Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Fantastic Adventures, September 1949

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-12-24

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Fantastic Advenures, September 1949, with "Backward Passage"


He stood at the entrance to the alley, and as he looked he saw a girl run-
ning toward him—and it seemed as if a shimmering light surrounded her...

The alley was a challenge to Warner, for he knew that some-
where in the middle of it was a doorway into the unknown...

THEATRE lights and the bright glow from the parking lot did not penetrate the alley. It was like the entrance to a cave lost between tall skyscrapers. During the day it spewed over with broken crates, half-filled garbage cans and roaring delivery trucks. At night, old women with talon-like, dirt-begrimed fingers wandered about, picking up choice bits of half-rotten food.

A man staggered out of the alley and turned, when he reached Randolph Street, to stare back into the darkness with terror-stricken eyes. His clothing was torn and ill-fitting. He was short and stubby, his head topped with curly black hair. He clutched a lamppost for support. Then his knees sagged beneath him and he fell forward, face down in the gutter.

There isn't anything unusual about a bum passing out on Randolph Street. But if that bum turns out to be Tony Sputozza, a gangster who was buried five years before in Greenlawn Cemetery, his reappearance is apt to cause unpleasant repercussions.

Very few people were aware of Tony Sputozza's reappearance. The doctor at the receiving hospital recognized him. As soon as he made sure by examining the mole on Tony's right knee, Doc Hickory called Detective Grant Warner at headquarters.

He was in a bad state when Warner finally answered the phone.

"Grant, for God's sake, where were you?"

Grant Warner wasn't easily excited. He had graduated from the first precinct and was making a nice place for himself in the plainclothes division. Warner didn't have to worry about being classed as a story-book detective. His red hair, snub hose and sad face took care of that. He did his work quietly and received a weekly stipend for his troubles. Beyond that, he was only Grant Warner, and the chief quite often coupled his name with the name of the Lord, whom he liked to speak of in vain.

"What's the matter, Hick?" Warner was proud of the nickname, he'd tacked on Doc Hickory. Are you drunk again? ...

Doc Hickory's voice sank to a whisper.

"Drunk or crazy. Listen! I've got Tony Sputozza over here. I'm hiding him in the isolation ward until you get here."

Warner drew a toothpick from his vest pocket and started to pick his teeth calmly. He did it to retain a stubborn hold on sanity.

"Sputozza?" he said. "Well, well, it seems to me we buried him once. What was it, Hick, scotch or bourbon?"

Hickory's voice snapped angrily.

"Dammit, Grant, I'm not tipsy. I tell you Tony isn't dead, even if I did sign his death certificate. You get the hell over here before I..."

"All right," Doc, Warner said quickly. "Don't excite yourself. Lay down somewhere, anywhere; I'll pick up some stuff that will make you feel better."

"You do, and I'll..."

WARNER hung up before he found out what Hick was going to do. He started down-stairs, crumpling the toothpick as he walked, and climbed into the Chevvy in front of headquarters.

"Old Hickory," he said musingly and stepped on the starter. He wheeled the car expertly out of the small parking-place and turned on the siren. "The old guy can drink a gallon of whiskey and cut off an arm with his eyes closed?"

Lost in silent admiration for Hick, Warner missed three street cars and a garbage truck by close margins. With the feeling that people ought to show more respect for a police siren, he pushed the Chevvy up to fifty and followed the street-car tracks down State Street.

Applying the brakes to prevent the Chevvy from piling into an ambulance, Grant Warner stepped under the awning at the receiving hospital. He took the steps three at a time. He leaned over the doubtful display of beauty who held down the night desk.

"Hello, beautiful. Doc Hickory is waiting for me. What cell are you keeping him in?"

The nurse wasn't interested, so Warner flashed his badge. The doubt was replaced by a blush of co-operation.

"Seventh floor. In his office. You're fresh, aren't you?

"Correct," he said and hurried toward the elevator. "Fresh as a daisy."

The elevator stopped with a click and he stepped inside.

"Seven, and don't spare the horses."

Doc Hickory's office was a familiar hunting ground. Without hesitating, Warner pushed the door open. Old Hickory turned away from the window. His thin, gray face showed every sign that he might be suffering from a heart attack.

"Better sit down, Hick," Warner said. "The night air is bad."

"Shut up," Hick snarled. He was very unhappy.

The smile left Warner's homely face.

"Now, Hick, is that any way..."

"Shut up and sit down!" Doc Hickory went to the desk and slumped into his chair. Warner's toothpick went to work once more.

"You aren't being serious about this?"

"You're damned right I am," Hick snorted. "I wanted to talk to you first, before we go upstairs. I'll be carrying you when we come down. I tell you, Grant, it's Tony Sputozza and by the great God, I know what I'm talking about!"

Grant Warner knew Hick thought it was Tony. He knew that, contrary to his first impression, Old Hickory wasn't drunk. In fact, he had never seen a man more dead sober. It wasn't even healthy.

"So, Tony climbed through six feet of dirt out at Greenlawn and walked all the way to the Loop."

Hickory shuddered.

"Don't make a joke of it," he pleaded miserably. "Do you think it was the easiest thing in the world for me to face? I saw Tony buried. I saw them close the coffin and cover it with mud. For God's sake, Grant, am I losing my mind?"

Warner wasn't quite sure.

"All right," he said soberly. "Let's see your returned corpse."

Doc Hickory arose and went to the door. Warner followed him to the elevator and they shot upward. The upper hall that they entered was almost dark. The air was strong with the stench of chemicals.

The two men walked slowly to the last door on the right side of the hall. Hickory put his shoulder against the pine panel.

"You asked for it," he said. He pushed the door open and waited for Grant Warner to enter.

The detective dropped his cigarette on the hall floor. A funny feeling passed through him, like the sensation a man must get when he walks through the last door.

HE WENT in, and his face turned a bloodless white. His mouth opened as though he were about to say something, and remained open. The words never came. Tony Sputozza arose from the bed and walked toward him. Tony Sputozza who had gone under a hail of tommy-gun fire five years ago. Tony, who Warner had seen placed in a steel casket and lowered into a rain-washed grave.

"Hello, Warner," Tony held out a pudgy hand. His dark face was wreathed with a smile. "For a long time I ain't seen you around. How come? Don't Tony have friends any more?"

Warner accepted the handclasp automatically, a shudder passing through him.

"I'm afraid I don't get it," he admitted, "Where the hell did you come from?"

Sputozza looked surprised.

"Come from," he waved his arms excitedly. "Do I have to come from any place special? Ain't you even glad to see me?"

Warner grinned, but it wasn't an expression of amusement. This was Tony Sputozza all right. Tony who had kept Grant Warner supplied with Italian cigars and full of Ma Sputozza's spaghetti.

"No," he said slowly. "I'm glad to see you all right. I'd like to know where you've been hiding out, that's all."

Warner had been impressed from the first by the Italian's matter of fact acceptance of conditions as they were. It was as though Tony had left town for a week, and was just returning. Warner would have sworn that Sputozza, knew nothing about his death. That to Tony, the city was the same and his friends were the same.

"I know what you're thinking," Tony's voice was sad and a little reproachful. "You're thinking Tony can't hold his wine any more. They say they found me in a gutter. That ain't no place for Tony, in no gutter. I'm sober now. I'm going right home to Mama and the kids."

Warner shot a warning look at Doc Hickory.

"I don't think you were drunk, Tony," he said easily.

Tony Sputozza grinned happily.

"Leave it to Grant," he told Hickory. "Grant's my pal. He don't think Tony's a bum."

"No," Warner said. "I been thinking, I got something I'd like to talk over with you. How about coming over to my apartment for a couple of hours. We'll have a drink and..."

Sputozza sprang from the bed.

"Sure—that's more like it."

Doc Hickory got his bulk wedged into the door.

"Wait a while," he said. "I'll have a car come around the back way and pick you up."

Sputozza looked puzzled, but Warner nodded.

"Maybe that's the best way," he said. "We'll take the freight elevator down when you call."

Tony Sputozza stared from one man to the other, a suspicious gleam in his eyes.

"Say," he said nervously. "What you two guys cooking up?"

"There's two or three bums looking for you, Tony," Grant Warner said casually. "No sense taking chances."

He wondered how he was going to tell Tony Sputozza that his wife was dead and lying in a grave beside the one Tony should be occupying. How Tony had lost his place in society and about his daughters who were almost grown up and wouldn't be able to stand the shock of seeing their Papa again.

GRANT WARNER faced a tough problem and preferred to face it alone. Somehow he felt responsible for Sputozza. The little gangster had always had a soft spot in his heart for Warner during Warner's early days on the force. Sputozza had tipped him off to a number of things that made promotions possible.

Tony was asleep, overcome by too much good whiskey and some knockout drops that Warner had slipped into his last drink. Warner hated to do it, but there wasn't any choice. He had to have time to think things over.

When Tony finally started to snore loudly, Warner left him stretched comfortably across the davenport, donned his hat and went out to the car. Driving would clear his mind and help him make a decision. If any of Tony's old gang spotted the Italian, it wouldn't be hard to guess what the reaction might be.

Warner drove down to the Loop and, as though by a prearranged plan, found himself parking close to the alley where Tony was first seen. He left the car and wandered across the street. It was a little after ten, and a steady stream of pedestrians wandered by, seeking the bright lights nearby. Warner stood near the entrance to the alley for some time, scowling fiercely into the darkness as though he expected to find some solution in the shadows.

He thought he saw something move about a half block away. Otherwise the alley was deserted. Straining his eyes to catch another glimpse of the moving object, he saw that it was a girl. She wandered toward him, staggering slightly.

"Had a couple too many," Warner said in a low voice, then was immediately sorry for the remark he had made. The girl was close enough now so the street lamp behind him lighted her face. He knew at once that she wasn't the drinking type. That she didn't belong here. Her eyes met his and they were soft and frightened. Her slim figure, partly hidden under a soiled trench coat, was lithe and youthful. She started to run, her lips parted, arms outstretched toward Warner.

"Please," her voice would have been thrilling if it weren't so filled with terror. "Help me."

She tripped and fell into his arms. Warner tried to stand her on her feet, but her face, when it turned up to the light, was pale and bloodless. She had fainted.

He picked her up in his arms and pushed through the gathering crowd. People made him blindly angry at a time like this. They pressed in around him, fighting to see what had happened.

"Get the hell out of the way," he said tersely and jabbed his elbow in a fat woman's ribs. She jumped away with an angry cry and Warner kicked open the door to a small restaurant.

A waiter hurried forward and helped Warner get the girl into a chair. Her head sagged forward.

"Get some water for her," Warner said, and headed for the phone booth.

In two minutes he had Hickory on the wire. The Doctor had been worried about Warner since he left the hospital with Tony.

"What's the good, word, Grant?" he asked.

"Get an ambulance down here where they found Tony," Warner said tersely. "There's another one."

"Another one?" Distinct alarm echoed in Hickory's voice.

"I can't be sure;" Warner continued, "but if my memory is any good, this girl drowned herself in the Chicago river four years ago. Her name is Randy White. Now, will you start moving?"

"Right away." Hickory said quietly. "But for God's sake, Grant, what's it all about?"

Warner groaned.

"I wish I knew," he admitted.

DOCTOR Howard Phelps was the third and last person to come out of the alley. The Doctor returned as had Tony Sputozza. Grant Warner interviewed him at the hospital, and at that time Phelps was positive that he had suffered from a temporary touch of amnesia. He planned to continue with his practice at once.

* * *

It was late at night. Warner asked Randy White to remain with Tony at Warner's apartment. The girl had been in the hospital for a day. She appreciated Warner's friendship because, as she expressed it:

"I haven't a place in the world to go."

Now, with a badly puzzled and slightly irate Dr. Phelps, Warner drove to the apartment and prepared to make a clean breast of the whole thing.

In ten minutes, he had introduced his three visitors and was very busy serving cocktails. Phelps, clean cut and a professional appearing man of about fifty, was impatient to be on his way.

"I like you, Warner," he said simply. "It was nice of you to take an interest in me, but my wife will be holding supper. I have a number of cases to look in on this evening."

Warner had been holding his secret as long as he dared. He looked at the doctor calmly.

"Are you capable of taking a severe shock, Doctor?"

Phelps looked puzzled.

"I don't understand?"

"Well, let's get it over with."

Warner sat down, staring from one face to the other. "I don't think that you people actually know why you're here. I don't think you know that each of you was picked up more dead than alive at the entrance to the same downtown alley.

"Wait a minute," Phelps protested. "You make this sound like a mystery. I was overcome by hard work. My heart isn't good."

Warner smiled..

"It certainly isn't, Doctor. According to the records, it stopped beating five years ago."

Doctor Phelps' face turned white.

"Please," he begged, "let's not joke..."

Warner leaned forward and placed his glass on the table.

"This is no joke," he said. "Listen to me, and don't interrupt. Each of you was picked up in bad condition and rushed to the hospital. Doctor Hickory will vouch for that. Now, here is the reason you are here. If I let you wander about as you wish, returning to your old haunts, you'll cause a sensation that will rock the whole nation."

"But why?"

He looked at Randy White's small, oval face. She had turned very pale.

Her hands were clenched. He hated most of all to hurt Randy. She looked as though she had been hurt enough. There wasn't any choice.

"Because I have newspaper records here which I borrowed from the files. Also police records.

"Briefly, Tony Sputozza who sits here with a very lively grin on his face is shown as having died five years ago and was buried at Greenlawn Cemetery."

HE heard Tony gasp, and Randy White's glass slipped from her fingers and crashed on the rug.

"Mrs. Sputozza followed her husband to his grave a month later and his daughters are both married."

He heard a choked sob escape Tony's lips. The Italian started to rise, then sank back into his chair. The room was deathly still.

Warner didn't dare look up.

"Randy White," he said, and the girl's breath sucked in quickly. "Daughter of an upstate farmer. Randy tried to find work here in the city, drowned herself in the Hudson River and her body was shipped home. All this happened four and a half years ago."

Deathly stillness. Doctor Phelps shifted nervously in his chair.. Randy's eyes were wet.

"Doctor Phelps, former surgeon and physician, died of cancer July eighth, nineteen thirty-eight. Both wife and daughter living. Wife remarried. Phelps was buried at High Point Cemetery."

Warner looked up.

The clock ticked loudly. Tony reached for a handkerchief and mopped his eyes. Randy White was biting her lip, and the skin broke open. Blood ran against her teeth. Doctor Phelps stared at the carpet, his fists closing and opening slowly.

"I think you understand now why you are here?"

Randy White staggered to her feet, and moved toward him mechanically. She took three steps and fainted, falling into his arms. Warner lifted her into his arms and placed her on the davenport. Tony Sputozza stood up and stared at the girl.

"Kinda funny feeling, being dead--and not dead, huh, Sport?"

There was no humor in his expression.

"But how? It defies all the laws. It--it couldn't happen," Phelps protested weakly. "It isn't fair. My wife is married to another man. My old life gone. I can't face that."

Warner turned and his eyes were stern.

"That's why I brought you all here," he said; "I've taken the responsibility for this problem. You all understand as much as I do. I know this much. None of you must ever go back to the place you were before you died. Somehow it will work out. But, under no circumstances must you see or be seen by anyone you knew before."

Tony Sputozza chuckled. He seemed to take it slightly better than the rest of them.

"That's okay with me, Sport. Just give me orders and I'll do the rest."

Randy White had opened her eyes. She stared up at Warner with a wan smile.

"I won't be foolish again," she promised. "It--it isn't every day a person comes back to life."

Warner felt a strange choking sensation in his throat. Randy, more than the rest of them needed his help.

"You won't suffer," he promised. "Not as long as I can help you."

Her fingers closed tightly around his hand. Her eyes were dry again.

"Thanks," she whispered.

IT was all a matter of readjustment, Grant Warner tried to tell himself. He had become the self-appointed guardian of these unfortunate people. Several weeks had passed and thus far everything was going nicely.

Warner leaned back comfortably before the fireplace and studied the wall with dreamy half-closed eyes.

Phelps was back in practice. Warner had financed him and Phelps had changed his name to Walter Bascomb.

Tony hadn't changed his name, nor had Randy. Randy had never been known in the city and Tony was staying away from his old haunts. Tony grew a mustache and dressed in quiet clothes. He didn't look like the gangster of old. Randy was working in the basement of a downtown department store. Tony drove a laundry truck over on the West side. Phelps, or Walter Bascomb, was doing fairly well and had already built up a small practice.

The hall door blew open, and swearing at the faulty catch, Warner arose and closed it. He sat down again, but was aware somehow that the room was not the same. He looked about him at the familiar paper, the odds and ends he had collected. There was another chair opposite his own. The chair had been moved to face the fire as was his own.

Warner sat very still, puffing on his cigarette. He remembered distinctly that the chair had been moved since he stood up to close the door. He hadn't touched it.

"I suppose there is an eerie feeling when one can sense and yet not see a visitor," a voice said from the other chair.

Warner's fingers stiffened about the arms of his chair. He didn't move.

"However, don't be frightened. Perhaps, fortunately for you, you don't have to worry about looking at me. I'm here with a message. I won't remain long."

Warner didn't trust himself to speak. There was something, at least a voice, coming to him from that other chair. He placed both feet together on the floor. He removed the cigarette from his mouth and pinched out the sparks between his fingers.

"I don't understand?"

"Don't try, friend." The voice was firm and yet gentle. "You have taken it upon yourself to act as guardian to a certain group of rather odd people."

IT dawned on Warner that here was a solution for the return of Tony and the others. An answer to a question that had been driving him slowly mad.

"Don't feel that you are to blame," the voice continued. "Actually it is I who am at fault."

"But--who are you?" Warner asked. "Where did you and the others come from?"

A dry chuckle followed.

"Where do most of us go according to the fire and brimstone league, when we die?"

Warner didn't answer.

"There was a crack in the wall," the voice said. "I should have had it attended to at once. Instead, I left it for a few nights. When we took roll-call yesterday, three were gone. They had wandered through the wall and back here to life."

"Look here," Warner protested, "I guess I understand what you're trying to get across. But, take the girl for example. Do you have to take her back. Doesn't she deserve the second chance she's getting?"

This time the voice chuckled gleefully. "I was beginning to fall for that babe myself," it admitted, "Sorry, Bud, but you can't fiddle around with this business. I got thirty lashes of the forked-whip for not getting the wall patched. It brought up complications that I don't like to face."

"Yes, I'm listening."

"Well," the voice said, "first, thanks for taking charge here. It consolidated my problem and I owe that much to you. Secondly, I can't take any of them back with me. They have another chance until they commit another crime that demands their return. They can remain here. I'm sure that within three months they will all be ready for the trip back. The girl is weak. She'll try to escape life again. The other two, well, we'll see."

"We'll see," Warner agreed weakly.

"Another thing," the voice said sharply. "You'll keep an eye on them. You're more or less a partner of mine from now on. You will report to me at the end of three months. I will base, my findings on your report."

"Thanks," Warner said stiffly. He was in direct partnership with evil forces that were beyond his power to fight.

"I'll be going," the voice said. "But remember,' I'll be back in three months."

Warner didn't move. The door opened.

"Look out for one of them," the voice warned. "There is one in the group that is more horrible than the rest. This person will turn on you and destroy you if the opportunity presents itself."

The door closed, and Warner felt the skin on his neck prickle strangely. He hadn't thought of that. He knew their secret. With him out of the way, all of them could escape their memories.

He continued to puff on the cigarette, but the smoke was flat and tasteless. He tossed the stub into the fire and hurried out of the room. Outside on the street, the air was clear and cold. The wind felt good.

Which of the three couldn't he trust his own life with?

RANDY WHITE had been acting strangely for a week. Warner noticed it for the first time when he took the evening off and attended a local theatre with her. Randy had changed. Her cheeks were red once.

Randy had been starved for pleasure and she enjoyed every moment with Warner. It was after the theatre, while they sat across from each other in a tiny restaurant that Randy's face clouded and she stared questioningly at Warner as though hating to spoil his evening.

"Grant," she said after a time. "I'm afraid I'm not very grateful for all you've done."

Warner's smile faded slightly.

"I don't expect to have you exclusively for myself, just because we--we sort of started together."

She smiled and shook her head.

"Wrong guess," she said. "You're going to have me chasing you around as long as I can find you. It's something else, Grant. I'd like to quit my job."

Warner's face clouded.

"I don't think I understand. Is the work too difficult?"

She shook her head, and a frown creased her forehead.

"It's--something else, Grant. I'd rather not speak of it right now. Do you suppose you could find something for me? I'd look for a position myself, but I know you are trying to keep me hidden. That isn't a very nice word for it."

Warner wondered if the girl was unhappy. If the old weakness was coming back. Would it always be like this? Would Randy always be afraid to fight back when the going got tough.

"I'll see what can be done," he said at last. "Any particular work you'd like to try your hand at?"

"No, only I'll have to get out of that basement. Perhaps another place in the same store?"

He nodded.

"I know the manager. I'll see what I can do."

They continued eating silently for a few minutes. Randy studied him with quiet, worried eyes.

"Grant, you aren't angry?"

"No--why should I be?"

Her shoulders moved slightly.

"Oh, you got me the job. Now after a few weeks I want another. Grant," she leaned forward and her fingers tightened around his. "I do have a good reason."

"I know," Warner said. "Don't think any more of it."

ON Monday morning Randy White was transferred to the tenth floor. Warner forgot about the incident. Forgot until a week later when he waited to take Randy to lunch. She was talking quietly to a slim, sandy-haired man who came down with her on the elevator. Warner was sure that Randy hadn't expected him. She stopped short when she saw him waiting and argued in a low, passionate voice with the man at her side. He turned, caught Warner's eyes and smiled wryly.

Randy came on alone, greeting him with a flustered:

"Hello, Grant. I didn't expect you so soon."

Perhaps he was a fool. Perhaps there was more boy in him than man. At that moment he was so terribly hurt that he couldn't trust himself to speak.

She took his arm.

"Grant, please, what's the matter?"

He drew away from her.

"Forget it," he said gruffly. "I guess I've been getting the wrong impression. You didn't have to send him away because I was here. You don't owe me a thing."

He left her alone and made his way blindly to the street. He wasn't good for anything the remainder of the day. Her face had been pale and frightened as she stared at him.

He wanted Randy White to know that he didn't need gratitude. That she didn't owe him anything. Her life was her own and he intended to leave her alone from now on.

The afternoon was a long one. He wandered around town for several hours and at last returned to the apartment. The phone was ringing as he came upstairs. At first he planned not to answer. Then, when it didn't stop, he lifted the receiver.

"Grant, for the love of Mike, where have you been?" It was Doc Hickory's voice.

"Working," Warner said. "Don't tell me--"

"No," Hickory sounded strangely worked up. "Grant, what did you do to that poor girl?"

Randy? How did Hickory know?

"Doc, for God's sake, what is it?"

He was filled suddenly with terrible remorse.

"You'd better get over here to the hospital, Grant," Hickory's voice was like cold steel. "The girl is hysterical. She killed a man this afternoon."

Randy a murderess?

Warner knew that he answered somehow and hung up. His feet carried him downstairs, but all the time his mind was back in his own room, before the fireplace. All over again he was hearing the words he had heard from the voice.

"The girl is weak. She'll try to escape life again..."

Randy had killed a man and somehow he, Grant Warner, was to blame.

RANDY WAS sitting up in bed when he arrived. Her head was bandaged and the eyes that stared at him from beneath the strip of gauze were bitter. He crossed the room, nodding to the policewoman and sat down at Randy's side.

"Randy, darling, why did you do it?"

She turned away.

"Grant, you didn't, have to come here. This is my own problem. You aren't involved."

There was something in her voice that begged him to stay. To help her when she needed him most.

"Randy," he repeated her name again, trying to think of the right thing to say. "Who was it?"

She shrugged.

"The police will tell you," she said. "I--hurt my head. As soon as I'm stronger they'll take me to jail. You'll come to see me, at least until..."

Warner knew nothing of the case. He hadn't taken time to find out.

"I don't give a damn what happened," he said in a low voice. "Randy, you're good. You wouldn't harm a fly unless you had a good reason."

Her lips parted slightly, her eyes softened.

"You can't help, me, Grant," she said. "Leave me alone. I'll get along."

"I'll be damned if I will, Randy. I was wildly jealous today. I made a fool of myself. Randy, I love you. A man in love does some crazy things."

One moment she was sitting sternly erect, her whole body shaking with emotion. The next she sank against him, her arms about his neck, lips seeking his.

"Oh Grant, I wish I could tell—I wish..."

It didn't matter at that moment if she was a murderess or not. He knew he would save her from the law.

He wondered if he could save her from the hall of judgment represented by the voice.

"SHE told me that she asked you to get her another job to escape this man, James," Hickory said. "James was a floor manager in the basement. When Randy went to the tenth floor, James came up to heckle her. She told me that this noon you saw her with James and grew angry. It wasn't her fault. The man followed her down on the elevator."

Warner stood up and started to pace from one end of the office to the other.

"Go on," he said.

Hickory cleared his throat.

"This afternoon, about three, they brought her in with a flesh wound on her forehead and a set of nerves that were ready to snap. This guy James cornered her in the stock room and got fresh. She warned him to stay away but I guess the place was locked and he had the key. He went out of bounds. Randy hit him over the head with the arm off a window dummy. Clear case of self-defense. She'll get away without trouble."

Warner knew this should make him feel better, but somehow it didn't. He stared moodily at Hickory.

"But will she have to go back to the horror she escaped from?" he asked. "You know as well as I do that they're waiting for an excuse."

Hickory shook his head.

"I like Randy a lot," he said. "But, Grant, that's a problem that's beyond both of us. It's left to a power greater than yours or mine."

TONY SPUTOZZA came in quickly and closed the door behind him. He stood with his back tightly against it, staring across Warner's apartment. His hair was mussed and his eyes were flashing.

"Good evening, Mr. Warner." He was out of breath. "I--thought I'd come up and see my old friend for a little while."

Grant Warner dropped the book he had been studying and looked up.

"You sure came in like a whirlwind. Why didn't you ring?"

Sputozza left the door. "I thought you were up," he said. "The door was ajar. I saw the light." He circled the room and sat down on the edge of the chair opposite Warner. His coat pocket was bulging heavily. There was a streak of mud on his sleeve. His eyes travelled from the door to Warner and back to the door again. Warner chuckled.

"Look here, Tony, what's the mystery? Something's wrongs. Are you in trouble?"

Tony looked angry. "No trouble. No trouble at all. Can't a guy pay you a visit?"

Warner stood up. He went to the door and opened it. The hall was deserted. He closed the door and locked it. Then he went to the window and stared down the fire escape. It was deserted. He pulled the shade down. He went back and sat down again. Tony had caught his breath and was looking more at ease.

"How you getting along, Mr. Warner?" Tony asked.

"Fine," Warner-said. "You heard that Randy got in trouble?"

Tony nodded.

"I'd like to have got a crack at that guy before she did," he said. "That Randy, she's one fine girl."

"By the way Tony," Warner said. "I see you're packing a rod again."

TONY'S face turned brick red. His hand travelled swiftly to his pocket then retreated slowly.

"You got sharp eyes," he said. "Yes! I got a rod."

Warner's expression wasn't pleasant.

"Why?" he snapped.

Tony wriggled uncomfortably.

"It's a habit," he said nervously. "I don't feel dressed without a rod."

Warner continued to stare at him.

"Tony," he said. "You promised not to make me any more trouble. What have you been up to?"

Tony's face was beaded with perspiration.

"It ain't your business, Mr. Warner," he said. "You hadn't oughta..."

"I'll make it my business," Warner said. "Now--out with it."

"It ain't nothin...."

Tony froze suddenly, cutting off in mid-sentence. The room was deathly silent. The curtain stirred slightly. The window had been closed. There could be no breeze.

Warner sank deeper into the overstuffed chair. His eyes were on Sputozza. Tony's gaze never left the curtain. The window was being raised slowly behind it. Sputozza was on his feet, moving stealthily toward the door. His fingers reached the light switch and the bulb snapped off. As it did, Warner left his chair like a shadow and moved toward the window. The curtain slipped up and for a brief instant the figure of a man was silhouetted in the moonlight.

Then the safety on Tony's automatic clicked and the barrel spewed fire.

Warner reached the light and snapped it on. He grabbed Tony's gun and pushed it into his own pocket. Down the hall half a dozen people were shouting excitedly.

Now that he had killed, Tony seemed to lose his spirit. He turned to Warner with a wild, frightened look in his eyes.

"Grant, I had to shoot him. It's Spike Walker, my old partner. He's a bum, Grant. He was going to tell my daughters and my old gang, that I was in circulation. I had to kill him to keep him from telling, Grant. He wanted money. More money than I can get peddling laundry."

Spike wouldn't be blackmailing anyone anymore.

"Shut up," Warner said. "You didn't kill him. I shot him. He came here after me. I'm the law, understand?"

"Grant, you'll get in trouble." Tony sank down on the davenport and started to sob. "You're a good friend. I can't...."

Grant shook him. He lifted the little man by the coat lapels and stood him on his feet.

"No one's in trouble," he said fiercely. "I can shoot a crook in self-defense. Get hold of yourself."

People were crowding around the hall door. Someone was knocking loudly. Tony was quiet now. .

"Out the back door," Warner said. "Go straight home and keep your mouth shut. No one will know."

He watched Tony go out through the kitchen. Then, with a last look at the man on the floor, he turned to the phone and dialed headquarters.

THE Morning of Randy White's trial arrived. The killing of Spike Walker had been accepted as routine. Warner remembered that Spike had threatened to 'get him' and supposed that this was the attempt. Fortunately, Warner said, although his own gun was in the closet, he had purchased an old one and was fooling around with it when Spike tried to break in.

Now, with a supremely grateful Tony Sputozza sitting at his side, Warner was on his way to court.

Although Randy's trial promised to be a matter of routine, Warner knew he must be near the girl in case any unexpected excitement occurred. It was half-past-ten. The trial opened at ten-thirty-five. Warner leaned forward and spoke to the cab driver.

"Push it a little faster. I'll see that you get an extra buck."

The driver glanced down at the speedometer and stepped on the gas. They were all accustomed to fast driving. It hadn't occurred to Warner that what might be a safe speed in his own car was suicide in a cab. They reached a crowded downtown section, and the driver, his mind on money, didn't slacken speed. A street-car, slower than usual, tried to beat the light. The cab slipped half way into the intersection, the brakes screamed and Warner suddenly saw the street, the sky and the sidewalk spinning wildly in front of him. He was dully aware of pain. Then something struck him full in the face and he went out like a light.

* * *

TONY SPUTOZZA turned over painfully. He groaned and sat up. A crowd had gathered around him. He couldn't see Grant or the driver of the cab. Someone took his arm, but he shook himself free.

"Thanks," he said thickly. "I'm okay."

He stood up. He was stiff and sore in every muscle. He pushed his way through the group of people to find Grant Warner stretched out full length on the pavement. Warner's face was white. His arm was twisted behind him and blood clotted his coat at the shoulder. His body had a queer, twisted appearance.

Voices were rising on all sides. Tony saw a cop push his way through the crowd.

"What's going on here?"

Tony remembered how swell Grant had been, and knew he must pay the detective back some Way. He faced the cop.

"My friend is badly hurt," he said. "We got to get a doctor."

The cop took a quick look at Warner.

"I'll phone right away," he said. "Ambulance will be here in ten minutes."

Tony stood still, forlorn and bloody, wondering if ten minutes was too long. Maybe Grant would die in ten minutes. Then he thought of Doctor Phelps. Doctor Phelps would know what to do. He turned, trying to spot a cab. One was wedged in, blocked by the wreck.

"Hey you," he called. "You in the cab. Give me a hand."

The driver climbed out reluctantly.

"I ain't touching no one," the driver said. "There's a law."

Tony swore. He went down on one knee and picked Warner up.

"You don't have to touch him. Get in that damn cab and drive."

WARNER lay very still, his head on Tony's lap. The cab stopped before a small bungalow. There was a small sign attached to a picket fence.

"Doctor Bascomb, Physician and Surgeon."

"You hurry up and ring the bell," Tony shouted to the driver. He lifted Warner out of the cab with great difficulty. Somehow Tony felt better already. He had brought Warner to the Doc, and saved a lot of time.

He saw Doctor Bascomb--alias Phelps--open the door. The doctor waited as Tony carried Warner past him. Then he hurried ahead and opened the door to a small operating room. Tony waited until Warner was lying safely on a high white-top table. Then he paid the cab driver and turned to Phelps. Phelps was already at work over Warner, cutting away the coat near the shoulder and loosening his collar.

"You do a good job, Doc," Tony said. "We owe him a lot, us three."

Phelps nodded.

"What happened?"

His fingers moved swiftly, surely, over the bloody wounds.

"Car cracked up," Tony said. "You do a good job, Doc."

His voice was cold.

Phelps turned and smiled. .

"Don't worry, Sputozza," he said. "I agree with you. We all owe him something."

There was a warmth of understanding between them suddenly and Tony relaxed. He took off his coat and started to wash away the blood and dirt on his arms. He examined the small cuts on his hands and arms, shrugged his shoulders and returned to the table. Warner was almost undressed now. His arm was broken at the shoulder and twisted out of shape. His leg was gashed above the knee. Flesh wounds covered his face.

"Is it bad, Doc?"

Phelps nodded and spoke in a quiet voice.

"Pretty bad," he said. "I'll have to operate."

Tony stiffened. He didn't know much about cutting, but he did know it killed a lot of people.

"The arm?" he asked.

Phelps was still examining, cleaning.

"The arm and the chest. Internal bleeding."

Tony felt sick to his stomach.

"That's bad, huh Doc?"

"Very bad." The doctor started to wheel a large tray of instruments to the table.

Tony sat down. He felt very sick. He watched the Doc put Grant to sleep and waited until the knife was ready to descend on the arm. Then he escaped for fresh air.

He thought he heard a police siren at a distance. He listened, then decided he must be wrong. Returning to the hall, he opened the door to the operating room quietly, so he wouldn't disturb the doctor.

He stopped short, his eyes narrowing with terror.

Phelps stood over Warner's body, a slim, glistening knife, raised over the unconscious man's chest.

Tony stared about wildly for some weapon. At his elbow was a small table covered with magazines. The doctor was standing very still, the knife gripped in his palm. It was like a sacrificial altar. The blade seemed to ripple under the bright light. Tony's hand crept out contacted the heavy binding on a large book.

At the same time he uttered a wild yell and sprang forward. The book caught the knife, sending it flying across the room into the corner. Phelps jerked around, shocked surprise in his eyes. Tony's fist connected just once. The Doctor's jaw crumpled and he slipped toward the floor. A groan escaped his bloody lips.

Clear and loud now, the siren sounded a block away and died down as the ambulance stopped outside.

GRANT WARNER sat up painfully and tried to arrange the pillows more comfortably behind his back. The hospital room was white and very peaceful. The sun crept under the lowered shade and made him drowsy. He stared up at the blank ceiling, then at the empty visitor's chair near the bed.

"Randy--safe," he said aloud. "I wonder how long?"

"For keeps, I'd say."

He stiffened. This time no one had to tell him who was in the room. The voice came from the empty chair.

"Has--it been three, months?" he asked weakly.

"Three months," the voice said. "But don't worry. You're still pretty weak from that bad arm. I don't want you to pass out."

Warner was silent, wondering what he could say.

"Let's make the report a short one," the voice said. "I've been around some myself. Have a pretty good idea what's happened."

"Don't take the girl," Warner begged. "She's not bad. She couldn't help it."

The voice chuckled.

"Let me be the judge of that," it said. "You state your case."

"Randy killed a man," Warner said, and the voice whistled.

"Not exactly child's play," it said.

"But in self-defense," Warner pleaded.

"Go on."

"Tony Sputozza killed a gangster," Warner went on. "It wasn't badness that made him do it. He was protecting his family."

"Go on."

"That's all."

Warner wondered when the voice would leave. "The doctor has been fine. He even forgave Tony for knocking him out."

He would have to explain Tony's actions in more detail.

"It was like this. Phelps was ready to operate on me, and Tony thought he was murdering me. Tony doesn't trust a knife. The Doc was fine. At least he has a clear record."

The voice chuckled.

"Phelps was an odd case," he admitted. "We never understood why they sent him to us to begin with. He died of cancer. He'd never done anything wrong that we could find on the records."

"Wait," Warner begged. "First, the girl. You've got to tell me what is to happen to her."

The voice laughed.

"Remember I said I could go for her myself?" it asked, "Well, I don't blame you for worrying about her. She's all right, though. She stays here. It's no crime to kill in self defense."

Warner tried to mutter his thanks. Randy was safe. Randy, clear-eyed and lovely, safe to become his wife.

"About Sputozza," the voice went on. "He's a bad egg in some ways, but he seems to have changed. He went out of his way to help you. I guess you might say he killed in self-defense also. Let's forget him. I'll write him off the books and give him his chance."

Warner sighed. They were all safe. All three of them.

"The Doctor though," the voice said doubtfully. "I ain't so sure of him."

"But why not?" Warner protested.

"The Doc's a queer one," the voice continued. "We finally got his record straightened out. He's a sadist. Likes to cut people up when it isn't necessary."

A VAGUE feeling of horror was creeping through Warner. "Surely he hasn't done such a thing. I've watched him closely."

The voice chuckled grimly.

"You can't watch anyone, when you're under ether, Bud. The Doc didn't have to cut you open. Sputozza guessed right. The Doc hated your guts. I warned you to be careful. The Doc is the only really bad one in the lot. If it wasn't for Tony, you'd be a dead buzzard right now."

"I WANT you to look at these X-rays," Hickory said. "Darndest thing I ever heard of. Phelps was ready to operate on your chest. These prints show that there is no injury."

He stood by the edge of the bed, shaking with anger. Warner smiled and waved the prints away.

"I know," he said.

Hickory seemed about to explode.

"You know? How the hell could you? If Phelps had cut, you'd be dead now. How can you act so calm about the whole thing? So help me, I'm going to have him thrown out of the profession."

Warner grinned.

"He's out already," he said.

Hickory's face became grim. He leaned over the bed and spoke through clenched teeth.

"Listen here, son. Sometimes you madden me to the point of violence. You know everything. I said I was going to give Phelps a piece of my mind and I'll do it if I have to follow him to hell to catch him."

Randy White, sitting on the other side of the bed, squeezed Warner's hand tightly in hers and leaned forward to kiss his forehead. She looked up at Doc Hickory.

"You'll have to hurry," she said gently. "It's a long way to go, and Phelps has a head start."

From his chair near the foot of the bed, Tony Sputozza chuckled. Even Warner managed to smile.

Hickory stared at them, an incredulous grin breaking over his crusty face.

"You don't mean...?" They all nodded.

Hickory cracked his palms together sharply.

"I've never been happier about anything in my life," he said sincerely. "Now if you and Tony can get together and knocked the tar out of this husband of yours, perhaps I'll have a little peace myself."

"She's not my wife yet," Warner said.

Randy kissed him again.

"But I will be in ten minutes," she said. "The Justice of Peace has promised to come to the hospital. He's on his way up now."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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