Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Creeping across the graves of the dead the murderer
came—with a shovel in one hand and a gun in the other.
SAXON drove his small grey coupé down Center Street, the main business thoroughfare of Bay City. He drove slowly and thoughtfully. He was listening to the radio in the car. Mr. Del Morgan was speaking. He was the candidate for mayor on the reform ticket in the forthcoming city election, and he spent practically all of his time speaking over one radio station or another. He was now on his favorite topic—vice conditions in Bay City. His brassy voice came resonantly through the speaker under the dashboard on the coupé.
"... And today, my friends and fellow citizens, crime is rampant in Bay City. I charge that known and notorious criminals operate their nefarious enterprises within the boundaries of our city with the knowledge, if not the actual connivance, of our corrupt police force. Every voter knows that to be a fact. I promise you that when I am elected mayor, our police force shall be cleaned out and reorganized from top to bottom. There will be no more 'unsolved crimes' such as the disappearance of Frank Sands. I pledge you—"
Saxon snapped the radio off, cutting Del Morgan short in mid-sentence. Morgan always got around, sooner or later, to speaking about the disappearance of Frank Sands. Sands was his partner—that is, he had been. He had left home one night, intending to go to his club. He had not been seen since. He was happily married, had two children and a good business. No one had been able to suggest the slightest reason for his disappearance. No one had uncovered the slightest trace of him.
Saxon turned off Center Street on Fifth, drove into a parking lot just off the corner. He pulled into a space near the street, nodded to the attendant, then walked back around to Center again. His office was on the second story of a narrow, dilapidated building squeezed in between an apartment house and a drug store.
He was reaching out to open the door on the street level when a man suddenly shouldered it violently back from inside. He saw Saxon there and stumbled, trying to check himself. He bumped hard against Saxon, shoving him back and to one side.
The man had on a wide-brimmed gray hat with a little feather in the black ribbon. The brim was snapped down all around, half-concealing his face. He wore a dark blue overcoat, pinched in tight at the waist, flaring wide at the shoulders. The collar of the overcoat was turned up high. He ducked his head down and put one hand up to the brim of the hat. Saxon got just a glimpse of his face, knew only that it was thin and dark.
The man caught himself and sidestepped with smoothly easy grace. He kept his head down, his shoulders hunched.
"Pardon," he said. It was an indistinguishable mumble.
He turned his back on Saxon, walked hurriedly down the street. He walked bent over at the middle, limping badly. Saxon frowned after him thoughtfully. The limp wasn't real. The man sometimes forgot and limped on the wrong foot, and there had been no trace of it when he dodged around Saxon.
Saxon took a step forward, starting after him, and then stopped. It was none of his business. A man could pretend he had a limp if he wanted to. Evidently this one didn't want to be recognized. There could be a hundred reasons for that, Saxon shrugged his square shoulders and went on up the dingy steps toward his office.
It was dark there in the hall on the second floor. Light came feebly through the one smeared window at the end. Saxon stopped short when his head came up over the floor level, and he could feel a little involuntary chill that made his breath come short and hard.
There was something lying in the shadows on the floor. A dark bundle, grotesquely inert, crumpled against the baseboard. A thin hand, reaching out with fingers clenched into rigid claws. A dead man lying there, and blood creeping out sluggishly in a darker shadow,
Saxon whirled around and went down the stairs four at a time in a lunging rush. The door swished back under the thrust of his body.
The man in the dark blue overcoat was gone.
Saxon stared both ways for a long second. He knew it was useless to chase the man. Too many criss-crossing alleys in this district. Too many vacant lots. Too many places to hide. The man had a start of about three minutes, now. No hope of catching him.
Saxon turned and went softly up the stairs, approached the body. It was an old man with thin gray hair. Nose-glasses on a wide black ribbon lay smashed on the floor beside him. The right hand gripped a cane. The eyes bulged in weakly futile terror. He had been stabbed in the back. An expert thrust that had gone straight through his heart. There was no sign of the weapon.
Saxon straightened up slowly. There was a door right above where the body lay. There were neat gold letters on the door:
PUBLIC RELATIONS COUNSEL
There were no other offices on this floor of the old building. This dead man had been coming to see Simeon Saxon.
DETECTIVE SERGEANT MADDEN was stockily short, thick-set. His face was square-jawed, with a flattened nose and thickly scowling eyebrows. Even now he had an air of hardness, ruthlessness, that was none too pleasant. He was standing in Simeon Saxon's office beside the spindle-legged water-cooler, a paper cup grasped in one lumpy-knuckled hand. He was staring at Saxon. He thought Saxon was a fool. Saxon knew that. It didn't bother him any. He was sitting in the swivel-chair behind his desk. He was thin, just under six feet. He had a high forehead, deeply tanned, a thin, straight nose. His mouth was wide, thin-lipped, smiling a little one-sidedly now. His eyes were gray, deep set. They were the key to Saxon's character. They were kind eyes, tolerant and understanding, with little twinkles of humor deep back in them. You knew that the man who owned those eyes looked things straight in the face and never wavered, never backed up. Saxon was under thirty; but his black hair was shot deeply with gray over his temples.
Madden looked slowly around the little office. "Why don't you get a decent place?" he asked contemptuously. "Why this dump?"
"The people I want to come to see me would be afraid to come to an imposing office," Saxon said. He opened the top drawer of his desk, took out a limp package of cigarette tobacco and a bundle of brown papers.
"The people you want to come to see you!" Madden repeated, sneering. "Yeah. Petty crooks and chiselers and bindlestiffs! Human lice!"
"I don't think so," Saxon said amiably. He spilled tobacco in the creased brown paper, began to roll a cigarette with thoughtful skill.
Madden watched him. He knew where Saxon had learned to smoke hand-rolled cigarettes made with that careful economy of tobacco. In prison. Saxon had served two years in the State Penitentiary. That, according to Madden, made Saxon a fool. Because Saxon hadn't been guilty of the crime of which he was accused and could easily have proved he wasn't, had he wished.
It was a simple enough story, yet quite incredible unless you knew something about Simeon Saxon's character. He was an orphan without any near relatives. He had worked his way through the State University. After graduating, he had secured a position in a Trust Company, working under a man named Joshua Grey.
Joshua Grey, too, was without any near kin, and he took Saxon in and treated him like a son. Joshua Grey was a plain man, and yet he had his pride. Pride in his long record of service, of his rigid honesty. He was old, now. He had always worked for a small salary, and he had saved very little. He needed a little more.
It was so easy for him. An inactive account. Just a few dollars. A couple of false entries. He would pay it back, of course. Just a little money to invest in a market that was sure to rise.
But the market didn't rise. It fell. An examiner caught the discrepancy in the books. Joshua Grey, with all his pride in his honesty, in his long record, faced prison. He was old and sick. He would never have lived through a prison term.
Saxon was entirely innocent of any participation in the crime or any previous knowledge of it. But he never hesitated. And over Joshua Grey's protest, he assumed the entire blame. He went to prison for it.
The thought of his own dishonesty and breach of trust preyed constantly on Joshua Grey's mind. He worked night and day. He paid back every cent he had taken, and then, no longer able to stand it, he killed himself, leaving a note explaining everything, confessing.
Saxon was pardoned after serving two years. His citizenship was restored, but even then the stigma of having been a convict hung over him still; an ugly thing in the background, constantly appearing to plague him at the most unexpected times.
Simeon Saxon had a first-hand experience with the trouble one little slip could make for a man. A lifetime of honesty, then one slip. Everything lost. Simeon Saxon made it his business to try to prevent those lone slips from the straight path. He wasn't interested in criminals—only in keeping honest people from becoming criminals. Helping the small people, the poor people, the weak. Helping them free themselves from the relentless clutch of circumstance. It didn't pay very much—not in money—but there were other compensations.
Now the door opened in back of Madden, and a man put his head inside. There was the sound of voices and feet scuffling from the small outer office and the hall where the body lay.
"Doc's through examinin' the body," the man said to Madden. "One blow from behind right through the ticker, rangin' slightly upward. Blade about six inches long, about an inch and a half wide at the hilt. The dead-wagon's here from the morgue. You wanta take another look at the stiff before they take him?"
Madden shook his head. "No. Tell 'em to take it away."
"Right." The man withdrew his head, closed the door.
Madden looked at Saxon. "You don't know the dead man? You never saw him before?"
Saxon lit the thin brown cigarette. "No."
"Accordin' to the papers on him, his name was Harold Graham. His address was the Salton Hotel. We called up the hotel. There is a Harold Graham registered there. Has lived there for a couple of years. He fits this guy's description, and it must be the one, although the identification isn't positive yet. Graham was a bookkeeper who used to work for the Harr Real Estate Company. He'd worked for them for over twenty years—was retired now and not doin' anything. No record that he was ever in any trouble. Not married—no family. He didn't call you up and ask for an appointment?"
"No," Saxon said.
"You got no idea why he wanted to see you?"
"No," Saxon repeated.
"And you can't give any better description of the bird you ran into than that he was medium sized and wore a blue overcoat?"
"No," said Saxon.
"The hell you can't!" Madden said, suddenly angry. "You don't kid me, Saxon! You've got eyes like a hawk and a memory like a card-index. You can give me more than that!"
"Sorry," Saxon told him amiably. "I told you he kept his hand in front of his face. I was in a hurry. I didn't pay any attention to him."
"Huh!" Madden said, still unconvinced. "It's a damned fishy story you tell, if you ask me."
"Did I ask you?" Saxon inquired politely.
MADDEN stared darkly. "Well," he said, shrugging, "it probably don't make any difference. We'll probably find this old guy got some young ideas and got to chasin' some young blonde and her boyfriend stuck him."
"I don't think so," Saxon said. "Graham didn't look like that type to me. He looked like a decent and kindly old gentleman."
Madden lifted his lips. "Yeah. Every crook looks like a gentleman to you!"
Saxon raised his eyes and stared him squarely in the face. "No. Not every crook."
Madden darkened suddenly. "What do you mean by that crack? What do you mean?" He took a step forward.
Saxon didn't move. His eyes were very steady, very cold. He didn't say anything, and there was a quiet contempt in his silence.
Madden glared down at him, breathing thickly. Then suddenly he whirled on his heel and walked to the door. He turned, looking over his shoulder.
"Watch your step, Saxon!"
The door slammed behind him, the frosted glass panel quivering under the impact. Saxon sat quiet behind his desk, and then he smiled a little, very thinly, and blew a long plume of smoke at the door.
HARBOR AVENUE, down near the wharves, was little more than a crooked alley. Street lights, at the corners, were feeble yellow balls with the fog curling around them softly white. The air was damp, heavy, thick with the smell of the sea. The buildings that closed in the street were dark and deserted now. The fog made it seem that the sky was close overhead, pressing down heavily.
Saxon came quietly around the corner, appearing suddenly and mysteriously out of the fog. He stood there flat against a building for several minutes, watching both ways. There was no movement along the street.
He walked down the block, keeping close to the damp faces of the buildings. His footsteps on the damp pavement raised hurrying little echoes that traveled eerily ahead of him like scores of running little feet pattering along in the darkness.
Saxon turned into a doorway. It was a junk-shop, crowded into a little corner here among the dark buildings. There was a feeble light in the window, distorted by the dirt smeared on the glass. The window was piled full of jumbled nick-nacks in various stages of disrepair, dumped in helter-skelter.
Opening the door, Saxon went quietly inside the store. It was like going into a cave. It was pitch dark except for one small light over the end of the counter at the back of the store. There was a small radio under the light, and it spoke out now in the brassy tones of Del Morgan.
"... And why, my friends? Why hasn't our police force investigated the disappearance of Frank Sands more fully? Why doesn't Commissioner Brown act? Why? I'll tell you why. Because this city administration is shot full of graft and corruption and vice from top to bottom. I pledge you that when you elect me mayor I'll—"
Saxon closed the door quietly behind him, and at the same time a hand slid into sight beside the radio. It seemed disembodied, that hand. Wrinkled and old, with claw-like yellow nails. There was something sly about its mere movement. It touched a dial on the radio, and the voice of Del Morgan went down to an indistinguishable mutter.
"Sim Saxon." It was a reedy, thin whisper, and then there was a little movement from the shadows beside the radio.
Saxon said, "Hello, Uncle Charley." He walked down along the counter.
The shadows there moved a little more, and a face came into sight A face incredibly old and wrinkled, with eyes that were sly, maliciously wicked. Uncle Charley was dressed all in black, and only his face was visible there under the light like some weird yellow death's head. He wore a black silk skull cap.
Saxon took his hand out of his pocket and put a crisply folded bill on top of the counter. Uncle Charley's wrinkled yellow hand slid slowly into sight, closed over the bill with a quiet rustle, and as slowly slid back out of sight again. Uncle Charley chuckled, a sly whispering little sound that had no volume at all.
"A man," said Saxon. "A killer. New to this town, I think. He's about five feet nine. Dark complected. Very dapper. He moves very quickly, very easily. He's very strong. He uses a knife, and he has used it a lot. Who is he, Uncle Charley?"
UNCLE CHARLEY'S head waggled a little from side to side, and his grin showed yellow snags of teeth. "I read about it today, Sim Saxon, in the paper. A man killed so he wouldn't go in your office. A man killed there in the hall. Somebody making police trouble for Sim Saxon, I said. Somebody'll be sorry, I said. Sim Saxon can make trouble, too."
"Who is this man, Uncle Charley?" Saxon asked.
Uncle Charley peered up sideways, grinning. "You'll show him, huh? You'll show him it don't pay to make trouble for Sim Saxon."
"Who is he?" Saxon repeated patiently.
Uncle Charley winked. "If you should go now, to the Blue Light Café. If you should go there and look at the sign in front. If you should look at the man who dances the tango—at his picture there on the sign....
"The Blue Light Café," Saxon repeated.
Uncle Charley bobbed his head.
"Thanks," Saxon said.
He turned and walked the length of the store, opened the door and went outside. The air was clammy, thick with fog, chill, and the darkness seemed to have a greasy motion of its own. Saxon stood there in the street, breathing very deeply. There were little lumps of muscle along his jaw.
Uncle Charley was an evil thing. A slimy, dirty, crawling thing. Always Saxon had the almost uncontrollable impulse to step on him, smash him in his own slime. A petty fence and a stool-pigeon. But you can't always choose the tools with which you work, and the sly wrinkled hands of Uncle Charley felt every pulse beat in the underworld. Saxon took another deep breath and walked on down the street.
Back in the little junk shop. Uncle Charley's yellow claw of a hand crept out, touched the radio dial. Del Morgan's voice boomed.
"Why? Why do criminals ply their devil's work unhampered in the streets of our fair city? Because the police don't know who they are? Is that why? No! Because the police are afraid to act! Graft and corruption riddle the high places in our government, my friends! When I'm mayor—"
Uncle Charley chuckled softly.
THE Blue Light Café was on Burr-Street just off of East Fifth Avenue, in the heavy commercial district of Bay City. The buildings in this area were squat, smoke-grimed, old. The pavement on the street had been riddled and roughened by the constant pound of heavy trucks over a period of years.
The café was in the middle of a block. It had been a speakeasy in the days of prohibition. It was flush with the street, and there was no name displayed. There was none needed. The place had a reputation. The sole decoration, outside, was a double line of blue neon tubing that bordered the wide doors.
The double neon light tinted the street in front of the café a ghastly blue, unreal and ghostly, and gave living faces the pallor of long dead corpses.
It was early now, and there was no one in front of the place but a lone taxi driver sleeping in his cab at the curb and the doorman standing with arms folded majestically against the doors. The doorman looked up curiously when Saxon came drifting silently out of the shadows toward him. He sized up Saxon expertly, decided he was not a patron of the place, then let his head drop forward on his chest again, nodding sleepily.
Saxon was smoking one of his thin brown cigarettes. He loitered casually in front of the glass doors, looking at the display signs of the entertainment offered inside. A fan dancer. A magician. A couple of soft-shoe artists. A scantily clad chorus. Saxon skipped over these, uninterested. His eyes centered on the feature dancers.
José and Roselle, interpreters of Latin American dances. There were pictures of them. The girl was small and blond with a young, prettily round face. The man, José, was thin and dark, lithely agile. Long sideburns, a small black mustache, very white teeth; a thin face that was darkly sinister in profile. In one of the pictures, representing the climax of a dance, he had his back to the camera, holding the girl high in his arms.
Saxon knew that back. It was the back of the man who had bumped into him on the stairs of his office that morning. The same wide, thin shoulders. The same easy grace that couldn't be hidden by a pretended limp. Uncle Charley's tip had been accurate,
Saxon looked up sideways cautiously. The doorman stood there motionless, dozing. The taxi driver snored behind his wheel. Saxon went slowly and silently past them, ducked into the darkness of an alley mouth.
He knew the Blue Light Café from the days when it was a speakeasy. There was an alley entrance, or exit, back from the street. The alley was thickly black and Saxon felt his way along, finger-tips touching the damp roughness of the brick wall. He stumbled over a pile of refuse, caught himself, and stood there in the darkness listening.
There was no slightest sign of light to mark the door, but Saxon's exploring fingers found it, located the knob. It turned easily under his hand and the heavy door swung noiselessly back. He looked inside.
It was a small hall with a crystal-bangled drape blocking off one end. That was the entrance into the main part of the café. Saxon could hear faintly the bang and rattle of dishes, and muffled voices. At the other end of the hall there was a door marked "Private." Saxon moved quietly toward that door.
THERE was a sudden muffled bump, like a dull hand-clap. It came from behind the door marked "Private." Saxon stiffened warily and started to back toward the outside door. But there was no other sound, and the voices and the clatter from the main part of the café went on undisturbed. The sound hadn't carried that far.
Saxon went toward the inside door again, very cautiously. He slid his right hand into the pocket of his overcoat, brought it out again holding a thin, flat automatic. That muffled bump had been a shot
Saxon put his ear against the panel of the door, listening. There was the sound of faint, hurried movement from inside. Very slowly and softly Saxon turned the knob on the door, and slowly and softly pushed it back.
The first thing he noticed was the biting, sharply acrid odor of powder-smoke. Then, as the door opened wider, he could see into the room.
It was a small office. A big desk stood in the far corner with a green-shaded lamp on it. That was the only light in the room. It threw a grotesquely hunched shadow of a man kneeling there beside the desk. That man was short, thick-bodied. In his right hand he held a short-barreled revolver with a little wisp of smoke curling lazily out of its blunt muzzle. He was looking at something down on the floor. His thick body blocked Saxon's view to some extent, but he could see the hand.
It was a thin hand, pasty-white. It wasn't moving. It had grasped the rug in clawing fingers, pulled it up into a little hump. There was something agonized in the clutch of those silent fingers.
The thick man, kneeling there, sensed Saxon behind him and suddenly whirled around. It was Detective Sergeant Madden.
"You!" he said, and the word seemed to choke in his throat.
He had moved a little bit to one side, and Saxon could see the man lying on the floor behind him. A thin, pouchily dissipated face and stringy black hair. Saxon knew him by sight. It was Bixton, the owner of the Blue Light Café. He was dead.
For a second there was a thickly heavy silence. Saxon, standing in the doorway, thin and straight, with the automatic in his hand. Madden crouching in the half-shadow behind the desk, staring up at him. And the body of Bixton there, rigidly lifeless.
"You!" said Madden, and one corner of his wide mouth twitched up into a snarl. He raised the blunt revolver.
"Don't, you foot!" Saxon said tensely.
Madden was going to shoot. There was death in those flat, shiny eyes. Death in the twist of his thick mouth. His finger whitened on the trigger.
Saxon fired from his hip with the automatic. Madden gave a grunting, breathless cry, and his thick body thumped back hard against the edge of the desk. And then he was sitting on the floor, holding his right elbow with his left hand, staring down incredulously at his revolver on the floor and the glistening red trickle of blood that slid down his stubby fingers.
Saxon jumped backwards out of the doorway, slammed the door in front of him. He spun around, ran down the short hall toward the outside door. The bangled curtain ahead of him twitched aside, and the white, frightened face of a girl peered through at him. Her mouth, heavy with lip-rouge, twisted, and she screamed breathlessly.
Then Saxon was through the door into the alley. He ran headlong, stumbling in the darkness, feeling the breath come hot and sharp in his throat.
IT was a little passageway. Not even an alley. Just an air space between two buildings. It was pitch dark. There was a fire escape that served both of the buildings. Saxon was crouched on the second landing of the fire escape.
He was directly across the street from the Blue Light Café. He could look at an angle, slightly downward, straight into the entrance door. Almost directly below him there was a police squad-car parked at the curb. Saxon was close enough to it to hear the mumble of the men inside it, the metallic voice of the police radio operator, without being able to distinguish any words,
Saxon had been there for almost an hour now, watching. His mouth was dry, and he wanted a cigarette badly. There was no hope for one here. He crouched there, carefully motionless, feeling the cold creep slowly inside his overcoat, cramp the muscles of his legs.
Suddenly now there was the echoing click of high heeled shoes coming along the street. A girl came into Saxon's restricted line of vision, slowing a little uncertainly when she saw that the doors of the café were locked with a chain. She looked curiously across at the squad car, then rattled the catch on the door of the café.
A policeman got out of the squad car, walked across the street toward her. Saxon could hear his voice plainly.
"What do you want, Miss?"
The girl turned around. "Why—I work here," she said.
"What's your name?"
"Roselle Lark. I'm—I'm a dancer." She pointed at the pictures in front of the café that Saxon had examined earlier. Saxon could see her more plainly now. She was the blond dancing partner of the man José.
The policeman stared at the pictures, then at her face. "Yeah. Well, the place won't be open tonight, Miss. The owner—Bixton—was shot and killed about a half-hour ago."
"Killed!" Her voice was breathless with shock.
The policeman was casual about it. "Yes, Miss." He took a notebook from his pocket. "You said your name was Roselle Lark? What's your address?"
"The Archway Apartments, 1739 East Head Street Apartment 307."
The policeman wrote it down. "All right, Miss. You might as well go back home. You can't go in the café. It won't be open tonight."
"But—but what happened?"
"You can read about it in the papers," the policeman said, politely enough. "Move along now, please."
The girl's heels clicked on down the street, going slower now. Saxon got very slowly and carefully to his feet and went on up the fire escape toward the roof.
THE lobby of the Archway Apartments was small, warm, cheerily lighted. Saxon came in quietly from the street and hesitated a moment inside the door, soaking up the warmness gratefully. He had walked fast, but he was still cramped from the cold of his long wait on the fire escape.
There was a small desk at the far end of the lobby, a switchboard gleaming behind it. The bald-headed desk clerk had his ear close to the radio at the end of the desk. He was listening to Del Morgan, who was once again on his favorite topic:
"And I'm addressing this to Police Commissioner Brown. When he was appointed by the present mayor, it was with the promise that he would clean up the city. Has he done it? Do you think so? You know he hasn't! There is more crime in this city now than there ever has been before! Why doesn't Commissioner Brown do something? Why? Why doesn't he do something about the disappearance of Frank Sands, my partner? That's listed as an 'unsolved crime.' Why is it unsolved? Whoever tried to solve it? Is Commissioner Brown afraid to try? Elect me mayor, and I'll—"
The desk clerk turned the radio down and looked up inquiringly at Saxon, grinning.
"That guy certainly tells 'em, don't he?" he asked. "That's the second speech of his I listened to tonight, and he's got something new to say every time."
"He's quite a talker," Saxon said. "I want to see Miss Lark. No need to call her. She's expecting me. It's about a new booking."
"Sure," said the clerk. "She just this minute came in. Apartment 307. Elevator's over there." He turned up the radio again, and Saxon went across the lobby and into the self-operated elevator with some more of Del Morgan's speech ringing in his ears.
"... and vice are unchecked in this city! I say they are more than merely unchecked! I say they are actually encouraged! I charge that our police force—"
Saxon got out of the elevator at the third floor and walked along the hall toward the back of the building. He found 307, rapped on it softly.
The girl, Roselle Lark, opened the door. She had taken her hat off, but she still wore her street coat. Seen at close range she was much younger, much prettier than she had appeared in the pictures on the front of the Blue Light Café. There was a pleasantly youthful freshness about her. Her eyes were widely blue, but there was the pinched look of sorrow and suffering back deep in them that made them seem older than the rest of her face.
"Yes?" she said inquiringly.
"May I see you a moment?" Saxon asked.
She nodded uncertainly. "Why, yes. Come in."
Saxon stepped inside the door, looked quickly around. It was a single apartment. There were no signs of any men's clothes. No sign of a man's occupancy.
"Are we alone?" Saxon asked softly.
The girl nodded slowly. "Y-yes."
"I wanted to talk to you," Saxon said. "About what happened at the café tonight."
THE radio set in the corner had been humming softly, warming up, and now suddenly the voice of Del Morgan sounded out loudly.
"... have here a news flash that will show you the state of criminal activity in this city. Detective Sergeant Madden interrupted a criminal conference between two notorious characters—one Henry Bixton, the owner of the Blue Light Café, and a man with a record of innumerable offenses against the law, and one Simeon Saxon, an ex-convict. In the ensuing fight, Madden shot Bixton and killed him and was in turn shot and wounded by this man Simeon Saxon. That's an example for you! Sergeant Madden, one of our bravest and most honorable police officers, shot down in the execution of his duty by an ex-convict! This man Simeon Saxon was in trouble only this morning over a dead man found in his office building. Probably this conference with Bixton related to that. Why is Simeon Saxon allowed to rove this city freely? He calls himself a Public Relations Counsel. Applied to him, that is meaningless. Yet he comes and goes as he pleases and shoots down honest officers! I say to you, when I am mayor—"
Saxon reached down and shut off the radio. There was a silence for a long second, and then Saxon said quietly:
"I'm Simeon Saxon."
The girl nodded stiffly. "I—I knew. The way you looked when he mentioned your name—"
"Are you afraid of me?" She shook her head, more firmly now.
"No. But—but you shot that officer?"
Saxon's smile was suddenly bitter. "Yes. I had to. The fool would have shot me if I hadn't. I would have surrendered if he had given me the chance. I couldn't stand there and let him shoot me without effort to protect myself."
"But you ran away."
Saxon shrugged. "You heard the story Madden told. He hates me. I know things about him. I know that when he was a patrolman he exacted petty graft from small storekeepers. Some of them came to me with their problems. I had trouble with him then. He's never forgotten. He's been waiting for a chance at me ever since. It's my word against his. I never had a conference with Bixton in my life. I didn't even know him, except by sight. I went there tonight to talk to him about your partner—José. He was dead when I got there. Do you believe that?"
She nodded. "Yes, I believe you."
Saxon smiled at her, and the bitterness went out of his face. "Thank you. You're not what I expected you to be—as a partner of José. How long has he been your partner?"
"Just a month," she answered.
"Did you know him before that?"
"No. The management of the Blue Light—Bixton—secured him when my old partner was offered a better job. I didn't like José—Pinta is his last name—but he's a good dancer, and it was dance with him or lose my job. I couldn't afford that. Our personal relation was—was very strained. He tried to take advantage—"
"I know," Saxon said quietly. "He's that type. You heard what Del Morgan just said about the body found in my office building this morning. That's why I wanted to see Bixton about Pinta. I'm positive Pinta was the murderer of that man."
The girl gave a stifled little cry. "No!" she said. "No! Not—"
"I know he was," Saxon said puzzled. "He bumped into me this morning on the stairs, just before I found the body. He was running away, then."
SHE stared at him, and her blue eyes were wide and glazed with the sadness deep back in them. "That man—" she said brokenly. "That man who was—killed. He was my uncle."
"Your uncle!" Saxon said blankly. "Good God!"
The girl's voice was dull with suffering. "That happened this morning. And—and then this tonight. And now you say Pinta—It seems I can't—stand any more...."
She sank down suddenly in a huddled little heap on the couch, and her shoulders shook with convulsive sobs that seemed to rack her whole slender body.
"I'm sorry," said Saxon, very gently.
She looked up at him, and her soft mouth twisted with the strain of talking and thinking coherently. "I must not give way like that! I can't! I want to tell you about it—as much as I know."
"Tell me," Saxon invited softly.
"My real name is Graham. Rose Graham. Roselle Lark is just a stage name. My parents are dead, and my uncle, Harold Graham, always thought—thought he should look after me as much as he could. He didn't like me dancing at the Blue Light, and every night he used to come and wait outside for me in the alley that runs alongside the café and take me home when the last floor show was over.
"He saw something there one night while he was waiting. He wouldn't tell me what it was, but it frightened him terribly. I wanted him to go to the police, but he was afraid even to do that. He was sure his life was in danger, afraid that mine might be, too. Then last night he told me he had made up his mind to go and see you. He said you were interested in the troubles of poor people—of insignificant people. That you'd at least try to help him. Then—then this morning, I heard...."
Saxon nodded slowly. "I know. You heard that he had been killed." His eyes narrowed, and his voice was very low. "He was killed because he came to see me. Because he was going to trust me with his secret. He was stabbed in the back, deliberately and cold-bloodedly, never given a chance, because he sought my help. And I would have helped him! It's too late now to help him, perhaps. But the people that did that thing to him are going to be punished. Every one of them. I want it known everywhere that people who are in trouble can come to me and confide in me—and do it safely."
"People do trust you," she said. "I do."
Saxon smiled at her. "Thank you again. Things are beginning to connect up a little bit now. Your uncle seeing something there at the Blue Light. The killer, Pinta, coming from there. Bixton, the owner, shot. Whatever your uncle saw, then, must have been connected directly with the café. When did he see this thing—do you know?"
She nodded. "Yes. It was two nights after Pinta was engaged."
Saxon frowned thoughtfully. "Two nights after.... And you said. Pinta had been there a month now. That would make it about the 15th of last month."
She nodded again. "Yes, it was."
"The 15th," Saxon repeated softly. "Now I wonder...."
And for the first time he began to see things clearly. The whole pattern of events began to take shape in his mind, to have a meaning. Yes, that was it. That must be it. That was a big enough thing to warrant two killings—and more—to keep it under cover. That gave the key to the whole thing. Somebody was desperate—viciously desperate. Trying to keep the lid on things at any cost. Trying to cover up. And now as Saxon thought about it a great many new vistas suddenly opened up before his mind. He began to see....
"What is it?" Rose Graham asked, anxiously watching the expression on his face.
Saxon stared at her seriously. "I don't want to tell you too much. You know more than you should right now for your own safety. They must have warned your uncle not to say anything to you—threatened him. But they'll be afraid he dropped a hint. You see, the 15th of last month was the night that Frank Sands disappeared."
"Frank Sands!" she exclaimed. "Then that must have been what my uncle—"
THERE was a soft knock on the door. Rose Graham drew her breath in a quick little gasp. Saxon brought the automatic out of his coat pocket.
"It might be the police," he said softly. "Answer it."
He backed cautiously across the room, stepped through into the darkness of the tiny kitchenette, let the door swing almost shut.
"Who is it?" Rose Graham asked, standing close to the door into the hall.
"José," said a voice from outside.
Rose Graham turned to stare at Saxon. Her face was chalk-white. Saxon nodded at her reassuringly, made motions for her to open the door and let Pinta in, then pulled the kitchen door shut all but a crack.
She took a deep breath, slowly turned the knob on the door. It opened very quietly, and Pinta stepped quickly inside. He wore the same dark blue overcoat, was carrying the grey hat in his hand. He was smiling, even teeth showing very white under the small black mustache. His eyes were jet-black, dully slick, like wet black marbles.
"Hello, Roselle," he said, bowing a little. There was something repulsive about the easy grace of his movements. It was a little too smooth. Snaky.
"What do you want?" Rose Graham asked. Her back was toward Saxon, and he could tell by her strained posture that she was making a desperate effort to keep her voice steady, her manner casual.
"I suppose you know what happened tonight at the café," Pinta said. "Bixton getting knocked off, I mean."
She nodded stiffly. "Yes, I heard."
"The joint won't be open for a couple of months now. No use hangin' around here waitin' for it. I've got some connections in South America. Got a chance to dance in a club in Rio. You're a good dancer, Roselle, and I'd need a partner down there. How about coming along with me. We'd hit it off pretty well together, if you'd try."
"No," she said flatly.
Pinta moved his thin shoulders, smiling. "Don't make any snap decisions. It's a nice job. It'll pay nice money. And I'm not such a bad guy."
Pinta came a long, lithe step closer to her. "What's the matter with you? You're actin' damn funny."
Pinta relaxed a little. "Oh, yeah. I heard about the old guy gettin' himself killed this morning. That's too bad. I coulda told him that this bird Saxon is bad business."
"You liar!" she blazed at him suddenly. "You killed him!"
Pinta's eyes glittered flatly. "So," he said thinly. "You know a lot, don't you? Too much. What your uncle saw is six feet under the ground with a nice little marker the city donated over his head. And if you don't come with me, you'll be in the same place with the same kind of a little marker over your head!" He slid a little closer to her, and there was the flat glitter of a knife blade on his palm. "Which is it? This—or Rio?"
"Neither one," said Saxon, behind him.
ALL in one lithely smooth motion Pinta whipped around and hurled the knife in a flatly glittering arc straight at Saxon's chest. Rose Graham gave a gulping little cry of terror.
Saxon stepped back a little, moving the kitchen door in front of him. The knife blade thudded hard into the wood. Saxon jumped forward again, swinging the automatic up.
Pinta spun away from him, snarling. He tripped over a chair, stumbled. In that split-second, while he was off balance, Saxon swung the automatic down, smashing Pinta squarely over the temple with the butt.
Pinta went head first into the couch, bounced off limply on to the floor. He sprawled out laxly there, face down. Saxon stood over him, watching warily. Rose Graham was standing with her back pressed flat against the wall, one hand over her mouth. "Is—is he dead?" she asked.
"I'm afraid not," Saxon said coldly. "Get something that we can tie him up with. I don't think we made enough noise to alarm the neighbors. We'll tie Pinta up and leave him here for the time being. Have you any place you can go where you'll be safe for tonight?"
She nodded. "Yes. I know two of the girls in the chorus at the Blue Light who have an apartment. I can stay there."
"Good," Saxon said. "Give me their address, so I can get in touch with you. I think we're going to settle this thing up tonight."
POLICE COMMISSIONER BROWN was having a bad night. He kept dreaming that there was someone sitting beside his bed pointing a gun at him. Overwork. Worry. That's what did it.
He rolled over on his back, grumbling drowsily to himself, opened sleep-bleary eyes to stare at the ceiling. Then suddenly his thin body tensed, and his right hand slid up under the covers toward his pillow.
"Don't," said Saxon quietly. Commissioner Brown's dream was all too true. There was a man sitting beside his bed pointing a gun at him. Brown sat up very slowly. He wasn't afraid in the slightest. He was a slightly ridiculous figure with his rumpled gray hair sticking up helter-skelter, his wrinkled pajamas hanging loosely on his thin shoulders. He was a small man with an air of bulldog tenacity and courage.
"Who in the devil are you?" he demanded bluntly. "And how did you get in here?"
"Through the window," Saxon said calmly, answering the last question first. "Keep your voice down. I don't want you waking the whole house. My name is Simeon Saxon."
Brown sat up straighter with a jerk. "Simeon Saxon! You're the one that shot Madden tonight!"
"That's right," Saxon admitted.
"Huh!" Brown grunted. "Well, Madden isn't much good as a cop, but nobody can shoot one of my policemen and get away with it! You'll go to jail for it, mister, and sitting here pointing a gun at me won't stop you!"
Saxon chuckled. "I don't expect it to. Would you be interested in finding Frank Sands?"
"Frank Sands!" Brown exclaimed. He stared shrewdly at Saxon. "You tryin' to make a trade with me?"
"No," said Saxon. "I'm just asking you."
"Hah!" Brown said. "Would I be interested in finding him! Anything to keep that blabber-mouth Morgan from blowing off over the radio about it every ten minutes!"
"I know where Sands is," Saxon said deliberately.
Brown scowled at him thoughtfully. "You do, huh? Just like that. Where is he, then?"
"Buried in the city cemetery."
"Buried," Brown repeated blankly. "In the city... Where in the city cemetery?"
"In one of the graves in the paupers' section."
"In one of 'em! Which one?"
"I don't know," Saxon said.
The Commissioner stared at him in sheer amazement. "Man, you must be crazy! Do you know how many graves there are in the paupers' section of the cemetery? Do you think that I'm gonna have them all dug up because you've got an idea that Frank Sands is in one of them? Are you as daft as that?"
SAXON smiled, shaking his head. "Not quite. I thought it would be the easiest way if we let the man who put Frank Sands in that pauper's grave tell us which one he's in."
"Let the man who put him there.... Man, you are crazy! You're as mad as a hatter! Who put him there?"
"The same man that murdered him," Saxon said quietly.
"Murdered," Brown repeated. He was very wide awake now. "So that's the way it is. He was murdered and hid away in there—poor chap. That means that some official—"
"Yes," said Saxon. "The murderer had help—official help."
"Buried as a pauper under another name," Brown said slowly. "That's a nasty thing, isn't it? How do you propose to get the murderer to tell you which grave he's in?"
"I called him up just before I came," Saxon told him. "I said that I had a tip that you knew the body was in the paupers' section. That you were going to get a court order tomorrow to exhume all the bodies in that section. I said I knew it through the judge that you applied to for the court order."
"The murderer won't believe that."
"That doesn't make any difference," Saxon said patiently. "Don't you see, the murderer knows somebody knows where the body is. The person that called him—myself—even if you don't. He doesn't dare let the body be found in that place, because if it is you can prove from the burial order on that body who the official is that he bribed to get the body buried. He'll try to dig the body up tonight and dispose of it somewhere else. Without the body we can't prove anything."
"Who is he?" the Commissioner asked.
Saxon smiled. "You come with me. We'll wait there by the graves in the cemetery and find out."
"Come with you," Brown repeated. "Alone, eh? And you an ex-convict and a cop-shooter. You sitting there and holding a gun on me right now. Come with you alone to the cemetery and wait for a murderer to come back to his victim's grave. That's what you expect me to do, is it?"
"Yes," said Saxon. "Do you believe my story?"
"I do," said Brown. "I do, God help me. I must be even crazier than you are, because nobody but a lunatic would believe a tale like that!"
"Are you coming with me?"
Brown swung his short legs over the edge of the bed. "I am! You'll probably shoot me in the back as soon as we're out of sight of the house, but I'm coming! Maybe I've lived long enough anyway!"
"You'd best bring your gun," Saxon said.
Brown was leaning over, looking for his shoes. "I will, don't worry. And don't think I'm as dumb as I look, my friend. I just happened to remember that Madden has a brother-in-law who is an attendant at the morgue."
"Yes," said Saxon. "It was remembering that plus a remark about six feet underground and a little white marker the city donated that put me on the right track."
THERE they were. Row after row, like sugar cubes laid out in careful patterns by some childish hand. All classes were there. Each one lying under his little white marker with his name printed on it, that is if anyone knew his name.
The host of lonely and forgotten. Lying there side-by-side, finding the peace they never found alive. Quiet, at last, and rest. The innocent and the guilty. The good and the bad. Nothing to distinguish them now. Only the little white markers with their names on them—if they had names.
This section of the cemetery was on the slope of a hillside, and now the fog was rolling down gently, creeping forward, surrounding objects with its damp whiteness and distorting them out of all proportion. Crawling down very softly and slowly toward Saxon and Brown, feeling for them with groping white tendrils that were like spectral fingers.
Brown and Saxon were crouched close behind some ornamental shrubs between two of the last sections of the pauper's cemetery. There was an iron fence behind them, its bars beaded with the moisture.
The Commissioner, bundled in his overcoat, shifted his feet a little, shivering. "It's a ghastly place," he mumbled. "A horrible place to bring a man from a warm bed. I'm glad that I'm not the man we're waiting for. I'm glad I'm not coming to this place tonight with his conscience—creeping across the graves of the dead to disturb the last rest of one of them. I'm glad I'm not that man now."
"Quiet," Saxon said softly.
Someone was coming there, through the fog, down the hill from the back of the cemetery. Wavering figures, black, lumpily distorted, stumbling. Walking close together, with the fog crowding close around them, coldly waiting. With the eyes of the dead on them; ghouls.
And a voice now, muttering. Shrill with hysteria.
"You got no right, I tell you! You never told me it'd be like this! Just a signature, you said. Just my name on a burial order, you told me. Easy money. You got no right to make me do this."
And then Madden's thick voice, "Shut your face, you fool! Do you think I planned this? Do you think I like it? Do you want to be hanged?"
"Hanged!" The other voice went squeaky with terror. "You said—They can't hang me! I won't do it! I'll tell—"
"You'll dig up that body!" Madden snarled. "You'll dig it up, and you'll keep your mouth shut, or you'll be as dead as it is!"
The hysterical voice whimpered in helpless fear.
And now the third man was talking. "I don't see that there's any use of me staying here, Madden. I'm not doing any good. I'll wait in the car." He was unrecognizable in the fog. His collar was turned high. He was slightly heavier than Madden. Slightly pompous even at this hour—this place.
BROWN and Saxon could see Madden plainly now. He was a thickly savage figure standing there in the fog. His right arm was in a cast, sticking stiffly out of the front of his coat. He held his revolver in his left hand.
"Oh, no you won't!" he snarled. "You think I'm doin' it all? You think I'm doin' everything? You got us into this, and you'll stay right beside me until we get out of it!"
"All right, all right. No need to get worked up about it. I'll stay if you say so."
"You bet you will!" Madden said.
He turned on the other figure. "Are you sure this is the right grave, you fool. Look and see. Strike a match."
A match-head sputtered, shielded between cupped hands. The wavering flame showed a headstone, showed a white, rat-like face above it with wide staring eyes.
"Yes, yes. This is it."
The Commissioner nudged Saxon with his elbow and stood up. "I'm glad to know it," he said aloud. "Put up your hands—all of you!"
The rat-like little man was caught there, holding the match, and he screamed suddenly and shrilly. "Don't shoot! Don't—"
"Brown!" Madden exclaimed, recognizing that stumpy figure.
"Yes. It's me come for you, Madden, you dirty, grafting crook! Drop that gun!"
The rat-like man shrieked hysterically. "Mr. Brown! Don't shoot me! I didn't kill him! I'll tell—"
Madden swung his revolver in a vicious backhand blow. The rat-like man's voice broke off in a choking gurgle, and he flopped backwards, sprawling limply, full length.
Then the fog came rolling in before the push of the wind like a thick gray curtain. Rolling in between them, shutting off all the outside world like cold gray palms squeezing. Through it, the figures of Madden and his unknown companion were dim black bulks, formless.
There was a quick orange flick of flame, the smash of Madden's revolver muffled in the fog. Saxon felt the bullet flick his coat like a quick, deadly hand reaching.
He shot back once, and he heard Brown's revolver thump out heavily beside him. Then the other two figures were running up the slope. Distorted through the layers of mist, darker blots in the gray darkness.
The Commissioner shot again, and the dim bulk that was Madden stumbled in mid-stride, kept on running. His unknown companion was ahead of him now.
Saxon plunged forward, jumped over the lax body of the rat-like man lying on top of the grave he had intended to desecrate. The thick grass was wetly slick under his feet. His legs pumped hard, and it seemed as though the fog floated slowly past him while he stood still, laboring. Brown was floundering, grunting breathlessly behind him.
Then abruptly the fog cleared a little, and another section of the iron fence loomed up ahead of him. Madden was suddenly in view. He had tried to climb the fence and fallen. His overcoat was caught on one of the iron pickets, and he threshed heavily, trying to break free. His companion had cleared the fence, was in the act of hurdling the shallow ditch beyond it. There was a road there, and the looming black bulk of a car parked on it
Madden's voice was agonized, thick. "Come back! Help me! Help me, you rat!"
THAT other figure ran on, was fumbling with the latch on the parked car. Madden stopped struggling suddenly. Saxon, running forward, saw him raise the revolver in his left hand, sight carefully. The reports were like the dull roll of thunder.
The dim figure beside the parked car stiffened. It staggered crazily across the road, arms swinging like stiff sticks, then crashed headlong into the ditch.
Madden's gun dropped. He sagged against the fence. Saxon came up and unbuttoned the overcoat, eased Madden gently to the ground. Madden's breath was a choking gurgle in his throat. He stared up at Saxon.
"You, huh? Got me. Afraid you would—afraid of you."
His read rolled back and forth, and blood rolled wetly black out of the corner of his mouth. "That dirty rat—wouldn't help me. Finished him, anyway. Good shooting—left hand."
The Commissioner pounded up and bumped into the fence, panting heavily.
Saxon was kneeling beside Madden. "You're going, Madden," he said gently. "Better tell us about it. It all started at the Blue Light, didn't it?"
Madden's voice was a choking croak. "Never thought I'd blab when it was my turn to take it. No harm, though. Yeah. At the Blue Light. We were having a conference, Bixton, me, that rat in the ditch—lining up city. Bixton run rackets—raise funds—me cover him. The rat for the front. Knew we'd need a killer to keep boys in line. Get Pinta from Coast. Sands learned about conference some way—walked in on us. Said he was goin' to tip over the apple cart—knew the rat in the ditch there was a crook—never let deal go through. The rat killed him. That old fool Graham, waiting in alley—saw us take Sands out of place. He recognized me, recognized Bixton, saw Sands. Should have killed Graham then—wanted to—rest of them scared—talked me out of it. Had Graham trailed. Pinta saw him go to your place—killed him. Then Bixton yellow—scared—tried to back out. Killed him myself. I tried to lay it on you when you walked in on me—too quick for me. Then that tip tonight—had to get body out. Had to take a chance."
Madden stiffened suddenly, then relaxed. His voice was a mumble.
"Rats, cowards! All of them. Had everything lined up. With me chief of police—could have stolen whole damned city. Made a fortune in couple years. But cowards, yellow rats—couldn't go through with it. I could have gone through with it! I could have—" He coughed, strangling. "Brown!"
"Yes," said Brown soberly. "Here, Madden."
"That little louse back in graveyard. My brother-in-law. Not too hard on him, Brown—just coward. Afraid of me—made him do it—made him sign burial order, fix up phony death certificate. Just coward. Not crook—like me."
"I'll do what I can for him," Brown promised.
Madden threshed from side to side, fighting for air, and then suddenly his thick figure relaxed, lay there very quietly on the wet grass with the fog blowing a thin gray tendril of mist softly across his still face. Saxon stood up slowly.
"Did you hear what he said?" the Commissioner said incredulously. "He and Bixton and Pinta to run the whole city! To steal the whole town! He'd have done it, too, if the rest had been as tough as he was!"
"He was plenty bad," Saxon said.
Brown pointed over the fence. "And—and that one in the ditch—"
"The front for them," Saxon said. "Del Morgan."
"Del Morgan!" Brown exclaimed. "Then all the time, he—"
Saxon nodded. "He knew where his partner was. Sands had found out Morgan was a crook, came in on that conference and told Morgan and the rest of them that he'd never see Morgan elected mayor. He'd expose Morgan first. A brave man—Sands. They killed him. One man died to prevent the whole city from becoming prey to a crew of thieves."
"I said I'd do anything to shut off Morgan's radio speeches," Brown said slowly. "But I never thought—this." He shivered suddenly. "Let's get out of this devil's hunting ground!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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