Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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She was the daughter of the man Carson had sworn undying vengeance against—and she had gotten herself in a spot where all Carson had to do was say the word that would send her straight to the death-house. Carson knew that such a fate for her would mean the squaring of accounts for all eternity....
"THEY won't burn me!"
It was Mardrigi whispering in a thick, choked voice. He was in the cell next to Carson's. It was after midnight now, and it was quiet in the death house. But the lights were on. They were always on.
"You hear, Carson? You hear? They'll never burn me!"
Carson slid off his bunk, leaned against the door of his cell. He could see the guard at the end of the corridor, dozing in his chair, tipped back against the wall.
"Take it easy, Mardrigi," he said softly. "Don't let it get you."
Mardrigi's fingers were like muscular cables wrapped tight around the bars of the cell door. Mardrigi's dark, thin face was pushed tight against the steel, and his dark eyes seemed to boil and bubble in a sort of mad triumph.
"You think I'm nuts, huh? You think this joint has got me like it's got that little mutt up front! Do you think I'm yellow?"
"Of course not," Carson said.
He knew Mardrigi's history. He was a cold-blooded and vicious killer—a gangster. He and three others had robbed a bank, shot down a teller, a customer, a bank guard. But the police were waiting for them when they came out. Mardrigi's three companions were all killed. He was wounded and captured.
"They'll never put me in the hot seat," Mardrigi whispered. His breath hissed through his teeth suddenly, and he seemed to writhe and squirm against the bars. "Never!" His knuckles bulged whitely with the force of his grip. "Never!"
"Take it easy," Carson said again.
Mardrigi's breath rattled and choked in his throat. "Fooled 'em! Knew I had it all the time, but never said a word. The doc told me before I pulled that bank-job—that if I didn't have it out, it was gonna break on me!" He groaned a little, bending over. "Now it has!" He laughed—a horrible, grating croak.
"What—" Carson said.
Mardrigi moaned. He stared at Carson with bulging eyes. There was a thin black line of blood sliding down his chin from where be had bitten his lips. Then suddenly he twisted clear around and fell backward out of sight into his cell with a thumping clatter.
The guard brought his chair-legs down on the cement with a jerk, blinking around in a sleepily startled way.
"Here!" Carson called. "It's Mardrigi! Something's the matter with him!"
The guard came down the corridor. There were stirs and sullen mutterings from the other cells. Sleep was a precious thing in the death house. It freed tortured minds of the slow, terrible anguish of watching each succeeding hour slip silently past.
"Mardrigi!" the guard said, peering in the cell. "Here, Mardrigi! What's the matter with you?"
"Get the doctor!" Carson said impatiently.
The guard looked at him blankly, and then Mardrigi moaned a little and threshed spasmodically on the floor. The guard whirled and ran down the corridor.
The other prisoners in the death house were up now, peering through their barred doors, shooting excited questions at Carson. Then the short corridor seemed to fill with uniformed guards. They opened Mardrigi's cell, crowded in. Carson couldn't see inside the cell from his door, but he could hear them trying to get Mardrigi on his bunk, hear him groan in that horribly thick, choked way.
"Hey, the guy's dyin'!" a guard said suddenly.
Symonds, the prison doctor, came hurrying in. He was a thin, bald little man with a nervously futile manner. Pince-nez glasses were set askew on his thin beak of a nose. He was always worried, always in a hurry. He talked in a whining monotone.
"Quick!" he said. "Take him to the infirmary! He's got to be operated on at once!"
"What's the matter with him?" a guard demanded.
"Ruptured appendix," Symonds snapped. "I'm afraid it's too late now. Peritonitis. He's been keeping still about it on purpose—bearing the pain. Must have hurt him like the very devil! Hurry!"
They carried Mardrigi out on a stretcher, and then the death house was quiet again. Quiet with that queer breathless stillness it always seemed to have. Nerves drawn wire-tight with strain, ready to jangle and screech. The baby cop-killer—eighteen years old—in the end cell began to weep. One of the other prisoners cursed him viciously.
"All right, boys," the guard said uneasily. "Quiet down, now. It's all over. Go to sleep now."
IT was almost two hours later when two guards came quietly in the death house. They were men from the warden's office, and they stopped in front of Carson's cell.
"Ready to go now?" one asked.
"Sure," Carson said. "Any time."
He had long since rolled the few personal belongings he was allowed into a bundle. He got up and put on his coat.
One of the guards opened the door, and Carson stepped out into the corridor. The guard shut the cell door again quietly, and the three of them walked down the corridor.
The big Negro who had killed his wife with a razor was leaning against his barred door.
"So long, boy," he said softly. "As long as it can't be me, I'm glad it's you."
"Thanks, Moe," Carson said. "Good luck to you."
The baby cop-killer was awake, too.
"Take me with you!" he begged hoarsely. "I gotta get out of here! Take me—" His voice rose to a hysterical scream. "Take me! Take me! I gotta get out! I can't stand—"
The death house guard was holding the outside door open, and the two warden's men and Carson went through it.
"Take me!" the cop-killer shrieked. "Take me, too! I can't stay here any longer! Take me with—"
The door clanged shut.
WARDEN DAY was a thin man with sparsely grey hair. His lined face was haggard, careworn, and his eyes were old and cynical and weary. He sat behind his big desk and watched Carson thoughtfully.
"The law," he said slowly, "made a terrible mistake in your case, Carson. I hope you don't hold it against me. It's not my duty to judge a man's innocence or guilt. The courts said you were guilty. I have to carry out the sentences they pronounce."
"I don't hold anything against—you," Carson said.
Day nodded. "It was a mistake. Just forget it."
Carson smiled wryly. Just forget it! As if he could! The pitiless prying publicity. The gaping stares of the curious. The terrible suspense that was like a cold hand gripping your throat. The death house. Waiting—waiting—waiting. Waiting for death.
"It hasn't hurt you much, Carson," Day said. "You're young. You've got a fine education, and you've got a little income of your own. Go away somewhere. Forget the whole business. Make a new start."
Carson was thinking back. Make a new start. He wondered if he could. He had been an architect, and a good one. For so young a man he had made quite a reputation. He had been enthusiastic, confident, hopeful. But now! Now he was aged a thousand years.
"And about Bartlett," Day said slowly. "I wouldn't hold anything against him, either."
Carson's grey eyes narrowed. Bartlett! Bartlett was the district attorney who had prosecuted him. He had conducted the trial with a waspish, personal vindictiveness, twisting every word that Carson said, using every sly trick he knew to influence the jury, lashing at Carson with a voice that dripped malice. It was he who was responsible for Carson's conviction. There was a doubt—and without Bartlett to spur them on the jury would have heeded it.
"You do hold it against him," Day said. "Don't, Carson. It doesn't pay." He coughed uneasily. "And I wouldn't play too much with Forgan if I were you."
Forgan was the man who had got Carson released—got him a pardon three days before he would have been electrocuted. He was a political power in the state. He never held an office. His name never appeared on the party rolls. But he pulled the strings that made the puppets dance. Carson stood up.
"Thanks for your advice. Can I go now?"
"Yes. You'd better do more than thank me for the advice, Carson. You'd better follow it. I'm releasing you at this hour to avoid the reporters. I didn't think you'd want to see them for awhile, and there's sure to be a plague of them around on account of Mardrigi."
"How is he?" Carson asked.
"He died an hour ago," Day said.
THE ponderous gates swung slowly shut behind Carson, leaving him outside. It was nearly dawn now, and the fog was creeping in from the bay in huge revolving billows that rolled themselves along the ground like strangely puffy, creeping animals. The thick greyness blotted out everything, and Carson seemed to be alone in a little world all of his own.
He stood there in the shadow of the gate, staring straight ahead, rigid. He was free. Free—free—free! The word was a hammer pounding at his brain. He wasn't going to die. They weren't going to strap him in the chair and throw the lever that would send a thousand invisible tearing knives through him. Free!
He breathed deeply, trying to get a grip on himself. He had sworn that he wouldn't let his emotions get the better of him. But he could feel the sweat coldly on his face, feel the rigid tenseness of his muscles.
The fog lifted a little, and he saw the sleek gleam of a big limousine parked in front of the gate. An indistinct figure loomed up hazily in front of him.
"Ah! There you are! I couldn't figure out where the hell you'd went to!"
"Who are you?" Carson asked unsteadily.
The man was thick-bodied, stocky, with a flatly battered face. "Me? I'm Bill. I do odd jobs for Forgan now and then. He wants to see you right away. He sent me down to bring you."
"How did you know I was going to be released at this time of the night?"
The man laughed. "How'd I know? Hell's bells! Why, Forgan owns this damned prison and everybody in it except that stiff-necked warden. Come on. Forgan's waitin'."
They walked toward the limousine. The ground felt strangely soft and springy under Carson's feet after the hardness of his cell floor.
"Look out!" Bill yelled suddenly.
He kicked Carson's feet from under him, slammed down hard on top of him. At the same instant there was a whipping crack, flatly muffled in the fog. Carson heard the whisper of the bullet over his head.
Bill rolled free of him, struggling to draw a revolver out of his hip pocket. He was swearing in a thick undertone.
There was another whipping crack, and gravel spurted up a foot from Carson's face. Up on top of the prison wall a guard shouted excitedly.
The pointing white finger of a searchlight flicked around, boring through the moving white billows of the fog. It touched a crouched, indistinct figure up the hill-side a little way, glinted brightly on the blued steel of a gun barrel. Even as the figure was revealed, the fog slid down softly white, hid it again.
The guard's sub-machine gun rapped out in a chattering roar of sound, and the searchlight swept back and forth in short, quick arcs. But the blurred black figure was gone.
"Wow!" Bill said breathlessly. "That was close! I just happened to see that son of a gun move before he shot!"
Carson got up slowly off the ground.
"Thanks," he said tightly. "You saved my life."
"Huh!" Bill said. "Mister, I don't give a damn how many people pop at you, or when. Only Forgan told me to bring you to him, and believe me when he tells me to do something I do it. Otherwise he gets mad. He don't take no excuses. Who's got a mad on with you, mister?"
"I don't know," Carson said.
FORGAN was fat. He was more than fat. He was like an evenly rounded mass of flesh with no life in it at all. There was no life in his eyes, even. They were wide and grey and flatly slick, like wet pieces of obsidian sunk in the yellowish rolls of fat.
He sat behind the big desk in the study of his big, barrenly undecorated house. It was cold in the study. There was no heat, but Forgan didn't seem to notice the lack of it.
"I had you brought here," he said in his low, toneless voice, "because I wanted to talk to you before you talked to anybody else."
Carson wrapped his overcoat a little more tightly around him. He was a strange contrast to Forgan. He was tall and thin and sparely built. His face was thinly sensitive. He looked well-bred, aristocratic. His eyes were grey, like Forgan's, but they had life and intelligence and feeling. The death house had put deep lines around his thin mouth, across his forehead. It had melted all the dross, all the useless flesh, away and left him finely tuned, fit.
"I haven't thanked—" he began.
"Don't," Forgan said flatly. "I don't want any thanks. I didn't do it for thanks. You were accused of killing James Denham, convicted of his murder, and sentenced to be electrocuted. I knew Denham. He was a lawyer, and he used to do legal work for me before he got to be such a drunk that he couldn't think straight. I knew personally that he was a rat and a crook. Plenty of people had reason to put him down."
"I had no reason," Carson said. "I didn't even know the man. I went to this party given by an artist friend of mine. Denham was there, drunk. He got insulting, and I knocked him down. That was all that happened, and I didn't think any more about it. Then I went to the bathroom later in the evening. Denham was there, lying on the floor with his head smashed in. They found me kneeling over him, and they accused me of his murder."
"And John Bartlett convicted you," Forgan said.
"Yes," Carson said levelly.
"And it's lucky for you he did."
Carson stared at him. "What?"
"Because otherwise you'd have fried," Forgan said. "That's the reason I got you out. Because he convicted you. You know he's running for governor?"
Carson's, lips were flat against his teeth. "Yes. On the big reputation he made out of my trial!"
"Exactly," said Forgan. "He's running against my candidate. And that's why you're here. I got you out because I wanted to give him a black eye. And I did it. I proved that he convicted an innocent man and damned near got him executed. He'll have a tough time talking that down. I spent a hell of a lot of time and money proving you were innocent. I found the man who really killed James Denham—a two-bit gunman by the name of 'Junk' Smith. Somebody hired him to do it. I don't know who, and I don't give a damn. He's the one that did the killing, and that's all I wanted. I got a confession out of him. My boys had to knock hell out of him to get that confession. In fact, they beat him up so bad that he died of it. But they got the confession, and it was corroborated, and it stood up, and it got you loose."
"I know," Carson said. "I'm grateful."
"All right," said Forgan. "Just remember this while you're being grateful. John Bartlett got you convicted, and you got ideas that you're gonna get even with him for it. I'm telling you to lay off."
"You're asking a lot," Carson said thinly. "He came as close to getting me killed as any man could without doing it. He disgraced me and my name and ruined my career. He did all that, and more, and then you ask me to sit here and not strike back at him."
"I'm not asking you," Forgan said. "I'm telling you. Right now, all the sympathy is on your side, against him. He's the man that did you a terrible wrong. That's the way I want it to be. If you start after him, then the sympathy will be on his side. People will start bein' sorry for him, instead of you. I don't want that, and I'm not going to have it."
"I see," Carson said. He began to have some conception of the sly, coldly scheming mind that lay behind the mask of immovable flesh across the desk from him. There was no feeling in it, no humanity, no human passion. As cold and ruthless and efficient as a piece of well-oiled machinery.
"Remember it," Forgan said. "I got you out of the death house. Maybe I could put you in a worse place. By the way, Bill said somebody took a shot at you outside the prison tonight. Know who it was?"
Carson shook his head. "No."
"I'll try and find out," Forgan said. "And if I do, that bird won't do any more pistol practising. It cost me plenty to get you out, and I ain't gonna have somebody blowing you down before I get a chance to use you."
CARSON registered at the Drake Hotel under the name of Towne. He wanted to avoid the reporters. He wanted to avoid the friends who had conveniently forgotten him when he was in trouble. He had no relatives in the state—no close relatives anywhere.
He wanted time to adjust himself. To begin to live again. He wanted most to hear people laugh, see them enjoy themselves. There is no laughter in the death house except the feverishly hysterical laughter of fear.
He spent the whole of the next day wandering alone around the city, watching people. He was tired when he came back to the hotel, but the horrible tightness inside him had relaxed a little. He was beginning to think and feel like a human being instead of a dead man.
He saw the girl when he came in the lobby. She was sitting in one of the big, worn leather chairs thumbing through the pages of a magazine. Carson thought, however, that she hadn't been reading the magazine at all, that she had just been holding it up in front of her, watching the doorway. She didn't move when he came in, but he knew she was watching him closely.
He went across to the desk and got his room key, and when he turned around again, she had gotten up out of the chair and was sauntering casually toward the elevator. She got in it ahead of him.
"Three," she said to the boy.
That was Carson's floor. He nodded to the boy, and the elevator rose silently.
Carson studied the girl out of the corners of his eyes. She was small and dark, and she was very pretty in a pertly confident, sophisticated way. Her features were small and even, clean cut. Her eyes were a deep, smooth brown, alertly intelligent. She wore a long fur coat, and both it and her tailored suit were luxuriously, expensively plain.
The elevator stopped at the third floor, and the girl preceded Carson out of it and along the hall to the right, toward his room. She stopped when she got to his door and turned around and waited for him to catch up with her.
"Is your name Towne?" she asked.
Carson nodded, watching her curiously. "Yes."
"It was Carson when you were in prison, wasn't it?"
Carson nodded again, smiling a little. "Yes, it was. What of it?"
She moved her slim shoulders indifferently. "Nothing. I just wanted to make sure. I'm a sob sister from the Journal. Will you say a few words for publication?"
"Certainly," Carson said. "If you'll step inside, we'll have a little more privacy." He unlocked the door of his room, held it open invitingly.
She nodded and strolled inside the room and looked around it in her casual indifferent way. Carson offered a chair, but she shook her head.
"I'm only stay a second. I'll have to get right back and write this up. Mr. Carson, what are your feelings on coming out of the death house? That's a pretty silly question, but I mean are you bitter against society on account of the thing you've gone through?"
There was a little glint of amused contempt in Carson's grey eyes. "Why not come to the point, Miss Paula Bartlett? What you want to know is whether or not I'm holding a grudge against your father, isn't it?"
She stiffened rigidly. "You—you recognized me?"
Carson chuckled. "Your imitation of a girl reporter wasn't very convincing. Besides, I've seen your picture in the papers several times since your father started to run for governor. I've been quite interested in his campaign—for a number of reasons."
She stared at him, her dark eyes narrowed a little. "You hold my father responsible for what happened to you, don't you?"
"Yes," said Carson. "I do. Because he was."
"He was not! He honestly and sincerely believed you were guilty, and he tried to the best of his ability to get you convicted, because that was his sworn duty!"
Carson smiled thinly. "His duty fitted in nicely with his plans for his coming campaign for governor."
She came a step forward. "Do you dare to insinuate that my father would send a man to his death to get himself elected governor?"
Carson nodded. "That's putting it very nicely. That's just exactly what I'm insinuating."
Carson shrugged indifferently. "Have it your way."
She was trembling with anger, and she bit her full lower lip, trying to regain control of herself.
"Can't you understand, Mr. Carson, that a man like my father puts his duties to the people who elect him above everything else? He was wrong in this case. You'd been falsely accused of that murder. But my father didn't know that. He thought you were guilty, and thinking that he tried in every way he knew to see that justice was done. He didn't have any personal ill-feeling against you. It wasn't that at all. He was just trying to do what he had promised to do when he was elected."
Carson laughed contemptuously.
"You sound like one of your father's campaign speeches."
She drew a deep breath.
"You—you—You're in with that crook Forgan! I know! The two of you mean to do something to my father! But you won't get away with it!"
"No?" Carson said easily.
She watched him silently for a moment, and her brown eyes were widely dark, frightened and at the same time determined.
"I knew my father was afraid of you—of what you'd do when you got out. I know why now. There's something not—not human about you."
Carson smiled a little. "Maybe there is. Were you ever in a death house? Did you ever think about sitting in one of those little cells and hearing the seconds click-click away in your brain, every one bringing you a little step closer to your death? You don't die all at once, you see. You die a little bit every day. I was there for three months. Dying for three months. That's what your father did to me. Not because he hated me. I could understand that. But just because my death would bring him closer to being elected governor. He didn't care whether I was guilty or not. I was just a means by which he could get publicity for himself."
"You're going to kill him!" she said in a queer, tight voice.
"No," Carson said. "Oh, no. If I do anything to him at all, it will be something much worse than that."
She gave a little gasping cry of despair, and then she suddenly whirled through the door, and it slammed shut behind her.
Carson watched the closed door, and his mouth twisted up into a grimace, as though he had tasted something bitter. He had never thought of who else he would hurt when he hurt Bartlett.
Carson had waited to ruin him, smash him, tear his pride to shreds. He had wanted to do to Bartlett just what Bartlett had done to him.
But he couldn't ruin another person's life doing it. He couldn't spoil Paula Bartlett's life. What her father did wasn't her fault. But if he suffered, so would she. Even more so, Carson knew.
FORGAN telephoned Carson late the next afternoon.
"Hello," he said, "You get a rest? You feelin' better now?"
"I'm rested," Carson answered. "Why?"
"Well, I wanted you to sit around a few days and let Bartlett worry. It's about time to move now, though, before the public forgets about you. I've made arrangements for you to start givin' out stories to the newspapers. All about how you was innocent and how Bartlett got you convicted by pullin' a lot of dirty tricks in court and how much you suffered in prison. You come over here tonight, and I'll tell you what to say."
"I don't think I want to say anything," Carson said. "I don't think I care to take any steps against Bartlett."
"Don't pull that stuff on me," Forgan said. "You'll say just what I tell you to when I tell you to say it. You come over to my place at eight o'clock tonight."
"All right," Carson said. "I'll be there."
He hung up the receiver thoughtfully. He knew that he and Forgan were going to have it out sooner or later. It might as well be tonight.
FORGAN lived in the older residential section. His house, slatternly unkempt, was set deep back in the lot, masked on both sides and in the front by high, thick shrubbery.
Carson had turned the corner and was walking along the hedge in front, when a voice said suddenly out of the darkness:
"Hey, you! Stop!"
The hedge heaved and crackled under the thrust of a burly body. A man stepped out in front of Carson and shot the beam of a flashlight in his face.
"Oh! Sorry, mister." He turned the flashlight off, and Carson caught the dull gleam of brass buttons on a blue uniform.
"Some trouble, officer?" he asked.
The policeman tipped up his cap, wiped his face with a thick forearm.
"That damned hedge," he grumbled. "I stuck myself in twenty places, I bet. Yeah, I was walkin' my beat when I seen somebody sneakin' along the hedge. I yelled at him, and he ducked out of sight somewhere. I thought maybe you was him, only he was a lot smaller than you are. I guess he's beat it by this time."
There was a sudden thudding boom.
The policeman whirled around.
"That was a shot!"
"In there!" Carson said, pointing to Forgan's house. "You take the front. I'll take the back."
They pounded up the rough brick walk.
"Watch yourself, mister!" the policeman warned. He hurdled up the front steps, hammered on the door with the butt of his revolver. "Open up in there!"
Carson ducked to the left, around the house. The tall grass snatched clingingly at his ankles. He jumped over a low hedge, reached the back door.
The knob turned under his groping fingers, and he stumbled into the thick blackness of a kitchen.
There was a sudden splintering crash from the front of the house, and Carson knew the policeman had broken through the door. And then he heard another sound—the quiet, stealthy shuffle of a shoe-sole on the smooth linoleum. There was someone in the kitchen, moving very cautiously toward the back door.
Carson took one step forward and hurled himself straight at the sound. His shoulder smashed into another figure, hurled it to the floor with a crash.
The swinging door into the kitchen smacked open under the thrusting heave of the policeman's shoulder, and light from the hall cut a flat yellow swath across the tinted linoleum floor.
Carson was looking squarely into the face of the person that he had knocked down. It was Paula Bartlett.
"I'm sorry," Carson said to Paula Bartlett. "I didn't know it was you—I couldn't see—"
He stopped short. He was staring through the door, past the bulk of the policeman, down the hall. The door of Forgan's study was open, and through it Carson could see the flat desk. He could see Forgan sitting there behind it.
FORGAN was sitting very still, slumped down a little. There was a round blue hole squarely between his greyish, glazed eyes, and blood had tricked out of the hole and spread across the puffy face.
"You!" said Paula Bartlett, pointing a rigid arm at Carson. "You did it! You killed him!"
"Now, lady," said the policeman, "you're just crazy. This man was talkin' to me outside when the shot was fired. But where was you, and what was you doin'?"
She stared at him, bewildered. "Why—why, I was hiding in the hall closet."
"So?" said the policeman incredulously. "Hiding, was you? Hiding from what?"
"If I were you, I'd think pretty carefully before I answered," Carson said quietly.
"But I don't understand," Paula Bartlett said faintly, looking from one to the other. "You don't think that I—I killed—"
"No," said the policeman. "We don't think, we're pretty damned sure you did. It's a cinch he didn't kill himself because there ain't no powder burns and the gun's lyin' on the floor on the other side of the desk, and there ain't nobody else but you around here, is there?"
She stared at him, horrified. "But there was another man! I sneaked in the back door and—"
"Be careful," Carson warned.
"Oh," said the policeman. "You sneaked in the back door, did you? And why?"
"I wanted to surprise Forgan—"
"I bet you did, too," said the policeman. "I bet he was pretty surprised when you put a bullet in his brain."
"Not—" she gasped brokenly. "No! If you'll only listen to me—I sneaked in the back door. I wanted to see Forgan, and he had refused to talk to me earlier in the evening. But I was determined to see him. I came through the kitchen, and then I heard voices in the study. Forgan was talking to some man. I opened the kitchen door and went into the hall. I could see Forgan, but I couldn't see the other man. They were quarreling about something. I hid in the hall closet, waiting for the other man to leave. And then I heard the shot—"
"That's a nice story," the policeman said. "I hope you can find somebody who'll believe it. What'd you want to see Forgan about in the first place?"
"I—I wanted to warn him to leave my father alone."
"Who's your father?" the policeman asked skeptically.
"John Bartlett!" the policeman exclaimed. "So that's the way it is! He couldn't beat Forgan by votes, so he thought maybe he could do it by bullets! You come with me—in here where I can telephone!"
They went into the study, and Forgan's red-smeared features leered at them from behind the desk with a ghastly set smile. The policeman covered his hand with his handkerchief and picked up the telephone off the desk. Paula Bartlett turned her head away from Forgan with a gasping sob.
"You did this," she said thickly to Carson. "I don't know how you did it, but you did. You planned it all. This is your revenge on my father, isn't it? You're striking at him through me."
Carson shook his head. "I didn't! I had no idea—"
"You liar. You sneaking liar. I knew you'd do something horrible, something underhanded and low and vicious. But I didn't think even you would do this."
Carson didn't answer her. There was nothing he could say. There was no use in trying to convince her that he didn't know anything about this.
The policeman was talking into the telephone:
"No, I'm not goofy. I tell you it's John Bartlett's daughter, and she killed Forgan. The gun's right here on the floor. She leaned over and let him have it right between the peepers. Probably her old man put her up to it. Me and this other bird caught her trying to pull a run-out through the kitchen,"
His voice grew suddenly dim in Carson's ears. Carson was staring at the round copper ash-tray on the corner of the littered desk. That ash-tray was beside the chair in which he had sat when he had visited Forgan the night he had been released from prison. It had been empty then, but it wasn't empty now.
There were three cigarette butts in it. Butts from hand-rolled cigarettes made of brown, coarse paper. These cigarettes had been made in a very peculiar way. The paper had not been moistened. It had been doubled back along one edge in two tiny parallel creases and the other edge of the paper fitted neatly into the crease.
The room seemed to fade out in front of Carson's eyes, and he was back again in the stillness of the death house. He was leaning against his cell door looking out along the bare corridor. In this imagination he could see two brown, thin hands poked through the bars of a cell door rolling a brown paper cigarette with painstaking, careful skill. Making that tiny crease as evenly as a machine could have, fitting the other edge of the cigarette into it, crimping the ends with a quick double twist.
Those were Mardrigi's brown, thin hands he had seen doing that, and he could hear Mardrigi's voice saying:
"Why don't you try one of these? They're better than that hay you smoke."
Mardrigi! But Mardrigi was dead. Mardrigi couldn't have come here tonight and sat in this chair and made his cigarettes and shot Forgan. Mardrigi was lying in the prison graveyard clad in a cheap prison shroud, nailed in a cheap prison coffin. Mardrigi had been lying there, dead, for three days now.
Carson reached out with numb fingers and felt the cigarette butts. One of them was warm to his touch.
THE visiting room of the city jail was a long bare rectangle with a close-knit wire screen stretched down its middle. The prisoners and their visitors could talk to each other through the screen.
Carson stood at the far end of the room on the visitors' side of the netting. The room was familiar enough to him. He had talked to people through the wire netting a good many times in the past, but always before he had been on the other side.
He watched the fat matron waddle through the door that led back to the cell corridors and approach him.
"Miss Bartlett says she don't want to see you," the matron said in her stolidly unemotional voice.
"Did you give her my message?" Carson demanded. "Did you tell her that I wanted to help her?"
The matron nodded.
"Yes. She said she could do without any help from you. She said you had got her in here and wasn't you satisfied with that. She said she didn't want you gloating over her."
"Please go back and explain again to her that I don't want to gloat over her. I want to help her."
The matron shook her head slowly.
"It won't do any good, mister. I'm sorry, but she got so mad when I told her you was out here that she started to cry. She hates you."
"Yes," said Carson slowly. "Yes, I guess she does."
He turned around wearily and went out the door into the long, marble floored corridor. He had really wanted to help Paula Bartlett, and he still did. He knew the terrible feeling of injustice that she was experiencing now—the awful sense of loneliness. He wanted to comfort her, cheer her up. But probably his visit, feeling as she did about him, had had just the opposite effect. No matter what he tried to do for her, he always seemed to blunder, to make things worse.
It was John Bartlett. He was a thin elderly man, erectly straight, distinguished looking. He had iron-grey hair, an iron-grey mustache. His eyes were icy blue.
"You did it, didn't you?" he said. Ordinarily his voice was smoothly cultured, trained, but now it had a hoarsely thick note. "Ill hand it to you, Carson. I was afraid of you when you got out of prison. I thought you'd try to get even with me, and I knew you were clever and intelligent enough to think of a good way to do it. But you were cleverer than I thought."
"I didn't have anything to do with this," Carson said. "I'd already given up the idea of getting back at you before this happened—just because hurting you would hurt your daughter."
"You mealy-mouthed liar," Bartlett said, and his eyes had the fist sheen of blued steel. "You're rubbing it in now, aren't you? Don't you think I know what she is and what I am? You're making her pay for what I did to you, and you're demanding a big price, aren't you?"
"I'm not demanding any price," Carson said evenly.
"I'll demand one," Bartlett said.
His arm jerked up, and a flat automatic gleamed darkly in his hand. He meant to shoot. There was no doubt about that.
Carson hurled himself forward in a low, driving tackle. Somewhere down the corridor a woman screamed shrilly. Bartlett's automatic smashed out deafeningly, racketing between the narrow walls in a thousand barking echoes. Carson felt the hot flare of powder in his face, felt the bullet twitch at his coat. Then he hit Bartlett hard just above the knees.
Bartlett smashed over backwards. He half-turned, crashed head-on into the wall, dropped in a limp heap.
Carson stood up, wiping his forehead with a trembling hand. He had done it again. He had hurt Paula Bartlett once more. There was suddenly a close-packed press of people around him, all shoving and yelling.
IT was two hours before Carson could get free of the reporters and the police and get back to his hotel. Bartlett had suffered a bad concussion when Carson had knocked him against the wall and had been taken to a hospital. Carson had refused to press any charges against him.
There was a man in his room, lounging indolently in a chair with his feet propped up on top of the bed. It was Bill, the man Forgan had sent to bring Carson from the prison.
"Howdy, boy," Bill said thickly. He waved a lax arm. "Thought I might as well wait here where it was comfortable. I seen this bottle here and I knew it was brandy because I could read the label through the wrapping, so I helped myself. Good stuff, too. Hope you don't mind."
"Bottle?" Carson said, puzzled.
Bill nodded. "Sure. On your table. All wrapped up pretty in tissue paper. See?" He picked up a bottle from the floor beside his chair and held it uncertainly aloft. "Wanna drink?"
"No, thanks," Carson said. "Did you want to see me?"
Bill nodded slowly, as though it was a great effort to move his head. "Yeah. Wanted to see you. Forgan's dead. I got no boss. Broke. Maybe—sell you something. Say, this is strong stuff. Only had—three drinks. Feel—very funny."
"What did you want to sell me?"
"Information. I know—who killed Forgan. You wanna—know?"
Carson leaned forward tensely. "Who did it?"
Bill blinked his eyes, trying to focus them. "You—pay?"
"Yes!" Carson snapped impatiently. "Of course, I will! How much do you want?"
"Well—lemme see. Gotta have enough—get out of country. Say, what's matter—with this brandy. So tired—dizzy. Sleep." He slumped sideways.
Carson swept the bottle up off the floor. The dark liquor in it had a peculiar sweetish smell. Carson seized the telephone.
"Get a doctor!" he snapped when the desk clerk answered. "Quick!"
He lifted Bill's thick body, rolled him on the bed. He shook the man hard.
"Bill!" Carson said tensely. "Bill! Who killed Forgan?"
Bill's lips muttered half-incoherent sentences. "I wasn't there—but saw him—comin' in—when I left. Funny—him doin' it."
Carson shook him again. "Who?"
"Dead," Bill said. "Funny. Forgan—hiding him. Kills Forgan. Funny."
"Hiding where?" Carson demanded.
Bill's head rolled from side to side, and his thick body shuddered spasmodically.
There was a sudden imperative knock at the door. The desk clerk came in with another man.
"This is the doctor," the clerk said uncertainly. "What—"
The doctor paid no attention either to him or to Carson. He had hurried to the bed, was leaning over Bill.
"What'd he drink?" he snapped over his shoulder.
"This brandy," Carson said. "I don't know where it came from. He said he found it on my table."
"I sent it up while you were out," the clerk said, white-faced. "A messenger brought it, said it was for you."
The doctor stood up. "You drink any of that brandy?"
Carson shook his head. "No."
"Lucky for you," said the doctor. "This man's dead." He picked up the brandy bottle, sniffed at it. "Off-hand I can't say what's in this. It's some sort of violent poison mixed with morphine to conceal its taste and effect."
"Good God!" the desk clerk said, staring hard at Carson. "That was—meant for you!"
"I know," Carson said tightly.
IN the dusk the pine trees were straight and slim like tall sentinels standing at rigid attention, whispering together very softly as the wind stirred their branches. Through them Carson could see the flat, metallically blue sheen of the lake.
He walked forward very quietly, his feet noiseless on the thick, springy carpet of pine needles. According to the station attendant where he had last purchased gas, Forgan's cabin was somewhere near at this end of the lake. Carson had driven up, alone, in a rented car. He had parked it back a mile on the road.
He came out at the end of a steep little gully and saw the sharp peak of a gabled roof on the flat below. He stood there for awhile, concealed in the brush, watching. There was no smoke coming from the chimney, no signs of life anywhere.
Carson stepped forward quietly. His right hand was in his coat pocket, gripping the butt of the snub-nosed revolver he had taken from Bill's body.
He came up to the back door of the cottage and cautiously tried the latch. The door was unlocked. Carson pushed it back a little at a time. He was looking into the shadowed dimness of a long, low-raftered kitchen, and then a voice said:
"Come right in, Carson."
It was Mardrigi. It was Mardrigi, alive, not dead. Mardrigi, sitting in the corner behind a big wooden table and grinning in his darkly sinister way. His right elbow was resting on the table top, and his right hand held a .45 automatic centered on Carson's chest.
Carson drew a deep breath and stepped slowly into the kitchen.
"Kinda surprised, ain't you?" Mardrigi inquired sarcastically. "Kinda surprised to see me jumpin' out of my grave and runnin' around on the loose."
"How did you escape from the prison?" Carson asked levelly.
"Would you like to know, now?" Mardrigi asked. "Would you? Well, I might as well tell you, because you ain't gonna be tellin' anybody else. Your pal, Forgan, got me out. Do you wanta know why, Carson?"
"Yes," Carson said.
"All right, I'll tell you. Because I knew something about him. You remember a guy named Junk Smith? Yeah, you do. He's the guy that killed Denham, and Denham was the guy they almost fried you for murderin'. Well, who do you suppose hired Junk Smith to biff Denham? Why, it was our old pal Forgan again. That's how he figured out who done the killin' so easy. You see, you was in jail for the murder, and that was okay with Forgan until he found out that Bartlett was gonna beat Forgan's candidate for governor on the big reputation Bartlett made convicting you. Forgan decided to put the bee on that. He was a great schemer, Forgan was. He hired a couple of tough babies to work on Junk Smith. They beat him up and got a confession out of him, and then they finished him off so he wouldn't talk any more."
MARDRIGI paused to wink knowingly at Carson. "Get it? The old double-X, and very neat, too. Denham was dead, Junk Smith was dead, and Bartlett's big reputation for convicting you bounced right back and hit him in the eye. Oh, that Forgan was a smartie! Only, there was me. I knew all about the whole business, because Junk Smith was my pal, and he told me. And I told Forgan he'd better get me out of the big house, or I'd get him in there. He got me out."
"And then you killed him," Carson said tonelessly.
"Yeah, the damned fool," Mardrigi said. "I went to see him and told him I'd have to get some heavy dough to get out of the country. He got tough about it and pulled a gun on me, so I let him have it. That was a bad spot for me. I was hidin' in the library when the cop busted down the front door. I thought I was gonna have to cook his goose, too, only about then you and the dame started your wrestlin' match in the kitchen. The cop went past the library, and I walked out the front door. You saved me!"
Mardrigi suddenly laughed sneeringly.
Carson whirled sideways against the wall, jerking at the snub-nosed revolver in his coat pocket. Mardrigi's .45 exploded with a wham that shook the walls of the cabin. Carson felt the bullet, high up on his left side, like a great club smashing him. He slammed backwards into the wall with a breathless jar.
And then the revolver was up in his hand, and he felt the butt jar back against his palm as he pulled the trigger again and again.
A white hot iron touched Carson along the side of his head, and everything went very dark in front of his eyes suddenly. He was falling, and as he fell he could see, very dimly, that Mardrigi was falling, too, sliding down over the table.
Carson lay there on the floor, and the room seemed very still.
Then a door creaked very softly, and after awhile feet shuffled a little. The feet came slowly and cautiously across the room, stopped beside Mardrigi for a moment, then started for Carson.
Carson made a tremendous effort and sat up, leveling the revolver.
"Hello, doctor," he said thickly.
It was Symonds, the prison physician. He stood there, staring down at Carson, a bent, thin little figure with his spectacles awry and his pale face twisted horribly.
"I'm going to kill you, Symonds," Carson said.
Symonds screamed in terror. "No! No, no! In God's name, no!"
Carson braced himself against the wall.
"You're the one who's been at the bottom of all this. Forgan hired you to fake that appendix business, pretend Mardrigi had died of the operation, and then smuggled him out of prison."
"I had to!" Symonds gasped frantically. "Forgan made me! Don't shoot, Carson! For God's sake, listen—"
"You found out from Mardrigi about the Denham murder, and it was your idea to blackmail Forgan for that. But you knew he'd never pay blackmail as long as I was alive. All he would have to do would be to have me say I killed Denham. It wouldn't hurt me any. I'd already been tried and convicted and pardoned. I couldn't be tried again for the same thing. But if I was dead, Forgan couldn't rely on me. So you tried to shoot me outside the prison, and you fixed up that poisoned bottle of brandy."
"No! No, Carson! I swear—"
The hammer of Carson's snub-nosed revolver clicked softly.
Symonds' voice was a terrorized croak. "Yes! I did it! But, Carson, listen to me! You want to save that girl! I'll confess! I'll tell everything about Forgan's murder! I swear I will! She'll go free! Don't shoot, Carson! There's a telephone here! I'll call the police and tell them everything! Carson! Please—"
"Find the telephone," Carson said.
THE taxi ground to a stop, and Carson got stiffly out of it. His wounded shoulder was in a cast now. It felt clumsy, unwieldy, and it ached with a dull throb that seemed to be an echo of the throb in his bandaged head.
A red-cap came up.
"Carry your bags, sir?"
"Yes, I'm going out on the Limited. Drawing room A, car seventy-three."
"She leaves in five minutes, sir."
Carson nodded again. He fumbled in his pocket, paid the taxi driver. He turned around, and then a voice said softly:
It was Paula Bartlett. She was standing close to him, staring up into his face, smiling a little.
"Yes," Carson said thickly.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I couldn't stand it any longer," Carson said. "I couldn't stand being near you when you feel the way you do about me."
"Does it make you feel so badly to have me love you?"
"Love?" Carson repeated numbly. "Love—me?" Suddenly the whole world seemed to brighten up before his eyes, and all the ache and weariness was gone. "You mean—"
"I mean we'll have to hurry if we catch that train," Paula Bartlett said. "Come on!" She seized his right hand in both hers and held it tight.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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