a time when both the man and woman left the place. But he would stay right where he was for a week if necessary; and in the case of a young couple so newly married as these two, it was certain they would be going out somewhere nearly every evening on which they did not entertain friends in the flat.

That was a shrewd guess. The following evening Abernathy and his wife dressed before dinner, and departed at a quarter of seven, while it was still summer sunshine. Scarsella had not been using the periscope, but had been keeping a close watch from the windows. He saw the detective come out, run his convertible from the garage, pick up his wife, and drive away in the direction of Queens Boulevard.

During the terrible two hours of waiting, until it was quite dark—with stars showing, but no moon—Dominique bit off three of his well kept fingernails. He was savage with hate and exultation. Now for his first revenge!

The bathroom window of the second floor flat had been left open from the top, a distance of six inches. This was ideal, since the bathrooms opened on a sort of court well and there was almost no chance of being seen or heard in the complete darkness.

Dominique adjusted his ladder, thrusting his folding kit of tools and the heavy baking powder can into his blouse, and descended noiselessly. One foot shoved down the window to the midway sash. A moment more and he was inside, stepping to the bathtub, thence to the floor.

Not a sound in the place. The Italian, however, cautiously explored, using his pencil flash. Nobody in any of the rooms. The front door locked. No back door at all. The strange rumbling sound he heard was in the next-door apartment on this floor. It probably was a dumb waiter carrying food up or back down to the restaurant. Nothing to bother him, at any rate. He went briskly to the slightly perfumed bedroom, donned rubber finger-stalls to prevent prints, and then slid back the wall panel which concealed the wall safe from everyone except a burglar who might be looking for it.

AT the moment that Dominique carefully set down his baking-powder can with its mystery contents, and bent his ear close so he could hear the scrape and click of the crude tumblers in this twenty-dollar wall safe, a key was inserted noiselessly in the front door of the apartment. There came a faint click and the door opened. A man in full evening regalia, save for coat or cape, stood there.

He was about five-feet-ten, blue-eyed, trimly built. He stepped inside, almost closing the door, and then halted, listening in the dark. From the room adjoining the library living room, came sounds of harsh, partially stifled breathing.

Someone in there was doing something with the aid of a small flashlight. That intruder was holding his breath for long intervals, then releasing it.

The newcomer in evening clothes tiptoed softly through the short hall, into the small living room, and then to the doorway of the bedroom; his left hand crept around the wall to the electric light switch.

Lights suddenly blazed, bringing an exclamation of thwarted hate and sudden, fear from Dominique.

"Put 'em up!" crisply commanded the man in evening clothes. "Back away from that safe. Now turn your face toward that other wall. Hands up high!"

He enforced the commands with a small but extremely long automatic pistol. One glance had told the Italian that the weapon sported a silencer. With a groan of anguish he obeyed, lifting his hands, but looking back over his shoulder with eyes that started to bulge in their sockets.

THOUGH he could not be sure, never having been face to face at short range, Scarsella suddenly realized what had happened to him.

"Who—are you?" he demanded, voice throaty and shaking with balked rage. He felt no fear at all, though this must be the end.

"Me?" smiled the blue-eyed man thinly, as if amused. "Well, I should think that might be rather apparent. I'm going to ask a few questions myownself. But if it will do you any good, you can think of me as a man named Joseph Perkins!"

That finished the volatile Italian. With a choked curse he swung about, reaching for the poniard at the back of his neck. He sprang, kicking over the baking powder can as he aimed one blow at the man he hated.


The long automatic jerked once, a small flat sound like the snap of a man's fingers, issuing from it.

A blue-red mark appeared between Scarsella's black brows. He plunged, face down on the rug. The poniard finished its long arc, and stuck quivering in the floor as the dead fingers relaxed.

For a full sixty seconds the blue-eyed man stood completely still, looking down. Then he relaxed slowly from the rigid crouch of the killer, and looked about, sniffing.

"An Italian," he said, grimacing. "Been eating garlic—whew, it's strong. Well you—whoever you are—" He touched the limp body with the toe of his shoe. "You've certainly messed things for me! But—hm, maybe not." His murmured voice was reflective. "It can't be suicide now, of course, but—"

In one gloved hand he lifted the lethal automatic with its silencer, grinning sourly at it. Then he stepped into the living room and hid it from sight by thrusting it under the loose cushions of a long davenport.

"Have some trouble, maybe, explaining the death gun with only his own prints on it."

He walked back to the lighted bed chamber, contemplating the dead Italian and wrinkling his nose again at the almost overpowering stench of garlic.

"You are Scarsella, of course. Probably after revenge. Well, that case is cleaned up—though there maybe some others not so easy. Damn but I'd never believe garlic could be so bad. You must've been chewing it in the clove, like a Swede chews snuff! Probably have your upper lip packed with the filthy stuff, and now with your mouth wide open—"

He shuddered, and passed a hand across his moist forehead. The silk glove was stained black with perspiration.

Stepping across the body, he peered into the round safe, the door of which stood open. A purple velvet jewel case stood there, nothing else. The blue-eyed man lifted it out, opened it under the light, and fished out a string of pearls, four rings, a lapel watch, and some costume jewelry.

"Not worth too much," he muttered, dropping it back into the case, and putting back the case inside the safe. He closed the door and whirled the combination once.

Turning back he breathed deep, and passed a hand vaguely across his forehead.

"Nothing more to keep me. Stuffy in here," he muttered.

Then his eyes fell upon the overturned baking powder can. Was it illusion, or did a grey mass like a strand of rope seem to emerge from one end of the can?

The blue-eyed man hunkered down and cautiously lifted the can, frowning as he felt how heavy it was. He sniffed at the smoke which seemed to be issuing from the perforations in the top of the can. It seemed like very strong garlic! Now what in hell—?

That second, two things happened. Sulphuric acid dripped out of the can and bit through his silk glove, into the skin of his hand, bringing a gasp and a stifled scream from him. He tried to leap up, dropping the can, and heading for the running water of the bathroom!

Something had gone wrong with his legs! With his eyes! More than half blind, he stumbled on the dead man and went sprawling, clutching at the counterpane of the bed to save himself from a hard fall. Small sounds of agony came from his mouth, as like a trapped animal, he scurried past to reach the water.

It splashed down as he jerked off the glove, and held the red-seared hand under the cooling stream.

But he was reeling. He straightened staring hollow-eyed and frightened at the purpling face half seen in the bathroom mirror. Realization came to him.

"That is poison gas!" he choked, and turned to dash for the outer hallway.

He ran squarely into the door frame. Choking now, trying to hold his breath and succeeding only in keeping inside his lungs a mortal dose of that acrid fume, he slipped to his knees, sobbing in mortal terror.

Up again somehow, heeding the burn of his hand no longer, he managed to grope a way out of the bedroom where the smell of garlic was so overpowering. On—into the hall—the way seemed interminably long—and were the lights going out just now when he needed them so terribly?

No, he would make it. He groped for the knob of the door which would lead him out to the stairs and the blessed outside air, where he could hide in the darkness until he revived—oh God, but that door was heavy to open! He sagged to his knees as he jerked it wide.

Then he hauled himself again to his feet, and plunged blindly out across the threshold—and straight into the arms of the New York City Commissioner of Police, who had returned with the real Glenn Abernathy to the apartment for a conference in private!

Abernathy himself just took one sniff of the air that came out of his flat. Then he stepped back, slamming the door.

"Poison gas! Arsine, I think! Thank God I sent Helen over to the Trainors' place when I went for you!" he said with grim thankfulness.

IT was midnight. The apartment long since had been aired by the Forest Hills firemen in respirator helmets, who had come to open the windows and to bring out the gas bomb Dominique Scarsella had made of a baking powder tin.

That crude but effective device had been looked at from a safe distance by the commissioner. It consisted of a cupful of metallic arsenic and a squat, glass-stoppered bottle of sulphuric acid. They found the stopper in the pocket of the dead Scarsella. He had removed it just after opening the safe.

"He meant, evidently, to tip over the can then and leave it inside the safe," explained Glenn Abernathy, whose face was still pale under the tan, from the thought of the menace his bride had escaped.

"The acid would have worked on the arsenic, forming several gases—among which would be AsH3, arsine, one of the deadliest simple gases known to man. Then if either Helen or I had opened the safe, our bedroom would have been flooded with the gas. Only a concentration of one part in 200,000 is lethal. Ugh!"

"And that was the one man left of the Scarsella mob. Evidently he came to get vengeance for his girl—you know, the one who was let off with twenty years in Auburn," he explained.

"Yes, I can understand that," nodded the white-haired commissioner. "You're talking, however. How about your own pistol—and your silencer, which no private detective is supposed to own?"

"Not my silencer," denied Abernathy. "That was just an added touch. The other man, whose name I don't yet know—real name, I mean—evidently stole the pistol from here, and put on his own silencer. I've used the rod some lately, and it had my fingerprints on it still, I suppose."

"All right," sighed the commissioner, a suspicion of a chuckle in his catch of breath. "The second corpse, then. There were two telegrams in his pocket, addressed to Elwood Eaton, Cornell Plaza, New York. Wasn't that his name?"

"Maybe so," shrugged Abernathy. "I'll have to check it, but I think this is the shrewd and terrible fellow we called Mr, X, the man we wanted for the kidnaping and murder of young Cedric Barber!"

"The—you don't say!" breathed the commissioner.

"Yes, I think so. I was close on his trail, and he probably knew it. The telegrams, as you saw, were answers from his Chicago confederates. They told him two men he circularized with that reward offer, were shining their left shoes as well as their rights!

"I can say only that I have been immensely lucky. Two men came to kill me and my wife—and they killed each other, finishing for me two of the most troublesome cases I've ever had!"

"Hmph, I'll have to take your word for it, I suppose!" chuckled the commissioner. "But knowing the way you manage things, Glenn, you'll pardon me if I simply never do believe it!"


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
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.